Send anyone this way to read along, but for permission to reprint, please contact Gail.
© Gail Underwood Parker

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Caring Heart: A Happy Halloween

This meditation is not included in my book of meditations, but was in an earlier draft. This is for all those parents whose children are afraid. There is hope.

Today is Halloween.  I am filled with memories of when she would not even look out the window when trick-or-treaters rang the bell. Years went by when she would not, could not, enjoy going out herself, too frightened of the ghosties and goblins, however short and giggly, that roamed her familiar street.  There were so many years when he could not even go to the car once it was dark without someone holding his hand, so terrifying were the night sounds, the whispering leaves, the shadows around and within him. I wondered if they would ever have the joy of this rite of childhood, so burdened with anxiety and fear that the very thought of Halloween events terrified them.

But tonight they are going out. They are in costume and ringing doorbells. Thank you for leading them through that emotional darkness step by step to this night. What a joy to trade my old fears for the "normal" ones.  Protect them Lord.  Keep them safe from any thoughtless person jumping out to scare them, or any friends tempting them into misbehavior.  Help them be children at last. Amen.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Quick Takes: Halloween for older Kdis

In my house children are declared too old for door-to-door trick or treating in 8th grade.  This is because Halloween tends to be a risky night for teens to have fun and yet stay out of both danger and trouble.  Sooo... After they stop whining and arguing I have had to offer alternatives.  Sometimes they are content to dress up and be the one to answer the doorbell and pass out candy to the little tykes.  Sometimes that isn't enough and we invite between 3-6 friends over for a Halloween party here at my house.

My favorite thing is to let them stay up eating popcorn and watching scary movies [within rating limits] and eating Halloween foods, and so forth.  The favorite movie alternates between the spoofs of scary movies and a really old scary movie... "Wait Until Dark."  It stars a young Richard Crenna, Alan Arkin [not Adam, Alan], and Audrey Hepburn. The kids generally grouse until the movie gets going.  Despite themselves, they get into it as the tension builds and invariably scream and jump at the moment of peak surprise. [It's not as scary on a small screen as a movie theater screen, but if you have a good sized tv it can still make you jump!] Another favorite is Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds" which although lacking in today's CGI effects, can still make them shiver and comment on birds on telephone wires even months later. If you have no teens, head to a local video/DVD store and check these out yourself!

Image credits: and

Friday, October 29, 2010

Anything Can Happen: Spooky Story Contest!

For today's Anything Can Happen boredom buster I offer you a Halloween project for your adolescents, teens, or the family as a whole.  Create your own spooky tale explaining  how this bike got into the tree, when, and what happened to its original owner. Who are the two children etc. etc.  This is a popular sight on Vashon Island for those visiting the Seattle Washington area.  For closeup views you can google images: "vashon bike in tree." If your adolescents struggle with writing, be their secretary.  Just to make it a bit more fun I'm making this our first ever contest!....Send your entries to me and the winning entry will receive an or iTunes gift card.  Pencils ready?   Go!   [Deadline:  November 10th]

Image credits: and google images: vashon bike in tree

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Parenting Tips: Halloween Treats to Eat

In the spirit of keeping older kiddos happy on Halloween, we tend to try new crazy recipes for Halloween themed goodies.  I found some really fun ones online on other people's blogs this year so decided to share them with you.  If you click not on the picture, but the name of the treat it will link you to the site of origin.

Mummy cookies... The full recipe is on this site, but I made them with regular sugar cookie mix and they worked fine. Mini chocolate chips for eyes, and drizzled white frosting for the "wrapping." Full directions and pictures of the process are on the link.
This blog site is a great one for clever, simple ideas to do with kids and families even on a tight budget.

On another site I saw green frosting covered "nutter butter" cookies with black licorice "toenails" to make ghoulish looking ogre toes.  The ideas are endless... go crazy!

Spirited Spooky Jugs...
I got this idea based on a decoration tip in Disney's online Family Fun article. [check the link!] and on the same blog as the mummy cookies.  Since I wanted food ideas not decorations I started with the same jug idea but instead of putting lights inside.. I filled each with bright orange punch.  They both decorated the table and served the beverage! Since we use a ton of milk, all I needed to do was remember not to recycle them yet, and have the kids go to it with the black markers!

Witch's Hands: These are also from the Making Memories blog. You really do have to check it out! I warn you that the food ideas will make you gain weight just reading them they look sooooo good! The link gets you to the directions for making these gloves, but they are really easy and inexpensive to do. The bright spot with these is that they are mostly healthy [What's a few candy corn fingernails between ghosts, right??]

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Soapbox: Halloween..a World Model?

So, I have been trying all week to find a blog entry I happened on almost a month ago. I had copied it down when I found it and emailed the person hosting the blog asking permission to link to it, or use it as part of today's but no answer. I tried searching for it. No luck. Maybe like that TV-season of Dallas it was all just a dream? Determined that the original poster get credit I finally googled the entire first two sentences. Success!  You can click on the title to see the original blog post. Do your own observation this weekend as trick or treaters come to your door and let us know what combinations you see! I hope you agree that his humorous yet pointed version of "can't we all just get along" is worth a soapbox this week.

