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SchoolFamily Voices

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

Lessons on Respect From To Kill a Mockingbird

Harper Lee, author of To Kill a Mockingbird, passed away on Feb. 19. Most children read To Kill a Mockingbird, in 8th or 9th grade. Many, many students cite it as the best book they ever read. To honor her, I had my students watch the scene from the movie of the book when Atticus Finch talks with his daughter, Scout, about the importance of understanding the perspective of another person. Atticus says, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…until you climb in his skin and walk around in it.” The current political discourse (or lack thereof) demonstrates to our children a lack of respect for others. That is not meant to be a political statement, because it happens within both parties.

One way to talk to your children about respect and empathy is to watch and discuss this video clip with them. Here are some suggested talking points.

•    What does Atticus mean when he says, “…climb in his skin and walk around in it”?
•    Have you ever tried doing that? When? How did you feel?
•    Does this apply to us on a daily basis? Can you think of some examples?
•    What is the difference between empathy and sympathy? (You might be surprised by your child’s reply.)
•    If someone treats you badly, does that give you the right to treat another person badly?
•    What are some ways to show genuine respect for others even when they are different from us?

Children learn respect from the adults around them. The adults in their life should choose their words carefully and never belittle others in front of the child. Our children need to learn that we can disagree about important matters without disliking the person who disagrees. What you say makes a difference. How your child sees you treat him and others makes an even bigger difference! I encourage you to spend some time with your child watching this scene from To Kill a Mockingbird.

You might enjoy reading a related blog post, The Power of Positive Attention for Teens.

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Do You Worry if You’re Doing Enough With Your Kids? Stop!

I can’t be the only parent who worries if she is doing enough with her kids on a regular basis, right? Every day I see Facebook updates from friends sharing
what they did with their kids today, on the weekend, and on vacation, and it gets overwhelming. How do they do it all? I can’t take my kids grocery shopping without wanting to leave them in the produce section. A trip to Disney World, nope, not happening. That would be the end of us all.

But recently I realized something that helped me stop worrying and trying to fill my kids’ lives with constant activities. I thought we weren’t doing much, but scrolling through the pictures on my phone was a great reminder that we actually did do a lot. Did we go to Disney World? Well, no, that would still push me right over the edge. But we did do plenty: bowling, movies, family parties, the beach, the library, school plays, sledding, an amusement park, baseball games, ice cream, the playground, the zoo, and a few road trips. We even went to Disney on Ice—maybe not Disney World, but it’s the closest I’m getting for a while. How could I consider that “not enough”?

Most of us are doing lots of things with our kids that don’t seem like a big deal at the time. Now that I’ve looked back on an entire year, I know that we didn’t just let the kids watch YouTube videos every day. Don’t get me wrong—they watch their fair share—but years from now are they going to look back at pictures and remember what we didn’t do, or will they remember the time we went to the zoo 15 minutes from our house? I’m betting on the zoo.

So, fellow worriers, please cut yourself some slack. My kids have probably done more in one year than I did during my entire childhood, so why was I worrying? Contrary to what my Facebook feed might suggest, we’re doing just fine— even if we never make it to Disney World.

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Does Technology Help or Hinder Students' Development?

Tim Elmore writes about teaching leadership to young people. I have written about some of his work in an earlier blog post about coping with stress. He calls the generation of kids born after 9/11, Generation Z. A characteristic of these teens is that they spend a great deal of time with their electronic devices; so in my freshman seminar class, we spent some time discussing how their devices can either help them or hinder them in school.

For one lesson, we watched Can You Auto-Correct Humanity by Prince Ea. Prince Ea is a rapper whose music tends to be about intellectual topics and social concerns. The premise of this video is that humans are spending so much time online that they are losing touch with reality—with humanity.

I asked my students to respond to the video. I was expecting them to disagree with Prince Ea. To my surprise, they did not. Almost every single student agreed with him. I am not certain they know what to do to change things. But at least they know something needs to change. Some telling responses from my 9th grade students include:

 “I was at dinner with my mom last night. We were both on our phones barely talking, and when we both put our phones down, it was harder to come up with things to talk about. I think that if we could do that more often it wouldn't be as hard to communicate with everyone.” This is so true with these teens. When they talk in the halls at school, they often interrupt one another and speak in halting, broken sentences. When writing, they do better. While the statement here is not written perfectly, the point she is making is clear—Generation Z teens need to spend more time talking face-to-face rather than through their electronic devices. Parents need to set the example here and require the family to put away their devices during family time. There is nothing wrong with electronic communication, but talking face-to-face is how kids learn to interpret facial expressions and body language.

