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Monthly Archives: May 2014

The Truth About Teacher Gifts

There are many ways to thank a teacher.

There are many ways to thank a teacher.

The truth about teacher gifts is that all of them are appreciated but some of them are better loved than others.

When I taught at an inner-city school families would bring me homemade tamales, small figurines from the dollar store and fresh flowers from their yards. Sometimes the 8-year-old girls would come back from recess with bunches of Oxalis, a pretty yellow weed from the playground. These inexpensive gestures made me feel well loved.

When I taught at a school in an upper-class neighborhood families would bring me chocolate, homemade dinners and beautifully arranged photo albums with children’s letters. At Christmas and the school year’s end I would also receive over $200 worth of gift cards. Once again, I felt very well loved.

My point is, you don’t need to spend a lot of money to say “Thank you,” but if you do, that’s nice too.

There are many ways to show appreciation, but here is a no-fail list:

  • homegrown flowers
  • notes of appreciation–consider sending a copy to the principal
  • student artwork
  • store-bought flowers
  • gift cards

Notice I didn’t mention food.

Personally, I loved the candy, home cooked meals, and other baked goods I received from families. But that was me. Your child’s teacher might be on a special diet or have food allergies you don’t know about. It’s simpler to give her a gift card to Starbucks.

So what does my family give to teachers each year? We start saving early so that we can buy gift cards to Nordstrom’s. I owe my kids’ teachers a debt that can never be repaid.

Helping Kids Calm Down


Kids are under a lot of stress these days, especially at the end of the school year. Between homework assignments, late-night sports games and the ordinary trials and tribulations of riding home on the school bus, our kids are under pressure. Perform,  behave, be quiet; it can be very difficult to be a child.

A panacea to all of this stress is a good night’s sleep. But that’s easier said than done.

Can't fall asleep? Let's turn on your CD.

Can’t fall asleep? Let’s turn on your CD.

A while back I wrote a post called Bedtime CDs can lull your kids to sleep where I shared my family’s success using sleep CDs we had purchased for bedtime. One of the CDs featured was Sleep Solutions by Roberta Shaprio. She later emailed me and offered to send me another one of her CDs for free, in exchange for my honest opinions and review.

The CD I chose was Goodbye Worries, Guided meditation to train your mind to quiet your thoughts. It is excellent!

Unlike Sleep Solutions, Goodbye Worries is not a sleep CD per se. But it is extremely useful for winding minds down. It includes five tracks, an introduction plus four guided meditation activities.

I especially like how the CD focuses on sending bothersome thoughts away from your mind. Track #3 helps you imagine a barrier to protect yourself from worries.

Sometimes when you son or daughter is upset or stressed it can be difficult to know how to help. Snuggling up on the couch and listening to a CD like this is a great option.

Speaking out against corporal punishment

This is a cooking tool, NOT a way to teach your child.

This is a cooking tool, NOT a way to teach your child!

I’ve had two days now to think about The Helping Boys Thrive Summit. 98% of the conference was mind-blowing amazing. But it ended with a really disturbing Q & A session about corporal punishment. I felt like the panel of experts made light of a serious topic and missed out on an opportunity to educate parents.

My position is clear. There are better ways to teach children than by hitting them.

At the conference, Michael Gurian, founder of The Gurian Institute, did say that spanking to cause pain, spanking on the skin, and spanking with an object is child abuse.

Dr. Greg Jantz, a nationally renowned psychologist and founder of The Center: A Place of Hope, said his family used natural consequences, which I assumed was code for Love and Logic methods. Love and Logic is absolutely opposed to corporal punishment as well.

Today I did a quick internet search and found this article from CNN, Effects of physical discipline linger for adults, where Dr. Jantz more definitely warns against the dangers of corporal punishment. Scroll down to the bottom third of the text and you will find his opinion.

I believe that parents and especially Christian parents need to speak out against corporal punishment. We are living in a society were there are 660,000 copies of Michael and Debbi’s Pearl’s book in print. There are three copies avaialable at my local library!

Punching a tween boy in the chest and hitting him with a foot-long paddle is child abuse. Joking about it to a crowd of strangers is emotional abuse. Anyone who laughs about it should be ashamed.

