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The holiday season is a magical time when family and friends get together to enjoy each other’s company. And it’s is also a perfect time to help a young child learn and practice good manners. Helping young children develop good manners is important because it gets them noticed in a positive way! It costs nothing, but adds tremendous value to the quality of your child’s life, and to their perceived image outside of your home.

Here are 10 ways to help young children make manners a natural part of their character:

  • Model good manners yourself, and point out other examples: “That was so nice of that lady to hold the door open for us.”
  • Encourage your child to say “please” when asking for something.
  • Practice saying “thank you” when she receives something requested.
  • Help him say “you’re welcome” when someone thanks him. (Personal pet peeve: When did “no problem” take the place of “you’re welcome”?)
  • Make good manners a habit. If your child uses good table manners at home, she’ll most likely use them when she’s a guest.
  • Teach your child that when he seeks adult attention, he should not interrupt. Say “excuse me” (unless, of course, it’s an emergency).
  • You have trouble getting along with others.
  • Remind her not to talk with her mouth full.
  • Ask him not to reach and grab for things. Instead, ask them to be passed.
  • Give gentle reminders of how to act before going to a friend’s or family member’s home. For example, “Let’s not forget to help clean up the toys before we go home.”
  • Help them draw or write thank-you notes or emails for all gifts received.

As a parent, teaching your child to think, talk, and act respectfully is one of the most important gifts you can give!

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Once children know letters, they can’t wait to use those letters to make words. When they know words they can then construct a sentence. Children learn that a sentence is a group of words that when combined, make a complete thought. Understanding sentences is a gateway to reading and reading comprehension.

Here are two fun ways to help your young child turn those words she recognizes into sentences:

  • Practice making sentences orally. Start simply, such as cat, the, sat.  She should be able to say “The cat sat.” Help her if she needs it. Once she can do simple ones, increase the difficulty. Give her four or five words she knows, out of order, and ask her to put them in a sentence—for example, "be, fish, in, swims, pond, a." She should be able to say “A fish swims in a pond.”
  • When reading a story together, have her pick two or three random words she knows. For example, when reading Clifford the Big Red Dog, by Norman Bridwell, she might pick the words "the, street, red." Then help her construct a sentence, unrelated to the story, using those words and adding more. An example could be “A big red bench is on the street.”

Once your child can easily build sentences orally, try this:

  • You will need some small index cards and a dark marker or crayon.
  • Have your child find a sentence from his favorite book.
  • Print the sentence by putting one word on each index card. Don’t forget to add the capital letter in the beginning.
  • Have him match the words on the cards to the words in the book.
  • Then mix up the cards and have him put the sentence in order.
  • When the sentence cards are in order, ask him to point to each word, left-to-right, as he says the sentence.
  • Do that often with some favorite sentences from books.
  • Consider affixing some magnetic tape and hanging the word cards on the fridge so he can create random sentences whenever he’s inspired.

Simple activities like these help young children recognize word order and sentence structure. Understanding sentences lets a child go to the next step—that sentences put together make a story!

The various shapes, colors, and sizes of falling autumn leaves and acorns offer hands-on opportunities for science and math fun.

Here are four ways to use the season’s bounty to practice important skills:

  • Estimation: Have your child help you rake some leaves into a small pile. Ask her to guess how many leaves are in the pile. Once she gives you her estimation, help her sort the leaves into piles of 10. Count by tens, and any leftover ones, to see how many were in the pile. Talk about how close her estimation was. Try this activity four or five different times, over the course of a few weeks. See how her estimation skills improve with practice.
  • Sorting and classifying: These are important skills for both math and science. Use leaves to practice. Ask your child to sort a small bunch of leaves by color, size, or shape.  Or give him ten leaves of varying sizes. Ask him to sort them left to right, by smallest to largest, or by largest to smallest.
  • Practice simple addition and subtraction: Have your child collect 10 leaves or acorns. Use them to show various ways to make 10—for example, three on the left, seven on the right. Then on a piece of paper or small notebook, help her write the number sentence to match what the leaves show (3 + 7 = 10). Do this for different ways to make 10. For subtraction, help her collect 10 leaves or acorns from the ground. Put them in a row. Have her take some away. Let her count the acorns that are left. Take away different numbers of acorns each time. Help her write the number sentence to match; for example, 10 - 4 = 6.
  • For closer scientific study: Let him pick one favorite leaf. Bring it inside and help him place it between two pieces of 8 ½” x 11” white paper. Take the wrapper off a darker color crayon. Have him rub the top paper, using the whole side of the crayon. As he rubs the crayon, he’ll feel the bumps, lines, and edges of the leaf. An image of the leaf will appear on the paper! This image will help him clearly see the stem, veins, and shape of the leaf. Use this to start a discussion of how water and minerals come through the stem and veins to help the tree stay nourished and grow. Write the name of the type of leaf on top of the paper. Hang up his beautiful art rubbing. On another day, try it again with a different type of leaf. Use the rubbings to compare and contrast.

