6 Rewards Schools Could Use to Motivate Introverted Kids

My son’s school offered a special incentive to encourage students to use their online learning program during the holiday break. There was a note in my Kindergartner’s homework folder that said all students who did 45 minutes per week during vacation would have a special lunch with the principals when school started back.
As an introverted adult who once was an introverted child, my first thought upon reading the note was, “Worst. Prize. Ever.” Regular school lunch was enough of a nightmare already with all the forced socialization, unstructured time, and eating in front of other people. And now that I’ve finally gotten into a workable routine after four months you want me to eat somewhere else, with different people, and in the company of principals? No thanks!
But, being the enlightened parent that I am, I tamped down my school demons and put on a good face for my son.
“Hey!” I said with an exclamation point for some reason. “This says if you do i-Ready for 45 minutes a week during vacation, you get to have a special lunch with the principals!”
“I know,” my son replied. “I don’t want to do that.”
What a relief. Don’t get me wrong, normally I would want him to do his homework, but in this case his take was objectively the right one, so it was hard to argue it.
It did get me thinking, though. What are some things schools could offer up to motivate introverted kids? I came up with a few ideas.

1 | Normal lunch

Since the school is looking for fun lunch ideas to reward participation, let’s start with the most fun lunch idea imaginable: normal lunch. This is lunch exactly as it is done every other day of the school year. Students sit in their same seats, next to the same people, eating the same foods. Bathrooms are readily available for hiding out if the noise level or expectation of casual conversation becomes too intense.

2 | In-school suspension

I’m not sure if this is still a thing, but when I was in school, one of the punishments for misbehavior was something called in-school suspension. From what I could gather, this involved sitting in a room alone quietly completing school work. Needless to say, I was always envious of the misbehaving children. How this came to be regarded as a punishment rather than a reward always confused me. It’s time to set things right.

3 | A big stack of worksheets to complete independently

See above. If a separate room isn’t available, quiet time with lots of worksheet doing and no talking would also be much appreciated.

4 | No group work for a week

Sold. 100 percent. In exchange for a whole week of not having to do group work or cooperative learning or whatever that stupid crap is called, we will do anything (that doesn’t involve talking, obviously).

5 | No games at P.E. that involve intense interpersonal interaction or solo performances

No kickball. No relay races. And for the love of God, no Red Rover! A nice anonymous activity like jogging around the track is just fine, thanks.

6 | No classroom games like “Heads Up, Seven Up”

These are supposed to be fun? Sure. If you like having to put your head down on the desk, hide your eyes, and stick your thumb up like a fool. And if that isn’t bad enough, go ahead and guess which person pushed your thumb down in front of the whole class so you can look like a complete idiot when you guess wrong. More worksheets, please.

Navigating Autism: Keep Looking Up

He deserves the chance to grow, thicken his skin, show others how wrong they are about him. It wouldn’t be easy, but it would be worth it.

I had one of those days yesterday, the kind that left me with a kink in my neck that prevents me from looking up from my beat-up Uggs. The kind of day that prevents me from looking up at all. Yesterday, I cried on the playground of my son’s preschool. It’s been a decade or two since I let it all out in the midst of flying balls and staring children, but let me tell you, it is still just as embarrassing.

It was only for a second. I reeled it back in as quickly as it escaped, but it lasted just long enough for me to reveal my ugly-cry face to my son’s preschool teacher. She was probably having a hard enough time already as she was coming to me to talk about my autistic son’s behaviors in a general education class.

Why is my autistic son in a general education classroom? Well, I could argue it’s for inclusion or exposure, but the truth is that I fought to keep him in the general education system because it just felt right to me, as his mom, at the time.

When Henry was not talking at all at two years old, our pediatrician suggested preschool. Get him around some other kids and the words will come, the doctor advised. Give it three months.

That’s what we did. I was so nervous putting him in preschool before he could ask for water, or even for me, but he needed something. So did I: I needed a break.

Three months came and went and, while Henry adjusted to nap-time and separation anxiety in a “typical” way, the words did not come. Instead of lessening my fears, preschool exposed new ones I had yet to discover. Still no words came. When I came to pick Henry up each day, he was always playing happily and he was also always playing alone. Maybe he was playing in close proximity to other children, but he was never playing with them.

It was like a seam in the universe was stitched between my boy and this world. While I was made aware of Henry’s solitary nature, I was always comforted by the teachers and preschool director, who patiently reminded me that some children take longer to adjust than others. We waited, and a year went by.

Within that year, we got our answer: autism. It all added up. It was a hard pill to swallow, but it also made sense. In a way, the diagnosis was preferable to the potential diagnosis. Either way, I’d be worrying, but at least now I knew why.

We did speech therapy and child development class and requested an IEP meeting with the school district. They offered us a special ed preschool program where Henry would receive speech and occupational therapy weekly and be amongst his “peers.” The school within our residence district happened to be the best program in the county. With high hopes, my mom and I went to take a tour.

We walked into each classroom with smiles on our faces, eager to hear about the different activities, but I couldn’t help notice all the self-directed children engaged in self-directed play right next to one another. When the tour came to an end, we thanked the teachers and walked to the car in silence. Opening the car door, I plopped myself into my mom’s passenger seat and began to cry.

“I don’t think I can send him here, Mom.”

She looked at me and said, “Oh honey, I’m so glad to hear you say that.”

It was my gut, my heart, and my disregard for pragmatics that led me to keep Henry at his general education preschool. At that time, the child advocate who represented us told me straight up, “I think you’re making a mistake.” I respected his honesty, but I told him that my child needs the world. He needs the world to stay with him. He needs the world to continue playing around him, circling him, while he pauses for a moment.

