Pragmatic Mom

February 4, 2010

Choosing a Music Teacher

My sister is a piano teacher in California.  She has a three-year wait list and her students have rich and rigorous experience that includes not just the requisite recital, but monthly performance workshops, classical musical competitions, and juried piano recitals to earn certifications of merit.  Her students are serious about piano and practice everyday and the time commitment is a significant one.

Our  piano teacher is less rigorous than my sister because I had to coax my children into taking piano lessons.  Our teacher is less rigorous, and the repertoire is less classical.  My oldest dabbled in piano for 5 years then recently switched to flute with a new teacher who flute studio is more similar to my sister’s approach.  But because my oldest truly loves to play flute, she can commit to high level of dedication and daily practice sessions have become less of a chore for her.

My experience with choosing a music teacher is:

  • Pick a teacher whose personality is compatible with both your child and you.  This is potentially a long relationship and your  music teacher will start to feel like part of the family.  …and breaking up is hard to do!
  • While there are advantages to starting music lessons early, there are also drawbacks.  Make sure that your child’s first experience with music teacher (instrument not mommy and  me classes) is a positive one so your child doesn’t get turned off permanently.
  • I have talked to professional musicians who have said that a particular instrument “called out” to them and sometimes at an surprisingly early age.  Listen to what your child says if she repeatedly asks for music lessons for a particular instrument.  That being said, give your child the opportunity to try many instruments. “Quitting” an instrument doesn’t necessarily mean your child is a quitter.   And transferring from one instrument to another does not necessarily mean starting all over again from the bottom.  My oldest started with piano, took percussion in 4th grade, quit percussion after 1 month, but then found the flute and loves it.  My sense is that she will be playing flute for a long, long time!
  • Getting your child to practice on a daily basis is never easy.  It’s the rare child who will initiate practice on her own on a consistent basis.  Apparently there are bookshelves full of books on how to get your child to practice.  I’ll research and blog on this particular topic later.

This MTNA article can be helpful when trying to select a music teacher.  Link:

Choosing a Music Teacher

How Do I Find the Right Teacher?

You’ll want a teacher who will inspire and nurture a student’s musical growth and instill lifelong love of music. When seeking a music teacher:

  • Consult with friends, family and others who are acquainted with teachers in your community.
  • Ask for recommendations from local music teacher organizations, music stores,  schools or churches.
  • Arrange to interview prospective teachers, in person if possible, before making a commitment.
  • Ask permission to attend a recital of the prospective teacher’s students.  (this is a good one because you can “see” ahead as to what kind of progress you can expect from this teacher!)

How do I Interview Prospective Teachers?

Teachers are willing and eager to explain their techniques and objectives. The following are types of questions to ask during the interview:

  • What is your professional and educational experience in music?
  • What is your teaching experience? What age groups do you teach?
  • How do you participate in ongoing professional development?
  • Are you nationally certified by MTNA?
  • Do you have a written studio policy? Will you review it with me?
  • Do you regularly evaluate student progress?
  • What instructional materials do you use?
  • What kinds of music do you teach?
  • What other elements are part of your teaching curriculum?
  • Do you offer group lessons?
  • Do you require students to perform in studio recitals during the year?
  • Do you offer other performance opportunities for your students, such as festivals and competitions?
  • Do you use technology in your studio, such as computers, music instruction software, digital keyboards?
  • How much practice time do you require each day?
  • What do you expect of your students? Their parents?

What is the Parent’s Role?

Parental support in the learning process is vital. Whether or not you know anything about music, take time to listen to your child play, provide exclusive practice time on a quality instrument, and celebrate his or her continued accomplishments.

How is Music Beneficial for All Learners

Today there are unprecedented reasons for making music a part of everyone’s life.

Students taking music lessons now will determine the place of music in America and the value society places on music tomorrow. Regardless of what these students ultimately choose a profession, music making will remain a part of their lives, whether it’s listening to music, attending concerts or serving as leaders in arts associations, and community and church music programs.

Benefits of Music Study:

  • Hearing music stimulates the mind.
  • Music instruction enhances abstract reasoning skills.
  • Grade school students who took music lessons generally scored higher on cognitive development tests.
  • In older people, music helps lower depression and decreases loneliness.
  • Playing an instrument strengthens eye-hand coordination and fine motor skills.
  • Music lessons teach discipline, dedication and enable students to achieve goals.

How Important is MTNA Certification?

MTNA’s Professional Certification Program exists to improve the level of professionalism within the field of music teaching and helps the public readily identify competent music teachers in their communities. A Nationally Certified Teacher of Music (NCTM) has demonstrated competence in professional preparation, teaching practices, ethical business management and lifelong learning. An MTNA certified teacher is your best source to facilitate musical learning in an environment that encourages student confidence, independence, teamwork and high achievement. To date, more than 3,500 teachers across the United States have earned the NCTM designation.

My personal take on MTNA certification is that it is not a deal breaker.  (This article is from the MTNA so take this last paragraph with a grain of salt).  My understanding of MTNA certification is that it’s wonderful but also a time-consuming process to apply so not all teachers are willing to go through this.  Type A personalities will tend towards “certifications” but a certification is not necessarily a stamp of approval  that this is a wonderful music teacher for your particular child.

February 2, 2010

Welcome to Pragmatic Mom!

I’m a mom with three kids, ages 10, 7 and 5  and I live in a suburb outside of Boston.  I’ve been a full-time bread-winner (with my first child — my husband stayed home with her), a stay-at-home mom (with my second child because my husband said that if he had to stay home with two kids he’d be forced to leave us), and a part-time, outside-the- home wage earner/stay-at-home mom (just recently and coinciding with my third child’s 4 hour day at preschool).

