SchoolFamily Voices

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

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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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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Phonemic Awareness: An Important Step to Early Literacy

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.

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3 Easy Ways To Practice Handwriting Skills

Kindergarten and 1st grade are the critical times when a child is mastering handwriting. So much of good letter formation depends on your child’s fine motor development. Muscles in the hands and little fingers need to connect to their eyes and brains, developing and maturing eye-hand coordination.

Here are three fun, pre-paper activities to help your young student develop good, legible letter and word printing:

Air writing
This is an activity I do often with my 1st graders. Standing next to your child, facing in the same direction, ask her to say a letter. Then, both raise your writing hand, index finger pointed out, and “print” the capital and lowercase letter in the air. When she can easily do this with letter partners, try simple words.

Tactile writing
Fill the top of a small gift-sized box halfway with sand or salt. With the index finger of his writing hand, have your child trace partner letters you vocalize. As he gets good with letters, practice simple words. Once he can easily trace letters and words with an index finger, use an unsharpened pencil. Using the unsharpened pencil allows him to “feel” how the word is formed when using a writing tool.
“Broadcast” writing
“Talking out” the strokes of letters and words will give your child another way to remember how they are formed. For example, for capital h, help her say “straight line down, straight line down, bridge across the middle.”   For capital or lowercase s, “sss” around and curve like a slithery snake.

Children love these activities, as it gives them a chance to be successful printers before facing the challenge of writing on lined paper.

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10 Tips To Ease the Back-to-School Transition

Ideally, summer vacation has been relaxing, less stressful, and more laid back for your child. But now that August is halfway through, is she ready to gear up and start a new school year?

Here are 10 easy ideas to help your child boost confidence, brush up on skills, and ease back into a school routine.

For students about to enter kindergarten:

  • Practice alphabet recognition. Review the letters as partners (both upper and lowercase together). Teaching the letters as partners is easier—your child essentially learns 26 letters at once, rather than 52 if they are taught separately. Keep practicing until he can identify them randomly out of sequence, as well as in sequence.
  • Make sure she can legibly print her name. An easy way to practice this is to use a highlighter—any color except yellow, as yellow is too light. On a piece of white paper, print your child’s name, starting with a capital letter first and the rest lowercase. With a sharpened pencil, have your child trace her name inside the highlighted letters. The highlight provides a clear border for her to see how the letters are formed. The pencil can easily be seen inside the highlight color. Gradually eliminate one or two of the highlighted letters until she can easily print her name without them.
  • Practice counting orally to 20. Practice both forward and backward, as that will help him understand simple addition and subtraction.
  • For safety reasons, make sure your child knows his full name, address (street number and name, town, and state), and a phone number where you can be reached.

For 1st grade students:

For students entering 2nd grade:

  • Practice counting forward and backwards to 100. This is a great activity to do in the car.
  • Help her distinguish the sounds of long and short vowels and understand that adding the silent (magic) “e” at the end changes the vowel from short to long. Can becomes cane, kit becomes kite, etc.)
  • When reading stories together ask her to identify characters, setting, and the main idea of the story to check comprehension. Help her go back and reference the story, if needed.

Simple review and practice of basic skills helps your child gain confidence and get ready for a new school year, all while having some late summer fun with you!

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Is Your Child a Backward Printer?

Is Your Child a Backward Printer?Parents often worry when young children keep reversing letters and numbers in their written work.

When young children first begin to print, it is very common for them to reverse letters and numbers. The most common are b, d, g, p, q, s, 3, 5, and 9.

When a child starts school, backward numbers and letters can affect his understanding of math computations and reading comprehension. By the time a child is in 1st grade, he should start to recognize and self-correct as it is very important that these errors don’t become a “bad habit.”

