What We Discovered at The Discovery Museum

This is the first post in a series I call, “Out and About in Connecticut”. As many of you may know, we recently moved from New York to Connecticut. One of the very best things about moving, at least for me, is getting to check out new restaurants and activities and I’ll be sharing some of our best finds here with you.

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One of the challenges of having a huge age gap between kids is finding activities that all will be happy at. For this reason, museums are usually at the top of my list but finding ones that will keep my 3 year old occupied can be a challenge. When I heard about the Discovery Museum it sounded like it checked all the boxes so our crew of five (my husband and myself and three of our five kids ages 19, 14 and 3) headed there on a recent Sunday morning.

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There are three floors to check out and a large space for eating (make sure to bring lunch if you plan on staying because they just have vending machines with snacks).

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A great spot to eat a packed lunch

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When you first walk in, there’s an awesome light board called Everbright which was inspired by the classic toy, Lite-Brite (Ahhhh, memories! Yes, I had to order her one right away). We had to pry the 3 year old away from it; she was fascinated that she could change the colors.

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We continued into the Dare to Discover room where Daddy and Juliette had some fun together while my oldest got busy wiring a lamp. Even the 14 year old got off the bench when her sister dragged her over to see things float. Mama was happy that everyone had something to keep them occupied.

We headed upstairs where everyone except the youngest had fun shooting baskets and attempting to bank shots (BONUS- learning the science behind it!)

The highlight was definitely the Get Physical room with the pulleys and levers where I captured my favorite picture of the day- a moment when all three girls were connecting, having fun, and creating a memory!

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Other fun pics from the Get Physical room…

We then headed over to the Adventure Science room. My little one was a bit too young to do most things independently but that didn’t stop her from exploring with the help of dad and her big sis.

We then headed all the way down to the MoonBase Discovery area. There was a stimulator where you could drive a lunar rover and other very cool things but honestly my 3 year old’s highlight was driving the big yellow school bus and playing with legos!

Other museum highlights include great art lining the walls, a planetarium which has three different age-appropriate show (check schedules for the day before going), and a Preschool Power area for infant to toddlers under 3.

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There isn’t a gift shop but they do have an area by the entrance/exit where you can by souvenirs.

Overall it was great Sunday morning spent at The Discovery Museum!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Choosing a Preschool

Just six short months ago I was spending my days and nights researching colleges for my 18 year old. Fast forward to my last three weeks visiting five nursery schools, with two more schools scheduled to visit next week. Is choosing a preschool really such a big deal? I believe so and I’ll do my best to explain why and what you should be looking for in a quality preschool program.

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Me and my now 14 year old (!) at a Mothers’ Day event at her preschool

When to Send

At two? At three? At four? Back in the day, preschool literally meant “before school” and that was typically at the age of 4. Nowadays, it can be used to describe a two’s program. So when is the right time? Research shows that there is no benefit to child attending a program before the age of three. Now for my two older children, I was working full time and it was not a choice. For many of us, it is not a choice. In that case, you should look for the highest quality program you can afford- focusing not only on the facility but also on the educational backgrounds of the caregivers.

To put it simply, most children under three are not equipped with the skills needed to interact with other children successfully and may not be ready to separate.

Of course, there are exceptions and there are children who do amazing in the twos and there will be children at three who are not ready. Every child is an individual. This is also not to say that sending your child to a twos program will hurt them; research just shows that it does not have a measurable benefit.

“There is no evidence that daycare is advantageous to children from middle-class families,” Oliver James writes in his most recent book, How Not To F*** Them Up. “If daycare is as distressing to under-threes as many researchers believe, it would not be surprising if it affected their cortisol levels: when distressed we usually secrete the hormone.”

Here are some additional articles that discuss when is the right time to send children to school.

Preschool/Nursery School/Daycare

These terms are often used interchangeably but there are subtle differences.

  • A preschool tends to focus on learning and development
  • A nursery school tends to focus on play and socialization
  • A daycare tends to focus on the care of young children

Not surprisingly, many of these places, even if they call themselves one thing or another, incorporate all of the ideals mentioned above in the day of a young child,

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Different Philosophies (most common)

Play– The focus of the day is learning through play. Any academic skills are taught through theme-based activities. The teacher serves as a facilitator of learning, not as a direct instructor.

Academic– In an academic-based preschool, the teacher is the direct instructor. Children spend the majority of the day learning letters, letter sounds, numbers, colors, shapes and handwriting.

Montessori– The Montessori method is known as a child-centered learning approach. Children are placed in mixed age classrooms and learn through working with carefully chosen materials set at their level. Teachers are specifically trained in the Montessori method.

Cooperative– Known more commonly as a “co-op”, cooperative schools may have varying philosophies but the main thing is that parents are very involved in the classroom, often working along side the teachers.

Check out this article on preschool philosophies.

