Educating our children

2 Nov

Note: I considered breaking up this rather lengthy blog post into two parts, but I already have another topic planned (as mentioned below) for next week. So grab a snack and please join me for a few!

In honor of a project I’m working on in one of my classes, I would like to dedicate this blog post to education. Not only is it a huge issue across the country, but it is also very important to me as a student–and as a mother.

I also want to talk about education because today is Election Day, and one of the Arizona ballot initiatives is Proposition 302. According to an article by Maria Polletta of Cronkite News, “Proposition 302 would transfer First Things First’s $325 million in funding to the state general fund and eliminate the program as of Dec. 1.” First Things First is an early childhood development program focusing on health services and early education for children ages five and under.

I realize that there are two sides to every story, and those who support this initiative believe the money will be better spent in a general fund and will, in fact, continue to provide support to early development programs.

As a new journalist, I am trying to learn how to remain neutral with regard to politics and hot-button issues in general, but this is one issue I am struggling to remain neutral about. So, rather than telling everyone how I voted, I will instead discuss my experience thus far with early education programs. I would like to follow this up next week by focusing specifically on health issues because Hannah has had plenty, and I have learned that programs focusing on child health and wellness are extremely valuable. But first, education in Arizona.

I decided a while ago, without the slightest hesitation, that Hannah should attend preschool. Why the lack of thought? Because I went to preschool and always just thought it was just the first step in the education process. The sooner the better, right? Fortunately, my husband and I seem to see eye to eye on this subject. I didn’t even realize until after having Hannah that preschool wasn’t actually a requirement! Maybe that makes me sound a little ridiculous, but maybe it’s also because I have always placed such a high value on education that I never thought any step was unnecessary or optional. I always expected to go to college, rather than trying to decide whether or not I should. It was never a question for me. Well, I have applied this same sentiment to Hannah’s education.

We haven’t decided where we intend to send Hannah yet, but I have found that Phoenix is full of options for not only preschool, but also facilities that provide education to children who aren’t yet preschool age. One place I was impressed with was Tutor Time, which has a number of locations throughout the valley. I was pleased with the variety of activities available to the children, and the structure of the program seems well organized and positive. Although it may be a bit out of our price range, I am definitely keeping that option on the table for further discussion.

KinderCare centers are also spread throughout the valley and many other cities in the United States, and word-of-mouth has led me to believe this may be another good option. You can go online to schedule a visit, which I intend to do in the near future. This, too, has a variety of programs for a variety of ages, and I am comforted by the fact that there are so many centers all over the country. Based on this alone, I assume they must be doing something right.

Before moving to Phoenix last year, I also spent hours doing online research on the elementary schools in the area and talking to people who already lived out here. Although Hannah still had quite a bit of time before entering elementary school (and she still does), I wanted to know how the schools were rated, what programs were available and which areas would provide her with the best education. Sean and I eventually developed an idea of where we thought she should go, but our plans fell by the wayside when we struggled to find a home in those particular parts of the valley. We actually ended up moving to one of the lowest-rated districts in the area, but I was thrilled to learn that Arizona provides the option to put your child in the district of your choice, which is called an interdistrict transfer.

I recently learned that interdistrict transfers are actually becoming a problem in the state because parents are pulling their children out of their districts and placing them in higher-performing ones. This leads to overcrowding in some schools, while others continue to lose students due to their poor ratings, inadequate educators or lack of attention paid to fundamental education issues within the school.

However, as with many matters in our lives, there are alternatives. Private school is actually becoming more and more appealing to me, although the costs incurred with this type of education are obviously higher than those incurred in a public school unless the student receives a scholarship and/or financial aid.

Montessori schools, which foster self-directed learning and development, are another option, as well as charter schools, which, according to the U.S. Charter Schools website, “are nonsectarian public schools of choice that operate with freedom from many of the regulations that apply to traditional public schools.”

It’s a relief to know that, as a parent, I have many options when choosing a school for Hannah, although I wish I lived in a district that encouraged me to enroll my child in its schools instead of one that causes me to avoid them. It may be a time-consuming uphill battle, but if you do nothing else for your children, ensure that they receive the best education possible.

