SchoolFamily Voices

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

Keep Communication Lines Open on Mobile Safety

As parents, we want to convey the right messages about mobile safety so our kids understand the importance of behaving responsibly when using smartphones.

But these conversations can be tough. Did you know two out of five kids say their parents haven’t talked to them about mobile safety?

Sometimes kids don’t want “a lecture,’’ and sometimes parents feel they aren’t being heard. One option is to have a conversation with your child using the Family Guide to Mobile Safety, a free downloadable guide SchoolFamily.com developed in partnership with AT&T.

One strategy: Pick a quiet time over the weekend when no one feels rushed, sit down with your child, and use the information in the guide as key talking points.

Also, parents can check out the new Mobile Families resources on our site, where there is a collection of related articles about such important issues as screen time and how to best select and use technology and apps.

You can download the entire eight page Family Guide or download individual printables. The individual printables include:

  • The Family Mobile Safety Agreement. Parents and kids can discuss appropriate mobile phone behavior, agree to follow the rules, and sign the document together.
  • Is your child ready for a cell phone? A guide to help determine better when it makes sense to make this important purchase.
  • How to behave online. This document gives parents talking points on what it means to be a good digital citizen.
  • What’s with all the texting? This guide gives information about what kids should or should never text.
  • Establishing ground rules. This document has pointers for parents on how to set rules for phone use.
  • Apps: Where to start. This guide give suggestions so parents can make better app purchasing decisions.
  • Cell phone checklist: Gives a list of steps on how to navigate the first mobile phone purchase.
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Mother’s Day: Sleeping In vs. Breakfast In Bed

I’ve spent nearly 15 years celebrating Mother’s Days. And after a while it sort of gets mashed into all the other days and craziness of May. School is winding down, with end of year celebrations and field trips, plus Little League is ramping up. Add to that all the band concerts and awards banquets, and literally every evening of every week is crazy busy.

Also in May we have a couple of family birthdays and with the second Sunday of the month being Mother’s Day, honestly, I just don’t need another stress in my life! I’d so much prefer a calm day off without too much fanfare and of course my family nearby (if possible doing all the “work” it takes to run the house...).

I know my husband and kids mean well, and they say it’s the thought that counts, right? But sometimes I wish “the thought” would ask me what I want first!

Here’s an unofficial survey—on Mother’s Day, which would you prefer:

  • Sleeping in ’till 9 a.m. —OR— having breakfast in bed? (I love runny eggs and dandelions in a cup as much as the next mom, but extra sleep is divine!)
  • Ghirardelli Dark Chocolate with Sea Salt Caramel —OR— homemade cupcakes made with love and a few extra doses of salt ‘cuz the 2-year-old helped?
  • That new artwork you’ve been dreaming about for the entryway —OR —child fridge art of creatures with monster arms and robot heads, and framed in macaroni ‘gilt’ edges?
  • A gift certificate to your favorite day spa —OR— foot rubs from 3 little kid’s hands and a shoulder rub from a big strong dad?
  • A day off from all household work (NO DISHES!) —OR— I can’t think of anything better (NO DISHES? What?!)
  • A quiet walk with one of your kids, and a picnic lunch —OR— a rambunctious afternoon at the park playing catch with the whole family followed by a lunch of leftovers?

I’m not saying the only thing I want is a day to myself without my family, (not that I wouldn’t appreciate a day like that!), but there are a few special pleasures I genuinely enjoy. Sleeping in is one of them, dark chocolate is another, and a day without dishes would be a dream come true! However, I so rarely get to spend time with just one of my kids that I’d LOVE, as part of my Mother’s Day” gift, to have a scheduled afternoon alone with each of my 3 kids. 

[Sigh]. It might have to wait until after Father’s Day!

What’s your dream Mother’s Day Gift?


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Summer Plans for Struggling Students

Students who struggle in school often have gifts in areas that do not relate to academics. For example, they may be amazing artists, musicians, athletes, actors or dancers. When thinking about summer plans for these students, make sure to include plenty of time for them to spend doing these activities. They already spend most of their life doing what they are not so good at doing! They need to be encouraged to develop their gifts.

