For Parents: How to Create a Field Trip Group

8116663666_a555a2d833_mField trips, or cultural excursions, can be a great opportunity to bond with your child. But these kinds of trips can also be a great time to build social skills. But in order to improve your child’s social skills, you need other kids.

You can put together a group, a posse, of parents and kids to teach your children about history, science, and their world. Here’s how:

Step 1: Brainstorm ideas for the trip

You can do this on your own. Think about where you’d like to take your child and what experiences might be best with a small group of children.

Step 2: Decide what you want the group to be

Do you want to just have an informal group of parents that get together every few weeks? Do you want to create a formal nonprofit so that you can apply for grants to fund the trips? Do you want a small group of just three families or something larger with a dozen families? Think about what you hope to accomplish, and what’s going to be best for your child.

Step 3: Approach like-minded parents

Think about the parents in your child’s life. Who do you get along with? Who do you think would have a similar goal to yours? Talk to different parents without committing to anything and see what reactions you get. When you find a few who seem like they can take your idea seriously, pitch the idea to them.

Step 4: Take the lead and work out the logistics

This step is kind of self-explanatory. Once you have a group of parents, you can have a face-to-face meeting or set up your first trip over email. You’ll need a date and time, location, method of transportation, and more. See my Cultural Excursion Checklist for more ideas of what you may need.

Step 5: Be friendly and send out reminders

Make sure you have every parent’s email address. If your group is big enough, you may want to set up a Facebook group where you can post updates. Send out friendly reminders, especially if you’ve delegated some responsibilities.

Step 6: Take your trip

Try not to stress the day of. Have fun! Try to balance spending time with your child and learning with leading the entire group.

If you follow these six steps, you’ll be well on your way to creating your own field trip posse. For more information on why parental involvement is important and how you can do it, check out 5 Ways Parents Can Get Involved in Elementary School.


(Photo Credit: Juergen Hartl on Flickr Commons)

For Parents: How to Create a Free Field Trip

This is what field trips usually look like. You can do something different for your child.

When you think of field trips, you may think of a buss full of kids on their way to a museum, national park, or battlefield. Those trips can be great experiences, but with so many schools enduring budget cuts, those trips are happening less and less. But parents can put together informal trips to teach your child important life and academic lessons.

There’s a three step process to taking your child on a free field trip:

Step 1: Planning

Decide where and when you’re going to go. Do you need to prepare your child or explain anything in advance? Definitely prepare a list of questions to ask your child about the experience once it’s over. That’s an important step.

Step 2: Go!

Get out of the house. Go somewhere and explore. Have fun. Ask your child questions. Express your own observations. This is a great opportunity not only for intellectual stimulation but also for emotional bonding with your child.

Step 3: Talk about it

Remember that list of questions I mentioned? Pull them out over a meal at home, or memorize them and start asking during the drive home. Get your child thinking about what he saw and experienced. This is the most important step. The conversations you have with your child will allow him to synthesize and start to analyze his experience. This is where the magic of the field trip happens.

Don’t leave the experience for just one day, especially if the field trip is to a place that you visit often. Bring it up at the dinner table. Make connections between a trip to the grocery store (maybe for a lesson on percentages) and a trip to the mall (where percentages also apply). You can also connect a trip to the grocery store to a lesson on cooking dinner or baking cookies.

Need some ideas? All of the ideas below offer you opportunities to teach your child something outside of home and school. And all it will cost you is the gas it takes to get there.


  • Grocery store
  • Farmer’s market
  • Restaurants


  • College campuses
  • Neighbor’s houses
  • Your place of work


  • Pet store
  • Local park
  • Dog park
  • Animal shelters

Financial Literacy

  • The mall
  • Grocery store
  • Department and discount stores

What Novel Beginnings and TV Pilots Have in Common

I’m sick. I’ve caught whatever bug is going around. So, I’m laid up on the couch watching Netflix, trying to recover. I decided to go back to a favorite from my adolescence: One Tree Hill.

One of my favorite dramas from my youth

After I watched the One Tree Hill pilot again, I got to thinking. It’s a great model for the beginning of a novel.

