A Cool (Free) Tool for Doing a Presentation

Many teachers assign presentations to help their students develop their speaking and presenting skills. I recently learned to use some presentation software that is available free on the web. It’s called Prezi and is particularly good for those who do not like to write lots of words and who tend to be more creative. It also allows you to show off how much you know about a topic without tempting you to turn around and read from the screen.

 With Prezi, you create a single document that is sort of like a poster that presents your topic.  I recommend keeping it simple with lots of pictures and few words.  You can decide what order you would like for things to play, embed YouTube videos, import images, group information, and format colors and themes.  You can also download your presentation and present it without being online. 

 The best way to learn how to use Prezi is to watch the tutorials on the Prezi website. As usual, parents should supervise children while online—Prezi allows anyone to post samples of their work.

Give it a try! See whether this is a tool that will help the next time your child is asked to do a presentation in school.  It is a way to do an impressive, creative presentation.  And it’s free.

 

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What the Red Sox Could Learn From My First Graders

As a life-long Red Sox fan, I was astounded by my beloved team’s collapse.

Just about everyone has heard how the team fell apart in September, and squandered a nine game lead in the American League wild card race.

How could this have happened?   How did such a talented team fall apart?
This got me really thinking about the “team” values I teach my first graders—and how my six and seven year old students could teach the Red Sox a thing or two!

•    In our first grade class it’s never about just one child…it’s always about how we can help each other.

•    It’s about listening to the person in charge, and following directions.

•    It’s about working for a common goal, always doing our best.

•    It’s about respecting each other and taking turns being leaders.

•    And it’s about happily sharing someone’s success, and helping another through difficulty.

Despite my September disappointment with the Red Sox, I’ve found comfort every day in watching my student’s sense of teamwork and cooperation.  Their common goal, of first grade success, is well underway.

Since the Red Sox manager, Terry Francona, has “resigned” over this monumental September choke, I invite the new manager to visit with my students.  He will learn a lot about teamwork, cooperation, and targeting success!

Oh well, wait ‘til next year…

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Establishing Communication With Your Child's Teacher

A teacher Will my daughter know how to buy her lunch? What if my son’s not reading yet? Will my shy child develop friends in the class?

Understandably, parents have questions and concerns when their young child starts school. Teachers are well aware of this, because often we are parents too.

The most important thing for parents to remember is that your child’s teacher is your biggest ally! Teachers want what you want for your child...to learn, grow, and be successful in school.

Parents ask, "What is the best way to communicate with my child’s teacher?"

Usually, the teacher will offer information about communication at a school open house. These meetings often occur early in the school year. Ask, if you don’t get a specific directive.

The teacher might prefer:

  • Email
  • Telephone conversations
  • Quick face-to-face meetings at school drop-off or pick-ups
  • Written notes
  • Scheduled conferences

Get involved:

  • Join the PTO
  • Volunteer to help in the class , if possible
  • Volunteer to help with projects you can do from home
  • Support all school rules

The start of a new school year is an exciting adventure for both students and parents. Think of the teacher as your professional guide on this wonderful adventure!

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Back to School Books that Address First-Day Jitters

If I had to pick a favorite book that I’ve read to my children during times when they've been anxious about returning to school, I’d be unable to choose – there are that many excellent choices.

One that topped our list, however, was “David Goes to School” by David Shannon. Full of mischief, little David, who is loosely based on the author, gets into trouble at every turn. Will he be banished to the time-out chair? Or, perhaps he’ll practice appropriate when-at-school behavior and earn a gold star. My kids adored this book, and brought our copy to their classrooms’ on more than one occasion for reading-aloud time.

We recently asked SchoolFamily.com Facebook fans to name their favorite books to help children deal with their going-to-school jitters.

The most popular book by far among our SchoolFamily.com fans was “The Kissing Hand” by Audrey Penn. In this book, Chester, a young raccoon, would much rather stay at home with his mother than go to school. His mother, however, kisses his palm and good feelings “rush from his hand, up his arm, and into his heart.” Chester’s mother then tells him that whenever he is lonely he can put his palm to his cheek and “that very kiss will jump to your face and fill you with toasty warm thoughts.”

