On many a chilly morning this winter, parents all over the Region awoke to phone calls from groggy school officials announcing either the closing or delay of school for that day. On some weeks, to the delight of kids everywhere, this became more the rule than the exception.
Indeed, it’s been a record-breaking year when it comes to snow days and two-hour delays at Northwest Indiana schools. While a day off of school here and there, as in typical winters, doesn’t have much of a long-term effect on students’ education, this winter’s mass loss of instruction has left educators reeling.
Stacy Harvey, 4th grade teacher at Kenwood Elementary in Hammond, said that after the six closings and six two-hour delays in her district, it was a challenge to get students back into a routine. “They were tired and a little out of sorts,” she said. “Especially on [days with] two-hour delays when they lost a special like gym.”
Teachers have been working hard to make up for lost time. “Right now we are trying to be well planned so we have little down time [during the school day],” Harvey said. “We also need to be careful not to expect too many new concepts to be mastered to make up for all the lost curriculum before testing.”
Parents must also make a concerted effort to ensure their kids are up to speed. “Parents should make sure homework is a priority,” Harvey said.
When a snow day is called—and there may be more this winter—parents are encouraged to lead their kids in some sort of academic activity during the day. Harvey recommends that students read 20 to 30 minutes each day, plus study math facts and concepts they’ve just learned.
Alisa Carlson of LaPorte is a mother of three and a third grade teacher at Marsh Elementary School in Michigan City. During the snow days, she had “school at home” with her kids, ages 9, 8, and 3.
“I chose Language Arts and Math skills based on what extra practice I knew would be a benefit to my children, such as addition with carrying and subtraction with borrowing,” Carlson said. “I also considered skills from their homework that were more challenging than others, like fractions, and I Googled worksheets on those skills.”
Carlson said she wanted the academic activities to have an aspect of fun, so she used a deck of cards to play Addition and Subtraction War and other games (described in the sidebar).
Harvey recommends keeping it light and fun as well. “Have them write about their day or do a fun experiment at home,” she said. “If your child’s school does things online, get them on those sites at home. I blog with my class and loved reading about their snow days and dialoging with them while we were out.”
Parents needn’t attempt to keep the kids busy for the same amount of time they would normally be in school. Harvey said an hour or two throughout the day is sufficient.
Aside from academic activities, parents should enforce healthy lifestyle habits as well. Harvey said to keep kids on the same sleep schedule and to limit their screen time. “Being home all day allows for some extra creative play!”
Boring! Boring! Boring!
That’s how Ron Cohen describes the way most students view history. And so Cohen, who began his passionate interest in history while growing up in Los Angeles in the 1950s and turned it into a profession, earning a PhD and becoming both an author and history professor at Indiana University Northwest, quickly learned to make the subject interesting.
“I never gave a test, and you didn’t have to memorize anything,” said Cohen, now a professor emeritus at IU Northwest and author of numerous books including "Children of the Mill: Schooling and Society in Gary, Indiana, 1906-1960" and "Woody Guthrie: Writing America’s Songs." “No facts, no bull. History is about people, history is stories.”
Stories indeed. Can anything be more salacious than Henry VIII who “legally” murdered two of his wives and divorced two others so he could marry the woman of the moment (one other wife died in childbirth and the last of the six, hanging tenuously by a thread, lucked out when Henry himself keeled over after a riotous life of hard living)? Oh and did we mention the number of friends Henry had beheaded because they didn’t agree with him and even his penchant for forcing his sisters into loveless marriage so that he could gain lands and allies? That’s hardly boring.
“If you do portraits about the past, remembering facts is easier because students have found the stories interesting and will remember times and dates and why things happened,” said Cohen. “But you do not say name three causes of the Revolutionary War and list the presidents in order from the first one. That’s boring.”
Instead Cohen suggested parents who want to instill an interest in history ask children to write about their family, an idea he said he got from a friend.
“Say if their grandfather was alive in World War II, ask them to write about that era,” he said. “It helps connect someone they know to the past. It’s connecting your personal with local history and national history. If someone in the family worked in the mills, then they can write about how the mills came to be here and how that attracted people to the area. Or if your parents were from Mexico, have them explore why they came here.”
