SchoolFamily Voices

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

Pros and Cons of Flipped Classrooms

Many teachers have flipped their classrooms. What was once taught in class is now homework, and what was once homework is completed in class. Teachers videotape their lessons, and students watch the lessons at home. In class the next day, students can work on their homework when their teacher is there to help. There are many advantages to this approach, the biggest of which is that students can do their homework without asking parents to help them. There are disadvantages as well, though, since not every child has access to a computer and the Internet at home.

Flipped classrooms are successful for a number of reasons. Teams of teachers can work together to create excellent videos for their students to watch. Students can watch them in a distraction-free setting at home where they can get more from the lesson than they could when there are other students around to distract them. Students who need to hear a lesson more than once can watch the video as many times as they need. They can stop it and think about what was said or to look up information in their textbook. Many students learn well when concepts are presented visually.

When students are asked to answer questions or work math problems at home, they often struggle. They need their teacher’s help, but their teacher is not available. With the flipped model, the teacher is present when students need them the most. When it is time to study for a test or exam, students can return to the videos that cover concepts they are still having trouble with. And last, students may be able to watch their lessons even when they are absent from school.

Even though there are many advantages to flipped classrooms, there are some risks. A huge concern is that not every child has access to the Internet at home or there is competition between siblings for one family computer. When students watch their lesson online at home, they do not have the ability to ask their teacher questions along the way. Teachers normally see how well their students are learning in class and adjust their instruction immediately to meet the needs of those students who are not getting it. With this model, there are no students to give the teacher the necessary feedback. If a student does not watch the video for homework, he is totally unprepared for class the next day. Finally, not every student can learn from videos. Without the social interactions in the classroom, these students zone out while trying to pay attention.

If your child’s teacher is flipping his classroom, you should check out Videonot.es to provide an easy way for your child to take notes as she watches her lessons. Videonot.es works with several commonly used video formats that teachers use. It can help your child focus her attention and stay engaged as she watches.

Even though there are some negatives when flipping a classroom, many teachers have had a lot of success with it. Parents like it too, because they are less involved in helping their children with their homework. Most important, students are learning a lot in flipped classrooms, perhaps more than they would have in a traditional classroom.


> The Flipped Classroom: What It Means for You and Your Child

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Simple Activities for Fine Motor Success

Good fine motor skills are a very important part of early school success. Fine motor skills are directed by the small muscle groups that control hands and fingers. They support cutting, coloring, tying shoes, printing, etc.

Here are five simple and fun activities you can do at home to help your young student enhance these critical skills:

  • Let him practice coloring on different surfaces, such as thick and thin cardboard, or on a piece of paper that is over a small section of screen. You could also try taping a large piece of paper to a rough inside or outside wall, for drawing or printing practice.
  • Encourage her to use different types of writing instruments crayons, such as crayons with glitter, thick and thin washable markers, thick and thin pencils, erasable pens, colored chalk, sidewalk chalk, or wooden craft sticks for drawing and writing in sand.
  • Let him experiment with tracing paper. For example, help him find a picture of his favorite dinosaur and trace it, so he has a product of his own. Or, let him trace inside stencils, or around cookie cutters, than cut out the tracings to create a picture or collage.
  • With pipe cleaners and small beads, help her make patterns to create bracelets. Or, use five blue and five red beads to create a small, wearable abacus for her wrist. This can be used for simple addition and subtraction practice to the number ten.
  • Practice number recognition with some index cards and clip-on clothes pins. For example, print a numeral 4 on the middle of the card, and let him pinch and clip the correct number of clothes pins to the card. Or download the Color Word Pizza from our Print and Use tools and let him clip the matching clothes pins to the correct color name.

Children who struggle with fine motor skills are often frustrated and reluctant to do tasks that are required in kindergarten and 1st grade. Easy activities like these can help young children develop and strengthen these essential skills. Then they will be ready to show peers and teachers how capable they really are!


> Two Fine Motor Activities To Develop Math Skills

> Practicing Gross Motor Skills Can Improve Learning

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Good School Attendance Is More Important Than Ever

Regular attendance to school has always been important and a factor that leads to success. Now that schools across America are focusing on 21st century skills—those skills that prepare our students for living in the 21st century—attendance is even more important. Many have defined the needed skills, and everyone agrees that our students need the ability to lead, work with a team, collaborate on projects, and cooperate with others. Teachers are providing opportunities that require these skills in nearly every subject. It is easy to see that absences affect students even more when their classes are working on group projects that require teams to collaborate with one another.

