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Apr 17 2012

Riding the Diversity Ticket All the Way to Jewish Day School

By at 12:12 pm

My daughter passed the grueling tests, and got into kindergarten!Last fall, I wrote about the hoops NYC parents jump through to get their children into kindergarten. We’re talking IQ tests, essays, interviews, applications, lotteries for applications, and then more IQ tests, because God forbid they should all accept the same IQ test.

The entire process lasts from approximately September of the year before your son or daughter would enter kindergarten through to the following spring, when private and public schools announce who’s been accepted–and who has been “shut out.”

My two sons attend an Upper East Side private school that is traditional and rigorous–and boys only. Which means, no matter how generous their sibling policy is, my daughter was out of luck. Read the rest of this entry →

Jan 24 2012

What’s Easiest for Mama is Best for Kids

By at 9:35 am
new york city bus stop

My kids can handle the bus.

Occam’s Razor is a scientific heuristic that, simply put, states the easiest solution to a problem is, more often than not, the right one.

I am Occam’s Mother. I believe that the easiest thing for me to do, vis-à-vis my kids, is, more often than not, the right thing. Read the rest of this entry →

Jan 13 2012

Teacher’s Skirt is on Fire

By at 11:52 am

fire extinguisherEven by the standards of Waldorf School emails, it was serious. Something called “The Garden of Light” was coming. And to prepare for it, “children were not to wear loose flowing dresses and long hair should be tied back.” My daughter is pretty much basing her identity on long flowing dresses and her hair at this point, so this was not going to be an easy sell.

In addition to the ominous email, I was asked several times by Ronia’s teacher if I was going to be able to go. In general I feel like a slacker Waldorf parent, so any opportunity to curry favor is good. Plus it’s nice to see my kid during the day.

Before I left, I reread the email one more time. It was more ominous than I even remembered, directing us to sit apart from our children to maintain a festive atmosphere. My enthusiasm dimmed a bit; this would mean I would be sitting with other parents. Also, it seemed to imply that I should have dropped Ronia off as normal, instead of keeping her home and cooking pancakes to the 9:40 drop off time. Fortunately the previous Garden of Light was running late, I was able to get Ronia to class and hurry up to the queue of parents. I sat down on the only available chair and checked my smartphone email.

When the appointed time came we were led into an auditorium lit only by candles. The floor was covered in a spiral of pine branches, or as the email got me thinking, kindling. Read the rest of this entry →

Dec 2 2011

What My Daughter Learned at Jewish Preschool

By at 10:08 am

hebrew letter blocksA few months ago, I was freaking out over my daughter starting preschool, not because I didn’t want her to go but because I can’t believe she’s old enough for it. After a few weeks of adjustment (mostly on her part; I found the additional free time quite easy to adapt to), Ellie is a happy student at the school in a Conservative temple.

The thing is she already knows more about Judaism than I do. I attended religious school at a Reform temple from first through 12th grades, but much of what I remember is the socializing. (No comment, please, Mom.) When Ellie came home from her second day of school and said “boker tov” (good morning) to me, I thought perhaps she had sneezed.

Sometimes when she says a word I can’t make out, I wonder if it’s Hebrew for something. I know her teachers give the Hebrew as well as English names for things.

All of this has made for interesting, if not at times awkward, conversations. At home, Ellie has asked to kiss the mezuzah (we have several) and at Yizkor on Yom Kippur, she was ready to rush the ark, shouting “See ’em Torahs?” during a moment of silence. At school, her teacher asked how our Sukkot was, and I said, with downward-cast eyes, “Very nice, thank you.” We hadn’t done much to celebrate it at home. OK, we hadn’t done anything to celebrate it at home.

When I was a kid, we celebrated the Jewish holidays with the traditionally appropriate festivities: seders, break-the-fasts, latkes, challah, matzah, etc. But we didn’t keep kosher or learn to converse in Hebrew.

I love being Jewish and part of the Jewish community, and I am glad I chose a preschool where Ellie can learn more than I can teach her. That’s the point, after all. It just so happens I will get more for my money than I bargained for when I enrolled her. I’ll get an education, too.

Nov 22 2011

Getting into New York City Kindergarten

By at 2:11 pm
kindergarten finger painting

Kindergarten looks great! I wonder if we can get in.

Three separate intelligence tests. Multi-page applications. Essays. Interviews. Tours. A list of achievements. Letters of recommendation. A one in 12 acceptance rate.

Ivy League university admissions?