I have this conversation often with parents. They say their child needs help with reading, math, writing, or spelling. And, they plan to book most of their summer time working on these skills. Of course, it is okay to work on skills during the summer. However, do not do that exclusively. Plan for them to spend more time doing the things they excel at doing than working on schoolwork.

When parents tell me their child wants to go to summer camp but it will interfere with summer school, I encourage them to allow their child to go to camp. It is important for students’ mental and physical health to spend time doing things they love, socializing with their peers, playing games, and generally having fun. It is also important that they have complete “down time”—nothing planned, nowhere to go, time to think, and time to imagine. It’s the best part about summer!

It is more likely your child will pursue a career in an area where he is gifted than in an area that relates to academics. And, it is more likely she will be successful in a career that matches her strengths instead of trying to do something she may never truly be good at doing. Summer time should be spent pursuing her interests as much as possible.

For more thoughts on this topic, read my earlier blog, School Is Not Life.


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Bullied Gay Teen Defends Himself At School Using Stun Gun Mom Gave Him

Parents, what do you think about this story?

A young Indianapolis teenager, who is openly gay and has been repeatedly bullied at school, was given a stun gun by his mother to protect himself.  

And when the young man, Darnell “Dynasty” Young, age 17, was recently surrounded by a group of six bullies who threatened to beat him, he says he raised the stun and shot it up into the air to scare them off.

He was then reportedly handcuffed and has since been expelled from the school. He cannot re-enroll, according to the Indianapolis Star, until next January, meaning he misses completing the end of his junior year, and the beginning of his senior year.


POLL: Did this mother do the right thing?


Young’s mother, Chelisa Grimes, who appeared on CNN with her son, said she feels she did the right thing in giving her son the weapon to protect himself. Grimes said she wasn’t even aware that her son was being bullied until she was contacted by school officials. After that, when nothing was done about the bullying— she says when she complained about the continued bullying school officials told her that Young should be less “flamboyant”—she provided the gun to her son.

What would you have done in this situation? Has anything like this happened at your child's school?

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Farewell To Maurice Sendak, Author of "Where The Wild Things Are"

To borrow a phrase from a classic Beatle’s song that feels especially applicable, “I read the news today, oh boy…”

The news in this case is the passing of writer Maurice Sendak, the man who penned whimsical, wonderful children’s books, the most well known of which—“Where The Wild Things Are”—was required nightly reading in our home when my son was a little boy.

For the uninitiated, “Where The Wild Things Are” tells the story of young Max, who is sent to his room without dinner for speaking rudely to his mother. In a flourish of anger, Max dons his “wolf suit,” and decides to sail away, never to return. On his voyage, he lands at a strange place inhabited by “wild things”—giant, grotesquely–shaped creatures, which Sendak said he created based on the dubious characteristics of some of his loud, obnoxious relatives with big noses and bad teeth.

Max eventually returns home, leaving the bereft wild things who have crowned him their new king and are heartbroken to see him go. Once home, Max and his mother make peace, and she gives him his dinner, which is still warm.  

Sendak’s sensibilities about children made him realize that kids wouldn’t be frightened by the book—or the wild things—though many adults were concerned that they would be. The book was initially banned by many librarians.

I loved Sendak’s work, but mostly I loved reading about him and seeing him in the rare televised interviews he gave. He was a cantankerous and opinionated man with a soft spot for children (though he never had any of his own), and seemed to inherently know their wishes and wiles better than most parents.

Some of my family’s other favorites by Sendak include “The Nutshell Library,” a collection of four small books:  “Alligators All Around,” “Chicken Soup With Rice,” “One Was Johnny,” and “Pierre.” We also enjoyed “In the Night Kitchen,” though it was more fanciful, complex, and mystical than his others. It was also a banned book for a time.

Sendak’s illustrations, from earlier in his career, included another favorite family, the “Little Bear” series, written by Else Holmelund Minarik.

