SchoolFamily Voices

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

Creative Minds Need Time To Think

Creative minds need time to think. It is during “down time” that our brains can come up with novel ideas or search for answers to “what if….?” or “how can we solve….?” kinds of questions. If we fill our children’s lives with too much to do and allow them to fill the rest of it with electronics, their creativity and ability to come up with novel solutions to problems can suffer.

When I interview new students, one of the questions I ask them is, “If you had genuinely free time, what would you do with it?” Interestingly enough, I often have to explain what I mean by “genuinely free time.” They interpret a study hall, sports practice, or time outside of school as being free. In my opinion, the students who answer that they like to read are the ones who seem to do best in school. I also like to hear, “I go outside to ride my bike (play basketball, go running),” too, because these kids are getting the exercise they need to keep themselves healthy. The ones who say they like to play a lot of video games concern me a bit, because they might need help from me to succeed in school. Kids who spend a lot of time with their electronics might not have time for creativity because they are absorbed in something that takes up all their thinking time.

What can you do as a parent to ensure that your children have time for creative thinking?

  • Talk to your children. Involve your child when you are trying to solve a problem, especially if it relates to him. For example, if he is creating a family problem by sleeping too late in the morning, sit down as a family to talk it over and to come up with a solution that works for everyone.
  • Limit time spent with electronics. I am not advocating taking video games away from your child; just limit the amount of time he can play them the best you can.
  • Allow your child to select one or two extracurricular activities at a time, rather than booking every minute of her spare time with things to do. If she has to go to sports practice every day after school and then work until midnight to get her homework done, there is little time left for creative thought.

The question to ask yourself as a parent is whether or not your children have down time every day. Do they have time to come up with ideas for what to do? If you fill up their time for them or allow them to get too absorbed in the digital world, they do not experience completely free, creative thoughts and games. Imagination is important in our children’s lives.

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Understanding Directional and Positional Words

Does your young child have trouble understanding directions? An easy way to help remedy this problem is to practice directional and positional words each day.

Around the house, in the car, and in the yard, there are always good opportunities for helping a child build concepts that describe location.

Here is a basic list of simple directional and positional words. Understanding the meaning of these words helps your young child better follow directions, comprehend reading and math skills and navigate social interactions.

above, below                         top, bottom                             before, after
on, off                                     over, under                              left, right
up, down                                in, out                                       near, far
inside, outside                      front, back                               start, finish

Also, simple ordinal words such as first, second, third, etc.

Some examples are:
“Please put the spoons on the table.” “Don't forget to make sure that socks get put in the hamper.” “Let's hang that nice picture you drew on the wall, over your bed.”
First we are going to the paint store, second we'll stop and get the cake, and third we'll stop at the park to play.”

When you are outside together, look for occasions to reference directional words. “Do you see that beautiful blue bird up in the tree?” “Be careful to jump over that big stick in the yard.” “Let's look under the porch for the lost rake.” “How fast can you hop around that pile of leaves?”

Another fun way to practice is to play an “I Spy” game, using directional and positional words as clues. “I spy something red in the sky above the house. What is it?” (A red kite.) “I spy something little and blue below the bush. What is it?” (A blue bird.) Then let her give you clues, using directional words, to identify something she “spies”!

Recognizing and understanding directional and positional words is part of Common Core State Standards and helps a young child improve academic and social skills.

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The Many Benefits of Summer Camps

Spending time away from home at a summer camp usually results in memories that last a lifetime. Children make new friends, learn new skills, and have loads of fun. The time away gives them a chance to be independent from parents and practice making their own decisions in a safe environment that fosters their growth. Children can excel at camp doing activities they love. This is so important, especially for those who struggle in school. Choosing a camp can be difficult because there are so many. I recommend that you involve your child in making the decision about where to go; and, you should make sure to select a camp that has an excellent reputation. Asking friends where their children have gone is a good place to start. Your school’s counselor is also a great source of information about summer programs for youth.

Many camps focus on building a skill such as athletic or academic skills. Swimming, soccer, basketball, or other sports camps are great for children who want to learn a new sport or improve skills. Coaching and practice in the summer can give them a better chance of making the school’s team later. Children who are interested in science or math may want to go to a technology or engineering camp. Some colleges offer these camps which provide the added bonus of experience living on a college campus. Foreign language camps immerse children in a language and culture they have been studying, and budding writers can attend a creative writing camp.

If you have a child with special needs, consider allowing them to attend a camp that specializes in helping him. It is important to allow your child to have as much independence as is possible, and a camp with trained counselors can be a great experience.

