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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.”


Understanding and practicing this sequence and placement of sounds can help your child improve decoding, fluency, and reading comprehension skills.

 

> Teach Your Child To Love Reading

> 3 Strategies To Build Strong Reading Skills

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The Fine Line Between Giving Support and Helping Too Much

A parent of one of my students recently said she was struggling with walking the fine between giving her daughter the support she needs and supporting her too much. This is always a difficult decision parents must make. On the one hand, struggling students have felt abandoned by the people they trust (like their parents and teachers) when they really are trying as hard as they can but still do not do well in school. On the other, they do need to become independent and learn how to succeed in school without extra supports. Let me give you some food for thought.

We have no trouble offering support to students with disabilities that are obvious, like poor eyesight or hearing, an inability to move around on their own, or a broken arm. Everyone sees the need for extra support in these cases. Some of these supports may be needed forever, like for poor eyesight or hearing. Others may be temporary, like for a broken arm that will heal.

It’s more difficult, however, when the need for support is invisible. Children with an auditory processing disorder, dyslexia, or executive functioning disability need support, sometimes permanently. They are often accused of being lazy and dependent on others. If you think about it this way, accusing a dyslexic child of becoming dependent on a spelling checker is no more reasonable than accusing a child with poor eyesight of becoming dependent on eyeglasses!

Children with poor hearing can be brilliant, yet have to wear a hearing aid forever. Similarly, a child with a learning disability may need certain supports forever, yet become a highly successful adult because they are creative and innovative. Most schools focus less on creativity and innovation and more on reading, writing, math, and spelling. Of course, all children need to learn these basic skills. But for those who have learning issues, they may need some additional support in order to succeed while in school. They also need encouragement because their areas of strength (such as creativity and social skills) are not valued as much as their areas of weakness (like spelling and academic writing).

If you know a child who struggles in school, consider whether offering support can lead to success. When possible, give them temporary support only until they can succeed on their own. But if they need support forever, that’s OK. Remember that there is life beyond school  where the things they do well may be more important.

My original question was, how much is too much support? We need to offer them exactly how much they need in order to be successful in school. If your son is working hard and still not succeeding, he needs more support. (For ideas of what kinds of support you may need to offer, read "Options for Helping a Struggling Student.") If your child is getting a lot of support from you, and you are working harder than she is—that is too much support. (For help in deciding whether your child is working hard enough, read "Is My Child Working Hard Enough in School?"). We want children to be as independent as possible as soon as possible. That just might mean they will need some supports for a little while and others forever.

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Common Core Review for Kindergarteners and 1st Graders

Right now most school districts are six to eight weeks into the new school year. That’s a long time for a kindergarten or 1st grade student! It’s also a time when many schools are scheduling first parent conferences.

Here are some of the Common Core State Standards learning skills that young students (and parents) may be experiencing for the first time, in homework or school worksheets, specific for kindergarten or 1st grade students.

Kindergarten English/Language Arts:

  • Following words, left to right and top to bottom on story pages
  • Retelling a story with key details
  • Recognizing some common “sight” words (for example, the, of, my, do, is, are)
  • Using a combination of drawing, dictating, or attempting to print to begin writing stories

For a kindergarten child in math:

  • Counting by ones and tens to 100
  • Identifying objects in groups as “greater than,” “less than,” or “equal to”
  • Correctly recognizing basic shapes
  • Begin to correctly recognize and write numbers from 0-20

1st grade English/Language Arts:

  • Recognize what makes a sentence (capitalization, punctuation, etc.)
  • Use drawings and details in a story to describe character, setting, or events
  • Begin to understand the “main idea” of a story
  • Participate in collaborative conversations about stories, books, etc., according to class discussion rules

For 1st grade math:

  • Understanding place value of tens and ones (for example, when seeing the number 52, knowing that the “5” means 5 “tens” and the “2” means 2 “ones”)
  • Be able to order at least three objects from length (shortest to tallest or tallest to shortest)
  • Tell time to the hour on both analogical and digital clocks ( and to the half-hour by the end of 1st grade)
  • Use parts of circles, squares, or rectangles to understand halves and fourths (quarters)


This is a general framework to help you understand some of what your kindergarten or 1st grade child is expected to master, or what he or she may need to practice. Follow my blog, throughout the school year, for additional skills and clarifications on Common Core State Standards.