These hands-on ideas for using familiar objects will bring math and science to life and help your child visualize these skills in a new way!


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Parents are their child’s first teacher. There are many simple things you can do to ensure his reading and writing success.

Here are some easy suggestions to help you support your child’s literacy achievements:

  • Read to your young child every day. Include a variety of texts (fiction, nonfiction, poetry, etc.).
  • Don’t simplify words. Use those “SAT” words early on and often! Research supports that hearing higher level language, even though a child might not know its meaning at the time, is an indicator of advanced reading and comprehension.
  • Make sure your child sees you reading, as that subtly reinforces its importance.
  • Encourage her to use words she already knows to decode new words. Have her look for the “little words inside the big ones.” For example, if she encounters the word "animals," help her break it into small parts and decode an-i-mals. Use your finger or a small index card to hide parts of the word. Then, help her blend the little words into one big one.
  • When reading, stop and ask questions. When he correctly answers the question, go deeper. Ask him to go back to the text and find evidence to support his thoughts.
  • Encourage her to keep a “reader response” notebook. After reading a story together, have her draw or write answers to questions, such as "who is your favorite character in the story?" "Why?" :What is the setting of that story (city, farm, desert, ocean, etc.)?"
  • Help him make “self-to-text” connections to reading and writing. For example, after reading a story about animals at the zoo, talk about a time you visited the zoo. Discuss what personal experience was similar to the story, and what was different. Draw or write about a favorite zoo animal.

Using simple and easy ideas like these can help your child become a high-level reader and writer.

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I often rely on two of my old favorite teaching aids in helping young students with basic math.  A common deck of playing cards and a child’s hand full of U.S. coins can work wonders in helping students understand the value of numbers.

Children must first be able to recognize the four main U.S. coins (penny, nickel, dime, and quarter). First, download my "Coin Match Value Game"— it's a perfect way for young students to learn coin recognition, while subtly learning coin value.

Or you can use a deck of regular playing cards:

  • Take a king, a ten card, a five card, and an ace, of the same suit, from the deck.
  • Put the card face up on a table.
  • Have your child sit facing the cards.
  • Have him place a quarter on the king, a dime on the 10 card, a nickel on the five card, and a penny on the ace.
  • Let him go through the rest of the coins and place them below the appropriate cards.

As your child gets older, a further expansion of this game is to play “substitute the coins.” Once all the coins are placed on their proper cards, use the coin match value game to help your child “substitute” coins for equal numeric value. Here’s how:

  • Start by introducing a new card, a queen from a deck of cards, to act as a “bank.” Put the queen off to the side.
  • Have him take a dime from the “ten card pile” and place it on the bank.
  • He must then replace the dime with coins from the other card piles to equal 10 (for example, a nickel and five pennies, two nickels or 10 pennies).
  • He can invest a quarter into the bank by replacing it with a variety of coins. The coins get moved around, but the total value of the coins, including the coins in the bank, stays the same.
  • Play often, until your child can easily make coin substitutions without adult help.

These games are wonderful learning tools. In addition, they can be great fun. This is especially true if, at the end of the games, the young student gets to keep all the coins!

There are many simple things you can do to help your child quickly learn the basic elements of reading. When starting the reading process, a very young child may look at a group of words in a sentence or a paragraph, and see just that, a group of words! Children need to understand that in trying to determine what these words mean (when reading English and most languages), they must always start at the left. If there are several sentences to read, they must always start at the top left.

