Thursday, August 30, 2018

A teachers perspective on safety drills

Mom2MomEd: A Teacher's Perspective on Safety Drills
Back to school is upon us and a lot of parents are worried about safety -- there have been far too many school shootings (one is too many) in recent years, and thus safety concerns are very real.

When I was a kid, we worried about a rabid dog, a swarm of bees, possibly a homeless person wandering onto campus.

We heard the fire drill, and happily marched to our assigned spots on the blacktop.
We stood quietly until all was clear and then returned to our classrooms without a second thought. It doesn't matter how I feel about guns...these shootings are happening now and they're not going to go away tonight. 

As a teacher, I typically know when our drills are going to occur. I mentally plan how to work our day around the time it will take for us to line up, walk out, and then return to class. Only we don't get straight to work. No way--I teach Kindergarten! My students need to process. After a drill, they are loud, so very loud. Drills are out of the norm, so far out of the norm. 

We have a process. We line up, I grab my safety vest, walkie-talkie and class binder. Someone grabs the class turtle. Yes, we plan to rescue our turtle! We walk quickly to the blacktop and face the trees. I quickly count the children and then hold up my green binder as a sign that we're all here. Then, we wait. Sometimes, the drill is over quickly, and sometimes it takes a bit longer. When the drill is over, we about-face and return to class.

I hear a lot of questions:
"Ms. McKenzie was that a drill?"
"Is there a fire?"
"How come you didn't tell us there was a drill?"

I answer the questions the best that I can, and I talk about why we need to practice--it's important to know what to do in case we ever have a real emergency.

Yet...sometimes we don't have fire drills. 

Sometimes we have lock down drills.

These can be to prevent smoke and other airborne toxins from coming into our classroom. We lock our doors, close our blinds, and carefully place rugs in the gaps under our doors. Then, we wait, quietly going about business as usual. 

It's confusing. Why are we doing this?

We talk about it and we process. We come up with reasons why this is important. We laugh that we have to whisper, and sometimes we just sit close to each other and wait.

Other times, we practice for an active shooter. The kids don't know this, of course, but I do. 

During these drills, we lock our doors, close our blinds, push tables and chairs in front of our doors. 

Then, all 26 of us cram into two itty-bitty kindergarten bathrooms that smell like pee. I tell my students not to talk--these are 5, 6, and 7 year olds. Not talking while smashed together in a tiny space? Yeah right! 

I stand in front of them. There is nothing more powerful than a mama protecting her cubs, and for eight hours a day these are my cubs.

I am ready.

Then, we process. 
They are in Kindergarten. 
They don't need to know exactly why we are doing this.

My young charges understand that bad things happen, but they don't need to worry about this happening to them.

Every once in a while, a child will chime in and say, "My mom told me people shoot kids in schools."

My heart sinks. Yes, kids have been shot in schools. I'm wracking my brain about how to talk about this. I refuse to lie, but I'm not also willing to tell the truth. Ugh, I pull things out of my hat, like, "Remember how we practice for fires? Well we also need to make sure we know what to do if someone who doesn't belong on our campus tries to come to our class."

Did it tell them enough to answer their questions, but not enough to scare them?

I spend the rest of the work time watching them.

Is there anyone who seems emotional? Scared? Maybe needs a hug? Do I need to do another processing session to make sure that they are all OK? How can I make this better for them?

As a parent, I know you send your child every day to school, hoping they are safe and well cared for. I know you don't want to picture your child standing in a bathroom with 24 other students not making a sound. It's really a awful thing to have to do. But, we do it. We do it not because we think it's fun to scare kids and make them do uncomfortable things. 

We do it because knowing what to do gives them a fighting chance.
Because we know that if they are all together in one space we can better protect them.
Because, unfortunately, we have too.

Rest assured parents...when your child is practicing these drills that no one wants to have, in front of them stands a teacher. A teacher who will protect those kids like they are their own. A teacher who in his/her mind is thinking, "I dare you to try to come in here."

A teacher who cares.

