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     Children's brain development is a constant process - neurons don't know anything about summer vacation. There has been much good research about the benefits of year-round schooling (three months in school, one month off from school, repeat, etc.)  yet we as a culture seem to be wedded to our present school calendar (which was started to help families in farm families deal with planting and harvest times - go figure). So - ten weeks off - how do we keep the learning process fresh and vital?

     Here are some ideas that might be helpful:

1)            Read everyday: make frequent trips to the library, have lots of books around, and make sure there is an equal amount of reading time as there is screen time (or at least a healthy fraction...). Have a family read-aloud book that everyone will enjoy, and sit together every evening you can and read together. Be a good role model and read in front of the kids - even if it's a magazine or a newspaper. Some families might pick the Bible to read together, others might pick the Chronicles of Narnia series, still others might pick Pretty Little Liars. The activity is more important than the content - reading is a habit you want to nurture.

2)           Do some everyday math: Pay your kids for vacuuming the carpet by the square foot (and have them measure the whole house while they're at it!). Have them weigh the recyclables every week and see if you can improve your family efforts to be green. Cook with recipes that you can double - or half - and teach fractions naturally. Help them learn money skills when at the store.

3)           Have you and your child pick one new activity to try over the summer - playing the guitar, painting,  jogging, sailing, birdwatching  - and do it with them. There is good research on the Suzuki method of music instruction (where a parent and child start together as beginners playing the violin) that the learning rate improves when learning a new skill with a parent.

4)           Keep a journal of summer activities - be transparent about how summer learning will help in school and use either a journal for each child or a family calendar that tracks summer activities on a daily basis. Journals can work with younger children, too - they can draw pictures and use inventive spelling to make captions. Send the journal in to school for show-and-tell in the fall - teachers will appreciate your efforts.

5)           Realize that you, too, can be a lifelong learner and a role model for a lifetime of exploration. What are you waiting for?

  1. Don't have them do chores - they expect you to pick up after them, don't they?
  2. Bail them out with their teachers - you know your child better than the teacher, don't you? Johnny couldn't possibly act that way...
  3. Be inconsistent about consequences - who can keep track of all those details? Did I ground her for one day or two? Oh, just forget it...
  4. Make them their own special foods for dinner - who doesn't want their own chef and server at home?
  5. Allow them to use poor manners with other adults - hey, life is too short to be formal, isn't it?
  6. Allow their friends to be impolite and fresh with you - you want their friends to like you, don't you?
  7.  Forget about them giving gifts for others in the family at holiday times and birthdays - they're just kids, right? They'll figure that out someday..
  8. Allow them to repeat inappropriate jokes and comments at home without correcting them - they are just trying to fit in with their friends...
  9. If their friends have a new game system or the latest phone, just get them one, too - you make good money, so why shouldn't your kids have the best?
  10. Save a lot of money for your retirement, because spoiled kids grow into spoiled adults who really won't want to take care of you!

What are Quakers "for"?

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Edward Burrough, an early convert to Quakerism, described what Quakers are "for" in 1672, writing that:

 
"We [Quakers] are not for names, nor men, nor titles of Government, nor are we for this party nor against the other but we are for justice and mercy and truth and peace and true freedom, that these may be exalted in our nation, and that goodness, righteousness, meekness, temperance, peace and unity with God, and with one another, that these things may abound."
 
These words seem especially relevant today as we seek to educate our community to be informed skeptics of arbitrary power and discerning judges of character and intention.

Who are the people in our schools that we send out into the world on graduation day as they "commence" the next stage of their lives? Do we produce graduates who will only be successful in conventional ways (money, achievement, power) or do we produce individuals who will be beacons in troubled times, helping those around them to find comfort in truthfulness and courage in doing "the next right thing" in their lives.

Once you have joined a Quaker community, you will see that there is much to be celebrated and many good people whose good works have been of value to all. Yet we must remain vigilant in our application of the testimonies to our everyday lives:

·         Do I value the simplicity of straightforward speech and uncluttered perception so that I can focus on what is really important?

