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School Days

May 07, 2021

Hey Kids, Let's Have a Poetry Jam!

What’s the secret for firing up grade-school kids and making them eager to read and write poetry? Just ask Jill Corcoran, an award-winning poet and mother of three who runs art-music-poetry workshops at elementary schools in Southern California.

“The workshops have been amazing,” says Corcoran. “The kids go from looking at me like I am a space alien, to slowly participating in the workshop, to boldly sharing ideas, to creating poetry with confidence and pride. It’s a fantastic, dizzying writing session that culminates in a coffeehouse-like poetry jam.”

Here are Corcoran’s tips for creating a one-hour workshop that teachers (or parent volunteers) can do in their own classrooms:

Jill Corcoran’s Art-Music-Poetry-Jam Workshop

Suggested grades: 2 – 5
Time required: 1 hour
Supplies needed: Boom box with selected music, 11” x 17” white paper, crayons, pencils, Post-it notes, scotch tape

1. Briefly discuss the power of art, music and poetry to evoke emotion.

2. Give each student an 11” x 17” piece of white paper and crayons.

3. Have students listen to music for several minutes and then draw whatever the music makes them feel.

4. Give each student a pad of Post-it notes and a pencil and have the students form a line to walk around the room and look at each picture.

5.  At each picture, the students write the first word that comes to their minds on the sticky paper. They leave that word with the picture. Instruct the students not to write words like “cool” or “fun,” but to write nouns, verbs or strong adjectives.

6.  The students then return to their pictures to find 20+ words written by their fellow students.

7.  With their words and pictures in front of them, and the music playing once again, students create a poem from the words they have been given. (Once their poems are finished, have each student tape their Post-it-notes poem to the back of their picture. Otherwise the notes tend fall off.)

8.  Ask the students to read their poems aloud. At the end of the hour, each student has created a poem that reflects the music they encountered, the art this music evoked from them and the words their art evoked in others.

April 23, 2021

So Your Kid Was Rejected By Her #1 College Pick? Have Her Read This

Today I'm happy to welcome Rob Gilbert, Ph.D., professor of sport psychology at Montclair State University in Montclair, New Jersey, as a guest blogger. I love his perspective on college life, and I plan to save this post to share with my own son when he gets a bit closer to college age.

Dr. Gilbert is the author of How to Have Fun Without Failing Out: 430 Tips from a College Professor. And his blog offers great motivational tips for students. (Yes, he's a busy guy!) Thanks for joining us today, Dr. Gilbert!


You got the dreaded thin letter and found that the college you desperately wanted doesn’t want you.

Of course, you’re devastated—look at all the time, effort, and money you and your parents put into the whole college application process with guidance counselors, private college consultants, tutors, test-prep courses, college visits, interviews, essays, SATs, etc.

It’s not true that all your hopes and dreams are now destroyed. Your future is not over. Once I saw a poster that read, “It’s not the end of the road; it’s just a bend in the road!”

I’m not going to give you some Pollyanna-type pep talk and tell you not to worry. What I’m going to tell you is that wallowing in your misery is not the answer. You must regroup and refocus — starting right now!

Maybe I can help. I speak from over 40 years of experience. I’ve been on a college campus since 1964 — first as a student, then as a staff member, and for the last 29 years as a professor at Montclair State University.

However there’s one big mystery about college I’ve never been able to solve.

Why are students putting so much time, effort, and energy into finding their so-called “right” college, and so little time, effort, and energy into figuring out what their personal passion is once they’re in college? I see students devoting more time to determining where they’re going to spend the next four or five years of their college lives rather than concentrating on how they’re going to spend the next 40 to 50 years of their professional lives — in their careers.

And here’s a warning if you did get into the college of your dreams: Be careful of the “Yale Syndrome.”  Donald Archer, an expert in higher education and the author of “Cool Colleges,” reports that some students are so obsessively focused on receiving the “fat envelope” that getting admitted becomes an end in itself. Remember: Gaining admissions is not the end of the adventure — it’s the beginning!

The late psychiatrist and radio talk-show host Dr. David Viscott once said, “The purpose of life is to discover your gifts. The meaning of life comes from giving your gifts away.”The purpose of college is to find your gifts, to find your passion, to find your life’s work.

Right now stop regretting why you didn’t get into that school that was “perfect” for you and start refocusing on the future. Whatever college or university you’ll be attending in September, you can have a spectacular, life-changing experience there. There’s mounting research that shows that your future success is not determined by the college you attend.

However, no professor, advisor, or classmate is going to show you how to follow the yellow brick road to your passion. Sure, you’ll receive a lot of help, but it’s primarily a do-it-yourself job.