Here are some helpful tips:

  • If your child has difficulty with the concept of “left,” here is an exercise that can help. Have her hold up and fully open her left hand with her palm facing outward, towards you. She will see the back of her hand.  Ask her to make a letter “l” with her hand, and tell her this “l” stands for “left.” Children love this learning aid because they always have it with them!
  • A good way to reinforce this “start on the left” concept is to always move your index finger in a left-to-right sweep when you are reading to your young child.  This will help her in recognizing words and in understanding the importance of left-to-right progression.
  • Once your child is older and starting to read on his own, have him hold a small index card below the sentence line he is reading to you. This will focus his eyes and his attention on the sentence he is reading, not the one above or below.

When reading together, ask her questions about the words. For example, ask her to point to the word in the first sentence that says “dog.” You will probably be pleasantly surprised at how fast she can identify common words found in many early childhood books. As she learns more words, she will see how they make perfect sense when read in left-to-right progression.

Although much of my professional focus is now on enhancing literacy skills, my blog posts will never neglect the importance of starting young students with solid math skills, as well. Last week I wrote about the importance of “one-to-one correspondence” in reading. One-to-one correspondence is very important to early math also. Basically, this concept means correctly matching numbers to objects.

Rote number counting, and knowing what that number represents, are two very different and distinct mathematical skills. A student can be an excellent counter, yet not be able to identify a random number out of numerical sequence. Or your child may be able to say the numeral 9, yet be unable to count-out nine objects.

Here are three easy and fun activities to help your child practice one-to-one correspondence in math:

  • In a dish, place a small amount of a favorite snack like Cheerios, raisins, Goldfish crackers, etc. Start a “roll for snacks” game by rolling a single die, and have your child counts the dots. He can then count out and save an equal number of pieces from the snack dish. (Who knew that counting could be so yummy?) To increase the difficulty, use a pair of dice, and add the dots before counting the total. If the snacks build up, they can be saved and enjoyed later on.
  • From a deck of playing cards, remove 10 “number cards” (2-10) from the same suit. Let the “Ace” from that suit represent the number 1. Line up the cards from left-to-right, the Ace to ten. Below the cards, have her place the correct number of pennies shown on the card.  Once she can easily do this from one to 10, mix up the cards and place them out of sequence. Practice this until she can match the pennies to the individual numbers shown on the cards, no matter what the sequence.
  • Put a pile of 20 pennies on a table. Say a number out loud between 1 and 20. See if your child can count out the number of pennies that you said. If he can’t do it by himself, help him count out the correct amount. Have him put the pennies in a straight line, pointing to each penny, as he counts in sequence.

Practicing math one-to-one correspondence, while having a little fun, will help your child make the connection between seeing, saying, and knowing.

It has been a hectic yet rewarding experience completing the first week of my new assignment as a literacy coach for my school district. This new job involves traveling to five elementary schools and supporting teachers as they implement our district’s new literacy initiatives.  One of the core educational concepts for young children that I will be stressing in kindergarten and 1st grade is something I call the “triangle base.”  Preschool and early elementary students need to develop certain skill sets before they can master reading. Experience has taught me that there are three important skills that when combined together comprise the “triangle base.” The skills are:

One-to-one correspondence. In reading, it means that the child is verbally saying what he is seeing in print.

Patterns. This means recognizing and understanding both visual and auditory patterns. (An example of a visual pattern would be a picket fence. An example of an auditory pattern can be found in the famous B-I-N-G-O song that children love.)

Rhyming. This promotes phonemic awareness, which is a crucial prereading skill.

These three important core skills form a solid base upon which most other educational skills can be built and sharpened. Today I want to expand on why phonemic awareness is so important. The simplest definition of the term is the ability to hear sounds in spoken language. However, it is more complicated and sequential. There are five basic steps in this skill:

  • Beginning sounds (first letter)
  • Ending sounds (last letter)
  • Medial sounds (in the middle vowels)
  • Blends (pl in plant, sw in swing) and digraphs (sh, ch, th, wh, ph, as in the words "shop" or "bath")
  • Substitutions and deletions (for example, a child knowing that if you take away the c from the work "cake" and put a t in its place, the new word is "take." Or, if she knows the word "plate" and you delete the p, the remaining word is "late").

These skills are cumulative. A child cannot do step 5 if she is not proficient in the other four steps before it.

Understanding this progression of phonemic awareness should help you assist your child in enhancing his reading development.

