SchoolFamily Voices

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

Do You Worry if You’re Doing Enough With Your Kids? Stop!

I can’t be the only parent who worries if she is doing enough with her kids on a regular basis, right? Every day I see Facebook updates from friends sharing
what they did with their kids today, on the weekend, and on vacation, and it gets overwhelming. How do they do it all? I can’t take my kids grocery shopping without wanting to leave them in the produce section. A trip to Disney World, nope, not happening. That would be the end of us all.

But recently I realized something that helped me stop worrying and trying to fill my kids’ lives with constant activities. I thought we weren’t doing much, but scrolling through the pictures on my phone was a great reminder that we actually did do a lot. Did we go to Disney World? Well, no, that would still push me right over the edge. But we did do plenty: bowling, movies, family parties, the beach, the library, school plays, sledding, an amusement park, baseball games, ice cream, the playground, the zoo, and a few road trips. We even went to Disney on Ice—maybe not Disney World, but it’s the closest I’m getting for a while. How could I consider that “not enough”?

Most of us are doing lots of things with our kids that don’t seem like a big deal at the time. Now that I’ve looked back on an entire year, I know that we didn’t just let the kids watch YouTube videos every day. Don’t get me wrong—they watch their fair share—but years from now are they going to look back at pictures and remember what we didn’t do, or will they remember the time we went to the zoo 15 minutes from our house? I’m betting on the zoo.

So, fellow worriers, please cut yourself some slack. My kids have probably done more in one year than I did during my entire childhood, so why was I worrying? Contrary to what my Facebook feed might suggest, we’re doing just fine— even if we never make it to Disney World.

Continue reading
5638 Hits

Strategies To Manage a Rotating Class Schedule

Many schools have a rotating schedule, meaning only some classes meet each day. This can be very difficult for some students, especially those who are disorganized already. It becomes extremely important to figure out a system to keep up with the rotation of classes, know which classes are meeting the next day, and make sure all the work for those classes is completed on time. I recently asked several students about this to find out what systems they are using to help them.

Anna said that she does the homework for her classes the day it is assigned regardless of whether the class will be meeting the next day. This is ideal for students who normally procrastinate or for those who find keeping up with what classes are meeting next is just too confusing! She carries her schedule (which she color-coded) in the front of her binder so she knows which class to go to next. She doesn’t really have to know before arriving to school, because she already did all the work!

Marcus records in his calendar which classes are meeting each day. He is doing the homework the day before it is due, because he feels that it will be fresher on his mind. If he has a pop quiz, he will be ready to take it. This method does require some planning ahead, because he needs to check each afternoon before leaving school to make sure he takes home everything he will need to do his homework for the next day.

A third student told me she is in a state of confusion and not dealing well with the rotating schedule. For a student like this, it might be a necessity to help her set up an electronic calendar. My Study Life offers a free calendar that is customizable for every school. It does take some time to set up, because you cannot set up the rotation of classes without first setting up the school year calendar. Once the calendar is entered, you need to enter what happens when there is an unexpected holiday or snow day—is that rotation lost, or does it roll forward? At our school, we lose the day and go on to the next rotation when we return. The app lets you know which classes are meeting each day as well as any tasks you have entered.

If your child’s school is on a rotating schedule, it is important to help him figure out a system that will work for him. He needs to make sure to do the correct homework for each day. Whether he accomplishes that by doing it the day it is assigned (even when the class is not meeting the next day) or waiting until the night before it is due to do the work, he needs to consistently stay on track and keep up with all the work. If he’s having trouble, explore My Study Life to see if it can help.

Continue reading
3673 Hits

A Practical Way To Deal With Missed Work

Absences from school are unavoidable at times. Illnesses and family emergencies are not predictable. Some students find themselves getting anxious about how to get caught up when they return. After an extended absence, it does seem overwhelming. Every teacher thinks primarily about what the student missed in their class and may not think about the big picture—that the student has just as much work to make up in every class. I have found a table to be very helpful in this situation.

Make a table with enough columns for every class your child is taking. Row one should list the classes and teacher’s names. The rows below are for listing the missing work and assignments from each class. Your child should take a printout of the table with her to meet with each of her teachers. Teachers can fill in the assignments with dates the teacher would like for each assignment to be complete. As the table is filled out by all teachers, it becomes evident that your child has a lot of work to do!

