SchoolFamily Voices

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

Fine Motor Skills That Support Early Education

Good use of fine motor skills contributes to early school success. Fine motor adeptness involves the smaller muscle groups throughout the body—for example, muscles in the hand and fingers must work in unison to strengthen drawing and writing. Small muscles in the throat, tongue and lips must work together for clear speaking and singing. Pronunciation, coloring, printing, cutting, and pasting are some critical skills for staying on grade level during a child’s early years of school.

Between the ages of 4 and 6, help your child learn to master these fine motor skills:

  • Speak clearly to the teacher, other adults and fellow students
  • Sing appropriate age-level songs
  • Say simple rhymes and poems
  • Zip a zipper
  • Button a shirt, pants, or coat
  • Build with blocks and Legos
  • Hold scissors properly
  • Cut on a thick, straight line
  • Put together simple, larger piece puzzles
  • Begin to color within a defined boundary
  • Start to print letters
  • Begin to cut and glue objects to paper (for example, cut a yellow circle for the sun and paste it to a blue “sky” paper)

Between ages 5 and 7, ideally your child will have developed enough fine motor skills to do these activities:

  • Tie shoe and sneaker laces
  • Zip her own coat
  • Print her name using one capital letter and the rest lowercase
  • Have a standard pencil and crayon grip, using the thumb and fingers, not a fist
  • Begin to show hand dominance (either left or right)
  • Write numbers 0-50, in sequence
  • Write partner letters (capital and lowercase, Aa, Bb, etc.)
  • Begin to print letters on the lines of lined paper
  • Color within the lines of a picture
  • Cut out recognizable shapes

Some easy ways to strengthen fine motor skills at home are:

  • Have him help you cut out coupons from newspapers or magazines or from ones you print from the Internet
  • Roll pieces of clay or modeling compound into long “snakes” and twist to form letters or numbers
  • Practice cutting on thicker objects like card stock, thin box tops, or cereal boxes
  • Squeeze and count with a soft ball or tennis ball to strengthen hands and fingers

Strong hands, fingers, and lips can help your young child experience early school achievement. Attention to fine motor details helps the progression from understanding a task to successfully completing it.

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Simple Activities for Fine Motor Success

Good fine motor skills are a very important part of early school success. Fine motor skills are directed by the small muscle groups that control hands and fingers. They support cutting, coloring, tying shoes, printing, etc.

Here are five simple and fun activities you can do at home to help your young student enhance these critical skills:

  • Let him practice coloring on different surfaces, such as thick and thin cardboard, or on a piece of paper that is over a small section of screen. You could also try taping a large piece of paper to a rough inside or outside wall, for drawing or printing practice.
  • Encourage her to use different types of writing instruments crayons, such as crayons with glitter, thick and thin washable markers, thick and thin pencils, erasable pens, colored chalk, sidewalk chalk, or wooden craft sticks for drawing and writing in sand.
  • Let him experiment with tracing paper. For example, help him find a picture of his favorite dinosaur and trace it, so he has a product of his own. Or, let him trace inside stencils, or around cookie cutters, than cut out the tracings to create a picture or collage.
  • With pipe cleaners and small beads, help her make patterns to create bracelets. Or, use five blue and five red beads to create a small, wearable abacus for her wrist. This can be used for simple addition and subtraction practice to the number ten.
  • Practice number recognition with some index cards and clip-on clothes pins. For example, print a numeral 4 on the middle of the card, and let him pinch and clip the correct number of clothes pins to the card. Or download the Color Word Pizza from our Print and Use tools and let him clip the matching clothes pins to the correct color name.

Children who struggle with fine motor skills are often frustrated and reluctant to do tasks that are required in kindergarten and 1st grade. Easy activities like these can help young children develop and strengthen these essential skills. Then they will be ready to show peers and teachers how capable they really are!


> Two Fine Motor Activities To Develop Math Skills

> Practicing Gross Motor Skills Can Improve Learning

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Two Fine Motor Activities To Develop Math Skills

Using fine motor activities involving hand and finger movements is a great way to get a young child to practice and remember number concepts.

Here are two easy ways to mesh fine motor and simple math readiness skills for your kindergarten or 1st grade student.

