We Are Both Right

In Defense of School-bought Lunches

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I have enough faith in our school district to let them feed my children every day for lunch. Do you? ©dmgoodguy/stock.xchng

I don’t know what my children are eating for lunch today. As I write this (the first day of school here where we live) my kids are at their respective institutes of learnings, getting ready to enjoy their midday meal. They both opted to buy, despite us not yet having a calendar spelling out what the food choice for the day will be.

They like buying their lunch most days and that’s OK with me. Is it because our school district more progressive than most when it comes to healthy school lunches, offering organic, all-natural fare? Not really, although they try — serving grilled chicken Caesar salad, roasted chicken (or turkey), omelettes and even orzo salad on some days.  But don’t get me wrong, they serve up their fair share of chicken and pizza nuggets and nachos too.

I let my kids buy lunch because they want to (and if they didn’t, they wouldn’t), the price is right and it saves me a step in the morning. I have rules — they have to buy the lunch being offered or the alternative (generally a sandwich of some kind or a bagel with yogurt and a string cheese) and they have to promise to take and eat all the components of the meal that is being served — the entree itself, plus milk (flavored is acceptable) and the snack, which is generally fruit (sometimes canned, yes, but fresh most of the time).

Do they actually eat all of those things? I have no idea. But they tell me they buy them (and I believe them) and I feel like if this variety of food is on their tray it’s hard for them to throw it out. The ladies who work in the cafeteria (and see how much food is wasted every day) may scoff at my logic, but there it is. And according to research, I’m not too far off in my thinking that school lunches aren’t all bad — if a child is wise about his purchase.

According to the USDA, schools must “provide lunches that are consistent with the applicable recommendations of the most recent of the most recent Dietary Guidelines for Americans including: eat a variety of foods; choose a diet with plenty of grain products, vegetables and fruits; choose a diet moderate in sugars and salt; and choose a diet with 30% or less of calories from fat and less than 10% of calories from saturated fat.  In addition, lunches must provide, on average over each school week, at least 1/3 of the daily Recommended Dietary Allowances for protein, iron, calcium, and vitamins A and C.”

Seems pretty reasonable and I think my district does a good job of following these guidelines while offering up things the students actually like to eat. Where kids get tripped up it seems, is when they buy lunch items a la carte — some pudding here, some ice cream there — and they don’t buy what the food service director has put together. (I don’t know how it is by you, but in our district, they do not monitor what the kids buy so it is conceivable that a child eats only dessert for lunch.)

Do I worry that my kids are eating things that aren’t as healthy as they should be when they buy their school lunch? I suppose a little, but honestly, I’m not necessarily always serving the highest-quality things either, frequently turning to boxes, cans and bags for our sustanence.  A poor excuse, I know, but it is what it is. My concern above all else is that they eat something. The school isn’t serving them bags of sugar or giving them some salt to lick, it’s a basic meal that covers most of the food groups.

All that and an education too? Works for me.

What about you? Do your kids buy lunch or bring? Which would you prefer they do?

Suzanne and her husband do such a great job of making lunch for their kids every day. Forget about my own offspring, I’m going to their house every day for my midday meal!

Our Two Cents: Advice for a Mom Who Wants to Put Dad in Detention


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When it comes to the first day of school, who puts the kids on the bus? ©tenneysmit/stock.xchng

Dear Suzanne and Amanda:

My daughter Tess is starting her first day of kindergarten next week. She’s an only child and I’m viewing the day as a momentous one for all of us (Tess, her dad and me).

Her dad, my husband Frank, works quite a bit. He leaves early in the morning and isn’t home until late at night. He’s home on weekends, but he misses a lot of what’s going on in Tess’ world. I do my best to keep him updated.

I think it’s important for Frank to be around on the first day of school, if not for the whole day, at the very least to put Tess on the bus with me. Frank usually leaves for his office around 6 a.m., the bus is scheduled to come at 7:45 a.m. Frank says he wants to watch his daughter get on the bus for the first time but simply doesn’t have the time.

