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Monthly Archives: September 2011

Doing a 180: Parenting Turn Around’s


Parents who find themselves participating in negative interactions, whether they started it or not, can reverse this trend by “doing a 180.” Another way of saying this is “do the opposite” of what parents are currently doing and not finding very effective. If, for instance, the parent discovers that they raise their voice with a particular child over a specific issue during a peculiar time of the day, then that parent can try “doing a 180.” Instead they can strive to lower their voice, change the issue, or discuss it at a different time of day. Or, if a parent finds that they tend to be more tired and grumpy at the end of the day or their child more moody in the morning, try reducing the overall interaction with that person during that time. Use humor by putting up a storm warning sign on the refrigerator or a grumpy person crossing sign in the hallway. Parents can try doing the opposite of what they would normally do in a given situation and break the stronghold that the negative scripts have on the family. “Doing a 180,” introduces a novel stimulus to a negative situation and thereby reverses its negative course. While these three techniques won’t change every family story, they will redefine the roles parents are playing on the stage of their own life and allow them to find more enjoyable parts to play. Taking the lead role in the family is crucial if parents are to rewrite their family scripts. A bit part or standing on the sidelines is not the place for parents who want more than a small part in a comedic tragedy called “My Family.” Take direct action and change your roles and your family story.


Real world math: put kids in charge of their money

Spending money! The perfect setup for real-world learning and natural consequences!

There are many methods for giving kids an allowance — tied to chores, tied to age, bonuses-for-extra-work, etc. How (or if) one gives an allowance is rooted in one’s family culture, and doesn’t lend itself to pat directives. But, no matter how you decide to give your kids an allowance, I find the key to increasing its power as a teaching tool is to put your kids in charge of how they spend their money.

Putting buying decisions in my kids’ hands has done wonders for their money savvy, consumer awareness, and math skills. Specifically:

  • Addition and subtraction (“How much to I still have to earn to buy x? How much will I have left if I buy y?”)
  • Percentage (“Hey, Mom! Museum members get 10% off in the gift shop!”)
  • Fractions (“Hey, Mom! X is on sale for half price!”)
  • Decimals (dollars and cents)
  • Quality vs. value (“It’s cheap, but it might break the second time I use it.”)
  • Needs vs. wants…or wants vs. other wants (“I want that video game, but maybe I should save my money for an iPad 2.”)
  • Long-term goals (“I want to buy a car when I get my license.”)

A few key details make this strategy work:

Allowance must be big enough to be meaningful.

I got two bucks a week when I was a kid, but it was more of a token payment than anything else. We pay our kids an allowance equal to their age. Half goes to “spending money,” and half goes to “long-term savings” which they get when they move out. They choose what to do with money they receive for jobs or gifts (spend it all or save part of it).

If they ask, I also “cash out” gift cards. That is, if they receive a store-specific gift card but would prefer the cash, I buy it from them, knowing it’s a matter of time till I shop at that store myself.

We choose not to formally tie allowance to chores or work, except for specific jobs such as lawn mowing or washing the car. For us, changing the context from “family responsibility” to “cash for work” decreases teamwork and increases conflict and loophole-finding.

We no longer buy treats and trinkets.

This is essential. No more lollipops in the checkout line. No more cheap toys. The only way kids learn to assess value is to pay for impulse purchases themselves.

This also goes for “upgrades” to purchases we cover. For example, we have a certain budget for school clothing. If our kids want the too-expensive pair of shoes (or whatever), they kick in the extra.

We advise our kids on purchases if they ask, but we don’t judge what they buy.

My kids decide what’s valuable to them. Beyond the most basic guidelines (nothing unsafe or offensive), they can buy whatever they want with their own money. Sometimes they buy candy or crap toys, but rarely…they decided early on it’s a waste of money.

We track allowance and spending electronically.

The roadblock we kept hitting was the actual handling of cash. We never had proper change when it was allowance time (or we’d forget to pay it). Someone would forget their wallet, or forget to put their money in the wallet, etc. We’d buy stuff for the kids, forget to get paid back…you get the picture.

An iPhone app solved the problem: Kiddy Bank. This simple app is little more than a smart ledger, automatically adding allowance each week, with the ability to debit for purchases and credit for earnings and gifts. We’ve created separate spendings- and savings “accounts” for each of the kids, as their allowances and savings rates are different. The app is not connected to an actual bank account, so no money actually moves around.

So there you have it…our allowance strategy. I’d love to hear what’s working for you.

Ron Huxley’s Remembrance: I remember getting $1 every Sunday, as a child, for my allowance. I would walk my brother and sister down to the corner market and we would spend that dollar. I would get three comic books and a chocolate malt. The day the comic books went from twenty-five cents to thirty-five cents was devastating for me. I had to make an important decision. Did I buy one less comic book or skip the malt? I ended up getting one less comic book.