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Parent-Teacher Conferences Help Develop the School-Home Relationship

In a few short weeks, parent-teacher conferences start. Interestingly, both parents and teachers are anxious about them! Parents worry about whether their child is performing well enough and behaving in class. They worry about whether their children are being treated fairly and whether they have friends. Teachers worry about whether they can meet the needs of every child in their classroom. They also worry that parents will judge them unfairly and verbally abuse them during the conference. Both need to realize that children thrive when parents and teachers work together for the good of the child. This is especially true when a student is struggling in school. Here are some suggestions that might help make conferences more productive.

  • Spend some time thinking about what you want for your son. One of my favorite educators, Michael Thompson, suggests that parents think about their “hopes and fears for their child” and communicate them to his teacher. This helps his teacher understand both you and your son better.
  • If your daughter is struggling in school, communicate that to her teacher. Realize, though, that teachers cannot fix everything at once. It is best to work on one major issue at a time. Read my earlier blog Small Steps Can Improve Student Skills for a more thorough explanation. You and her teacher can decide what needs to be top priority. Together you can make a plan for what needs to happen at school and how you can support the efforts at home.
  • Remember that failure is a normal part of life. When your child fails a test or even a larger unit of study (like the whole quarter), it is not the end of the world. You and his teacher can work together to make a plan for how he can still find success.


There are a lot of resources here at SchoolFamily.com about making parent-teacher conferences productive. You can find links to them in the Parent Teacher Conferences Article Archive. Keep in mind that your child benefits most when you and her teacher work together for her benefit. Communicate concerns, of course, but also celebrate small improvements together by letting her teacher know when you see them.

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The Importance of Conversation With Young Kids

Have you heard of the 30-million word gap for children?

Psychologists Betty Hart of the University of Kansas and Todd Risley of the University of Alaska did a study of oral language. They observed 42 diverse families over a period of 2 1/2 years. They analyzed a child’s rate of language acquisition and parent’s communication style within three socioeconomic groups.

Their research discovered that by age 4, a child from a strong language environment would have experienced 45 million words. The study went on to show that a child from a minimal language environment would have experienced only 13 million words. (Hart & Risley, American Educator, 2003)

I found this to be so fascinating. As a 1st grade teacher, I’ve been a witness to the subtle, yet powerful knowledge of words and their usage. I’ve seen, firsthand, how good vocabulary is a true indicator of good reading comprehension.

So strive to have those rich conversations with your young children. Don’t be fearful of using “SAT words” right from the start. Even though a one-word answer might satisfy a question, take the time to explain and engage your child in a meaningful dialogue.

By doing so, you’ll help your child increase their vocabulary and reading skills in “millions” of ways!

 

> Start Using Those SAT Words Early

> Start a "Word a Day" Bank in Your Family

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Alternatives to Flash Cards for Studying

Most teachers teach their students how to use flash cards for studying facts or vocabulary. Flash cards are a great tool for many students, but there are some kids who need a different strategy. Students who are creative and who tend to think in pictures instead of words might benefit from trying strategies that rely more on visual cues. You might be able to tell whether your child falls into this category.

Ask your child what his favorite toy was when he was little. If he names a toy like Legos or Lincoln Logs, it is likely that he is a three-dimensional thinker who visualizes concepts rather than puts them into words. Another clue is to ask what happens inside his head when he reads. If she says that she see pictures of the scenes and can actually visualize herself walking through the set, then she is another candidate for a study strategy that uses more pictures than words.

