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Keeping it Campy at Home

A recent realization is coming down hard on many families right now as we move into the summer months—cancelled summer camps and other beloved outdoor activities. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, many organizations have been forced to postpone or cancel their summer programs and events. Besides deposits, schedule changes, and other logistical obstacles, families are now left to improvise for children who have been left disappointed by these cancelled programs. Despite the fact that camps, at least in the traditional sense, won’t be happening this summer, families do not have to forego all of the activities and traditions. Below are ideas for bringing camp activities and traditions back with an at-home spin!

 

Ask for ideas

Before setting out to plan for summer camp at home, ask your kids about their favorite parts of camp. Which activities do they prefer? How do they typically spend the day? How much adult involvement do they expect? What props, supplies, or materials will they need for their activities? By asking these questions, parents can plan for activities that will truly engage children in a meaningful way. Answers to these questions will also help parents to get an idea of the vibe or type of camp that is most relevant. For instance, a soccer camp is going to be much different from a wilderness-style camp.

 

Provide a schedule

Creating structure will make the at-home camp experience feel more authentic. Since all camps, from sleepaway camps to sports-focused day camps, provide a level of structure and consistency, an outline of activities for the day or week will elevate the in-home camp experience. Parents can sketch out the week’s activities or a daily schedule on a white board or take it to the next step by printing a camp “brochure” for each camper.  Below is a sample idea for a daily camp schedule–with typical camp protocols included:

 

Time  Activity Dress
8:00-8:30

 

*Change into active wear after bfast & apply sunscreen

Breakfast in mess hall (kitchen) *Bunk must be made prior to meal Pajamas
9:00-10:30 Neighborhood scavenger hunt Sneakers; athletic clothes
10:30-11:30 Indoor/Outdoor game time

*Choice of frisbee, cornhole, boardgame, hopscotch/jump rope challenge

Sneakers; athletic clothes
11:30-12:30 Lunch in mess hall (kitchen)

*Must wash hands prior to meal; clean up dishes after meal

12:30-2:30

 

*Reapply sunscreen after quiet time

Quiet time activities

*Choice of craft, baking, screen time, reading, coloring, puzzle, movie

Comfy clothes
2:30-3:30 Water time

*Choice of water balloon toss, sprinkler time, slip n’ slide, pool or water table, squirt gun fight

Swimsuit; towel
3:30-4:00 Snack time Dry clothes
4:00-5:30 Backyard obstacle course Sneakers; athletic clothes
6:00-7:00 Family dinner in mess hall (kitchen) *Must wash hands prior to meal; rotating schedule of campers setting the table Apron for kitchen helper
7:00-7:30

*Apply bug spray

Stack firewood/gather kindling for campfire
7:30-9:00 Campfire s’mores; spooky stories; star gazing Sweatshirts (possibly)

 

Of course, activities and times will vary depending on camper preferences and family schedules, but this sample provides a simple outline for parents to structure their at-home camp. This will require a bit of preparation and planning, but once the plan is in place and materials are gathered, older children (7+ years) could ideally run the activities themselves.

Another option is to share the schedule with other families in the neighborhood so that each house can get in on the fun. This also allows parents to divvy up the work, kind of like a progressive dinner, but with camp activities. An important consideration if hosting for the neighborhood—TRIPLE CHECK with parents about any allergies, food restrictions, medications needed (epi-pen), or health concerns that might impact a camper’s participation in outdoor/physical activities.

Setting Student-friendly Goals Using the IEP

Calling the average Individualized Education Program (IEP) document bulky would be an understatement. Even for educators, who are quite familiar with special education documentation, the length of the IEP can make it difficult to cull the student goals. Even more taxing is the task of deciphering the IEP goals in a way that can be clearly and concisely explained to parents and students. However, since IEP goals are aligned to state and grade-level standards, they offer families a sound starting point for making their own student-friendly, SMART goals.

What is a SMART goal?

SMART is an acronym, often used in educational environments, to help students through the process of goal setting. Using the acronym, students should make sure that goals are specific, measurable, achievable, results-oriented, and time-bound.

