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Rachel Wolf: Where education reform has succeeded – and where it has failed

Rachel Wolf is a partner in Public First. She had co-charge of the 2019 Conservative Manifesto. She was an education and innovation adviser at Number 10 during David Cameron’s premiership and was founding director of the New Schools Network.

A while ago my company did two in-depth projects looking at the attitude and understanding of parents with children at primary and secondary school. Most of the people we talked to were “C1 C2 D” – in other words, the people who just voted Conservative. These terms can seem a bit meaningless (and the difference between a C1 and a D is very large) so here are a a few examples: one of the men was a joiner and another drove a van; quite a few of the women had part-time administration jobs in local small businesses and a couple worked in shops.

(If this sounds sexist it is not meant to – it is just a fact that women with children from these backgrounds tend to work part time and get jobs to fit.)

I have been very involved in school reform for the past decade – including founding and running the main Free School organisation, New Schools Network. The conversations were an eye-opening measure of where we had succeeded and where, to date, we had failed.

Three discussions summed it up.

The first was with a group of enraged parents in Yorkshire. Their school was in special measures and there were no local alternatives. They had been told their school was a failure, that their children’s futures were probably blighted, but that they could do nothing. No one else seemed to be fixing the problem either. This is exactly what the academy programme was designed to address – it has worked brilliantly in some parts of the country, but we still struggle to get enough people to take over schools and turn them round in others – primarily outside of the South East and our major cities.

This is why Ofsted has just published a report on ‘stuck schools’ (those that have remained poor despite continued interventions and new leadership) with a proposal to do more to support them. Academies have not, at least yet, worked everywhere.

But it was noticeable that many of those stuck schools blamed parental disengagement (Ofsted made clear they couldn’t verify if this were true). I don’t think I’ve ever had a conversation with a school leader where the parents weren’t considered inadequate in some way – either too disengaged or too nagging.

Of course some schools must cope with suffering children with very troubled families. But most parents are not troubled, and in the case of the Yorkshire school they were neither disaffected or disengaged. They were impotent.

The second group was in London. It was a different world. Many of the parents fell over themselves to talk enthusiastically about particular schools. London schools have moved from being among the worst in my childhood to being the best in the country. A huge proportion of the schools that consistently get kids from very disadvantaged backgrounds (often from ethnic minorities) into elite universities are in London.

Free Schools, the project I was involved in during the coalition years, are one reason for this triumph, indeed what was striking about the London groups was how many parents could name individual free schools. Many of the best schools in the country are now Free Schools. But a lot of those – probably too many – are in London.

The third discussion was in the East Midlands. The parents we spoke to didn’t have children at terrible schools. But they weren’t particularly good either. All the schools were quite similar in standards and approach.

Those parents weren’t miserable – they didn’t know anyone who sent their kids to schools that were markedly different (private schools are another, foreign, world for these groups and are irrelevant in their mind). The primary parents dutifully did all the homework the school suggested. They were competent and loving – like almost every parent in the country. But we knew, looking at the data, that the children at these schools could be doing much, much, better.

These are the parents we have, in my view, most consistently failed in the last decade, and where we continue to have the least to say. We’ve done some important things – the children in those schools, for example, will be taught to read using better and more effective methods than a decade ago. But we haven’t empowered the parents to demand more for their children. The NHS has been on a ten year drive to help people take charge of their own health – including developing their own exercise programmes and detailed nutrition guides for children. We need the same in education. What should your children know? How do you hold your school to account? What is happening to pupils in other parts of the country?

Nor have we given them alternatives. The very original plan for Free Schools – which was to deliver new schools and therefore offer real choice– was supposed to help these areas and these parents. Instead, they focused on areas with population growth (mostly London and the South East).

In this next five years, I really hope that this quiet majority of parents and pupils are the focus of our new Conservative government. As I said in my last column, we have to remember – as we so often fail to do in education – that most people are neither part of the elite nor in troubled families. We should measure our success in the next five years not only on whether we help the most disadvantaged, but on how much better things are for most families in most areas of the country and opportunities that all children have to succeed.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Give your kids more autonomy in 2020, says DMV-based author and journalist Katherine Reynolds Lewis

It’s officially 2020, a new year and a new decade. And while many people set resolutions surrounding self-care and personal goals, most parents tend to think about their family as a whole, and how they can grow together throughout the year.

Setting goals as a family is important, yet it can often be challenging to pick realistic objectives for everyone to follow. To better prepare you for the year ahead, we chatted with Maryland-based journalist and author of The Good News About Bad Behavior: Why Kids Are Less Disciplined Than Ever—And What to Do About It, Katherine Reynolds Lewis. 

Here, Lewis shares a few ways parents can practice goal setting with their kids, encourage autonomy and better understand one another in the new year.

In your book you talk about the lack of autonomy kids have right now, compared to 20 to 30 years ago. How does this general trend affect a family dynamic, as well as a child’s development?
Because children have less independence and autonomy, parents do a lot more work. Frankly, it’s harder and more exhausting for parent nowadays as compared with 20 or 30 years ago. We do more for our children, we monitor them and manage them more, and all that takes a lot of time and energy. As a result, children tend to be more entitled, more anxious and more resentful of parents. They can become entitled because the household revolves around them and their activities, without much demand that they be flexible for other family members’ needs. They may become fearful and anxious because they never learn how to cope on their own or how to do simple tasks like walk to school, navigate public transportation or buy items at the store independently. Many children are raised with a message that the world is dangerous, without being taught how to manage the real risks in the world.

