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SchoolFamily Voices

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

Get (and Keep!) Those Backpacks Organized!

The kids have been back in school for awhile, and that "new school smell" is gone. New grade, new teacher, new classroom- big yawn. Most of us have settled in and gotten used to our school schedules.

Before you get too relaxed, I have a question: How are your children's backpacks looking these days? If they're like most students, they are already a mess: loose and crumpled papers, half-eaten sandwiches, random pencils, lost assignments.

A backpack is a student's "traveling office," and it needs to stay neat and organized. Here's an article to help your kids return those backpacks to the way they were the first day of school.

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Advocating for Your Gifted Child

Do you have a child that is gifted? Does your school system have program for talented and gifted children? Judging from all the articles about budget cuts in education, thinking that most of you answered no to this question.

The lack of programs is doing a serious disservice to our future, according to Nancy Robinson, former director of the Halbert and Nancy Robinson Center for Young Scholars at the University of Washington. When asked what the long term effects of not having an adequate talented and gifted program she replied:

It's a loss of leadership in the future, of the people who are going to solve our problems, scientists and politicians and even writers and artists. They're just not going to reach the levels of which they're capable....

She offers some great advice and insight to parents of gifted children in this recent Q & A in the Statesman Journal.

Have you successfully advocated for your gifted child in a public school system? What have been your biggest hurdles? Please share your experiences here so you can help others!

 

Also, check out our gifted and talented resources page.
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Pizza Wheel Activity: Teaching Color Words

It’s a colorful world and knowing basic color words are key for your child’s school success!

Here’s a simple to make, and simple to use activity for some color word fun:

With a ruler and a pencil divide a white paper plate into eight sections, like you would cut a pizza. Or, simply print out the  ready-to-color copy of Connie's Color Word Pizza from the Print & Use Tools section.

With a crayon or marker color each “slice” with one of the eight basic colors that children need to know; red, orange, yellow, blue, green, purple, brown, and black.

On a clip-type clothes pin (the kind your child has to “pinch” open) write a color word, using markers.  For example:Write “red” using the red marker, “blue” using the blue marker, etc. Be sure to use lower case letters.

Have your child clip the pins on the edge of the plate, matching color words to the correct color slice.

Once your child can easily match the correct colored pin increase the difficulty.

Write all eight color words, in black marker, on new clips and challenge them to match the word to the color. Help, if needed, until they can do it independently.

You can store this game in a large zip-lock bag, to be played again and again.

This is a great fine motor activity that teaches your kindergarten or first grade child basic color words, while increasing eye-hand coordination.

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Teach Your Children to REALLY Finish Their Homework

I spend a lot of time talking about what students should do before they sit down to do homework. Today, I'd like to discuss what students should do after they've finished it! I have found that putting everything away is a crucial-but-often-neglected step, resulting in lost assignments and insane mornings. (Can you relate?)

Explain to your children that they're not really, truly, absolutely finished with their homework until they have put:

  1. EVERY assignment in their homework binder in the correct pocket.
  2. The homework binder INSIDE their backpack.
  3. ALL of their books in their backpack.
  4. ALL materials (pencils, papers, calculator, etc.) that remain home away in a drawer or their handy Magic Homework Box.
  5. And, finally...
  6. Their backpack by the front DOOR- or where ever they'd have to step over it before they leave in the morning.

Can you imagine how much easier everybody's life will be when your children complete all of these steps regularly? This is why it is sooo important that they get into the habit of doing these steps every day and as soon as they finish their homework. No snack or TV until all of the steps are completed! Your children will probably grumble at first, but later they will have to admit that life is much easier when they don't wait until the next morning to put things away, leave their homework on the kitchen table or have to frantically search for their backpacks at the last minute.

While we're teaching our children that being organized means being proactive and thorough, we might want to put our things by the front door, as well!

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Song about Swine Flu Prevention

When you're sitting in class, There's a tickle in your nose

Then you let out a sneeze and it finally explodes

You look down at your hand, It's all covered with that goo,

Don't wipe it anywhere, You know what to do!

