SchoolFamily Voices

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

Use Summer for Some College Planning

Summer is an important time for middle and upper school students to think ahead to what they want for themselves after high school. If the plan involves going to college, then taking action now can improve the chance of getting into the college of choice. Our college counselor meets with middle and high school students and their parents. She advises them to choose an extracurricular activity they are passionate about and to stick with it throughout their middle and high school career. College admissions people like to see this for a number of reasons.

First, colleges like to have students who are well-rounded and have passions that involve pursuits other than academics. Playing a sport, taking piano lessons (or another instrument), helping with  Special Olympics, or becoming a Girl Scout or Boy Scout throughout middle and high school all show that there is more to this student than just getting good grades.

Second, staying with a single activity not only shows that your child has passion for it, but also that she can stick with something. If she starts playing a sport and then quits, the message she sends is that she cannot follow through with a commitment. The same is true for music lessons or other extracurricular activities. She doesn’t need to limit herself to only one thing, but ideally there should be at least one that she sticks with for the long term.

Third, deep friendships develop with others who have the same passion. It is likely that your son will bond with other boys who participate in the same activity. When he leaves home to go to college, he may be able to participate in the same extracurricular activities there, where he can make new friends quickly. In some cases, he may get scholarship money because of his skill, but more likely he will participate in club-level extracurricular activities. In either case, colleges like for their students to have close friends and to participate in campus life.

Take some time to talk with your child about how important it is to choose something of interest to her and to stick with it throughout middle and high school. It can be almost anything—from community service to taking art lessons or playing sports. Whatever it is, if your child can demonstrate her commitment to it, she will increase her chances of getting into the college of her choice and make some lifelong friends along the way.

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Combine Traveling With Learning for the Summer

Wherever your summer travels take you, there will be many learning opportunities for your young child. Places you visit can lead to fun exercises in both reading and math.

For reading:

  • Make a point to see any attractions that might involve books. For example, maybe there is an author’s home open for visiting, or a location that was a backdrop for a favorite story. If possible, go to that location’s library and compare and contrast it to your own town library.
  • Take time to read together all tourist information provided. For example, if going to a national park, be sure to read the signs and plaques that tell about the topography and wildlife you might encounter on a trail. Or at a zoo, help your child read informational signs about the animals and their environment.
  • Stop at a local bookstore and ask about a simple, inexpensive story that describes the area you are visiting. Purchase it for her as a keepsake of the trip.
  • Have him start a simple “travel diary.” In a small notebook, have him write the date at the top of the page. Then ask him to draw some of the things you did that day. Before bed, help him write some simple sentences to go with the pictures. This is a great reference if he’s asked to tell about “What I did this summer” once school resumes in the fall.

For math:

  • When getting ready to travel, show him how you calculate the distance from your home to the destination. Estimate together how many miles you will be traveling during the entire trip. Even though a young child might not understand more complicated math, he will remember and have a frame of reference about doing this as a family when he encounters higher level calculations in upper grades.
  • If you are visiting historic sites, pay attention to dates on buildings or statues and help her figure out how old the sites are. Create a comparison; for example, “Grandpa wasn’t even born when this bridge was built.”
  • Have him look for and count specific road signs. Point out and help him count forward (or backward numbers, depending on your route) the highway exit sign numbers. Ask him to predict which one will be next.

These easy and fun ideas make a young child involved and vested in using skills learned this past school year. Activities like these will keep skills sharp and ready for a new school year!

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Internet Safety Tips for Teens and Parents

Many experts warn children about the dangers of the Internet. We teach our children to never give their name, address, or phone number to anyone online. We watch them while online to make sure they do not visit inappropriate websites. As children become teens, we tend to back off and trust them to be careful while online. There are great risks for teens, however, and parents need to continue to watch diligently what their adolescents are doing online. The risks do change, but are just as dangerous as when our children were younger.

Teens often know as much or more than their parents do about their electronic devices. Step number one for protecting your teen is to learn what the risks are and what control you have over them. Here are some of the risks I often see affecting the kids I teach.

Lack of sleep. If adolescents take their tablet or smartphone to bed with them, they are likely communicating with their friends throughout the night. The culture now is to answer every tweet, posting, or message the second it goes online. Lack of sleep leads to poor performance in school, drowsiness while driving, and even to depression. It might not be easy to get him to agree, but your teen should turn the devices over to you before bed, and you should keep them with you overnight.

