SchoolFamily Voices

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

Preparing To Take the Common Core Assessments

Students in some schools across the country will take online tests on the Common Core curriculum this spring. These tests do not actually count, and many schools are exempt from giving their normal tests in order to participate. This is part of the field testing before next spring, when almost everyone will take the new Common Core tests online (either the Smarter Balanced Assessment or another called the PARCC Assessment.

The Smarter Balanced Assessment website offers practice tests at various grade levels to help students and teachers get ready for the testing. If this is the first time your child will take standardized testing online, it is a good idea to practice taking a similar test before the testing day. This is especially true for the math tests since they require some familiarity with the software to answer certain types of questions. For example, some of the math questions require the test-taker to place points on a graph and then connect them with lines. While this is not a difficult procedure once you understand how to do it, it is much better to practice doing that ahead of time. Other questions allow the use of an online calculator. Once again, it is better to practice using it before the day of testing.

Even if your child is not taking his testing online this spring, the practice tests found at the Smarter Balanced Assessment portal should help prepare for the paper and pencil standardized tests he will be taking.

To take a practice test in either math or language arts, select “Student Interface Practice and Training Tests,” sign in as “Guest,” select the appropriate grade, select “Yes,” and then start either the math or the language arts test. Scoring rubrics and classroom activities can be found on the Resources and Documentation page on the same site.

If your child is worried about taking the tests coming up soon, read Reduce the Stress of High-Stakes Standardized Tests for helpful information.

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3 Essential Questions for a Midyear Check-in

For most school districts across the country, January is the halfway mark of the school year, even if your district follows a trimester model. Most important, it’s the perfect time to have a “check-in” with your child’s teacher, whether or not this is a planned conference time.

The check-in can be a scheduled meeting with your child’s teacher, a phone call, or even an email. To start the conversation, here are three simple yet essential questions to ask the teacher:

  • Is your child’s reading on grade level at this point in the school year?
  • Are his math skills where they should be now?
  • Is his social and emotional development on par with other students in the class?


The answer to these three questions will give you a blueprint on how to proceed with the remainder of the school year. From January to the end of this school year is a very large block of time with few interruptions. Much can be accomplished to ensure grade-level success.

Key information you want to know includes:

  • If your child is on grade level, keep doing what has worked at home to support this success.
  • If she’s above grade level, ask the teacher for suggestions to enrich reading or math at home.
  • If she’s below grade level, ask the teacher for ideas to help fill in missing gaps. Also ask about the possibility of getting extra help or support from within the school.

The academic rigors of Common Core State Standards makes it important to have this information now. This allows you and the teacher time needed to support, enrich, or help your child catch up before the end of the school year.


> 6 Questions for a Successful Parent-Teacher Conference

> 3 Skills Critical to Common Core Success

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Are All Parents Happy With Common Core?

A very subtle shift is happening in my hometown. Interestingly, a small group of parents have organized and convened a meeting they called “Repeal Common Core: Reclaiming Local Control in Education.” About 20 parents and some educators attended the meeting.

The Common Core State Standards are national educational standards that have been adopted by 45 states. They were constructed as part of a nationwide initiative to improve and equalize US education, so that students achieve as well as other high-scoring nations around the world.

From what I understand about the controversy, the main issues of my hometown group are:

  • Everyone is in agreement that there should be high standards.
  • They feel that Common Core is too focused on benchmarks and standardized testing.
  • These parents feel that constant testing is stressful on students and teachers, and doesn’t address the needs of gifted or special-needs students.
  • They also feel that since tax money is paying for this, local districts should have had input.

The group feels that the best thing to do now is ask questions and learn more about Common Core at the local level. It then hopes to organize a petition drive. They envision that their small steps now might grow into a grassroots movement that could modify, or even repeal, Common Core State Standards.

As an educator, I like the equity and rigor of Common Core. In my opinion, higher expectations for students are a very good thing. They better prepare students for college and the workplace.  I do understand the group’s concern that there seems to be lot of testing. Yet for lesson planning purposes it is important to access what students have learned, and construct new lessons, moving forward, from that point. We have to think of the Common Core standards as a solid foundation, where students are challenged, yet supported while achieving more.

