Go Wild: A Review of the National Parks: A Kid’s Guide

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Got a fourth grader? Here’s a great title to read in conjunction with the ‘Every Kid in a Park’ initiative, which gives families with fourth graders free access to national parks, national forests, national wildlife refuges, and national historic sites throughout the 2015-2016 school year.  With twenty-one parks in Virginia alone, it’s a wonderful way for your children to learn about history, culture, and the great outdoors.

National Parks: A Kid’s Guide to America’s Parks, Monuments, and Landmarks by Erin McHugh is a colorful book, divided by region and loaded with interesting information.  It reviews each state “By the Numbers.”  For example, there are 199,017 acres in the Shenandoah National Park.  It also highlights “The Great American Birdwatch,” like the Bobolink seen along the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina, and “Amazing but True” facts, such as Frederick Douglas was also an early suffragist.  This title is a fabulous resource, certain to help children appreciate our country’s natural treasures.  Some destinations highlighted in the book include:

Shenandoah National Park

With seventy-five overlooks, over one million visitors stop annually to take in the beautiful rolling hills along Skyline Drive.  There are more than 500 miles of hiking trails and a variety of overnight options from lodges to cabins to camp grounds.  History buffs will also enjoy a visit to Rapidan Camp, the recently restored summer retreat of President and Mrs. Herbert Hoover.

Booker T. Washington National Monument

In 1856, Washington was born a slave on a 207-acre farm in Franklin County.  By exploring his birthplace, families can see how Washington’s past impacted his future as the most influential African American of his time.

Maggie L. Walker National Historic Site

Restored to its 1930s appearance with original family pieces, Maggie Walker’s house commemorates the life of a progressive and talented African-American woman.  She achieved success in the world of business as the first woman in the United States to charter and serve as president of a bank.  The National Park site includes a visitor center detailing her life and the Jackson Ward community in which she lived and worked.

The U.S. National Park Service has an annotated index of all twenty-one national parks in Virginia. 

So whether you want to stay local and visit the Richmond National Battlefield Park you keep seeing the sign for on Route 295 or you have the time to venture out to Assateague Island, the ‘Every Kid in a Park’ program can help get you there.

Don’t have a fourth grader?  Sign the ‘Every Kid in a Park’ pledge and get a free Parks for Play: 35 National Park Adventures for Kids of All Ages.  It not only highlights Virginia parks, such as Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania Military Park, but it also provides information on sites that might fall into your short road trips category, such as Harpers Ferry National Historic Park in West Virginia and Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee.  I’m thinking that a trip to Virgin Island National Park is in order, but while my husband appreciates the estimated $80 the ‘Every Kid in a Park’ initiative can save families with fourth graders, he insists it’s not enough of a cost savings to justify a trip to St. John.  Luckily, there’s plenty to keep us busy close to home.

For more info on Every Kid in a park click here.

 

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Helping Introverted Children Thrive: A Review of Quiet Kids

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In this noisy world, introverted children are often misunderstood.  Therefore, Quiet Kids by Christine Fonseca offers parents not only an understanding of introverted kids but also how best to teach them to thrive in an extroverted world. Using tip sheets, checklists, and workbook-style tasks, Fonseca presents parents with insights into helping their introverted child succeed.  Everything from society’s assumptions about introversion and extroversion to how introversion plays out in the educational setting is addressed with not only scientific explanations but also relevant anecdotes, which makes for a good resource.

Fonseca begins by addressing the negative connotations often associated with introversion and how the Western world favors extroversion.  Then, she explains how introversion is actually a matter of hardwiring.  Fonseca claims it’s not a personality trait one acquires; rather a temperament one inherits.  (Think nature versus nurture.)  Once parents (and teachers) recognize the different temperaments in their households (and classroom), they can do a better job of meeting children’s needs.

At the end of each chapter, Fonseca provides readers with answers to common questions related to the topic.  For example, can someone be both extroverted and introverted?  Fonseca advises, “Think back to a time when you were emotionally spent.  What did you crave in that moment?  Solitude?  Time to think, process, or reflect?  Or did you want to talk with a friend?  Run and be active?  The answer to these questions can help you determine your dominance.”

According to Fonseca, both temperaments have positives and negatives.  She explains, “Extroverts can burn out from the overreliance on the sympathetic nervous system and the resultant desire for continuous stimulation.”  Whereas, Fonseca adds, “Introverts can become overly withdrawn when left alone for too long…[or] agitated when they have to spend too much time in social situations.”  An introvert can teach an extrovert to relax and an extrovert can help an introvert to socialize.  The key is seeing the value in both temperaments.

Unfortunately, introverts are often misunderstood in school.  They are frequently mislabeled as shy or viewed as narcissistic.  When in reality, Fonseca argues, “They are deep thinkers interested in deep feelings and beliefs.  In this way, they can be strong contributors to groups if their need for a calm environment can be met or when the groups can be managed to maintain a small number.”  however, in this peer-share and group tasks era, Fonseca believes introverts are pushed to speak more, which actually limits their creativity since it reduces the “downtime” they require.  That’s why Fonseca believes it’s important for parents become advocates for their introverted children.

By focusing on an introvert’s strengths, the positive aspects of introversion can be incorporated into a classroom or home.  Balance.  Variety.  Choice.  These are themes that reoccur throughout Quiet Kids.  Allowing introverts to pick how they participate in educational activities will help reinforce the difference being the temperament and the personality trait of shyness.  For example, Fonseca explains that shyness can be “situation-specific behavior or something that is exhibited in multiple settings.”  This is in contrast to introversion, which Fonseca insists is “dependent on context and environment.”

Setting a foundation for predictability is the best way to reach introverts.  Fonseca writes it allows for organized periods of rest.  My younger daughter is introverted like my husband, and I’ve learned over the years that if I periodically block off hours, afternoons, and days for quiet time everyone gets along much better.  Fonseca also encourages parents to establish “personal space” and promote “privacy” so that all members of the household get some “alone time.”  Doing so will allow introverts to recuperate from otherwise busy lives.

