Passing Notes

Notes from a Parent/Teacher to Parents and Teachers



The Underground Railroad: A simulation with students

Slavery.  Probably one of the most horrific things our world has lived. Tackling issues of racism and power is no easy task for any teacher.  It’s hard to make the lived experiences of slaves real but it’s our duty to do it and do it right.  This history can be taught in a sensitive and critical manner, especially when we concentrate on people who fought injustice, and those who sought freedom.


I’d like to share with you a simulation that I involved my students in while studying Ontario’s early settlers, a little project I embarked upon first with a great teacher, Cynthia R. when we team-taught, a few years back.

Rather than allow my students to get a one-dimensional view of what early settler communities might have been like (as prescribed by the Grade 3 Ontario curriculum), I found multiple entry points to talk about communities that are usually under- or un-represented in resources about settlers (“pioneers”).  It’s beyond the scope of this post to discuss everything that I did to prepare my students for learning about freedom-seeking slaves, but you should know that I did a huge amount of work with them on both The Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade and also the various First Nations living in what we now know as Ontario, – (The Haudenasaunee and Anishnaabe Nations), – at the time of early settlements.  After MUCH work, many read alouds, discussions and above all, dramatizations of history, my students embarked upon a simulation of the Underground Railroad.  Here’s the letter I wrote to school staff to get them involved.  It should explain the gist of what I did:

Dear colleagues,

As some of you know, my grade 3′s are learning about early settler communities in Ontario.  One of the communities we’ll be learning about is early Black settlements.


We are exploring the Underground Railroad as a part of this and need your help. Here are the details:


My students have one life card that they must get to a conductor, but it must happen at 10 a.m. on any given day on the dot. I have given three teachers, the roles of “conductors”.  As such, everyone else can choose to be an abolitionist or a helping freed slave and help to get the students to freedom.  I have told students that some people in the school might pose a threat to any freedom-seekers because I want them to use their wit, not because there is a threat.   You can be an abolitionist and secretly offer to help to get their cards/lives to safety but it has to be at 10 a.m. otherwise the conductors have been instructed to keep the cards as “caught” (if they are even a few minutes late).  If you want to be an abolitionist and get the word out the the freedom-seekers, feel free to sing songs or make visible, symbols of freedom (quilts, lanterns, etc) at you convenience to guide them to safety posts or the safe houses of the conductors.  Any one, including other students can help as long as I don’t find out.


Next week, I’ll deconstruct the whole simulation with my students as I reveal who made it to freedom and discuss what could have happened to those whose cards were not saved.

Thanks for helping us to bring learning to life!

Quilts had symbols that represented various things to a fugitive slave. They acted as maps to guide them through a difficult journey.

What ensued that week was very interesting.  Students were hesitant to get their life cards to people.  They were trying hard to figure out if the symbols that were placed around the school meant safety.  We had read many books about former slaves finding freedom through wit, strength, courage and the help of others but they didn’t want to budge.  I secretly enlisted other students from a class to help (sometimes without much success) and our music teacher got heavily involved teaching the kids “spirituals” and songs that had clues to help get the kids to freedom.  Quilts were hung on doorways, there was talk in the playground and in the halls.

In the end, many of the kids used their savvy, their knowledge of clues and courage to get their freedom cards to others. A few went on instinct and all of them attempted to use the clues I read about in story after story.  Most relied on solidarity.


When we deconstructed the whole situation as a class and with the help of one of the “conductors”, it was emotionally-charged.  We talked about the weathered, torn life cards…what might that symbolize?  We talked about the limitations I imposed at 10 a.m. and what it meant in real terms about the limitations set upon real slaves trying to seek freedom:  working the fields all day and little time to plan and amass information/ resources; the possibility of getting caught and the consequences of that; weather changes that were unpredictable making it difficult to leave – prolonged rain was good because you were not expected to show up in the fields and a scent was difficult to track; lack of resources, emotional constraints such as fear; etc.)