Is anything like this happening in your area? What do you think?

> Coming Soon to Your School: Common Core State Standards

> Common Core on SchoolFamily.com blog

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3 Skills Critical to Common Core Success

As a mentor for new teachers, I spend a lot of time discussing the three important skills young students need to learn before starting with Common Core phonics and early math. I call this my “Triangle Base.” These three core skills serve as a solid foundation for children to advance their Common Core studies.

The core skills in the Triangle Base are:

  • Rhyming
  • One-to-one correspondence
  • Patterns

Rhyming is so important because it promotes phonemic awareness, the ability to hear sounds in spoken language.

Knowing one-to-one correspondence is fundamental for both reading and math. In math, it means seeing the number 8, for example, and accurately pointing to and counting out eight objects. In reading, it means pointing to and saying what you’re seeing.

Recognizing and understanding both visual and auditory patterns are key indicators of reading and math fluency. An example of a visual pattern could be tile placement on a wall or floor. An auditory pattern could be the “e, i, e, i, o” in the song “Old MacDonald.”

The Triangle Base makes an excellent foundation because the skills also incorporate multiple intelligence styles. In other words, they encompass visual, auditory, and kinesthetic (hands-on) learners. So however your child learns best, he’ll be able to enhance and expand learning.

To practice these skills at home, parents should start by reading lots of nursery rhymes. Play “pattern” games by looking and listening for patterns inside and outside. Help your child practice counting objects in a row, pointing to the object as she says the number. When reading together, both you and your child should point to words you are saying. This subtle practice will help your child construct a solid Triangle Base, which is so important for success in Common Core classrooms.

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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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Activities To Help Kindergartners Understand Numbers

Two Common Core math skills that your kindergarten child will be required to know by the end of the school year are:

  • Count to 100 by ones and tens
  • Counting forward within the known sequence (instead of having to always start at 1)


Here are three simple activities that you can do with your kindergartener throughout the school year to practice and easily make these skills automatic. Many young students can count by rote, but have no concept of what the numbers mean. By practicing number sequence and “counting on” from any given number, you can help your kindergarten student understand the relationship between numbers and quantity.

  • A great way to practice counting, while reinforcing what the actual number represents, is to use pennies. Start simply, by having him put 10 pennies in a row. Have him start counting, left to right, by using his index finger to point to the space right before the first penny and say “zero.” Then point to the pennies while counting 1, 2, 3, 4, etc. When he can easily do that, increase the pennies by 10 to make a second row. Have him start at the 0 space and continue 1 through 20. Keep adding rows of 10 until he can easily count from 0 to 100. Always including the zero space helps him understand that the number 0 represents no object.
  • Use the pennies to help count by tens as well. Once he can count one-to-one and 0 to 20, start have him practice saying “10, 20” while looking at the two complete rows. After counting by ones for each new row, have him practice counting by tens as well, until he can easily say 10, 20, 30, 40 …to 100.
  • Counting forward within the known sequence simply means “counting on” from any beginning number. First, help him practice orally counting 0 to 20 in correct sequence. When he’s mastered this, start with the number 5, for example, and have him continue on with 6, 7, 8, etc. to 20.
  • Once he can easily count forward to 20, from any starting number, increase the difficulty by 10 (0-30 then 0-40, etc.). Do this until he can start at any pervious number and count forward to 100.


> Kindergarten Math: The Common Core Standards and 4 Geometry Activities

> More Tips for Kindergarten Readiness

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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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New Words To Add to Your Child’s Word Bank

Last month I provided a list of 30 common sight words, along with directions on how to build a word bank. As promised, here is a new word list. These words are called “word family words,” or phonograms, formed with one short vowel word chunk, and different beginning sounds.

Adding words like these to the bank will help your child hear and see patterns in words, and hear rhymes. Seeing patterns in words and recognizing rhymes directly correlates to the Common Core State Standards for Phonological Awareness.

To review directions:

  • All you need is some small cards that you have handy, like index cards, blank recipe cards, the back of old business cards, etc.
  • Choose a new word each day, and write it on a card.
  • Show it to your child, say it, spell it, and say it again. Have your child do the same.
  • Keep the cards together in a baggie, envelope, or small container.
  • Review words in the “bank” at random, whenever possible.


