To the Parents Newly Entering the School System: You’ve Got This

I spent many years going to school to become a teacher. More specifically, a public school teacher. I wasn’t opposed to private or charter schools, but I did feel more of a draw for public schools. Maybe because that was my school experience, so that’s what I felt the most comfortable with? 

During my undergrad, I was able to spend time in around 5 different public schools and 1 public charter school in the Cache Valley, Utah area. It gave me a good look into the amazing, the good, the bad, and the ugly of our public school systems. 

When it came time to register my oldest for kindergarten, I was excited for her to start in a public school that I felt so drawn to! (For the record, I was open to her attending private or charter, but it’s not a feasible option in our current location.) We walked into the halls of the school on a mid-May day and could hear students practicing songs for their end-of-the-year program. We could physically feel the spring itch everyone had, ready for school to be out for the year so that summer vacation could officially commence. It made me so excited! We took the registration papers from the front desk, filled them out, and received all of the information we needed to know about the first day of school in the fall. 

The summer went on with constant excitement and conversation about starting school. I realized that as the day came closer and closer, the more nervous I felt. I tried not to let this show to my daughter, she was just one giant ball of excitement, and I knew if my nerves were showing, she would take them on herself, and that was something neither of us needed. 

Our school allowed parents to request teachers, but we were new to this town we were in and didn’t even have anyone we could ask for their opinions on which teacher to request! I assumed all four kindergarten teachers were probably amazing because it really takes an amazing human being to choose the profession of a kinder teacher. But when it came down to it, the reason I had so much anxiety about sending my daughter to school was the amount of control I had to give up as a parent. 

I’ve tried really hard not to be a helicopter mom to my kids and allow them as much independence as possible, which can sometimes be hard to do when you just want what’s best, easiest, and safest for your kids! However, research article after research article will tell you how important it is for children to have independence, opportunities for decision-making, and even moments of failure or risk. 

What ended up being the hard part for me was the fact that I had complete control over who was taking care of my children at any given time in their lives. Anytime we had babysitters, extra help with our kids, had to leave them overnight for something, or even just child care during work hours, I was always able to have a very large choice in the matter. When we chose a daycare for our kids, I took the time to tour and interview various daycares near us to choose which one I felt most comfortable sending my kids to. 

When it came time for my oldest to start public school, it wasn’t a matter of “tour various locations and interview many people to make the best possible decision.” It was a matter of, “This is where the boundaries say your child should go to school, so this is where you will go. Furthermore, we will assign teachers to the students.” 

Okay, it wasn’t that harsh. A lot of school districts will allow you to change schools and/or districts if you go through all of the right steps and paperwork. And they did allow requests for teachers. 

But in a large way, I really did feel like I was giving up so much of my voice and control over who my child spends time with and what she is exposed to all day every day by sending her to public school. It was daunting and anxiety-inducing. 

However, we are almost three months into it, and I’m realizing that it’s okay. 

It’s okay for her to be around a good diversity of safe adults within a public school. 

It’s okay for her to choose who to play with at recess. 

It’s okay for her to choose not to eat her lunch sometimes. 

It’s okay for her to grow and develop a relationship with her teacher, even if I didn’t handpick that teacher. 

So to all you parents that are new to any school system. Yes, even those that homeschooled for years and years and made the jump out of homeschooling and into public, private, or charter school. 

I see you. 

It’s hard and overwhelming to make this huge adjustment to your life. It’s overwhelming how many decisions are being made that you just cannot be a part of. It can be fearful to wonder what happens in those school hallways for all of those hours that you’re not there with your child, especially if you’ve been accustomed to staying home all day or most of the day with them. 

But it’s also so, so good. For both of you. And it’s okay for both feelings to exist at the same time. You’ve got this. 

Photo by Vlad Vasnetsov

Delaying Kindergarten for Boys? Does it Make a Significant Difference?