Here are some simple ways to encourage proper formation of letters and numbers:

  • When you notice reversals on homework, gently ask him to check and see whether he notices anything that needs to be changed. Guide him if he has trouble finding the errors. Then, let him erase and correct.
  • Keep a simple chart of capital and lowercase letters for her to reference when she’s doing work.
  • Also keep a small number grid handy to reference number formation for math assignments.
  • Try bringing in another sense. Help her roll out clay and form letters or numbers that are giving her trouble.
  • Or, add salt or sand to a small, shirt-size box to practice writing letters and numbers with his finger, then gently shaking to erase.

Since practice makes perfect, have her rewrite correctly any words on papers containing backward letters. She will soon understand that it’s simpler to write the numbers and letters correctly the first time rather than have to erase and make corrections.

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Just What Goes On All Day in the 1st Grade?

At parent-teacher conferences, I’m often asked what you do with 25 1st graders all day long. Or parents ask me just how much time is devoted to the different subjects I teach.

While there is no such thing as a typical day in my class, I am required to cover a variety of subjects so my students stay at or above 1st grade standards. These levels are determined by Common Core State Standards, and are they are now part of the general law of most states.

In an effort to help parents understand the amount of time and effort that goes into each of our 1st grade subjects, I offer the following outline of a typical day in my classroom. A similar schedule most likely is happening in your child’s 1st grade class.

Our school day starts at 9:05, when students arrive. After I take a quick attendance and lunch count, the rest of the morning is devoted to instructional time.

  • 9:15 a.m.-10:55 a.m. is our literacy block. This primarily includes phonics, reading, and writing instruction.
  • 10:55 a.m.-11:40 a.m. is our intervention block. This is where small groups of students receive reading instruction at their appropriate reading level. While small groups are working with me, the other groups are busy with “station rotation” where they are listening to stories on headphones, word building, doing fine motor activities, or working on the computers. This is where students rotate leadership roles, as each week a different student “captain” essentially runs the group not working with me.
  • 11:40 a.m. - 11:55 a.m. begins our content block. Content is when we often do social studies or science. It’s introduced during these first minutes then continued after lunch.
  • 11:55 a.m. - 12:20 p.m. is lunch; 12:20 p.m. -12:35 p.m. is recess.
  • 12:35 p.m. - 1:10 p.m. Content continues.
  • 1:10 p.m. - 2:30 p.m. Is math time. This involves some whole group, small group, computer, and math game work.
  • 2:30 p.m. - 3:15 p.m. is for itinerant subjects ("specials"), each on a different day (music, art, physical education, and library)

As you can see, we cover a lot of ground during the day! We also try to have a little fun with math or phonics games, funny stories, and shared writing. So the next time your 1st grader is really tired…you’ll understand why!

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Your Child’s Teacher Is Thankful for Your Help

At this time of year I often ask my students what they are thankful for—and their answers are always inspiring!

This year, I want to share with parents the simple things that make early elementary school teachers thankful. Here are 10 ways that teachers are grateful to parents in preparing a young child for school success:

  • Reading often with your child. This is the number one way to prepare your child for school.
  • Practicing counting forward and backward. This sounds like a very simple activity, but this preparation for addition and subtraction is very helpful.
  • Playing board games as a family. Board games are a great way to learn about taking turns, rolling dice, and learning to be a good winner (or accepting defeat graciously).
  • Exercising or playing outdoor games with your child. In addition to being great fun together, these activities strengthen your child’s gross motor skills.
  • Encouraging your child to use scissors safely. Let him help you cut out coupons, box tops, pictures from magazines or brochures, or other cutting activities to help him improve fine motor skills.
  • Visiting your local library. By taking advantage of story times and summer programs and routinely letting your child get books out of the library, you’re opening her world to new language and experiences.
  • Expecting your child to clean up after herself. Putting toys away, cleaning up crayons or puzzles, and making the bed are all jobs that young children should do. Having your child clean up her messes teaches responsibility for her own actions.
  • Arranging play dates with other children. Every time you arrange play dates with other children, you give your child an opportunity to practice good social skills, how to share, solve problems, and getting along with others.
  • Setting routines and sticking with them. A specific bedtime each night, homework routines, and clear consequences and follow-through for misbehavior all create a safe and predictable environment for your child.
  • Teaching basic manners. Young children should learn not to interrupt. They should always say “please,” “thank You,” “excuse me,” or “I’m sorry” when appropriate. They should cover their mouth, or sneeze and cough into the crook of their elbow. Manners like this can set your child apart—for all the right reasons!