This is turning into a big issue for me. Now that Tess is starting school, I can no longer keep her up until her dad gets home from work. I know she isn’t going to see him a lot and it upsets me. I don’t see the big deal in Frank going into work a few hours late. How can I convince him that this is very important and he needs to stay home?

– Disappointed Mom

Suzanne: Feeling like you have to be in two places at one time is never easy, but in this case I suspect your husband might have a little more leeway than he’s admitting. It doesn’t sound like he is fearing for his job if he delays his start time by two hours. From what you say, he just can’t “make” the time. And in that case, I would say that there’s still more wiggle room in your argument discussion.

I know from my own experience that unless you are arriving late or leaving the office early every day, a morning appointment here and there is not scrutinized. And I’ve made it a point to be at every first day of school and other important parent activity in my children’s schools whenever possible. Same goes for my husband — who is in the minority among his peers in his status as a dad. (He’s someone who spent years wringing his hands over the prospect that he would probably have to miss his son’s first day of kindergarten because he would be in the classroom welcoming his own students to school. When the time came, he was working in a different field and was right there with us. He still talks about that day.)

But there was one year when an early meeting on my part coincided with the arrival of my son’s bus on his first day of second grade. My husband was still planning to see him off (and take pictures) but I was tearing my hair out trying to figure out a way to be there. It wouldn’t have been career-ending for me to skip that one meeting — except that I was on the agenda to make a presentation (talk about adding insult to injury since public speaking is not my favorite early morning activity). Then I got bumped. Then I got rescheduled for another topic. Ugggghhhhh! Turns out I did have to miss the first day of school fanfare and yet we all survived.

My frustration stemmed from the fact that there’s so much more to that first day of school than just walking your child safely to the corner and nodding your head at the bus driver. Pride. Excitement. A mental reminder of just how quickly you are moving through the years and why that drive to the college dorms is looming in the not-so-distant future. The first days of school are numbered.

So even though you don’t want to push to the point of resentment, it would be worth bringing up subject again with your husband in a less direct way. Ask him about his office culture and how he feels about what lies ahead when the first day of school gives way to chorus concerts, science fairs, field day and career day. Get a feel for how other people in his office handle family commitments, doctors’ appointments, etc.

And suggest that if there’s the least bit of flexibility in his day, he might want to save those precious slots for times like these because while he’s doing his job for the benefit of your family, his bonus comes in the form of working in some face-to-face family time wherever possible since that’s the stuff memories are made of.

Amanda: I’m trying to remember back to my first day of school. I think I wore a pink or a red dress with flowers on it. That’s about it. I’m sure it was a huge day and I’m sure my parents were proud, but some 30-odd years later, I’m scratching my head over the details.

Having said that, I do remember both of my school-age children’s first days of school very clearly, so I understand your concerns. The first day of school (especially the first first day of school) is an important one, especially to parents. I do my best to make sure that day goes as smoothly as possible. For you, that means having your husband there and I get that.

The thing is, I’m not sure it’s a good idea to presume that Frank can take off without any repercussion. It’s his job, I think it needs to be his call. I do think another conversation is in order. Try to be calm as you explain why it means so much to you that he is there for your daughter’s big day. If after your talk he still can’t make it, understand that given the choice, he’d probably rather be with you and your daughter. So do your best to make him part of the day. Suggest he write a note to put in Tess’ lunchbox and take plenty of pictures for him to view (you can even text him a couple on your cell phone). Maybe the three of you can have a celebratory meeting over ice cream over the weekend where Tess can share with both of you all the special moments of the day.

No matter what happens, good luck!

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O.K, your turn. What would you tell Disappointed Mom? Is she asking too much of her husband? Should he take a few hours off of work to put Tess on the bus?

If you have a problem that needs two sets of answers, send an e-mail to advice@wearebothright.com.