I've heard some mumbling among my friends and fellow parents lately about concerns about these drills. Some have suggested space age type pods that keep children safe, jugs of rocks to throw at intruders, and so on. Please don't assume that we want to do this. Teachers aren't the enemy. Honestly I'm not really even sure what is. I just know that my job is to keep these kids safe and I'm going to do it in any way possible. If that helps you sleep even a tiny bit better at night, you're welcome.

How do you talk to your kids about these types of safety drills? Do other teachers have tips on how to address children's concerns? How do you ensure that everyone feels safe?

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Keeping the Balance: Parenting and Teaching

Keeping the Balance: Parenting and Teaching
Whoa, life has sure been flying by fast! 

It's been a while since our last post.

Guess what? We're still here! We're not dead. At least not yet. 

It's the end of the school year, almost summer, and the weather has warmed up in the Northern Hemisphere. I've been spring cleaning, reorganizing, and trying to catch up on all of the things I've been procrastinating.

I've also been drinking too much coffee, eating too many sweets, and staying up way too late. Can you relate? Anyone?

Parents know how crazy the end of the school year is with kids. Teachers understand how crazy the end of the school year is with wrapping it all up and sending their students off with hopes for success.

But, what happens when you are a teacher and a parent? Well, you pretty much go straight into auto-pilot, pack some seriously crappy lunches the last few weeks of school, eat too many convenience foods, and let your kids stay up a little too late just to avoid the battle. Your kids may or may not take baths on a regular basis.

Your students will never know the crazy you feel.

You go into work each day with a smile on your face, and you say, "Good Morning."  You show patience and love all day long. You respond to calls of "Ms. McKenzie!" as lovingly as possible. You try to cram in a bunch of memories that you want to make before you send these little guys off onto their own into the world of "big kid" classes. You stay late in your classroom because you want it just so for the next day. You send emails to parents late at night because you want them to know you are available and care. You print worksheets out on your own printer because you can't stop thinking about the one student that just needs a little more time.

You drive home, and you are exhausted. You've been patient and kind and loving all day. Your own kids are the ones who get the tired mommy. The "I'm out of patience. Just please, go clean your room" mommy.  The "I can't do another art project or I may poke my eye out with a paintbrush" mommy.

It sucks.

How do you do both and do both well? 
How do I make sure my own kids get the best of me too? 

I'm only in my second year back to work after staying home with my kids. I often miss the days of staying in our pj's and doing art, going for nature walks, holding hands, snuggling, and cooking together. I had to remind myself this weekend that those days are gone whether I work or not. My kids are both in school all day. I can't keep them home to myself any longer. While the days of no where to be are gone, the days of big kids are here. 

Those days are pretty darn cool. 

My kids can now pour themselves a glass of milk, make their own beds, get a snack, turn on the TV, and do a million other things that only big kids can do. They still love to snuggle, read with me, cook with me, and go for walks. Only now, they get it. I can tell them that I'm tired or need a minute and they get it. They don't just take from me anymore, they now give too. They rub my feet for me; my daughter brushes my hair and brings me a glass of water. They're big kids, and they are pretty darn cool. 

Honestly, I've been really emotional this week with the year ending. My daughter starts Kindergarten next year, and my son will be in second grade. 

Wasn't it just yesterday that I was writing about the stress of finding the right Kindergarten?

I also have 24 more little hearts that I love like my own. I have to say goodbye to them in just two short weeks. I worry about them just like I worry about my kids. Did I teach them enough? Did they feel safe and loved today? Did they have enough to eat at lunch? Am I giving them my best and showing them how to give theirs?

Did I do enough?

Is it ever enough? Aren't we always second guessing ourselves? Isn't that a sign of a self reflective parent and teacher? I don't really know. I do know that I love my job as a mommy, and I love my job as a teacher, and I'm doing my best to make sure all of the children in my life know that they are loved and cherished. So, I'm going to say that just may be good enough.

Our pencils are tiny.
Our erasers are flat.
Our glue is all empty.
Our folders are fat.
Our crayons are all broken.
Our rugs are rolled neat.
Memories last forever.
Our year is complete!

Moms who are also teachers can you relate to any of this? Do you have any tips for other working moms on how to feel like you're giving your best to your family and your students?
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Tuesday, February 20, 2018

How to tidy your house 5 items at a time

Mom2MomEd Blog: The 5 item rule for a tidier house
As moms, Mckenzie and I know all too well how easy it is to feel overwhelmed all too frequently. And, when you feel that way, what typically happens to your house? 

