Category Archives: education

You Know You’re a Farmer’s Kid When…

You know you’re a farmer’s kid when…

Your dad pulls out his wallet to pay for dinner… just a simple, well-worn wallet…

and bits of HAY (yes, hay that cows eat) fly out of his wallet and land all over the restaurant table. All. Over.

Then, without missing a beat, he says…

“It’s just a little seed money.”

Get it…hay seed?

What dad can resist telling a good dad joke?

Truly, I laughed. It was a pretty funny moment.

My dad spends pretty much the entire summer on a tractor making hay. And, yes, that hay seems to get everywhere. And, yes, I’m glossing over how hard this season is for a farmer.

So you can truly understand this hay-in-the-wallet situation, I decided to do a little recreation of the moment for you.

I picked up my dad’s wallet, shook it ONCE and this is how much hay fell out of his wallet and onto the counter.

There was NO WAY I was going to shake the wallet another time. I know there was an entire field more hay in there.

This was enough mess to clean up and I was trying to keep this little experiment on the down low. By the way, Dad, I did not take that $10!

Sometimes I think there are misperceptions about farmers.

Most people know they are hard-working and it can definitely be dirty work. Clearly, they’ve got to have a good sense of humor.

What you might not know is many farmers, like my dad, are smart, college-educated individuals who love what they do.

My parents encouraged me to pursue what interested me – to find what I loved to do. They never made me feel bad about leaving the farm, leaving the state and now, leaving the country to pursue life’s opportunities.

Really, I had the best of both worlds. The freedom and support to explore and follow my interests. Plus, the foundation of a stable home life and a strong work ethic learned from growing up on a farm.

It’s a big, beautiful world and they gave me roots, but let me fly.

I feel so fortunate that I can bring my kids back here to see where those roots were planted.

My kids don’t fully understand it, but they are soaking it all in. They are seeing hard work in action. They are observing how to be good stewards of the land. They are learning to respect Mother Nature. They are hearing your word is your bond. They are learning that even in the middle of hay season, Grandpa makes time for family.

I’m thankful for the opportunity to share all of this and more with them. Through it all, I hope my children see I’m happy and proud to be a farmer’s kid.

Be sure and thank a farmer the next time you see one. We couldn’t get by without them.

A Year Without Grades

My children completed their first year in an Irish primary school. Woohoo! Next year it is on to 2nd and 5th grade. How did that happen so fast? Time is flying, people. Just flying by.

When we moved to Ireland almost a year ago, my kids had been attending a terrific public school in the southern United States. Suffice it to say, this year has been a big adjustment for all of us – especially them.

Side note: My kids are not in the Irish public school system. They attend a private primary school. I detailed those reasons here. If you’re an expat moving to Ireland, it’s worth the read.

My kids were SO DISAPPOINTED when they learned their Irish school did not issue report cards. WHAT?!?! That’s right. No report cards.

You see, up until now, we had been rewarding them for earning “good” report cards.

It was a fantastic motivational tool, but I’ve been wondering lately if we were really rewarding the right thing?

It seems, in some instances, doing well in school is less about intelligence and more about being able to work well within a particular school environment.

Theoretically, a good report card should mean the student has mastered the subject. As a person who has crammed for a test and then promptly forgot everything as soon as the test was over, I know that’s not necessarily the case.

So what’s it like for your kids to NOT receive grades for an entire year?

Speaking ONLY from our experience at the primary school level, I’ve found the difference between receiving grades and not receiving grades is subtle, but profound.

I liken it to the difference between eating your dessert and really savoring every single bite of your dessert. In both instances you get to eat dessert and the same calories are applied, but the person who takes the time to savor each morsel gets so much more out of the experience.


LEARNING WITH ALL THE SENSES

At my children’s school, a big part of their day was spent learning through hands-on methods. For instance, math is regularly done with blocks, beads and other manipulatives.

Kids are encouraged to get up and move around. In my son’s class, they can even take off their shoes when indoors. If you’ve ever met my son, you’ll know how huge this was for him! It also explains some of the missing socks.

Instruction is done in small groups or one-on-one.

Curriculum is integrated in a project-based learning format. For instance it could look like this:
Read about a scientist and a particular experiment.
Look on the globe to see where he/she lived.
Use math to figure out how to recreate the experiment.
Document the results in writing and include colorful drawings and graphics.
Clean up your station. Put away materials neatly for the next group to use.
Give an oral report to the class on your findings.


SUCCESS IS REDEFINED

In a ‘no report card’ environment, success is measured differently.

A report card does not define you as a student. Instead, mastering a new skill or subject over time does.

My daughter brought home a math workbook every school night this year. Her calculations were done in a sum book (see below). Looking through the sum book, I could see where the teacher checked her homework every day (this one was corrected on May 24).

If needed, part of her homework included making corrections. Learning where you went wrong and how to fix it is key in actually mastering the concept. As adults, we all know this.

In my experience with various U.S. public schools, I haven’t seen (maybe it’s done, just not at home where I’ve encountered it), much emphasis being placed on going back and doing corrections. What I have seen happen is a “here’s the next worksheet, try again” scenario. By the way, I mean this in no way as a slight to teachers. They are amazing people working in very challenging situations with rules they rarely control. I have the utmost respect for them.