Stephen McShane, who has co-authored "Moonlight in Duneland: The Illustrated Story of the Chicago South Shore and South Bend Railroad" (Quarry Books) with Cohen and "Steel Giants: Historic Images from the Calumet Regional Archives" (Indiana University Press) with Gary Wilk, has taught history at Indiana University Northwest and now is the archivist and curator for the IU Northwest Calumet Regional Archives, which for the past 25 years has collected, preserved and made available thousands of historical records documenting the growth and development of Northwest Indiana, also emphasizes tying the current to the past in order to evoke interest.
“Visuals are also good,” he said, noting that he is hopeful that shows like those on The History Channel will increase interest in history.
McShane noted matching history to a person’s ethnicity, religion or gender can also make those necessary connections. It’s matching kids with the personal. Young girls might be much more interested in learning about females in history rather than just slogging through biographies of famous men.
Don’t just talk about history, recreate it. The more senses involved in learning, the more the lesson takes hold.
For parents trying to help their children develop an interest in connecting to the past, think of a multi-sensory approach to the subject by staging reenactments. A child studying about the Revolutionary War, a mini-reenactment of such events as Washington cross the Delaware or Paul Revere making his daring ride can use their creativity to bring the scene to life with costumes and props like a couple of cushions becoming Washington’s boat or a broom a horse. Clothes, old hats or whatever can be used for costumes. Re-enactments enliven the imagination as do questions like, "What would have happened if Washington had fallen off the boat?", "How cold do you think it was?", "What would have happened if Revere’s horse went lame?" "What could they have done then? What would you do?"
“I am passionately interested in understanding how my country works,” said Ken Burns, director of such powerful historic mini-series as Thomas Jefferson, Jazz and The Civil War, when asked why he explored history in his films. “And if you want to know about this thing called the United States of America you have to know about the Civil War.”
Cohen, mentioning Erik Larsson, author of "The Devil in the White City," said it’s important to read authors who can make history come alive. Libraries have lists of historic fiction for kids including such classics as the Little House on the Prairie series.
For those of us who remember when museums were all about don’t touch and everything was encased in glass, there’s a whole new wonderful world out there. Most museums and historic sites have interactives as well as children’s areas for hands-on activities. And even if you can’t get there, there are online interactive activities to get kids interested. Colonial Williamsburg has a kid’s page with such options as iPad compatible Colonial Days Coloring Book, Mr. Jefferson’s Magical Maze and Treasure Trek—a Colonel era scavenger hunt where you hunt for such items as an anvil (clue: look where the blacksmith works) hand bellows and brass candlesticks. (history.org/kids/games). The Indianapolis Children’s Museum offers online games for Pre-Kindergarten to 8th grade like Build Your Robot, Dinosphere, ABC for non-readers and Make a Movie (childrensmuseum.org/games).
When he was younger and not as wise to the ways of the world, Leland Culver thought being president of the United States would be great. But now that he’s 12 and has had time to observe more of life, he’s not so sure.
“Being older, I can see how hard of a job it is,” said Culver. “Have you seen Obama lately? He’s really aged. Poor guy.”
But still there was a time when like many youngsters, Culver, who attends the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, contemplated what being president would mean to him.
“I’d enjoy having a really big house to explore,” he said.
But big houses, even the White House, are no longer a priority.
“I’d focus on world hunger,” said Culver, who lives in Miller Beach, listing what he thinks is most important for a president to do. “Not long ago we had a hunger banquet at our school. We entered the lunchroom and got a card. I was in the middle class so I just got rice and beans for lunch. The high class got spaghetti, bread sticks, salad and brownies while the low class just got rice.”
Though rice and beans seems somewhat limiting for the middle class, Culver points out that they’re a whole meal in themselves because “it’s a complete amino acid.”
Culver said his interest in solving world hunger is motivated by the posters in his school’s cafeteria detailing hunger statistics.
“About half of the world falls into the rice or low class ranking,” said Culver, “another 30 percent in the rice and beans/middle class and 20 percent in the high class.”
In order to eradicate world hunger, Culver said he would appoint a team of allies and work at cooperating with other countries on the issue.
“That’s because world hunger is worldwide,” he said. “So I’d probably conduct a worldwide census and find out every person who can’t support their family, and then we would need to figure out how to give them rations and then how to get the high class to share. A few might do it, but the hardest part of that is it’s kind of against man’s human nature because we’re very protective about what we have.”
