The War on Sugar-AHHHHHH By Guest Bloggers, Leigh and Meg

lollipops-602441_640Our guests this week are Leigh and Meg from the popular motherhood blog, Me and Meg. Leigh and Meg blog about ups and downs of motherhood with just the right amount of snark. They are witty, humble and kick-ass at Cross Fit (and other fitness-y things!). Think you’ve heard of them? I wouldn’t be surprised because they are contributors to Global Morning Show, Parentdish.ca and “What She Said” Canada Talks on SiriusXM Radio.

Thank you ladies for giving us your two cents on this topical issue.

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The War on sugar is real! We fight it daily with our kids. Our war consists mainly of our kids asking for some sugar-laden snack and us saying “no”.  We are very conscious of how much they consumer daily. That means water is what you can find in their bottles always and they rarely get anything at the arena snack bar – we are real drags as mothers.

It doesn’t stop at sugar, what about preservatives! There is a whole world of bad food out there worth avoiding….

What we have seen happen in our children’s school is an increase use of candy as a reward in class, quite the opposite of a sugar ban.

With so many “fads”  one can prescribe to now and ever-changing research on the food industry it’s difficult to say what is the right choice or the “most” healthy for our children – just ask a vegetarian or talk to someone who adheres to a paleo diet. Could you find a larger chasm in what is nutritional and optimal for our health than that? Recently we read that it’s not sugar itself that is the nasty school yard
bully but sugar and fat TOGETHER. Right okay. Like ice cream, give us some. Our kids go crazy over it too. Do we think it’s bad for their overall health? No.

Do we think a world where schools do not allow sugar is the right choice? No, that’s ludicrous. The path to a healthy lifestyle involves moderation, which means having the odd juice box, and treat. We are better off teaching our kids what healthy choices are and empowering them to make well-balanced decisions.

The schools should focus on a holistic approach to health, remember getting changed for gym class? We do. Our kids don’t do that. Let’s bring back physical activity EVERYDAY in our schools and not make any one food forbidden.

As for the  birthday treats at school-we say skip those too.

Banning Sugar In Schools Doesn’t Teach Healthy Habits

cake-pops-684163__180Not that long ago there was some discussion at the neighbourhood school my boys attend, how to greatly reduce the amount of sugar the students were consuming while on the premises.

A naturopathic doctor, also a parent to two young boys, gave a compelling presentation about the health and behaviour benefits to cutting back the white stuff, and successfully riled up the parent population with suggested action items.

I don’t know much, but I do know this: one sure-fire way to ignite controversy and polarize a group is to change-up the status quo.

Back when I was a kid, we’d walk the ten minutes to school in the pouring rain toting our umbrellas and like a growing snowball collect kids along the way and after school we’d knock on doors, ride bikes and play a good old fashioned game of kick the can. Not really, but you get the picture. We weren’t developing carpel tunnel syndrome by age 12 and taking selfies to document every minute of teenage angst.

When I was growing up sugar wasn’t the evil, it was fat and cholesterol. A few spandex clad mothers could be heard espousing the benefits of the 20-minute work-out, Jane Fonda and the AB Roller while pouring a healthy dollop of Lite salad dressing over iceberg lettuce. Butter, eggs, oils, red meat, all of it was eschewed until the mid 90s when Barry Spears revolutionize the diet world with The Zone and all of a sudden steak and eggs reclaimed their clout in the grocery cart.

As a kid I enjoyed donuts, candies and cupcakes.   Mrs. Dickson used to make the best cupcakes, with lots of icing and sprinkles so when it was her son’s birthday and she came into the classroom, I made sure to not be the last in the line-up. When a French teacher would toss out mini-sized chocolate bars for correct answers, we’d know that she was in a good mood and Mr. MacDonald used to let us pop balloons for prizes: a weekend with the class budgie, an afternoon in his chair, giant, over-sized chocolate bars our parents would never buy.

I used to peddle my bike to the corner store (about 15 minutes away and across a busy intersection) with my friends. We’d return our books to the library and then go the Village Market, to see how many Hot Lips and sour keys our change could buy us. A lot more than today’s pennies, that’s for sure.

But now I am a grown-up and I am the one making the decisions.

Do you want to know something? My shoulders are sore from the burden of expectations.

I have come a long way with not caring what people think about my parenting. The proof is in the pudding, I like to say, and I am playing the long game. I don’t always choose the healthiest or freshest or more local foods for my kids. In fact, last night they ate an entire party-sized pizza while they watched TV, and I basically ignored them to read the latest issue of Vanity Fair.

