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Where To Turn After a Poor Parent-Teacher Conference

It’s that time of year…. Parent-Teacher Conferences. Some parents love hearing about their child’s successes, but some parents don’t have that experience. Instead they receive a troubling report.

If you’re reading this, you probably sat in the tiny chair in front of your child’s teacher and absorbed the classroom your child occupies five days a week.  You scoured the walls looking for your child’s artwork and reminisced on your own school days for a minute.

You were a little excited and a little nervous to get the scoop on how your brilliant child is excelling in school but the teacher spent about 30 seconds on your child’s strengths and the rest was about how he’s struggling.

Struggling to grasp academic concepts…
Struggling to stay focused…
Disrupting the class…
Not performing well on tests…
Or even struggling socially…

Struggling just enough to be cause for concern and just enough to not make sense. You know your child is brilliant and you experience it at home, but your child’s teacher isn’t quite accessing it. It can feel like your child’s brain is turned off at school or amped up so high that they can’t learn.

Regardless of the teacher’s feedback you left the conversation puzzled and not really understanding how to get your child up to speed. Maybe this type of parent teacher conference isn’t new to you, but you’re not seeing changes and you weren’t given any direction on how to create change.

Here’s some valuable information for you to look into. Many children are experiencing sensory challenges that are going unidentified in schools or are being incorrectly diagnosed as behavioral issues, ADHD, or even autism spectrum disorder. Sensory challenges are 5 times more likely than autism spectrum disorder yet most professionals your child is encountering are not trained to spot it.

Sensory challenges just mean that a child’s brain responds to sensory input differently and some sensations may create an over-responsive action, like hitting back when being lightly touched. Other times a sensation like touch or someone trying to get the child’s attention may go unnoticed because the brain is under-responsive. There are many other variations of sensory challenges that can prevent your child from entering “the learning zone”.

Sensory challenges show up differently in each individual and most doctors are trained to respond to sensory concerns from parents as if the child will “grow out of it”.  Teachers are rarely trained to understand what sensory challenges are so they are often looked at as behavioral issues or laziness. For many children, the sensory challenges continue and even get worse without treatment as they grow.

Once a sensory issue is identified, the child can receive the direction they need to enter “the learning zone” they haven’t been able to access at school.

If you think your child may be experiencing a sensory challenge visit the STAR Center resource page. STAR Center is equipped to assess children who are experiencing sensory challenges so you can be clear on how to get your child in the learning zone. In partnership with Mile High Mamas.



How Our School Garden Grows More Than Food

Fourteen months ago, another mom at my kids’ school cornered me at a party and asked if I would chair the garden committee. At that moment, I had no idea having a school garden was going to become important to me and admittedly, I only wanted to know if I could pretend I didn’t hear her and quickly hide in the bathroom.

Our PTO has a secret ops unit of mommy recruiters. They look and act like you and me, but in reality they are soldiers who have taken a blood oath to enlist any able-bodied parent they can to fight for their cause. They come at you with wide smiles and quick tongues. They flatter you, and you think you’re having a nice chat with a sweet mom. The next thing you know, you’ve agreed to run the health fair.

As fate would have it, I couldn’t excuse myself fast enough. Instead, I smiled and said ‘yes,’ even though I was cringing inside. I excused myself and made a B-line to the nearest friend and told her what had happened. Then I begged her to help. After a few minutes of listening to me wallow, she agreed. What did I know about setting up a school garden? Not much.

We recruited more moms with the promise of chocolate and wine at committee meetings. Then we joined Slow Food Denver’s Seed-to-Table program. Seed-to-Table connected us with other school gardens so we could see what they were doing. We spent about a month gathering information and developing a plan. Our principal vetoed our elaborate plan in favor of a more simple one.; we were so relieved that we left the meeting feeling giddy.

Last May, with the help of fifth graders, we planted beets, tomatoes, squash, green peppers, corn, tomatillos, and sunflowers. Over the summer, families pitched in and took turns tending the garden. My kids asked if we could go to the garden daily. We brought home bags of yellow squash and green peppers, and for once they didn’t complain about eating veggies.

