Archive for the 'Parenting' Category

7 Ways to Improve Education

You’ve heard of the dog days of summer. Well, welcome to the dog days of school.

Standardized tests are almost done, but the standardized calendar is not. Daylight lingers longer, but attention spans do not. It’s a good time to review what works well and what wears us out.

Boerne ISD has its online parent satisfaction survey open through Friday. Superintendent Tommy Price is also assembling committees to set a new strategic direction for BISD. As the conversations unfold, here are seven ideas for improvement:

  1. Group elementary students by their birth quarter. In his book “Outliers,” Malcolm Gladwell highlights the significant difference between success rates of people born just after an age cutoff and those born months later.

Teaching to the lowest common denominator is a common temptation in education. Grouping students of like ages, down to the month or quarter of their birth, will challenge high performers and help those who need extra attention.

  1. Teach more values. In a politically correct, pluralistic society, we’re better at teaching skills than values. I want my kids to have both.

If kids get values (honesty, hard work, discipline, service over self, respect for authority, etc.), they will acquire skills, even if it’s after they leave home. Knowledge and information aren’t limiting factors in our interconnected world. Character and wisdom are.

  1. Help kids develop a fierce mastery of technology. Boerne resident Kelly Newcom, author of http://www.BraveParenting.net, says smartphone pitfalls (pornography, bullying, addictive behavior) have dramatically increased incidences of suicide, self-harm and depression among kids nationwide.

Schools should carefully monitor and/or restrict device use on campuses and buses. Reducing dependence on smartphones will help kids master offline communication skills and sharpen the original supercomputer: the human brain.

  1. Transition to school uniforms. As decorum slides in our image-obsessed society, a move in the other direction would serve students well.

Uniforms work in third world countries and inner city charter schools. They work in pricey private and parochial schools. They will work in BISD. Let students express their independence and creativity in their work products, not in their attire.

  1. Close the gap between elementary and secondary start times. Elementary students shouldn’t have to go to school in the dark for half the year and then go to bed in the light the other half.

Various issues affect scheduling: bus routes, parental work schedules, morning and evening activities, student performance studies, etc. Still, start times closer to 8:00 am are ideal for all ages.

  1. Shorten middle school block periods. Hour and a half classes are too long, especially for boys. Teachers try to break up the monotony, and block schedules help with moving teachers between campuses, but we need a better way to organize the day.

7. Let the adults be adults. In our “customer is always right” world, the chief / tribesman line can get blurry.

Today, university students sit on regent boards and high schoolers help select principals. A mix of perspectives is beneficial, so long as the wisdom and expectations of the aged prevail.

***

Basic parenting is faltering in some circles. Educators are being asked to pick up the slack. They need our support and encouragement. They also need our input. The dog days of school are a great time to offer it.

 

Kevin Thompson writes frequently for The Boerne Star. Follow him at http://www.kwt.info.

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A movie filtering service with promise

Shock and shame. That’s the mixture I felt in my local drugstore earlier this year. I had just picked up a prescription for a sick child and inadvertently walked down the magazine aisle on my way out. Sadly, we’re all fairly desensitized to what we might see there.

But on that day, the cover of an annual “swimsuit issue” made me sick to my stomach. Literally.

“These are the same people who put a kids’ sports magazine in my nine-year-old’s hands every month,” I thought. (It was a gift subscription from a grandparent.) And this is the same outfit that delivers news to millions of people every day: CNN / Sports Illustrated.

As a parent, you learn quickly that the entertainment and media industries are not on your side. Middle men and women can hardly be trusted either. If they could, my four-year-old daughter wouldn’t have to see spread bikini legs advertising the movie “Sex Tape” on her way in to see “Frozen” at our local theater. How confusing it must be to grow up in this age.

And how exhausting it is to try to protect our little ones from the onslaught. The filtered television versions of movies were a helpful alternative for a while until the commercials became excessive and unpresentable. Often, my family will forego media altogether rather than try to fast forward or mute at just the right time. The MPAA rating system is hardly helpful nowadays.

While solid alternatives like “War Room” (in theaters now) have come onto the scene in recent years, I have long wanted to enjoy the redeeming qualities of modern media without enduring the baggage. Enter Vid Angel, a streaming video service that allows you to pick and choose what you see and hear.

I found this company by simply searching for “TV versions of movies.” The Idaho-based group has a network of “angels” that watch and tag movies for profanity, substance use, sexuality/nudity/modesty and violence/blood/gore.

The angels record a brief description of each item tagged and then present you, the viewer, with the ability to turn on or off categories as a whole, or specific instances in part. The process really makes you feel like you’re back in the driver seat as a viewer and as a parent.

