Summer’s Routine Lite

Dive Into Summer with Some Simple Boundaries to Ensure All (Including Parents!) Enjoy the Season

“Mom, what do you really want to do this summer?” my son asked me during our bedtime pillow talk last night. I had to think. I wanted my summer sunshine dreams of lemonade stands, library visits, and creeking at local parks to roll off my tongue but instead, my mind was a-jumble.

In our race to the finish line of school, my head is swimming with work agendas and classroom parent tasks to complete. It wasn’t easy to get my mind quickly focused on summertime fun though that’s precisely the hope of my ten-year-old boy. And as I attempt to, waves of anxiety tend to rush through my veins as I figure out the windows of time in which I can accomplish work during those sunny summer days in the midst of playtime.

This was written five years ago and so much has changed including the fact that my son doesn’t “play” anymore but instead “hangs out.” At ten, his head came to the crux of my arm and today, I crane my neck to look up at him. We, however, yet again will have a conversation about summer boundaries and routines as a family. With a teen, you may consider the list I’ve included to tailor your boundaries to your own family’s specific assets and challenges.

I know that if I take some time over the coming weeks to do some collective summer dreaming while establishing some “lite” routines, our summer will be filled with cooperation, shared responsibility, and opportunities for those precious moments of spontaneity — the ones that I truly want to define our summer.

So with that in mind, here are the ways in which we’ll establish a foundation for fun. Perhaps some of these tips will help your household enjoy the summer as well.

Take Time for Sunny Summer Dreaming.

Grab a poster board or newsprint and brainstorm together a list of favorite activities you want to be sure and get in over the summer. Separate into “at home” and “out.” Make sure there are some ideas that can be done as solo play. Hang it on the refrigerator or somewhere you can refer to it throughout the summer. This serves as a terrific way to anticipate the fun of summer and can be an invaluable support for pointing to when your child comes to you bored and unsure of how to spend his/her time. I’ve done this every summer with great success. At ten, my son took the initiative himself without prompting and wrote out thirty-five ideas for summer fun! Now that he’s 15, we simply talk about our hopes and dreams and make some plans together.

Talk about Your Routine “Lite.”

Though you may be eager to relinquish the rigor of the daily school routine, children still thrive with some sense of predictability. So talk about changes in your routine while your family is together. Consider your morning, bedtime and meal times and other transitions in the day. How will things stay the same? How will things change? Perhaps, you’ll agree that getting dressed should happen by a certain time in the morning? Having this discussion can help set expectations for the summer and also provide that sense of stability children can thrive on through routines.

Check out my checklist of all the potential considerations to discuss for summer. Some you may be able to check off right away or skip – you’ve got them covered. Others you and your family might spend some focused conversation on.

Set Up a Regular Quiet Reading Time.

Sure, you may be out of the house some days during a typical quiet time. But consider assigning a particular time of day to serve as a quiet time whenever you are around the house. After lunch could work, late afternoon or right before dinner. Turn off devices and media. Haul out blankets and books. You could include snacks. But it should be a time when all in the household “power down” and take it easy. Set the expectation for this at the beginning of summer and kids will assume it’s part of their summer routine.

Create a Simple Camp or Pool Checklist

Is there a place you tend to go daily in the summertime whether it’s day camp or a pool? Make sure you’ve set up your children for success in getting ready and out of the door with ease. Create a simple checklist together of what’s consistently needed. Bug spray? Check. Sun tan lotion? Check. Water bottle? Check. Use a dry erase board and kids can actually check off items each day. It will help them take responsibility for their own preparation and you won’t have to become the summertime nag! 

Discuss Responsibilities and Consider Adding a Job List

Hopefully, your children understand their household responsibilities throughout the year. But anytime there is a transition, it’s a good moment to revisit. And you may consider one added responsibility to contribute to the household that’s age-appropriate since there tends to be more time in the summer. In addition, if you’re child is eager to earn money but too young to go out and get a job, you may consider putting together a list of jobs beyond their typical responsibilities such as, sweeping the first floor carpet for a $1.00. This will add to their practice of taking responsibility for jobs and offer a chance for your child to earn money this summer while helping you out! Consider a time when you do chores and offer that time for all family members to work together. 

For more on establishing household responsibilities with children, check out this article.  And for an age-appropriate household responsibility list, check out this printable!

Talk about Screen Time Limits and Expectations.

Avoid a daily battle or the chance your child might become addicted to screens and not flourish through multiple activities this summer beyond screens. Learn as a family the reasons why it’s important to limit screen time. Focus on the positive benefits of using time in other ways. Then, be clear together about what limits you’ll agree upon. 

For more on facts about why it’s important to limit screen time as well as, a family media meeting agenda and a family screen time agreement, check out this article.

The warmer weather brings about so many opportunities for laughter and exploration together. May your summer be filled with those kinds of magical moments with your children, teens and whole family!