Also, I’ve noticed my daughter’s math workbook, in particular, keeps coming back to certain topics. Last year, in the United States, she spent time learning fractions and then it was done. The fraction unit was complete, the class moved on and she still was not solid in her understanding of fractions. This was after doing extra work at home and reaching out to the teacher. And she’s a bright kid! This year, we’ve done fractions multiple times. One night I remember saying, “didn’t you already do this?” I was having a strong case of deja vu! As I flipped back through the book, I saw that yes, indeed, she had done fractions 15 pages prior.

Have you heard the phrases “use it or lose it” or “summer slide?” Well, that happens if you don’t practice a certain skill. For my daughter, this technique of periodically coming back to a topic, whether it is math or english, has been so helpful. I can tell when she’s really “gotten” a concept because she doesn’t ask for help with her homework, it takes her less time to finish, she can help someone else and/or she doesn’t have corrections to do.

Success is also redefined in ways that don’t relate to academics. In our case, the intangibles in a child’s development were given a chance to shine. There’s no place on a report card to grade a child who becomes more responsible or who develops confidence (other than a teacher’s note/remark), but those are key life skills they need to develop to become well-balanced individuals.

This year, I often asked my daughter’s teacher how she was doing in math or science, but it was the teacher who often sought me out to say how excited she was to see my daughter blossoming with confidence and creativity.


DON’T QUIT, HAVE GRIT

When my child’s teacher was pointing out personal growth or life skill developments, it wasn’t that the academics were of less importance – quite the contrary. It’s just that the teacher knew from decades of experience that given enough time and hard work each child was going to master the curriculum. Furthermore, they have confidence that child is going to move on and do well in a rigorous secondary school environment where there are grades!

I did well in school, not because I was the smartest – far from it. I did well in school because I worked hard for it. I had to study. A lot. In short, I was motivated.

I saw my kids, for the first time, motivated by something other than a reward from a good report card. Do you know how huge that is? There was no reward. There was no prize at the finish line (especially one mom had facilitated). There really wasn’t a finish line, per se.

Somehow, in this school environment, they found motivation from within. Perhaps it was always there, but in this environment their focus (and mine!) was taken off of the end goal and refocused on the everyday experience of learning and loving to learn.

When my 6-year-old’s homework was to write 3 sentences and instead he writes an entire page just because he wants to – that is motivation that is coming from somewhere inside of him. Because believe me, mommy was tired and ready for homework to be over that day!

They were working hard because they chose to do it. Because it was the right thing to do. Not because I made or motivated them. Not because a teacher was marking down a grade and tabulating a report card score.

My daughter had A LOT of homework this year. A LOT. She has no sense of urgency when it comes to these tasks, but I have to give her credit for not giving up. For not complaining about the work. For sticking with it and asking questions until it all made sense. Her grit got her though.

I don’t want to give the mistaken impression that this was an idyllic, perfect experience. Of course it wasn’t. This is real life with real kids and a mom who is still figuring it all out. There were nights when they were tired, I was tired, when homework seemed like a drag. There were days when they were not at their best when I dropped them off for school. (I’m so sorry about that!) I know there were times when they acted “a little cheeky” to use my son’s new-found phrase. (I’m so, SO sorry about that too!)

My son also will tell you he “doesn’t like school” because he thinks the alternative is staying home with mom and playing Minecraft all day. Dream on, kid! He happily skips into school each day and comes out with a smile on his face, so I think he’s doing just fine.

So where does that leave us? Well, I’m taking this experience in. I’m letting it reshape my view of education at the elementary school level. I’m also letting it reshape my view on parenting as it relates to this topic. It’s another piece to the puzzle and we’ll see how it goes next year.

Do I think kids should never be graded or assessed? No, of course not. I understand why they are and see the benefit in it at certain times. At the primary school level I think report cards are less about the students, however, and more about making sure the system is accountable. And I get why the system needs to be accountable.

Finding the right words to describe a very complex experience is tricky and I’ve struggled with writing this post. I hope I have in no way implied that our public school experience in the U.S. has been bad. Quite the contrary. I also haven’t had to walk a mile in the shoes of a parent whose child has special needs. Or in the shoes of a parent whose child has attended a failing school. Our experience is ours alone.

Most of all, I’m thankful. I’m thankful for teachers who devote their lives to educating the next generation. I’m thankful for teachers who continue teaching despite low pay, long hours, demanding parents, mountains of paperwork, bumbling bureaucracies, and so on. Those things can be found everywhere, unfortunately.

I’m thankful for the educators and researchers who are out there in countries around the world trying to make the system better. I’m thankful for parents who donate their time, for businesses that donate resources, for those governments that properly fund schools. I’m thankful for communities that recognize the value of an education. I’m thankful for my kids and their willingness to dive into these new situations and make the most of it. As is the case with so many things, what we put into it is what we get out of it.

I’m also thankful that I did not say out loud, “but how will I know if they learned anything if I don’t get a report card?” You know I thought it at least once.

Turns out, I didn’t need a report to see the fruits of their learning. In this case, I’m happy to be wrong! Here’s to next year! 


P.S. Here’s a bit of contextual information that influences my viewpoint because I know that simply not giving grades doesn’t magically change the education experience. Also, I’m not an educator. I’m simply a mom trying to make the best decisions for my kids’ education.

