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.

Fantastic Winter Books for Kids of All Ages

We find ourselves in the days when the holiday hustle and bustle is behind us but spring feels like it will never arrive. The days when daylight is still short and the windows are still closed. My favorite thing to do on those days is curl up with my little people to read great books.
Here are 12 amazing books to keep you and your little ones cozy this winter.

For the little littles

 
 

“The Mitten”

by Jan Brett

“The Mitten” is a whimsical, animal-filled tale that delights children. Jan Brett is masterful with her storytelling and illustrations, showing woodland animals exploring a child’s lost mitten in the snow. Funny and classic, this is a tale kids will love.


“Bear Snores On”

by Karma Wilson (Author), Jane Chapman (Illustrator)

“Bear Snores On” transports kids to Bear’s cave as his animal friends come to see if he is still sleeping for the long winter. No one is as surprised as Bear to wake and see all the commotion he has been missing! Charming and funny, kids will love pretending they are Bear, snoring for a long winter nap.


“The Emperor’s Egg”

by Martin Jenkins (Author),‎ Jane Chapman (Illustrator)

“The Emperor’s Egg” explores the incredibly cute world of the Emperor Penguin. It is full of amazing facts and illustrations about the animal while holding on to its cute, fuzzy, lovable nature. Telling the story of the father who sits determinedly on the egg for months while the mother goes out hunting, it is a wonderful way to talk about how animals, just like people, do so much to provide for the little ones.


For the school-aged littles

“The Snowy Day”

by Ezra Jack Keats

A perfect introduction to classic poetry, this delightful picture book captures a child’s day in the snow. With charming illustration and the beautiful verse by Jack Ezra Keats, the reader experiences the joys and wonder of “A Snowy Day.” This classic is not to be missed!


“Snowflake Bentley”

by Jacqueline Briggs Martin (Author),‎ Mary Azarian (Illustrator)

“Snowflake Bentley” is a true story of Wilson Bentley, a boy from Vermont that grew up seeing snowflakes as unique miracles. His scientific and artistic brain collided as he photographed snowflakes, capturing their utterly matchless shapes and designs. A delightful tale that is the perfect inspiration for making some paper snowflakes of your own!


“Winter Days in the Big Woods”

by Laura Ingalls Wilder (Author),‎ Renee Graef (Illustrator)

“Winter Days in the Big Woods” and the rest of the “My First Little House Books” are a beautiful introduction to the stories of Laura Ingalls Wilder. These stories of a cabin in the woods before there was internet or even electricity captivates kids for their simple beauty. Kids fall in love with these Wisconsin tales of Laura and her family, while parents fondly remember the original books and the joy they brought.


“Blizzard”

by John Rocco

“Blizzard” is a beautifully told tale based on The Blizzard of 1978 where the author’s small Rhode Island town received 53 inches of snow. As the boy watches the storm begin from his classroom window, the reader journeys with him through the changing landscape of his little town. As the snow piles high you experience the wonder of all he knows being covered in over four feet of snow! A perfect tale for a snowy day!


“The Story of Snow”

by Mark Cassino (Photographer),‎ Jon Nelson (Contributor)

The “Story of Snow” is a magical non-fiction that answers questions about snow in all of its amazing wonder. Written by a nature photographer and snow scientist, this book is full of fantastic photographs and scientific information perfect for kids. It even includes instructions for how to catch snowflakes! Perfect during a snowstorm or for kids who just wonder what snow is really like, “The Story of Snow” is beautiful.


“Mr. Popper’s Penguins”

by Richard Atwater and‎ Florence Atwater

“Mr. Popper’s Penguins” is an early chapter book that has been a classic for decades. As Mr. Popper longs for things he has yet to do like visit the North and South Pole, he receives a most peculiar gift: a penguin. A family with one penguin grows to 12 penguins and the shenanigans that ensue are hilarious. Kids love reading about the eccentric Mr. Popper and his band of penguins!


Finally, for those who deny they were little

“The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe

by C. S. Lewis

Hands down my favorite family read-aloud, this book of fantasy and adventure takes four siblings to an enchanted land trapped in a perpetual winter. Narnia is full of talking animals, a witch, trees that whisper, and a Lion that changes everything. After their journey the children – and Narnia – will never be the same. A delightful tale of bravery, loyalty, and love, this book will enchant all who read it.


