SchoolFamily Voices

Join our bloggers as they share their experiences on the challenges and joys of helping children succeed in school.

Recent blog posts

Posted by on

The holiday season is a magical time when family and friends get together to enjoy each other’s company. And it’s is also a perfect time to help a young child learn and practice good manners. Helping young children develop good manners is important because it gets them noticed in a positive way! It costs nothing, but adds tremendous value to the quality of your child’s life, and to their perceived image outside of your home.

Here are 10 ways to help young children make manners a natural part of their character:

  • Model good manners yourself, and point out other examples: “That was so nice of that lady to hold the door open for us.”
  • Encourage your child to say “please” when asking for something.
  • Practice saying “thank you” when she receives something requested.
  • Help him say “you’re welcome” when someone thanks him. (Personal pet peeve: When did “no problem” take the place of “you’re welcome”?)
  • Make good manners a habit. If your child uses good table manners at home, she’ll most likely use them when she’s a guest.
  • Teach your child that when he seeks adult attention, he should not interrupt. Say “excuse me” (unless, of course, it’s an emergency).
  • You have trouble getting along with others.
  • Remind her not to talk with her mouth full.
  • Ask him not to reach and grab for things. Instead, ask them to be passed.
  • Give gentle reminders of how to act before going to a friend’s or family member’s home. For example, “Let’s not forget to help clean up the toys before we go home.”
  • Help them draw or write thank-you notes or emails for all gifts received.

As a parent, teaching your child to think, talk, and act respectfully is one of the most important gifts you can give!

Hits: 50

Posted by on

Someone sent me a link to an article called How To Get Students To Stop Using Their Cellphones in Class. I was particularly interested in it because kids have a hard time putting their phones away and ignoring them. I was hoping for some strategies to share with those who really need to be paying attention in class rather than being distracted by their phones. Unfortunately, what stood out the most in the article was a statement from Larry Rosen, a research psychologist and professor emeritus at California State University, Dominguez Hills.  According to Rosen, “In experiments, [he] has shown that students' heart rate and other vital signs spike when they hear their phones ring and can't answer them. He says that putting the phones in sight, but out of reach, even when turned off, will only increase that anxiety and the distraction that comes with it.” This worried me, and made me wonder if students really are addicted to their cell phones. Up to this point, I had dismissed that thought as somewhat alarmist.

WebMD lists the signs of drug addiction. Some of these signs are eerily like what I see in my students (and, yes—me, too). This list is only part of the longer list on WebMD. I chose the ones that seem to relate to possible cell phone addiction.

  • You need more and more of the substance (in this case cell phone use) to get the same effect.
  • You feel strange when not using it.
  • You cannot stop yourself from using it.
  • You have a hard time setting limits on its use.
  • You’ve lost interest in things you used to like to do.
  • You drive or do other things you should not be doing while using it.
  • You have trouble getting along with others.
  • You need more and more of the substance (in this case cell phone use) to get the same effect.

It is easy to see how cell phone use relates to each of these signs. Perhaps as parents and teachers we need to begin thinking of ways to help our children take charge of their phones rather than allowing the phones to run their lives. Personally, I have started purposely leaving my phone in the house when I am working outside and limiting how much I stay on it. When at work, I only check it once an hour rather than every few minutes like I used to do. I must admit, it was hard at first, but it is much easier now that I have been doing it for a while. Read through this list of symptoms and think about your child. Is it possible he is addicted? He may need to be encouraged to change his behavior. I believe it is worth taking action to improve!

Hits: 53

Posted by on

Once children know letters, they can’t wait to use those letters to make words. When they know words they can then construct a sentence. Children learn that a sentence is a group of words that when combined, make a complete thought. Understanding sentences is a gateway to reading and reading comprehension.

Here are two fun ways to help your young child turn those words she recognizes into sentences:

  • Practice making sentences orally. Start simply, such as cat, the, sat.  She should be able to say “The cat sat.” Help her if she needs it. Once she can do simple ones, increase the difficulty. Give her four or five words she knows, out of order, and ask her to put them in a sentence—for example, "be, fish, in, swims, pond, a." She should be able to say “A fish swims in a pond.”
  • When reading a story together, have her pick two or three random words she knows. For example, when reading Clifford the Big Red Dog, by Norman Bridwell, she might pick the words "the, street, red." Then help her construct a sentence, unrelated to the story, using those words and adding more. An example could be “A big red bench is on the street.”