What to look for (in no order) and questions you should be asking

  1. Secure facilities– How difficult was it for you to get in? Was the door locked? We’re you buzzed in? ASK– Do classroom doors lock? Do they have a policy for lockdowns and lockouts? Who can come into the classroom at any given time?
  2. Classroom setup– Look to see if materials and board (if there is one) is at a child’s eye-level. Are there bathrooms in the classroom? This is important for young kids who are still working on independent bathroom skills.
  3. Teacher backgrounds– Certification to work in a preschool varies by state. In most areas, all someone needs is a certificate earned in as little as two weeks. ASK– Do head/lead teachers have degrees in education? Are all employees CPR trained? Do all employees undergo background checks?
  4. Curriculum– There is no set curriculum a preschool must follow. There are, however, guidelines set by the state. ASK– Does the school follow the state guidelines? Are teachers responsible for creating lesson plans? Who decides what is done in the classroom on a daily basis?
Other important questions to ask-
  • How do they deal with a child who is having difficulty separating?
  • What is their potty training policy?
  • How do they handle discipline issues?
  • Is the school/classroom nut free?

Closing Thoughts

Preschool may be your child’s first time away from you on a regular basis and will be their first educational experience. This experience will shape their feelings and thoughts toward school, peers, and usually the first non-family adults they will spend time with regularly. Choose wisely!

Cyberbullying- Could Your Child be a Target? (Guest Post!)

Today’s post comes to you from Laura Pearson. Laura created Edutude – she believes that every student has great potential and aims to help as many as possible unlock it. She also strives to find unique, creative ways for parents and educators to encourage students to be challenged, motivated and excited by learning.

Parents: Say No to Cyberbullying

There are plenty of times when kids should be left on their own to figure life out for themselves. For parents of children who are being cyberbullied, now is not the time for kids to be kids.
With the increasing prevalence of technology playing critical roles in children’s lives, parents must be aware of how to help their child avoid being cyberbullied and, if they are already, how to provide solutions that will cease the torment. This is especially true for parents who have recently moved, their child being rendered the “new kid in town,” which often makes them an easy target for bullies.

Prevention: The First Goal

If possible, parents should aim to prevent any instances of cyberbullying before they arise. The Cyber Bully Hotline suggests several strategies for preventing cyberbullying. While many pertain to instances of cyberbullying that have already occurred, it’s important for parents to be proactive in monitoring their child’s use of technology.

This means consistently enforcing rules about when a child can be on their phone or computer for the use of social media. While cyberbullying can’t be completely stymied through limited usage, the message inherent to these limitations goes deeper. Considering a McAfee study, which found that 87% of students ages 11 to 15 at one school had witnessed cyberbullying, it’s clear that the problem is virtually unavoidable. This means parents must fortify their own child so that they won’t be prone to the often-crippling effects that cyberbullying can have.

Children put far more stock in the perceptions of their peers than adults. For this reason, teaching a child that their worth shouldn’t be determined by the masses but instead by their true friends and family is crucial, and reinforcement of this message is never too frequent. For children who have recently moved, the home may be the only source of familiarity available, making the fostering of positivity all the more critical.

Start at Home

First and foremost, it’s important that home is a safe zone. Particularly when moving to a new city, it’s imperative to take the time to create a stress-free environment. This allows a child to have a place where they feel comfortable and safe, especially during such a rough transition as moving to a new school.

The greatest asset a parent can have in ensuring their child suffers no true harm as the result of cyberbullying is communication. Livestrong.com notes many of the benefits for children who live in a household with strong communication. These benefits include increased self-esteem, an ability to share feelings and emotions maturely, a decrease in “acting out,” and greater listening skills. All of these benefits can help a child develop a strong sense of self and the ability to confidently combat bullies in person, decreasing the chances of being persistently picked on.

A child who personifies a strong sense of self stands a better chance of understanding that bullies are not rational and that their words are not to be assigned any value. This type of child is equipped to succeed in any environment, which is why families who move to a new town must ensure that active communication throughout the move and after relocation is consistently practiced.

If a child does experience cyberbullying, they’re more likely to speak to their parents about the issue if household communication is strong. HASA notes that good communication in the home prepares a child to withstand even greater issues. Still, parents should make it clear that the child is not on their own and that should an issue arise, parents can intervene for the better without embarrassing the child.

When Problems Arise

If a parent finds out their child has experienced a form of cyber-torment, they should first talk to the child. Asking the child to be honest, probe whether the bullying is consistent, or whether it was a one-time instance that has not recurred.

If the problem is persistent, and the bully is known, a call by one or both parents to the offending child’s parent may be the quickest way to nip the problem in the bud. If the bully’s parent is not receptive to counseling and/or disciplining the child, any evidence of cyberbullying should be documented and brought to school administrators’ attention.

