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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.

Everyday Money Management for Kids

There are lot of great books and articles about teaching kids to manage money. Like most parents, my husband and I are always looking for everyday ways to let our kids apply what we learned in the books and articles. A couple of summers ago, we stumbled upon a great money management learning experience for our kids.


It was nearing the end of summer and our family was looking at our summer list. You know, the one you create when school gets out - with all the fun things you want to do that summer. As usual, our list was longer than our summer!


Looking at the list, they said, "We never went down to the Cape this summer!"But there was a problem one that my husband and I were not sure whether we wanted to share with our 9 & 10 year olds: we had already gone over our summer recreation budget. We decided it was not a bad thing for them to hear that we'd love to go, but the funds didn't allow. Well, when we told the kids they were disappointed but then my daughter said, I have an idea! We have that huge jar of change down by the dryer “why don't we use that to go to the Cape?!" My first reaction was: Ah kids, they are so innocent! Then I thought, why not? And so our unique Cape adventure was born.


First, we went to the change machine at the local supermarket. To our surprise, our laundry change had added up 205 dollars! Sounds like a decent amount of money but the kids even knew that this was not enough for a hotel and meals for a weekend. Lucky for us we camp! We told the kids that we would foot the bill for the campground for the two nights but that we were going to hand the money over to them and they were going to determine how to spend the money for everything else. Next, we introduced the concept of "want versus need." Now we have had this conversation with our kids before. But trust me when I tell you, that explaining this to them when it's our dime, as opposed to their money that they need to stretch for an entire weekend-- is an entirely different animal! Also, we were able to explain that your wants versus needs are constantly shifting… when you're on vacation you may put a fun activity as a need, whereas on a daily basis this isn't the case.


The second good lesson in money handling came before we left: estimating. How much do you think it will cost us to eat meals out… to play mini golf… to take a bike ride? After they did the rough estimation, they realized that we probably weren't going to have enough money to eat all our meals out and go mini golfing, as they originally planned. Then an amazing thing happened: they said they wanted to use food we had in the house so they'd have enough money to do some fun stuff down the cape or buy an ice cream if they wanted to. Choose pb & j over the clam shack? Yep. When Mom and Dad aren't paying, at least!


Our Cape weekend was a lot of fun for everyone. We did a lot of things that didn't cost a penny; beach, bicycling, kite flying. I have to admit that it was really nice for my husband and I not to be the NO people when it came to spending money. On the second day, after we had spent most of the day bicycling, the water in our water bottles was getting low and warm. We were passing a little store and the kids asked if we could get a cold drink. We said, "it's up to you. Is that how you want to spend the money?" Well, they went in the store and came out empty handed. "Did you know that the drinks we like cost 3 dollars a bottle? We want to save that money so we can get ice cream later." Ahhh, now we were getting somewhere!


All in all, it was a great experience. Our kids did a great job keeping track of and handling the money. But most importantly they learned you don't have to spend a lot of money to have fun. They also learned that when it comes to your money, you have to make a lot of choices. Not always easy and fun ones. But in the end, they thought through what was important to them, made decisions that served the whole family (not just an individual) and they felt good about those choices. Overall, a good lesson for life.

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Stories at the Table

When my kids were in the house, it was a regular part of dinner to go around the table and say one thing about the day. It got us started in conversation, and it didn't stop.  Its where my kids learned about who I was, and who my wife was, and who they were, too.

As a storyteller, I've learned over the years that we use stories to give meaning to things - that's how humans work. Stories tell us where we come from, and help us think about where we're going. While the media - movies, TV, books, even storytelling recordings, by, um, yours truly - is a source for many stories, it's important to remember that some of the most important stories a kid will hear are personal and family stories from those around them. It's family stories that ground a young person in the world - hearing a story from someone in your life has much more resonance than something you got off a screen from someone who doesn't know you.

The best place for those stories is over food at the family dinner table. Your sharing of the story about the time you got in trouble, or the first time you did anything (rode a bike, took a plane trip, broke your arm), and the story your kid tells back about something that happened to them that day, is at the very heart of culture. That seems so ridiculously simple it's hard to believe it makes a difference. But simple things count. The proof of that is the study from several years ago (I can't find the citation, but trust me, will you? I have it somewhere!) that searched for common threads in the lives of National Merit Scholars; the only consistent element in all of their lives was that they regularly ate dinner with their families.

You could call it the classroom of the dinner table. No tests. No curriculum. Just stories.

My friend Donald Davis, a great storyteller, has a small gem of a book to help you think about your family stories - Telling Your Own Stories.

