Sunday, May 31, 2015

To Memorize or Not - Math Facts

Math facts: Four operations focused on single-digit numbers.  
  • Addition facts: Sums of two single-digit numbers (0 - 9)
  • Subtraction facts:  Reverse of the addition facts
  • Multiplication facts: Product of two single-digit numbers (10 and 11 may be included)
  • Division facts: Reverse of multiplication facts 
I have heard the arguments against forcing a child to memorize math facts: People use calculators, it is just rote, it is more important that a child understand the concept.  I have also met a number of middle schoolers who didn't know their math facts. It is one thing to hit a math wall because of quadratic equations. It is very different to hit that wall because one "really can't subtract too good," to quote a student repeating algebra I.

The National Math Advisory Panel reports that "It is important for students to master basic math facts well enough that their recall becomes automatic, stored in long-term memory, leaving room in their working memory to take in new math process. This frees up working memory for more complex aspects of problem solving. "

So, although memorizing math facts is a bit of work, I recommend children do that work.  Often schools rush through the process, so it requires a bit of summer catch up. Computerized games and flash cards may make the process easier. Students should also practice the facts on plain old worksheets. Why? Because the physical act of writing helps some children learn the facts, and children usually have to write the answers to math facts in class. The Internet is a good place to get free worksheets. Two that I find useful are The Math Worksheet Site and Large Print Math Worksheets.

Some observations:
  • Addition and multiplication facts are easier for most children to learn than subtraction and division. 
  • Memorizing facts does not mean a child doesn't need to learn math concepts. Example: Some children need to be reminded of the concept of multiplication even after they memorize the facts. This is especially true when deciding which operation to use in word problems. Others may only truly understand the concept after they have memorized the facts. Although developmentally they may not have a strong grasp of the concept, they are expected to move on in math because schools usually have a rigid time schedule on curriculum.
  • Consistent use of a skill helps a child learn that skill. 
  • Some children do poorly on math computer games because they have to search for the correct number keys.
  • Much of the protest against learning facts has to do with timed tests and a child's anxiety.
A child with a math learning differences (dyscalculia) often finds it challenging to memorize anything with numbers. The catch 22 is that this child then finds it even more difficult to move forward in math because he is using aids to add or subtract (like finger counting or number charts), rather than memory. This slows down any process requiring more than one step, and makes it difficult to keep track of the steps.  Children, even with a math LD, should be encouraged to work on the math facts. Parents and teachers need to be patient and encouraging in the process. 

Remember learning and using math facts are two separate activities. A recent study showed that as children age they become faster and more accurate at solving math problems, and rely more on retrieving math facts from memory rather than counting. As these shifts in strategy take place the researchers see several changes in the children's brains. The next step in this research is to study how the dyscalculia brain processes math facts and if there is a similar change as the child matures. 

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Reflections on Books

I recently read The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry. I am glad I finally read this multi-layered classic, although I don't think I would read it to a child. Many people, however, have declared it their favorite childhood book; which got me thinking about influential books. 

Influential books are not necessarily favorites. In fact some books that influenced me are barely remembered. I know I loved Walter Farley's Black Stallion series so much I named my son after a character in the book. I also know that when I tried to reread it as an adult I was surprised at how bad the writing now seemed. As a teenager I read Camus The Stranger and ended up reading The Plague, The Fall, and Exile and the Kingdom. The funny thing about authors is that you can fall in love with one and after a few books fall out of love. Or you can be introduced to one at the wrong time and latter meet again with a different result. The first time I tried to read Slaughterhouse Nine I couldn't make it through the book. About ten years latter I devoured most of Kurt Vonnegut's books. Timing is everything.   

Yet, as much as I loved the books I don't remember the stories as much as the feelings I had when I read the book.  

Sometimes it was a place that stayed in my head.  Books can make a person want to travel. As a teen I read books that took place in Europe and decided that I would live there someday. I ended up living and traveling in Europe in my twenties. I wonder how many people have visited or lived in places that first caught their interest through a book?

