Author Archives: Heather Shumaker

Recess is as vital as Lunch

What if you heard a teacher say: “Your assignment is late. You can’t eat lunch today.” Preposterous, we say. Lunch is essential for giving kids energy. It boosts brain power, helps focus and concentration, and gives kids a social break. … Continue reading

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3 Responses to Recess is as vital as Lunch

  1. deidra says:

    My son’s old school withheld recess for kids who did not complete their work. When I complained and said it was a punishment, the principal wrote back and said it was a consequence and not a punishment. It happened to other kids in his class and other kids at the school. I am really not sure how she was able to get away with it, because the NYC DOE Wellness Department had a policy prohibiting the use of physical as a punishment or reward and a policy against withholding recess as punishment.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Wow – a school violating its own policy about not withholding recess. A true educational and cultural gap there. Glad he’s at a new school!

      • deidra says:

        We are very happy too. His day is a little longer, but the trade off is 30-45 minutes for lunch and 45 minutes for recess. A much less hectic and more humane lunch/recess period.

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Kindergarten Crash

If you have a new kindergartener, perhaps this scene happens in your family: Sudden crash when you get home. Screams. Tears. Droops. Falling asleep in the car or on the sofa. You know something’s not right. What is it? Kindergarten Crash. … Continue reading

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8 Responses to Kindergarten Crash

  1. janwsyc@yahoo.com says:

    I totally agree with you Heather. Many elementary teachers don’t know child development which I would think would be a requirement of their teaching position. A professor in my graduate school class asked me what I thought early childhood education was missing in their curriculum some 20 years ago. I said social and emotional development which is the most important in preschool. Lots of preschools have caught on. Too bad most elementary educators haven’t learned this! What is wrong with the system??? Jan Waters

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      I’ve heard from many kindergarten teachers who know kids need something different – yet they are part of school systems that require a set curriculum. It’s heart breaking for these fine educators who feel their hands are tied and can’t give kids what they most need.

  2. I observed with mixed emotions yesterday the beginning of all-day kindergarten as mandated by my home state of Minnesota. I don’t know if it’s required for the children to attend or just required of all schools to offer ADK, but I wasn’t aware that kindergarten is optional. Perhaps that fact is conveniently hidden from public view by those for whom controlling children longer each day is in their best interest. If ADK is optional, I’m sorry that most parents leap at the chance to dump their kids into the hands of “the system” at such an early age.

    At the same time, I am mollified by the fact that many kindergarteners in my town can now spend a full day, five days a week, away from their godawful home situations. We have a sizeable share of free- and reduced-price-lunch eligible families in town. As a former Big Brother to a Little who came from a poor home with little discipline, supervision, and parental guidance, I’m glad that maybe a few more kids can be influenced positively by more exposure to a safer, saner environment than they get at home.

    But on balance, no kindergarten, or home schooling if school attendance is required, is the way to go. Most kids can easily be taught at home what they learn in school, outside of some social graces. But as you say, the vast majority of kids grow up in day care, so socialization is no longer the issue it once was.

    Great post as always, Heather

    Chris

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Chris, yes, it’s often presented as “of course you have to go to kindergarten.” Minnesota’s new law seems to similar – kindergarten is still OPTIONAL, but it’s presented as the start of school. Ex: “Thanks to a law signed by Gov. Mark Dayton in May, all Minnesota families will have the option of sending their young children to all-day kindergarten free of charge.” The previous law was that parents had “the option” to send their kids to half-day kindergarten.

      The other issue you bring up is frequently used to advocate for early childhood programs. Especially for kids from dysfunctional homes, kindergarten and preschool need to be a time for social and emotional learning and processing.

  3. Erika Cedillo says:

    I wish I had read this last year! I feel you because we went through the same and you put it in clear words!! And after this year I totally agree with you, the adults’ expectations from a kindergardener are way too high, we need to readjust to their real age. My story has the twist that my girl has a developmental delay and all they could see were her behaviours. It was really hard to make them see further that she was really communicating, with her actions she was trying to tell that things were not good for her. I also agree with you that we need to read the signs and advocate strongly for our kids, that’s what I did. In addition, I have decided to hold her back and do KG again, but this is related with her being born in the fall and her delay. Thanks so much for your blog!