A typical project might have students investigating the pros and cons of a new technology such as the 4K Ultra HD television format. Some students might be asked to investigate the benefits of converting to the 4K Ultra HD television. Another group might investigate the risks and costs. Yet another group might look into the current technologies such as the LED and plasma televisions that might become obsolete because of the new technology. The end goal could be to come together as a group to discuss what each group learned and make a decision about whether the new technology is worth the risks associated with its use. If this project takes place over a period of three days in class and your child misses class all three days, he really cannot make up the work. If he is not there for the first day of instruction, he may be confused about what is going on when he returns. If he is not there for the second or third day, his group might be frustrated because he is not there to do his share of the work. His teacher has to decide how to give him a grade for the project given that he missed so much of it.

Students with good attendance typically have better grades, and  absences have always been a problem. With the emphasis on the 21st century skills of collaboration, teamwork, and cooperation, attendance may become even more critical for success.

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Help Your Child Learn Instant Math Recall at Home

"Instant math recall" is the ability to do basic math functions quickly, without resorting to finger counting or paper and pencil. This is an acquired skill that leads young students to correctly solve simple math problems in their head. Here are some simple activities to boost instant math recall training at home.

Use a pair of dice:

Simply roll one die and have your child tell you the correct number of dots on the top surface. Turn it into a game! Congratulate her when she identifies the numbers correctly. Gradually add a time limit of about three seconds. This will encourage her to determine quickly the correct number value, and not count the dots one-by-one. When she is very familiar with the numbers on one die, introduce the second die.

Have her add the numbers on the pair of dice for a total. Start off by rolling the dice several times until only lower numbers appear. Disregard rolls that result in larger numbers. Have her give you the total (sum) for these low number rolls. Gradually build up to the higher number combinations.

Use a similar process to practice instant math recall subtraction. Have him subtract the lower value die from the higher value die, and tell you the difference (remainder).  Once again, start off by rolling the dice several time until only low combinations appear. Gradually build up to the higher number combinations.

As your child gets older, introduce a third die, and add all three together. Subtraction can be simplified by just subtracting the value of the lowest die from the higher of the two remaining dies.

Use a deck of playing cards:

Remove cards until you have only lower “number cards” (two-six). Let ace cards represent the number one. Deal your child two random card and ask him for the total. Set a reasonable time. Gradually move up to higher numbered cards. Eventually, deal three cards to add together.

To practice subtraction, deal him two random cards and ask him to subtract the lower number from the higher number. Eventually, deal three cards and have him subtract the lowest number from the higher of the two remaining cards.

Training with playing cards also reinforce the recognition of the number symbol (9) with the number value (nine diamonds).

Children love to play games! If you play these instant math recall games often, your child should have no difficulty solving basic addition and subtraction problems in his head.


> Improve Math Skills With a Deck of Cards

> An Easy Game To Help Kids Practice Math Skills

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What Are “21st Century Skills” and Why Does Your Child Need Them?

There is a movement in education to improve what we are offering our students. Some schools have completely revamped their curriculum to make sure they are teaching kids the skills they will need to be successful in the information age. This trend is often referred to as “21st century education” or “21c education.” These skills are typically divided into three categories: learning skills, literacy skills, and life skills. They are skills identified by businesses as necessary for career success in the modern world.

The learning skills are critical thinking, creative thinking, collaborating, and communicating. To teach these skills, teachers might present real-life problems to students who typically work in small groups to solve them. If there is access to the Internet, students often collaborate online when seeking solutions to the problems. They plan their reports back to the class and frequently are required to present orally. The communication component of 21c learning includes all kinds of communication—digital, written, and oral. There is an emphasis on communicating globally, and it is not unusual to see students discussing possible solutions with experts or students in other schools around the world.

Literacy skills include information, media, and technology. Students are bombarded with way more information than they can actually process. They must learn how to find high-quality information and to identify bias. Students learn how to present their work using a variety of media, and hopefully they are at least exposed to a variety of technology solutions to society’s problems. Students are expected to become experts at using and learning new technology.

