What if you sold everything, quit your job and traveled the world for 18 months–with your kids? Tracey Carisch talks about this & more in EXCESS BAGGAGE

By Leslie Lindsay 

BacktoSchool Series

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

One American family. 18 Months. 24 Countries. 6 Continents and a complete life-altering adventure in this debut memoir. And she’s here chatting about this ‘no-regrets’ life, real-life experiences, how travel strengthens brains of children, over-scheduling, and stunning photography. 

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Tracey Carisch thought she had it all. She was living the American Dream with her husband and three young daughters. They had good jobs, a 4,000+ square foot home, and everyone was happy. Or, were they?

At 37, Tracey has a panicked moment, sending her into a midlife crisis of sorts and questioning everything. What would happen if they gave up their jobs, sold their home, their belongings and traveled the world? They found out. And it became the adventure of a lifetime. But, there were some naysayers and judgmental folks–especially on the American side of the pond. And yet, and yet…they did it and they were all changed for the better because of it.

I found Tracey and her family completely relatable, the story awe-inspiring, and I honestly didn’t want to put the book down. EXCESS BAGGAGE (She Writes Press, August 14 2018), was one of those books I didn’t know I needed to read until I did; it called to me, whispering in my ear, ‘You need to read this.’

There are plenty of ‘growth’ moments for the family (and individual members of the family), but reading about their adventures will also make *you* grow; it will shift your thinking and have you aching to jump a plane to whatever country that most calls. I laughed (a lot), I got tearful, I felt excited and terrified…seriously, EXCESS BAGGAGE hit on every emotion. 

So why now? August is Family Fun Month and while many are enjoying vacations, family reunions, and the like, others are gearing up for back-to-school…whether it’s home-schooling, or world-schooling, or private college-prep programs, EXCESS BAGGAGE will open your eyes to a new worldview, a new way of being with your family, and it just might transform your thinking into a more simple, meaningful existence.

Please join me in welcoming Tracey Carisch to the author interview series.

Leslie Lindsay:

Tracey, it’s a pleasure! I am so in awe with the scope of this book. You cover a lot of ground…literally! Was writing about your travels always part of the plan or did it evolve once you returned?

Tracey Carisch:

We definitely planned on doing a travel blog during the journey. As our blog gained a substantial following, writing became a normal activity for me. I’d never considered myself to be “creative” before, but that piece of me definitely grew while I wrote the blog. I knew I was going to miss writing when our travels came to an end. The book, however, didn’t become a real possibility until the very end of our trip. I was talking with a friend from the United States who was visiting us in Nicaragua, and she was convinced I needed to write about my perspective on our travels. I wasn’t sure, though. I mean, who would be interested in reading a memoir about a woman who goes through a midlife crisis and then travels the world with her family to find herself, right? Shortly after this conversation, I happened to notice the book Eat, Pray, Love on a bookshelf in our rental house. Every other book was in Spanish, but this was the only one in English. I’d read it years before when it was first released and loved it, so I picked it up and reread it that last week before our return to the United States. By the time I finished, I’d decided that continuing to grow that creative side of me with a memoir was something I should do. I’m no Elizabeth Gilbert, but there’s definitely a place for women to share their journeys to authenticity with one another, and I wanted to be a part of that.

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Photo by Tyler Lastovich on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Ironically, your background is organizational effectiveness, project management and the psychological aspects of work-life balance. We all seek balance, but can we really attain it?

Tracey Carisch:

Yes, but I will say, it takes commitment. It can be such a challenge to keep ourselves from getting sucked into the rat race of our busy modern world. In my book I call it “The Blur,” where the weeks blend together with the same obligations, chores, meetings, and activities over and over again. There have been several times since we returned from our journey where our family has started to feel that Blur creeping back into our lives. Like those moments when you look at a calendar and can’t believe the month is almost over. When that happens for our family, we force ourselves to stop and look at what’s been added to the schedule, or in some cases removed from it. Are we signing the kids up for too many activities? Working too many hours? Letting go of important things like family dinners or time outdoors? One of the most important lessons I’ve had to learn when it comes to true work-life balance is becoming independent of the opinions of others. Sometimes you have to let go of what other people will think of you in order to do what you know in your heart is right for your life.

Leslie Lindsay:

I have to say, EXCESS BAGGAGE reinforced my dream to pick up and move to Ireland (they speak English—and so less of a language barrier—right?!) What would you say to a family who is contemplating such a move?

Tracey Carisch:

Do it! I can’t say it enough – experiencing the world together changed our family for the better. There’s something special that happens when you go to new culture with the people you love. As you navigate the travel learning curve and tackle the challenges that come with being in a new, foreign environment, you find yourselves working together as a team. You learn things about each other that you never knew before. Seeing the world is certainly a great way to learn about ourselves as individuals, but I think the effect it has on our relationships is even more powerful. Family dynamics evolve when we step away from our normal lives and create new stories together.

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Photo by Tookapic on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

What about school? And children? How does travel like this shape their brain for ‘the real world,’ and how can parents—even if they can’t do something as drastic as your family—still expose children to other cultures and ways of living?

Tracey Carisch:

Research has shown that when children experience new things, the information they acquire causes new connections to form between the synapses in their brains, especially in children under the age of seven. We literally improve the physical structure of their brain matter when we give kids new experiences of any kind, whether it’s going to a new country or just going to a local museum. Incorporating new family excursions into daily life can have a tremendous impact on the way a child thinks and views the world. What is especially impactful about new cultural experiences is the immersion that takes place. A different culture brings new language sounds, new foods, new smells, new clothing, new modes of transportation, and new approaches to all aspects of life. If an international trip isn’t an option, museums and cultural festivals are great alternatives. Even just sitting down as a family and watching a great documentary about another country can create really rich conversation with the kids on cultural differences and unique traditions around the planet.

Leslie Lindsay:

Did you have a favorite country/city/continent? I am sure each experience stands out for various reasons. Can you talk about that, please?