Some books make one aware of the sadness in the world.  In return the reader volunteers, becomes active in politics, or perhaps adopts a child. Maybe not when the book is read but sometime -- later.

One of my favorite books was The Broken Cord by Michael Dorris. The tragedy that was the author's life made this book even more poignant.  The Broken Cord is about the adoption of and life with a child with fetal alcohol syndrome. I can't give you many facts about fetal alcohol syndrome. But I remember a page on how when looking back at his child's report cards the author saw the same goals (in which progress was supposedly made) listed year after year. It opened my eyes to how parents and teachers may delude themselves about a child's progress.

Some books are magic; we just don't know which ones they will be. That is why I encourage parents to read to their children. Once they see the worlds created by books, our children hopefully will be eager to explore them on their own.  Books change lives.


Saturday, May 23, 2015

Reflections on Boredom

Back in the "old" days children seldom said they were bored. Why? Well, if you said you were bored your mom or dad would find something for you to do such as mow the lawn, wash the car, mop the floors. clean the garage, or some other fun-filled activity that would keep you busy. Today, however, boredom has become the mantra of many children.

So what do you do when your child says they are bored? First, figure out what bored means to your child.

Bored can mean this is too difficult. A child may not really know how to do something, whether it is long division, writing a book report, or fixing a zipper. Not wanting to look stupid they say they are bored. There is an easy fix. Show them what to do. If they really can't do it, maybe developmentally they aren't ready for it.

Being bored can also mean a task is too easy. Five math problems can be done. Twenty of the same type of problems every night for a month really are boring to a child who can easily figure out the answers. If your child is finding all of his classwork too easy, perhaps you should look carefully at his school placement.

Being bored may mean you child really doesn't know how to entertain herself.  This is when you encourage your child to explore the library, painting, cooking, dog grooming, anything to help your child find a passion. A child (or an adult) with a passion should not be bored.

But sometimes being bored is saying, "This isn't fun. I don't want to finish this," which means, "I am not being entertained." Now is the time you should decide what kind of adult you hope to send out into the world. Staying up with a sick child isn't entertaining, visiting a loved one in a hospital or a nursing home isn't entertaining, walking the dog everyday (especially in the cold or rain) isn't entertaining.  A doctor seeing the tenth sore throat of the day, a pharmacist counting pills at the end of the day, an engineer checking the numbers for the third time, a cook making sure the chicken is safe -- there are many tasks in life that are not entertaining. Do you want to send your child into a world where nobody takes responsibility for anything that isn't fun?

So, who's bored?  I have a kitchen that needs to be cleaned.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Executive Functions II - Plan-Organize-Prioritize.

The ability to plan, organize, and prioritize is a rather circuitous skill. It is difficult to prioritize or plan if your material is not organized, but the very process of organizing takes prioritizing and planning. A good example of this is watching a small child trying to clean his room.

As with other executive functions, personality and environment affect development of these skills. One might assume methodical parents live in a tidy environment with a genetically predisposed organized child. The reality is many a compulsively neat parent is blessed with a sloppy child. The other reality is that the average young student looses homework, forgets that the school project is due tomorrow (the one assigned two months ago), prioritizes poorly, and at times has a messy desk.  Executive functions  must be learned and nurtured.

These skills usually show major growth between the ages of two to six, but do not peak until age 25. Parents can help a child develop these skills by helping a child learn to use:

A calendar.   Learning the days of the week, the months of the year, and the date is an integral part of school. Crossing off days to a marked event not only creates anticipation but encourages patience. Let the child write on the calendar, or put a smiley face for end of school, birthdays, etc. By the completion of 1st grade a child should be able to use a calendar. By 4th a child should be able to write important dates on a calendar and remember to check it for planning.

Since a calendar is a representation of an abstract idea, some children may have a difficult time understanding and using it. Get your child her own calendar, encourage her to to mark off every day and go over names of days and months. Ask how many months in a year, days in a week, what was yesterday, and what day is tomorrow?