Life skills such as the ability to take initiative and be productive are extremely important. It is necessary to be flexible when others you work with have different ideas that are equal to or better than your own. Social skills are more important now than ever before, especially since we can now easily communicate with diverse groups of people from around the world. Leadership skills are needed, as well, and schools are increasing opportunities to learn how to lead others. People who are the best at initiation, productivity, flexibility, social skills, and leadership rise quickly up the career ladder.

Most schools are giving thought to providing more 21c learning opportunities for their students. It is difficult and expensive to change from traditional ways of teaching and learning; it will take time before 21c education is widespread. Students in schools where it is the norm report that they enjoy it, and they appreciate the intellectual challenge and authentic learning opportunities. Students who develop these learning, literacy, and life skills should be more competitive in today’s marketplace.

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7 Keys to Independent Learning

January is the perfect time to help your young student resolve to make positive changes that will enhance the rest of his school year. It’s an opportunity to let him assume more responsibility, and to grow and mature as a student. Here are seven lessons to teach your early elementary student that will help her grow into a more independent learner:

  • Clear, concise work leads to fewer errors. Help your child understand that taking the time to print neatly is important.
  • Be mindful of and consistent with routines. For example, homework goes into the backpack when completed. Keep the backpack in the same place, for easy access in the morning.
  • Always go back and check your work. Checking for math errors or misspelled words gives your child the opportunity to self-correct.
  • Just get started. Even when things look new or difficult, help her understand that task avoidance is not a good strategy.
  • Persistence matters. Don’t give up when facing new and challenging work. If one strategy doesn’t work, try another.
  • Ask for help. After trying yourself, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Help her understand that everyone needs help now and then.
  • Discover their best learning style. If she is a visual learner, help her “picture” answers. If she learns best by listening, give her auditory clues to use, such as a “days of the week” or a vowel song. If she’s a hands-on learner, give her opportunities to “spell” words with magnetic letters or Play-Doh.

By helping your child become an independent learner, you increase her self-confidence and motivation to learn—and that leads to school success!

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Some "Tricks" Can Help Teens With Anxiety

In the last few years there seems to be an increasing number of kids who suffer from anxiety. I wanted to learn more about anxiety and how to help these kids. My journey began with a workshop with Dr. Michael Southam-Gerow, a professor in clinical psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University, and reading his book about adolescence and anxiety. Recently, I had an opportunity to meet with Dr. Nancy Macconnachie, an expert on working with teens who are anxious. Dr. Macconnachie explained the biological basis of anxiety and her strategy for working with these adolescents.

According to Dr. Macconnachie, when information enters our brain it first goes to the limbic system, which is the emotion-regulating center. From there it moves to the prefrontal cortex, where we reason and problem-solve. If too much information enters at once, the emotion center becomes overwhelmed and the information is not sent to the thinking system. This is a biological description of anxiety. An anxious person is emotional and cannot reason through the situation. Once this happens, everything becomes a crisis because the student is overwhelmed by emotions. Dr. Macconnachie says we have to teach our students how to handle these emotional times in order to allow the thinking brain to do its job. She says we must “give students a bag of tricks.”

There are some fundamental tricks that all of us need. Number one, according to Dr. Macconnachie, is to get plenty of exercise or active play. Exercise increases the oxygen level in the bloodstream and relaxes tense muscles, both of which reduce adrenalin levels and allow us to function. The second “trick” is to develop a social network of support. Perhaps a parent or close friend can provide emotional support that helps get through the tough times. Other strategies include things like having a creative outlet such as art or music, caring for pets, participating in a spiritual activity like church, or doing community service. Every person’s “bag of tricks” is different. When Dr. Macconnachie works with adolescents, she has them begin to explore what relaxes them and helps them to get through the emotional crises and move to rational thinking and problem-solving.

Being an adolescent is difficult.  Physical changes occur, and teens begin to seek independence from the adults around them. All adolescents are emotional because of these changes in their lives. It is important to develop healthy ways to handle the emotions such as exercise and spending quality time with friends and family. If your teen is experiencing anxiety, it is important to help them develop their personal “bag of tricks” to handle their emotions. Too much anxiety can lead to serious depression.  If you feel your teen is overly stressed, seek the help of a professional who knows the best ways to help.


> How To Reduce School Anxiety

> Help Kids Learn To Manage Stress

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Help Your Child Be a Reading Superstar

The start of the new year is a great time to reinvigorate your efforts to help in your child’s reading development. From January through the end of the school year, diligently practice the simple tips found below at home. These efforts will help your young student become a reading superstar.