The discussions about fairness and injustice became very real to them.  My students had had a hard time understanding how people could be put through such cruelty when we talked about the slave trade.  Many were frightened.  But when we explored the possibility of escaping slavery, most of them actually attempted this simulation.  They were inspired by the stories of hope, determination and strength of character and felt bound to “do right” by the people who had lived this.

Though, this was a an unconventional way to bring about learning, I saw huge growth in their ability to criticially analyze the past and come to terms with the genocide that impacted 21 million people, 7 million of which never even survived the journey across the Atlantic.  Doing this simulation didn’t make it easier my the kids to digest the history I was throwing at them, and quite frankly, I’m relieved to know that they are horrified and cannot fathom this part of history.  What was positive about it was helping them to see beyond themselves, to step into another’s shoes, to empathize and take action, and yes, to break rules when they are unjust.





Homework stinks, so why not have fun with it?


As an educator, I have to say that I often have parents ask me for “extra” homework (read: “busy” work) for their kids.  I ask  them to read nightly and we have a online learning community (Edmodo) that is meaningful and gives kids an opportunity to interact in different modalities with other students.  We have the occasional project (my kids just had to create a toy that uses various forces). For parents who want more, I have a an open-ended book that gives students oodles of options about interesting and creative things they can do at home if they wish.

I won’t hide the fact that as a parent, I absolutely abhor homework, especially the meaningless worksheets that I get to sit down with as my daughter slips down the slippery “I don’t like school” slope.  I will say it again and again:  worksheets have very little to do with learning, unless they are attached to some higher-level, critical thinking exploratory piece.

So I can’t do it to my students.  I can’t send home junk I’d never use in the classroom.  So here’s a glimpse into the “menu” board that I created for my kids.  As a teacher, you get great insight into what interests them.  Parents appreciate the open-ended aspects, and kids actually have fun.  You can call it “fun”work instead of homework if you choose.

I’m sure most parents would much rather be doing something else with their kids, spending quality time together, so if you share the same ideals, feel free to borrow this.  I include the following modifiable-to-your-circumstances line:

Your Homework Book is to be handed in on _________.  Please complete a minimum of 1 activity or a maximum of three.  Please take good care of it and use it with pride.  Look over your work and check it.  Make it colourful.  Be creative and most of all have fun!

homework boy


Pick an activity or make up you own:


Make a “how-to” guide on snapguide.  Include videos and pictures along with instructions

Design an invention.  Explain it, draw it, MAKE it.

Write information about a geographical place.

Write a short story.  Or a long one.  Write a novel if you wish! Practice a skill you want to improve (e.g., math, word work, etc.)
Learn the meaning of new words. Make a game.  Make board pieces, question cards and instructions Find out facts about a famous person.  Write a biography Find words in a different language.  Write what they mean in English. Write a letter to someone (make sure to send it out after).
Make a drawing or diagram.  Write a caption. Make up jokes and riddles. Draw a map of anywhere with keys, legends, directions. Write an article for our Newsletter Make an infographic.
Write your auto-biography Make a survey and ask people to vote. Copy a poem you really like.  Read it aloud to family. Write a diary entry for yourself or as a character from a book. Write a script.  Include the elements of a story, narrators and characters.  Use puppets or just your voice.
Find facts about an animal.  Include its habitat, food and life cycle. Make a math pattern. Write a poem about anything or anyone.  Try free-style, acrostic, dada, diamantes, etc. Make a food recipe.  Try it out and write out the instructions. Make a graph.  Remember to collect data beforehand.  Use surveys, charts and pictures if needed.
Write lyrics to a song. Make up a riddle. Make a comic.

Write about scientific stuff in a “did you know” format.

Choose an idea of your own!


Students have given me quite a few ideas to add to the board.  Can you?  I’d love to add them!




The Arts in Education: How much does it really matter?

paint Brush_and_watercolours


As an educator, I have been challenged to “prove” the importance of The Arts in our educational system. To add insult to injury, the sentiment that The Arts (Visual, Dramatic, Musical), are irrelevant in this day and age, often comes off stronger during economic downturns, when some want to “get back to basics” (whatever that means).