Otherwise, as Fonseca notes, introverts are left feeling stressed and this might leave them unable to cope.  She explains, “Pressures felt during a test may be enough for them to shut down and withdraw or become overly agitated.”  Therefore, Fonseca offers parents relaxation methods to teach their children as well as stresses the importance of talking with your children about whether they are relaxed.  Fonseca also examines how introverts learn and her ideas on shifting the focus from results to process are helpful.

Essentially, Fonseca explains what’s important for parents (and teachers) to keep in mind is that “introverted children are highly resistant to change.”  She claims, “They would rather suffer through an unpleasant situation than risk taking action and having a worse scenario.”  As a result, Fonseca insists that we must help introverts become comfortable in developing a tolerance for change if they are going to be successful.  So if you’re interested in learning more about helping your introverted child thrive in an extroverted world, then check out Quiet Kids by Christine Fonseca for further insights.

 

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Plugged In: A Review of Growing Up Social

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“These are amazing days when you can videoconference Grandma in a different country in real time.  But if you don’t minimize and monitor screens in your child’s life, when your son finally meets Grandma face to face, he may not know how to simply sit and visit,” argues Gary Chapman and Arlene Pellicane, authors of Growing Up Social.  If you’re interested in raising relational kids in a screen-driven world, then I highly recommend reading this book.

Chapman and Pellicane explain screens are not the problem; rather, it’s the “free time equals screen time” mentality that’s negatively impacting children.  Therefore, after examining the issue of “too much, too soon,” the authors tackle five different skills, such as appreciation and attention, related to technology before providing parents the tools to initiate change.  This title is loaded with persuasive statistical information as well as practical advice for taking back your home.

One of the biggest issues, according to Chapman and Pellicane, is that a world dominated by screens is false.  It’s designed to please your child instantly, and since the real world doesn’t revolve around your child, a dependence on screens sets your child up for a frustrating life.  Essentially, “The art of patience is lost,” explain Chapman and Pellicane.  As a result, children often give up when things get difficult.

A consequence of the screens’ instant gratification is a society scrambling to please children.  For example, Chapman and Pellicane point out, “Children today are rewarded even if they don’t perform well.”  You know what they’re referring to – the endless certificates, ribbons, and trophies for participation.  What’s the motivation for a kid to do their best if everyone is going to be recognized?  According to Growing Up Social, “He grows up with a false expectation that whatever effort he puts forth – excellent or poor – will be rewarded.”

Another big problem with screens is that with children in elementary school now being exposed to social media it “teaches kids that the road to popularity is paved by likes and the number of comments and online friends one has.”  Chapman and Pellicane maintain, “It’s hard enough for adults to deal with disparaging comments…imagine how hard it is for children who don’t yet possess the emotional maturity to cope with the digital world.”  Every kid wants to be liked and by limiting her social media, Chapman and Pellicane believe, “You will help your child find the answer in real people who can shower her with affection instead of an online community that can be fickle and cruel.”

What can you do so screens add value to your family instead of erode it?  

  1. Own up to your responsibility as a parent.

Chapman and Pellicane believe to accuse your child of poor decision making is in effective.  It’s the parents’ job to set appropriate limitations.  And, they argue, “Giving a child the responsibility of browsing the Internet safely is an unreasonable expectation.”  The message you’ll take away from this book: If we are going to give our children access to electronics, we need to be prepared to monitor their use.

  1. Teach the skill of appreciation.

Chapman and Pellicane warn, when your child claims, “But everyone else has one!” it is never true and “We do a great disservice when we give kids everything they want.”   They suggest thinking of screen time the way you might the other freedoms you extend families to decide what’s best for them.  Doing so, they claim, will enable you to accept the choices you’ve made for your family without any guilt.  (Easier said than done, I know, but important nonetheless.)

“Realizing that others have gone out of their way to help doesn’t come naturally to a child, but they can learn,” Chapman and Pellicane insist.  They suggest parents focus on how our kids get to wear clothes, go to school, and participate in activities that most children in the world would treasure.  By making a conscious effort to emphasize this perspective, it will help out children feel grateful in our world of plenty.

  1. Teach the skill of managing emotions.

“One of the problems with technology for kids is that the screen allows an anonymity that can cushion the user from suffering any consequences.  Children may not say hateful, angry words to other children to their faces, but they can log on to their computers using a pseudonym and leave angry posts or send nasty emails,” explain Chapman and Pellicane.  Therefore, they suggest you keep in mind that if your child is old enough to send a text or email, then they are old enough to practice common courtesies, such as greetings and compliments.  Apologies, however, are better suited for face-to-face.  Growing Up Social illustrates how many teens are communicating personal messages via text or instant messaging.  Hiding from these difficult situations shortchanges them, for they can’t learn how to handle awkward interactions with others.

  1. Teach the skill of attention.

“In the year 2000, before mobile phones and computer apps were popular, the average person’s attention span was twelve seconds.  Since then, our attention span has dropped by 40 percent,” according to Chapman and Pellicane.  Deep reading, in particular, has become more difficult, as our brains have grown accustom to evaluating and navigating the distractions of the Internet.  As a result, our brain now needs to make a concerted effort to fully understanding a text online.  In addition to being mindful of how the Internet impacts our brain, Chapman and Pellicane also stress the importance of devaluing multitasking, as it reduces the quality of your work, changes the way you learn, creates skimmers, and wastes time.

  1. Create digital-free zones.

Chapman and Pellicane recommend no televisions in bedrooms as well as the collection of all devices by a designated time each night.  They suggest no screens at the table or in the car and encourage scheduled non-screen activities until the behavior becomes habit.

  1. Model good screen behaviors.

According to Chapman and Pellicane, “What we model digitally is more important than what we say about screen time.  If we as parents are totally consumed all our waking hours with electronic media of any kind, we are communicating, “This is what life is about.  This is the norm.  Too often parents give the right message but in the wrong manner.”