Presently, Vid Angel has more than 400 movies available, as well as a handful of popular TV shows including the record-setting Game of Thrones. The service streams through devices like Roku, Chromecast and Apple TV. There are also apps for viewing on Apple and Android mobile devices.

Vid Angel’s payment system is a little clunky but necessarily so. Under existing copyright laws, no one can alter or filter a movie they don’t legally own.

So, Vid Angel requires you to purchase a movie for $10 – $25, but then you can sell it back within twenty-four hours for $1 – $2 less than the purchase price. The net effect is you have viewed a high definition movie for $2 (standard definition for $1.50). These prices are comparable to other video streaming services in the marketplace.

The company is young and the technology is complicated, but I was thrilled that their product worked more or less as advertised. They “swore” that I’d love it and so far I do.

Follow Kevin Thompson at http://www.kwt.info.

What’s for dinner?

My customer – he happens to be my wealthiest – and I were talking about raising kids.

“Frequency of family dinners is the number one predictor of SAT scores,” he said. “I used to make each of my kids talk for five minutes every night around the table.”

As school starts and activities begin, I am reminded how nearly extinct the regular family gathering is. I am also reminded how critical it is to the family system.

Disconnection runs rampant in our time. “Lonely together” typifies our technologically-networked yet emotionally-fragmented culture. Young people seek meaning from social networks. The biological network is for chauffeuring and financing, they think.

But a creative designer put us in biological groups to meet biological needs. Frequent family meals satisfy both physical and emotional needs.

Bellingham, Washington, minister Matthew McCoy has studied the role of eating habits in personal formation:

“Daily rhythms, when looked at on any individual day, seem almost insignificant. But when taken over the course of a lifetime they are a massive part of how our identities, and thus our ethics, are formed.

“What we eat demonstrates who we think we are and how we relate to each other, to all living things, to science and to God. I can say whatever I like about what I believe, but when it is dinner time all can see if I am telling the truth.”

Over the years, I’ve fed my kids their fair share of chicken tenders on a sports bleacher. We’ve consumed hot dogs on the way to practices and plays. I’ve even accidentally left a fast food pizza in the trunk of my car for two weeks (with little decomposition, I might add – what does that tell you about the potency of modern food preservatives???).

But our hearts are really hungering for relationship and community. Past the initial revulsion to work, parents and kids alike want to contribute to the planning, preparing and putting away of the family meal. Food always tastes better when we work for it.

I’ve noticed a cumulative effect to family meals. The more you have, the better they get. All members – even the littlest – learn their chores and build proficiency. Conversation habits improve. Interruptions decline. Respect increases.

Controlling the pace of life is a great challenge for modern families. Committing to family meals at home is like swimming upstream.

“Many other demands must be met in a day,” McCoy says. “The schedule is so full, the food budget is so small, and exhaustion is an ever present companion. Besides, our hunger is just so relentless that trying to maintain attentiveness is to start something that has no end.”

But, as they say, where there’s a will, there’s a way. One father of four active teens made breakfast the family meal, rising early to make it hot. Another mother gathers her ducklings for dessert after an active evening.

“I make us all sit down and look at each other for ten or fifteen minutes. It’s small but it makes a big difference,” she said.

Physicians will tell you: Many of our physical ailments have emotional roots, and many of our mental ailments affect us physically. We desperately need answers to our questions.

Like an old Bible, if we’d just dust it off, the dining table likely has answers. For the SAT and for life.

Follow Kevin Thompson at http://www.kwt.info.

When Twins Came

It seems like yesterday that we welcomed a double dose of bundled joy into our home. A life-sized print of boy/girl infant twins – asleep, head-to-head, feathered angel wings on their backs – has hung in our hallway ever since. The years have flown like cherubs, but the memories remain.

When I told one gentleman back then that we were having twins, he asked if we had used fertility treatments. It was a reasonable question given the modern prevalence of multiple births. But it was unreasonable given that I had previously told him these twins had three older brothers!

On the day we found out we were having twins, I sensed the shock in my wife’s voice. She had gone to her OB appointment alone. It was, after all, our fourth pregnancy.

“Can you come home over lunch?” she asked on the drive back.

I figured she would tell me we were having son number four – that Daddy wouldn’t be getting his little girl. That was fine, of course, as long as mom and child were healthy.

At this point, she was only nine or ten weeks along, well before genders are generally recognized. But maybe something anatomically undeniable had appeared on the sonogram, I supposed.

When I walked into the house at lunch, all was quiet because all were in bed: our one-year-old, our three-year-old and my wife of eight years. She was not asleep, however. She was probably treasuring in her heart the pleasures of a lifetime with four sons.

As I approached the bedside, I gave her an understanding “I’m here for you / I’m sorry I couldn’t give you a girl” kiss and then picked up the sonogram strip off the floor.