If you are interested in exploring discipline methods beyond spanking, here are some affiliate links to Amazon to get you started. Most of these books area also available at your library.

Jesus, the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting (Little Hearts Handbooks)

Parenting With Love And Logic (Updated and Expanded Edition)

Parenting Teens With Love And Logic: Preparing Adolescents for Responsible Adulthood, Updated and Expanded Edition

Positive Discipline

Helping Boys Thrive Summit, Review


I went to the Helping Boys Thrive Summit with Michael Gurian and Dr. Gregory Jantz yesterday and it was AMAZING! I’m so glad I went!

But I left feeling disturbed. One dad shared with the Q&A panel that he disciplines his tween boy by spanking him with a foot-long paddle and even punching him in the chest. Then he laughed about it and implied that he wishes he could discipline his son’s friends too. The whole audience laughed with him, like it was a big joke.

In my mind, this isn’t funny at all. Washington’s own Hanna Williams died the victim of “corporal chastisement”.

Michael Gurian addressed the issue by clearly saying that spanking to cause pain, spanking on the skin, and spanking with an object is child abuse. But he didn’t come out definitively against spanking, even though research shows that spanking is ineffective compared to better discipline methods. (See Stop Spanking.org for more details.)

Dr. Jantz answered by saying that in his house they use natural consequences. I’m assuming that’s code for Love and Logic methods. Love and Logic is absolutely opposed to corporal punishment as well.

Kudos to Michale Gurian and Dr. Jantz for sharing, but I wish you had gone further. I am worried about those tween boys in question.

95% of the Helping Boys Thrive Summit was outstanding. I would highly recommend going. But next time, maybe they should invite L.R. Knost or Robbyn Peters Bennett to take a seat on their panel too.


Screen Shot 2014-03-07 at 4.24.02 PMClick here to join the No Spank Challenge


Merlin’s Nightmare, by Robert Treskillard

Merlin’s Nightmare by Robert Treskillard is the third book in his Merlin Spiral series. (For my review of book #2, Merlin’s shadow, click here. )

The premise of Merlin’s Nightmare is that Arthur is now 18 and just discovering that he is the rightful heir to Britain. Merlin struggles to let his adopted son grow up and make decisions on his own–which might lead everyone to their doom.

Anyone familiar with Le Morte d’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory is going to be in for a shock!

Treskillard has taken the original cast of the Arturian legend and reshuffled it.  Morgana for example, is now Merlin’s sister.

For my part, I read this latest Treskillard installment and thought “Werewolves? He added werewolves?” But I’m not such a traditionalist that it bothered me. In fact, I really think the author has freshened the legends up. Arthur is ready for new YA fans.

P.S. I received a free copy of this book from BookLook in exchange for my honest opinions and review.

I review for BookSneeze®

Set up a Sensory Reading Corner

A sensory reading corner

A sensory reading corner

Got a reluctant reader? Try turning reading into a sensory experience. Set up a corner with fidget toys, a cozy blanket, and a warm, weighted lavender pillow. Also works for stressed out moms!

This is a nice alternative to the other reading corner in our house, which is smaller and a bit more intimate.

A $20 net from IKEA makes a big splash!

A $20 net from IKEA makes a big splash!


Boys & Girls Learn Differently, Online Book Club: Chapter 1


Are you reading Boys and Girls Learn Differently! A Guide for Teachers and Parents by Michael Gurian? If so, I’d LOVE to hear your thoughts on Chapter one. Please leave a comment or question below.

First, a brief one-sentence synopsis of what this books is about:

Once parents and teachers understand how male and female brains develop differently, they are better able to educate children.

Chapter one opens with a discussion of MRI and PET scan research. There is a big chart showing every last part of the brain and how it often develops and reacts differently in boys and girls. This has profound implications in real life.

For example, research shows that girls often process emotions quicker than boys. If you and your daughter get in a fight over breakfast, she will probably have processed her emotions by the time she is at school and supposed to learn.