This was math for me as a child. The ideas in this article can help you teach some simple life skills to your child as well. It covers some of the common obstacles and manipulations that might come up.

Cell Phones in Classrooms?

In the battle for the hearts and minds of students, the front line for educators has changed over the last couple of decades. Rather than the age-old struggle for access, the foremost concern today is one of attention.  

Sure, there will always be issues of access, but for the most part that battle has been won. We’re no longer suffering from an information deficit; we’re suffering from an attention deficit.

The shift from access deficit to attention deficit has some very practical ramifications for schools. Certainly it gives perspective on the question of whether to allow cell phones in the classroom. On KQED MindShift (and reposted here on MediaShift), Audrey Watters argued for cell phones in the classroom because they (or at least smartphones) are powerful research tools. But the ability to get to information is not the problem; what students lack is the critical thinking skills to sort, filter and interpret information. Recent research has shown that students are good at getting to information, but weak at knowing what to do once they get there. So we must be protective of the classroom as a uniquely effective learning environment.


In 1997, writer and critic Howard Rheingold proposed two rules for our rapidly changing world: “Rule Number One is to pay attention. Rule Number Two might be: Attention is a limited resource, so pay attention to where you pay attention.” This was before text-messaging, smartphones, Facebook, Skype, YouTube or Twitter. Not surprisingly, the business community responded quickly to the importance of attention. Business strategists like Michael Goldhaber began referring to our economy as an “attention economy.” Echoing Rheingold, Goldhaber stated in 1997, “What counts most now is what is most scarce now, namely attention.” Their words are much truer today than they were in 1997.

Distracted students

This scarcity of attention is certainly an issue with today’s media-multitasking students. A study released in January 2010 by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that total media exposure per day for young people ages 13 to 18 increased from 7 hours and 29 minutes in 1999 to 10 hours and 45 minutes in 2009. Use per medium increased, but the largest increase was time spent multitasking. My work as a teacher confirms this. At the beginning of every semester, I ask my students how many media they use while doing homework. The great majority of them admit using some combination of two or three of their cell phones, laptops, televisions and iPods while studying. Out of a class of 25, only one or two still value shutting everything off and focusing completely on their work.


Taking Rheingold’s two rules and applying them to the classroom can give schools the framework for a well-informed policy regarding cell phones.

Rule #1 – Pay Attention

Teachers are vying for their students’ attention. Of course, this is a venerable struggle, but in the past students’ only options were looking out the window, passing notes, or throwing spit wads at each other. Most teachers will tell you the struggle is much tougher today; it’s one of those things they talk about at meetings and lunch breaks. Just the other day, the topic was brought up at a departmental meeting where I teach, and the stories and opinions (universally negative) immediately came gushing forth. The teacher sitting next to me told me he has a “one-and-done” approach: The students are warned in the syllabus and on the first day of class, and as soon as one of them pulls his or her cell phone out during class, he or she gets the boot. While I have a hard time being so strict, I respect his strategy; we teachers are all aware that our top competitor is that little electronic wonder lovingly buzzing in our students’ pockets or purses.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been under constant pressure to lift a ban on cell phones that he instituted in 2007 for New York’s 1.1 million-student school system. According to CBS News, New York had long maintained an “out-of-sight, out-of-trouble” approach to cell phones until Bloomberg’s department of education started using metal detectors to not only search for weapons, but confiscate cell phones as well. Bloomberg has remained steadfast, surviving not only the outrage of parents and students, but a court battle as well. In March 2008, an appellate court ruled that “the Chancellor reasonably determined that a ban on cell phone possession was necessary to maintain order in the schools.”

New York schools are not unique. School systems everywhere are outlawing cell phones, but students are undeterred. In a recent survey (PDF)by Pew Internet, 65 percent of students admit bringing phones to class even though they are banned. They put them in their socks, their underwear, their sandwiches, whatever it takes. Fifty-eight percent of the students in those same schools admit sending a text message during class.

To make matters worse, parents are not allied with teachers in this. As a matter of fact, one can safely assume that the majority of students’ texts during school are exchanges with parents. In the same Pew survey, 98 percent of parents of cell-owning teens say a major reason their child has the phone is so that they can be in touch no matter where the teen is (a blessing and a curse to students). This business of parents always being connected to their children has wide-ranging implications (in her book “Always On,” professor Naomi Baron points to “the end of anticipation”), but as pertains to cell phones in the classroom, parents are simply added to the growing list of distractions.


