Your guide to parenting in Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts

Seems like yesterday I was picking out lunchboxes and backpacks for my boys’ first day of kindergarten and now my husband and I are preparing them (and us) for middle school next year.

I handle these developmental milestones and life transitions better when I think in terms of a concrete list. Focusing on this tangible guide is easier (and more productive) than the emotional volatility of watching my babies grow up.

I remember my middle school years being consumed by the social life and dealing with body transformation more than the academics. Planning ahead and helping my kids now with organizational skills, time management, making good decisions (without parents in the wings), working well with others and knowing when to ask for help (in social and academic situations) will make the transition (I hope but cannot guarantee) to middle school easier on the kids and me (the parent).


Here’s my amalgamation of helpful tips for kids (and families) preparing for middle school

School + Academics

Digital Plan



Additional Resources

Last week was the second event in the Speaking of Play series presented by the Providence Athenaeum, Providence Children’s Museum and Kidoinfo: a provocative conversation about the important benefits of recess. Panelists shared stories of their recess crusades and sparked an enthusiastic and passionate audience exchange about joining together as a community to stand up for recess.

“If the value of recess was recognized, it wouldn’t be taken away.”
— Providence Children’s Museum director Janice O’Donnell

Much of the conversation focused on how recess is increasingly limited or withheld as a punitive measure. What alternatives can teachers, schools and districts use to respond to behavior issues instead of withholding recess entirely from a child — or a whole class? Are there other things that can be taken away? Panelist Alicia Bell advocated the model from the school where she teaches in Franklin, MA: children lose just a minute of recess, though not for a first offense, and it’s effective — it gives them time to reflect and teachers don’t see the same kids in trouble repeatedly.

Credit: Susan Sancomb

A child psychiatrist shared several thoughts: he sees children deprived of recess because they haven’t finished their work, often due to attention problems and learning disabilities. It’s normal for people to talk, abnormal to stand in quiet lines: “There’s a culture that gets perpetrated — generation to generation — in schools that’s completely alien to what happens outside of school. We need to advocate for rules that are reasonable to the situation but also reasonable to the child.”

Click here for more conversation highlights and download Take a Stand for Recess, a sheet with practical resources and guides plus articles and research that will help make the case for recess.

And join the final conversation in the Speaking of Play series — Play and Risk: How Safe is Too Safe? — on Tuesday, May 7 from 7:00 - 8:30 PM at the Providence Athenaeum.

First published in the April 2013 issue of East Side Monthly.

Until fairly recently, I have not spent a lot of time thinking about bullying at our neighborhood schools. While I don’t believe that the East Side is a magical conflict-free zone, and I have certainly heard about bullying incidents in school buildings, on school buses and other settings, neither do I think that bullying poses a virulent threat to our neighborhood. Nevertheless, my work (as director of publications and communications for Educators for Social Responsibility, a nonprofit that works with schools to improve school climate and culture and academic success for all learners) has opened my eyes to persistent prevalence of bullying and prompted me to better understand the ways that we (all of us who work and coexist with young people) need to take responsibility by moving from passive bystanders to active allies.

Sticks and StonesSticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy is a fantastic resource that has informed me as I’ve gotten my thoughts organized about what adults need to do about creating safer environments for children. Author Emily Bazelon reports that bullying is verbal or physical aggression repeated over time involving a power differential between aggressor and victim. Bullying doesn’t describe the relationships of rivals, however contentious they may be, nor does it describe isolated violent incidents, however distressing they may be.

Statewide school survey data reported in 2012 by Rhode Island Data Hub indicate that 57% of public school students in grades four through 12 report that they have experienced some form of bullying; as far as I am aware, no such statistics are available for independent schools. (If you wish to know the sorts of bullying students reported and the data for specific schools, you can dig into the report; click on Reports, and enter bully into the search box.) While the specific experiences that Rhode Island students reported may be somewhat broader than Bazelon’s bullying definition, the prevalence of such experiences shocked me.