  • A specific goal is one that takes the student’s current functionality into account: Where is he currently in his academic achievements and where does he need to be? In answering these questions, we begin to hone in on the specific skills that the student is lacking with regard to grade-level standards.
  • A measurable goal is data-driven and accounts for planned check-in points. When progress is routinely measured, teachers and parents are able to establish patterns and employ new strategies if necessary. A measurable goal also means that success is definitive—a student either clearly meets the goal or does not, according to the data.
  • An achievable goal means that it is realistic to the student’s abilities and focuses on her most critical needs. It is important to ensure that meeting this goal is realistically within the student’s reach, otherwise, it sets her up for failure.
  • A goal that is results-oriented is just as it sounds—the focus is on the outcome. With a desired outcome driving the process, teachers, parents, and students are able to determine if certain strategies are helping to meet the desired outcome, or if they need to redirect their approach to learning.
  • Time-bound means that there is a definitive starting point and end point to achieve the goal. Often times, during an initial IEP meeting, the team will determine certain grade-level benchmarks and track achievement by quarter or semester throughout the school year.

Examples of IEP goals translated for students

By the end of the first semester, student will read grade-level text orally, accurately, and with appropriate rate and expression at 120 words per minute with 90% accuracy, as measured by biweekly recorded fluent checks. When reading aloud for biweekly practices, I will read words accurately and with fluidity for every 9/10 words. I will also read with inflection and adhere to punctuation, while maintaining a consistent pace.
By the end of quarter 1, student will identify the central idea and three supporting details in a nonfiction text with 90% accuracy in three out of four trials. When reading an article, I will identify the main idea and three pieces of evidence to support it.
By the end of the second semester, student will use context clues, suffix/prefix knowledge, and access to a dictionary when determining the meaning of unfamiliar words, with 90% accuracy in a grade level text. By the end of the school year, I will be able to identify 9 out of every 10 unknown words using context clues and a dictionary if necessary.
With nonverbal cues and fading adult support, student will initiate a task within 3 minutes of receiving it and with 2 or fewer prompts. I will begin a class activity or assignment as soon as I have it in front of me with less than 2 reminders from the teacher.

How to Manage Testing Time: For Elementary Students

With spring break here, the focus for many parents, students, and teachers alike is on the welcomed vacation from the daily grind. No matter the brevity, spring break allows families to rejuvenate and reconnect right before the final stretch of the school year.

Yet, as much as many students would like to avoid the topic, spring break also signifies the soon-to-be start of the testing season. The weeks leading up to and during testing can be rather stressful for students. However, there are strategies that parents and teachers can use to help younger learners prepare for and thrive during these tests without becoming overwhelmed by stress or pressure.

  • Testing can be especially stressful and even anxiety-producing for young students. Their desire to do well, outperform their peers, or surpass a previous score could create unnecessary pressure. To combat nerves, teachers and parents should focus on reassuring students of their successes beyond a simple test score. Talk about how a test score is simply one data point—it does not invalidate a child’s previous accomplishment or dictate the possibility of any future accomplishment.

  • Instead of focusing on reaching a specific score, hitting a certain benchmark, or creating unnecessary competition among peers, help young elementary schoolers set goals for growth or practice positive test-taking habits. Help children by setting goals like aiming to get adequate sleep, eating a healthy, filling breakfast, and spending some time exercising each day—these are positive habits that can help motivate students in the right direction while taking the focus off of the grade or score.

  • Discuss the true purpose of a standardized test and, in turn, remove some of the burden from elementary schoolers. Of course, parents and teachers do not want to convey the message that these exams do not matter; however, we can ease the anxiety by reminding children that a test score is meant to provide data for the school—it is not meant to target or torment the children that may happen to underperform. Again, keep them focused on aspects or contributors that they can control, like sleep, nutrition, self-motivation, and positivity.