Over the years, I’ve found that I wished I’ve saved all the mom advice I have either learned from mom friends or learned the hard way.  Now, I’m documenting it in hopes that it will be useful to you.  Topics include:  Best Investment Toys, Favorite Picture Books You’ve Never Heard Of, Favorite Books for Reluctant Boy Readers, Easy Dinners,  Getting Rid of Lice, Short List of Baby Equipment, Supplemental Education Tools for Phonics and Math, Birthday Presents for Around $20, and How to Set up a Book Club for your kids.

I blog everyday, more or less.  My blog is a virtual scrapbook for the all clippings and pieces of information that I used to save or try to remember.  My house is much cleaner as is my email box now that I can transfer and organize my “stuff.”   The topics I cover range from parenting to supplemental home education workbooks to learning foreign languages to cooking.   This clearing of paper is good feng shui for my house!

I am especially interested in children’s literature.  This is a return to my childhood when I was a professional geek and read every fiction and biography book  in my elementary school library.  True story:  I got called out of class one day because the school librarian said that I had checked out thirty books and my limit was two.  Well…I did read them all and sadly, not all of them were good.  It’s been a real pleasure for me to read children’s literature now, 30 years later than my elementary school experience.  What a lot of amazing books have been written since then!  I am eager to share these plus old favorites as well as other topics that I grapple with or catch my attention.  I usually read every book that I list and it sometimes takes me a day or two to read each book so if you are interested in the book lists, I do frequently add as I discover new books.  My opinion of what age the book is appropriate for, is just that, my humble opinion, but I also do consult book lists from libraries both to find new books and to place the books into age slots.  It’s especially tricky to place 4 & 5th grade versus middle school because it is a content call.

Any of the items pictured can be purchased on Amazon by clicking on the image.  Please let me know if there are other topics of interest to you and please share your advice!   You can email me at

Together, we can get through the ups and downs of parenting.  Thank you for visiting my blog!

NY Times Article: Foreign Languages Fade EXCEPT Chinese…

A Mom Friend at my elementary school sent me this article and asked me to comment on it for my blog.  She speaks Chinese and French and wants to start her children on both languages as well.

I believe deeply that this generation of children must learn two foreign languages if they are to play a part in this new global economy and that, sadly, the United States, is and will no longer be at the epicenter of the world.  I have heard that at our public high school, the college counselors are telling the high school students that top colleges want to see fluency in TWO foreign languages.
Then at work, the other day, I had a long conversation with a colleague at work whose husband is Finnish; he speaks 3 languages AND English.  We were saying that everywhere else in the world, it’s NORMAL to learn two other languages.  And I was at another dinner at Bentley College for folks who teach entrepreneurship at business schools, and these two professors from the Middle East who work in the U.K. spoke an amazing 7-9 languages.  And I made them explain exactly how and when they learned them.  (Secret:  they start early and keep adding).

But I am also remembering that when I was in college in the 1980’s, there was a wave of urgency for everyone to learn Russian.  But then the Soviet Union disintegrated and no one cared about the Russian language anymore.  Does anyone remember that?  And then there was this wave when everyone wanted to either teach English in Japan or learn Japanese about a decade later when I was in graduate school.  I myself started taking Japanese lessons after a short stint in Japan.

But, I do believe that as far as I can see, it’s probably prudent to learn Chinese.  It is never a disadvantage in life or in one’s career to speak another language.  AND it’s a tough language, so if you really want to be able to speak it with some proficiency, you better start early in order toto nail the pronunciation (tonal language; 4 tones so each tone is a different word even though the letter sound is the same).  My Chinese tutor tells me, as I do not speak Mandarin Chinese, that while there is a lot of vocabulary, there is very little grammar.  Once you have the pronounciation conquered and learn an immense amount of vocabulary (plus characters; one for each word!), it’s all downhill!

I  also have my kids learning Spanish.  It’s much easier to pronounce the words though we are struggling to roll our “r’s.”  It’s actually the opposite of Chinese in my mind; there isn’t as many vocabulary words as English, but the grammar, particularly those pesky irregular verbs, is enough to make you crazy!

As I see it, if you can speak English, Chinese and Spanish, you are covering a large chunk of the world.  Just add a little Farsi, and you are good to go!

Here’s my schedule.

English:  as a baby

Spanish:  as a toddler/preschooler through high school

Chinese:  as an elementary schooler through high school

Farsi:  in college

If you are inspired to start introducing foreign languages to your children, I have a blog entry on the products I use.

Here is the link to the article whichis about how America may be cutting back on Foreign Language instruction, but there is a surge of interest in Mandarin Chinese:

I also have the article duplicated below:

Foreign Languages Fade in Class — Except Chinese

Brendan Hoffman for The New York Times

The Yu Ying charter school has recruited five native Chinese speakers living in the United States to teach their classes.

// //

Published: January 20, 2010
WASHINGTON — Thousands of public schools stopped teaching foreign languages in the last decade, according to a government-financed survey — dismal news for a nation that needs more linguists to conduct its global business and diplomacy.

But another contrary trend has educators and policy makers abuzz: a rush by schools in all parts of America to offer instruction in Chinese.

Some schools are paying for Chinese classes on their own, but hundreds are getting some help. The Chinese government is sending teachers from China to schools all over the world — and paying part of their salaries.

At a time of tight budgets, many American schools are finding that offer too good to refuse.

In Massillon, Ohio, south of Cleveland, Jackson High School started its Chinese program in the fall of 2007 with 20 students and now has 80, said Parthena Draggett, who directs Jackson’s world languages department.

“We were able to get a free Chinese teacher,” she said. “I’d like to start a Spanish program for elementary children, but we can’t get a free Spanish teacher.”

(Jackson’s Chinese teacher is not free; the Chinese government pays part of his compensation, with the district paying the rest.)

No one keeps an exact count, but rough calculations based on the government’s survey suggest that perhaps 1,600 American public and private schools are teaching Chinese, up from 300 or so a decade ago. And the numbers are growing exponentially.

