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  1. Photo by Natasha Hall on Unsplash The relationship a parent has with their child’s teacher plays a big role in their child’s academic success. When a child has a developmental difference, a positive parent-teacher relationship is even more important — as the stakes are significantly higher. To learn more about cultivating a good parent-teacher relationship, we sat down with Jennifer Rosinia, a developmental differences expert at the Erikson Institute. Why is a good relationship with my child’s teacher so important? A good relationship between parents and teachers has been shown to improve a child’s academic achievement, social competencies and emotional wellbeing. And, as it turns out, parents and teachers benefit from a good relationship, too! [Related: How to advocate for your special-needs child in CPS] When parents have a good relationship with their child’s teacher, they develop a greater appreciation for the important role they play in their child’s education, learn more about the school’s academic programs and how they can incorporate them into their home routines. For teachers, a positive parent relationship enables them to focus more on teaching and meeting students’ needs. What can a parent do to foster an effective parent/teacher partnership for a child with developmental differences? Dr. Susan Sheridan of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln offers three “Cs” for good relationships: communication, consistency, and collaboration. Communication with your child’s teacher should begin with the school year and continue throughout. Introduce yourself and let them know that you want to partner with them. Find out their preferred way of communicating, and then make sure communication is timely, and clear and open. Stay informed about what’s going on in school. Remember: The best communication in a partnership is two-way. Consistency might also be called “being on the same page.” An effective parent-teacher partnership sends a clear and consistent message to the child that they are working together to support their success. Collaboration between parents and teachers identifies and provides strategies to help your child achieve their optimal developmental and learning capacity. Share successes and concerns. Strategize ways to enhance and modify home and school environments. Collaboration means problem solving together, not blaming the other. [Related: Your child received a diagnosis. Now what?] My child has developmental differences. What is the first step I should take to ensure they will receive the support they need in the classroom? Forming an effective partnership with their child’s teacher should be the first step parents take to ensure their child will receive the support they need in the classroom. If a child has significant or complex support needs, parents might also want to seek testing to identify them. Schools are required to address needs revealed through academic testing.   How should I approach conflicts I might have with my child’s teacher about services my child needs? If parents have established an effective partnership with their child’s teacher, approaching conflicts should be relatively easy. The following suggestions might be helpful: ● Begin by talking with your child’s teacher. Starting with, “Can you help me with this?” can sometimes reduce the risk of a misunderstanding. Ask teachers for their perspective, opinion and suggestions, and try to avoid accusations. ● Remind yourself to listen. If you are focused too much on what you want to say, you might miss important information that could help resolve your concern. ● Schedule an observation. Spending time in your child’s classroom watching and listening could give you helpful insights about your child's relationships, activities and services. ● Seek creative solutions together. If you and your child’s teacher have established a good relationship and partnership, you are one step closer to working together to come up with a creative solution. Do not forget to include your child if they are old enough to participate. ● Respect boundaries. When in conflict, it’s easy to cross boundaries. Remember to schedule time to talk. If for some reason you dislike your child’s teacher, take care not to let your child know. You don’t want to disrespect the teacher’s authority. ● Still stuck? Speak with the principal. The principal will serve as a neutral party. They will listen to your concerns, gather information from the teacher, and then help resolve the conflict. If a child has an Individualized Education Program (IEP), the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) requires that their parents are afforded a legitimate, authentic opportunity to participate in the decision-making process for their child, and should be encouraged to be active participants in their child’s educational plan. What other steps should I be taking with my public school district to ensure my child is getting the care they deserve/accessing all the available resources? At the end of the day, it’s all about relationships. Get to know your teachers and administrative team. If you can, be active and involved: attend school board meetings, join the PTA, or spend time volunteering in your child’s classroom. Additionally, if your child has a developmental difference, know your rights under the law. To learn more, visiting the Illinois State Board of Education is a good place to start. Jennifer Rosinia is an occupational therapist and child development specialist. She is currently on faculty at the Erikson Institute as a senior instructor. She holds a master’s degree in early childhood education and a doctorate in child development from Loyola University and Erikson Institute in Chicago.
  2. 2020 was truly a very difficult year with regards to the coronavirus pandemic. There is a lot we know now that we didn’t know at its start and still so much to learn. Scientists and medical researchers are working hard to develop therapeutic medications and vaccines to help protect us from the harms this virus can cause. Families everywhere have had to make sacrifices in their personal lives, work lives and the ways they enjoy sports and recreation, all the while trying to find new ways to stay healthy and active. While spectator sports are an exciting pastime in the fall and winter months, we have all heard over and over again about COVID infections and spread amongst professional athletes. These individuals have made personal decisions about participating in these sports as it is their job. Sports participation at the student level is clearly a different issue. The American Academy of Pediatrics values sports and physical fitness in their guidance of healthy living and good mental health during this pandemic. The safest sports last summer were noted to be golf, running, baseball and tennis — activities in which we’re able to maintain distance and minimize sharing equipment. Keep following the rules The underlying guidance across all activities is the ability to maintain social distancing, perform good hand hygiene, and wear a mask when you can’t maintain a 6-foot distance. For safety, masks may not be required in active elite level exercise, water sports, or where it poses a risk of getting caught on equipment, covering one’s eyes, or choking. Each athlete should have their own mask, access to hand sanitizer, and their own water bottles and towels. [Related: Free or cheap ways to entertain your kids on winter weekends] Recreational sports for young children can be challenging because mask-wearing may be difficult to enforce. Competitive or high school level sports for older children pose additional problems because the severity of coronavirus illness in children in their teen years may mimic that in adults. New information about the effects of COVID infection on the heart poses even more concern. Watch-outs: cardiac conditions The current recommendations by pediatricians and cardiologists include looking for signs of cardiac inflammation or myocarditis in athletes who had significant symptoms of COVID as part of clearing them to return to their sport. This can mean a minimum of a 2-3 week absence from their sport if they don’t have any cardiac concerns, or of course much longer if they have significant cardiac compromise. It is recommended to be in touch with your healthcare provider before making the decision to return to sports. What to avoid During sports practice or games, athletes need to avoid huddles, high fives, handshakes or fist bumps. They shouldn’t share any food or drinks with their teammates. Cheering each other on should be limited to when they are greater than 6-8 feet apart and they should always use a tissue when spitting or blowing their nose. [Related: Coat or no? Car seat safety during the cold winter months] Low-risk activities So the question remains, what can you and your children do to keep healthy and active and be as safe as possible? Here are some suggestions that allow social distancing, mask-wearing and minimal equipment sharing: Walking, hiking and running, fishing, golf, tennis, baseball, swimming and diving, dancing and yoga, and skating and cycling. Higher-risk activities The higher risk sports which involve more contact — soccer, football, basketball, gymnastics, cheerleading and hockey — should be undertaken only if you and your athletes, coaches and sports associations appreciate and follow the best guidance they can to minimize risk. There are no easy answers to the questions parents have about participation in sports. We know robust physical activity contributes to good mental and physical health. Knowing the risks may help you determine good options for your child. Of course, always consider discussing the health risks and benefits with your individual pediatrician. And while this may not be the ideal year for your athlete, we hope that there are good protective vaccines available in the near future which can help protect us all, and allow for a more active lifestyle again! Anita Chandra-Puri, MD, is a Chicago pediatrician with Northwestern Medical Group Pediatrics, as well as a mom and NPN board member. To ask Dr. Anita a question, email newsletter@npnparents.org with the subject line, “Ask a Doctor.”