World hunger is also the number one objective for Benjamin Shade, a fourth grade student at Discovery Charter School in Portage if or when he’s elected president.
“I’d try to stop world hunger by getting people to donate money or food every year if they could but they don’t have to,” he said. “Sometimes people overbuy stuff that they don’t need, and they could donate that. Every Tuesday I‘d a have machine that could let people know what food to donate and where.”
In his job as president, Shade said if he encounters a problem he can’t solve on his own, he’d ask others to help.
Eleven-year-old Annali Sasak has quite a list of issues that she would tackle if president.
“I don’t like war,” said the fifth grader who also attends Discovery Charter School. “I think I’d try to keep us from having more wars.”
She would also give more money to cancer research. “So people won’t die," she said, "and I’d get rid of really violent video game because they lead to shooting and violence in real life.”
Sasak’s 9-year-old brother Owen is somewhat more measured when it comes to outlawing all violent video games.
“I would make sure that the video games would be like Robot and LEGO violent where there’s no blood or gore but not real violent ones,” he said. “And I also will make sure health insurance is more affordable for everyone.”
When elected, Owen Sasak would solicit donations “for people to have houses and that they have sausages to put in their refrigerators and refrigerators to keep their sausages cold and that they have other food too.”
His sister, who believes girls can be as good at running this country as boys, also would add eliminating violent TV shows to her list.
“And only the police and people who need guns should have them,” she adds in keeping with “I love peace” persona.
While Shade still thinks being president could be cool, Culver’s ambivalence is reflective of what ABC News said is a growing trend among youngsters.
According to their Weekly Reader poll, nearly eight out of 10, a majority of teens, while thinking they could become president, don’t want the job, thank you very much.
Their reasoning? Forty percent cite either a lack of interest in politics or other career plans; 20 percent think the job comes with too much pressure and responsibility; for 15 percent it's too much work while 14 percent don’t think they could do the job well enough. The remaining five percent say there's too much arguing involved.
With politicians from Indiana and Illinois having their quirks and odd trivia and Presidents Day nearly here (Feb. 17) here are fun facts and tidbits about a governor and three presidents. One sold furniture, another won two Grammys, one dreamed about his own death, and one sported a blue polka-dot tie during campaigns.
President Barack Obama
It was President Obama -- whose first name, Barack, means “one who is blessed” in Swahili -- who won two Grammys for Best Spoken Word Album for his two books, "Dreams From My Father" and "The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream." Oddly, an important achievement isn’t mentioned in the sources listed here: He is the nation’s first African-American president.
- Appeared on “Saturday Night Live” as himself in 2007.
- His grandmother died the day before he was elected president in 2008
- Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009.
- The foreclosure rumor about his Hyde Park, Ill., home? False.
President Abraham Lincoln
The connection between Abraham Lincoln to LaPorte County, Ind., seems pretty clear to Fern Eddy Schultz, county historian. She’s on a committee that plans to recreate Lincoln's 1865 funeral procession through the county—part of a plan to trace the entire route from Washington, D.C. to Springfield, Ill., in 2015, marking the sesquicentennial of Lincoln’s assassination.
The train crossed through LaPorte County on the New Albany Railroad—now the Monon—including a brief stop in Westville. “When it came to Michigan City, there was a big observance. We’re going to try to replicate that,” said Schultz.
Serendipity resulted in the LaPorte County Historical Museum having one of the signs marking the funeral route. “INDOT (Indiana Department of Transportation) found the marker in a back yard. They called (the museum) and asked if we wanted it,” recalled Schultz, who seemed mighty pleased.
Springfield, Ill., may boast of Lincoln’s heritage, but Indiana has Lincoln Boyhood National memorial just southeast of Evansville; LaPorte has Lincoln Way (highway) and Lincoln School, and Michigan City has Lincoln Avenue.
- His wife’s wealthy family objected to the marriage.
- He was the first president to be assassinated.
- Through deep depression, he still frequently told stories and jokes to friends and family.
- At 6’4”, the tallest U.S president
- First president to have a beard.
- Had a premonition he would be killed
President William Harrison
Hammond (Ind.) High School alum Bob Chapman, a history buff, can rattle off the details of the president, whose nickname was “Tippecanoe.”
