Aug 192014
 

The Punky Family Heads Back to Brick & Mortar

So many things have changed recently. When we decided to send the kids to cyber school, it was because we were quite possibly in the world’s worst school district. It wasn’t just academics, it was the whole “hey, don’t get stabbed while you’re there, huh?” vibe which permeates everything. I mean, our crime index put us at 12%. That’s you know… safer than 12% of cities in the US (which doesn’t sound too bad until you realize that also means 88% of the US is safer than Allentown - uhm, ok.)

Our particular neighborhood wasn’t bad exactly, but crime was inching out of downtown slowly and surely. My van had been shot or vandalized on more than one occasion - in fact, I still have a small bullet hole in my windshield that we brought with us to the suburbs. We had things routinely stolen when we had forgetful moments about locking them up tight. We even had a Shop Vac stolen (really, I can’t make this crap up) right before our move. It was on our back porch and to my knowledge, full of bees. I hope they had fun with that. We also had a rather delightful (no sarcasm there, he was a nice guy, unfortunately his clientele was not) drug dealer move in across the street. Yep, it was time to go.

After the kids being home for school for 5 years, we decided it was time for them to go back amongst their peers. Don’t get me wrong - I’m not a fan of the concept of common core, on any level, but it was going to end up in their cyber school curriculum anyway. I went to public school, and turned out just fine. After much searching, debate, and weighing options, we settled on the district we wanted to be in. It was the district I graduated from, and one that several of our friends already live in.  After many months of prepping, showing, selling, buying, moving, and complete insanity — they will be starting school on September 2, 2014. Yay!

I had no idea what I was getting myself into, and the year hasn’t even begun yet.

Just imagine, when your little one starts kindergarten, you start to learn the ropes of being the parent of a school-age child. You learn their school, the teachers, the rules, the schedule. One day at a time. Then maybe you have another little one who starts kindergarten a few years later. By then, you’re an old pro at that. Making lunches, bus schedules, and parents nights are easy peasy and you can handle a classroom birthday party or addressing last minute Valentines with your eyes closed. Well, I’m (we’re) being dumped into three schools unceremoniously and simultaneously. One in grade school, one in middle school, one in high school. Can you tell I’m freaking out a little bit?

School clothes? School supplies? Gym bags? School lunches? Bus stops? Snow Days? Clubs? Electives?

Hold me.

Aug 062013
 

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Choosing to go dye-free can be overwhelming when you start, considering a lot of kids practically LIVE on brightly colored snacks. It seems impossible that you’ll be able to make the switch without meltdowns. Here are 11 dye-free snacks that can make the transition a little bit easier…

1. Yummy Earth Gummy Bears - With real fruit extracts and no gluten, dairy, nuts, soy, or artificial colors and dyes.

2. UnReal Candy - If you like Snickers®, Reese’s®, M&M’s®, Peanut M&M’s® or Milky Way®, discover the unjunked, UNREAL taste of candy made from all real stuff!

3. Simply Fruit Roll Ups - With 95% fruit/fruit juice and no dyes, this is a slightly better version of your childhood favorite.

4. Yummy Earth Lollipops - Certified Organic, real fruit extracts, kosher, and no gluten, tree-nuts, peanuts, GMO’s, dairy, soy, or artificial colors/dyes. And with flavors like Mango Tango and Wet Face Watermelon — how can you go wrong?

5. TruJoy Organic Candy Canes - When we went dye-free this was one of the biggest things the kids missed - because who doesn’t want candy canes around Christmas? TruJoy uses natural colors and flavors, and real organic brown rice syrup and sweeteners to create a healthier and better tasting product. Made without corn syrup. Vegan, vegetarian, non-GMO.

6. Goldfish Crackers  - the quintessential childhood favorite of toddlers everywhere is now made completely dye free, even the rainbow version!

7. Nature’s Path Toaster Pastries - If you’re not up for baking your own — these Frosted Cherry Pomegranate Toaster Pastries beat anything that rhymes with Top Part.

8. Cascadian Farms Fruitful O’s - Put down the Froot Loops and pick up this naturally fruit flavored sweetened organic corn and oat cereal.

9. Yoplait Trix Yogurt - Yoplait Trix Yogurt comes in silly, swirly flavors kids love, without high fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors, or sweeteners. It’s still the same bright, fun, colorful snack, only better.

10. Annie’s - All of Annie’s snacks, from their cheddar bunnies to their fruit snacks, are colored using natural fruit and vegetable dyes.

11. Cheeto’s Naturals - While it’s not the exact consistency of a REAL Cheeto, it will definitely take care of a crunchy cheesy snack attack.

