SchoolFamily Voices

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

Returning to School After a Concussion, Part 2

Last week’s blog, Returning to School After a Concussion (Part 1), was about concussions and how difficult it is for students to catch up with schoolwork after the necessary extended absence for cognitive rest. Once students return to school, the doctor’s orders typically include limiting screen time, limiting exposure to bright lights and loud sounds, no participating in physical activity, taking frequent rest breaks, and spending shorter days in school. Some of this is easy to do, but there are some accommodations that seem almost impossible. I want to share with you some of the solutions our teachers have come up with to help these students.

If your child suffers from a concussion, he will need one-on-one help with each teacher when he returns to school. It always amazes me how much you can get done with a student when working in a tutorial setting. Our teachers have been willing to exempt their students from doing every assignment once they feel comfortable that they know the concepts covered in these tutorials. Teachers should select the assignments that are essential and only require the student to complete these.

Some students have returned to school after their required absence and stayed the whole day, but others come in for half days until they are completely well. Students should be allowed to rest their head on the table if it begins to hurt. The students I have worked with this year say that they can work for about 20-30 minutes before they need a rest. When they do rest, however, they can work more without hurting.

If the lights from the interactive projector are hurting their head, they should be allowed to look away from the bright light. Other students can provide copies of the notes when needed, and they can still listen to what is being said.

Limiting screen time to no more than 30 minutes per day is the most difficult accommodation to make. Most teachers expect students to use their computer for watching videos, doing research, writing papers, taking notes, and a myriad of other activities which adds up to a lot more than half an hour. To limit screen time requires some creativity on the part of the teacher to find ways to give equally valuable assignments that do not require computer time. Here are some ideas from our teachers.

  • Work in small groups to do projects rather than each student completing everything. This allows the student with a concussion to be coordinator of the group’s work, conduct oral interviews, hand-write ideas that another student can type, create posters, or make voice recordings instead of typing work on the computer.
  • Take assessments orally instead of on the computer or have an aide read the questions and type the answers.
  • Create a flow chart, outline, or timeline by hand instead of writing an essay at the computer.
  • Work with a partner when doing internet research. Both students can think of search terms and evaluate the quality of the search results. The partner can read aloud what they find, and both can decide what needs to be included in the final product.

As I mentioned last week, the most important thing to do for your child who is recuperating from a concussion is to assure her that you will be there to help. It is frightening to feel so completely out of control of what is happening to you. The best students have a difficult time when they know what they need to do to get caught up, but they are not allowed to do it. As a parent, you need to help her understand that if she follows the doctor’s orders, she will get well faster.

Enlist the help of your school’s counselor or special education supervisor so he can inform all your child’s teachers about her needs. Email her teachers when she has a rough night after spending the day at school. Multiple students have reported to me that they go home after a half day of school and sleep all afternoon because they are exhausted. Teachers need to know when this happens. Additionally, encourage your child’s teachers to read An Educator’s Guide to Concussions in the Classroom. This guide will help them understand that concussions are serious and should not be treated lightly.

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The Pleasure of Healthy Play

Spring equals time for young children to get out there and play! Happy, healthful outdoor play is important for building muscular readiness… and that’s needed for all sorts of gross and fine motor skills used in academics.

Here are six easy suggestions for children to shake off those winter doldrums and get back to their “business” of play:

  • Review rules before starting a game. For example, the “goal” is scored when the soccer ball is kicked between the two rocks in the yard.
  • Have a quiet game follow an active one. Play “I Spy” after a rigorous game of tag.
  • Sharpen eye-hand coordination. Toss a tennis ball for him to catch. Start about 3 feet apart. Then, as he gets good at catching, increase the distance by one or two feet at a time.
  • Couple rhyming with coordination. Help her say poems while jumping rope…or make up rhymes as she jumps.
  • Play hopscotch for balance and number recognition. For younger children go with the classic 1-8 hopscotch grid. For first or second graders put simple addition or subtraction in each box that must be solved before jumping.
  • Play to strengthen social/emotional skills. Hide and seek is a great game for three or more children. Interacting with other children, problem-solving (Where did they go?) and the satisfaction of “finding” can help build confidence and friendships.

Take advantage of the nice weather and let your children be children and play their time away!


