SchoolFamily Voices

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

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Usually, during the first month or so of the school year, elementary schools schedule an open house or “meet the teachers” night. This is a very important event, and all parents should participate, if at all possible.

It’s important because you will get to meet your child’s teacher, who will be a very influential person in your child’s life during this year. The teacher should provide you with an outline of the upcoming school year. You will learn what is expected of your child, and what is expected of you, to ensure success in the months ahead.  You should be given examples of elementary grade-level “expectations.” These are educational fundamentals your child must master during the year ahead to be fully prepared to move on to the next grade level.

An open house should also provide other essential basic educational information. If this is not part of the general opening presentation, don’t be afraid to ask about the following matters. Good teachers always allow time to answer questions you may have, such as:

  • How often should I meet with you during the school year?
  • What is the homework policy for this grade?
  • If we need to communicate, do you prefer email, written notes, or phone calls?
  • What extra resources are available in this school if my child falls behind?
  • What resources are available if my child advances well beyond his or her classmates?
  • What is the most important thing we can do at home to make sure this school year is successful?

Don’t confuse an open house with a private parent conference. At an open house, teachers will not have time to discuss on your child’s specific issues. A separate private meeting should be scheduled if your child needs special attention early in the school year.

An early school year open house can be an enjoyable and enlightening experience for parents. Since everyone wants the best for your child, this event is an important way to start the school year.

by Kathryn Lagden

My 6-year-old left the safety of the “kindie pen” and walked into grade 1 with confidence and ease. Back- to-school transition handled. But it wasn’t quite so easy for my feisty two-and-a-half-year-old who is desperate to go to school with his “big bruvva.”

I’m scrambling to pull together a few ideas to help him adjust and feel included in the back-to-school excitement over the next couple of weeks. Here’s what I’m thinking:

Pack a backpack: Part of our morning routine is getting everyone’s bag packed with all the necessary gear for the day. I’ve found a small backpack for my little guy and created a spot for it in the front hall. When everyone else is packing up, we’ll ask him to put his snack and hat inside. He can carry it when we drop off his brother after, to wherever he’s spending the day (daycare, Grandma, Nana).

Label stuff: I’ve never met a 2-year-old who doesn’t like stickers. It’s easy-peasy to get out the tape and markers and let him label his gear (and likely various pieces of furniture and body parts).

Close the school day: My school kid is pretty proud of his “agenda” that has to be signed each night. It’s still early days (only about a week in), but he carefully places it on the counter when he gets home. Daycare is only part-time, but to include my younger son I think we’ll start keeping the slips of paper they fill out detailing what he ate and when he napped so he can put them with the agenda.

Try a name change: Instead of “school” and “daycare,” we’ve started talking about “grade school” and “daycare school.” It seems almost too simplistic, but I tried it out this morning and my 2-year-old beamed.

I’m thrilled with how easily my school kid started 1st grade, but I’m quickly realizing some of the time and attention I put on helping him transition would have been better spent preparing my preschooler. Hopefully these quick hit ideas will help him along now, and also encourage his own independence which can only help when it’s *finally* time for him to enter the schoolyard.

Any other ideas or experience? I'd love to hear them.

Kathryn Lagden is vice president, digital strategy at School Family Media, SchoolFamily.com's parent company. She lives in the greater Toronto area with her family.

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As you well know, now that school is back in session, it’s a very busy time for families. One of the best things parents can do to help their child be successful in school is to become involved in the school community. Even if your time or resources are limited, there are many ways to be an active member of your child’s school.

Here are seven easy ways to be part of your child’s school success:

  • Join the school’s PTO or PTA. Even if you cannot regularly attend meetings, being a member keeps you current on school policies, events, and important information.
  • Read everything that is sent home from the class. Mark important dates on your family’s calendar. Always make every effort to attend parent-teacher conferences.
  • Become familiar with school policies, such as attendance, lunch protocols, discipline, etc.  Ask questions if you don’t understand.
  • Meet his teacher and principal. Get to know the makeup of the class. How many students are in the class and in the school? Does anyone have an allergy that you should be aware of when packing a lunch? How much homework to expect? And so on.
  • Ask the teacher the best way to contact her. Does she prefer emails? Does she like a written note, as she might not see her emails until the end of the day? Ask for a short conference, if you have a particular issue you would like to discuss.
  • Monitor homework. Let your child work in a quiet place, with few distractions. Have a special homework folder. In the lower grades, students need to have homework checked before putting it back in the folder and returned to school. If your child doesn’t understand the assignment, write a short note or email to her teacher explaining why homework was not completed.
  • Volunteer to help if and when you can. You might not be available during school hours, but you may be able to attend evening meetings, sport events, or help the teacher put together a newsletter.

