SchoolFamily Voices

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

Practice the Magic "E" With Young Readers

Young students usually first learn simple “cvc” words—consonant, vowel, consonant. These are simple three-letter words such as cat, pet, hid, hop, and cub. Three-letter words help a young reader learn as he sounds out the beginning sound, middle vowel sound, and ending sound then blends the sounds together to form a word.

Once a young reader can easily blend and sound out “cvc” words, use this simple way to double her vocabulary: Introduce the Magic “e” wand. The Magic “e” is the silent “e” at the end of “cvc” words that changes the vowel sound to form a new word. It’s been my experience that students love being a Magic “e” magician, and here’s how you can do this at home. You’ll need five items: a pack of small, blank, index cards; a popsicle stick; glue; colorful glitter; and a black magic marker.


  • Take one index card and cut off the right side, about an inch from the end. You should have a small 1-inch x 3-inch rectangle
  • In the middle of that small rectangle print a lowercase “e,” about an inch tall. Discard the remainder of the cut card. Help your child put a glue line on the “e” and sprinkle it with colorful glitter. Shake off excess glitter and glue or tape the “e” to the top of the popsicle stick. Put aside to dry.
  • Use the marker and some full index cards to print some “cvc” words, leaving about an inch space at the end of the word. Make sure to print in lowercase letters. Some examples are can, cap, pet, hid, pin, hop, not, cub, and tub.
  • Review that vowels have a short and long sound. In cvc words the vowel is always short. Explain that the silent “e” at the end of the word changes the vowel from the short sound to its long sound. 
  • Hold up a word card and have him say the word can, for example. Then let him hold up the Magic “e” wand, at the end of the word, to change the word to cane. Practice with other words such as, hid to hide, cut to cute, tap to tape, hop to hope, etc.

Understanding vowels can be challenging for beginning readers. Manipulating the Magic “e” wand is a hands-on way to help a child remember this important aspect of phonics.

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Encourage Good Grammar on Social Media

Many teens spend a great deal of time on social sites networking with friends. One concern I have about that relates to language skills. It is acceptable on these sites to use improper grammar and spelling, and we often blame autocorrect features on our digital devices rather than taking responsibility for posting poorly constructed sentences and misspelled words. Perhaps that can be something we as parents require of our children—to write correctly on social networking sites.

One of the most frequent errors is the misuse of the homonyms there, their, and they’re. Here is how I help my students remember which one to use.

  • Apostrophes in the middle of words often mean there is something left out. They’re is a shortened way to write two words—they are. Other examples are “don’t” for “do not” and “shouldn’t” for “should not.”
  • Their contains the word “heir,” which is a person. The word their always refers to a group of people. “Shoppers normally park their cars next to the grocery store where they are shopping.”
  • There contains the word “here,” which is a place. (This refers to the core meaning of the word “there.”) I can be here. I can be there. “The car is parked over there next to the grocery store” uses the correct homonym. There are other uses of the word, “there,” (such as the first word of this sentence), but this memory aid will often help make the decision which one to use. This rule of thumb especially helps when used in combination with the first two “rules.”

Parents should always be monitoring what their children are posting online. When you see your child use grammar incorrectly such as using the wrong homonym, you can use it as a teaching moment. Perhaps that will encourage him to practice writing correctly. He should not blame his smartphone (or other device) for the errors he posts. Everything posted online should be proofread. The extra time spent proofing also gives her time to think about whether what she is about to post is appropriate and thoughtful of others, but I will save that for another blog topic!

> Impulsive Students Need Guidance When Online
> Talk With Your Child About the Internet

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Estimate for Summer Math Fun

Estimation is an important math skill because it allows for a reasonable guess before something is actually measured or counted. Coming “close enough” to the actual number is a real accomplishment, and part of higher quantitative thinking. Developing your child’s sense of estimation goes beyond school math—it’s a life skill.

As adults we are constantly estimating. How long will it take to get there? Do I have enough coins for the parking meter? Will that size sweater fit Dad?

Here are some great ideas for fun estimating during the summer, using common household items to help your child become a good at it.

Start simply with one or two of these items. Then mix it up any way you and your child would like.