Children who will benefit from additional discipline may benefit from attending a military academy camp. At military camp, your daughter will learn about leadership and responsibility. At a Scout Camp or a wilderness camp, your son will learn about survival in the outdoors and will experience life without the internet or a smartphone for entertainment.

Churches offer camps where children can become more spiritually aware. These camps often provide opportunities for community service and children move from focusing on themselves to focusing on others.

Now is the time to select a summer camp for your child. Attending camp gives your child the opportunity to build skills, learn responsibility, and have an exciting adventure away from home. What they learn interacting with other children and their coaches and counselors will last a lifetime.

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Just What Goes On All Day in the 1st Grade?

At parent-teacher conferences, I’m often asked what you do with 25 1st graders all day long. Or parents ask me just how much time is devoted to the different subjects I teach.

While there is no such thing as a typical day in my class, I am required to cover a variety of subjects so my students stay at or above 1st grade standards. These levels are determined by Common Core State Standards, and are they are now part of the general law of most states.

In an effort to help parents understand the amount of time and effort that goes into each of our 1st grade subjects, I offer the following outline of a typical day in my classroom. A similar schedule most likely is happening in your child’s 1st grade class.

Our school day starts at 9:05, when students arrive. After I take a quick attendance and lunch count, the rest of the morning is devoted to instructional time.

  • 9:15 a.m.-10:55 a.m. is our literacy block. This primarily includes phonics, reading, and writing instruction.
  • 10:55 a.m.-11:40 a.m. is our intervention block. This is where small groups of students receive reading instruction at their appropriate reading level. While small groups are working with me, the other groups are busy with “station rotation” where they are listening to stories on headphones, word building, doing fine motor activities, or working on the computers. This is where students rotate leadership roles, as each week a different student “captain” essentially runs the group not working with me.
  • 11:40 a.m. - 11:55 a.m. begins our content block. Content is when we often do social studies or science. It’s introduced during these first minutes then continued after lunch.
  • 11:55 a.m. - 12:20 p.m. is lunch; 12:20 p.m. -12:35 p.m. is recess.
  • 12:35 p.m. - 1:10 p.m. Content continues.
  • 1:10 p.m. - 2:30 p.m. Is math time. This involves some whole group, small group, computer, and math game work.
  • 2:30 p.m. - 3:15 p.m. is for itinerant subjects ("specials"), each on a different day (music, art, physical education, and library)

As you can see, we cover a lot of ground during the day! We also try to have a little fun with math or phonics games, funny stories, and shared writing. So the next time your 1st grader is really tired…you’ll understand why!

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Use Diigo for Organizing Online Research

Students are asked to do lots of research, and much of it takes place on the Internet. One of the most difficult parts of Internet research is gathering enough of it to support a thesis and then keeping up with where the research came from in order to cite it properly in the final product. I have students do article summaries in class, and they often do not get finished by the end of the period. They need to be able to find the same article again and remember exactly how far they were with their summary. A social bookmarking tool like Diigo helps with this and makes research on the web more productive.

Diigo is a bookmarking, research, and knowledge-sharing tool that works best with the Chrome browser. Diigo allows you to bookmark, tag, annotate, and highlight on any webpage. When your child is doing research, he can tag all the pages he finds with the same tag, which can easily be found when he searches for it later. When he later wants to find the same page, he clicks the Diigo icon within his browser to find the site again. The page that opens still has his annotations and highlights. Even if the website is actually no longer online, the page he annotated is archived and available to him. 
Diigo is fast becoming my favorite productivity tool for online work. Best of all—it’s free! To use Diigo, you first set up an account at Diigo and then install the extension in your browser. You can also install Diigo on your smartphone. The sites you bookmark are available across platforms—from laptop, tablet, to smartphone. This video shows how Diigo works.

Make online research more productive by using Diigo. It is a simple to use, free social bookmarking tool that is helpful for any type of research, not just academic. I save favorite recipes and articles I want to read later on Diigo. It saves so much time when you need to find a site again that you visited before.

> 6 Helpful Apps and Tools for Note-Taking and Organization

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Spring Into Science With a Fun Experiment

Now that spring has finally arrived, it’s time to introduce some simple science fun and new science language into your young child’s life. Watching planted seeds come to life before their very eyes is exciting for young children!

Here is an easy way to help your child see and understand the seed-to-plant renewal process.


