## Use Legos for Easy Math Practice

Colorful Legos have been a favorite of young children for a long time. They’ve also been a great holiday gift. Here’s a simple way to combine a classic toy, new or old, to practice Common Core math skills over vacation.

This game is for two players.
Materials needed:

• Number cards 3 through 10 from a deck of playing cards, for a total of 8 cards (any mix of suites).
• For each player, 10 rectangular interlocking Legos in two different colors of their choosing (for a total of 20 Legos each).

To play:

• Shuffle the cards and place them face down.
• First player turns over the top card and says the number—for example, “seven.”
• Then that player interlocks some of their different colored Legos to show the number—for example, three red Legos and four yellow to make seven. The player says, “3 + 4 = 7.” An adult can help, if needed.
• The second player uses her Legos to show seven in a different way: five blue and two green, “5 + 2 = 7.” Then each player disconnects the Legos and puts them back in their pile.
• The second player turns over the next card that shows the numeral 4. She uses three blue and one green to equal four, and says the number sentence. The other player shows 4 by using two red and two yellow Legos and says their number sentence. The players disconnect and put Legos back in the correct color pile.
• The game continues until all cards have been turned over and two different combinations of the number have been made.
• If a round two is played, reshuffle the deck and place face down. When a new card is turned over, challenge players to make a different combination then they did in round one to represent the number shown.

This simple game helps children increase math fluency by understanding different combinations of 10. It also uses all modalities to cover how your child learns best. By seeing the number on the card, hearing the number spoken, and interlocking the Legos to show the number, your child will be learning through visual, auditory, and hands-on experience.

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## Allow Children To Solve Problems on Their Own

My second child did not learn to talk as quickly as my first. Like all mothers do, I worried that she was behind, that she might have difficulty in school, and that she would not learn to read. Someone more wise than I pointed out that I was allowing my older daughter to speak for her. When Anna wanted a cookie, my older daughter would come to me and say, “Anna wants a cookie.” Anna had no need to learn to talk because her sister was rescuing her; she was doing her talking for her. I thought about this when I read Tim Elmore’s book, Three Huge Mistakes We Make Leading Kids…and How To Correct Them.

One of the mistakes Elmore writes about is parents who rescue their children too quickly. When parents solve their problems for them, they are making sure their children do not learn that they are responsible for their own actions and are capable of solving problems themselves. Children need to learn this while they are young and making decisions where the consequences are minor. In this way, they learn that the choices they make lead to results—some good, some bad. They begin to develop skills that good leaders need to know—communication, problem-solving, and responsibility.

I took a parenting class many years ago. I have never forgotten one of the examples the teacher used in class. She said, “If your four-year-old loses his quarter and you give him another one, he is not learning about consequences. This is the time to teach him, not when he’s 16 and you are getting a call from the police.” Elmore calls this “parenting for the short-term versus long-term.”

As a parent, it is hard to allow your child to suffer; but some suffering is necessary and normal. When your child comes to you complaining about a teacher who gave her a bad grade or a friend who took advantage of her, resist the urge to solve the problem for her. Teach her communication and problem-solving skills so she can do it for herself. In this way, she learns that life is not always perfect, but she can negotiate her way through it on her own. She is one step closer to becoming a leader.

For more ideas for developing leadership, see “All Children Have Potential to Develop Leadership Skills.” Remember, too, that children begin learning these skills at very early ages. It is important to allow them to learn even when you would like to protect them from every difficult situation.

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## At the Holidays, Celebrate Accomplishments and Set New Goals

The holidays are a wonderful time to reflect on all the marvelous things young students have learned and accomplished during the year. They have grown and changed so much during 2013, physically, mentally, and emotionally. Wasn’t it just yesterday they were babies going off to their first day of school? Now they are little holiday helpers who can read, count, tell time, follow directions, and light up a room with their energy and optimism.

What a pleasure it is to have these young students around at holiday time, eager to show off their newly acquired skills. Give them a chance to demonstrate what they have learned by being true holiday helpers. “Sarah, can you read me the directions for this pudding, while I try to make it quickly?” “Ben, please bring in three logs from the backyard wood pile, and at 7 o’clock bring in three more.” “Michael, please count the place settings on the table to make sure there is a place for all eight of us.” “Megan, please read the baby his favorite Elmo book. He loves that!”