So, from this 1st grade teacher, a heartfelt Thanksgiving “Thank You” to parents for all you do to promote your child’s school success!

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10 Simple Skills for 1st Grade Readiness

Each time I start a new school year, I can’t help but wonder how prepared my students are for the challenges of 1st grade. When a child comes to school with background knowledge, educational experiences, and basic skills, that student is better equipped for understanding grade-level reading, comprehension, and math.

Here are 10 ways to help your child increase school readiness:


  • If possible, visit the zoo, a farm, children’s museum, the library, etc. Experiencing different life settings will help him make important self-to-text connections when reading and listening to stories.
  • Help her identify all capital and lowercase letters, both in and out of sequence.
  • Have him identify the letters in his entire name, and practice writing them. Be sure the first letter of each name is a capital letter and the rest lowercase.
  • Practice consonant sounds, both at the beginning and ending of words.
  • Read and practice rhymes. Make up your own silly rhymes together.
  • Help her recognize the eight basic color words; red, blue, yellow, green, brown, black, orange, and purple. Use my printable Color Words Pizza Wheel to help your child learn her colors.
  • Practice together counting orally, 0 to 50, both forward and backward.
  • Have him practice writing numerals 0 to 30, and recognizing the numerals out of sequence.
  • Make sure she knows her full name, your full name, address, phone number, and birth date. Make sure your child knows where she will go after school each day, and what type of transportation she will be taking.
  • Every morning be sure he knows if he will be bringing his own lunch, or getting it in the cafeteria. Make sure he can identify, and take responsibility for personal items such as, lunchbox, backpack, pencil box, sweatshirt, etc.

Knowing these simple 10 skills can help ease your child’s anxieties and propel 1st grade success!


> 1st Grade Academics: What To Expect
> Help Teach Your 1st Grader To Listen and Speak Well

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Two Fine Motor Activities To Develop Math Skills

Using fine motor activities involving hand and finger movements is a great way to get a young child to practice and remember number concepts.

Here are two easy ways to mesh fine motor and simple math readiness skills for your kindergarten or 1st grade student.

Activity 1
You will need four items: index cards, any color marker, glue, and salt (or sand or sugar)


  • Use one index card for each number.
  • Write the numbers 0 to 10 with the marker in the middle of the card. Make the numbers large enough to be seen easily, about 4 to 5 inches.
  • With the glue, make a glue line to cover the number.
  • While the glue is wet, sprinkle the sand, salt, or sugar over the card. 
  • Set the cards aside to dry overnight.
  • When completely dry, shake any excess salt off the cards.
  • Have your child close her eyes and trace the number to identify it.
  • When she can easily “feel” and recognize 0 to 10, repeat the process for numbers 11 to 20.

Activity 2

You’ll need index cards or strips of construction paper, a handheld hole punch, and a pencil.


  • Write a simple addition sentence on the card or paper strip, leaving a line at the end for the answer. For example 2 + 3 = __
  • Using the hole punch, direct your child to squeeze the correct number of holes under each number—two holes under the 2, three holes under the 3.
  • Have him count the total number of holes to find the answer to the addition sentence, and then print the numeral 5 with the pencil on the solution line at the end.
  • Adding math to fine motor activities subtly reinforces facts while strengthening the small muscle groups of a young child’s hands and fingers.


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Practice the Magic "E" With Young Readers

Young students usually first learn simple “cvc” words—consonant, vowel, consonant. These are simple three-letter words such as cat, pet, hid, hop, and cub. Three-letter words help a young reader learn as he sounds out the beginning sound, middle vowel sound, and ending sound then blends the sounds together to form a word.