  3. Article
    As a kindergarten teacher, I always believed my top priority was to help children fall in love with learning. The joy was getting them to enjoy school, to cherish the memories they make there and embrace the challenges. I felt that if each child could come to school excited for learning, that I would be setting them up for a lifetime of success. With school buildings closed and parents juggling their own work while also managing online learning and homework, I am afraid this priority of mine is in serious jeopardy. How can we, as exhausted and stretched-thin parents, keep learning fun for our frustrated and burnt-out children? How can teachers and the education system maintain rigorous learning while keeping the joys of learning intact? Now, it is more essential than ever to keep learning enjoyable by engaging the whole family in learning, and prioritizing organic learning through play. What exactly does this look like? Read on for some of my favorite ways to play and learn as a family. Play a family game Think of the amount of learning, thinking, and growing that happens when your family sits down to play a game. If they’re old enough, have your children read aloud the rules and repeat them in their own words. Then, as you play, count and describe your play out loud. Take turns saying “Your turn!” and sharing materials. Not only are your young ones benefiting from intentional family time, but they will be learning social skills, strategy, reading, and comprehension skills, too. [Related: Reintroducing playdates in a post-pandemic world] Take to the kitchen Some of the best learning can happen with a hands-on approach in the kitchen. Have your child help you write out the grocery list: encourage them to spell words out on their own or copy the letters from current packaging. Involve your child in the recipes you create by having them read the recipe card to you. All kinds of math takes place in cooking: fractions, conversions, and counting. And don’t forget science! Have your child help you discover the purpose of baking soda, or what happens to yeast in water. Spread some joy We all know someone who could use a smile. Have your child write letters to loved ones, make a book for a neighbor, or read to a younger sibling. Addressing and mailing the letters are half the fun! [Related: You can make eating out with your kids actually enjoyable] Follow their interests Does your child love building? Have them invent a new way to hang the towels in the bathroom or store items in the closet. Have an artistic one? Have them paint a picture, then write a note describing the image they created. Does your child love “search and finds”? Have them find and highlight sight words in a newspaper or magazine. Above all, encourage your children to find their own ways to follow their curiosities. Have them ask questions about things that matter to them, and work to find the answer together. We owe it to our youngest learners to keep this journey exciting for them. Their (and our) future depends on it!
  4. I can hardly believe it myself when I tell people that I have been a pediatric mental health therapist for 12 years now. I mean, that is over a decade of my life! I would say that I don’t know where the time went, but I do. A lot has happened since beginning my professional career. I moved to Chicago, got engaged, and landed my dream job. But what really makes time fly is having kids. Nothing in my life has made me realize just how fleeting life is more than raising children. One day they fit into the palm of your hand, and the next, they barely fit in your lap. There are a lot of expectations about what kind of parent I am and how I raise my kids. After all, I keep up to date on the latest research in child development and behavior. My passion is in supporting parents and teaching parents how to be connected and attuned to their children. So I talk A LOT with parents. I am often told by parents I work with, “I bet your kids are so well behaved,” or, “I bet you never yell.” (Yikes, the pressure!) Of course, I do have to practice what I preach, and while I try my best to be a playful, accepting, curious, and empathic mother…I am also a “good enough” mom. I am not perfect. Despite my training, my knowledge, my passion, and my love, I am here to tell you: if you only knew how I epically fail on a daily basis! Well, actually, maybe it would help. Maybe it would help you have some compassion for yourself, because I promise you there is no such thing as a perfect parent, and good enough is actually all you need (and this is backed by research!). [Related: This is how to travel with young kids during COVID] So in all my vulnerability, I will share with you my top 10 epic parenting fails during the COVID-19 pandemic: Becoming so frustrated and out of control with my own emotions when my 5-year-old refused to go to bed that I threatened to throw out her JoJo Siwa Bow. Feeling guilty about my (above) tantrum, giving in, and allowing my 5-year-old to stay up till 10pm watching Naked and Afraid. (This went on for a month.) Experiencing the full range of working-mom shame when my daughter named each family member’s hobby and declared, “Mommy’s hobby is work.” Begging my 5-year-old to “Just leave me alone for two minutes while I finish my Zoom call!” realizing that I actually did not mute my mic. Spacing out from exhaustion while the baby crawls on the lawn…and eats actual bunny poop. Logging in my kindergartner late to virtual school. Every. Single. Day. Witnessing her announce to her teacher, “Sorry I am always late. We like to sleep in.” Knowing pandemic guilt has turned me into a “Yes” mom, and I have a trillion stuffed animals to prove it. Thinking that brushing my kid’s teeth before dessert was OK. Hello, child’s first cavity. Being mindless while getting my children out of the car and putting my laptop on top of the car. Forgetting about my laptop. Finding my laptop smashed to bits on North Avenue. If a child therapist can’t get it right all the time, take some pressure off yourself to be perfect. After all, we are in the midst of a pandemic. We are all truly doing the best we can. And that is good enough.
