Help a MoM Advocate for Twins at School

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Categories Classroom Placement, Difference, Education, Feeling Overwhelmed, Frustration, Parenting Twins, School, School-AgeLeave a comment

I firmly believe that school administrators mean well. They have to balance the needs of the individual child against the needs of the entire student population. Like parents, however, school administrators are sometimes wrong. They sometimes have incorrect information available to them. They sometimes lack all the information available on a topic. And yes, on occasion, they’re stuck in their opinions and not open to changing them, regardless of the evidence presented to them.

As parents, we are our children’s primary advocates. On occasion, we make mistakes, and I’d like to think that we learn from them. It’s essential to support others parents in standing up for their kids. Standing up against school administration can be particularly difficult.

We received the following heartbreaking email from reader Gayle.

I need help. My fraternal boys were separated for their 2 years of pre K. It was very hard.

One is a little more spirited and had a tougher teacher. We wanted them together, and they wanted to be together for their 2nd year of pre K but were met with resistance and told to wait for kindergarten. They could be together then.

So I swallowed that gut feeling and saw my spirited son develop a facial motor tic and now also a vocal tic.

I am seeing anxiety in him. We found out at the end of the year conference he was calling himself a bad boy and saying he was bad! That broke my heart!!! He has never said that at home.

Then they told us the boys need different Kindergarten teachers “because they have different learning styles and would respond better to different teachers”. They truly don’t know if they have the same learning style because they’ve never been given the chance to have the same teacher. I want them together so I know they have the same rules and more equal treatment. And when M feels nervous or feels he has no friends he can look over and see his brother.

I am fearful for him. The superintendent took almost a month to “review all the data and info” but yet would accept none from us.

We have a meeting to “discuss placement” – I am quite sure its not going to be to put them together. 2 other sets of twins going to Kindergarten have been allowed to be together. So why not give ours the chance? I don’t want to always wonder “what if”.

I’m sure that your heart hurts for this family as much as mine does. Gayle welcomes your support, suggestions, and recommendations in the comments.

I spoke to a local mother of 6, including several children with special needs, asking her advice on successfully advocating for our children in the schools. Her response? “Documentation, documentation, documentation. And never stop advocating.”

  • Learn your rights. Many US states have a Twins Law that guarantees parents of multiples final say in whether their children should be in the same classroom or different ones.
  • Get all communication from the school in writing. Print out emails and texts and keep them in one place. If you hear something that a school official is unwilling to commit to paper or an email, then you can email them saying, “I would like to confirm that when we discussed W, you said X, I said Y, and we agreed to Z.” Invite them to respond with corrections to your statement and give them a deadline by which to respond. End with, “If I don’t hear back, I’ll assume that I’ve correctly represented your position.” Copy anyone you think needs to be informed of what was discussed.
  • Commit to writing all your communication with school officials and related professionals. Document your discussions in email as described above. Also, I strongly recommend preparing for every meeting with school officials by writing down all your arguments and bringing those notes with you. It’s easy, in the heat of the moment, to forget everything you wanted to communicate. Trust me. I’ve done it.
  • Seek out support from professionals who know your children as individuals. Don’t be afraid to confer with your pediatrician, speech therapist, occupational therapist, physical therapist, psychologist/counselor, or even friends and family who know your children. Get them to write down their thoughts and recommendations. I know that it can feel like you’re imposing when you ask for supporting documentation from these people, but remember that your child’s wellbeing is at stake. It’s also okay to seek out a second opinion. For example, if the school speech therapist doesn’t think your child needs services, but you’re certain that she does, get an independent therapist to evaluate your child. We had to get a second opinion for my daughter M.
  • Keep copies of everything. On occasion, you’ll have to hand out copies of your documentation. Make sure you keep a copy of everything. Everything. I submitted my twins’ kindergarten year school records to their new school… and they lost them. I still don’t have copies.
  • Be aware that you may have to fight the same fight over and over. A new teacher, principal, counselor, or even school year may necessitate you making the same argument for your child all over again. I was fortunate that the second time I had to argue that my daughters be taught at their level regardless of their grade placement, I had the school counselor in our corner… and my arguments were practiced and polished.
  • Seek out existing advocacy documentation. For those of us who need to advocate for twin-specific issues, know that there are tools out there to explain the variation and commonalities of multiples’ experiences in school. At this year’s Multiples of American convention, I picked up a copy of the NOMOTC guide titled Placement of Multiple Birth Children in School. This is a resource I highly recommend, and can be purchased from Multiples of America. I am so convinced of its effectiveness in helping us advocate for our children that I will commit to lending my copy to any HDYDI reader who wishes to borrow it. I will mail my copy to you at my expense and ask you to return it to me or pass it along to the next person in line at your expense. For other issues, I recommend that you seek out organizations specific to the issue. They may have documentation available to you.
  • Seek out proponents within the system. Sometimes, having a friend within the system who knows you and your children can be the difference between smooth sailing and a fight. Be polite to everyone you meet and help out where you can. The friends you make can help you navigate school system politics.

