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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.

Time for a Rhyme

Children learn how to talk instinctively. It is a natural process. It occurs through interaction with family members, caregivers, or even playmates. However, this is not the case with reading. Reading must be learned.

Learning to read combines visual and auditory skills. For example, as a child recognizes a sound, he or she should start to visually associate that sound with the appropriate letter.

Where does a parent, as their child's first teacher, begin this "learning to read" process?

Reading aloud to your child is essential! The more you read to children, the more sounds they will hear. The more sounds children hear and distinguish, the better they listen. And, the better they listen, the quicker they will learn to associate those sounds with the printed word! It's all about building skills in logical sequence.

Hearing sounds in spoken language is called "Phonemic Awareness." It is a critical pre-reading skill. A great way to practice "Phonemic Awareness" is to have your child listen to, and identify rhymes.

Get out those old "Mother Goose" books and read lots of Nursery Rhymes to your child! Some rhymes that children love are: "Little Miss Muffet," "Jack and Jill," "Hey Diddle Diddle," "Hickory, Dickory Dock," "Baa Baa Black Sheep," and any others that might appeal to your child, or ones that you loved hearing when you were a child.

Have some fun with them! "Act out" a rhyme, or substitute your child's name in the rhyme. (Mike be nimble, Mike be quick, Mike jump over the candlestick!)

Or, change the action. (Jack and Jill went down the hill...) Be as creative as imaginable. Your child will never tire of hearing you read these classics!
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Simple Tools for Sharp Listening Skills

In this digital age an old-fashioned, child-friendly cassette tape player can be your four-to-six year old's best friend!

Do you have to be away on a business trip, and miss your child's bedtime story?

  • Record your child's favorite book on a tape. Let him follow along in the book, as he listens to you read. It's the next best thing to being there!



Do you love getting books for your grandchild, but miss reading to her because you live miles away?

  • Before you mail that book, record the story on a cassette tape and include it in the package. It's a great way to stay close, even though you are far away!


Is your first grader having trouble remembering spelling words?

  • Let her record words in this order: Say it, spell it, and say it again. She can listen, then write, then self-correct until she confidently can spell all her words.


Want to improve your child's reading fluency and expression?

  • Tape him reading a story. He can then hear himself as others hear him. My students love this activity, and want to do it again and again!


So, search those yard sales for child-friendly tape recorders with built-in microphones and colorful push-buttons.

Or, get a new, inexpensive CD/Tape combination recorder and player. Color code the buttons with colored dot stickers (green for play, red for stop, yellow for rewind, etc.) for easy operation by your child.

Simple tools make learning fun!
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Summer Learning Activity Can Turn Into Donated Rice

A colleague sent me this neat site that promotes learning and feeds people at the same time! I have to confess I probably spent a little too much time reviewing my high school french vocabulary but it's hard to stop when each correct answer donates another 10 grains of rice to the United Nations Food Program!

FreeRice is a great way to keep your kids' brains sharp over the summer months. The quizzes are very easy to use and I like how they return to questions you previously answered wrong to make sure the word or concept has stuck. Lots of subjects to choose from - vocabulary, science, geography, and math.

Looking for other ways to keep kids' minds active this summer? Check out this article -Summer Amnesia: Avoid the Brain Drain.
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Mother's Day Reflections - "My Mom's Hair Is Like Polished Wood"

"My mom's hair is like polished wood," wrote one student in my class. Another wrote "Her hugs feel like the ocean waves." Yet another wrote "If I could choose any mom in the world to be my mom, I would choose her."   These are just a small sample of the great writing my first grade students did recently, to honor their moms and celebrate Mother's Day.

Every spring, on the Friday before Mother's Day, our class has a Mother's Day Tribute. This was introduced to our school ten years ago by another first grade teacher, and then embraced by us all. (Thank you Miss Wayland!)

In mid-April we begin writing rough drafts titled: "My mom is special to me because..."

I tell the children to think about all the things that make their mom very special. We talk about "writing from your heart."

Slowly the words begin to trickle, then flow onto their papers. Each child has a unique perspective, and they personalize their tribute so beautifully: "When my mom hugs me, I can feel the love rush through her hug." I love her no matter where I am." "Her voice sounds like birds chirping." "I appreciate how hard she works for our family." "I am always proud of her."

Once their writing is complete, the children begin to practice reading their tribute on a small microphone and speaker system. After many practices they are ready to show their mom how much she is loved.

The moms assemble in our class on Friday morning at 9:00 am, not quite knowing what to expect. When the first child begins to read their tribute, every mother in the class has tears in her eyes, including me!