Tracey Carisch:

We loved so many places for so many different reason. In terms of culture, Cambodia was a highlight for us. We lived near the Angkor Wat Archeological Park and worked with local charities supporting education, so we learned a lot about the country’s tragic past and how far the people have come. When it came to natural beauty, New Zealand was definitely at the top of our list. The diversity of the landscape is absolutely astounding. Ireland and the Czech Republic brought great connections to the locals we met, and some of them will be lifelong friends. Fiji will always be a precious time for us since we spent it with old friends who will remain an important part of our lives forever. It’s simply impossible to pick a favorite a favorite place after an experience like this.

Leslie Lindsay:

How about your children? How are they doing now and what lessons or experiences from your travels do they continue to revisit?

Tracey Carisch:

Our daughters have all asked us, “When are we going to travel again?” which is a good sign that this experience was a very positive one for them. One of my main concerns was my ability to effectively homeschool them. I worried that when we enrolled them in a public school system again we’d realize they’d fallen behind academically. However, all three of them came right back into their grade levels without skipping beat. In fact, they were ahead of their classmates in many areas. Our girls are all normal kids, but I do think they have a different attitude toward life than most children their ages. They seem to see the big picture. The typical kid dramas aren’t the issue I thought they’d be now that we’re entering the teenage. I think our journey just instilled a more empathetic and mature perspective in them. It’s something intangible in the way they view the world, and I’m not sure we would have been able “teach” it to them. They simply had to see it for themselves.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Since we’re right in the throes of back-to-school, can you provide a few tips for parents regarding over-scheduling and simplifying family life?

Tracey Carisch:

It can be so tempting to enroll our kids in all those enriching activities we think might benefit them in the future. I remember wanting to get the girls signed up for a sport so they’d know teamwork, or put them into an art class so they’d be more creative, or learn a musical instrument because some researcher somewhere said it would improve their math skills. It can feel like we’re doing our children a great disservice if we don’t give them every extra-curricular opportunity available to them. Yet, an important lesson my husband and I took from this journey is that the most enriching thing in our children’s lives is us. Our family’s relationships and our experiences together will give our kids the confidence, curiosity, and courage they need to lead fulfilling and happy lives. When we over-schedule ourselves, we separate our family too much. We undervalue the importance of our time together, and we inadvertently outsource the enriching life experiences children should really be having with their family members to a coach or instructor instead. My best advice would be to add up the time you actually spend together as a family. How many minutes in each day are you enjoying each other’s company compared how much time is spent getting everyone to all of those activities? When you quantify that number, you’ll know if your family is doing too much.

Leslie Lindsay:

I know your husband is a fabulous photographer and he captured so many of your breathtaking experiences. How did all of this shape him? His work? And can you direct us to his website?

Tracey Carisch:

I don’t think I really understood how talented Brian was until we went on this adventure. It’s now a life dream of his to become a professional photographer. At this point in our life we have obligations to our girls, so the income from his software development business has to take priority. However, he has the talent to make it in the world photography, and someday he’ll be able to give it his full focus. In the meantime, his website is www.briancarisch.com and many of his photos are featured on my web site as well. Rather than inserting small black-and-white images into the book, we’ve created a photo gallery for each chapter. When readers visit, they’ll be able to follow along with the story in full-color images. Some of these photos from our trip are available for sale, and a large portion of the proceeds will support three of the charities we worked with closely during our travels.

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Photo by Mohamed Almari on Pexels.com

Leslie Lindsay:

Tracey, I am so taken, so intrigued and inspired with your travels (and book!) that I could ask questions all day. But I won’t. Is there anything I should have asked, but may have forgotten?

Tracey Carisch:

I’m most excited that this book will bring the opportunity to travel to new places and create connections with the readers. I want to hear their stories and share our lessons with each other on living a “no-regrets life”. The most rewarding part of my work as a professional speaker are those conversations I get to have with people around the world. If someone reading this wants to have their hometown added to my book tour, they can connect with me on my web site and we’ll work to get something set up.

For more information, to connect with the author via social media, or to purchase a copy of EXCESS BAGGAGE, please visit: 

Order Links:

Tracey Carisch square headshot 1200px.jpgABOUT THE AUTHOR:  Tracey Carisch grew up in a small Midwestern town and attended Indiana University for her undergraduate degree. After beginning her career in technology consulting, she returned to academia for her MBA and founded her own consulting firm, helping to lead change in education and workforce development. Tracey is now an international speaker and leadership professional. Her presentations challenge audiences to embrace change and find the opportunities in life’s difficult situations. She lives in the mountains of Colorado with her family, their two dogs, and a cat who thinks he’s also a dog.

You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay, via these websites: 


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#family #travel #world #parenting 

[Cover and author image provided by PRbytheBook and used with permission.] 



BookS on MondaY: Who inspires you to do good? How might we teach our children about these individuals? Mary Feliciani talks about Martin Luther King, Jr., Ghandi, & others in her book for middle grade students HUMANITARIANS, VISIONARIES, HEROES & YOU

By Leslie Lindsay

An absolutely fascinating and thought-provoking collection of inspiring individuals, past and present, HUMANITARIANS, VISIONARIES, HEROES, & YOU is exactly perfect for the middle grade reader, and their parents/guardians/teachers. 


We read this slim volume aloud to our children (ages 11.6 and almost-10) en route to Thanksgiving in our hometown nearly 300 miles away. It was the quintessential read for this time of year. Thanksgiving, an American holiday epitomizing family, moral good, working for the betterment of a nation when times are tough (Thanksgiving, having been made a national holiday when morale was low during the Civil War).

We asked the girls if they were familiar with the people in the book–many of whom are well-known–Martin Luther King, Jr., The Dali Lama, Mother Theresa, Gandhi–but others who are less-known. They nodded to some, but weren’t sure about others. We read anyway, introducing them to the good deeds, the selflessness of these humanitarians working to build a more holistic, kind, and peaceful planet.

We learned about Craig Kielburger who, as a 12-year old, was moved by the child labor occurring in some countries. He wanted to bring awareness and stop the practice. He’s currently working to do so. And then there’s Terry Fox, a young man diagnosed with bone cancer, who decided to run a across Canada (after a leg amputation) to raise money for cancer research. He efforts were cut short and he was forced to stop; the cancer had spread to his lungs.