The best thing about Halloween to me is that it illustrates just how stupid prejudice of any kind truly is. You go into the bank and you’ve got Count Dracula chatting it up with a teller dressed as Sponge Bob Square Pants – they’re getting along just fine. You’ve got a woman dressed as Sara Palin waving hello to a couple of drag queens, who may or may not even be dressed up. You see nuns and hookers going to Halloween parties together, Osama Bin Laden and George W Bush standing side by side handing out Halloween candy. Somehow we manage to set aside our differences for this one day a year to exist in perfect harmony. Why can’t we do that for the other 364 days of the year?

Credit for image and "guest blog" to rogersbroadcasting

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Focus on Fostering: Unhappy Halloween

Happy Halloween is anything but for many foster children.  They become increasingly anxious as the holiday approaches.  Fearful of violence, frightened of blood, still suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, Halloween is a minefield of risk for them emotionally.
If this is an issue for any of your children, be sure to alert their school teachers, especially if the child is older and teachers might include scary stories or spooky activities.  Talk to your child about the holiday and what they might expect.  If it is a severe issue, make a plan that will give your child a way to avoid Halloween parties, etc. while still saving face socially.  They need an out until they are able to cope with the frightening aspects of Halloween.

If your child has NOT shown any problems, but is new to your home, keep in mind that Halloween may present problems, increase fears, or spark unhappy memories. Be alert to moodiness, changes in behavior, etc.  Keep the child/ren involved in helping you prepare for the holiday in ways that are non-threatening and can normalize the holiday. Be flexible. Give them space, support, and understanding.  Remember the book I recommended in my post on October 5th? Review the W.I.S.E. way they can handle reactions or questions from their friends.  Forewarned is forearmed.  Be prepared and you are more likely to enable them to have a real "Happy Halloween."

Image credit:

Monday, October 25, 2010

School Bell: Math in Moments

Many children struggle with math, even become math phobic.  Learning disabilities often make math much more challenging.  Take advantage of little moments to make math review fun.  The kiey is to use short time spans to focus on a particular math skill. Because the time is short, the emphasis can be on fun, keeping the stress low and developing a habit of success and painlessness.

See how many multiplication facts your child can get right before the stoplight turns green.  [Addition or any other mental math works well.] Try keeping track to see what the highest is during any given trip, week, 5 miles, etc.

Dish Swap:
The person washing dishes quizzes the person drying.  When s/he misses a question they switch positions until the next question is missed.  [This can be done with siblings of different ages by using different levels of math problems.]

Round Robin:
[Example with 3 people] Person A asks a question of person B, then B asks one of C, then C asks one of A, etc.  This is especially nice since there is no penalty at all for a wrong answer. The circle just continues.

Image credit:

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Caring Heart: Ethnicity and Teasing

This meditation was written for foster and adoptive parents whose children struggle with those who continue to have narrow definitions of "family" and prejudice on top of that.

They are teasing him.  Children can be so cruel.  It used to be just person questions.  "Why are your parents white and you're not?"  "Are you adopted?" "Why is your face so different from your parents?"  Then it became mocking his eyes, her hair, anything they could point our as different.  Now it is flat-out name-calling.  Cruel, mocking names.  Names that he doesn't even understand, but she knows from the tone of voice that they are taunts.  Knows the words are meant to hurt.  They do hurt.  Ease her pain.  Soothe his wounded heart.  Bless the cruel children with an understaning of what it is like to be different. Bless this child with a determination never to be cruel, to be different, to make a difference.  Give this child strength from that determination.  Heal his heart. Amen.

Excerpted from "The Caring Heart Speaks: Meditations for foster, kinship, and adoptive parents" by Gail Underwood Parker

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Quick Takes: Easy Halloween Costumes

Have you been so swamped lately that you are suddenly caught with a Halloween costume your child must have and little time or money to put one together?  If you are not into Martha Stewart level costumes, here are three cheap, quick, and simple ideas that have been fun hits for my gremlins over the years.

Cards:  [$2 per child] great for groups of kids
Use sheets of white poster board.  Make each posterboard into the face of a playing card.  If artistic go for the face cards, if not aim for the number cards. Use rope, ribbon, or shoelaces to string through two hole you make at the top of the card to hang the card around the neck. [Keep the holes a couple of inches away from the edge.] This is particularly fun if you have a group and can go as a pair, three of a kind, or maybe even a "full house."

Turtle: [$2-3] great for younger children
Use dark green or light brown posterboard as a base or use markers, finger paint, poster paint, or even crayons on regular posterboard or even cardboard. Use two pieces and cut them into ovals big enough to cover the child from neck to knees [or ankles if the child is small]. Make the oval for the 'top shell' a couple inches larger all around than the smaller 'underbelly' one. Using pictures paint, color, or decorate one for the top shell and the smaller lighter color one for the underbelly.  Dress the child in green or black turtleneck [sorry for the pun] top and pants. A hooded sweatshirt is even better! Put holes at the shoulders and each side of the waist.  Use ribbon, string, orfshoelaces to tie the shells together loosely at each side and at the shoulders.  If you do this carefully your child will be able to "hide" inside the shell but pulling it up to cover his/her head.

