Archive for the ‘Family’ category

No fancy toys for the holidays

December 5, 2017

My son has assembled and destroyed a lot of LEGO® in his life – from buckets of multi-colored bricks that gave him the freedom to build anything to kits where each brick matters.

Today, almost everything he built is dismantled, disassembled, and torn apart now, scattered bits and broken pieces, a small multi-colored plastic fortune, ignored.

I totally understand the temptation to use the Kragle.

But here’s a secret: I recently caught him playing with a small LEGO® airplane he built. It wasn’t part of a kit and it there were no fancy pieces. It was just a few rectangle bricks in the shape of a “u.” It was symmetrical but the colors didn’t even match. My son lay on his bed, zooming that simple airplane (space ship?) around with sound effects.

That moment really opened my eyes. The expensive toys and play sets gave him a boost of excitement in the beginning, but he enjoyed the basic airplane made with random pieces that he made himself more.

Sometimes we forget that kids can have more fun using their imagination, than following instructions from someone else’s imagination. A cardboard box can turn into a helmet. A yardstick can turn into a lightsaber. And leftover bricks can turn into an airplane.

We don’t need to buy fancy gifts for the holidays. Sometimes the simplest gifts are the best – like time spent together.

What is the most memorable gift that you received as a child? Do you buy gifts for yourself?

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5 more ways to be kind

November 14, 2017

Today is the day after World Kindness Day, but we can’t limit ourselves to one day of kindness. A small kindness can have a big impact; it can brighten a lackluster day and turbo-charge an ordinary day.

 Sometimes overlooked or under-appreciated, here are 5 more ways to be kind: 

1. Be kind in online comments. Every news story has supporters and detractors, and online news sites let reader post comments anonymously. It’s easy to forget that there are real people behind those usernames. It’s even easier to type negative remarks or bullying comments that you probably wouldn’t say face-to-face. You can be respectful even when you disagree with someone.

2. Be kind on social media. Sometimes social media helps you create an idealized image of your life. Sometimes social media lets you vent your anger, fears, and frustration. When you see glimpses of other people’s amazing, awesome lives, don’t compare them with your own life. And when you read about or share depressing or horrifying news, balance it with a little kindness in your social media feed.

3. Be kind to our past self. We sometimes think the worst of our younger selves, dwelling on past mistakes and failures, instead of focusing on our past accomplishments. I’m guilty of this – I often find myself unintentionally replaying embarrassing moments and disappointments, even though I don’t want to remember them. I can’t seem to stop myself. But if you can forgive a past mistake or mischief in someone else, then you can forgive your younger self.

4. And be kind to your future self. We sometimes have unrealistically high expectations of our future selves, setting ambitious goals and over-committing our time and energy, instead of setting realistic goals and respecting our time in the future. Treat your future self will as much care as yourself today, being careful of your future self’s time and money, suggests productivity blogger and author Chris Bailey in his book “The Productivity Project: Accomplishing More by Managing Your Time” (2017).

5. Appreciate other people’s acts of kindness. There is kindness all around us, but often these small, everyday courtesies go unnoticed. As you do small acts of kindness, be aware of the small acts of kindness that you see – and that happen to you.

Do you perform random acts of kindness? What is the kindest thing someone has done for you recently?

More joyful, less stress homework

September 26, 2017

My son started sixth grade this year. Though I don’t think he has more assignments than in fifth grade, he is convinced that he has more homework – and he feels more stress about it.

I’ve heard about the education achievements in Finland. Their high school students scored the highest on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests. So I was curious to read “Teach Like Finland: 33 Simple Strategies for Joyful Classrooms” (2017) by Timothy D. Walker, written by an American teacher living in Finland.

I liked the fact that Walker taught at both American and Finnish schools, and could compare his teaching experiences firsthand. But I wasn’t looking to improve my son’s classroom; I was looking for ways I could make his homework less stressful.

Walker, an Arlington, Massachusetts teacher, admits that he was burning out on lesson plans, teaching guides, and classroom prep. In 2013, he and his wife Johanna moved to Helsinki, Finland. Walker was shocked that Finnish students have fewer hours of classroom instruction and more frequent breaks, and that teachers spend fewer hours on lesson prep and more time creating a peaceful environment. Based on his experiences, school visits, and research, Walker proposes that American schools need prioritize happiness in the classrooms.

