Spotlight on Teachers

honyuWe love the way that Brandon Stanton, the creator of Humans of New York, can create a biographical moment in one image, sometimes with as little as one sentence.  HONY began as a catalogue of the people of New York.  It became an internet success (nearly 10 million followers) and now Brandon is travelling the world with the UN, telling stories from developing nations and nations in conflict.

Inspired by HONY and its piercing brevity, we wanted to pay tribute to some of the teachers in our kids’ lives and ask them about their work.

Stay tuned as 4Mothers1Blog puts the spotlight on teachers for our back to school theme week.

 

What We’re Reading: Kids

From Beth-Anne

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Be Grateful Little Bear by Kara Evelyn-McNeil, illustrations by Max Scratchmann

Kara Evelyn-McNeil, a children’s entertainer from Whitby, Ontario wrote her first book Be Grateful Little Bear in hopes that parents will start a discussion with their children about being grateful for the blessings in their own lives. Little Bear finds himself alongside the proverbial fence, looking over at what appears to be greener pastures, but his loving parents remind him of the many wonderful traits that make him a special bear. The message, be proud of who you are, resounds loud and clear and served the purpose the author intended. My three boys sat around after the oldest had read the book aloud, and (yes, at my prompting) listed the things that make themselves and their brothers special.

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Dinosaur Farm by Frann Preston-Gannon

Preston-Gannon, the first UK recipient of the Sendak Fellowship, spent one month living with and learning from Maurice Sendak, and Dinosaur Farm proves she is worthy of such an honour. This beautifully illustrated story tells how hard life is on a farm: waking up early, caring for your animals and tending to the earth but in a whimsical twist the animals that populate this farm are not chickens, cows and pigs . . .they are dinosaurs! The creative way the text is displayed makes reading with expression much easier for budding orators. My middle son spoke in a loud voice when reading BIG and a much quieter voice when reading small. But perhaps it is the textless illustrations that tell the reader the most. The last image we’re left with is of the farmer fast asleep tucked in his bed with his dinosaurs that have crept in through the open gate, asleep all around his bedroom. My boys were quick tell the “story” on that final page and to make a connection to another of their favourite bedtime stories, Goodnight ,Gorilla.

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Santa’s Zany, Wacky, Just Not Right Night Before Christmas by DK Simoneau and David Radman, illustrations by Brad Cornelius

When Santa’s Zany, Wacky, Just Not Right Night Before Christmas arrived at our house there were enough squeals of delight from my youngest to trick one into believing that it was Christmas morning and not a hot, humid July day. To say that my three boys are obsessed with Christmas, Santa and all things related would be a gross understatement. In fact, as I type this now, my youngest (age 3) is watching Barney’s Christmas on Netflix (reserve your judgement, I needed some time to hammer this out). DK Simoneau and David Radman have written a Christmas tale that must be added to your night before Christmas reading list. In this story, nothing is quite right on Christmas Eve. The elves are now 7 feet tall trolls, the stockings have been replaced with long underwear and most concerning, Santa’s suit is not red! It’s purple! My boys loved this book and everything about it – the whimsical fonts, the twists on the traditional and the illustrations. Santa’s Zany, Wacky, Just Not Right Night Before Christmas now has a place in our Christmas tales reading box . . . after my youngest slept with it in his bed for three nights.

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Kitty Hawk and The Curse of the Yukon Gold by Iain Reading

The first book in the Kitty Hawk Flying Detective series will have you hooked! What’s not to love? Canadian adventure, a fearless heroine and endearing characters . . . the Kitty Hawk series by Iain Reading is a breath of fresh air among the vampires, werewolves and teen angst that have dominated the young adult genre for the past few years. What’s more, the author has included an additional reading list and two websites for adventure enthusiasts to explore.