  • A sandwich-size “locking” baggie
  • A full sheet of paper towel
  • Two to three seeds (kidney bean, pea, sunflower, etc.)
  • Scotch tape


  • Have her wet the paper towel and squeeze out the excess water.
  • Put the wet paper towel in the bottom of the baggie.
  • Rest two or three seeds in the damp paper towel.
  • Close the baggie, and tape it to a sunny window.
  • The closed baggie acts like a mini “greenhouse” to keep moisture inside.
  • If you notice that the paper towel is getting a bit dry, open the baggie and add a small amount of water.
  • In a week or less of sunny days, she should start to see the bean open and a small shoot emerge. She should also notice roots starting to descend. This is when you can introduce the vocabulary word germinate, i.e. when a seed breaks open and begins to grow.
  • Once the plant and roots begin to fill the bag, she can gently take them out and plant them in moist soil, in a small plastic cup. (Be sure to poke 2-3 holes in the bottom of the cup for drainage.) These seeds will continue to grow and eventually can be replanted in a backyard garden.

I have done these planting experiments with my students and my own children. The excitement of seeing the new plants emerge is thrilling for all!

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Help Your Child With a Learning Challenge Adapt to Change

Children who have executive functioning disorder, attention issues, autism spectrum disorder, or other learning disabilities are often resistant to change. I believe this is likely because when things are orderly and predictable, they are more likely to function well. When things occur randomly, they are required to make decisions quickly and figure out how to respond to a new situation. These children need routine; unfortunately, every classroom is different and teachers frequently change the daily routine in order to keep their classroom interesting and challenging. Children with learning issues need additional support to do well when things are different from what they expect.

Several things may help these kids.

  • Ask your child’s teacher to give him a heads-up that things are going to be different the next day. If he receives an assignment sheet, his teacher could include additional information that tells all students what will be happening in class the next day. If that is not possible, they could tell your son who needs routine to expect a change the next day. This gives him time to consider how to best respond and how to be ready for class.
  • Your child may benefit from sitting near the teacher or near a “buddy” who will assist her when she is confused. She can eventually learn to look to see what other students are doing as a cue for what she needs to do; but, until she can do that for herself, having a friend help her makes sense of the confusion.
  • If you know your child has ADHD or an executive functioning disorder before starting school, consider waiting a year before starting him in school. Children normally gain more control over their educational environment as they grow older. Giving these particular children an extra year to prepare may be a great idea. They may be less affected by changes to their routine if they are a year older.

Providing advanced warning or a buddy to help children who resist changes to their routine can be very helpful. Eventually, these changes may not be so difficult because these children tend to get better at handling them as they grow older. If your child has an Individual Education Plan (IEP) or a 504 Plan, consider asking for help as part of their plan.

You can learn more about ADHD by reading Managing Middle School With ADHD.

For information on executive functioning read Executive Functioning: How It Affects a Student In School.

If your child is autistic, you might want to read Help Your Autistic Child Succeed in School.

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10 Tips To Help Your Child Write a Story

Getting young students to write good stories is a challenge. Most youngsters can tell a great story, but are reluctant writers. I tell my students that writing is simply “telling” a story on paper. If you can tell a good story, you should be able to write one.

Parents can help their child become a good writer with simple techniques to practice. Here are my top 10 ways to help your child organize their story writing:


  • Help him practice telling stories. Practice should include the stories’ beginning, middle, and end. Once he masters that, practice retelling the same stories with more detail. Encourage additional story elements with questions like “Where did that take place?” “Was it daytime?” “How did that make you feel?”
  • Make writing easily accessible. Have a “writer’s box” with supplies handy. In a shoe box or other small container, keep a small notebook, different types of paper, sharpened pencils, crayons, markers, and other writing enticements.
  • Stress that the first sentence should be a “hook” that “catches” readers and makes them want know more. “You won’t believe what happened yesterday!” Or, “Have you ever heard a dog count?”
  • Don’t overuse “and.” When young writers get good thoughts flowing, they often end up with a story that is one long run-on sentence full of ands! Help them eliminate the and to show that each sentence is one complete thought. For example, instead of “Yesterday I went to the zoo and saw all different kinds of animals and my favorite were the monkeys and they were funny and we had a good time.” Help her break it down: Yesterday I went to the zoo. We saw all different kinds of animals. The monkeys were funny! We had a good time.
  • Help him stick to the topic.
  • Pay attention to sequence. The order in which things happen helps the reader have a better understanding of the story.
  • Use a variety of words and synonyms. For example, help her brainstorm different ways to say “big.”
  • Have him double check for capital letters at the beginning of sentences and proper nouns.
  • Encourage question and exclamation sentences. Have her go back and check her ending marks. “I took my dog out for a walk. All of a sudden it started to rain! Has that ever happened to you?”
  • Go for a “punch” ending that ties the ideas together. “My day at the zoo was the best day I’ve ever had!”