I found myself talking about the garden a lot. Surely everyone was as interested in the benefits as I was. I said things in casual conversation like: a garden is an interactive place for interdisciplinary learning; kids become detectives and engage the garden with all five senses; learning feels like a party when your class harvests tomatoes and makes salsa.

I eventually got over myself and began to observe how people were using the garden. I noticed something unexpected: our garden is a place where kids, parents, teachers, even the bus drivers, hang out and talk to one another. As humans, we’re wired to seek connection with one another and  it’s vital for us to have real face-to-face encounters.

Our school garden gives us a gathering place where we can do that. And we’re never at a loss for words because we can talk about the sunflowers, how their heads bob in the breeze, or the two-foot zucchini that someone forgot to pick, or the first frost.  

If Kristin isn’t working or running her two rascally but cute kids to ballet and hockey, she’s most likely writing in her office that doubles as a laundry room (why waste time). She blogs as Plain Spoken Mama at If she’s not writing, she’s cooking, reading, exercising (hopefully outside), and debating whether or not to get a dog.

25 questions to ask your kids after school

It never fails. After a long day at school when I ask my kids “How was your day?” They always answer “fine.” End of conversation.

So, I’ve stopped asking “yes” and “no” questions and instead ask them to expound upon open-ended queries. In the very least, I get a complete sentence as a response and at best, I get some pretty colorful answers that give a glimpse at how my kids’ day at school really went–the good and the bad!

1. What was the best part of your day?

2. What games did you place at recess and with whom?

3. Who did you sit with on the bus?

4. What did you or your teacher read in class?

5. Tell me something that made you laugh.

6. What was something that was hard or boring?

7. Who would you like to sit by in class and who would you not like to be beside and why?

8. Tell me something new you learned today?

9. Who is someone funny in your class and why are they funny?

10. How did you help someone or did someone help you?

11. Is there anyone in the class who needs a timeout?

12. Can you think of anything you did today that would make your teacher proud to have you in their class, or that would have made us proud of you?

13. What was your favorite time of day today?

14. What’s the biggest difference between last year’s teacher and this year’s teacher?

15. There are some new kids in your class. What are their names and what are they like?

16. What subject do you feel you are doing the best in, and which subject are you struggling in the most?

17. Do you have any homework? What can I help you with?

18. We used to have a mean boy in my class when I was your age. I still remember what a bully he was. Do you have anyone like that in your class?

19. What are you doing in class tomorrow? 

20. Who in your class do you think you could be nicer to and needs to be included?

If you suspect your child is struggling to fit in or is experiencing bullying, focus on questions that deal with less structured times like lunch and recess. Most importantly, be intentional and engaged when they arrive home. Smile, make eye contact and show you really do care about the details of their day.

What are some questions you’d add to this list?

Kindergarten Sendoff: When my youngest flew the coop

I am not usually the sentimental type. While other parents cherish the little moments when their little ones curl up on their laps, I have been eagerly awaiting getting some space. Don’t get me wrong, I do absolutely love my children. They are my heart and soul, and my reason for breathing. But after 12 years of being a mom, there are more times than not when I feel, for lack of a better way of putting it, touched out.

You know what I’m talking about, right? When your body no longer feels like your own because somebody is always touching you, grabbing you, needing you? I know, I know—that’s what being a mom is. But there have been times in the past few years where I have found myself yearning for the moment when I might be able to pee without an audience. Where I wasn’t a living jungle gym for tiny feet and hands to explore. Where I am not getting pseudo-accidentally punched in the boob or the babymaker on a semi-regular basis from being crawled all over. Where I could relish in a little bit of “me time.”

Did I mention it has been 12 years since I had some good, old-fashioned me time? 12. Years. Involuntary manslaughter has a shorter sentence. And no, I’m not equating motherhood to a prison sentence. Well, I sort of am because it sort of is, but it’s not necessarily in a bad way.

So, as you can see, I’m not somebody who most people would label as sentimental. Yet last week, I stood for a moment in my 5-year-old daughter’s doorway and watched her sleep for a few moments. Her long, dark-blonde hair a complete rat’s nest from a day of hard play framing her angelic little face, and I had a pang of loss. It hit me right then—I am about to lose her.

