Tag Archives: teachers

Is school lunch good for your kid?

16 Mar

Kids spend most of their day at school. They often eat both breakfast and lunch. My first year teaching I had to supervise the breakfast routine. I was totally appalled. Sitting on the desk at the front of the room was a cooler full of fruit DRINK (not juice, but an artificially flavored and sweetened drink) and a box of fruit rollups. The school was so proud of it’s breakfast program because they were helping to feed these poor kids who often had to come to school hungry because they came from families to poor to buy food.

I don’t know about you, but a fruit rollup and sugar drink doesn’t help me think through the day. I’ve talked before about the effects of diet on learning. But until we are ready to make some real changes we are going to continue to have obesity problems, behavior problems, health problems, and more.

I remember as a child my first year back in the country. My brother and I had our lunch boxes in hand (I had the metal Snoopy lunch box. How cool is that!) But we got to school and we were two out of a handful of kids who packed our own lunch. In the entire school! How embarrassing. We were like the lunch outcasts. We sooooo wanted to buy our lunches just like everyone else. We begged… and begged… to get to buy our lunch. But our parents couldn’t afford it.

Then the next year, our parents found out they qualified for the free lunch program. YES! We got our wish. We got to buy our lunch just like everyone else. There I was, a little girl, holding my tray waiting in line for this delectable mystery. It just had to be so good.

Boy, what a disappointment. I went home and BEGGED to be able to take my own lunch to school the next day. No luck. My parents didn’t budget for packing lunch because we were getting free lunch at school.

That was the last and only year we bought our school lunch. As I got older I started making my own lunch – and boy, were they good. I often had to make extra to share with my friends. They all had lunch envy.

Ann Cooper is known as the “Renegade Lunch Lady”. She is working out in Berkley, California and has implemented fresh, locally grown, and organic foods for the lunch program. And it is making a big difference.

Now, keep in mind that she is working within the system. She is working on changing how public schools feed children. That is why she  advocates for government spending and oversight in this arena. If you are going to depend on the government to educate and feed your child, you better make darn sure that they are doing it right.

My personal opinion is that the whole public school system should be scrapped. But that is not going to happen anytime in the near future – for many reasons. Be that as it may, public schools are a large part of most family’s lives. And as such, you, as a parent need to be aware of the costs (not just in dollars, but health, academics, and life) of school lunches.

Are schools making us stupid?

11 Mar

There are a lot of good teachers in the world. And most of them, like I did, got into teaching to help change the world, make lives better, and work with children.

The reality is so much different though. While some teachers are able to make some meaningful impact on the lives of their students, the scope is narrow and limited. Many teachers are restricted and restrained in what they can do in their classroom and for their students.

I’ve been reading Charlotte Iserbyt for a long time. I have seen what she talks about in her books and speeches first hand. She is part of the reason (other than first hand experience) I got out of public school teaching and started home schooling my children.

What she says is scary. If you choose to keep your children in public school you MUST be aware of the underlying and hidden agenda of the public school system.

Her book The Deliberate Dumbing Down of America is available for free online.

Charlotte Iserbyt served as Senior Policy Advisor in the Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI), U.S. Department of Education, during the first Reagan Administration. At that time, she blew the whistle on a major technology initiative which would control curriculum in America’s classrooms.

The very best home school curriculum available.

24 Feb

You Don’t Need This Book
…or any other book for that matter!

As an educating expert I get a lot of families asking me curriculum. What kind do I recommend, which ones do I use, how to find the best one. At the risk of losing out on many opportunities I am going to be extremely blunt. You don’t need them. I have seen too many people spend loads of money on special curriculum for each child (hundreds to thousands of dollars) only to find that school work becomes tedious, home schooling becomes a drag, and tensions between parent and child escalate as the child passive-aggressively battles the system that the parent has unwittingly brought into the home.

Curriculum is a billion dollar industry

Don’t get me wrong. I love curriculum. I am also very skilled at writing curriculum. A copy of my curriculum, written during my senior year of college (A+), is sitting in the art ed resource room at SIUE to be used as a reference and example for other aspiring art teachers. But the fact remains that you don’t need them. This point really hit home for me when I was browsing a bookstore one day. And there on the shelf in prime location was a preschool workbook on learning how to use scissors. Yes, some big wig curriculum publisher was selling this book. Incredulous, I picked it up and looked through it. It was full of thick black lines, straight lines, curved lines, dotted lines, some shapes. And the child would take a pair of scissors and cut along the lines. That was it. $15 dollars for a workbook that would be cut to pieces. It was mindboggling. And to think of the damage I was inflicting on my children by giving them a stack of scrap paper and bills to “shred” with their tiny scissors. Right then and there “You don’t need this book!” screamed through my brain. I even got the brilliant idea to write a book talking about this. I never finished it because it seemed too ridiculous to write a book you really don’t need talking about all the educational books you really don’t need.