My personal favorite, however, was “Really Rosie,” a musical production based on Sendak’s "Nutshell"collection with music written and performed by Carole King. We used to watch a videotape of “Really Rosie” over and over, and I admit that on occasion, it was me urging the kids to watch it, not the other way around. How could I not, with lyrics like these, from Sendak’s story “Pierre,” about a small, nasty, indifferent little boy who didn’t care about anything, including being swallowed by a lion—or so he thought:


“They rushed the lion into town

The doctor shook him up and down

And when the lion gave a roar

Pierre fell out upon the floor

He rubbed his eyes and scratched his head

And laughed because he wasn't dead

His mother cried and held him tight

His father asked-Are you all right?

Pierre said—I am feeling fine

Please take me home, it's half past nine


The lion said—If you would care

To climb on me, I'll take you there

Then everyone looked at Pierre

Who shouted—Yes, indeed, I care!

The lion took them home to rest

And stayed on as a weekend guest

The moral of Pierre is: CARE!”


If you haven’t yet experienced Sendak’s illustrations and books, now’s the time to do so. Someday, your kids will thank you. Looking for other great books to read? This summer reading list will get you and your kids started.

Editor's note: The image used here is a tagged illustration from "Where The Wild Things Are,” which shows Max in his wolf suit creating a "wild rumpus" with one of the wild things. The image appears in Kelsey-Woodlawn, Saskatoon, SK, Canada and is reprinted with permission from WikimediaCommons.

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Moms, You Are Appreciated More Than You May Know!

Moms, I’m here to let you know that all those little things you do for your children are noticed!

During these past two weeks, my 1st grade class has been preparing for our annual “Mother’s Day Tribute.”

This event always takes place on the Friday before Mother’s Day. Moms are invited to our classroom for an hour, and are treated to beautiful words, written and recited by their children.

Prior to writing, we brainstorm ideas. First drafts usually start with “She takes me…” “She buys me…” but, I remind them that it is not about them; it’s about noticing all the little things that makes their Mom special. This class really put their lessons about metaphors and similes to good use, and have been working extremely hard, writing about why their Moms are special to them.

Without giving too much away, I’d like to share how their writing evolved into descriptive, caring words, straight from a child’s heart:


“She is like a piece of jewelry, shiny and valuable.”


“Her voice is like the ocean waves, soft and clear.”


“She’s as beautiful as a rose.”


“She smells like raspberries.”


“I would never trade her for another Mom.”


“Her soft brown eyes are like a puppy’s.”


“When she gets dressed up for parties, she looks like a queen.”


“Her laugh is music to my ears.”


“I love everything about my Mom.  She is perfect.”


“She has a great smile, and she is a fast runner.”


“Her hugs feel squishy and warm.”


“When she smiles she reminds me of a rainbow, shiny and pretty.”


“Her eyes are brownish-green, like sea glass.”


“She is a good influence to me.”


“Her eyes look like Hershey’s Kisses.”


“She is a great cook…I love her crispy chicken.”


 “She has beautiful brown eyes, like mine.”


“I love her so much I could glue her to me.”


So, Moms…the next time that you are stressed out and feeling underappreciated, know that your little ones love and appreciate you very much.

Happy Mother’s Day!



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Girlfriends Help This GoodNCrazy Mom Get By

My girlfriends, Mom friends, BFFs (whatever you want to call them), save my life on a regular basis.

This photo, at right, is from a recent birthday party for my friend Julie, the woman in the tiara (I’m sitting next to the birthday girl). We all had party assignments, and since she’s a total candy-head, everyone brought a different bag of her favorite sugar-high treat. There are always a lot of kids around when the moms get together, so for this occasion we opted to have a lunch at my house. We each purchased several of the birthday girl’s favorite food items from restaurants around town: a sandwich, an appetizer, or a random smoothie. Then we all shared the food finds for our lunch. We called it the “Julie-Smorgasbord!”

How exactly does a birthday party celebrating the guest of honor’s favorite foods save my life? It doesn't. But getting together often does! Pretty much any excuse will do for an impromptu gathering. Does anyone need a late night run to Walmart? Count me in!