From Nathalie

We continue to (try to) make time for creating art hereabouts, and I am newly inspired.  I was at the Cabbagetown Outdoor Art Festival on the weekend and fell in love with the art of Judy Anderson of Kukucaju, which captures wonderfully the subversive violence of children’s stories and imaginations.  Her Big Sister caught my eye; art that endorses eating one’s siblings is something that would go over well in our house, where it’s not all brotherly love.  Check out her website.  You can have you own kids’ drawings turned into a custom-made piece of 3-D art.

mangaOne great book in our art adventure is the Big Book of Everything Manga.  Youngest (6) has had great success with the manga monsters and robots, and the drawings range from very simple to complex.  It’s a great art instruction book for artists of varying levels of ability.

escapeMiddlest (9) is awash in bookish goodness: two new releases in his favourite series.  Last month, it was the sixth book in Kazu Kibuishi’s Amulet series, Escape from Lucien.  Until we went to hear him speak, I had not read the Amulet books, but Kibuishi was such a great speaker that I read all of the books in the series in a single sitting.  They feature a really plucky heroine, who is brave and good and flawed.  She wears an amulet that gives her power, but whether it is for good or evil is still unclear.  In a world of kids’ books that are starkly black and white with respect to good and evil, I like how Kibuishi keeps us guessing about his plot and characters.

piratesMiddlest is also reading book five in Scott Chantler’s Three Thieves series: Pirates of the Silver Coast.  Lots of plot twists and cliff hangers here, too.

One thing I’ve noticed with his consumption of these graphic novel series is that he re-reads them over and over again.  I used to fret about his re-reading these instead of trying out new chapter books, but it’s obvious that he has a real love for these books.  He’s rushed out to get the new books in the series, bless him, and now makes a habit of asking me to check publication dates for his favourite authors.  That’s some serious book love right there.

Middlest is also reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.  Perhaps you’ve heard of that oneI’m reading the Harry Potter books aloud to Youngest and Middlest, and then Middlest goes off and reads ahead.  I’m really enjoying myself with these books.  Youngest keeps stopping me to ask what words mean, which is sometimes frustrating, but, then again, he keeps stopping me to ask what words mean.  He’s listening!  He’s engaged!  He’s learning!  Coincidentally, Kazu Kibuishi has done the cover art for the latest edition of the Harry Potter books.  Cue my collector’s obsession….

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Finally, Eldest (13) is reading The Name of this Book is Secret by Pseudonymous Bosch.

secretEldest: We had Library today.

Nathalie: What book did you choose?

Eldest: The Name of This Book is Secret.

Nathalie:  Ooooh!  I liked that one.  It’s very meta-textual.  Why did you pick that one?

Eldest: It fell on my head.

Nathalie: Seriously, why did you choose it?

Eldest: Seriously, it fell on my head.

Here endeth the attempt at intelligent discussion about books.  You win some, you lose some.

Seeking an End to Battles with the Babysitter

A few years ago, my husband and I made a commitment that we would have regular date nights.  I believe at the time we asserted something about once a week which, well, has remained an assertion and not much more.  But we do take time for just ourselves regularly, and a bi-weekly night for an adult meal and conversation is common.

We needed a commitment to make these nights happen, and more practically speaking, some reliable babysitters which, as anyone who has tried to find them knows, are not always easy to come by.  Which is why we were delighted when a neighbour mentioned his daughter was looking for babysitting work.  She was enthusiastic, had experience with children, and lived a couple of blocks away.  She was younger than our other sitters, but this had significant advantages too, as she was usually available for weekend evenings and on short notice.  It seemed ideal.

And it was for awhile.  Our boys loved her.  They seemed to enjoy that she was young, as she played with them more than other sitters did.  She was training to be a camp counsellor, which meant she knew all kinds of games and tricks to play with kids.  We’d came home, the kids would be in bed, and she’d tell us the news.  

Then something turned.  I think it was our oldest son realizing that what made our new sitter really fun was that she quite distinct from an adult which led him to question precisely where her authority lay.  He began to challenge it, and when he did, his younger brothers did too.  The babysitting reports started to change colour – they once were funny and laden with antics, but now our sitter was tired and troubled by the constant battles with our boys.  

We tried different things to modify the behaviour of the boys.  We offered rewards, like dessert or extra time together, for good behaviour.  We talked about empathy, and remembered that our beloved cousins were about our sitter’s age, and talked about how our cousin would feel if she were in our sitter’s shoes.  We tried removing privileges – my oldest lost a treasured weekly soccer game due to tormenting the sitter.  And still the bad reports from the beleaguered sitter continued.

Part of me thinks perhaps our sitter is just too youthful (she looks young too, unlike other young sitters we’ve had who looked more mature) for the task – our boys need boundaries and she may simply lack the authority to appropriately establish these. Children, like the rest of us, naturally test limits, and maybe the situation is inherently unfair to everybody.  Maybe it’s time to let it go. 