As stated, bullying is nearly unavoidable. When a student is different, whether due to their appearance, mannerisms, interests, or their status as new kid on the block, they can be particularly prone to being victimized. But parents can negate the potential damage of cyberbullying by maintaining open lines of communication and an atmosphere of safety and security at home. Not only will this enable a child to shake off the malevolence of self-loathing bullies, but also to feel comfortable disclosing any persistent issues to their parents. A strong mind is a strong child, and molding that strong mind starts at home.

Parenting in the Age of Social Media

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Social Media. For me personally, and I’m guessing many others, I have a love/hate relationship with it.

I love being able to keep up with friends and family all over the world and I love the wealth of information I gain from Facebook groups and by following topics of interest on Instagram. I love connecting with my kids on Snapchat and seeing snipets of their days.

I hate how it takes “keeping up with the Joneses” to an entirely new level and how we only see the highlight reels of everyone’s lives (for the most part). I hate how exclusion is now very much in our faces and how we thrive off of likes and comments on posts.

Regardless of how we feel, here we are. It’s 2017 and parenting through the age of social media is tough and it sometimes feels as though it’s impossible to keep up. Here are the basics as of September 2017; I’m sure I will need to update this again soon.

Social Media Accounts

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The big two- Instagram and Snapchat

If you have a tween or teen, you need to have these two accounts. There are various opinions regarding how much you should get involved in your child’s social media life (more on that to come) but I feel strongly that at the very least you need to have these apps so you know how they work.

Instagram– an app/site where you can post pictures. This, like many apps and websites, has evolved and will continue to evolve both in the features of the site AND how the kids use it. Today, I will be focusing on how 13-16 year olds tend to use these sites.

It is not uncommon for middle schoolers and high schoolers to have THOUSANDS of followers. Where kids used to post pics all the time, that has changed (they use snapchat for that now) and Insta is now more like a digital photo album- only the best, usually heavily filtered and edited, pictures get posted. The caption is very important and usually very clever (although most kids find these online so they aren’t even their own). When a picture is posted, the amount of likes and comments are watched like a hawk and if they aren’t getting the number of likes they expect, the picture may come down. It is very common for friends to comment multiple times to show their love. “Tagging” friends in pictures can be a very big deal. Friends expect tags even if they’re not in the picture and the position of the tag is also very important (many kids layer tags upon tags so you only see the top ones, hence being able to give many friends the tag but only the best friends’ names will show). I’m guessing at this moment you’re thinking this sounds stupid and complicated AND IT IS but this is a very, very big deal in a middle schooler’s life so if you want to stay in touch with what your child’s going through, you must keep up. Being left out of a picture by not getting a tag is equivalent to getting snubbed- it’s subtle but it sends a big message. Girls will then ask for a tag and the girl who left the tag off now has the power. (If you haven’t read Queen Bees and Wannabes you absolutely must). She can either be nice and say she forgot and add the tag or further complicate the situation and ignore the asker completely (read more about girls and social media here)

To further complicate your life, many kids also have a “Finsta”, which stands for “Fake Insta”. This is a more “fun” page where they will post funny, silly, random pictures to be viewed by only a select group of friends. These finstas have also been know to be used for bullying since most parents don’t know anything about them.

Snapchat a site where you can share quick pics that disappear within 24 hours. There is no “wall” or even a page like FB or Insta that you can go to to see your child’s account. The closest thing to that is on the main page where you can see peoples’ “stories”.

I’ll do a quick breakdown to explain how it’s used—

  • I take a picture. I can send it to an individual person or post on my story for all my friends to see (or both).
  • If I send you a picture everyday and you send me one back everyday, after 3 days we will have a “streak”. The more we communicate with each other, the longer the streak, thus highlighting our level of friendship. As you can see, streaks are very important (no one wants to lose a streak!).
  • Important things that I want everyone to see (pics or videos from a party, fun outing or plans with friends), I post on your story, much like I’d post on FB or Insta, except these will disappear after 24 hours.
  • Filters are fun.
  • If I open a picture, I am supposed to send one back right way, otherwise I “boxed” that person (this is a key difference between how older people and younger people use Snapchat- my college aged kid couldn’t care less about “boxing” but it’s important to my 14 year old). Kids will snap back pictures of the ground or other things that don’t even show anything just to “snapback”. This is strange to me but seems to make sense to middle schoolers.

An important note about Snapchat- kids these days are not texting much anymore; instead, they use Snapchat to message each other. It’s just like texting except it disappears, just like the pictures.

