SchoolFamily Voices

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

Does Learning an Instrument Help Learning?

by Kathryn Lagden

A couple of weeks ago we shared this fun fact on Facebook:

20% of kids learn to play music. 70% of adults wish they had.

It obviously resonated with folks as it generated a lot of “shares” and discussion, myself included. As a mom to a creative 6-year-old who loves to dance and sing, I’ve been thinking about music lessons and if/when we should introduce them. My own experience includes 10 years of violin lessons starting when I was 8. There were definitely times I’d have happily quit, but I’m so thankful I was forced encouraged to persevere. My musical ability is mediocre at best, but it opened the door to many opportunities over the years. And how awesome is it that now, as a parent, I can plunk out the tune to “Twinkle, Twinkle” on whatever plastic and tinny instrument is at hand.


But does learning an instrument help learning? I was curious, so I did some googling and found these articles interesting. 


6 Benefits of Music Lessons 

Music Lessons Help Children’s Learning 

Musical Training ‘Can Improve Language and Reading’ 

This Is How Music Can Change Your Brain (I really like this one as it talks about the importance of kids being actively interested and engaged)


This video (just under 5 minutes) from Anita Collins is well worth a watch, as it shows exactly what’s happening in the brain as you listen to music and how that changes when you play music.


I am going to encourage my oldest to think about playing an instrument but won’t push it too hard just yet. At the very least I’m hoping he doesn’t choose the violin as even now, 30 years later, I can recall the months of screeching that must be endured to learn the basics.


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Help Your Child Learn Instant Math Recall at Home

"Instant math recall" is the ability to do basic math functions quickly, without resorting to finger counting or paper and pencil. This is an acquired skill that leads young students to correctly solve simple math problems in their head. Here are some simple activities to boost instant math recall training at home.

Use a pair of dice:

Simply roll one die and have your child tell you the correct number of dots on the top surface. Turn it into a game! Congratulate her when she identifies the numbers correctly. Gradually add a time limit of about three seconds. This will encourage her to determine quickly the correct number value, and not count the dots one-by-one. When she is very familiar with the numbers on one die, introduce the second die.

Have her add the numbers on the pair of dice for a total. Start off by rolling the dice several times until only lower numbers appear. Disregard rolls that result in larger numbers. Have her give you the total (sum) for these low number rolls. Gradually build up to the higher number combinations.

Use a similar process to practice instant math recall subtraction. Have him subtract the lower value die from the higher value die, and tell you the difference (remainder).  Once again, start off by rolling the dice several time until only low combinations appear. Gradually build up to the higher number combinations.

As your child gets older, introduce a third die, and add all three together. Subtraction can be simplified by just subtracting the value of the lowest die from the higher of the two remaining dies.

Use a deck of playing cards:

Remove cards until you have only lower “number cards” (two-six). Let ace cards represent the number one. Deal your child two random card and ask him for the total. Set a reasonable time. Gradually move up to higher numbered cards. Eventually, deal three cards to add together.

To practice subtraction, deal him two random cards and ask him to subtract the lower number from the higher number. Eventually, deal three cards and have him subtract the lowest number from the higher of the two remaining cards.

Training with playing cards also reinforce the recognition of the number symbol (9) with the number value (nine diamonds).

Children love to play games! If you play these instant math recall games often, your child should have no difficulty solving basic addition and subtraction problems in his head.


> Improve Math Skills With a Deck of Cards

> An Easy Game To Help Kids Practice Math Skills

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Start a Winter Weather Journal With Your Child

Winter is a great time to incorporate science with reading, writing, and math. A simple way to help your young student do this is to start a weather journal. Your youngster will need a notebook, pencil, and crayons to get started.

If you live where winter is cold and snowy:

  • Help your child keep a record of snowfalls from local weather reports. Mark the date and the amount of snow that fell on that date. At the end of winter, go back and determine which date had the most amount of snow and which had the least.
  • Together read A Snow Day by Ezra Jack Keats. Let her make a picture of herself playing in the snow. Encourage her to write a story to tell about her picture. Before writing, help her understand sequence by talking about what happens first, next, and last in her story. Make sure she pays attention to capital letters at the beginning of sentences and punctuation at the end.