Online bullying. Bullying used to happen during the school day or before and after school. Now, it can go on 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year. The effects of bullying are deep and devastating. It is important to monitor your teens’ online communications with other kids, and keep an ongoing dialogue about their activity there. If possible, connect with them on their social networks so that you see the comments as they are posted. Parents of all the children involved need to work together in positive ways to resolve the issues.

Becoming addicted to online video games. When your child needs more and more of something and it affects his ability to function normally, then he is addicted. We tend to think of drugs and alcohol addictions, but I have known teens and adults who are addicted to video games. For kids in school, their grades suffer, they are sleepy in school, and they frequently get into trouble because they are using their devices inappropriately in class. One defense for parents is to cut off the supply of funding for the games. To be really good at most of these games, the player must spend money to buy the advantage to win. If there is no money available, the game is not as much fun. Additionally, keeping the electronics away from them at night is important. If your child does not respond to these restrictions, he may need to see a psychologist who specializes in adolescent addiction.

Parenting teens is hard work. It is important to maintain diligent efforts to monitor your teen’s activities online in order to prevent serious consequences. Your child can perform poorly in school, have serious health consequences, or become addicted to online games. If you do not feel that you have adequate skills to know how to protect your child, sign up for a class or form an alliance with other parents of teens. Contact your child’s school to see if they are offering support, as well. Kids are healthier and happier when their parents work together with other parents and with the school.

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Build True Reading Comprehension Skills This Summer

The faster a child can decode a word, the stronger a reader he will become. Recognizing words, using clues from the pictures and reading with fluency can make him a successful, comprehensive reader.

Here are ways to help develop these skills this summer.

Reinforce “starter” words: Below are 12 words that are considered the most commonly used in the English language. Instantly recognizing these words will give your child a head start in reading:

            the            in          of           is           it       I
            and           you         to           a           that     are

Print these words on small index cards, using lowercase letters. Practice all summer, two at a time, until she can easily recognize and say these correctly and randomly.

Teach him to reference the picture: Remind him to look at the picture before reading. In my reading groups, we always do a “picture walk” through the story before reading. If he stumbles when reading, have him reference the picture for a clue to get back on track.

Practice reading fluency: Reading fluency means smoothness, flow, and clarity of oral reading. The more fluent a child reads, the greater she comprehends. Like many things in life, this comes with practice!

Try reading with a timer. Set the timer for one minute. Have her start reading a page out loud. Be sure to start the timer when she says the first word. Have her stop reading when the timer rings, and put her finger on the last word she said. Help her count the total number of words she read in one minute. Set the timer again for one minute. Challenge her to read it one more time clearly and quickly, trying to increase the number of words before the timer rings. My students practice this as a partner game, and really enjoy it!

Fun activities such as these, combined with lots of practice this summer, can help your child become an avid, confident, and lifelong reader!

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Try Quizlet for Summertime Math Vocabulary Review

Every subject students take in school has specific facts and vocabulary associated with it. In history, students must learn people’s names, events that happened, and important dates. In literature, there are character names to learn, symbols, and literary terms. We tend to think that math is different, but it is not. If the math terminology is automatic, then understanding the problems will be easier. This is especially true if doing word problems. Summertime is a great time to review. Coming back to school in the fall with last year’s math vocabulary secure in memory and a beginning level of next year’s vocabulary already learned will likely make math much easier. Quizlet is great tool for reviewing math vocabulary. Quizlet offers review in the form of flash cards, games, or tests.

There are two approaches that will help next year in math—reviewing last year’s math vocabulary and previewing next year’s. If your child just finished taking Algebra I and will be taking geometry next year, he should spend time reviewing Algebra I vocabulary. He can go to Quizlet and search for it. Many teachers and students have posted their sets of study cards, and almost any subject is already available. He should start by using the flash cards to make sure he still knows the vocabulary. After he feels comfortable, he can play Scatter and Race which make the learning more fun.

After spending time reviewing last year’s math course, your child can begin working on next year’s vocabulary. She can search for “geometry vocabulary” to find a set of terms to begin learning. It might be beneficial to search for terms from previous years. If she is in 7th grade, she could look for 5th grade geometry vocabulary. It is important that this review is not frustrating, and that she has enough success to enjoy playing the games. Any review of geometry terms will make math easier next year.

Quizlet is useful for reviewing almost any subject. The frequently used element names and symbols will be useful in almost every science course. Reviewing literary terms, states and capitals, and historical events can help. It is, however, most helpful in math. Many students struggle because they do not remember all the mathematics terms. It is hard to find the additive inverse of a negative number if you don’t remember what an additive inverse is! It is important to have some recreation and relaxation time in the summer, but just a few minutes a day reviewing math vocabulary can set your child up for greater success next year in math.

