SchoolFamily Voices

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

In Praise of the Average Reading Student

I’m writing this week in support and recognition of all the wonderful young students who fall into the under appreciated category of “average” when it comes to their reading.


Average means that a child is doing on-level work for their grade. This category represents the vast majority of school students, often in excess of 70 percent of a class.  


Guess what? It’s OK for a student to be average and to be an average reader! Many influential world leaders, thinkers, and doers started off as average students—Winston Churchill, Albert Einstein, and Thomas Edison are just a few. What’s important is that average students be encouraged to always do their best.


Here’s what you can do to help your average reader reach his or her maximum potential:


  • Read every night with your child. On-level readers need constant practice to maintain vocabulary recognition, fluency, and reaching the next level.


  • Avoid the temptation to push your child to a higher-level book. This can often frustrate and discourage him, which could cause him to give up trying.


  • Practice “word-family” words. That means rhyming words with different beginning sounds. Use this SchoolFamily.com printable worksheet to Practice short vowel and long vowel words, such as: at, bat, cat, rat; or bike, hike, like, etc.


  • Keep practicing “sight” words. Sight words are words that cannot be “sounded out,” they just have to be known.  Use these printable worksheets from SchoolFamily.com to help your child with word recognition and common sight words.


Uncover your child’s “passion.” Find things that she really loves and work these things into her academic practice. Reading about snakes or butterflies may be a lot more exciting than reading “Dick and Jane!”


Who knows…the constant encouragement you give to your average student today, could lead to tomorrow’s Steve Jobs or Sandra Day O’Connor!

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Consequences of a Zero: How One Missing Grade Makes a Huge Difference

Many students do not understand how important it is to complete (and turn in) every single assignment. They think that missing a paper or two does not make much difference in their overall grade. I have tutored students before who were failing in a course who really weren’t doing that badly on the work they did. They seemed to understand the concepts as we worked through them. But, because they did not do all the work, their grade was terrible.


Help your child understand this concept. Show them how to calculate an average (add all their grades together and divide by the number of grades). Then do some pretend calculations to show them the difference between getting an 85, 79, 90, 88, and 100 (average is 88.4), versus getting an 85, 79, 90, 0, and 100 (70.8 average!). At my school the 88.4 is a “B” and the 70.8 is an “F.” 


One missing grade makes a huge difference.


Sometimes, the issue is not that they did not do the work. It might be that they forgot to print it out, lost it between home and school, or put it in the wrong notebook. Parents can help with this, too. If these are issues for your child, they might need an organization system to help them keep up with their work.  Check out A Notebook System That Aids With Organization for an idea that might help them keep up with their homework.


Or, they might need a checklist to use before leaving home in the morning. Organization Tips to Eliminate the Forgotten Homework, Lunch, Sneakers… provides you with one method that has worked for many students.



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Why is Mom the Family's Social Calendar-Carrier?

School for my rising high school junior starts in seven days, which means that in seven days, I'll be hit with an avalanche of paperwork and important dates to record. I'm already in the doghouse, however, for forgetting something important today. 

About 20 minutes go, my 16-year-old flew out the door to meet her driver's ed instructor who was waiting in a car in front of our house. Seems I'd forgotten to tell my daughter that the instructor had called me the day before, and scheduled several lessons for her over the coming weeks - including one today. Shame on me for forgetting and for neglecting to advise my daughter. But, wait a minute: How come mothers are expected to be the all-knowing, continually-updated, walking "calendar" for everyone else in the family?

Ever since my kids were toddlers, I've kept some version of a write-on, wipe-off, dry erase calendar taped to a wall in our kitchen(or on the front of our refrigerator). I've always told my husband and kids that "If it isn't on the calendar, it doesn't exist," which means I expect them to fill in any events or dates that they schedule, and to check the calendar frequently to see what's on for any given day.

That's where things tend to fall down in my house. Like most women, I'm the Scheduler of Appointments for the kids, occasionally my husband, our pets, and home repair or service calls we require. And while it might sound like an exalted position, it's one I'd gladly pass on ... if only someone was interested.

My routine is to schedule things for said household, add the information to my smartphone calendar, and then write it on the dry erase calendar in the kitchen. As I see it, the responsibility for the appointments from there rests with each person who lives in my house -- well, except the dog and cat whom I'll excuse for not knowing their upcoming appointments at the vet.

Tell me, fellow mothers: Is that so unreasonable?

I didn't think so.

However, I admit that on rare occasions I forget to record an appointment on the dry erase calendar, and a member of my family -- today, the teenage daughter -- is caught unaware. Geesh ... I'm only human.

Job, anyone?