1. My kids attend a private school. Report cards ARE given in Irish public schools.
2. My kids are in mixed-age classrooms. (6-9 year olds and 9-12 year olds). A mixed-age environment seems to more easily facilitate children being able to work ahead in the curriculum, which my kids did do this year.
3. The student-teacher ratio is approximately 10:1.
4. The school is able to accommodate students with autism, dyslexia, ADHD, English as a second language, etc. Kids with special needs are NOT separated from the rest of the class.
5. My kids do not have special learning needs.
6. I had heard that European schools are much more advanced and/or challenging than U.S. schools, so I was worried about my kids being behind in terms of math, in particular. That proved to not be the case. Both of the kids were either on par or slightly above average in reading and math. I attribute that, in large part, to the excellent teachers we had while in Oregon and Georgia.
7. My kids DO take the standardized tests required of all Irish students. They also get the occasional spelling or math quiz.
8. Teachers have flexibility in how much time is spent on any given topic and how they teach that topic.
9. This type of school environment is something we would definitely be priced out of in the United States, so I am relishing it while we are here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Books My Kids Are Reading Part 4

I was reading aloud to the kids last week while we waited at the train station. My son, in typical fashion, was sitting on my lap and my daughter was sitting on my right. On her right sat an elderly man.

I read for 5 or 6 minutes while the kids munched on their after school snack. When they hopped up to throw their granola bar wrappers in the bin, the man turned to me and with a quiet, gravelly voice said, “I remember my mum reading to me when I was a young lad.”

I noticed his eyes had teared up.

“She’s been gone 5 years now.”

With that he got up, pulled his hanky from his pocket to wipe his eyes and walked off to board his train.

I didn’t have a chance to say much of anything in reply before he left.

It’s probably for the best. It was such a sweet, sincere moment of remembrance.

I certainly didn’t want to tarnish it by telling him that I’d started using our train commute to read to the kids because holy heck, they turn into wild animals given too much idle time. Dealing with wild animals squabbling siblings in public sends my blood pressure through the roof. So basically, I’m channeling their energy into books instead of bugging each other.

But perhaps, one day, decades from now, my kids will fondly remember this reading time too.

So, read to your kids! And your grandkids! It might not seem like it now, but it will make a difference.

Here are a few books that we’ve enjoyed reading lately. My kids are ages 7 and 10.


THE MIDNIGHT GANG by David Walliams

We are making our way through the world of David Walliams. My favorite book so far, and probably the kids’ too, is The Midnight Gang.

In this book, the kids in the hospital have a secret club. They help make each child’s biggest dream come true, which means every night they are going on fantastic adventures through the hospital.

There’s adventure, drama, humor and some poignantly sweet moments as well.


THE BOY IN THE DRESS by David Walliams

My kids have been asking some TOUGH life questions lately. Those questions that are perfectly normal, but that as a parent make you want to do that slow backward slide out of the room to avoid answering. If you’re like me you spend a lot of time second-guessing if you got the explanation right because you’re never prepared for these questions!

I thought this book was headed into one of those territories. I was wrong. It was really just about a kid who missed his mom. It was about a kid who was different. It was about how real friends will rally around you no matter how different you are.

My kids laughed. They were amazed. But they didn’t ask me any tough questions. See? They are always keeping me on my toes.

We’ve also read some of David Walliams’ other books such as Awful Auntie, Demon Dentist and Ratburger. I have to say, the adults in these three David Walliams books are terrible individuals.

He always brings the books to a nice, happy conclusion, but man, his adult characters are bad, bad people. For some reason, my kids don’t pick up on that. Their favorite thing to do is to interrupt my reading to say, “I think I know what’s going to happen next!” They seem to take these stories at face level: there’s good, there’s evil, and good always wins.

Also, there is one reoccurring character in all of David Walliams’ books, Raj, who runs the newsagent shop. If you read more than one of his books, your kids will love to see how Raj pops up in each story. He’s definitely a quirky character and my kids adore him.


HOW TO CHANGE THE WORLD WITH A BALL OF STRING by Tim Cooke

This was my favorite book of the last month! I bought it on a whim and it’s a keeper!

It’s a world history book written and illustrated in a kid-friendly way. So many history books are dreadfully dull. Not this one. Even the word choice and phrasing was geared to make history exciting for kids (and parents too). Best of all, each topic was short and sweet.

Every page spread is a different historical era:
Base a Philosophy…On Beans (Pythagoras)
Start a Renaissance…By Getting Naked (da Vinci, Michelangelo, etc.)
Win Battles…By Shooting Backwards (Genghis Khan and the Mongols)
Start a Democracy…With Wet Feet (Magna Carta and King John)
Get Out of a Depression…By Planting Trees (New Deal and FDR)
Go to the Moon…With a Pocket Calculator (Neil Armstrong and NASA)

It looks like this book may be out of print, so the only ones available on Amazon are used. Don’t get scalped though! I’m mainly mentioning this book so that if you see it at the library or in a bookshop you’ll know to snatch it up. Also, it was SO, SO good!


HOUSE OF ROBOTS by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein

This is the first time we’ve read any of James Patterson’s children’s books. My kids, especially my son, ATE THIS BOOK UP!

It was about robots, after all!

This book and the others by Patterson take place in middle school, but this one didn’t seem too old subject-wise for either of my kids. It mainly dealt with typical things you might find in any school: best friends, lunch room antics and bullies. Oh, and what happens if your new “brother” is a robot and your mom makes you take him to school. You know, the usual!

I really liked how the mom in the book was a genius robotics professor. It was a great way to introduce girls to the idea of a career in science.

If you have a reluctant reader, this book is illustrated with a lot of thought bubbles. My son complains about reading a page of text, but has no problem reading thought and voice bubbles. It’s an excellent way to sneak extra reading aloud in.

We can’t wait to check out more of James Patterson’s books.


