All posts tagged back to school

Homework Help – How much?

rick-ackerlyEvery year the same question comes up: How much homework help do I offer my child?

What I’ve noticed is that almost all parents who ask this question have 3 things in common:

  1. They don’t have a strategy. (At least not a strategy that provides direction and a goal.)
  2. They have big fat, false fears about what will happen if their child does not turn in homework! (Stay back a grade, flunk out of college, lose scholarship opportunities, become a slacker, etc.)
  3. They sense this could be a growing problem, which is why they want to nip it in the bud. (They don’t like the idea of being the homework police and I don’t blame them).

The Truth is

The homework is not your problem and the only one who can learn to “fix” homework issues is your child. The teacher is who your child can turn to for homework help.

Rick Ackerly, a 45-year veteran and thought leader in the field of Education says (about homework help),

“When you care about it more than your child, it absolves the child of responsibility.”

In his recent post (a title inspired by the wise words of a 7 year old), Overparenting? Why Do Grownups Have to Take Over? he guides parents  through various feelings and beliefs they have about homework help. He also shares a story that I believe will hit home for the majority of our readers who are still struggling with their over-parenting tendencies. In the post, he says to a couple of well-meaning parents,

“Right now, (your son) doesn’t have to do any learning, because you are doing all the work. Your anxiety is a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Up Next: What I said to my children’s teachers that made everything a win-win-win for the kids, the teachers and myself!


Back to School One Liners

okeedokeeBack to school is a great time to offer children ownership in their daily lives. When children “get” invested in a system like the morning routine, clothing choices, food selections, homework sessions and so forth, they discover what works for them and in turn, they enjoy the process!

But how do we “get” our kids invested?

We ask!

We find out what their ideas are, what they want to try, when they want to try them and for how long they want to practice. Then we give them space to decide if it’s working or if they’ve discovered the best system for them. And then we say these simple back to school one liners:

Okeedokee kiddo, give it a whirl!


Here are a few primers to get you going:

  • Where do you want to hang your backpack everyday after school? I’ll let you hang the hook. (There? Next to the fridge? Okeedokee, there it is.)
  • Are you going to pack lunches at night or in the morning? (Even if you think, sheesh there’s no way you’ll have time before school! ALLLRIGHTYTHEN– 6am it is).
  • What would you like in your lunch? Let’s go shopping together so you can pack your lunch. (Yogurt + yogurt raisins + yogurt smoothie? Okeedokee I guess you like yogurt).
  • When would you like to get your homework done? After school? After dinner? In the morning? (Okeedokee... homework might not happen because you like playing outside after school).
  • What time do you think you should get ready for bed? What time do you think is good for lights out? (ALRIGHTYTHEN…you think you’ll be able to get ready in 4 minutes, try it.).
  • When are you going to take a bath? Oh, you want to shower? Ok…when? (Even if you’re thinking really? At night? Okeedokee…bedhead.
  • How do you want to wear your hair? Or what kind of pants do you want to wear? (Really, no jeans? Ever? Track pants and shorts for 180 days? Okeedokee, try it.)
  • What time should we be IN the car if we want to be at school on time? How will we remember this time? (You’ll set an alarm to go off in the kitchen one minute prior? Okeedokee – let’s see how it works).
  • Do you have clean socks or would you like to do your laundry this weekend? (Okeedokee you think those four socks will last you seven days? Alrightythen*.).
  • When would you like to have family meetings during the school year? Seriously? Saturday mornings at 7:30? (ALRIGHTYTHEN…no sleeping in…that is until one day THEY realize I’ll be by the sleepover at 7:15…and that’s not gonna work.)

Do you have any favorite back to school one liners?


Yes! GO to the Principal’s Office

challengeLet me explain. I truly believe there is value for kids when they are sent to the principal’s office at least once a year. The lessons they learn can be some of the most powerful lessons of the year – and in life!