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In Search of the Ultimate Back-to-School Tips and Checklist -- Kind of

Well, the countdown to back to school has begun in my house. 15 more days. I say that with serious lament. I want to hang on to every minute of summer, every shred of the lack of routine. Well kind of. I want to, but my checklist genes won't let me. Much to my kids' chagrin. Ah, I wish I could just live in the moment but sadly I can't. Not unless I have a plan. So here is my compromise. When I feel the fear of no back-to-school plan bubbling up inside me, I set aside an hour or so to get myself organized.  Here's  how I get organized for back to school:


  • I go to the school website and transfer all the important dates to my Google calendar: like sports try-out dates, back-to-school night, activity fee deadlines, etc. The nice thing about Google is it's free you can color-code by child or activity. 
  • I print out a back-to-school checklist and post it on our bulletin board. I'm  a huge fan of having lists on my laptop and phone but when it comes to these types of lists, you can't beat the old-fashioned list in the kitchen. And yes, physically checking things off the list makes me happy. 
  • I make copies of my kids' medical records to have them handy for sports, school and activities. 


Just by getting those few things done I find I lose that "school's hanging over my head" feeling.  Back to cookouts and bike rides and spontaneous weeknight plans with friends. Ah yes, I will miss summer. 

And okay, I have to admit that I also have some organizational tools waiting in the wings for the week before school starts. 


I refuse to print these out until I need them. But they are there so I can happily push the thoughts of back-to-school chaos out of my head.  As for back-to-school shopping, I am one of those moms who waits for the start of school. You get more bargains after school starts, right? For now, I enjoying summer while it lasts!

So what's your summer to back-to-school transition style? Do you have any "get organized" tips you can share? Or would you rather not talk about it until your kids are actually in school?



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Back to School Countdown for Early Elementary Kids

Kids with backpacksRelaxed summer schedules are ending, and the back to school rush has begun. If your young child is counting down the days until school starts, or has just started back, your household routines are changing and getting back into "school mode."

Here is the first of a four week series to "jump start" school success.

Week One: "Rested, Organized and Ready"

  • Make your child's bedtime five to ten minutes earlier each night, and get started five to ten minutes earlier each morning. This eases children into a set morning routine.
  • Make time for a healthy breakfast. Many studies show that developing brains need that morning fuel to function well.
  • Lay out breakfast dishes, cereal boxes, utensils, etc. the night before to ease the morning rush.
  • Check newspapers and flyers for coupons or sales on school supplies. Stock up on items, used all year, that are discounted now. (Glue sticks, crayons, folders, etc.)
  • Keep backpacks, lunchboxes, books, and needed school supplies in the same designated spot each night. This eliminates morning stress and wasted time looking for misplaced items.
  • If your child is still learning letters, make alphabet practice index cards. Print the capital and lowercase letters together (Aa) as partners. This promotes an easier transition to reading and printing.
  • If your child can recognize some small words, build on that knowledge. For example, if he can read the word "an", add an "r" in front to make the word "ran." Then replace the "r" with other letters that would make new words ("c, d, f," etc.)
  • Practice rhymes and rhyming words. This promotes "phonemic awareness" which is a key element in learning to read.
  • Practice counting small objects (goldfish crackers, cheerios, pennies, etc.) and putting them in a row to correctly match the counting. This is called "one-to-one correspondence," a skill that is important in both math and reading.
  • Visit your local library to borrow books of interest to your child, that you can read together daily.

Look for the series to continue next week with:
Week Two: "Ready, Set, Read!"

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Stand up and Study More!

After my posting on creating a friendly environment for ADHD children, I heard from several people about how much they like the stand-up desks. One felt it would be great for him rather than his children. Another says she plans to try it with the students she tutors in reading.

One of my tweeps (Twitter friends) sent me a picture of her home office. She built two stand-up desks and shared this picture of them. Notice the bottom shelf. She told me that having the books and supplies down low helps keep them out of sight where they are less distracting.

I especially like this study space because of its potential for organization. Many students who struggle in school have a hard time finding what they need in order to be productive during their homework time. The shelves provide room for the standard supplies they need. You could add some clear plastic storage boxes (like the ones they sell for shoes). They could be filled with pens, pencils, colored markers, rulers, tape, glue, and other standard supplies students need to have at their fingertips.

This study center is pretty much ideal for an ADHD, disorganized student. The student can stand while they work (wiggle, bounce, dance) and find anything they need within seconds.

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Observe Your Child to Learn More About His/Her Learning Style

HeadphonesMost children use a combination of senses to learn. The three most common are visual, auditory (hearing,) and touch or "hands-on." Yet, it’s also true that most children tend to be stronger in one of those areas. A simple way to spot your child’s dominant style is by observing him or her in different settings, for example, car trips, going to the library, and home activities.

