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SchoolFamily Voices

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

Strategies To Help Your Child Get to School On Time

Every school year, we have certain students who are chronically late to school. Just a few minutes might not seem like a big problem, but it actually has a bigger effect than you realize. Those who arrive a little late miss out on the organizational time of the day. This is when teachers take roll, take up homework, hand back homework, and set the tone for the day’s lessons. When students arrive in the middle of this, they might forget to turn in their work. Or they are confused about what is happening in class.

If this is true for your child, together you might resolve to improve. You might say to him, “This year you need to get to school on time.” But in order to be successful with this resolution, you and your child need to identify the reason he is late to school so much and make a plan to improve.

Does your child have trouble waking up in the morning? Adolescents need from eight to nine hours of sleep each night. It is important to limit the number of activities that take place on school nights to make sure your child gets to bed early enough. She should not take her phone or other electronics to bed with her. Many students text one another all through the night, which affects their sleep cycle. There is considerable research that suggests this sleep is necessary for learning to become permanent. Getting enough sleep will make it easier to get up and get ready for school.

Perhaps your child gets up on time, but when it’s time to leave he still isn’t ready to go. Getting organized the night before can help if this is the issue. He should pack his backpack and lunch before going to bed. Additionally, he can decide what he will wear and lay those clothes out for morning. It is important to include eating a healthy breakfast and brushing his teeth in the morning routine. This organization may help move him along faster in the morning and get to school on time.

If nothing seems to help, try setting the clock a little ahead. I used to do this and was always amazed that I looked at the clock and believed what it said! I would move along faster and wind up getting there on time. Having an extra few minutes after arriving at school can help students relax, enjoy their morning, and be ready to learn.

I hope you enjoy the remaining days before school starts. It will help make the transition to school easier if you wake your children up early a few days before they have to get up so they can get used to the morning routine.

 

> A Stress-Free Morning Routine

> Get Ready for School Checklist

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Getting Organized: Back-to-School Shopping Tips

Many parents are shopping for school supplies, and most are using the list of supplies provided by their child’s school. Some students have problems keeping up with their school “stuff.” These kids lose pencils, pens, markers, papers, notebooks, and homework assignments. There are a few things to consider that might help keep them better organized.

First, everything a student needs should fit in one book bag. Binders for each class probably should not be larger than one inch. If they are too large, they won’t all fit in the bag.

Second, there needs to be a place to put pens, pencils, markers, and other small items. Most book bags have spaces that work well, and things should be placed in the same place every time. For some students, a zipper pouch inside each binder is helpful. This allows for customization. Each pouch can hold a pen and pencil, of course. But it can also hold special supplies for individual classes. If the social studies teacher asks for colored pencils, for example, the pouch inside that binder is a good place to store them. Likewise, a compass and protractor can be stored in the math pouch.

Finally, the book bag and binders may need to be reorganized frequently. Depending on the level of disorganization, this may need to be done daily. Excess papers and old homework can be removed from the binders, but keep them filed at home until you are sure they won’t be needed again. It is important to teach your child how to stay organized. This takes a lot of time and practice. Show her what to do, but she should do it herself in order to learn the skills needed to stay organized.

For more information, you may want to read my earlier blog about a specific notebook system that aids with organization.

 

> 12 Back-to-School Organization Tips

> Printable Checklists, Calendars, Charts, and Labels

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Why Dress Codes Matter for Teenagers

Adolescents go to school for a number of reasons beyond the fact that they are required to. If you ask them why, it is likely they will tell you they go to see their friends. (They have a different agenda than their parents and teachers.) This leads to why I am writing about school dress codes once again. Dress codes exist to ensure an environment in school where students can learn and not be distracted by what everyone is wearing. In my many years teaching middle and upper school, dress code issues are the most frequent complaints I hear—from teachers because of what some students are wearing, from parents because their child does not want to comply, and from students because they feel it infringes on personal freedom. Why do dress codes matter?

Dress codes are important for a number of reasons.

