School

Why I’m Sending My Sons To Cotillion

Written on April 25, 2013 at 12:02 pm , by

My husband and I have relentlessly taught our children to hold doors for people. We’ve told them they need to ask to be excused from the dinner table and they’re aware they should write “Thank You” notes for gifts. Trouble is, my boys haven’t exactly internalized those lessons. Over the years, I’ve seen that I needed reinforcements. Enter: Cotillion prep.

And yet I came to an awkward realization when a friend recently asked me why in the world I’d send my sons to cotillion. Aloud, I explained to her that the classes were simply basic manners and dance. In my head, I suddenly became aware that if I’d had a daughter instead of sons I’d never have thought to enroll her in anything close to cotillion.

If I’d had a daughter, I wouldn’t have wanted her learning the gender baggage that goes along with programs like this. As gleeful as I was to get my boys into suits and ties, I’d never have pressured a girl into a dress with white gloves. And I wasn’t alone. In my kids’ classes, many more parents of boys signed up their sons. There was even a last minute campaign to recruit girls.

Why were parents of boys so eager and parents of girls so reluctant? I think it’s because the drawbacks of sending a girl to cotillion are more obvious to all of us. Sending girls to a manners class where boys “choose” them to dance or they learn how to set a table sends the message that they’re expected to grow up to be perfect hostesses. It doesn’t matter that the boys are learning the same domestic skills alongside the girls. If we teach these things to girls, it feels like we’re betraying them.

I completely understand these concerns. But what’s amazing to me is that parents of boys (like me) so rarely think about how these gender expectations impact their sons. There are two reasons why. First, these gender rules don’t seem so bad for boys. A suit doesn’t seem as constraining as a party dress. Second, we’re desperate to civilize them. There’s an everyday reality that our boys can come across as loud, inconsiderate and sloppy. I’ll share what it’s like for me:

1. My sons move fast – and in doing so they can be blind to people around them. They literally have closed the door in the face of an elderly person. In spite of making them stand for fifteen minutes and open doors as a “teachable moment” (after doing this to that older woman), they still need more opportunities to slow down.

2. Last year, we moved to Boulder, Colorado from Washington D.C. Dressing up in Boulder means wearing darker jeans and a new flannel shirt. I’m sorry but my East Coast self just can’t handle that. Different situations demand different attire.

3. I strongly believe that personal style shows how a person wants to present himself to the world. That is entirely different than my son picking up the sweat pants he dropped on the floor last night and putting them back on because he can’t be bothered to open the clothes drawer. Honestly, I’d much rather have a kid who spiked his hair into a huge Mohawk and wore black skinny jeans than one who wears dirty sweatpants with holes in them – my boys’ go-to outfit.

4. Everyone needs practice dealing with horribly awkward social situations. And what’s more excruciatingly awkward than a school dance? By the time my boys walk into their first “Under the Sea”-themed 8th grade dance, they’ll feel a little more experienced and at ease with the whole thing.

But the question of gender baggage is important. I don’t want my children thinking that they should be polite to girls because they’re delicate or that boys fit into a “boy box” and girls fit into a “girl box.” Or that anyone who doesn’t fit or doesn’t want to fit into those boxes is somehow less worthy. So, while my husband and I talk to them about that in countless ways, this process has made me link these conversations and values to these classes. And yes, they’re rolling their eyes, and sighing as they say, “I know mom” but that’s totally fine.

The bottom line is I want them learning basic manners, giving up their seats and opening doors for anyone because they need to look out for and be considerate of other people. But there’s another thing. Last month, at my aunt’s birthday party, my older son asked my mom to dance. As I watched them, you can imagine how I felt. I may have to sign them up again next year.

 

Rosalind Wiseman is the author of the best-selling Queen Bee Moms & Kingpin Dads. For more info, go to www.rosalindwiseman.com. Do you have a parenting question? E-mail askrosalind@familycircle.com.

