What to Ask When Your Kid Brings Home a School-Issued Laptop

There are no silly questions when it comes to the technology your kid will be learning on. By Caroline Knorr 
What to Ask When Your Kid Brings Home a School-Issued Laptop

Good news, folks: You can cross off pencils and paper from your back-to-school shopping list. School-issued laptops and tablets are steadily replacing workbooks and practice packets. Yes, it’s exciting: a shiny new device kids get all to themselves; software that adapts to their level; and a much-reduced chance of mysteriously missing homework. But you may have mixed feelings — and lots of questions — about managing the device in your home (which probably already has a bunch of screens).

Schools handing out devices will almost certainly send home an information package with rules (called an acceptable use policy, or AUP) for the device’s use, including what the device can be used for and the consequences for misuse. But it’s up to you to figure out how this new device is used at home. Teachers and even other parents can help you work out any challenges you may face. Here are some common questions parents have when kids bring a device home from school.

What will the school device be used for?
Schools have a number of online learning options. Those that implement a 1-to-1 program(meaning every student receives their own device) should have a well-thought-through plan for how these devices will be used in the classroom and for homework. They may assign a few apps or implement an entire curriculum. Depending on whether your school chooses a little or a lot of technology, your kid may be using the device only for lessons and practice work or following specifically sequenced modules for, say, an entire language arts or math class. Some schools simply use the devices to interact on a shared platform, such as Google Classroom (which you can read more about on our educator’s site), for group collaboration, and writing and turning in papers.

If you don’t understand what the devices are being used for in school or at home, make sure to bring these questions to back-to-school night or contact the teachers or administrators individually. If you don’t get satisfactory answers, bring your questions to the PTA or the wider community.

How much time should my kid be spending on the device for homework?
Are students expected to do all their homework on the device, do only some of their homework, or use only a few apps? The answer will give you a good idea of how much time your kid should be devoting to online and offline work. Just as in pre-device days, teachers generally use grade level as a guide for how much homework to assign. If you think your kid is spending too much time on the device for homework, check in with the teacher to better understand his or her expectations.

One of the advantages of online work is that it can track how a student is doing. Some apps time kid’s sessions, which gives teachers feedback on an individual student’s proficiency — even on individual problems. If you have that data, you can get a gauge of whether your kid is on track, stuck on something, or possibly dillydallying. If your kid is consistently taking more time than the teacher recommends, keep an eye on their progress to determine if it’s the homework itself or if they’re watching YouTube videos, playing Fortnite, or chatting in another browser window.

How much time will my kid be spending on the device at school?
When school-issued devices become a part of your kid’s life, it can add up to a lot of screen time. How teachers use the devices at school can be fairly individual. Find out if the teacher plans to have students using devices a little, a lot, or somewhere in between. If the 1-to-1 program is a school-wide initiative, students may use them more. If the devices are unique to your kid’s class or grade, they may be used for a more specific purpose. Some teachers use technology to supplement other work — so just a portion of a class is device-based. Some teachers take advantage of technology’s data processing and only use it for quizzes and tests. Knowing approximately how much time — and for what purpose — your kid is using a device during the day can help you better manage their overall screen time and make sure it’s balanced with physical activity, face-to-face conversations, and fresh air.

What apps is my kid using — and why?
It’s perfectly reasonable to ask what apps are on the device, how they were selected, and what the learning purpose is. There’s a huge range of educational appswebsites, and games available, and teachers may use a variety of ways to find the ones that will really benefit kids’ learning. Some teachers have a lot of latitude in choosing software. Some teachers must use a particular platform. Some teachers attend trainings to learn about new software or even how to implement programs in the classroom. Teachers also share tips and ideas about educational apps with each other online. During a discussion of the apps kids will be using is a good time to ask the teacher about his or her own philosophy about technology in learning.

Are there parental controls or filters on the laptop — or can I install them?
When kids use the school’s Wi-Fi during the school day, the network is filtered, meaning they can’t access inappropriate content such as pornography, information about illicit substances, and even games. But when they come home, unless you have filters on your home network, the gates to the internet are open. You probably won’t be able to download parental controls (or any other software) onto the device (administrators typically disable that capability).