Each child reads their tribute, than delivers a small flower to their mom. They are greeted with hugs and kisses from moms who are amazed that their first grade child can write and speak so well.

I wanted to share this story because so often we don't give young children the credit they deserve. During this writing process my students worked hard to write beautiful, heartfelt words. They overcame their shyness and had their first experience with public speaking.

But most importantly, they learned that the written word has the power to positively impact another's life.

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The Triangle Base: Three Core Skills All Early Elementary Children Need To Enhance Learning

When parents want to prepare a healthy meal for their child, there are hundreds of cookbooks to guide them. But when a parent wants to prepare their child for school success, there are limited resources at their disposal. That is about to change! I am so happy to be contributing to this blog to show parents simple, fun, and effective ways to enhance their child's ability to learn.

Preschool and elementary-aged children need to develop a certain skill set before they can master learning. Experience has taught me that there are three main skills to be mastered.

I call these skills my "Triangle Base."

These skills are:

· Rhyming (This promotes Phonemic Awareness, a crucial pre-reading skill. Simply put, this is the ability to hear sounds in spoken language.)

· One-to-One Correspondence. (In math, this means seeing the numeral six, for example, and being able to count out six objects. In reading, it means that the child is saying what he or she is seeing.)

· Patterns. Recognizing and understanding both visual and auditory patterns. (An example of a visual pattern would be tile placement on a floor. An example of an auditory pattern would be the "E,I,E,I,O" refrain from the "Old MacDonald Had a Farm" song.)

These three important core skills form a solid base upon which most other educational skills can be built and sharpened. I'll be sharing some tips, games, activities, and resources to help your children learn these core skills and more! Together we will give your children a "head start" that will greatly improve their ability to reach their true academic potential. Hope you will check in often and add your own thoughts and suggestions in the comments.
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Welcome Connie McCarthy to the School Family blog team!

We're thrilled that Connie will be sharing her insight and expertise here on SchoolFamily.com. As a teacher, she has devoted her career to making sure that her young students do very well in school, right from the start. Connie has tons of experience in helping youngsters learn the fundamentals for success at school. She has a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Elementary Education, a Master's Degree in Special Education, and has fulfilled all the requirements of the State of Rhode Island to be deemed a "Highly Qualified Teacher". Connie will be sharing her experience with regular blog posts.

In addition to writing a newspaper column, Connie is a regular speaker on the subject of preparing children for school. As she was raising her own two children, she taught nursery school for four years in her hometown of Barrington, RI. She has been teaching early elementary grades in East Providence for the past twenty-one years.

Connie will be sharing all sorts of tips, ideas, and experience on the blog. She also has some great hands-on activities that are easy to do at home and reinforce core skills.

Connie's first post will be going live tomorrow and it will talk about some of the skills children need to develop before they can master learning. Hope you'll check back often and jump in with your own thoughts and comments!
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Summer Reading and Your Family

Really like this idea from the Washington Post "On Parenting" Blog. It's a summer reading challenge for the whole family starting now and ending Labor Day.

Our guys have done the program at the local library the past few summers, but I like how this one brings mom & dad in, too, and gets the whole family working towards a goal together.

Do see some complications that we may have to customize. Our three-year-old needs to be read to (and her books are short). Whereas Mom & Dad typically have much longer books. Thinking that reading books *to* the three-year-old will count towards family goal and maybe we can even set some individual quotas for each of our clan of 6 readers. (Am I over-engineering? I do that.)

Also need to think of a good prize. I'm sure I can get lots of help with that at home.
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Using the Internet to Learn Science Curriculum

Thought this was a neat story written by a mom with a 13 year-old who found her science curriculum about food chains turned into music and video and posted on Youtube. The catchy tunes helped the daughter (and of course her friends as she shared the video on Facebook) study for a test.

The days of the one-way flow of information in a classroom setting are definitely changing. As Leigh Himmel (the mom) says,
"No longer being forced to learn only from your own class, you bring your entire context and the network to the learning process. Students become teachers, teachers become study groups."
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Doodle 4 Google Competition for K-12 Students

I always enjoy the quirky way Google adapts its logo to tie-in with special holidays and events. Now they're getting school-age kids involved by inviting them to submit doodles around the theme "What I Wish for the World."

Unfortunately the competition has already closed for this year but you can vote for your favorite doodles in each grade level category. (Looks like it's an annual event so perhaps an opportunity to participate next year.)

Nice to see that Google is also giving a technology grant to the school district with the highest point total based on their quality criteria.

