Learning Disabilities and Social Problems

Children with learning disabilities (especially nonverbal LD) or attention issues often have social problems. I wrote about some of them in an earlier post. But, there is one problem that I didn’t mention in that blog that really needs to be discussed.


It’s a topic that no one likes to think about—or talk about—but it is very important and can possibly affect a person throughout his critical adolescent years. That problem is personal hygiene.


At my school we give reading and dictation support to students who need that help on homework and tests. As a teacher, it is common to work with a student who forgot to brush her teeth that morning. It is uncomfortable for the adult taking dictation, but it creates even bigger problems with her peers. I see this problem frequently.


Less often, I find myself working with a student with a strong body odor. His hair is oily, his clothes are disheveled, and he smells bad. This creates a huge social problem for him! As a teacher of learning disabled students, I have become more comfortable talking to my students about this. I think about how important friends are and how difficult it is to make friends when you are dirty.


If your child has these issues, here are the “talking points” I use. They generally work and thinking them through ahead of time can make the talk easier for you. I have never had this talk with a student who became upset with me, and every time I have talked about these issues with a student, her hygiene has improved.


Here’s what to say:


  • As you change from a child into an adult, you need to take more showers and use deodorant. This is because your body begins to produce hormones that create a strong odor. This is not your fault. It happens to everybody.


  • I have noticed that you often do not smell clean when you come to school.


  • Just using deodorant is not enough. You have to clean every square inch of your body using soap and warm water. When your body is going through the change from child to adult, you really need two showers a day.


  • You have to brush your teeth twice a day. When you go to bed at night, bacteria go to work on any food particles they can find in your mouth. These bacteria create a smell in your mouth. The only way to get rid of it is to brush your teeth.


  • Never come to school without taking a shower, using deodorant, and brushing your teeth.


  • Your friends will appreciate that you are clean and smell fresh when you get to school.


Once your child has heard the talk, ask her every morning whether she took a shower, used deodorant, and brushed her teeth. Eventually, she’ll get into the habit and won’t need the reminder. Remember that learning-disabled children often need explicit instruction on things that other children do without the additional support.


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So, Junk Food in Schools Isn't to Blame for Kids' Obesity?

Wait a minute. Can this be true? Researchers at Pennsylvania State University have released the results of a study in which they found no relationship between children’s obesity levels and the availability of soft drinks, candy bars, and chips at school.


Are you as stunned—and perhaps annoyed—as I am? All the angst and hand wringing that’s gone into banning birthday cupcakes from 1st grade classroom celebrations and eradicating junk-food-dispensing vending machines from high schools has now all been for naught?


Well, not really. Junk food, after all, is junk: high fat, high-calorie, high salt, low-nutrition and, other than tasty, not good. But it turns out that a child’s propensity toward obesity has much more to do with what he eats at home— and after school, and on the weekends, and at friends’ houses—than the French fries he orders for his school lunch. That and the type of food he’s been eating all along. And let’s not forget portion size. 


Perhaps we all should have realized the folly of attacking schools as a source of the childhood obesity scourge. Or, perhaps it’s the only place where we felt we had some control?


What foods have been banned at your children’s schools? And after reading the results of this study, how do you feel about such bans?





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My Teen’s Love/Hate Relationship With Science: A Corn Story

My freshman daughter hates science. Okay, maybe hate is a too strong a word, but she sure doesn’t love it. And that’s all very sad for me since I have a biology degree and made university research my home for 8 years!  She works hard nonetheless and this year she’s studying biology.


Her class has been assigned to read the book The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan. One thing is certain: She hates this book. I’m talking visceral, primal, with-all-her heart kind of hate. For the past 6 weeks my family has been swimming in an ocean of teen whining and complaining.


The non-fiction book starts out chronicling the life and times of the humble corn plant. And that’s the problem. It goes on and on (and on) about corn. It’s dry, boring and seriously stinky reading for a high school student more accustomed to Harry Potter and “Expelliarmus Spells.”


As part of the project, she had to look up 10 common food items in our pantry and note which had corn products in them. She realized nearly every item from crackers to soda pop to all sorts of condiments contained corn in one of its various forms. More interestingly, while completing this assignment, my younger two kids couldn’t help but listen and (shockers!) learn along with her.


The other night 3 teen girls were in my kitchen making peanut butter brownie bar (Carissa's  daughter is second from left in photo), surrounded by two of her friends. About half of the conversation during the mixing and baking consisted of bits and pieces related to the sinister corn syrups and corn stabilizers. (I think the propaganda is getting to them.)


So, for a book she (and all her friends) detest so much, why are they talking about it non-stop? I sent a note to her teacher after the brownie incident to share what I was hearing and seeing at home. And to thank her for creating the love/hate relationship my kid has with this book! How strange—could it be she’s actually learning from a dry, boring, and realistic book? OR, weirder, that she might like it?


The class hasn’t finished the book yet, but I plan to steal it from her when she’s done. I want to know why the unfortunate corn plant has become so despised. 


I do have one kid (my little boy) who loves all things science. And now seeing my daughter diving in and maybe liking a little of it as well, perhaps my genes did transfer after all?



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Why laptops aren't good for all students

One-to-one Laptop Schools—those schools that provide each student with a laptop or tablet computer—may be good for some learners, but not for all. Many schools are also issuing digital textbooks along with laptops to all students. I recently had an opportunity to tutor a student who was in one of these schools. It seems like such a good idea, but for many students there are problems with working this way. The issues I saw with Marcus (not his real name) were significant and he was not doing well in school partly because of it.


First of all, Marcus needed to be able to move easily between his book, homework assignment, notes, and the Word document where he was actually working. Marcus was pretty good at this, but he had trouble holding everything in memory in order to accomplish the task at hand. He could have arranged a split screen, but his laptop screen was small and this would have made everything too small to work with. In order to work with him during our tutoring sessions, I would print out at least some of what he was working with, so he did not have to hold so much in memory.