Spin the Reflection Wheel; A Simple New Tool for Reflecting on the School Year

If your family is like my own, you are in the final flurry of school days. Your flurry may involve art shows, concerts, field days and celebration picnics. If you have older students, they may be chin-deep in final projects, exams, and presentations. And you might be working hard on teacher cards and gifts of appreciation along with volunteering for these final celebratory events. 

But soon, our students will say goodbye to their teachers, their classmates, and their studies and dive into the freedom and glory of summer days with all the promise of joyful play that the sunshine allows. There is however a transition that takes place moving from a very structured, very focused, very goal-oriented school year to the less-structured or differently-structured routines of family life. Families often don’t get to participate in these end-of-the-school-year rituals that assist students in that transition yet we want to be a part of it. And in fact, our support of the transition can ensure that, when home together more, we get along smoothly, that we can cooperate on co-creating summer rules and routines, and we move into this next season with hope and a sense of support and teamwork.

So if you are wondering how you might support this transition at home, here’s a simple tool to introduce at the dinner table or wherever you gather to reflect on this important year of learning for your child or teen and your family that is coming to a close.

Spin the wheel of reflection on this past school year. Take a moment to answer a few questions at a time when you are together and recall the major influences – people, places and events – that shaped your learning this school year. For us as parents – the school year/work year is always a learning opportunity too. Whether you respond as a parent partner to your child’s school, a parent volunteer, or a parent support at home or as a professional, be sure you take your own turn and answer the questions for you.


  • Who had the biggest impact on your learning? Tell a story about how they supported you.
  • Who did you learn the most about? How did your view of them change over the course of the year? What do you appreciate about them now?
  • Who did you learn about in class that impacted you? What did you learn from them? 


  • What did you learn that changed you or had a major impact on your perspective? 
  • What did you learn about how you like to learn or prefer to learn?
  • What new idea or fact did you learn that you are excited to continue to learn more about?
  • What are you grateful for from this past school year?


  • When, during the school year, did you feel the best, most empowered and inspired? What can you learn from that?
  • When did you feel the most anxious, insecure, nervous? What can you learn from that?
  • When did you feel bored or disengaged? What can you learn from that?
  • When did you feel excited and challenged? When did you feel frustrated and challenged? What was the difference?


  • Where did you experience the most significant learning this year? Why do you think that was the case?
  • Where did you feel safest and at your best? Why?
  • Where did you feel unsafe or scared or uncertain? What can you learn from that?


  • Why was this school year important to you?
  • Why did you choose the friends you choose this year?
  • Why do you love (insert what you love… your school, your classmates, your friend, your teacher, your favorite subject)?


  • How did you learn best this year (what conditions, people, supports, ways of learning)?
  • How did you show your kindness to others this year? How did others show kindness to you?
  • How did you deal with your toughest assignments, tests, or projects? Did it work?

Print out this version of the Reflection Spinning Wheel. And here are the printable questions. If you are so inspired, cut out the circle and place it on a cardboard backing. Use a pushpin in the center to anchor the circle but allow for the wheel to spin. Make an arrow on the cardboard backing to signify where the pointer will go and what question to land on. You need not tackle every question. You may take a few spins in one sitting and really savor the stories that emerge from the asking. Perfect for teachers to use too!

Classic educational philosopher John Dewey said, “we don’t learn from experience, we learn from reflecting on experience.” Allow your whole family to do some valuable reflecting together on this past school year – the significant relationships cultivated, the knowledge acquired, the shaping experiences. Promote the higher order thinking skill of meta-cognition or thinking about their thinking so that your children begin to learn more about the ways in which they learn best. These are fundamental lessons that will serve them well through their school career and follow them well beyond into their lifelong learning future!

Happy final school days! 

If you use this tool, let us know how it goes!

Check out these additional ideas:

Bringing Closure to the School Year

Finals Time! Supporting Children and Teens through the Stress of the Test

Today I am bleary-eyed as I attempt to get my work accomplished after a very late night supporting my son by listening to a speech he has to give – over and over. Now I know that “He who is not everyday conquering some fear has not learned the secret of life” (wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson on his essay on Self Reliance). Oh yes, it’s finals time. And whether you have a high schooler with a host of exams, papers and final projects as I do or you have a school-age child attempting to crank out posters, presentations or prepare for tests, this is the final push before the end of the of the school year. Add to the mix that the weather is beginning to change to more sunshine, celebratory activities are happening and we can sense summer just around the bend, and it can become a stressful time for all.

I wrote this article five years ago for a school that told me students were struggling more with the stress of testing than the tests themselves. The strategies still apply. The best, most supportive role we can play as parents tends to be social and emotional in nature. How can we create the calm, focused conditions for the work to take place? How can we offer strategies to help our children learn to deal with stress and anxiety in healthy ways? And how can we cultivate their motivation to work hard and persist in their challenges?

”Mom, everything seems to speed up around me, get louder in my head, and I can’t take my test. I feel scared.” This is how my ten-year-old son described his anxiety during test taking time. But though I know he has felt those feelings in the past, this is the first time he’s been able to articulate it.

