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  1. Ever wonder what a “typical” day is like for a mom with two school-aged kids attending two different schools in two vastly different neighborhoods? We are a family in the South Loop, with a first-grader and preschooler. When our son received an offer to attend a highly-regarded CPS Selective Enrollment Elementary School on the far South Side last year, we were ecstatic about his opportunity but also had to give much consideration to how accepting that spot would turn our daily routine upside down. It meant swapping our 4-block walk to our neighborhood school for a 17-mile drive (34 miles round trip). The morning school bus, with a 6:25am pickup time, was not a viable option for us (much too early for a 6-year-old), but it was doable for getting home after school. There were many other trade-offs to consider, but the new school’s promise of an appropriately challenging curriculum, smaller class sizes, and intimate yet diverse community made the other sacrifices acceptable. We were also fortunate that my part-time job allowed us the flexibility to manage all of the necessary driving ourselves. Here’s a peek into our crazy weekday lives, from September to June: 5:30am Wake up, shower, make coffee, pack breakfasts (to be eaten on the drive to school) and lunches. Check my calendar for the day, breathe, and enjoy the silence. 6:30am Wake kids, get them washed up, dressed and ready for school. 7:00am Corral everyone into the car. Quick scan for backpacks, lunch bags, breakfast bags and anything else that needs to go to school because there will be no time to come back for anything forgotten. Must pull out of garage by 7:05am. 7:05–7:35am Southbound commute on the Dan Ryan. Thank goodness for a reverse, typically traffic-free commute on the first leg of our morning drive. KidzBop on the radio. Some mornings, I embrace it and sing along happily with the kids. Other mornings, I want to put earplugs in. 7:35am First drop-off at my son’s school (Keller RGC) in Mount Greenwood. School starts at 7:45am. If we’re running late, we do curbside drop-off. Otherwise, he insists that I walk him in. 7:45am Back on the road for the slow commute back downtown on the Dan Ryan. Disney tunes on the radio. 8:30–8:40am Second drop-off at my daughter’s preschool (Daystar School) in the South Loop, after she has been sitting in the car for 90 minutes. School starts at 8:30am; we are often last to arrive or late, depending on traffic. 8:45am As I’m driving back home (by now, I’ve been in car for 1hr 40min), receive phone call from my son’s school, alerting me that he is having a mild allergic reaction to something he ate in the school breakfast (this would be breakfast #2 for him; I have already reviewed the breakfast options to ensure there is nothing on the menu he is allergic to). I give permission for school staff to administer his allergy medicine, but he gets on the phone and asks me to come. 8:50am Stop at Starbucks for venti coffee before getting back on the road to Mount Greenwood. 9:20am Arrive at my son’s school, his allergy medication has kicked in and now he is fine. Ask him what he ate; nothing he mentions falls into his food allergy categories. Give him a hug and kiss, thank his teacher for calling me, get back in car. 9:35am Back on the road again for Dan Ryan commute into downtown. Listen to news radio, podcasts — anything but KidzBop and Disney Radio. 10:15am Arrive back home, 3 hours after I first left. Now, finally, my day can begin. 10:15am–2:00pm Work from home. Work breaks consist of whatever is at top of home to-do list for the day (throw load of laundry into washer/dryer, quick trip to grocery store, etc.). 2:00pm Go for a run or take a yoga class. Or, more typically, use the time to run an errand I didn’t have time for earlier. 3:20–3:30pm Pick up my daughter from preschool; drive to my son’s school bus stop at our neighborhood public school. 3:55–4:05pm Meet school bus for my son’s afternoon drop-off. We are the last stop, and my son has been on the bus for at least 1 hour. Thankfully, he uses some of that time to do his homework, which leaves more time for playing before dinner and bedtime. Of course, our day doesn’t end at 4:00pm. There are still afterschool activities and team sports that both children are involved in, depending on the day of the week. Dinner happens anywhere between 6:30-7:30pm, bedtime between 8:00-9:00pm. After catching up with my husband after work, tidying up around the house, and finishing up any work tasks from the day, I finally go to bed somewhere around midnight (maybe 11pm on a good night). And then we start over again. If you’re reading this and thinking, “That’s crazy!” yes, indeed, it sort of is. But the key for us has been keeping focused on our family’s priorities and remembering the old adage, “The days are long, but the years are short.” Didi Lewis, NPN's Program Manager, is leading the CPS 101 workshop at the NPN Preschool & Elementary School Fair on Sept. 24. Free admission for members—RSVP today!