And maybe it is, except that it wasn’t like this at the beginning, we had some decent (if imperfect) sessions with her before they went downhill.  And she is a lovely girl from a nice family, with courage and stamina to boot – she isn’t a quitter – and she wants the work.  Plus she lives down the street and we need sitters!  Back to the drawing board.

Our latest report from the sitter was plain discouraging.  My husband had given the boys a heart-to-heart about the importance of respecting the sitter and still they were terrible.  The next day found them around the table writing notes and cards of apology, and we later walked to the sitter’s house to deliver them.  They made verbal apologies too, and although I was of course there for enforcement (which wasn’t necessary), I got the feeling that the boys genuinely felt contrite for treating her poorly.  I’m hoping all of this will remind them that she’s a real person with real feelings, as well as showing her (and her parents, who were home) that these boys are not entirely raising themselves.

I’ve decided to try again.  After letting things rest for a week, I took a deep breath and booked her for this coming weekend.  Cross your fingers for me.  Better yet, if you have any advice on how to make this babysitting relationship work, please dispense it.  I’m all ears.

Tips for How to Turn Off the Television (Without a Fight)

tvOne of the transitions my kids like the least when we move from summer mode to school mode is the return of strict limits on screen time.  We are barely one week in, and already our heads are spinning from the number of things on the calendar.  With all of the sports, extra curriculars and playdates, there just isn’t time for television during the week, so our house rule is no television until after school Friday.   We usually have a movie night on Friday, and weekend mornings are fair game for whatever screen time the kids want (if the hockey schedule allows!) and it’s back to no screen time on Sunday nights.

Even with these limits, and even with a whole morning of available screen time on weekends, we still have a hard time when it comes to turning off the tube.  The kids resist unplugging, and there’s inevitably a squabble once the television stops entertaining them.

So at CBC Kids’ Days, when I met with Dr. Lynn Oldershaw of CBC Kids, I knew exactly what I wanted to ask her:

1. How can television teach kids how to regulate their emotions when the t.v. goes off?

2. How can we turn off the television without the meltdown that almost inevitably ensues?

Oldershaw pointed out that as part of their teaching of emotional intelligence, CBC Kids shows teach kids how to name their emotions, regulate their emotions and then problem solve to cope with their emotions.  Shows like The Adventures of Napkin Man and Poco teach strategies for how to manage anger or sadness, for example.  I’ve taken to getting Youngest to name the sense of aimlessness he feels when he unplugs.  At least if he’s able to recognize the pattern of feeling at a loss when the tv goes off, he can begin to find ways to overcome it.

Her advice for how to turn off the screens without a meltdown is to make empowerment the key.  Give your children choices.  The more control they feel they have, the less they will resist the limits you impose.  Have a family discussion about what is a reasonable amount of screen time and when it can happen.  Present them with choices before and after screen time:

“Do you want to watch television or play on the Wii?  It’s your choice how to spend your screen time.”

“Do you want to put in a movie or watch a television show?”

“Do you want to have lunch or go to the park?  It’s your choice what to do next.”

What do you do to help your kids unplug?  Is it a difficult transition? 

 

 

Explore Toronto: Eco-Art-Fest @Todmorden Mills

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Last week, with intentions to squeeze every last bit of summer fun out of what remained of the summer days, Carol, Nathalie and I took our boys to explore no. 9’s Eco-Art Fest.

Just off Pottery Road in the Don Valley, is a tucked-away enclave sheltered by a canopy of trees where art and green collide. Andrew Davies, Executive Director, is a man with a vision. Having spent years in New York City working for the Museum of Modern Art in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Davies became enamoured with the emerging art scene that seemed to couple art and social consciousness so seamlessly. Upon his return to Toronto, he learned about the Evergreen Brick Works, at that time in its planning stages, and envisioned a place where art and the environment could not only flourish but also serve to inspire people to live more sustainable lives.

Drawing on his extensive art and architecture background Davies went on to found no. 9. It is an arts organization that uses art and design to bring awareness to environmental concerns through school and community based programs. Earlier this summer when I explored the Brick Works with my boys we were able to view My Sustainable City, a collaboration between no.9 and the Toronto District School Board that is on exhibit at Brick Works until September 23.