Checklists.  Who doesn't know the joy of crossing of items on a to do list? Children don't.  Creating a checklist is a way to get organized. Using a checklist is a great way to break down an overwhelming activity for a child. For the young child, pictures and symbols can substitute for words. A child might use a checklist for getting ready for school or bed, starting homework, or getting ready for a sports activity.  It is fun to create the list with your child so he can see how it is done and so you don't forget an activity. For a young child or a child with an LD (learning difference) the task should be broken down into very small steps. You can shorten a list by combining a few steps once a child understands the process.

Schedules: A child who is able to use  a calendar and a checklist is ready for a written schedule. I suggest including a schedule in a school binder, and one for home. A daily schedule helps a child be prepared. Many children aren't looking at the time involved, per se, but at what activity comes before or after. Schedules may include pictures or a clock face if needed.

Routines and appropriate work areas:  It is easier to become organized if there really is a place for everything. Whether in a room or a school binder - less is best. Children who have problems with lost items, messy notebooks, and forgotten materials do better in a neat environment.  

When teaching a routine remember a child must know how to do something.  Don't just tell -- show. Break activities into smaller steps. Telling a child to organize her binder when she isn't sure where things go, or the overall intent of organizing, is asking for important items to be thrown out just to get that clean look. Some children are collectors, which means all sorts of things end up in pockets and notebooks. It is the job of parents and teachers to make it easy for a a child to have an organized way to store material with easy access. For a young child check with her teacher to see how a notebook is expected to be organized for that year. Oh, and experienced teachers do have routines for turning in homework, and organizing materials and binders.

Don't yell about organization - just be consistent and give your child time to follow through. The time to clean a notebook is on a weekend, not as he is leaving for school in the morning. Tell a child where something belongs and let her put it in its place. It is NOT a parent's job to clean out a child's notebook. but the young child (or the extremely disorganized older child) does need a parent next to her telling her what to do and watching her do it. Notebook organization is a good place for a CHECKLIST.

Who's on First?
A child learns to prioritize with the help of teachers and parents. 
Discuss with your child how he can decide what to study first. Tell him why he should work on his project a little bit each night rather than just the night before it is due. Explain that it is important to decide exactly what he needs for a project before he starts building it. Demonstrate how checklists and schedules help in prioritizing and planning.

Complications:  Some people are neater than others. If your child can find what is needed for school then the fact that the folder isn't as neat as you might like it may just be a personality difference. Too neat can also be a problem if it gets into the OCD(Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) arena. Organizational skills should help a child become less anxious, not more.

A poor working memory makes organization difficult. Children with Learning Differences also may have difficulty with organization and planning. A child constantly getting sidetracked, forgetting instructions, or finding it impossible to organize materials and academic work may need extra help learning and using executive functions. This does not mean that for that child getting organized is a useless endeavor. It will just take more time, patience, and organization aids to help her develop these skills. While children seem to want to rush through life, they shouldn't be rushed. Remember the child with poor skills is often in the most need of being organized.

Although academics require executive functions, there are non-academic activities that help develop these skills. Think of activities that teach classification, observation, listening, memory, organization, planning, patience, and following directions. Some card and computer games require memory for  matching. Mazes, and word searches require planning and observation. Guessing games such as What's in the Bag require classification, listening, and organizing thoughts. The card game Set is a good example of a classification game. Board  games such as Battleship or Sorry also develop executive skills. Think about the skills a game requires when you select one to play with your child.

Organized sports teach following rules and paying attention. Marshal arts and yoga teach self-discipline. Learning to play a musical instrument is another way to help a child develop his executive functions.  