Here are some ideas that might help. When beginning to study for a test, have your child draw pictures in his notes as a way to annotate them. He should think back to what he did when he was studying the concept and draw pictures of those activities. It is a good idea to use some color in the drawings, because color can help him remember the pictures later. Another idea is to make a folded study guide as described in my earlier blog Using Pictures To Aid Vocabulary Memorization=Better Results. A third strategy for creative, visual thinkers is to make a web or mind-map of the unit. For help with how to do that, read my blog Using Webbing To Study for a Test.

If your child says that studying doesn’t help, perhaps she needs a new way to study. Read this blog together and talk about how she thinks. Maybe a visual, creative study strategy will be the answer.

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Ideas To Increase Fine Motor Skills in Young Students

My post last week outlined the connection between gross and fine motor skills and activities to improve gross motor success. This week, my focus is on fine motor skills, and simple activities to help your kindergarten or 1st grade child improve these more subtle skills.

Fine motor skills use the smaller muscle groups such as hands, fingers, toes, and lips. These skills are critical in dressing, handwriting, cutting, board games, and expressive communication.

Here are five ways to help your child improve their fine motor skills.

  • Zip and button. Find different sized zippers around your house, and have her practice opening and closing them. Some examples could be found on coats or jackets, pillows, boots, etc.  Button up buttons. Vary button sizes with different shirts, jackets, etc. to practice the “push and pull” of buttons.
  • Practice how to tie. Use ribbon, string, shoelaces, etc from objects around your home. First tie knots, then tie bows. Teach him how to tie his shoes!
  • Build together with blocks or Legos. While improving fine motor muscles, building with blocks also helps young children see patterns, learn about balance, and see how things fit together. It also helps refine eye-hand coordination.
  • Hole punch designs. Help your child draw a simple picture on white paper, such as a large balloon, star, circle, etc. Then let her punch holes with a handheld single hole punch around the design. While strengthening hand muscles, this also creates a clear border for coloring inside the design.
  • Sing together! In the car, at home, or any other appropriate place, sing favorite songs together. Some great songs I’ve used in my class are “The Clean-up Song,” from Laurie Berkner’s Buzz, Buzz CD and “Kindness” from Steve Roslonek’s Little Superman CD.


Increasing fine motor dexterity in young children helps build their confidence, and being a confident young student leads to school success.

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Explain Everything: A Low-Cost App for Creative Presentations

Last week, I was invited to the middle school where I work to hear student presentations. Their assignment was to create a project using Explain Everything that had several slides. The purpose of the presentation was to introduce themselves to one another and their guests (their new principal and me). I enjoyed their presentations a lot. The students did a wonderful job and were proud of what they created. I was also intrigued by the app they used to create their presentations.

Explain Everything is available for iPad and Android for $2.99. You can watch a video about it on their website. What I liked about it the most is that it is simple to learn to use, yet a very powerful tool for creative minds. Students can write text, annotate, illustrate by drawing, import videos or photos, create movies, and much more. Their work is automatically saved as they work. It can be played back in presentation mode, or exported into a variety of formats to share with others.

There are so many free or inexpensive apps available that it is hard to wade through them all to find really good ones. I would be interested to hear from you if you have found educational apps that your child likes to use. Please comment! You might be interested in these other blogs about apps that I use with students:

Creative Ways To Make and Use Flash Cards
Voice-to-Text Software = Great Homework Tool for Kids Who Have Difficulty Writing
Technology Solutions for Reading and Writing Difficulties

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Practicing Gross Motor Skills Can Improve Learning

For the most part, all learning is sequential, which means that we build on known skills to acquire new ones. This is especially true for young children, who are developing gross and fine motor dexterity.

Gross motor skills involve the large muscle groups such as torso, legs, arms, and feet. Fine motor skills use the smaller muscle groups, such as hands, fingers, toes, and lips. Both are critical in learning. For example, if a young child has trouble catching a ball, he might not be able to print his name.