Once a young reader can easily blend and sound out “cvc” words, use this simple way to double her vocabulary: Introduce the Magic “e” wand. The Magic “e” is the silent “e” at the end of “cvc” words that changes the vowel sound to form a new word. It’s been my experience that students love being a Magic “e” magician, and here’s how you can do this at home. You’ll need five items: a pack of small, blank, index cards; a popsicle stick; glue; colorful glitter; and a black magic marker.


  • Take one index card and cut off the right side, about an inch from the end. You should have a small 1-inch x 3-inch rectangle
  • In the middle of that small rectangle print a lowercase “e,” about an inch tall. Discard the remainder of the cut card. Help your child put a glue line on the “e” and sprinkle it with colorful glitter. Shake off excess glitter and glue or tape the “e” to the top of the popsicle stick. Put aside to dry.
  • Use the marker and some full index cards to print some “cvc” words, leaving about an inch space at the end of the word. Make sure to print in lowercase letters. Some examples are can, cap, pet, hid, pin, hop, not, cub, and tub.
  • Review that vowels have a short and long sound. In cvc words the vowel is always short. Explain that the silent “e” at the end of the word changes the vowel from the short sound to its long sound. 
  • Hold up a word card and have him say the word can, for example. Then let him hold up the Magic “e” wand, at the end of the word, to change the word to cane. Practice with other words such as, hid to hide, cut to cute, tap to tape, hop to hope, etc.

Understanding vowels can be challenging for beginning readers. Manipulating the Magic “e” wand is a hands-on way to help a child remember this important aspect of phonics.

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Ways To Help Your Child Become an Early Reader

What makes a child become an early reader?

As a 1st grade teacher, I’ve helped many young children learn to read. In the process, certain patterns have emerged. It’s more than decoding sounds and words—it’s feeling excitement about a good story, learning about things of interest, or realizing that a book can take a reader to extraordinary places or create wonderful adventures!

I’ve also noticed that some children come to school better prepared to tackle the challenges of reading than others. These are the children who get “hooked” on reading, and easily read on (or significantly above) their grade level. Simple things can make these children read earlier than others, and it starts at home.

Some parents have successfully employed interesting strategies to help their children become early readers. These include:

  • Reading to children every night and asking pertinent questions
  • Letting your child see that you read for pleasure, to model good reading habits
  • Making sure their child can easily hear and create rhymes
  • Spending time together at the local library
  • Setting time limits on video games, TV, and computer time
  • Combining reading with drawing and writing activities

Incorporating just two or three of these strategies into your family’s busy life will make a tremendous difference in helping your child become an inspired early reader.


> Teach Your Child To Love Reading

> The Five Steps to Phonemic Awareness

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Use Pennies To Teach Common Core Math Skills

Young children love pennies. So make them part of math comprehension. Use pennies to help young students practice math skills in a simple yet memorable way. Here are four easy ways to use pennies to help reinforce important Common Core math curriculum skills.

For preschool to kindergarten: Place pennies in a straight, horizontal row. Start with five across. Have your child point to the pennies as he counts them. This reinforces an important math skill called one-to-one correspondence. In other words, he’s actually saying what he’s seeing. Increase the pennies by one until he can easily point to and count 20 in a row.

For kindergarten and 1st grade: Use pennies to practice simple addition and subtraction while subtly incorporating word problems. For example, Mom gave Sarah five pennies. Her brother gave her seven more. How many does Sarah have in all?
Or, Kevin had 20 pennies. He bought an eraser at the school store. It costs 12 cents. How many pennies does he have left? Using the correct number of pennies to solve the equations helps your child visually understand what addition and subtraction mean.