Others, too and their contribution to the world were presented, generating a good deal of discussion, which will stay with us and our children for some time, perhaps always.

Join me as I welcome Mary Feliciani to the blog couch to chat about this truly inspiring read.

Leslie Lindsay: Mary, thanks for coming. I so enjoyed reading about these individuals, some I was familiar with, others less so. I’m curious what your inspiration was for writing this book?

Mary Feliciani: I feel privileged to be here, Leslie. Thank you. Years ago, I saw Mattie Stepanak on Larry King Live, and of course, I was totally impressed with his insights. At the stepaneksame time, it took me back to my own youth and my emotional attachment to Martin Luther King Jr. Once I got into this mood, I started thinking of all the humanitarians that inspired me, and  suddenly I developed an overview of how their belief systems all fit together. I thought that their combined voices would be very powerful.

L.L.: Before each individual you present in the book, you give a lovely introduction—perhaps why you chose to include that person, or maybe even your own personal connection, even a conflict. There are so many amazingly inspiring individuals in the world, how did you ever narrow it down as to who to include in HUMANITARIANS, VISIONARIES, HEROES, & YOU?

Mary Feliciani: I think that when we are young we are the most idealistic. My connection to the older individuals, such as Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., occurred as I was growing up and as I learned about them. In terms of my younger choices, like Mattie Stepanek and Craig Kielburger, I was an adult when I became aware of them. I came to be a fan of theirs because they embodied the qualities of those humanitarians that lived before them. Also, they found their voice at such a young age – proving that young people can make a difference.

I know that there are other youths that have the same potential as my choices for the book. And that is why I have the word “You” in the title. I am reaching out to future humanitarians.

L.L.: I personally enjoyed reading the quotes some of these change-makers are responsible for. “Be the change you want to see,” is accredited to Gandhi, for example. There were others, too. What was your research like, and do you have a favorite quote?


Mary Feliciani: I wrote all my reflections before I actually did my research. I knew about and had a feel for the individuals because of that earlier connection to them. And you are correct, my reflections also serve as an introduction to the personalities in the book. When I went to do the research, there were many details about their lives that I didn’t know. The most important ones and those that fit well with my reflections made it into the book. There were other interesting facts that didn’t make it into the book. It is my hope that young readers are intrigued enough to want to know more about them and subsequently do their own research.

I have three favourite quotes. One of my favourites is the one you just mentioned, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” It is the most practical one. We can not control the behaviour of others. We can only control ourselves. But, through our actions and words we can influence people. That is what Mattie did. That is what Craig Kielburger along with his brother, Marc Kielburger, are doing.

The beginning of the “I Have a Dream” speech always, to this day, arouses strong emotions in me. I heard it so many times paired with the news of his death, that I became conditioned to feel connected to him. When I hear or even think the words, a strong feeling of humanity is evoked in me.

The third quote is from Gandhi:

“When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love always won. There have been tyrants and murders and for a time they seemed invincible, but in the end they always fall – think of it,  always.” This statement gives us hope no matter how bad situations are.

L.L.: HUMANITARIANS, VISIONARIES, HEROES, AND YOU is a perfect companion to grade school research papers and projects, elementary (and middle school) classrooms, social studies, and the like. I’m guessing this was your intended audience. What might you like to see young people do with the information they glean?

Mary Feliciani:  You are right about the intended audience and that I would like to see today’s youth do more research on my choices of humanitarians, but also seek some of their own.

Here is a message that I scribe in the book at book signings, when I know that it is going to be given to a young person:

“Look to a good role model today, and tomorrow someone will be looking up at you.”

L.L.: What’s captured your interest lately? What’s got your attention? It doesn’t have to be literary or humanitarian-related, but if so, please share.

Mary Feliciani: The topic that interests me today is bullying. The type that happens in the school environment. BIG AND SMALL IN THE MIRROR is the first of what will be a trilogy on 51swkzivxil-_ac_us160_bullying. The eBook was published in 2015. I am currently writing the second book. It is entitled THE INVISIBLE BOY and is about a boy who feels invisible at school.

There are two passions in my life, one is writing and the other is traveling. I have been vacationing on cruises for the last few years. You will probably notice that the picture you posted with this interview was taken on a cruise ship.

L.L.: What question should I have asked but may have forgotten?

Mary Feliciani: None. Your questions have captured the essence of the book, HUMANITARIANS, VISIONARIES, HEROES, & YOU.

I hope that you and your followers will be just as interested in my next book, The Invisible Boy.

L.L.: Mary, it was truly lovely reading HUMANITARIANS, VISIONARIES, HEROES & YOU. Thank you for sharing it with us. And may you have a warm holiday season.

Mary Feliciani:  Leslie, I wish you and all your followers a wonder holiday season as well. Thank you so much for your interest in my writing.

princess-formal-night-6-3AUTHOR BIO: Mary is a Canadian author, independent publisher and a former elementary school teacher. She attended UTM where she studied psychology and still lives in Mississauga, Ontario.Mary’s background in psychology, work with children and passionate interest in the human condition, which stems back as far as she can remember, are all evident in her writing.
You can connect with me, Leslie Lindsay here:


[Cover and author image courtesy of M. Feliciani. Image of Mattie Stepanek retrieved from nnbc.com on 12.3.16]

BookS on MondaY: Paul Tough talks about his new book, HELPING CHILDREN SUCCEED, grit, self-c0ntrol, the environment to keep kids motivated for success, & much more

By Leslie Lindsay  

One of my very favorite parts of my job is to get acquainted with authors and their amazing new books before they become available. Just recently, I received this lovely little gem of a book from the folks at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and just had to share. HELPING CHILDREN SUCCEED: What Works and Why by Paul Tough (releasing tomorrow, May 24, 2016). Did you happen to read his first…er, helping,  the bestselling HOW CHILDREN SUCCEED (2012) about grit, curiosity, and character?51krgHI9h1L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

Grit. I love grit. And curiosity. And how those two qualities merge to develop character…I’m all over that.

Today, I am honored to sit down and have a little chat with Paul on his latest book, a slim, jam-packed, how-to (in a sense) on creating environments, both at home and school which sharpen those very qualities to help our kids flourish. This is excellent reading for teachers and parents alike.

