Do a “Reading Survey” With Your Child

Do a There is a strategy that teachers use in classrooms to identify various interests in student reading. It’s a concept that parents can easily incorporate at home called a “Reading Survey.”

Teachers use a Reading Survey to discover what really interests a student. We want to obtain this kind of information to plan instruction, reading centers, and classroom libraries. We know from experience that subjects of great interest are likely to keep students engaged in a task.

A Reading Survey is easy to do at home, and it can be helpful for parents, grandparents, caregivers, and other to know what kind of books to get from the library or purchase as gifts. It helps an adult understand a child better.

Following is a step-by-step Reading Survey that is particularly successful and easy for young students in grades K-2.

Here’s what to do:

  • Take a piece of plain, unlined 8.5-inch-by-11-inch white paper.
  • Fold it in half vertically to make one line down the middle, from top to bottom.
  • Then fold down from the top and up from the bottom into thirds, to make two lines across.
  • When you open up the paper, you should have six equal-sizes boxes.
  • Have your child write his name in the top left corner. Add the date in the top right corner.
  • Then, in each of the six boxes on one side of the paper, have your child draw or write in detail about things that interest him, one interest per box. For example, dinosaurs, dancing, trucks, cooking, baseball, music, soccer, etc.
  • As new interests develop, turn over the paper over and add them one at a time.
  • Keep this page in a notebook or on a bulletin board for easy reference. Consult the list when going to the library, buying birthday gifts, or planning trips to museums or aquariums, for instance.

Completing a Reading Survey validates things that are important to your child, and it often turns that reluctant reader into a “can’t get enough” reader!

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Help Good Readers Become Good Writers, Part 2

In “Help Good Readers Become Good Writers, Part 1,” I explained the “six traits of writing” that many school districts use to teach young authors. This week’s focus is on the three types of writing most required by Common Core State Standards in the early grades. They are:

  • Opinion writing (explain and defend an opinion)
  • Informative writing (writing to inform or instruct the reader)
  • Narrative writing (fiction or non-fiction that tells a story)

Here are some simple suggestions for parents to help their young child successfully navigate these three types of writing. You will need three readily available items to get started:

  • A notebook (to keep writing in one place)
  • A pencil with an eraser
  • A box of 16 colored pencils. (I recommend colored pencils rather than crayons because pencils allow children to layer colors in their illustrations, adding more detail to pictures.)

For an opinion writing piece: On one or two pages of the notebook, have your child draw and write about a book you read together, and why she did or did not like it. She can draw the picture and you can scribe her reasons, or she can write a few sentences to explain her opinion.

For informative writing: If your child is a dinosaur lover, have him draw and write about his favorite dinosaur, using only facts. For example: “A Triceratops has three horns. It uses its horns for defense.” Another example could be helping him write the directions of how he made something with Legos.

For a narrative writing piece: Help her write and illustrate stories about learning to play a new sport, taking karate lessons (non-fiction) or being an astronaut (fiction.) Remember to help her organize and sequence the story by what happened in the beginning, middle, and end.

For all types of writing, help your child practice different ways to say the same thing. For example, instead of using “little,” try “small” or “tiny.” Instead of “good,” try “terrific” or “great.”

Gently help your child edit their writing for spelling, capital letters, and punctuation.

As most good writers are well-read, good reading and good writing go hand in hand!

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Help Good Readers Become Good Writers, Part 1

Help Good Readers Become Good WritersBeing a good reader does not automatically make your young child a good writer. Like reading, writing is a learned skill, and there are simple ways to help her learn to write well.

Many school districts across the country base writing instruction on the “six traits of writing.” In this post I explain and simplify the traits. Then, next week, I’ll share some easy ways that you can support these traits when writing with your young child at home.

For the Common Core State Standards, these traits apply most often in the early grades to opinion writing (“I liked that book because...”), informative writing (“Did you know that spiders are not insects because...”), and narrative writing (“One day when I was at the zoo...”).

