SchoolFamily Voices

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

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The New Year is the perfect time to hang unmarked calendars, make resolutions and revel in the feeling that we can "start over." And, while it certainly does feel as though our collective slates have been wiped clean, let's not forget that our children are smack in the middle of the academic school year. This is the perfect time for parents to ask, "Is my child reading at grade-level (or higher), and is he making progress?"  And, one of the best ways to find out your child's reading level is to give them a grade-level fluency test.

Fluency is reading speed and accuracy, and a student's fluency rate should steadily increase throughout the school year. For example, at the beginning of the school year, the average 2nd grade student reads about 53 correct words per minute (CWPM); after three months, one would expect that number to have increased to 70 CWPM.

Ask your child's teacher for a grade-level fluency test; or, look online and in reading/tutoring books. With only a little instruction, most parents find fluency tests easy to administer. It is worth a little time and effort to discover for yourself how your child is doing, wouldn't you agree?

Don't wait for a disappointing report card or low test scores- find out NOW if your child is on target in reading. Have a fun, safe New Year, but don't forget that January is the ideal time to give your child a fluency test!

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Most days when my son gets home from school, his homework is finished. While this is really, really nice, what really makes it great is that his homework is done correctly.

There are different types of after-school programs, and each type will have its own homework philosophy, goals and focus. For some programs, homework will be a priority, but for others, fun and recreation or enrichment activities such as art, music or dance may take center stage. 

How do you know if homework is a priority at your after-school program?

  • Does the program mention homework in its brochure, website and materials? Do they say it is a priority? If they don't mention homework, it's probably not a priority.

  • Does the program have dedicated space and time to complete homework? There should be a homework area (a separate room is ideal) for students to work on their homework. This environment should be quiet and free from distractions (usually those students not doing homework!)

  • Does the program have proper homework materials, supplies? Paper, pencils, reference books?

  • Does the program have an adult supervising the homework area? An adult staff member should be available to answer questions, to make certain that no copying (cheating) is taking place and to keep students focused on finishing their work.

If the program seems to do only a fair job with homework, consider allowing your child to do his "easy" homework there and save the important homework for home. For example, my daughter often did those (silly) math and spelling worksheets at the after-school program, but saved reading, writing and special projects for home.

If the after school homework program is not up to snuff, please don't insist that your child participate. Wrong, rushed, sloppy, copied homework is a waste of everybody's time. Let your child spend the afternoon playing, relaxing, and eating a snack. He will be in a much better mood to do his homework later.

When trying to decide if your child should do any or all of his homework at the after-school program, please consider his unique personality. Some children need a break right after school, while others have no problem doing their homework immediately. Give your child the Homework Personality Quiz to determine if after your school's homework program is a good match for your child.

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Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I love spending time with family and friends, eating entirely too much delicious food and reveling in the fact that they haven't figured out how to turn the holiday into a commercial-gift-buying-debt-creating extravaganza. After hundreds of years, Thanksgiving is still a simple day of thanks- and football.

What I don't like about Thanksgiving (besides the dishes) is homework. Unfortunately, millions of students and their families will have to deal with homework this week. It was after one year of my daughter spending the afternoon upstairs studying instead of hanging out with her family that I put my foot down about vacation homework.

You and your children deserve a break from school- including homework. Here's how to deal with vacation homework  so that your family can return to your regular routine rested and rejuvenated.

Good luck.  Happy Thanksgiving and try not to eat too much!

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Your kids' bedtime.

Ah, just reading those words puts a smile on your face, doesn't it? I love my children as much as the next parent, and at the same time I am not ashamed to admit that I also love sending them to bed at the end of a long day.

The two things are not mutually exclusive.

Kids need sleep. Lots and lots of sleep. They need consistent bedtimes and regular sleeping hours.

You may be surprised to learn how much sleep your children need:

  • 3 to 6 year olds = 12 hours a night
  • 7 to 9 year olds = 11 hours a night
  • 10 to 12 year olds = 10 hours a night
  • 12 to 18 year olds = 8 to 9 hours a night

So, are your children getting enough sleep? Few are. And, it is not the once-in-awhile-crazy-late bedtimes that cause the long-lasting problems. It’s the kinda-late-every-single-night bedtimes that do the most damage and cause problems in school. Students need to be at their best at school every day, and that means they need to be well-rested every day. Consistently losing even a small amount of sleep adversely affects children. Sleep-deprived children don't grow as fast as they should, don’t learn as much they could, and don't get along as well with others.

Some students come to school sleepy nearly every single day. They spend their entire academic careers operating at less than their best. How much learning do you think is taking place?