If your child needs to drill her math facts as well as vocabulary, you should read about some math games that help drill facts while having fun.

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Move Learning Away From the Classroom This Summer

Summer break has started, or will very shortly. It’s a perfect time to take those classroom skills and apply them to different, more relaxed summer venues. By keeping the learning process active, you can help your child subtly practice new strategies and avoid the “summer slide.” By engaging in some fun educational activities this summer, you can help her be fully prepared when the new school year begins.

For reading:

  • Check with your local library. Most libraries offer free relaxed summer reading programs, with creative motivational prizes for students.
  • Leave electronic devices home when going to the beach, lake or pool. Pack some favorite books and puzzles for quiet time on the blanket.

For writing:

  • Take pictures when on vacation. Use a photo as a “story-starter” to help him write about a vacation experience. Help him paste the picture at the top of a lined paper. He can tell the who, what, where, why, when, and how of the story by describing the picture. One picture for each page can create a lovely vacation memory book when put together!
  • For penmanship, have your child use some unsharpened pencils to practice letter and word writing in the sand at the beach, or in a sandbox. The thickness of the sand, when she prints the letters or words, enhances the feel of how the letters are formed.

For math and science:

  • Take a few different-sized and -shaped containers when going to the beach, pond, or pool. Have him put some water in a pail. Then have him pour water from the pail into the different containers. Help him understand that liquids (the water) take on the different shapes of what holds them. Have him pour the water out, and see what happens when the liquid is in the sand.
  • Have her collect 10 sticks of different sizes in the backyard. Or, collect 10 shells or rocks at the beach. Have her line them up from smallest to biggest or biggest to smallest to compare and contrast size. She can also use them to practice multiple ways to make 10 (1+9, 5+5, 6+4, etc.).

These simple yet fun summer activities reinforce the fact that learning is a continuous process, and takes place just about everywhere!

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Encourage Teens' Writing During the Summer

Recently, a student shared a poem he had written with me. I was totally amazed at how beautiful and thoughtful it was. He was involved in a creative writing class, and the poem was an assignment. This made me think about the summer as a time to expand writing skills in a fun way. Teens could see writing as something to enjoy instead of a chore to do for school.

Often, teens get stuck on the first step when trying to write—thinking of something to say. This is true for all writers, not just beginning writers! If your child feels this way, my advice is to encourage her to write about her passions. If she has something she really wants to say, it is much easier to get going. It is also important that she does not feel that her work has to be perfect the first time through. I often write, rewrite, let it sit overnight, and revise again before submitting my work. Six Ways to Start the Writing Process might help her get started.

Creative thoughts often come to us when we are relaxed and not focused on any one thing. It might help your child to get away from electronic devices that interrupt his thinking. Many writers say their ideas come to them while in the shower first thing in the morning when they are well-rested. He could take an afternoon walk in the park or sit outside one night and watch for a shooting star. The trick is to give himself plenty of down time when there is nothing scheduled except relax and enjoy life.

Encourage your children to take some time this summer to explore their writing potential. They might find that they enjoy getting their thoughts down on paper. Your children might find out that they love sharing their passions through writing. This is especially true if there is an easy way to share what they write with the world! Teen Ink is a website devoted to sharing writing, reviews, photos, videos, and art submitted by teens. There are more than 65,000 works published on the site. It is fun to read the work submitted by other teens and to rate their work. Perhaps your child will be inspired to submit work for publication this summer, and she will begin to see herself as a writer with important things to say.

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Sensory Activities Sharpen Skills and Encourage Creativity

Sensory games can be a fun way for any child to learn. Here are three easy activities to encourage your child to learn in different ways:

Heighten his listening comprehension with simple household objects. For example, use a set of keys, the kitchen faucet, a bouncing ball, or the vacuum. Ask him to close his eyes and listen for the noise you are going to make. Then, briefly shake the keys and ask him to identify the object that made the sound. Once he can easily identify single objects, try two, then three to fine-tune listening skills.

Focus on the tactile sense. Make a “Guess-It” bag. Gather a paper grocery bag or pillowcase and collect some objects that are familiar to your child. Examples can be her favorite small stuffed animal, an apple, a toy car, a sock, etc. Hide an object, one at a time, in the bag. Have her close her eyes, reach into the bag, and identify the object with her sense of touch. When she guesses correctly, encourage her to describe just how she knew.