Once your child can easily build sentences orally, try this:

  • You will need some small index cards and a dark marker or crayon.
  • Have your child find a sentence from his favorite book.
  • Print the sentence by putting one word on each index card. Don’t forget to add the capital letter in the beginning.
  • Have him match the words on the cards to the words in the book.
  • Then mix up the cards and have him put the sentence in order.
  • When the sentence cards are in order, ask him to point to each word, left-to-right, as he says the sentence.
  • Do that often with some favorite sentences from books.
  • Consider affixing some magnetic tape and hanging the word cards on the fridge so he can create random sentences whenever he’s inspired.

Simple activities like these help young children recognize word order and sentence structure. Understanding sentences lets a child go to the next step—that sentences put together make a story!

Hits: 28

In many schools, every student has a laptop or tablet computer on their desk. As a teacher, I have mixed emotions about that! I love that my students have vast quantities of information at their fingertips, and that they can share documents with one another so easily. They can do group projects even when they are not in the same room or involve students from anywhere in the world. The same qualities, however, can be a distraction and keep them from learning what they are supposed to. Students can be surfing the Web looking for information unrelated to class. They may be chatting with friends or shopping instead of working. They may be playing games. Even the best of teachers cannot keep up with what every student is doing in class on their tablet or laptop.

Students need strategies for managing the distraction at their fingertips. It is ultimately their own decision whether to pay attention to the teacher or to their electronic device. Talk with your child about her responsibility for managing her device in class. Websites are designed to distract—ads appear targeted to their interest along with a myriad of other colorful, flashy pictures. It can be hard to focus attention where it belongs. Here are some ideas.

  • Partially lower the screen when the teacher is talking. This removes the distracting screen from sight and allows your child to focus better. This is important, too, when classmates are presenting their work to the class. I have seen students with their computer open working (or playing) while other students are presenting projects in class. This is rude and sends a message that they are not interested in learning from their peers.
  • Keep only the software open you are using in class. Some students keep multiple things running all the time, and the temptation to return to that chat is just too much to overcome.
  • Save social networking and online chatting for after school. Most schools try to block social networks from students, but some students find a way around the firewall. (Most students carry a cell phone with them to school and use it for social networking.) In my classroom, this is the biggest issue. Multitasking (doing more than one cognitive task at the same time) is never effective. At best, students will be slower and less productive. At worst, students do not learn at all.
  • Consider whether the learning task is best done without the computer at all. Some activities do not require a computer. Take the teacher’s lead if she suggests that you don’t need your computer. Leave it safely in your back pack and focus all your attention on learning without it in class.

Computers are fantastic learning tools. When used properly in the classroom, they enhance the learning environment and engage students actively. It is up to your son to use his computer appropriately in class. If he knows he is distracted in class by his laptop, he might consider leaving it tucked away unless he really needs it. When it is out, strategies like lowering the screen, keeping the correct software running, and avoiding socializing online can help.

Hits: 474

The various shapes, colors, and sizes of falling autumn leaves and acorns offer hands-on opportunities for science and math fun.

Here are four ways to use the season’s bounty to practice important skills:

  • Estimation: Have your child help you rake some leaves into a small pile. Ask her to guess how many leaves are in the pile. Once she gives you her estimation, help her sort the leaves into piles of 10. Count by tens, and any leftover ones, to see how many were in the pile. Talk about how close her estimation was. Try this activity four or five different times, over the course of a few weeks. See how her estimation skills improve with practice.
  • Sorting and classifying: These are important skills for both math and science. Use leaves to practice. Ask your child to sort a small bunch of leaves by color, size, or shape.  Or give him ten leaves of varying sizes. Ask him to sort them left to right, by smallest to largest, or by largest to smallest.
  • Practice simple addition and subtraction: Have your child collect 10 leaves or acorns. Use them to show various ways to make 10—for example, three on the left, seven on the right. Then on a piece of paper or small notebook, help her write the number sentence to match what the leaves show (3 + 7 = 10). Do this for different ways to make 10. For subtraction, help her collect 10 leaves or acorns from the ground. Put them in a row. Have her take some away. Let her count the acorns that are left. Take away different numbers of acorns each time. Help her write the number sentence to match; for example, 10 - 4 = 6.
  • For closer scientific study: Let him pick one favorite leaf. Bring it inside and help him place it between two pieces of 8 ½” x 11” white paper. Take the wrapper off a darker color crayon. Have him rub the top paper, using the whole side of the crayon. As he rubs the crayon, he’ll feel the bumps, lines, and edges of the leaf. An image of the leaf will appear on the paper! This image will help him clearly see the stem, veins, and shape of the leaf. Use this to start a discussion of how water and minerals come through the stem and veins to help the tree stay nourished and grow. Write the name of the type of leaf on top of the paper. Hang up his beautiful art rubbing. On another day, try it again with a different type of leaf. Use the rubbings to compare and contrast.

