September 21st, 2016

How to Make a Decision About School Volunteering You Feel Good About

How to Make a Decision About School Volunteering You Feel Good About

At this time of year, there’s a lot of pressure for parents to volunteer at their children’s school, especially for moms. It’s easy to feel as though you aren’t doing enough for your child’s school, but at the same time volunteering can take too large chunks out of your time. You need to take a good look at whether volunteering at your child’s school makes sense for you. Then you can make a decision you feel good about.

What Do You Want to Do?

This breaks down into two parts. First, do you even want to volunteer at your child’s school? Second, what would you like to do there if you do volunteer?

Volunteering is so much more fun if you want to be there and you get to do at least some of what you would like to do to help out. You won’t always be able to choose exactly what you do, but you can decide whether you’re volunteering in the classroom, getting active in the PTA, helping out with special events, chaperoning field trips and so forth.

Once you’ve decided to volunteer for a particular thing, you may have to let go of control over what exactly you do. Field trip chaperones, for example, are often assigned to a group of kids and told what they are expected to do for the day.

I have two favorites that I have done through the years with my kids. The first was managing my daughter’s Destination Imagination team. It was stressful at times, but very rewarding. Destination Imagination is a wonderful activity to encourage kids to be more creative and solve problems, and I highly recommend it.

The second is reading with the younger kids. One year I was able to take my then two year old into a room they had set aside for parent who had to volunteer with young siblings along, and then read with first graders who were sent over from their class. It was a big help for the teacher, and really good for my highly social two year old. I usually brought her with a carrot for a snack, which took her a long time to eat. She was known as “the kid with the carrot” for years after.

Does It Fit Into Your Schedule?

Volunteering shouldn’t mess up your routine more than you’re willing to allow it to. If it’s making your life too much more difficult, you may not have found the right fit for you. It may be time to reconsider what you’ve gotten yourself into.

Now, you may not always be able to change your volunteer schedule right away. They need you at the times you have committed to. What you can do is keep in mind which things overwhelmed you or didn’t work with your schedule, and take that into consideration next time.

If a schedule change is all you need, schools are usually quite accommodating to their volunteers, provided you aren’t leaving them in the lurch for an event. They know you’re taking time out of your day, and that it’s not easy to do so.

What Does the School Expect?

Sometimes you don’t have much of a choice as to whether or not you volunteer at your child’s school. My kids’ school, for example, is a charter school and requires a certain amount of volunteering per child enrolled. They have a lot of ways parents can do it, so that even if both parents work outside the home or the child has a single parent, it should not be too hard to get the volunteer hours done.

Many schools have work parents can do at home to complete their volunteer hours – it’s not all done at the school. There may also be hours available after school hours or on weekends. It’s not all in the classroom or working with the kids.

Always remember that unless your children’s school requires it, you do not have to volunteer. It’s a wonderful thing to do for the school, but if it doesn’t work for you, don’t feel too guilty about not volunteering. Keep reading with your kids, helping them with homework as necessary and generally doing what you can to support their academic success the best you can.

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post may be 'affiliate links.' This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission.

July 11th, 2016

How to Encourage Your Kids to Reach Their Summer Goals

How to Encourage Your Kids to Reach Their Summer Goals

If your kids are like mine, they talk a lot about the things they’d like to do over the summer. Mine have talked for the past couple summers, for example, about building a hovercraft. It hasn’t happened yet. I decided to see what I could do to encourage them. They also have other things they want to make, learn or do.

The method we’re using is pretty simple. First I had them write out the things they want to get done this summer. I’m not talking family vacation stuff – that was a different conversation. I also don’t mean summer academics for the most part. Helping kids remember the stuff they learned in school has its place, but not in excess. Besides, sometimes the things they want to do will take that place up quite nicely.

My oldest daughter wants to be a better artist, learn to play harp, build that hovercraft, start a YouTube channel reviewing her favorite video games and learn to design apps. My son also wants to build a hovercraft and a go cart, learn to solder electronics and he has already finished building his Meccano Meccanoid. My youngest daughter wants to do a lot of crafts and learn to make doll videos.

Now, if we let this summer go like usual, once every week or two they’d remember a project and maybe work on it. Mostly, however, they’d just play together or on computers whenever I’d let them. Nothing much would actually get done toward their goals.

Here’s How We’re Fixing That

The kids and I looked over their goals and made a weekly schedule for each of them. The schedules for the younger two are very flexible. The schedule for my oldest is more strict, but we planned it that way. She wishes she could have a summer job, but isn’t old enough for one, so the things she wants to do which might make money are scheduled to be like a summer job.

