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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.

The New Homework, how do we parents keep up?

Spent last week in New York (as part of an Advisory Council for Symantec's new efforts around internet safety) focusing on how technology has become such a central part of our kids' experiences these days. My take: where there used to be two different discussions -- one about internet safety and one about parenting --today it's really just parenting. The web and connectivity (chat, text, social media) are that integrated into our kids lives.

It's also why I was interested in this blog post describing one mom's experience with her daughter and how her studying and web socializing are merging. Is that a good thing? Or a bad thing? Or just reality? How are you keeping up with this stuff?
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Getting your Preschooler Ready for the Real World of Kindergarten

Cindy GoldenThis is a guest post by Cindy Golden from www.omacconsulting.blogspot.com. Cindy is a Special Education Supervisor with the Cherokee County, Georgia School District. She has been in special education for the last 26 years. Cindy is the author of a popular blog: www.omacconsulting.blogspot.com which focuses on the education and parenting of students with autism. Cindy also has a book on autism that should be published soon.

Remember when your baby was born? You looked in that tiny face and promised to love, protect and provide for him or her forever.

You knew that as your little everything grew, he or she would try to push away, struggling to become independent while continually glancing back to make sure you were there should challenges prove too scary. For instance, remember that first day of preschool as your child stared through fear-filled eyes at the tears welling in your own? Preschool. It was a big mountain in a little life.

And now?

Another mountain called kindergarten, full of new challenges and demands.

How will your child handle this steep mountain? Can your pride and joy climb it without getting too battered and bruised? And how can you best help?

The transition from preschool to kindergarten is not an easy time for parents. Loosening protective reins is hard. It's difficult watching your little ones become more independent, getting ready to join the big kids in kindergarten.

This period is also a challenging time for children; however, you can make it easier for your child. The following suggestions are sure to help.

The one word you need to keep in the forefront of your mind is "preparation".

Preparation: Prepare your child by making sure he or she possesses important skills that will help in kindergarten. These are not prerequisite skills, but they will help your child become more independent, thus making the kindergarten transition easier.

You should begin by teaching your child to:
o put on and take off a jacket or coat
o care for their toileting needs
o wipe their noses and mouths
o ask for help
o zip and unzip their bookbags
o put on, take off and fasten their shoes
o brush their hair and wash their hands
o rise early in order to get dressed for school
o stay awake all day without needing a long nap
o open food containers
o wait patiently (an important skill when functioning in a large group)
o take turns
o listen to and follow multiple step directives

Trained in helping children transition to the world of school, the kindergarten teacher is an expert who will assist your child in doing many of these tasks; however, the more you prepare your little one prior to entering kindergarten, the easier time your child will have during this first year.

You can be your child's hero. Just help him or her learn how to accomplish the above tasks, and both you and your child will be better ready to make that first step into the Real World of Kindergarten.

Lots more about Kindergarten in our archive of Kindergarten articles. You might also enjoy this article, Get Ready for Kindergarten
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Norton Online Family beta is live

I've been playing with this new Internet Safety program from Norton for a while now, and I really like it. I've got a decent techy brain (I can figure things out if I have to), but I prefer simple, and that's where Norton's new product does its best work. I don't have to load a whole bunch of software and then remember to download updates and reconfigure and all that stuff i never do. Instead, after a fairly easy set-up, I can use the system (and tweak preferences) easily and issues (son #1 trying to visit wrong websites or the like) are emailed directly to my wife and me.

As a parent who doesn't want to be a spy or the secret police, I like the spirit of this program. It's an open conversation between your child and you and then a system to keep that conversation going when it needs to be going.
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Scholastic, Books & "Stuff" in school

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on this one. There aren't many parents out there who haven't been hit with the Scholastic book club flyers or the Scholastic book fair weeks. We've got three in grade school at my house, so it seems like we have a flyer almost every week from one grade or another.

But the question of the day is: should Scholastic sell so much non-book "stuff" (didn't want to use word "enrichment" and didn't want to use the word "junk") in its book programs?

One of the anti-commercialism groups is taking Scholastic to task for the practice. But Scholastic's spokesperson is unapologetic, claiming that the additional materials (a game wrapped with a book, for example) encourages more reading.