  • Make up silly rhymes when you are alone with your child. For example, “Since we don’t have a car, we can’t go very far. But your face has a glow, from playing in the snow.” Rhyming books can also be borrowed from local libraries for various grade levels. Rhyming prepares your child for learning letter sounds and for decoding words. The more your child can hear and understand the nature of rhymes, the easier she will find reading.
  • Help him with his reading homework by showing enthusiastic interest in every assignment. Ask him questions about his homework and praise him when can discuss why his class was given this assignment. Ask if there are any “new words” that are causing him concern. Explain the definition of the new words, and if necessary, look them up in a paper or internet dictionary.
  • Read to your child every night. Read her books on subjects she has a genuine interest in. Ask her to read parts of these book to you. Ask leading questions such as, “What do you think is going to happen next?” Or, “How do you like this book so far?” “Why do you feel that way?”
  • Start a “Word Collection Journal” of difficult words and their (brief) definitions from both homework assignments and nighttime reading. Review these words on a regular basis, until your child is very familiar with them.

A midyear meeting with your child’s teacher will let you know your child’s current reading level. If your child is falling behind her classmates, the teacher will offer specific suggestions for additional reading help. If she is ahead of her classmates, the teacher can suggest some exciting and age-appropriate books to challenge her.

> Instilling a Love of Reading at Home

> How To Read With Your Child

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A Free Tool To Help With Video Instruction

For some students, watching videos is not a great way to learn. Attention or learning style differences can make it difficult to get much from a video, especially when it consists mostly of someone talking. Google has provided an excellent tool that can help when students are asked to watch videos from YouTube, Vimeo, or Khan Academy for homework.

A student can use VideoNot.es while watching many videos. While watching the video on the left half of the screen, he types notes on the right side. The notes he takes are time stamped so that when he clicks on what he wrote, the video will jump to that exact place he was watching when he wrote the note. Later, when he is studying for a test or doing his homework, he can easily find the place in the video by using the notes he took. If he needs to, he can watch that portion of the video again. This saves time, because he no longer has to search through a video trying to find the spot where a particular piece of information was given.

In order to use VideoNot.es, it first has to be set up with Google Drive. This is easy to accomplish by selecting the “Connect with Google Drive” button on the VideoNot.es home page. If a student does not yet have a Google Drive account, it might be worth the time to set one up just for this tool! Google Drive is free and many schools are already using Google Apps for Education which includes Google Drive.

VideoNot.es has a tutorial that automatically runs to help learn how to use it. There are also many YouTube videos that show how to set up and use the app. A particularly good one can be found here. If you are like me and you learn best when you write something down, you need to explore this free Google app. VideoNot.es is a wonderful tool that can help students learn more from their video assignments.


> Use Table of Contents Tool for Note-Taking

> A Free App To Help With Time Management

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A Strategy To Help Boost Comprehension

When reading an academic textbook, students often lose track of the meaning, because there is too much information to hold in working memory. If the words in the text are already known and understood, the meaning is clear. The problem occurs when they come to an unfamiliar word and must stop reading to consider its meaning. A typical scenario goes like this. The student stops reading to think about the new word. He looks it up in an online dictionary, considers what it means, holds it in memory, and returns to the reading. By the time he begins reading, however, the meaning of the word is lost. Each of us has a limited capacity to hold information in working memory, and within seconds the information is lost. This strategy for reading an academic text does not always work well. Here is a different approach to try.

Pretend that the science textbook your daughter is reading says, “The momentum of the train traveling at 30 miles per hour is much greater than the momentum of the car moving at the same speed.” To totally understand this, she needs to understand the concept of momentum. When she looks it up, she finds that momentum is the product of an object’s mass times its velocity. Here is where her strategy needs to vary. Instead of holding that information in memory while trying to apply it to the sentence, she should write it in the margin or jot it on a small sticky note stuck in the margin of the book. When she rereads the sentence, she should read, “The mass times velocity of the train…is much greater than the mass times velocity of the car…” This takes only a few seconds longer than the original strategy, but the result is that she understands the meaning now, since she already knows the meaning of mass and velocity. This does not require her to work with so much information in working memory. She can use her working memory to understand the concept which is what she needs to do.