  1. Think outside the screen.

Try not to lose sight of the fact that the electronic device that connects you to others can isolate you as well.  Since most of the time, Chapman and Pellicane claim, parents report that screen time gives them a chance to complete chores, screen time is not the “family time” it’s often advertised as.  More than likely, Chapman and Pellicane point out, families are spread throughout the house lost in their own electronic worlds.

Therefore, consider your own variation on this clever game, Chapman and Pellicane report some disenchanted young adults are now playing:  “When dining in a restaurant, they stack their phones in the middle of the table.  Whoever reaches for his phone first during the meal has to pay the tab for the table.”  Doing so, Chapman and Pellicane believe, might just help you teach your kids to live with screen time, not for it.

 

 

 

 

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Summer Reading 101

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Research indicates that less than 20 percent of all eighth graders read for fun on a regular basis.  Want reading to be more than fundamental again?  Embrace summer reading.

1. Let your child select the titles.

The biggest mistake parents make is pushing an agenda – more classics, less comics.  According to Donnalyn Miller, author of The Book Whisperer, “The important thing is that children are reading and developing a love of reading.”  Make reading more fun by expanding your definition to include everything from magazines to audio books.

Here are a few resources to start your kids off on the right track:

100 Best-Ever Teen Novels

The Ultimate Backseat Bookshelf: 100 Must-Reads for Kids 9-14

The Best Graphic Novels for Children

Boys Read 

2. Gather recommendations.

Parents ask me all the time for book recommendations – for themselves, for their kids – but my 12 year old daughter and I have different tastes.  I let her join Goodreads, which is a “social cataloguing” website where members rate books and receive recommendations.  We not only keep track of books we’ve read but also those we want to read.  With Goodreads we never run out of personalized ideas, and thanks to various privacy settings, I don’t have to worry about her exploring the wonderful world of books.

3. Read together.

According to Scholastic, “Nearly one in four parents of children ages 6–17 (23%) stopped reading aloud to their children before age 9…yet many children ages 6–11 (40%) did not want their parents to stop reading aloud to them.” I continue to read to my daughters, ages 9 and 12, because I can expose them to unique titles and topics.  Therefore, my go-to baby shower gift is The Read Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease because it’s a fabulous resource that takes families from wordless picture books to full-length novels.

BEST Books for Boys  Jackie at Happy Hooligans does a great job of not only categorizing and annotating the books but explaining what they gained by reading together nightly.

Some titles Jackie at Happy Hooligans suggests:

Peter and the Star Catchers by Dave Barrie and Ridley Pearson  (ages 8 and up)

City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau (ages 10 and up)

Half Brother by Kenneth Opal (ages 13 and up)

is another great resource. This book is loaded not only with discussion questions for the recommended books but also suggested multi-media materials, such as films, websites, and interactive activities.  You don’t need to start a formal book club to reap its benefits.  This title tackles the 8 biggest issues facing girls. You can talk about them in the car or at the dinner table.  I lent it to a friend, who said it sparked the best conversations she’s ever had with her daughter.  From mean girls to dating boys, they safely broached uncomfortable topics.  My friend was so grateful.  She couldn’t thank me enough.

Some titles Lori Day recommends with suggested age levels and topics:

Encouraging healthy relationships and behaviors? Try Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm (age 8+)

Laying the foundation for future female leadership? Check out The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly (age 10+)

Advocating for the welfare of women around the world? Read The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis (age 10+)

Dealing with the “mean girls”? Pick up Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli (age 12+)

Defining yourself from the inside out? Consider Beauty Queens by Libba Bray (age 12+)

4.  Be a reader role model.

The reality is that your kids are more inclined to enjoy books if they see you doing the same.  I read on average 50 books a year, and I make it a point of talking about books on a regular basis.  There’s no way that when my kids are grown that they will ever doubt the value I place on literacy.

I have a friend who always says she wishes her daughter read more, but whenever I ask my friend what she’s reading, my friend typically responds, “Oh, I don’t have the time.”  Let’s face it.  Kids are smart enough to question, “If you’re not reading, why should I?”

Wish you read more? Pick something you enjoy.

Maybe, you like parenting books.  Then, check out my list of favorite titles.

Want to be entertained? Check out 12 Good Books You Must Read in 2015

Want to learn some thing new?  Kirkus has nominated the best nonfiction books of 2015.

Great books change lives so why should your kids have all the fun?  Visit your local library so you can all start your summer reading. Follow @ParentbytheBook on Twitter for updates on blog posts or like Parenting by the Book on Facebook.

 

How to Parent Smart Kids

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In this month’s Parenting by the Book featured title, Smart Parenting for Smart Kids by Eileen Kennedy-Moore and Mark S. Lowenthal, the authors argue that a narrow view of kids’ potential is problematic, as it turns natural gifts into burdens.  Therefore, if you’re truly interested in nurturing your child’s potential, Kennedy-Moore and Lowenthal believe you need to frame potential as a process for growth, not a final product.

They recognize that this is hard to do in a society, which sends the message that “any parent who doesn’t sign her children up for a bevy of enriching activities is neglectful.”  While we know overscheduled childhoods are an issue these days, it’s hard to resist.  I laughed when the authors explained how most parents define overscheduled as more than what their child is doing.  That’s so true.

Since there are a lot of ways to be “smart,” Kennedy-Moore and Lowenthal wrote this book in the hopes of developing a healthy perspective on achievement.  When they talk about “bright” kids, they mean any child capable of earning As and Bs.  As clinical psychologists, they treat a lot of smart but unhappy kids.

They explain, “We live in a narcissistic age that emphasizes being impressive and seeking admiration.  Sadly, smart kids are often the ones who are hurt most by this focus on externals.  Because they can perform and that performance seems so important to everyone around them, they may start to believe that they are the performance.”