Depending on your existing rules and systems around internet use, you may want to visually monitor what your kid is doing on the device, install filters on your home network, or step in only if you think there’s a problem. Your internet service provider may offer filters, as well as other features, either free or at an additional cost. There are also software programs, such as OpenDNS, that allow you to add filters to your home network. Before your kid begins using the school-issued device, you should review the school’s rules (often you both will need to sign a form saying you did this) and make sure your kid understands your expectations around safety, privacy, and responsible online behavior. Also, be aware that filters sometimes catch too much, preventing your kid from visiting legitimate research sites, and kids can also sometimes figure out ways to get around the filters.

Does the device track student data — at home?
You may have heard about schools keeping tabs on students at home, but that’s extremely rare. No one should be spying on your kid through the device. However, educational apps do track user data to tailor the learning experience to the individual user; anything more than that indicates a poor privacy policy. And teachers may have a dashboard that uses data to report how a student is performing. Also, aside from the apps your kid uses, the teacher may use social media to post photos and other class updates. If so, find out how student privacy will be protected. In all cases, any information that’s collected should be for educational purposes, and companies should not be able to use or make money from student data. (See our student privacy resources for teachers.)

Ask for information on the school’s student privacy policy, including whether they vet the privacy policies of the apps they assign to make sure they’re not over-collecting data. (Learn more about Common Sense’s student privacy initiative.)

Can my kid download anything on the device?
An administrator usually disables download capabilities so nothing can be installed except the learning tools. However, your kid may still be able to play games, chat, and use social media on the device’s web browser, since those services don’t require a download. The device is the school’s property, and anything you put on it — including photos — may violate the AUP, so check the rules. And if your kid has their own device at home, you may want to reserve the school device only for homework.

My kid never gets off his device, and when I ask him to, he says he’s doing homework. What can I do?
No matter what comes home from the school, your house equals your rules. That means you can still establish screen-free times and zones like dinnertime and the bedroom. You can make rules about when devices get shut down at night and where they’re charged (outside of kids’ bedrooms!). And if you think your kid is doing more than homework on his device, you can discuss the downsides of multitasking and your expectations around what the school device is being used for. If you’re still struggling, bring your concerns to the school — you can talk to individual teachers, administrators, or other parents to find solutions.

Hookup Line. Carpool. Same Rituals, New School.

New York Times Motherlode Blog

Ann interesting article for new parents at CSH.


The "hookup" line.
The “hookup” line.Credit Mary Laura Philpott

Here in Nashville, the process known elsewhere as “car pool” — dropping off and picking up children at school — is referred to as “hookup.” So, instead of saying “the car-pool line,” folks here say, “the hookup line.” “See you at hookup,” fellow parents say. “Don’t be late for hookup,” teachers remind us.

As a new transplant to town, having just moved here over the summer with my family, I’m still thrown by the phrase. Every time I hear it, I think for a second: Hookup? My kids are in third and sixth grade: What sort of crazy swinger town is this?

Thankfully, it’s just a matter of semantics. Otherwise, car pool — sorry, hookup — works pretty much the same here as it did back in Atlanta. Pull forward; come to a complete stop; let your kids out or in; and whatever you do, don’t look at a cellphone. And that has surprised me. The sameness of things, I mean.

There is still plenty of newness to get used to, though. A hundred new names to learn. New buildings to navigate. New events that are traditions to others but totally foreign to my children. That’s tough for even the most resilient kids.

As we stood on the sidewalk of the children’s new school on new-family-orientation day, trying to get our bearings and remember which door to use, my 11-year-old son said for the first time since we moved, “I miss Atlanta.”

My 8-year-old daughter said, “I miss our old school.”