With a little practice you can help your great storyteller become a great author!


> The Five Steps to Phonemic Awareness

> 3 Strategies To Build Strong Reading Skills

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Parents, Does a Legible Signature Matter?

Normally, I write blogs to offer advice to parents. This time, I am writing to ask your opinion. Recently, I received a number of documents signed by my students. I had not asked them to also print their name below their signature, and this turned out to be a huge mistake. I could not identify who had signed each document, because their signatures (except for one) were completely illegible. This led me to do some research on the current legal advice about signatures.

Court cases related to petitions have ruled that the signatures on them were invalid because they were not legible. When these cases were appealed to higher courts, though, the higher courts always ruled that a person’s signature does not need to be legible to be valid. Of course, for petitions and other election-related signatures, this might be problematic. A person must be able to prove who they are, and that the scribble on the page belongs to them. Technically, by law, a person’s signature can be totally illegible, misspelled, a single letter, or pretty much whatever a person chooses it to be. It does need to be consistent, though—the signature has to be recognizable as belonging to the person.

According to Medicare rules, a person’s signature needs to be legible. If you continue reading their rules, however, there are ways to attest that an illegible signature belongs to you. Some claim that physicians purposely write illegibly to prevent someone from copying their signature to obtain prescriptions illegally. The doctors actually want the pharmacy to call them to confirm their signature.

Here is my question. Do you think it matters? Do I need to teach my students to write their signature so I can read it? Do you think my students have illegible signatures because they want to “make a statement” with their signature? Or is this just a part of a greater issue—they cannot write anything legibly? (I rarely see their handwriting, because I require that everything be word processed.) Should we still be teaching cursive handwriting in school? Tell me what you think!

For an interesting discussion on the history of signatures and how significant (or insignificant) they are today, read The Great American Signature Fades Away.

> A Case for Teaching Handwriting in the Digital Age

> The Future of Handwriting: Only Time Will Tell

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A Modern Twist on the Ancient Abacus

Using an abacus for calculating numbers predates our modern system of writing numbers on paper or other materials. Its origin can be traced back to the very early civilizations of Persia, China, and Egypt. This simple device can be used to help everyone, especially children, understand our “base 10” method of processing numbers.

An abacus helps young children understand “10” by using rows of 10 beads that children can move to count, add, and subtract. By understanding multiples of 10, a child can better mentally organize addition and subtraction.

Here’s a simple and fun way to put a modern twist on an ancient counting tool. Young children today love to make and wear bracelets. You can help your child combine this popular craft with a simple math tool. This is something I have done with students in my 1st grade classroom as part of our math program.

Here’s what you and your child will need:

  • A pipe cleaner
  • 10 small, uniform-sized beads, 5 each of two different colors


  • Cut the pipe cleaner to a 5- to 7-inch size, depending on the size of your child’s wrist
  • Twist a knot on one end of the pipe cleaner
  • Add the beads by grouping five of one color together, then five of a different color to make 10. We made ours with five red and five white beads. Twist the ends together to make a bracelet. Now he knows that 5 + 5 = 10.
  • Practice the different ways to get “10” using the beads. Slide to show 10 + 0 = 10,  9 + 1 =10, 8  + 2 =10, etc.
  • Now he’s ready to practice addition and subtraction from 0 to 10. For example, ask him “What is five plus three?” He can then slide three of the white beads next to the five red beads and count out eight. Practice with other combinations from 2 to 10.
  • For subtraction practice, he can slide six beads to one side, slide back four, and see that 6 - 4 = 2. Again practice with different subtraction facts from 10 and below.

This bracelet abacus is a simple hands-on tool in helping young students understand addition and subtraction combinations from 0 to 10.

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The Benefits of Student Internships

Students from the school where I teach are off this week to do internships. They are allowed to choose where they want to go, and we have students in several states (and a few out of the country). The students try to find a placement that relates to a career interest they have. We have students working in law offices, government agencies, research facilities, markets, lawn care businesses, veterinarian clinics, nonprofit organizations, and a host of other businesses. This program is one of the most rewarding and beneficial activities we do.