Leslie Lindsay: What is HELPING CHILDREN SUCCEED about?

Paul Tough: It’s about what children need in order to thrive – especially children growing up in difficult circumstances – and what kind of practices and policies, in the home and at school, will provide them with the best possible chance at success.

L.L.: Your last book was titled HOW CHILDREN. This one is HELPING CHILDREN SUCCEED. What’s the difference?

Paul Tough:
Both books are about the same broad subject: why some children succeed and others don’t. But this new book is much more practical and specific: a clear, concise handbook with useful, everyday ideas for how best to help children do better. How Children Succeed introduced readers to an exciting new body of research showing that the traditional way we measure children’s abilities – through standardized tests of their cognitive skills – was missing a crucial dimension: the importance of so-called non-cognitive skills or character strengths, qualities like grit, curiosity, conscientiousness, self-control, and optimism. Helping Children Succeed expands on that research, takes it in some new directions, and distills it into strategies to more effectively help children who grow up in adversity.

L.L.: What inspired you to write it?

Paul Tough: After HOW CHILDREN SUCEED was published, I heard from countless readers around the country – often teachers or other professionals who worked with children – asking how to put this new research into practice. HELPING CHILDREN SUCCEED is my answer to those questions.

L.L.: Does the new book explain how to teach grit?

Paul Tough: Well, one of the ideas that I explore in the book is that “teaching” is probably not the best way to think about character strengths like grit or resilience or perseverance. The initial reaction of many educators, when they first encounter the research about non-cognitive abilities that I wrote about in HOW CHILDREN SUCCEED, is to try to figure out how to teach their students these skills. On one level, this instinct makes sense – if we know the best way to teach the Pythagorean theorem, can’t we also figure out the best way to teach grit? But, unfortunately, there’s no evidence that any particular curriculum or textbook or app can effectively teach kids grit or self-control or curiosity. In HELPING CHILDREN SUCCEED, I write about a new generation of researchers – neuroscientists, psychologists, and economists – who are questioning the idea that character strengths should be Thought of as skills at all. Instead, these researchers say, qualities like perseverance or self-control are more like psychological states or mindsets – which means they’re mostly the product of a child’s environment. So if we want to help kids to persevere, these researchers say, we need first to figure out how to improve their environment, both at home and at school.

L.L.: Why does that distinction matter?

Paul Tough: Because it changes where we put our emphasis in education and child development. If we think about grit and self-control as skills, then the pressure is on children to master these skills – just like it’s their responsibility to learn their multiplication tables. But if instead we think of these qualities as byproducts of a child’s environment, then the responsibility is on us, the adults surrounding that child, to figure out how to change his environment in ways that will help him succeed. That approach is not only more scientifically accurate and more likely to be effective, it’s also more fair.

L.L.: Which environments matter most in developing these capacities?

Paul Tough: First, the home environment, especially in early childhood. Neuroscientists have conclusively demonstrated in recent years that when children spend their early years in environments that subject them to toxic levels of stress, it can impair the development of certain mental capacities that matter a whole lot when they get to school – the ability to manage strong emotions, to process complex instructions, to bounce back from disappointments. That research convinced me that part of the solution to our persistent educational gaps has to be found in early childhood. Right now, our early childhood policies put very little emphasis on how to create the nurturing home environments that foster those skills. And most of our schools don’t have the tools or the capacity to help kids who arrive in kindergarten without having experienced that kind of environment at home in their early years.

L.L.: If children don’t develop those capacities at home, can schools really help?

How-Children-Succeed-HiPaul Tough: Absolutely. But it may require some strategies and approaches that right now are quite rare in American schools. In HELPING CHILDREN SUCCEED, I write about an emerging school of thought in educational psychology that focuses on the importance of students’ motivations and mindset. For a long time, motivation has been the missing piece in our educational thinking. Ask any teacher, especially teachers working with children in poverty, and they’ll tell you the same thing: Some of my students don’t seem motivated to succeed. I know if they apply themselves they’ll do better. But I don’t know how to get them to apply themselves. Now these researchers are finding some answers to this longstanding dilemma. They’re showing that students, especially those growing up in adverse environments, aren’t deeply motivated by the kind of reward-and-punishment structures that prevail at most schools. Instead, these researchers have discovered, students are more often motivated by deeper psychological needs: the need to feel connected, to feel capable, to feel competent. Schools can’t produce those feelings in students just through slogans or posters or assemblies. Students have to genuinely perceive that the adults in their school building care about them and think they can succeed. Students need to feel like they belong. And they have to feel that the work they’re doing is meaningful and challenging, and that they’re able to get better at it when they work hard.

L.L.: So what should schools do differently?

Paul Tough: Instead of just thinking about the academic content that they are delivering to their students, school leaders should also be thinking about the messages that students are receiving implicitly and explicitly from their teachers and their school environment. That might seem touchy-feely, but in fact the new research in educational psychology shows that for young people – and especially young people growing up in family poverty or other adverse circumstances – those messages are enormously important. They change the way students conceive of themselves and their purpose in school. Which in turn has a huge impact on how they behave: how likely they are to persevere, to apply themselves, to recover from setbacks.

L.L.: Your book is mostly about children who grow up in poverty. What about other children – middleclass or upper-middle-class kids? Does this research have any relevance for them and their parents?

Paul Tough: Definitely. My wife and I have two sons, and encountering this research has had a big effect on how I think about raising them. The younger one is just a year old, and since his very first days, my wife and I have spent a lot of time thinking and talking (and occasionally worrying) about the research on stress and its effect on early brain development. It’s been powerful to realize that the environment we are creating for him – the way we talk to him, the schedules and patterns we set, the mood in our home – is influencing his development in a profound way, on a neurobiological level. And when I began reporting this book, my older son had just started kindergarten at the public school in the small town where we live. This research has given me a new lens through which to consider his school experience. I’m much more inclined now to think not just about the facts and information and skills that he’s learning, but also to consider how his experience in school is shaping his psychology as a student and as a person: what it’s teaching him about belonging and challenge and community and purpose. I’m convinced that those lessons – which are often conveyed by schools and teachers very subtly, sometimes even unintentionally – are every bit as important as the lessons he’s getting in adding and subtracting and reading and writing.

