SchoolFamily Voices

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

Children, Sleep and Long Term Memory

Sleepy StudentScientists now have evidence that long-term memories form during sleep. For years we have suspected that sleep was important for learning and memory. This data now confirms that suspicion (See Science Daily, Sept. 16, 2009).

We now believe that new memories, including motor memories (like playing a scale on the piano or shooting a free throw in basketball), are somewhat fragile and that they become more permanent during sleep. (See Science Daily, June 29, 2005).

Now we understand why children and teenagers who are learning new skills and concepts need more sleep than adults. (See Healthy Sleep for Kids).

For children in elementary school, this means ten or eleven hours of sleep each night. Older school aged children still need eight to nine hours (See WebMD, 2003)

Children are involved in so many extra-curricular activities, and those most successful in school often have a lot of homework to complete each night. Add in the time they spend watching TV, listening to music, or talking on the phone and there just are not enough hours in the day to get enough sleep!

It is important to limit the number of activities on school nights in order to allow time for your child to change new memories into permanent long-term memories while sleeping. You might want to think about this when helping your child to decide what extracurricular activities they will do when school starts this fall. Be sure they have enough time for sleep!

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Get Moving and Do Better in School

Last week was school vacation here in Massachusetts.  One afternoon I went to lunch with a few friends who were lamenting how difficult it is to get their kids outside and moving. Of course the conversation turned to limiting TV, computer and gaming time.  During the course of the conversation there were times when we each checked a text message or two... it could be the kids, right? Then it hit me. Here we are complaining about how our kids are being couch potatoes when in some ways, many of us contribute to living a sedentary life style. When you have down time with family, do you watch TV or movies... or do you go for walk or visit the gym together? When you get together with other families, is it all about food or do you go do something active together like snow tubing or bicycling? It's all about choices right? This revelation made me realize as parents we need to judge less and model more ... and make healthier choices.

That's why I was very excited to learn that School Family is partnering with Let's Move! 

Let’s Move! is a comprehensive initiative, launched by the First Lady, dedicated to solving the problem of obesity within a generation, so that children born today will grow up healthier and able to pursue their dreams.


What's nice about this program is that it gives you a framework for moving towards a healthier way of living. We have tons of new tools in our Print and Use Tools section to get your family involved in the Let's Move initiative: 

Let's Move! Take Action Schools Guide

Let's Move! Take Action Parents Guide

Let's Move! Grocery List Template

Let's Move! Family Activities Guide

Let's Move! Healthy Family Calendar

Let's Move! Screen Time Log

Let's Move! Goal Tracker

Research indicates that kids who get regular exercise do better in school. How's that for an added incentive? Print out the material, set some goals, and get moving! 

What does your family do to keep active together? How do you inspire your kids to get exercise? How would you like to change your family's  life style?

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School Vacation Games for Fun and Learning

FunLooking for fun ways to keep your young child actively engaged in learning over February vacation? Here are two simple activities for you. One will help with reading skills, and the other is for math. While these activities can take as little as 10-20 minutes to do, the creative and fun aspects will keep your child productively busy while reinforcing skills.

For Reading:

"Stitch a Word"

Purpose: Helps to build a sight word vocabulary

Materials: Index cards, marker, a hole puncher, tape, yarn or ribbon.

Directions: Write some simple words on the index cards with the marker. Start with five or six cards. Be sure to use lower case letters. Make the letters approximately three to four inches in height, depending on the length of the word. With the hole puncher, punch holes around the letters of the word, about ¼ inch apart. Cut a piece of yarn or ribbon approximately 30 inches long for each card. Tie a knot on one end, and wrap tape around the other end to make a "needle." Have your child "stitch" the word with an in and out motion. Cut off excess yarn and tape the end to the back of the card. Practice until they can read the word to you. To increase the difficulty, have your child close their eyes and "read" the word by feeling it. Store in a zip-loc bag and periodically sew and add new word cards.