For 1st and 2nd grade: Use groups of pennies to help your child determine even and odd numbers by “pairing up” by 2’s to show even number groups, and “one left over” to show an odd number group.
Also, use groups of pennies for skip counting. Start with a large pile of pennies. Have him put the pennies in groups of 2, 5, or 10 and skip count the small groups.
Use pennies to determine “difference” or “how much more, how much less?” This is a game for two players. You will need a pair of dice and a pile of pennies. The first player to roll the dice counts the dots then lines up that many pennies in a horizontal row. The second roller counts his dots and lines up his pennies directly underneath the first row, in alignment with the pennies above. The second player will either have more, fewer, or an equal amount of pennies. Then players determine who had more and how much more. Who had less and how much less?


Using pennies is a great hands-on way for young students to make “cents” of math!


> Improve Subtraction Skills With a Fun Pennies Game

> An Easy Game To Help Kids Practice Important Math Skills






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Common Core Review for Kindergarteners and 1st Graders

Right now most school districts are six to eight weeks into the new school year. That’s a long time for a kindergarten or 1st grade student! It’s also a time when many schools are scheduling first parent conferences.

Here are some of the Common Core State Standards learning skills that young students (and parents) may be experiencing for the first time, in homework or school worksheets, specific for kindergarten or 1st grade students.

Kindergarten English/Language Arts:

  • Following words, left to right and top to bottom on story pages
  • Retelling a story with key details
  • Recognizing some common “sight” words (for example, the, of, my, do, is, are)
  • Using a combination of drawing, dictating, or attempting to print to begin writing stories

For a kindergarten child in math:

  • Counting by ones and tens to 100
  • Identifying objects in groups as “greater than,” “less than,” or “equal to”
  • Correctly recognizing basic shapes
  • Begin to correctly recognize and write numbers from 0-20

1st grade English/Language Arts:

  • Recognize what makes a sentence (capitalization, punctuation, etc.)
  • Use drawings and details in a story to describe character, setting, or events
  • Begin to understand the “main idea” of a story
  • Participate in collaborative conversations about stories, books, etc., according to class discussion rules

For 1st grade math:

  • Understanding place value of tens and ones (for example, when seeing the number 52, knowing that the “5” means 5 “tens” and the “2” means 2 “ones”)
  • Be able to order at least three objects from length (shortest to tallest or tallest to shortest)
  • Tell time to the hour on both analogical and digital clocks ( and to the half-hour by the end of 1st grade)
  • Use parts of circles, squares, or rectangles to understand halves and fourths (quarters)

This is a general framework to help you understand some of what your kindergarten or 1st grade child is expected to master, or what he or she may need to practice. Follow my blog, throughout the school year, for additional skills and clarifications on Common Core State Standards.

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Ideas To Increase Fine Motor Skills in Young Students

My post last week outlined the connection between gross and fine motor skills and activities to improve gross motor success. This week, my focus is on fine motor skills, and simple activities to help your kindergarten or 1st grade child improve these more subtle skills.

Fine motor skills use the smaller muscle groups such as hands, fingers, toes, and lips. These skills are critical in dressing, handwriting, cutting, board games, and expressive communication.

Here are five ways to help your child improve their fine motor skills.

  • Zip and button. Find different sized zippers around your house, and have her practice opening and closing them. Some examples could be found on coats or jackets, pillows, boots, etc.  Button up buttons. Vary button sizes with different shirts, jackets, etc. to practice the “push and pull” of buttons.
  • Practice how to tie. Use ribbon, string, shoelaces, etc from objects around your home. First tie knots, then tie bows. Teach him how to tie his shoes!
  • Build together with blocks or Legos. While improving fine motor muscles, building with blocks also helps young children see patterns, learn about balance, and see how things fit together. It also helps refine eye-hand coordination.
  • Hole punch designs. Help your child draw a simple picture on white paper, such as a large balloon, star, circle, etc. Then let her punch holes with a handheld single hole punch around the design. While strengthening hand muscles, this also creates a clear border for coloring inside the design.
  • Sing together! In the car, at home, or any other appropriate place, sing favorite songs together. Some great songs I’ve used in my class are “The Clean-up Song,” from Laurie Berkner’s Buzz, Buzz CD and “Kindness” from Steve Roslonek’s Little Superman CD.