Help him think about familiar objects in different ways. Show your child a straw, a pencil, and a fork. Ask “Which item would work just as well holding the opposite end?” Ask “What else, around the house, might work just as well upside down? (A slice of bread, a baseball, a piece of cheese, an orange, etc.) Or have him think of different ways to use familiar objects. His soccer trophy could be used as a doorstop; a drinking glass could hold and display a shell collection. 

Wondering about, then discovering new possibilities, is a great way to encourage curiosity. This will expand a child’s ability to be a creative, divergent thinker!

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Keys To Helping Your Child Be Successful in School—and in Life

In a few short days, I will watch another class of seniors walk across the stage to receive their high school diplomas. It is always an emotional time, because I have worked with many of these students for several years and seen them grow from insecure middle school students into self-confident seniors. What can we do to make that journey smooth and productive?

First of all, parents should stress the importance of being on time to school and attending every day unless really sick. If you allow your child to stay home every time she feels tired or doesn’t want to take a test, you are setting up a pattern of negative behavior that will impact her college and career success. If she feels anxious about school, it is important to find out what is making her anxious and to help her face her fears rather than run from them. If allowed to avoid it, she will become more anxious the next time.

Second, parents, teachers, and students need to communicate frequently with each other. If parents do not let teachers know when there are problems, then teachers can’t do anything to help. Conversely, if teachers don’t let parents know, then the parents can’t do their part to help. Typically, experienced teachers have seen similar problems and have suggestions for what needs to be done in a given situation; and parents are usually ready to provide support at home when they know it is needed. Adolescents should be contributing to the discussion, as well, so that they can understand the issues and do their part to correct them.

Finally, both parents and teachers must hold students accountable for their actions. Of all the educational issues I have seen that harm children, this is one of the worst. When your son chooses not to do his homework, he should suffer the consequence of having a lower grade for it. This is true even if he had a great reason for not doing it. For example, if he is on the football team and had a late practice after school, he might be very tired and choose not to do his work. The consequence for that choice is a lowered grade. He might have been able to change that situation if he had planned ahead and asked his teacher for an extension. But just choosing not to do it is not the best decision. Parents should not try to intervene to lessen the consequence for the decision. In this way, children learn to make the best choice and to be responsible for their actions.

The path from adolescence to adulthood can be rocky. Parents can help their children traverse it by encouraging good attendance, communicating when there are questions or concerns, and holding their children responsible for their actions. When it is your turn to watch your child walk across the stage at graduation, you will watch a young adult who is ready for life after high school—one who is independent and can be successful in college or career.

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Verse Writing Sharpens Skills and Creativity

Whether your child loves to write stories or is a reluctant writer, a great way to bolster writing skills is to make simple poems. Verse writing is short; children easily understand the rhythm, and see quick results of their efforts!

Here are three easy ways to get started:
Colorful crayon poems
Start with the eight basic colors of crayons (red, yellow, blue, green, orange, purple, brown, and black). Let your child pick one or two colors. Then encourage him to use descriptive words about these colors. Help him write the words if needed. For example:

Bright yellow sun
Means outdoor fun
Yellow mustard on the bun

Green on the grass
Green on the trees
Oh no, now there’s green on my knees!

After he’s created a poem for each color on a separate piece of paper, staple the pages together to create his book of poems. Let him illustrate each colorful verse.

Pick-a-word notebook

Keep a special small notebook for pages of verse. Together, brainstorm some favorite words such as dinosaur, butterfly, ice cream, etc., and have your child build verses around those works.
Ice cream in the park
Ice cream after dark
Ice cream at the pool
Ice cream is so cool

Have your child draw pictures about the poems she creates. Help her fill the top of some empty pages with random, interesting words she likes. Then she will have verse “starters,” ready to go, in her notebook.

Create greeting cards
Have plain paper handy. Let your child fold it in half and create greeting card verses for family and friends. The themes could include "get well," "happy birthday," "thank you," "congratulations," and more.

Nana, Nana you’re the best
Hope you get some time to rest
Happy birthday!!!

Family members love these homemade greetings!

Try these verse-atile activities with your child—they can spark a real interest in describing, rhyming, and using creative words. They can also teach writing a clear message with fewer (and more descriptive) words.

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Tips for Connecting With Your Kids During the Summer

Summertime! Kids everywhere are living in anticipation of release from school for the summer. What happens then? That is an important question to ask; parents everywhere should consider what is best for their children. When planning your child’s summer, I suggest you consider the following.