The world needs to be there when he wakes up. If it’s not, he may think that he’s alone and go back inside his mind to hibernate for another year. Another valuable year. I told our advocate that my son may be bullied in the general education system, but that may be better than being ignored, isolated, segregated, separated, numb, disenfranchised. I didn’t want him to be a bystander.

Maybe pain is a part of real life, and he deserves to live a real life and learn from it, as we all must. He deserves the chance to grow, thicken his skin, show others how wrong they are about him. It wouldn’t be easy, but it would be worth it. My heart knew what felt right to me as a mom. So we kept him in general education and his amazing private preschool was happy to have him stay, no questions asked.

The director of the program even shared with me that she has family members with autism and that, in her experience, social progress is the key that unlocks the doors to both speech and sensory issues. I agreed that in order for Henry to learn to speak, he needed to be spoken to, constantly, by everyone around him. That’s exactly what general education could give him that special education could not.

My child advocate strongly disagreed. “It’s not better to be bullied as a child, ever.” It was hard and painful logic to refute. I did not refute it, I just followed my heart. It’s all that I’ve done since I started on this path, and I’ve tripped and fallen plenty of times along the way, and that’s okay. However, I cannot afford to take my child down with me when I hit the pavement.

I tripped yesterday, like a child on a playground. This time, I wasn’t a child. I was a mother. A broken-hearted mother overcome with a hundred different emotions in one moment. As I listened to my son’s teacher gently break down for me that he’s struggling and that she’s struggling with him, so many feelings showed up. Initially, it was good-ol’-fashioned embarrassment. I know I don’t need to (nor should I) feel embarrassed over my son’s disability, but sometimes, I just do.

I was sad that this day had come, the one I hadn’t wanted to acknowledge as it lingered off ahead somewhere on the distant horizon of the future. This was the day my child advocate was trying to protect us from. While Henry wasn’t being kicked out of his general education preschool (he wasn’t even in trouble) this day now stood as a pillar along the rocky road I’ve been walking. It was a marker in time, a reminder, a reality check.

My son’s teacher wanted to know if there was anything she could do to help calm Henry down when he gets upset. She is the kindest soul and loves my son, and she just wants to help him, but I could see that she’s tired. I recognized that look of defeat. It’s the one you get where you’ve tried everything and it makes no difference at all. It was like looking in the mirror. She merely asked what I do at home when Henry gets upset and the ugly-cry face unleashed itself.

Her intentions were pure, and I’m so grateful that she came to me. I knew as soon as she began to speak that this conversation was different than the ones she has with other parents, because my son is different. There it is: cue the face. As if this returned realization was not enough to sufficiently and publicly upset me, there was still another layer of reality that I had to confront.

I didn’t have the answer to her question. I froze as if I’d just been called on in geography class while passing notes. Was this a trick question? Why couldn’t I answer it? It was a very straightforward inquiry. Yet I stared back at her with a vacuous expression and, like my son, I struggled to find the words I needed in that moment.

I couldn’t find them because they weren’t there. I don’t know how to calm my son down when he “melts down.” I try to comfort, love, and support him. I try to reprimand, discipline, and explain to him. I try to ignore, detach, and disengage. I try everything. To no avail.

I fail. I get pushed and kicked. I tear up, hold in, let go, and still, my son remains end-of-the-world level upset. It is defeating. It’s exhausting. It makes you want to give up.

What I didn’t have the composure to say to her in that moment is that I’ve spent the last three months of my life fighting tooth and nail to get my son behavioral therapy. I was too proud to tell her that we’d lost our health insurance over the summer. I was too emotional to explain that as certain behaviors have escalated, my family’s resources have dissipated like sand running through a child’s fingers. Instead, I just said, “It’s been hard,” and she understood.

I am left now with an emotional string tied around my index finger. It’s a conscious reminder of the changing tide, and of the knowledge that not a single one of us can predict or control it. No one can tell me what is right or what is best for my son. No one can tell me if it’s fair to his teacher or the other children to keep him there and for how long. At least not yet. Only time will tell.

It took Henry one year of general education preschool to begin speaking. It took him one year to make a friend. Not just a child who plays near him or alongside him, but a friend. An adorable little girl who is always by his side when I arrive to pick him up. His first friend, his first words, what are they worth? Are they worth risking potential bullying? Are they worth extra stress on his teachers? I don’t know. Only time will tell.

Yesterday, I cried on the playground. Today my neck is frozen in a downward position. Even though it hurts, I must keep looking up. Life is marked with pain, regardless of the road you take. It’s a patient beacon that waits for us like rest stops along the highway of life, summoning us to pause for a moment to recall that we’re all lost travelers being led by unreliable navigation systems that are constantly rerouting.

While I have more work to do, more tears in store, and (God-forbid) more ugly cry faces waiting to be unleashed, there is no right or wrong answer. There is only my heart and his to navigate daily, until and if the time arrives to nudge our hearts in a new direction.

Yesterday was a hard day, but it’s not the end of the road. I know that I must continue on and that as long as I am looking up, I will see the signs that time will mark for me along this journey. While it may hurt at times, the pain is worth every detour, rest stop, and pothole. It’s worth every tear on the playground. It’s life, and it’ll be waiting patiently, next to me, when my son pauses to look up.

Could Mothers Have a Hand in Influencing Their Teens to Take STEM Courses?

According to recent findings a mother’s communication with her children can increase the likelihood of them taking math and science (MS) courses.