We meet every Tuesday night for “Old Lady Basketball,” where we laugh (and run) for an hour. Afterwards, we sometimes head to one of our houses or maybe hit Denny’s—we figure we deserve to eat the calories that we just worked off! 

About once a month we hold “Book Club.” I say that with a grin because recently, when we realized no one was reading the books, we changed the name to just “Club.” Some suggested having a “magazine” reading club but the purists in the group (me) said NO WAY. (A parent-child book club is also a great idea.)

We create capers as often as we can invent them. About a year ago one mom was having her fourth baby. A “shower” didn’t quite fit, so we donned black clothing, fake moustaches, and stretched black panty hose over our heads, and “abducted” her away to a “Mom Party.”

And last summer we found out there is such a thing as “National Toilet Paper Day.” Who knew? Well we knew we couldn’t let that go by unheralded. We snuck out late and toilet-papered the house of one of our favorite grandmas in town! (Her husband was in on it and we cleaned the whole thing up the next day. We are Moms, after all!)

My husband has been traveling more in the past few months than he ever has in our nearly 20 years of marriage, and people often ask me how I do it. I simply say: I don’t do it alone! My mom-friends help me. (And it also helps that my kids are older now.) I also have to give a plug for my 14-year-old daughter who helps a ton (when she’s not going to play practice, that is).

But back to the girlfriends…we lovingly refer to ourselves as sister wives (don’t tell our husbands), but it’s true. If I need help with my younger kids so that I can attend an older child’s awards banquet, I have no less than 5 friends I can ask to watch them. And if I need adult conversation after a week of doing the single mom thing, I simply send out an email smoke signal (and a request for hot wings), and 8 women show up after my bedtime routine with the kids.

These late night chats, post basketball outings, and “Club" meetingts—or get-togethers for no reason at all, are literal life savers and I don’t regret a single bleary-eyed morning after!

BTW, guess what we have planned next? We’re excited because one of our gal-pals is engaged!!! Traditional wedding shower? Heck, no. We’re gonna throw the best little bachelorette party this town has ever seen! Shhh don’t tell her; it’s a HUGE surprise!

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The Importance of Teaching Students To Write By Hand

Ever since writing my earlier blog post about whether we really need to teach cursive handwriting, Do Children Still Need to Learn Cursive?, I have been thinking more about it. Many parents are concerned that their children are not being taught cursive writing any more, and they wonder whether it is going to be a problem.

Louise Spear-Swerling, professor of special education and reading and the area coordinator of the graduate program in learning disabilities at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven, addresses this topic in a great article at LDOnline.org called “The Importance of Teaching Handwriting.”

She brings up some points I never thought about before. For example, when children are learning to form the letters on the page, they are also practicing the sound the letter makes. Most likely this is occurring silently, although some teachers may have the children say and sound out the letter as they write. This sound-symbol relationship is required before children can become fluent readers. Therefore you might say that learning to write helps develop other language skills.

 Another point Spear-Swerling makes is that children need to learn to write in manuscript—printing instead of cursive writing—since that is the form they will most often read. One problem with manuscript, however, in terms of helping a child in school, is that many children make several strokes with their pencil when printing each letter. This takes more time than using a single stroke, which is more often done in cursive. Legibility and speed are important for school success since students often need to take notes, respond to questions on tests, or write down their assignments rather quickly; and, they need to be able to read what they wrote.

 In my post, I never really said what I thought. I believe we need to teach our students how to write legibly and quickly. We should teach manuscript first since they are learning to read manuscript letters first. Then we should teach cursive to see if the fluency of cursive writing can help them write faster. If they later migrate to manuscript (or some combination of manuscript and cursive), we should allow it as long as they can write legibly.

 Legible handwriting needs to be automatic as well, so that it does not occupy thinking space while working on higher level writing tasks. Read my earlier post about Helping Kids by Reducing Demands on Working Memory, to understand the importance of this.