When I have helped students make these charts, the normal reaction is a sigh of relief. Even though there is a lot of work to be done, having it all listed in one place makes it less scary. Your child can ask for extensions on deadlines, when needed. As long as teachers can see he is making progress, they are normally OK with relaxing the deadlines. It is also OK to ask a teacher whether there is something that he can be exempted from doing. Some teachers are helpful when they understand that the absence was for a necessary reason.

Absences create stress in students because of how much work they miss while out. It is a good policy that children miss school only when necessary. Vacations should be planned on days when school is out. When absences cannot be avoided, using a table to help keep up with the makeup work can relieve some of the anxiety associated with having so much work to do all at once.

Continue reading
3373 Hits

5 Quick Tips To Help Your Child With Homework

Is it possible that as parents we may actually dread homework more than our kids? Well…don’t answer that out loud.

We are here to help make this year different! Just focus on these 5 quick tips and you’ll see that you can do it (and so can your child)—without having to fall into a homework abyss.

1. Be positive about homework

2. Have a designated homework time and workspace at home

3. Encourage and motivate, but don’t do the actual work

4. Keep a homework folder or box at home to stay organized

5. Know how to contact the teacher for clarification on assignments

We have lots more resources to help. Check out:

Uncommon Homework Advice
7 Simple Homework Tips

Printable Homework Checklist

More great tips and ideas on homework

Continue reading
3500 Hits

Five Simple Ideas for Homework Success

Each September, it is adorable how my new 1st grade students can’t wait to start homework! The challenge for parents and teachers is to continue this enthusiasm and make a child’s time spent doing homework successful. Here are five simple ways that parents can support homework success.

  • Have a regular homework place and time. The place can be the kitchen table, a small desk, or any flat surface that works for your family. Determine if your child likes getting work done right after school, or if he needs time to play and unwind before starting. Try to maintain his time schedule as often as possible.
  • Provide adequate lighting.
  • Keep clutter to a minimum. Make sure the space has necessary tools, such as a pencil, eraser, crayons, scissors, and a glue stick. Keep the tools together in an easily accessible container. Return the container to the same place when finished each night. Have your child put completed homework into her backpack as soon as it’s done, so it always gets back to school the next day.
  • Eliminate distractions. Turn off the TV, video games, computers, cell phones, etc., so noises don’t cause your child to lose focus. If he doesn’t like it when it’s too quiet, try softly playing a classical CD while he works.
  • Work in small increments. If your child gets overwhelmed, try having her work with a timer in 2- to 3-minute increments, and then take a 1-minute break, until work is completed.

Homework is helpful for young students because it reinforces lessons that have been introduced during the school day. It also gives parents an indication of what, and how skills are being taught.

Most important, homework is a great way to develop responsibility and a sense of timeliness—life skills that promote success beyond the classroom!

> 7 Simple Homework Tips

> Printable Weekly Assignment Sheet

Continue reading
3952 Hits

Homework Help for the New School Year

Recently, I wrote about some back-to-school organization tips to help students who are disorganized or have problems managing their time. A daily routine that includes time for getting ready for the next day is very helpful. Most students benefit from structure and planning ahead. Another important part of the day that proves to be difficult for many students (and consequently for their families) is homework time.

There is not one perfect time of day to do homework that works for every student. Your child may need to have some exercise time when he first gets home from school. If he has ADHD, he exerts a great deal of emotional and physical energy trying to remain seated and quiet in school. She, especially, needs to have very active time when she first gets home from school.

Perhaps right after dinner is a good time for your child to settle in to do homework. (If possible, homework time should be the same every day.) He needs a distraction-free, well-equipped place to work. His phone, television, and video games should be put in a place where he will not be tempted by them. Multitasking between homework and phone (or anything else) is a poor use of time. Human brains can only concentrate on one thing at a time. So if he is texting a friend in the middle of doing homework, he switches his thinking back and forth. Every time he switches, he loses his previous line of thought. He has to go back and reread the question or rethink what he was writing or doing. The end result of the multitasking is often poorly done work or only halfway completed assignments.

Your child should have a comfortable place to work with all the normal school supplies handy. She may work well at the dinner table where you can keep an eye on her. School supplies can be stored in a plastic shoebox and stored nearby. Many teachers post homework assignments online, so if she does not know what she needs to do, encourage her to look online. If she uses her computer to complete homework, make sure she has paper and ink for the printer. The most frequent reason my students give for not turning in homework is “my printer isn’t working.” The second most frequent excuse is, “I left it at home.” So, she needs to have a safe place to put her homework in her binders to make sure it gets to the teacher on time.