For Math:

"Find Ten"

Purpose: Helps practice addition sums to ten.

Materials: Ten small objects such as checkers, crayons, pennies, M & M’s, etc., and a letter size piece of computer or construction paper.

Directions: Have your child count the ten objects. Then have your child close their eyes or turn away. Put a few objects under the paper, leaving the rest visible. Have your child look at the visible objects, and guess how many are hidden under the paper. For example, hide three objects so that your child will see only seven. Repeat with different combinations to the sum of ten. If your child is having difficulty, have them count the ones they can see and then uncover the hidden objects to continue the count to ten. Keep practicing until they can easily identify the number of hidden objects that add up to ten.

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Turn Your Good Reader into a Good Writer

Being a good reader does not necessarily mean that a child will be a good writer. Writing stories is a learned skill, and sometimes the best readers are reluctant writers. The key is to start simply, so that the art of writing is not overwhelming to a young child. Here are three simple ideas to help your young child become a comfortable writer:

  • Writing is part of life. From lists, memos, to e-mails, we write every day for a variety of reasons. Share the different methods of everyday writing and encourage your child to become an everyday writer. For example, have her write a "to-do" list for getting ready for school, a list of items that should always be in her backpack, or help her send an e-mail to a relative.

  • Let your child choose cute cards, or postcards to use as "Thank You" notes to family and friends. Not only will this give your child writing practice, it will brighten Grandma’s day!

  • Keep a notebook handy for your child to write easy, non-fiction stories from your family life. For example, when your child says "It was fun at the zoo today," ask "Why don’t you draw a picture of what you liked best?" When their picture is complete, ask questions about it. "What animal is that?" "What did you like about that animal?" Have your child write their answers underneath the picture, or you can scribe it for very young children. Remember to date the page. Then have your child read their words back to you. This can progress from one or two simple sentences to eventually filling the notebook with complete stories about their experiences.
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Sharing Holiday Traditions

LatkeSo much of the holiday season is about sharing family traditions. In my class today, we were very excited to have one of my student’s mom share their family’s Chanukah celebrations.

Most of the students in my class had heard of Chanukah, but didn’t really know what it was all about. The mom started with a story called, "Chanukah Lights Everywhere" by Michael J. Rosen.

She told them that sometimes Chanukah is called the "Festival of Lights." She brought in two Menorahs, and explained about the eight nights of lighting the candles. The children loved hearing how the oil lasted for eight days, when the people thought it would only last for one. They were interested and engaged, and asked great questions!

Her description of the potato latkes made our whole class hungry! We learned about the blue and silver colors, the Gelt chocolate coins and the dreidel game. All the children got a colorful dreidal and game directions to take home.

I think the author of the storybook summed it up best. The child in the story was admiring the Christmas window lights at his best friend and neighbor’s house, and comparing them to his own Menorah lights. His dad told him that "Chanukah is also about the joy of different religions sharing a street."

I think my students will be looking at the lights in their neighborhood in a different way. Happy Chanukah!

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Help Your "Hands-On" Learner with Reading and Math Skills

Your "Hands-On" learner is the child who can put things together, or take them apart. This is the child whose favorite activity is blocks, clay, Legos, or digging. They are the children, who at the end of the day have the dirtiest hands, face, and clothes! They need to move when working, and be able to "touch and feel" what they are learning.

Reading and Spelling

  • Have your child close his eyes. Practice letters or spelling words by "writing" them on your child’s back. With your index finger trace a letter or word on their back, over a shirt or pajama top. Your child can guess the letter or word by "feeling" the letters. Let them have a turn writing a letter or word on your back.
  • Roll out thin strips of clay or play dough and use them to form letters. Once your child knows the letters roll out more to form simple words.
  • Have her use a highlight marker in magazines or books she owns, to find words in stories. For example, highlight all the words the start with the "Bb" sound on a page. Or, highlight the short "a" words.