As if The Arts for arts sake don’t matter!  Arts shouldn’t have to be justified as an aside to anything else.

When it comes to education and The Arts, parents and educators need to support the notion that Arts education matters, not only in relation to other subject areas, but because it is the foundation for expression and creativity, ingenuity and innovation, flexible and divergent thought.  We must create opportunities for all children to be engaged in fully and regularly in The Arts.

The Arts are also our strongest tool in education for change.

I hope you’ll permit me to borrow from a book titled, Releasing the Imagination by Maxine Greene.  It is her belief that holistic experiences in the arts release the imagination and nurture the whole self”.  I strongly feel that when children are given experiences in the Arts they are able to create, nurture, and develop artistic gifts, which help to nurture the whole self. A well-rounded education in The Arts encourages children to play, move, question, laugh, share, explore and learn. Experiences in The Arts allow children to honour and respect individuals and to show empathy for others. Through a variety of experiences in the arts, children develop the ability to get into the minds of others, and truly see things from another person’s point of view.  Though we can do this in all disciplines, it is most easily accessible in the Arts.

 drama masks

“We must make the arts central in school curricula because encounters with the arts have a unique power  to release the imagination. Stories, poems, dance performances, concerts, paintings, films, plays – all  have the potential to provide remarkable pleasure for those willing to move out toward them and engage  with them.”


If we value divergent thinking which I presume YOU do, then it follows that releasing the imagination is central to that, no? Given that most educators recognize the importance of multiple intelligences and believe that individuals think in different ways and use different strengths, then it follows that we should have just as strong a focus on the Arts (at a minimum), as we do other subject areas.  If we want for students to be able to create their identities, then “waking up what inside of themselves” becomes very accessible when we rely on the  Arts, – (and here I have to say especially Dramatic Arts, because of the learning and changes that can come out of stepping into other shoes, becoming someone else, going back to yourself and redefining who you are and what you think as a result of the dramatic process.)


“One of the reasons I have come to concentrate on imagination as a means through which we can  assemble a coherent world is that imagination is what, above all, makes empathy possible.”


When children are given the opportunity to explore how people are treated differently due to class, race, or culture through experiences in The Arts, they begin to understand the importance of democracy. The Arts bring colour, joy, compassion, and understanding, helping children to reach out to one another, and honour individuals, as well as the collective whole. When children are continually exposed to The Arts, they learn to work with one another, and develop a genuine understanding and respect of differences. This understanding enables them to work towards social change. Experiences in The Arts allow children to recognize that others may not be as fortunate as they are, for example, and provides children with the tools for social change. So essentially, The Arts are a means to promote a democratic society and exist as a vehicle for social change.


There’s a popular video of a lecture by Ken Robinson that states that “creativity is as important as literacy”.  Given the requirements that 21st century learners need to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow, I couldn’t agree more.  Students need to have huge amounts of opportunities to flex their minds and grow their imaginations to be able to adapt to a variety of contexts.  In light of the global cross-cultural context which each day becomes more and more intertwined, we cannot teach with disregard to economic and political spheres.  The Arts most definitely allows for us to do this and seek alternative viewpoints.  Greene states:

 “Envisaging what might be, educators cannot but work for a certain mastery of skills and involvement with a range of literacies for young people who will grow up to participate in a democratic community” 

But there is a divide:  We have an evolving curriculum, one too heavy in content (quantitatively), but which is definitely being revised to reflect the needs of the 21st learner.  Policy is starting to reflect this too (finally the pendulum has swung!).  The problem?  Many teachers still buy into old notions of education and antiquated methodologies.  Even newer grads  do…it’s firmly entrenched in our “culture of education”.  How can teachers do better?  Well, we are very much a product of our own education.  How do we get beyond this as a profession?  Surely it will take time, certainly generations, but how do we get the ball rolling? It is through questioning our own professional lives and seeing alternative viewpoints that we form a more informed, enriched view of our professional practice.  Higher-level and critical thinking must win over rote nonsense and non-innovative instruction.

