Pragmatic Mom

December 31, 2009

Public or Private School?

As my daughter nears middle school, my husband and I have started to wonder…public or private school?   Private school is not something we ever contemplated for our children.  We live in a great public school system and both of us graduated proudly from public school systems in California which were not as good as the school system we currently attend.

I attended an Ivy League college and my recollection, confirmed by others with a similar mediocre high school experience as mine, is that:

— It took me two years to catch up with classmates who went to good high schools.

–There are good public high schools and good private high schools and there are also mediocre private schools.  I only knew three other people from a Catholic high school who were going to college with me and they felt their high school was even worse than mine.

–What were some of the marked differences from the prep school/top public high school  kids and me ?  Foreign languages really stood out.   Despite meeting my foreign language requirement in high school, I tested into beginning French which was basically a remedial class with a dozen of us from bad public high schools and even worse accents.  Good high school = foreign language fluency, as in conversational or being able to read magazines in a foreign language.  Some kids had opportunity to study abroad in high school; not at my school!

Breadth of classes.  My friend from the Catholic High School was envious of a kid from Palo Alto High School (a great public high school) who had Asian History at her school.  I couldn’t believe that my friend from Stuyvesant High School (a magnet school in NYC that routinely sends two dozen kids to Harvard) had economics; micro AND macro!  And my freshman dorm pre-med friend who studied with the nuns in Cleveland really learned how to think, as in problem solve.  He tested into the advanced pre-med chemistry class.  I did not; at my high school, it was more about regurgitation than really understanding how to apply your knowledge…and no AP Chem class either!

I remember bitterly complaining with other like-kind kids and vowing that my kids will never have to play catch up when they go to college!  So my advice would be not so much public or private but how good is the school?  A great public school can kick the pants off a mediocre private school.  There is a list below from the Wall Street Journal about which schools successfully send the most kids off to top schools but if these schools are not an option, dig deep to find out:  1) Is there a study aboard program?  2) How many honor and AP classes are offered?  Look for a wide range of class offerings.  3) How many kids are fluent in one or more foreign languages?  What does the curriculum include?  Language labs?  Small class size?  Native speakers as instructors?  4) What are examples of kids being taught to problem solve versus regurgitate?  5) Finally, where the pedal hits the medal … what is your college placement record?  And the corollary, are you double counting the smart kids that got into multiple top colleges?  What schools are the kids actually ATTENDING.

OK, maybe college placement is getting a little ahead of ourselves.  I do think that it’s not necessarily Ivy League or Bust, but more about the right fit.  The same goes for public versus private school.

My O.B. who lives in the same city as me but at a different elementary school, puts public education into perspective.  She describes her oldest daughter as smart but not a genius, social to a fault, not academically inclined without being pushed, and not disruptive.  In short, to a teacher with 20 plus students, she’s invisible.  Couple that with two working parents who don’t have the time to be omnipresent volunteers at school meant that her daughter was getting no attention.  She switched her to private school by 2nd grade (but she was glad to have 3 years of free public education).  When her daughter got interested in boys, she switched her again to an all-girl school.  In contrast, she says two other doctors at her practice also attend the same elementary school and are having a great experience.  But the kicker…her partners have spouses that are  stay-at-home moms and volunteer like crazy at their school. 

My experience at public elementary school has been mixed and entirely dependent on the luck of the draw.  My middle daughter is having an amazing experience.  My oldest has had great years, medium years, and one god-awful year which, luckily, is not this year.  All in all, public school, with or without volunteering like crazy, has been a pretty good experience.

But, as middle school approaches, our parental anxieties start to heighten.  To be an informed consumer, I started to research private schools in our areas and, more importantly, studies on how children perform in public versus private school settings.  I found some very interesting and surprising results!