Among America’s approximately 27,500 middle and high schools offering at least one foreign language, the proportion offering Chinese rose to 4 percent, from 1 percent, from 1997 to 2008, according to the survey, which was done by the Center for Applied Linguistics, a research group in Washington, and paid for by the federal Education Department.

“It’s really changing the language education landscape of this country,” said Nancy C. Rhodes, a director at the center and co-author of the survey.

Other indicators point to the same trend. The number of students taking the Advanced Placement test in Chinese, introduced in 2007, has grown so fast that it is likely to pass German this year as the third most-tested A.P. language, after Spanish and French, said Trevor Packer, a vice president at the College Board.

“We’ve all been surprised that in such a short time Chinese would grow to surpass A.P. German,” Mr. Packer said.

A decade ago, most of the schools with Chinese programs were on the East and West Coasts. But in recent years, many schools have started Chinese programs in heartland states, including Ohio and Illinois in the Midwest, Texas and Georgia in the South, and Colorado and Utah in the Rocky Mountain West.

“The mushrooming of interest we’re seeing now is not in the heritage communities, but in places that don’t have significant Chinese populations,” said Chris Livaccari, an associate director at the Asia Society.

America has had the study of a foreign language grow before, only to see the bubble burst. Many schools began teaching Japanese in the 1980s, after Japan emerged as an economic rival. But thousands have dropped the language, the survey found.

Japanese is not the only language that has declined. Thousands of schools that offered French, German or Russian have stopped teaching those languages, too, the survey found.

To prepare the survey, the Center for Applied Linguistics sent a questionnaire to 5,000 American schools, and followed up with phone calls to 3,200 schools, getting a 76 percent response rate.

The results, released last year, confirmed that Spanish was taught almost universally. The survey found that 88 percent of elementary schools and 93 percent of middle and high schools with language programs offered Spanish in 2008.

The overall decline in language instruction was mostly due to its abrupt decline in public elementary and middle schools; the number of private schools and public high schools offering at least one language remained stable from 1997 to 2008.

The survey said that a third of schools reported that the federal No Child Left Behind law, which since 2001 has required public schools to test students in math and English, had drawn resources from foreign languages.

Experts said several factors were fueling the surge in Chinese. Parents, students and educators recognize China’s emergence as an important country and believe that fluency in its language can open opportunities.

Also stoking the interest has been a joint program by the College Board and Hanban, a language council affiliated with the Chinese Education Ministry, that since 2006 has sent hundreds of American school superintendents and other educators to visit schools in China, with travel costs subsidized by Hanban. Many have started Chinese programs upon their return.

Since 2006, Hanban and the College Board have also sent more than 325 volunteer Chinese “guest teachers” to work in American schools with fledgling programs and paying $13,000 to subsidize each teacher’s salary for a year. Teachers can then renew for up to three more years.

The State Department has paid for a smaller program — the Teachers of Critical Languages Program — to bring Chinese teachers to schools here, with each staying for a year.

In the first two years of its Chinese program, the Jackson District in Ohio said it had provided its guest teacher housing, a car and gasoline, health insurance and other support worth about $26,000. This year, the district is paying a more experienced Chinese guest teacher $49,910 in salary and other support, in addition to the $13,000 in travel expenses he receives from Hanban, bringing his compensation into rough parity with Ohio teachers.

Ms. Draggett visited China recently with a Hanban-financed delegation of 400 American educators from 39 states, and she came back energized about Jackson’s Chinese program, she said.

“Chinese is really taking root,” she said. Starting this fall, Jackson High will begin phasing out its German program, she said.

Founders of the Yu Ying charter school in Washington, where all classes for 200 students in prekindergarten through second grade are taught in Chinese and English on alternate days, did not start with a guest teacher when it opened in the fall of 2008.

“That’s great for many schools, but we want our teachers to stay,” said Mary Shaffner, the school’s executive director.

Instead, Yu Ying recruited five native Chinese speakers living in the United States by advertising on the Internet. One is Wang Jue, who immigrated to the United States in 2001 and graduated from the University of Maryland.

After just four months, her prekindergarten students can already say phrases like “I want lunch” and “I’m angry” in Chinese, Ms. Wang said.

January 28, 2010

13 Ways to Raise a Non Reader

by Dean Schneider and Robin Smith

I found this poster by Horn Book at my preschool.  One of our assistant teachers was a children’s librarian and got this at a library conference.  Hope you love it as much as I do.  Because, of course, we all want to raise kids who hate books!  🙂

1.  Never Read where your children can see you.

2.  Put a TV or Computer in every room.  Don’t neglect the bathrooms and kitchen.

3.  Correct Your Child every time she mispronounces a word.

4.  Schedule Activities every day after school so your child will never get bored.

5.  Once your child can read independently, Throw Out The Picture Books.  They’re for babies!

6.  Don’t Play board games together.  Too dull.

7.  Give little Rewards for reading.  Stickers and plastic toys are good.  Money is even better.

8.  Don’t expect your children to enjoy reading.  Kids’ books are for Teaching vocabulary, proper study habits, and good morals.

9.  Buy only 40-Watt Bulbs for your lamps.

10.  Under NO circumstances, read your child the same book Over and Over.  She heard it once.  She should remember it.

11.  Never allow your children to listen to Books on Tape, that’s cheating.

12.  Make sure your kids only read books that are “challenging.”  Easy Books are a complete waste of time.  That goes double for comic books and Mad Magazine.

13.  Absolutely, positively No Reading in Bed!

January 23, 2010

How To Get An Athletic Scholarship (or Get Into Your Reach School)

Even if your child does not appear to be the next Tiger Woods, Mia Hamm or other atheletic superstar doesn’t mean that athletic ability won’t have any bearing during the college admission process.  If you can follow these tips and tricks and particularly the dos and don’ts, you will be ahead of the game!  As the parent, you will have a backseat, no doubt, during this arduous process of getting your child into his or her dream school, but knowledge is everything.  My mom friend neighbor, who is a Varsity Coach with 14 scholarships, advised me that s/he who prepares early for this process can change the admissions outcome.  It’s a game like any other.  So read on.  This a game changer!