Organize your life

24 Oct
I spent the past couple weeks juggling some new elements into my rather busy schedule—Hannah’s 3rd birthday, which was this weekend, and preparing for Halloween. Hannah’s last two birthdays (and last two Halloweens) were a little easier to plan because taking care of her was my primary responsibility. I didn’t have anything else going on (i.e. school), so party planning fit into my schedule. Now I’ve been trying to figure out how to justify the fact that I spent many hours looking for Halloween costumes and planning a birthday party when I needed to be using that time to do homework. I love doing all this stuff, but it’s not as much fun when I’m rushing around to get it done. Oh, for a few extra hours in each day…

Although the planning part was stressful, Hannah’s 3rd birthday turned out quite well.
I also managed to work on an assignment for my broadcast class the day before and the day after the party.  Wondering how I did it all? I am, too! Honestly, it’s all about time management and organization.

Here are a few ideas about how to make this time of year (holidays, final projects, etc.) a little easier on those who may have too many irons in the fire.

  1. Use a planner. No really, you NEED it! I don’t think I could function without mine! I may be a little old-school because I actually use a paper planner, but using the calendar function on your phone or computer will work, too. Knowing what you have going on each day will hopefully help relieve the burden a little.

  2. Make a list—either on paper or, again, on your phone/computer. Knowing what you need before you go to the store is easier than trying to figure it out once you get there. Believe me, I know this from experience! Also, allotting time to certain activities (shopping, meetings, assignments, doctor appointments, etc.) will be much easier if you know how many activities you actually have!

  3. Kill two birds with one stone, if possible. By that, I mean plan out what you need do/buy (the internet is great for this), and try to do as much of it as possible in one place or one area of town. It will cut down on wasted time and gas. I attempted to do this at Party City yet again this year. I love that place! All of Hannah’s party themes/decorations have come from Party City. Not only that, but they have Halloween stuff, too! I was hoping it would be my one-stop shop this year, but I ended up driving all over town looking at other Halloween costumes because Sean and I couldn’t decide on a theme. And here you go—wasted time and gas! Utilize your resources as much as you can, and know your destination before you leave the house.

  4. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. I assigned a couple food-related tasks to family members to help me with the party, and my husband took on the responsibility of cleaning the house (oh, how I love him!). I was able to focus on decorating, ordering and picking up the balloons and cake, keeping track of the number of attendees and ensuring that Hannah took a bath and a nap before guests arrived. I often decline help from others, but I knew how much I could handle, and the extra help was certainly appreciated.

    I’ll leave you with just one last tip for today, but it should go without saying:

  5. Take every opportunity to enjoy the time you spend with your children. Even if Hannah’s party hadn’t turned out as I had planned, or if we stay home together and do nothing on Halloween, at least I’ll know that I was there, soaking up every minute with Hannah I possibly could.



A little food for thought

19 Oct

Even when you’re busy trying to be a student and a parent, it’s nice to take a break and get out of the house for a few hours. This weekend Sean and I took Hannah to P.F. Chang’s to have lunch with our family, and even though I couldn’t help but think of all the homework I had waiting for me when I got home, I still managed to enjoy my time out.

Hannah also found ways of enjoying herself, including trying to learn how to use chopsticks. We all found this quite amusing (hence the picture below) until she used them as drumsticks and began banging them on the table. This is where my opinion about taking your children out to restaurants comes in: If your experience becomes less than pleasurable because your child is bored or doesn’t want to be there, it’s probably time to leave. Why stay if you can’t even enjoy it?

Now in this case, Sean and I were able to easily take the chopsticks away from Hannah to keep her from disturbing other patrons (once I took a quick picture), but we have been in other situations where we decided to leave a restaurant earlier than planned because we just could not get Hannah to settle down. We’re now quite familiar with the game plan, too: One of us will take her to the car while the other one gets the check as quickly as possible. It’s certainly NOT how we like to do things, but it has been known to happen. We give ourselves credit, though, for knowing when it’s time to go. I have seen many parents let their children run amok in restaurants, and before I became a parent, I could not understand this. And now, as a parent, I still do not understand this.

One particular example stands out in my mind. I used to be a server (or waitress—whatever you want to call it) at a restaurant in Albuquerque, and we had a guest who would come in with her child fairly often. The child was probably about six or seven, and to my knowledge, he had some developmental challenges. I remember feeling terrible for this little boy because his mom would sit at the table nonchalantly sipping on a glass (or two or three) of wine while he yelled and smashed macaroni and cheese into the carpet. Why? Probably because he was bored, and he wasn’t receiving attention from his mom.