“Breadcrumbs”

by Anne Ursu  (Author), Erin McGuire (Illustrator)

“Breadcrumbs”  is a tale woven with references to classic fairy tales. Two friends are separated when one disappears into a forest with a mysterious woman made of ice. Will Hazel risk everything to find Jack? A tale of friendship, fantasy, and growing up, Breadcrumbs explores fairy tales from Hans Christian Andersen as well as modern stories to tell the story of Jack, Hazel, and a friendship that grows.


“The Call of the Wild”

by Jack London

“The Call of the Wild” has been famous for over one hundred years for its simplicity and raw story of a dog during the Klondike Gold Rush. The dog is sold into a life as an Alaskan sled dog where he learns to adapt to the harsh circumstances of the wild. Written with Buck the dog as the main character, this classic is hard to put down.
Take advantage of these colder days and snuggle up with a book. What are your favorites to read with your kids in the winter? Share in the comments!
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The New Research That Convinced Me to Become a Soccer Mom Dropout

Am I a horrible mother? The society-driven guilt part of me says, “yes,” but the authentic me says, “heck no!”

My oldest son is eight and one of the few in his class who is not involved in soccer…and never has been.
Gasp!
It hasn’t been an intentional choice on our part. He has never really shown an interest (for more than one day). Plus, I’m not ready to commit our precious free time after school and especially on weekends to sitting in the hot or cold or rain to watch him practice.
Am I a horrible mother? The society-driven guilt part of me says, “yes,” but the authentic me says, “heck no!”
Truth be told, I kind of like being a soccer mom rebel. I don’t enjoy always doing the expected motherhood thing, and my son isn’t one to just “go with flow” when it comes to activities like that. He has participated in certain activities from time to time – summer baseball (we missed half the season traveling), “ninja” gymnastics (right up his alley), and chess club.
Overall, however, I find that he does best just hanging out with his friends after school – the few who have also eschewed soccer.

What we do instead

The other day, I found my son and two friends making an “arcade” out of a bunch of huge cardboard boxes and some Nerf guns. I couldn’t have been more proud. They used their best salesmen techniques to try to convince some younger boys at the park to play for a fee (ha!).
They didn’t make much money, but they had a blast, and you could tell they felt empowered by their experiment in entrepreneurship.
I’m not against all organized activities. They have their place. But seeing the pride on my son’s face while planning and accomplishing his arcade idea reinforced my hunch that there is something to allowing kids to just do their own thing.
Plus, his behavior and mood improves when he has plenty of time to play with friends without an agenda. During free play, kids get the chance to release their emotions, pent-up anger, or anxiety. Think of how you feel when you’ve been stressed and then you go for a long walk or a strenuous workout. You feel de-stressed and cleansed, right?
This is what play does for kids. Without it, our kids’ emotions and frustrations spill out as misbehavior, whining, and overall crankiness.
This past weekend, for example, we were pretty busy. We went to an amusement park with some friends, my son sold popcorn for Cub Scouts, and we had church and a party to attend. We are not usually that busy on weekends, but it just ended up that way. By Sunday night, I felt a little spent but it seemed my eight-year-old was doing okay.
Guess what? Monday after school, he lost it. Total meltdown. He had not gotten enough downtime over the weekend. He had held it together at school all day and needed an emotional release. He whined and cried off and on, and then we talked for about what’s been going on at school and on the playground, etc.
Once his energy had been restored, my son became a totally different kid. The night before, you would have thought everything in his life was a disaster. The next morning, he was eager for school and ready to move on.

What does the research say?

Child development researchers are delving into this topic and trying to understand the relationship between structured activities and children’s development.
In one of the first studies of its kind, researchers at The University of Colorado looked at the connection between how kids spend their time (structured verses unstructured activities) and the development of executive function.
Executive function is one of the key regulatory skills that develop during childhood and is crucial to children’s success and well-being later in life.
Executive function includes things like:

  • planning ahead
  • goal-oriented behavior
  • suppression of unwanted thoughts or behaviors
  • and delaying gratification.