While My Sustainable City is an example of a school program, Eco-Art-Fest is an outdoor summer-long art festival held at Todmorden Mills until September 21 for the entire community to enjoy.  imgres

Davies and his staff of artisans offer daily programs for children. Our boys got their hands dirty throwing clay and enjoyed a water colour painting workshop where they learned about endangered animals and just how interrelated the creatures in our environment really is. We ended our morning activities with a guided tour of the various outdoor art installations by celebrated artists Dean Baldwin, Nicole Dextras, John Dickson, Sean Martindale, Ferruccio Sardella, Penelope Stewart, John Loerchner and Laura Mendes.

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It was an enriching opportunity to learn how art is not just paint, paper and brush strokes. Art can be just as much about aesthetic and expression as a social message. In particular my boys enjoyed Sean Martindale’s installation of the word HISTORIES created from the earth, and depending on perspective history could be rising up from the ground or buried.

Saturday nights offer live music after 5 pm, delicious artisanal charcuterie boards that are works of art in themselves, and organic beer and wine all under the lights of Helliwell’s.

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Nearly four hours passed before I looked at my watch.   The green space combined with the art, and the easy-going, light-hearted atmosphere was enough to make me forget that I was in the city, less than a few minutes drive to the centre and its hustle and bustle. It was four hours of appreciating art in many forms, learning about our environment and most importantly connecting with each other.

Time is running out to experience the wonder of Eco-Art-Fest this summer. The festival ends on September 21 but will return next year. To learn more or to register for the activities and tours please visit Eco-Art-Fest.

Guest Post: Kristi Ashcroft: “These things they go away; Replaced by Everyday” — R.E.M., Nightswimming

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To my three boys,

It’s hard to believe that tomorrow it’s over. When the school bell rang on June 27, and we were staring ahead at 65 days of unscheduled, unstructured time at our rustic cottage on somewhat remote Manitoulin Island, it seemed both daunting and exhilarating. We all claimed this was what we wanted. But, with no camps booked for any of you this summer, with Dad’s work schedule requiring him in Toronto more than at the cottage, and with few good friends nearby, I felt like I was embarking on a tight rope across a wide chasm. With just the right balance, it could be great. Or it could go another way.

I admit, the bickering almost undid me. “Stop it”, “Owwwwww”, “Mommmmmmmmmm”, “He started it”, “Stop copying me”, “He pinched (kicked, punched, scratched, poked) me”, “He cheated”, “That’s mine”, “I hate you”, “You don’t even know what 45 plus 56 is”, “You suck at hockey,” “You’re an idiot”, “What?”, “What did I do?”.

And that was before breakfast.

I vacillated between refereeing, cajoling, bribing, punishing, peace-brokering, distracting, and out and out losing my mind. None of those strategies seemed to be particularly or consistently effective. One morning, out of fury over some territorial conflict involving a pillow fort, you my littlest one, managed to strip off your pull-up from the night before and bonk your eldest brother over the head with it, thereby causing the diaper to explode and sending pee-soaked polymers across the room where they settled like a yellow-tinged snow. We were only about two weeks into summer and my coffee hadn’t even finished brewing. I promptly declared summer cancelled, and in a further fit of hyperbole, threatened to sell the cottage and use the proceeds to send each of you to summer camp, separately, in perpetuity. Because clearly we couldn’t survive summer together.

But we plodded on. The memories of the fighting do eventually fade to white noise. We can all now laugh at the diaper snow story, and you each delight in regaling others with your part in it. And thank goodness I didn’t throw in the towel. There is so much I would have missed.

First, I would have missed our talks: talks that don’t get cut short or interrupted because there’s a brother to pick up or a practice to get to; talks that stem from your questions, fears or curiosities. We talked about wolves and tornadoes and cancer and dying a lot this summer, though I can’t really explain why those themes recurred. Our “where did I come from” talk started after you learned about an initiative to repopulate the Great Lakes with sturgeon, and I found myself in the somewhat awkward position of having to compare and contrast fish procreation with the human variety. You were captivated by stories of when you were young, and of when we were young, creating a trove of family lore that I hope will stay with you and eventually be retold by you.