·         Do I seek true peace in my life, not just the absence of war but the presence of compassion and non-violence?

·         Do I maintain my integrity in all I say and do?

·         Do I create community, even with those of different faiths or political views?

·         Do I practice equality in my acceptance of others, providing not just the same gifts to each person but instead the specific gifts each person needs to have equal access to the "good life"?

·         Do I give back in service through an acknowledgement of my own privileged position in the world, recognizing how my path has been made easier from day one by the gifts of others?

·         Do I practice stewardship in my care for others and for the planet, realizing that "best practices" are not dictated by government regulations but instead by individual choices of conscience?

In the words of George Fox, a founding member of the Religious Society of Friends:

"Be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations wherever you come; that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people, and to them; then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone; whereby in them you may be a blessing, and make the witness of God in them to bless you."


The third week in February - in addition to our children being off from school - was the winter Congressional recess. This is a time when members of Congress return to their home constituencies and hold town meetings. It is a favorite form of citizenship participation in government for many of us - we can speak our mind to our representatives directly and in person.

 

Why not consider having a "family meeting" - your version of a "town meeting" - in your home? You can help you and your children find your voice - a civil and appropriate voice that discusses issues in a calm and respectful way - and develop important skills like listening, self-expression, compromise, and problem-solving.

 

Family meetings can be used for many purposes:

·         to solve family problems of living together (like who gets to use the bathroom first in the morning or who leaves the empty milk carton in the refrigerator and doesn't put milk on the shopping list);

·         to propose new family rules (like "no electronics at the dinner table" or "no skateboards in the house");

·         to reinforce family values (like "everyone can speak their mind if the tone is respectful and civil" or "this family gives to charity and believes in community service");

·         to check in with one another (you all might share your schedule for the next period of time and adjust chores and activities if one family member is especially stressed);

·         to plan family activities (like the next vacation or a visit to a museum);

·         to enjoy one another's company!

 

Here are some useful ideas for setting up regular family meetings in your home:

·         Pick a regular time and stick to it (like the second Sunday of the month for dinner).

·         Rotate who's in charge of the meeting (and perhaps have that person plan for a special dessert to share) - anyone five years old or up can chair a meeting with some guidance and practice.

·         Have a "family meeting agenda items" white board in the kitchen so any family member can bring up something for discussion - that way, if something comes up amongst the kids, you can say "put it on the agenda" and you can discuss this next time.

·         Begin each family meeting with a round of sharing: a simple routine might be going around the table and sharing one thing that went well today, one thing that didn't go well today, and one thing each person is looking forward to tomorrow.

·         Have simple rules for sharing: use a "talking stick" to prevent interruptions, be vigilant about no put downs, give each person the right to pass, and consider all ideas until you get to the feasible and constructive ones.

·         End each family meeting with a round of appreciations: each person goes around the table and expresses one thing they appreciate in each family member who participated in the meeting.

 

One important point: for me, families are not "democracies" but hopefully more like "benevolent dictatorships" with Mom and Dad having final say. Nonetheless, you will soon see the benefits of treating your children as valued members of the family community and all of you will become better creative problem-solvers.

 

Like any skill, having a successful family meeting will take some time. Stick with it and all will be well - you will be helping your children to develop important life skills.

 

 

 

 

This election season seems especially filled with anxiety - how can we remain calm and civil when the issues are so polarizing and the attacks so personal? Here are some tips for you - which you can share with your children - to help us all find some serenity and sanctuary amidst the daily cycles of  election news drama.

1)    Realize that some anxiousness is necessary: evolutionary biology tells us that our body needs to be put on alert to deal with a situation that might be dangerous. (There are no more saber-toothed tigers, but sometimes we react as if one is about to attack us!) I want my child to be anxious about crossing City Island Avenue when there is a lot of traffic - that heightened state of awareness is a good tool for keeping safe and vigilant. Then, when we reach the other side, we can take a breath and resume our usual level of awareness.