Laundry basket: [$4-5] good for older kids 
Buy a super cheap plastic laundry basket or use one that can be thrown away afterwards. Cut a hole in the bottom for the child to step into so that the basket can be pulled up to hips or waist. Make two loops with string or rope , one for over each shoulder so the child doesn't have to hold the basket up. When the child is ready to go fill the basket around the child with towels, pjs, pillowcases etc, hanging some partly over the side like an overfull laundry basket.

What are your favorite last-minute costume ideas?

photo credit:

Friday, October 22, 2010

Anything Can Happen: Bike

Note: Today is Anything Can Happen Day and I hope that good things are in store.  At 6:15 this morning I headed off to South Carolina for a Writers Conference where I hope to make some connections for my two books in progress. I hope all of you will wish me luck for the next five days of travel and workshops.  I have pre-written my blog entries so there should be no interruption, but keep your fingers crossed for me!

Today's image is a most unuusal bike design.  When I taught in public schools I used to be struck by all the single shoes and sneakers that would appear in the lost and found.  How does a student arrive with two shoes on and somehow go home with only one?  While this bike may not explain the phenomenon, it may offer a use for all the unmated shoes!

Image credits:,, the dailydave

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Parenting Tips: Scientists Walking

Fall is all around me today and here in Maine that means that the woods are changing every day.  Whether you live in a region with changing leaves or palm trees, sidewalks or fields, take your children on a walk to a tree and teach your child to REALLY see.  Children and parents don't need to know all the scientific terms and labels to make scientific discoveries in a tree.  Try these tree activities comparing trees or even just observing one with a tree in the woods, a park, or a backyard. Your children will be stretching their mental muscles and having fun at the same time!

Shape- oval, fingered, round, or narrow.  Edges- smooth, saw-toothed, jagged, shallow or deep "lobes". Veins- a rows or branching out. Joints [stem to branch]- single leaf or clusters of how many. Condition- solid, lacy, mixed. "Visitors"- leaf miners [winding trails on the leaf], bumps [insect eggs], cobwebs.

Shape- flat or round. Joints [needle to branch]-single need or clusters of how many, pattern or random. Color- solid, striped, same or different on front and back. Cones- visible, size, shape, closed, open.

single, central, or branching. Bark- color, texture, smooth or sectioned. Hitchhikers- on, under, [mushrooms, fungus,lichen]. Invaders- holes [from birds or bugs?], bark scars [blackened lumps, "scabs" over broken or cut spots], holes around base or in base.

tree stands alone, "babies" under branches, variety of ages nearby, natural, planted

spongy, hard, needles, leaves, moss. ferns. flowers, grasses, landscaping, natural

Don't forget to teach your kids the value of leaving nature undisturbed.  Don't pick leaves, needles, bark off the tree. Use what has fallen, or draw, or photo "specimens." Some kids may even want to start a science tree journal or a collection.  Remind them that what they did is what adult scientists do when they are observing and categorizing plants and trees of all kinds.

P.S.  Consider visiting the same tree again at a different time of year and compare the two observations.  Have fun!

Image credit:

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Soapbox: Domestic Violence Month

Some stats:
--1 in every 4 women will experience domestic violence in her lifetime.
--1 in every 3 women who are homicide victims are killed by an intimate partner
--an estimated 1.3 million women each year are victims of physical assault by an intimate partner.
--1 in 6 women and 1 in 33 men have experienced an attempted or completed rape.
--intimate partner violence results in more than 18.5 million mental health care visits each year.
--the cost of intimate partner violence exceeds $5.8 billion per year, $4.1 billion of which is for direct medical and mental health services.
-- each year approximately 324,000 pregnant women are hurt by an intimate or former partner.
--the leading cause of death among pregnant women is murder.
-- each year there are 16,800 homicides and 2.2 million medically treated injuries due to intimate partner violence

And what about the children??
--30%-60% of perpetrators of intimate partner violence also abuse children in the household.
--every 35 seconds a child is abused by domestic violence or neglect 
--each year around 900,000 children are confirmed as abused by domestic violence or neglect.
--Witnessing violence between one's parents or caretakers is the strongest risk factor of transmitting violent behavior from one generation to the next.
--Boys who witness domestic violence are twice as likely to abuse their own partners and children when they become adults.

Enough said??

Image credit:

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Focus on Fostering: Hoarding Food

One of the most common issues particularly common among children in foster care is hoarding food.  [I learned quickly not to buy Halloween treats early!] When you realize how large a percentage of those children often went to sleep hungry, or unsure of their next meal no one should be surprised at unusual food  behaviors.  You may find children sneaking food on the sly. They may gobble entire boxes of cereal, cookies, or crackers.  You may discover stockpiles of food under their pillows, behind their bed, or in their closets. This can become extremely difficult…. Especially if you live where mice or roaches are a concern!