It starts to look--and feel--like a wreck, right?

That's been the case at my house a lot over the last year and a half as we've dealt with my uncle being ill and passing away, as well as dealing with my own health issues (some resolved, some ongoing). When you are sad, depressed, tired, or feeling sick, it's easy to ignore your home.

Dishes pile up and go unwashed.
Floors remain unmopped and unvacuumed.
Windows stay  smudged and grimy.
Counters are cluttered.
And, on and on...

The worse the state of the house gets, the harder it feels to even begin tackling it all, right?


I've tried a number of home management and cleaning plans and systems over the years, and I have to say that many of them are completely overwhelming! They have zones and systems and steps and methods that just add up to a lot of rules and mental clutter for me. 

I need something more straight forward, especially when I'm feeling overwhelmed to the point that I just can't focus and keep track of a system or method or rules. 

One day, when facing my daunting full sink of dishes, I came up with a single rule that has revolutionized my cleaning and tidying style. My house may not be perfectly clean and tidy and organized all the time with this method, but my MIND feels less cluttered and that mental boost goes a long way!

All you need to do is select ONE room or area of your house to focus on and then every single time you go into that room or near that area, you put away, clean, or organized five items. 

That's it! That's the entire process! 


For us, that one area is almost always our kitchen. Every single time my son or I walk into the kitchen we take care of five items--and often, that leads to us getting even more done as often the hardest part of cleaning, organizing, and tidying when you feel overwhelmed is simply getting started, right?

At our house, in the kitchen this might look like:

  • loading five dishes into the dishwasher
  • cleaning the stove, counter, front of the microwave, fridge handles, and top of the fish tank (it lives in the kitchen)
  • sorting and organizing five plastic ware containers (matching tops and lids, for example)
  • tidying all of the items on one shelf of the fridge (more than five items to organize there!)
  • finding five unused gadgets to purge into our donations bin

By consistently doing this every time we go into our kitchen, the kitchen rarely returns to an overwhelming mess. 

Is our kitchen perfect all the time with this method? Hardly, but it is mentally a huge improvement and this method is MANAGEABLE for us.

Give it a try and tell us how it works for you! You don't have to tackle your kitchen or even the same room every time you apply the five items rule. The key is that you simply get started by selecting a small area to clean, organize, and tidy and then tackle it five items or tasks at a time every single time you go near it. 

How do you manage overwhelm and keep your home tidy?
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Monday, February 5, 2018

Grocery Haul: Mini-Costco trip

Grocery Haul: Mini-Costco trip
I don't know about you, but I kind of love grocery haul blog posts and videos! It's a small thing, but I enjoy seeing what and how others eat and the different prices of groceries across the United States (or even other countries!).

We've never shared a grocery haul on Mom2MomEd before, so we hope you'll indulge us for a moment!

For this trip, I went to Costco for a few staples, as well as a few treats for the family of a police officer that frequently stops in at the hospital where I work. I also picked up a little Galentine's (Valentine's Day for your female friends) treat for a friend.

My son and I are working on tightening up our family budget in order to prepare for some big savings goals, to crush debt, and to work towards financial freedom. As a result, we are spending February meal planning and eating out of our cupboards, fridge, and freezer rather than making our usual grocery store trips. Our goals include using up as much as possible with as little waste as possible, to create a more comprehensive list of recipes and menus that we enjoy on a regular basis, and to maximize our money. Thus, my most recent Costco trip was quite small compared to my normal Costco grocery hauls!

So, without further ado, here is my mini-Costco grocery haul:

  • Ziploc 4-pack of gallon sized freezer bags (152 bags total) -- $14.49 
  • Turkey breast lunch meat (1.58lbs) -- $10.41
  • Godiva chocolate hearts (14.6oz) -- $8.59
  • Kirkland Asian snack mix (2.5lbs) -- $9.99
  • Kirkland chocolate covered mango slices (19.4oz) -- $9.69
  • Kirkland organic ground beef (4lbs) -- $19.99

The Ziploc baggies will be used primarily for storing chopped up banana chunks in the freezer for smoothies, but I also use them to carry dog food when traveling, to carry my toiletries through airport security, and so on. In truth, it will take us an exceptionally long time to go through all of these baggies--probably a few years!).