Do these sound familiar? They are typically all the skills that break down when kids are overtired or stressed and have been shown to predict children’s academic and social outcomes years down the road.
Researchers then analyzed the relationship between children’s activities and their level of executive function. The results showed a correlation between these factors. The more time children spent in structured activities, the lower their scores on the assessment of executive function. In contrast, the more time children spent in less structured activities, the higher their assessment of executive function.
So what does this all mean? Before you pull your kids out of their activities and turn to “unschooling,”  keep in mind that this study was small scale (70 children) and only correlational, meaning we do not know if structured verses unstructured activities cause a change in executive function, or if there’s something else going on here.
What this study does show is some relationship between these factors that deserves further study. What is it about unstructured time that might enforce executive function skills? Is there something about structured activities that limit executive function?
A study like this encourages parents to reassess the cultural norms and expectations we might be adopting. Are we involved in activities because our kids like them or receive some benefit from them? Or are we just doing “what soccer moms do”?
Activities can be great, but don’t feel like you must enroll your child in every enrichment opportunity out there because that’s what society dictates.

Stop in the Name of Hormones: When Puberty Meets Perimenopause

I do not want a she-shed, even though I love to craft. I’d prefer to call it a hormone time-out hut. My dream hormone hut wouldn’t be mine alone. My ‘tween and teen would be welcome to share.

I never planned on puberty and perimenopause in the same house, but here they are. If you have dueling hormones in your home, follow a few simple steps to bring peace without having to build a hut in your backyard.

The two P’s

In 2017, the CDC put the average age of first-time moms at 28. There are many reasons behind that number. Women are waiting to get married and/or have kids because of careers.

I didn’t get married until my late 20’s. I had my kids at 29 and 34, so I fall right in that age-28 average. My mom had me at 22. By the time she was 47, I was almost married. By the time I turned 47, my kids were 12 and 16. That’s a big difference in ages. And in hormones.

“Since the changes of perimenopause may precede menopause by as many as 10 years, daughters often begin puberty around the same time their mothers begin perimenopause,” reports Dr. Christiane Northrup, M.D.

I cringed when the doctor wrote AMA (Advanced Maternal Age) on my pregnancy chart. I did the math when I got pregnant. I knew I would be 53 when my youngest graduated high school. What I didn’t count on or know about was the collision of perimenopause and puberty. While my kids are both getting hormones as a ‘tween and teen, my own hormones are apparently beginning to run away.

If you’re a mom in the same boat, here are my tips on finding peace (even without a hormone hut) in your house.

The growth of the Hormone Monster

I’ve been to several parenting seminars and read more books on puberty than I can count. At one of the seminars, the speaker pointed out the first sign of pending puberty wasn’t hair or crying or boobs or even sweatiness. She told us that our kids’ feet growing was the literal biggest indicator that puberty was on the horizon.

Sure enough, Kid One went from a kid’s size shoe to a man’s size 15 in less than a year. Kid Two got woman-sized feet long before boobs. Big Foot-level hairiness definitely followed. Those feet were harbingers of hormonal doom.

My first big tip: watch the feet. Once kids cross into adult sizes, a hormone explosion may be lurking around the corner.

H-H-A-L-T

When my kids were toddlers, I swore by the acronym HALT (Hungry-Angry-Lonely-Tired) to see why they were acting they way they were. With puberty and perimenopause running amok in our house, I’ve added another H to the acronym. Are you hormonal? Hungry? Angry? Lonely? Tired? All of the above? Get thee to the hormone hut. Or get thee to the snack basket and some Midol.

The Ancient Bird and the Very Young Bees

It hit me one day: every person in my house “could” get pregnant or get someone pregnant. In that vein, no one in the house wants to be pregnant or will be getting anyone pregnant. At 47, that would put me at 65 when a third child would graduate high school.

Having to chat about my still-present fertility while threatening my children within an inch of their fertile selves was maybe the most uncomfortable part of “The Talk.” They didn’t want to think about me getting pregnant. Or about what causes that. And they still (fingers crossed forever) think that it’s a gross proposition for themselves.

My mom did very little talking and I consequently did very little understanding of what was going on with me or her. While initially “The Talk” isn’t fun, continuing to talk is crucial. Even if the experience is uncomfortable, it’s necessary.

Go to the doctor hut

A pediatrician only treats your kids so far. Our doctor is board-certified for kids and adults so we’ve discussed everything about puberty with him. When the hormones hit, it may be time to visit the gynecologist with daughters if your doctor only treats younger children. Your doctor that has monitored everything from growth charts to vaccines should also discuss puberty.