Secondly, Marcus had trouble keeping up with notes during class. The notes were given to the students as a Word document. They had blanks where students were supposed to add information. Marcus’ job was to fill in the blanks as they went over them in class. Marcus said his teacher typed the answers in so he could see them on a screen, and he was supposed to type them. Marcus was very slow at typing and when he would arrive to our tutoring sessions, his notes were inaccurate. They might be only partially filled in, or the answer for one blank was typed in a different blank. We spent a lot of our time correcting his notes. A student with far-point-copying problems would also produce incorrect notes using this teaching strategy.


Finally, unless Marcus is somewhere he can access the Internet, he is not able to get to the teacher materials (such as videos and animations) to review what he learned that day in class. When Marcus leaves school and goes to after school care, he does not have access to what he needs in order to do his homework. This was also true for Marcus when he was working with me. His laptop was set up to access the wireless at school, but where we worked there was no wireless available for him to use. Therefore, Marcus did not have access to his textbook or teacher’s materials he would otherwise have had.


These issues are every day examples; none of the above addresses the problems that come up when Marcus begins studying for a test. He has even greater problems when it comes time to pull everything together for a unit test or exam. If you have a child like Marcus who struggles with having everything in digital format, schedule a meeting with his teacher to find out if there is the possibility of getting a textbook (the old fashioned kind) to keep at home for him. I use a lot of technology with students, but I will not give up the textbooks for my students—at least not willingly! I think many students really need to have a book in their hands.


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Start Using Those S.A.T. Vocabulary Words Early

We were recently visiting a family friend, a young woman who's a great young mom with two active preschool children. It was impressive to hear her speak and explain things to her son and daughter. I complimented her on her great use of language when talking with them. Her response was, “I thought ‘Why not get them used to the S.A.T. words early? The more they hear them, the more likely they are to remember.’”


I couldn’t agree more!


Helping your child develop and understand a wide range of vocabulary is crucial to good reading, writing, and speaking skills. Hearing and understanding synonyms and related words, from an early age, will not only help your child in elementary school, but middle school, high school and beyond. An easy way to do this is to start using “big” and varied words consistently. Make vocabulary fun by playing this SchoolFamily.com "Word of the Day" game at dinnertime. Use printable vocabulary worksheets, also from SchoolFamily.com, in which your child can practice a variety of vocabulary exercises.


And there's always Scrabble, that favorite family word game in which your child can practice using new words—and learn new words used by other players. Scrabble also offers a free Scrabble Word of the Day word game.


So, the next time you want to take your child on a “promenade” around your “locality” on a “frosty” day, don’t let him forget his “appropriate apparel!”


Editor’s note: Several online sites offer free S.A.T. vocabulary words of the day. One such site is SuperKids SAT Vocabulary Builder.



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5 Ways to Handle A Drop In Your Child’s Grades

SchoolFamily.com's guest blogger this week is Neil McNerney, M.Ed., LPC , author of Homework—A Parent’s Guide To Helping Out Without Freaking Out!


You know the look. It’s the look your kid gives when he comes home from school and you ask him for the report card. Before you even look at it, you have a pretty good idea of the grades. Excuses might follow, or possibly blaming the teacher.


For many of us, dealing with report cards causes lots of stress. If the news is not good, especially if there is a drop in the grades, it tends to be a pretty rough night.


As a family counselor, I view this as a leadership opportunity. Leading our kids during successful times is pretty easy. Leading them when things are rough takes much more thought.


Here are 5 things you can do to handle the report card situation to increase achievement and decrease frustration:


1. Avoid the “D” word. Telling our kids that we are disappointed is sometimes effective, but with grades, it tends to de-motivate. Instead, ask #2:


2. Ask “How do you feel about these grades?” Asking how she feels refocuses the issue on her instead of you. Take your time with this question. Her answer might be “I don’t know.” Stay silent for a while. Even if she isn’t answering, she is still thinking about it. But be careful of #3:


3. Don’t take the bait. Some kids will answer with things like: “I don’t care,” or “A ‘C’ is average. What’s the big deal?” or “You expect me to be perfect!” Ignore these statements. Your kid is trying to get you to react and change the subject.


4.  Ask “What’s your plan?” Ask him what he plans on doing about this. If the answer is “I don’t know,” then say, “One of us will be making a plan. I think your plan might be better than mine.”


5. Don’t punish right away. In fact, consider not punishing. Most punishments we give at the spur of the moment tend to be too severe and don’t work very well. And punishment often decreases motivation instead of increasing it.


Rewards work much better than punishments when it comes to schoolwork, and most parenting experts agree that rewards are the better choice to increase a good behavior.


But parents often tell me it doesn’t seem right to reward minimal expectations, and I agree. Sometimes it’s all about how we phrase something.


“No video games until homework is done,” sounds more like a punishment and will be de-motivating. Consider a small change: “You can play video games after you have shown me your completed work.” This turns it into a reward.


Think about those things that your kid already gets without any work. Now think about making them earn those things instead of just getting them.



 Neil McNerney, M.Ed., LPC is a licensed counselor, university faculty member, speaker, and parenting expert, and travels internationally training parents and professionals. He is author of Homework—A Parent’s Guide To Helping Out Without Freaking Out!, available at www.reducehomeworkstress.com.  For more information, visit www.neilmcnerney.com.

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Should Parents Get a Say in Their Child's Curriculum?

Do you think you should have say in any—and every—aspect of your child’s school curriculum?


What about your neighbor? Or how about the crank who shows up at every school committee meeting, complaining about everything in the curriculum?


In N.H., that may begin happening soon. The state Legislature recently approved a new law that allows parents to challenge any aspect of a school’s curriculum they disagree with, and request the substitution of lessons they prefer.


The substituted material must be approved by the local school district—and the parents in question will have to foot the bill for the materials.


What do you think of this N.H. law? Do you agree with it, as did the majority of the state’s legislators who approved it after overriding the governor's veto? Do you think it’s opening a can of worms for teachers, schools … and students? Let us know by speaking out here!