“Harrison led the battle against (the Prophet), at the Tippecanoe and Wabash rivers in 1811 (in West Lafayette, Ind.) His victory was not so subtly referred to in his presidential campaign: 'Tippecanoe and Tyler, too.' John Tyler was his running mate."
- He died of pneumonia just one month into his presidency.
- His grandson, Benjamin Harrison, became president in 1889-1893.
Governor Harold Handley
Harold Handley’s career may have started out at a furniture store in his hometown of LaPorte, Ind., but soon he became a politician, eventually winning the Indiana gubernatorial seat. Well-liked, he made friends easily.
- He was a large, gregarious man
- Indiana state senator, 1940-1941
- That term interrupted by army service in World War II.
- Re-elected to the state senate in 1948 and lieutenant governor in 1952.
- Ran for governor and lost in 1952
- Elected governor: (1957-1961) in 1956.
- Political trademark: a blue polka-dot tie.
So on Presidents Day, impress friends and co-workers with your trivia knowledge —but try not to sound too much like Cliff Clavin on “Cheers.”
When it’s time for homework in Rebecca Sasak’s house, she first composes a study area where her two children, ages 11 and 8, will work into a space as serene as possible.
“I might light a candle and adjust the lighting,” said Sasak, a licensed acupuncturist with a master of science in traditional oriental medicine and owner of Thrive Acupuncture with offices in Miller Beach and Valparaiso. “I try to create a cozy and calm environment with as little distractions as possible.”
There was a time when only teenagers seemed to be loaded down with homework, but now even fist and second graders may have a project or worksheets to do. And that perception is a fact according to a study from the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan which found that time spent on home study by 6- to 8-year-old children more than doubled between 1981 and 1997. In 1981, students ages 6 to 8 spent about 52 minutes a week doing homework. By 1997, it was 128 minutes. With such competing demands as sports, scouts, dance and whatever else is on a kid’s agenda plus the basic fact that homework isn’t fun—getting homework done without fuss, tears or, in more extreme cases, tantrums often seems an impossible task.
“Timing is important,“ said Sasak whose children attend Discovery Charter School in Chesterton. “It’s got to before they’re too tired. Otherwise, they’re going to be upset, and it’s more difficult.”
Donna Simon, who lives in Miller Beach, often helps her three grandsons—Ben, a fourth grader and second grade twins, Nicholas and Daniel, with their homework. “Kids not only have more homework, they have a lot more going on now too as well as more distractions. They’ve had a long day by the time they sit down to do their homework. They’ve been at school all day and often have had activities afterwards. They need to eat so they’re not hungry, but you don’t want to wait too late in the evening or they’ll be too tired.”
Simon establishes some rules—the television is never on when it’s homework time. She also tries to make a game of the work they have to do.
“I worked on spelling with the twins earlier tonight,” she said during an interview. “I had them each say a letter when they were practicing spelling their words. They had a good time doing it.”
Despite having worked in the Gary Public Schools for 35 years as both an English, speech and drama teacher at schools like Kenney-King and King Academy and also as a school librarian. Simon still sometimes has to figure out what the assignments are all about.
“They had charts with pictographs and were supposed to show different numbers like 35,” she said noting that parents should review the assignments first so they understand it and can better explain it. “A smiley face equaled ten. Once I figured that out, we had fun doing it.”
Other important considerations include letting the child be part of the process within reasonable limits. If they’d rather play first, that’s okay unless they’re too tired after to sit and do their work.
Also, it is good to help them understand why they have to do more work even if they’re not in school. Explain to them why homework is important such as it helps reinforce what was taught in school, it helps us learn more about a subject, it helps us learn to work more on our own which is important as we move up to higher grades. This won’t make them like homework more, but at least it helps kids understand why they’re doing.
Avoid telling your children that homework is just busy work, if a parent denigrates it, the child will too. For older students, rewards and consequences can also be effective.
There’s also a more drastic solution if doing homework becomes too much of an ongoing struggle. Move to France where French President Francois Hollande opines that homework penalizes children with difficult home situations and offered a plan that eliminates homework for elementary and junior high students.
But before packing your bags, consider this—French students typically are in school for eight hours a day. Though there is no nationwide standard in the U.S., the average school day here is about 6.7 hours. Once your child hears that, he or she may decide that homework isn’t so bad after all.