Posts Tagged 'school'

Why do they fall apart when fall comes around?

Tired boy with head on a book

I don’t know about you, but I was really ready for the new school year to begin. I felt like old milk: expired. I had run out of things to do with my kids and the bickering between the four of them was putting me close to my breaking point.

Don’t get me wrong, the summer months made for some great memories, and I’m sure soon enough I will miss those days. However, right now I’m putting all of my energy into getting my kids back into their school routines.

Over the years, I’ve noticed a pattern in this transition time. In our house, the first few weeks of school are the easiest. My kids are eager to get up early, tuck their shirts in, wear their belts, do their homework as soon as they get home, get to bed on time — there is a peace and order in our household that feels reassuring and timely.

And then something happens around the end of September, almost as if the beginning of the fall season brings it in. I struggle to get kids out of bed in the mornings, apparently school is really boring, there are complaints about going to practice or too much homework, bed times are getting ignored and most of all, the children I’m sending to school in the mornings are coming home as cranky and irritable monsters.

I can deal with a lot. I know that being consistent around my expectations for morning and night routines will get my kids back on track. I’m also used to being the emotional punching bag for my kids. But I’m not going to lie; the cranky and irritable monsters that rear their heads back home can be challenging to deal with, especially when all four of them are acting up at the same time.

However, here’s what I’ve finally learned. My kids are really well behaved in school. They follow the rules, respect their teachers, do their work, and enjoy their friendships.  So when they get home, they need to let go, unwind, and release the “good student” handcuffs that have been keeping them in line all day. While it can make some afternoons pretty miserable, I’m learning to give them this space without over analyzing it or engaging with it. I’ve stopped complaining that my kids are like disgruntled workers at home because now I understand why.

So if your kids are like mine when they get home from school, try to remember that they’ve just spent eight hours keeping it together: following someone else’s rules, problem solving, reading, writing, getting to class on time, making good decisions, interacting with adults, and trying to fit in with their peers.

To be honest, just thinking about doing all of that is making me cranky. 🙂

– Andree Palmgren, Beaumont Parenting Volunteer and mother to kids ages 13, 11, 8 and 4

Green up your school lunch


Close up of a bento-style lunch with sandwich, fruit, carrots and snack

image credit: Meredith at

With our children back in school, we may find ourselves stocking up on brown paper bags, zip-close plastic bags, and “lunchable”-type goodies. After all, a well-stocked pantry can make all the difference in having a smooth school morning or an anxiety-filled mad dash for the door.

But let’s follow that lovingly-packed brown paper bag into the lunchroom. Where does it all go when the bell rings, lunch is over, and it’s time to run off to recess?

The EPA estimates that a child who brings a brown bag lunch to school every day throws away about 67 pounds of waste each school year. Other estimates are as high as 90 pounds per student per year. Multiply that by over 58 million students in the U.S. and you don’t have to be a math whiz to realize that millions of tons (between 1.9 and 2.6 million tons for the star students out there) of garbage could stay out of the waste stream with a little tweak to our school morning preparations.

Lunchboxes and lunch bags

First, let’s replace the paper bag with something that is reusable and can hold a little more weight. Have older kids worried about style? Check out the resources below for simple canvas lunch sacks, modern insulated totes, or retro metal lunchboxes.

As we are shopping and doing our best for the Earth, let’s also think about our health. Plastic lunchboxes and containers may contain numerous chemicals of concern, including leadphthalatesvinyl (PVC), and bisphenol-A (BPA). Some brands may infuse Microban®, an antimicrobial chemical (triclosan), into the fibers of a child’s lunchbox. While this may seem like a good idea to avoid germy boxes, health advocates warn of serious health and environmental concerns associated with the chemical. Learn more about triclosan.

For lunchboxes without chemicals of concern, look online or in stores for brands such as Crocodile Creek (PVC-free, phthalate-free, BPA-free), Ecobags (Organic cotton), Kids Konserve (100 percent recycled plastic bottles or recycled cotton canvas). Find many brands and materials (including stainless steel) at Reuseit.