Your child is probably more of a visual learner if:

  • On car trips he likes to look out the window and play "find" games
  • At the library she goes for the books that are boldly and colorfully illustrated
  • At home he likes looking at photo albums or curling up on the couch with books

Your child is probably more of an auditory learner if:

  • On car trips she likes listening to stories or music with headphones
  • At the library he enjoys the "storytelling" hour, or audio books
  • At home she hears and follows oral directions, likes computer games with songs or sound matching activities.

Your child is probably more of a "hands-on" learner if:

  • On car trips he likes to color in coloring books or draw
  • At the library she goes right for the computer or block/design area, or books that have a tactile component like "Pat the Bunny"
  • At home he likes to take things apart and put them back together, enjoys puzzles or likes doing cooking projects

Knowing your child’s style of learning helps you align activities to that strength.

In the next few weeks I’ll share some easy reading and math activities that will benefit these three different learning styles.

School Family note: For more info on learning styles check out this article:
or take the learning style quiz:

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Blog Give-Away: Win a Free House Cleaning & Lysol Gift Pack

Are your kids sniffling and sneezing already this school year? Yep, cold and flu season is upon us. You'll be happy to know that we just launched a new Healthy School Kids page that provides practical tips, tools and insight on keeping kids healthy during the school year.

To kick off our our new Healthy School Kids page we are doing a fun give-away*. Here's how it works: 

  • Head over to our Facebook page and tell us what steps you’re taking to keep your kids healthy and in school this year for a chance to win a gift certificate good towards a professional house cleaning and a gift pack chock full of Lysol cleaning products!
  • If you’re not sure how to begin, just start with an old fashioned fill in the blank: I am keeping my kids healthy this school year by ____________.


The Healthy School Kids blog drawing runs from  October 6th through October 20th, at 11pm EST. At the end of that time period all Facebook fans that wrote a healthy kids idea on our wall will be entered to win a professional house cleaning gift certificate, and a gift pack full of Lysol cleaning products. One entry per person and one name will be drawn randomly

Disclosure: Lysol is a sponsor of the Healthy School Kids program. 

Update on October 21, 2010. The winner of the Healthy School Kids blog drawing is Wendy Clough Braun. Congrats Wendy! Thanks to all that added their two cents on how they are keeping their kids healthy! Be sure to visit our Healthy School Kids page to pick up more great tips.

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Back to School Supplies

Kids"Please Mom; please can I have that giant box of crayons and the smelly markers?" This plea, recently overheard at a local store, got me thinking about the items that a new Kindergarten or First Grade student really needs...and it’s not the huge box of crayons and smelly markers!

Many teachers send home a list of school supplies before the first day of school. If you have not received such a list, my best advice to parents is to keep school supplies simple.

I suggest this basic list because fewer items make it easier for your child to be organized, and simple supplies cause less distractions when being used.

All a Kindergarten or First Grade student needs is:

  • Three sharpened pencils with erasers
  • A small container of glue or two glue sticks
  • A pair of child’s scissors
  • A small box of crayons, containing no more than 16 crayons (Too many color variations confuse young children)
  • A pencil box to keep supplies organized and handy
  • A two-pocket folder for school notes and homework

Additional helpful items are:

  • A lunchbox
  • A box of tissues for the classroom
  • A backpack that is not too heavy or oversized for your child
  • Don’t forget to put your child’s name on their possessions. It’s amazing how often children forget what belongs to them!

If your child just has to have that big box of crayons and smelly markers...keep them at home for his or her own, special "art" center.

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Keep School Supplies Simple

For many children getting school supplies is the best part of going to school! A few years ago, on the first day of school, Amanda, was so proud of her big box of 64 crayons. Very quickly pride turned into panic when I asked her to "make a circle with your red crayon." "Mrs. McCarthy" she said, as her lip started to quiver, "I have so many 'reds' in my box, that I don't know which one to use!" Amanda was simply overwhelmed by her number of choices.

My best advice to parents is to keep school supplies simple! Many teachers send home a list of supplies before the beginning of school. For those who didn't receive a list from their child's teacher I suggest these basic items for kindergarten or first grade:

  • Three sharpened pencils, with erasers
  • A small box of crayons, containing no more than 16 crayons
  • A small container of glue, or a glue stick
  • A child-sized pair of scissors
  • A pencil box to keep supplies organized and handy


Additional helpful items other than school supplies are:


  • A lunch box and favorite snack for snack time
  • A pocket-size pack of tissues
  • A backpack that is not too heavy or oversized for your child to carry everyday
  • A small container of hand sanitizer


Please don't forget to label the inside of backpacks, lunch boxes, raincoats, jackets, etc. with your child's name. For safety reasons, never place your child's name on the outside of a backpack or any other items. You do not want strangers to know your child's name.

