Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Homework or "home punishment"? Why I think homework does more harm than good!

**Disclaimer: this is an opinion piece and while I do refer to some published studies and well known authors throughout my post, it is based solely on my personal experience with homework**
I recently attended a school open house packed with lots of "useful" information and when the subject of homework came up, the presenter said "homework is checked for completion and not for accuracy".. mmm.. excuse me?  You mean to tell me that my kid is "wasting" two hours a day on homework so someone can mark it "complete"?  Talk about busy work to get a check mark!
I have always had mixed feelings about homework and have spent a great deal of time doing thorough research about the effects of homework on children of all ages and while you might be tempted to think that I'm one of those bitter moms whose kids struggle with homework and that's why I might hate it, that is certainly not the case, my kids are actually rocking school and rarely ever complain about homework.  My views on homework have certainly changed through the years as I see my children growing up and developing study habits that don't necessarily come from doing homework every night, hence this post...
One of my all time favorite authors is Alfie Kohn, who famously writes about human behavior, parenting and education; he believes (as do I) in constructivism in which the learner makes meaning rather than absorb information; where things are taught in context and for a purpose....key word PURPOSE!  Kohn published an interesting book titled "The Homework Myth", where he points out that there is no research that fully supports that assigning homework of any kind or any amount is ever beneficial to children in elementary school... I happen to agree!  While I do believe that some sort of activity that promotes discipline is necessary, I don't believe that homework is such activity.
I have seen my girls (6th and 4th grade) come home from school exhausted only to sit for another hour (or two!) to do pointless homework...things like making a rainbow with spelling words, or doing a word search of 50+ words and doing math worksheets that are completely unrelated to what they're being taught in class... really?  I find it idiotic to a point for a child to have to do this mundane, non productive activities after she has spent 8+ hours in a classroom supposedly learning.  Some people would argue that homework is a great way of reinforcing what was taught..but if reinforcing is so necessary then it leads me to question whether or not the material was taught correctly. And then I go back to the "homework will be checked for completion but not for accuracy" idea, so if that's indeed the case, how can a teacher know that the student actually learned what she was supposed to?
I clearly remember one instance back when Olivia was in 3rd grade and struggling with a Math lesson; as I was helping her do her homework I suggested she discuss it with her teacher to make sure she was doing it right, to what she quickly replied "oh, my teacher doesn't have time for that!"... surprised, I replied "what do you mean?" and she went on to explain that her teacher never really checked the homework, and when she did and something was wrong, she never explained it because she was simply "too busy" making sure everyone had DONE their homework! That memory still blows my mind and the sad part is that I have many other similar stories...so what's the point?
Many studies suggest that homework in elementary school is completely pointless because for young children time is better spent by playing outside, getting involved in sports, having dinner with family, making friends with their neighbors, playing an instrument, etc...so why are our elementary children "punished" with unsurmountable amounts of homework that do nothing but promote negative feelings towards school in general? If you want your child to develop good habits and foster discipline, why not get her involved in a sport? why not encourage her to read books that would spark her interest and actually expand her vocabulary? why not plan an educational and fun family outing that would strengthen family ties? I can think of so many other ways to promote discipline and stimulate children to be better and do better and homework is NOT one of those ways.
And don't get me wrong, I get that some kids do need to complete exercises that are repetitive in nature and knowledge needs to be drilled into their brains, but I don't believe ALL children need that, therefore the ones that don't, end up being "punished" with homework, a learning method that I consider completely obsolete and unproductive.
My sister is a 1st grade teacher and her case for homework is that it can be a way to measure the involvement of parents in their children's education, I happen to disagree with that assessment, because the idea that a parent is "involved" simply because they make it a point to "force" their children to do pointless homework doesn't make sense to me.  My own mother never did homework with me and I like to believe that she was rather involved in my education and my life in general, so the point becomes mutt with my own experience. I must also point out that I attended schools that had mostly "no homework" policies and I consider myself a well rounded and disciplined individual regardless of whether or not homework was part of my academic life (it wasn't, by the way!)
There are other studies that suggest that the amount of homework given should vary by grade, with an average of 10 minutes per grade (so a child in 2nd grade would get 20 minutes, a child in 3rd grade would get 30 and so on)... I find that pointless too.. why try to fill a time quota just to meet the requirement of giving that child homework regardless of her needs?
I know that this homework topic is very controversial and there are powerful and insightful studies on both sides of the argument, however I stand by the idea that homework (especially the mindless, pointless, repetitive kind of homework) does more harm than good; it makes the children exhausted, it shortens their time to do other more productive and enriching activities, it fosters negative feelings towards school, it affects family dynamics and keeps them occupied but not stimulated.  I wish all teachers and school administrators came together to look at ways to improve the system, I wish they all took notes from other more successful educational systems around the world such as the one in Finland where students score significantly higher in aptitude tests and key areas such as reading and math.  And while I don't suggest that some kind of educational activity shouldn't be part of a student's daily routine, I do believe that the kind of homework kids get these days isn't very beneficial in the long run.