These hands-on ideas for using familiar objects will bring math and science to life and help your child visualize these skills in a new way!


Hits: 686

Once students leave elementary school, they are expected to be able to read well. But there is little help beyond the elementary school level when a student struggles to understand his textbooks. The reading level of middle and upper school textbooks varies, and certain books can be too hard for some kids to grasp. These students can learn strategies that might help.

Most textbooks used in school have questions to answer at the end of each section. A good strategy is to coach your child to read and think about those questions before beginning to read. The thinking time is to make sure he understands what each question is asking. This provides a framework for him as he begins to read. He can be looking for answers to those questions as he reads. This does more than just provide answers to the questions; it keeps him actively thinking.

Another strategy is to stop reading when confused. Your child should ask herself which part she understands and which she does not. She should annotate the hard part using sticky notes (“I don’t get this.”). She should ask, “Is this a vocabulary problem? Does this rely on earlier learning that I did not understand? Should I reread this part to see if I get it the second time through?” Regardless of her decision, she will know she needs to ask her teacher for help if she takes the time to make note of the problem areas.

It is possible that Rewordify might help your child. It is a free website where you can enter text and have it change it into words that are easier to understand. Unless his textbook is in digital form, though, he will have to type in the passage he is struggling with. Even so, it might be especially useful if the problem is that the textbook has too many difficult words in a passage.

There are many reading comprehension strategies. For more ideas, read Seven Strategies To Teach Students Text Comprehension. The secret is to realize that reading hard school books takes more time than reading for pleasure. Your child should set aside plenty of time when homework involves a reading assignment. Check the questions at the end of each section before beginning to read, stop and think when confused, and try Rewordify. To really understand, your brain has to be actively engaged and you need to take your time.

Hits: 663

Posted by on

Good use of fine motor skills contributes to early school success. Fine motor adeptness involves the smaller muscle groups throughout the body—for example, muscles in the hand and fingers must work in unison to strengthen drawing and writing. Small muscles in the throat, tongue and lips must work together for clear speaking and singing. Pronunciation, coloring, printing, cutting, and pasting are some critical skills for staying on grade level during a child’s early years of school.

Between the ages of 4 and 6, help your child learn to master these fine motor skills:

  • Speak clearly to the teacher, other adults and fellow students
  • Sing appropriate age-level songs
  • Say simple rhymes and poems
  • Zip a zipper
  • Button a shirt, pants, or coat
  • Build with blocks and Legos
  • Hold scissors properly
  • Cut on a thick, straight line
  • Put together simple, larger piece puzzles
  • Begin to color within a defined boundary
  • Start to print letters
  • Begin to cut and glue objects to paper (for example, cut a yellow circle for the sun and paste it to a blue “sky” paper)

Between ages 5 and 7, ideally your child will have developed enough fine motor skills to do these activities:

  • Tie shoe and sneaker laces
  • Zip her own coat
  • Print her name using one capital letter and the rest lowercase
  • Have a standard pencil and crayon grip, using the thumb and fingers, not a fist
  • Begin to show hand dominance (either left or right)
  • Write numbers 0-50, in sequence
  • Write partner letters (capital and lowercase, Aa, Bb, etc.)
  • Begin to print letters on the lines of lined paper
  • Color within the lines of a picture
  • Cut out recognizable shapes

Some easy ways to strengthen fine motor skills at home are:

  • Have him help you cut out coupons from newspapers or magazines or from ones you print from the Internet
  • Roll pieces of clay or modeling compound into long “snakes” and twist to form letters or numbers
  • Practice cutting on thicker objects like card stock, thin box tops, or cereal boxes
  • Squeeze and count with a soft ball or tennis ball to strengthen hands and fingers

Strong hands, fingers, and lips can help your young child experience early school achievement. Attention to fine motor details helps the progression from understanding a task to successfully completing it.

Hits: 631

Posted by on

Websites are cluttered with multiple windows and articles as well as advertisements. The extra information on each page can make it difficult to read what you really want to read. This is especially true for students who are distractible or have attention deficits. “Readability” is a free app that makes reading so much easier. It removes the clutter from the screen, enlarges the font, and focuses on the one article you select to read. It is very easy to install and works through Google Chrome as an add-on or an app on your iPad, iPhone, or Android device.