Therefore, they break their own book into coping strategies and each chapter begins with a list of questions, “Does your child…” so you can read it accordingly.  The first chapter addresses tempering perfectionism.  I really enjoyed it because so many of the techniques I hadn’t encountered elsewhere (and if you follow Parenting by the Book you know I’ve already blogged on nearly sixty titles).

According to Kennedy-Moore and Lowenthal, “On the surface, perfectionism seems like a work issue, but it’s really a relationship issue.”  They explain, “Perfectionistic children (or adults) feel as though they live their lives on a stage, in front of a harshly critical audience.”  While the authors don’t mention social media, since the book is geared towards parenting children ages 6 to 12, I can’t help but feel like our society’s promotion of the incessant need to post updates for every “accomplishment,” regardless of how trivial, is only compounding this problem.

Since Kennedy-Moore and Lowenthal believe the perfectionist views love as something that must be earned, it offers suggestions, such as resist the temptation to offer pointers.  I am definitely guilty of this.  While the authors claim it’s only natural for a parent to want to share one’s wisdom, “Unfortunately, children under the age of thirty usually don’t respond well to this.”  Again, so true and one might even argue any age!

The reality is that what parents think is a learning opportunity kids equate to rejection.  That’s why Kennedy-Moore and Lowenthal maintain, “It’s best to leave the teaching and coaching to your child’s teachers and coaches.”  When I started my teaching career, I used to tutor for extra money and most of the kids I worked with were teachers’ children.  It wasn’t because they didn’t know how to help their child but that their children took the advice better from me than they did from them.  And that’s exactly the reason why, if I’m having trouble convincing my children of something, I typically employ their teachers help, as they always listen to them.

The other great tip from this chapter involves homework.  It’s something I used to warn parents against when I taught public school.  Kennedy-Moore and Lowenthal argue, “Don’t correct your child’s work.”  They explain not only does it establish a dangerous pattern and confuse children with regards to whose responsibility the homework really is but it prevents the teacher from getting the feedback she needs to determine what your child does and doesn’t understand.

And if your child is a perfectionist, Kennedy-Moore and Lowenthal claim, “[You’re] unintentionally communicating to [your] children that mistakes are intolerable and must be hidden.”  They believe once kids view mistakes as unacceptable, they start making excuses and blaming others.  Therefore, Kennedy-Moore and Lowenthal suggest you explain to your child, “Excuses take away our power to make things better.”

Finally, according to Kennedy-Moore and Lowenthal, “Never tell a perfectionist child, ‘Just do your best.’” Again, I’ve been so guilty of this over the years.  Apparently, perfectionists interpret this as, “Do whatever it takes to get it right.”  Instead, they suggest you preach “Make a reasonable effort” and help your children distinguish between the importance of tasks.  Kennedy-Moore and Lowenthal believe this is key to helping children grasp that effort levels should vary.

Smart Parenting for Smart Kids by Kennedy-Moore and Lowenthal is full of practical strategies.  There’s a wonderful chapter on Building Connections and helping your children reach out to others as well as Managing Sensitivity and Dealing with Authority.  Kennedy-Moore and Lowenthal offered some great advice on how to get your kids to listen to you and never asking your kid to do something more than twice.  So if you’re looking for a resource to help you negotiate how to nurture your children into capable, confident, and caring people, then the smart thing to do is check out this title.

 

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Having It All: A Review of Overwhelmed

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Overwhelmed_pbb_1504How do you work, love, and play when you don’t have the time?  In Overwhelmed by Brigid Schulte, she offers parents insights into how to find more leisure time so they can enjoy rather than merely survive their time-pressured lives.  Seeing as I struggle with our modern world’s addiction to the daily grind, I was eager to read it for Parenting by the Book this April.

“This is how it feels to live my life,” Schulte writes.  “Scattered, fragmented, and exhausting.  I am always doing more than one thing at a time and feel I never do any one particularly well.  I am always behind and always late, with one more thing and one more thing and one more thing to do before rushing out the door.”  If you can relate, don’t feel bad.  According to Schulte, you’re not the only American feeling this way.

While we’ve become accustom to multi-tasking, the research shows, “No two tasks done simultaneously,” Schulte explains, “can be done with 100 percent of one’s ability.”  Still, our lives have become filled with what Schulte calls a “banal busyness” since “admitting you take time for yourself is tantamount to a show of weakness.”  Is it any wonder people feel guilty about leisure time?

I recently dropped my younger daughter off at a movie birthday party.  Many parents chose to stay with siblings.  My older daughter was at gymnastics so I decided to run errands instead.  When I told the mom I was leaving, she said, “I wish I was going shopping.”  I immediately felt the need to justify I was shopping for my family, “It’s only Trader Joes.”  This is one of the problems with parenting nowadays.  We can’t actually do something for ourselves.  What if I was going shopping for me?  Would that be so bad?

Unfortunately, the perception is if we’re not spending time serving our family then we’re not good parents.  This attitude contributes to the statistic that makes Schulte’s head spin, “In America, mothers today spend more time taking care of their children than mothers did in the 1960s, even though so many more are working, and working full-time, outside the home.”  How can that be?  Well, “Mothers have tripled the amount of time they spend in high-quality ‘interactive care,’ reading to and playing with their children.”

Another part of the problem is, as Shulte explains, “All those stolen glances at the smartphone, the bursts of addictive texting and e-mail checking at all hours with the iPhone, Android, or Blackberry by the bed, the constant connection…splinters the experiences of time into thousands of little pieces.  And living in an always-on technological haze leads to mental exhaustion.”  As a result, many people feel like they don’t have free time when in fact they do.  This is complicated, according to Schulte, because research shows, “What we think about ourselves and our lives is our reality.”

Sociologist John Robinson argues women have at least thirty hours of leisure time each week.  He explains, ‘It’s not as much as men, but women have more time than they did in the 1960s, even though more women are working outside the house.”  If your reaction is ‘Wait, that can’t be right?’  It was Schulte’s response, too.  However, once Robinson gives Schulte a definition of leisure, which includes everything from exercise to reading the newspaper, you understand where he’s coming from.  “If we don’t feel like we have leisure, Robinson maintains, it’s entirely our own fault.  Time is a smokescreen.  And it’s a convenient excuse.”  According to Robinson, “Saying ‘I don’t have free time,’ is just another way of saying, ‘I’d rather do something else.’”

