Minimize Those Homework Meltdowns

Boston Parents Paper recently published an excerpt from The Parent Backpack for Kindergarten through Grade 5 – Guiding Homework, Projects and Studying – in their Education Enrichment Guide.

For tips and strategies on how to minimize those homework meltdowns…and help your kids learn study skills, click here: Motivate your child to learnIMG_2701

 

To order a copy of The Parent Backpack for Kindergarten through Grade 5 or for more information about the book, visit www.theparentbackpack.com/book. For homework resources, including online video lessons, visit www.theparentbackpack.com/resource-room/

And if you’re looking for good questions to ask at your upcoming parent teacher conference, click here.

The Little Things

dad with kids on beachEvery once in a while, I read something about connecting with our kids that stops me in my tracks.

I’m reprinting an article today that did just that. It reminds me how important the little (and the not-so-little) things are to our kids – and to life. Rachel Martin of findingjoy.net wrote this piece. It appeared in the Huffington Post last week. Thank you, Rachel, for this reminder:

20 Things I Will Not Regret Doing with My Kids

1. Tucking them into bed at night. Someday, they’ll be too big and I won’t get that moment back. Saying goodnight, pulling up the covers and kissing their heads is a gift.

2. Telling them I love them. Start this when they’re young. “I love you” is a powerful three-word phrase that matters.

3. Listening to their stories. Their stories teach me about them and their hearts and what they love. I think of their stories as a way to learn more about them. And this is the real listening, not the distracted mom who wants to move onto the next thing on her never-ending to-do list.

4. Looking them in their eyes. Nothing tells another person you matter more than looking at them in the eyes while they talk. It shows that what they are saying truly is important to you. I want my kids to remember that there were times when their mother looked them in the eye and smiled. And for me, this often means shutting my laptop, putting down my phone, taking a break from my my to-do list and just giving them time.

5. Saying “yes” when it’s easier to say “no.” Like those times when I just want to keep to my agenda and they want to join in. Or for those late-night sleepovers. Or those times when I am simply tired and don’t want to walk up the stairs to say goodnight. Or for the extra story. Or to play a game. “Yes” simply matters.

6. Showing them new things. I can read to my kids about history or I can start to show them history. In August, when Grace, my 12-year-old, and I were in Mexico, it was such a cool experience to show Grace the Mayan ruins in Tulum. Now, I’m not saying go to Mexico, but there are things we can show them. Do science. Look at the stars. Go to the museum. Let them learn and see the world.

7. Teaching them to say “please” and “thank you.” No explanation needed. Politeness matters.

8. Letting them help even if it means it takes longer for me. Does it take longer to wash the windows if I’m teaching my children how to wash the windows? Yes. Same with laundry, cooking, cleaning, folding and more. But they need to learn — these are life skills. I would be doing them a disservice by NOT teaching them and letting them help.

9. Saying “no” to things even when it would be easier to say “yes.” There are movies and television shows that I don’t let my kids watch. Books that I want them to wait to read. iPods and computers that are only allowed on the main level. Sometimes, the answer needs to be “no” — even if everyone else’s answer seems to be yes.

10. Laughing with them. Or smiling with them. Or having fun with them. I simply want them to know I love being around them. This is the aspect of liking my kids, not just loving them. I want them to know both.

11. Making them learn the value of work. I want my kids to know that work matters and that a good work ethic — where you go above and beyond and don’t complain — is an excellent skill. My kids know how to do laundry, to sweep the floor, to bring their dishes over, to clean their rooms, to make their beds and so on. I will never regret teaching them the value of work.

12. Rocking them to sleep. Holding their hand. Giving them a kiss. I love them. Even after those days where they drive me a bit crazy and I wonder what in the world I’m doing. Those little acts of love are important life acts of love.

13. Saying I’m sorry. Because let’s face it — I’m not perfect. I mess up. I make mistakes. So, they need to hear me say I’m sorry and that I love them and that they’re important to me. So, that means sometimes I will say “I’m sorry.”

