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Archive for the 'Back-to-school' Category

Consumer Reports has healthy advice for parents as kids head back to school


Consumer Reports has rounded up an array of back-to-school tips on its health blog. Everything from “eat your veggies” to “wash your hands” gets covered. While you’re there, check out the rest of Consumer Reports’ blogs, which include money, safety and cars. The nonprofit organization, which happens to be in our backyard in Yonkers, is not only a valuable resource, but provides a consumer watchdog service that’s unmatched even by our government.

Posted by Julie Moran Alterio on Monday, August 17th, 2009 at 10:41 pm |
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The little bully


I wanted to beat up a 3-year-old this weekend. And boy, would he have had it coming.

Frankly, I would’ve been okay with my girlfriend’s 4-year-old taking the kid out. But that’s where she and I differed, and where it makes for an interesting discussion on bullying. It’s been on my mind lately anyway, since my 10-year-old son is now in middle school. In our district, the middle school is grades 6-8, and since he’s the youngest in his grade because of his late-November birthday, he’s also one of the smallest kids in the new school. So, it’s been on my mind.

Back to the weekend: Our blended family was out and about in the sunshine yesterday, and took time out to hit the playground at Croton Point Park. All is going well, until a 3-year-old boy (I’m guessing on the age) punches my son in the stomach. Now, he’s bigger, so he just laughed it off and let it go. But then the kid punches my girlfriend’s 4-year-old in the gut — three times over the span of maybe 5 minutes or so. Hmm.

So, our boy runs back and complains that the kid kept hitting him. One point: Our little guy is amazingly strong for his age. He has remarkable arm strength for a kid his age, and is big for his age. However, he’s also very, very mild mannered. In other words, he has the strength to be a bully, but nowhere near the demeanor. Therefore, he keeps trying to go back to the play ground but runs back in fear each time the little bully kid starts running towards him.

At one point the bully kid actually pulls down his pants and urinates on the playground equipment as if it was second nature. No, there was no sign of a parent. Anyway, my girlfriend takes matters into her own hands. She walks over, does official introductions for her son and the bully kid. They shake hands, and off they go to play like old buddies — until the smaller boy kicks our boy in the face.

My 10-year-old offered to take the little bully out, but, of course, we’re not going there. Now here’s where my girlfriend and I differed: Her solution was to just leave and to congratulate her son for not hitting back. I also commended him, but felt that, at that stage, we should have instructed our 4-year-old to, A) Tell the bully kid to stop and, B) If he didn’t stop, to clock him in the head. That’s me.

Years ago, when my son was in pre-K, he had a bigger kid push him around regularly. The kid was bigger and the staff at the place did little about it. I complained several times, and finally told them after a few weeks that if it happened again I would instruct my son to defend himself. They said they would do something. Needless to say, it happened again. My son got pushed down, got up and clocked the kid in the nose. The bigger kid went down, started crying and ran away. They ended up being friends after that.

Is that the best option? Maybe not. I saw it as a last resort. And I’m not sure how I’d handle it if he has a similar problem in middle school this year. My fingers are crossed that it doesn’t happen.

With my girlfriend’s 4-year-old, there’s another component: He is, as I said, a very strong kid, and we don’t want him to hurt anyone and we don’t want him to learn to solve his conflicts with his fists. But isn’t there a breaking point, where he should learn to stand his ground? When is that point?

Posted by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon on Monday, September 8th, 2008 at 12:26 pm |

What’s in those backpacks anyway?


What is up with these backpacks that are so heavy that kids are being weighed down like mountaineers? At the risk of sounding like someone who should be leaning on a walker and eating dinner at 4 p.m., I’d like to point out that when I was a kid, we didn’t even carry backpacks! Somehow I managed to bring home all the materials I needed to do my homework without looking like I was ready to hike the Himalayas.

This is on my mind because it’s the time of year when, once again, the obligatory warnings about the dangers of the weight of these things are coming out. Consumer Reports, which is published in Yonkers, is way ahead on this issue. In their research, they found some sixth graders carried 18.4 pounds in the backpacks — about 17.2 percent of their body weight. Consumer Reports recommends staying closer to 10 percent of body weight.