Items that can be used include:

  • A clear, small jar full of pennies
  • A large pitcher
  • A plastic measuring cup
  • A pail or large bowl of water
  • Paper clips
  • Blocks or Legos of the same size
  • A timer
  • Forks or spoons of the same size
  • Any safe household items of uniform length and width or size

Use any of the items above to present a question that needs solving, such as:

  • How many pennies do you think are in the jar?
  • How many cups of water do you think it will take to fill up the pitcher?
  • How many Legos do you think it takes to fill up the measuring cup?
  • How many blocks will fit across the doorway?
  • How many paper clips, laid end-to-end, are needed to measure the long side of a book?
  • How many spoons, laid end-to-end, does it take to line the side of the table?
  • How long will we set the timer to see how fast you can pick up those paper clips?

After your child has estimated how many items are needed to complete a task, or how long something takes, count and work the solutions out together.

Estimation is important for critical thinking and reasonable responses. Have fun practicing because the more young children can refine their estimation skills, the higher they develop number sense.

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Foster Your Child's Emotional Health

One of the signs of emotional health is being aware of emotions and understanding what they mean. Teens need to be aware of the emotions they are feeling as well as the emotions of others. Unfortunately, many in our society discourage their children from expressing their emotions in healthy ways. I believe this is especially true of boys. Boys are told not to cry because “crying is for girls.” These children grow up thinking they should not have strong emotions or that they are weak if they do. Everyone has emotions, and children need to understand that. They need to recognize and name the emotions they are feeling.

If your son does not talk about his emotions (“I am so frustrated…”), you can help. The first step is for him to recognize that he is feeling an emotion and be able to tell what emotion it is. You can help by providing possibilities—for example, you could say, “You must be really proud [angry, sad, grateful, frustrated] right now.” The next step is to recognize that others feel emotions, too. You might say, “I know you are angry with Terry, but he was really hurt by what you said to him.” Finally, he needs to learn appropriate responses to his emotions. “It is OK to be angry and take that anger out on a pillow. It is not OK to take it out on your friends.”

Middle school boys who are having difficulty expressing their emotions can often write about them. I once asked a particularly rowdy group of 8th grade boys to write a letter to me about why they were misbehaving. I asked them to tell me why they did not like class, why they did not want to participate, and what I could do to make the class better for them. I was amazed to find out that they did like the class, and their behavior was related to a wide range of emotions they were feeling about things going on outside of school. One student wrote, “My grandfather is dying and he is the one person in my life who really understands me.” Several wrote, “I am sorry I have been so bad. I really do like this class.” This was an enlightening experience for me. Once the boys wrote their letters, class went much more smoothly. They expressed their emotions in writing which gave me the information and empathy I needed to support them.

Having emotional awareness is important for developing healthy relationships. Parents can talk with their teens about the emotions they feel and how others might be feeling. Writing about the emotions a teen feels can also lead to better emotional understanding as well as knowing what is happening in your child’s life.

For more information about the importance of understanding emotions and how it affects school, read How Emotional Intelligence Is Linked To School Success.

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Four Simple Strategies To Build Reading Comprehension

Strategies to build reading comprehension

Young readers need to acquire good comprehension skills. In order to do this, they need strategies that help them fully understand what they read.

Here are four simple strategies to help your young reader understand and appreciate stories.

  • Build on prior knowledge
  • Attempt to sound out words (decoding)
  • Make predictions
  • Visualize what is happening in the story

Prior knowledge involves helping a child recall what she has seen or heard. When reading a story about zoo animals, for example, a child should know that zebras have stripes and elephants have trunks.

Sounding out words starts with practicing consonant and vowel sounds. Then help her blend letter sounds, from left to right, to make words.

Making predictions is guessing or inferring what might happen next. For example, if someone left the cage at the zoo open, what might the animal do? What might happen next?
Visualizing helps readers make mental pictures of what they are reading. These visualizations make the reading more personal and easier to remember.