L.L.: What are your hopes for this book?

Paul Tough: My first hope is that a lot of people will read it! I think there’s valuable information in HELPING CHILDREN SUCCEED that can potentially improve the way that teachers and parents and community leaders engage with the children in their care. And so Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and I are publishing this book in an unusual way. We’re putting it out as a regular hardcover book and e-book and audiobook, sold and distributed in all the usual ways, in independent bookstores and chain bookstores and online. But then, at the same time, thanks to the support of a number of charitable foundations that are committed to increasing opportunities for children growing up in adversity, we are also making the contents of the book available as a free downloadable PDF and as a scrolling web article, both of which will be accessible on my website. We felt it was important for readers to be able to access the information in this book in as many different forms as possible. And because part of our goal is to reach families and teachers who are working with kids in poverty, we wanted to make sure that the cost of a hardcover book wouldn’t be a barrier to any potential reader. On a deeper level, my hope for this book is that it will – and beyond that, that it might help to shift the national conversation about what we can all do to help our most vulnerable children to succeed.

PAUL TOUGH Paul Tough’s last book was HOW CHILDREN SUCCEED: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character, which spent more than a year on the New York Times hardcover and paperback bestseller lists and was translated into 27 languages. He is also the author of WHATEVER IT TAKES: Geoffrey Canada’s Quest to Change Harlem and America. He is a contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine and a regular contributor to the public-radio program This American Life. You can learn more about his work at paultough.com and follow him on Twitter @paultough.

[Author photo credit: Paul Terefenko/The Lavin Agency. Cover image retrieved from author’s website. Special thanks to HMH/L. Meglio and T. Roeder]

The Teacher is Talking: Back-to-School Transitions

By Leslie Lindsay

Whether your child is started a new grade or new school, there are bound to be a lot of transitions.  Here’s a fast guide to helping your kiddo navigate the new things that may be coming down the pike (and if you read last week’s post on anxiety, you’ll understand how transitions and stress go hand in hand.  The more you know, the better the transition). 

A year ago, my then-kindergarten student was all bubbles and sunshine about her upcoming kindergarten experience.  We went to the open-house, meet-the-teacher nights, and all seemed good to go.  Even the the first day offered easy sailing.  It wasn’t till the third or fourth day that she completely refused to get in the school bus.  I mean, really refused.  She clung to me and kicked her legs, “I am not going to school today.”  It held up the line of other kindergartners and their parents as they said their final good-byes at the bus stop.  I scratched my head and worried what could possibly be going on.  Was her teacher mean?  Did someone say or do something that hurt her–emtionally or physically?  I didn’t know…

Growing up–and well into college, I had a friend who literally made herself ill around the beginning of school. 

Turns out, this behavior is quite common among all kids; of course, some may deal with it differently than others depending on their developmental age.   At the heart of these transitions is the word CHANGE.

Some navigate change quite well, others fight it miserably.  Thoughts that may be going through your child’s mind:

  • “Will I be good enough (at academics, making friends, sports)?”
  • “Who will be in my class?” 
  • “How will I get around the school building?  Will I have enough time between classes (especially if going to junior high/middle school).” 
  • “What will my teacher be like?” 

You can start now by talking with your child(ren) and sharing with them that change is a part of life.  It’s important, too to emphasize your child’s growing independence. 

Review the things your child was able to do last year in school or socially and then expand on that.  “When you were in kindergarten, you were just learning how to write your name.  Now, not only can you write your first and last name beautifully, but you can also write sentences, too…I wonder what kinds of things you’ll be able to do in first grade?!” Or, my favorite, “When you were born, you couldn’t do much of anything by yourself…now you can rollerskate, read, write your name, play soccer.  It’s amazing what you can do when you put your mind to it.” (image source: www.123rf.com on 8.6.13)

You’ll want to re-institute regular routines, including meals, bedtime, bathtime, and studytime at home before school starts.  Get into the habit of eating meals at the same time, waking up and going to bed at “school-like” hours (they don’t have to be exact).  Also, try wedging in slices of “study time.”  This can be as simple as reading hour (or half-hour), workbook time, cards/flashcards, etc.  Minimize TV and movies. 

Often, transitions and change are “scary” to a child who doesn’t know what to expect.  Make sure you familiarize yourself with school forms, events, and procedures.  Share some of it with your child (offering too much information will overwhelm them). 

By preparing bit by bit and early, you and your child(ren) should be ready for a successful day of school. 

For more information about school transitions, refer to this article from NASP (National Assoc. of School Psychologists): http://www.nasponline.org/resources/home_school/b2shandout.aspx

You may also appreciate this article from ERCP (Early Childhood Education Research and Practice) http://ecrp.uiuc.edu/v3n2/dockett.html

[See also, www.speakingofapraxia.com for apraxia-specific back-t0-school tips]

The Teacher is Talking: Special Back-to-School Series

By Leslie Lindsay

Has your summer flown by…or are you counting down the days till your wee ones head back? Perhaps you’re worried about a few things–maybe your child is starting a new school…or, she’s not very good at making first impressions, staying organized, or playing fair.  Now’s the perfect time to begin working with your child on some of those skills as you polish up the back-to-school shoes and shop for glue sticks. 

Follow along as we discuss a different topic related to school readiness each week now through the August.  Topics include:

  • Back to School Stress & Anxiety
  • Easy Transitioning to a New Grade or School
  • Social Skills & 1st  Impressions
  • Organizational & Memory Strategies
  • Self-Esteem & Positive Behavior
  • Playing Fair & Respecting Others

[if you have a child with apraxia, or another special need, please remember to follow along on www.speakingofapraxia on Mondays for apraxia-specific back-to-school tips beginning 8/5/13.  With a combination of these and the apraxia tips, your family will be ready for success!]