What is in these backpacks, anyway? Pumpkin is several years away from homework assignments and all they entail, so I’m operating without first-hand knowledge. But I ask you other parents: Do kids really need to carry every book home, every night? Is that what makes up the load? Or, are your kids carrying mini survival kits on their backs? I know my daughter, given her druthers, would bring half the contents of her room with her in the car every time we leave the house for a half hour. So far, we’ve managed to keep it down to her Elmo doll (sometimes two Elmo dolls), a book, her sippy cup, a baggie of <a href=”http://www.annies.com/bunny_grahams” target=”_blank”>Annie’s Homegrown Chocolate Bunny Grahams</a> and her purple blanket. Are your third-graders carrying their own equivalent of this in their packs? Is that why they are so heavy?

If you are buying a new backpack this fall, Consumer Reports recommends looking for these features:

• Shoulder straps that are contoured and padded to soften the load of the pack on a child’s back.

• A waist belt to stabilize the pack and transfer weight to the hips.

• A padded or quilted back or one with mesh fabric to make the bag less sweaty on steamy days.

• Compression straps on the sides of the pack to tighten a partially-filled backpack.

• Reflective trim on the back and sides of the pack to add visibility in the fall and winter months, when kids may travel to and from school in near darkness.

Here is the special section on back-to-school at <a href=”http://www.consumerreports.org/backtoschool” target=”_blank”>Consumer Reports</a>.

I’m thinking about writing a story about the growth in backpack sales and how these have become a must-have back-to-school item. If anyone would like to lend their insight to the story, send me an e-mail at jalterio@lohud.com or call me at 914-666-6189.

Otherwise, comment here about what the heck is in your kids’ backpacks — unless you’ve been afraid to look!

Posted by Julie Moran Alterio on Tuesday, July 22nd, 2008 at 12:49 pm |
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Get to class… and stay there


My son’s got it easy at school. At least that’s the way I see it, given that his classes don’t start until 9 a.m., and he’s out at 3 p.m. When I was a kid, I can’t recall starting school any later than 8:20 a.m., and that was seen as lenient. So what’s up?

I should note that my 10-year-old scores at the top of the class in all of the state tests he’s been required to take. And he devotes tons of his spare time to reading and games that incorporate mathematical and social studies skills. Fine. He’s studious.

But I find myself wanting more school time for him, something I think that there’s no real substitute for. It helps develop good study habits, improved listening skills, increased group-participation skills, and better social skills. True, he’s just in fifth grade now and his school day will get a tad longer as he gets into the later grades. That’s all well and good.

Still, something seems off. Take into account this “Boston Globe article,”:http://www.boston.com/news/education/k_12/mcas/articles/2007/11/30/longer_school_day_appears_to_boost_mcas_scores in which a handful of Boston public schools extended the school day and assigned more reading and studying to their students. The result was a significant increase in “MCAS”:http://www.doe.mass.edu/mcas/about1.html scores.

Doesn’t that all seem to make sense? Or is there a case to be made for less time in class? I’d love to hear it.

Posted by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon on Friday, November 30th, 2007 at 5:02 pm |

The demise of handwriting


I was taken aback last year when, during back-to-school night at my son’s school, his fourth-grade teacher noted that students would not be taught cursive writing if they had not learned it in the earlier grades. There just isn’t time to teach it by the fourth grade, he said. For those that don’t know, cursive writing is what we commonly refer to as “script,” or what a friend from England told me this weekend is known as “joined” writing back home.

I’ve thought about that teacher’s comment ever since, and it came up in conversation over the weekend. It strikes me as sad that such a school policy — perhaps a natural consequence of the modern-day, state-test-driven public school system — might spell the demise of cursive writing. I was therefore not surprised to find that I wasn’t alone in that concern, and that there has been some debate over this in recent years, as expressed in “this article from The Washington Post”:http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/10/10/AR2006101001475.html last year.