Walker offers 33 strategies to prioritize happiness in the classrooms, focusing on things that teachers can do today to make a positive difference, without changing school policy. The strategies are organized around 5 ingredients of happiness: well-being, belonging, autonomy, mastery, and mind-set.

While the book is written for teachers, I read the book with an eye towards what parents can do to make learning more joyful.

Here are three ways to reduce some of the stress of homework.

* Schedule brain breaks. Take a 15-minute break for every 45 minutes of instruction. Attention begins to lag after 45 minutes, and taking a break means that students return refreshed and more focused. The brain breaks could be free play, reading, writing, drawing, game time, or a mindfulness exercise; but it should be enjoyable, independent, and new. At home, we can offer children a 15 minute break for every 45 minutes of homework. I tried this with my son – so far, he seems to procrastinate less, because he wants that brain break!

* Mindfulness. Take 5 minute mindfulness breaks to create a sense of calm. Students might pay attention to their breathing, listen to the sound of a bell until it stops ringing, or pay attention to how they walk. At home, we can encourage students to do mindful exercises to reduce stress about homework.

* Pursue a family dream. The teacher and students jointly decide on a dream together, discuss roles, and learn to compromise. The dream should be shared and realistic, and promote a sense of belonging, teach work, and responsibility. At home, we could decide on a family dream that takes place during a school break, such as a community service, neighborhood awareness campaign, or project. It’s a way to make learning fun, especially if we tie it in with something they learned in school. I’m really excited about this idea, and want to start a “family dream” this summer.

Do you know a student who feels stressed by homework? How can we make homework more joyful? Do you take work home (homework for grown-ups)?

My cellphone is smart enough

August 22, 2017

95% of adults in the U.S. own a cellphone of some kind. 77% own a smartphone and 18% own a basic cellphone, according to the Pew Research Center’s “Mobile Fact Sheet” (January 12, 2017).

I’m one of the 18% with a basic cellphone.

My basic cellphone that suits me very well. To modern technology, it’s the equivalent of a touch-tone phone, but it’s small, thin, and light-weight, and I can password or pattern-protect it. It’s a phone you might give to an elementary school student, but I refuse to exchange it for something that can do more.

For people who can’t live without their smartphones, I want to explain that my basic cellphone is smart enough.

I’d rather spend money on books. I don’t want to spend extra money on a smartphone, and I don’t want to be enticed into buying a smartphone every time a new one comes out. Cellphones should not be designed to be obsolete.

I want a good work-life balance. I don’t want my job to follow me home. I don’t want to answer work emails, texts, and calls when I’m spending time with family or relaxing. And I don’t want to be distracted at work by personal messages and alerts.

I want to look up. I want to see people and be seen. I don’t want to look down, unaware of the world around me. Most of the things people do on smartphones, I can do on a computer – and I can choose to get up and walk away when I’m done.

I confess… I sometimes “borrow” my husband’s smartphone to make phone calls – but not because it’s a smartphone. It’s the unlimited minutes that I mildly envy.

But the real truth is… Instead of watching videos, texting, or peering into other people’s lives, I’d rather live my own life.

Do you have a smartphone, cellphone, or landline phone? Do you constantly want to upgrade your smartphone to the latest model? How much cellphone screen time is too much?

Dogs, responsibility, and aging

June 20, 2017

Usually parents buy children a pet, and it becomes the parents’ pet. In our case, our dog has become our son’s dog – or rather, our son has become our dog’s boy.

When my son was young, our yellow lab was a very patient companion. She let him pull her tail without whining and try to ride her like a pony without growling. She would gently nose his cheek when he fell asleep on the couch.

Now that my son is 10 years old, he takes more responsibility for our dog. He gets her water, feeds her, and helps take her on walks. He is learning to take responsibility for someone else.

But a funny thing happened. Whenever our dog wants something – food, water, a walk – she doesn’t come to us anymore. Instead, she goes to our boy (her boy?) and noses him when he is trying to read, play games, or do homework. She barks a warning-bark and then pay-attention bark. Our dog, once so patient with our son, has become more demanding.

As I age, I hope that I show more restraint and understanding when my son is caught up with his own life, and I look for a measure of his attention. It’s always hard when we need to keep up with changes in our relationships – when our children need us less and when we need them more.