It doesn’t feel that long ago when I sat in my trigonometry desk on the first day of school. As soon as that bell rang, the teacher handed out a worksheet. “Take a look at this,” he said. “If this seems hard to you, I strongly suggest you go see your counselor to drop this class.”
At the age of 17, I simply laughed and strolled out the door and never looked back. It wasn’t until I became a mother that that teacher ticked me off. Granted, I am a creative person, a writer and an English teacher, but who’s to say that I couldn’t have pulled a B in that trigonometry class with some hard work?
Instead, I dodged math and science in college like a bullet. Now, I hope to throw my kids at math and science as long as they’re at least a little willing. Research suggests that I do.
According to recent findings in The Journal of Research on Adolescence, a mother’s communication with her children can increase the likelihood of them taking math and science (MS) courses. Since President Obama launched the Educate to Innovate campaign, education in the United States has been slowly shifting toward STEM (science, technology, engineering, and technology).
The campaign urges teachers, parents, administrators, and policy makers to incorporate more STEM into their schools. As a mother who admittedly does not excel in math, it is going to be on me to encourage my children to waltz into those classrooms, even if their teachers don’t welcome them with open arms.
The longitudinal study conducted interviews with mothers and students at three points – after their ninth-grade year, during their tenth-grade year, and then during final analysis of their twelfth-grade transcripts.
The questionnaires analyzed 1) whether mothers were capable of discussing MS courses, 2) how well they provided guidance through personalized communication with their child, 3) if the mothers spoke differently with daughters compared to sons, 4) how frequently conversations about MS courses took place, and 5) whether they communicated about their child’s future connecting the enrollment of the MS courses.
The study demonstrated that the key for mothers is to make the MS courses personal to their children and to make connections to their future. Whether teenagers like to admit it or not, they still look to their parents for guidance, especially in the academic arena. So, fostering an open dialogue with some personalization proved to be imperative.
For example, when discussing a biology course with her daughter, one mother said, “She loves animals. So, I think that it would help you understand animals, living things…our own bodies. And maybe, if you want to be a veterinary assistant, it could be a real help in your career.” Her daughter was much more excited to take a science course when she could understand its connection to her future.
The study also found that mothers did not speak differently to their daughters compared to their sons in regards to taking MS courses. They didn’t speak to them any less often about them, either. This was surprising and pleasing news for the researchers, proving that the future indeed looks bright for our daughters and their potential careers in STEM.
The researches concluded that showing teenagers the great value in the MS courses was key. It made a difference when mothers discussed the courses with a personal anecdote and gave examples about how the classes could transcend into their careers.
The researchers, Hyde et al said, “Parents may even be more effective than teachers at making personal connections, because parents have much more detailed knowledge of their own child’s interests, experiences, and aspirations.”
Although I have little experience with advanced STEM courses, this research gave me hope. I was born a communicator, so if all I have to do is simply talk with my children about the potential of such courses and the paths that they may lead to, I’ll gladly do it.
And if a teacher gives one of my children the option to leave if a subject “seems hard,” they’ll be glued to that seat and won’t budge.

How Process Praise Helps Our Kids

To put it simply, process praise is praise that emphasizes the work, effort, or actions of the child.

A child’s first step, first jump, first song – each is a momentous occasion in a little one’s life that naturally elicits praise. Even eating all those peas (with a spoon, no less!) calls for a “good job.” Busy praising all those firsts (and seconds and thirds), we may have no idea how much our praise contributes to our child’s development.
It’s often said that young children are little sponges, soaking in their environment and learning from it. “Kids pick up on messages that parents are giving that parents may not even realize they’re giving,” says Elizabeth Gunderson, Ph.D., an assistant professor of psychology at Temple University.
For instance, researchers found parents’ use of a type of praise called “process praise” with one- to three-year-olds predicted their child’s “growth mindset” and desire for challenge five years later. Gunderson is the lead author of the study, which was published in the journal Child Development
So what exactly is “process praise”? And why is a “growth mindset” so important?

Process praise

To put it simply, process praise is praise that emphasizes the work, effort, or actions of the child. When we tell our daughters “good helping” for helping put away toys or “good singing” for singing a tune, we are using process praise. Even a simple “good job” is considered process praise.
By contrast, when we say “good girl,” “big boy,” or “you’re so smart,” we are using person praise. Unlike process praise, person praise is praise that gives a fixed label to a child.  Consider the child who helps put away her toys or sings. Where process praise is “good helping” or “good singing,” person praise is “you’re a good helper” or “you’re a good singer.”

Growth mindset

Many of us are likely unaware when and why we gravitate toward one type of praise over the other. But those parents who use process praise are helping their children adopt a “growth mindset.”
Carol Dweck, a professor of psychology at Stanford University and author of “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success”, has spent decades studying “growth” and “fixed” mindsets. With a “growth mindset,” people believe that basic abilities, like intelligence or talent, can be developed through dedication, effort, and hard work.
In contrast, with a “fixed mindset,” people believe those qualities are fixed traits (i.e., you’re only born with so much). A growth mindset leads to a desire to learn, embrace challenges, and persist whereas a fixed mindset leads to a desire to look smart and therefore avoid challenges and give up more easily.
There’s a lot of research showing the kids who have growth mindsets tend to do better academically, says Gunderson. For instance, researchers found that first and second graders’ growth mindsets at the beginning of the school year predicted greater improvement in math over the course of the year.
“If you believe that your intelligence is malleable and something you can change with effort, that tends to make you have a positive attitude towards effort,” she says, explaining that those with a growth mindset believe that intelligence can be improved with hard work.
If you have a fixed mindset, you may believe working hard is evidence that you’re not very smart, and that belief can decrease your motivation and drive. “In the real world, working hard actually does get you to better results usually, so having a positive attitude towards effort is really important,” says Gunderson.
Gunderson also notes, however, that having a fixed mindset isn’t necessarily a bad thing until children face some kind of challenge or failure. In fact, a fixed mindset can be motivating…for a time. “Thinking ‘I’m smart. I have a lot of intelligence’ can actually be motivating, but as soon as you face any kind of challenge or failure, it tends to be a much more fragile way of thinking.”
When kids who think they have fixed ability suddenly aren’t able to do something, they think they must not be that smart after all and tend to give up. Kids with a growth mindset, on the other hand, see challenges and even failures as opportunities to learn and improve their intelligence.