Now, my son does write in cursive, and I frankly don’t know that any of his friends don’t. But it seems clear there are kids out there that still use block writing, and perhaps it is just a matter of time before the computer keyboard replaces all penmanship. I certainly hope not. Heck, our own Constitution and Declaration of Independence are written in cursive. Are we heading for a generation of children who won’t be able to read them?

Posted by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon on Monday, October 29th, 2007 at 11:20 am |

School season starts; This could be the year


Though it ends summer, September is an optimistic time for parents.

September is to the school year, what spring training is to baseball. It’s that brief time when all is fresh and promising. There’s plenty of time for reality later; It’s called the second semester.  

Last night, I went to curriculum night at the school attended by my two sons -  eighth and 12th graders. Curriculum night is when parents get a look at their kids’ courses and any major changes at the school.

The courses look improved. For instance, my youngest son’s history class starts up with the American West, includes the progressive era, World War I, World War II, the Civil Rights era and Vietnam. Pretty timely, since only a couple of weeks ago my youngest son asked me about World War I and how it started. Well the Archduke Ferdinand was assasinated,  but I recall there was a lot more to it. It was sort of like a  run-away train that no one could stop, but I’m not sure that made a lot of sense. Maybe in a few months he’ll be able to explain it to me. 

The teachers look promising, too. One excellent math teacher who had planned to leave is back for another year, and a couple of rookie teachers look like potential stars. Even the PTA seems energized.

And then there’s the final piece in the puzzle - my kids. So far so good. They haven’t failed any tests; Haven’t been late for school; And they’ve turned in the few simple homework assignments they’ve had.

I’ve seen the start of a lot of school years; this one looks special.

Posted by Len Maniace on Friday, September 21st, 2007 at 8:00 am |
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Morning, glorious morning


This school year, I am completely in love with my son’s bus driver.

That’s because he is the one who picks up my youngest son at 7:30 a.m., which gives me glorious time alone in the house before I have to leave for work.

So what do I do with this extra time? I can now walk with my friend later in the morning, rather than at 6 a.m. I can take a shower that lasts more than 5 minutes. I can make real oatmeal and eat it — sitting down while reading a magazine. I can vacuum the living room, sort laundry, or iron clothes without having to brush my teeth at the same time. Basically, I can have a few moments to breathe before starting the busy-ness of my official workday.

When another mom (of one of my son’s classmates) called last night to check in and see how the first days of school were going, our conversation quickly turned to the earlier pick-up time. And then giddily, we both confessed to loving the extra morning time – alone. For a second, we chastised each other about how happy we are to push our sons out of the door each morning. But then, we remembered the bliss we feel, having our homes to ourselves, and any guilt was gone.

It is a most welcome time. And I love Lou, the bus driver, for giving it to me.

Posted by Gayle T. Williams on Thursday, September 13th, 2007 at 1:07 pm |

Consignment shops, have you tried them?


My colleague Stacy A. Anderson wrote an interesting <a href=”http://www.thejournalnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2007708240388″ target=”_blank”>story about parents searching consignment shops</a> to find discounts on fashionable duds for their kids. She includes a roundup of local stores and gives examples of some of her finds. I was particularly struck by a pair of Mini Boden trousers for just $12 ($48 retail!). I’m definitely thinking about visiting a couple of the shops this fall before I head to the mall to buy Pumpkin’s cold-weather wardrobe.

Posted by Julie Moran Alterio on Saturday, August 25th, 2007 at 10:32 pm |
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As if I needed another worry


Pulled this off the wire. Talk about fueling the fears about my boy growing up. Or is this just alarmist?