Celeb Q&A: Autism Advocate Holly Robinson Peete Answers YOUR Questions

Written on April 23, 2013 at 8:30 am , by

Holly Robinson Peete and her son Rodney James (RJ). Photo Credit: Christopher Voelker

Last week, Family Circle interviewed actress Holly Robinson Peete about issues that were on our mind. This week, we interviewed her to get answers to what’s on your mind. That’s right, all these insightful questions came to us via our Twitter and Facebook accounts. Read about how a gluten-free diet affected RJ (Holly’s 15-year-old son with autism), ways to get employers to hire adults with autism and more.

Q. There has been such a surge in the number of autism diagnoses lately and many of us are looking for answers. @REALMOMMA2155 is curious if you think genetically modified organisms (GMOs) contribute to the diagnosis.

A. I’m not a doctor or scientist. I’m just a mom. But I do think there’s a genetic predisposition and there are environmental triggers. I feel like that combination, in my child’s case, is what resulted in autism. I also feel strongly that we’re not looking at environmental triggers. We’re not looking at each kid as a separate, genetic being. We line them up and say: ‘All kids should do this, eat that, get this.’ It’s important that we look harder.

Q. Speaking of what kids eat, Janeen Marie wanted to know if you tried putting RJ on a gluten free diet. 

A. Yes. One of the best tips I got from another mom was to hurry and get him tested for allergies and food sensitivities. He tested off the charts for gluten and wheat. It was more difficult for him to connect when he was eating pizza and birthday cake. He functioned much higher when he was not on any gluten products. But that’s just my kid. Every parent should know what their kid is sensitive to food-wise.

Q. What about sleep? Kim Luallen was curious if your son is a non-sleeper and if you had any suggestions.

My son does have trouble falling asleep and like any teenager he needs his sleep. We use melatonin. I never recommend anything, but that’s worked for us. We use it in very low doses and we find it gives him that little window to fall asleep. I know they’re still doing studies, but for our kid it has been a miracle.

Q. Donna Willis Coghlan wrote in asking about education: “How can we get schools to focus on the strengths of these kids? Many have unique skills that could be enhanced to give them an occupation someday, but instead they’re continually forced to be like ‘typical’ kids,” she says.

A. It’s very difficult when schools fall into the cookie cutter mode. There are so many gifts that kids with autism have that need to be nurtured. Most times, that’s something you have to do on your own or enlist after school help for. Also, get connected with other parents who are experiencing what you’re going through. I know it’s easier said than done, but I know families that have moved to other neighborhoods or cities that are a little more autism- and special needs-friendly than where they were. It’s all about being an advocate, staying online and looking in your community for help.

Q. Kathleen Stuart wanted to know about outlooks for adult life: “If your child is fairly high functioning – but needs assistance – there isn’t much out there in the way of adult programs or job assistance,” she says.

Yes, there isn’t much out there. The unemployment rate for adults on the autism spectrum is hovering around 90%. It’s high and that’s another message we have to get out. These people can not only be great employees but they can be your best employees. They’re loyal, have a sense of purpose, want to be somewhere every day, love routine.

I always find out very specifically about corporations who hire special needs adults. At my agency there are several. I always say I’ll be a great patron if you hire these adults because they need this and you need them. We’re getting a database for the HollyRod Foundation site of companies that work hard to employ adults with autism. We also have a tremendous amount of excitement about the fact that we’re going to be opening a compassionate care center in another year and will have a restaurant run by adults with autism there.

Q. On top of your foundation work, you’ve also co-authored the children’s book My Brother Charlie with RJ’s twin sister, Ryan. @Patti_pmbelo tweeted us wanting to know if you plan on writing another children’s book on autism.

A. Yes. Ryan and I are writing a follow-up to My Brother Charlie about autism and adolescence. We’re writing about the struggles people don’t talk enough about, the difficulties children have when they cross over into adolescence, the surge of hormones, puberty. It’s a different set of challenges when they’re on the autism spectrum. In some ways it’s like getting the diagnosis again. You have to come up with a new game plan. We’re hoping for a April 2014 publishing date.

