June 22, 2009
January 19, 2009
Charles "Chuck" Saylors is about to become the first dad ever to lead the National Parent Teacher Association (commonly known as the PTA). When Chuck becomes PTA president in June, it will be the biggest step yet in the trend of fathers getting more involved in improving their kids' education.
The PTA has always been dominated by moms. Founded in the late 1800s as the "National Congress of Mothers," women have always made up the organization's leadership and majority. But now, dads are catching up. Men make up 10 percent of the PTA's membership and their numbers increased each of the last five years. Dads are pitching in, donating their time, and starting to become active volunteers—and Chuck couldn't be happier.
He sat down with us to talk about the PTA, how parents can get involved, and some of his goals for the future.
You've been involved in the PTA ever since your oldest son, Matthew (now 24), was in elementary school. How'd you get started?
"The first PTA event we went to was a fall carnival…They had a hot dog dinner and my wife and I went into the cafeteria to have dinner. We walked into the serving line and there was just one lady behind the counter.
'She's just doing everything by herself,' I told my wife.
Without missing a beat, she said, 'Well, do you want to eat dinner now or wait until you finish helping her?'
That's how I got started—helping serve hot dogs. That year, I ended up doing some work in the school as a volunteer leader and then served as president of the school's PTA."
What has it been like being a "dad in a mom's world," so to speak?
"Nobody's ever accused me of being the odd man out. It's been a longtime goal of the organization to get more men involved. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
The organization started out 112 years ago as the National Congress of Mothers. Not until the last couple decades have we started focusing on trying to get more men involved. The women have always been there. Now we're looking at 10 percent of our membership that are men. To me, that's a tremendous opportunity for growth."
How will you try to get more men involved in the PTA and children's education?
"One of the challenges we face is the perception that men don't have time to participate…What I'm asking men—or any parent—to do is give us three hours during the entire school year. Go to the school and volunteer. Help a child with their reading skills, their math skills. Tutor. Help a child do something constructive…
If a parent gives us three hours of their time, I'm a firm believer they're going to come back for more. They'll see the positive of what they're doing. They're helping the child with their skills so they'll be a better person, a better adult, in the future… All in less time than it takes to see a movie."
You're a professional in the business world, serving as Vice President for Construction Management for a large contractor. How do you make time in your own life to volunteer?
"I am married to a saint—absolutely, beyond the shadow of a doubt. My family is very supportive and I am extremely lucky to have that. I am also extremely lucky to work for a company that sees my service in this area as a good thing."
Tell us about some of the other goals you have as PTA president.
"I want to give families encouragement to see that this can be a family activity. It's not just something that Mom does, or something that Dad does. It's something that the grandparents can get involved in, the aunts and uncles can get involved in, the neighbors can get involved in. It's more than just one or two parents...
Today Dad works, Mom works—often more than one job each. The level of ability to volunteer has diminished from 20 years ago, but the level of need has increased. With the potential of serious budget cuts across the states, I don't see that need decreasing. In fact, it will become greater. We need to do whatever we can to get parents in the door… Their efforts are greatly appreciated and greatly needed."
The PTA needs your help! If you'd like to get involved with your local or state chapter of the PTA, visit their volunteer website. You'll find ways to join, give back, and help kids in your community. Remember, just three hours of your time can make a world of difference. We hope you'll pitch in!
December 29, 2008
When kids are struggling, many parents look to tutors to give them a boost. Beyond grades, there are also tutors who specialize in college test preparation or those who help develop hobbies and interests like public speaking, music, or even sports.
We talked to Cara Finnegan (from our friends at FamilyEducation.com) and Dr. Wendy Grolnick (professor of psychology at Clark University and co-author of Pressured Parents and Stressed-Out Kids) and asked them to share their advice for parents thinking about hiring tutors.
When do you hire a tutor?
"A tutor can be a good option to assist in a child's education for a number of reasons," Cara told us, "[Maybe] the child the child needs extra help mastering a specific skill or staying organized. She might have a learning disability that would benefit from extra attention. Or she might have extenuating circumstances, like health or family issues, that interfere with her performance in school."
Communication is the key to deciding if your child needs extra help. Talk with her teachers and see if they think she'd gain from having a tutor. Also, if a child is having trouble in school, they might not be using words to tell you. Watch for signs of disinterest (complaining about homework, not wanting to go, crying, or faking illness).
How much is too much?
With kids' busy schedules, adding more schoolwork can seem like punishment. They're under a lot of stress already, so be sure they can handle the extra work. It may mean cutting back in other activities.