Some children appear to have no strategy when playing a game. You might calmly suggest or show a way to play the game more effectively. Some children won't take your suggestions when given but later will try them out. Remember, executive functions are not fully developed until age 25.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Wednesday Read Alouds - Biographies

At least one biography should be included in your Read Aloud Books. Why?  First, it is almost impossible not to find a biography that will appeal your child. There are books about scientists, artists, presidents, civil rights leaders, immigrants, journalists, explorers, athletes, musicians, pioneers, and inventors. If you are facing an adversity there is a book about how someone overcame it. For every topic there is an accomplished person with a biography. 

Biographies are written in different formats. There are some fantastic picture books, and chapter books ranging from easy read to adult level. For the older child there is also the autobiography.

Because biographies are written for every age level your child may decide to continue researching a person introduced to her through a read aloud.  So acquaint your child to the genre as well as to some new vocabulary,  history or geography.

Here are some links to get you started.  Picture book biographies -  Biographies for children - Biographies that may be suitable to read to an older child. (These are adult books so I suggest you preview them before you read aloud.)

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Reflections on Memory

I wanted to write something about memory before posting Executive Functions II.  I am not a memory expert, psychologist, or neurologist. I am writing about memory because of its importance for success in school.

Memory can be divided into three large categories: long term, short term, and working. Short term memory is really short. It refers to items we remember for about 30 seconds.  Most of us can hold five to nine items in short term memory, although some things we place in short term memory ultimately end up in long term memory.

Long term memory has a broader definition. It can be something remembered for a Friday test and forgotten by Saturday. It can cover the memories of the birth of our child, or our childhood home. It is why we know our name and address and the day of our favorite TV show. "Long term memories duration might be a few minutes or a lifetime."

Working memory is probably the closest we come to trying to multi-task. It requires the use of short term memory, while retrieving information from our long term memory.  It has been defined as "the ability to store and manage information in the mind for a short period of time." Doing a math problem requires working memory. We know how to add and write numbers, and we are keeping the numbers we are working on in our short term memory while calculating the answer. Reading also requires working memory.

The next aspect of memory is what we are remembering.  We have the ability to remember sounds and speech (auditory memory) and to remember what we see or picture(visual). Our other senses also have the ability to evoke memories, especially the sense of smell. 

Other than remembering where you put the baby, what does this have to do with children? Children develop better working memory with age. But research is showing that people with learning differences often have poorer working memories. Some research shows that children with dyslexia  score lower on verbal memory tasks and children with dyscalculia score lower on memory of counting tasks

Children with a poor working memory (with or without a learning difference) have problems with academics. Over 80% of children whose working memory is in the bottom 10% of the population fail to thrive academically in school. Other current research is looking at ways to improve working memory through training and medication.  

What should a parent take away from this post? 

  1. Children's working memory develops as they age, so set realistic expectations for your young child.
  2. Poor working memory is often a component of a learning difference. 
  3. Because working memory is jumping between short term and long term memory it is important that a child memorize math facts and phonics rules.  
  4. Because of difficulty in visual or spatial memory, it will take extended time and practice for a child to learn these facts and rules.
Memory also impacts executive functions. Future posts will include activities to help a child improve his memory.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Another Year - Repeating a Grade?

While most children are seeing that summer light at the end of the tunnel, some parents are very concerned about next year. Because of a teacher's suggestion or a parent's apprehension, repeating a grade may seem to be in your child's future. This is a  difficult decision, but there are some things to consider before making it final.

The most important question is why is your child being held back? Is she doing poorly in every subject, or just reading? Poor reading skills are the most frequent reason for holding back a child in grades K-3, but some recent research is now causing debates on retention in a grade due to reading problems.

Brain scans show that up through 5th grade children's brains are reading differently than adults. This research has questioned the age-old belief that third grade is the magical moment when children must be able to read in order to learn.

According to Dr. Shane R. Jimerson reading problems range from the inability to decode, read fluently, or comprehend. "Just repeating a grade is not going to magically solve all those problems, and it adds to the psychological consequences of being left behind."

