Letting Go of the Past

Written on July 30, 2014 at 11:31 am , by

Downsizing can lead to some tough questions. Like, how do you throw out a lifetime of memories?

By Sandra Bornstein

The author’s family in Colorado, 1991.

It took me a few seconds before I summoned the strength to open the first box on my cluttered basement shelf. Labeled “treasures,” it was filled with my children’s old drawings and art projects, each one wrapped in white tissue paper. As I started to unpack, memories from my four sons’ early school years raced through my head. Each item made me hopscotch back and forth through time.

There was one—a piece of paper marked with a few colored scribbles—that I couldn’t place. But it brought me back to my eldest son’s preschool years. He rarely sat still and had almost no interest in art.

I found colorful handiworks in another box; an elaborate mask and an assortment of ceramic pieces made me pause. These were done by my other sons—they definitely had more artistic talent than their older brother.

Each one was indeed a treasure. But were they all worth saving?

Early on, I had chosen to hang on to most of my children’s artistic endeavors. I wanted my kids to know that I valued their efforts and was proud of their accomplishments. I knew what it felt like to have one’s creativity shunned. My mother always threw away my art projects the same day I brought them home. I didn’t want to repeat that behavior. Instead, I showcased my children’s artwork for at least several weeks. Some noteworthy pieces stayed on display indefinitely.

Weeks before, my husband and I had decided to downsize. We simply couldn’t take everything with us. Every item in my house had to undergo a new level of scrutiny. I shed a few tears as bits and pieces of my children’s childhood were smashed into black plastic bags.

So much about our decision to move was difficult. My family had relocated to Colorado to be closer to the fresh mountain air of the Rockies. This was my dream house, filled with fond recollections. The home itself was amazing, each room designed for a large family. We spent movie nights gathered around a large screen with a professionally wired sound system. We exercised together in the basement, which was outfitted with fitness equipment. It wasn’t possible to envision that the house would become hollow and lifeless when our kids became adults.

Maintaining a big home once my children were gone was hard enough, but after my husband was in a near-fatal ski accident, it no longer made sense. We had new priorities. We wanted to travel and enjoy the nearby Rocky Mountains.

It took a couple of months to sort through all our things. I discarded the notion that I needed to save an item simply because it might be needed at some unknown future date. I was overwhelmed by the quantity of stuff I had voluntarily chosen to keep. Each week, we filled our two large trash receptacles and the oversize recycling bin.

Now that the tedious and sentimental process of downsizing is behind me—and my husband and I are happily settled into our new, smaller home—I am relieved and content with my decision, as overwhelming as it was at the time.View from the author's new home

I am thrilled that I have two less bathrooms to clean and that my vacuuming routine is considerably less onerous. Moreover, I am now enjoying a less-expensive life that includes lower taxes, utility bills and mortgage payments. But most important is the fact that my husband and I have more time and money to enjoy life’s adventures—and to make some new memories in the process.

 

 

Sandra Bornstein is the author of the award-winning book May This Be the Best Year of Your Life. Sandra’s memoir highlights her living and teaching adventure in Bangalore, India. Sandra currently writes a blog that focuses on life as an empty nester, book reviews, author interviews and travel. For more information visit sandrabornstein.com.

 

 

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You Make It, We Post It!

Written on July 28, 2014 at 4:23 pm , by

Dad @derekbruff13 perfectly mastered our Chicken and Goat Cheese Crepes! This simple and delicious meal is a no-fuss option for busy weeknights. He even made a prep station with different filling options so his kids could indulge in sweet crepes.

Find other no-cook meals here.

 

@Derekbruff13 crepe prep station.

 

Want to be featured here as next week’s chef?

Here’s how: Make a Family Circle recipe, take a photo and share it on Instagram by tagging @FamilyCircleMag and #FCMADEIT.