 Someday, there may not be a need for everyone to be able to write by hand. However, until we no longer need it, we have to teach it. We also need to teach our students how to use the keyboard efficiently. My earlier blog on selecting typing software is about how to learn to type. I also wrote a longer article, Learning the Keyboard, about the importance of students’ learning keyboarding.


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School Family Announces "Recipe Share"!

At SchoolFamily.com, we’ve got some exciting news…

We’re very pleased to announce the launch of Recipe Share, SchoolFamily.com’s new recipe section!

Looking for a great afterschool snack to made for—or with—your kids? Or how about one that older kids can make themselves? We’ve got ‘em.

Need some new ideas for your child’s school lunch box? We’ve got ‘em.

What about recipes for quick and easy weeknight meals for those evenings that seem completely taken up with kids’ afterschool activities? Or recipes for dinners that can be made ahead? We’ve got ‘em.

Crockpot recipes, recipes for those with food allergies, recipes for desserts, salads, pasta dinners and salads, dips, and side dishes? We’ve got ‘em all, plus some. In fact, we have more than 50 recipe categories from which you can choose to find just what you’re looking for!

And all of our recipes are printer-friendly!

Some of our recipes are from food bloggers you may already know, including weelicious.com and freshbaby.com. Others are from fairly new food bloggers—Organic Glory and Mummy’s Busy World.

And in an exclusive partnership, we have recipes from the Meal Makeover Moms. These two moms, who are both registered dietitians, take traditional recipes and make them over for better nutrition, without sacrificing taste! How about Healthier Hamburger Helper? Or Smiley Face Casserole? (See their lasagna makeover—Chock-Full-O-Veggies Lasagna—pictured above.) The Meal Makeover Moms section features dinner, afterschool and lunch box snacks, desserts, stews, and more.

But perhaps best of all, we welcome recipe submissions from you, our readers! Send us your family’s favorite recipes of all types—dinners to dips to desserts and more—and we’ll include them in our Recipe Share. Simply complete this easy online form, attach a photo of your completed dish (if you have one), and send it along to us! We’ll send you a link to your recipe once it’s posted!

Happy eating!

Carol Brooks Ball, editor



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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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Is it Un-American To Dislike Little League...When It's Cold?

My children love Little League. Me? Not so much. I like watching them play baseball—I do. And I’m pretty sure it’s un-American to dislike Little League. It’s just that I’m a fair-weather sports mom. And I live in a part of the country where spring has a short memory, forgetting that even though daffodils already came up, snow often blankets us in June. (You may think I’m exaggerating, but last year it snowed twice in June! That may have been an anomaly. But old-timers swear it has snowed as late as July before.)

 What I’m saying is that it’s rarely very warm here in April/May during peak Little League season. As a mom it’s already chaotic enough shuttling 3 kids to the other side of town for separate practices, games, and oh don’t forget—“Your turn at the concession stands.” Add to the chaos cold temperatures, possible rain, and often hail or snow, and you get a grumpy M-O-M who’s tired of Little League! 

How do you enjoy a kid game when you’re sitting in a van keeping warm, while they are clearly freezing their chicken legs in the dugout? Do I have Mom Guilt that I’m toasty warm in the van? Yes! But no way am I sitting in the stands when it’s that cold.

 Last Saturday was “Opening Day.” That means I was at the fields for no less than 7 hours. SEVEN.

But instead of bracing ourselves for the freezing spring weather (blankets, hot chocolate, warming up in the Mom-van between games), we experienced a strange phenomenon called A Warm Day. Complete with sunshine and above 80-degree temps!

We needed extra sunscreen, water stations, and I even got an umbrella to shade myself (did no good at all; I still came home completely sunburned where I missed putting on the sunscreen). We hardly knew how to behave. The kids complained of the heat and the sweaty gloves—never heard THAT before! And the concession stand ran out of cold beverages.

I was blissfully happy in my role as fair weather Little League mom. My voice turned hoarse from cheering during the triple-header. I wore flip-flops and now sport a sunglasses’ “raccoon” tan.