To get Readability for Google Chrome, open Chrome and go to this download page. Select “Install Now,” wait a few seconds, and you are ready to go. An icon appears on the menu bar in the upper right corner that looks like a red sofa. When you find an article you want to read, click the icon and select from the menu—“Read Now,” “Read Later,” or “Send to Kindle.” If you select “Read Now,” the add-on will clean up the screen (this takes a few seconds) and open the article all by itself. There is nothing to distract the reader

To get the Readability app, follow the appropriate links found on Readability’s frequently asked questions page. To use it, open the app, click the add icon (a plus sign), and copy and paste the URL where the article you want to read is found. You then have the option to “Read Now,” or “Read Later.”

When I evaluate reading material or textbooks for my students, I always pay attention to the amount of clutter on each page. Reading comprehension can be affected by a poorly designed page. Websites can be very difficult for many students because there is so much that they need to ignore. The Readability add-on can help these students in school to be able to focus on what is important. Check it out. It’s free and easy to use!


Hits: 108

by Lynette Owens

In today’s world, kids are using electronic devices before they are reading and writing—which is both exciting and frightening for parents and communities. It seems that with every year that passes, kids are receiving their first cell phone, tablet, or other electronic device at younger and younger ages. As this trend continues, it’s more important than ever to teach kids to use these devices responsibly and become good digital citizens. As well, as these devices leave home and go with kids to classrooms and play dates, it becomes essential that communities work together to teach and promote proper use, respect, and responsibility online.

But what exactly is digital citizenship? It is “the norms of appropriate, responsible behavior with regard to technology use.” Digital citizenship involves not only using technology and devices appropriately, but also being responsible with all that comes with them, from social media access to Internet searches.

Community Members’ Roles

Helping kids be good digital citizens is no small task; that is why entire communities—parents, teachers, coaches, and other community members—must work together to model and encourage it. From a child in kindergarten getting online for the first time, to a senior in high school getting online for the zillionth time, we all have a role in beginning and continuing conversations about what it means to be good digital citizens.

  • Parents and guardians: In most cases, this is the group that introduces kids to technology for the first time. Families make different choices about when and what their kids can access at young ages, but they should do so with eyes wide open. Parents should use the devices and apps that their kids use, share stories and advice with other parents, and, most important, talk to their kids about what it means to use the Internet safely, responsibly, and wisely. They should have this first discussion when their kids are at a young age and keep the communication going.
  • Schools: As technology’s role in schools and classrooms continues to increase, so does the importance of teaching digital citizenship. If schools require students to use Internet-connected devices and online services for schoolwork and in collaborative ways, they should also provide guidance on appropriate use, both when the kids are in school and elsewhere (home, library, a friend’s house). Ideally, these messages are reinforced by the same messages kids are receiving from their parents.
  • Law and government officials: Access to the Internet and technology isn’t a right, but a privilege. For this reason, it is important that both law and government officials come together to not only create but enforce policies related to digital citizenship. Additionally, these policies should be promoted and discussed with members of the community so that everyone can learn to practice good digital citizenship.

Every group in a community plays a role teaching or role-modeling digital citizenship, whether by deliberate action or simply by the way we set examples. By working together, we can ensure the messages of what it means to be great at being online will be reinforced, wherever kids are, so that when they are out on their own, they can make great decisions that will help them thrive both on and offline.

Lynette Owens is the founder and global director of Trend Micro’s Internet Safety for Kids and Families (ISKF) program. A mom of two school-age children, Lynette established the ISKF program in 2008 to help extend the company’s vision of making a world safe for the exchange of digital information to the world’s youngest citizens. The program, active in 19 countries, helps kids, families, and schools become safe, responsible, and successful users of technology. Follow Lynette on Twitter @lynettetowens or read her blog: internetsafety.trendmicro.com

Tagged in: Internet Safety
Hits: 506

Posted by on

Parents are their child’s first teacher. There are many simple things you can do to ensure his reading and writing success.

Here are some easy suggestions to help you support your child’s literacy achievements:

  • Read to your young child every day. Include a variety of texts (fiction, nonfiction, poetry, etc.).
  • Don’t simplify words. Use those “SAT” words early on and often! Research supports that hearing higher level language, even though a child might not know its meaning at the time, is an indicator of advanced reading and comprehension.
  • Make sure your child sees you reading, as that subtly reinforces its importance.
  • Encourage her to use words she already knows to decode new words. Have her look for the “little words inside the big ones.” For example, if she encounters the word "animals," help her break it into small parts and decode an-i-mals. Use your finger or a small index card to hide parts of the word. Then, help her blend the little words into one big one.
  • When reading, stop and ask questions. When he correctly answers the question, go deeper. Ask him to go back to the text and find evidence to support his thoughts.
  • Encourage her to keep a “reader response” notebook. After reading a story together, have her draw or write answers to questions, such as "who is your favorite character in the story?" "Why?" :What is the setting of that story (city, farm, desert, ocean, etc.)?"
  • Help him make “self-to-text” connections to reading and writing. For example, after reading a story about animals at the zoo, talk about a time you visited the zoo. Discuss what personal experience was similar to the story, and what was different. Draw or write about a favorite zoo animal.