If you live where winter is mostly rainy:

  • Record the number of inches that fall on rainy days, as reported by a local weather person. In a notebook, mark the date, temperature, and amount of rain that fell on that date. At the end of winter, read books about the water cycle to find out what happens to all that rain! One example is Down Comes the Rain by Franklyn Branley and James Graham Hale.
  • Use the journal to introduce and increase different vocabulary words to describe rain and its intensity. For example, help your child understand precipitation and the difference between drizzle and deluge.

If you live where weather is fairly constant all year:

  • Record changes in the wind. Make a simple wind flag by taping a 6-inch piece of crepe paper or ribbon to the top of an unsharpened pencil. Let your child go outside to see if the wind causes the flag to move while she holds it steady. Encourage her to try different times of the day, to see if wind is stronger in the morning or afternoon. Help her make a simple bar graph to show at what time of day most of the week’s wind occurred. 
  • Get stories of different seasons and their weather from your local library. Some examples are Four Seasons Make a Year by Anne Rockwell and Curious George Seasons by H.A. Rey. Ask her to write which season she would travel to if she could, and why.

Using your family’s environment to combine science, reading, math, and writing makes learning very meaningful to a young child.

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Simple Rhyming Songs Can Enhance Early Learning

Music is a powerful tool to help a young child learn. It blends movement and rhythm with words and rhyme to increase phonemic awareness.

Music helps young children naturally cross “over the midline” to understand left-to-right progression, a key element for reading and writing successfully. Music also helps the brain enhance memory.

Putting music to rhymes can help with gross and fine motor skills as well as math practice.

Here are two simple and easily recognizable songs to boost rhyming, early reading, and counting skills:

This Old Man
This old man, he played one
He played knick knack on his thumb
With a knick knack, paddywhack
Give the dog a bone
This old man came rolling home

Examples of the sequential verses are “two shoe, three knee, four door, five hive, six sticks, seven heaven, eight gate, nine line, ten pen.”

Down by the Bay

Down by the bay
Where the watermelons grow,
Back to my home,
I dare not go,
For if I do
My mother will say,
Did you ever see a whale, swishing its tail…down by the bay?

Additional rhyming verses are “Did you ever see a pig, dancing a jig? Did you ever see a goat, sailing a boat?” Or you can use any funny animal rhymes you can create together.

Little students love songs and movement. Incorporating music helps make learning fun and memorable!


> The Five Steps to Phonemic Awareness

> Teach Your Child To Love Reading

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At the Holidays, Celebrate Accomplishments and Set New Goals

The holidays are a wonderful time to reflect on all the marvelous things young students have learned and accomplished during the year. They have grown and changed so much during 2013, physically, mentally, and emotionally. Wasn’t it just yesterday they were babies going off to their first day of school? Now they are little holiday helpers who can read, count, tell time, follow directions, and light up a room with their energy and optimism.

What a pleasure it is to have these young students around at holiday time, eager to show off their newly acquired skills. Give them a chance to demonstrate what they have learned by being true holiday helpers. “Sarah, can you read me the directions for this pudding, while I try to make it quickly?” “Ben, please bring in three logs from the backyard wood pile, and at 7 o’clock bring in three more.” “Michael, please count the place settings on the table to make sure there is a place for all eight of us.” “Megan, please read the baby his favorite Elmo book. He loves that!”

The end of the year is also a great time for young students to set goals. Goals can be short-term: “Help your little brother send a letter to Santa before it’s too late.” Goals can be mid-term: “Read two good books during holiday vacation.” And goals can be long-term: “Make sure all homework is perfect between Jan. 2 and report card day in February.”

Let you child rejoice in what he or she has accomplished during this past year. Now’s the time to also help them understand that future success is easily attainable. Help them set reasonable goals, and show them how proper planning and diligent work can lead to accomplishing these goals.

Happy holidays!


> Mix Holiday Fun With Academics

> Keep Your Child Learning Over the Holiday Season

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Mix Holiday Fun With Academics

The holiday season is a great time for young students. It provides a chance for them to help prepare for family holiday events while reinforcing academic skills. Here are some simple ways to incorporate math, reading, writing, and science while giving your child an opportunity to lend a helping hand.