But for your son it’s different. After an argument at the breakfast table, his brain might stay flooded with emotions that he’s unable to process for a few hours. When he gets to school, the limbic system is the middle of his brain might still have heavy blood flow. His emotions could literally shut down the top part of his brain used for higher order content thinking–like math.  (Summarized from pages 19 and 31)

Let’s take this a step further. What if something happens to your son at school or on the bus that causes him to have an emotional response that he can’t process? By the time he walks through the front door, he’s already emotionally fragile. You, the parent, have no idea. You ask him to clean out his lunch box and he flips out.

Is that a reaction to Mom asking a simple request or is it a response to something that happened an hour ago at recess?

Hmmmmm… This parenting thing is tricky business!

What are your thoughts on Chapter one?


Boys & Girls Learn Differently, Online Book Club


Ready for some Mommy-Ed?

Right now I’m reading Boys and Girls Learn Differently! A Guide for Teachers and Parents by Michael Gurian and it is so fabulous that I want to tell everyone I know about it.

Here’s a one-sentence synopsis:

Once parents and teachers understand how male and female brains develop differently, they are better able to educate children.

I’m so impressed by Boys and Girls Learn Differently that I’m starting an online book club. If you’re interested in reading along with me, check out the book from your local library and stay tuned for future blog posts where you can add your own comments.

I’ve ordered my own personal copy from Amazon, but it won’t be here for two days. In the meantime I need to hide my highlighter. The copy I’m reading is from the library and I cannot contain myself from marking up important passages with a golf pencil.

Happily, on May 24, 2014 I’m attending the Helping Boys Thrive Summit in Edmonds, WA where I’ll get to hear Michael Gurian speak. I’ll be sure to blog about that as well.


Don’t be confused by Reading Levels


How do you know what reading level your child is on? For parents that’s a tough question but for teachers it’s easy.

Parents are bombarded by books from the library that all have their own system. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of these books are great. But “I Can Read” is different from “Step into Reading” which is different from  “Bob Books”. So saying your kid can read “level 2” is pretty meaningless. Level 2 of what?

Teachers are bombarded too. There are a gazillion ways to measure reading level. But if you have the right tool, it’s easy. Here are some examples:

As a former teacher/parent, I’m most interested in my kids’ Guided Reading Level. I even have many of our books marked. If my kid can read a book marked J, then I immediately know he’s at the J reading level.


But let’s make things even easier! Here are some guidelines to help you ferret out your child’s reading level in general.

Entering Kindergarten: Knows many letters and a few sounds.

Exiting Kindergarten: Able to read about 25 words. A good goal would be to be able to read Level 1 Bob Books.

First Grade: Able to read simple sentences. Not a lot of stamina. A good goal would be to read Bob Books Levels 2-4 or some of Dr. Seuss.

Second Grade: Working on stamina. A good goal would be to read “Frog and Toad are Friends” by Christmas, and “Magic Tree House” by June.

Third Grade: This is a BIG year! Third grade is when kids jump from “learning to read” to “reading to learn“. By third grade, kids should be able to read chapter books like “Ramona Quimby Age 8”.

Fourth Grade: Chapter books with deeper complexity. The books are harder and the critical thinking capabilities are too. Check out The CIA Approach for more ideas.

All kids progress at different levels. So don’t freak out if your child is progressing in a way that’s different from the spectrum I just presented. But if you do have further concerns, click here for help.

Happy Mother’s Day!


A very special “I Brake for Moms” column from today’s Herald: http://www.heraldnet.com/article/20140511/BLOG5205/140519986/On-Mothers-Day-heres-to-you-Mrs.-Bardsley

This is big for me, because normally I don’t share pictures of my children online.  But now you can see my daughter’s sweet face. Photographer Sofia Jaramillo did a beautiful job!

Understanding Sensory Processing Disorder

A hands-on lesson

My cast is off! Now I get this nifty brace.

Have you heard of Sensory Processing Disorder? It’s when the brain has difficulty receiving and responding to sensory input. (See a checklist here.)

Nobody in my family has SPD, but I did have a student with the condition. His mother had me read The Out-of-Sync Child by Carol Kranowitz, which really helped me become a better teacher.

I’ve been thinking about SPD a lot because yesterday my cast came off. Now I have two arms feeling two different things.

Just touching the skin on my left arm hurts.

A gentle breeze is extremely uncomfortable.

