4 Halloween Happenings in Boston

If your Halloween is not so happening, spice it up at one of these four events taking place around Boston this Halloween.

  1. Fenway Park Trick-or-TreatingHere’s a win-win: The kids get candy, and you get to walk around the legendary Fenway Park. This Halloween, children and adults alike are invited to go trick-or-treating around the field’s Warning Track, receiving candy from the park’s staff. Wally will make an appearance, as will the Sox’s three World Series trophies. Additional fun includes balloon artists, face painting, caricatures, and stilt walker Big League Brian. But before the big event, there’s a pumpkin contest on Thursday, October 29—enter your carved masterpieces from 5-7:30 p.m. If yours is one of the top three winners, it’ll be on display during the Fenway Park Halloween festivities for all to see. Free, Saturday, October 31, 1-5 p.m., Fenway Park, Gate C, redsox.mlb.com.
  2. No Tricks, Just Treats at Boston Harbor Hotel’s Spooky Tea. The Rowes Wharf Sea Grille invites you and your little ones to put on your BHH_Rowes Wharf Spooky Tea 3costumes and celebrate Halloween in the city. Dip into their Witches’ Brew Apple Cider, don their DIY caps and decorate a few cookies then fill their own trick-or-treat bag with Halloween goodies to take home.  Kids will get a kick out of the Trick-or-Treat Treasure Hunt. while the adults in tow can sip champagne and enjoy a monstrous selection of seasonal treats like scarily delectable tea sandwiches, scones and holiday cookies.   Reservations are required and this party does not come cheap ($45 per adult, $20 for children 12 and under). The festivities take place Friday, October 30, Saturday, October 31 & Sunday, November 1, 2015 3:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Rowes Wharf Sea Grille, Inside the Boston Harbor Hotel, 70 Rowes Wharf, Boston, MA, (617) 856-774.
  3. Brick-or-Treat at Legoland Combine two of kids favorite things- Halloween and LEGOS and you’ll be happy to bring your little monsters to Legoland This October for Brick-o-Treat.  The transformation Legoland has taken creates a Halloween LEGO wonderland that will have you just as mesmerized as your kids.  A Monster Mash scavenger hunt will lead your kids through Miniland where you’ll encounter clues to find your treasure. Add a spooky pumpkin trail, and a themed a building challenge and you have the makings of a candy-free Halloween. $14.95-$29.95 (children under 3 free),  Saturday, October 31, Legoland Discovery Center, 598 Assembly Row, Somerville, 866228-6439, legolanddiscoverycenter.com.
  4.  “Heroes & Villains” at Brass Union. If you’re an adult who can sneak away and are looking to party like you did pre-kids then you should headimage006 to “Heroes & Villains” at Brass Union. Head to Brass Union for an adults only comic-themed Halloween bash that will have your kids green with envy. Enjoy the dance party, costume contest, themed libations and candy.   DJ ABD will take to the turntables and spin a variety of genres from hip-hop, funk and soul to ‘80s hits. For good measure, DJ ABD will mix in a dose of Halloween classics so revelers can do their best “Monster Mash.” Brass Union, 70 Union Square, Somerville – 617.623.9211 – www.brassunion.comOctober 31 from 9pm-2am; 21+; complimentary admission.

 -Satisfying your spook this Halloween, Jess

Host a Halloween Pumpkin Carving Party

When friends ask how our Halloween pumpkin carving party began I tell them the story of the random weeknight just before Halloween-before we had kids- when we were feeling a little competitive and challenged one another to a carving contest. I lost big time, but had a blast so I turned it into a party!

The next year we invited a few family members to join us, once we had kids and we invited the few folks we knew in town. Now, the event is a large outdoor extravaganza where the kids don costumes snack all afternoon, float from games, to crafts to pumpkin painting and create fun for themselves while parents carve, nosh and socialize.IMG_2418

Follow Amazing Matriarch’s tips to plan your own carving party that will please guests of all ages:

  1. Go potluck

There’s something special about a fall pot luck party. I love the smorgasbord of food that appears and am always interested in seeing what’s a hit (buffalo chicken dip and RIP Reubens alway empty fast) and stealing that dish to bring to friends parties in the future. Beyond that, prepping a couple of simple dishes for a large crowd (chili, pulled pork, sloppy Joe’s, mac n’ cheese) is much easier than planning food for a party that could end up with far fewer guests than planned (kids get sick, things come up and people bail last minute).

