SchoolFamily Voices

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

Do You Worry if You’re Doing Enough With Your Kids? Stop!

I can’t be the only parent who worries if she is doing enough with her kids on a regular basis, right? Every day I see Facebook updates from friends sharing
what they did with their kids today, on the weekend, and on vacation, and it gets overwhelming. How do they do it all? I can’t take my kids grocery shopping without wanting to leave them in the produce section. A trip to Disney World, nope, not happening. That would be the end of us all.

But recently I realized something that helped me stop worrying and trying to fill my kids’ lives with constant activities. I thought we weren’t doing much, but scrolling through the pictures on my phone was a great reminder that we actually did do a lot. Did we go to Disney World? Well, no, that would still push me right over the edge. But we did do plenty: bowling, movies, family parties, the beach, the library, school plays, sledding, an amusement park, baseball games, ice cream, the playground, the zoo, and a few road trips. We even went to Disney on Ice—maybe not Disney World, but it’s the closest I’m getting for a while. How could I consider that “not enough”?

Most of us are doing lots of things with our kids that don’t seem like a big deal at the time. Now that I’ve looked back on an entire year, I know that we didn’t just let the kids watch YouTube videos every day. Don’t get me wrong—they watch their fair share—but years from now are they going to look back at pictures and remember what we didn’t do, or will they remember the time we went to the zoo 15 minutes from our house? I’m betting on the zoo.

So, fellow worriers, please cut yourself some slack. My kids have probably done more in one year than I did during my entire childhood, so why was I worrying? Contrary to what my Facebook feed might suggest, we’re doing just fine— even if we never make it to Disney World.

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5 Quick Tips: Staying Connected During Middle School

Staying involved in what is going on with your middle schooler is a tricky endeavor. She wants more freedom and you want to give it to her, but at the same time you don’t want to be completely cut off from her school life.


But there’s no need to toss your hands up and assume it’s a lost cause. We have several ways for you to stay involved (without your child thinking you’re being a nag).


1. Connect with your child’s teacher so you understand what’s expected 

2. Go to school meetings and events 

3. Volunteer to help out behind the scenes 

4. Volunteer to drive kids to clubs or sports competitions 

5. Post a family calendar to highlight everyone’s activities


We have lots more resources to help. Check out:


10 Tips for Middle School Parents


Moving Up to Middle School


College Prep Guide: Middle School


Help Middle Schoolers Manage Their Homework 


Middle and High School: Helping Teens Solve Their Own Problems 


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Getting Involved Matters!

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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6 Easy Ways To Volunteer in Your Child’s Classroom

Very often parents want to volunteer in their child’s classroom—and that’s a great idea! Classroom involvement is beneficial in many ways. When you volunteer, you:

  • subtly reinforce the importance of school for your child.
  • greatly help your child’s teacher.
  • see, firsthand, how your child interacts with other children in a classroom setting.
  • get an overall feel of how reading and math are taught and learned, which guides you when helping with your child’s homework.

Due to parents’ own schedules, volunteering can be difficult during the school day. But please know that most teachers would welcome any help, even a few minutes, and it does not have to be during school hours. Here are six productive ways to be a classroom volunteer, even if your schedule limits your availability:

  • First, join the parent group (PTO, PTA, and the like) at your child’s school.
  • Next, check with your child’s teacher to find out what kind of help she needs.
  • Let the teacher know your strengths and abilities. Inform her of your availability. You may be able to help during your lunch hour, after school, or by doing simple projects at home in the evening hours. These could include collating worksheets, making math cards for group practice, or contacting other parents to coordinate a class event.
  • If you do find that you can visit the class during the day for a short period of time, you could read a book to students, or have an individual, or a small group of students read to you. This fosters word and comprehension skills.
  • You might scribe kids’ stories—they speak, and you write. You can then take the stories home to “publish” them on your computer and return the published books when complete.
  • You could help practice math facts, identify geometric shapes, or play a math game with cards or dice.