As I ooohhed and aahhhed at the cloudy forms on the film strip, my wife slowly turned it right side up. At that point, the labels came clear. “Twin A” and “Twin B”. Like Abraham and Sarah, all I could do was laugh.

The heart-stopping moment had happened for her a few hours earlier. “Whoa!” The sonogram nurse exclaimed as she abruptly paused her examination. “There’s two in there!”

We should have at least thought it a possibility. My wife’s maternal grandmother has twin sisters. An early sonogram of our first son showed a dissolving sac where a twin had been. “Disappearing Twin Syndrome” we were told.

But after three conventional single male births (did I just call births “conventional”?), we had tunnel vision. That is, until twins thrust double vision upon us. Two cribs, two car seats, two high chairs. Mom feeds of A; Dad’s got B. Dad diapers A; Mom wipes B.

Our six-year-old showed maturity beyond his years when he heard the news. “Oh, man. That’s going to be a lot of work.” His three-year-old brother exhibited youthful vigor: “Let’s have six kids!”

A few months later, we were spring cleaning and preparing for the two arrivals. While boxing used books to take to a reseller, I came across a hard-back that had barely been cracked. The title? “Taking Control of Your Fertility.”

“Oh. There it is,” I thought at the time. Now I think, “How boring!”

Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. Follow him at http://www.kwt.info.

Kids say the darndest things in 2014

A great joy of fatherhood is hearing firsthand how little people process the world. As we close out the year, here are the funniest, cleverest, most innocent and telling things my kids have said in 2014.

We have five children but only one daughter. She’s four. Tucking her in one night, I asked what she was going to dream about: “Maybe just you.” I kissed her goodnight and immediately pre-ordered a 2026 BMW convertible.

Once, when she was anxious to leave for a party, she bargained, “If you get dressed fast, I’ll give you some gum and a new phone.” She already knows technology unlocks my heart.

Her twin brother could pick out the phone. Though only four, he is the technologist among us. One day he rounded the corner with my smartphone and announced in a sassy tone: “I know your password. You better change it.”

While I was waiting for a fax, my kids became fully native to the digital landscape. To them, analog is analogous to Stone Age.

When my six year old came to my office one morning, he asked if he could call his mom. “Yes,” I said, “but you’ll need to dial nine first.” He stared at me blankly. After repeating myself three times, he finally asked, “You mean ‘push’ it?”

On spring break, we took the family to a camp in the woods. As we settled into our cabin, my eight year old tried unsuccessfully to check sports scores on my phone. He asked, “Why don’t they have Internet? I mean, they have lights.”

On a hike that week, one of the four year olds asked, “Can butterflies kill us? What about ladybugs?”

In a houseful of mostly boys, sports are a hot topic. I asked the eight year old why you get two points for a basketball shot: “Because the ball goes through the rim and the net.”

While waiting for me to throw him a pop fly, the six year old declared, “Here comes the last out of the World Serious.” Another day he handed me three tennis balls. “Will you jiggle these?”

Vocabulary is a crap shoot. In the summer we try not to forget our sunscream. Sometimes we watch movies on Nexflips. If you want to know the price of something at the store, just scan the zebra name tag.

The little girl loves music. She often asks her twin brother, “How ‘bout you dance and I sing?” Lyrics aren’t yet her forte. “How much is that doggie in the rainbow?” “From the mountains to the cherries, to the oceans white with foam…”

We try to teach them what really matters. It doesn’t always click. The six year old’s translation of Proverbs 3:5: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart. Lean back on your own understanding.”

Before dinner one night, I asked for someone to complete this sentence: “The family that prays together….” Expecting “stays together,” all I got was “eats together.” Heathens.

After I told the little girl we always need to be ready for Jesus’ return, she asked, “Will he want to see our rooms?”

Shortly after Halloween she asked me, “What do you want to be for Thanksgiving?”

A pilgrim, dear. A pilgrim, wandering through the wild wilderness called parenthood.

Kevin Thompson is a columnist for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. He can be reached at kevin@kwt.info.

Parents make the difference

Have you ever wondered why Father’s Day is six weeks after Mother’s Day? It took that long for a bunch of dudes to go, “Hey! Wait a minute!”

Welcome to the parent-honoring season. With 31 years of parenting experience, I must be qualified to advise parents. (Okay, I’m really not that old or that qualified; my kids’ ages just total 31.)

No topic generates more longing for a silver bullet than the topic of parenting. Unfortunately, no bullet exists. No particular act or activity will set a child on a trajectory toward prosperity, tranquility and harmony. Still, we think:

“If I can just get my kid into the right (fill in the blank), everything will work out.” (school, church group, sports team, after-school activity, friend group, relationship, hobby, college)

“If I can just get her before the right youth minister, coach, headmaster or tutor…”

“If I can just orchestrate the right tapestry of influences, experiences and knowledge…”

To quote a certain boy band of the 1960s, wouldn’t it be nice.