2. Spread activities, food & drink around the entire yard

I use every area of outside space for something different.

The center of the patio transforms into a craft area with food and drinks along the edges. Hay bails act as seats for kids while they’re crafting, or later, eating. Parents can check out their art while getting a libation or bite and keep from getting trapped in one location.

The back yard becomes a mecca of mayhem where the kids go wild, taking part in simple games like toss the ring on the witch hat and donut eating from our swings, which is also the site for a black cat piñata this year. Plenty of open space lets them release energy and the strategically placed keg off to the side ensures the dads are on hand to observe.IMG_0833

The garage becomes carving central. Folding tables are set inside with chairs so that when there’s no carving going on people can sit and eat. Some food is set within so that folks don’t have to go far to get a bite, especially when working under the judging deadline.

Spreading things out also ensures that everyone mixes.

3. No one will say boo to BYO

We ask guests to BYO dish to share, pumpkin and carving tools as well as a pumpkin to paint for the kids (although a friend with pumpkin patch access scored enough for the kids coming this year). I’ve collected quite a few carving tools through the years but not enough for all so I continue to add that request to the invitation. I also ask that beyond the keg and hot cider (spiked or virgin) guest BYO booze.

4. If it is on Halloween, offer trick or treating

This year Halloween is on a Saturday and so is our party. Friends are welcome to join us in trick or treating around our neighborhood with our house as home base before, during or after. Because why not extend the excitement of Halloween.

-Just one mom masquerading as a party planning superhero one Halloween at a time, Jess

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Food & Foliage at Nancy’s Airfield Cafe

As a mom who loves good food and a cool experience, I’m pretty open to dining adventures that allow my kids to be included.  This weekend, we celebrated my husband’s birthday with lunch & extended family at Nancy’s Airfield Cafe in Stowe, MA. We loved every buzz and bite that came our way.

After a ride along the foliage filled backroads that left me mesmerized we wound our way to Nancy’s Airfield Cafe.  Situated at the edge of Minuteman Airfield,  Nancy’s offers aviation aficionados the opportunity to watch aircraft depart and arrive at this small air field while enjoying a hot meal and cool cocktail. Ideally situated for arrival by car or aircraft, this dining destination will have those who came by car rubbing elbows with those who made Nancy’s part of their leisurely flight.

The quaint interior is filled with country charm. From the artwork for sale on the walls to the simple tables set to allow guests to catch sight of the aircraft coming and going, the simplicity of Nancy’s lures in locals who regularly make this a must for breakfast and lunch.

Lines around the corner are a normal part of dining at Nancy’s where reservations are not allowed (although large parties are encouraged to call) and 10 is tops for those seeking seating together. If dining with kids be warned that the best seating is in the exterior room on the runway. However, children are not allowed to be seated in that room due to an unlocked emergency door that opens onto the runway (apparently too many kids have tried to escape). Topping out this week with our party of 10, we were seated within the interior space of Nancy’s where the windows offer obstructed views of the choppers and planes parking on-site.

Expecting little of the food at a place that pride’s itself on its location, I was more than pleased by my meal. I took a chance ordering a specialty cocktail, hoping that at it’s $9 price tag it would please my picky palate. And it did, just strong enough my gin based libation was tart and refreshing with little sweetness; I enjoyed it so much I ordered a second.

After skimming the regular menu and specials I decided on something I would not typically order- bratwurst on a pretzel roll. For $14 two hearty sausages, topped with sauerkraut and mustard arrived with a few pickles on the side.  A bit too much for me, I quickly passed one to someone with more of an appetite and set to work enjoying what was on my plate. The meat was juicy, and full of flavor with just enough topping to enhance the flavor and just enough bread to enjoy the juice. I ate every last bite and left feeling comfortably full. Those with me ordered an array of dishes ranging from lamb burgers  to breakfast favorites like pancakes and egg sandwiches. Everyone left happy.