No. New York City private school kindergarten.

And the public school process is no better.

Local, zoned schools are overcrowded to the point where even long-time neighborhood residents can’t be guaranteed a spot and are put on wait-lists that stretch into August. Unzoned schools hold lotteries due to overwhelming demand and turn away hundreds. Citywide Gifted & Talented programs last year saw over 1,000 children qualify for only 250 seats spread out over five different boroughs.

Getting your child into kindergarten in NYC is a year-long job that kicks off 12 months before they even enter the building.

And I am smack-dab in the middle of it.

You’d think, since I’m on my third child, I’d be an old pro at this by now. Why can’t my daughter just go to the school where her older brothers go? Read the rest of this entry →

Oct 26 2011

In Loco Parentis: Why Teachers Rule

By at 10:20 am
amadeus

Mozart probably never dreaded the parent-teacher conference.

In wine, truth (in vino veritas); and in parents, madness (in loco parentis). At least that’s what we teachers would joke as the season for parent-teacher (and sometimes parent-student-teacher) conferences hove into sight. Having gone from being a teacher with no kids of my own to being a parent with no teaching duties in the course of five short years, I can safely say that teachers are much healthier for children.

The truth is, parents have no perspective. And that is good and proper. Parents are hopelessly vertical, teachers hopefully horizontal. Parents are rightly obsessed with their kids and all their friends are seen through that prism. Ninth grade biology teachers see a lot of ninth grade students and, when they do their job well, as they often do, they can provide a lot of context about life as a ninth grader to parents as well as biological knowledge to students.

Parents and teachers are the adult representatives of the two great worlds of a child’s life: home and school. Being able to navigate each individually and between the two fluently is part of growing up and is just one of the reasons why homeschooling is, in principle, an extremely poor alternative. The intersection of those two worlds — the coming together of matter and anti-matter — is why older students dread the conference time of year and why parents and teachers alike greet it with fascination, hope, and dread in equal measure.
Parents give love and support but often our expectations are unmanageable. My own parents were wonderfully supportive over 20 years of education but I remember watching “Amadeus” as a teenager with my own father and him turning to me in partial jest and saying, “By the time he was your age, Mozart had written an opera and transcribed the Vatican’s secret mass, what have you done?”

Thankfully I had some ninth grade teachers who could tell him.

Oct 18 2011

Bring New Technology to Your School

By at 11:50 am

It’s hard to ignore the fact that today, technology plays a huge role in almost every aspect of our lives, from how we communicate with friends and family, stay up to date with current events, and get great parenting advice (wink, wink). Technology can also play a huge part in educating our children, though all too often, the technology in schools is out-of-date or sparse.

The Intel AppUp Center is currently holding a contest open to all parents who would like to get better technology into their childrens’ school. The Wired to Learn contest will offer tech packages worth $5,000, $10,000, and $25,000 to three deserving schools. They’re also giving away one netbook each week to celebrate technology and education, so gather up your lucky charms and enter to win today.

To enter your school into the challenge, all you need to do is tell a story about your school and drum up votes. The school with the most votes wins a tech package. Be sure to also check out the AppUp Center for all kinds of education apps that your kids can use on their home or school PC, including Britannica KidsCaillou Alphabet and Core Mind Master.

So if you’re ready to introduce the latest technology to your kids’ education, enter the Wired to Learn contest, and we’ll be sure to cross our fingers for you.

Note: This is a sponsored blog post. Kveller is a not-for-profit resource. Sponsorship revenue helps us provide Kveller resources free of charge.

Sep 22 2011

Schoolhouse Rock

By at 3:29 pm

Now we officially have a kid in school. She has a backpack and a notebook and a pencil case. She has a dress code. (She also has “her Didi,” the doll that she’s been surgically attached to since she was born–the sole blond-haired, blue-eyed doll among the massive geniza of dolls, stuffed animals, Wild Things, and other assorted non-Aryan companions that she could have chosen–which she brings to school with her every day, stuffed inside her shirt like she’s pregnant, a sort of reverse security blanket.)

But: She’s in school. And our lives will never be the same.

I mean, I’m happy for her. I’m happy. It’s good that she gets to spend more time around kids her age than she does around me and her mother, who listen to music that she suddenly Does Not Like (“What’s wrong with Rage Against the Machine?” I demand. “I want UNCLE MOISHY,” she protests) and teach her how to say such dramatically un-kidlike things as “Excuse me, what did you say?” when she didn’t understand what was just said (so cute! Such a great party trick!). All these things and more make her a stellar human being. But, admittedly, they ain’t gonna help in the preschool cycle of schmoozing and swapping lunches.