2)   Anxiousness becomes a problem when everyday situations begin to be perceived as dangerous, thus creating a "fight or flight or freeze" response that doesn't need to be engaged. Take time for yourself to sort out whether a situation - real or imagined or anticipated - warrants a sense of danger and hypervigilance or just "keeping an eye" on things. Practice thinking through a potential difficulty until the end when your child feels anxious - "if I don't know whom to sit with at lunch, I will feel some stress, but I can sit by myself and bring a book to read and see if anyone joins me...next time I can plan ahead and invite a friend to sit with me at lunch..." Rarely do our worst fears become realities - as Mark Twain said, "I've had a lot of worries in my life, most of which have never happened."

3)   Maintain the important family activities that settle us down and relieve our stress and anxiousness: eat dinner as a family; have family game nights; worship and play together; visit with relatives and friends. The simple relationship-based comforts that families and friends can provide are a powerful antidote to stress and anxiety.

4)   Get physical exercise - for yourself and with your children. Our bodies are primed to release "feel good" endorphins when we exercise - take advantage of this simple way to relieve stress. We all have access to nature - there is true healing available in watching a sunset, taking a walk to the beach, and riding a bike through the woods.

5)   Maintain an attitude of gratitude for what you do have - be it health, family, a home, or a friend. Always focusing on what you are missing will leave you miserable - and it will be your own fault!

 

SO - turn off the news, be with those you love, practice the gift of democracy as an informed citizen and voter, and keep that anxiety in check.

 

 

We live in a challenging time. Our children may overhear politicians, peers, and even family members speaking to one another in language that is divisive and hurtful. They may hear things that are overstated or simply not true. How, then, do we model the behavior we hope to see in our children - respect, honesty, and civility?

 

Respect is the right of every individual. We can always find common ground with another, in any dispute, even if that common ground is simply being human. Humility and honor are ways of showing respect - no one of us is better than, we are equals. Everyone is worthy of dignity. We respect our children when we avoid shame, ridicule, threats, and punishment but instead provide opportunities for restitution, forgiveness, and future growth.

If Johnny drops a glass full of lemonade, instead of saying something like: "You clumsy child! Now I have to clean this up. Grow up!"

we can come up with appropriate consequences in a respectful way by saying something like: "I will deal with the broken glass so you don't cut yourself, and then you need to get some paper towels and wipe up the lemonade. Everyone makes mistakes; let's think about how you might do this differently next time, OK?"

 

In terms of honesty, here are a few tips:

·         Try to tell the truth with your children - if they cannot handle the information (about a family member's illness or a difficult situation) tell them that the adults are doing what they can to take care of the situation and you will fill them in later.

·         Avoid words like "always" and "never" - they are rarely true, and tend to close doors in an argument or conflict.

·         Hold yourself to the highest standard - our integrity is a valuable part of who we are and can be thrown away with a lie or a cheat or a steal. Let your children know how you work on rigorous honesty and ask them to do the same.

 

Civility - manners, politeness, courtesy - is a basic currency in how we communicate with and treat one another. It is not "political correctness" but common sense. We all know the Golden Rule - "treat others the way you want to be treated" - but let's also think about what some are calling the Platinum Rule - "treat others the way they want to be treated". We can do even better if we follow Immanuel Kant's advice: "act in any situation the way you would want every other person to act". If we spend some time thinking about the implications of this - with our own actions and those of our children - we may see some startling results.

 

This is all just good human decency. As Dorothy Law Nolte says in her poem "Children Live What They Learn" (© 1972):

 

If children live with criticism, they learn to condemn.
If children live with hostility, they learn to fight.
If children live with 
fear, they learn to be apprehensive.
If children live with pity, they learn to feel sorry for themselves.
If children live with ridicule, they learn to feel 
shy.
If children live with 
jealousy, they learn to feel envy.
If children live with 
shame, they learn to feel guilty.