The end of the year is also a great time for young students to set goals. Goals can be short-term: “Help your little brother send a letter to Santa before it’s too late.” Goals can be mid-term: “Read two good books during holiday vacation.” And goals can be long-term: “Make sure all homework is perfect between Jan. 2 and report card day in February.”

Let you child rejoice in what he or she has accomplished during this past year. Now’s the time to also help them understand that future success is easily attainable. Help them set reasonable goals, and show them how proper planning and diligent work can lead to accomplishing these goals.

Happy holidays!

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## Impulsive Students Need Guidance When Online

The parents at our school sponsored a great workshop on social networking and keeping kids safe online. It was run by police at the local and state levels. As I took notes during their presentation, I kept thinking about the fact that some students are at more risk than others. Adolescents’ brains are not fully formed yet, and they do not have the ability to consistently make good decisions. Students with attention problems who are also impulsive can easily get into trouble.

The presenters at the workshop said more than once, “We hear people say that kids grow up faster these days than they used to. But they don’t. They just get exposed to a whole lot more a whole lot sooner. Monitor what your kids are doing online. Don’t worry about their privacy, because their safety is at stake.”

Here is some specific advice they gave parents.

• Regarding posting hurtful statements: Teach your child that if he has to ask himself whether to post something, then the answer is that he should not post it! People are more willing to say things online that they would never say face-to-face. The presenter suggested to coach children to stand in front of a mirror and say out loud what they are about to post. Hopefully, they will hear it and realize how it might make the other person feel.
• About sexual predators: These relationships develop over a period of time and can begin on social networking sites, online games played with unknown people, cell phones—essentially, anywhere children interact with people they do not personally know. Predators often spend a couple of years developing a trusting relationship with a child while they gather information bit by bit (where they go to school, what sports they play, their friends’ names, what time they get home from school). They keep this up until they have the information they need to make face-to-face contact. Read these tips on what signs might indicate your child is in trouble.
• Regarding limits: Talk about internet safety with your child before problems develop. Set limits on when, where, and with whom she can be online. Build a trusting relationship, so she will come to you for help should she ever need it. Read Basic Internet Safety at NetSmartz to better understand what she needs to know.

I started this blog by mentioning that some children are at greater risk than others. If your child frequently makes impulsive decisions, you need to be even more diligent in monitoring his online activities. He might know better than to communicate with someone he doesn’t know, but he might do it without thinking about the consequences. He probably should not be in his bedroom online where you cannot monitor his activities. Remember, too, that you can keep his computer and smartphone with you when it’s time for bed (or unplug the wifi).

As parents, we cannot keep our children safe at all times. It is our responsibility, though, to teach them how to keep themselves safe. It is important to monitor online activities and educate ourselves about online safety. The FBI recommends the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children website. Why not explore their site together with your son or daughter?

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## Mix Holiday Fun With Academics

The holiday season is a great time for young students. It provides a chance for them to help prepare for family holiday events while reinforcing academic skills. Here are some simple ways to incorporate math, reading, writing, and science while giving your child an opportunity to lend a helping hand.

Math
Gather mixed coins from around the house. Have your child separate the coins into piles of pennies, nickels, dimes, and quarters. Practice counting by ones with the pennies, by 5’s with the nickels, 10’s with the dimes. Count and add the quarters. Give your child the opportunity to earn some mixed coins for various holiday jobs, such as helping you wrap presents, setting the table, helping to decorate, etc. If possible, these coins could also be donated to charities or used to buy simple gifts for loved ones.

Together read “The Night Before Christmas,” by Clement Moore, “My First Chanukah,” by Tomie dePaola, or your family’s favorite holiday book. After reading, have a discussion about the book. Ask questions to make sure that she understood the main idea of the story. Have her show you evidence in the text to support her idea.

Writing
Enlist your child’s help in signing and addressing cards. The recipients will love the children’s touch on the envelope or card. After the holidays, help your child write thank-you notes for gifts, especially to grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other relatives

Science
Bake cookies or cook favorite holiday recipes together. Young chefs learn about measuring, predicting, experimenting, and the chemistry of making food when cooking together.

The holidays offer a unique opportunity for young children to help, learn, and have fun at the same time.

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The fact is, most students do not know how to prepare to take exams. For example, many do not understand that it is much better to study in many short blocks of time instead of trying to cram everything in the night before an exam. This takes some planning and discipline that many students don’t know how to do. Here is a suggested schedule.

