Archive for the 'General' Category

Catch Them Doing Good

My teenagers are ditching school on Friday. How do I know this? I’d like to claim it was clever detective work and extreme expertise in motherhood cyber-sleuthing but no, I know they are ditching because I’ve planned it. We are going to get up in the morning, get ourselves already for a regular day and then just not show up. The whole thing is going to be a fantastic waste of time, an orchestrated event of unruliness. We are going to the mall and out for lunch instead of going to school.

Ditching Day is a special treat, my way of saying thank you for giving your all to your academic responsibilities, thank you for getting to class when so many of your friends are heading downtown. It is my way of ‘catching then doing good’.
At the beginning of this parenting journey I read a fantastic parenting book “How to Behave so Your Children Will Too” by Sal Severe Ph.D. The pages were filled with valuable words of parenting wisdom, among them, the phrase ‘Catch them doing good’. The line stuck and I’ve never forgotten it. How simple. Focus and reward the behaviour you want to end or avoid the behaviours that you don’t want.

Those four simple words have saved my sanity over the years and quite likely saved my children too, from the scars of being nagged through childhood.

Once I read ‘Catch them doing good’ I changed my focus. Suddenly I was saying things like “thank you for hanging up your coat”, “nice manners” and “Great work getting that homework out of the way” The results; I was saying “pick up your coat.” , “where are your manners?” and “Get that homework done.” a great deal less. I’d like to say that it completely solved the homework issue but I’m convinced magic that powerful does not exist.
There is something else that ‘Catch them doing good’ has a great impact on… that sibling thing that seems to be so hard to cope with. You know the one where you swear one of your children is going to come into the kitchen holding the other’s eyeballs in their hands asking how to put them back in. You can’t make the battles go away, they actual have a developmental function and nature protects them from eradication but you can ease the frequency, severity and most importantly increase your tolerance by focusing on the behaviour that makes you happy.

‘Catch them doing good’ ….Try it for one week, be on the lookout, catch them and praise the heck out of every little gesture of kindness towards one another. See if you notice anything different.


I am always amazed in parenting that it is most often the very simplest words or actions, like Ditching Day, that produce the most dramatic results.


You can also find Michelle at her blog The Space Between Raindrops, sharing wisdom, gratitude and humour.

Anti-Bullying: Do you walk the talk?

Parents, even really great parents (you know the ones whose kids are always clean, coordinated and sporting matching socks) make mistakes. Some of us (okay, I mean…I) make more than our fair share of mistakes; those of us with children old enough to talkback never hear the end of our mistakes. Parents (even the ones who think they are pretty great already) spend a lot of time playing over our mistakes, analysing them, working out ways to correct them and taking steps to make sure we don’t keep repeating the same mistakes over and over. It is part of growing as a parent (because kids aren’t the only ones growing on this journey).

Ordinarily I prefer to try and ease burdens rather than add to the weight of them but October is Bully Awareness Month and it is time to check ourselves, correct ourselves and put an end to some mistakes we might not even be aware we are making.

Take fifteen minutes this week for a good long look in the mirror. Head out to a busy public park, go sit in a food court among the tweenagers and ‘young adults’ or sit outside the playroom door undetected and just listen. Listen and observe. Do you detect kindness, cooperation, and consideration for the feelings of others? Are there signs of defamation, exclusion, judgement, humiliation, or degradation? Everything you hear, the good and the bad, is a direct reflection of the world adults are modelling.
Check yourself

Do you…
• Speak well of others, even when you think your kids aren’t listening?
• Demonstrate patience when patience is tough to come by, in traffic, in grocery store line-ups, in waiting rooms?
• Keep opinions to yourself when they are hurtful, judgemental or degrading? (This includes conversations around the dinner table about your stupid boss, your brother-in-law who needs a life, your neighbour who parks their junk heap out front and passing remarks at supermarket tabloids.)
• Avoid gossiping with friends while the kids ‘play-date’ in the other room?
• Listen to other people?
• Show respect for others?
• Stand up for yourself with thought-out responses and control in your voice and actions?
• Speak up for others when you see or hear them being treated or spoken of unfairly?
• Practice common courtesy?
• Speak to the people inside your home with the same courtesy and respect you show to strangers?

