December 24, 2009

Cherish the Time You Have

It is Christmas Eve, and I have a few reflections to share.  The holidays are a good time for reflecting.  If you haven't done so, find a few moments of quiet to think of your life, your choices, your family.

My thoughts this evening are about focusing in on what's important.  What is important?  In my world: love, family, friends, peace, clarity, communication, forgiveness.  What isn't important?  Bickering, anger, grudges, jealousy, hatred.  Tonight, let something go that's been bothering you.  Forgive yourself for something that never should have mattered, but made you feel guilty just the same.  Tell someone how you feel.

December 15, 2009

Lessons From a Stranger

One thing that everyone who works with kids ought to remember is that they have a lot to teach you.  Teachers and parents sometimes become so wrapped up in everything their students or children are supposed to know that they aren't awake in the moment when their child has something to contribute.  Or they are too entrenched in their own position and too proud to back down.

Sometimes children give us simple gifts in their innocent sweetness or humor, reminders of what is really important.  They can show us the spirit we should have with us every day.

December 13, 2009

Making the Holidays Memorable Part Two: Charity

A huge part of giving the holidays meaning for your children is giving to those less fortunate.  Most people manage to give to charity around the holidays, either a little or a lot.  But there's a difference between casual giving at your convenience and having a real commitment in your life to giving to charity.

Giving your kids a passion for charity can be hard, especially if this wasn't a part of your life growing up.  Here are some tips for focusing in and making the experience memorable.

December 8, 2009

Making the Holidays Memorable

This is a wonderful time of year.  It is a time to realize how much we have and be thankful.  It is a time to renew old traditions and perhaps begin new ones.  It is a time to acknowledge those who are important to us with gifts and cards, visits and well-wishes.  It is a time for rest, family and friends, and a new beginning with a new year.

It is also a time of stress, social awkwardness (I didn't think she would send me a card!), unbelievable crowds when shopping, and dangerous weather when travelling.  With the gifts of the season come challenges; but the real challenge is how to pass some meaning on to your children with the pile of presents you give them, and how to keep the season as "merry and bright" as the songs.  

December 6, 2009

Don't Make Your Kids Behave: Help Them Behave

This great article by John Hoffman restates an obvious, but often overlooked, truth in dealing with children: telling them to behave isn't nearly as effective as helping them behave.  Every teacher and every parent has found themself in the position of sounding like a broken record when dealing with the kids in their care.  Telling a young child to wait, clean up or sit still is a enormous, sometimes impossible, request.  But, especially under the pressure of being in public, parents and teachers seem to expect their charges to develop these abilities unassisted.

The next time you're in the checkout line at the grocery store and your little ones start to misbehave, distract them with a game.  Reach out and take their hand.  Talk about the things you see around you, or what you'll do once you leave the store.  Let's face it: the checkout line is boring.  A bored child is going to find a way to entertain himself, and not necessarily in a way you'll like.

December 5, 2009

The Number One Way to Get Kids (and grown-ups!) to Eat Their Veggies

The blog "It's Not About Nutrition" posted a great article, stating that new research suggests that the reason we don't eat more fruits and veggies is because we don't think of them.  Most people only buy from a relatively short list of possibilities, such as apples, bananas, carrots and oranges, failing to broaden their horizons to the many great options available.

The solution she suggests is to use this vegetable list on the US Department of Agriculture's site and make a game of it with your kids.  See how many veggies you can try.  I really like this idea, but it has one huge pitfall: what if you don't know a thing about mesclun or couldn't make something edible out of a hubbard squash to save your life?

You see, trying new vegetables isn't going to do you or your kids any good if they are poorly prepared.  And that's where my tip comes in: watch a cooking show.

November 25, 2009

Private Tutoring and Test Prep...for Kindergarten?

Recent news has revealed something appalling in New York City: parents are paying hundreds for tutoring to get their kindergarteners into "gifted and talented" classes.  Although not isolated to New York City, the problem is highlighted there by the fact that, despite the high price of tutoring ($145 per session), there is still an 80-child waiting list at one of the popular programs.  The tutoring is meant to help prepare the children for the Otis-Lennon School Ability Test (for reasoning) and the Bracken School Readiness Assessment (for knowledge), which are NYC's tests for admission to their gifted programing.

This situation is a problem for a number of reasons, not the least of which is a sad, sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach when I think of the poor 3 or 4 year-olds being taken to test prep tutoring.  But we'll leave emotion aside to discuss the more tangible problems.

November 24, 2009

Making Thanksgiving Travels Memorable, In a Good Way!