When it is suggested a child repeat a grade due to poor reading skills, the question should be "How will the instruction be changed the second time around?" What happens in your child's school if he repeats a grade? Will he receive more remediation, more time, different instruction, or will he merely receive the same instruction (which obviously didn't work the first time) once again?

The next question should be, if a child moves to the next grade what is going to be done to remediate her reading skills?  A child should not be held back just because she has been diagnosed with dyslexia or another learning problem. The school should have a plan for remediation and modifications if needed.

If your child is doing poorly is all areas, there are other questions to ask. How young is your child compared to others in his class, and how young does he appear?  Immaturity is often the reason given for a kindergartner to repeat the grade. This may fall into the category of the child's not understanding classroom expectations. 

Depending on the size of the school, a change of classmates may be more effective than repeating  a grade. Teachers know that a group of children create their own gestalt. Some classes are full of mature, eager, talkative, academically advanced children. Others may contain a large number of children who are shy, immature, or need a slower pace of instruction. It is just luck on how well your child will fit within a class. In a larger school your child might find success with a different group of peers or with a specific teacher in the next grade.

The same holds true for a school. Some private schools promote a curriculum that is one grade level above normal. Perhaps your child and his school are not a good match at this moment in time. Remember children's needs change. The shy 8-year-old may end up the senior class president. The child having trouble with academics in first grade may end up as a successful doctor. But right now you must be realistic about your child's current needs.

Whatever you decide for your child don't forget summer is a chance to work on needed skills. There are school summer programs, but there are many other summer activities that will help the young child who is having difficulty in school.

  • Read, read, read to your child during the summer.
  • For the non-reader or poor beginning reader get some plastic letters and work on beginning reading skills.
  • Make sure you child has a library card. Check out easy books for him to read aloud to an adult,  every day.
  • Have your child practice following directions, finding page numbers, and printing or writing.
  • If you have the opportunity, enroll your child in a museum's children's science or art class. 
  • Limit the TV, and computer games. Exchange them for outside play with friends and board games with adults.
  • Chores and cooking help a child learn to follow directions, organize, plan ahead, measure, and often include some type of reading.
  • Try to insure your child has more one-to-one time with a caring adult. If a parent is not available, this time can be with a grandparent, aunt or uncle or responsible babysitter.
  • Ask your child's teachers for suggestions for summer activities and reading.
These activities should NOT mirror school. They should be short, interactive times with the emphasis on fun and appropriate behavior. They are activities for your child to get excited about learning and to acquire a better grasp of basic academic skills.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Sound Catalyst - The Letter R

Good readers (and spellers) understand the letter R's role in words. Yep, R stands by itself in words such as rat and ridiculous, but give that letter a chance and it will influence and confuse. Even alone it creates a problem because many children have learned that R has the "er" sound. No, it has the rrr sound which is close but not the same. We say rat not er- at.  But back to how R influences other letters.
  •  Combine R with an e, u  or i and  you will discover that er, ur, and ir  are all pronounced "er" That is difficult enough for some children to remember while reading. It becomes a major hurdle in spelling because a child can't figure out what to write by sounding it out. She just has to remember when to use  ir, er, or ur in the middle of a word. That memory is probably a visual memory which doesn't help if you have a poor visual memory for print, or if you've never seen the word. Examples: fern-firm, skirt - spurt, nerd-nurse, curl-girl 
    • Children with dyslexia often have a difficult time remembering that er -- the suffix (at the end of a word) is spelled er - runner, writer, player.  I have had children protest, "Why can't it be ir?  How do we know it isn't ur?"  Remember dyslexia often requires direct, uncomplicated explanations and lots of reminders and repetition before the rule is understood and remembered.
  • Put an a in front of R and you have the sound ar as in star.  This means you really cannot sound out the word star letter by letter. This digraph  is difficult for some children because they think it is just another er sound that doesn't look like er.
  • Combine with R and you have or: for, tore, adore ---- unless there is a w in the mix, and then you have word and world.  
  • Speaking of Ws,  or we should say not speaking, because W becomes silent before an R: wreck, write, and wrinkle.
  • What if the group gets bigger ? Ar with an e often sounds like air: care, hare, or dare
  • Ir with an e becomes fire, sire or retire.
  • Children learn that ee is pronounced long e, but put an R into that group and you get: deer, peer, or cheer.
  • Ai has the long A sound such as  paid, maid, raid.  Add an R and you now say: pair, chair and hair.
Obviously, children should not be taught all these rules at one time. I posted this to remind parents that the letter R can make reading and spelling very confusing for a child with reading problems. Sometimes, when they are having difficulty, it help to remind them that R is rather a pushy, demanding letter.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Wednesday Read Alouds