Still, there’s no denying that the modern American parent is busy and our society has done little to account for the changing needs of families.  Overwhelmed is filled with fascinating statistics about working parents and work schedules.  Apparently, “The United States ranks dead last in virtually every measure of family policy in the world.” While Schulte references some of the issues I learned about in Bringing Up Bebe by Pamela Druckerman, her comprehensive overview of America’s working families is eye-opening and definitely led me to agree with her conclusion.  Schulte argues, “The prevailing view [in America] seems to be: Why promote policies and change cultures to help mothers work if we aren’t so sure mothers should work at all?”

That’s one of the things I found so compelling about this book.  Schulte provides the cultural context for the ideal American worker, which isn’t a mother or father interested in spending time with their family, while also offering thorough examinations of other cultures, notably Denmark, where they have a much better handle on the work/life balance.  Guilt over having chosen to work – be it part-time or full-time – is simply not an issue for parents there.  As a result, according to the United Nations first ever World Happiness Report, Danish adults and children are both the happiest around.

Another reason for this is that Denmark doesn’t value of “face time” the way that American employers do.  They embrace the virtual elements technology affords us and focus on whether the job is done well, not where the job was done.  This is not the case in the United States, and Schulte explains, “Research shows that forcing long hours, face time for the sake of face time, and late nights actually kills creativity and good thinking, and the ensuing stress, anxiety, and depression eat up health-care budgets.”  Granted, Schulte acknowledges that Denmark is not a perfect society, but she does make it perfectly clear that valuing both the roles of women and men goes a long way in creating a functional and happy community.

So while I was out running errands I started thinking about what Schulte believes is the purpose of her book:  “This is about sustainable living, healthy populations, happy families, good business, sound economics, and living a good life.”  I “allowed” myself to stop for a quick dinner at Noodles & Company since my daughter was eating pizza at the Movie Tavern birthday party.  As I reveled in a bowl of Thai Curry soup, I thought about how pathetic it was that this pit stop was so restorative.  But I rarely eat curry because my kids don’t like it, and it was the first meal I’d had all day.  I’d driven to Old Dominion University that morning to present a teaching strategy I developed called “Rainbow Revisions” at their writing conference and traffic on Route 64, made worse by rain, meant both breakfast and lunch were eaten on the run, thanks to a stash of snacks I keep in the car.

That’s when I internalized Schulte’s message: How will my children ever achieve a work/life balance if they have no one to model it for them?  So if your goal is to work less and love and play more, then I highly recommend you pick up a copy of Overwhelmed by Brigid Schulte.  It won’t change your life overnight, but it will make it easier to say “no” the next time someone asks you to bake cupcakes for school.  Besides, the last thing the kids need is more sugar (but that’s a book for another day).

 

 

 

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Moments that Matter Most: A Review of No Regrets Parenting

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When you’re in the throes of parenting, it often feels like the exhaustion will never end, but as author and pediatrician, Harley Rotbart, points out, it does, and faster than you think.  Therefore, Rotbart offers basic principles and simple strategies in his book, No Regrets Parenting, so parents can appreciate the cherished moments of childhood.  If you’re interested in making the most of the 940 Saturdays you’ll have with your kids before they turn 18, then definitely pick up this book.

“This is a book about how to prioritize your kids’ needs within your adult schedules,” explains Rotbart.  Therefore, using short chapters and a simple structure, he first informs parents what the basic principles of No Regrets Parenting are and then offers strategies to put the mentality into practice.  Rotbart believes regardless of what parenting philosophy you subscribe to a single truth applies: Your kids need you to be there.  As a result, what it all boils down to is finding enough time.

Rotbart acknowledges that “there are minutes you can’t spare” and “moments that are lost to the realities of life.”  He’s not encouraging you to be with your kids 24/7.  In fact, he touts the benefits of letting kids have their space.  As far as Rotbart is concerned, the only thing you have to feel guilty about is not trying.  Therefore, he argues, “Be the kind of person you hope your kids will become.  And then spend enough time with them that they learn how to become that person.”

One of my favorite parts of this book is when Rotbart looks at the “quality” versus “quantity” time debate.  He argues, “Parents have compensated for having so little quantity of time to spend with their children by invoking ‘quality time.’  Quality time usually means brief and choreographed bursts of activity dedicated intensively and exclusively to the kids – and when those bursts expire, the kids get dropped off in front of the TV or at the babysitter’s.”

I think that social media does a really good job of “showing off” such “quality” (often costly) moments and so they are needlessly perpetuated.  When what Rotbart argues kids really need is for parents to redefine quality time.  He claims, “The new ‘quality time’ means meaningful and memorable time, regardless of duration or content.”  For the parent of a toddler, he says, it’s sharing kitchen time while the child learns how to finger Cheerios.  For the college student, he says, it might be spontaneous calls home.  The activity is irrelevant.  It’s being present in the moment that matters.

Another part of No Regrets Parenting I really connected with was the importance of rituals.  Rotbart warns parents not to limit their traditions to big, special occasions.   He says parents should be creative, even silly, when instituting such events like movie night.  The keys apparently are repetition and anticipation.  I know a lot of parents, who skip the anticipation part because if plans change then children are disappointed, but as I’ve found from experience, and Rotbart confirms, the excitement leading up to game night is half the fun.

For example, my 12yo delights in the idea of taco night so much she created this mini-menu board for me, using a picture frame (which she saw on Pinterest), so I could write down when it was and she could look forward to it. It’s nothing fancy, and it didn’t cost me any money, but it generates a smile and no doubt a positive memory, which is what No Regrets Parenting is all about.  I still recall the pizza nights of my youth with fondness.