Gather mixed coins from around the house. Have your child separate the coins into piles of pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters. Practice counting by ones with the pennies, by 5’s with the nickels, 10’s with the dimes. Count and add the quarters. Give your child the opportunity to earn some mixed coins for various holiday jobs, such as helping you wrap presents, setting the table, helping to decorate, etc. If possible, these coins could also be donated to charities or used to buy simple gifts for loved ones.

Together read “The Night Before Christmas,” by Clement Moore, “My First Chanukah,” by Tomie dePaola, or your family’s favorite holiday book. After reading, have a discussion about the book. Ask questions to make sure that she understood the main idea of the story. Have her show you evidence in the text to support her idea.

Enlist your child’s help in signing and addressing cards. The recipients will love the children’s touch on the envelope or card. After the holidays, help your child write thank-you notes for gifts, especially to grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other relatives

Bake cookies or cook favorite holiday recipes together. Young chefs learn about measuring, predicting, experimenting, and the chemistry of making food when cooking together.

The holidays offer a unique opportunity for young children to help, learn, and have fun at the same time.


> Keep Your Child Learning Over the Holiday Season

> Let Children Help, and Learn, for the Holidays

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Make the Most of Museum Visits With Your Child

Museums are marvelous places to learn about our culture—history, music, art, science, and current events. Many families are making plans for summer trips that will include visits to local museums.

I went recently on a field trip to Washington, D.C., where we visited the Ford Theater and the National Museum of American History. I was assisting another teacher on the trip, so my students were there to learn about a subject other than mine. The course teacher provided students with a list of must-sees while in the American History Museum. I noticed that the list was more like a scavenger hunt than a learning experience. Students were trying to see who could find everything on the list first rather than stopping to learn about the exhibit. This made me wonder how to make museum visits better learning experiences.

If you are planning a visit to a museum with your child, consider limiting the amount of the museum you expect him to really study and learn. For example, instead of asking him to visit a whole floor of the museum, you could ask him to focus on a very small area—to become an expert on a given topic. A little research ahead of time can help you figure out something he is interested in and determine where to focus once he gets there. For example, if he has a particular interest in the Civil War, he could go straight to those exhibits. One really interesting exhibit at the American History Museum is the draft wheel that was used during the Civil War. You could read the exhibit together with your child, discuss what it means, and then formulate three or four questions to investigate later. Did all the states use the draft wheel? How many people were drafted this way? What percentage of the Confederate soldiers were drafted into service? What about the Union soldiers? Did they also have a draft?

If your child is not interested in this particular exhibit, allow him to pick another one. The point is to spend enough time at two or three exhibits to make the visit worthwhile. There is nothing wrong with a quick trip through the whole floor, because you never know when something will really spark interest. However, going too quickly through too much material can result in very little learning.

Splitting your time between museums, outdoor memorials, theaters, and other learning activities is also a way to ensure your children make the most from educational opportunities. I felt like I was reliving the assassination of President Lincoln through the eyes of Harry Ford and Harry Hawk as we saw the film One Destiny at Ford’s Theater. After the play, we walked through the room where Lincoln died (in the Petersen House) and saw the room where Mary Todd Lincoln waited to find out how her husband was doing. The time we spent watching the play and visiting the house where he died made the museum inside the Ford Theater even more meaningful.

I have one final thought about museum visits with your children: Don’t overlook small, lesser-known museums. One of my favorite museum experiences is the Wright Brothers National Museum in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Another is the Lora Robins Gallery of Design from Nature at the University of Richmond. These two are very small museums with a big impact on their visitors.

It is time to start thinking about summer vacation. With some advanced research, museum visits can become an important educational experience for your family. If you cannot go in person, consider taking some virtual tours like this one through Ford’s Theater.


> Top 20 Destinations for Learning

> Visit a Museum, Help Your Child Learn

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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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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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Let Children Help, and Learn, for the Holidays

This weekend we received a Christmas card from our niece and her family. I noticed that the envelope had been addressed by her young son. “What a great idea!” I thought.