Where you attend college is not nearly as important as what you’re going to do once you get there. Here’s some advice for when you arrive on campus in September that’ll help you find your passion:

#1. Find out who the most passionate professors on campus are and enroll in their courses —regardless of what they teach or when the classes meet. I joke with my students that most of them probably would not take Religion 101 if it met at 8:00 a.m. even if it were taught by Professor J. Christ!

#2. The noted mythologist Joseph Campbell said, “Follow your bliss.” What are the subjects or activities that you find endlessly interesting? What are the things you like to do that energize you? Be a detective. Listen to your heart. Find what you love.

#3. Professor Joseph Renzuli from the University of Connecticut advises students to carefully examine what they loved to do as a child because this might give some insight into what they might really want to do for a career. Did you know that when they were kids, Sesame Street’s Jim Henson loved to play with puppets and Walt Disney loved to draw?

Of all the things you can discover in college, the most important is your passion.

Look at it this way: College is a fountain of knowledge. Some students come to drink. More come to sip. But most come just to gargle. Make sure you take a big gulp!

January 18, 2022

Zoned Out

As a mom who endured six years (egads!) of driving through our elementary school's drop-off zone before my son headed to middle school this year, I can attest to the fact that the parent volunteers there work tirelessly, day after day, politely encouraging parents to keep the zone moving and working hard to keep kids from being whacked at the kneecaps by their parents’ vehicles.

Dexter Ford's wonderful article, "Zone Master," appears in today's Easy Reader magazine, published  in the Los Angeles area. [Gotta love the cover art (left), too.] I have to share a taste of it with you, to entice you to check out the rest:

Every school morning at 8, give or take, you can find me standing, like a grizzly bear in cargo shorts, at the hilltop cul-de-sac where 13th Street meets John Street. Expensive cars, pickup trucks, minivans and SUVs, dozens of SUVs, climb like caterpillars up 13th Street, waiting their turn for me to open their doors, yank backpacks, science projects and cellos out onto the curb, and shepherd their giggling spawn into the schoolyard, hopefully without sustaining blunt-force trauma.

That last part is more of a challenge than you might think. If you have kids, and you enjoy scaring yourself, you should come up to The Zone some morning and watch...

To read the entire article, click here.

January 12, 2022

You'll Poke Your Eye Out!

The next time your kids complain about having to wear eye protection during sports, show them this:

More than 40,000 people a year suffer eye injuries while playing sports, according to Prevent Blindness America.

For all age groups, sports-related eye injuries occur most frequently in baseball, basketball and racquet sports.

The good news: Almost all of these eye injuries can be prevented by taking the following steps:

    ° Wear proper safety goggles (lensed polycarbonate protectors) for racquet sports or basketball.

    ° Use batting helmets with polycarbonate face shields for youth baseball.

    ° Use helmets and face shields approved by the U.S. Amateur Hockey Association when playing hockey.

    ° Know that regular glasses don't provide enough protection.

Of course, if the entire team wears the proper equipment, that goes a long way toward making protective gear cool. So talk with your child's coaches about this important safety issue.

November 29, 2021

Can Springsteen Lead Kids to Steinbeck?

Discussing song lyrics in the classroom helps kids connect with traditional literature, says a former high school English teacher turned literacy researcher at the University of Arkansas. Christian Z. Goering now hosts a Web site for teachers to share links between literature and lyrics.

Goering presented his work at the recent annual convention of the National Council of Teachers of English in a paper titled (gotta love this) “Springsteen, Steinbeck and The Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash: Connecting Music to Literature.”

But he's not suggesting replacing literature with popular culture in high school classrooms. “What I am suggesting is that we pair pieces of classic literature with contemporary music, allowing some of the natural, thematic connections to come to the surface and allowing our students to see these connections and the relevance to their own lives,” Goering says.

Music lyrics can be an especially effective hook, given the importance of music to teens. Goering cites a survey that asked which form of entertainment teenagers would take to a desert island.

Lyrics can serve as a bridge for students, Goering noted, from material that may be familiar or easily understood to classic literature that may be more difficult or challenging. For example, “California Sky,” by the Bastard Sons of Johnny Cash, takes listeners from “out in Oklahoma where the hard winds blow” on a cross-country journey that can open up a discussion of John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath.

“It is the process of reading one text while thinking of others that truly makes literature relevant to students’ lives,” Goering said.

Head on over to the site and click on the LitTunes Connections Database. Talk about a great way to start some interesting discussions with your kid!

November 27, 2021

Terrific Holiday Teacher Gifts

Tired of giving apple stationery, apple earrings and “#1 teacher” sweatshirts to your children’s teachers every holiday season? Imagine how the teachers feel! Here are some parent- and teacher-tested gift ideas that will really make the grade.