As a parent, you can support these four strategies many ways. Here are some examples:

  • Give her opportunities to build prior knowledge. Visit a farm, pick strawberries, go to the beach or lake, cook together, plant a garden, visit your library, go on nature walks together, etc. Then talk about what you saw and how the day went.
  • Help her practice consonant and vowel sounds, then help her blend those sounds to make words. Have a “word of the week” at your house. Help her practice saying and spelling it.  Talk about what it means. When she can easily say and spell it, let her write it on an index card and hang it in his room to create a “word wall.”
  • Ask questions, such as “What do you think will happen next?” Or, “Why do you think that happened?” when reading stories together.
  • Play a visualization game. “I spy something that is little, flies, makes a buzzing sound and can sting. What do you think it is?” Have her lead the “I spy” and give you clues!

Good readers read much and often! Combining these strategies, with many opportunities to read, helps your child make connections to stories…and these connections increase reading comprehension and enjoyment.

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Help Your Kids Cope With Stress in Healthy Ways

Tim Elmore, an expert on growing leadership in today’s youth, recently wrote, “…students who are emotionally fragile often struggle with addictive behavior…[a]ddictions [that] often begin as coping mechanisms. In fact, most of us would admit to a small addiction to help us get through our day: coffee, chocolate, television, Coke Zero, alcohol, cigarettes…” [From Addictions: One Reason Not to Take the Easy Road.]  Dr. Elmore is not speaking primarily about drugs or alcohol addiction. He is speaking of addictive behavior. His concern is that we are not teaching our youth how to cope with life’s stressors in healthy ways, so they take actions that quickly relieve the stress. We are allowing them to rely on unhealthy habits or on parents to rescue them. Parents respond so that their children never have to suffer even the slightest discomfort or embarrassment.

Recently, I learned of a student who in the middle of class sent a text message to her mother. Shortly after, someone from the office brought her the textbook she had left in her locker. Her mother had called the school office to ask someone to go get the book and take it to her. I think this is wrong on several levels: First, the student broke the rules by text messaging during class. Second, her mother rescued her by calling the school. Third, the office personnel allowed it to happen. The student learned she does not have to be responsible for bringing her book to class, because her mother will rescue her from suffering the consequences of her actions. Mom has become her coping mechanism—her “addiction.”

Here are three important strategies for developing stronger adolescents who can handle daily struggles in healthy ways.

  • You should expect your child to do a fair share of the chores at home. At the very least, he should keep his own room clean and help with cleaning the shared family spaces. There are other chores he can do, and he should have firm responsibilities at home that he does without fail.
  • Your child should resolve her own conflicts with her friends. Most of the time, teens can do this if they are encouraged to talk with one another. If parents intervene in every squabble, children will never learn to resolve their own differences.
  • Allow your child to suffer the natural consequences of his actions. If he forgets to do his homework, he should be honest with his teacher and admit that he forgot. He can ask for another chance (if it hasn’t happened too many times before), and maybe the teacher will allow him to turn it in late. If the teacher does not, you should not try to rescue him.

When you require your children to do chores at home, resolve their own conflicts, and suffer the consequences of their own actions, you are teaching responsibility. Your children learn healthy coping mechanisms rather than blaming others when things go wrong (“Mom didn’t make coffee this morning.” or “Dad wouldn’t bring it to me.”). They become healthy and emotionally strong—ready to take on life’s daily struggles.


> Kids, Stress, and How Parents Can Help

> Summer Chores Teach Kids Responsibility

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Two Easy Games To Develop Motor Skills

Dexterity, a good grip, and eye-hand coordination are abilities that all young students need in order to print legibly. These require fine motor skills, which means using smaller muscle groups in the hands, and fingers. Yet before fine motor skills can evolve, kids must develop gross motor skills. These involve the larger muscle groups found in the arms, legs, feet, and torso. Play is a wonderful way to develop gross motor skills in young children. Here are two games to strengthen gross motor skills and eye-hand coordination with fun outdoor play. You will need a  Hula-Hoop, three small bean bags, and a soft tennis or small Nerf ball.

Activity 1:  Target Toss, for one or more players

  • Lay the Hula-Hoop on the grass in the yard, a park, or in beach sand (or rather than carry the hoop to the beach, you can draw the large circle, with a stick, in the sand)
  • Have your child stand about 2 feet away from the hoop and toss the bean bags, one at a time, aiming for inside the hoop.  Gather the beanbags so the next child or adult can have a turn.
  • As soon as he can easily get the bags inside the hoop from the shorter distance, challenge him to increase the difficulty.
  • Have him step back about 12 inches and try again. Play often, until he can easily get the bean bags in the hoop from 4 to 5 feet away.
  • Keep count of correct tosses. Player who lands the most bags inside the Hula-Hoop wins.