Lesson One: Cause and Effect

Every year I remind my children. “There may be a moment, when…

  • You oversleep, miss the bus and arrive without a note from a parent.
  • You choose to ditch a class to help a friend in need.
  • You are caught cheating on a test – not because you didn’t know the answer, but because you were curious as to what would happen if you were caught.
  • You thought using fake money for the bake sale was an AWESOME idea and got BUSTED – what a surprise – ( it happened to a friend– he’s almost 40, he still talks about that lesson! He did not become a counterfeiter.)
  • You and your normally rule abiding friends decided to yell in the lunchroom when the lunch monitors called for quiet.
  • You found yourself defending a friend who has been bullied.
  • You walk out of a class when the teacher starts to belittle a class mate.
  • You made a mistake and either stole something, broke something or forgot something

…and you will be required to live with those choices.”

I am a big proponent of letting life teach our kids some of the toughest and most important lessons life has to offer. Learning that they are responsible for their choices and experiencing the consequences of those choices allows children a chance to develop critical thinking skills. It also teaches them to take responsibility for their choices and to live with the outcome of those choices. Those are skills that will continue to develop over time and will make it easier to make wiser, tougher choices later in life.

Lesson Two: Compassion

I know from talking to my own children, how upsetting it is for them to watch a classmate be sent out of the classroom and down to the principal’s office in disgrace. As a collective group, my 5 decided that making that walk of shame personally, would help them better understand how scary, embarrassing and humiliating the experience was, and help them show more empathy, compassion and understanding towards kids who struggled in school. As a result of mistakes, humiliation, encouragement, and inclusion.

Lesson Three: You’re Never Alone

I wanted my children to know that no matter what they did, no matter how much trouble they might be in, I would be with them. I would not save them. I would not make excuses for them. I would not take the blame. But I would always be there for them. And together, we would figure things out. I felt it was important, for me to SHOW my kids the truth of my words and it occurred to me when they were very young, that getting sent to the principal’s office could be a vehicle to prove to my kids that I would be there for them no matter what the offense.

My kids learned it was safe to call their parents. They learned that they would have to figure out a way to make things right. They learned they would have to serve the time (detention, community service, making apologies, and so on.) They learned that their mom and dad had no interest in rubbing their noses in their mistakes. They learned that they could survive the mistakes they made and life would go on.

So this year, consider using the Principal’s Office as a place of learning. Thinking outside the box often provides amazing opportunities for kids to develop skills that will help them grow into amazing human beings (not just to be remembered as a model student.)

Whose Routine? NOT YOURS!

trustIt’s routine time again- structured days that require alarm clocks, showers (more than the occasional dip in the pool) and clean clothing are upon us. This is the time of year when everyone (well, ok, mom and dad) scramble to bring order and organization and system to the unscheduled days of summer.

Here’s the deal:

If you’re chomping at the bit to implement a fresh, genius system of order, organization and routine so that you can reel it in and cruise into the new school year with your crafty ideas leading the way- don’t bother.

Wait. What?

Let’s be real- your system (albeit clever) has nothing to do with your children getting geared up for school. It’s about you trying to bring control back into your homes so that you can get out the door nice and easy and at bedtime…shut the lights off on time, quietly.

It’s not a bad thing to want a clear system or to design one for yourself but just know it won’t work on your children and you’ll find yourself frustrated and exhausted when it doesn’t gel together like magic.

However, if you’re willing to:

  1. Challenge your own thinking (I must implement a system) and
  2. Invite the children to participate (the children can decide for themselves and I trust them)



Because you understand that in the long run, your child’s ability to create routines that support their individual rhythms will help them in EVERY aspect of their life.

Because you are eager and enthusiastic to teach and support your kids as they create systems that work for them – even if you are convinced they wont’ work all that well – which sends the message that you trust them and are behind them. This dramatically improves the relationship you have with those creative geniuses you are raising. Besides, what better way for your kids to learn what DOESN’T work when the stakes are low then to try, try and then try again.


Be prepared by having some duct tape near by to squash any attempts at correcting, saving or tinkering with the great ideas your children come up with. They will be late. They will be hungry. And more importantly, they will surprise you with their ingenuity, resourcefulness and resiliency. And aren’t those character traits we want ever child to embody.