“Good try”

While praising effort is a good thing, telling children “good try” over and over again, especially when they aren’t successful in reaching their goal, can lead to overpraising.
As Dweck writes in a commentary for Education Week, “Too often nowadays, praise is given to students who are putting forth effort, but not learning, in order to make them feel good in the moment: ‘Great effort! You tried your best!’ It’s good that the students tried, but it’s not good that they’re not learning.”
As Gunderson explains, parents still have to consider whether the praise is warranted. “You don’t want to overpraise because kids are savvy. If you say ‘good try’ and they didn’t really try, then that’s not good. Or if you say ‘good try’ but they failed, then it’s like that’s a consolation prize and they know that.”
A better route is to acknowledge your child’s struggle or failure and encourage a positive attitude about it to help your child learn.

“Keep trying” or “try harder”

It’s also not helpful to tell kids “keep trying” or “try harder,” says Gunderson. “They could be spinning their wheels.” Adults need to explain the kinds of strategies that would actually lead to success. For instance, if your toddler gets frustrated because she can’t put together a puzzle, simply telling her to “try harder” or “try again” is not going to help. Of course, putting the puzzle together for your child isn’t going to help either.
Instead, you may ask, “Can you try it a different way?” and point out different parts of the pieces, like the straight edges and corners to instruct your child while allowing her to actually put the pieces together herself. If your child overcomes that challenge and is able to get the pieces together, a way to praise the effort would be to say “great job trying it lots of different ways,” or “I liked how you worked really hard at that and didn’t give up,” or simply “great work.”
In sum, when children are successful, the praise should be directed at the effort it took to reach that goal. Praising the effort shows children that adults value hard work. “The idea is that when [children] succeed at something, the praise about that should be directed at the fact that they worked hard to get to that success,” says Gunderson.

Talking about hard work

Process praise isn’t the only way to help your child adopt a growth mindset. Simply talking about the importance of hard work and how it leads to success can help. You can even explain to your child how your mind is like a muscle and you can always make it stronger, says Gunderson.
“When you feel like something is hard and you’re being challenged, that’s like the ‘no pain, no gain of exercise.’ When you don’t feel that sense of challenge, then you’re not learning.”

Seven Ways to Support Your Aspiring YouTuber

If your children want to create their own Internet videos for fun or for profit, here are seven ways you can guide and support their endeavor

In December 2017, the Washington Post ran an article on Ryan, a six-year-old boy who made $11 million in a year reviewing toys on his YouTube channel. The article went viral and sparked many conversations about YouTube as a way to get rich quick.
While most people on YouTube or other video hosting sites won’t earn that kind of money, making videos still has benefits. Young videographers and vloggers learn to tell stories, use editing software, and market their brand. They improve their communication skills and flex their creativity.
If your children want to create their own Internet videos for fun or for profit, here are seven ways you can guide and support their endeavor:

Talk about consent

Before you let your children upload their videos to the Internet, talk to them about the ways they need consent. Have an honest conversation about what they hope to film and what responsibilities they have with the footage.
When do they need to blur faces or leave out something they filmed? When do they need permission to film in a location or permission from a person? Talk about what they should consider when someone asks them to take down a video or delete their footage.
For older children, consider discussing “prank” videos, sensitive subjects, and the ways that they could be taking advantage of people or situations for their own gain. If you aren’t sure of an answer, have them research it.

Discuss Internet privacy

If your child is filming their own life beyond a single room, have a serious conversation about their privacy. These days, full names are often part of someone’s personal brand, but they can have a username instead.
Decide what information they should keep to themselves and what they should look for in their backgrounds. What should they do if a skateboarding video shows your street sign or house number? Is it okay for a “follow me around” video to show the name of their school? Should they call family members by their names, initials, or nicknames?
Safety and privacy are paramount when upsetting people online often leads to threats of violence.

Let them do what they want, within reason

You may be surprised to know which types of videos are the most popular online. Some people enjoy watching other people open packages. Other people can spend hours watching people play board games and video games. Some people like watching people watch other videos.
Let your child decide what kind of videos they want to make, even if you don’t like or understand their choices. Consider setting a few hard boundaries, or for younger kids, consider being the only one allowed to upload the final videos.
Learn to recognize the difference between a video that isn’t to your taste and a video that shouldn’t be public.

Make sure they’re doing it for the right reasons

Some YouTube stars become household names. With the top earnings becoming public every year, it’s easy for children to think it’s an easy way to make a lot of money and become famous. Of course, many video makers never gain a huge following and don’t make millions of dollars a year.
The ones that do work hard, putting out videos often or putting time and effort into fewer, high quality videos. A lot of them have teams working for them, too. Once they see the work involved, your child may quit, and that’s okay.
If they stick with it, though, make sure they know why they want to make videos. Maybe it’s fun or interesting or they love the small following they have. Whatever their reasons for making videos, figure it out and remind them of their reasons whenever they need it.

Be honest about career possibilities

Some people can still make a living from online videos. Others use their platform as a stepping stone to filmmaking, working in animation, creating their own product lines, or becoming spokespeople. Golden Globe-nominated actress Issa Rae starred in YouTube videos before producing and starring in her own show on HBO.
Still others make their videos as a hobby or a side income while having a full-time job. In 2015, many YouTube stars spoke about how they weren’t making enough to live off their videos, but they were too famous to have a job with the public. Make sure your child knows that it’s possible but unlikely to make a career from the videos alone.