So, it’s good that she’s exposed to this. She’s happy, and I’m happy. But it also means that we don’t control her path of thoughts: How long until “Excuse me, what did you say” turns into “what the $#!%?” We need to be prepared. Last year when she started playgroup, the bathroom-alert “I have to pishy” turned into “I need to make.” To make? Who made my daughter ashamed of her natural bodily functions? Was she going to start calling her vagina down there? And what new mannerisms and phenomena would she be exposed to at this new, strange, dark hole of a kindergarten? There are three teachers. Their names are Morah Chaya, Morah Mushkie, and Morah Mussie. Aliens. I mean, they’re probably the nicest people ever, but their names still remind me of space aliens. And they’re with my daughter more than I am.

So here is what I do to compensate: I take her and pick her up when I can. I ask her every day about what she does there (which I realize {a} can turn quickly into grilling and {b} is exactly what my parents always did to me, to which I responded, every day for 12 consecutive years, “nothing”).

And I value the time we have together even more. When she comes home, showing us art projects, explaining in elaborate detail this game they play every day called (as far as I can tell) Squishy Squishy Applesauce, which does not appear to have any rules and which nobody actually wins but involves a big red circle and sitting in a row, I listen, riveted and spellbound. I thought I’d have to fake interest in her kinder stories, but there’s no need–everything is so damn loaded, from the snacks they get to her choice of activity partners (mostly it’s Mayanie, whose mom I’m developing a movie with, but I try not to pressure her). Okay, watching too much Doctor Who and cop dramas and reality TV, we become conditioned to think that only a certain kind of drama is really dramatic–shootouts, million-dollar corporate mergers, affairs. But hearing these life-and-death stories from the front lines of nursery school, I remember what real drama is. It’s when there’s one strawberry left and three kids ahead of you, and you really, really hope they all choose the other kind of snack. Read the rest of this entry →

Sep 13 2011

A Special Uniform for my Special Needs Son

By at 2:31 pm

We recently moved to Florida from Brooklyn. I grew up down here, so coming back shouldn’t feel like such a major adjustment. But it does, and I’m guessing that’s because all of my parenting experience up until now has been in New York, and I spend a good 80 percent of my time parenting these days.

I’ve been trying really hard not to focus on the things I don’t like about our new life, such as, for example, the eternal carpool pick-up line at my son Zack’s school. (Two-hundred SUVs and minivans idling for 45 minutes, every day? Really? They can’t come up with a more efficient system?). Instead I’ve been concentrating on the things I do like. High up on that list is the ubiquity of school uniforms.

Uniforms, generally khaki or navy shorts and a polo shirt, are required pretty much everywhere around here as far as I can tell—at public schools, private schools (including Zack’s Jewish day school), and even at my older son Benjamin’s tiny special ed program.

There’s a lot to love about these preppy little outfits, in my opinion. Not only are they totally cute, but they make getting out the door in the morning about a hundred times easier and wearing them means children have fewer opportunities to show off and compete. Read the rest of this entry →

Sep 8 2011

First Day of School & I’m a Nervous Wreck

By at 10:18 am

“You’ve got to calm down,” my husband said as we put the dirty breakfast dishes in the sink. “You’re making me nuts.”

It was the first day of school yesterday – the first day of second grade and first grade for my two older boys, and the first day of a new school for all of us. When my husband and I got married last year, we moved to a new home in our town…but, as it turned out, another school district.

But my husband wasn’t talking to the boys, who were busy exhibiting unusually calm behavior, putting on their new raincoats and adjusting the straps on their brand-new Batman backpacks.

No, my husband was talking to me. And rightly so — a casual observer could smell the nutty nervousness on me from a block away.

If we’re being honest here, I’d been nervous the whole week before. Of course, having no power until last Thursday, a now-8-week old baby in the house and having a “boil water” alert didn’t do anything for any of us in the relaxation department. But I’ll admit it – I felt like I was the one going to a new school, and I was scared.

My nervousness was an utter mystery to my husband. After all, he repeatedly pointed out, I actually wasn’t the one going to a new school – the boys were. He also noted that first and second grade have long passed me by. And moreover, the boys were clearly excited about their new school. Sure, they had a touch of nervousness, but really no more nervousness than any kid has before the first day of school, new or not. Read the rest of this entry →

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