Encourage your children to read! Reading skills, like any other skills, get better with practice. Besides that, reading good books is a great escape from reality. For ideas of what to encourage your children to read, take a look at 50 Books Every Child Should Read. Some of these books are written for younger children (The Lorax and The Giving Tree, for example) and would be easy reads for your teen. They have important lessons to learn, however, and spending a little time reading them to younger siblings is a valuable experience. For great family time, read the same books together and spend time over dinner discussing the books. My daughter likes to read a book together with her children and then watch the movie of the book. The questions and discussion that follows is natural and fun for her and the kids.

Get outside and enjoy the great outdoors! Kids do not spend enough time outside playing. Think about the games you played with other children and teach them to your own kids. For younger kids, Four Square, King of the Hill, Kick the Can, and Capture the Flag are fun and provide enjoyable exercise. Participating in summer league sports or attending a sports camp can help build skills and keep in shape over the summer months, as well. For some ideas for outdoor games, see 30 Outdoor Games for Simple Outdoor Play.

Limit screen time. It is important that teens do not spend all their free time online. It is true that there are great educational games and apps, but teens needs to develop their fine motor skills that are not developed when typing, using a mouse, or tapping a screen. Besides that, educational games are not often chosen by teens. They are more likely to play online games with friends that can consume all their attention. There is something to be said for becoming an expert in one activity, but teens’ brains are in a state of neuron development that needs multiple kinds of stimulation—not like what they receive playing the same games for hours.

Take some short trips in the car. Some of the best conversations take place when traveling by car. Parents rarely get that much time with their children. Engage them in deep, thoughtful discussions with open-ended questions. Perhaps you can start by asking “What was the most important lesson you learned in the last year of school? Why was that important?” Then next, “What goals are you going to set for next year? How will that help you?”

Relish the time you have with your child this summer. Spend time traveling, playing games, and reading together. Talk, talk, talk! Families can get so busy they forget to slow down and visit with each other. Adolescents like to pretend they do not need their parents any more. Truthfully, though, they are making decisions that can affect the rest of their lives. They need you now more than ever; the extra time you have together this summer is important time for you to provide the guidance they need.

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Create Word Rainbows To Help Young Spellers

This year in my 1st grade class, I have been using a terrific new concept passed along to me by my colleague, Kathy. This idea greatly helps our students master their weekly spelling assignments. In both of our 1st grade classes, we have a reading station called “Rainbow Words,” which is a colorful, hands-on way for students to practice and remember vocabulary. I noticed that students who were having difficulty recognizing letters, or hearing sounds in the words, had much better success when they used this concept of color-coded individual letters in words. This would be a simple activity to help your young student practice words at home, as well.

You’ll need:

  • A small package of markers or crayons, in the basic eight colors of red, blue, yellow, brown, orange, green, purple, and black
  • Lined paper

Here’s how:

  • You should start very simply. For example, if your child is learning short vowel “a” words such as at, cat, fan, ran, cap, have her use the red marker to print all the “a” vowels in the words. The beginning and final consonants can be any different color of her choice. This way she will easily recognize the vowel in the words, when printing is complete.
  • Have him practice his weekly spelling or sight words by using a different color to print each letter in the word, creating a “rainbow word.” 
  • If your child is more advanced, have her use one specific color to identify digraphs (th, sh, ch, wh), blends (st, sl, pl, cr, etc.,,) or endings in words (ed, ing, ly, etc.) with the other letters in the word.

Children are naturally creative. Using a different color to print each letter in a word helps a child easily recognize those letters and parts of words. This is a great way to improve reading fluency and increase comprehension…while creating word “rainbows”!

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Help Students Have a Strong Finish to the Year

There are only a few weeks left of this school year. Students everywhere are looking forward to summer, and it’s hard to stay focused on school. It is important, however, to finish strong for more than just making this year a success. Success in school and life is linked to the ability to persevere even when things get tough. Educators refer to this characteristic as “grit”—and you can even take this “12-item Grit Scale” quiz to find out how much of it you have!

Parents can encourage their children to do their best as they finish this school year. Here are some strategies you might try.

