SchoolFamily Voices

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

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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Help Your Daughter Deal With "Mean Girls"

Sometimes adolescent girls can be mean to one another. I am not certain why this happens. My mother always said it was because they are jealous. Perhaps so, but whatever the reason for it, it can really hurt. It especially hurts when girls are already feeling bad about themselves. The most effective way to deal with this type of bullying is with humor. This can be difficult, but with practice at home, your daughter can learn to deal with it.

If the “mean girl” says “OMG, look at those shoes. Can you believe she wears those to school?” within your daughter's earshot, your daughter can respond, “You think these are bad? You should see the ones my mom just bought for me!” This should be said in a friendly way with a smile. The worst thing to do is to look upset. This is what the bully wants to see. If the bully cannot upset her, your daughter is no fun as a target. I tell my students to pretend they are not hurt by it, and if they feel like crying they should go somewhere private.

This sounds easy to do, but it is not. This is why you need to practice with your daughter at home. Ask your daughter what comments the bully is making to her. Together come up with some humorous comebacks. (“Talk to the hand.”— “You think so, too?”— “I thought it seemed crazy, too! My sister talked me into it.”) Then, practice the lines. You say the bully’s comments and get her to practice what and how to say her response. If she has been through it several times at home, it is easier to actually do it when under duress at school.

There are other forms of bullying that need a different response, but humor is a great way to deal with hurtful comments. If the bullying is more serious, coach your daughter to seek help from trusted adults at school. No child should feel unsafe at school.

You might be interested in reading a related blog, Simple Tips to Help Kids Communicate Better.


> Bullying: How Parents Can Fight Back

> If Your Child Is the Bully

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Help Your Child Have a Deeper Understanding of Stories

Asking questions when reading to your child is a great way to build your child’s reading comprehension. Helping her pay attention to key details, story settings and characters simplifies the complexities of reading for a young student.

Here are three easy ways to build reading comprehension:

  • Help her make a self-to-text connection. For example, when reading Clifford’s Halloween together, ask “If you were Emily Elizabeth, what costume would you want Clifford to wear? How would you make that?” Making highly personal connections to stories helps young readers relate the story to experiences in their own lives, thereby making the story more meaningful.
  • Encourage her to pay attention to details in the story. Details in a story help support understanding of the main idea. After reading Clifford’s Pals together, ask questions that require a specific answer from the story. Some examples might be “What were Clifford’s pals’ names?” “Where did his pals live?” or “Where did the pals go to play? Do you think that’s a good idea to play there? Why or why not?” If she’s not sure of an answer to any question, help her go back and find the answer in the text. 
  • Ask questions about story sequence. Using temporal words, such as first, next, then, and after, help children organize the flow of a story. For example, after reading Clifford and the Grouchy Neighbors ask, “What happened first in the story?” “What happened next?” “How does this story end?” Or “If you could write a different ending to this story what would it be?” Understanding story sequence helps a child organize events, information, story dilemmas, problem solving and outcomes.

Asking simple questions like these, while reading with your child, can bridge gaps in your child’s understanding of the story. Closing gaps in reading improves comprehension and makes your child a more fluent reader.


> Four Simple Steps To Build Reading Comprehension

> The Five Steps to Phonemic Awareness

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Teach Students Self-Questioning for Better Learning

Self-questioning is an important learning strategy. Students need to learn to ask themselves questions before starting a new unit of study, when doing homework, and when studying for tests. These questions can lead to a deeper understanding that is easier to recall later. Here is how it works.

When starting a new unit of study, ask: What part of this do I already know? How does this relate to other things I have studied before? Why do I need to learn this? These questions lend new meaning to the topics and help to assimilate the concepts into long term memory. New learning must be “hooked” onto something else you already know. By thinking about the answers to these questions, you can more quickly see those relationships. Understanding why something is important to learn helps motivate you to stay focused and to keep trying to understand the concepts—even when they are difficult.

When doing homework, ask: Do I understand this question? Should I refer to my book or notes? Should I add more detail? Is this my best work? Understanding the question and knowing where to search for the answer are the most important steps when doing homework. I encourage my students to reflect the question in their answer. (For example, if the question is, “What is your name?” You would answer, “My name is Livia.”) Most students do not add enough detail to their homework answers. Usually, this is accomplished by adding extra information or examples to support the answer.  (“My name is Livia. I was named after my mother’s favorite actress, Olivia de Havilland. She was in Gone With the Wind.”) By adding detail, you can truly do better work, and thus say, “Yes!” to the last question.