THE IMAGINARY by A.F. Harrold

This book was SO different from what we’ve been reading lately. My kids are still talking about it.

The premise of this book is what if imaginary friends are real? What happens to the imaginaries when their real-life friends grow up and don’t believe in them anymore? Rudger is Amanda’s imaginary friend and he soon learns that an evil man is after the imaginaries. How can an imaginary boy save the day in the real world?

The description of this book says it is in the vein of Coraline. I can see that. It’s a little dark and definitely fantastical. If your kids like Harry Potter, they will like this book. My kids loved the suspense and the sweet ending.


WARRIORS MANGA BOX SET: GRAYSTRIPE’S ADVENTURE by Erin Hunter

We are going broke buying my daughter the Warrior Cat books!

When she is into something, she’s REALLY into it. The Warrior Cat books are one of those things. There are a ton of books in this best-selling series by Erin Hunter and my daughter can keep them all straight.

In her painting class she has been painting the book covers. When she does imaginary play, it’s always about Warrior Cats. Oh, and Warrior Cats is being turned into a movie. I believe my daughter has a countdown going.

I do not understand the world of Warrior Cats, but she LOVES it!

She got this box set for her birthday. Manga is a Japanese-style of graphic novels. However, if straight chapter books are up your kid’s alley, there are a whole bunch of those too!

If you have an older kid who likes cats, check this series out.


HORTEN’S MIRACULOUS MECHANISM’S: MAGIC, MYSTERY, & A VERY STRANGE ADVENTURE by Lissa Evans

This book was so clever and so much fun to read. We’re still talking about it!

The book description says it best: “As if being small and having S. Horten as his name isn’t bad enough, now 10-year-old Stuart is forced to move far away from all his friends. But on his very first day in his new home, Stuart’s swept up in an extraordinary adventure: the quest to find his great-uncle Tony–a famous magician who literally disappeared off the face of the earth–and Tony’s marvelous, long-lost workshop. Along the way, Stuart reluctantly accepts help from the annoying triplets next door… and encounters trouble from another magician who’s also desperate to get hold of Tony’s treasures.”


Here are past posts on books we LOVE
1. Books My Kids Are Reading Part 3
2. Books My Kids Are Reading Part 2
3. Books My Kids Are Reading Now (Part 1)
4. Two Children’s Books That Made My Eyes Leak – Cried my eyes out. Still my favorite books.
5. Star Wars Phonics Books – These worked miracles at encouraging my son to read


If you know of any books my kids would love, please let me know.

Having a new book to look forward to reading makes us pretty darn happy!

Also, it apparently keeps this mom from blowing a gasket during our commute. So, really, books are saving the day!

 

 

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Quick Tip: Teaching Kids to Type

Do you remember learning how to type?

Was it on a computer keyboard or a typewriter?

I must have been in that transition period during the mid-1990s because I learned both in high school.

While I may be in denial about how much time has passed since then, there is no denying I have two sweet children who will need to learn to type much sooner than I did. Between homework and computer games, my kids are doing more and more that involves typing.

Train research, anyone?


Watching them do the one-finger keyboard peck is oh, so painful. For my 6-year-old it is often accompanied by the “how do you spell” question and then a painfully long pause while he hunts for the “L” key. Then the “A” key. Then the…you get my point.

For this generation, there is no way around living in an online world. Waiting to teach this skill until high school is too late.

That one-finger peck needs to be remedied before it becomes a really bad habit.

Do they even teach typing in school anymore? I don’t even know.

A friend let me know about a free website called typing.com.

All you have to do is sign up for a free student account. By the way, typing.com doesn’t know me, I’m just sharing our experience thus far.

The site starts out teaching the very basics. The first lesson shows you where to put your index fingers, then you practice typing Js and Fs. Over and over. The lessons proceed from there by adding keys and increasing the difficulty.

The program records your accuracy, your speed and identifies where you need to improve. My kids are spending about 15 minutes on each lesson and seem to enjoy it. I mean, it’s not Minecraft, but it is extra computer time. So in their world, SCORE!


My plan is to have them spend some time each week building their typing skills. Every little bit helps. Oh, and this website isn’t just for kids. Adults can test and build their typing skills too!

I know it’s not as satisfying as hearing that happy little ding from an old-fashioned typewriter, but you’ve got to take what you can get!

Books My Kids Are Reading Part 3

I was snuggling with my son at bedtime recently and thought he’d fallen asleep. I was enjoying the quiet and psyching myself up to do that slow slither out of bed to avoid waking him. Just as I started to stretch one leg off the bed, my son suddenly says to me, “Mom, I had a good day at school.”

Sometimes I second-guess our life choices and then one of my kids will say something like this and I think “Phew. We’re okay. It’s all working out.”

I was certain he’d had a good day because it was Active Week at school and they had done tennis and gymnastics that particular day. Or maybe because of lunch. He likes lunch and outside play time. But no. He told me he had a good day because he read a book about robots making cars and how robots can make cars 24 hours a day.

He had all of these other really specific facts about robots too. So I asked him if he read this book or if his teacher read it. “I read it, mom.” Then I asked him if he just looked at the pictures or if he read the words too? I know, awesome parenting moment. But he’s 6, so I was trying to understand how the learning and reading were progressing. He said, “I looked at the pictures and read the words. Ms. Dempsey said I did a good job reading. I read a lot of books today.”

The last thing on his mind at the end of the day was a compliment from his teacher and a book about robots. Consider my heart melted.