  • Talk with your son about his long-term goals. Ask him, “What do you want to be when you get out of school? What will you need in order to be successful in that?” Nearly every career requires at least a high school diploma. Even college graduates have difficulty finding jobs in today’s market.
  • Encourage your daughter to attend school every day and to be on time. Talk to her about the importance of attendance and punctuality in the workforce. Most promotions are based at least in part on it, and those who have poor attendance records are often the first to lose their jobs when a workforce must be cut.
  • Plan an end-of-year celebration for the weekend after school lets out for summer. Allow the kids to help plan it. Explain that the celebration is for a successful school year with grades that reflect hard work and diligent effort through to the end. I am not a proponent of rewards linked to good grades only, but I am a huge proponent of rewarding perseverance and finishing to the best of one’s ability.

Parents, stay strong and encourage your children to finish this school year attending regularly, completing all work the best they can, and studying for tests and exams. Then celebrate their hard work early in the summer. Remember that grit and determination are the keys to success in school and life.

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6 Ways To Help Your Young Writer Bloom

When young authors start to write, they are sometimes confused about where to begin. Often, having one good idea gets them going! Here are six ways to let the author in your child bloom.

  • Use a traditional pattern: Suggest that your child follow a logical sequence: “The gorilla at the zoo was so loud! He hit his chest with his fists. I had to cover my ears. My friend Jason just laughed and laughed! Jason tried to imitate the gorilla all the way home.”
  • Use a different pattern: For example, have her think about an experience that really made her laugh. Let her tell you about it. If the most exciting part is in the middle of the story, let her start there. Then she can go back and add the beginning. Finally, she can write forward from the middle to the end.
  • Rewrite a classic: If her favorite classic story is The Three Bears, have her tell it from Baby Bear’s point of view! Putting a new twist on an old favorite helps her think about the story in a more creative way.
  • Be a reporter: Let her pretend to be a news reporter and interview a grandparent, aunt, uncle, older cousin, or good friend. For example, she might ask an older cousin how he got interested in playing the guitar. Or, she might ask her grandmother what school was like when she was seven years old. Then, she can write a story about her grandmother’s memories.
  • Provide a collection of simple story-starters: On small index cards, write 10 different story-starters that are of interest to your child. Keep them in a small container or box. Some examples might be “What do you like to do on a rainy day? Or, on a sunny day?” “What’s your favorite animal and why?” “Why do you like dinosaurs so much?” Use these to inspire new stories.
  • Create a writing box: Stock a shoebox or other container with paper, crayons, colored pencils, markers, and other supplies so that writing and illustrating is always easily accessible.

Doing simple activities like these with your child can spark a lifelong interest in writing!

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Help Your Child Deal With Worrying News Stories

Parents need to be mindful of how their children are feeling when the news is full of frightening events. Stories about violent protests, natural disasters, and political turmoil are prominent on every news source. Adolescents are at an emotional point in their development, and parents need to be aware of the effects these stories have on their teens. It is very important to talk to your children about these events and others they worry about. Here are some tips for how you might approach these discussions.

  • There are many people who protest in peaceful ways. The media often does not focus on these protests; perhaps you can spend some time with your child showing him news stories that are focusing on the peaceful, more effective protests. Also, read about Martin Luther King Jr., who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 amid the racial tensions of the 1960s.
  • When natural disasters occur, adolescents need to learn that their actions can help alleviate the suffering of others. One person might not make a huge dent, but many working together can. You can encourage your kids to lead or participate in an effort that will directly provide aid to the people they are hearing about in the news. This helps change your child’s emotional response to the news from fear into compassion for others.
  • People can disagree about politics (or anything else) and still like one another. Unfortunately, that message is not the one portrayed by candidates running for office. With my own children, I tried to point out that there are risks and benefits for every choice we make. During political campaigns I encouraged them to read each candidate’s platform before deciding who they support. In this way, they can have an informed discussion with their friends who support a different candidate. This same approach can work when discussing any news story because the chances are great that you are not hearing the full truth. One must seek the other side of each story before deciding what to believe.

Adolescents in particular are affected by events they hear on the news or read about on the Internet. Parents can help alleviate their fears by talking about them with their children, helping seek the full story in each case, and providing some guidance for positive ways to make a difference in the world. I believe that most teens are good people. With parental help, teens can become analytical thinkers who are equipped to make a real difference in the world.

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The Ability To Compare and Contrast Increases Reading Comprehension

The ability to compare and contrast between fiction and nonfiction, or elements of a story, significantly increases your child’s reading comprehension.

When comparing, students are thinking about how things are alike. When contrasting, they are noting how things are different. An example might be “How are animals and people alike? How are they different?”

By helping a child compare and contrast, you are building her background knowledge and helping her subtly analyze and categorize. This connection enhances a child’s ability to remember key details in a story.