When studying for a test, ask: Do I understand this concept? How do these topics relate to one another? How do they relate to other things I have learned? How will I know if I understand this? Sometimes, creating a web is a great way to figure out all the relationships within a unit. You can’t create the web unless you understand what the relationships are. Often after the web is finished, you have studied enough and are ready to take the test!

Using questions to guide learning is a powerful tool. The questions can lead you to understand concepts at a much deeper level and thus remember them later. It can also help you to apply the learning in new situations which is the true test of learning.

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Turn Paper Clutter Into Learning Tools

Are old magazines, newspapers, flyers, and brochures causing clutter in your home? Turn them into new learning tools that develop academic and important motor skills for your young student!

For phonics practice:

  • Use pictures to reinforce beginning sounds. Help your child print a capital and lowercase Bb, for example, on the bottom of a plain piece of paper. Then have her become a “Bb” detective. Leafing through the magazine, page by page, she can cut out as many pictures of things she can find that start with the letter B or b, then paste them on the paper. The cuts can be simple circles or squares around the picture, not precise cuts. Hang up her letter/picture creations. Once she’s mastered all her beginning consonant sounds, you can do a similar activity for ending sounds.
  • Use the materials to help your child categorize. For example, have him cut out and paste things that move on wheels. Or, have him find and paste as many different animals as he can discover.

For math practice:

  • Have your child use small pictures to make addition sentences. For example, she can paste pictures of three dogs in a row. Leave a small space, and then paste pictures of four cats in the same row. Underneath the pictures she can write, or you can help her write 3 + 4 = 7.
  • Together look at a small article in the newspaper, brochure, or magazine. Have him estimate how many times he sees the letters “Tt,” for example, and print his estimated number on a small piece of paper. Then have him or help him go back with a highlight marker to find and highlight the Tt’s in the article. Count the highlighted Tt’s together and print that number next to the estimate to see how close his guess came to the actual number.

Simple activities like these help a young student practice visual, auditory, and motor skills simultaneously, while making good use of items that might have just ended up in the bin!


> Improving Fluency With Nonsense Words

> Improve Subtraction Skills With a Fun Pennies Game

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Is Online Skimming Destroying Reading Comprehension?

Most students feel that as soon as they have answered all the questions on their homework assignment, they are finished with learning that material. They often rush through and only use the resources they absolutely must use to get the work done. Most often, they go to their textbook and don’t even return to the notes they took in class. Or even worse, they find the information on the internet. They skim and scan for what they need and really do not read for understanding. My biggest concern about this approach is that the type of reading students do in their textbook or online does not ensure that they comprehend what the section was about. They simply look for an answer, write it down, and stop reading further. If their assignment asked them to read a section and answer the questions at the end, students only read what they have to read to answer the questions.

Reading online is a very different task than seriously reading a printed text. Our eyes do not track from left to right and move down the page. We do not patiently read one page and then the next. Instead our eyes jump around the page looking for key words and something of high interest. We jump from link to link and often do not even return to where we started reading in the first place. Scientists are expressing concerns about our loss of ability to read slowly and thoroughly in order to truly grasp meaning.

The ability to read critically is important. Success in school, college, and in many careers depends on it. One thing your child should be doing now to improve his reading comprehension is to go back once he has completed his homework and slowly read through the text he was assigned to read. He should stop periodically to think about what he just read. He should ask himself, “What does that mean?” “Do I understand that?” If the answer is no, then he should write his questions down to ask in class the next day. He should also consider whether the answers he wrote earlier for homework are thorough enough.

In summary, it is fine to skim and scan through a text or online source to find answers for homework, but that is just the start of the work that should be done. Once the answers are written, the reading for comprehension should begin.


> Reading Comprehension Worksheets

> Teach Your Child To Love Reading

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Your Child’s Collectibles Can Support Academic Skills

Does your child like to collect things? If so, turn those seashells, rocks, action figures, comic books, toy dinosaurs, into useful objects that promote math and Language Arts skills.