All of the kids have a lot of completely free time in their schedules, and I consider this part important. They can work on their projects longer than scheduled if they want or cut the time short, especially for the younger ones. All of the kids are often free to do whatever they want, provided it doesn’t involve staring at a screen.

For the younger kids in particular, they’re also allowed to say when they’d really rather just play that day. The point in the schedule isn’t to force the kids to work on something; it’s to make them remember the things they said they want to do. Most times, they’ll want to do it, and they often work on whatever thing for longer than I put into the schedule.

That the scheduled time is on the short side deliberate on my part. I don’t want them feeling that these things they want to do for fun are burdens. There’s lots of completely free time surrounding the scheduled times, so that it’s easy to spend that extra time on a project that is going well.

Boring things such as chores are also listed on the schedule.

So far, this has worked pretty well. My son had been overwhelmed by the thought of assembling his Meccanoid at first, but once he got going on it, he realized it wasn’t that difficult. I ordered a Snowball microphone for my oldest so she can do her video game reviews. With the right software, she can start that soon.

The kids have taken advantage of the schedule’s flexibility. The day after he finished his robot, my son said he didn’t want to do project time; he just wanted to play with the robot. I told him of course he could – playing with what you made is certainly part of that kind of project. Even if he had wanted to do something else I would have been fine with it. It’s good for kids to just be kids during the summer, after all.

I hope that this whole plan will help my kids to plan their own time better. My goal was to add just a little structure to their days without controlling their activities too much. Unstructured time is very important to children – it helps them learn to make their own decisions and be more creative. The schedule we’re using is more of a reminder of what they said they want to do than a demand from me, and I hope that will be a good thing for them.

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post may be 'affiliate links.' This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission.

June 22nd, 2015

6 Ways to Encourage Your Children’s Creativity Over the Summer

6 Ways to Encourage Your Children's Creativity Over the Summer

Everyone admires a child’s creativity. It’s amazing seeing what they come up with, especially when they’re young and utterly uninhibited about expressing themselves. Summer is a great time to encourage your kids to be more creative without the distraction of schoolwork.

1. Encourage them to read.

Reading is a great way to encourage the imagination, whether you’re helping your child learn to read or they’ve long since mastered it. Let your child pick the books he or she enjoys for the summer – time enough for required reading during the school year.

Take advantage of any reading programs in your area that may encourage your child. Many local libraries have summer reading programs. Barnes & Noble has a program this summer (2015) where children can earn a free book by reading 8 books and writing the titles in a reading journal. The free book titles are listed on the reading journal.

2. Encourage them to build.

There are so many ways your children can use their imaginations while building, and so many different toys that make it possible, from the long-popular Legos and K’Nex to programs such as Minecraft. You don’t want your kids to overdo it on the computer all summer, of course, but Minecraft and similar programs offer a great deal of flexibility and much less mess than toys which can be left on the floor.

Also let them come up with their own projects. My older two want to build a hovercraft this summer. I have no idea if they will manage it, but they will be doing the research, figuring out what they need and what it costs, and giving it a try. They’ll also be learning to solder and learning to program a Raspberry Pi. These are all things they’re enthusiastic about, not things they’re being pushed on, so that their summer is fun as well as educational.

3. Encourage them in music.

Learning to play a musical instrument is good for kids in many ways. Let them choose the instrument they’d like to learn if at all possible – my oldest is learning harp, and my youngest wants piano lessons. The middle child is more stubborn – music just doesn’t interest him at all.

Even if they don’t want to learn an instrument, you can encourage their enjoyment by having music play during the day. Turn on something they’ll enjoy – they might sing or dance along.

4. Encourage them to play outside.

It may be hot outside in the summer, but your kids can play outdoors anyhow, just as you probably did. Have drinks and treats available so they can cool down as needed, but get them outside. Encourage them to catch bugs (at least the non-stinging sort), have water fights, climb trees and play with friends. Let them roam the neighborhood as they get old enough.

5. Don’t overschedule them.

Don’t overplan your children’s summer days. Give them time to just be themselves. Classes of various sorts can be good for your kids, but more important is that they have time to do whatever they want.

6. Spend time together as a family.

You don’t have to do anything big, but do things as a family. Have game nights. Watch a movie together. Have a picnic. Go camping. Go on vacation. Have a water balloon fight. Read. Talk about things you’ve done and dreams you have. Big or little, do things together as a family.

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post may be 'affiliate links.' This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission.

November 18th, 2013

How Can You Encourage Your Kids To Be More Independent?