In fact, anxiety is experienced differently by every person. Some may get headaches, some tummy aches. Some may feel hot, sweaty or like they are going to faint. But whatever the physical symptoms, frequently they can be accompanied by a host of fears. Yes, the stress of performing well is one of those fears but those worries may lead to a number of others like, “Will everyone make fun of me when I fail?” “Will I learn that I actually don’t have the smarts to do it?” and “Why can’t I think? My head feels like it’s about to explode. What’s wrong with me?”

There is no predicting what particular worries your child will have or develop. But testing time can be a common time of anxiety for parents, teachers and students alike. In fact, because there are pressures on teachers to prepare students for tests, students can pick up on their teacher’s anxiety and feel even more worried experiencing the emotional contagion to which we are all susceptible. So it’s worth looking at ourselves from a bird’s eye view and asking, “How do I talk and act when it’s test-taking preparation time?”

Modeling is a critical teacher so first, take note of your own reactions and anxiety. We can unwittingly contribute to and escalate any fear if we respond to our child’s responsibilities with anxiety. So becoming self-aware and practicing our own self-management over anxiety in those moments is fundamental to helping our children.

If you notice your own worries building, stop and take some deep breaths before responding to your child. I notice that I can hold greater patience in those times of struggle when I put on my “teacher hat,” and, as parents, aren’t we all teachers? All of a sudden, instead of being an annoyed parent, I become an intelligent and empathetic adult whose role is guidance, modeling, facilitation, and support. There are many ways you play a support role, as a parent or an educator, to help your children through this high-pressure time.

In the days before the test…

Get organized.

Be sure you have sharpened pencils (several), erasers and a high protein snack (if allowed) along with a water bottle ready for test-taking day. Your child may want to select her outfit to wear ahead planning for comfort and ease.


If your child’s teachers have given study guides or there are other materials to review, set up a schedule of a time block each day that can be dedicated to studying. Ensure that extra time is allotted (do you need to begin a couple weeks in advance?) in order to well-cover the materials. Give your child a choice (which will help with motivation). You might ask, “When after school, do you feel like studying – right after school or before or after dinner?” Also to help with motivation, work on your own paperwork alongside your child as s/he studies to give the feeling that we are in this together.

Teens are just learning the executive function skills of organizing and planning. Whereas in the earlier years, you might have planned out their study time, now you tend to allow them more independence as they go about their work. Yet, when the work is piled on, it can be a real challenge for them to sort through priorities and figure out how to tackle it all. In these times, you might offer (casually, our emotional investment will push them away for sure!) to support them in planning out how and when they will tackle their studies ensuring they get some brain breaks to keep them fresh.

Connect Physical Symptoms with Stress.

Because the many possible physical symptoms that accompany anxiety can worsen a child’s worries (“Why do I feel so awful? What’s wrong with me?”), it helps to talk about potential signs. You may want to share how your body feels when you are really worried and ask, “How does your body feel?” If your child cannot answer the question, that’s okay. Just your exploration of possible signs of stress in the body may help your child identify it as stress when it arises the next time. And when they identify it, they can then take steps to alleviate it.

Learn and practice deep breathing.

Practice deep breathing together. Practice making the noise of the sea waves while breathing deeply from your diaphragm. Close your eyes with your child and imagine that your anxiety is a fiery flame waiting on a sandy shore. And as you breathe life into the ocean waves, they grow closer and closer to the flame to extinguish it. This is a coping strategy that can be used anywhere at anytime and particularly, on the day of the test!

Brainstorm and practice other coping strategies.

Though breathing will be their best bet in returning to calm, here are a few additional coping strategies that can be paired with breathing while sitting taking a test. Try these together at home first. And fortunately, these can all be done simply and at a school desk without other peers noticing. You might suggest your child:

  • Close their eyes.
  • Focus on their heartbeat. See if they can begin to slow it down.
  • Tighten and release muscles.
  • Tighten and release their pencil grip.
  • Plant both of their feet firmly on the floor and imagine them on solid ground.
  • Raise their hand and ask the teacher if they can walk out in the hallway for fresh air or to get a drink of water.
  • Imagine their most calm, serene place (Ask your child where they might want to travel to in their head?).

Don’t worry that your child won’t be focused on the test while trying a coping strategy since their anxiety will prevent them from taking the test anyway. One or some of these could help them to return to the test sooner. Be sure once you talk about these, you try them out! Make it a game. Sit at your kitchen or dining room table and introduce each of these. If you have several children, try it out as a family. Find out which one your child is comfortable with and encourage using it.

Talk through emotions.

Talk through your child’s feelings in an open time slot when you don’t have other pressures. List out all aspects of what they are afraid of. If it’s taking a test, what parts of the taking of a test don’t they like? The time pressure? The silence and focus required? The challenging questions? The fear of failure? What’s the worst thing that could happen to them? Find out all of the aspects of what’s worrying them and be sure to discuss their worst case scenarios. Just acknowledging their worries can bring to light unlikely scenarios they are ruminating on and help them feel understood.

Promote a “Can Do” attitude.