14. Teaching them to be respectful of others. This. And this again. And this. I want my kids to respect others. To listen to them, to learn and to not judge. This starts with me teaching them this skill and me being respectful of them. Often, it is looking for the good first and giving grace.

15. Encouraging them to take risks. Sometimes, the fear is the biggest obstacle. Kids need to learn to look at the fear and to push through the fear.

16. Not holding onto a record of wrongs. Each day is a new day. Learn from the past, but don’t hold onto the past. I want to see the good first and not all the negative — so often, that means letting go of the record of wrongs.

17. Letting them see me thrive. I don’t want my kids to grow up thinking I was a good mom, but a not-too-happy and joyful mom. They need to see me thrive and be interested in things and expand my creativity as well.

18. Teaching them compassion. I want them to see the world beyond me and ourselves. I want them to give back, to care about others and to be a person of change.

19. Showing them that the stuff doesn’t matter. Nothing in Target really matters. Nor the stuff on the shelves. Or the clothes one wears. Or the fancy birthday parties. If the stuff clouds the vision then the relationships are lost. Relationships first. Stuff after that.

20. Letting them grow up. Sigh. This. It has to be done. So, I look back with nostalgia, embrace today and look forward to tomorrow. They’ll grow. And I’ll savor the moments that we’re blessed to share.

Those are just 20 things I won’t regret doing with my kids. Simple things, really. They’re the living intentional type things that sometimes just need to be written down.

This post originally appeared on Finding Joy.

A Parent Quiz on Schools & Education

 

I was thrilled that The Boston Globe asked me to write a quiz on parent involvement in education. It appeared in the September 14th edition of their G  magazine. I’ve posted it here so you can test yourself.

And yes…the answers are included:

 

By ML Nichols

SEPTEMBER 13, 2013

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During the school year, it’s the most-asked question in American homes, echoed by millions of parents, five days a week: “How was school today?,” usually followed by “Is your homework done yet?” And the inevitable, droning answers: “Fine.” “Nope.”

At this point, some tired families acquiesce; others brace for homework meltdowns; and still others jump in and overdo it.

Most parents know it’s important to participate in their children’s education, and scores of studies from major American universities support the finding that kids do better in school when their parents are involved. But what does getting involved actually mean? What’s the best way to connect to your child’s learning with the little time you have? How do you help your kids succeed in school without getting too close to the process?

While our children soon will sweat through their initial benchmark tests, it’s only fair that parents take their own back-to-school quiz. How do you score when it comes to being involved in your child’s education? Take this test and see.

 1. Three of the following statements are true. Which one is false?

a. Teachers hold higher expectations for students whose parents are involved in their education.

b. Reinforcing at home what your kids are learning in school has a greater impact on their education than attending a fund-raising activity.

c. It’s helpful when parents correct their child’s homework before they turn it in.

d. The gifts teachers appreciate most are thank-you notes from parents or students and classroom wish-list supplies.

 

Answer: c. Correcting your child’s homework gives teachers a false impression and ultimately hurts your child; teachers use homework to gauge which students need more instruction, which are ready to move on, and whether the lesson was effective.

 

2. The best strategy for raising a child who likes to read is to:

a. Remove all picture books from your child’s bookshelves.

b. Introduce a phonics-based program to your child before kindergarten.

c. Prod your child up the ladder of early readers through first grade.

d. Read to, with, and in front of your child at least 15 minutes every day until they’re in middle school.

 

Answer: d. Research confirms that reading daily (anything — books, magazines, sports pages) with your child in a fun, bonding, and expressive way is the most important thing you can do because kids will associate reading with pleasure.

 

3. New brain studies indicate the most effective way to study for a test is to:

a. Highlight key facts and read the material over multiple times.

b. Write out the concept or questions with answers and examples in your own words; quiz yourself regularly for at least a week before the test.

c. Review the answers at the back of the chapter orally.

d. Both a. and c.

 

Answer: b. Because the brain is a muscle that grows stronger with use, having students write out questions, then retrieve information and connect the dots repeatedly is more effective than passively reading or listening.