Even a small amount of your time can make a big impact on your child’s classroom, and your child’s ultimate school success!


> 5 Reasons To Get Involved

> What Does a Room Parent Do?

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Ways To Motivate Students To Do Their Best

One of the most difficult parts of raising kids is motivating them to do their best work. Adolescents can be externally motivated (like when you take their smartphone away from them until they get their grades up to an acceptable level). You are the source of motivation in that scenario. But it is much better if they are internally motivated—when they want to do their best regardless of what others think.

There are many theories about motivation; they are difficult to prove, because there are so many variables involved. There are some things, however, that are common sense and mostly supported by research. We know that students are more motivated when they have a personal interest in a subject, they like the teacher, they feel like the adults in their life care about them, and their basic needs are taken care of (like food, sleep, and shelter).

What can we do as parents and teachers to encourage self-motivation? What I am going to suggest here is primarily based on my own experience working many years with middle and upper school students, but there is research supporting it.

  • Praise your child only when she is working hard and doing her best. Somewhere along the way, we got the idea that children need constant praise in order to raise their self-esteem. When we praise them for work that does not deserve it, they are not motivated to try harder, and it does not raise their self-esteem. It just gives them a sense of entitlement—“I deserve praise no matter what I do.”
  • Let your child do his own work even when it is really hard for him to do. If parents rescue their children from all failure, what the child learns is that he is not capable of doing it himself. This completely destroys the motivation to try at all.
  • When your child is given the appropriate level of work to do, he is more motivated to give it a try. He should not take an honors level class when the work is really too hard for him. The opposite of this is true, as well. When he is placed in a regular level class but belongs in honors, he will not be motivated because the work is too easy. Interestingly enough, in either situation he will report that he is bored in class (either in a class that’s too hard or in a class that’s too easy).
  • Nothing motivates your child as much as success. This relates to the last point because she is more likely to succeed when in the appropriate course. The level of work given to her should be challenging but she should be able to successfully do most of it if she tries hard. She should be offered multiple ways to show what she knows. Some students will make amazing videos; others shine when they get to perform a skit. This success is motivating and makes her want to do better on other types of assignments.

The final point I want to make is that children believe what they hear the adults in their life say. Tell your child that you love him no matter what, and you are so happy to have him in your life. Countless times in my career, I have heard kids say, “No matter how hard I try, it’s never good enough for my parents.” Your words are important and can either motivate or discourage.

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The Parent-Teacher Partnership: A Critical Connection

Michael Thompson is one of my favorite educators. He advises teachers to ask their students’ parents what they hope for their child in the future. I have started asking this question when I have a chance, because it allows me to learn a lot about my students and their parents. Nearly every parent I have asked says they want their child to be happy, self-sufficient, well-educated, in a successful career that they enjoy, and healthy. I am hopeful that I can support these goals by holding high expectations of my students.

When I give a homework assignment or long-term project, I am teaching my student skills she will need for success in higher education or on the job. She learns to work independently, manage her time, stay organized, and rely on all of her resources (books, notes, teacher, etc.). She is responsible for thoroughly completing the assignment and turning it in on time. If I allow her to make excuses for why she did not complete it or if parents make excuses, then I am not supporting educational and career goals.

In order to be healthy, kids need to learn to eat right, exercise, get plenty of sleep, and lead a balanced life. As their teacher, I encourage these things and try to model them, but much depends on parents monitoring their child’s activities. One of the biggest issues for current students is the amount of screen time they spend each day playing video games, text messaging, watching television, social networking, etc. This not only affects daily activity but also keeps them up too late at night which affects learning and memory.

Parents and teachers have to work together to help kids grow up to be productive and happy. Parents can support teachers by allowing their children to accept responsibility for their actions. Teachers can support parents by holding high, but reasonable, expectations for their students. Parents and teachers have to form a partnership of support and encouragement.