We have a treat bucket overflowing with candy and there it stays. My boys choose something from it once a day, but they could take it or leave it.   Sunday afternoons I bake something – cookies, brownies, macaroons, Hello Dollies – whatever the request but after the initial fanfare that accompanies the trays being pulled from the oven, the cookies will remain in the jar. Nibbled on, but never gorged. The piano teacher, friends popping by and play date guests are usually the ones to grab at the goods. For my kids, it’s part of the landscape, like the wallpaper. It’s just there.

Have you heard of Snowplow Parenting? If Helicopter parent was the term of yesteryear, then Snowplow parent is the term for now.

Snowplow parents: defined by some of the extremes they take in their children’s lives. When you take the snowplow route, you are teaching your child that someone will always step in to make things right, and therefore no initiative is required on the kid’s end.

That’s how I feel about removing sugar from schools. It doesn’t teach children how to make good choices it simply removes the obstacle for them. I am a believer that diets need to be balanced and healthy, and that includes sugar. It doesn’t mean scarfing down an entire box of Krispy Kremes (guilty!) on a regular basis but having a lollipop while watching a movie, is ok in my books.

It does get tricky in schools when parties and birthdays are celebrated with food, but that’s a learning opportunity in itself. Instead of banning sugary treats empower children with decision-making.  With parents and schools being more aware of and considerate of allergies, replacing birthday cupcakes for an non-edible treat (pencils, erasers, etc) is an obvious option.  There is also the option of a paper crown and singing Happy Birthday.  Simple.  But it’s about learning when and how to celebrate with treats.

It saddens me to see so many grown women (and some men) with unhealthy relationships with food, swinging from fad diet to fad diet, depriving themselves of food groups, binge eating; all of these behaviours leading to body image issues.

Here’s my question: With as much emphasis we’re placing on reducing sugar and getting our children active, why isn’t there more of an uproar over cut PE classes and revoked recesses (as punishment or to pack in more instructional time for core subjects)? Why do high school students only need one PE credit to graduate?

If I had things my way, we’d focus on healthy living where exercise is valued for more than just fitting into skinny jeans, where real food was consumed more than “fake food” and we would all chill out!

Boys and Education: Sometimes the teacher must be the student

I have a confession to make. In addition to being a great mother before I had children, I was even a better fifth grade teacher. I couldn’t understand why library books didn’t come back on time, I’d shake my head at a family’s disorganization and as embarrassed as I am to admit, I would harrumph, and roll my eyes at the “excuses” for homework not being done.

That was before.

I will also admit to feeling gob smacked when I learned that I was having a boy. And another. And then another. How could I, poster child for the girly-girl, have three boys?

Living with boys hasn’t come easy to me. It has been a learning process of how to best communicate with them and Dr. Leonard Sax’s book, Why Gender Matters, has been my instructional guide.

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“Did you know that most boys and men build friendships around activities and don’t really care to share their inner most feelings with each other?” I asked my husband, somewhat incredulously.

“Um, yeah,” he muttered back to me while absently staring at the tv and flicking through the channels.

“Did you know that most boys and men prefer to communicate shoulder-to-shoulder, you know, looking at problem together, rather than making direct eye contact?” I say this like it’s some sort of a revelation.

“Ya.”

“Okay, this explains a lot. Did you know that there are structural differences in the ears’ of boys and girls, and this guy is suggesting that sometimes boys have a hard time hearing their teacher and don’t intend to be disruptive?!”

“Sorry, what’d you say?”

And there you have it. My life with boys.

I read somewhere that women speak thousands more words in a day than men. In my case it’s true. I live my life according to a script.

“Wake up! Teeth brushed, beds made, clothes on! Knees off the table. Use your spoon. Dishes to the dishwasher . . . “

And when the boys are fighting, I am more likely to get into a discussion (albeit one-sided) about feelings and anger, and controlling impulses. Down on my knees, arms wrapped around each boy, sandwiching myself in between them, I talk. And talk. And talk. I’m usually there to intercede immediately after the first fist flies.

By contrast, the boys’ father will swoop into a room after the fighting has reached a level he has deemed too violent (usually just before or after bloodshed) and clip, “Enough!”

With that simple command, the boys will scamper to their respective corners, like lion cubs retreating after they’ve caused the leader of the pride to roar.