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A Teacher's Study Tips for Exams

It is about the time of year when teachers begin talking about exams! At my school, we have first semester exams next week. Teachers here spend all of this week reviewing for them to make sure their students know what will be on them.

Some schools, however, do not allow for review time.

If that’s the case at your child’s school, here are some hints to help if he’s preparing for exams without the benefit of having a review week. The first three bullet points describe the “PAT” system for studying, which stands for Prepare, Act, Test.

Prepare to learn. Begin your review by gathering everything together for each course you take. Especially find tests you took and special handouts that helped you to understand the concepts. Pay close attention to points you missed on the tests. If you did not know it when you first took it, it is likely that you still don’t! You will need to figure out how you are going to learn these concepts. (You may have friends who can help you, or you may need a meeting with your teacher.) Throw away extra things such as daily homework that probably will not to be helpful.

Take an action to learn. The actions you need to take will help you to actually remember the concepts on the exam. You can make study charts like the one described here. Be sure to follow the links in that blog post, because it leads to additional articles about studying. One important action is to identify what you already know and what you still do not know. You should spend most of your time on what you still do not know!

Test yourself. Once you have prepared yourself and taken the actions, you need to test yourself to make sure you really do know it. You can ask your parents or friends to call questions out to you. Or, if you made a study chart or cards, you can test yourself using them. Remember—if you are looking at it then you do not know for sure whether you can remember it without looking at it.

One final tip. If it was not important enough to put on a test, then it probably is not important enough to show up on an exam. I will admit, however, that there are some teachers who do not agree with me on this. However, most of us feel that exams should highlight only the most important information from the semester. It is not possible to put everything we studied on the exam, so we pick the most important.

Best wishes with exams! It takes hard work to do well in school. Using the PAT study system can be helpful. Let me know if you have other strategies that work for you.

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Calm Parenting: 8 Ways to Get Control When Your Child is Making You Angry

SchoolFamily.com's Guest Blogger this week is Debbie Pincus, MS LMHC, expert blogger for EmpoweringParents.com and creator of The Calm Parent AM & PM program. Pincus is also the author of numerous books for young people on interpersonal relations.

Why is it so easy to go from “zero to 60” when our kids make us angry? There are many reasons, but I think it’s mainly because we allow ourselves to go to 60. And in a sense, when we get up to 60—when we react emotionally—we’re allowing the behavior of our kids to determine how we’ll behave rather than the other way around.


We do so many things automatically without even thinking about it. This is often because we believe that we need to get our kids under control, rather than taking a moment to stop and think and say, “Wait, let me get myself under control first before I respond.” The best way to prevent yourself from getting to 60 is to recognize when you’re going there—and what makes you go there. In fact, in my opinion, that is probably one of the most important things you can do as a parent.


Here’s a secret: When you get yourself under control, your kids will also usually calm down. Remember, calm is contagious—and so is anxiety. When we as parents are nervous or anxious, it’s been proven that it creates anxiety in our kids. I would even go so far as to say that being emotionally reactive is probably your greatest concern as a parent. Think of it this way: if you can’t get calm—if you can’t get to zero—then what you’re really doing is inadvertently creating the exact atmosphere you’re trying to avoid.


Here’s an example: Let’s say you’re teaching your child how to ride a bike. Your child is not getting it and is being whiny and cranky and talks back to you. You’re frustrated, annoyed, angry, and disappointed, because inside you somehow feel responsible to teach him to learn how to ride this bike, and he just won’t listen. Now you’re starting to get agitated about it. You yell at your child because you’re up to 60. The end result is that your child will probably fall off the bike. Here’s why: He’s so filled with the anxiety that’s surrounding him that he can’t concentrate. He’s feeling pushed to do something and he reacts to it by failing.


What can you do? Instead of snapping and reacting because you feel like you have to get your child to learn how to ride the bike, try turning it around and ask yourself, “How do I get myself to really be calm and how will that be helpful for my child to get to where he needs to be?” Remind yourself that you’re not responsible to get him to ride the bike; instead, you’re responsible to get yourself to zero. From there, you can think about the most effective way to help him learn.


This is why I say that if we can’t calm down we’ll probably create exactly what we’re trying to avoid—failure. Think about someone you know who is calm and serene; their presence helps center everybody else in the room. When you’re calm, that’s the effect it has on your child and your family. It will help your child de-escalate, learn how to soothe himself when he’s nervous or agitated, and will make him better able to do what he has to do in tense moments. And in that moment, he won’t have to fight against you, because you’ve effectively taken that push-pull (the power struggle) away by being calm when he pushes your buttons.


By the way, I understand that nobody wants to go to 60—no one likes to be upset. I think most parents’ goal is to get to zero, but often they just don’t know how to do it. The truth is, everybody has to find the best way to do that for themselves. (I have some ideas about how to do that that I will explain in a moment.) But ultimately, it’s about understanding how important it is not to lose it—and not giving yourself permission to do so.


And there’s a good reason for this. When we hit the roof in front of our kids, what we’re really communicating is “There are no grown-ups at home.” We’re saying that we can’t manage our anxiety. And when you try to manage your child’s behavior instead of your own anxiety, what you’re saying is, “I’m out of control. I need you to change so that I can feel better.” So the goal is to acknowledge what’s going on, and to understand how important it is to get control—and to ultimately gain control of ourselves.


The question you’re probably asking is, “Easy for you to say. How am I going to get there?” Here are 8 ways I’ve found helpful for parents when I work with them:


1. Make the commitment not to lose it. Remind yourself that you’re going to try to stay in control from now on. Notice what sets you off—is it your child ignoring you? Or does backtalk drive you up the wall? It’s not always easy, and I think it’s hard for anyone to control their temper 100 percent of the time, but still, making that first promise to yourself is the beginning of calm—for your whole family.


2. Expect that your child is going to push your buttons. Usually we get upset when our kids are not doing what we want them to do. They’re not listening or they’re not complying. In our heads, we start worrying that we’re not doing a good job as parents. We worry that we don’t know what to do to get them under our control. Sometimes, we fast-forward to the future and wonder if this is how they’re going to be the rest of their lives. In short, we go through all sorts of faulty thinking. And doing so causes our anxiety to go way up. I think the best solution is to prepare for your child to push your buttons and not take it personally. In a sense, your child is doing his job (being a kid who can’t yet solve his problems)—and your job is to remain calm so you can guide him.