Reading will open the world to him and I can see glimpses of that happening already.

Here’s the best of what my kids (boy, age 6 and girl, age 9) and I have read recently. There have been other books that were okay, but these were the books that stood out and are worth sharing.


The Astounding Broccoli Boy by Frank Cottrell Boyce

We recently read The Astounding Broccoli Boy and it was about a boy who is bullied who turns green. The doctors didn’t understand what had caused his skin to change color, but the boy figured it was because he had become a superhero. A series of fantastic adventures unfold from there.

This was a long book and I wouldn’t have minded if it was a wee bit shorter. However, my kids loved it because the story was highly engaging and just real enough to make them imagine being in the characters’ shoes. There were twists and turns and in the end, all the plot points came together. Sprinkled throughout the book were messages about being bullied, the bullies themselves and self-worth.

This is the very last paragraph of the book and I wish every kid out there who feels like they don’t fit in would be able to take this message to heart.

“And I thought, the best thing about people is how different they are. When we went green, people wanted us to stop being green, to be the same as everyone else again. But it was only because we were different that we could be astounding. The thing that makes you different is the thing that makes you astounding. The thing that makes you different from everyone else – that’s your superpower.”the character Rory in Frank Cottrell Boyce’s book, The Astounding Broccoli Boy


Wonder by R.J. Palacio

I picked Wonder up at the bookstore and was ready to bring it home, but then my daughter looked at it and said, “we’re reading that at school.”

My daughter’s teacher reads to the class everyday at lunchtime. I can’t tell you how much I love this practice. My daughter seems to like it too!

Anyway, my daughter told me this book was really, really good. In fact, it’s going to be made into a movie soon.

To quote the book jacket: “August Pullman was born with a facial difference that, up until now, has prevented him from going to a mainstream school. Starting 5th grade at Beecher Prep, he wants nothing more than to be treated as an ordinary kid—but his new classmates can’t get past Auggie’s extraordinary face… In a world where bullying among young people is an epidemic, this is a refreshing new narrative full of heart and hope. R.J. Palacio has called her debut novel “a meditation on kindness” —indeed, every reader will come away with a greater appreciation for the simple courage of friendship. Auggie is a hero to root for, a diamond in the rough who proves that you can’t blend in when you were born to stand out.”


Brilliant by Roddy Doyle

I have never heard the word “brilliant” uttered more than in my time living in Dublin. Or “brill” as some of the moms like to text. I still can’t do that. If you’d like to learn some Irish lingo and take a pretty accurate tour of Dublin, this book, Brilliant, nails it.

But that’s just the surface level and this book addresses a much deeper issue – depression. It was interesting to read about an adult topic in a children’s book. As depression’s reach is far and wide, it made me wonder how kids process this reality.

Roddy Doyle’s approach to tackling this topic definitely brought it down to my kids’ level. They didn’t ask me a lot of questions about depression. They were more interested in the characters’ adventure through the city. But one night they did ask me about people being sad. It was a gentle way of letting them know that being sick isn’t always just about the sniffles.

Despite this book sounding like it was a downer, it wasn’t. The kids and I enjoyed it. It made them think a little and me too. Always a good thing.

I liked what this reviewer on GoodReads had to say: “What adults will like: The book’s accessible treatment of depression, the fantastic writing (especially the dialogue – which Doyle is really a master of), the positive and hopeful themes, and the romp through Dublin (an expert tour if there ever was one). What kids will like: The sibling hijinks, the talking animals, forbidden nighttime adventures, the quest to do the right thing, jokes, and victory at the end. The book might not work for every reader, but there’s something in it for readers of all ages.”


The Story of the Blue Planet by Andri Snaer Magnason

The kids and I devoured this book about a planet where only children live. No one knows how old the kids are or how they got there, but each day is filled with danger, excitement and simple pleasures. What’s not to love, right?

Things are happy and perfect on the planet until a stranger crash lands. An adult.

There were SO MANY real life lessons hidden in The Story of the Blue Planet. For instance, how what we do might make our lives better, but it might come at a cost to someone else.

Or, what happens if the sun really does go away? Can plants grow in darkness? Can animals survive?

Or, how the truth can be manipulated.

Or, how the majority is not always right – because the truth is manipulated or they get caught up in the moment – and how doing the right thing can be very difficult.

Or, how the most generous people are sometimes those who have the least to give.

I could go on and on.


The Story of the Blue Planet was written back in 1999 by an Icelandic author and it wasn’t translated into english until a few years ago.

If there is one book you read this year, this should be it. It was SO engrossing. My kids begged me to read this book when it wasn’t “story time.” They begged me for just one more chapter each night and I was glad because I wanted to read more too!


Here are past posts on books we LOVE
1. Books My Kids Are Reading Part 2
2. Books My Kids Are Reading Now (Part 1)
3. Two Children’s Books That Made My Eyes Leak – Cried my eyes out. Still my favorite books.
4. Star Wars Phonics Books – These worked miracles at encouraging my son to read


If you know of some books my kids might enjoy, please let me know. We are continually on a quest for new stories to devour. Starting a new book makes us so happy. Finishing a good book always makes us a little wistful…until we start the next one!

Books My Kids Are Reading Part 2

The other day my 6-year-old son was standing in front of his bookshelf and I hear him holler out, “Mom! You need to get me some history books!” I was so shocked to hear this come out of his mouth since he spends most of his time talking about farts, Legos and Minecraft that I didn’t even mind that he forgot to use the word please. I have no idea what prompted this declaration, but the next time we go to the library we’ll be sure to head straight for the history section.