Ask questions. What’s normal? What’s your opinion of the HPV vaccine? And Mom, you should also get your hormone levels checked.

Be empathetic

I’ve think that there’s a positive in going through enormous hormonal changes at the same time as my kids. It’s that I’m going through enormous hormonal changes at the same time as my kids.

When they sweat at new levels, I can empathize because I have the beginning of hot flashes. When they start shaving for the first time, we can share the bloody tissue-paper covered shins. (I still haven’t figured out a way to avoid that disaster.)

Hormones can keep both adults and teens up at night and there’s honestly someone in my house crying most days. While they don’t always want to or have the ability to explain why they’re crying (and I definitely don’t always know the origin of my own tears), empathy is key. Sometimes, just sitting next to them and listening is helpful. Sometimes, staying outside of the slammed door is a better choice.

While it isn’t always fun being in the same hormone hut as my kids, the truth is that it’s better because we are together. If you find yourself in the same situation, use empathy even in the midst of your own hormone experience.

Writing the story

My kids and I started to exchange journals at the beginning of the hormone journey. They leave the simple composition notebooks outside their door with notes to me when it’s too hard or too embarrassing to talk. I respond and put the notebooks back in their rooms. The journals are a way they can open up communication without direct conversation.

If you start a similar journal exchange, be prepared for hard and easy questions. Sometimes I just get a simple “thank you” note written on one line. Introducing some form of the no-judgment, no face-to-face conversation can be one way to get hormonal kids to open up, even if it’s just on paper.

You are not alone

Almost all of my mom friends are around my age or older. While we lament and compare some of the changes our kids are going through, it’s much harder (and usually communicated in side whispers) to discuss our own hormonal changes. Open up dialogue in your mom network about your experiences too.

Craft it out

While there won’t be an actual hormone hut growing in my backyard, I am on this hormonal adventure with my kids. Occasionally man-o-pause even rears its hormonal head. By exercising empathy and being aware of the effects of hormones at both ends of the scale, our house is much more peaceful.

When it gets really bad, I may still craft and eat chocolate in my closet. I know I not the only one hiding in a closet with a glue gun and a Hershey bar.

Being Direct With Your Kids May Be Their Path to Avoid Unhealthy Eating

It turns out, if you want your children to avoid the consumption of junk food, being more direct may be the way to go.

When I was a kid, my brothers and I would sprint through the door after school and head straight to the kitchen. Starving, we’d run to the cupboard to choose our snacks. Doritos, Oreos, or our mother’s homemade chocolate chip cookies were almost always in plain view.
My mother, who naturally has a healthy BMI, never lectured us on our eating habits. Instead, she taught us through her actions by cooking us healthy dinners. Now that we’re adults, I wonder if we would have a different relationship with food if she had talked to us more directly when we were children.
Although there is no conclusive research yet about how mothers should talk to their children about food, a new study does suggest that obese mothers speak more directly to their children. In addition, obese mothers were just as cognizant about their child’s junk food intake compared to mothers with a healthy BMI.
Further, their children did indeed listen to their mothers. It turns out, if you want your children to avoid the consumption of junk food, being more direct may be the way to go.
The study was conducted by the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital and was summarized by Science Daily. Two hundred and thirty-seven women were studied as they were placed in a room with their child. The room had various foods, including chocolate cupcakes. The mothers’ communication toward their children was studied and found that obese women spoke directly to their children.
For example, they said things like, “Only eat one,” instead of a more indirect statement like, “You haven’t eaten dinner yet.” The children of the obese mothers tended to listen to their mothers fairly easily, too. Yet, expert opinion is still mixed on how parents should talk to their children regarding food intake.
There is some conflicting advice on the best approach. “On one hand,” Megan Pesch, M.D. said, “overly restricting food could backfire and actually lead to overeating. But parents also want to encourage healthy habits.”
She went on to explain that direct communication is typically easier for children to understand and follow, but there’s always that sensitivity factor when it comes to eating and weight.
The study also contested a nasty stereotype. There is often a bad perception of obese mothers and how they parent their children surrounding the topic of food. The stereotypical assumption is that they simply let their children eat whatever they want, whenever they want. The study, however, debunked this myth.
Pesch said, “The mothers we observed were on it. They were attentive and actively trying to get their children to eat less junk food.”
Judging a book by its cover in all areas of life, especially motherhood, should not be practiced. Regardless of the size of our bodies, we all want the best for our children and to see them choose a healthy lifestyle.
Whether you exercise direct or indirect communication toward your children and the food they eat, continue to have that open dialogue. Because a healthy life, without Doritos, will leave your children feeling satisfied.

