When Smart Students Cannot Write What They Know

Girl Some students have difficulty getting their excellent ideas written down. This can be from a variety of problems such as dysgraphia (a physical problem that prevents handwriting or typing), or a specific language learning disability (like dyslexia). These students can do the homework if given the opportunity to record their answers instead of writing them. (For more information about dysgraphia see Does My Child Have Dysgraphia? For more information about dyslexia see How Do I Know If My Child is Dyslexic?)

Other students struggle so much with written expression that the act of writing consumes all of their mental energy. They may know vocabulary that they cannot spell and if forced to write out their answers, the end product is of low quality. If these students are allowed to record their answers they might produce a much better paper. Using this modification, the students is free to expend all of their mental energy thinking about what they want to say instead of how to get it onto the paper.

Students could record their homework on their computer using free recording software like Audacity or they could use a Livescribe pen. You can learn about the Livescribe here.

Don’t let a problem with written expression keep your child from sharing what he knows. If he is struggling completing his written work, give this a try. If the recorded work is better, then ask for a meeting with his teacher to see if he will allow this modification for homework. Be sure to take the written paper and the recorded one so the teacher can see and hear the difference in quality.

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Simple Tools to Promote Good Writing

Boy Writing Children are great story tellers. It’s wonderful to listen to their detail, expression, and language when they speak of important events in their lives. I often point out to my students that writing a good story is just like telling a good story.

Last week I shared three simple strategies to help your young child become a good writer. This week I want to share two easy ideas to help your child organize their thoughts, and help their stories flow. I also want to share links to graphic organizers to print and use with your child.

 

  • A graphic organizer is a simple chart that provides spaces for organizing thoughts. Using a graphic organizer when planning a story can be a very helpful tool for your child. An organizer that charts basic questions, such as "Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How" can help a struggling writer get started.
  • Children need to understand and use sequential words. Knowing and using words like "first," "next," "then," "after," and "last" helps your child keep their story on track. A sequencing graphic organizer will help your child write their story from beginning, to the middle, to the end.

Often simple visual tools like these are just what your child needs to jump start their writing skills!

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Turn Your Good Reader into a Good Writer

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

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

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

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

 

We all know that grandparents love homemade gifts from their grandkids. But for many of us Christmas sneaks up too quickly and we are left with nothing but good intentions and a store-bought gift. Well with 10 days until Christmas I am here to tell you there is still time for this homemade Christmas gift!  Several years back, a friend shared her brilliant handmade grandparent gift idea that her kids gave their grandparents… get this: year after year!  She called it a memory jar. The beauty of this Christmas present is that your kids can make it as simple or extravagant as time and attention spans allow, and either way your relatives will treasure it.

Here are the basics of a memory jar or box:

  • Brainstorm with your kids about memories they have with their gift recipient. Encourage them to think beyond the big events… perhaps it’s a memory of an everyday routine they have with this person, like filling a bird feeder… or maybe it’s a memory of how that person made them feel at a particular point in time. Tell them to think with their senses.  For example, “One of my favorite memories of Grandma is how her house always smells of fresh bread when we go to visit her.” Or, “I love how Grandpa sings whenever he is working in his wood shop.” 
  • Next, get the paper out and have the kids write down their memories on slips of paper. What a great way to get your kids writing! If your kids are resistant to this exercise you could also have them hop on the computer to type up the memories. Even better, if your child is technology savvy, they can incorporate photos. In fact, for kids who have trouble writing, photos can provide just the prompt they need. 
  • How you package the memories is up to you. Your approach can be as simple as placing the memory notes in a Mason jar and tying a ribbon around the lid with a "Memories" tag that kids created. Or if your kids love Christmas crafts and have the time or inclination, you can have them decorate a box (can find wooden or cardboard boxes at the craft store) with photos, tissue paper, glueables or just about anything. I am partial to providing kids with a range of materials and letting them take charge of the creation. 