In the meantime, here are some books my kids and I have read together recently that they loved – even if they weren’t about history.

THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS

We are currently working our way through The Wind in the Willows. I’m not going to kid you, it’s going to take awhile. A book written over 100 years ago uses more flowery language than my feeble brain is used to reading. My kids are constantly interrupting me to ask what certain words mean, which is awesome. Vocabulary building for the win! But it does slow down the actual story reading. A few times, so far, the animals have called each other an ass and so I change it to “naughty boy” or something clever like that! Despite all that, I think it’s worth it to continue making our way through this story.


THE UNLIKELY ADVENTURES OF MABEL JONES

This book starts with the premise of what happens when kids do “The Deed.” The Deed is when a child picks their nose and eats the booger. If this happens, the child can be taken by a band of animal pirates (pirate animals?) to another dimension where an entire series of wild adventures occur.

My kids loved this book. If the main characters weren’t animals, some of the plot points would be oh, no way! Being kidnapped by pirates, for instance. I think the over-the-top ridiculousness of the situation made the scenarios and the pirate battles fun, entertaining and too far-fetched  to be taken seriously. Plus, the hero of the story is actually a heroine who demonstrates how to be brave, smart and a good friend. But if your kids take things literally, you might wait on this one…unless they eat their boogers.

KIDS’ PAPER AIRPLANE BOOK

My son has had this book for about a year. It was packed away when we moved and he recently rediscovered it. The book is written by a world record holder for paper airplane throwing. Who would have thought there was such a thing?!

While my son can now read the directions, what I like most about this book is how good it is for building manual dexterity. To be able to cut and fold in an exact manner is a good skill to work toward. The more he performs these tasks, the better he gets and the better his airplane flies.

GUINNESS BOOK OF WORLD RECORDS 2017

I like that the Guinness Book of World Records inspires kids to believe that anything is possible. If you love paper airplanes, then you can set a world record for flying paper airplanes. Why not?

DanTDM: TRAYAURUS AND THE ENCHANTED CRYSTAL

The popularity of this book will only make sense if you have kids who like to watch other people play Minecraft on YouTube. Yes, instead of playing Minecraft themselves, they are watching other people play Minecraft. It makes no sense to me either, but now I wish I would have thought of the idea because I think being a YouTube star pays quite well.

DanTDM (Dan Middleton) is a popular YouTuber and he wrote a graphic novel. My kids were over-the-moon to get this book for Christmas. This is not The Wind in the Willows type literature, by any means, but any time a child willingly picks up a book is a win in my mind.

THE BOLDS

My kids found this book WILDLY entertaining – beg me to keep reading one more chapter entertaining. It’s all about the idea of what if animals could pretend to be humans? In this story, a family of hyenas does just that. How do they pull it off? Does anyone discover their secret? You’ll have to read the book to find out!

That’s the sampling of some of the books we’ve enjoyed lately! It always makes me happy to see my kids engaged in a good story.


P.S. If you want to read my last post about books my kids have read, click here.

P.P.S If you want to see which children’s books made me bawl my eyes out, click here.

Moving to Ireland: Primary School 101

Last week my kids started school. In a foreign country.

I am the first to admit, over the course of my children’s lives, I have spent way too much time worrying thinking about their education. I really thought, at least as it relates to this topic, I had finally settled into my version of chill mom mode, but then we up and moved to Ireland.

Don’t get me wrong, Ireland is AWESOME and I don’t regret coming for a second. In fact, you should all join me here. But, I’m back to obsessing thinking about my kids’ education again.

Navigating the school enrollment landscape in Ireland has been tougher than I anticipated.

If you are moving to Ireland, or just curious, here are some important things we’ve learned about the Irish education system mainly as it relates to elementary or primary school. Please note: I’m not an expert. This is simply my experience thus far. At the end of this post, I’ll tell you what we decided to do.

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TERMINOLOGY
Here is some terminology I found helpful.

1. Instead of grade, it is class. 1st class, 2nd class, etc.
2. Elementary school is called primary school and runs through class 6.
3. Instead of pre-k and kindergarten, they have junior and senior infant classes.
4. Instead of middle and high school, it’s called secondary school. It’s broken into cycles: junior cycle (3 years), transition year (1 year) and senior cycle (2 years). However, only the first 3 years are required (or until age 16).
5. Public schools are often called national schools – especially at the primary level.
6. Most primary schools are English speaking, but require Irish to be taught as a subject. You may hear the term Gaelscoil. This is an Irish language immersion school – there are close to 150 of them in the country.
7. Ireland still has some schools that are separated by gender. In other words, a girls school and a boys school.

Here are some links to helpful information:
Irish Department of Education

Brief Description of the Irish Education System

Wikipedia

IRELAND HAS NO SCHOOL DISTRICTS
Schools in Ireland are open enrollment. If you live in one town and want your kids to go to a school in another town – even a public school – you can!

The catch is you have to apply first.

It doesn’t matter what school you are applying to public or private, there will be an application process.

Now I’m going to rain on your parade and I hate to do that because I really love parades. If you have just moved to Ireland, chances are all the schools you want your kids to go to will be full. That’s because people will apply YEARS in advance for their child to attend a particular school. Our daughter is entering 4th class and we were told by several people that we need to start applying to secondary schools now.

No pressure.