Now, a few thoughts specific to Gayle’s very difficult situations.

  • You are not alone. We are behind you and support you in your efforts to do what’s right for your sons. We are angry and sad right with you.
  • Find out whether your state has a Twins Law. Many states and countries have laws in place that protect a parent’s right to make classroom placement decisions for their multiples.
  • You are the expert when it comes to your children. You. Not the school administration, regardless of what they think they know from the classroom or their general assumptions about twins.
  • We would recommend getting an evaluation from a child psychologist. I predict that a professional outside the school system would back you up.
  • Contact your local mothers of multiples club and find out whether there’s another mom or two who can testify to the importance of treating twin sets in a way that acknowledges each child’s needs.
  • The “different learning styles” argument has big holes in it. Any decent teacher is capable of teaching a group of children, each with his own learning style.
  • Point out, by email, that you have documentation that needs to be considered by the superintendent. If you receive no response, you can turn to local news outlets to help you put pressure on the school district.
  • Do what you can to tease apart what part of the negative experience may have come from having a poor teacher as compared to being separated.
  • Ask your boys what they want as far as classroom placement, and why.
  • If all else fails, be open to switching school districts. I bought a house that would us at the school I wanted for my girls.

What advice do you have when it comes to being an advocate for twins?

Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 8-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She is the newly minted Single Parent Coordinator for Multiples of America, also known as the National Organization of Mothers of Twins Clubs (NOMOTC). She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun, when the girls entered elementary school and also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.

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The Twin Dynamic (Spoiler: There Isn’t Just One)

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Categories Classroom Placement, Education, Parenting Twins, School-AgeTags 14 Comments

My daughters were only one of four sets of twins in their grade in the school’s dual language program. Forty-nine kids. Eight twins. This meant that their teachers got some really great insights into the variation that exists in twin relationships.

We got to talking about this the other night over dinner, and I found Mrs. H’s observations to be fascinating.

The Twin Dynamic

First, some background.

Both my 8-year-olds, M and J, are excellent at math. However, M is extremely public and loud about being good at math. When she has nothing else to do, she walks around multiplying 2 and 3 digit numbers in her head and announcing her results to everyone within earshot. J just does the math she needs to do to get through her day and make her teachers proud. She’d rather read.

In a recent math/problem-solving competition, it was J who placed nationally. M did extremely well, earning a spot on the honour roll thanks to her 90th percentile score, but J got the really big deal award.

Their teacher, Mrs. H, who is also their best friend’s mother, is very sensitive to all her students’ confidence and emotional needs. So, before announcing J’s accomplishment to the class, she asked M if it would be okay to acknowledge her exceptional performance on this test. She reminded M that she was fully aware that she was the Class Mathematician and that she really does have stupendous numerical and logical abilities.

M didn’t hesitate for a moment. Of course she wanted J acknowledged. She was proud of her sister. She was prouder of her sister being one of 89 students out of 25,000 nationwide to earn a perfect score than she would have been had she achieved it herself. In fact, it was M who bragged to me (and every stranger we encountered) about her sister’s performance, not realizing I’d already heard from the teacher. I was the one to point out how well M had done, and she poopooed my enthusiasm in light of J’s win.

Mrs. H observed to me that my daughters’ pride in each other, protectiveness of each other, and lack of competitiveness in academics was unique among the twin pairs under her tutelage. J and M can bicker with the best of them, but when there’s an accomplishment to be noted, there’s never any resentment. They have no sense that one sister performing better diminishes the other in any way.

Neither of them can stand to lose at board games, though. The tears that have been shed in our house over Candyland, Monopoly and Yahtzee could fill a small lake. I banned playing for points the day I introduced Scrabble.