Here are two easy ways to practice this skill:

  • Let your child choose a story of interest. Use a simple “T” chart to compare and contrast two characters in the story. On a plain piece of paper make a large capital “T” with the descending part of the letter in the middle, dividing the paper into equal left and right columns. On the top of the left column print the word same. On the right top, print the word different. Help him find at least five traits that the characters share, such as “they live in the same city.” Then find five that make them different: one was a girl, one was a boy, etc.
  • If your child likes ocean animals, together read a simple nonfiction story about whales and another one about fish. Your local librarian can help you choose appropriate, easy books. When done reading both books, draw a simple Venn diagram on plain white paper. (A Venn diagram is two similar size circles that overlap and intersect in the middle.) Label the middle part that intersects “same.” On the top of the left side of the intersection, write “whales.” On the top of the right side, write “fish.” Then help your child write at least three details in each section. For example in the whales section she could write “comes up for air, babies are born alive, tail goes up and down.” On the fish side she could write “breathes under water, tail moves side-to-side, babies hatch from eggs.” In the share intersection she could write “both live in water, both swim, both move with their tails.”

This kind of practice helps a young reader structure events, characters, and information from what they read. This structure then becomes a good foundation to promote greater reading comprehension.

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Tricks To Help Kids Manage Electronic Distractions in the Classroom

Many schools are going “one-to-one,” which means every student has a laptop or tablet on which to work. While there are tremendous advantages of having access to electronic devices in school, there are some potential problems, as well. Students have access to electronic textbooks and instant information, and they have less to carry around with them in their backpacks. They also have an almost irresistible distraction sitting right in front of them on their desk. Many students cannot control the urge to browse the web, play games either alone or with friends, watch videos, or visit social networking sites when they should be working. Teachers try to monitor what their students are doing, but truthfully, it is not possible to teach a lesson and at the same time keep track of what every student is doing on his computer. The responsibility lies with each student to stay focused on their schoolwork.

Here are some tricks that might help your child stay focused in class.

  • When the computer is not being actively used for the lesson, he can partially close it or turn it so that the screen is not visible while he is focusing on the teacher. This keeps him from watching what is happening on the screen, and it also sends the message to the teacher and other students that he is listening. Teachers call this “half mast,” or “forty-five” (meaning the screen is at a 45-degree angle to the table top). The advantage for laptop users is that this keeps them from being distracted but does not shut down the computer, so it is ready to use as soon as the teacher asks for it. Tablets boot almost instantly, so he could just as easily turn it off to keep from being distracted by it.
  • Talk to your child’s friends to let them know that during class she does not want to receive messages or play games. This is difficult for some teens because it is hard to stand up to peers. She could say something like, “I feel frustrated when you send me messages in class because I have a hard enough time keeping up with algebra without being distracted. I need you to wait until after class to socialize. Please don’t do that any more.” Chances are her friend will benefit from this stance as much as she will! If you allow her to practice saying this to you at home, it will be easier for her to say to her friends.
  • Many online games require players to be logged in at all times or they lose status. These games are generally free at first, but once you get into the game it costs money to do well. This is very tempting for students to stay logged on their game during the school day. If your son is involved with one of these games, you may need to intervene. Be aware that he can also play these games on his smartphone, so if you decide to uninstall the game, you will need to check the phone, too. Splitting his brain power between schoolwork and an online game will result in lower grades in school.

One-on-one programs are relatively new on the scene in schools. If your child is participating in one, help her understand her responsibility during the school day is to do her best school work. She will need to minimize distractions from the screen, her friends who want to socialize online, and playing computer games when she should be learning. The discipline she will learn will help her in other areas of her life and prepare her for college and the workplace.

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3 Easy Ways To Reinforce Subtraction Skills

Subtraction is often a difficult concept for young children to grasp. Yet it is very important for math comprehension and problem-solving.