Bullying, is a direct by-product of how we as adults behave out there in the world, how we behave in our homes, in our workplaces, our neighbourhoods and our peer groups. If we are going to turn the tide on acceptance, human kindness and consideration, if we are going to make tomorrow a place with less humiliation, torment and fear for our children, it is going to be up to the ‘ones who should know better’ to show them how it’s done through our own behaviour, words and actions. We must, as Gandhi said, “Be the change we wish to see in this world.” and we must be diligent in our efforts because our own children are not the only ones watching and they are always watching.

You can also find Michelle at her blog The Space Between Raindrops, sharing wisdom, gratitude and humour.

Expect One Thing

There is a lot of buzz right now about the movie “What to Expect When You are Expecting.” On date night we will be bypassing the blockbuster in favour of the Avengers. I subjected my poor husband to more than enough ‘what to expect’ when I hung a month to month pregnancy calendar on the wall behind the toilet tank. (Don’t judge, deliver the material to a captive audience I say) besides I can sum up in a single word what to expect…


From the moment of conception it begins. First your breasts start to swell, much to your husband’s delight until he discovers they are off limits due to tenderness. Your belly swells, although it won’t happen fast enough really for anyone to tell if you are pregnant, bloated or just over indulging in pastries.

By the time your belly does swell to evident pregnancy, your breast tenderness will subside (full bosom fun for all husbands and gawkers alike). This is a good time to remove your wedding band and other rings; it won’t be long before your fingers turn into cute little sausages. Or, leave them on and stare at your husband with tear filled eyes as he readies the wire cutters month seven. Don’t back out now… you still have ankle and foot swelling to enjoy. If you happen to be pregnant in the summer you are really in for a treat! Once, I took my shoes off in the grocery store and stayed that way until I landed the very first ugly-as-heck flip flops I could squeeze my piggies into. Yes, if you are pregnant you can pretty much expect that for nine months you will experience swelling in every part of your body, except your arse… that’s just fat.

Beyond your swelling pregnant body, around 38 ½ weeks you will very likely observe your husband swell with terror as he suddenly realizes you are having a baby.

Then the day arrives…delivery! What to Expect? (Insert delivery room swelling details) nope sorry I won’t – find out or relive that moment for yourself.

Pregnancy and delivery behind you, post-partum swelling of hands, feet and ankles is going to make you look like the Michelin Man and wondering if your skin can safely hold that much fluid. You will miss pre-delivery swelling. Especially in the upper realm of ‘breast-land’ oh those glorious days of tenderness were heaven compared to full on engorgement swelling. If I were starting over I would get myself ‘pre-pregnancy’ microscopic tattoos over each nipple. They would say ‘don’t touch’ …that way when they inevitably swelled up like printed birthday balloons I would have something to laugh about and my husband would know I mean business.

I want to tell you that you can expect the swelling to disappear postpartum, but in reality you are just getting started. In those first months your head will be swollen as you accomplish tremendous feats of motherhood like feeding the baby and texting while folding teeny tiny face cloths. Your eyes are going to swell with tears of exhaustion. Your toe will swell post 3am stubbing.

Something else you might expect is that your child is going to swell too! Everywhere and anywhere in my experience…Swollen gums, glands, lips, nose, eyes, fingers, toes, bellybutton; you will get used to it.

You will have to. Swelling won’t go away.

Over the course of motherhood you will swell with pride, you will swell up with anger, you will puff up in defense and your stomach acid will swell into your throat. There will be days that will swell with laughter and days that will make you believe that your brain might expand to explode with frustration. It won’t.

I’m sure that if you are already reading the books, going to the classes and watching reality TV. I probably haven’t told you anything you weren’t already expecting. Maybe at best if you are standing in line at the theatre I just scored you bonus points with hubby by opting for the Avengers ticket.

There is one thing you should know. Something that no movie, book, website or talk show will prepare you to expect; how much your heart can swell, expand, contain, grow and love. That, I promise, will catch you by surprise every single day from now until forever.

