Paper Bag Popcorn





It’s time to share another of my really GREAT no-brainer recipes. (Remember, to pass my test for greatness, a recipe must have minimal ingredients, not a lot of prep work, and so easy you can memorize it, yet it still also tastes good.)  This one passes all those marks and is healthy to boot.  I first learned it from Martha Stewart many years ago, then tweaked it to make a Good Thing better. 

Who needs Orville Redenbacher to decide how much fat and salt goes on your microwave popcorn? And who needs the extra appliance of an air popper when this popcorn turns out just as healthy, fragrant and fluffy? Try this for your next at-home movie night, which for us will hopefully be tonight, as we try to finish up our Netflix copy of “Evita”…

Paper Bag Popcorn

1/4 cup unpopped popcorn kernels
1 paper lunch sack (standard, brown paper lunch sack, self-standing, flat bottomed, about 5 1/8″ x 3 1/8′ x 10 5/8″)

Put kernels in bottom of sack.  Fold top of bag over to create a 1-inch flap (pinch and crease it so that it stays in place). Place bag flap-side down in microwave oven. Set microwave on High for 1 1/2 minutes and listen for popping to slow down as your signal to stop the oven, adding more time if necessary (in our 800-watt oven, it takes about 2:15 to get it just right).  Eat it plain out of the bag or pour on melted butter.  (We like using “butter spray” like I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter or Safeway’s Butterlicious.)  Add other seasonings like salt, parmesan cheese, dried herbs, or make it kettle style by sprinkling on a salt and sugar (or stevia) mixture. Enjoy!  (Makes about 6 cups of popped popcorn per bag.)
This is fun for kids to make, with adult supervision of course!

“Spending Quality Time With A Teen” is Not an Oxymoron– When You’re Volunteering Together


When my kids were much younger, I was asked by a friend if I’d like to join The Junior League in our suburban town.  I was flattered she would consider me, but after looking at the membership requirements (i.e. time commitment)  I almost laughed in her face.  Going crazy trying to squeeze in freelance writing work and keep my house managed with two kids under the age of six, I couldn’t imagine also having the pressure of performing  a certain amount of required service hours and getting kicked out if I didn’t.  How did my friend do it with two young children herself? (Um, on second thought, I think having a nanny and housekeeper probably helped her a lot…)


Fast forward about eight years, and another friend is asking if Allison and I might want to join her chapter of National Charities League Inc., a nationwide organization that involves mothers and daughters (in grades 7-12) working side-by-side doing philanthropic work in the community and also being involved in cultural and social activities together as well.  I had balked when we’d been asked a year earlier—there was that phrase “required hours” again, in the membership information, and our schedule seemed busier than ever before.  But this time when we were asked, Allison really wanted to do it, and so I said yes. Not just for the social activities that I knew she wanted to be a part of, but also because she and I had seen organizations on the NCL list of philanthropies for which she had already been interested in volunteering, such as Special Olympics, and so I thought it would be a great way for her to do this, and a learning opportunity.   Oh, I knew I’d learn something, too, and help those in need—I’ve been a volunteer in every community I’ve ever lived in, since I was a teen.  But I had no idea it would provide me with some rare opportunities to spend “sass-free” time with my daughter, really fun quality time, without the usual parent/child tug-of-war.  And now that I’ve got two teen daughters in the organization, I see the benefits of volunteering alongside them even more.


See, doing volunteer work with your child helps each of you see each other in a different light, in different ways.   For example, I knew Emmie had a heart for animals, but to hug and hold a shaking dog who’d just arrived at the animal shelter and talk to him sweetly for an hour until he quit shaking—who knew? And I knew that Allison was interested in helping the disabled, but to actually have a knack for it, to work with all ages and be able to interpret what someone with severe speech impediments was saying when no one else could—who knew?


