Have you been looking for a way to help out at your kids’ school, but you’re not quite cut out to be a room mom? Or maybe you’re too introverted to be an active member of the PTA? Or perhaps you only have an hour to spare each week, but you’d love to help out somehow. Enter: the school library. Literally, I mean, go in the school library.
If you consider yourself a geek or nerd, libraries likely conjure many fond memories of your own days as a student. Finding new worlds to get lost in, hiding in the corner and reading during a free period, or even browsing through things that your own kids have never heard of, like “card catalogs” and “encyclopedias.” Having many such happy memories myself, and being too shy to be active in the PTA, I chose my daughter’s school library for my volunteering efforts.
And I love it so much that I just had to tell you all about it.
Here are 7 reasons why volunteering at the school library is a fun, fantastic way to give your time.
1. Learn about current books and authors and recommend them to your kids. After checking in the pile of books sitting on the counter every week, you start getting an idea of what titles are popular and what genres kids are getting into at their age. (Spoiler: Graphic novels.) If a picture book catches my eye that I know my kindergartener will enjoy, I write down the title to check it out for my daughter at the public library later.
My favorite section, though, is the chapter books/YA novels that I would have loved to read as a kid myself. Or, you know, now. So not only might you find your kid’s next book to love, you might find one for yourself, too.
2. Help a busy librarian. The school librarian has a lot more to do during the day than fiddle with the books on the shelves. He or she needs to write lesson plans, order books, coordinate school literacy initiatives, and find out just what the kids in the hallway are shrieking about. Your 30 minutes checking in books and shelving them helps them get it all done and actually take a lunch break.
3. Meet the kids in your child’s class. Some school libraries have weekly class times and allow a parent to volunteer during their child’s lesson. Checking out the books for your kid’s classmates lets you put faces to the names you hear about at the dinner table every night.
4. Shelving books is delightfully mind-numbing. I might have deadlines looming or a problem nagging me, but for one hour every week, all I worry about is finding 636.81. (Kindergarten girls really like books about cats.) Putting the books back on the shelves is a wonderful way to focus on something else for a little bit.
5. Help advocate for your school library by getting a firsthand look at where it might need some help. “They’re always under threat of budget cuts, and parents play a big part in saving libraries and librarians,” says Jackie Reeve, GeekMom’s resident school librarian. Spending time in there every week might highlight some problem areas (outdated books? in need of donations?) that can help you take your volunteer efforts further.
6. Get crafty. The school librarian once asked for my help with the books in the window display and you’d have thought I won the lottery I was so giddy. If you enjoy crafty stuff at all, helping with the bulletin boards and setting out books to display can help you get creative for a good cause.
7. Nerd alert: Learn the Dewey Decimal System. There’s something strangely satisfying about directing a curious kid to the Ancient Egypt section or a book about the Loch Ness monster without having to look it up on the computer. This probably doesn’t seem like a huge benefit or useful life skill—unless you’re a book nerd, which I personally am, and I have a feeling you might be, too.
Vikings are garsh darn cute. Cute vikings? Impossible, you say! Check out this new picture book by Adam Auerbach and you will agree that Vikings can indeed be quite adorable.
Edda: A Little Valkyrie’s First Day of School is about trying something new, even if you’re nervous. Finding friends means venturing out into unfamiliar territory, doing things you may not be good at, and putting your true self out there. In the end, it’s being who you are that attracts real friendship.
Edda is the youngest Valkyrie in the magical world of Asgard (home of the gods). She can do whatever she wants there, but has no one her age to play with. Her Papa takes her to Earth school to meet friends. She is worried, but he assures her that Valkyries are very brave. Her first day of school isn’t very welcoming, with the kids mostly ignoring her, and she has to sit at a desk, and write when she’d rather draw.
She is determined to make it work, though, so she starts writing about her adventures in Asgard, and shares them with the class. What makes her different makes her special, and she finds a friend.
Adam Auerbach shares this message in a sweet and funny story. (As a homeschooler, I feel for the poor Valkyrie having to sit at a desk all day just to meet a friend!) But it’s the illustrations that make this book stand out. Each page is wide and welcoming to your eyes, and the character’s faces are simple yet expressive.
The ending is the best part, but I won’t spoil it for you. Young kids will really enjoy this book, and want to find out more about Norse mythology afterwards!
Edda: A Little Valkyrie’s First Day of School is available in June. GeekMom received a copy for review purposes.
This September, my precious baby boy starts kindergarten. While he is jumping up on the bed excited about it, I cry myself to sleep at night. He is busy practicing writing his name and making a list of things he would like in his lunch box. I am trying to convince my husband that I should quit my job and be a stay-at-home mom for the next few months.
There’s a lot of paperwork to do when sending your child to school for the first time, and there should be. But there are things I never anticipated, like the media release form. If my son happens to be photographed at athletic events, concerts, performances, or graduation ceremonies, his image is fair game. But I have to agree that his “name, picture, voice, or statements” be used by the district and school websites, as well as by any authorized outside media. I get the choice, and I so agreed. It makes perfect sense, but my 1986 registration was primeval in comparison.
They want to know what language we speak and if we speak many. I didn’t ask if Klingon counted. They want to know if we are migrant and if we process dairy or cotton on a regular basis. They want to know if I went full term and what his birth weight was. They want to know if he had Osgood Schaltter Disease, to which I said, “Huh?” They need a day-by-day account of where the bus should pick him up and drop him off, and who is allowed to do that. All of these things are wonderfully necessary, but they don’t calm the pulse rate as I prepare to loosen the apron strings.
And then there’s the one that gets GeekMom buzzing, sets the internet on fire, and raises more controversy than John Travolta’s Oscars gaffe.
I wasn’t too worried about this. I believe in medicine and our doctor’s education. My kids get all the vaccines that are currently available and recommended. Nicely spaced out, they have kept many a fear at bay in my mind. But now my boy is going to be in a school with 660 other kids whose parents had to fill out this paperwork. And they got asked the same questions and given the same choices I did. Like this for example:
Non-immunized students are not permitted to attend school unless one of the following conditions is met:
(Please check the applicable)
___Parent/legal guardian provides written assurance the student will be immunized within 90 days.
___Parent/legal guardian provides a written statement from a physician stating that immunization against one or more diseases may be medically inadvisable. (Required each year.)
