Thursday, October 2, 2014

Wanting the Best, or Needing to Be the Best?

I'm reprinting an article entitled,

Harvard, Schmarvard; Why Getting Your Kids Into College Should Be the Least of Your Concerns
by Michelle Rose Gilman
Huff Post Parents

"It's almost that time of year. I can feel it in the fall air and see it on the faces of parents and seniors everywhere. It's almost college application time and the race begins, as parents and kids vie for the chance to get into their first choice colleges.

For some parents, college acceptance approaches the culmination of every single parenting choice ever made. It can seem the ultimate goal, the ROI of parenthood, the final gold award and the epitome of a parenting job well done. It feels like the end game for every AP class, honors class, volunteer opportunity, and sports involvement that you required of your child. This college acceptance looms as the justification for the hours upon hours of helping with homework, rewriting their essays, doing most of their science fair projects since sixth grade, hiring the most expensive college counselor, and pushing, pushing, pushing your kids to get the A at any cost. "My child got into his first choice university" will be worn proudly and loudly as a testament to how well you have done as mom and dad.

I'm just being honest. I have been hacking into your lives for the past 25 years as a founder and head of school at a private school in California. If you are finding yourself already getting annoyed or a little angry with me, I ask you to hear me out. I was once where you are now, until my son decided on a much different path and forced me to rethink the whole process and what constituted my achievement as a parent. It was not college acceptance."

Read the rest HERE

Please feel free to leave a comment.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Summer Homework Blues?

I recently received an email from an old friend, who now has middle school-aged children.

"Hi Kerry, I just had to touch base with you this morning because I was organizing my “favorites” on the computer and came across a bookmark for your blog. Your latest entry about what you learned with your kids was EXACTLY what I needed today. We have two kids ages 13 and 11. Academics comes easily for our older one, but the younger struggles. We have had tutors, screaming matches, etc. This summer my daughter has math homework as well as writing a report on books that she has read. She hates to read, which is such a shame because I feel she is missing out. We have been fighting all summer so far about her getting her work done.

I actually read the books she need to read and practically wrote one of the reports for her when hers was so awful. I feel horrible about it. After reading your blog, I have a renewed perspective! My husband has a healthier attitude about it—“it is their life, you have to let them live it”. I don’t know why stay-at-home mom’s feel so much pressure for their kids to “succeed” at everything. It truly is their life and they need their relationship with us far more than they need the academics. I know they will be fine because they are great human beings.

Thank you again for your words. They have really touched me today. My daughter will thank you too because you may have helped reduce the stress in our summer!"

What do you think about this? Do your kids have summer homework? How do you and they deal with it?

Do you think stay-at-home moms feel extra pressure for their kids to succeed at everything?

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Looking Back and Looking Forward as an Empty Nester

I'm about to be an empty nester, and I am reflecting back on my youngest son's experiences in public school.  Here Sam was in middle school:

And, here he is now, about to graduate from high school:

School has been a struggle for Sam.  He is not in that top 20% academically.  I don't think he will be upset if I share that he has been in the Resource program since middle school. He has proudly, openly proclaimed that Resource saved him in both middle and high school. In addition to seeking out Resource services, probably the best thing I ever did for Sam (beginning in middle school) was to back off and stop micro-managing his homework.  

I, admittedly, hovered over him in elementary school WAY TOO MUCH. (Having a teaching background, I felt entitled to hover.) I'm actually embarrassed at how much I stepped in and "helped" him with homework.  I brought him to tears more than once during some marathon homework sessions.  I even made a video once of him crying when he was supposed to be doing homework and showed it to him. (I know, BAD PARENTING MOMENT, I'm truly ashamed I did that. I'm so sorry Sam!)

I finally backed off and woke up when I saw what homework was doing to both my sons in middle school - crushing their spirits.  And that's when I took an unpopular stand on homework and helped initiate a change in the homework policy in my son's district, back in 2007.  This blog was created out of that homework policy research.

Since then, parents will see me and ask, "Hey, whatever happened with the homework policy?  You did so much work on that and my son/daughter still gets busywork.  Why don't the teachers follow the policy?"

What I've learned through the years is what I knew from the beginning.  In their lifetime, our kids will have some truly excellent, creative, innovative, nurturing, intelligent, dedicated teachers (and both of my boys have) and they will also unfortunately experience some very non-exceptional teachers (and both of my boys have).  We parents have little or no control over what teachers our kids end up with.  But, as long as they are still living in our homes, we do have control over how we interact with them at the end of the school day.

Here are some concrete things I did to stop micro-managing my kids and let them take control of their own learning:
  • I turned off the daily email feature on School Snoop (a.k.a. School Loop)
  • I looked at School Loop only once per quarter or less
  • I stopped asking them how much homework they had after school
  • I didn't ask them when they had tests or quizzes or papers or projects due
  • I didn't freak out when they said they failed or did really badly on a test or assignment
  • I let them decide what classes they wanted to take
  • I focused on the content of what they were learning instead of the grade
  • I encouraged them to contact their own teachers with questions and frustrations instead of my doing it
  • I encouraged them to seek out other students for support or help
  • I empathized with them when they were frustrated about too much busywork
  • I empathized with them when they were frustrated about a difficult teacher or administrator experience
  • I stopped signing them up for too many after school activities
  • I stopped sending them to tutors, eventually (this took a while for me to figure out)
  • I encouraged down time and free play
  • I didn't require them to build a resume for college
  • I celebrated with them when they had little or no homework
  • I celebrated with them when they experienced a great teacher or teaching moment

Did both of my boys fail some tests and assignments and not get straight A's? Yep.  Did either one end up with a 4.8 GPA?  Nope.  Did they both get into college?  Yep.  

I'd like to share with you that Sam, my Resource student son, got into a small, private school (Sierra Nevada College) that gave him a hefty academic scholarship because his GPA was over a 3.0. Sam didn't beat himself up academically to be in the top 20% of his class, and his grades are just over average, he took no honors or advanced classes, and yet he still found a college that seems to be a good fit for him and is giving him a half-tuition scholarship for his efforts.  

There is a right fit for every type of learner out there.  And, it doesn't have to be college.  It can be a gap year, or internship, or work, or whatever speaks to your child.  And, realize that kids may start out in college and not finish at the same school or even finish at all.  Whatever happens with their educational journey, I hope I can remember my list of things that I did to be a supportive, non-hovering, non-judgmental parent and just keep encouraging them along the way.