Many families will pile into cars this week and throughout the holiday season to make the trek to visit grandma and grandpa, aunts and uncles, cousins and friends.  Whether your trip is an hour or three days long, it can be a powerful time to bond with your family.  Don't let those lovely, silent, closed-in hours slip away in monotony!  Put away the iPods and headphones, stash the cheap romance novel, turn off the built-in DVD player and talk to your kids and spouse.

A little out of practice?  A lot of us are.  But car trips with my family during the holidays always brought us closer in the end, and we all learned a lot about each other.  Try out some of these tips if you're stuck.

Lessons From the Dog Whisperer

I'm a huge fan of Cesar Millan, the "Dog Whisperer" of TV and literary fame, so I was thrilled to discover that some parents are using his lessons on children as well as animals.  Seem a little odd?  The heart of Millan's message is that "exercise, discipline and affection" will make for a healthy, happy dog, when paired with an owner who has "calm, assertive" energy.

November 21, 2009

Child Development in Action

I was at the park a few days ago and observed something so developmentally text-book, interesting and, frankly, cute that I can't help but recount it.  A small girl, preschool aged, was playing in the sand, and tossed it gently a few times, not more than a few inches from her hand.  Easily seeing where this was leading, her mother promptly told her not to throw the sand; two, three, four times, she warned her persistent child against it, in a tired, patient tone. Finally, the child approached her older sibling, playfully, with a handful of sand, and the mother caught her arm.  She gently but firmly insisted that no more sand was to be thrown.

This time the child listened, un-distracted, and understood that her mother was serious.  Another girl of about the same age happened past the sand box a moment later.  When the strange girl looked down at the sand, the first girl informed her, authoritatively, "You can't throw the sand."

November 18, 2009

Preschoolers, Independence and Chores

I came across this topic on the Parents Magazine website, and liked the article overall.  Many parents wait until their child is older to begin assigning chores, but this brings problems.  First, children want very badly to be helpful and grown-up at Preschool age.  Parents who wait lose their child's natural enthusiasm.  Secondly, a child who is eight or nine and suddenly being assigned chores is apt to resent it.  After all, she hasn't had to contribute through chores all her life, why should she have to begin now?

But I do have a few points to add about safety.

In the opening of the article, the author says her own 4 year-old climbed out of bed one recent morning and tried to make a frozen a frying pan on the stove.  I'm sure this was a heart-stopping experience for the author, but it may have been possible to avoid it.

November 17, 2009

Tree Blocks: Great Idea or Huge Scam?

These blocks are basically what they sound like: building blocks cut directly out of tree branches.  They're available either with or without bark.  Take a peek at  I've linked directly to the tree blocks here, although the company does have other offerings.

Now on to my question: great idea or huge scam?

November 16, 2009

Kids and Reading: Don't Neglect Non-Fiction

I came across an article tonight that reminded me of something important: many parents neglect the non-fiction section when (or if) they get books for their children.  Non-fiction can be a powerful motivator to get kids interested in reading and learning at the same time.  Why?  Because it's fun!

Many adults hear "non-fiction" and think "dry, dull and boring;" and that's a real loss.  Well written non-fiction can be just as interesting as fiction, and it has particular benefits that fiction lacks.

November 13, 2009

Kids and the Internet: Please Respond

I was paging through some magazines yesterday and I came across two separate references to negative affects of the internet on children.  The first asserted that too many "gadgets" in the classroom have led to kids not having any manners; the second, from a teacher, claimed that because of internet and TV, children don't get enough practice in resolving their own conflicts and end up tattling to the teacher.

Now hold on just a minute.  I'll be the first to stand up and say that the prospect of raising children in a time of such rapid technological change is terrifying.  We don't yet know all the effects that growing up with internet and TV may have; we can be fairly certain that increased obesity is one of them.  But that's not my point here.  You can't just hop on the technology-blaming bandwagon to explain away childish behaviors.

November 12, 2009

Hawaii Teacher Furloughs Are a Necessity

Kids in Hawaii are losing 17 school days this year due to teacher furloughs.  The copious number of Fridays off probably have most children celebrating, but they are a cause for concern to many parents, who filed two lawsuits on the issue.

On Monday, senior U.S. judge Wallace Tashima denied a preliminary injunction, urging the parties to settle out of court and permitting the schools to take the remaining 14 Fridays off.  I agree with the decision, but many parents are still upset, and not because they don't want their children to fulfill every kid's dream of a shorter school-week.  

