After Xmas Party!

I made a castle out of pretzels and that became the centerpiece at our After-Christmas Party for toddlers. 

Yup, invited Merit alums, friends of my girls, and family friend's grandkids to make their own edible houses out of cookies, candies, and pretzels. 

Great way to end the holiday season!



Who Wears the Cyber Pants In Your Family?

I am shocked when I hear about parents giving their children “privacy” and “personal rights” when it comes to their social media interactions and passwords.  Children, and even teens, don’t have the maturity to make good decisions on their own, and can become victims of cyber prowlers. When kids know their parents are actively involved and looking at their social media posts, they’ll stay out of trouble.  And parents should know all of their children’s passwords and check their accounts to protect them from fraudulent activities.

Parents, you are NOT your children’s best friends.  Plain and simple: you are their parents.  By keeping all of their passwords in a safe and secure location, you’ll be a great resource to them when they forget the passwords.  And, most importantly, you can check their accounts periodically and talk to them about their activities.  Be a part of their lives – both at home and in cyberspace.



Keeping Kids Safe in the Android World

Let’s be honest, we all use our phones and tablets to entertain our kids when we’re in a pinch – right? – so let’s be sure that our kids can’t end up in the wrong places on our devices.

Forget about passwords to get into your device.  If they’re already using it, they’ve already unlocked the key to your entire database. But there are some smart things you can do to keep your kids safe.  Android phones and tablets allow you to set a PIN lock on any app. This means that you can set your phone or tablet to have one app open and lock it for the kids to play with it. They won’t be able to use any other programs on your phone or tablet until you unlock it.  If you want them to access several apps, set up a guest account where you select the apps and they can roam around in their account without having access to yours. To set this up, open the Google Play Store app, go into Settings, and then Parental Controls.

If you need longer entertainment – for say car rides or emergencies -- set up the YouTubeKids app on your phone to ensure that they’re watching the shows and movies you approve. You can also run Kids Place and Kids Zone so your kids can run the apps you’ve approved and nothing else.

For the lucky kids who have their own phones, use MMGuardian to remotely monitor and control which apps they’re using and to create a schedule for when they can be on.

But if your kids have too many apps to keep track of on your phone, it might be easier to use AppLock to put a PIN on your apps that you don’t want them to get into.

With a little planning, you can keep your kids safe from the unsavory part of the world until they’re old enough to deal with it.



Baby Boxes Curb Infant Mortality

It’s exciting to see that expecting parents are ditching the traditional cribs in favor of baby boxes here in the United States.  I blogged about how Finnish hospitals give baby boxes stuffed with all kinds of supplies for newborn babies to families when they leave the hospital to reduce Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).  New Jersey has become the first state to adopt the baby box program.  They’re set to distribute over 100,000 baby boxes. Ohio is following suit and hospitals in Philadelphia and San Antonio are giving them away too.

To prevent infant mortality, parents are discouraged from sleeping with their child or putting toys in their cribs.  These baby boxes are lightweight and portable so infants can sleep near their parents.  The baby boxes also come with an educational video for new parents to learn about how to prevent SIDS. 

In 2015, 3,700 infants in the US died from SIDS.  In Finland they started using baby boxes in 1949, and the infant mortality rate dropped from 65 deaths per 1,000 infants in the 1930s to just 3.5 deaths in 1949. Our infant mortality rate is double Finland’s; in 2016, we had 5.8 deaths per 1,000 births.

The other benefit of using baby boxes is reducing the pressure on parents to spend hundreds of dollars on unnecessary baby furniture that babies outgrow so quickly.



Tribute to Chuck Berry; Merit style! Part Two

We had so much fun doing the first Rock ‘n Roll Revue that we did a more comprehensive production the following summer.  Naturally we covered Chuck Berry again – and this time we did “Johnny B. Goode" in our production of It’s Gotta Be Rock ‘n Roll Music: 1955-1975.

Our 8th and 4th graders gave speeches about the history of rock ‘n roll and how Chuck Berry influenced just about every musician who followed him in the 50’s, 60’s and early 70’s. These students created a business called Merit Oldies Entertainment where they performed 30-minute and 60-minute musical performances all over the San Francisco Bay Area. 

They even opened the Frankie Valli Concert in Monterey!


Every Kid Should Learn How to Build

My friend called me in a panic because her husband, a surgeon, had just attempted to “fix” their toilet and water was going everywhere.  She told me that while he was a brilliant surgeon, that’s where the brilliance ended because he knew nothing about common sense things.  Wow!  Today it seems that we are labeled and categorized to fit into specific places. We are neither expected nor taught to expand our understanding of basic survival skills.

Since the Industrial Revolution, we’ve become a society of assembly lines. We specialize in one skill, and then that’s all we do.  If we were robots, that would be the logical and practical way to utilize our time.  But we live in homes that have electrical and plumbing hidden behind sheetrock, and walls built with 2” by 4” on 16” centers.  We’re never officially taught how houses are built so when there is a plumbing problem, we call the plumber.  Electrical problem, an electrician.

Not knowing how things work around your house can make you feel incompetent.  Having to call in a contractor every time you need some minor work done is time consuming and costly. I think all students should spend a summer working with a building contractor to learn the inner workings of a house or building.  It would help students build a sense of independence and confidence.

For Christmas one year, I gave my girls tool kits complete with electric drills, Dremel tools, hammers, screwdrivers, measuring tapes, and anything I could fit in the tool box. While they weren’t thrilled with these gifts back then, I’ve noticed that they keep it handy in their homes today, and I’m glad to see that they know how to use their tools.