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What are some achievable resolutions families can make together for the new year?
It really depends on your goals. I think it’s achievable to have a weekly family-fun outing to do something together, or to introduce weekly family meetings and special time. Another resolution could be to take responsibility for losing our temper or making mistakes—but be sure that adults, as well as children, are willing to apologize and make amends. You might decide to do something active together once a week or to try a new activity together. Whatever encourages closeness and risk taking, in a safe setting, will help lessen everyone’s anxiety and will build bonds. 

With young kids, ask them what goals they have, and help them break them down into smaller, measurable steps. Help them focus on the things within their control. They shouldn’t make a goal like, “To get better at soccer,” because that’s not measurable. Instead, they could commit to practicing 10 minutes a day for three days a week, and track their progress. I don’t love the word resolution because it implies you’re going to stop doing something or begin doing something, without exception or slip-up. It’s human nature to make mistakes and to slip back when reaching toward a goal. When you’re working toward a goal, you may go sideways or backwards and still be on the path. So when discussing goals or resolutions with kids, make sure to stress that nobody is perfect and mistakes are our chance to learn what works and what doesn’t work for them.

Say a family has a goal to change the behavioral dynamic in 2020. What are a few ways that they can do that?
The most important foundation for every family is strong relationships: between the parents, with each child and among the children. Building relationships and family connection is always a good first step to improving the behavioral dynamic and increasing cooperation from children. 

I would recommend starting with a discussion with the children. Invite the kids to share what they think works well in the family and what they think could be improved. You may find they are remarkably insightful. They may ask for more privileges and freedom, which I always recommend coupling with responsibilities. Children should gain freedom when they demonstrate responsibility. My kids begged for a dog, and we mutually came up with an agreement that if they could keep the entryway free of shoes, backpacks and other clutter for 90 days, they would be ready for a puppy. After all, puppies chew up loose belongings. They did, and agreed to do their share of dog walks and feeding, and we are now proud dog owners. 

Two wonderful strategies to build closeness and cooperation in family are to introduce special time and family meetings, both of which I learned at the Parent Encouragement Program. Special time is designated on the calendar, one child and one adult, engaging in an interactive activity that the child chooses. (No screens allowed!) We put it on the calendar and honor it just like any other commitment we have—we don’t allow interruptions from phone calls, household tasks or other family members. For a young child, it could be just 10 or 15 minutes at a time, whereas for a teenager, you might have 45 or 60 minutes of special time. Aim for daily special time but settle for weekly if your schedule is too busy. 

Family meetings are where we share appreciations for something specific each family member has done in the previous week. It’s a wonderful way to build a culture of gratitude in the family and to fight back on that entitlement problem. The next step is discussing old business and new business. This is where we negotiate agreements over rules and limits: screen time, bed time, mornings, homework, etc. Or we renegotiate agreements that aren’t working—always with consequences attached if people break the agreement. We try a new agreement for a week and then assess how it’s working, and tweak if needed.

Talk about key ways in which parents can instill self-discipline, which you discuss in your book, throughout the new year?
The most important thing we can do with our kids is to help them anticipate challenges and assess what choices they’ll make, and then after the situation occurs, to help them process and understand what happened, and how it went, which helps them prepare for the next similar challenge. This is the core of parenting, and it happens over and over. By understanding their own impact—on academics, teacher relationships, friendships, hobbies, staying organized, managing their emotions—they can make better choices in the future. Our children’s job is to understand themselves, to steadily gain more control over their behavior, thoughts and emotions, to discover their interests and skills, and how they will contribute them to the world. Our job is to support them in that process through reflective listening, modeling self-control, nurturing relationships and simple limits and family rules that are negotiated as a family. As our children gain more self-discipline, they gain more freedom and the limits and rules become broader. 

As a mother, what are your resolutions or goals for your family in the new year?
Because of this interview, my family decided we’re going to refrain from yelling or cursing, and if someone messes up, they’ll put $1 in a jar that we give to charity at the end of each quarter. Whoever curses or yells the least will be able to choose which charity gets the money. We also decided that we’re going to assume good intentions when interacting with each other, instead of jumping to negative conclusions about what another family member meant. And we have a goal to eat four servings of fruits and vegetables every day. We wanted to pick an achievable goal, and if we go over four servings we can celebrate our overachievement.  

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Virginia parents pay more for infant child care than for public college tuition

Westlake Legal Group learning-toys Virginia parents pay more for infant child care than for public college tuition pre-K parenting News & Updates kids family news Family Features Family Education day care children Child Care child
Photo by Vanessa Bucceri

First, let’s state the obvious: Child care is expensive. The not so obvious? In America, child care is unaffordable in all 50 states and in DC, according to Child Care Aware of America (CCAoA), an organization that aims to provide every family access to high-quality, affordable child care across the nation.

In its 13th annual, recently released study, “The U.S. and The High Price of Child Care: An Examination of a Broken System,” CCAoA found that across all states, the price of center-based care exceeds 27% of median household income for single working parents, especially families of color, and in the state of Virginia, the annual price of center-based infant care is $14,560, which is 13.7% of the median income.

Specifically for DC, the average annual price of full-time, center-based child care in 2018 was $24,081 for an infant, $23,017 for a toddler and $18,980 for a 4-year-old. Median income for a single-parent family is $25,670, meaning the annual care of an infant in a center is 93.8% of the median income. For a married-couple family, median income is $173,340 and infant care in a center is 13.9% of this median income.

