SchoolFamily Voices

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

5 Ways to Help Your Advanced Reader


Last week I wrote about struggling young readers, and offered some strategies to help these children succeed.  But, what if your child is an above-level reader?  How do you keep an advanced reader challenged and engaged? How do you keep the momentum going?


By the end of January you should have a pretty good idea of your child’s reading level. If unsure, ask your child’s teacher. At this time of the school year, teachers often see student’s reading skills “click,” and reading really takes off.  It’s so exciting to witness! 


Here are 5 things parents can do to support and challenge above-level readers:


  • Ask your child's teacher if there is “open library” time at your child’s school library. If so, ask if your child might get books that are of high interest to him. He might love books about dinosaurs, space or sports. Going to open library would be a perfect way for him to begin “research skills,” such as using encyclopedias and the library computers. All librarians are happy to help eager young readers!


  • Make sure that your child has a public library card. Public libraries are a great, free resource and young children love to choose and borrow books. Take advantage of special events that occur for children at your local library.


  • If you have access to the Internet, or to electronic readers, appropriate level stories can be downloaded, usually at little or no charge. Some public libraries also allow you to “borrow” downloaded books. Once again, your librarian can be a great resource.


  • Don’t forget about writing skills. Reading and writing skills go hand-in-hand, but being an advanced reader doesn’t automatically make your child a good writer.  Buy a small notebook and have him keep a “Reader’s Response” journal. When he’s done reading a story, have him write the date, the book’s title, and author’s name, at the top of the notebook page. Help him summarize the story, including characters, setting and plot. It’s really fun for a child to go back and see all the books that he has completed, and read what he had to say about the stories.


  • Together, at bedtime, read higher-level books to your child. Find books that have chapters and few or no pictures. Read a chapter a night. Before starting the next chapter, have her tell you what has happened so far in the story. Then, have her predict what might happen next.


Activities like these help your child develop a lifelong love of reading. In addition, SchoolFamily.com has a variety of fun printable "All About Books" worksheets. What greater gift could you give your child than a love of reading?!


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Are You Welcome In Your Child's Classroom?

Have you ever attempted to sit in on one of your children’s classes at school and been turned away? If not, and if you were actually welcomed into the class by school officials, consider yourself lucky. Even though the ability to do so is a central tenet of No Child Left Behind, many schools put up roadblocks when parents want to sit in.


According to Jay Mathews, education columnist and blogger for the Washington Post, it’s a fairly frequent practice even when it may not be a school’s policy: “The resistance to parent observations,” he writes about schools, “is not so much a policy as an unexamined taboo.”


In the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002, which expanded upon the 1965-enacted Elementary and Secondary Education Act, a section called “Parental Involvement” includes provisions for “shared accountability between schools and parents for high student achievement”—an aspect of which includes having parents be present in their child’s classroom.


“Volunteering and observing in their child’s classroom is an important activity for parents’ shared responsibility for high student academic achievement and is also one that helps both the school and parents build and develop a partnership to help children achieve the state’s high standards.” [NCLB, Section 1118(d)(1), ESEA.]


Yet many school districts remain virtually cloistered when it comes to allowing parents to step inside. And among the reasons given to parents for being kept out is that their presence would create a distraction.


It appears that legislative action might be required to mandate that schools open up. In Virginia, Mathews writes about a father who enjoyed spending an hour at his daughter’s school, observing her during reading practice. Later, after seeing some of Mathews’ columns about parents being denied access to their children's classes, he used his authority as a member of the Virginia House of Delegates to add a provision to pending education legislation. If it passes, which Mathews thinks is unlikely, local school boards would be required to “adopt and implement policies” allowing parents to be observers in their children’s’ classrooms.


Are you able to volunteer and/or observe in your child’s classroom without any resistance from school officials? Please share your experiences with us.



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The Red Flags of Cyber Bullying

SchoolFamily.com guest blogger Dr. Michele Borba, Ph.D. is an expert and author on issues involving children and teens, parenting, bullying, and moral development. Her work aims to help strengthen children’s character and resilience; build strong families; create compassionate and just school cultures; and reduce peer cruelty.


There are red flags parents should watch for that might indicate your child is being cyber bullied. Here’s what to look for—and what to do.