Using simple and easy ideas like these can help your child become a high-level reader and writer.

Hits: 321

Posted by on

In a recent blog I cautioned parents to make sure their teens are not overbooked. I often see students in my office upset and worried; frequently, they cannot tell me what it is they are anxious about. They often want to go home, even though they are not really sick. When I later examine their schedule and consider the extracurricular activities they are involved in, I wonder if they are feeling the results of stress from trying to do too many things. Stress is necessary, for without it we will not be alert to the world around us and push ourselves to achieve. Too much stress, though, is not healthy. Fortunately, our body tells us when it has had too much stress.

A 2013 survey of teens and adults done by the American Psychological Association (APA) revealed that teens today are feeling higher levels of stress than their parents. It also revealed that teens do not realize that being under too much stress is unhealthy for them. Stress can cause headaches and upset stomachs. It can cause you to stay awake when you should be sleeping at night. It can elevate blood pressure and even cause chest pain. It can also exacerbate the symptoms of other diseases such as arthritis and asthma. It can lead to serious feelings of anxiety and depression. (For more information about the physical symptoms of too much stress, read The Effects of Stress on Your Body at WebMD.)

There are some steps to take that can help relieve the stress. Of course, examining the schedule is the first step. It is possible that taking away one or two activities during the school year can be enough to make life more manageable. Teens also need to do something fun and get some exercise every day. The APA says, “School is important, but it’s not everything. When you plan your week, schedule time to get schoolwork done, but also schedule time to have fun. When it’s time to enjoy yourself, try not to worry about school or homework. Focus on having fun.” And, finally, teens need to get enough sleep at night. Everyone is different, but most doctors recommend that teens sleep eight or nine hours every night. There are times when there just is no way to get enough sleep, but that should not be a routine event.

The amount of stress teenagers are under and the resulting anxiety is a major concern in schools everywhere. Parents should not ignore the signs of stress in their children, and they should take steps to alleviate the cause, if possible. Teens tend to feel invincible, so they will not likely worry about how they are feeling and connect it to being under so much pressure. Adolescents need to learn strategies to manage their stress such as exercise, having fun, and getting enough sleep. If you are concerned about your son or daughter, talk to your pediatrician about whether the symptoms they are experiencing could be caused by stress.

Hits: 524

Posted by on

I often rely on two of my old favorite teaching aids in helping young students with basic math.  A common deck of playing cards and a child’s hand full of U.S. coins can work wonders in helping students understand the value of numbers.

Children must first be able to recognize the four main U.S. coins (penny, nickel, dime, and quarter). First, download my "Coin Match Value Game"— it's a perfect way for young students to learn coin recognition, while subtly learning coin value.

Or you can use a deck of regular playing cards:

  • Take a king, a ten card, a five card, and an ace, of the same suit, from the deck.
  • Put the card face up on a table.
  • Have your child sit facing the cards.
  • Have him place a quarter on the king, a dime on the 10 card, a nickel on the five card, and a penny on the ace.
  • Let him go through the rest of the coins and place them below the appropriate cards.

As your child gets older, a further expansion of this game is to play “substitute the coins.” Once all the coins are placed on their proper cards, use the coin match value game to help your child “substitute” coins for equal numeric value. Here’s how:

  • Start by introducing a new card, a queen from a deck of cards, to act as a “bank.” Put the queen off to the side.
  • Have him take a dime from the “ten card pile” and place it on the bank.
  • He must then replace the dime with coins from the other card piles to equal 10 (for example, a nickel and five pennies, two nickels or 10 pennies).
  • He can invest a quarter into the bank by replacing it with a variety of coins. The coins get moved around, but the total value of the coins, including the coins in the bank, stays the same.
  • Play often, until your child can easily make coin substitutions without adult help.

These games are wonderful learning tools. In addition, they can be great fun. This is especially true if, at the end of the games, the young student gets to keep all the coins!

Hits: 547

Posted by on

Students everywhere will be taking the PSATs and SATs. The PSAT, which occurs in the fall, is a preparatory test for the SAT. The SAT (or another test—the ACT) is required by most colleges as part of the application process. There are some important changes this year on the PSAT and SAT that have implications for how to prepare to take them. The changes are in effect now on the new PSAT for 8th and 9th graders as well as the PSAT that 10th and 11th graders take, and begin in the spring on the SAT.