The turkey breast is a lunch staple for us. No explanation there...

The Godiva chocolates will go in a Galentine's Day package for one of my closest friends--she LOVES Godiva!

The Kirkland Asian snack mix and the chocolate covered mango, however, were totally unplanned splurge purchases which defeats the purpose of my grocery shopping goals. However, they also are both snacks that we like and will consume completely, so the only waste will be the packaging. My mom also really likes both of these snacks and thus I'll pack up a bit of each for a trip we'll be taking to Southern California in a few weeks. 

And, the organic ground beef--well, it's expensive stuff compared to regular ol' ground beef! I swear, it's worth the price! We don't eat a lot of beef at our house, I grew up with a mom who bought ground turkey instead of beef. I ate turkey sloppy Joe's, turkey burgers, turkey meat balls, and so on. For years, I followed in my mom's turkey buying footsteps. Then, however, a few friends started telling me how much better organic, grass fed ground beef tastes. Then, a vlogger I follow on YouTube (The Former Mrs. Jones) did a Costco haul video proclaiming how much she loves the flavor of this beef. We decided to give it a try and now it's our go-to whenever we make tacos or other dishes that require ground meat.

  • Grape tomatoes (2lbs) -- $5.99
  • Kirkland quinoa salad (1.55lbs) -- $7.73
  • Bananas (Weight? Maybe 3.5lbs) -- $1.39
  • Organic baby carrots (5lbs) -- $5.49

These items were all on my Costco grocery list. We use the tomatoes in a whole bunch of ways, including just eating them as is, and we dice a bunch of them up to cook into taco meat. 

The bananas will primarily be used in smoothies and banana bread (see above regarding the Ziploc baggies...). The carrots will be eaten as is, used in soups, and so on; however, our dogs happen to LOVE baby carrots as snacks! In fact, one of them begs for them and she FrEaKs OuT if you say the word "carrot"!

The quinoa salad, well, it's simply delicious! I'm not a big quinoa fan, but this salad is refreshing and tasty. It is chock full of tomato, cucumber, cilantro, and other yummy goodness! I especially love a bowlful with a dollop of hummus on the top. 

  • Tree Top fruit snacks (80 pouches) -- $11.79
  • Clif Kid Organic Z Bars (36 bars) -- $17.49
  • Pocky sticks (1lb 9oz) -- $8.99

These three items were all purchased as a contribution to the gift for a local police officer's family as I mentioned above. I did pull out about 20 of the fruit snacks for my family, and the rest went into the gift package. 

What do your grocery hauls look like? Do you enjoy this type of post? If you have a Costco membership, what's the best thing you've ever bought there?

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Sunday, August 20, 2017

Stop saying "I don't care" to your children...

Mom2MomEd Blog: Stop saying "I don't care" to your children
"I don't care..."

Three little words that can have huge impact if not used with intention.

A few years ago, I found myself saying "I don't care" in response to my son asking if he could play video games. I'm not sure why, but I stopped short and thought about that phrase and made a conscious decision to try not to use it again unless I truly don't care about something.

The fact is, I DO care about my son and I DO care about what he does and how he spends his time. What I meant when I told my son "I don't care" in answer to his request to play video games was, "I'm not concerned with whether or not you play video games right now; however, I am concerned with whether or not it brings you happiness, whether or not you are being responsible, whether or not you are safe and well."

Just as many of us--women in particular--have a tendency to say "I'm sorry" as a reflex to any number of things when we have no reason to apologize, many of us also say "I don't care" in a similar manner. 

By saying "I don't care" to your child, you are sending a bigger message than simply "I don't care if you spend time playing a video game right now" or "I don't care if you eat carrots instead of apple slices." 

You are sending a message that your child might internalize as meaning "I don't care about YOU." It may not be your intent, but often what we intend and what the person on the other end of the message hear are not the same. Like with many negative messages, saying "I don't care" too often and in a careless manner may unintentionally ingrain in your child the message that you truly don't care about them--that they have no value to you.