You gotta wash your hands (lávate las manos)

Wash your hands (lávate las manos)

Wash your hands (lávate las manos)

Wash your hands (lávate las manos).

I wrote this song several years ago for the Paul Cuffee School, and have just recorded it for the upcoming flu season. NPR's All Things Considered played it on Monday with an accompanying story on the swine flu.

You can have it for free!Go here  to the Bill Harley website and you’ll find both a long version (3:47) or a short (1:49) version.

We decided to not worry about money ( What, me worry?) and do what we could do to get the song out there before the H1N1 virus comes back with a vengeance. The Massachusetts Department of Health is distributing it to schools, and we're happy to give permission to other schools, organizations and agencies if they wish to do so. Contact our office (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) or call 508-336-9703.

And please spread the word to friends and families that we're making this offer. If you need a physical CD for your local radio station let us know - our WONDERFUL CD duplicators, Oasis, have generously donated the manufacture of a number of CD's for us to distribute.

It seems ridiculous to repeat this, but the greatest deterrent to the spread of communicable diseases is hand washing. Forget the high tech stuff and use soap and water! In order of importance (I know this now, since I seem to be involved with various Departments of Health!)

  1. Get vaccinated
  2. Cover your cough
  3. Wash your hands
  4. Stay home when you’re sick 

Lots more info about Seasonal Flu and Swine Flu, including how prevent the spread of flu at school and home.

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Forgotten Homework Teaches Lessons

Yesterday, my son reminded me to please not forget to fill out his field trip permission slip.

"You know how you hate bringing stuff to school," he said.

He's right; I do hate bringing forgotten items- homework, lunches, projects- to school, and I rarely do it. Years of experience as a teacher and a parent have proven to me that constantly "rescuing" students doesn't pay.

A True Story

When my darling daughter was in the 4th grade, she suddenly began forgetting to bring home the books and materials she needed to complete her homework. Her school was only two blocks away, and I would rush her back there to get her book or whatever it was she had forgotten. Wasn’t I dedicated? Didn’t I do whatever was necessary to help my child succeed in school?

I did it, but I wasn't happy. I told my daughter that she had to be more responsible, she must remember to check her backpack before she left school. Blah, blah, blah. My daughter would promise to check her backpack every day for the rest of her life. And she did- until the next time she forgot. Then we did our song and dance all over again.

One day, my daughter forgot her math book. Again. It was late afternoon, and I wasn't sure if her teacher would still be at school. Frantic, I called the office. What luck! Not only was her teacher there, she would be happy to drop the book off on her way home!

Let's stop here for a minute and imagine this from my daughter's point of view. Every couple of days she gets to postpone doing her homework; she gets escorted back to school; sometimes she even gets to track down her teacher in the teacher's lounge…what fun! And now her teacher was coming to her house! This was definitely more exciting than math homework.

I was just about to tell the teacher that I would come and get the book when I had a revelation-- a vision, really. I saw my daughter in high school, maybe 17 years old, smacking gum, text messaging some ne'er do well on her cell phone and mumbling, "Can’t do my homework. Forgot my book."

I couldn’t let it happen! This foolishness was going to stop.

I thanked the teacher for her extraordinarily kind offer, and told her that the book could stay in my daughter’s desk. This was becoming a problem, and my daughter needed to remember to become more responsible.

My daughter was shocked, then embarrassed, then angry. What would her teacher think? How was she going to do her math homework? Well, she wasn’t going to be able to do her homework, and for one quick second I wavered. Then, I remembered that it is always harder to the right thing (not get the book) than the wrong thing (get the darn book).

Some lessons you have to learn the hard way. Not turning in your homework (especially when you’ve actually done it), shivering on the playground because you can’t find your coat, missing a field trip because you left the permission slip at home all week- these are the kinds of lessons we want our children to learn the hard way so that they won’t have to learn the really hard ones later.

The only way our children will grow into confident, capable and responsible adults is if we treat them like capable and responsible children.

So, once in awhile, bring the forgotten item. Just don't make a habit out of it.

