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Reaching Across The Miles

We were very blessed to live close to our extended family for the first four years of my older son’s life.  He grew up among grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins and so many other relatives that a village really and truly raised him.  When he was four, though, our family made the decision to move several hours away.  It was a GREAT move, but we sorely missed our family.

There are several things we have done to keep in touch with our family.  And, when kids are young, it is important to keep those communication lines with family open and moving.  Children can benefit greatly from the influence of positive role models and close ties with family.  Children can learn how families and communities work and rely upon each other by being a part of an active and close family, even when they are physically miles away.

  1. Pick up the phone – especially if you have a great calling plan!  Use cell phones or land lines, whichever has the best “deal” and make it a point to talk at least once a week.  Grandparents and other relatives will love hearing about school and friends, and kids will enjoy remembering the great things that have happened during the week.  Another great phone idea is to put everyone on “speaker”.  Kids can be part of the greater conversation, and you can help nudge kids past the “Uh huh” and “fine” answers. 
  2. Smile!  Put a camera in the hands of your child and have him or her document a day.  Maybe a picture of breakfast, the school bus, or even a walk around the block are just the things the family wants to see.  Photos can be emailed or mailed; have your child either dictate or write a description of the photos to share with others.
  3. Go online – create a family website for family members to log on and check in with the family.  There are several hosting sites that are private.  Myfamily.com is a good source, and blogger.com can be set to private as well.  This is my personal favorite; my family has a blog, and it has been an invaluable way for our parents to share in the lives of our children.
  4. Encourage the grandparents (and other relatives) to reciprocate!  Relatives can read a favorite book over the phone to share with your child.  Or, ask them to send a note or postcard from time to time.  Children of all ages love getting mail, and a note every now and then will let your child know that they are thought of.

How To Address Adults – An Opinion

I’m a Southern-gal.  Born and raised by my parents, both Southern folk.  My mom, in fact, is a fourth-generation Texan.  And, while my parents are quite progressive, there are some things that just stick with us, like unsweet iced tea, coordinating purses (especially at Easter), sitting with your ankles crossed, and addressing those that are senior to your age in a certain way.

I was raised to address my friends’ parents as Mr. or Mrs. So-and-so (without the actual So-and-so part).  And, my friends did the same.  Mrs. Berger would call my mom to see if I could spend the night with Michelle.  Mr. Palumbo down the street drove a school bus and we were all a little bit afraid of him.  And, Mrs. O’Keefe worked for the Mars candy company.  She was EVERYONE’S favorite “mom” on Halloween! 

Teachers were addressed much the same way, or at least with a “ma’am” or “sir” thrown in for extra measure.  It was the way to address someone with respect at the time.  And, it has become a dying form of communication.

I teach preschool now.  My last name is quite a mouthful – a German surname with the harsh consonant rattles typical of the language.  While it isn’t the most difficult name to pronounce (it does have vowels, unlike my teaching counter-part who has just two vowels in her 10-letter last name, and one is at the end), it can be a task for a four year-old to learn to say.

Many teachers at our school go by the “Ms. (insert name here)” rule.  As long as the kids use the “Ms.” in front, they are welcome to use the first or last name.  And, for a while, this was my rule, too.  Most of my older son’s friends grew up calling me Ms. Judy.  It bothered me a little, though.  This isn’t how I was taught to address adults, and I wasn’t sure this is how I wanted my son to address adults.  I had friends who asked that kids simply call them by their first names, but my son was taught otherwise.  In fact, we did end up teaching our son to follow the “old fashioned” way – title + surname.  Yes, it sounds more formal but, to me, it also sounds more respectful. 

My kids in my class now address me by my last name (or by simply calling me “teacher” since a few of them can’t seem to be able to remember my last name yet).  My parents of my kids in my class also address me by my last name.  My hope is that my children realize that this method of addressing someone is a sign of respect.  It goes hand-in-hand with ma’am and sir.  For me, it is simply a matter of how we address those that are older than ourselves.

What are your thoughts?  How do young people address you?  How do you wish to be addressed?  And, what is your reasoning?

Surviving and Thriving in a Parent Teacher Conference

Now that school is back in full swing, I’m making the rounds to the teachers, setting up parent-teacher conferences.  Now, our schools offer conferences at various times of the year, but I try to make an effort to make a “get acquainted” meeting before then.  To me, there is nothing more important in my child’s year than a good relationship between the parent and the teacher.  When communication is strong, the child finds a comfortable learning environment and will thrive.

