Archive for December, 2009

The Season of Giving…

This is the time of year we naturally turn our thoughts to helping those in need.  It is a time of great hope and the spirit of giving is strong.  That is why we’d like to tell you about a great Canadian organization, CanadaHelps.

Canada Helps is the only charity that promotes and secures online donations for more than 85,000 charities across Canada.  They are currently running their 1st Annual Contest – The Great Canadian Giving Challenge .

So here’s the challenge.  Set up a Giving Page and raise funds for the registered Canadian charity of your choice using social media tools like Twitter and Facebook.  In addition to all the donations generated for the charities, Canada Helps is offering an additional $15,000 in prizes for charities. Prizes will be given for two categories: the GivingPages that raise the most funds and those that attract the most donors. Besides experiencing ‘warm fuzzies’ for helping out a charity, CanadaHelps enters every GivingPage owner into a draw for an iPod Shuffle every week.  The contest closes on December 20, 2009 at 12 noon ET. So get your Santa hat on and help those that need it most this time of year.

If you’d like to find out more, please visit the Giving Challenge.

Wednesday Book Review – Dork Diaries

Books are a big gift at Christmas for our kids as well as my nieces. I recently picked up a copy of Rachel Renee Russell‘s book Dork Diaries: Tales from a not-so-fabulous life (age 9-12) as a gift for my oldest niece, an avid reader.

When fourteen-year old Nikki Maxwell started a new private school she hoped her parents would buy her a new iPhone as a gift. Instead her mom gave her a diary to write her thoughts and feelings in as a way of cooping with new school stresses. Nikki swore she would never use it. That was day one and page one.

The book, as Nikki’s diary, cover’s her anxiety to fit in and make friends, her desire to be one of the CCP (Cute, Cool and Popular) girls, her secret crush on the school’s hot boy, her fear that everyone will find out she’s at the school on a bug scholarship, and basically every other insecurity a pre-teen girl goes through. Along with feeling Nikki’s pain when caught in embarrassing situations (like spilling pudding all over herself in the lunchroom), there are lots of moments where you are laughing. I think most middle-grade girls will relate to embarrassing parents and school crushes. I love that the books is written in a diary format with ruled pages and script font. Fun sketches (they almost remind me of Japanese anime) are included through out as doodles Nikki makes about how she’s feeling. The book looks and reads very much like a young girl’s diary.

I think my niece will really enjoy reading Dork Diaries: Tales from a not-so-fabulous life. If you have a middle-grader in your house, this might make a great gift under the tree.

You can also continue your journey with Nikki by visiting her blog

Dork Diaries: Tales from a not-so-fabulous life
by Rachel Renee Russell
age 9-12
282 pages
Aladdin (part of Simon and Schuster)


A Mom Influencer & Review Editor at

That’s a Wrap!

Whether you’re the CEO of a large company, or the CEO of your household (or both), there seems to be one common question nagging moms everywhere – What do I pack in my kid’s lunch?

Trying to balance healthy eating without taking the fun out of food can sometimes be a challenge.  A healthy lunch is essential for your child because it can provide a solid basis for improved concentration and memory in class, important ingredients for optimal learning – but I can’t remember the last time I saw a 6 year old dive into a Lentil & Arugula salad with any trace of enthusiasm on his face :)

However, I’m delighted to report I’ve found a happy medium with both spirit and sustenance: the mighty wrap.  A wrap is tough enough to sit in a lunchbox for a number of hours, all the while maintaining it’s original texture, shape, and most importantly taste (no soggy bread here).  Also adding to the appeal is it’s versatility – you could throw in your neighbour’s fruitcake from last Christmas - with enough dijon, bean sprouts & avocado slices, you’d think you were eating a roasted chicken wrap.

Here’s one of my son’s favourites…minus the fruitcake:

Roasted Chicken Wrap

1 burrito sized whole wheat tortilla wrap

handful of  white meat from roasted chicken (already roasted & purchased at the grocery store)

1/4 c of favourite shredded cheese

3-4 grape tomatoes, halved

shredded lettuce (or bean sprouts, or baby spinach, or *gasp!* arugula)

a squirt or two of  favourite condiment (dijon, mayo, honey mustard, etc)

Wrap it, pack it & voila – lunch is served.


Tracey Black, owner of Epicuria, is back next Monday with lunchtime solutions for parents with no time (and sometimes…no kitchen!)

Parent-Teacher Day: The best defence may be a good offence

If you’re like me, you worry, as you write report cards, that you’re going to get negative responses from some parents.  You never meet them, they never call to inquire about how their kids are doing, but come report card time, they‘re salivating at the thought of being able to corner you in the parent-teacher meeting.

Why, they demand, did you not tell me sooner about my child’s struggles?

Why, you wonder, are you so out of the loop when it comes to how your child spends 30 or more hours a week?

It’s probably best not to respond provocatively – no matter how badly you want to, no matter how many such conversations you’ve already had (or are going to have) on parent-teacher day.

Though parent-teacher meetings ought not to be adversarial, they sometimes are – and I can’t help wondering if it’s because parents don’t understand much of what happens in the course of a school day, how lessons are planned and delivered, how marks are computed.

Maybe some of the enmity can be prevented if we were to design a handout or hold an information session for parents with some key information:

  1. What marks mean. What percentage is allotted to in-class work, homework completion, tests, projects, participation? What is the difference between formative and summative evaluation?
  2. The instructional scope and sequence. What units of study will students be involved in?  What’s the expected timeline? What are the major skills and concepts to be learned in each unit?  How and when will that learning be measured?  Remember, parents can’t know what goes on unless you tell them.  Make sure they understand how much time their child has to practice new learning (through in-class work, homework, extended projects).
  3. The homework issue. Is the student doing the homework, completely and to advantage?   Tell the parents how quick your turnaround time is for marking and returning assignments.  Make sure parents knows the child can use your feedback and redo some assignments in order to gain mastery of skills and concepts.
  4. The importance of reviewing the child’s agenda/binder/notebooks. Do parents have an inkling of the quality of work their child does?  Do parents see that the child doesn’t make the corrections after you mark the work – even after you remind her? Does the parent know that their child seldom resubmits work for re-correction and feedback?
  5. Evaluation. Can you provide a schedule of tests – so parents can help you encourage the child to study over a period of time instead of just cramming the night before? Perhaps you can talk to parents about the value of practice tests.  That might be something they can work on with their child.  You can also ask parents to supervise test corrections so the child understands what she went wrong.

This is petty elementary stuff to be sure, and you probably have lots of ideas of your own.

The thing is to try to find a gentle way to remind parents that their child’s education is not a product for which you are responsible.  Rather, it’s a dynamic work in progress that has more potential when everyone is working meaningfully and cooperatively with a common goal.

Here’s hoping the parent-teacher day gods are good to you.

Until next time….


Diane Duff, B. Ed., M. A., has been working with students and families for almost twenty years.   Her areas of expertise are literacy development, special education, reading disability/dyslexia, and teacher training.   At Aldridge-Duff, the private education business she founded ten years ago, Diane coordinates a highly experienced team of certified teachers  who provide in-home tutoring and academic support to students (all ages/grades/abilities) in both Ottawa and Toronto.
Contact Diane directly at


Candace also blogs for
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