Food and drink containers

The iconic brown paper bag is not a horrible thing in and of itself. After all, it’s what’s inside that counts. The plastic sandwich and snack bags, disposable applesauce or yogurt containers, one-time-use water bottles or drink boxes, etc. that we smartly bought to prepare for the morning hustle are now all in the trash — after only being used for a few hours. Yet, they will last in the waste stream for hundreds or even thousands of years.

Instead invest in a sturdy set of reusable food containers (which can save trips to the store too). Look for stainless steel, which is dishwasher-safe and a great alternative to plastic and glass (no breakage!). LunchBotsKlean KanteenKids Konserve offer stainless steel waste-free lunch kits. If you opt for reusable plastic, look for lead-free and BPA-free, such as Crocodile Creek. Online retailers, such as Reuseit, carry a plethora of options. Also consider insulated food jars to give you and your kids more lunch options (think: warm soup, mashed potatoes, spaghetti and more). Check out Target, Meijer, ACE, or other local retailers for Thermos and Aladdin brands.

Feeling like there are too many small containers to fit into the cute or stylish lunchbox? Check out the latest craze: all-in-one bento boxes, which have two to four compartments in one container.

Be sure to toss in a durable fork or spoon (one that you won’t mind if it doesn’t find its way home) and a small cloth napkin.

OK disposables

For food wrappers that don’t need to be hauled home each day, yet are more eco-friendly than plastic wrap or bags, reach for unbleached wax paper or parchment paper. These come in individual sheets, long rolls, or pre-formed bags. Rolls of unbleached parchment paper and wax paper are available at most grocers. Check health food stores or the health food aisle for disposable wax paper bags, such as those from If You Care.

Drinkboxes and snacks

After this thoughtful preparation, some mornings will still call for a quick grab and go. But you can still be a waste-free hero. Schools or families can collect juice pouches, chip bags, or granola bar wrappers and send them to Terracycle in exchange for a donation to your favorite school or charity. TerraCycle recycles items that most recycling programs won’t accept. Participating brands include CapriSun, Clif Bar, Honest Kids, Kool Aid, Lays and others. Go to TerraCycle to learn more and start a lunch recycling program at your child’s school.


Lastly, it’s not just the containers that get thrown away! Food also winds up in the garbage pail. According to the USDA, Americans waste enough food every day to fill a 90,000 seat football stadium, almost one third of which is wasted at the retail and consumer level. They suggest extending lunch periods to 30 minutes to save 30 percent or more of lunch room food waste. Schools can schedule recess before lunch to save another 30 percent. Visit the USDA’s website for more Creative Solutions to Ending School Lunch Waste.

At home, be sure to involve children in making their own lunches. They will pack what they like (with grown-up approval) and — like anything that requires a bit of effort — they will have pride and appreciation for the end product. Remind yourself and your children to only pack what they can eat in a 20 minute sitting (the standard amount of time allotted for school lunch). Feeling stuck in a PB & J rut? Check the Internet or magazines for fresh ideas; 100 Days of Real Food is one of the many resources out there.

Happy (waste-free) lunching!

– Melissa Cooper Sargent, Environmental Health Educator with LocalMotionGreen at Ecology Center. For more information, you can email her at or visit

Class of …

Young girl holding a "Class of 2025" sign

My wife is crafty. Not in a shifty poker player “crafty,” but more of help with wedding centerpieces kind of “crafty.” So it came as no surprise when she put together a project when our oldest daughter headed to kindergarten four years ago.

It consisted of poster board, glue and construction paper — pretty much what my daughter used to create her masterpieces in class that year. But much like my wife does every day, she surprised me with what she created.  It was a sign that read “Class of 2025” that she wanted my daughter to hold in front of the house on the first day of school each year (which she has done, more reluctantly with each passing year; say a prayer for us as we inch closer to those teenage years).

OK, so maybe a poster board sign won’t hang at the DIA in the years to come, but did you see that? Class of 2025!

I’m a child of the ’70s. I lived through Y2K when the world was supposed to end because of a computer glitch. But now I’m reading a sign that is two-and-a-half decades past when the 1s and 0s were going to be our demise. It’s hard to wrap your mind around.

I’ve learned to come to grips with her world differing totally from mine. She learns in totally different ways than I ever did, and I’m OK with it (except for the math! Different blog…). I know she’s going to be smarter than I am, and in some ways she already is. When I played football, I was an offensive lineman; I made space for others to go on to do great things. I’m trying to do the same thing by clearing a path so she can do her own great things. I have faith she’s going to change the world; it’s up to her on how big her impact is.