School is where a lot of life happens for kids. Seven hours a day, five days a week. Work, play, friendship, risks, heartbreaks, triumphs. This place was to be their new daytime world, and now they had to learn how it all worked. No wonder they suddenly felt nostalgic for a place where they already knew the people, the rules and the lay of the land. I felt it too, and I wasn’t even a student.

But as I sat on a folding chair and listened to the head of school speak to new parents, it struck me how familiar this experience was. Turns out, schools generally have the same messages for parents at the start of the year no matter where you are: Please follow the bus and car pool rules (hookup, I mean — I’m going to get it eventually, I swear). Please make sure your kids get a decent night’s sleep. Please fill out all the health forms and registration forms and other forms on time. Forms, forms, forms. Timeliness, timeliness, timeliness. If you can volunteer or support the annual fund, that would be really super.

Honestly, the only ones in the room who looked overwhelmed were the parents whose children were starting kindergarten — the ones who hadn’t yet been down this road or anything like it. In many ways, I had more of a clue than these people, who were stepping from the world of preschool and nap times and extra-chunky crayons to the world of big-kid school. If you count back to my first year with a kindergartner, I’m starting my seventh year of elementary school-age parenting.

That’s what the kids ended up discovering as well. During the course of each child’s classroom visit, I could see their shoulders relax, their smiles return. A classroom is a classroom. The desks may be a different shape and the chairs a different color, but they’re still for sitting down. Lockers, cubbies, whatever — you still have to keep your space neat. The teachers may be new faces, but they are all just as sweet and welcoming as any the kids have had.

There’s going to be unfamiliar stuff at some point — an adjustment period is a certainty, and I’m bracing for that — but for now, in this honeymoon period at the beginning when everything’s just basics, it’s not too wildly different from anything they’ve experienced before.

In the morning hookup line (I did it!) on their first full day, I said: “Remember, it’s not Mars. It’s just school. You know how to do school.” We did a little fist-bump before they hopped out of the car and repeated our daily mantra: Be brave. Be kind. Be wise. Same thing we’ve always said.

Mary Laura Philpott is a writer living (as of just recently) in Nashville. She is the editor of Musing for Parnassus Books, and her next book, “Penguins With People Problems”, will be published by Perigee Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House, next year. She will be writing about her family’s transition to new schools and a new life in Nashville in “New In Town” through September 2014.

Simple Student Routines for Back-to-School Success

NY Times Motherlode blog

CreditJessica Lahey

In my last column, I wrote about simple solutions for back-to-school supplies, and a rollicking debate ensued in the comments section about the merits of the binder system, paper versus digital systems, and the perception that parents impose undue complexity on their kids these days. The one thing it seems we can all agree upon, however, is that the plan kids implement to keep their schoolwork in order is far more important than the tools they use.

In my former middle school, (and in my own home) we established a predictable, weekly routine that set the tone for the kids’ organizational success. Once a week, we put time aside for locker and binder cleaning, and made sure parents knew that on Wednesdays, being on time meant being early. Every Wednesday morning before homeroom, students were required to empty their lockers of crumpled loose papers, figure out what to recycle and what to keep, and ferret out the source of the fruit flies hovering over their locker.

Once locker clean-out was complete, younger students also got weekly binder checks to support their efforts to stay organized. This weekly routine offered a great opportunity to show students that filing their papers and notes in the proper section of the proper binder can save them so much time and angst later on. I can’t tell you how many “lost” assignments were recovered in the wreckage of backpacks and binders on Wednesday mornings. This routine is an essential part of teaching kids about planning and managing their work and their materials, because if we are patient with their small failures and missteps, the organization of things can evolve into the organization of thoughts.

By the time these students graduate to eighth grade, locker and binder checks have become little more than a weekly formality, but for sixth graders who are just learning how to transition from one classroom, one desk, and one teacher to a locker, seven classrooms, and seven teachers, it is a vital part of their education.

Ana Homayoun, a student organization expert and founder of Green Ivy Educational Consulting, agrees. She offered further advice in an email:

The weekly regroup is also a great time to plan out their goals, reflect on what went well the previous week, and what they would like to do differently in the upcoming week. By creating a weekly opportunity for reflection, we can help students think through and solidify habits.