“…people are not gonna stop unless someone or something makes them stop. I think that we as a whole could maybe do something to fix this problem.” Elmore suggests that adults need to prepare these teens to solve problems. I see in this student’s statement, that solving these problems may be a desire he has. He would like to fix it, but he implies that he needs help figuring out how. Parents can allow their children to solve problems for themselves, but sometimes children need our help to figure out the best solution.

I especially appreciated this statement, as a very young teen reflects upon her younger brother and the world he is growing up in: “In recent generations, and especially ours, we have shorter attention spans and less ability to communicate orally with others. When I was younger, I never had an iPhone or iPad, so I had to go outside and run around with other kids from my neighborhood from the time the sun came up until it went down. I look at my younger brother today and see that he is on his iPad from the time he wakes up until the time my mom forces him to put it down. Having all of this technology is amazing, but is also doing the newer generation a huge disservice.” His comment defines several problems. Children should get more exercise; they need to use their devices appropriately rather than spending hours and hours on them each day; and they need to reconnect with the world around them.

Parents should encourage their children to participate in sports or other extracurricular activities where electronic devices are not used. I recently spent a week in a rural part of America where none of the children were connected via electronic devices. The kids were outside playing games, running around laughing, and having loads of fun (in the middle of winter). All of us should encourage our kids to spend more time offline.

I have been teaching upper school students for more than 30 years. When I hear concerns about “teenagers these days,” I always think that each generation has its own set of problems—a mix of problems they inherited from the previous generation and a whole new set of problems unique to them. Even so, what teens need today is the same as it has always been: They need caring, loving adults to guide them through the tough times in their lives. No matter how challenging the kids are in my classes, I think about how special they are and how much they have to offer the world. It is my job to help grow them into capable, thinking, empathetic, and responsible adults who can solve the problems they and their children will face. If all of us work together to shape the lives of children, our future will be secure. They can do it, but they need our help.

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Perseverance, Not "Math Brain," Determines Success in Math

There is exciting new research about how we learn math. Scientists at Stanford University now believe there is no such thing as having a “math brain.” In other words, their research suggests that everyone can learn math! This is contrary to common belief and supports my efforts through the years to encourage kids to say, “I’m not good at math—yet!” (instead of just stating they cannot learn math). This research suggests some interesting things about how we learn.

First of all, we learn math by doing it. The most interesting thing, though, is how it happens. When we are working on a math problem and make a mistake, synapses in the brain fire even if we are not aware that we made a mistake. Then, when we discover the mistake and correct it, the synapses fire again. The new pathways created when the synapses fire are learning. So, it is by doing math and making mistakes that we learn. Encourage your child to keep trying to figure out his math homework and let him know that mistakes are not only OK, they are also necessary!

Second, the world’s best mathematicians do math slowly. Your child should realize that it is OK to spend time thinking about the problems she is working on. She should not expect to finish her work quickly. Encourage her to slow down and to think about how she is working her math problems. Ask her if there might be another way to do the same problem. Talk about math with her. Ask her to explain to you how she is doing the problems so you will also know how to do them.

Finally, failure (making lots of mistakes) is necessary when learning math. Your child needs to have the mindset that working hard is what makes the difference in math, not necessarily getting every problem correct. He should learn to persevere; he should talk with other students about how they did the problems and not give up quickly. He should refer to his textbook and notes.  After all that effort, if he still cannot do the work, he needs to be encouraged to seek his teacher’s help. Even so, he should be thinking, “If I keep trying, I will eventually figure out how to do this.” It is important that he believes in himself when learning math.

Dr. Jo Boaler and her students at Stanford have produced an online course for students that will help them become good math learners. Check out this free course at the YouCubed website. Each lesson takes only about 15 minutes to complete, and it is well worth the effort. I recommend that parents take the course with their children. Remember, someone doesn’t have to be a “math person” to learn math. We can all be good math learners if we take our time, believe in ourselves, persevere, and make lots of mistakes along the way.

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Graphing for Reading and Math Fun

Graphing is a great way for a young child to visually see math and understand the concepts of more or less and addition and subtraction in mathematics. Graphs can also be used in reading to help a child compare and contrast elements of a story. There are simple bar graphs, line graphs, pie charts, and even Venn diagrams to help children understand new concepts in both reading and math.

