How to Have Celebrations in Peanut Free Schools

Do you work in a peanut free school?  As you may know, there are many food restrictions in order to keep children with life threatening allergies safe.  This can pose a challenge to the rest of the school community when it comes to what to eat for lunch and snack.  So planning a holiday celebration or special event that centers on food can be especially difficult when no homemade baked goods are allowed.  This does not mean you can’t have your class parties, however! 

How Do I Hold Celebrations in Peanut Free Schools?

1.  Create a list of alternate activities.  Food does not have to be the focus.  Kids enjoy simple crafts, coloring sheets, and seasonal themed games.  You can find many ideas online, purchase materials at teacher’s supply stores, or even delegate finding these activities to involved parents in the PTO or “room mothers.”

2.  Create a list of possible “menu items” for the party.  Fresh fruits are always safe, and most cheeses are too.  Make these the staples of the snack selection instead of baked goods and candies.  Create a sign up sheet for parents to volunteer for bringing in items.  This will avoid having too much or too little of any one item.

3.  Supplement the fruit and cheese by checking the labels of snack foods like chips and pretzels.  It’s very important to read the ingredients instead of searching online for “safe” brands, because manufacturers can change plants and stop being “peanut free.”  Also be aware that any food that says “may contain traces of peanuts or nuts,” because these are unsuitable for peanut free schools.  Add these foods to the sign up sheet.

4.  Ask the parents of children who have peanut allergies for ideas.  Because they are used to 24/7 meal planning that excludes all traces of nuts, they are a wealth of information when it comes to what is or isn’t safe. 

5.  Invite parents to the party.  You can help make the party safer if you have extra adults lookout for food items that “slip through the cracks.”  If you invite ALL parents, you may be lucky enough to have the parent(s) of the child(ren) in your class who have the allergy.  They can be a valuable resource to have on hand. 

6.  Keep a positive attitude around the children and other parents.  Some people are less understanding than others about how crucial it is to keep the classroom nut free.  If parents complain, educating them about anaphylaxis related deaths can help them understand.  For children and parents, deflect complaints by saying “we’ll have plenty of food, we won’t even miss the other stuff.”  It’s a party, so have fun.  Good luck!

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How to Give Homework Help to a Child (For Parents)

Does your child get frustrated with their homework quite often? Are you not sure how to help them? I teach fourth grade, and these are tips I give parents who are not sure how to help kids with their homework.

Ask your child's teacher.
Every teacher is different just like every parent is different. Your child's teacher may have expectations that differ from mine. Your goal is to make sure your child is meeting HER expectations.

Learn how assignments are recorded in class.
Does your child's teacher distribute assignment sheets daily or weekly so you know what your child needs to do? Does the school provide notebooks where assignments are to be copied by the children? Find out the system, and ask your child to look at the assignments. If the school does not provide an assignment notebook, it might be helpful to provide him or her with one.

Find out how often and how much homework is supposed to be assigned.
Knowing the homework policy will help you keep tabs on the amount of effort your child needs to put into their work to meet the expectations of the school. Some schools assign homework every night. If this is the case, but your child tells you "I don't have any homework tonight," on more than one occasion, check in with the teacher to see if your child is missing any work. It's better to work this out after a week than to find out on the report card about missing work.

Help your child create a homework routine.
You can help your child get into a routine habit of completing their homework by setting a consistent time when they start it. This might be right after school, after an extra-curricular activity, or after dinner. You can create this schedule with your child to help him or her feel more responsible. Some children are able to tell you that they need a break after school, or just want to “get it over with” right after school, or that their single favorite show is on at a certain time so they’d like to start it after.

Enforce good homework habits.
You can help your child focus on their homework by providing a quiet, well lit, comfortable study area with paper, pencils, and a dictionary. Hannah Montana rarely contributes to homework research, so the TV is best left off. :) Some children benefit from taking a snack or water break after 20 minutes of work.

Be hands-on.
Some children need more parental assistance with homework than other children. If your child completes they work with minimal coaxing, check completed assignments. If your child needs help starting work, look at homework assignments in the agenda with your child. Read directions on worksheets or the textbook page. If your child is has questions about how to start, do two problems or questions together, (as long as your child's teacher allows this!) then observe your child doing the next one or two. Praise your child's efforts. If questions arise about the assignments, and your child asks for help, ask him or her questions or work through an example rather than simply providing the answer. By releasing responsibility, you will help your child be successful, as well as allow them to become more independent.