Dorm Shopping Pointers from Moms Who’ve Done It

Written on July 28, 2014 at 12:42 pm , by

With my oldest son just turning 10, I have a while to contemplate the college launch (gasp!) and furnishing a postage-stamp-sized dorm room. But my sister-in-law is in the thick of it now, since my niece graduated from high school in June and is heading to a state university next month. I know the two of them are trying to figure out what’s truly necessary and what isn’t, given the lack of space. Top Twelve Dorm Shopping Mistakes, written by the two smart moms behind the parenting blog Grown and Flown, has what sounds to me like a lot of sensible advice. My top two takeaways: Make triple-sure your kid knows how to appropriately dose herself with OTC remedies like Advil, and if you’re driving, consider packing in garbage bags so there’s no luggage to store, hogging valuable real estate. Even without college looming imminently for my kid, I found this worthwhile. And in my heart of hearts, given how the past decade has flown, I feel like I’ll need this info sooner rather than later. The impact of that knowledge on my heart is a subject for another day.

For more info on navigating the high-school-to-college transition, my colleague Suzanne Rust has a terrific feature in the August issue of Family Circle, “The ABCs of College.” Read it here.

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What’s So Bad About Being a Trust Fund Kid?

Written on July 24, 2014 at 11:42 am , by

To the best of my recollection, I have never met a trust fund kid. I’m sure there are benefits to having a friend who never has to worry about working, paying rent or facing the dreaded “I’m sorry, do you have another card?’ from an ambivalent waitress. He or she might offer to foot your bill or pay for trips and would never squeeze you for cash. Sounds convenient, right?

But perhaps actor Philip Seymour Hoffman was aware of something about trust fund children that I am not. His untimely death resulted in a large sum of money going directly to the mother of his three kids because he refused to put any cash into trusts for them. Reportedly, he told his accountant that he didn’t want them to be perceived as “trust fund” children.

Which begs the question…why?

His decision is not without precedent. Reportedly, Bill and Melinda Gates will leave their children only $10 million each. Warren Buffet allegedly will do the same. On the other hand, Oracle chief Larry Ellison famously began distributing the family fortune to his kids at the age of 18. He didn’t want them to “be afraid of money” but instead wanted them to learn about the ethical and social responsibility that access to a vast fortune entails. Although both dropped out of college, they are hardworking adults.

It’s pretty simple to understand why creating trust fund kids may not be optimal for some uber-wealthy families. The common perception is that money is a primary motivator for hard work. That’s a complete myth. In fact, leading motivators for hard work are caring about customers and clients, having a sense of purpose, passion, an alignment of values, wanting to achieve and just plain having fun.

What’s interesting is that Hoffman made a shrewd declaration of how society endorses the wealthy and privileged at the risk of alienating the lower classes. Perhaps he also wanted his children to learn the value of earning a dollar and, more important, character.

However, character does not come from a zip code. Parents with limited means raise responsible children and struggle with the same parenting issues as middle- and upper-income parents.

For my money, the underlying issue is not related to how much cash we give or leave for our kids, it’s the life lessons we teach them. What kind of role models are we as parents? What kind of respect do we exemplify toward others? How much do we show love to folks in our own households?

Money doesn’t buy happiness. I would guess that a trust fund doesn’t either.

Would you ever establish a trust fund for your child? Post a comment and let me know.


Janet Taylor, MD, MPH
, a mother of four, is a psychiatrist in New York City. Follow her on Twitter @drjanetRead more of her posts here.

Got a question for Dr. Janet? Email her at askdrjanet@familycircle.com.



Putting Fit Fun Back in the Family Vacation

Written on July 23, 2014 at 5:17 pm , by

By Julie D. Andrews

Recently, on my first trip to the Hawaiian Islands, I was gob-smacked at the number of families there. Not just there, but there doing things together, active things, outdoor things of the adventurous ilk.

As soon as I checked into the Westin Maui, I began noticing a trickle of active families, which soon intensified and wove its way through my entire stay. There went a mom and her teen son, jogging in the cool, early morning along a coast-hugging path (not a trophy, blonde-bombshell mama, by the way). Trailing behind her boy, she beamed a prideful “I know, can you believe this young man is my son?!” look as I scooted past. There glided a father and teen daughter kayaking, ricocheting unscripted giggles and smiles, not an eye roll in sight. While outrigger canoeing with friends, I saw swarms of families snorkeling together. Even when I was mountain biking, siblings sloshed by me, tires whipping mud, racing to trail’s end.