 

4. New public-school standards for learning (called the Common Core State Standards Initiative) will launch this fall in Massachusetts. What changes will this trigger in your child’s curriculum?

a. More nonfiction reading and persuasive writing in all grades.

b. Showing more work in solving math problems.

c. A higher level of critical thinking and deeper understanding.

d. A new standardized test in English and math.

e. All of the above

 

Answer: e. The initiative, which has been fully adopted by 45 states, seeks to standardize and improve education across the nation.Common Core benchmarks will be supported by one of two new standardized tests in the 2014-15 school year.

 

5. Which of the following strategies will not help you build a positive relationship with your child’s teacher?

a. Filling out forms and permission slips on time.

b. Reading the class newsletters and reiterating key messages at home.

c. Making sure homework is finished every day.

d. Sending the teacher a comprehensive e-mail detailing a problem along with your proposed solution.

e. Volunteering to help in the classroom or with trips when possible.

 

Answer: d. E-mail is not an effective way to discuss issues. When there’s a conflict with your child that needs to be resolved, send a brief e-mail to the teacher stating your concern, your questions, and a request to talk or meet.

 

6. Match up learning style with corresponding characteristics. Which characteristics are associated with: visual (spatial) learners, physical (kinesthetic) learners, and auditory (language) learners?

a. Process and learn through what they hear; they prefer to verbalize ideas.

b. Learn best through images and words they see; they tend to notice details.

c. Learn best by what they do and experience; they prefer hands-on projects.

 

Answer: Visual learners learn best through (b.) images and creating pictures in their mind; physical-kinesthetic learners like to (c.) touch, feel, and use their hands; auditory learners learn by (a.) what they hear and prefer to recite spelling words orally. Most children learn in a combination of ways but lean toward one style. Understanding how your child learns can help you support homework, projects, and studying.

 

7. Overloaded school backpacks cause more than 20,000 back injuries per year. Which statement is not true? The ideal student backpack should:

a. Weigh no more than 10-15 percent of your child’s total body weight when packed.

b. Have wide padded shoulder straps and a hip strap to distribute weight.

c. Not hang below the waist or hip line.

d. Include wheels so it can be pulled around school or carried.

e. Keep the heaviest books closest to the back.

 

Answer: d. Many schools don’t allow rolling backpacks because they’re a hazard in crowded hallways.

 

8. Praising hard work and effort leads to a more confident, competent child. True or false?

Answer: True. Research shows that simply praising a child’s “smarts” is counterproductive because the child may develop fear that they could lose their “smart” label if they fall short on difficult challenges — and begin avoiding them. Praising progress and hard work motivates kids because effort is a factor they can control, and it reinforces the message that learning and improvement is achievable.

 

9. Which statements are true about fueling your child’s brain and body?

a. An overload of simple carbohydrates (sugar cereals, juice, junk food) negatively affects concentration and behavior.

b. Some research suggests foods like blueberries, tomatoes, broccoli, kale, fish, eggs, whole grains, walnuts, flaxseed, and pumpkin seeds may enhance your child’s brainpower.

c. Chemicals released during exercise help improve concentration, motivation, and learning.

d. Elementary age children need 10-11 hours of sleep per night; teens need 9.25 hours to optimize learning.

e. All of the above

 

Answer: e. Diet, exercise and sleep affect your child’s ability to process, learn, and retrieve information.

 

10. Which three statements or questions are more likely to result in a constructive conversation with a teacher?

a. “What are you doing to stop that bully from beating on my child?”

b. “I’m wondering what else we can do to make sure Emily doesn’t fall further behind?”

c. “I know many other parents in this class who feel the same way I do.”

d. “Sam feels intimidated on the playground; he doesn’t feel safe at lunch.”

e. “We’ve noticed Alex finishes her homework very quickly; are you seeing this in class?”

 

Answer: b, d, e. Keep communication positive and professional by sharing your child’s feelings, behaviors, or your own observations. When teachers feel accused or blamed, they are more likely to focus on defending their actions instead of helping your child.