New York Times:  Public Schools Perform Near Private Ones in Study

But this is contradicted by a NAEP Study:                                                                                           
However, according to Science Daily:  Public Schools Outperform Private Schools in Math Instruction     
An article in the Christian Science Monitor found that “After accounting for students’ socioeconomic background, a new study shows public school children outperforming their private school peers on a federal math exam … When children of similar socioeconomic status were compared, the public school children scored higher.”
According to a University of Illinois study:  students in public schools learn as much or more math between kindergarten and fifth grade as similar students in private schools.  In their previous 2005 study, they found that public school students tested higher in math than their private school peers from similar social and economic backgrounds.  Their conclusion:   “school type alone doesn’t explain very much of why these scores vary … in truth, whether the school is public or private doesn’t seem to make that much difference.”
According to a CEP study (Center on Education Policy), private school students and public school students perform equally on achievement tests in math, reading, science, and history.  The one difference that CEP found between private schools and public schools involves SAT scores. According to the study, private school students have the edge on the SAT. The CEP notes that this could be because private schools tend to offer more test prep resources than do public schools. 
According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in its annual National Compensation Survey,  public school teachers are paid 61% more per hour than private school teachers, on average nationwide. 
Here’s a balanced article:  Public Versus Private.  Which is Right for Your Child? 
Here’s the Wall Street Journal’s 2007 list of Top High Schools by placement at top colleges.
Not that this is necessarily the end goal, but here’s an interesting article by the Wall Street Journal on How To Get Into Harvard.
Our conclusion, though by no means complete, goes something like this:  it is going to cost about $105k to put one child through private middle school.  If that money gets parked in their 529B college fund, it will (hopefully) increase to equal about 2 years of graduate school.  So…wouldn’t it be more impactful on their lives to have graduate school paid for so they are not in debt?  Wouldn’t that be worth going to public middle school?  That is the million, or rather $105k, question we currently ponder.

December 15, 2009

UCLA Study On Friendship Among Women: An alternative to fight or flight

Filed under: Random Topics — Pragmatic Mom @ 11:10 pm
Tags: ,

My friend sent me this study and it really rang true for me.  This is why we all like to hang out at Starbucks after drop-off!  It’s good for our health!

©2002 Gale Berkowitz

A landmark UCLA study suggests friendships between women are special. They shape who we are and who we are yet to be. They soothe our tumultuous inner world, fill the emotional gaps in our marriage, and help us remember who we really are. By the way, they may do even more. 

Scientists now suspect that hanging out with our friends can actually counteract the kind of stomach-quivering stress most of us experience on a daily basis. A landmark UCLA study suggests that women respond to stress with a cascade of brain chemicals that cause us to make and maintain friendships with other women. It’s a stunning find that has turned five decades of stress research—most of it on men—upside down. Until this study was published, scientists generally believed that when people experience stress, they trigger a hormonal cascade that revs the body to either stand and fight or flee as fast as possible, explains Laura Cousin Klein, Ph.D., now an Assistant Professor of Biobehavioral Health at Penn State University and one of the study’s authors. It’s an ancient survival mechanism left over from the time we were chased across the planet by saber-toothed tigers.

Now the researchers suspect that women have a larger behavioral repertoire than just fight or flight; In fact, says Dr. Klein, it seems that when the hormone oxytocin is release as part of the stress responses in a woman, it buffers the fight or flight response and encourages her to tend children and gather with other women instead. When she actually engages in this tending or befriending, studies suggest that more oxytocin is released, which further counters stress and produces a calming effect. This calming response does not occur in men, says Dr. Klein, because testosterone—which men produce in high levels when they’re under stress—seems to reduce the effects of oxytocin. Estrogen, she adds, seems to enhance it.

The discovery that women respond to stress differently than men was made in a classic “aha” moment shared by two women scientists who were talking one day in a lab at UCLA. There was this joke that when the women who worked in the lab were stressed, they came in, cleaned the lab, had coffee, and bonded, says Dr. Klein. When the men were stressed, they holed up somewhere on their own. I commented one day to fellow researcher Shelley Taylor that nearly 90% of the stress research is on males. I showed her the data from my lab, and the two of us knew instantly that we were onto something.

The women cleared their schedules and started meeting with one scientist after another from various research specialties. Very quickly, Drs. Klein and Taylor discovered that by not including women in stress research, scientists had made a huge mistake: The fact that women respond to stress differently than men has significant implications for our health.