Activity 1
You will need four items: index cards, any color marker, glue, and salt (or sand or sugar)


  • Use one index card for each number.
  • Write the numbers 0 to 10 with the marker in the middle of the card. Make the numbers large enough to be seen easily, about 4 to 5 inches.
  • With the glue, make a glue line to cover the number.
  • While the glue is wet, sprinkle the sand, salt, or sugar over the card. 
  • Set the cards aside to dry overnight.
  • When completely dry, shake any excess salt off the cards.
  • Have your child close her eyes and trace the number to identify it.
  • When she can easily “feel” and recognize 0 to 10, repeat the process for numbers 11 to 20.

Activity 2

You’ll need index cards or strips of construction paper, a handheld hole punch, and a pencil.


  • Write a simple addition sentence on the card or paper strip, leaving a line at the end for the answer. For example 2 + 3 = __
  • Using the hole punch, direct your child to squeeze the correct number of holes under each number—two holes under the 2, three holes under the 3.
  • Have him count the total number of holes to find the answer to the addition sentence, and then print the numeral 5 with the pencil on the solution line at the end.
  • Adding math to fine motor activities subtly reinforces facts while strengthening the small muscle groups of a young child’s hands and fingers.


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Two Easy Games To Develop Motor Skills

Dexterity, a good grip, and eye-hand coordination are abilities that all young students need in order to print legibly. These require fine motor skills, which means using smaller muscle groups in the hands, and fingers. Yet before fine motor skills can evolve, kids must develop gross motor skills. These involve the larger muscle groups found in the arms, legs, feet, and torso. Play is a wonderful way to develop gross motor skills in young children. Here are two games to strengthen gross motor skills and eye-hand coordination with fun outdoor play. You will need a  Hula-Hoop, three small bean bags, and a soft tennis or small Nerf ball.

Activity 1:  Target Toss, for one or more players

  • Lay the Hula-Hoop on the grass in the yard, a park, or in beach sand (or rather than carry the hoop to the beach, you can draw the large circle, with a stick, in the sand)
  • Have your child stand about 2 feet away from the hoop and toss the bean bags, one at a time, aiming for inside the hoop.  Gather the beanbags so the next child or adult can have a turn.
  • As soon as he can easily get the bags inside the hoop from the shorter distance, challenge him to increase the difficulty.
  • Have him step back about 12 inches and try again. Play often, until he can easily get the bean bags in the hoop from 4 to 5 feet away.
  • Keep count of correct tosses. Player who lands the most bags inside the Hula-Hoop wins.

Activity 2: Squeeze and Toss, for one or more players

  • An adult or older child holds the Hula-Hoop vertically to create a target “circle” in the air.
  • Younger child takes the tennis or Nerf ball in their hand and steps about 12 inches back from the circle.  
  • She “squeezes” the ball three times, counting 1, 2, and 3 for each squeeze before trying to toss the ball through the hoop. The squeezes are an important step in strengthening the hands and fingers.
  • Next person takes a turn, squeezes the ball, and then tosses it. After each round, players step back 12 inches.
  • Keep count. Player with the most successful tosses wins.

The great thing about this kind of play is that it's easy and fun while fine-tuning skills needed for printing and writing success.

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Combine Easy Crafts With Math and Fine Motor Skills

Very often, the best learning takes place when young students are just having fun. Here are some easy activities to do with your kindergarten or 1st grade child that will reinforce essential math and fine motor skills. You will need some household items:

  • yarn or string
  • tape
  • different colored or shaped macaroni, cereal with holes (such as Cheerios, Froot Loops, etc.,) beads or buttons
  • cardboard
  • glue, pencil, or marker

Start simply:

  • Tie a thick knot at the end of some string or yarn.
  • Tightly wrap some tape around the other end to form a “needle” for threading.
  • Thread patterns using the pasta, cereal, or beads (for example, yellow, green, red, then yellow, green, red). When the yarn is full, tie off the taped end and have your child review the pattern.
  • Or on a rectangular piece of cardboard, have your child glue buttons in a pattern from left to right, such as two small, one large or three white, two red, etc.