If children live with encouragement, they learn 
confidence.
If children live with tolerance, they learn patience.
If children live with praise, they learn appreciation.
If children live with acceptance, they learn to 
love.
If children live with approval, they learn to like themselves.
If children live with recognition, they learn it is good to have a goal.
If children live with sharing, they learn 
generosity.
If children live with honesty, they learn truthfulness.
If children live with fairness, they learn justice.
If children live with kindness and consideration, they learn respect.
If children live with security, they learn to have 
faith in themselves and in those about them.
If children live with friendliness, they learn the world is a nice place in which to live.

Let's be sure to create a better world, shall we?

 

 

 

Kids in tow, new to the area, and not quite sure if this is what they are looking for. What do we hope they find?

·        A parking lot full of cars with those bumper stickers we all love (you know what I mean!) as well as car seats, bike racks hanging off the back, kayaks on the roof, and windows showing the messy paraphernalia of childhood. Lots of bikes - parked in a sturdy bike rack - and evidence of families who are active and joyful in their lifestyles.

·        Welcoming signs - not just for adults - that express both the seriousness of our Quaker faith and the playfulness of the Divine in our lives. The quiet dignity of a beautiful Meeting House surrounded by the latest kids' garden projects and some leftover ornaments hanging on the trees.

·        A Friendly greeter (who is also kid-friendly) at the door who has the time (and social skills) to help these folks feel welcome - each and all of them. Name tags for all and clear signs as to where to go...

·        A First Day School room that is bright, cheerful, and age-appropriate in different ways, with other kids already there who have been taught through specific lessons and examples how to help new Friends feel welcomed and comfortable. The "curriculum" is easily accessible and the "circle of Friends" is easily widened. Adults in the room have had some training in working with children - if only a mini-workshop by a Meeting member who works with children - and the lessons are engaging and child-centered.

·        A library with resources for all - books for all ages, information for new seekers, research books for in-depth study, a clear system of organization, and a simple check-out policy.

·        Ah yes - Meeting for Worship! What to do with the kids? A loving acceptance of the distractions of childhood before they go to First Day School (or when they return from First Day School - did we explain this to our new family?) A reminder of the "spiritual equality" of all ministry in the Meeting - is it clear that we are a beloved community"? A seasoned and gathered Meeting that embraces al - and parents can sigh (their kids are safe and cared for) and settle into worship surrounded by loving acceptance.

·        A slow and gentle process of invitation to join - committees, potlucks, Bible study, or madrigal singing - with the suggestion of a "host family" to keep in touch with the new Friends.

·        A smattering of the kinds of workshops "we Quakers" do so well - AVP, Quakerism 101, Quaker Parenting, Quaker service - to let our new Friends know that we do good works that go beyond our Meeting.

·        A sense of overall well-being - we Quakers grow our meetings by attraction rather than promotion much of the time.

 

Here are five things every parent would do well to remember about teachers:

1)      Teaching really is "rocket science" - and brain science, too! There is research-based practice that goes into good teaching, and teachers strive to be up-to-date in the "best practices" of their field.

2)     Teaching is a calling as well as a profession. We educators feel "called" to do what we do: to provide a service to the next generation - education - that is more important than money or power for our children's future happiness.

3)     Teaching demands rigorous preparation for each day in the classroom. Today's young people - "technology natives" who have grown up with the Internet, cell phones, and social media - won't do well with old lesson plans and rote learning.

4)     Teachers are humans too - and we appreciate affirmations, respect, and constructive comments on how we are doing.

5)     There is a "learning triangle" - parent/teacher/student - and we must do our share as parents to compliment what is happening in the classroom.

 

AND - here are five things every teacher would do well to remember about parents:

1)      All parents want the best for their children, and sometimes this blinds us when faced with the necessary discipline that teachers must administer.

2)     Parenting is the most important work many of us will ever do, and thus we can all use the help and support of one another on this journey.

3)     We live in a culture where shame, embarrassment, and sarcasm are common in the media - we parents don't want this for our children, and our classrooms need to be safe havens that are free of these unnecessary challenges.

4)     Parents are humans too - we appreciate affirmations, respect, and constructive comments on how we are doing.