• About three weeks before an exam, take time to organize everything. Your child needs to look for every test, review guide, and important handout she received since the beginning of the semester. If there is a test she did poorly on (or lost), she needs to find out from her teacher an acceptable way to get a replacement. (Personally, I tell my students to ask a friend who did well on it if they will let them have a copy of theirs. But some teachers might not allow this.) If she isn’t sure what tests she had, she might be able to look at the teacher’s online grade book to see how many test grades she had throughout the semester. Another strategy might be to compare her tests to a friend’s. Hopefully, between the two of them, they will have all of them.
• By the time exams roll around, your child might already know most of what is on them. She doesn’t need to spend a lot of time studying what she already knows. The trick is to figure out what she knows and what she doesn’t. She should start by very slowly reading through her notes. As she reads, she should stop and think about each concept. If she feels she knows it, she should keep moving. If she is confused, she should mark it with a highlighter or red pen. She should do the same for the tests and review guides—mark anything she feels he might not know.
• The next step is to figure out how to learn the highlighted material. Is this something she needs to meet with her teacher about? Would a study group with friends be enough? Is it possible to learn the concepts by rereading the textbook or working the problems again? Does she need to make flash cards or a study chart?
• The final step is to set up a calendar with study times for each class. Remember that it’s best to study 15-20 minutes on each subject spaced out over several nights than to study the same amount of time all at once.

Exams are a great time to change learning from temporary into permanent. The time students spend studying really improves long-term memory of those concepts. Remind your child that the above steps need to be done for each class she is taking. That’s why this process takes several weeks. As parents, you can help your child by planning for quiet, stay-at-home weekends before exam week starts. With proper exam prep, there will be cause to celebrate the weekend after they are all finished!

The printable handout "Preparing To Take Exams" contains more helpful tips.

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## Make a Birdfeeder for Wintertime Science Fun

Simple birdfeeders are a great project for young students to have hands-on science fun. Wintertime feeders will attract native birds to your area, or help feed local birds in colder weather. They can be made with easily found materials. A good writing exercise would be to have your child observe birds that the feeder attracts, then draw or write about them.

Here is a simple wintertime birdfeeder that you and your child can easily make together:

Materials:

• Some large pinecones, wild bird seed, peanut butter, a spoon, a paper plate, and a piece of string for each cone (about 12 inches long).

Directions:

• Help your child tie the string securely around the top on the pinecone. Have her use the spoon to completely cover the cone in peanut butter.
• Pour some of the birdseed on the paper plate. Have her roll the pinecone in the birdseed.
• Make and hang three or four pinecone feeders on a tree branch within viewing distance of a home window, and observe the birds that come to eat!

Identify the birds together, if you can. This guide from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology might be helpful in identifying various winter birds.

If possible, have your child keep a notebook for drawings and facts about what he or she observes. It’s a great way to turn the cold winter months into a wonderful early educational science project for your child.

The pinecone feeder can always be replenished with peanut butter and additional bird seed if they become very popular with the winter birds.

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## A Simple Activity To Increase Number Fluency

Many young students easily adapt to the ABC’s and can quickly put letters in sequence, even when they are out of order. Mastering this concept helps students understand alphabetical order.

This doesn’t always happen with numbers, but knowing numeral sequence is a crucial skill for elementary students. Why? Because knowing the pattern of numbers and being able to easily retrieve numerical order helps children understand the concepts of greater than and less than, simple addition and subtraction, time lines, and many other necessary math skills.

You will need:

• a package of unlined index cards
• a black or other dark colored marker

Directions:

• Take 11 of the index cards and print the numbers 0 through 10 on the cards with the marker.
• Start simply. Place the 0 through 5 cards face up in random order. Have your child move and arrange the cards in sequence starting from the smallest (0) to the largest (5).
• When she can easily do 0-5, place the 0-10 cards face up in random order and have her place them in sequence from smallest to largest.
• Once 0-10 is easily mastered, make another set of cards from 11-20. Place those in random order and have her rearrange the cards from smallest to largest.
• Keep making sets of cards, in increments of 10, until you have a 0-100 set.
• Play frequently, using only 10 cards, from the 0-100 set, at a time.
• To increase the difficulty and challenge your young student, start midway through a sequence, so she has to cross the “decade” (10, 20, 30, etc.). For example, randomly place cards 36 through 45 face up and have her move them in order from smallest to largest.

By playing and varying this fun activity, you’re helping your child recognize number order. This improves number fluency, which naturally leads to increased math comprehension!