This year my wife will get out a new piece of poster board, glue, letters and numbers for our youngest as she starts kindergarten.  That sign will read “Class of 2029.”  Please help us. Not that we feel even older (we do), but we’re unleashing one of the sassiest 5-year-olds on the world. She’s quick witted, understands sarcasm, has a heart of gold, and will somehow wrap you around her little finger in a matter of minutes as she sizes you up for one of her patented jokes. She too will change the world somehow, but I won’t have to help cut her path. If I tried all I’d hear is “move.”

As we enter a new school year, I want to thank the teachers in advance for all of their hard work; it doesn’t go unnoticed. And if you’re lucky enough to have our youngest in your class, it might be good if we set up a safe word just in case she tries to take over the class with one of her comedy routines.

– Jim Pesta is a Parenting Program participant and father of two girls.

Organizing for back to school

Cute pails filled with school supplies

Cropped image. Nick Amoscato, Flickr. CC license.

Back-to-school shopping has taken over the seasonal section of all department stores and your children probably have all their supplies ready to go. Now here are some tips to help with organizing for back to school.

  • Get all necessary school items … and then some

Hanging school supplies storage

Don’t buy only the items on your children school supply list. Instead, plan to buy two or three extra of each item so when your child needs a new highlighter mid-year or poster board for a project, you don’t have to rush to the store at 8:00 at night. Keep these supplies out of sight so your kiddos don’t see them and want to use them just because they’re new; try a nice shoe storage rack in a closet or in a basement.

  • Have a designated homework station

This is a place where your child can sit down and focus on school work. If possible, it should be away from distractions — like siblings, TV or electronics — and with their backpack and needed supplies close by. This can be something as simple as a special spot at the kitchen table or a mobile homework tray they can take into a living room. Be creative!

  • Have a snack station/lunch refill station

Container with healthy snack options.

When your kiddos come home from school and are starving (because they only ate 3 hours ago and need something before dinner), designate a snack box for parent-approved snacks. Limit the number of snacks your child can take at a time. Let the kids have their own shopping list when going to the grocery store for refilling this box. You can also take from this stockpile when packing lunches the night before school to make things easier so you aren’t scouring the cupboards for something to pack.

  • Designate a spot for important papers

Hanging "important papers" area

Have somewhere designated in your home (e.g., a file folder, an individual clipboard for each kiddos, a collective bin by the door, etc.) for important papers to be dropped off by your children, but also for them to grab before school. This could be papers that need to be reviewed and signed, money for lunches, field trip permission slips, and so forth. Basically, have somewhere to keep these papers so your child isn’t asking you where that permission slip is when the school bus comes!

  • Daily reminders list

This is my favorite. Keep a chalkboard or whiteboard by the door that includes any daily reminders. For example, “Remember that we have soccer today instead of Thursday this week” or “Remember to grab your ___ for school” so hopefully you don’t walk out the door forgetting these last-minute details!

  • Return-to-sender box

Have a return box where you can put library books that need to be returned, friend items that were left at your house, and so forth. Anything that doesn’t normally have a spot at your house can be found there.

Lastly, here are some general tips to keep you sane:

  • Create a routine. This will keep you sane in the rush of projects, field trips, extracurricular activities, friend sleepovers, and school madness!
  • Plan ahead as much as you possibly can.
  • There will be bumps in the road and surprises. Hopefully if you do these first two tips, the surprise late night projects will be the exception and not the norm.

– Stephanie Babcock is an IFS coordinator with the Parenting Program. She’s a proud mom of one with another on the way.

Tackling Test Anxiety

Photo of a hand completing a multiple choice test

Cropped image. Alberto G, Flickr. CC License.

Spring is here, along with the rounds of college entrance and advanced placement exams. For school-age children, the M-STEP testing is coming up soon. Most of us hope our children will do well, but for some families there is an extra layer of worry: their children suffer from “test anxiety”.

“I studied and I knew the material. But as soon as I started looking at the questions, I felt nervous and sweaty. My mind went blank. I couldn’t remember much of what I’d learned. I just started guessing. I did horribly on the exam and now I’m angry and sad.”