It isn’t easy running an internship program during the school year. Most of the frustrations occur before the internships begin. Students procrastinate in finding a place to intern, and then find it is nearly impossible to get in where they want to work. Students who want to work in hospitals or doctor’s offices often need a physical checkup, a tuberculosis test, and to attend an orientation before being allowed to work. This can take weeks to arrange, which means students need to plan ahead and get their internship set up early enough. Our students are asked to set up their internships themselves rather than relying on their parents to do it for them. This is difficult for them, but it is a good experience that prepares them for college and the workplace. Finding an interesting place that will allow them to intern can also be difficult. Many organizations and businesses accept college students for internships but not high school students. Most of them want the intern to work longer than a week which is not possible for us.

Despite these frustrations, the benefits of doing an internship are unbelievable. When students write about their experiences, they say things like, “I now know for sure that this is what I want to do for a living.” Equally important, they may tell me they know that they do not want to do it! I have heard, “I never worked that hard in my life! Now I know that when my father gives me spending money, he worked really hard for that. I appreciate it so much more.” One student said, “I understand more about food production—from the farmer all the way to the store.” Another, “I just cannot sit that long in front of a computer. I thought I would be up doing active things.” I heard, “I didn’t know that a workplace can be a fun place to be. Everyone had a great sense of humor, and they enjoyed being there!”

These are lessons that cannot be taught in the classroom. Organizing and keeping up with an internship program is a huge job—but, it is definitely worth it for the experiences the students have. If your child’s school does not have a program like this, consider an internship during the summer months when your child is out of school. The lessons your child will learn will last a lifetime.

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What Is “Schema” in Education?

At PTO meetings or parent conferences, you might have heard the term “schema” (pronounced SKEE-mah) and its importance in reading comprehension. What exactly is “schema?” Simply put, schema is background knowledge that helps children organize and interpret the world around them. It is the gradual building of experience.
Schema is essential to reading comprehension, as it helps the reader make personal connections. From the time a baby is born, she is building and growing schema. The more background knowledge students have, the better their understanding of stories that are read to them, or they read independently. When the teacher is reading a Curious George story about a mischievous monkey, the student who has been to the zoo and seen an actual monkey can make a greater connection to the story. This deepens that student’s comprehension.

Having prior knowledge or experience helps a young reader:

  • visualize the story
  • make predictions
  • make meaningful connections to real-life experiences.

Here are three ways to help build your child’s memory of experiences:

Discussion Whenever you and your child have an opportunity to visit the zoo, beach, park, or visit with other family members, etc., always talk with your child about the day. This will greatly help your child remember the experience. For example, if you were at the beach, ask questions like “Was the water warm or cold?” or “Were those waves loud when they crashed on the shore?” By connecting other senses, such as how something felt or sounded, you are helping him strongly imprint the experience in his memory.

Create a connection
The Doorbell Rang, a book by Pat Hutchins, is about having to redistribute freshly baked cookies as more guests arrive. Prior to reading the book, make a batch of cookies together. Then talk about how she might have to divide them up to share with different numbers of friends.

Practice memory retrieval
Before reading another dinosaur story together, ask him to tell you what he remembers about previous dinosaur stories. Ask him about the difference between these large meat-eating or plant-eating creatures! Building experiences and activating prior knowledge can help your child make needed connections to become a better, more comprehensive reader.

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Help Keep Your Kids Safe Online

Teens spend a lot of time on social networks. We have all heard of Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook; but have you also heard of Whisper, Vine, and Yik Yak? It is difficult to keep up in the digital world when it is changing daily and our children are purposefully trying to find networks parents do not know about. It can seem daunting and scary. For this reason, it is more important than ever to keep informed and teach your children how to stay safe online.

According to the experts on social media and teens, the major concerns remain the same as always. First of all, there is a very real chance that teens will use the sites to bully others. It is so easy to “say” something online when it is not so obvious how much the words hurt another person. I personally have witnessed anxiety and depression that relates to online aggression. An additional concern is that kids are exposed to images, videos, and vulgar language on most of these sites. A quick search on a site will reveal how likely it is to find inappropriate content. A third concern is that adolescents measure their self-worth by how many of their friends and friends of friends “like” what they post. Their posts become more and more outrageous to get the attention of others. Additionally, people tend to post the good things that happen to them, which gives the impression they have a perfect life. When your child experiences normal failures and rough spots in life, she may become depressed that her life isn’t like everyone else’s. Finally, privacy remains a concern. If your son posts personal information online, predators can more easily find him. Organizations like Commonsense Media can help. Their article on 15 sites and apps that teens often use is helpful and presents the pros and cons of the sites.