Want to hear more of Holly Robinson Peete’s thoughts on autism? Click here.

I Hate Elementary School Standardized Tests

Written on April 12, 2013 at 3:24 pm , by

 

I’m just going to put it out there: I hate standardized tests, and as a mom I can’t freaking wait until they’re over at the end of this month.

When I was a student, standardized tests never bothered me that I recall, especially not in elementary school. They didn’t unnerve me, and I didn’t feel like my fate was somehow riding on them. The school year definitely did not revolve around them. We were not issued separate workbooks to lug back and forth specifically to prep for them. Standardized tests were not, to put it bluntly, a “lifestyle.” Now they are. So next week my son, a third grader, will take New York State standardized tests in English and Math for the first time. All the hours of classroom time spent prepping, all the homework pages I compelled him do when he would MUCH rather have been playing, because he is an 8-year-old boy, after all, will boil down to six test sessions. Tests based on the heavily-hyped Common Core, which very well could be good for students in the long run, but was implemented far too quickly in New York City by the chronically overwhelmed and underfunded Department of Education. And tests that were originally meant to assess student learning and provide useful feedback to teachers and parents about a kid’s progress and areas to work on, will instead be used to “rank” schools and “rate” teacher competence. To say that I cannot wait for April to be over and done with would be the understatement of the year so far.

So, do tell – are your kids stressing over standardized tests? Are you?

Helping Your Child Feel He Belongs

Written on April 11, 2013 at 5:48 pm , by

She came out singing, smiling, holding her head high. Like everyone else around her she was dressed in black, rocking and clapping as she walked. I tentatively reached out to hold my twelve-year-old son, Elijah’s, hand. But I didn’t look at him. The hand holding thing was risky. But I knew it would be way too much to see me cry and I could feel the tears starting. Elijah’s religious experience thus far was one year of Jewish religious school and a few Episcopalian and Catholic services with family. Now we were sitting in Glide Memorial Church in the Tenderloin district of San Francisco listening to my best friend Trina sing in the church choir.

Everyone is welcome. Everyone belongs here, the pastor said. Elijah’s eyes scanned the crowd and I could see what he was taking in as Trina and the rest of the choir backed up the pastor. Twenty-five-year-old gay men stood next to eighty-year-old black women . . . next to transgender men with long flowing hair . . . next to a white couple who looked like they belonged in my new and very white community of Boulder, Colorado.

I couldn’t stop my tears. My friend, Trina, is a cancer survivor. She was diagnosed at 37, six years ago. Like so many people who have stood next to a loved one who is diagnosed with a life-threatening disease, in an instant I was transformed by fear. I did the things you do with someone you love battling cancer. I prayed she’d make it out healthy. We shopped for hats and looked at wigs. We even laughed together after her surgery when she had to lecture her doctor. (He made the mistake of telling her what kind of breasts were best for her after she’d explicitly told him she didn’t need larger boobs than she had already.) But I will never forget the feeling of free falling when the news was bad . . . before it got better.

The choir continued to sing and I was overwhelmed.

I glanced at Elijah, who at 5’11’’ looks like he’s 16. My Elijah, who even at such a young age, has struggled. By the time he was in 5th grade, he hated school and generally believed that teachers and administrators were clueless. After going to a charter school where the teachers ignored him because he wasn’t academically struggling but was being bullied by other kids much smaller than him, we transferred him to a “progressive” private school. There the teachers treated “traditional” boys (loud boys who liked gross things, fart jokes and wrestling with each other) as if there was something pathologically wrong with them. By 5th grade my son had cultivated a troublemaker reputation so he could sit in the principal’s office and explain why her policies and punishments made no sense. Not only had he developed a hatred for school, but he thought most adults were hypocrites.

Last year we moved to Boulder. Elijah is happier now. Happier then he’s ever been. It’s ironic, because Boulder has such a hippy reputation. His middle school doesn’t tolerate disrespectful behavior but it doesn’t demonize boys either. His teachers allow him to write gory stories of zombies in creative writing and share, when appropriate, his extensive knowledge of battles. He is thriving. I have a happy child who respects his elders for the right reasons.