What exactly is test anxiety? The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) describes test anxiety as a type of performance anxiety.

There are several reasons for test anxiety.

  • Students who had previous negative experiences with test-taking may develop worry in anticipation of the test.
  • Another common reason is poor preparation. Students who struggle to get organized and/or manage their time wisely will be challenged to prepare adequately.
  • Fear of failure also contributes – thinking that our self-worth is wrapped up in that grade causes extra tension and stress. This is a double-bind, because all that worry and fear inhibit the ability to set up a structured plan and prepare effectively.

Luckily there are a variety of tips and tricks for managing test anxiety, including these from the ADAA:

  • Be prepared. Be aware of when tests are happening and study in smaller increments over time rather than pulling all-nighters or “cramming”.
  • Be a good test-taker. Read all the directions carefully. Complete questions you know first, and then go back to harder ones. Outline essay answers.
  • Stay positive. Your self-worth is not dependent on a test grade. Reward yourself for staying on track with study goals. Some anxiety is normal and natural, expect it and let it be there. Let anxious thoughts come and go, but stay focused on the task of studying or taking the test.
  • Stay focused. Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing; focus on the test in front of you. Avoid talking to others about the material before the exam.
  • Use relaxation techniques. Taking slow, deep breaths and consciously relaxing your muscles one at a time can help energize you and sharpen your focus.
  • Stay healthy. Get enough sleep, exercise, and eat healthy foods. Exhaustion and fatigue do not good test-takers make.
  • Get help. If needed, your school counselor or college counseling center can help with needed resources. Sometimes special accommodations are needed, but most of the time, test anxiety can be managed effectively by following these guidelines.

– Lori Warner, Ph.D., LP, BCBA-D, Director, HOPE Center at Beaumont Children’s Hospital

Back to School with Literacy

Notebook with child's note

Sometimes my daughter leaves notes in our Family Letter Journal.

It’s that time of year again! The kids are getting geared up to return to school. I’m here to inspire parents to get excited about helping with their children’s literacy development in an exciting way.

I’m not just talking about reading books before bed and sitting with your child when they’re completing their writing homework. Here are two easy ways you can be a part of strengthening your children’s literacy skills.

  • Lunch Box Notes.
    Even the littlest learners love getting notes in their lunch boxes. Whether they’re reading or not, a quick “I Love You” will help them get excited about words.I’ve seen parents use sticky notes to add messages in their child’s lunch box. You can also use pre-printed notes and add your own little message. Here are a few that I have stocked for my soon-to-be kindergartner’s lunch.

  • Family Letter Journal
    This activity is a great way to nurture the relationship you have with your child through the written word. I used to keep a letter journal with each of my students when I taught first grade. I would write back once a week. Some kids would really open up about things that were bothering them at school. Before the letter journals I didn’t hear about these worries.For our family, I let my daughter pick out a special notebook for our journal. It isn’t something we do every single day, but we leave the notebook out on her desk to remind us to write in it. She has written us back a few times too (not a requirement by any means!).
Two journal entries

My husband and I write letters back and forth to our daughter in our Family Letter Journal.

It’s also a great way for your child to learn the five parts of a letter: formal date, greeting, body, closing and signature. Be sure to use each part and remember to print your words instead of using cursive.

– Maria Dismondy, mother of three, reading specialist, fitness instructor and bestselling children’s author living in Southeast Michigan.

Heidi’s Hints: Back-to-School Lunch Ideas Made Easy

Is everyone gearing up for back to school? I know we are! Grayson just picked out his “most favorite dinosaur backpack ever” with matching lunchbox, and it got me thinking … I need some lunch ideas. I already meal plan for dinners so I don’t need to worry about what’s for dinner, but I need to have some good “go to” lunches ready or else I’m going to have “What’s for lunch?” stress on my hands!

Grayson goes to an extended day preschool program and eats lunch at school. Since he’s a picky eater, it can be quite a challenge to find lunch ideas that he’ll actually eat, that are nutritionally balanced, and easy to pack. He pretty much refuses to even look at a sandwich unless it’s a PB&J.