Lastly, I'd like to share this article titled "Is too much homework bad for kid's health?", which explores the negative consequences of excessive homework on kids' mental health and suggests that the quality of the homework assignment is key and definitely way more important than the quantity.

What are your thoughts on homework? How much time does your kid spend doing homework on a daily basis?

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Terrible 2s and......horrible 3s?

I'll admit it, as a mom I always want to think my kids are the best behaved, the smartest, the kindest, etc.. you get the point, moms want to believe their kids are perfect...or at least pretend they are, right?  If your answer is "no" then you're probably from another planet... mmm.. just kidding.. or am I? LOL!
Raising kids had been a fairly "easy" and attainable task until life threw a curve ball and sent us Oliver; to say that I struggled with the reality of an "unplanned" baby would be an understatement, but if you've read my blog before you probably already knew that... having a 3rd baby was very, very, VERY hard for me both physically and emotionally. 
Even though I love my boy more than words can say, a part of me just wasn't ready for him and I still question whether I am cut out for this "mom of three" thing... I guess God thinks I'm a real badass! 
It's pretty common to hear people talk about the "Terrible 2s", which is a stage in which toddlers struggle between their reliance on adults and their need for independence; it is said that most kids around the age of 2 will start to be rebellious and hard to deal with.. 
I'll be honest and say that I was pretty lucky with my girls when they were that age; they were pretty good about listening, avoiding meltdowns and following directions overall... I was truly blessed!
When I had Oliver, I'd always hear moms saying "oh! boys are so much worse, you'll see", so I was naturally bracing myself for some hell.. But 2 came and went (he'll be 3 in 9 days) and besides the potty training ordeal, Oliver has been basically an "angel" up to now.  He never tried to climb out of his crib, doesn't do public tantrums, doesn't throw food, doesn't climb on things and even though there has been the occasional school biting and scratching, he has never really been trouble...until now!
I won't say that he is bad because that certainly isn't the case, but he's definitely giving us a run for our money with how hyper and needy he has become in the past few weeks...is this the start of the "Horrible 3s? why doesn't anybody talk about what's to come after the "terrible 2s"? In my experience, the 3s have been more challenging than the 2s could ever be.  Not only are children way more agile by the time they hit 3, but they are also more aware of their environment, have more knowledge overall, a more extensive vocabulary and way more argumentative power and an undeniable persuasion capability. 
Oliver isn't even 3 yet and he already thinks he's the boss of everyone.  He is becoming increasingly more defiant and demanding and way too opinionated for my liking; I'm definitely afraid of what the 3s have in store for us.  
I'd like to know if I'm the only mother of a 3 year old who thinks this age is worse than the previous one.. or is it always the case that kids just get more difficult with age? (LOL!).  I'd like to know how I can tame this little rebellious boy of mine without hindering his desire to express himself and discover the world.  I find it very difficult sometimes to balance my motherly authority and my children's freedom of expression.  Do you struggle with this too?  Where do you draw the line?

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Life is not a "Popularity Contest"...but how do you teach that?

A few days ago as I picked up the kids from school I noticed Gaby had been crying; she seemed to have freshly shed tears in her eyes and her demeanor was sad, so it was obvious to me that something was up.  As much as I talk to my children, I also try to give them space so I waited until she felt like telling me about her affliction. She told me about a girl in her class, who she considered a close friend, that had invited a few girls to her house after school to celebrate her birthday but didn't invite her.  Gaby was surprised that most of her close friends had been invited but she had been left out and that made her very upset. Even though I felt sad, I quickly mentioned her own birthday celebration and how she had to select just a few people since it was just a small get together. While my response seemed to do the trick, there was one comment made by Gaby that really struck a nerve. She said "I wasn't invited because I am not popular!"..mmm.. what??!  I'd be lying if I said that thought didn't bug me...it actually mortified me.  Isn't it too early for my 9 year old to feel that way? How can I tell her she's wrong when she might be right?

Fast forward a few days and Olivia comes home saying all 6th graders had been invited to run for class representative within the school's student council. She was excited at the prospect of running a "political campaign" but assured me that she was only doing it for the fun of it because she "knew" only the "popular kids" had a chance of winning. At the risk of trivializing her feelings, I told her that 6th grade student council wasn't really a big deal but the fact that the word "popular" came up again really annoyed me and made me concerned.  

