Archive for the 'Schooling' Category

Stephen’s School Lunch Menu

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This is for Noodlepie who’s asking to see everyone’s school lunch menu. Click to see a larger image.

Stephen quite likes his school lunches and tries new things every day. Yesterday’s new-to-him item was peach ice cream which he seemed to like yet wasn’t completely sold on.

Stephen: I had peach ice crem for dessert today.
Me: Oh! That’s interesting. Was it good?
Stephen nods: Yes! It was delicious.
Me: Should we get some next time?
Stephen: Naaah.


The Myth of Being Well-Rounded

How many “well-rounded” people do you know? Someone who has a diverse range of interests and is sort-of, kind-of good at everything? Someone who is as eager to go chase a ball as stay home and read Proust?

I don’t know anyone like that.

bookwormOver at Wrong Side of Thirty, Lilian’s trying to get her two little bookworms to put the books down and go out to do something more active – swimming, skipping rope, ice skating, something besides lying on the couch and reading all day. While I applaud her efforts, I also think that it won’t change the boys’ preferences much in the end. I know from personal experience because my parents used to drag my sister and me away from our books to go shoot hoops. And just to show how well that took, I haven’t held a basketball in my hands even once in the past 15 years. And it’s not just imitating a mom who professes that she likes to stay home herself although that’s clear in our home too where Marv and I have a long history of being homebodies. A lot of it has to do with our inborn temperaments which are awfully hard to overcome. And, yes, I do believe it’s partly genetics (but you knew I’d say that!).

I think being well-rounded is a myth. A myth that puts unnecessary pressure on everyone to involve themselves in all the following pursuits:

  • Intellectual
  • Athletic
  • Artistic
  • Social/Humanitarian

And while we have may have tried an activity from each of these categories, there’s no doubt that most of us are only good at one or two on the list.

Clearly, I’ve focused on the intellect for most of my life. I was on the track team freshman year of high school but didn’t last longer than a couple of weeks although it was the easiest sport. No one ever got kicked off the track and field team as long as they showed up for every practice and participated in an event at every meet win or lose. And, of course, I always lost. ;) You could even letter in track if you had a good record of participation.

Up through college, I had a strong artistic side. At any given point in time, I played at least two instruments and can play piano, flute, violin, and string bass. I played piano and violin competitively and considered going to a music conservatory for a millisecond before returning to my true love – science. Social and humanitarian efforts are a little easier to come by because they can be part of any intellectual interest. For example, fitting genetics with genetic testing and patient empowerment isn’t such a stretch.

I’ve always known I’d never be the perfectly well-rounded person no matter how hard I tried and I never did try all that hard.

As a parent, one of my biggest aims is to teach my child to appreciate all the good things in life, which includes sports, arts, cerebral pursuits, and good deeds. Perhaps the key is not to think that you should excel at all these yourself, but that these activities have valuable qualities not to be dismissed. I may pretend that sports have little redeeming value but I know that they not only teach self- and body-awareness but also team spirit and a passion for pure fun. Not to mention that all the score keeping is math in disguise. haaa

stanford skilling auditoriumWhen it comes to American colleges, the mantra is that they look for students who are not just tops at academics but who are also involved in extracurricular activities (note the plural); that colleges want “well-rounded” students, not kids who are indoors all day with their faces glued to the computer screen never mind if they’re entrepreneurs starting their first online business. Not true.

Parents who believe the myth of the well-rounded student and prep their children for a slew of cram school courses and extracurricular activities are probably headed down the wrong track. Admissions officers can smell passion. If an applicant doesn’t have it for the activities s/he fills in on the form, the application will reek.

Here’s an excerpt from an excellent article on the myth of the well-rounded student by Joe Jewell at PrepMe Advice:

Especially early on in a high school student’s educational career, it’s great to explore a wide range of interests. As you mature, it’s only natural that some activities will become better-loved than others, and you will naturally settle into those pursuits. Be aware of this process and seek to grow in responsibility and achievement in the things that you are passionate about.

…a student with passionate interests, even if they are somewhat off the beaten path-in fact, especially if they are somewhat off the beaten path-is truly the hot commodity in college admissions.

So while we should all strive to try different things and push ourselves out of our comfort zone, it’s still important to allow ourselves the freedom to pursue what we truly enjoy and are naturally drawn to no matter what it may be (within reason, of course!). Life is about both exciting new experiences and the comforts of what we love.

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Report Card Gems

Stephen received his end-of-school-year report yesterday and after each section, there were suggestions for games and activities parents could do with their children at home. Here are some that made me laugh and others that made me reflect on what I’ve done with Stephen.

IMG 55861. Join your local toy library.

Are you kidding? We are the local toy library! (See picture of Stephen exhausted after a playful day. Actually, he was just pretending. haha)

2. Play games where people take turns inc. handing round biscuits, etc.

Here I can proudly say that although Stephen isn’t a perfectly behaved child in school, he willingly shares his after school treats with his friends. I don’t think there’s a kid in that class who hasn’t received a small candy, chocolate, or potato chip from him.