The new words, with the vowel chunk in bold:










Practice often so he can easily recognize these words when reading sentences and stories!

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Celebrate Spring With Stories and Common Core Activities

Celebrate Spring With Stories and Common Core Activities

Warm weather is coming, and seasonal books, with fun and easy connecting activities, are a great way to celebrate with your young child. A variety of springtime books are readily available at your local library or on an e-reader. Here are two of my favorites, plus simple activities that extend the learning and promote Common Core skills.

Book and Activity 1:

  • Together read The Very Hungry Caterpillar, by Eric Carle
  • When reading is done, go outside to see whether you can find any caterpillars. Let your child be a scientist. Look closely at the caterpillar. Use a magnifying glass, if available. Note size, body segments, and legs.
  • When back inside, cut the bottom part of a cardboard egg carton in half lengthwise. Turn it over to make a caterpillar’s body. Paint or color it. Add cut pipe cleaner or toothpicks as legs and antennae.

Book and Activity 2:

  • Together read It Looked Like Spilt Milk, by Charles G. Shaw
  • Talk about the different cloud shapes your child might see, referencing the book.
  • On a sunny day, take her outside to look at the puffy clouds and let her find any shapes that are the same as or different from the ones in the book.
  • When back inside (or outside if weather permits), have her rip white construction paper into different “cloud” shapes of her own design. Paste them onto a blue piece of construction paper for her own “spilt milk” clouds.

Relating stories to children’s real-life experiences helps them make a Common Core “self-to-text” connection, greatly increasing their understanding of details and settings in the stories.

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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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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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A Midyear Checklist for Kindergartners

Most schools have recently passed or are fast approaching the halfway mark in the 2012-13 school year. At this point, it’s important for parents to know if their kindergarten child is also halfway through the required academic skills. Is remediation needed? There is still a large block of time between now and the last day of school to get a student back on track. Or, if your child is ahead of the standards, it’s a great time to accelerate reading and math skills.

This is especially important now that nationwide Common Core standards are in place. The criteria listed below can be used as an informal guide to see if your kindergartener is on track with Common Core progress.

Kindergarten students should now be able to easily complete the following math skills:

  • Count to 50 by ones and tens
  • Write numbers from 0-10
  • Represent number of objects, with a written numeral, from 0-10
  • Recognize that “0” means no objects
  • Start to connect counting to cardinality. (This means the last count represents the whole. For example, counting out 15 pennies and understanding that there are 15 in all.)
  • Know different ways to get 2, 3, 4 or 5. For example, 1+1, 0+2, 1+2, 2+1, 0+3, 1+3, 2+2, 1+4, 2+3, 0+5, etc.

Your kindergarten child should be able to complete the following English/Language Arts skills:

  • Recognize uppercase letters of the alphabet
  • Demonstrate some understanding of letter sounds
  • Recognize and be able to produce some rhymes
  • Know some common, high-frequency words; for example, the, is, me, my, you, of
  • Be able to sort objects into categories, such as shapes, colors, animals, etc.
  • With minimal support, ask and answer questions about key details in stories


Reviewing these 12 skills with your kindergartner now is a simple way to see if your child is progressing adequately. If you have questions about your child’s progress at the halfway mark, schedule a meeting with her teacher.

> Coming Soon to Your School: Common Core Standards

> Get Your Kindergartner Ready for Common Core

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Balancing Creativity and Academics

I believe in the Common Core State Standards. Schools need a framework to help their students achieve college and career ready goals. This framework should be clear, rigorous, and equitable for each grade level. This is especially important when families must relocate to a different state or U.S. territory.

With a jam-packed Common Core curriculum, how does creativity survive and truly thrive?

Creativity is defined as the skill and imagination to create new things—and it's just as important as the Common Core standards.  Teachers struggle to tap into student creativity, while maintaining the fast pace of Common Core academics.

Parents should be challenged with this, too. Parents can be an important catalyst in fostering their young child’s creativity.