Lukewarm water feels hot.

I know that physical therapy will help with all of this. In the meantime, I’m getting a hands-on empathy lesson about SPD.

I only have one arm out of sync. I can’t imagine what it would be like living with your whole body feeling that way–or parenting a child who was dealing with that experience on a permanent basis.

Thankfully, there are resources available to help. Children with SPD usually qualify for Occupational Therapy through their local school districts starting at age three through IEPs.

Inside the reading nest.

Inside a reading nest.

In the classroom, teachers can help kids with SPD by:

At home, parents can share the Beyond Play catalogue with grandparents. It will have lots of good ideas for Christmas and birthday presents. (I sound like I work for the company but I don’t.)

A glitter wand

A glitter wand

One final note. Children who are gifted can also sometimes have sensory issues, but usually not extreme enough to qualify for an official diagnosis of SPD. If this sounds like your child, click here for more information


Sleep CDs for Kids

Can't fall asleep? Let's turn on your CD.

“Can’t fall asleep? Let’s turn on your CD.”

Unless your children are aliens you’ve probably had your share of trouble putting them to bed.

Now that both of my kids have CD players in their rooms, I decided to do an experiment. I purchased two sleep CDs hoping they would make bedtimes easier.

Indigo Ocean Dreams: 4 Children’s Stories Designed to Decrease Stress, Anger and Anxiety while Increasing Self-Esteem and Self-Awareness is a 60 minute CD for kids ages 6-12. It is a combination of stories, relaxation techniques and ocean music.

I can’t listen to Indigo Ocean Dreams without thinking of the Saturday Night Live “I’m okay, you’re okay, and gosh darn it, I’m worth it.” guy. It’s very New Age-y.

But guess what? The first time Jenna(4.5) listened to it she fell asleep midway through the second story. Easiest bedtime ever! Also, the story about an angry octopus could be very helpful with kids who struggle with temper issues.

The second CD is called Sleep Solutions (The Calming Collection). It’s actually for adults, but also appropriate for older kids.

Sleep Solutions has four tracks: an introduction, a track for deep sleep, and two countdowns for falling back to sleep after you wake up. It has a woman’s voice and some New Age music leading you through visualization techniques.

“Sleep Solutions” has four tracks: an introduction, a track for deep sleep, and two countdowns for falling back to sleep after you wake up. It has a woman’s voice and some electronic music leading you through visualization techniques.

A few nights ago I put on tract #2 for my son and he fell asleep in under ten minutes too. The track hadn’t even finished!

Now three days later, both CDs continue to work. I turn them on, lay down with my kids for about ten minutes, and they fall asleep fast.

I am so amazed by these results that I’m still in shock. Bedtimes just got 50% easier! 

A wrist update

My arms are now two different sizes!

My arms are now two different sizes!

Ugh! It’s still too hard to blog these days–at least up to my normal standards. Luckily my hand therapy appointments are helping. I can pick up a piece of paper now. Whoo hoo!

Here are my past two “I Brake for Moms” columns from The Daily Herald chronicling the situation.

My first ice skating lesson will also be the last

Broken bone an eye-opening, painful challenge

My cast comes off on Tuesday. But I have a long road of recovery ahead. As you can see from the picture my arms are now two different sizes.  😦

Body & Soul by Bethany Hamilton

Green smoothie time!

Green smoothie time!

Got a teen girl? If so, I have a great book recommendation for you. Body and Soul: A Girl’s Guide to a Fit, Fun and Fabulous Life by Bethany Hamilton is an easy read full of pictures–and so much more.

This book is about nutrition, exercise, and balance. The writers break down what it means to eat clean, and provide clear examples of great exercises you can do at home without any equipment. There is also a Christian theme, but not so intense that it would throw readers from different religions off.

As soon as I started reading  Body and Soul I immediate thought of a student athlete I know, and what a great pick this book would be for her. But once I saw all of the recipes I decided to keep Body and Soul for myself. I haven’t been this inspired to cook in a long time! I guess I’ll be buying an extra copy on Amazon when it’s released on May 6th.

P.S. I received a free copy of this book from BookLook in exchange for my honest opinions and review.

I review for BookSneeze®