  • How we dress sets a tone for behavior. When we dress in flip-flops, shorts, and a tank top, we behave like we do at the park. When we dress in business casual attire, we behave like we do at work. This is the same in schools. I have personally witnessed this time and again with my students. On days when we ask students to dress up for a special occasion, they generally behave in more respectful ways.
  • Adolescents want to both fit in and to be different. Often, they individualize by what they wear to school. If their choice is too revealing or distracting, other students pay more attention to them than what is going on in class. Some students wear clothing that meets the dress code when standing and everything is adjusted perfectly, but when sitting down it does not meet code (skin or underwear shows). It is helpful for parents to help their children check for these issues before they come to school.
  • Dress codes are a part of our society. Many workplaces establish them, and employees are expected to comply. Employees who push the limits can receive lower performance reviews or even lose their jobs. If students complain about their school’s code, it might help to discuss real-life situations that require similar attire.


You can help set the appropriate tone for learning in your child’s school by encouraging good choices while shopping for the new school year. And, as I have said before, you should know your school’s dress code when shopping for back-to-school.

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Tips for Choosing the Best Websites and Apps for Kids

Parents often ask me what they should look for when deciding whether a website or app will be helpful to their children. If the purpose of the site or app is for kids to learn something, there are several important key elements. Evaluate each of the following:

  • How "busy” is the site? Is there so much activity on the screen that it is hard to decide what is important? Free websites and apps have to put advertisements on the screen in order to pay their expenses. As long as the advertisements are not inappropriate for children to see, this might not be a problem. But, if there are more ads than content, it is hard for kids to find what they are supposed to be watching and doing. In that case, not much learning happens.
  • Is the content accurate? I have seen apps that confuse kids more than teach them. I suggest that parents do the activities and play the games to make sure what the apps are teaching is correct.
  • Are the activities actually teaching the content, or are they hindering real learning? For example, if the purpose of the app is to teach cursive handwriting, playing a game that encourages you to write too quickly might mess up what was taught. Or, if the site penalizes you for answering too slowly, a child with slow processing will be frustrated playing it and will not learn from it.
  • Does your child like to use the app or website? It should be easy to figure out how to use and be fun to do. If not, look for another. There are millions of websites and apps available for little or no cost. I like to look at educator websites to get ideas for good places to go.
  • Does the app or website provide appropriate feedback for right and wrong answers? The app should provide help for wrong answers so children can figure out what the right answer is.


It takes a little effort to find the best websites or apps that promote learning, but the time is well spent when you find a great learning tool for your child.

 

> For Students, Parents, and Families, There Are 26 Tops Apps for That

> Necessary Skills for Students in the Digital Age

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Help Kids Build Resilience, Part 3

My last two blogs have been about building resilience in kids. Resilient kids can deal with things when they do not go their way, and they recover quickly when things do not go well for them. Part 1 on resilience explains that children need an adult in their life whom they feel they can go to for help when needed. Part 2 discusses the importance of helping children take responsibility for their own actions. Today’s blog shows how important it is for children to contribute to the world in which they live.

When children are able to offer their help to others, whether at home or elsewhere, they learn that they are important. Whatever they contribute needs to be genuinely helpful to others, and they need to be reminded that they are helping. Depending on how old your child is, he may be able to contribute in multiple ways.

Here are a few ideas to try.

  • Allow her to help with the shopping. Kids enjoy helping to find things in the store or online. This really saves you time, and most kids enjoy it a lot.
  • Require him to help with the laundry. Kids are quite capable of doing laundry well. I used to think every item had to be washed and folded perfectly. At some point along the way, I realized that it really doesn’t matter for most things! And, with a few instructions on how to load and run the machines, fairly young kids can be extremely helpful. (My own children started doing laundry at 8 years old.)
  • Go with her to help out at the local food bank or soup kitchen. Many kids do not understand that there are many people who are living in poverty and who barely have enough to eat. It is a great opportunity to talk to her about respect, as well. (Just because a person is needy does not mean they are less intelligent or less important to society. And everyone deserves to be treated with respect.)

 

There are myriad ways your child can be helpful to the family or society. When they contribute in important ways, they feel necessary. Caring for others creates a sense of pride and builds self-esteem, both of which are necessary in resilient children. As well, offering genuine praise will build your relationship with your child, which is also an important factor in resilience. If you would like to read more about this topic, you might enjoy Building Resilience in Children, published by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

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Help Kids Build Resilience, Part 2

Last week I wrote about resilient children. Children who are resilient can bounce back after they experience a setback. When Gino failed a test, he was disappointed. But he didn’t stay depressed about it and quickly realized he needed to do something to prevent it from happening again. The most important step to resiliency is having a trusted adult who cares. Gino went to his nonno (grandfather) about the test. He talked to Gino and helped him to make a plan.