Without further adieu…here’s a little refresher on back-to-school stress & anxiety:

Simply put, anxiety is fueled by anything unknown or new.  Think of the times you feel anxious–navigating in a new city, being late for an appointment, not having enouugh time or money to do a job effectively.  The feelings can be similar for your children.  For young kiddos, everything about school is anxiety -producing: who will be in my class?  Is the teacher nice?  What is my teacher’s name?  The building, the routine, where the bathrooms are–it’s all new and unknown, even for older kids.  Here’s what you can do to asauge the anxiety:

  • Talk with your child.  Ask very simply and neutrally, “What do you think school will be like?”  Your child may shrug and say, “I don’t know.”  Try not to fuel more anxiety by ‘offering’ what your child may be anxious about, instead share very matter-of-factly what is involved.  “You will go to ____ school.  We will find out your teacher’s name and get the class list on ____.”   That my appease her for now. 
  • If you know ahead of time who will be in the classroom with your child, invite them over for a playdate before the first day.  When your children see one another tucked behind desks, they will immediatly have a connection.
  • Drive by the school on your way home from errands or a family outing.  Pack a picnic, stop and have lunch there and then play on the playground equipment.  My family has taken a bike ride to our school to do just that. 
  • Be sure to attend the fall preview days/evenings at your school.  Most schools offer these important dates to get to know the school building, meet familiar faces, possibly even meet the teacher and see other classmates.  Go.
  • Do a practice round of the morning routine.  Summer’s great for lounging around and free-sleeping, but there comes a day when everyone must be on a routine again.  Practice it once a week before school starts so everyone can start to get in the habit. 
  • Try reversing roles.  Have your child be the parent and you be the 1st grader (or whatever grade your little one is entering)…ask child-like questions to your little parent.  “What if I need to use the potty when I am at school?”  Your kiddo will likely give you a good answer.  Plus, kids get a kick out of being the parent for a change. 
  • If role-play isn’t your thing, suggest a real-life version of playing school.  Have your  child invite some friends over and let them have at it.  This works well with stuffed animals or dolls, too.  You can help with set-up by suggesting some therapeutic play ideas…remember, your students may need bathroom and drink breaks.  They may like a story.  Pack a lunch and suggest “students” eat in the “cafeteria.” 
  • Practice the Good-bye and welcome home.  Plan ahead how you will get your child to school each day.  If a bus, maybe plan to say your good-byes at home so as not to embarrass your child at the bus stop.  Will you have a specific ritual or saying each time?  “See ya later, alligator!” or “Have fun, be good!”  If you drop your child off via family vehicle, you may want to do a practice round…how much time does it take to get to school?  Daycare or latch-key kids have a different routine, too.  Discuss these plans ahead of time with your little ones.  Make sure they are comfortable with the house keys or garage code and what to do to remain safe if at home alone, or biking/walking alone. 

When anxiety becomes troublesome–you’ll know.  If your child withdrawls completely, gets sick, complains of frequent headaches, tummy aches, sleeps more or less, over-or under-eats, gets overly angry you may be dealing with a more extreme case of anxiety.  Be sure to talk with your pediatrician or another trusted source.  ***Remember, some anxiety is normal and healthy!  Most kids get over their school anxiety in about a month of school starting. 

That’s it!  Class dismissed : )

The Teacher is Talking: The Energy Bus Book Review

By Leslie Lindsay

I just can’t get enough of my books this week!  I think you will agree that today’s “The Teacher is Talking” meshes well with yesterday’s post about speech disorders and bullies.  Product Details

The Energy Bus by Jon  Gordon came to us by way of a birthday gift for my 6-year old.  She’s a full-day kindergarten student who hops on the big yellow every day, so a book about school buses made perfect sense.  But this is not just any school bus–it’s Miss Joy’s Energy Bus!  (image source: Amazon.co 2/12/13)

I love how this book teaches the young character that he is in charge of his own positivity–his own good thinking, and his own outcome.  It’s about coming to school ready for the day and being your best self.  When some of the older kids at school bother him, he just uses his special energy bus powers to put ’em in their place.  Of course, there are a few bumps along the road, but what one learns from the energy bus is something we can all take with us on our journey.

From the website:

“The Energy Bus for Kids shows children how to overcome negativity, bullies and everyday challenges to be their best and share their positive energy with others.

When you get kids on The Energy Bus, you’ll infuse their lives with vision, hope, love and positivity.”

For more information, see:

[No compensation for this post has been provided.  The author owns this book and is not affiliated in any way with the author.  This is not a give-a-way]

The Teacher is Talking: Increasing your Expectations

By Leslie Lindsay

Remember, back in the day parents (or grandparents) would send you something they clipped from the newspaper or magazine?  A column, a story, or even the comics.  I got something similar from my own father recently, only it wasn’t a clipping.  Instead a link from his Smartphone.  Ah…don’t you just love how this baby boomer generation is embracing all of the new-fangled technologies (alas, his Smartphone is not the new iPhone5, but well…least he has one). 

“Here ya go, Poco Uno*–maybe you can use this for your blog or to teach those grandkids of mine a little something about school.  You’ll always be life-long learner,” he said in his email.  (*Poco Uno is our poor English-Spanish translation of “Little One,” his nickname for me since I was a little girl.)  And so here it is, straight from my dad’s iPhone to you and the future generations: 

An article in NPR Morning Edition (http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2012/09/18/161159263/teachers-expectations-can-influence-how-students-perform?sc=17&f=1001) September 17th 2012 by Alix Spiegel indicates that if teachers have high expecations of their classroom students, then kids will actually do better academically.  A study conducted by Robert Rosenthal, a Harvard educator/researcher, found this to be true through a series of questionaires he created as a spin-off of an IQ test.   “Teachers interact differently with students expected to succeed. But they can be trained to change those classroom behaviors,” the study found.  In fact, Rosenthal found that teachers who had high expectations of their students actually gave the students they expected to succeed more time to answer questions, more specific feedback, and more approval: “they consistently touch, nod and smile at those kids more.”

Wow.  Did you read that, correctly?  Read it again.  They consistently touch, nod, and smile at those kids more.  They give these kids more time to answer a question and more feedback. 

Does your child’s teacher have expectations of him?    (I hope so!  Gosh, I wonder where mine fall in this line-up).  And how would you get your kids on the “high expectation list?”  Just what qualities do these high-expectation kids emanate? 

