iPad is not a 4-letter word

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately, with my 7-year son using an iPad at school, and doing Google searches, reading books, and listening to music at home. Even my preschooler practices writing, plays memory games, and looks at family pictures on my iPad.

They also love taking selfies.
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I don’t want my kids to fear technology when it is the most amazing educational resource since the invention of writing. The problem is not screen-time itself. The problem is how to teach kids to responsibly use technology as a tool for good rather than evil. Like learning to cut food with a knife, the knife itself has no inherent moral quality, the morality comes from how the user perceives and uses the tool.

“The computer is, without question, the single most important tool of modern society. Our limiting kids’ computer time would be like hunter-gatherer adults limiting their kids’ bow-and-arrow time.” Peter Gray, author Free To Learn

Read this perspective on it: Technology and Natural Learning from City Kids Homeschooling blogger Kerry McDonald. She has a knack for putting into words what my gut is trying to tell me.

summer slide

For the first time in my parenting career, I was faced with the task of avoiding the dreaded “summer slide” for my rising second grader. A month into the summer, after a vacation in Los Angeles, his own 7th birthday party, July 4th, trips to the beach, and more birthday parties, I decided it was time.

I made him a reading clipboard, with his school reading log on it, and about 5 pages of suggested book titles. He dutifully highlighted books he thought he’d like. We went to the library every week, and I talked him into picking out 1 or 2 books at a time. I nagged. A lot. And I hated it. The nagging and the not reading and the crankiness.

Then I read this post from my favorite homeschooling blog, City Kids Homeschooling: Unschooling and the 3 Rs. And I realized… the more I asked, the more I nagged, the more I hounded and begged him to read, the chances of him ENJOYING reading would decrease exponentially.

Children are natural learners. Even 7-year-olds who act like tough guys. They have a curiosity about the world that we’ve left behind in favor of checking things off the list, getting the better grade, filling out the reading log. Parents can be overly focused on achievement, and so can our schools.

Why do we push our young children to complete activities for the sake of being finished with them, like Type A control freaks? Instead, we should be surrounding them with natural opportunities to learn. My son doesn’t care if he reads 40 books this summer or zero. He just wants to do fun things.

So I stopped talking about it. I brought home books from the library by the bagful, and I left them on his desk or in his room. Books about sharks, baseball, and dinosaurs. Books from his beloved Magic Tree House series, a graphic novel version of The Wizard of Oz, and picture books he could read to his little brother. I never mentioned them, I never demanded he read them. And HE FREAKIN’ READ EVERY ONE.

Not only that, but he was excited about what he read. He LEARNED things that he didn’t know before. Reading made him THINK.

And isn’t that the whole point of reading?

part 1 of career shape-shifting: the parachute dilemma

Starting a business is no easy task. It’s been a tough road just getting to the point where I know it’s what I want to do, and my blogging has largely been silent on this. Now, with the spectacles of hindsight, I think can write about it in a coherent, non-whiny manner.

This is the first of several posts looking back on my 1-year journey into entrepreneurship. It started with figuring out what I want to be when I grow up.

When I left the real world of work just over a year ago, I knew I only had one more chance at this career change thing. Let’s face it, I’m almost 40, my husband and I have 2 kids to raise, and we’re pretty sure there are no trust funds out there waiting for us to come of age.

I had graduated from Boston University with a BA in Philosophy and Political Science. “What the hell were you planning to do with that?” you ask — everyone asked. Truth is, I didn’t care. I liked reading and I liked writing, and I could still take plenty of art classes as electives. I quickly decided law school was not my gig… and thus began my “multi-faceted” (read “directionless”) career.

I have been a retail manager, furniture salesperson, prenatal/infant care expert, event planner, marketing/PR specialist, investor relations manager, legal assistant, administrative assistant, and stock broker assistant. What to do with this crazy cocktail of experience was completely beyond me.

So I sought out a career counselor. I looked into independent career counselors, and found that they charge upwards of $125/hour. That’s our weekly grocery budget! This was clearly out of the question. But wow, what a great gig these independent consultants have. Then I remembered how fortunate I am to be living in the city of my alma mater.

I gave the BU Center for Career Development a call. When I went to BU, it was called the Office of Career Services. It was in a basement of a building on Deerfield St in Kenmore Square and smelled like a basement. These days, it’s a “Center” that “develops” you rather than “serves.” It has also moved up to swanky digs on the 3rd floor, about to move into swankier new digs in a brand new building across the street. I think they’ve figured out that if they do a better job of helping liberal arts majors like me make a ton of money, they’ll get a piece of that in alumni donations.