The other girl twins, Mrs. H told me when I asked, are rather more likely to measure their academic performance against each other. They’re more likely to take differences to heart. They, too, are extremely high performers at school. Mrs. H joked that when other teachers make comments about how smart “her twins” are, it takes quite a bit of digging to figure out which pair is under discussion. All four girls have straight black hair, are half-Mexican, dress differently from their sisters, and are sweet, well-mannered, and popular on the playground. The two sets of boys were in the class at different times, so they’re a little easier to distinguish. The boys, too, are rather more competitive than my daughters.

I think it’s important to remember that multiples, as sets, are as unique as they are as individuals. My twins’ relationship doesn’t look like your twins’ relationship, and that’s good and normal. I wish more educators were like Mrs. H, recognizing that being a twin doesn’t dictate how a child interacts with the world. At least in my experience, the twin relationship enriches the individual child, rather than dictating her behaviour or limiting her options.

Stay tuned for a post next week containing our advice to a mother who is fighting for her sons’ right to be in the same classroom. I so wish they had Mrs. H as their teacher. She gets it.

Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the single mother of 8-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun, but now also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.

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Party Trick: Mental Multiplication

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“What did you learn today?” I asked M, my nearly-8-year-old, as part of our bedtime snuggle-and-connect.
“What did I learn today? Did I learn anything today?” M mused. “Oh! Riley asked me what is 169 times 28. It’s 4,732!”
“How did you figure that out?”
“Well, I know that anything times 10 just puts a 0 at the end. So 169 x 10 = 1,690. And that two times is 3,380. Plus another 1,690 is 5,070. Then I did 169 x 2, which is, um…”
“You kind of did it already with 1,690.”
“Right! 338! And 5070 – 338 is 4,732. Obviously.”
“Obviously.”
“Riley didn’t even know the answer! But I do know it now.”

And this is what bedtime looks like around here.

Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun, but now also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.

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Minor Illness: Better Unconsolidated

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“Mommy! It’s weird enough staying home on a Monday school day, but staying home without M is even weirder!” my daughter J told me while munching on dry rice cereal this morning.

We didn’t have the weekend we’d hoped for. I went to the gym Saturday morning, as planned. We spent part of the morning cleaning the house, then stopped by a store for a birthday present before getting on the road to a friend’s birthday party. About a mile from the house, I heard a sound from the back seat. I looked in the rearview mirror, and poor little M was vomiting. When she could finally catch her breath, she began to cry. “I wanna go home. Mommy, take me home.”

I was stuck at a red light in a turn lane, helpless to comfort her. As soon as I could, I turned the car around and headed home. I talked to her the entire very long mile home and she just took turns throwing up and crying. I opened J’s window for her when she began to gag. Thankfully, her breakfast stayed down.

As we pulled into our driveway, I told J that I needed her to fend for herself while I tended to her sister. I unlocked the door and let J in, then returned to the car to lift my sobbing, retching, vomit-covered M straight into the bathtub. By this time she was apologizing for the mess in the car, which I told her not to worry about. I got the shower set to a comfortable temperature, helped take off M’s clothes, then left her in the warm water to throw the soiled clothing in the washing machine. I washed the puke out of her hair and helped her wash her skin, which had her feeling much better. She asked to wear her pajamas, pathetically telling me she really didn’t want to go out again that day.

While she dressed herself, I pulled the nasty car seat out of the car. As I was pulling the cover off, I heard a wail from the girls’ room. M had thrown up again, this time on the carpet. I comforted her, dressed her, and tucked her under covers on the couch with a big bowl in her lap in case she felt nauseated again. The car seat cover went in the washing machine too, and I started it on the sanitary cycle. Then I took my carpet cleaner to the spot on the carpet.

M wanted me to hold her, which I did for a while, feeling her grow steadily warmer in my arms as she took breaks to throw up. I took her temperature, which was a miserable 102°F. Fortunately, she was able to keep a dose of ibuprofen down. By this time, J insisted that she was bored. I gave her a number of ideas for activities, but she wanted me to play with her. When M felt better, I hosed off the car seat and cleaned the car upholstery and carpet and then played a few rounds of Funglish with the girls.

(The things we moms do… comfort babies, clean up vomit, provide security and medical care. I would have never guessed this would become second nature and feel completely manageable. This stuff is easy after twinfancy!)