When the kids got restless and their food was gone a few adults brought them to the small expanse of lawn in front of the landing strip to run around while we finished our drinks and payed the bill. At that point, it was clear Nancy was ready to turn the table; upon seeing part of our party depart, she rushed over to request we relinquish one one of the tables we were using so she could set up another party. One can’t fault her as many of those lined up had hungry kids in tow and no chance of being seated in the other room so we happily obliged and made our way outside for goodbyes.

Much to our pleasure, a helicopter had landed on the lawn mid lot and our final treat was a close encounter of departure, which left the kids cheering and the adults happy to have successfully made it through a meal in a restaurant as a family without any tears (from kids or adults).

-Filling your desire to dine one family friendly spot at a time, Jess

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How to Foster a Relationship With Your Child’s Teacher

Ever wonder how to get your child’s teacher to communicate more frequently? It all starts with laying the groundwork for a positive relationship.

If it ever seems like your child’s teacher does not contact you enough think about this:

Teacher’s of elementary have 20-30 per class; if all families are “conventional” (2 married parents) each family is a 3 person unit for the teacher. If a family is “non-conventional” the family unit could be made up of 5. The total number of people, per  20 pupil class, the teacher may need to communicate with (including the child) ranges from 40 to 60. Single subject teachers in higher grades increase this ratio because these teachers are seeing well over 100 children on a daily basis bringing the numbers to a possible 400 (including the child).

Teachers typically don’t play favorites, but they’re much quicker to communicate with parents who’ve made it a point to be positive, show interest and show kindness. No one wants to listen to an irrational rant by a dissatisfied individual, and everyone wants to be praised-teachers included.

As former middle school teacher (and a child of divorce), I have 3 tips to help you get your child’s teacher to reach out:

  1. Reach out early and kindly offering your assistance and understanding. Own up to your child’s imperfections in this first communication. And ensure the teacher you are part of your child’s educational team and that you’ll listen before reacting and refrain from attacking when you don’t like something. An example of a way to make this clear is: Thank you for all you do for my son. He really likes when you do projects in class. I know he has lots of energy. I wanted to reach out and let you know that we are here to support you. I’m sure you’ve noticed that our son is full of energy; we often try to give him tasks at home to release it before doing homework, we find if he unloads the dishwasher he can sit for 20 minutes.  If you have any tips for us, please share them; we are eager to learn other ways to help our son excel and feel good about himself. And we’re here to support you; please let us know if his energy is ever a distraction to others and we’ll happily work with you. 
  2. Call a few times a year to compliment the teacher- tell the teacher you don’t expect a call back, you just wanted to share how much you liked a recent unit of study, project or assignment and you wanted him/her to know you’re there anytime and you hope he/she has a great day
  3. Let go, and allow your child to be the main line of communication.  And even allow your child to fail. It’s hard, I know, but failure leads to better learning and satisfaction from one’s own achievements. Plus, your child’s teacher will appreciate that you take a step back and let it happen; kids can only learn if we let them and too much assistance (running home for the forgotten homework, complaining if your kid was caught cheating rather than allowing for a teachable moment, or doing their homework when they struggle) is counterproductive because kids learn they’re incapable, above the rules or don’t have to try because you’ll step in rather than learn how to be learners. . Any educator will tell you that the most successful learners know how to recover from setbacks. While those who have mom and dad preventing failure struggle both emotionally and academically. True Story: My son forgot his rain coat at school; he’s in kindergarten, it’s his first week. My mom instinct was to pull over, unload both kids including my starving, screaming preschooler and head back in to get it. But I refrained, instead making it a teachable moment that I hope sticks with him, allowing him to accept consequences and serve as a reminder to be responsible for his stuff. So, rather than tiger mom it, I calmly and kindly reminded him that he’s responsible for himself and his stuff, and since he left his coat at school he’ll just have to wait until he goes next week to get his rain coat (my fingers are crossed we get no rain over the long weekend). It’s a small failure, but it bothered him enough for him to be show concern, and hopefully it’s a building block towards greater responsibility in the future (because I don’t plan to have my kids living with me forever).