  5. Juneteenth is the oldest celebrated commemoration of the enslavement of Africans in the United States. It has many names — Freedom Day, Jubilee Day, Liberation Day, Emancipation Day — but no other name has been used as frequently as Juneteenth. This joyous African American holiday began on June 19, 1865, in Galveston, Texas. Many Americans have never heard of, nor learned about this historical event in their school textbooks. I, too, was once oblivious to this day. I can’t remember when I first learned about Juneteenth, but It wasn’t until the Black Lives Matter uprising of 2020 that it became significant to my family when I, among countless other Americans, began to see a shift in our country after the murder of George Floyd. [Related: What role should white parents play in Juneteenth?] Last year, in most Black households, there was a sense of reprieve from the endless supply of videos on police brutality when the interest of Juneteenth began to surface heavily online. A celebration of images expressing Black joy and honor around the country went viral. As a Chicago mother who celebrates Black history all year round, I found several virtual events scheduled during the month of June in which families could participate safely. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, we were not comfortable attending any of the amazing in-person events we read about. Not to be outdone by the virus, we took our children on a driving and walking tour around the South Side and West Side of the city to learn and see the historical contributions made by Black freedom fighters then and now. During the tours, we stopped at Black businesses, such as Can't Believe It's Not Meat in Hyde Park for lunch. We talked about what joy our ancestors must have felt on that day. And we talked about what it must have been like for the men, women, and children who were forced into work that never provided them financial compensation, nor security in the right to stay connected to their families — something some of us are privileged to have strengthened during our months of quarantine. [Related: Can we build anti-racist communities?] Although the formal recognition of the abolishment of slavery (also known as the 13th Amendment) brought much joy to enslaved Africans at the time of its announcement back in 1865, June 19th wasn't recognized as a holiday until 1979 when it passed legislation in Texas. It's now a state holiday in 49 of the 50 states (including Illinois), but has yet to be recognized as a national holiday. In some areas, it is a day, a week, or a month marked with celebrations, guest speakers, picnics and family gatherings. It is a time for rejoicing, processing, and planning for the future. Some would say its growing popularity signifies a level of growth, maturity and dignity that's long overdue. The recent acknowledgment of the racial trauma inflicted on people of African descent is being displayed in cities across the country. People of all races, nationalities, and religions are now acknowledging 400+ years of legalized horror. Honoring those that built the wealth of this nation is an honorable place to start the healing process — especially in the city of Chicago.
  6. Last year, when Juneteenth was celebrated by so many major corporations for the first time, some joked that us white people would quickly turn it into another commercialized exercise of appropriation. This year, you might still be asking, what should us white folks do on Juneteenth? Here are three options: educate ourselves, educate other white people, or actively work to dismantle a part of our white supremacy culture. [Related: The importance of celebrating Juneteenth in Chicago] During the height of the pandemic and racial unrest, all the books on the New York Times best-seller list were about anti-racism and white supremacy. Hopefully, we read the books and learned that we have a long way to go, as a society but also as white people. Educating other white people is challenging as we have to leave our comfort zone and possibly offend someone. I am certainly not the best at it, too often biting my tongue when someone demonstrates their bias, or by doing the opposite and offending without educating. And too often than I'd like to admit, I'm the one that needs educating. I’m working on it, through regular participation in SEED and a local chapter of AWARE, both at our children’s school, Near North Montessori. The third option, challenging or dismantling a part of the white supremacy culture in our institutions and organizations, might seem even more daunting than confronting and educating another white person, but it does not need to be. [Related: How to become an anti-racist parent] Our children attend a private school, and I know there is hypocrisy in choosing a private school while claiming to be helping to dismantle white supremacy. I contend it is only incrementally different, if at all, to choices many white parents make since public schools mimic the segregation in our society, and many public schools are not diverse or safe for Black, indigenous, and people of color. This year, Near North Montessori has hired a new Head of School which, after an extensive search, chose Brian Corley who had previously been the Diversity Director at the school. Brian will be one of only a handful of Black Heads of School across all the private schools in the Midwest. This is good, but we can do more. Our school, despite having diversity, does not have enough Black educators. This is a dilemma for many schools, public and private. Our soon-to-be former Head has been working to fix the training options for Montessori teachers, which seems to be one of the most vexing obstacles, and HR has made shifts to address the pipeline. But they need more tools, and money is one of the primary weapons in our society. So, my wife and I are donating a fair amount to our children’s school to start a fund to recruit and retain Black teachers. Why is it important to have Black educators on staff? My former colleague, the late Principal Robert Croston, explained it best in an article he wrote: "If more White and affluent students were educated by Black men, many stereotypes about us would fall on deaf ears and more White and affluent Americans would be able to champion our plight. As a Black male educator, some of my favorite interactions with young people include those with non- Black students because they get to experience the love, care and intellect of someone like myself. They can rebuff the swirling stereotypes when they see and know a Black man as a principal. If West Pullman schools on the South Side of Chicago need Black men, then Wilmette schools on the North Shore of Chicagoland need Black male teachers even more.” So, this Juneteenth, ask yourself and your school’s leadership: Why aren’t there more Black teachers and administrators, if any? If the first response is, “They don’t apply,” then you might have to ask: Why don’t Black teachers apply (or stay) at your school? [Related: Can we build anti-racist communities?] The uncomfortable truth is, white people like us probably have a lot more work to do to ensure schools are welcoming, safe places for Black, indigenous, and people of color to work and thrive. Donating money is one way to dismantle white supremacy, but only if you couple it with educating yourself and other white people (I highly recommend an insightful podcast on this topic, Nice White Parents). This Juneteenth, celebrate by finding ways to challenge or dismantle a part of the white supremacy culture in your child’s school, be it public or private. I guarantee you it is there, and if you do not see it, you just might be an active part of it.