Our language has power and we have a responsibility to use that power carefully, particularly when it comes to our children. 

Instead of "I don't care" I've made an effort over the last few years to say things like:
  • "Sure, you can play video games as long as you finished your chores for the day."
  • "Yep, you can have the last cookie! I bet it will taste terrific!"
  • "You want to stay up an extra 30 minutes? I suppose you can if you set your alarm clock properly for the morning."
  • "You don't want bananas? What fruit would you like?"
  • "You know what? I don't have an answer for that, but I love you a bunch!"
What phrases do you say regularly to your kids, spouse, partner, or friends without much thought that might actually be doing more harm than good? What might you say instead?
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Sunday, August 6, 2017

Three tips to ease potty training

Mom2MomEd Blog: 3 tips to ease potty training
My son and I went through potty training about 15 years ago--he's 18 now and, thankfully, we practically sailed through potty training during the toddler years. I know not everyone is so lucky. Several of my friends have young kids and are going through the potty training journey now with varying levels of success and frustrations.

While there are no guaranteed methods to potty train your child with ease, here are three steps I took with my son and why I think they worked so well:

1. Keep the door open
This seems to be a little bit of a controversial suggestion, especially if your child is the opposite gender of yourself, but if it's not a hassle, why not keep the bathroom door open?

I think one of the big reasons that kids are afraid to use the toilet or have difficulty with potty training is simply that the bathroom is mysterious. They know there's a toilet, and maybe they have some idea of what the toilet is for, but without seeing anyone use it, the toilet is this mysterious thing--it's this bowl, filled with water, with a huge hole. It makes complete sense to me why a child might be afraid of the toilet! If you had to sit on a bowl with an opening significantly larger than your backside, wouldn't you be afraid of falling in???

I struggled with toilet training my son until I didn't get the door shut all the way one morning when I had to use the bathroom. My son followed me to the bathroom and pushed the door open and suddenly the mystery around using the toilet was gone. After a few more times of seeing me use the toilet, it became much easier to convince him to sit on the seat--of course, we did get a little seat that fit on top of the regular toilet so that he wouldn't fall in! (THIS seat is very similar to what we used.)

You can buy little potty chairs, but I honestly think you can skip that unless you are traveling a lot and think your little one can't make it between pit stops.

2. Make it fun
There are a variety of ways to make potty training fun. My son didn't really need stickers or treats or other little trinkets when it came to potty training, but due to some ongoing gastrointestinal issues, he did need a way to pass time on the toilet without focusing on the actual task of going potty.

I kept a basket in the bathroom filled with some of my son's favorite books and periodically slipped in a couple of new books as well. We read books related to using the toilet, as well as many other little books that were simply enjoyable to read together.

We also spent a lot of time singing silly children's songs while he sat on the toilet waiting for the potty action to happen.

Then, once he'd peed or pooped we both clapped and I would give him a hearty "Good job, buddy!" and we'd do a high five. If you can get your child onto the toilet, it doesn't take much to make it a happy, fun experience (as fun as going to the bathroom can be, anyway!).

3. Stick to a schedule
You don't need to be super strict in keeping your child to a potty schedule, like drilling down to the minute or even to the five or ten minute marks; however, your child will benefit from a loose potty schedule. You'll need to gauge where your child is in their potty training and how long they reasonably can go between potty breaks to determine the schedule.

With my son, we started out by going to the potty first thing in the morning, trying for the same time every morning. Then, we would make a trip to the toilet every two hours throughout the day. Over time, we were able to stretch to three, then four hours between bathroom trips. Of course, we weren't always successful and sometimes we were out doing errands and a bathroom wasn't readily available or the only available bathroom was too gross for us to even consider.

As I mentioned, there are no guarantees that any particular method will work for your child. You may have to do some trial and error to find what works best for your family, but above all, pay attention to the clues your child is giving you. You may find that other tips and tricks work best for your family. Ultimately, do what works for your child's temperament and your situation.

Of course, I am not a medical doctor or other medical professional, so if you have any concerns about toilet training or other issues with your child, be sure to consult a pediatrician or other appropriate professional. The tips I provided here are only my opinion and are not to be taken as medical advice.