> Make Learning Fun With Classic Childhood Games

> Creative Play Leads to Learning

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Returning to School After a Concussion, Part 1

It is normal for students to miss school because of illness. When an illness causes a child to miss more than a few days, it is difficult for him to get caught up when he returns. One of the hardest absences to handle is when a child misses school because of a concussion.

A concussion is caused by a hard hit to the head. I have seen kids get concussions when playing sports, just goofing off with one another, bumping their head on a cabinet, or from falling down. The symptoms vary depending on how hard and where they hit their head. Some kids are fine within a day, and others take several months before they are completely well. It is important to have a complete examination by a doctor after a blow to the head.  It is also important to follow the doctor’s orders after the injury. How well a child follows the doctor’s orders determines how quickly they recover.

The students I have helped after a concussion were out of school for several weeks. Once they returned, they were required to receive considerable accommodations to prevent a return of symptoms. Their doctor typically asks that they be allowed to attend shortened days for a while to make sure they are not too stressed out. This is difficult for students, because they want to get their work caught up as quickly as possible and the restrictions placed on them prevent them from working too hard. This makes them more stressed and emotional, which makes their symptoms worse. The number one thing to do to help them is to assure them that you (and their other teachers) will help them and will not let them fail because they have had to miss so much school.

If your child is recovering from a concussion, ask for a meeting with his teachers before he returns to school. Share the doctor’s orders with all his teachers so they can help figure out a way to gradually acclimate him back to normal classroom activities.

Common accommodations typically include limited screen time (such as computer, smartphone, projectors, videos, etc.), no exposure to loud sounds, and no physical activity. He needs to have permission to leave the classroom when his head starts hurting or he feels dizzy. He should only work for short periods of time before resting his brain.

Today’s classrooms typically rely heavily on screen time of one sort or another, so making these accommodations is difficult. I will write again next week on this topic and talk in more detail about how a teacher can modify a child’s work to make it possible to get caught up when under these restrictions.

To learn more about concussions and how they affect a child in school, read An Educator’s Guide to Concussions in the Classroom.


> Concussions in Youth Sports: When in Doubt, Sit It Out

> 10 Questions Parents Should Ask About Concussion Management in Youth Sports

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Ways To Help Your Child Become an Early Reader

What makes a child become an early reader?

As a 1st grade teacher, I’ve helped many young children learn to read. In the process, certain patterns have emerged. It’s more than decoding sounds and words—it’s feeling excitement about a good story, learning about things of interest, or realizing that a book can take a reader to extraordinary places or create wonderful adventures!

I’ve also noticed that some children come to school better prepared to tackle the challenges of reading than others. These are the children who get “hooked” on reading, and easily read on (or significantly above) their grade level. Simple things can make these children read earlier than others, and it starts at home.

Some parents have successfully employed interesting strategies to help their children become early readers. These include:

  • Reading to children every night and asking pertinent questions
  • Letting your child see that you read for pleasure, to model good reading habits
  • Making sure their child can easily hear and create rhymes
  • Spending time together at the local library
  • Setting time limits on video games, TV, and computer time
  • Combining reading with drawing and writing activities

Incorporating just two or three of these strategies into your family’s busy life will make a tremendous difference in helping your child become an inspired early reader.


> Teach Your Child To Love Reading

> The Five Steps to Phonemic Awareness

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What To Do When You Don’t Get the Grade You Expected

Students usually have an idea what they will get on an assignment when they turn it in. Many times, they are right on the mark. But there are times when the grade is much lower than expected. It is important to find out what happened, but it needs to be done in the right way.

First of all, it is important to talk to the teacher in private rather than to ask in front of other students in class. This is a frequent mistake students make. If you say, “I don’t understand why I got this grade” in front of the whole class, the teacher does not have time to go over the paper and discuss the points missed. It is much better to quietly ask for an appointment when you can discuss the grade.

Second, it is best to approach the teacher by asking if he can explain what you missed. When you ask, “Can you help me understand what I did wrong on this question?” in a respectful tone, it sounds better than “Why did you count that wrong?” The first question gives the teacher a reason to want to help you understand, which is what teachers do best. The second question puts the teacher in a defensive mode by making him feel that you disagree with him.

Third, it is important to learn the information you missed, because it may show up again later on a test or exam. More importantly, it might be the foundation future concepts build upon. I have witnessed students miss a question on a homework assignment, later miss it on the test, and then again much later on the exam. Teachers take time to grade daily work so students can see what they still need to learn. Take time to read over questions you miss on daily work and pay attention to comments your teacher writes on it. If you really don’t understand what you did wrong, seek help right then so you will be ready to move forward with the next lesson.