I’m sure we’re in for an arctic blast straight from Alaska next week, but until then…bring on the Little League!

Editor's Note: If you have a little ones who aren't yet old enough for Little League, have them use these fun, printable, baseball-themed worksheets. For other sports, including basketball, football, and more, use these sports-themed, printable, coloring worksheets.


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Making Friends From a Wheelchair Can Be Difficult for Kids

Living in a wheelchair is difficult. Children and teens who use wheelchairs often have a hard time making friends. Yet, having at least one good friend is essential for good mental health.

Other children can be afraid of someone in a wheelchair because they do not understand or are fearful that they might become disabled, too. Rudy Sims, a friend I met through social networking, says that he is “willing to answer any questions about [his] disability because [he’s] always believed that helping people understand reduces fear.” He adds that, “understandably that is not something everyone with a disability wants to do.”

 You can follow and learn from Rudy Sims on Twitter via @disability.

A recent posting to a help site asks, “How do I go about making friends? I mean I know how, but in my situation [requiring a wheelchair] I realize I’m not really anything that anyone wants.”

This is a heartbreaking statement, and it is simply not true. Everyone has something to offer, and children who do not have disabilities need to realize that a wheelchair does not mean anything about who the person really is.

Parents can help their children accept all people and to be less fearful of someone in a wheelchair. Parents of children in wheelchairs can teach their child the basics of how to make a friend. Some of the following tips are from Women’s and Children’s Health Network of Australia:

  • Smile! Practice smiling and speaking to those you meet. Nothing warms the heart like a big smile.
  • Choose someone you think you could be a friend with. It should be someone who shares similar interests, if possible.
  • Ask them questions about themselves. Everyone likes to talk about themselves. Questions like—Where do you live? Do you play sports? What is your favorite subject? What kind of music do you like? What is your favorite TV show?—might be places to start.
  • Be a good listener and really care about what they are saying.
  • Respond to the questions they ask you. Try to be positive and talk about some good things in your life. (If you become close friends, you can later tell them about some of the hardships you experience, but not when you are first making a new friend.)

 Parents or aides may need to assist children with this process. Young children especially may not be able to initiate the conversation. With a little help from you, they can learn to make friends on their own. Remember, resilient children need to have at least one good friend.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Cereal: Not the "Breakfast of Champions" For This GoodNCrazy Family

That’s right. CEREAL.

I am not a morning person. Instead I’ve taught my children the fine art of pouring milk and cereal. And I can’t figure out why they aren’t fond of it? I keep wondering: What kinds of kids don’t like cereal? (Mine, of course. That's them in the photo, smiling despite the cereal box in front of them).

I know there are amazing moms out there creating masterpieces of homemade goodness every single morning. They’re out there, waking at 5 a.m. to whip up a batch of scones, and sending their kids to school with whole-wheat heart-shaped sandwiches.

My own mom made breakfast for a family of 10 kids (that’s not a typo—I’m really one of 10!).  And she did it nearly every day. I often wonder why the early-to-rise and make-nutritious-breakfast-genes didn’t pass down?

Instead I keep the kitchen stocked in bagels and cream cheese to offset the cereal boredom, and plenty of PB&J for those (eek!) white bread sandwiches they make each day for school lunches. Come on…the loaf says “whole grain;” ’ that counts right? (Oh, forget it.)

I do own a few breakfast skillz. We simply eat breakfast for dinner! No. Not cereal; I’m talking the real deal—homemade waffles (chocolate waffles, orange-infused waffles or waffles with peaches and cream)! And choose-a-flavor-omelet night or pancakes spelled into kid names on the skillet. Oh, we have breakfast, don’t get me wrong, but we eat it when our eyeballs are wide awake and can truly enjoy it!

That reminds me. Have you ever had German Pancakes? We eat them for lunch nearly every Sunday, directly after church. Who doesn’t love eggs and lots of butter?! It’s become more than a tradition; it just is.

The weekend breakfast plan has been similar to the school week for years (I certainly need my beauty sleep on the weekend MORE than weekdays!). But recently, my 14-year-old daughter has decided she likes getting up on Saturdays to make breakfast for the family—especially if she has a friend sleeping over.