3. Show your child how much you enjoy reading & writing.

Just the other day, we were talking about what each of us collects. Stephen said that he collects toys (see #1), I collect books (beams proudly), and Marv collects video games (raised eyebrow). As for the time I spend on the computer, he says, “You’re working; sending messages, talking to Popo (my mom), and writing.”

4. Talk to your child about favourite TV programmes or things you have done together.

transformers autobots dk bookWhile some parents may not want to encourage TV watching in their children, I’ve actually gone out of my way to order special Transformers books for children to encourage Stephen’s reading. I am definitely not one of those who believe TV is evil. And while I don’t necessarily agree with everything unschooler Dayna Martin and her family have chosen for their educational path, I did appreciate her article on anti-TV elitism despite the fact that I am a “book worshipper” and a magazine worshipper and an Internet worshipper,….

5. Draw your child’s attention to, and involve him/her in daily reading & writing routines.

Thankfully, Stephen has a natural interest in these things but we also do about 15 workbook pages a week. Currently, he’s working on one workbook for handwriting and another for addition.

A June example of a sentence Stephen constructed:

TuoMIS has a FeD
TuoMIS brIs MaX hoMo to VIZT

Translation: Thomas has a friend. Thomas brings Max home to visit.

6. Laying the table.

Oops. We don’t eat properly at the dining room table and because of Marv’s irregular working hours, we hardly ever eat together either.

7. Talk to “grannie.”


8. Play with different media.

If only different media didn’t also mean big mess! Sometimes paint, play dough, sand, and other crafts are better done at school.

9. Turn pages.

I guess some kids rip pages instead of turn them? At ages 4-5, I would have expected something a little more advanced than this.

10. Make percussion instruments from tins, containers, etc.

Good lord. Does he not make enough noise just going through his LEGO pieces?! Who knew a bajillion little pieces of plastic could make such a racket!

What kinds of gems were in your child’s report card?


Unauthorized Absence

Remember when I mentioned last year that Stephen’s school district is exceptionally strict about absences? We missed four days at the start of this term because we returned from California late and had bad jetlag as well. Today I received a letter from the Head of Service Education Welfare & School Attendance (sic).

An excerpt:

The School and Local Education Authority are very concerned that you have taken Stephen out of school during term time.

It is out of concern for Stephen that I write to you in this way. We think it is important that all parents should be aware of the implications of holidays during term time, the lack of continuity of education and reduced progress for their child, the disruption for other pupils in the class who may suffer as a result, the additional work and planning for teachers and the demand on school places in [our school district].

prison guard 1

Please don’t throw me in jail! I figured it wouldn’t be a huge deal because he’s only four years old….


Healthy Food for Kids at School


The Institute of Medicine has issued new guidelines for the kinds of food American kids will be offered at school.

  • Lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy foods.
  • None can be more than 200 calories per serving.
  • Foods have to be low in fat, saturated fat, sodium, sugar, and have no added caffeine.

In the UK, the School Food Trust emphasizes the same. Here are a few notes from a newsletter Stephen brought hom from his primary school where he eats lunch every day.

  • Sausages and chicken nuggets are completely organic and free from artificial additives.
  • Fish fingers are made from whole cod fillet.
  • Fresh fruit, yoghurt and cheese and biscuits are available daily as an alternative to dessert. (Stephen often eats these instead of “dessert.”)

Most interestingly, they’ve removed sandwiches from the menu! When Stephen first started school, he would tell me he ate a chicken sandwich for lunch every single gosh darned day. Then suddenly, he began telling me that he ate macaroni, fish cake, cold pasta, baked potato, and all sorts of other stuff he normally would never try. Whoopee! The main reason I like having him eat lunch at school is to get him to try different things and FINALLY he was doing it! Could the cooks have read my mind?

continue reading



clever soupStephen’s been attending school in London for a year now. During this time, I’ve had the chance to observe some interesting practices. One thing I’ve noticed is the frequent use of the word “clever.”

At first I was uncomfortable with clever because I don’t believe in praising children for their innate ability but more for their specific efforts*. But then I thought that maybe, as an American, my interpretation of clever might be different than what’s intended here in Britain. I think of clever as being the same as intelligent or smart but clever can actually have a number of definitions.

  1. mentally bright; having sharp or quick intelligence; able.
  2. superficially skillful, witty, or original in character or construction; facile
  3. showing inventiveness or originality; ingenious
  4. adroit with the hands or body; dexterous or nimble.

Now I’m starting to think clever is fine praise as long as it’s accompanied by a reminder to work hard, try and try again, and push past the inevitable failure and disappointment.

David Goodman, a 15-year-old participant in the National Academy for Gifted and Talented Youth (Nagty) in the UK, seems to really get that:

I’m hardly a genius or anything. I’m reasonably clever, I suppose, but I just try to work hard.