There are other things parents can do to help their children recover from difficult times. Another key is to teach them to take responsibility for their own actions. If Maria backs her mother’s car into the trash can, she has two options. She can blame herself for not being careful enough. Or, she can blame whoever put the trash can in her way. If she is allowed to blame someone else, she is learning that responsibility is out of her control. Other people are shaping her life experiences—not her. Everything that happens to her is not her fault. If everything that happens to Maria is because of someone else or just luck (good or bad), then she does not learn how to take charge of her behavior and change things for the better.

There are situations when she has no control over what happens to her. But Maria needs to understand that many times she could have made a difference. This is what gives Maria the confidence she needs to move forward, to bounce back after a defeat. She is a competent individual.

I will write more about how to help your children become resilient in my next blog. Please comment to let me know what you are doing to help your children when they are feeling down. Have you seen a difference in how they respond to the rough times?

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Help Kids Build Resilience, Part 1

All of us go through tough times. Some students have more than their share. Divorce, death in the family, events in the news, high-stakes testing and many other factors add to the normal stresses all kids experience. Children need to learn to bounce back when they are feeling these stresses. Those who are able to bounce back easily are said to be “resilient.” There are things parents can do to help build resilience in their children. I plan to write more on this topic in the next few weeks.

First and foremost is that every child needs to know there is at least one adult in their life who cares about them, who takes care of them, and who will help them when they are feeling low. This adult is often one (or both) of their parents or guardians, but sometimes it can be another adult in their life. It might be a neighbor, teacher, minister, grandparent, or coach. This provides a sense of security—a sense of belonging.

Maria might think, “My best friend is moving away and I won’t ever see her again. But at least I can still talk to Nana Rose.” Because of Nana Rose, Maria has a sense of hope for the future and will realize that there are ways to keep in touch with her best friend. All is not lost, after all. She is able to bounce back and start figuring out ways to make sure she does not lose her best friend just because she is moving away.

I wrote in an earlier blog about failure being a normal part of life and how to help children through it. Experiencing failure and overcoming it help to build resilience. Come back next week to learn more about other ways to help.

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3 Strategies To Help Kids Follow Spoken Directions

Marcus frequently misunderstands oral directions. There are many children who have this issue. The underlying cause can be difficult to figure out. Consider what has to happen in his brain when he hears, “Marcus, would you please get the plates and silverware out, and put them on the table?” He has to first hear the words that are spoken, process the words in his brain, understand the meaning of the words, and then finally determine whether he needs to take an action.

Assume that Marcus is paying attention and hears the words correctly (meaning his ears work fine and he does not have an ear infection preventing him from hearing). Does he know what you mean by “plates and silverware”? Does that mean the good china normally reserved for company? Could it mean paper plates left over from the picnic? Or maybe it’s the everyday dishes. Some children process this information within seconds, while others take much longer. He might never even get to the silverware options! If Marcus looks at you like he doesn’t understand your request, he may be processing all the options and trying to decide which makes the most sense. Often, we as parents see that he is not taking an action and immediately start giving him more directions which adds to his confusion.

If this scenario is familiar to you, here are some things you might try.

  • Give fewer instructions at one time. “Marcus, would you get the plates down?” Then wait long enough for him to figure out which plates you are talking about before making the next request.
  • Speak more slowly so that Marcus does not have to process quite so quickly.
  • Teach Marcus how to ask for help when he doesn’t understand you. Have him practice saying, “Mom, I am not sure what you are asking me to do. Can you help me?”

 

If children have a history of never understanding what others are telling them, they often give up. They quit trying. With these simple suggestions, they begin to regain confidence in their ability to understand what they are being asked to do.

For more information on a related topic, read "Is It An Auditory Processing Disorder?"

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Some Last Lessons for My Students

Saying goodbye to students is always a difficult time of the year for teachers. We spend a lot of time with our students. For me, I figure about 200 hours of time with each person. For elementary school teachers, it’s a lot more than that. I can’t speak for all teachers, but most of us really love kids, and we try hard to do what is best for them. We learn to love them sort of like a parent does. In fact, legally, teachers are the acting parent (in loco parentis) when kids are in their care at school.

Here is what I hope my students learned from me this year (in addition to the science I tried to teach).