The next morning, M had her appetite back and was ready for cereal. The fever didn’t return, and by evening she was her normal goofy dancing self… but not before her sister began to complain of a headache, completely lose her appetite, and run her own fever.

Fortunately, J never threw up, but I elected to keep her home from school today. Daycare rules have been drilled into me for all time. No kids in school until they’ve been fever-free for 24 hours.

M tried to convince me to let her stay home, but was more than happy to go to school when she realized she wouldn’t have to go to after-school care. And that brings me back to the beginning of this post.

“Mom,” J told me, pondering the clock, “In a few minutes, M will be starting science.” An hour later, I got an update. “Now, M will be writing in her journal.”

I found it intriguing that J didn’t seem particularly concerned with what she was missing or what the class was doing. Her focus was on M’s activities. One of those twin things, I suppose.

When illnesses are minor like this, it’s so much easier to have one child be sick at a time.

Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun, but now also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.

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Big Kid Steps: Self-Care Milestones

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My daughters turn 8 next month. There is no question that they are big kids.

When they were infants and toddlers, I looked out for the milestones that would indicate their growing: rolling over, sitting, pulling up, walking, talking. I knew that they would do these things on their own schedule. I rejoiced for each one, even as it brought me closer to the day that my girls would leave to me embark on their own independent lives.

Now they are schoolchildren, it feels like the milestones M and J are reaching are externally scheduled. Sure, they’ve lost teeth at their bodies’ whim, but progressing from one grade to another, their increasingly complex dance recital performances, academic accomplishments… all these markers are scheduled on the calendar.

Now, when I discover something that shows me that one child or another is growing up, it’s unexpected and still as bittersweet as those early milestones.

Take bath time, for example. My daughters have been washing their own hair and bodies for a while now. They still need me to squeeze out the shampoo and bath soap, but they can take it from there. They like me out of the bathroom while they’re bathing so they can play a game titled Ocean Water Girls with their Barbies.

Earlier this week, I went into the bathroom to get my daughters out of the bath and discovered that M had gotten out by herself, dried herself off and put on her bathrobe. I didn’t make a big deal of it, just saying, “Nice job drying your [waist-length] hair.” She responded with, “I think I prefer this. Sometimes you dry me too rough and sometimes you dry me too gentle and leave me soggy.” There’s something about the idea of a soggy M, that most precise and perfectionist of children, that warms my soul.

Last night, I found her trying to cut her own fingernails. She hadn’t quite mastered it, so I took over with her blessing, but I thanked her for trying. “It feels more private,” she told me, “to do this stuff.” I told her I completely understood and that she should feel free to whatever self-care tasks she felt like handling.

J still wants me to dry her off after bath and cut her nails. She’s my physical touch love language speaker, after all. However, she does little things to show me that she’s growing up too. For example, she mentioned in passing that two friends had their birthday parties at the same time last weekend. She and M decided which one they wanted to go to and didn’t even bother me telling me about the one they’d miss. I let J know that she still needed to give me such invitations, since a “No” RSVP was at least as important as a “Yes.” She understood, but it struck me that not long ago, my daughters would have come to me for help in deciding between the parties or just handed the invitations over without recognizing the conflict.

J is no terrible hurry to grow up and is farther behind on her self-care milestones. As she told me last night before nodding off, “I’m glad I have a lot of years until I’m 17. I don’t know where I want to go to college yet.”

You have plenty of time, little one.

Big kids increasingly take care of their own needs and need mommy less.

Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun. She also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.

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One Grilled Cheese

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Categories Feeding Older Children, Parenting Twins, School-Age3 Comments

A mother makes dinner for 3 on autopilot, instead of just for herself and one of her twins.

This year, my daughters’ after school care provider, the YMCA, began offering free dinner to children who are still in their care at 5:30 pm.

While it take some relinquishing of control on my part, I’ve come to love it. The girls aren’t grumpy from hunger when I pick them up. Waiting to feed myself until after they’re in bed gives us that much more time together. I don’t have to do backbends to ensure that they’re fed before evening activities such as dance lessons and Girl Scouts.

Sadly, as the novelty has worn off, my daughters have discovered meals they don’t like and won’t eat. They’ve always skipped the same meals… until last night.

M overheard her friend Tori’s mom say that there were bad unhealthy things in corn dogs, so she decided to do without. J, on the other hand, gobbled dinner down.