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Thanks for sharing your story, Erika. Yes, all behavior has meaning, and your daughter was certainly communicating. So glad you stood up for your child and found a solution that works for your family. All the best for this year.

  4. Mel B says:

    Interesting. I have twins currently in ADK. One thriving, one in melt-down mode. I have lots of thinking to do. The “twin” issue complicates it even more. Leave one in and allow the other a shorter week? What does that do to the sibling dynamic? How will my 3rd grader and the twin Kindergartner react if I allow a shorter week for the melt-down Kindergartner? I’m quite positive they would ALL like to stay home 1-2 days/week. Hmmm…will be a good discussion for my husband and I.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Ah yes, the sibling question. Thanks for writing. Sounds as if you will have good discussions with your husband about this and I’m sure you’ll come up with a good solution. Here’s some ideas you might find useful or could help other families in a similar spot.

      It’s certainly easier with older siblings – acknowledge what you’re doing and why. “This is what a 5-year-old needs. When you were 5, we made sure we met your needs. Now Jacob’s 5. He needs more time to rest.” You can tell your older child stories about when s/he was 5. Describe what her kindergarten year was like, what you did to meet her needs.

      As the parent of twins, you certainly are used to navigating the extra challenges of fairness between twins. Besides fairness, there’s individual needs. “You were both born on the same day, but different people have different needs. It’s my job to support each of my kid’s needs.” There’s no harm in giving both kindergarteners a rest day sometimes, but if one is truly thriving and loving ADK, you might try giving the thriving twin an option at early pick-up time. If s/he’s already happily engrossed in class when you come along with an option to go home, your child might say “Oh, no, I want to stay and do this.”

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Simple Hellos

When I talk about raising children, people often ask me about manners, particularly greetings. As we think about what’s truly polite, it’s good to step back and examine how we greet people ourselves. Last week I flew out to a … Continue reading

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4 Responses to Simple Hellos

  1. janwsyc@yahoo.com says:

    You are so right on Heather!! well said Jan

  2. I second that “well said.” Always feels ingenuous to say “great” in response to “Hi, how are you?” or similar greetings. Maybe we should come up with a greeting exchange that’s closer to neutral rather than encouraging everyone to be happy and having to pretend everything is perfect in your world as well.

    Chris

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Yes, pretending hurts the spirit. Passing people on the sidewalk, I say “hello” or “good morning.” With friends and family it can be neutral to say “It’s good to see you.” That leaves it open to all emotions – it’s good to see you, no matter what emotions you have with you today. Let me know what you come up with!

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Parent Signatures: Teaching Kids we don’t Trust Them

It’s still summer vacation in most parts of the U.S., but soon the dreaded Signatures will return. I’m talking about parent signatures on everything from school work to piano lessons. It used to be that parents signed their names for two … Continue reading

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8 Responses to Parent Signatures: Teaching Kids we don’t Trust Them

  1. Melya Long says:

    Thanks for the article Heather. I do not think Alberta Education has reached such a regulated level. I work with preschoolers and although the demands are not so extreme, sometimes I wonder if Child Care Licensing will reach that extreme. There are so many common sense practices that have become regulated and I hope signatures will not become one of them. One of my first jobs is to cultivate trust with the parents. Children learn from that too. One of the Covey’s wrote a great book on trust. Cultivating trust within families is so important. A new chapter needs to be added regarding the education system in the US.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Melya, So glad signatures are not part of your program’s day! As you say, cultivating trust is the first step. Everyone needs to feel safe before learning can take place, and that safe feeling starts with trust.