3. Realize what you aren’t responsible for. There’s confusion for many parents as to what we’re really responsible for and what we’re not responsible for. If you feel responsible for things that really don’t belong in your “box”—things like him getting up on time or having his homework completed—it will result in frustration. They don’t belong in your box—they belong in your child’s box. If you always think you’re responsible for how things turn out, then you’re going to be on your child in a way that’s going to create more stress and reactivity. So you can say, “I’m responsible for helping you figure out how to solve the problem. But I’m not responsible for solving the problem for you.” If you feel like you’re responsible for solving your child’s problems, then she’s not going to feel like she has to solve them herself. You’re going to become more and more agitated and try harder and harder.

You’re not responsible for getting your child to listen to you; instead you’re responsible for deciding how to respond to her when she doesn’t listen to you. And think about it: If you feel responsible for getting your child to listen, just how are you supposed to do that? How is anyone supposed to get another person to do something; how are we supposed to control what somebody else really does? Instead, decide to be responsible for how you want to deal with your child if she doesn’t listen. Think about the kind of consequences you want to hand out, based on what you can and can’t live with—your own bottom line. In the long run, standing up for yourself will help you be the leader your kids need.


4. Prepare ahead of time. Notice when the anxiety is high and try to prepare for it. You might observe that every day at 5 p.m., your family’s nerves are on edge. Everyone is home from work or school, they’re hungry, and they’re decompressing. For many families, it’s just a terrible time of day; everybody’s anxiety is up and patience is at low ebb. Ask yourself, “How am I going to handle this when I know my teen is going to come screaming at me? What do I do when she asks to use the car when she knows I’m going to say no?” Prepare yourself. Say, “This time, I’m not getting into an argument with her. Nobody can make me do that. I’m not giving her permission to hit my buttons.” Your stance should be, “No matter how hard you try to pull me into a power struggle, it’s not going to happen.” Let yourself be guided by the way you want to see yourself as a parent versus your feeling of the moment.


5. Ask yourself “What’s helped me in the past?” Start thinking about what’s helped you to manage your anxiety in the past. What’s helped to soothe you through something that makes you uncomfortable? Usually the first thing is to commit yourself to not saying anything when that feeling comes up inside of you. In your head, you can say something like, “I’m not saying anything; I’m going to step back; I’m going to take a deep breath.” Give yourself that moment to be able to do whatever it is you need to do to get calmer. I always have to walk out of the room. Sometimes I go into the bedroom or bathroom, but I leave the situation temporarily. Remember: There’s nothing wrong with that. You don’t have to react to your child.


6. Take a breath. Take a deep breath when you feel yourself escalating—and take a moment to think things through. There is a big difference between responding and reacting. When you respond, you’re actually taking some time to think about what you want to say. When you react, you’re just on autopilot. As much as possible, you want to respond thoughtfully to what your child is saying or doing. Make sure that you take that deep breath before you respond to your child because that moment will give you a chance to think about what you want to say.

Think of it this way: When we’re upset and trying to get our child to do what we want, we’re going to press harder. We’re going to try to control them more, to shape them up or talk some sense into them, so we yell louder. And we go from 20 to 40 and it keeps escalating. It might be the time of day. Perhaps your child has had a hard day and then you react to his mood. And then he responds in kind and it just escalates. The anxiety feeds on itself.


7. Keep some slogans in your head. Say something to yourself every time you feel your emotions rising. It can be anything from “Stop” or “Breathe” or “Slow down” to “Does it really matter?” or “Is this that important?” Whatever words will help you, take that moment and go through a list of priorities. I personally keep a mental picture handy to calm myself down: I think of a beautiful place in my mind that always calms and relaxes me. Try to come up with that mental picture for yourself. Working on that will increase your ability to be able to go there more automatically.


8. Think about what you want your relationship to look like. How do you want your relationship with your child to be someday? If the way things are now is not how you want your relationship to look in 25 years, start thinking about what you do want. Ask yourself, “Is how I’m responding to my child now going to help? Is that going to help me reach my goal?” This doesn’t mean that you should do what your child wants all the time—far from it. Standing by the rules of the house and giving consequences when your child acts out is all part of being an effective, loving parent.

What it does mean is that you try to treat your child with respect—the way you want her to treat you. Keep that goal in your head. Ask yourself, “Will my response be worth it?” If your goal is to have a solid relationship with your child, will your reaction get you closer to that goal?


When your child is aggravating you, your thinking process at that moment is very important.  The whole goal is really to be as objective as you can with what’s going on with yourself and with your child. Ask, “What’s my kid doing right now? What’s he trying to do? Is he reacting to tension in the house?” You don’t have to get her to listen, but you do have to understand what’s going on—and figure out how you’re going to respond to what’s going on. Then you can stay on track and not be pulled in a thousand different directions.


The thinking process itself actually helps us to calm down. As parents, what we’re really working toward is “What’s within my power to do to get myself calm?” So the less we can react, the better—and the more we think things through, the more positive the outcome will be. Thinking helps us to be calm and breathe; calm helps us to get to better thinking. Observing ourselves helps activate the thinking part of the brain and reduces the kind of “emotionality” that gets in the way of better thinking.


That’s really what we’re talking about here: responding thoughtfully rather than simply reacting. Someone once said, “Response comes from the word ‘responsibility.’” So it’s taking responsibility for how we want to act rather than having that knee-jerk reaction when our buttons are pushed. And if we can get our thinking out in front of our emotions, we’re going to do better as parents. And that’s really the goal.



Calm Parenting: How to Get Control When Your Child is Making You Angry is reprinted with permission from EmpoweringParents.com. For more than 25 years, Debbie Pincus, MS LMHC, has offered compassionate and effective therapy and coaching, helping individuals, couples and parents to heal themselves and their relationships. Pincus is the creator of The Calm Parent AM & PM program and is also the author of numerous books for young people on interpersonal relations.