The Arts matter.  Period. The Arts matter very much, I would argue, given the state of our world, more than any other subject area.  Care to differ?




I will leave you with some final thoughts borrowed from Greene here:


“We who are teachers would have to accommodate ourselves to lives as clerks or functionaries if we did not have in mind a quest for a better state of things for those we teach and for the world we share.”


“In my view, the classroom situation most provocative of thoughtfulness and critical consciousness  is the one in which teachers and learners find themselves conducting a kind of collaborative search,  each from her or his lived situation” 


“Writing” in schools: it AIN’T what it used to be


If your child is in elementary school you’ve hopefully noticed that the way that writing is taught differs vastly from when you were a kid. Not that I want to age you, – (or myself for that matter), – but I’ll bet that you had either worksheets or a workbook, or maybe both. If so, then it’s highly unlikely that you had many chances to express yourself through writing and develop ideas or a “voice” to accompany those ideas. It is my hope, that the one-size-fits all approach is a thing of the past for your children.

Why you ask? Let me provide you with the following analogy: when we admire a work of visual art, we are more apt to comment on its aesthetics, the message, its meaning and so forth. Yes, the medium and the techniques that were used, help to convey that message, but it’s not the techniques in and of themselves that determine its aesthetic value. Now try to transfer that over to writing. As writers, what’s important for children is for them to get an idea or message out.

Word work and conventions

Of course, in order to do that they also need to pick the right form to do it in and to have the skill necessary to carry forward that idea. So where do conventions come in? You know, the dreaded, – (by some), – spelling, grammar and punctuation “rules”? Well, your child is likely engaged in word work in class, which means exactly what it’s called, working with words in various ways at school. Children have to manipulate words and sentences, and expand vocabulary in activities that honour their abilities. There’s no need for a spelling test because researchers have long known that rote memorization doesn’t usually transfer over to our writing.


Your child’s conference with their teacher:  Feedback at its finest

Most importantly, it should be the case that your child’s teacher is spending oodles of one-on-one or small group time in teacher-student conferences – little meetings where the teacher helps to guide the young writer and help them develop their craft. This is often based on written works that students have chosen to write about in accordance with their interests. Each child’s conference is unlike another’s and deals with distinct writing needs because each child develops writing abilities differently from the next one.

Young studygroup


So what’s left for you as a parent to encourage writing at home?


Get you child hooked on writing. Relax, it’s easier than it sounds. Does your child like dinosaurs, skateboarding or the latest kid craze? Let them write about it…without restrictions, so they choose the genre or form and the purpose or reason for their writing. The kid who loves board games can make up board games and write the procedures for them, the little cook, can re-write or invent a recipe, the kid who misses her faraway cousin can write emails to them. The music lover can write rap lyrics. Children are ALWAYS motivated to write when they have choice in the topic. They HAVE to have a vested interest in the topic. When they see they have a purpose for writing, they just want to write.


 Form + Purpose + Audience

➢ There are many ways to get out an idea, but some ways are better than others, and your kids might need some guidance. For example, for families planning a yard sale, the kids can write posts on Craigslist, make posters, signs, flyers or brochures. All of these forms have different features and though the idea of getting out a message is the same, the medium changes what goes into it. So a posting online will have more details than a sign to be hung on a lawn. But all require an understanding of writing as well as how media informs us. Kids will need your gentle guidance for writing.

Be the editor…and only pick one area of focus for them

➢ Which brings me to the next point: spelling, grammar and punctuation. After the message has been written, this is the best time to work on these, so as not to hamper the thought process as children brainstorm and write. Kids can pick one thing they find challenging enough to work on (e.g. the capitalization in a poster), while you, their editor walks them through the rest. It’s important for them to develop the skills about how language is structured so that they can convey their message well. No one wants to send out an important written message that is incorrect.


So, how do you see writing being taught in your child’s class? Which approaches do you prefer? How do you encourage writing to happen at home? Share your ideas with other parents below!