When your child gets proficient at the simple steps, increase the difficulty:

  • On the yarn or sting use the same color pasta or cereal in sets of five, then put a different shape or color to separate the sets. For example, five Cheerios, then one pasta, five more, then one pasta. When completed, have him use the sets to practice counting by fives. The same can be done for sets of ten.
  • On the top of a cardboard rectangle, glue 10 buttons from left to right. Have her or help her write the numbers underneath the buttons, counting and writing one to 10.
  • Use the buttons, pasta, or cereal to make addition sentences. On a rectangle strip of cardboard have him glue three Cheerios on the left. With a pencil or marker make a plus sign (+) after the group. To the right of the plus sign, he should glue a group of five Cheerios. After that group, make an equals sign (=), and have him glue eight Cheerios. Underneath, let him or help him write: 3 + 5 = 8.

Combining fine motor activities with math gives your child the opportunity to build a successful “product” while subtly reinforcing important educational concepts.

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Ideas To Increase Fine Motor Skills in Young Students

My post last week outlined the connection between gross and fine motor skills and activities to improve gross motor success. This week, my focus is on fine motor skills, and simple activities to help your kindergarten or 1st grade child improve these more subtle skills.

Fine motor skills use the smaller muscle groups such as hands, fingers, toes, and lips. These skills are critical in dressing, handwriting, cutting, board games, and expressive communication.

Here are five ways to help your child improve their fine motor skills.

  • Zip and button. Find different sized zippers around your house, and have her practice opening and closing them. Some examples could be found on coats or jackets, pillows, boots, etc.  Button up buttons. Vary button sizes with different shirts, jackets, etc. to practice the “push and pull” of buttons.
  • Practice how to tie. Use ribbon, string, shoelaces, etc from objects around your home. First tie knots, then tie bows. Teach him how to tie his shoes!
  • Build together with blocks or Legos. While improving fine motor muscles, building with blocks also helps young children see patterns, learn about balance, and see how things fit together. It also helps refine eye-hand coordination.
  • Hole punch designs. Help your child draw a simple picture on white paper, such as a large balloon, star, circle, etc. Then let her punch holes with a handheld single hole punch around the design. While strengthening hand muscles, this also creates a clear border for coloring inside the design.
  • Sing together! In the car, at home, or any other appropriate place, sing favorite songs together. Some great songs I’ve used in my class are “The Clean-up Song,” from Laurie Berkner’s Buzz, Buzz CD and “Kindness” from Steve Roslonek’s Little Superman CD.

Increasing fine motor dexterity in young children helps build their confidence, and being a confident young student leads to school success.

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Practicing Gross Motor Skills Can Improve Learning

For the most part, all learning is sequential, which means that we build on known skills to acquire new ones. This is especially true for young children, who are developing gross and fine motor dexterity.

Gross motor skills involve the large muscle groups such as torso, legs, arms, and feet. Fine motor skills use the smaller muscle groups, such as hands, fingers, toes, and lips. Both are critical in learning. For example, if a young child has trouble catching a ball, he might not be able to print his name.

Strengthening gross-motor skills will lead to improved fine motor skills, which are important for early school success.
Here are five ways to help your kindergartener or 1st grader practice gross motor skills:


  • Ride bikes together. If your child still has training wheels, gradually help him become less dependent on them. If possible, try riding bikes to school together, rather than driving or taking the bus. Or take advantage of any nearby bike paths or parks. (Don’t forget helmets.)
  • Balance on a curb or low beam. When walking outside together. help your child balance on a curb, low beam, short wall, etc. Hold her hand until she can easily balance on her own when walking on a slightly elevated surface.
  • Practice hopping, skipping, and jumping. Once your child can easily do all these movements, increase the difficulty. Create “obstacles” to move around, such as skipping around the tree, jumping over the hula hoop, or playing Hopscotch.
  • Practice running backward. Most young child can easily run forward. Running backward is harder to master, yet will strengthen opposing muscle groups for better balance. Make sure it’s an obstacle-free, flat, grassy or soft place for her to practice.
  • Do jumping jacks together. This simple activity can help increase his balance and coordination while strengthening bone density.

Good gross motor skills are a natural segue to improved fine motor skills. Next week I’ll share some activities to promote fine motor tasks.