It may take some time for new studies to reveal all the ways that oxytocin encourages us to care for children and hang out with other women, but the “tend and befriend” notion developed by Drs. Klein and Taylor may explain why women consistently outlive men. Study after study has found that social ties reduce our risk of disease by lowering blood pressure, heart rate, and cholesterol. There’s no doubt, says Dr. Klein, that friends are helping us live longer.

In one study, for example, researchers found that people who had no friends increased their risk of death over a 6-month period. In another study, those who had the most friends over a 9-year period cut their risk of death by more than 60%.

Friends are also helping us live better. The famed Nurses’ Health Study from Harvard Medical School found that the more friends women had, the less likely they were to develop physical impairments as they aged, and the more likely they were to be leading a joyful life. In fact, the results were so significant, the researchers concluded, that not having close friends or confidants was as detrimental to your health as smoking or carrying extra weight.

And that’s not all. When the researchers looked at how well the women functioned after the death of their spouse, they found that even in the face of this biggest stressor of all, those women who had a close friend and confidante were more likely to survive the experience without any new physical impairments or permanent loss of vitality. Those without friends were not always so fortunate. Yet if friends counter the stress that seems to swallow up so much of our life these days, if they keep us healthy and even add years to our life, why is it so hard to find time to be with them? That’s a question that also troubles researcher Ruthellen Josselson, Ph.D., co-author of Best Friends: The Pleasures and Perils of Girls’ and Women’s Friendships (Three Rivers Press, 1998). The following paragraph is, in my opinion, very, very true and something all women should be aware of and NOT put our female friends on the back burners.

Every time we get overly busy with work and family, the first thing we do is let go of friendships with other women, explains Dr. Josselson. We push the m right to the back burner. That’s really a mistake because women are such a source of strength to each other. We nurture one another. And we need to have unpressured space in which we can do the special kind of talk that women do when they’re with other women. It’s a very healing experience.

Taylor, S. E., Klein, L.C., Lewis, B. P., Gruenewald, T. L., Gurung, R. A. R., & Updegraff, J. A. Behaviorial Responses to Stress: Tend and Befriend, Not Fight or Flight” Psychol Rev, 107(3):41-429. (Full text of article in PDF format)

Geary DC, Flinn MV. Sex differences in behavioral and hormonal response to social threat: commentary on Taylor et al. Psychol Rev 2002 Oct;109(4):745-50; discussion 751-3

Cousino Klein L, Corwin EJ. Seeing the unexpected: how sex differences in stress responses may provide a new perspective on the manifestation of psychiatric disorders. Curr Psychiatry Rep. 2002 Dec;4(6):441-8.

A Note from Melissa Kaplan: I have been unable to locate Gail Berkowitz, the author of this above article, so please don’t write me to ask me how to contact her – you can Google or Yahoo her as well as I can. I also have no information on the studies referred to in the article; to find information on them, you can get reprints of the above referenced journal articles (Taylor, et al., Geary and Finn, Cousino Klein and Corwin) and ask the authors any questions you may have regarding study participants, methodology, etc. In the case of Taylor, et al., , read the abstract online and download the full text PDF of the journal article).

Women Over 40 by Andy Rooney of 60 Minutes

In case you missed it on ’60 Minutes’, this is what  Andy Rooney thinks about women over 40:  

60 Minutes Correspondent Andy Rooney (CBS)    
As I grow in age, I value women over 40 most of all.  Here are just a few reasons why:  
A woman over 40 will never wake you in the middle of the night and ask, ‘What are you thinking?’  She doesn’t care what you think.  
If a woman over 40 doesn’t want to watch the game, she doesn’t sit around whining about it.  She does something she wants to do.  And it’s usually something more interesting.
A woman over 40 knows herself well enough to be assured in who she is, what she is, what she wants and from whom.  Few women past the age of 40 give a damn what you might think of her or what she’s doing.
Women over 40 are dignified.  They seldom have a screaming match with you at the opera or in the middle of an expensive restaurant.  of course, if you deserve it, they won’t hesitate to shoot you if they think they can get away with it…
Older women are generous with praise, often undeserved.  They know what it’s like to be unappreciated.
Women get psychic as they age.  You never have to confess your sins to a woman over 40.  They always know.
Once you get past a wrinkle or two, a woman over 40 is far sexier than her younger counterpart. 
Older women are forthright and honest. They’ll tell you right off you are a jerk if you are acting like one. You don’t ever have to wonder where you stand with her…
Yes, we praise women over 40 for a multitude of reasons.  Unfortunately, it’s not reciprocal.  For every stunning, smart, well-coiffed, hot woman over 40, there is a bald, paunchy relic in yellow pants making a fool of himself with some 22-year old waitress.  
Ladies, I apologize for all of us.
Andy Rooney
For all those men who say, ‘Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?’, here’s an update for you.  Nowadays 80% of women are against marriage.  