So what are we to do? In Sticks and Stones, which dives into specific cases of bullying and harassment, including cyberbullying, Bazelon explores solutions and recommends that we have collective responsibility for our own communities.

Schools, as the main institutions that impact the lives of children, clearly play a role. In 2012, the Providence Public Schools launched a campaign that took a stand against bullying and offered some educational components. The campaign likely helped raise awareness among adults. This is critical, because bullying is worse in schools where students don’t think that adults are listening and responsive. Schools that support good behavior and implement strategies for addressing persistently challenged and challenging students tend to see a reduction of bullying. Some of our city’s schools are working on implementing such measures and all must find ways to do so effectively.

At the same time, we cannot expect schools to be the only source of solutions for bullying or for any of the other difficulties that young people face. Many forms and instances of bullying, particularly cyberbullying, happen outside of school. Sticks and Stones offers compelling analysis of adolescent cyberbullying and its potentially devastating impact. Online taunting, accusations and threats spread easily and are often difficult to delete. What happens online does not stay online; it follows young people to school and through time. Bazelon argues that Facebook and other social media outlets must do more to collaborate with schools and families to educate their younger users and keep them safe.

Those of us who are parents must take primary responsibility for our children’s wellbeing. As this relates to bullying, it means both protecting them and helping them build resilience. Though statistics tell us that many of our children will neither be aggressors nor victims, some of us will need to face this with our kids. Our best move is to help them become empathetic so they will not become bullies and to build character to help them navigate difficult situations. Both empathy and character will also help them stand up for their peers who are being bullied.

Most of all, we need to communicate well. In whatever ways make sense for us, we need to keep the channels open so we can listen to what’s happening in our kids’ lives. Asking questions, paying attention, and getting help when needed can make all of the difference. Because their worlds can be rough, be a safe haven for the kids in your life.

By Janice O’Donnell, Executive Director, Providence Children’s Museum

Research indicates that today’s children play outside less than any previous generation.  Yet, studies also show that parents know that active outdoor free play is really good for kids.  What’s the problem?

There are a bunch of problems actually: busy families with highly structured schedules, the lure of the ubiquitous screen, fears for children’s safety, increasing amounts of homework…

Maybe the more important question is: What’s the solution?


Well, for a start we can talk together; share concerns, ideas and resources with each other.  Providence Children’s Museum, the Providence Athenaeum and Kidoinfo are presenting a series of community conversations — Speaking of Play — this spring for just that purpose, to bring people together and start a dialogue.  I’ve heard anecdotes from parents that show change can happen when people talk to one another.

How about these conversation starters:

For another thing, we can get together.  I think Jeanine Silversmith’s RI Families in Nature is one of the most brilliant simple ideas ever.  She plans and announces a monthly hike.  Families show up and everyone takes a woodland walk together.  Neighborhood park clean ups are happening all over the state on Earth Day weekend (April 20 and 21).  What a great thing to do as a family — gather with neighbors and get to know your neighborhood park.  I love this idea too, borrowed from Playborhood: put the swing set or tire swing or sandbox or trampoline in the front yard.  Encourage neighborhood kids to come on over and play.

Finally, we can work for change together.  At the April 2 conversation in the Speaking of Play series, we’ll hear from parents from three different public schools who have joined with others in concerted long-term efforts to change attitudes and policies around recess at their kids’ schools.  The Partnership for Providence Parks was formed to support healthy communities through active neighborhood involvement and encourage families to play in and explore the city’s network of parks.  The Partnership led the first Playful Providence celebration last year and is planning a spring and summer full of events this year, starting with a Pop-Up Play Day at India Point Park on May 11.  The Children’s Museum, Providence Department of Parks & Recreation, and other groups and organizations are joining the Partnership to make children and play visible in our community.