In general, writing down information that is filling up the working memory capacity is a great strategy. If asked to identify the adjectives and adverbs in a passage, writing a short definition of each can help with the task. Many students have difficulty reading academic textbooks, and using this strategy can help with comprehension.

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Help Your Young Child Build Good Conversation Skills

During the holidays, did you notice that it’s often hard for a young child to keep a conversation going? When visiting family or friends asked a question, did you hear mostly one-word answers?

Young children need to learn that good conversation skills are an essential part of growing up. These skills build confidence and enhance school and social success. Here are five simple ways to help your young child become a good conversationalist:

  • Make sure she understands that good conversation includes listening, speaking, and asking questions. Then practice together. For example, when you ask “Did you have a good day at school today?” and she answers “yes,” ask “What was the best part of the day?” Questions like this keep the conversation focused and flowing.
  • Model active listening by nodding or commenting. Encouragingly say, “Tell me more! It sounds like that was really fun.”
  • Stress the importance of eye contact when having conversations. I tell my 1st grade students “If I can see your eyes, then I know you are really listening.”
  • Remind him not to interrupt. He should wait for his turn to speak until you are finished talking.
  • Model how to clarify and respond in conversations. For example, “I didn’t know that you were already learning to skip count. Do you like it?” Or, “How do you know so much about dinosaurs?”

The ability to demonstrate good listening skills, and to exchange thoughts in meaningful conversation, will get your child noticed—in a very positive way!


> Increase Your Child's Emotional Intelligence

> Good Social Development Equals Early School Success

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The Future of Handwriting: Only Time Will Tell

Recent research published in Early Childhood Research Quarterly confirms the need for preschool children to learn to write with a pencil. Researchers claim that children learn the sounds associated with letters as they practice their handwriting skills. Despite the research, many schools no longer teach cursive handwriting. They claim they do not have time to teach it given the demands to meet achievement in core subjects as well as the common opinion that cursive is obsolete. I have advocated in the past for continuing to teach handwriting (both manuscript and cursive). The end goal should be efficient, legible handwriting. I primarily work with older students and have noticed through the years that a greater percentage of these students do not write legibly and can no longer read cursive. Many say we no longer need to teach it because we should be teaching 21st century skills—which do not include handwriting.

Admittedly, when I go through the list of reasons we should teach it that I have cited before, for every example where people use cursive handwriting to communicate, I can think of an electronic way to do the same thing. It is unlikely that students will ever write checks now that online banking is free and easy to use; only a small percentage of students actually use cursive on the SAT even though instructed to do so; and there are apps on our phones for everything we used to write by hand.

But if we totally quit teaching cursive, will we lose other important benefits? One concern I have relates to developing fine motor control in the hands. The ability to control the small muscles in the fingers and hands is developed when children learn to write legibly first in manuscript and later in cursive. These same skills are used for other important tasks. Using scissors, cutting up food, picking up tiny objects, catching a ball, buttoning a shirt, or screwing on a tiny cap require the ability to adjust pressure applied by the fingers and respond to feedback from the brain to the fingers and back. If we no longer teach handwriting skills, this fine motor training needs to be replaced with other activities that develop the same motor control.

Another concern is the potential inability to read letters, diaries, and historical documents written in cursive. One of my favorite activities is to read letters my mother and grandmother wrote. The most moving exhibits in the museums I visit are the journals and documents written by hand. I can imagine the person sitting down to write their thoughts on the page. It is true that we will have historians who can tell us what these documents say, and they can post them online; but when I see these documents and read them myself, I feel connected to that historical figure.

Educators and parents should watch for research on cursive handwriting. It is possibly related to the development of language skills as cited in the Early Childhood Research Quarterly. It is definitely linked to the normal development of fine motor skills. We may lose an important link to our historical past. Perhaps having legible cursive handwriting is indeed a 21st-century skill that we need to prioritize in our curriculum. Only time will tell.


> A Case for Teaching Handwriting in the Digital Age

> Do Children Still Need To Learn Cursive?

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Start a Winter Weather Journal With Your Child

Winter is a great time to incorporate science with reading, writing, and math. A simple way to help your young student do this is to start a weather journal. Your youngster will need a notebook, pencil, and crayons to get started.

