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Monday, September 10, 2012

Keep Your Children Safe and Smart (and maintain your sanity) Through the Chicago Teachers Union Strike

Many Chicago parents and children are out of school and temporarily displaced due to the Chicago Teachers Union strike. Just a week after most Chicago Public School students stepped foot inside classrooms, today they are either being cared for at home, by family members, in churches and non profit agencies or at one of the 144 schools open for the "Children's First" contingency program. The CTU and school board are attempting to reach an agreement over terms of the teacher's new contract. Core points of contention are compensation and health care benefits, job security and teacher evaluation processes.

While I support the teachers union, I empathize with parents who are now scrambling to find last minute childcare for their children during normal school hours. Many cannot find reliable, affordable options for their children. The "Children's First" sites will be open from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. Parents should sign children up ahead of time, as all CPS students are assigned to a designated site in their community that is not necessarily their regular school. According to CPS spokespeople, "This is a safety net for families who have no childcare alternatives. No instruction will occur as the sites will not operate as schools but will provide daily breakfast, lunch, and age appropriate activities." 

Since I've yet to return to full time work, the school closings have not posed a huge inconvenience to my Kindergartner. Today he's simply home with his baby sister and I. My youngest cousin, a 6th grader, has also been left in my care while his parents work. I'm not stressed about having the kids at home, but I do worry about the inconsistency affecting their academic focus and disrupting our routine. For those of us at home with kids during the strike it's important not to let (hopefully just) a few days out of school turn into a free for all. By maintaining a schedule, mixing learning in with fun activities and taking advantage of good weather we can keep the kids safe and smart, while keeping a handle on our sanity. 

1. Stick to assigned wake up and sleep schedules. 
Get the kids in and out of bed at their regular times. This may be a hard sell, but it's the easiest way to support your family once they head back to the schoolhouse.

2. Get outside and get moving
The weather is warm and pleasant. Turn the backyard into a disco. Spend time reading aloud under a shaded tree or take a nature walk to the local park. Set up chalk or paint easels in the backyard. Try to find activities that encourage communication, problem-solving and organization strategies. Have a picnic and let the kids plan and prepare lunch. Outside fun means healthier children and a cleaner house for Mom & Dad. 

3. Limit Television Time
It's easy to let the kids plop in front of the TV to keep them quiet and out your hair, but too much tube time is bad for their growing brains. Try to find shows that teach them math, reading or social skills. Funny, silly or adventurous movies are lots of fun, just lead a family discussion after the showing. Have your big kids write a movie review and your little one draw a picture of their favorite scene. 

4. Document Your Summer Break
Use the downtime to go through pictures you've taken during your summer break. Let your kids help you create a scrapbook or photo album of your fun in the sun. Remember great moments from your family vacation and watch home movies you made. Write a letter or telephone new friends made at summer camp.

5. Fun Free Activities
Find fun and free outings by doing a little research into local activities especially for children. Some of my go-to resource websites are and
Also, adult residents of the City of Chicago may check out a Museum Passport at all Chicago Public Library locations with their valid Chicago Public Library card. Find out which museums participate in the program and find more information at

*** You can't truly understand parenting until you have a child. And you certainly can't understand teaching until you've taught in an overcrowded classroom, to (some) unmotivated kids, with limited resources, uninvolved guardians and poor administrative support. It's not easy for anyone involved, but I believe this strike is necessary for the future benefit of us all. As a Chicago Public School Parent and Chicago Teachers Union Counselor and Substitute Teacher I support the strike. #ChicagoTeachersStrike2012 

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