I make my first conference relatively short – about 10 – 15 minutes is all I need.  During this time, I introduce myself to the teacher and give her a little background on my child – his learning style, habits at home, his interests.  Then, I focus on what is going on in the class that I don’t already have a handle on: what skills are learned at this level?  What can I expect to come home for homework?  How is my child’s attitude toward others and toward school?  Is he a motivated learner?  Is he an independent worker?  What do you see as his strengths? His weaknesses?  I also make sure to offer my help to the teacher:  Is there anything I can do to help her? 

Subsequent conferences go much smoother if the rapport is established early in the year.  When problems arise, a relationship is already formed between teacher and parent, making any correction necessary a breeze.  When the child knows there is a relationship between parent and teacher, the “unknown” disappears.  It is a network of building a better student.  And, while I would love for everything my child’s teacher tells me to be wonderful, glowing news, it isn’t always that way.  With my relationship established with the teacher, it makes the “bad medicine” a bit easier to swallow.  I know she has my child’s best interests at heart.

And, while this all sounds great here on the computer screen, WRITE IT DOWN.  Going in with notes will help keep you on track and keep the conference short.  Ask your child for input as well before you go.  Is there something he or she would like for you to ask in your conference?  Be on time and keep it within your scheduled time slot.  Smile and enjoy.  You are getting to meet with a VIP in your child’s life!

The First Days Of School – Setting The Tone For The Rest Of The Year

Going back to school, no matter what the age, can be an emotional time for children, parents and teachers.  It marks the beginning of another year of learning.  The rules and standards you set the first week of school can help your child be more successful for the rest of the year.  Here are some ideas on how to make the transition back to school easier for everyone!

BEFORE SCHOOL STARTS:

  • COUNTDOWN!  If you still have several days to go until the first day of school, make a countdown calendar.  Cross off each day before the first day, or make a tear-off style calendar, tearing off a number as you count down to the day school begins.
  • Early to bed, early to rise.  Unless your child is a living alarm clock like mine, it is best to start the early wake-up time before the actual first day.  Children need at least a week to readjust their sleep habits so they can be alert and ready to learn when they walk into school that first day.
  • Take an early tour.  If your child’s school offers a “back to school” night prior to the first day, take advantage and go walk the halls with your child.  If not, call the school and see if there is some time you can go up to the school and have a look around, even if it is just to see the cafeteria and gym.

And, during that first week, here are some habits to establish early to aid in a successful year:

  • SCHEDULES:  Create a time during the day for homework.  Even if your child doesn’t have “homework”, this can be a great time to work on independent reading.  Our routine in our house is to have a 15 minute break after school (for snacks and talking about our day) and then homework time before dinner.  Dinnertime and beyond is our family time, so we try to knock homework out early!
  • Communicate with the teacher:  As a former public school teacher, I cannot emphasize enough how much of an impact it made on my relationship with a child when I developed a relationship with the parent.  Remember that the teacher has 17-24 other parents as well.  Be respectful of his/her time, but make an effort to introduce yourself early and make yourself available if he/she needs to talk with you.  And, let the teacher know how much you appreciate them.  Teachers rarely hear that!
  • Set up a few chores.  If your child is not already helping out around the house, adding this to the routine during the school year is a perfect time to do so.  It instills a feeling of family and community; the child is helping contribute to the well-being of the family.  Just make sure that the chore or chores aren’t too overwhelming; taking the recycling out to the bin or setting the table for dinner are great, easy chores for children of any age.
  • The debriefing.  From Day One, make sure you spend some time with your child, reviewing their day.  “How was your day” is not good enough.  With my older son, we have a game we play as we walk home from school.  I challenge him each day to tell me three good things that happened to him at school that day before we get home.  More often than not, this also opens the door to things that bothered him, scared him, or confused him.  And, by the time we make it home, he’s really talking.  His response is always far better than the typical “Fine” response.  When his days aren’t so great, he feels very comfortable telling me about it.
  • Preparation.  If possible, have everything ready the night before – clothes laid out, lunch made/lunch money packed in backpack, homework done and ready to go back to school.  This will make the morning routine much easier on everyone.  Don’t forget to stick a note in your child’s belongings – a pants pocket, in the backpack, on the lunch napkin.  That little note will go a long way in helping your child feel comfortable throughout the day.
  • Reward yourselves.  When the first week draws to a close, try to plan something a bit more personal for your children: a special dinner, a short outing, a family night, a movie.  And let them know that they’ve had a great week and you are looking forward to many more!
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