"Make sure the kids have some downtime," Cara said. "Kids need time to play and have unstructured activity, so make sure that's part of their day. It's especially important to give your child downtime before bed and to make sure she gets enough sleep."
If you do make changes in the schedule, keep fun activities in the mix! "All work and no play…" you know.
Hire the tutor for you child, not you.
"Parents are feeling a lot of pressure for their children to do well," Wendy told us. "They're hearing the message that if kids aren't doing well early on, they might not get into any of the best colleges or even the best elementary schools."
In today's competitive culture, it's easy to give into temptation to "Keep up with the Joneses." We want our kids to succeed and have plenty of opportunities. That's a good thing! But we should be careful that we're not taking it too far. If we're pushing our children too much, we're more likely to block any progress than actually help them.
Make sure you're thinking about your child's specific needs, strengths, and interests. A tutor's job is to help them be better at what they do, not completely change who they are.
It's not just your decision.
Whenever you can, keep your kids involved in the choice to hire a tutor. "Sit down and ask what their goals are," Wendy suggested. "Kids have to see the connection between the tutoring and their own goals."
"[Tutoring] should be presented to the child in a way that feels like it's an opportunity for more success, not a form of punishment," Cara added.
Because most kids don't like homework, adding a tutor might not be a popular decision. If you can introduce the idea by discussing it with your kids, things should go a lot smoother. When you're both on the same page, you'll avoid fighting about the extra lessons and also see the results you're hoping for.
Are any of you thinking about hiring a tutor? What are some of your concerns when finding that extra help for your children? Leave a comment and join the discussion!
Find a local tutor
Pressured Parents, Stressed-Out Kids by Dr. Wendy Grolnick and Kathy Seal
How to tell if my child needs a tutor?
College admissions tutoring
Working with teachers for better tutoring results
January 21, 2008
You just got your child's grades, and they don't look good. It's only mid-year and there's still time to turn things around, but maybe you don't have resources in your area or the budget for a tutor. There's hope. The National Education Association offers this guide for parents, or you can follow these simple steps to work with your child at home:
- Proctor homework time.
According to the NEA and other sources, kids perform better in school when their parents are actively involved in their learning. Turn off the TV after dinner and make homework time a family affair. Maybe you and your spouse (or the sitter / nanny, or grandma) can take turns. Bring your own work or reading and set up a rigid study period at the dining room table. Being available will make your kids feel more comfortable approaching you with questions and asking for your help, and participating helps create structure.
- Work with teachers.
Call your child's teacher and ask for a copy of the syllabus / curriculum outline. Ask the teacher for insight into your child's in-class strengths and weaknesses so you know what areas to work on first. Make sure to check in with your child after all major assignments and tests, ask them how they felt and how they think they did, and then review the corrected papers or exams with them.
- Buy the Teacher's Edition.
Check out Textbooks.com or Amazon.com to purchase the solutions or answer key and teacher's edition of your child's textbooks. After working through homework or practice tests, go over your child's answers with them and use the teacher's edition to offer help for getting to the right answers. If you hit a wall, call in a tutor, approach the teacher for help, or purchase a supplementary book from the For Dummies series, published by Wiley & Sons, or the Complete Idiot's Guide series, published by Penguin.
- Find an angle, spark an interest.
Help your kids find a connection with the subject matter, which may or may not seem totally dry to them. Find a way for them to care about what they're learning by using their interests to spark motivation. If it's languages your child is struggling with, try going on a trip to a place where the language is spoken (even an authentic restaurant), or rent foreign films on DVD from Netflix and try watching them with and without the subtitles. If biology is the issue, maybe a few episodes of House, ER or CSI might make the connection, or a trip to a local science museum (especially if you can find the traveling Bodies exhibit). If physics is the issue, try relating gravity and torque to cars, skateboards, or sports, depending on their interests. You get the idea.
For more tips, check out Working with Teachers for Tutoring Results.
December 16, 2007
Family members are an obvious choice when you're in a pinch for care: they love your kids or pets and like to spend time with them, or they share the responsibility of caring for your parents and grandparents with you. And, they can be wonderful sources of respite care for the overworked! But there are drawbacks to having a family member provide care, and beware that confrontations and other easily-avoidable situations may arise because of your comfort level with one another. Use these guidelines—similar to those you would use when hiring a stranger—to prevent unnecessary drama.
- Expectations. When hiring a nanny or a babysitter, I typically advise people to type up their key expectations and go over them with any caregiver beforehand. You should go ahead and do that with family members, too, just as if you were hiring an outside caregiver (even though—and sometimes more importantly because—they're your relatives). I would then sit down and walk them through the list and tell them that this is what you go over with any nanny, etc. Setting clear expectations upfront helps to clear up (and stem off) any confusion.
