SchoolFamily Voices

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

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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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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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 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 2nd Graders

This informal 12-point checklist will help you determine if your 2nd grader is on schedule academically at the halfway mark of the school year. Common Core skills are fashioned to be taught sequentially, building on skills from the previous school years. This list of skills is based on the good foundations of kindergarten and 1st grade academics.

In math, she should be able to:

  • Describe and analyze basic shapes (beginning geometry). Be able to draw basic shapes by their attributes. For example, if asked to draw a shape with four equal sides and four angles, she would draw a square.
  • Start to partition shapes into two, three, or four equal parts, and start to use the fraction language to describe the whole as two halves, three thirds, etc.
  • Begin to measure objects using standard tools, such as a ruler or yardstick, meter stick, measuring tape, etc.
  • Recognize all four coins (penny, nickel, dime, and quarter) and begin to solve word problems. For example, “How much money is one dime and four pennies?”
  • Begin to understand place value to the hundreds place. For example, seeing the number 473 and knowing that “4” is in the hundreds place, “7” is in the tens place, and “3” is in the ones place.
  • Determine whether groups of objects (within 20) are odd or even.

In English/Language Arts, he should be able to:

  • Start to decode words with common prefixes or suffixes. For example, unsteady or wonderful.
  • Read on-level text with fluency and expression.
  • Start to determine the who, what, when, where, and why of details in a story.
  • Use illustrations and words to understand different characters in the text.
  • Identify the main purpose of nonfiction or informational text. What did the author want to describe, explain or want you to learn?
  • Begin to write opinion pieces, with reasons and evidence to support the opinion.

Knowing where 2nd grader’s progress stands at this point will help you determine if remediation or acceleration is warranted. If you have concerns, schedule a meeting with his teacher.

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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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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