And, when you volunteer together, while you and your kids are waiting to high-five a Special Olympics runner when he crosses the finish line or while you’re organizing craft supplies to help kids make hats at a local arts festival, you talk. While you’re driving around delivering Meals on Wheels to senior citizens, you talk some more.   And after you’ve stuffed  school supply bags for children from abusive homes or sorted books at a hospital “children’s library”, you go to lunch at that new burger joint you’ve always wanted to try.  Or get some frozen yogurt.   And you talk some more.  And when you get back home and things get back to the routine of “mom’s uncool and unreasonable”, you know that all hope is not lost.


I highly encourage parents to set up regular community volunteer work with their children, either through an organization like NCL (for moms and sons, the equivalent is Young Men’s Service League), or Scouts, or church, or simply on your own or with a group of friends.  Several organizations have volunteering opportunities for kids under 13 and the opportunities expand as kids get older.  And if possible, find an organization that holds you accountable for contributing a certain amount of your time.  Huh? Me endorsing “required hours” for busy parents? Yep, especially when you’re working with teens.   I mean, think about it (and a lot of parents would probably agree): If a parent sets up a volunteer opportunity on their own, it might be pretty tough to get their teen to actually wake up on a Saturday to go and work at a shelter, charity 5k, etc.— especially if it’s with a PARENT.  It could turn into a nag-fest.  And if the teen was asked to set up the volunteer opportunity on their own to have more “skin in the game”, many would not take the first step.  But there is something very motivating about having to check in online and report hours to an Hours Committee, who, in our group, are usually moms we know.  And it’s motivating to commit to a volunteer job by signing up online through our chapter’s web calendar, a calendar that all members can view. For some volunteer work within our chapter, several moms and daughters are needed at one time, and for those jobs, we know that others are expecting us to be there and help out.  They’re helping to hold my teens and me accountable. 


But, not everyone lives in a community with groups like this.  If you do set up something on your own and need a motivator for your child, possibly tying service work to allowance might be good (must do chores and an hour of volunteer work with you every two weeks to receive full allowance?), or certain “extra” privileges at home could be granted for community service work—staying up later on weekends, extra hour of computer time, etc. (but never punishments for not being charitable—you want them to be excited about helping others). Of course, in time, the hope is that the good feeling they will get from helping others (not to mention the fun spent with Mom or Dad) will be inspiration enough to turn them into lifelong volunteers.

As they approach college, there is one more motivator: getting to list community service on college and scholarship applications.  Many older teens scramble to find ways to volunteer and “beef up that resume”.  But parents shouldn’t get lost in the rush– take advantage of this new-found motivation and spend some quality time with a kid who’s leaving home soon.  Try to work side by side with them as they put in these hours.  Don’t look at volunteer work, as I’ve seen some parents approach it, as a way to keep kids busy and “out of the way” so you can concentrate on doing other things.   Yes, I know as well as anybody that being around a teen for any length of time can be an emotional drain and a downer, but if you never volunteer alongside that teen, you’re missing the chance to have an “up” experience with them.  Yes, there have been times when I’ve still had to nag, and yes, there have been times when my oldest has wanted to quit after doing this for almost four years, but she stays with it, probably because she remembers that every experience we’ve had volunteering together has been positive, even when we’ve driven 15 miles in the rain to find that an event was canceled. 


Because when that happened, we still got to talk during the long drive. And since we’d already set aside three hours in our schedules that day, we still ended up spending the time together—at the mall.

Creative Consequences for Teen Behavior: More Independence


Well, you can bet that when I don’t write for over a week that I must have a pretty good excuse. And I sure wish it was a glamorous one like “I was at the Grammys” or “I got invited to the White House”.  It’s not even a dramatic reason like, “I was in the hospital all week.” Nope, usually when you don’t hear from me it’s because I’m wiped out from dealing with kid problems, and that is a mild way to describe what we’ve been going through.


I can never usually write about things in as few words as possible but I’m going to try really hard—maybe if I start by summarizing things in list form it will help:


1.)    Oldest teen gave all sorts of attitude and sass to Mom while riding home from school one day.


