ASK A MOM: Learning loss, extreme sports, and table manners

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photo courtesy of Molly Grantham


Q: Dear Molly, I just got my third grader’s report card and am afraid he’s falling behind in reading and writing this year. Any good learning centers in town where I can supplement what he’s doing in school?—Katie

A: Katie, you are not alone. Parents everywhere are wondering about their children’s grades and concern over a 3rd grader makes total sense. What he’s learning now in reading and writing are basic building blocks for every lesson in the future.

We have to remember COVID + homeschool + distance-learning + virtual classes adds up to nearly two years of instability for our kids. Honor the educators who have adapted and leaned into teaching in this pandemic world, and remember (just like parents trying to keep a family schedule together), it hasn’t been easy. Inconsistent schedules and the constant knowledge that another shoe might drop impacts what children are learning, how they’re learning, and quite frankly, how much they care to learn at all.

I know this because, in full transparency, I’ve been concerned about my own kids’ grades and done research. I’ve been told the same thing from administration-level staff at various schools: Classes and teachers are still trying to settle from COVID upheaval. For the majority of the past two years, it’s been pretty easy for kids to skate by. Getting them all—remember, you’re not alone—back on track into an educational routine isn’t working well for everyone.

To address your specific concern, I sent your question to Susan Campbell, a veteran school counselor within Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools. She suggested NOT rushing to a learning center.

“I would request a conference with his teacher or teachers to see how they think he is doing,” she says. “See if he is truly falling behind or just having a few bad days, or weeks, or lack of interest and motivation. At this conference you can inquire about what areas he may need support in, and if tutoring would be beneficial.”

If you do opt for tutoring, she recommends having a clear idea of what you want. “You need to have detailed goals in mind on what you want your child to work on, in what subject areas, and look for the best tutors who can help with those specifics.”

But she really emphasized open lines of communication with the teachers and schools. She said they don’t want kids to fall through the cracks either, and it’s worthwhile to find out what you can try and work on together before looking outward.

And remember, lots of kids have experienced the long-term fallout from the past two years. It’s why child psychologists are booked for months and every single therapist friend around—talking casually and honestly—say the abrupt shift that began in March of 2020 continues to impact our kids. It could take years to figure out the many ways.


Q: Hi, Molly. What would be a good age for a kid to do extreme sports?

A: Extreme Sports: “Activities perceived as involving a high degree of risk. They often involve speed, height, a high level of physical exertion, and highly specialized gear.”

This nifty website lists about 100 “extreme sports” separated by earth, water, snow and ice, or air. Because of the variety of options and levels of “extreme,” there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer on proper age. The good news is, if your child wants to try a wild sport that professionals say they aren’t ready for yet because of maturity, weight, or height requirements, there are plenty of alternatives that drop a bit in intensity, while remaining a cool experience.

Example: Your child wants to go freediving and hold their breath for 60 seconds, deep under the water. No matter their desire, that’s questionable with underdeveloped lungs. But, they could start surfing. Or scuba diving. Or parasailing. Or tons of other water sports (see list above). Many are offered at various North Carolina camps; some allow kids as young as 5. I add this as something to think about only because it has worked for our household: If you know you’ll be at the beach a certain week, book a camp before you arrive. My kids have done Tony Silvagni Surf School at Carolina Beach, south of Wrightsville, for five years now. That camp doesn’t know I’m mentioning it here—this is no ad and kickbacks or anything—I’m just happy to pass on the name of a good place to other parents. For two hours, I sit in a chair on the coast with my coffee, unbothered, and watch them have supervised fun.

That concept of trying a less extreme version of the ultimate rush applies to land-based activities as well. The U.S. National Whitewater Center, in Charlotte, has a start age of 8 and a 50-pound minimum for white water rafting. The center also offers ziplining, kayaking, and expert high-intensity programs geared towards kids, but starting at basic levels. More on its summer camps here.

If you don’t want a camp, but do want something with different levels of challenges, look into rock climbing. Inner Peaks in South End has programs great for children not interested in traditional team sports.

Rock Hill has a BMX Supercross Track known nationwide. It allows kids as young as 2 to start learning how to be competent, balanced bike riders, and offers a variety of “new rider” programs.


Q: Hi Molly! My kid’s table manners are AWFUL. Like, talking with mouths full, knees propped up against the table, using their fingers instead of utensils… help! Is there an etiquette class for this sort of thing? Because they don’t want to hear it from Mom anymore!—Kristin 

A: Pick your battles. If knees on the table are the worst thing you’ve got, pat yourself on the back.

That said, at some point it does have to be handled, says children’s book author Krista Wilson, a mom of three who lives in Charlotte (@kristawilsonbooks on IG).

“Solid mealtime etiquette is important both for social interactions and let’s face it, life,” she says. “Etiquette is just a fancy word for kindness and proper manners will open many doors. Nothing is worse than watching someone chew with their mouths open or lick their fingers. Licking fingers is, in fact, my personal pet peeve and I will go down with the ship trying to break this in my own children.”

So how to introduce proper table manners without completely flipping out?

“First, read them a book,” she says. “My personal favorite is Manners Can Be Fun by Munro Leaf. It’s classic, funny, and gets straight to the point. The illustrations are hilarious and seem to connect with kids. Once they understand why manners are vital, the easier it is to guide them toward using their new skills. Second, show them. Literally. Stop eating from the sink or off their plates. Try to avoid slamming snacks in the car. Use your own manners to mirror what they are learning. And if you do want to crush a bag of chips, just hide in the pantry.”

If you really want to have fun, she adds, show them how their manners look to you.

“Sit at the table and chew loudly so they see how truly uncomfortable dining is with someone who is spitting food through their words. Kick your feet up, pretend to be at your worst. They’ll laugh, but they’ll also get it after not too long.”

As a long-term solution, Krista points to programs like Promenade, the oldest manners and etiquette educational program in Charlotte. Students in grades 6 to 12 learn classic dance instruction and etiquette like proper handshakes, the appropriate way to dine with multiple settings, and how to master a well-written thank you. It’s a 12-week program that concludes with a seated dinner and party.

“My final straw for awful manners is to give them chores,” she suggests. “When one of my three truly disappoints me at the table, I make them do dishes solo. They learn, and I get a night off from the sink.”

Good luck reminding your kids that napkins go in laps and forks aren’t swords.


As always, submit your questions—the pithy, the light, the funny, and the vulnerable—on the Charlotte Parent’s homepage. (I ask questions all day for a living: Promise… no question is a dumb question.) See you tonight at 5:00 p.m., 5:30 p.m., and 11 p.m.



MOLLY GRANTHAM is an anchor, author, and mom of three. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram, or catch her on WBTV News at 5:00 p.m., 5:30 p.m., and 11 p.m.