The food problem often spills over into school, causing problems socially for the children. Lunches or snacks may go missing. Your child may report not having a snack because they ate it the moment they left your house. Their locker may become a storage spot for accumulated food.

A few strategies… label a food container in the frig with the child’s name and keep it filled with food [healthy choices] they have permission to eat anytime they want. Do the same with a container of assorted crackers or snackpacks on the kitchen counter or shelf. If you cannot break them of food in their room, teach them proper food storage and give them safe containers for the food they want/need to keep handy.  Some people have even had success giving the child a small backpack with apples or fruit snacks that they can carry with them, so they know they always have food available.

If weight or nutrition becomes a problem, you may wish to get your child professional help in addressing this, as this is likely to be rooted in their pre-memory fears and experiences of childhood.

Anyone have other ideas to share?

Image credit:

Monday, October 18, 2010

School Bell: Parent Conferences - 4 more tips

Last Thursday I offered some tips on preparing for parent-teacher conferences. Hopefully you already kow roughly how your child is doing academically through report cards, progress reports, maybe even phone calls or notes added to what your child may say.  You have your list ready, right? So what do you DO at the parent conference?

1. Check perceptions.
Do you and your child's teacher have the same impression of your child's abilities, performance, and social skills? Good or bad, if they match, great! If not, find our why.

2. Exchange information.
Go over the topics on the list you prepared. Give the teacher permission to skip over what you already know [report cards etc.] unless they have extra information. Listen to any new or additional information or concerns the teacher has. This is an exchange to get everybody up to speed and on the same page.

3. Make a plan.
This is the key part of the most helpful conferences.  Together, using the information you have shared, you and the teacher together should come up with a specific plan to maintain or improve your child's school experience, academically and socially.  Aim for specific goals or strategies. Example: If your child struggles on tests, are there unit outlines, checklists, etc. available for you to use to help?  Can you make flashcards? Can the teacher suggest a good study buddy or good match for a friend? Are there ideas the teacher would like you to share with your child for getting along better?

4. Plan for a followup.
If there are concerns, your plan should include a way of checking back in to see if things have improved.  If all seems well, agree on a way to communicate if things start to slip.

In the best conferences both sides feel heard and understood and the child's success is supported.  For best results the parent-teacher conference should be only one of a series of conversations during the rest of the school year and every year. What are your favorite tips for good parent conferences???

Image credit:  

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Caring Heart... Emotional Fatigue

Today's meditation was written for foster, adoptive, and special needs parents, but as I reread it, I think it applies to all parents at one night or another. You reach the end of your rope long before the end of the day, and just feel so desperately overwhelmed. If [or when?] that is you... I hope this helps.

Emotional Fatigue

Dear Lord, My well feels empty. I have to dig down deeper and deeper within to find the emotional strength to keep going. The toll on my body and my heart sometimes seems more than I can bear. It is like a never-ending grief, mourning for these children whose lives can never be what they should have been. I weep that I cannot wave some magic wand of love over them and make the whole and unscarred. It seems so unfair. It is so unfair. I teach them that fair is not equal. Fair is giving each what each one needs. Why can't I seem to give them what they need? Why does it never seem enough? Fill me. Refill me. Take away the melancholy of grief and rejuvenate me with new energy. Give me energy for love and for action and for them. Fill my well. Amen.

Excerpted from "The Caring Heart Speaks: Meditations for foster, kinship, and adoptive parents" by Gail Underwood Parker

Saturday, October 16, 2010

QuickTakes: "Kids List" 1-10

For years I have had a "Kids List."  I wanted a fancy name  or a cute name or a symbolic name, but so far all I have come up with is "Kids List."  Think of a "bucket list" [things to do before you kick the bucket] but not as depressing.  My "Kids List" is things I wish all kids could get to experience before they are grown up and move on to independence.  Some are easy, some short. Some are for little kids, some won't happen [or shouldn't happen] until much later. But if I could wave a magic wand I would give each of my kids all 304 of these experiences before they leave my nest. [Yeah, I tried Nest List but that didn't sound exciting either.]

             Kids List #1-10

  1. Milk a cow
  2. Learn to swim
  3. Learn to sew on a button
  4. Carve a pumpkin
  5. Visit a national park
  6. Go to a country fair
  7. Look inside a manhole
  8. Stay in a hotel
  9. Ride a subway
10. Hold a seastar [starfish] in your hand

So about once a month my Quick Takes entry will be from my Kids List. Hope you try some of these with your kiddos.  In fact, maybe some will be new even to you!

Photo Credit:

Friday, October 15, 2010

Anything Can Happen Day: The Differences between boys and girls

I know you probably were worried when you saw the heading... but fear not, this is not about "The Talk." I raised five daughters, then raised a group of four: two boys and two girls.  That was my first experience raising boys.  I observed some differences way beyond toilet seat positioning. Here are four:

fighting ....   Boys fight hard.  Girls fight mean.
running....    Girls run so they can do a cartwheel.  Boys run so they can crash into something [or each other].
"gross" eating ...  Girls chew up their food and open their mouths with a slice of tomato over their teeth. Boys chew up their food and open their mouths filled with a disgusting mosh of food
Teens dressing up ...   Girls fix their hair, fight for more makeup, and put on something pretty. Boys tuck their shirt in, maybe even a shirt with a collar.