If you live where winter is cold and snowy:

  • Help your child keep a record of snowfalls from local weather reports. Mark the date and the amount of snow that fell on that date. At the end of winter, go back and determine which date had the most amount of snow and which had the least.
  • Together read A Snow Day by Ezra Jack Keats. Let her make a picture of herself playing in the snow. Encourage her to write a story to tell about her picture. Before writing, help her understand sequence by talking about what happens first, next, and last in her story. Make sure she pays attention to capital letters at the beginning of sentences and punctuation at the end.

If you live where winter is mostly rainy:

  • Record the number of inches that fall on rainy days, as reported by a local weather person. In a notebook, mark the date, temperature, and amount of rain that fell on that date. At the end of winter, read books about the water cycle to find out what happens to all that rain! One example is Down Comes the Rain by Franklyn Branley and James Graham Hale.
  • Use the journal to introduce and increase different vocabulary words to describe rain and its intensity. For example, help your child understand precipitation and the difference between drizzle and deluge.

If you live where weather is fairly constant all year:

  • Record changes in the wind. Make a simple wind flag by taping a 6-inch piece of crepe paper or ribbon to the top of an unsharpened pencil. Let your child go outside to see if the wind causes the flag to move while she holds it steady. Encourage her to try different times of the day, to see if wind is stronger in the morning or afternoon. Help her make a simple bar graph to show at what time of day most of the week’s wind occurred. 
  • Get stories of different seasons and their weather from your local library. Some examples are Four Seasons Make a Year by Anne Rockwell and Curious George Seasons by H.A. Rey. Ask her to write which season she would travel to if she could, and why.

Using your family’s environment to combine science, reading, math, and writing makes learning very meaningful to a young child.

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Managing Attention Issues in Middle School

Parents have asked me before why their child has attention and executive functioning issues now that they are in middle school when they handled elementary school just fine. Executive functioning is the ability to manage day-to-day activities. People with a strong ability tend to be organized and on time, and get their work done efficiently. I recently visited with Dr. Steve Butnik, an expert on attention deficits and executive functioning issues. He pointed out that attention and executive functioning deficits do not manifest themselves until a person is placed in a situation where the demands exceed his ability to handle them. There are even adults who make it fine all the way through their schooling, but find that they now have trouble in their career setting.

In elementary school, children are in a classroom that is structured both physically and intellectually. The room is well-organized, and tasks are broken into chunks that children can manage on their own. Their activities from one day to the next are predictable. In middle and upper school, though, students move from classroom to classroom. Each teacher organizes their room differently, and students are expected to be able to manage large parts of their long-term projects without their teacher’s constant guidance. Even some adults find they have trouble concentrating and getting their work done in a cubicle environment like you find in many companies. The sounds of other people talking or visiting and visual distractions can be too much to filter out.

No matter when attention or executive functioning issues manifest themselves, they can hinder success. Educational psychologists can help diagnose the problem and suggest ways to manage better. In most cases, planning what will happen when, organizing the workspace, and reducing sound and visual distractions can help.

Read Managing Middle School With ADHD for more information about attention issues in middle school.

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Help Your Young Child Handle Stress

Managing stress is just as important for children as it is for adults. Stress can affect anyone who is overwhelmed, especially during the holidays—and that can include young children.

Some stress triggers might be scheduling visit times for blended families, separation from a parent, the high expense of the season, or dealing with the loss of a loved one. Even if these are not communicated in words, children are sensitive to changes around them. Often, stress that children feel is reflected in a change of behavior or mood.

Here are five simple ways to help alleviate family stress.

  • Take time to exercise. Physical activity is a great way to let off steam. Take 15 minutes to go for a walk together, toss a ball, or play tag. You’ll both feel better for it.
  • Incorporate some downtime. When visiting family or friends, let your child take along a favorite book, puzzle, or game, and give her free time to enjoy the activities that help her relax.
  • Retain your normal routine as much as possible. When children know what to expect a level of comfort and safety is created for them. For example, if you read a bedtime story together every night, try to maintain that structure.
  • Make sure your child gets plenty of sleep. Loss of sleep due to excitement, family gatherings, or staying up later than normal can contribute negatively to a child’s willingness to cooperate.
  • Plan for good nutrition. The holidays are a time when extra sugary treats might be allowed. Compensate for this by planning healthy meals and snacks at home and in school lunches.

Stress is a normal part of life. In small doses, it can motivate and challenge us to do more. When you plan for stress-coping strategies early, you can help your young child build the resilience to stay focused and healthy—for the holidays and the whole year through.