WASHINGTON, DC — Eleven million high school students (80 percent) and five million middle school students (44 percent) attend drug-infested schools, meaning that they have personally witnessed illegal drug use, illegal drug dealing, illegal drug possession, students drunk and/or students high on the grounds of their school according to the “National Survey of American Attitudes on Substance Abuse XII: Teens and Parents,� the twelfth annual back-to-school survey conducted by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University.
For the first time, this year CASA sought to survey in depth the drug situation in America’s schools. The survey revealed that at least once a week on their school grounds, 31 percent of high school students (more than four million) and nine percent of middle school students (more than one million) see illegal drugs used, sold, students high and/or students drunk. At least weekly, 17 percent of all high and middle school students (4.4 million) personally see classmates high on drugs at school.
“This fall more than 16 million teens will return to middle and high schools where drug dealing, possession, use and students high on alcohol or drugs are part of the fabric of their school,� said Joseph A. Califano, Jr., CASA’s chairman and president and former U.S. Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare. “Too many of our nation’s high and middle schools have become marijuana marts and pill palaces. Parents should wake up to this reality and realize more likely than not, your teen is going to school each day in a building where drug use, sale and possession is as much a part of the curriculum as math or English and do something about it. For many of our middle and high school students, school days have become school daze.�
The CASA survey also found that since 2002 the proportion of students who attend schools where drugs are used, kept or sold has jumped 39 percent forhigh school students and 63 percent for middle school students. From 2006 to 2007, the proportion jumped 20 percent for high school students and 35 percent for middle school students. Other numbers:

• Compared to teens at drug-free schools, teens at drug-infested schools are:

— 16 times likelier to use an illegal drug other than marijuana or prescription drugs;

— 15 times likelier to abuse prescription drugs;

— six times likelier to get drunk at least monthly;

— five times likelier to use marijuana;

— four times likelier to smoke cigarettes;

— four times likelier to be able to buy marijuana within a day; and

— nearly six times likelier to be able to buy marijuana within an hour.

Posted by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon on Thursday, August 16th, 2007 at 12:23 pm |


Summer – Going, going, gone


Back-to-school sale. Those four words fill kids with an icy dread and the hollow pain of loss – the loss of a summer that has barely begun. With just four weeks of summer vacation gone and another six remaining, my oldest son spotted a back-to-school sale at a local store this weekend past. And tonight we saw our first back-to-school ad on TV, a commercial that prompted a mix of disgust and outrage in my youngest son: “Why don’t they just start the ads before we start vacation.”

I know parents are supposed to love the idea of kids going back to school, but on this issue, I side with the kids. Summer should feel endless, even if a kid’s day camp includes not only sports but school work because he is dealing with a learning disability, or the teen is taking an art class and participating in a college-prep program.

I side with the kids on snow storms, too. I love them. Not the two-inch frosting that scare suburban schools int shutting, but the foot-and-a-half storms that cause television and radio to hyperventilate about the latest threat to the region’s survival. Of course, newspapers (and our websites) are guilty, too. How many times do people need to read about shoppers rushing to hardware stores to buy salt and shovels in anticipation of the storm. But now who’s rushing the seasons.

Posted by Len Maniace on Tuesday, July 24th, 2007 at 10:11 pm |


About this blog
Parents’ Place is a hangout for openly discussing the A’s to Z’s of raising a child in the Lower Hudson Valley. From deciding when to stop using a binky to when to let your teenager take driving lessons, Parents’ Place is here to let us all vent, share, and most of all, learn from each other.
Leading the conversation are Julie Moran Alterio, a business reporter and mom of a toddler, Jorge Fitz-Gibbon, a reporter and single father with joint custody of a 9-year-old son, and Len Maniace, a reporter and father of two sons.


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About the authors
Julie Moran AlterioJulie Moran AlterioJulie Moran Alterio, her husband and baby girl — “Pumpkin” — share their Northern Westchester home with three iPods and more colorful plastic toys than seems necessary to entertain one tiny human. READ MORE
Jorge Fitz-GibbonJorge Fitz-GibbonJorge Fitz-Gibbon has been a journalist for more than 20 years and a father for nine. READ MORE
Jane LernerJane LernerJane Lerner covers health and hospitals for The Journal News in Rockland, where she lives with her husband and two children. READ MORE
Len Maniace.jpgLen ManiaceLen Maniace is a reporter and father of two sons. READ MORE