This struck me—particularly because, one month before, while biking in Acadia Park, I had not seen this. Retirees and couples biking, yes, but families, no. What I saw instead shocked me: throngs of massively overweight families, slogging to restaurants more slowly than the elderly, ordering fried everything with fries on the side for dinner and bacon with whipped-cream pancake stacks for breakfast while I cringed nearby. “Huh?” I puzzled to my boyfriend. “We’re in Bar Harbor. Bike, kayak and rock-climbing-gear rentals dot every corner. What gives?”

I recalled a Carolinas family vacation years back with my parents, siblings and nephews that fell during marathon training. I had my running gear on, happily about to launch. “What are you doing?!” the group asked, astounded. “You are on vacation,” they said. I went anyway, even convincing my sis to join me for a power-walk-run the next day. Still, everyone around me viewed exercise as work, part of a regimen. But by that time in my life, all I saw it as was playtime.

I know we don’t want to hear this. It sounds like blame (far too harsh and unfair a word, so I prefer “awareness”), but a mound of evidence shows that parental decisions and behaviors significantly affect a child’s lifestyle choices.

It’s easy to blanket-blame fast food or video games for childhood obesity, but a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill study found that while fast food contributes to unhealthy kids, the core culprit in childhood obesity is dietary habits children observe and learn at home.

Research suggests that the earlier kids learn healthy behavior, the better, according to the NIH, and experts recommend that most kids exercise at least 60 minutes daily. Plus, another study found that kids whose moms not only encourage them to exercise and eat well but model such behaviors are more likely to be active and healthy.

Sneak fitness into your family vacation this year. Offer suggestions, and let your teen decide. Some possibilities:

• Rent bicycles (have your teen map a route)
• Park the car, replenish water bottles and walk everywhere
• Try a beachfront yoga class
• Take morning or evening jogs/walks
• Rent canoes, rowboats, kayaks
• Take surfing or paddleboarding lessons
• Scuba dive
• Hike
• Play tennis or golf
• Pack a frisbee, paddle balls and swimsuits
• Splash. Sweat. Fall. Rekindle the playful spirit within you and, I promise, your teens will take note.

 

Julie D. Andrews is a writer living in New York City. Her new book, Real Is the New Natural, dismantles the negative, destructive messaging about body image and beauty bombarding us daily under the guise of health. Moms are calling it an excellent vehicle for propelling discussions about tough topics with their daughters.

 

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You Make It, We Post It!

Written on July 21, 2014 at 12:36 pm , by

They say the way to someone’s heart is through their stomach. Instagram user @loveonafarm went straight to the source with her take on our Mini Blueberry Pies, sweetening up the shape and forgoing the original’s pop sticks. She said the “super easy recipe” made for a “delicious little DIY Monday!” Can’t say we disagree!

Watch a step-by-step video on how to prepare this dessert here.

 

 

Want to be featured here as next week’s chef?

Here’s how: Make a Family Circle recipe, take a photo and share it on Instagram by tagging @FamilyCircleMag and #FCMADEIT.


What Happened After My Son Said, “Mom, I’m Going to Do Something Really Stupid”

Written on July 17, 2014 at 1:31 pm , by

 

Full disclosure: My boys have committed countless ridiculous, embarrassing, dangerous and stupid acts that I’ve never shared publicly. And it’s been tempting. After all, I’m a parenting expert and I have children who never seem to miss an opportunity to make me feel how ironic my professional title is. But I do honor my children’s privacy, and I do recognize that it may be especially irritating to have me as a mother. So I’ve kept the “mom” sharing to a minimum.

But two weeks ago, Elijah, my 13-year-old son, lit a smoke bomb not seven feet from me. In my living room. Just to be clear, “living room” means “inside my house.”

You light a bomb in my house, I get to tell the world.

The official reason I’m doing this is because my husband, James, and I thought a lot about how to use this experience as a teachable moment. It’s also an opportunity to practice what I preach. But the other reason is that it just makes me feel better to share with other people how mind-blowingly stupid my boys can be.

Here’s how the whole thing went down:
After spending the day playing in a basketball tournament, Elijah brought two teammates back to the house with him. A couple of hours later, I was sitting on the couch next to Elijah when Miller, an exceptionally nice kid, told me he needed to go downstairs because he “didn’t want to keep his mom waiting” when she picked him up. He really said that.

A few minutes later Elijah said to me, “Mom, I’m going to do something really stupid.” I immediately responded, “Whatever it is, don’t do it.”