Over the last year, we’ve read about horrific tragedies—bullycides—that appear to have been prompted by relentless peer bullying. One child tragically ending his or her young life due to vicious peer cruelty is one child is too many.


So let’s get savvy about electronic cruelty and the new digital age our kids are experiencing.


Online bullying is especially hurtful. Those horrid, vicious, untrue comments, with a quick click of a button, hit cyberspace. There is no telling how many other peers are hearing or reading those cold-blooded attacks.


Can you imagine being the recipient of such hate? Can you imagine if your child was that recipient?


The truth is those clicks are happening all too often, which is why parents must get educated.


Our first step to turn this around is to understand why cyberbullying is, and then recognize possible warning signs.


These are serious lessons — they might save a child. That’s my hope.


What is cyberbullying?


Cyberbullying is an electronic form of communication that uses cyber-technology  (the internet) or digital media (Facebook and other social media sites) to hurt, threaten, embarrass, annoy, blackmail or otherwise target another minor.


Every adult who interacts with kids—parents, educators, librarians, police, pediatricians, coaches, child care givers—must get educated about this lethal new form of bullying so they can find ways to help stop this.


One reason for such a dramatic increase in cyber-abuse is that it’s just so much easier to be cruel when you don’t have to do lash out with vicious insinuations face to face, and can instead do so anonymously!


Where we once thought we just had to protect children from adult predators using the Internet, but now we need to shield kids from one another.


Cyber-bullying is real, and incidents are happening at an increasing rate. Here’s a reality check:  National surveys by online safety expert Parry Aftab estimate that 85 percent of 12 and 13-year olds have had experience with cyber bullying. And 53 percent say they have been bullied online.


Many experts confirm that the psychological effects on our children can be as devastating, and may be even more so, than traditional bullying. Research proves that when kids are left unsupervised and without behavior expectations traditional bullying thrives. And we may not be doing as good a job as we think.


Another survey found that while 93 percent of parents feel they have a good idea of what their kids are doing on the Internet, 41 percent of our kids say they don’t share with us what they do or where they go online.


Open up that dialogue and listen!


Red flag warning signs of cyber bullying

As parents, we must do a better job of tuning into our kids. Read the warning signs of cyber bullying (below) and then talk with other parents, teachers, babysitters, counselors, and child workers about them. Print out the warnings and give them to coaches, Scout leaders, Boys and Girls Club leaders, doctors, school officials, and to teens and tweens. Send the list to the local newspaper to print. Ask your child’s school to post the list on their website. Get active and get your community involved. Here’s what to watch out for:


  • Your son is hesitant to be online or unexpectedly stops or avoids using the computer


  • Your daughter is nervous when an instant message, text, or email appears


  • Your son is visibly upset, angry, or depressed after using the computer or his cell phone


  • Your daughter hides or clears the computer screen or her cell phone screen when you enter or doesn’t want to talk about online activity


  • Your son starts using the computer when you’re not in the room


  • Your daughter keeps going back and forth to check the computer screen in shorter spurts


  • Your son withdraws from friends; wants to avoid school or peer activities; is uneasy about going outside in general; an/or pulls away from family members


  • Your daughter is suddenly sullen, evasive withdrawn, or has a marked change in personality or behavior


  • Your son has trouble sleeping, loss of appetite, is excessively moody, cries easily, or seems depressed


  • Suspicious phone calls, e-mails, and packages arrives at your home


  • Your child has a drop in academic performance or falls behind in schoolwork


 A key that you shouldn’t overlook is a sudden change—something that isn’t t your child’s “normal” behavior—that lasts daily, for at least two weeks. But even then, use your instincts! If you are concerned, don’t wait—get your child some help!


If it’s not cyber bullying …


What if these signs I’ve mentioned aren’t happening because your child is being cyber bullied? Regardless they clearly warrant looking into, as something is amiss with your child. It’s up to you to find out what’s going on. Dig deeper. Have a conference with your child’s teacher, coach, counselor, pediatrician, or seek the help of a trained mental health professional. The two saddest words I hear from parents are “If only …” Get help!


Don’t expect that your child will come and tell you about any harassment that might be taking place. Studies show that as our kids get older the likelihood they will come to us and “tell” declines even more. The top reason? Kids say they aren’t telling adults because “The adult didn’t listen or believe me when I did tell.” Sigh.