It is easy for me to say your child needs to have a set time each day that is devoted to homework completion. In reality, it can be very difficult. Many families have more than one child, and each has after school activities that pull the family in many directions. Homework completion, however, remains a major concern for many students. If this is true for your child, establishing a routine that includes when to do homework, and having a well-stocked, distraction-free place to work can be very helpful. If homework is a major challenge, ask to meet with your child’s teachers or the school counselor to try to figure out what is causing the problems.


> 7 Strategies for Successful Homework Routines

> Printable Daily Homework Tracker

Continue reading
4422 Hits

7 Strategies for Successful Homework Routines

Homework is a part of every student’s school experience, starting as early as preschool. Yet sometimes it can be a source of stress for busy families.

Here are seven strategies to help alleviate that stress and create smooth homework routines:


  • Create a comfortable, quiet, and regular work environment. Two suggestions might be a small desk or table in your child’s room, or working together at the kitchen table. If possible, try for a consistent time that works best for your family.
  • Make sure distractions like the TV or video games are turned off.
  • Read the directions to your child, and then listen to her retell the directions to make sure she understands.
  • If your child is reluctant to start because the task seems overwhelming, break it into smaller elements by using a timer. Have him work for 5 minutes. When the timer rings, he can take a 3-minute break. Keep working with the timer, in 5 minute increments, followed by a 3-minute break, until homework is complete.
  • Offer encouragement and praise, especially when your child shows good effort.
  • Go over each completed activity. If errors are found, help your child self-correct.
  • Make sure completed homework goes right back into the homework folder and backpack so it arrives safely at school the next morning. Getting credit for hard work reinforces a willingness to complete new assignments.

On nights when there is no assigned homework, make it a policy to read together for at least 15 extra minutes before bedtime.

By providing young children positive encouragement, an organized work space, and strategies to complete homework you are motivating them for school success—and the pleasure of experiencing the feeling of a job well done.


> Less Homework Stress

> Daily Homework Tracker

Continue reading
5070 Hits

A Great Tool To Help Students Organize Thoughts and Ideas

A graphic organizer is a simple paper tool that uses drawings or words to express knowledge, thoughts, or ideas. They are particularly helpful for young students to organize and sequence facts, concepts or steps for problem solving. Here are some templates for graphic organizers.

When you help a young child organize a story he is reading, you greatly increase his comprehension. When he’s working with nonfiction or informational text, a graphic organizer can help him understand and apply facts and information. They allow him to visualize thoughts about characters, actions, and settings in stories, or pertinent and important facts that need to be remembered from nonfiction. Graphic organizers can be used:

  • Prereading, to help a child predict what might happen;
  • During reading, to help him keep the story in sequence;
  • Post reading, to check for her comprehension, or to go back to the text to look for evidence.

Graphic organizers are wonderful for writing and math, as well:

  • A story map can help your child write the correct sequence of her thoughts to paper.
  • A simple Venn diagram can help him organize odd and even numbers to 21.

Using graphic organizers is a perfect way for parents to assist their young student with reading comprehension, sequencing events for a writing assignment, or outlining math steps.

Continue reading
4324 Hits

Homework Binder: A Strategy That Helps With Executive Functioning

Many children tend to be impulsive and have trouble planning ahead, keeping up with long-term projects, making thoughtful decisions, and turning in all of their homework. These abilities are all a part of executive functioning. (See Executive Functioning: How It Affects a Student in School.) Most of the thought processes involved take place in the prefrontal cortex which is the part of the brain just behind the forehead. This part of the brain is not fully formed until students are out of high school, which explains why adolescents often have trouble making decisions.

Students vary in their ability to manage their day-to-day life because they do not all develop at the same rate. Nearly all students get better as they get older. If they are struggling with executive functioning in school to the point where it is affecting their success, they need additional support until they can manage their schoolwork by themselves.

If your child has trouble turning in all his homework, a good starting point for help is to set up a homework binder. This binder should be a bright color that is easily spotted in his book bag. The binder should contain the assignment sheets from each of his classes, any handouts that relate to that night’s homework, and a place for completed work to hand in the next day. As he completes the homework for each subject, he should cross it off, making it clear that assignment is finished. The completed work goes in its own section. If there is a question he cannot answer, he should highlight it so that he can ask for help with it the next day. (He needs to understand that he should finish everything else on that assignment.) The binder should also house special notes or permission slips that need attention from parents.