Some of the doodles are really quite creative. Be interesting to see which one appears on the google homepage May 21st.
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Summer and Learning and Fun Can Go Together

Our family is right in the middle of summer planning season. I know that those "organized" families have already booked all their camps and trips and classes (you know who you are...), but I bet we're not alone in still figuring all this stuff up right up through August.

That's why I really love this new piece one of our talented contributing writers, Patti Ghezzi, just penned on the Top 20 Summer Destinations for Learning. I'm sure our family will hit our share of not-much-learning-going-on fun spots like water parks and beaches, but we're definitely going tor try to mix in some neat learning/experiential spots into the summer. I can see the Intrepid Museum in NYC in our future....

Quick highlight of two other articles on similar theme. First = Avoiding "Summer Amnesia" (that fun trend where kids have to spend the first two months of the new school year reviewing all that they forgot over the summer). 2nd = Sneaking Learning into Summer Fun. Think that one is self-explanatory.

Man, I love writing about summer...
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Is posting photos of other people's kids OK?

While flipping through the April issue of Wired magazine, the advice column (Dear Mr. Know-It-All), caught my attention as it raises an interesting question about how much you can/should post online of someone else's kids. The question:
I recently posted a video of one of my son's high school wrestling triumphs on YouTube. The defeated wrestler's father has asked me to take it down, saying it humiliates his boy. Is his request reasonable?


You can read the full answer on the Wired website (scroll down to the second question). It's obvious Mr. Know-It-All feels the video should stay up. Whether you agree or disagree with his philosophy that "losing is part of the learning that high school sports provides" it does make me think about the appropriateness of posting videos and photos of other people's kids. Internet safety and privacy is a big concern these days and many parents make the decision to keep any identifiable photos of their kids off the internet. Seems trickier for high school kids as many of them post their own images and videos to Myspace, Facebook, and the like. Even so, I think it's good practice to ask before posting photos/videos of other people, especially kids, and especially when it's the parents doing the posting.
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Super Mom as Role Model?

Recently ran across this column from Newsweek about a very involved mom wondering why her own daughter listed "dad" as role model on a school assignment.

The column itself -- especially the fairly heated stay-at-home vs. working mom debate in the comments section -- isn't exactly warm, fuzzy Mother's Day stuff, but it is thought-provoking. Is getting involved worth it? (I say yes.) Will the kids recognize its worth? (Maybe, but not likely while they're still kids.) Is there a proper balance between not involved and too involved? (Definitely, as there is in all things.)

Anyway, it's a good read. Love to hear your thoughts on it.
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Thanking Teachers and Mother's Day

I like how Teacher Appreciation Week and Mother's Day are connected this year on the calendar. For me, the son of a long-time grade school teacher, they always have been connected, even when thecalendar says differently. And now I'm married to a teacher, too, cementing the connection further.

It's always been easy for me to make the connection between a good teacher and a good mom. Both bring passion and compassion and a hard-to-define,hard-to-findcombination of techincal know-how (long division and making a birthday cake) and soft skills (what's needed to today, a pat on the back or a kick in the rear-end?)to their charges. And both change the world every day.

I don't recall Teacher Appreciation Week being so formal when I was a kid, thoughI do remember my mom having at least one of every type of apple known to man. Ceramic apples. Real apples. Apple-shaped notecards. Apple ashtrays.... (Sidenote: I feel like Bubba from ForrestGump-- barbecue shrimp, fried shrimp, cajun shrimp...). That memory does bring me to a quick appreciation tip -- No Apples! Just trust me.

Thought I'd use this blog space to say thanks and Happy Mother's Dayto the two special moms and teachers in my life. Gracias Ellen and Louise!

If you're looking to thank a teacher, thought I'd also provide a couple of links that making doing so online pretty easy. There are several sites now that connect donors with teachers. Instead of apple ashtrays (those are a bit politically incorrect nowadays anyway...), you can provide exactly what a teacher has asked for for her or his classroom. Pretty cool. Some choices:

Donor's Choose

Adopt-a-Classroom

I Love Schools

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Internet Safety Week: How to Keep Kids Safe Online

What better way to kick off Internet Safety Week than for our founder, Tim Sullivan, to appear on Fox 25 this morning! You can see what Tim had to say about keeping kids safe online by clicking in the video box below.
I particularly like the analogy of teaching kids to drive. We don't put kids behind the steering wheel of a car without instruction, we should apply the same principles when they're navigating the web.