First of all, realize that there are NCAA rules regulating communication between coaches and prospective athletes.  A Division I coach is not allowed to call an athlete until July 1 prior to Senior year.  But note:emai l is allowed! Division III coaches play by different rules.  They do not have athletic scholarships, but they can go to bat for your child at the Admission pow wow to try to get your child into the school and on their team.  Note that Ivy League schools are Division III.  Division III coaches ARE allowed to call athletes starting in Freshman year of high school.  So…don’t be put off if your star athlete is being bombarded with calls from Harvard and Yale as a Junior but is bummed out that Boston College, his or her first choice hasn’t called.

But enough about the coaches, there’s a lot of work that has to be done on the athlete’s side.  Here’s the list.

Freshman Year

  • Research schools and make a list of schools you are interested in
  • Keep your grades up
  • Get the PSAT schedule and sign up for a session next year

Sophomore Year

  • Visit the schools you are interested in.
  • Take PSATs
  • Meet with your school counselor to review the schools of interest and understand their requirements.  SATs versus ACTs.  8th and 9th grade grades?
  • Send a detailed letter of interest along with your resume.
  • Get the email address of each coach
  • Discuss your schools of interest with your coach and get their feedback
  • See if any of your schools of interest offers a summer camp or coaches at a summer camp.
  • Visit schools of interest while attending tournaments, showcases or league games

Junior Year

  • Send a follow up letter to each coach.  Include information an any upcoming tournament activity
  • Take SATs and ACTs
  • Set up UNOFFICIAL visit with your top schools and watch their team play
  • Email coaches; Note that coaches can NOT call until July 1st before your Senior year but can send emails
  • Ask references to make a call for you; line them up for a letter when you apply
  • At the end of Junior year, register with the NCAA clearninghouse (if going after Division I schools)
  • Attend camp of selected schools

Senior Year

  • Focus on those schools that fit and on those who have shown an interest
  • Take the SAT or ACT over again if necessary
  • Send out follow-up letters with updated sports information.  Include updated resume.
  • Know where you want to take your 5 official visits
  • Apply to schools in SEPTEMBER after weighing Early Admission versus Regular Admission process

What to Include on Your Resume

  • Contact Informtion including email
  • Birthday
  • High School Graduation Date
  • Height and Weight
  • Athletic Experience:  Premier Teams, Tournaments, awards
  • Academic Information:  class rank, GPA, PSAT/SAT scores, Honors and AP classes, academic awards
  • Extracurricular Activities
  • Athletic reference information:  name, title, school, background.  Have 3 references.

Cover Letter

  • This is your chance to sell yourself and why you want to attend this school.  Set yourself apart by your writing skills and persuasive arguments on why this is your top choice.
  • Write a different cover letter to each school.  You never know if they compare letters, right?  Don’t take that risk.
  • What should your cover letter say?  Here’s some guidelines.  First paragraph:  state the purpose of your letter.  For example, you are interested in playing x position for xx college team.  Second paragraph:  explain why you are choosing this school and/or team.  Use specific examples.  Mention the number of visits, sleepovers, camps you participated, games you watched, etc.  Make the coach realize that this is not a canned letter.  You REALLY do want to play for this school!  Third paragraph:  go over your qualifications.  Be specific.  Cover your athletic qualifications and your academic achievements.    Last paragraph:  lay out your next steps and be specific.  Are YOU going to contact the coach?  For what purpose?  Do you want to invite the coach to come to a game?  I have deliberately left out a sample cover letter so that you are forced to customize your letter.  Please follow cover letter conventions with formatting and including your name, address, etc.    Finally, this process of custom cover letter, resume and targeting coaches is EXACTLY the same process that you will do again when you graduate and look for a job.  Learn this  and do it well and it will serve you the rest of your life.

Recruiting Don’ts ( a.k.a. How to NOT get an Athletic Scholarship because you have pissed off the coach!)

  • Don’t have a parent call to boast of your skill
  • Don’t call and leave a message asking for a call back.  You take the intiative to call back.  Coaches are busy people!
  • Don’t send a letter to a coach with the wrong name or the wrong school or with misspellings.  What, are you a rookie?
  • Don’t do a mass mailing.  Customize your communication to the schools that interest you.
  • Do not use a scholarship offer from another school to bargain one school against the other.  Very Bad Form.
  • Do not tell a coach the school is at the top of your list if it is not true.  This can hurt others from your school that follow.
  • Don’t over estimate your abilities
  • Don’t show negative traits in attitude or temperament, etc.  Be positive and confident.
  • Don’t ask a coach for an official visit if they  have not shown an interest by phone.
  • Do not be afraid to ask, after a school has shown interest, if the school has any financial assistance they can offer.

Recruiting Do’s

  • Get a binder to keep all your recruiting information (by school with tabs)
  • Make a list of those schools that have the academic and athletic program that best suits you
  • Send coaches an updated tournament schedule and results
  • Have a list of credible references
  • Go to as many college games as possible.  Reference those games when talking or communicating to coaches.
  • Have a reference make a call on your behalf
  • Be personable in conversation.  Character is critical!
  • Speak positively about other programs, coaches and/or players.  It’s a small world and everyone knows each other! Be gracious!
  • Make yourself known.  One letter is not going to do it.
  • Stay on top of your academics.  It shows your work habits, time management and commitment to achievement.  These are all characteristics that colleges look for.
  • Send thank you notes (the old fashioned kind on card stock) when a coach has taken time to talk to you  or meet with you.  This is a good habit to get into for the rest of your life!