  2. As a kid, I loved buying supplies for the new school year, picking out my outfit for the first day and wondering what my new teacher would be like. Not all children feel the same way as I did (including my own) and many start feeling worried about the transition. Whether your child is starting school for the first time or is just one of those kids who struggles with new routines, here are some suggestions for how to make the back-to-school transition go a little more smoothly. Talk about it. Bring up a conversation about starting school and hear their concerns. As parents, we often want to fix the problem for them so we can make them feel better (and ourselves, too). But kids sometimes just want to know someone is listening to what they have to say. If they are having a hard time opening up, remark about an observation you have made to get them to talk (“I noticed that you keep changing the subject when we mention school. Is there anything you want to talk about?”). Or, ask them a question that might get to the cause of what is bothering them, such as worries about who they will sit with at lunch, or concerns as to what their teacher might be like. Lastly, let them know it is OK to feel a mixture of feelings such as being excited, nervous, curious, scared, etc., about starting school. It’s a way to validate that what they are going through is normal. Plan a visit. For my son, we did a lot of drive-bys of the school so the building became a familiar sight. Depending on the grade level, this could also mean going to the school playground to become acquainted (or reacquainted) and learn what door they will be entering the building. For students entering middle or high school, most schools have a new student orientation. If they don’t, considering asking the principal/counselor to see if you can get a tour of the building beforehand. Read about it. If your child is going to preschool or kindergarten, reading a book about school anxiety is a great way to help manage their fears. Some of our family’s favorites are The Kissing Hand, I Am Too Absolutely Small for School, and It’s Hard to Be Five. For older elementary school kids, other books about general anxiety such as Wilma Jean the Worry Machine or What to Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Anxiety could be helpful. Plan for it. For younger kids going full-day for the first time, having a photo in their backpack of your family could ease the transition (just knowing it was there was helpful for my son). For older kids, help them find ways to get together with those friends they didn’t get to see over summer break, so they are excited about starting the new school year together. If you know your child has a difficult time with transitions, send the teacher an email a few days before school starts to let her know. Despite its challenges, I love this stressful, fun, playful age. I hope these techniques will help bring you a little more joy through the meltdown phase. They do say it’s a phase, right? Julie Safranski, MSW, LCSW has a background as a school social worker and is a licensed therapist who enjoys working with children, adolescents and their families. She lives in Albany Park with her husband and son. This article previously appeared in the NPN member newsletter, Parent to Parent. Learn about other member benefits.
  3. If you are the parent of a child who is struggling with learning and/or attention and you are not getting support, answers or a plan of action from the school, you are not alone. Approximately 20% of school-aged children face some learning challenge during their academic careers. That’s 10 million children in the U.S. alone! Many children, especially those without a diagnosis or clear-cut, identified challenge, are often not given the necessary support for their learning needs in the school setting. They fall through the cracks. Even good schools are often underfunded and understaffed, making it difficult to address the needs of all children. Parents face frustration and anxiety as they look to the school for guidance, often receiving vague feedback, conflicting advice and discouraging remarks such as “Just wait it out” or “Your child just isn’t trying.” We live in an age where parents need to take the wheel, armed with an understanding of the nuances around their child’s learning needs. How can parents do this? First, it helps for parents to understand… Input (how children are taught) Output (how children are assessed) Cognitive processing (how memory, attention, processing speed, reasoning and executive functioning play a role in learning) How does this information help? Because looking into what is tricky for our kids—and what types of mistakes they tend to make—is the game changer. When children are struggling to learn, it is often because they misunderstand the concept or use inefficient strategies. To course-correct their learning, we need to first undo the ill-suited understanding or strategy and then teach (or reteach) a better approach. This can be a big task, and many parents feel apprehension when asked to dissect their child’s learning. But it really is up to us if we want the best for our child’s education. Plus, decoding how your child learns does not have to be overwhelming; on the contrary, it can actually be an insightful and interesting process. With 25–30 kids in a class, teachers often do not have the opportunity to catch—and analyze—every mistake made by each child. When we parents sit down to do homework with our kids, we readily catch the mistakes! In her new book, The Strength Switch, How the New Science of Strength-Based Parenting Can Help Your Child and Your Teen To Flourish, Dr. Lea Waters states that parents are hardwired to see a child’s flaws. So if we are programmed to quibble, let’s at least use this tendency to our advantage! By no means am I suggesting that we nitpick our children over their schoolwork. Rather, we should take notes on what types of mistakes our children make, then request a meeting at the school to discuss what would help our struggling learner. Armed with specific information as to our child’s struggles, we are much more likely to get our school to intervene quickly and use the most effective methods for our child’s precise area of difficulty. Like my parents, we moved into an area because of the quality of the local school. Underlying our decision on where to live was the assumption that if we lined up a quality school for our child, his education would be on auto-pilot. But many of us find out the hard way that our involvement is crucial, and that no one can help our child like we can.

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