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PICK A SCHOOL FIRST OR A HOME FIRST?
Our relocation assistant often expressed sympathy for our dilemma of enrolling our kids in school. Do you look for a school first or do you look for a home first? Just because you find a home does not mean your child will have a place in a school nearby.

Now, I’ve heard that if ALL of the schools in your area are full, there are some public schools that can make an admissions exception. I just haven’t been able to get a real clear answer from anyone on that topic. If an exception is made to admit your child due to a proximity issue, it is safe to say that the school is going to be over-crowded. So that should factor into your enrollment decision.

Also, you can’t enroll your children in an Irish school until they have a PPS number, which is like an Irish Social Security number. They can’t get a PPS number until you are legally in the country and have some sort of permanent address. If you were planning on popping into the country for a week as a tourist and enrolling your kids in school – it’s not going to happen.

If you are moving to Ireland during the school year, you need to anticipate a several week lag in when you can enroll your kids in school. If you move during the summer, you need to anticipate that the school offices will be closed sometime around the first week of July. That means if you don’t have your child enrolled before the administration leaves for the summer, you won’t be able to get in touch with anyone to even see if you can enroll your child in that school. You may have more luck in finding the offices in a private school open during July/August, but it depends on the school.

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THERE IS NO SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE IN EDUCATION
91.1% of schools in Ireland are run by the Roman Catholic church (source). These are government funded schools – public school. Children in these schools spend at least 2.5 hours per week on Catholic religious instruction, including preparing to take the sacrament (source).

When you apply to a school you will be asked your religion.

The school’s admission guidelines will, by and large, prioritize the acceptance of Catholic children over any other child.

If you want to opt your child out of religious instruction, you are able to do so. Accommodations for this request vary based on the resources of the school.

There is a movement underway in Ireland to remove the Roman Catholic church from public school management. As you can imagine, this is a sensitive and highly political subject. It’s safe to say it will be a long, slow process. In the meantime, non-denominational schools are growing in number, but comparatively speaking, are still a small percentage of the overall number of schools.

Here’s some additional information:
Irish Times article

Catholic Bishops Inclusion Good Practices PDF

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SCHOOL LUNCH
In public primary school, all kids are provided a free lunch and snack. Lunch is some variation on a sandwich, piece of fruit and water. There is a menu where the kids can select if they want a ham sandwich, jam sandwich, etc. My understanding is that most kids, unless they have allergies, utilize this school benefit.

For private schools, you will have to inquire separately as to whether or not meals are provided.

TRANSPORTATION
There are no school buses in Ireland. It is assumed that kids will either live close enough to walk or ride bikes/scooters to school. Alternatively, many kids take public transportation to school.

I have heard about “walking school buses” in Dublin, but I haven’t heard of one in my area. A walking school bus is a route a volunteer will walk each day, “picking up” kids along the way so they aren’t walking to and from school unsupervised.

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HIDDEN COSTS
If you are moving from the United States to Ireland – even if your kids are going to a free, public school – you need to be aware of some hidden primary school costs that you’re likely to incur in August before school goes back into session. 

In general, Irish kids are on summer holiday (vacation) during the calendar months of July and August.

Uniforms
All kids in Ireland wear uniforms to school. Departments stores sell the basics such as white shirts and grey trousers and the prices are very reasonable. A couple of Euros for a shirt, for instance. However, a lot of schools will require a special cardigan or jumper (sweater) with the school’s logo. These are purchased from a specially designated school uniform company of which there are 2 or 3 in Ireland. This is where things can get expensive – especially if the school requires a special jacket and tracksuit too. If this is the case, don’t be surprised if you are spending upwards of 200 euros per child, not including shoes, just for the bare minimum.

Speaking of shoes, almost all schools will require black school shoes on uniform days. On PE days, trainers (tennis shoes) are acceptable. Shoe stores in Ireland have entire sections devoted to black school shoes. And still, the selection isn’t that awesome.

Books and Supplies
All kids, regardless of whether you are going to a public or private school, pay for school supplies AND books. You will be issued a book list when your child is enrolled and informed which local store carries the books your child will need. In our first year here, we have spent approximately 130 euros per kid on books and supplies.

If your child ends up not writing in a particular book, you can sell it back to the bookstore. The reason they wouldn’t write in a book is that they will do all of the problems/work in a separate “copy or sum” book.

Activities
Depending on what type of school you go to, the kids may be asked to provide their own sports equipment. Our kids had to buy a field hockey stick, mouth guard and shin guards. This was around 45 euros per child.

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WHAT DID WE DECIDE?
I’m so glad you asked! I never thought I’d say this, but we opted to send our kids to private school.

This is where I will digress and say if you are in Ireland on a short-term expat package, private school is a common benefit your family will receive. We are not here on an expat package. We are here as a permanent hire – for whatever that is worth in the corporate world. So our benefits package for moving did not include money specifically designated for years and years of on-going schooling.

Our reasons for sending our kids to private school are somewhat convoluted. It was one of those “this is the best decision for right now” moments and we will reevaluate our decision every year.

First, we found a private school sort of close to our home that a) had an opening for both children and b) we thought would be a great fit for our children from an educational, social and cultural perspective.

Second, private school is 1/3 to 1/2 the cost of what private school costs in the United States. This was a game changer for us.