For early elementary students, I like to put the traits in this order:

  1. Content or ideas (what the story is about)
  2. Organization (beginning, middle, end)
  3. Word choice (simple yet descriptive words)
  4. Sentence fluency (easy to read, makes sense)
  5. Voice (writer’s personality, as the writer would speak)
  6. Conventions (capitalization, spacing, spelling, and punctuation)

Now that you familiar with the “six traits of writing,” be sure to check out “Help Good Readers Become Good Writers, Part 2” for some simple yet fun activities to help your young student become a better writer!

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A Midyear Checklist for 1st Graders

Below is an informal 12-point checklist for your 1st grade child at the midyear mark. Use this to measure six important math and six important English/Language Arts skills that are crucial to 1st grade progress. As a 1st grade teacher with many years of experience, I strongly recommend that you check your child’s midyear academic progress as measured by the Common Core State Standards.

By midyear in math, your 1st grader should be able to:

  • Count to 50 by ones, fives, and tens.
  • Start to distinguish common shapes by attributes. For example, a triangle has three sides and three corners; a circle has no sides or corners.
  • Understand connections between counting and addition and subtraction. For example, that adding two is the same as counting by twos.
  • Know most addition and subtraction facts to 10. Part of this means knowing “turnaround” facts. For example, if 6+3 = 9 is known, then 3+6 = 9 should be also. Conversely, if 9–3 = 6, then 9–6 = 3.
  • Begin to understand and use “greater than” and “less than” symbols  ( > or <) .
  • Begin to understand place value. This means seeing the number 54, for example, and knowing that the five is in the tens place and represents 50, and the 4 is in the ones place and represents 4. So 54 means 5 tens, and 4 ones.

In English/Language Arts by midyear, your 1st grader should:

  • Know all uppercase and lowercase letters.
  • Start to understand beginning, middle, and ending sounds in words.
  • Begin to make substitutions to create new words. For example, if the “h” in “hat” is changed to “s,” what is the new word? If the “t” in “hat” is changed to an “m,” what’s the new word? If the “a” in “hat” is changed to an “o,” what’s the new word?
  • Start to know and apply learned phonics skills to decode unknown words. In other words, “sound out” a new word.
  • Ask and answer some questions about key details in both fiction and nonfiction texts.
  • Begin to understand the main idea of a story, and find some evidence from the text to support that idea.

If you have concerns, schedule a meeting with your child’s teacher. At this meeting, ask for suggestions of what you can do at home to help him succeed. Between January and June is a good length of time to remediate or accelerate preparation for grade 2.


> Common Core State Standards

> A Midyear Checklist for Kindergartners

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Reassuring Students After the Unthinkable Happens

I had another post all ready to go for this week…then the unthinkable happened in Newtown, Conn. This is such a horrific tragedy, especially for the families of the victims. It is also a pivotal event for American teachers. People should be aware of how this has impacted everything that we, as teachers, strive to accomplish in our classrooms—and how hard it is not to personalize this awful event.

I have spent 25 years of my career as a 1st grade teacher, interacting daily with 6- and 7-year-old children. Each day the children and I would share the joys and the struggles of learning. I have firsthand knowledge of how a classroom operates, and how that operation creates a safe and nurturing environment.

Yet so many times in the past few years, my school has been required to conduct “Code Red” drills. If my students became anxious or scared about the drills, I would always reassure them that this was just a practice—that we would keep them safe.

My colleagues are stunned and shattered. How will they talk about this in their class? What will they say if their students ask, “Could that happen here?” Yet all are determined to be strong for their students. They’ll put their own fears and insecurities aside to reassure, nurture, and recreate trust that schools are, and will continue to be, a safe place.

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Decoding and Reading Comprehension: Figuring Out Your Child’s Struggle

Many of my students have difficulty understanding what they read. If you notice that your child struggles with reading, there are some ways you can figure out what the problem might be.

Reading is very much like figuring out a code. The letters stand for sounds, sometimes two letters together make one sound, and different kinds of syllables are pronounced differently. The reading code is quite difficult, and without proper instruction, many children never do understand how to decode words. Add to that the number of words in the English language that do not follow the sound-symbol rules, and reading gets even more complicated.

If your child struggles, start by selecting a paragraph in one of her textbooks from school. Ask her to read the paragraph out loud to you. If you notice that she frequently struggles to figure out what a word is, she may have a problem with decoding.