Chrysanthemum” by Kevin Henkes was another of our readers’ favorites. Henkes is the author of the popular “Lily” series, and has a devoted following of his books, which feature adorable mice as the main characters. “Chrysanthemum” is the name of a little mouse who is bullied and made fun of on her first day at school because of her long and rather unusual name. Eventually, however, the class learns that their music teacher, whose name is Delphinium, plans to name her unborn baby Chrysanthemum, the prettiest name she has ever heard.

First Day Jitters” by Julie Danneberg takes a twist that children will find delightful. Sarah Hartwell does not want to go to her third-grade class at a new school. She hides under her bed covers and generally delays however she can on that first morning. When she finally gets to her new school, however, young readers learn that Sarah - who is their new teacher - has the same back to school jitters that they do, even though she is a grown-up.

Want the names of more back-to-school books? Check out the books listed here.  

 

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Are teachers "overworked, underpaid, and unappreciated?"

A fourth-grade teacher in Florida thinks so.

Jamee Miller, who teaches in West Palm Beach, Fla., wrote an essay that was recently posted to Facebook, recounting what her day is like as an elementary school teacher working amid budget cuts, seemingly-unachievable state and federal education mandates, and lengthy hours that extend far beyond her contractually compensated hours.

Miller apparently wrote the essay a year ago and then put it away. This year, when Florida legislators were debating passage of a controversial bill that teachers said was unfair, Miller retrieved her essay and posted it to her Facebook page. Almost overnight parents and teachers everywhere, not just in Florida, applauded her message and re-posted her words. 

Do you think teachers are, as Miller puts it, are "overworked, underpaid, and unappreciated by most?" Are the teachers in your child's school system valued and appreciated? How do you feel about the issue and Miller's essay?

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Help Teachers Get the Supplies They Need Through TeacherWishList.com

 

Did you know that on average, teachers spend $462 of their own money to buy supplies for their classroom?  

Enter TeacherWishList.com! This new site was launched last week by School Family Media (our parent company), with support from Procter & Gamble’s Bounty brand. TeacherWishList.com takes the old-fashioned printed wish list and makes it a lot more new-fashioned by using the web, email tools and even social media. Teachers can load their lists (or parents or your PTO can load the lists for them) and then share and update the lists and basically get the help they deserve.  Pretty cool. 

Since the launch last week, over 4,000 teachers have already signed up and entered wish lists. Think this speaks to how easy the site is for parents and teachers to use. There’s even a free kit that has a poster and flyers to help you promote the program at your school. 

To celebrate the new site, Teacher Wish List’s sponsor, Bounty, is giving away some amazing prizes: 

A $25,000 Art Room Makeover

Each school that submits five or more wish lists will be entered for a chance to win the grand prize: a $25,000 art room makeover with the help of a designer.

Weekly Giveaways

Ten teachers each week will receive a $462 prize to help fulfill their classroom wish lists. Weekly winners will be posted in the Recent News section on TeacherWishList.com.

So scoot. Go check out TeacherWishList.com to get the full scoop on all the giveaways and to sign up your school! And be sure to tell teachers and your friends who have school-age kids.  This is one of these times that we all win... teachers, schools, parents, and most importantly our kids!

 

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Teaching Children to Accept Responsibility For Their Actions

Teen Group All of my students have a specific language learning disability. I have noticed through the years, that many of them try to use their learning problems as an excuse for poor behavior. Parents and teachers have to make sure that children learn to accept responsibility for their own actions. This can be in a situation where their actions were not acceptable (misbehavior) as well as when their actions are acceptable (studying for a test). They need to be able to connect their actions to the end result. (I misbehaved and got in trouble. I studied and did well on my test.)

I sometimes hear students say, "Mrs. Johnson got me in trouble," when what they really mean is they did something wrong, got caught by their teacher, and got in trouble. It is important to help children see the difference and take responsibility for their own actions. What they should say is, "I got in trouble with Mrs. Johnson because...." As parents, you can help them to do this by starting the sentence for them and having them finish it.

