Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Family involvement

Radio Commentary

When people hear the term “parental involvement in school,” they usually think it means taking part in PTA activities, helping to chaperone field trips, or volunteering in the classroom.

It’s important to remember that another form of parental involvement is even more crucial — taking part in education at home.
This means encouraging children to read, monitoring their homework, reading to them, placing reasonable restrictions on TV viewing, and making sure they go to school every day.
It also means talking to children about why school is important.

Many children do not always get such attention. In some cases, both parents are working and are simply too tired at night or are not inclined to do so. In single-parent families, often it is impossible for a parent to cover all these bases.

Many modern children spend at least as much time watching TV as they do in school. And, of course, if students don’t attend school regularly, they can’t benefit from what it offers.

Parents have to be around the house to supervise; they have to put pressure on their children to turn off the TV and do their homework or read. They have to make sure their kids go to school even when there is some small reason for staying home.

This kind of parental involvement is hard work, and relentless work, because it must be constant. But it’s hard to think of anything more important parents can do for their children.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Sleep for teens

Radio Commentary

For years parents and educators have known that many teens do not get enough sleep to meet their health needs. Now there is a new culprit: their smart phones.

Parents may be unaware that many teens sleep with their smart phones by their side, answering calls or text messaging throughout the night.

Research has documented that, on average, teenagers have traditionally gotten about two hours less sleep every night than they need. This increases their risk of accidents and makes them moody.

In the past, this was caused by teens generally staying up too late and waking too early for the needs of their bodies. But these figures were calculated BEFORE the prevalence of smart phones.

According to research, teen bodies need nine hours and fifteen minutes of sleep per night. Prior to the advent of smart phones as bedmates, teens were getting an average of only seven hours of sleep per night. Now the numbers are far lower.

And fitful sleep, in short bursts, is not as healthful as uninterrupted sleep, so the health implications are far more grave than ever.

For example, of the estimated 100,000 car crashes a year linked to drowsy driving, almost half involve drivers age 16-24, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. What’s more, like all of us, teens get more emotional when they are sleep-deprived.

The best thing a parent can do to help teens get the sleep they need is to make sure there is no smart phone by their side when they go to bed. Period. Turn it off and take it away. It’s good parenting.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Connecting with your school

Radio Commentary

Whether you have a concern to share with school officials or you are just seeking information, there are ways to approach a school that make it more likely you’ll get what you want.

First, get as much information as you can before you go. You may want to write down your questions in advance.

Be sure to make an appointment, rather than appearing with no warning. That way you can be sure that the individual you need to talk to will be available when you arrive.

Approach the conversation with an attitude that assumes everyone is working in the best interest of your student. Acting respectfully will ensure that you receive treatment that is respectful.

Include your student in the discussions whenever possible. If agreements are made to follow certain approaches, be sure to uphold your part of the bargain.

It’s also important to get involved and stay involved. Join the PTA or parent group, the site council, or just volunteer in a classroom or the office.

Most schools involve parents in decision-making practices and evaluations of the school’s goals.

As your student’s main advocate, you need to know how to make the public school system work for your child.

Schools welcome this involvement because they know that children with involved parents are more likely to work hard, obey the necessary rules, and succeed academically. It’s well worth the effort.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Collaboration is the stuff of growth

News column

Nearly all our Santa Barbara county students have returned from summer break and are back in school. Not long after the school year begins, the time comes for parents to meet with teachers and discuss their children’s progress.

Parent-teacher conferences can be a very helpful means of communication, and they should be a two-way exchange of information about a child. Parents always want to know how their child is doing, what their strengths and weaknesses are, and how they can help. But teachers also want to know of any stresses in a child’s life that could affect classroom performance and, of course, any special needs that a child might have.

To increase the effectiveness of these conferences, parents should consider taking some preliminary steps.

First, take time before the conference to think about your child’s strengths, weaknesses, study habits, and classmates.

Ask your child: What do you like about the classroom? What would you like to change? Do you understand the work? Do you feel you’re doing well?

There are also several questions a parent should consider asking the teacher during the conference:

  • What are my child’s best and weakest subjects?
  • How can I help him improve?
  • Is my child working up to his ability? If not, why do you think so, and how can I help?
  • Is my child’s schoolwork progressing as it should? If not, how can I help her catch up?
  • If my child is ahead of other students, what will challenge or encourage her?
  • How does my child get along with other students?
  • Are there any special behavior or learning problems I need to know about?
  • What kinds of tests will be given this year? What are the tests supposed to reveal?
  • Is my child’s homework turned in on time, in completed form, and does it meet your expectations?
  • How much time should be spent on homework each night?