This post did not turn out the way I expected it to. I started off writing about responsibility and the changing relationship between our dog and our son, and it has turned ended with a glimpse of the future, when a care-giver may become a dependent.

Did you have a childhood pet? If yes, who really took care of your pet? And why do the words “caregiver” and “caretaker” mean the same thing – someone who takes care of another?

Celebrate the teachers in your life

May 9, 2017

Did you know that in Hawaii public schools, there are over 10,941 teachers, 170 librarians, and 602 counselors? (Hawaii 2015 Superintendent’s Annual Report, 2014-2015 School Year)

Did you know that on average, teachers work more than 52 hours a week, including 30 hours of instruction and 22 hours on tasks like preparing lessons and grading papers? (National Center for Education Statistics 2011-12 School and Staffing Survey)

Teachers give us so much, and their job is much harder than we realize. They prepare lesson plans that engage and inspire students. They find a balance between correcting mistakes and encouraging excellence. They stay after school for homework clubs and mentoring. They show up at school events in the evenings and on weekends. They make the classroom a safe place to learn, challenge assumptions, and build character.

Today is National Teacher Day, part of a week-long event celebrating the teachers in our lives. You can say “Thank You” by joining the 2017 #ThankATeacher campaign and sharing stories and photos of special teachers.

My son is completing the fifth grade this year, and I want to take a moment to thank my fifth grade teacher, Ms. Foster. She was energetic and fun and it was the year I started to see teachers as real people, outside of school. She set up a classroom economy with jobs, a bank, and even checkbooks. She gave us daily writing assignments to practice our writing skills and encourage creative writing. To this day, I remember the first verses of “Do your ears hang low?” and “I Can’t Do That Sum” that we had to recite.

If you need some inspiration, the National PTA offers a free Teacher Toolkit to personally thank teachers for making a positive impact on your life and children’s lives.

If you have children, grandchildren, nieces, or nephews in school, here are 7 ways that How Can Families Effectively Partner With and Support Teachers, courtesy of the National Education Association:

  • Develop a relationship with your child’s teacher and keep in touch with him/her often
  • Ask the right questions
  • Set goals with your child and his/her teacher and foster the achievement of those goals
  • Review your child’s data to ensure he/she is on track
  • Look in your child’s backpack every day
  • Frequently view the parent portal (or whichever tool your child’s school uses)
  • Actively participate at school when possible

Which teachers had the biggest impact on your life? How will you thank a teacher today?

Exciting! Electrifying! days for readers

May 2, 2017

Exciting! Electrifying! Calling all Star Wars fans, book and music lovers, and comic book readers! Be prepared for an amazing week.

First, there’s… May the Fourth, aka Star Wars Day, a day to celebrate all things Star Wars. Dress up as your favorite Star Wars character. Stay up for a Star Wars movie marathon. Read your favorite Star Wars book (my 10-year old son’s recommendation: “Lost Stars” by Claudia Gray). Indulge in Vader taters, Wookie cookies, and Yoda soda. Practice your lightsaber moves.

Followed by… Free Comic Book Day. From the nostalgic (Archie and Underdog) to the futuristic (Avatar and Dr. Who), for kids (SpongeBob) and kids of all ages, there’s a comic book for everyone! On Saturday, May 6, stop by a Hawaii public library and get a free comic book. Show your HSPLS library card at a Hawaii public library in Aiea, Aina Haina, Hawaii Kai, Hilo, Kahului, Kailua, Kailua-Kona (students, dress for the Cosplay competition!), Kapolei, Kihei, Lahaina, Lanai, Liliha, Makawao, Manoa, McCully-Moiliili, Mililani, Princeville, Salt Lake-Moanalua, Waikiki-Kapahulu, Waimanalo, Wahiawa, Waimea (Thelma Parker Memorial), and Waipahu. Check with specific libraries for special activities.

Wrapping up with… the Hawaii Book and Music Festival, May 6-7 in Honolulu. Immerse yourself in book readings, author signings, panel discussions, storytelling, music, hula, food demonstrations, and more. Trade your gently-used books at the Book Swap. Bring folding chairs or mats to sit on the lawn and soak up the entertainment. Let kids work off their energy in the Keiki Zone. A fun idea would be to have a round-robin storytelling, with a group of people pitching in to create an unexpected, one-of-a-kind story!

What books, comic books, or graphic novels are you reading? Which historical, futuristic, or fictional world do you wish you could live in?