Your attitude about testing will certainly impact your child whether you are considering it will or not. Be sure that you are noticing the positive. Tell stories of your child’s ability to work hard and be resilient in the midst of challenges. Show your confidence that she can learn anything she needs to with time, practice and effort.

Practice brain breaks.

One way you can help with a child or a teen’s studying is to practice brain breaks. If you see an hour passing by as they study, check in and let them know that they begin to become less productive the longer they sit and try and focus. Encourage them to take only five minutes to walk outside and breathe some fresh air, get a drink of water or listen to a favorite tune. Then, they can get back to work feeling renewed.

The night before…

Your child may be tempted to cram more studies in the evening prior to the big test. And a review after school of the materials could be a big help. However, having a healthy dinner and getting to bed on time should be a high priority that evening. Set the scene for a restful night’s sleep by lowering lighting and turning off screens (at least one hour before bedtime). Perhaps take a bath or read a book to help prepare for sleep. Getting a full night’s rest prior to the test is one way to ensure your son or daughter will be ready to give his or her best.

The morning of…

Stick with your consistent morning routine so there are no surprises or power struggles. If you don’t have a consistent routine or feel that it’s a stressful time typically, then part of your own preparation can be working on creating a family responsibility plan so that you begin starting days ready for learning. Check out this short “Smooth Morning Routine” video to learn how.

Focus on giving your child a high protein, low sugar breakfast (oatmeal, cheese stick, low sugar cereal, peanut butter?) since the protein will provide an even source of energy throughout the morning versus the highs and quick lows of sugar. See if you can incorporate a little bit of exercise that morning whether it means a walk to school, a stretch together, or a jog up and down the driveway. When you get your body moving, you get your brain moving and your child will feel more ready to face the challenges ahead.

Most importantly, be sure to say goodbye with love, a big hug, and words of confidence that they can do it!

You got this!

Celebrating Courageous Mothers

Who are the courageous mothers you know? How is that courageous mother you?

Motherhood as a Mission; Our Lineage Is Time-worn and Storied

Wise, humble, compassionate, dedicated…you are the ones who are not looking for recognition. There are no awards for your hard work. But you go about your days committed to protecting the well-being of children – not just your own but your community’s children, the world’s children. You are fierce about your principles because deep down inside, you know what you stand for. We don’t hear any news updates about you. We should because what you do is monumentally hard and has the potential to change the world for the better. You bring persistent patience to your role as you do the sixth load of laundry, you listen to your child’s laments about mean words or actions at school with compassion and offer comfort, and you support and help your child’s friends, classmates, neighbors and your greater community. You teach your child to respond in ways that are kind yet firm and show the pathway to confidence. These small moments accumulate over time. Not one is lost. They all amount to raising a human who will love, be loved and offer his or her gifts to the world. And the world so needs those gifts. 

There are distinctly feminine qualities that motherhood offers a woman the opportunity to more fully embody. These are often underplayed, undervalued and even criticized in ours and other cultures around the world. Perhaps because often they require vulnerability which does not equate with weakness (as they can be misinterpreted). and often can serve as a greatest strength. These “vulnerable” qualities in the right hands become magical powers that lead those who would invest in them, and not suppress or run from them, a pathway to positive change that is filled with growth, well-being and potential. These feminine energies include:

– intuition;

– relationship skills;

– creative expression;

– feeling;

– patience;

– grace;

– empathy;

– love and support;

– peace/nonviolence;

– trust;

– honesty;

– assertion;

– nurturing and care;

– gentleness.

Courageous mothers embody these qualities and promote them in others. And also…

Courageous mothers…

Resist the urge to please others, to make people feel better for their poor choices, and to apologize for their ethic of care. They resist any decisions that threaten to harm the well-being of their family, school, community and environment. Though they listen to others with empathy, they make decisions not based on others’ expectations but by consulting their heart and following their inner wisdom.

Persist in their mission, vision and values of raising safe, healthy and confident kids and investing love and care in a kind, inclusive and healthy family, school and community. They believe in themselves and they dedicate their minds and hearts to influencing positive change with the collective in mind. They honor their feelings and reflect on the important messages they send. They know that pain and failure will not deter them from their change-maker path.

Insist on truth and a life of integrity and alignment with their deepest values. They establish boundaries to support human well-being and uphold dignity. They play the long game – knowing that humanity moves toward justice. They align with those evolutionary forces acting as a catalyst to facilitate, even speed its movement. Their family decision-making is collaborative and reflects on the consequences of choices made today and how they will play out tomorrow for themselves and for others with an effort to do no harm and contribute to creation and goodness.

Co-exist with haters and those who would condemn realizing that everyone has pain and deals with pain differently while accepting that integrity is not possible if there is a not an acceptance of the rights of any and all to express dissenting opinions. Though they co-exist, they never give away their sense of agency, justice, and worth or their motivation to continue the work of their mission.

So many of the mothers I admire, like the co-writers of this blog – Shannon, Nikkya, Jenny and Lorea – take what they are doing and learning with their own children and help other families and children in the process. (Our father writers do this in their own ways too but we are focused on mothers this week!)