You can also find Michelle at her blog The Space Between Raindrops, sharing wisdom, gratitude and humour.

To Pay or Not to Pay?

How do you feel about paying your kids? Are you for the practice or against? We have a pretty hard line in our home – Nobody gets paid. It is a rule based on fairness. Families are a team effort and while most often the parents carry the team everybody has a position to play. Everybody does something to make the house run. When the kids were little I used to put socks on their hands and charge them with dusting anything below my kneecaps. Did they like it? Maybe not, but kids that age will do anything if you sing it. For almost 8 years nobody talked in our house, we sang. Everything… ‘Who will set the table?”… “I will, I will… lalalala” and so on. Things got done because we made it fun. That works when the kids are little because their currency is ‘fun’.

By the time they get into school they come to appreciate actual currency, the paper kind that can be traded for goods, services and candy. They want money! They want it and the internal struggle begins. Do you pay kids for helping out around the house? Is allowance a good thing? Should allowance be connected to performance? I go to work every day and I get paid for doing a job. If I ask my kids to do a job for me shouldn’t they be fairly compensated? Perhaps, but I get paid to do jobs for people I don’t live with (much to their relief) I do not get paid to work at home. At last count in our home I currently hold 6 full-time positions, 23 part-time ones and a host of special consultation gigs. I know my family pretty well, there is no way they can afford me, so I work pro bono (Oh but if they could afford me…imagine.. ChaChing!)

We have deemed in our home that most things you do because they are required as part of caring for yourself, and being respectful of the people you live with, chores are the requirement of holding a position on the team. Rooms get cleaned and laundry gets washed, dishes get put in the dishwasher (on occasion) because you cannot live in filth or smell like gym socks and paper and plastic are environmentally irresponsible. The reciprocal effects of your efforts are having room to entertain your friends, friends who want to share your fresh scented company and an absence of salmonella and listeria.

For everything else my kids go to the bank of Mom. Yes, sorry to all those parents who claim not to be a bank; you are. Might as well think like one… If you want money from me, there had better be some in your account or you better have good credit.

My kids fill up their mom accounts with extra courtesies. Maybe you folded a load a laundry or watched your brother after school; deposits to the Mom bank. Maybe you want to go to the movies on Saturday night or want to join your little friends on a run to the corner store for neon green and blue slushies; withdrawals from the Mom bank. Help goes in, privileges come out.

It all works pretty well; the kids get to earn some privileges without my actually paying for their efforts to keep the house running smoothly. As far as cash money, they earn a respectable amount through birthdays, babysitting gigs, and odd jobs for people they don’t live with. Our son is the very best at saving up his cash money for big purchases. It is funny just how quickly they figure out that Mom and Dad are not shelling out for any item that could cause bodily injury.

I am sure that there are better, simpler approaches to the allowance dilemma, some work, some don’t, we have tried most on and one thing is certain; you have to use what works with your values and family. What really works for our family right now is the kids starting to get real life jobs; jobs with schedules and pay stubs, bosses and responsibilities. Jobs that encourage their own spending and improve the healthy bottom line of the Mom Bank. Now I’m not so much credit manager as I am financial advisor. If I do this new job right they might just be able to pay me for my pro bono work someday!

You can also find Michelle at her blog The Space Between Raindrops, sharing wisdom, gratitude and humour.


This is an incredibly inspiring, motivating video about wisdom? How do you define wisdom?

Why are we not asking more questions?

The other day I asked a group of parents what concerns them most about what goes on in their child’s classroom.

One mom said that what concerns her most is that she has no idea what is going on. When I asked what she wanted to know about, she said, “Everything!!”

Good for her. It is time we parents started to wonder – out loud – what is going on.

Long past time.

The biggest “What the heck was going on?” in my professional experience was the case of a girl who failed grade 7 in an Ottawa public school – for being truant and for not doing the assigned work.

Yes, the girl failed; she was not allowed to go on to grade 8.

But, in the bigger picture, the girl didn’t fail. The girl was failed.