But the study also found that families living in the suburbs, including in Northern Virginia, are paying similar child care prices to those living in DC.

3 local families share their real-life finances with us

Compared to the average annual cost of tuition and fees at a Virginia public, four-year college or university ($13,490), child care annually costs 7.93% more than college tuition.

Broken down even further, single parents in Virginia pay 48.2% of their income for center-based infant child care, and the annual price of center-based child care for two children costs a married couple living at or below the federal poverty line over 100% of their annual household income. 

To see the full study, as well as more in-depth details on the methodology and findings, click here.

For more family content, subscribe to our weekly Family e-newsletter.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

3 family-friendly movies hitting theaters this winter

No matter the time of year in Northern Virginia, a movie night with the kids is always a good idea. Yet in the winter it seems almost ideal, as it provides entertainment for the entire family while staying warm and avoiding the chill of seasonal activities like ice skating or sledding. 

From now until February, three family-friendly films packed with highly acclaimed actors are coming to the box office, and here we share details about them all. 


Premiering Friday, Jan. 17
More than 50 years later, animal-whisperer Dr. Doolittle is coming back to big screens everywhere. This time, Robert Downey Jr. stars as the physician whose only companions are an array of exotic animals that he can, in fact, speak with. In this adaptation, Dr. Dolittle and his furry friends must leave the safety of their 19th-century manor in England to find the cure for Queen Victoria’s life-threatening sickness on a mythical, unknown island. Kids will delight in the entertaining tale, and adults will recognize the voices of a few of their favorite stars, like Emma Thompson, Michael Sheen, Selena Gomez and many more. 

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Sonic the Hedgehog

Premiering Friday, Feb. 14
While millennial-age individuals will recognize the name from the action-packed video game created by Sega, blue superhero Sonic is entering the real world this year in the newly adapted film Sonic the Hedgehog. In this one-of-a-kind story, Sonic mysteriously lands in the rural town of Green Hills and accidentally attracts attention from government officials due to his powers. In order to escape the wrath of Dr. Ivo Robotnik, played by Jim Carrey, Sonic befriends small town cop Tom Waschowski (James Marsden). Watch it all unfold in theaters starting Valentine’s Day. 

The Call of the Wild

Premiering Friday, Feb. 21
Over a century ago ago, legendary novel The Call of the Wild made its debut on bookshelves across the country, telling of strong sled dogs who fought for survival on a daily basis in Yukon, Canada. This February, families will get an inside look at the life of Buck, a unique dog who was taken from his home to become a sled dog. The animated figure will become the support system of John Thornton, played by highly acclaimed actor Harrison Ford. Through the intricate scenes and the well-written plot, originally by Jack London, this film is sure to catch the attention of viewers of all ages.

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25 family-friendly New Year’s Eve celebrations in NoVA for all ages

Westlake Legal Group new-years-eve-family-feature 25 family-friendly New Year’s Eve celebrations in NoVA for all ages Things to Do parenting noon year's eve new years eve New Year's day loudoun county kids events kids january events holidays family fun Family Features family events Family December events children arlington alexandria
© Photographee.eu / stock.adobe.com

Three … two … one … fun! 

Here’s where to find family-friendly New Year’s Eve events across the region, including fun “Noon Year’s Eve” parties for the little ones. Cheers to the new decade!


Noon Year’s Eve
Dec. 31, 11 a.m.-noon
Even the littlest members of the family want to get in on the fun, but midnight might just be a bit too late. Join the Columbia Pike Library in celebrating the end of 2019 with interactive games, hands-on activities, light snacks and a countdown to noon. // Columbia Pike Branch Library: 816 S. Walter Reed Drive, Arlington; free


Noon Year’s Eve Party
Dec. 31, 11 a.m.-noon
As much as they want to, the kids in your family probably won’t be staying up until midnight on New Year’s Eve (time to use the good old dad joke, “See ya next year!” when they head to bed). Celebrate 2020’s arrival at Kingstowne Library with arts and crafts and a countdown to noon on the final day of the year. // Kingstown Library: 6500 Landsdowne Center Drive, Alexandria; free

Noon Year’s Eve Party
Dec. 31, 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
New Year’s Eve parties tend to have a lot of energy, so why not let the kids expend some of their own? Head to My Gym and let them enjoy games designed just for them, with the chance to run, climb, jump and play, and they’ll enjoy a live balloon drop for their very own high-energy party to start the new decade. // My Gym: 5810 Kingstowne Center, Suite 110, Alexandria; $15 for members, $18 for nonmembers (additional siblings are discounted)

New Year’s Eve at Uno
Dec. 31, 4-8 p.m.
Fun crafts,  goody bags and slices of pizza … need we say more? Uno Pizzeria & Grill is celebrating the new year with two family-friendly time slots, allowing everyone to enjoy a great end-of-year meal (kids eat free with the purchase of an adult entree), a countdown to 5 and 7 p.m. and a ginger ale toast to wrap up the night. // Uno Pizzeria & Grill: 5935 Kingstowne Center, Alexandria; free entry, food prices vary

First Night Alexandria
Dec. 31, 6 p.m.
There’s a lengthy list of entertainment scheduled for this year’s 25th annual First Night Alexandria celebration, from comedy shows and live music, to a fireworks display and more. But if you’re looking to keep the night’s activities rated PG, head to the Kids Karnival. Held at four locations (Charles Houston Recreation Center, Mount Vernon Recreation Center, Washington Street United Methodist Church and William Ramsay Recreation Center), the carnival-style celebration will include face painting, interactive games, balloons and more for children 12 years old and under. // Locations vary; $5 for kids, parents are free