Other expressions that are cause for concern are, "Armando made me do it," and "All my friends were doing it," or "Sally was talking, too!" These reveal that the child does not realize that his actions are his own choice. Parents often respond, "If Armando told you to jump off of a cliff, would you do that, too?" But, this does not help the child connect his actions to the consequences of those actions. Parents should emphasize that it does not matter what everyone else is doing. A person can only be responsible for what he chooses to do, and what others do is beside the point.

In these situations parents should remember that their role is to teach their child to behave responsibly. Parents can use these situations to teach their child about the link between the choices they make and the consequences of their choices. Dr. Robert Brooks and Dr. Sam Goldstein in "Can Do Kids" say, ‘The true meaning of the word discipline is "to teach." The ultimate goal is to nurture self-discipline so that your children will act responsibly even when you aren’t around.’

And, remember that this is the very same concept that will help them to improve in school. They will connect the actions they take to learn to the improvement they make in school.

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Homework Struggles - When to Talk to the Teacher

Girl doing homework In an earlier post I mentioned that there are some students who need to have their homework assignments modified for one reason or another. If your child is really struggling with homework, consider whether modifying their homework assignments might help. Keep in mind homework modifications may be temporary if low skills can be remediated. For other children such as those with physical disabilities, the modifications may need to be permanent. There are many possible modifications to make. One way is to reduce the length of assignments.

If your child is truly working but it takes too long to get their work done, they might benefit from shorter assignments than the rest of the class. To figure out whether they are actually working (as opposed to daydreaming), time how long your child works. This is easiest if you have two stopwatches or timers. Start one when your child begins work and leave it running until the homework is finished. Start the second timer when she begins, but stop it every time she is distracted or taking a break. (Restart it when she begins working again.) In this manner, you know the total length of time she spends appearing to do homework as well as the actual time she is working.

If there is a huge difference between the time on the two stopwatches, your child is having trouble focusing their attention. That is a different issue, but also needs to be addressed. (Read Tips To Help Children Focus on Homework.)

If you feel the actual time working is an unreasonable length of time for the age your child is, ask her teacher if this is what is expected. I have heard that the recommended time is about ten minutes per grade level. So a first grader has ten minutes of homework and a second grader has twenty minutes. Show your child’s teacher how long she works on homework. At my school, we have several students who either receive shorter assignments (the teacher crosses off problems they do not have to do), or they are asked to stop working after a certain length of time. You might need to request these modifications for your child.

If low skills are the reason for the problem with homework this modification will no longer be needed when the skills improve. So, make sure that your child is getting help to improve low skills, as well. Stay tuned for more ways to modify homework.

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Call Me a “Tiger-less” Teacher

Happy School Kids In a recent weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal, (January 8-9, 2011) I read an article that soon started a nationwide controversy. The headline read "Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior." It was the story of Yale Law Professor Amy Chua, with essays excerpted from her book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother. My interest soon turned into disbelief, as I read her own words "...that nothing is fun until you are good at it." Nothing? What about the fun of learning through "discovery?" I kept reading.

As an educator of young children, I understood when she wrote, "To get good at anything you have to work...", However, I did not agree with the second part of her comment "...and children on their own never want to work." I see the inaccuracy of that statement everyday in my classroom. Children are eager to learn, and do not shy away from whatever work it takes.

She tells the story of making her seven year old practice a piano piece, under extreme pressure. She threatens to take away her dollhouse. She threatens no lunch or dinner, no birthday parties and no holiday presents. She says "I told her to stop being lazy, cowardly, self-indulgent and pathetic."

This is where I fundamentally differ from her approach, as both a parent and a teacher. When has humiliation ever been an effective tool in teaching anyone anything except resentment and hate? In my experience, it is positive encouragement that allows children to take risks, knowing that if they fail they have a soft place to land.

I am left to wonder...is this all just a "reality show" in the form of a book? Is it simply controversy to generate sales? I’m at a loss to say. All I know is that when I returned to my class after reading that article, I was more determined than ever to continue my nurturing, "tiger-less" approach. Although Ms. Chua’s method has apparently worked for her two talented daughters, I am proud to say my methods have successfully worked for more than six hundred students over the years.

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Little Things Can Help a Struggling Student

Teen Boy Sometimes I don’t totally understand why something I do helps a student! A couple of weeks ago I gave a chemistry test. I had several phone calls from one of my student’s parents and five emails from her son telling me he was not ready for the test and that he didn’t know anything on it. His mother described him as "on the verge of a nervous breakdown." The test was the next morning.

