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.

Nutrition

  • Grocery store
  • Farmer’s market
  • Restaurants

Careers

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

Animals

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

Financial Literacy

  • The mall
  • Grocery store
  • Department and discount stores

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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4 Ways Parents Can Help the Outcasts

Nelly Yuki
Nelly Yuki had a horrible high school experience but thrived at Yale. Courtesy of Gossip Girl Wiki

What do Kurt (Glee), Toby (Pretty Little Liars), Nelly Yuki (Gossip Girl), and Dale (Greek) all have in common?

They don’t quite fit in.

It can be an awkward or even painful experience for an adolescent to live on the outskirts of their high school society. It can also be awkward or painful for parents. What do you say? Do you push them to be “normal”? Do you try to force them to change so as to save them some heartache? Or do you let them be themselves and suffer?

Parents have the power to make the world bearable for high school outcasts. There are some concrete ways you can ease the pain of not fitting in.

Don’t make it about you

Seeing your child go through an awkward adolescence can bring back flashbacks of your own turmoil. If you were the odd man or woman out and it caused you pain, you may want to push your child not to be the same way. If you were pretty popular or had a lot of friends and enjoyed your time in high school, it can hurt and be confusing that your child isn’t having the same experience. But your child’s high school experience is not about you. So, throw your focus on your child and what you can do to help him.

Choose pressure points wisely

This is basically another way of saying, “Pick your battles.” There are times when you should push your child to behave differently. And there are times when you’ve got to back off and let them do their own thing. I’m not going to tell you which situations are which–it depends entirely on you, your child, and your family’s dynamic. But you with both end up frustrated if you try to micromanage your child’s behavior. They need outlets in which they can be themselves.

Celebrate ways your child is different

Your child is likely an outcast because he’s different somehow. Maybe he prefers to spend time in the chemistry lab than on the dance floor. I was the kid who spend hours upon hours with my head in books rather than chatting on the phone. When you figure out what makes your child different and unique, celebrate that! If your child is a bookworm, buy her more books! And encourage her to talk about the characters she meets and the things she’s learning about life. If your child feels that you’re okay with her difference, she’s more likely to accept herself.

Learn about what your child likes

There’s an episode of Grey’s Anatomy in which one of the patients is a teen and a passionate dancer. His father admits that when he had a son, he was looking forward to hockey games and cheering in the stands. When his son decided to become a dancer, he turned his focus toward that.

He cheers at recitals and has learned the names of various dance moves. He didn’t allow his disappointment to ruin dance for his son. Do the same for your child. Learn a little bit about whatever it is that they enjoy. It doesn’t mean you need to become an expert in the subject. But know enough that you’re able to have a conversation with your child about their passion and understand what they are saying.

Your child’s adolescence can be a time when they pull away from you and assert their own independence. But despite the fact that they are pushing you away, they still need you. Your unconditional love, support and nonjudgemental guidance can be crucial to your child getting through the last rough years of youth in one piece.

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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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3 Ways to Make the Most of Your Child’s Data

Data can be a scary word for people who aren’t used to it. But in a sense, data is really just information. Your child will have data/information attached to him all through school. It comes in the form of report cards, test scores, benchmark results, progress reports, and parent teacher conferences.

It can be important for your child’s future that you take this data and use it to inform your decisions.

How does this work? Great question! Here are some examples:

  • You notice your first grader’s test and quiz scores are slipping. So, you check in with him and find out he’s showing some warning signs of stress that you need to address.
  • You get a letter from your child’s teacher saying that he’s doing great on tests and quizzes but isn’t turning in homework. And his grades are suffering. This prompts you to check in with him and you find out that he’s losing his homework on the way to school.
  • Your child consistently underperforms on oral reports, and you know this because you keep track of these things. For the next oral report, you spend extra time practicing with your child so that he gets used to speaking in front of a group.
  • You and your child are keeping track of his high school courses and you notice in the beginning of junior year that he is not on track to graduate. You’re able to work with the school counselor to figure out what he needs to do to graduate on time.

If you’re a numbers person, you can really dive deep into your child’s data and use Excel documents or other software programs to keep track of test scores, homework, attendance and more. Even if numbers make you a little nauseous (*raises hand* …that’s me!), you can still create your own simplified system that will help you use the data to your child’s advantage.

Schools across the country are becoming more and more aware of how important it is for students and parents to have access to their data. A few years ago, the School District of Philadelphia created a program called StudentNet, which is an online portal that shows students their grades, benchmark scores, attendance record, and much more. Lots of private schools now use programs like Edline where students can view their grades and homework assignments.

You probably know why grades are important. Attendance might be less obvious. Attendance Works created the following info graphic to show how important it is that kids attend school regularly in the early years.

attendance infographie
Attendance Works’ Inforgraphic on why attendance is so important

What should you do?

Here are some things you can do to get a handle on your child’s data.

1. Check to see if your school has a software program. Ask your child’s teacher or a school administrator if there’s a way you can see homework assignments, grades, etc online.

2. Create a system of keeping track of your child’s data. You can create a simple chart on pen and paper. If you know how to work Excel, you can create a workbook. Microsoft has many different templates in Excel and Word that can make tracking grades easy.

3. Connect with your teacher. There are certain things you can do to build a great parent-teacher relationship. When it comes to making sure your child is on track, the teacher will be your greatest ally.

This doesn’t have to be hard. You’ll want to work with your child as well and get them to understand why keeping an eye on grades is important. As they get older, you’ll want them to take over the tracking system and shoulder that responsibility.

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I’d love to connect with you. Meet with me on LinkedIn or check out my Twitter!
If you’re a potential client or editor, please feel free to check out my online portfolio or email me for clips.