2.)    Mom tells teen if that kind of attitude happens again on the ride home tomorrow, teen can get their own transportation back to school at 6 for the school production teen was in (just  a background part, by the way, and several of these dancers have had to miss at least one show so if she’d missed it, the world wouldn’t have come to an end). 


3.)    Teen sasses Mom big time on the way home from school the next day, before the car is even out of the parking lot.


4.)    Mom takes teen home and says she’s not taking teen to school for the show and goes for a walk, but makes sure that the aravan is behind the “teen car” so teen can’t stupidly try to drive that car because she doesn’t have a driver’s license yet.  She could call friends for a ride, walk, or ride her bike.


5.)    When Mom (and Dad) return, they discover teen has miraculously backed the car out of the garage, around the aravan and has driven it to school.  (Later they learn she also went through the Whataburger drive-thru before she got to school.)  After retrieving the car from the school parking lot and bringing it home, Mom and Dad discover that the front end of the car is damaged, the back end, as well as the side of their backyard fence, and that other things have been damaged in daughter’s haste to back out the car, items that were “in the way”.


While it ran through our heads to have the school security guard yank her offstage, Andy chose to be waiting for her in the lobby at the end of the show to deliver the news of her consequences.  Many people thought we should have called the police and had them “pull her over”, but we chose not to go that route.  We chose to make it as close to a jail at home as we possibly could. In-room grounding (even meals eaten in room), cell phone service cut off, iPod taken away, computer on lockdown.  Driving class suspended indefinitely, at least a month, and the online part of the course is about to expire so she’ll have to pay to reinstate it.  Volunteer work in the community and extra jobs around the house; once getting her license, she’ll have to have paid for the damages to the car (and fence) or she won’t be driving it.


And how do you think she took these consequences? Contritely, with head down and profuse apologies? Remember, we have a defiant kid here, and things have not been pretty.  So as a result, we pulled a couple extracurriculars, and things got worse. “I can do whatever I want, whenever I want!!” has been the mantra coming from her. She doesn’t think what she did was that much of a “big deal”.


Just when we were about to give up and throw our hands up in the air from all the turmoil, I had an “ah-hah” moment.  It suddenly occurred to me that if this kid is “bucking the system” so hard, she must want some independence.  So let’s give it to her, I told Andy.  “You don’t like it when we take your extracurriculars away?” we asked her. “Okay, you can have all of them back.  But anything that’s not required for a grade or any part of an activity not required, we’re not going to support, not financially or with transportation.  You get to own them from now on. You have that freedom now.”   


Andy felt like we’d still given up, that she was getting everything handed to her on a plate, but I said, just wait.  If we stick to this, she’ll either get more responsible or get even angrier, and I’m ready for either one.


So far, we’ve seen a mixture of both.   She’s still mad because she’s still not going to be able to enter an upcoming solo and duet dance competition, and she still doesn’t see that what she did was that big of a deal. But I heard her make a phone call on THE LAND LINE for I think the first time ever the other day, as she arranged for transportation to the Sunday performance of the school show.  She stopped demanding that I go buy her supplies to add to her stage makeup because she knew I wouldn’t do it.  She packed her own sack dinner because I refused to “make a special trip to bring takeout dinner to her dressing room “like all the other parents do”.  And for the first time, yesterday she got herself up early enough to actually come in and wake us up, as Andy had told her she needed to do if she wanted a ride to school.


I may be a fool, but I’m not foolish enough to think this new parenting stance is instantly going to make things better.  But at least it is giving us hope.  And it sure feels good to unburden ourselves of some tasks and give them to her, which probably should have been done a long time ago. 

A Scary Lesson in Door-to-Door Sales

NO SOLICITORS. Those are two words my Girl Scout troop doesn’t like to see when they go door-to-door selling cookies, but I’m finally going to print them out on my label maker and post them by my own doorbell today, and hope that in the future, the football players, Scouts, Campfire Girls and other well-meaning kids will simply email me, as some already do, when they want to sell me something.  Because there’s just been too many not-so-well meaning door-to-door salespeople in our area lately, and I’ve had enough.