We need to support children’s play by supporting each other, from neighbor to neighbor to collaborative city or statewide efforts.  Lack of time, space and policies for children’s play is a problem, but it’s one we can solve.  Together.

Dr. Ron Taffel, a nationally known child rearing expert, will present a FREE parenting workshop on Thursday, April 4 at 7 pm  at Temple Beth-El in Providence entitled, Childhood Unbound: Raising Strong and Compassionate Kids–Confident Parenting in a Tough 21st Century World. Learn more about Dr. Ron Taffel and his philosophy in this article by Nancy Kirsch
 first published in The Jewish Voice & Herald, March 15, 2013. - Anisa

Raising children presents a host of challenges, even if your children are the smartest, happiest, most athletic and well-adjusted children in the neighborhood!

9781416559283Most post-Baby Boomer parents worry about their children: Will they do well in school? Will they have friends? What will happen to them as adults?

Ron Taffel, Ph.D., a nationally known child and family therapist, will be in Rhode Island to offer proven, practical advice to address parents’ anxieties and worries.

In addition to writing several books and hundreds of columns about parenting, Taffel has given more than 1,000 consultations and presentations to parent groups and professional organizations.

In a community-wide forum on April 4 at 7 p.m. at Temple Beth-El, 70 Orchard Ave., in Providence, Taffel will discuss how parents can help their children — from ages  5 to 18 — be happy, compassionate and resilient in these difficult times.

In a phone interview from his New York-area home, Taffel explained that his presentation, “Childhood Unbound: Raising Strong and Compassionate Kids — Confident Parenting in a Tough 21st Century World,” will focus, in part, on the stressors associated with the closing months of the school year, when children — and their parents — experience added anxieties.

Q: What are the issues that most worry parents today?

A: We’re living in a world where some of the social compact — ‘Work hard, go to a good school and you’ll get ahead’ — has been frayed and torn. This is the first generation of children who are not expected to outpace their parents in income and socioeconomic status.

Parents begin to worry about their children’s future when the kids are in kindergarten.They ask, ‘How can I get my values and a sense of strength and grit in my child so that he or she can survive this hyper-competitive world? They worry that their children will be left behind academically, socially and, later, professionally. With change happening so quickly and family life so fragmented, parents don’t have a sense of what works, and they’re uncertain about what to do. Their parents, however, shared a certitude in what was right; they didn’t question their own parenting decisions.

Children today are much more willing to speak openly and to talk back to their parents, whose own parents would never have tolerated such openness from their children. And, children today, who are more philanthropic than were their parents as children, are exposed to so many more influences at young ages than were their parents.

Q: Do Jewish parents worry more or have different concerns than do other parents?

A: I found it surprising that parental concerns are more similar than they are different, even among very diverse demographic groups.  Jewish parents don’t worry any more than other parents do.

Q: You’ve been doing this work — speaking and writing about parenting — for more than 20 years. How have societal changes, such as different family groupings (divorce, single parenting, same-sex couples, etc.) and the explosion of technology, changed parenting advice, if at all?

A: Beginning in the 1990s, I started to see a shift, of changes in families and kids, that directly challenged the parenting advice parents were receiving.

My advice, which was different from other experts’, focused on what I called ‘the second family’ — a child’s peer group, technology and pop culture. That ‘second family’ is often more powerful than ‘the first family’ —  parents, siblings, etc.

At the same time that parents began to feel out-of-control, many of them had less access to, and time with, their children, due to single parenting, longer commutes between work and home as suburbs grew and as they competed with technology for their children’s time and attention.

‘The second family’ exerts strong influences over children, many of whom can identify consumer products and sing jingles at 18-months-old.

And these parents, whose narratives and life experiences as children were wholly different than their children’s, needed guidance in how to balance love and authority — and be able to connect with their children — in ways that felt right and authentic to them.

Q: What can parents expect if they come to hear you?