Me? I love the classics, but it's also easier to get my kids reading, if it's a topic they love (whether that's dinosaurs or Kevin Garnett) and/or there's an element of fun. On the other hand, I'm skeptical that the merchandising decisions are all made with *only* reading in mind.

What about you? Scholastic wearing you out? Or do you like the variety in the clubs and fair sales?
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How to Study Using the Folded Paper Method

This is a guest post by Angela Norton Tyler, of Family Homework Answers. Angela is a teacher and parent from the Sacramento, California area. She has been a classroom teacher, an elementary school reading specialist, and has taught courses at the college level. With a special focus on helping parents help their children become better students, Angela has put her energies into teaching parents how to improve the homework and reading skills of their children. In 2005, Angela published Tutor Your Child to Reading Success, and now conducts seminars about reading and homework for parents and teachers all over the west coast of the United States. She also publishes Family Homework Answers, a site "devoted to helping parents and their children deal with homework."

One of the great mysteries of the educational universe is why students aren't taught how to study. I was lucky enough to be shown the Folded Paper Method in the 8th grade, and I have been using it ever since! Not only does it work for nearly any subject, it is super-easy and portable. It is one of my favorite study methods, and I share it with both my students and my two children.

  1. Show your child how to fold a regular piece of lined binder paper in half the long way (hot dog style).

  2. In the left column, have them write the words, theories, ideas or formulas they are studying for a test, quiz or exam.

  3. In the right column, they write down definitions.

  4. They study by keeping the paper folded and flipping it back and forth between each word on the left and its definition on the right. Tell your child to think of the folded paper as a bunch of attached flash cards.

  5. A student can test himself by looking at the words and trying to repeat the definitions- without looking!

  6. Next, they should look at the definitions and try to recall the words.

  7. When they are confident that they know the words and definitions, your child should give the paper to someone (you!) and ask to be quizzed.

  8. Encourage your child to start this process a few days before a test. So, after they finish their regular homework, they can study for a half an hour or so. Teach them not to wait until the last minute and try to cram everything into their heads. Put a little information in each night, and it will stick!

  9. Tell your child to review their notes right before the test. It's great to read the words and definitions out loud one last time.

  10. Last tip- take a deep breath! They are ready to ace the test!


How simple (and non-tech) is the Folded Paper Method? Remember, by studying a little each night, your child will develop good study habits, feel relaxed, confident and prepared for tests, and still have time for a life outside of studying!
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Parents Advocating for Change _ and getting it

Front page of the Washington Post today features a well-done story on today's parents getting more organized, more educated and often more effective at advocating for change in their schools and their districts. All around -- largely thanks to the web -- topics that used to be the sole domain of the professionals (and the professionals loved that) are seeing the light of day. Think about what WebMD has done for patients. That's a good thing.

Quick comment on one of the theories in the article. A quote like this:
Officials caution that the new technology has turned up the volume for select parent voices. It can be especially apparent in parts of Fairfax or Montgomery where well-educated parents are not afraid to throw their weight around and register complaints with a phone call to the superintendent or the media. Blast e-mails and Web sites give these parents even more of an edge, compared with others who lack time or resources, some observers say.

Schools need to be more concerned about the digital divide than ever before, Hunter said. "We don't want to create two levels of power, those with access to information and those without it," she said.

...tries to imply that the folks advocating for changes are somehow doing something wrong. It's something you hear a lot in education debates, and I find it problematic.

Yes, we want all of our schools to be great. And no, we don't want to leave anyone behind. But if two schools are currently at level A and -- through one effort or another -- one of those schools moves up to level B, there's only a net gain there. That's a good thing. Would we rather both schools stay at A unless/until all school can move to B? No way! I'd also submit that effort that moved one A school to level B does eventually re-set the bar for all schools. If the parents at the first school advocate for change at their school and that change works, wouldn't a good administrator eventually make the change at the second school, as well (even if the second school's parents don't advocate as loudly or as well)? I certainly hope so.

Parents getting involved and advocating aren't a [part of the problem. They're part of the solution. Drives me a bit crazy when folks imply otherwise.