Want more info about Internet Safety? Lots of articles, tools, and resources here - https://www.schoolfamily.com/internet-safety-week
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Teaching kids computer skills they don't learn in school

Last week I wrote a post about UK schools looking at introducing Twitter, blogs, and other web applications into the curriculum. Seems that Story2.oh agrees there's a need for computer instruction for kids as they've launched Hailey Hacks, a series of web videos to show 8-13 year olds "all kinds of cool things they can do with their computers."

Series creator, Jill Golick says,
"Computers will become increasingly important in every aspect of kids lives - for entertainment, communication, work, everything. Yet there's virtually no computer instruction in the classroom before grade 9,"

Not sure many parents will love the April Fool jokes Hailey shares but perhaps having kids learn how to use web based applications will outweigh the exasperation of being a victim of her practical jokes.
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Tracking Playgrounds _ KaBoom

With 4 active kids, I love running across a random playground where they can have fun and be active (read: use up all their energy before bedtime).

And that's what makes this little app from the KaBoom folks so neat. They're trying to map out every playground in America. Do you know a few that aren't on here? You can even rate 'em.

Interesting to think about what the ratings should be based on. How high are the monkey bars? Coolest slide? How much goose poop?No local teens making the playground into a mini, offlineMySpace page?

Anyway, give it a look. I added a couple of playgrounds myself. Is your favorite playground listed?
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UK proposed curriculum includes Twitter and blogs for primary students

Interesting article out of the UK about schools looking at adding Twitter and Blogs to the curriculum for primary students. The proposal would require:

Children to leave primary school familiar with blogging, podcasts, Wikipedia and Twitter as sources of information and forms of communication.


On a related note, a friend of mine thought it amusing that when she told her 4 year-old a particular movie wasn't available in the video store yet, her daughter replied "just download it mom". Kinda makes me wonder if these tools need to be included in the school curriculum or if they'll just naturally be picked up by kids growing up as digital natives.

Now for a bit of fun. Guhmshoo's Weblog has a great Education 2.0 cartoon - https://guhmshoo.wordpress.com/2009/03/26/education-20/

(Hat tip to Judy Gombita for sending me both the article and cartoon. Thanks!)
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Are you doing your kids' homework for them?

That's the worry in this well done Chicago Tribune article on parents and homework.

Love the anecdote about the engineer parent and the $30,000 science fair project. Wait 'til my kids get a "make your own magazine" project, right? Maybe I can bring in our art director and editorial staff for that one.

I completely get the temptation.Who doesn't want the project to look just right? But -- as a former teacher -- I can see the downside. If we tie our kids' shoes for them every time (or just buy them velcro), will they learn to do it on their own? No way. Homework is meant to be practice. Most good teachers use it to assess if the school lessons are taking hold and if more review is needed. No way for teacher to make that assessment for your child, if the homework is done by you.

Homework best practices is right up our alley here at SchoolFamily.com. Check out our complete parents and homework article archive for a good start.
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Does a four-day school week work?

I've noticed a couple of articles lately (here and here) talking about a four-day school week. In Iowa, the Department of Education turned down the Bondurant-Farrar school district's request for a four-day school week. One of the reasons the district wanted to move to a four-day week was to help cover a budget deficit.

"Del Hoover, the deputy division administrator for the Department of Education, said Bondurant-Farrar officials did not provide enough evidence to show that the reduction in school days would positively benefit students and their learning."


In Colton, Oregon, students have had Fridays off for five years now and many people like the shortened week.
"Parents say they enjoy spending more time with their kids and because the district extended the Monday through Thursday school hours, daycare costs are a wash."


"When we looked at the Colton School District's Oregon report card we found that although there were a few drops in average test scores, overall students there are scoring better in reading, math and science - and they are consistently higher than the state averages."


I expect we'll continue to read more about the four-day school week. Do you think it would work for your family and kids? Or do you prefer the usual Monday-Friday week? Add your thoughts in the comments below...
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Should homework be optional if students understand the concepts?

"Have you done your homework yet?" is a question asked almost daily by parents across the country. That's changing for parents of students at St. Paul's Hazel Park Middle School Academy.

According to this article from StarTribune.com, students have to prove they understand the concepts by doing well on tests, and if they can do so without doing the homework, that's okay.

Some parents are skeptical, but school officials believe "standards-based grading" will teach kids to take responsibility for their learning. From the article:
"Under the new system, Hazel Park has seen fewer students get the best grades, and fewer get the worst. Students who know how to "game the system" by faithfully turning in homework and extra credit, even though they don't understand the material, are having a harder time. Students who don't turn in homework, but know how to do the work, are having an easier time.
As to whether it will make a difference in student achievement, it's too early to tell because students haven't taken the state tests yet."

What do you think? Would you like to see more schools adopt this method of evaluation?
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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