All the main characters appear. 

I knew the main players Dan, Lucas, and Nathan would all show up in the pilot. But we also get to see other characters who play major roles: Skillz, Haley, Karen, Keith, Whitey,  and Tim. And not only do they all show up in the pilot but we get to see them in character defining ways. We get to see that Lucas has a soft spot and that Nathan is a bit of a jerk but is also under a tremendous amount of pressure. The characters are complex, right from the beginning.

The tensions are laid out and in your face. 

Lucas vs. Nathan. Nathan vs. Dan. Dan vs. Whitey. Karen vs. the World. These tensions are clearly established in 40 minutes. They pack a punch in a way that’s real and relatable but also intriguing. These tensions are why I come back to this series and why so many viewers were pulled from the pilot through the rest of the season. The thing about this tension is that it feels like it starts in the middle. They’ve existed for awhile, and we, the viewers, are stepping right into the middle of them. But there’s room for these tensions to grow, and we can feel that.

The stakes are clear.

Viewers, just like readers, need to know what the characters have to lose. The writers of One Tree Hill did this perfectly by putting Nathan and Lucas in conflict with each other at the basketball game in the pilot. (Check out the epic block in the video!) Both boys have something to lose, but there’s also the potential that they each have something to gain. The stakes are clear and played out in a way that keeps us glued to the television. The best books do this too.

What are some books or television shows that grabbed you from the beginning?

3 Uncommon Signs of Academic Trouble

This is a serious problem, but this comic is still funny.

It’s report card day! Your child digs through loose papers and crumpled fruit snack bags in order to find it and quickly hands it to you before running off to play. You take a deep breath and open it slowly. You both worked hard this quarter. You asked him every day if he had all his homework done, and he always said yes. His grades should reflect that…right?

Wrong. Your heart sinks as you look at the letters and look again. What went wrong? With all the investment that you put into your child’s education, it can be worrisome, and even anxiety producing, for him to continue to not do well in school. One way to avoid a devastating report card day is to catch academic problems before they get out of hand.

Low test scores or low homework grades are obvious signs that your child is in trouble. But there might be a few signs you may not think to look for.

Mood Swings around Homework or Test Time

I’ve tutored dozens of kids and one thing I’ve noticed with the vast majority of them is when they don’t understand something, their entire mood shifts. A child can come into a session smiling and completely pleasant but as soon as we start long division or I’m asking questions about their book report book, they either get mean or they start cracking jokes. It’s a defense mechanism, and if you think about it, you probably know adults who do the same thing. If your child has a hissy fit every time you ask about homework, it could be a sign that they’re struggling but don’t know how to ask for help.

The Magical Disappearing Homework!

I worked with one student for awhile who had the hardest time getting his homework into the teacher’s hands. The night before, I saw that his homework was done. His mother saw that his homework was done. But at some point between getting on the bus in the morning and the start of the class, his homework disappeared. His report card was a disaster that quarter, and it wasn’t because his test scores were low or he didn’t understand the material. It’s because in elementary and middle school (and even many high schools), simply turning in your homework counts for a lot of credit. When you don’t do that, your grades can plummet.

While he wasn’t necessarily struggling academically, this child was losing his homework and that was a sign of a larger organizational problem that needed to be addressed. Now, he’s finishing up his junior year of high school and is one of the most organized, disciplined students I know–all because someone recognized what was going on.

Test-Induced Illness

I’ll admit it…I’ve done it. You wake up the morning of a test and you can’t get your heart to stop pounding. The pressure of doing well and the overwhelming amount of knowledge that you simply don’t know creates a stomach ache. You do whatever trick you need to do to get the thermometer to give out an inaccurate reading (I won’t give anyone any ideas…) and voila! You bought yourself an extra day to study.

Test-induced illness could be a sign that your child doesn’t understand the material or he may understand it just fine. Either way, stress over tests at this level is unhealthy. This kind of anxiety around academics can turn into a serious problem later on, especially as the pressure increases in high school and college. Know when your chid’s tests and quizzes are and when projects are due. If you have these dates listed on your own calendar and start to notice a trend, do what you can to alleviate some of your child’s anxiety.