Think of how much it will mean to grandparents when they read the recounting of memories big and small (probably over and over). Now how many gifts can you say a) get your kids writing b) give your kids something do while you shop, bake, wrap, nap  ; ) and c) give your parents tears of joy?  Have fun. If your kids make a memory jar or box, we'd love it if you shared photos of their creations on our Facebook page!

 

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Does my Child Have Dysgraphia?

Girl writing At the risk of causing a controversy, I am going to tell you what I think dysgraphia is! The reason I say this is controversial is that the definition of dysgraphia has changed through the years, and I disagree with the direction it took.

Dysgraphia is a neurological problem. People who are dysgraphic do not have fine motor control of their fingers; therefore they cannot write legibly. They cannot control the pencil and make it do what they need it to do.

If a child writes poorly after they have been taught how to write, they are often incorrectly labeled dysgraphic. But, many children are not ready to learn to write at the point they are taught how. I believe this especially to be true of boys who developmentally are not ready to sit down and concentrate on forming their letters correctly. I have personally witnessed many of these children learn how to write quite legibly in middle and upper school. This is because they are developmentally ready to learn when they are older. Dysgraphic people cannot learn how to write legibly because they do not have the ability to control the muscles involved in their hand.

If you have an older child who does not write legibly, it is possible that they can still learn if given proper instruction. I’ll write about that "proper instruction" very soon!

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Help Your Visual Learner with Reading and Math Skills

As a visual learner your child really responds to color, design, charts, lists, and most things that have a clear, strong, and appealing visual image. You can tap into this learning style with the following easy tips and ideas.

Reading and Spelling:

  • Make "sight words" or spelling word flashcards. Write the words with a black Sharpie on large index cards. Always use lowercase letters. Showing the card to your child while he or she identifies the words helps them with quick word recognition.
  • To improve reading organization, place an index card under the line that your child is reading. Let your child move the card down as they read. This allows your child to keep their place, as well as focus on the natural left-to-right eye movement used in reading.
  • To practice beginning letter sounds old catalogs, flyers, and magazines can be very useful. On a piece of construction paper put a capital and lowercase letter, (for example Tt). Have your child be a detective and "hunt" through a catalog, flyer, or magazine and cut out pictures that begin with the Tt sound. Paste them on the construction paper.

For Math:

  • Find a large calendar for your child’s room. Hang it on a bulletin board, closet door, or some other convenient place. Let your child write important events on the calendar. Use it to count days until events occur, practice counting 1-30, and other simple math.
  • Do a "sock sort" to practice "skip- counting." Fill a small basket with clean socks. Have your child visually match the socks. When socks are matched, count the pairs by 2’s to reach the total number of individual socks.
  • Work with a math number grid for number recognition, counting, and addition and subtraction practice.
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Inspire Your Child to Become a Better Writer

Girl Writing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are many simple and effective ways to help your child become a more creative writer. Here are three easy activities to promote creative writing with your young child. Each activity should take about fifteen to thirty minutes to complete.

  • Most writing experts agree that pictures are a child’s first attempt at “writing.” Ask your child to draw a simple pencil sketch, such as a house or a cat. Then ask her questions about her picture that will encourage attention to detail, such as: “What color is your house?” “Does it have a garden?” Then give her crayons or markers to color the sketch. When she’s done ask her to tell you a describing sentence about her picture and print her words underneath. For example, “My big, blue house has a colorful garden.”
  • Take a few photos of a family occasion or event. Help your child put the photos in order. Then paste each one separately on the top of some lined paper. Help him write a sentence or two about each photo. Put the sheets with the photos and sentences into a photo album, to create his own “picture book.”
  • Give your child a small notebook to start their own writing journal. Give her a “story starter” such as, “When I got up this morning, I saw…” “If I could fly I’d…” “I dreamt I was a…” If writing a sentence is too difficult, let her make a picture. You can add the words for her until she can do it herself.

When you build writing time into your child’s everyday life, their ability to create a story will soar!

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Practical Ways to Encourage Writing For a Purpose

Writing well usually begins with writing for a purpose. Here are three simple activities to give writing meaning, and encourage your child to connect the importance of writing and reading to everyday life.