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## For Thanksgiving, Kids Should Take a Break From School (but Help at Home)

Thanksgiving is a wonderful opportunity for parents and students to take a break from the stresses of school. Everyone needs to relax a few days and recoup before the countdown to exams begins.

If you are having visitors at your house, the kids should have responsibilities to help prepare for them so that everyone can have more fun. Depending on how old they are, children are able to help in significant ways. The obvious ones are to put away their own things, make up their bed, dust the furniture, and set the table; but children can also help in the kitchen. As soon as my children were old enough, they began to prepare one or two dishes for our Thanksgiving meal. That continues today, and now every person in the family contributes something significant. It is part of our family tradition.

Including children in Thanksgiving preparations teaches them that they have responsibilities to the family. It improves their self-esteem, because what they are doing is genuinely appreciated by others. It also makes the workload more manageable since everyone does their fair share.

I am so thankful for those who read my blog each week. It is a privilege to share what I have learned about children who struggle in school. I hope you and your family are able to spend this day doing what you all love the most.

I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving Day!

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## A New Look at Learning Styles

For many years now, students and teachers have discussed learning styles. We look at whether a person learns best through visual, auditory, or kinesthetic channels as described in "What Is Your Child’s Learning Style?" Others discuss Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences as a way to think about learning styles. And finally, we talk about right-brain, creative learners versus left-brain, logical thinkers. The truth is that learning styles are much more complicated than any one of these.

Consider how your child learns best. Does he do better if he goes outside to learn, or does he prefer a classroom environment? Is working in a group easier than working alone? Do open-ended questions that have many correct answers excite her, or does she prefer just one correct answer? Does she like a neat, organized place to work or to lie across the bed? Is a brightly lit room best, or does he like a dimly lit corner? Would a stand-up desk be better than a regular one? Would he learn better if he could talk with someone, or is working quietly by himself better? Does she prefer to be thoughtful and slowly consider what she’s learning, or can she make quick decisions? It is better to write things down, or should she make a recording?

These are only a few ways people differ in their learning preferences. It is important to spend time discussing this with your child. Adults tend to think everyone learns the same way they do. But we are all very different. Sometimes changing something simple can make a huge difference in how easy—or difficult—it is to learn something new.

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## 3 Skills Critical to Common Core Success

As a mentor for new teachers, I spend a lot of time discussing the three important skills young students need to learn before starting with Common Core phonics and early math. I call this my “Triangle Base.” These three core skills serve as a solid foundation for children to advance their Common Core studies.

The core skills in the Triangle Base are:

• Rhyming
• One-to-one correspondence
• Patterns

Rhyming is so important because it promotes phonemic awareness, the ability to hear sounds in spoken language.

Knowing one-to-one correspondence is fundamental for both reading and math. In math, it means seeing the number 8, for example, and accurately pointing to and counting out eight objects. In reading, it means pointing to and saying what you’re seeing.

Recognizing and understanding both visual and auditory patterns are key indicators of reading and math fluency. An example of a visual pattern could be tile placement on a wall or floor. An auditory pattern could be the “e, i, e, i, o” in the song “Old MacDonald.”

The Triangle Base makes an excellent foundation because the skills also incorporate multiple intelligence styles. In other words, they encompass visual, auditory, and kinesthetic (hands-on) learners. So however your child learns best, he’ll be able to enhance and expand learning.

To practice these skills at home, parents should start by reading lots of nursery rhymes. Play “pattern” games by looking and listening for patterns inside and outside. Help your child practice counting objects in a row, pointing to the object as she says the number. When reading together, both you and your child should point to words you are saying. This subtle practice will help your child construct a solid Triangle Base, which is so important for success in Common Core classrooms.

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## What Does It Mean To Be Twice Exceptional?

Some students have unbelievable abilities in an area such as art, language, or mathematics. Depending on the educational setting, these students might be labeled “gifted and talented.” There is not one definitive definition for giftedness—in fact, every state has its own definition. Most do agree that these children can do something exceptionally well—better than almost everyone else. Some of these same students struggle in another area and are labeled LD (learning disabled). For example, a student who struggles in reading, spelling, and writing might excel in math. Students who are gifted and LD are called “twice exceptional.”