> Simple Activities Can Improve Fine Motor Skills

> More Activities To Improve Gross Motor Skills

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

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


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


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


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


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


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



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Little Boys and Lego Woes

My little boy (see photo) loves Legos. Okay. What 7-year-old boy doesn’t?


However he loves them for about 10 minutes. Or as long as it takes him to put together the elaborate “puzzle” of pieces via the boxed instructions. And dang, he’s unbelievably good at putting them together with picture-instructions and no words! (A grown-up’s worst nightmare.)


Then they’re cleaned up.


Fast forward to after the cleanup.


They sit in a Lego graveyard, and he never builds with them again. That is, until a new box of vacuum-destroying pieces show up. He received a huge K’NEX  rollercoaster set for Christmas and spent the whole holiday break putting the monster together, but got frustrated at the last step—and it’s sitting in a corner, only nearly-finished.


Will the same thing play out again and again? Once he “puts the puzzle” together, will that will be the end of it? Take it apart, load it into a bin, and forget about it?


Because we are running out of bins.


Is my kid the only one who loves building with a new set… only the first time?


I’m thinking we should track down the puzzle glue and weld these various contraptions together for display on a shelf (at least then they’d get some decorative use!). Oh, but the mom-voice in my head says: “Don’t do it! Think about the dust it’ll capture. And what will you do with the Lego City when he heads off to college? Who wants hand-me-down Legos all glued together!?”


Beyond Legos, where else will this lead? With all the dirty laundry he piles up around his room, should we create a statue of stinky clothes? (Or a mountain of forgotten, lost and half-mated socks?) How about a special shelf devoted to depressed board games with orphaned pieces? No.  I’ve got it. We’ll create a shrine to his messiest (and most loved) science projects. The Bubble Bonanza. The Volcano of Terror. And of course the Stinky Cabbage Color Experiment!


That shelf is gonna be crowded!


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Children Need Experience Making Their Own Decisions

It is tempting as a parent to take control of every part of a child’s life. Parents make sure their children do all their homework, get up on time, get ready for school, eat a healthy breakfast, wear appropriate clothing, and catch the school bus on time. Parents essentially decide everything! At some point in a child’s life, however, parents will not be there to make all their decisions for them.

Children need experience making decisions. They will make mistakes along the way, but you will be there to help them understand the mistakes and to do better the next time. Here are 5 ideas for questions you can ask your child, allowing him to make decisions that don’t impact health, safety, or education.

  • “Do you want to eat broccoli or green beans for supper?” They’re both green veggies, so let them choose to eat the one they like the best.
  • “What do you plan to wear to school tomorrow?” As long as they meet the school’s dress code, they should be able to choose their own clothes from a fairly early age.
  • “Why don’t you check the weather channel and decide whether you will need your hat and gloves tomorrow?” Unless you know it might be seriously harmful for them to go without the hat and gloves, why not let them make a bad decision once or twice?
  • “Are you going to start with your math homework or your English?” Children should not decide whether to do their homework, but allowing them to decide which to do first is perfectly appropriate.
  • “You can play video games for 30 minutes tonight. When is the best time for you to do that?” Some kids will choose to play right when you ask; some will choose to wait until later. As long as they are not spending too much time playing the video game, it probably does not matter.

When I’ve written on this topic before, I’ve heard from parents that they’re afraid their child will make bad decisions. To that I ask, “How will they ever learn to make good decisions if you don’t allow them to mess up every once in awhile?” Children—like most adults—are happier when they feel they have some control over their own activities.


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Kids Learn Skills Through Art

“Art is thought expressed through the hands.”

— Unknown author

Most young children are natural artists. Some of an infant’s earliest responses are to color, light and shapes. These responses help an infant recognize differences while exploring and learning about their world. This “learning through the senses” at a very early age helps a young child develop higher level cognitive skills, such as, reasoning, identifying symbols, and developing language.


Learning colors, recognizing shapes, and starting to “make pictures” in their minds are important pre-reading skills. Often, a beginning reader looks to the picture for clues about the words. 


Connecting art to learning is a great educational tool and something I use in my classroom every day. It’s easy to do at home as well.