Here are four activities that cost little or nothing to nurture your child’s imagination, curiosity, and originality:

  • Play his or her favorite music and dance together! Move, jump, and sing along until you see her big smile, or hear his loud giggle.
  • Get small pots, pans, or lids. Use big wooden or plastic spoons to create music together. If you already have an instrument at home, such as a piano, guitar, violin, or flute, incorporate their sounds when possible.
  • Use paints in a different way. Put a small amount of liquid paint on the edge of white copy or construction paper. Then let her use a straw to create a picture by “blowing” the paint onto the paper. Add different colors to other areas of the paper to let her see what happens when colors are blown over each other. When it’s dry, talk about what designs she was able to make by using a straw instead of brush.
  • Act out a favorite story. For example, read The Little Red Hen, Goodnight Moon, or Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs by acting out the characters with different voices and using available props.

> Do you nurture creativity?

> Fun book-related crafts projects for young children


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Boost Your Kindergartner's Reading Skills, Using Common Core Standards

Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are clear and defined templates of skills that students should be learning at each grade level.  They have been written for K-12 students in both English/Language Arts and Mathematics.

Parents can certainly help their kindergarten child learn the necessary skills to ensure understanding of these concepts. Here are seven easy activities, to promote Common Core Standards when reading simple fiction with your child:

  • Carefully look at the cover of the book together, and ask him if it gives any clues of what the story is about.
  • Follow a left-to-right sweep of each page by pointing to words as you read, or as she reads them.
  • Have him tell you what the story is all about, in his own words including key details.
  • Isolate unknown words or sounds, and practice them until they are known.  For example, beginning letter sounds “b” as in boy, or sight words such as “the.”
  • Ask questions about story setting and characters, and help her find evidence in the text to support her thoughts.
  • Help him identify the main idea of the story.
  • Help her connect illustrations to the words. For example, “How does this picture help explain the story.”

Paying attention to story details and finding evidence in the text and illustrations can help your child dramatically increase reading comprehension and fluency.


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School Education Culture: Why It’s Important at Your Child’s School

The overall educational culture of your child’s school is an important role in school success.  From the principal down through each grade level, there should be a clear school-wide plan for student success and academic growth.

Here are 6 fundamentals that promote positive and successful school cultures, and should be in effect at your child’s school:

1. All students can learn. Even if a child has learning difficulties or issues, that child can learn and advance to the best of his abilities.


2. There are clear expectations for all students. This should apply both to academics and acceptable school conduct. Many schools have adopted the PBIS system (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports) to place the focus on appropriate school behaviors. PBIS is a collaboration between the U.S. Department of Education and 11 technical assistance units across the country.


3. Academic school standards are high and rigorous. If your state is following the Common Core Standards, rigor and achievement are clearly defined.


4. The school has accountability measures for both students and teachers. For students, this means that assessments are equitable across grade levels. For teachers, this means that evaluations are done with clear state- or city-wide expectations and consequences for all.


5. Teachers collaborate among grade levels. Many schools set up common planning time so that teachers, in the same grade level, can plan and discuss curriculum direction and assessments. This ensures that all students, at that grade level, are receiving important skills at the same time.

6. Respect and kindness in classrooms. What parent hasn’t cringed when they overheard a teacher yelling at or embarrassing a child? Or, what parent hasn’t been mortified when they were called to a conference because their child was disrespectful to a teacher or principal? When schools actively develop a culture of kindness and respect, children naturally respond with empathy and acceptance—even when disagreeing.


Parents can do much to help promote and ensure a positive school culture. A good first-step is to become actively involved in your child’s school PTO





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Get Your 1st Grader “Common Core Ready” for Reading

If your child is entering 1st grade, there are certain skills that should have been mastered in kindergarten. To keep those skills sharp, and be first-grade “Common Core Ready” for reading, here are 3 ways to practice during the remaining weeks of summer. These activities are perfect when reading a fiction or non-fiction story together, at bedtime or anytime:


• Ask your child questions about the story and make sure he answers using key details. For example, if reading Dinosaurs Before Dark by Mary Pope Osborne, you might try asking, “What are the children’s names and how are they related?” (Jack and Annie are brother and sister.) Or, “How does Jack escape from the T-Rex?” (He gets a ride on the back of a Pteranodon.)