~BBC News

*Don’t miss this New York Magazine article on “the inverse power of praise.”


No Pictures Please

Today, I was at Stephen’s school helping the kids put on their costumes for the annual Christmas show. During the chaos, I videotaped them milling about dressed as angels, snowmen, and stars and also took some photos. At first, I intended to take a picture of everyone to make sure that all were included then get the shots developed later this week. But soon, one of the teachers came over and whispered that technically, I shouldn’t be taking photos of other people’s kids because a parent in another class had specifically requested that their child not be photographed. What the @#!

I couldn’t believe that the type of parents Esther Rantzen wrote about in the Times Online in October really do exist! She is the founder of ChildLine, a toll free number in the UK which children can dial and ask for help with abuse. In the piece, she touched on the difficulty of balancing between protecting our children and overprotecting them.

The truth is that paedophiles are unscrupulous and cunning and they have taken jobs as school bus drivers, sports coaches and youth club leaders to gain access to children.

However, the letter does express a real fear. Over the past 20 years, alongside sensible advances such as the creation of commissioners for children and a minister for children, there have been examples of daft over-zealousness.

Why on earth prevent parents taking photographs of their children performing in a nativity play or pictures of their children playing football? The five-year-old who plays Joseph at Christmas time, the 10-year-old who scores a miraculous goal for his team, deserve their place in the family album.

The loss of innocent contact is a real deprivation for a child. Why shouldn?t a teacher cuddle a six-year-old who has fallen down in the playground? It would be a tragedy if fathers were inhibited from hugging their daughters. The abused children I have met desperately want and need the ?safe cuddles? that they never receive. We do all children a huge disservice by assuming that all adults are paedophiles.

I have always taken care not to post pictures of other children’s faces and am even shying away from posting pictures of Stephen. And, thankfully, since the teachers know me well, I wasn’t thrown in jail today. Even more important, Stephen is here with me, well loved and cared for.

If you’re a kid living in the UK and need someone to talk to about any problem, call ChildLine. They’ve got counsellors who can help you. 0800 1111


Gotta Love Comments

If I were a betting woman, I would bet that a number of students plagiarize Genetics and Health for their homework. And a few of them are even bold enough to ask for help:

# michael Says:
November 20th, 2006 at 10:28 pm

Inmagine a classroom containig 20 atudents. Describe the positioning and movement o fthe students in this classroom if they were to represrnt the gas, liquid, and solid states of matter. CAN YOU ANSWER THIS IF YOU CAN PLEASE GIVE ME THE CORRECT AND EXCEPTABLE ANSWER PLEASE PLEASE I?M ONLY IN THE 10TH GRADE

My reply:

michael: I?m sorry I can?t help you do your homework. Looks like you might want to work on your typing and spelling too along with science. ;)


Wish you were here…

(A postcard from Stephen’s school district.)

That’s the message we have for parents.
We want to see your kids in school!
Children MUST attend school regularly.
Please don’t take holidays during term time.
Don’t put your child at a disadvantage by taking
your holiday when they need to be at school.
Family holidays in term time are disruptive and
can seriously affect childrens (sic) education.
Unauthorized absence can
lead to prosecution…

ACK! They’re on to me!!


Stanford University EPGY Online High School

The Internet is truly a wonderful, equal-opportunity place. For gifted high school students without access to the challenging quality education they deserve, Stanford (my alma mater) has opened a fully accredited, diploma-granting high school online – Stanford University Education Program for Gifted Youth Online High School (EPGY-OHS).

These are the kinds of gifted students they’re targeting all around the world:

  • Students in rural areas or overseas
  • Students who are being home schooled
  • Students in Title I schools
  • Students who need advanced instruction in a particular subject area
  • Students interested in academic pursuits not covered by the standard high school curriculum
  • Students who want a more intensive academic program

Raymond Ravaglia, deputy director of EPGY:

The course of study will be academically rigorous, featuring enhanced mathematical content in the natural sciences and social sciences and emphasizing discussion and argumentation in humanities courses.

University-level courses will also be available as is financial aid. Even better, students don’t have to be enrolled full time and can continue attending their local high school. During the summer, students can visit Stanford for up to eight weeks to meet classmates and teachers as well as getting some hands-on experience, such as in the lab. What a dream!

During my last year in high school, I gained early acceptance to UC Berekeley and took two courses there. It wasn’t the greatest experience. I felt alienated because I was not attending full-time, had limited course selection because of my high school schedule, and wasn’t motivated or mature enough to really take advantage of the situation. If EPGY-OHS had been available, I would have probably taken more science courses online and continued with orchestra and other courses at my high school. That’s assuming I’d get accepted, of course.

*sigh* I really miss my Stanford days! Fond memories of time spent with Marv, my sister, and friends. Don’t miss the stress of school too much but those years were some of the best of my life. Good times.

More information at the EPGY-OHS website.
Stanford Report, April 14, 2006

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