“You engage with them too much sometimes. Just say it once and mean it.” This is my husband’s advice. In fact this is how he lives his life. He keeps his sentences brief, and speaks when it counts. Years ago he told me that when someone talks to hear their own voice others would eventually learn to shut it out.

Dr. Sax would say that I should let the boys be physical and competitive because they are just doing what comes natural. He is quick to assert that doesn’t mean letting them pound each other to a bloody pulp or allow them to use violence to solve their problems, but that I should just back-off, and not make the jump to “Oh my God! They are going to grow up to be sociopaths if I let them pretend to shoot each other!”

But it’s hard for me. As a woman, I like to talk about everything and hash-it all out. My girlfriends and I will talk all sides of a story and debate tone and inflection until exhausted, we move on to another topic. My friends with daughters often remark how their little girls come home from school and they talk for an hour, getting the play-by –play: what the teacher wore, what so-and-so said, where they sat on the carpet and what the story was about. They will know the dynamics of friendships and whose feelings were hurt and who has made-up.

My boys come home and it’s like prying teeth to get them to share the happenings of their day. I have resorted to asking very pointed questions on our walks home from school, should-to-shoulder, avoiding direct eye contact. I used to think that they weren’t sharing things with me because they were embarrassed, or possibly nervous of my reaction, but no, I was reassured with a shrug of their shoulders and an, “Oh, I dunno. I forgot.

It’s important to note that my boys and I have a very close relationship and they will tell me their inner most secrets, but I’ve had to learn what’s news to me, isn’t news to them and like their father, they use fewer words than I do.

So what does all of this mean when it comes to the classroom?

I usually breathe a sigh of relief when I learn that my son’s teacher is a mom to a boy.

She gets it. I think.

I hope.

And usually she does. She usually gets that boys think fart jokes are hilarious, and that they generally like competition, even if it’s just with them. She gets that sitting for more than one-minute necessary can have a disastrous result. She gets that even when they don’t say anything, it doesn’t mean they aren’t hurting, or needing help. She gets the nuances of being a boy.

And that’s what I didn’t get when I was a teacher. Make no mistake; I thought that I got it. But I didn’t. I couldn’t.

Can you really blame me?

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*Dr. Sax refers to gender and not “sex” differences. It’s an important distinction.

* Dr. Sax also writes about the disjointed messages our girls receive from society while growing up and how damaging they can be. Fascinating food for thought.

Community Success

photo 3My proudest time as a teacher was taking a group of students to South Africa on exchange.

In 2007, I took eleven Nelson Mandela Park Public School students (from grades five to twelve) to Cape Town, South Africa, for a month.

For close to two years, the school and the Regent Park community worked together and supported the exchange in every way (financially, emotionally, physically) through fundraising, learning about South Africa and Nelson Mandela, and through communicating with Battswood, our sister school in South Africa.

Prior to our trip, in December of 2006, the Regent Park community hosted a group of teachers, parents and students from our sister school in their homes and classrooms for a month.

The community aspect, both here in Canada and there in South Africa, was amazing.

It was a lot of hard work, but at the same time it was easy because we knew that other people were supporting  the project.

What was most remarkable about this whole experience was the level of trust from the school, the community, and the families that these children could be successful in doing the unexpected.

I was privileged to be a part of this life changing experience.

(Recounting this story brought tears to Sherri’s eyes).

 

What do you learn from your students?

545Being a teacher and spending my days with young children has taught me to embrace living in an imperfect world. The lives of children are often messy and complicated, but that messiness is usually short-lived and turns into joy and exuberance more quickly than we adults anticipate. I am always amazed watching children make mistakes as they are learning or as they are navigating the social world of the playground because I am also witnessing them build resilience and their inner strength, which I know they will carry into their adult lives.  Watching them build their resiliency or come to accept when their ideas don’t work out as planned makes me remember it’s okay to exist in a place that isn’t always neat and tidy, where it’s okay to fail because we often learn more from our failures than we do from our successes.

What was your proudest moment as a teacher?

imgres-1“As a teacher I am fortunate to be in a profession that allows me to see great accomplishments on a daily basis.  Though I often feel pride, it isn’t necessarily because of something I’ve done. It is because of the accomplishments of others that I’m able to be a part of.