By the way, my daughter is now in high school and remembers her books every day.

Let's not talk about the texting.

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Ipods to Instill a Love of Learning?

Have heard of schools banning ipods -- but this article talks about a school that is using Ipods for an ESOL class to teach kids how to read.

"Students listen to stories as part of a fluency program designed to develop vocabulary, improve pronunciation and emphasize important words and concepts taught in core subjects. Students also use the iPod's video playback for grammar and reading exercises."

Cool. What kid doesn't love Ipods? Using them in a classroom setting is such a brilliant way to get kids excited about learning. Also thought that using the Ipods at their school open house, as a translator for spanish-speaking parents, was yet another progessive and impressive use of the technology.

So, how do you feel about using Ipods in a classroom setting? Love to hear your thoughts.

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"Tips for Building a Great Parent-Teacher Relationship"

A good “Parent-Teacher” relationship is an integral part of your child’s school success.

Parents are often unsure of how to approach their child’s teacher. Teachers welcome input and help from parents, but the number of students in their class can limit the time individually spent with each parent.

Here are some tips for successfully working with your child’s teacher to ensure a terrific school year:

  • Ask the teacher how he or she likes to be contacted. (By a written note, phone call, email, etc.)
  • Volunteer in the classroom (Whatever time you can give will be greatly appreciated!)
  • Join the PTO. This lets you learn more about how the school functions, and presents opportunities to interact with other parents.
  • Support school rules.
  • Attend all scheduled parent conferences.
  • Initiate a parent conference, at any time, if there is a specific problem that needs to be addressed.
  • Don’t go over the teacher’s head! Always discuss any issues or problems concerning your child with your child’s teacher first. Give the teacher every opportunity to solve the problem.
  • Be aware that the teacher has many resources available to help guide your child through difficult situations.
  • Keep expectations realistic.
  • Remember that starting school is a magical time in your child’s life. Know that you and your child’s teacher have the same goal in mind. You both want your child to have a successful school year.

A good start in school will put your child on a path to be a life-long learner!

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The art of play: Have our kids forgotten?

Child at Play

Or should I say, did they never learn? Either way, it's just plain sad.

Did you know that there are consultants that help teach children how to play? I thought that's what kids naturally did best! Maybe not anymore, laments Boston Globe Columnist Derrick Jackson. His quote says it all:

"My issue is not with the Playworks folks or the schools that hire them. It is the fact that we adults have dumbed down creativity to unprecedented levels. We all conspire in this, from test-score politicians to helicopter parents building up their child’s college resume with rigid, adult-run sports and music programs. Whoever thought we’d need a national crusade for kickball?"

Phew. We all want the best for our children—there is no denying that. But I hope that his article makes parent pause and evaluate how they structure their kid's time. He reminds us how essential it is for busy families to find balance in their lives. Think that his article is a must-read for parents to reinforce the value of letting kids have time to just play.

Love to hear your thoughts on kids and play.

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Kids: Little Things are Big

Every day for years, my wife Debbie put a note in our sons’ lunch. You can guess what they said – mostly those three little words, although they often commented on the tests they had to take that day, or the reports they were working on or just handed in. I must confess two things about this: First, it seemed like a little thing, and little things seem not all that important. Second, well, honestly I’m not very organized and on the days I got them ready for school,  it was all I could do to get their socks on the right feet and out the door. Oh, right, and breakfast—I usually gave them breakfast. But no notes. Not that big a deal.

But in the end, it is the small things that make a difference. I like to believe that my children love me as much as they do their mom, albeit in a different fashion. They come to me with broken things, or when they want to squirt someone with a squirt gun.

When my boys were in high school and middle school, respectively, my wife was away for five days visiting relatives, I was in charge, completely, at home. And honestly, I did okay. I cook pretty well. Cleaning’s not my forte, but I’m better than my two sons. I made their lunches, too. Everything they liked to eat. They complimented me. We had a good time together, and those two guys were happy to be with me.

At the dinner after my wife’s return, we got the story from her about her trip, and she got the stories about our week.