After the service, I asked him what was most surprising about it. Without a moment’s hesitation he answered, They said everyone was welcome here. But at first I didn’t believe it because that’s what people always say. But then I looked around and I could see it was true. That was good.

What I realized in that moment is that Elijah has had so many experiences of not being accepted for who he is by the people who are supposed to. Like so many of the people in that church, he understood how essentially important it is to be accepted and he knew that my friend had brought us all to that place.

There are moments in life of pure gratitude. That morning at Glide was one of them. My friend and my son, there together. In the place they should be.

Rosalind Wiseman is the author of the best-selling Queen Bee Moms & Kingpin Dads. For more info, go to www.rosalindwiseman.com. Do you have a parenting question? E-mail askrosalind@familycircle.com.

How Microsoft OneNote Can Help Your Kid Stay on Track

Written on October 17, 2012 at 8:13 pm , by

At the beginning of the school year, I sat my 16-year-old down at his computer and taught him to use the OneNote program in Microsoft Office to take better notes in class, keep track of assignments, and generally get himself organized so he could stop missing assignments and get better grades.

OneNote is like a digital three-ring binder. Haven’t tried it? You can take the preview of the latest version of Office for a spin for free here.

He doesn’t bring a laptop to class, but he does bring his smartphone (and some of his teachers are fine with that). But even if a teacher won’t let him bring out his phone in class, he can still jot notes during the day while the assignments and lectures are fresh in his mind. And he can snap photos of the blackboard and notes he jotted on paper and drop those in his OneNote notebooks. (He tends to lose paper.) His smartphone syncs with his computer (read on for more on that) so all the notes he takes on the run are waiting for him on his laptop when he gets home. This is helping him to keep it all together. And his grades are much better since we started this. (Microsoft asked me explain how this all works, in hands-on detail and with screen shots, at the OneNote blog. So check that out if you’d like more detail on how we set this up.)

Today I am going to tell you about the “Evil Mom” part of this plan. (Bwaa haaa haaa!) When we started out on this, I set up his class notebooks – one for each class; just like in a three-ring binder — by way of showing him how it would all work. Then I “shared” those notebook with him using SkyDrive.com so he could access them from his phone or computer. But, since I set them up from my computer and my SkyDrive account, I can still access those notebooks myself. (I could have just as easily asked him to share his notebooks with me, though, if he had set them up.)

Why would I want to read his American History notes? I don’t. But here’s what I do want to do: Drop notes into his notebooks about deadlines, missing assignments I see on the school’s parent assist website, and anything else I want to remind him about relative to each of those classes. In fact, I drop a picture of his online progress report in each class every week so he gets frequent status reports on his grades. This way he can’t pretend he is doing fine when he isn’t.

Here’s how my routine works.

I’m in my office, working. He’s at school. I see a note in my calendar saying he has a project due in history in a few days. I know he’s about as organized as a 16-year-old boy so, as his mother, I feel the need to remind him of this deadline. Instead of waiting till we are both home to mention it to him, I open his history notebook and make a note right there. I can see he has only sketchy notes on this project. So I can foresee the procrastination-followed-by-last-minute-scrambling that is in his near future even if he can’t. So I drop in a copy of the original teacher-issued assignment in there–I’m a super-organized dork and know where to find that–and a few Internet sources I think will be useful. OneNote comes with a handy web clipper so all I have to do is grab a snippet from a website and tell OneNote where to put it. It remembers the source and who put the note there for him. It’s a little like sending notes in class. Except I don’t have to be in the class to do it.

Will this make him start on his project sooner? No. But at least he won’t be running around looking for a copy of the assignment when he does get around to starting. And my few notes on sources will hopefully get him past the dreaded blank page and into the actual work. He will still require 16 reminders and threats from me and despite all that will wait till it’s too late to start. But, at the very least, his last minute will be more productive.