When my Mom Division I Varsity Coach talks about her players, it’s not usually about how talented her players are on the field.  She’s really impressed by kindness, empathy, humility and willingness to give back.  Being recruited can be an exciting and ego-gratifying experience to your child.  Let your years of good parenting shine through with a grounded child who shows graciousness and gratitude for all these exciting opportunities.  And, at the end of day, it’s going to be all about fit:  the right school matched to the right child.  And it will work out.  It always does!

Finally, I include a book that I used when I applied to college a million years ago.  What I like about it is that it shows you how high the bar is for college application essays.  This is the newest edition.  I still remember the most haunting essay from the edition I read.  It was from an inner city boy who wrote about his school, P.S.  XXX.  He described it as a school with literally no windows, but as he wrote about how school opened up the world of literature to him, his school really did have windows after all.  It was the best essay I had ever read and I realized that since I could not write such a moving essay for college applications, I had better be funny!  I read this book more recently when I bought this book for my niece and thought the essays were strangely abstract.  Nevertheless, these essays helped get these kids into Harvard.  My few words of advice:  don’t brag or take yourself too seriously.  Remember, the admissions folks spend 5 minutes TOPS on your entire application.  Two of them read it and if you get a thumbs up, another person will read your application more carefully.  You can also get a definitive thumbs down  at this point and you will then receive the thin rejection letter.  If you can’t grab their attention with your first paragraph, you are forgotten.  Make them laugh or cry.  Move them.  They are reading PILES of applications and you need to stand out in some way.

To purchase this book, click on image of book to buy at

January 21, 2010

The Birds and Bees Talk

My dad friend from high school suggested this topic.  He has three boys; the oldest is in 4th grade.  He said that he attempted “The Talk” but his son was really embarrassed and shouted him out of the room.  That got me thinking:   1) I need to The Talk myself.  2) Why re- invent the wheel?  I don’t know exactly what to say either, but why do we parents always try to do everything ourselves?  3) ugh!

This is a big topic of discussion among the 4th grade moms that I know.  Whenever I’m at a mom event and I run into the moms of my oldest daughter’s friends, we all confer among ourselves….have you had the sex talk yet?  It’s requires lock-step coordination because we all know this information will be widely shared amongst the group of about a dozen girls who run a in loose pack.  There are several mom worries:  I don’t want my daughter to feel left out or ignorant; I want to give my daughter correct information because who knows how distorted the information will become; I don’t want to overwhelm her with too much information; and my daughter is less sophisticated than your daughter.  Whew!  Add that to a uncomfortable topic and you get … procrastination!

I’m a book girl, and I bought an appropriate book years ago and squirreled it away for the right time.  But when is the right time?  Does it need a preface introduction, i.e. Sex Ed 101 before handing it over?  Finally, after realizing that 3rd grade is probably the right time and I’m now a bit behind, I just handed her a book and said, “This is an interesting book.  Read it over and then I go over it with you.”  My husband was alarmed by the fascination my daughter had with the book.  Finally, I sat down with her to answer questions.  She immediately turned to the sex section, but …phew!, she was mostly confused by the illustration in the section.  I had to admit, it was a confusing, albeit, scientific illustration depicting the uterus, vagina and penis in cross-section.

My mom friend who is an elementary school psychologist did not get off so easy.  She gave her daughter several books.  Her daughter read them diligently and then asked her, “It says in my book that adults have sex for fun.  Do you and dad have sex for fun?”  This mom is the unfazed type.  Her response:  “That is an inappropriate question and I’m not going to answer that.”

This is the book I used:  Understanding the Facts of Life.    It’s very matter of fact and sciency in a Biology 101 way.  I find that I just read the chapter in question and answer questions, typically explaining the sciency vocabulary.  It’s not embarrassing in any way, covers all the necessary topics, and is very informative.  I do recommend it.  And a neighbor mom friend borrowed it several years ago for her son and it worked well for her so it’s a unisex sex book!

I would love your comments and advice on this topic!

To buy this book, click on the image to purchase at

For those who want a Birds and Bees “Lite” book, several moms have recommended the American Girl Series It’s a Girl Thing.  I’m told the body changes are limited to body odor.

A thank you to reader, “Nancy,” who recommends The Care and Keeping of You by American Girl Series for an elementary school girl, and It’s So Amazing!:  A Book About Eggs, Sperm, Birth, Babies and Families for a middle schooler and elementary school girl.

Here are two books for boys:  What’s Going on Down There:  Answers to Questions Boys Find Hard to Ask by Chava Castro and My Body, My Self For Boys, revised 3rd edition  (What’s Happening to My Body?) by Linda Madara.

Favorite Baby Parenting Books

I remember when my first was born and both my husband and I were panicked at the daunting task of keeping her alive.  I thought the key would be to educate myself and I read every baby parenting book I could get my hands on including books from friends that were 10-years-old and out of print.  I made myself crazy.  I read, like, 15 books.  The books gave conflicting advice.  Advice from “experts” also flip-flopped from decade to decade.  I almost made up a spreadsheet to track the different opinions on the issues.  OK, I’m anal-retentive, but not that anal-retentive.  But only by a hair.

Finally, the theory that set me free.  I realized that I am the parent of this infant and that my husband and I know her better than any of these experts.  I decided to just match up the baby advice books to my own inclinations and opinions and go with that.  “Oh, you don’t think I should co-sleep with my infant? … well, just following the advice of my baby-whisperer-guru Dr. Sears. ”  That’s right, folks.  JUST PICK THE BOOK THAT SUPPORTS ALL YOUR BELIEFS.  This is a good strategy for anyone prone to giving you unsolicited baby advice.  I’m not targeting in-laws here at all.  Really!  It’s a constructive way to say, “Butt out.  I know what I’m doing.  Read this book, too, so you can get with the program.”

These are my favorite parenting books but I also include some books other parent friends swore by, even if I didn’t agree with the advice.

The Baby Book: Everything You Need to Know About Your Baby from Birth to Age 2 (Revised and Updated Edition) by Sears and Sears.  This is my go-to guru.  But that is because I am a “family bed” proponent which is not for everyone.  He writes this with his wife who is a nurse and they have 6 kids, including one with special needs.