You’d think I’d have had enough long ago, since I’ve hung up on probably thousands of telemarketers (or fought with them– remember the Gay Marriage telemarketer?) and I’ve had every nut in the candy dish knock on my door since I’ve been a work-at-home mom for almost 15 years.  One memorable snaggle-toothed saleswoman slurped her bottle of miracle cleaning product in front of me after she demonstrated it on my front door handle, to prove to me that the product was non-toxic; another salesperson told me that I, pregnant with Emmie, was abusing my unborn child if I didn’t buy his water purifying system.  And even though I think I’m a savvy consumer and can easily say no after all this practice, several times my heartstrings have been tugged and I’ve been “suckered” into buying something I don’t really need, especially when it’s an older teen or twentysomething who says they are in the area raising funds for college, “and just need to close two more sales to get that scholarship”.  But really, it’s time to say “no more”, for our family’s safety as well as to teach our kids the right thing to do in the future when they are on their own.

I should have had the “No Solicitors” sign out a couple months ago, after two muscular guys came to our door saying they were raising funds for a select LaCrosse team.  These were not teens or college students, these guys looked like they were in their late 20s or early 30s. They didn’t have anything that made them look official, I don’t even think they had a clipboard.  (Of course I never open a door to a stranger– I talk to them through the glass/screen door or even a window, and my kids have seen that and we’ve talked about that.)  I said I couldn’t donate anything at this time and wished them well.  But I was definitely suspicious.  Things didn’t add up. Why would older guys need to go door to door for a sports team? If they’re working adults playing a sport on the side, what would they need to raise funds for, anyway? I concluded they were casing the neighborhood, trying to find out who was home and who wasn’t, so they could go around back and break in, and I let Karl, our neighborhood crime watch captain (and the police) know about them, and Karl alerted our neighbors.

This past Saturday afternoon, the dogs started barking as a large, tall, 20-something young man began walking up our front walk.  Andy was out back doing yardwork and as I watched the young man approach, I asked Emmie to please go lock the front door, as she was closer to it.  I failed to tell her “screen door” and as he got to the doorstep, she proceeded to look at him and shut the main door in his face. Not wanting her to be THAT rude, I was apologetic when I went to see what he wanted, talking to him through the glass.  Not a good way to start.  Fifteen minutes later, I had purchased a $40 magazine subscription.  His soft-spoken spiel about growing up in a tough New Jersey neighborhood and how he had only been in Texas a couple days and was part of an organization trying to help kids stay on the right track– well, it got to me. I wanted to help him.  He said he got extra points because I chose to donate the magazine subscription to the Boys and Girls Clubs of America.  When we were finished with the transaction, he asked if he could buy a bottle of water from me, that he was thirsty, and (with the door still locked of course and him on the front porch) I brought him one, but didn’t charge him anything for it.  Emmie stood next to me and witnessed the whole thing.  As he walked away, I had a feeling, that even if I’d helped him out in some small way, that most of that money was probably going to a not-so-great organization, and that the Boys and Girls Clubs of America would never see those magazines… 

The next day, with receipt in hand, I checked out the organization’s website and Googled to find its other websites and mentions as well.  All of the websites were poorly put together and half-finished, but from what I could tell, it’s an “entertainment” company based in Detroit, that brings in kids from tough neighborhoods with the promise they are going to give them an opportunity in the rap music and film/TV industries, build their self esteem, and give them a chance to turn their lives around.  It says nothing about how these kids will be brought to other cities to sell magazines…when I clicked on one of the workable links to see the company’s “music videos”, there was one finished video, called something like (I’m not kidding) “Ax Murderer”, featuring two black rappers and showing a fat guy in a welder’s suit and mask tying up young white women and acting like he was attacking them with an ax, and also attacking a young white couple sitting in a car.  Gulp.