  2. deidra says:

    We treat our children with so little distrust in so many ways in the school system. Most schools don’t even let kids second grade and higher walk up to the classroom themselves before school starts. They have to wait in the cafeteria until the teacher comes up and escorts all the students at once up to their room. What does this say? I don’t trust that you are capable of walking up to the room by yourself to put your things away and find something to do (read, write in your journal, play with math blocks) until I am ready to start instruction. Will a child make a mistake? Of course they will. But then you talk about it and what is expect ed of them. Kids have so little power these days, we have to throw them a bone once and awhile. It means the world to them and teaches responsibility.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Hmm…I hadn’t heard of schools that don’t let kids walk to their own classrooms. Certainly shows lack of trust and stifling of independence, probably in the name of safety. I’m thinking of calling one of my new chapters “Safety Second.” Experiencing reasonable power is necessary at all ages.

  3. JR says:

    I agree that we are over-emphasizing parent signatures and that it has all of the negative effects you describe. However, it does one thing: insulate schools from the “you didn’t tell me” of helicopter parents who refuse to allow their children to fail, ore even to struggle. Some of these parents either do not understand or do not appreciate the value – nay, the necessity – of the struggle in learning. Unfortunately I think the hyper-signing is here to stay until helicoptering is under control.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Love it! Glad it has been working so well for you. Vicki Hoefle has a lot of wisdom, doesn’t she?

      Thanks so much for sharing what worked for your family. Year by year I tell teachers they won’t be seeing my signature on spelling lists and other logs. It gets harder as more teachers get involved.

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Dealing with Disasters

The plane over the Ukraine this week shocked the world’s adults. What about the children? It can be tricky to talk about disasters in the news.  Kids don’t need to know about many disasters, but some events are so big … Continue reading

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Yes, There are Bad Guys

When the film “12 Years a Slave” came out, an adult friend of mine asked: “Should I watch it?” Yes. It’s an uncomfortable topic, and difficult to watch in places, but the history it covers deserves attention. Adults must participate … Continue reading

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4 Responses to Yes, There are Bad Guys

  1. Your best point was starting a dialogue early and adding bits of information gradually as the child grows and understands more. Sound advice.

    I don’t remember when I first heard of historical atrocities. I guess around 5th or 6th grade. We had a large Jewish community in town, and the teachers would occasionally bring in Holocaust survivors who lived in town to tell us first hand what they went through. Seeing tattoos of their prisoner numbers on their arms helped me understand that real people were harmed, not just a statistic in a history book.

    Chris

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Yes, we had real life people come to our school, too, but this is almost a thing of the past as far as WWII goes. We still can make it human for people by telling stories, especially stories about children so kids can identify with them.

  2. Emily Plank, Abundant Life Children says:

    Did you happen to see this article? http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2014/07/09/should-books-for-childrens-be-political/dont-shy-away-from-books-about-tough-issues — Similar to what you are talking about. When we traveled this last spring, we were faced with some difficult history in some of the countries we stopped in: Vietnam and Ghana, in particular. Plus, we saw evidence of lots of human suffering. We kept the conversations simple, but we told our kids about the Vietnam war and about the slave trade. We also told them that we have a responsibility to work for fairness for everyone — these lessons have been significant. I think you bring up a really good point about not waiting for 7th grade when they get flooded with all the horrors at once.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Yes! Thank you, Emily. Some good thoughts about what the role of children’s books is. Books are a godsend for teaching about so many difficult topics.

      Wow – sounds as if your kids saw slave centers first hand. Sobering. Glad you were able to give them simple explanations that fit their ages. This is the first step in a life long of caring and justice-seeking ahead of them.

      It’s important we show what we’re working towards, and not paralyze kids. Thanks for sharing.

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Groups and Forced Participation

Kids spend much of their young lives herded into groups. Now we’ll sing, now we’ll march in a circle, now everybody clap your hands. Many group activities are terrific fun for young children. Kids often gravitate toward the group and … Continue reading

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19 Responses to Groups and Forced Participation

  1. Patty Horvath says:

    I really loved this article. I am a para professional in Dade Co. Schools and have been trying to get this across to the teacher in my class all year. It is good to see it in print. I also liked the examples to connect with these children.