Make your child's teacher aware of frustration or confusion.
For some kids, saying "I don't understand" or "I need help" is intimidating, and sometimes they just don't know how to ask for help. Write the teacher a note on the attempted assignment to let her know it was difficult. The more specific you are, the better the teacher can assist your child.

Make sure the assignment is packed and ready to be handed in!
Make sure your child's name is on the paper. Also, make sure that the assignment is packed in the school bag along with related books and notebooks as soon as homework is done. It's embarrassing for a child to tell their teacher "I forgot my paper at home" because they left it on the kitchen table. Packing the night before prevents forgetting in in the confusion of the morning rush.

Make Ups
Find out your school's policies about handing in late work, as well as obtaining and handing in homework in the event of an absence.

Ask to look at homework once it has been marked and returned.
This lets your child know that you care about how much they learned. Keep in mind that assignments may not be returned the next day, but most teachers do give assignments back on a regular basis; the papers don't just disappear.

Be consistent.
Asking your child specifics about homework (such as asking to see the assignment sheets and asking to see completed work) does more than show that you care about homework. It also shows them that starting, doing, completing, and submitting homework is a process. Following the process each night will help your child be more successful practicing the skills he or she learned in class.  Good luck!

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Prepare Easy Snacks for Kids (For Parents)

You want your children to eat healthy, but we're all very busy. Here are some healthy snacks I've seen my students bring that look relatively easy but still healthy.

Pack a mozzarella cheese stick.
The cheese is pre-wrapped. All you need to do is purchase, tear one off, and put it in a lunch bag!

Choose an apple.
Apples aren't just for teachers. The reason they're so popular for busy people like teachers is because they are healthy, provide quick energy in the form of natural sugars, AND they are easy to pack! The apple skin is all the wrapping it needs, so hand one to your kid and they're off!

Bag some popcorn.
Popcorn that has minimal butter and salt is healthier than chips, but just as convenient. Buy prepackaged/popped bags of popcorn or pop your own to save money.

Go nuts!
Provided your child has no allergic classmates, nuts make a healthy, filling snack.  Just check with your child's teacher first to be sure the classroom isn't "Nut-Free." 

Get plastic spoons with yogurt.
Keeping plastic spoons around along with cups of yogurt makes this an easy snack.

Bag some grapes.
Grapes require no cutting, just washing and a bag.

Give kids some choice.
These snacks are quick and healthy for kids. Try asking them which of the above choices they like best. By involving children in the process, they're less likely to trade an unloved snack for one you didn't plan on them eating. Good luck!

Final Thoughts:
•    If you child prefers bananas or oranges to apples, they're just as easy. No packaging necessary.
•    Some kids like bagged dry cereal to snack on instead of popcorn.
•    Some kids bring bagged baby carrots instead of grapes.

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Stop Correcting Homework: A Directive and a Rationale

My principal has asked us to consider the purpose of homework.

That's easy.  Homework is for children to practice what they've learned.

Then he asked us, "Then why would you grade homework?" (other than the fact that it's a district requirement to have a homework grade on the report card)?

Well, I guess I grade homework:
1.  To see if the child is putting effort into what he or she is learning
2.  To see if the child does better at home than in school (although that can either indicate test anxiety or that the parents do it for them)
3.  To see if the child needs help the next day

"Stop grading homework!"  He told us.  Well, more like read it out of a magazine.  But his point was made.

His argument for not grading homework:
1.  Homework is a chance to practice.  So if the child is doing just that, why would we punish them for getting things wrong with a lower grade?  A lot of times when we are learning something new we don't get it right the first time.
2.  If a child understands the concept well, why should s/he have to do 20 problems about it?  If they demonstrate that they understand the concept but forget their homework, why should that lower their grade?
3.  You (teachers) should not be bringing home piles of homework to correct.  It's not fair to you.  And the kids don't look at it anyway.  So really, what is the point?  It's better for them to get immediate feedback on it by looking at a few problems the day it's due, not the day after (or a week later, depending on how swamped the teacher is).