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The Fine Line Between Giving Support and Helping Too Much

A parent of one of my students recently said she was struggling with walking the fine between giving her daughter the support she needs and supporting her too much. This is always a difficult decision parents must make. On the one hand, struggling students have felt abandoned by the people they trust (like their parents and teachers) when they really are trying as hard as they can but still do not do well in school. On the other, they do need to become independent and learn how to succeed in school without extra supports. Let me give you some food for thought.

We have no trouble offering support to students with disabilities that are obvious, like poor eyesight or hearing, an inability to move around on their own, or a broken arm. Everyone sees the need for extra support in these cases. Some of these supports may be needed forever, like for poor eyesight or hearing. Others may be temporary, like for a broken arm that will heal.

It’s more difficult, however, when the need for support is invisible. Children with an auditory processing disorder, dyslexia, or executive functioning disability need support, sometimes permanently. They are often accused of being lazy and dependent on others. If you think about it this way, accusing a dyslexic child of becoming dependent on a spelling checker is no more reasonable than accusing a child with poor eyesight of becoming dependent on eyeglasses!

Children with poor hearing can be brilliant, yet have to wear a hearing aid forever. Similarly, a child with a learning disability may need certain supports forever, yet become a highly successful adult because they are creative and innovative. Most schools focus less on creativity and innovation and more on reading, writing, math, and spelling. Of course, all children need to learn these basic skills. But for those who have learning issues, they may need some additional support in order to succeed while in school. They also need encouragement because their areas of strength (such as creativity and social skills) are not valued as much as their areas of weakness (like spelling and academic writing).

If you know a child who struggles in school, consider whether offering support can lead to success. When possible, give them temporary support only until they can succeed on their own. But if they need support forever, that’s OK. Remember that there is life beyond school  where the things they do well may be more important.

My original question was, how much is too much support? We need to offer them exactly how much they need in order to be successful in school. If your son is working hard and still not succeeding, he needs more support. (For ideas of what kinds of support you may need to offer, read "Options for Helping a Struggling Student.") If your child is getting a lot of support from you, and you are working harder than she is—that is too much support. (For help in deciding whether your child is working hard enough, read "Is My Child Working Hard Enough in School?"). We want children to be as independent as possible as soon as possible. That just might mean they will need some supports for a little while and others forever.

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Parent-Teacher Conferences Help Develop the School-Home Relationship

In a few short weeks, parent-teacher conferences start. Interestingly, both parents and teachers are anxious about them! Parents worry about whether their child is performing well enough and behaving in class. They worry about whether their children are being treated fairly and whether they have friends. Teachers worry about whether they can meet the needs of every child in their classroom. They also worry that parents will judge them unfairly and verbally abuse them during the conference. Both need to realize that children thrive when parents and teachers work together for the good of the child. This is especially true when a student is struggling in school. Here are some suggestions that might help make conferences more productive.

  • Spend some time thinking about what you want for your son. One of my favorite educators, Michael Thompson, suggests that parents think about their “hopes and fears for their child” and communicate them to his teacher. This helps his teacher understand both you and your son better.
  • If your daughter is struggling in school, communicate that to her teacher. Realize, though, that teachers cannot fix everything at once. It is best to work on one major issue at a time. Read my earlier blog Small Steps Can Improve Student Skills for a more thorough explanation. You and her teacher can decide what needs to be top priority. Together you can make a plan for what needs to happen at school and how you can support the efforts at home.
  • Remember that failure is a normal part of life. When your child fails a test or even a larger unit of study (like the whole quarter), it is not the end of the world. You and his teacher can work together to make a plan for how he can still find success.

There are a lot of resources here at SchoolFamily.com about making parent-teacher conferences productive. You can find links to them in the Parent Teacher Conferences Article Archive. Keep in mind that your child benefits most when you and her teacher work together for her benefit. Communicate concerns, of course, but also celebrate small improvements together by letting her teacher know when you see them.

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Now’s the Time To Get Involved!