Strengthening gross-motor skills will lead to improved fine motor skills, which are important for early school success.
Here are five ways to help your kindergartener or 1st grader practice gross motor skills:

 

  • Ride bikes together. If your child still has training wheels, gradually help him become less dependent on them. If possible, try riding bikes to school together, rather than driving or taking the bus. Or take advantage of any nearby bike paths or parks. (Don’t forget helmets.)
  • Balance on a curb or low beam. When walking outside together. help your child balance on a curb, low beam, short wall, etc. Hold her hand until she can easily balance on her own when walking on a slightly elevated surface.
  • Practice hopping, skipping, and jumping. Once your child can easily do all these movements, increase the difficulty. Create “obstacles” to move around, such as skipping around the tree, jumping over the hula hoop, or playing Hopscotch.
  • Practice running backward. Most young child can easily run forward. Running backward is harder to master, yet will strengthen opposing muscle groups for better balance. Make sure it’s an obstacle-free, flat, grassy or soft place for her to practice.
  • Do jumping jacks together. This simple activity can help increase his balance and coordination while strengthening bone density.


Good gross motor skills are a natural segue to improved fine motor skills. Next week I’ll share some activities to promote fine motor tasks.

 

> Simple Activities Can Improve Fine Motor Skills

> More Activities To Improve Gross Motor Skills

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How To Help a Child With an Auditory Processing Disorder

Students who have an auditory processing disorder are often left behind in the classroom even though they are very smart. Like many learning differences, APD is not something you can tell is there. Most of the time, children with APD have no trouble hearing—it’s what happens to the sounds once they enter the brain that causes the problems.

APD can be similar to having an attention deficit disorder. Some kids with attention deficits pay attention to everything around them equally without being able to determine what is important. Likewise, some students with APD cannot determine which sounds are the ones they are supposed to listen to. The background sounds seem just as important to them as the teacher’s voice.

Other students with APD cannot discriminate between similar sounding words or sounds. The sound the letter “b” makes is exactly like the sound of a “d.” APD can also show up as poor auditory memory. These students cannot recall things they hear; they need to see it, too. Others with APD change the sequence of sounds they hear. If they hear the number 25, it becomes 52 once it enters the brain.

Regardless of the type of auditory processing disorder, the strategies that help are similar.

  • Seat the student near the teacher
  • Speak more slowly, and use simple sentences
  • Eliminate unnecessary sounds in the room
  • Provide copies of notes or assistive technology like the Livescribe Pen or AudioNote
  • Provide visual cues and written instructions, pictures, or diagrams to go along with auditory information


If these strategies do not help your child, it is time to enlist the help of an audiologist who specializes in auditory processing disorders. It is important for teachers to understand that students can be very bright but not succeeding in school. When given the needed accommodations, they are able to learn and demonstrate their abilities.

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From Triaminic: Knowing When a Sick Day Is Needed

Chances are your child will stay out of school because of illness at some point during this school year. Often parents aren’t sure when to make that call. Many of us have been there: Is my daughter sick or does she just want to stay home with the new puppy? Is my son really sick or does he just not want to participate in the spelling bee?

As the makers of Triaminic® point out, when in doubt, seek medical advice from your child’s doctor. But a good general rule to follow is this: If your child is too uncomfortable to participate in all of the school day activities, then it’s best to keep him home.

It’s important to check what your child’s school guidelines are, as well. The school may have this information on its website or may have published in the parent handbook as to when they recommend you keep your child out of school. Also, you can check with the school nurse for guidelines. As always, call your pediatrician if you are uncertain of how your child is feeling or if he displays any of these symptoms:

  • A fever of 100.4⁰F or higher
  • Has vomited twice or more within the last 24 hours
  • Flu-like symptoms that would include chills, aches, and headaches in addition to fever
  • Cold symptoms that are severe enough to impede his ability to learn
  • Sore throat
  • Pain, including persistent pain like earaches, toothaches, and headaches

 

It is a good idea to have a sick day plan in place in case your child does need to stay home. You may need to have backup help, such as a neighbor, who can pick up your other children from school. Another good step is to work out a plan with your employer that may allow you to work at home or adjust your hours so you can be with your sick child. Sometimes distraction is the best medicine! When your kids are feeling under the weather, keep them busy with these fun coloring worksheets! Once they’re back in action, keep your kids on a well-balanced diet with these healthy recipes.