Why? Because women realize it’s not worth buying an entire pig just to get a little sausage!    
Andy Rooney is a really smart guy!

December 14, 2009

Great Birthday Presents Around $20

One of my mom friends asked for this category.  We just had two birthday parties so I was able to ask my kids what they liked the most from their stack of gifts.  I also periodically check Marshalls and T. J. Maxx for birthday party gifts to stock up my supply– hidden from the kids, of course!.  A great gift for girls is a blank or lined diary or fancy notepad and the Marshalls near my house seems to almost always have great ones for half-off which I like to give with a book (you know me, I love books!). 

To purchase any of the items, click on the image to buy at

Gifts for the Artistically Inclined

Mr. Sketch Smelly Markers, $13.30 

Smencils.  Pencils with a scent.  $14.95 for regular pencils (1st item); colored pencil 10-pack $10.99 (2nd item)

Artist to Artist:  23 Major Illustrators Talk to Children About Their Art.  Eric Carle Museum of Picture Books. $19.80

Window Mosaic, $15.95.  Make a mosiac to hang on your window.

Window Markers.  My kids LOVE to write and draw on their windows.  Easy wipe off!  $6.32

Bead Bazaar Bead Symphony Bead Kit.

Jewelry Box Sticker Mosaics.  $14.99


Friendship Bracelet Wheel by Alex.  $12.51

Gifts for Mad Scientists

Perfumery.  $16.99.  Mix your own perfumes.

Bubble Gum Factory.  Make your own bubble gum.  $19.98.

Scientific Explorer, A Kit for  Studying the Science of Disgusting Things.  $14.67.


Gobbet Junior, tic-tac-toe in 3D.  $18.95

Rush Hour, A Game of Strategy with Cars.  $19.99

Monopoly.  $12.99

Apples to Apples Party Box:  The Game of Hilarious Comparisons. $23.41


 Topple.  $9.99



Kite, $24.26

Spy Watch, $14.72

The Gender Dilemma: Is it a Girl or Is it a Boy?

Filed under: Age: Infant & Toddler,Parenting — Pragmatic Mom @ 2:23 pm
Tags: ,

 This is a great article written by my mom friend and neighbor.  It also appeared in Parents and Kids Magazine 2003.

By Roberta Martone Pavia

When we received the call confirming my pregnancy, our initial reaction was one of disbelief, followed by feelings of unbridled joy. This jumble of emotions, normal for many parents-to-be, surprised not only myself and my husband, but also our friends, who, for the past four years, had shared with us the rollercoaster ride that defines infertility. During much of that time my husband and I were plagued with doubts and indecision: Are we doing the right thing? Will we make good parents? Can we adapt our carefree double income, no kids lifestyle? And, most importantly, do we want to?

But when I finally heard the news, all those doubts and indecisions were erased in a flash. After years of trying and turmoil, the miracle had finally happened. We were ecstatic. However, the euphoria was short lived. Just a few weeks after we heard the news, I also heard a voice inside my head began to nag: what if the baby is a boy?

I hadn’t admitted to anyone, except my husband, how much I coveted a girl. At first my husband tried to brush off my obsession. But as he watched me become more obsessed with the idea of a girl baby, he panicked, fearing I wouldn’t know how to love a boy child. I tried to explain that love was not the issue. I could love a stone. It’s just that, although the logic escaped me, I craved a little girl.