So do these match your experiences or are they just peculiarities of my crew? What others have you noticed to add to the list?  Chime in!

image credit:

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Parenting Tips: Preparing for Parent Teacher Conferences

Most school have an opportunity during the fall for parents to meet with their child's teacher to get progress information. Too often they can be simple reviews of paperwork, grades, and testing you have already seen.  As a former teacher, I prepared ahead for each child's conference deciding what I wanted to share and what I wanted to ask. If you want more out of a parent-teacher conference you need to do your homework and also be prepared.  Here are 5 idea starters.

1. What can you share?
Give your teacher the home perspective. Is your child stressed or happy about school? Is there anything happening to him adding stress that may impact the school? Does she have specific anxieties or concerns the teacher needs to know?

2. How is homework going?
Is homework a battle or a breeze? About how long does it take him to do his homework each night?  Does she work independently or need a lot of help?  

3. Bring specific questions.
"How is she doing?" is less helpful than "What area does he need to work on?" "Who does he usually buddy up with for team projects?" instead of "Is she getting along okay?" Be sure to ask the teacher's minimum and maximum time expected on homework per night [and what you should do if it takes longer].These can help you be more effective helping your child with both studying and social concerns.

4. Be willing to tackle tough stuff.
If your child has shared anything that concerns you, bring it up to the teacher!  Maybe he has reported other kids cheating? Maybe she has talked about bullies at recess?  Maybe the bus driver seems mean to your child? Does the child think the teacher is fair? Why or Why not? The parent conference is a good opportunity to bring those concerns to the school's attention.

5. Make a list.
Having a list of key things you want to cover or questions you want answered is one of the best ways to be sure you don't get sidetracked during the conference.  Most conferences are limited to around 20 minutes. The teacher will have information to share, so take the time to write down your priorities and bring them!

P.S. A compliment is always welcome if deserved! More tips on conferences next Monday [School Bell section].

Image credit:  

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Soapbox Derby: Hope, Empathy, and Joy.

I was planning to talk about the state of children without a voice, but I can't rant pessimistically this morning when the Chilean miners are being rescued as I type.  For weeks upon weeks they and their families have been on the minds and in the prayers of hundreds of thousands of people as they waited so so far below ground, literally entombed in the earth, helplessly waiting for others to rescue them. 

Theirs is an unusual rescue mission.  No U.S. heads of state spoke on their behalf to their captors. No celebrities manned a telethon to raise money for the recovery effort. Yet crews from countries around the world raced to the scene in a demonstration of the world-wide "family" of miners. Reporters joined family members camped around, trying to maintain a semblance of normalcy in a totally abnormal situation. 

The world so desperately wanted a happy ending. I don't want to jinx it, but for at least some of them it is happy already and hopefully by the end of today all will be safe.  Empathy has been in full bloom as so many of us have tried to imagine what it was like for the miners below, what it was like for the family above, for the workers drilling around the clock, for nations there and here following this unasked for experiment in survival of bodies, minds, and wills. I celebrate that so many around the world joined in so many faiths asking for a joyful end, reaching out and empathizing with people they will never know, much less meet. Most of all I celebrate a world that found and held tightly to hope.   
image credit: and

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Focus on Fostering: Reteaching Love

Children in care sometimes seem like bottomless pits of need.  You can tell them you love them and show it, but they still may not trust that love.  Given their losses it is no surprise. So how can we change that?  Slowly and tirelessly.  We need to be able to continuously work to teach them what real love is by our words and our actions and by always labeling the words and the actions for them.  a

One of my favorite tools is to tell them love stories every night as I put them to bed.  Sometimes I read a story. Sometimes I tell them the story of how they came to me and how we welcomed them and all the ways we love them.  One of my favorite books to read them is by author and illustrator Todd Parr.  He has written a series of wonderful books that are short and easy to read, but powerful to really understand.  The first I recommend is  The I Love You Book. This book is all about the way parents give unconditional love whether kids are happy or scared or shy or friendly.  As a foster parent I wish Parr had included an angry child, but other than that it is a wonderful way to say what love is in a story. You can add things yourself to fit your family and your situation.  The illustrations are colorful, bright, and simple enough to be welcoming to young children.

Another book of Parr's that I like to recommend is his The Family Book.  This is a great book to teach a wider definition of family.  Kids in care often feel "odd-man-out" as they are not in what they think is the "typical" family.  The Family Book opens up the idea of family to include all kinds.  Using clever illustrations from the animal world [still with his simple, colorful outline style] he includes all different combinations of families. But the best part is that he keeps emphasizing the ways in which these different families are the same in the way the care for each other and love each other.  This book is NOT just for non-traditional families, it is for every family, so that children grow up with this wider acceptance of the variety of families in today's world.

Thank you Todd Parr!