We had time to focus on things that often get swept aside during the busy seasons, like manners. You had the chance to hone your skills of being a good guest, a good host and a good neighbour. I don’t want to jinx it, but this summer may have paved the way for 2014 to be declared “The Year Everyone Started Holding Their Fork Correctly,” although I’m guessing you guys won’t remember it that way.

You had more freedom and I got to give it to you. You could ride way ahead on your bike, wander the woods with your brothers, or burst outside on a whim without a corresponding admonition from your mother to “stop at the stop sign”, or “slow down”. I loved observing how you handled the mutually reinforcing responsibility and independence. I also loved that I almost never heard myself say “Hurry up”, “Time to go” or “We’re late.”

I had a chance to shed my roles as chauffeur, guidance counsellor, tutor, nag-in-chief and disciplinarian, and to have the opportunity to just DO things with you. Do things WITH you. The nights we kayaked out past the point so we could see the sun set. The quiet mornings when we felt like we were the first ones to make ripples in the water with our paddles. The bike rides that we’d finish with sprints, pretending we were chasing down a hockey player from the other team who was on a breakaway. The walks where we noticed all the things we miss when we drive that same stretch of country lane. The swims, the saunas and then more swims. The time I got up on water skis for the first time and saw you all cheering me on from the boat. Moms don’t get cheers very often, and we don’t necessarily expect or need them. But when we do get woo-hoos and high fives from our kids, it is incredibly special.

I loved all the games we played together. (OK, except Junior Monopoly. I actually hated Junior Monopoly, with its skewed economics where you’re either enjoying an immediate 100% return on investment, or suffering expropriation of your properties with the mere draw of a Chance card, thereby leaving all participants somewhere on the spectrum between indifferent and incensed by the end of the game). But matching wits with you in Connect Four or Qwirkle, playing series after series of Crazy Eights and Uno, and watching your logical minds at work cracking codes in Mastermind were some of my favourite indoor moments of the summer.

I relished the opportunity to watch you be you. Your true natures reveal themselves when you are responsible for combatting your own boredom. I noticed, without judgment, who was more likely to reach for his hockey stick and who was more likely to work a puzzle. I watched as you would spend hours in character as imaginary brothers who are 12- and 11-years-old, respectively, undertaking no end of wild adventures, Stanley Cup quests, and other complicated plot lines. I was intrigued to hear your takes on the books you read, and was sometimes surprised at which ones you loved and which were just OK. I noticed which friends from school you mentioned and which issues from home permeated our summer bubble. I made a mental note of these for when we return home and other factors sometimes muddy our priorities.

I stopped myself on more than one occasion this summer and wished I could bottle these moments, or that I could hit the pause button and keep you at ages 4, 6 and 8, picking raspberries, catching frogs, chasing sea gulls, digging in mud, jumping on trampolines and letting me read stories to you. The summer felt fleeting, perhaps because I don’t know if conditions will ever permit us to have another 65-day spell like this one.

But now it’s time. Tomorrow I send you back to your real worlds of school and sports and social lives. You’re blonder, taller and tanner than when you left. But I think you’re changed in less visible albeit more permanent ways as well. I know I am. I hope we get to do this again sometime.

Love, Mom

Kristi has a degree in Economics from Princeton University and worked for eight years at a Wall Street firm in New York and London.  She and her husband settled in Toronto, and she is now a stay-at-home mom to three busy boys ages 4, 6 and 8.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Drizzlecorn. Yup, It’s THAT Good!

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You’ve done it!  You’ve just survived the first week of school.  Now it’s time to celebrate. . . and you can forget the wine.
Popcorn, Indiana has just launched their newest and in my opinion, their most yummy treat yet . . . Chocolate Peanut Butter Drizzlecorn.
We’ve told you before that we get sent treats, products and books all of the time to sample and try out but we only write about these things unless we truly love them or think our readers will love them.
Well this time I am telling you to step away from your computer, put down your hand-held device and run to your nearest grocer to pick up Popcorn, Indiana’s Chocolate Peanut Butter Drizzlecorn.  I love this stuff and I bet you will too!
The chocolate and peanut butter balance nicely with the crunchy, lightly salted kettle-popped corn.  I opened the bag expecting to nibble on a few kernels but then the hounds, err boys, whom could practically smell the deliciousness and sense my sheer elation descended on the open bag like a pack of starving wolves.  Within minutes the bag was empty and we were licking chocolately, peanut butter from our fingers.
This hand-crafted popcorn contains nothing artificial or high fructose corn syrup and at 180 calories for 1 1/2 cups you won’t feel too guilty about indulging in this delectable treat.
Unless you eat the entire bag.  Yourself.