If you suspect your child’s friend or his peer is cyber-bullied, report it to school authorities and police.


I carry a photo of a young Canadian boy—a precious sixth grader—who ended his life because of bullying. His father gave me his son’s photo and asked me to promise to keep educating parents about the dangers of bullying. I promised that dad I would keep going and I’ve carried that photo for 10 years. It breaks me apart every time I look at it. So remember: Listen! Tune in! Believe!



Dr. Michele Borba, Ph.D., is an expert and author on issues involving children and teens, parenting, bullying, and moral development. Her work aims to help strengthen children’s character and resilience; build strong families; create compassionate and just school cultures; and reduce peer cruelty. Her research-based advice is culled from a career of working with more than 1 million parents and educators worldwide. She is the author of 22 parenting and educational books, and hosts Reality Check, a daily blog at https://www.micheleborba.com/blog/. Dr. Borba lives in Palm Springs, CA with her husband, and has three grown sons. Tips in this blog post were adapted by Dr. Borba from her book “The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries.”

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What If My Child Isn't Reading As Well As His Friends?

Often, when parents hear that other children their child’s age are reading higher-level books, they have concerns about their own child’s progress. 


There may be several reasons why your child isn’t reading as well as other children in their grade. Is he one of the youngest children in the class? Has she missed a lot of school due to illness? Does he need glasses? Could there be a learning disability? 


Here are the first things you should do:


  • Rule out the physical. Make sure your child’s vision and hearing screenings are up to date. Young children don’t have a basis of comparison…they think everyone sees and hears as they do!


  • Check with his teacher to see if the teacher is concerned about his reading progress. Your son might not be the top reader in the class, but he may be just where he should be for his age and ability.


  • If the teacher has concerns as well, ask what you can do at home to help and support the process. Does your daughter need help with phonics and letter sounds? Does she need help remembering sight words?  These are skills that can be practiced at home using flash cards for sight words, and focusing on letter sounds when reading stories together.


  • Ask if there is extra help available at school, such as someone who could work individually with your child. In my class we are fortunate to have a wonderful retired teacher who volunteers for an hour, each Tuesday and Thursday. She works one-on-on with my children needing extra help. Mrs. “C” has done a tremendous job tutoring my students who need a little boost in reading skills.


Your child may simply be a “late-bloomer” who just needs additional time to mature. However, if skills don’t improve with time or extra help, you may have to request further educational testing.


Reading well is essential to school and life success. Discovering a learning problem early is key to getting help right away. The sooner a problem is identified and addressed, the faster your child can get back on track!


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Why laptops aren't good for all students

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


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


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


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


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


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

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


I couldn’t agree more!


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


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


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


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



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

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


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


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


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


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


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Make an Easy “Flap Book” to Increase Reading Comprehension

A “Flap Book” is a great way to get your child thinking about a story in a logical, sequential way. After reading a simple story together, enhance your young child’s comprehension by helping her make one.


Here’s what to do:


  • Fold a sheet of plain 8 ½ x11 inch paper in half lengthwise, so it is now 11” x 4 ¼” overall.


  • Unfold the paper and lay it horizontally, 11” left to right. Cut two slits in the bottom half, about 4 inches apart. Cut from the bottom edge to the crease where it was folded. This creates three equal flaps on the bottom half. The top half is not cut.


  • Refold, so that the three cuts are on top, with the open ends at the bottom, creating three “flaps” that lift up.


  • Starting on the left, label the flaps “First,” “Next,” and “Last.”


  • Lift up the first flap. On the paper below the flap, let your child draw what happened first in the story. This is usually where the setting and characters are introduced. You can help her write some words or a short sentence to describe her picture.


  • Flip up the middle flap and have her draw a picture about what happened next. This is usually where a situation or problem in the story arises.


  • Under the last flap, let her draw how the problem was solved or how the story ended.


Children love making “Flap Books.” These books help organize and increase reading comprehension in a fun and lasting way.



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Food Allergy Tragedy: Parents, Check Your Child's School Action Plan

In a tragic case of a severe allergic reaction, a 1st grade-student at an elementary school in Virginia, died Monday, Jan. 2, after reportedly being exposed to a peanut product. 