Here are three ways to involve math with collectibles:

  • Start by counting the objects different ways. He can count his collection by ones or skip-count by putting the objects into sets of two, five, or 10. Also, have him practice counting backwards, to zero, from the total number.
  • Help your child classify her collection. For example, if she collects seashells, have her sort them by size, color, shape, or markings.
  • When he wants to add to his collection, create a list of jobs he can do to earn and budget the money for new items.

To build Language Arts skills, try the following:

  • Have your child choose an object from his collection and tell or write a short fiction story about it. For example, tell how one of his action figures got “lost” from the others. Together, brainstorm ideas to get started. Or, he could write a short nonfiction story, telling details about the action figure and how he received it.
  • Increase her understanding of describing words by helping her list at least five (or more) different adjectives about an item in her collection. If she likes to collect stuffed animals, for example, some examples of words might be big, small, furry, soft, old, new, faded, cuddly, colorful, etc.
  • Take two or three of his small toy dinosaurs to the library and help him find nonfiction books that match. Help him read why his favorite Stegosaurus has plates on his back and spikes on his tail.

Collections are a wonderful activity for children.  They can also be a great tool for organizing and reinforcing academic skills.

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Use Table of Contents Tools for Note-Taking

My students often have difficulty keeping up with their notes. Those who type them on their tablet or computer often save each day’s notes in a separate file. When they need to use the notes to study or do homework, they often can’t remember where they saved them. Using the table of contents feature in a word processor can solve this problem very easily. If this is a problem for your child, show her this blog.

All of your child’s notes for one class can be typed in the same document. The table of contents will make it easy for him to find what he needs. This way, there is only one file for each class, and that is much easier for him to organize and find.

If your child does not type her notes at school, perhaps she could spend some time each evening organizing and typing her notes. That has always been a great study strategy, and now it is even better because of the linked table of contents in the document.

Here is how to set up a table of contents using Google Docs. (Other word processers such as Microsoft Word work in a similar way.)

  • Open a new Google Doc and name it something that makes sense (maybe “Notes for Science Class”).
  • Select “Insert” and then select “Table of Contents.” A box will be inserted where the table of contents will be. When you click inside the box, you will see a tool that allows you to add topics to the table of contents. The table of contents grows with each section of notes you add. I like to keep the table of contents on page one and start my notes on page two.
  • Type a title for your first day of notes. The title should match the topic for the notes. If the lesson is about magnetism, title that section “Magnetism,” highlight it and change the font to “Heading 1.” (There is a drop down menu where you can select “Heading 1.”) Every time the topic changes, use “Heading 1” as the font for the title.
  • Click inside the table of contents box where you inserted it on page one, click the update tool, and a link to your notes on magnetism will be created.
  • Type all your notes on magnetism. When your teacher changes topics, insert a new heading for the topic and add it to your table of contents using the update tool. You can also create subheadings by using “Heading 2” and “Heading 3.”

For those of you who prefer to watch how to do something new, here is a YouTube video that shows two different ways to make a table of contents using Google Docs.

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A Simple Activity To Help With Story Writing

Writing stories is a learned skill. It’s a process by which the writer uses written words to communicate clear ideas.

In our 1st grade class, we talk about the writer’s responsibility to the reader. For example, the writer has a “picture” of their story in their mind. It’s the writer’s job to provide clear written words so that the reader can make the same “picture” in their own mind. Young children are adept at visualizing what a good writer is saying.

Here’s a simple activity you can do to help a young child become a better story writer:

  • Print a simple sentence on a paper, making sure to start with a capital letter and end with appropriate punctuation. An example could be “I see a bird.”
  • Then ask her to close her eyes and picture what that sentence says.
  • Ask her to open her eyes and tell you what she envisioned. She might say, “I saw a blue bird.”
  • Tell her that was not what you were thinking of, but that’s OK, because as the writer you didn’t give her enough information.
  • Then print another sentence, underneath the first, such as, “I see a yellow bird.” Ask her to close her eyes and make that new picture in her mind.
  • After opening her eyes ask, “Was your yellow bird big or small?” When she answers say, “My fault again, as the writer I didn’t give you enough information to make the same picture that I have in my mind.” 
  • Continue with a progression of three or four more simple sentences, each time asking questions such as, “Where was your bird?” or “Did the bird move?”
  • The last sentence or sentences should look something like this: “I see a small yellow bird in the tree outside. It flew away.” Ask her to close her eyes and make that picture in her mind. Now you both have the same picture of what the story is about.
  • Compare these last sentences to the first one that said “I see a bird.” Help her visualize that when writers use specific, descriptive words it helps the reader clearly comprehend what the writer is saying.