Reach out, infrequently and kindly, throughout the year. You’ll be surprised how often the teacher reaches out to you with positive feedback and any concerns about your child.

-Just one mom who remembers what’s it’s like being on the other side of the classroom, Jess

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Handmade Animal Magnet Tutorial

I recently attended the wedding of my childhood neighbor (Congrats Kayla & Steve!).  I truly enjoy going to a wedding or event that has every little detail thought out and presented in a unique way and this couple did not disappoint.  The theme was whimsical woodlands meets fairytale love story.  They did an amazing job and their wedding was really a true representation of their personal style.

One of my favorite details of the wedding was the seat card holders for the guests.  Each seat card was displayed upright in between a mini animal toy figurine which was cut in half with a magnet attached on the inside of each end.  I guess my kids found these little figurines just as enjoyable as I did since I woke the following morning to a screaming match over whose new toy it was. Since I only had one to spare, the only solution was to make my weekly trip to Michael’s a little early and get the supplies needed to re-create these little woodland gems.

Here’s what you need:

  • Plastic mini animal toy figurines (I got mine at Michael’s)
  • Sharp knife
  • Fine sand paper
  • Non-toxic paint or spray paint
  • Magnets
  • Clear glue (I used gorilla glue as well as hot glue to really secure in place)

Picture 1

Step 1:

Picture 2Take the plastic animal of your choice and vertically cut the animal in half.  If you notice that the edges of your animal are a little rough after the cut, take a fine grain sand paper and sand the edges so that they are nice and smooth.

Animals with magnetsStep 2:

Connect 2 of your magnets together (its easier to work with them already connected first).  Take your gorilla glue and dab a little on one end of your magnet as well as a little on the flat side of the animal.  Hold the magnet in place on the animal until dry (30 seconds – 1 minute).  Repeat this step on the other half of your animal.

Step 3:

Start hand painting or spray painting both sides of your animal and let it dry completely before moving to the next step.

Step 4:

Animal Seat Card HoldersOnce the paint has dried on your animals, use a glue gun to seal around the edges of the magnet.  This adds some extra adhesive to make sure that your magnets stay in place.  Once the glue has dried, your magnets are ready to use.

This is a quick project that will add some whimsical fun to your home or next event.  The magnets are a unique idea for seat cards at your next dinner party, a perfect way to display photos or décor for a birthday and they also look great on the fridge (just in time for all the lovely artwork your kiddies will bring home from school).

Animal Magnet Card HoldersTry this project next time you are stuck in the house with your kids on a rainy day.  Complete steps 1 and 2 on your own and then let your kids use their creativity to paint the animals the colors of their choice.  It is a great way to educate your children on their animals or dinosaurs, they get to explore their creative minds with some crossbred species of animals and you will have some pretty cool magnets to hang all their beautiful artwork with.  Picture 8

Just one wedding guest who appreciates the little details that make a stylish wedding, Thia 

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Back to School Buying Guide: 3 Tips for Seamless Shopping

We’re well into August and let’s face it, you’re practically being hit in the face by back to school ads; in fact they started about a week after your kids got out of school if you live in the North East. As a former teacher, I loved this time of year; it signaled a new beginning, but as a parent I’ve come to find it to be among my most stressful times of the year.

I’ve been around the back to school block quite a few times and although I have not mastered the balance of enjoying this final month of freedom, I know a lot about how to make the leg work for the first day relatively seamless. If it’s your first go-round with the back to school shopping extravaganza or you could use a few tips to keep sane read on.

1. Stick to the list your teacher sends home

Seriously, buy what’s asked for and nothing more; you’re teachers know what your kids need and there’s no extra credit for extra stuff; in fact it may be prohibitive to your child’s organization as  more stuff = more mess and more mess means more chances of important items falling by the wayside.

So, put that cute package of Hello Kitty crayons back on the shelf, along with the really cool erasers for the pencils your kid does not need and move on.

2. Think practically & long term

Do not purchase expensive items covered in your kid’s favorite character. Today, my kindergarten age son loves Star Wars before that Super Heroes . Today, one of his best friend balked at taking his Ninja Turtles back pack to camp while my son insist the sports back pack that’s in perfectly good shape only be used for sports. Notice a trend, they are fickle little beings who commit to trends for short periods before moving on to the next super cool “it” thing.