I can already hear the murmurs of concern about the time sink and authoritarian tone inherent in this weekly routine. So, for a prophylactic rejoinder, I turn to a commenter from last week,Amanda113:

I went to a highly competitive private school, and they insisted on the binder method for each class. In fact, our teachers would do random “binder checks” to make sure they were organized and complete. Was it authoritarian? Absolutely. But it was such a great organizing system, and it prepared me well for college and law school. I kept some of those binders as a keepsake, and I still marvel at their organization.

Another commenter was kind enough to provide my next bit of advice. In order to save students’ backs from strain and brains from chaos, they need to have a place to file papers that are no longer essential to daily work, but still needed for future reference.Anonymous wrote:

I teach 6th and 8th grade, and every Friday I take class time to pitch stuff. I also have a plastic crate with hanging files in my classroom — a file for each student — that’s where I have them keep the work I would like them to save rather than lug it around with them. … I also have a shelf for each class where they can leave textbooks or workbooks that they may not need every single day. The amount of THINGS we ask students to keep track of is pretty ridiculous. It seems like we’re teaching them to be organized, but we’re not. We’re not helping them see what can be tossed, what is worth saving and how to save it.

The most important routines we can give kids as the summer fades into fall, however, are those around family time and sleep. Postponed bedtimes and chaotic breakfasts set the tone for insufficient sleep and bad moods, and to prevent these disasters, Ms. Homayoun recommends that parents engage in preventive medicine:

Create end-of-day routines to make the mornings start off happier. Remember those mornings when kids lost their shoe, were tracking down their homework, and spilled breakfast on their shirt on the way out the door? Morning madness can’t be avoided BUT it can be tamed. With young kids, make a game and set a timer for ten-fifteen minutes at the end of every evening where they work to put their backpack by the door ready to go with completed homework inside, and anything else that can be completed in the evening and may make your morning easier.

I conclude with the most important routine of all, one that sets the stage for kids’ emotional, physical, mental and academic well-being: sleep. I said it last year, and I’ll say it again: Kids need more sleepthan they are getting. According to the Centers for Disease Control, preschoolers need eleven to twelve hours, elementary school kids need at least ten, and adolescents need nine to ten hours.

In order to protect those vital hours of sleep, parents may just have to step up and take a hard line on bedtime. I’ll let Ms. Homayoun take the hit and serve as the unpopular messenger on this bit of advice while I hide behind her and nod my head vigorously.

First, take all phones (ideally, all technology) out of the bedroom, and have them go in a digital box after a certain hour (for those kids who insist their phone is their alarm clock, get them a fun alarm clock for their bedside). Students often are up later than their parents realize answering texts, sending Snapchat messages, and perusing Instagram.

Speaking of technology, I have purposefully avoided an important aspect of the discussion about supplies and organization — the shift toward a paperless classroom. I hope to cover the organizational and educational implications of this trend in another column, but as most schools still rely on paper and pencils as their default technology, I’m going to have to live with my Luddite label for a while longer.

Please, comment or email your questions and suggestions for this year’s Parent-Teacher Conference columns, because we truly want this column to be a partnership; a place for you to ask questions and find answers about the confluence of education and parenting.

Back To School – Helping Kids Transition


Back to School

Whether their summer was jam-packed with activities or filled with complaints about being bored with nothing to do, kids often have a tough time making the back-to-school transition.

Battling the Butterflies

As with any new or potentially unsettling situation — like starting school for the first time or entering a new grade or new school — allow kids time to adjust. Remind them that everyone feels a little nervous about the first day of school and that it will all become an everyday routine in no time.

Emphasize the positive things about going back to school, such as hanging out with old friends, meeting new classmates, buying cool school supplies, getting involved in sports and other activities, and showing off the new duds (or snazzy accessories if your child has to wear a uniform).