No, Teens Are Not Eating Laundry Pods

All of this media attention is already infuriating for the way it maligns all teenagers as reckless and stupid.

Have you had a very important conversation with your teens about the proper use of household cleaners?

That’s the message of load after load of news reports about the latest internet craze, the “Tide Pod Challenge.” The resulting waves of panic stem from a January 16 report from the American Association of Poison Control Centers about the increase in teenagers exposed to Tide Pods. According to that report, there have been 39 reported cases of intentional single-use laundry packet exposure among teenagers in 2018.

That number does represent a rise over previous years. In fact, there have been as many cases reported in January 2018 than there were in all of 2016. That increase has led concerned parents, YouTube personalities, and one NFL player to discourage teens from eating the pods.

All of this media attention is already infuriating for the way it maligns all teenagers as reckless and stupid. Even if the coverage wasn’t washing over teens’ motivations for taking the challenge, and even if it wasn’t stoking so much unnecessary fear about household objects, it would still be inaccurate because it’s just not clear that teens are actually eating the pods.

Over the weekend, the New York Times ran a story with the headline “Yes, People Really Are Eating Tide Pods. No, It’s Not Safe,” making it one more news outlet in a chorus raising the alarm. NBC News attempted to explain “Why some teens are intentionally ingesting Tide pods.” Mashable, while reasonably suggesting that we all calm down about laundry packet exposure, slipped into the same linguistic trap in the second half of its headline: “Very, very very few teens are trying to eat Tide Pods.

All of this news coverage makes two issues clear: no one agrees about the capitalization of “Tide Pod,” and everyone is similarly confused about the definition of eating.

Nearly all of the articles and television segments covering Tide Pods quote the AAPCC’s assertion about how dangerous single-use laundry packets are: “The resulting health implications from misuse can be serious. Known potential effects include seizure, pulmonary edema, respiratory arrest, coma, and even death.”

All of these consequences of swallowing single-use laundry packets have been observed among pediatric and elderly populations. As of yet, we have no knowledge of which symptoms were reported by the teenagers included in the AAPCC report. So, is it just a matter of time before one enterprising YouTuber takes the challenge too far?

That’s possible, of course, but highly unlikely. Knowyourmeme, which offers the most exhaustive timeline of the Tide Pod Challenge, demonstrates that for years it was merely a satirical suggestion, perhaps brought on by the very medical studies that found a rise in laundry detergent injuries among children. The challenge appears to have been issued in July 2017 by a Redditor who offered others to bite into the pods.

Biting appears to be what most of the people in the videos were doing.

Most of the YouTube laundry pod challenges have been taken down, so we cannot be completely assured that no teens were attempting to eat the pods on camera. There are still compilation videos to be found for the curious. In those compilations, people are definitely biting.

That behavior is consistent with the average YouTube “challenge” video, where eating is not always the goal. What sells are people biting into something and then sputtering and gasping as they spit it out. Other videos in the challenge oeuvre demonstrate that participants rarely swallow the item: the clicks and shares appear to stem from the spewing clouds of cinnamon, hot pepper, or, now, laundry detergent.

Why does it matter that teens are only biting the pods? When we claim teens are eating the pods, we make the situation sound more dangerous than it is. Children who bite into a pod aren’t likely to understand that liquid will gush out of it. Surprised, they sometimes swallow the detergent, which can lead to escalating and extremely dangerous injuries. Teens who bite into a pod know exactly what’s going to happen, which is why they are filming themselves doing it.

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.

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.

Yes, You Can Visit These Gatsbyesque Estates with the Kids

Skip your everyday playground and soak up some history at one of these gilded estates with kids in tow.