I’m sure many of you run into this same challenge. If you have older children who have the option of packing or buying a lunch, the challenge to get them to eat a nutritionally balanced meal can be even greater.

To help us all out, I put together some delicious, quick and easy lunch ideas. I’m also sharing some of my favorite lunchbox “tools” to make packing a healthy lunch easy. Spoiler alert: this is not a post on bento box lunches; I wish I had time to make a sunshine out of cheese slices but most days that’s just not in the cards. One thing that I try to stick to is preparing Gray’s lunch the night before. I’ve found that it relieves so much stress in the morning when I already have a million things to do just to get us out the door on time!

Photo of filled lunch containers

The Rubbermaid Lunch Blox are so great for packing lunches. You can configure them in different ways to fit into the lunch box and they come with their own ice pack that fits between the containers.

Option 1: Make your own “lunchable”

There’s a reason why these pre-packaged meals are so popular: they’re easy and kids love them! However, they are heavily processed and filled with preservatives, added sugar and sodium. Solution: Make your own! They’re quick, easy to prepare, and you control the quality of the ingredients. I like to use some of the following items:

  • Nitrate free, organic lunchmeat. Applegate Farms has many delicious options (e.g., turkey, ham, salami, etc.) and although a little pricier than their non-organic counterpart, I’m usually able to get three or five lunches out of one pack of lunchmeat, making it around $1/meal for the lunchmeat.
  • Organic string cheese or cheese sticks. Costco carries this for a great price! Sometimes I sub the cheese out for a Kefir squeeze pack. Lifeway Probugs are our favorite. The kids love the flavors! I love that they are a great probiotic source, and they are lower in sugar than most of their yogurt counterparts.
  • Crackers or some other carb. Popcorn is one of Grayson’s favorites.
  • One fruit and one vegetable. Grapes and blueberries are a favorite around here along with bell pepper slices and carrots. Sometimes I add a little ranch dressing for dipping because we love ranch!
  • And because dessert is important, I pack a “healthy” version of one of their favorites. My kids really like Annie’s Organic Fruit Snacks because, well, they are fruit snacks. I really like them because they don’t contain any artificial flavoring or dyes.
Healthy food in lunch containers

Here’s a sample lunch for Gray.

Option 2: The “Not Peanut Butter” & Jelly

PB&J is actually a very healthy lunchtime option if you use natural peanut butter, an all-fruit spread, and minimally processed bread. However with so many schools being nut-free, the old lunchtime staple of PB&J is no longer an option. Fear not! There are many great peanut butter substitutes out there. If your only restriction is peanuts, then other nut butters such as almond or cashew butter are great alternatives. If your school is completely nut-free, then Sunbutter (made with sunflower seeds) is a great option. Once again, look for these in a natural form without added sugars and salt. They’re easy to recognize if you look at the ingredient list because the only thing you need to see in the ingredients is the actual product itself (i.e., almonds, cashews, sunflower seeds) and nothing else.

For some reason, Grayson is much more likely to eat his sandwich when I cut it out with a cookie cutter. I’m not much into the”crafty lunch thing”, but I do get a little creative sometimes.

Option 3: Leftovers

My favorite! I love packing leftovers for several reasons:

  • They’re easy; you already made the meal! When storing leftovers after dinner, just put them directly into lunch containers. Voilà, lunch is ready!
  • You can offer a lot of different variety by using your leftovers. You can serve them in the same preparation as last night’s dinner or spice them up. Just change/add a few ingredients and you have a completely different meal. For example, chicken from dinner can become a chicken roll up sandwich the next day.
  • Leftovers for lunch reduce food waste. I always saved our leftovers, but we rarely ate them either because we didn’t feel like eating the same thing for dinner twice or there wasn’t enough left over for a full meal for all of us. At the end of the week, I was throwing away a lot of small amounts of leftovers. That was until I realized that these smaller portions are really the perfect lunch-sized portions. If your kids don’t have access to a microwave at school, purchase a small lunch-sized thermos to keep meals hot. These are my favorite for the kiddos.

I hope this helps give you some quick and easy lunch ideas that you can feel great about serving, and your kids will love eating!

Meal Planning Advice? Questions? Recipes? Resources? Feel free to email me at

– Heidi Wilson, Heidi’s Hints: Meal Planning Made Easy


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