It’s also important to talk to kids about what worries them and offer reassurance: Are they afraid they won’t make new friends or get along with their teachers? Is the thought of schoolwork stressing them out? Are they worried about the bully from last year?

Consider adjusting your own schedule to make the transition smoother. If possible, it’s especially beneficial for parents to be home at the end of the school day for the first week. But many working moms and dads just don’t have that flexibility. Instead, try to arrange your evenings so you can give kids as much time as they need, especially during those first few days.

If your child is starting a new school, contact the school before the first day to arrange a visit. And ask if your child can be paired up with another student, or “buddy,” and if you can be connected with other new parents. This will help both of you with the adjustment to new people and surroundings. Some schools give kids maps to use until things become more familiar.

To help ease back-to-school butterflies, try to transition kids into a consistent school-night routine a few weeks before school starts. Also make sure that they:

  • get enough sleep (establish a reasonable bedtime so that they’ll be well-rested and ready to learn in the morning)
  • eat a healthy breakfast (they’re more alert and do better in school if they eat a good breakfast every day)
  • write down the need-to-know info to help them remember details such as their locker combination, what time classes and lunch start and end, their homeroom and classroom numbers, teachers’ and/or bus drivers’ names, etc.
  • use a wall calendar or personal planner to record when assignments are due, tests will be given, extracurricular practices and rehearsals will be held, etc.
  • have them organize and set out what they need the night before (homework and books should be put in their backpacks by the door and clothes should be laid out in their bedrooms)

Although it’s normal to be anxious in any new situation, a few kids develop real physical symptoms, such as headaches or stomachaches, associated with the start of school. If you’re concerned that your child’s worries go beyond the normal back-to-school jitters, speak with your child’s doctor, teacher, or school counselor.

Back-to-School To-Do’s

Parents themselves can be a little nervous about the first day of school, especially if they’re seeing their little one off for the first time or if their child will be attending a new school.

To help make going to school a little easier on everyone, here’s a handy checklist:

What to wear, bring, and eat:

  • Does the school have a dress code? Are there certain things students can’t wear?
  • Will kids need a change of clothes for PE or art class?
  • Do your kids have a safe backpack that’s lightweight, with two wide, padded shoulder straps, a waist belt, a padded back, and multiple compartments?
  • Do kids know not to overload their backpacks and to stow them safely at home and school?
  • Will your kids buy lunch at school or bring it from home? If they buy a school lunch, how much will it cost per day or per week? Do you have a weekly or monthly menu of what will be served?
  • Have you stocked up on all of the necessary school supplies? (Letting kids pick out a new lunchbox and a set of pens, pencils, binders, etc., helps get them geared up for going back to school.)

Medical issues:

  • Have your kids received all necessary immunizations?
  • Have you filled out any forms that the school has sent home, such as emergency contact and health information forms?
  • Do the school nurse and teachers know about any medical conditions your child may have, particularly food allergies, asthma, diabetes, and any other conditions that may need to be managed during the school day?
  • Have you made arrangements with the school nurse to administer any medications your child might need?
  • Do the teachers know about any conditions that may affect how your child learns? For example, kids with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) should be seated in the front of the room, and a child with vision problems should sit near the board.

Transportation and safety:

  • Do you know what time school starts and how your kids will get there?
  • If they’re riding the bus, do you know where the bus stop is and what time they’ll be picked up and dropped off?
  • Do you know where the school’s designated drop-off and pick-up area is?
  • Are there any regulations on bicycles or other vehicles, such as scooters?
  • Have you gone over traffic safety information, stressing the importance of crossing at the crosswalk (never between parked cars or in front of the school bus), waiting for the bus to stop before approaching it, and understanding traffic signals and signs?
  • If your child walks or bikes to school, have you mapped out a safe route? Does your child understand that it’s never OK to accept rides, candy, or any other type of invitation from strangers?

What About After School?

Figuring out where kids will go after school can be a challenge, especially if both parents work. Depending on a child’s age and maturity, you may need to arrange for after-school transportation and care.