I called my niece and asked her about this. She’s a full-time occupational therapist, and is also going to law school at night. She said, “I’m so busy that if the children didn’t help out, no one would have received cards this year!”  

This reminded me of the many ways parents can put young “helping hands” to productive and educational work this holiday season.

For example:

  • Counting out dishes and silverware to help set the holiday table.
  • Folding napkins into triangle or rectangle shapes (fine motor skills and shape recognition).
  • Writing out place cards, so everyone knows where to sit.
  • Cutting wrapping paper and ribbons.  Wrapping small presents (fine motor skills).
  • Reading holiday stories to younger siblings.
  • Estimating, measuring, and mixing ingredients for holiday baking (with adult supervision, of course!).
  • Counting out mini-marshmallows for equal amounts in hot chocolate cups.
  • Counting out 100 Cherrios, in sets of 10. Then, stringing them all together so your child has a strand of 100 Cheerios to drape outside, as a holiday treat for the winter birds.
  • If you have not already sent holiday cards, have your first or second grade student help you address, seal, and stamp them. 

Don’t forget to complete this holiday learning experience by having your child send brief thank-you notes to relatives and friends for gifts received. 

Holiday chores for children can be great fun, as well as educational. You might be amazed at how helpful young hands can be!


> Christmas Printables and Worksheets

> Hannukah Printables and Worksheets


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A Fun Game To Learn Addition and Subtraction

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

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


All you will need is:

A pair of dice for each player

A flat playing surface  


Directions for addition:

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

The next player does the same

The player with the highest total wins

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


Directions for subtraction:

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

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

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

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

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


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A Fun Game To Improve Working Memory


Working memory is not a new topic for my blog. I have mentioned it several times before. It is an important topic to learn about because students who have working memory issues often struggle more in school. Essentially, “working memory” is the place in the brain where information is held while being used to do a task.


If I ask my student to write an academic paragraph about the story we just read, he will need to remember the pieces of an academic paragraph as well as what happened in the story. This might go beyond the limits of his working memory. One strategy I teach my students in this situation is to first write down the pieces of an academic paragraph. That way they do not have quite so much to manipulate in working memory. For a better understanding of what it is, read my earlier post called Can Working Memory Problems Cause Difficulty in School? 


I recently ran across an interesting website that claims that working memory (and thus intelligence) can be improved by playing a game called Dual-N-Back


To play Dual-N-Back, you have to remember two things at one time. You have to remember where a box appears on the screen as well as what letter is said. (In the beginning, you have to remember what keys to press on the keyboard to play the game, too.) To top that off, you also have to remember not where it was the last time you saw it, but where it was two times back (or three times back)! Here are the instructions for how to play, but the easiest way to learn the game is to give it a try. I found that at first I could not do it at all, but I quickly got better as I played.


This is a challenging game and actually very fun. Even if it does not improve working memory, it can be just plain fun to play. Some have said that playing it also helps improve a child’s ability to focus his attention. If you find that to be true, let others know about it. That would be a fantastic benefit—getting to play a game that possibly improves working memory and helps focus attention. Best of all, it’s free!


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Turn Halloween Anticipation Into Educational Fun

Children love Halloween! It’s a time of great excitement and anticipation for young students. Starting early in the school year they see costumes, decorations, candy, and all other things Halloween in stores and advertisements. Parents can use this heightened awareness to engage children by practicing skills based on Halloween themes.

Here are three simple educational games that promote math, fine motor skills, and reading. These activities capture your child’s attention and make learning fun:

  • Draw four or five different-sized pumpkins on pieces of 8½ x 11 paper. They can range from 8 inches to 1 inch in diameter. Have your child color them orange then cut them out. Compare and contrast the pumpkins by having her line them up, left to right, from smallest to largest, then largest to smallest. Remove one, and try it again. Have her explain to you why she put them where she did. Reinforce the words “greater than” and “less than.”
  • When carving a real pumpkin together, remove the seeds. Wash and dry them. On a cookie sheet or plate, use the seeds to practice addition and subtraction skills. Say a simple problem, such as “What does five seeds plus four seeds equal?” or “I had 10 seeds. I dropped six. How many do I have left?” Have your child show you the solutions using the pumpkin seeds.
  •  Have a family Halloween treasure hunt. The treasure could be a small amount of Halloween candy or stickers. For younger children, use one or two clues to find the treasure. For older children, use three to five clues. Make the clues rhyme—by writing and reading rhymes, you are promoting phonemic awareness skills. Treasure hunts also promote the value of thinking, following directions, and puzzle solving. If necessary, read the clues to younger children. Write them out for older children to read and follow. For example:

Clue 1: “To find the treasure you must be bold. Look where it’s very cold!” (the freezer)

Clue 2: “The next clue can be found where stories are read. Look below your very own ______!” (bed)

Blending educational activities into seasonal holidays makes learning connections real and meaningful.

More Halloween activities and worksheets

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A Reading Activity for a Rainy Summer Day

Here is an easy activity to promote phonics, spelling, and word recognition, important ingredients when learning to read! 

You will need old catalogs, magazines, flyers, or greeting cards; plain paper; and glue or tape.

  • Help your child write some simple words they know on the front and back of some plain pieces of paper. Put only one word on top of each page (for example, ant, ran, hen, pig, hot, etc.)
  • Then have him find pictures for each letter in the word. For the word “ant,” he might find a picture of an (a)pple, a (n)ut and a (t)ree.
  • Have him glue the pictures on the paper, in that order, and write each beginning letter underneath, to spell out the word “ant.”
  • Staple the pages together to form his own phonics picture book. Add to the book every rainy day, all summer long.

An activity like this helps young children remember what they learn by combining vision, hearing, and touch. This is a fun way to help him increase his “sight” word vocabulary, as well as, reinforce letter/sound connections. Knowing sight words and understanding letter/sound connections are important skills for decoding new words when reading.

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Have Kids Roll the Dice to Learn Place Value

Most kindergarten and 1st grade students can easily understand single-digit numbers (0-9.)

However, knowing double-digit numbers, from 10-99, often is confusing to young math students. 

Understanding “place value” is a key mathematical skill. Place value simply means the position of the numeral in a two or more digit number, and how the position of the numeral affects the overall value.

It helps a child know the difference between a “13” and a “31,” for example. In kindergarten, the focus is on double-digit value or the “ones” place and the “tens” place. By the end of 1st grade, place value is extended to three-digit numbers, or the “ones,” “tens,” and “hundreds” place(s).

Here’s an easy and fun activity to help your child understand place value when creating two-digit numbers. You will need a pair of dice, a pencil, and a piece of paper.



  • Fold the paper in half, lengthwise. Write “Tens Place” at the top of the left hand column, and “Ones Place” at the top of the right hand column.
  • Have your child roll the dice.  If she rolls a “5” and a “2” ask, “What is the smallest number you can make using those two digits? (25) “What’s the largest number you can make using the “5” and “2?” (52)                    
  • Have her write the 25, with the “2” in the “tens” place column and the “5” in the “ones” place column.  Then, write the 52 with the “5” in the “tens “ place and the “2” in the “ones” place. Keep rolling to see how many different combinations can be made.


Children love this game! Roll the dice and play often to help your child easily understand the structure and value of two-digit numbers.

When she’s easily mastered the two-digit numbers increase the difficulty. Fold the paper in thirds, lengthwise. Label the columns “Hundreds Place” on the left, “Tens Place” in the middle, and “Ones Place” on the right. Play with three dice to create the smallest and largest three-digit numbers.


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A "Synonym" is Not Something You Put on Toast!

 A few years ago, when I was introducing word categories to my 1st grade students, I asked if anyone knew what a “synonym” was. I called on one student who was enthusiastically waving his hand. “Oh yes,” he said. “I know, I know. ‘Synonym’ is what you put on toast with butter!”

 I couldn’t help but smile as I started my lesson.

Three categories of words can make creative writing more exciting and interesting for your young child. They are: antonyms, synonyms, and homophones.