 Lions and Tigers and Klipspringers?

My father read to me nightly until I was about ten. As a small child I demanded The Three Bears and One, Two, Buckle My Shoe until I could recite the words with him. One-page stories from a bedtime storybook then became part of the evening ritual. But, as I got older the reading changed.

Old and new animal books

My favorite book was Wild Animals of the World.  Now out of print, I still have the book: 268 pages of information about animals such as  fishing cats and klipspringers. Then, as was the fashion those days, we purchased a World Book Encyclopedia. With its arrival my new bedtime stories ranged from Art to Zithers. Although we covered a wide rage of topics I'm sure my dad (for his sake as much as mine) skipped some pages. And, although I enjoyed learning about people and places, animals were still my favorite topic.

So my first suggestion for non-fiction read aloud books are animal books. National Geographic Animal Encyclopedia is an overview of wildlife throughout the world. Usborne books, such as World of Animals, are a good source for animal facts.  Eyewitness Books include books on cats, dogs, horses, elephants, mammals, birds and amphibians.

Thinking about getting a pet? There are books covering all dog or cat breeds. There are specific breed books. There are books on animal care such as ASPCA's books on caring for your puppy, hamster, guinea pig or parakeet.

The great thing about most animal books is that many can be found at the library or in used book stores. Along with animal facts these books often include geographical information. Vocabulary found in many of these books is helpful for school reading. And animals books provide a great introduction to wanting to do more research.  Select just about any animal and you and your child can find more information, photos, and videos on the Internet.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Children's Books - Dealing with Death

This blog is mainly for parents of elementary age children, but I just read Gabriel Roth's article. "And People" Picture Books that Explain Death to Children".  It is about discussing the physical aspects of death with a younger child and includes an example of why you should skim or read a review of a book before you read it to your child. 

Friday, May 8, 2015

Beyond Academics - Executive Functions 1

Controlling Actions and Emotions

Parents worry how their child is doing in school. How is his reading compared to the rest of the class? Is she being challenged in math?  Do we need to worry about achievement test results?  But school is more than academics. Your child's happiness and success in school will always be enhanced by strong executive functions.

Executive functions? We are talking about a child, not a CEO! Executive  functions aren't just for executives. Executive functions include
  • the ability to control actions and emotions, and 
  • the ability to plan, organize, and prioritize.

Anyone who has cared for a toddler knows that we aren't born with these abilities. Parents, school, and experience teach us these skills. The ease of acquiring good executive functions depends a great deal on personality and environment. Children, no matter how bright, who do not develop these skills will find school more and more difficult as they move through the grades.

Controlling emotions and actions: Many adults have difficulty with emotional control so learning to roll with the punches is not easy for some children. Anger control is important, but the super sensitive child also needs to learn control. The ten-year old who always crying or looking miserable may have as many problems as the ten-year old who is always mad.

Dr. Kenneth Barish writes, "We want children to have their feelings, but not be overwhelmed by them -- to feel discouraged but not give up; to feel anxious but not stay home; and to be excited but not get so carried away in their enthusiasm that they use poor judgement."