- Core values. Emphasize the key things that are important to you. For example: Education. Your child's education is really critical to you, and is the main reason you don't want them watching TV or playing video games during the week. Or Responsibility. Teaching your kids responsibility is something that you are working on at home, which is why you expect them to pick up their toys. Although these things may seem like small things, they are crucial components to keeping things consistent for your kids. Tell your relatives that, although they may be inclined to use a different method, you would appreciate their help by adhering to your rules. Explaining your overall goals will help your relative(s) understand why you are asking them to do certain things.
- Communication. Talk often! Sit down on a regular basis and discuss how things are going. Don't just meet or talk when things are going wrong. If you talk regularly, then it won't feel like you planned a special sit-down conversation that makes things a bigger deal than they are. Whether your relative is helping you out once a year when you ask, or needs to know how overburdened you are with shared responsibilities so they can offer to help, communication is crucial—especially between family members.
- "Don't sweat the small stuff." There may be small things that irritate you, such as leaving dishes in the sink or not picking up the toys after the kids. Your nanny used to do it, but now that your sister is helping out, the house is a mess when you get home. If these things aren't the most important things to you, then let it go. Remind yourself that the quality of care—that your child is loved, well-fed, entertained, and educated—and maintaining a healthy relationship with your relative should trump any trivial or mundane annoyance you may feel.
- Payment. No one likes discussing the topic of money with a family member. If your relative is comfortable getting paid, then I would offer them an hourly wage at market rate. Find market rates in your area by searching Care.com by your ZIP code and looking at different provider profiles. You can also share this information with your relative to let them know that you came up with the rate based on objective sources. That way it removes anything personal from the conversation.
- Boundaries. Respect your family member's personal time. It's very easy to get too comfortable in the situation and take them for granted: you know that your mom or sister will always forgive you when you arrive 10 minutes late and other "harmless" offenses. But, if you expect your relatives to adhere to your wishes and your rules when caring for your child, pet, or other loved one, then you should do the same by respecting that they may have other engagements, appointments, etc. Keep your word and you'll keep their respect.
- Tough conversations. Sometimes it's better to let time lapse before having an emotional conversation (especially in front of your kids). Sometimes you may have had a bad day and thus are overreacting to a situation, taking it out on your mom or sister. You may want to let it go and wait a day or two. See if it still bothers you after you've cooled off a bit, and then you'll be able to have a more rational, productive sit-down with your family member. Even though it's your mom or sister, think about approaching the conversation as you would a friend: with a respectful tone and approach and with active listening. Seek first to understand than to be understood.
Have a great tip for navigating the waters of having family members serve as caregivers? Share it with the entire Care.com community by posting a comment!
December 09, 2007
I just received a question from a reader about suggestions for gifts for day care providers, but this advice can also apply to other caregivers, as well:
- Electronic Gift Cards
If you can afford to give them an e-gift card from Amazon or Barnes & Noble, I've done that in the past for day care providers when my boys were younger and find it's always appreciated. I would suggest a $15 value so that it can cover a nice book plus the shipping.
- Magazine Subscriptions
There are also gift certificates available at Magazines.com. for around $20 for an annual subscription to various magazines. One year, a friend gave me a food magazine subscription that I really enjoyed. Each month when I received it in the mail, all year long, it reminded me of her thoughtfulness.
- Picture Frames
If you're looking to spend a little less (around $10), you can always check out a discount retail store like TJ Maxx or Marshalls and pick up some nice picture frames. Leave the picture frames blank--care providers, as much as they love people and pets, really don't want prints of yours, but everyone can always use a nice, new picture frame to fill with their own special memories.
Also, if you are looking for that unique gift for your friend, co-worker or loved one, our team here at Care.com came up with "The Gift of Care", which allows you to give someone access to sanity-saving solutions for child care, elder care, pet care, and tutoring--and for just $10!
July 09, 2007
Here are some questions I typically ask a caregiver's former employer:
- What are her strengths, and what about her do you most respect?
- In what areas could she improve? (This is a really important question. I typically let a former employer complete her list before I probe on any one item so that I don't interrupt her train of thought. If she can't think of anything, I may offer up some negatives that the caregiver raised in her interview. For example: "She mentioned that she sometimes loses her patience. Have you experienced that before? If so, can you describe an incident where that happened?")
- Note some specific things you may want to probe for:
- How are the caregiver's communication skills?
- Does she have initiative?
- Is she organized?