Rule #2 – Attention is a limited resource, so pay attention to where you pay attention


Students need to understand that their attention is an in-demand resource, i.e., everyone wants a piece of them. When I talk to my students about this, they are very receptive. They have an awareness deep down that they are too busy, too distracted, too harried. Many of them don’t have a point of reference, a time they can remember when things were simpler, quieter, slower. This is especially true of those born in the 21st century who’ve never known a time when they weren’t “always on” — virtually connected to loved ones and the wider world. According to Pew, 84 percent of cell-owning 13-17 year-olds acknowledge sleeping with their cell phone next to them, and it is a “fairly common practice” for that group to sleep with their cell phones under their pillows so that a call or text will awaken them.

This issue of attention is more than just teachers wanting to control students; it is about the importance of students learning to focus on one thing. A growing amount of research by neurologists confirms what our mommas already told us — we think best and perform best through focused, undistracted attention. In 2009, Stanford researchers studied the cognitive capabilities of media multitaskers and came to the following conclusion: “People who are regularly bombarded with several streams of electronic information do not pay att
ention, control their memory or switch form one job to another as well as those who prefer to complete one task at a time.” When comparing the two groups, Stanford researchers sought to discover where media multitaskers are superior.

Alas, says lead researcher Eyal Ophir, “We kept looking for what they’re better at, and we didn’t find it.” Students need to be challenged and trained in the art of single-tasking. Where better than the classroom? As Neil Postman urged in his book “The End of Education,” schools need to be engaging in technology education. He wasn’t talking about teaching students how to use technology, but rather “learning about what technology helps us to do and what it hinders us from doing.” In Postman’s mind, technology education should be a branch of the humanities, providing students with a historical perspective on “humanity’s perilous and exciting romance with technology.”

Preserving the Classroom

When I asked her thoughts on cell phones in the classroom, Dr. Baron, who is executive director of the Center for Teaching, Research, and Learning, pointed to the varied roles filled by the classroom. “A classroom is many places at once,” she said, “a room for sharing ideas, a space (literally) for contemplation, a setting for social interaction. None of these functions harmonizes with intrusion from the outside.”

Indeed, the classroom has a hallowed place in our society, and it still functions pretty much as it has always functioned. Countless people point to a time in their lives where a certain teacher in a certain classroom made all the difference in the world. Just ask.

The other day I was walking through a building on my campus. Inside one of the small classrooms was a goofy-looking middle-aged man holding court with 25 or 30 students huddled around. I have no idea what the man was teaching, but he did so with gusto. I slowed past his room, drawn to whatever was happening in there. He loved what he was talking about, and his students were sitting on the edge of their seats, leaning toward him. Just as I started picking up my pace, the entire room burst into laughter. He was just getting warmed up.

That scene is repeated every day in hundreds of thousands of classrooms around the world. From the most prestigious halls of higher education to my son’s kindergarten class led by the delightful Ms. Norman, teachers keep joyfully passing on knowledge and wisdom to the students under their tutelage.

There never has been — nor will there ever be — a more dynamic learning context than face-to-face in close proximity. Everything possible should be done to protect that timeless environment from interruption and distraction.

Greg Graham teaches writing at the University of Central Arkansas and is a teacher-consultant with the National Writing Project. Specializing in facilitating literacy stories, Greg is a field researcher with Ohio State University’s Digital Archives of Literacy Narratives and co-author of a chapter in the forthcoming book Literacy Narratives that Speak to Us: Curated Exhibits from the Digital Archive of Literacy Narratives. You can follow him on Twitter or his blog The Digital Realist.

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Ron Huxley’s Reaction: Sorry, I don’t buy the idea that Cell Phones are useful research tools in the classroom. Put in a computer for the children to use. I do believe that the “attention economy” applies to our families use of time however. We need to make some house rules around time spent on social media like Facebook and Google Plus. Is Myspace used by anyone anymore. I really should go delete my account over there…

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Contact Ron Huxley at rehuxley@gmail.com

The Moral Life of Babies and Some Thoughts on Parenting


Ron Huxley’s Rant: I came across this very comprehensive article on the moral life of babies. I didn’t repost the entire article here because, well, it’s quite long and could get a bit boring. If you like that sort of thing I would encourage you to click the nytimes.com link above. Here’s the basic premise: Babies do come into the world with a bit of a moral compass. It is our job as parents to give it some refinement. This premise moved me to consider how are parenting philosophy and techniques are based on how we think about babies. 

The researchers conducted several experiments demonstrating that children experience empathy and have sense of right and wrong from the earliest moments of their lives. Their solutions to moral problems (how two children will share one toy that both believed they had their eye on first) may be limited due to their cognitive limitations and lack of social guidance but their innate understanding that some injustice has occurred is right on. Astute parents have witnessed their children getting their feelings hurt by the most innocent of situations. I once looked at a baby wrong and she tightened her face up into a silent scream and then exploded into tears. This reaction doesn’t come without some moral frame of reference, however limited.