Best of: Summer Reading Kids’ Chapter Books

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What books will your kids read this summer?

How does that rhyme go again? “No more pencils, no more books! No more teacher’s dirty looks!”

While we can’t speak for the #2′s or the educators, it’s safe to say that in both of our homes, the “no more books” part is not an issue. While summer reading is required by many school districts, even if it weren’t, you better believe we’d be making our kids spend some of their precious summer vacation in a cool, quiet spot, absorbed in something that doesn’t make noise or have flashing lights.

And while it’s likely the kids will bring home age-appropriate lists from their teachers with some great suggestions on what to read, here we humbly offer up some of our own choices. Feel free to add your own selections in the comments section below!

Amanda:

The “Ramona” series by Beverly Cleary: You cannot even begin to imagine my absolute delight when my 8-year-old daughter came home with the book “Ramona & Beezus” from the school library one day. (An even greater source of pride? She chose it on her own, long before the recent movie came out.) We read it together aloud, a page at a time. And while she was confused by some of the dated references, we found ourselves laughing out loud at many of Ramona’s misadventures. Unfortunately we didn’t get to finish the book — it was due back before we were done — but we fully intend to pick up where we left off.

Encyclopedia Brown by Donal J. Sobol: I’ve been a fan of mysteries since I was young and Leroy Brown was the main reason why (also, I might have had a little crush on him). These short stories follow the tween-aged detective as he solves crimes big and small, some presented to him by kids in the neighborhood, others by his father, the local police chief. The mysteries themselves are not only a fun read, but they encourage logical thinking. By the third or fourth one in, your child may even be able to figure out “whodunit?” without having to turn to the answers section at the end of the book.

Suzanne:

The Magic Tree House by Mary Pope Osborne: So maybe your summer plans don’t include any trips to far off exotic lands (at least this year). No worries. Give your child one of MPO’s chapter books and you will more than make up for it. These tall tales make history and geography about as easy to swallow as carrots and beets hidden in tomato sauce. My son and I started out reading these books together when he was in kindergarten. He then spent the following two summers bouncing his way through the series and surprising us by what he learned along the way, including obscure facts about Venetian Carnivals and camel rides through the Middle Eastern desert. My favorite: when my husband and I came back from New Orleans and L. knew more about the history of the blacksmith Lafitte than we did after actually being there.

Sports Novels by Matt Christopher: Does someone you know prefer a ball and a bat over the pages of a book? Then you might try throwing one of these chapter books their way while you are driving to batting practice. Author Matt Christopher didn’t earn the title of #1 sportswriter for kids for nothing. His books include fiction stories like The Kid Who Only Hit Homers and Nothin’ But Net, while his numerous biographies on famous athletes will make that book report a breeze once school starts again. These are the books I find my son reading and re-reading late at night with a light under the covers.

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What’s on your child’s summer reading list? What was on yours as a child?

Best of: Books for Toddlers

You might have to spend a few extra minutes at bedtime saying good night to the walls and such, but this classic children's book is well worth the read. ©HarperCollins Publishers

There’s something about those first books you read with your toddler that sticks with you for a very long time. (And not just because you have been reading the same two books every night for the last three weeks and can all but recite them in your sleep.)

The titles will come to you in an instant when you are asked to bring your favorite children’s book to a baby shower years from now.

They will still have a place on your child’s bookshelf, long after he develops an affinity for chapter books with underpants in the title and toilet plungers on the cover.

You might even find yourself waxing poetic about these beloved children’s stories someday, only to realize that you can’t recall the character out of the book you will be discussing that evening at book club.