And to find out more about cold and flu symptoms in your area, check the Triaminic Flu Tracker.

 

(c) 2013 Novartis Consumer Health, Inc. U-00485-1

* Disclaimer: Triaminic products are not intended to treat all the symptoms listed above. Please read all product labeling for directions and warnings before use. This information is not a substitute for medical advice from your doctor. If your child has any of the symptoms above, call your pediatrician immediately. Parents should also be aware of sick day guidelines specific to their child's school. In general, a child should stay home if he/she is too uncomfortable to participate in all activities and stay in the classroom.

Sources:

When Should You Keep Your Child Home Sick from School or Daycare? Mayo Expert Offers Tips

When to Keep Your Child Home from School

Your Child: Too Sick for School?

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Helping Kids Connect Numbers to Words

Often young students have no trouble doing simple addition and subtraction number problems yet, have little understanding of what the numbers actually represent. Most 1st graders know that 2 + 2 = 4. However, when given those same numbers as word problems, they sometimes run into trouble. Adding word comprehension to an addition or subtraction sentence can significantly increase your child’s understanding of the connection between numbers and solving numerical word problems.

A number sentence might look like this:

  • 5 + 2 = 7  

 

A word problem would look like this:

  • Jack had 5 toy cars. Dad gave him 2 more. How many does he have now?
  • Megan had 6 balloons. 3 popped. How many does she have left?


A simple yet powerful way for parents to help children make connections between numbers and words is by adding a word “story” to a number problem when helping with homework or practicing math. For example, if a homework task is to find the answer to 8 - 3 = ? simply say, “Julie made 8 cookies. Her brother ate 3. How many cookies does Julie have left?” Have your child draw 8 small cookies, and then cross out the three that the brother ate to see how many are left.

Good mathematical skills are dependent upon understanding what numbers represent. Making connections between numbers and words helps children visualize meaning and deepen their math comprehension.

 

> Improve Math Skills With a Deck of Cards

> An Easy Game To Help Kids Practice Important Math Skills

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Tips for Overcoming Homework Frustrations

The most frequent complaints I hear from parents relate to homework. For some, their child doesn’t have enough homework to do. For others, too much. Sometimes the complaint is that the homework is too hard, or that teachers did not teach what is on the homework. Whatever the problem, homework time can be stressful.

Here are some strategies that might help you when your child is frustrated about his homework.

  • Make sure that he understands the directions. Many times in the classroom a student will say, “I don’t know how to do this.” But when I ask him to read the directions to me, he actually does know how! I would venture a guess that most children don’t read the directions before starting a task.
  • Refer to notes, handouts, and the textbook. Students want to be able to do their homework without taking the time to refer to the materials the teacher provided during class. Most homework is supposed to review the day’s lesson. Referring to the handouts and notes should be the first step.
  • Ask your child if she read the pages in the book. Often homework begins with assigned reading. If she didn’t read it, it is likely she won’t be able to complete the work. If she is having trouble reading it, you might assist her.
  • Allow your child to take a break if he is getting too frustrated or emotional. When emotions are out of control, the rational brain shuts down and it is impossible to do homework. Take a short break, do something fun and then return to the homework task.

 

Another homework-related problem is that a student has homework to do, but doesn’t know it. This is often the problem when students are disorganized or have problems paying attention in class. For these kids, it might help to enlist their teachers’ help in making sure they have written down the homework assignment before leaving each class.

If these tricks don’t help and homework is a problem every day, it is time to visit your child’s teacher to find out if he has an idea about what the problem might be. If the issues are serious, call the school psychologist for help.