Getting involved in school helps your child thrive and contributes to improving the overall quality of his education. Most important, your involvement sends the subtle, yet strong message that doing well in school really matters!

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by Elizabeth S. Leaver

At some point not too long ago, a piece along the lines of “see that silent mom who isn’t really participating while everyone else is talking about her child’s achievements” made the rounds on social media. It was a bit painful to read, because that mom is me.

It’s not because I’m not proud of my son. I am. It’s because he doesn’t, at 17, always meet the generic measures of success for his age. He’s an average, not particularly motivated student. He’s not an athlete. And despite society’s allegedly growing recognition of kids’ different strengths and abilities, I don’t always see much evidence of a true shift in perception of what makes a child smart, or brag-worthy, beyond academic success and being good at sports.

My own story couldn’t have been more different. I was a highly self-motivated student whose parents never had to remind me to do my homework or study. I had the grades to match, and my report cards were an enormous source of pride for my parents. I constantly overheard, and was told, that I was smart.

Yet as time has gone on and my son has grown, I’ve realized that that type of success didn’t actually make me “smarter” than he is. I was simply good at school, the way another person might be good at singing. And because I was good at it, it wasn’t hard for me to be “successful” at it, for the most part. As such, I’ve come to feel that tying that adjective—“smart”— to kids’ academic lives alone does them a true disservice. What if kids were all judged by another single measure, like, for example, their ability to paint? How many people would be considered “smart” if that was the gauge? (I certainly wouldn’t have.)

Where I sometimes struggled outside of the classroom, my son is socially capable in ways I wasn’t until I was much older. He’s quick-witted and well-spoken. He’s a fair and kind listener to his friends—I can see turning to him for insight and advice in the not-too-distant future. He is able to put voice to his feelings in a way many grown men cannot. He’s a talented, and largely self-taught, musician. And these are just a few of the things he is much smarter at than I was.

Academic achievement is certainly worthy, and I don’t wish I had come of age differently; I’m proud to think back on my hard work, and I think kids who work hard in school do deserve to feel proud. But all kids, all people, have strengths that should be celebrated. My son is every bit as smart as I was—whatever may have been on our report cards.

Elizabeth S. Leaver is a senior editor at School Family Media, SchoolFamily.com's parent company. She lives in the greater Boston area with her family.

Is it possible that as parents we may actually dread homework more than our kids? Well…don’t answer that out loud.

We are here to help make this year different! Just focus on these 5 quick tips and you’ll see that you can do it (and so can your child)—without having to fall into a homework abyss.

1. Be positive about homework

2. Have a designated homework time and workspace at home

3. Encourage and motivate, but don’t do the actual work

4. Keep a homework folder or box at home to stay organized

5. Know how to contact the teacher for clarification on assignments

We have lots more resources to help. Check out:

Uncommon Homework Advice
7 Simple Homework Tips

Printable Homework Checklist

More great tips and ideas on homework

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by Rose Cafasso


A week from now, I will be an empty nester. Or should I say my husband and I will be empty nesting, for it’s a process, not an identity. It’s another phase of the journey we started when our children were little—slowly but surely letting them go.

Though I hadn’t a clue at the time, I started this process on the first day of kindergarten for my older daughter. Apparently, I couldn’t believe my little curly-haired girl could function independently. So I actually got on the school bus with her. I had no idea that parents simply didn’t do that. The bus driver looked at me like I was crazy, and I’m sure some of the bus stop moms snickered. I slowly backed down the two bus steps and watched her find her way to a seat, giant backpack obscuring half of her tiny body as she made her own way.