Maybe the “morning gene” skips a generation?!

Anyway, who’s with me? Breakfast for dinner anyone? I thawed out the frozen sausages and everything! You’re invited.




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1st Graders Send Heartfelt Letters To A Marine

Remember how lovely it was to get a beautifully handwritten note from a friend? Some people say that letter writing is a lost art but I’m here to say it’s alive and well—at least in the 1st grade!

For the past few weeks my 1st grade students have been learning about letter writing. In order to make our letters more meaningful, we decided to write to the older brother of a student in our class.

This older brother is a young Marine, away from home, and really missed by his youngest brother.

During pre-writing discussions the students wanted to know if they could ask questions in their letters. They wondered if it would be okay to include pictures they drew? Could they tell him about their own lives?

We brainstormed some vocabulary, so they would have a reference list. Then my students began their letters. For a week they wrote, edited, drew pictures, and wrote some more. At the end of the week we had final copies, and they were fantastic! 

Some questions asked in the letters were insightful: “Why did you want to be a soldier?”  “How do you defend against bad guys?”  “Why did you pick this job?”

Some questions were more basic: “What do you eat?”  “Where do you sleep?”  “What do you wear?”

All students realized the importance of a Marine’s job, which they expressed in their writing: “Thank you for your service.”  “Thank you for keeping our country safe.” “Thank you for protecting us.”

Some students made a personal connection: “Your little brother is my friend.  We play at recess.”  “He loves and misses you.”  “Will you come and visit us when you get home?”

The students’ thoughts were touching, sweet, and poignant, especially the one from the Marine’s little brother: “I miss you a lot! When will you come back?  I pray for you…only on the days that I am not late for bed.”

Any wonder why I love this job?!


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My Son, The Absent Minded Professor

Why is my little boy so dang forgetful? He is smart, amazing, fun loving, and all about science, engineering, and Rube Goldberg contraptions…but ask him where his library book is, and you’ll get a stare of obliviousness that only a 7 year old can muster (that's him in the photo at right).

I might go insane.

"Where did your spelling list go? I thought we agreed you would stick it in the SPECIAL homework spot as soon as you were finished with it each night? So where is it?"

(DUH-FACE as a response.)

"Are these your socks?"


"Then WHY are they sitting on the stairs?!"

And on and on and on. I love him. I do. But I pity his future wife.

This past week at school he was selected to be the “Star Student.” A sheet was sent home (which he promptly lost) the Friday before with important instructions as to how the week would shape up for him, and the following things we needed to do: 


  • Send in photos
  • Write up a "cute short story" with special anecdotes about your kid
  • Create a “Guessing Jar” filled with 100+ small items
  • Prepare his favorite “healthy” snack, enough for 33 kids (this is my favorite item— healthy? And 33 kids? Really!?)


So, I got the list of tasks about mid-week after he “remembered” to request a second copy of it. Because of this, his “week” was shortened to: Two Days of YOU!  (I made that up myself.) But the thing is, he didn’t care one bit.

He loved his special, albeit shortened, week, and he loved me for making a million ham and cheese tortilla roll ups for his whole class. (It was actually 33, but felt like a million; just sayin.’)

I  have to mention that, of course, he can remember all the teeny tiny details and minutiae of his favorite science experiments (aka huge mess-making-projects in my kitchen!). From his teacher he “borrowed” a small piece of plastic that links 2 large plastic bottles in order to create water tornados inside the bottles. For hours and hours he experimented and played and altered and played some more with those 2 bottles. 

Clearly he doesn’t have a hard time focusing on a project he loves. And I guarantee he won’t lose these two bottles. Probably because he’ll wake up in the morning with them on the pillow next to him.

The ending of the Star Student “cute short story” I wrote up about him went like this:

“There is one word to describe my little boy: Happy-Go-Lucky.’ And we love him for it!”