Finally, I loved the chapter “Their ‘Week at a Glance’” because Rotbart argues, “The truest measure of you as a person may be your calendar.”  Except he doesn’t mean it in the way you might think – the more extracurricular activities, community service projects, religious meetings the better.  Instead, he asks, “If your calendar were to fall into the hands of a stranger, what would all the entries say about you?  Would the stranger reading your calendar recognize how important being a parent is in your life?”  And not because of all the places you drive your kids or all the activities you’ve signed them up in but how much time are you spending together?

At my house, we don’t play games as often as I’d like, but there’s a lot of laughs during family dinners, thanks to my witty husband, and thought-provoking stories before bed almost every night, courtesy of my fascination with books.  Sometimes, it’s only 15 minutes of cuddling and conversing, but since I’ve been doing reading aloud to them for 12 years now, it’s become part of the fabric of our lives that no one (not even my preteen) wants to miss.

And this brings me to one of the points Rotbart makes near the end of his book, “One of the harshest realizations for a parent is that young kids often forget those events that are the most memorable for parents.”  The extended vacations.  The expensive presents.  I’ve got scrapbooks, photo albums, and home videos galore, but I think when I ask my kids twenty years from now what they remember most from their time growing up, it will be laughing with dad during dinner and reading books with me.

No Regrets Parenting by Harley Rotbart is the kind of book that does a great job of reminding parents to strike a balance between work and family so that there will be time enough for these moments that matter most.

 

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Parenting Potential: A Review Mind in the Making

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Using research to offer parents advice on how to raise well-rounded kids who achieve their full potential, Ellen Galinsky, in her book Mind in the Making, focuses on critical areas that kids don’t just pick up, and therefore, parents need to foster.  This book on the seven essential life skills every child needs makes for an informative read on the science of early learning.

Skill One: Focus and Self-Control

“Focus and self-control involve many executive functions of the brain, such as paying attention, remembering the rules, and inhibiting one’s initial response to achieve a larger goal,” explains Galinsky.  Furthermore, research from the University of Oregon indicates these skills can be taught.  However, Galinsky maintains that in our 24-7 world, which involves endless distractions, the ability to engage in sustained focus, as opposed to multi-tasking, can be extremely difficult but will actually serve your child better in the long run.

What are some of the best ways to promote focus?  Galinsky recommends weaving these skills into your everyday life.  Play activities, like puzzles, that require children to pay attention.  Read stories that encourage children to listen.  And realize that background noise, such as a television, disrupts children’s play.

Skill Two: Perspective Taking

According to Galinsky, perspective taking requires inhibitory control, cognitive flexibility, and reflection.  While rarely on lists of essential skills, Galinsky argues it should be, using research from the University of California and MIT to show its importance.  Galinsky maintains, “Perspective taking involves the intellectual skill of discerning how someone else thinks and feels; it requires assembling our accumulated knowledge of that person, analyzing the situation at hand, remembering similar situations, recalling what others have told us about such situations, putting aside our own thoughts and feelings, and trying to feel and think as another person must feel and think.”

How can you promote perspective taking in children?  Galinsky believes one of the first steps is parents viewing teaching children to be with others as equally important to teaching them to be independent.  The easiest way to do this is to use everyday moments as opportunities to talk.  Galinsky points out that research shows that while parents often think children learn from ‘instruction’ the reality is that children learn by watching their parents.  So be sure to practice what you preach.

Skill Three: Communicating

While Galinsky believes children are born primed to communicate, parents play an important role in children’s language and literacy development.  She writes how parents need to understand it’s about developing an understanding of how to communicate verbally and in writing, as opposed to neglecting children’s comprehension in favor of skill and drill.  The process should be as enjoyable as possible and, Galinsky claims, parents should do everything they can to create an environment at home where words, reading, and listening are important.

How can you promote communicating with your children?  Galinsky writes parents should start by remembering the purpose of language, narrating your children’s experiences early on and helping them record their experiences later in life.  According to Galinsky, “Learning is powerfully enhanced when children and parents pay attention to the same thing.”  This is why reading to your children is so important.  It offers families the opportunity to talk about this shared story.

Skill Four: Making Connections

Making connections begins with sorting and categorizing, explains Galinsky, to the ‘aha’ moment, when children suddenly understand what previously evaded them.  While this chapter of Mind in the Making focuses a lot on how children develop their object and space sense, it sets the stage for when children literally pull it all together.  For example, connections between a child’s prior experience and a text she is reading can affect how well she comprehends what’s she’s read.  (The book Mosaic of Thought by Ellin Oliver Keene and Susan Zimmerman is a great resource for understanding the connections children make when they read.)

The best way to promote learning on the deepest level, according to Galinsky, is to tap into your child’s passion and encourage them to play creatively.  By giving your child specific feedback on their thinking and helping them see things in different ways, Galinsky claims to will help children see the possibilities for future connections.

Skill Five: Critical Thinking

“At its core, critical thinking is the ongoing search for valid and reliable knowledge to guide our beliefs and actions,” explains Galinsky.  Since critical thinking draws on all skills previously mentioned, it plays a crucial role in a child’s success.  Helping your child understand what’s valid and reliable knowledge is important because, as Galinsky argues, it lets them know when they need to turn to others for information and enables them to discern who best to help them.

How can you promote critical thinking in your children?  Try to avoid jumping in too quickly, as Galinsky states it stunts children’s curiosity and prevents them from gaining experiential knowledge.  Parents should also encourage their children to pursue their own ventures, be it setting up a lemonade stand, or in my daughter’s case starting a twisty bands bracelet business.  These experiences allow children to evaluate information and revise their actions accordingly.  Ultimately, Galinsky believes every child needs a metaphorical lemonade stand, as “caring strongly about interests beyond oneself engenders true focus.”

Skill Six: Taking on Challenges

Stress is becoming more and more of a factor in our children’s lives.  One of the reasons this is happening is because, as Galinsky notes, kids sense when their parents feel overwhelmed.  She writes, “39 percent rated their parents as frequently stressed.”