Photos: from

Monday, October 11, 2010

School Bell: Homework Wars part 2

Last Monday we talked about a way to use a timer to organize homework into 15 minute homework sessions. This week addresses older kids who have more homework, often from several different teachers each night. [This may also be useful for younger children who have learning challenges that make 15 minute assignments take between 30-60 minutes.]

Homework Battle Weapon #2 "Put it Behind You"

Recognize that often the reason kids can't seen to settle down to work on their homework is because they are totally overwhelmed by the amount they feel they have to do. [Haven't you ever been frozen by inactivity when you have so much to do you don't know where to start? I have!] Even if they start working, they are unlikely to be able to focus effectively, due to the distraction of knowing how much they have yet to do. Try these six steps to putting it all behind them.

1. Don't let your children pile all their homework on the table or desk in front of them and start in. [All too soon their heads will be on the table and they will be whining the "I can't do t

his!" or "I'll never get this done" theme.]

2. Quickly go over with them what they have for that night and pick one thing to star
t. Put the other materials in order of priority [top to bottom] and put them behind your child, out of their sight!

3. Let your child go through 2 five-minute cycles [see weapon #1 from last Monday's post] or work independently for 10 minutes. If they finish the assignment before the 10 minutes skip to step 5.

4. After the 10 minutes they must stop working and put that assignment at the bottom of the pile behind them. Not finished?--If
there is time at the end, they can come back to it and do some more.

5. Take the next assignment [the next one in the stack behind them] and start a new 10 minute stretch.

6. Continue repeating steps 3,4, and 5 until homework time is over. If you do homework in more than one chunk, just pick up where they left off when they start the next homework session.

--- No more spending all the time on one subject and never even starting the others.
--- The children learn to tackle one thing at a time.
--- The teachers find out what the child can accomplish in a 10-minute chunk.
--- Every subject assignment gets at least some attention.
--- Less whining!
--- The children feel more in control of their work, not overwhelmed by the quantity.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Caring Heart Speaks...A Party Invitation

Sundays are reserved for discussions of faith and for meditations on the challenges of parenting and in particular parenting foster, kinship, adoptive and special needs children. Today is a celebration of a kind other foster parents will relate to, or parents of a child with challenges or special needs... the day they get a real invitation to a friend's party.

A Party Invitation

Dear Lord, She got invited to a birthday party today! I was beginning to think it would never happen. Oh, she got invited when she was in preschool, when you have to invite everybody or nobody. But since the years where it starts being selective....nothing. Please let this party work for her. Help her fit in and find some friends. Help her feel that she belongs. We worry so much about whether our children will choose to surround themselves with good friends or risky friends. We forgot to worry about whether they would be able to surround themselves with friends, whether they would even have a friend. Thank you for the parents who included her in the invitation list. Thank you for the child who included her. Open the eyes and hearts of the children at that party, Lord, and let them see all that is good and precious in her. Help them see, and open the circle to make room for this child. She needs friends. Be with her. Amen.

This is also a meditation from my new book The Caring Heart Speaks. It is supposed to be available on Amazon, but it is still failing to show up. -sigh- For those concerned about gender issues, in the book I alternate gender pronouns, so just change it to fit you need.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Quick Takes.... Kids Easy Corn Chowder

I start my kids making dinners early so that by the time they are grown they have a whole repertoire of meals they're comfortable making. Right now I have three kiddos still at home [12, 15, and 18] and each is responsible for making & cleaning up supper one night every week. This is an easy, cheap take on an old New England classic and the basic version is one of the first meals they learned.

Basic Version: Fancy it up a bit:
1-2 cans of creamed corn batch of basic version
1-2 cans of cooked potatoes ADD:
2-4 cups milk dried minced onion
salt, pepper, parsley [or saute fresh!]
parsley flakes or chives cooked bacon,
broken into bits
Empty creamed corn into cooking pot, saving cans. Drain off potato water from potato cans. Cut potatoes into chunks and add to pot. Fill each empty corn can 2/3 full with milk. Stir to get corn residue into milk then add the corn/milk to the pot. Mix corn, potatoes and milk. Heat over medium to low heat until heated through. [Stir occasionally.] Sprinkle salt and pepper only as needed for taste. Add parsley flakes or chives for color and garnish. Serve.

For fancier versions add any of these options:
[Great for older, stove safer kids.]
1. Saute fresh onions [or used dried flakes]. Add to chowder
2. Substitute fresh parsley and/or chives.
3. Cook bacon, crumble into bits and add to chowder.
[Ready to use bacon works fine too.]
Remember to leave this out for vegetarians!!

Note: For young children, everything can be mixed together in a bowl and then just poured by a grownup into the cooking pot. Also, you can use more milk or less depending on your taste, just as you can change the potato chunk size depending on your taste. The two pics above show the range and with and without bacon versions.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Anything Can Happen: Art Linkletter* calling

I happen to be currently parenting several children who struggle in school. It has made me very aware of the difference between book smart and street smart and how I.Q. tests are hopelessly inadequate. Every once in a while one of my kiddos comes out with something that shows an insight that isn't test-measurable but belies some of the negative assumptions I have heard.