But for some reason my radar was down so I didn’t pay attention when Elijah left the room shortly after making this declaration. When he returned a few minutes later, he nonchalantly walked by me and set off the smoke bomb. Immediately, blue smoke filled the room, and then the house; which caused all the smoke alarms to go off. At that exact moment, Miller’s very nice father and his two adorable younger sisters rang the doorbell.

First, I focused on damage control. Turn off the alarms, get the nice family out of the house, and then deal with the real problems at hand. I still had Jackson, Elijah’s other friend, in the house. I didn’t want to lose it in front of him because he’d already seen me truly rage—a few months before, at 3 a.m., in my bathrobe, no less (due to another mind-blowingly stupid thing my younger son, Roane, did involving a rug and salsa, but I digress). Determined to keep myself under control, I calmly asked Jackson to walk home and brought Elijah into our room—where James was trying to calm himself down—for sentencing.

Here’s the challenge. In these moments, when emotions are at their highest—

  • embarrassment because of the nice family at the door
  • fury at your child, and
  • the glaring realization that you might possibly live with the world’s worst roommate, who might burn your house down if you stop paying attention for five minutes

—it’s really hard to think clearly and act maturely. But you have to if you want any chance of getting through to your child and keeping your sanity.

In the five minutes between getting everyone out of the house and talking to Elijah, here’s what James and I decided were the most important things we needed to communicate.

  • We both accept that our children are fascinated with fire and what happens when things explode. That is why we have educated both of them on fire safety and fireworks. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always translate into good judgment on their part.
  • We recognize that we can’t leave Elijah unsupervised in the house until he can prove he has better judgment. That will take time—which is annoying but true.
  • Because Elijah demonstrated disregard for the safety of our home, he will be responsible for the majority of its upkeep in the hope that he’ll appreciate to some extent how hard it is to maintain a house and what a colossally bad idea it is to burn one down.

I know Elijah respects us. I know he has a degree of fear of us. But he has yet to experience the horror you feel when something you’ve done goes terribly wrong. Not all 13-year-olds are like this, but he is a supremely confident man-child who has never been able to just take someone’s word for it. Since he was 2½ and stuck a metal shower ring into the heating system and short-circuited the electrical system of our house, he has been an “experimental learner.” So my goal is to get Elijah to connect his higher processing with his let’s-see-what-happens-if-I-do-this thinking. That’s going to be one of the main objectives of his adolescent development.

But it’s going to be a long road. I kid you not, today—not two weeks later—Elijah woke James from his Saturday afternoon nap and asked, “Dad….Dad…Dad…Do we have any flammable liquids in the house?”


Stand for Jada: Social Media Stands in Support of 16-Year-Old Rape Victim

Written on July 16, 2014 at 4:41 pm , by

 

It’s the kind of news that makes moms shudder. Jada, a Houston 16-year-old, was drugged and raped at a party with fellow high-schoolers, but didn’t even know it until the video of the assault went viral. But it gets worse: Peers started mocking her online, posting images of themselves—under a hashtag that won’t be repeated here—unconscious on the floor in the same pose as Jada. It’s incomprehensible how cruel people can be, how cavalier, and how little they think about the consequences. After Jada told her story to the Houston press, they contacted one of the posers, who said he didn’t know Jada but was bored and wanted to wake up his Twitter feed. But here’s the good news: Jada’s supporters created a hashtag of their own, #jadacounterpose, tweeting images protesting the alarming, persistent problem of campus rape. No one should suffer what Jada did. And all of us should stand behind her.

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Kitchen Fails

Written on July 15, 2014 at 11:32 am , by

Do you have fond childhood memories of cooking? My mother taught me to bake and I grew up believing all children enjoyed helping out in the kitchen.

Then I became a custodial stepmom to five kids.

Even though I’m not a great cook, I enjoy my time in the kitchen. But somehow, I’ve got a house full of kids that can’t follow a recipe.

This might be my fault. When we first became a family, there seemed to be more voluntary help with cooking. There were a few kid cookbooks and some recipes they liked to make. Gradually, that all fell by the wayside.

Was it because now I had a spot in the kitchen where before only Dad did the cooking? Perhaps. He still does most of it, but I do my share—though he’s bolder about “requesting” their help than I am.