Two very positive changes affect the scores students get. On the old tests, it was not advantageous to guess at answers if you really did not know the answer. A wrong answer was penalized, so if you missed it you would lose points from the ones you got correct. Now, an incorrect answer doesn’t hurt you. You simply do not get the point for that question. Students should take a stab at every question, even if they do not know the answer. In addition, the multiple choice questions have four choices now instead of five! That means there is a greater chance of guessing correctly.

The math part of the PSAT and SAT tests changed considerably. There are a few trigonometry questions that were not asked on the old PSAT and SAT and fewer geometry questions than before. The biggest change, however, is that there are two parts of the math section. You are allowed to use a calculator in one, and you cannot use a calculator in the other. This change—not being allowed to use a calculator—may affect some students more than others.

Our upper-level math teachers frequently report to me that their students do not remember all of the basic math facts. If your child frequently uses a calculator in algebra or another higher level math class, find out whether he is relying on it for simple facts (like 8 x 9, or 56/8). If so, he will have a lot of trouble on the PSAT or SAT when he is not allowed to use a calculator. There are many apps available for drilling math facts. He should spend 10 or 15 minutes every day drilling until they are automatic. It will help him in math class as well as when taking these tests.

To learn more specific information about the PSATs and SATs, go to the ETS website. There are practice tests available there and tips for how to prepare for the tests. It is a good idea to also check out the ACT. Most colleges will accept either test, and students may submit their best score. The tests are very different, and some do better on one over the other. A final thought—students may take these tests more than once. The first time can be a learning experience to prepare for the next time!

Hits: 525

There are many simple things you can do to help your child quickly learn the basic elements of reading. When starting the reading process, a very young child may look at a group of words in a sentence or a paragraph, and see just that, a group of words! Children need to understand that in trying to determine what these words mean (when reading English and most languages), they must always start at the left. If there are several sentences to read, they must always start at the top left.

Here are some helpful tips:

  • If your child has difficulty with the concept of “left,” here is an exercise that can help. Have her hold up and fully open her left hand with her palm facing outward, towards you. She will see the back of her hand.  Ask her to make a letter “l” with her hand, and tell her this “l” stands for “left.” Children love this learning aid because they always have it with them!
  • A good way to reinforce this “start on the left” concept is to always move your index finger in a left-to-right sweep when you are reading to your young child.  This will help her in recognizing words and in understanding the importance of left-to-right progression.
  • Once your child is older and starting to read on his own, have him hold a small index card below the sentence line he is reading to you. This will focus his eyes and his attention on the sentence he is reading, not the one above or below.

When reading together, ask her questions about the words. For example, ask her to point to the word in the first sentence that says “dog.” You will probably be pleasantly surprised at how fast she can identify common words found in many early childhood books. As she learns more words, she will see how they make perfect sense when read in left-to-right progression.
Hits: 588

Posted by on

Parents often push their children to take honors and AP level classes because they want them to be challenged and have a better chance to get into a competitive college. Additionally, they want them involved in extra-curricular activities so they have little free time to get into mischief. For some kids, I agree this is appropriate. For all kids, though, it is important to take a look at their overall schedule to make sure it is reasonable. Students in middle and high school need to have some “down time” in their life, and scheduling too many difficult classes and extra-curricular activities is not healthy for them. How do you know if your child is overscheduled?

If your daughter routinely stays up past midnight to complete her homework, she may be trying to do too much. The National Sleep Foundation recommends that teens get from eight to ten hours of sleep each night. I frequently ask my students how much sleep they get, and most report they only get five or six hours on school nights. They get home from sports or band practice, eat dinner, start their homework, and do not get finished until very late. There are many negative effects of not getting enough sleep, some of which relate to poor performance in school.

Frequently staying home from school is another sign that your child may be overbooked. The stress your son feels from not having any fun time and not getting enough rest, often results in exhaustion and illness. Then, missing school adds to the stress because he has so much work to do to catch up after being out.

Overbooked teens often become anxious. Your daughter may worry about just about everything—pleasing her parents, doing well in school, not letting her teammates down, not having enough friends. She may ask to drop a class from her schedule, which might not be a bad idea. She may need guidance in deciding what she should drop, however. (She may not be thinking logically while anxious.) If your daughter feels anxious about school and life, it is time to take a look at her overall schedule. Consider allowing her to switch some of her classes from honors to regular level or perhaps dropping something from her schedule.