°    Think Outside The Classroom. “I like giving something that conveys that you know the teacher is human, too — not just a teacher,” says Las Vegas, Nevada mom Joy Hall. Think sports memorabilia (if you know the teacher’s favorite team), an addition to a favorite collection of bears, dolls, snow globes… The list can be endless if you or your child just happen to listen up when the teacher mentions favorite hobbies and activities.

°    Consider a Gift For the Classroom. As school budgets are increasingly cut, teachers are often asked to supply certain classroom items. So when her child was in kindergarten, Dorothy Foltz-Gray of Knoxville, Tennessee asked what classroom game the kids needed. “The teacher responded as if I were a saint!” she says. Another time, she gave a monetary gift, again to be used for classroom supplies. Jennifer Vena of Manhattan Beach, California gives goody bags full of classroom supplies — dry-erase markers, paper clips, post-its, overhead markers, etc. With many teachers spending their own money on these items, this is a welcome gift.

°    Make it Personal. “Have your child make something that shows how much the teacher is appreciated,” suggests Hall. Including a photo is a wonderful touch, she adds, and it will help the teacher to remember your child when she looks at the gift in years to come. A personal letter of appreciation, along with a drawing from your child, is something many teachers say they read over and over again — and keep forever.

Continue reading "Terrific Holiday Teacher Gifts" »

September 28, 2021

These Kids Jam!

I'd like to introduce you to three talented, terrific kids (and likely future entrepreneurs): Chase Shepherd (11), John Parducci (10) and Conor Range (10), all fifth graders at Grand View Elementary School in Manhattan Beach, California.

They weren't tough to spot. In fact, they could be heard for several blocks as they played their music during rush hour on a local street corner today — complete with a hand-made sign — and collected donations to benefit their school. The three gave credit to their music teacher, Ms. Amy Johnson, for inspiring them.

How much did they raise? After the first half hour, the take was "$10 — plus one lady gave us a Euro."

I felt inspired to feature them on Parent Talk because it was just so darned refreshing to see kids outside, making music, raising funds for a good cause and having  great time — without a TV or a video game in sight. Way to go, guys. (And you sounded good, too.)

Ms. Johnson, thanks for inspiring these kids and many others. Conor, John and Chase, thanks for making this mom's day.

September 17, 2021

I (Don't) Like "Flat Buns"

I don't know whether to praise Carl's Jr. for coming out with a teacher-free version of its "Flat Buns" commercial or to jump on the bandwagon and give them grief for producing the original ad in the first place.

As for grief, they're getting plenty of it from teachers, who were rightfully appalled at the ad, which showed a gyrating teacher dancing, stripper-style, to the rap song in front of her class, complete with pelvic thrusts. (Besides, it's such a rip off of Van Halen's "Hot for Teacher" video, they should be ashamed of their lack of originality. But that's another rant.)

Continue reading "I (Don't) Like "Flat Buns"" »

August 30, 2021

Let's Get Organized!

Ready to get the kids' closets in shape, organize all that back-to-school paperwork (and prepare for the onslaught to come) and make bill paying easier?

Check out my new article, "Get Organized — Fast! — for Fall," on Just click here. Then click on the yellow legal pad for a fun, 16-tip slide show featuring suggestions from professional organizers.

And please post your own organizing tips here in comments. Thanks!

August 28, 2021

Pass the Kleenex — and a Little Ketchup

It's hard for me to believe that my son, Matt, starts middle school tomorrow. Because, honestly, didn’t I just walk down that same path — yesterday?

I remember going on a weekend youth-group retreat in seventh grade and having such a major crush (are there any other kind?) on a kid named Dan that that weekend became a scrapbook page in my brain. (Dan was right up there with The Monkees in my book, if that tells you anything.)

I remember the girls giggling at lunch in the big camp dining hall while the boys turned their squares of Jello salad upside down and wiggled them — and the Jello never left the plate.

I remember deciding I simply must try ketchup on my scrambled eggs at breakfast because that's the way "Dan the Man" liked his eggs. And I remember dancing to Blood Sweat and Tears’ “Spinning Wheel” at the big Saturday-night dance — and then actually slow dancing with Dan (shriek!) while he sang The Temptations' "Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)" in my ear. Yes, Dan, you were quite the Romeo.

A few months later, of course, Romeo decided he was nuts for another girl (an eighth grader...) and, as he was standing outside the youth-group building, hemming and hawing about how to share this bit of news, he suddenly discovered he had other pressing business and ran off, yelling "I have to pee!"

Continue reading "Pass the Kleenex — and a Little Ketchup" »

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