SchoolFamily Voices

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

Why Attending Your School's Open House Matters

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.

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When Learning and Teaching Styles Don't Mesh

Each student has preferences for how he likes to learn, what kind of classroom makes him feel the most comfortable, and how his teacher likes to teach. Many times, students are in classrooms that do not match up with their learning preferences. For example, a very creative, free-spirited student may be in an extremely structured algebra classroom with student desks carefully lined up in rows. Or, a student who is structured and likes step-by-step instruction is taking history from a teacher who mostly holds Socratic seminars in class. Students who are mismatched this way often come to me to find out what to do. They say things like, “I don’t know what is going on in there! What am I supposed to be learning?” or “I can’t stay awake in that class. It is so boring!”

Students must be able to learn in settings that are different from what they prefer. It is important for them to learn how to learn in all kinds of classrooms. Here are some suggestions that may help.

  • Encourage your daughter to communicate with her teacher when she has concerns. I have met with many students who were sure they could not succeed in a class. I always encourage them to talk to their teacher about it and find out if they have suggestions for ways to study and prepare for class. For example, teachers who use Socratic seminars normally base them on research the students are doing or on reading in their text. To be successful, students must do the research and reading. Doing the homework matters more than it did before!
  • It is helpful to form study groups with students who do well in the class. See if your son can help a friend in algebra if his friend will help him in history.
  • Talk to your daughter about staying open-minded. Sometimes, it is a fear of the unknown that is the problem rather than a true mismatch in learning/teaching styles. She may not have been in classes where her teacher asks open-ended questions with more than one correct answer. It is uncomfortable for her to express her ideas in class and to be graded on whether she participates. Once she goes through it a few times, she may find that she enjoys it and does learn in that environment, after all.

There are all kinds of teachers and students. Students have to learn to do well in classes they might not like. To do so may require kids to talk to their teachers about their struggle, form some study groups where members of the group can help one another, and hang in there long enough to figure out whether or not their early fears are warranted. School is preparing students for their future. They will find they work with people who think differently than they do. Having these experiences and learning to be successful in a variety of settings will help them to be successful later on the job.


> What Is Your Child's Learning Style?

> Learning Styles Quiz

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Your Child’s Teacher Is Thankful for Your Help

At this time of year I often ask my students what they are thankful for—and their answers are always inspiring!

This year, I want to share with parents the simple things that make early elementary school teachers thankful. Here are 10 ways that teachers are grateful to parents in preparing a young child for school success:

  • Reading often with your child. This is the number one way to prepare your child for school.
  • Practicing counting forward and backward. This sounds like a very simple activity, but this preparation for addition and subtraction is very helpful.
  • Playing board games as a family. Board games are a great way to learn about taking turns, rolling dice, and learning to be a good winner (or accepting defeat graciously).
  • Exercising or playing outdoor games with your child. In addition to being great fun together, these activities strengthen your child’s gross motor skills.
  • Encouraging your child to use scissors safely. Let him help you cut out coupons, box tops, pictures from magazines or brochures, or other cutting activities to help him improve fine motor skills.
  • Visiting your local library. By taking advantage of story times and summer programs and routinely letting your child get books out of the library, you’re opening her world to new language and experiences.
  • Expecting your child to clean up after herself. Putting toys away, cleaning up crayons or puzzles, and making the bed are all jobs that young children should do. Having your child clean up her messes teaches responsibility for her own actions.
  • Arranging play dates with other children. Every time you arrange play dates with other children, you give your child an opportunity to practice good social skills, how to share, solve problems, and getting along with others.
  • Setting routines and sticking with them. A specific bedtime each night, homework routines, and clear consequences and follow-through for misbehavior all create a safe and predictable environment for your child.
  • Teaching basic manners. Young children should learn not to interrupt. They should always say “please,” “thank You,” “excuse me,” or “I’m sorry” when appropriate. They should cover their mouth, or sneeze and cough into the crook of their elbow. Manners like this can set your child apart—for all the right reasons!

So, from this 1st grade teacher, a heartfelt Thanksgiving “Thank You” to parents for all you do to promote your child’s school success!

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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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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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My Year Mentoring New Teachers

This past school year, I was offered a special opportunity. Instead of returning to my 1st grade classroom, I was selected by the Rhode Island Department of Education to be an “induction coach” for first-year teachers. An induction coach is a mentor who helps and supports new teachers in every aspect of their work. I was assigned 15 first-year teachers, in four separate communities, to help throughout this school year.