Failed by the system that didn’t notice she couldn’t read. For 8 years, from SK to the end of grade 7 – no one noticed or did anything about the fact that she couldn’t read. Couldn’t read so much a picture book.

Failed by her parents who also didn’t notice her illiteracy and who dismissed her cries for help –the truancy and the refusal to do the school work – as nothing more than a poor pre-teen attitude.

Sadly, this is not an isolated case.

That pre-teen who couldn’t read Alborough’s Duck in the Truck at the end of grade 7 could well have been that cutie in SK who couldn’t rhyme or count words in a sentence, but who, the teachers said, “just wasn’t as mature as the other kids.” She could have been that angel in grade 2 who couldn’t count syllables or remember the alphabet, but who, the teachers said, “will catch up soon.” She could have been the shame-faced child in grade 3 whose report card always said how disruptive she was, but never mentioned that she didn’t read as well as a child in early grade 1.

There’s no excuse.

We begin teaching pre-reading skills in SK – and sometimes in JK. When kids enter grade 1, the academic focus is not much wider than emergent literacy and numeracy skills.

By the time a child is at the end of grade 1 – and usually a lot earlier – we know – if we’ve been properly trained to teach and assess reading – if her literacy skills are developing appropriately.

So, why is it that so many struggling readers are not being identified earlier?

Yes, we can blame the institution. If these children were patients under the care of a doctor, and the results were similar – we’d be reading about lawsuits for malpractice.

But, we also need to point the finger at ourselves. These are our children. We care the most. We are ultimately responsible.

What do we know about the curriculum in an elementary classroom? Have we bothered to find out how much time our children spend learning to read? Do we know and understand the approach the teacher is taking? Is that approach working for our child? Do we know about alternative approaches?

We have no problem checking site after site on the internet to find out what the milestones are for language or fine motor development when our children are infants. Do we demonstrate the same level of active curiosity and concern once we hand them over to the government’s schools? Or do we just wait for our children to be “educated” and handed back to us?

If our children needed medical care, would we offer them up as blindly to a surgeon as we do to their teachers and schools? Wouldn’t we do a lot of research and ask a lot of questions? Wouldn’t we demand to know what is going to happen in the operating room?

Why is it, then, that we don’t demand to know – in detail – what’s going on in our children’s classrooms?

Why do we settle for the impersonal canned comments on report cards?

Why do we settle for rushed teacher meetings in which the sole focus is the child – the one with the least power to control the outcome?

Why do we sit, like chastened children ourselves, trying to explain Suzie’s inability to get with the programme instead of sitting up straight, looking the system straight in the eye, and demanding an explanation of why the programme is failing to meet Suzie’s needs?


Diane L. Duff is a certified high school English and French teacher and a former private school principal. She provides literacy and academic assessment / consulting to students throughout Ontario. As well, she conducts teacher professional development (and/or parent training) workshops throughout Canada in the areas of reading development, dyslexia, and structured language teaching. Diane is currently completing a Master’s degree in literacy and Montessori teacher training. For more information, visit

Owl Kids Book Review: Where are you Bear?

My kids and I both enjoyed this book! It is geared towards a younger age group; I’d say 3-6. The book follows a little girl, Sophie, who has lost her bear. We follow her on a geographic alphabet adventure across Canada in her search to find the lost Bear.

My youngest is just starting to recognize the letters of the alphabet so this was a great book for her. She is also very curious about the sounds the letters make, so the words and images that accompanied each letter were a good way to help teach the sounds.

The book contained images of famous landmarks and location specific things to each province which kept the kids interested in each page.

Reviewed by Gwen, our Green Living blogger

Book Review: Harvey. How I became Invisible

When our kids are young we surround them with sunshine stories and happy endings. There’s nothing wrong with this but as our kids get older they deal with and explore varied emotions, some happy, some sad, some angry, some confused. Books are a great way to explore these emotions and question feelings and circumstances.