This heartbreaking incident is a reminder to all parents about just how deadly exposure to a food allergen can be for children with food allergies. It’s also a reminder to parents of children with food allergies, to check and double-check that precautions and an emergency action are in place at their children’s’ schools. 

Read SchoolFamily.com's article on Food Allergies and School-Age Kids, which provides thorough tips on how parents should communicate with their child’s school about food allergies. As the article points out, while it’s important to speak with the school principal and the child’s teacher, it’s also critically important for parents to speak directly to the cafeteria staff where food products are prepared, as well as to school volunteers who might come in contact with their children.





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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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3 Activities to Help Your Child Become a Better Math Student in 2012

Connecting math to everyday life makes math real and purposeful for your child. Here are 3 easy activities to help your young child improve their math skills in the New Year:

  • Make math “tasty.” Cook a simple recipe together. Let him measure small amounts of ingredients, or count eggs. Talk about the degrees of heat on the oven dial, and how to use the timer. Or, make simple sandwiches for lunch and cut into triangles, rectangles, or squares. Make a pizza and discuss how to divide it equally with your family. When reheating in the microwave have him countdown with the timer for practice counting backwards.
  • Toss some dice! With a very young child use one die. Roll and count the dots for one-to-one correspondence. This means correctly counting objects (the dots) to represent a numeral. Or, have him roll dice and choose the die that shows more (or less.)  For a kindergarten or 1st grader use dice for addition and subtraction. To practice addition, have him roll the dice and add the dots. For subtraction she can roll the dice, find the total, and then take one die away to see the remainder.
  • Play some simple card games with your child. Games such as, “Concentration,” “Go Fish,” “Crazy Eights,” “War,” etc., are great ways to refine math skills. The cards visually reinforce numerals and their value. These games promote number recognition, number value, more than, less than, and help her increase number fluency.

For more suggestions and directions, simply Google “Easy card games for kids.”



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10 Resolutions for 2012 This GoodNCrazy Mom’s NOT Making

January is having a staring contest with me.

There’s less than a week left of 2011 and I feel like the past year is making fun of all my goals. It knows what I accomplished, it knows what I failed. It knows the big ‘4-0h’ birthday is waiting to knock the wind out of my 30-something self.

But this coming year I am not going to let New Year’s resolutions get the best of me. Because I’m NOT going to make any. That’s right, Mr. 2012, you can take your ball and go home. Here are 10 GoodNCrazy resolutions I am NOT going to accomplish this year.

  • I am NOT going to get enough sleep. With 3 children, piles of dishes, mountains of laundry, 23 DVR’d “House” episodes, and multiple cell phone alarms, all starting at 6:20 a.m.—each urging me to do this, remember that, and leave the house no less than 10x before noon—who needs sleep?!
  • I am NOT going to listen more. I know I talk too much and I’m too loud. If after nearly 40 years I haven’t been able to change that fault, why should I start now?
  • I am NOT going to spend more “one-on-one time” with my kids… so far they’ve turned out okay, and we have all that car-pool time to have meaningful chats right? I’ll start texting them more instead.
  • I am NOT going to travel more. With a husband constantly traveling to various continents and time zones, this mom will be staying home, sipping hot cocoa, and wearing her new Christmas slippers, thankyouverymuch!  (Besides, for me, one ocean hopping trip per 5 years is plenty!)
  • I am NOT going to be Marge-In-Charge at PTO. Instead this year I will be the soldier. I will volunteer my time at the book fair and the elementary school rummage sale. When they ask for volunteers to fill out the board, I will be out filling up the water pitcher.
  • I am NOT going to find more “me time.” Sometimes I feel like I’m bathing in me, me, me; of course it’s my children’s voices I hear in my head not my own inner sanctum getting a blissful (and badly needed) pedicure. But, oh well…
  • I am NOT going to exercise more. Wait… actually I am. (Shhh, don’t tell the resolution police!)

  • I am NOT going to pay more attention to little details. When there is a friend in need, a sick neighbor, or my husband has sore feet at the end of the day, I’m simply going to begin chanting: I-can’t-hear-you, I-can’t-hear-you, I-can’t-hear-you.
  • I am NOT going to take a digital photography class. I’ve only wanted to do this for the last 7 years of my life. What’s one more year? (2013, watch out; I plan to digitally re-master you till you cry.)
  • Finally, I am NOT going to make any resolutions this year.