  • Use Legos or colored blocks to create patterns. Start with a two-step pattern, for example place a red, then blue, red, blue, etc. Then increase to a three-step or more sequence.
  • Roll a pair of dice and count the dots on each die for simple addition. Help your child write the number sentence that goes with the roll. For example, if he rolls a six and a two write: 6+2=8.
  • Put some pennies and nickels in a brown lunch bag. Have your child put her hand in the bag, without looking, and grab one of the coins. Have her guess the coin by feeling it. Take it out. If she guessed correctly she can keep it. When the coins are all out of the bag count the nickels by 5’s and the pennies by 1’s for the total.
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The Impact of Too Little Unstructured Playtime

This past Monday night I chose to be the voice of my young students.

In front of school committee members, the superintendent, and 300 or so parents of my school community, I spoke on behalf of all East Providence elementary school children. I asked administrators to reverse their decision to change recess, and to keep our recess exactly as it has been. After a three and a half hour meeting…I am still unsure of the outcome!

It appears now that recess will be a structured event, orchestrated by the classroom teacher. Yet, another piece of the day that someone is telling children what to do.

This is not just happening in my school community. It’s happening everywhere in a child’s life, in every town across America. Between sports, music or dance lessons, crafts, etc. children are programmed and over scheduled.

Creativity and spontaneity are fast becoming extinct. The satisfaction of a child’s enthusiastic “I did it!” has been replaced by the often asked, “What do I do now?” No wonder some children lack self-esteem. Confidence comes from solving problems, and taking pride in a job well done. It is not something that can be taught. It must be experienced!

Let’s reverse this current trend and give an important part of childhood, free unstructured play, back to our children!

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Foster a Love of Science this Summer!


I love the fact that the unstructured nature of summer gives kids a chance to explore, discover and experiment. When my kids were little they would spend hours in the woods in our backyard exploring, building, creating things with nature, and mixing up what we affectionately called stink stew! Remembering this makes me realize that summer is the perfect time to introduce your kids to the wonders of science. Often kids are turned off to the traditional approach to experiments and science in school.  Summer presents you with a chance to turn those kids around. 

Here are some ways to encourage your kids to love science:


  • Round up some old small appliances, goggles, and tools. Spread a sheet in your lawn and let your kids take apart the appliances to figure out how they work.
  • Let them loose in the woods with bags, a magnifying glass and  a notepad. Suggest that they explore, collect, compare, and record.
  • Backyard swimming pools are an experiment waiting to happen. Do the  sink and float experiment. Have them try to build water vehicles and submersibles. 
  • What could be better than stargazing in the backyard in summer time? Teach your kids about constellations and planets.
  • Start a science club in your neighborhood or help your kids organize a small science fair. 


If you are feeling a bit intimidated because you fear your lack of science know-how, have no fear! There are tons of great science websites out there. Here are a few of my favs:

https://www.braincake.org [special note on this one: This website is geared to girls and it is awesome! We need more girls in STEM fields so why not start them early?]




Here are some of the science resources on our site:



Have you done any fun science experiments with your kids or have they come up with any on their own this summer? Do you have a favorite science website or blog?Tell us about them!


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Inspire Your Child to Become a Better Writer

Girl Writing

Do you want your child to become a good writer? Start by sharing how you use writing every day, such as lists, e-mails, recipes, directions, etc. To spark your child’s interest in writing tie it to their everyday activities. Here are some simple and easy ways to do that.

  • When you are going to the grocery store have your child make a list of snacks. Even if you can’t read the list, bring it with you and refer to it in the store.
  • Give your child their own calendar. Have her write play dates, doctor’s appointments, library books due, etc. on the calendar.
  • Help him write "Thank You" notes to relatives and friends for gifts or special times together.
  • Let your child pick out a small, colorful notebook and some sparkly pens or markers. Have her keep a daily "Journal" or diary.
  • Help your child find a "writing buddy" in your neighborhood. Let them exchange notes, e-mails, or journals.