Agree or disgaree? I'd love to hear about. Important discussion.
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School Message for Barack _ Start with Parents

Got this note/column from my friend Leanna Landsmann. She and Bill Jackson (of GreatSchools.net) wrote this spot-on column for EdWeek this week (Jan 21 issue). Rather than spouting off, how about I just share it.

(Wait, I'll spout off a bit -- I think this same message, that parents need to be leveraged waaaay more, should be heard by all kinds of education muckety-mucks. Also do love the way the Obamas to date have been very publicly school-involved. Feel free to share.)

The column:

Improve Education From Day One: Leverage Parents


 


 


Barack Obama, who becomes the nation's 44th president this week, is getting plenty of advice on which goals to tackle first in this ugly economy. Most ideas call for urgent action and carry a big price tag.


 


When it comes to education, however, there is one high-impact, low-cost lever we hope he and his choice for U.S. secretary of education, Chicago's accomplished schools chief, Arne Duncan, can pull immediately to boost student achievement: parent power.


 


President Obama has a good start. During the campaign, parents and teachers cheered when he said the magic words: "Turn off the TV, read to your children, check their homework, and send them to school ready to learn."


 


Many parents heard what they'd been thinking, and teachers were thrilled that someone so persuasive was singing their song.


 


Parents are the first teachers of the nation's nearly 55 million school-age children. Research clearly shows that many of these students' foundational skills and attitudes toward learning have already been shaped by the time they get to kindergarten.


Children are deeply influenced throughout their schooling by parents' expectations, behavior, and support. Many studies show that parents have at least as much impact on their children's academic success as teachers do.


 


President Obama can use the full weight of the presidency to unleash the transforming power of this latent resource. For too long, schools have assigned parents the role of fundraiser and bake-sale booster. Let's launch a national campaign that draws them more deeply into their children's education.


 


Here are four ways this can be done, and how Mr. Obama and his team can help:


 


First, work with states to develop national K-12 education standards that define what it takes for young adults to be successful. Communicate those standards in plain language to parents and citizens everywhere. Many of the current state standards and uneven assessments are unfair to students and often misleadingly reassuring to parents. National standards—focused on what matters most—will be a powerful rallying cry that everyone can get behind, including parents.


 


Second, leverage new technologies to show parents how their children are progressing. Show them what it looks like for their children to be academically "on track," and how they can support their children's learning. We all have heard horror stories about parents who are suddenly shocked to learn that the reason their 8th grader is having trouble in science can be traced to her reading at a 4th grade level, which means she has to scramble to catch up. New Web- and cellphone-based technologies have the power to keep parents updated on progress daily and draw them into deeper involvement and support—and at a very low cost.


 


Third, use the presidential bully pulpit to make it cool to do well in school. Kids show great excitement about Mr. Obama's presidency. The day after his election, one high school junior snapped up a newspaper to keep for her future children. "I love Obama!" she exclaimed. Why? "He's just like me!" Because she was white and blonde, it seemed worth asking, "And how is that?" The girl explained: "He's smart. Like me. Now I won't get teased for good grades. He's skinny, like me, and he's from a messed-up family but he made it to the White House. So can I." Now there's a child who will not be left behind.


 


Fourth, be "parent in chief." Parents took note when the young president-to-be called his daughters from the road and asked about their homework. Attending a parent-teacher conference the day after he was elected also sent a splendid message: We may have been up all night, but this is important. That he didn't delegate this to Mrs. Obama set a great example.


 


The so-called chattering class logged a lot of broadcast airtime about where the Obamas would be sending their daughters to school. But their choice of the private Sidwell Friends School may not be as important to the girls' academic success as the involvement the president and first lady continue to have in their daughters' education: the questions they ask, the reading they encourage, the support they give, and the high expectations they set for academic performance.


 


We look forward to the morning President Obama walks into a morning press conference and says: "Sorry I'm late. Today was my turn to drill the girls on their spelling words."


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Does PreSchool Hurt or Harm Kids?

As usual, Sue Shellenbarger over at the Wall Street Journal's Work & Family space, does a nice job balancing both sides of a heated issue with this column on preschool research. Her conclusion: Do kids need preschool? No. But can it help? Sure.