Mentoring new teachers makes perfect sense, and precedents for mentoring new professionals have long been set. Doctors just out of medical school are guided for years by senior doctors. Police departments would never send a rookie officer out alone. A mentoring system should be in place for virtually all professional occupations, so why not teachers?

I found that the time I spent with my first-year teachers was challenging, exhilarating, and rewarding for both the teachers and for me. Problem-solving, sharing successful tips, teaching shortcuts, and offering encouragement during weekly meetings with my new teachers helped accelerate their teaching skills. In turn, this helped their students move forward. For example, I was able to help new teachers take better control of classroom management by sharing some very simple strategies.

Now that this current school year is ending, I would like to report that the induction coach concept for new teachers is a wonderful idea! In my opinion, it should be incorporated into all the school systems across our country. I’m proud that Rhode Island was able to implement this concept through federal Race to the Top funding awarded to our state.

I’m humbled and excited that I’ve been asked to return for a second year as an induction coach. This experience has greatly helped my perspective as an educator. Working with teachers in urban and suburban communities across kindergarten through 8th grade has increased the depth of my teaching experience. Besides, as my husband jokes, for the first time in my career, I’m helping people taller than three feet!

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Laughter Can Lift Spirits: Fond Remembrances From A School Superintendent

This guest blog post is by Gary Doi, retired school superintendent and founder/editor of A Hopeful Sign, a blog intended to "spread hope by sharing real-life stories of living-learning-leading."

Whoever first said that laughter does for emotional health what exercise does for the body knew what he or she was talking about. Laughter can add moments of brightness to even the darkest days. It works for both children and adults, and can put a smile on someone’s face—sometimes, when they most need it.

Laughter is also a powerful antidote as it builds resilience and creates hopefulness. Or, think of it this way: A hearty laugh (or a gentle chuckle) is good for the soul.

As a school superintendent for 18 years, I worked with a lot of schools and students and so I “own” a cupboard full of laughter-inspired material. Some of the stories I treasure most are the lighthearted moments and situations with the children. It is as if I am channeling Art Linkletter and Bill Cosby when they proclaimed—“Kids say the darndest things!”

Here are a few of my schoolhouse anecdotes, which I hope will tickle your funny bone and make you laugh:


One day I was in the hallway observing a class of students lining up for an assembly. I overheard the following curious conversation between two 6th grade students: 

“Do you know who that is?” said one of the boys looking in my direction.

“That’s the superintendent,” replied his friend.

“Right. Do you know he can fire a school principal!” he said dramatically.

“Really?” said the other. “Imagine what he could do to students.”


One day, a kindergarten student was sent to the principal’s office for acting up in class. The principal talked for several minutes with the young lad about his inappropriate behavior.

The child gazed about as the principal lectured about the importance of getting along with others. When the principal had finished his “talk”, the child smiled and casually said, “Must be nice to be principal.”

The principal, who looked a little like the fictional character Friar Tuck (especially with the hair fringe) replied, “Well if you work hard, you may grow up to be a principal one day.”

“Really?” answered the 5-year-old. “Would I have to get a haircut like yours?”


Spike, a pet lizard, was adored by the children at the school where he was kept. One day the children noticed that Spike’s skin color had changed from brown to dark black. Then Spike stopped breathing and lay collapsed in his glass container. It seemed that Spike had given up the ghost, and the news hit the children hard, leaving many in tears.

During recess, when most of the children were outside, the teacher reached in the cage to dispose of their beloved Spike. When she did, though, and much to her surprise—indeed, shock—Spike raised his head and looked about, perhaps wondering what all the fuss was about.

Now it was the teacher’s turn to change skin color, stop breathing, and almost collapse.

The news of Spike’s resurrection (it was Easter time, after all), spread quickly as a young boy ran around the playground like the town crier shouting, “It’s a miracle!  It’s a miracle! Spike lives!”

That’s toughness for you. When the chips are down and it appears that you are on your last legs, you persevere and live to fight another day. That should give anyone a small measure of hope and optimism—it certainly did for the children at that school.


Mrs. C was the school principal of a small, rural elementary school in Canada, and Charlie (not his real name), was a 4th grade student and a chronic visitor to the principal’s office. For Charlie, the principal's office was a comfortable place to be.

Charlie struggled as a student, academically and socially. He had difficulty getting along with the other children and often used inappropriate language. He was constantly saying the F word (the actual F word, not the abbreviated form). 