Remember, though, that telling stories is what humans do, so you don't need to really learn about it. You just need to do it.

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Get Organized for Back To School

This is a guest post by Marian Hyland. Marian Hyland writes about family life at Cozi.com. Cozi is a free web service that helps families manage crazy schedules, track shopping and to do lists, organize household chores, stay in communication and share memories - all in one place. Get ready for back to school with Cozi!

As we slip into the last days of summer, some families are lamenting the end of summer fun, and others are counting the days until the kids get back to school. Either way, the school year is nearly upon us, and it's time to regroup for the new season.

To Do Lists: Create a master "to do" list based on your family's specific needs and schedules. It's time to figure out when football practices start, which bus your son will take to high school, and who's going to be in your daughter's carpool to kindergarten. Without a list of all these important tasks, it's impossible to keep track. Having a master list also allows you to check off the completed items so that you can realize all you've accomplished!

School Supplies: Most schools issue supply lists on their school web sites by early July, and shopping early can ensure that you don't have to see empty shelves where the magic markers or lunch boxes used to be. You can also take advantage of the back-to-school sales if you shop early, which is always a bonus, especially if you have multiple kids to shop for!

School Clothes: Chances are that your kids have grown over the summer, and the jeans from last year now end around mid-calf. Help your kids go through their closets and drawers to see what they need. Fortunately, most stores offer back-to-school sales, so back-to-school shopping doesn't have to break your bank.

Scheduling: Figuring out buses, carpools, before and after-school child care and extracurricular activities for each kid can be a daunting task, but using a good family calendar can simplify life significantly. Entering all the upcoming activities and events into your family calendar will help you get organized, and it will also help you see where the conflicts are.


So, enjoy the last days of summer, but don't forget find some prep time for the season ahead. Heading back to school takes a little effort and planning, but the time spent now is well worth if it helps to get your family get off to a good start in the new school year.
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An Online Driver's License for Kids and Teens

Thanks to my involvement with Symantec's Online Safety Advisory Council (check out their new www.onlinefamily.norton.com product for a cool web safety solution for your family), I occasionally get to listen in as some very smart techies talk shop. One idea that bubbled up last night really caught my eye: Should kids need a certification or driver's license of sorts to go online? Now, it would obviously be very difficult to enforce this in all homes or on all cell phones or the like, but what if we started with just school computers? Before young Billy can use the school machines, he has to have completed the online safety course. Or he has to pass the online safety quiz that pops up before the login process. Something like that. It's akin to my local YMCA where kids under 16 can't use the weights or exercise equipment without going through a safety intro with a Y staffer. I can't break my toe on the web or tear a muscle, but the web risks are every bit as real. Seems like a good start to me. What do you think? 
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Why Reading To Your Child Is So Important!

It is a proven fact that constant reading to young children helps them become better readers. Why is this so effective?
Children learn many skills as they listen. Listening is the first step your child takes in making literacy connections. Educators call this "emergent reading." Just as you supported your infant before they could walk, you are supporting their reading abilities by reading to them until they can do it on their own. You are increasing their interest in the printed word, building vocabulary, and encouraging exploration.
Understanding your child's learning strength is essential in helping them begin to read. Reading to your child can help you determine their best method of learning. Most children use a combination of visual, listening and tactile senses to learn. However, usually one of these senses is dominant.
If your child is a visual learner, he will probably focus on the pictures in the story. One of the best ways to help this child learn to read is to have him pay attention to the picture clues. Sounding out words can become easier if there is a visual clue to match the print.
If your child learns best by listening, she is probably an auditory learner. She might revisit the same story again and again, because she recalls the words. "She's not really reading, she's just memorized the story" is a concern I often hear from parents. This is a good thing! She is making an auditory connection to the printed word, and will start to sound out what she is seeing.
If your child is a "hands-on" learner you may want to share books that have a tactile component like: "Pat the Bunny" by Dorothy Kunhardt, or "The Very Busy Spider" by Eric Carle. Holding the book and having textures to touch will help this child connect the printed word to what they are touching.
Knowing how your child learns can help improve their reading skills, increase comprehension, and foster a "life-long" love of reading!
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How to Sneak Learning into your Child's Play

A parent's summer dilemma: How to strike that balance between letting your kids have R & R and keeping their brains active --to prevent the summer slide. Came across this article that lists 9 tangible ways to create fun, summer learning opportunities. Some really great, imaginative ideas that you and your kids will love. Of the nine, my favorite is to "take a learning stay-cation"! For ideas of places to do this in your area, check out our article about the Top 20 Destinations for Learning. It's all about finding teachable moments!
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Take a Hike for Summer Learning