Picture a lush lawn, lined with perfectly pruned topiaries, bookended by fountains, and a grand white mansion beaming from behind a chauffeur’s drive. You can just imagine yourself reclining on the parlor’s divan, the wind rippling your billowing white frock as you sip a gin rickey.
Now consider you’re there with your three-year-old. Think you wouldn’t dare take a sticky-fingered preschooler anywhere near a gilded estate? Think again.
From Winterthur in Delaware to Hearst Castle in California, the American countryside is dotted with lavish country houses and gardens, once homes and playgrounds for the wealthiest of the wealthy. And many of these châteaux welcome families with programming specifically for children, even as young as toddlers.
So skip your everyday playground and soak up some history at one of these. Whether you’re looking for a spring getaway or planning a summer trip, you, too, can enjoy the sporting life (or at least pretend to) at the bowling alley or swimming pool of a regal abode and be borne back into a time of leisure.

Biltmore Estate (Asheville, North Carolina)

George Washington Vanderbilt, a grandson of industrialist and philanthropist Cornelius “The Commodore” Vanderbilt, opened this breathtaking 8,000-acre estate in the Blue Ridge Mountains to friends and family in 1895. With a colossal, 250-room French Renaissance-style château, it welcomes over one million tourists each year.
It now includes Antler Hill Village, complete with the Pisgah Playground and Farm, where kids can pet farmyard animals, explore and climb antique tractors, and take part in daily crafts, like churning butter or weaving baskets. At the Antler Hill Village Winery, kids can even try a grape juice flight.
Stay directly on the property at the family-friendly Village Hotel in Antler Hill Village and let the Outdoor Adventure Center outfit your family with bikes or set up fly fishing lessons and carriage rides. At the Biltmore House, kids can listen to an audio tour (geared towards ages five and up) narrated by the Vanderbilts’ Saint Bernard Cedric.
Says Allison, Indiana resident and mom of an 11-year-old, “Our daughter loved it and was able to learn different things than we did.”

The Breakers (Newport, Rhode Island)

Another grandson of Cornelius “The Commodore” Vanderbilt, Cornelius Vanderbilt II, whose family’s fortune came from steamships and the New York Central Railroad, built this ornate 70-room Italian Renaissance-style palazzo as his summer home.
The Preservation Society offers a Family Tour specifically targeted to children ages eight to 12. The house itself acts as the narrator, bragging all about its special features (look for dolphins under the staircase and dragons in the great hall).

Ca d’Zan (Sarasota, Florida)

Like an Italian palazzo on a Venetian canal, the 36,000 square-foot stucco and terra cotta Ca d’Zan, once home to John and Mabel Ringling, the circus king and his wife, overlooks Sarasota Bay.
Completed in 1926, Ca d’Zan fell into disrepair after John Ringling’s death in 1936, so much so that it was used as the location for Miss Havisham’s decrepit mansion in the 1996 film Great Expectations. But it underwent a $15 million renovation, completed in 2002.
The estate grounds are also home to the Museum of Art and the Ringling Museum of the American Circus (note that admission to Ca d’Zan is separate). Check out Thursday night Art-Making in the Visitor’s Pavilion, ROAR! (Ringling Order of Art Readers) storytimes for toddlers and preschoolers in the Education Center, and Stroller Tours, one-hour interactive tours for infants and caregivers, at the Museum of Art.
Stop by the David F. Bolger Playspace, a playground complete with hand-powered fountains. At the Circus Museum, kids can practice walking a wire and learn clown makeup artistry or play “I Spy” at the world’s largest circus model.

Hearst Castle (San Simeon, California)

There’s no denying the grandeur of this hilltop estate, a four-hour drive south from San Francisco. With 165 rooms and 123 acres of gardens, this “Enchanted Hill” retreat was the vision of William Randolph Hearst, the name behind Hearst Magazines and a media tycoon who, at one time, owned more than two dozen newspapers nationwide.
Older kids may enjoy playing “I Spy” with a junior ranger activity book, available at any ticket window or from the Visitor Services Office. Keep in mind that strollers are not permitted at Hearst Castle due to the number of stairs and terraces, but child-carrier backpacks and front-packs are allowed. The Visitor Services Office even has these available on loan for no additional charge on a first-come, first-serve basis.
 

Lilly House (Indianapolis, Indiana)

This 22-room Indianapolis mansion, part of Newfields, a Place for Nature and the Arts, was once home to J. K. Lilly Jr., a businessman, collector, and philanthropist whose grandfather, Colonel Eli Lilly, founded the pharmaceutical firm Eli Lilly and Company in 1876 in the city.
Wander the Ravine and Formal Gardens on this 26-acre estate, then check out the “sensitive” Mimosa plant, whose leaves curl when touched, at the Greenhouse. During the summer, grab a glass of Riesling and a soft pretzel at the Beer Garden before heading over the Waller Bridge to the Virginia Fairbanks Art & Nature Park, which encompasses 100 acres adjacent to the Lilly House.

