Year-Round Schooling

Year-Round Schooling - Red Apple Reading ExpressAs the majority of us are still in the midst of our children’s summer vacation, there are a small but growing number of students attending school. Most of us have heard of the term “Year-Round Education” or “YRE”. YRE is when school systems adopt an academic calendar that has children attend school the usual number of days but with more frequent and shorter breaks. This eliminates the traditional two to three month summer vacation. Whether or not you are a fan of the year-round model, it is helpful to be familiar with this system since it is gradually gaining momentum in our country.

What does it look like?

There are several different variations of YRE (also referred to as a balanced schedule). When schools observe a balanced schedule, the students still attend the same number of school days per year (approximately 180) but rather than have two to three straight months off for summer, they redistribute the vacation days differently. For instance, a school might adopt a 45/15 track in which students go to school 45 days and are off for 15. Others use 60/20 or 90/30 plans. Whichever track a school chooses, the idea is still the same. A slightly different approach is the multi track plan in which students attend school in shifts with one set of students on vacation while the other three sets are attending class.

Who is adopting the YRE model?

Although the majority of the country’s schools still follow a traditional calendar, the number of YRE schools have slowly but surely increased since the first balanced schedule school began in the 1980’s. One reason some school systems are adopting a year round calendar is because of overcrowding. By adhering to a multi track approach, a school system can serve a greater number of students without overcrowding. In fact, according to the November 14, 2011 edition of the Encyclopedia of American Education, “Nearly one in five of the nation’s large, urban, public school districts operated schools year-round in 2001—primarily to reduce overcrowding. About 2 million students attended such schools—nearly 4% of the public school population.” Most balanced school schedules still adhere to a single track approach (the most popular being the 45/15 model). School systems that adhere to single track approach generally favor YRE because they feel it reduces learning loss over long breaks.

What percentage of schools have adopted YRE?

It is actually challenging to find current statistics on year-round education programs. reported in October 27 of 2010 that, “By 2008, nearly 2.5 million pupils were on a YRE plan.”. Similarly, a July 12, 2012 article in the Huffington Post reported, “The most recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics found 14 percent of U.S. public schools were on year-round calendars in 2008, with the largest percentage in the South and West.”

Whatever your opinion on year-round education, it is worthwhile to learn a little bit about its history and current status. Education is a wonderful privilege in our country! So whether your child attends a school with a traditional calendar or one with a balanced calendar, we can be grateful that they are receiving an education.


School and Extracurricular: How to Juggle it All

My oldest daughter Kelsey started marching band this year, and she has loved every minute of it—well, almost. If you’re a band parent or if you were in the band yourself, then you know that the typical season starts out with summer band camp—a grueling two-week process in which you attempt to learn the entire show for the season, under the blistering sun no less. Once football season starts, there’s practice after school nearly every day for two hours, games every weekend (some of which you have to travel across the state to attend), and Saturday competitions, which also require some degree of travel.

School and Extracurricular: How to Juggle It All

Needless to say, all of this takes a lot of time and effort. Although Kelsey has adjusted to the rigorous schedule of school and band, it took her a while. At the beginning of the year, she struggled to stay on top of it all. There were even a few tears, and I know that more than once, the thought occurred to her to simply throw in the towel. She and I are both so glad she stuck with it because it has been so rewarding for her and has truly enriched all of our lives.

Can you tell I’m a band advocate? I could go on and on, but I’ll spare you. I’m sure that there are many parents who sing the praises of the other activities their children are involved in. No matter which activity is your favorite, there’s really no doubting the value of extracurricular experiences. Even so, there will be times when you and your child wonder whether you’re striking the right balance. Here are a few tips for teaching your child to juggle it all and succeed both inside and outside of the classroom:

Don’t Take on Too Much
How much is too much? Well, there’s no one-size-fits-all regimen for extracurricular activities. The answer will depend on your child’s personality and capabilities as well as your family routine. Many students are quite ambitious when it comes to the number of clubs and activities they participate in, and they are to be applauded for it! Having said that, I know that if we had thrown in just one more club meeting per week in addition to Kelsey’s already crowded band schedule, she would have been a wreck. It’s not because she doesn’t have the capability to keep up with a busy schedule; it’s simply because she has many other interests outside of school including art and foreign language, which she pursues on her own. She cherishes this time when she can study the subjects she’s truly interested in and actually went through a bit of a mourning period when she realized she would have to sacrifice some of it for band. If you realize that your child has taken on too much, then let her know that it’s okay to scale back. When academics start to suffer or when your child shows signs of becoming overwhelmed (i.e. fatigue or moodiness), then it’s time to make some decisions and free up some time for study or relaxation.

Make a Schedule
When your child takes on a major extracurricular activity such as a sport or band, or several smaller activities such as clubs and organizations, then you’ll both want to take the time to make a schedule. It may even be a good idea to do it together. This will give you the opportunity to teach your child the importance of being organized when it comes to how she spends her time. Encourage her to write in required events as well as school-related deadlines first. Instruct her to add to her calendar as she becomes aware of additional meetings or assignments. Knowing when she needs to do what and when she can simply chill for an afternoon can prevent your child from becoming overwhelmed or fearful about how she’ll manage to get it all done.

Perhaps one of the most difficult things to do when juggling school and extracurricular activities is learning to prioritize. As your child becomes more involved in school activities, she’ll likely be forced with some tough choices. Although it can be tempting to make these choices for your child, you’d really be doing her a disservice if you called all the shots. In my opinion, children need to learn the consequences of both good and bad choices (e.g. hanging out with a friend instead of studying for a test), so that they’ll gain the ability to choose wisely on their own. Of course, you need to be there to offer a healthy dose of guidance, but if you let your child learn the hard lessons, they’ll be much more meaningful than if you had simply managed her life for her prior to releasing her out into the “real” world.