- Does she handle stress well?
- Is she warm and social?
- How is her energy level?
- Can she work independently, or does she need very specific directions?
- If you were to rate her overall caregiving, would you consider it excellent, average, or poor? Why?
Duties and Fit
- Other than caregiving, what did her duties entail? Was she open to other duties?
- Let me tell you more about the duties I'm planning to give her. I'd love your feedback on whether this is the right job for her given your own experience with her.
- How long did you employ her?
- Why did she leave?
- What was her compensation level?
- What advice can you give me on managing her?
- Do you have any final comments?
- Please let me know which aspects of the reference check I can share with others and which ones are strictly confidential.
June 03, 2007
A Care.com Book Café Recommendation from Caitlin, our Summer Intern:
The entire college search process can be overwhelming, and after a while every school can start to look exactly the same. It can be hard to remember what you liked about each school you visited and more importantly, what you didn’t like. Princeton Review’s The Best 361 Colleges can help jog your memory when all the campus tours have started to run together in your mind.
This book provides a detailed academic profile for each college or university, but also touches on other important aspects of college life, such as the social scene and extra curricular activities offered. The Best 361 Colleges gives insight into everything from parties to politics.
Although college websites provide similar information, this book is more useful because it gives an unbiased look at both the good and the bad aspects of each school. It’s also useful when you want to compare colleges side by side. The Best 361 Colleges does a great job of defining each school in a way that is relevant for both a stressed-out high school student and their stressed-out parents.
May 21, 2007
Last weekend, I started searching for academic summer camps for our oldest son. We were looking specifically for a great summer immersion program for Spanish that didn’t require my son to go abroad. He’s already away most of the year attending a nearby private school, so we only wanted something close to home.
I started on Google, but it wasn’t easy. I also couldn’t find any reviews to help me sort through the options I found. A couple of websites were great starting points, but didn’t include some of the summer camps that I found digging through the search engines: kidscamps.com, summercamps.com.
Academic summer camps are becoming more and more popular since learning through activities and projects with friends isn't classified as "boring" (according to my teenager). Here are some interesting programs I've found:
- An Educational Residential Summer Camp: I’ve had friends tell me about this great program: Explo. Explo is a non-profit organization that’s been around since 1977. I just talked to them and they still have a lot of availability for their second session, which starts in July. It’s a residential camp experience and located here on the East Coast. I’ve been researching to find something comparable in other regions, but haven’t found anything. If you have, please share it with our readers.
- Mixing Learning with Dance: I was also pleasantly surprised to see some weekly programs at our local after-school math program. The Russian School of Math, which has locations in Boston and San Jose, is offering up a camp for kids that combines math and ballroom dancing. We thought we’d give it a try for our 7-year-old who loves math and also music.
- Look Locally: Kids don’t have to go far from home to have an enriching summer experience. Lots of communities have town-sponsored summer programs, and YMCAs, JCCs, and Boys and Girls Clubs offer a variety of day and overnight camps.
For ideas on educational summer activities that will prepare your kids for the upcoming school year, check out the Summer Smarts book series by Jeanne Crane Castafero and Janet Van Roden: 1st Grade, 2nd Grade, 3rd Grade, 4th Grade, 5th Grade.
And please leave a comment with any resources you've come across...
May 11, 2007
I know it's a little belated, but wanted to call attention to the fact that today, May 11th, is National Care Provider Appreciation Day!
Every year since 1996, on the Friday before Mother's Day, parents across the nation have been taking the time to thank those who care for our most precious loved ones: our children, our parents, grandparents, or disabled family members, and our pets.
Please take the time today to thank or buy a gift for the caregivers and care providers in your life. If you're stuck for ideas, check out the Celebration Ideas page of the official website for Provider Appreciation Day. I especially love the idea of working with your child to create a special remembrance, or giving your provider a "paid day off" in the form of a bonus.
I always revisit this gift guide by Susan Stellin, a writer at Real Simple magazine. The article, published last December and titled "Who? How Much?", was published as "the ultimate thank-you guide for a year of good service." It was meant as a tipping guide for the holiday season, but I find it's a relevant and handy reference for any occasion.
Ms. Stellin suggested that for care providers, gifts or cash bonuses should equal a week's worth of pay. For your nanny or for a regular caregiver who has been with you for a long time, you might want to also include a little something sentimental, like a framed photo of him or her with your loved one(s). I also always enjoy giving gift certificates for a spa or a restaurant—they always feel like extra-special treats, and are things that most people are reluctant to buy or indulge in themselves.
Make your caregiver or care provider feel appreciated!