Daily work is great for reviewing what you learn each day in school. When your daily grade is low on a particular assignment, find out why and figure out a way to learn the material. Respectfully ask for help if you need it. Teachers are impressed by students who take the time to review their graded papers and look for ways to learn what they missed.


> Dealing With Disappointing Grades

> Better Grades—10 Ways You Can Help!

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Combine Easy Crafts With Math and Fine Motor Skills

Very often, the best learning takes place when young students are just having fun. Here are some easy activities to do with your kindergarten or 1st grade child that will reinforce essential math and fine motor skills. You will need some household items:

  • yarn or string
  • tape
  • different colored or shaped macaroni, cereal with holes (such as Cheerios, Froot Loops, etc.,) beads or buttons
  • cardboard
  • glue, pencil, or marker

Start simply:

  • Tie a thick knot at the end of some string or yarn.
  • Tightly wrap some tape around the other end to form a “needle” for threading.
  • Thread patterns using the pasta, cereal, or beads (for example, yellow, green, red, then yellow, green, red). When the yarn is full, tie off the taped end and have your child review the pattern.
  • Or on a rectangular piece of cardboard, have your child glue buttons in a pattern from left to right, such as two small, one large or three white, two red, etc.

When your child gets proficient at the simple steps, increase the difficulty:

  • On the yarn or sting use the same color pasta or cereal in sets of five, then put a different shape or color to separate the sets. For example, five Cheerios, then one pasta, five more, then one pasta. When completed, have him use the sets to practice counting by fives. The same can be done for sets of ten.
  • On the top of a cardboard rectangle, glue 10 buttons from left to right. Have her or help her write the numbers underneath the buttons, counting and writing one to 10.
  • Use the buttons, pasta, or cereal to make addition sentences. On a rectangle strip of cardboard have him glue three Cheerios on the left. With a pencil or marker make a plus sign (+) after the group. To the right of the plus sign, he should glue a group of five Cheerios. After that group, make an equals sign (=), and have him glue eight Cheerios. Underneath, let him or help him write: 3 + 5 = 8.

Combining fine motor activities with math gives your child the opportunity to build a successful “product” while subtly reinforcing important educational concepts.

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Preparing Young High Schoolers for College Success

College planning is certainly not my specialty area, but I do listen when our college counselor talks to students and families. Here are some key points I have heard her say many times.

Ninth grade matters. In most schools, the grade point average is calculated beginning in 9th grade. In some schools, certain 8th grade classes such as Algebra II might be counted in the GPA. Most 9th graders are not thinking much about their GPA and how important their grades are in upper school. It is important to help them understand how a GPA is calculated and what it means.

Extracurricular activities are important. Not only is it important to participate in things like band, drama, art, or sports, but it is also important to stick with it for the long term. If your son plays basketball in 9th grade and does well, he should continue through high school. Colleges pay attention to whether an applicant has interests outside the classroom and has the fortitude to stick with them for the long haul.

Take challenging courses. Your child does not have to take all advanced placement courses, but it is impressive if she chooses a discipline such as history or science and takes all the classes available in that track. For example, she might take honors world studies courses, AP US History, and AP Government to finish out the social studies track at the highest level possible in her school. When admissions offices look at her transcript, they will evaluate whether she is willing to challenge herself or whether she tends to take the easy path.

Do community service. Colleges also like to see that your child demonstrates an ethic of caring for others. Serving food at the local food bank or coaching younger students in the Special Olympics shows that he not only cares, but he is also willing to work to make a difference in the world.

Moving from 8th grade into 9th is a big change. It is important to discuss with your young high schooler the importance of working hard and doing her best. Seek advice from the college guidance counselor to help choose appropriate courses and to make sure she is doing all the right things to get ready for success in college.

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Practice Cause-and-Effect Thinking for Better Reading Comprehension

Critical thinking skills are based on prior knowledge and experience. In reading, these higher-level strategies help young students make reasonable guesses based on what they already know. This in turn helps to significantly increase their reading comprehension.

One easy way to start developing these skills in a young child is to discuss cause and effect. A child should know that a cause is “why” something happens, and an effect is “what” happens.