Mrs. C was a dedicated, caring, and compassionate principal who tried a variety of strategies to stop Charlie from using the bad word. She talked with him about how upsetting it was for the other students and staff, discussed the importance of having school rules about bad behavior and bad language, tried to make connections with Charlie’s outside interests (which were quite limited), and even had a special meeting with Charlie’s mother. That’s when Mrs. C realized the scope of the problem. During the meeting, Charlie’s mother frequently used the F word to describe her views of the school and her son.

One day, as the end of the school year was nearing, Mrs. C publicly announced her retirement with a notice in the school newsletter. Shortly thereafter, as Charlie was leaving the principal’s office, he stopped at the door and asked Mrs. C a question. 

“Is it true you are leaving, Mrs. C?” said Charlie.

“That’s right, Charlie,” she said. “I’ve worked a lot of years and I am going to retire in the next month.”

Charlie didn’t say anything for a moment. Then he lowered his head a little and in a quiet voice said, “I’ll miss you Mrs. C. You’re the best F___ principal I’ve ever had.”

Mrs. C smiled broadly and thanked him, for Charlie—despite his use of language—was a good person at heart.



 Gary Doi, founder and editor of ahopefulsign.com, is a recently retired school superintendent, having served 18 years in three British Columbia school districts. Previous to that, Doi was a teacher, consultant, school administrator, and university lecturer. He created the magazine blog “A Hopeful Sign,” to foster the spread of hopefulness by encouraging people to live-learn-lead by thinking and acting in hopeful ways, and by supporting and encouraging others, one person, one group at a time. In May, A Hopeful Sign ran a guest blog post by SchoolFamily.com editor Carol Brooks Ball called "Academic Success For Children is Linked to Hope."  Follow A Hopeful Sign on Twitter and Facebook.


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Let Young Students Make Lots of Mistakes!

 Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new. 

—Albert Einstein


Taking academic risks and making mistakes are both essential to learning.

Recently, in my 1st grade class, we were working on math word problems and correcting them together.

 All of a sudden one of my students burst into tears.


“What’s wrong?”  I asked.

“I made a mistake,” he answered through his sobs.

“That’s OK” I said, “Don’t worry. Making mistakes in our classroom is a very good thing!”

He cheered up, and I realized we’d had a unique “teachable moment!” I stopped the math lesson and asked the class, “Why do you think your pencils have erasers on them?”

“So we can fix what we mess up?” one student offered.

“Raise your hand if you’ve never used an eraser” I then said. No hands went up. “I’m so glad” I said. “Making mistakes is how we learn!  If you never make mistakes, then you are not learning!”

Everyone makes mistakes—that’s part of life. Making mistakes is usually not the problem; it’s what you do about the mistake that’s important.

So, the next time your young child makes a mistake, you, too, can turn it into a “teachable moment.” Let your child know that “experience” is all about recognizing your mistakes. Using that recognition to avoid making the same mistake again is more than just an academic lesson—it’s a life lesson!



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Teacher's "Catastrophe Award" to 3rd Grader Stuns, Angers Mother

If the teacher who recently presented an 8-year-old student with a special “Catastrophe Award,” which was delivered to the child in front of the child's entire 3rd grade class, thinks this was funny, I think the teacher needs some classes in appropriate humor. And appropriate behavior.

The teacher, one Mrs. Plowman, who teaches 3rd grade at the Desert Springs Academy in Arizona, gave the award to little Cassandra Garcia, for “the most excuses for not having homework.” The teacher signed the award with a smiley face and her name.

Using a different word, couldn't this be described as bullying?

Cassandra’s mother, Christina Valdez, didn’t see the humor in the award either. At first, Valdez and her daughter were confused, since Cassandra's homework folder was complete, and Valdez said she hadn't been notified by the teacher about any missing homework. But the mother's confusion quickly turned to anger when her daughter said she was humiliated after receiving the award in front of her classmates and all of them laughed at her. And that's when Christina Valdez, called the school’s principal.

Valdez told KGUN-TV in Tuscon that when she complained to the principal, “… she blew me off. She said it was a joke that was played and that the teachers joke around with the children.”

Some education experts interviewed by the TV station and asked to comment on the “award” agreed with Valdez—that this was no laughing matter and that any such negative award was detrimental, especially to a child that age.

Personally, I think this was appalling and an utterly unacceptable gaffe on the teacher’s part. What was she thinking? What do you think? Couldn't this qualify as bullying?


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Why Do Some LD Students Act Out in School?