  • Parents and teachers can help elementary schoolers by providing them with several different test-taking strategies or tips. Since children in elementary school are just beginning to get a taste of exams or standardized tests, they are likely less familiar with all of the different strategies and practices that they can employ during a lengthy assessment. Encourage them to use the following skills:

    • Tell them they should consider reading the questions first so that they know what they are to be looking out for ahead of beginning the reading or excerpt.
    • Encourage students to take their time when working through the assessment. If they are concerned about running out of time, skip difficult questions or sections and answer the easiest questions first. This will not only help students to knock out portions of the assessment, but it will give them a dose of motivation, self-assurance, and positivity in knowing that some of their answers came easily.
    • Have children practice eliminating answer options that they know are incorrect. This practice helps to remove the distractibility factor that multiple choice questions can have.
    • Teachers should tell students ahead of time that they will provide time updates or occasional countdowns during testing so that students can gauge how diligently they are working throughout the exam. A time check not only tells students how much time is remaining in the session, but also allows students to modify their work pace. This information helps students complete all questions and take more time reading carefully and checking answers if necessary.

How to Manage Testing Time: For Middle School Students

This time of year can be met with mixed emotions from students. Yes, spring break is on the here, which gives students, parents, and teachers a brief, but much-needed reprieve from the stressful school day.

Yet spring is also the time in which schools are gearing up for testing season. For middle schoolers, these tests may include benchmark assessments to gauge math and reading growth, like Map-M and Map-R. Middle schoolers will also be taking the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) assessment. Because of the “high-stakes” mentality associated with these sorts of exams, the weeks leading up to and during testing can be rather stressful for students, parents, and teachers. However, there are strategies that parents and teachers can use to help middle school learners prepare for and thrive during these tests without becoming overwhelmed by stress or pressure.

  • Remind middle schoolers of strategies and routines that are within their control. Test-taking can be stressful due to the uncertainty and lack of control. To boost confidence and instill beneficial practices, talk to students about how they can put their best foot forward before even sitting down to take the exam.
    • Jumpstart their day with a healthy, filling breakfast that will keep middle schoolers fueled through the morning. Parents and teachers may want to consider providing students with a small snack during testing to keep the hunger edge off. Check with the school about their protocol for snacks while testing and consider packing a water bottle with your child as well. Hunger and thirst can be major distractions when it comes to learning, so a little pick-me-up might go a long way with keeping middle schoolers motivated and attentive during a morning of testing.
    • For any number of reasons, likely technology-related stimuli, middle schoolers are getting less and less sleep these days. Breaking poor sleeping habits can take a while before the body truly adjusts to a new schedule. Take action early by encouraging middle schoolers to adhere to a 7-8 hour sleep schedule leading up to assessment week. A regular sleep and wake time helps the body adjust to a healthy circadian rhythm, which will stave off any fatigue and keep students alert and focused during testing.
    • Think positive thoughts. Remind students that a test is simply one indicator of learning. And while we would like middle schoolers to take their testing seriously, we do not want them to be consumed with anxiety and stress. The mantra “do your best, forget the rest” helps learners to focus more on genuine effort and less on perfection or final scores.

  • Annotating is a practice that middle schoolers have probably been honing throughout the school year. Obviously, close reading and analytical thinking skills are beneficial across content areas—annotating is a practice that students are completing in science, history, English, and even math. Additionally, close reading and annotating can greatly help students during assessments as well.
  • A helpful strategy is to provide students with practices in which they annotate test questions, text excerpts, and written response prompts. The key is to help students identify what a question, answer option, or prompt is truly asking. By highlighting key words, breaking down questions, or rephrasing questions, students are better able to focus their thinking.

  • Parents should also remind middle schoolers about any 504 or IEP accommodations that they should be granted for testing. Some assessments, like PARCC, do not allow for certain accommodations; however, accommodations apply during other tests. Parents, children, and teachers must be on the same page when it comes to testing accommodations for major exams or standardized tests. When in doubt, ask—this way children know what to expect on exam day and are not thrown off by a possible lack of accommodations.

Developing Grit: A Guide for Parents

Grit, as it pertains to behavior and motivation, has been a popular buzzword in the education world as of late. Perhaps the reason that it has taken center stage is the fact that today’s adolescents are overwhelmingly lacking in grit. Merriam-Webster defines grit as “firmness of character; indomitable spirit.Grit, however, is much more than sheer determination. Furthermore, grit should not be misconstrued as a trait of stubbornness. This characteristic is substantially more complex than the unwillingness to accept failure, and yet, it has a great deal to do with one’s failures. As Angela Duckworth, who’s garnered a following after her TED talk on grit, claims: grit should be defined as “perseverance and passion for long-term goals.”