It's an interesting philosophy, and one I'm of two minds about.  I'm not sure how to adjust to the new policy without chaos reigning.  As I see it, here are the pros and cons:

1.  Duh, less homework to correct each night!!!
2.  I have been torn when it comes to grading certain kids.  Every once in a while I get a REALLY bright student who just marches to the beat of a different drum.  I know they know how to do the work.  But whether it's laziness, or they don't have the stamina to write as much as the task demands, or they're forgetful, or they're just plain oppositional, they don't hand in homework.  Then they take the test and ace it.  What do I do?  Based on the work they do they nearly fail.  Based on the depth of their understanding they could nearly skip a grade ahead.  So they get a grade somewhere in the middle that doesn't reflect what kind of student/learner/thinking they really are.

1.  If there is no consequence for forgoing homework, a lot of kids won't take it seriously.*  They won't do it.
2.  How do I keep track of work ethic without a check, check plus, check minus or 0 in my rank book?  Again, our report card has a separate section for homework grades.  How do I arrive at a grade for it?
3.  It's one thing to correct spelling and most math problems with the children.  But what about a writing assignment, which is so individual to each child?  How do we efficiently correct this in class? 

I'm really unsure about how to make the switch. 

*Then again, he didn't say there should be no consequence!  Just not a grade.  Come to think of it, maybe a consequence would be more of a deterrent than a bad grade to a lot of elementary aged children.

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How to Choose a Child Care Center for your Preschooler (For Parents)

Do you need to know how to choose the right child care center for your preschooler? You want your child to be safe, have fun, and learn while you are at work. Not all early childhood education programs are created equal, however.  Besides cost and location, the quality of the program and the talent of the staff are also important to your child’s academic and social development.  If you need to find a preschool or child care center for your young child, follow these steps to help you make a sound decision.

Ask the director of the child care center if their facility is has NAEYC accreditation.
The National Association for the Education of Young Children has set criteria for sound educational practices for preschool children.  They check early childhood education programs who apply before granting them accreditation.  

Ask to look around the classrooms at the child care center so you can check out the environment.
Are there lots of words, numbers, and letters on the walls? Is there children's artwork displayed on the walls? Are there photographs of the preschool children hanging up? This is all evidence of quality early childhood education programs that show a commitment to literacy, number sense, and building children's self esteem.

Ask what is served for snack.
If the child care center director says "juice," ask what kind. At the preschool where I worked, "juice" was actually powdered drink mix. Choose early childhood education programs that promote health and nutrition for children.

Ask what time, and for how long nap time is.
Some early childhood education program facilities have a set time, and others are more flexible to the parent's wishes. Be aware of this if your current nap schedule is working well for your child, and decide if the child care center director changing it would help or create a problem.

Ask to meet your child's preschool teacher, and then ask her about her class.
Be general; don't grill the preschool teacher. Let her do the talking. This way you get to see how warm and enthusiastic (or not) she is when talking about her preschool class. For preschool children that's one of the most important qualities in a teacher that will make a difference, not, "What skills do your early childhood education programs emphasize for children aged 2.9?" Those are questions you can ask the director, who is the instructional leader of the child care center who sets the curriculum.

Ask to see the curriculum.
Some early childhood education programs have "themes." It can be fun for you to extend your child's learning at home. For example, if there is a "safari week," you might bring your child to the zoo the weekend before. The more experiences your child has early on during his or her preschool years, the more connections to future learning he or she can make!

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How to Improve a Child's Behavior (For Parents)

Do you sometimes feel as though your child is more in control of how your time together goes than you are? Some children are difficult to manage, and others seem so easy. This can be frustrating. I've taught children in preschool, third, and fourth grade, and I have some tips on how to manage childrens' behavior.

Make your expectations known.
Children behave better when they know what your expectations are. If a child runs around the grocery store and you say "that's it, no candy," usually a tantrum starts. This is because the child is frustrated. He is probably thinking something like "I didn't know I could get candy! What was I supposed to do?"
Instead, tell a child BEFORE you arrive somewhere what EXACTLY what behavior you expect of them. Remember, kids don't know it all. It's up to us to teach them what "Now, behave!" means. "When we go in the store, I want you to stay close to my cart. Walk, don't run. And you need to keep a quiet voice. Leave things on the shelves."

Rewarding your child is OK!
Rewarding is somewhat different from bribing. A reward is something that you'd like to give your child anyway. It is small, and reasonable. In the above example, after you set your expectations for behavior in the grocery store, let your child know that you have a cookie for them in the car if they behave and do those things. Bribing your child that he can stay up an hour late (when you know that will just make him overtired and is therefore not good for him) is not a reasonable reward because it creates a new problem. If they are overtired they are less likely to be able to behave the next day because they will be cranky.