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Make Learning Fun With Classic Childhood Games

“Play is the work of childhood,” Jean Piaget, a noted psychologist, once said. Fall is a great time for young children to still enjoy the “business of playing,” outdoors. It’s also a time to easily put some learning fun into classic outside games. Here are three beloved childhood games, with an added educational spin.

Jump Rope

  • Players: As few as one, or up to a small group of players
  • Needed: A shorter rope for one player, a longer rope for three or more
  • For phonics practice: Suggest an alphabet game, done with each letter of the alphabet. For example, “A” my name is Annie, “B” my name is Bob, etc”
  • For math practice: Count each jump by ones, then practice counting jumps by twos, building up to counting by fives, and tens. Also, have her start at a specific number and count backwards! (20, 19, 18, 17…0)


Simon Says

  • Players: Two or more
  • Encourages practice of listening and following directions. One person is “Simon.” Simon starts each direction by saying “Simon says…” For example, “Simon says take two steps backwards.” Players follow that direction. If “Simon” gives a direction, without saying “Simon says” first, then players who follow that direction are out.


Hopscotch

  • Players: Two or more, one at a time
  • Needed: Sidewalk chalk, flat stone or bean bag
  • Encourages gross motor, number and pattern skills practice.
  • To play: On a driveway or other flat outdoor surface, make a hopscotch grid. Number the boxes in the grid 1-9. The first player tosses the rock into square 1. Then the player hops over square 1, on one foot (younger players could make a two-foot jump) and continues hopping to the end. Then the player turns around and comes back, pausing on square 2. Balancing on one foot, he bends down and picks up the rock from square 1, hops over it, to where he started. Continue with square 2. If his toss misses square 2, his turn is over, and next player starts the pattern.
  • To vary the game, number the boxes by twos, (2, 4, 6…18,) by fives (5, 10, 15…45,) or by tens (10, 20, 30…90). Or go “backwards.” Start the grid with 9 and end with 1.

 

Blending a child’s natural inclination for play with practicing simple educational skills makes learning fun and seamless!

 

> Creative Play Leads to Learning

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Thought and Planning Can Improve Written Work

For most of us, summer vacation seems like it was ages ago. We are going full force at school. Students are already working on daily homework and long-term projects. English teachers are teaching their students the writing process—prewriting, drafting, revising, proofreading, publishing. This process is so important to use for all writing assignments, yet often students do not do it.

Many students do not thoughtfully plan out what they are going to write. They simply start writing and whatever ends up on the page is what they turn in. The problem with this is that it usually lacks organization, and it is unclear what the point of the writing is. A much better process is to start out by brainstorming the topic to look for patterns and links between ideas. (Brainstorming is one form of prewriting.) In that way, students can choose a thesis and decide how to organize the paper so that it makes a strong point.

The other part of the writing process that students tend to skip is the proofreading stage. When I read my own work, it is so easy to skip over an error because I know what I wanted to say and think that’s what is on the page! When I use a text-to-speech reader to read back what I wrote, I can much more easily hear my errors. There are free readers available on the web. Check out my earlier blog on text-to-speech readers.

Encourage your child to go through all the steps of the writing process. In this way she will turn in her best work and her writing will improve.

You might also enjoy reading Eight Steps to a Strong Paragraph  and Editing Checklist Can Help Improve Your Child’s Writing.

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8 Simple Ways To Encourage Your Child’s Literacy

It’s widely known that parents who are actively involved in their child’s reading activities can significantly increase their child’s literacy.

Here are eight simple strategies you can use to encourage good literacy in your young student, which can greatly help him become a more advanced and comprehensive reader.