The Mathroom, I mean bathroom.

“That’s right”, I tell my students, “math is EVERYWHERE”! I look at them and wait for the challenges to begin.  They ask me to “prove” that math really is everywhere.  Which it is.  Case in point:  You can do Measurement, Estimation and Multiplication right in the comfort of your own bathroom.  (Cheers of “yay!” are heard in the background.  ”School is unnecessary, we’ll just hang out in the bathroom!”, yell the kiddies.)  Though it doesn’t preclude exploring math at school, the truth is Math really is everywhere.  Here are a few ways to make the most of your cramped, humid environment:

1)  Younger kids do math all on their own while taking baths.  Supply them with containers of various sizes (usually in the form of stacking cups), and they’re on their way towards working on capacity concepts.  Already do this?  Give yourself a pat on the back.

Without intervening, just watch how those wee hands attempt to pour water from a smaller container into a bigger one.  You can add cups of various lengths and sizes to make it more challenging, or ask them how much water from one container  might fit into another, then have them test out their theories.  (Yes, they really are theorizing and using reasoning skills here.)

2) They can also order containers according to capacity.  Here you’ll need some empty bottles (clean please, no glass either), from the kitchen, that they can place on the tub.  Extra points for parents who tape or hide the capacity measurements that are pre-written on them.  You can introduce vocabulary like, litres, millilitres, and capacity incidently, so they don’t catch onto your sneaky educational ways with them.


3)  Little ones can measure the length, height and width of the tub they’re leaving soap scum in, by using non-standard units.  A non-standard unit can be any object that you have on hand that can be used to do linear measurements.  A hand or foot can be used (hello, get it, a “foot”?).  A bottle of shampoo or a water toy works just as well.  Using non-standard units is a pre-cursor to using standard units like centimetres or metres, so this is really only good for the little ones.

4)  For the older child, say of grade 2 or 3 age, try to have them do multiplication using a tiled wall that is rectangular.  They can count the top line (ignoring half tiles), and may notice that the same number will repeat itself going down.  So it might be 6 groups of eleven, as in the below picture, or 6×11.  They can count it as six, plus six, plus six, etc., which is repeated addition (which btw is all the multiplication really is).

4) Children can take it a step further by doing one-digit by two-digit multilication using arrays (well, if you are lucky enough to have a large bathroom, or tiny tiles), as seen below for 6 x 18.  Here they break down the tiles into easier-to-use numbers.  Kids should be familiar with arrays using Base 10 materials by this age, so hopefully seeing multiplication this way is not new to them.

 5) You can drive them crazy with this one: can they estimate how many bristles are in a toothbrush?  If so,  they can extrapolate how many would be in say, three toothbrushes.  This one may not sound like fun so only try it with the really detail-oriented of your bunch.

This is just the tip of the ice-berg.  When I’m done with you, you’ll see, math really is everywhere.



What do you do when your child is bored at school?


A friend approached me a few weeks ago with concerns about her child’s interest level at school – (or lack thereof).  She felt uncomfortable approaching the teacher and asked me what she could do at home to support her daughter.

She got me thinking that there are as many scenarios that could lead to a bored child, as there are children, but we can look at a few common ones and go from there.


Scenario 1:  Your child is bored because the teacher does not have a strong child-centred, student-driven program.  The learning in a few traditional classrooms tends to happen on paper (A.K.A worksheets) and students have little opportunities to delve into topics that they enjoy.


In child-centred classrooms, students may have choice of writing topic, and students may have choice of which activities to do throughout the day (stations, centres).   Most students really are motivated by what interests them and if there’s no room for them to be able to develop their interests in class (e.g., during Writing Workshop), then your child may be somewhat bored.


Scenario 2:  Your child is generally unmotivated and lacks curiosity and interest in MOST things, regardless of whether they are in school or not.  Maybe this is the kid who hasn’t found something that sparks their interest, or hasn’t defined something that they are good at.  Maybe there’s a self-esteem piece that needs a closer look.  Honestly, I worry about my unmotivated kids more than I do about my struggling ones.