You see, last week was the eve of our district’s “Back to School Night!” where we get to find out whose classes my kids are going to be in this year. We will load up their backpacks with this year’s school supplies and traipse across the threshold of the elementary school and the middle school, spend twenty minutes sorting supplies into neatly labeled yet chaotically messy piles in each teacher’s classrooms, and spend maybe another thirty seconds introducing our children to this year’s target (I mean teacher). The kids will excitedly chatter with some of their classmates and begin plotting the newest ways to boycott homework and sneak gum into school. And it is my baby girl’s first year going to school. I am getting ready to send her out into the world. And this is where I start to lose her, just a little bit at a time.

Up until now, for the past 12 years, I have been a stay-at-home-mom. My kids have literally been the sun to my universe. I spend the days wrangling shoes, picking raisins out of trail mix, smearing sour cream onto tortillas, cutting crusts, hunting hair brushes, wiping noses, yanking out hair (I mean combing hair), locating lost glasses, and refereeing arguments with amazing tenacity. And every four years, another one of my children has begun school. And I no longer have a say about every little thing they do with their day. I lose a few precious hours each and every day to the schools. Each attachment formed with another person is another little thread that is detached from me. And if I do my job right as their mother, it will happen with alarming regularity until they are ready to stand on their own. But this process—starting kindergarten—it is the very first thread that is cut. This is where I start to lose her, just like her brothers before her.

Her brothers are amazing little boys. I think my husband and I have done alright by them. The oldest, 12, just tested into the gifted program at school and is kind, generous, and an incredibly hard worker. My middle, 8-going on- 50, is funny, imaginative, and perpetual worrier. And now my princess, my baby girl, 5, is about to make her way into the world one bus-ride at a time. I knew this day was coming, and yet…I’m feeling an incredible sadness knowing this is it. I am taking the first step to losing her to the world. It’s not a bad thing at all. But maybe my desire for “me time” has been highly overrated….

Rachael is a 38-year-old mom of three who is originally from the suburbs of Chicago but now lives in Brighton.  She enjoys showering without an audience and waiting until her kids are in bed before opening the “good snacks.” She has been married to her husband for 13 years.

Darling kindergartner shows his true feelings about leaving mom

The first day of school brought mixed emotions for many students, including 4-year-old Andrew Macias, who spoke to KTLA 5 on his way to pre-kindergarten on Tuesday.

When they asked Andrew if he would miss his mother during his first day at City Terrace Elementary School, the young man firmly said, “No.” He paused a second and then began to tear up. Seconds later, Andrew’s mom gave him a hug off camera.

This sweet video has gone viral almost overnight and for good reason. 

Is That an Office Depot Sign Above My Head, or is the School Just Happy To See Me?

267 pre-sharpened pencils from our family alone.

Approximately 2,200 sheets of “facial tissue”—enough to sop up the runny noses and tears of the local chapter of the Jonas Brother’s Fan Club for a year.

Baby wipes, zip-top baggies, paper plates, hand sanitizers, disinfecting wipes, and oh yeah. Some crayons. It’s nice to see crayons mixed in the list of odd requests. How did I manage to stumble through 13 years of public school education without a disposable camera?

When I look at my children’s school supply list, I begin to wonder if I am arming them with educational supplies or opening my own office supply store.

We will have four kids in school this year. I don’t mind buying their supplies when the items on the list are logical. Notebook paper makes sense. Glue? Sure! It would be strange to not supply pencils, pens, markers, folders, and scissors. But when I see that I must send a roll of paper towels with my first-grader, I suspect I am not arming him to master the finer points addition and subtraction.

I am stocking the janitor’s closet.

Don’t Bypass Your Child’s Handwriting Struggle – 5 Signs They May Need Support

Imagine for a moment that when you write on a piece of paper the letters on the paper do not look like the image in your head. Every time you write you feel totally confused and frustrated. This is a typical event for a school aged child with handwriting struggles. Now think about all of the things you couldn’t do if this was your handwriting experience.