Here are three simple artistic ways to help your young child become a better reader and writer.


Create an “Art Box” in your home.  Fill a cardboard box with crayons, old wallpaper scraps, ribbon, glitter glue, construction paper, markers, stickers, scissors, etc. Bring it out on stormy days and let your child have creative fun. Working with different textures, shapes, and substances helps improve her fine motor skills.


Children love working with rebus sentences. A “rebus” sentence is a combination of pictures and words. On a piece of paper draw an “eye,” a “heart,” write the word “my,” then draw a “dog.” Have your child read the sentence to you.  I love my dog.” Then have him draw a rebus sentence of his own for you to read.


Save your old catalogs and magazines. Let your child go through them to find, cut and glue pictures that start with specific letters. Begin with an easy letter. For example, on the top of an 8 1/2 x 11 piece of construction paper write the letters “Bb” Then let your child look through the catalog or magazine for pictures that begin with "Bb" (upper case and lower case). Periodically do this activity for all letters. When the alphabet is complete staple the papers, in alphabetical order, and your child his or her own creative book.


Art is a universal “language” that often makes a dramatic difference in developing reading and writing comprehension.

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Use Estimating Fun to Educate

Take advantage of your young child’s natural curiosity by using estimation! It is a great way to help your child improve her overall math skills.

Estimating gives a child the opportunity to “guess” a math answer, using his prior knowledge of numbers.  It’s a useful tool to get your child thinking about a math problem before actually solving it. 

For a young child it’s best to start with a visual.  Here are some simple ways to incorporate estimation into your child’s thinking.

•  Fill a small, clear container with pennies, M & M’s, Legos, or any other small objects.  Keep it on the kitchen counter, or some other place where it’s easily visible.  Let her hold it, shake it, try to count through the container wall, etc. Have her guess how many objects are in the container. Delay opening the container and counting the objects right away.  It’s okay if she changes her guess a number of times.  After a day or two, open the container and count the objects together to see how close she came to the correct number. Refill the jar with different objects and keep practicing until her guesses are very close to the actual number.

Take an estimation “walk.” For example, let your child guess how many heel-to-toe steps he will have to take to walk from the kitchen to the computer.  Then have him walk and count the actual steps. For fun, have him guess how many steps it will take you to do the same walk! Talk about why you, as an adult, would use fewer steps.

Have your child grab a handful of pennies, raisins, Goldfish crackers, or other small objects. Let her estimate if the number of objects she has in her hands is “odd or even.” Help her arrange them in pairs to find out. “Even” numbers will always be in a pair. “Odd” numbers will always have one left over.

Simple games like these give you the opportunity to create an environment that puts the “fun” in math fundamentals!

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Get Moving and Do Better in School

Last week was school vacation here in Massachusetts.  One afternoon I went to lunch with a few friends who were lamenting how difficult it is to get their kids outside and moving. Of course the conversation turned to limiting TV, computer and gaming time.  During the course of the conversation there were times when we each checked a text message or two... it could be the kids, right? Then it hit me. Here we are complaining about how our kids are being couch potatoes when in some ways, many of us contribute to living a sedentary life style. When you have down time with family, do you watch TV or movies... or do you go for walk or visit the gym together? When you get together with other families, is it all about food or do you go do something active together like snow tubing or bicycling? It's all about choices right? This revelation made me realize as parents we need to judge less and model more ... and make healthier choices.

That's why I was very excited to learn that School Family is partnering with Let's Move! 

Let’s Move! is a comprehensive initiative, launched by the First Lady, dedicated to solving the problem of obesity within a generation, so that children born today will grow up healthier and able to pursue their dreams.


What's nice about this program is that it gives you a framework for moving towards a healthier way of living. We have tons of new tools in our Print and Use Tools section to get your family involved in the Let's Move initiative: 

Let's Move! Take Action Schools Guide

Let's Move! Take Action Parents Guide

Let's Move! Grocery List Template

Let's Move! Family Activities Guide

Let's Move! Healthy Family Calendar

Let's Move! Screen Time Log

Let's Move! Goal Tracker

Research indicates that kids who get regular exercise do better in school. How's that for an added incentive? Print out the material, set some goals, and get moving! 