What to Expect When You’re Expecting (series) by Heidi Eisenberg Murkoff.  This is a classic series and very good.  I bought this through age 5, I think.  It’s wonderful!  You can probably find this used somewhere so look around, particularly at yard sales held at preschools!

Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems by Dr. Richard Ferber.  Other parents swear by it.  If you MUST have your baby sleep through the night, this is a method that is difficult to implement, but once implemented, really does work.  A caveat, you must duplicate the “method” 24/7 even when you are on vacation or it’s back to square one.  It’s you vs. baby and if you have a strong willed baby, it might take up to two weeks to kick in, I’m told.  “Ferberize” is now an actual word!  Of course, it’s not your child who is necessarily having sleep problems, it’s you who has issue that your child’s sleeping patterns do you mimic your own.

Here’s an interesting link pitting my favorite Dr. Sears against Dr. Ferber on their sleep theories!:

The Portable Pediatrician by Dr. Nathanson. My baby parenting books are long gone but I still have this one.  It’s a keeper!  I wish she could be my pediatrician!

Expectant Father.  This is the book that first-time dads always seem to get as a present.  There’s not much meat to it, but it’s better than nothing,  I suppose.  I wouldn’t buy it, though.

Girlfriends’ Guides by Vicki Iovine.  These are the best; you need these to keep your sanity and sense of humor intact!  Who knew a Playboy Bunny could be this funny?!

Touchpoints by Dr. Brazelton.  10 years ago, this was the well-known baby book.  I do really like Dr. Brazelton and I wished my pediatrician made house calls like he seems to, but I have to say that I found it difficult to translate his book into advice to follow.  If I recall correctly, his book is mostly made up of case studies, and while interesting, did not relate to me or my situation.   And when sleep is scarce, I probably should have been doing other things like sleeping rather than reading this book.  But it was a book that I kept in my library for all three kids.

Dr. Spock.  He’s Dr. Old-School.  I bought a copy and tried to plough through it, but I just couldn’t.  Too long and boring.

January 16, 2010

Haiti and Teaching My Kids About Charity

A mom in my yoga class made a nice plea for donations yesterday.  Her cleaning lady is Haitian and her family in Haiti is, of course, personally devastated by the earthquake.  Yoga mom offered to run over and pick up any clothing and shoe donations from any of us and ship to Haiti.  She said that UPS was shipping free of charge for a while so she was rounding up donations all week.

I’ve been struggling with how to teach the concept of charity to my children.  We delivered a Thanksgiving meal this year, for the first time, to someone who needed it, and it was a really wonderful experience for us to appreciate all that we have.  I know I could be heartfelt at the dinner table that night to count our blessings.  My older girls seemed to get it and enjoy helping, but my 5-year-old boy mostly provided entertainment by zipping around their house and asking endless questions.  They didn’t seem to mind but I think he thought of this as a kind of adult playdate.  But his preschool has a Giving Tree each year and they ask us to teach our children by buying an item — this year shoes — and putting it on the tree.  Because the item must be new and money is an abstract idea to my son, I’ve never been quite comfortable with this.  I mean,  what does it mean for me to buy a pair of shoes and have him hang it?  Or take him to a store to pick out a pair of shoes to give and maybe experience a public meltdown if I don’t buy a matching pair for him (which he doesn’t need).  That doesn’t really work for me.  And why does the item HAVE to be new; if someone is really in need, why can’t gently used be ok?

So, my husband and I have been inundated with news of Haiti like everyone, and feeling pretty depressed about the whole thing.  We decided to talk to the kids to say that there is a this country that needs help because everyone has lost their home and everything in it.  If each person can take a brown paper grocery bag and fill it with clothes and shoes they don’t need or like, we can help a family just like us with our things.  The oldest who has a generous and sensitive heart had her bag filled in minutes.  The middle, who is our Material Girl, said that she had previously cleaned out her closet a few months ago to give stuff to her little cousin which is true.    She didn’t think she had any more to give.  I had to sweeten the deal by saying that I will take her shopping for a new shirt or two if she can clean out again.  The youngest took his bag and said that he could make it into clothes.  He did, just like the Paper Bag Princess, and wore it over his pajamas.  He went to his room to get started but  Prehistorica books on the top of his dresser distracted him and he started playing with then instead by having the pop-up dinosaurs battle the pop-up sea creatures.  Meanwhile, my Material Girl, was on her third bag. He did end up donating a bag of shoes and clothes because my husband and I cleaned out his room, but as we were loading the car, he tried to do a rescue mission for a pair of shoes that don’t even fit him.  Hmmm… he did not get it at all.  Material Girl was generous but had to be bribed; not sure if this was the lesson I wanted to teach.  Oh well!

We did have five full bags of  clothes, shoes and light jackets.  We had been holding on to some things for sentimental reasons … 3 matching light rain coats for mommy and kids, hand-knit sweaters, etc.  It was a good excuse to purge and purge hard and it felt really good to give.  We dropped off the stuff and received a really nice note from Yoga Mom who said that today her cleaning lady came and that she cried, moved by the generosity,  when she saw the 5 bags.  And yet, it really was nothing to us.

That Giving Tree will be up all month.  Every year I struggle with it … I want to help as much as the next person, but it never felt quite right.  I think I am right that 2-, 3-, and even 5-year-olds have difficulty relating to an abstract concept as charity.  This is after all, the years, when it is ALL ABOUT ME, ME, ME.   And having mom hand over money to buy something doesn’t reinforce the right message; in fact, it’s the wrong message:  Mom is a bank.  If my son had his own money to buy the shoes that would work for me.  But he’s struggling to dress himself every morning to earn a dollar  so that after 15 days he can buy that Ultimate Spy Watch he spied on my blog.  And so, maybe we expect too much, too early.   Maybe a child should be able to consistently dress themselves every morning before we expect him or her to understand what giving truly is.  I ask you, readers, what do you think?  What is the right age to teach charity and how did you do it?