  7. As with all schools in Illinois, Chicago Free School had to close its doors in mid-March of 2020. Within a week, teachers had switched to online learning. We thought it might be temporary, but schools remained closed throughout the rest of the school year. To help save money, the board decided to furlough the teachers for the month of July. We had no idea what COVID-19 rates would be like in late summer/early fall. An Idea Is Planted As July progressed, I was thinking about what do in the fall. A friend shared an article about year-round open-air classrooms for children with tuberculosis in Rhode Island that were convened in the early 1900s. They were held in sheds with a roof and screens all around. I began to research other outdoor classrooms through the years, and that got my wheels turning. [Related: Nurturing your child's mental health in the pandemic aftermath] Reconvening The teachers came back together by Zoom in early August. We had to make a decision about how we were going to start our school year. None of us seemed excited about the prospect of teaching inside of a classroom. I said that I did not see a point in starting the school year online, and shared my research about outdoor classrooms as a way to be in person with minimal risk. Two other teachers immediately latched onto the idea. After more conversation, others agreed to give it a try, as well. Once the decision was made, we spent mornings hashing out our COVID protocols based on CDC and CDPH guidelines, followed by hours of research throughout the day and into the night. We found outdoor sinks with foot pumps. I spent at least eight hours researching flush camp toilets for an outdoor bathroom for my young students. I researched tent and tarping options until 2 a.m. on several occasions. I placed many orders for all the items we would need to make this work. I went on early morning shopping trips, filling my carts with big storage bins. I made daily visits to the outdoor spaces of the building where we rent, to see where we could each set up our classrooms — including my own classroom, in an enclosed backyard. I spent hours trying to figure out how to hang tarps for shade and rain protection. A parent helped me erect these under the hot August sun. [Related: Reintroducing play dates in a post-pandemic world] Executing the Plan On September 8th, we opened for the fall. I welcomed masked children to their outdoor classroom. The first hour was ominous, as there was a storm and we had to go inside the adjoining hall, but soon we settled into our routine. Each child had their own beach tent set six feet apart, with a mat or little floor chair and a lap desk. They each brought pencil bags with their own drawing and coloring supplies. We read stories and had our morning meeting. We worked on projects based on the children’s mind map that they created with their questions and things they wanted to do that fall. Afterward, they would have free choice. Each had their own bin of puzzles, manipulatives, games, etc., so that things only had to be disinfected when we switched them around at the end of the week. We went for walks around the neighborhood, ate lunch in the tents, and went to the playground before coming back to doing quiet activities until the end of our day. We passed the other classes in their various outdoor setups in courtyards and parking lots, all learning in the fresh air. Due to mild weather, we were able to be out there into the second week of November. We had some chilly weather the last week of October, even some sleet and snow, but for nine weeks, we only needed to go inside several times, and usually for no more than an hour. We were able to observe summer turning into fall. On beautiful fall days, it was a real pleasure. When the colder weather finally came, we went online, due to the COVID surge at the time. The children took their bins and materials needed for projects home with them. We still met on the playground for over an hour every day. We took a longer winter break and came back mid-January online, with the hopes that we could have more in-person learning if we extended the school year into summer. Now, some of us are back in person in the classroom. But I think we are all planning to return to our outdoor classrooms after spring break as it continues to be a year of adaptation and flexibility. Lisa Rademacher is a preK/kindergarten teacher at the Chicago Free School. She lives with her husband, two daughters, and other members of Sophia Community, an intentional community in Hyde Park that she helped found many years ago.
  8. Article
    As vaccines roll out by the thousands, the days are getting longer, and hope feels more tangible than ever. But how do we balance it with the pace of the past year? For a lot of families and couples, the pandemic's slow down period has been a blessing in disguise. This is not to say that it hasn’t been difficult in a million weird and unexpected ways. It has. However, not having to go to playdates, attend birthday parties, and uber children to multiple afterschool activities has allowed for more time together. For my family, we now have a standing Friday night pizza and movie date which we all really look forward to. So how will we remember to just relax and play when the world quickly plays catch-up? Don’t think of this as making up for lost time Time was not lost; it was slowed down. There is no need to go full speed. List the activities that each member of your family would like to do and only commit to one to two at a time. Same goes for summer camp: Keep in mind that kiddos are used to having down time, so we don’t want to overwhelm them by booking every week. Just because we can, doesn’t mean that it's the best option for our family. Keep at least two days/nights free of activities Preferably one weekend morning so that you can sleep in (if all the stars align). It is also nice to wake up and not have to run off to something. I find that on Saturday morning, my children are excited for the weekend and looking forward to playing and using their imagination for the things that they wish they could have done while in school. This also leaves room for spontaneity. Take turns Historically, my husband and I felt that we had to both attend birthday parties because it was a social event for us, but in the end we would be exhausted. One idea we’ve had since is to take turns with parties and activities. We also take turns working out, cooking, and cleaning. [Related: Self-care during COVID: Creating your own pandemic slowdown] Make time for yourself Pick something that brings you joy, and do it! For me, it was to take a pilates teacher training course so that I can learn and do something new. Another thing my partner and I do is that if I have plans to work out on a Saturday, then we make a plan for him to work out on Sunday. If you make time for yourself, you are more likely to help others make time for themselves as well. Be aware of the new social anxiety I am finding with myself and a lot of my clients that there is a sense of feeling awkward in social situations. Questioning the conversations when you get home and thinking that you talked too much are normal. We haven’t been socializing the way that we were used to. It might take time to find our groove and make new friends as adults, and this is a good reminder that our kiddos might struggle with this also. Ease back into life with one activity at a time and don’t forget that "No" is still an acceptable answer.