Doing simple exercises like these helps a young child know that creating an organized structure for their writing is important. It engages the reader and demonstrates understanding of what the author is communicating.


> Use "Story Starters" To Help Young Writers

> Help Your Child Build Writing Skills

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Honesty Is a Vital Part of Character

Ben Lamm, a vice president at Capital One, spoke last week at the West Point Ethics and Leadership Conference in Richmond, Va. He emphasized the importance of honesty in the workplace. He called honesty a “non-negotiable,” and went on to give some examples that illustrated how important it is to him in his day-to-day dealings with employees. One example resulted in an employee losing his job. This made me think about the responsibility parents and teachers have to teach honesty and integrity to our children.

Teaching children to be honest should be simple, yet it is not as easy as it seems. Last Christmas, I gave my grandson a gift that he did not like. I was a little surprised when he told me he did not want it. My daughter and I were talking about it afterward, and we realized how difficult it is to teach a child how to be polite yet truthful.

In school, students often say they did their homework but left it at home. I cannot tell whether they are being honest with me or not. If they make a habit of this, I require them to do it over in their study hall. It is hard for me to trust them in other situations that are even more important, such as when taking a test. I explain this loss of trust to these students in the hope that they will begin to see the importance of always telling the truth. I would much rather that they tell me they did not do the work no matter what the reason is.

This emphasis on honesty has to start and be reinforced at home. Teachers and parents need to work together on this most important character trait. There are many in the college and workplace who agree with Lamm’s words.

For more on this important topic, read The Parent-Teacher Partnership: A Critical Connection.

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Build Math “Fact Power” in Young Students

The ability to easily recall basic addition and subtraction facts is an important skill for a young student. One of the best ways to facilitate this is playing a simple game to reinforce addition and subtraction skills.  Here is an easy and fun math game that young students love to play.

Add or Subtract the Pennies (two or more players)
Items needed:

  • A large pile of pennies 
  • A pair of dice
  • A pencil and paper for each player


  • First player rolls one die and collects that many pennies from the pile.
  • Second player rolls a die and takes that number from the pile.
  • The players then become partners and write how many pennies they collected in a number sentence. For example, Player One rolled and collected 4 pennies; Player Two rolled and collected 6. Their number sentence would be 4+6=10.
  • Play until the pile of pennies is gone.
  • When players can easily add the single die totals, increase the difficulty. To do this each player rolls the pair of two dice and adds the total number of dots before collecting the pennies. An example could be Player One rolled 5+5 and collects 10 pennies. Player Two rolls 6+6 and collects 12 pennies. Added together their number sentence would be 10+12 = 22
  • For subtraction, have each player roll one die and subtract from the larger number. For example, if Player One rolls a 4 he can collect 4 pennies. Player Two rolls a 6, she collects 6 pennies. The partnership determines that 6 is more than 4, so from the 6 pennies that partner takes away 4 and determines the answer is 2. They then write a subtraction sentence 6–4 = 2.
  • Again, when the players can easily do the subtraction with one die rolls, increase the difficulty.  Players can roll two dice adding the dots together, and collect that many pennies. Partners determine the higher combined roll, then subtract the smaller number rolled from the higher. A number sentence might look like 12-6=6.

Using the combination of dice, pennies, and writing number sentences is great because it combines a visual with a hands-on component. Games such as this help young children become secure and fluent in addition and subtraction. “Fact Power” fluency builds math confidence for young students as they learn more advanced math!

> Use Pennies To Teach Common Core Math Skills

> An Easy Game To Help Kids Practice Important Math Skills

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Tips for Better Note-Taking

Taking notes is difficult for many students. Teachers often talk quickly, and students are not able to get everything written down. Additionally, students often do not know how to make the best use of their notes once they take them. There are some tricks that can make note-taking easier and the notes more useful. If this is a problem for your child, think about the following.