Increasing fine motor dexterity in young children helps build their confidence, and being a confident young student leads to school success.

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Practicing Gross Motor Skills Can Improve Learning

For the most part, all learning is sequential, which means that we build on known skills to acquire new ones. This is especially true for young children, who are developing gross and fine motor dexterity.

Gross motor skills involve the large muscle groups such as torso, legs, arms, and feet. Fine motor skills use the smaller muscle groups, such as hands, fingers, toes, and lips. Both are critical in learning. For example, if a young child has trouble catching a ball, he might not be able to print his name.

Strengthening gross-motor skills will lead to improved fine motor skills, which are important for early school success.
Here are five ways to help your kindergartener or 1st grader practice gross motor skills:


  • Ride bikes together. If your child still has training wheels, gradually help him become less dependent on them. If possible, try riding bikes to school together, rather than driving or taking the bus. Or take advantage of any nearby bike paths or parks. (Don’t forget helmets.)
  • Balance on a curb or low beam. When walking outside together. help your child balance on a curb, low beam, short wall, etc. Hold her hand until she can easily balance on her own when walking on a slightly elevated surface.
  • Practice hopping, skipping, and jumping. Once your child can easily do all these movements, increase the difficulty. Create “obstacles” to move around, such as skipping around the tree, jumping over the hula hoop, or playing Hopscotch.
  • Practice running backward. Most young child can easily run forward. Running backward is harder to master, yet will strengthen opposing muscle groups for better balance. Make sure it’s an obstacle-free, flat, grassy or soft place for her to practice.
  • Do jumping jacks together. This simple activity can help increase his balance and coordination while strengthening bone density.

Good gross motor skills are a natural segue to improved fine motor skills. Next week I’ll share some activities to promote fine motor tasks.


> Simple Activities Can Improve Fine Motor Skills

> More Activities To Improve Gross Motor Skills

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Help Teach Your 1st Grader To Listen and Speak Well

Listening and speaking well are two of the most important skills that any person can have. These are also key components of the Common Core State Standards for 1st grade. Learning these skills, early in life, can give your child distinct academic and social advantages…and they are easy to instill!

If your child is getting ready to start 1st grade, or has already started, there are several things you can do to practice exchanging ideas through discussion and conversations and promote active listening and speaking.

  • Have a “no-electronics” night. Use this time to read a story together or play a board game, and then discuss it. Be sure to ask some questions about key details in the story or about the game. This will demonstrate how well he listened or paid attention. Have him go back and check the text or game board for details, if necessary.
  • Have a mealtime discussion about a recent family event that you all attended, a movie that you watched together, or something that happened that day at school or work. Sharing this kind of information reinforces that your child’s opinion is important.
  • Start a parent-child book club. Two or three families should read an appropriate 1st grade book (for example, any of the Magic Tree House books by Mary Pope Osborne), and take turns hosting a book club discussion for children and parents.

For these activities, follow simple and clear rules for all participants, such as:


  • Take turns…one speaker at a time
  • No interrupting
  • Respectful ways to agree or disagree
  • Respectful ways to ask questions for clarity


Teaching your child to make a conscious effort to listen and speak well embeds good habits. These good habits will continue to enhance their school experience and should continue through their adult professional and personal life.


> 1st Grade Academics: What To Expect

> 1st Grade Social Changes: What To Expect

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5 Ways To Help Young Children With Back-to-School Anxieties

As August approaches, most young students are excited about starting a new school year. They are ready to go. However, some children experience anxiety about going to school. This can affect the entire family. Morning routines can be interrupted and getting him on the bus or dropped off at school can become an ordeal.

