Monday, December 17, 2007

Six Months Later...

Funny that the last entry was about a lemonade stand. Right now there's about a foot of snow on the ground, it's about 20 degrees outside, and the car is basically plowed in. If anyone is dreaming of a white Christmas, come to Chicago quickly!

Speaking of Christmas... perhaps someone or more than one is still reading this blog (or will come back to it after the six-month unannounced and unofficial leave of absence) and would like to post about ideal holiday presents for kids! I've checked a number of the parenting magazines and browsed through a number of the ubiquitous toy catalogues but have only bought one thing that was recommended: a charming little wooden kitchen for Matteo. What was especially appealing about this one was that it cost less than $100 (unlike many of the other wooden ones). If anyone wants more info about the kitchen, just let me know.

There will also be some Legos and blocks. I highly recommend the wooden blocks made by Community Playthings. They are the blocks found in almost every nursery school. You can also get great wooden furniture through them (and kitchens! pricey though). Their stuff is built to last as evidenced by their presence in almost every nursery school classroom.

Send in your ideas as fast as you can! Perhaps we should also discuss how to manage kids' expectations around this holiday? Or how to create family traditions? How to make it more than Santa Claus and presents... more on that in my next post!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Lemonade Stand

Yesterday Alex and our sitter's eleven-year-old twins, Jazzy and Lizzy, made a lemonade stand. They were open for about six hours! There was no stopping this group, and the girl next door, Bessie, also got involved. They paid her $2 and gave her cookies for her efforts.

Taking a cue from the kids upstairs who have run a number of lemonade stands, they got this small bike out of the backyard and affixed an advertisement to the back. Then one of them rode the bike up and down the block, letting everyone know that fresh lemonade and cookies were for sale. They also posted signs.

They sold more than lemonade and cookies. As the nice sign on the stand told customers:

lemonade - 50 cents
ice - 1 cent
cookies - 75 cents
water - free

Unfortunately, most of the ice melted, so that wasn't a big money-maker. That Alex ate about six cookies may have also put a small dent in profits.

When I got home at 4, they had run out of the chocolate chip cookies and so were selling rice cakes and several different kinds of cookies found in the kitchen. Apparently the rice cakes sold well.

Today Alex wanted to run another business. When I told him that I thought it might be hard to get customers for a second day, he said, "But stores are open for more than one day." When I left the house, he was talking to one of the twins about putting together a puppet show. Of course, the plan was to sell tickets to the show to everyone in the neighborhood.

The kids are going to decide on an organization where they can donate the lemonade stand profits, which were over $50.

It will be interesting to see what they have produced or sold by the time I get home today.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Club Penguin...??

Was anyone else alarmed by two recent articles in the New York Times: one on the proliferation of websites for little kids and the other on the eight-year-old (I think that's his age) video game master. I found that image of the diminutive video game master, sitting atop a desk or some such thing in his dark basement, a bit depressing. The photo in the story about kids' websites (e.g. Club Penguin) also made me sad -- that little girl sitting on the couch with a laptop. Don't get me wrong: I like technology -- hence the blog! but I don't know that kids need it in their lives that much when they're so young. Somehow this topic makes me think of Pokemon. Matt and I both are unimpressed by Pokemon. As Matt said, "What kind of strategy is there in a game where the more you spend on the cards, the more valuable they are?" Yeah, what's the strategy there for kids? I get what it is for the guys who produce the game. And, while I know that there's math involved in playing with Pokemon cards, I think there are other fun, more interesting ways to get kids excited about and playing with math concepts. When all of this gets to be too much, then I start thinking that it would be nice to live in a cottage in Half Moon Bay and send my kids to a Waldorf school.

Monday, June 4, 2007

June already...

I can't believe it. It's already June. Alex has three more days of kindergarten. My college reunion was wonderful. Truly. I think it was one of the first times in I don't know how long that I was just out in the world on my own. What's interesting is that Smith College reunions tend to be more about women connecting with women and less about people bringing their families. Some people do, but the majority of people come on their own. It was pretty great to have almost three days of just talking with friends, catching up, walking around the campus and Northampton, and not having any interruptions.

Here's one of my brilliant ideas about reunions: Why don't they just print right on the name tags what kind of cars people are driving? Wouldn't that save a lot of time? Just go for the direct hit. I think it's a funny idea. That is not to say, however, that the reunion was all about who's who and what's what and what kind of success people have or haven't had. It really didn't feel that way.

My friend Martha told me another good idea about reunions that a friend of hers who's an executive coach offered her: Before you go to your reunion, you imagine that you have (and that you take) this little pill that prevents you from ever making any comparisons between yourself and anyone else. (There's goes the car on the name tag idea.)

What stood out most at the reunion was how many smart and funny women I knew at Smith (and how smart and funny they still are -- and how many interesting things they are up to), how incredible it was to go to school in such an amazing setting with so many resources dedicated to our education, and how worthwhile it is for families to make such educational opportunities available to their children. It was also hard to believe that twenty years had passed. My sense of time became warped as I walked about the campus. Somehow it was easy to feel as though there hadn't been so many years since we were students living on campus.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Back to Blogging

I had grand plans of posting on my blog every day. Sigh. Perhaps, though, it's better if I'm not so prolific; then everyone won't have to think that all I do is read the New York Times and write a blog. That's what I would think if I were reading what's been posted so far.

Tomorrow, I am heading east to attend my 20th college reunion. I went to the fifth and the fifteenth. This time I am traveling with my dear friend Laura Higgins, so that will be incredible, and then I will have at least one friend there! Imagine having a weekend and about six hours in the car to catch up, without anyone of about four feet tall asking for something. I am really looking forward to this. My mom is the heroic grandmother who is coming out for the weekend. She and Alex can spend six hours or more at the Museum of Science and Industry, as they like to do. I'm good there for about twenty minutes.