Parents can help a child seamlessly practice and incorporate this kind of thinking when reading together and into everyday life. Start by pointing out cause and effect in daily situations:

  • If you’re not at the bus stop by 8:15, you miss the bus.
  • If you leave a ball of string on the floor, the kitty will probably get tangled in it.
  • If you take a deep breath, then blow on the candle, the flame will go out.
  • When you fly the kite by the tree, it will most likely get caught in it.

When reading together look for  cause and effect “trigger” words like first, last, then, because, if, so, when, probably, most likely, etc.

Cause and effect can be found in fiction, nonfiction, poetry, essays, and most other types of writing. Understanding cause and effect helps a child make important connections to what’s happening in a story. The more connections young readers can make, the more they deepen their understanding.


> Encouraging "Deeper-Level" Thinking in Young Children

> Open-Ended Questions Stretch Your Child's Thinking Skills

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Getting Teens To Open Up

One of the most common questions parents ask me about their teenage child is, “Is she normal?” They are usually concerned because their child, who used to be talkative and cheerful at home, is now surly; she answers questions with as few words as possible and no longer wants to participate in family activities.
Conversations go like this:

“How was school today?”
“Did you learn anything interesting?”
“Do you have homework to do tonight?”
“What’s happening with Maria these days?”

At home, their child stays in his bedroom most of the time and acts like he is very unhappy. The same kid at school hangs around with a lot of friends and constantly laughs and makes jokes. He eats lunch with five or six classmates and is an active participant in extracurricular activities.

No one knows for sure why this happens, but the hypothesis is that teens are beginning to seek independence from their parents. They want their peers to think that they are totally in control of their lives and don’t need their parents any more. They are preparing for the day when they will be leaving home and be completely on their own.

Understanding why teens do this doesn’t make it easier. Parents want to know what is happening in their child’s life, and one word answers aren’t helpful. They want to know their child is happy and has friends.

I encourage parents to ask questions that can’t be answered with one word. Here are some conversation starters:

“What was the most interesting thing that happened today in school?”
“What is your favorite movie of all time? Why do you think so?”
“Why do you not like your math class?”

If your teen seems surly and unhappy, it is very likely that he will eventually start talking to you again. In the meantime, keep an eye on his activities. Talk to his teachers and coaches to make sure he seems happy at school and has friends (or at least one good friend). Most of the time, what you see is normal adolescent behavior. If you should find that he is unhappy at school, too, you may need to seek the help of a professional for advice. You will need to figure out the source of his unhappiness and make a plan for how to get him back on the right track—the insolent, quiet child who is driving you crazy at home track, that is.


> Adolescence: A Time of Change and Self-Doubt

> Brain Development in Teens: Help Them Deal With Peer Pressure

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Combine Nonfiction and Science for Springtime Fun

Spring is a perfect time to explore the wonderful world of science. Young students are curious and imaginative and love learning about their environment.

A favorite science subject for springtime study has been the life cycle of a frog. It’s also a great opportunity to combine reading nonfiction and making an easy hands-on “wheel” project to deepen comprehension. Two great books that I have used are Frogs, by Gail Gibbons, and From Tadpole to Frog, by Wendy Pfeffer.

Here’s how to start:

  • Get one of the above-mentioned books or other age-appropriate frog life cycle books from your local library. Your librarian can help find a variety of books on this subject. 
  • Read together and help your child focus on the sequence and stages of becoming a frog. When done reading, talk about how the tadpole changes into a frog.

For the wheel project you’ll need two white paper plates, a small brad to connect them in the middle, a ruler, scissors, pencil, and crayons or markers. Then follow these steps:

  • Divide one paper plate into four equal sections with the ruler.
  • Help your child draw and label the four stages of a frog’s life cycle—egg, tadpole, froglet, and frog—one in each section. 
  • On the second paper plate, cut out a pie-shaped wedge, about the size of one section on the other plate.
  • Put the cut paper plate on top of the plate with the drawings. One section should be visible. 
  • With the pencil point or scissors, punch a small hole in the middle of both plates and connect with the brad.
  • Your child can now turn the top plate to reveal the sequence and stages from eggs to frog.


If there is a pond in your neighborhood, go there together with a bucket and look for eggs. Bring a few home, and together observe the changes. When tadpoles turn into froglets, return them and any unhatched eggs to the pond. 