Recently, I read Nelson Lauver’s book, Most Unlikely to Succeed. The first part of the book was difficult for me to read. When Nelson was a child, he was abused by his teachers because he couldn’t read and do math.

Mr. Lauver tells the story of how he would do almost anything to keep from being called on and embarrassed in front of his friends. For example, when he was asked to read aloud in class, he would misbehave badly enough to be sent to the principal’s office. This most often resulted in him receiving harsh physical punishment with a paddle, or even worse—being locked in a totally dark room (“the vault”) for the rest of the day. This abuse went on for years. In fact it continued almost daily until he grew big enough that his teachers were afraid of what he might do if they mistreated him.

When Nelson was 29 years old, he was diagnosed with dyslexia, a specific language learning disability. For help understanding it, see my blog post How Do I Know if My Child is Dyslexic? Today, Mr. Lauver is a well-known “syndicated broadcaster, speaker, humorist, author, and master storyteller.”

The reason I bring up this story is to make the point that children with learning disabilities (LD) often misbehave in school. I have mentioned before that a child will tell me, “I failed because I didn’t study,” when he actually did study. This saves face because if he said, “I studied really hard but still failed,” he would be admitting he “is stupid.” These students really do feel stupid. They would much rather be, “the bad kid” than “the stupid kid.” So they act out and get themselves in trouble.

The truth is that learning-disabled students are bright! I have taught students whose measured IQs are a LOT higher than mine! Yet, they had been failing in school and needed specific strategies to help them learn in the school setting. Most of them, like Nelson Lauver, are talented and will do fine if they can just get through school.

If your child is frequently in trouble at school, consider the possibility that she has a learning disability. Ask the school psychologist for an evaluation and do it soon.


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1st Graders Suggest Top Books for Kindergarteners

In preparation for my school’s annual “Reading Week,” I asked my 1st grade students to name their favorite kindergarten books, and tell me why they liked them. Their answers were impressive. Here are their thoughtful recommendations:

A Snowy Day, one student offered, because, “It always reminds me of how much fun it is to play in the snow, and how delicious hot chocolate is.”

Three students liked the I Spy books. One commented, “I like being a detective.”  Another said, “I’m always happy when I find things in the book, and every time I read it, I get better and better at finding things.

One boy’s favorite book was Where’s Waldo? “It reminded me of when I got separated from my dad in [a] Lowes [store] and had to find him!” Another liked Where’s Waldo in Hollywood, because “I’m really good at it! 

One boy’s favorite was Shark. “I really like learning about nature,” he said.

Another chose Danny and the Dinosaur, because, “I like fiction and I wish I had a dinosaur for a friend!”

One young man’s choice was Dog in Boots. “I have a dog, and he always hides in boots, too!”

Two girls loved One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish. “It helped me learn about numbers and colors,” they both said. 

Two boys agreed that Cat in the Hat was their favorite. They thought that “Dr. Seuss was so funny,” and they loved stories that made them laugh.

Two children liked Little Brown Bear, because they both have “tons” of stuffed bears!

One student’s favorite was The Mitten. “It made me think of when I lost my mittens,” she said.

One student remembered her love of Tales of Brer Rabbit. She proudly said, “It’s funny and good, and I got to take it home because I could read it.”

Three children loved “All the Berenstain Bears books,” because, as one said, “The Bear family is just like my family.”

 Discussing favorite kindergarten books with my 1st graders has reinforced one of my lifelong beliefs.  That is, if you are looking for a good book, talk to someone who reads books… and truly enjoys them!


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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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Kindergarten Math: The Common Core Standards and 4 Geometry Activities

Math being taught in kindergarten classrooms today includes geometry as children learn about different geometric shapes.

This is due to the establishment of the Common Core Standards for Education, which was developed by the Common Core State Standards Initiative, a state-led effort coordinated by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO).

These standards affect both English and math curricula. The Common Core Standards are specific, purposeful instruction to promote student understanding and achievement in grades kindergarten through 12.

Simply put, the Standards are the way to ensure that American students will have access to a quality, equitable education.

In kindergarten, an important element of the Common Core Standards for Mathematics is the recognition of geometric shapes, and how they relate to the physical world. The ability to identify, name, and describe 2- and 3-dimensional shapes, in kindergarten, is a distinct advantage in understanding math concepts.

Some examples of 2-dimensional shapes are circles, squares, rectangles, triangles, hexagons, and a rhombus (diamond shape.) Some examples of 3-dimensional shapes are cones, cylinders, cubes, and spheres. Have your child learn some of these shapes by using SchoolFamily.com's Geometry Printables.