I am in the final stages of finishing up a second issue of a Lab publication titled LAB Directions. Here's a link to the first one I did:
(Click on March 2007.)

I imagine that the reunion will provide good blog material. In the meantime, I want to call attention to my friend Steve Bergen who is just about to make a job change, one that reflects something I think about all the time. Having taught and headed up huge technology inititives in several independent schools over many years, Steve is moving to the Children's Storefront School in Harlem. Although Storefront is an independent school, too, the students don't pay tuition. It's supported by fundraising. Steve's story reveals the nature of Storefront and his decision to make this change. (

When I was teaching in independent schools, I often found myself thinking about how successful many of these schools were and yet how cut off from the larger world of education many of them seemed to be. I don't think it's atypical for people at private schools not to have any relationships with the public schools in the same neighborhood. I know Steve is starting to think about how he might work with charter schools, as we pursues his job at Storefront, and I wonder whether there's even more that can happen. I believe that he's raising big questions about the role of technology in education, especially when thinking about inner city public schools. E.g. what resources should go to technology in such settings -- where there are many competing needs, some of which may be more fundamental (e.g. resources for the teaching of reading, although are there connections between these needs and technology?).

I imagine there are private schools that have relationships with public schools and would love to know about them, if anyone out there has this info... I interviewed Arne Duncan recently (the CEO of the Chicago Public Schools) for Lab Directions. He's an alum of the Lab Schools and very much wants kids in the Chicago public schools to get what he got at Lab, a place that's as much a community center as a school. That's his phrase (community center) for what schools need to be. That reminds me of something I often thought about what kids get in independent schools: I don't have issues with what kids get in those settings; the problem is that all children don't have the same resources and opportunities. It would be great if every child in America had a school like Lab.

Hope someone reads this! Respond!

Thursday, May 17, 2007


I'm sure some of you have already read Wednesday's education section in the New York Times. The trouble with my getting into this here is that it might set off a rant. Well... maybe that's okay. Sometimes I might have to do that. That will save Matt from getting his ear chewed off too severely. I have an idea for an article, which I want to call something such as "To AP or Not To AP -- Is that the question?" Yesterday's Times had an article titled "Study Finds College-Prep Courses in High School Leave Many Students Lagging." (Here's the link: The part that will get the rant going is towards the end of the article, where the author describes how in 2000 Education Secretary Richard W. Riley "announced a goal of having every school in the nation add an Advanced Placement course each year for the next decade." Then, of course, the article goes on to disclose how "most of Philadelphia's nonselective high schools did not have a single student who achieved a passing grade on any Advanced Placement exam."

Originally, I had thought my article would be about schools like Lab where there's some interest in thinking about what Fieldston says they do (although my question for them is how many kids still take AP tests... I am suspicious of what "giving up AP courses" really means), but now I am wondering whether there's something much larger here... something that could use the whole AP question as a metaphor for educational inequalities. Of course, as is obvious, these ideas need much more time in the oven -- and, of course, the larger idea in the article, as the title makes clear, is that students aren't prepared for college. Would love to know what others think of this article. There was also another good article about George Jackson Academy in Manhattan titled "A School Frees Low-Income Boys From the Pressures of the Streets." Here's the link:

Do write some comments!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Sutherland Awards

First, I want to say that I am thrilled that people are making comments, and I am eager to see how this ideas and insights exchange evolves. I sense great potential here...

On to the Sutherland Awards. As many of you already know, we moved to Chicago last summer. Matt started his job as the high school principal at the University of Chicago Lab Schools in July, and Alex became a kindergartner at Lab in the fall.

There are many, many things to say about Lab, but I will limit my comments to the Sutherland Awards, an annual event in which Lab students become judges of children's literature. The whole Sutherland process is one that goes on for months, and it's extraordinary how students in grades 3rd-6th read, discuss, and evaluate picture books. I think it's fair to say that this is basically an Academy Awards for picture books, and you would very much think that too if you had been at the ceremony when the winning books were announced. The kids went crazy, and it was inspiring, almost overwhelming, to be in a room with a large group of kids so excited about books.

What I want to share with you here are the titles of the finalists and the winners, as you will then have a short list of some of this year's best picture books (worth buying in hard cover, as I just did). I imagine that many of you may have already encountered these terrific books.

The Lab librarians initially create a list of 15-16 books, and then the sixth grade committee narrows that list down to five titles, over many weeks. Students in grades 3-6, after studying the books themselves, vote.

Here are the five finalists and the winners:

Flotsam by David Wiesner (won Best Illustrations)
John, Paul, George, and Ben by Lane Smith (won Best Text and Best Overall)
Moses: When Harriet Tubman Led Her People to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford and Kadir Nelson
Probuditi! by Chris Van Allsburg
Wolves by Emily Gravett

One of the winning authors from the previous year is invited to Lab to make a presentation at the awards ceremony and to announce the new winners. Last year's winner for Best Text and Best Overall was Captain Arsenio: Inventions and (Mis)adventures in Flight, so
Pablo Bernasconi came to Lab (all the way from Argentina).

I highly recommend this book as well. It is brilliant. I would also recommend another book by Lane Smith (done with Jon Scieszka) called Seen Art? -- just fabulous (about MOMA). All of these books are Alex-approved. He especially loves John, Paul, George, and Ben, which is a hilarious romp through early American history -- quite creatively re-imagined. Let's just say that there's a good underwear joke that six-year-old Alex is still laughing about two weeks after first meeting the book.