___Parent/legal guardian provides a written statement that immunization is contrary to their sincere religious beliefs, or that he/she is opposed to immunization for philosophical reasons. (Required each year.)
Hmmm, so this herd that my baby is joining may not be as immune as he. This herd may not be quite what I thought. I’m not too worried about this, but I did check with some lawyers, and the main point of me mentioning this here today is to share this little fact with other kindergarten-starting GeekMoms who might be wondering.
You are allowed to ask if anyone checked these boxes.
You are not allowed to know who, you are not allowed to see anyone’s documentation, and you are not allowed to speculate with staff. You have no rights to any files and you have no rights to details of conversations regarding this. But you are allowed to say, “Hey, there are 660 kids here, any of them not get vaccinated?” And get just a number in response.
Now I’m not looking to fearmonger and I’m not looking to judge anyone’s beliefs. I don’t want to praise my own method of parenting over anyone else’s and I by no means have all, or any, of the answers to this lifelong gig we have engaged in. But, just so you know, you have the right to know how healthy your herd is, and that’s all I have to say about that.
When you think of the future and technology, visions of floating cars and time machines are the first thing that come to mind and rightly so, I’m waiting for my DeLorean as we speak. With computers and video games, kids have access to so many advancements now that it’s easy to overlook key pieces of technology that can be integrated into their core school work.
Growing up we had to write outlines on lined paper by hand, then a summary, rough draft, and final draft in pen. Pen! The final report was then typed on a typewriter, and if mistakes were made, liquid paper was your best friend. This all isn’t that long ago but that’s how quickly technology advances.
While iPads and laptops are common for school work nowadays, something you may not be taking advantage of is Google Docs. Google Docs is a free web-based software within Google Drive. Not only can you edit your document on multiple devices but it also allows you to edit and share documents with others online.
I’ve always used Google Docs for my own writing and when the Kid’s 4th-Grade California Mission project came up, it dawned on me that it would be the perfect way to research and write the report.
At the start of the project I set up the Kid with a new document in Google Docs where he typed his outline and the questions he had. Google Docs is a shared mobile app, so that document was always with us. When we visited the site, I simply brought up the document on my phone and he altered and added information to it as we walked around the Mission.
When we got home he went over the notes he took and completed his rough draft. It’s that simple! The days of dragging around spiral notebooks and a pen to field trips is over!
Google docs is great for group projects as well. It allows for sharing a link to the document with your other collaborators or keeping the document completely private.
You know that feeling you get, when something you always thought was pretty cool coincides with something you love, and makes a whole pile of awesome? Benedict Cumberbatch on Sesame Street, the It’s a Wonderful Life episode of Warehouse 13, little boys dressing up as Darth Vadar for Superbowl commercials. All of that rolled into one big moment for me this week, when I found out that Foreigner—a British/American band that brought us “I Want to Know What Love Is” and “Feels Like The First Time”—was not only playing in my town, Portland, Maine, this week, but on stage with them would be the choir from Deering High School.
I was a bit of a choir geek back in the day. Sure I toyed with Orchestra and the violin, I half heartedly learned the guitar, but it was to the choir room I found myself going year after year throughout high school. From Mr. Mason, our choir director, I learned lessons of diction and clarity that I still hear myself repeating on an almost daily basis. How long to carry an “s” sound in the middle of a word. When to use a hard “g” in “ing,” and when to swallow the middle of a word. From Mr. Mason I learned the opening pre-amble to “White Christmas,” memorized the words to “The Seven Joys of Mary,” and learned that a high E was within my range. It is no longer within my range.
Turns out, this is something that the band has done across the country for the past six years as part of their effort to promote music education. Along with the chance to perform on stage with a band that has sold over 80 million albums, the participating choir gets $500 and the opportunity to sell Foreigner CDs on site. The sales go to the music education fund of the Grammy Foundation. The Choir’s role is only a minute long; they will sing backup on “I Want To Know What Love Is.”
I got the chance this week to ask a few questions of Gil Peltola, the Choir Director at Deering High School.
GM: What excites you most about this opportunity?
Gil: This is a great opportunity for my choral students to actually be on stage with a world famous rock band. They’re usually in the audience looking up, but this time they will be on stage looking at the audience.
GM: What excites the kids?
Gil: Pretty much the same thing. The thrill of being on stage with a famous rock band. Actually, the parents are just as excited (maybe more!) about this adventure—they grew up with Foreigner.
GM: Has the Glee effect had an impact on how you, and indeed how the kids, approach choir now?
Gil: I just had this conversation with my students as we plan our music for the future. They would like movement to be a part of their singing and productions but also realize that the music must come first. They are thrilled about adding motion to their music.
GM: Were you a Foreigner fan before this?
Gil: I listened to them on the radio but I was more of a jazz fanatic.
GM: What are you doing to prep yourself, and to prep the kids for Tuesday night?
Gil: Not to down play our performance, but we will be just singing the chorus of “I Want To Know What Love Is” with the group on stage. We have a recording and video to watch. Most important we need to be professional throughout the entire performance and smile as big as we can.
GM: What is your favorite memory of your own time with the groups of your youth?
Gil: Again, being a jazz aficionado, I had the opportunity to see jazz musicians such as Cannonball Aderley, Buddy Rich, Bud Shank, Herbie Mann, and others at local jazz clubs. I hope my students will remember this concert and enjoy being a part of music on stage.
Gil expressed his thoughts on music in our education system, thoughts that I can testify worked in my own life thanks to a strong music program. “For me, the purpose of music is performance. We work so hard at rehearsals to perform usually only one time. Hard work produces good results. They can go as far as they wish with hard work and dedication. Hopefully this will excite them and make them go further in life.”
My own choir director taught me vocal tools that I use everyday so the key thing I wanted to know from Gil was what he most hoped the kids would take with them when they left his Choir. “I hope they take the love of music with them. I always tell my students that music is a life long personal partnership. In college there are many music groups, instrumental and choral. Every community also has musical groups that the public can join. Love music and performance, and keep it in your life as much as you can—it is good for the soul.”