Instead stay neutral, let your child choose a color, skip the flashy prints and buy a quality product with a great warranty. This way you won’t have to replace what they refuse to use because it is no longer cool come December; maybe it will even last more than one year.

And speaking of the following year… I’m a big fan of LL Bean: free shipping, fast product delivery and they offer hassle free returns if need be. Avoid the junior or x-small backpacks- nothing fits inside especially if you’ll need room for snow pants and boots.

3. Hold off on replenishing the wardrobe

Back to school is the worst time to buy clothes for your kids. You’ll find stores packed with fall attire that’s pretty much a month or more ahead of what your kids will need to wear. Wait until post Labor Day (or if you can Columbus Day) when prices fall before stocking up on cool weather wear. You’ll save and your kids will be wearing their new clothes when the weather is in line with the styles. My kids are still in summer clothes through most of September, so if you need something new and cute for the first day choose something summery that’s on sale because you can get it super cheap and they can still show off their new school clothes.

Then mix yourself a cocktail because you’ve mastered back to school shopping with 3 simple tips.

-Mastering the back to school mayhem, Jess

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Easy Homemade Appetizers to Take to Any Gathering

I’m a big fan of making what I take to people’s gatherings but I follow a few simple rules: I must be able to make it ahead of time, serve it at room temperature and it must be a finger food of just a few bites-no plate required. Recently, baffled by what to bring to a friend’s annual lobster bake, I perused a collection of my family’s recipes and found two gems that fit all my requirements and would please all party-goers-  zucchini bars and pepperoni pizza bars.

Passed down from my great aunts, and compiled to a simple well-worn booklet by a distant cousin for a family reunion in 2008, I knew two things about what I was making to take one of my favorite annual events- both would be darn good and super easy.

Of all the excellent recipes in my family recipe collection, I chose these two because I thought the idea of dueling bars (one with and one without meat) would be ideal for noshing while sipping a summer cocktail and awaiting the main event.  These are not trendy recipes with lots of fancy ingredients, they are easy to follow, mix by hand treats the Italian women in my family served regularly, especially when having guests.

Recreate my family’s recipes to bring to your next gathering:

Aunt Louise’s Zucchini Appetizer

  • 3 cups of zucchini thinly sliced and quartered
  • 1 cup Bisquick
  • 1/2 cup onion
  • 1/2 cup parmesen cheese
  • 2 tsp parsley
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp marjoram (leaves or powder)
  • pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 clove of finely chopped garlic

Mix all ingredients together by hand. Transfer into a greased 13×9 pan. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes. Cool then cut into bars sized to your liking; serve; enjoy. Excellent served at room temperature; this appetizer satisfies as a side dish for dinner or even as a vegetarian main course.

Aunt Lorraine’s Pizza Appetizer

  • 1 & 1/2 cups flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 stick of pepperoni, diced w/skin removed
  • Black pepper to taste
  • 2 cups milk
  • 8oz muenster cheese, diced
  • Oregano or Italian seasoning mix

Mix eggs, milk and flour to remove any lumps. add remaining ingredients and combine well. Bake at 350 for 40 minutes. Cool then cut into bars sized to your liking; serve; enjoy. These can be served hot, or at room temperature. This appetizer look and tastes like a deep dish pepperoni pizza.

Serving suggestion: Be the best guest at the party and bring a plate or platter the hosts can keep. The kindness of your hosts should not end in a flurry of empty dish drop offs the following day. I keep a stock of cute plastic platters and bowls on hand (purchased for a little over a dollar at my local Christmas Tree Shop) so that even when an impromptu gathering pops up I am prepared to plate well.