How Can You Encourage Your Kids To Be More Independent?

It’s interesting sometimes to talk with other parents about what the right age to allow children to do simple things such as walk to school alone or other such activities. I walked alone in kindergarten, but that was normal then. Most parents I know these days are amazed that my kids walk to and from school together without me at all, under a quarter mile, nice neighborhood and lots of people around because they’re taking their kids to school or picking them up after. I know some who swear their kids won’t go anywhere on their own until their senior year in high school, which I find horrifying. How are they going to learn all they need to do as independent adults with only a year of doing things on their own? I believe it’s vital for kids to do things independently much sooner than that.

I know this is a difficult subject for many parents. We hear too many awful stories on the news, and certainly some families live in situations where keeping a close eye even on older kids is important. Not everyone lives in safe neighborhoods, after all. Most, however, really aren’t that bad.

Send the Kids Out to Play

Sending your kids outside to play once they’re old enough is one of the easiest ways to encourage independence. Start in the backyard when they’re younger, and let them play out front when they’re older. Exactly what ages these are depend on the individual child, the neighborhood, and

If you don’t have a yard, if you’re in an apartment or condo, for example, don’t give up. Even if you have to take your kids to a park to play you can encourage independence. Simply don’t follow them around much, and decrease your participation as they get older.

None of this means you can’t play with your kids outside. Just don’t let it be the only way they play outside. Encourage them to go outside to play alone, with siblings or with friends. You know, the kind of things you probably did as a child.

Encourage Your Kids to Walk Places

Having my kids walk to school is the easiest way to have my kids go places without me. It’s a short distance. Not everyone lives close enough to their children’s schools to allow this, of course, and some schools have policies that make it incredibly difficult to just let kids walk to school.

But what about other places kids can walk? Friends’ houses. A nearby store. A park. Are there age appropriate places your kids can walk without you?

It’s really easy to get things started if your child is fortunate enough to have a friend live really close in the neighborhood. Mine sometimes play with the neighbor’s daughter, and that’s a really easy walk to allow them at a fairly young age.

Independence Can Take Many Forms

Encouraging your kids to be more independent isn’t entirely about sending them out to do things away from home without you. It’s also about what they can do when you’re around or they’re home alone.

Cooking is a vital skill for everyone, but some parents get really nervous about teaching their kids even the basics. I know parents who can’t believe I let my 4 year old use a butter knife with her play dough or to butter her own bread. I see it as a low risk activity – it’s really hard to hurt yourself seriously with a butter knife. My oldest is learning more about cooking by helping me with a meal or dessert once a week.

Sure, my kids have hurt themselves in the kitchen in small ways – minor burns from the toaster oven, for example; but nothing serious and they’re more careful now. My two oldest can handle enough basic cooking chores that they can feed themselves even if I’m asleep, busy, not home or just not in the mood to cook at the moment.

The two oldest also have pocket knives. Just basic ones, but they’ve had some fun whittling with them. Giving kids a pocket knife at an appropriate age used to be a normal thing, and it encourages the kids to get comfortable with knives and their proper use. It takes a little teaching and attention, but knowing how to use a pocket knife is a good confidence builder, which encourages kids to be more independent.

Think about the age appropriate skills your children should have. Do they have them? What more can your kids do?

But Is It Safe?

Nothing in life is completely safe. Nothing. However, most kids are plenty safe going out and playing in age appropriate ways. If you have a situation where things aren’t so safe for your kids, then of course you shouldn’t encourage them to do things that are too dangerous. But you can still encourage other forms of independence while protecting your kids in other areas.

I like to keep in mind that things like kidnapping, a major fear of many parents, isn’t all that likely for most kids. Most kidnappings are by people the kids know, not strangers, yet stranger kidnapping is what many parents worry about. Kids are far more likely to die in a car accident than be kidnapped by a stranger, yet the vast majority of parents quite calmly drive their kids wherever they need to go. The perceived risk isn’t as great because we all trust our own driving skills. If there are custody issues, that’s an entirely different matter, and yes, you may need to be more careful then. But most parents and most kids? Odds are kidnapping will never be a problem.

I don’t believe in teaching my kids about stranger danger. They can talk to people they don’t know, just not go anywhere with them. My kids still know about stranger danger, as I’m not the only influence in their lives, but they know to be cautious about people talking to them from strange cars, and if they are in a situation where they do feel threatened, they can ask just about anyone else for help and they’ll probably be fine. They know that having someone they know help is best, but if that’s not an option, most people are good and will help. I’ve talked to them about when my car broke down in the middle of nowhere, before cell phones were common, no call boxes in the area and a long walk back to the nearest town, so I took a ride with a man who offered. It was absolutely scary, but better to go with the guy offering the ride than one who might demand it, and it all turned out fine. Not the kind of thing I’d recommend doing, but the best choice out of the few I had.