They seem to think they can perform a chore so badly that we’ll never ask them for help again. The youngest girl has been pulling this stunt for a while with regards to prepping green beans, but every time her dad makes them, he pulls her into the kitchen.

Dad: Eventually, you’ll get so good at this that you won’t have time to complain.

Or maybe it was math that drove them away. In a family our size, standard recipes don’t cover us. We have to at least double them; inevitably, this involves multiplying fractions. Our middle girl was thrilled to help make the pancakes until this realization dawned on her.

She yelled out from the kitchen, “Daddy’s making me do math! On a Sunday morning!”

Whatever the reason, I have marked the gradual decline in interest that all the kids have in cooking. Only the 18-year-old has learned that if you can bake, you can always make yourself a treat. She has a recipe I refer to as “Get Your Own Cookie!” It makes one.

I’ve witnessed more interesting kitchen fails than I ever anticipated. One of the girls made chocolate chip cookies and forgot to add the sugar. Not coincidentally, this is the same girl who once sent over 18,000 text messages in a single billing cycle. Her cookie mishap was due to textbaking.

Our green bean girl made the same recipe and neglected to add both the salt and the chocolate chips. When the boy made it, he interpreted “1¼ c. flour” to mean “a quarter cup of flour.” His cookies turned into some kind of brittle that the kids then chipped away at until we threw it away.

Last week, I was out of time and left the 18-year-old a recipe for turkey meatloaf to make for dinner. When my husband called to check in, they were eating leftover pizza. The meatloaf was dubbed a fail.

Back home, I discovered the turkey exactly where it had been in the fridge, but now wrapped up. The failed meatloaf was there too. It smelled great, but had no turkey in it.

Me: So what happened with dinner?

#2: I followed the recipe. It just didn’t turn out right.

Me: Umm…you didn’t put any turkey in it.

#2: Yes I did! I measured it out on the scale.

I cocked my head.

Me: It should have taken the whole package.

#2: The package was six pounds. It called for 1.25 pounds.

Me: No, the Costco package of four is six pounds total. Each one is a pound a half but we just use the whole thing. Didn’t it seem like not very much turkey?

#2: Umm.

Me: I think maybe you measured ounces. Or grams. Or something.

#2: I don’t really know how to use the scale.

Or, apparently, how to conceptualize weight.

This is the same girl who graduated a few weeks ago with academic honors. She even got to wear a medal for it. Some of her academics required her to do measurements and weigh things and perform calculations. I’m positive of this.

As a peace offering, she left a whole plate of brownies (recipe properly doubled) on the counter.

I’d call that meatloaf a win after all.

GET YOUR OWN COOKIE!

2 tbsp butter

2 tbsp granulated sugar

2 tbsp brown sugar

2 tbsp beaten egg

½ tsp vanilla extract

¼ cup flour

2 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder

½ tsp baking soda

¼ tsp salt

¼ cup chocolate chips

  1. Preheat oven to 350°.
  2. Cream butter and sugars in a bowl with fork. Add egg and vanilla.
  3. In a separate bowl, combine flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt. Add to wet mixture; fold in chocolate chips.
  4. On a cookie sheet covered with either a silicone sheet or parchment paper, place batter in center and bake 14–15 minutes.

Makes One. Don’t Share.

JM Randolph is a writer, stagehand and custodial stepmom of five. She lives in New Jersey with her family and blogs at accidentalstepmom.com.

 

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You Make It, We Post It!

Written on July 14, 2014 at 10:00 am , by

Pesto chango! Instagram user @zibs mixed up our Kale-Walnut Pesto, including pine nuts. The photographer clearly knows how to capture a picture-perfect food shot, styling her sauce and crusty bread next to our July issue.

Get inspired by more creative recipes for quick and easy snacks, desserts and drinks, here.

Want to be featured here as next week’s chef?

Here’s how: Make a Family Circle recipe, take a photo and share it on Instagram by tagging @FamilyCircleMag and #FCMADEIT.

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Would You Leave Your Kid Alone in a Car?

Written on July 10, 2014 at 2:01 pm , by

Imagine this scenario: You’re pulling into a parking space so you can pick up Chinese food for dinner. As you glance into the backseat, you can see that your adorable (but extremely energetic) 3-year-old twins are finally asleep and safely strapped into their snuggly car seats. And you wonder: Should you wake them up and bring them into the restaurant with you, or dash inside for just a minute, leaving the kids inside the car alone? You’re parked right in front of the restaurant’s door. What do you do?