I didn’t know what to do. I knew that when someone is emotional they can’t learn much, and I also knew he had an English test the next day, too. So, I said, "Do not study any more for this test. You are too emotional and studying isn’t going to do you any good. Study for your English test instead."

When he came in to take the test the next morning, I asked him if he would like to have the test one page at a time.

"Could I? That would be great!"

So I sat near him and gave him one page at a time. He knew the test was four pages long. He completed page one, gave it to me, and asked for page two. He completed page two and then asked for page one again. It went on throughout the period, and I was noticing that his answers seemed pretty good! I was afraid that he would go back and change correct answers because he’s done that before. But, he didn’t. In fact -- he made a "C" on the test which we were both very happy about. He claimed that getting only one page at a time helped him to relax.

Why? I don’t know. If he didn’t know how long the test was I might think it kept him from feeling overwhelmed. But, he did know. Since it did help him, I will continue to do it for him. Sometimes, the simplest things can be a really big help.

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Cool Lowe's Christmas and holiday ideas

I've worked with Lowe's quite a bit these past few years, most often on our partnership on the very generous Toolbox for Education grant program. Even with all that work, I never really thought of Lowe's as a Christmas brand for school families.

But that's changed this year with two programs that I think are worth a look.

The first is a unique gift card program that works well for teachers. There's certainly plenty at Lowe's that a teacher can use, but the real neat thing here is that you and your kids can customize the cards with a picture (of your child, perhaps?) and a unique message ("thanks for teaching me fractions", "holiday wishes for a great teacher").  Nice concept for something both personal and useful for the teachers on your list. Lowe's customizable cards are here.

The second idea is the chance to buy the cool "build and grow" kits as a gift for your own kids. The kits are classic parent-child projects with all the pieces and step-by-step instructions.  And pretty cheap.  A nice switch from Call of Duty.  Details on the Build and Grow kits are here.

Hope these two ideas help with some of your school or learning holiday challenges.

 

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Before You Do Anything, Call the Teacher First!

Students come home and tell parents the most amazing things.

"Today the teacher called us stupid.” 

Before you rush off to call the principal, take a deep breath and contact your child's teacher and give him or her a chance to explain. Children- especially small children- often misunderstand adults. (I am sure your kids have misunderstood something you’ve said, once or twice, right?) Instead of starting World War III, you might hear something funny.

“Streudel! I said the kids were full of streudel today!” 

Some parents are quick to call the principal or the district to complain about something they think has happened or been said. Teachers should be held accountable for their actions and words. They should treat your child with respect and consideration, and they should follow district rules and regulations. Of course, if there is an on-going problem or issue, and you have spoken to the teacher repeatedly and things aren’t changing, then, by all means, call the principal! And, if you have been working with the principal and things aren’t improving, then call the district office. 

Just talk to the teacher first.

I once substituted in a 3rd grade classroom. A student went home and told her mother that I had assigned 8 hours of homework! Can you imagine anything more ridiculous? It was preposterous on a number of levels, including that as a substitute, I follow the lesson plans left by the regular teacher. Instead of asking for clarification or a simple explanation from me (or using her own common sense), the mother called the principal and ranted and raved for half an hour about the horrible substitute (me) and the impossible work load. She claimed that her daughter was so upset about being assigned so much homework that she couldn’t do any of it. Talk about a sad, powerful family dynamic.

Calling the principal to “get the teacher in trouble” rarely works, anyway. Most principals believe and support their teachers. The principal will speak to that bad, bad teacher, but it’s not what you expect. The principal and the teacher usually stand in the hallway and complain about micromanaging, overreacting and bothersome parents. Ouch.

I've often thought of what my son's kindergarten teacher said to parents at Information Night, "I promise to believe half of what your child tells me about you, but remember to only believe half of what they tell you about me."

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Why It's Not Okay to Be Late to School

Early one morning last week as I pulled the car up to my son's school, he announced that he wasn't wearing any shoes. He had managed to remember his lunch and backpack, but his new tennis shoes were in the garage where he had "forgotten" them. I was pretty annoyed (understatement) at having to drive in traffic- all the way home and then back to school and then home again, but what really upset me was that my son was going to be late to school.

