SchoolFamily Voices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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What Pet Should I Get? Is Finally Here!

Dr. Seuss' new book

As a parent and a 1st grade teacher, I’m a huge fan of Dr. Seuss. I could not wait for the release of his new book, What Pet Should I Get? And I am delighted to say it was worth the wait!

From the front cover of The New York Times Book Review to a review by a Dartmouth College English professor, Dr. Seuss’ new book is being hailed as “an instant classic” and “will remind us, delightfully, that Dr. Seuss, over half a century ago, made learning to read an adventure.”

What Pet Should I Get?

This long-anticipated book, released by Random House on July 28, 2015, follows the same two siblings that first appeared in One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish. This brother-and-sister team is on a quest to find a single pet. He likes a dog, she likes a cat. The first decision they face seems easy; a dog or a cat? Then Kay says, “Now what should we do? Dad said to pick one, we cannot take home two.”

As the children find more attractive animals, their decision becomes more complicated...a bird that sings, a rabbit, a fish. Their process is compounded by a deadline, “We have to pick one pet, and pick it out soon. You know mother told us to be back by noon.” A very unsubtle two-page headline adds to their quandary and pressure to make a decision: “Make up Your Mind.”

Common sense wins out after the children consider buying one of each kind of pet. “Dad would be mad.” Yet, then the pressure is on, “If we do not choose, we will end up with none.” Their final choice of a pet will probably puzzle young readers (and some parents, too). However, their final selection takes a back seat to Dr. Seuss’ lessons on the decisionmaking process, the ability to find compromise, and being able to develop a positive resolution while the clock is still ticking.

This is a book that can inspire long periods of discussion between young readers and parents. It should prompt many questions that can be asked by children to adults, and vice versa. Like all other Dr. Seuss books before it, What Pet Should I Get? is a true childhood adventure.

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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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Sorting and Classifying Help Develop Strong Math Skills

Sorting and classifying are early elements of math.  Understanding patterns in general is the beginning of algebra. Young children can be taught to sort by color, shape, size, etc. They can learn to manipulate and create patterns. Practicing these skills can give your child a solid base for more challenging math.

Here are five simple ways to help your preschool or kindergarten child practice and become fluent in these basic mathematical skills.

  • Make it part of everyday life. Let your child help you unload and sort groceries from the bags. For example, put all soup cans together in one pile. Put pasta or fruit in another.
  • Incorporate sorting with cleanup time. All the blocks go into the yellow basket, all the puzzles on the shelf, etc. 
  • Play a matching game. Take a penny, a nickel, dime, and a quarter. Tape one of each at the top of separate pieces of construction or plain computer paper. Give your child a pile of mixed coins and let her specifically match each to the coins taped on the paper.
  • Play a sorting game. Separate Legos, for example, by color, size, or shape. Use colored blocks to make different patterns (yellow, blue, red, green, yellow, blue, etc.).
  • Have them sort their own laundry. When my children were in kindergarten, I put a small tan and a small brown laundry basket in the bottom of their closet. All the light-colored clothes went into the tan basket. All the dark-colored ones went into the brown basket. It was a great way to keep discarded clothes off the floor—and a big help when it was time to do laundry!

When doing these activities, be sure to talk together about why things belong in a certain group. By incorporating language while handling objects, children are able to describe the rationale of why the objects belong together for multisensory learning.

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7 Keys to Independent Learning

January is the perfect time to help your young student resolve to make positive changes that will enhance the rest of his school year. It’s an opportunity to let him assume more responsibility, and to grow and mature as a student. Here are seven lessons to teach your early elementary student that will help her grow into a more independent learner:

  • Clear, concise work leads to fewer errors. Help your child understand that taking the time to print neatly is important.
  • Be mindful of and consistent with routines. For example, homework goes into the backpack when completed. Keep the backpack in the same place, for easy access in the morning.
  • Always go back and check your work. Checking for math errors or misspelled words gives your child the opportunity to self-correct.
  • Just get started. Even when things look new or difficult, help her understand that task avoidance is not a good strategy.
  • Persistence matters. Don’t give up when facing new and challenging work. If one strategy doesn’t work, try another.
  • Ask for help. After trying yourself, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Help her understand that everyone needs help now and then.
  • Discover their best learning style. If she is a visual learner, help her “picture” answers. If she learns best by listening, give her auditory clues to use, such as a “days of the week” or a vowel song. If she’s a hands-on learner, give her opportunities to “spell” words with magnetic letters or Play-Doh.