Does he mind me poking my nose into his school notebooks? Not so far. He actually seems to appreciate it since it is helping him get to a point where his grades reflect what he knows. I also think he is learning to appreciate the results of organization by seeing its effects. So I’m hoping we are in a training-wheel phase and that by next year, he’ll need less prodding. Hopefully by the time he gets to college, he’ll be well on his way to being a super-organized dork, too. (Hey, a Mom can dream, right?)

Christina Tynan-Wood writes the Family Tech column for Family Circle, and is the author of “How to Be a Geek Goddess.” You can find her at GeekGirlfriends.com, as well as here on Momster.com. Follow her on Twitter: @xtinatynanwood.

Q&A: “I’m a 12-Year-Old Girl Who Doesn’t Like Her New School”

Written on October 9, 2012 at 10:50 am , by

Teen parenting expert Rosalind Wiseman answers your tough questions.

Q. I’m a 12-year-old girl who doesn’t like her new school. People aren’t open to helping me, there are so few kids to make friends with and I’m getting frustrated. Is there a way to make things better?

A. That’s terrible! You’d hope everyone would realize how hard it is for you as a new kid. It’s time to take matters into your own hands. First, don’t put too much pressure on yourself. If you can make one or two friends by spring break, I’d consider that a win. It’s possible the kids in your class have grown up together and that can be really intimidating, but the work you do as a team will give you opportunities to strengthen bonds. Are there any group projects coming up? Things you’re interested in at school that other kids are into as well? If so, invite a group over to your house to work or hang together. Friendships will develop from there.

Do you have a parenting dilemma for Rosalind? Send an email to askrosalind@familycircle.com.

Rosalind Wiseman helps families and schools with bullying prevention and media literacy. Her book “Queen Bees and Wannabes” inspired the hit movie “Mean Girls.” She writes the Ask Rosalind column for Family Circle, and blogs about parenting tweens and teens on Momster.com.

Facebook For Teens: Best Practices and Online Behavior Tips

Written on September 7, 2012 at 11:45 am , by

My son studies with Facebook open on his laptop. I have tried fighting this. But this year, I decided to make peace with it. I insist he do his homework in the family room while I work or cook dinner so I can redirect his attention if Facebook (or YouTube) becomes too distracting. With this oversight, I’ve decided his current group of friends are helping him enjoy school so they are welcome to stop by for a virtual study group.

Facebook gives him a little company as he works. He can ask a friend from class if they understood the math or if he has the homework right. He can share a joke and make the homework hour more fun. (And YouTube is where he goes to watch a math lesson from Sal Khan at the Khan Academy, which is why he is getting good grades in math.) To make peace with the things that worry me, I added, “Talk about/Clean up Facebook” to my to-do list for back to school. I figure if Facebook has become part of school, we will do it right. So before I got down to the cleaning up the virtual house (see below) for the school year, I decided we needed to talk about appropriate online behavior.

Saying bad things about teachers on social media, for example, can get you into a lot of trouble. I shared a story I’d heard over dinner about a local teacher expelling a student for slanderous comments made on Twitter. We talked about cyber-bullying and how to avoid being either bullied or bully. I discovered that both of my kids wanted to know the rules so they could avoid accidentally breaking them. In fact, they seemed a little confused about what they could say face-to-face versus online.

Essentially I was explaining something that’s obvious to those of us who grew up before the Internet but is apparently not clear to those who have grown up having as much social interaction online as off. Facebook is a form of publishing. What you post there can have a very long life and get shared with people you didn’t intend to share it with. It is safest when it’s used for sharing happy statements (things you “like” rather than those you don’t), profound observations, and statements you don’t mind people associating with your identity. If you are angry and need to blow off steam, pick up the phone and talk to someone. Save the Facebook commentary for comments you are willing to share with everyone , including the thing or person you are talking about.