A: They will get very practical and concrete strategies for: effective discipline, keeping the lines of communication open, instilling genuine self-esteem in their children and more. In addition, I will offer some specific strategies and tips for getting through the end of the school year transition.

I hope that some parenting peer groups will get started; even if the groups meet only a few times a year to talk about everyday life, parents won’t feel so alone and lacking in community.

Bring a friend, a sister, a colleague; be prepared to take lots of notes!

TAFFEL’S VISIT TO Providence is sponsored by Jewish Family Service of Rhode Island, Shalom Family (a program of the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island), the Jewish Community Day School of Rhode Island, Congregation Agudas Achim, Congregation Beth Sholom, Temple Am David and Temple Torat Yisrael.

INFORMATION: 331-1244 or RSVPs are requested, but not necessary.

Moving through this year, I am making a more conscious effort to connect with earth and nature on a daily basis. Even a short walk around the yard or to the mailbox on a cold day has given me enough time to breathe deeply and notice the world around me. This is a grounding practice. It gets me out of my head for a bit and back in tune with something larger than myself. It replenishes my patience and my sense of gratitude. And, as I notice little changes on the landscape each day, I am coming to know this place that I now call home.


So, perhaps this transition from winter to spring has been my favorite so far.  I love all the signs of life emerging from beneath winter’s snowy cloak.  Everything is so very ripe with possibility at this time of year!

For that reason, it’s a great time to check in with ourselves about the direction we’re headed for the year ahead.  The holiday rush and new year’s frenzy is well behind us, and a quiet time to reflect on our hopes and dreams for the year now present itself.


For parents seeking more rhythm and ease this spring, Allison is offering a 7-week Simplicity Parenting course at the Meadowbrook Waldorf School in Richmond, RI beginning on March 20, 2013.

Last night, I attended a discussion about alternative education, and heard some amazing stories about child-directed learning models. I shared an overview of Waldorf education, something I've had a personal interest in for a couple of years. I felt such a connection to the mothers in attendance–who are all following different educational paths, and at the core all want the best, most inspiring, most holistic educational experience for their children. For me, the night's discussion shed new light on a recent experience of one-on-one time with my daughter...

My husband and I embarked on a little experiment-adventure last weekend. We each invited one child to come along with us to spend a night away and visit family and friends. We spend most weekends together as a family. Or, the kids spend a few hours with Mike, while I enjoy some time by myself. But very rarely are our girls apart for any length of time.

I must admit that I had mixed feelings when it actually came time to drive away with only one daughter. But our youngest happily bounded into my husband’s office, ready for her own weekend adventure. It only got better from there…

emma up close

During our car ride, I immediately noticed how different the conversation was. Just the two of us. I got to hear all of Emma’s thoughts on what we should do this weekend and where we should stop for dinner. I also got to hear about the best- and hardest- parts of being five. I could really see how deep Emma’s love for her family goes, and how her family is never far from her thoughts. Each time we chatted, I saw Emma and heard Emma, as an individual.

In September, Emma will start Kindergarten. I have already spent countless hours weighing all of the educational options and even imagining what our days would be like if we were to homeschool. So much of my motivation has come from fear. At the heart, my fear is that Emma will be absorbed into a system that doesn’t honor the individual. My fear is that no one will be able to see her and hear her as I do.

Truth. No one will ever be able to see her and hear her as I do.

A few months ago, I let go of the fear around this next phase of our life. Instead, I have embraced complete trust in my family. It is here that we honor (no, celebrate!) each individual. It is here that plenty of room exists to make mistakes and experience deep and unconditional love. It will always be here that we learn together and explore the world around us. It will always be here that every person is seen and heard.

Truth. Systems that do not honor individuals are not sustainable.

I let go of fear and embrace this opportunity to be in community, forming connections around the growth of our children. What gifts can we share? What dialogue can we have? How do we show up for all of the children in our community?