I don’t really know.  (Sorry, I know that was kind of cheap).   But let’s think…kids who are eager to learn and voice their opinions…not exactly.  These kids can sometimes be seen as “Brainy Smurfs” or “Disruptive.”  Teachers don’t like that (although this child could be very intelligent).  The quiet one in the corner?  Likely not.  Teachers want someone who will participate in class.  That kid in the back or the corner could really be bright, but sometimes give the wrong impression that they aren’t engaged–or worse–not smart.

Another researcher, Robert Pianta, who teamed up with Rosenthal came up with this list of how teachers can adjust their expectations:Teacher Appreciation Week 2011(image source:http://myblogalicious.beblogalicious.com/index.php/2011/04/27/teacher-appreciation-week-2011/teacher-appreciation-week-2011/)

7 Ways Teachers Can Change Their Expectations (toward problem students):

  1. Watch how each student interacts. How do they prefer to engage? What do they seem to like to do? Observe so you can understand all they are capable of.
  2. Listen. Try to understand what motivates them, what their goals are and how they view you, their classmates and the activities you assign them.
  3. Engage. Talk with students about their individual interests. Don’t offer advice or opinions – just listen.
  4. Experiment: Change how you react to challenging behaviors. Rather than responding quickly in the moment, take a breath. Realize that their behavior might just be a way of reaching out to you.
  5. Meet: Each week, spend time with students outside of your role as “teacher.” Let the students choose a game or other nonacademic activity they’d like to do with you. Your job is to NOT teach but watch, listen and narrate what you see, focusing on students’ interests and what they do well. This type of activity is really important for students with whom you often feel in conflict or who you avoid.
  6. Reach out: Know what your students like to do outside of school. Make it a project for them to tell you about it using some medium in which they feel comfortable: music, video, writing, etc. Find both individual and group time for them to share this with you. Watch and listen to how skilled, motivated and interested they can be. Now think about school through their eyes.
  7. Reflect: Think back on your own best and worst teachers, bosses or supervisors. List five words for each that describe how you felt in your interactions with them. How did the best and the worst make you feel? What specifically did they do or say that made you feel that way? Now think about how your students would describe you. Jot down how they might describe you and why. How do your expectations or beliefs shape how they look at you? Are there parallels in your beliefs and their responses to you?

Class dismissed!

Apraxia Monday: Tips for Teachers

By Leslie Lindsay

Teachers and the Push for Online Education

Your children may already be back in school–or you may have week or two before the big day.  In any case, you’re likely thinking about it–specifics, plus the extras like how you’re going to talk to your child’s teacher about CAS (if you haven’t already).  But what if you are a teacher who has a child with apraxia in your classroom this year? 

Here are a few tips and ideas from parents who may help you understand what all of the hoop-la is about. 

(retrieved from CASANA, 8.30.12, a YouTube video]   See this short video on Apraxia.  It’s a worth your 3 minutes!   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_nN9dG5F7M0

Tips for Teachers

If you are a teacher reading this, then hooray! I applaud your efforts to learn more about the kiddos in your classroom.

  • Read the child’s IEP.
  • If parents challenge your knowledge, make special requests, or argue for a special IEP meeting, remind them that you are on their side and please don’t take it personally.As parents we just want the very best for our children and we might get a little passionate about it.
  • Communicate privately with parents and never in front of other classmates,unless it is to give really good praise that will make your student feel really proud.These kids often know they can’t communicate as effectively as their peers and they may feel a bit defensive about it. Help build their self-esteem in every opportunity you can find.
  • Give parents advice and insight you learned from teaching their child. For example, “Kate did a great job teaching another student about how we sit at Circle Time. She loves to be in the helper role.” Parents love to hear praise and stories about their child doing well.
  • You may need to do a bit more “pre-teaching” when working with a child with CAS.Let her hear and practice vocabulary words ahead of time (send them home in backpack with a letter to parents indicating the upcoming unit).
  • You might need to work a bit harder to engage a student with apraxia in group activities.Don’t take it personally if she doesn’t respond right away (or at all); just keep trying.
  • Each day is a new beginning.What this student struggled with yesterday could be a non-issue today. Please don’t hold grudges.
  • Be sure you give your students with CAS lots of praise.It helps their confidence level and self-esteem. While you’re at it, praise her parents, too. They’re working really hard all day, every day, to help their child.
  • Relate something special about your student to the parents at least weekly.I can’t tell you how happy it made me to receive an out-of-the-blue email from our teacher saying something like, “Kate was really cute today in class when she started dancing and singing, ‘Mama Mia!’” Small accomplishments mean a lot to us parents.
  • Respond to parents in one way or another (phone, email, “I’ll get back to you later”), even if you don’t have an answer.Parents do not like feeling like they have been forgotten.
  • Realize that we all get burned out.Parents need encouragement and motivation, just like teachers. If we can encourage one another, then all the better!

[Excerpt from SPEAKING OF APRAXIA: A PARENT’S GUIDE TO CHILDHOOD APRAXIA OF SPEECH, Woodbine House, 2012.  Available thru Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, and publisher’s website, www.woodbinehouse.com]

Apraxia Monday (on Thursday): Teaching the Teacher about Apraxia

By Leslie Lindsay

If you are like me, then you have just spent a good chunk of your evening wondering about your child’s new school year.  Who is her teacher?  What time is the bus coming?   Do I have all of the necessary school supplies?  What about shoes?  That first-day-of-school outfit?  (It’s a big day for all that in my neck of the woods here in Chicagoland). 

But have you thought about how you might broach the subject of childhood apraxia of speech (CAS) with your classroom teacher? 

Like many, your child’s teacher may not know what CAS is–or how to help.  It’s up to you to inform them.  Short of giving them a copy of SPEAKING OF APRAXIA (Woodbine House, 2012)–okay, shameless plus–you can do a few other things to prepare yourself and your child for a successful year in the classroom. 