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Children Need Experience Making Their Own Decisions

It is tempting as a parent to take control of every part of a child’s life. Parents make sure their children do all their homework, get up on time, get ready for school, eat a healthy breakfast, wear appropriate clothing, and catch the school bus on time. Parents essentially decide everything! At some point in a child’s life, however, parents will not be there to make all their decisions for them.

Children need experience making decisions. They will make mistakes along the way, but you will be there to help them understand the mistakes and to do better the next time. Here are 5 ideas for questions you can ask your child, allowing him to make decisions that don’t impact health, safety, or education.

  • “Do you want to eat broccoli or green beans for supper?” They’re both green veggies, so let them choose to eat the one they like the best.
  • “What do you plan to wear to school tomorrow?” As long as they meet the school’s dress code, they should be able to choose their own clothes from a fairly early age.
  • “Why don’t you check the weather channel and decide whether you will need your hat and gloves tomorrow?” Unless you know it might be seriously harmful for them to go without the hat and gloves, why not let them make a bad decision once or twice?
  • “Are you going to start with your math homework or your English?” Children should not decide whether to do their homework, but allowing them to decide which to do first is perfectly appropriate.
  • “You can play video games for 30 minutes tonight. When is the best time for you to do that?” Some kids will choose to play right when you ask; some will choose to wait until later. As long as they are not spending too much time playing the video game, it probably does not matter.

When I’ve written on this topic before, I’ve heard from parents that they’re afraid their child will make bad decisions. To that I ask, “How will they ever learn to make good decisions if you don’t allow them to mess up every once in awhile?” Children—like most adults—are happier when they feel they have some control over their own activities.


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SchoolFamily.com's Favorite School and Education Videos From 2011

Sometimes kids learn best when music and fun are part of the equation. One way that’s been accomplished by many school districts is through the use of student-performed videos that are created locally and then uploaded to youtube.com.

Here are a few of our favorite school-related videos from the previous year. What were some or your favorites? Is your school working on an education-related video? Let us know!

Addressing the issue of bullying, four young women from Reynoldsburg, Ohio who call themselves the DHJK Gurls—and include friends Daryn, Joy, Hennessey and Kennedy—produced this video called “Inside Voice,” which became a hit on YouTube.

In this video, students at the Ocoee Middle School in Orange County, Florida sing the praises of reading“Read a book, plant a seed, grow your world”—in their performance called “Read A Book.”

At the Hope School-Fortis in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, students used the wildly popular video “Friday,” created by Rebecca Black, and made their own version, which focuses on school and learning and is called “Monday.”

And even though this video is from 2009, it remains one of our favorites. Here, the Scholar Ladies from the Hope School–Prima, also in Milwaukee, sing about homework, studying, and grades in “Scholar Ladies (Get An A On It),” their remake of Beyonce’s hit “Single Ladies.”




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What Does It Really Mean When A Child Is Learning Disabled?

Students who struggle in school are often misunderstood. On Monday, they might turn in work that is beautifully written and thoroughly done. Then on Tuesday, their work is practically illegible, only partially complete, full of misspelled words and grammar mistakes. I believe this is where the expression, “LD means lazy and dumb,” comes from. (Forgive me for even putting that in writing! It is one of my pet peeves. One can never know how hard a person is working.)

LD (learning disabled) actually means this is a person who is intelligent, but for some reason is not able to perform at a level that shows how smart they are. Many, many LD students work three times as hard as a student who does not have the same struggles. Yet, the quality of the product is often different from one day to the next. The inconsistency in work can be attributed to many things. Here are a few possibilities.

  • Problems with working memory. Read my earlier post on working memory and the one on cursive handwriting to understand how working memory issues can affect the quality of the final product.
  • Difficulty with reading. If the assignment requires reading for the purpose of teaching oneself or finding an answer, many LD students do not have the skills to make that happen. Therefore, the final product is often of poor quality due to exhaustion or trying to do multiple tasks at once (remember the question, read to find answer, hold answer in memory, write answer down, form the letters correctly, etc.).
  • Lack of enough practice before being asked to show mastery. Many times students are introduced to a new concept and immediately asked to show that they can do it on their own. Once they do master it, they can do the work just fine. But until then they might turn in low quality work.

What can you as a parent do to help?

Working memory problems can be helped by dividing the task up into steps and writing each step down before proceeding. For example, if your child is asked to write a quote analysis in literature, she should first write down the steps to a quote analysis. Then, she should attempt to write the analysis. This keeps her from having to keep so much information in working memory.

Reading problems can be alleviated by either reading the material to them or relying on technology solutions such as Natural Reader or digital books (like on Kindle or Nook).

If the problem is lack of enough practice, then practice is the answer. Unfortunately, this means you may have to help your child significantly on a particular type of problem before expecting him to do it on his own.

There are many reasons for inconsistent quality of work. Do not make the mistake of assuming your child is not trying. Try to figure out what is keeping them from producing their best work. Then take the necessary steps that lead to improvement. You may need to engage the help of your child’s teacher and the school psychologist.


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Use This Week To Ease Your Children into January’s Increased Academics

In the early grades, January is traditionally a time when schoolwork accelerates.

Young students have been steadily building on skills since the start of the school year. They have also been learning the various routines of their new grade.

Usually academics become more intense and fast-forward starting in January. This week, between the holidays, seems like a great time for children to get physically and mentally ready for that January challenge; at the same time, children also need this vacation time to rest and recharge before going back to meet the increased pace. 

So how does a parent balance “down-time” for their children with keeping their skills sharp?