You can certainly have your kids carry a cell phone when they do things away from home. Nothing wrong with that and I certainly wish one had been available the time my car broke down. A cell phone isn’t a guarantee of safety, but it can sure help them get out of a bad situation more quickly.

What Do You Think?

How do you encourage your kids to be more independent? How will that change as they get older?

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post may be 'affiliate links.' This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission.

August 28th, 2013

What To Do When Your Child Wants To Sign Up For Too Many Activities

What To Do When Your Child Wants to Sign Up For Too Many Activities

I’ve always tried to put limits on how many activities my kids sign up for at one time. Too many activities means too little time for other things. Too much running around for the parents too, potentially. But what if your child really, really wants to do more than you think is a good idea? Is an immediate “no” the right answer? How many activities are too many?

This has come about because my son has expressed an interest in three activities outside of school this year: soccer, running club, Lego club. All good activities, and he did the first two last year. The last two activities are both at the school after school, and don’t require a lot of my time most of the time, although Lego club may involve going to competitions. The soccer takes a lot of my time, but I knew that already, even if we did sign up for it before I knew quite how overloaded this school year would be.

It’s all great stuff, but I’ve always kept my kids to no more than two activities outside of school during the school year at a time. I’ve never liked overscheduling kids because they need time to just be kids, but in this case it’s my son wanting to do more, not me pushing him. If he believes he can handle it, I’m inclined to let him try.

Consider the Impact on School Work

First and foremost come the rules about school work. My husband and I decided our son can sign up for each of these activities, but he must be prepared to drop at least one if grades become an issue. Odds are that would be running club first, as it’s the only one that doesn’t involved being on a team. I don’t like making my kids leave a team that is in part counting on them because it’s not fair to the other kids. Bad enough school work would make that happen, of course, but I don’t expect that.

The good part is that only the running club and Lego club run the whole school year. If things are too much, we don’t have to sign up for soccer again in the spring, and that’s one activity down… or rather two practices each week and a Saturday game down.

Discuss how much later this may mean your child has to work on homework, and how much less time to play with friends. Also consider what happens when a big assignment comes around. Plan ahead so your child knows what will happen if they start running out of time to finish homework before bedtime due to activities.

Make Sure the Activities Are Compatible

Most especially make sure activities won’t overlap too much. Soccer has started already, while the other activities haven’t. There may be issues if Lego club wants to meet too long on the same days as soccer practice. Running club isn’t a big deal because the kids just show up on the days they want to run; it’s about individual achievement.

But can you imagine the problems if Lego club meetings run too long on a soccer day?

It’s entirely possible that this whole thing will be a nonissue once club schedules come out. If the time between activities is likely to be too little for homework, he won’t be able to do it.

Decide If You’re Comfortable With What’s Being Asked of You

It’s not all about what your child wants to do – you get to decide if you’re up for any extra obligations the activity may put on you. I’m not a big fan of feeling like my children’s chauffeur, especially not this year when the school is asking a lot of me, and I have my youngest in a parent participation preschool.

Fortunately, the extra activities are at school, and so shouldn’t require much at all of me. That’s great for my son, as being asked to drive all over town for still more activities probably would have meant a fast “no.”

Plan For Disaster

So you go ahead and let your child go for it and do more activities. Then his grades drop. Now what?

Our plan is that if things don’t go well with school work, activities will be dropped. Probably running club first, as it’s not a team and can even be added in later if things change. Team based clubs go last, and which will go depends on which is most the problem. As I said before, soccer ends before the others, so if there’s an issue with it, it will take care of itself in fairly short order. That’s good because soccer is huge around here, and this is the year that my son starts the more competitive levels.

Plan For the Best

On the other hand, things may go great. Your child may learn to manage his time well with a lot of commitments. That’s a wonderful lesson.

Even if things are going well with school, you may have to help with finding time to relax. Hopefully the activities are a kind of time with friends, but what about just fun time with friends, just being kids? Try to help your child have time for that too.

It’s a bit of a risk letting your child do more activities than you have allowed in the past, but it can be a good thing. Take a good look at the activities and your child and decide if it’s right for your family.

Disclosure: Some of the links in this post may be 'affiliate links.' This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission.

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Disclosure: Home with the Kids is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com. I also review or mention products for which I may receive compensation from other sources. All opinions are my own.