> Spring Printables

> Build Science Skills at Home

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Hard Times Help Prepare Teens for the Road Ahead

Friedrich Nietzsche, a German philosopher, once said, “Out of life’s school…what does not destroy me, makes me stronger.” I recently heard someone talking about school and how hard it is for so many students, and I thought of this quote. It made me somewhat philosophical myself. Generally, I write about specific problems in this blog, but today I “wax philosophical” (as my father used to say).

When I was little, I thought that someday I would know what to do when problems arose. I wished I could grow up faster, so life would not be so hard. Then I grew up. To my surprise, I find myself not always knowing what to do! I tell students this all the time—mostly when trying to help them understand their parents. (Parents are completely unreasonable and place impossible demands on children.) My answer always starts with, “Your parents love you so much. They are doing the best they can to help you grow up to be a successful adult. I will tell you a secret—grown-ups don’t always know the best way to do things. They just do the best they can.” I follow that with the story of myself as a child thinking that when I grew up I would always know what to do. I encourage them to have a heart-to-heart talk with their parents, too.

When talking with parents about their adolescent child, I tell them that teens are seeking independence from them. Many of their decisions are in response to what they feel are unreasonable requests. I usually advise that together we search for what will help their child decide for himself he wants to do better in school. And then I advise them to have an open and honest talk with their child.

Adolescence is difficult, but it’s also tremendously fun. When I walk down the hall at school and hear students talking with one another, I always wind up smiling (or laughing out loud). I encourage you to stop and think about the best parts of life with your kids. And remember that the tough parts are there to make us stronger. We have to experience failure, learn to argue and resolve differences, become internally motivated, and begin caring about others more than ourselves. This is tough and sometimes miserable. But it is important and what adolescence is all about.

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Tens and Ones: An Easy Way To Remember Place Value

Young students should understand that, when looking at a two-digit number, the left number represents “10’s”, and the right number represents “1’s.” This is a critical math skill needed for subsequent math advancement.

Here is a simple way to help your child practice this concept. First practice counting by tens, to 100, until your child can easily and fluently do it herself (10, 20, 30, etc.).

Then follow these steps:

  • Take an 8 ½ x 11 inch paper and fold it, vertically, in the middle. You should have two equal columns. Trace the fold line, top to bottom, so the columns can clearly be seen.
  • On the top of the left column, print the word “tens” using all lowercase letters. 
  • On top of the right column, print the word “ones.”
  • Say the number 24 (as an example) to your child.
  • With a pencil, make two thin vertical rectangles, about an inch long, to represent two tens, in the left-hand tens column.
  • Make four small dots in the right-hand ones column, directly across from the two rectangles in the tens column.
  • Count the vertical rectangles by tens and count the dots by one. Help your child count the number using the rectangles and dots. Start with the tens column and move across to the ones column. “Ten, twenty, then twenty-one, twenty-two, twenty-three, twenty-four.”
  • After practicing a few different two-digit numbers together, say a two-digit number, and see if she can draw the rectangles and dots in the correct columns. Practice until she can easily show you the tens and ones in a two-digit number.

Knowing that two-digit numbers can be broken apart into tens and ones, then put back together, gives your child a deeper concept of how math operations work. Understanding place value goes beyond memorization and teaches the “why” of addition and subtraction.


> An Easy Game To Help Kids Practice Important Math Skills

> Improve Math Skills With a Deck of Cards

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Preparing To Take the Common Core Assessments

Students in some schools across the country will take online tests on the Common Core curriculum this spring. These tests do not actually count, and many schools are exempt from giving their normal tests in order to participate. This is part of the field testing before next spring, when almost everyone will take the new Common Core tests online (either the Smarter Balanced Assessment or another called the PARCC Assessment.

The Smarter Balanced Assessment website offers practice tests at various grade levels to help students and teachers get ready for the testing. If this is the first time your child will take standardized testing online, it is a good idea to practice taking a similar test before the testing day. This is especially true for the math tests since they require some familiarity with the software to answer certain types of questions. For example, some of the math questions require the test-taker to place points on a graph and then connect them with lines. While this is not a difficult procedure once you understand how to do it, it is much better to practice doing that ahead of time. Other questions allow the use of an online calculator. Once again, it is better to practice using it before the day of testing.

Even if your child is not taking his testing online this spring, the practice tests found at the Smarter Balanced Assessment portal should help prepare for the paper and pencil standardized tests he will be taking.