  • Model reading. Let your child see you read, often. Reading books, newspapers, directions, recipes, maps, etc. subtly reinforces the necessity of good reading in everyday life.
  • When reading together, help him distinguish clearly between fiction and nonfiction.
  • Before reading to her, take a “picture walk” through the book and have her predict what that page might be about.
  • When reading to him, stop and ask questions to check comprehension.
  • Help her visualize. After reading a story, ask her to close her eyes and make a picture in her mind about the best part of the story, or her favorite character, etc. Then let her describe that to you. This helps make reading more “three-dimensional.”
  • Help him make a “self-to-text” connection. For example, if the story has a character that was brave you might ask him to tell you about a time that he felt brave. Then say, “So you really know how that character was feeling!”
  • After reading a story together, ask him to think of a different ending for the story. This helps make the story more personal and memorable.
  • Make a reading-to-writing connection. Have her use a notebook to keep a reading journal. On the top of a page have her write, or write for her, the name of the book, author, and date read. Then help her write a brief synopsis of the story. It’s always fun for a child to go back and see how much they have read!

 

> Teach Your Child To Love Reading

> Do a Reading Survey With Your Child

 

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Creative Ways To Make and Use Flash Cards

Before very long, it will be time for the first test of the school year. Tests can be stressful, especially when students have not prepared well enough. Many students learn by studying flash cards. They are a great study method because students can study by looking at one side of the card, remembering what is on the other side, and then turning it over to see if you were right. They can be mixed up to practice the questions in different orders. And students can remove cards from the deck that they already know. There are several ways to study using this technique.

First is to create flash cards using index cards. An advantage of using actual cards is that students can add colorful drawings that might help them remember what is on the other side of the card. Or when they are taking the test, they can close their eyes and picture the cards in their brain. They also allow students to manipulate the cards which makes the activity kinesthetic (using muscles). This can help students to remember better. They are very inexpensive, as well. The down side is that they are easy to lose and require an envelope or pouch to keep up with them.

A second way is to use an app such as Flashcard Machine, which is available for iPhone, Android, and Kindle Fire. This app is very inexpensive, maybe even less than using index cards which are used up quickly and must be replaced. With Flashcard Machine, you or your child would purchase the app through the normal channels for his device and then go to the website to set up the account. Your child needs to log onto both the app on your device and on the website. He can create his own sets of study cards or use thousands of cards other people made. The cards are synchronized to his iPhone (or other device) where he studies simply by tapping the card to see the other side. An advantage of making flash cards this way is that your child has them with him everywhere he goes, and he can study them when he is just sitting waiting on something to happen. (No one will even know he is studying!) The downside is that there is no way to add a picture.

Another option to explore is Quizlet which works similarly to Flashcard Machine. Or have your child make a folding vocabulary chart like you find here.

Whatever method you and your child choose, remember that making the cards or chart is only step one of studying. Your child also has to spend time practicing over and over until he can answer every card correctly without looking at the answers.

Best wishes as you begin the new school year. I, for one, am ready for my students to come back. A school building without any kids in it is no fun at all.

 

> What Is Your Child's Learning Style?

> Math Flash Cards

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Activities To Help Kindergartners Understand Numbers

Two Common Core math skills that your kindergarten child will be required to know by the end of the school year are:

  • Count to 100 by ones and tens
  • Counting forward within the known sequence (instead of having to always start at 1)

 

Here are three simple activities that you can do with your kindergartener throughout the school year to practice and easily make these skills automatic. Many young students can count by rote, but have no concept of what the numbers mean. By practicing number sequence and “counting on” from any given number, you can help your kindergarten student understand the relationship between numbers and quantity.

  • A great way to practice counting, while reinforcing what the actual number represents, is to use pennies. Start simply, by having him put 10 pennies in a row. Have him start counting, left to right, by using his index finger to point to the space right before the first penny and say “zero.” Then point to the pennies while counting 1, 2, 3, 4, etc. When he can easily do that, increase the pennies by 10 to make a second row. Have him start at the 0 space and continue 1 through 20. Keep adding rows of 10 until he can easily count from 0 to 100. Always including the zero space helps him understand that the number 0 represents no object.
  • Use the pennies to help count by tens as well. Once he can count one-to-one and 0 to 20, start have him practice saying “10, 20” while looking at the two complete rows. After counting by ones for each new row, have him practice counting by tens as well, until he can easily say 10, 20, 30, 40 …to 100.
  • Counting forward within the known sequence simply means “counting on” from any beginning number. First, help him practice orally counting 0 to 20 in correct sequence. When he’s mastered this, start with the number 5, for example, and have him continue on with 6, 7, 8, etc. to 20.
  • Once he can easily count forward to 20, from any starting number, increase the difficulty by 10 (0-30 then 0-40, etc.). Do this until he can start at any pervious number and count forward to 100.