Home schooling should be something different

Many of you started home schooling because of the failings of public school. So why bring that failing system into your home? All you have done is transplanted the same problems and frustrations from the classroom to the living room.

I was talking to a parent a couple of months ago. He is trying to home school his teenage daughter. He invested almost $500 on some nifty computer interactive curriculum set. But she never used it. Half the time she stayed at her mother’s house to avoid the school work. “What is she interested in?” I asked him. The simple question that most of us so often forget to ask. “Well, she likes cosmotology.” I then proceeded to launch into an explanation of how cosmotology could be the basis of all her learning from the history of makeup and hair and how it affected the world to the science of shampoo and hair dye. Every relevant “subject” could be covered using her main interest of cosmotology. I am afraid I might have scared him away, because I haven’t heard from him since then. But my point is, you don’t need fancy textbooks, computer programs, curriculums, or gizmos. You are better off using that money to invest in information or tools that are geared specifically to your child’s interest.

Home school groups are another tricky subject. (Especially since I am the founder of Pomegranate Gardens School). There are dozens of home school groups and schools out there. Sure, join up. I would love people to join me at Pomegranate Gardens. But think about what you want and need. If you are looking for a play group, do you need to pay membership fees for that? If you are wanting social connections there are numerous avenues for both parent and child. Please, think about how you are investing your time and money. If you want and need some real advise and support, get it. I offer most of my advise freely and generously, much to the detriment of PG’s educational consulting program. If you want serious guidance and support be willing to pay for it, but make sure you are paying for something that is worth the investment.

Kids and chores – the never ending battle to get things done

11 Dec

three-year old sweeping

When is a child too young to start helping out around the house?

sit... stay... go get it... good girl

sit... stay... go get it... good girl

four-year old measuring pet food

Well, naturally, that depends on the child. But my observation is, if they are old enough to ask if they can help, they are old enough for you to let them help. The key here is that you, as the parent, need to LET them. Oftentimes, we would rather just get it done. It takes too long to watch them struggle through it, we don’t like having to clean up the mess that follows in the wake of their “cleaning”, and they might break something.

fourteen-year old washing dishes

seven-year old shredding cheese

After having four kids the amount of housekeeping required to sustain even the barest minimum of cleanliness consumed almost all of my time. That’s four kids, one husband, myself, and numerous pets (at the moment, one dog and one cat, but we have had as many as two dogs, two cats, and a pair of birds all at the same time).  And why should I be the only one cleaning up after the masses, afterall, I’m not the only one making a mess. So the new regime began – even for the youngest.

three-year old cleaning lint trap

three-year old helping with the laundry

One could make the argument that learning such menial tasks as laundry, cleaning, and washing is counter productive to successful living. This could be hired-out work. Most wealthy and successful people rarely spend their time on housekeeping but hire someone else instead so that their own time and energy can be focused elsewhere. But I firmly believe that everyone should have a basic understand of how to do such menial tasks. At the very least it fosters respect for the work entailed (would you belittle and abuse your housekeeper if you truly understood how difficult the work was). And if you are in dire straights, at least you now how to keep your shirt clean. Taking care of chores is also a great way to foster independence, strengthen self-confidence, and encourage pride in a job well done.

youngest "supervising" the seven-year old cleaning the litter

master "chef" in training

The nice thing about starting out early is that eventually the kids reach a level of proficiency that requires very little oversight and correction. Plus, with so many of them, they help each other out and teach each other.

I finally drew up a little chore chart. But we rarely ever use it because they have already been trained on what needs to be done. The chore chart merely acts as a reminder so that they are able to double check their work.

chore chart

youngest “supervising” the seven-year old cleaning the litter

What is real education – What do your kids REALLY need to know

10 Dec

Are you raising thinkers, or are you raising fact crunchers?

This is the most basic question every educator and parent is trying to understand and what every school is trying to implement. There are thousands of different curriculum available – all claiming to be the best, most efficient, most effective learning material out there. There are millions of schools claiming to offer  (or struggling to achieve) some vague ideal where students excel and can then go out into the world to become fabulous success stories. The fact of the matter is most education is just a compilation of facts, figures, and accepted beliefs that we then expect our children to consume and regurgitate on command.