Now I am sending her and her younger sister off to college. Last night, the three of us stood in our basement among bags and boxes of stuff—towels, toiletries, mini ironing boards, shower caddies, under-bed storage containers, desk lamps, comforters, and snacks. I offered my best ideas on packing, but they actually wanted to do it themselves. That’s what’s supposed to happen, right? They’re now taking the lead; I’m suggesting tips from the sidelines.

But it took me a while to get there.

When my second daughter went to kindergarten, I was a little stronger than when my first one went, so I didn’t try to ride the bus. What I recall is standing with her at the bus stop when she tugged on my arm and said firmly and clearly, “I am NOT going to school.’’ I faltered. Maybe I could drive her? But then I knelt down, looked her in the eye and said firmly, “Yes, you are.” It was the eye contact that did her in, and her quiet acceptance almost killed me.

Then there was the year my older daughter started middle school. She was worried about having to use a locker and in particular, remembering the locker combination. So, we bought her a lock and helped her practice over and over, until she probably could have done it underwater and blindfolded. Still, I worried so much that first day and felt no relief until she returned home to report that the locker experience was a breeze. She had moved on, but I felt 10 years older.

And then high school. I drove my younger daughter her first morning, feeling overwhelmed by this change. But she was in good spirits for she had connected with friends on Facebook to make a plan for sitting together at lunch. As I pulled away from the drop-off line, I felt buoyed by her mood, until I saw a young man—with a full beard, no less—get out of a car and head into the school. I could not believe that someone who could drive and grow facial hair could be a classmate of my daughter. Somehow, I found a way to keep driving instead of running into the school to warn her about male upperclassmen.

Before I knew it, the girls were both finishing up  high school. They had their licenses and were driving to school each day. They would whirl around me in the mornings, sometimes asking for an egg sandwich for breakfast, sometimes ignoring me while they argued with each other about who would drive.

In a few days, we will pack the car (to the brim). My younger daughter goes first to start her freshman year. Then, two days later, we will again stuff the car and take our older girl, who begins her sophomore year. I will do my best not to overstep, to let them take the lead.

And start my own process of empty nesting, the next step in letting them go.


Rose Cafasso is the social media manager for School Family Media, SchoolFamily.com's parent company. She lives with her family in the greater Boston area.

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Children across America are returning to school! Summer vacation is over. Most kids stay up late and sleep a lot later in the morning during the summer months. It is now time to start getting used to an earlier bedtime and wake-up time so your children won’t be sleepy and tired the first few weeks of school. A few changes in daily routines during the school year can make this year go more smoothly.

  • Try to keep school supplies organized and in one area. The supplies should include a planner, which is one of the essentials to keep up with schoolwork and commitments. A desk is nice but not necessary. The kitchen table is a great place to study. Inexpensive plastic shoe boxes work beautifully to hold pencils, pens, markers, glue, and tape. Paper can be stacked on a shelf nearby. Binders and notebooks can be color-coded and stored in a book bag along with any homework just completed.
  • Spend 20 minutes every day getting organized. Some students do this without assistance, but if your child is disorganized, she will need your help with this until it becomes a habit. Before leaving for school, she should check her planner to make sure she is taking everything she needs for the day. Before leaving school in the afternoon, she should check her planner to make sure she is taking the correct books and assignments home. And, just after doing her homework, she should put everything she used back in its place.
  • Monitor your child’s time using electronics. Some parents have an additional plastic shoe box where phones go during homework time and when going to bed. Teens should not sleep with their electronic gear nearby. It is very common for kids to text one another off and on all night (check your child’s messages to see when he is texting). Too much light from the screen can also interfere with the ability to go to sleep.
  • Decide together how many extracurricular activities are appropriate for your family and healthy for your teen. Many teens are so booked with activities that they do not have time to do well in school. My rule of thumb with my own children was that they could play one sport or one have major commitment (such as marching band) each season. Once they made a commitment, they had to stay with it until the end of the season. Parents and children should make this decision together, but keep in mind that there are only so many hours in the day!