5)     There is indeed a "learning triangle" - parent/teacher/student - and we must do our share as teachers to compliment what is happening in the home.

 

Wishing everyone a great start to the school year...!

  

We live in a time when racial tension is everywhere. Our children - who, as research has suggested, are well aware of the privilege of whiteness at an early age - learn from us adults on a daily basis. How we openly address issues of race - and live our truth in our daily lives - can help ensure that the next generation of adults can do better than we did in addressing racial injustice.

Here are five things you can keep in mind:

1)    You can model and demonstrate diversity and inclusion in your own life. Are all of your friends from the same racial group? Do you have diverse people as friends - real friends - with whom you share a meal, travel, go to the movies, hang out in the living room? Encourage your child to do the same - reach out to others, learn how different homes represent different cultures, and celebrate the mix of cultures and religions that makes us an enriched society.

2)    Take advantage of teachable moments. When children realize that not all races are not represented equally - in the media, in government, and in positions of visibility and stature - let them know that in earlier days in the USA many groups of people were seen as the "other" and as a potential menace to society: Irish, Italians, Chinese, etc. By talking about these differences - accepting color and avoiding the hypocrisy of "color-blindness" - we can come to true understanding of one another's experience. Kids can understand this as well - we are not "the same" but we are entitled to equal access to the benefits of our society.

3)    Accept the fact that "the talk" you have with your child is dependent upon your racial status: for whites it's about sex and being safe from pregnancy and disease, for people of color it's about talking to the authorities and staying alive.

4)    Realize that the biggest affirmative action program in the history of the USA - the G.I. bills after World War II that provided mortgages and education for returning G.I.'s - created the white middle class in the 1950's that many of us benefited from growing up. Whites have a long history of helping themselves with government assistance - why do we balk when this is about people of color?

5)     Remember that important conversations with our children can be difficult but necessary, The "status quo" is unacceptable to people of color - and morally untenable for all of us -   and our children have the opportunity to make things better.

 

John Dewey, an influential American educator of the 19th and 20th centuries, said that the goal of education is "to build a new world." May we help our children to do just that. 

      Every fall families with children in school face the same challenge: how to transition from the days of summer vacation to the days of school bells and homework. For families with working parents going back to school may be a relief - childcare for the summer can be quite daunting and expensive - yet the addition of school anxiousness, new teachers, and academic rigor provides new territory for everyone.

     Some tips to remember:

·        Check in with yourself: am I able to relax? Take a deep breath? Be calm in the face of change? We parents set the tone for back-to-school: will it be well-planned and calm or hectic and last-minute?

·        Make sure all health needs are taken care of beforehand: school can be at the "cutting edge" of experience for your child, and we all want to be in our best form when starting a new endeavor.

·        Go over all of the paperwork you received over the summer, and make sure all forms are filled out and ready to go.

·        Check that list of supplies again: no one wants to be the only child without the specific pencil box/calculator/notebook that was requested by the teacher!

·        Check for any dress code requirements before you go shopping: it will avoid a lot of fights and trips back to the store. Help your child pick out that special outfit for the first day and maybe have a special outfit for yourself as well: it is indeed a special day for everyone!

·        Set up a family calendar (large whiteboard calendars with dry-erase markers work well) that is color-coded for each family member. Keep track of how busy everyone is going to be!

·        Be sure you have re-established bedtime and wake-up times - don't wait too long!

·        Make a plan for lunches: make them the night before if possible. Children who are old enough to make their own lunch should do so, and perhaps also make lunches for younger siblings. Remember: responsibility at home reinforces responsibility in school and leads to responsibility in life.

·        Start to minimize TV time: most of us watch too much TV in the summer, so begin that transition now.

·        Have a designated homework place and a schedule for after-school/HW time. Proper prior planning prevents poor performance.

·         Make a resolution with your child for the new school year: "I will not yell in the morning" might accompany "I will follow my own morning checklist without your help." Put the resolutions on the fridge door and keep track of how you are doing.

·        Remember: childhood (and, indeed, life) is a journey, not a race.   

Blessings on the new school year!

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