When I learned this, I offered M a couple of dinner options, from which she chose a grilled cheese sandwich. When we got home, I sent the girls off to wash their hands and put their backpacks away while I made M’s sandwich. I began heating up the sandwich press, washed my hands, laid out two slices of bread, topped them with cheddar cheese slices, layered on a second slice of bread.

Once the sandwiches were warm but not crisp, the way my kids like them, I put them each on a plate and assembled a turkey sandwich in the sandwich press for myself.

When I served the sandwiches, J didn’t come to the table, of course, since she’d already eaten. And then I realized what I’d done. From habit, I’d made a sandwich for each child, even while consciously aware that only one would eat.

M ended up taking the extra sandwich, plus an apple, into school today for dinner. And then, after a friend sneezed on her sister’s dinner, she gave her half.

What do you do on autopilot?

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The Problem with Great Readers Is that We Run Out of Books

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Categories Books, Education, School-Age, ShoppingTags , 5 Comments

“Mom!” said my 7-year-old, M, when I arrived from work to pick up my kids from daycare, “I checked out three chapter books from the library three hours ago and now I’ve read them all. I have nothing to read!

I checked her backpack to see whether she’d picked out particularly short or easy books, but she had a 90-odd page Bailey School Kids book, a decent length presidential biography and a Katie Kazoo book in there. I asked her to tell me about the books and she regaled me at length with not-quite-summaries of what she’d consumed.

I know. This is a pretty great problem to have. My kids love to read. They’re fast. The challenge it poses, though, is a very real one.

Given a choice, this is the problem to have. Still, finding enough reading material to satiate voracious readers is a real challenge.
This is J. She was the one who happened to have a book in her hands when it occurred to me to take a photo for this post. M was brushing her teeth.

I do what I can to keep my kids supplied with reading materials.

  1. We take regular trips to the public library. Each child is allowed to pick out 7 books. Any more than that, and they lose track of where they are. I reserve a cube of the Ikea Expedit shelves in our living room for library books to keep them in one place.
  2. I haunt bookstores. We visit Half Price Books frequently and keep an eye on their clearance racks both for our home library and their classroom book collection. I invest in books that my girls will want to read again and again.
  3. Their school library is relatively well-stocked, although my daughter J took advantage of a persuasive letter writing assignment at school to ask her principal to invest in harder books.
  4. I donate outgrown books to the girls’ classroom teacher, in part so that she can also snap up more advanced books for her collection when she’s adding to it.
  5. I do a lot of book shopping online. Ebay sometimes pops up pretty fantastic lots of books. I can always donate any duplicates that we have. My girls have tablets, but they just prefer the feel of paper books to reading ebooks on their devices. I limit my Amazon.com shopping to books on specific subjects that I want but can’t find at the library, like foster care or divorce.
  6. Our loved ones know what readers J and M are. They are wonderful about giving them gifts of books.
  7. Paperbackswap.com is a great place to trade in old books for new for just the cost of media mail.

Anyone else have this problem? Any solutions I’ve missed?

Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun, when the girls entered elementary school. She also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.

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Growing Pains

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We were excited when the new size 6 pants I’d ordered for J arrived. She’s been growing like a weed and had grown out of her clothes. I asked her to try on the new pants, but sadly, she reported that they were far too loose in the waist. I washed them all and put them aside.

After several days with temperatures in the 70s, today was a relatively chilly Texas day. J came out of her room dressed in 5T sweatpants. They left a good portion of her shins bare. My foot came down.

“No ma’am,” I told her. “Those pants are too small for you. Please put on your new purple ones.”

She came out of her room again with an important update. “These are too big.”

I took a look, and they seemed to fit just fine. I noticed her pulling them up at the hips, bunching the fabric on both sides below the waistband.

“I think,” I informed her, “that you have become accustomed to your pants being too tight. It’s just like how you resist switching to new shoes when your feet grow. You’ll feel comfortable in a while.”

That did it. To cut a very long, very loud story short, she lost it. There was screaming and stomping, tears and threats, and a general insistence that her panties were going to fall off without super-tight pants holding them up. I don’t try to reason with the unreasonable, so I didn’t point out all the things wrong with her argument until M wanted to discuss them with me over sister’s screams. Yes, I agreed, her panties did stay on when she jumped on the trampoline in a dress. J even tried M’s panties on, only to break down into a fresh slurry of tears because they were too tight.