  2. Jenifer says:

    I was thinking about this regarding my daughter (who is almost 4) and kindergarten/grade school. She’s always been comfortable and happy watching activity at preschool or anywhere else until she feels ready to join (which doesn’t always happen). I worry about her being forced to join story time, and worse, music class or gym class. She’s got two years until she’s eligible to start public school, so I know she’ll change a lot, but it’s definitely something I’ll be giving a lot of thought to over the next couple years.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Three is an age many kids thrive as observers. Glad you’re thinking about this issue. Sometimes just letting other adults know you’re fine with her observing style is all it takes to make everyone comfortable. An “It’s OK with me if it’s OK with you” can take you a long way.

  3. I am very grateful for your article. You have touched on a very delicate subject and handled it perfectly, I am not sure what happens in the classroom of all ages, but we forget the individual child the moment they enter a center. Your article deals with all ages in care. Some of the youngest infants are exposed to circle time and report cards when they enter care. Often times a child’s facial expression isnot taken into account when herded into group activities. I understand that children have to comply, but when they cannot for whatever reason, they can be labeled as non-compliant, learning disabled and the list goes on. Your post is so valuable. I wish we could rethink these group activities for the very young. There will be plenty of time for children to stand in line and wait.

  4. Jennifer says:

    I am an EC teacher in a self-contained classroom for children with autism. We have desks, bean bags, etc. where students can sit away from the group, yet have parallel participation. In addition, we have “break cards” available for those willing to sit with the group, but may become overstimulated during a lesson. Students with autism often struggle to look, listen, sit, and process information simultaneously. It is often in their best interest to let them keep a comfortable distance and interact at their own pace to avoid anxiety, overstimulation, and/or unwanted behaviors. Thank you for this article. I think it applies to all children, especially those with sensory processing issues.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      You bring up important points. There’s such a range of individuals, and groups do provide an enormous amount of stimulation. Keep up your wonderful work.

  5. CJ says:

    I like this but I would like more information on what is developmentally appropriate. What age do we start working with them to identify what they are feeling so they can learn to get over their fears? I doubt a fifth grade teacher is going to be ok with a child sitting out of whatever activity they choose, at some point we have to teach them that they are going to have to do things they don’t want to, like homework. I definitely agree with this article but there has got to be a next step here to transition them from young learners exploring themselves and their world to academic achievers that are learning that the world has rules and expectations of them.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I’d certainly ask a 2-year-old on up if they’re scared of something, or something’s bothering them. You never know what it might be. A scary-looking tree branch by the window, a kid who pushes them… As for transitioning to the next stage, that’s an excellent question. I believe it’s a gradual combination of both respecting individual styles/ fears and setting expectations. Other ideas?

  6. In my recently published book All About Bullying (Alles over pesten, see url) I approach the problem of bullying from a psychological, sociological, historical and philosophical perspective. The idea of a childhood in which a child grows up with allmoste uniquely other children from the same age (as happens in schools), is quite new. People used to live in vertical groups (different ages), which had two important benefits: 1) your position (and status) is a given fact which automatically changes in time (for new group members arrive and old members die) and 2) social knowledge about group life can be transferred from one generation to the next. These are two important features that lack in schools, where children have to define their position in the group against other group members of the same age, and without the knowledge of how to be a positve and supportive group. That is an important reason why bullying is a main problem in schools. Now, with regard to your story I would like to add the possibility of bullying: the child is bullied, the group is not safe. Of course this refers to your suggestion that a child might be worried, but if he or she is bullied, there is also a possibility that he or she cannot tell you about it, for this will reinforce the bullies and the child will severely be punished for telling.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Best of luck with your book. Yes, groups are not always safe. Kids – spectators, not just the picked on child – need support speaking up and setting limits on behavior that hurts people.

  7. Loved this line, “Don’t force kids to participate, but don’t let their actions disrupt the group.”
    Thanks for this nice short article!