First, decide how to take notes. While some students do better handwriting their notes, using a computer is more flexible. If your child has a laptop, she can type her notes in a word processor. But I would encourage her not to try to get everything down that the teacher says. It is better to listen and write only what is important. Teachers use key phrases like “listen carefully,” “you will see this later,” or “pay close attention” when they are about to say something that will become the foundation of future learning (or show up on a test or exam). If your child tries to write down everything that the teacher says, she will not be thinking about the key points. It is better to type a few key words and fill in more details later using her textbook. (It is also good to have a note-taking buddy. The buddies can get together after class and compare notes.)

It is important to develop a set of abbreviations for frequently used words. It is a good idea to enter these into the auto-correct feature in your word processor. For example, when I type “govt,” my word processor types “government.” “Imp” turns into “This is important!” As your child is typing notes in class, he can type “Imp” when he hears his teachers say, “You will see this later.”

If your child finds that her teacher lectures from the textbook, she might try to set up an outline before class using the textbook, so that she can listen in class and enter details into the outline.

Just taking notes in class isn’t enough. Students should spend some time after class revising the notes and making sure they make sense. Visual learners should use colors to highlight related information and draw arrows to show cause-and-effect relationships between concepts. Kinesthetic learners should create flash cards (either on paper or electronic) that can be manipulated while studying. Auditory learners should read them aloud and talk about what they mean with other students.

Find out from your child whether their notes are useful when studying. If not, talk about how to listen for key words, use abbreviations, make outlines before class, and spend some time working with their notes after class. With practice, note-taking gets easier and more effective.

To learn about an interesting note-taking technology, see Audionote: A Technological Solution for Note-Taking.

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Modeling Respect Leads to School Success

When parents teach young children to talk, listen, and act with respect, they are clearly setting a standard for school success. In our classroom we have five simple class rules. They are:

  • quiet hands
  • quiet feet
  • quiet lips
  • eyes on the speaker (indicating that it’s not always the teacher, sometimes it’s another student)
  • be respectful and kind

Together we brainstorm as to what being “respectful” is all about—and that’s something parents can easily model and practice at home.

One easy way to practice this is to include the word “respect” when setting rules and informal guidelines at home. For example:

  • “We respect our possessions by neatly folding our clothes and cleaning up the mess when we are finished an activity.”
  • If a child demands, “I want a cookie,” gently remind him, “Would you like to ask that again respectfully?” (Please may I have a cookie?)
  • Model how to disagree respectfully. “I know that your favorite board game is Chutes and Ladders, but my favorite one is Scrabble Jr. I like that one better because it helps with spelling. I agree to play your favorite tonight and let’s play mine on Saturday night.” You’re subtly teaching that it is perfectly fine to disagree with someone, and there is always a way to work things out.

When you model giving and getting respect in your everyday family life, children will naturally incorporate this into their school career and beyond.


> The Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning

> Social and Emotional Article Archive

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Does Your Child Need Extra Time for Achievement Exams?

Receiving extra time or other accommodations on the SAT can be a lifesaver for some students. Those who process more slowly than others or who have attention deficits, vision problems, or learning disabilities may get lower scores if they’re required to take these standardized tests in the same format and in the same amount of time as other students. Many of these students are perfectly capable of doing well in college, but they have limited choices for college because their SAT scores are too low. When allowed more time or given other accommodations, their scores better reflect their ability. How does a student receive the accommodations he needs?

  • First, there has to be formal documentation of a learning disability. The College Board wants to see a student’s IEP or 504 plan that addresses her disability. If the student is not attending a public school and does not have an IEP or 504 plan, the College Board will require a recent psychological evaluation completed by a licensed psychologist.
  • Second, students must be using the requested accommodations for an extended period of time before they apply for it through the Board. For the SAT, a student must have been receiving the accommodations in school for at least four months.
  • Third, students will need to have supporting documentation from their high school teachers.

There is a formal filing process through the College Board to receive accommodations, and often a student has to appeal the decision multiple times before receiving extra time. The College Board does not want anyone to have an unfair advantage over other students; they do want those who really need extra time to receive it. That explains why they require formal documentation. Accommodations such as Braille or large print may be easier to receive. Proving the need for extra time is more difficult. Once approved by the College Board, a student may receive the same accommodations for the PSAT, SAT, and AP exams. The ACT requires a similar application process.