What does your family do to keep active together? How do you inspire your kids to get exercise? How would you like to change your family's  life style?

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A Last Minute Handmade Christmas Present for Grandparents


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

Here are the basics of a memory jar or box:

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

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


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Does my Child Have Dysgraphia?

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

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

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

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

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Managing Technology Distractions on School Nights

Cell phones, Facebook, I-Touch, Xbox + students + parents… can they peacefully co-exist and survive the school year? How do we best teach our kids to manage technology distractions on school nights? Hmmm.

Did you ever stop to think that because we are addressing this very question we are making history? This is a new problem that gets more complex with every new release of cell phones, gaming systems, etc.  How to address this issue has not yet been solved. I know this because I have googled many phrases in attempt to come up with a plan for my family:

Technology limits on school nights
Technology limits + kids + homework
Guidelines for cell phone use + study skills + teens

What did I find online? Not a lot. I learned that too much Facebook affects academic performance. Now there’s a surprise. Also learned that t(w)eens will text all night  if you let them keep their phone in their room. Shocking. What I didn’t seem to find is how to help our kids manage all these distractions. So, my husband and I  did what any good parents would do: We talked to other parents and compared notes on kids, homework and technology rules. Next, we developed a list of guidelines for technology on school nights that we felt fit our situation and kids.  

Thought I would share our guidelines here in hopes that other parents will jump into the conversation.  

School Night Technology Rules

After School/Before Homework Technology

  • Can check Facebook 15 min max  & be on computer for homework related stuff only
  • i-Touch for checking Facebook - 15 minutes

During Homework

  • I-Touch - Music Only   -   if used for surfing the net, or Facebook, I-Touches will be downstairs
  • Cell phones- in kitchen (our kids do homework at desks in their bedrooms)
  • Can check cell phones on homework breaks
  • Note: our computer is in our family room.

After Homework Approved Activities

  • Chores get done first
  • Outside activities
  • TV
  • Read 
  • Hobbies (xbox is not a hobby)
  • Friends
  • No i-Touch games or internet-  Music only
  • No XBox
  • Can talk to friends via Skype  

Night Time/In Bed

  • Cell phones downstairs
  • I-Touch for music only- No internet or games


  • Homework needs to start no later than 3pm 
  • No XBOX after 3

You may be wondering why we felt the need to write up such specific rules for our family.  I will tell you that typically my husband and I fall into the authoritative parent style category. As for our kids, they are good kids; they have lots of interests, make great choices with friends, they get good grades, and are kind and respectful. For these reasons, last year we went the route of "discussing" guidelines and hoping that our kids would learn to self-manage. Simply put, this approach didn’t work.

So fast forward to the family meeting where we told our kids about the "new plan." Well, you can imagine that this went over like a lead balloon.  As anticipated, we had a very heated and healthy exchange with our kids. Their reaction: these rules are way too extreme. 

So, here’s the gist of what we told our kids... when they were little it was our job to keep them safe. Now that they are older we want to empower them to make good choices but  this technology thing is just too darn alluring. Stay in touch with your friends 24-7? That’s a t(w)een’s dream. Science tells us that t(w)eens brains are not wired to multi-task nor can they be expected be a steel trap of self-discipline. They are not unmotivated or bad kids – it’s just unfair to think that they could have their cell phone and Facebook accessible  during homework and not be tempted to check it … a lot. (Yes, we have cell phone texting records to prove this theory ;  ) Our goal is to have balanced kids, that do well in school and pursue hobbies and friendships that don’t always involve technology. Hopefully by taking this approach, our kids will arrive at the spring of senior year with lots of options for colleges and have no regrets (because they didn’t apply themselves).  Once we explained our thoughts, they actually came around. Yes, they are still speaking to us. I may even go so far as to say that I think they are relieved to have some limits set. I'll have to get back to you on that one. 

So now it’s your turn. How do you manage technology distractions on school nights in your house? What has worked and not worked? Would you add or subtract anything to our list?




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12330 Hits

The Impact of Too Little Unstructured Playtime

This past Monday night I chose to be the voice of my young students.