When Max entered Preschool at age 4 he loved having books read to him and showed great interest in reading and writing. Activities that used his gross motor skills were difficult like catching a ball, balancing, and running so he had developed a passion for reading. During his first year of preschool his teacher introduced letter formation. This is when it became obvious that Max was struggling with handwriting and he began to avoid writing activities while his interest in reading changed.

Max was lucky, his teacher began using the CEW© handwriting program that helped to address his underlying challenges like coordination, posture, fine motor control, sensory processing, while teaching him letter formation using music and movement. He was engaged and having fun!

Handwriting challenges in children are often not confronted early enough or in a way where the child can enjoy handwriting as a base skill instead of an obstacle. A child’s handwriting difficulty has no reflection upon their intelligence, but can deeply impact performance and self-esteem in school. This results in a low performing student. “These kids simply require a little more attention with handwriting in a way that’s framed differently so they can continue to grow as confident students”, says Michele Parkins Occupational Therapist and co-creator of CEW© program, which will be offered at STAR Center in July.

Childhood handwriting challenges lead to:

A decline in performance in all areas of school
A negative impact on child’s well-being
A loss in concentration and motivation
A bad attitude towards school

Often, overcoming handwriting problems is not just a matter of practice. The material needs to be presented in a new way that addresses the unique style in which the child processes information. Preparing children in a fun way for writing will lead to improvements in cognition, motor skills, and reading comprehension.

5 Signs Your Child May Need Handwriting Support

Avoids tasks inlvolving writing
Takes longer than others to complete work
Wiggles and moves whole body while writing
Shares ideas through speaking versus writing. Written work does not represent the child’s capability.
Repeats “scripts” about how to make the letter such as, “start at the top, move to the bottom, loop around…”

STAR Center announces new Handwriting Boost Camp in Denver, CO using the CEW© program.

Handwriting Boot Camp

July 27 – August 7
Age: Kindergarten – Elementary school

After 10 weeks in the handwriting CEW© program, Max’s mother shares, “We have seen incredible improvements with Max since starting your program. His letters are written so much clearer and more accurately with increased understanding for the sounds that the letters make. He has started to sound out words and begun to read.” Go here for more information:

STAR Center, a Colorado 501(c)(3), is the premier treatment center for children and families living with Sensory Processing Disorder, feeding disorders, and other sensory issues associated with other conditions such as ADHD, autism, and a wide variety of additional developmental disorders. Mile High Mamas has partnered with Star Center on this promotion. | 303.221.7827

Spotlight: Auraria Early Learning Center for kindergarten this fall!

Do you live or work close to downtown? Are you looking for high-quality kindergarten for your child?  
The Auraria Early Learning Center (AELC), a 4-out-of-4 Qualistar-rated center, provides full- and part-time programs for children 12 months to 5-years-old with a fully accredited kindergarten program and summer camp for children through age 8. It is not only open to students, faculty, and staff of the Auraria Campus, but also to families from the Denver-area community. 
We sat down with Katy Brown, Director of Communications & Campus Outreach at the Auraria Higher Education Center.
Do you have to live near downtown Denver to enroll your child?
There are many AELC families who live in outlying suburbs and commute to downtown for work. They’ve found that the AELC is a convenient and high-quality option for preschool, kindergarten, and childcare. A few have also said that commuting with their children gives them an opportunity to spend more time as a family on a daily basis. We are particularly proud of our kindergarten program, which offers full-day optional enrichment care (so no need to sign up for before or after care like other school programs); tuition includes healthy meals and snacks; and kids graduate kindergarten ready to hit the ground running for first grade.

What makes Auraria Early Learning Center different from other programs?

The fully accredited kindergarten program offers a very low child-to-teacher ratio (1:8), which gives teachers the time and ability to give individualized instruction and cater to unique learning styles. (The toddler ratio is 1:4; young preschool is 1:7; older preschool is 1:8.) The AELC participates in the USDA Food Program, enabling the AELC to serve nutritious meals family-style, as well as healthy snacks. Food is included in the monthly tuition. Family communication and collaboration is an important aspect of a high-quality early childhood education program, and the AELC also offers a comprehensive communication plan to keep families involved in the school. Parents have daily interaction with the classroom teachers where they can communicate directly about their child’s progress, needs, and successes. 