Your child needs help learning to use a homework binder. It will take time before she sees it as her “survival guide” to school success and using it becomes a habit. Once this organizational skill is mastered (she uses it without you reminding her), select something else to start working on. It is best to work intensely on one student skill at a time so she will not feel overwhelmed.

For a thorough discussion on executive functioning, read "What is Executive Function?" by the National Center for Learning Disabilities. They also have a free ebook with explanations and strategies for ways to help.

Continue reading
4331 Hits

A Free App To Help With Time Management

Many students have trouble keeping up with everything they are supposed to do each day. This is especially true when they move from middle to upper school, where teachers expect them to be more independent. I recently discovered a great free app that can help. It is called myHomework Student Planner and is available for free for iPhone, iPad, and Android.

The app allows you to set up your schedule of classes, enter assignments, assignment types (test, project, paper, etc.), due dates, reminders, and priority levels. I really like that you can set up a myHomework account online and enter data from your computer rather than entering everything on a smartphone. The account will sync to your phone (or iPad) with a simple command. You can view upcoming as well as late assignments.

This is the kind of app that will take some time to set up. Once it is all set up, it should be pretty easy to maintain. If your child is really disorganized, you will need to help him set it up and enter homework assignments. You might need to remind him daily to keep it up-to-date until it becomes a habit. Many students need help breaking a long-term project up into manageable tasks, too. Each task needs to be entered separately into the app with reminders set far enough in advance to give time to complete it by its due date.

The ultimate goal is for him to manage the app by himself, but many struggling students can’t do that without assistance up front.

The app does not have the capability to enter other obligations on the calendar. However, it is simple enough to enter family events and ball games by entering them as homework due at a particular date and time.

There are other options for calendar systems that sync from computer to phone. It doesn’t really matter which system students use as long as they do have a reliable, easy-to-use system. Managing time well is a necessary skill for success in school and life.

For more time management tips, read You Can Teach Your Teen How to Manage Time Effectively.

Continue reading
3842 Hits

Helping a Student Catch Up After an Illness

Students who have to miss several days of school feel overwhelmed when they return. Some fear being so far behind that they wind up missing extra days, because they are so anxious about the amount of work they need to do. The strategy I use with students may not work for every child in every situation, but it is worth giving it a try.

The first thing to do is figure out exactly what work needs to be completed. I help the student make a chart with each course listed across the top. Beneath each class, we list the work she needs to complete. We use the assignment sheets posted online to get the information. Your child might have to call friends to find out.

Next, I have her take the chart around to her teachers so they can add any details and make notes on the chart. I coach her to ask if there are assignments they might be able to excuse her from completing without jeopardizing her learning.

Then, I tell her to try her best to keep up with all current homework. In addition to that day’s work, she needs to do one or two additional past-due assignments each day. She also needs to ask friends for copies of notes she missed from each class and to meet with her teachers before taking any tests she missed.

This strategy helps because the amount of make-up work doesn’t seem so bad once it’s in writing and there is a plan for making it up. When it’s an unknown, it seems impossible. This way, the student sees a discreet number of assignments to complete and he doesn’t feel so overwhelmed. Remember, too, that every assignment needs to be completed in order to avoid getting zeroes, because one missing grade can make a huge difference.

I am currently reading Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott. In it, she tells of a time when her younger brother had procrastinated for months on a project about birds. The night before it was due, he was sitting at the table completely overwhelmed and not getting anything done. Lamott says her father put his arm around his son and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.” So I call this my “bird by bird” method and attribute its name to Anne Lamott: Just do one assignment at a time, then mark it off the chart!

As a parent, it is fine for you to email your child’s teachers to inform them of the reason he was absent. You should mention that he is feeling overwhelmed with the amount of make-up work he needs to do. Most teachers are sympathetic in these situations and will offer to help. Tell them to expect to see the chart of past due work and explain what you would like for them to do to help.

It is so hard to make up work after absences.  You need to be very careful about allowing your child to miss school without a good reason. (See "Student Absences: They Hurt Learning More Than You Think.") It is never a good idea to send her to school when she is sick, though, and not all absences can be avoided. Encourage her by telling her how you will help her get her missed work caught up when she feels better. She can do it one assignment at a time! She can just take it “bird by bird.”

Continue reading
5827 Hits

Alternatives to Flash Cards for Studying

Most teachers teach their students how to use flash cards for studying facts or vocabulary. Flash cards are a great tool for many students, but there are some kids who need a different strategy. Students who are creative and who tend to think in pictures instead of words might benefit from trying strategies that rely more on visual cues. You might be able to tell whether your child falls into this category.