With such an emphasis on grit, or rather, the absence of it among today’s youth, it is an essential topic of discussion for parents. What does grit look like? What is the danger of an absence of grit? Since it is such a crucial attribute, how can we ensure that our children and teens develop grit?

A world without grit:

If we were to describe today’s young people in one word, including my own fellow millennials, our generation and those that have followed could be considered “soft.” Coddled, entitled, and sheltered also come to mind when I think about young people today. Some may not know it, but this “softness”—this inability to persevere or handle setbacks—is indicative of a lack of grit.

The unfortunate (and terrifying) truth is that many of today’s recent high school graduates, though perfectly capable applicants on paper, are abysmally ill-equipped to thrive on their own at the university level. Most likely, much of primary school was smoke and mirrors—students were given an A for effort, innumerable opportunities to reassess or resubmit assignments, and gratuitous applause. While it is important to reference the value of self-esteem, the pendulum may have swung too far in the direction of sensitivity.

Parents need to be aware of this lack of grit, because teachers, professors, and employers certainly are. What we are seeing now is that the slightest difficulty, obstacle, or discouragement renders today’s teens completely helpless—any effort or motivation that they may have had for their end goal becomes dashed by fears of failure the moment they sense anything less than perfection on the horizon. Teens are so used to unwarranted praise or the metaphorical “participation trophy” that they are incapable of picking themselves up by their bootstraps, getting back on the horse, dusting off to try again, and any other euphemism alluding to grit. We are raising the “1-and-done” generation, who would rather sell themselves short than experience a nanosecond of discomfort, failure, or rejection.

Without grit, teens become young adults that, while dutiful followers, will never risk failure for a leadership opportunity. They will choose predictable or comfortable stability over spirited, or self-determined, trailblazing every time. They will blame any setback or perceived rejection on the “powers that be” or anything outside of their control. They will consider any criticism as an attack, as opposed to an opportunity to reflect and grow with that knowledge. Students lacking grit become adults who only explore inside the box, and only play when the odds are in their favor.

One of the most “gritty” writers said it best:

“Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way…It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.” J.K. Rowling

Read on to find out more about the correlation between grit and failure, as well as tips for encouraging grit at home and in school in Part II of Developing Grit: A Guide for Parents.

How-to Proofread: For High Schoolers

Once students have reached high school, writing becomes an entirely new beast. From the research project, to a multi-page literary analysis, high schoolers are somewhat expected to have crafted their writing skills to a certain degree. Aside from college, where many of them will be analyzing scholarly articles and writing 20, 30, 40 page papers, high school writing tasks are as advanced as they have seen thus far. Perhaps even more surprising to students, is the fact that lengthier writing assignments will occur in every class, not simply English. With this knowledge, it is essential that high school students improve in their ability to proofread.

  • High school students can use cooperative learning strategies to proofread and peer edit more efficiently. For example, if three students decide to peer edit as a group, one group member should focus his criticism and editing to one area, grammar, for instance. While one group member reviews all three papers for grammatical missteps, another should focus solely on vocabulary, word choice, and spelling. This person should be accessing online thesaurus and dictionaries to ensure that terms and phrases are appropriately used. Finally, the third member of the peer editing group should be in charge of examining content—that is, does the writing masterfully address the prompt? With the tasks split up in such a way, students are more inclined to provide solid, effective feedback—as opposed to the smiley faces and “Good job!” that we teachers are so used to seeing after a peer edit.
  • High school-level writers can streamline their proofreading practice by using symbols or digital highlighting tools to flag errors or areas of need in their writing. Students may want to read their paper through once simply to identify where any issues lie. During this process, they will only mark or highlight areas in the paper where they should revert back to during revision. After issues are highlighted, writers should go back into their paper with a more fine-toothed comb approach. This means that, now that weak or confusing areas in the essay have been identified, they can really dig into making corrections specifically on the sentence level, correcting one line at a time.
  •  As many times as we tell students, it still baffles me that they disregard the warning: DO NOT RELY ON SPELLCHECK! By high school, students must be proofreading on a cognizant, deliberate scale—simply correcting all of the red squiggles will not suffice. Moreover, many spelling or grammar mistakes are mislabeled or ignored by spellcheck software. High schoolers must be prepared to take proofreading into their own hands; their knowledge of writing skills is much more reliable than the computer’s spellcheck.