I don’t know how he knew, but…last night, Andy asked me if I’d bought a magazine subscription from a door-to-door salesman over the weekend. “Yes,” I admitted, and before I could tell him about my folly, he showed me breaking news online from a local TV station– a resident of a nice neighborhood about 8 miles away from us had been stabbed in the face when he refused to buy magazines from a door-to-door salesman “who said he was with an organization”, and around the same time, a door-to-door saleswoman named Tontanisha was arrested for threatening a homeowner in the same neighborhood when they also refused to buy magazines.   I made sure to tell Emmie, and Allison, and I’m alerting Captain Karl, once again.  

Like Andy says, door-to-door sales wouldn’t exist if people would just quit buying in that way, just like panhandling for booze money will stop if people quit enabling.  But because there’s always a soft heart and a fool around every corner, it all continues… apparently at a frenzied pace now that spring has sprung and north Texas is in the midst of a narrow window of decent weather…

Just this morning, I heard the young, married, bright, mother-of-two manager of a local coffee shop excitedly tell a customer about the vacuum cleaner she had just bought from a door-to-door salesperson.  “My husband didn’t want to listen to the presentation, but I talked him into it,” she said.  “When the salesman vacuumed our mattress and we saw all the dust and crud that came off of it, my husband and I were amazed, and so we bought one,” she said.  The customer’s jaw dropped as she told him the price.  “We had to take out a loan in order to afford it,” the manager continued, “but at least it will last a lifetime.”

Friday Freebie: Cheese!


Today’s freebie is easier than entering a drawing—at least if you live in Texas, or are here for Spring Break.  Just head to your nearest supermarket and some really nice people from Tillamook are likely to be handing out free cheese (three kinds!) plus dollar-off coupons and yummy recipes.  They’re driving all over the country in the cutest “mini-bus” you’ve ever seen, called the Baby Loaf bus, taking photos of their adventures and the people they meet.  Check out the video on the left sidebar of this blog to see the bus in action (or head to http://unr.ly/w5SMGd) and you’ll also see Luke and Dale, two of the folks who are handing out samples.


While Allison and I were out shopping on Wednesday, we stopped by a nearby Kroger to check out the above-mentioned cheese and its famous car.  While not quite as iconic (or larger than life) as the Oscar Mayer Weinermobile, it definitely deserves a spot in a list of “top ten best advertising vehicles” …’cause it’s just sooooo cute, like something you might see in Dr. Seuss’ ‘Whoville’! If only I could get one painted to look like the Scooby-Doo Mystery Machine…

Can you tell it’s tiny? I’m only 5’2″ tall if that helps you get perspective…
and it’s taking up only the middle of the parking space!


But enough about the car.  We didn’t get to meet Luke and Dale from the video but we did get to meet two very nice gals who seem to be having a ball spending spring break handing out cheese.  Al and I tried two kinds of cheddar and some pepper jack and they were all tasty, and I was pleased to learn that Tillamook cheese is rbst-free (no growth hormones injected into the cows that made it).


Tillamook and its fleet of loaves-on-wheels will be all over Texas throughout the spring and in other states beginning in June.
Go to
http://www.tillamook.com/community/loaflovetour/schedule.html 
to see the complete schedule!

A College (Re)Visit


This past weekend, we took  Allison (and Emmie) on our first “official college visit” as a family.  Allison had already been on another, with her aunt, but this was the first “taking a child to see a college in which they’re interested” for the rest of us.  I thought I would feel really old but at first it didn’t seem like that—a lot of things brought back memories of our own college days for Andy and me and it really did seem like it was yesterday.  It was fun remembering and answering the questions both girls peppered us with as we walked from point to point on our group tour. But we were reminded several times that it really wasn’t yesterday, and I’m surprised the girls would even consider us as a source of reliable college information. 