  • Give your child their own large calendar with space in the date box for writing. Encourage him to write down upcoming activities and events. Have your child check the calendar daily. This gives purpose and importance to writing, while subtly teaching organizational skills.
  • Have your child make a “shopping list” for you. Dictate the things you will need at the store, such as milk, eggs, bread, butter etc. Even if you can’t read a thing on your child’s list, bring it with you to the store. Let her know how helpful the list was when you were shopping!
  • Make a simple lunch together with your child, for example a ham and cheese or peanut butter and jelly sandwich. When you are done with lunch, have him write a “recipe” for how you made the sandwich. Next time you make lunch, get the recipe out and let your child try to do it on their own, following the recipe.

In my next post I’ll share some tips and activities for helping your young child begin to write creative sentences and stories.

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Improve Your Young Child's Drawing and Handwriting Skills

In my last post I shared some simple activities that can help your young child improve cutting skills. Today's games are very effective in improving your child's drawing and handwriting skills.

  • Fill a shirt-sized cardboard box top with sand or salt. (Don’t use sugar because your child might be tempted to eat it!) Have your child practice writing letters of the alphabet with her index finger, making sure to practice both uppercase and lowercase letters. Once your child masters the letters, give her an unsharpened pencil to use in the sand or salt. She can trace her name and simple words. You can write a word in the sand or salt and have her copy it underneath your model. This is a great rainy day activity!
  • Use a highlight marker to print letters, names, words, etc. on a piece of paper. (Use any color high lighter except yellow. Yellow is too light.) Have your child write inside the highlight color with a pencil. This gives your child a distinct border in which to work, yet allows him to clearly see his own writing.
  • Take an old cookie sheet. Fill it with a thin layer of shaving cream. Give your child a Q-Tip or unsharpened pencil and let her draw and print in the shaving cream. (This is a fun bathtub activity!)
  • Use your driveway or sidewalk as a giant slate, and let your child use colored chalk to create pictures. This is an excellent way to enhance fine motor skills in a larger setting and the pictures will last until the next rainfall!
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Foundation Skills for Young Learners

The New Year is a time for reflection and resolution.  We tend to get rid of what doesn’t work in our life, and fine-tune what does.

Parents want to know how to maximize their young child’s early learning success, without putting them under too much pressure.

My experience has taught me that when you help your young child learn three core skills, you are on the road to rapid learning and school success.

I call these skills my “Triangle Base.”  They are:

  • The ability to hear sounds in spoken language. (This is called Phonemic Awareness.)
  • Understanding one-to-one correspondence. (In both math and reading.)
  • Understanding patterns. (Visual and auditory.)

Here are three easy and effective ways to practice these skills:

  • The most effective way to practice Phonemic Awareness is to rhyme! Read nursery rhymes or Dr. Seuss books to your child. Make up your own rhymes while driving. Rhyming is a powerful tool to prepare a child for letter sounds and decoding words. The more that your child can hear and say rhymes, the better prepared he or she will be to read.
  • In reading, one-to-one correspondence is simply saying what a child is seeing. In math one-to-one correspondence means seeing the numeral 7 for example, and being able to count out seven objects. A parent can help their child practice these skills by putting their index finger under words they are saying, while they point to it.  For math, roll a die and let your child count out pennies to match the number of dots on the die.
  • To practice visual patterns go on a “pattern hunt” in your house or yard. Look for patterns in floor tiles, wallpaper, curtains, rugs, etc.Your child will become a pattern detective! Listen for auditory patterns in music, such as the “EIEIO” in “Old MacDonald.”  Listen for patterns in stories that you are reading, such as “I’ll huff and I’ll puff and I’ll blow your house in!” in the “Three Little Pigs.”

Understanding these three core skills can lead to good comprehension in both reading and math.  While these are by no means the only skills needed for learning, they form a solid foundation for early academic success.

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Holiday Traditions that Improve Reading and Writing Skills

The Holiday Season is a time for family traditions. Retelling stories from your childhood and establishing new holiday experiences with your own family is one of the joys of the season.