Foreigner is playing, with Deering High School, at the State Theater in Portland, Maine, on Tuesday February 18th. Their tour continues throughout the year, check out their tour dates and see if they are playing with a high school choir near you.
In much of America, particularly among military families such as my own, it’s coming up on “moving season.” In order to not disrupt most of the country’s public school schedules, families with school-aged children try to move in the summertime. In military communities, it’s tradition to see the “For Sale” and “For Rent” signs appearing throughout the local neighborhoods in the springtime, as families anticipate their June and July moves.
These are very hard words for me to write, let alone to say. Initially, we’d say Asperger’s. But now that it’s not even a thing anymore, we say ASD. Somehow the initials feel less grave. Less final. Less life-altering. But the truth is, everything is different now, and no new phrase or abbreviation is going to change that.
Life with Liam has not been easy. After recently turning down a great (non-freelance) job offer to stay home with him, concerned with his catastrophic and violent outbursts, difficulty adjusting at school, and day-to-day chaos in the family with the new baby, my husband and I found ourselves at our wits end. We really didn’t want to take him to a specialist. We didn’t want him to be labelled. I think we both feared for what we might find, that our son–who we’d always thought of as brilliant and tenacious and stubborn and clever–would be held up to scrutiny and found… different. Sure, every kid has their quirks. But any parent going through a situation similar to ours knows there’s a point where you break. Where you stop blaming yourself for being a bad parent and you get clarity, perspective, and everything stands still.
It became clear to me that Liam might be something altogether different when my husband and I started watching the television show Parenthood. In the show, for those unfamiliar, Adam and Kristina Braverman start out the first season with their son Max’s diagnosis of Asperger’s. After watching Max’s story unfold, and seeing his behavior acted out on television, I started to see a more clear picture of my own son. The tantrums, the obsessions, the violence, the black and white thinking, the anger and frustration over changes of plan, the patterns. Michael and I would get really quiet as we watched his scenes, and things started to come together.
And in some ways that’s expected. Nothing, so far, has gone according to plan with Liam. He spent the first ten days of his life in the PICU with sepsis. His temper is legend. He’s obsessed with cars and Minecraft and Keane. He “sees” music when I play it, and that’s distracting. Even the simplest excursions out of the house can turn into a catastrophe. This September the school had an open house, and we were all excited to see his classroom and learn what was in store. We even had a hand-written note from him, and he couldn’t stop talking about it. We all went along, even the baby, and everything was fine until Liam discovered the presentation wasn’t going to be in his classroom. Cue epic meltdown. It was so bad, and he was so inconsolable, we had to walk home and didn’t get to see any of it. I knew something was wrong, that we were missing part of the picture. But I still wasn’t sure what that was.
Poet-songwriters Amy Ludwig VanDerwater and Barry Lane teamed up to create this poignant melody, which grew out of their concern over the American public school system’s obsession with standardized test scores. Says VanDerwater, who blogs at The Poem Farm, “Children’s spirits are deep and wide, beautiful and boundless, and it is our hope that all adults can remember this as we write policy and make decisions.” VanDerwater and Lane are both writing teachers who work closely with children and are keenly aware of how inadequately a test score reflects the many facets and talents of their students.
I am more than a number.
I am more than a grade.
I know the constellations.
Here’s a painting that I made.
I read books in my closet.
I will not be a ‘2’.
I am more than a number.
I’m a person just like you.
I speak one language here
and another in my home.
I daydream in both languages
whenever I’m alone.
I’m good at climbing trees.
Mom’s teaching me to sew.
I am full of secrets
a test can never know.
As a woman in technology, I hear a lot about the lack of women in the field.
While I was in college, I noticed that I was usually the only female in the class. My teachers treated me the same as the guys and my male classmates never seemed to care that I was a woman. After I graduated and started attending events like Microsoft’s annual Tech Ed, I realized just how much of a minority women are.
The thing that keeps catching my attention, though, is how much of an issue people want to make out of it.
Believe it or not, the technology field wasn’t always a “man’s” arena. It wasn’t until recent years that women became a downward statistic. A few of the reasons blamed for the decline are the fear of sexual harassment, women not being smart enough, and the tech world not being friendly enough to women.
Since these days there are more men than women in the technology-focused careers, I can understand the fear of sexual harassment and discrimination. I also understand that those same things happen in almost all careers and to both men and women. (Nursing comes to mind.)
I’ve had just as many negative experiences with women as I have men in IT. While at Tech Ed in 2009, I was approached with smiles from most of the men and with icy tones from many of the women. In one video taken at CES, a marketing booth babe made the comment that “I don’t know any women that would choose the tech world over say shopping, or cooking, or something like that.” Just goes to show the women can be just as sexist toward other women as men.
Some seem to believe that the lack of women in IT is because women are just not that good at computers and technology.
I once read that one reason you don’t see a lot of women programmers is because women are not good at it. Let me set the record straight; back when computers first started out, there were more women than men doing the programming. I’ve taken programming classes and passed with a high grades. The reason I don’t program is not because I’m not any good, it’s because I don’t enjoy it. The same could be said for other women and men that prefer other areas of IT over programming.
Over the course of about 5 days, my boys took off on the project. My husband outlined a plan, based on simple guidance from the Internet. It was great that we had absolutely everything in the house, mostly because of the model railroading supplies we had just used on our son’s model railroad that was completed late last year.
The teacher offered us a recipe for salt dough, which is a popular method for making the volcanoes. Instead we chose paper mache, which is more lightweight.
We started with several items that were essentially recycled: an empty soda bottle, a leftover piece of plywood for the base, a cardboard box and our old phone book.
Not long after my children returned to public school after two-and-a-half years of homeschooling, it started.
At this point, my older son was in 8th grade and so gym meant changing in a locker room with the other kids in his class. A couple of his peers developed a habit of coming up behind my son while he was changing, cupping his chest, and informing him that he had breasts. On the gym floor and in the hallways between classes, these boys would leer moon-faced at my child and call him “Scoops.” At the time, my son shared none of this with his father or me or his inclusion teacher or the school psychologist that he was seeing once a week.