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The... ahem... joys of back-to-school shopping

Good column from Atlanta from a dad who doesn't miss the annual scramble now that his youngest is off to college. It *is* amazing how none of the supply goodies you can get for free (pens from the hotel or conference, backpack from the camp give-away, etc.) are ever actually the right supplies for school. Must be a conspiracy.... Where do all those mechanical pencils disappear to anyway? Must be in that same secret compartment with all the single socks that go missing.
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Old Notebook, Fresh Start

We made it through the first week of school and so far, so good. Except I lost the fight to convince my 4th grader to start the year with a fresh notebook.

I knew it was time to give up when, after the first day of school, I found him taping blank sheets of paper over the page dividers of last year's spiral-bound notebook. I asked him what he was doing. "Covering up all this stuff I drew in 3rd grade," he said. "The pictures are just so...you know, bright. And this way I'll have plenty of room to write down the names of my new subjects." What he wasn't saying was he thought his old drawings were babyish and he didn't want any of the other kids seeing them.

I considered pointing out that he wouldn't have to bother with the cover-up if he'd just let me buy him a new notebook, but in the end, I kept my mouth shut. My son has 10 months ahead of him of having to do what he's told. The least I can do is accept his decision about what notebook he uses. So what if it's not something I would start the year with? That recycled notebook is a statement of his own values, not his mother's
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Spiraling Out of Control

My son received a card in the mail from his new teacher welcoming him to 4th grade. The teacher included the much-anticipated supply list. Fortunately, I already have a good number of items on it (like the glue sticks and boxes of crayons I picked up for 20 cents each during my mid-summer buying frenzy). Unfortunately, the entire list was written in Spanish, so I have to take my son's translation at its word.

He's in a Spanish immersion program, the hope being that his early start will give him a good shot at learning the language).

The list renewed an argument my son and I started when school ended in June. He came home on his final day of school, pulled his ratty old notebook from his backpack, and began tearing out the pages that had been used. He told me he intended to reuse the notebook when school started up again. My blood ran cold. I may have mentioned before that my fondness for spiral-bound notebooks borders on being creepy. Little gives me as much pleasure as a brand-new notebook and its promise of words yet written. When I give my child a pristine notebook each fall, it symbolizes a fresh start to a new school year.

I told all of this to my son. He'd have none of it. He formed a rational argument about wasted paper and the need to protect our planet by recycling and reusing. I did what I always do when I sense I'm losing an argument to one of my children. "We'll discuss this another time," I said.
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The Sales of August

Argh! They got me. I swore I wouldn't be sucked into the back-to-school shopping hype until the first day was clearly in sight. But then I saw an ad for 10-cent notebooks.

Just one dime for 70 spiral-bound pages! I just knew the offer would be gone by Aug. 27 (which, in my town, is the day before school begins and which, if past years are any indicator, is when I would have started my back-to-school shopping).

My personal weakness for notebooks propelled me to the store, where across the aisle I spotted boxes of 24-count crayons for 20 cents each. Now, if I took all of the barely used crayons in my home and laid them end to end, they would circle the earth seven times. Yet at 20 cents for 24 crayons (that's less than a penny each!), I felt it would be irresponsible not to buy a couple of boxes. Then I spotted the glue sticks....

I prefer to delay back-to-school shopping until the last possible moment. If a school supply enters my thoughts before the end of August, I lose my ability to sustain the illusion that summer will last forever. When a school-related television commercial comes on, I mute the sound and pick up a book. On Sundays, I pull open the newspaper, scoop out the stacks of flyers, and dump them into the recycling bin. But despite all of my precautions, that ad for the 10-cent notebooks slipped through. I'm already feeling the chilly fall air.

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Too Cool for School?

Here's yet another sign that "back to school" is big business: limited-edition Nike sneakers with designs inspired by school supplies, released just as students are headed back to class. Kids can pick from three different styles, each with the image of a schoolhouse or school bus bearing the Nike swoosh. My favorite is the black and white shoe that resembles a composition notebook, but maybe you'd prefer the bright-blue and orange of an Elmer's glue bottle or the distinctive green and gold of a box of Crayola crayons.

Sneaker aficionados have gone gaga over the shoes, but education bloggers are mixed. On the Biz of Knowledge, Bill Belew questions the cool factor of wearing "crayon shoes" to school. But Alexander Russo of This Week in Education thinks the shoes have a good shot with kids, or at the very least with their parents.

One online store sells the back-to-school sneakers for $85 to $120, but on eBay, bids for the composition book shoe have already topped $160. This leaves me wondering just who the target market for these shoes is, schoolkids or the grownups in their lives?
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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