Please understand it’s not that I dislike the male species. On the contrary, I adore men and little boys, as well as most of the stages in between. It’s just that I never really warmed to the idea of raising a boy. All those stereotypes of roughneck kids punching and kicking and sweating were foreign to me. Growing up with two sisters and no brothers had definitely colored my world toward the pink end of the spectrum. I was a girly-girl eschewing little league for ballet classes and soccer games for mud-pie making. I loved dolls and dress up and china dishes.

Now, as I looked ahead to the future it held a decidedly rosy hue. I pictured my daughter and her little girlfriends hosting dainty tea parties with their dolls. I daydreamed about dance recitals and pink tutus. I remembered with poignancy those mother-daughter shopping excursions I so loved as a teenager. What did I know of fire engines and racecars? Baseball and battlefields? And, more importantly, what did I want to know of them?

Yet, why did this obsession with the feminine gender continue to grow? Did I subconsciously want to live my life over through a daughter? Was it because I never had my fill of dolls and frilly dresses as a child? The answer eluded me, and, as I struggled with my guilt, I fervently hoped this obsession would be supplanted by the anticipation of the birth I so longed for. Happily, for the next few months, it was.

As I focused on my progressing pregnancy and the health of this unborn child, with each passing week I breathed a sign of relief that all was well. As the months passed and my knowledge of the process grew, I realized how truly fragile and precarious this tiny being was. Fact: with my statistics — 40-plus, no previous pregnancies, fertility drugs – I had a 50 percent chance of losing the baby during the first three months. Luckily, that percentage dropped to a low two percent once I passed the first trimester.

Yet, even as I grew more secure in my pregnancy, that other concern began to resurface. Evidently it wasn’t enough that I was healthy and pregnant. I wanted more. I wanted a girl. I wrestled with my guilt. How could I even think these thoughts? I should be and was thankful to be pregnant while older friends all around me were struggling with adoption and infertility.

I began to take it as an omen that strangers and friends alike looked me over and pronounced authoritatively: It’s a boy. I would argue – sometimes vehemently – to the contrary. But with each passing day, I became less sure. And, finally, I resolved to prepare for a boy. Just in case.

As the birth date approached, we scoured books for likeable boys’ names. Needless to say, we had first, second, and third choices for the female nomenclature. But after a relatively short research period, to our surprise, we found a likeable boy’s name. As I pondered the masculine name and all it implied, slowly, tentatively I began to embrace the idea of a baby boy. Maybe it would be fun to experience all of the things I had never experienced as a little girl.

Finally D-day, or rather in my case, delivery week arrived. I was in the throes of labor, which consisted of one week of hospital rest, four days of inducement, four hours of active labor, and ultimately, an emergency Cesarean section. Having made it this far, I found myself, like countless others before me, just praying for a healthy baby. Boy, girl, blond, brunette, redhead. Suddenly none of that mattered and what was most important was the health of the baby. So, when the attending physician said those magic words, I truly could have cared less. My only question was whether or not the baby was OK. Today, the baby and I are doing just fine. And, oh, by the way, it’s a girl. Now we’re pining for a little brother to keep her company.

December 13, 2009

Best Investment Toys (That Her Kids Played with for Years)

I have always lived in small spaces with my family.  Baby 1 lived in a 550 square foot, one bedroom apartment and two parents.  Baby 2 lived in an 1100 square foot condo with baby 1 and two parents.  Now my family of 5 lives in a small house.  Thus I find it necessary, as always,  to purge toys at least four times a year.  In fact,  as a rule, I tell my kids that for every incoming toy there must be an outgoing one. 

If I knew then what I know now, I would NOT have picked 80% of the toys that I bought.  Instead, I would have saved up for this short list of  toys.  Another idea is to have a wish list that close family friends and relatives contribute towards.  At the end of day, toys that stand the test of time are actually less expensive on a “cost per play” basis than a toy that gets purged within the year.

1) Pragmatic Mom’s Favorite Toy Kitchen

Hands down, I found that simpler is better.  This kitchen is more fun, more creative, more versatile and has great storage to boot.  Her favorite toy kitchen came used from a preschool but you can buy it new from Community Playthings (  Yes, it is crazy expensive but it lasts and lasts.  If I were to only buy one piece, I’d buy the stove ($225).  If you can get two pieces, the second piece I’d suggest is the sink. (

These toys really do last.  When I got our kitchen (stove, sink and hutch) from a preschool, the kitchen set  was probably at least  25 years old.  After a quick clean up, it was as good as new.  My kids played with it non-stop for 5 years, and then donated it to another preschool where it will have another 50 years of life, no doubt.