November 11, 2009

25 Students Arrested for a Food-Fight?

Think back to your childhood: you've thrown food at least once, right?  Maybe it wasn't at school.  Maybe you chucked some peas at your brother while mom's back was turned, or you and your cousins ended up covered in turkey at the kids' table at Thanksgiving.

Apparently this type of childish fun can now get you arrested.  After a massive food fight at a Chicago school, twenty five students were arrested and charged with reckless conduct.  25 frightened children, aged 11 to 15, spent a day in jail and now face misdemeanor charges.  For a food-fight.

This is appalling.  The administration at this school and the Chicago police should be absolutely ashamed of themselves.  They chose to traumatize and damage the reputations of these children instead being grown-ups, taking charge and saying 'stop.'  The school should have handled the situation privately, but instead they called in guns to a food fight.

If these charges aren't laughed out of court by the judge, my disgust will be forced to extend to our legal system as well.  My message to adults: don't put grown-up judgments on the behavior of children.  They're kids.  So let them be kids.

[NY Times]

November 9, 2009

Children with Special Needs: Where do they belong?

As a substitute teacher, I have a somewhat unique view on how any classroom functions.  Children's usual behaviors seem to be amplified by the presence of a different leader (a.k.a. me) and possibly changes in their usual routine.  This makes the whiners more whiny, the ornery more bold and the organized almost obsessive.  Fortunately, most of this polarization can be averted by a teacher who leaves a thorough and detailed plan for the day, and by a substitute who arrives and guides the class with confidence.

Unfortunately, these measures are not always enough to help a child with special needs.  Many special needs students are so sensitive to routine that my mere presence and the lack of their usual teacher can be quite upsetting.  This initial distress often cannot be avoided; however, most students warm up within a few minutes or hours and the day is ended on a good note.

But I have become concerned with some of the special needs students I have come across in classrooms.  I don't want what I say next to be misinterpreted; I believe that most special needs students belong in a regular classroom.  The structure and interactions there are a fine environment for their education.

November 8, 2009

Battle: Grocery Store

Everyone with a pair of working eyes or ears has seen or heard it: the battle of the grocery store.  The haggard parent remains grim and silent while the child prattles endlessly, begging for everything salty or sugary in sight.  Or perhaps the parent utters a quiet line of excuses and explanations in a flat monotone: No, we're not getting that because it's full of sugar.  That's not good for you.  That's nothing but a salt lick.

A parent at the end of their rope sometimes snaps, and their voice grows louder and, frankly, more annoying than the child.  Another parent gets to the last straw and growls in a low threatening voice, while firmly grasping the squirming offender's arm.

Not a very pretty picture.  Even for the best of parents, a rare bad trip to the store is to be expected; no one can remain coolly and happily in charge all the time.  But here are a few tips for those who find the grocery store terrifying.

November 7, 2009

Choose Your Battles

This advice is common, I'll admit, and it takes practice to implement.  And by practice, I mean mistakes.  I think most adults in a position of authority can think of at least one time recently that they did not choose their battles wisely.  This is part of the balancing act of parenting or supervising children.

But I saw a truly awful example of a poor choice just recently.  At the end of the day on Friday, a teacher was leading a line of students toward a bus; a lone boy approached from the opposite direction, running.  The teacher called out, "Walk.  Walk.  Walk!"  but the boy, who may or may not have heard, kept running and only slowed down by the door of the bus.  At this point, the teacher, in a voice most would use to scold a dog, ordered the boy to turn around, walk back to where he was, and then walk to his bus.


Welcome to Kids Aren't Rocket Science.  The theory of this site is simple: many adult interactions with children are needlessly complicated or unpleasant.  But I don't think it has to be that way; I'd like to help eliminate some of the problems that I see.

As a child, I loved reading.  In addition to many fine children's books, however, I loved to read parenting magazines.  From age eight onward, I sought out books, magazines and articles on parenting, children, development, educational theories and psychology.  At twelve I began tutoring a younger friend in reading over the summer, and thus began a long series of teaching and tutoring jobs that has extended until now; I am currently a Substitute Teacher in a large corporation of public schools.

I don't have a degree in Education or Psychology, but I don't think you need a degree to be good at interacting with children.  Different methods of teaching are certainly interesting to study and fascinating to observe in a classroom; but my interest in this site is in day-to-day interactions, not necessarily education.  The basic ways parents, teachers, coaches and other adults handle their relationships with children either promote mutual respect and dignity or destruct self-esteem.  And I, for one, see too many adults each day who choose to remain in a destructive rut.

On this site, I'll discuss any examples of negative interactions that I see.  Feel free to e-mail me about any child-related questions or problems at