So, if you catch me sleeping-in past 7, baking a casserole for my pregnant friend, sneaking into a digital photography course, or raising my hand to chair a PTO fundraiser…pretend you don’t see me. Just wink and turn around very slowly. 

So, what Un-Resolutions are you going to make this year?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy New Year, everyone!


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Happy holidays to you all.

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Helping Kids By Reducing the Demands on Working Memory

Note: Please read Livia McCoy's earlier post that defines working memory, before reading this blog post. Otherwise, it may not make much sense!

Imagine that your daughter has not mastered cursive handwriting. This is a likely occurrence since we are not really teaching cursive handwriting anymore! For homework, she is asked to write a story about going to the homecoming dance, and her teacher mentioned today that she would no longer accept work written in manuscript. 

Your daughter is hearing her teacher’s voice, “Students, remember that all homework must be either typewritten or in cursive! No more printing. That’s for younger students.”

Your daughter begins working on the assignment, but she has difficulty coming up with the story. She spends all her time trying to figure out how to form the cursive letters (her brother is using the computer). 

This is an example of how working memory space is completely filled up with the task of forming the letters, and there is no room left for actually coming up with the story. 

How can this problem be solved? There are several things you might do to help your daughter.

Consider taking dictation for the story. This allows her to free up her working memory to be creative.

Have her copy the story in cursive. This allows her to use her working memory capacity to practice her cursive.

Use voice-to-text software. If this tends to be a reoccurring problem, she might benefit from using voice-to-text software to do the writing. This option does require a computer.

Make sure she’s an expert computer user. Making sure she has access to a computer every day is very important for her.

We are learning more about working memory and how important it is for success in school. But, similar strategies to those mentioned here can help overcome working memory problems. It depends on what skills are deficient and occupying the working memory capacity.

Please share your own experiences: What strategies you have tried with your child that have been helpful?

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Holiday Gifts Your Child Can Make to Create Memories

Every Christmas, when my family decorates our tree, we make sure to put on the “Silver Walnut” ornament.  This was a gift that my husband, Brian, made for his mother when he was a 7-year-old Cub Scout.  It’s a hollowed walnut shell that he glued back together, secured with a red satin ribbon then dipped in silver paint. My mother-in-law gave me this ornament the first Christmas after Brian and I were married. 


It was hard for her to part with this because it brought back memories of my husband as a child.  Even though the silver paint is chipped, and the satin ribbon is frayed, it still makes me smile, thinking how he lovingly made this for his Mom so many years ago.


Here are six simple handmade gifts you can easily make with your child. Over time, they may become part of your family’s holiday memories: 


Help your child draw and print “tickets” for a sibling. These “tickets” can be redeemed for various activities, such as playing a game together, helping to clean a room, etc.


Let an older child download, print, and bind together some free activity pages from web sites such as SchoolFamily.com, such as coloring pages, dot-to-dots, mazes, etc.  This booklet makes a great gift for younger brothers and sisters.


Have her decorate and print a “coupon book” for jobs that Mom can redeem.   Some examples might be, “Take out the trash,” “Feed the dog,” “Clean my room,” etc.


Help your child create a short story as a present. He can use photographs or drawings on the pages. Some examples could be, “What I Love about My Grandma” or “The Best Time I Ever Had with Grandpa.” Make a front and back cover from poster board, punch two holes through the pages, and tie together with a ribbon.


Recycle a small foam meat tray. Thoroughly wash the tray in hot, soapy water.  Dry with a towel. Then let your child paint and decorate it with drawings or stickers of Dad’s favorite sport. Now, Dad can have a special place to put his keys and change.


With a Q-Tip, “paint” the edges of a pinecone with glue. While the glue is still wet, sprinkle with colorful glitter. When the glue is dry, loop a ribbon through the top to hang on the tree or in a window.


Do you have a favorite hand-made gift idea you’d like to share?


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Rewards, Movies, and Holiday Parties? Oh My!

Is any work getting done in school during the holiday months?