Here are three enjoyable activities parents can do this week for fun, relaxation—and skill reinforcement:

  • Play board games with the family. Chutes and Ladders, Checkers, Scrabble for Juniors, or any favorite family game are all great ways to relax yet subtly review school skills.
  • Weather permitting let your child get plenty of outdoor time. Running around, riding bikes, skateboarding, sledding, etc. are great ways to hone gross motor skills. Good gross motor skills sequentially lead to better fine motor skills.
  • Read, read, and read some more! Turn off the electronics for an hour or two. Let voice mail answer the phone. Cuddle up with a good book together, or each of you read your own book quietly in the same room. When reading time is done, ask questions about what your child just read. 

Simple, restful activities like these can help young children be ready for all the academic challenges they will face in the New Year. 

Happy New Year, everyone!


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Happy Holidays to Your Family From All of Us at SchoolFamily.com!

On behalf of all of us at SchoolFamily.com, please accept our warmest holiday wishes. We hope that this winter break over the holidays affords you and your children some extra time together, to play, learn, and simply be in one another’s company—with no homework to nag the kids about!

As the New Year begins, you can count on SchoolFamily.com to bring you timely, thorough, and practical ways to help you help your children succeed in school—academically, socially, and emotionally. 

Until then, here’s a terrific read about helping your kids be grateful and find happiness amid the materialism of the holidays. And if you’re among those who are looking to the New Year as a fresh start at school for your kids, this story may be of special interest to you.

Best wishes and happy holidays to all from SchoolFamily.com!




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Gratitude vs. Materialism: Holiday Happiness is Simpler Than You Might Think!

SchoolFamily.com’s guest blogger this week is Dr. Christine Carter, Ph.D., a sociologist, award-winning blogger, and author of RAISING HAPPINESS: 10 Simple Steps for More Joyful Kids and Happier Parents. Visit Dr. Carter’s website at Raising Happiness.  For information on her online classes, see the bottom of the blog post.

The holidays are a mixed bag, happiness-wise, even for the most Martha Stewart-y among us. They are ripe for deep joy (more on that later), but rampant materialism and excessive busyness fuels stress, anxiety, and the perils of sleep deprivation.

First, the bad news: The holiday season brings with it boundless opportunities for unhappiness.

Cultural messages about the holidays are typically materialistic. Amped-up advertising tempts us, and our children, at every turn. (Yesterday, I found one of my daughters going through the recycling, pulling out catalogs I’d tried to get rid of. She couldn’t believe I’d dare recycle an American Girl catalog—the gall!).

Holiday retail sales reports are taken, quite literally, as a marker of our collective well being and health. These economic numbers aren’t trivial, but they’re definitely not the only important indicator of our well being on which the media can report.

All this materialism doesn’t make us happy. Materialistic folks tend to be dissatisfied with their lives, have low self-esteem, be less integrated into their community, find less meaning in life, and be less concerned about the welfare of others. The list goes on and on: Materialistic people are also less satisfied with their family lives, the amount of fun and enjoyment they experience, and they are more likely to be depressed and envious.

Kids aren’t exempt from this either. Materialistic kids don’t do as well in school, and are at greater risk for depression, anxiety, and unhappiness; and they are less inclined to connect to and help others in their neighborhood and community.

How can the holidays possibly be happy with all the prompts to think materialistic thoughts and the push to buy, buy, buy?

Now here’s the good news: Gratitude can stave off the emotional dangers of the December holidays.

Here’s why: When we consciously practice feeling grateful and expressing our gratitude to others, our perception changes. We start to see the world and our lives differently. We don’t notice little grievances and daily hassles. Our brains simply can’t keep track of all the stimuli coming in, and our conscious focus on the positive simply doesn’t leave much room to ruminate on the negative. Gratitude changes what we see, hear, and feel—and what we don’t.

Ever have that experience where you notice something for the first time—then afterward, you start seeing it everywhere? For example, after I looked up the definition of “itinerate,” I soon started seeing that word everywhere. I’ve since seen and heard it used so frequently I can’t believe I didn’t know what it meant before.

A similar thing happens when we start trying to look for things to appreciate in life: They start popping up everywhere.

Teaching our children to focus on what they are grateful for can change their perception, too, making them at least partly immune to some of the materialistic messages that arrive with the holidays and Santa.

Research suggests that this grateful perception can have a wide effect on kids’ lives, well beyond Thanksgiving dinner. When we get into the habit of looking for things for which we feel grateful—and when we practice expressing gratitude to others—we become more grateful people, year-round.

And grateful children and teens tend to thrive. They get higher grades, are more satisfied with their lives, are more integrated socially (e.g., they feel like they are a significant part of their communities), and they are more likely to experience “flow” in their activities. They show fewer signs of depression. Grateful teens also tend to feel less envy—something to remember the next time your kids get the “gimmies.”

Moreover, grateful kids are more motivated to help other people, perhaps because they feel more connected to others on a macro level. The researchers who conducted one study investigating this among middle school youth believe that gratitude can help “initiate upward spirals toward greater emotional and social well-being”—not just in our kids, but in society as well.

So if the holidays are bringing lots of material gifts into your household, may they also bring great gratitude. Need ideas for holiday traditions that foster gratitude? Check out this podcast on my Greater Good blog.

Dr. Carter offers online classes through her website, Raising Happiness. The 10-week Winter 2012 class begins on Monday, Jan. 9, 2012. Parents will learn practical skills for increasing happiness; instructions for making routines easy and fun; skills for getting kids to do their chores without whining or nagging; an easy method for helping kids deal with difficult emotions; and more. To register, visit Online Parenting Class sign up.

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During the Holiday Break, Take Time Off to Relax and Enjoy Your Children


Students who struggle in school need the holiday to rest, relax, and have some fun. When school is in session, they put forth more effort than other students. Additionally, they are spending time doing things they really do not like. Everyone deserves some time away from the stress of their normal work—you, from whatever your routine is, and your children, from their school work.

Imagine what it would be like if your boss asked you to practice filling out your time sheets while you are on vacation, because you normally have difficulty filling them out accurately! That is like asking your child to practice writing academic paragraphs while she is supposed to be having fun.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe in learning at home. I have no problems with playing educational games with your children. But, the games should really be fun and not similar to typical schoolwork.