Keep your child busy!
Depending on the child's age, he might not be able to sit quietly for 30 minutes in a shopping cart, or at dinner. Have realistic expectations for their behavior and keep them occupied. Give him a toy to play with, or a game, or something to color. Or play a game with him like "I spy" which requires no materials. Just make sure it is a toy or game your child enjoys, and he will WANT to behave. If your child has something to do that he likes, he'll be less tempted to "make his own fun" at the expense of behaving badly and breaking your rules.

Give your child a warning if he breaks a rule.
If you child crosses the line with his behavior one time, tell him. "This is your reminder (or warning). If you do that again, you won't get your reward."

I find this works well, because it shows the child that you remember exactly what you asked of him in terms of behavior, so you are serious. It also lets the child know that you are understanding that we all make mistakes and that you care and WANT him to succeed, so you're willing to give him a chance to learn and improve his behavior.


Follow through.
After the one warning, if the child continues to behave badly, you need to let him know that since he decided to break the rules, he will not get his reward. Say this calmly. You don't need to say it angrily or loudly because he's already going to be disappointed, which is the point. If you yell or get angry, it escalates the situation because the child feels like things are getting out of control.

This might lead to a tantrum.
This is when the deep breaths and patience need to be employed.

Stay calm.
When a child is upset and acting out, your job is to keep him safe. You may feel uncomfortable with the noise and behavior, and want to leave early, and you certainly can make reasonable attempts to leave early. However, it's not reasonable to expect that a child is going to stop screaming and crying if you yell or threaten him. Again, he will only get more upset to see you looking as though you are losing control.

The fact is, you probably can't make him calm down. Know that that is okay. Again, you need to keep him safe, and step in if he puts himself in harm's way. Otherwise, understand that he needs to vent his anger and will only act calm when he IS calm. Young children can't bottle things up.

Remember your deep breaths.
Tell yourself that you are in control here, even though your child is not. Tell yourself that what you are doing is teaching him a lesson about behavior that he will remember, and that this is a learning process. Tell yourself that this behavioral change is going to take longer than just one day, but that if you stay strong just this one day, you'll be that much closer to seeing your child's behavior improve.

Model calming behaviors.
Since you are staying calm in a difficult situation, model that skill for your child. Say "Let's take some deep breaths to stay calm." And do it. (Not through gritted teeth, ha ha). Say, "Let's count backwards from 10 to help us think about something else so we calm down." Have a pair of "stress balls" for each of you and say, "Let's squeeze the stress ball to help us get our anger out and calm down."

Repeat, starting from step 1 every day.
If you do, you may find you get to stop at or before step 4. In which case, make sure you follow through with that reward for good behavior!

Don't be afraid to ask for help.
If you follow these steps to a tee, but your child still misbehaves, ask a professional. Take your child to his pediatrician and describe the behaviors as well as what you have been doing to prevent bad behaviors and redirect your child, and for how long you've practiced this. He may be able to find underlying medical causes for why your child is behaving inappropriately.

Ask your child's teacher for ideas on how to improve behavior, or if it's a new school year, ask his teacher from last year, since she knows him better. She may have tips that are more specific to your child that will teach you how to cope with emotions that cause bad behavior, as well as help you create a system for helping your child improve his behavior. If you'd like more information on dealing with children, I've included resource links on this page. Good luck!

Final Thoughts:
•    Have reasonable behavioral expectations for children depending on their age. A 3 year old should not be expected to be as quiet and calm for as long as a 6 year old or a 10 year old.
•    In step 4, If you are at home, and not in public, then you can express more emotion. However, the emotion should be disappointment. If you tell your child that you are disappointed with the choice about how to behave that he made, that is a good way to model how we share feelings and that's part of developing relationships. However, this could lead to crying, and expressing disappointment and tears might not be something you want the public to bear witness to.
•    When you correct bad behavior, name the behavior, not the child. Say, "I'm disappointed that you ran in the store." DON'T say, "I'm disappointed in YOU." The latter is damaging to children's self esteem.
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How to Win a Penny Wars Fundraiser Competition With Your Class (For Teachers)

Is your school holding a penny war fundraiser?  Then you know the basics of this easy fundraiser are to get as many pennies into your bucket as possible, and to put nickels, dimes, pennies, and bills into others’ buckets because although they raise money for your cause too, they count for negative points in this competition.  Since the amount of points earned by each class is announced at the end of each day, you will know who’s ahead and who’s behind. It goes by fast since you only have 3 minutes per day for 3 days, but after the first year of doing this fundraiser, classes start to get more competitive and develop strategies.   So if you’d like to raise money for a worthy cause and increase your chance of winning the prize for the most points at the end of the penny wars, read on!