The more your child writes, the more confidence he or she will gain, and the more enjoyable writing will become!

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How to Prevent the Elementary School "Summer Slide"

The ending of a school year often leaves parents wondering how they can keep their child’s academic and physical skills sharp during the summer months.

Two great resources to check out are your local library, and your local Parks and Recreation Department.

Most town libraries have a specific summer reading program geared to school age children. In my school district the library offers a themed program that runs all summer. The reading program contains good variety and various incentives to keep children reading. It includes story times, movies, arts and crafts and more.

City or town playground activities help promote physical fitness as well as arts and crafts opportunities, swimming and special events.

Summer is also a great time to give your child an allowance and opportunities to earn money doing small jobs. Talk to your child about budgeting, or saving for an item that the child wants to purchase. One suggestion is to make sure the allowance amount contains coins (for example $4. 92) so that your child is continuing to recognize and count different coins.

Be sure to read my blog during the summer months as I plan to share many fun games and activities to help children keep their learned skills sharp!

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Beyond Facebook & X-Box: Summer fun list for Teens & Tweens

Yippee. School's out. I have always been one of those mothers who prefers the unstructured nature of summer over the frenetic pace of the school year.  That is, until  my kids became tweens. Never is the term tween more apt than in the summer time. They often have outgrown their summer camps but they are too young for jobs. Our kids are so in between, that sometimes they just don't know what to do with themselves. Seems that their fall back is anything technology-based. Which is why my recent quest has been to come up with activity alternatives to Facebook and X-box. Since I know I am not the only mean mom who limits screen time,  I thought I would share my plan with you. I am hoping that people will add to these ideas and together we'll come up with an awesome summer bucket list for our middle school and high school "kids."

The limited technology plan starts with having teens and tweens make their own list of what they'd like to do this summer. If they are invested or if it is their idea, they are more likely to follow through - the story of our lives, right? Suggest that your kids to break their list out by:

  • stuff to do with friends (that doesn't involve mom or dad driving)
  • stuff to do with friends (where parents need to be involved)
  • activities & events to do with family
  • things to do on your own or "things to do when I am bored."

This exercise will mean never having to hear, "Mom, I am bored." My dad always said that admitting to boredom was admitting lack of intelligence and creativity! Can't have that.

Once they have come up with their list, offer a few suggestions, based on personality and interests. Here's a list that I came up with for suggested summer boredom busters:

  • Volunteer in the community. Volunteer Match is a great way to find opportunities that range from a one-time event to a weekly gig. The benefits of this experience goes without saying. 
  • Get outside. In my estimation, there are no excuses not to get outside. The possibilities are endless: bicycling, reading a book on a blanket, playing laser tag in the woods, fishing, gardening, geo-caching,... just to name a few. 
  • Get creative. OK, don't use the word 'crafts' but inspire your kids to channel their inner artist, engineer, or chef.  One of my favorite websites, Instructables.com, has endless fodder for creativity.  For budding writers and artists, summer is a great time to work towards getting published. 
  • Get active. For the kids that start their own business there's paint balling, mini golf, and water parks. For the rest of the gang, there are plenty of ideas that cost little or no money: organize a tournament (volleyball, whiffle ball, dodge ball, etc.), get friends together for  beach Olympics.  Or,  for the planning-challenged, start jogging and chart your personal bests. 

I also thought this list of 101 fun things for teens to do this summer had some great suggestions.  But please, make no mistake: I am not advocating an over-scheduled, over-structured summer. I think that everyone from tots to adults need downtime ... I am just trying to have my kids come up with some unplugged options for summer!

OK, let's hear it: what can you add to my teen and tween summer fun list?