After giving it some thought and even trying to remember what it was like when I was in school, I realized that the fact that life often feels like a "popularity contest" is undeniable and the constant competition harms children and adults all the same.  I clearly remember many occasions when I have felt excluded by people who I consider friends; the sting I have felt when I log on Facebook only to see school moms doing wine nights or play dates where neither my kids or I have been invited or even considered prospective guests, maybe because we're not "popular"? or maybe we're not THAT important to be part of a group?
So if as adults sometimes we have a hard time dealing with rejection and often feel this looming popularity contest happening pretty much every day, how can we expect kids to deal well with all those feelings? How can we teach them to be themselves and work towards self actualization rather than acceptance?

The other day one of Olivia's good friends, who happens to be one of the most beautiful girls I know, made a comment to me that went something like "my smile is so ugly!" and she went on to talk about how uncomfortable she felt smiling in pictures because she didn't feel she looked pretty enough. Her comment shocked me because #1 her smile is clearly amazing and #2 she is incredibly concerned about her looks because she believe she doesn't measure up to the standards society sets up. This conversation got me thinking about how there is a constant need for acceptance among children and in the process many of them lose their essence and forget who they are or why they do what they do. 
I've heard of kids in school being bullied because they are too tall, or too fat, or too short, or too thin, or too studious or maybe too lazy. I've heard my kids referring to some cliques as the "popular kids" and I see it in moms too, every day.... I hate how everyone is constantly trying to outdo one another, to impress everyone, to be liked at all times... it's exhausting... it really is! 

So I want to teach my children that they are not in this world to impress anyone, that they won't always be liked by everyone and that even though it feels like it at times, life is NOT a popularity contest and they have to be that change agent if they want to see a difference.  I hope God gives me the wisdom to make my children understand that they are unique and incredible and their only concern should be to be the best human being they possibly can be, without minding popularity or trying to outdo people at all times. 
I want that pretty young girl to know that her smile is amazing and she should be proud to show it in every picture.  I want Gaby to understand that if she doesn't get invited to someone's house, she's still awesome and that doesn't mean she's not liked. I want Olivia to run for student council simply because she believes in herself whether she wins or not and to always have the resilience to do it again every time she feels like it. 

Life is too short to get hung up on that invitation you didn't get or that race you didn't win! I am happy to be who I am and how I am and I want my children to learn that...the sooner the better! :)

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Back to School 2018-2019

'Tis the season for "Back to School" craziness, the time when kids get back to their routine and parents try to get it (and keep it) together again!
Between uniforms, school supplies, lunches and school open houses, I am usually exhausted by the time the first day of school rolls around...this year was no exception and Olivia starting middle school added an extra layer of stress to the mix.  
This year we also decided to switch schools for Oliver and we registered them at the girls' school; after a year of picking them up at different places and different times, we figured it'd be much easier to centralize everything so fingers crossed it was the right move for our family. 
The girls were excited to go back to school for the most part but they weren't too happy about waking up at 6am to get ready or lugging things around; I also wasn't too happy about making school lunches and looking at a million calendars on a daily basis but I guess it was time so we have to focus on the task at hand. 

Olivia was incredibly excited to start 6th grade; for some reason the prospect of switching classes and having multiple teachers really excites her.  On top of it, she now gets to wear her "big girl" uniform so that's the cherry on top.  She looks so grown up already.. I can't believe she's only 11! Good luck in middle school, Olivia!

Gaby is starting the 4th grade and she is looking forward to befriending the new kids in her class; she is the kind of girl that does everything in her power to make the newbies feel welcome so I am sure she will take it upon herself to make sure everyone is happy, especially the new kids. 
She was a little sad that her best friend ended up in the other class and there were some tears shed when the class lists came out, but I am sure it's nothing a few playdates can't fix and she knows her friends will always be friends even if they're in different classrooms. Can't wait to see what you learn in 4th grade, Gaby!

On the first day we were able to walk Oliver to his classroom and the whole drop off was a hot mess; as excited as he was to be his new school, when he realized he wouldn't be in the same classroom as his sisters he lost it and started screaming and holding on to us for dear life.  Being a third time mom I was kind of expecting it but it was still bittersweet to leave him with tears in his eyes.  Of course when I picked him up he was happy and had even made a couple of friends which he already knew on a first name basis! Go Oliver!  There are only 8 kids in his class (4 boys, 4 girls) for 2 teachers so I guess that makes things a little "easier".... or so I hope. 
In the potty training department, he had a couple of poo accidents but the teachers didn't seem fazed at all and one day one of them even told me that all 8 kids in the class had pooped their pants simultaneously (what!?)... I'm just glad my kid wasn't alone, I guess! LOL! 