  9. Article
    Most of us probably have a good idea what it takes to get our young children to love reading. Snuggling up with a favorite book at bedtime, for example, sends a clear message about the value of reading. But what about a love of math? For many parents, it’s not so obvious how to help young children appreciate math — especially if they don’t enjoy it themselves or feel their skills in the subject are lacking. Yet parents are a powerful influence on how children feel about math. Feelings? Yes, research is clear that children’s mindset — their beliefs about what math is and who can do math well — helps determine their math achievement. So, if you’re a parent and don’t consider yourself a math person, there are still ways you can help your child succeed. First, try putting aside any pressure you feel to be their math teacher, and instead, think of yourself as a math cheerleader! With that perspective, following are five strategies you can use to cheer your child on and encourage their love of math. Be curious The concept of being a “math person” — or not — is a myth. But even if you don’t identify as someone who likes or is good at math right now, you can still model curiosity about the subject. You don’t have to have all the answers, but you can ask good questions. Two great questions to ask your kids: “What do you notice?” and, “What do you see?” Look with a math lens We use lenses all the time to help us see things differently: to improve our vision, to shade our eyes from the sun, to magnify microscopic organisms and to watch a 3-D movie. In the same way, we can use a math lens to help our children see the world differently. For example, you and your child might look at how eggs in a carton are lined up in two rows of six. You might notice the patterns on a checkerboard, or the symmetry of a building, shapes in the tile floor, height of a tree, rhythm of a song, etc. By pointing these things out, it won’t take long for your child to recognize the ways math is present everywhere they look. Picture books, too, are a great invitation to look at the world with a math lens. Visit your public library and check out these award-winning Mathical Prize books. Talk about math You’ve got chores to do: grocery shopping, washing dishes, doing laundry, straightening up the house. These tasks all offer opportunities to help your child sort, count, make comparisons and reason spatially. The Early Math Collaborative at Erikson Institute offers many practical ideas for math at home. Remember that language and math skills develop together. Take advantage of small moments to talk about math ideas as you move through your day together — think of it as the curriculum of life! Play games Children learn best through play. Games provide children with enjoyable math practice skills while also developing their logical, strategic thinking. Simple card games such as Uno and Memory offer opportunities for matching and comparing. Path-based board games like Parcheesi or Chutes and Ladders, in which children use dice or spinners to advance spaces, develop a sense of number magnitude. Strategy games like Connect Four and Mancala require children to plan their problem-solving by thinking a step ahead. Puzzles are also great for spatial reasoning. The blog Games for Young Minds is full of game suggestions and reviews to help you plan your next family game night that encourages your child’s love of math. Embrace effort Making mistakes and trying to figure things out is part of doing math. How you respond when you or your child makes an error can send the message that math is a process and that success comes from effort. As children move through school, there’s bound to be some struggle learning math — and you may be in the position to help with homework. In these situations, pause for a moment before offering assistance. This sends the message that it’s okay for them to not understand right away. As parents, we have to develop a stronger stomach for some temporary frustration. This is how your child will learn problem solving and perseverance — both crucial skills for life that math teaches particularly well. Jeanine O'Nan Brownell is the mother of three children. She works at Erikson Institute’s Early Math Collaborative and partners with school districts, childcare centers, and agencies to design programs of professional learning for preK-3rd grade teachers.
  10. Article

    Back to school…finally.

    When Mayor Lightfoot announced that CPS children would have the option of returning in person, I went into a slight panic. It felt incredibly different from when CPS announced that the 2020-2021 school year would begin virtually, since the pandemic was still raging and a second wave was expected in the fall. But this announcement? It brought forth a sense of panic. We’d adjusted to virtual learning since it quickly became our new normal, and accepted that our first-grader, Amara (pictured), may not go back to in-person this school year. Our youngest daughter returned to full-time daycare back in September, which made virtual learning easier with only one child to supervise. [Related: Anxious about the upcoming school year? Here's how to ease your child's fears — and yours.] Through virtual learning, we discovered that Amara would push every technology limit available. One of our first instances was during the first month of school when her teacher emailed us explaining that Amara mistakenly deleted some pages from her assignment. My husband and I knew that it was not a mistake. Later, she started changing the teacher’s directions. For example, if the assignment stated, “In your math book, complete pages 5, 6, and 7 and then write two sentences explaining why Jim received more apples than Johnny,” she would change it to read, “In your math book, complete pages 5 and 6,” to finish her work sooner. We ended up adjusting her screen time settings to be extensive, but also realized early on that she may do better within the structure of the physical classroom. Her first day back was incredible and her mental health improved almost immediately. Simply being in the school building seemed to elicit a positive reaction and a sense of normalcy. She met her teacher in person for the first time and saw a few friends from last year. She played on the playground during recess and had school lunch — all things we previously took for granted. It’s still very different; the children are spaced out in the classroom, proper mask-wearing is enforced, there are no before/after school activities, and of course, children only attend two days per week with a large virtual component. [Related: Reintroducing play dates in a post-pandemic world] The best part has been the mornings she attends in person. Getting ready for school those two days a week feels so close to the before times and gives me a glimpse of hope that we will eventually return. She looks forward to those those two days and always has an extra pep in her step. I am cautiously optimistic that we will be able to have a safe, in-person return to school in the fall.