There are many differing ways to be a mother and model the best of what motherhood can be. A biological connection is not necessary. Mothers can lead countries, congregations and nonprofits whose ripple effects expand far and wide. Motherhood can feel isolating at times. But if you are discovering new ways of supporting your child’s growth and your own and bringing that knowledge into your activism to leave the world a better place than you found it, you are part of a long lineage of women who’s stories are widely diverse but share a common thread. These mothers share a commitment to preparing the next generation to become the best of who they are and they begin and end with love.

As I dove into thinking about courageous mothers, I began researching women who had won the Nobel Peace Prize. “What were their stories,” I wondered. They indeed were deeply inspiring and so many built their inspiration and activism from motherhood whether they were biological mothers like Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan of Ireland or champions of working mothers like Jane Addams of Chicago, Illinois or mothers of the motherless – poor, ill and forgotten like Mother Teresa of Calcutta, India. You can check out their stories here.

But as I learned, I found I was much more interested in elevating the everyday, contemporary Mom. The Mom you see in the pick up line after school. As I turned to reflect on these everyday Moms, I found the magical inspiration, the courage I was looking for – immediately. There were far too many to list here. In fact, this could be a whole blog unto itself. But here are just a few examples from our my own circle of compassionate mothers.

Shannon supports her two children’s passions regularly through their extracurriculars and interest areas when she is not working, the sole provider for her family. During her work day, she advocates, teaches and creates programs to support early childhood educators in focusing on equity, social justice and children’s social and emotional development. With her children, she teaches them that they should never be too comfortable. They need to constantly keep their eyes and ears out for injustice and work to improve people’s lives.

Nikkya is a pattern breaker and an activist in her parenting and through her nonprofit work, writing and more. She is raising two young twin girls and a teenage boy and doing it far differently than she was raised herself. She pays attention to life lessons and experiences she can offer them on kindness and inclusion and other social and emotional skills. She is soon-to-publish a memoir about her upbringing by an incarcerated mother and how she has healed and led a growthful life on her own terms. She is working on opening up an indie bookstore that will house books that emphasize social and emotional themes.

Jenny is a teacher of resilience through social and emotional skill building with college students, business leaders, parents, educators and her own three children through the organization she founded, a social media presence, and impactful family card games focused on the themes she’s trying to teach her own three children. As she comes across new ideas at work, she experiments with them with her family. And when her family poses a question, she explores it through her work. Through this symbiosis from work to family life and back, she is able to support countless other families with a range of strategies.

Lorea holds herself to extremely high standards as a mother. As they say, those who know better, do better. In her work, she teaches teachers about how to hone their own social and emotional skills to become models and master teachers through the book she wrote on that same subject. And she is keenly aware as a Mom of two girls how she is modeling social and emotional skills in her home life. She meets with groups who focus on equity and inclusion to find support and support others as an immigrant herself. She is constantly working on finding a balance between her work and her family life and seeks to be really present and focused when she is spending time with her family. To her, there’s nothing more important.

It’s clear that each of these mothers are highly self-reflective and utterly aware that they are constantly learning, constantly a work in progress. They know that the pathway ahead – toward making a difference – is through greater self awareness and that is work that never ends. But they are fueled by the knowledge that they are able to create a better world for their children through their work and through their everyday interactions with their children. One feeds and nourishes the other. But that kind of integration doesn’t just happen. It’s the result of choosing what’s hard but clearly aligned over what’s fun or easy every time – for years. 

Who do you know who is example of a courageous mother?

How is that courageous mother you?

Ultimately, our unconditional love for our children expands as widely and as broadly as we can envision so that we work to influence the children of the world. Of course, we are all a work in progress. But we hope you take the time to reflect on the long lineage and storied lives of courageous mothers of which you are one and feel supported, encouraged, and cheered by this tradition of mothers helping others. We celebrate you.

The Best Teachers Flip the Script

Appreciation of Our Teachers and Ideas for Parents

I recall being shocked when my high school art teacher – instead of standing over me – came around my desk, sat down next to me and positioned her head over my paper looking at the still life we were drawing from my perspective. She proceeded to show me new ways to see what I was looking at. “See that curve,” she said. “Notice how it imperfectly swings left and right in a slight and subtle way at the end. How can you follow that line with your pencil?” And my vision changed. I started seeing more detail than I had before. I watched her eyes as they glanced back and forth between the paper and the still life in a fluid pendulum motion. That moment changed my drawing forever and also, my understanding of teaching and learning. She placed herself directly in my line of vision. She tried to experience what I was experiencing in that lesson. And her attempt to experience the learning through my eyes taught me so much more than any lecture I ever attended.

Who were your best teachers and what might you call out as the central reason for their ability to impact you and your learning?

I have found in reflecting on my own best teachers, in having worked with and observed many educators in the classroom and also watched the experiences of my son, it is those teachers who focus on learning about their learners who are the most impactful. 

The best teachers become students of their learners.