2) Pragmatic Mom’s Favorite Blocks

Again, Community Playthings is the “go to” source for large, heavy blocks that can be turned into anything your child imagines.  I bought two sets of blocks (hollow blocks and mini-hollow)  in lieu of putting her kids in camp six summers ago and the kids still play with these blocks now.  URL is:

I don’t own the unit blocks but her kids play with them non-stop at preschool.  They are great too.  

3) Pragmatic Mom’s Favorite Building Toy

Pragmatic Mom learned about these gems on a playdate:  Translucent Magna Tiles.  You can buy them online at amazon or find them in a local toy store.   They are pricey at around $120  for the 100 tile set, and sadly, 100 tiles isn’t quite enough.  Two sets are much more versatile.  But this toy is amazing.  The tiles snap together magnetically to create anything from a castle to a disco floor.  My preschool uses them with a light table so that kids can stack tiles to learn about combining colors.  That’s fun but a light table is NOT coming into my house!

Pragmatic Mom welcomes your ideas of investment toys that you thought were worth the money!

4) Cash register, $40.37.   We had to buy more play money and the yellow piece keeps getting lost that my kids still play with this!

5) Melissa and Doug cutting food box, $16.30.  My kids love this toy and we still have all the pieces after more than 4  years!

6) The plastic picnic food and the fruit and vegetable set all work really well with the kitchen set.  These sets  from Learning Resources cost about $22.99 each and were worth every penny!

7) My kids STILL are playing with the toy blender ($20.66)  and mixer ($20.85) but now they are mixing their own concoctions and drinking them. 

8) Razor Scooter ($28.50).  We have three and it never seems like we have enough especially when friends are over.  Just make sure everyone wears a helmet and label your scooters because ours always seem to get mixed up with our neighbors!  They come in different colors as well.

9)  iPod Touch ($179.99).  My girls received the iPod Nano last year for Christmas and I have to admit that it’s been well utilized all year.  They don’t mind watching movies on the small screen which meant we didn’t have to lug portable DVD players on vacation.  They want the iPod Touch…but we’re not upgrading just yet.

The gadget to the right of  the iPod is called the Cinemin Swivel Multimedia Pico Projector.  At $305, it’s pricey, but I put it next to the iPod because you use it with your iPod to project movies onto walls.  My middle daughter got it recently for Christmas, and she has been using it non-stop.  It’s a cool gadget, but expensive.

10) Nintendo DS ($149.99).  My girls had earned a DS a few years ago by completing a complete workbook during the summer (bribery works!).  Their little brother got one for his 4th birthday and our neighbor’s son, two years over, came running over after perusing our recycling bin saying, “he can’t have a DS yet; he’s too young!”  Be it as it may, my son does know how the use his DS.  My mom friend said her son loves the video feature in the new models. 

While my kids all like their DS and play on them frequently, they are not addicted to them.  They are much more addicted to TV.  I bought a few educational games like Spanish and a vocabulary game and just last night, my oldest was saying how much fun the Spanish game is.  Go figure!  We do have piles of DS games that they don’t seem to use anymore.  I hear that I can sell them or trade them in somewhere.  Here’s the link for that:

11) Mini Kick Scooter.  My sister in California gets the cool stuff.  She raves about this.  Similar to the Razor scooter but requires more balancing.  Goes about as fast as a Razor Scooter.  $80.

Best Math Workbooks for Home Supplementation

Pragmatic Mom finds that no matter how good your elementary school is, there is always a need to supplement your child’s math curriculum at home.  For some of my kids, they needed additional challenge that their school was not providing.  For another child, I found that she needed more individualized attention to really “get it.”  All of my kids benefited from additional math fact drills, and home supplementation helped me to understand how my child learns and exactly what each child needed additional practice on.