Ask your child what his favorite toy was when he was little. If he names a toy like Legos or Lincoln Logs, it is likely that he is a three-dimensional thinker who visualizes concepts rather than puts them into words. Another clue is to ask what happens inside his head when he reads. If she says that she see pictures of the scenes and can actually visualize herself walking through the set, then she is another candidate for a study strategy that uses more pictures than words.

Here are some ideas that might help. When beginning to study for a test, have your child draw pictures in his notes as a way to annotate them. He should think back to what he did when he was studying the concept and draw pictures of those activities. It is a good idea to use some color in the drawings, because color can help him remember the pictures later. Another idea is to make a folded study guide as described in my earlier blog Using Pictures To Aid Vocabulary Memorization=Better Results. A third strategy for creative, visual thinkers is to make a web or mind-map of the unit. For help with how to do that, read my blog Using Webbing To Study for a Test.

If your child says that studying doesn’t help, perhaps she needs a new way to study. Read this blog together and talk about how she thinks. Maybe a visual, creative study strategy will be the answer.

Continue reading
7521 Hits

Tips for Overcoming Homework Frustrations

The most frequent complaints I hear from parents relate to homework. For some, their child doesn’t have enough homework to do. For others, too much. Sometimes the complaint is that the homework is too hard, or that teachers did not teach what is on the homework. Whatever the problem, homework time can be stressful.

Here are some strategies that might help you when your child is frustrated about his homework.

  • Make sure that he understands the directions. Many times in the classroom a student will say, “I don’t know how to do this.” But when I ask him to read the directions to me, he actually does know how! I would venture a guess that most children don’t read the directions before starting a task.
  • Refer to notes, handouts, and the textbook. Students want to be able to do their homework without taking the time to refer to the materials the teacher provided during class. Most homework is supposed to review the day’s lesson. Referring to the handouts and notes should be the first step.
  • Ask your child if she read the pages in the book. Often homework begins with assigned reading. If she didn’t read it, it is likely she won’t be able to complete the work. If she is having trouble reading it, you might assist her.
  • Allow your child to take a break if he is getting too frustrated or emotional. When emotions are out of control, the rational brain shuts down and it is impossible to do homework. Take a short break, do something fun and then return to the homework task.


Another homework-related problem is that a student has homework to do, but doesn’t know it. This is often the problem when students are disorganized or have problems paying attention in class. For these kids, it might help to enlist their teachers’ help in making sure they have written down the homework assignment before leaving each class.

If these tricks don’t help and homework is a problem every day, it is time to visit your child’s teacher to find out if he has an idea about what the problem might be. If the issues are serious, call the school psychologist for help.

Continue reading
7513 Hits

Reinforce the Homework Habits of Successful Students

Students who struggle in school often do not have the habits of successful students. Many of my students need reminders to do what other students do without thinking. You can help your child develop these “good student” skills by making sure she has everything she needs handy, reminding her to do them, and checking behind her to make sure she did.

Here is a list of homework habits students need in order to be successful in school.

  • Write a proper heading on the page. This includes your name, today’s date, name of the class, and your teacher’s name. To do this, students need plenty of paper, pens, and pencils handy. If your child uses a computer to do homework, make sure he has a printer with plenty of ink and paper. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard, “I did my homework, but my printer was out of ink. Do you want to see it?"
  • Use complete sentences when possible. It is a good idea to reflect the question in the answer. If the question is "Who was the first president of the United States?" the answer would be, "The first president of the United States was George Washington." Notice that key parts of the question appear in the answer. This not only helps develop sentence writing skills, but also helps when studying later for a test. It is easy to tell what the question was because it is reflected in the answer.
  • Staple multiple pages together. I have graded a student’s paper before and thought she did not finish the work. Then after I graded a few more papers I found the second page! The second page didn’t have her name on it. Luckily I realized whose it was and gave her the credit for the work. To do this, students need a stapler nearby.
  • Place completed homework in a safe place where it will stay neat, crisp, and easy to find. For an idea of how to do this, read my earlier piece, A Notebook System That Aids With Organization. Some teachers have a hard time seeing how excellent work is when it is written on paper that is wrinkled and torn.
  • Be ready to turn in homework when the first bell rings to start class. Students should not wait until the teacher asks for it. This demonstrates that they are prepared for class and ready to learn.


Habits take time to develop. If your child is struggling with these basic homework skills, print this out and post it near where he works at home. When he is finished, read through the bullet points and ask, “Did you do that?”