Activity 2: Squeeze and Toss, for one or more players

  • An adult or older child holds the Hula-Hoop vertically to create a target “circle” in the air.
  • Younger child takes the tennis or Nerf ball in their hand and steps about 12 inches back from the circle.  
  • She “squeezes” the ball three times, counting 1, 2, and 3 for each squeeze before trying to toss the ball through the hoop. The squeezes are an important step in strengthening the hands and fingers.
  • Next person takes a turn, squeezes the ball, and then tosses it. After each round, players step back 12 inches.
  • Keep count. Player with the most successful tosses wins.

The great thing about this kind of play is that it's easy and fun while fine-tuning skills needed for printing and writing success.

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Executive Functioning Practice During the Summer

The ability to plan, initiate, and carry out daily activities takes place in the part of the brain just behind the forehead. We call this ability executive functioning. It involves the ability to be flexible, to control one’s behavior, to hold and use information in working memory, and to be self-aware. Executive functioning tends to improve with time and does not fully develop until age 25. Adolescents need to have practice that develops these abilities. Allowing your children to plan family events and vacations provides great practice.

It is probably wise to start with something simple like planning the evening meal. You can provide guidelines, such as how to make it a healthy meal that doesn’t cost too much, but then allow your child to decide what to have, check the groceries in stock, decide what needs to be purchased, and go with you to the store to buy the groceries. He can cook, serve, and clean up after the meal. This is great experience for him. Not only is he getting excellent practice using his executive functioning ability, but he is also learning important life skills. In the beginning, he might need considerable help doing this. With practice, he should be able to manage this pretty much on his own.

Another idea might be to allow your child to plan a family outing. She could research options in the area, pick somewhere interesting, find out how much it costs to go, figure out a time when the family is available, suggest when to go, and decide whether to ask a friend to go along. This could be a simple outing to the movies, a trip to a nearby town for the day, or a weekend adventure for the family.

Many parents are uncomfortable allowing children to make important decisions. Parents plan every minute of their children’s time to make sure there is no time to get in trouble. It is good to be involved and to know what your children are doing. It is important, however, for kids to have some unplanned time. This is especially true in the summer months when they are not busy with schoolwork and extracurricular activities. Kids can learn to manage their own time, plan events, and entertain themselves. If children are allowed to make more decisions, they will learn how to make decisions that have good consequences. They will develop the executive functioning ability they need to be successful in school and life.


> Executive Functioning: How It Affects a Student in School

> Homework Binder: A Strategy That Helps With Executive Function

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Simple Summer Science for Young Learners

Summer is a wonderful time to introduce your young student to “simple science.” One great way to start is to encourage your child to become a “weather watcher.” After watching or listening to a local weather report together, invite your child to:

  • Make some temperature predictions, and then observe different temperatures during the week on various thermometers that might be found in your home, on municipal or bank buildings, in-car thermometers, etc.
  • Look for signs of rain such as, dark , thick clouds and cooling temperatures.
  • Talk about thunder and lightning: Small bits of frozen rain move around and bump each other. All those bumps cause electricity. When it builds up enough, it connects with charges on the ground and zap…it’s lightning! It is like rubbing your feet across a carpet, then touching a metal door knob. When lightning travels it causes a sound wave—thunder. It comes after seeing the lightning because light travels faster than sound.
  • Have a “rainbow alert” if there is some intermittent sun while it rains.
  • Look for signs of wind and wind direction. To do this, Make an easy “wind sock.” You’ll need five items: an empty plastic liter bottle with cap (soda, juice, etc.), some string, a plastic grocery bag, scissors, and a stapler.  To make a wind sock:  
  1. Screw the cap tightly on the neck of the bottle. Cut the bottom of the bottle about 3 inches from the bottom, so that the bottle is completely open. Discard the bottom of the bottle.
  2. Help your child cut six 1 1/2 inch thick x 12-inch-long strips from the plastic bag.
  3. Staple the strips, on the inside of the open bottom perimeter, about an inch up, leaving most of the strip hanging below.
  4. Cut a 20-inch piece of string and tie one end tightly below the bottle cap.
  5. Tie the wind sock to a low-hanging branch where she can see it. Watch which direction the strips blow, and how strong the wind is blowing! Help her understand that he wind is coming from the opposite direction that the strips are pointing.