One such example is of two little girls from Bangladesh. Their mother was a gynecologist and father a computer professional. They came to Canada to provide their children with opportunities they wouldn’t otherwise have. Life was not easy for them here. Their parents could not get work in their field and therefore were forced to live in a low-income area of Toronto where the children were living and going to school with people who had different ethics and values.

The two girls had to learn English and struggled to follow an academic path that was very different from many of their new friends.  I was fortunate to have the opportunity to teach both girls in more than one grade. The eldest daughter mentioned me in her grade 6 valedictorian speech as being part of her success in elementary school.

The family has since moved to New York City and Mahshid is now in university on scholarship and wants to be in education. She keeps in contact still and often reminds me of the difference I (along with others) made in her life. I am so very proud – not for what I did, but for what she has achieved and for the fact I was fortunate to be involved, even if only for a short time.

This is what teaching gives you, the ability to guide, inspire, encourage and help someone on their path to achieve what they set out to do. It is pride for what others have allowed you to be a part of.”

Explore Toronto: Eco-Art-Fest @Todmorden Mills


AU_no9_EcoArtFest_8036Last week, with intentions to squeeze every last bit of summer fun out of what remained of the summer days, Carol, Nathalie and I took our boys to explore no. 9’s Eco-Art Fest.

Just off Pottery Road in the Don Valley, is a tucked-away enclave sheltered by a canopy of trees where art and green collide. Andrew Davies, Executive Director, is a man with a vision. Having spent years in New York City working for the Museum of Modern Art in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Davies became enamoured with the emerging art scene that seemed to couple art and social consciousness so seamlessly. Upon his return to Toronto, he learned about the Evergreen Brick Works, at that time in its planning stages, and envisioned a place where art and the environment could not only flourish but also serve to inspire people to live more sustainable lives.

Drawing on his extensive art and architecture background Davies went on to found no. 9. It is an arts organization that uses art and design to bring awareness to environmental concerns through school and community based programs. Earlier this summer when I explored the Brick Works with my boys we were able to view My Sustainable City, a collaboration between no.9 and the Toronto District School Board that is on exhibit at Brick Works until September 23.

IMG_4848While My Sustainable City is an example of a school program, Eco-Art-Fest is an outdoor summer-long art festival held at Todmorden Mills until September 21 for the entire community to enjoy.

Davies and his staff of artisans offer daily programs for children. Our boys got their hands dirty throwing clay and enjoyed a water colour painting workshop where they learned about endangered animals and just how interrelated the creatures in our environment really is. We ended our morning activities with a guided tour of the various outdoor art installations by celebrated artists Dean Baldwin, Nicole Dextras, John Dickson, Sean Martindale, Ferruccio Sardella, Penelope Stewart, John Loerchner and Laura Mendes.

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It was an enriching opportunity to learn how art is not just paint, paper and brush strokes. Art can be just as much about aesthetic and expression as a social message. In particular my boys enjoyed Sean Martindale’s installation of the word HISTORIES created from the earth, and depending on perspective history could be rising up from the ground or buried.

Saturday nights offer live music after 5 pm, delicious artisanal charcuterie boards that are works of art in themselves, and organic beer and wine all under the lights of Helliwell’s.

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Nearly four hours passed before I looked at my watch.   The green space combined with the art, and the easy-going, light-hearted atmosphere was enough to make me forget that I was in the city, less than a few minutes drive to the centre and its hustle and bustle. It was four hours of appreciating art in many forms, learning about our environment and most importantly connecting with each other.

Time is running out to experience the wonder of Eco-Art-Fest this summer. The festival ends on September 21 but will return next year. To learn more or to register for the activities and tours please visit Eco-Art-Fest.

Literacy Extension Activity: How To Eat Fried Worms (kindergarten-grade 3)

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Mrs. Claus brought books to each of my boys on Christmas Eve Eve.  My middle and youngest received Christmas stories that they happily listened to over and over.  My oldest is a bit of a reluctant reader and it’s a challenge to engage him in stories.

Mrs. Claus surprised him a favourite story of his mom’s when she was in grade school.  How To Eat Fried Worms by Thomas Rockwell was left on his breakfast plate, alongside his new pyjamas, with this inscription:

DSC_0775This was your mommy’s favourite book when she was in the third grade.  I’m sure you will love it too!  Ask your mommy to read it to you.  

The three of us (middle son included) would cuddle up each night and read a few chapters.  The story was an instant hit with the boys, and really what’s not to love?  Gross squiggly wigglies, dirt bikes, bathroom humor and a gang of best friends.