Groundwood BooksHarvey. How I Became Invisible (age 10+ ) written by Hervé Bouchard and illustrated by Janice Nadeau, is a tale told from a young Harvey about the sudden loss of his father to a heart attack. After playing with friends one afternoon he arrives home only to find to his house surrounded by strangers with eyes full of pity and sorrow. His distraught mother explains to Harvey and his younger brother Cantin how their father has died.

With pages full of muted grey and brown hues, we follow Harvey as he tries to deal with this change in his life, his mother’s uncertainty about the future, his younger brother’s lack of understanding. Harvey starts to feel like a story character, Scott Carey, who disappears from everyone’s site, invisible. As Harvey tries to absorb the events he too starts to disappear, disassociating himself from the world around him. At the moment he sees his father laying in a coffin, there’s no denying that his father is dead. It’s at this point that Harvey feels he disappears completely, from the life he use to know.

Although the story sounds depressing, I found Harvey a compelling read, feeling Harvey’s struggle with understanding his new world, one without his father. The illustrations add to the feeling of sadness and uncertainty and the text appears handprinted, as though a journal of Harvey’s thoughts. Harvey has a very graphic novel sort of feel.

Obviously due to the subject matter Harvey is aimed at an older child. However for older kids the characterization and illustrations make it an interesting read.

I have to thank Trisha at Groundwood Books for my review copy.

Harvey. How I Became Invisible

age 10+

written by Hervé Bouchard, illustrated by Janice Nadeau

Groundwood Books

Carrie Anne is a contributing book reviewer on Best Tools for School’s blog and No Time for Flash Cards as well as Managing Editor of You can catch up with her and her three kids on her blog Another Day Another Thought… Or Two.

Outside the Classroom: Ottawa Edition – Winter Family Fun

I love the outdoors, but mostly from April to October. From November until the end of March, I hibernate. I didn’t realise this until I went through the thousands and thousands of pictures I had taken of my children last year, and saw that there were very few shots of them outside in the winter. I felt badly that they were missing out on some of the wonderful winter activities that I enjoyed so much as a child. This year, I have decided to change the way I approach the winter, and introduce my children to winter fun and exercise.

This year, my children and I have already been out tobogganing. We all had so much fun. What I found to be very helpful was the City of Ottawa list of approved toboggan hills.  This is a great resource because each toboggan hill has a short blurb written about the hill. The description includes the size of the hill, whether or not there is parking, and further relevant information pertaining to each particular hill. This allows you to choose a hill that will best suit your family.

There are 248 outdoor skating rinks in Ottawa. On the City of Ottawa website, there is a complete list. The list is divided into east and west locations. It also includes the type of ice surface and whether there are washrooms available. It also lets you know if each rink has boards, lights, and supervision. The only thing left to do is to get out and skate. Don’t forget your camera!

The easiest winter activity to do as a family is to build a snow fort. This can be as simple or as challenging as you make it. When I was a kid, my older brother used to build extreme forts, with tunnels and towers. I used to decorate the site with snow angels and snowmen. The point was, we could do this together, it costs no money, and it’s fun. The best part? The snowball fights at the end!

Gwen H.

Gwen blogs at She can also be found on Twitter @GwenVsTheKids


Outside the Classroom: Toronto Edition – Food for the Soul

With the hustling and bustling of the most wonderful time of the year, it is easy to overlook those who are less fortunate.  

The holidays have become so commercialized and focused on ‘consumption’ that the real meaning of the holiday season (no matter what religious or non-religious belief you may have) has been lost in the midst of the tinsel, gift wrap and credit card bills. 

While we run around trying to organize and prepare for our holiday dinners, there are others who may go without a dinner altogether… let alone enjoy the company of loved ones. 

This holiday season, I challenge everyone (with their families) to reconnect with the ‘humanity’ and good will that is innate within all of us.  Volunteering at a local soup kitchen creates experiences that are life changing and help us to re-realize what matters… each other.  You will be helping to provide physical nutrition, but you will also be creating mental and emotional nutrition for everyone involved… food for the soul. 

BlogTO recently made a listing of local soup kitchens here

From my family to yours, Merry Christmas/Happy Holidays and Happy New Year! 

❤❤❤❤ Peace, Love and Cupcakes

~ Nerissa





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