Latest... a dinnertime question. "If you were stranded on a desert island what one thing would you want to have with you?" One child said his PlayStation or computer. One child named a friend. The other looked at the other two and said "I wouldn't take either of those." "What would you take?," the sibs asked. The answer was give with a "duuuhhhh" expression as if we were all quite foolish [and perhaps were]. "I'd want to have a boat, silly."

Not earth shaking, but Friday's are Anything Can Happen Day on my blog, so you get what you get...:-)

*[OK, the reference to Art Linkletter definitely dates me... old. Not quite ready for carbon dating yet, but it is the only type of dating I am likely to experience. So, for you young'uns... Art Linkletter had a show where he would interview kids from 4-7 years old or thereabouts. His goal was to take advantage of a child's lack of filter and by asking them questions, thoroughly humiliate and embarrass the parents on national, albeit black and white, television. If you need a good laugh, get his book of some of the best on interlibrary loan: Kids Say the Darndest Things. You'll find that a lot of it is absolutely timeless!]

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Parenting Tips: Enjoying the Stillness

This morning it was foggy when we all woke up and the world was still for a moment.  Not long, because of course the bus would come fog or not, breakfast needed to be made, fog or not, and children will argue, fog or not.  But for a moment the world was still.  It was a deliciouos stillness and made me wonder whether I have done a good enough job of teaching my children to enjoy stillness. I don't mean sitting still, physically still, although that would be a challenge for several of mine.  But in this case I mean the stillness of sound.  I am resolving to challenge my children [and myself!] to find a time in each day when we can be still.  No phone, no iPods, no video games or Wii or TV. Not even fun family games.  Not even happy noise. Not even prayer or meditation. Just a time to be still.  To hear the way fog mute even the sounds of nature. To hear the tiny sounds of a building when the people inside are still. To find that stillness consciously each and every day.

I started googling for pictures of stillness and discovered an abundance of rural images, water images, and the like.  Finding city images of stillness was more difficult.  I found a home interior painting titled Stillness in the paintings of nick patten [check them out!]. I found one of the stillness of a night watchman in the UK. I even found one of a particularly determined office worker finding stillness amid chaos. [This last was in an article about a computer app that sends you a reminder to take a moment to be still!] The popularity of calendars, photos, and paintings of nature's stillness shows that we can even lose ourselves in the image of stillness. But I think finding stillness in some way is probably a crucial skill and one which we need to deliberately teach ourselves and our children. Children are born able to lock out the world's noise and find stillness.  We seem to lose that ability as we age. We need to recapture that ability to make a small island of stillness amid the world's noise.

So, no nifty strategy this morning.  No trick about chores or homework or stopping sibling arguments.  Just a tip that I need myself. A tip that in our noisy world, our hectic lives, we need to give our children the experience, the resource, and the joy of stillness.  That we should not wait until a blanket of fog descends on us as reminder, but as a regular, healthy part of life. Join me?

photo credit:

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Soapbox Derby: America's Shame

Ok.. So today is soapbox day.. opinions and guests.  No guest today, but opinions for sure.

Today I ask you to share your opinions about what I consider America's shame.  Not the only one, but the one that I live with the effects of every day. First a story: Years ago there were a large number of Korean orphans available for adoption.  Not now.  Now it is very difficult.  Do you know why?  Because the South Korean people decided that it was a matter of national pride.  They decided that letting people from other countries step in and adopt Korean children sent a message to the world that South Korea was not able or willing to take care of its own children. They weren't proud of that message and so they decided they would take care of their own.

I know American children are not being adopted by out-of-country families... at least not yet.  But, neither is America doing a very good job of taking care of its own children.  There are currently over 510,000 American children in foster care. Yes, more than half a million!  Check out these statistics from

If nothing changes.... by the year 2020
--22,500 children will die of abuse or neglect, most before their 5th birthday
--more than 10.5 million children will spend some time in foster care
--more than 300,000 children will age out of foster care, some in poor health and many unprepared for further education or entering the job market
--75,000 former foster youth who have aged out will experience homelessness.

Is this how America values its children? These children need a ground swell of outrage and support.  How can we start?
I know many of those who visit my site are already former or current foster parents, but not all.  Ideas anyone?  Chime in!!

photo credit:

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Focus on Fostering... A GREAT Resource Book on Questions

Last week I talked about how I handle the "Why can't I live with my mother?" tough question. The answer I offered works, but there is another answer. It is totally fair and smart to teach our children that just because someone asks a question does not mean they deserve an answer! Some people [not just children] seem to feel they have to right to know anything they want. Not so!

As foster parents [or adoptive], we owe our foster [or adoptive] children a way to shut down intrusive questions. We must teach them that they have a right to privacy. They desperately need us to teach them how to insist on privacy in a socially safe way. The Center for Adoption Support and Education, Inc. has developed a simply wonderful program that does just that.

Written by Marilyn Schoettle, "W.I.S.E. Up!' teaches foster children four specific strategies for managing tough or awkward questions. It also offers practice in deciding which strategy to use for which questions. Children are helped to decide individually what questions make them feel uncomfortable and which are ok to them. The organization publishes a fabulous teaching workbook ("W.I.S.E. Up Powerbook"] which you can order for $15.oo that explains the whole plan to children.