Recognize the skills it takes to make these videos

Take the time to consider what skills your child has learned from making videos. If they make films, they’re learning about scripts, lighting, costumes, sets, and working with others. Do they make animations, add graphics, or generate effects? How much is involved in the editing process? Have either of you considered how much marketing knowledge your child has acquired?
Acknowledge how much they learn so they can see how far they’ve come. Recognizing their skills might also keep morale up if their videos don’t get as many views as they’d hoped.

Don’t let their education slip

While your child can learn a lot from creating their own videos, they need to keep up with their schooling, too. Don’t discuss their education as something they will need in case they never make it with their videos.
Instead, frame it as a way to get inspiration for their videos. Maybe their history class will spark a new movie idea. Maybe physics will give them an idea for a stunt. English, literature, and creative writing classes have obvious ties to the video industry, but the other subjects might just inspire a whole new series, as long as your child is still paying attention.

#Meworried – the Challenges of Raising a Son in the #Metoo Era

Practically, parents of boys are in a precarious position, one where the rules of inter-gender engagement seem to be in constant flux.

It’s a remarkable time in the march toward gender equality.
We find ourselves in the midst of a long-overdue reckoning, a purge of sexually abusive men from all walks of fame. From Hollywood and Washington, D.C. to senior executives in media, tech, and other private sectors, each day seems to see another high-profile male figure abruptly fall from grace via credible accusations of sexual harassment, intimidation, or worse.
With the resulting #MeToo movement, women everywhere are collectively shouting one word: “Finally.” This sudden outpouring is the result of a dam, at the brink of bursting for far too long, giving way all at once for lack of repair. Thankfully, the ensuing flood is washing a lot of creeps away with it.
It is an oxymoronic upheaval: The stories of abuse are ugly, their tellers’ courage and impact beautiful. Sometimes progress comes in spurts, and this current avalanche has spurred a giant leap forward for equality, reshifting workplace power dynamics – and our national narrative – drastically, dramatically, and deservedly.
It’s truly terrific and, as a husband with a working wife, I have a personal stake in this progress.
However, I’m also the father to a son. That’s where all this gets significantly more complicated.

From overdue to overdo

Our society still struggles mightily with historically dominant groups subjugating historically oppressed groups. We have a long way to go before claiming the spirit of equality prevails throughout our society. But in this case, we’re learning to give the benefit of the doubt to women in their efforts to overcome the constraints and indignities of bigotry.
It’s human nature to overcompensate when righting egregious, longstanding wrongs. This is perfectly understandable and altogether appropriate. Progress is imperfect and, for lack of perfection, turnabout is fair play.
Until it isn’t.
As thrilled as I am to see a bunch of sexual deviants get the comeuppance they so obviously deserve, as a father, I can’t help but worry about collateral damage from this still-cresting tidal wave. To explain:
In America, those accused of wrongdoing are supposed to be innocent until proven guilty, a safeguard against lives and careers being ruined by hearsay. Of course, when several victims accuse a lone perpetrator, it’s reasonable to believe these allegations are credible. Instances of single accusations, however, are decidedly more complicated.
And that’s what concerns me. In terms of believability, my son is the wrong gender in our societal narrative of he said/she said. Will he be expelled from college, or fired from a job, simply because one woman, with no proof, accuses him of something inappropriate?
Ideally, our laws and norms are safeguards against overcompensating for generations of unpunished wrongs by indulging in evidence-free condemnations. Due process prevents us from overdoing it.
But practically, parents of boys are in a precarious position, one where the rules of inter-gender engagement seem to be in constant flux. As society understandably amplifies the voices of accusers, we find ourselves raising the potentially accused.
We’re in uncharted territory here. Preparing our boys for this will require a level of guidance and communication that our predecessors in parenthood could never have envisioned – and that we ourselves have yet to fully grasp for its fluidity.

An accusation away

There is, of course, no shortage of useful parenting advice on associating with women. Much of it is very straightforward: Never objectify women. Never verbally abuse woman. Never, ever raise your hands to a woman.
Other advice is less obvious but easily instilled by parents: In high school, don’t dismiss a girl’s ability to do anything (for example, sports) because of her gender. In college, a drunk “yes” isn’t a real yes. In the workplace, don’t interrupt or talk down your female colleagues. They get enough of that from less enlightened men.
But with #MeToo, we’re entering an era where no sage parental advice, even if followed to the letter, can prevent potentially disastrous consequences with any real certainty. I worry that, no matter how pure his intentions or appropriate his actions, my son is just an accusation away from ruin.
We’re already seeing scenarios where children simply exploring their burgeoning sexuality – birds and the bees stuff that all kids go through – are being treated like juvenile delinquent perverts. A few years ago, a six-year-old was suspended for sexual harassment for kissing a classmate. For me, it was enough to worry, usually correctly, that a girl I liked would reject me. My son has to worry about being suspended to boot.
What other mistakes, I wonder, will my son not be allowed to make without being labeled a sexual predator? Will a drunken college hookup – during which both parties are smashed – be construed as sexual assault? Will he be fired from a job for an innocuous compliment taken out of context?
Will his education, reputation, or even his livelihood be jeopardized merely on the say-so of one other person, with no evidence?
For now, the answer is simply “I don’t know.” We’re in the middle of an overdue seismic shift in this country. Once the dust settles, we can hopefully chart less tenuous paths for our boys. For my son’s sake, I sure hope so.
 

4 Parent Myths About College Admissions

But there’s a few general parent misperceptions swirling about that are worth correcting.

If you have a college-bound kid, I know you’re feeling it. The anxiety. The competition. The intensity. The bombardment of well-meaning but sometimes conflicting advice from other parents. I almost lost my mind trying to keep up with the list of do’s and don’ts of college admissions.
The fact is, requirements vary radically across campuses. Some schools focus on the SAT, some on the ACT, some on both. Some want stellar essays, some really don’t care.
But there’s a few general parent misperceptions swirling about that are worth correcting.