Please enjoy this holiday season with your children. Have some hot chocolate and cookies. Play outside. Go to the park. Paint some pictures. Watch some movies. Play some video games. School will start again, soon enough!

Happy holidays to you all.

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Federal Study on Bullying Examines States' School Policies

This week, you may have heard about results of a new studying on bullying released by the U.S. Department of Education. The study was commissioned by the feds to gain information about the existence and strength of bullying laws and policies in schools districts in all 50 states.


The results of the study are decidedly mixed. While most states and school districts today have some form of anti-bullying measures, some don't go far enough—or carry much weight when it comes to enforcement or punishment. 


“Every state should have effective bullying prevention efforts in place to protect children inside and outside of school," said Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, in a statement issued Dec. 6 when the study was released. “This report reveals that while most states have enacted legislation around this important issue, a great deal of work remains to ensure adults are doing everything possible to keep our kids safe.”


Called the Analysis of State Bullying Laws and Policies, the 200+ page pdf of the report is available here for those who'd like to tackle the government tome. For the rest of us, SchoolFamily.com has done the heavy lifting, culling the most important details and presenting them here for our readers.


The defining moment for the beginning of state bullying legislation and school district policy on bullying began right after the horrific shootings at Columbine High School in 1999. In fact, due to the events at Columbine—and in relation to a local bullying-related suicide—the state of Georgia became the first state to pass legislation requiring schools to implement bullying prevention programs. From there, the following breakdown shows how others states have responded with their own policies, according to the study:

  • From 1999 to 2010: More than 120 bills enacted by state legislatures either introduced or amended education or criminal statutes to address bullying and related behaviors in schools.
  • In 2010: 21 new bills were passed.
  •  In 2011: 8 additional bills were passed as of April 30, 2011.
  •  From 2006 to 2010: 35 states enacted new laws regarding cyber bullying.
  •  Only two states—Montana and South Dakota—remain without bullying laws (Note: At the time of the study, Hawaii and Michigan were both listed as states not having anti-bullying laws; however, Hawaii passed bullying legislation in July 2011, and earlier this month, Michigan did as well). 

It’s also worth noting that as of April 2011, Texas was the only state without any requirement for schools to create bullying or harassment policies. That changed in June 2011, when Gov. Rick Perry signed legislation requiring Texas public school districts to create and adopt formal bullying policies.  


Key Findings of the Study: What's Up With Bullying Laws in States?

  • 46 states have some type of bullying laws—but three of those states prohibit bullying without actually defining the behavior that’s prohibited.
  • 36 states prohibit cyber bullying
  • 13 states specify that schools have jurisdiction over off-campus behavior if it creates a hostile school environment.
  • States with the most expansive anti-bullying legislation have school districts with the most expansive anti-bullying policies. However, there were some school districts located in states with less expansive laws that expanded their policies beyond the state’s minimum legal expectations.


School Violence and Student Safety

The Department of Education’s study noted that the most recent survey on school violence and student safety is one conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). That survey measured the frequency of bullying at schools as reported by school administrators, and came up with these findings:

  • 39 percent of middle school administrators reported bullying took place on a daily or weekly basis
  • 20 percent of elementary and high school administrators reported bullying took place on a daily or weekly basis
  • 19 percent of middle schools and 18 percent of high schools reported daily or weekly problems with cyber bullying, either at school or away from school.

The NCES survey also measured how often students ages 12-18 were the target of bullying during the past school year:

  • 21 percent of said they had been made fun of by their peers
  • 18 percent said they’d been the subject of rumors
  • 11 percent said they’d been pushed, shoved, tripped, or spit on
  • 6 percent said they had been threatened with harm


Cyber Bullying

The NCES survey reported that 4 percent of students age 12-18 reported having been cyber bullied in the year prior to the study. In addition, according to other related studies, up to 20 percent of all students age 11–18 may have been cyber bullied at some time. And in a 2010 study, the same percentage of students—20 percent—reported having been involved in the cyber bullying of other youths.  


Being Teased and “Ignored On Purpose”

School surveys of elementary and middle school students indicate that bullying is higher among those in elementary and middle school. Of more than 11,000 elementary and middle school students surveyed, 61 percent of girls and 60 percent of boys reported they’d been “teased in a mean way,” while 22 percent of girls and 33 percent of boys said they’d been threatened with physical harm. An ostracizing form of bullying—being “ignored on purpose”—was reported by 46 percent of girls and 31 percent of boys.


Effects of Bullying

Earlier studies show a correlation between bullying and poor psychosocial adjustment in children, according to the Analysis of State Bullying Laws and Policies. A 2001 study showed that students who were bullied had difficulty making friends, experienced poorer relationships with peers, and felt an increased sense of loneliness.

Other research shows that bullied students have increased anxiety levels, psychosomatic symptoms, and experience higher rates of eating disorders and aggressive-impulsive behavior problems. Youths who are bullied have also been shown to be at greater risk of developing poor self-esteem, depression, and suicidal thoughts and attempts. Studies show that children who are chronically bullied have lower academic achievement and higher rates of truancy and disciplinary problems.

For complete details on the Analysis of State Bullying Laws and Policies study, visit the study at ed.gov.


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Can We Postpone The Holiday Hustle and Bustle?

A few years ago, my husband’s office holiday party was postponed ’till January because they simply couldn’t find a Friday night to host it. However, that party was quite possibly the best (better late than never) holiday party I’ve ever been to! We laughed and snorted just as hard at the white elephant gifts, which were still wrapped in red and gold paper with sparkly bows and candy canes—just as if it’d been December. And we definitely enjoyed the evening together sans kid and without the stress of two other events the same night!


It got me thinking …


What if we could postpone some of the crazy, umpteen, school holiday events? If we did, would I get laughed out of the PTO? Would my Facebook page light up with criticisms and Bah Humbugs? Or would I get extra eggnog at the next parent-teacher conference?!


I’m being serious. Think about it. Would it be so terrible to have a band concert the last week of January? Half the time there are only a few Christmas songs on the playlist, and it’s been renamed the Winter Concert as it is. I don’t know about you, but we get more snow in February than December anyway!