They also publish a full color fold out "W.I.S.E. Up Pocket Guide" brochure
[$3.00 each] that reminds kids of the four strategies. These materials can be ordered in a version for foster children or a version for adopted children. Check it out and look at some sample pages at (under their C.A.S.E. store) or on The strategies work for anyone trying to head off impolite questions, but foster and adoptive kids are often asked particularly painful ones.

Monday, October 4, 2010

School Bell: Homework Wars..part 1--Time out!

Mondays are now reserved for school topics.... Today I am starting a series on hints for helping win the homework wars. Clearly it has to be a series of Mondays because no one solution can eliminate all homework battles. [If you know the perfect solution.. write the book and you will soon make a fortune.]

Homework Battle Weapon #1... Time out!

When children begin having real homework they often have bouts of fearfulness and insecurity. Some children are luck and need little help. Others need a great deal of support to be successful. So, how do you balance giving helpful support and encouraging independent work? Invest in a timer! If your child is easily distracted do NOT get one like in the picture... the ticking will keep them from ever getting anything done. But you don't need a fancy one, just on that can accurately show minutes individually so that your child can see the time dwindling away. This strategy works best if you start it as soon as your child has any homework... even a coloring page for a kindergartener! Explain to your child that you are there for help, but they need to work some by themselves too. Show them how to use the timer to mark the four-part cycle:

1. First 5 minutes : The child does as much as they can. They skip the parts they need help with and go one to do as much as they can alone. [During this time in the beginning you can sit at the table or stay in the same room with them for reassurance, but doing something of your own because they are not to interrupt you for help in this section.] If they ask, just remind them to circle it so you can help them with it in the next 5 minutes.

2. Second 5 minutes: Come over and sit next to them. Help them with any of the ones they had to skip. Explain each step to them as you walk them through the harder ones together so they learn how to do it themselves.

3. Third 5 minutes: The child goes back to working independently. [They can still skip ones they get stuck on, to return to later.]

4. Fourth 5 minutes: The child gets a 5 minute break from homework. Have them physically get up from their desk or table and move around a bit. Maybe get some fresh juice or water from the kitchen, or grab a couple of carrots or apple slices, go to the bathroom.... whatever.

Repeat as needed. The 5 minute breaks will teach your child to give themselves physical breaks so that they can stay better focused the rest of the time and be fresher. It teaches them to wait to get help... a key skill in the classroom as well as during home homework. If frees you from constant barrage of help questions and yet allows them to feel your presence, support, and be able to count on getting your help during that part of the cycle.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

The Caring Heart Speaks... First Night Meditation

Sundays are reserved for discussions of faith and for meditations on the challenges of parenting and in particular parenting foster, kinship, adoptive and special needs children. Not that we who do that would ever feel overwhelmed, or helpless, or frustrated, or lonely, or in need of help! Noooooo. Anyway... For a while I will be including meditations from my new book The Caring Heart Speaks. It is supposed to be available on Amazon, but for some reason it is failing to show up. -sigh- One more thing for me to address sometime. I thought it fitting to start with my meditation for the first night with a new child in the home.

The First Night

Oh God of all, you have brought this person into my care tonight. He is sleeping now, but what will he be tomorrow? Will he be timid, angry, sad, frightened? Will he understand what is happening to his life? He is supposed to be with parents who will love and care for him until he is grown. What has happened in his life that makes that so impossible? Will he understand why he is with me and not those he believed would love and care for him? Give him strength and comfort, Lord,for all that has been and for all that is to come. In the midst of emotional turmoil and so very much change for him, give me the words that he needs to hear. Guide my actions that they will comfort and guide him through this transition. Strengthen me for the days ahead whether short or long, few or many. Give me the resources to be what this child needs, and to provide what this child should have had and has not. Be with me, Lord. Be with his family. Be with him. Amen.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

QuickTakes: Creative Rewards 1-5

Friday Quick Takes... lists, book reviews, recipes. Today's entry is a list of five unusual ways to reward your child for good choices or good behavior. Nothing on today's list is extra calories or extra expense so give them a try the next time!

1. First choice of seats at the table. [Even head of the table.]

2. First choice of seat in the car. [Except driver's!!]

3. Control over who sits where for dinner. [Everyone must be gracious and pleasant regardless of who they are put next to by the one in control.]

4. Control of the television remote. [Set a period of time of your choice.]

5. A One Chore-One Time free pass. [Kids love watching you do their chores.]

If you are a crafty person, you can make certificates for each of these that they can hang onto and "cash in" when they choose. Kids love that. You can even post the certificates in a reward basket or bowl so kids can see them and be reminded of the rewards that are available for good behavior.

Send me some of your best, most unusual rewards... especially if they don't cost much and aren't food.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Anything Can Happen: You ever feel like this?

This is a deliberately built upside down house in Poland.. one of a growing trend of architecturally planned upside down houses.

Me? I don't need an architect... I don't need to plan it.... I just let my life happen and any day I expect my house will end up like this one! How about you???