Pittock Mansion (Portland, Oregon)

On 46 acres, this French Renaissance-style château was the home of the late Henry Pittock, owner of The Oregonian newspaper, and his wife, Georgiana. Along with eight family members, they moved into their mansion in 1914. The last family members moved out of the estate in 1958, and the mansion fell into disrepair until Portlanders launched a grassroots campaign to save it.
The City of Portland purchased it in 1964, repaired it, and opened it to the public in 1965. Children under six are admitted free, and they can check out hands-on features of the permanent exhibit, like vintage stereoscopes, a popular home entertainment in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
In March, the Pittock Mansion hosts “Day Camp for Kids: Life in 1914,” where children ages eight to 12 can experience what life was like 100 years ago through hands-on activities.

Reynolda House (Winston-Salem, North Carolina)

Who wouldn’t want to splash in a mansion’s historic indoor swimming pool? That’s exactly what kids attending Summer Adventure camps at the Reynolda House can do.
This former home of Richard Joshua Reynolds, founder of the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, is now a 33,619-square-foot American art museum with a collection including works by Georgia O’Keefe and Grant Wood. Each summer, it welcomes around 200 students to attend art and creative writing day camps.
When Reynolds moved his family into the mansion in 1917, the estate, which totals more than 1,000 acres, also included a nearby village for farm supervisors, workers, and their families. Known today as Reynolda Village, it is full of restaurants and shops – a short walk from the Reynolda House and a perfect place to grab lunch during your visit.
In addition to hosting summer camps, the Reynolda House presents Reynolda Read-Aloud storytimes on select dates and, for preschoolers and their caregivers, Mornings at the Museum, which encourages kids to explore Reynolda through hands-on activities.

Shelburne Farms (Shelburne, Vermont)

What was once the 19th-century country home of Dr. William Seward and Lila Vanderbilt Webb is now a three-season inn and restaurant on the 1,400-acre Shelburne Farms – a working farm, forest, and National Historic Landmark.
Swim in nearby Lake Champlain and, from mid-May through mid-October, visit the Farmyard, where kids can milk a cow, watch the Chicken Parade, collect eggs, and check out the Miniature Sicilian Donkeys.
Each fall, Shelburne Farms hosts an annual Harvest Festival with children’s activities, music, and horse-drawn hayrides, and the McClure Education Center also presents craft workshops for kids. Shelburne Farms boasts more than 10 miles of walking trails, which are open year-round, weather permitting.

Stan Hywet (Akron, Ohio)

From April through December, this former estate of F. A. Seiberling, co-founder of The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company, welcomes the public to tour its 65-room 1915 Tudor Revival Manor House and 70-acre landscape.
“We’re a very family friendly historic house museum and garden, and on any given day, there’s plenty to do for children,” says Donna Spiegler, Communications Manager at Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens. Children ages five and under are free and won’t want to miss the Playgarden (open through mid-October), a 5,000-square-foot, interactive outdoor play area with activities that represent aspects of the estate.
The Tudor Revival Playhouse, for instance, is inspired by the estate’s Carriage House and includes a spiral slide and marble chase. The Bowling Lawn represents the bowling alleys in the basement of the Seiberlings’ Manor House and on the lawn outside the West Terrace.
Kids can pick up Explorer Backpacks, filled with tools like binoculars and bug collectors to use for a day in the Playgarden. Or, they can explore the gardens and grounds by following clues on a Quest! to locate a hidden treasure box.

Vizcaya (Miami, Florida)

When the main house of this Biscayne Bay estate opened in 1916, the owner, James Deering, hosted a party complete with gondolas and cannons. Deering, a bachelor and retired millionaire whose doctors recommended sunshine and a warm climate to assuage his pernicious anemia, built Vizcaya as his subtropical vacation home. His family’s wealth came from a woolen mill, land investments in the western United States, and the Deering Harvester Company, a farm equipment manufacturer.
A nearby village, completed in 1922, supplied the house with everything from fresh flowers and fruit to milk and eggs. The house is now a museum with 34 decorated rooms showcasing more than 2,500 art objects and furnishings and draws more than 200,000 visitors each year.
Children can listen to the 1917 Welte Philharmonic Pipe Organ on weekdays from 4-4:30 p.m., look for iguanas and butterflies in the formal gardens and rockland hammock, navigate the Maze Garden, or look for the “monsters” decorating the swimming pool.