Do you have other tips for managing school and extracurricular activities? We’d love to hear how you’re juggling things at your house!

Reading Outside of School: How Much Is Enough?

Reading Outside of School: How Much is Enough?We all know that the biggest readers are often the biggest achievers, so a daily regimen of reading is a must. Many parents wonder how much their children should be reading outside of school, however. While there’s no definitive answer to that question, there are some guidelines you can follow to ensure that your child is getting her daily dose of literature.


Emerging Readers
Before your child starts school, reading is something that you will likely have to do for her (unless you have a prodigy on your hands), but that doesn’t mean that it’s not an important exercise, and it certainly doesn’t mean that she can’t participate in the activity. The U.S. Department of Education reports that just slightly more than half of all children (55%) were read to on a daily basis before entering Kindergarten. The other 45% unfortunately miss out on the early literacy skills that make up the foundation of their future as proficient readers—skills like recognizing letters and words and associating words with sounds. Tragically, they also miss out on the opportunity to fall in love with books at an early age, which often robs them of the incentive to learn how to read independently. While there’s no need to set a timer for reading at this age, it’s wise to make books a part of your daily routine. Display books where your child can see them, flip the pages on her own, and look at the pictures. Have story time together at least once a day whether it be in the morning, after lunch, or at bedtime.

Beginning Readers
For some children, learning to read is a breeze, but for others it can seem like an insurmountable task. In order to determine how much your child should practice reading outside of school, you’ll need to have your finger on the pulse of both her progress and her attitude towards reading. If your child takes to reading quickly, then he’ll likely want to show off his newly acquired skills every chance he gets. On the other hand, if your child is really struggling, then 10-15 minutes after school may be all the practice he can handle without becoming frustrated or discouraged. Instead of forcing him to read practice books over and over again, find another way that your child can practice literacy skills, such as playing an online reading game like Red Apple Reading to build his reading foundation!

In order to ensure that your struggling reader doesn’t become a reluctant one, you’ll need to provide lots of patience and encouragement during this highly sensitive period, and make sure you continue to read to your child aloud daily so that he can still enjoy the pleasures associated with reading, not just the pain of struggling to learn a new skill.

Independent Readers
According to Scholastic, the amount of time kids spend reading is directly related to reading ability and overall academic achievement. Thus, once your child begins to read fluently on her own, it’s time to start ensuring both quality and quantity of texts. That means you’ll need to supply challenging books that advance your child’s vocabulary and reading proficiency—and lots of them. Make sure you choose titles that are engaging and not so difficult that your child becomes frustrated in an attempt to decode the book. Remember, the message at this stage should always be that “reading is fun!” As your child becomes older (i.e. middle school and beyond), reading may take a backseat to other activities such as electronics and social time, so you might have to give your child a daily nudge to read for at least 20 minutes a day. If you play your cards right and choose books that are related to your child’s interests, that 20 minutes could easily become hours of reading fun!

All children and families are different, and no expert can tell you what’s best for your child. Rest assured that as long as you’re exposing your child to books and literacy on a daily basis, you’re giving her the advantage she needs to become a successful, lifelong reader and learner!


3 Smart Organizational Strategies for Busy Parents

3 Smart Organizational Strategies for Busy ParentsBusy parents often need a helping hand when it comes to supporting their kids during the school year. But then again, I’ve yet to see a parent who isn’t busy! If you’re among the many frazzled moms or dads trying to juggle work, kids, social events, school events, extracurricular, and the like, then there’s a good chance you could use some tips to keep it all organized.

  • Pencil it in. Or type it in, whichever you prefer, but during the school year, a family calendar is a must. I tossed out the traditional pencil and paper variety this year and went digital. There are many online calendars and apps that can help keep your whole family on track. I’ve heard that Cozi is good for families with teenagers, but for now, I prefer Google calendars. Once I enter an event or appointment, I can color-code it by kid or by category and even merge it with my husband’s calendar so that everyone is on the same page.
  • Do it now. We have a policy at my house. When the kids get home, they immediately give me any papers to sign as well as flyers from the school. We also discuss homework for the day, and although I don’t make them do it immediately, we do set a time for the work to be completed. This keeps everyone on track and greatly reduces the chance of a late night or early morning crisis when someone suddenly realizes a forgotten assignment or due date.
  • Start a “Keepers” folder. Katie has been in Kindergarten for less than a month, and I bet she’s brought home nearly a hundred papers already. No, I’m not exaggerating. As much as I love looking at her work, I know that I can’t keep all of it. I already had my own special book for the really good stuff, but when Katie found some of her papers in the trashcan, I knew I had to come up with another plan. After I consoled her and swallowed the lump of mommy guilt forming in the back of my throat, I decided that Katie would also have her own special book to keep the papers she likes best, and the rest we say goodbye to. Now, I have a happy kid and uncluttered countertops!

I’ve found that staying organized keeps the whole household a little happier during the year. There’s definitely some truth to that saying, “When Momma ain’t happy, nobody’s happy!”  As I’m sure you know, kids have a tendency to pick up on your stress level, and when you’re calm and confident, they will be too. I can’t think of a better way to approach the school year.

Need more tips? Check out these back-to-school organizational strategies from a professional organizer. What about you? Do you have any special tips that keep you sane organized during the school year? If so, please share!