In addition, here are 4 easy activities to help your kindergarten child understand and make connections to these math shapes:

  • Purchase an inexpensive Hula Hoop. Use this as a large circle for spatial games. In the back yard, lay the Hula Hoop flat. Help your child practice moving inside, outside, above, below, beside, and near the hoop.  Have him practice until he can easily follow the spatial direction. For fun, let him practice the correct spatial words by giving you directions to move about the hoop!
  • Use Play-Doh, rolled into long “snakes.” Form the snakes into circles, squares, triangles, etc. Talk about the shapes that have “corners and sides.” Talk about what makes some shapes different, and what makes some shapes alike.
  • Build shapes, with sides and corners using Popsicle sticks. Glue them to 8 pieces of ½”x 11” colored construction paper. Print the words naming the shapes on the bottom of the paper. Be sure to use lowercase letters. To construct a circle, run a steady bead of glue around the middle of a piece of construction paper, giving the circle about a 5” diameter. Cut a piece of yarn or string and set it on the glue circle. Let it dry thoroughly overnight.  Hang up all the different-shaped papers in your child’s room, where she can easily see and reference them.
  • Go on a three dimensional shape “hunt” in your house. Look for tennis or soccer balls (spheres,) sealed soup, tuna or other cans (cylinders,) and cones and cubes. Offer a treat, sticker, or some other reward for each shape found!

Knowing geometric shapes can help your young child better understand his physical world—and be on the right track in kindergarten math.

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"Bully"—Documentary's Rating Creates Dilemma for Filmmakers, Parents, and Students

UPDATE: 03/12/12

Have you heard about “Bully”?

If you haven’t, you will. And then you can decide if you'll take your kids to see it. "Bully" is a documentary film produced by the Weinstein Co., which tells the stories of what really happens to children—and their families—as a result of relentless bullying.

Filmmakers followed three students who are bullying victims—Alex, 12, from Iowa; Kelby, 16, from Oklahoma; Ja’meya, 14, from Mississippi—over the course of the 2009/2010 school year. They also followed David and Tina Long from Georgia, parents of 17-year-old Tyler Long who ended his life after years of being bullied; and Kirk and Laura Smalley of Oklahoma, whose 11-year old son Ty took his own life after years of bullying abuse. The film follows Kirk as he starts Stand for the Silent, an anti-bullying program comprised of a series of silent vigils, which he hopes will draw attention to the bullying crisis in the U.S. and lead to anti-nationwide bullying legislation.

The film won’t be released until Friday, March 30, but it’s been in the news lately because of the “R” rating it was given by the Motion Picture Association of America—a rating that has infuriated producer Harvey Weinstein. Weinstein appealed the rating to the MPAA three weeks ago, but the organization refused to lower the rating to PG-13 due to the film’s harsh language—language that reportedly consists of 6 uses of the “F” word used during a bullying incident caught on film. What do these rating actually mean? According to the MPAA’s ratings site, an “R” rating means: “Restricted. Children Under 17 Require Accompanying Parent or Adult Guardian.”A PG-13 rating means: “Parents Strongly Cautioned. Some Material May Be Inappropriate For Children Under 13.”



 SchoolFamily.com wants to hear from you!

Do you feel the film's rating should be changed? If the rating was PG-13 would you let your middle school and/or high school child see it? If the R rating stands, will you take your child to see the film?

Please share your thoughts with us by commenting below!


Numerous teen groups, non-profits organizations, and individual teens are lobbying the MPAA on Weinstein’s behalf, by collecting signatures, launching Facebook pages, releasing statements, and Tweeting about the film’s rating and why they want it changed to PG-13. Why? So that middle school and high school kids can go see the film. As any parent of a ‘tween or teen knows, attending a movie with Mom and Dad just isn’t cool. Perhaps more importantly, a PG-13 rating would mean the movie could be shown in schools. One high school student collected thousands of signatures and was invited to appear on the “Ellen DeGeneres Show” this week, where DeGeneres pledged her support to the ratings appeal and signed the petition herself. “I think it’s an important movie and I think it can save lives,” DeGeneres said.

CNN’s Anderson Cooper has also supported the film, featuring it on a recent episode on his show. Cooper is a longtime advocate of anti-bullying programs.   

In the meantime, Weinstein has announced that his company may consider releasing the film without a rating, effectively boycotting the MPAA. That, in turn, has infuriated theatre owners. In response to Weinstein’s statement, the National Association of Theatre Owners (NATO) has warned Weinstein that it will urge its members to give the film an “NC-17” rating—“No One 17 and Under Admitted”—which is even more restrictive than the film’s current R rating.