Summer is such a great time to spend some low-key time with your kiddies. One of my favorite low-key activities with younger elementary-age kids is a nature walk in the woods. Ask your kids to pick a few of their favorite books and pack them in your back pack. Next, grab some water bottles, a snack or two, a paper bag for each child, and head out to the woods. Four things help woo the reluctant hiker:

  • Marketing: it's all how you phrase your take on the outing… a walk in the woods may sound like work. How about: "we're going to have an adventure in a magical forest, " or "we're going on an adventure to be nature detectives."  You get the idea!
  • A picnic along the way always makes the walk more exciting. Remember to "leave no trace."
  • Favorite books are a great way to get kids to love hiking.  Instead of pushing your kids when they say they are tired, why not find an interesting rock or mossy area to sit on and read a book until they have re-fueled.
  • What magic could a paper bag possibly hold? Ah, what better place to put all the treasures they find on their nature walk? When you get home, you can sort all the cool stuff they found along the way (good classification project).

Can't think of a better way to foster a love of nature and books  and your kids will never guess that you are sneaking a bit of learning into their adventure!
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Play a Pattern Game for Learning Fun!

Let's have some pattern fun with a game I call "Powerful Patterns." For this game you will need a deck of playing cards.

The game can be played on any flat surface. The adult and child sit side-by-side, facing in the same direction. Use about twelve to twenty of the cards from the deck, face down, in a pile. (You will be using the design side of the card, not the number or face side.)

The adult lays out a simple, two-step pattern using the cards. For example: one card vertical, the next horizontal, the next vertical, the next horizontal, and so on. Continue with four of five cards in this pattern. Stop and ask your child to figure out which card comes next. If your child is able to do this correctly, let them continue the pattern.

Once they master this sequence, try a three-step pattern. Lay one card vertically, and the next two horizontally. In other words: up, across and across. Up, across, across, and so on. Encourage your child to describe the pattern using the proper directional words. Your child should become comfortable continuing patterns, and describing the predictability of the pattern.

Here are some tips for increasing variety and challenge:

Use the face side of the playing cards in a pattern sequence. Isolate all Kings, Queens, and Jacks from each suite in your deck of cards. Start a three-step pattern, on a tabletop or the floor. For example: Jack, Queen, King... and let your child continue the pattern in a line. Move on to a four-step pattern. (Ace, King, Queen, Jack.) Let your child continue the pattern. Try substituting household items for the cards. For example: Make a pattern on a tabletop such as: cup, fork, spoon... cup, fork, spoon, etc. Let your child continue the pattern. Make a pattern snack on a plate: Line up a Cheerio, a raisin, and a Goldfish cracker. Let your child continue the pattern in a line. Once the plate is full, its time to eat! (Who knew that patterns could be delicious too?) Let your child become a pattern detective. Go on a pattern hunt in your house. Find examples of patterns such as: windowpanes, tiles, wallpaper, and bedspreads, even stripes on a shirt!
You'll be amazed at the creativity of your child!

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"Giving Back, by Backpack"

Here's a neat article about how Staples is helping millions of American school children, who live in poverty, get the supplies they need. How they are going about this, is what I find interesting. Rather than targeting mom or dad, they are targeting the teen. Or I should say, empowering the teen. Staples has teamed up with a non-profit called "Do Something", whose main goal is to cultivate community service among teenagers. Understanding the world that most teens live, the companies are using Facebook to get their message out about collecting school supplies for kids in need. As a parent of teens, my hope is that their campaign truly does inspire teens to stop, reflect, and do something!
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8th Grade: What to Expect Academically and Socially

Most agree: junior high is not an easy time. Teens pretend to be cool and laid back, but beneath that cool exterior is your same child -- just trying to figure it all out. What's a parent to do? Well as the saying goes: "The best defense is a good offense." In the case of a junior high student, or any teen for that matter, being an informed parent is key. Armed with information, you can be the empathetic parent that you want to be. With that said, check out this recently published article about 8th grade academics and what to expect. You'll find great information about how your child can strengthen their academic and organizational skills before heading to high school. But academics are just part of the teen puzzle, right?! We've also just published an article on what to expect for social changes in 8th grade. Happy reading and remember, it's all good!

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Recognizing Patterns is a First Step to Success in Reading and Math

Patterns are part of our daily life!

Some patterns are visual; such as the way tiles are placed on a floor. Some patterns are auditory, like "e-i, e-i, o" in the song "Old MacDonald Had A Farm." We all, unconsciously, follow patterns, like our morning routine or our daily work schedule.