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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More Tips for Kindergarten Readiness

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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Help Get Your Child Ready for Kindergarten

Starting kindergarten does not have to be a stressful time for a child—or for parents. However, it will probably involve some big changes like going to a new facility, riding the bus for the first time, eating lunch in a big cafeteria, etc. How do you know if your child is prepared for the challenges that kindergarten may present?

Here are four easy ways to answer that question, and some simple activities to promote kindergarten readiness.

  • Make sure your child is well rested. Two weeks before your child starts school, put her to bed 5 minutes earlier each night, and get her up 5 minutes earlier each morning. By the time school starts, she’ll be on a good sleep schedule and rested for school.
  • Keep school supplies simple. All that is needed is an eight- or 16-count box of crayons, three sharpened pencils, one pair of scissors with blunt-ended blades, one eraser, and a small case or pouch to hold everything.
  • Help him easily separate from a parent or caregiver. A good guide to practice this is by reading The Kissing Hand, by Audrey Penn, or Grover Goes to School, by Dan Elliott. Both should be available at your library.
  • Practice following directions. Play a two- or three-step “following directions” game. Start the game simply with only two directions. For example, say, “Please get an apple from the bowl, and then put it on the counter.” Once two directions are mastered, increase the game to three. “Please get an apple from the bowl, put it on the counter, then come back and give me a high-five.” Play often, and vary directions. The sillier the directions, the better. Games like this help your child stay focused and learn how to follow sequential instructions.


Next week I’ll share four more simple, yet very important tips to help your kindergarten child start her school year on just the right note.


> Kindergarten Social Changes: What To Expect

> Kindergarten Academics: What To Expect

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A Simple but Meaningful Holiday Gift for Your Child

As we are all aware, parents today are stretched in many different directions. Obligations at work, demands of home and family, and the stress of the holiday season can be difficult. Combined with text messages, tweets, emails, cell phone calls, and other electronic distractions, simple pleasures can be overshadowed.

Here is an easy gift for your young child, one that doesn’t require a trip to the mall or hours online. It may well be remembered as the best gift ever. Give your daughter or son the gift of “you”! Make this an electronics-free gift of time. 


  • Wrap up a card or create a simple certificate to explain how the gift will work. If you have more than one child, plan a day for each, separately.
  • Take a weekend or vacation day sometime in the next months. The day could come as early as January, or it could be saved and redeemed during summer vacation.
  • Plan to spend it doing your child’s favorite non-electronic activities. They might include building with Legos or blocks, cooking together, coloring or drawing, a tea party, playing board games, playing Hide and Seek or other outdoor games, going on a hike, riding bikes, building a snow fort, going to the library together, reading, going to a beach or pool,  etc.
  • Vary the activities, and pack or buy an inexpensive lunch of favorite foods.
    Make sure the day is spent only with that child, one on one.
  • Have your phone with you for emergencies only. Leave all other electronics at home.

As a parent, you will be amazed at how a simple day, spent together with no distractions, can help you understand and appreciate the person your child is becoming!

Holiday-theme worksheets

More from Connie McCarthy

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5 Questions To Ask the Teacher at Open House

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.

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Make the Most of Parents Night

Parents night (also called back-to-school night) is a big event at our school. Almost all of our families are represented by one or both parents. It is a time to get a feeling for the atmosphere in the school and find out what happens each day. You can find out about your child’s teachers and a little about their teaching philosophies.

Here are some suggestions for getting the most out of parents night at your school.

Attend parents night. Parents who involve themselves in the education of their child demonstrate their support for learning. Attending parents night gives your son or daughter the message that you care about what is happening in school, and you want to meet those involved every day.

Realize that there probably isn’t going to be enough time to focus specifically on your child. The most you can hope for is to provide contact information, and ask for a call if you need to speak about something of concern.

Know that this is not the forum for complaining about something you do not like. If you do have a concern, it would be much better to speak privately at another time.

Read the materials your child’s teachers provide for you. Most of the time, teachers try to minimize what they give parents on parents’ night. So anything you receive is probably important.