All of these activities are fun to do with your child and might spark a lifelong interest in the science of weather.

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Encourage Students To Practice Handwriting

I started to write my blog this week about why there are so many students in middle and upper school who cannot write legibly. I was going to place the blame on lack of instruction, too little practice, or poor pencil grip. Lack of instruction is a problem since most elementary schools do not devote the same amount of time teaching handwriting as they once did. Too little practice is also a problem, since there are fewer times when we need to write by hand these days. Even if a student could once write legibly, they forget how when they don’t use it enough. It turns out though that poor pencil grip is probably not the cause of poor handwriting!

I read some of the latest research on pencil grip and found that most experts agree that how a person holds his pencil is generally not the cause of illegible handwriting. If a student in middle or upper school is comfortable when writing but cannot write legibly, the focus of instruction should be on letter formation. Once students know the proper form for each letter (both lower and upper case) and can reproduce it without much thought, the focus then should be on increasing speed.

On the other hand, if a student is uncomfortable when writing by hand, the pencil grip should be explored. There are four basic grips that have been shown by research to be efficient and produce legible handwriting. Most people choose one of these four grips. Even if they choose something more unusual, it is OK as long as they can write legibly and their hand does not hurt as they write.

During summer is a great time to practice handwriting skills. It takes a lot of practice to get to an automatic level with handwriting, but it is worth the effort. There is research to suggest that people remember more of what they write by hand as opposed to what they type on a computer. I believe there is a strong case for encouraging most students to write notes by hand. For this to be possible, they need to be able to write legibly and quickly. The time spent practicing this summer might pay off with better grades in classes where students take notes by hand.

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Foster Your Child's Curiosity

Most parents of young children have been bombarded with the “why” questions. “Why is the sky blue?”  “Why do I have to eat these vegetables?” “Why can’t I breathe underwater like a fish?”

Questions like these come from a child’s innate sense of curiosity—and that’s a wondrous thing that should be encouraged.

Curiosity is important because it:

  • starts with a quest for knowledge and wanting to know more
  • fosters intelligence
  • helps us all to see things in different ways
  • can help young students make connections
  • nourishes wonderment and happiness
  • promotes openness and acceptance of differences
  • helps build confidence with newly acquired knowledge
  • motivates learning
  • enhances social awareness and self-confidence
  • and cultivates life-long learning

Albert Einstein once said, “I have no special talents, I am only passionately curious.” So the next time your young child is “passionately curious,” help her as best you can. This may require some simple research on a home computer, or one at the library. Your interest will reinforce her sense of wonder. Help her explore the world around her, and share in her joy of discovery!


> Instill a Love of Learning in Your Child

> Balancing Creativity and Academics

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Help Students Set Reasonable Goals

Children need to learn how to set reasonable goals for themselves. In the last few weeks, I have worked with several students who were disappointed in themselves and truly upset about how their final grades turned out. Their reactions ranged from tears, to anger, to blaming someone else. After each of us met to discuss their concerns, the bottom line turned out to be that they had set unrealistic expectations for themselves.

In one case, the student wanted to get the highest grades in every subject even though she knew that she was gifted in math and science and not as much so in language arts. Regardless, she was determined that she would also get excellent grades in English. She struggled to interpret the symbolism in the literature, and she placed the blame for that on the teacher and the other students for being too noisy in class. When she got an average grade on the tests and exam, she was angry. When I offered to sit down with her and her English teacher to discuss strategies for next year, she confessed, “I’m not really mad at her, I’m just mad that I didn’t get an A. I have a terrible time understanding the literature, and I really don’t care about it.”

Another student decided that he wanted to move into all honors level classes the following year in the hopes of raising his grade point average. In order to qualify for the higher-level classes, he needed to maintain above average grades in each class. While he was able to do that in some classes, he was not able to do it in all. He was extremely disappointed in himself and felt like he had let others down.

