SchoolFamily Voices

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

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

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

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

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


On behalf of all of us at SchoolFamily.com, please accept our warmest holiday wishes. We hope that this winter break over the holidays affords you and your children some extra time together, to play, learn, and simply be in one another’s company—with no homework to nag the kids about!

As the New Year begins, you can count on SchoolFamily.com to bring you timely, thorough, and practical ways to help you help your children succeed in school—academically, socially, and emotionally. 

Until then, here’s a terrific read about helping your kids be grateful and find happiness amid the materialism of the holidays. And if you’re among those who are looking to the New Year as a fresh start at school for your kids, this story may be of special interest to you.

Best wishes and happy holidays to all from SchoolFamily.com!





Students who struggle in school need the holiday to rest, relax, and have some fun. When school is in session, they put forth more effort than other students. Additionally, they are spending time doing things they really do not like. Everyone deserves some time away from the stress of their normal work—you, from whatever your routine is, and your children, from their school work.

Imagine what it would be like if your boss asked you to practice filling out your time sheets while you are on vacation, because you normally have difficulty filling them out accurately! That is like asking your child to practice writing academic paragraphs while she is supposed to be having fun.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe in learning at home. I have no problems with playing educational games with your children. But, the games should really be fun and not similar to typical schoolwork.

Please enjoy this holiday season with your children. Have some hot chocolate and cookies. Play outside. Go to the park. Paint some pictures. Watch some movies. Play some video games. School will start again, soon enough!

Happy holidays to you all.

Surprise your young child this holiday season with some simple and inexpensive items as stocking stuffers or small gifts that will delight their curiosity and enhance “hands-on” learning. Remember the delicious childhood pleasure of reading under your covers with a secret flashlight? Here are 8 suggestions for similarly simple gifts: 

  • A child sized, hand-held magnifier. This is a great gift for a curious child to study bugs, butterflies or snowflakes in the backyard.
  • A large, plastic encased thermometer.  This can be placed outside her bedroom window so she can become the family “weather girl.” She can check the temperature before getting dressed, and let the family know if they will need mittens and hats that day, or if it’s warm enough for a swim!
  • A child-friendly horseshoe magnet. He’ll feel like a scientist discovering all the things around the house that will be attracted to, and repelled by, the magnet.
  • A deck of playing cards. Cards can be used for all sorts of games to improve math skills, in a fun, interactive way. Some examples: have your daughter identify and match numbers on the cards, or play “War” together for the concept of more-than and less-than.
  • A small, suction cup bird feeder that can be attached to the outside of a window. This allows your child to get a close view of the birds that will come and feed, and feel the responsibility of having a pet when it’s time to refill the feeder.
  • For about $3-5 you can get an environmentally safe bag of “Snow in Seconds” or a tube of “Insta-Snow Powder” that magically turns into “snow” when your child adds water.
  • A jar of soap bubbles. Wave the wand to create bubbles and have your son quickly count them before they pop!

And don’t forget that small flashlight for lighting the way to the bathroom at night—or for reading under the covers after lights out!

"There's an app for that." Are you familiar with this phrase? Perhaps it's one uttered by your kids on occasion (or on a daily basis). It's a phrase my daughter says frequently right before she sighs and gently gives me one of those "Mom, you're such a dinosaur" looks. Apps are application software programs that address  almost every subject imaginable. First created for the the Apple iPhone, more and more apps are becoming available for the BlackBerry, the Droid, and many other smartphones.

There are a couple of new iPhone apps that caught my eye recently. One is called ParentLink Mobile Parent. It's an app that allows you to receive automated calls from your child's school sent directly to your iPhone. These calls are being made by most schools today, and inform parents of everything from the opening day of school to emergency school closings. This free app is available from ParentLink.net, also allows parents to update their contact information with their school's automated call system directly from their cell phones. 

An app I hope I never have to use is The Facts of Lice by Fairy Tales Hair Care. Yes, this app helps parents whose children have been infected with head lice. Not only are head lice pesky to treat, their presence means kids can't be in school as long as they have "nits" in their hair, these being the eggs laid by active lice (note: You may want to check to see if your child's school has a "No Nits" and/or a "No Lice" policy). Be aware that the company is plugging its own line of lice treatment and prevention products, and includes a salon locator where the products may be purchased locally. That said, the app also includes helpful, general information about lice, as well as a way to track an outbreak and be notified of outbreaks in your area. 

Finally, an iPhone app that no pregnant woman or mother of small children should be without: Where to Wee. My daughter told me about this site (since she complains that I use the ladies room "all the time"), and I'll admit it's come in handy more than once when we've been traveling. The app allows you to find the nearest restrooms - especially critical if you're potty training little ones - and rate bathrooms on cleanliness, and the availability of soap and paper towels. In addition, for some hilarious reading, check out the Where to Wee blog.



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?

The ending of a school year often leaves parents wondering how they can keep their child’s academic and physical skills sharp during the summer months.

Two great resources to check out are your local library, and your local Parks and Recreation Department.

Most town libraries have a specific summer reading program geared to school age children. In my school district the library offers a themed program that runs all summer. The reading program contains good variety and various incentives to keep children reading. It includes story times, movies, arts and crafts and more.

City or town playground activities help promote physical fitness as well as arts and crafts opportunities, swimming and special events.

Summer is also a great time to give your child an allowance and opportunities to earn money doing small jobs. Talk to your child about budgeting, or saving for an item that the child wants to purchase. One suggestion is to make sure the allowance amount contains coins (for example $4. 92) so that your child is continuing to recognize and count different coins.

Be sure to read my blog during the summer months as I plan to share many fun games and activities to help children keep their learned skills sharp!

The New Year is the perfect time to hang unmarked calendars, make resolutions and revel in the feeling that we can "start over." And, while it certainly does feel as though our collective slates have been wiped clean, let's not forget that our children are smack in the middle of the academic school year. This is the perfect time for parents to ask, "Is my child reading at grade-level (or higher), and is he making progress?"  And, one of the best ways to find out your child's reading level is to give them a grade-level fluency test.

Fluency is reading speed and accuracy, and a student's fluency rate should steadily increase throughout the school year. For example, at the beginning of the school year, the average 2nd grade student reads about 53 correct words per minute (CWPM); after three months, one would expect that number to have increased to 70 CWPM.

Ask your child's teacher for a grade-level fluency test; or, look online and in reading/tutoring books. With only a little instruction, most parents find fluency tests easy to administer. It is worth a little time and effort to discover for yourself how your child is doing, wouldn't you agree?

Don't wait for a disappointing report card or low test scores- find out NOW if your child is on target in reading. Have a fun, safe New Year, but don't forget that January is the ideal time to give your child a fluency test!

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I love spending time with family and friends, eating entirely too much delicious food and reveling in the fact that they haven't figured out how to turn the holiday into a commercial-gift-buying-debt-creating extravaganza. After hundreds of years, Thanksgiving is still a simple day of thanks- and football.

What I don't like about Thanksgiving (besides the dishes) is homework. Unfortunately, millions of students and their families will have to deal with homework this week. It was after one year of my daughter spending the afternoon upstairs studying instead of hanging out with her family that I put my foot down about vacation homework.

You and your children deserve a break from school- including homework. Here's how to deal with vacation homework  so that your family can return to your regular routine rested and rejuvenated.

Good luck.  Happy Thanksgiving and try not to eat too much!


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