For example, when Emmie asked me, “What do students do about having  a TV?” I said, “Well, most students don’t bring a TV because there’s not room for one in their dorm room, and if they do bring one, they have to use a “rabbit ears” antenna, like I had to do, because there are no cable hookups.”   Wrong-o.  A few minutes later, Emmie pointed to a line in a brochure – cable TV hookups in every room.  I should have known. And those dorm residents probably bring hi-def flat screen versions with a Blu-ray player to boot.   I mean, a lot has changed in 30 years.  (Dang, has it been that long??) Laptops are an essential school supply of today’s college student and WiFi is everywhere.  Some textbooks are “downloadable”.  The cafeteria has a “vegan bar”.  The students use pre-loaded money cards to pay for laundry (no fishing for quarters—imagine!) and they do not have to share a bathroom with a dozen or more of their peers.   Some dorm rooms even had kitchenettes!  And (shock) they ALL had carpet!!!


But even though I ended up feeling like a dinosaur, the tour was still enjoyable.  I love seeing the “mini-worlds”, the self-contained “bubbles”, created by a college campus. The on-campus stores; the hidden bowling alleys, the bulletin boards everywhere listing nonstop concerts, lectures, and midnight movies ; the green spaces, chapels, and monuments;  the study lounges, rec centers, coffee shops, and cafeterias; the library, career center and clinic. I love thinking about all the possibilities and pathways that can be explored while there.  And I remember how excited I was to be a part of it long ago.


True, people can debate the merits of a college degree. Some of our most successful business leaders in America had little to no college.  But there’s something about college life that to me is nothing but positives.  Even working at a college is energizing—I once worked at a community college for nine years and found it to be a fantastic work environment.   There was always something going on to feed your brain, your body or your soul, from lobby fashion shows from the clothing design students to six-course lunches and dinners prepared by our chef students to even theatre productions that anyone, even non-students, could try out for. (I finally did once, and got a pretty good part!)  


Even if someone never attends college and/or never works at one, if they simply live and work in a “college town”– I wonder if they enjoy the proximity to higher learning.  Surely they do.  In an article by Nancy Smith of CBS MoneyWatch last week called “The Ten Best Places to Retire”, seven of the ten were college towns.  “Retired Americans are flocking to the culture and arts scenes and state-of-the-art medical facilities offered by college campuses,” stated The Huffington Post in Dec. 2011. And college campuses are reaching out to better include the older crowd, according to a a report by the Associated Press.


I sure hope my kids get to experience college life someday.  And I think I want to go back for seconds.

Cirque du Spring Break



Well, I always say a parent’s real vacation happens after Spring Break ends, once the kids are back in school, but mine began early this time—two nights ago, the nice people at Endicott PR provided me with tickets to see my first-ever Cirque du Soleil performance, called “Quidam”.  Neither of my kids could go (too busy with homework, cheerleading workshops and theatre and band rehearsals) so it was a rare Girls Night Out for a friend and me.  And all I have to say is—WOW.  (Well, of course I can say a bit more.  If you’re interested, check out my review at http://neighborsgo.com/stories/80760)


But in this space, I’ll share with you that the Cirque performers’ feats of strength, balance, and agility (and those performers were not all in their teens and 20s) has inspired me to keep up the good work I’ve accomplished in my weekly (sometimes twice-weekly) stretching and muscle toning classes. Excuse me a minute while I go get my giant exercise ball to sit on instead of this desk chair…


There.  Much better. (Seriously, remember the post about the dangers of sitting? I really did get an exercise ball to sit on instead of my desk chair, thanks to my fellow exercise classmate Maxie. While you sit, it gives you a thigh/balance workout, not to mention you can “roll out” and get great back stretches over the ball when you need a break.)


No, I don’t expect to be able to do one-armed handstands while balancing that hand on another person’s head, or hang upside down from a scarf attached to the ceiling, as I saw Wednesday.  But surely the increased strength and agility I do have can help me better manage a houseful of kids over the next week, and the cabin fever that may arise. (Yes, I can already hear the whines of  “Mom, I’m bored” echoing in my head.)