Encourage your child’s teachers. They work hard. They make mistakes because they are human. But teachers like children or they would not have become teachers. Think of them as your partners. If you work together, your child will benefit and learn more in school.

Finally, find out when parent-teacher conferences are scheduled. That is when you can focus specifically on your child and address needs or concerns you have.



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5 School Volunteering Tips for Busy Parents

Most families are deep into back-to-school preparations (some are already back!). For those getting ready, there’s back-to the mall for school shopping, then back-to the office supply section for glue and crayons, and of course back-to volunteering after the summer break!

Schools are cutting back, teachers and staff are stretched thin, and parent volunteers are needed more than ever.  As a parent, how can you help when maybe you work full time or have a toddler at home? More importantly how can you donate your time, talents (or even money), and still keep your sanity intact? Busy parents are exactly that—BUSY!

Here are 5 tips for volunteering at your child’s school:


1. Be realistic with your schedule

  • Can you spare 30 minutes a term? Sign up to organize the reading volunteers! Organizing parent volunteers will make a huge difference for the teacher—and it’s even better than sending in a latte!
  • Can you spare one morning a term? Volunteer to chaperone a field trip or help with a special holiday performance or class celebration. 
  • Can you spare one or more mornings per month? Talk to the teacher about needs in the classroom and sign up as a reading, math, or science-station helper.
  • Can’t be IN the school building? Volunteer your time at home with your child: prepare craft kits for the class party or cutouts for the bulletin board. When your work shows up at school, your child will be proud that, together, you contributed to the class.


2. Volunteer your talents

Do you love art, music, gardening, or computers?  Many of these enriching activities are the first to go with school budget cuts. Talk to your child’s teacher about sharing your special skills and interests with the class.


3. Save time with VolunteerSpot.com

Skip “Reply-All” email chains and clipboard signups! VolunteerSpot’s free online sign up sheets make coordinating parent volunteers a breeze! The teacher or parent leader sets up the schedule of needs online and invites parents to sign up with a link. Parents click to choose when and how to help—even from their smartphones or iPad through the VolunteerSpot app, and then VolunteerSpot sends them reminders! Organize classroom readers and party volunteers, recess and library helpers, snack schedules, and even fundraisers like carnivals, walkathons and book fairs. (It’s great for teams and Scouts, too!)


4. Thinking of becoming the Room Mom?!

If you like organizing events and celebrations and you’re good at delegating, consider becoming the Room Mom. You’ll work with the teacher and make the school year extra memorable for both the kids and their parents!  VolunteerSpot has a free Room Mom Survival Guide, with teacher checklists, parent letters, and party plans to guide you.


5. Support the school, too!

Many schools need parents’ help to cover lost staff positions and fund enrichment programs and technology. Consider taking a volunteer shift supervising at recess, in the cafeteria or in the library. Volunteer your sales skills rounding up donations for the auction, or your computer skills helping update the school website. Support fundraisers like school carnivals or volunteer to help at the walkathon, and participate in product sales as your family budget allows.


The best advice for a busy mom or dad is simply to choose what you love and be realistic about time commitments! Teachers will appreciate you and kids will think you’re a superstar whether you simply volunteer to be a class reader once a term,  or you choose run the school’s main fundraiser!



Karen Bantuveris is the founder and CEO of VolunteerSpot, a free, time and stress-saving online coordination tool that empowers busy parents, teachers and volunteer leaders by making it easier get involved. Bantuveris is passionate about boosting parent participation at school and speaks regularly about using social media to spark action in the real world.  She lives in Austin, Texas with her daughter, husband, and a ridiculous number of pets. Connect with her online via Facebook: Facebook.com/VolunteerSpot  Twitter: @VolunteerSpot  and @VSpotMom


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School Education Culture: Why It’s Important at Your Child’s School

The overall educational culture of your child’s school is an important role in school success.  From the principal down through each grade level, there should be a clear school-wide plan for student success and academic growth.