Put some “silver” in all the other class’s buckets, since it counts against them in a penny war fundraiser.  You don’t need much this first day; you just need to do enough to stay competitive.  Do NOT put pennies in your own class bucket today.  The reason for this is you don’t want to be ahead at the end of day 1.  The other classes go after the fundraisers winner on day 2 with a vengeance.  Save all your pennies in a communal jar that you keep hidden in the classroom. 

Knock out the top two classes with silver on day 2.  Tell kids to save half the silver money they plan to donate, however.  Since all the other classes will also go after the winners, you need to be poised to take out the Day 2 winners tomorrow.  Again, don’t put pennies in your own class bucket, because you don’t want to look like you’re coming out ahead.

Go after the new top two classes on day 3 with the rest of the dimes, nickels, and pennies they have brought for the fundraiser. 

Wait until the last 30 seconds, then dump all the pennies the kids have brought into the bucket.  Your competitors will not have time to make an organized, concentrated effort against you if you wait until the last minute.  Due to the competitive nature of many kids, they’ll probably have used up all their “silver” coins in the first 2 minutes, so it will be too late for them to stop you.

Take pride in knowing you’ve raised all that money for a worthy cause.  And the only cost to your school or PTO is a set of buckets, woohoo!  If you use my link to get them, I may receive a commission at no cost to you.  Whether your school uses the money for supplies, or gives it to charity, it’s a fun competition that gets kids excited about donating, teaches about positive and negative numbers, and fosters problem solving strategies.   Have fun!

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How to Have an Easy School Fundraiser with 100 Percent Profit (For Parents)

Are you a PTO member, interested in holding an easy school fundraiser? Would you like to know about a fundraiser that gets kids excited AND lets you keep 100% of all the funds brought in? The PTO parents at the school where I teach have done this, and we call it "Penny Wars." Read on to find out how to host your easy school fundraiser at your child's school.   

Create hype. After getting the green light from the principal for the fundraiser, post signs telling the kids to save their pennies and spare change. Send notices to families about how this easy school fundraiser will work. Give the 3 consecutive dates when the Penny Wars will take place. Tell them that the winners will earn a pizza party.

Give instructions for the point system this easy school fundraiser uses. During the Penny War, each penny collected by a classroom earns 1 point. Each nickel in a classroom bucket is NEGATIVE 5 points. Dimes are negative 10, and so on.  In other words, the kids in my class bring in pennies to put in OUR bucket. They bring "silver" coins (nickels, dimes and quarters) and even dollars to put in the OTHER classrooms' buckets in order to take points away from them.

Set time and safety limits that make sense for your school. This is going to depend on the size and layout of your building. Our school has the young children on the first floor and older children on the second. For safety reasons, the 6 classrooms with older children must stay upstairs; they do not compete with the younger children. For a school of this size, 3 minutes works well. Since the 2 floors compete in this easy school fundraiser separately, each floor has a winner at the end of the 3 days. 

Set out a bucket in front of each room minutes before the start (we do ours first thing in the morning so that money doesn't go missing as the day goes on). Collect the buckets right after the time limit is up for the day. Having several PTO members to collect the buckets works well to keep things fair. Working with a bank for this easy school fundraiser to help count the change helps a lot! This way you can post the totals by the end of the day. 

Keep up the hype leading up to the Penny Wars, and during! The teachers can strategize with the students and even foster problem solving and concepts of negative numbers. Classes will get more savvy the second year when it comes to strategizing for this easy school fundraiser because the numbers may not turn out how you think at the end of day 2...but I don't want to give away ALL our secrets. The surprise it more exciting anyway. I will say though, that in a school of about 250 children, we raised a few thousand dollars last year during those 9 minutes (3 minutes a day for 3 days). I hope it works for your school too. Good luck!

Tips & Warnings
•    Teachers stand in the hallway outside their door to supervise children in their area.
•    Emphasize that children should not run during the three minutes.
•    Avoid having children go up and down stairs, since they're more likely to get excited and trip.
•    Children and teachers are not allowed to physically block their bucket, or verbally intimidate children away from their bucket.

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