I’ve written quite a few posts on here about decisions centered around kindergarten, more particularly on when to send kids to kindergarten. There is so much research out there on what to do, especially for those late summer birthday kiddos. 

My second child is in a similar boat as my first, his birthday is in early August so he is right around the Sept. 1st deadline for starting school as well. If we were to send him to kindergarten when he is supposedly supposed to go according to these guidelines, he would turn 5 years old and then head to his first day of kindergarten just two weeks later. Some kids thrive under these conditions- i.e., my firstborn! For others, this sounds like an absolute trainwreck- i.e., my secondborn. 

We still struggled with the decision for a while, though. 

During our research, my husband and I ended up reading the book Boys Adrift by Leonard Sax, a great book full of advice for raising boys in the modern world. In the chapter about starting school, Leonard talks a lot about a study done on brain scans of male and female brains over the period of many years and the findings they had on how a male brain develops vs. how a female brain develops. When it comes to the part of the brain that has to do with attention span, reading, writing, etc., they found that the male and female brains develop at the same pace, but the male brain is roughly two years behind the female brain in this development. 

He is clear that this does not mean that one is smarter than the other, it just means they are different in how they develop. In regards to boys starting kindergarten he states, 

“Trying to teach five-year-old boys to learn to read and write may be just as inappropriate as it would be to try to teach three-year-old girls to read and write. Timing is everything, in education as in many other fields. It’s not enough to teach well. You have to teach well to kids who are ready to learn, kids who are developmentally “ripe” for learning. Asking five-year-old boys to learn to read- when they’d rather be running around or playing games- may be the worst possible introduction to school, at least for some boys.” 

He continues on with the subject and even states that more often than not, you’ll see the majority of boys starting kindergarten at six years old because parents are seeing the benefit of this “gap year” in their sons. 

This research seemed very interesting to me and in observing my own children, it made sense. At three years old my daughter was ready and eager to learn letters and numbers and how to write. At 3.5 years old, my son wants absolutely nothing to do with them and I am doing my best not to push anything on him until he is ready. 

What are your thoughts on sending kids to kindergarten a year later and giving them a gap year? Do you think gender, birth order, or other factors play into the decision? 

Cover photo from pexels.com

The Addition of Video Games To Our Household

When my oldest was born five years ago, I noticed a shift in how parents view screen time. Maybe it somewhat had to do with the fact that I had just entered the parenthood world, but since I had spent the previous four years very immersed in the school system as well as nannying for a local family, I felt like I somewhat had an idea of the screentime trends. 

I think what I was observing was 5-10 years ago parents started realizing the long-term effects of screens, smart devices, and video games were having on kids. I kept seeing movement after movement of, “screen-free summer!” and “let’s spend 10,000 hours outside instead of on our devices!” 

Which are not bad things to do! Spending time outside is a great investment. But where I find the fault is that we are blaming screens. 

I grew up in the 90s and we spent plenty of time playing video games and watching tv shows. We also spent plenty of time running the streets of our neighborhood until the street lights came on. That actually wasn’t a rule for us, but it felt very similar to how I grew up and fitting for the given situation. 

Looking back, maybe parents of the 90s would beg to differ, but I think we had a perfect balance back then. We were pirates and explorers by day, and Mario Kart racers by night when it was too dark or cold to be outside. The screens were not the problem! 

However, over time the use of screens changed and adapted and been used (and abused) more and more. So when my oldest was born, I felt such shame for using any amount of screens in her life. So much to the point that when we were visiting a restaurant one evening, their menu boards were big TVs, and as an 18-month-old she wouldn’t stop staring at them. I felt like a horrible mom for allowing her to do this. She wasn’t supposed to have any screen time! 

Looking back, I realize how ridiculous my thinking was. But with all of the propaganda out on social media (ironic, isn’t it??), I was sure any time spent in front of any screen for my child was certainly melting her brain. 