High schoolers can raise the bar when composing written work by proofreading for sentence variety. They should be prepared to do some major rewriting when sentence variety and complexity is the focus. High school-level writers should be aware of certain clauses and the punctuation that accompanies them. More importantly, students will want to double check that their writing is fluid, clear, and varied on the sentence level—this makes for an elevated paper

 

Discussing Current Events with Students & Children: If, When, and How?

The unfortunate reality for children growing up right now is the prevalence of senseless tragedies. I myself, even as a grown adult, struggle time and time again to make sense of the catastrophic violence that pervades our day-to-day. For my students, I cannot fathom the panicked bewilderment and anxious uncertainties that events such as the Las Vegas attack bring to their frightened, yet curious, minds. During these formative years, how can we mediate the thin line between informing and frightening our students and children? If we decide that information is power, how do we present such heart-rending topics to young people in a way that equips them to do better for the world? Conversely, if we instead choose to shelter our innocent young people by preserving their naïveté, how can we expect to bring up the next generation to be culturally responsive and informed citizens?  

When considering conversations with young people involving tragic current events, such as this week’s Las Vegas mass shooting, adults must be extremely cautious. From the educator’s perspective, I am personally conflicted about my exact role as the adult in the classroom when it comes to conversations of a sensitive nature. Even as a middle school teacher, where my students assert themselves as “informed” or “aware” community members, I find it irresponsible of me to take on the role of informant for other people’s children.

Yes, our students are privy to infinite amounts of and avenues for any and all information, thanks in great part to the 1:1 ratio of school-aged children to smartphones. However, I firmly believe that the family (parents and guardians) know that child best. Therefore, as a teacher, my obligation begins and ends with parental consent. I can, and have, encouraged curious students to speak specifically with their parents about current events and the questions they have regarding those events. Additionally, as an English teacher, I have provided students with criteria for credible sources, smart searches, and strategies to detect bias and objectivity. But that is where my responsibility ends. This is not because I don’t want to hear their opinions or thoughts on the world’s happenings, but rather because it is not my place to open such an emotional or sensitive topic up to discussion.

Suggestions for parents regarding if, when, and how to broach these types of discussions with your children vary from family to family. Obviously, you know your children better than anyone else. Parents are also in control of the extent of info to which children are exposed. Parents are the gatekeepers of information, charged with filtering, limiting, and explaining the events that you deem appropriate for your children.

If families decide to discuss emotionally-charged current events, such as terrorism or mass acts of violence with their school-aged children, parents should consider multiple factors, including age, social and emotional maturity, and peer influence. Let your children do the talking first. Take the temperature of their background knowledge on the topic before you begin. Ask if they have heard or seen anything about the specific news story. It is likely that, if your child has a smartphone, she has some level of prior knowledge. Between social media and other communicative platforms, preteens and teenagers are presented with a deluge of news stories, photos, and videos.

Once you’ve gauged their level of prior knowledge, plan to direct the conversation with the goal to inform on a broad scope—do not necessarily delve into specific details, as details rarely serve to comfort or answer questions. A curious teen will inevitably stumble upon more details, but remind your teen to check the validity of the source before forming opinions or drawing conclusions. Furthermore, be prepared to some answer questions, while leaving other questions unanswered. Especially with unanswerable questions like “how?” it is more than okay to respond with “I don’t know” or “we may never know.” Find some security in the fact that a senseless act will never make sense—and share that important realization with your teen. Finally, encourage your teen to focus on the heroic deeds of bystanders, first responders, survivors, etc. Tragedies cannot be explained or reconciled, but the focus of the aftermath should always center on taking measures to lift up, help out, and affect change for the better. Always.