Children need to learn how to protect themselves and others when online. It is not possible to watch what your child does at all times. Firewalls and parental control software at school and home provide a level of protection; but, they are far from perfect. Parents need to stress to their children that their online safety depends on them making good decisions. Personal information they give online is not necessarily private, even when they think they are only telling their friends. Pictures and videos they post now will be online forever. Colleges and prospective employers routinely search a person’s online presence when vetting a potential student or employee. How a person behaves online also affects their relationships with peers when in person. There can be unintended consequences to something posted even when there was no intent to hurt others. Sri Sathya Sai Baba, an Indian spiritual leader, once said, “Before you speak, think—Is it necessary? Is it true? Is it kind? Will it hurt anyone? Will it improve on the silence?” I tell kids that everything they post online needs to pass this test. You can protect your child best by becoming an informed parent and teaching your child about online safety. 
There are many organizations that provide cyber safety information for parents and students. Some of my favorites are the FBI, Commonsense Media, and Netsmartz. Pick one of these sites or a similar one to inform yourself. Your child needs your help to stay safe when online.

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Coming Soon: A New Dr. Seuss Book!

March 2 is always a special day in early childhood education. This year it was the 111th birthday of Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss. Dr. Seuss is the beloved author of such childhood classic books as Hop on Pop, The Cat in the Hat, and One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish

Many schools honor Dr. Seuss with in a variety of ways, from participating in Read Across America Day to serving green eggs and ham to cutting out paper apples to make a Ten Apples Up On Top picture.

This year, Dr. Seuss has sent us a birthday present! It has been announced that a newly discovered children’s book, authored by Dr. Seuss himself, will be published by Random House. It will be available in bookstores and libraries in July 2015. The book is called What Pet Should I Get? We can thank Dr. Seuss’ widow, Audrey Geisel, for rediscovering some of her husband’s old manuscripts in 2013. The manuscripts contained full text and illustrations. This will be the first Dr. Seuss book published in 25 years, since Oh, the Places You’ll Go!

Here are five fun ways to use Dr. Seuss reading ideas:

  • Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear sounds in spoken language, and a key element for reading success. Dr. Seuss’ use of rhymes, including nonsense rhymes, supports and encourages phonemic awareness. Dr. Seuss’ books help pre- and beginning readers connect the sounds with their corresponding letters.
  • The books are very good for teaching life lessons in a fun and easy-to-understand way for young children. Horton Hears a Who teaches about equality. The Lorax is about protecting the Earth and how we are all responsible.
  • One Fish Two Fish, Red Fish Blue Fish is a great book to practice math. Use small fish-shaped crackers to act out the story or make a fish graph. Another example is Ten Apples Up on Top.
  • My Book About Me creates a personal nonfiction story by encouraging a child to explore and record things unique to her own self and life.
  • Oh, the Thinks You Can Think and The Cat in the Hat are great tools to help a young child explore the endless possibilities and wonders of imagination.

Dr. Seuss books educate while entertaining young students. They spark a curiosity about books that engage even reluctant readers. As a parent, grandparent, and 1st grade teacher, I am a big fan of Dr. Seuss and eagerly await the release of What Pet Should I Get? 

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When Learning and Teaching Styles Don't Mesh

Each student has preferences for how he likes to learn, what kind of classroom makes him feel the most comfortable, and how his teacher likes to teach. Many times, students are in classrooms that do not match up with their learning preferences. For example, a very creative, free-spirited student may be in an extremely structured algebra classroom with student desks carefully lined up in rows. Or, a student who is structured and likes step-by-step instruction is taking history from a teacher who mostly holds Socratic seminars in class. Students who are mismatched this way often come to me to find out what to do. They say things like, “I don’t know what is going on in there! What am I supposed to be learning?” or “I can’t stay awake in that class. It is so boring!”

Students must be able to learn in settings that are different from what they prefer. It is important for them to learn how to learn in all kinds of classrooms. Here are some suggestions that may help.

  • Encourage your daughter to communicate with her teacher when she has concerns. I have met with many students who were sure they could not succeed in a class. I always encourage them to talk to their teacher about it and find out if they have suggestions for ways to study and prepare for class. For example, teachers who use Socratic seminars normally base them on research the students are doing or on reading in their text. To be successful, students must do the research and reading. Doing the homework matters more than it did before!
  • It is helpful to form study groups with students who do well in the class. See if your son can help a friend in algebra if his friend will help him in history.
  • Talk to your daughter about staying open-minded. Sometimes, it is a fear of the unknown that is the problem rather than a true mismatch in learning/teaching styles. She may not have been in classes where her teacher asks open-ended questions with more than one correct answer. It is uncomfortable for her to express her ideas in class and to be graded on whether she participates. Once she goes through it a few times, she may find that she enjoys it and does learn in that environment, after all.