In front of school committee members, the superintendent, and 300 or so parents of my school community, I spoke on behalf of all East Providence elementary school children. I asked administrators to reverse their decision to change recess, and to keep our recess exactly as it has been. After a three and a half hour meeting…I am still unsure of the outcome!

It appears now that recess will be a structured event, orchestrated by the classroom teacher. Yet, another piece of the day that someone is telling children what to do.

This is not just happening in my school community. It’s happening everywhere in a child’s life, in every town across America. Between sports, music or dance lessons, crafts, etc. children are programmed and over scheduled.

Creativity and spontaneity are fast becoming extinct. The satisfaction of a child’s enthusiastic “I did it!” has been replaced by the often asked, “What do I do now?” No wonder some children lack self-esteem. Confidence comes from solving problems, and taking pride in a job well done. It is not something that can be taught. It must be experienced!

Let’s reverse this current trend and give an important part of childhood, free unstructured play, back to our children!

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5385 Hits

Fun Rainy Day (Learning) Activities

Old magazines can be "recycled" to new learning tools this summer. With a stack of old magazines your child can practice visual, fine motor, phonic, reading and math skills. Here are a few ideas to get started.

  • Have your child say their favorite color. Give him one or two magazines and let him cut out ten pictures that show the color. Glue the pictures to a paper for a purple (or blue, or green, or yellow, etc.) collage.
  • Use the magazine pictures to help your child categorize. For example, find all the pictures of cars and circle them with a marker.
  • Practice beginning letter sounds. Give your child a few magazines. Have her look for the pictures that start with letter "Bb," for example. Cut out six or seven pictures that begin with that letter, and paste them on a piece of construction paper. When the page is dry keep it in a large Ziploc bag. As your child completes all the letters in the alphabet, assemble the pages for her own Alphabet Book.
  • Cut and use pictures to practice addition word problems. For example, an adult cuts out pictures of two glasses and three plates. Paste them in a row, leaving a space between the glasses and plates. Ask your child, "Two glasses plus three plates equal..." Let your child count the total to get the answer. Then you can write the number model underneath, 2+3=5.

These are great rainy day activities!

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5070 Hits

The Arts in Education: Essential or Not?

Every time I scan the news I see another article about cutting the arts from education. It saddens me. Deeply. I know that budget cuts are very real and that there are no easy decisions or answers.

Here's the thing: to me, the timing could not be worse. School systems are being forced to put more and more emphasis on standardized tests. The result: the creative process is getting the squeeze. At home, technology has taken over. Instead of playing outside, building forts, or inside, drawing or painting, many kids are playing on the computer, gaming system or i-touch instead. So much is lost due to the absence of art.

When kids experience the arts they develop the following essential skills and qualities:

  • Imagination
  • Cognitive skills
  • Creative abilities
  • Problem solving
  • Fine motor skills
  • Critical thinking
  • Language development
  • Social skills
  • Sense of time and place
  • Focusing
  • Listening
  • Risk taking
  • Tolerance
  • Uniqueness

Just came across this article about a school that is doing their part to keep the arts alive at their school. I loved watching the video footage of the kids. Would love hear if your school has come up with some creative ways to preserve the arts at your school.

One last thought: March is youth art month -- hope that you'll do you part to foster the love of arts both at your child's school and at home.

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6978 Hits
1 Comment

How to Make an Easy Fine Motor Activity for Your Young Child

Here is a great activity for eye-hand coordination, as well as strengthening finger muscles. Make your own lacing cards to help strengthen your child’s finger muscles.

 You will need:

  • Poster board
  • A hole puncher
  • Some packages of new, long shoelaces


  • Cut some eight inch squares from the poster board.
  • Use these squares to cut decorative shapes, such as a heart, triangle, simple truck or boat, sun, apple, etc. You can also trace and cut shapes from coloring book pictures.
  • Use the hole puncher to punch holes along the edge of these shapes, about three inches apart.
  • Tie one end of the long shoelace to the first hole. I recommend using shoelaces because the hard end is easier for young children to manipulate.
  • Then let your child lace around the shapes with and “in and out” motion.

Keep the cards and laces in a zip-lock baggie for ease of use and storage.


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5252 Hits

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