  • You can choose to be a “post turtle” or get down off the post and help yourself. “You didn’t tell me I had homework,” “My printer is out of ink,” and “I didn’t feel well last night so couldn’t do my homework,” are all “post turtle” excuses. They won’t get you far in my class or life.
  • A strong work ethic will take you further in life than being super intelligent. There are plenty of really, really smart people who are not doing that well. There are plenty of people with normal intelligence who are entrepreneurs and millionaires because they worked hard to get where they are.
  • Look people in the eyes and smile. Say, “Good morning,” when you meet someone on the sidewalk. It is rude to ignore someone because you are listening to music or talking on the phone.
  • A firm handshake is important. This is true for both men and women.
  • Respect the right of others to be different from you. You don’t have to agree with everyone or even believe what they are doing is OK. But it is your responsibility as a human being to be respectful.
  • Believe in yourself. Say positive, confirming statements about yourself. “I can do this if I work at it,” encourages you to keep trying. “I’m stupid,” assures you that you’ll never get it.

 

To students everywhere, know that your teachers care about you. It’s hard to say goodbye to my students, but it is time for them to move on. I will miss them next year. But then next year I’ll have another group to teach. Better get my “post turtle” presentation ready for day one!

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Math Games To Keep Skills Sharp in Summer

Summer vacation should be just that. It should be time for students to relax and enjoy life without worrying about school. This is especially true for those who find school difficult and exhausting. On the other hand, summer is also the time when math facts are forgotten. When facts are automatic, they are easily used to solve higher level problems. When students are fluent in basic math skills, their mental energy can be used to work on more complicated math concepts. So, the trick is to figure out a way to make practicing math facts during summer vacation fun so students will practice without feeling like they are still in school.

One option is to find games children enjoy. My favorite math facts game is called Math War. This card game can be played with regular decks of cards. Here are instructions to learn how to set up the decks as well as to find variations for how to play the game. The game can be set up so that two siblings of different ages can play together and both be challenged. For example, when play starts, both people put down two of their cards face up. The younger player can be asked to add or subtract their cards and the older player can also add or subtract, but for them red cards are negative numbers and black cards are positive numbers. This adds a level of challenge to make it fair to the younger child. Depending on the variation of Math War, sometimes the largest sum wins and sometimes the smallest.

There are many free apps for smartphones or tablets that are fun ways to practice math skills. The trick is to find something your children enjoy playing so that it doesn’t seem like school. In fact, a variety of math games is best.

I hope you and your children have some quality fun time together this summer. Please let me know if you have some fun learning games your children enjoy. I encourage you to play with your children so they will see that you enjoy math games, too.

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Summer Chores Teach Kids Responsibility

Summer is a great time to develop responsibility in your children. Many parents plan wonderful activities to keep their children busy over the summer. Camping, swimming, trips to the park, vacationing—all are important family adventures. These events are when important family memories are formed. But summer can be even more important in terms of developing responsibility in children. And this happens at home every day of the summer.

Children of any age can begin to understand what it means for another person to rely on them. As an adult, people rely on us all the time. For example, we remember to pick up our children from school. We pick up groceries for supper. We do laundry so our family has clean clothes to wear. I could go on and on listing things we do because others rely on us to do it. We are dependable.

The ability to be dependable does not automatically happen. For students who struggle to remember things they are supposed to do, or others who have difficulty with executive functioning, there are strategies that can help.

First and foremost, your son has to remember what he is supposed to do. He needs to have chores to do every day. He could feed the family pet, load or unload the dishwasher, make his bed or do some laundry. (My own children started doing their laundry at age eight, and it was a lifesaver for me.) Some of us need to make a list and post it in a prominent place before we remember everything we are supposed to remember. Others do well with electronic calendars such as google calendar (go to google.com and click on calendar). Most smartphones have a calendar app installed when you purchase the phone. If not, there are many free calendar apps available such as aCalendar (for the Android phone) or Agenda (for the iPhone).

Second, your daughter may need incentives to encourage her to do what she is supposed to do. My daughter uses Allowance Manager on her iPhone to reward her sons when they complete their chores. Then, when shopping, if the boys see something they would like, she checks their bank balance to see whether they have earned enough to purchase what they want.

Third, it needs to be clear what it is you want your children to do. They need to understand what they are held responsible for and what the reward will be for doing it (if anything). Adolescents are not aware of how they can contribute to the family without being taught. Learning these things early will make their whole life easier. When they have their own family, they will be a responsible parent and teach their own children how to do the same.