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Kindergarten and 1st grade are the critical times when a child is mastering handwriting. So much of good letter formation depends on your child’s fine motor development. Muscles in the hands and little fingers need to connect to their eyes and brains, developing and maturing eye-hand coordination.

Here are three fun, pre-paper activities to help your young student develop good, legible letter and word printing:

Air writing
This is an activity I do often with my 1st graders. Standing next to your child, facing in the same direction, ask her to say a letter. Then, both raise your writing hand, index finger pointed out, and “print” the capital and lowercase letter in the air. When she can easily do this with letter partners, try simple words.

Tactile writing
Fill the top of a small gift-sized box halfway with sand or salt. With the index finger of his writing hand, have your child trace partner letters you vocalize. As he gets good with letters, practice simple words. Once he can easily trace letters and words with an index finger, use an unsharpened pencil. Using the unsharpened pencil allows him to “feel” how the word is formed when using a writing tool.
“Broadcast” writing
“Talking out” the strokes of letters and words will give your child another way to remember how they are formed. For example, for capital h, help her say “straight line down, straight line down, bridge across the middle.”   For capital or lowercase s, “sss” around and curve like a slithery snake.

Children love these activities, as it gives them a chance to be successful printers before facing the challenge of writing on lined paper.

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.

It is well-known that good readers make personal connections to stories. These self-to-text connections help children deepen their understanding of what is being read.  Below are four concepts to help your child to relate to stories that he is listening to, or reading.

Prior knowledge:

Life experiences can help build your child’s prior knowledge for reading comprehension. For example, when you take your child to the beach, lake, zoo, park, or local farm, you increase her understanding of different settings in life. In education we call this building schema. Simply defined, schema is the database of life experiences.

Family connections:
Encourage reading connected to family life. For example, if you have a family pet, read books together about dogs, cats, fish, etc. She’ll understand how owners take care of pets, and how pets add to family life.

Foster interests:
If he loves dinosaurs, generate opportunities to delve deeply into that fascinating subject. Get different dinosaur books from your local library. If possible, visit a museum with dinosaur displays. Get some small toy dinosaurs, and help him learn about the different types of dinosaurs and their characteristics.

Compare and contrast:
When children compare and contrast, they are simply thinking about how things are alike, and how they are different. Together you might read a fiction book, such as Clifford the Big Red Dog, by Norman Bridwell, and compare and contrast the story to a nonfiction book about a real dog. One non-fiction example I’ve read with my class is The Bravest Dog Ever, The True Story of Balto by Natalie Standiford.  How are Clifford and the Balto alike? How are they different? Encourage your child to list at least three examples for each.

Practicing these four simple enhancement steps will help your child become a good, comprehensive reader!

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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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Kindergarten is a big step for your young child! Here are five easy ways to help her become better organized for a successful and smooth home-to-school transition.

  • Create a school night bedtime routine. To the extent possible, stick to a bedtime hour and planned routine on every school night. For example: bath or shower, story, a drink of water, and in bed by 8 p.m. Whatever works best for you family, do consistently on school nights.
  • Allow time for a nutritious breakfast. If time is short, one delicious and fast example that combines carbohydrates and protein could be a slice of whole wheat toast with peanut butter, sliced banana on top, and a glass of milk.
  • Keep backpacks, shoes, lunchboxes, and other items in the same place. For example, have her keep her backpack on a low hook on the back of the bedroom door. Keep her lunchbox in a basket on the kitchen counter, and her shoes in the same spot on her closet floor.
  • Have a designated, quiet homework spot with good lighting. Keep a small basket or shoe box nearby with necessary supplies to get homework done. (Crayons, pencils, scissors, and a glue stick.)
  • Encourage independence. Teach your child how to tie his sneakers so he can tie them at school. Let him practice cutting, with a pair of child’s scissors. Start on old catalogs, coupons, junk mail, etc. Put a small brown laundry basket and a small white or tan one in the bottom of his bedroom closet. Have him put his dirty light-colored clothes in the white basket, and dark-colored clothes in the brown basket. So when it’s time for laundry, the clothes are automatically sorted.

Practicing these five simple routines can help your child become better organized, more independent, and experience greater success at school!