On one of their visits, the boy knocked an unopened bottle of wine off the shelf behind their table and hit the guest sitting at the next table. The mom didn’t seem too terribly concerned about the incident. To be fair, I’m sure it can be exceedingly difficult/stressful to raise a child with developmental delays, and I’m sure she just wanted to get out of the house and relax. That being said, I could never understand why this woman would take her son out for what I would have considered an opportunity to bond, and then completely ignore him. Not only did she ignore him, but she ignored his behavior, which caused many a scene in the restaurant. I remember having to walk up to that guest who was hit with the wine bottle and ask him if he was ok. It was mortifying, and I wasn’t even the one who had done it!

My point is, I really don’t see anything wrong with taking your children out to eat, as long as you ensure that they are enjoying the experience as much as you are. It can be a great opportunity to get out of the house and forget about all the other stuff you have to do, if only for an hour or two.

Here’s a little info about two of our favorite “family-friendly” restaurants:

Paradise Bakery: Their food is fresh and healthy. I love that they serve fruit or yogurt as a side item for the kids’ meal instead of chips or fries.

Cheesecake Factory: They provide toddlers with a complimentary plate of fruit and bread upon arrival.

Both restaurants have consistently amazing food and amazing service. They also have several items for children to choose from and are willing to make adjustments to the order (P.F. Chang’s did that for us this weekend, too, which was great). Plus, they don’t treat you poorly because you dared to bring children into their restaurant!

Breaking the Rules–Part 2

11 Oct

As promised, this week I am discussing another rule-breaking topic: television. Before I go there, though, I want to talk about reading.

Karen Elliott, mother to 30-year-old Kenton and grandmother to his two young sons, Shawn and Wayne, has a strong opinion about reading. “One thing I think is CRITICAL, I have to say it twice, CRITICAL, is read to your children every darn day. I mean it. My grand[children] get books every day. There are loads of teaching opportunities for busy parents – road signs, labels, game boxes. And colors and shapes are everywhere,” Karen said.

I think these are fantastic ideas, and as I have learned with Hannah, it’s pretty easy to make a boring car ride educational by talking about colors and shapes we see out the windows.

When it comes to reading, Sarah Ledgerwood thinks her young daughter, Amelia, is definitely benefitting. “I believe that reading to her and explaining daily routines has contributed to her language explosion!” she said.

Reading is certainly a great tool for language development, and the proof can be found in spending just a few minutes talking to a child who reads (or is read to) on a regular basis.

Tiah Vagnoni, mother to 2-year-old Ricky, agrees. “It always puts a smile on my face when I see him flipping through the pages, ‘reading’ the book out loud,” she said.

While most parents would agree that reading is a terrific activity, there is also some value to television. I don’t think allowing your child to sit in front of it all day is a good idea, but Hannah watches Nick Jr. and PBS, and she has learned so much! She constantly surprises me! Lately she has taken up singing, so she is learning the words to many of the songs she hears on her favorite shows, such as Yo Gabba Gabba, The Backyardigans and Olivia.

Hannah also loves movies, but we watch them less often than TV shows, making them more of a “treat” for her. A few days ago, my husband, Sean, recorded Hannah while she was watching Shrek. Check out the video below. (By the way, that tattoo on her arm is temporary, I swear!)

Although I know Hannah enjoys watching TV, I would like her to watch it less often. This is something Sean and I need to work on together. But realistically, how can we expect her to stay away from the TV entirely when we watch it? That’s just not going to happen. In all honesty, though, I have found some great shows for children that have excellent educational value.

Many of my friends understand what I’m going through. “I swore he’d never watch TV – we even got rid of cable! Now movies are the only reason I get a break. Thank goodness for Dora,” Tiah said. I have to agree with Tiah. I’m often thankful for Dora, too!

Sarah faces a similar situation. “I swore she would never watch TV… now she is obsessed with Mickey Mouse clubhouse,” she said.

I know some parents are more strict about TV watching than I am, but I’m working on it!

“We all have the best of intentions for our children, but when it comes down to it… they are kids. The little things we let go of just don’t matter. That’s why we break the ‘rules,’” said Brittany Bruch Gould, mother to Jake.

“I think becoming a parent teaches us that it’s ok to break the rules,” Brittany added. I couldn’t have said it better myself, Brittany.

Breaking the Rules

5 Oct

One of the biggest issues parents face is how to raise their children the “right” way. In fact, I’m not sure there is anything bigger than this when it comes to parenting (and I’m not exactly sure what “right” means, but I’m trying to grasp the general idea). I recently started reading a great blog called 4 Mothers, and the title of one of the posts was, “I was a better mom before I had kids.” It discusses many of the rules parents make and break. Before having children, it seems that most people have some guidelines they intend to follow, anticipating that all will go as planned. As many of us have learned, parenting is not that straightforward. We have also learned that these rules we created before having kids were not as realistic as we thought.