Teaching Your Child’s Teachers about Apraxia [excerpted from Speaking of Apraxia, Woodbine House 2012.  Available where books are sold) 

Do you wonder what you should tell your child’s teacher about apraxia?  Not all teachers will have specific knowledge on all special needs. Kate’s preschool teacher (you can adapt your needs to any grade) admitted that she didn’t know much about apraxia, but she was very willing to learn. She knew it had something to do with verbal skills, but that was about it.

It helped a little to give Kate’s teacher the scientific explanation: “It’s a motor-neurological communication disorder in which she knows what she wants to say, but just can’t quite get it out.” What really helped was when I said, “It’s like being totally exhausted and not able to carry on a conversation.” She got it then. I further explained that Kate had to work really hard to have even a simple conversation.    

Other explanations from parents you may consider adapting:

  • “You know that feeling of being tongue-tied, or having a thought on the tip of your tongue? Well, that’s how Adam feels most of the time.”  
  • “Ask someone how their day was, and then tell them they can’t use their words to tell you.

What’s a Parent to Do? Meet with the teacher as early in the year as possible and share with her specific information about CAS and how it affects your child. There is a fabulous “Dear Teacher” letter on the Apraxia-Kids website written by Sharon Gretz, MEd, the founder of CASANA (Childhood Apraxia of Speech Association North America). I urge parents to print it and give it to your child’s teacher. You can find the letter at www.apraxia-KIDS.org. Once on the page, head to the search field, type “teacher letter.” You’ll get several hits, but the one you want is a letter that is downloadable in PDF format. The neat thing about this letter is it gives suggestions on how teachers can help your child at school.

While you’re on the Apraxia-Kids site, look at the brochures about apraxia written with a lay-person in mind. Like the “teacher letters,” these brochures are downloadable and printable. Consider including one with the letter you give your child’s teacher. Make it into a little “welcome to my child packet.” Including a brief write-up on things about your child is very helpful, too. It doesn’t have to be long or fancy, just a few bullet points like this:

  • Fun, outgoing child
  • Likes art and being creative
  • Excels at gross motor activities
  • Slow to warm up, may need to be drawn into social situations with specific questions or play
  • Loves books

Of course, your descriptions may be different than mine! Now if every parent would do something like this for their child’s teachers (whether or not they have CAS), it would take a lot of guesswork out of teacher’s lives.

Here are some more tips on putting together an information packet for the teacher:

  • Give her a book (like this one) or DVD on Childhood Apraxia of Speech (“Hope Speaks” is available on the Apraxia-Kids website: www.apraxia-kids.org).
  • Provide a list of easy ideas that may help with speech in the classroom (refer to Chapter 9).
  • Remind the teacher that while your child sometimes has a hard time communicating, or takes longer than usual to respond to a question, apraxia does not affect her intelligence.  She does not have to simplify things for your child if she only has CAS. (Of course, if she has Down syndrome, fragile X syndrome, or another disability in addition to CAS, you will want to advise her about any learning difficulties related to the other condition.)
  • Offer to create a communication notebook or worksheet that can be shared between parent and teacher. We made worksheets on the computer. I printed out five of them Sunday night and placed them in Kate’s backpack for Monday morning. Each day her teacher filled them out and sent them home with Kate. This daily report gave me some talking points for Kate about her day.
  • Be open and available. In The Complete Guide to Special Education, authors Dr. Linda Wilmshurst and Dr. Alan Brue recommend that you keep your ears and mind open to new ideas from your child’s teacher or other school professional. They typically have lots of experience and ideas in working with kids that just might help yours. If you disagree with a suggestion, ask more about it. It’s part of their job to explain it.
  • Consider communicating some tidbits from the home front. For example, things like “Papa and Nana visited this past weekend,” or “Kate really enjoys the unit on frogs—ask her what we saw last night when we visited the neighborhood pond.”  This gives your child’s teacher something to ask her about and encourages verbalization on things that are meaningful to your child’s home life.


Apraxia Monday: School Readiness

By Leslie Lindsay



Ready, or not…school is right around the corner!  I know, I know…if you are a teacher or a school-based SLP you really don’t want to hear this, but we can’t wish it away. 

If your child has CAS (childhood apraxia of speech), then you may have additional concerns–and that is normal and to be expected.  Hopefully this post will help ease your fears.  It’s primarily based on kindergarten, but you can adapt this to preschool-aged children as well.  Frankly speaking, it really is best to have your child with CAS in a preschool program where normally-develping students can serve as positive role-models for speaking and socializing.  Postivite parenting encouragement is really needed. 

Is Your Child Ready for Kindergarten?

As a parent, you are going to grapple with this question as your “baby” gets closer to “K-Day.” You are especially concerned because your child has CAS, and with that come some other concerns: difficulties with social skills, distractibility (sometimes associated with CAS), and decreased verbal skills.

It’s an individual—and difficult—decision to make, to say the least. Here’s what I recommend: 

  • Look into your state’s requirements for admission to kindergarten, as they all vary.
  • Consider talking with your child’s SLP the summer before kindergarten to get her honest and professional opinion.
  • If there are concerns, try some summer interventions–additional private speech therapy or working on phonics, sequencing, distractibility, etc.
  • Consider seeing an occupational therapist (OT), who can better address some of the other concerns not completely associated with CAS. Seek out social skills classes that may be offered through your private speech clinic, or ask for recommendations from your child’s pediatrician.
  • Try “beefing up” your child’s social skills by role-playing potential social encounters at home: “How do you ask a question in the classroom? Let’s practice!” or “Do you know how to sit at circle time? Let’s try it out here at home.”  

You may also find this article from ADDitude Magazine helpful as you get closer to the first day of school. Finding a Teacher who Gets your Child,  http://www.additudemag.com/adhd/article/553.html  and this letter to the teacher, also from ADDitude http://www.additudemag.com/adhd/article/553.html. (While these articals are primarily for children with ADHD, they may also inspire you as you prepare for a successful CAS school year). 

Next week, on “Apraxia Monday,” we will continue chatting about school prepardness and your child. 

[the above information is an excerpt from Speaking of Apraxia: A Parent’s Guide to Childhood Apraxia of Speech, Woodbine House 2012. The book is available thru Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, as well as www.woodbinehouse.com]