Third, our kids were accepted into a local public school, but I had a really bad experience with the acceptance process. We were able to narrow in on a geographic location (for where we would live) on the last day of school. So when I called to see if the school had availability next year, I caught them at an understandably bad time. After the last day of school, the school office was only open for one week. I was told I could not come in to tour the school. I could not come in and meet the principal. After speaking with the school secretary, I got an email instructing me to “show up on the first day of school and we will figure out where to place your kids.” They couldn’t even tell me what grade they would be in. In fairness, I don’t know what would have happened if I had just shown up in person and knocked on the school door. Maybe I would have got that tour, maybe I wouldn’t have.

I’m not a helicopter parent, but that level of dismissivenss was just way over-the-top for me. They do know that I grew these humans in my stomach and I have dedicated my life to cutting the crusts off their bread, right?

But truly, I’m not a helicopter parent.

I’m sure it would have all worked out fine, but the school’s attitude just made all of my protective instincts scream out loud. Given that we had just moved to a new country, these protective instincts were already working overtime. Here I am trying my darnedest to reduce the amount of uncertainty my kids are experiencing with this move and the school was heaping more uncertainty into the mix. Maybe chalk it up to heightened emotions and an over-active imagination, but I wasn’t happy about the situation.

Last, the “Catholic church running the schools” issue is one I am still pondering because we aren’t Catholic. I thought I would be okay with it. After all, we knew moving here that the Roman Catholics ran the school system. I just didn’t quite realize that the first thing the school secretary would ask me is when my kids were baptized. My response? “We aren’t Catholic.” Her response? “Oh. Well then.”

Would my kids face discrimination because they aren’t Catholic? I don’t know. The Church makes efforts to say they are inclusive in documents like this one. I do know it is interesting to experience the separation of church and state issue from the viewpoint of the minority. And as a human being who is constantly trying to learn and grow, it is illuminating to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.

BOTTOM LINE
Do your own research. Ask questions. Keep an open mind because your experience might be totally different than mine. And always trust your intuition. When you do, I’m sure you will be happy (or mostly so) with your decision. My kids had a great first day of school and I’m hoping they will have a great year as well.

 

Moving to Ireland: First Week of School

PHEW!

We survived the first day of school.

It’s the second day that’s the real killer. And the day after. And the…you get my point.

via GIPHY

It’s been an awesome summer. It’s also been a long, long summer. My kids were ready to be with their own kind.

I was ready for them to be with their own kind – for at least a few hours a day.

I was nervous dropping them off though! So nervous. My jazz hands were working overtime that morning to make sure my neuroses didn’t rub off on my kids. Fake it ’til you make it!

The first day of school is always a big deal. First day in a new school in a new country – that’s huge. My kids seemed to take it all in stride though.

I guess my jazz hands worked. Or, more likely, they are better at this than I am.

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We take a 10-minute train ride to school. This is partly because there are no school buses in Ireland and partly because the kids aren’t going to school in the town we live in. (I’ll tell you why that is on Monday. Stay tuned.)

I’m getting the “come on, mom!” look here. Clearly, the train is not a big deal to them anymore.

Wearing an uniform to school is a big deal though! Especially for the kid who thinks buttons belong in a torture chamber. I don’t disagree.

Thankfully, uniforms are something every student wears in Ireland, so the kids are quickly getting used to the idea of it. On PE and sports days the kids wear a special “tracksuit.”

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After we hop off the train, it takes us just a few minutes to scooter/walk along a pedestrian path to school.

By the way, the kids almost wore out their Razor scooters (similar) this summer, so we upgraded them to the Hudora Scooters with pneumatic wheels. The air-filled wheels mean that I don’t have to listen to the racket of a scooter over bumpy roads and cobblestones all. day. long. If your kids have scooters, you know what I mean. It was driving me batty. (Just watch the prices on Amazon, today I noticed they jacked the prices crazy high.)

This was our view on the first day. That cruise ship in the distance sails, yes sails, to fascinating places like Spain and Portugal.

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Part of the reason why my kids love the first day of school is because of our First Day of School Cookie tradition.

I make a giant cookie for each kid to celebrate the first day of school. This is the only day during the year they get a cookie that’s the size of the entire pan. Of course, they don’t eat it all that day, but I’m know they’d try if I let them.

I’m such a mom sometimes. Sheesh.

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Clearly, I missed my calling with cookie decorating.

Try not to let my amazing skills dissuade you from trying this at home.

That would be a shame.

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Handy Husband and I walked the kids into their classrooms on the first day of school. On the second day of school the kids felt confident enough to handle it on their own, but I needed to drop off some paperwork, so I went inside with them.

My daughter waved goodbye and with barely a backward glance raced off to her classroom. She was already in her groove.

I paused and watched as my son unpacked his backpack. He put away his lunchbox and started to get his daily schedule out of his bin.

Me: (seeing that he had everything under control) Are you good buddy?

Son: Yeah. I’m good.

Me: Okay, I’m going to run upstairs and get this paper signed by the other teacher. Have a good day. I love you!

Son: Okay, mom.

I kissed him on top of the head and turned to walk up the stairs. I was halfway up the stairs when he called out to me.

Son: Mom!

Me: Yeah, buddy?

Son: Can you come back here for a second?

Thinking he needed help with something I walked back down the stairs. Just before I reached the bottom he met me there and grabbed my legs in a big, huge bear hug. Time froze for an instant.

Then he said, “see you later mom!”

And, once again, I melted in a pile of maternal goo.

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I saw this quote somewhere, so I don’t know who to credit it to, but I loved it.

“May we give our children the roots to grow and the wings to fly.”

On that day with that encounter, my son had both.

I hope your kids had or will have a very happy first day of school too.