These children had both set themselves up by setting unrealistic goals for themselves. Fortunately, we were able together to see that they had actually accomplished a lot this year, and what they were seeing as huge failures, were not really that bad. In both cases, their grades were really good overall.

It is important to help students set goals that can be reasonably accomplished and to clearly determine what steps they need to take in order to reach their goals. Help them determine what they need to do in order to reach their potential. For example, perhaps they need to more carefully complete each homework assignment, make appointments with teachers, or ask more questions in class. By taking these steps, they may be able to raise their grades and have something to be proud of. Trying to raise a grade up a letter grade is much more reasonable than trying to get all A’s. When their goals are reasonable, the end of the school year will be something to celebrate.

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Help Young Students Understand Coins

Recognizing coins and understanding their value are two separate and important skills. Young students cannot be expected to add and subtract mixed coins, then understand the different value of each one, if they don’t first recognize individual coins.

In the United States we have four major coins in our exchange system: penny, nickel, dime, and quarter.

Understanding coins is like understanding fractions. They are part of a “whole” and can be added, subtracted, and exchanged.

Here are simple activities to help a young student recognize and identify different coins, then understand the value of coin combinations.
First, start by playing a Card Coin Match game. This is played with a jar full of mixed coins and this printable game board. The game board also subtly reinforces coin value.

Once your child can easily recognize and identify different coins, play Got Five! This game is for two players. For Got Five! you will need one die, 30 pennies, and 15 nickels. Here are the steps:

  • Put the pennies and nickels in one pile to make a bank.
  • Take turns rolling the die and collecting the number of pennies shown on the die. For example, roll a 4, collect four pennies.
  • Whenever one player has at least five pennies, he can “trade” them for a nickel, putting the pennies back in the bank.
  • The game ends when there are no more nickels left in the bank.

When your child masters Got Five!, introduce and play Got Ten! The directions are similar to those for Got Five! The bank for Got Ten! also includes 10 dimes as well as the 30 pennies and 15 nickels.

  • When the die is rolled, players make different combinations of pennies and nickels to trade for a dime.
  • When the dimes are gone, the game is over.

Having fun while learning with coins is a terrific way for young students to remember crucial skills needed for math success.

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Win a Classroom Reading Area From TeacherLists.com and Scholastic Instructor

Imagine a brand-new reading area at your school where students can sit in comfy beanbag chairs, relax, and read. Add to this: a stereo listening center and more than 1,000 books! Well, it can happen—if you let your school know about the National School Supply Lists Directory at TeacherLists.com and enter its Scholastic Reading Oasis contest!

TeacherLists.com is running the Reading Oasis contest with partner Scholastic Instructor, and here’s how it works: Encourage your school to post all its student supply lists for the 2014-15 school year in the National School Supply Lists Directory at TeacherLists.com sometime between now and Aug. 1, 2014. That’s it! Once the lists are uploaded, your school is automatically entered to win the Scholastic Reading Oasis prize.

The prize, which is valued at more than $13,000, is a turnkey package so the winning school only needs to set up the components and it will have a complete, ready-to-go classroom reading area for its students. What’s more, Scholastic will even come to the winning school to help set up the Reading Oasis.

TeacherLists.com created the National School Supply Lists Directory to help schools, teachers, and parents more easily create and share school supply lists and wish lists. More than 25,000 schools are already using the directory! Here's more information on the National School Supply Lists Directory at TeacherLists.com.

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10 Things New Graduates Should Know

The class of 2014 has now graduated. I always have mixed emotions when students leave after several years of working together. I remember all the struggles along the way, and how they made it through those struggles to graduation day. Most are elated to be leaving and look forward to a new life free from the boundaries of school. It is hard for parents and teachers to let them go, but it is time.

Here is some of what I hope my students learned from their parents, other teachers, and me as we worked together.

  • It is not always the smartest people who are the most successful in life; it is the ones who work the hardest.
  • Always tell the truth, even when you really mess up, because it takes years to build trust and only seconds to lose it.
  • Be passionate about something, for it will be the source of joy in your life.
  • You don’t have to be good at everything, but don’t sell yourself short just because something is hard for you. Some things take years to truly understand.
  • All life is interconnected. It is up to you to take care of the environment.
  • Every person has potential.
  • Listen to the viewpoint of those who disagree with you, for there is truth in both sides of every issue.
  • Friends are important. You need them, and they need you.
  • Be who you are, not who someone else wants you to be. (In other words, it’s OK to say no to a friend.)
  • Say thank you to those who helped you get where you are. These people are still there for you even after high school.