How do we help a child learn this? Recommendations include:
  • Teaching a child to recognize and name feelings, (Example: Anger may be a reaction to feeling hurt) It is important to help a child realize not only his own feelings but the feelings of others.
  • Listening and acknowledging a child's feelings and concerns. Give a child one-to-one time to talk about concerns and feelings. 
  • Modeling appropriate behavior ourselves and apologizing if our emotions get away from us. 
  • Discussing with a child how she can appropriately express a feeling. Help them realize feelings are different from actions.
  • Rewarding appropriate behavior.  
    • Be aware of what type of behavior is being rewarded. The child who gets what she wants by whining or throwing a tantrum is learning that there is no need to regulate one's emotions, and there is a reward for acting out. A child who always gets cuddles and is given excuses whenever she is crying or looking hurt may be learning that she is sensitive and no one should upset her.
Hunger, tiredness, illness, and trauma influence everyone's emotions. Most parents recognize a tired, hungry toddler. Parents also need to be aware of these forces on the elementary age child. Just as importantly parents need to be aware how their own reactions are affected by being stressed, tired, or hungry.

Know when a reaction is age appropriate behavior.  Two-year-olds have temper tantrums and elementary school age children worry and may cry about things that seldom cross our minds. Children are sensitive to many things we have learned to ignore. Recognize and accommodate a child who is sensitive to noise or bright lights or other sensory input. As a child gets older help them learn how to handle the sensitivities themselves. A 2nd grader may need quiet when learning a new task. A 4th grader needs to learn that there may not always be complete silence whenever she wants it. Do not expect a child to react like an adult. It is important that your child trust you enough to bring you any adult problems they may encounter. There are times when a parent has to take charge of a problem.

On the other hand there are times when adults need to be direct with a child. A good parent will tell a young child, "I know you are angry but you can't hurt yourself," and remove a child from a situation. There is nothing wrong with telling a school age child that they don't need to have hysterics and go to the nurse for every minor injury. Sometimes an adult needs to point out to a child how her actions helped create a bad situation which resulted in hurt feelings on both sides. For example saying mean things to someone may result in not getting an invitation to her party. 

Parents don't need to run in and fix everything. Natural consequences, such a something getting lost or broken due to constant irresponsible behavior, are learning tools. A child may not need a lecture, but they also do not need an immediate replacement.

Select when to discuss behavior with a child. A child in the middle of a tantrum or crying jag is not able to listen. Wait until the child has calmed down to discuss a more appropriate reaction. Work with your child to come up with ways they can stop behavior before it escalates.

The best time to discuss how to act is when the child succeeds through his own effort. We need to point out good results when they are happening. For example when a child succeeds at something academically or  athletically it is a good time to point out how his hard work got him to this point. When you see your child start to act angry, but take a deep breath and stops, recognize it and give your approval. 

As parents we want to fix things for our child. Sometimes, though, things can't be fixed. All children need to learn that some bad things happen through no fault of their own. This is one reason children's books and movies often include hardships. Bambi's mother got shot; Old Yeller died; but the movie didn't end there. Life goes on.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

It's Your Turn to Read

Parents are encouraged to read to their children. They read "Good Night Moon"  until parent and child have it memorized. They stroll through all the Berenstain Bear books and enjoy the art and the words of Where the Wild Things Are. Some even read to their child in utero!  But for some reason many parents stop reading to their child once the child can read on her own.

It is easy to forget that a child may be a good enough reader to read to learn, but their reading level in usually below their listening level. Listening to a good book exposes a child to more complicated sentences, plots, vocabulary and ideas than books he can read when he is young. In addition, the child has someone right there to pronounce the words correctly and explain any vocabulary or action that he doesn't understand.

In a perfect world parents would have plenty of time to read every night to their children. While it is a good routine to read 15 to 20 minutes at bedtime, some people's schedules make it difficult. Remember reading on weekends or once a week is better than never. Other adults (grandparents, aunts or uncles, good friends or even a caring babysitter) can also fill this role.