But if your child reads the words accurately but does not understand what the paragraph means, the problem is not with decoding. The problem might be with reading comprehension. Reading comprehension depends on a number of things. If the words are easy to read but he does not know what some of them mean, then he will not comprehend the overall meaning of the paragraph. In this case, a lack of vocabulary is the problem. Parents can help their child with vocabulary development. For ideas, see my earlier blog on how to do this. Some children can read the words fairly well, but they do not know how to read fluently and to phrase the sentences so that they make sense.

Reading well is the key to success in school. If this is a problem for your child, seek help as soon as you possibly can. The first step is to have her tested by a professional such as an educational psychologist. The specialist can recommend how to get her the help she needs. This will likely involve working one-on-one with a tutor who specializes in reading instruction. Reading teachers have a variety of strategies they use to teach decoding, reading comprehension, vocabulary, fluency, and phrasing.

For more information about reading, there are many interesting articles here at SchoolFamily.com.

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A Mystery Game To Improve Mental Math Skills

Understanding basic addition and subtraction facts provides a tremendous advantage to kindergarten and 1st grade students.

The more a young child can quickly and accurately make addition and subtraction combinations mentally, the greater his math fluency will be. This is important because effortlessly retrieving basic math facts allows students to advance easily to higher level mathematics.

Here is a fun mystery game to help your young child increase his mental math skills. This game can be adapted for either kindergarteners or 1st graders.


You will need:

  • Something to use as a cover: a piece of construction paper, folded piece of newspaper, torn-off magazine cover, paper plate, etc.
  • Twenty small, flat objects, somewhat uniform in size: pennies, Lego pieces, Cheerios, or M & M’s, for example.

Here’s how to play: 
  • For a kindergarten child, start with five of the small objects. Let your child count out five so he knows there is a total of only five. Have him close his eyes or turn away so he can’t see what you are doing. 
  • To practice addition facts, show some of the five objects and cover some.  For example, cover three objects and leave two uncovered. Then tell him to look. Ask, “How many do you see?”  He answers, “Two.” Then ask, “How many are under the cover to make five?” If he is having trouble, uncover to show three and let him count up from two. Do this with all addition combinations of five, in random order: show 4, hide 1; show 3, hide 2; show 1, hide 4. And don’t forget to show 5, hide 0; and show 0, hide 5.
  • To practice subtraction facts, show all five objects, then have him close his eyes or turn away. Move three under the cover. Have him turn back to see two. Say, “We had five, now you see two. How many did I move under the cover?” Do this with all subtraction facts for five, including zero.
  • Once he has easily mastered all “five” facts, gradually work up to the combination facts for 10.
  • For a 1st grade child, start with combination facts to equal 10, then gradually build up to combination facts for 20.
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A Fun Game To Learn Addition and Subtraction

Understanding addition and subtraction within the number 20 is a First Grade Common Core goal. Here is an easy and fun way to help your child practice these skills to increase math fluency.  

Start with addition, until she can easily add the numbers. Then, move on to subtraction. This simple activity is for two players. This could be you and your child, your first grade child with an older sibling, or two first graders.


All you will need is:

A pair of dice for each player

A flat playing surface  


Directions for addition:

One player rolls the dice and adds the dots for the total number

The next player does the same

The player with the highest total wins

Have your child pay attention to all “doubles” that are rolled, to easily learn double facts. (1+1, 2+2, 3+3, etc.)


Directions for subtraction:

One player rolls the dice and adds the dots and says the total

The second player takes one die away saying, for example, “You had 8 dots.  I took away 5 dots. How many dots are left?  Then say the entire number sentence 8-5=3.

Once he can easily do addition and subtraction with two dice, increase the difficulty. Use three dice for each player, for a maximum total of 18 that can be rolled.

For a younger child use one die for each player and compare which player has more, and how much more. For example, if you roll a six and she rolls a four, you have two more that she has. Conversely, roll to determine who has less, and how much less. 

Comparing numbers and easily adding and subtracting to 10 and 20 can help your child understand the important relationship between addition and subtraction.