Scenario 3:  Your child is not bored, but actually struggling.

Some kids feign boredom to disguise their perceived capacity to learn something.  Their “boredom” can be more about saving face than anything else.


Scenario 4:  Your child needs or prefers to learn with the use of manipulatives and hands-on resources.  And the teacher doesn’t.  Great teachers, – (and most of them ARE), – use hands-on approaches to teach concepts at all ages (yes, even in high-school).  This is closely-related to the next scenario, so read on.


Scenario 5:  Your child needs a more “differentiated” environment

Kids come in all varieties and they learn differently too.  Teachers are usually experts at knowing students’ strengths and learning styles and try to teach through those styles to reach specific learners.  It’s important that parents and children know their learning styles too so that they can advocate for themselves.

(Also, children who are gifted but not deemed as such because they have not been tested for giftedness, are sometimes bored learners.  This is a whole other discussion, so please see your child’s teacher if you strongly feel that your child exhibits gifted quirkiness :) )


Scenario 5:  Your child feels that the curriculum doesn’t reflect who they are.

Teachers are usually bound by curricular standards/ expectations.  They don’t usually teach concepts that are outside of the prescribed curriculum.  Sometimes the topics are a bit dry, but great teachers know how to connect the learning to students lives and find entry points to their interests by making it more exciting for them.  The issue of “not being reflected in the curriculum”, (culturally, linguistically historically, …) is not uncommon.


I personally hated school during my mid-high school years because I felt completely disconnected to what was being taught.  But teachers have many ways of making the curriculum relevant to students’ lives, so even if curriculum is not perfect, and even if it’s biased, many teachers are wonderfully creative about working around this and infusing the curriculum through an equitable lens and making sure that all children are reflected in the curriculum.


Scenario X, Y, Z: …



Once you’ve determined the root cause you might start looking for solutions, right?  Well you’re going to hate my answer.

Communication is key.  I know this sounds very basic, but really that’s the best answer out there for all of these scenarios.  I’ve been there too.  And I made the mistake of not speaking up for my child.  And I DO regret it, because she wasted a lot of time doing things that had no meaning to her.  You might have to muster up the courage to speak up for your child and communicate that you are very appreciative of your teacher’s role and that you want to explore the disconnect between their great work and your child’s boredom

Knowing why your child feels bored is hugely important to that process.  If you know your child’s learning style, or better yet, if s/he is aware of their strengths or needs, then the above conversation is so much easier. (This  link has a brief explanation of learning styles but you’ll want to explore further here .)

Finally, compensating for the boredom at home can either be enriching or a negative experience. If you approach the situation with self-directed ways of learning such as an “I Wonder Book” (see my recent post on, or if you engage your child in a conversation about what they’d like to learn and what you’ll do to facilitate the learning, that’s a great start. For many kids, it can turn into a negative situation if you print up mindless worksheets with no connection to what they want to learn and with no higher-level thinking skills.


I’m curious to know what you think…



Instilling a sense of responsibility in your child


I think I speak for most parents when I say that we want to help our kids develop a strong sense of responsibility.

In Ontario schools, Responsibility is one of the Learning Skills that is assessed each term. It’s considered SO important that is on the first page of the Progress Report Card along with other Learning Skills (see my previous posts about Initiative here and on Self-regulation here.  The physical placement of Learning Skills before the academic portion of the Report tells us how much we value it.