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Tips for Preparing To Take Semester Exams

Exams are coming up soon in many schools. I have written several times before about exams such as How To Prepare for Semester Exams. Many students know how to make flashcards or to use online apps like Quizlet to learn vocabulary and simple concepts that they need to memorize, but studying for more complex concepts and math require different techniques.

When your child needs to learn complex concepts like Newton’s Laws of Motion, simply memorizing the laws is not enough. He also needs to know what they mean and when each law applies. It is often helpful to meet with a study group to discuss more difficult concepts. Sometimes, drawing pictures of each law can help to make sure he really understands what they mean. He also needs to work the problems from his earlier test on Newton’s Laws to make sure he still knows how to work them. He might have been able to work the problem weeks ago on the test, but that does not necessarily mean he can still work them on the upcoming exam. Other complex concepts are best learned through webbing in order to see relationships between concepts. Refer to Using Webbing To Study for a Test to see how webbing works.

When studying for a math exam, it is imperative that your child works more than one of every kind of problem that will be covered. The best way to do this is to work many of the problems she got correct on the previous tests. This works well because she will have the correct answers from the test to check to see if she still gets the correct answer. For the problems she missed, however, she will need to seek help from her teacher or a friend who got them right. Just doing the problems is not enough! She must make sure she is doing them correctly. Most students do not study for math tests. They rely on their teacher to review in class. For a shorter test that only covers one or two concepts, that might be enough, but for an exam that covers a lot more material, it is not.

Talk to your child about exams. Encourage him to start early, get organized by finding all his tests in each subject, and begin working sample problems. Ask him to explain the more complex concepts on his earlier tests. Suggest that he try a study group, pictures to illustrate concepts, or webbing to help him remember what these concepts mean. Since exams often count more than tests, this in an opportunity to improve semester grades.

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Supporting Your Accelerated Learner

Teachers know that much time and energy is focused on making sure a student reaches and stays at grade level for his academic benchmarks. Yet all good teachers know that supporting and challenging an above-level child is equally as important!

Here are ways that parents can help support a child who has already achieved or surpassed grade level requirements:

If your child is a gifted reader:

  • Enhance this skill by helping him identify areas of interest. Then collect books, children’s magazines, etc., that are at his appropriate reading level. You can borrow these from your public library, school library, or from friends with older children.
  • Encourage him to read both fiction and nonfiction stories about the same subject. For example, borrow books regarding the actual discovery of dinosaurs, then mix with some fictional dinosaur stories. With your help, encourage him to compare and contrast the similarities and differences.
  • Combine reading with science, cooking, art, or other “hands-on” experiences. For example, if he loves snakes, let him read both fiction and nonfiction stories about them. Then, roll colored balls of clay into different types of snakes to make his own collection. Let him write simple labels, using index cards, to identify the types of snakes and two or three of their characteristics. Help him set up a place in his room to display his labeled collection.

If your child has advanced math skills:

  • Help her expand her homework. For example, challenge her to write a word problem to explain how she arrived at the correct math answer.
  • Help her practice estimation. Fill a clean, small jar with marbles, or any other small objects. Ask her to guess how many marbles are in the jar. Have her write down her guess. Then open the jar and count the marbles together. See how close her estimation came to the actual count. Do this often with different items,of different sizes, such as pennies, Lego pieces, Goldfish crackers, etc. This will also help her understand how different-sized objects can take up more or less space in the same size jar. 
  • Bring math into everyday life. If she would like to get a certain small toy, have her do two or three simple jobs around the house to earn some money. Count the coins together until she has enough to purchase the toy.

Simple creative strategies like these can keep an above-level student excited about learning!


> Help Your Gifted Child Succeed in School

> What Is Your Child's Learning Style?

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Tips To Help Develop Responsibility in Your Kids

All parents want to raise their kids to be  self-reliant, hard-working, successful adults. It is not easy to do, because to do so children must take responsibility for their own actions. It is difficult to watch a child suffering the consequences he deserves. Here are some tips that can help you decide what is best for your child.