Parents and teachers have much in common. Neither wants a child to fail. Neither wants a child to be caught between the pressures of differing standards at home and at school. Both know that learning goes on at school and at home.

“Planning is bringing the future into the present,” says best-selling author and Californian Alan Lakein, “so that you can do something about it now.” I would encourage parents to plan that conference early. Together, parents and teachers can become a powerful force for positive change in the life of a child. It’s worth taking a little time to make sure the initial conference is helpful and informative for all involved.

Avoid spoiling

Radio Commentary

Parents want to provide the best they can for their children, but many of them don’t know how to go about giving their children what they want without spoiling them.

Some well-meaning moms and dads can’t bear to see their children sad or disappointed, so they give them everything they ask for.

Remember that it’s possible to set limits so that children are less likely to become overly indulged.
Children are not always able to make the distinction between what they want and what they need. Parents have to do it for them, even if it makes children temporarily unhappy.

First, make sure that “no” means “no”  — not “maybe.” 

If you’re at all ambivalent, children will easily pick up on it. They sense when you are uncomfortable saying no to them.

When you don’t send a clear message, you actually reinforce pleading, whining, and even tantrums.

Remember that all children test their parents. That’s their way of finding out if you really mean what you say. So act secure about saying ‘no’ when you have to.
Of course it can feel very uncomfortable to deny children their desires. But children who get everything they want are not necessarily happier for it. Life will not always be so kind over the long haul.

In fact, children feel much more secure when boundaries are clear and parents are consistent about the decisions they make.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

What do teens need?

Radio Commentary

The teen years can be tough to navigate, both for the teens themselves and for their parents.

It can seem as if all family interactions and relationships have changed. Sometimes new strategies are required to ensure smooth sailing through these stormy times.

Remember that teens need clear limits that define what is safe and acceptable.

They need discipline that is consistent and fair in all areas. They will be quick to zero in on actions that are seemingly unjust — even if the practices worked when they were younger.

Teens need positive role models who find pleasure in work, reading, hobbies, and family activities. No role model in that area is more powerful than a parent.

Teens also need permission to fail, with a tolerance for mistakes. No child can be perfect in every way. The telling family interactions are those that happen when mistakes are made or disappointments occur.

Never forget that teens need the chance to laugh and be happy, with their friends and their family. They need the chance to be successful, and it’s important to help them find an arena where that can occur.

Teens also need structured family activities, including meals and vacations. They benefit from friends who provide a positive peer influence.

Teens need encouragement to be responsible. Positive reinforcement helps.

They also need to be trusted and supported by important adults in their lives. Most of all, they need to be loved.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Detail skills

Radio Commentary

People generally talk about reading and writing in the same breath. Certainly, many of the skills that make children successful in one subject make them good in the other.

For example, one important reading skill that benefits from writing practice is identification of details.

Parents should encourage children to provide details in their own written and verbal stories. This will help them become more aware of the way other authors use detail.

One writing exercise requiring detail is to have children give directions. Ask them to write very specifically how to get from home to school, or how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

When children write thank-you notes to friends or relatives, have them describe in detail the gift they received and how they will use it.

You can also have children use a clipboard when watching TV. Have them jot down ad slogans that use good details.

They might write down phrases such as “the brightest, sharpest photos” or “crispy, crunchy crackers.”

Children can also take the clipboard along on family outings. Ask them to describe the “prettiest” thing they see on the trip, or the “most unusual.” Then challenge them to list as many details and descriptions as they can.

One way teachers measure improvement in young writers is to look at their use of details. The same is also true for improving reading comprehension: details matter.

Monday, August 24, 2015


Radio Commentary

It’s never too early to begin reading to a child. Even infants love the sounds of words in lullabies and rhymes.

Set aside some time for reading aloud every day. Let children snuggle close to you. That way, they will think of reading as a happy time when they have your full attention.

Your reading time doesn’t need to be long—10 or 15 minutes each day is fine.

Remember: if you read just one story a night to children, they will arrive in kindergarten with more than a thousand story-sharing experiences.

As you read, you can also boost a child’s thinking skills — and have fun.

Ask children to think about why something is happening in the story—or what they might do if they were in the same situation. For example, “What would you do if you were Little Red Riding Hood?”

When you’ve finished a book, ask children to think about how to change the story.

For example, “What would have happened if all three little pigs had built their houses of bricks?”

You can have fun with these questions. Even better, your children will be developing thinking and reasoning skills that lead to success in school.