May 202013
 

Creative and Earth-Friendly Craft Projects

Summer is almost here. School will be out, and we all know it’s just a matter of time before the kids are whining that they’re bored. I don’t know about you, but my kids don’t respond well to me pointing to the craft box and saying “so make something.” They LOVE crafting, but they need someone to say “ok, we’re going to make…” and they jump right in. Introducing my new best friend - Green Kid Crafts. Fun, creative and earth-friendly craft projects, delivered each month by Green Kid Crafts! Not only are they eco-concious,  all of their “Discovery Boxes” are reviewed by a panel of experts to meet educational and emotional development criteria. Ok, that sounds a little serious - but it just means FUN.

Each “Discovery Box” contains all materials and instructions needed to complete a minimum of 3 to 4 projects. All the project kits are designed with experts to ensure that they are developmentally appropriate, then kid tested and parent approved for fun. Materials provided are comprised of non-toxic, natural, and sustainable supplies. Your child will also receive a Discover More booklet containing more crafting and activity ideas, and recommended books for additional reading on that month’s theme.

See that? Sneaky summer learning.

Let’s peek inside a recent box:

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Craft 1: African Mask
Learn about the role of celebratory masks in Africa, and create your own using recycled cardboard, a stretchy cord, wooden clothespins, beads, pipe cleaners, eco beeswax crayons and non-toxic stickers.

Craft 2: Diwali Candles
Using paper pulp clay, tea light candles and foil glitter we’ll make our own decorative candle holders as we learn about the “Festival of Lights.”

Craft 3: Japanese Paper Lanterns
Let’s turn recycled origami paper, recycled ribbon and non-toxic stickers into a string of festive and colorful lanterns.

Craft 4: Origami Cat
Create your own Origami Cat using the included Origami paper and instructions.

Discover More Guide: Learn about each of these three amazing countries and find more activity ideas using things from around the house!

Those certainly aren’t your run of the mill pasta necklace or pipe cleaner caterpillars!

Green Kid Crafts offers several different products, ranging in the monthly Discovery Box subscription ($19.95, or just $10 more for a sibling), to a monthly digital subscription of craft ideas, to even group/party ideas. Wouldn’t it be great to have everyone planting and growing their own basil plant next birthday party? Better than sending them home with a baggie full of pencils and candy.

Right now you can save 30% on any new monthly subscription to Green Kid Crafts with code 30OFF — but hurry, this offer ends 5/31!

Fun, creative and earth-friendly craft projects, delivered each month by Green Kid Crafts
Green Kid Crafts

May 192013
 

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With all the negative publicity surrounding cyber charter schools, I want to speak out about our experiences. Like any other business (which is what a school is, ultimately) you can get people in positions of power making wrong decisions. The worker bees below them aren’t involved in policy-making or budget handling, and those are the ones who are actually providing education to the kids. Unfortunately, when the press is involved, the phrase “one bad apple spoils the bunch” can definitely be applied to public opinion.

We live in a bad school district. I knew it when we bought the house, but it was in a nice neighborhood, within our budget, and we only had one child at the time. It was easy to send her to private school because my husband and I both worked full-time. When our first son was born, I continued working, and we tightened the proverbial belt a little to send him to private school as well. By time we had our youngest, it was time to look into a different plan. Thankfully, my husband was eligible for healthcare benefits through the Army by now, so I didn’t feel tethered to my 40 hour workweek to make sure we had coverage. When he was deployed in 2005, it was the right time to tender my resignation.

With the kids private school year winding down, and a baby napping, I started what seemed like a mountainous task of choosing a school that existed only in pixels. I had briefly considered a brick and mortar charter school, but unfortunately there weren’t many choices in our area. The choices that existed were very niche (there’s a wonderful performing arts school, but that’s not what we needed). The schools that seemed like an option had extensive waiting lists and lotteries involved. I didn’t want to be hanging in the balance waiting for an enrollment that could potentially never come.

Just like brick and mortar schools, cyber schools use many different curriculum and methods. I’ll be honest, the first school I chose seemed like a great idea. It wasn’t. I’m not going to bash the school or their curriculum, because what works for one family may not be a good fit for another. Honestly, I even know families with multiple children in different cyber schools because each child has a different way of learning and what works for them. We needed a school that had multiple options within ONE school. That being said, we stuck it out two years with my first choice and it was time to move on.