I once worked for a Dallas real estate executive who bumped into Beach Boys front-man Brian Wilson at a Grammys after party in 2001.

My gregarious boss quizzed Wilson on his very interesting life. My boss was not ready for Wilson’s reply: “I really just wish I had spent more time with my kids.”

For all the tutoring programs, radio ads promising behavior modification by Friday and enrichment opportunities that keep moms and dads and kids on the move, I am convinced only of this:

The parents make the difference.

I know both bratty kids and respectful kids that attend expensive private schools. I also know both lost kids and engaging kids at free public schools.

I know a successful business leader who proficiently uses financial leverage in his company. He has no clue how to use leverage in parenting.

I know a restaurant caterer who refuses to cater to the demands of his sixteen-year-old. The customer is not always right; neither is the child. Both can be illogical.

Poor parenting often comes from parents’ unwillingness to accept the consequences of a child’s poor choices. They don’t want to miss the party themselves.

It is also rooted in the fear that discipline will alienate a child. The opposite is actually true: Appropriate discipline makes a child feel loved.

Relating well, striking the right balance between full throttle and full coast, expecting excellence while giving acceptance – these are the touchstones of good parenting.

Chauffeuring sounds a lot easier.

A friend’s corporate employer once challenged him to encapsulate his life mission into 6 words or less. He took that challenge and formulated this one:

“World’s best dad and getting better”

This simple line promises presence and connection, not more running around town.

Modern life brings many enemies of healthy parenting: divorce, absenteeism, schedule strain, the temptation to shirk duties because one is providing financially for the family.

We feeble humans can only do so much. “Fatigue makes cowards of us all,” Lombardi once said. Let us give our first fruits to the kids we were given. No one else can make the difference.

 

Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star. Follow him at www.kwt.info.

Is breast cancer awareness being exploited?

Congratulations. You made it to November and, if you’re a football fan, through the pink barrage that was the National Football League’s attempt at breast cancer awareness.

I am all for more education about the ruthless disease that affects the lives of millions of women and their families. A bridesmaid of my wife’s wrestles admirably with the cancer. I have known those who have fought and won and those who have fought bravely in defeat.

Yet, the skeptic in me can’t help but curl an eyebrow at the NFL’s relatively newfound sympathy.

“Isn’t this really just about getting more wives and girlfriends to let their husbands and boyfriends watch more football? Wouldn’t head trauma research be a more fitting cause?” I ask myself.

A modern media mantra states that all publicity is good publicity. In that vein, the more pink, the better. Still, I don’t like to see causes get hijacked. I don’t like immaturity undermining noble purposes. That’s what I see happening with breast cancer awareness.

Teenage boys and quasi-men wear wristbands that read, unabashedly, “I LOVE (enter slang term that rhymes with ‘rubies’).”

The first place I saw this fashion statement was on an employee at a rental car place. I couldn’t help but tell the manager I didn’t think the look would impress many customers.

Then, at the pool last summer. My elementary son was playing catch in the water with a young teenage boy. The teenager had on such a bracelet.

When I noticed his wristband, I asked his mother to ask him to remove it or turn it inside-out. I proceeded to state my opinion that teenage boys are already thinking enough about sexual things and probably don’t need a reminder on their wrists.

The mother, slightly miffed that I would make such a request, explained that the boy’s grandmother was dying from breast cancer. I kindly extended my condolences but retracted neither my request nor my assertion.

She ended up asking the boy to hide the message from my son, and, on her way out, told me she agreed with my perspective.

Largely through efforts like Texas-based Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, breast cancer awareness has never been higher. But neither has breast awareness. How much the two are intertwined is difficult to estimate.

It is not difficult to estimate how much women are objectified in our culture. A short safari into the World Wide Web or a click through cable TV will provide the answer, if a grocery store check out doesn’t give it first.

Exploited Hollywood starlets act ever more bizarrely. Miley Cyrus, for example.

Each iteration brings more squinting of the eyes, more wrenching of the gut, more sorrow in the soul. All the while tens of thousands of impressionable girls absentmindedly follow their destructive lead.

So, when the NFL dots its fields with pink, fields encircled by busty bimbos wearing less than sports bras and not exactly leading cheers, the cause seems conjured, cleverly calculated by a well-paid public relations firm.

The NFL campaign and the “I LOVE RUBIES” bracelets may raise funds that researchers would never have come across otherwise. But I’m not convinced overall women’s health has been best served.

Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. Follow him at http://www.kwt.info.


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