As a former elementary school teacher, late students were the bane of my teaching existence. It is annoying to teachers and detrimental to students.

Teachers are strapped, strapped, strapped for time, so the smart ones hit the day running. First thing in the door, it’s announcements about school events, tests, assignments, projects, field trips; collecting homework; taking roll; sending in the lunch count; doing quick test preparation and review. Yes, all of this- and more- happens in the first few minutes of the school day. Reading, writing and 'rithmetic. Boom, boom, boom.

Then, the late kid trickles in.

The entire class stops what they are doing to watch him get settled. Everyone stares while he opens his backpack, drops his binder, puts his coat away, hands the teacher his permission slip, walks over to the homework basket, asks about lunch. All teaching- and learning- has stopped. Can you imagine how annoying this is when it happens two or three times a day?

But, what's worse is that late students miss important information and instruction, and most teachers simply do not have the time to go back and teach them what was missed.

You might not think being a few minutes late is a big deal, but consider this: if your child is 10 minutes late three times each week, he will miss a half hour of instruction this week, two hours this month, 20 hours (4 full school days!) this school year.

I know how those minutes add up, so now my son has an extra pair of shoes in the car. If that doesn't work, we'll have him sleep -- fully dressed-- in the car. I'll come down with a breakfast bar and a juice box and take him to school.

At least he won't be late.

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Class Assignments & New Teachers

Teacher and class  assignments come out right before school starts in our town. Going to the school to see the class postings is always an emotionally-charged event. What if your kids don’t have friends in their class? What if they don’t like their teacher? What if they don’t KNOW the teacher because he or she is new? This writer from Atlanta shares their beef about schools not sharing a new teacher’s bio with parents. And so a heated debate begins!  Check out the comments at the end of the attached article.

So, is part of the equation of parent involvement knowing more about the teacher? Certainly, it’s helpful for the teacher to know some background about your child and your family. But to foster the parent- teacher relationship, do we need to know details about the teacher? From a parent’s perspective, I’m thinking that at a minimum it’s nice to know even anecdotal information about a new teacher. For instance, she grew up on the west coast, has loved science since she was little… you get the picture. That way you can pass this information along to your child so they have of a mental picture of their teacher and feel some connection before starting school. Ease the transition, as they say.

Should schools be required to give parents bios on new teachers? What does your school do? We’d love to hear from you!

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6 Ways to Help Your Kid Be a Teacher's Favorite



This is a guest post by Vanessa Van Petten from OnTeensToday.com. Vanessa wrote a parenting book when she was 17, called "You're Grounded!" and is now on a national speaking tour, reaching out to both parents and teenagers about how to cope and thrive as young people today. She is also working as a popular young parenting coach in California. Her daily blog, OnTeensToday.com is read by hundreds of teens and parents daily. She was featured on CBS 4 Miami and Fox 5 New York and has been in the Wall Street Journal, the Santa Monica Daily Press, Atlanta Insite Magazine and the World Journal. She has been an expert on Playboy Radio, KBUR, WCOJ Philadelphia and more for giving a young perspective on awesome parenting.

I was not typically a teacher's pet...although I will not deny that I always wanted to be. I talk a lot to teens and middle school and elementary school kids about how to put your best foot forward with teachers - they actually love getting these tips. I think that parents should actually talk more about this with their kids. Just as much as parents want their kids to be liked in the classroom, kids also want to be praised and have a strong relationship with their teachers.

1) Get One on One Time Just Because
I think it is really important for kids to always take one on one time with teachers if they are struggling or having a problem with the material. But, I actually make every single one of my clients schedule meetings with all of their teachers at the beginning of the year to introduce themselves and get to know the teacher a little bit. Teachers are so crucial in our kid's lives and I think it is good for kids to take note of this by scheduling a 5-minute meeting.

2) Respect Them When They Are Not Looking
I was going to have one of these tips be to respect them in general, but I think that one is obvious...and applies to all human beings not just teachers! I love to point out to students that you never know when a teacher is listening. And respecting them ‘behind their back' is just as important as respecting them to their face. If friends are complaining or you get a bad grade you do not like, calling them a name is never appropriate and teachers can pick up on the hostility.