 

11. Which strategies help minimize homework meltdowns:

a. Help your child break down work into sections so it’s not so overwhelming.

b. Carve out time for play or unstructured activities so your kids can process their busy day.

c. Alert teachers if your child’s homework takes far more time than the accepted 10 minutes per grade (e.g., 40 minutes, fourth grade) without breaks.

d. Encourage your kids to use online videos and podcasts and also their siblings to explain or reinforce lessons rather than mom or dad.

e. All of the above

 

Answer: e. In addition to involving your child in the decision about where and when homework is done and providing a well-stocked homework supply bin, all these strategies will help keep thingson a positive track.

 

12. What are the two best ways to help kids stay organized for the school year?

a. Preview, review, and remind — but don’t rescue.

b. Invest in an agenda notebook in first grade, so they begin writing in a calendar and develop early habits.

c. Pack your child’s backpack before school and clean it out each week so they have a fresh start.

d. Display visuals that show kids what a clean desk, backpack, picked-up room, and “ready to go” look like.

 

Answer: a, d. Many kids need to make mistakes before they can take full responsibility for their schoolwork and belongings. Don’t do for your child what they can do. Even 6-year-olds can pack their own backpacks.

 

If you got 11 or 12 answers correct, congratulations! You’re doing a terrific job of supporting your child’s education. If you answered eight to 10 questions correct, don’t fret, because most parents are right here with you. If you managed seven or fewer, the good news is that you probably picked up some tips to give you a hand in helping to make your child a better student. And the beginning of the school year marks a great time to start.

ML Nichols lives on the South Shore and is director of The Parent Connection, a nonprofit parent-education group. She is also author of “The Parent Backpack for Kindergarten Through Grade 5: How To Support Your Child’s Education, End Homework Meltdowns, and Build Parent-Teacher Connections.’’

Connecting to Your Child’s Teacher

Ever wonder what it really takes to start out on the right foot with your child’s elementary teacher?

While many parents think it means volunteering in the classroom and showing up for parent-teacher conferences, building a positive relationship with teachers actually begins with what you do at home to connect to your child’s education.

kids in classroomTeachers know which families support their children’s learning — and which do not. That’s because it shows up in the classroom every day through students’ work and the stories they tell. Just as your kids talk about school at home, children come to school innocently sharing stories about what mom or dad said about school, homework and teachers. And research shows, not surprisingly, that teachers have higher expectations for students whose parents are involved in their child’s education in productive ways.

Here are four ways you can show respect for and build a positive relationship with your child’s teacher:

1. Do your part: Teachers need your help with the basics and get frustrated when that doesn’t happen: Fill out school forms before the deadline – teachers and schools need this information to connect with your child; read the teacher’s newsletter so you know what’s going on in the classroom; get your kids to school on time every day; and fuel their little brains and bodies for learning. Make sure your children get 10-11 hours of sleep and eat a healthy breakfast every morning (protein, healthy carbs and less sugar) so they can concentrate, process and retrieve information for six and a half hours.  Sleep and diet impact your child’s behavior and learning more than most of us realize. Teachers notice and appreciate when parents prioritize these basic needs.

2. Connect with your child’s reading and homework: 

dad reading kids

Teachers also know which parents are reading with their kids and supporting homework in productive ways. One of the greatest gifts you can give your children(and their teachers) is reading to, with or in front of them throughout their elementary years. Finding just 15 minutes to read every day influences your child in many ways. Read the class newsletter or website so you can reinforce at home what your kids are learning at school. Make sure homework is done, but don’t do it yourself – or correct it. Homework helps teachers identify which kids understand the material and which need a reteach.

3. Communicate effectively: Everything you write or say to your child’s teacher either strengthens or weakens the bridge you’re building. How you communicate with teachers plays a big role in whether your concerns are heard — and how quickly they are addressed. Use my Power of P3 to keep messages focused and productive. Start out on a Positive note whether you’re communicating via note, email, phone or in person. Be Professional (polite and respectful in your observations and feelings) and Persistent when needed. Discuss difficult issues on the phone or in parent-teacher conferences, not via P3email. And never go over the teacher’s head without letting him or her know you plan to do so. It’s not always easy to follow P3, especially if you feel frustrated about your child’s situation. But when blame and accusations seep into your communication, teachers will defend their actions rather than respond to your concerns.