We switched to the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School, and it has been an amazing experience for us. They offer many different class options - including synchronous online classes (with a real teacher teaching) that meet 3-5 days a week, a self-paced Calvert option, a self-paced Lincoln Interactive option, or a mixture. For example, my daughter (7th grade) is not strong in math, so she attends a math class 3 days a week. She has assignments to complete between classes, and her teacher has open tutoring hours throughout the week if she needs additional assistance. On the other hand, she’s an “English person” so her English class is self-paced, where she works on her assignments at her own speed, submitting them to her teacher for grading and feedback. She’s doing fantastic in all her classes (okay, her Spanish grade is a little shaky, but foreign languages are difficult) and will be eligible to take high school credits next year in 8th grade. Both of my sons use the Calvert self-paced option, which works well for them. We must submit a comprehensive test to our “educational facilitator” every 20 days or so, which covers the material they’ve learned through that time.

While it might not be an option for everyone, we’re happy with our decision. The kids are getting an excellent education, are able to learn the best way for them, and are performing fantastically on all the mandatory state testing (which I hate, but I don’t get into that now - that’s a post for another day.)

May 082013
 

Preeclampsia: My Birth Story

I am the parent of  teenager. It completely blows my mind. I still picture my daughter as a chubby toddler, giggling as she ran around the dining room table after the dog. I remember when she’d wake up from naps, and throw every single stuffed animal out of her crib onto the floor while laughing like a loon. I remember the first time she was on the beach, and the way she looked absolutely horrified by the sand sticking to her feet.

I also remember the day I gave birth to her - which is a story that doesn’t contain a lot of smiling. My daughter was 6 weeks premature, as a complication from preeclampsia, a condition I didn’t even knew existed. She is a graduate of the NICU and to this day she still bears a tiny scar on the back of her hand from her many IVs. I joke with her and say her scar is her “cutie mark” (My Little Pony fans anyone?) that shows she is a fighter. Sadly, many preeclampsia stories don’t end this well.

Today I am the guest of Sarah over at Finngean and the Hughes to tell about my story and experience with preeclampsia. So please follow me over there, and help raise awareness of a condition that takes the lives of over 76,000 mothers and 500,000 babies each year.

For more information and education, please visit The Preeclampsia Foundation and their sister site The Promise Walk for Preeclampsia

Apr 252013
 

Summertime Woes: Bee Sting Allergies

Bee Sting Allergies

Research shows that up to 15 million Americans have food allergies, ranging in severity from an itchy mouth to anaphylaxis. Eight foods account for 90 percent of all reactions: milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, soy, wheat, fish and shellfish. Even trace amounts of a food allergen can cause a reaction. There’s good reason for peanut bans in the classroom, as 1 in 13 children is affected.

But, what happens when your child has a hidden allergy?

Nearly everyone has been stung by an insect at one time or another. It’s an unpleasant experience that people hope not to repeat, but for most people the damage inflicted is only temporary pain. Only a very limited portion of the population—one to two people out of 1,000—is allergic or hypersensitive to bee or wasp stings.

I am one of those people! Hopefully, with a little bit of information, I can spare other parents the terrifying experience my parents went through with me. I mean, who ever thinks they’d be deathly allergic to a stupid bee?

Now, before we all run out and bang on the pediatricians door demanding an Epi-Pen, let’s do some deep breathing and learn some facts.

The easiest way to avoid stings altogether is by creating an environment unwelcoming to the little buggers. You can still enjoy your summer!

  • Use caution when eating and drinking outside, especially with soda cans because gulping a mouthful of bee is no fun.
  • Be aware of areas which may contain bee nests, including bushes and dry logs.
  • Keep outdoor garbage and recycling cans tightly covered and clean.
  • Don’t walk barefoot in areas with tall grass.
  • Avoid wearing bright colors.
  • Avoid heavily scented perfumes or deodorants.
  • Teach children not to “bug” the bees, most wood bees or honey bees are job-oriented and aren’t going to dive bomb you, unless you start swatting them around. Wasps, well, they’re jerks. Know the difference.

Most bites and stings are minor and can be treated at home. But you should seek medical attention if you experience the following symptoms:

Some people can experience anaphylaxis, a severe, life-threatening allergic reaction. This is a medical emergency that warrants calling 9-1-1 immediately.

Signs of an allergic reaction, which may occur within seconds to minutes, include sneezing, wheezing, hives, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, sudden anxiety, dizziness, difficulty breathing, chest tightness, and itching or swelling of the eyes, lips, or other areas of the face.

If your child has ever had an allergic reaction to a sting or bite, they should be evaluated by an allergist. In some cases, they may be advised to wear a medical identification tag that states the allergy, and to carry epinephrine (an Epi-Pen or Epi-Pen Jr.) a medication used to treat serious or life-threatening allergic reactions.

If you or your child DOES get stung, it’s best to scrape a stinger away in a side-to-side motion with a straight-edged object like a credit card. Don’t use tweezers because it may push more venom into the skin. After removing a stinger, wash the area with soap and water. You can apply ice or another cold compress to help reduce swelling.