Part of the reason that we’d decided to homeschool in the first place was because my younger son had been physically bullied in elementary school–finally, after a third call in as many days from the school nurse telling me that my 2nd grader had been injured again by a peer at recess, and a third day of ignored calls to discuss the matter with the principal, I picked both children up from school and left a message with the principal saying, “I will allow these children back on school grounds when I have a guarantee that they will be safe.”
One day passed. No phone call. Two days passed. I called the district superintendant’s office. A message was taken.
On the third day, the principal finally called. She opened our conversation by saying that she was very disappointed in me for keeping my children out of school for three days. The second point she tried to make was her last: “Mrs. Schwalm, you cannot possibly expect me to guarantee your children’s safety at all times in this building–I am only one person.”
“This conversation has ended,” I immediately replied. “You’ll have the paperwork for homeschooling on your desk tomorrow morning.”
And so, we homeschooled for two-plus years–and it was great. We read together and went to parks together and visited museums and wrote plays together…and then I felt it was time to send my children back into the fray. Ironically, I was worried that by homeschooling, I was making things too easy for my sons and blocking them from experiencing necessary social challenges or developing important coping skills.
The way we found out that my older son was being bullied was through a call from the middle school principal informing me that my son was being placed on three days of ISS (in-school suspension). Having suffered through months of taunting, he’d finally had enough, and when the boy who had been teasing him the most reached out to cup him in the chest for the hundredth time as he was passing my son’s locker, my son had thrown himself at the boy and knocked him against a wall. No one had been hurt but a half-dozen teachers standing at their doorways monitoring the hallway had witnessed the entire inelegant encounter.
The principal’s voice was heavy on the phone as she spoke with me. “I know what happened–all of it now–but we have a zero-tolerance policy for violence in the school. The other child is being suspended out of school–at home with a parent–for a week, and other measures will be taken, as well. I have to protect the privacy of the other student but I am telling you: we will put tools and consequences in place so that this will not happen again.”
Outside of a lecture on the importance of talking to trusted adults when you need help, we didn’t punish our son at home. On the night of the incident we actually went out for pizza and ice cream. He did his three days of ISS and when he came back to class, two boys in his gym class told him that they thought he was cool for standing up to the other kid and not taking it anymore; a trio of girls nearby agreed.
A week later, my son joined a running club for children with disabilities. Within six months he’d lost 40 lbs. and was requesting that we buy healthier snacks when we went food shopping. He has never felt like a victim at school again. At his most recent annual review meeting as we discussed moving my son out of inclusion and into a more-rigorous curriculum, his teacher told me, “Whenever I pass him in the halls, he is chatting and surrounded by friends.”
So, after all of this, I thought it would be a good idea to go as a family last Friday to see the documentaryBully. My older son is a member of his high school’s Anti-bullying Club and was planning shortly on participating in its Gay-Straight Alliance’s Day of Silence to support gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered students. I wanted my children to see that they were not alone in experiencing either bullying or inept school personnel. I thought that the movie would give their experiences a broader context and soften some of the residual sting in all our memories.
The boys brought a friend and all three agreed afterwards that the movie was worthwhile. “That was a lot better than I thought it was going to be, actually,” my younger son confided. “I thought it was going to be boring but it really wasn’t–and I can understand why you wanted us to see it.” As my older son walked off then to be interviewed by the local television station, I excused myself to the bathroom for one last, brief, shuddering crying jag before we all drove off to an afternoon of cheese fries and amusement park rides at Coney Island.
It may sound melodramatic, but I cried through this entire film. The opening scenes intersperse home movies of a toddler giggling up at a camera with scenes of his somber father recounting the life events that ultimately lead up to Tyler Long committing suicide at 17, and that was it: 90 minutes of continuous crying and a headache that followed me all day until bed.
I saw aspects of my children in almost all of the children followed in this film: like my older son, Alex has some developmental issues and refuses to tell the adults in his life how badly he is being abused. Like my younger son, Alex had a frail, perilous babyhood. Like the principal at Alex’s school who tells his parents, “These children are just as good as gold,” the principal at our elementary school was clearly not trained in creating a school culture that rooted out bullying and abuse. Like my older son, Ja’Meya also finally decided that she needed to fight back against her bullies–but she didn’t just push a child against a wall, she brought her mother’s handgun onto her school bus and brandished it in front of her peers in an effort to get them to leave her alone (and wound up incarcerated in a psychiatric hospital for six months).
“Geeky” Tyler Long suffered through years of being abused in his school’s locker room and being called “a fag” before he hung himself in his bedroom closet. Ty Smalley was a beautiful little boy with freckles and wide eyes similar to my younger son’s features. He killed himself after he was suspended from school for standing up to a bully…
I can’t help but believe that if conditions were only a little different, I could be one of the devastated, shell-shocked parents in this movie. Don’t mistake me: I empathized with the other parents in Bully but I was crying for me and my children. The policeman in the film who suggests that 14-year-old Ja’Meya be charged with 44 counts of kidnapping and receive hundreds of years of imprisonment because she hadn’t “really been hurt” simply doesn’t know what he is talking about.
Bully is playing in a still-expanding number of theaters nationwide. The movie was initially given an R rating by the MPAA but after a great deal of media attention and public outcry, this was changed to PG-13. Go with a group of people you care about. Get ice cream afterwards. Or cheese fries.
The season of the school science fair is fast approaching. How do you pick a project? How much should you help your kids? And when do you put on the brakes and keep them from accidentally blowing up the neighborhood? Nicole Wakelin is joined by fellow GeekMoms and science aficionados Patricia Vollmer and Helene McLaughlin to help guide you, and your child, in the right direction.
When one hears the words “Pumpkin Shine On Line,” they may think it’s a place on the internet to show off shiny gourds. Folks in my parts will know that it’s referring to an annual event, that happens the week before Halloween, on Line Avenue in Shreveport, Louisiana. One of the biggest and oldest parks in town, Betty Virginia Park, plays host to this fun family event, with a local private school facilitating the planning and festivities.