New Year’s Eve Around the World
Dec. 31, 10 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.
For your STEM-loving kid, this New Year’s Eve celebration is the way to go. Join other children in building kid-engineered noisemakers and confetti throwers that the whole family can enjoy. Then, take them home to use at your own celebration later into the night. // Children’s Science Center Lab: 11948 Fair Oaks Mall, Fairfax; $13 per child

Kid Junction Noon Year Party
Dec. 31, 10 a.m.-noon
Let your kids mix and mingle with new local friends and celebrate New Year’s Eve on their own time. The party will include open play in the gym, a $5 game card and milk served in Champagne glasses with Oreos and cupcakes to enjoy. The best part? There will be a confetti drop at noon. // Kid Junction: 4090 Lafayette Center Drive, Suite E, Chantilly; $20 per child

Kids’ Countdown to New Year’s Eve
Dec. 31, 10 a.m.-noon
Gymboree Play & Music is a great place to start your New Year’s celebration off right, especially when your toddlers need a few fun activities to get their hands into. Let your kids climb, roll, dance, play and sing to kid-friendly tunes in the open gym space, prior to the noon countdown in honor of the holiday. // Gymboree Play & Music: 6045 Burke Center Parkway, Suite 204, Burke; $25

Noon Year’s Eve
Dec. 31, 10:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
Super, Awesome & Amazing at The St. James is a hub for fun with over 30,000 square feet of play areas for kids to enjoy. Grab a pass and celebrate the New Year by letting the kids splash though the water park, learn to reach new heights on the rock-climbing wall, explore new realities with virtual-reality technology and e-sports areas and climb their way through the American Ninja Warrior-style gym. Plus, parents get in free (and there’s an open bar) and a balloon drop will be held at noon. // The St. James: 6805 Industrial Blvd., Springfield; $37 (kids ages 4 and older), free for adults

Rocknoceros’ New Year’s Eve Party
Dec. 31, 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. 
This annual end-of-year show is the perfect excuse to let your kids sing, dance and clap along to the kid-inspired local band, Rocknoceros. Attendees will also enjoy a full countdown in typical New Year’s Eve fashion and an apple juice toast to ring in their new decade. // Jammin Java: 227 Maple Ave. E., Vienna; $10-$15

Noon Year’s Eve
Dec. 31, 11 a.m.-noon
Put on your dancing shoes and head to the Richard Byrd Library for a dance party destined to be as great as the upcoming new year. This event is designed for ages 3 to 8 who love to sing, bop, bounce and wiggle along with the music and celebrate a countdown at noon. // Richard Byrd Library: 7250 Commerce St., Springfield; free

Noon Year’s Eve
Dec. 31, 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
A day full of fun is a day well-spent, and so is the new year! Ring in 2020 with a kid-friendly, daytime celebration at Chantilly Regional Library, and enjoy family-friendly games, hands-on activities and a countdown to noon for all ages. // Chantilly Regional Library: 4000 Stringfellow Road, Chantilly; free

Commitment Day 2020: Kids New Year’s Eve Party
Dec. 31 11 a.m.-2 p.m.
If you’re looking for a break from the kids in order to enjoy a New Year’s Day lunch or brunch, drop them off at Life Time Athletic for an early afternoon celebration with healthy snacks, games, crafts and a balloon drop to celebrate. The event will allow you all to enjoy some refreshing holiday time having fun, and then reunite ready to take on the rest of the holiday together. // Life Time Athletic – Centreville: 5900 Trinity Parkway, Centreville; $30 day pass 

Midday Family New Year’s Eve 2020
Dec. 31, 5-8 p.m.
Keeping the kids entertained on a holiday can be tough, especially when you want it to be a fun, enjoyable experience for all ages. Head to Dave & Buster’s to give them free rein for the final day of the year. Kids can play interactive games, enjoy an appetizer buffet and dessert, and catch the video ball drop well before midnight. // Dave & Busters Fair Oaks Mall: 12000 Fair Oaks Mall, Fairfax; $33.74 and up

New Year’s Eve in London – A Family Celebration
Dec. 31, 5-8 p.m.
Bowl America has set their clocks ahead of time and is ready to ring in the new year with London, England, right here in Northern Virginia. Bring the whole family to enjoy an evening of bowling strikes and spares, assorted appetizers and a new decade of fun. // Bowl America Burke: 5615 Guinea Road, Burke; $7.99 and up

Falls Church

Busy Bees Falls Church
Dec. 31, 3-5 p.m.
Rock out with the Rainbow Rock Band and dance, sing, snack and play the afternoon away with a kid-friendly New Year’s Eve celebration at Busy Bees. The kids will get the chance to enjoy the space, make new friends, munch on Chick-Fil-A chicken nuggets and have a toast with bubbly apple cider. Cheers to a new year! // Busy Bees: 6110 D Arlington Blvd., Falls Church; $30 per child, adults are free (food is included for your child) 

Loudoun County

Noon Year’s Eve at Monkey Joe’s
Dec. 31, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.
Bouncing into the new year is just what your little ones want to do anyway, so let them bounce until they’re tuckered out at Monkey Joe’s. The location will have a countdown to noon, and a day full of prizes and giveaways for attendees. // Monkey Joe’s (Dulles): 23521 Overland Drive, Suite 120, Sterling; $12.99