To the class of 2014—I wish you well. Call your parents often; let your teachers know what you are doing and how you are. You will be missed.

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More Healthy Play for Summer Learning and Fun

Summer is the time to have fun while learning! Here are three more healthy play activities to build a child’s coordination and body control, as well as enhance gross- and fine-motor skills.
Walking the line

You’ll need a jump rope or a long piece of clothesline. This activity is best done barefoot, and can be for one or more players. Stretch out and lay the jump rope or clothesline on a grassy, flat area of yard or a park. Then brainstorm the different ways your child could travel along the line, such as:               

  • walking on the rope.  
  • walking backwards along one side of the rope.
  • hopping or jumping from side to side, not touching the rope.
  • walking with one foot on each side, moving without touching the rope.
  • any other creative way that he might want to navigate the “line.”

Plastic bottle targets
This game can be for one or more players. You’ll need six same-size plastic bottles, half-filled with water, and a marker and a tennis ball.

  • Mark a big number in the middle of each bottle from 1-6.
  • Line the bottles on the grass in your yard or in a park.
  • Have your child stand about three feet back, and call out the number of the bottle she’d like to “target.”  She has three tries to hit that number. 
  • Keep playing until all the “targets” have been knocked over.
  • As she gets really good at the three-foot distance, increase the difficulty by stepping back twelve inches to lengthen the distance of the throw.

Water painting
You’ll need pails and small, clean paintbrushes. This activity can be for one or more children.

  • Help your child fill the bucket or pail with water.
  • Take the pail with water and paintbrush outside.
  • Dip the clean paintbrush into the water and let him “paint” the side of the house, garage, or shed with up-and-down and side-to-side strokes. See how much can be done before the first strokes dry. 

This activity was a personal favorite of my children when they were little! It kept them productively busy on sunny days while toning muscles needed for coloring and writing.


> The Pleasure of Healthy Play

> Make Learning Fun With Classic Childhood Games

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In a Digital World, Many Students Prefer Printed Books

Will there ever be a day when there are no real books in schools? This question comes up periodically when we discuss how we should prepare students for the twenty-first century. I hope the answer is “Of course not!” I cannot imagine a world without books—the real kind printed on paper. I fear that I am wrong, though, because it is often a lot cheaper to provide digital books to students.

Please don’t misinterpret me. I am not a Luddite. I much prefer to read books on my digital reader. I can highlight, annotate, bookmark, and do the normal things I do with a paper book. But there are occasions when I want to have the real thing in my hand as I read and study.

I was once touring a student and his parents through the school. As we looked into classrooms, the student remarked how glad he was to see real textbooks being used in the classrooms. When I asked him why, he replied that he is bothered by the light on the screen, and that he has trouble keeping up in class when students are doing a group activity together in their book. He said it is much easier for him to keep up, write notes, annotate, or read from a real book instead of digital. He also said that he likes to follow along under the words he is reading with a pencil because it helps him focus his eyes in the right place. There are ways to do each of these things digitally, but there are some students who prefer to hold the book and pencil in their hand. They get feedback through their fingertips and muscles that helps them to learn better. Since that time, I have surveyed students regarding their learning preference and a significant number of them prefer the old-fashioned book as well as paper and pencil in school.

If your child has an Individualized Education Plan and she benefits from having a real book instead of digital one, you can request that she be provided the normal textbook in addition to her digital copy. She might decide to leave the paper copy at school in her locker and work from the digital one at home.

For a related blog, you might enjoy reading Does My Child Need a Laptop for School?

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Keep Your Child Reading All Summer

Keep Your Child Reading This SummerOne successful reading strategy I’ve used in 1st grade is pairing students with a 5th grade “reading buddy.” We would meet with our buddies once a week. Sometimes the older student would read to the younger one. Other times, the 1st graders would read to the 5th graders. Often, there was a discussion about the book, followed by a drawing or simple project related to the story. It’s always sad to lose our buddies at the end of the school year!