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Help Improve Your Child’s Memory

Good visual and memory skills can help your child be successful in school. You can help improve these skills with a simple, fun activity that takes about ten to twenty minutes. This game can be played on a flat surface at home, such as a tabletop, floor, or bed. With summer here, you can also play this game on a blanket at the beach, or pool!

To do this activity you will need:

  • An assortment of small household items. For example, pencil, eraser, marker, small toy, hairbrush, shoe, slipper, etc.
  • If you are at the beach or pool you can use items from your beach bag. For example, a shovel, pail, lotion tube, flip-flop, sand toy, book etc.

How to play:

  • Select a few items and lay them on the flat surface. For younger children, age three to four, start with no more than four items. Increase the items as your child’s memory gets sharper. For older children, age five to seven, start with six items and build up to more.
  • Once your items are on a flat surface, let your child carefully study them for a minute. Tell your child to turn their back, and close their eyes.
  • Take away one of the items, and hide it behind you.
  • See if your child can guess what’s missing!
  • As your child’s memory gets better, increase the difficulty. Take away two items, then three or more.
  • Have a turn yourself, and let your child trick you!

Simple activities like these can increase your child’s ability to focus and pay attention to detail.

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Learning Through "Discovery"

Information is so meaningful when children learn through "discovery." My class just read a story about being a "Nature Detective." The discussion, following the story, led to some interesting ideas and comments about how they could become a "Nature Detective" in their own life! I wanted to share their excellent ideas and suggestions because they are easy, affordable, accessible, and a fun family thing to do on a nice day.

My students first considered places where they could be a "Nature Detective." Their suggestions included:

  • Backyards
  • Parks
  • The beach
  • Lakes and ponds
  • Woods and hiking trails

Next they listed some things to "detect." Those included:

  • Bugs
  • Butterflies
  • Leaves
  • Shells
  • Seaweed
  • Pinecones
  • Crabs and small fish
  • Stones and small rocks

Then the children thought about ways to find and observe their nature treasures. Their ideas included:

  • Making a list of ten things that they might look for in a certain environment
  • Bringing a magnifying glass to observe bugs, butterflies, and other living things, so they can leave them in their habitat
  • Bringing a plastic zipper bag to collect shells, leaves, pinecones, stones and small rocks, etc.
  • Gluing the findings to a piece of construction paper, and then writing sentences about their findings. Drawing pictures of the "living things" that were left behind with crayons or makers. Then, putting pages together to make their own "Nature Detective" book.

    What a great way for your child to use their imagination instead of the remote control!

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    Your Teen Is Cut From the Team…What’s a Parent to do?

    Sue Blaney

    SchoolFamily.com is pleased to have a guest post by Sue Blaney, a nationally recognized and award-winning author, speaker, and publisher. Blaney is dedicated to supporting parents and helping them successfully raise teenagers. She specializes in communication, and works with parents and professionals at many levels to educate, empower, and connect parents of teens. Visit her website at www.PleaseStoptheRollercoaster.com

    A woman named Sharon called me in tears recently. Her son Adam, a junior in high school, was cut from the baseball team. "You don’t understand," she said through her tears. "He needs this... his social life is non-existent, he has nothing else. Plus he needs this for his college resume. We’re all a mess. I don’t know what to do."

    This is a big deal in the life of her high schooler, no doubt about it. He's crushed, and feeling particularly vulnerable because of his disappointing lack of friends at the moment. "This is going to be a difficult weekend," I warned her. It was clear that she was deeply afraid for how her son was going to handle this, and we talked for a while on the phone. It struck me that not only was she hurting because her son was hurting, she was in pain because of her fear and disappointment for him. Parents get to deal with twice the hurt!


    Fast forward five days ... in the end, the way Sharon handled the situation was brilliant. In fact it was "text-book" perfect. Let’s review what she did and what made it work. You can apply these same steps when you face a crisis with your teen.