New, Very Dangerous Social Media Accounts

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Sarahah– It seems like the awful, anonymous apps just won’t go away. When my oldest was younger, it was askfm. Now it’s Sarahah. The appeal is strong to middle schoolers because it runs on the premise that you can get feedback anonymously. I’m sure I don’t need to explain to you how dangerous this can be and how quickly it turns mean and encourages online bullying. The day I read about it and shared an article on FB warning other parents, I saw a story on my daughter’s snapchat that said, “swipe up” with her Sarahah account info. Aaaahhhhh! I would not have seen this on her phone because it’s not an app but a site and if I hadn’t been on snapchat that day, I would have never known. The struggle is real. (More on Sarahah here)

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Omegle– Just read the description and you’ll know you’ll want your child to stay far, far away but unfortunately they’re using it. Taken from their website- “Predators have been known to use Omegle, so please be careful.” Fantastic. Not too much to say about this one except to please speak to your kids about the dangers!

Other Social Media Accounts Worth Mentioning

Houseparty– A group video chat, much like Facetime or Skype except it’s with a group of people. This can be relatively harmless if your child is doing it with friends they know. The only downside is that kids can kick out others or “lock” the Houseparty which can lead to feelings of exclusion.

Musical.ly– Where kids can take video of themselves lip-syncing and dancing and share with “friends”. The premise is cute but make sure to monitor the content AND who’s has access to watch your child dance.

Facebook– not really a thing for the kids these days. My older daughter uses it to read and share articles and for the FB groups. My 14 year old has an account but zero interest

Twitter– More for older teens and adults.

Vine– Not relevant anymore since Snapchat and Instagram now have videos.

Parenting in the Digital Age

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So now that I’ve given you the 411, what should you do? How do we parent in this new, digital age?

I’ve come up with a few ideas that help but I am also the first to say that this could be a full time job and if you have a child who’s into all this, as most are, they will most likely find a way around many of your rules. I’m always looking for more help in this area so if you have any tips that work, please share in the comments section below.

  1. Stay informed and aware. Know the apps your child is using. Use them yourself so you understand how they work. Personally, I believe you should be “friends” and “follow” your child on any site their using. In our house, this is rule- if you’re on a site, I must be able to access it. ***Disclaimer- I have caught my daughter “blocking” me and hiding posts. She is not perfect and does not follow my rules 100% of the time. However, when she is caught, there are consequences and learning opportunities.

       2. Have parental controls set so your child cannot download any app without your                approval. This will allow you to check out new apps before your child uses them.                ***Disclaimer- this doesn’t work on websites.

       3. Have rules in place regarding cell phones (see this post for a great contract)

       4. Have rules in place regarding social media. Listed below is a contract to get                           you started. Modify as needed but don’t be so quick to remove the parts                                 regarding pornography. I know this is a super uncomfortable topic but it is                           soooooo important to have these discussions with ANY CHILD over the age of 10                 (some would say even younger) that has access to the internet (see this post for                   tips about talking to your kids about online porn)

Social Media Contract

1.  I agree to keep my settings at “private” at all times.

2. I agree not to post any pictures of body parts. I will only post pictures of myself or friends if they include our faces. I understand this is not because there is anything wrong or shameful with any parts of my body, but that it is not healthy to sexualize myself to strangers as a young person.

3. I agree not to post sexualized images. This includes kissing of any kind, grabbing body parts or making sexual gestures of any kind. There is nothing wrong with being silly, but the Internet is not a safe place for young kids to be silly in a sexual way.

4. I agree to be respectful of myself and others in the words and images I use. This includes agreeing not to use social media to mock, tease, embarrass, gossip or reveal secrets.

5. I agree for safety not to reveal the specific place I am when I am there. For example, I will not post a picture saying “I am at the pool with a friend and then we are walking home.”

6. I agree to immediately tell an adult family member if I ever receive any threatening or sexual messages or images on any social channel.

7. I agree not to view pornography. I understand that sex is a wonderful and healthy part of an adult life, but that pornography is a different thing than sex, and not healthy for a young person. I understand that I cannot control the images I see once I start looking at a pornography page or video, and those images will never leave my brain, and that can be harmful to my emotional health. I agree that if I accidentally stumble across pornography or a friend shows it to me, I will stop watching.

8. I agree to acknowledge that everything I put online is permanently available, even if it can be immediately deleted or hidden. I understand that people who know technology well can access images and words that have been deleted even if the app tells you otherwise. I understand that even private messages can be copied and pasted somewhere else. I understand that when I am grown and an adult, someone can look my name up and find every single thing I’ve ever put online. This includes bosses, boyfriends, girlfriends, future family and friends, neighbors and co-workers.

9. I agree that when I am having family time, I will put away my devices, including my phone. This goes for the adults as well.

10. I agree that occasionally I will have Internet blackouts. This means that when I am showing signs of needing a tech break—such as lack of reading or creative activities, irritability, constantly pulling out my phone, unable to concentrate and not wanting to participate in family activities or time—my parents might ask that I stay off the Internet and my phone for a day or two.