Just to clarify: sleeping means eyes closed, snoring, dreaming. It does not mean brushing teeth, begging for one more story, arguing and debating the merits of sleep, watching one more show, getting ready to hang up the phone or turn of the computer. Sleep means sleep.


Don’t you wish that someone demanded that you go to your room, get in the bed and go to sleep? This is punishment?

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I spend a lot of time talking about what students should do before they sit down to do homework. Today, I'd like to discuss what students should do after they've finished it! I have found that putting everything away is a crucial-but-often-neglected step, resulting in lost assignments and insane mornings. (Can you relate?)

Explain to your children that they're not really, truly, absolutely finished with their homework until they have put:

  1. EVERY assignment in their homework binder in the correct pocket.
  2. The homework binder INSIDE their backpack.
  3. ALL of their books in their backpack.
  4. ALL materials (pencils, papers, calculator, etc.) that remain home away in a drawer or their handy Magic Homework Box.
  5. And, finally...
  6. Their backpack by the front DOOR- or where ever they'd have to step over it before they leave in the morning.

Can you imagine how much easier everybody's life will be when your children complete all of these steps regularly? This is why it is sooo important that they get into the habit of doing these steps every day and as soon as they finish their homework. No snack or TV until all of the steps are completed! Your children will probably grumble at first, but later they will have to admit that life is much easier when they don't wait until the next morning to put things away, leave their homework on the kitchen table or have to frantically search for their backpacks at the last minute.

While we're teaching our children that being organized means being proactive and thorough, we might want to put our things by the front door, as well!

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Parents have often confessed to me that when it comes to their children's homework, they have done some things of which they are not so proud:

  • figured out every math problem
  • written the vocabulary sentences
  • composed the essay
  • colored the picture
  • completed the project
  • read the book and written the book report
  • signed the reading journal—even though their child did not read
  • answered the end-of-chapter questions

Parents feel guilty and worry about the lesson they are teaching their children. Why, then do so many parents do these things? They claim that they have no choice. After hours (or days or weeks or months) of listening to their children cry over homework- parents throw their hands up in defeat. They tell themselves that "cheating" is the only way that they can get some peace and their child can get some sleep.

Believe me, I understand wanting to protect your child and stop the whining. However, giving your child the answers or doing their homework is not a long-term solution to your homework problem. You are setting a precedent that will be difficult to reverse. You don’t want your child to think, “If I don’t want to do something distasteful, I’ll throw a fit and Mom or Dad will do it for me.” Not to mention, do you really want to do their homework? I certainly don't!

So, what should a parent do if their child is having a homework meltdown?

Write a note explaining that your child was exhausted and/or unable to complete an assignment. Tell the teacher that this was your decision and you do not want your child punished. This should not happen often. If your child is having problems completing her homework on a regular basis, contact the teacher to schedule a time to meet. The two of you can discuss what is happening and what can be done to fix the situation. Most teachers are very reasonable and want to work with parents to help their students succeed, but they can only do that if they know that there is a problem.

Trust me, your child is not the only one having trouble completing their homework. (Click here for more information about homework meltdowns.

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My children have been in school for a month, but for many families, the day after Labor Day is the first day of the new school year. It is also the first day of after-school snacks. What your children eat after school has a big impact on how well they are able to do their homework.

You want to give it some thought before they walk in the door.

My kids are polar opposites. My daughter likes to start her homework as soon as possible; my son prefers to wait until the morning. (How do I know this? The Homework Personality Quiz!) However, they both want a snack the minute they get home from school. In fact, if they don’t have a snack immediately, they might die of starvation.

So, I let them eat something. There are, however, a few snack rules:

  1. Easy. Easy to make and easy to clean up. I have enough problems with breakfast, lunch and dinner. There is no way I want to deal with planning, cooking or cleaning up another meal. After-school snacks must be quick and simple.
  2. Healthy. Basically, this means low sugar. I am not a health food fanatic; I just don’t want to give my children anything that will make them wild, fidgety and unable to concentrate all afternoon.
  3. Dinner-Friendly. Most of us don’t overeat fiber and protein- it’s the refined sugar and processed carbohydrates that cause the problems. Don’t make your children's after-school snack too much like dessert. It should tide them over until dinner, not spoil it.

My Favorite After-School Snacks:

  • apple or celery with low-sugar peanut butter
  • string cheese and a piece of fruit (grapes)
  • sliced vegetables (peppers, carrots) with dip (hummus, ranch dressing)
  • strawberries dipped in dark chocolate (believe it or not, this is healthy, and most kids love it)
  • cheese and crackers

I save these snacks for after school- rarely in lunches- so my kids don’t get sick and tired of them. Of course, there are many, many more healthy, easy, dinner-friendly snack ideas. Please, share some of yours!

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