Still in Summer

061School has started for us. The lunch boxes are pulled out, the paper forms flow freely, the schoolyard dramas are underway, the boys are (thankfully) excited to be back, and the teachers and parents are refreshed.

The weather has been more than nice enough for biking the 2km trek to school.  It’s a lovely way to start and end our school days.  Transition has been smooth.

Truth be known though, my heart is nowhere the school. It’s trailing behind somewhere in ravine, or maybe the garden, or even maybe the pool up the street. But settled in summer it is, without many signs of moving on.

Back to School? Time to Get Their Eyes Checked!

Portrait of lovely girl drawing with colorful pencilsWhen Middlest started Junior Kindergarten (five years ago!), his teacher asked us if he’d had his eyes checked.

No, we said.  We should get on that, since we both wear glasses.

Poor kid.  Not only did he need glasses, he needed a really strong prescription.  I will never forget the mix of humour and guilt I felt when he walked around the optometrist’s with his new glasses, saying, “Look at the carpet, Mum!  It has patterns!”

Thank goodness his teacher had asked us.  There was nothing in his day-to-day activity or behaviour that had indicated that he was (so badly) in need of glasses.  He didn’t know he was supposed to be able to see more clearly, and we had not noticed anything to draw our attention to his weak vision.

If your little ones are starting school for the first time this week, and if you have not had their vision tested, please consider doing so sooner rather than later.  The really great news is that now, their first pair of glasses could be provided for free.

The Ontario Association of Optometrists has launched a children’s vision program, Eye See…Eye Learn®, in Toronto, a program that will provide free glasses to Junior Kindergarten children.

The information below is from their press release:

More than 25 per cent of Ontario children have vision problems, yet according to 2013 government data, only 10 per cent received a comprehensive eye exam from a Doctor of Optometry before the age of four.  On July 1, 2014, Eye See…Eye Learn®, a not-for-profit program designed to detect, diagnose and treat children with vision problems, will launch a campaign to provide free eye exams and glasses to Junior Kindergarten children in Toronto.

“The integration of Eye See…Eye Learn® into the Toronto market is a direct result of the program’s success elsewhere in the province,” said Dr. Farooq Khan, President, Ontario Association of Optometrists. “While children rarely complain about vision problems, or are even aware of them, statistics show the correlation between education and eyes – nearly 25 per cent of children have a vision problem, many of which are thought to have a learning disability. The Eye See…Eye Learn® program will reduce these mislabeled children and ensure that they have the best chance to succeed in school.”

Through Eye See…Eye Learn®, children starting Junior Kindergarten in Toronto this fall will join thousands of other students across the province that are eligible for one free pair of glasses with their annual OHIP eye exam, if prescribed, through participating Doctors of Optometry. Every child in Ontario who has a valid Ontario Health Card is entitled to an annual OHIP-insured eye exam by a Doctor of Optometry, up until age 19.

Eye See…Eye Learn® is funded in part by the Government of Ontario and administered by the Ontario Association of Optometrists, in conjunction with over 40 school boards, community and industry partners. Further information is available at EyeSeeEyeLearn.ca.

 

 

Back To School: Getting & Staying Organized

IMG_1451I was never one of those kids who bemoaned the end of summer holiday. I was the one that was stalking the aisles of Zellers for three-ring binders and fresh stacks of lined paper in July. For me, September is the unofficial start of the year and I still revel in the anticipation of the new school year. I love organizing my supplies, charting the schedule and re-working our routines.

Here are some back-to-school products and tips that I like for this September. Sound off with a comment and let us know if you agree, what you’re planning for this back-to-school season and what you know is an absolute bust!

Let’s start with the backpack. Kids need a good, sturdy backpack. I am of the mindset to buy little packs for little bodies. I don’t think that kids should be carting around the entire contents of their desks, their gym clothes and their lunch. I tend to believe that if it doesn’t fit, you probably don’t need to carry it. Bigger kids – a completely different story.