11. I agree to be done with all tech including phone by 10pm nightly unless I have asked for and received an exception.

12. If I do not follow these agreements, I understand that I will lose my social media privileges for as long as my parents feel it is necessary. I understand that my parents love me more than anything in the world and create these boundaries out of that love.

Preparing for the College Application Process- A Timeline

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It’s crazy to say but I’m almost done with the getting-into-college process. My daughter will be making her decision in the next few weeks. She has already been accepted to two of her top choices so we are all breathing a little easier. I wanted to take some time while everything is fresh in my head to write down everything I’ve learned over the last few years during this often confusing process. This is a general timeline that I wish I would have had a few years ago. I hope it’s helpful!

Middle School

In middle school, your child’s grades (for the most part) won’t show up on their high school transcripts but this is the time when study habits are formed and  academic tracks are set. By now you should know what type of student your child is. Spend these years closing any gaps in their education, developing independent study skills and making sure they are on the right track, whatever track that may be. In the district where I live, all students begin a language in 6th grade so in 8th grade it’s considered an advanced level high school course, all students take Algebra in 8th grade and all are given the opportunity to take Earth Science, typically a 9th grade course (we have optional self-selection). Potentially three classes in middle school will appear on students’ high school transcripts. There is no doubt that taking Earth Science in 8th grade will put them on an advanced track for high school but many students are not ready and that’s perfectly OK. The door is not shut- they can still take honors/AP science classes down the road. A note on districts that allow self-selection for advanced classes- I highly recommend choosing classes based on teacher recommendations. If you are surprised or disagree with the teacher’s recommendation, speak to the teacher to understand why they feel the way they do. They may offer an insight that you don’t have. 

High School

9th and 10th grade-

  • Encourage your child to join many clubs and participate in many sports to see which ones they like. Basically, they should try out everything, especially if they don’t have a “thing”.
  • Familiarize yourself with which core classes are offered for each year and come up with a plan, knowing that your child may deviate from these courses.
  • Encourage your child to start building their relationship with their guidance counselor. You should as well.
  • Monitor grades very closely at the beginning of the year, especially in advanced classes. Be aware of the drop dates and level change dates.
  • Consider tutoring or test prep for regent exams because these grades will be on high school transcripts.
  • Plan your child’s summers for the next three years. As it was explained to me at a college workshop, your child has three summers to use to showcase their interests and passions.
  • At the end of 10th grade, your child should apply for leadership positions in the clubs and activities they like. Anyone can join a club but not everyone will hold a position.
  • Attend all college nights your school offers. Its valuable information that you can bank away.
  • Find out how many community service hours your child needs to graduate. Encourage them to get started.

Summer before 11th grade

  • Decide which standardized test your child will be taking. Gone are the days everyone took the SATs. The ACT is just as prevalent and one test might be a better fit for your child than the other. Make sure your child takes a practice test on both, compare scores and discuss with your child which one they preferred. Note- if the school doesn’t offer a practice ACT test, it’s fairly easy and inexpensive to take one at a local testing center.
  • Begin test prep. Will your child have private tutoring sessions? Join a group class? Take an online course? Decide now and begin.
  • Find out the SAT and ACT dates for the coming year. Write them down!

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11th grade-

  • The beginning of 11th grade (usually October) your child should take their first test. Register right away for the second test. Each test is scored differently so your child should plan on taking it at least twice. When registering for the tests, you have an option to send scores directly to schools. DO NOT DO THIS. Yes, it’s free and you can save a few bucks but you don’t want scores to be sent to any schools without you seeing them first.
  • Aim for finishing all standardized tests this year. 
  • With your child, begin compiling a list of potential schools. Some things to consider are in-state/out-of-state, public/private, distance from home, large/small school, city/rural, greek life, specialty programs, and graduate programs offered. After her Junior Conference (a conference with the student, parents, and guidance counselor- if your school doesn’t offer this, then I highly suggest you request one yourself) we added and subtracted a few schools from our original list. I then created a spreadsheet to organize the potential schools’ information. I made columns for average GPAs and test scores, rankings, tuition/room costs, and application deadlines. One thing that I wish I would have known is that many private schools with hefty tuition costs offer lots of merit aid. We then narrowed it down to two “safe” schools, two schools that were right at her level and two “reach” schools (we made these determinations by looking at average GPAs and test scores for admitted students). Then at the last minute, three more schools were added for various reasons, which I’m guessing is fairly common for most families.
  • Plan college visits. This is a great way to spend Spring Break trip during Junior year. Some schools do factor in demonstrated student interest in their decision so make sure to find out whether the schools your child are interested in looks favorably on visits and plan accordingly.

Summer Before Senior Year-

  • Encourage your child to complete their college application essay. Essay topics usually get released very early in the year. Check the Common App site for 2017/2018 prompts. In many schools, students work on an essay in their English class in 11th grade so your child may have an idea of what they’d like to write about. You can hire a specialty tutor to help your child with this but make sure they are guiding your child and not writing the essay for them. Admission officers say time and time again that they can tell when a student writes the essay versus an adult. High school English teachers often tutor students in this area so that may be a good place to start if you feel your child needs help.