There are all kinds of teachers and students. Students have to learn to do well in classes they might not like. To do so may require kids to talk to their teachers about their struggle, form some study groups where members of the group can help one another, and hang in there long enough to figure out whether or not their early fears are warranted. School is preparing students for their future. They will find they work with people who think differently than they do. Having these experiences and learning to be successful in a variety of settings will help them to be successful later on the job.


> What Is Your Child's Learning Style?

> Learning Styles Quiz

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Sorting and Classifying Help Develop Strong Math Skills

Sorting and classifying are early elements of math.  Understanding patterns in general is the beginning of algebra. Young children can be taught to sort by color, shape, size, etc. They can learn to manipulate and create patterns. Practicing these skills can give your child a solid base for more challenging math.

Here are five simple ways to help your preschool or kindergarten child practice and become fluent in these basic mathematical skills.

  • Make it part of everyday life. Let your child help you unload and sort groceries from the bags. For example, put all soup cans together in one pile. Put pasta or fruit in another.
  • Incorporate sorting with cleanup time. All the blocks go into the yellow basket, all the puzzles on the shelf, etc. 
  • Play a matching game. Take a penny, a nickel, dime, and a quarter. Tape one of each at the top of separate pieces of construction or plain computer paper. Give your child a pile of mixed coins and let her specifically match each to the coins taped on the paper.
  • Play a sorting game. Separate Legos, for example, by color, size, or shape. Use colored blocks to make different patterns (yellow, blue, red, green, yellow, blue, etc.).
  • Have them sort their own laundry. When my children were in kindergarten, I put a small tan and a small brown laundry basket in the bottom of their closet. All the light-colored clothes went into the tan basket. All the dark-colored ones went into the brown basket. It was a great way to keep discarded clothes off the floor—and a big help when it was time to do laundry!

When doing these activities, be sure to talk together about why things belong in a certain group. By incorporating language while handling objects, children are able to describe the rationale of why the objects belong together for multisensory learning.

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The Benefits of Extracurricular Activities

Parents often ask me whether I think it is a good idea to allow their child to play sports or participate in extracurricular activities even though they are struggling in school. They feel the time would be better spent if they worked longer on their lessons. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, “Sports help children develop physical skills, get exercise, make friends, have fun, learn to play as a member of a team, learn to play fair, and improve self-esteem.” The same can be said of many after-school activities. For these reasons, I always recommend that parents allow their children to play sports or participate in other after-school activities even if they are not doing well in school.

When students work together toward a common goal, they build a spirit of camaraderie and responsibility that are difficult to experience elsewhere. This happens on sports teams as well as other team activities such as being in the school play or on the forensics team. Students also learn how to be good sports even when things do not seem fair. When the referees or judges make a call the team disagrees with, students learn to accept it and to not let it affect their ability to play. If the game does not turn out well, students learn that failure does not have to define who they are as a team. They learn to work harder to become stronger, so they will do better next time.

The most important reason to allow struggling students to participate in extracurricular activities is allow them to find an area where they excel. Everyone needs to feel capable and confident. If they cannot feel this during the school day, perhaps they can experience it playing sports or being on the robotics team. I agree with John Wooden when he said, “Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.” Your child should spend plenty of time showing you and others how capable he is.

You might enjoy reading School Is Not Life and School Might Be Hard, but Life Doesn’t Have To Be.

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Organization Help for the Second Half of the School Year

Winter break is a great time to clear out clutter and organize for the remaining months of the school year. Here are four easy ways to simplify school papers, keep clutter to a minimum, and refine homework routines:

  • Singer Bill Harley has a great song for children called “Down in the Backpack.” Do you wonder what’s in your child’s backpack? Are you almost afraid to find out? Winter break is a perfect time to clean out and organize this important school tool. It will be much easier to transport and manage if he only carries what is needed for each day. Empty it out and clean it together. Recycle papers that are outdated. Keep treasured artwork or writing assignments by using a three-hole punch and putting them in a binder. Label the binder “Grade One Work, 2015,” for example. In a year or two it’s always fun for a child to look back and see her work from a previous grade, and realize how much she has improved!
  • Now is the time to refresh supplies. Stock the clean backpack with new pencils, crayons, glue sticks, erasers, etc. I’ve seen firsthand how it lifts a child’s spirits to start more challenging work with shiny new tools!
  • If you don’t already have one, set up a specific homework spot. Also, try to get homework done during a convenient timeframe. Make sure homework goes into the backpack when completed, before bed each night.
  • Use a calendar as a homework chart. When homework is done and in her bag, your child can choose a special “homework is done” sticker to put on the calendar date. At the end of the month she can earn a special treat for perfect homework stickers. Examples could be earning extra time to play before bed on the weekend, playing a special board game together, or getting to order a favorite pizza.