And for anyone who heard about the wildly successful  text campaign to give $  to Haiti, I found the information at the Boston College Bookstore today.  To donate $10 to the American Red Cross towards relief for Haiti:

Text:  Haiti

Input:  90999

Here is a short-list, by no means exhaustive, of 4 organizations that are accepting donations; all of these groups have long-established development projects on the ground in Haiti.

Partners In Health

Partners In Health (, has been operating in the country since 1987, originally to deliver health care to the residents of Haiti’s mountainous Central Plateau region. PIH now also operates clinics in Port au Prince and other major Haitian cities. With hospitals and a highly trained medical staff in place,Partners In Health is already mobilizing resources and preparing plans to bring medical assistance and supplies to areas that have been hardest hit. Donations to help earthquake relief efforts will be quickly routed to the disaster.


MADRE ( has also worked in Haiti for many years, supporting community-based organizations, and has activated an emergency response through its partner organization, Zanmi Lasante Clinic. The doctors, nurses and community health workers there are working to bring medical assistance and supplies to areas that have been hardest hit. MADRE’s partners are expert at reaching those in crisis and stretching resources to meet the myriad needs facing Haitian women and families.

Doctors Without Borders

Teams from the group Doctors Without Borders ( were already working on medical projects in Haiti and have been treating victims of the quake since yesterday. Gifts to to the group’s new Haiti Earthquake Response (link below) will support emergency medical care for the men, women, and children affected by the earthquake in Haiti.


Despite heavy damages to its own offices in Port-au- Prince, the UN relief organization UNICEF is coordinating donations of things like blankets, toothpaste, canned food and other basic staples. Call 1-800-4UNICEF or go to for information.

January 15, 2010

Mind Your Manners! (Please…)

My husband grew up in a military family so manners was a really big deal and he has beautiful manners.  He’s not from the South, but he’s even got the Sir/Ma’am thing down.  Manner are so important to him, or rather, bad manners are so offensive to him, that I refer to him as the Manners Nazi.

I, on the other hand, was raised by parents a generation older than my peer’s parents.  My husband thinks I was raised by wolves.  Naturally, manners responsibility fell in his lap.  After he stayed home with our first, the outcome was so positive that I tried to emulate what he did.  And, as our children have venture off on independent play dates, sleepovers, and dinners at other people’s houses and country clubs, it become to us how important instilling manners at a VERY YOUNG age is.

We, as parents, notice when play dates come over and 1) say  “please,” “thank you” and “no, thank you” and 2) clear their dishes without being asked, and 3) make eye contact.  We also notice when play dates come over and 1) touch all the food on the communal platter before selecting their choice, 2) leave their dishes, 3) forget the “thank you” part of “no”.  We really want the former group hanging out at our house and we want our children to be close friends with those guys!

But, how does that happen?  What parenting did or did not happen in group two?  I’m not sure, but here’s what worked for us.

From birth through forever, although by 4-5 years old seems to penetrate the inner recesses of their brains:

  • Model polite language.  Talk to your baby before s/he is talking and ALWAYS say “please”, “thank you” and “no, thank you.”
  • As you child begins to talk, correct EVERY SINGLE INSTANCE that s/he fails to say “please”, “thank you” and “no, thank you.”
  • Give recognition every time your child says please, thank you and no, thank you.
  • Notice how others will give positive reinforcement for “please”, “thank you” and “no, thank you” because no one expects it in a 2, 3 or 4- year-old.
  • By age 5, this will become automatic.  Yay!  First phase is completed!

From age 3-5, teach your children to:

  • Clear their plate and utensils after every meal.  First to the general vicinity of the kitchen.  Then to the sink.  Finally, scrape plate and put in dishwasher.  (big help for mom!)
  • Make eye contact when you greet or thank someone.  Make eye contact in general when you converse.
  • If you have a son, teach him to hold the door for the ladies.
  • By age 5-7, this will become automatic.  Yay!  Second phase is completed!

From 2-10, talk about gratitude…

  • Thank the cook for every meal.  “Thank you Dad for this nice meal.”
  • Thank the mom, dad and birthday child for the nice party.  “Thank you for the nice party.”  “Goodbye and happy birthday.”
  • Say what you are thankful for…we don’t do this every meal, but we sometimes hold hands and go around the table.  The kids will sometimes say the funniest things so for comedy value alone, this is very worthwhile.  Yay!  Third phase is completed!  Your child has all the basics to function independently.  Sit back and let the parents tell you how wonderfully polite your child was at their house.  You deserve it.  Your work is not done (when is it ever done?), but the foundation has been laid and it’s a solid one!

Honestly, good manners is a simple as a consistent, please, thank you and no, thank you.  Isn’t that the first words we learn when we arrive in a foreign country?  Even before, “Where is the bathroom?”  It makes the world a nicer place and lubricates social interactions.  But the key is early education and consistency.

Thank you for reading!

P.S.  One unfortunate outcome of this training is that you will find that you will be unable to stop correcting anyone who fails to say, “please,” “thank you” and “no, thank you.”  You will correct your child’s play date friends.  You will correct your spouse.  You will correct complete strangers.  You have become…a Manners Nazi.

Here are some fun books about manners.  If you click on the book
, you can purchase at
.  Thank you!

January 13, 2010

Picking a Preschool – A Jaded View

I was at a playdate today and I ended up ranting and raving about my frustrations with my cooperative preschool.  Don’t get me wrong, my child is having a wonderful experience, but a cooperative preschool is an entire family experience and my piece of it, a.k.a. “administrative position” has been rather annoying.  I could just be me.  I think that I tend to get annoyed as I exit a preschool, and this is my last year of preschool…EVER!  And, maybe I’m just jaded.