12th Grade

  • As soon as possible, your child should apply to any schools with “rolling admissions”.
  • Aim to apply to all schools by November 1st if possible. My daughter managed to get four out of 8 done by 11/1. She is still waiting to hear back from the other four that were submitted after November 1st. Otherwise, she would have been able to make her decision by January! It’s tough waiting when many of your friends know where they will be going.
  • Your child should express interest in the college(s) they really hope to attend. They should reach out to the admission reps for their area and introduce themselves. If they have specific questions regarding programs, encourage them to email the department heads. If they can’t visit, an email requesting information shows that they are interested.
  • Celebrate the acceptances! There’s not one school your child MUST get into. There are hundreds of colleges and rest assured, your child will get in where they belong.

Thinking about college is both stressful and exciting for us parents. Knowing what lies ahead and having a solid plan in place will help you deal with the anxiety. Now I can shift my stress to her actually leaving…

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Friday Favs

Friday Favs- a spot where I share my favorite products, apps, sites, articles, and moments from the week.

It’s Super Bowl weekend! Do you have your menu planned? Here is my go-to recipe for Super Bowl parties- Blue Cheese Chicken Wing Dip.

Have you ever done an insta-challenge? Me neither but I thought it might be something fun to get through my least favorite month of the year. I’m jumping in with #3 today.

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This recipe for a Kale Salad. Disclaimer- I’m the only one who liked it (but I swear it’s good!) so go into it with realistic expectations. It’s KALE. Good for you for lunch; don’t try to serve to your kids and your hubby for dinner like I did.

Three Simple Ways to Raise Great Kids. A short article with great reminders. My favorite is number 2.

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Are you a critical thinker? Would you like to raise one? I love these questions to get us all thinking!

Book Review- The Price of Privilege

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The Price of Privilege

I’m blessed.

Or lucky.

Or however you choose to look at it.

I was born in a great country to parents who wanted me and loved me. I’ve always had enough. I’ve never known hunger; I’ve never feared for my safety. I didn’t deal with any of the heartbreaking issues children must contend with daily all over the world.

However, I did know a bit of struggle. I did not get everything I asked for. I had to wait for a birthday or holiday for a big ticket item and then it was a huge deal. We didn’t take a vacation every year. Going out to dinner was a treat. When I was 14, although I got the new pair of sneakers everyone was wearing at the beginning of the school year, by December, I wanted another pair so I got a job and I bought them myself. I can still remember how badly I wanted them and the pride I felt when I went to the mall and bought them with the money that I had earned. Without a doubt, I feel these experiences shaped me into the hard working, responsible, grateful person I am today.

Fast forward to the life my kids are living. Dinner at restaurants many adults dream of going to. Multiple vacations a year. Sporting events, concerts- all with amazing seats. They will not have to take out loans in order to go to college. I am blessed to give them this life and they are certainly blessed to be living it.

But can having too much actually hurt your kids? That is the big question that this book sets out to answer and the short answer is a resounding YES.

“In spite of their economic and social advantages, affluent and well educated families experience the highest rates of depression, substance abuse, anxiety disorders, somatic complaints and unhappiness of any group of children in the country”

Wow. Intuitively I knew that too much of anything is never good but that statement took my breath away.

Some other interesting thoughts/findings the author discusses—

“Many affluent women have active social lives but few real friends; they have marriages with too little intimacy”

“Affluent moms tend to pour all of their unrealized ambition into their kids”

“Affluent parents as a group underestimate the impact of our absences and overestimate the degree of closeness our children feel toward us”

It’s a lot to take in.

It’s a lot to contemplate.

But they’re all ideas that are worthwhile to at least examine.

While reading, I found myself wishing there were more strategies to combat the negative side of affluence. I also found the book to be a a bit repetitive at times but overall, it’s definitely worth checking out.

Let me know if you do and what you think!

Why My Daughter Sits For The State Tests

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The opt-out movement is huge on Long Island. I’ve received numerous emails from friends and even strangers and have read countless posts on social media, all stating that we should “opt-out” our children from the standardized tests. Besides discussing it with a few close friends, I’ve chosen to remain relatively quiet because, drum roll please, I actually think our kids should take the test. Since the other side has been making such a concerted effort to convince people to opt out, I figure it was about time to speak up as to why my daughter sits for the state standardized tests.

First, my background- I am a NYS certified teacher and I also hold a professional teaching certification in Florida. I spent eight years teaching in what is considered a “high-stakes testing” state. My school was given a grade based on our test scores and we as teachers received bonuses if we were an “A” school. I have been out of the classroom for the past five years as I spend this time at home with my own kids but I remain extremely passionate and up-to-date on all things related to education (I even receive daily google alerts regarding any articles related to education) and volunteer my time in my daughters’ schools. My point here is I have sat at both sides of the table.