Here are three ways to make graphing fun:

  • Use an old shower curtain or blanket as a large graph mat. Place it flat on the floor. Let your child organize objects to graph, such as stuffed animals, toy cars, or favorite books. If she decides to graph her stuffed animals she can organize by size, color, type of animal, etc. She might start at the bottom of the blanket and put all her yellow cats in a column, then her black cats in the next column, her orange cats next, and so on. Or she might choose to graph the cats by size. Ask “How many cats are yellow?” “Is that more or less than your black cats?” She is sorting and comparing results with this activity, as well as visually reading a graph.
  • Use same size, different-colored Legos or blocks to make a standing bar graph. Let your child ask family and friends their favorite kind of cookie, for example. Help him write responses. Let him assign a different colored Lego for different cookies—for example, red for chocolate chip, blue for peanut butter, etc. Stack up the Legos according to choices recorded. Help him make sure that each column is evenly spaced. Step back and help him analyze the cookie most favored and the least favorite one. Ask “How many more people liked chocolate chip than peanut butter cookies?”  “What was the second most favorite kind?” “How do you know?”
  • Create a large Venn diagram by overlapping two Hula hoops. Or you can use string to create and overlap two large circles. Together read a favorite book, such as The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister and J. Alison James. After reading the book, talk about ways the Rainbow Fish is like a real fish. For example, both live in water. Help her write that on a small note or index card and place it in the space where the circles overlap to show characteristics that the story fish and a real fish might share. Try to find three examples of how they are alike. On the other spaces of the diagram, where there is no overlap, help her write characteristics of the Rainbow Fish that are not real, and place them to the left of the intersection. To the right, place a few characteristics of real fish that are not shared by the Rainbow Fish. When finished, help her compare and contrast how the fictitious fish and a real fish are alike and how they are different.

Graphs are an important learning tool because they demonstrate information visually. They help a child organize data to increase greater comprehension of reading and math facts. 

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Why Sports Can Help Kids With School

Research suggests that students who participate in sports tend to do better in school. Some say it is linked to the physical activity. That makes sense; even a small amount of activity can increase blood supply to the brain and help you think better. I believe participating in organized sports offers more than just the physical benefits. Here is a list of what I see kids learning from being on a team.

  • There are rules to follow—team rules and rules of the game.
  • You have to work hard for a long time to become a winning team.
  • Working hard makes you tired and sore; but, that is what makes you stronger.
  • Sometimes you work hard and still don’t win.
  • You learn the most when you lose.
  • It is easier to display sportsmanship when winning; the best players take responsibility for a loss, too.
  • It’s the coach’s job to make decisions for the team.
  • You need to listen to your coach.
  • You have to work together as a team.
  • True leaders think of others before themselves.
  • The best teams plan for their future by helping the newest players learn the skills of the sport.
  • Talent is good, but it’s not the only important thing.
  • Most problems on the team are solved by communicating with each other.
  • Sometimes you have to sit on the bench.
  • It’s important to finish what you start.

Each of these lessons by itself is important. As a group, they set a person up for success in college and later on the job. If your child is not athletic, other extra-curricular activities can teach similar lessons. Participating in drama, music, robotics, and many other team activities are excellent ways to build character and teach important lifelong lessons. Students should participate in a few really worthwhile activities and not overbook themselves.

Participating on a team is one that should be considered because of the many life-changing lessons that can come from it. Commitment to a group working toward a long-term goal is what is important.

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Helping Teens Make Their Own Decisions

Recently, I was talking with a 10th grader about an academic concern. We chatted for a while, and I offered her a couple of ideas as solutions to her problem. Then I said, “What do you think?” Her answer was, “I’ll ask my mother what I think.” This made me concerned about her future. In the next few years, she will be selecting a college to attend and leaving home to be on her own. She needs to be making some important decisions now. It is likely she will make some mistakes, but the adults in her life can help her when needed. She will have practiced the decision-making process with help from parents. When she is living on her own, she will more likely make thoughtful decisions.

If your teen is not used to making decisions on her own, you can help her learn how. A popular decision-making strategy uses risk-benefit analysis. Here are the steps:
  

  • Clearly identify the problem to be solved. This seems obvious, but often kids try to solve the wrong problem. For example, I have heard students say, “My teacher doesn’t like me.” After carefully talking through the reasons why they feel this way, it often becomes clear that the issue is that the student is socializing with friends during class and is frequently asked to pay attention. The real problem has nothing to do with the teacher.
  • The next step is to come up with more than one possible solution. Perhaps the student needs to move to a different seat. Another possibility is to discuss the problem with the friends she is socializing with and ask them to stop talking to her in class.
  • Each possible solution should be analyzed. Identify the positives and negatives for each solution. If she starts sitting in another seat, she may not be tempted to talk with friends, but she might feel isolated. If she discusses the problem with her friends, they might not actually quit talking to her in class. On the other hand, they might respect her more for trying to do better in her class.
  • Finally, she can make the best decision. She may decide to stay near her friends and ask them to help her by not talking in class. She might think that she can always change her seat later if this doesn’t work.