3) Encourage Friends
When I talk to students I usually have them try to envision themselves walking in on the first day of school as the teacher and then trying to get 30 friends to like you, listen to you and learn something. They always are shocked at this idea and say things like, "oh ya, I guess it's really scary!" They can help teachers feel more comfortable and (like them more) by encouraging others to be quiet, listen or respect him or her more.

4) Ask Questions
Teachers usually love when students ask questions because it shows them that students are engaged and that they are trying. You would think this one is common sense, but you would be surprised at how many of my kids disagree with me on this point, saying things like,
"I am afraid she will think it is a dumb question."
"He might think I was not listening."
"But won't they be annoyed I am interrupting them??"

5) Ask the Right Questions
I always say the above student concerns are not true as long as your questions are:
-Not interrupting
-Respectful
-On Topic
-If they are something already said, just say, "I am sorry I think I missed something would you remind repeating? If not, I can come to you after class."

6) Try
Your student does not have to be the best in class to be liked by a teacher. I think most teachers just want to see that their students are really trying to do well. If you do your best, don't worry about the rest.
Sit down with your kids and show them this post, ask them if they agree or if they would make any suggestions. Most important is to get the conversation started and get them thinking about how to make their school lives better for them and their teachers.
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Lessons on Life

"I grew up in a very small town. The kind of town where you can't go anywhere without seeing someone you know. So when I went back for a visit earlier this month, it wasn't the least bit unusual that I ran into several of my old teachers. What surprised me was how much I remember about being their student.

When I saw Mr. G, my former elementary school principal, I thought back to my first day at the school, which I transferred to in the middle of first grade. Mr. G walked me to my new classroom, which he assured me I'd like. I was shocked that someone so tall (and so old) could be so nice to a little kid. Looking back, it was his kindness (along with the new friends I made at recess) that helped me get past my new-school jitters.

I also caught up briefly with my second grade teacher, Mrs. G (no relation), who taught me to write in cursive. At that age I was incredibly shy and didn't say much in class. Mrs. G recognized that I was more comfortable writing than talking, and encouraged me to do more of both.

Another day I talked with Mrs. H, my sixth grade teacher. I don't recall much about our lessons, but I remember a lot about Mrs. H. As we were dealing with our daily adolescent dramas, she kept a reassuring order in her classroom and required that we treat one another with respect.

I'll bet that every one of you has similar stories of teachers who taught you as much about life as they did math or social studies. As your kids get to know their new teachers, don't forget to thank them for doing the same thing.
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More on Choosing Teachers

The term "helicopter parent" came to mind when I read the Hawaii Reporter article that Tim mentioned in his June 6 post about parents lobbying for next year's classroom placements. Helicopter parents are so named because they hover above their children at all times, ready to swoop down and perform heroic rescues should their little dears stub a toe or get a grumpy teacher.

College administrators began using the phrase several years ago after noticing that parents were so used to managing every aspect of their children's lives, they couldn't let go once their kids entered college. (It's time to land the helicopter and get a hobby when you find yourself pulling an all-nighter to write your college sophomore's term paper, then calling the professor to dispute the grade).

OK. So trying to influence which teacher your child gets in elementary school isn't the same as following the kid to college and moving into the dorm. But try to begin the process with the assumption that all of the teachers are equally qualified and the people making the placements have a pretty good idea where your child will best fit in. Then you can weigh in with your thoughts talk with the decision makers about your child's personality and how he learns best. Describe the sort of classroom environment where he's likely to thrive. But that's about as far as I'd go.

Now I must confess that this year I went one tiny step further. I asked that my son be placed with a certain friend. My son has been with the same group of 13 children since kindergarten. This fall when the kids go into 4th grade, they'll be split up and mixed in with other students for the first time. When I think of my child in a large class half-filled with people he doesn't know, I go into mild shock. Placing my son with his friend is for me, anyway a medical necessity.

When I asked his teacher to put the two together, she pulled out a class list in progress and pointed to two names. "I already did," she said. I knew I could trust her judgment.
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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