Since many students who are learning disabled are often targets of cruel bullying, the National Center for Learning Disabilities (NCLD), a sponsor of the documentary, is joining the call for the rating change.

In an email sent to SchoolFamily.com, James Wendorf, executive director of the NCLD, had this to say about the film’s R-rating:

“[The] National Center for Learning Disabilities fully supports efforts to reduce the R rating currently assigned to the film ‘Bully’ and bring it to a broader audience. Bullying is nothing less than a crisis in this country, with 13 million American children waking up every morning fearing abuse from their peers.

“It is a fact NCLD knows all too well. Sixty percent of children with learning disabilities and other special needs say they have been seriously bullied, and that is why we joined with other special needs advocacy organizations to provide support for this vital film.

“Until parents understand this crisis and children and teens see and own the consequences of their behavior, there is little hope for improvement.”

UPDATE: 03/12/12, 10:52 A.M.: Due to the urging of Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) and other members of Congress, former Sen. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.), now the president of the MPAA, will take part in a panel discussion this Thursday, March 15 in Washington, D.C., along with “Bully” producer Harvey Weinstein and director Lee Hirsch. The film will be shown to a group of teachers and principals invited from schools in the Washington area, followed by their participation in the panel discussion.

Tips for Parents on How to Prevent Bullying

The National Center for Learning Disabilities realizes that bullying involves not only the victim, but also the one doing the bullying, and those who witness the bullying but don’t do anything about it. These tips from the NCLD can help parents figure out what to do:

  • Stop bullying before it starts. Let everyone at your child’s school know that you are on the prowl for signs of bullying and that you expect everyone else to do the same. Preventing and stopping bullying is a shared responsibility, and one that is not voluntary. Ask to see the school-wide no-bullying policy and ask that the details regarding recognizing and reporting, consequences, and prevention activities be shared frequently with parents and faculty.
  • Use the word “bullying” with your child. Make sure they know what it means. They may not know that the hurtful behavior they are being forced to endure is wrong, mistaking it for “attention” or “acceptance” from peers. If your child is the one doing the bullying, help him to understand the negative impact it has on his status. And if your child is a bystander when bullying is taking place, help her to know what options she has—doing nothing not being one of them—without fear of being targeted herself.
  • Help your child know what to do. Assure him that he will not get in trouble. The perceived consequences of “tattling” could be keeping your child from sharing his bullying experiences. Help your child know the difference between “tattling” and “reporting an incident of bullying.” This is equally important for the children who are being victimized, those who are the aggressors, or those who are bystanders.
  • Know your rights and don’t be afraid to exercise them. The U.S. government, under both education and civil rights law, recognizes that bullying and harassment are forms of discrimination. Include a goal about bullying in your child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP); ask about bullying at every parent teacher conference; and if bullying issues are not properly addressed, be prepared to file a formal complaint with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.

For more information on bullying, SchoolFamily.com has an entire section on bully awareness and prevention, with numerous articles and blog entries including what to do if you child is being bullied; tips about preventing cyberbullying; what to do if your child is the bully; and more. Readers may also benefit from reading Fast Facts on Bullying, produced by the Office for Civil Rights. 


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School District Signs Agreement to Prevent Bullying of Gay Teens

 A public school district in Minnesota made news this week when officials there ended a federal investigation, and a civil lawsuit filed by six teenage students, by agreeing to a series of changes that will make schools take notice and get involved when gay students are bullied.

 The New York Times article reported that over a 2-year period, the school district had nine students commit suicide after the teens were bullied because they were gay—or were perceived to be gay. Despite these tragedies, the school maintained a position of “neutrality,” whereby teachers had to be “neutral” on questions from students regarding sexual orientation. In other words, the teachers were prevented from being allowed to show support to, or prevent bullying of, students who identified themselves as gay or questioning their orientation.

 The new agreement was signed by officials with the Anoka-Hennepin School District and Department of Justice, the Department of Education, and the six students who sued the district.

 Tenets of the agreement include the following:

  • The district’s “neutrality” policy rescinded and replaced by a policy to “affirm the dignity and self-worth of students regardless of race, sexual orientation, disabilities, or other factors”
  • Strengthen ways to prevent, detect, and punish bullying based on gender or sexual orientation
  • Hire a full-time “harassment prevention” official
  • Increase availability of mental health counseling
  • Identify harassment “hot spots” in and outside of the middle and high schools

 According to the Times’ article, conservative Christian parents in the district who had formed a group called the Parent’s Action League in order to keep the neutrality policy, called the agreement a “travesty.”