There is something about preschool that makes you feel a little like a hostage because you are handing off your very small child into the great unknown.  This feeling is especially acute if you have to peel your crying child off your leg every morning and their favorite part of school is pick up.  So, I readily admit that I am a Jaded Preschool Parent.  Maybe that explains why I went through 4 preschools over the past  10 years.

If you are getting ready to pick a preschool for your darling, heed my advice.  Do not solely rely on word-of-mouth endorsements from moms you meet in the park or at mommy-and-me music class! Why?  Because it’s an unwritten mommy rule somewhere that everyone LOVES their preschool. I’m not sure why.  I think it’s partly based on anxiety… that this must be a great place because I’m dropping off my precious child for x many hours and I have no real idea of how it’s going because my child can’t articulate their feelings and thoughts that well yet.  Case in point, I moved my middle child because I suspected she was miserable.  It wasn’t just the difficult drop off that clued me in.  Yet the teachers and directors insisted that she was fine and happen even all day.  I did sneak around early to spy on her or peer in through a window but I just wasn’t sure.  It wasn’t until we hired an assistant teacher as an occasional babysitter who said that my daughter was COMPLETELY a different person at school versus home and not in a good way.  And yet, even a year or two later, we would drive by the old preschool and my daughter would say, “There’s my old school.  I love my old school.”  REALLY? But now, at age 7, she is able to articulate her experience and she told me the other night that she did NOT like it there and then listed all the reasons why.  It was surprising to me that it would take 4 or 5 years, like a victim of trama, to really get to the truth.

So…here’s my jaded view:

Daycare Pros:  great hours for working moms.  they will take infants.  the staff-to-child ratio can be low.

Daycare Cons:  Incredibly high staff turnover.  I experienced 50% staff turnover in my child’s classroom every 4 months!  And it was always the teacher she bonded with that left.  That was not acceptable to me so we switched to a preschool when she turned 2.9 years old  because that is when the preschool is licensed to take kids.

Nugget of Advice:  Yes, get on the waitlist early but don’t confuse a really, really long waitlist with an incredibly wonderful daycare.  And why you ask about staff turnover and the director tells you the length of time of a few of the staffers, ask about how many hires this past year. How old is the staff?  Do they have degrees in early child education?  Really young, just-out-of-college staff + low wages = high staff turnover.  Drop by unannounced to “make an appointment.”  Observe carefully before you ask for help…this is what really goes on.  Also, how soon until they notice you, a stranger, in their midst?

Preschool Pros:  The hours are more suited for what a child’s exposure to chaos should be so the day is shorter and the staff is not working incredibly long hours (ie underpaid & burnt out).  They tend to do annual contract with their staff so staff turnover is significantly lower.

Preschool Cons:  You generally have many, many options about how many days you want to attend.  This is great for spending one-on-one time with your child plus helps with the cost but you will find that your kids will not know some of the kids in their class. As in, I have no idea who you are.  I have never seen you before in my life.  This is because they might have one day of overlap.  Also, because the kids are not together on all the same days, the school can’t plan a structured academic curriculum.

Nuggest of Advice :  Ask about staff to child ratio.  Just because the school doesn’t go through a formal interviewing/rejecting process doesn’t mean you don’t have to make a good first impression!  Ask if any of the lead teachers are certified teachers for K-2.  Ask if the staff signs an annual contract.  Is there a summer program?  Do you need one?  Do you occasionally need an early drop off or late pick up? Can they accommodate that?  Have them explain their academic curriculum; there is no one right answer but understand if it’s play based or child-led or whatever the latest theory is? Is their foreign language exposure?  (Ok, maybe I am way into that but no one else cares).

Montesori Pros:  Now I confess that I have never attended Montessori so I am speaking for my many friends who have.  Generally, they all LOVE Montessori.  The families also tend to be more international.  The curriculum IS impressive.  Your darling will generally learn to read at age 3 and get exposure to a foreign language, typically Spanish.

Montessori Cons:  Tends to be expensive.  High staff to child ratio because of their education model.  Not a lot of interaction with kids of their own age and sex…maybe 2-3 in their class.  Must go every day at 8:30 a.m.; are you really ready for this schedule at age 2???  There are years ahead of you when you will have to do this.  Preschool of choice for high-powered moms…do you really need that kind of stress in your life?

Nugget of Advice:  If your child can not sit still on a very small square of carpet for at least 15 minutes at a stretch, then Montessori is not for you!  Don’t take the rejection personally “that the school regrets there is no space for your child.”  And also don’t read false hope in that message also!

Cooperative Preschool Pros:   You know exactly what happens every second of your child’s school day.  If you are not the parent helper, then your mom friend is.  You know who they play with, who cried, and who will likes what for snack.  The teacher are tip top…they have to be as they are supervised by the most critical of bosses (i.e. moms) during their work day.

Cooperative Preschool Cons:  You will volunteer umpteen hours to the school.  Your administrative job might not match your skills or worse the parent in charge of your committee  has no business being in charge…literally, no prior business experience being in charge but now they are.  Not always a good thing!  After several years of this, you will realize why Socialism was doomed to fail.  You will feel sucked dry.

Nugget of Advice:  In the beginning you will LOVE, LOVE, LOVE your school.  Do not think that your child’s wonderful experience is commensurate with the amount of time you volunteer.  It’s a long ride and YOU MUST PACE YOURSELF!  Do not undertake too much responsibility.  Under that kumbaya exterior lies the same snarky, sharky politics as any other organization.  Don’t drink too much of the Kool-Aide!

My final piece of advice is remembering my work friend, Diligent Mom, who LOVED, LOVED, LOVED her preschool.  She actually visited 22 of them.  I am sure there are 22 preschool options in my neck of the woods within a 20 minute commute, but I didn’t visit even half that– a 5 minute commute and good parking were items on my must-have list.  Well…that is why she LOVED, LOVED, LOVED her preschools and I do not.

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