I do not know what this path will look like. I have distant memories of my own road, and I have heard others’ stories. Some of them fill me with fear and others with joy. But this will be Emma’s own journey. At the end of the day, I trust in my family. I know we will walk alongside her, we will listen to her and we will continue to follow our hearts and our intuition as we venture further into the world together. This is what (my) kindergarten readiness looks like. This is my commitment.

As you navigate your own educational path with your children, there may be times that you feel pressure or feel lost and conflicted (even in the preschool years!) Whenever you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, stressed, worried or disenchanted by our culture’s focus on quantitative measurements of young children’s skills, readiness and knowledge, then please read the article, What should a four year old know? by Alicia of A Magical Childhood.  It's one of my favorites.

Last week’s “Leave No Child Inside” conversation — presented by the Providence Athenaeum, Providence Children’s Museum and Kidoinfo — featured an enthusiastic exchange of ideas and resources for increasing kids’ outdoor playtime.

Girl with twigs-Susan SancombSome of the issues:

Some of the ideas:

The conversation often hit upon the hot-button issue of recess, which is the topic of the next conversation in the “Speaking of Play” series:

What Happened to Recess?
Tuesday, April 2 from 7:00 - 8:30 PM
Where: The Providence Athenaeum (251 Benefit Street in Providence)

Recess is crucial for kids, resulting in better attention span, improved classroom behavior, and important opportunities for free play, creativity and interaction with other children — yet it is increasingly limited or withheld.  Join the great recess debate!

Panelists: Alicia Bell, Elementary art teacher and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Elementary School parent; Dr. Lauren Greve, Psychologist and Vartan Gregorian Elementary School parent; and Phyllis Penhallow, URI Lecturer and Chariho Elementary School parent. Moderated Janice O'Donnell, Executive Director, Providence Children’s Museum.

Outdoor play resources:

photo credit: Susan Sancomb

Feeding_Traditions_LogoToday we meet Katy Killilea. Katy is a writer and contributor here at Kidoinfo. She lives in Barrington with her husband, their sons (born 2001 + 2003), and a dog named Butter. She works as much as she can as a freelance writer. Katy loves running, cooking, sudden trips to new places, loud corduroy pants, and being taken to the Beehive in Bristol.


Skill It: What is your earliest memory of family dinners?
Counting tater tots. I know my mom made excellent, balanced, delicious meals for our family. On the rare occasion that she made tater tots, she would divvy them up as instructed on the label–it was probably 5 pieces per official Ore Ida serving. Not even close to enough. And my sister and I were so, so greedily hungry for them that I would count to make sure I hadn’t been shortchanged. I remember eating the burning hot tater tots with globs of cold ketchup to make them edible faster. Delicious.

Skill It: How old were you when you first made something on your own in the kitchen? What was it?
Katy: When I was in third grade, I scooped the seeds out of a cucumber, filled the hollow part with bottled blue cheese salad dressing, wrapped it in waxed paper, and tried to sell it by the side of the road.


Skill It: Who taught you how to cook?
Katy: I taught myself to cook as an adult. When I was in graduate school, I only knew to make pasta. I would heat up a jar of sauce–I didn’t even care what brand–by placing the jar under hot running water in the kitchen sink. When I met my husband, our big culinary leap forward was smoothies. I learned to cook when we bought a house and got married and got a bunch of pots and sharp knives for gifts.


Skill It: How do you balance work, food and family?
Katy: I am not very good at cooking or thinking while people are speaking to me or looking at me. This is a problem. I overcome this by planning all of our dinners and lunchboxes out on a Sunday afternoon, shopping for the things I need to carry out that rigid plan, and making things like carrot sticks, pizza dough, and peanut butter on graham crackers in advance. When I do things this way, I feel balanced. However, if a home economics expert came to study me, the pie chart of how much time and brain space food takes up would probably illustrate someone who is completely bananas.