Family New Year’s Eve at The Zone
Dec. 31, 6 p.m.
The Zone will be hosting a New Year’s Eve party fit for adults before midnight, but it will also be hosting a kid-friendly version at 6 p.m. Enjoy great eats and participate in the singalong countdown in the evening, with a Champagne toast for adults and an apple cider toast for kids. The kids can then enjoy laser tag, bowling, arcade games and more with their $15 game card and unlimited laser tag. // The Zone: 43811 Central Station Drive, Suite 100, Ashburn; $20.20 per person

New Year’s Eve in London – A Family Party
Dec. 31, 5-8 p.m.
The clocks are set ahead by five hours, which means you and the family get to party five hours early! Come bowl the evening away at Bowl America Dranesville with three hours of unlimited bowling, assorted appetizers and unlimited soft drinks. // Bowl America Dranesville: 46940 Woodson Drive, Sterling; $7.99 and up

British New Year’s Eve Party
Dec. 31, 5-10 p.m.
The entire world celebrates New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day to some extent, and Vanish is celebrating the holiday Liverpool-style. Come out for the “British New Year’s Eve Party,” to enjoy food specials, test the new cider release, have your child’s face painted, listen to live music and watch the balloon drop in honor of 2020. // Vanish: 42245 Black Hops Lane, Leesburg; free admission, food and drink prices vary

Family New Year’s Eve Party
Dec. 31, 7-9 p.m.
Comedian and juggler Mark Nizer will bring his one-man show fit for kids to the Franklin Park Arts Center for a New Year’s Eve celebration like no other. Don’t miss your chance to laugh and see the juggling, movement, music and technology that comes along with a one-man band. // Franklin Parks Art Center: 36441 Blueridge View Lane, Purcellville; $10 per person, $35 for family for four or more

New Year’s Eve Family Party
Dec. 31, 7 p.m.-midnight
Salamander Resort & Spa is a great place to celebrate the holidays and New Year’s Eve is no exception. Fill your festive night with music, dancing, drinking, games and a dinner buffet, while waiting to celebrate the ball drop. Twenty-one-and-older attendees will have special access to the New Year’s Eve party in the living room, but children are welcome throughout other parts of the resort. // Salamander Resort & Spa: 500 N. Pendleton St., Middleburg; $45-$179 

Prince William County

Uptown Alley’s New Year’s Eve Party
Dec. 31, 10 a.m.-6 p.m.
All-day entertainment is the way to go when you have no other plans for you and the kids. Head to Uptown Alley to enjoy 90 minutes of bowling (with shoe rentals included), four games of laser tag, $40 in game cards for the arcade and one single-topping pizza with soft drinks. The location will be giving out over $1,000 in prizes throughout the day and hosting a balloon drop for the kids at 4 p.m. // Uptown Alley: 8300 Sudley Road, Manassas; $100 for four people, $20 per additional person

New Year’s Disco Party
Dec. 31, noon-5 p.m.
Disco, dance and skate your way into the New Year at Skate N Fun, and you could be entered to win a brand-new set of roller skates. The rink will be hosting games, giving out prizes and playing all of your favorite family-friendly disco tunes for the afternoon. Plus, don’t miss the balloon drop for everyone at 4 p.m. // Skate N Fun: 7878 Sudley Road, Manassas; $12 admission, $4.50 skate rental

Leap into 2020
Dec. 31, 8 p.m.-1 a.m.
Ring in the New Year by giving your family the chance to battle each other at Laser Quest. The entire family can join in on the fun with themed missions, creative challenges and the heart-pumping excitement of laser tag. Light snacks are included. // Laser Quest: 14517 Potomac Mills Road, Woodbridge; $25-$30 per person

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Gift Guide 2019 : 5 gifts the whole family will enjoy

Westlake Legal Group adam-tuss-family Gift Guide 2019 : 5 gifts the whole family will enjoy youngsters Toys tent teens shopping presents kids holidays holiday gifts gifts gift guides Gift Guide 2019 family friendly Family Features Family Christmas gifts christmas children
Adam Tuss, NBC4 transportation reporter and anchor of News4 Today, with his family. (Photo courtesy of Adam Tuss)

What’s on your wish list this year?
“We’d love a family tent. My family and I have gotten into hiking and nature quite a bit lately. A nice, big outdoor tent is so fun to take to a campground, or even just set up in our backyard in Falls Church. Instant bonding time and great fun!”

Westlake Legal Group REI-deluxe-tent Gift Guide 2019 : 5 gifts the whole family will enjoy youngsters Toys tent teens shopping presents kids holidays holiday gifts gifts gift guides Gift Guide 2019 family friendly Family Features Family Christmas gifts christmas children
Co-op Kingdom 6 Tent: Backyard or back country—this roomy REI tent has you covered ($469). (Photo courtesy of vendor)

What’s your favorite NoVA holiday tradition?
“Our favorite holiday tradition is by far Santa’s workshop at Merrifield Garden Center. We don’t miss it. Up until recently, Santa himself was making many appearances but has since cut back. But simply walking through the garden center and checking out all its Christmas trees so beautifully decorated makes us all smile. The cookies, popcorn and punch on hand don’t hurt either.”

This post originally appeared in our December 2019 issue. For more life and style content, subscribe to our weekly newsletter, and for more holiday stories, head to our Holiday Headquarters.

