Help a MoM Advocate for Twins at School

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.”

  • 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 our 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.

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

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 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.

Separate Preschools – An End of Year Update

Preschoolbeforeandafter

Some of you might remember my post last summer about separating my twin boys for preschool, not into different classes, but into different schools. We are wrapping up the school year so I thought I would share a bullet-point list update of how the year went. One kid was done two weeks ago, the other finishes today. (Making up the snow days.)

DSC_0700

Good

  • Independence. Every discussion on separating twins in school eventually independence is cited as a main reason to separate. In our case, I didn’t feel like they were ready to be apart, and they didn’t really understand what was happening. However, it was very clear to us as parents that one was incredibly reliant on the other, to the point he would defer to his brother to answer questions about the alphabet or counting. Being in his own school, he has been able to demonstrate he can do those things on his own, without his brother.
  • New Experiences. Both boys love their teachers and have enjoyed going to school. They love telling each other about what they did today in school and they are able to share these experiences with each other.
  • Excelling in the school. Without the other to lean on, they have each grown and really prospered.
  • New friends. They have both made new friends and look forward to seeing them at school. We have set up playdates with new friends and it is nice to see them form friendships without each other. 
  • Progress. This time last year we were at such a tough place, middle-of-terrible-3’s, a kid with un-dagnosed, indeterminate delays, and it was heartbreaking and frustrating. Now a year later it is so much better. We have answers, strategies and we are all working together. It’s truly amazing to see how much progress we have all made as a family.

Bad

  • Juggling two different school calendars. One kid goes four days a week, one goes two days a week, overlapping only one day, but forcing us to be two places at once. Both schools were considerate of the situation within our family and invited the other kid to class parties. It never worked out though, it seemed whenever the parties were scheduled, one or the other was sick, or the other was in class that day in the other school. Both schools had a policy of no siblings on field trips, but requested parents to accompany their kids. Every field trip except one we couldn’t go because the trips, of course, fell of a day the other was NOT in school. 
  • Dependence. My boys are very close and play well together (most of the time.) They have active imaginations and finish each other’s thoughts. They devise games and scenarios and have similar interests. We have a playgroup we have played with since the boys were babies, comprised of other twin families, and whom my kids play with really well. It was surprising to read in a progress report that one of my sons did not have any friends, did not play with any other children and did not seem to socialize with anyone other than the adults in the room. Considering how social he is at home and with his playgroup friends, this was unexpected. He has since made a couple friends and seeks them out occasionally, but without the companionship of his brother it seems like he is less confident in making friends.
  • Emotions trauma and drama. The first weeks were really hard. Tears, tantrums, acting out, you name it. Same thing happened after Christmas break and the first few days of spring break after they’ve been together 24/7 again. We’ve also seen a lot of jealousy when one kid has something fun at school like a field trip or pajama day. One kid would have a bring-your-favorite-toy day and the other would want to bring one too. I was always writing notes explained weird outfits or things in backpacks. 
  • The Twin Thing. When we have been invited to parties or playdates, I am not really sure how to include/not exclude the other kid. I have been “that Mom” who invited her other kid to a playdate because I didn’t want to have one miss it because he has a twin brother. At age 4, playdates are still a Mom-goes-too event and as far as I am concerned these two are a package deal for now. Eventually they can have their own social calendars, but for now where one goes we all go.

Ugly

  • Germs. Lots of them. One preschool class is a pertidish of plagues, two was ridiculous. We just got through the longest, crummiest winter in Chicago in a century so we were inside, a lot. And with two classes full of oozing, snotty, sneezy preschoolers exposing our family to bug after bug, we pretty much had something or another in an endless cycle the past seven months. We had so much plague at our house, it was gross. Pink eye, tummy bugs, endless coughs, colds, fevers, snot. Yuck.
  • Uncertainty. We had to wait until May for the IEP meeting to find out whether my one son would continue in the early childhood program. Truthfully I wasn’t sure he would, he’s done so well meeting his goals. So we had to enroll him in the other school with his brother so we could save two spots in one class. At the meeting we were told he would definitely be going back next year, that he still has ground to cover before he’s ready to start Kindergarten. Due to their November birthday, they will be almost-6 when they start Kindergarten and have another whole year of preschool where they will be 5 most of the year. After this year of preschool, though, it is uncertain what will happen next. Whether they will be back together, separate classes, separate schools, separate grade levels. 

 

Jen is a stay-at-home Mom of 4-year-old twin boys who just finished up a year of preschool, separated and on their own. They all survived and thrived.  Their adventures are (intermittently and mostly in photos) blogged at goteamwood.com.

MiM: End of Year Teacher Gift – Personalized Cookies

At the end of the school year, I like to use gifts to show my gratitude to the teachers, school staff, and afterschool counselors with whom I’ve entrusted my children’s education and safety. Unfortunately, my budget is rather small and my time limited. I got larger gifts for my daughters’ classroom teachers (shhhh… they’re still a secret) and decorated these cookies for a straightforward but elegant offering for the girls’ art, music, PE and Gifted and Talented teachers, afterschool care counselors, and office staff.