Over the years we tried many different approaches to screen time. My favorite was physically putting the remote in my child’s hand. I think the biggest downfall with this, though, was that there wasn’t a countdown or physical timer she could see that would indicate how much screen time she had left for the day, so she wasn’t able to properly time manage her TV access, which led to frustration. However, giving myself a break and allowing screen time in our home was a good thing overall for us. 

Around the time my oldest turned 5, the idea of video games popped up. My initial thoughts were, “No. Absolutely not. We don’t need those in our house.” But then I was introduced to an Instagram account that changed my thinking. 

@TheGamerEducator is changing the way we think and look at screen time and video games. She has shown facts and research on why video games are good for kids! She also promotes scheduled screen time and points out why kids are asking for screen time in places like Disneyland or the zoo, and why we don’t need to be upset about it. 

It gave me the right push to add simple video games into our home. And believe it or not, it did not cause instant tantrums or overstimulation. In fact, it caused A LOT of problem-solving skills to be utilized. It caused great fine-motor development. It gave my kids the opportunity to use their brains to move a joystick to control an object on the TV, something they’ve never had to do before, but something that takes a good amount of brain power in the beginning to use. 

And in the end, my kids are still spending the majority of their days outside running the streets and inside playing board games and toy trains. But they also have some fun, scheduled screen time as well, and it’s been amazing for our household. 

The amount of education kids can pick up from video games is incredible. However, please be wary and not buy into “this is an educational game.” If you want more information on what makes something an educational game or show, I would strongly suggest diving deep into @TheGamerEducators resources she has available because she can give you more information on it than I ever could! 

So let’s stop giving screens and video games a bad wrap. They’re doing so much more for us and our children than we even realize!

Are you a video game family? What does screen time look like for you?

New Logo, Who Dis?

The time has come to unveil the new branding for our scholarship! As I stepped into the role of scholarship chair and content writer, I began noticing some variations in the way that those who came before me referred to the scholarship. The original name for our scholarship was the Design A Better Future scholarship (which I’m assuming came from the fact that the projects needs to be based on the design thinking cycle). But as the years went on, it also started being referred to as the Build A Better future scholarship and both titles started being used interchangeably.

In order to *hopefully* limit future confusion, I decided to update the scholarship logo and declare one title to be the official title from now on. The HGU scholarship will henceforth be known as the Build A Better Future scholarship. I felt as though using the verb “design” was too passive and wasn’t giving our applicants enough credit. Yes, they are using the design thinking cycle but they are also going above and beyond to bring their designs to life.

design a better future scholarship high school seniors

In addition to updating the logo and title, the website has been updated with all the information needed for our 2023 scholarship! I look forward to seeing how the next group of applicants works on building a better future for their communities. If you or anyone you know is a high school senior that will be graduating in 2023, you can find more information regarding the scholarship here and here. Please email scholarship@honorsgraduation.com with any questions. Good luck!

Nourishing the Seed

Here is a brief list of book recommendations for middle grade readers (3rd-6th Grade). Stay tuned for more recommendations and more age groups!

Hooky by Miriam Bonastre Tur

One scoop of graphic novel, one dash of fantastical adventure, and two heaping tablespoons of witch makes this book the perfect recipe (or spell!) for the hesitant reader in your life. With beautiful illustrations and an engaging storyline, this is the perfect way to introduce middle-grade readers to novels without making them feel like they are reading a novel.

“When Dani and Dorian missed the bus to magic school, they never thought they’d wind up declared traitors to their own kind! Now, thanks to a series of mishaps, they are being chased by powerful magic families seeking the prophesied King of Witches and royals searching for missing princes.” -HaperCollins Publishers

Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling

“Aven Green loves to tell people that she lost her arms in an alligator wrestling match, or a wildfire in Tanzania, but the truth is she was born without them. And when her parents take a job running Stagecoach Pass, a rundown western theme park in Arizona… she bonds with Connor, a classmate who also feels isolated because of his own disability, and they discover a room at Stagecoach Pass that holds bigger secrets than Aven ever could have imagined.” -GoodReads

This book is the perfect reminder of the importance of friendship, courage, and acceptance (of yourself and others).