Of course LL Bean does their classic knapsack in a variety of sizes. They are incredibly durable and can be monogrammed. The downside: three boys at my son’s school have the same pack and the same initial as my son. The first day of JK we had a mix-up and there were tears (his, not mine). That’s why I love these packs by Herschel. They are reasonably priced and come in a variety of sizes. This one is from Mini Mioche, a conscious, ethical shop located in the Distillery District in Toronto.

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What goes in the pack is just as important as the pack itself. Staples is my go-to for office/school supplies. They’ve got everything that I need and even more that I don’t! I love these life-time guarantee three-ring Better Binders that they carry. I remember throwing away several binders at the end of each term when I was a student and they are probably wasting away in a landfill somewhere.

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Colourful markers, like these neon Sharpies, are not only fun to write with, they are instrumental in keeping the schedule organized. I have colours for each child and everything is written in those colours.

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I have budding writers at home and leaning on my experience as a classroom teacher, I know how imperative it is that children learn how to hold their pencil correctly. It seems like such a little thing but holding a writing tool the proper way actually assists in proper letter formation, and reduces muscle fatigue (among other things!). I have a package of these grippers and will be buying even more this year . . . they seem to go missing as often as socks.

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Homework is never fun (unless you’re me!). My boys whine a little bit, but I created homework boxes much like this one. I keep it on the desk and when they’re doing homework on the go, it’s easy to toss into the bag. I like to put a checklist on the outside of the kit and it’s a weekly job to ensure that the homework kit is properly stocked and pencils are sharpened. In our kit: 2 pencils, 1 eraser, 1 highligher, 1 ruler, 1 mini-stapler, 1 pair of scissors, a few coloured pencil and a glue stick. Make sure to toss dried-out markers or broken pencils. Always, always, always have a stack of presentation boards available because it never fails that on Sunday night at 7 pm, someone says that they need a piece for a project due tomorrow!

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Organized homework stations can help to alleviate homework anxiety and reduce procrastination. A homework station that is sufficiently stocked (not too cluttered, not lacking for anything), and neat might be what’s needed to reduce the entire family’s stress level. Consider using file folders and vertical boxes, one dedicated to each child to store on-going projects or paperwork that comes home from the classroom. Also,have a file folder for you too! You need one place to keep all of those permission forms that need your signature. Clare Kumar, an organizing expert, suggests going vertical instead of using horizontal trays or pegboards. I have to agree.

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I don’t have any locker occupiers, but this kit speaks to my desire to organize and de-clutter. This locker kit, also available at Staples, comes complete with magnets, a magnetic pencil box, locker wallpaper, magnetic mirror and magnetic dry erase and marker. The kit is available in a variety of looks so your tween can express themselves. . .

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and might look like this inside your tween’s locker . . .

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Collect While You Spend!

Back-to-school hits the bank account hard. Other than Christmas, this is the time of year my credit card takes a pounding so why not shop online and collect points that you can cash-in to help with the holiday crunch that will be here before we know it. The best way to stay rewarded while checking-off the back-to-school wish list is to shop through AIR MILES Shops (airmilesshops.ca) that has partnered with brands such as Indigo, LL Bean, GAP, Old Navy, Toms and Roots. Many of these stores carry packs, lunch sacks, school supplies and uniform pieces that you may have planned to purchase already, so why not shop online through airmilesshops and collect? Come December you can redeem those miles and tick-off the holiday gift list.

Vote With Your Dollars

I always go back to what Carol says, “We vote with our dollars.” Me to We has partnered with Free The Children and Staples to help make a difference in the lives of children and their families in a Free The Children developing community. The program is so simple. Every purchase makes a difference! For example, when you purchase a lunch pack, Me to We will donate food to feed a child. When you buy a water bottle, Me to We will donate clean water to a child. What’s more, Me to We products have a tracking number that is entered on-line so you’re able to learn more about the gift your purchase gave and how it changed the life of a child or family. Imagine the potential for change if everyone bought just one Me to We item for their back-to-school list this year. That’s voting with your dollars!

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It’s first day of school today and so I would like to wish all of the students a wonderful year of learning, friendship and fun. I would like to wish all of the teachers a year of inspiration, engagement and fun. I would like to wish all of the parents, good luck!

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