Teacher gift: Personalized cookies

(I know. It’s not Monday. Still, it’s been a while since a Make-It Monday post and I wanted to get this out there for others waiting until the last minute for teacher gifts.)

To really save time, instead of baking fresh cookies, I used store-bought round shortbread cookies. I made a batch of thick royal icing, then divided it, tinted the sections, and thinned portions into a flood consistency. I’ll share my royal icing recipe below, but for instructions and notes on consistency, allow me to refer you to the amazing Amber of Sweetambs.

Royal Icing

  • 2 lbs (1 package) confectioners sugar
  • 3 tbsp meringue powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla flavour
  • ½ tsp butter flavour
  • about 10 tbsp warm water, with more water for thinning

Mix all ingredients together in a stand mixer and beat until well-mixed, scraping down the sides.

I used food colours from the basic Wilton 12-colour set. I used the burgundy for a light pink and dark pink, the Kelly green for a light green and dark green, and a touch of brown to give an ivory tint to the white.

None of this stuff requires piping tips, although I like to use disposable piping bags with the tips snipped off. You could also just transfer your icing into a Ziploc bags and cIip a corner with scissors.

I used basic wet-on-wet royal icing techniques for all the cookies except the volleyballs. Rather than reinvent the wheel, allow me to refer your to the experts. Amber does an expert job of demonstrating how to make the roses and leaves on her blog and shows us how to get the marbled look in this video.

(Note that I only did the first sets of lines and didn’t bother with the scoring parallel to the lines of icing.)

Originally, all the teachers were going to get roses, but my daughters were completely appalled by this proposal. They thought that roses could work for their art teacher, but it was obvious to them that I needed to something that reflected the subject that each teacher taught. They agreed to treble clefs for their music teacher, volleyballs for PE, and YMCA logos for their afterschool counselors. I suggested books for their Gifted and Talented teacher, but they couldn’t get on the same page, so we went with marbled cookies to represent creativity and abstract concepts.

For the YMCA logo cookies, I just outlined the triangle of the Y before flooding the surface of the cookie. Then, I flooded the inside of the triangle with a contrasting colour. Finally, I used flood consistency icing to outline the remainder of the logo freehand. The treble clef cookies were also all freehand. Red Couch Recipes shows you how to make the heart-ish border with dots of icing and a toothpick.

Finally, for the volleyball cookies, I flooded the surface of each cookie and allowed them to dry for at least an hour so that the stiff icing I used for the lines wouldn’t sink into the  surface beneath.

Straightforward volleyball design for cookies (or cupcakes... or whatever)

I let all the cookies dry solid overnight (at least 12 hours), then stored them all in an airtight container until I was ready to hand them out. I packed them with foodsafe tissue paper in cute containers, added my thank you cards, tossed in a few icing roses (demoed by Sugarbelle), and I was done!

Volleyball cookies for PE teachers!

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.

Toddler Thursday: 6 Steps to Encourage Toddler Literacy

The seeds of a reading habit are coaxed to life during the toddler years.

The seeds for my daughters’ early literacy were planted during infancy and nurtured during the toddler years. By pre-school (age 4), my girls could read simple short books they’d never seen before, such as Amelia Bedelia and Hop on Pop. My daughters were independently reading chapter books by the time they were 5.

I can’t guarantee that your children will be early readers, but these are my tips for getting your toddlers on the path to reading.