By showing your child how to dispose of unnecessary clutter and become well-organized with school work, you are subtly teaching him valuable habits that will last a lifetime.


> Five Simple Ideas for Homework Success

> How To Manage School Clutter

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Teens and Marijuana Use: What Parents Should Know

When students smoke marijuana, they typically do not do well in school. I was curious about whether the recent state laws legalizing marijuana for recreational use have affected the number of teens who smoke it regularly. A recent study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health analyzed the results of the Youth Risk Behavioral Surveillance Survey taken before and after the laws were passed. This study determined that the use of marijuana by teens did not change significantly after the laws came into effect. What surprised me, though, was the number of students who report using marijuana in the last month is around 21 percent—two out of every 10 students!

Many teens feel that marijuana helps them deal with the stress of being an adolescent, and it is not dangerous. There is a lot of research that suggests otherwise. Marijuana affects the hippocampus, the part of the brain where certain types of learning occur. This can lead to problems studying and learning new things, and it affects short-term memory. Recent studies show that regular use causes a significant drop in IQ which does not come back after quitting. Marijuana also affects the cerebellum which is the control center for balance and coordination. This causes poor performance in activities such as sports and driving. The third area of the brain that is impacted is the prefrontal cortex, where high level reasoning and problem-solving occur. This explains why people under the influence of marijuana can make poor decisions and engage in risky behaviors.

The effects of smoking marijuana start quickly and last for several hours. Long-term use may impair brain development and lower the IQ. If your child changes from a sweet, cooperative teen who cares about himself and others into one who seems more argumentative or paranoid, it is possible he is smoking marijuana. Other signs are a sudden drop in grades and uncharacteristically poor hygiene. (For more information, see NIDA for Teens.) If you suspect your child might be using, it is important to find out. The first step is a visit to his doctor. Once you know, you can get professional help for your child to help him learn to cope with normal adolescent stress in healthy ways.

See Help Kids Learn To Manage Stress for ideas about healthy ways to deal with stress.

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Time for a Midyear Progress Check

Midway through the school year is a key time to reflect on your child’s school success. It’s the perfect time to “celebrate the halfway point” or to “plan it out.” By these two phrases I mean:

  • Acknowledging that your child has met or exceeded expected benchmarks for his age and grade.
  • Or if he is working below grade level, setting goals and helping him create ways to achieve those goals.

Here are some important things to consider if your child has reached her midyear goals:

  • This means that throughout the first semester your child has had many small, daily successes. He has used prior knowledge to “figure things out.” Talk to him about what has helped him when the work has been difficult. For example, what strategies did he use to remember subtraction? What did he do when he came to an unknown word in reading? Encourage him to build on those strategies, as the work becomes more challenging in the second semester.
  • Provide opportunities to expand knowledge. Visit your local library regularly for borrowing books, attending story hour, or engaging in other library activities. Visit local points of interest or museums. Provide paper, crayons, markers, etc. Unplug from entertainment devices and encourage him to draw, write, and create.

And if academic remediation is needed:

  • The first step is to meet with your child's teacher to understand exactly what areas need to be addressed. Ask the teacher for some simple ideas, tips, or techniques he could recommend to close the gaps.
  • After the teacher conference, meet with your child. Focus on what she has done well, so far. Then, together plan out one or two important goals that will build on her successes. For example, if she’s good at sounding out words, set the goal of helping her become more fluent in sight words (the ones you can’t sound out).
  • Reiterate that no one is perfect. I tell my 1st grade students that mistakes are great! Don’t be afraid to make them because that’s how most people learn. Help instill a sense that mistakes are an opportunity to get it right the next time.

These approaches, as you both reflect on midyear progress, will help increase your child’s self-confidence and develop a sense of perseverance. These strategies will also acknowledge and reinforce that organized hard work produces good results.


> 3 Essential Questions for a Midyear Check-in

> 6 Questions for a Successful Parent-Teacher Conference

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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