-Simplifying your appetizers one bar at a time, Jess

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6 Tips Every Parent Needs to Tackle Story Land

Before you head to New Hampshire’s Story Land take advantage of these 6 tips that will make your day in the amusement park more enjoyable.Mother Goose

  1. Plan for a weekday during July and August– Located int he White Mountains of New Hampshire the heat of the summer months allows you to maximize time on the rides. Often jam-packed on weekends, the long lines wreak havoc on impatient little ones; make your day better by going on a weekday.
  2. Pre-Order & Pre-Print tickets- Arrive with your tickets in hand and you’ll enjoy a quick and easy entry upon your arrival. It’s much quicker to scan a ticket than process a payment so even when the line wraps around the corner you’ll be through the gates in no time.The itsy bitsy spider
  3. Arrive at Opening- Story Land opens at 9:30am, get there as it opens to optimize your parking options and enjoy minimum ride lines. You’re early arrival really pays off as you’ll get to complete the entire park in one day.
  4. Head to the popular rides first- Rides like the Roar-O-Saurus draw crowds of big kids and excited parents as it’s the largest coaster in the park; head directly there when that section opens at 10am and you’ll be able to ride several times before the crowds flock to this section of the park. Other rides that find themselves with long lines include the Bamboo Chutes (log flume), Dr. Geyser’s Remarkable Raft Ride, the Polar Coaster and Cinderella’s Pumpkin Coach (Cinderella is only at the castle certain hours; if you’re cutting it close to break time walk to the castle and take the Pumpkin Coach back as the line moves very slowly).IMG_0482
  5. Bring Food- You can bring food into the park, which is a life saver for parents who have kids with food allergies or dietary restrictions (or have dietary restrictions themselves). Pack a simple snack or lunch that can easily be eaten without refrigeration or heating. There are plenty of food vendors available for purchasing treats, drinks and meals within the park and Story Land posts an ingredient guide.
  6. Wear quick drying clothes- Many of Story Land’s rides are going to get you wet, if you want to dry quickly dress in garments that won’t remain soggy all day long. Although bathing suits work for kids (or as shorts for men with t-shirts), it’s best to have on a bit more when wandering the park as ride seats get hot and shade is limited.Getting wet

Check out more Story Land and area tips here.

-Setting out to save parents from screaming kids one ride at a time, Jess

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A Teacher Talks High Stakes Testing

IMG_4104The American public schools, the place where every child is given free education and high stakes exams. The quality of said schools varies greatly by outside forces-home life, neighborhood dynamics, and income levels. Teachers, who have no say in who enters their classroom, what baggage they bring, or what learning styles they’ll be accommodating, are dumped on for the inability to make every kid pass an exam they’ve never seen. No matter the circumstances, every student is given the same test.

Why has American public education removed real learning from the classroom and replaced it with a focus on high stakes testing? Are kids better prepared for life now than they were 15 years ago? My journey as an educator says they’re not.

I started my career as an eighth grade English teacher in 2000 and MCAS was just beginning to sink its fangs into the classroom. I was 24; it was my second career and I was so excited to leave the world of business to teach; I planned to make a difference. I met my kids annually with homework on night 1. They moaned and groaned, but the letter they wrote me that first day was my way into their heads. I not only learned about their writing ability, but I instantly had ways to connect (if Marcus liked baseball I’d incorporate it into a lesson), I saw their strengths, they told me their perceived weaknesses. I stayed up all night pouring over these letters, commenting and grading them, all the while excited to help these kids gain the confidence and academic skills needed for high school. The mandated, high stakes tests don’t take these kids, their weaknesses, their likes or dislikes into account, they just focus on whatever facts are deemed important.

For 180 days a year, I “performed” 4-5 “shows” each day; all centered around English- reading, grammar, writing, and speaking; each customized for those kids who gave me insight into their heads from their letter on day one. I met with students, by my suggestion or of their own desire, during my 42 minute prep period; often forgoing bathroom use, lunch or any actual prepping for upcoming lessons. I met with students after school whether or not my contracted time was up. Often I used this time for academic support, other times I was just a trusted adult ear to listen to friend or family problems, discuss a great book they’ve read or give feedback to budding writers on the novels they had begun penning. This small group time built trust, and helped the kids who came to see me thrive academically. Smaller classes would make more difference in tuning out future teachers, doctors, lawyers, builders, artists, politicians, custodial engineers, than any exam.