One of my fondest memories, as a child, was listening to Christmas stories with my parents and sisters. As a parent, I continued the tradition of reading enchanting Holiday stories to my own children. As my children grew, I asked them to write Holiday stories of their own. However, Holiday traditions can be so much more than just sharing great books and stories!

  • Reading recipes and following baking directions are a fun and tasty way to make reading meaningful.
  • Reading and writing Holiday cards and family newsletters helps children experience the power of the written word.
  • Writing upcoming events, on your child’s own Holiday calendar, keeps your child organized.
  • Writing gift tags gives writing a purpose.
  • Making Holiday coupons, as gifts for others, offers your child the opportunity to help a family member or friend.
  • Writing letters to Santa or playing the Dreidel game lets your child focus and pay attention to details.

Let this holiday season bring joy to your family, while being a joyful learning experience for your child!

 

[Photo by spiralz- everystockphoto]

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Writing Contests for Kids

Looking for a way to inspire your kids to do a little more writing? Perhaps these contests will do the trick:

Olive Garden's Pasta Tales Contest

This contest will give writers in grades 1 through 12 in the U.S. and Canada the opportunity to tell about teachers that have inspired them.

Prize:  The contest grand prize is a three-day trip to New York City including dinner at the Olive Garden in Times Square and a $2,500 savings bond.  Winners also will be chosen in each grade category and will receive a $500 savings bond and a family dinner at their local Olive Garden restaurant.

Deadline: December 11, 2009

 

 Take the Dare: Dare to be You Essay Contest

This competition is open to all students grades 3-7  (including homeschoolers) in the United States and Canada. 

Prize: cash awards

Deadline: March 31, 2010 

So if your kids complain about being bored over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, tell them to get writing for a chance to win some cool prizes. 

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Pizza Wheel Activity: Teaching Color Words

It’s a colorful world and knowing basic color words are key for your child’s school success!

Here’s a simple to make, and simple to use activity for some color word fun:

With a ruler and a pencil divide a white paper plate into eight sections, like you would cut a pizza. Or, simply print out the  ready-to-color copy of Connie's Color Word Pizza from the Print & Use Tools section.

With a crayon or marker color each “slice” with one of the eight basic colors that children need to know; red, orange, yellow, blue, green, purple, brown, and black.

On a clip-type clothes pin (the kind your child has to “pinch” open) write a color word, using markers.  For example:Write “red” using the red marker, “blue” using the blue marker, etc. Be sure to use lower case letters.

Have your child clip the pins on the edge of the plate, matching color words to the correct color slice.

Once your child can easily match the correct colored pin increase the difficulty.

Write all eight color words, in black marker, on new clips and challenge them to match the word to the color. Help, if needed, until they can do it independently.

You can store this game in a large zip-lock bag, to be played again and again.

This is a great fine motor activity that teaches your kindergarten or first grade child basic color words, while increasing eye-hand coordination.

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How to Sneak Learning into your Child's Play

A parent's summer dilemma: How to strike that balance between letting your kids have R & R and keeping their brains active --to prevent the summer slide. Came across this article that lists 9 tangible ways to create fun, summer learning opportunities. Some really great, imaginative ideas that you and your kids will love. Of the nine, my favorite is to "take a learning stay-cation"! For ideas of places to do this in your area, check out our article about the Top 20 Destinations for Learning. It's all about finding teachable moments!
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First Grade Letters to a Marine in Iraq; "I Hope You're Cozy in Your Tent!"

One of the students in my first grade class has a cousin who is a Marine, recently deployed to Iraq. I decided to make a "learning about writing letters" lesson very meaningful, by writing actual letters to this young Marine named Christopher.

My student's final drafts and pictures were amazing. The children asked Christopher great questions, such as, "How do you stay safe?" "Is it hard to carry all your stuff?" "Will you come and visit us when you get home?" They made poignant comments. "Thank you for keeping us safe." "Stay strong," and one little girl wrote, "I hope you're cozy in your tent!" They drew beautiful pictures to compliment their words.