Here are 6 fundamentals that promote positive and successful school cultures, and should be in effect at your child’s school:

1. All students can learn. Even if a child has learning difficulties or issues, that child can learn and advance to the best of his abilities.


2. There are clear expectations for all students. This should apply both to academics and acceptable school conduct. Many schools have adopted the PBIS system (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports) to place the focus on appropriate school behaviors. PBIS is a collaboration between the U.S. Department of Education and 11 technical assistance units across the country.


3. Academic school standards are high and rigorous. If your state is following the Common Core Standards, rigor and achievement are clearly defined.


4. The school has accountability measures for both students and teachers. For students, this means that assessments are equitable across grade levels. For teachers, this means that evaluations are done with clear state- or city-wide expectations and consequences for all.


5. Teachers collaborate among grade levels. Many schools set up common planning time so that teachers, in the same grade level, can plan and discuss curriculum direction and assessments. This ensures that all students, at that grade level, are receiving important skills at the same time.

6. Respect and kindness in classrooms. What parent hasn’t cringed when they overheard a teacher yelling at or embarrassing a child? Or, what parent hasn’t been mortified when they were called to a conference because their child was disrespectful to a teacher or principal? When schools actively develop a culture of kindness and respect, children naturally respond with empathy and acceptance—even when disagreeing.


Parents can do much to help promote and ensure a positive school culture. A good first-step is to become actively involved in your child’s school PTO





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Mom’s Role in PTO Rummage Sale Changes Rank

Let me set the scene: TIME: Last spring, at the end of the school year. LOCATION: The library at my kid’s school, Roosevelt Elementary. SETTING: The last PTO meeting of the year.

I was tempted to pretend to be sick. I’d spent the previous year acting as vice president of the whole “she”-bang! It was hard work but my youngest child was in school full time and I gave it my all. And anyone who volunteers in their kid’s school knows how rewarding it is.

We raised money for new playground and PE equipment. We planted 4 new trees on the school lawn. We supported teachers and staff during teacher appreciation week and created a new community movie night for the whole “school family.”

And we were exhausted.

I was doing the whining, but my PTO president was finishing up her THIRD year, the first two without a vice president! Bless her.

Still, I showed up to that end of year meeting with a plan. Because, you know, vice presidents often become… (gulp) presidents! And I knew I couldn’t do that. I was working more and more from home and, as a family, we had decided to bring a foster child into our home (back to the world of pre-school, people!). And with my oldest child going into high school, I worried about what sort of new and scary time commitments that would bring. (Drama Club, anyone?)

I knew it was my year to be the soldier. Not the general. A change in rank.

It was a hard-fought battle, and I had to stand my ground.

But in the end, I caved… a little. I didn’t agree to run the whole organization. Instead, I agreed to serve as chairperson for the largest fundraiser of the year: the [dreaded] school rummage sale!

At that time, the sale was a whole year away and I figured I had plenty of time to plan for it. I mean, it’s a massive undertaking and a lot of work, but it’s all over in about 2 weeks.

Fast forward to last weekend…and the big day. Thanks to several moms, friends, and a few dads, it went very well. I’m still massaging my feet from being on them all that day, but a $1,600 check for the PTO is worth a couple of tired dogs.

But, what am I going to say at this year’s final PTO meeting? Can I run the school rummage sale again? (Only if I have a co-chairperson.) Do I have any more time this year to do even more volunteering than I did last year? (No.)

I’m afraid it’s another year of being the soldier. Happily doing what I’m told and jumping in where needed. Maybe I’ll get moved up to the rank of sergeant?

Hey! That has a nice ring to it—“Sergeant of the Rummage Sale”!

Anyway, I thought I’d compile 6 Lessons I Learned From Running the School Rummage Sale:

1. Start early. No matter what date you choose, many people will be busy on the same day, so get your team in place early. I used VolunteerSpot.com to create free online sign-up sheets for each task.

2. Send out fliers and use social media early and often. We had (have) a group Facebook page for the rummage sale. Between that and the fliers, we reminded families to bring in their items for the sale and encouraged folks to volunteer to help with the work.