“Did you miss me?” she asked. She knew the answer, but it never hurts hearing it again.

They both nodded. “Of course!” They said. Then there was a pause.

“You know what I really missed?” the eighth grader said.

“What?” she asked.

“Your notes in the lunch bag,” he said.

“Really?” she said.

“Yeah, my friends did, too.”

The whole school knew about the notes.

I put nine notes in his lunch bag the next day to make up for the lost time. But it’s not the same. It’s the everyday things that matter.

Little things are big. Especially when they come with a peanut butter sandwich.

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Homework Confessions of Real Parents (Or, What to Do If Your Child Is Having A Homework Meltdown)

Parents have often confessed to me that when it comes to their children's homework, they have done some things of which they are not so proud:

  • figured out every math problem
  • written the vocabulary sentences
  • composed the essay
  • colored the picture
  • completed the project
  • read the book and written the book report
  • signed the reading journal—even though their child did not read
  • answered the end-of-chapter questions

Parents feel guilty and worry about the lesson they are teaching their children. Why, then do so many parents do these things? They claim that they have no choice. After hours (or days or weeks or months) of listening to their children cry over homework- parents throw their hands up in defeat. They tell themselves that "cheating" is the only way that they can get some peace and their child can get some sleep.

Believe me, I understand wanting to protect your child and stop the whining. However, giving your child the answers or doing their homework is not a long-term solution to your homework problem. You are setting a precedent that will be difficult to reverse. You don’t want your child to think, “If I don’t want to do something distasteful, I’ll throw a fit and Mom or Dad will do it for me.” Not to mention, do you really want to do their homework? I certainly don't!

So, what should a parent do if their child is having a homework meltdown?

Write a note explaining that your child was exhausted and/or unable to complete an assignment. Tell the teacher that this was your decision and you do not want your child punished. This should not happen often. If your child is having problems completing her homework on a regular basis, contact the teacher to schedule a time to meet. The two of you can discuss what is happening and what can be done to fix the situation. Most teachers are very reasonable and want to work with parents to help their students succeed, but they can only do that if they know that there is a problem.

Trust me, your child is not the only one having trouble completing their homework. (Click here for more information about homework meltdowns.

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Tips to Help Ease School Anxiety

On the opening day of school I noticed Sarah, a new first grader, looking very upset.

I saw that her shoelaces were untied."Would you like me to tie those for you?", I asked. "Yes", she said with tears in her eyes,  “I used to know how, but I don’t know today!”

When Sarah said, “I used to know how, but I don’t know today.”  I recognized that she was really telling me “I’m so overwhelmed that I forgot skills I already knew.” 

School anxiety is a very real issue for some children (and some parents, too!) Here are four effective tips that have helped my students, and my own children, ease their school “jitters.”

  • Let your child bring a small photograph of you, your family, or even the family pet to school. If their teacher allows, your child can keep it on their desk or table. Sometimes seeing a familiar face is enough to keep him or her calm.
  • Let your child take a special, small stuffed animal to school.Make sure your child knows that the toy should stay in their backpack. Often, just knowing that a favorite cuddly thing is close by can be comforting.
  • Put a special note or sticker in your child’s lunchbox, and let him or her know to “look” at lunch for a special “something” you left in the lunchbox.
  • Read stories together about going to school for the first time.Two great ones are “Grover Goes to School,” by Dan Elliot, and “The Kissing Hand” by Audrey Penn.
  •  

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Kids and Activities: How many is too many?

It's that time of year! Back to school, kid's activities ramping up. How do you decide what and how many extracurricular activities your children will participate in?

A recent article on MSNBC talks about a study that says that most children actually thrive on numerous activities. Says that it's the parents who are who are stressed out by the overload. Hmmm. Seems that that a stressed parent is going to have an effect on the child. Bottom line is that we are all trying to strike some balance. If our kids are in so many after school and weekend activities that our only time that we "connect" is in the car, shuttling to and fro, that can't be good.

