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Unleashing Parent Power

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As parents, we may underestimate the power we have to bring about positive changes.

The Fialco family makes me wonder if there isn’t a lot more untapped parent power out there, just waiting to surface.

Their multimedia project, Starabella, features an unconventional heroine, a kindergartner with autism, who connects with her peers through her gift of music.  The trailer is a good watch for both parents and kids—especially since there’s a story behind the story.  The books were inspired by the experiences of Sharon Fialco’s daughter, Tara, who has autism.  The story behind the story gets even better: Tara composed and performed 17 of the 22 songs on the CDs.

I like the message of this project—one of acceptance—but I also like that it reminds us that, as parents, we can do more than just wish that something might be different for our kids. We may actually have the power to bring about positive change.

And, no, it doesn’t have to be some huge project.  For example, if we don’t like that kids are running “wild” at recess, maybe we can organize a group of parents to lead some activities for those kids who would benefit from a more structured recess.  Or, if we’re upset that the school bathrooms do not have soap (true example), we can offer to approach concerned parents to see if they might collectively donate a year’s supply.

When my kids were young, I wanted them to have a sense of school community, yet there wasn’t one school-wide program on their site to bring the students together.  So with the blessing of the staff and a crew of enthusiastic parents, we brought an amazing hands-on ocean program to their school.  Almost two decades later, all of the students still engage in this program each year.

So what are other examples of positive parent action? Share your experiences with us!  As parents, the more examples we learn about, the more we may be inspired to act on our own.

When Schools Don’t Take Care of Bullies

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Kids have the right to ride school busses without being bullied.

As parents, we’re wired to protect our kids at all times. But what happens when we react without thinking through the consequences?

Last week a dad was arrested for coming onto a school bus and screaming profanities to those who had been bullying his daughter who has cerebral palsy. Once the story hit the media, the man received a lot of support and empathy from other parents, especially after he stated that he felt this was his only recourse when the school and bus driver did nothing to help his child.

I’m with the group who doesn’t think the man should have been arrested for trying to protect his daughter. But I always find myself asking questions when situations are not so clear cut, and several come to mind with this incident:

• Was his daughter actually safer after he went on the bus?
• Since he threatened the kids collectively, could that also be considered a kind of bullying in itself?
• Did the other kids on the bus (who were not involved in the bullying) feel unsafe by the father’s actions?
• If his daughter was not safe on the bus, then why was she still riding on it?

So what might have been a different option when the school was not responsive?

The father could have written the school board that he was keeping his child home from school every day until they could prove that all kids were safe on the bus. He could have also solicited as many parents as possible to do the same, noting that any child on the bus could be the bullies’ next victim. This type of action would have likely caught the media’s attention to do a story, especially since bullying has become a hot topic.

And why might the school have responded to the above solution and not the father’s individual calls? Namely, unexcused absences cost the schools a lot of money that they cannot afford to lose. Also, school board officials are elected, so they try to avoid negative publicity whenever possible.

Sure, we’d all prefer that school officials would act solely out of sheer concern for a child. But we may have to settle for finding other ways to motivate them.

In short, there’s no getting around this truth: Ultimately, we’re the ones who have to ensure that our kids are safe. But to make certain that happens, we may first have to rein in the primitive part of our brain—where we’re wired to react and protect—so that we can then use the better part of our brain to come up with a good, viable solution.

Five Signs a Parent Needs a Break

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We are actually helping our kids
when we take time for ourselves.

The airlines get it. For emergency situations, fight attendants always instruct parent passengers to put oxygen masks on themselves before helping their kids. Yet making sure parents are fully functional “on land” is good advice, too.

Here are some tell-tale signs that we have too much going on or that we’re so involved in our kids’ lives, we’ve forgotten we have one of our own.

1) We’re still singing our kids’ CD songs even though he’s not playing them (or even around).

2) We’re waiting to see what grade “we” got on the project “we” worked on.

3) We find ourselves cutting our own meat into tiny pieces.

4) We rushed our child out the door for soccer practice—only to discover that practice was yesterday.

5) We wish we could vote for homecoming king and queen.

If you’re a parent in need of a break, you can easily modify or add to the list above. But the point
is . . .sometimes we think we’re being a good parent by trying to juggle everything or by parenting 24/7. Yet the truth is, we’re better parents when we take some time for ourselves.

So book a massage. Go play tennis. Read that magazine that’s been sitting on the table for three weeks.

Our families will be just fine without us for a few hours.

Secrets to Interpreting Your Child’s Classroom

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When desks are arranged this way,
student interaction is most likely encouraged.

A quick glance at your child’s classroom can provide a lot of information about the learning environment.

1. Seating Arrangement
Tables or clusters of desks suggest there’ll be opportunities to interact and work in pairs or groups for various tasks.

Desks in a U-shape allow students to see each other while having a whole class discussion but does not lend itself to small group interactions.

Desks in rows probably mean there’s little student interaction or collaboration throughout the day.

2. Display of Student Work
If the work differs from each other—and some of the posted work even has a few mistakes—we may conclude that uniqueness is encouraged and the process in this classroom trumps producing a final “perfect” product.

3. Display of Class Rules
Rules written with a positive perspective (e.g. Raise a hand to respond) versus those written with a negative emphasis (e.g. Don’t call out answers) suggest an overall more encouraging environment.

4. Classroom Clutter
A distinct cleared area surrounding the white board and minimal “extras” placed on counter tops and hanging from the ceilings suggest an understanding that some kids can’t filter background stimuli.

5. Hands-on Learning Stations
Learning stations guarantee that there are opportunities to get up and move throughout the day, work independently, and learn at places other than the students’ desks.

6. Personalized Touch
Extras, such as plants, class pets, and fun furniture (rocking or beanbag chair) suggest there’s a conscious effort to create a friendly environment.

7. Novelty
Anything unique suggests a more creative versus traditional learning environment. For example, kids in my classroom earned vacation time and then “flew” to Hawaii (a part of the room transformed to look like the beach) to hang out.

Is there often a direct connection between a child’s behavior and the physical classroom environment? Yes. Can we use that information to then support our child? Yes, again.
For example, if the teacher comments that he’s easily distracted in class, you might explore removing some of the “extras” around the instructional board (if you’ve noted a lot of stimuli).

So check your child’s classroom, and see what you can learn!

Red Flags When Meeting with the Teacher

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Kids deserve to be in a learning environment
that allows them to shine.

Some parents find it important to meet with their child’s teacher right at the start of the school year.  Most of the time, these meetings go very well. The majority of teachers are supportive and eager to work with the parents to explore possible modifications for the child.

But sometimes there is no sense of a desire to collaborate.  While the teacher’s responses to the parents’ concerns are always polite, there’s a consistent message: Don’t expect me to make any special changes for your child.

When I hear recounts of such meetings, I always ask the same questions: If you (the parent) left that meeting with a pit in your stomach, then how do you imagine your child feels in that classroom for six hours a day? And . . . what long-term message are you sending by dropping your child off in an environment where you don’t believe he’s being honored?

Six hours a day, five days a week, nine months of a year is a long time to be in an environment that is not a good “fit” for a child.

So we have to ask ourselves:

  • If we keep our kids in such a learning environments for an entire year, what price do they pay?
  • When looking at the bigger picture, is it really in our child’s best interest to keep insisting that there is not a single other possible learning environment (on the entire planet J)?

In truth, there are always options. Sure, they may not always be within easy reach, and initiating them may be way out of our comfort zone. But yes, there is always more than one learning environment available for our kids.

And if we believe that, our kids are guaranteed to spend their year in a classroom that honors them.

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