By helping your child become an independent learner, you increase her self-confidence and motivation to learn—and that leads to 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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Keep Your Child Reading All Summer

Keep Your Child Reading This SummerOne successful reading strategy I’ve used in 1st grade is pairing students with a 5th grade “reading buddy.” We would meet with our buddies once a week. Sometimes the older student would read to the younger one. Other times, the 1st graders would read to the 5th graders. Often, there was a discussion about the book, followed by a drawing or simple project related to the story. It’s always sad to lose our buddies at the end of the school year!

With summer vacation coming soon, this concept got me thinking about ideas to keep students reading all summer long.

Here are six simple suggestions:

  • Pair up your young child with an older sibling or trusted neighborhood student for some summer “buddy” reading time. One way to thank that older child is a gift card to a local ice cream shop or game shop.
  • Create a special “reading spot” for rainy days. This could be a bean bag chair, soft large pillow, or sheet over a table for a reading tent. Keep a small basket of books by his favorite author in the spot.
  • Focus on illustrations that tell the story. Young students love wordless books that tell a great story with pictures. Get some of these from your local library. Two authors that create these types of books are Frank Asch and Mercer Mayer. Your librarian can suggest more.
  • Focus on award-winning books. Ask your librarian to help you look for books that have won the Caldecott Medal or Newbery Award. Read them together with your child, and discuss what she thinks made them award-winners.
  • Read some child cookbooks and together make one or two of the easy recipes.
  • Have a family “read aloud” night. Take turns reading a family favorite book aloud.

When you combine reading practice with fun activities, you help create a lifelong love of reading!

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The Pleasure of Healthy Play

Spring equals time for young children to get out there and play! Happy, healthful outdoor play is important for building muscular readiness… and that’s needed for all sorts of gross and fine motor skills used in academics.

Here are six easy suggestions for children to shake off those winter doldrums and get back to their “business” of play:

  • Review rules before starting a game. For example, the “goal” is scored when the soccer ball is kicked between the two rocks in the yard.
  • Have a quiet game follow an active one. Play “I Spy” after a rigorous game of tag.
  • Sharpen eye-hand coordination. Toss a tennis ball for him to catch. Start about 3 feet apart. Then, as he gets good at catching, increase the distance by one or two feet at a time.
  • Couple rhyming with coordination. Help her say poems while jumping rope…or make up rhymes as she jumps.
  • Play hopscotch for balance and number recognition. For younger children go with the classic 1-8 hopscotch grid. For first or second graders put simple addition or subtraction in each box that must be solved before jumping.
  • Play to strengthen social/emotional skills. Hide and seek is a great game for three or more children. Interacting with other children, problem-solving (Where did they go?) and the satisfaction of “finding” can help build confidence and friendships.

Take advantage of the nice weather and let your children be children and play their time away!


> Make Learning Fun With Classic Childhood Games

> Creative Play Leads to Learning

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Encouraging "Deeper-Level" Thinking in Young Children

Asking and answering questions has been a staple of teacher and student interaction for centuries. A big shift in today’s classrooms is for teachers to challenge students with “deeper-level questioning.”

This means getting away from short one- or two-word answer that come only from recall. Examples of short-answer questions are “What color is the snow?”  or “Can you point to the car in the picture?” To answer these low-level questions, students only have to have the ability to accurately recall facts.

While recall of facts is a good place to start with young students, parents can help take this process to the “next level."

Here are four easy steps parents can use when asking about reading, writing, or math to develop deeper-level thinking in the minds of young students.