So while they are still fresh in our minds, we figured we would share our favorite books for toddlers with you:

SUZANNE’S PICKS

Barnyard Boogie by Jim and Janet Post: My husband had this routine of bringing L. to Barnes & Noble once a week, buying himself a coffee and reading to our son in his stroller. When he came home with Barnyard Boogie, a puppet book that has inserts for your hand into the lips of an oversized felt mouth, I couldn’t wait to hear his narration and see the baby’s reaction. Every page gives you an opportunity to act out another animal voice as you move the hand puppet in tune, with verses like “I’m a linky-slinky jazz cat, I sing meow, meow, meow. Linky-slinky me, Linky-slinky, ow. I’m a linky-slinky jazz cat, meow, meow, meow.” And the kicker — the Barnyard Boogie song that begs to be belted out in your best farmer voice on the last page. I have to admit that I still take this book out when I want to give the kids a good laugh.

I Love You All Day Long by Francesca Rusackas: This book is about Owen, a sweet little pig who doesn’t want to leave his mommy to go to school. I found it in a desperate search online right around the time my son’s separation anxiety reached its peak at 18 months old and it came in handy again when S. went through the same thing at day care. Taking you through Owen’s day at school, from coloring a picture for his mom to spilling juice on his snack and braving the slide, the illustrations show a range of emotions that are backed up by his mom’s words: I love you all day long… when you share your favorite purple crayon… or when someone takes your toy. I love you when I’m with you and I love you when we’re apart.

No Hitting! by Karen Katz: Have you ever seen the Yo Gabba Gabba promo where the dad is talking about the show’s messages resonating with his son, how he hears them sing “Don’t bite your friends” and he gets it? That’s what this book did for us. As the story takes you through all the impulsive things a toddler might do, like sticking out his tongue at mommy, each no-no (“I’m mad! I want to squeeze the cat.”) is paired with a alternative action on the flip up portion of the page (“That’s not okay, but I can squeeze some clay.”) My daughter took this as her opportunity to break out her morals and say, “Noooo, we don’t do that.” While it didn’t ward off temper tantrums altogether, reading this book did help.

AMANDA’S PICKS

Brown Bear, Brown Bear What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle: Such a simple story, but my toddlers have always loved it. I don’t know if it’s the familiar cadence of the words or the bright, colorful pictures that are found on every page, but I suspect it’s a combination of both. Our youngest S. is especially a fan, asking to read it not only a few times a day, but more than once in each sitting. He’s always been particularly taken with the second-to-last-page (in our board book version anyway) that reads “Children, children, what do you see?” and shows assorted kids of all shapes, sizes and colors. I’m not sure what draws him to this exactly, but he will spend minutes (remember, this is a toddler we are talking about), staring at the page and tracing the different faces with his fingers.

Pete’s Potty (Begin Smart Books): This is a new-to-us title, one of hundreds I would imagine that tackles potty training for toddlers. My little guy has been interested in it for about six months now. At first, I took his attentiveness to the book as a good sign that maybe he’d want to try it himself, but alas, any movement I make with him towards the bathroom results in him yelling a lot. Still, he’ll bring me this at least once a day, happily looking for Pete’s missing potty (it’s not in the kitchen or the garden by the way). He’s especially taken with the mom in the book who doesn’t wear glasses (I do) and makes cookies, and the father who not only wears glasses, but has hair (my husband is lacking both). “Daddy glasses?” S. will inquire, pointing at the page. “No!,” he’ll laugh, shaking his head. “Daddy hair? No!” Good times for everyone!

Baby at the Farm and Where is Baby’s Birthday Cake? both by Karen Katz: I’m including both of these titles by the same author because by far, these are my toddler’s favorite books. Collectively, I think I’ve read both of these stories to him as many times as I’ve read books period. Simple lift-the-flap books with cheerful illustrations starring an adorable baby, S. loves looking for the rouge birthday cake and seems surprised every time we find it. And the trip to the farm is always fun, especially because some of the pages offer a chance to touch the mane of a horse and feel the eggs of a chicken. Plus, we get to make lots of animal noises, always a fun expenditure.

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When your toddler settles into your lap for a snuggle and a read, what book can you count on him to bring with him?

Our Two Cents: Is It OK to Skip School for Vacation?