Imagine if the piano and dance recitals, the band and choir concerts, or even the 2nd grade school play were delayed until January? You know what that would do? It would allow my family to concentrate on OUR holiday in a way that focuses on FAMILY TIME.


I’ll volunteer to host the ugly sweater party in February! Cookie exchanges? Oh honey, I’m game for cookies year-round!


Why do we insist on heaping numerous activities and parties into 2 or 3 short weeks in December? Maybe the answer is in picking and choosing and letting the things slide that aren’t high on your family’s priority list, and then making an even bigger deal of the events that mean the most to you and yours.


For my family that holiday priority list would include the occasions where my whole family is involved. Things like church Christmas parties—where the teenager is involved with wrapping little kid gifts, the younger kids sing Christmas carols, and my husband cooks up 14 hams. Another tradition I wouldn’t postpone are our Monday family service nights where we bake up treats and deliver them secretly to neighbors, (they always know it’s us, and we can’t figure out how!). Extended family gatherings will always be high on our list as well as several other community—and yes, school—holiday events.


I’m not suggesting we postpone EVERY holiday event…but there must be way to make the holidays less chaotic, because December in my world is crazy right now!


What usually-held-in-December event would you postpone for a month or two?

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When School Lunch Is A Cold Cheese Sandwich

It’s happened to all of us. Your child tells you the night before that he’s out of lunch money in his account at school and needs it for the next day—or else.

That “or else” used to mean a stern dressing-down by the even sterner “lunch lady.” It was embarrassing for your child, but she got over it.

This week, a school in Rhode Island opted for a more punitive method that’s becoming the norm for more and more cash-strapped school districts—giving children who are out of school lunch money a cold cheese sandwich for their lunch.

The Rhode Island school’s policy allows for a child to receive three free hot lunches when their lunch money account is at zero before getting the “cold” shoulder, er, sandwich, for their fourth lunch.

Rhode Island isn’t alone in this policy: in 2009, large school systems such as the Albuquerque Public School district instituted the “cold cheese sandwich” policy—often referred to as a “courtesy lunch”—along with hundreds of other districts across the country.

Problem is, kids feel singled out and humiliated when handed their cold cheese sandwich, which comes with a piece of fruit and a carton of milk; that apparently makes the lunch nutritious according to Department of Education guidelines. But most kids and their parents say such a meal is not filling or appealing.

And for kids already stigmatized by receiving free or reduced-cost lunches, getting slapped with a cold cheese sandwich feels like insult added to injury.

But it gets worse. Students in the Edmonds School District in Washington actually have their hot lunch trays taken away from them in the lunch line if they owe money on their lunch account, and are presented with the cold cheese sandwich instead. Talk about humiliating.

The decision to give a cold cheese sandwich for lunch is a local one, according to information in a 2009 study done by the School Nutrition Association. In “The Bottom Line on Charge Policies,” a statement from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service read: “All full price policies for school meals are matters of local discretion. This includes decisions about whether or not to extend credit to children who forget their meal money or whether or not to provide an alternate meal to such children. Therefore, a school could decide not to provide meals to children who must pay the full price for their meals but do not have the money to do so. In some cases, the PTA or other school organization may establish a fund to pay for children who forget or lose their money. Schools should ensure that parents are fully aware of the policy adopted for children who do not have their meal money.”

What’s the policy in your children’s school? Have they ever received a cold cheese sandwich for lunch?

Editor's note: For healthy, nutritious school lunch and lunchbox ideas, visit our new SchoolFamily.com Recipe Share. Do you have a good recipe you'd be willing to share? Send it to us and we'll include it on our site!

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Bah humbug on teacher gifts, say Alabama lawmakers

Have you and your children decided on what teacher gifts you’ll be giving for the holidays? If you’ve chosen a $25 gift card and you live in Alabama, you’ll want to reconsider—lest your gift sends a teacher to jail.

A new law prohibiting certain gifts to public officials and employees—narrowly defined to include teachers—took effect in the southern state earlier this year and is being put to the test in these next few weeks before the holidays, as children search for the perfect teacher gift.

Kids in Alabama who've fallen asleep with visions of sugarplums (or Hanukkah dreidels) dancing in their heads may be disappointed when it comes to selecting holiday gifts for their teachers.

Outlawed teacher gifts include “hams, turkeys or gift cards with a specific monetary value”—although that specific dollar amount wasn't specified. Homemade gifts—those that aren’t worth much, monetarily speaking—are still okay, so cookies, knitted oven mitts, baskets of fruit, breads, etc. are permissible.

But should a teacher receive a more valuable gift, he or she might be found guilty of breaking the state’s ethics law and could face up to a year in jail and a fine of $6,000.

Yes, it’s as ludicrous as it sounds.

According to this report from the Associated Press, Alabama Republican Senator Bryan Taylor, who sponsored the legislation, said the new law prevents teachers from favoring one child over another, i.e. theoretically favoring the better gift-giver, and protects families who can’t afford to give big teacher gifts.

 “In every classroom, there is a Tiny Tim who can't afford a turkey or ham,” Taylor told the AP.

However, it seems that Alabama’s teachers are paying the penalty for a handful of Alabama lawmakers and lobbyists who were brought up on corruption charges not long ago. While I’ll bet they weren’t found guilty of giving a Christmas ham to the people they were trying to influence, their criminal actions effectively lowered the boom on teachers. And the state Ethics Commission wouldn’t consider exempting teachers from the law, saying “The suggestion that it is harmless for a school child to give a Christmas gift to their teacher ignores the potential for abuse.”

As anyone with kids knows, it's so convenient to opt for purchasing a book or a book gift certificate or gift cards from stores where teachers can purchase classroom supplies. It’s the rare teacher who receives a fancier gift. But even gift cards are out in Alabama, unless the card is purchased through an organization like the local PTO with individual donations of no more than $5 per child.

So, children of Alabama, you'd better get busy baking or knitting if you want to give your teacher a holiday gift. Bah humbug, indeed.

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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