Twice-exceptional students need support in school, and it may be difficult to obtain services. Often, these students are misunderstood. How can one person be so brilliant in math yet fail in English class? Even experts in special education have a hard time figuring out that a student is twice exceptional, and they are often not identified until high school when their workload is such that they become swamped and unable to succeed. Once identified, schools are not always equipped to provide appropriate programming.

If you think your child might be twice exceptional, talk to the school psychologist or director of special education. Together come up with a strategy that will provide remedial help in the areas of weakness and more stimulating programming in areas of giftedness. It’s a great idea, too, to provide extracurricular activities that relate to their areas of strength.

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## Does Memorization Have a Place in a Modern Classroom?

Most adults remember learning their times tables and to this day can easily tell you what 7 x 8 equals. Many can also name all the Great Lakes by recalling the acronym “HOMES.” When spelling, I always remember “i” before “e” except after “c,” or when sounded like “a” as in neighbor and weigh.

I recently read an article in the Wall Street Journal by David G. Bonagura Jr., a New York teacher and writer: "What’s 12 x 11? Um, Let Me Goggle That" (WSJ, Op-Ed, October 31, 2013). The focus of this article is that practice, memorization, and drill are often replaced by the ability to quickly find answers electronically. In many ways, modern teaching theories have replaced memorization and drill with “discovery” and “child-centered” learning. Mr. Bonagura’s argument is that memorization and drill have been viable parts of education around the world for centuries, and still have a significant and valuable place in modern teaching.

I couldn’t agree with him more! As an early elementary teacher, I believe in the important balance of “discovery learning” and the ability to recall facts. Not only do memorization and drill help a child easily remember and retrieve facts, they serve as exercises in perseverance and self-discipline. And, those are qualities that serve a child well beyond any classroom setting!

What do you think?

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## Homework Binder: A Strategy That Helps With Executive Functioning

Many children tend to be impulsive and have trouble planning ahead, keeping up with long-term projects, making thoughtful decisions, and turning in all of their homework. These abilities are all a part of executive functioning. (See Executive Functioning: How It Affects a Student in School.) Most of the thought processes involved take place in the prefrontal cortex which is the part of the brain just behind the forehead. This part of the brain is not fully formed until students are out of high school, which explains why adolescents often have trouble making decisions.

Students vary in their ability to manage their day-to-day life because they do not all develop at the same rate. Nearly all students get better as they get older. If they are struggling with executive functioning in school to the point where it is affecting their success, they need additional support until they can manage their schoolwork by themselves.

If your child has trouble turning in all his homework, a good starting point for help is to set up a homework binder. This binder should be a bright color that is easily spotted in his book bag. The binder should contain the assignment sheets from each of his classes, any handouts that relate to that night’s homework, and a place for completed work to hand in the next day. As he completes the homework for each subject, he should cross it off, making it clear that assignment is finished. The completed work goes in its own section. If there is a question he cannot answer, he should highlight it so that he can ask for help with it the next day. (He needs to understand that he should finish everything else on that assignment.) The binder should also house special notes or permission slips that need attention from parents.

Your child needs help learning to use a homework binder. It will take time before she sees it as her “survival guide” to school success and using it becomes a habit. Once this organizational skill is mastered (she uses it without you reminding her), select something else to start working on. It is best to work intensely on one student skill at a time so she will not feel overwhelmed.

For a thorough discussion on executive functioning, read "What is Executive Function?" by the National Center for Learning Disabilities. They also have a free ebook with explanations and strategies for ways to help.

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## Use Pennies To Teach Common Core Math Skills

Young children love pennies. So make them part of math comprehension. Use pennies to help young students practice math skills in a simple yet memorable way. Here are four easy ways to use pennies to help reinforce important Common Core math curriculum skills.

For preschool to kindergarten: Place pennies in a straight, horizontal row. Start with five across. Have your child point to the pennies as he counts them. This reinforces an important math skill called one-to-one correspondence. In other words, he’s actually saying what he’s seeing. Increase the pennies by one until he can easily point to and count 20 in a row.

For kindergarten and 1st grade: Use pennies to practice simple addition and subtraction while subtly incorporating word problems. For example, Mom gave Sarah five pennies. Her brother gave her seven more. How many does Sarah have in all?
Or, Kevin had 20 pennies. He bought an eraser at the school store. It costs 12 cents. How many pennies does he have left? Using the correct number of pennies to solve the equations helps your child visually understand what addition and subtraction mean.