Students from schools in our parish (which would be a county in any other state) paint, carve and decorate their own pumpkins. They enter them into the contest, free of charge, along with any other person who would like to try their hand at decorating. Beginning at about five in the evening, hundreds of pumpkins line the half-mile trail that winds around the park. Families come in droves to marvel at the work that kiddos and artistic Halloween lovers create for this event, which is free to attend. Judges walk around and pin ribbons to the pumpkins that they think are the best designs. In my opinion, the best pumpkins are the ones that were obviously created by a child, with little help from an adult. There is always entertainment, like school choirs or dance teams, performing for the crowd. You could buy some pizza or candy to munch on, for a pretty reasonable price. Most of the time, kids just want to have fun on the playground, and it’s hard for parents to get them to come off the slides and swings to head home for bedtime.
My kids have been attending the Pumpkin Shine for years. It has grown so big that this year, we could hardly keep up with all of our family because of the crowds. My oldest son, Michael, wasn’t as interested as he used to be. He spent more time playing with his toddler baby cousins, which I don’t think anyone had any complaints about; he helped to keep an eye on them and make them smile. Sammy, who is eleven, still has a little bit of childhood innocence in him. He ran ahead and checked out all of the pumpkins, including the one he carved for his 6th grade homeroom class. After his quick scan of it all, he ran back to ask me if he could “run around and act stupid.” I took that as meaning that he wanted to find his friends, but since he left his cell phone at home, I told him it was a no-go.
I took lots of pictures of the pumpkins this year. The popular theme every year is always children’s books, especially the entries from elementary schools. The 2011 Pumpkin Shine was dominated by Angry Birds and The Smurfs. I have a slideshow of all of the pictures I took, and it’s worth looking at to see how interesting and creative some got with their pumpkins. It could even give you some great ideas for your pumpkin carving and decorating this year. You can click on the link below to check out the pictures I took. Does your town have a similar event for Halloween celebrations? Tell us in the comments section, I would love to hear about it!
Since I’m still coming down from the high that is Dragon*Con, I’ve been looking in Flickr for pictures of myself and reading articles about the Con.
I came across a post about the Dragon*Con parade and I started reading the comments. There were several comments that jumped out as me as some people seemed to think that the term “geek” was a bad one and didn’t want to be labeled that way.
Since this is GeekMom, we embrace the fact that we are geeks. But I think most geeks can remember a time in their lives when it wasn’t cool to be a geek.
For me, I was teased a lot in school. Some of the teasing was strange, since I was teased for being short which isn’t something I could control. But I was also teased for being a geek.
I didn’t hide my geekdom at all when I was young. I actually embraced it as I had a picture of the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation in my high school locker. As I got into my later years in high school I basically thought, “Screw it. I can find geeky friends in college.” And I did, which make my college experience all that much more fulfilling.
I’m proud to be a Geek and I don’t think it’s a bad thing. I didn’t think it was a bad label even when I was teased for it. As a mom now, I do worry that my daughter will be teased when she gets to school age since she already has geeky interests. But I do hope that she will find her own way, geek or not.
What do you all think about the term, Geek? Do you use it to refer to yourself or do you think is a derogatory term that shouldn’t be used?
I’ve been in school for a lot of my adult life. I went to college right out of high school and spent seven years there. This was partly due to the fact that I changed my major three times and partly because I really liked college.
I graduated, got an office job and thought that part of my life was over. I eventually moved to North Carolina, got married and had a baby. But one day before I was suppose to return to work from maternity leave, I was laid off because of the bad economy.
I looked for a job for about six months sending out hundreds of resumes but I only got one interview. At this point, my husband and I both decided to go back to school.
My college experience this time around was vastly different. I only had one major and I had to play schedule Tetris ever semester in order to not clash with my husband’s class and work schedule. We were pretty lucky that we only needed daycare one semester.
I didn’t enjoy school as much as I did the first time. I feel a lot of pressure to do well so I can get a job come December when I graduate. I went into Medical Office Administration because we figured that it would be a good job field to go into.
I don’t really like the field as much as the majors I had the first time I was in college. And I realize what I really wanted to do with my life, and it had nothing to do with working in a medical office. While I will still work on becoming a published author, I will probably have to work a normal job for several years.
College can be a great experience and so can going back to college. I do wish I hadn’t had to go back to school. But I’m doing what I can to help my husband so we can provide for our family.
I’ve always wanted to be a mom, which is odd because I never really cared for other people’s kids. But I knew that I wanted my own kids once I was married and such. When I got pregnant with my daughter 3 months after we had started trying for a baby, my husband and I had to make all sorts of decisions. One was that I was going to go back to work.
So I never intended on being a stay at home mom, but I found myself suddenly thrust into that role when I got a call the day before I was due to go back to work telling me that I was laid off. This was in December 2008 when the economy had tanked, so I wasn’t that surprised but it was upsetting all the same.
I looked for a job for about 6 months before I gave up and decided to go back to school. Since I’ve been a college student, I haven’t been a very traditional stay at home mom. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve been busier in my life. In addition to school, I do some writing work online for extra money along with the house wifey duties since my husband works a lot of overtime and goes to school as well. Playing with and caring for my toddler also takes up a big chunk of my time, of course.
While I didn’t intend to be a stay at home mom, I’m glad now that I’ve gotten the chance to spend this time with my daughter. I’m due to graduate from college in December and I’m a little nervous about entering back into the workforce. I am hoping to get a work at home job so I can have the best of both worlds.
How many people actually write letters anymore? Letter writing along with cursive script is going the way of the dinosaurs if it is not extinct already. With so many alternative and quicker ways to communicate, what is the point of writing something down with a pen on paper?
Fellow GeekMom Kathy questioned teaching “script” to her homeschooled children and it is beginning to occur to school districts too that there is no point in teaching this arcane method of communication. Starting this fall, schools in Indiana will no longer be required to teach cursive writing. Replacing cursive writing will be keyboarding, which makes sense given the way most of us communicate this days. Keyboarding is an essential skill in today’s world, not just for work either. Even if you do a job that doesn’t involve computers, people send email, write documents, and reports for personal use.
However, if you don’t learn cursive writing how will you sign a document? If you don’t learn cursive writing, how will you keep a personal journal in one of those cute little lockable diaries? If you don’t learn cursive, how can you write longer documents when there are no computers after the alien invasion? I can see a use for it, even though it is a small one. So while schools may be leaning toward not teaching it, I would probably go ahead and teach my child at home. After all, to her, it is a right of passage. She has been trying to write her name in cursive since she started kindergarten.