  11. until
    Kids and Teens K-12. Come get taught by a professional author how to write chapter one of your story. This is a repeating event, and will take place every Saturday 12:00pm to 1:30pm. Please go here to register. This is an external partner event. Please contact the organization directly with any questions or concerns: onceuponatimepublishing@aol.com
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    Starting preschool is a big deal for both parents and children. From separation anxiety to making new friends to learning new skills, there is a lot to consider and prepare for. Take this opportunity to learn from experts about how to make this a smooth and happy transition for everyone in your family. In this intimate live discussion, preschool experts will discuss how to prepare for the first day of preschool and beyond, how to handle separation anxiety and some things parents and children can look forward to during these special years You will walk away from this discussion with the following: 1. How to prepare your child for preschool 2. How to handle separation anxiety on the first day and beyond 3. What to expect on the first day Plus our experts will help you prepare yourself for the first day too, and there will be time for Q & A at the end! Our preschool panel consists of: Immaculate Conception-St. Joseph School Ancona School Lycée Français de Chicago Park West Co-Op Nursery School Thank you to our Presenting Sponsor Immaculate Conception-St. Joseph School Email Meredith Marzano at mmarzano@npnparents.org with questions.
  13. Event

    Kids & Technology with Smart Love Family

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    The challenges of balancing children’s needs and wants when it comes to technology/electronic devices has become all the more intense as so many kids have grown so dependent on using them for everything from everyday schoolwork to keeping connected to friends, in addition to their social media and recreational uses. This session will provide strategies for parents to manage their children’s uses of technology in ways that ensure their safety and wise use while promoting family trust and sustaining healthy relationships. This is a free event. RSVP required. Please go here to register. This is an external partner event. Please contact the organization directly with any questions or concerns: amber.guenther@smartlovefamily.org
  14. Video

    Preschool Philosophies

    Thinking about preschool for your toddler but don't know where to start? Watch this informative discussion about the different preschool philosophies featuring expert panelists from preschools across the city. Topics include: Montessori, Waldorf, Reggio Emilia and other philosophies How to decide if these philosophies or others are a good fit for your child How preschool works during the pandemic Participating schools: Bennett Day School British International School of Chicago, South Loop Cardinal Bernardin Montessori Academy Mary Meyer School Urban Prairie Waldorf School Thank you to our presenting sponsor British International School of Chicago, South Loop.
  15. As the new school year approaches amid the Covid pandemic, we all find ourselves approaching it with a heightened sense of apprehension with a new normal of social interaction. The previous school year concluded with distance learning and parents temporarily thrust into educator roles and many are anxiously wondering what will happen this fall. It’s impossible to know what the future holds, and with no clear roadmap, parents who have been managing anxiety are now struggling. The coronavirus has caused significant disruptions to everyone’s daily life, and children are particularly feeling all of these changes as the new “normal” continues to shift. These changes come with a mix of new emotions as the new school year quickly approaches. Some may be hopeful with the excitement of in-person while others may be fearful of returning to the social stressors. Regardless, it is our job as caregivers to support our children in exploring their many feelings while providing a sense of calm to ease anxiety. But how can we do that in a time like this? [Related: 4 tips for managing your kids' coronavirus anxiety] We often try to soothe our children’s anxieties by having “all” the answers, and you may feel exhausted by trying to force things to be certain. In this situation, it is important to let go of control as nobody is sure of what the future of school looks like. Become a safe space for your child by bringing awareness to the uncomfortable feeling of uncertainty that we are all experiencing. This will be tough but worth it, as figuring out how to manage anxiety and tolerate the uneasy feeling are essential skills for everyone these days. Here are some tips on how to navigate conversations about the upcoming school year with your child. Empathize and validate. Encourage your child to express any fear or anxiety while letting them know that what they are feeling is normal. Use curiosity. Children may have fears revolving around bullying, e-learning, conflicts with friends, or being separated from you. Ask open questions and actively listen while talking through strategies to help your child improve problem-solving skills and feel empowered. Emphasize what is predictable. With the uncertainties of the method of schooling these days, focus on what a child can expect—learning new things, interacting with a teacher, etc. Continue practicing. Have the family wear a face mask at home in a variety of situations. This can be playing a board game, coloring, or watching a family movie. Doing this will help with not only the potential to return to classrooms but going to places like the grocery store. Shift back into a routine. Routines promote feelings of safety and can give a child a sense of control. Create an expected school routine by following bedtimes, getting ready in the morning, etc. [Related: Will my relationship survive this virus?] Provide reassurance. Revisit the safety measures in place to help keep children and teachers safe. This can ease anxiety about their safety in public spaces. Be honest. It’s okay not to have all the answers! We cannot solve all of our children’s problems, but sometimes they don’t need solutions—just to feel understood and supported. Admit that you wish you knew what the future of school looked like, but the reality is that you don’t. You are unable to make all the decisions now, but you will when you have the information you need. With honesty, you are sure not to make promises you can’t keep. Acknowledge the uneasiness. It is difficult to sit in the uncomfortable feeling of anxiety as we tend to avoid or resist it. Begin to notice and gently observe what is happening in your body to increase your ability to handle it. By doing this with your children, it will model that it is okay to feel this way—even grownups do! Focus on what you can control. It’s easy to get caught up in the unknown and “what ifs?” Notice when this is happening and gently shift to focusing on what is within your control to stay in the present moment. Be kind to yourself. Being a parent in the best of times is already the hardest job in the world. It is impossible to avoid anxiety right now but doing the best you can is all you can do!.