All in all we all had a great first week and the kids are so happy to be back in school and with their friends again. As a mother, I am looking forward to seeing them thrive and learn new things. I love when they come home from school excited to tell me about their day and when they wake up happy in the morning full of hope and joy; this is what I live for!
I pray that God remains in my children and that the Holy Spirit continues to light their path to wisdom, understanding, knowledge, counsel, fortitude, piety and fear of the Lord!
God Bless my children and all the kids going back to school this season! May this be another wonderful year in the life of our family!

Monday, August 20, 2018

Potty Training success!

About a year ago I wrote this post about my failed attempt at potty training Oliver, who at the time was about to turn 2. I had read somewhere that 23 months was an "ideal" age to potty train so I set out to conquer this dreaded task. I, of course, failed and became incredibly frustrated considering I had successfully potty trained our 2 girls at 22 months and 30 months. Potty training was never a challenge for me and I mistakenly thought it would be just as easy with Oliver....WRONG!!
Many of my friends had warned me that potty training a boy was a bit different and "boy were they right!". I tried and tried incessantly for the next few months (not continuous months!) and it just wasn't happening... It was like Oliver was completely oblivious to the fact that he eventually would have to do away with diapers and be like every other person who pees and poops in a toilet.
At one point the whole ordeal was affecting my mood and making me question my motherly abilities.. I know I was taking it way too seriously but I was just done with changing (and buying) diapers... I knew I had to let it go...so I did!
Summer rolled around and the pressure was mounting again because I enrolled Oliver at the girls' school and he just HAD to be potty trained come school time (August), so I basically had 10 weeks to get this done. Around mid June I decided to "pull off the bandaid" and just do it! We took off the diapers and it just "clicked" for him; within a couple of days Oliver was peeing on the potty consistently and we got through the weekend with almost no accidents; granted we had to take him to the potty constantly and just remind him that he HAD to go.. and he did it every time...I was so happy!
So we basically spent the next few weeks helping Oliver master the art of the potty and between random pee (and mostly poop!) accidents, he was officially out of diapers and ready to take on the world!
I won't lie, it wasn't an instant thing and I feel like he struggled much more than the girls ever did.  There were worse days than others and even though he was (mostly) willing to go along with potty training, I spent a good part of my summer cleaning pee puddles and wiping poop off his butt.
Around mid July he was already sleeping in underwear and even asking to go potty on his own.  We bought a little urinal on Amazon and even though he rarely used it at first, it ended up being a hit and he even learned to pee standing!
The poop part was (and still is) a bit more challenging...he has random accidents throughout the week and it's still a work in progress but I am confident he will master it in no time.
Even though it has been 2 months since Oliver has been out of diapers, it took me this long to finally believe it and write this post.. I didn't want to jinx myself because it was an uphill task for us.
Some of the things I learned this go around are as follows:

  • Every child is different! (duh!)
  • Potty training a boy is much more challenging than doing it with girls
  • Potty training cannot be forced! (double duh!)
  • Kids have their own timeline
  • Pull ups suck! (mostly!)
  • There is such a thing as spending all day cleaning pee puddles
  • Toddlers can POOP! (uggh!)
  • No matter how long it takes.. potty training will eventually happen!
I am happy we have FINALLY gotten over this hurdle and that Oliver won't be in diapers forever (ha!). I am thankful for my husband and my girls who were instrumental in potty training our stubborn boy and I can only hope he sticks to the plan and does well at the potty while in school.  I pray that his teachers are patient and understanding when things don't go right and that he can feel supported and encouraged to do better and better every day!

Monday, August 13, 2018

A new love affair...