Patterns are an important learning tool for young children. Patterns are organized, repetitive, and predictable. Recognizing and understanding patterns gives a child the confidence to determine what will come next. Being able to predict what comes next, in both reading and math, leads to greater comprehension. And that is what learning and building academic skills is all about!

A good example of a reading pattern is what the wolf repeatedly says in "The Three Little Pigs." ("So I'll huff, and I'll puff, and I'll blow your house in.")

A good example of a math pattern is recognizing odd and even numbers.

Patterns are everywhere and they're fun! Once your child discovers patterns he or she will see them in almost everything!
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Virtual Summer School - Something to Think About!

What student doesn't feel that summer vacation is at least a month too short? Factor in summer school, and your summer vacation suddenly becomes less carefree (for both parent and child)! Enter virtual summer school! Here's an article about how summer enrollment in one virtual summer school is soaring! The flexibility it offers leaves you wondering if this may be the wave of the future, for summer schools everywhere.
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First Grade Letters to a Marine in Iraq; "I Hope You're Cozy in Your Tent!"

One of the students in my first grade class has a cousin who is a Marine, recently deployed to Iraq. I decided to make a "learning about writing letters" lesson very meaningful, by writing actual letters to this young Marine named Christopher.

My student's final drafts and pictures were amazing. The children asked Christopher great questions, such as, "How do you stay safe?" "Is it hard to carry all your stuff?" "Will you come and visit us when you get home?" They made poignant comments. "Thank you for keeping us safe." "Stay strong," and one little girl wrote, "I hope you're cozy in your tent!" They drew beautiful pictures to compliment their words.

About a month after I sent the letters we received a reply from Christopher. He "loved our letters and pictures" and shared them with all his buddies. He answered many of the children's questions, and promised to visit when he gets home in December.

He told the children that the letters reminded him of why his mission is so important, and that he will carry the letters with him until he returns home. As I read Christopher's heartfelt reply to my students, I realized just how much a simple letter from home means to a soldier in harm's way.

We all know family or friends who have a military connection. Wouldn't it be great if this Fourth of July your child wrote a note to a soldier, thanking him or her for protecting our independence? 
Imagine how wonderful it would be for the children of America to start a "grass roots" campaign, this Independence Day, to honor our service men and woman as the real heroes and role models they are!
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A Little Organization Goes a Long Way

We all want to make the most of our summer, right? In order for parents to have a carefree summer, a little organization goes a long way. Instead of letting the end-of-summer and back-to-school craziness creep up on you, use our new Back-to-School Planning Guide. This checklist is sure to help you stay on top of things, so you can enjoy some family fun -- right up until the end of summer!
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Encourage Learning - Leave Things Around the House

Parents often come up to me after a concert and ask what they should do to get their child interested in music. When should you start lessons? What instrument is best?
There are many approaches to getting children interested in a hobby or art or sport. Regardless of the approach I think one essential element is this: Whatever you want your kid to do or learn, leave it lying around the house.

At our house, there were always musical instruments lying around. My good ones I tried to put away, so I wouldn't find peanut butter on the guitar strings, but I figured that we would donate some relatively inexpensive but adequate instruments to the life of the house. There were guitars there they could strum on. Pianos they could plink on (and unfortunately, in an unmonitored moment, carve their name into). Ukuleles appeared, and eventually, despite my hesitation, an old drum set showed up in the basement.
(Warning: No amount of insulation protects you from the pounding of the snare drum.)

Some of the instruments were never used. Some of them were picked up, then put down and not picked up again. Some of them were broken. This is part of the cost of learning.
It's not just instruments, either. If you want your kid to read, leaving piles of books around is another good strategy.

Or computers. Or broken clocks to take apart.

Do not leave clothes lying around. That is a bad message. My wife reminds me of this. "It's your fault they're like that," she suggests. Maybe she's right. I suggested it was an educational approach. She wasn't impressed.

But by leaving tools around the house that will help them grow, you send the message - "These things are part of life - tools for you to use". And the underlying truth for parents is "Children honor what is honored in their environment."

Of course, there's something else - using those things yourself reinforces their value. Teaching by example is better than nagging. (Okay, nagging is basic to all parenting, but..) You don't have to be professional at anything. They won't remember if you were Yoyo Ma or Eric Clapton or Norah Roberts (don't you wish?). They'll remember that you sang, or played, or wrote, or tinkered. And they'll do it too.

Or course, there is the possibility that they will end up as musicians or writers. Eek.

Maybe you should leave plumbing equipment around the house. The world always needs plumbers.
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Bill Harley is joining the School Family blog Team!