Winterthur (Winterthur, Delaware)

Pronounced “winter-tour,” this 175-room childhood home of collector and horticulturist Henry Francis du Pont (1880-1969) is now a museum of American Decorative Arts with a 60-acre naturalistic garden.
Pick up an Activity Backpack and visit the Tulip Tree House and the Faerie Cottage in the Enchanted Woods, a magical children’s garden set on three acres of the Winterthur Garden. In the Touch-It Room, a playspace designed with a colonial-era kitchen, a 1750s parlor, and an 1830s general store, kids of all ages can learn about early American life through playing with tea sets, kitchenware, clothes, and toys.
For preschoolers, Winterthur also offers Wee Ones at Winterthur once a week (March through November), which includes storytime, a visit to the galleries, and a craft. For toddlers, Squeaky Wheels introduces toddlers and their caregivers to the estate with strolls through the galleries and into the garden. Don’t miss Truck and Tractor Day, a fall highlight.

Yes, It Was a 16th Birthday Party, But "Sweet" Isn't How You'd Describe It

This is a submission in our monthly contest. January’s theme is “Wild.” Enter your own here!
Wild at heart, wild animals, Wild Thang, walk on the wild side … holy moly COW, you ain’t seen “wild” until you host your 16-year-old’s surprise party.
I was approached by one of my son’s female friends with the request to throw a surprise birthday party for him. She (let’s call her “Stacy”) was a nice, quiet neighbor of ours, one of his homework buddies, and I was touched by her thoughtfulness. “Of course,” I said. “Yes, by all means: what can I do to help?” And she assured me that she and another young lady would handle all the details. I was simply to keep it secret.
The afternoon arrived, as did the two sweeties, to decorate the house. This was to be a rather large affair and my husband and I were going to grill hot dogs and hamburgers for the crowd. Stacy mentioned that her Uncle knew a girl who danced and thought it would be great fun to have her drop by. How cute, I thought, imagining someone dressed for the ballroom, teaching my son how to salsa. Or perhaps she would lead everyone in the Funky Chicken, like on a cruise ship. Whatever. Fun, fun, fun.
The crowd arrived and soon, so did my son. “SURPRISE!!” The desired effect was achieved, everyone blew those paper blowers and I bustled around in the kitchen, making munchies.
There was a knock on the door. There stood a scantily dressed female, and behind her was a short, heavy-set gentleman in a suit and tie, and behind him was Frankenstein, some sort of huge bodybuilder type. Stacy came running up, hugged the Suit and introduced him as her uncle. Frankenstein was the strong, silent type and just grunted. They followed me into the kitchen where, me, Ms. Naïve Suburbanite, attempted to make small talk and discovered that the very sexy girl was “in law school.” The other two seemed extremely ill at ease, even when I offered them a plate of my famous snickerdoodles.
Stacy soon fetched the budding lawyer to come with her into the living room and I attempted to follow. Stacy suggested that it would be better if I remained in the kitchen. Frank(enstein) followed behind them. I looked quizzically at her uncle, shrugged my shoulders, and busied myself at the sink. I heard a roar from the crowd and whistling and hooting and I froze. What in the name of all that is Good was going on?! My mouth fell open as I realized what kind of dancer I had invited into my home. And who was entertaining my now officially 16-year-old and his friends at that very moment! The Uncle looked at his watch, said “Time to go,” and fetched his entourage to leave. I thanked them for coming, wished her well in law school, and wondered why I was so fixated on being polite to these undesirable people! Some habits are just too ingrained to control. I’m a Mid-Westerner.
It wasn’t until years later that I came upon a photograph of the dancer and my son and blushed! Don’t worry: she was fully clothed after all – no one wanted to have gotten arrested that day, but I felt so hoodwinked by that sweet, “innocent” little neighbor of mine. It was truly a wild party for the ages, and my son assured me that my reputation as “Coolest Mom” was cemented that day. Whoop, whoop.