To take a practice test in either math or language arts, select “Student Interface Practice and Training Tests,” sign in as “Guest,” select the appropriate grade, select “Yes,” and then start either the math or the language arts test. Scoring rubrics and classroom activities can be found on the Resources and Documentation page on the same site.

If your child is worried about taking the tests coming up soon, read Reduce the Stress of High-Stakes Standardized Tests for helpful information.

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The Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning

In the last few years, much emphasis has been put on revamping academics, including Common Core State Standards and revised curricula. Yet it’s also important for teachers and parents to be reminded about Social/Emotional Learning, and how this significant piece of education helps K-12 students better function in school.

Simply put, SEL means that children can:

  • Recognize and manage their emotions
  • Learn to solve problems
  • Have empathy
  • Appreciate diversity
  • Recognize their strengths and the strengths of others
  • Work in a cooperative manner

Once these SEL skills are mastered, young students have a much greater chance of school success.

How can a parent help a young child develop these critical SEL skills?

  • When a child is frustrated, help him look for behavior “triggers.” Recognizing triggers that cause frustration and looking for patterns with those triggers can help a child manage their reaction.
  • Give opportunities to “figure things out.” For example, when your child is having difficulty working with a more complex puzzle, don’t jump in to help right away. Give simple hints, and see if she can work it out.
  • When reading stories together stop and ask questions like, “Have you ever felt like that?” or “Do you think that character was right, and why?” This will promote empathy.
  • Encourage him to add diversity to his drawings. Take out books from your local library, and read together about different cultures, countries, religions, etc.
  • Catch her “doing it right!” Pay attention, and recognize and praise your child when things are going well. This rewards and helps a child recognize strengths, and builds self-confidence.
  • Have family “chore” time, family game nights, or family readathons where all family members are working, playing, or reading for a certain length of time. This can foster a child’s early sense of “teamwork.”

Paying attention to small details like these also helps young children become more active listeners, and more attuned to the world around them.

> Social and Emotional Resources

> Social and Emotional Article Archive

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Simple Tips To Help Kids Communicate Better

It would be hard to say whether teens communicate more digitally, such as texting or through social media, or by talking face-to-face. Judging from the noise I hear each day in the halls between classes, I would vote for face-to-face! I have heard concerns from many adults, however, that kids are losing their ability to communicate effectively because they spend so much time sending instant and text messages. There is research that suggests that teens use texting to avoid any kind of uncomfortable communication (See Teen Texting Soars; Will Social Skills Suffer?). How can parents help their children learn to communicate better?

First, families need to spend time together when they do not allow interruptions from their smartphones. We are all guilty of checking our email and text messages or even taking a call during dinnertime with our family. The message to the family is that whoever or whatever is on the phone is more important than time with them. I suggest that everyone agrees to put their phones on silent at least during dinnertime. Spend dinnertime practicing communication skills by talking to one another. Dinnertime should be sacred family time.

Second, purposefully teach communication skills, especially those that help resolve problems. I teach students who are having a disagreement to use “I feel” statements. They go like this: I feel [name the emotion] when [tell when it happens] because [explain why].

For example: “I feel angry when you take things from my locker without asking me first, because it seems like you don’t respect my property.” When students explain what is bothering them to their friends using “I feel” statements, it opens the door to a conversation that usually ends with the problem solved. Kids need to practice this technique, and it needs to be done face-to-face rather than through text messaging or emailing.

With these two simple tips, children can begin to build their communication skills which will help them not only now but also in the future. Much has been written about the importance of social skills to success in a career. Create a family time each day when all communication is face-to-face, and teach your children how to use “I feel” statements.

For more ideas about communication, read Improve Communication Skills With Practice Games.

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10 Easy Steps for Reading Readiness

There are some simple yet important skills that your child must have before he is ready to read. Parents can easily incorporate these skills into play, activities, and time together to support early reading success.