Colleges want “well-rounded” students

They still do. But colleges prefer students who are a combination of “angular” (focused in one area) and “well-rounded.” Translation: “passionate.”
As a general rule, incoming freshman should have a number of extracurriculars (but not a ridiculous amount) that are somewhat related.
“Beyond the most selective colleges, well-rounded students are still being told that they are welcome, but they are warned not to get involved in too many activities,“ writes Fred Thys in his Boston NPR piece, “‘Well-Rounded Versus Angular’: The Application Colleges Want To See.”
I pushed my daughter Taylor to join a variety of clubs in high school to fill in her glaringly thin college resume. But college admission offices were probably more interested in her obvious passion: kids.
She took four years of high school early education classes (which included being a teaching assistant at the onsite preschool), volunteered as a camp counselor for three years, joined Best Buddies to assist special needs students at events, and baby sat for countless families.
It’s a good idea to encourage your elementary and middle-school child to try out a variety of extracurriculars to get a feel for what they like and don’t like. But once they find a passion, encourage them to join clubs and activities that are at least loosely related (e.g., 4-H science + engineering club + robotics competitions).
“My perspective is that there has been a shift from, ‘We want a kid who is so well-rounded they check off 25 boxes,’ to ‘We want to know what you’re passionate about,’” said Stephanie Bode Ward, mother of a senior at the Boston Latin School.

Lots of advanced classes are a good idea

Of course kids need to be challenged. Lost potential is tragic and gifted kids can fall through the cracks. But advanced classes – the wrong ones or too many – can backfire.
“If you are truly interested in the subject, there’s a good teacher and you’re surrounded by other motivated students, then you’re probably going to have a good experience from taking a more advanced class,” explains Denise Pope, a senior lecturer at the Stanford Graduate School of Education.
Pope reviewed more than 20 studies on advanced placement (AP) courses. “But if you’re pushed into it without good preparation and without a safety net in place at the school to help you if you get in over your head, then it may be more harmful than helpful.”
The second week of Taylor’s sophomore year in high school, she told me her AP American History was so ridiculously hard she guaranteed it would lower her GPA. So she dropped down to honors-level instead. Her work ethic has always been strong, so I knew she wasn’t just being lazy. She was being strategic to protect her GPA.
Encourage your kids to take advanced classes, but be sure they set themselves up to succeed. Trust their instincts. Feeling overwhelmed isn’t the same as being a slacker. An academic schedule that is unduly difficult might sabotage your child’s high school transcript, or worse, harm her emotional and physical well-being.
For some kids, taking all advanced or college-level classes is the right work load (if they don’t have a ton of after school activities). But for others, it’s a guaranteed recipe to lower their GPA and increase stress.
“Many high-achieving high school students are really stressed out,” says Pope. “They have a lot to do between extracurricular activities and homework and trying to get the sleep they need. They need to be prepared for what an AP course involves. The extra tests, extra homework, on top of an already demanding schedule, can be brutal. And a very low grade on your transcript from an AP course may hurt you more in the long run than not taking an AP in that subject at all.”

Skipping grades and starting college early is bad for kids

We all know children who skip a grade (or two). They leap frog over their peers and start college early. But is this a good idea? It depends.
“There are two sides to every coin,” says Susan Assouline, co-author on the report, “A Nation Empowered: Evidence Trumps the Excuses Holding Back America’s Brightest Students”. “One side reveals that acceleration is the most effective intervention for students who are ready for challenge and advanced curriculum.
“The flip side isn’t as shiny. Students who are not challenged become disengaged from school and their joy of learning goes away. Skeptics would have us believe that acceleration is not good for students. They will have gaps in their knowledge, they won’t make any friends, they won’t be able to keep up, or it’s a very costly intervention. None of these reasons are substantiated by research; they are nothing more than excuses.”
Flash forward to what this means for college students, and it gets a little complicated.
A 2011 study out of Bocconi University found that younger college students did better than their older peers. The younger students were less socially active so researchers think they spent more time hitting the books. Good news, right? Well, yes and no.
The younger students got better grades, but earlier psychological studies suggest being the youngest in a group may slow the development of personality traits such as self-esteem and leadership.
Here’s how 16-year-old college freshman Petra describes her experience:
“In comparison to my educational experience, my social life dwindled through murky waters. After I had written my op-ed for my college paper (admitting her age), I felt as though all eyes were on me. I had many people come up to me while I was walking around campus, asking how I felt being younger than most, and if I felt the pressure to fit in more now than ever. Being asked that question made me feel intimidated. Because one of my greatest struggles has been fitting into the ‘crowd.’
“…By the end of my second semester, I no longer felt guilty about writing my article. I surrounded myself with people who encouraged me and accepted me for exactly who I was. Without the support of friends and family, I would certainly have not felt the enthusiasm and motivation to attend college this coming fall like I do now.”
The bottom line is that kids need to be challenged to a level that keeps them engaged. But when skipping grades translates into being the youngest in a college peer group, students may feel tremendous social pressure to act like someone they’re not – at least until they find their identity and footing.