Have your child paraphrase, or put things in his own words. For example, “Why do you think Jack wanted to climb the beanstalk?”

Drawing conclusions:
If you know that 1+1 = 2, what does 10+10 equal?

Connecting information or recognizing patterns:
If the sky is usually blue, why does it sometimes look gray?

Creative thinking:
If you were Jack, how would you have taken the goose and golden egg?

By helping your child become a deeper-level thinker, you teach her to understand in ways that result in multiple correct answers. This greatly enhances her problem-solving skills. These are attributes that will benefit your child for life.


> Critical Thinking Skills Printables

> Open-Ended Questions Stretch Your Child's Thinking Skills

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Now’s the Time To Get Involved!

Get Involved!The start of the school year is the perfect time to think about volunteering at your child’s school. Any time you can spare would be beneficial. As a more involved parent, you increase your child’s opportunities to be successful in school. Being involved, to whatever degree possible, not only helps your own child but also improves the overall quality of your school. It also keeps you “in the loop” about what’s happening at school. Even if your volunteer time is limited, you can still have a presence in various ways.

Here are seven simple ways parents can participate at their child’s school:

  • Meet your child’s teacher as soon as possible. Ask how he or she likes to be contacted, e.g., email, phone, written note, etc. Ask how you can help at home.
  • Join the school’s PTO or PTA, and plan to attend as many meetings/events as you can.
  • See if the school has a handbook or school policies pamphlet and get copies. These usually address year-round issues such as discipline, dress code, tardiness and absenteeism, etc.
  • Check backpacks every night for homework or project assignments, important school calendars, announcements, etc. Keep all important school notices in one particular place for easy access and referral.
  • Volunteer to help in the classroom if your schedule allows, or with fundraisers, events, or other after-school activities.
  • Set up a special homework place and limit distractions. Have a distinctive homework folder and make sure completed homework is put in the folder and then into the backpack each night.
  • Limit electronic entertainments during the school week and encourage reading. Visit your local library, or swap books with friends and neighbors to read with your child.

Simple, proactive “getting involved” actions like these can make a big difference in your child’s early school experience.

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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 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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Fun Crafts Projects To Match Favorite Early Elementary Books

Looking for some creative educational activities to occupy young children on stormy days? To have some genuine parent/child fun together, simply look to books. The following are favorites of kindergarten and 1st grade students everywhere!

Start with The Very Busy Spider by Eric Carle or The Rainbow Fish by Marcus Pfister. These books are readily available at your local library.

Together read The Very Busy Spider. Then have fun with this activity.

You will need:

  • Glue
  • An 8”x 11” piece of black construction paper
  • A piece of chalk, or white crayon
  • Dry spaghetti or straws
  • Yarn or string
  • Small pieces of red and green construction paper (2”x 2”) plus extra small scraps of black construction paper



  1. Draw a spider’s web outline, in chalk or white crayon, on the black paper for your child.
  2. Have him glue spaghetti or straws to fit on the white lines radiating from the center of the web.
  3. Then have him glue circles of yarn or string over the radial lines to complete the web.
  4. Make the spider by gluing a small green circle to an oval red shape and add eight legs from the construction paper scraps, four on each side. It should look like the spider on the cover of the book. Glue the spider to a spot on the web.

Together read The Rainbow Fish. For a Rainbow Fish craft activity, you will need:

  • 8” x 11” blue construction paper and a small scrap of yellow construction paper
  • Scissors
  • Glue
  • Foil
  • Different colored tissue paper
  • Black marker



  1. Draw one large fish shape on the blue construction paper for your child.  Have her cut out the fish.
  2. Cut some foil and tissue paper circles for her, a little bit larger than a quarter.
  3. Have her layer and glue the foil and colored tissue onto the blue fish shape, overlapping like scales.
  4. With the marker, have her draw an eye. Cut the yellow construction paper to shape the fish’s mouth, just like the picture on the cover of the book.