For more information about the types of accommodations a student might receive, read ACT and SAT Accommodations: One Size Does Not Fit All.

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Help Your Child Choose the Right Book

Three ways to categorize young readers are emergent, beginning, and independent.

Emergent reading is defined as children’s interaction with reading and writing before they can actually read and write. Emergent readers can recognize some short words and know some letter sounds. Yet, an emergent reader often relies on memorization. This frequently is the child who wants to hear the same story over and over again. 

Help an emergent reader choose books with:

  • Colorful illustrations or photographs
  • Large print with few words
  • Pictures that exactly match the words. For example, if the words say “See the blue bird fly” the picture should clearly and simply show a blue bird flying.

A beginning reader usually knows some sight words and can use his knowledge of phonics to sound out simple words. She looks for clues in the pictures to help her decode unknown words. Help a beginning reader choose books with:

  • Pictures and a few sentences or small paragraph on each page
  • Pictures that can contain more detail
  • Print that is smaller, but should contain simple, familiar, and easily decodable words

An independent reader can easily decode unknown words and read with fluency and expression. This is the reader who pays attention to periods, question marks and exclamation marks at the end of sentences.  They comprehend most of what they read. They use picture and word clues to figure out what they don’t understand.  Help an independent reader choose books with:

  • Smaller print and longer sentences or two to three paragraphs per page
  • More than one character
  • Change of settings
  • Plots that are more detailed and challenging

No matter what category of reader your young child is, still read aloud to him often. Read a variety of books at different levels to, or along with him.

With lots of reading practice, you’ll be amazed at how quickly an emergent reader can become an independent reader!


> Four Simple Strategies To Build Reading Comprehension

> Instilling a Love of Reading at Home

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Make the Most of Family Meals

Time spent enjoying family meals can pay off in stronger connections. When possible, it is important to sit down together to talk and find out how everyone is. It's also a time when your children learn manners and respectful behavior toward one another.

Families can really benefit when dinnertime is established as a family value. Remember, too, that your children learn the most by watching what you do. Here are some suggestions for making family meals more meaningful.

First, it can be helpful to establish a “no phones” rule for dinner time. Unless there is an emergency, calls can wait until everyone is finished eating. Teens in particular seem to be absorbed by their phones at all times. But mealtime should be an occasion when you ask open-ended questions and discuss what is happening in each person’s life. (See Getting Teens To Open Up  if you need ideas for how to do this.)

Second, practice basic table manners together. I can remember my mother reminding me to chew with my mouth closed, to make sure there is plenty to go around before taking a second roll, or to ask politely for someone to pass what you need rather than reaching over their plate. These fundamental skills are not taught anywhere else, and poor manners can hurt your child socially and, at some point, professionally.

Spending time together like this brings a family closer. Even during adolescence, when teens act like they don’t want to be a part of the family, they really do need you to show how much you care about them. Most of us are so busy there is very little time for this kind of interaction. I encourage you to sit down together to eat a meal at least once each day. Of course, every family has weeks when activities and homework make dining together difficult. On those hectic days, find other ways to connect, like playing a game in the evening or even just sitting together and talking.


> Make Family Meals Count

> Recipes for Quick and Easy Weeknight Dinners

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Two Activities for Understanding Numbers

The ability to compare numbers helps your child understand quantity and number relationship. This understanding develops deeper math skills needed for more complex math operations in higher grades. One way to practice this skill is to help her understand the concept of “more and less.” Here are two simple activities to reinforce “more and less”:

  • Introduce your child to the more (">") and less ("<") signs. When I show these signs to young students I call it the “alligator’s mouth.” The alligator wants to eat “more,” so the open part always faces the bigger quantity. Cut a 4- or 5-inch “more” or “less” sign out of construction paper. It will look like a sideward “V.” Put out two piles of small objects such as pennies, crayons, Legos, etc. Leave a space between the two piles. Have her count the number in each pile and put the sign, with the open part, by the pile that shows more. Then read it together, left to right. For example, if the piles show 6 > 4, encourage her to say “6 is more than 4.” Put the smaller pile first, have her turn the sign to show 4 < 6. She should then be able to say, left to right, “Four is less than six.” Practice often with varying amounts. Once your child can easily do this activity, move on to the next activity.