For additional ideas for how to help your child be successful as a student, you might want to read Back to School After Summer Vacation—6 Ways to Help Your Child Be Ready to Learn. It is important, though, to only work on one or two new skills at a time. Once those are mastered, add one or two more.

Continue reading
10608 Hits

Back-to-School Shopping: Color-Coded School Supplies Can Help With Organization

In an earlier blog post I wrote about a color-coded notebook system that helps disorganized students stay organized. Students who are visual learners benefit from using color to help them keep up with everything. Color can help them when studying and working on homework, too. When shopping for school supplies, consider purchasing some of the following inexpensive “tools” to help your visual student. Other types of learners can borrow the idea as well, because it can be helpful to anyone who has trouble finding what they need.

1. Colored pencils, pens, or markers. Visual learners need to have a way to color code a variety of things as they work. For example, when working math problems some students benefit from circling the positive and negative signs in two different colors, before starting to work the problem. When reading literature, they can circle new character names in one color, underline important events in another, and underline significant quotes in a third color. Later when studying for a quiz, they can quickly find the relevant information.

2. Colorful sticky flags or paper clips. There are many times when it is not appropriate to write in a book. In these cases using stick-on flags of various colors can accomplish the same task as described in the first bullet point. Some of my students use different colored paper clips to mark important pages. Used as a bookmark, the clip can be placed on the page near the important information.

3. Colorful notebook tabs or file folders. If your visual student uses a color-coded notebook system, it might be a good idea to add tabs to their binder that match the different subject colors. For example, a green tabbed divider can mark the section where their science papers are located. Some students benefit from taking papers out of the binder and placing them in color-coded file folders that match the colors in their notebook. This is especially helpful just after finishing a unit and taking the test on it. The work will still be available for later if needed, but not cluttering up their notebook.

4. A zippered plastic pouch for the notebook. Any school supplies that go back and forth to school need a convenient storage compartment in the notebook binder or book bag. One possibility is to purchase a zippered pouch that clips inside the binder.

Just because they have a system doesn’t mean students will be able to immediately color-code important information or keep everything organized. For parents, it takes time and patience to help students learn how to color-code and how to keep their supplies organized. For some students, this help is provided at school; if that’s not the case, help must be provided at home.

A portion of homework time should be devoted to learning these skills. As soon as the student finishes his homework is the time to get everything in order for the next school day. A parent or tutor will need to be involved until the student can take ownership of the processes. The goal is always independence, but it takes work and practice to get to that point.

Continue reading
8090 Hits
1 Comment

In Math (and In Life), Which is More Important—the Process or the Outcome?

I was reading an article about the state of special education in American schools. There was a statement in the article that essentially said that schools “value the process over the outcome.” I began to wonder what that means.

The article was referring to schools that focus on compliance with state and federal laws rather than focusing on the child and what needs to happen for her. But, there are other places where we also value the process over the outcome.

For example, in math classes students are taught a specific method for arriving at an answer. I have seen teachers write the steps on the board for how to solve a long division problem (or any other kind). They then monitor their students to make sure they are following the process correctly. In truth, there are other ways to arrive at the same outcome (correct answer)!

You can arrive at the correct answer in long division using the traditional method almost all of us learned; using the double division method; or even using a calculator. The best way might be to use a calculator—but, then what do you do with that decimal remainder?! Or, the best way might be to use double division. The truth is, everyone needs to be able to get the right answer (the correct outcome), but we do not necessarily need to use the same method (the process).

But, as parents and educators we sometimes value the “process over the outcome.” I wrote an article once about how to do double division. You would have thought I suggested something completely absurd. I was accused of allowing students to be lazy and that I lacked mathematical “rigor.”

Another area where we experience this is when using the computer. For most software programs there are multiple ways to arrive at the same product. I often teach people how to use software. Invariably I will be showing how to do something, and someone will say, “You can also….” They will then tell everyone a different way to do the same thing. It really doesn’t matter how you do something as long as you are able to get the product you want in the end.

There are many examples of this both in and out of school. At home, for example, there are processes in place for when and how to do laundry, where to do homework, how to set the table, or how to put the dishes in the dishwasher.

As parents and teachers, we need to keep an open mind. If your son can arrive at the correct—or at least acceptable—outcome every time using his own process, why not allow it? His way might turn out to be better than yours! This may lead to fewer arguments, which is definitely a good thing. It also gives parents another way to allow their children to make choices for themselves. This is an important part of growing up and learning responsibility. Think about the needed outcome and stay open minded about the best way to achieve it.