Routines are about more then just systems for getting out of the house on time. They help kids build the kinds of character traits that will help them create meaningful, satisfying and joyful lives.

What systems have your children discovered work for them?

Kids Learn from People They Like

champion“Every child deserves a champion- an adult who will NEVER give up on them… who understands the power of connection and insists that they become the best that they can possibly be.” – Rita Pierson

Healthy relationships are centered on mutual respect–in education, in parenting and in life. When we focus on what is going RIGHT vs. how others are coming up short, there is power in the message and likewise, an openness to learning, cooperation, hope, optimism, capability and confidence- all pointing us in the direction of our goals.

So, as the new school year approaches, take a moment to watch this clip and then let’s take the time to ask ourselves:

  • What will it take to be a  champion for my child? For my students? For my community?
  • What will it take to focus on what is going RIGHT (the PLUS TWO) vs. the shortcomings (THE MINUS EIGHTEEN)?
  • What will it take for me to connect with my child and enhance the relationship?
  • What will it take for me to show that I am a champion who is invested in, and will NEVER give up on the success and well-being of my own child? Student? Community?

Go to the Principal’s Office

go to the principal officeThis time of year, parents are always chatting about “how to talk to teachers” and “what to do” about communication between the home, the school and the child.

Having been in the trenches myself with five kids, I understand that moms and dads alike worry about how to make the school year a success for everyone – and that means sometimes focusing on keeping things neat and tidy and ensuring the kids don’t draw too far outside the lines, so to speak. Other times, however, it doesn’t really matter if they stay in the lines or go waaaay off the paper. This is their time to let the colors fly. So…

When parents ask for my advice on this topic, I say:

Here’s what I did…take it or leave it, but it’s not about getting through safe, clean and unruffled.

Are you ready for this?

I told each of the kids that if they didn’t get sent to the principal’s office at least once each year, they weren’t living dangerously enough. I said, go ahead-it’s your life and I trust you’ll figure it out. I gave them the green light to try something that rocked the boat just a little. And then I stepped back. (Yes! I said that.)

Why Would I Do This?

Here is why. I wanted them to take a chance, voice their opinion, stick up for a kid being embarrassed by a teacher, skip a class to help a friend, stay at play practice late in lieu of of completing the science project perfectly. In other words, I wanted them to do something outside the lines and rock the boat just a bit. So my kids weren’t afraid of making mistakes, getting in trouble and they were familiar with the folks in the office and had empathy for the tikes who were sent there on a regular basis.

What Happened?

Big surprise that as we entered the last month of school, not a one (well maybe one) hadn’t seen the inside of the principals office and were feeling a bit panicked about it. Good problem to have, right?

So, What Do YOU Do with This Information?

Whatever you want. You can say, gee…I’m so glad you said this- if Vicki can do it, so can I. Or, if it’s too extreme, you can say well, gee no thanks BUT I’d be willing to tell the teachers a few basic bits to help foster independence, choice and mistakes without encouraging a trip to the principal! *Gasp* …

And the Point?

The point is, it doesn’t matter what you decide, as long as you have a plan that works for your child and the only way you can make a plan is to know who you are as a parent (print the Duct Tape Parent Pledge- hand it to the teacher if it helps!) and what it will take for your child to learn (and by learn, not just “submitting work on time, doing homework and sitting quietly). The truth is, when you set out on school adventures, you don’t really know what it will take for your child to develop a true sense of self so why not let the messes fly (if you keep it too tidy, they’ll miss out on their own problem solving!).

Big Picture Thinking, AKA The 10,000 Foot View

With all the fuss over hover parents and school safety (yes, safety is important but I’m talking excess precaution, like no more cartwheels!? too dangerous?– sheesh) – anyway- with this “panic button” thinking permeating our schools, teachers are up against no discomfort for my kid mentality but if they know where you stand on these issues, and that you are likely to support them (and that in fact, you are encouraging your kids to take a few reasonable risks) you will have created an alliance with the teacher. And, it’s likely that the teacher will begin to see your child with new eyes. Eyes that reflect your goals for your child – independence, curiosity, engagement, social justice, etc.