3. Have yummy treats to sell during the day. We asked someone to serve as chairperson of a bake sale with donated baked items. The funny thing” Visitors to a rummage sale will haggle over prices of used goods, but then happily pay whatever you ask for a doughnut or a cold soda!

4. Make sure you hire a charity or second-hand store to help you remove the leftover items at the end of the day. Be sure to call and remind them the day before the event. Our charity forgot and we were stuck “storing” everything all weekend.

5. Pricing items isn’t nearly as important as sorting the goods. Remember, everything is negotiable in the end, anyway!

6. My top tip: Make sure you have an extra-friendly person on site running the sale early in the morning when people first arrive, who’ll gently remind visitors that “this is a fundraiser for the school.” The best phrase I learned to say was as follows: “Your items come to cost $8; will you round that up to $10 for the school?” I was amazed at how many said “Sure!

My husband worries that this sort of fundraiser isn’t sustainable, that our “school family” won’t be able to fill a whole gymnasium with, um, “stuff” year after year. Well, this is the 4th school rummage sale I’ve been part of in this particular school and I swear donations of “stuff” appear like magic every year! Huge thanks to the Roosevelt “school family.” I’m grateful to be part of this team.

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A "Synonym" is Not Something You Put on Toast!

 A few years ago, when I was introducing word categories to my 1st grade students, I asked if anyone knew what a “synonym” was. I called on one student who was enthusiastically waving his hand. “Oh yes,” he said. “I know, I know. ‘Synonym’ is what you put on toast with butter!”

 I couldn’t help but smile as I started my lesson.

Three categories of words can make creative writing more exciting and interesting for your young child. They are: antonyms, synonyms, and homophones.

Antonyms are words with opposite meanings.  Day and night, up and down, and stop and go, are three examples.  They are important words to know when writing, because knowing opposites automatically doubles your child’s vocabulary! Children as young as 3 years old can grasp the concept of opposites…and love to recite them for you.

Synonyms are words that have the same meaning. Small and little, happy and glad, large and big are all synonyms. Knowing synonyms can help an emerging writer avoid using the same words over and over again in a story.

Homophones are words that sound alike, but have different definitions and spellings. One and won, two and too, days and daze are some examples. “Dear Deer:  A Book of Homophones” by Gene Barretta is a great story. It uses homophones and animal characters in a comical way to reinforce the concept.


Understanding different word choices can often turn a reluctant writer into a creative and confident one! For more reading and writing practice, see our printables for Grade 1-2.

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Eliminate Distractions While Doing Homework

 Many students have a hard time staying focused on a task. Much has been written about teenagers who are growing up in the media age. Most agree that they are very good at multitasking. In a report featured on NPR, the actions of a student named Zach, which were typical of many teens, were described as follows: “Within the span of seconds, Zach switches between e-mail, iTunes, Facebook, a computer word puzzle game, and messaging his buddy online. Somewhere amid the flurry, Zach manages to squeeze in some homework, too.”

 My concern is what this behavior is doing to teens and their ability to stay focused to finish a task. If Zach is only managing “to squeeze in some homework,” how good can that homework be? And, beyond that, what is happening to Zach’s ability to learn and think? Dr. Beth Hellerstein, a University Hospital pediatrician and assistant clinical professor at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine, said this is a recent interview with online magazine Your Teen, “When students are distracted while studying they may be learning facts but are not able to integrate them and apply them to a higher level of thinking. Doctors and educators worry about how this superficial learning will impact long term recall and application of the knowledge and skills.”

 How can students prevent themselves from getting distracted while doing their schoolwork? The first step is to identify what distracts them. In the example above, Zach is distracted by software running on his computer (email, Facebook, a word puzzle game, and instant messaging). He is also distracted by his iPod. Many teens have a cell phone, television, and snacks to the list of distractions.

