Parenting is tough business. Advice and information from the front lines of raising children ...
Five classic books your kid (and you) should read
Anyone who reads this column has probably guessed that I’m a reader. However, my daughter shows limited interest and resists all my attempts to make her read a history of polio in America or the in-depth study of Scottish clan wars. To be fair, she is 7.
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Mixing oil and water
She enjoys fiction or, as she puts it, “made-up stories.” As much as I love history and science, there are fiction books that are almost required reading to live in our society. The good news is they are also fun to read. This is my list (and the list I will eventually go by for my daughter) of the five books your kid should read. Of course, as a parent, you’re the best judge for when to introduce these books.
"Tom Sawyer" by Mark Twain
Mark Twain was a master of the English language. He was able to paint characters recognizable on the street, and it’s hard to believe that Tom Sawyer isn’t a real person. The stories of Tom growing up are timeless – and your child will recognize bits of himself in his character, even if you don’t want your kid emulating his antics.
"Pride and Prejudice" by Jane Austen
This is one of my all time favorite books and I wish I had discovered it, and Jane Austen, far earlier in my own timeline. Austen had an amazing wit and, although it can be tempting to view this book as Regency-era “chick-lit,” the book provides an excellent view into the world of the gentry in England and role of women in society. The book also provides an excellent lesson in listening to both sides before assuming you know the whole story.
"Animal Farm" by George Orwell
The good news is this book is not long. You can throw this down before your kid without scaring him. The story itself is interesting how even the most seemingly noble of goals can go completely awry. And not just awry, but downright terrifying. Written as an indictment of Stalin-era Russia, this potent metaphor is well-crafted, beautifully written and simply engrossing.
"Foundation Trilogy" by Isaac Asimov
In college, I was stunned to look at the required reading for my class on international relations and see a science fiction novel … much less three. Beyond just a wonderful read, the book also discusses in an alternate universe the forces on a society from religion to merchants to violence. It also brings up what makes civilization, well, civilized. Yes, the books are science fiction, but Asimov was never one to let the constraints of a subject keep him from saying what he wanted to say.
"To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee
I actually questioned whether to include this in my list. It seemed such a “well …duh” moment. As shocking as it may seem, some people haven’t read this book, and those some people may include your child. This should be rectified as soon as you think she’s up for the issues discussed in the book. The injustice portrayed and Atticus’s unwillingness to be a part of it is both the worst and best of our nation. Beyond just that, it's the story that captures us as we see the horrifying events through Scout’s innocent eyes.
Now, of course, this might not be your list and maybe one or two of my books aren’t even on your “read if stranded on a desert isle and there’s nothing else to do” list. It’s hard to pick five books every child should read, because there are so many excellent books out there. Having your child read as much as possible opens them up to not only reading these classics, but making a “five books you must read” list of their very own.
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Giving the perfect (teacher) gift
Some years, you just luck out. You meet your child’s teacher and you think, ”wow, this is going to be great.”
And some years, you don’t.
Let me first say that this column is by no means autobiographical. So far I’ve been one of the lucky ones and I’ve thoroughly liked and respected all of my daughter’s teachers. But the stories are out there about parents and teachers who are like oil and water.
If you find yourself in a difficult relationship with your child’s teacher, here are some tips to make the best of the situation. Maybe you won’t be inviting them over to dinner, but you can make sure your child is getting the best education possible.
Is it personal or professional?
No one is going to like everyone— and those that try end up miserable. There are people who you just aren’t going to like, and some of them might be teachers. Even if you don’t like them personally or they just rub you the wrong way, don’t take those personal feelings into the classroom. Instead, look at how the teacher conducts her class. Is your child learning, and how does your child respond to his teaching methods? You may not want to be “BFFs” with the teacher, but you can respect and admire the work they do.
Avoid the “special snowflake” trap.
Let me just openly state that there is no child in the world as wonderful and amazing as my daughter. And no child is as wonderful and amazing as yours — to you. That’s part of our job as parents: to think that our kids are the best thing since sliced bread. And really how great is sliced bread anyway? But don’t let this blind you to constructive criticism, suggestions , or disciplinary actions provided by your child’s teacher. The fact is even our perfect angels tip a halo now and then. Given the time your child spends at school, chances are your child’s teacher will be one of the first to catch our angels in a devilish act. As hard as it is to hear negative, or even not so positive things about our kids, don’t blame the messenger and ruin a productive relationship with the teacher. Making your child into a “special snowflake” won’t help your child’s teacher or your child get the most out of the school day.
Don’t put your kid in the middle.