These teachers are most interested in:

– how their students learn best knowing that each individual learns in different ways;

– what their students love and are passionate about;

– what motivates their students;

– the perspectives – thoughts and feelings of their learners;

– what students are working on developmentally – physically, socially, emotionally and 

academically; and

–  what students’ experiences are in family and community life that directly impact their 


All this care and interest in an individual student’s learning translates into a caring relationship between the teacher and student. Whereas before a student may have felt lost in a sea of fish swimming in the same direction (though knowing deep down their own uniqueness), they now experience someone who is not only noticing them but taking time to get to know them – to see, understand and value their contributions to the learning process.

This year, I witnessed my son becoming deeply engaged in one of his least favorite subjects – World History and building expertise in an historical influencer who challenges even the best readers, literary analysts and orators – William Shakespeare. This World History teacher used at least two different ways of positioning himself as the learner and the students as the teachers.

  1. The Teach Back. Students in that class were given the chance to teach a whole unit with many complex events, dates and characters to their teacher by collaborating together and figuring how they might best teach the content. This “teach back” method is one in which the learner has to take charge of the learning and represent it to others in ways that are accessible and memorable. The students co-created a whole class script. Each had parts to represent different events or characters in history while a narrator cracked funny jokes to introduce each section (mimicking their teacher’s style of teaching). Were you ever put in a position of teaching content as a student? How did it impact your learning? As a parent, have you asked your child to teach something to you (technology is an ideal example of an area where our children may have more expertise than we do!) and how did it go? Did you sense your child felt seen, heard, valued and empowered by the experience?
  1. Empathy. Students were also given the task of selecting an historical character to play all semester and they emailed other historical characters (college students in history classes at the University of Michigan) where they had to deeply know their character’s background in order to play their roles. Because of the length of time and depth of the project, not only did students learn to empathize with their historical figure but the teacher grew to better know, appreciate, understand and value his students as they were called upon to share their own opinions, reflections and applications for lessons in today’s world.  How have your best teachers developed your empathy for others and in doing so, also deepened their empathy for you? As a parent, how do you look for ways to deepen your empathy for your child as well as offering more vulnerable moments for them to gain deeper insights into your own thoughts and feelings?

“No significant learning begins without a significant relationship,” stated James Comer of the Yale Child Study Center. So how is that significant relationship created? We know that any significant relationship requires time, patience, a willingness and curiosity to explore, understand and value one another. It takes seeing and elevating strengths and accepting challenges or “quirks” as part of the uniqueness of individuals. Ultimately, great teachers love to learn and love to share in that learning with others.

This Teacher Appreciation Week, how can you recognize what makes your child’s teacher a unique contributor to his or her learning? And what lessons from our great teachers can we learn as parents as we attempt to support our children’s learning? How can we flip the script?

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Celebrate the Earth

…By Showing Care as a Family

The lives of our children and our teens can be relegated to indoor time exclusively as they go to school and participate in extracurriculars like sports in gyms and music or plays in theaters. And when at home, they go on their devices to connect with friends or scroll through social media. Because of our ever-growing fascination with and use of technology, we find ourselves with less and less time to go outside. This creates further disconnections between ourselves and nature. Our kids may not feel a sense of responsibility to the environment because of this disconnect. And truly in order to invest our time, money and precious resources in anything, we require a safe, caring relationship. So how are we helping our family cultivate a relationship with nature?

First, since a caring relationship is necessary, how can you engage your children in showing care? I asked some families how they get outside and here’s what I heard:

  • We go to a local park every day after school to play and get out that Spring energy.
  • I take my kids out to look for birds during their great migration. We head to a different park each time we are free and try and identify the type of birds we see through binoculars.
  • My son loves to go creeking. He puts on protective boots and we head to a creek with friends as soon as the weather permits.
  • We love to take bike rides. 
  • We pick out seeds and plant them in our yard together.

Earth Day has been celebrated since 1970 and this year, the entire month of April is considered Earth month in an effort to call attention to how we all need to care for our home planet. Perhaps just making a commitment to get outside with your family more might be one simple step you can take to create a more caring relationship between your family and nature? Watch this poem by Amanda Gordon titled “Earthrise” to feel inspired to do more to care for our planet!

Here are a few more ideas of steps you can take with your family to recognize the importance of our home planet this month:

  1. Connect

Simply spending time in nature whether it involves walking to your nearest patch of grass, heading to a local park or traveling to a state or national park. Make sure when you do you, you create the conditions to become fully present and aware. Put devices away. Notice the details of the environment. Use all senses to guide your noticing. What can you see? Smell? Taste? Hear? Touch?

Bring nature journals or drawing pads with you to fine-tune your attention on the details together.

2. Care

Learning together to care for your environment helps children learn about their role and responsibility with the nature around them. Create a small garden if you have a yard or find a sunny window for plants. When you buy seeds or starters, be sure and read about the needs of the plant. How much sun do they need? Plant food? Soil condition? Amount of watering? Then, plant and work on caring for those plants together.