In my student support role, the two problems that come up the most with struggling students are time management and organization. Some students can manage this without help, but many need support to learn how. You can provide daily help until your child begins to manage on her own. Making sure your child has what she needs, teaching her how to keep it organized, and monitoring how she spends her time each day can help overcome these issues.

Ideally, summer vacation has been relaxing, less stressful, and more laid back for your child. But now that August is halfway through, is she ready to gear up and start a new school year?

Here are 10 easy ideas to help your child boost confidence, brush up on skills, and ease back into a school routine.

For students about to enter kindergarten:

  • Practice alphabet recognition. Review the letters as partners (both upper and lowercase together). Teaching the letters as partners is easier—your child essentially learns 26 letters at once, rather than 52 if they are taught separately. Keep practicing until he can identify them randomly out of sequence, as well as in sequence.
  • Make sure she can legibly print her name. An easy way to practice this is to use a highlighter—any color except yellow, as yellow is too light. On a piece of white paper, print your child’s name, starting with a capital letter first and the rest lowercase. With a sharpened pencil, have your child trace her name inside the highlighted letters. The highlight provides a clear border for her to see how the letters are formed. The pencil can easily be seen inside the highlight color. Gradually eliminate one or two of the highlighted letters until she can easily print her name without them.
  • Practice counting orally to 20. Practice both forward and backward, as that will help him understand simple addition and subtraction.
  • For safety reasons, make sure your child knows his full name, address (street number and name, town, and state), and a phone number where you can be reached.

For 1st grade students:

For students entering 2nd grade:

  • Practice counting forward and backwards to 100. This is a great activity to do in the car.
  • Help her distinguish the sounds of long and short vowels and understand that adding the silent (magic) “e” at the end changes the vowel from short to long. Can becomes cane, kit becomes kite, etc.)
  • When reading stories together ask her to identify characters, setting, and the main idea of the story to check comprehension. Help her go back and reference the story, if needed.

Simple review and practice of basic skills helps your child gain confidence and get ready for a new school year, all while having some late summer fun with you!

by Eve Sullivan

Getting kids ready to start school may have been simple in the past, but not today. Ads scream “Order this…buy that…and your child will be safer, smarter, happier!” And young people, like retailers, play all too well on our hopes and fears as parents and caregivers.

An essential tool for your child’s back-to-school toolkit, however, is one that money can’t buy, and one only caring adults can provide: emotional awareness. The things our children have—backpacks, lunchboxes, sneakers—and the things they know—which bus to take, the new teacher’s name, where to wait for dad to pick them up—all these are easier to track than what our children feel. Yet feelings may be the most important part of their experience, both in school and out.

Children learn to recognize and manage feelings through interactions with parents and other family members starting from birth. Schools can support this process through educational programs in social-emotional learning, or SEL. Their value is well-documented. As the Social-Emotional Learning Alliance for Massachusetts explains, SEL programs increase adults’ and children’s ability not only to recognize and manage emotions, but also to:

  • develop care and concern for others,
  • establish positive relationships,
  • make responsible decisions, and
  • handle challenging situations constructively and ethically.

Research shows that effective social-emotional learning promotes the “good stuff” as it increases:

  • academic achievement by 11 percent,
  • positive attitudes about self and others by 9 percent, and
  • positive social interactions and social behavior by 10 percent.

And SEL discourages the “bad stuff” as it reduces:

  • behavior problems by 9 percent and
  • emotional distress by 10 percent.

While some schools have initiated SEL programs after cases of bullying (a few with tragic outcomes), the reasons can just as well be positive: “We have a great school and a caring community, and let’s make it even better!”

If you are a parent group leader, ask the principal—perhaps at your first one-on-one meeting—what the school doing in the area of social-emotional learning. Don’t stop, even if the answer you get is that the school is taking care of it. Parents as well as teachers need support in this area as much as (and sometimes more than) students. Parenting education is something schools can and should make a normal part of the menu of parent activities, right along with math night and the annual playground carnival.

It is essential, too, to practice your own emotional awareness. Empathy, like a muscle, may lose strength if it isn’t used. If the back-to-school craziness starts getting to you, give yourself a little time out. Ask for help. Remember to breathe.