Googling the column, it was funny to find quite heated opposite perspectives from the very same paper. This op-ed piece from last summer, for example, asks us to Protect Our Kids from PreSchool. Strong stuff in the column as well as the interesting comments area. My three oldest (and another next year) have all attended a preschool that we loved. Were weexpecting academic miracles? No. Do we think our boys were ready to expand their worlds a bit, hear some new voices, try some new things (and still get a nap in back at home)? Yes to all. Helped a lot that we happened to love the two teachers.

Of course here at schoolfamily.com, we have tips for getting your child ready for kindergarten, whether you're using a preschool or not.
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Keeping Kids Safe Online in 2009

Reading about this common-sense new cyber-bullying law from California, reminded to highlight several new efforts and resources that are worth a look:

1. Really like these Internet Safety Tips from our friends at Norton.

2. It's also a great topic for a school education event for parents. You might want to see if your school wants to host an Internet Safety Night. Good stuff.

3. We think it's such an important topic that we set up a whole section of Internet safety articles, tips, and guides.

Parent Involvement definitely needs to extend to the web these days. Good luck!
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Have you made parenting resolutions for 2009?

Do you make New Year resolutions? How about parenting resolutions? In the Today show video posted below, iVillage contributor Michelle Borba talks about parenting resolutions for the new year. She shares tips and tactics for helping kids get better grades, building confidence and character, and the importance of getting the family together for dinner on a regular basis. Some good tips to start the new year.

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Ready to make your own resolutions? Lots more help in our Learning & Achievement, Building Character, and Healthy Habits archives.
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Ugh -- Can't use word "school". Give me a break.

So the town muckety-mucks in this English town have banned the word "school" when referring to their new "learning center". School, it seems, has negative connotations. We'll call this the early 2010 leader for nuttiest education story of the year.

My favorite character in this story is the lady from the "Campaign for Plain English". She and her crew are trying to eliminate gobbledygook from public life. Good luck! If you hang around the education world long enough, you actually start speaking gobbledygook as a second language. It's scary. It's also one of the things that inhibits parent involvement (but that's another post...).
I'll stop now...
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My Child Won't Do Homework. Help.

Feel like I've been reading Barbara Meltz's advice in the Boston Globe forever. Always balanced and rational. Here, she tackles a common lament: what to do when your child (in this case a 13-year-old) just won't take care of his homework responsibilities.
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One Laptop_ One Child for the Holidays

If you're still looking for a cause, here's a nice one with a real School-family feel:

Zimi's Story



Here's the One Laptop website if you'd like to learn more.
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National Handwriting Day and Writing Worksheets

Like this handwriting/inauguration idea from the folks at Handwriting Without Tears. Could be a great activity for a long holiday school vacation.

We have a ton of downloadables here on our site, too, including a bunch on writing skills. Hope they're helpful.
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Homework Sandwiches

This is a guest post by Angela Norton Tyler, of Family Homework Answers. Angela is a teacher and parent from the Sacramento, California area. She has been a classroom teacher, an elementary school reading specialist, and has taught courses at the college level. With a special focus on helping parents help their children become better students, Angela has put her energies into teaching parents how to improve the homework and reading skills of their children. In 2005, Angela published Tutor Your Child to Reading Success, and now conducts seminars about reading and homework for parents and teachers all over the west coast of the United States. She also publishes Family Homework Answers, a site "devoted to helping parents and their children deal with homework."

Parents often wonder if they should let their kids take a break after school before starting their homework. I understand the dilemma. One the one hand, it seems reasonable to let our children have a quick snack and a few minutes of free time. On the other hand, we want those little rascals to get that homework done and out of the way! In my experience, the Do It Now! approach does work for some students (see the quiz on Homework Personality), but most children really do need a substantial break after school.

Uh-oh.

Of course you're worried. You try to be nice and give your kids a break, and the next thing you know "a few minutes of watching TV" has turned into a few hours, a big fight and a ruined evening, right? So, what is a parent to do?