The hoopla about these tests is related to the new standards, the Common Core. Before the Common Core, each state came up with their own set of learning standards. For example, what a child was expected to know in the 2nd grade varied greatly from state to state. The idea was to come up with a set of uniform standards that all states would adopt. I don’t think many would argue with the rationale behind that idea. However, the issue became with the assessment of these new standards. Some states started assessing right away. Some states gave it three years, meaning they would begin teaching the new standards right away but hold off on testing for a few years. Others started the new standards in kindergarten and would assess when those kindergarteners were in 3rd grade. As you can see, this part got a bit tricky.

New York decided to assess right away. It was not a good call in my opinion but, like most things related to politics, money was involved as an incentive so our state signed up. We were told the students would not do well and they didn’t. There would be no penalty for the students, teachers, or schools for the first year but these scores would serve as a baseline to measure future growth. As a parent, I was OK with that. As long as there is not a negative consequence to my child for not performing well, I understand we have to start somewhere.

Now we are approaching year 4. There are still no consequences for students who do not perform well on the test. This is important to note because not all states are set up this way. In Florida, for example, if your child does not pass the yearly standardized test, they are in danger of being retained. Many states use these tests for promotion/retention decisions. We in NYS do not.

There seems to be three main reasons for opting out. There are people who believe these tests are harmful to their child, people who are taking a stand because they don’t believe in the actual standardized test and people who do not want teacher accountability to be tied to standardized tests. I’m not going to spend any time discussing teacher accountability because, for now, that piece has been removed from the equation in NYS.

First and foremost, if you believe that taking these tests will be detrimental to your child, by all means opt them out. If your child is suffering from a real, overarching anxiety about taking these tests, that’s a serious matter. Having said that, in eight years of teaching, I can only site one experience where a child had true test anxiety. Most kids get nervous and that’s OK~ it’s our jobs as parents and teachers to help them learn to manage their anxiety and nerves. I would also look to where the stress is coming from. Teachers should be working to create a “We’re not scared, we’re prepared!” vibe in the classroom. If you feel your teacher is putting undue stress regarding these tests onto students, pick up the phone and speak to them about it or speak to your principal. In addition, if your child is significantly below level and will not be able to read the passages or perform the equations, I can see why opting out would be a consideration. Before I continue, I want to state that I do believe strongly in a parents right to choose what they feel is best for their child. If you feel taking the test will hurt your child, opting out may be your best bet.

But lets assume your child does not suffer from any type of severe test anxiety and is not significantly below level. Next is the argument that these tests are pointless or invalid. I’ve heard many say, what is this test going to tell me that I don’t already know? The answer is a lot! Standardized tests are not new; they’ve actually been around since the mid-1800’s. I took them as a child and I’m guessing you did too. The reason why standardized tests are so important is because they are objective measures of student achievement. Yes, your child’s teacher knows them well and can offer more insight than one test can. I do not disagree with that point. However, insight can be subjective and often relative to your child’s classmates and even the community you live in. “Danielle is a great reader!” used to be an acceptable form of feedback for parents at teacher conferences. What exactly is a great reader? Is she a great reader compared to her classmates? Is she a great reader compared to other students her age? Does her teacher think “great” means the same as the teacher next door? Even in-class tests can be subjective, especially at the elementary level. Teachers often give a test back to a student and have them “look again”. Questions are often deemed “bonus questions” because the teacher may feel they are too hard. The students in the same grade but different classes often complete different assignment and may take different tests. All of this creates a subjective view of how the student is doing. A standardized test, that all students in the same grade, at all schools in the same state take, provides an objective measure of student progress. You will see how your child is doing compared to all the children in the entire state. This is valuable feedback to me as a parent, and should be to my school and teacher as well.

For example, I, as a parent, can see on last year’s mathematics test, in the sub-area of Number and Operations in Base Ten (what exactly that means is also spelled out), my child earned 15 out of the possible 18 points. The state average was 11. I feel pretty good about that! If I didn’t, I would know what area to ask her teacher for extra enforcement of skills. I would also know what to work at at home with her or, if she was significantly below average, I would look into a tutor. Do I take this as the end all, be all? No way. If the test told me she was below the state average and I did some digging and found that her teacher disagreed strongly and felt she just had a bad day, I would take that into consideration too. Regardless, I want to know where my child stands so that I can make informed, personal decisions pertaining to her education.

The school SHOULD be doing a lot with this information. Teachers should use the data to reflect on their teaching. Did a large portion of students struggle with vocabulary? Perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate the methodology used for teaching vocabulary in the classroom. Your child’s teacher the following year will have access to their test scores and be able to see specifically which areas they were successful in and which areas they encountered difficulty. It’s true; they will not be able to see the entire test but over 50% of the actual test is released each year. If teachers do not use the data from these tests, then yes, it is a waste of time. That would be a district/school issue that would need to be addressed.