Every night, for the nine years I spent teaching, even when I was started out and was saddled with student loans and making a mere $32,000/yr.  with a Master’s Degree, I brought home a bag filled with assessments, books to introduce, and ideas for plans to create. Assessments created by me or co-workers ; or pulled from teacher resources that paired with books we used in class were what I used- teachers are professionals trained to create curriculum after all. I tailored assignments to meet IEP (individual education plans) requirements and even for the kids without IEP’s who I saw had deficits, and I did this in stealth mode so no kids felt academically inferior. I worked late into the evenings, full days on the weekends; grading, revising, and creating materials that suited the learning styles of the learners in front of me. And I loved it!

In nine years I saw a mixed bag of society come through my door. My students came from varying family structures as well as economic and racial groups. Some wanted to learn each and every day, some had outside issues preventing them from learning that day or many of the days I saw them, some were simply apathetic and nothing I could say or do would motivate them, but they all got my best attempt to support them.

I gave my 100+ students all I could to help them become first and foremost independent thinkers and fervent learners. Second to that I hoped they’d let me guide them through the rich curriculum the school had in place; so they’d leave me ready for high school. And they did, often returning to tell me that my expectations helped them manage high school classes. In nine years, not once did they return to mention how well the MCAS prepared them for high school.

As time went on, standardized testing took up more and more valuable classroom time; the results becoming more and more important, with annual improvements in scores taking over for actual improvements in the kids independent thoughts. Preparing for my kids was replaced by analyzing test scores. Teaching became about parroting rather than connecting. I decreasingly had time to connect with kids and I increasingly dreaded the 180 school days. I also dreaded the professional development set-up for us; no longer was it about reaching students; it became about driving test scores. So, when my son was born in 2009 I took a year leave then decided my kids would be my only students; I resigned the following spring.

The more I read about high stakes testing the happier I am with my decision to walk away. In Massachusetts, MCAS is suddenly old news and PARCC is on the upswing. Adding dollars to the pockets of companies creating, selling and processing test scores. Cutting back on teaching and assuming every person is the same. Contradicting what teacher’s are trained in- differentiating learning.

In a recent Boston Globe article, Sarah McKeon, Framingham public school teacher and co-president of the Framingham Teachers Association sums up standardized testings shortfalls in this quote, ” How can we be told to differentiate learning for our students, but then give them a standardized test? Each student is unique and cannot be standardized”. I couldn’t agree more. Some kids will excel in areas others don’t, just as adults move along in varying career paths. We’re all wired differently and we all have strengths and weaknesses. I believe that we can improve our weaknesses, but we should let our strengths shine. And a standardized test, that does not account for any of that, should not be the end all be all of our educational system.

Colleges and employers agree that those leaving high school are not prepared for the real world. They have unrealistic expectations from years of scoring well on standardized tests and getting medals just for participating. Why continue the standardized test-based classroom culture that turns out adults who can’t hack it, often enlisting their parents to call professors and employers when things don’t go their way?

-Just a passionate, opinionated educator seeking better for her kids, Jess

Share your thoughts on high stakes testing with us via Facebook: Amazing Matriarch, Instagram: amazingamtriarch or Twitter: @AMatriarch;  Tag us on social using#amazingmatriarch

5 Free, Family Friendly, Fun Things To Do Around Boston This Summer

This summer, the team at Amazing Matriarch has been hard at work finding FREE ways to fill your days with activities that every member of your family will enjoy in and around Boston. Read on to find five of our favorite ways to entertain our kids when we just don’t want stay home or fork out serious cash for an activity.

1. Splash Parks

Not only are these water areas a way to cool off on hot summer days, most are FREE! Make time for favorites in the center of the city like the Rings Fountain on the Greenway or the squirting frogs at the Frog Pond. Or enjoy FREE parking along with your FREE water park at one of the parks in the suburbs of Boston. The city of Waltham has 8 spray parks, most in locations with easy parking, and many that are fenced in. And Belmont, MA is home to Beaver Brook where you’ll often find someone from Amazing Matriarch enjoying the water followed by a game of catch and picnic on the expansive lawn on the other side of the Brook. We like Boston Central’s comprehensive listing to find new spray parks to explore.