With summer vacation coming soon, this concept got me thinking about ideas to keep students reading all summer long.

Here are six simple suggestions:

  • Pair up your young child with an older sibling or trusted neighborhood student for some summer “buddy” reading time. One way to thank that older child is a gift card to a local ice cream shop or game shop.
  • Create a special “reading spot” for rainy days. This could be a bean bag chair, soft large pillow, or sheet over a table for a reading tent. Keep a small basket of books by his favorite author in the spot.
  • Focus on illustrations that tell the story. Young students love wordless books that tell a great story with pictures. Get some of these from your local library. Two authors that create these types of books are Frank Asch and Mercer Mayer. Your librarian can suggest more.
  • Focus on award-winning books. Ask your librarian to help you look for books that have won the Caldecott Medal or Newbery Award. Read them together with your child, and discuss what she thinks made them award-winners.
  • Read some child cookbooks and together make one or two of the easy recipes.
  • Have a family “read aloud” night. Take turns reading a family favorite book aloud.

When you combine reading practice with fun activities, you help create a lifelong love of reading!

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In Summer Months, Practice School Skills as a Family

In just a few weeks, school will close for the summer! It is important that students have some time for fun and relaxation while off. There are some skills, however, that students need to practice even through the summer months. No matter what subject you think about, there are fundamental facts that must be memorized. Math facts and vocabulary can be reviewed during the summer months without kids feeling like they are back in school.

Students should learn to add, subtract, multiply, and divide numbers through 12 to an automatic level. In other words, your child should be able to answer “What is eight times seven?” without having to think about it. Practicing math facts can be made into fun games. For some ideas for how, read Math Games To Keep Skills Sharp in Summer.

If your child is taking a foreign language such as Spanish, she will benefit from continued practice throughout the summer. Depending on the level of skill she has, watching television shows or movies in the language is one way to practice. She needs to practice speaking the language, as well, so spending some time conversing with others who speak the language is helpful.

Practicing vocabulary is another great summer activity that pays off later in school. Once again, this can become a fun game the whole family participates in. For some ideas, read How To Help Your Child Improve His or Her Vocabulary. Reading is also important to help to improve vocabulary. For the most part, allow your child to read books that match his interests so he will enjoy reading and want to read more.

Most children need to be encouraged to spend less time on their electronic devices, but a fun educational app can actually be helpful when it comes to practicing basic skills. Commonsense Media is an organization that reviews educational apps and provides an independent voice on what is available for education. There are many fun apps for practicing math, Spanish, and vocabulary, as well as a myriad of other skills you feel your child should practice.

Even though summertime is supposed to be downtime, your child should not lose or forget basic skills. The trick is for you to be enthusiastic about learning and to provide fun opportunities that involve the whole family.

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Use “Story Starters” To Help Young Writers

Very often young children are reluctant writers because they simply don’t know how to start a story. One way to circumvent this is to provide them with a “story starter.”

Story starters are prompts. They can be a picture, a list, an art project, a simple sentence, or a question. They are an interactive tool that can spark writing and creativity.

Here are five examples of easy story starters to use with young writers:

  • Picture starters can be photos, drawings, or art projects that a child can describe. For example, a picture of a puppy might start a great story about how to be a good pet owner. 
  • List starters are great for organizing thoughts about favorite games to play, trips to the museum, etc. A list of three favorite dinosaurs and their characteristics could easily be turned into an interesting nonfiction story.
  • Sentence starters can be the beginning of a fiction, nonfiction, or fantasy story. For example: “This morning my dog started to talk!” “I love playing soccer because…”  “If you were a superhero what would you do?”
  • Event starters such as “Yesterday my cat had three kittens!” “Nana and Grandpa are coming to visit in a week,” or “Mom and Dad told me I’m going to have a baby sister,” make great openings for stories. 
  • Tie writing to reading. After reading a good book together, have your child draw and write about a favorite part, tell the story from a different setting, or write a different ending.

Becoming a good creative writer can have a very positive impact on a child’s success in school—and in the years beyond.

> Have Kids Practice Writing by Capturing Summer Memories

> Help Your Child Build Writing Skills

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

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

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