    • Give him space; allow him to feel his feelings. The cut came on Friday, and Sharon was dreadfully worried about the weekend. And the weekend wasn’t fun for any of them. On Saturday Adam didn’t get out of his pajamas and he stayed alone in the basement much of the day. He didn’t want to talk to anybody. Sharon let him know she was there for him, that she "got it" and understood how much this hurt, and she gave him the space to nurse his feelings.


    • Don’t let your feelings make things worse. Sharon was hurting all weekend too. But she was careful not to let Adam see how upset she was. This can be difficult for parents because it can be hard not to show your feelings. But, if you do let your child see how upset you are, he may take it that he has disappointed you -- which will make him feel even worse. So you need to be very careful about the emotions you show and how he construes their meaning.


    • Reach out and get support. Sharon called the parents of some of the other boys who had been cut from the team, and in doing so she felt much better. She also contacted a teacher and former coach who knew her son and had a relationship with him. She asked him to touch base with Adam at school; she felt better that he had an adult watching out for him. Sharon never contacted the varsity coach to complain or to express her feelings about this situation; that would have been inappropriate.


    • Get busy. It was going to be a long weekend any way you cut it. Sharon kept herself busy so she was less apt to wallow in worry.


    • Plan your approach with your teen’s other parent. Sharon and her husband talked about their approach and how they could help Adam the most. They agreed that they would give him Saturday to stew, and on Sunday they would try and distract him and lure him out to a movie or something. They agreed that on Sunday evening they would have a heart to heart talk. It helped to have a plan; it was vitally important the parents agreed upon it.


    • Sit down and talk it out when the emotions are less raw. Adam’s two parents joined him in a discussion about the situation. Key message: "We are not disappointed in you. We are disappointed for you." They were able to discuss the disappointment in the context of Adam’s social challenges, and this led to some helpful and honest expression of feelings and concerns. This can be one of the silver linings of a crisis like this: things that have been left unsaid come out into the light of day -- where they can be dealt with.


    • Decide together on next steps; make a plan. Sharon and her husband had agreed ahead of time that they would help Adam make a plan. He needed some coaching around the actions he needed to take and his options. When Adam said he "didn’t feel like it" Sharon shared all the actions she takes in her life when she doesn’t "feel like it" either. There was a lot of honesty shared all around; no lectures. It was a very "adult" conversation.


    So—are you dying to know how it ended? Sharon had to pick herself up off the floor on Monday afternoon when Adam came home from school with a smile on his face and announced that he was joining the track team!


    A situation like this really can cause a family crisis. Parents know when your child is vulnerable and when something like being accepted on a team takes on additional meaning. But even when things don’t work out as planned, new opportunities can arise. And with care and thought, these situations can actually lead to new opportunities for communication and connection.


    Learn from Sharon’s response. Her three most important words to Adam were, "I get it." She understood on many levels how difficult this was for him. And she also knew that he needed gentle, kind but firm guidance to begin to move forward. And with that, he resolved the situation much more quickly than she could have imagined.


    Hopefully they have opened some new doors of communication and they won’t wait for another crisis to talk about difficult things. Adam’s resilience was a pleasant surprise. And you can be sure the life-lessons learned from this experience will be with Adam for a long while.

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    Basic Educational Benchmarks for Your Four, Five, and Six Year Old Child

    Parents often ask me what young children should be able to accomplish before entering nursery school, Kindergarten, or First Grade. Following is a basic list of important skills any young child needs for school success. National standards, reading and writing programs, early math programs and teaching experience helped me compile this basic list.

    By the age of four, your child should be able to:

    • Recognize some letters of the alphabet, primarily letters that appear in their name.
    • Be able to count from one to ten.
    • Be able to count objects to match numbers from one to ten.
    • Be able to hear rhyming words.
    • Be able to recognize and identify eight basic colors. (Red, blue, yellow, green, brown, orange, purple, and black.)
    • Be able to recognize four basic shapes. (Circle, Square, Triangle, Rectangle)
    • Be able to recite their full name, their age, and address for safety reasons.