Part of the reason I was never a brilliant math student had to do with the chasm of difference between how I was taught math and how I understood it. Art has always been ‘my thing’ so in spite of all my math teachers’ best efforts to learn by the book, I inevitably accessed the subject artistically. Specifically, through patterns.
In school, I was an incorrigible margin-doodler and I would always get mad whenever a teacher scolded me for not showing my work. The crazy cartoon geometry framing my homework showed how I worked the math problems! I never understood why my teachers got so annoyed with me for finding answers in my own way. It was an early and often-repeated lesson in how seeing the world differently is widely equated with cheating.
Now look at me. Parent of a school-aged child and worried sick about the cookie-cutter curriculum he’s up against… Sometimes it still seems that way, doesn’t it? Like it’s us versus classrooms? But kids and parents are better armed these days; we have the internet, and it is full of useful alternatives for students who need them. I even found an example of someone demonstrating multiplication the way I taught myself to understand it. Specifically, through patterns.
Vi Hart is my favorite mathematician and among my top five favorite YouTubers. Her videos are an effective combination of straightforward, smart and charming, and I recommend them highly to geeks of all kinds.
I am writing another $50 check, to another preschool … just for the chance to have my application reviewed.
The more I think about this game, the more it feels like a grift. I show up to a potential preschool along with a dozen other mommies and daddies to compete for a spot that may actually not exist. We’re all trying to look like the most interested, the most invested, and the best candidate — all while our 2-year-olds are running around putting things in their mouths with their finger up their nose.
Is this just an urban problem or modern problem? Is this really the lynchpin for my child’s entire future? If I choose the wrong preschool, am I dooming her to a life of, “Do you want fries with that?”
The stress is overwhelming. It was easier for me to get into college. It was easier for me to get an apartment in San Francisco at the peak of the dot com boom!
I never took rejection as personally, as I do now when it comes to my kid. I got a letter in the mail denying me from a preschool co-op that I applied to when my daughter was a few months old. My husband had to put ME on a “time out.”
The preschool hustle is making me a crazy person.
If I make it to the end of this process without choking out the obligatory suck-up mommy taking pictures of the potty area and asking philosophical questions about their educational structure…My baby may just learn how to make ants on a log and finger paint macaroni art.
Last night my husband (Tim) and daughter (VIP) went to her Spring program which was the grand finale to her last day in pre-school. They brought home a huge keepsake packet to let me peruse through which included everything from a “report card” to art projects.
When I had finally reached the bottom of the never-ending stack of finger-painted animals and seasonal decorations, I came to several sheets of paper that brought me pretty close to tears…
First, a paper asked the question “What makes you smile?” Her response: being with her dad. My first thought was that Tim and I are doing something right as parents that she is happy with her family (at least her dad). Second, I found a paper that highlighted her favorite things. Among the listed items were Lego Star Wars (which she has played a grand total of 6 times) and basketball.
The paper I found that prompted the biggest reaction was the one reflecting what she wants to be when she grows up – A GeekMom! I must say, she is on the right track. Her report card reflected that she has mastered all points that were taught this year. She wants to “go to work at the same place as dad because he takes stuff apart,” and she wants to eat lunch with him. He works at UL, so her view of what he does for a job is actually pretty close to accurate.
This morning I asked her why she wants to be a GeekMom when she grows up. Her response was simple, “I want to have a kid someday and do projects out of a GeekMom book.” Considering how much time we have spent working out of the GeekDad books recently, that is sound logic.
Today I am faced with where to put all of our new fabulous art. I already had a drawing of Perry the Platypus that I want to display in some manner that is a higher status than the refrigerator.
I think “I want to be a GeekMom” is going to be framed.
Anyone who has ever watched children play knows they are not merely building with blocks, squishing clay, or coloring with crayons. They are telling themselves a story the whole time, building a world and creating characters as they “play”. Because of that natural born love of a good story, it often doesn’t take much to nudge a kid into a full scale writing geek.
I am often invited to schools to do presentations or author visits, usually with the hope that meeting an author will help get kids fired up about their own writing. Whenever I do these visits, I always ask the students the same question: Who likes to write? Around 50% of the kids raise their hands. When I ask the question again, this time adding, “Who likes to write if you get to ignore all the rules,” 98% of the kids raise their hands. Hugely different response!
The following tips are designed to help remind your child—and yourself—that writing can also be a form of play; to help turn them into a story geek rather than a writing robot suffocating under too many rules. The goal is to reinforce those parts of writing that equal play in your child’s eyes and ignore the rest.
Let them give rein to their natural enthusiasm and sense of play by ignoring the writing rules that make it feel like work. You want them to get in touch with that intuitive part of themselves that recognizes that writing and creating can be play. Rules can always be taught later, but a sense of joy, once lost, is very hard to recapture.
Invest in nice quality notebooks and pens. It’s easy to dismiss the very kinesthetic pleasures of writing—the feel of a silky pen flowing across thick, smooth paper. High quality pens and notebooks can bring that extra pleasure to the act of writing. Plus it signals to them that this is a valued activity, one that can feel good physically and one that the adults in their lives value enough to indulge them in.
Give them permission to not show anyone their work if they so choose (even you!). Some people need absolute privacy in which to experiment and risk failure, especially children who are used to doing exceptionally well at things.
Donot critique their writing, even if they beg you. If they are dying for feedback, let them know what they did really well. Or better yet, ask them which part they had the most fun doing.
As hard as it is for us adults, do not weigh down your child’s writing with your desires, dreams, and ambitions. If you child loves to write and spends hours writing, do not begin pushing them to become a writer or enter writing contests or in any way burden their writing with expectations of careers or publication. Let writing be one area of their lives that is process oriented rather than result oriented.
One of the things I love about local bookstores, such as one of my haunts, Longfellow Books in Portland Maine, is that they highlight local work. So when an author who lives nearby comes out with a new book, I can usually find a decent interview in the local press, a signed copy of the book from any of the local stores, and even, on occasion, a reading at said bookstore. The biggest plus however, is discovering works that otherwise would have gone un-noticed by this generation Amazon-er.