I am not sure why we like to believe children are “perfect idiots” or full of “blooming, buzzing (moral) confusion” as a couple of leading thinkers in the field have described them. My fear is that when we hold the idea that children are narcissistic sociopaths, we will respond to them in very adverse, punitive ways. I think this has definitely been the case historically. The parenting idea of “spare the rod and spoil the child” has lead too many parents to the point of physical and emotional abuse. In my career many parents that had their children removed really that they were doing the right thing by their child. So much of our beliefs about parenting is governed by social constructs. How would parenting styles differ if we thought of babies as already equipped with a moral center, full of goodness and mercy? I know this sounds a bit preachy, but really, how would we parent differently? Would it change how we prioritize our schedules during the day? Alter educational standards? Give a new approach to discipline?

Let’s have a conversation, with other parents, about how parenting methods might change if our first thought is that babies are smart, nice and loving creatures and not budding sociopaths in need of parental toughness. Share your thoughts here or post on Facebook and Twitter.

Fun Ideas for Picky Eaters

Toddler’s can be the most finicky little people when it comes to just about anything; especially when it comes to eating! Parent’s are always trying to find fun, innovative ways of introducing new foods to the family menu. In this article I will be providing a few fun tips for letting your kids be the kitchen “Sous Chef” so to speak.

I’ve found that introducing new vegetables, colors and just about anything that doesn’t resemble a piece of chicken or slice of pizza is the most difficult task when trying to get my toddler to eat new things. A new game we’ve started together is—

The Calendar/Alphabet Game
Make a large calendar for the month and for each day have your children write a different letter of the alphabet on the calendar. For example, Monday “B”, Tuesday “M” etc … On Monday you and your children choose a new fruit, vegetable, dairy or grain that starts with the letter “B” to incorporate in the meals and snacks for that day. There is no limit to the many ways that the new foods can be added either. If you choose Broccoli for the new vegetable, liven it up a bit … have it as a snack, cold with their favorite dip or chopped up in a homemade cheese omelette for breakfast. Our favorite so far is “Y”, we made the best mixed fresh fruit and low-fat yogurt parfait with granola for dessert which followed our Yellow Squash Lasagna. It is very important to have your children involved in the prep work for each of the meals/snacks. It gives them a chance to connect with the food and learn to be creative. They’ll feel a sense of accomplishment when they finally sit down to enjoy the food that they never thought that would!

I’m a stay at home mom so my kids are almost always at home with me. to break the ongoing cabin fever that plagues young kids I try to implement atmosphere changes as frequently as possible, which leads me to my next tip—

The Color Wheel Picnic
This can be done as often as your schedule allows and it really is a lot of fun! On the same calendar that you use for the calendar game, put a star on a few days a month that you’d like to have a picnic, whether it is at the neighborhood park, your backyard, or in your family room on a rainy day.

Now have your child pick their three to five favorite colors for that day. Write down the colors and together go into your refrigerator and/or pantry. Find fruits, snacks, fresh vegetables, cheese/dairy and whole grains that match those colors and pack them into your picnic basket, have fun with your kids sampling all of the fun and colorful foods. Remember to bring a camera to document all of the colors that you’ve created with the food and take pictures to pin to your calendar so that you can remember just how yummy it all was!

Along with creating fun and healthy meals with your kids, getting in enough physical activity is essential to their growth and what better way to connect eating healthy with staying fit. My next tip shows you how to help your toddler burn off some energy while getting your daily exercise in as well. I recommend spending at least thirty to forty-five minutes per day of physical activity—

The Final Countdown
Who doesn’t know the saying “no pain no gain”? Well, who says you can’t have fun too? Countdown consists of combining a little math with a little exercise. Before starting remember, stretching is always important so do a few minutes of leg and body stretches with your children. Now, choose a number from one to five, for instance your child chooses the number “four”.. start off with doing four sets of four sit ups together. Remember to have them count along with you that would have been a total of 16 sit ups. When finished have them choose another number, “five” now do five sets of five jumping jacks, twenty-five in all. Once you’ve finished all numbers one to five reward yourselves with a nice cold smoothie or your favorite treat!

These are just a few, fun, nutritious, and healthy tips to share with your children. Keep an eye out for more fun topics to come very soon!

Via http://www.divinecaroline.com/22107/118457-fun-ideas-expanding-toddler-s-menu/2#ixzz1YmdjP5uW


Rich Baby, Poor Baby: Overspending on Kids Is a Waste


This article shares a growing trend of parents spending way too much on their children for items that seem like it is more about “fitting” in that based on need. I know as a grand parent I am guilty of this but hey, let the grand parents pay for the high tech toys and mom and dad stick with the quality time (as opposed to the video time).