Wednesday, October 28

Teaching Social/World Issues With Children's Books: My CHEX Daily Segment and Book Lists

Last night on CHEX Daily I chatted with hosts Teresa Kaszuba and Mike Judson about using children's books to explore social and world issues with kids. The titles I brought tackle subjects like bullying, learning disabilities, race, homelessness, natural resources, poverty, war and education.

In the second segment, we're joined by one of my PVNC colleagues, Jon Ross, who brings the secondary perspective to our conversation.

Here are the books I mentioned on the show:

Oliver Button Is a Sissy by Tomie de Paola
Thank You, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco
Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman
You're Mean, Lily Jean by Frieda Wishinsky
Fly Away Home by Eve Bunting
The Other Side - Jacqueline Woodson

One Well: The Story of Water on Earth by Rochelle Strauss
I Am Malala (Young Readers Edition) by Malala Yousafzai
Running Shoes by Frederick Lipp
Every Human Has Rights
The Librarian of Basra: A True Story From Iraq by Jeanette Winter

I'd love to know if any parents or teachers out there have other books to recommend!

Thursday, October 15

Out of the September Haze

It's October 15th, and I think I'm finally coming out of the September haze. (I'm blaming the delay on the late Labour Day.)

The start of the school year always takes its toll on me. While I thrive on routine, getting both a household and a classroom back on board isn't always easy (I'll spare you the details). My contribution to school sports is to coach the Cross Country team each year, which I love, but it gets off to a quick start once the school year begins, a commitment of both time and emotional energy. For the past few years I've also helped out with the Student Government, which hits the ground running with a Terry Fox fundraiser and Thanksgiving food drive, but thankfully we have a new teacher on staff who was enthusiastic about taking that on, giving me more breathing room as the year began.

First Day of School

Every September there are new teaching challenges (as there should be) and this year the Grade 7/8 teacher and I decided to do a subject swap for our areas of interest and expertise: he's teaching Science to my 2/3s (our baby chicks will hatch next week!), and I'm teaching Writing in his class, which I absolutely love. My intermediate experience in the past has been four years of Core French and three years of working with gifted students, so this is very different but a lot of fun (though a lot of work, too). The fact that I taught most of the kids back when they were in Grade 3 makes things even more interesting!

Another challenge this year is having my younger daughter in my class. I know, I know - I said I'd never do it. However, I also say that parents need to trust the school when their child is given a placement, and I have to practice what I preach. Other than a tiny glimmer of attitude the first week of school, so far it's working out fine. My biggest issue is that I find it redundant to sign her agenda every night as her mom, so it sits out on the counter until her father gets around to reading and signing it, and you know I have issues with counter clutter. In the big picture, this is probably not a big deal. While I assumed my daughter would want space from me in the evenings, she's actually more affectionate (and occasionally even clingy) than ever. My mom's theory is that after sharing my attention with a classroom of other children all day, she's anxious to have me to herself for a while one we get home.

I worry a bit about what others may think of me teaching my own child, but I know she won't be given any preferential treatment, and in fact I have to make sure I don't go too far the other way (not choosing her for something just because I don't want it to seem like I'm playing favourites). As my nieces and nephew who have gone before her would tell you, I'm just as hard on family as I am on other people's kids, partly because I love them so much.

Whenever I do that mom thing of worrying about whether anyone else is judging me - "How do you do it all?" can be (mis)interpreted as "Which part are you screwing up?" - I remind myself that not many employed moms actually spend their days in the same buildings as their children (not to mention this year in the same room as one) which means I'm automatically there for Merit Awards, assemblies, special events, coaching them on a team - what a beautiful bonus. (What I was actually doing there was reminding you of that, in case you're one of the Judgy Judgersons. Which would actually surprise me because my readers are awesome.) With so much quantity and quality time with my girls, I feel no guilt about work, hobbies, date nights or girls' nights. Just the odd twinge that maybe someone else thinks I should.

I told myself before school started, as I wrapped up the summer with some fun posts (a list of my Favourite Things; interviews with Scott McGillivray, Sangita Patel, Farah Nasser and Alan Carter; details on my debut at The Social) that I was really going to have to prioritize my time and try to avoid my usual September sickness. Blogging, freelance writing and TV efforts right now are limited and focused solely on educational topics (except for the occasional celebrity interview, which I just can't turn down!) because it makes me feel like my priorities are in line. I thrive when I feel that my house is in order, not only figuratively but literally, and that takes time and energy too. (I've been doing more microblogging lately though, so you can always get updates on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.)