I propose that to truly do right by our children’s education we teach our kids to become thinkers and develop wisdom – even if this means they reach a conclusion that goes against societal norms or what we have accepted as truth.

Also something to think about… technology is advancing so rapidly that some of the “facts” we are teaching now will be obsolete by the time they are of an age to use it. So why do we wast their time forcing them to memorize? Time to move on.

What do young ones REALLY need to be able to do then? I have broken it down into three basic components.

1. Set and achieve goals. This is hard for a lot of people. How many of us are competent goal setters? But that is of no matter. We do not need to be an expert to teach. Regardless of what the goal is, the steps to follow are the same. There are a lot of really good resources for setting and achieving goals. Michael Masterson has a really good outline. But I swiped the following bullet points from Dr. Robert Anthony’s How to Make the Impossible Possible.

  • SPECIFIC – the goal must be absolutely clear and measurable otherwise it is just a wish. For example, I could say “I will learn Spanish”. But what does that mean. Nothing. How about “I will be able to read Don Quioxte in the original Spanish by the end of 2012″. Or how about “I will be able to have a 10 minute conversation in Spanish with a native speaker by Summer 2011.”
  • MODELING – sure you can muddle through life trying to figure things out on your own. But why try to reinvent the wheel. Find an expert or study someone who has achieved a similar goal and copy them.
  • ACTION – Well, this is a no-brainer. And yet, this is where we often screw up. I will never be able to read Don Quioxte if I don’t actual get down and do something about it. Even if I got so far as purchasing a foreign language program. That’s only one step. I’ve actually got to break it open and use the program. Then I need to practice. Then I need to… well, you should be getting the idea by now. I need to actually DO something. Find ways to motive yourself to action. Write down WHY you want to achieve this goal. In the words of Yoda “Do.. or do not. There is no try.” Or how about Mr. Miyagi from Karate Kid, “Walk on road, hm? Walk left side, safe. Walk right side, safe. Walk middle, sooner or later get squish just like grape. Here, karate, same thing. Either you karate do ‘yes’ or karate do ‘no.’ You karate do ‘guess so,’ just like grape. Understand?”
  • RESPONSIBILITY – I am totally responsible for my own results. If I don’t learn how to read Don Quioxte it is not because my teacher was lousy and didn’t like me. It’s not because my kids wouldn’t give me the chance to study. It’s not because my husband accidentally deleted my language program from the computer. No. I am 100% responsible for my own life choices and my own results and consequences. If what I am doing is not working, I just need to find another way to do it. As Thomas Edison once said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Or how about how Albert Einstein defines INSANITY: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
  • TIMING- Set a time frame for you goal, but be realistic on it. If there is no time frame, you goal will always be off somewhere in the future. But take things one step at a time. How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

2. Get help when you need it. Yeah, this one is important. There are great resources out there in the world. We need to learn to use them. Even us parents and educators. How many times have you been stuck in a bind but were afraid to ask for help. Now, by help, I do not mean having someone else do the work for you. I saw this a lot in school and even right here in my own home with my own kids. We hear, “I can’t do this” or we watch someone struggling and we swoop in and do it for them real quick. Then we justify it with a “See, that’s how it’s done” teaching moment. Sure, the butterfly needs to struggle out of his cocoon. But there are times when we all must seek outside help, be it a master, a counselor, a coach, or whatever.

3. Work hard – fully and completely. Yeah sure. We think we all do this. We are always spinning our wheels. Sometimes I feel like a hamster running inside a plastic exercise ball. But I am not talking about unproductive busy work. I’m talking about when my son does the dishes, I expect him to do them efficiently and cleanly. If he spends 2 hours at the sink, sure he feels like he’s been working hard, but the dishes are still dirty and the water and soap have been wasted. Do your work so you can be proud of it. You’ve spent your time and energy on it. Why waste that effort? How many of us are sitting behind our desks at work just doing enough to look proficient. Just imagine what a different world we would live in if every one always strived to give their best… everytime. So, take some pride in your work.

That pretty much sums it up. Those three basic skills. Everything else can be learned when and if you need it. Is this what we are teaching our kids? And if not, why not?

Here is an interesting story of Henry Ford, who was often ridiculed by intellectuals for being uneducated.  He was asked to submit to a test by so-called smart people from the world of academics. On the appointed day, a group of smart people came in to give him an oral test. They wanted to prove he was ignorant.