  1. Keep books within reach. I highly recommend that you give your children free access to age-appropriate books. I know that it’s tempting to keep things neat by putting toys and books out of reach of your toddler. However, having independent access to his or her books will encourage your toddler to handle them, explore them, and become familiar with them. It can be as simple as reserving the bottom shelf of your bookshelves for children’s books.
    Keep kids' books within their reach to encourage a love of reading.
  2. Let toddlers leaf through magazines and catalogues. They can get used to the texture of paper and how it should be handled. You probably won’t care if they tear some of the pages. Magazines and catalogues are filled with bright, engaging pictures. You may be surprised by the stories your toddler comes up with to describe what’s going on!
    Let toddlers look through catalogs and magazines.
  3. Invest in letter recognition toys. We loved our LeapFrog Fridge Phonics. Just looking at this photo of M with her magnets brought the song back to me. ♫ “B says /b/. B says /b/. Every letter makes a sound. B says /b/.” ♬ The repetitive nature of this noisy toy drove the girls’ Dad bonkers, but my kids learned their letters! It doesn’t look like Leapfrog makes the fridge model any more, but I suspect that the Letter Factory Phonics does the trick.
    Leapfrog Phonics toys help toddlers learn their letters.
  4. Make a game of letter recognition. We had a rather long commute to and from daycare. We’d pick a different letter for each ride and look for it everywhere: on billboards, license plates and store signs. I also kept a pack of dollar store alphabet flashcards in the car and would have a grand time quizzing the girls on the letter I was holding up. Sometimes, I’d just ask them to name the letter. Other times, we’d come up with every word we could think of that started with that letter. J and M were able to participate in this game and enjoy it thoroughly by the time they were 2.Alphabet flashcards are a great basis for many toddler-friendly games.
  5. Get your child his or her own library card. Gone are the old days of librarians shushing children. At every public library we’ve visited (and that’s a lot), children’s librarians have been warm and welcoming and very patient with my kids’ age-appropriately childish behaviour. They value toddler literacy as much as you do! Many libraries will associate your children’s library account with yours so that you can track all your materials. The sense of ownership of having one’s own library card can’t be beat, and getting to use it encourages your child to explore the stacks and read checked out books. It’s perfectly all right to confine your toddler’s options to board books at first.This library offers child-specific library accounts and cards. Great way to encourage a healthy library habit!
  6. Read to them, with them and in front of them every day. You feed your kid food every day to nourish his or her body. Reading every day nourishes his or her mind. Seeing you read helps normalize reading as an enjoyable activity. We read books throughout the day whenever we could. Even on days into which I couldn’t quite fit in devoted reading time between getting home from work and feeding and bathing the kids, we read Goodnight Moon as part of our bedtime routine. After about a year, I didn’t even need to read it to them any more. My daughters recited it from memory, delighted to be able to do such a grownup thing as “read”.Reading with your kids is a great way to spend time together.

What recommendations do you have for encouraging a love of the written word in toddlers?

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.

Party Trick: Mental Multiplication

“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.

Talk to Your Children About What You Read

I’ve been reading The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts. I really should be reading the version for dealing with children, since I’m single with no intention of changing that. However, it doesn’t take much to see how the simple premise of the book relates to parenting and sibling relationships.

As you have probably gleaned from others discussing this book, the message boils down to this: people usually give and receive affection in one or two of five ways, or “love languages”. Identify your loved one’s primary love languages, seeking to display your love (and accept theirs) in a way that brings them joy, and they will be able to recognize your affection.

The five love languages are:

  • Words of affirmation
  • Acts of service
  • Receiving gifts
  • Quality time
  • Physical touch

Me? I tend to show love and appreciation through quality time and words of affirmation. I am most touched by acts of service and words of affirmation.

My daughter J, my snuggle bunny, needs physical touch and quality time.

M is glutton for words of affirmation and physical touch. Until her dad I divorced, her secondary love language was actually receiving gifts or treats..

The basics of applying the 5 love languages to parenting. Recognize what your child needs to feel loved and validated.

I’d heard about this idea before, but it really rang true for me. As I was chatting with my daughters after school, getting that quality time in, I told them about what I’d been reading. J, in particular, was fascinated. We went to the book series website so that they could examine the list of love languages at their leisure.

“That makes sense!” she told me. “I need snuggles more than M. And she is always talking! What’s your love language?”

I told her that spending time with her and M was what really filled my heart, and hearing “I love you” made it overflow. So, quality time and words of affirmation were mine.

Next, she wanted to know what her teacher’s was. I told her I wasn’t sure, but that her teacher and I had a lot of other character traits in common, so we might have love languages in common too. I knew that she volunteered at the local food pantry and was always going the extra mile to help us out, so I suspected acts of service were up there for her.

The conversation eventually wound down to a logical end, and I didn’t think too much more about it.

The next day, J and M’s teacher texted me a photo of a letter she had found on her desk.

A 7-year-old wrote this to her teacher after learning about the 5 love languages. From hdydi.com

J had taken away from our discussion the idea of words of affirmation and put it into practice. Instead of just hugging her teacher or trying to perform her best on schoolwork to show her appreciation, she put it into words.

I was reminded of the bigger lesson. In order to build their literacy, it’s critical to talk to your children about what you read. It’s amazing what they can understand. By letting them know that you are a reader, you’re showing them that reading is a pleasure, not simply something one does because an adult orders them to do so. By discussing what you’ve taken away from your book, you demonstrate basic critical thinking skills, how to identify key points, and self-reflection. It’s also helpful, once they’re reading silently, to develop the habit of discussing what each of you has read to confirm that each child’s reading comprehension is keeping up with their reading fluency.

I may have taken this a little far. I used to hold extended monologues on literature with the girls when they were infants. There wasn’t much I could do while breastfeeding besides reading. They were my very passive and rather greedy book club.

Encourage your kids to read, but let them see you read too. Show them how you think critically, and they will copy you.

Do you and your children discuss what you (and they) read?

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.

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

“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.

Spiral Learning: Permutations for Elementary Students

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.

An Introduction to Girl Scout Cookies

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.