I find these math workbooks to be very helpful.  I like to start my kindergartener in a word problem book by Evan-Moore which emulates the Chicago Math program, Everyday Math.  I find that introducing word problems at an early age helps my kids get an intuitive feel for translating words into number sentences.  At this stage, most of the problems are adding or subtracting so word problem translation to number sentences is simpler.  Then, when my kids face word problems in 3rd grade, they are not scared of them.

I like to start my  kindergartener on the First Grade book usually the summer before 1st grade.  This is a really fun book that my kids all actually loved doing.  They generally would do about half the book during the summer and finish up by year-end.  We could do 1-3 weeks in a sitting with my child begging to do more.  Really!  True story!

Daily Word Problems:  Student Practice Books. Grade 1 for incoming Grade 1 summer practice.  Publisher:  Evan-Moor.  Also at Lakeshore Learning. I recommend using the incoming grade book for summer practice  (i.e. going into 4th grade summer, use 4th grade book). Click on image of book to buy through

I  have my kids doing these books as both summer supplementation and supplementation through the year.  I also recommend the Singapore Math curriculum for additional supplementation.  Singapore Math is the curriculum used in Singapore which ranks usually 1st or 2nd in the world in math test scores.   Once you see their system, it’s easy to understand why.  The concepts are presented in a VISUAL and easy-to-understand way.  There is also adequate drill for mastering concepts which Everyday Math does not have.

Singapore Versus U. S. Math:  We Lose.  Singaporean students rank 1st in the world in mathematics on the TIMS and U.S. students rank 16th. …

Here’s a link to a study that rates Singapore best in Math, Science for 7th & 8th graders:

Compare your city’s math scores to the rest of the worlds.  FYI, Singapore scored the highest.

This is an interesting article from the New York Times by Benedict Carey published on December 20, 2009, about how children are capable of learning math at a young age.  They note that some of these methods have been successful in overcoming dyslexia.   Here’s the link:

Pragmatic Mom understands that it’s a lot to get your child to do two different workbooks at home.  I suggest using just the Singapore Math Text Book which is in color and has some drill as well.  Because the Singapore Math curriculum is also in a different sequence than Everyday Math, you will need to pick and choose chapters that reflect what your child is learning.  Use the Singapore Math Text Book to explain a concept your child is confused about and then do the problems in that section.  Alternately, follow the curriculum to challenge your child who is bored with their math curriculum at school and go one grade ahead.

Pragmatic Mom recommends using the book number as correlated to your child’s grade even though the books state one grade lower than the number listed.  If you click on the book, it will take you to Amazon to purchase.

For preschool, 1 year before kindergarten.  Earlybird Kindergarten 1A and 1B.

For incoming Kindergarten.  Earlybird Kindergarten 2A and 2B.

For incoming 1st grade, Primary Mathematics 1A and 1B.

For incoming 2nd grade, Primary Mathematics Textbook 2A and 2B.

For incoming grade 3.

For incoming grade 4.  (It says on the book that this is for grade 5, but it correlates to grade 4 at my school).

For incoming grade 5.

December 12, 2009

Birth Order and Personality

I clipped this a long time ago from a paper, but I’m not sure where but it may have been from The Boston Parent Paper.  I also read The Birth Order Book:  Why You Are What You Are by Dr. Kevin Leman because it was kind of fun to see what traits are associated with birth order.  One caveat, if there are large gaps between ages, the birth order switched around.  For example, if the youngest child has a ten-year gap between his two older siblings, this child is really an “only child.”  Likewise, a middle child of three girls is a true middle child but a middle child of girl, girl, boy is ALSO the youngest girl.

Take this quiz to see to what degree classic birth-order characteristics run in your family.  (This is a pretty accurate description of my three kids, give or take a few!).