Make this summer a life-changer for your children. Teach them how to be responsible members of the family. Remember, too, that there is no greater reward than a big hug and “I love you,” coming from you.

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With Learning, It Doesn't Matter How Long It Takes

Last week, I wrote about grades and what they really mean. Do they really reflect actual learning? Teacher Ron Simmons tells a story in his math classes at Hilton Head Prep School. He shares this with his math students when they tell him they’re not good in math.

He asks his students, “How old were you when you learned to walk?” He pauses for a moment. Then he randomly selects someone and says, “I bet you walked very early. I bet you walked when you were only eleven months old.” To another he says, “I bet you were fifteen months old before you learned to walk.”

They begin to talk about when they learned to walk when Mr. Simmons says, “What difference does it make? You all are really good at walking now. Does it really matter when you learned as long as you finally did learn how?”

He then relates this story to learning math. He says that some students learn it really quickly and call themselves “good at math.” Others take longer. They might even take a really long time to finally get it. Once again he asks the question, “What difference does it make how long it takes to learn it? As long as you learn it in the end you will all be “good at math.” Then Mr. Simmons and his students get down to the business of learning math.

I really love this story because it is such a great illustration of how we should be thinking about the purpose of school. It also points out that all children are not exactly alike. Some catch on quickly in history but not so quickly in science. Others struggle in English or with grammar. All children need to be encouraged to keep trying. They need to know that failure is an important part of life, and that a strong work ethic is a great predictor of future success. They also need to know that it doesn’t matter how long it takes to learn a skill as long as they eventually do learn it. Everyone can be “good at math” if they work hard enough and keep on trying.

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Grades: How Much Do They Really Tell About Learning?

After visiting a school that has made a concerted effort to change how they evaluate their students, I started thinking about the grades teachers give to students. If a student gets a C at the end of the quarter, what does that really mean? Generally, a C means average. So a C should be an acceptable grade. Most students should get a C. But parents expect their children to get A’s and B’s. Here is a different way to think about grades.

One path to the average C is that Adanna, a hard worker, starts out early in the quarter getting very low grades because she is struggling to learn the concepts. Then about the middle of the quarter, because of her hard work, she brings her grades up to C’s. By the end of the quarter she gets very high grades because she finally gets it. If you think about it, the high grades at the end of the quarter show that she actually learned what was expected of her. But because at the beginning of the quarter she did not understand the concepts, her final grade reflects the earlier struggle.

A second path to the average C is demonstrated by Brian, who generally doesn’t work very hard on schoolwork. He is really interested in sports and just wants to maintain a C so he can stay on the football team. Brian could be getting higher grades, but he produces average work for everything—homework, projects, and tests. At the end of the quarter, Brian gets the same grade as Adanna, even though Adanna really understands the concepts much better than Brian does.

This explains why grades don’t tell the whole story. Learning is what is important. How much did Adanna and Brian learn? Can they use their learning to solve new problems and learn new concepts? Are they ready for the next steps? The answers to these questions are so much more important than the grade they made on their report card.

As a parent, you might want to look often at the work your son or daughter is doing. Keep track of their daily journey. What you want to see is progress toward understanding. This is a better indicator of learning than the final grade on the report card. Learning is what is supposed to be happening in school. The final grade cannot tell you how much learning went on.

 

> What Do Grades Really Mean?

> Report Cards/Grades Articles Archive

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Think Carefully Before Skipping ADHD Medication

Many children take medications to help them focus their attention in school. It is a difficult decision to put a child on medications, but it can be extremely helpful for some children. Sometimes students don’t take their attention meds before school. At other times, parents allow their child to take a day off from taking it. It might be tempting to do when school is not in session, or there is a special event going on like field day.

I am not a doctor. I do not pretend to offer medical advice regarding the risks of missing prescribed medications. But I have observed my students through the years when they skip their regular dosage, and there can be consequences of making that decision.

For example, a student who normally arrives to class with his book, homework, notebook, and pencil ready to go might arrive without anything at all. Or a student might distract others around him and ask questions that have obvious answers (“Can we go outside instead of having class?”). Not only does he miss out on most of class, but he also keeps others from learning.

Even more important is the fact that there can be safety issues involved. I have seen students step out in front of moving cars, drive too quickly in the parking lot, jump off a rock wall, and even fall in a goldfish pond, possibly because they do impulsive things when they don’t take their attention medications.