It's not like my outside pursuits have come to a grinding halt. As you'll soon hear more about, I have a new article in the latest issue of Today's Parent magazine, another coming soon in Parents Canada, a CHEX Daily appearance later this month and my next segment on The Social taking place Friday, November 6th. (Update: Date has been changed to Friday, November 27th.) Lots to look forward to!

While I didn't manage to escape illness this fall (I'm coming out the other side of a three week cold/flu/sinus issue and went a whole week without stepping foot on the treadmill), Thanksgiving weekend was exactly what I needed to recharge. Days full of family, food and relaxation (a movie with my sisters-in-law, three family dinners, lots of time on the couch, a few soaks in the hot tub, a gorgeous walk to the Trestle Bridge - pic above) helped me get back on track - even if I did sneak in a bit of work on progress reports too. You'll never take the list-crosser-offer out of this girl...I just need to make sure the list is full of the things that are really important.

Saturday, October 3

The Halloween Decorations Are Out!

Our house is now ready for Halloween! This morning I pulled out the bin of decorations, as well as our brand-new box from Hallmark, and the girls and I got busy!

One of my favourite Halloween items is our collection of photographs taken over the years, which I set out as a display on the kitchen buffet. The pictures inspired us to take a walk down memory lane...



(How could I not be Cinderella the one Halloween I was blonde?)



This year, the girls have convinced me to go with their theme (as characters from a particular piece of fiction) but I would be in big trouble if I spoiled the surprise!

Some of our favourite new Hallmark items for Halloween 2015:

My little one is crazy over Roary the Candy Monster ($17.95 with the purchase of 3 cards). He sings and dances to a parody of (what else?) I Want Candy!

Since she loves to scare people, my older daughter's favourite is Drop 'n' Greet Bernie the Bat ($14.95 with any purchase). This motion activated bat hangs from the ceiling and says something spooky (he has a repertoire of 10 different phrases) as he drops down and flies back up.

Mommy's favourite (because I'm a sucker for door decor) is this classy-looking BOO sign (a bargain at $7.95).

I'm also loving this Halloween Scarf ($9.95 with any purchase), since it's subtle and festive at the same time - though let's be honest - as a primary teacher I could get away with bright orange jack-o-lanterns with no problem!

Okay, time to get your decorations out...and send me a photo!

Disclosure: Hallmark sent me the items above for review purposes. Opinions are, as always, my own.

Thursday, October 1

Kate's Favourite Things - October 2015

Here are my top picks for the month!


The Girl in the Spider's Web by David Lagercrantz

This one continues the series begun by the late Stieg Larsson, and Lagercrantz does a great job staying true to the feel of the original books and characters - though I often wonder how much credit should go to the translator.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

A work of fiction that had me assessing my parenting practices - and how my every action and word can be interpreted by my daughters. There were several times I felt physical pain reading this book, and the tears flowed.

Let Me Die In His Footsteps by Lori Roy

Once I got the rhythm of the back-and-forth-in-time style (1936 and 1952), this one about secrets in Kentucky family had me hooked.

Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo

I'm recommending this one for kids. My 2/3 class is loving it as a read-aloud, and children always love DiCamillo's relatable characters (usually with an animal involved, like the four-legged Winn-Dixie). Funny, but with lots of teachable moments about relationships along the way. (I also told the kids that before I had an internet presence, every time I tried to Google myself I just got information about this book!)


No Escape  (Owen Wilson, Lake Bell, Pierce Brosnan)

This was my only trip to the theatre last month, and it was worth it for this action-packed thriller about a family overseas caught in the middle of a political uprising. I have to say though - I'm not a judgy parent (I swear, I'm really not) but if your child needs a booster seat, she is too young for this movie (rated 14A in Canada, R in the US). It is violent and disturbing, with child characters involved. Just no.

Also, random note: Pierce Brosnan is only three years younger than my dad. That's all.


Do your kids love to write or cook? A couple of amazing contests have come through my Inbox lately:

Kids Write 4 Kids

  • Open to Canadian students in Grades 4-8
  • No entry fee
  • Winning entries are made into ebooks (printed books available too)
  • Revenues from winners' ebook sales get donated to the children's schools

Little Chef Casting Call (from The Marilyn Denis Show and The Little Potato Company)

  • Open to Canadian children ages 8-13 (so my 7 year old souschef can't apply!)
  • Create a video of your child sharing an original recipe using little potatoes
  • Visit Marilyn's website to submit video
  • Grand prize is a family adventure in Paris, France!

Have a fantastic October, everyone!