As an alum, I was eligible for three counseling sessions and two assessment tests for the bargain price of $90. This was a steal, and I’d be crazy to turn it down. Plus, I LOVE taking personality tests.

Tune in next week for Part 2 of Career Shape-Shifting: “INFP”

SIDE NOTE:  If you’ve never perused the Work/Career section of your local bookstore, the blog title refers to “What Color Is Your Parachute?” which I read in my 20s. Please don’t take my recent state of career confusion as evidence the book fails its intended purpose. It’s a fabulous book. My career track derailment has more to do with variable commitment on my part than anything else.

getting off the BPS roller coaster

If you’ve read my older posts, you know that my kindergartener had a sh*tty teacher for the first half of the year. His new teacher is fabulous — caring, calm, the right kind of stern at the right times, and she knows how to get through to the kids. She started 2 months ago, and everyone in the class has come so far in that short amount of time. They are writing, sounding out words independently, counting, and understanding numbers, but most of all, they are enjoying themselves in school! Here they are at pajama day today:

I had such high hopes for my family’s involvement with BPS. I wanted to be that parent — going to parent council meetings, making brownies for bake sales, selling raffle tickets and what-have-you to raise money for art/music/gym programs, doing craft projects with the kids at afterschool, telling everyone I met to give public schools a chance. I wanted to be part of the system working to improve the system for everyone’s sake. His school is wonderful in so many ways, and is getting better every year. There is a strong sense of community, a very active parent council, diverse student population, and an amazing principal who is clearly committed to the kids educational experience.

But we’re leaving BPS.

Last December, I was so fed up with the school situation that I had to look into other options. In addition to researching home-schooling, I applied to just one private school. I was not expecting anything to come of it — there were 5 slots available and 25 applicants. I said, and I believed it, that we’d be happy staying put if we didn’t get in. I was in shock when we got the call this week that he has been accepted, and they are giving us an aid grant we’d be crazy to turn down.

Our public school experience has been a roller coaster ride, and seeing my child completely petrified in his kindergarten class was the lowest low. As much as I would like to follow Gandhi’s directive to “be the change you want to see in the world,” I am a mother first.

what’s the problem?

picasso quote

This quote by Pablo Picasso resonates with me on many levels. As a mother, it makes me think about how to continually nurture my little artists’ creativity. And as a grown-up individual, I wonder where I failed to nurture myself as an artist along the way. There are so many mundane yet necessary responsibilities we slowly acquire as adults — it’s too easy to let them get in the way of creative pursuits. I haven’t got an answer to the problem, but I’m glad I know what the problem is.

~ via Every Child is an Artist | Fotoseeds Photographic Education.

another plug for independent play

Thanks to my network of amazing moms, I came across this NPR story from 2008: Old-Fashioned Play Builds Serious SkillsListen to the original airing of the show here. Researchers say that unstructured play not only helps children develop creativity and imagination, but also self-regulation.

It turns out that all that time spent playing make-believe actually helped children develop a critical cognitive skill called executive function. Executive function has a number of different elements, but a central one is the ability to self-regulate. Kids with good self-regulation are able to control their emotions and behavior, resist impulses, and exert self-control and discipline.

I’m a huge fan of giving kids space to do their own thing. Coming from a family who restricted my activities to avoid injury, failure and conflict, I want my boys to have more freedom than I did. Freedom to play, imagine, invent, make messes, be loud, and yes, to fall.

One of the best parenting books I ever read is The Blessing Of A Skinned Knee by Wendy Mogel. Whenever I see H doing crazy things like hanging upside-down on the monkey bars, I remember this book. And I remember that these are things I never had the courage to attempt as a child.

On this particular day, I fought against my over-protective mothering instincts and encouraged H to let go of the bar with his hands so he could just hang by his feet. He didn’t want to because it was too scary, but he said he’d try it when he’s 6. Whew, was that a sign of self-regulation? Maybe I’m doing something right as a parent.

occupy movement succeeds

I just received the letter from H’s school that I never thought I’d see:

Maybe there is teacher accountability within our public school systems after all. But it takes activism on the part of many families, and a supportive administration, to force the change.

I fought for my son, but I also fought for the other 19 kids in the class. At 5- and 6-years old, they have so much potential, such eagerness to learn and do well. They didn’t deserve 5 months with a teacher who was out to lunch. At least there’s another 5 months in the year to help them discover a love of learning.

We won this fight. The irony of it is, we just had a promising interview this morning at a private school we would LOVE to send H to next year.