SchoolFamily Voices

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

An Easy Way To Improve Math Fluency: Count Backward

Parents are well aware of the importance of reading fluency. However, early math fluency is equally crucial. Simply put, math fluency means fast and automatic retrieval of math facts from memory.

For young students it should be as simple as knowing the number that comes “right after,” or the one that comes “right before.” For example, if a child sees a card with the number 22, he should immediately be able to say 23 comes right after, and 21 comes right before.
Students are usually quite good at getting the number that comes right after, but often falter when asked for the number right before.

A simple way a child can become more fluent for the number right before is counting backward!

Here’s how to practice:

  • Always count over multiples of 10. By this I mean counting backward over 10, 20, 30, etc. Counting backward over multiples of 10 tends to be more challenging.
  • For a kindergarten child start with 15 and count backward to 0. When she does that with ease, start with 21 and go backward to 0, and so on.
  • For a 1st grade student, start counting backward from 25 to 0. When that is easily mastered, start in the high thirties (39, for example) and count back to 0.
  • Increase to a higher start number each time your child easily masters the lower numbers you’ve been practicing. The ultimate goal, for early elementary students, is fluent backward counting from 100 to 0.
  • Try counting down before giving her a treat, when traveling, or anytime you have a few extra minutes with your child.


Practicing this simple activity with your young student can be invaluable in promoting number fluency.

> Don't Let Language Confuse Young Math Students

> Improve Math Skills With a Deck of Cards

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Do a “Reading Survey” With Your Child

Do a There is a strategy that teachers use in classrooms to identify various interests in student reading. It’s a concept that parents can easily incorporate at home called a “Reading Survey.”

Teachers use a Reading Survey to discover what really interests a student. We want to obtain this kind of information to plan instruction, reading centers, and classroom libraries. We know from experience that subjects of great interest are likely to keep students engaged in a task.

A Reading Survey is easy to do at home, and it can be helpful for parents, grandparents, caregivers, and other to know what kind of books to get from the library or purchase as gifts. It helps an adult understand a child better.

Following is a step-by-step Reading Survey that is particularly successful and easy for young students in grades K-2.

Here’s what to do:

  • Take a piece of plain, unlined 8.5-inch-by-11-inch white paper.
  • Fold it in half vertically to make one line down the middle, from top to bottom.
  • Then fold down from the top and up from the bottom into thirds, to make two lines across.
  • When you open up the paper, you should have six equal-sizes boxes.
  • Have your child write his name in the top left corner. Add the date in the top right corner.
  • Then, in each of the six boxes on one side of the paper, have your child draw or write in detail about things that interest him, one interest per box. For example, dinosaurs, dancing, trucks, cooking, baseball, music, soccer, etc.
  • As new interests develop, turn over the paper over and add them one at a time.
  • Keep this page in a notebook or on a bulletin board for easy reference. Consult the list when going to the library, buying birthday gifts, or planning trips to museums or aquariums, for instance.

Completing a Reading Survey validates things that are important to your child, and it often turns that reluctant reader into a “can’t get enough” reader!

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Celebrate Spring With Stories and Common Core Activities

Celebrate Spring With Stories and Common Core Activities

Warm weather is coming, and seasonal books, with fun and easy connecting activities, are a great way to celebrate with your young child. A variety of springtime books are readily available at your local library or on an e-reader. Here are two of my favorites, plus simple activities that extend the learning and promote Common Core skills.

Book and Activity 1:

  • Together read The Very Hungry Caterpillar, by Eric Carle
  • When reading is done, go outside to see whether you can find any caterpillars. Let your child be a scientist. Look closely at the caterpillar. Use a magnifying glass, if available. Note size, body segments, and legs.
  • When back inside, cut the bottom part of a cardboard egg carton in half lengthwise. Turn it over to make a caterpillar’s body. Paint or color it. Add cut pipe cleaner or toothpicks as legs and antennae.

Book and Activity 2:

  • Together read It Looked Like Spilt Milk, by Charles G. Shaw
  • Talk about the different cloud shapes your child might see, referencing the book.
  • On a sunny day, take her outside to look at the puffy clouds and let her find any shapes that are the same as or different from the ones in the book.
  • When back inside (or outside if weather permits), have her rip white construction paper into different “cloud” shapes of her own design. Paste them onto a blue piece of construction paper for her own “spilt milk” clouds.

Relating stories to children’s real-life experiences helps them make a Common Core “self-to-text” connection, greatly increasing their understanding of details and settings in the stories.

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A Midyear Checklist for Kindergartners

Most schools have recently passed or are fast approaching the halfway mark in the 2012-13 school year. At this point, it’s important for parents to know if their kindergarten child is also halfway through the required academic skills. Is remediation needed? There is still a large block of time between now and the last day of school to get a student back on track. Or, if your child is ahead of the standards, it’s a great time to accelerate reading and math skills.

This is especially important now that nationwide Common Core standards are in place. The criteria listed below can be used as an informal guide to see if your kindergartener is on track with Common Core progress.

Kindergarten students should now be able to easily complete the following math skills:

  • Count to 50 by ones and tens
  • Write numbers from 0-10
  • Represent number of objects, with a written numeral, from 0-10
  • Recognize that “0” means no objects
  • Start to connect counting to cardinality. (This means the last count represents the whole. For example, counting out 15 pennies and understanding that there are 15 in all.)
  • Know different ways to get 2, 3, 4 or 5. For example, 1+1, 0+2, 1+2, 2+1, 0+3, 1+3, 2+2, 1+4, 2+3, 0+5, etc.

Your kindergarten child should be able to complete the following English/Language Arts skills:

  • Recognize uppercase letters of the alphabet
  • Demonstrate some understanding of letter sounds
  • Recognize and be able to produce some rhymes
  • Know some common, high-frequency words; for example, the, is, me, my, you, of
  • Be able to sort objects into categories, such as shapes, colors, animals, etc.
  • With minimal support, ask and answer questions about key details in stories


Reviewing these 12 skills with your kindergartner now is a simple way to see if your child is progressing adequately. If you have questions about your child’s progress at the halfway mark, schedule a meeting with her teacher.

> Coming Soon to Your School: Common Core Standards

> Get Your Kindergartner Ready for Common Core

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A Mystery Game To Improve Mental Math Skills

Understanding basic addition and subtraction facts provides a tremendous advantage to kindergarten and 1st grade students.

The more a young child can quickly and accurately make addition and subtraction combinations mentally, the greater his math fluency will be. This is important because effortlessly retrieving basic math facts allows students to advance easily to higher level mathematics.

Here is a fun mystery game to help your young child increase his mental math skills. This game can be adapted for either kindergarteners or 1st graders.


You will need:

  • Something to use as a cover: a piece of construction paper, folded piece of newspaper, torn-off magazine cover, paper plate, etc.
  • Twenty small, flat objects, somewhat uniform in size: pennies, Lego pieces, Cheerios, or M & M’s, for example.

Here’s how to play: 
  • For a kindergarten child, start with five of the small objects. Let your child count out five so he knows there is a total of only five. Have him close his eyes or turn away so he can’t see what you are doing. 
  • To practice addition facts, show some of the five objects and cover some.  For example, cover three objects and leave two uncovered. Then tell him to look. Ask, “How many do you see?”  He answers, “Two.” Then ask, “How many are under the cover to make five?” If he is having trouble, uncover to show three and let him count up from two. Do this with all addition combinations of five, in random order: show 4, hide 1; show 3, hide 2; show 1, hide 4. And don’t forget to show 5, hide 0; and show 0, hide 5.
  • To practice subtraction facts, show all five objects, then have him close his eyes or turn away. Move three under the cover. Have him turn back to see two. Say, “We had five, now you see two. How many did I move under the cover?” Do this with all subtraction facts for five, including zero.
  • Once he has easily mastered all “five” facts, gradually work up to the combination facts for 10.
  • For a 1st grade child, start with combination facts to equal 10, then gradually build up to combination facts for 20.
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Boost Your Kindergartner's Reading Skills, Using Common Core Standards

Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are clear and defined templates of skills that students should be learning at each grade level.  They have been written for K-12 students in both English/Language Arts and Mathematics.

Parents can certainly help their kindergarten child learn the necessary skills to ensure understanding of these concepts. Here are seven easy activities, to promote Common Core Standards when reading simple fiction with your child:

  • Carefully look at the cover of the book together, and ask him if it gives any clues of what the story is about.
  • Follow a left-to-right sweep of each page by pointing to words as you read, or as she reads them.
  • Have him tell you what the story is all about, in his own words including key details.
  • Isolate unknown words or sounds, and practice them until they are known.  For example, beginning letter sounds “b” as in boy, or sight words such as “the.”
  • Ask questions about story setting and characters, and help her find evidence in the text to support her thoughts.
  • Help him identify the main idea of the story.
  • Help her connect illustrations to the words. For example, “How does this picture help explain the story.”

Paying attention to story details and finding evidence in the text and illustrations can help your child dramatically increase reading comprehension and fluency.


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Have Kids Practice Writing by Capturing Summer Memories

Children love the spontaneous fun and pure joy of summertime.  While the end of summer is bittersweet, now is the time to help your child capture wonderful summer memories, while practicing writing skills for a new school year. To do so, you will need plain 8 1/2 x 11 paper, pencils, markers, and/or crayons. 


If your child is going into kindergarten:

  •  Ask him to tell you about 3 favorite things he did this summer. Some examples might include attending family picnic, enjoying Fourth of July fireworks, or spending a day at the beach, lake, or pool. Be sure to write the date of the memory somewhere on the page.
  • Use a separate page for each of the 3 memories. A parent or other adult should write the memories at the bottom of the page. Ask your child for specific details, such as “Who were you with?” “What was your favorite food at the picnic?” “How did it feel when that wave splashed you?”
  • Then, have him draw a picture above the words. Be sure he includes the important details in his picture.


If your child is going into 1st grade:

  • Have her tell you about 5 favorite things she did this summer, including specific details and descriptions.
  • Let her (or help her) write the words at the bottom of each page, then have her draw illustrations above. Check to see if her illustrations include the details she told you.


If your child is going into 2nd grade:

  •  Have him list 10 favorite memories from this summer.
  • He should then write his own sentences and draw detailed pictures to complete his summer memory list.


 Save these “Summer Memories” in a family album or scrapbook. On a cold, dark evening next February, bring them out to rekindle warm summer memories!

Try to do this each year. When your children are young adults, they will thank you so much for keeping their summertime childhood memories alive.


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Get Your 1st Grader “Common Core Ready” for Reading

If your child is entering 1st grade, there are certain skills that should have been mastered in kindergarten. To keep those skills sharp, and be first-grade “Common Core Ready” for reading, here are 3 ways to practice during the remaining weeks of summer. These activities are perfect when reading a fiction or non-fiction story together, at bedtime or anytime:


• Ask your child questions about the story and make sure he answers using key details. For example, if reading Dinosaurs Before Dark by Mary Pope Osborne, you might try asking, “What are the children’s names and how are they related?” (Jack and Annie are brother and sister.) Or, “How does Jack escape from the T-Rex?” (He gets a ride on the back of a Pteranodon.)

• If reading a non-fiction text, such as From Caterpillar to Butterfly by Deborah Heiligman focus on setting and events.  Ask, “Where does this story take place?” (Children in the story observe the changes in a classroom) “How does the caterpillar become a butterfly?”  (Egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly…metamorphosis!) 

• Ask your child to answer questions that determine or clarify word meanings in a sentence. When reading Whales by Gail Gibbons, for example, ask, “How do you know a whale is a mammal?” (Breathes air, babies born alive, not hatched, etc.) “What are the two different groups of whales?” (Toothed and baleen.)

 Teaching your child to pay attention to details, setting, events, and new vocabulary in stories will insure that she becomes a proficient and comprehensive 1st grade reader!

Editor’s note: Is your child entering kindergarten? Read Connie’s blog posts on preparing your child to be “Common Core Ready” for kindergarten math.

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3 Summer Activities to Improve Fine Motor Skills

Here are 3 simple activities to help your child improve her fine motor skills. Fine motor skills develop muscles that allow her to draw, print, color, and successfully complete other physical activities. These games can be done indoors or outdoors.

For 3-5-year-olds: The Balloon Toss

You will need 2-3 round or oval balloons (inflated), with each approximately 6-8” in diameter. For 1 or more players.

  • Have your child toss one balloon in the air. The object of the game is to keep the balloon from touching the ground. He can use hands, head, elbows, knees, etc. to keep the balloon in the air. 
  • Say the alphabet, or count together to see how often he touches the balloon before it comes down.
  • When he has mastered one balloon, increase the difficulty by challenging him to keep two afloat. After the game is over, be sure to deflate and properly dispose of the balloons for safety reasons. 


For 6-7-year-olds: The Clothespin Challenge

You will need 6 pinch-type clothespins and an 8-9” paper or plastic plate for each of up to 6 players. For 1-6 players.

  • Put the plate on the ground, about 10 feet away from your child.
  • Give her 6 clothespins.
  • Call “ready, set, go,” and then have her run to the plate, pick it up, and attach each of her clothespins around the plate.
  • When all of her clothespins are attached she should run back to you with the plate. If she is the only player, time how long it took her to do the job. Then, see if she can beat her own time.
  • If there is more than one player, the first to complete the task wins.
  • To increase the difficulty, gradually increase the number of clothespins to a maximum of 10 or 12.


For 8-9-year-olds: The Lego Challenge

You will need a set of Legos and a timer. For 1 or more players.

  • Find a simple picture of a Lego design, either from the box or from one of your child’s favorite Lego designs.
  • Challenge your child to build the structure before the timer rings. 
  • Set timer to 15 minutes and start it. Time how long it takes your child to complete the design.
  • If there is more than one player, the first to complete the task wins
  • To increase the difficulty, decrease the time by 2-minute intervals.


Summer is a great time to hone fine motor skills by doing fun activities!

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

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

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

At least she doesn’t have head lice.

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

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

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

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

I kiss my child and return to work.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

Helpful Resources for Food Allergy Awareness:


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


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3 Basic Skills, and 3 Easy Ways, to Prepare Your Child for Kindergarten Reading

You can help get your young child ready for kindergarten reading by practicing three simple skills this summer:

 1. Recognizing and naming all uppercase and lowercase letters of the alphabet.

 2. Understanding that whole words are separated by spaces in texts.

 3. Recognizing and producing rhyming words.

 These 3 basic skills are important because they set a framework for your child to understand that spoken words can be represented in printed form.

 Here are 3 easy activities to practice these skills:

 1. Upper/Lowercase: When at the beach or at a playground sandbox, have her practice writing letters in the sand with her index finger or a stick. Working in the sand incorporates the sense of touch, as well as the sense of sight. Using more than one sense to practice gives her greater opportunity to remember the letters and their names.  Practice the letters as “partners,” which means writing the capital and lowercase letters as a set (Aa, Bb, Cc, etc.)  This makes for an easier transition to the printed word.

 2. Spaces In Texts: When reading to your child, vertically move a Popsicle stick (or other pointer) after each word to emphasize the space. This visually separates the words, and makes his eyes recognize that spaces exist between the words in stories. It also reinforces the natural left-to-right flow of reading. As you reread stories he is familiar with, let him try moving the Popsicle stick between words. 

 3. Rhyming: Rhyme all the time! Recognizing and producing rhymes is an important part of learning sounds and decoding words. Easily blending the sight and sounds of letters and simple words will help her increase reading fluency.  Good reading fluency is a key component in developing reading comprehension.   Have fun creating silly rhymes together—“The fat cat sat on a mat wearing Mom’s hat.”

 Mastering simple foundational skills like these forms a solid base to build higher-level thinking and reading skills, both necessary parts of kindergarten reading.





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Get Your Child Ready for Kindergarten With Common Core Standards

The National Common Core Standards are sequential skills from kindergarten through high school. They are comprehensive, purposeful instruction to promote student achievement in both English/language arts and mathematics. They have been adopted by 45 out of 50 states. 

 As a parent, you can do a great deal to prepare your child to meet these standards, and I’m here to help you do it! All summer, I will be sharing ideas, simple games, and easy activities to help your young child master important Common Core skills.

 Here are 2 mathematics skills that can be easily practiced before your child enters kindergarten:

 1. Orally counting to 100, by ones and tens: Time spent in the car provides a perfect opportunity for your child to practice orally counting to 100 by ones.  Start slow, have her count 1-10, then 1-20, then 1-30, etc. until she can do it by herself. At this point, she is not matching objects; she’s just counting numbers in a sequence. Practice often, so the numbers flow naturally.

Once she has mastered oral counting, make the counting meaningful and fun by counting “things.” Count objects such as shells collected on the beach, stones found in the backyard, Cheerios in the bowl, pumps on a swing, or choose a recipe to make with your kids and have them count ingredients, rolls of cookie dough, etc. Then advance to skip counting by 10s.  Ten, 20, 30…help your child count to 100 like this until he can easily recite the pattern on his own. At home, have your child gather Legos, blocks, crayons, puzzle pieces, etc. and put them in groups of 10.  Then count by 10s to find the total.

2. Have your child count forward (orally) beginning from a random number, instead of starting at one. Do this within the 1-100 sequence. For example, start at 22 and have him count forward to 53. Or, start at 66 and count forward to 99.

Easily counting numbers, particularly in sets of 10, will greatly benefit your kindergarten child. These skills form the basis for addition, subtraction and solving math word problems.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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“Experts” Give Advice to Kindergarteners About Becoming 1st Graders

My 1st grade students and I were recently having a discussion about how much they have grown and learned this past school year.

I asked them if they remembered how they felt when they started 1st grade. Then, I asked them what advice they would give a kindergarten child about starting 1st grade this fall.

Some tips were very practical,: “Think before you write, then you won’t have to erase so much.” Some were comforting: “If you get a little scared, let your friends cheer you up.” Some were inspirational: “Even when it’s hard don’t give up.  You’ll find you get it.” And some were profound and grown-up: “You can achieve more than you think.” 

The advice from my students was both heartwarming and on point. Here are other tips from the “experts:”


“Always listen to the teacher and you’ll learn a lot.”


“Think hard and you’ll get smarter.”


“Don’t be afraid to try something new.” 


“It’s just a little harder than kindergarten.”


“Subtraction is the best!”


“You get to see all your friends, and you get to really understand math.”


“You’ll make lots of new friends.”


“In math watch the sign, so you’ll know to do plus or minus.”


“It was great; you learn a lot.”


“Don’t say something is ‘easy’ before you know if it really is.”


And my personal favorite: “Use your words to solve problems.”


Thank you 1st graders for your wonderful, “expert” advice! Thanks too, for working so hard this past year. I’ll miss you!




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Preschool, Kindergarten End-of-the-Year Academic Checklist

For most students, the school year is coming to an end in the next few weeks. But as a parent, how do you know if your child is prepared for the next phase? Here is a simple checklist for your preschool or kindergarten child, to insure that key skills have been mastered (For children in 1st and 2nd grade, here's a 1st grade, 2nd grade academic end-of-the year checklist.) 


A child in the last year of preschool should:

  • Know his full name, address, and phone number
  • Be able to count to, and recognize, numbers 1 to 10
  • Be able to count out objects to match numbers 1-10
  • Know basic shapes: circle, square, triangle, rectangle
  •  Identify rhymes
  • Say a rhyming word (for example, you say “hat,” she says “cat.”)
  • Say and recognize letters of the alphabet
  • Know some beginning letter sounds
  • Be able to write his first name


At the end of the kindergarten year, a child should:

  • Be able to write her full name, with one capital letter and the rest lower case.
  • Hear individual sounds in words (for example, know that “van” starts with “v”)
  • Recognize the same sounds in different words (for example, door, doll, dog all start with “d”)
  • Recognize ending sounds
  • Start to blend sounds to make words
  • Start to recognize common sight words
  • Start to sound out words
  • Understand the main idea of a story, that has been read aloud by an adult
  • Write numbers 0-20
  • Know that “0” means no (zero) objects
  • Count to 100 by 10s
  • Identify more than and less than
  • Recognize two-dimensional and some three dimensional shapes: squares, circles, triangles, rectangles, hexagons, cubes, cones, cylinders, and spheres


What should you do if your child has not mastered all of these skills at the end of preschool or kindergarten? Talk to your child’s teacher and see what the teacher suggests you should do over summer vacation to help your child. In addition, keep visiting my blog here at SchoolFamily.com this summer, where I’ll be sharing some fun activities and learning games.


Editor’s note: Don't miss Connie's End-of-Year Checklist for Children in 1st and 2nd Grade).


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My Personal Experience With Kindergarten “Redshirting”

Academic “redshirting” (holding children back so that they're older when entering kindergarten) has been a hot topic lately. But, many years ago, before the term redshirting was borrowed from college football and used in education, I was faced with a similar decision.

My son’s birthday is in November. The cut-off date for children entering kindergarten in our state, at that time, was Dec. 31. This meant my son could have entered kindergarten at age 4. He would have turned 5 the November of his kindergarten year.  My husband and I had many discussions about what to do.

In my heart, I knew that he was not developmentally ready. He was physically big for his age and had good verbal and social skills, but these were deceiving. He was not as mature as he looked. I had the added advantage of being an educator, and so I knew what was expected academically, behaviorally, and socially in early education. 

So, we decided to “redshirt” him a year. We made a financial sacrifice to give him a third year of preschool. He was the tallest child in the preschool class that year, and I’m sure other parents wondered “Why isn’t this kid in kindergarten?”

Twenty-six years later I still feel it’s one of the best decisions we ever made as parents! Here is why:


  • We had to think long-term. Did we want him, as a high school sophomore at age 15, with other students who were already driving? No, we did not!
  • Did we want him going off to college at age 17? No, we did not!
  • Those extra months in pre-school gave time for penmanship, focusing skills, and interest in reading to develop. 
  • Being older in his early school years gave him confidence. That confidence put him in a leadership position, right from the start.


Sadly, so much of a child’s life today seems to be on fast-forward. Based on my personal experience, I am all for the “gift of time” that redshirting delivers. In my opinion, this is one of the best gifts you can ever give your child.

And recently, when I asked my son, Michael, his opinion, he enthusiastically agreed!

Editor's note: Be sure to read our article: Kindergarten Redshirting: Is It Right for Your Child? Please leave a comment on the article and share your thoughts about the practice of redshirting.

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The Most Important Question You Should Ask Your Child’s Teacher, Right Now!

In the beginning of May, I highly recommend that all parents ask their child’s teacher a very important question: “Is my child on grade level?” If the answer is no, there is still enough time left in the school year to take action.

Many parents ask, “What can I do to help him get to where he needs to be?”  Here are five easy tasks to help your child finish kindergarten, 1st grade, or 2nd grade on grade-level, and ready for advancement:


1. Make reading, every night, a priority. Ask her teacher for some grade-level appropriate books that could be borrowed from the classroom or school library. Or, once you know the correct level, get books from your local public library.  Pick a time each evening to read together, for at least fifteen minutes.


2. Start a vocabulary “piggy bank.” When an unfamiliar word is encountered in a story, write the word in a notebook. Next to the word help your child write a simple definition. Once a week read the new words and definitions to “count” how the bank is growing.


3. Write stories. Have your child draw a picture and write a simple story about it. Connect the pictures and stories to events in your family. Visiting relatives, going to the zoo, running errands on the weekends are good subjects for stories.  They help children make a personal connection to their writing. Keep the stories in binder for easy reference.


4. Practice math counting, backwards. Have your kindergarten child count forward and backward from 1-50; have your 1st grader count backwards from 1-100; and have your 2nd grader count backwards from 1-200. Confidently counting forward and backward is important because it makes simple addition and subtraction easier.


5. Connect to 10. Connecting to “10” helps a child know math facts more efficiently. Most children can easily count by 10’s, starting on 10 for 10, 20, 30. But practicing “off the decade” by tens is immensely helpful. Start at 3, for example, and add 10, for 3, 13, 23, 33. Do this type of counting both forward and backward.


These last few weeks of school are a very important time in a young child’s educational development. This can be the time of year when things start to “click.” With a little help, your child can finish the school year confidently and securely on grade-level.


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5 Ways to Celebrate Poetry Month and “Poem in Your Pocket” Day

April is National Poetry Month and this Thursday, April 26, is “Poem in Your Pocket Day.” Both are national celebrations of poetry whereby adults and children are encouraged to share a poem with someone.

Introducing your child to the world of poetry gives him an opportunity to stretch his imagination, practice rhyming, phonics, vocabulary, and other reading and writing skills.  Here are 5 easy ways to introduce poetry into your young child’s world. 

1. Instead of a bedtime story, read some classic Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes.  For example, “Hey diddle, diddle, the cat and the fiddle…” When reading the rhyme, explain that fiddle is another word for violin. Let your child draw and color a picture of a cat and a fiddle. The next night add a cow and a moon. Then later, add a little dog, a dish, and a spoon. Type, or print the rhyme, attach it to your child’s drawing, and then hang it up where she can easily see it and recite the poem. Do similar activities for her other favorite rhymes.

2. Have a family poetry night. Recite a favorite poem that you learned as a child. Let other family members take turns reciting their poem. Saying poems aloud helps your young child hear rhythm, cadence, and correct expression.

3. Together, write a funny poem about your family. “Mom drives a lot, Dad likes to cook, and Mike sweeps the floor, while Meg reads a book!”

4. At the library, get a book of poems for children. Let your child copy or help him write down a few favorites. Keep them in a binder or notebook. As he learns new poems, add them to the collection so they can be read over and over again.

5. Act out a poem. The next time you give her a push on a swing, together recite “The Swing” by Robert Louis Stevenson. “How do you like to go up in a swing, up in the air so blue?  Oh, I do think it’s the pleasantest thing that ever a child can do…” It’s a wonderful, classic poem, written from a child’s point of view, about swinging through the air.

Poems can be about any subject. They can make you happy, sad, or even make you giggle. Most importantly, poetry plays a crucial part in helping a young child enrich the language skills needed for good reading and writing. So, encourage your child to put a poem in their pocket and share it this week!


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Put Colorful Magnetic Letters to Work With These 4 Tips!

Is your refrigerator covered in colorful magnetic letters? If so, put those letters to work! Magnetic letters are a great tool to help your young reader practice sight words, spelling, and reading. 

In my classroom we have an activity called “Build and Write.” We use sets of magnetic lowercase letters and small cookie sheets to “build” spelling words before writing them. Building the word first, with magnetic letters, helps a child see the word in its entirety before writing it down on paper.

Here are 4 fun yet simple ways to help your child learn spelling and reading skills with these versatile tools:

1. Practice spelling or sight words by having your child “build” them on a cookie sheet, refrigerator, or other metal surface.

2. Start with a “base” word to help your child recognize word families  For example, put an “an” on the sheet and have your child say the word “an.” Then put a “c” in front of the “an” to make a new word, “can.” Continue with other beginning letter substitutions (Dan, fan, man, ran, etc.)

3. Use the letters to leave a short note or message for your child on the refrigerator.  Let them “answer” you with their own short message.

4. Use a simple word from your child’s spelling list. Put the letters of the word in random order on the cookie sheet, or other metal surface.  Then ask your child to “unscramble” the letters to correctly spell the word.

Magnetic letters can be especially beneficial to encourage literacy in young children who are not quite ready to write with pencil and paper. Don’t have magnetic letters yet for your child? Inexpensive sets can be found at most discount or dollar stores, or ordered online.


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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