If you’re clear up front in the first meeting with the teacher, you will all be able to relax a bit more.  It’s a win/win.

8 Thoughts, “Nuggets” or Un-Advice

1. Keep in mind, you are both in this together.

2. Define what you both want for your child at the end of the school year.

3. Pick / encourage things other than academic success as measurement for learning.

4. Talk specifically about some other participation angle like citizenship, or an area your child struggles in like organization. Stay on SOLUTIONS vs. problems.

5. Tell the teacher what your goals are for your child – to raise a thinking, engaged, curious, empathetic, courageous child. Don’t get crazy. Keep it simple.

6. Design a plan for talking with the teacher about the progress and improvement you would want to see during the year and how you will support the child.

7. Get clear about how each of you will deal with the child’s mistakes, forgotten homework etc., so there are no misunderstanding and expectations are clear.

8. Send notes of appreciation to the teacher at least once a month or at the end of a specific “unit”.

Let us know what you think or keep us updated on YOUR teacher-parent communications!

Articles: Back to School


It’s been a few weeks for some, a mere days for others– either way, we’ve all hit “back to school” in full steam fashion. Some of you are veterans, others are rookie parents but together, we’re all just getting familiar with this year’s shuffling, packing,  locating, and out the door scurrying.

Some of us love it, some of us loathe it and for many of us, some days it’s a bit of both! (Especially when Monday mornings roll around). No matter where you are on the back-to-school spectrum, a little thinking, planning and practicing can go a long way in making the mornings smoother, the days happier, and the transitions simpler.

Here’s a dragnet of Parenting On Track (#PonT) posts that will keep your back to school mojo in motion!

Packing Lunches

I know what you guys do at home and the independence that you foster there shows up here in the classroom. The things you guys have them do in the mornings like making their own lunch gives them such self confidence. I’m not sure what you see at home but it’s so strong here. I can clearly see the connection between the independence you give them and the confidence here at school.

-Note from a Real Teacher

Why She Can Pack Her own Darn Lunch

There’s something more delicious than a PBJ or bagel with cream cheese in your child’s lunch—something sweeter than a fresh baked cookie or chocolate milk. It’s CONFIDENCE.Read the post here.

Five Tips to Make Lunch Packing Easier for Your Kiddo

As we said before, packing a lunch is a very useful and “real life” habit that will help your child develop responsibility, time management and confidence. It’s also a nice way to send the message that you trust your child with decisions that affect her life. Here are 5 ways to help you make this process smooth and simple so that you can walk out of the kitchen and trust they can handle it.Read the post, here. [hr]

Schedules, Routines and Staying Happy

Finding the Balance

This list was compiled by my friend, and fellow Parenting On Track parent S.G. in response to a parent who was struggling with how to make the morning and evenings run smoother with her young kids since having recently returned to the workforce. After I read it, I realized that this list will work for ANY parent or EVERY parent who has 1 child or 5 children and is trying to juggle family, work, & life. Of course I HAD to add my own 2 cent worth in red. Enjoy.Read it here.

Routines Happen By Design

Revamping your family’s routines can be a strategic challenge – a chess game of cause and effect. Ultimately, you must observe your kids and then “design” a household environment that will lead to effortless routines. You’re probably thinking, please, that’s gonna be hard. But actually, it’s kind of fun because once you’ve figured it out, it’s almost as if by magic, your kid begins to sail through the day. Read the post here.

Happier Parenting

10 Tips for Happier Parenting can be foundHERE.

Thinking Kids

When my child was in the 2nd grade, and her teacher asked me why I didn’t sign her “homework” notebook, I told her it was because I was raising a “thinking” child. It’s the same reason I didn’t…. READ THE REST HERE.

I Believe in You

Let me tell you something about YOU.

YOU can do anything you want. YOU are in control.

YOU can achieve as much success as you want to.