 Once a student has identified the distractions, he needs to decide to eliminate them while doing homework. He needs to shut down all software except for what is needed to do the work. His iPod needs to be turned off and put out of sight. The television and cell phone also need to be off and out of sight.

 Other things that keep students from their work include clutter in the workspace, interruptions from siblings or friends, and looking for the necessary supplies such as paper, pencils, markers, glue, etc. Parents can assist by offering to help clear the workspace, keeping others from interrupting and making sure their child has the appropriate supplies.

 It takes organization and planning skills to take charge of the distractions. For help with ideas for organization, read A Notebook System That Aids With Organization. For more ideas about how you can help your child to learn more from homework, read How to Help Kids Get the Most Out of Their Homework Sessions.

You may also be interested in these related articles on SchoolFamily.com:

Summer is A Good Time to Learn to Type 

Voice-to-Text Software: Great Homework Tool for Kids Who Have Difficulty Writing 

Middle Schoolers Still Benefit From Being Read To




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Does Mom Age Gracefully (or Forgetfully)?

I’ll be 39 in a few weeks.

And—what a surprise—I have a few special wishes for my birthday. First, I want a pair of red boots. A little sparkle, a little kick to make my black boots jealous. And second, I want a new practical, yet “girly,” watch. I wear the time on my sleeve, non-stop. In the shower, to bed, to fancy occasions—everywhere, so it has to be functional and please, can it be pretty too?

There’s one more thing I want for my birthday. I want to stop feeling so old!?

Nearly 40 isn’t all that ancient after all!

Okay, yes the usual aging suspects are tiptoeing in. At night I can’t read the CNN news ticker. My weight is getting harder to control; I almost lost those 10 pounds from the beginning of the school year, but a few pounds always find their way back home to my hips no matter what I try. My husband will tell you my hearing is starting to slide—I’ll tell you I don’t always WANT to hear him! And wrinkles, what is that about? SO not fair.

But the thing that is really disturbing me—making me think I’m officially crossing over—is my memory. Or, my “lack thereof” lately? Plus it doesn’t help that my daughter is playing the song “Memory” from Cats over and over on the piano for an upcoming recital! Good luck getting that out of your head!

My husband has been traveling so much in the last 5 months, he’s beginning to resemble George Clooney in the film “Up in the Air.” It’s really dragging on me as a not-quite “single mom,” which in turn drags on the kids. I’ve even hired an after school assistant to help me with some of the chaos when my husband is out of town. But, still? I’m forgetting small things!

 A little taste of what I mean...

 I left a pork tenderloin out all night that was “thawing for just a few hours.” I completely forgot to put it in fridge before bedtime. The next morning I trashed it, too worried about salmonella to cook it.

 One morning I walked out to start the car and realized I had left the garage door open all night. I should have written a sign that said: “Burglars welcome from 2-4 a.m.; the good stuff is in the back!”

 I bought really nice steaks the other day, on sale, intending to save and freeze them for the next Sunday dinner…only, a few days later I noticed a strange grocery sack sitting on the garage floor. It was over by the deep freezer…yeah, it was the steaks. I had walked over to the deep freezer, set the bag down, opened the freezer, probably rearranged frozen peas and carrots, and then “distraction(?)”  took over and I left the steaks to babysit themselves while I meandered into the house. I was so disgusted with myself!

 Is it really my memory though? (All alone in the moooon-light?)

This is the stuff that’s making me crazy. Is it really my age? I think it’s more like I'm overwhelmed with the kids’ never ending needs, my own work, and, you know, all the household tasks like remembering to take out the trash! Why can’t I simply remember to walk through the kitchen one last time before bedtime?!

Maybe my new birthday watch will have extra alarms for Forgetful, Overwhelmed Mommy Syndrome? Is that asking too much? Otherwise I’m taking my new boots and going for a long walk! (NOT in the moonlight.)


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

No - 37.4%
Sometimes - 25.4%
Yes - 31.6%

Total votes: 4919
The voting for this poll has ended on: June 25, 2016