Your Advocacy Matters, Especially Now

The school year is winding down, and many PTAs and members are thinking about end-of-the-year parties and summer activities. But the end of May also marks the end of the Illinois legislative session, and many of the issues that the General Assembly still faces will have a significant effect on your child and their school. Among those issues are:

  • The state budget for the next fiscal year
  • Additional education funding for the new Evidence-Based Funding model
  • Gun violence prevention and school safety
  • Children’s mental health
  • Juvenile Justice issues

Illinois PTA will be advocating on these and other issues as the legislative session wraps up. We will be filing witness slips on various bills, testifying before committees, and contacting legislators and the governor. But the true power of PTA comes through when our PTA members join us in speaking up for all the children of Illinois.

You Already Are an Advocate

If you’ve spoken to your child’s teacher about an issue in the classroom or with your child’s learning, you are already an advocate. If you have raised a question at a PTA meeting about why your child’s school has a certain policy, you are already an advocate. If you have every spoken at a school board meeting or placed a school referendum sign in your front yard, you are already an advocate.

Advocacy is simply speaking up for another, and PTA advocacy focuses on those who have little to no voice in the halls of power—our children. Many school boards and many legislators have few, if any, individuals speaking up on a particular issue. When you can share your viewpoint and tell how a policy or a bill will have a specific effect on your child, your family, or your community, you have tremendous influence on those who make the policies or pass the bills. Don’t take our word for it, look at what PTA advocates did to get drinking water in elementary schools tested for lead.

How to Advocate with the Legislature

Illinois PTA makes it easy to advocate with legislators. Join the Illinois PTA Takes Action Network by going to the Illinois PTA Advocacy page and entering your e-mail and ZIP code in the Quick Sign Up box on the right.

As a member of the Illinois PTA Takes Action Network, you will get occasional calls to action in your inbox. Simply click on the button in the e-mail, which will take you to a prewritten letter to your legislators. Take a moment to add any personal information, including how the bill will affect your child or school, up at the top of the letter, include your contact information, and hit send. That’s all there is to it.

We know that these e-mails do make a difference. Legislators also take notice when Illinois PTA leaders start their testimony on a bill with, “On behalf of the 80,000 members of the Illinois PTA…” Your advocacy, and your PTA membership, makes a difference for your child and for every child in Illinois.


10 Keys to Raising a Great Teenager

It can be difficult having a teenager in the house. At times, it seems like your kid has become a giant toddler, with every request from you met with “Why?” or “No.” And it’s not nearly as cute as it was then when they stamp their foot and pout. But this turmoil is also an essential part of becoming an adult.

To help you through these challenging years, All-Pro Dad has a list of ten keys to raising a great teenager. These keys are:

  1. Under all the scowls and frowns, your child is still there.
  2. Let your love show.
  3. Encourage their faith.
  4. Don’t talk at your teens.
  5. Remember to listen.
  6. Reinforce a standard with teens.
  7. Get to know their friends.
  8. Offer your wisdom.
  9. Help them stay focused.
  10. Take them on an adventure.

These keys will help you maintain your sanity through the teenage years, so check out the full article for more information on each one. And remember, just like the toddler years, the teenage years will eventually end.

Teacher Gifts That Go Beyond the Coffee Mug

Last week was Teacher Appreciation Week, and the end of school is coming up fast. Are you at a loss for a gift for your child’s teacher? You know that another #1 Teacher mug is not the answer, but what is? Both National PTA’s Our Childrenmagazine and Great Schools! have suggestions for great teacher gifts.

National PTA’s article suggests:

  • Coffee and treats (perhaps with a gift card)
  • A supply gift box
  • A mobile battery charger
  • Something homemade
  • A crafty phone case
  • A personalized, handmade thank you card

Great Schools! has additional gift ideas, including:

  • Flowers or a live plant
  • A gift card for coffee, supplies, or something more indulgent
  • A gift basket with a theme
  • A donation to the teacher’s favorite cause
  • A donation to your child’s class

Avoid the mug or apple-shaped tchotchke. Check out both the National PTA article and the Great Schools! article for more information on these gift ideas.

Photo © 2011 by Edward Ross under Creative Commons license.

Five Ways to Teach Coding Without Technology

Coding and computational thinking are increasingly becoming part of our children’s education. For adults, though, coding may still be a mystifying skill. A recent article describes five ways to teach coding without using a screen or technology. Whether you are a parent or teacher, comfortable with programming or not, you can use these approaches to help your child develop coding and computational thinking skills.

  1. Real-Life Routines: Any process that has repeated steps can be thought of as a program. Whether it’s getting breakfast on the table or getting ready for bed, you can help your child break down the steps of the process. Once that’s done, you can work with your child to look at the steps and think about ways to make the order quicker or more efficient.
  2. Cooking: Every recipe is like a computer program, providing a set of inputs, process steps, and actions to reach the desired goal. Even if your child isn’t old enough to handle a kitchen knife, you can have the “program” you to do the steps they aren’t old enough to handle yet. Should the final product not be quite right, you can work with your child to “debug” what went wrong with the recipe.
  3. Simon Says: Simon Says is a simple game that encourages programmatic thinking. If there is no “Simon says…” at the start, the instruction is invalid. Valid instructions need to be clear. This can be a gentle introduction for younger children.
  4. Tangible Programming Toys: Toys that incorporate, like the Montessori-inspired Cubetto or Lego MindStorms, can engage children through exploration of what programming does by letting them create and modify their own programs. While many such toys are expensive, if you have a Minecraft fanatic in your house, there are many free and low-cost tools to let them explore coding within the Minecraft world.
  5. Treasure Hunt: Building and executing a treasure hunt can provide a fun way to have your child create their own program of instructions. Whether it is putting together a handmade paper puzzle to get the next clue or having a gatekeeper who can give the next clue once a task has been completed, a treasure hunt can give your child the joy of watching their program be executed in real time.

Check out the original article for more ideas on how to incorporate coding and computational thinking into your child’s day.

Photo © 2014 by Jeff Jackowski under Creative Commons license