After our chat, it was time to spiff up their Facebook pages so they could be proud to share them with friends and teachers at school. As it happens, Facebook recently sent me some tips on this. I love getting tips from the pros. So here they are:

  • Say Cheese: Make a great first impression by filling the wide open space at the top of your timeline with a unique image that represents you best (a great summer trip, your dog or a favorite photo with you and your friends) and shows off your creativity or interests. It’s the first thing people see when they visit your timeline. Make it memorable.
  • Share Memories: Share and highlight your most memorable posts, photos and life events on your timeline, what camp you went to this summer, a few classes you may be excited for this fall and any of the milestones you may have hit since school ended a few months ago. Use your timeline to share your life story from beginning to now with friends and family. Highlight or star photos you specifically want friends to see so they appear bigger on your timeline. Edit posts to make them visible to only you or a select group of friends.
  • Curate: Go through your activity log, scroll through every story and adjust the settings on photos or posts from your timeline so all your friends (or just certain groups of friends,  family, close friends, coworkers), can see them. Sometimes not everyone (especially your teachers) need to see everything that happened over the summer.

Christina Tynan-Wood writes the Family Tech column for Family Circle, and is the author of “How to Be a Geek Goddess.”You can find her at GeekGirlfriends.com, as well as here on Momster.com.

 

Preparing Your Teen’s Computer for Back to School

Written on August 31, 2012 at 5:47 pm , by

School is in session! We are working out the kinks in the morning routine and homework hour is part of our evening ritual. My family is actually used to the new schedule.One reason it’s going well? Technical preparedness.

My son’s laptop is his most-used possession. Before school started, I made him grab it and sit down with me to make sure it was as ready for back to school as the rest of us. I outsourced the time-consuming, patience-demanding portions of this task to a geek-on-call. If you read my column The Benefits of Annual Tech Support Plans you know all about this. But, in a nutshell, I called a toll-free number at McAfee’s Techmaster service (where I have an annual plan), told the tech who answered the phone that I wanted to install new virus protection (his had expired), run a scan for malware, and clean things up so the computer would run a little faster. Then I typed exactly what the rep told me to do into a remote control website, clicked OK a few times, and surrendered control of the computer to the tech on the other end of the phone. Or I should say, I walked my son through doing all of this because I wanted him to know how in case his computer went crazy when I wasn’t around to help him fix it. This took about three minutes. When the tech was done, he wished Cole luck with school and logged off.

After, I told Cole he needed real tools for school: A word processor, digital notebook, presentation program, and more. (He’s been getting by with what came on his computer and Google Docs.) And, as it happens, the not-yet-released Microsoft Office 2013 is available right now for a free download while it is in Customer Preview mode. I’ve been using it myself and I like the new, sleek look, the modern updates, and the way it integrates with Microsoft’s cloud storage SkyDrive.

Cole never takes his laptop to school so he often forgets to put completed homework on a flash drive and take it to school. But using this cloud-based storage system means he can access his files from any school computer. You don’t need to download the Office 2013 Preview to use Skydrive. SkyDrive is free. But it works nicely with the new office, making the cloud an obvious storage option every time you save.

I sent Cole to the link and he figured out the rest. He liked the new tools, too. For now, he has Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook on his laptop so he can’t claim he didn’t have what he needed to complete school assignments. Eventually, the preview period will end and Microsoft will want to charge us to keep using the final product. But by then I will know how much Cole uses it. And my budget will have recovered somewhat from all the other back-to-school expenses.

Christina Tynan-Wood writes the Family Tech column for Family Circle, and is the author of “How to Be a Geek Goddess.”You can find her at GeekGirlfriends.com, as well as here on Momster.com.

Inkling is Bringing Textbooks to Your iPad (and the Web)

Written on August 29, 2012 at 2:20 pm , by

If you or anyone in your house has an iPad (or iPhone) you have probably wondered when your student’s textbooks will stop weighing 10 pounds each and start fitting neatly into that device. The answer to that question? Today.