If you start to notice these or any other worrisome behaviors, check in with your child. Some children are hesitant to talk about what’s bothering them, so try to create an atmosphere that’s comfortable for them. You could go out for fro-yo and chat or take a yoga or martial arts class together or simply sit for awhile and watch his favorite TV show.

If your child doesn’t even know what’s going on (sometimes they don’t), talk to the teacher. Together, you might be able to pick out different trends that are unique to your child and determine if a tutor, academic coach, or psychologist can help.

Hang in there! And on report card day, don’t despair too much. Approach it with some amount of objectivity and you might be able to notice things on your own that you can do to help your child.

Homework comic
How many kids wish this would work?


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6 Ways Teachers Can Help the Outcasts

Egbert – the mischievous badger who loves a good adventure

I have a 7 month old niece with whom I spend a lot of time, so Sprout TV (owned by PBS) has become a significant part of my life. One of my favorite shows is Poppy Cat. Poppy Cat (a calico kitty) has a group of friends that include an owl, a dog, a bunny, and a mouse. They go off on these great adventures and sometimes learn a little something about life in the process. Poppy Cat and her friends are great, but I love this show because of Egbert.

Egbert usually plays the “villain” in Poppy Cat’s adventures. I love watching him because he’s that kid who doesn’t quite fit in with the rest of the group. He’s probably a very sweet boy, but he just doesn’t quite fit in. So when Poppy Cat asks if he wants to join in on their adventures, he always declines. But he still wants to play and use his imagination, so he basically crashes the adventure party.

I have a special place in my heart for kids who don’t quite fit in.

Alexandra Robbins takes an adventure that is both personal and intellectual as she finds support for quirk theory in The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth.

“Quirk Theory: Many of the differences that cause a student to be excluded in school are the same traits or real-world skills that others will value, love, respect, or find compelling about that person in adulthood and outside of the school setting.”

In the book, she follows high school students (and a teacher) in different parts of the country throughout the school year. They are each part of the “cafeteria fringe,” as she calls it. They, like Egbert, don’t quite fit in. She writes that she hopes parents and educators can use the information in the book to learn about the kids who live on the fringes of their high school society. And she hopes that the stories can give some hope to current members of the cafeteria fringe, so that have concrete proof that things do, indeed, get better.

I don’t know if Robbins knows anything about Poppy Cat and Egbert, but I have a sneaking suspicion she would agree with me that Egbert may be mischievous and socially awkward now but has the potential to be a CEO or politician.

As a former member of the cafeteria fringe and an educator, I think Robbins’ message is a wonderful one. Her book inspired me to share some ways in which teachers can help the outcasts in their schools.

Talk to the quiet kids.

I’ve been in front of a classroom of 30-something kids. So, I know it’s easy to concentrate on building a relationship with the kid who shouts, the kid who throws things, the kid who decides to paint her nails during a vocabulary lesson. They push themselves to the forefront of your mind and therefore get most of the attention. But the quiet kids need attention too.

Make an effort to ask them about their day or write a positive note on an assignment they completed well. If it won’t cause too much trouble, make things a little easier on yourself and put kids who demand attention in groups with kids who don’t. Having them in the same vicinity may make it easier for you to spread the love.

Keep an eye out for warning signs that a kid is in trouble.

You see your students several times a week, maybe even for several hours each day. You may notice if a child has gained or lost a lot of weight recently. If a student appears visibly upset or has shown a significant drop in academic performance, step in and ask what’s going on. If the student won’t talk to you, try to make sure they have someone to talk to by directing them to someone else (another teacher, the principal, a guidance counselor) who they can trust.

Take note of cafeteria structure.

Some schools require that teachers monitor the cafeteria during lunch periods. On your lunch duty day, take note of who is sitting with whom. What kids are sitting alone? Where are the popular kids? The jocks? The gamers? The goths? And make a note when these things shift. If the number of kids at the popular table suddenly drops in half, there may be some social turmoil going on that can spill over into your classroom. The cafeteria can also tell you where tensions are between groups which can help inform you about tensions you notice in your classroom during group activities.