Starting college “Undecided” is undesirable

My sense is high school kids today feel intense pressure to start college with a major and a career in mind. There’s a practical argument to support this. Colleges appreciate focused, passionate students.
Also, being “undecided” can get expensive. Dan Johnston, Regional Director of Pennsylvania’s Higher Education Assistance Agency thinks entering college without a major is a bad idea. Students might take too much time (and too much money) to figure what they want to do.
Johnston recommends kids explore careers during high school and occasionally audit college classes. This way they’ll be ready to declare a major as an incoming freshman.
But a 2011 study out of Western Kentucky University found that students who begin college without declaring a major (and choose within the first two years) have the best chance of graduating in four years. Students who waited until their junior year did the worst.
Researcher Matthew Foraker suggests this is because early undecided students took time to explore majors, gather information and choose a field that genuinely interested them. While students who declared a major right away might have done so based on poor or incomplete information, or parental pressure. Many then drop out.
So is there a compromise between declaring a major right away or being undecided for too long? Absolutely.
Incoming freshman can take the required general education classes alongside a variety of electives (this might mean taking one or two summer classes on campus or online). At the same time, they can strategically narrow down their interests. Being strategic means students complete several free or paid online career assessment tools and regularly meet with a campus career counselor.
After a couple years, most students get a pretty good idea of majors (and possibly minors) that genuinely interest them. From there, they’ll naturally narrow down related careers.
After my daughter finished her freshman year in college, three weeks into her summer job as a camp counselor she told me she wanted to drop her Education major. She was 100 percent sure she didn’t want to be an elementary school teacher anymore.
After she told me, I full-on panicked. I told Taylor she wasn’t allowed to graduate on the five-year plan. I told her she had better figure out a major where she could actually get a job.
I thought, she’s already behind.
But behind in what? Underclassman are supposed to explore what they like and don’t like. When I went to college, that was called going to college.
So I got a grip and told her it was okay and, in fact, better to decide now to switch majors. Students do it all the time. In fact, half of all high school graduates change majors by their sophomore year. It’s not the end of the world or a guaranteed pathway to delayed graduation.
There’s no question the college admissions process has become ridiculously intense. Parents and students lose sleep over it. But rest assured there’s a spot out there for your student. It might not be her first (or third) choice, but in time it will be the right choice.
The most elite schools aside, most colleges and universities simply want passionate kids with a track record of decent grades, a solid work ethic, and a mind open to exploring who they are, one day, meant to become.

Seven Cost-Free Ways to Foster School Readiness

Here are seven ways to nourish childhood and, at the same time, help your child be ready for school.

In our hurry-up, competitive world, it’s no longer left to the Six-Million-Dollar Man to be better, faster, and stronger. We’re pressured to expect the same from our young children before they’ve even entered kindergarten.

In interviews with teachers in both public and private schools, a consensus emerged about school readiness. Summarized by Lisa Marshall, “In my class, I had children who came to school already reading but were otherwise entirely unprepared. Other children, who had prepared by climbing trees, listening to stories, engaging in free play, and doing chores were socially, emotionally, and intellectually ripe for every kind of learning.”

The bottom line: take a deep breath and pause, worry less about worksheets and flash cards, and focus more on your children’s childhood. Children do childhood really well when we let them, and – bonus –a healthy childhood is more than enough to prepare them for school. Here are seven ways to nourish childhood and, at the same time, help your child be ready for school:

1 | Surround your child with stories and language

“Children who have been surrounded by stories at young ages are better readers and writers. Having an internal and deep understanding of ‘narrative’ makes a huge difference in developing literacy,” notes Theresa Souchet.

Stories are seeds: of imagination, of play, of empathy. Tell stories. Tell the same one over and over until your child can say it with you. Read stories. Sing to and with your child. Recite nursery rhymes and snippets of poems – or whole ones, if you can remember them. Your child doesn’t need to be able to make absolute sense of a poem to benefit from the language and rhythm.

2 | Encourage imaginative play

“The research on play is unequivocal: it is the essential work of childhood. Nothing else serves children’s development better. In my classroom, children with the richest experience of play, of nature, of household chores, were the best prepared to take on every kind of learning challenge,” states Lisa Marshall.

Play lays the groundwork for later learning. The child’s body and mind are engaged in so many different ways: sorting, constructing and de-constructing, imagining scenarios and their outcomes, experimenting, developing fine- and gross-motor control, noticing patterns, succeeding and failing and trying again and giving up, cooperating and fighting…the list is endless.

Provide access to open-ended toys, sticks, rocks, boxes, pieces of fabric, and the like. These objects can turn into anything or everything with a dash of imagination.

3 | Provide time in nature

“One of the most important issues facing young children is their increasing levels of stress and anxiety. Many children have a hard time coping with the demands of school. Children who have a more balanced lifestyle, one that includes play and time outdoors, seem much happier and better adjusted. If I could make one recommendation to parents it would be to encourage their children to unplug and go outside,” explains Mary Jo Wood.

Unstructured time outside in nature is a tonic for the child’s soul. It also instills a sense of wonder and curiosity about the world, which will serve well as a platform for a lifetime of learning. Let your child experience the forces of nature: the implacable weight of earth, the power of fire, the persistence of water, and the ever-changing wind.

4 | Establish family rhythm

“A home filled with routine provides a sense of predictability that reduces stress on the young growing body and mind. This prepares an inner foundation upon which intellectual development can begin. A school-aged child who enters the classroom from a home that is filled with a reliable rhythm has typically developed the fundamental inner order for success in academic learning,” states Regina Selig Mason.

In addition to a regular schedule of events, routines can be especially helpful during those tricky transitional times of the day: waking and sleeping, meal times, leaving the house, and returning home again. 

5 | Invite your child into the world of chores

“When I taught in a small farm community, the children were more responsible and self-disciplined. I attribute this to a life of rhythm and chores, a life circumstance that required they participate in the daily functioning of their homes. They carried this sense of responsibility into the classroom,” notes Theresa Souchet.

Young children don’t need assigned chores (those are more appropriate around age six or seven), but they do need to be around while you are engaged in chores, and they need you to invite them into that world of work. Let them join you in cooking, cleaning, fixing, and maintaining. Let them see you enjoying those things so they can imitate your actions and your attitude.