And remember kids, I’m not a doctor; I just play one on the interwebs.

Apr 242013
 

Save Our Pennsylvania Charter Schools!

Save Our Pennsylvania Charter Schools

Legislation pending in the Pennsylvania General Assembly could have a devastating impact on the future of Pennsylvania charter schools. This year’s advocacy efforts are more important than ever. Your legislators need to know that you and all charter school students have a real stake in how they vote on these measures. Here is what you can do to help:

  • Visit www.savemycharterschool.com  - this website has very valuable information regarding the pending legislation
  • Educate yourself about the legislation and how it would impact your family.
  • Write to your state legislator.
  • Consider writing a letter to the editor of your local newspaper.

Several bills are under consideration in the Pennsylvania General Assembly that could either advance or significantly harm families’ right to choose a charter school for their children. Following are the PCPCS positions on each of the bills. To read a summary of the bill and access the entire bill, click on the bill number and sponsor.

Legislative Summaries

HB-2

PCPCS Position: Support. HB 2 brings more logic and equity to special education funding and treats charter schools exactly the same as traditional public schools.

PCPCS Position: Oppose. Creates pension underfunding for charters and provides a double dip for districts. Maintaining status quo relative to PDE 363 deduction and eliminating the state PSERS reimbursement to charters is more equitable.

HB-759

PCPCS Position: OpposeThis bill adds more inequities to how cyber schools are funded and ignores existing inequities that benefit the districts.

PCPCS Position: OpposeIt is clear the real purpose of this bill has nothing to do with saving taxpayers money or improving public education. Rather it  is clearly focused on preserving the status quo and killing all charter schools by cutting off their funding source and drowning them in unnecessary compliance and paperwork.

PCPCS Position: SupportMost rational and well-reasoned approach to equitable funding for charter schools short of a comprehensive review and overhaul of the entire charter funding process.

HB-984

PCPCS Position: Oppose. Imposes draconian restrictions on all aspects of cyber school operations.

SB 335

PCPCS Position: Oppose. This legislation is overreaching in its scope and vague in its terminology. Left undefined, the district will unilaterally define cyber programs thereby effectively transferring the decision from the parent to the district and destroying parental choice.

Apr 152013
 

Grounding Helicopter Parents Grounding Helicopter Parents

I recently read an article in the NY Times about how “helicopter parents” cause children to miss developmental milestones, instead of helping them succeed. This brings to mind the hullabaloo surrounding the mother who let her 9-year-old son ride the NYC subway by himself back in 2008. I remember reading that and saying, you go mama! Not everyone was as supportive as I was.

Now granted, we don’t live in New York City, or even anywhere that has a subway system. We do, however, live in the third largest city in Pennsylvania which isn’t exactly a field in the middle of nowhere. We don’t have school buses in the district I live in, and if you’re up early enough you’ll see the masses of children migrating to school each morning via their own two feet.

I’ll admit, I was a bit of a helicopter parent when I had my first child. She was a preemie, and in my mind needed me to protect her from everything. I had spent too many hours praying in the NICU to let something happen that I could have prevented. Of course, toddlers need supervision, but I couldn’t catch her every time she went “boom!” on her bottom. The funny thing is, as soon I stopped fussing when she fell, so did she. Reality set in, and I realized I was doing her a disservice to act like she was helpless and unable to handle herself. If it seemed like I believed that, she would too. I wanted her to come at life (even then) from a position of strength and self-assurance.

I understand why people worry about sending their children out into the world, it’s become a scary place filled with scary people. The problem is, if we’re not preparing them for life, they’re going to be in for a rude awakening. I’m not suggesting letting them take candy from a stranger in a van, but letting them fail in small ways allows them to think on the fly and hone their problem solving abilities. They need to learn you really don’t get a trophy just for showing up.

Tired of reminding your child to grab his lunch on the way out the door in the morning? Let him forget it for one day, he’ll be hungry enough to not forget again. Daughter turned off her alarm and missed the bus? Let her sit and wait until you’re ready to go, instead of rushing off in your bathrobe and hair curlers to get her to school on time. Let her explain her tardiness to the office. Children need to learn natural consequences. It may bring back memories of the first time you let your baby cry it out, but that didn’t kill anyone either. Self-soothing as an infant is just a stepping  stone to self-reliance as an adult.

Just the other day my family was having dinner at a dear friends house, who also happens to be the mother of four girls. Our collective brood was playing outside when her husband noticed their eldest was out in a t-shirt and shorts (one of the warmer days recently, but it had gotten cold again in the evening.) I couldn’t help but smile when my friend responded “when she gets cold, she’ll come in for a jacket.” Helicopter grounded.

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