YOU can and will pick yourself up when life knocks you down.

I BELIEVE IN YOU. Read the post here

Praise vs. Encouragement

Training without a Sticker Chart

As school starts, so do the charts and goodies! “The illusive, yet necessary training of young children remains a lively and interesting conversation by parents everywhere. Certainly, those of us familiar with the Vicki’s Tools for Success program, and the idea that self-esteem is developed by contributing in meaningful ways to the family (and by extension the communities we are a part of) are ahead of the game.”Read the post on Training here.

Watch Out for “Good Job” Overload

Real Families

You Can Make Them Go But…

“Flockmother purchased my home program in April of 2009 and decided to chronicle her journey, for the benefit of others. If you read her first blog post the first day of her DNSN week, you will see that the girls in fact did not go to school. That, my friends, is just where this journey begins. Once again, Flockmother inspires us.” Read the PonT post here or go DIRECTLY to the post.


From Frog Collecting to Number Crunching

Along with buying new pencils and notebooks, “back to school” also means a return to routines, alarm clocks, and the responsibilities that many of our children left behind with the last bell in June. There are all kinds of systems families can use, and Parenting On Track is about progress, change, and the long-term goal of encouraging independence and self-reliance in our children.

Here is my “top 10” list for making the transition from frog collecting to number crunching a smooth one, for kids and parents alike. With these pointers in mind, you’ll help your children begin the school year on the right foot.

1. Ask yourself, “What will it take for my children to manage their schedules independently?” Work with your kids to make a list of everything that needs to happen in order for your kids to be ready for the school day. Access what they can do already, where they need some training, and what they need to learn from scratch. Set aside time each week to practice these life skills, and be sure to acknowledge growth and progress.

2. Allow your kids to establish a routine that works for them, even if they flounder for a week or two. This means not reminding them to pack their homework or asking if they remembered their soccer gear. Having to sit out a game or miss recess is a far more effective way for youngsters to learn to be responsible than parents constantly reminding.

3. Have faith that your children can handle the natural consequences of their decisions. If your daughter refuses to do her homework, let her work it out with the teacher, even if her grades suffer. Whereas the grades will come and go over the years, the self-reliance and sense of accountability that she’ll learn by solving her own problems will serve her well for the rest of her life.

4. Show empathy and help your children work through any problems that arise, but don’t be their savior. School offers a perfect testing ground for kids to learn how to be responsible for themselves and acquire the skills they’ll need in the “real world” after graduation.

5. Set parameters about acceptable dress for school that you and your kids can agree on, and then bite your tongue. Many schools have rules about attire (such as no midriffs or undergarments showing) that can help you frame this discussion. You may not love the outfits that your children choose to wear, but showing them that you respect their choices and believe in their ability to select their own clothing is far more important in the long run.

6. Establish a framework for discussing the ups and downs that your kids are sure to encounter as the school year progresses. You want your children to know that you’re on their side, no matter what. If your son brings home an “A” or scores the lead role in the school play, encourage him by asking questions about the experience. How did he prepare? What did that accomplishment feel like? Did he need to to work hard to reach his goal, or did it come easily to him? Likewise, if your daughter comes home with a “D” or doesn’t make the hockey team, you can ask her about that experience. How did she prepare for that moment? How does she feel about her grade? Was this important to her? What could she do differently next time?

7. Create a roadmap with your children to help them set goals for the year and begin thinking about what it will take to achieve those goals. Your kids will feel a sense of empowerment as they define and take ownership over their plans for the coming year.

8. Set up a time every week to connect as a family. This could be a dinner, a family outing, or a scheduled family meeting. The gathering does not have to take place at the same time every week, but be sure that it’s on everyone’s calendar so that it doesn’t fall through the cracks.

9. Figure out what you, as a parent, can let go of to encourage your childrens’ independence. Deciding not to “remind” or “do for” your kids may be hard at first, but in doing so, you are demonstrating to your children that you have faith in their abilities.

10. Go slow. Encourage progress and recognize growth, and remember that you are the best parent for your child.