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Teach Your Child Sight Words To Make Reading Easier

We all use words in four main ways: 1.) to listen; 2.) to speak; 3.) to read; and 4.) to write.

Talking and reading to young children are methods that parents and caregivers can use to develop sounds and vocabulary. Young students need these skills for reading and writing.

Another important and often overlooked element of learning-to-read is recognizing “sight words.” Sight words are words that are commonly used yet hard to “sound out.” They are words that are difficult to decode, using letter sounds. These are words that children must know by visual recognition. For example, one of the first sight words I teach my first grade students is the word “the.” “The” cannot be phonetically decoded. A reader must simply recognize it. Knowing sight words increases reading fluency. When fluency increases, so does reading comprehension!

Here is a list of twenty common sight words to practice with your beginning reader:























Practice these words with your child as often as possible. Point them out in books, at the supermarket, on street signs, or wherever you get the opportunity. The more your child sees and uses these words, the more likely they are to become part of his “sight” vocabulary. Easily recognizing sight words can dramatically increase his reading comprehension.

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A New School Year Means A New Challenge for Students—and This Teacher

Every new school year is full of challenges for students, parents, teachers, and administrators.

I’m excited to report that this will be a very different school year for me. For the first time in 25 years, I’m not returning to my 1st-grade classroom. Instead, I’ve been selected as an induction coach for the Rhode Island Department of Education. In my new position, I’ll coach and support 15 first-year teachers, in four communities and eight different schools.

At first I wondered, “How could I possibly not return to my first grade classroom?” Yet, how could I pass up this chance to help beginning teachers and ultimately their students?

Ultimately, it came down to this: I could stay in my class and impact the academic success of 25 incoming students. Or, I could take this new position, with the possibility of impacting the academic success of more than 300 children.  After a summer of careful consideration I decided to choose the job that would allow me to help the greatest number of children—and so I accepted the position of induction coach.

The good news for readers of my School Family blog is that this opportunity will broaden my elementary experiences beyond my own classroom. Can’t wait to share all my new tips and adventures with you, so please keep reading!



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Have Kids Practice Writing by Capturing Summer Memories

Children love the spontaneous fun and pure joy of summertime.  While the end of summer is bittersweet, now is the time to help your child capture wonderful summer memories, while practicing writing skills for a new school year. To do so, you will need plain 8 1/2 x 11 paper, pencils, markers, and/or crayons. 


If your child is going into kindergarten:

  •  Ask him to tell you about 3 favorite things he did this summer. Some examples might include attending family picnic, enjoying Fourth of July fireworks, or spending a day at the beach, lake, or pool. Be sure to write the date of the memory somewhere on the page.
  • Use a separate page for each of the 3 memories. A parent or other adult should write the memories at the bottom of the page. Ask your child for specific details, such as “Who were you with?” “What was your favorite food at the picnic?” “How did it feel when that wave splashed you?”
  • Then, have him draw a picture above the words. Be sure he includes the important details in his picture.


If your child is going into 1st grade:

  • Have her tell you about 5 favorite things she did this summer, including specific details and descriptions.
  • Let her (or help her) write the words at the bottom of each page, then have her draw illustrations above. Check to see if her illustrations include the details she told you.


If your child is going into 2nd grade:

  •  Have him list 10 favorite memories from this summer.
  • He should then write his own sentences and draw detailed pictures to complete his summer memory list.


 Save these “Summer Memories” in a family album or scrapbook. On a cold, dark evening next February, bring them out to rekindle warm summer memories!

Try to do this each year. When your children are young adults, they will thank you so much for keeping their summertime childhood memories alive.


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Why School and Home Routines are Important for Students—6 Tips

In my 1st grade class, we spend the first few weeks of the new school year establishing classroom routines. These routines are both academic and organizational.

Routines are important because they give children a clear sense of what to expect.  Rules follow a pattern and offer a sense of stability.

Here are 6 simple routines you can establish at home to ease the morning “time crunch:”


1. Schedule the same time for bed each school night, and stick to it. Be sure to include time to read a story together, before “lights out.”


2. Have a specific place for homework. Make sure your child puts the homework away in his backpack before going to bed. (This eliminates the “My Mom forgot to put it in my backpack” excuse!)