Continue reading
4069 Hits

Student Absences: They Hurt Learning More Than You Might Think

It seems like missing one day of school would not be that big of a deal. Some parents feel free to keep their children out of school fairly often (even when they are not sick). It is appropriate to keep your child home if they are running a fever or have the stomach flu. And, of course, family emergencies affect attendance. But, if there isn’t really an emergency or if they are not really sick, they should be in school. And, here is why.

What you learn in school each day builds upon earlier learning. This is true in all subjects, and on some days it is truer than others. For example, on Monday, students discuss chapter 7 in their literature class. In chapter 7, a new character is introduced in the story. Class discussion is about this new character and how she might impact other characters in the story. Students predict what is going to happen next in the story.  On Tuesday and Wednesday the next few chapters are taught. Students revisit their predictions and analyze whether they were correct. They free write about whether their story line would have been as exciting as the story line in the book. If your child is absent on Monday, she is not ready to participate on Tuesday and Wednesday. So it is more like 3 missed days of instruction, not just one.

You might think this isn’t really a problem because your child’s teacher has an appointment scheduled with your child to go over what your daughter missed when she was out. But, this is not as good as hearing the full class discussion and all the ideas that were shared. It is not possible to recreate a discussion, the questions the other students asked, and everything else that happened in class. Additionally, the sequence of instruction is out of order.

I have a few students who are frequently absent on Mondays, especially during first period. Their absences amount to approximately 15 percent of the total number of classes. Given this discussion, you can see how missing 15 percent of the classes can drop a child’s grade from an “A” to a “D” or even lower. If a child struggles in school everything I’ve said here is even more important.

When my children were in school, I never allowed them to stay home unless I was sure they were really sick. If they were sick and did stay home, they stayed in bed all day with no television or electronic devices. (I did allow them to read a book—I’m not a total ogre!) It was a good rule of thumb then, and I would do the same thing again if I had the opportunity. It is hard to do this as a parent. But, it is really important for a child’s education. If school is in session, children need to be there.


Continue reading
4278 Hits

Eliminate Distractions While Doing Homework

 Many students have a hard time staying focused on a task. Much has been written about teenagers who are growing up in the media age. Most agree that they are very good at multitasking. In a report featured on NPR, the actions of a student named Zach, which were typical of many teens, were described as follows: “Within the span of seconds, Zach switches between e-mail, iTunes, Facebook, a computer word puzzle game, and messaging his buddy online. Somewhere amid the flurry, Zach manages to squeeze in some homework, too.”

 My concern is what this behavior is doing to teens and their ability to stay focused to finish a task. If Zach is only managing “to squeeze in some homework,” how good can that homework be? And, beyond that, what is happening to Zach’s ability to learn and think? Dr. Beth Hellerstein, a University Hospital pediatrician and assistant clinical professor at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine, said this is a recent interview with online magazine Your Teen, “When students are distracted while studying they may be learning facts but are not able to integrate them and apply them to a higher level of thinking. Doctors and educators worry about how this superficial learning will impact long term recall and application of the knowledge and skills.”

 How can students prevent themselves from getting distracted while doing their schoolwork? The first step is to identify what distracts them. In the example above, Zach is distracted by software running on his computer (email, Facebook, a word puzzle game, and instant messaging). He is also distracted by his iPod. Many teens have a cell phone, television, and snacks to the list of distractions.

 Once a student has identified the distractions, he needs to decide to eliminate them while doing homework. He needs to shut down all software except for what is needed to do the work. His iPod needs to be turned off and put out of sight. The television and cell phone also need to be off and out of sight.

 Other things that keep students from their work include clutter in the workspace, interruptions from siblings or friends, and looking for the necessary supplies such as paper, pencils, markers, glue, etc. Parents can assist by offering to help clear the workspace, keeping others from interrupting and making sure their child has the appropriate supplies.

 It takes organization and planning skills to take charge of the distractions. For help with ideas for organization, read A Notebook System That Aids With Organization. For more ideas about how you can help your child to learn more from homework, read How to Help Kids Get the Most Out of Their Homework Sessions.

You may also be interested in these related articles on SchoolFamily.com:

Summer is A Good Time to Learn to Type 

Voice-to-Text Software: Great Homework Tool for Kids Who Have Difficulty Writing 

Middle Schoolers Still Benefit From Being Read To




Continue reading
7551 Hits

Selecting Typing Software: Which is Best for Your Child?