Visit a grocery store with your child that carries local produce and/or meats and seafood. Note which foods you buy are locally sourced. Take note of where non-local foods are from and consider the kinds of transportation necessary to get it to you. Before eating dinner together, share gratitude for all those people and the natural resources involved in bringing you your meal.

3. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Discuss water use in your household. How can you fill the dishwasher thoroughly or the washing machine before you run a load? Children can learn to turn off the water while they are brushing their teeth. Create a rain barrel to reuse rain water when watering your lawn or garden. These steps may seem small and even insignificant but they do offer ways in which to teach your children to pay attention to how they use natural resources like water.

Take a family trip to the local dump. As you drive, discuss what you tend to throw away. Assign someone as a scribe to write down what items could be rinsed and recycled. Make sure you have recycle bins in the house and your children know how to look for the triangle to determine whether the item can be recycled.

Check out these terrific children’s books to support your conversation:

What a Waste; Trash, Recycling, and Protecting Our Planet by Jess French

My First Book of Reduce, Reuse and Recycle by Asa Gilland

Ten Things I Can Do to Help My World by Melanie Walsh

For Parents:

The Climate Book by Greta Thunberg

4. Learn

If you do spend more time in nature camping or hiking in a state or national park, take the time to learn before your next trip how to leave no trace. Check out the site: Seven Principles of Leave No Trace.

Or in your own home or when you travel, discover what native lands you are on and learn about those tribes. Download the Native Lands app on your phone and use wherever you roam. Learn about how indigenous peoples related to the land and preserve natural resources and find out what practices you might try out in your own life.

As I talk to parents about what they want to teach their children and the legacy they want to leave behind, I often hear that individuals want to leave the world a better place than they found it. One important way we can do that is to examine how we support, care for and help grow the natural resources that surround us and support us each day so that they are around for generations to come.

The Conflict Code

Co-creating a Signal When the Family Heat Intensifies

When my daughter and I disagree, it escalates so quickly. We end up both yelling even though I never want to yell. How can I stop the escalation?” A workshop participant and Mom of a teenager asked. When an argument is heated, the conflict can become emotionally super-charged quickly.  And when it does, we can risk saying things we really don’t mean. Personal attacks and stabs at the other person’s character can escape from our mouths without much thought until later, when we feel the searing pain of regret and our inability to turn back time. 

We know from research on how the brain responds while stressed that, in those moments, we act on impulse. Our limbic system, or the survival center for the brain, takes over quite literally and our only thoughts turn to flight, fight or freeze depending upon the situation. In parenting, this auto-response – our default system – can actually work against our goals. We want to influence our child’s positive choices — either their words or actions or decisions. We may want to set clear boundaries or show how rules have been unfairly broken. We may want to demonstrate how our child can disagree in healthy ways that do no harm. Yet, when our limbic system takes over, none of those goals can be met if we are merely fighting back without our reflective consideration. Our child will be on the defense, their limbic system in high gear. They may be afraid of us, poised to fly away or freeze. Or they may be angry and ready to fight back.

Just leave. Walk away.” Uttered another workshop participant.  And there’s a helpful intent here. Taking a pause, a break away from one another does offer the space necessary for calming down. But simply walking away can be misinterpreted by a child. Particularly if we are angry, they can fear we are storming off and won’t return. Intention and motivation matter! And our child just may make up stories about why we are leaving that have nothing to do with emotional intelligence. Stonewalling, or giving the silent treatment, is a form of nonverbal aggression and can do damage to a trusting relationship, not at all a healthy, constructive conflict tool. So if our child thinks we are stonewalling, they can hurt from yet another form of aggression.

So what can you do? There are a few ways to ensure that these kind of escalating conflict situations stay in the healthy zone. 

Create a conflict code.

In fact, I suggested to this Mom to create a conflict code with her teenager. And weeks later, she reported, it worked. She went to her and asked, “what can we say to one another when we recognize that our fight is escalating and we need a pause to calm down before figuring it out together?” They came up with the phrase “code red.” And they decided to keep one another accountable. They were both responsible for looking for those moments or opportunities to use the code and when either one spotted the chance. Each would have the chance to call it out. When one did, they would respect the code and go to their respective rooms to take some time and breathe. The Mom returned to me to let me know how this simple step had transformed their conflicts. Her daughter now felt empowered to use the code. And when they did, they both respected the code and took a break. They were able to come back together after a time and figure out next steps with their cooler heads (and fully functioning brains). It was key that she co-named the code with her daughter. They solved the problem together proactively and both felt a sense of agency in shaping how their conflicts were managed. Other examples family’s have used for code words are “break,” “stop,” “pause,” “red light,” and “no go.”

Talk about conflict when not upset.

Another key part of the code solution is that they discussed their arguments when they were not in a conflict. This helped both Mom and daughter become reflective about what happens when they are upset with one another. Because we are unable to think logically or reflectively when we are experiencing challenging emotions, that reflection in non-emotional times can make all the difference. We have the chance to agree. Also, a child becomes aware of a strategy like walking away and taking a break and views it as such – a strategy – not an angry action to worry about.