What to read?  Read something your child wants to learn about. Read a story you loved as a child.  Read stories that present problems you would like to talk about. Read stories that explore history or science. Read about famous people and events. Read the hardest book on a child's summer reading list (No, they won't get credit for reading it but they will have the knowledge grained by hearing it. )

Don't limit your reading to suggested read-aloud books for your child's grade level. Some children need the cushion of easy listening, and others need the challenge of more difficult books. Let the level of books grow with your child's interest and abilities. Do not be afraid to read something outside your child's interests to expand their knowledge. There are so many books -- old and new -- to read to an elementary school age child.  And if both of you can't stand a book once started, get another one.

Many book lists have suggested ages listed. These are guidelines -- not requirements. I recommend below age level if your child has not had many books read to him or finds language difficult. For the child with an intense interest in a specific subject do not be afraid of reading teen or even adult books, especially for the 9 to 11 year olds. My son loved the book Skunkworks: A Personal Memoir of my Years at Lockheed . He begged his dad to read it to him and then spent a good part of 5th grade rereading the book himself. (He grew up to be a singer/songwriter who has a day job as an aerospace engineer.)

I recommend parents scan most books or check a review on the Internet. There is a continuous supply of new read aloud books. Here are some initial suggestions for oldies but goodies:
Check out the blog each Wednesday for more read-aloud suggestions.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Teacher Gifts

My teacher friends are starting to tell me how many Mondays are left, so it must be getting close to the end of the year! The end of the school year celebration sometimes includes a gift for teacher. In some schools such gifts are common, in others it is a hit or miss idea, and a few schools prohibit them. I am going to share with parents a great little secret. The best end of the school year gift you can give your child's teacher is a thank you note from your child.

Since most children are notoriously bad an composing thank you notes you may need to give them guidelines. Answering at least one of these two questions guarantees a note a teacher will remember.

  • Question 1:  What is the best thing you remember about this school year?  Some children will immediately come up with an answer ranging from field trips to the reading of a favorite book.  I have received thanks for taking children outside when it snowed (a rare occurrence in this part of the country) and for a class project in which we built a huge reading tree large enough to include pillows inside for reading.  I remember one of my students writing me, "Lots of teachers make big promises, but you kept yours and we got a tree!"
  • Question 2:  What did you learn this year?  The answer doesn't have to be limited to academics. One child thanked me for teaching him that he could "be quiet for 20 whole minutes!" (Actually I didn't need the letter to remember that day.) Another student wrote me a note years after he left my class. He thanked me for teaching him not to break things when he got mad. He told me he didn't think he would have been as successful as he was if I hadn't told him that everyone gets mad, but the important thing is what you decide what to do with that anger. I didn't remember being so eloquent, but the note was one of the high points of my career.

If a parent wants to include a note, it too, will be appreciated. I was very touched by a parent's note written to me years ago. In it was a specific comment about how I had helped his child and how I helped him help his child.

Let's imagine your child goes to a school where gifts are the norm, or you just want to give a gift. There are some gifts you might want to stay away from.

  • Apples, plaques or anything with cute teacher sayings.  Maybe get this type of gift for a first year teacher. Everyone else has plenty of them.
  • Dollar store gifts that you put off getting till the last minute. 
  • Any gift you are re-gifting.
  • Anything alive. I don't care how much of an animal lover a teacher claims to be don't get her a pet! I knew a teacher who received a dog at the end of the year!  
  • Any additions to a collection. The problem with collections is one seldom knows what is already in the collection.

So what kind of gifts do teachers like?  I liked gift cards, especially if they weren't to a specific store. I was surprised at some of the unique gifts (some handmade) I received that I really enjoyed. However, if you want to give something but are in a quandary about what to give  -- go for the thank you note.

I know most people have a few more weeks of school left, but an end-of-year note does not have to be given the last day of school. You may learn something about your child's year if you ask him/her the above questions. Your child will become aware that thank you notes are not just for birthday gifts, and a teacher will go home for the summer happy that someone did notice and appreciate all the hard work she did that year.