  16. Parenting during Covid-19 is a new experience for everyone, but what if you’re the parent of a gifted child? There’s often a misconception that teaching gifted kids is easier, but this isn’t necessarily true. When my own gifted children were young, I was faced with the constant misconception that, because they were gifted, they didn’t need extra support. That couldn’t be further from the truth! Gifted children require just as much time, energy, and understanding as anyone--only in their own, unique way. What makes gifted children different? Gifted children, like any children, are complex. The National Association for Gifted Children lists the following as common characteristics of gifted children: Insatiable curiosity with constant questioning Advanced levels of moral judgment and a strong sense of justice Independence in academic work High energy, spontaneity, and enthusiasm Passion about topics and perseverance in learning about those topics High standards for oneself and high levels of frustration when those standards aren’t met Emotional sensitivity, empathy, and awareness of being different How can I support my gifted child during Covid-19? Parents of gifted children encounter unique challenges when it comes to keeping their gifted children engaged, active and curious--challenges amplified by Covid-19. Here are a few ways you can support your gifted child during the pandemic: Provide space for creative projects. Because gifted children are so passionate, they will likely have strong interests. Find time each day, or at least each week, for them to pursue interests outside of the regular school curriculum. This can be as simple as setting aside 30 minutes for your child to practice guitar, build a model of the solar system, or create an at-home museum. Allow your child to choose the topic and don’t get too involved beyond offering support. Take a step back academically (when appropriate). It may seem counterintuitive, especially if your child is academically focused, but resist the urge to hover. Since many gifted children are independent learners, they likely have school work under control. You may need to occasionally assist with work habits, technology and organization, but hold off on asking teachers for extra assignments or quizzing your child after dinner each night. Allow the extra time in your child’s schedule to be used for creative pursuits that excite them. Also, avoid falling for the misconception that, once a child is labeled as gifted, they’ll never struggle or fail. It’s important to note that “giftedness” isn’t universal. For example, your child could be gifted in math, but struggle with reading comprehension. [Related: Easing your child's anxiety about the upcoming school year] Focus on effort and growth, rather than success and failure. One major roadblock for gifted kids is that they might give up easily. Since some academic concepts come naturally, they may hit a roadblock when faced with learning a difficult skill. Gifted children often don’t do well with failure! Researcher Carol Dweck found that most people either have a fixed mindset or a growth mindset. People with fixed mindsets think their intelligence is set, whereas those with a growth mindset believe that they can improve with practice and effort (even if they’ve failed in the past!). They have the perseverance to overcome struggles and look at mistakes as learning opportunities. Take some time to discuss failure with your child, and even cheer them on when their efforts don’t produce the “right” result. Help them reframe success around the effort they put into a task, rather than whether they arrive at the correct answer. Intentionally address social and emotional needs. All children are struggling with some level of social isolation and anxiety during the pandemic, but this can be exacerbated for gifted students who often have a natural awareness of other people’s emotions. During this time, it’s important to address these issues head-on. To combat social isolation, try to set up social activities for your child, whether it’s a Zoom session with grandparents or an interactive computer game. For gifted children who experience increased anxiety due to Covid-19, be sure to validate their fears and feelings rather than telling them everything will be okay. You might say, for example, “It’s normal to be scared. I’m scared, too.” Take care of yourself, too. Try to keep your own feelings in check through exercise, mindfulness and plenty of sleep. The more even-keeled you are, the more your child will pick up on it. These are uncertain times, but understanding your gifted child and working to support them at home goes a long way. We’re all in this together!
  17. The winter is a great time to take a well-deserved break after having done your research, visited schools, and sent in your family’s applications. Enjoy the lull before the next wave of school decisions and second-guessing creeps in! While deep down we know it’s out of our hands until notifications come in the spring, we can’t quite help but think that there must be something more to do as we wait. Fear not: There are plenty of things to do to keep you busy if you desire! January If your child needs to test for CPS Selective Enrollment schools or do their private school playdates and observations, keep things light and stress-free; a nervous parent feeds into a nervous child. You want your children to be as relaxed as possible as they head into their evaluations, so stay calm, Mom and Dad! The same can be said for parent interviews at private schools which can occur this month. Be relaxed and yourselves, but let the schools know what you love about them. [Related: How to apply to a CPS school in 5 easy steps] February While CPS may be winding down its testing for Selective Enrollment seats, some private preschool programs begin notifying families as early as mid-February. For most, it’s a quiet month, which can be a great time to attend any school tours you missed in the fall. March Private elementary schools begin notifying in early March (many simultaneously on March 1), with an opportunity to ask any final questions before signing on the dotted line and submitting your year’s deposit. Unfortunately, most private school enrollment deadlines occur before CPS notifies families, so while one may submit a non-refundable deposit at a private school to “hold a spot,” check your enrollment contract for any penalties if you decide to break your contract. NPN’s popular Discussion Forum heats up this month with parents asking advice of fellow new and veteran parents. April This is the month that CPS families will be stalking their GoCPS accounts to see if any of their lottery-based offers (aka Choice; up to 20) were made, or if one of their Selective Enrollment Elementary Schools options (aka SEES; out of six max) were awarded. The 2020 notification date is April 24. CPS typically has 2 weeks after first round notifications set aside to tour schools to help parents decide which to choose. Some parents may now be deciding between one or more private and public school offers, and the NPN Discussion Forum can be a great place to get experienced advice. Remember that you can’t send your child to multiple schools, but you also aren’t stuck for the next nine years if the school you choose doesn’t work out as expected. [Related: How and when to apply to Chicago preschools and elementary schools] May CPS waitlists begin in earnest. Families can get offers for other CPS Choice schools or, if they didn’t hear from or accept a CPS SEES offer prior, they can hear from those programs throughout the summer as well. Accepting a Choice school will not take you out of the running for any other Choice school, but the SEES process is “single offer,” meaning if you accept one of your Selective Enrollment schools, you will no longer be in the pool for the other SE schools. Only the entry years for magnet and selective enrollment programs use a tier system for awarding seats, with magnet schools devoting a higher priority to incoming siblings. The entry year of a CPS SEES program has 30% of seats set aside for high scorers from any tier, and then each tier has 17.5% of seats set aside for their high scorers, at least through the first three rounds of selection. Attrition year spots do not consider tiers, however, and neither do Open Enrollment or other neighborhood-based programs. Summer through early fall CPS conducts many rounds of waitlist calls, emails and portal updates to let families know that waitlists are moving. Subsequently, private school waitlists may move as families tell their private schools whether they will be staying or making a change. The process continues throughout the summer into the new school year, so don’t be surprised if you get a call even after your child has made new friends early in the school year. While the Chicago public and private school admissions process may seem overwhelming, know that in the end, you really do have many school choices at your disposal. If you haven’t found a great school fit yet, remember that the process begins again in October to apply for the following year (and NPN’s School Fair comes around again in early fall). Good luck to all!