Download the Inkling app from your iPad and grab a free sample chapter to take a look. (If you like to cook, absolutely check out the free chapter of The Professional Chef to get a taste of your student’s future while upping your own skills in the kitchen.)  In fact, you don’t even really need an iPad since Inkling works across the Web, iPad, and iPhone. These books, typically the sort of high-end reference that requires a strong back and a hefty chunk of change are not just text replicas. They are built from the ground up to take full advantage of the technology. Plus, you can buy just one chapter if that’s all you need. You can also read it on your iPad, iPhone, or the Web and it will remember where you left off. Extra perk: you won’t lose your expensive textbooks if you lose your iPad.

Click here for a video that shows how it works.

So why are your students still lugging those massive tomes around in their backpack? Because this is just the beginning. The folks at Inkling tell me they are working fast to get schools to use their texts and that many colleges are already embracing the technology. And Inkling is working with over 60 high schools nationwide, primarily in AP and honors courses. Inkling titles are being used in a variety of courses across grades 9 – 12 as well.

In fact, the go-to biology textbook Campbell Biology has already been built as an Inkling text. Here is an intro. So you might find it in your student’s backpack soon enough. But then why would they need the backpack?

Christina Tynan-Wood writes the Family Tech column for Family Circle, and is the author of “How to Be a Geek Goddess.”You can find her at GeekGirlfriends.com, as well as here on Momster.com.

Your Thoughts: Do Kids Really Need Homework?

Written on August 28, 2012 at 9:02 am , by

When we (the editors of Family Circle) started kicking around the idea of a piece on homework, I grabbed the reins because it’s a huge issue in my household. To put it bluntly, after a full day of school, my 8-year-old son doesn’t want to do more work—and frankly, I’m not at all convinced he should have to. I mean, he hasn’t even reached a double-digit age yet. Shouldn’t seven hours of school cover it for younger kids academically?

Apparently not, as evidenced by his homework assignments in multiple subjects. This necessitates me having to suggest, ask, nudge, prod, and finally, flat-out demand that he do the work, which is a dynamic between us that I have come to loathe at the end of the day. (If he’s forgotten a book he needs, because of the crush to pack up quickly, that’s a whole other source of aggravation.)

Of course, absolutely and without exception, whether it is technically “assigned” or not, I would insist he spend time every day reading. I would think that would go without saying, but I will say it lest anyone be tempted to call me out on the reading issue. When I say “homework,” I’m referring to worksheets and similar tasks.

Anyway, I’m fascinated with the writings of educator Alfie Kohn, who makes a convincing case against after-hours assignments. In his piece in Family Circle‘s October issue, he writes:

Doing homework has no statistical relationship to achievement in elementary school. In high school, some studies do find a correlation between homework and test scores, but it’s usually fairly small. And in any case, it’s far from clear that the former causes the latter. And if you’re wondering, not a single study has ever supported the folk wisdom that homework teaches good work habits or develops positive character traits such as self-discipline, responsibility or independence.

Other educational experts obviously, and vocally, disagree. In my mind, the topic at least merits spirited debate, rather than just rote compliance.

So speak up! Tell us your stance on homework in the comments below.

Jonna Gallo Weppler is articles director at Family Circle magazine.

Alleyoop.com Helps Teens Master Math and Science Homework

Written on August 27, 2012 at 8:39 pm , by

It was back-to-school day today at our house. And that means that almost every conversation I have with my teens for the next nine months will have the word “homework” in it. Last year was a bit rough around here school-wise. So this year, I’m determined to make the homework hour as much fun as possible. To make that happen, I’m looking for entertaining educational sites my kids will enjoy exploring as much as they like poking around YouTube watching amusing videos.

Back in February, Alleyoop.com launched to help teens get college-ready with math. And just a couple of weeks ago, the site added an extensive science curriculum through collaborators like NASA eClips, and partners such as National Geographic, Scientific Minds, Patrick JMT, Virtual Nerd, Adaptive Curriculum and Brightstorm. Alleyoop.com fits  perfectly into my up-the-fun-strategy on homework. Not only does it teach science and match  in short, engaging videos and animations but the topics are easy to search and align neatly with the high school curriculum being covered in school. Added bonus? It’s all wrapped around a gaming model that infuses learning with a little bit of game fever. They take lessons to earn points. And those points can be used to buy one-on-one tutoring. It will even reach out to kids via text or email to remind them to carry on with a subject they are learning — and earn more points.