Parents often call me to find out what typing software I recommend they get for their child. Unfortunately, this is a really difficult question! It really isn’t so much what software to buy as it is what your child does with it and how often they practice.

Here is what I recommend.

  •  You do not necessarily need to buy software. There are free typing tutor programs on the Internet that work just fine. CNet has several available for free and each has user ratings for you to see before you download the software.
  • It is very important to look at the screen (not hands) and use the correct fingers when typing. My goal teaching typing is to have students type well enough so that they do not have to think about frequently used words. If they need to type a word like “the,” their fingers should move automatically. If they use a different finger each time they type, they will never be able to do this. If they are able to type the most frequently used words automatically, it will reduce their spelling errors because many of these frequently used words do not follow the normal spelling rules. It will also increase their overall speed.
  •  Students should not be allowed to play typing games until they can type all the letters on the keyboard without looking down. Typing games encourage them to watch their hands and use the wrong fingers.
  •  Have your child practice 10-20 of the most frequently used words every day. Any word processor will work for this activity. I make a game of this by seeing how many times they can type each word in 10 seconds. It can be encouraging to keep the data each day to see progress over time. They need to look at the screen while they type, though, not their hands.
  • Practice, practice, practice. Typing correctly does not come easily. It takes a lot of work, discipline to use the correct fingers with their eyes on the screen, and many hours at the keyboard.

 Most students cannot learn to type simply by using software. They will navigate to the games that do indeed teach them. However, what they learn from a typing game is if I put my hands like this and quickly type as many letters as I can without thinking, I will do better. The game is won, but typing skills are lost in the process.

 The bottom line is this: Software alone cannot change your child into a good typist. They need some adult guidance to keep them on track. It is worth the effort, however, because no matter what they do in the future, they will probably need to know their way around a keyboard.

Continue reading
13206 Hits

Great Kids' Books for Read Across America Day

 Read Across America Day, an annual program of the National Education Association (NEA), is Friday, March 2. Read Across America is a celebration of reading and a celebration of the birthday of Theodor Seuss Geisel, more commonly known as Dr. Seuss.


At SchoolFamily.com, we're all about encouraging reading! Parents reading aloud to their children and kids reading by themselves are both proven ways to help them do better in school—and develop a lifelong love of reading. Reading should be celebrated and applauded—even for so-called "average" readers


Do you have a reluctant reader? Some kids will also be motivated by tracking their progress using our printable Reading Incentive Chart. For other tips on encouraging reading, check out our Building Reading Skills section.


The NEA  lists recommended books under “Teachers’ Top 100 Books for Children.” And in honor of Read Across America, Voices From the Field—the official blog site of Save the Children—has posted a list of top books for children, by age, on their site in a series of posts called Love to Read. The books were chosen by Save the Children’s Early Childhood and Raising a Reader program leaders and specialists.


SchoolFamily.com is pleased to share this list with our readers. Note: The links below for each book are from online retailers. The books may also be found, however, at your local library. Not sure where the nearest library is? Do a library search through PublicLibraries.com, which lists all public libraries by state.



Mine! A Backpack Baby Story by Miriam Cohen


Joseph Had a Little Overcoat by Simms Taback


I Went Walking by Sue Williams


Flower Garden by Eve Bunting


Sail Away by Donald Crews


Nuts to You! By Lois Ehlert


Planting a Rainbow by Lois Ehlert


All Fall Down by Helen Oxenbury


Pots and Pans by Anne Rockwell


Jungle Walk by Nancy Tafuri



Best Friends by Charlotte Labaronne


Mine! Mine! Mine! By Shelly Becker


Sharing How Kindness Grows by Fran Shaw


Sunshine & Storm by Elisabeth Jones


I Accept You as You Are! by David Parker


The Pout Pout Fish by Deborah Diesen


I’m in Charge of Me! by David Parker


I Love it When You Smile by Sam McBratney


I Love You All Day Long by Francesca Rusackas



Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney


Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo


Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan


The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan


Stone Fox by John Reynolds Gardiner


The Stranger by Chris Van Allsburg


Number the Stars by Lois Lowry


Hatchet by Gary Paulsen


The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan


The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare


Continue reading
10658 Hits
1 Comment

School Family Connection Newsletter

Get school tips, recipes, worksheets, and more

First Name
Email *
Yes, send offers from carefully selected partners.
(* = required field)


Do you allow your children to watch TV or play on the computer before doing their homework?

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

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