Eve Sullivan is the founder of Parents Forum in Cambridge, Mass. The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) is another great resource for information on SEL, as is The Parent Toolkit, with a social and emotional development section launching in October.

Help your child begin the school year with some simple organizational skills and family routines to encourage school success, right from the start.

Here are five easy ways to help your family keep school priorities on track:

  • Have one large family calendar for all your school children to utilize. Keep it in a convenient place. Record school notices and important meeting dates. Pencil in when all assignments are due. Write the day of the week for gym class, so your child will be sure to wear her sneakers. Get her in the habit of checking the calendar before starting homework and before leaving for school each morning.
  • Together, agree on a specific homework spot. It should be a clean, flat surface, with adequate lighting and free of distractions. Do all homework assignments there each afternoon or night. On nights where there is no homework, have your child read, or read to him at least 15 minutes before bed.
  • Keep homework supplies together in a convenient spot, such as a shelf in the kitchen, or near the homework spot. You can use an empty shoe box or small basket to store pencils, a sharpener, crayons, scissors, and glue sticks.
  • Keep backpacks and lunch boxes in a designated place, and help your child remember to store them properly, right after school. Empty and inspect backpacks together at the same time each day, such as right off the bus, or right after supper.
  • Help her remember to put completed homework into her backpack each night before going to bed, so she will get credit for work well done!

With families’ busy lives, simple organizational steps can make for a smooth and stress-free home-school transition.


> Organization Tips for Back-to-School Time

> More Back-to-School Resources

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Recently, I wrote about some back-to-school organization tips to help students who are disorganized or have problems managing their time. A daily routine that includes time for getting ready for the next day is very helpful. Most students benefit from structure and planning ahead. Another important part of the day that proves to be difficult for many students (and consequently for their families) is homework time.

There is not one perfect time of day to do homework that works for every student. Your child may need to have some exercise time when he first gets home from school. If he has ADHD, he exerts a great deal of emotional and physical energy trying to remain seated and quiet in school. She, especially, needs to have very active time when she first gets home from school.

Perhaps right after dinner is a good time for your child to settle in to do homework. (If possible, homework time should be the same every day.) He needs a distraction-free, well-equipped place to work. His phone, television, and video games should be put in a place where he will not be tempted by them. Multitasking between homework and phone (or anything else) is a poor use of time. Human brains can only concentrate on one thing at a time. So if he is texting a friend in the middle of doing homework, he switches his thinking back and forth. Every time he switches, he loses his previous line of thought. He has to go back and reread the question or rethink what he was writing or doing. The end result of the multitasking is often poorly done work or only halfway completed assignments.

Your child should have a comfortable place to work with all the normal school supplies handy. She may work well at the dinner table where you can keep an eye on her. School supplies can be stored in a plastic shoebox and stored nearby. Many teachers post homework assignments online, so if she does not know what she needs to do, encourage her to look online. If she uses her computer to complete homework, make sure she has paper and ink for the printer. The most frequent reason my students give for not turning in homework is “my printer isn’t working.” The second most frequent excuse is, “I left it at home.” So, she needs to have a safe place to put her homework in her binders to make sure it gets to the teacher on time.

It is easy for me to say your child needs to have a set time each day that is devoted to homework completion. In reality, it can be very difficult. Many families have more than one child, and each has after school activities that pull the family in many directions. Homework completion, however, remains a major concern for many students. If this is true for your child, establishing a routine that includes when to do homework, and having a well-stocked, distraction-free place to work can be very helpful. If homework is a major challenge, ask to meet with your child’s teachers or the school counselor to try to figure out what is causing the problems.


> 7 Strategies for Successful Homework Routines

> Printable Daily Homework Tracker

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Some of the schools near me start in two weeks! It is hard to believe the summer is almost over. If your child is disorganized and has trouble keeping up with everything and managing his time, you might be able to help. While shopping for school supplies, keep in mind that a strong organizational system is important. Tabbed dividers, labeled tabs, zippered pockets, and time management apps may help. Consider the following.