Gift Guide

Westlake Legal Group snowman-making-kit Gift Guide 2019 : 5 gifts the whole family will enjoy youngsters Toys tent teens shopping presents kids holidays holiday gifts gifts gift guides Gift Guide 2019 family friendly Family Features Family Christmas gifts christmas children
Build-a-Snowman Kit: Have the sharpest snowman on the block with this Frosty kit by Hearth & Hand with Magnolia ($19.99). (Photo courtesy of vendor)


Westlake Legal Group explosion-cake Gift Guide 2019 : 5 gifts the whole family will enjoy youngsters Toys tent teens shopping presents kids holidays holiday gifts gifts gift guides Gift Guide 2019 family friendly Family Features Family Christmas gifts christmas children
Flour Shop Rainbow Explosion Cake Kit: Half the fun is making this wild cake with your family ($59.95). (Photo courtesy of vendor)


Westlake Legal Group ytiumph-cornhole-game Gift Guide 2019 : 5 gifts the whole family will enjoy youngsters Toys tent teens shopping presents kids holidays holiday gifts gifts gift guides Gift Guide 2019 family friendly Family Features Family Christmas gifts christmas children
Triumph 2-in-1 3-Hole Tournament Bag Toss: Summer lawn games never looked so good ($44.99). (Photo courtesy of vendor)


Westlake Legal Group dino-taco-holder Gift Guide 2019 : 5 gifts the whole family will enjoy youngsters Toys tent teens shopping presents kids holidays holiday gifts gifts gift guides Gift Guide 2019 family friendly Family Features Family Christmas gifts christmas children
Dinosaur Taco Holders: It’s hard to make Taco Tuesday better—but these definitely do ($12-$14.95). (Photo courtesy of vendor)

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Santa is coming to town—on a firetruck. Meet the team behind Operation Santa.

Westlake Legal Group santa-fire-truck-feature Santa is coming to town—on a firetruck. Meet the team behind Operation Santa. Things to Do Santa parents kids holidays Fire Trucks family friendly events Family Features Family Fairfax County Events Dunn Loring December events December Calendar christmas children
Santa Claus takes a tour in neighborhoods around Dunn Loring for Operation Santa 2019. (Photo courtesy of Dunn Loring Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department)

“Our first night, Santa was greeted by a whole neighborhood singing ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town,’” says Stephanie Feinburg, president of the Dunn Loring Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department (DLVFRD). 

The holiday season is here, and it’s time for Operation Santa 2019. 

To be in-the-know with local coverage, subscribe to our weekly newsletters. For more holiday-inspired content, visit our 2019 Holiday Headquarters to find photo-ops with Santa, gift guides and more. 

From Dec. 5 to 19—having officially started on Dec. 3—a celebratory firetruck will make its way around local Northern Virginia neighborhoods, with Santa Claus on board and several volunteer first responders, dressed in elf hats, of course. 

Rather than sirens, they’ll be playing holiday music, and the big man with the bright-red suit will greet local residents and hear the many gift requests of even the littlest of community members.

“It’s important for us to meet our community that we serve and help spread some holiday cheer and community awareness,” says Feinburg. “We are a diverse membership and we enjoy spreading holiday cheer to our neighbors.” 

DLVFRD has hosted the event for over 30 years, and this year, has updated Santa’s stops to “rally points” across the area. That way, if local residents miss Santa’s tour through their neighborhood, they can catch him at another location nearby, or on another night. 

“Our members look forward to this every year,” says Feinburg, of the DLVFRD first responders. “Typically when we respond to calls, we have our lights and sirens on, but this time of year, we get to ‘respond’ with lights and holiday music.” 

Westlake Legal Group santa-fire-truck-hug-2 Santa is coming to town—on a firetruck. Meet the team behind Operation Santa. Things to Do Santa parents kids holidays Fire Trucks family friendly events Family Features Family Fairfax County Events Dunn Loring December events December Calendar christmas children
The city’s littlest residents get a chance to meet the man of the season. (Photo courtesy of Dunn Loring Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department)

Stops on the Operation Santa 2019 tour include Tysons Glen, The Oaks at Falls Church, Marshall Heights, Brittany Parc and Tysons View on Thursday, Dec. 5. Following stops will be at Pimmit Hills, Iliff Nursing & Rehab Center and Renaissance Pediatrics Center, Sandburg and North Park Streets, and more on subsequent evenings. 

“We are so glad to be able to meet our neighbors in non-emergency situations like Operation Santa,” says Feinburg. “We are so fortunate to have such great support from our community, who serve as volunteers, donate to our fundraisers and simply offer high-fives when they see us.” 

The station will also be hosting a Paws with Claws event on Sunday, Dec. 8, where local residents can bring their pets to meet Santa, and get a photo-op for furry friends. For Operation Santa, local residents can find the full list of stops on the department’s Facebook page

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10 things to do with the kids this weekend in NoVA

Westlake Legal Group dad-and-son-baking 10 things to do with the kids this weekend in NoVA workshops winter events weekend events weekend Things to Do teens parents parenting kids family friendly events Family Features family events Family Events community events children
© Kirill Grekov / stock.adobe.com

December is an ideal time of year for many things, such as drinking hot chocolate, sitting by a warm fire and watching your favorite holiday films. In addition to activities that make you happy, December is also a great month to spend quality time with your kids, no matter their age, as the school semester is winding down.

Whether you choose to get crafty in the kitchen or take in a little history this weekend, do it all with family by your side at these local events happening throughout Northern Virginia.