According to Galinsky, the biggest thing parents can do to help promote their children taking on challenges is manage their own stress.  Galinsky recommends you tell your children directly that you’ve had a bad day, as “most know it anyway from reading the nonverbal language of your behavior.”  Then, she suggests your share how you are going to cope with the situation.  This way, Galinsky explains, your kids see the whole picture and are better prepared when challenges on their way.

Skill Seven: Self-directed, Engaged Learning

Galinsky explains, “Carol Dweck of Stanford University has found that children who avoid challenges have a fixed mindset…whereas children who are willing to take on challenges have a growth mindset, seeing their abilities as something they can develop.”  It probably wouldn’t surprise you to learn that children with the growth mindset do better in school and ultimately life.

The Mind in the Making ends with Galinsky stressing that we teach best when we are learning.  “In study after study that my organization has conducted on parenting or on early education, we arrive at similar findings,” she notes. “Adults who continue to learn about children – about parenting them and teaching them – make the best parents and the best teachers.”

So hopefully, you’ll recognize what Galinsky points out in the end of her book.  None of these skills require expensive programs, fancy materials, or elaborate equipment – just a willingness, she explains, “for doing everyday things you do with children in new ways.”  After all, Galinsky makes it clear that being a parent not only means your children will learn from you for the rest of their lives, but you them.

 

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The Parenting Paradox: A Review of All Joy and No Fun

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Over the last five years, I’ve read 60 titles for Parenting by the Book.  All Joy and No Fun by Jennifer Senior is the first to move me to tears.  It’s not a parenting book in the traditional sense, offering advice; rather, it combines research with relevant anecdotes to capture the paradox of modern parenthood.  By the time you finish reading it, you realize that just as standardized tests can’t accurately measure what students learn at school, social science data doesn’t show the real joys of parenting.

Senior focuses on answering the question, “How did having children affect their mothers’ and fathers’ lives?”  She begins by exploring the complications of modern parenting: a lack of understanding of what having a baby really means, the loss of work boundaries thanks to technology, and an opportunity to explore one’s own potential longer than ever before.  Then, Senior walks readers through the stages of parenthood, and while there’s much food for thought, the following subjects really struck me.

She begins with autonomy and what Senior considers the awkward topic of boredom.  How long can one play Littlest Pet Shop without losing one’s mind?  Having been a stay-at-home mom for seven years, this was something I could relate to firsthand.  She explains that while one of the greatest gifts children give us is the ability to live in the moment, it makes getting into a flow hard to achieve.  Structure provides parents with a release from boredom, except the nagging necessary to wrangle toddlers into action often negates its rewards.

Senior looks specifically at one stay-at-home mom, who manages a photography business from home, and says she has “chosen the hardest path” – one more and more of us are choosing. We don’t want to miss out on parenting our young children, but we also don’t want to give up on our professional dreams.  I was home with my kids during the day and taught English in the evening.  Much like Jessie, the mother Senior spotlights, I was constantly being pulled in different directions in my attempt to “have it all.”  While “fun” wouldn’t have been the word I would have used to describe it then, now that I’m back to teaching full-time, I’d argue those were some of the best years of my life.

All Joy and No Fun also devotes a considerable amount of attention to marriage and how the division of labor at home is often still unequal.  According to Senior, in 2011, two sociologists “found that mothers, on average, spend ten extra hours per week multitasking than fathers, ‘and that these additional hours are mainly related to time spent on housework and childcare.’” Therefore, when Senior shares the results of a UCLA study – the biggest stress reliever for mothers was not leisure activities but seeing their husbands do housework – I’m not the least bit surprised.  I know nothing makes me happier than walking into the kitchen after I’ve finished reading to my kids at bedtime to discover that my husband has cleaned up.

Another issue Senior addresses is the isolation many parents feel.  While parents have loads of virtual friends, few are spending any face-time with them.  “In the mid- to late seventies, the average American entertained friends at home fourteen to fifteen times per year, according to Bowling Alone by Robert D. Putnam; by the late nineties, that number had split nearly in half, to eight.”  And while Senior acknowledges that raising children is easier when one has help, the reality is that, according to The Way We Never Were by Stephanie Coontz, “The highest percentage of people living in extended families on record was just 20 percent, and that was between 1850 and 1885.”

While Senior does a great job of illuminating the simple gifts of parenting, I found her chapter on “Concerted Cultivation” to speak to the heart of modern parenting.  Senior notes, “Children stopped working, and parents worked twice as hard.  Children went from being our employees to our bosses.”  Interestingly enough, Senior notes, that “children have acquired more and more stuff the more useless they have become.”  Many middle class parents have come to believe that it’s their responsibility to perfect and refine their children in order to ready them for the world, Senior argues.  The problem is we don’t know exactly what we’re preparing them for.

In the old days, parents prepared their children to take over the family business but nowadays choices and possibilities abound, leaving parents baffled as to how to best to help their children to be successful.  As a result, mothers have gone from “housewives” to “stay-at-home moms” and Senior explains that this “change in nomenclature reflects the shift in cultural emphasis.”  To say that parents are responsible for their children’s schooling, clothing, or feeding means something entirely different than it did even fifty years ago – when moms were sewing dresses and canning foods.

Ultimately, Senior’s chapter on “Adolescence” was my favorite; for it exposes the fact that teenagers “brimming with potential” make parents wonder “who we’ll be and what we’ll do with ourselves once they don’t need us.”  And while my older daughter is only twelve, it really got me thinking about my life’s second act.

In the end, the title, All Joy and No Fun, seems misleading because Senior actually proves that parenthood, like life, is about the good and the bad.  Essentially, Senior argues, “The whole experience of being a parent exposes the superficiality of our preoccupation with happiness.”  Rather it gets to the heart of the matter.  The connection that gets us up in the morning.  The connection that keeps us up in the middle of the night.  Senior explains that real joy stems from a deep bond that is impossible to achieve alone, and while being a parent means you are a “hostage to fate,” when we’re asked to think about what makes us happy, we can’t help but answer “our kids.”