 Does your school district have specific policies for preventing the bullying of gay students?  Are teachers allowed to answer students’ questions about sexual orientation?

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What Is a Language Learning Disability (LLD)?

Language is more than the words we speak to one another. There are many parts of the language process and if all are working as expected, we give little thought to it. But if a person is struggling with language, they may have a language learning disability (LLD).

Children with a language disability struggle with language in a variety of ways. Some have trouble saying what they want to say: They have trouble finding the right words, talk really fast, have an unusual cadence when they speak, or simply sit there trying to figure out how to get their point across. While I have worked with children like this, it is more common that the issue is related to writing their thoughts on paper. They may have no trouble understanding or telling me the answer, but if I ask them to write it down they can’t do it. Children who cannot express what they know either orally or in writing are said to have a problem with expressive language.

Oral and written language impairments are easy to see. But, when the language problem happens inside a child’s brain, it is harder to diagnose. For example, some children have a hard time processing what you say to them or what they read. They may be slow processors or struggle with the syntax of language. They may not understand the subtle differences in expression, especially if there is sarcasm involved.  They might have trouble organizing their thoughts, storing them in memory, or pulling them back out of memory. At times we refer to these children as having a receptive language problem because they have difficulty taking in language and making sense of it. But, it is really more than just not understanding what others say, or what they read. It can also involve thoughts generated by the child himself.

Dyslexia is a specific language learning disability that can manifest itself in a variety of ways. If you want to learn more about it, read my earlier post, How Do I Know If My Child is Dyslexic?

Language is extremely complex. Therefore, disabilities that relate to it are also complex. LDOnline offers an excellent explanation of a variety of language disorders and how they affect a child in school.

If you suspect your child has a language learning disability, you need the help of a psychologist or a speech and language pathologist who is trained in diagnosing and treating these disorders. There is no quick fix, but with proper help these children can be very successful in school and life.

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Introduce Your Young Reader to the “H Brothers”

Once young readers learn to blend letter sounds, they can easily sound out a new or unfamiliar word—that is until they encounter one of the “H Brothers!”


The “H Brothers” are consonant digraphs. Consonant digraphs consist of two consonants, joined together to make a single, distinct phonetic sound.


However, “consonant digraph” is not a term you want to use with young readers. So, in my first grade classroom they are known as the “H Brothers.”


The five most common “H Brothers” are “th,” “ch,” “sh,” “wh,” and “ph.”


Here are some fun and memorable sentences to help your child decode the sounds of the “H Brothers:”


  • Theo is thinking about sticking out his tongue every Thursday. (“th”) 


  • Charlie is a train engineer, and likes to say “Choo,choo.” (“ch”)


  • Sheldon is shy and likes it quiet.  Shhh! (“sh”)


  • When Whitman tries to whistle, all that comes out is “Whhh.” (“wh”)


  • Phil likes to practice phonics on his phone. (“f”)


Help your child practice one “H Brother” at a time. Have her look for the “Brothers” in the beginning, middle, or end of words.  (thin, feather, path


Let your child draw pictures of the “H Brothers,” and help him write the sounds they make. Keep the pictures handy for a quick reference. 


Automatic recognition of letter sounds, blends, and digraphs will dramatically increase your child's reading fluency rate. 


A good reading fluency rate is so important because it directly leads to increased reading comprehension.


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Great Kids' Books for Read Across America Day

 Read Across America Day, an annual program of the National Education Association (NEA), is Friday, March 2. Read Across America is a celebration of reading and a celebration of the birthday of Theodor Seuss Geisel, more commonly known as Dr. Seuss.


At SchoolFamily.com, we're all about encouraging reading! Parents reading aloud to their children and kids reading by themselves are both proven ways to help them do better in school—and develop a lifelong love of reading. Reading should be celebrated and applauded—even for so-called "average" readers


Do you have a reluctant reader? Some kids will also be motivated by tracking their progress using our printable Reading Incentive Chart. For other tips on encouraging reading, check out our Building Reading Skills section.


The NEA  lists recommended books under “Teachers’ Top 100 Books for Children.” And in honor of Read Across America, Voices From the Field—the official blog site of Save the Children—has posted a list of top books for children, by age, on their site in a series of posts called Love to Read. The books were chosen by Save the Children’s Early Childhood and Raising a Reader program leaders and specialists.