  • Students in middle and upper school are often told by each individual teacher how to organize for their class. These kids are trying to manage five or six different “systems,” and it is very hard for them to keep everything straight. You can help by looking for ways to create consistency across subjects. For example, each binder can have tabs or divider pages to mark specific places to put today’s homework, graded work that needs to be saved (including tests and quizzes), and a place to write notes. An earlier blog, A Notebook System That Aids With Organization, offers more information about coming up with a notebook system. If your child receives accommodations, this system can be included in his IEP or 504 Plan.
  • When I ask my students about how they use their locker, they frequently answer that they don’t use it at all. My students prefer to carry everything they need in their book bag. If your disorganized child does this, she may need assistance keeping the bag organized with necessary supplies handy for class. Depending on how much of a problem this is for her, you might need to set aside a daily time to reorganize the book bag. Her binders for every class must fit into the bag. She needs to have a specific place for her pencils, calculator, and whatever she uses every day. Some small zippered bags or plastic boxes can help with this.
  • Your child needs to know how to use an electronic calendar to help manage his time. This does not have to cost money if he already has a smartphone, tablet, or laptop. He needs to record which classes will meet each day and whether there are special assignments due soon. This is another area where many disorganized kids need help. He can learn to use Google Calendar or try an app such as those described in A Free App To Help With Time Management. If a tablet or computer are not available, your child will need a planner where he can write upcoming assignments and events.

Keep time management and organization in mind as you and your child shop for school. Purchasing the right organizational supplies is important and can lead to success, but using these tools does not come naturally to many students. It takes some time to learn how to use them and a considerable amount of time before they become habit. For truly disorganized kids, a daily routine of going through the book bag, each binder, and checking the planner/calendar will likely be necessary. Parents should gradually turn over this responsibility to their child, but in the beginning will need to be very involved.

It’s widely known that parents who are actively involved in their child’s reading activities can significantly increase their child’s literacy.

Here are eight simple strategies you can use to encourage good literacy in your young student, which can greatly help him become a more advanced and comprehensive reader.

  • Model reading. Let your child see you read, often. Reading books, newspapers, directions, recipes, maps, etc. subtly reinforces the necessity of good reading in everyday life.
  • When reading together, help him distinguish clearly between fiction and nonfiction.
  • Before reading to her, take a “picture walk” through the book and have her predict what that page might be about.
  • When reading to him, stop and ask questions to check comprehension.
  • Help her visualize. After reading a story, ask her to close her eyes and make a picture in her mind about the best part of the story, or her favorite character, etc. Then let her describe that to you. This helps make reading more “three-dimensional.”
  • Help him make a “self-to-text” connection. For example, if the story has a character that was brave you might ask him to tell you about a time that he felt brave. Then say, “So you really know how that character was feeling!”
  • After reading a story together, ask him to think of a different ending for the story. This helps make the story more personal and memorable.
  • Make a reading-to-writing connection. Have her use a notebook to keep a reading journal. On the top of a page have her write, or write for her, the name of the book, author, and date read. Then help her write a brief synopsis of the story. It’s always fun for a child to go back and see how much they have read!


> Teach Your Child To Love Reading

> Do a Reading Survey With Your Child


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Before very long, it will be time for the first test of the school year. Tests can be stressful, especially when students have not prepared well enough. Many students learn by studying flash cards. They are a great study method because students can study by looking at one side of the card, remembering what is on the other side, and then turning it over to see if you were right. They can be mixed up to practice the questions in different orders. And students can remove cards from the deck that they already know. There are several ways to study using this technique.

First is to create flash cards using index cards. An advantage of using actual cards is that students can add colorful drawings that might help them remember what is on the other side of the card. Or when they are taking the test, they can close their eyes and picture the cards in their brain. They also allow students to manipulate the cards which makes the activity kinesthetic (using muscles). This can help students to remember better. They are very inexpensive, as well. The down side is that they are easy to lose and require an envelope or pouch to keep up with them.