In the end, we as parents need to do what we feel is best for our children. I only hope the decisions are based on facts and not just that the children don’t want to sit for a test. What child would? Beginning in 8th grade, Regent grades are listed on high school transcripts, as are AP exams and, of course, SAT and/or ACT scores. Tests are an integral part of education and are necessary to measure knowledge gained. I’m happy that this is sparking a dialogue about education reform and look forward to hearing other viewpoints.

How “clean” are your beauty products?

A few months ago, my daughter began collecting “pocket bacs,” the small, hand sanitizers from Bath & Body Works. Personally, I’m not a fan of the store- I feel like I get a headache from the scents just by walking in- but since she wasn’t actually using them (don’t even ask), I didn’t give it much thought.

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But then the obsession quickly grew to include their body washes and lotions, as well as body washes, lotions and bath bombs from other stores. I decided it was time to do a little research to see just what was in all of these products.

My first stop was Skin Deep, a great site where you can type in a product and get a rating on how good/bad it is based on the ingredients.  The only problem was most of the products I was looking up weren’t on there. Hmmm. I needed to do a bit of digging.

Have you heard of the “dirty dozen” for fruits and vegetables? Well, apparently there’s a list for chemicals too!

1. BHA and BHT– Used mainly in moisturizers and makeup as preservatives. Suspected endocrine disruptors and may cause cancer (BHA).
2. Coal tar dyes: p-phenylenediamine and colours listed as “CI” followed by a five digit number
In addition to coal tar dyes, natural and inorganic pigments used in cosmetics are also assigned Colour Index numbers (in the 75000 and 77000 series, respectively). Look for p-phenylenediamine hair dyes and in other products colours listed as “CI” followed by five digits.1 The U.S. colour name may also be listed (e.g. “FD&C Blue No. 1” or “Blue 1”). Potential to cause cancer and may be contaminated with heavy metals toxic to the brain.
3. DEA-related ingredients– Used in creamy and foaming products, such as moisturizers and shampoos. Can react to form nitrosamines, which may cause cancer.
4. Dibutyl phthalate– Used as a plasticizer in some nail care products. Suspected endocrine disrupter and reproductive toxicant.
5. Formaldehyde-releasing preservatives– Look for DMDM hydantoin, diazolidinyl urea, imidazolidinyl urea, methenamine and quarternium-15. Used in a variety of cosmetics. Slowly release small amounts of formaldehyde, which causes cancer.
6. Parabens– Used in a variety of cosmetics as preservatives. Suspected endocrine disrupters and may interfere with male reproductive functions.
7. Parfum (a.k.a. fragrance)– Any mixture of fragrance ingredients used in a variety of cosmetics — even in some products marketed as “unscented.” Some fragrance ingredients can trigger allergies and asthma. Some linked to cancer and neurotoxicity.
8. PEG compounds– Used in many cosmetic cream bases. Can be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, which may cause cancer. Also for related chemical propylene glycol and other ingredients with the letters “eth” (e.g., polyethylene glycol).
9. Petrolatum– Used in some hair products for shine and as a moisture barrier in some lip balms, lip sticks and moisturizers. A petroleum product that can be contaminated with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which may cause cancer.
10. Siloxanes– Look for ingredients ending in “-siloxane” or “-methicone.” Used in a variety of cosmetics to soften, smooth and moisten. Suspected endocrine disrupter and reproductive toxicant (cyclotetrasiloxane).
11. Sodium laureate sulfate– Used in foaming cosmetics, such as shampoos, cleansers and bubble bath. Can be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane, which may cause cancer. Look also for related chemical sodium lauryl sulfate and other ingredients with the letters “eth” (e.g., sodium laureth sulfate).
12. Triclosan– Used in antibacterial cosmetics, such as toothpastes, cleansers and antiperspirants. Suspected endocrine disrupter and may contribute to antibiotic resistance in bacteria.

Pretty scary stuff, not to mention overwhelming. I decided we’d start by going paraben and BHA/BHT free.

Needless to say, my daughter was not thrilled when I began confiscating her products to analyze the ingredients. To include her in the process, I used this very cool, FREE app called Think Dirty. With this app, you can scan products with your phone and it will give you a score (much like the other website I mentioned but the scanner makes it fun!). Within moments, she was scanning away and screaming when she came across a 10 (“OMG! Get this out of here!“). I love that she could see that the items weren’t good  for her so she didn’t resist. She even joked she could become a “paraben hunter” 🙂

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Her products that she will no longer be using.

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My products that didn’t make the cut.

Do you have any favorite “clean” products? I’d love to hear about them!