    By the age of five, your child should be able to:

    • Identify, in order, capital and lowercase letters of the alphabet.
    • Recognize all the letters in their first name. For this age group it could be written in all capital letters, but I strongly suggest using one capital and the rest lowercase. I suggest this because it makes for an easier transition to the printed word.
    • Recognize and identify the eight basic colors, and know four color words. (Red, blue, yellow, and orange)
    • Be able to identify two words that rhyme.
    • Recognize a triangle, circle, square, rectangle, and rhombus (diamond shape.)
    • Be able to count and recognize numerals zero to twenty.
    • Be able to count objects to match numbers one to twenty.
    • Be able to recite their full name and age, address, parent’s name, and phone number. (Again, for safety reasons)

    By the age of six, your child should be able to:

    • Be able to identify capital and lowercase letters, out of order.
    • Recognize the letters in their first and last name. For this age group letters in their name should always be written with one capital letter and the rest lowercase.
    • Be able to count orally to 50, or higher.
    • Be able to count objects to match random numbers 1-50.
    • Be able to write the numerals 0-30, and count forward and backwards from 0-20.
    • Recognize a triangle, circle, square, rectangle, rhombus, and hexagon.
    • Be able to recognize the words for the eight basic colors. (Red, Blue, Yellow, Green, Brown, Black, Orange, and Purple)
    • When given a word ("cat") be able to say a rhyming word ("hat.")
    • Be able to recite their full name, age and birth date, address, phone number, and parent’s name.
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    Good Social and Emotional Development Equals Early School Success

    Part of the framework for early school success is a child's social and emotional development. A positive self-concept, appropriate self-control, and awareness of interacting with others will help your child learn. Play is a great vehicle to build self-confidence and relationships.

    Here are five easy ways to help your child practice and develop these crucial skills.

    • Set up “play-dates” with classmates or neighborhood children. In good weather make sure there is lots of outdoor play. If indoors, make sure it’s a “no electronics” time.
    • Encourage individual creative play by giving your child a few objects and let them create something. For example, paper plates, ribbon, brown paper bags, old buttons, crayons, glue, and scissors, etc.
    • Take 20-30 minutes to explore a park with a slide, swings, jungle gyms, etc. Observe how your child interacts with other children. If your child was shy, or too aggressive “role play” on the way home about what could have been done or said to interact differently.
    • Practice “conversation skills.” Model good speaking (eye contact, clear voice) and good listening (eye contact, nodding) so that your child learns good conversation consists of these two parts.
    • Teach responsibility with a small daily or weekly “job.” (Setting the table, putting objects in the recycling bin, separating darks and lights for the laundry, etc.)
    Simple activities like these allow children to build confidence, take pride in accomplishments, and accept rules and routines in a learning environment.
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    Preparing for College Applications – As Early as Middle School and Younger

    Pleased to introduce a guest blogger this week: Janis Daly. Janis is our director of sponsorship sales, and mom to 2 teen boys. Her oldest is nearing the end of his college admissions process. Janis has some insight, that they gained during the college application journey, to share with families that are just beginning the whole process. 


    February 1st marked the end of the college application process for millions of U.S. high school seniors. After completing this process with my oldest son and hitting SUBMIT eight times, I’ve discovered two key tips worth sharing with parents whose children are years away from this daunting exercise. 