In addition, the AELC has a parent-teacher group that meets monthly to discuss new initiatives, changes to policies/processes, and to discuss center events. Community-building events for families to be engaged with the school are scheduled regularly. Weekly classroom newsletters, monthly calendars, parent-teacher conferences, and access to teachers via email and in-person meetings are other ways that the AELC maintains communication with the families. 

What is your “Foundational Curriculum?”

The kindergarten program focuses on giving children a foundation in reading and literacy, math, science, and social studies. There’s also an emphasis on social-emotional development with opportunities for self-expression through music, art, and dramatic play. Many parents have said that their children have entered first grade after attending the Auraria Early Learning Center kindergarten program better prepared than their peers (see their testimonials here).

Is the program full-day or half-day? 

For kindergarten, both full-day or half-day schedules are available. Children must sign up to attend five days a week in the morning, but there is optional kindergarten enrichment from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. (no charge) and 1:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. (full-day rate applies). During the enrichment times, the children are engaged in learning activities.

Find out more information about the Auraria Early Learning Center  on their website. In partnership with Mile High Mamas. 

Saying good-bye to a nightmare school year and hello to hope

When my daughter was in second grade, I saw early signs that my bright, creative, adventurous and fun girl was struggling in a traditional classroom.  The following year, a friend told me about a Waldorf-inspired charter school that had opened in our area so we made a switch to their arts-based education. For the next two years, her art flourished, she learned handwork like knitting and weaving, she camped with her class multiple times, played the violin, spoke Spanish and made dear friends.

Through it all, she still struggled in her main academics so we hired a wonderful yet pricey tutor to supplement her education. We learned very quickly that we could do math flashcards until we were blue in the face because she simply could not learn that way. We needed someone who could teach her out-of-the-box because she was easily distracted and lacked focus. ADD, Auditory Processing and even Sensory Processing Disorder were discussed. I  repeatedly asked the school to observe her but I was constantly shut down and told I was overreacting. She wasn’t far enough behind to qualify for Special Education yet wasn’t at grade level. She was one of many kids falling between the cracks.

The only option they gave me was to get her professionally tested that cost $2,000–something our insurance did not cover and we couldn’t afford. We were stuck.

The bottom fell out last summer when the Governing Council ousted our visionary and capable principal, creating a ripple effect throughout the school as my daughter’s teacher–and others–left. In his place, a nice yet under-qualified new teacher was appointed and  the high-spirited class spent the entire year in chaos. Lack of discipline. No feedback. No assignments or in-class work were sent home until the parents complained–and then a barrage of ridiculous busywork ensued. He did not have effective teaching techniques because he was too overwhelmed with learning both the Colorado and Waldorf curricula. It was the Black Hole of Fifth Grade.

More than half the parents banded together to meet with the interim principal and Governing Council several times but our concerns fell on deaf ears. Six parents pulled their kids. When the principal announced this teacher would be looping with the class for sixth grade and beyond (and that most of us would be unable to transfer to the other class), many more left and I knew we had to be one of them. 

I open-enrolled her in a popular Montessori but we didn’t get in. I turned to our local public school, which she attended K-2 and where my son still goes. It was my only option. Little did I know it would be the best.

I met with their new principal who immediately put an action plan in place and assigned her one of the school’s best teachers for sixth grade. She and I sat down and within a half hour, I had real, valuable tools I could implement at home–more help than I’d received all year. My daughter won’t even be in the class until next fall and already, this teacher has sent me emails, phone calls, resources and encouragements.

Next I met with the interventionist/Special Ed teacher and we scheduled a time to have my daughter tested and she then offered to tutor her–for free–this summer. But then came another game-changer:

“I’ve been thinking about everything you’ve told me about your daughter. I very strongly feel like she is a Visual-Spatial Child a.k.a. a Topsy-Turvy Kid.”

I’d heard of Auditory, Kinesthetic and Visual learners but not Visual-Spatial and there’s a reason. After some extensive Internet searches, there isn’t a lot of information about it.