  • Give your child certain chores to do every day at home. If you have a family pet, it can be her job to take care of it. She can keep her own room clean or help with laundry. Whether you decide to give her an allowance for her part of the work is up to you. The point is that she has certain contributions to family life that everyone can count on her to do.
  • If your child leaves his homework on the printer at home, let him suffer the consequences for his actions. He will likely receive a lowered grade for turning it in late, or perhaps he will have to do it over at school. Regardless, if you rescue him every time he forgets something, he will learn that he really does not have to remember anything for himself. I have personally witnessed parents who make multiple trips to school to bring things to their children. These kids often do not get any better at remembering what they need!
  • Take time as a family to contribute to the greater community. Helping out at the local food bank, helping to clean up a playground, or visiting residents at a nursing home can teach children that they can make life better for others. This helps them to appreciate their own situation and assume responsibility for taking care of what they have. It also develops empathy for others which is a key step towards emotional maturity.

Help your child grow into a responsible adult. Tell him how much you love him every single day, and tell him that is why you are not going to rescue him every time he fails to take what he needs to school. Hold him accountable for doing his chores. Plan some community service time together. Raising children is difficult, but these tips can help your child become a pleasant, caring, responsible teen and an independent, reliable adult.

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Simple Holiday Gift Ideas That Enhance Learning

The holidays are a great time to unplug from all the electronic games. Encourage creativity in young students with simple gifts that reinforce skills in a fun and interactive way.

Here are six interesting holiday gift ideas that enhance learning, increase vocabulary, practice math, fine-tune motor skills, and promote team and social interaction.

•    Easy board games: Games like Chutes and Ladders, Candy Land, and Sorry, for example, help kids practice turn-taking, counting, moving markers, and learning strategies to out-maneuver partners.

•    Pattern games: Checkers, Connect Four, and Memory are three examples of games that require recognizing and understanding patterns. This understanding is important in both reading and math.

•    Reading and word games: Alphabet or Word Bingo, Scrabble Jr., and Sequence for Kids help with letter and word recognition, as well as word building and sequencing. These are all essential skills for good readers.

•    Math: Uno Jr., Number Bingo, and Pop for Addition and Subtraction are some examples of beginning math games. Rolling dice, counting spaces on a board, and having to move a playing piece forward or backward are all ways to help a young student understand math concepts.

•    Legos: Legos offer young children the opportunity to colorfully create tangible objects while practicing fine motor skills.

•    Books: Books are my personal favorites to give young children! When talking together, try to discover your child’s book interests. They could range from fiction to accurate factual stories. Then purchase books based on those interests. Some examples could be classics, such as Winnie the Pooh or Goodnight Moon, as well as newer stories like The Magic Tree House or Junie B. Jones series. Or, choose nonfiction stories about dinosaurs, butterflies, trucks, or snakes.

And while you’re home together for the holidays, simple activities like a lively family game night or “Drop Everything and Read” drills can boost your young child’s academic skills in a fun and family-friendly way!


> Holiday Gifts Your Child Can Make To Create Memories

> Slideshow: Books About School for Kids


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School Attendance Is Critical for Success

Part of my responsibility at work is to track attendance and grades to make sure students are on track for success. There is a high correlation between attending school regularly and better grades. There are days when it is appropriate to keep your child home from school when they are not sick, but if he misses too many days of school, it is likely he will not do well. When is it OK to allow your child to stay home from school?

Of course, when your child is sick, she should stay home. It she has a fever or is nauseated, she should stay home for sure. In fact, most schools ask that students be free of fever for a day before returning. If she is feeling tired or just does not want to go because she has a test, she should go to school. Allowing her to stay home for these reasons will teach her to give up easily, and that it is OK to avoid taking her test.

If your family is having an important event such as a wedding, graduation, or funeral, it is appropriate to miss school. These absences are not in your control and cannot be avoided. When possible, your child should communicate with his teachers before he is out. Hopefully, he can do some of the work he will miss ahead of time, and he will not be too far behind when he returns.

It is often impossible to get a doctor or dentist appointment outside of school hours. Students sometimes have to miss school for them. It is advisable to ask for either an early morning or a late afternoon appointment, so your child does not have to miss the whole day of school.

Your child needs to be in school every day that it’s possible. Regular attendance is important for learning, and equally important it helps to establish a solid work ethic that leads to success not only in school but also later in life. Encourage your children to eat properly, get exercise every day, and sleep long enough every night so they will more likely stay well. Teach them that there are good reasons to miss school, but staying home from school should be rare.

For more on this topic, read The Price for Being Absent from School.

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

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

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