3. Strive to have your child finish  homework within a certain time frame. Work with a timer, in five or ten minute increments. Take a small break between, until it’s done.  Or, set the timer for 20 minutes and make it a game to see if she can “beat the clock.”


4. Together, take a minute to check the weather for the next day. Then have your child put out appropriate clothes for school, before she goes to bed. This tends to cut down on “what to wear” conflicts in the morning.


5. Limit breakfast choices to two main items that are nutritious, and you know your child likes to eat (such as waffles or cereal, for example.) Lay out dishes, glasses, and utensils the night before.


6. Let her have her own alarm clock, and set it to wake at the same time each school morning. You still might have to coax her a bit, but the alarm can do the initial work.


Setting up routines is often a challenge…but well worth the effort. Home and school routines develop the consistency and organization that young children need, and busy parents appreciate!


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3 Summer Activities to Improve Fine Motor Skills

Here are 3 simple activities to help your child improve her fine motor skills. Fine motor skills develop muscles that allow her to draw, print, color, and successfully complete other physical activities. These games can be done indoors or outdoors.

For 3-5-year-olds: The Balloon Toss

You will need 2-3 round or oval balloons (inflated), with each approximately 6-8” in diameter. For 1 or more players.

  • Have your child toss one balloon in the air. The object of the game is to keep the balloon from touching the ground. He can use hands, head, elbows, knees, etc. to keep the balloon in the air. 
  • Say the alphabet, or count together to see how often he touches the balloon before it comes down.
  • When he has mastered one balloon, increase the difficulty by challenging him to keep two afloat. After the game is over, be sure to deflate and properly dispose of the balloons for safety reasons. 


For 6-7-year-olds: The Clothespin Challenge

You will need 6 pinch-type clothespins and an 8-9” paper or plastic plate for each of up to 6 players. For 1-6 players.

  • Put the plate on the ground, about 10 feet away from your child.
  • Give her 6 clothespins.
  • Call “ready, set, go,” and then have her run to the plate, pick it up, and attach each of her clothespins around the plate.
  • When all of her clothespins are attached she should run back to you with the plate. If she is the only player, time how long it took her to do the job. Then, see if she can beat her own time.
  • If there is more than one player, the first to complete the task wins.
  • To increase the difficulty, gradually increase the number of clothespins to a maximum of 10 or 12.


For 8-9-year-olds: The Lego Challenge

You will need a set of Legos and a timer. For 1 or more players.

  • Find a simple picture of a Lego design, either from the box or from one of your child’s favorite Lego designs.
  • Challenge your child to build the structure before the timer rings. 
  • Set timer to 15 minutes and start it. Time how long it takes your child to complete the design.
  • If there is more than one player, the first to complete the task wins
  • To increase the difficulty, decrease the time by 2-minute intervals.


Summer is a great time to hone fine motor skills by doing fun activities!

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“Experts” Give Advice to Kindergarteners About Becoming 1st Graders

My 1st grade students and I were recently having a discussion about how much they have grown and learned this past school year.

I asked them if they remembered how they felt when they started 1st grade. Then, I asked them what advice they would give a kindergarten child about starting 1st grade this fall.

Some tips were very practical,: “Think before you write, then you won’t have to erase so much.” Some were comforting: “If you get a little scared, let your friends cheer you up.” Some were inspirational: “Even when it’s hard don’t give up.  You’ll find you get it.” And some were profound and grown-up: “You can achieve more than you think.” 

The advice from my students was both heartwarming and on point. Here are other tips from the “experts:”


“Always listen to the teacher and you’ll learn a lot.”


“Think hard and you’ll get smarter.”


“Don’t be afraid to try something new.” 


“It’s just a little harder than kindergarten.”


“Subtraction is the best!”


“You get to see all your friends, and you get to really understand math.”


“You’ll make lots of new friends.”


“In math watch the sign, so you’ll know to do plus or minus.”


“It was great; you learn a lot.”


“Don’t say something is ‘easy’ before you know if it really is.”


And my personal favorite: “Use your words to solve problems.”


Thank you 1st graders for your wonderful, “expert” advice! Thanks too, for working so hard this past year. I’ll miss you!




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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