For 1st and 2nd grade: Use groups of pennies to help your child determine even and odd numbers by “pairing up” by 2’s to show even number groups, and “one left over” to show an odd number group.
Also, use groups of pennies for skip counting. Start with a large pile of pennies. Have him put the pennies in groups of 2, 5, or 10 and skip count the small groups.
Use pennies to determine “difference” or “how much more, how much less?” This is a game for two players. You will need a pair of dice and a pile of pennies. The first player to roll the dice counts the dots then lines up that many pennies in a horizontal row. The second roller counts his dots and lines up his pennies directly underneath the first row, in alignment with the pennies above. The second player will either have more, fewer, or an equal amount of pennies. Then players determine who had more and how much more. Who had less and how much less?

Using pennies is a great hands-on way for young students to make “cents” of math!

> Improve Subtraction Skills With a Fun Pennies Game

> An Easy Game To Help Kids Practice Important Math Skills

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## A Free App To Help With Time Management

Many students have trouble keeping up with everything they are supposed to do each day. This is especially true when they move from middle to upper school, where teachers expect them to be more independent. I recently discovered a great free app that can help. It is called myHomework Student Planner and is available for free for iPhone, iPad, and Android.

The app allows you to set up your schedule of classes, enter assignments, assignment types (test, project, paper, etc.), due dates, reminders, and priority levels. I really like that you can set up a myHomework account online and enter data from your computer rather than entering everything on a smartphone. The account will sync to your phone (or iPad) with a simple command. You can view upcoming as well as late assignments.

This is the kind of app that will take some time to set up. Once it is all set up, it should be pretty easy to maintain. If your child is really disorganized, you will need to help him set it up and enter homework assignments. You might need to remind him daily to keep it up-to-date until it becomes a habit. Many students need help breaking a long-term project up into manageable tasks, too. Each task needs to be entered separately into the app with reminders set far enough in advance to give time to complete it by its due date.

The ultimate goal is for him to manage the app by himself, but many struggling students can’t do that without assistance up front.

The app does not have the capability to enter other obligations on the calendar. However, it is simple enough to enter family events and ball games by entering them as homework due at a particular date and time.

There are other options for calendar systems that sync from computer to phone. It doesn’t really matter which system students use as long as they do have a reliable, easy-to-use system. Managing time well is a necessary skill for success in school and life.

For more time management tips, read You Can Teach Your Teen How to Manage Time Effectively.

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October is National Medicine Abuse Month, a good reminder for parents to consider the possibility that their teens might experiment with over-the-counter medicines.

It’s also worth having a discussion with your child, even if you are certain he is not at risk. These days, one out of three teenagers knows someone who has abused over-the-counter medicines to get high. So it is important to talk, if for no other reason than to help your child understand why other kids are taking these risks.

Teens often try to get high with over-the-counter medicines like cough syrup and pills because they are cheap and easily available, and kids believe it is less risky to use them than illegal drugs. Some cough medicines include dextromethorphan (DXM), the ingredient that helps to suppress a cough, and, when taken in large quantities, it can cause a “high’’ feeling. But it is important for parents to let kids know that some cough medicines, while safe when used properly, can lead to serious side effects when large amounts are ingested.

The key to helping a teen is having a conversation about medicine abuse that is based on the facts. The Stop Medicine Abuse website has good information to share with kids about the possible side effects, which can include rapid heart beat, double or blurred vision, and nausea and vomiting. The website also has useful information for parents, including a list of possible warning signs that your child may be experimenting with these medicines. The warning signs include an usual medicinal smell coming from your child’s room, missing cough medicine bottles, and changes in behavior or mood in your child. The good news is in getting the facts from websites such as StopMedicineAbuse.org; parents can get the conversation underway with their kids.

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## A Simple Sequence for Helping Children Write Stories

Young students can be reluctant story writers, even when they are good readers. However, understanding a simple sequence often gives them the confidence to give writing a try. This is a basic writing sequence that’s been successfully used by many teachers over the years.

• First we learn letters
• Letters make words
• Words make sentences
• And sentences make a story

This sounds so simple! Yet from a young child’s point of view it clarifies why he has to learn all this new (and seemingly unrelated) information.