Antonyms are words with opposite meanings.  Day and night, up and down, and stop and go, are three examples.  They are important words to know when writing, because knowing opposites automatically doubles your child’s vocabulary! Children as young as 3 years old can grasp the concept of opposites…and love to recite them for you.

Synonyms are words that have the same meaning. Small and little, happy and glad, large and big are all synonyms. Knowing synonyms can help an emerging writer avoid using the same words over and over again in a story.

Homophones are words that sound alike, but have different definitions and spellings. One and won, two and too, days and daze are some examples. “Dear Deer:  A Book of Homophones” by Gene Barretta is a great story. It uses homophones and animal characters in a comical way to reinforce the concept.


Understanding different word choices can often turn a reluctant writer into a creative and confident one! For more reading and writing practice, see our printables for Grade 1-2.

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Kids Grow Up So Fast...And I Like It That Way!

Paper airplanes are taking over my living room.

In the past few months my little boy has developed an origami obsession, and The “Great Paper Beast” has vomited all over my house (see photo). It’s getting on my claustrophobic nerves. I remarked about the paper airplane “Olympics” my kids hosted in my living room and a Twitter friend said, “I miss those days.”

What days,” I wondered? The days of having your kitchen plastered in kindergarten art projects? OR A little boy’s ongoing obsession with all things paper folding? Because, dude, I’ll trade all this paper glamour for ONE whole paper-free afternoon!

Reminds me of when my kids were very small and the little old lady dressed as a cliché accosted me in the supermarket, saying, “Oh how cute! Enjoy them while they’re young, it goes so fast.” I thought, “Lady? Maybe you should take these babies home for 2 hours, and see if you can remember what it is REALLY like!”

Because folks have selective memory when it comes to vomit-covered nights, 2 year whining phases and, of course, paper folding fixations.

I know I’m supposed to yearn for chubby baby smells or toddler mischief. But I just can’t do it. I can’t help myself; I enjoy living in the moment, and, even more, I LOVE dreaming about the next phase. (And the next, and the next…)

When my youngest was potty trained and could buckle himself in the car seat I literally celebrated! What did that mean for me? F-R-E-E-D-O-M. If only a few seconds of extra freedom from all that buckling while running around after the older siblings. I once counted how many times I buckled him into his seat in one day…let’s just say it was A LOT!

Now I’m staring down the barrel of a teen who’s less than a year from a learners driving permit. (I know? How did THAT happen?) And even this fearful stage doesn’t provoke nostalgia for the younger version of her.

Don’t tell her—but I’m secretly THRILLED she’ll be driving soon. And in a few years, I can’t wait to drive off on a mother-daughter college-tour road trip. I’m not saying I’m looking forward to boyfriends and the dating crap sure to follow, but what mom isn’t excited to take photos of her kiddo dressed for her first prom?!

And after all, the paper airplane thing is partly my fault. I searched high and low for a how-to “Klutz”-brand book on folding the best airplanes. I sat down with him and helped create a fleet of dive-bombers, until it was clear he didn’t need my help. I bought an origami how-to bible and a ream of square folding paper.

I take full responsibility for his recent engineering obsession.

I’m just ready to move on to the next fascination.

(Hopefully it’s not bottle rockets!)







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Introduce Your Young Reader to the “H Brothers”

Once young readers learn to blend letter sounds, they can easily sound out a new or unfamiliar word—that is until they encounter one of the “H Brothers!”


The “H Brothers” are consonant digraphs. Consonant digraphs consist of two consonants, joined together to make a single, distinct phonetic sound.


However, “consonant digraph” is not a term you want to use with young readers. So, in my first grade classroom they are known as the “H Brothers.”


The five most common “H Brothers” are “th,” “ch,” “sh,” “wh,” and “ph.”


Here are some fun and memorable sentences to help your child decode the sounds of the “H Brothers:”


  • Theo is thinking about sticking out his tongue every Thursday. (“th”) 


  • Charlie is a train engineer, and likes to say “Choo,choo.” (“ch”)


  • Sheldon is shy and likes it quiet.  Shhh! (“sh”)


  • When Whitman tries to whistle, all that comes out is “Whhh.” (“wh”)


  • Phil likes to practice phonics on his phone. (“f”)


Help your child practice one “H Brother” at a time. Have her look for the “Brothers” in the beginning, middle, or end of words.  (thin, feather, path


Let your child draw pictures of the “H Brothers,” and help him write the sounds they make. Keep the pictures handy for a quick reference. 