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We as adults have come to know actions involved in doing a good job or behaving. As teachers all over the country start a new school year, one of their first priorities is to establish a good, workable behavior management environment for their class. Four key elements in setting up a behavior plan that have always worked for my classes are:

  • Be specific
  • Be consistent
  • Have follow-through
  • Be kind yet firm

Young children don’t have our adult basis of comparison. Often, they don’t know where to start when asked to “be good” or behave. Parents can set up a simple yet very effective behavior management system for home by following some of these simple guidelines that work in classrooms.

  • Keep requests clear and simple. Consider describing exact behaviors expected. Don’t say “Please be good at Nana’s house today,” as that might be too vague for a child to process. Instead say, “Today at Nana’s house you need to pick up all your toys as soon as she asks you.”
  • Consistency. If your child’s bedtime is 8 p.m. on school nights, try your best to stick to it. If he’s resistant or needs to calm down, try reading a book 10-15 minutes before as part of the routine. You can be more flexible on weekends, vacations, etc.
  • Follow-through. Follow-through is the most important piece of any successful behavior management plan. Make consequences fit the expectation, and focus on the positive. For example, “If your homework is done by 5:30, we will be able to play catch before bedtime.” Presenting a child with a consequence and following through helps ensure that your child will take you seriously, and know that you mean what you say.
  • Be kind, yet firm. Children recognize when they are not following the rules.  Kindness is often an unexpected and powerful response.

One of my favorite quotes is by Mark Twain, who wrote, “One can always show kindness, even when there isn’t fondness.” Responding with a simple, “I’m very sorry that you feel that way, but this is what we have to do.” Or neutral phrases, stated firmly and then calmly repeated, such as “Oh, we don’t do that in room 9” can be very effective.  
Be specific and don’t mince words. If your child clearly understands your instructions when presented in a calm and direct manner, the chances of cooperation are greatly enhanced!

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!

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Dr. Seuss' new book

As a parent and a 1st grade teacher, I’m a huge fan of Dr. Seuss. I could not wait for the release of his new book, What Pet Should I Get? And I am delighted to say it was worth the wait!

From the front cover of The New York Times Book Review to a review by a Dartmouth College English professor, Dr. Seuss’ new book is being hailed as “an instant classic” and “will remind us, delightfully, that Dr. Seuss, over half a century ago, made learning to read an adventure.”

What Pet Should I Get?

This long-anticipated book, released by Random House on July 28, 2015, follows the same two siblings that first appeared in One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish. This brother-and-sister team is on a quest to find a single pet. He likes a dog, she likes a cat. The first decision they face seems easy; a dog or a cat? Then Kay says, “Now what should we do? Dad said to pick one, we cannot take home two.”

As the children find more attractive animals, their decision becomes more complicated...a bird that sings, a rabbit, a fish. Their process is compounded by a deadline, “We have to pick one pet, and pick it out soon. You know mother told us to be back by noon.” A very unsubtle two-page headline adds to their quandary and pressure to make a decision: “Make up Your Mind.”

Common sense wins out after the children consider buying one of each kind of pet. “Dad would be mad.” Yet, then the pressure is on, “If we do not choose, we will end up with none.” Their final choice of a pet will probably puzzle young readers (and some parents, too). However, their final selection takes a back seat to Dr. Seuss’ lessons on the decisionmaking process, the ability to find compromise, and being able to develop a positive resolution while the clock is still ticking.

This is a book that can inspire long periods of discussion between young readers and parents. It should prompt many questions that can be asked by children to adults, and vice versa. Like all other Dr. Seuss books before it, What Pet Should I Get? is a true childhood adventure.

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Many skills in early education rely on the sense of sight, hearing, and touch. Incorporating another approach to these senses, while teaching a certain skill, can provide a young child with an alternate way to learn and remember.

Here is a terrific game that uses the sense of hearing as a learning tool involving counting and simple addition.

You’ll need an empty, clean metal can (soup, coffee, etc.) and 10 pennies.

If your 3- to 5-year-old is just learning how to count and understand what the numeral means (known as one-to-one correspondence), try this.