Here are three easy and fun ways to reinforce this all-important math skill:

  • Start by practicing counting backward. For a younger child start at the number 10. For a kindergarten or 1st grade student, start at the number 20. The ability to confidently and fluently count backward from these numbers allows a child to know that the number “right before” is an automatic minus one. For example, if you say 12 he should know that the number right before is 11. So, he instinctively knows that 12-1=11.
  • Use a 12-inch ruler as a number line. Have her use her finger to actually “hop” backward on the number line as you give her subtraction to practice. You say, “What is 9-4?” She puts her finger on the number 9 then makes four hops backwards, landing on number 5. Help her remember that she doesn’t start to count until her finger moves and lands on the first hop. Have her say the complete equation, 9-4=5. Then, have her write it in a small notebook. That way you are incorporating visual, auditory, and tactile senses, which reinforce the concept for all types of learners. As she gets confident with numbers 12 and below, increase the difficulty to 15, then 20 using a tape measure.
  • Play a “What Is Missing?” game. Put out 10 fish crackers, raisins, Cheerios, or any other favorite small snack. Together count out so that your child knows there are 10 objects. Have him turn around and not look while you hide some, out of sight, under a plate or bowl. Then, ask him to look again to see and count how many are left. For example, if he still sees 7, help him figure out that there must be 3 under the plate. Have him check under the plate to see if he’s correct. Then have him, or help him write out the subtraction sentence 10-7=3. Added bonus: After each successful guess he can eat the snack! (Variation: This game can be played with pennies—no food or eating involved.)

Incorporating simple math skills, like subtraction, into daily life using fun activities like these takes the mystery out of math!

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Strategies To Help Your Child Pay Attention in Class

Paying attention in class is a challenge for many children. This is especially true late in the day when students have been sitting in class all day long and are ready for a break. It also relates to each student’s interest in the subject matter. Most students will describe themselves as a “math-science person” or perhaps “an artist,” and it can be difficult to focus in some classes more than others. For children who are diagnosed with attention issues such as ADHD, paying attention at any time is a challenge. There are strategies these children can learn, however, and they need to realize they should not use their diagnosis as an excuse for poor behavior.

Here are some strategies your child can manage for himself.

  • Sit close to the teacher. Sitting in the first row near the teacher helps him in several ways. First of all, there is less to distract him from the task at hand. Second, the teacher’s voice will be louder than other sounds in the room. Third, it will be easier to get his teacher’s attention if he does not know what he is supposed to be doing. If his teacher has a seating chart and assigns seats, your child can talk to her privately and ask for a seat near the front of the room.
  • Learn to watch other students. Your child may realize that she doesn’t know what to do next because she was not focused on her teacher’s directions. When she feels lost, she should look at what her neighbor is doing. Is he getting his computer out? Is he doing a worksheet? Is he turning in his homework? Chances are pretty good that doing the same thing is the right thing to do.
  • Wiggle quietly and constantly. It is a good idea to carry a stress ball to class. When he feels the need to be active, he can fiddle with it quietly under the desk where no one notices it. It is possible to wiggle your feet discreetly, as well. The trick with both of these is to make sure the fidgeting is not disruptive to others.
  • Ask the teacher for help. Your child can talk privately with her teacher to ask him to give her a signal when she is off task. The signal can be as simple as a quick tap on the desktop or making eye contact. Teachers appreciate a student who is proactive and willing to work to be successful.

Children with attention issues can learn to manage them better. Sitting in the right place, learning to watch others, wiggling without disturbing others, and partnering with the teacher can all help. If your child has a diagnosis of ADHD, find out whether she qualifies for an IEP or 504 Plan which outlines what classroom accommodations should be put in place. At the very least, meet with your child’s teacher and suggest ways he can help your child. You may want to read Are You ADHD Friendly? which suggests ways teachers can help.

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Is Your Child a Backward Printer?

Is Your Child a Backward Printer?Parents often worry when young children keep reversing letters and numbers in their written work.

When young children first begin to print, it is very common for them to reverse letters and numbers. The most common are b, d, g, p, q, s, 3, 5, and 9.

When a child starts school, backward numbers and letters can affect his understanding of math computations and reading comprehension. By the time a child is in 1st grade, he should start to recognize and self-correct as it is very important that these errors don’t become a “bad habit.”

Here are some simple ways to encourage proper formation of letters and numbers:

  • When you notice reversals on homework, gently ask him to check and see whether he notices anything that needs to be changed. Guide him if he has trouble finding the errors. Then, let him erase and correct.
  • Keep a simple chart of capital and lowercase letters for her to reference when she’s doing work.
  • Also keep a small number grid handy to reference number formation for math assignments.
  • Try bringing in another sense. Help her roll out clay and form letters or numbers that are giving her trouble.
  • Or, add salt or sand to a small, shirt-size box to practice writing letters and numbers with his finger, then gently shaking to erase.

Since practice makes perfect, have her rewrite correctly any words on papers containing backward letters. She will soon understand that it’s simpler to write the numbers and letters correctly the first time rather than have to erase and make corrections.

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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