Why does this happen? There could be various reasons:

  • Fear of separating from a parent or caregiver
  • Concern that the work will be too hard
  • Fear of missing what’s happening in the family, when they are away at school
  • Worry about responsibilities outside the classroom—for example, getting lunch in the cafeteria
  • Fear that other children might tease or bully them

Here are five easy ways to help your young child ease school anxiety:

  • If the problem is separation from a loved one, try a technique that worked extremely well in my 1st grade classroom. Have the student bring a photo of a family member,  sibling, grandparent, or even a special pet. By keeping the photo on the desk or table, the student was able to have family close by for comfort. Ask your child’s teacher if this is allowed.
  • If possible, bring him to his new class before school starts. Let him see the space and, if the teacher is there, meet his new teacher. Check out the lunchroom and recess areas as well.
  • If you know of another child or children who is going to the same class, see if you could set up a playdate so your child will know at least one familiar face.
  • Have him practice letter recognition and letter sounds, number recognition to 50, writing his name, and other basic skills for academic confidence.
  • Label jackets, lunch boxes, backpacks, etc., so that your child can easily identify her own belongings. This eliminates worry about finding her own things at the end of the school day. (Safety note: Be sure to label items on the inside, as you do not want a stranger to be able to call your child by name.)


Recognizing and acknowledging your child’s fears will help you both look for easy and workable solutions…and keep your morning school routine running smoothly!

> A Stress-Free Morning Routine

> 10 Ways To Help Your Child Successfully Return to School

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An Easy Way To Improve Math Fluency: Count Backward

Parents are well aware of the importance of reading fluency. However, early math fluency is equally crucial. Simply put, math fluency means fast and automatic retrieval of math facts from memory.

For young students it should be as simple as knowing the number that comes “right after,” or the one that comes “right before.” For example, if a child sees a card with the number 22, he should immediately be able to say 23 comes right after, and 21 comes right before.
Students are usually quite good at getting the number that comes right after, but often falter when asked for the number right before.

A simple way a child can become more fluent for the number right before is counting backward!

Here’s how to practice:

  • Always count over multiples of 10. By this I mean counting backward over 10, 20, 30, etc. Counting backward over multiples of 10 tends to be more challenging.
  • For a kindergarten child start with 15 and count backward to 0. When she does that with ease, start with 21 and go backward to 0, and so on.
  • For a 1st grade student, start counting backward from 25 to 0. When that is easily mastered, start in the high thirties (39, for example) and count back to 0.
  • Increase to a higher start number each time your child easily masters the lower numbers you’ve been practicing. The ultimate goal, for early elementary students, is fluent backward counting from 100 to 0.
  • Try counting down before giving her a treat, when traveling, or anytime you have a few extra minutes with your child.


Practicing this simple activity with your young student can be invaluable in promoting number fluency.

> Don't Let Language Confuse Young Math Students

> Improve Math Skills With a Deck of Cards

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Don’t Let Language Confuse Young Math Students

When teaching the value of double-digit numbers in my classroom, I noticed that my students often became confused with 11, 12, and the rest of the -teen numbers. This was a puzzle to me, and I was determined to solve it. After research and applying what I know about how young students learn, I realized this was not a numbers problem—it was a language problem!

In various languages around the world, there are simple words for -teen numbers. Eleven translated is 10/1, twelve is 10/2, thirteen is 10/3, etc. The numbers continue, 21, 22, 23—all the way to 99— just as in English. This was an “aha” moment for me! Counting easily from one to 10, then having to switch to “-teen” counting, was confusing my young students.

Young learners are very literal. They didn’t understand the concept of 13, but could easily understand that 10/3 meant one set of 10 and 3 more. It was a simple change that made a big difference in their understanding of the “-teen” numbers!

So I started teaching the numbers between 10 and 20 in tandem. Students practiced, understanding that another way to say 11 was 10/1, twelve 10/2, thirteen 10/3, and so on.

Now, when teaching the numbers 11-19, I always teach them in tandem. Young children love to be able to say “another way to say 15 is 10/5!”

This is something that parents can easily do at home, to help young students overcome this mathematical English language issue.


> Articles archive: building math skills at home

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

Yes - 31.6%
Sometimes - 25.4%
No - 37.4%

Total votes: 4919
The voting for this poll has ended on: June 25, 2016