What happens in my house at homework hour usually falls into two fairly predictable scenarios: The materials covered in school was easy and clear and the homework is  done in a matter of minutes. That is obviously my favorite homework hour. But sometimes, nothing happens. No amount of poking, reminding, or prodding gets the homework done. The kids won’t say why. They are just stalled. But I have learned that the reason for this is usually that they weren’t paying attention in class – or just didn’t understand the material — so they don’t know how to do the homework. Rather than admit this, they just avoid the work.

When the subject they are stuck on is difficult science or advanced math, finding a tutor right now is not only challenging but  expensive. But calling up a quick, clear, and engaging animation that explains that difficult topic using examples kids can relate to, a video lesson by a gifted teacher, or a whiteboard lesson in math or physics that will explain the topic clearly – and explain it again…and again? Or, when all of that fails, dialing up a tutor right there? That’s exactly what I need to turn those “stuck” homework sessions into the kind that move along quickly and successfully. Alleyoop.com is now bookmarked on all of our computers.

Christina Tynan-Wood writes the Family Tech column for Family Circle, and is the author of “How to Be a Geek Goddess.”You can find her at GeekGirlfriends.com, as well as here on Momster.com.

My Best Tech Advice on Back to School

Written on August 15, 2012 at 2:56 pm , by

Did you see me on TV? Hear me on radio? I just got back from a satellite media tour where I talked to more than 20 TV shows and radio stations in three hours. I have a new respect for TV personalities. That’s hard work. The tour was sponsored by Microsoft in a partnership with Family Circle. And it was a thrilling whirlwind for me, including talking nonstop, fabulous hair and makeup, and a team of handlers. (Watch out! I might become a diva!) But there is so much to think about when it comes to buying technology for students that there is simply no way to cover it all in a three-minute TV interview or even in 10 minutes on the radio.

A couple of times, an interviewer asked me a question that was too hard to answer in a sound bite–people were waving at me to keep it short!–and I just had to touch on it and move on. But I have covered so much of this material in various places over the years that it got me thinking that I should pull together some of my favorite bits of back-to-school advice by yours truly so you can quickly go to school on back-to-school tech.

First, there is my Family Circle back-to-school tech story, Old School Meets New Tech from the September issue. Some things got quick mention in that story simply because space was limited. So Microsoft asked me to expand on how I taught my son to use OneNote to take better notes using his smart phone, SkyDrive, and Microsoft Office for their OneNote blog. It’s a great trick, one I use myself for work, that will turn any tech-savvy student into an amazing note-taker.

One interviewer asked me to recommend some educational apps. I choked. I think it may have looked as if I didn’t know of any. But the extreme opposite was true. Hundreds of them swirled around in my brain. There are so many! But no single one, except the OneNote app because I’d just been talking about it, would come out of the swirl and form words. There is a list of them in my Family Circle back-to-school story. And I rounded up a lot of them last year for GreatSchools.org. I look at them all the time. Should I cover this again? Let me know on Twitter and I’ll convince someone to run another story on it.

Several interviewers asked me how to determine what technology to buy for what age. With only a few seconds to answer, I had to give some quick general advice and say, “You know your children best.” That is a huge question! And I elaborated at some length on this pressing problem for parents at GreatSchools.org back when my kids were a couple of years younger. While some of the sites I mentioned there may have changed, the decision making process remains the same. If you feel like your kids know more than you do about tech, I encourage you to read that piece so you can take back the reigns.

Christina Tynan-Wood writes the Family Tech column for Family Circle, and is the author of “How to Be a Geek Goddess.”You can find her at GeekGirlfriends.com, as well as here on Momster.com.