We have some good articles on choosing after-school activities and finding balance for busy families. We are interested in hearing how your family chooses what your kids will participate in and what kind of limits you set. What do you think is the "right balance" ? Jump into the discussion about kids and activities.

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After-School Snacks and Homework

My children have been in school for a month, but for many families, the day after Labor Day is the first day of the new school year. It is also the first day of after-school snacks. What your children eat after school has a big impact on how well they are able to do their homework.

You want to give it some thought before they walk in the door.

My kids are polar opposites. My daughter likes to start her homework as soon as possible; my son prefers to wait until the morning. (How do I know this? The Homework Personality Quiz!) However, they both want a snack the minute they get home from school. In fact, if they don’t have a snack immediately, they might die of starvation.

So, I let them eat something. There are, however, a few snack rules:

  1. Easy. Easy to make and easy to clean up. I have enough problems with breakfast, lunch and dinner. There is no way I want to deal with planning, cooking or cleaning up another meal. After-school snacks must be quick and simple.
  2. Healthy. Basically, this means low sugar. I am not a health food fanatic; I just don’t want to give my children anything that will make them wild, fidgety and unable to concentrate all afternoon.
  3. Dinner-Friendly. Most of us don’t overeat fiber and protein- it’s the refined sugar and processed carbohydrates that cause the problems. Don’t make your children's after-school snack too much like dessert. It should tide them over until dinner, not spoil it.

My Favorite After-School Snacks:

  • apple or celery with low-sugar peanut butter
  • string cheese and a piece of fruit (grapes)
  • sliced vegetables (peppers, carrots) with dip (hummus, ranch dressing)
  • strawberries dipped in dark chocolate (believe it or not, this is healthy, and most kids love it)
  • cheese and crackers

I save these snacks for after school- rarely in lunches- so my kids don’t get sick and tired of them. Of course, there are many, many more healthy, easy, dinner-friendly snack ideas. Please, share some of yours!

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Keep School Supplies Simple

For many children getting school supplies is the best part of going to school! A few years ago, on the first day of school, Amanda, was so proud of her big box of 64 crayons. Very quickly pride turned into panic when I asked her to "make a circle with your red crayon." "Mrs. McCarthy" she said, as her lip started to quiver, "I have so many 'reds' in my box, that I don't know which one to use!" Amanda was simply overwhelmed by her number of choices.

My best advice to parents is to keep school supplies simple! Many teachers send home a list of supplies before the beginning of school. For those who didn't receive a list from their child's teacher I suggest these basic items for kindergarten or first grade:

  • Three sharpened pencils, with erasers
  • A small box of crayons, containing no more than 16 crayons
  • A small container of glue, or a glue stick
  • A child-sized pair of scissors
  • A pencil box to keep supplies organized and handy

 

Additional helpful items other than school supplies are:

 

  • A lunch box and favorite snack for snack time
  • A pocket-size pack of tissues
  • A backpack that is not too heavy or oversized for your child to carry everyday
  • A small container of hand sanitizer

 

Please don't forget to label the inside of backpacks, lunch boxes, raincoats, jackets, etc. with your child's name. For safety reasons, never place your child's name on the outside of a backpack or any other items. You do not want strangers to know your child's name.

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Cool Contest for Budding Artists

Hey parents, with the long weekend upon us are you looking for something fun and constructive for your kids to do? How about sending your budding artists to the drawing board... SchoolFamily.com and Henkel invite kids ages 2-18 to share their artistic vision of a more beautiful world in the Henkel Helps Create! Kids Art Contest.

Very cool grand prizes will be awarded to 4 artistic kids: $1,000 and a trip for 2 to NYC on November 4th-7th to see their artwork on display.

A trip to NYC?!! I think I'll nudge my kids to get creating. 

One last important note: the contest deadline is September 13, 2009.

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After-School Program Cuts = Stress

As parents, we have so many details to attend to with our kiddies going back to school. For working parents, there's the added layer of securing after-school childcare or activities. This article about cuts in a New York, city-funded daycare center hits home.