Following my disappointing visit to San Francisco a couple of weeks ago, my husband insisted I join him on a work trip to Buenos Aires. His constant business travels have allowed him to accumulate some airline miles and I was miraculously able to make arrangements for someone to stay with the kids so I said "why not!" and finally visited one of the destinations at the top of my bucket list. 
I had always wanted to travel to Buenos Aires for many reasons; first off my father was born there and he has spent a great amount of years convincing me of how wonderful it is and many people had told me about the strange appeal that city has; I was definitely curious to experience that Argentine charm for myself and it did not disappoint. 
I will refer to my trip to Buenos Aires as the start of a new love affair; I was in awe of how beautiful and modern the city was and also of how welcoming everybody was, the whole experience definitely exceeded my expectations and I was nicely surprised. 
Buenos Aires is like a Latin version of Europe; most buildings are reminiscent of classic Madrid constructions and I even saw some of Paris in the streets of this amazing city.  Everything is clean, organized and grandiose and on the second day I was ready to move there...I seriously loved it so much!
I was able to experience the Buenos Aires life style first hand since I happen to have so many friends that live there who were kind enough to show me around while doing it the "local way"; I visited amazing restaurants, modern shopping centers, rode the metro, hailed some cabs and walked an infinite amount of steps around the beautiful streets of Buenos Aires (my watch says I walked about 30K steps per day!)... I am officially in love with this city and my only regret is that I didn't travel there sooner... I can't wait to take the kids there soon and maybe stay a little longer. 
In addition to the beauty of the city and the kindness of its people, our trip was particularly cheap since currently the Argentine Peso is down in the dumps so our dollars went a long way; I could eat a succulent filet mignon for less than $10 or have a scrumptious piece of cake for less than $2, so needless to say I was happy to visit during this time. 
Also it happens to be winter time in Argentina (hello South Pole!) and the weather was perfection; it never went over 60 degrees or below 50 so I was happy to be able to wear my favorite jacket every day (LOL!)..they say that the weather has a lot to do with how one perceives a place, so this probably boosted my experience even more. 
My favorite place in the city was Puerto Madero also known as Buenos Aires' business center; most big companies are found in this area and the building are incredibly modern; the whole place is beautiful and it is nothing short of great even when compared to cities such as New York, Berlin, Los Angeles or any other major city in the world. The metro system (Subte) is very efficient and well maintained and also CHEAP! There are beautiful shopping malls, magnificent churches, sublime buildings, delicious restaurants and everything else I could want in a city. 
Here are some pictures of my brief visit to Buenos Aires, a place I hope to go back to and one that jumped to the top of my list in just one visit.  I love you, Buenos Aires and I know this is only the beginning of a beautiful love affair!

Monday, August 6, 2018

The end of a love affair...

I recently returned from a 4 day trip to one of my favorite cities in the world, San Francisco!
The first time I visited this famous West Coast city I was young and in love (I'm still in love but the young part is questionable...ha!) when we honeymooned there about 13 years ago! I fell in love with San Francisco instantly; the weather was perfect, the food was amazing, everyone was nice and kind and the city is as picturesque as they get.  Even after having traveled to over 30 countries and hundreds of cities, my traveling heart always belonged to San Francisco...there was just something about it that always captivated me...I was lucky enough to be able to return to this great city a few other times and even took the girls there in 2014 (they loved it too, of course!)

But this time was different... I didn't find San Francisco as fascinating as I did on previous visits.. I'd go as far as saying that I was disappointed.. it was the end of a love affair, one that I thought would last forever but sadly it didn't. 
I found the city to be filthy and decadent, riddled with thousands of homeless people, junkies and prostitutes; on the first day I had already lost count of how many people I saw shooting up or inhaling cocaine in broad daylight and when I attempted to take brisk walks around the city at nighttime (not even late night) it was all about street workers fighting over their "customers". The most concerning part was the apathy of everyone around...it's like nobody cares! Apparently the California government is more concerned about banning straws, recycling and charging for shopping bags than it is with cleaning up the streets and helping those in need.
Transit workers and even cops were rude to tourists and everyone seems more concerned with being "green" than being kind...It took me a while to figure out where to put my trash because there's a million recycling options at every corner but regular trash cans seemed to be non existent.  Public restrooms were basically unusable from how disgusting and dirty they all are and that's if I was lucky to find a restroom where I didn't have to pee next to a man because most restrooms were unisex because, you know, gender equality and who knows what else!
I also noticed so much hostility from the unspoken social war.. I seriously felt like I was in another country... and not a nice one!  
Everything was super expensive (and yes, I know California is more expensive by default but this was different!) and Californians didn't seem as receptive and embracing as I remembered them.

Of course I won't deny that the city is still as beautiful as ever and its colors and flavors have no comparison but somehow San Francisco dropped down on my list of favorites and I don't foresee that changing because that special charm I always found in it just wasn't there. I didn't feel safe walking around the streets of San Francisco, I didn't feel welcomed by its locals and I didn't feel like the city can embrace a conservative point of view like mine....it just wasn't the same for me!

We did get to visit Napa Valley for the first time and it was very beautiful.  Even with me not being a wine drinker I did enjoy the visit to one of the most famous wineries in the area and had an amazing time exploring and taking pictures...but Napa isn't San Francisco so....

I don't know when I will return to San Francisco or even if I ever will but I will forever cherish the nice memories I have of it and I feel blessed to have enjoyed it for as long as I did!