Now if he could just remember where he put his baseball mitt…


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Help Your LD Student Have a Successful Trip To the Library­

Libraries are supposed to be fun places. But if you are dyslexic or have a problem reading and spelling, they might not be so much fun. I work at a school for dyslexic students. We have a nice sign in the school library titled, “How to Find a Book.” Under the title is a list of where to find the different kinds of books according to the Dewey Decimal System. Several years ago, however, a student covered the sign with a new sign. It reads: “Ask Mrs. Simpson.” (See a photo of the sign, below.)

Put yourself in this frame of mind. You need to find a science book on photosynthesis. You know you need to type in either “science” or “photosynthesis” in order to find out what books are available. You think, “How do I spell science? Is that ‘scince,’ or ‘cince’? Never mind. I’ll type in photosynthesis. Yeah, right!” And then, you go ask Mrs. Simpson.

Students who do not read and spell well need help in a library. As a parent, you can spend some time planning a strategy with your child before he or she visits a school or public library. Find out what she needs to find. Make a list of search words she can enter into the card catalog. Once she finds the book titles, assist her in writing them down along with the call numbers. Then, assist her in looking for the books on the shelf.

Students need to know that it is okay to ask the librarian for help; most librarians, in fact, are very willing to help! If you are not there with your child, remind him that he can also ask the librarian how to spell a search term. The trick is to assist him beforehand, so that he doesn’t become so frustrated that he gives up before he even finds what he needs.

Finally, make sure you take trips to the library just for fun. Even poor readers can find books and videos at the library that they will enjoy. Many libraries have electronic versions of books that can be checked out. Some of these books have text-to-speech capability so that everyone can read them. As a parent of an LD [learning disabled] child, you may need to structure positive experiences at the library until your child feels confident enough to go it alone.

Editor’s note: April is School Library Month and this week, April 8-14, is National Library Week. Throughout the month, and this week in particular, public and school libraries—and many school classrooms—are celebrating by holding special events for kids and families. To find out what’s happening in your area, call your local library. And don't forget to ask your child’s teachers about any curriculum plans at school for celebrating library week and month. In the meantime, enjoy this printable worksheet: A Visit to the Library, or read about having a library scavenger hunt with your child.



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Put Colorful Magnetic Letters to Work With These 4 Tips!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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Why Do Some LD Students Act Out in School?

Recently, I read Nelson Lauver’s book, Most Unlikely to Succeed. The first part of the book was difficult for me to read. When Nelson was a child, he was abused by his teachers because he couldn’t read and do math.

Mr. Lauver tells the story of how he would do almost anything to keep from being called on and embarrassed in front of his friends. For example, when he was asked to read aloud in class, he would misbehave badly enough to be sent to the principal’s office. This most often resulted in him receiving harsh physical punishment with a paddle, or even worse—being locked in a totally dark room (“the vault”) for the rest of the day. This abuse went on for years. In fact it continued almost daily until he grew big enough that his teachers were afraid of what he might do if they mistreated him.

When Nelson was 29 years old, he was diagnosed with dyslexia, a specific language learning disability. For help understanding it, see my blog post How Do I Know if My Child is Dyslexic? Today, Mr. Lauver is a well-known “syndicated broadcaster, speaker, humorist, author, and master storyteller.”

The reason I bring up this story is to make the point that children with learning disabilities (LD) often misbehave in school. I have mentioned before that a child will tell me, “I failed because I didn’t study,” when he actually did study. This saves face because if he said, “I studied really hard but still failed,” he would be admitting he “is stupid.” These students really do feel stupid. They would much rather be, “the bad kid” than “the stupid kid.” So they act out and get themselves in trouble.

The truth is that learning-disabled students are bright! I have taught students whose measured IQs are a LOT higher than mine! Yet, they had been failing in school and needed specific strategies to help them learn in the school setting. Most of them, like Nelson Lauver, are talented and will do fine if they can just get through school.

If your child is frequently in trouble at school, consider the possibility that she has a learning disability. Ask the school psychologist for an evaluation and do it soon.


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1st Graders Suggest Top Books for Kindergarteners

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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7763 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