Having people around locally who are producing works like this is inspiring for me, but also for the kids that I work to support. Lincoln Peirce, creator of Big Nate, recently visited the middle school where my office is based, to talk to the kids for a couple of hours about what he does. This is something they can really relate to, and it’s great for them to be able to connect with someone who does something like this, but locally. Kudos to him for having an incredibly affordable fee.
Now don’t get me wrong, I won’t be teaching my son that fame is the key to happiness, but I do hope to show him that the things he wants in life aren’t out of reach. Sometimes it amazes me how willing people are to give back to their community. If you look around you might just find your child’s idol willing to come talk at their school. As to the middle school kids that got to meet Lincoln Peirce? I’ll be looking for at least one name in the funny pages ten years from now.
There is a new law trying to be passed in the Tennessee state government that would prohibit teaching about homosexuality in public school. George Takei has an unusual solution if this bill does pass.
The so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill has been getting a lot of attention in the press lately. This bill would prevent teachers from teaching about homosexuality in public schools. The reason for this, as stated by Republican Senate sponsor Stacey Campfield of Knoxville is because “homosexuals don’t naturally reproduce.” As of May 20, 2011, this bill has passed the TN Senate and will be going on the House.
George Takei, who is best known as Mr. Sulu from the original Star Trek series has started a web campaign urging that if the word ‘gay’ is going to be outlawed, that all people need to do is just say Takei instead. This web campaign has gotten a large following on many social networking sites, especially with the new “It’s OK to be Takei!” logo.
On my Facebook, so many of my friends have added the logo to their user pictures as support of George Takei. There is also a new webstore where you can buy products, such as t-shirts and buttons with the logo on it.
I do think it should be noted that the actual word ‘gay’ is not going to be made against the law, which is really a misconception with the bill. Gay does also mean happy, so if you used it in this way you wouldn’t be breaking the law, if it passes.
What do you think about this bill and George Takei’s response?
I didn’t get physics in high school. All I remember was Mr. Cleaves rubbing a wand and the rude comments the demonstration sparked (no pun intended). But I loved calculus and photography. Now I know why. It ‘s always the teacher. Finally, I get physics and it’s all because of Walter Lewin, Professor of Physics, Emeritus at MIT.
It seems I’m not the only one. A note to Professor Lewin from a florist was reprinted in The New York Times:
“I walk with a new spring in my step and I look at life through physics-colored eyes,” wrote 62-year old Steve Boigon. “Thank you with all my heart.”
Looking for something larger than life that will thrill the entire family this holiday? A tool that is a gateway for magnifying thought, an inspirational device used by poet laureates and Ivy League professors, preschoolers and Ph.D.s, not to mention geek Grinches and Whos?
It fits in the palm of your hand, but has infinite power in its ability to engage. (And it doesn’t have an on-off switch.) It’s a loupe, pronounced LOOP, and it will never cease to amaze you as long as you’re willing to look.
A 5X magnifying loupe and a series of simple questions are at the heart of the The Private Eye Project–a hands-on program that helps develop the essential habits of mind used by successful scientists, writers, artists, inventors, and mathematicians.
I discovered The Private Eye several years ago when I was researching and writing my first books illustrated with electron micrographs. It was thrilling to discover hidden worlds literally at my fingertips (check out the FingerPrint Galleries) without an expensive or complicated microscope. Now, when I visit schools and libraries to introduce the microscopic world through my books, I often hand each kid a loupe. My classroom set has travelled all over the country, and countless kids have begged to keep a loupe for their very own. So, rather than give mine away, I say get one (or two—they’re stackable) of your own.
The World-in-a-Bag is a fabulous gift for all ages. It contains two loupes, seven specimens (natural, such as a starfish leg and a sea urchin, as well as synthetic samples such as orange mesh), and a colorful 14-page spiral bound booklet that outlines the five steps of “looking and thinking by analogy.”
Once you (or your little geek) start looking you won’t be able to stop. That’s when the Collect-it-Yourself Museum comes in handy. This very cool kit contains six large magnifier boxes that can hold all kinds of specimens and treasures (think bugs, crystals, seeds, and Legos), along with a loupe-on-a-lanyard, and a microfiber loupe cleaning cloth.
If you really want to inspire your child, treat yourself, or impress your boss, give the Mini World-in-a-Box. This is a lovely collection of specimens that will please your eyes and excite your mind, especially during the dark days of winter when much of the natural world is asleep under a blanket of snow. I know I will be studying the treacherous slides on the steep sides of ash-gray volcanic mountains (a.k.a. barnacles) the next time writer’s block sets in.
Besides offering loupes and specimens, The Private Eye Project publishes a 200+ page guide by Kerry Ruef, creator and founder of the project, which is filled with activities that cover everything from science, to writing, to math, to multicultural studies. Colorful activity sheets designed for every grade level are great for homeschoolers and teachers who are looking to inject creativity into their lessons.
According to David Melody, Associate Director of the Private Eye Project, teachers and parents consistently report that their children develop creative and critical thinking skills and produce exceptional work while engaged in the Private Eye process. I’m not surprised—through personal experience I have found that the loupe has the power to break cliché thinking and transform my writing. What more could anyone want?
My boys are voracious readers. Sometimes I’ve even been tempted to make them put the books down and do something else. Anything else. A friend of mine tells me that this is a good problem to have. Her son, the same age as my youngest, won’t pick up a book to save his life.
“How do you do it?” she asks.
She’s not the only one wondering. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal ponders How to Raise Boys Who Read. From the article:
According to a recent report from the Center on Education Policy, for example, substantially more boys than girls score below the proficiency level on the annual National Assessment of Educational Progress reading test. This disparity goes back to 1992, and in some states the percentage of boys proficient in reading is now more than ten points below that of girls. The male-female reading gap is found in every socio-economic and ethnic category, including the children of white, college-educated parents.
How did we get to this point with our boys? Some blame technology and video games. Others blame the reading material itself:
A considerable number of teachers and librarians believe that boys are simply bored by the “stuffy” literature they encounter in school. According to a revealing Associated Press story in July these experts insist that we must “meet them where they are”—that is, pander to boys’ untutored tastes.