We're thrilled that Bill Harley will be adding his unique voice to the SchoolFamily.com blog!

A two-time Grammy award-winning artist and recipient of the Magic Penny Award from the Children's Music Network, Bill uses song and story to paint a vibrant and hilarious picture of growing up, schooling and family life. His work spans the generation gap, reminds us of our common humanity and challenges us to be our very best selves. A prolific author and recording artist, Bill is also a regular commentator for NPR's "All Things Considered" and featured on PBS. He joined the National Storytelling Network's Circle of Excellence in 2001 and tours nationwide as an author, performing artist and keynote speaker.

Bill has a unique sense of humor and we're looking forward to having his "wit and wisdom" on this blog. I asked Bill for a sneak preview of the types of things he'll be sharing with SchoolFamily.com readers, here's what he had to say...
"I've spent thirty years singing songs, telling stories, and writing books about children and the world they live in (including the two my wife and I have raised) I'll share my thoughts on what I've seen in schools, families, and children's lives. From playground rules to unfinished homework to moldy growths in the backpack - that's my area of expertise. If you think your kid is the only one who would ever do what they just did, I'll be there to remind you we're all in the same boat."

Bill has some great video and audio clips of his work on his website - www.billharley.com. My favorite is "Grownups Are Strange".

Bill will be posting his first blog post in the next couple of days. Hope you'll check back often and add your own thoughts and comments!
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Understanding One-to-One Correspondence



One-to-one correspondence is a fundamental skill in both math and reading.

Adults use this concept every day. We automatically count out appropriate dollar bills and coins to pay for items. We set the table for the right amount of people. We read in a left-to-right progression, scanning each word as we read it.

But, one-to-one correspondence is often difficult for young children to comprehend. In Math recognizing the number "ten," and being able to count out "ten" items are two separate skills. Linking objects with numbers enables a child to count with understanding.

Mastering one-to-one correspondence is essential for organized, meaningful counting. This leads to an eventual ability to perform higher-level calculations.

Mastering one-to-one correspondence is important for your child's reading success as well. It reinforces the print-to-voice connection. This means that your child "says" what he or she "sees."
The best way to subtly practice this concept is to sweep your index finger under each word, in a left-to-right progression, as you read to your child. Your child will start to model this reading behavior, and begin to make that "see and say" connection.

Using their own index finger under words they are reading is an excellent way for children to visually track what is being read.
This simple technique will enable your child to become a more fluent reader!
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Join our community for parents of school-aged kids


Very happy to let you know about the launch of two brand new sections on the site today!

Community - Thinking about how to keep your kids safe online? Wondering how to keep up your kids learning over the summer? Looking for book ideas? Share and learn with other parents of school-aged kids in our brand new community section. You can jump in and add your 2 cents to existing discussions or start a brand new topic. Hope you'll jump in and start connecting and sharing!

Q&A - It's really part of the new community but it's such a useful feature (at least we think so!) that it deserves a special mention. A very simple Question and Answer format that makes it easy to ask whatever is on your mind. And of course we hope you'll answer questions other folks have posted. It's up to everyone participating to vote up and down the answers - this will make sure the really good answers stay at the top.

You'll notice the "Community" and "Q&A" tab at the top have a "beta" icon on them. We've worked hard at making sure everything is running smoothly and have tested and retested all the new features. But of course there's always a few glitches when something new is launched so we thought adding the "beta" icon was a good idea. If you see anything unusual or if you have any questions about these new features or how to use them please comment below or email us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Look forward to seeing you in the community! My username is klagden if you'd like to add me as a 'friend' after you've registered!
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Summer Reading Program Keeps Young Minds Active

Thought this Summer Reading Program from Half Price Books was a neat idea. (Of course I was one of those kids who read after a bedtime with a flashlight under the covers so it's not surprising I like this promotion to encourage reading!)

The store is offering kids (12 and under) a $3 shopping card for each week they read at least 15 minutes a day. The promotion is running for the months of June and July so a great way to keep those reading skills active over the summer months.

Checklists, reading logs, and tips to help your kids select books can be downloaded directly from their website.
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The New School Cheating? Or no?

Lots of conversation about the recent Common Sense Media report on how many kids are cheating (and how) these days and how they're using new technology tools to help.

Obviously, some cheating is still just cheating. Has been happening since beginning of time and should be policed and discouraged (and we should continue to talk about why honesty matters).

But Robin Raskin (among others) asks the interesting question of whether all of these uses really are cheating. Isn't learning to access information efficiently and smartly a 21st Century skill? There's a point there. How do we balance these two items?
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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