After we finished the book, we did some extension activities.

Feel sorry for my boys – you can take the teacher out of the classroom . . .

DSC_0778Choose a month of the year and complete the blank calendar.

  • Before we did this we reviewed the months of the year and the days of the week.  Here is a catchy tune to help your child learn the months and the days.

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Print the number of the days in the calendar squares.

  • We discussed how some months have 30 days and others 31 days and that February only has 28 days.  It’s tricky to learn how many days each month has but this poem/action has proven to be quite helpful.

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Are there an odd or even number of days in the month of that you chose?  How do you know?

  • What does “even” mean?  My middle son is Mr. Fairness and he was quick to explain that “even” means “fair”.  That if there is an even number, nothing is left over (and no one gets an extra).  The oldest said that you can always split the extra but then you’d be using fractions.  The boys worked together to identify that even numbers end is 0,2,4,6,8 and odd numbers end in 1,3,5,7,9.  Mr. Fairness also pointed out that this is pattern.

If Billy has to eat one worm every day for 15 days how many worms does he have to eat in total?  Is 15 an odd or even number?

  • The boys laid out their gummy worms on the calendar – one for each day.  This provided them with a visual of just how many 15 worms Billy had to eat.  I also asked the boys when they hear “in total” or “all together” what mathematical operation should they use?

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If Billy has to double the number of days, but still eat one worm per day, how many days does he have to eat worms?  How many worms will have to eat in total?  Is that an odd or an even number?

  • It amazed me how they worked together to solve this problem.  The oldest wanted to show off his double-digit adding skills and taught his brother how to re-group.  They showed the several ways to solve this problem with words, pictures and using the gummy worms!

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The boys also drew a picture of their favourite character from the novel.  Mr. Fairness chose the worm and his big brother was quick to follow suit!

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We couldn’t leave those gummy worms on the calendar, so we made some worms in mud!*

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And the next time we want to rent a movie, How To Eat Fried Worms it will be!

*Sorry, no photos from our kitchen creation.  This one is via pinterest.

The Homework Window

040I’m not a big homework fan.  I’m not a big homework foe.  In my life on my own four of five weeknights with my three boys (7, 5 and 2), homework is mostly another pesky thing I haven’t been getting around to.

But it’s interesting that we’ve been talking about it on 4Mothers, because I have just recently suggested to my oldest son that he stay up just a bit later than his brothers so we can do some “homework”.  Apart from a bit of reading, he actually hasn’t been assigned any homework.  But he actually really likes practicing his writing and doing worksheets, and would probably benefit from the extra practice, and I was feeling a bit lame about not following an expressed interest.

So we’ve been implementing this new homework window.  It’s not ideal learning time, being at the end of the day, and it’s early days.  But it’s been going really well anyway.

Still, I’ll confess to a secret:  I’m not carving this time out just for the homework, maybe not even primarily for the homework.  When I noticed that my oldest didn’t seem to need quite as much sleep as his brothers (and I would prioritize sleep over homework for sure), I saw an opportunity.  A window of time, brief but available, for my son and me to have some time alone.  A period for him to have my attention, undivided, to help him read a book, practice writing, or add some numbers together.

Or to put together a little Lego.  Last night, after labouring through a book that would normally not be a challenge, my son asked if we could “just chill”.  I had used this expression earlier as a possibility along with homework for our time together – he heard it and he wanted it.  And I did too.  He requested that I sit next to him while he built a Lego plane, even though he can do it alone.  It was late and we didn’t finish it, and cooperative first child that he is, he didn’t complain.  It was really too brief a period, but at least we had it.

The more I move along in my life, the more I want the things I do to have overlapping functions and benefits.  Our new homework routine hits the mark.  It helps me support my son’s reading and skills development, but it also creates pleasant associations with formal learning, acknowledges the fact that he is older and distinct from his brothers, and opens up a little pocket of one-on-one time that both of us truly crave.  We are both eager for this time.

If it wasn’t a multi-faceted win, I’m not sure I would do it.  My kids are still quite young, and I’d rather they dream than drill.  But our little homework window is working well so far, and I’ve been thinking of ways to improve upon it.  Maybe make a little tea?  Maybe a candle at the table?  But I think my best idea is to just sit down and do my own work alongside my son.  Maybe talk a little.  I love his company, and it would be such a nice way to let the curtain down on the day’s activities.

Oh, and the homework might get done too.