Proving myself to be the meanest mommy in history, I insisted that J go to school in her own panties and pants. Once she’d settled into the car and quieted a bit, I told her that I was 95% certain that she would get used to her new clothes by the time school was done. I also suggested that perhaps part of her resistance was that I wasn’t making her sister go up a size. She agreed that that was a big part of it. It wasn’t fair that M got to wear the old pants.

“The fact is,” I told her, “that your sister is just smaller than you right now. You’ve always been used to sharing clothes so it feels strange not to, but it’s no different than you having different shoes because of your different sized feet.”

J struggled with this idea, but had accepted it by the time we got to school.

When I picked her up after daycare, she said those sweetest words: “Mom, you were right.” She loved her new pants and had received 2 compliments on them. They were softer than the old ones, which she admitted had been too tight. She even agreed to model her too-small and just-right clothes for a before-and-after photo set.

A 7-year-old with a tendency to resist change isn't a fan of switching to a larger size of clothing

Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun, when the girls entered elementary school and also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.

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Spiral Learning: Permutations for Elementary Students

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Categories Development, Education, From the Mouths of Multiples, Higher-Order Multiples, Identical, Parenting, School-AgeTags , 8 Comments

Permutations for Elementary Students

When I was browsing the lovely photos on MathiasQuads.org yesterday for this morning’s post, my daughter M took great care to read the names in each photo caption. She wanted to be sure to match each face to the right name. As an identical multiple herself, she understood how important it was to see Mary Claire, Anna, Grace and Emily as individuals.

M, aged 7, observed that they were rarely in the same order between photos.

M: There’s 16 ways for them to be lined up.
Me: How did you figure that out?
M: Because there’s 4 sisters and 4 spots and 4 times 4 is 16.
Me: That’s a very good deduction, my mathematician girl, but it’s actually 24. Can I show you how?

Is 7 a little young for combinatorics? Sure, but M showed an interest in it, so I dug back into my 8th grade math memories. I drew her a picture to show her how to think of permutations. She picked the colours for each sister.

Explaining permutations for elementary students. Showing them the first quarter of the pattern allows them to derive the pattern themselves. From hdydi.com

Me: There are 4 sisters who can go in the first spot. I’m just going to draw one of them. Once she’s in her place, there are only 3 sisters left to go second.
M: Then 2, then 1!
Me: Exactly. So there are 6 orders available for each sister who goes in the first spot.
M: And 6 times 4 is 12 and 12 is 24.
Me: Which is also 4 times 3 times 2 times 1.
M: Well, that was easy.

We’ll probably chat about combinations tonight during bath time.

Spiral Learning

I’ve always taken this approach to educating my daughters. If one or both of them is interested in something that illustrates a larger pattern or important skill, I explain it to them at a level that is pertinent, interesting, and within their abilities. Later on, when they’re more intellectually mature, I’ll come back to it. In a couple of years, I’ll show M how to use factorial notation.

My teacher friend Kaylan tells me that the eduspeak term for this is “spiral learning.”

Spiral learning is the practice of returning to a topic over time to build an increasingly sophisticated understanding

What sparks your child’s interest? What’s your approach to teaching?

Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun, when the girls entered elementary school and also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.

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An Introduction to Girl Scout Cookies

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Categories Financial Literacy, School-AgeTags 1 Comment

It’s Girl Scout Cookie season here in Central Texas. If you live in the US, chances are that you’ve seen little girls in uniform selling boxes of cookies in front of stores or had them knock on your door.


 

Perhaps you have a little Thin Mint addiction. Perhaps your No Soliciting sign has a Girl Scout exemption.

This post is an introduction to Girl Scout cookies for those unfamiliar with the point of cookie sales beyond satisfying your sweet tooth. It’s also for parents just getting started on their daughter’s Girl Scout journey. I know I was a little lost last year when cookie season began.

Where Cookie Earnings Go

Girl Scout cookie sales raise money for Girl Scout troops, but that’s not really the core purpose. From the $4.00 price tag of each box of cookies, our troop earns a measly 10%. That’s right. $0.40 for each box goes into the troop fund for the kids selling you cookies.

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There’s no obligation for Girl Scouts to sell cookies. In our troop, we ask parents who aren’t up for participating in sales to contribute what they can to the troop account, which we spend on things like badges, outings and a charitable donation.