Make some Homework Sandwiches! There are only two steps:

1. Sit down with your child and discuss which activities they would like to do before and after homework. It is important to let your child come up with his own, reasonable ideas. You want him to be motivated but realistic (no, we aren't going to the movies every night!). You might be surprised by what kids find enjoyable- and how much they really want our undivided attention. In my case, I learned that my children want to help me make dinner! Who knew that what I view as a chore- cooking dinner- was a treat to them?

2. Agree that your child will be able to do one fun activity before and one fun activity after homework. Fun-homework-fun. A homework sandwich!

Here are some Homework Sandwich ideas:

- Play a video game for 15 minutes/ homework/ shoot hoops with Dad
- Eat a favorite snack/ homework/ watch TV for an hour
- Watch one TV show/ homework/ help with dinner
- Talk on phone for 20 minutes/ homework/ talk on phone forever
- Ride bike for 30 minutes/ homework/ play cards with Mom
- Eat a snack/ homework/ take a bubble bath while Mom reads Harry Potter


Some quick words of advice:

- Put a time limit on the first activity. The easiest way to solve this problem? The kitchen timer. Set it, and when it rings- homework!

- Don't allow your child to have the second fun "slice" if he or she does not do their homework. After all, a sandwich is not all "bread" and no "filling!"

- Keep a visual homework sandwich "reminder" posted on the fridge or family bulletin board. This way, nobody forgets that it's only one TV show before homework and not two.

Many parents- including myself- have found great success using homework sandwiches. You will find that if your children are allowed to do something enjoyable right before and immediately after homework, they start to associate homework with those fun activities. The entire process becomes a package deal in their sweet, little minds. (Pavlov, anyone?) The best part is that your children will know exactly what they need to do after school- and how long they can do it. And, because they chose the activities themselves, they are much more invested in the entire process.

One last thing: don't faint when your child says, "I want to hurry up and do my homework so I can..."
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Join the PTO? Love it or hate it?

All of us school parents have faced this dilemma, I imagine. Should I get involved with, how much should I get involved with or should I run away from the PTO or PTA at the kids' school?

Of course, here at schoolfamily.com, we think getting involved is the way to go (and doesn't have to be life-alteringly crazy), but I'm certainly open to other perspectives. Like these two competing takes from babble.com. First writer now hates the PTA after having served. Second writer has come to respect and enjoy the PTA after initial skepticism.
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Parent Involvement and Video Games and School

Short story from the Washington Post on video games and kids, but the fundamental truth lies in two simple sentences:
It called for parents to know what and how much their kids are playing. Too much gaming or too much video-game violence can lead to problems in school, the study found.

Yup -- parent involvement matters here, too.
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Good Parent Involvement _ Bad Parent Involvement

GrantedI don't know all the details, but let's just say that I suspect this Atlanta mom might be a tad bit too involved in Junior's school work.Proudly jumping into the dumpster to retrievea science project? Hand-delivering said science project to the teacher's door?I'd like this parent to take our "Are You a Helicopter Parent?" quiz.
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Thanksgiving Wishes, Jokes and a couple of activities for the kids...

Why'd the Pilgrim's pants fall down? Because his belt buckle was on his hat! Nice, right?

That killed 'em at my house, though admittedly my audience of grade schoolers and below laugh at anything involving pants falling down.

Related topic: if you have a similar house to mine, then you might love some of our Thanksgiving printables (we call 'em "print-and-use tools") for keeping the kids busy and engaged this weekend. Word finds, crossword puzzles, coloring sheets -- plenty of activities for kids of all ages.Our entire print-and-use library is here.

Finally, simply, sincerely: Happy Thanksgiving! May you and your family be blessed this holiday and beyond.
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The Parent _ Homework Divide

Very interesting message and follow-up discussion over on the Washington Post site. The topic: what's the right amount of homework? And what's the parent's role in that homework? Lots of strong feelings in this debate.

As a dad, I found this quote eye-opening:
"In two-parent households, there is a perception gap between parents regarding a father's involvement in homework assistance. Sixty-seven percent of fathers claim to help with their children's homework; however, mothers say fathers help approximately 36 percent of the time. Sixty-nine percent of mothers say they help with homework, and fathers tend to agree, with 56 percent of fathers noting their wives' assistance."

You can also check out our entire, extensivelibrary of family + homework content here.

What's the state of homework at your school and in your house?
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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