• If reading a non-fiction text, such as From Caterpillar to Butterfly by Deborah Heiligman focus on setting and events.  Ask, “Where does this story take place?” (Children in the story observe the changes in a classroom) “How does the caterpillar become a butterfly?”  (Egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly…metamorphosis!) 

• Ask your child to answer questions that determine or clarify word meanings in a sentence. When reading Whales by Gail Gibbons, for example, ask, “How do you know a whale is a mammal?” (Breathes air, babies born alive, not hatched, etc.) “What are the two different groups of whales?” (Toothed and baleen.)

 Teaching your child to pay attention to details, setting, events, and new vocabulary in stories will insure that she becomes a proficient and comprehensive 1st grade reader!

Editor’s note: Is your child entering kindergarten? Read Connie’s blog posts on preparing your child to be “Common Core Ready” for kindergarten math.

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Summer Reading for Youngsters Using Common Core Standards

Motivating your young child to read during the summer can be a challenge. Here are 3 easy ideas to keep your child reading all summer, while subtly reinforcing the Common Core reading standards.

  • Connect reading to projects or crafts: Encourage your child to read Two Blue Jays by Anne Rockwell and Megan Halsey.  This is an engaging story about students observing blue jays building a nest outside their classroom window. Then, help her make a simple birdhouse to hang in a tree in your backyard.  Or, have him read Maisy Makes Lemonade by Lucy Cousins, and help him set up a lemonade stand.


  •  Connect reading to family travel or other family interests: Together read Punky Goes Fishing by Sally G. Ward, before going on a fishing trip. Or, read The Little Airplane by Lois Leski before going on an airplane trip.


  • Set a Summer Reading Goal: Challenge your child to read 5 books a week.  Keep a reading sticker chart, and for each book read, add a sticker. When there are 15 stickers on the chart have a special reward for your good reader, such as an ice cream sundae or new beach toy.


 Other Fun Ways to Focus on Common Core Reading Standard:

• Have her tell you key details in the story.

• Have him retell the story to demonstrate understanding of its main idea.

• Talk about characters, setting, and events in the story.

• Compare and contrast adventures and experiences of the characters in the story.

Make meaningful reading part of your family’s summertime fun!


Editor's note: Another fun way to read with your child—while combining a fun activity—is to read the recipe for these Lemonade Cookies, which are easy to make, or choose other recipes to make with children from our Recipe Share.

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Get Your Child Ready for Kindergarten With Common Core Standards

The National Common Core Standards are sequential skills from kindergarten through high school. They are comprehensive, purposeful instruction to promote student achievement in both English/language arts and mathematics. They have been adopted by 45 out of 50 states. 

 As a parent, you can do a great deal to prepare your child to meet these standards, and I’m here to help you do it! All summer, I will be sharing ideas, simple games, and easy activities to help your young child master important Common Core skills.

 Here are 2 mathematics skills that can be easily practiced before your child enters kindergarten:

 1. Orally counting to 100, by ones and tens: Time spent in the car provides a perfect opportunity for your child to practice orally counting to 100 by ones.  Start slow, have her count 1-10, then 1-20, then 1-30, etc. until she can do it by herself. At this point, she is not matching objects; she’s just counting numbers in a sequence. Practice often, so the numbers flow naturally.

Once she has mastered oral counting, make the counting meaningful and fun by counting “things.” Count objects such as shells collected on the beach, stones found in the backyard, Cheerios in the bowl, pumps on a swing, or choose a recipe to make with your kids and have them count ingredients, rolls of cookie dough, etc. Then advance to skip counting by 10s.  Ten, 20, 30…help your child count to 100 like this until he can easily recite the pattern on his own. At home, have your child gather Legos, blocks, crayons, puzzle pieces, etc. and put them in groups of 10.  Then count by 10s to find the total.

2. Have your child count forward (orally) beginning from a random number, instead of starting at one. Do this within the 1-100 sequence. For example, start at 22 and have him count forward to 53. Or, start at 66 and count forward to 99.

Easily counting numbers, particularly in sets of 10, will greatly benefit your kindergarten child. These skills form the basis for addition, subtraction and solving math word problems.

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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