  8. vannamaria kalofonos says:

    very very true- it’s hard to convince teachers to allow children not to participate or join when they are ready

  9. Gina says:

    Thank you for this article. On my son’s first day of Kindergarten, I was asked to see the teacher after class. She told me my son was extremely defiant. Horrified, I asked what happened. She said he refused to to stand up and introduce himself when it was explained that the whole class would have to. She then asked if he frequently displayed this type of defiant behavior. I thought “Really?? A new school, new teacher, new classmates, is it any wonder why he might be hesitant?”. It’s too bad she didn’t read this article.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Gina, this story is remarkable – except that it’s also unfortunately common. Thanks so much for sharing. Would you mind if I share this story as an example? Hope your son’s found a better fit this school year!

      • Gina says:

        Please, feel free to share. It is my hope that no child should have to be labeled “defiant” when the whole situation isn’t taken into account.
        Yes, thank goodness, this year he has a better fit!

        • As I kindergarten teacher, I always am careful not to create situations where the children are forced to be self-conscious and often embarrassed. Their consciousness of self is slowly waking up, at their own rate, and does not need to be forced. Some children simply are not ready to be noticed by naming themselves, or even being part of a daily ‘show-and-tell.’ And I have visited so many early childhood programs where indeed the children are made to introduce themselves, to “share” something for their experiences, etc…It is because adults in general seem not to understand early childhood development and it makes me sad.

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Of Cauliflower and Cardboard: Finding Good Daycare

When I was on maternity leave and searching for good daycare, I had definite ideas about what I wanted to see before trusting my child to a stranger. My original criteria included being home-based, play-based, having no TV and good … Continue reading

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2 Responses to Of Cauliflower and Cardboard: Finding Good Daycare

  1. Kelly says:

    These are the signs of a good provider, in my book, after working in child care for 15 years. Luckily, after a rough start, we found someone that meets all of these needs. You want to walk with 8-10 kids (including my two year old twins) to the park a block away on a regular basis? Perfect! You have a “no thank you bite” policy on veggies? Perfect! You spend the majority of your afternoon outside? Perfect! You spend the majority of your mornings reading stories either one on one or in small groups and then engaging the kids in elaborate pretend games? Perfect! If a child doesn’t want to participate in the activity you planned for the day, you let them choose from a whole host of developmentally appropriate but challenging and fun activities? YOU ARE MY HERO.

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      So glad you found the perfect spot for your family. Sounds as if you have a confident provider and I hope you shower him/her with thanks. As your story demonstrates, it’s common for families to start off with a “rough start” and then settle in to finding the right person to fill their needs.

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Summer Slide or School Slide?

As the school year wraps up, the usual things come home in my kids’ backpacks – stubby pencils, forgotten jackets, artwork, end-of-year piles of papers. But one item startled me. It was a note assuming I was scared of summer: … Continue reading

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8 Responses to Summer Slide or School Slide?

  1. Erika Cedillo says:

    I loved your post!! We are just experiencing the first year at school with my oldest daughter and I was getting on that mood but your post just reminded me that summer is about life and fun. I really loved it!! Thanks for reminding us how much our children learn from playing and exploring the world around them.

  2. I agree with everything you wrote, Heather. One of my strongest recurring end of school year memories is all the plans I was making to “do stuff” during the summer. Nothing related to school usually. Mostly games I wanted to play, places in town I wanted to explore, what my friends and I would do with our days, going to the beach, playing baseball or softball, going to the local park and doing all the activities the “park leaders” would facilitate.

    Perhaps most important, the chance to run, jump, climb, get caught in the rain, do “nothing” and come home at the end of the day dirty, sweaty, tired, but glad it was only one day out of about 90. So I guess what I learned during summer was how to be a kid.

    I don’t worry about anything being lost during the school year because the act of learning in a certain genre is what’s really taught. By genre I mean- music is an aural language and playing music or singing teaches us to use that part of our brain which requires us to use our hearing to analyze, adjust, synchronize with other musicians. Math is a numerical language that teaches us to use the calculator part of our brain. Reading is a visual language that teaches us to develop our word and thought forming skills. Visual Art is a tactile, sensual language that teaches us how to create or reproduce shapes, colors, three-dimensional objects and better understand what makes an object pleasant to look at or touch.