So what does it mean to develop responsible behaviour?  Most definitions encompass the common idea that it is about being accountable for an action.  If you’re a parent in Ontario, your child’s progress Report Card will include the following things that students should work towards.  Students should:

  •  fulfil responsibilities and commitments within the learning environment
  • complete and submit class work, homework, and assignments according to agreed-upon time lines
  • takes responsibility for and managing their own behaviour (such as dealing with emotions in a responsible way, and trying to do “the right thing” even when they wants to do the opposite)

This is a good starting point but I think we can add to this.  It goes beyond the idea of personal responsibility.  It’s also about being compassionate and taking action to change a situation when we see someone in need.  We should be accountable to each other as human beings, no?  It also goes past being responsible in just one context. Teachers create lots of opportunities beyond , -academic ones, – for children to develop a sense of accountability. A broader idea should include developing a strong sense of inner strength and acting on those beliefs –  even when they see others doing the opposite.  I find the latter to be even more crucial as children get older, as they are often more susceptible to occasional negative peer influences.  (It takes a lot of courage to be a teenager!)  With the above in mind, here are some…


…Ideas to develop a strong sense of responsibility:

1.  Let’s start with the obvious:  Kids need positive modeling of behaviours.  Children will absorb everything they hear and see us do.  Yes, adults are human and we make mistakes  (e.g., swearing in front of the kids, road rage situations while taking them to soccer practice).  I’m very good at these mistakes, believe me, ahem, but what matters is that:

a) it doesn’t become a pattern, and

b) we make right and try to show them that WE can take responsibility, – albeit late, – after something has happened.


2.  Let kids learn for themselves.  Children cannot develop responsible behaviour if they are not allowed to try things out and explore situations.  You know your child best:  if you believe that they are developmentally ready AND you’ve given them lots of guidance with a particular situation, AND they’ve seen you show responsibility by modelling it,…then you can let go of their hands a little and let them try their own actions in a given situation/ scenario.  Loosening the hand grip may just be the push they need to practice being responsible.  They need opportunities to take small, but necessary steps to developing responsibility behaviour.  Let them try!


3.  Discuss alternative scenarios that they witness (in public) or participate in (e.g., they showed behaviour that was not responsible with a friend).  Just yesterday, we were at our favourite little frozen yogurt shop (the owners are making a killing off of us!).  There was a group of kids who were all stuffing their pockets full of the toppings!  After speaking to them, I asked my daughter how I handled it and what I could’ve done differently.  It created a wonderful opportunity to talk about taking responsibility.

SO, if the moment arises, question with them:  How did the person feel?  What could’ve been done differently?

Kids often have amazing solutions to problems.  They don’t need us to spoon-feed them with solutions.  We may want to help them try out a solution or reflect upon whether the solution worked if necessary, but when we encourage them to use their judgement, they are working on making decisions based on ethical reasons.  That’s responsibility, right there.


4.  Books.  And more books.  There are tons of stories with excellent starting points for discussions.  Ask at your local library or your teacher-librarian for suggestions.



In what ways do you instill a sense of responsibility in your child?  Do you focus on the home? School?  The community? The environment?  The world?  I’d love to hear from you!




Do kids even need homework?

As a parent, you either loathe it or love it.  There is no grey area.

Busy parents that are trying to get from soccer practice to grandma’s in time for dinner and enjoy a bike ride and a good book somewhere in between will be in the “loathe” category.  Homework to them often means there’s no time for extra-curriculars or precious family time.  As a parent, I don’t over-program my child, but even with only one extra-curricular class per week, we cannot find time to do much else besides dinner and a bit of rushing around preparing for the next day before we have to start thinking about doing homework.  This may be a larger issue altogether, one which speaks to the type of world we live in.  Living in a rushed society means that I often find myself saying, “we only have 5 minutes at the park”, and “there’s no time to go for a bike ride or to walk the dog today”.  And that stinks.  It really stinks.

On the other side of the fence are a large cohort of parents who value keeping their children occupied with homework because it is considered a good use of time and a much better alternative to screen time.  They want their children to excel in academic areas and value any extra work that their kids can get in order to attain extra knowledge.

I can see value in both ideas and although it may seem so, I am NOT trying to create a divide between these two seemingly-different groups of parents.  If anything, I think that what binds us together is that we both want the best for our children – just in different ways. But I think parents might want to reconsider what IS good for their children with regards to homework. With that in mind, I’d like to share the following tidbits:

The Toronto District School Board’s Homework Policy states:

 ”Wherever possible, homework assignments shall be assigned to be returned using blocks of time so that families can best support homework completion by balancing the time required to complete homework with extra curricular activities scheduled outside of the school day and activities that support personal and family wellness. Parents who have concerns with homework expectations for their child shall be encouraged to contact their child’s teacher or the school principal to discuss the situation.”