Skill It: What meal do you “pull out of thin air” when you come home late without a plan for dinner?
Katy: Spread a glob of refried beans on a whole wheat tortilla, top that with sliced cheddar cheese, fold the tortilla in half, and cook that in a hot skillet with some olive oil. Serve with avocado slices and carrot sticks or an apple. I buy Whole Foods canned refried beans by the case. I want to marry them.


Skill It: What is your favorite comfort food? Is it a family recipe?
Katy: Peanut butter and banana sandwiches on squishy whole wheat bread. This is a family recipe in that my grandmother taught me to keep the peanut butter thick all the way to the edges of the crust.

Skill It: As a parent, what one dish have you learned will bring the whole family running to the dinner table?
Katy: Things that each person can customize are favorites: crepes with combinations of Nutella, banana, jam, brie, and spinach; taco bar; design your own pizza; tortellini with roasted vegetables or marinara sauce or olives, tomatoes, and arugula; a Buddha bowl of rice fried tofu or stir-fried beef, assorted vegetables, or peanut sauce; tomato soup with a baguette and assorted cheeses and fruits. But the main thing is to let them get hungry enough so they don’t have the energy to think of how things might have been.


Skill It: Where do you find inspiration, culinary or otherwise?
Katy: I am part of two Facebook groups where people who like the kinds of food I like post what they’re having for dinner that day–it’s very helpful and inspiring. I also love to look through my marked-up cookbooks and my notebooks of dinner plans from past months and years–that reminds me of dinners that worked out OK.

Skill It: Have your children expressed an interest in helping in the kitchen? What have you taught them to make?
Katy: One of my sons is very interested in food, loves to eat, and loves to cook. Our favorite thing to make together is probably spring rolls - an assembly line of fried tofu, mangoes, basil, those skinny rice noodles, big flat dishes of water, rice wrappers, and peanut sauce. The other son is completely indifferent about food.


Skill It: What one thing about food and eating do you most want to teach your children? What do you hope your children will learn about food from you?
Katy: I hope they are learning that what we eat, how we make it, where it comes from, and who we eat it with matter. One of my children has Type 1 diabetes, and I notice him noticing what foods have a bad effect on his health–which is sad, but necessary. So I hope he will learn how to use a food scale and how to be a total math whiz at calculating ratios and insulin doses.

Skill It: Are there ways that you and your family are play with your food?
Katy: When I want to be like a mother from a magazine, I might put a Lego minifigure or a weird little animal candle at each person’s place. We don’t do anything fun like make fruit faces on toast. That never caught on.

Skill It: Is there a piece of kitchen or cooking advice you would like to share with other families?
Katy: This advice is from Ann Hodgman’s One Bite Won’t Kill You. It is important to me because I find it very challenging not to fret about a person with a diet of toast, apples, tea, and Halloween candy. “Give up the notion that having a child who’s a picky eater is a problem. It’s not a problem. It’s a luxury…you and I already have easy, easy lives compared to most people, and we should keep that in mind every time we offer our children something to eat.” Ann Hodgman also says something along the lines of: your life will be so much better once you decide that apples are a vegetable.


Skill It: Is there a question you ask your kids at the dinner table most nights?
Katy: Yes. “Did you check your blood sugar?” and “Is your napkin on your lap?”

Feeding Traditions is a series of interviews that explore the rich connections between food & family. We love the chance to peek into our neighbors’ kitchens and celebrate the work we do to gather our loved ones around the dinner table. And it highlights the memories we all have formed around spending time with friends, family, and food.

Start the routine of your family dinners as soon as possible (even ten months old is not too early) and hang on for dear life! Families have become so busy, with both parents working, and children scheduled for countless school and athletic events, that dinner time has all but disappeared. It's important to make family dinner a priority.

Benefits of eating with our kids:

Learning good table manners and conversation skills are valuable, but children connecting with their parents everyday is a life changer.

My Favorite book -The Family Dinner by Laurie David

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