Talk to your child’s doctor about whether it is appropriate to skip a dose of medication. If the doctor says it is OK, make sure to choose a time to skip it when safety and learning aren’t compromised. Additionally, if your child frequently forgets to take her meds before school, she might need your help to remember them. Because mornings can be pretty hectic getting everyone ready for work and school, it might be helpful to have a spare bottle kept in the clinic at school.

For more information, “Help Your ADHD Teen With Routine, Behavior, School" offers some excellent suggestions for parents of ADHD children.

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Make the Most of Museum Visits With Your Child

Museums are marvelous places to learn about our culture—history, music, art, science, and current events. Many families are making plans for summer trips that will include visits to local museums.

I went recently on a field trip to Washington, D.C., where we visited the Ford Theater and the National Museum of American History. I was assisting another teacher on the trip, so my students were there to learn about a subject other than mine. The course teacher provided students with a list of must-sees while in the American History Museum. I noticed that the list was more like a scavenger hunt than a learning experience. Students were trying to see who could find everything on the list first rather than stopping to learn about the exhibit. This made me wonder how to make museum visits better learning experiences.

If you are planning a visit to a museum with your child, consider limiting the amount of the museum you expect him to really study and learn. For example, instead of asking him to visit a whole floor of the museum, you could ask him to focus on a very small area—to become an expert on a given topic. A little research ahead of time can help you figure out something he is interested in and determine where to focus once he gets there. For example, if he has a particular interest in the Civil War, he could go straight to those exhibits. One really interesting exhibit at the American History Museum is the draft wheel that was used during the Civil War. You could read the exhibit together with your child, discuss what it means, and then formulate three or four questions to investigate later. Did all the states use the draft wheel? How many people were drafted this way? What percentage of the Confederate soldiers were drafted into service? What about the Union soldiers? Did they also have a draft?

If your child is not interested in this particular exhibit, allow him to pick another one. The point is to spend enough time at two or three exhibits to make the visit worthwhile. There is nothing wrong with a quick trip through the whole floor, because you never know when something will really spark interest. However, going too quickly through too much material can result in very little learning.

Splitting your time between museums, outdoor memorials, theaters, and other learning activities is also a way to ensure your children make the most from educational opportunities. I felt like I was reliving the assassination of President Lincoln through the eyes of Harry Ford and Harry Hawk as we saw the film One Destiny at Ford’s Theater. After the play, we walked through the room where Lincoln died (in the Petersen House) and saw the room where Mary Todd Lincoln waited to find out how her husband was doing. The time we spent watching the play and visiting the house where he died made the museum inside the Ford Theater even more meaningful.

I have one final thought about museum visits with your children: Don’t overlook small, lesser-known museums. One of my favorite museum experiences is the Wright Brothers National Museum in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. Another is the Lora Robins Gallery of Design from Nature at the University of Richmond. These two are very small museums with a big impact on their visitors.

It is time to start thinking about summer vacation. With some advanced research, museum visits can become an important educational experience for your family. If you cannot go in person, consider taking some virtual tours like this one through Ford’s Theater.

 

> Top 20 Destinations for Learning

> Visit a Museum, Help Your Child Learn

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Reduce the Stress of High-Stakes Standardized Tests

Many schools are focusing on the standardized tests coming up soon. These tests are so important to schools because they stand to lose their accreditation if their students do not perform well enough on them. In addition, many teachers are evaluated based on how well their students do. And, students cannot graduate until they have performed well enough on specific tests. That is why these tests are called “high-stakes tests.” The result of this unfortunate situation is that children all over America are stressed out over the tests they will soon take.

A certain amount of stress is good. It is a motivator. However, too much stress is not good. Parents need to monitor how their children are managing the stress of the standardized testing. If they are complaining of headaches or stomachaches or asking if they can stay home from school, they may be under too much stress.

I have written blogs in the past about high-stakes testing. If you sense your child is under too much stress about the tests, read "Easing High Stakes Testing Stress." If your child always has test anxiety no matter what test he is taking, read "Deep Breathing To Help With Test Anxiety." This is something you will need to work on for a while before the standardized tests begin.

On the day of the tests, be sure that your child gets plenty of rest, eats a good breakfast, and comes to school with the appropriate tools requested by the teacher (such as number two pencils with erasers). As she leaves for school, say, “Relax. Do your best. I love you no matter what.” And follow that with a big hug!

Finally, if you need help interpreting the scores when you receive them, see "What Do Standardized Test Scores and Percentiles Mean?"