I asked a couple of my friends, who are multitasking mamas, if they have ever broken any parenting rules, and I received some great feedback. It made me realize that I am not the only mom who had to make some adjustments.

I obtained quite a bit of information on various topics, so for this week, I just want to look at two: pacifiers (for the younger kiddos) and eating habits (for all ages).

“I swore my child would never have a pacifier… He used it till after his first birthday,” said Brittany Bruch Gould, a college student and mother to two-year-old Jake.

I faced the anti-pacifier issue, too, and I remember being upset when one of the nurses in the hospital urged Hannah to take one a day or two after she was born. Although Hannah had extenuating health-related circumstances (and the pacifier helped soothe her), I still was infuriated because I hadn’t initially intended for her to use it. Why? Because I read in a book that it wasn’t a good idea. Do you know how hard it is NOT to give your child a pacifier at some point, though? I’m not saying all parents give in, but I know I’m not alone. Hannah continued to use a pacifier until a few months before her second birthday, and then my husband and I decided it was time to get rid of it. The pacifier-weaning process took about a week, but it wasn’t as horrible as we had expected. My point is, giving your children a pacifier is not the worst thing in the world. Just make sure you get rid of it before they start high school.

Another issue involves what to feed your children, especially if you are trying to juggle more than just parenting.

“I swore I would make all of my own pureed baby food and only did it once!” said Sarah Ledgerwood, who is also a college student and mother to 21-month-old Amelia.

Brittany can relate to that food struggle. “I said I would only feed him healthy, well-rounded meals, but he often eats chicken nuggets and French fries (usually just eats the fries).”

Providing food that is as healthy as possible can often be easier said than done, especially when a parent is trying to balance family with school, work, etc. I definitely struggle with this. I try not to give Hannah fast food too often, but every once in a while she’ll have chicken nuggets (I remove the breading, but still…), and she, like Jake, loves fries. Does this make me feel guilty? Yes! But I realize these types of meals are the exception, not the rule, and she generally eats really well.

Perhaps making your own baby food won’t fit into your busy schedule, but making healthy choices for your children as often as possible is a great way to instill good eating habits later.

As Brittany said, “Given the choice between broccoli and French fries, he chooses broccoli.” I’m not sure what this says about me as a parent, but I know for a fact Hannah would choose the fries…

Next week: Too much TV and not enough reading!

I can do it myself!

26 Sep
When children grow up constantly looking over their shoulder to see if their choices are the right ones, eventually, they subconsciously stop making their own choices, and simply follow what everyone else is doing.” -Ela Forest, The Parental Intelligence Newsletter
You would think most two (almost three) year-olds would still need their parents.  Apparently, my husband and I are already becoming obsolete to Hannah. She constantly says, “Hannah can do that!” to which I tell her, “No, you say, ‘I can do that.’” We’re still working on that one. Either way, she wants to do everything herself. Last night Sean asked her if she needed help cutting her broccoli with her fork (yes, she was eating broccoli!) and she said, “No, I got it.” We can’t help but laugh because she sounds so grown-up and independent! Secretly (or maybe not so secretly), we’re both a little sad to see her growing up so quickly. It’s certainly a fun journey, though!
I found a great article on Family Education about struggling with independence and helping your child. One tip that struck a chord with me was, “ Intervene only if your child becomes frustrated or asks for help.” I have a tendency to intervene quite often, especially if I am tired or in a hurry.
The tip continues with, “If you lose patience and do it for him, you will undermine your two-year-old’s confidence and transform everything he’s done up to now into wasted effort.” I have to say, this part makes me feel really guilty. As I said, if I’m in a hurry, I tend to try to do things for Hannah when she wants to do them herself. We end up getting frustrated with each other, and then one of us starts crying. Usually it’s her, but that’s not always the case.
I am finding that my patience is wearing even thinner than usual because I’m so busy with school. Obviously, this is not Hannah’s fault, and I need to remember that. I often hear my classmates quote the old adage, “patience is a virtue,” and I certainly believe that can be applied to this situation. I’m sure there are plenty of other stressed-out parents out there who go through the same thing every day, so I hope we can gain a little perspective and give our children a chance to try new things and show how much they are learning from us.