©www.zazzle.co.uk

Maybe a postcard would smooth things over with your child's teacher? ©www.zazzle.co.uk

Dear Amanda and Suzanne:

From the looks of things, you are both used to traveling with your children. But I have to ask, do you ever let them miss school to go on a family vacation?

Next week (in 8 days to be exact, but who’s counting?) we are leaving for a cruise with our two children and my parents. For a number of reasons, including the fact that it was less expensive, we chose to do this the week before their school closes for spring break instead of during the actual week they are off.

My husband and I didn’t think it would be a big deal for them to miss five days (at least not in first and third grade). So I was surprised when one of my friends told me that she couldn’t believe I was doing this. She happens to be a teacher and so I guess she has more insight on it than I do. But are they really going to fall that far behind by missing a few days of school? Would you ever pull your kids out of school for a vacation?

–Totally Truant

Suzanne: I’m probably the wrong one to ask, because in my mind an ideal education is the biggest, longest vacation you could imagine. If I had my choice (and the funds to back it up) I would take my two children on a trip around the world, teaching them about history and different cultures first hand. We would learn math in miles and time zones. All that foreign vocabulary would mean something. We might even meet a nice monk who could teach them meditation and then they would become zen little children. But enough about my fantasies.

What you are asking is a valid question, and one which deserves an entirely realistic answer. By taking your children out of school for a few days and bringing them on a family vacation, you are just exposing them to a different type of learning experience. And you shouldn’t feel guilty in the least (even if your vacation is more about portholes than rose windows).

The last time we took a vacation — and took the kids out of school — my son filled 16 pages in his journal without being asked. He wrote furiously as we drove up the southern Californian coast. He sketched his own versions of the 18th century European paintings we saw at the Getty Museum. In the back of the San Diego Mission, the architectural ruins captivated him. We even fit in his first college tour — to USC — as if that wasn’t inspiration enough to keep getting good grades. And in the end, he returned to school with great stories to share with his teacher and the class (but it still didn’t get him out of all of the class work and homework he had missed).

If I were you, I would reassure your teacher friend that of course you have the best interest of your children at heart and that nowhere does it say that the only way a child can learn is within the four walls of a school building. There are endless benefits to a change of scenery, not to mention in spending time with those who are closest to them. Tell her how much you are looking forward to them trying out new things and creating memories with their siblings, parents and grandparents — something that doesn’t get much priority during the school year when there’s homework to do and a full slate of activities. And if she’s still not convinced, you can always invite her to come along.

Amanda: Whatever you do, please don’t pass my contact info on to your friend because she’d probably give me a hard time too — in a few short weeks my family is going on a week-long vacation to DisneyWorld and  like you, we are taking our two older kids out of school for the duration (don’t tell them though — it’s a surprise!).

So obviously I don’t have a problem with it. This upcoming trip is the longest our kids will miss school for reasons other than illness, but we’ve done it before, with little to no repercussions. Maybe their teachers would beg to differ, but my position is, my kids (in the second and fifth grades) are doing just fine in school and although they will miss quite a bit, I’m confident in the abilities of myself and (mostly) my husband to catch them up.

What we’ll do this time (and it’s worked well in the past) is to ask the teachers ahead of time for any missed assignments. We’ll dedicate an hour or so each day to doing what we can to get done — the remainder will be completed on our return. We also try to keep a daily journal and incorporate learning into our activities. For example, the car ride from the airport to the resort may be spent observing and talking about the area we are visiting. Is the city bigger or smaller than where we live? Where do the people work? Where are the schools? What are the similarities and differences between where we currently are and where we come from (things like weather, forms of transportation, etc.)?

Having said all this, in booking our trip we were pretty cognizant of what was going on academically (as it sounds like you were too). The two weeks before we leave my elder boy has standardized tests — I wouldn’t pull him out during that time, nor in the weeks leading up to it. The same would stand if we were looking at a science project that was due or some other important assignment.