Create a plan.

To fully plan for our most challenging feelings in family life is to take full responsibility for the fact that we will have moments when we over-heat. We admit and allow for our humanity, messy as it is. And we provide an example for our children of taking responsibility for our emotions so that they too can learn these all-important self management skills. Check out this easy-to-use one page template called “the Family Emotional Safety Plan” that guides you or your child – or your entire family – through key questions to determine what you’ll say, where you’ll go and how you’ll calm down when emotions run high before trying to resolve an argument.

Springtime can produce many new activities, outdoor exploration and go-for-it energy. After all, we are feeling pent up from the long winter. But this forward moving energy can also create more conflict in family life. So taking a moment – maybe its a family dinner? – to talk about how you will handle it when those challenging emotions inevitably arise is just a smart step to ensure that you are protecting your family while promoting essential skills for getting along.  With a plan in place, you can feel free fully to enjoy the sunshine!

Want more?

Check out these other supportive tools for family conflict:

Family Emotional Safety Plan in Spanish

Family Guidelines for Fighting Fair

Peace Rose – Tool for teaching children to resolve their own conflicts

Stop, Think, Go! Traffic Light Game – Practicing problem-solving

How to Teach Kids Life Skills to Promote Independence and Confidence

Don't miss this article with numerous links to videos showing Dr. Woo's children teaching life skills.
Check out the video (link below) on how to read social cues!

A Parent’s Guide to Supporting Our Children’s Social and Emotional Development Post-Pandemic

By Jenny Woo, Ph.D.

In my roles as an educator, emotional intelligence researcher, former Montessori school director and mom of three, parents often ask me what they can do at home to better support their children’s development. While the most common answer you might hear at a Parent-Teacher Conference or the Pediatrician’s office is to “read to your child,” I believe there is so much more parents can do – all within the reach of everyday activities.

Parents are the first teachers of our children, and home is the first environment where our children play and learn. Yet, we frequently disassociate domestic activities from real learning, and inevitably miss out on the richness of practical and sensorial development that lie within our reach. I remember my over-zealous self as a parent: always in search of a new playground, children’s museum, or learning center – shelling out money for new experiences.

Now as a more seasoned parent and researcher, I’ve come to appreciate the value of practical life skills in not only laying the foundation for our children’s social and emotional growth, but also in ensuring that our teens can live independently and confidently on their own. This is something I’ve been doing with my kids. Below, I share examples of how to help your children develop these essential life skills and simultaneously boost their social and emotional skills.

To help your child get started ASAP, I included simple How-To videos that my children recorded to teach kids on these life skills. You can also subscribe to our Youtube channel. Videos are added almost daily.

How to Build Self-Awareness by Raising Self-Reliant Superstars

Caring for oneself is an essential life skill, and it directly connects to self-awareness. By teaching our children activities like cooking for themselves, cleaning up, and doing chores around the house, we empower them to become aware of their everyday needs and take responsibility for their well-being. For example, here’s a checklist of what your child can do:

Preschooler (Ages 4-5): 

Early Elementary (6-8):

Elementary and Beyond (9+):

By encouraging independence, we’re helping our kids develop a strong sense of self and their ability to problem-solve in the face of challenges. 

How to Build Self-Management by Raising Responsible Decision-Makers

Encourage your child to develop healthy habits like exercising regularly, healthy eating, and prioritizing sleep. These activities not only promote physical health but also teach them the importance of self-discipline and making smart choices. They will inevitably make mistakes (and poor choices) – which are in itself opportunities to practice managing oneself. For example, help your child apply these habits of mind: 

How to Build Social Awareness and Relationship Skills by Raising Compassionate Humans

Instilling compassion in our children is a powerful way to build social awareness and strengthen their ability to connect with others. Teaching them to genuinely care about others and understand different perspectives helps them form meaningful connections with people from all walks of life. Does your child know the difference between sympathy and empathy? Here are concepts and actions your child should know and do:

I will end this on a practical note for promoting parental sanity. Remember the time when we thought our homes would magically clean themselves? Yeah, me neither. Assigning age-appropriate chores to our children not only teaches them responsibility and social and emotional skills, but it also lightens our load!! It’s a no-brainer: everyone wins! As our children learn to manage their belongings and contribute to the household, they develop a sense of accomplishment, boosting their self-esteem and work ethic.

Is there a life skill you want to teach your child that isn’t in this list? Dr. Woo would love to produce truly useful and relevant videos! So request one by adding a blog comment or you can email her at

DrJenny Woo is a Harvard-trained educator, TEDx speaker, and founder/CEO of Mind Brain Parenting.  Jenny is the creator of a series of award-winning emotional intelligence games: 52 Essential Conversations, 52 Essential Relationships, 52 Essential Critical Thinking Skills, and 52 Essential Coping Skills. Her latest deck is on life skills! Her games have won the 2018 Parents’ Choice Awards, 2021 National Parenting Product Awards. Based in Irvine, CA, Jenny is a mother to three elementary-age children. 

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