The sense of accomplishment and belonging that children derive from doing real work together is essential to their sense of being worthy and able to contribute to the world.

6 | Model self-discipline and good manners

“Parents have to be ever vigilant of their behavior and demeanor in front of children, who respond immediately to the models in front of them, mimicking positive and negative behaviors. When parents and teachers are self-disciplined, children feel safe and comfortable, an important prerequisite for learning,” explains Theresa Souchet.

Harness the power of imitation, which is at its strongest in the young child. They will do what you do. They will also say what you say. Make sure you are worthy of their imitation!

7 | Minimize choices

“When a young child is given too much freedom of choice in areas that are better decided by adults, he has been forced to make sense of complexities beyond his capacity for understanding, which is overwhelming and confusing,” Regina Selig Mason notes.

Reduce the number of choices you offer to your young kids. Let your children experience the reassuring certainty of living in a world in which caring, experienced adults model good decision-making. Let them see that you know how the world works and that you have learned how to navigate through life. This will inspire them to learn from you, from others, and, ultimately, from their own experience.

Calling all Kid Artists! Now's Your Chance to Doodle for Google

If you’ve got an artistic kid in grades K-12, you should know about Google’s annual Doodle contest.

For the last 10 years, Google has run a contest that is open to students in grades K through 12, in which the students are invited to create a doodle that may be featured as, “an interactive experience on Google.com.” In addition, they are eligible to win great scholarships and tech packages for their schools.
This year’s theme is, “What inspires me?” If your child is artistic, this is an amazing opportunity for them to get wide exposure by having their artwork displayed on Google.com. Students should create a doodle and describe what it is and how it represents something that inspires them.
Parents, teachers, non-profits, and after school programs may enter doodles on behalf of their students, but only one original per student may be submitted. Any medium may be used to create the doodle.
The winners will be in the following categories: State and Territory Winners, National Finalists, and the National Winner. The doodles will be judged on Artistic merit: Based on artistic skill, Creativity: Representation of the contest theme, use of the letters in the Google logo, and the unique approach to the doodle Theme communication: How well the contest theme is expressed in both the artwork and the written statement.
The contest is judged by grade groups (Grades K-3, Grades 4-5, Grades 6-7, Grades 8-9, Grades 10-12) by a panel of guest judges selected for each year.
The national winner will receive a behind-the-scenes experience with the Doodle team and a $30,000 college scholarship, a $50,000 Technology package for their school/non-profit organization, a trip to Google Headquarters in California, and Google hardware and swag.
The four national finalists who do not become the national winner will have their doodles featured on the Doodle 4 Google gallery and receive a $5,000 college scholarship, a trip to Google Headquarters in California, and Google hardware and swag.
State winners will have their doodles featured on the Doodle 4 Google gallery and receive Google Hardware, an assembly celebration at their school, and Google swag.
Once the entry period is closed and the judges have narrowed the field to the 53 best doodles, the public will be asked to vote online by selecting their favorite doodles, one from each grade group.
See previous winners here and apply here.

How to Foster Your Son's Love of Reading

Boys are less apt to develop a love of reading and statistically score lower on reading tests. How can we better support them?

As an English teacher, it’s been paramount that I instill a love of reading into my children. My three-year-old daughter will still sit on my lap and read almost anything with me, only getting up for a snack. My son used to love reading even more than his little sister, but he’s five now, and I’m afraid he’s already losing interest. It’s no surprise either. Boys are less apt to develop a love of reading and statistically score lower on reading tests.

I don’t blame my son for not wanting to sit still any longer than he’s already required to. He spends eight hours a day being schooled. This is a lot for his brain. When he gets home, his body wants to play, and play hard. Sitting with his mother on the couch to read some books is not appealing. However it’s on my husband and me to help our son find that love of reading once again. We may just have to work a little harder.

In an article in The New York Times by young adult fiction author Robert Lipsyte, he discusses the problem of why boys read less than girls beginning in grade school lasting through young adulthood. He mentions the helpful website, guysread.com, and quotes the author Jon Scieszka when he says, “Boys don’t have enough positive male role models for literacy. Because the majority of adults involved in kids’ reading are women, boys might not see reading as a masculine activity.”

Since my son’s interest in reading has plummeted, my husband has been more cognizant of this fact. In return, my husband has been more purposeful in trying to set aside time in the evening to read with our son and have our son read early-reader books to him. It’s also been vital that my husband reads his own books in front of our son too, showing him that he reads for pleasure. Masculine men who play sports can also enjoy the act of reading.

What I’m looking for now are what kind of books can rekindle that love again.

Lately, my five-year-old has gotten into playing with Star Wars, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Legos, so I tried to find books about what I knew he already liked. Luckily, these characters often take the form of early-reader books. This way, he can enjoy the characters he loves and work on his reading at the same time. We usually head to the library to pick them out and, if it’s in the budget, we let him pick out one or two books per month from Scholastic, too.

For Christmas, he received six books from the Magic Treehouse series. These books have reignited his passion for books. The main characters, Annie and Jack, go on adventures in their magic treehouse to ancient kingdoms, a land of dinosaurs, and beaches with pirates. The series are chapter books with very little pictures, which helps my son work his imagination by picturing Annie and Jack in the scenes of these mysterious places. I love seeing the suspense in his eyes, it’s the joy from reading brought back.

I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter what our kids read, what matters is that they love reading. Their passion for books will get squashed at some point while they’re in school. It happens. So it’s on us as parents to encourage their love of books outside of school.

Life is busy, but the more our kids can take ownership in their reading, the better. As our kids get older, we may not like the things they’re into, but it’s part of the game. Let them read whatever they want now because as they get older, their teachers will be the ones picking out their books for reading assignments.

Do everything you can to foster their love of reading because it’s a skill that will take them further than anything else in life.