    When I was in band all through school, I rarely remembered any pieces we performed or practiced that year. But the next year I had improved and was able to play successively more difficult music because I had gone through the process of developing my skills one piece at a time, one note at a time. It’s the doing part of the learning that’s most important, not the retention part of the learning. Retention comes after the doing.

    Chris

  3. Heather Shumaker says:

    Thanks for sharing your memories, Chris. Love your phrase “it’s the doing part of learning that’s most important.”

  4. CJ says:

    Thank you for this post! I’m so sick of hearing about the “summer slide” in the media I want to scream! As a preschool teacher for the last 12 years, every year I seem to see more and more 3-5 year olds who don’t have the chance to just explore, dream and, yes, learn during the summer. And they are, in my opinion, suffering because of it. My children are grown now, but I was very blessed to be able to let them have their summers to “think their own thoughts, play their own games, and take a break from academics.” They were able to do things and explore things during the summer that they didn’t have the opportunity to during the school year. My oldest, my daughter, in now in a very competitive graduate program studying Physical Therapy. My youngest, my son, will be a junior in college this fall, and plans to continue on in grad school in Audiology. Did they suffer “summer slide” during their summers “off”? Absolutely NOT! They have become well-rounded adults because they were able to do all that you talk about in your post. Very sorry for the long post, but I wanted young parents to know that it IS OK!

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Thanks for your encouragement to all parents raising kids out there. Fear and worry can get out of hand. Many thanks for adding your voice.

  5. Nikki Stahl says:

    Your new slogan:

    It’s okay to play.

    I want to wear a t-shirt and shout it from the rooftops!

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Screen Time for Parents

I remember when I first saw someone walking down the street with a cell phone to their ear. It was a remarkable sight, and not that long ago.  Now what’s remarkable is seeing someone who’s NOT got a device attached … Continue reading

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4 Responses to Screen Time for Parents

  1. I think the electronic distractions will get worse until it gets so pervasive that it becomes “cool” to not be attached to an electronic device. Unfortunately, our kids will suffer because they’ll learn to behave by watching Mom and Dad. And when the kids have children of their own, their children might rebel against their parents completely ignoring them because they’re a slave to their devices.
    I only hope we don’t become a world of zombies wandering around with our eyes glued to a screen.

    My only tip is that real life is not what you see on a screen! Put it away and look at the beautiful scenery instead of videoing it with your cell phone! Bend over and smell the flowers instead of googling roses on Wikipedia to find out what they smell like. Attend a concert in the park in your town and listen to a live band rather than check the latest one-hit wonder out on YouTube.

    Chris

  2. Nikki Stahl says:

    I still don’t have a smartphone for this reason. It’s too hard to parent while being that distracted. And, I’ll admit that I’m just as addicted to the Internet as everyone else.

    There are so many emotional/educational/social development reasons to not be on a cell phone when you’re with your children, BUT what gets me the most is how unsafe it is.

    We live in a region surrounded by water and everywhere I go I see parents with small children, near water, distracted by their cell phones. You see it so much, it hardly even registers in your brain that it shouldn’t be done, but when a two-year-old wanders into a boat ramp with a car backing down, and nobody notices, it is just terrifying. I’m hoping there comes a day when beaches and other public water access areas have signs posting about the dangers of phones and kids.

    Of course, this is not just limited to water. The just-walking toddler on the top of the jungle gym makes me cringe just as much.

    But, I shouldn’t just write about it here. I should do something about it!

    • Heather Shumaker says:

      Thanks for your thoughtful post. “It’s too hard to parent while being that distracted.” Parenting requires a lot of multi-tasking as it is, devices can make our patience and thinking skills even more fragmented.

      Beaches and phones – yes, that is a new danger. Thanks for pointing it out.

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