    1. Conveying ideas and experiences through the written word helps your child become more than an SAT score or summary of four years’ grades and extracurriculars. Learning how to articulate on paper: Who am I? and What’s important to me? is one of the few ways an admissions office discovers the person behind the student. Setting the stage to write solid college essays begins with the fundamentals of writing established during middle school and even elementary school. Getting to the point quickly, with well-chosen words, is paramount when you have a 250-, or even 50-word limit to answer a question.
    2. Individual experiences develop rich subject material. In order to write a compelling essay, you need first-hand experiences to reveal personal thoughts and ideas. As you plan your next family vacation, consider whether a trip to a National Park, historical location, or a weekend in the middle of a city, might provide a different perspective than the same spot you visit every year. Let your child, and yourself, become comfortable with trying different activities. Expose your child to situations from which they can learn and grow. Siloing a child’s activities and interests as young as elementary ages translates into a one-dimensional college application 10 years later. Getting your whole family into the groove of trying different things, visiting different places and meeting different people offers experiences that can be drawn upon, or melded together, for a rich personal statement.

    Finally, enjoy your kids and the time you spend together. Senior year descends in the blink of an eye.

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    What Is “Too Much” When It Comes to Young Children And Consumer Electronics?

    National news programs recently reported that the amount of time American children spend watching TV, playing video games, using small electronic devices, or surfing on the computer has increased to almost 8 hours a day!

    I certainly support and use technology to enhance teaching. (For example, during our “Whale” unit in science my students got to hear the actual sounds of Humpback Whales via our classroom computer!) As a teaching tool it can’t be beat. Some of the other benefits are:

    • Many quality games that practice problem solving or reading skills.
    • Working with your child on the computer or playing an interactive video game is an opportunity to do something together.
    • Playing electronic games can help enhance fine motor and eye/hand coordination skills.

    However, as a classroom teacher, I see the detrimental effects that overuse of electronic devices can have on young students. Some electronic activities can have a negative effect on social, emotional and physical development:

    • Playing a video game can’t substitute for a great neighborhood backyard game of “Hide and Seek.” Less physical play has led to a rise in childhood obesity.
    • Too much time spent on electronics can have a negative impact on your child’s sleep habits, and ability to sustain attention in school.
    • Playing video games, by one’s self, increases isolation and erodes social confidence.

    Parents need to find the balance between appropriate use of electronics and overuse. Choose games that enhance learning, are age appropriate, and can be played with others. Limit time spent on personal devices to teach “consumer responsibility” while your child is young.

    School Family note: We have a great Screen Time Tracker available in our Print and Use Tools section.
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    Grandparents Can Play an Important Role In Educating Young Children


    Research confirms the importance of grandparents in a child’s life.  The time that grandparents spend, their patience, and their full-life experiences are invaluable to grandchildren.

    Grandparents are a wonderful resource of knowledge and unconditional love.

    The recent loss of my mother-in-law, Mimi, has me reflecting on all she did to help and support my children, her youngest grandchildren. She was always interactive and interested in what they were doing. She was kind and loving, yet set clear boundaries for behavior.  She was upbeat, enjoyable, and loved life.I will always value her vital role in nurturing my children.

    Here are some tips for grandparents to help nurture and educate young grandchildren:

    • Play board or card games that parents might not have time to play. These will promote math, reading, and following directions skills.
    • Share a hobby or interest that is important to you
    • Read stories and poems to help enhance phonemic awareness
    • Do simple arts and crafts to improve fine motor skills
    • Tell your grandchildren stories of when their parent was young (Children love that!)
    • Share traditions by making photo albums or scrapbooking
    • Cook together, for math and science skills

    Treasure the value that grandparents can bring to the education of young children.

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    Benefits of Community Service as a Family

     "Everyone can be great because anyone can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't even have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve... You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love..."  ~ Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

    Volunteering as a family has countless educational benefits, not the least of which is character development. It's often said that kids who volunteer are less likely to engage in risky behavior, are more likely to feel connected to their communities, and tend to do better in school.

    What better day to do community service as a family than Martin Luther King Day? The service theme for this year's Martin Luther King day is "Make it a day on, not a day off."   Check out the Martin Luther King Day official website to get the details and some great community service project ideas. To get your child(ren) excited about a project or to commemorate the day, be sure to print out these MLK day worksheets

    Have a community service project in the works for you family?

    We'd love to hear about it! 


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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