4. Say “thank you” in words and actions: With higher standards, new teacher evaluations, and endless testing, teachers are under a lot of pressure today. Acknowledge and support their efforts by sending a thank-you note or saying thanks when you see them. Even better, have your child write a thank-you note. If you can, send in materials when teachers ask for them. Most teachers spend their own money on classroom supplies and appreciate whatever parents can give. And if you do have the time to volunteer in the classroom or at school, be as helpful as you can.

Showing up for conferences and volunteering in the classroom are important, but need to be combined with the above to build a positive relationship with your child’s teacher. And the beginning of a new school year is a perfect time to start.

(This article was written by ML Nichols and published in Books for Better Living on August 14, 2013)

Parent Backpack on FOX News

Here are some strategies I shared on FOX Morning News to help you and your kids transition to a new school year.

The Parent Backpack on FOX Morning News. To play video, click on photo:

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Pinch me! Parents magazine features The Parent Backpack!

IMG_1349WOW!! Really? 

I can’t believe I’m reading a review of The Parent Backpack in Parents Magazine!

Can I get any luckier? Here’s what Parents magazine writer Kristen Kemp wrote on page 18 of the September back-to-school issue:
 
Every so often, I run across a book so good it belongs on every family’s shelf. That’s the case with The Parent Backpack for Kindergarten through Grade 5: How to Support Your Child’s Education, End Homework meltdowns, and Build Parent-Teacher Connections.
Author ML Nichols, director of nonprofit The Parent Connection, has written a guide for surviving and thriving in elementary school. She explains the system – from testing to special education to how administrators choose your kids’ next teacher. Best of all, she outlines whet to expect academically at different ages, defines fancy edu-terms, and offers advice for advocating for your child. Hopefully, you won’t need to contact the teacher and principal often – bit if you do, this book provides fantastic strategies.
THANK YOU Parents magazine and Kristen Kemp for this awesome review! And thank you, once again, to all the amazing teachers, parents, writers, friends and family who helped me make this book the best it could be. This would not have happened without you!

 

These next couple weeks will be exciting and nerve-wracking as kids and parents face a new school year. If you’d like to take a peek at the first chapter of The Parent Backpack for Kindergarten through Grade 5, you can do that here on my “Look Inside” pages. 

Better yet, if you’d like to buy a copy for yourself or someone you know, click on any outlet in the top right corner of this page. The Parent Backpack for Kindergarten through Grade 5 is available in paperback or as an e-book.

Still pinching myself…

 

ML

 

 

 

Come Celebrate!

Parent Backpack 2 coverIt’s a book launch party –

The Parent Backpack for Kindergarten through Grade 5

FRIDAY, AUGUST 9th at 7:00pm at Westwinds Bookshop in Duxbury, MA – in partnership with the Duxbury Free Library

 No registration required. Hope to see you there!

Order The Parent Backpack in paperback or e-book today

 
 
 

 

From Embarrassed to Proud: Emily’s View of Mom’s Book

 

It’s every 13-year-olds’ nightmare. Your mom or dad is featured in the newspaper. Or worse yet, becomes a published author.

That’s how my daughter Emily felt about her mom writing a book. Especially a book about parenting around schools and education.

But that was four to five years ago, when she was in middle school. Now that Emily is about to enter her senior year in high school, she feels differently.

But I had no idea how differently, until she told this story about The Parent Backpack at my first book launch gathering:

I cry every time I watch it. Thank you, Emily. I am so proud of you.

If you live in the Boston/Cape area and would like to hear more about The Parent Backpack, check here for locations, dates and times where I’ll be speaking.

And who knows, maybe Emily will show up and surprise us again!

 

Countdown to Launch Date

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The countdown is on! Seven days until The Parent Backpack for Kindergarten through Grade 5 is released. The books have shipped . . . and mine just arrived. [Read more...]

It’s Summer – Let Them Slide…





lots of kids on slide…and swing and ride and build. Then play some more.

More than anything else, kids need time to play, especially in the summer months when unstructured time is abundant. Play is how children learn. How they process, discover, and master life skills. [Read more...]