A second way is to use an app such as Flashcard Machine, which is available for iPhone, Android, and Kindle Fire. This app is very inexpensive, maybe even less than using index cards which are used up quickly and must be replaced. With Flashcard Machine, you or your child would purchase the app through the normal channels for his device and then go to the website to set up the account. Your child needs to log onto both the app on your device and on the website. He can create his own sets of study cards or use thousands of cards other people made. The cards are synchronized to his iPhone (or other device) where he studies simply by tapping the card to see the other side. An advantage of making flash cards this way is that your child has them with him everywhere he goes, and he can study them when he is just sitting waiting on something to happen. (No one will even know he is studying!) The downside is that there is no way to add a picture.

Another option to explore is Quizlet which works similarly to Flashcard Machine. Or have your child make a folding vocabulary chart like you find here.

Whatever method you and your child choose, remember that making the cards or chart is only step one of studying. Your child also has to spend time practicing over and over until he can answer every card correctly without looking at the answers.

Best wishes as you begin the new school year. I, for one, am ready for my students to come back. A school building without any kids in it is no fun at all.


> What Is Your Child's Learning Style?

> Math Flash Cards

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Giving Kids Enough Unscheduled TimeOne of my favorite things in life is watching my grandson play. He doesn’t need toys, although he does like them. He sometimes picks up a stick and one moment it’s an airplane. Then it becomes a car, then a train, then a monster from the lagoon. What amazes me about this is his creativity and delight as he plays. 

I have thought a lot about the way he plays. In order for a child to be able to play like this and be inventive, he needs unscheduled time. But many parents do not give their children time to just do nothing. Every minute is filled with things to do and places to go. Most families overschedule children to the point that they have no time to be creative and entertain themselves.

If you have children in middle or upper school, consider some of the ramifications of overscheduling your child’s day. Families can become so busy, they do not even have time to sit down together at dinner. This is important bonding time and allows kids time to tell parents how things are going for them at school. Students need an hour or two each night to complete their homework. If their schedule is too crowded, their schoolwork will suffer.

They also need time to relax—to wind down from their stressful day at school. High-stakes testing and raised expectations add a huge level of stress into students’ lives. And it is important to exercise some every day, especially during adolescence when children are establishing healthy habits for a lifetime. Lastly, adolescents need to get plenty of sleep to be healthy and do well in school.

As the new school year begins, take a few minutes to think through your child’s weekly schedule. Does she have enough time for all of these important things—time with family, homework, relaxation, exercise, and sleep—every day? If not, it’s time to sit down with her to discuss what is important to hold on to and what can be let go. “Finding Balance for Busy Families” offers helpful suggestions for how to prevent having an overscheduled child and family.

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Get Involved!The start of the school year is the perfect time to think about volunteering at your child’s school. Any time you can spare would be beneficial. As a more involved parent, you increase your child’s opportunities to be successful in school. Being involved, to whatever degree possible, not only helps your own child but also improves the overall quality of your school. It also keeps you “in the loop” about what’s happening at school. Even if your volunteer time is limited, you can still have a presence in various ways.

Here are seven simple ways parents can participate at their child’s school:

  • Meet your child’s teacher as soon as possible. Ask how he or she likes to be contacted, e.g., email, phone, written note, etc. Ask how you can help at home.
  • Join the school’s PTO or PTA, and plan to attend as many meetings/events as you can.
  • See if the school has a handbook or school policies pamphlet and get copies. These usually address year-round issues such as discipline, dress code, tardiness and absenteeism, etc.
  • Check backpacks every night for homework or project assignments, important school calendars, announcements, etc. Keep all important school notices in one particular place for easy access and referral.
  • Volunteer to help in the classroom if your schedule allows, or with fundraisers, events, or other after-school activities.
  • Set up a special homework place and limit distractions. Have a distinctive homework folder and make sure completed homework is put in the folder and then into the backpack each night.
  • Limit electronic entertainments during the school week and encourage reading. Visit your local library, or swap books with friends and neighbors to read with your child.

Simple, proactive “getting involved” actions like these can make a big difference in your child’s early school experience.

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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

As August approaches, most young students are excited about starting a new school year. They are ready to go. However, some children experience anxiety about going to school. This can affect the entire family. Morning routines can be interrupted and getting him on the bus or dropped off at school can become an ordeal.