  • Responsible
  • Conservative
  • Doesn’t make waves
  • Follows parents’ wishes
  • Emotionally intense
  • Authoritarian
  • Perfectionist
  • Driven
  • Surrogate parent
  • Leadership material


  • Peacemaker
  • Negotiator
  • Highly attuned to the needs of others
  • Doesn’t like to follow authority
  • Creative
  • Independent
  • Peer-focused
  • “Chameleon”


  • Comical/entertaining
  • Highly social
  • Laid back
  • Dependent
  • Creative
  • Unconventional
  • Few expectations of self

Recipe for a Good Marriage

I clipped out this article years ago and saved it in my scrapbook of recipes.  The article, and I have no idea where I clipped it from, suggested that you cut out the list and keep in your wedding album.  This is from psychologist Judith Wallerstein’s book The Good Marriage:  How and Why Love Lasts.  She considers this set of tasks essential to maintaining a strong marriage.  To buy the book, just click on the image of the book to purchase at

Recipe for a Good Marriage

– Separate emotionally from the family of your childhood so you can fully invest in your marriage.

– Build intimacy while also respecting your partner’s autonomy.

– Embrace parenthood and absorb the impact of children on your life while working to protect your privacy.

– Strive to confront and master the inevitable crises of life.  Provide nurturing and comfort to each other in times of adversity, satisfying each other’s need for dependency and offering continual encouragement and support.

– Create a safe haven for the expression of anger and conflict.

– Establish a rich and pleasurable sexual relationship, and protect it from intrusions of the workplace and family.

– Use humor to keep things in perspective, and avoid boredom by sharing interests and friends.

– Keep alive your early, idealized images of falling in love, but accept the reality of changes wrought by time.

December 10, 2009

Favorite ABC Books

I found that a great way to learn letters was to play games with magnetic letters.  I deconstructed various toys to create an “alphabet game” using squishy magnetic letters (but any magnetic letters in the shape of the letters will do) and a magnetic fishing pole.  My son (about 12 months old at the time) would fish letters out of a bucket and stick them on a magnetic board.  If he got them wrong, I’d find the correct letter and put up next to the letter.  We’d talk about how is it the same and how is it different.  Another variation would be to sort all the letters on the board by color and identify them (my letters were randomly in four colors).  Or try to make an alphabet train by putting the letters in order.  We’d play this game 3 or 4 times a week for about 5 to 10 minutes; always letting my son initiate the game, and ending it as soon as his interest waned.  It was a fun way to learn letters.  After my son learned upper case letters, we added in lower case letters.

These are our favorite alphabet books.  Ok, to be more correct, I didn’t mind reading these books incessantly to my child.  To purchase, click on the picture of the book to buy at

Maisy’s ABC (lift the flap, pull the tab) by Lucy Cousins.  The first children’s book we ever purchased and still a favorite!  Toddlers will love lifting the flaps and pulling the tabs. 






Robert Crowther’s Most Amazing Hide and Seek ABC Alphabet Book by Robert Crowthers.  The book completely lives up to its title!  My kids loved pulling the tabs and lifting the flaps!  This was the book responsible for teaching all my kids their letters.


A Was An Apple Pie by Etienne Delessert.  Finally, an alphabet book with both upper and lower case letters  plus beautiful illustrations, but beware, it will make you hungry for apple pie!






Eating the Alphabet by Lois Ehlert.  I love Lois Ehlert’s gorgeous illustrations and hopefully this will encourage your children to eat their fruits and veggies!

The Absolutely Awful Alphabet by Mordecai Gerstein.  Chock full of SAT level adjectives to help build your child’s vocabulary!  For kids who love words.






A is for ? A Photographers’s Alphabet of Animals by Henry Horenstein.  You and your child will have fun guessing which animal from Horenstein’s wonderful photographs.






Chicka Chica Boom Boom by Bill Martin Jr.   A fun rhyming book that is easy to memorize and chant all day long!






I Stink by Kate McMullen.  Pragmatic Mom’s neighbor with two small boys highly recommend this book.  [ages 3-7]





The Dinosaur Alphabet Book by Jerry Pallotta.  If your child is very interested in dinosaurs, this is a great book because each letter is about a dinosaur with a paragraph of interesting information to captivate both child and adult.





The Handmade Alphabet by Laura Rankin.  Learn the alphabet in sign language.






A Big and little Alphabet by Liz Rosenberg.  This is great because it shows lower case AND upper case letters.





Alligators All Around by Maurice Sendak.  We like to sing the story. 






Max’s ABC by Rosemary Wells.  Rosemary Wells creates a story out of the letters of the alphabet.  Pragmatic Mom’s son is especially fond of Max and Ruby.

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