What it boils down to for me is knowing what your kids are capable of. If you are comfortable with letting them miss, by all means, sit back in your lounge chair and relax!

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Have you ever had your kids miss school in favor of a vacation? How did the teacher react?

If you’ve got a problem that needs twice the opinion, drop us a line at advice@wearebothright.com

Boys Wearing Boas to Preschool? Sure, Why Not?

little girl dress up clothes

Do dresses like these belong in the closets of preschool-age boys? © Kohl's

When I was four, I had two imaginary friends. Marshay, (which at the time, I believed to be the most beautiful name ever) who was a gorgeous girl with soft features and long, wavy black hair and Johnson, who was modeled after the Sesame Street muppet Roosevelt Franklin.

When my son was four, he would name any doll, toy or action figure in his possession “Dit Dit.” He knew other names — he had friends with other names. He liked the way “Dit Dit” sounded, so that’s what everything he owned was called. Until he got a fish. That he dubbed “Straw.”

When my daughter was four, she would insist — insist — on picking out her own clothes. This would result in outfits that included, among other things, snow boots and a tutu, a scarf and a sundress and a pink fuzzy sweater paired with orange shorts and green tights.

I love the preschool years because unlike a toddler, who tends to make decisions soley on impulse, preschoolers usually put a little more thought and creativty into their actions. There is purpose behind what they do. Having said that, kids that are between the ages of 3 and 5 are also some of the most absurd creatures you will ever have the pleasure of meeting.

Some don’t like it when food on their plate touches other food on their plate. They tell jokes that don’t make sense. They dance in the supermarket aisles. They think kitchen utensils are funny (at least mine did). And sometimes they want to wear clothing that isn’t “gender-appropriate” to school.

(Aha! I knew I’d get to the point eventually.)

If my young son ever asked to wear a dress to preschool, I admit that intially it would give me pause — would he be teased? Would he feel strange once he got there? Would the teacher mind? (Although I suspect a preschool teacher, well-versed in the odd behaviors of the under-5 set wouldn’t even blink an eye.)

Ultimately, though, I’d let him, chalking it up to the peculiarities of childhood.

Let’s face it — girl’s clothing is fun! It’s visual and tactile. You can clomp around and make a lot of noise in high heels — not to mention, grab a couple of inches of height over your friends. And dresses and scarves and boas are pretty! And sparkly!

Heck, I’m 36 and there are days I would love to head out to the grocery store in a boa and a sequined top. I wouldn’t because I’d probably get some raised eyebrows and other assorted strange looks (also, sequins make me look pale), but in a way, that makes me sad. As they get older, our kids will have plenty of time to dress appropriately. Can’t we give our little ones a little more time to be little?

When my daughter was in her mismatched phase (one that I’m not entirely sure she’s grown out of), while her looks were likely to draw the ire of Mr. Blackwell, ultimately they were an expression of her growing creativity and independence. So I encouraged and humored her, allowing her to dress as she liked (weather-permitting) and off the store, preschool and other places we’d go, she earning smiles (and compliments) all the way.

So why wouldn’t I extend the same benefits to my son?

And by the way, when my little girl asked to dress in “boy clothes”  for preschool — for argument’s sake let’s say a shirt with cars or trucks on it, or one adorned with a popular sports figure — no one batted an eyelash. So why are we holding our kids to different standards?

The preschool years make for some of the sweetest, funniest memories of all. We should embrace the quirks and eccentricities that come with little kids, because they don’t last for very long. Encourage their growing independence by letting them make their own decisions whenever we can, so when they grow up they turn into funny, self-reliant, free-thinking adults. Our job as parents are to encourage the burgeoning creativity of our little ones, supporting them as they figure out who they are and who they are going to be.

Whether they are wearing a pink tutu when they do it or not.

Would you let your son wear a dress to preschool?

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Guest blogger FunnyMum has an interesting take on “cross-dressing” preschoolers, one I hadn’t really considered.