Why does this happen? There could be various reasons:

  • Fear of separating from a parent or caregiver
  • Concern that the work will be too hard
  • Fear of missing what’s happening in the family, when they are away at school
  • Worry about responsibilities outside the classroom—for example, getting lunch in the cafeteria
  • Fear that other children might tease or bully them

Here are five easy ways to help your young child ease school anxiety:

  • If the problem is separation from a loved one, try a technique that worked extremely well in my 1st grade classroom. Have the student bring a photo of a family member,  sibling, grandparent, or even a special pet. By keeping the photo on the desk or table, the student was able to have family close by for comfort. Ask your child’s teacher if this is allowed.
  • If possible, bring him to his new class before school starts. Let him see the space and, if the teacher is there, meet his new teacher. Check out the lunchroom and recess areas as well.
  • If you know of another child or children who is going to the same class, see if you could set up a playdate so your child will know at least one familiar face.
  • Have him practice letter recognition and letter sounds, number recognition to 50, writing his name, and other basic skills for academic confidence.
  • Label jackets, lunch boxes, backpacks, etc., so that your child can easily identify her own belongings. This eliminates worry about finding her own things at the end of the school day. (Safety note: Be sure to label items on the inside, as you do not want a stranger to be able to call your child by name.)


Recognizing and acknowledging your child’s fears will help you both look for easy and workable solutions…and keep your morning school routine running smoothly!

> A Stress-Free Morning Routine

> 10 Ways To Help Your Child Successfully Return to School

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Last week I shared four strategies to help you prepare your young child for kindergarten. Here are four more quick and easy ways to make the transition from summer to kindergarten both smooth and productive.

  • Help him practice and master basic social skills. Basic social skills can be something as simple as looking at someone when being spoken to, or when speaking. Practice taking turns and sharing materials, tools, and toys. Work on self-control and cooperating. Try easily transitioning from one activity to another. Be sure he always says “please” and “thank you.” These social skills will give your child a solid foundation at school for successfully interacting with adults and peers.
  • Help her recognize and write her full name. Take a standard-size piece of white paper. Turn it horizontally. Make three straight lines, left to right, across the paper with a ruler. Make the first line about three inches from the top, then make one in the middle, and the last one about three inches from the bottom. On the top and middle lines, using a pink, green or blue highlighter, print her name, using one capital letter and the rest lowercase; for example, Charlotte Kelly. (A yellow highlighter won’t work, as it’s too light.) Then have her trace her name, with a pencil, inside the highlighted letters. This gives a solid boundary in which to practice the letter formations. On the last line have her practice writing it all by herself. Keep working with the highlighter base until she can easily write her name without it
  • Look and listen for visual and auditory patterns together. Recognizing and understanding patterns is an important skill for young children. It is needed to promote critical thinking in both reading and math.
  • Recognize basic color words. The ability to recognize basic color words (red, green, yellow, purple, blue, black, and brown) is helpful for a child to complete independent work. An easy way to practice this is make a “Color Word Pizza Wheel.”

These simple activities will ensure that your child is well prepared to start the wonderful adventures of kindergarten.

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As your elementary-age child settles into the new year, schools typically schedule an open house or “meet the teacher” night. This is an important event to attend, if your schedule allows.

It’s important because it will provide you with an overview of the year to come and what is expected of your child. It’s usually your first opportunity to spend a little quality time with your child’s teacher and to clearly understand the grade-level expectations. Attending this event can help ensure a good academic start for your child.

Here are five important questions that you can expect to be addressed and answered by your child’s teacher:

  • How should we communicate?  (for example, email, phone, or notes)
  • How often will we be meeting during the school year?
  • If I don’t hear from you, should I assume that everything is fine?
  • What is the homework policy for this grade, and how much time should be devoted to homework each night?
  • What can we do at home to ensure a successful school year?

Most teachers prepare a short presentation and overview of the school day to share at an open house. The presentation is usually followed by time for questions. This would be the time to raise any of the above questions that have not been addressed.

Open houses are not parent conferences, however. Questions that pertain to your son or daughter should wait for an individual meeting. But teachers are more than happy to answer general questions to help all students get off to a good start.


Do you allow your children to watch TV or play on the computer before doing their homework?