SchoolFamily.com is pleased to share this list with our readers. Note: The links below for each book are from online retailers. The books may also be found, however, at your local library. Not sure where the nearest library is? Do a library search through PublicLibraries.com, which lists all public libraries by state.



Mine! A Backpack Baby Story by Miriam Cohen


Joseph Had a Little Overcoat by Simms Taback


I Went Walking by Sue Williams


Flower Garden by Eve Bunting


Sail Away by Donald Crews


Nuts to You! By Lois Ehlert


Planting a Rainbow by Lois Ehlert


All Fall Down by Helen Oxenbury


Pots and Pans by Anne Rockwell


Jungle Walk by Nancy Tafuri



Best Friends by Charlotte Labaronne


Mine! Mine! Mine! By Shelly Becker


Sharing How Kindness Grows by Fran Shaw


Sunshine & Storm by Elisabeth Jones


I Accept You as You Are! by David Parker


The Pout Pout Fish by Deborah Diesen


I’m in Charge of Me! by David Parker


I Love it When You Smile by Sam McBratney


I Love You All Day Long by Francesca Rusackas



Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney


Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo


Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan


The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan


Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner


The Stranger by Chris Van Allsburg


Number the Stars by Lois Lowry


Hatchet by Gary Paulsen


The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan


The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare


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School Shootings: Help Your Child Process Tragedy in the News

Our hearts and thoughts go out to the residents of Chardon, Ohio after the tragic shootings at Chardon High School on Monday, Feb. 27. As of this writing, three of the five teenage victims have succumbed to their injuries. TJ Lane, identified as the shooter, reportedly told police he’d been bullied at the school.


Tragedies like this raise myriad questions and can trigger grief reactions from children—and from parents as well. How should your handle your child’s confused feelings? How do you reassure your child that her school is safe (assuming you think it is safe)? Does her school have a strong anti-bullying program, and does it go far enough?


Perhaps the most pressing question for parents is how to help their child comprehend and interpret such tragic, frightening news. Our SchoolFamily.com experts say that parents should begin by managing, as much as possible, what their children see and read about the event in the media—on television, in newspapers, via the Internet, and on social media sites. While children may be reading at an advanced level, few are emotionally prepared to handle details of tragic and catastrophic events. Read more about this in Help Manage Anxiety About Current Events, on SchoolFamily.com. And regardless of the cause, parents can help their children handle overall anxiety by reading Help Kids Learn to Manage Stress.


What if your child is being bullied? Or—what if your child is the bully? Start by reading our articles on bullying prevention, which include information about preventing your child from being a bully’s victim, to teaching your child empathy.  To protect your child from online bullying known as cyberbullying, learn the red flags to watch for in this SchoolFamily.com guest blog post by bullying prevention expert Dr. Michele Borba.


If your suspect (or know) that your child is a bully, read the no-nonsense tips about what to do in this two-part guest blog post by Annie Fox, author, online educator, and host of Cruel’s Not Cool, an anti-bullying online forum.


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There is No Place for Sarcasm in the Classroom

“Jackie, is it all right with you if I start class?” 


This seems like a harmless question, doesn’t it? When teachers say it (and I am guilty at times), they are being sarcastic, because they know it isn’t up to the student whether they start class or not. What they really mean is that Jackie is talking or otherwise goofing off and keeping class from starting. Most kids can laugh this off and jokingly respond, “Sure, Ms. McCoy. I’m just now finishing up.”


But some kids don’t take it that way. Some are hurt by that rhetorical question. Some do not understand sarcasm, even this kind, which is relatively benign.


According to Susan Fitzell, an expert on teaching students with special needs, “There are people, students included, who cannot read the difference between sarcastic humor and intentional meanness.” (See Susan’s “No Putdown Rule” article for information on how sarcasm has become an acceptable part of our culture.) Almost all sarcasm has the potential to be hurtful. Even people who do “get it,” can have their feelings hurt.


If your child does not understand sarcasm, you might need to alert his teacher to it. I like to think about whether what I am saying to my students is as respectful as what I would say to a peer. That might be a good talking point for you if you need to talk to your child’s teacher. Respectfully ask, “Would you say the same thing in a faculty meeting to one of your friends?”


There are many kinds of learning difficulties and some of them affect social situations as well as school. For more information, you should read my earlier blogs, Social Skills and Learning Disabilities, and Poor Social Skills Can Lead to Bullying.


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

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

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