Here are 10 easy steps to get started:

  • Find things that are the same or different. Talk about what makes things the same, or why things are different. An example could be “How are a circle and a square the same?” (They’re both shapes.) “How are they different?” (A square has four sides, a triangle has three.)
  • Look for big or small comparisons. “How would you tell someone about the difference between an elephant and a mouse? Or, a mouse and an ant?”
  • Review the alphabet as “partners” with both capital and lowercase together (Dd). This makes for an easier transition to the printed word.
  • Classify. “Which one does not belong, apple, pear, fish, or banana?”  “Why?”
  • Combine sight and hearing practice. Can you see the birds? Can you hear them?
  • Practice letter sounds using both the sound and a picture. You can use an actual picture, or have him close his eyes to make a mental image. For example, “Bb, as in baby.”
  • Look for patterns, both visual and auditory, such as the placement of bricks on a walkway, or the musical repetition in the song “Bingo.”
  • Read nursery rhymes and poems together to practice rhyming.
  • Help your child change beginning or ending letters in a word to make a new word. For example, “How can you change the word ‘cat’ to ‘sat’?” Or “How can you change ‘cat’ to ‘car’?”
  • Use temporal words like first, next, then, before, after, etc. to help your child understand story sequence.

All of these simple strategies help a young child practice, enjoy, and celebrate the pleasure of learning to read!

> Teach Inference for Better Reading Comprehension

> Teach Your Child To Love Reading

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How To Reduce School Anxiety

Many students get anxious about school. Some worry about tests, which is understandable since often they make up the biggest part of the grade in a course. Others worry about doing homework, social situations, or some other aspect of school life.

I got to hear an expert this week speaking about anxiety in adolescents. Dr. Michael Southam-Gerow, a professor in clinical psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University, recently published a new book about regulating emotion in children and teens. I learned a very important point from his talk, and want to share it with you because it could make a big difference for students who worry about school.

Keep in mind that serious anxiety issues need to be evaluated by a professional. I am not advocating treating severe anxiety ourselves; however, I do think that if parents and teachers take appropriate actions when students are worrying about something, it might prevent normal levels of anxiety from developing into severe anxiety.

To understand the key point I learned from Dr. Southam-Gerow, I first need to explain the difference between positive and negative reinforcement. Positive reinforcement is giving a person something they like for a behavior which in turn encourages that behavior. An example of positive reinforcement is when you see your child putting his dirty dishes in the dishwasher and you allow him to have an extra half-hour of screen time before bed. This might make him more likely to do it again.

Negative reinforcement is taking away something they do not like which encourages the behavior just like positive reinforcement encourages behavior. The example Dr. Southam-Gerow used is the sound an alarm makes that goes off in the morning to get us out of bed. The sound is annoying us, and we hit the snooze button. We are no longer annoyed by the alarm, and we go back to sleep. Hitting the snooze button becomes negative reinforcement of our behavior—sleeping. We are encouraged to go back to sleep, and the more we do it, the more we sleep—even when it makes us late for work. Negative reinforcement removes something we do not like and encourages the behavior whether it is good or bad behavior.

Here’s the key point I learned this week. If we allow students to avoid what they are anxious about, then we are actually making their anxiety worse. If your son does not want to go to school and you allow him to stay home, the behavior will be reinforced. He will not want to go to school the next day, either. If your daughter worries about doing her math homework and you allow her to skip it, she will worry even more about the next math assignment. In our attempt to make our child’s life easier, we are actually making it worse.

A much better approach is to attempt to find out the source of our child’s concerns. Why does he not want to go to school? Why does she worry so much about math? We need to identify the reasons and figure out how to alleviate the concern rather than allow the child to avoid what worries her. This sounds so simple, but it can take time. If we cannot figure out the underlying cause, we should seek the help of a professional.

For more about school stress and anxiety, you might enjoy reading:

> Help Your Child Reduce Test Stress

> Deep Breathing To Help With Test Anxiety

I appreciate that Dr. Southam-Gerow read this blog prior to its posting.

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Make Geometry a Part of Everyday Life

Geometric shapes are part of our everyday environment. Recognizing, understanding, and comparing different shapes are critical in advancing mathematical skills. These skills are first introduced in kindergarten and follow math curricula through high school. Here are some simple and fun activities to help your young student acquire these important skills, while providing visual and hands-on reinforcement. 

  • Look for geometric shapes in your home and in the real world. On a rainy day, go on a “shape hunt” in your home. Look for circles, rectangles, squares, and triangles.
  • When riding in the car, biking, or walking together look for shapes in the real world such as street signs, construction cones, wheels, etc. 