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Families and Learning Differences

It is common that learning differences run in families. It is not totally clear whether these differences are inherited. However, I have personally witnessed many, many cases of a child who has the same trouble in school that one of his parents did. This is very difficult for the parent who had the same difficulties in school. Their typical response goes something like this: “I hated school, too, and I turned out just fine! She just needs to try harder and not be so lazy.”

My advice in these situations is to focus on the child. Many parents do not realize the pain these children are in. School is different now than it was in the past. Years ago, many students would end their education at high school to start their career, or they dropped out of school and started their career early. They became successful in a variety of fields that did not require a high school diploma. Many times, this is the case with the parent who responds that they are “just fine.” They really are just fine despite how difficult school was for them. But school is different now and society’s views on education have changed.

Currently, schools are expected to prepare every child for college. All students are expected to travel the same path regardless of their interest and desires. There are few options for a student who does not intend to go to college. Even though many respectable professions do not require a college degree, schools focus on preparing students for college.

These children need to receive help to manage their learning challenges. This is why the response “to try harder and not be so lazy” is not what is best for the child.

Another scenario is that a child is struggling to succeed in school, but is interested in a career that requires a college degree. Many students who struggle in school are very, very bright. (See "Kids With Learning Disabilities Are Actually Quite Smart" to understand this better.) If these students do not receive support in school, they will not learn how to be successful in college. This is also not what is best for the child.

If your child is having a tough time in school, ask your school psychologist or principal for help. The first step might be to have her tested for a learning disability. (You also might want to check out this interesting screening quiz for learning disabilities.)

The bottom line is this—if your child is not doing well in school, she needs to get help. This is not about you, it’s about your child. Do what is best for her.

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AudioNote: A Technological Solution for Note Taking

In an earlier blog I wrote about the Livescribe Pen which is a recording pen that assists students who have trouble taking notes. In this same blog, I mentioned the AudioNote app. At that point, I did not have any experience with it. Since that time, several of my students purchased it and have been using it in my class.

AudioNote is available for the Mac, iOS, Windows and Android operating systems. I downloaded it on my Android phone for $4.99 and one of my students bought it for his Windows computer for $19.99. Here is how it works.

When class begins, the students who wish to use AudioNote ask permission to record class. I give blanket permission to my classes, and the students who are recording just signal me by pointing at their device (laptop or smartphone). But asking is important, because some teachers do not want to be recorded. I teach my students that they must always ask; this is basic etiquette that students need to know.

As AudioNote records the sounds in the room, students type their notes. It does not matter if they miss writing something, because they can later click or touch their screen where they have missing notes, and the software plays whatever the teacher was saying at that time. Before the Livescribe Pen (and now AudioNote) came along, it was difficult to find the part of a recording you needed to hear. You would have to fast forward or rewind until you located the correct spot. This was time-consuming and frustrating. But thanks to Livescribe and AudioNote, recording lectures is a truly powerful assistive technology.

My students have learned a few things about AudioNote that may help you. Those who use it on their iPhone or Android phone find they are not able to type much on their phone. They use the app on their phone and type one or two words when something new starts. For example, if the subject changes or a new bullet point starts they might type and “A. Genetics,” or “B. DNA Fingerprinting.” While doing this, they also write their notes in a spiral notebook which they later fill in as they listen to the recording. Students who bought the software for their laptop love typing their notes in the software; but they find that the sound is too low because the microphone on their laptop faces them instead of the front of the room. They can hear it if they use their headset, but it is really too soft. They find that they must sit near me in order for it to be loud enough.

We are still working out these issues. Regardless, my students find AudioNote to be a useful tool that assists them taking notes in class. Many times students try new technology, software or apps, and only use it for a short trial period before giving up on it. AudioNote is helpful enough to some of my students that they are still using it after weeks of use.

If you have found an assistive technology that works and proves to be really helpful, please let me know. I always appreciate learning about something from someone who has actually given it a try!

 

> Necessary Skills for Students in the Digital Age

> What Is Your Child's Learning Style?

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Necessary Skills for Students in the Digital Age

My 8-year-old grandson recently picked up the television remote control, turned on the satellite dish, found the recorded program his mom wanted to watch, highlighted the correct one, and then handed the remote to his mom. He said, “Here, I think you can handle it from there.”