Taking too many upper-level classes and participating in too many extracurricular activities is risky for teenagers. Examine whether your child is getting enough sleep at night and attending school regularly. Note whether he feels anxious a lot. Make sure there is time for him to enjoy being with friends and family, attend social events, and have some time when he does not have to do anything at all. He needs to have some fun to stay healthy and happy.

Hits: 1111

Although much of my professional focus is now on enhancing literacy skills, my blog posts will never neglect the importance of starting young students with solid math skills, as well. Last week I wrote about the importance of “one-to-one correspondence” in reading. One-to-one correspondence is very important to early math also. Basically, this concept means correctly matching numbers to objects.

Rote number counting, and knowing what that number represents, are two very different and distinct mathematical skills. A student can be an excellent counter, yet not be able to identify a random number out of numerical sequence. Or your child may be able to say the numeral 9, yet be unable to count-out nine objects.

Here are three easy and fun activities to help your child practice one-to-one correspondence in math:

  • In a dish, place a small amount of a favorite snack like Cheerios, raisins, Goldfish crackers, etc. Start a “roll for snacks” game by rolling a single die, and have your child counts the dots. He can then count out and save an equal number of pieces from the snack dish. (Who knew that counting could be so yummy?) To increase the difficulty, use a pair of dice, and add the dots before counting the total. If the snacks build up, they can be saved and enjoyed later on.
  • From a deck of playing cards, remove 10 “number cards” (2-10) from the same suit. Let the “Ace” from that suit represent the number 1. Line up the cards from left-to-right, the Ace to ten. Below the cards, have her place the correct number of pennies shown on the card.  Once she can easily do this from one to 10, mix up the cards and place them out of sequence. Practice this until she can match the pennies to the individual numbers shown on the cards, no matter what the sequence.
  • Put a pile of 20 pennies on a table. Say a number out loud between 1 and 20. See if your child can count out the number of pennies that you said. If he can’t do it by himself, help him count out the correct amount. Have him put the pennies in a straight line, pointing to each penny, as he counts in sequence.

Practicing math one-to-one correspondence, while having a little fun, will help your child make the connection between seeing, saying, and knowing.

Hits: 666

Posted by on

There is a difference between being intelligent and doing well in school. Generally, people speak as if the two are the same. In fact, there are some very smart people who do not do well in school and some who might not seem as “smart” but who do very well. We should not say, “She’s so smart. She gets all A’s in school,” because it is likely that she gets great grades because she works very hard at it rather than totally because of her intelligence. I have taught some extremely intelligent students who did not do well in school. I have taught some who others felt were not as smart, who did great!

It is hard to define intelligence. Some say it is the ability to acquire and use new knowledge. Others say it is the ability to solve problems. Skill is defined as the ability to do a particular thing. The ability to read is a skill. The ability to drive a car is a skill. Most of the time, an individual person will not acquire all skills at the same rate, and this is likely related to facets of their intelligence. An elite dancer may have an innate intelligence that makes him able to dance in such a beautiful way. Another might be a fantastic mathematician with intelligence for logical and mathematical thinking (see Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences).

If a student is not doing well in school, it is important to tell them it does not mean he isn’t smart. I have heard students call themselves “dumb” when they clearly have talents in many areas other than reading, writing, math, and science. Many CEOs and entrepreneurs did not do well in school! Once they got out of school and became successful, they were considered brilliant.

When your child tells you she is “dumb,” help her see that she has gifts that other children do not have. Help her understand that being smart and doing well in school are two very different things. There is more to life than going to school.

Hits: 727

It has been a hectic yet rewarding experience completing the first week of my new assignment as a literacy coach for my school district. This new job involves traveling to five elementary schools and supporting teachers as they implement our district’s new literacy initiatives.  One of the core educational concepts for young children that I will be stressing in kindergarten and 1st grade is something I call the “triangle base.”  Preschool and early elementary students need to develop certain skill sets before they can master reading. Experience has taught me that there are three important skills that when combined together comprise the “triangle base.” The skills are:

One-to-one correspondence. In reading, it means that the child is verbally saying what he is seeing in print.

Patterns. This means recognizing and understanding both visual and auditory patterns. (An example of a visual pattern would be a picket fence. An example of an auditory pattern can be found in the famous B-I-N-G-O song that children love.)

Rhyming. This promotes phonemic awareness, which is a crucial prereading skill.

