Monthly Archives: October 2015

Wingin’ It – Public Speaking for Five Year Olds

When we first stepped foot in the 4th grade classroom, I knew things wouldn’t go smoothly.

Today was early dismissal Wednesday and I had signed up to be one of the head coaches for the new Speech Club at our elementary school.  NB and I, along with other kids and parents, were headed to an empty classroom to have our first Speech Club practice after school. 

A Speech Club for an elementary school you say?  Yes.  And no, I don’t recall having that sort of thing when I was in school either.  

But now we do thanks to the University Interscholastic League or UIL, of Texas.  It’s the organization that provides leadership for Texas schools’ debate and athletics teams by organizing contests and training workshops.  What this means in practice is that when school administrators decide to participate in UIL they must hobble together a group of teachers and volunteer parents and start an extracurricular student program from scratch.  This is our first year and as such, we don’t know what we’re doing.     

NB couldn’t keep his hands off things when we entered the classroom.  He sputtered around scavenging boxes and shelves.  When he spied the miniature gong in the back of the classroom I figured there was no harm in him banging on it.  But then he found the teacher’s goodie basket…

The other kids behaved the same way when they entered the room.  Fortunately, my co-head coach is an actor and she knows how to get kids’ attention.

“Ello boys and girls!  Let’s start with our vocal exercises.  Repeat after me: Peta pipa picked a peck of pickled peppas!”  She said in a faux English accent.

Only one kid participated.  The others moved about aimlessly.   

After warm-ups, I started my coaching for improvisational speaking. 

“Okay kids, we’re going to practice introducing ourselves to each other. I’ll go first”

I modeled what I thought was a great personal introduction.  Then I invited the kids to take turns. There was lots of fidgeting and forgetting of one’s own name, but after a few tries the kids seemed to get the hang of it and we were ready for more advanced things. 

“Nicholas, what is better: vanilla or chocolate ice cream?”



“Because it’s better than vanilla”

I was stumped.  

As I continued to prod the children to expand on their ideas, I had to ask myself, what do I know about coaching public speaking anyway?  

As we closed practice with three sweet but incoherent presentations, I realized that it didn’t matter that my head coach and I don’t know how to teach public speaking.  All of us, kids included, would figure out what we all needed to do, and most likely have some fun along the way.   

How To: Gifted and Talented Testing for Kindergarten

The process for taking the Gifted and Talented (G/T) test was a mystery to me when NB went through it.  At a cocktail party last fall, another mom explained to me how we were “just in time” to apply for either public magnet schools or private schools.  I suppose this is how it is in major American cities now – gone are the days when kids go to the schools they’re zoned for because they’re decent schools and the communities are like-minded; instead people compete for seats in schools across town.   But I digress.  

This fellow mom shared with me some tips, which I in turn shared with other moms, and now would like to share with you. 

This is the matrix used to asses the kids.  They test a variety of skills so if your kid can’t yet read, have no fear!  Kids have several areas they can shine in, like quantitative concepts and problem solving.  

We used this book as one of our resources to help NB hone his logic skills.  As you can see, it’s really just a book of puzzles.  He enjoyed doing them, until he didn’t.

Our primary resource were the Brain Quest cards.  NB loved these.  I would work them in to our bedtime routine instead of reading a story.  The cards are really kid friendly and fun.  

My goal with test prep was to focus on targeting skills (logic) rather than trying to cram information into his brain.  You can expect to take the G/T test the spring before your kid starts Kindergarten.  It will feel really early to have your kid taking their first standardized test (NB was still four), and that’s because it is.   

Please share your experience going through G/T testing.  Or if you’ve declined to participate in this rat-race altogether. 


Volunteer- It’s Good For Your School



A few weeks ago I volunteered to be a chaperon for NB’s first ever field trip to a farm an hour outside of the Houston city center.  The support from parents was so overwhelming I only had to look after NB and his best friend.  Parents who could not officially chaperone because they had younger siblings in tow still made the drive out to the farm and supported the trip with handing out snacks, taking accountability, and offering an extra set of eyes on the kids.  The field trip was a big success; everyone had a great time.

I just finished reading Sir Ken Robinson’s book Creative Education (he a big deal in education, see here) and he argues that our public education system resembles a manufacturing plant more than a place for learning and enrichment.  It’s hard to buy this argument after what I just experienced on our farm field trip, but if I I remove great teachers and parents from the equation how might public school as a system, look?

Without great and caring people, K-12 education is like a Coca-Cola factory.  Kids enter the system like a brand new plastic bottle and undergo years of “processing”.  This culminates to high school graduation by which point kids have turned 18 and can legally sell their labor.

I am very fortunate that we are part of a school that cares about kids.  I’m very fortunate that the teachers are in such constant communication with me that I feel confident I’ll know about problems early enough before any become unmanageable.

But I can’t take this for granted.  I can’t pretend that my family is entitled to wonderful teachers and administrators. I can’t ignore that the engine powering my school is teachers, parents, and administrators with 100 other things to do, not tax dollars or a school board.

So even though we’ve taken on too much this school year, and even though I have to buy a new car because we broke the old one, and even though my kids sit on the far end of the turd spectrum, my small contribution to the field trip helps make our school great.

Violin Practice

Violin practice has been interesting since I don’t actually play the violin.  I should mention that our Mandarin school offers FREE violin lessons that take place during the school day.  But there’s a catch– parents have to actually come to the violin lessons!!!

Taking off in the middle of the work day is not so easy for many folks, but people manage.   Or like me, they’re stay at home parents and it’s not a big deal.  In fact there’s so much demand that there’s a lottery system for which kids get to play.  I rarely hear of anyone not getting to participate though.  

Here’s NB practicing what he hasn’t actually be taught yet how to do.  And no, the violin should not be right in front of his face the way he has it here.  

It really is good that the parents go to practice though because at least I have a clue on how to help him.  

But all things good and productive must come to an end.  

Help! We’re Doing Too Many Extracurricular Activities

I told myself I wouldn’t do this.  That I wouldn’t get caught up in doing 99 extracurricular activities.  So I said to myself, just one sport and that’s it! That sport happened to be soccer. 

But then NB asked to do swimming too. I said, okay.  After all he wants to do it.    

There’s also AWANA on Wednesday nights at our church which I’ve decided is a must.    

And like I’ve told you we’re learning Chinese because we got into this Mandarin Immersion school.  Which also offers Suzuki Violin lessons…

And now for what I’ve learned (so far) about extracurricular activities and for some unsolicited advice: 

1. Set boundaries.  Decide what you’re going to do up front.  I did that, but I didn’t stick to it.  Which is fine, you learn as you go.   

2. It’s okay to quit.  If I’m struggling to get NB to do something, we should probably quit because he just might not like it. Which is also fine to not like doing certain things.  

3. Take it one season at a time.  I like to tell NB that whatever we decide to do, we’re going to stick to it for the season/semester/whatever it is.  That way he gives the new activity a chance, but if he doesn’t like it we don’t have to sign up again next season.  We can quit and try something new or do more of what he actually enjoys doing.      

At the moment, swimming and Chinese (luckily) are the front-runners. 

So yes we’re stretched a little thin, but it’s okay.  We’re still having fun, and next season is a chance to do some tweaking.  In the meantime, I’ll be honing my slow cooker crock-pot skills.  

🙂 Diana