Let your child make two-dimensional shapes using straws and twist-ties that come in a pack with plastic bags. Use the kind of twist-ties that have a small wire piece covered in paper or plastic, and easily bend. Here’s how: 

  • To make a triangle, for example, she’ll need three straws and three twist-ties. In one end of a straw, put the twist-tie about halfway in and fold the other half into another straw to make the top point of a triangle. Continue until all three straws and ties are connected to form the triangle. Help her make the first shape, if necessary.
  • For a square, use four of the same size straws and four twist-ties to connect the four angles. Once a square is formed it can also be bent or angled to show a diamond shape.
  • For a rectangle, use three straws and four ties. Cut one straw in half to form the two shorter sides of a rectangle and connect with the ties.
  • To make a circle, use only a few twist-ties. Twist them together at the ends to make a line, then form into a circle and connect the last two ends. The size of the circle depends on the number of twist-ties used.

Connecting math skills to real world objects helps a young student understand that math is part of everyday life and is all around us!


> Make Math Part of Everyday Life

> Geometry Worksheets

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Strategies for Kids With Attention Issues

Students who have trouble paying attention in school need help in order to be successful. When the teacher explains what today’s lesson is about or tells his students what to do, children who cannot pay attention get left behind. They have a choice to wait for their teacher to notice they need help or to get into mischief. Depending on their age, they often choose mischief since that is a lot more fun. These kids often have a reputation of being the “class clown” and are disciplined by their teachers. If this sounds like your child, there are some things you can try that might help.

  • Provide structure and predictability. Parents can explain this to their son’s teacher. If he can enter the classroom knowing that the first thing he needs to do every day is to get his homework out and begin doing the warm-up activity, he can get settled in more quickly. It takes time to establish this habit, but it can help all students to be more productive, not just those with attention problems.
  • Use color-coded binders for each class. It is easier for your child to remember to turn in homework and to get out what she needs if everything is organized the same way for each class. This can become part of the structure and predictability she needs. Once again, this takes time to learn, and she will need a lot of help in the beginning keeping everything in its place. The time will be well-spent, however, because the end result is fewer missing assignments.
  • Teach her to move constantly in ways that do not distract others. She can squeeze a small balloon filled with sand or use another type of soft rubber ball.  She can learn how to wiggle her foot or tap her fingers on her knees without making noise. A child with attention issues can sit still and be quiet, but there will be no energy left for anything else. Wiggling can often relieve the stress of sitting still and allow her to pay better attention.


Problems with attention are common, but they do not have to mean school failure. Providing structure and predictability, helping to create a consistent organization system, and teaching how to wiggle can all help with attention at school.

These same suggestions can help at home, too. Begin by establishing daily routines at home which help family life run more smoothly. Provide plenty of time for exercise and play. Wiggle-time at home does not have to be quiet! Finally, make sure to tell your child that you love him just the way he is. These kids often feel that no one likes them, because the adults in their life fuss at them a lot.

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Teach Inference for Better Reading Comprehension

Children can often figure out what is going to happen in a story based on experience or prior knowledge. By using authors’ clues in a text to form logical conclusions, young readers can better understand what they are reading. This is called inference. The more you can help children infer when reading, the better they will comprehend.

Inference is an easy thing to practice and can be implemented with very early readers. Here are examples of how to practice inference with kindergarten, 1st, or 2nd grade students. Start by giving a short series of clues, then ask questions.

For a kindergarten student:
•    Mom said to Megan, “Today we’re going to a special place where we’ll see wild animals. We have to stay behind protective cages and we can’t feed the animals.” Ask, “Where do you think Mom and Megan are going?”

For a 1st grade student:
•    A big green tractor was in the field. The class saw pigs, sheep, and chickens. They saw a big red barn.  They saw cows and heard them moo.  Big orange pumpkins sat by bales of hay. Ask, “Where did the class go on their field trip?” “How do you know?”

For a 2nd grade student:
•    At recess Jack, a new student in the class, was standing by the wall watching the kids play soccer. Michael left the game and went over to ask Jack to play. After recess Michael let Sarah borrow his eraser. In the bus line, Michael helped a kindergarten girl tie her sneaker. As soon as he got home, Michael fed his dog.  Ask, “What kind of boy is Michael?”  Give examples of why you feel this way.

Inference can be used to help understand setting, character traits, and the main idea of stories. Children should be constantly inferring while they are reading to build their comprehension. Clear comprehension is the end goal of all reading!


> Reading Comprehension Printables

> Teach Your Child To Love Reading

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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