It’s important for younger kids and preteens to have some sort of supervision from a responsible adult. If you can’t be there as soon as school’s out, ask a reliable, responsible relative, friend, or neighbor to help out. If they’re to be picked up after school, make sure your kids know where to meet you or another caregiver.

Although it might seem like kids who are approaching adolescence are becoming mature enough to start watching themselves after school, even kids as old as 11 or 12 may not be ready to be left alone.

If your kids or teens are home alone in the afternoons, it’s important to establish clear rules:

  • Set a time when they’re expected to arrive home from school.
  • Have them check in with you or a neighbor as soon as they get home.
  • Specify who, if anyone at all, is allowed in your home when you’re not there.
  • Make sure they know to never open the door for strangers.
  • Make sure they know what to do in an emergency.

To ensure that kids are safe and entertained after school, look into after-school programs. Some are run by private businesses, others are organized by the schools themselves, places of worship, police athletic leagues, YMCAs, community and youth centers, and parks and recreation departments.

Getting involved in after-school activities:

  • offers kids a productive alternative to watching TV or playing video games
  • provides some adult supervision when parents can’t be around after school
  • helps develop kids’ interests and talents
  • introduces kids to new people and helps them develop their social skills
  • gives kids a feeling of involvement
  • keeps kids out of trouble

Be sure to look into the child-staff ratio at any after-school program (in other words, make sure that there are enough adults per child) and that the facilities are safe, indoors and out. And kids should know when and who will pick them up when school lets out and when the after-school program ends.

Also, make sure after-school commitments allow kids enough time to complete school assignments. Keep an eye on their schedules to make sure there’s enough time for both schoolwork and home life.

Helping Homework

Love it or hate it, homework is a very important part of school. To help kids get back into the scholastic swing of things:

  • Make sure there’s a quiet place that’s free of distractions to do homework.
  • Don’t let kids watch TV when doing homework or studying. Set rules for when homework and studying need to be done, and when the TV can be turned on and should be turned off. The less TV, the better, especially on school nights.
  • If your kids are involved in social media, be sure to limit the time spent on these activities during homework time.
  • Keep text messaging to a minimum to avoid frequent interruptions.
  • Never do their homework or projects yourself. Instead, make it clear that you’re always available to help or answer any questions.
  • Review homework assignments nightly, not necessarily to check up, but to make sure they understand everything.

Encourage kids to:

  • develop good work habits from the get-go, like taking notes, writing down assignments, and turning in homework on time
  • take their time with schoolwork
  • ask the teacher if they don’t understand something

To ensure kids get the most out of school, maintain an open channel of communication with the teachers by e-mailing or talking with them throughout the school year to discuss your kids’ academic strengths as well as weaknesses.

Most of all, whether it’s the first day of school or the last, make sure your kids know you’re there to listen to their feelings and concerns, and that you don’t expect perfection — only that they try their best.

Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: August 2013

Back-to-School Questions Asked and Answered

Back-to-School Questions Asked and Answered – from commonsensemedia.org

Tips, guidance, and solutions for managing technology in school and home.
by Caroline Knorr | Aug. 16, 2012 | Educational issues

School seems to start earlier every year. One minute you’re packing for a week at the beach, the next you’re wondering whether your kid really needs a spiral-bound notebook for every single subject, including PE. This year, back to school will bring another big surprise: more technology — both in and out of the classroom — than ever before.

Navigating this territory will be a fresh challenge to all involved. Teachers and administrators want to use tech to reach out and relate to students, without disrupting class or skimping on lessons. Parents want to make sure that kids maximize the benefits while minimizing the risks. And kids? They mostly just want to have fun — and that often means hours spent online, texting friends, or playing games.

Added to the mix is a 24/7 pipeline that can be both a boon (homework help, research, current events) and a bust (hours-long texting marathons, Facebook drama, age-inappropriate content). Managing kids’ schedules to provide enough time for schoolwork and activities with a reasonable amount of screen time is a delicate balance.

Here are some of the top concerns we’ve heard from parents trying to figure it all out.

 Original article