I recently came across a Facebook group discussion about using classrooms using movies as a reward for everything from meeting accelerated reader (AR) reading goals to good behavior. The main complaint was that movies chosen seem to be mindless. And one mom complained that it was the second movie her kid had watched in two weeks (as a reward for “good behavior” the first time.)

This former PTO president wondered why the reward has to come in the form of a movie. Mr. Bean’s Vacation is worse than mindless and certainly isn’t teaching kids anything but pop culture pointlessness.

Plus, realize that this “reward party/movie” comes on the heels of November, a month where there was only one full week of school! Do the kids really deserve a “break?”

December has only a few weeks of school time as it is. Add holiday parties and probable breaks and “reward” days and you might not see even half the days in December instructed either.

Personally I absolutely think kids deserve breaks during the school year, and “reward parties” are certainly a viable way to encourage reading and good behavior.

But maybe it’s time to brainstorm with your school about ways to better celebrate an achievement.

My 6 Alternatives to Mindless Movie Rewards in School

  • An extra art day
  • Going for a nature walk/hike
  • Educational or historic movies
  • Working on a service project
  • Read-A-Thon afternoons
  • Extra recesses

What types of breaks would you suggest as rewards for kids during the holidays—or year round for that matter!? Does your school overdo the break/reward system? How do you feel about movies as rewards?


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6 Questions for a Successful Parent Teacher Conference

National standards have set the bar for academic achievement, which means that today it is clear what a student should have achieved by certain points in the school year.

Parent teacher conferences are a terrific opportunity for parents to get an accurate picture of their child’s academic achievement and how he is functioning in the classroom. The key to a successful parent teacher conference is to maximize the exchange of information, in a limited amount of time.

Here are 6 important questions for parents to ask at conferences for students in kindergarten, and 1st and 2nd grade:


  • At this point in the school year, what is the expected reading level?  Is my child on level?


  • Are my child’s math skills meeting the standards?


  • What can I do, as a parent, to enhance my child’s academic progress in reading and math?


  • How does my child interact socially with classmates? Does this behavior affect his/her academics?


  • What do you see as my child’s strengths?


  • What is the preferred way to communicate?  (Email, phone calls, notes, etc., and what is a typical response time?)



Parents should also remember to:


  • Bring a notebook and take notes, so that you can remember what was discussed and any important suggestions made by the teacher.


  • Let the teacher know of any changes at home that could affect academics, such as the arrival of a new baby, a job loss, etc.


Finally, remember that you and your child’s teacher want the same thing—a successful and happy school year for your child!


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6 Top Books to Give This Holiday Season for Creating Memories With Young Children

With the holiday season now in full swing, don’t forget the gift of books—even though your child might be yearning for the latest electronic gadgets!

Seeing beautiful illustrations, turning actual pages, and imagining sounds and sights are a significant part of reading comprehension.

When buying a book for children age 5-7 years old, think about their specific interests, such as dinosaurs, ballet, whales, etc.  This helps a child make a personal connection to the story.

Opt for non-fiction or realistic fiction books. Both of these types of books help 5-7 year-olds gather information and build on previous knowledge. Following are 6 top books for gift-giving; 3 are non-fiction, and 3 are realistic fiction.

Age-appropriate non-fiction books:

  • “Whales” by Seymour Simon. Beautiful pictures and informative text helps your child learn about these magnificent mammals.
  • “Amazing Snakes” by Sarah L. Thomson. Great photographs and facts hold a reptile lovers attention.
  • “From Caterpillar to Butterfly” by Deborah Heiligman. Pictures and descriptions teach your child about the metamorphosis of these amazing creatures.

Age-appropriate realistic fiction books:

  • “Owl Moon” by Jane Yolen.  A beautiful story of a young child and her Pa, who go out on a cold winter night to find owls.
  • “I Wear My Tutu Everywhere!” By Wendy Cheyette Lewisson.  Tilly, the little girl in the story, cannot be separated from her beloved tutu.
  • “The Berenstain Bears and the Messy Room” by Stan and Jan Berenstain. Sister and Brother Bear learn about cooperation while cleaning up their rooms

Nothing can create memories like snuggling up with a good book together on a cold winter night. Think of books as an unforgettable and everlasting gift!

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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