The Mystery of Black Hollow Lane by Julia Nobel

Nothing captivates a reader like the suspenseful twists and turns of a good mystery, and this book is no exception! Read aloud or read alone, you’ll find your readers on the edge of their seat.

With a dad who disappeared years ago and a mother who’s a bit too busy to parent, Emmy is shipped off to Wellsworth, a prestigious boarding school in England, where she’s sure she won’t fit in. But then she finds a box of mysterious medallions in the attic of her home with a note reading: These belonged to your father. When she arrives at school, she finds the strange symbols from the medallions etched into walls and books, which leads Emmy and her new friends, Jack and Lola, to Wellsworth’s secret society: The Order of Black Hollow Lane. Emmy can’t help but think that the society had something to do with her dad’s disappearance, and that there may be more than just dark secrets in the halls of Wellsworth…” -Sourcebooks

Fablehaven by Brandon Mull

Alright, this recommendation might come from a place of self-indulgence as this was a series that I absolutely LOVED as a kid. But I’ve also reread them as an adult, and they still hold up.

For centuries, mystical creatures of all description were gathered to a hidden refuge called Fablehaven to prevent their extinction. The sanctuary is one of the last strongholds of true magic. Enchanting? Absolutely. Exciting? You bet. Safe? Well, actually, quite the opposite . . . Kendra and her brother, Seth, have no idea their grandfather is the current caretaker of Fablehaven. Inside the gated woods, ancient laws keep order among greedy trolls, mischievous satyrs, plotting witches, spiteful imps, and jealous fairies. However, when the rules get broken, powerful forces of evil are unleashed, forcing Kendra and Seth to face the greatest challenge of their lives, to save their family, Fablehaven, and perhaps even the world.” -Shadow Mountain

Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney

Boys don’t keep diaries—or do they? It’s a new school year, and Greg Heffley finds himself thrust into middle school, where undersized weaklings share the hallways with kids who are taller, meaner, and already shaving. The hazards of growing up before you’re ready are uniquely revealed through words and drawings as Greg records them in his diary.” -ABRAMS Publishing

Anyone who has been a kid, is a kid, has kids, or has even looked at a kid has heard of Diary of a Wimpy Kid. This series is another resource to encourage disinterested readers. I mean, Jeff Kinney wouldn’t be able to write a 17-book series because kids aren’t reading his books, so he clearly knows a thing or two about getting kids excited about reading.

Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar

Accidentally built sideways and standing thirty stories high (the builder said he was very sorry for the mistake), Wayside School has some of the wackiest classes in town, especially on the thirtieth floor. That’s where you’ll meet Bebe, the fastest draw in art class; John, who only reads upside down; Myron, the best class president ever; and Sammy, the new kid—he’s a real rat.” -HarperCollins Publishing

Comedic, clever, and kooky; this book has it all! With chapters that read like short stories, it is ideal for reading out loud. These far-fetched stories will fetch a laugh or two (or 89).

Introducing Shoshana Folic: The 2022 Scholarship Top Recipient

This is part of a series of blog posts introducing you to our 2022 Build A Better Future scholarship recipients and their projects. We hope you will find their stories as inspiring as we do! For information on our scholarship, click here.

The final scholarship awardee I have for you is Shoshana Folic! Shoshana’s project, Wishing’ U Well, earned her our top spot; which means that in addition to her $10,000 scholarship, she was awarded a $5,000 grant to continue funding her project.