Automatic recognition of letter sounds, blends, and digraphs will dramatically increase your child's reading fluency rate. 


A good reading fluency rate is so important because it directly leads to increased reading comprehension.


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Great Kids' Books for Read Across America Day

 Read Across America Day, an annual program of the National Education Association (NEA), is Friday, March 2. Read Across America is a celebration of reading and a celebration of the birthday of Theodor Seuss Geisel, more commonly known as Dr. Seuss.


At SchoolFamily.com, we're all about encouraging reading! Parents reading aloud to their children and kids reading by themselves are both proven ways to help them do better in school—and develop a lifelong love of reading. Reading should be celebrated and applauded—even for so-called "average" readers


Do you have a reluctant reader? Some kids will also be motivated by tracking their progress using our printable Reading Incentive Chart. For other tips on encouraging reading, check out our Building Reading Skills section.


The NEA  lists recommended books under “Teachers’ Top 100 Books for Children.” And in honor of Read Across America, Voices From the Field—the official blog site of Save the Children—has posted a list of top books for children, by age, on their site in a series of posts called Love to Read. The books were chosen by Save the Children’s Early Childhood and Raising a Reader program leaders and specialists.


SchoolFamily.com is pleased to share this list with our readers. Note: The links below for each book are from online retailers. The books may also be found, however, at your local library. Not sure where the nearest library is? Do a library search through PublicLibraries.com, which lists all public libraries by state.



Mine! A Backpack Baby Story by Miriam Cohen


Joseph Had a Little Overcoat by Simms Taback


I Went Walking by Sue Williams


Flower Garden by Eve Bunting


Sail Away by Donald Crews


Nuts to You! By Lois Ehlert


Planting a Rainbow by Lois Ehlert


All Fall Down by Helen Oxenbury


Pots and Pans by Anne Rockwell


Jungle Walk by Nancy Tafuri



Best Friends by Charlotte Labaronne


Mine! Mine! Mine! By Shelly Becker


Sharing How Kindness Grows by Fran Shaw


Sunshine & Storm by Elisabeth Jones


I Accept You as You Are! by David Parker


The Pout Pout Fish by Deborah Diesen


I’m in Charge of Me! by David Parker


I Love it When You Smile by Sam McBratney


I Love You All Day Long by Francesca Rusackas



Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney


Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo


Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan


The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan


Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner


The Stranger by Chris Van Allsburg


Number the Stars by Lois Lowry


Hatchet by Gary Paulsen


The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan


The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare


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Help Your Beginning Reader Become a “Decoding Detective”

 To increase reading levels, beginning readers need the confidence to decode new and unfamiliar words.  A simple way to do this is by building on words they already know.  Teach your beginning reader the fun of becoming a “Decoding Detective:”


  • To sound out a new word, encourage her to look for the “little words inside the big word.” For example, if she’s stuck on the word “together” break it into small parts.  With your finger cover the “gether” part of the word and have her say “to.”  Next, with two fingers cover the “to” and “her” parts and have her sound out “get.” Then, cover the “to” and “get” parts, for the word “her.” Blend the three little words, to-get-her, for the new word “together.”


  • Look for the pattern in sight words.  If he knows the word “the” build on that word.  “The,” with an “n” becomes “then,” “the,” with an “m” becomes “them.”  “The,” with a “re” is “there.”  “The,” with a “y” is “they.”  When she knows the sight word “could” look for the pattern to learn “would” and “should.”


  • Look for “word family” words and show her how to change the word with a new beginning or ending letter.  “An” with a “c” in front, becomes “can.”  “An,” with a “d” at the end becomes “and.”


  • Start with a simple blend.  When he knows the word “tree,” for example, use that familiar “tr” initial blend for other words that begin with “tr” such as train, track or truck.


Once your child learns to decode new words, by building on what they already know, their confidence and reading comprehension will soar!

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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