Homework is not even considered beneficial (vis-a-vis other family activities) until about grade 7.  The TDSB makes note of this idea…homework assigned in the early grades shall more often take the form of reading, playing a variety of games, having discussions and interactive activities such as building and cooking with the family.”

This short video interview by University of Toronto professor Linda Cameron sums things up nicely and explains the political motivations for the homework push: and the reasons that less homework is actually a better alternative for your kids.


As a teacher, I have to put in my two-cents worth.  I whole-heartedly agree that reading at home with a family member is the most worthwhile of homework activities, as are, meaningful educational activities at home (e.g. cooking).  Also, any homework sent out (ocassionally) should link directly back to a current theme of study to reinforce things.  However, I strongly feel that homework needs to be put IN ITS PLACE!  No busy work ever made a kid smarter.  It just kept them busy.  Which is VERY different from developing skills and knowledge.  I haven’t done any studies on this, but have read enough of them to develop an idea of the value of homework, so feel free to quote me on that.

The teacher in me wants parents to keep in mind that your child is accountable for every millisecond of their day at school with me:  they are busy reflecting, thinking, creating, exploring and theorizing.  That’s hard work, and they need a break from all the pressure they receive for all the curriculum which they are supposed to understand in any given grade.

In addition, teachers are not really supposed to use homework for assessment of academic areas as it is generally not a reliable form of assessment, – (they can be used for the Learning Skills portion).  So why do some parents want more homework?  To keep kids busy?

I believe that families need to say “Yes” to:  more time for reading under the covers, more time to walk in your neighbourhood and chat with neighbours, more time to garden on warm days or collect and classify fallen leaves, more time to visit family without the worry of getting “busy work done”, more time to role play, and build and laugh…They need more time to delve into research that interests them, on topics they choose, and which allows them to grow from their own questions.  Children need more time to live without being burdened with the pressures of grown ups.  There will be plenty of that in their futures.

I think the best use of their time is to explore and be creative.  A mighty hard thing to ask of traditional homework, isn’t it?




For more detail on the Toronto District School Board’s Homework Policy, see here:


An interesting article regarding the issue:–tdsb-s-new-homework-guide-none-for-some-less-for-most






Create homework “Hot Spots” at home


Are your kids in the process of settling into homework routines now that school has begun?  Do you have a homework area that needs updating? Do you wonder if you even need a desk?


Check out my latest blog post here to see how you can create comfortable, portable and easy homework areas for your child, according to their own needs and personalities.





A Must Read for lessons in acceptance, self worth and appreciation.


Thank you Patricia Polacco, Thank you.

Your words…this book…the message.  All of it.  Thank you for honouring the child with learning disabilities, the child who is tormented by a bully, the child who has self doubt, and the educators who see in children the positive, and gently guide them to a place of empowerment.

I can’t read “Thank You, Mr. Falker” to my students without crying.  I’ve read it every year in the first week of school for as long as I can remember. It’s the beautifully written personal narrative of young child with learning disabilities and the rough road lived.  She loses her pillars (her grandparents), moves to another state, all the while carrying with her the hope to one day be able to read.  She is followed through her journey by the unkind words of classmates and a nagging sense that her self-worth is determined by others, and by her learning disability. But her grandparents’ teachings and her own inner determination finally reap the rewards she’s been chasing for so many years.  The end provides a heart-warming twist that is guaranteed to pull at your heartstrings.

I often provide activity suggestions for parents and teachers to do with their kids with a suggested “Must Read” on my blog.  This book’s a little different.  The conversation you’ll have with your kids needs no guidance other than that, that comes from their hearts.  So do yourself a favour and run to the library or bookstore as fast as you legs can take you.






I urge you to read her other books and check out her website at: