SchoolFamily Voices

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

1st Graders Suggest Top Books for Kindergarteners

In preparation for my school’s annual “Reading Week,” I asked my 1st grade students to name their favorite kindergarten books, and tell me why they liked them. Their answers were impressive. Here are their thoughtful recommendations:

A Snowy Day, one student offered, because, “It always reminds me of how much fun it is to play in the snow, and how delicious hot chocolate is.”

Three students liked the I Spy books. One commented, “I like being a detective.”  Another said, “I’m always happy when I find things in the book, and every time I read it, I get better and better at finding things.

One boy’s favorite book was Where’s Waldo? “It reminded me of when I got separated from my dad in [a] Lowes [store] and had to find him!” Another liked Where’s Waldo in Hollywood, because “I’m really good at it! 

One boy’s favorite was Shark. “I really like learning about nature,” he said.

Another chose Danny and the Dinosaur, because, “I like fiction and I wish I had a dinosaur for a friend!”

One young man’s choice was Dog in Boots. “I have a dog, and he always hides in boots, too!”

Two girls loved One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. “It helped me learn about numbers and colors,” they both said. 

Two boys agreed that Cat in the Hat was their favorite. They thought that “Dr. Seuss was so funny,” and they loved stories that made them laugh.

Two children liked Little Brown Bear, because they both have “tons” of stuffed bears!

One student’s favorite was The Mitten. “It made me think of when I lost my mittens,” she said.

One student remembered her love of Tales of Brer Rabbit. She proudly said, “It’s funny and good, and I got to take it home because I could read it.”

Three children loved “All the Berenstain Bears books,” because, as one said, “The Bear family is just like my family.”

 Discussing favorite kindergarten books with my 1st graders has reinforced one of my lifelong beliefs.  That is, if you are looking for a good book, talk to someone who reads books… and truly enjoys them!


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Have Kids Roll the Dice to Learn Place Value

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

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

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

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

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



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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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Kindergarten Math: The Common Core Standards and 4 Geometry Activities

Math being taught in kindergarten classrooms today includes geometry as children learn about different geometric shapes.

This is due to the establishment of the Common Core Standards for Education, which was developed by the Common Core State Standards Initiative, a state-led effort coordinated by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO).

These standards affect both English and math curricula. The Common Core Standards are specific, purposeful instruction to promote student understanding and achievement in grades kindergarten through 12.

Simply put, the Standards are the way to ensure that American students will have access to a quality, equitable education.

In kindergarten, an important element of the Common Core Standards for Mathematics is the recognition of geometric shapes, and how they relate to the physical world. The ability to identify, name, and describe 2- and 3-dimensional shapes, in kindergarten, is a distinct advantage in understanding math concepts.

Some examples of 2-dimensional shapes are circles, squares, rectangles, triangles, hexagons, and a rhombus (diamond shape.) Some examples of 3-dimensional shapes are cones, cylinders, cubes, and spheres. Have your child learn some of these shapes by using SchoolFamily.com's Geometry Printables.

In addition, here are 4 easy activities to help your kindergarten child understand and make connections to these math shapes:

  • Purchase an inexpensive Hula Hoop. Use this as a large circle for spatial games. In the back yard, lay the Hula Hoop flat. Help your child practice moving inside, outside, above, below, beside, and near the hoop.  Have him practice until he can easily follow the spatial direction. For fun, let him practice the correct spatial words by giving you directions to move about the hoop!
  • Use Play-Doh, rolled into long “snakes.” Form the snakes into circles, squares, triangles, etc. Talk about the shapes that have “corners and sides.” Talk about what makes some shapes different, and what makes some shapes alike.
  • Build shapes, with sides and corners using Popsicle sticks. Glue them to 8 pieces of ½”x 11” colored construction paper. Print the words naming the shapes on the bottom of the paper. Be sure to use lowercase letters. To construct a circle, run a steady bead of glue around the middle of a piece of construction paper, giving the circle about a 5” diameter. Cut a piece of yarn or string and set it on the glue circle. Let it dry thoroughly overnight.  Hang up all the different-shaped papers in your child’s room, where she can easily see and reference them.
  • Go on a three dimensional shape “hunt” in your house. Look for tennis or soccer balls (spheres,) sealed soup, tuna or other cans (cylinders,) and cones and cubes. Offer a treat, sticker, or some other reward for each shape found!

Knowing geometric shapes can help your young child better understand his physical world—and be on the right track in kindergarten math.

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What Is a Language Learning Disability (LLD)?

Language is more than the words we speak to one another. There are many parts of the language process and if all are working as expected, we give little thought to it. But if a person is struggling with language, they may have a language learning disability (LLD).

Children with a language disability struggle with language in a variety of ways. Some have trouble saying what they want to say: They have trouble finding the right words, talk really fast, have an unusual cadence when they speak, or simply sit there trying to figure out how to get their point across. While I have worked with children like this, it is more common that the issue is related to writing their thoughts on paper. They may have no trouble understanding or telling me the answer, but if I ask them to write it down they can’t do it. Children who cannot express what they know either orally or in writing are said to have a problem with expressive language.

Oral and written language impairments are easy to see. But, when the language problem happens inside a child’s brain, it is harder to diagnose. For example, some children have a hard time processing what you say to them or what they read. They may be slow processors or struggle with the syntax of language. They may not understand the subtle differences in expression, especially if there is sarcasm involved.  They might have trouble organizing their thoughts, storing them in memory, or pulling them back out of memory. At times we refer to these children as having a receptive language problem because they have difficulty taking in language and making sense of it. But, it is really more than just not understanding what others say, or what they read. It can also involve thoughts generated by the child himself.

Dyslexia is a specific language learning disability that can manifest itself in a variety of ways. If you want to learn more about it, read my earlier post, How Do I Know If My Child is Dyslexic?

Language is extremely complex. Therefore, disabilities that relate to it are also complex. LDOnline offers an excellent explanation of a variety of language disorders and how they affect a child in school.

If you suspect your child has a language learning disability, you need the help of a psychologist or a speech and language pathologist who is trained in diagnosing and treating these disorders. There is no quick fix, but with proper help these children can be very successful in school and life.

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Introduce Your Young Reader to the “H Brothers”

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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Great Kids' Books for Read Across America Day

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


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


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


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


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



Mine! A Backpack Baby Story by Miriam Cohen


Joseph Had a Little Overcoat by Simms Taback


I Went Walking by Sue Williams


Flower Garden by Eve Bunting


Sail Away by Donald Crews


Nuts to You! By Lois Ehlert


Planting a Rainbow by Lois Ehlert


All Fall Down by Helen Oxenbury


Pots and Pans by Anne Rockwell


Jungle Walk by Nancy Tafuri



Best Friends by Charlotte Labaronne


Mine! Mine! Mine! By Shelly Becker


Sharing How Kindness Grows by Fran Shaw


Sunshine & Storm by Elisabeth Jones


I Accept You as You Are! by David Parker


The Pout Pout Fish by Deborah Diesen


I’m in Charge of Me! by David Parker


I Love it When You Smile by Sam McBratney


I Love You All Day Long by Francesca Rusackas



Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney


Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo


Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan


The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan


Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner


The Stranger by Chris Van Allsburg


Number the Stars by Lois Lowry


Hatchet by Gary Paulsen


The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan


The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare


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School Shootings: Help Your Child Process Tragedy in the News

Our hearts and thoughts go out to the residents of Chardon, Ohio after the tragic shootings at Chardon High School on Monday, Feb. 27. As of this writing, three of the five teenage victims have succumbed to their injuries. TJ Lane, identified as the shooter, reportedly told police he’d been bullied at the school.


Tragedies like this raise myriad questions and can trigger grief reactions from children—and from parents as well. How should your handle your child’s confused feelings? How do you reassure your child that her school is safe (assuming you think it is safe)? Does her school have a strong anti-bullying program, and does it go far enough?


Perhaps the most pressing question for parents is how to help their child comprehend and interpret such tragic, frightening news. Our SchoolFamily.com experts say that parents should begin by managing, as much as possible, what their children see and read about the event in the media—on television, in newspapers, via the Internet, and on social media sites. While children may be reading at an advanced level, few are emotionally prepared to handle details of tragic and catastrophic events. Read more about this in Help Manage Anxiety About Current Events, on SchoolFamily.com. And regardless of the cause, parents can help their children handle overall anxiety by reading Help Kids Learn to Manage Stress.


What if your child is being bullied? Or—what if your child is the bully? Start by reading our articles on bullying prevention, which include information about preventing your child from being a bully’s victim, to teaching your child empathy.  To protect your child from online bullying known as cyberbullying, learn the red flags to watch for in this SchoolFamily.com guest blog post by bullying prevention expert Dr. Michele Borba.


If your suspect (or know) that your child is a bully, read the no-nonsense tips about what to do in this two-part guest blog post by Annie Fox, author, online educator, and host of Cruel’s Not Cool, an anti-bullying online forum.


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There is No Place for Sarcasm in the Classroom

“Jackie, is it all right with you if I start class?” 


This seems like a harmless question, doesn’t it? When teachers say it (and I am guilty at times), they are being sarcastic, because they know it isn’t up to the student whether they start class or not. What they really mean is that Jackie is talking or otherwise goofing off and keeping class from starting. Most kids can laugh this off and jokingly respond, “Sure, Ms. McCoy. I’m just now finishing up.”


But some kids don’t take it that way. Some are hurt by that rhetorical question. Some do not understand sarcasm, even this kind, which is relatively benign.


According to Susan Fitzell, an expert on teaching students with special needs, “There are people, students included, who cannot read the difference between sarcastic humor and intentional meanness.” (See Susan’s “No Putdown Rule” article for information on how sarcasm has become an acceptable part of our culture.) Almost all sarcasm has the potential to be hurtful. Even people who do “get it,” can have their feelings hurt.


If your child does not understand sarcasm, you might need to alert his teacher to it. I like to think about whether what I am saying to my students is as respectful as what I would say to a peer. That might be a good talking point for you if you need to talk to your child’s teacher. Respectfully ask, “Would you say the same thing in a faculty meeting to one of your friends?”


There are many kinds of learning difficulties and some of them affect social situations as well as school. For more information, you should read my earlier blogs, Social Skills and Learning Disabilities, and Poor Social Skills Can Lead to Bullying.


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Help Your Beginning Reader Become a “Decoding Detective”

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


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


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


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


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


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

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Should Principals Have Control of Students' "Off Campus" activity?

Most schools have rules for how students should behave while on school grounds, and many have a written code of behavior that students—and occasionally parents—are required to sign.


It's also long been the case that the off school-property behavior of students who hold leadership positions, play sports, or participate in extra-curricular clubs or organizations is held to a more rigorous standard. If the captain of the field hockey team is caught at a party where alcohol is present, for example, she is typically disciplined, often in the form of lost practice and game time.


However, many argue that legislators in Indiana have gone too far by voting to give school principals virtual 24/7 oversight of students and their activities.  A bill that received recent approval from the Indiana House of Representatives gives broad power to principals, allowing them to discipline any student for off-campus behavior that reflects badly on the school—in the principal's opinion.


Called the “Restoring School Discipline Act”—but referred to by some critics as the "Principal in Your Bedroom" bill—the legislation removes the “unlawful activity” clause, which is currently state law, thereby allowing principals to suspend or expel any student in grades K-12, for behavior or speech that could "reasonably be considered to be an interference with school purposes or an educational function," or when necessary to "restore order or protect persons on school property."


As vague as those conditions sound, the bill's sponsor, Republican State Rep. Eric Koch, insists the bill is ultimately about preventing cyber bullying (note that the term does not appear anywhere in the actual bill). “In limiting grounds for suspension and expulsion to only ‘unlawful’ conduct," Koch reportedly told a local newspaper, "current [state] law ties the hands of school officials to effectively deal with dangerous and disruptive behavior, including cyber bullying,”


Those against the bill, which must be approved by the Indiana Senate to become law, say in theory it could be used against students who speak out about something their principal deems detrimental to the school. Likewise, students who participate in an activity their principal feels isn't in keeping with the school's culture—say, a political rally; a particular summer job; even a student’s choice of attire outside of school—could be suspended or expelled.


Do you think this legislation goes too far? Once outside the school setting, do you think students should be beyond the purview of their school principal?


UPDATE: The bill has since been amended.  If it is approved by the Indiana Senate, a 14-member commission will be formed to study the issue further. However, the House must also approve the amended version.


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Vacation Fun, No Reservations Required!

School vacation can be a great time for family fun. Here are some simple ways to keep young children productively engaged, using all five senses (note that these activities can be enjoyed either at home or away on vacation):


If at home, check the schedule at your local library. Many have special reading events planned, or other activities that could be of interest to your child.  


On your cell phone, or other recording device, let your child read and record a short story or poem for you, a grandparent, or other family member.  This helps a young reader hear his own reading fluency.


If weather permits take a “nature walk” in your neighborhood, local park, or vacation destination. Gather samples of leaves, pinecones, acorns, flowers, shells etc., and glue them to construction paper for a nature collage.


With small objects such as Legos, pennies, or small rocks, play with the different ways to make a total of “10.” (9+1; 5+5; 6+4; etc.). When she masters the various ways to make “10,” addition and subtraction will become much more automatic.  This dramatically helps improve math fluency and accuracy.


Play a guessing game. With eyes closed have him guess what an object is by its smell. Scratch an orange, peel an onion, squeeze a lemon, unwrap a Hershey’s Kiss, or sniff a favorite pickle! Tally his correct guesses.


Keep a daily “vacation journal.” In a small notebook, paste post cards, photographs, or simply draw pictures of your family’s activities for that day.  Next, have your child write short sentences to describe the pictures. Help her write the sentences, if needed. This can become a treasured family vacation keepsake.


With simple creativity, winter break can be a fun yet constructive week for young students!

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Basic Student Skills: 5 Ways to Learn to Be a Proactive Student

 Often when we get a new student at our school who is learning disabled (LD), we say something like, “She hasn’t learned how to be a student yet.” What we mean by this is that she has not yet realized that good students take an active role in their learning. Good students do certain things automatically, and she has not yet figured those things out.


Parents may be able to help if they have a child who is like this. Here are 5 things “good” students do automatically that LD students may not yet know how to do:


1. Bring pencil, paper, notebook and other necessary supplies to class. Parents can help by making sure their child has these supplies in his book bag, and has an appropriate storage space for them. For some suggestions about this, see A Notebook System that Aids With Organization.


2. Complete all homework, print it out (if needed), and bring it to class. LD students need to have a system in place that assures they know what is due for each class. If a child’s school has an online system where teachers post their assignments parents can make sure their child knows how to access the system. Many LD students forget how to logon or forget their password, so parents can assist with this until their child becomes comfortable. If the school does not have an online system, teachers might provide assignment sheets or assignment calendars/notebooks. Many LD students need help recording what their assignments are, so parents may have to contact the teacher to ask for help. See When to Talk to the Teacher if your child’s homework struggles are keeping her from succeeding in school.


3. Look at the teacher and take notice when he says certain words like “listen up,” or “this is important.” Parents can practice using teacher language with their child at home. For example they can walk up on their child when she is playing and say, “Listen up!” to get her attention. Students also need to take notes on what the teacher has identified as important. Some students can benefit from technological assistance such as the Livescribe Pen.


4. Dress neatly and act in a manner that shows you care about being in class. I am not sure all students understand that appearance does make a difference. If a student looks neat and clean and is looking at the teacher, then the teacher will see that and give the student positive attention.


5. Participate by asking and answering questions. A student should ask for help when confused. This also shows that he cares about what is going on in class. If the teacher feels that he cares, she will make an extra effort to help when needed.


This is a lot to take in at once! I suggest that parents identify an area where their child is struggling. They should make a plan with their child for how to fix the problem, and work on that until it is mastered. Then, they should select next problem area to work on.


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Should School Start Later for Teens?

Ever try to wake a sleeping teenager? It’s a time-consuming undertaking that’s frustrating for everyone involved, especially on early morning weekdays before the sun is even up.


That’s the reality for many parents and teens Monday through Friday, in order for the teen to get to school on time—and we’re talking school start times between 7-7:30 a.m. For those who must catch a school bus, back up about 20-30 minutes earlier, and we’re talking the wee hours.


Take our Poll: Does School Start Too Early for Your Teen


There’s been a fair amount of conclusive research and expert opinion that teenagers need more sleep rather than less.  [Listen for the applause and the “I told you so” looks from nearby teens.] But in many school districts across the country, school start time for teens—and even some middle school tweens—is getting earlier and earlier.


Since everyone is cost cutting these days, especially local governments and school districts, many schools say they’re starting earlier due to budget-friendly tiered busing schedules. This means that older kids—high school and middle schoolers—are picked up earliest, during the first tier of morning busing runs (they’re also dropped off earliest in the afternoon as well). Next come older elementary school students, and in the last tier are kindergarteners, who often are picked up by their buses as late as 8:30 a.m.


Do you struggle with getting your teen up and out the door 5 days a week? (Maybe more if your child has clubs, sports, and/or job commitments on the weekends.) And do you worry that your teen's lack of adequate sleep may be detrimental to his grades?


If so, take heart. Two women decided enough is enough and formed a not-for-profit organization to address the issue. StartSchoolLater.net, co-founded by Maribel Ibrahim and Terra Ziporyn Snider, Ph.D., is staffed by an 8-member steering board (the women occupy 2 of the 8 seats) and a 12-member advisory board, and advocates exclusively for later school start times.


More than simply presenting solid research findings and hosting the conversation, however, this group is seeking nationwide legislation to mandate that no public schools start before 8 a.m. 


What do you think? (I know my high-schooler would heartily agree!)

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This Valentine’s Day, Keep Sugar Levels Low and Math Levels High

Young students love Valentine’s Day and all the treats that go with it. This year try something different. Instead of letting your child eat those small Conversation Hearts, use them for some easy, fun, and colorful math practice! Here are four ways to practice “Heart Candy” math:


1. Estimation. Empty a bag of small Conversation Hearts onto a plate or into a small clear jar. Have your child guess how many there are. Write down her guess, and let her count to see how close she came to the correct amount. Help her count if she has trouble. Then go to…


2. Skip counting. Put the hearts in sets of two. Let your child count by “two’s” to get the total. Ask him to tell you if the total is “odd” or “even.” Then take some away. Next, have him put the hearts in sets of five. Count by fives to determine how many are left. Take some more away. Finally, put the remaining hearts in sets of 10. Count by tens to get the new total.  Ask, “What was the fastest, most efficient, way to count the candy?” Counting by tens, of course!


3. One More, One Less. Use the sets of 10 hearts to help your child visualize easy addition and subtraction. Count the hearts by 10. Count forward to practice plus 10, and then backward to practice minus 10. Then try “one more, one less.” For example, if 20 plus 10 hearts equal 30, what would 20 plus 11 be? (20 + 10 =30, so 1 more = 31) Move the hearts to show the new answer. Conversely, if 20 plus 10 equals 30, how many do I have left if I give you one? (20 + 10 = 30 – 1=29.) Take one away to show 29.


4. Graph It. Group the remaining hearts into colors. Place one of each color across the bottom of a piece of paper. Stack the same color hearts above each other, in a column. When done, check the graph to see which color hearts were the “most,” and which were the “least.”


Use Valentine candy as an educational tool to help keep sugar level intake low, and math levels very high!



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Parents Face Legal Action for Children's School Tardiness

Should your child’s chronic school tardiness be a crime? 


I don’t know about you, but my kids have been late to school many times over the years. Mostly it’s due to overtiredness because they stay up too late—often because they’re completing volumes of homework—despite my admonitions against doing so.


Is it disrespectful to the school, the teachers, and the child’s fellow students if he arrives late? If so, how “late” is late? Is being 2 minutes late okay while 15 minutes is not?


I’m not certain where I stand on that specific a detail, but I know one thing for sure: If my county government, backed by my children’s school, charged me with a misdemeanor crime for my children’s tardiness, I’d be outraged.


Think this is science fiction? Keep reading…


A couple in Loudoun, Virginia, was arraigned this past Monday for just that. The Loudoun County Sheriff's Office alleges that the couple’s three children—ages 6, 7, and 9—have been tardy too many times since school opened in September, and so they’re taking legal action against the parents. Officials with the Loudoun County Public Schools reportedly argue that they’re not to blame for the law crackdown since they’re simply following school district policy.


The husband and wife have each reportedly been charged with three Class 3 misdemeanors, which, according to Virginia law, each carry a maximum penalty of $500. So, this couple is looking at a fine of $3,ooo if found guilty.


Guilty of their children’s mostly 3-minutes-or-less tardiness.


What do you think? Isn’t this going way too far?



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Valentine's Day Activities and Crafts To Make With Your Kids

Looking for a special Valentine’s Day activity or craft for your children to make or for you to make together? Look no further—we’ve compiled a variety of gift ideas through images we’ve pinned to our SchoolFamily.com Pinterest page. They’re just right for your child’s classmates, teacher, or that very special someone. Best of all, only a few of them contain sugar!


While many schools have banned the exchange of sugary Valentine’s Day treats, giving out candy-free cards and small gifts is typically acceptable in schools (best to double-check with your child’s school, however). Just be sure there are no hurt feelings by insisting that your child create a Valentine for each child in her class—or, have her plan to exchange Valentines with select friends outside of school.


Gifts For Your Child’s Friends and/or Classmates

Since we’ve already established that Valentine’s gifts for the class must include every student, these crafts, while simple, will take your child a bit longer to create. When I did these types of Valentine’s gifts with my children, I’d plan ahead and have them do a few each night. That way, the kids wouldn’t get tired and bored, yet the gifts would get finished without me making them all at the 11th hour!


How about custom-made Friendship Bracelets for everyone in the class? These are simple to make, differentiated for girls and boys (to compensate for the boys’ potential yuck factor—“Ick, a bracelet?”), and personalized. You and your child can create your own hand-written verse, written or printed on small cut-out cards (how about heart-shaped?), or you can download the blogger’s pdf template with the verse, “Our class would knot be the same without you.” Braid some brightly colored string (or save time by using single strands of colored ribbon), and weave them through the cut-out cards. Have your child sign each one, i.e. “From Jonathan,” and you’re done. These are sure to be a real crowd pleaser.


Valentine’s Day Crayon Cards might be one the most clever crafts I’ve seen in some time. When my kids were little, I always seemed to have broken crayons lying around, and I’d find them in the weirdest places—under the baseboard in my kitchen, under my kids’ beds, under our baseboard-heating units, in planters—you name it. And that’s not counting the mashed up broken crayons pieces at the bottom of our crayon container. Well this craft activity finally finds a good use for them. Read the directions for this simple project: dice up the crayons/pieces; bake them in heart-shaped molds (!); attach them to small decorated cards, and your child has beautiful, colorful, personalized Valentines for the whole class.


Teacher Gifts

If you’re never made (or seen) one of these Candy Bar Poem cards, you’re in for a treat. Depending on your child’s age, he can create most of this gift by himself, writing the words and then gluing the wrapped candy bars in the right places (you might need to watch and be sure he leaves enough room for the size of each candy bar).


Another adorable (and tasty) teacher gift is this wide-mouthed jar filled with homemade cookies. It’s easy to make and carries a personal message when you attach a gift tag created by your child (or save the step and download pretty tags from this template. Use a heart-shaped hole punch to make a hole at the top of the tag, and attach the note to the jar with brightly colored string or ribbon and Voila! you’ve got a lovely gift for your child’s teacher.


If your child’s teacher is known to have a sweet tooth, this easy-to-make gumball or candy-dispensing machine is for you. Created by painting and decorating an inverted small or large clay pot and matching saucer, this little machine will get a workout on the desk of your child’s teacher.


A Gift for the Birds (no, really!)

Anxious to avoid the commercialism of the day? Make this Valentine's Day craft with your child and feed the birds at the same time. This activity takes more time and requires a few days for the finished product to be complete, but once done, you and your child can hang these heart-shaped treats made of birdseed on branches throughout your yard. Perhaps you could obtain permission for your child to bring some to school to hang on branches outside student classrooms? Read the clearly written (and super easy) directions and have fun!


Just the Chocolate, Please

Let’s face it: For many of us it just isn’t Valentine’s Day without receiving—or giving— something chocolate. To satisfy that craving, we have a variety of sweet Valentine’s treats. How about Conversation Hearts on a stick, made of red velvet chocolate cake; Outrageous Chocolate Cookies; Cookie Kisses made with heart-shaped Dove chocolate treats instead of chocolate kisses; and Cake Pops, easy to make using chocolate cake mix, to name a few.


If chocolate’s not your thing, how about some Raspberry Cream Cheese Heart Tarts?


Not into sweets at all? Okay, place your Valentine’s Day order in advance so your kids can make you this Valentine’s Day Egg in a Basket for breakfast!


A Healthy Valentine’s Day Snack

Strawberry Marshmallow Fruit Dip will have your child eating fruits and getting protein and other nutrients from reduced fat cream cheese and fat-free Greek yogurt. (Okay, there’s also marshmallow crème, which isn’t especially nutritious, but it’s for Valentine’s Day, after all).


Go wild with heart-shaped fruits and veggies, served on popsicle sticks, along with fat-free or lowfat dip. Or this healthy Sweetie-Tweetie sandwich. For breakfast, stir things up by making this heart-shaped hard-boiled egg!


What other crafts are you making with your kids for Valentine's Day? Share your Pinteresting activities below in the comments!

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Teaching your child responsibility and decision-making skills

I wrote an earlier blog post about teaching children how to accept responsibility for their actions.


In that post I suggested that when your daughter says, “Mrs. Johnson got me in trouble,” you might help her reword her statement in this format, “I got in trouble with Mrs. Johnson because….”


Very often children try to deflect blame onto another person. Here are other examples of similar situations, and how to help reword the statement to place responsibility in the appropriate place:


  • “I couldn’t do the math homework because my teacher didn’t show me how.” This places the blame on the teacher. Help your child reword the statement to, “I couldn’t do the math homework because I don’t know how.” This leads to solving the problem by figuring out what is confusing.


  • “All my friends are [were] doing it.” In this case, your child is trying to make you question your judgment, feel guilty, or take the blame. They may also be trying to blame everyone else for something that happened. Help your child by rewording her statement to, “Why can’t I do it?” This is much better, because it may lead to a discussion of why it isn’t a good idea. Depending on the situation, the statement may need to change to, “I didn’t think about what I was doing because my friends were doing it, too.”


  • “Sally was talking, too!” This statement could be changed to, “I thought it would be okay to talk because other people were.” Perhaps this will lead to discussing how to tell the difference between appropriate times to talk and inappropriate times.