Quidam inspired me in another way.  Its theme of “getting in touch with your inner child” also inspired me to try to have more fun.  I’ve always blogged about the need to get away from desk work and housework and spend some fun time every day with myself, my husband and/or my kids, but that usually hasn’t happened much.  And sadly, if I were more available to have fun with my kids, they’re busier now than ever before. However, Spring Break should definitely give us a chance to have some fun, with NO HOMEWORK (at least that I know of) lingering over their heads, no early wake-ups, no athletic practices, and no music or drama rehearsals.


Woo-hoo! This minivan mom is ready.  Will we soar like Cirque’s  “Aerial Hoops” or free fall like “The Spanish Web”? Stay tuned!  Happy Spring Break!

“Race to Nowhere” Revisited: Two Innovative Approaches to Homework

So glad that the film, “Race to Nowhere”, is still in wide circulation and that it was shown three times in the last week, twice at our high school and once at a local church.  The documentary, which I’ve written about before, touches on all kinds of things that are very relevant to today’s parents– over-stressed kids; restrictive teach-to-the-test teaching methods that don’t teach kids to be problem-solvers; an unrealistic approach in America toward “college readiness”; in-school cheating; and teen suicide, among other topics.  Love the film or hate it, it definitely gets discussion going about things that definitely need to be discussed.  When I saw the film again last week, many parents stayed for a panel discussion that followed and probably wished that part of the program could have lasted longer. I know I wished the “experts” present would have touched on the subject of homework a bit more– the studies mentioned in the movie, that show that grades can increase with less homework, are compelling.  But in the five days since, the discussion has continued, and I’ve heard about a couple of innovative approaches to homework going on right here in my district that I wanted to share with readers.

The first I heard about as I was walking out of the high school auditorium where the film was shown.  A friend who is a mom and first grade teacher told me that, rather than assign homework every night in several subjects, she gives students (and parents) a list of choices at the beginning of the week– four subject categories, like reading and math, and several types of assignments in each category.  The assignments vary to include the traditional, like worksheets, as well as more hands-on project-based assignments, to account for kids’ different learning styles.  Students choose one assignment in each category, and the assignments are due at the end of the week.  My teacher friend told me that kids love it, because it gives them choices, and parents love it, as it helps them help their child better fit homework with their extracurricular and family activities.  In other words, the kids have the freedom to do homework on a “less-busy” night rather than be forced to do homework every night.  HOORAY FOR THIS! I swear, it’s the first time I’ve ever heard schools taking into consideration that these kids have lives outside of school.  (The line in the film that always “gets” to me goes something like this: “When did it start to be okay that school gets to dictate what happens in our lives and in our families after the dismissal bell rings?”)

Then a couple days later, another mom told me about a math homework approach being tried at the jr. high and high school levels.  A teacher introduces a concept to the class.  The kids’ homework is to further learn that math concept online, via video that the teacher has downloaded to a website, and then they work on the assigned problems in class.  The teacher can go around the room and use that 50 minutes of classtime to work with students one-on-one if they need help, and spend more time with students who don’t understand the concepts. So, the usual way of doing things is “flipped”– learn the concepts at home (if you didn’t understand them when the teacher showed them first in class), do the “busy work” in school. Sounds a whole lot smarter to me, and avoids kids trying to get help from math-challenged parents in solving a math problem, or copying homework from friends (some are pressured to do this since they will get detention in jr. high if they don’t turn something in), or worse, the parents doing the homework for them! And a stressed-out kid would probably rather watch an online video to refresh a math concept than hunkering down over 20 problems at 10 o’clock at night…

I know that some would say “no homework at all” is the best policy, but based on comments I’ve heard around me, I don’t think it would be easily accepted, by parents or teachers.  But I think creative approaches to homework would be.  I applaud any teacher/school for re-thinking their approach to homework like those mentioned above and I hope more and more of this starts happening.  Do you know of other creative homework ideas? Please comment below!