Seems lately, there have been many articles about after-school programs being slashed, due to budget cuts. The result: scrambling and stressed out parents! We have heard of some parents hiring after school tutors/babysitters to come to their house. But that often cancels out their income. It's quite a dilemma.

Curious to hear if you have experienced this your area. What are parents doing to fill the childcare void? Join our community and jump into the working parents discussion. Share your thoughts, ideas, and solutions... or just vent!

 

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Top Three Rules for Helping Your Kids with Homework

Parents want to know the best way to help their children with homework. While there are many Homework Helper Dos and Don'ts, three rules top the list. The following rules not only help students do tonight's homework, they help foster future independent learning. Our goal is independent and self-motivated students, isn't it? Right!

  1. Insist that your child- not you- read all directions. Do NOT do this for them. Reading the directions is crucial skill, and you want your child to establish this habit as early as possible. As both a teacher and a parent, I have been amazed at how often a child cries, “I don’t get it!” then reads the directions and says, “Oh! I get it!”
  2. Give your child some space. By this I mean: Do NOT sit right next to your child while he does his homework. “But, what if he needs me!” you’re wailing. Here’s the thing. If your child does not understand something, and you are two inches away, he’ll ask you to explain or solve it. If, however, you are in another room, he might try to figure it out himself. (Remember, we trying to raise independent learners!) While sitting next to your child makes you feel needed, the fact is you won’t always be able to do it. Be accessible, but show your child that you believe that he is capable of completing his own homework and solving most problems.
  3. Establish a routine and then stick to it. Homework right after school? After dinner? In the morning? Figure out what works best for your child’s Homework Personality, set up your schedule to support it, and move on. It’s like brushing teeth. Would you engage in a Big Debate if your daughter woke up and, “I don’t want to brush my teeth this morning. Can I brush them after school?” Of course you wouldn’t! Certain chores and activities take place at certain times of the day. End of story. Save the pleading and negotiating for something worthwhile- like another bowl of ice cream.

Stick to your guns and follow these three homework helper rules. You will be doing yourself and, more importantly, your children, a huge favor.

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Swine Flu and Your School

You can't pick up a paper or turn on the TV or radio without reading or hearing a mention about Swine Flu. Are you still wondering how parents and schools should respond to the H1N1 virus? Wanted to let you know that we just added an article about health officials'  latest recommendations for parents and schools regarding Swine Flu

Curious to hear how you and your school are taking precautions. 

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More Tips to Help Ease Your Child's Morning Routine

"Why can't I wear my pajamas to school?" 

Last week I shared a few tips on setting up a good morning routine. Here are a few more tricks to make school mornings run smoother. Deciding what a child should wear to school can cause morning conflicts.

  1. Try choosing two outfits of clothing the night before, (that you both agree will work.) Lay them out. Put socks, underwear, pants, skirts, shirts, or ribbons, etc. in a large baggie for each outfit. In the morning, let your child choose which "bag" they will wear that day, knowing that the clothes in the leftover bag can be worn the next day. This empowers your child to make choices, and usually takes care of two days at a time!
  2. Prepare backpacks the night before. If your child has homework, make sure they immediately put it away in their backpack upon completion. This eliminates the “My Mom forgot to put it my backpack” excuse!
  3. The easiest way to keep your mornings stress-free is to follow a consistent routine each school day: Get your child up at the same time Monday through Friday. Plan on your child needing at least 15 to 20 minutes for personal hygiene and dressing.
  4. Allow enough time for a nutritious breakfast. Studies show that children who eat a balanced breakfast do better in school, are more attentive, and are better behaved. A mix of protein and carbohydrates is best. Carbs (cereals, fruits, and breads,) give a quick energy “kick” and protein (milk, eggs, meat, and peanut butter) sustains your child until lunch.
  5. Encourage your child to talk about their upcoming day at school. Planning the tasks your child will accomplish will put him or her in the right frame of mind to tackle the day
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Do you allow your children to watch TV or play on the computer before doing their homework?

Yes - 31.6%
Sometimes - 25.4%
No - 37.4%

Total votes: 4919
The voting for this poll has ended on: June 25, 2016