News anchors seek balance, too

18 Sep

Parenting experience of the week:

I took Hannah to the mall to let her release some energy at the Children’s Play Area on Wednesday evening, and while I was driving, she started talking about the traffic lights. Green circle! Red circle! Green circle! Red circle!” I figured I might as well give her her first driving lesson (never too early, right?), so I said, “Green means go, and red means stop.” Instead of repeating me, she asked, “How about white, mom?” As in, what does the color white mean? Totally stumped! I wish she had asked about yellow instead because I could have said, “proceed with caution” or something! She wouldn’t have understood me, but at least I would have had an answer! I can’t wait until she starts asking about the differences between boys and girls…

Now on to a completely different subject: news anchors and their families! This week I attended an event at school featuring two local anchors, Lin Sue Cooney and Mark Curtis, from 12 News. They talked about their previous journalism experiences, why they decided to get into this field, the most difficult news stories they have ever had to cover, etc. The most interesting part to me, however, was not what they do, but how they balance all of it. I quickly learned that both Cooney and Curtis have children, and I was immediately interested in how they make time for their families. I know this blog is supposed to be about school and family, but I’ll eventually be done with school, and then I’ll have to balance work and family (well, hopefully). Might as well gather information while I can!

Here’s a piece of my Cronkite Conversations post that I found relevant to this:

Cooney very passionately stated that her privacy is important to her and that her family comes first. She clearly finds significance in the work she does, but she takes parenting seriously, as well. Curtis echoed this sentiment, although he mentioned losing track of his priorities at different times throughout his career. He referred to the time he asked his wife to be induced so he could witness the birth of his daughter before leaving to cover the 1988 Olympics. I can only imagine what a difficult situation that must have been, and I will strive to ensure that I don’t miss out on milestones that I might later regret.

Curtis also said, “This business can be very hard on relationships,” which he made clear through the above example, and it led me to think about how my desire to be a journalist will later affect my role as a wife and mother. I want to excel in both family and career-related roles, and it looks as though I, like our speakers, will just have to work hard to maintain a balance between the two.

I was thrilled to soak up their advice and experiences, and I was even more excited when I realized I have a place to share all of this! So here’s the lesson of the week: you have to figure out where to draw the line. Only take on as much as you can handle, or you’ll end up pulling your hair out trying to spread yourself too thin.

Let go of the guilt…if you can

12 Sep

During a conversation with a fellow parent/classmate the other day, I was asked if I feel guilty about being in school and having less time to spend with my daughter, Hannah. He said he struggles with this because he had become accustomed to doing certain things with his children that he currently has no time to do. I jumped at the chance to say, “Yes! I feel guilty, too!” I was immediately relieved to learn that I am not alone in this battle. So what should we do to resolve this?

My simple answer: try to let go of the guilt. I know, easier said than done. Take a look at this idea for a moment, though. Where is the guilt coming from? Well, for me, it’s the fact that I used to be with my daughter 24/7. Now I’m spending several (or more) hours a day at school, and then I’m working on assignments or reading when I come home. The quality time I spend with Hannah is diminished.

That being said, I also have to look at what I’m doing while I’m not with Hannah. I am furthering my education in an effort to find a great job that will not only help me provide for my family, but it will also make ME happy. Yes, ME. I loved being home with my daughter, but I also struggled with it. I felt stagnant. I wasn’t accomplishing any of the other educational or career-related goals I had set for myself. It was time to do something for ME.

So, fellow parents/students, spend as much quality time with your children as you possibly can, but remember you’re doing this for them, too. Teaching them the value of education is worth more than you think.

A few inexpensive ways to spend time together:

  • For all ages: if you have a child who loves to read, spend some time at the library. You can also use it as an opportunity to find books for that research paper due next week….plus, it’s free! For locations in Phoenix and surrounding areas, go to http://www.phoenixpubliclibrary.org
  • For the younger kiddos who love to read with you at home (and for those who may not be able to just pick up and leave the house): http://www.onemorestory.com allows you to read along with your child or listen to the narrator tell the story. Several free book samples are available on the site, and the subscription fees are reasonable. Thank you to my pal Karen for this recommendation!
  • It’s difficult to take children to the park when it’s 110 degrees outside, but when it starts to cool off, there are more than 100 beautiful parks in the Phoenix area that would thrill any child:  http://phoenix.gov/PARKS/parks.html

Welcome!

2 Sep

Welcome to my blog, My Daughter Ate My Homework. This is intended to provide helpful tips, funny stories, and venting opportunities for those of you who are trying to balance your responsibilities as a parent with your requirements as a student.

More to come!