The test began by one scholar asking him a question such as, “What is the tensile strength of the rolled steel you use.” Ford, not knowing the answer, simply reached for one of the many phones on his desk and called his vice president who knew the answer. The vice president came in, and Ford asked him the question. The vice president gave him the answer the panel wanted. The next smart person then asked another question and again Ford, not knowing the answer, called someone else from his staff who knew the answer. This process went on until finally one of the smart people on the panel shouted, “See, this proves you are ignorant. You don’t know the answers to any of the questions we ask you.”

Henry Ford reportedly replied, “I don’t know the answers because I do not need to clutter my head with the answers you seek. I hire smart young people from your schools who have memorized information that you think is intelligence. My job is to keep my head clear of such clutter and trivial facts so that I can think.” At that point, he asked the smart people from the world of academics to leave.

“Thinking is the hardest work there is. That is why so few people engage in it.” ~Henry Ford

Back to School – Everything you REALLY need to start school

17 Aug

Getting ready to start school again. Due to some family issues, we actually took the whole summer off this year. But everybody is ready to go now!

Every time I walk into the local big blue box store (yeah, you know which one I’m talking about) I am greeted with the huge back to school signs and fliers and school supply lists. But come on! Do you really need everything on that list? I mean, will you fail out of school if you don’t have a pack of colored pencils? *rolls eyes*. Now, don’t get me wrong. I actually love colored pencils, and art supplies are some of my favorite things. But the list of: one red pocket folder, one blue pocket folder, one green pocket folder, 12 #2 pencils (yellow only – no fancy colors)…. Sheesh. That was a bit obsessive. And how many of you parents still have your old Trapper Keeper? (Or God forbid, how many of you parents don’t even know what a Trapper Keeper is!)

So, what did we get?

  • graph paper (makes math easier, used for graphs, used with certain art projects)
  • college ruled lined paper (for the older kid)
  • primary journal (for the younger kid learning how to write)
  • sketch paper (for drawing and painting)
  • colored construction paper

We already have:

  • scissors (one for each kid, age appropriate)
  • pencils (Mirado black warriors are our favorite, they sharpen nice, erase well, and write nice and clean)
  • colored pencils (Berol prismacolor, because cheap colored pencils suck to use)
  • crayons (Crayola really does make the best crayon, the other brands are too waxy – not enough color)
  • markers (from my years of teaching I found that Sanford Mr. Sketch makes the better washable marker, it doesn’t rub off like Crayola markers do, and the colors are bright. It’s also a little cheaper if you can find it.)
  • glue (we usually get Elmers, it works)
  • ink pens (ah, everyone has their own preference)
  • rulers (metal for better accuracy and if you’re going to be using it with an x-acto knife, otherwise the plastic ones work just fine)

What more do you really need?

Stay tuned for some new lesson ideas!

Dating Services in Middle School

13 Feb

The middle school in our district is hosting a “data match” service. I was a little confused at first because my son came home and told me that the school had a dating service going on this week. “You know mom, like those eHarmony commercials.” So I went to the school to find out more. They laughed at me when I mentioned “dating service”, but see for yourself. Sounds like a dating service to me. Here is a copy of the letter they sent home to parents.

Dear Parents:

Team 7B is conducting a fun, spirit-building activity that will help us raise funds for school. Data-Match is a program that allows students to fill out a questionnaire about themselves with questions such as:

  • If I were a crayon, I would be…
  • My favorite subject is…
  • If I had a superpower it would be…

After students have answered the questionnaires (filled in the “Data”), the forms are shipped to the Data-Match company who will then compile the results and formulate a personal list of students (regardless of gender) for each student who participated. This means boys and girls will appear on anyone’s list as compatible buddies. It will display 15 students at CMS who answered their questionnaires similarly. Students then have the option of purchasing their list for only $2.00.

As middle school students are entering a new phase of life, this is great way to learn that many different types of people can make good friends. It’s an interesting way for students to learn that friendships and commonalities can cross differences that may exist among us. Students are not required to purchase their list, but if they choose to fill out the questionnaire, they are encouraged to.

Please note that no personal information is sold or published in any way through the use of this fundraiser. If, however, you prefer that your child not participate in this fundraiser, please instruct him or her not to complete a questionnaire.

We look forward to a rewarding experience where everyone can learn a little bit about themselves and others, and raise money for our students in the meantime!

Keep in mind that this is also taking place this week – Valentine’s Day week. Pork Chop tells me that a lot of girls are hanging around the “spot”. It doesn’t really matter if they give a list of both boy and girl names. The concept and format is still that of a dating service – and the kids know it. What really concerns me is that the faculty and staff don’t seem to realize this.

There are a lot of things about this “fundraiser” that I don’t understand. How does it raise spirit? How does this teach kids how to make friends? This sounds like a bunch of BS to me.