Visual-spatial learners (VSLs) are often artists, inventors, builders, creators, musicians, computer gurus, visionaries and healers. These children have powerful right hemispheres and learn in multi-dimensional images, while most schools, most teachers and most curricula are a haven for left-hemispheric thinking (or auditory-sequential learners) for  children who think and learn in words, rather than images, and in a step-by-step fashion. Though visual-spatial students are often very bright, they don’t always find success in academic environments. They have the most incredible moments of discovery, invention and problem solving but the skills of managing a time schedule, organization or showing their work may elude them. They march to their own drummer and nothing you do will convince them to change..and why should you want to? If there were not visual-spatial learners among us we’d be without art and dance, without science and invention, without drama and choreography, without most of the things that make life beautiful.

She sent me  home with “Raising Topsy-Turvy Kids: Successfully Parenting Your Visual-Spatial Child” and it was like reading my daughter’s Book of Life. We’ve had years without answers and finally windows, doors and the entire universe have been opened to us. We’ve known she was a right-brained kid living in a left-brained world and our initial move to the Waldorf charter school was a good thing. Unfortunately, our weak teacher, ineffective leadership and lack of resources drove us away. If the situation improves (the school has already replaced the interim principal for next year), we’d consider returning,

Everything happens for a reason and though I’m not sure where my daughter will attend middle and high school, I strongly feel she is exactly where she needs to be for sixth grade. And as a parent who has been fighting for answers for so long, I’m so grateful to finally have them hiding in plain sight and for the amazing educators who are making this possible.

Lending a hand to the sky ~ Musings on mothering a graduating child

The western mountains were sandwiched by clouds this morning. The row of peaks was obscured by chalky grey banks of opaque clouds, no doubt packed with snow. I could see the middle elevations clearly. Along the foothills—the base of mountains—were stark white cloud balls. They looked like the trim on Santa’s hat. It was beautiful and I wished I could have pulled off the road to snap pictures. The shoulder was too saturated. If I stopped, I might never get going again. It’s been raining here for nearly a week and that is highly unusual.

When I arrived home, I didn’t go inside right away. The rain stopped briefly, so I decided to survey my front garden. Nothing is blooming yet, but the green leafy parts are thriving. They love this rain. Some of my plants have doubled in size in the past week. So much to guzzle! Earthworms everywhere, including on one of my boys. He found a worm on the leg of his jeans this morning, curled and somehow clinging to the denim. He plucked it off and tossed it into the mud amazed. How?

He doesn’t stand still long enough for a worm to charge up shoes and pants. Maybe it dropped from a tree? Maybe a robin passing overhead slipped up and let her breakfast go? The worm has a wild story to tell.

Near the edge of the driveway, I stood looking down at a billowing pile of bright green chicks and hens. Tears formed. As if there hasn’t been enough moisture dropping from the heights, I lent a hand to the sky and let loose. I cried on my coat and on my shoes. I cried over the concrete, my nose launching droplets earthbound. Massive life changes are just around the corner of next week. Aidan is graduating from high school and it’s been a long, tough year but she is going to make it. The level of bewilderment I feel is unprecedented. I had no idea what it would be like to be the mother of the grown-up almost-graduate. I suspect that moment her name is called and she strides across a stage to accept her diploma I will be left a bit tattered—in a good way. But I don’t know because I’ve never been here before.

graduate2015Neither has she. Perhaps these last days of school are being perfectly and completely sheltered by the hood of grey above, quieting us with rhythmic splashing taps, stirring us with crashes of thunder, lulling us to deep sleep. Maybe it’s all a reminder to drink, drink, drink these days in as if we, too, are thirsty earth.

Yesterday, I saw blue sky for about twenty minutes. I stepped outside to the back patio and spun like Mary Tyler Moore in Minneapolis.

Within that dizzy hour, sog, sop, slop, slip, drip, drop, droop.

I went to bed early and without apologies. Before I fell asleep, Aidan came into my room and climbed up on the bed. She rested against the headboard. Archie joined us. She said, “Tell us a story, Archie!” and he did. I listened to him but I watched her laugh when he laughed at his own cleverness. She looked grown-up.

A few minutes later, I startled awake. Archie was kissing my forehead and Aidan was gone. “Goodnight, mama!” he whispered.