 

> Kindergarten Math: The Common Core Standards and 4 Geometry Activities

> More Tips for Kindergarten Readiness

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Helping Children Deal With Anxiety

Teachers are back at work in many schools getting ready for students to arrive. As I was sitting in one of our professional development workshops this week, the leader said, “We are creating a society full of anxious kids.” This really bothers me—mainly because I have seen so many more children who are anxious in the last few years of teaching. They are anxious about the courses they are in, their teachers, their peers, whatever is going on at home, and just about everything you can think of.

Why are children so anxious? I do not have the answer to this question. But I do have a few ideas about possible reasons for their anxiety. First of all, adolescence is a difficult time in life. Bodies are changing, emotions are intensifying, relationships with peers are becoming more important, and school becomes more difficult and demanding. (For a more thorough description of adolescent development, read Normal Adolescent Development, published by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.) Normally, these changes do not cause severe anxiety. But if the reasoning brain cannot keep concerns and fears about the changes from becoming overwhelming, a student can become overanxious and unable to perform well in school or life.

Another stress on many students is the emphasis on standardized testing. I call these tests “high-stakes tests” because there is so much riding on their outcome. Kids must pass a certain number of them before graduation, teachers are evaluated on the outcome of their students’ testing, and schools can lose their accreditation if their students do not make progress. School, which was once a place where students could enjoy learning for the sake of learning, is now full of anxiety about test performance.

Another source of anxiety for kids is having too much going on. Children who are over-scheduled do not have enough down time for relaxation and play. See my blog on unscheduled time for more on this topic.

Finally, students need to link success to effort. If your child thinks that what happens to her is the result of good or bad luck or because of how smart she is, she will become anxious. She feels she has no control over events in her own life. In truth, however, success relates more to how hard a person works and not as much on how smart she is. Offering praise for her effort is one way you can help. There are no easy answers. As a parent, you can reduce some of the anxiety by assuring your child that you love him and will be there for him when he needs you. You can also control some of these stressors such as cutting down on extracurricular activities and making sure you praise effort rather than “smarts.” However, if reducing the stress when possible is not helping your anxious child, you should seek help from a professional. Do not hesitate to talk to your pediatrician or family doctor if you have concerns.

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Today's Students Need Upgraded Schools

Educators and parents agree that purposeful and appropriate use of technology is terrific for both students and teachers. The use of technology, including personal devices, can be very helpful in supporting implementation of Common Core State Standards for all students.  It prepares our students for the future, and will equip them to compete on a global level.

This month, I attended a conference about effective use of technology in the classroom. It was informative and exciting,  and showed me various ways technology can engage and enhance student learning.

Yet here’s the paradox:   

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the average age of our nation’s schools is 42 years old! 

Even with updates over the years, the majority of these facilities don’t have the infrastructure to support today’s technological advances.

The bottom line is that many of our schools are just not equipped for modern technology.

As an educator, I’ve been a firsthand witness to this: 

Excited students are ready to jump into a great science lesson, only to find that the computer can’t log on.  

Twenty-five curious 1st graders huddled around one small computer screen to see and hear humpback whales, because the image can’t be projected.

An interactive whiteboard math game crashes, just as students are about to solve the math problem.

We need to vastly upgrade our school facilities, sooner rather than later.  This is very important. The time from kindergarten to 12th grade, 13 years of your child’s educational life, should be spent in buildings that support 21st century learning.

 

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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