2. Bike Paths

Cape Cod Canal
Cape Cod Canal

With a new bike rider and a 2 year old who thinks she’s the coolest on her tricycle, I tend to be cautious about where we go to ride bikes. Many paths are packed with riders who find “newbies” a bit annoying making it a bit scary for those who are just learning. However, there are several trails that will have your young riders moving along with confidence.

The Cape Cod Canal is a waterside oasis for riders, walkers and anyone looking to enjoy the sea breeze. With FREE parking on the access road between the Bourne and Sagamore Bridge you can easily bring your bikes down the stairs, directly onto the trail that hugs the non-Cape side of the canal.

Having been detoured there recently when a nearby beach lot was filled, my kids had a blast zooming around while more experienced riders passed them with ease and cheered them on. Clean restrooms are conveniently located along the path.

After, enjoy a pre-packed picnic under a shady tree, bike to the end of the trail (with more experienced riders- or pay to park within the beach reservation) and take a swim at Scusset Beach. Or drive across the street to one of the clam shacks on the other side for a taste of summer by the sea.

Recreation Sundays on Memorial Drive are a favorite for Bostonians. With the wide road with scenic Charles River views open for biking, walking, running or rollerblading you can be sure there’s plenty of room for bike riders of all levels. Open late April-November annually, this section of Memorial Drive allows you to detour into Harvard Square for shopping,  a libation or a bite to eat.

Experienced riders can continue along the paved pathways for the miles that lead to the Esplanade and into Downtown Boston. Explore the city by bike then head back before Memorial Drive reopens at 7pm.

Zipline @ Joey's
Zipline @ Joey’s

3. Playgrounds

Some summer days require little activity on my part. For those days I head out on playground explorations with my little ones. Being zero budget meccas of fun playgrounds can entertain my kids for hours without any creativity or activity on my part. Often, I enlist a friend with kids to join me so we can chat while our kids run wild (I do get looks of horror from first time moms who find my hands-off, solve your own problems approach to playground parenting appalling, but I’m ok with that). As someone who’s always seeking something new I get tired of our lame local playgrounds and head out to find other cool spots for my kids to frolic.

Luckily, there’s no shortage of playgrounds around the city and in the suburbs. Some are simple with swing sets and slides, while others add extra excitement like zip lines. Leave your local playground for the day and seek out something special. You won’t spend a dime and your kids are sure to be beat by the time you leave.

Joey’s Park in Belmont is tops fro a range of activities to suit all ages. A zip line, where amazingly, even on a crowded Saturday, you’ll find kids patiently waiting in line for a turn and helping toddlers who try to cut in the kindest of ways. Lots of climbing structures, tires to hop from and even a musical feature sit alongside an expansive lawn and tennis courts. Your kids could play all day at this amazing FREE playground.

The playgrounds along the Charles River Esplanade are awesome! With a variety of climbing structures and pathways for kids to ride bikes all while within your view; if watching more than one, you’ll feel in control and at ease while your kids get some energy out.

4. Take in a movie outdoors

Two Boston spots make it their mission to bring you outdoor movies for the family all summer long.

The Hatch Shell, located along the Charles River, offers Free Friday Flicks. Pack a picnic and your kids and head into the city to sit alongside the Charles taking in a movie and the view for FREE, with little worry that your little ones are too loud or rambunctious for the “theater”.

Music and Movie Fridays at the Boston Harbor Hotel are geared towards a more mature audience, but are still fun for families with older kids. Enjoy harbor views from the pier and enjoy movies from your youth or even your parents’ younger days.

5. Free Fun Fridays

Probably the best FREE fun you’ll find around Boston takes place on Fridays with 70 Free Fun Friday events happening throughout the summer. For 10 weeks, starting the final Friday of June, you’ll find 7 different free activities for families throughout the entire state. Visit old favorites or discover new spots without spending a dime.

-On a mission to save you money all summer long, Jess

Share the free activities that keep you going on long summer days with us via Facebook: Amazing Matriarch, Instagram: amazingamtriarch or Twitter: @AMatriarch;  Tag us on social using#amazingmatriarch

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