We were on our way home from Florida, when I finished reading this All Joy and No Fun.  My husband was driving.  My eight-year-old, who gets car sick, was listening to a play-away of The Emerald Atlas by John Stephens.  My twelve-year-old was reading The Scorch Trials by James Dashner.  And I was wiping away tears when I read the chapter “Joy” and all I could think was, “This is what she’s talking about – me reveling in this moment when we’re all lost in the worlds words offer us.”

So if you’re inclined to agree with Senior, who argues that “kids open windows to new activities and new ideas” and thereby make our lives more meaningful, than I highly recommend you read All Joy and No Fun.  For, as you already know, while not everything about parenthood is fun, ultimately parenting is a joy.

 

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The Gift of Reading: A Review of The Book Whisperer  

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“So many children don’t read,” argues Donalyn Miller, author of The Book Whisperer, “They don’t read well; they don’t read often enough; and if you talk to children, they will tell you that they don’t see reading as meaningful in their lives.”

Therefore, teacher Donalyn Miller set out to awaken the inner reader in every child that entered her classroom.  Her approach is nontraditional, especially in our test-crazed age.  However, Miller claims her students not only read over forty books a year but an average of 85 percent of her students score in the 90th percentile on the state reading assessment.

What does this have to do with parenting?  Well, as Miller identifies the weaknesses in school reading programs, she illuminates the mistakes of well-intentioned parents as well.  Whether it’s trying to get their children to read the books they want them to or failing to model what it means to be a life-long reader, there’s much for parents to take-away from The Book Whisperer.

First and foremost, Miller believes all children are readers.  Therefore, she doesn’t focus on how difficult it might be for them to read at least forty books in one school year and she doesn’t talk about how many of them don’t like to read.  She claims, “If I were to acknowledge that these excuses have merit, I would allow them to become reasons for my students not to read.”  As far as Miller is concerned, “Students must believe that they can read and that reading is worth learning how to do well.”

Miller believes that building lifelong readers begins with “encounters with great books, heartfelt recommendations, and a community of readers who share this passion.”  Success in reading, therefore, has to do with creating the conditions for learning.

Immersion – Kids need to be surrounded by books. All genres.  All reading levels.  I’m always surprised when I go into homes of parents, who are eager to raise readers, yet there isn’t a book in sight.  Their kids’ bookshelves have a collection of picture books they outgrew years ago and a handful of books they’ve since acquired at school book fairs.  This just isn’t enough to create a word-rich environment.  Now I’ll be the first to admit I don’t buy many new books, but we frequent used books stores and make regular trips to the library.  I have five library cards for all the surrounding counties.  If there’s a book we want, one of them will have it.

Demonstration – Miller believes children need ample examples of how to use texts to meet their needs. It’s up to parents to model how books play a role in the different aspects of their lives.  I’m always amazed when parents tell me how they are always telling their kids they need to read yet when I ask parents what book they’re reading the parents say they don’t have time.  In addition to the monthly title I read for Parenting by the Book, I read every night and listen to books during my daily commute so there’s never any doubt in my children’s minds that I value reading.

Expectations – Miller sets high annual goals for her students because she says it forces them to always have a book they are reading. This past year, I set the goal of reading 50 books and my twelve year old set the goal of reading 35.  At the time of writing this blog, I am two books away from my goal and she is five from hers.  While I didn’t require her to read a variety of genres, as Miller does, I did keep tabs on her progress and praised her as she moved closer to reaching her goal.

Responsibility – Miller believes kids need to choose books that interest them and schools (parents) need to resist the temptation to pressure children into reading books what they believe to be better “quality” book. The important thing is that children are reading and developing a love of reading.  While I read a lot of books, my daughter has different interests than me so sometimes I struggle to recommend titles when she’s wrapped up a favorite series and is looking for something else.  I let her join Goodreads, which is a “social cataloguing” website that allows members to rate books and receive recommendations.  My daughter and I not only keep track of books we’ve read but also those we want to read.  It’s revolutionized my reading life.

Employment – Children need time to read. Sadly, the busier our lives get the less likely we are to make time for books.  My kids keep books on their nightstands, in their backpacks, and the backseat of the car.  Something to read is always close by.  At the very least, they read before bed.

Response – Since the world is our classroom, parents have to capitalize on opportunities to provide encouragement during daily conversations. I still read aloud to my kids – ages 8 and 12 – for exactly this reason.  Books give us the means to discuss all kinds of topics.  We recently finished reading Number the Stars by Lois Lowry during our Thanksgiving road trip.  When I reached the Afterword and read an excerpt from a letter by a Danish Resistance leader during World War II, my husband heard the quiver in my voice and asked, “Are you crying?”  Of course, I was, and I didn’t need to look into the backseat to know my children were emotional, too.

Engagement – When it comes down to it, I want my children to know books move me. As Miller points out, “Reading unlocks worlds unknown or forgotten, taking travelers around the world and through time.”  I want reading to be something worth doing well.

According to Miller, she is often confronted by people claiming she isn’t preparing students for the real world, and she agrees, “It’s true, if the real world means years of comprehension worksheets and test practice.”  But those of us who love the printed word know that the purpose of school is to “embrace reading as a lifelong pursuit,” as Miller claims.

Miller believes, and as an English educator of 22 years I couldn’t agree more, that “Readers are made, not born.”  Therefore, Miller argues children need a balance between teaching literature and facilitating their growth as life-long readers.  Since I’m not calling the shots at my kids’ schools, I try to make reading as enjoyable as it can be at home.  Sure, my kids will get a couple of books this holiday, but my real gift to them is making reading part of our daily lives.  While it can’t be wrapped up and put under a tree, it doesn’t mean it isn’t something they’ll cherish.

Follow @WinterhalterV on Twitter for updates on blog posts or like Parenting by the Book on Facebook.

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