The truth is, if we haven’t all made the dash inside, we’ve at least thought about it for more than a second. However, many parents don’t understand the cause for concern until it’s too late and they’ve received a reprimand from a concerned citizen, been handed a summons from an unforgiving police officer, or experienced a tragedy that will be hard to forgive themselves for.

While the specific laws and age limits for leaving a child alone vary from state to state, I imagine some parents are thinking: “I know my kid” or “No one can tell me what to do with my own children.” Actually, communities and institutions can and in my opinion should. Some parents need care instructions for their kids. Common sense and parenting skills are not a given. If legislation or consequences keep one child safer at the expense of another parent’s inconvenience, so be it.

Now here’s my confession: Years ago, I left the motor running and my twins strapped into the backseat of my cool minivan on a hot summer day. Pulling right up to the front door of a local Chinese restaurant, I quickly ran in to pick up my order. It took a minute for me to find out the food wasn’t ready. Then I pushed open the front door to see my now moving minivan rolling past me with one of my 3-year-olds at the wheel.

I panicked, crushing my shinbone as I swung open the door and put my foot on the brake. The car went from neutral to park. In shock, I said to my daughters, “Girls, what happened?” My level-headed, still-strapped-in daughter, Taylor, said, “Erin drive.” Erin, my sweet and funny aspiring daredevil, just smiled. I was dying inside but so grateful that a tragedy had been averted. And I have never left a child of mine in a car or unsupervised since.

While it’s true that parenting skills and styles are very individual, there is always one constant: the responsibility we have to protect our children and not expose them to potentially dangerous situations. You may believe that they’ll be just fine in your absence, but—speaking from personal experience—in lieu of a crystal ball, think safety instead.


Opening Minds with Skype in the Classroom

Written on July 9, 2014 at 8:00 am , by

Sometimes I’m stunned by the myopic viewpoints my daughter encounters in school, and so is she. I’ve gone to a lot of trouble to help both my kids see past their own small world to understand global issues. We travel as much as we can. We watch programming from other cultures. We read. And we explore the Internet with an eye to the larger, diverse world.

My daughter has described in-class worldviews that are so insular—limited by teachers’ less-expansive experiences—that I’m frustrated. Although I know there are simple technical tools that can transcend those limitations, most teachers look at me with annoyance if I suggest them. I realize that teachers have concerns and time constraints I know nothing about. But I recently sat in on a demonstration at a Skype in the classroom event in New York where teachers from remote, rural and deeply impoverished areas were—for free and using equipment they already have—exposing their students to cultures from all over the globe. Why aren’t my daughter’s teachers doing this?

These teachers—from Ohio, Pennsylvania and Kenya—don’t have any special grants or more time or equipment than anyone else. In fact, they probably have less than most. They just said yes. Then they clicked, chose an expert or classroom to connect with, installed Skype (free) and set up a laptop in their classrooms. That opened up the world for their students, changed the way they teach, and inspired the kids in their classrooms and, often, in classrooms on the other side of the world. Some did group projects with students in other countries, some played 20 questions with kids from a completely different culture, and some connected with thought leaders who let the students ask them questions. All the speakers are invited by Microsoft (and vetted), the connections are teacher-to-teacher so it’s safe for everyone, and there is no cost. Why aren’t my daughter’s teachers doing this?

If the answer is “We don’t have the resources,” I’d like to point out that Jairus Makambi, director of the The Cheery Children Education Centre in the heart of the Kibera slum in Nairobi, Kenya, has almost nothing. Kibera is home to about 1.5 million people; it’s one of the largest, poorest slums in the world. But Makambi’s students have had the opportunity to Skype with 70 schools from 30 different countries using only a laptop and a dicey Internet connection. It has opened the eyes of those children to a world beyond the abject poverty they live in and allowed teachers around the globe to help Makambi teach subjects he has neither the materials nor the knowledge to take on. “This experience is phenomenal,” says Makambi. “It is promoting global integration and appreciation of cultures that transcends the trivialities of race while inculcating in our students the spirit of global citizenry that is essential in this rapidly globalizing world.”

Why aren’t my daughter’s teachers doing this?