  • “I didn’t mean to hurt him. He got in my way.” This is a really important one. Children get too rough at times and someone gets hurt. Perhaps this should change to, “I wasn’t very careful, and I hurt him.” After that, you can talk about what went wrong, how to prevent it in the future, and how to apologize.


As a parent, you are in charge of your child’s safety and wellbeing. You cannot be with him at all times to help with every decision, so he needs to learn to think before acting.


When you see him not accepting responsibility for his actions and trying to blame others, remember that your role is to teach him how to be responsible for himself. He needs to understand the link between the choices he makes and the consequences of those choices. I like to ask students, “Whose behavior can you control?” Then, I help them reword their statement. This helps students learn to accept the consequences of their actions and think about personal responsibility.


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In Praise of the Average Reading Student

I’m writing this week in support and recognition of all the wonderful young students who fall into the under appreciated category of “average” when it comes to their reading.


Average means that a child is doing on-level work for their grade. This category represents the vast majority of school students, often in excess of 70 percent of a class.  


Guess what? It’s OK for a student to be average and to be an average reader! Many influential world leaders, thinkers, and doers started off as average students—Winston Churchill, Albert Einstein, and Thomas Edison are just a few. What’s important is that average students be encouraged to always do their best.


Here’s what you can do to help your average reader reach his or her maximum potential:


  • Read every night with your child. On-level readers need constant practice to maintain vocabulary recognition, fluency, and reaching the next level.


  • Avoid the temptation to push your child to a higher-level book. This can often frustrate and discourage him, which could cause him to give up trying.


  • Practice “word-family” words. That means rhyming words with different beginning sounds. Use this SchoolFamily.com printable worksheet to Practice short vowel and long vowel words, such as: at, bat, cat, rat; or bike, hike, like, etc.


  • Keep practicing “sight” words. Sight words are words that cannot be “sounded out,” they just have to be known.  Use these printable worksheets from SchoolFamily.com to help your child with word recognition and common sight words.


Uncover your child’s “passion.” Find things that she really loves and work these things into her academic practice. Reading about snakes or butterflies may be a lot more exciting than reading “Dick and Jane!”


Who knows…the constant encouragement you give to your average student today, could lead to tomorrow’s Steve Jobs or Sandra Day O’Connor!

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ADHD and Medication: Should You Consider It for Your Child?

Making the decision to medicate your child for attention problems is extremely difficult. I encourage you to consider it, however, if your child is struggling in school, and those who work with him have mentioned possible attention issues. I have seen children who were helped tremendously by taking medication for their attention disorder (ADD or ADHD) .



I do not mean to make it seem like an easy decision to make, but I want parents to know that it might be the right thing to do. Here are some things to think about when deciding whether medication is appropriate for your child.


  • Teachers should not recommend medication. This is a decision that you and your child’s doctor make. Teachers can let you know if your child is having attention issues, but they should not go beyond recommending that you have your child evaluated by a doctor.


  • If your child’s teacher mentions attention issues, ask: “How does my child’s behavior compare to the other students in the class?” Children are active and teachers new to the classroom may not know what is normal and what is too active for learning. You might also ask whether your child can pay attention in some situations and not others. If so, find out when the attention issues appear. Perhaps she is bored; if the work is too easy or too hard, the result can be boredom.


  • There are multiple options for attention medications. If you have tried one and it did not help your child or it had unacceptable side effects, it doesn’t necessarily mean that all attention medications will do the same thing. Some attention medications do not help some children, while the same medication might work fine for another child.


  • Some children have a great deal of problems learning, and they really do have an attention deficit disorder. For these children, medication can make a world of difference. I have seen children turn from failure to success almost overnight once they had an attention evaluation and started taking medication.


Please don’t misunderstand. I know this is a difficult decision and parents want what is best for their child. Teachers want what is best for their students, too. If attention issues are keeping a child from benefitting from school, then attention medications might be what’s best for the child.


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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