  18. Video
    Childhood bullying a serious issue. According to the CDC's 2017 report Preventing Youth Violence, 1 out of 5 kids reported being bullied. NPN has teamed with Dr. Kortney Peagram, Bulldog Solutions to tackle the topic of childhood bullying and identify strategies for working with schools. Watch the video. Is your child experiencing bullying, or do you suspect bullying is happening? In this 48-minute video, you’ll learn the difference between bullying and drama, how to open a conversation with your child, and strategies to address and prevent bullying. Visit Dr. Kortney Peagram's Parent Hub via GoogleDocs for additional resources and handouts on this topic.
  19. While nighttime control often occurs years later, mastering daytime bladder and bowel control is a process which takes, on average, six months for a child to complete. Urine and stool accidents are common during those months and should be expected. Toilet training regression, however, is defined as loss of these daytime skills long after the process is complete. It is understandably frustrating and concerning for parents when their child, several months diaper-free, suddenly refuses to use the toilet, begins having frequent accidents during the day, or develops some other unusual elimination behaviors. [Related: Best Chicago playgrounds for the potty-training toddler] If these daytime skills were truly mastered before the onset of regression, the first step is to rule out medical causes by meeting with your pediatrician. If the doctor determines there is no physical cause for the regression, emotionally stressful changes in your child’s life should be considered. Some common examples include: Fears (monsters, loud flushing noise, falling into the toilet, being sucked down the toilet) Illness of the child or a family member Pregnancy or birth of a new sibling Change in childcare environment Moving to a new home Parents’ marriage ending In such situations, it is important to remember that rather than lashing out physically with violence or tantrums, your child has found a relatively healthy way to cope with this stress. Using the following approach, however, you can help your child find even better ways to manage. Tell them you’ve noticed the change Do this with as much ambivalence in your voice as possible. Shame and guilt will likely be your child’s first reaction to learning their behavior has not gone unnoticed. It is therefore important you remove any hint of judgement from your tone and choice of words. Talk to them First, explain you aren’t mad at them, and it isn’t their fault. Next, ask if they know why this is happening. Depending on the verbal skills of your child, you may not be in the habit of asking their opinion yet. Even if they don’t have the words to explain what they are feeling, hearing you are interested in what they think is empowering. If they do offer any type of meaningful response, listen carefully to what they say, thank them for telling you, and sympathize with them as much as possible. Tell them you are proud of the good work they have done up to this point and that you know they will do better next time. [Related: How to make potty training your toddler fun. Yes, fun.] Brainstorm creative solutions alone as parents and also with your child Any practical steps to solving the problem are worth trying. Removing fear by making the toileting fun with songs or games. Spend special time together with your child separately from the new baby. Explore the childcare facility bathroom with your child and separately discuss the issues you’re having with their childcare or caregivers. Surround the potty with familiar objects or toys. Positively reinforce successes with sticker charts or other reward systems. If your child contributes any ideas, be certain to try them as well. Consider taking a break If your creative solutions don’t seem to be working (or, worse: creating stress and anxiety surrounding toileting), consider taking a break and returning to pullups for a few weeks. Sometimes taking a backseat for a bit allows your child to recognize they are responsible for learning this important skill. Encouraging this independence can be liberating for your child and lead to lasting success.
  20. When you ask your kids the question, “How was school today?”, count yourself lucky if you get an “OK” or “fine.” As parents, we all want to know: Are they having fun? Are they playing nicely with others? Are they nurturing healthy relationships with their friends and peers? And the one that worries us the most, Are they eating lunch? Every day, tons of us suffer from not being able to communicate effectively with our children. As a mother of three and a parent educator, I’ve had to learn how to communicate with young children, especially after school. Here are some tips and examples to get the communication between you and your child started. Be mindful. Know that they have been sitting for most of the day (at least six hours!), and some days they may be frustrated about the day and not ready to talk. Bite your tongue and resist the urge to wear your FBI hat. Do not interrogate them. You may want to wait until dinner or bedtime to ask. In the meantime, concentrate on making the time fun and relaxing by asking easy questions, e.g., example “What would you like to eat for dinner?” Ask open-ended questions and be specific: “Tell me about something new you learned in Math today.” “Where is the coolest place in the school? Why?” “Who is the funniest person in your class? Why?” Share something about your day and ask about theirs: “I had a tuna sandwich for lunch. What about you?” “I am getting ready for a meeting tomorrow and need to create an agenda. When is your next exam and what is it going to include?” Use their artwork as a conversation starter: “Which technique did you use here?” “What were you feeling when you drew this?” Ask silly/fun questions: “Tell me something that made you laugh today.” “If you could be the teacher tomorrow, what would you teach and how would you teach it?” Know the school schedule: “Today is Thursday: Tell me about the new song you are learning in music class today.” Don’t forget the not-so-nice questions: “Tell me about something that made you sad today.” “Is there someone in your class that needs a time-out? Why?” “What can you do when you feel sad or frustrated in school?” Finally, listen. As soon as your child gets in the car, stop whatever you are doing and be present in the moment. Let them be the first to say anything and do not come up with conclusions before you hear the entire story. Children gain confidence as they relate their day and you affirm them. Be aware of signs. Your child may be showing off more than just having a bad day. Remember to stay in constant communication with the teacher. Teaming with the teacher helps the child be successful because after all, it takes a village! Nilmari Donate is the founder of HKC Parenting and School Consulting Services. She holds a BA in Public Health and an MA in Parenting Education and Support from DePaul University. She is the mother of three young bilingual and multicultural children.
  21. 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!
  22. 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.
  23. 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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