About a month after I sent the letters we received a reply from Christopher. He "loved our letters and pictures" and shared them with all his buddies. He answered many of the children's questions, and promised to visit when he gets home in December.

He told the children that the letters reminded him of why his mission is so important, and that he will carry the letters with him until he returns home. As I read Christopher's heartfelt reply to my students, I realized just how much a simple letter from home means to a soldier in harm's way.

We all know family or friends who have a military connection. Wouldn't it be great if this Fourth of July your child wrote a note to a soldier, thanking him or her for protecting our independence? 
Imagine how wonderful it would be for the children of America to start a "grass roots" campaign, this Independence Day, to honor our service men and woman as the real heroes and role models they are!
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Mother's Day Reflections - "My Mom's Hair Is Like Polished Wood"

"My mom's hair is like polished wood," wrote one student in my class. Another wrote "Her hugs feel like the ocean waves." Yet another wrote "If I could choose any mom in the world to be my mom, I would choose her."   These are just a small sample of the great writing my first grade students did recently, to honor their moms and celebrate Mother's Day.

Every spring, on the Friday before Mother's Day, our class has a Mother's Day Tribute. This was introduced to our school ten years ago by another first grade teacher, and then embraced by us all. (Thank you Miss Wayland!)

In mid-April we begin writing rough drafts titled: "My mom is special to me because..."

I tell the children to think about all the things that make their mom very special. We talk about "writing from your heart."

Slowly the words begin to trickle, then flow onto their papers. Each child has a unique perspective, and they personalize their tribute so beautifully: "When my mom hugs me, I can feel the love rush through her hug." I love her no matter where I am." "Her voice sounds like birds chirping." "I appreciate how hard she works for our family." "I am always proud of her."

Once their writing is complete, the children begin to practice reading their tribute on a small microphone and speaker system. After many practices they are ready to show their mom how much she is loved.

The moms assemble in our class on Friday morning at 9:00 am, not quite knowing what to expect. When the first child begins to read their tribute, every mother in the class has tears in her eyes, including me!

Each child reads their tribute, than delivers a small flower to their mom. They are greeted with hugs and kisses from moms who are amazed that their first grade child can write and speak so well.

I wanted to share this story because so often we don't give young children the credit they deserve. During this writing process my students worked hard to write beautiful, heartfelt words. They overcame their shyness and had their first experience with public speaking.

But most importantly, they learned that the written word has the power to positively impact another's life.

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The Triangle Base: Three Core Skills All Early Elementary Children Need To Enhance Learning

When parents want to prepare a healthy meal for their child, there are hundreds of cookbooks to guide them. But when a parent wants to prepare their child for school success, there are limited resources at their disposal. That is about to change! I am so happy to be contributing to this blog to show parents simple, fun, and effective ways to enhance their child's ability to learn.

Preschool and elementary-aged children need to develop a certain skill set before they can master learning. Experience has taught me that there are three main skills to be mastered.

I call these skills my "Triangle Base."

These skills are:

· Rhyming (This promotes Phonemic Awareness, a crucial pre-reading skill. Simply put, this is the ability to hear sounds in spoken language.)

· One-to-One Correspondence. (In math, this means seeing the numeral six, for example, and being able to count out six objects. In reading, it means that the child is saying what he or she is seeing.)

· Patterns. Recognizing and understanding both visual and auditory patterns. (An example of a visual pattern would be tile placement on a floor. An example of an auditory pattern would be the "E,I,E,I,O" refrain from the "Old MacDonald Had a Farm" song.)

These three important core skills form a solid base upon which most other educational skills can be built and sharpened. I'll be sharing some tips, games, activities, and resources to help your children learn these core skills and more! Together we will give your children a "head start" that will greatly improve their ability to reach their true academic potential. Hope you will check in often and add your own thoughts and suggestions in the comments.
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National Handwriting Day and Writing Worksheets

Like this handwriting/inauguration idea from the folks at Handwriting Without Tears. Could be a great activity for a long holiday school vacation.

We have a ton of downloadables here on our site, too, including a bunch on writing skills. Hope they're helpful.
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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