When they were in high school, they built their own vanities for their bedrooms one summer.  They learned how to use a saber saw to cut the shape, a router to round the corners, and a belt sander to smooth the surface.  Rob showed them how to wire 7 light bulbs around the mirror. 

I learned how to build furniture by getting tips from the guys at San Lorenzo Lumber.  I buy all of my materials from them because their staff (Mario and Craig are my favorites) are incredibly knowledgeable and helpful.  I’ve built 90% of my home and office furniture since 1976.  I love to design furniture because I get exactly what I want with the safe materials I prefer (no particle board or Masonite!).

Wouldn’t it be ideal for students to learn how to build a house and how to use power and hand tools before they move out to live on their own? Most students barely know how to handle a hammer and certainly don’t understand how to build furniture or any phases of building construction. We certainly want our kids to be able to troubleshoot problems in their future homes, right?


Teaching Kids to Vet Fake News

Did you know that Marie Antoinette didn’t actually say, “Let them eat cake!”? Yup!  Fake news has been around for centuries and as you can see, it this particular statement has been repeated so often that it has ended up in our history lectures still today.  But today fake news is so prevalent that most students (in all grade levels) don’t have the critical thinking skills to decipher what’s real and what’s fake.  So here are ways that teachers – and you – can help students wade through all the propaganda thrown at them.

According to teacher Scott Bedley (who was interviewed by NPR’s Sophia Alvarez Boyd), you can play Simon Says to encourage students to make their own educated decisions about what’s true and what’s false in the news.  Students should consider the following before answering:

  1. How reliable is the source? (Was it written by a major magazine or legitimate expert?)
  2. What does your gut say? (Does it sound possible?)
  3. Does it make sense?
  4. Can you find 3 other sources to verify this same finding?
  5. Have experts in the field commented about it?
  6. Does it have a copyright?

Bringing awareness about how easy it is to create fake news on Twitter, Facebook, and other social media is the first step in preparing students for wading through the junk they read on the internet. Then making sure that students don’t perpetuate or inadvertently spread these lies by sharing news that they don’t carefully vet is the next step. These are things that we all need to do to maintain truth in social networking and information sharing.  Instant access to information can be a blessing and a curse.



Why Speed Reading Isn't Good for Gaining Knowledge

In our fast-paced world where information can be had in mere seconds from millions of readily available sources, reading for depth has become an anomaly. Standardized tests require students to read passages quickly and answer multiple-choice questions within a short time span.  The timed test is really unnecessary and produces inaccurate results. The testing organization is not interested if your ability to fully understand, ponder philosophically, and then render an answer.  Nope!  They want to see what you can take away from the question under pressure in a conveniently short period of time. 

In order to ace the ACT or SAT college entrance exams, students flock to take speed reading classes so they can skim over passages to make educated guesses.  When students speed read, however, they don’t comprehend what they read as if they read it at normal speed. You can’t analyze or think critically when you’re reading fast. All you get is the gist of the passage, which is simply superficial knowledge.

So if students take in bits and pieces of what they read, they’re possibly making bad decisions or assumptions that can lead to big problems.  After all, it’s easy to miss important words like “NOT” and completely misunderstand the passage. Applying speed reading to real life, the speed reader would have to spend unnecessary time fixing their mistakes – something they could have avoided by simply reading at a healthy pace to understand the text.

I love the quote by Einstein, “If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?”

So rather than rereading what you didn’t understand because you were speed reading, just read for depth the first time.  Block off time when you aren’t rushed or pressured and then read for knowledge.  You’ll be smarter for it, and you’ll do better on any test. 


Parenting 101: Who Wears the Pants?

I was somewhat surprised when I was once told: “Please don’t use the ‘NO’ word with my child.” While I appreciate the philosophy that you can empower your child and build a positive framework about the world by referencing everything with a positive spin, it isn’t the real world, and I worry that those children will grow up to be unpleasantly introduced to a world that they don’t know or understand.

Always saying “YES” to a child is actually really difficult to do. It requires reframing virtually everything you say.  What if your child wants to eat pizza for every meal? Or worse, Gummy Bears? This parent might respond with a question: “Could you please first take a bite of the chicken – or spinach – and then you can have the Gummy Bears.” While this might sound okay on first blush, there are 2 intrinsic problems you’re creating.

First, you’re giving your child mixed messages about nutrition. Using junk food as a bribe to eat healthy food can cause food issues down the road.  Feeding children fast foods or sweets is the cause of our obesity problem in America. It has become the go-to meal when we want to please the kids and avoid dinner-table conflicts.

Second, you’ve undermined your position as the “grown-up.” Yup, as the parent, you need to look out for what’s best for your child.  Most experts suggest that children aren’t equipped with the reasoning skills to thoroughly understand right from wrong until they’re 25 years old.  So why would a parent put their child in the driver’s seat by always saying “yes” and asking permission to make a recommendation?

Besides, I can’t put together sentences that don’t have the negative words like “no” or “can’t”, and I certainly don’t want to ask a 3 year old for permission to leave a party.  I wonder what happens when this toddler becomes a teenager. Not sure that this type of parenting will work when teens know who wears the pants in their families.  What would the parent say when their teen wants to have sex, drink beer, or smoke e-cigs? Parenting isn’t easy but for the sake of the children, parents need to be the grown-ups so their children can trust them to be the caring and wise leader in their lives that they need.