  • Have him sit with his back to you.
  • Ask him to listen carefully as you drop pennies one by one into the can so they make a distinctive sound as they hit the bottom. For example, drop one penny, wait a second, drop the next penny, wait, then drop a third. Then ask, “How many pennies are in the can?” He should be able to say “three.” Help him count out the pennies, if needed. On one try don’t drop any, so he can begin to understand the concept of zero. Play often, until he can easily identify 0 through 10.
  • Once he is very fluent in identifying numbers up to 10 by the sounds of the penny drops, introduce simple addition. Make sure he cannot see what you are dropping—he should be relying on what he hears. Drop two pennies then ask, “How many are in the can?” When he says “two,” say, “OK, now I’m going to add some more. Listen carefully.” Then drop three more and ask, “We had two, I dropped three more, how many are in the can now?” He should be able to answer five. If he has trouble, let him take out the pennies and count them—first two, then three, and say 2 + 3 = 5. Practice often, with all the different multiples between 0 and 10. For example, drop 5, then 2 for 7. Drop 1, then 6 for a different way to get 7. Drop 1 than 1 more to equal 2. Drop 2 then zero for a different way to reach 2. Drop 5 than 5 more to equal 10 or drop 1 and 9 more for another way to total 10, etc.

In the next few weeks I’ll share how to increase the difficulty of this game by adding dimes, to practice counting by tens and to understand the place value of tens and ones.

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Summer is a great time to link purposeful reading to what you are doing as a family. Here are five simple ways to make summer reading goals easy and fun:

  • If you are going to the park, take some favorite books along, for both you and your child. After she plays on the swings, slide, or monkey bars, together take a 5-minute reading break, on a special bench or in the shade under a tree. Depending on how long you are at the park, take two, three, or more reading breaks in between play. When you join in the break, you are subtly reinforcing the importance and enjoyment of reading.
  • Tie activities to corresponding books. For example, if you are going to a baseball game, get a book or two out of the library to read about baseball beforehand. Three examples are Ballpark by Eileen R. Meyer, The Everything Kids Baseball Book by Greg Jacobs, and Curious George at the Baseball Game by Margaret Rey and H.A. Rey
  • On a nice night, set up a small tent or make one using a sheet or blanket in the backyard. Grab a flashlight and your child’s favorite bedtime story (or stories) and read them in the tent before going back into the house to bed.
  • At the pool or beach, stretch out on a towel or blanket for a “read and dry” break. Challenge her to use her finger or a stick to print a new word (that she has just learned) in the sand.
  • Have a “Book Club Play Date Break.” When your child has a friend over for a play date, have the children take a short read-and-snack break. Let them take turns reading a page of the book to each other. After reading, while they’re having a snack, encourage them to talk about the story. Ask simple questions like “What was your favorite part?” “Where did this story take place?” “Who was the main character?” etc.

By being creative and making reading part of everyday activities, reading becomes a memorable aspect of summertime fun!

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Bring math into your child’s daily life this summer to keep skills current. Here are three simple and fun activities to practice math that your child learned this past school year.

Here is a geometry activity that I’ve done many times with my 1st grade students. They love the hands-on practice of making real shapes.

  • You’ll need a container of plastic drinking straws and some bendable twist-ties from plastic storage or trash bags.

  • Use the straws and ties to construct two-dimensional shapes (polygons). For a triangle, use three straws and three ties.

  • Connect the ends of each straw by inserting a tie about halfway into one straw, and then the other half of the tie into the next straw. They will bend at the corners to form and hold the shape of a perfect triangle.

  • To construct a square and a rhombus (diamond), your child will need four straws and four ties.

  • For a rectangle, six straws and six ties are needed.

For addition practice try a game called “add ’em up”:

  • You’ll need a deck of playing cards with all face cards removed. Use the aces to represent numeral one. This can be for two or more players.

  • Shuffle the deck and put it in a pile, numbers down.

  • Players take turns, picking two cards each. They add the number value of the cards to get a total. The player with the highest sum wins all the cards. To break a tie, each player takes one more card and adds that to the total.

  • When the pile is gone each player counts their cards. The player with the highest number of cards wins.

For telling time:

  • Call attention to clocks you may see around your neighborhood. For example, look for analog or digital clocks on banks, stores, billboards, and other community places. Ask him to tell you the time he sees displayed. Help him, if needed.

  • At baseball, soccer ,or other timed games that you watch, help her read and understand how much time is left in the half, or until the end of the game. Usually, these clocks count “down” so this can be a good time to help her practice counting backwards.

Try to find other opportunities involving simple math skills to challenge your young student as often as possible.



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