Kids Social Networking: I’ll Need Some ID Please

I had some big news I wanted to share a few weeks ago. My husband T. and I had just booked a trip to Disney World for our family and we weren’t telling the kids. I was bursting — bursting — to tell someone, so what did I do?

Headed over to Facebook. (Naturally.)

But before I could hit “share” on my undoubtedly witty status update, I had to stop myself. I am “friends” with some of my children’s friends on Facebook and I wasn’t sure I could count on them not to blab the big news to my kids.

Grrr. Damn you technology.

The thing is, not to sound like a grumpy old man here or anything, but these kids really shouldn’t be on Facebook, as they are all under 13 (the age the social network says it’s OK to make your own profile). So because they need to farm or do whatever it is kids are doing online these days, I had to resort to one of those super-annoying vague updates where you get 10,000 replies saying “What?” “What it is it?” “Stop teasing!”

Sigh.

My astounding ability to make everything about me aside, kids on Facebook is becoming a real issue. Facebook reports it deletes nearly 20,000 underage profiles a day. In some cases, kids are lying about their age. In other cases, the parents are allowing it.

Sorry kids, in our house, there will be no networking, no looking up of old flames, no tagging of photos, no self promotion, no pithy comments on political pages — at least until you hit the teenage years. And then we will talk about it, provided Facebook hasn’t been replaced by the next great thing, whatever it happens to be.

While I don’t really object to the idea in principle — like a cell phone, my idea of my kids on Facebook is likely very, very different from their idea of being on Facebook — and I don’t want my kids to be left behind on a social level, I have a very healthy respect for rules. And since I didn’t create Facebook, nor am I on the policy-making committee, if they say 13 is the magic number, than 13 is the magic number. Period.

What about you? Do your kids have Facebook profiles? Would you allow your underage child to have one? Why or why not?

Choosing to Go Public (School) is as Easy as A,B,C

©hisks /stock.xchng

When it comes to choosing between private and public, for our family, it's public school all the way -- unless we move. ©hisks/stock.xchng

Most of the time, my opinions are formed out of my convictions. I experience something, I read about something, I have a conversation with someone — I give it a little thought and viola! a perspective is born.

But sometimes I feel a certain way based on my current circumstances. If my state of affairs happen to change, it’s very possible that my point of view will too.

Like my thoughts on public schools v. private schools.

Right now my kids go to  public school. We live in an excellent school district, one my husband and I pay quite a bit for in the form of our property taxes. We don’t mind though — we love where we live and really, the education our kids receive is unparalleled. Great teachers, wonderful facilities — the schools are modern and clean with small class sizes, plenty of extras —  everything you look for when you are trying to find the right place for your kids to learn.

We are lucky enough to live in an area where there are a good number of “good” schools, but this one happens to be one of the best. Had we bought our house in the next school district over, our real estate agent said it would have been cost us about ten or fifteen percent less.

So when it came time to send our oldest C. to kindergarten, sending him to the public school was a no brainer for us. There is a good private, Catholic elementary school about ten minutes away, but seeing as we were getting everything we wanted from our public school system, there was no need. And barring any dramatic changes in the district, our kids will stay in this public school district throughout their academic careers.

However, if we ever moved and were in an area where the schools weren’t up to our high standards, while we prefer public schools, we’d have no issue with sending them to a private institution. Our kids will go wherever the quality is, and if that means paying a private tuition, so be it.

The thing is, for us, when deciding on a place to live, the education of our children is always going to one of the top factor, if not the top. We were lucky enough to find a public school to meet our needs, so that’s what we went with.

What do you think? Do your children attend public or private school? Why? Would you ever make a change?

Adding Up the Reasons to Switch to Private School

Will your child be walking the halls of a private school some day? © Caitlin P./stock.xchng

In a few years, I will probably be paying a few thousand dollars in public school taxes and an equivalent amount in tuition to send my son to a private high school.   