Hang these finished drawings in your child’s room, to be proudly displayed. Reading the books gives the craft a purpose, and creating the craft provides a tactile aid in helping a child remember details from the story. 

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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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Icky Childhood Illnesses: My Family’s Icky Illness and the Yuck Factor

The phone rings and I recognize the school’s number on my caller ID. It’s not a number I want to see. The school doesn’t call to say hello. It’s the school nurse, and she’s calling to tell me that my daughter has ringworm.

My first emotion is humiliation. No, it’s not concern for my daughter’s wellbeing or relief that it’s not something serious. Instead, I’m embarrassed, and I feel like a bad mom. My belief that it’s okay to go six nights between baths has caught up with me.

At least she doesn’t have head lice.

I pick Celia up. There it is, a dime-sized ring over her eye. I saw it a few days earlier and thought she scratched herself in her sleep (she chews her nails to the nub, so I admit that theory was weak). I just wasn’t concerned. Bad mom!

When we see the pediatrician, I learn that ringworm has nothing to do with worms. It’s a fungus. She could have picked it up anywhere. It is not an emblem of poor hygiene (or six nights between baths). And it’s no big deal. Yes, it’s contagious. But the infection is harmless and treatable. The doctor writes the name of an over-the-counter ointment and orders Celia back to school.

 6 Childhood Illnesses That Are Icky, Gross, and Disgusting (but Harmless)

When I take Celia back to school, I get raised eyebrows from the front office staff and the nurse. I deliver Celia to her teacher and explain that we put ointment on the fungal infection and that she has been cleared to return to school. (I sidestep the word ringworm.)

I kiss my child and return to work.

For today, at least, I’m not a bad mom after all. But why do we let intense, irrational emotions throw us into a tailspin when it comes to our kids? Why are we so quick to assume we’ve failed every time the school calls?

Sometimes kids get icky illnesses or things. Warts. Cold sores. Pinkeye. There may be ooze and pus involved, and that can be disgusting. But instead of worrying about whether we’re bad moms (we’re not), it’s better to face the yuck factor and deal with it.


Journalist Patti Ghezzi covered education and schools for 10 years for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, winning several awards, including a public service citation from the Associated Press for her exposure of grade inflation. Since becoming a freelancer in 2007, her work has appeared in the Chicago Tribune, the Miami Herald, and Adoptive Families magazine. Ghezzi lives in Avondale Estates, Ga., with her family, which includes husband Jason, daughter Celia, and geriatric mutt Albany.

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Host a Playdate for a Child With Food Allergies—You Can Do It!

Joshua, Henry, Isabella, Matthew, Jasper, Jack, Katie, and Paige.

These are just a few of the names of children who have come to our house for playdates and parties for my sons. Between my two kids there have been numerous birthday parties on the weekends, countless playdates, and lots of social gatherings with their friends’ families.

My wife and I have become seasoned experts in both caring for other people’s children with food allergies during parties and playdates, as well as placing our trust in other parents when dropping our boys off at their homes. At times, this hasn’t been as easy as it sounds, since one of our boys has food allergies, as do a handful of our sons’ friends. 

With planning, education, and understanding, however, taking on the responsibility of hosting a child with food allergies at a playdate or party—and allowing your food-allergic child to be in the care of other parents—can be safely done and is ultimately rewarding. 

My wife and I aren’t alone in these experiences. Recent studies show that about 8 percent of U.S. children have a food allergy. That means there's a good chance that at some point you will be taking care of a child with a food allergy. Food allergy awareness and understanding are key. Both will allow you to safely include a food-allergic child—who could otherwise easily be excluded—at fun parties and playdates.  

Food allergies among students in U.S. schools have become more and more common as well. And tragically, food allergy-related deaths continue to occur in and out of school. 

Some school communities have become divided over policies set up to protect children with food allergies, such as peanut-free lunch tables and the like. However, food allergy education and awareness in our school communities is critical for the safety of kids with food allergies. These kids need to have their food allergies managed at all times and in all circumstances. Remember, allergic reactions can be life threatening.

