Monday, September 26, 2011

The Parthenon and Middle School Projects

Yesterday, my daughter and I worked on her English class homework assignment. She was asked to take one of her vocabulary words and make a poster to represent its meaning. We brainstormed her assigned word "adage" and decided to create a wise old owl who is quoting proverbs.

Then, our creative side took over.

We found paint, construction paper, feathers and googly eyes. We painted and glue-gunned our hearts out. What started out as a simple illustration became a 3-D extravaganza. It was big and colorful and could fit well into any kindergarten classroom.

At 9 pm, she came back into my room with a smirk on her face.

"I just saw some messages that my friends are posting on facebook," she said. "I don't think we were supposed to make a big poster. They're talking about just taping an illustration on a piece of notebook paper."

We both looked at her gigantic, colorful project and busted out laughing. Perhaps we'd made a bit TOO much effort?

As a mom, I swore I would never take over my daughter's class projects. But, after hours of helping her memorize vocab lists and the countries of Africa, my creative side was just dying to be released. Is it any wonder I jump maybe too enthusiastically on board when it comes to the more open-ended assignments?

When I was in 7th grade, we were supposed to create a project about ancient Greece. My partner and I came up with a very amazing idea. Why not make a model of the Parthenon? Our idea took shape and morphed and became: a cake in the shape of the Parthenon.

With my own creative mom's help, we got cake mixes and pans. We made huge vats of white frosting. We created columns and iced trim. We built wall after wall....a huge, enormous yummy Parthenon.

Then I had to bring it to school. My dad offered to drive me and my friend and our enormous Grecian cake.

My teacher was awe struck. She made us march it from class to class throughout the entire school. My classmates? They were merciless. While they ate the cake with much enjoyment, they also mocked me.

I was a compulsive over-achiever. I had make a huge, enormous, impressive Greek parthenon as a cake. I had over-done it...just a little bit.

Hmmmm....maybe my daughter's gigantic owl poster was a bit too much?

But, then again, it sure was fun.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Your Favorite Book?

What was your favorite book as a middle-school or high school student? Do you remember what you read for fun - and why you loved it?

Please jot down your answers: I will post every comment!

My favorite was the first LONG book I ever read: Mrs. Mike. It detailed the adventures of a young woman who married a Canadian mounty. It balanced romance with rugged adventures and even detailed an amputation. It pulled me far away from Wolcott Junior High School in Thornton, Illinois, into another world of snow and horses and drafty log cabins. I was sad to see it end!

What was one of your favorites at that age?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Dance Moms & Concerned Parenting

Some days it's tough to be a mom.

I watched the Lifetime show Dance Moms last night. The show focuses on one particular dance school named for instructor and owner, Abby Lee Miller. Set in Pittsburgh, the reality drama follows a group of pre-teen dance students as they train hard to win prizes.

My daughter was only enrolled in dance for a brief time - when she was four years old. She was in a combo ballet, tap, and gymnastics class led by a 75-year-old woman named Miss Jeannie. Parents were enthralled as we watched our little ballerinas sashay behind their animated teacher. The young girls loved Miss Jeannie.

Our second experience was not so great. Sabrina wanted to audition for the local Nutcracker ballet. She had limited experience, so was cast as a Toy Soldier. I did not expect the intensity of both the teachers and the parents. Competition was fierce. The instructors threatened parents that if our children missed or were late more than twice - they would be thrown out of the show. Several times I remember racing for the gym and being delayed at a train crossing, sweating out the moments and hoping my tardiness wouldn't boot my daughter from the show.

Dance - an activity that seemed to be about joy and creativity and fun - became exceedingly stressful for both my daughter and myself.

Dance Moms is all about stress. Teacher Abby Miller is both feared and revered by her students and by the parents. She is exceedingly demanding and critical. She calls the shots. She won't take no for an answer. Objections from parents are met with disdain and often yelling.

The little girls are pushed - sometimes beyond the capacity of 8 to 10 year olds. While any atheletic sport demands perseverance and excellence - the criticism often seemed cruel and unreasonable. In addition - the routines were so highly sexual that they made me squirm. Little girls dancing in skimpy outfits to suggestive music seemed out of line. Surprisingly, this did not seem to raise the concern of the parents in the show. When they were concerned, like "Holly" who fears that her African American daughter is being cast in a stereotyped role, they are shut down by fear of the teacher.

The show made me thankful that my daughter chose not to pursue a career in dance. And, while I realize this show focused on one extreme, it also reinforced some issues that most involved parents have with their children's education (inside and outside of school).

As a general rule, concerned parents:

1) Should pay close attention to what and how their children are being taught.

2) Need to communicate with teachers and to freely question inappropriate behavior. Follow your instincts! If it doesn't feel right, it might be a problem.

3) Must recognize that they are not always right. Listen to both your child and his or her teacher before jumping to conclusions. Speak to teachers with respect.

4) Should avoid living vicariously through their children. Does your child want to be "a star" or "an athelete" or a "straight A" student? Or, do you?

In one of the saddest moments of the show, a little girl is riding in the backseat of a car being driven by her mom. The mother is rambling on about how great the next dance event will be and how she wants her daughter to pose for modelling photos like she did when she was young.

The daughter, her little face fixed in a sullen frown, is whispering to herself that she doesn't really want to be a star....

The scene is enough to give any parent pause.