• Practice letter recognition with letter “partners” like Bb. This is more practical and helps make an easier transition to print.
• With index cards, label objects around your child’s bedroom in lowercase letters. While lying in bed, she can “read around her the room” (window, chair, closet, floor, door, etc.).
• Once she can easily read the words around her room, turn the words into sentences with additional index cards. For example, “Here is a window.” “I see a closet.” “This is a desk.” “I like my bed.”
• When she can read the sentences with ease, help her create a simple story using one of the sentences as a story starter. For example, “I like my bed because it’s so soft. Sometimes I read in it. Sometimes I jump on it! I can stand on my bed and look out the window. I like having a nice bed!” Then she could illustrate her story.

The more a young child understands how this basic writing sequence works, the more likely she will learn to love writing.

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## Helping a Student Catch Up After an Illness

Students who have to miss several days of school feel overwhelmed when they return. Some fear being so far behind that they wind up missing extra days, because they are so anxious about the amount of work they need to do. The strategy I use with students may not work for every child in every situation, but it is worth giving it a try.

The first thing to do is figure out exactly what work needs to be completed. I help the student make a chart with each course listed across the top. Beneath each class, we list the work she needs to complete. We use the assignment sheets posted online to get the information. Your child might have to call friends to find out.

Next, I have her take the chart around to her teachers so they can add any details and make notes on the chart. I coach her to ask if there are assignments they might be able to excuse her from completing without jeopardizing her learning.

Then, I tell her to try her best to keep up with all current homework. In addition to that day’s work, she needs to do one or two additional past-due assignments each day. She also needs to ask friends for copies of notes she missed from each class and to meet with her teachers before taking any tests she missed.

This strategy helps because the amount of make-up work doesn’t seem so bad once it’s in writing and there is a plan for making it up. When it’s an unknown, it seems impossible. This way, the student sees a discreet number of assignments to complete and he doesn’t feel so overwhelmed. Remember, too, that every assignment needs to be completed in order to avoid getting zeroes, because one missing grade can make a huge difference.

I am currently reading Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott. In it, she tells of a time when her younger brother had procrastinated for months on a project about birds. The night before it was due, he was sitting at the table completely overwhelmed and not getting anything done. Lamott says her father put his arm around his son and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.” So I call this my “bird by bird” method and attribute its name to Anne Lamott: Just do one assignment at a time, then mark it off the chart!

As a parent, it is fine for you to email your child’s teachers to inform them of the reason he was absent. You should mention that he is feeling overwhelmed with the amount of make-up work he needs to do. Most teachers are sympathetic in these situations and will offer to help. Tell them to expect to see the chart of past due work and explain what you would like for them to do to help.

It is so hard to make up work after absences.  You need to be very careful about allowing your child to miss school without a good reason. (See "Student Absences: They Hurt Learning More Than You Think.") It is never a good idea to send her to school when she is sick, though, and not all absences can be avoided. Encourage her by telling her how you will help her get her missed work caught up when she feels better. She can do it one assignment at a time! She can just take it “bird by bird.”

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## The Five Steps to Phonemic Awareness

“Phonemic awareness” is a term often used when children are beginning to read. You might hear this term at a parent conference or PTO night. Simply put, phonemic awareness is the ability to hear sounds in spoken language.

Yet it’s more complex than that simple definition. There are five steps to acquiring phonemic awareness, and they go in sequence. In other words, a child cannot do step five without knowing steps one through four. Understanding this sequence will allow you to help your young child practice these important steps, when he or she is learning to read.

•    Step 1: Beginning sounds Help him practice consonant sounds so that when he sees the word “hat,” for example, he’ll recognize that it begins with the “h” sound.
•    Step 2: Ending sounds
Help her identify sounds of letters at the end of words. She should be able to recognize that the word “bed” ends with the sound of letter “d.”

•    Step 3: Medial/middle sounds
This is where knowledge of short and long vowel sounds can aid a child in “sounding out” words. For example, he needs to know that “cat” has the short “a” sound in the middle, while “rake” has the long “a” sound.
•    Step 4: Blends and digraphs
Blends are formed when two letters are put together and keep their own sounds, like the “pl” in the beginning of the word “plant.” Digraphs are formed when the two letters put together form a new and different sound, like the “ch” in the word “cheese.” Common digraphs are “th,” “ch,” “sh,” “wh” and “ph.” These can be found at the beginning (shell), middle (together), or end of words (bath).
•    Step 5: Substitutions and deletions
Substitutions mean that when he reads the word “can,” for example, you say, “If you take away the ‘c’ and change it to ‘m,’ what’s the new word?” He should know that it’s “man.” Deletions mean that if she knows the word “stake” and you erase the “s,” she’ll know the word left is “take.”

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