To help, here are some basic Food Allergy Management Tips:

  • Know how to prevent allergic reactions from occurring. There needs to be a responsible adult present when hosting a food allergic child, who knows how to avoid a potential allergic reaction. This is done by accurately reading food labels, avoiding cross contact, knowing about hidden ingredients, and communicating effectively about the food allergic child’s allergy. Children can be messy eaters and inadvertently serving food that is an allergen to other kids may put the food-allergic child at risk. If you are not comfortable with preparing separate food for a child with food allergies, it is perfectly acceptable to ask that safe foods be provided by the child’s parents. Some families may even feel more at ease providing their own food to make it easier on you, and also to reassure themselves (and their child) that the food their child will eat is safe.


  • Emergency preparedness is a must. A person who can recognize allergic reactions and knows how to respond with the appropriate emergency medicine, must also be present. If you’re hosting the visit of a child with a food allergy, make sure you have a copy of the child’s emergency allergy action plan (a document that outlines what to do for an allergic reaction), and his epinephrine auto-injector (Epi-Pen or the like), if the child’s doctor prescribed one. (Here is a printable Food Allergy Drop-off Form). The parent of the food-allergic child can teach you how to administer an epinephrine auto-injector using a training device. If you are not comfortable with this responsibility, invite the parent to stay for the party or playdate.


If you prefer, there’s also a printable summary of Tips for Managing Food Allergies, as outlined in the points above.

Knowing how to avoid food allergens and always being prepared for an allergic reaction will not only help you safely host a child with a food allergy but will also help you do your part in creating a community of inclusion and support. Your children can also partner with you in this effort by gaining an awareness and acceptance of their classmates’ differences. With a solid understanding of food allergy management you can make a huge difference in a food allergic child’s feeling of acceptance—and possibly even save a life.

Please note that this post is intended to increase awareness and encourage you to obtain more information from additional resources. Before making any changes in management please discuss with the parents/healthcare providers.

Helpful Resources for Food Allergy Awareness:


Michael Pistiner, MD, MMSc is a pediatric allergist with Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates, and volunteers at Children’s Hospital Boston. He is the father of a child with food allergies and serves as a voluntary consultant for the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, School Health Services. He is chairman of the medical advisory team for Kids with Food Allergies Foundation, and serves on the board of Asthma & Allergy Foundation of America, New England Chapter. Dr. Pistiner is the author of Everyday Cool with Food Allergies, a children’s book designed to teach basic food allergy management skills to preschool and early school age children, and is co-creator of AllergyHome.org, a website that provides free modules designed to increase food allergy awareness in the community.


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3 Easy Ways to Get Your Child “Hooked” on Books This Summer!

Reading is like playing an instrument: Without practice, you’ll get rusty.

Each summer, when my husband was a young boy in elementary school, my mother-in-law, Mimi, would find age appropriate books that would interest him. She would sit him down and read the first chapter aloud. Mimi would then hand him the book and say “I think you are really going to like how this ends.” He was hooked!

Here are 3 fun and simple activities to encourage your young child to read all summer long, and keep his reading skills sharp while getting him “hooked” on books.

1. Have a reading day at the beach or pool. For every half hour in the water, take a 10 minute “reading break” in the shade of an umbrella or a tree. 

2. Start a neighborhood “Parent/Child Book Club.” Keep it small. Start with two or three of your child’s friends and one of their parents. Take turns hosting. The host family chooses the book for the meeting.  Your child can read the book by himself, or you can read it to him. The host family should also list 5 questions to get the book discussion started. For example: “What did you like best about the story?” Or, “Where did this story take place?” Group book discussions are a great way to help your child see different points of view, while having fun with her friends.

3. Enroll your child in a summer reading program at your local public library. Most libraries have summer programs that help your child earn rewards for reading during the summer. Some libraries even offer discounts to local attractions that the whole family can enjoy.

Relaxed summer reading is the perfect way to get your child “hooked on books!”

Editor's note: Check out these these related articles on summer reading:




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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