Redundant? Yes. Necessary? Depends who you ask.  

In our area, the public schools are highly ranked in terms of graduation rates, sending students on to college, and safety among other things. But for quite a few years now, my husband and I have been talking about switching our children to private school at some point. Not because we want to pay twice for their educations, but because there are certain aspects of a private school education that made an impression on me during my 13 years of wearing a uniform — and I want them to have the same.  

And that’s the first perk. The uniform. I had a few (maybe four) outfits for civilian wear during non-school hours. Mornings were easy in our house. No arguments about what to wear. No low-cut tops. No keeping up with the Joneses.   

But while my mom wasn’t dropping a paycheck to hook me up with every hue of Champion sweatshirts, she and my dad were writing a check every month to send us to Catholic school that made quite a dent in the family budget.  All this (3x over for me, my sister, and my brother), just to “shelter” us in a very close-knit community, with the same 60 or so kids who went through school together for nine years and knew each other’s grandmas, cousins, and siblings like their own. It’s the quickest Facebook group I’ve ever seen come together and the strangest feeling to reunite after twenty years and talk about how different it is for our kids in public schools with 200 students per grade.  

Looking back though, those early years might have been manageable in public school. But there was no question that we had no business in the public high school for which we were zoned. It was a rough and tumble place, with serious overcrowding issues. Never mind soft kids like us getting thrown to the wolves, but the setting wasn’t conducive to much of anything, much less learning.  It was a given that I would attend a private high school.    

And so I did. And to say I am grateful is a understatement. When the discipline policy is three strikes and you’re out, there’s little disruption in learning. Either you came to learn or you could leave. The school didn’t have to keep you and make you graduate. You did your part or you went somewhere else. The biggest causes for detention? Talking during a fire drill and wearing loafers with no socks (in which case you had to go to the school store and buy tube socks — stocked just for the embrassment factor).  

So it’s no surprise that I came into parenthood with a bit of a bias toward private schools. My husband on the other hand went to a public school that might as well have been a country club, and didn’t get the point of private school at first.  Until he taught in one, that is.  

His student teaching assignment was in an urban setting, which might have been extremely challenging, if it hadn’t been in a private school. The student population was barely middle-class and yet the parents had made a conscious decision to send their children to this school (maybe for the isolation factor like my parents did). As a result, they were highly engaged and didn’t expect anything less than a child serious about learning. My husband also fell for the sense of community and was soon a believer in uniforms (which we agree should extend to the public school arena as well).  

Before we knew it, there we were with our own child on a Catholic school tour, when it was time to register our first for kindergarten. We loved what we saw, but after hearing everyone tell us how great the local schools were, and ‘what are you paying all of those taxes for?’, we decided to see how public school went first.  

Four years into the “system” and it’s no secret that we think his public school has fallen short in some ways. But to be fair, private schools don’t keep up the pace academically all of the time either. It took me a while to catch up to my peers in math when I arrived in high school, but only because some of the kids in another private school a few miles away had already taken the Regents exam in 8th grade.  

My main complaint is that there’s no room for personalized learning in his school. I’ve been told that as long as a child meets the grade level requirements (which L. does and then some) then the school has done its job. For this reason, we’re intent on finding an environment that offers more in the way of tailored instruction for his later years. In fact, we are all but convinced that L. will go to a private high school when the time comes.  

Part of the lure is the rigor (passing grade of 75) and discipline. Another reason is that he’s ultra-competitive in sports and has his eye on two of the top schools for student athletes. Last fall, when we spent most weekends at one of those private high schools watching their football teams play, he was already talking about what he needed to do to get in there. As for his little sister, we still have to get her into a kindergarten, but she too will most likely be a Catholic school girl at some point.  

Good thing I’ve got nothing against plaid.   

Has private school ever been a consideration in your family? What influenced your decision about where to send your child to school?  

  

Amanda carefully selected her town for its public schools, but she hasn’t ruled out that she may be ironing uniforms some day.