Family Swim at Goldfish Swim School
Friday, Dec. 6 through Sunday, Dec. 8, times vary
Whether you have a toddler who is just getting her toes wet or a tween who can’t stay away from the water, all are welcome at Goldfish Swim School’s weekend family swim. While lessons at Goldfish are typically membership-based, this recurring event gives families the chance to try out the space, either in Reston, Ashburn or one of the business’ other Northern Virginia locations. The one-hour sessions are great for practicing your strokes or simply splashing around as a family. // Goldfish Swim School: locations vary; $5 per swimmer, $15 for a family

Miracle on 23rd Street
Friday, Dec. 6, 5:30-7:30 p.m.
Gather around the Christmas Tree with more than 400 Arlington residents in celebration of the holiday season. At this year’s event, hosted by local nonprofit Melwood, Saint Nick will be escorted to the scene by the Arlington police and fire departments, bringing joy to little ones and teens alike. Plus, you and your family can participate in face painting, treat tastings and more while taking in the sight of the 2019 traditional tree lighting. // Melwood: 750 23rd St. S., Arlington; free 

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Kids DIY Workshop at Home Depot
Saturday, Dec. 7, 9 a.m.-noon
At the beginning of each month, local Home Depot locations open their doors to parents and children alike for unique DIY workshops. This weekend, you and your youngsters can create a one-of-a-kind countdown to the holidays using hands-on skills like sanding, nailing and applying stickers. While you make a calendar worth keeping, you’re bound to have fun too. // Home Depot: 43675 Greenway Corp Drive, Ashburn; free

Lorton Holiday Extravaganza & Craft Show
Saturday, Dec. 7, 9 a.m.-3 p.m.
Keeping your kids amused while you shop for the holiday season can be tough. Lucky for you, the teens and staff members of South County High School have combined shopping with entertainment for a day-long, family-friendly affair you won’t want to miss. More than 170 craft vendors will be on the grounds selling seasonal products like hand-painted ornaments, clothing and artwork. Plus, there will be a kids’ fun run in the early morning, student-led performances, a book emporium and sweet treats throughout the day. // South County High School: 8501 Silverbrook Road, Lorton; $3-$15

Yoga for Kids & Wine Tasting for Parents
Saturday, Dec. 7, 11 a.m.-1 p.m.
This Saturday, it’s time to relax and unwind as an entire family at Woodlawn Press Winery. While your kids take in the benefits of yoga, you and your partner have the opportunity to try one of the winery’s latest vintages. The ticket includes both sips for you and exercise for children ages 2 through 12, making for an ideal morning that everyone can enjoy. Reservations are recommended. // Woodlawn Press Winery: 8733-B Cooper Road, Alexandria; $20

Children’s Day at Weems-Botts Museum
Saturday, Dec. 7, 1-3 p.m.
In honor of Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day this Saturday, the Weems-Botts Museum is giving you the opportunity to shed a light on history for little ones and teens alike. No matter how old your kids are, all will be in awe after learning and discussing the events of Pearl Harbor. Throughout the day, you and the kids will hear lectures from historians, craft a memorial wreath and enjoy delicious snacks, all while diving deep into the history of World War II. // Weems-Botts Museum: 3944 Cameron St., Dumfries; free

20th Anniversary Alexandria Holiday Boat Parade of Lights
Saturday, Dec. 7, 5:30 p.m.
Very few things are as eye-catching as a waterfront view and a light display. This Saturday, you and your kids can enjoy both, thanks to the annual Alexandria Holiday Boat Parade of Lights. While the boats make their way down the Potomac with Santa at the helm at 5:30 p.m., there are numerous other activities to take part in on the nearby dock prior to the parade. Whether your kids want to write a letter to Santa at the postcard station or indulge in hot cider at Riverside Taco Company, there’s something for individuals of all ages. // Waterfront Park: 1 King St., Alexandria; free

“Bake me a Cake …” Mommy/Daddy and Me Class
Sunday, Dec. 8, 9-10:30 a.m.
Does your kiddo have an interest in baking? If so, head over to Cookology in Ballston Quarter for a fun and exciting treat-focused lesson. This class is designed for kids ages 3 to 5, as it helps them build essential motor skills, try new food and experience a new memory with you by their side. As for what’s on the menu? Expect cinnamon vanilla cupcakes and mini chocolate chip cookie cake with edible chocolate paint. // Cookology Ballston Quarter: 4238 Wilson Blvd., Suite 3110, Arlington; $45 per child, parents cook for free

Annual Latkes and Lights Chanukah Party!
Sunday, Dec. 8, 10-11:30 a.m.
The annual festival of lights may not start for another two weeks, but that doesn’t mean it’s too early to celebrate with the local Jewish community. This Sunday, bring family members and neighbors alike to the annual Latkes and Lights Chanukah Party hosted by the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia. The fun-filled morning will consist of traditional food like latkes, dreidel spinning, crafting and so much more. // Pozez Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia: 8900 Little River Turnpike, Fairfax; $0-$8

A Wee Christmas – Dollhouses and Miniatures Show
Sunday, Dec. 8, noon
Children and grandparents alike will be in awe as they walk through the Historic Kenmore building and observe the opening day of A Wee Christmas, an intricate showcase of highly detailed replica dollhouses and miniatures. From tiny bedrooms to even tinier people within them, there’s a lot for your eyes to see in the Crowninshield Museum Building’s newest exhibit. // Historic Kenmore: 1201 Washington Ave., Fredericksburg; $0-$12

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The Conservative Manifesto includes a promise to back adoption. Will it be delivered on?