This risk-benefit strategy can be used for almost any serious decision. If deciding which colleges to apply to, the list of positives and negatives for each school will likely be pretty long. It is important that parents allow their children to make big decisions on their own. It is fine to offer options and to participate in the process, but your children will be better off in the long run if they learn how to make important decisions by themselves. Of course, some decisions still need to be made by parents; but look for opportunities to involve your children in the process as much as possible.

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Winter’s Coming: 10 Healthy Hacks for Parents and Kids

Winter gives us a choice: We can hunker down and ride it out, or we can embrace it! Our friends at Hyland’s understand the importance of keeping kids active and eating well so they stay healthy. And we wanted to share our healthy hacks—simple and easy ideas to keep kids healthy all winter long.

Keep Everyone Active!

Bundle the kids up and go exploring. It’s important to invest in good outdoor gear so kids stay comfortable, but that can be expensive! We’ve had good luck at secondhand stores or mom-to-mom online sites. - Kathryn

If the kids can get outside almost every day, I think it helps them stay healthy and strong (and Mom and Dad, too). Maybe it’s taking the dog for a walk as a family or maybe it’s raking leaves and jumping in them. Sometimes it’s just a walk around the neighborhood to see if you can spot something new or different. Really, it’s anything to get outside for a little bit each day. - Barb

When outside, try activities that will keep kids engaged. I have two girls who weren’t super active. So we would do things like a scavenger hunt for leaves, pinecones, acorns, and small rocks, and “painting” snow using colored water in spray bottles. - Rose

Move Indoors

We like getting the parents and kids dancing together—crank up the tunes, lower the lights, and show your kids that you still have the moves. Kids get their bodies moving and have a good laugh at the same time. - Leslie

We’ve done indoor snowball fights using cotton balls. It’s fun to do this to music—something upbeat for the full-on “fight,” followed by a slow, soothing song so children can wind down. - Rose

Have Fun With Food

To encourage my kids to get their daily dose of vitamins in the winter, we stick googly eyes on everything, from bananas and clementines to cucumbers! - Kerri

Load up on vitamins with a healthy smoothie. Since good fresh fruit is hard to come by in the winter, use frozen instead. The quality is good for a smoothie and the cost of frozen fruit is cheaper. - Leslie

Be a Stickler for Hygiene

Wash your hands when you come in the house. - Holly

Keep a hand sanitizer right next to the tissues to help kids remember to use it. - Leslie

We attach an empty tissue box to a full one with a rubber band. We’ve taught our kids to discard used tissues in the empty box. - Shannon

Be Prepared

We do everything we can to stay healthy but I also know the kids will inevitably come down with a fever at some point over the winter. Running out to the pharmacy at midnight in my pajamas isn’t good for my physical or mental health, so now I prepare. I keep medication for fevers and coughs at the ready. I also put a jar of applesauce with it as that’s how we mix it for the kids. - Kathryn

As a mom, I know my best attempts at keeping my kids healthy may not be enough. I stock up early on a few homeopathic remedies for cold and flu with natural ingredients. Our friends at Hyland’s have remedies designed just for kids: Hyland’s 4 Kids Cold ʼn Mucus, Hyland’s 4 Kids Cold ʼn Cough, and Hyland’s 4 Kids Complete Cold ʼn Flu for the winter seasons. - Laura

Here are a few extra tips from our SchoolFamily moms!

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10 Tips for Reinforcing Good Manners

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).
  • 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!

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Signs of Cell Phone Addiction

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!

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Help Your Child Become a Sentence Builder

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!

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Strategies for Managing Personal Electronics at School

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.

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Use Fall Leaves for Math and Science Learning Fun

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!

 

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Reading Comprehension Strategies for Older Students

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.

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Fine Motor Skills That Support Early Education

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.

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An App That Helps Webpage Readability

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!

 

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Raising Responsible Digital Citizens: It Takes a Community

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

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Seven Steps to Developing Literacy

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.

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Helping Teens Manage Stress and Anxiety

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.

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Fun and Easy Help With Basic Math

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!

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