  • Put two rows of pennies under each other. For example, put 8 pennies in the top row, and five pennies in the bottom row, aligned directly below the first five pennies in the top row. Ask him, “Which row shows more?” When he says “The top row,” ask “How many more?” Help him see, and count if needed, that there are 3 more pennies in the top row.  This activity visually demonstrates that 8 is 3 more than 5, and 5 is 3 less than 8. Keep playing with different number combinations to 10, always aligning the bottom row of pennies to the top row. For each set of rows made, help him determine how many “more” and conversely, how many “less.”

These two simple games can greatly aid your child in understanding the value of numbers, and the concept of quantity.


> Two Fine Motor Activities To Develop Math Skills

> A Fun Game Learn Addition and Subtraction


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Don't Worry—Your Teen Is Probably Normal

Several times in the last couple of years, parents have asked for a conference with me. I am always happy to meet with parents, because I see myself as a partner with them to help take care of their child. What these parents really wanted to know was whether the things they were seeing happen with their child were normal. Developmental psychology textbooks don’t really answer the specific questions they asked. The books explain that the teen years are when children begin the process of turning from children into adults, but they often fail to tell you what to expect in terms of family dynamics.

Here are some FAQs about adolescents in middle and high school.

Is it normal that my child doesn’t want to spend time with the family? Your child wants to be independent from you. Every chance he gets, he will isolate himself in his bedroom and play video games, watch television, text friends, or do a myriad of other things that don’t include the rest of the family. The truth is, he still needs you desperately. Physically, he looks like an adult, but he is still a child in many ways.

Why does my child argue with just about everything I say?
This is again part of the process of changing from a child into an adult. She wants to make all her decisions for herself. She is old enough to find herself in situations that can be dangerous for her, yet her brain is not fully developed in order to make the best choices. Arguing with you is her way of letting you know she wants you to see her as an adult. You will have fewer arguments if you allow her to make choices when the consequences for those choices is not too great. (See Adolescents Should Solve Most of Their Problems Themselves for some ideas.) You must stay involved, however, and help her to make the right decisions when the consequences could harm her. Raising teens is hard work! 

Is it normal that my child stays up really late and doesn’t want to get up for school?
The normal sleep patterns for teens shifts later into the night. They frequently stay up past midnight and are sleepy in their morning classes at school. This sleep pattern is perfectly normal. You should encourage her to get to bed earlier, but she may not be able to go to sleep right away. There has been discussion about whether school should start later in the day for adolescents. There are, however, a number of reasons for keeping it the way it is. The current schedule more closely mirrors parents’ work hours, and after school activities like sports and music practice would go too late into the evening hours if school started later. 

My child carries everything he owns in his book bag and doesn’t use his locker. He also forgets to do all his homework. Is that normal?
The part of the brain that governs planning ahead and time management does not fully develop until the early or middle twenties. It is very normal that teens find it easiest to take everything with them rather than to figure out what they can leave in their locker and pick up later in the day. Some teens have a very difficult time with this. (See Executive Functioning—How It Affects a Student in School.)

If you wonder whether your son or daughter is behaving in an unusual way, talk to other parents who have children the same age. It is sometimes hard to tell whether they are behaving like teenagers or whether there is really something bothering them. Talk to them every day, ask good questions, and stay involved despite their desire for you to leave them alone. Once they leave home, they will appreciate that you were always there for them! In the meantime, tell them how much you love them and keep trying to include them in all family activities.

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A Case for Teaching Handwriting in the Digital Age

by Anne G. Faigen

Until a friend described a recent visit with his middle-school-age grandson, I had no idea of a debate raging about the teaching of penmanship. My friend told me, “I got tired of his being in some alternate universe with his electronic gadgets, so I decided to try involving him in something else.” He asked the boy to put aside his handheld gadget so Grandpa could teach him some practical stuff, like filling out a bank deposit slip. He showed his grandson the form and began explaining how to fill it out when the boy interrupted with, “I don’t do cursive.”