David Cameron was a highly effective Prime Minister. Despite the obvious constraints of being in coalition with the Lib Dems for most of his time in office, those were radical years. We have great benefits from his legacy of bold reform. But one area of complete failure was to reduce the number of children in care by increasing the rate of adoption. This was not due to any indifference from Cameron. He spoke passionately. Michael Gove, as Education Secretary, had responsibility for the issue – for whom it was personal.

During Theresa May’s premiership, we saw the failure continue. She set out to tackle “burning injustices”. But this was a spectacular example that got missed.

Under Labour, in March 2010, there were 64,000 children in care – of “Looked After Children”. The Conservatives at the time regarded that as scandalously high. Quite right. But now the scandal is even worse with the total having risen to 75,000.

In political terms, the direct impact is limited. When canvassing on the doorstep, it is not a “hot button” topic. Nor is it for the media – apart from when individual tragedies come to light.

The social work establishment is hostile to adoption and so make no complaint about the figures. Ministers who wish to be “friends of the sector” find it prudent to let matters drift. Under Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party is on the same ideological wavelength. It would be pretty hard to qualify as a social worker without writing essays in line with a Corbynista world view.

Yet taking a broader view, reducing the number of children in care should be a political priority. A quarter of prisoners spent their childhoods in care. That equates to children in care being 50 times more likely to end up in prison when they grow up than other children. Boosting adoption is the most effective policy for fighting crime.

Opportunities have also been missed to improve the outcomes for children in care. The number offered the chance to attend boarding school is pathetically small. If children are in care, it is better for them (and much cheaper for the taxpayer) to be placed with foster carers rather than institutional children’s homes, where this is possible. Yet the number placed in children’s homes has not been kept to a minimum – as evidenced by the significant proportion of such children in mainstream education and thus for whom foster placements would clearly be viable.

What about preventing children needing to go into care in the first place? This brings in much wider subjects – housing, education, welfare, crime. Here the Troubled Families programme has made an important contribution.

Is there any hope of future improvement? The Conservative Manifesto says:

“Children who end up in care are more likely to struggle as adults, denied the love and stability most of us take for granted. We will prioritise stable, loving placements for those children – adoption where possible or foster parents recruited by the local authority. We will review the care system to make sure that all care placements and settings are providing children and young adults with the support they need.

“A strong society needs strong families. We will improve the Troubled Families programme and champion Family Hubs to serve vulnerable families with the intensive, integrated support they need to care for children – from the early years and throughout their lives.”

That is fine so far as it goes. But to get tangible progress, robust legal changes will be needed to establish a presumption in favour of adoption for children in care. Relying on the goodwill of social workers – seeking to persuade them or to give them more money – has proven ineffective. The challenge can be met with determination and courage. Bland and worthy platitudes will just mean thousands more lives will be ruined as the expensive conveyor belt from care system to prison keeps cranking along.


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A sign of the times. The remarkable quiet that follows Labour’s commitment to decriminalise abortion up until birth

The Labour Party was clearly disturbed by the Catholic Herald‘s recent account of its election abortion policy.  It wants to stress that “abortion procedures and those performing them must be properly regulated” and that there would be  “wide public consultation on the detail of new laws and regulations”.

And the party’s manifesto does not say in terms what the Herald reports – that “the Labour Party would decriminalise abortion in Britain, making it legal to have an abortion for any reason up to the birth of a child”.

However, the Herald‘s reading of the manifesto is undoubtedly correct.  It says that “we will uphold women’s reproductive rights and decriminalise abortions”.  Some will find it deeply disturbing to see it proposed that state healthcare provision could thus simultaneously provide for the delivery of some babies and the abortion of others up to birth under the same roof as a matter of usual course – this site included.

But what is striking is the lack of comment and debate about Labour’s proposed policy, whatever one’s view of it.  After all, it is not only pro-lifers who might jib at the United Kingdom acquiring one of the most permissive abortion laws in the world.  (The most common time limit among EU member states is twelve weeks.) Some of those who back the current legal settlement would do so.

One might expect the Catholic Church to object vociferously.  But this is not the way of the bishops of England and Wales who tend for a series of reasons to keep their heads down.  An election statement released yesterday by the church in effect asks election candidates to commit themselves to “the innate dignity of every human being; defending both the child in the womb, the good of the mother and an understanding of the immeasurable good of a child not yet born”.

This is the first of nine such requirements, and the church is unlikely either to prioritise it above the others or to single out Labour’s policy.  The Archbishop of Westminster did not join the Archbishop of Canterbury in displaying public solidarity earlier this week with the Chief Rabbi over anti-semitism.  The Church of England does not take quite the same view of abortion as the Catholic Church, but it is likely to be unhappy about Labour’s policy.

So too will be members of other faiths and of none. It will be said that Labour isn’t going to win the election, so why bother getting worked up about this policy?  But the same principle applies to, say, the party’s tax approach – and many of us spend a lot of time poring over that.  It’s worth noting that the one like the other would presumably be whipped.  And there would be a big push within Labour to legislate for the abortion policy.

This site is not repeat not advising the Conservaties to weigh in.  The party has traditionally taken the view that abortion is a conscience issue and therefore should not be whipped.  But it should get across the details of abortion policy – including the polling on it which, when this site last looked, found that women have a more restrictive attitude to it than men.

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