OK, so you don’t like the teacher. Your child should never know this. Even if you don’t like the person, don’t agree with the homework, don’t understand the test questions, keep these remarks and opinions out of earshot of your child. You may be on equal footing with your child’s teacher, but your kid isn’t. In the classroom, that teacher deserves your child’s respect, and if you undermine this authority at home, dollars will get you donuts that your child is disrespecting his teacher in the classroom. Keep all conversations, whether emails, phone calls, or conferences, private and between you and the teacher.
Sometimes, it may be best to go to the source, and you may need a face-to-face discussion with the teacher to sort out an issue. No matter how upset you might be, maintain a respectful and cooperative attitude when talking to the teacher. Try not to come in with a list of accusations, but be sure to ask all the questions you need answered.
Ask for help.
However, sometimes there’s a situation that can’t be solved between just two people. If the situation is not improving and you’re not feeling heard, there are people in the school system to help. You can talk to a parent liaison, a guidance counselor, or a member of the administrative staff. It’s important to always keep in mind that I have yet to meet a teacher, principal, or education professional that doesn’t want every child to succeed, from the trouble makers to the goody-two-shoes. A third-party can help provide clarity, explain procedures, and open communication paths. They can also help to create a solution that makes your child and you happy.
Your child’s teacher is a big part of your child’s life, and, by the same token, yours. This relationship is one you should try your best to make work effectively and peacefully for the sake of your kid. Like any relationship, it’s going to take work and understanding. Just have plenty of both on hand.
It used to be that my least favorite person to buy a gift for was my dad. He’s notoriously impossible to shop for — his needs are few, his wants even fewer, and his penchant for just going out and buying whatever he decides he really does want is immense. This was before I had a child. Now, my least favorite gift to find is for her teacher.
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Invasion of the holiday snatchers
The commonality of the common cold
Bringing back the family dinner
The hidden benefits of crafting
Be a good sport
The fact is that although your child spends an awful lot of time with her teacher, you do not. Honestly, I don’t know my daughter’s teacher’s eye color. I respect this teacher immensely, think the world of her abilities, and can’t imagine a better person to guide my daughter’s learning during the day. Still, I can’t tell you her favorite color, what music she likes, or all those things you hope to know about someone before finding them a holiday gift. When my daughter first started school, and I realized I should probably give her teacher a gift, I decided to poll some teacher friends about what they liked and what they didn’t like. I’ve come up with some good solid rules that help me tackle this gift that should be given.
Put down the apples.
Yes, we get it. It’s an apple for a teacher. But you know who also gets it, and has gotten it year after year, and probably from the day he announced his intention to become a teacher? Your child’s teacher. Every teacher I know has a closet full of apple-themed gifts, from mugs to picture frames. I know your intentions are good, and the stores are constantly pushing even more apples with “#1 teacher” on them, but leave them on the shelf. Chances are not everyone giving teacher gifts will read this advice and many won’t take it, so I’m betting even if you don’t succumb to apple-mania, some child’s parent will. So it’s not like your favorite teacher will go without.
This goes for pencils, too.
In fact, have the apple rule go for all “teacher” gifts. Pencils, pens, desk, anything that screams “This was specifically made to be given as a teacher gift by a student.”
Make a clean getaway.
My mom always told me to never give gifts that have to be displayed, unless you know the person exceptionally well. The fact is most of us just don’t know our kids’ teachers well enough to pick out their home decor. Some good presents are no further than your local bath shop. Fine soaps, bath beads, or nice hand lotions are a great gift that no one has to hang up on the wall. You can also check out Etsy.com for hand-crafted items that are a little off-beat and fun, such as soap shaped as desserts or even Legos.
Give the gift of yum.
If the teacher has a sweet tooth, this is a great time to give chocolates, cookies, and holiday candies. And you can always think beyond sweets toward fruit baskets, jams, and other food gifts. If your teacher needs a jolt in the morning (and I can’t think of anyone who has to get up as early as they do who wouldn’t), put together a gift of a French press coffee maker and some really good coffee beans.
Warm them up.
Each cold morning, when I drop my daughter off at school, I see teachers shivering as they greet the students. Scarves, warm mittens, and other cozy gifts can’t come at a more perfect time, as the cold weather is just getting started. Stay away from items that contain common allergens like mohair and angora unless you know the recipient is not allergic.
It’s in the cards.
Sometimes, nothing really feels right, and this is when it’s time to turn to your gift card. You can give gift cards to pretty much anything, from Starbucks to your neighborhood movie theatre. I have yet to meet a teacher that doesn’t love an all expense paid trip to the bookstore.
Giving a gift to someone as important to your child as their teacher shouldn’t be hard, but it is. However, beyond all of these ideas, the most important gift you’ll give is the recognition and gratitude you express to the person who is helping you raise a well-rounded and educated child. Make sure that you include a note of thanks in whatever gift you give. Chances are those words will mean more to that teacher than whatever you put in the box. Unless it’s really good chocolate.