While I don’t disagree with the idea of letting kids read what interests them, I didn’t have to pander to my kids with books like Zombie Butts from Uranus. My youngest did pick up Captain Underpants on the recommendation of a friend, but it didn’t cause him to seek out more books in the bathroom humor genre. I think he had enough sense to realize that while there may have been a few chuckles in the book, it really wasn’t as enjoyable as some of the other stories he’d read.
As a homeschooling family we’ve had the freedom to let reading occur at a more natural pace. I never sat down and said, “Today, we learn to read.” Instead, I read to the boys. A lot. I pointed out signs, telling them what they said. I made sure they had access to plenty of interesting reading material. Not just books, but maps, games, Pokemon cards, and LEGO catalogs. And they learned to read. Note that I didn’t say, “I taught them to read.” I didn’t. I gave them the opportunities and they essentially taught themselves. I answered plenty of “How do you spell ___?” questions and told them what the unrecognizable words were when they asked. But that’s been the extent of my reading lessons.
My eldest was reading picture books at the age of four, and asking the librarian to help him find non-fiction books on topics of interest at five. My youngest was a late reader. At age eight, he didn’t read much beyond some familiar and basic words but he was desperate to know what all the Harry Potter fuss was about. I told him that when he could read, he could read Harry Potter. He’d finished the first book in the series two weeks later because all of a sudden, reading became interesting and important to him. Today? Both boys are reading at levels well beyond their respective grade level.
I think that because my boys have had the opportunity to read what interested them, at their own pace, they’ve learned that reading isn’t a chore that must be completed, but rather an activity to be enjoyed. My youngest – the late reader – carries a book with him everywhere he goes in case there’s a down moment when he can squeeze in a little reading for pleasure.
That Wall Street Journal article closes with this interesting fact:
There is no literacy gap between home-schooled boys and girls.
This is not to say that every homeschooling family uses the same method. Certainly that’s not the case. But somewhere between home and school, something is going on. Is it the push in schools for high scores on standardized testing? Is it the long hours of seat time leaving boys with the desire to do nothing but move when the bell rings?
My friend whose son is a reluctant reader feels very strongly that he was pushed to read when he wasn’t ready. His first two years of school was full of forced memorization. In her mind, those lessons did nothing but teach him to hate reading. Forcing our boys to sit and read when their brains are simply not there yet is counterproductive.
I’m not suggesting that everyone run out and homeschool. Absolutely not. And I’m not suggesting that kids with learning disabilities be left to their own devices. But why not take a lesson from what seems to be working and ask schools to ease up a bit? Give these boys the resources, let them read at their own pace, and I’d bet that in no time this problem will be a minor one. Let these poor kids learn to enjoy reading.
So, GeekMoms. Is your son a reader? What did you do to encourage a love of reading? Was there one teacher who really inspired him? This is my story; tell us yours!
Education systems are a mess the world over. We know this, but we are dauntless geek parents. When we’re given a lemon situation, we don’t just make lemonade; we make rocket fuel!
I don’t actually know if it’s possible or wise to launch a rocket using citrus, but if that’s what it takes to keep my kid hooked on science, I won’t shy away from the experiment. (Out of geek courtesy, I will warn the neighbors, though.)
Putting the oranges in orbit aside for a moment, we really do need to make the most of the lemon education systems we have. Given all the demands on our time and attention, it’s best if we first identify the simplest, most direct help we can give our little geeks, every day:
Until college, I can’t remember passing a day at home or school without being teased for being a brainiac and a tomboy. I was so used to being a pariah in my own life that I actually had a hard time adapting to living among friends. But my fellow grown-up nerds were patient. They all knew what it was like to be “the weird one” and that it was only a matter of time before I solved the funny little puzzle in my head.
When I was nineteen years old, nobody seemed surprised to hear me say the words, “I’m bisexual.” But in spite of the fact that my biggest secret was somehow common knowledge, my family had one demand: Stop telling people! In other words, “Get back in the closet, you freak.” But it was too late. I’d developed a taste for acceptance, and tormented adolescence was no match for hard-won adulthood. Yes, I was still a big geek, and queer to boot, but I was a geek among many. My smarts and my sexuality finally fit in somewhere, and I had something to be proud of: Me.
But I think it’s only a matter of time before people get wise about this, too. Scientists have examined some of the prevailing arguments against equality and found that the assumptions guiding anti-LGBT bias aren’t based in reality:
In fact, in another study, “…children in lesbian families scored significantly higher in their social, academic and general skills, and significantly lower with regard to aggressive behavior, violating rules and expressing problem behaviour.” Logically, the research indicates that this is more likely due to differences in parenting styles between lesbian and hetero parents than due to their sexual orientation.
But even science has a way to go with regard to overcoming hetero-normative bias. Much research assessing the outcomes of children of LGBT parents still falls into the trap of assuming that the emergence of queer youth in any family is a sign of parental failure, or an otherwise undesirable result.
There are no quick fixes for these problems. It’s clear from both anecdotal and scientific evidence that anti-LGBT bullying is epidemic in schools. Queer kids are bullied to death at a rate that astonishes newscasters, but the phenomenon probably surprises few adult geeks who survived adolescence before Bill Gates and Steve Jobs became household names.
But we geeks and LGBT adults can offer queer youth one assurance: It gets better. And while our kids are still growing up, we adults can make it even better by confronting the discriminatory policies that validate bullies and condemn their victims.
I’ve been a geek all my life, but I hated school. Until college, I learned more watching PBS and maxing out my youth library card every week than I ever did in a classroom. I’m worried that my son will have the same experience – he’s only four years old, but he already loves science at a fourth grade level.
And I’m a Geek Mom! Rather than sit back and try to make lemonade out of a lemon education system, I’m constantly on the hunt for smarter alternatives to the status quo. Where does one look for wise innovation? Humanitarian design, of course!
Project H Design believes that design can change the world, and I think they’re on to something. Using old tires, a sandbox and some chalk, they came up with an education tool that could make any classroom world-class. Their “Learning Landscape” was originally designed to make math education fun, but it’s dynamic enough to be applied as widely as language studies and civics, and it can be adapted to any grade level.
Take a look, and if you love it as much as kids do, put your local principals in touch with Project H Design. They’re currently seeking ten new ‘flagship’ schools where they can help fund and install Learning Landscapes.