Why Scouts Sell Cookies

Troops (groups of Girl Scouts who meet regularly and share activities) decide as a group what to do with their earnings. The point of cookie sales is to teach our girls the basics of entrepreneurship: Goal Setting, Decision Making, Money Management, People Skills and Business Ethics. 

Each girl sets for herself a goal for how many boxes of cookies she can sell during the sales season. Based on her age, she more or less independently sells the cookies. Daisies (kindergarten and 1st grade) are accompanied by older scouts at their sales booths and adults handle the money for them. Brownies can make their own change but parents are nearby for assistance.

Last year, my girls convinced me to buy a box of cookies from them, then handed out free samples in our vet’s waiting room. Not surprisingly, they were able to score several sales off this approach. This year, I asked my 7-year-olds what they thought they were learning to selling cookies.

M: People listen better when we stand up more confidently.

J: Counting money.

To keep things fun, the Girl Scouts each earn an award for selling a certain amount of cookies. In addition to the badges and pins they can add to their uniforms to show the skills they’ve exercised selling cookies, they earn extra incentives for selling different quantities of cookies.

A Twin Thing

My daughters actually asked me whether they could pool their sales toward a single (presumably better) incentive by crediting just one of them with all their sales. I said no. They were individual Girl Scouts and didn’t get to work the system. Our sales are evenly divided between the two children. We will probably modify that approach if they stick with Girl Scouts when they’re old enough to sell cookies more independently.

Keeping Track

One of the more challenging things for little girls is keeping track of what money is coming in and what cookies are going out. I made my daughters a chart, shown below, to help them keep up with sales. They used tally marks to track cookie boxes and wrote down donation amounts in dollars. (Click the image for a printable PDF.)

Cookie Sale Tracker

Different troops handle orders differently. In our troop, we discuss sales goals with our daughters and provide and initial estimate. Our Cookie Dad puts in an order for the troop and distributes the cookies once they arrive. If we realize we need more cookies, we can ask him and he’ll put in a couple of additional group orders during cookie season. We’re free to sell door-to-door or to our friends, but we’re also welcome to serve at booths set up at businesses around the community.

Other troops take orders by order form and only purchase cookies to meet their orders. They must then deliver the cookies. A couple of troops sell cookies online.

Types of Cookies

One of the things I found most confusing was the different types of cookies. Seemingly identical cookies had different names. People wanted to know why we weren’t selling their favourite cookie from the year before. People wanted to know why their cousin 100 miles away could buy Lemonades when we didn’t have them.

There are two different bakeries licensed to make Girl Scout cookies. They use different names (and recipes) for the cookies, although Thin Mints are Thin Mints regardless of bakery. So Samoas are Caramel Delites. Do-si-Dos are Peanut Butter Sandwiches. Also, Trefoils are Shortbread, Tagalongs are Peanut Butter Patties. Apart from the core 5 cookies, they make different types. Little Brownie Bakers’ lemon cookies are bite-sized powdered sugar-covered crescents called Savannah Smiles, while ABC Bakers’ Lemonades are lemon-iced shortbread cookies.

Also, from the official Girl Scout Cookie FAQ:

Half of the Girl Scout councils served by Little Brownie Bakers are taking part in the “Super Six” initiative and selling the core five favorite Girl Scout Cookies (Thin Mints, Samoas, Tagalongs, Do-si-dos, and Trefoils) and Savannah Smiles. Research shows that these core varieties appeal to the vast majority of customers. This initiative has been very successful and well received by both Girl Scout members and cookie consumers. The primary benefit to the participating Girl Scout councils is better management of cookie inventory and a way to streamline the sale process for girls and volunteers.

When Is Cookie Season?

Cookie season varies from region to region. I imagine that weather plays a role. I’m certain that Minnesota troops have no interest in selling cookies while there’s snow on the ground, while we Texas troop certainly don’t want our cookies melting in our cars in the summer.

Officially, cookie season is limited to 6-8 weeks to allow girls to focus on them for that period of time and then move onto other Girl Scout activities. Unofficially, I wouldn’t be surprised if the limited availability was intended to maintain consumer interest in the product. After all, people are more likely to buy a whole lot of cookies if they know they won’t be available again for 10 months than if they can run to the store if they run out.

If you’re interested in seeing when you’ll be able to buy cookies, you can check out the Girl Scout site’s cookie finder.

Any questions? What’s your Girl Scout cookie preference?

A big thank you to Michelle for editorial review!

Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun, when the girls entered elementary school and also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.

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