Are you a seasoned parent that has already gone through potty training with your children? What great tips or ideas do you have to share?

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Wednesday, August 2, 2017

You, your child, and poetry read alouds

Mom2MomEd Blog: You, your kids, and poetry read alouds
If you've been following along with Mom2MomEd for any length of time, you'll surely be aware that we love reading. We also love reading aloud with our children--my son is 18 and I still enjoy reading aloud with him!

After I began homeschooling my son, halfway through his fourth grade year, we took our reading aloud to a new level and started a loose tradition of reading poetry and classic novels together during and after dinner. We didn't necessarily do this every night, but it did happen at least two or three times per week for a few years.

Reading aloud was special in our home for many reasons, but I especially cherish our loose tradition because it allowed my son and my mom to form a bond they might not have had otherwise. You see, I was a single mother and, for a time, we couldn't afford to live in our own place. As such, we moved in with my mom--my son's grandmother. My mom is pretty old school (no pun intended) when it comes to certain things related to children. This includes the idea that children should be seen and not heard. It also involves children always following directions from adults. My mom was a kindergarten teacher, and although she was beloved by her students and their families, my son and my mom had a rocky relationship.

Since we lived with my mom, my son and I often ate dinner with her, and thus we included her in many of our evening read aloud sessions. The three of us especially enjoyed reading poetry together. A couple of times per month, my son and I would go to the library, and among all of the books in our library haul, we'd each have a few books of poetry to share at the dinner table.

Since my son and my mom often had difficulty getting along--my mom wanting my son to be quieter and more compliant and my son wanting to ask questions and to explore and discuss the world around him--reading aloud together helped to bridge the gap.

We especially loved to take turns as we read. Often we would each read a poem aloud, passing the book at hand around the table several times so that we'd each read several pieces. Some nights we'd only spend 10 or 15 minutes reading to one another. On other nights, nights when we were all in particularly good moods or just really enjoying the material before us, we might sit at the table reading aloud for more than an hour.

There are many ways that you can encourage your kids to read more, but reading aloud with them is a surefire way to lead by example and spark a passion for books.

Over time, my son and I (and my mom) found that we drifted back to a few poets and collections of poetry over and over, eventually adding them to our own home libraries. We would love for you to visit your town or city's library and check out books and explore the world of literature, but we've also provided links below to several of our favorite poetry collections:

First we have two collections of classics:
 Mom2MomED: Poetry for children

And, then there are those classics that many parents of my generation grew up with--the mostly silly but sometimes serious works of Shel Silverstein:
Mom2MomEd: Children and Poetry
But then there are a huge number of terrific poetry collections and books that my son and I discovered through our evening read alouds and the local library. I encourage you to look for and enjoy these as well:
  • Collected Poems for Children by Ted Hughes--Hughes is best known as the ex-husband of poet Sylvia Plath and most of his work is most appropriate for adults. This collection, however, is terrific for kids.
Mom2MomEd: Poetry is good for a child's soul
One of our favorite poetry books turned out to be a double duty find. We were able to combine punctuation practice with reading and poetry in Punctuation Celebration by Elsa Knight Bruno. I was expecting this cute little collection to be dry and boring, but we loved it!
And, finally, we loved all of these fun little books--even though my son is 18 now, we still have a few of these in our home library, and every now and then, I catch my son still pulling them out! How's that for an endorsement?
While my little family of myself, my son, and my mom enjoyed reading aloud to one another at the dinner table, there are many ways you can encourage your kids to read more--we hope a read aloud session is just one of many methods you will use to increase the reading that happens in your home. 
No one--child or adult alike--is ever too old to read aloud or to be read to. Grab your family and a giant stack of pillows and make yourselves cozy on the living room floor if reading over dinner isn't your style.
Pitch a tent in the backyard, fill it with sleeping bags, stuffed animals, and a lantern and add several stacks of books for a Friday night read along.
Snuggle up with the family pets and take turns reading to Fido and Fluffy.
However you do it, keep reading to each other and simply enjoy the process of bonding over books. 
What's your favorite book to read aloud? Tell us about it in a comment!
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