These three important core skills form a solid base upon which most other educational skills can be built and sharpened. Today I want to expand on why phonemic awareness is so important. The simplest definition of the term is the ability to hear sounds in spoken language. However, it is more complicated and sequential. There are five basic steps in this skill:

  • Beginning sounds (first letter)
  • Ending sounds (last letter)
  • Medial sounds (in the middle vowels)
  • Blends (pl in plant, sw in swing) and digraphs (sh, ch, th, wh, ph, as in the words "shop" or "bath")
  • Substitutions and deletions (for example, a child knowing that if you take away the c from the work "cake" and put a t in its place, the new word is "take." Or, if she knows the word "plate" and you delete the p, the remaining word is "late").

These skills are cumulative. A child cannot do step 5 if she is not proficient in the other four steps before it.

Understanding this progression of phonemic awareness should help you assist your child in enhancing his reading development.

Hits: 861

Posted by on

The school where I work has a lovely ceremony each year when all students and teachers sign the Honor Code. Many teachers ask students to “pledge” their work, signifying that the work is their own. We teach students to cite their sources when they borrow the ideas of others. To sign a pledge that says—“I shall not lie, cheat, or steal, nor tolerate others who do”—seems cut and dried. In reality, it is complex. Interpreting individual cases can be difficult. There are times when parents should help their children figure out what is the right thing to do in a given situation.

Your son may work with another student on homework. Teachers encourage students to help one another when they are having trouble figuring out how to answer a question. In most cases, this is fine. The difficult part is deciding how much working with a friend is OK, and at what point it is no longer your child’s work. There are some teachers who do not want students working together at all. These teachers feel that homework is the way to know which students have mastered the concepts. I would suggest that your son ask his teachers what their expectations are for homework. If there is confusion, he should err on the side of caution—he should do it alone.

Another difficult area is when your daughter is writing a research paper. Changing one or two words in a paragraph from one of her sources does not make the work hers. Even changing whole sentences and paragraphs is not enough. She must give proper credit to the person whose ideas she is sharing. This is extremely hard for students to understand, and if your daughter makes a mistake she could be accused of plagiarizing, even though she feels she wrote it herself. It is probably a good idea to help her decide whether an idea needs to be cited, especially on the first few papers she writes. It is always better to over-cite than to not give credit when you should!

There are times when students cheat and they know it. This usually stems from feeling desperate for one reason or another. Perhaps they are over-scheduled and simply did not have time to do an assignment. It is possible they do not know how to do the work and won’t ask for help (perhaps they’re embarrassed to ask). Maybe they are about to lose a privilege at home if their grades drop. For whatever reason, these cases are clearer and normally result in punishment. Even so, parents can help identify the reasons their child felt the need to cheat. It may be possible to adjust their schedule or arrange for tutoring support, if needed.

All parents want their children to grow up to be honorable. The school’s honor code and how it is implemented can be helpful in teaching what it means to have integrity. Children make mistakes. When they do, take time to figure out what happened. Were they working with another student on homework and thought it was okay? Did they use another person’s ideas feeling they came up with them on their own? Or, did they cheat out of desperation? For whatever reason, take advantage of the situation to help your child learn how to do it better the next time.

You may be interested in reading Honesty Is a Vital Part of Character for more on this important topic.

Hits: 889

Posted by on

by Kathryn Lagden

A couple of weeks ago we shared this fun fact on Facebook:

20% of kids learn to play music. 70% of adults wish they had.

It obviously resonated with folks as it generated a lot of “shares” and discussion, myself included. As a mom to a creative 6-year-old who loves to dance and sing, I’ve been thinking about music lessons and if/when we should introduce them. My own experience includes 10 years of violin lessons starting when I was 8. There were definitely times I’d have happily quit, but I’m so thankful I was forced encouraged to persevere. My musical ability is mediocre at best, but it opened the door to many opportunities over the years. And how awesome is it that now, as a parent, I can plunk out the tune to “Twinkle, Twinkle” on whatever plastic and tinny instrument is at hand.


But does learning an instrument help learning? I was curious, so I did some googling and found these articles interesting. 


6 Benefits of Music Lessons 

Music Lessons Help Children’s Learning 

Musical Training ‘Can Improve Language and Reading’ 

This Is How Music Can Change Your Brain (I really like this one as it talks about the importance of kids being actively interested and engaged)


This video (just under 5 minutes) from Anita Collins is well worth a watch, as it shows exactly what’s happening in the brain as you listen to music and how that changes when you play music.


I am going to encourage my oldest to think about playing an instrument but won’t push it too hard just yet. At the very least I’m hoping he doesn’t choose the violin as even now, 30 years later, I can recall the months of screeching that must be endured to learn the basics.


Hits: 781

Do you allow your children to watch TV or play on the computer before doing their homework?