From a very young age, Shoshana began noticing a lack of resources made available to the special needs community. Even before she started Wishing’ U Well, she volunteered with the Best Buddies organization, which offered her valuable insight into the needs of the community and the issues they face. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, it exacerbated the disparity and Shoshana knew she needed to do more. She started the Wishing’ U Well platform at the age of fifteen, using her skills as a STEM student to maximize the resources that she wanted to make available. To quote Shoshana directly,

“Wishing’ U Well is a free online platform that is focused on improving the mental, physical, social, and spiritual well-being of those with intellectual or developmental disabilities. The Wishing’ U Well website is equipped with a multitude of different resources, sponsors, and social meetings between Florida high school volunteers and the special needs community.”

The website includes several sections, including workout tips and videos, basic nutrition information, coloring pages and playlists designed to encourage relaxation, mantras and affirmations, and–my personal favorite–the Fun With Friends program. Fun With Friends matches a special needs individual with a high school volunteer based on interests and hobbies and allows them to meet once a week via Zoom to talk, laugh, and bond with each other. Wishing’ U Well also hosts virtual group activities, such as drawing and cooking classes.

When it first launched, Wishing U’ Well only had five members in the special needs community, but has now reached over 850 special needs members from 17 different countries. They have also had over 100 high school students volunteer for the Fun With Friends program. Shoshana is actually trying to encourage more special needs members to join this community, as they have more volunteers than they know what to do with.

Moving forward, Shoshana would like to build up her network of sponsors and content creators to spread the word, increase special needs engagement, and supply even more resources. If you are (or know) someone who might be interested in sponsoring, promoting, or creating content for the Wishing’ U Well organization, you can send an email to shoshana.wishinguwell@gmail.com. Sponsors can be anyone from businesses, non-profits, sports teams, and social media influencers.

Likewise, if you know someone in the special needs community who you think could benefit from the resources provided by the Wishing’ U Well organization (hint: that’s everyone!), or if you would like additional information, please visit the official website: https://www.wishinguwell.org/

Wishing’ U Well can also be found on the following social media sites:

Instagram: wishing.u.well

Facebook: Wishing’ U Well

Twitter: @Wishinguwell_

A big congratulations to Shoshana for winning the top spot and a huge round of applause for her and all the work she has done in providing resources to the special needs community.

Introducing Brooklyn Conrad: A 2022 Scholarship Winner

This is part of a series of blog posts introducing you to our 2022 Build A Better Future scholarship recipients and their projects. We hope you will find their stories as inspiring as we do! For information on our scholarship, click here.

Up next on our scholarship winner docket is Brooklyn Conrad! Brooklyn has been a member of her local 4-H since the fourth grade, which provided her with countless service opportunities. Some of those opportunities included gathering donations for her community food shelf. She began noticing that most of the food being donated was highly processed and it opened her eyes to the lack of fresh and healthy foods available to those in need.

And thus, the “Feeding Growing Minds for a Healthy Future” campaign was born.

Brooklyn began meeting with local and county government officials, stakeholders, and community members and explaining the importance of making healthier food choices available to those in need. Through her own research, she learned how to make garden beds from IBC totes and wire cattle fencing. With the help of master gardeners and the food shelf coordinators, she received instruction on what produce was most in-demand and which plants would be best for her garden.

In May of 2021, she was ready to get to work. Brooklyn was able to use her 4-H connection to assemble a group of volunteers and together, they planted a variety of vegetables. She watered the garden throughout the summer, and by July, there were vegetables ready to be harvested and donated to the food shelf. She continued nurturing her project and at the time of her application in May of this year, they had already prepped and planted the gardens for another season of fresh produce.

By partnering with her 4-H chapter, she made certain that her food shelf will continue to receive healthier food alternatives. She has been teaching current 4-H members how to maintain the garden and she connected them with a master gardener for additional expertise. Moving forward, Brooklyn hopes to share her project with other counties and is actively gathering resources and materials to help them start their own food shelf gardens. She also wants to set up a system where community members can donate extra produce from their own gardens to local food shelves, ensuring that an even greater variety of fresh fruits and vegetables are going to those who need them instead of going to waste.