Encourage the odd passions.

Our society tends to throw support behind mainstream interests. Sports are a big example of this, but your “mainstream” clubs and activities may differ depending on your school’s culture. If you find out a student has an odd passion, do what you can to encourage it. For a student who wants to design video games, an English teacher could encourage that student to use a video game idea as the subject for a creative writing assignment. Just showing interest in something a student loves can really boost their confidence.

Don’t let bullying go unanswered.

If you notice a student is being bullied, do something. Talk to the bully. Talk to the victim. Talk to parents. You’re in a position to help improve the situation before things get out of hand.

In order to help fight a bullying problem, you have to know about bullying. The infographic below gives some helpful information.

Celebrate your students’ differences.

Every student has the potential to bring something good to your classroom. Celebrate the ways your students are different by occasionally highlighting some of these positive differences. It may not be wise to call a student out in front of the class depending on the dynamics at your school and in your classroom. But you could call home and praise a student for how they offer different perspectives in class or how their diligence really shows even if they aren’t getting straight A’s.

Teachers are overworked (and in my opinion, underpaid). I get that. Believe me, I do. You don’t have time to be best buds with all 60 of your students. You can’t be an advisor to 15 student clubs. I’m not asking you to. Do what you feel you can do and get some of the other teachers in your school to cooperate. If everyone is looking out for bullies and helping support the cafeteria fringe, you can really make a difference in kids lives.

Photo Credit: the Villains Wiki


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Report Card Time! What to Do With Your Child’s Report Card

report card
Don’t glance at it and toss it away. Report cards are full of handy information!

For some, report card day comes with a feeling of trepidation…a nagging sense of impending doom. For others, it’s a glorious day, a day to celebrate with cake and ice cream. Whatever kinds of emotions come up for your and your child on report card day, it is an important day.


I’ve already talked about why your child’s data is important and how you can keep track of grades, progress reports, and other forms of data. Report cards are the culmination of months of hard work. They show you where your child stands in school. Report card day can be incredibly emotional for both children and parents, so I encourage you to take a step back from the emotion and try to look at it with some objectivity.


Things you should do with every report card:


1. Pick out the positives. Even if your child isn’t doing well academically, in the early years of school, report cards will oftentimes put behavior grades as well. If your child isn’t doing well in math but the teacher notes that she plays well with others, play that up! Show your child the ways in which she is competent in school and she will be motivated to do better.


2. Make a note of any major changes. If your child went down a full letter grade in a subject, it might be cause for concern. But don’t panic just yet! Ask your child a couple nonthreatening questions about what might have caused the dip. Think back to when you were in school. Chemistry may have been a breeze first semester but killer second semester. Your child may be having issues with friends or had a long-term substitute for part of the semester. Play a little detective and determine the cause of the change.


3. See if there are any trends. If your child is consistently struggling in math, it may be time for you to step in and get some extra help. Or alternatively, if she’s blowing English out of the water, you may have a budding literary genius on your hands! You can do things on the weekends to encourage that interest or talent.


4. Read everything. It can be tempting to skim over your child’s report card, especially if you have more than one child, and check out the grades in key subjects. But you might be missing out on valuable information if you don’t pay attention to the other parts. Remember those behavior grades that I mentioned? They can tell you if your child is having trouble socializing, hates to share, is becoming a bully, or is being bullied. Each of these can turn into massive problems later on if they’re not caught and addressed early. Every inch of the report card matters.


5. Create a follow up plan. This plan doesn’t need to be heavy or truly detailed. If your child came home with great grades or improved in an area you both were really working on, your plan could be simply to celebrate and continue doing what you’ve ben doing. Or you may need to hire a tutor or academic coach for your child. If you’ve been tracking your child’s data and something doesn’t quite add up, don’t hesitate to set up a time to chat with your teacher and go over anything that doesn’t make sense to you.


Report cards don’t have to be stressful. These strategies, with the exception of the last one, require you to look at the paper objectively and do a quick analysis. If you take a couple deep breaths and approach them with a positive attitude (regardless of what letters you see), you and your child will be in a much better place to tackle the academic obstacles ahead.


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