It is amazing how children growing up in the digital age think. It is also amazing how quickly things change. Not so long ago, it was easy to identify what computer skills a person needed to learn in school. They needed to learn how to use the keyboard efficiently. They needed to learn how to use a word processor, spreadsheet, presentation software, and maybe a database. (I am certain you can name the ones you learned!) But that is no longer true.

I recently attended a technology conference. One of the people I heard speak was a technology teacher. She said she no longer teaches specific software because as soon as she gets the curriculum set up, the software is changed and there is something better available for free on the web. So what do we need our children to know?

I believe that students need to be able to do all of the following.

  • Find information on the web and not be completely overwhelmed when they find more than a million hits on their topic.
  • Identify a reliable website and critique the information they find. Read this great article about how to be a skeptic and look for the truth.
  • Properly cite sources of information.
  • Know what kinds of applications there are (games, social networking, productivity tools, word processing, etc.) and what to search for should they need a particular type.
  • How to store and retrieve documents in the cloud and how to remotely collaborate with others on a project.
  • Be independent (and fearless) when it comes to downloading a new app and figuring out how to use it.
  • Proficiently use text-to-speech, speech-to-text, note-taking apps, and other assistive technology.
  • Participate in social networking and know how to send email, text messages, photos, and videos.
  • Create and edit photos and videos.
  • Use email, calendar apps, and other productivity tools to organize personal information and manage time.

I still believe we need to teach children how to use the keyboard efficiently. At this point in time, there are many, many jobs that require typing skills. When taught how to type correctly, people make fewer mistakes and work faster. (See my earlier blog for an explanation of how I believe students should learn keyboarding.) When looking over the technology curriculum at your child’s school, think about 21st-century skills. If the school is behind the time, it would be beneficial for you to teach some of the above skills to your child at home.

> What Is Too Much When it Comes to Kids and Technology?

> Technology Solutions for Reading and Writing Difficulties

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Let Kids Know That Failure Is a Normal Part of Life

As parents, we want to protect our children from failure. What we don’t realize is that failure is an important part of life. If children do not experience failure, they may not learn to struggle through to success. Think about when you watched your child learn to walk. If every time she fell down you rescued her, she would have taken much longer to learn to walk on her own. On the other hand, there were times when she did need encouragement from you to keep trying.

The students I teach are dyslexic. This means they have a specific language learning difficulty that affects them in many ways. They often experience school failure before coming to our school. More than once I have heard my students say they feel their strength is that they know how to fail, sometimes over and over again, and not get too discouraged. To get to this point, however, takes support from parents, friends, and teachers.

When your child fails (such as getting a low grade on a test or project they thought was really good), you can help him to learn resilience—to bounce back and keep trying until he finally succeeds. Here are some suggestions for what you might do.

  • Ask him to help you figure out exactly what went wrong. It is important to identify what caused the failure. Was it that he did not understand the task? Was it that he did not study? Or, was it that he did study, but it did not work? Was it a time management problem? Did he complete all the pieces of the project? Once you have identified a problem, you can take steps with him to solve it the next time he is faced with a similar task.
  • Remind her that she is really good at doing other things, such as playing a musical instrument, participating in sports, painting, or entertaining children. Genuine praise goes a long way in uplifting the spirits of a discouraged child. Everyone is good at doing something, and children need to celebrate their gifts as they are struggling with their weaknesses.
  • If you can think of a time when you failed at something and later made it through your struggle, discuss what you learned from the experience. Did you give up? Did you try again to see if you could do it better the next time? Did you ask for help from someone along the way?
  • Give your child a big hug and assure him that you love him no matter what. Tell him that you believe that he will make it through tough times and that you will be there to help him. Adults who succeeded in school despite having a learning difference often attribute their success to one person. This person—whether a parent, teacher, coach, bus driver, or custodian—simply told them often that they believed in them. This helps to build resilience—the ability to bounce back after failure and to keep on trying.

If you have a child who struggles in school, resist the urge to do her work for her. This will not help her to be successful. It will teach her that she cannot do it without you (or someone else who will do it for her). It is OK to help, but be careful not to do the work. On the other hand, if you see that she is getting too discouraged and is unable to bounce back, it is time to see a professional to help your child find out why school is so difficult for her. The school psychologist is a good place to start. If one is not available, ask her teacher for advice for where to get the help she needs.

 

> Sometimes, Success Starts Out as Failure

> Low Skills Do Not Mean Low Intelligence

 

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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