My friend’s annoyance reemerged when he told me about the encounter, and my amused response didn’t help. But when I thought about it later, I decided that doing away with cursive really wasn’t funny. What I assumed was bedrock education in elementary schools is no more because some schools no longer include cursive writing in their curriculum. Until my friend’s rant about schools’ failure to teach the basics, I was unaware of the ongoing controversy in educational circles about what was once called penmanship. I was surprised to learn that seven states, including California and Massachusetts, have filed legislation to implement penmanship as a permanent part of their school curriculum.

There are logical arguments to support its demise. Some teachers insist it takes too much time to teach when there are more important things for kids to learn. Skills involving keyboarding, they say, will help their students succeed in school and in careers more than cursive would. In a Washington Post article, Michael Hairston, the head of the country’s largest teachers union, the Fairfax Education Association, calls penmanship “a dying art that has been replaced by technology,” emphasizing that teachers need to make hard choices, given time constraints “and little or no flexibility.” He also said that much of teachers' instructional time is dominated by the need to teach to a standardized test. In an article called “Forget Cursive: Teach Kids How To Code,” author Keith Wagstaff questions what an 8-year-old’s future boss “[is] going to be more impressed by, the ability to write cursive or to code?”

As for me, I’m firmly on the side of continuing to teach our students to read and write cursive. My conviction is partly based on my own experience teaching high school students to write essays demonstrating critical thinking about the literature they were reading. Much of my after-school time was spent writing detailed comments and suggestions in the margins of the essays, the closest I could come to one-on-one teaching in my crowded classrooms. If I had to print my recommendations—something I do slowly and poorly—I would have struggled for many more hours to finish the essays promptly and return them. No matter how elegant the fonts and professional looking their printed work, my students welcomed the handwritten suggestions for strengthening their writing skills.

Cursive is also an effective tool in teaching students with dyslexia, experts say, because all the letters start on a baseline and move fluidly in the same direction, a help to dyslexic learners. A number of research studies also suggest that more areas of the brain are engaged when students use handwriting rather than a keyboard.

What about those occasions when the computer is down but the work has to go on? Business won’t stop because no one knows how to read or write without a computer. And think about all those practical needs for our writing, from signing checks to putting our names on electronic devices when we use credit cards. There are those inevitable forms to be filled out in doctors’ offices, our signatures on drivers’ licenses and, more personally, on birthday cards. At times in our lives when we need words of comfort or encouragement, who doesn’t feel a special warmth in receiving a handwritten note?

As educators and academics respond to the challenges of our technological society, their debate about the merits of teaching penmanship will undoubtedly continue. I’m on the side that hopes, like my indignant friend, that kids will continue to learn cursive.

Writer and educator Anne G. Faigen is the author of several young adult and mystery novels and a former high school English teacher in the suburban Pittsburgh area.

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Five Simple Ideas for Homework Success

Each September, it is adorable how my new 1st grade students can’t wait to start homework! The challenge for parents and teachers is to continue this enthusiasm and make a child’s time spent doing homework successful. Here are five simple ways that parents can support homework success.

  • Have a regular homework place and time. The place can be the kitchen table, a small desk, or any flat surface that works for your family. Determine if your child likes getting work done right after school, or if he needs time to play and unwind before starting. Try to maintain his time schedule as often as possible.
  • Provide adequate lighting.
  • Keep clutter to a minimum. Make sure the space has necessary tools, such as a pencil, eraser, crayons, scissors, and a glue stick. Keep the tools together in an easily accessible container. Return the container to the same place when finished each night. Have your child put completed homework into her backpack as soon as it’s done, so it always gets back to school the next day.
  • Eliminate distractions. Turn off the TV, video games, computers, cell phones, etc., so noises don’t cause your child to lose focus. If he doesn’t like it when it’s too quiet, try softly playing a classical CD while he works.
  • Work in small increments. If your child gets overwhelmed, try having her work with a timer in 2- to 3-minute increments, and then take a 1-minute break, until work is completed.

Homework is helpful for young students because it reinforces lessons that have been introduced during the school day. It also gives parents an indication of what, and how skills are being taught.

Most important, homework is a great way to develop responsibility and a sense of timeliness—life skills that promote success beyond the classroom!

> 7 Simple Homework Tips

> Printable Weekly Assignment Sheet

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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