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When Derek was a baby, I had his room decorated before I even bought diapers. At age 4, his room was robot-themed. Then at 5, it was all about the Legos, complete with a handmade Lego border that I made on my die-cut machine and painstakingly hot-glued to foam (so the tops of the bricks would be 3D.) Then there was Star Wars, then Harry Potter (huge Hogwarts castle crafted from black scrapbook paper above the bed), then the Golden State Warriors (a floor-to-ceiling basketball court made from orange electrical tape).
Yes, I am without a doubt, that mom. You should see the birthday parties. My biggest heartbreak came when Derek turned 12 and asked, "Can we please just do a party without a theme this year? Just, plain and simple?"
Um, what? Have you met me?
Turns out, much to my dismay, Derek may have been right to ask for the plain and simple. According to a fascinating study on classroom environments and kids' cognitive performance related to visual distractors (i.e., what stuff on the walls does to learning) published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, a "busy" environment can take away from learning. The researchers who performed this study on children ages 8-12 offered up several tips for classroom teachers to ensure their walls provide maximum learning.
That got me thinking about Derek's room (now completely spartan—no mom decorating allowed). Here are some suggestions outlined in this study, along with some other modifications you can make to your child's environment at home to keep it warm, comfortable, and stimulating—but not too stimulating.
First, start with cleaning. Too many toys, prizes from birthday parties, and supplies strewn around the room can be a huge distraction and feel chaotic. Involve your child in making decisions about what to keep and what to donate. Sometimes when they know their stuff is going to someone who needs it, it is much easier to part with. Here's a caution when you declutter: the second you pick up that 10-cent action figure that's been under the bed for three years, your child will decide it is the only toy in the universe they want. Best to sweep those things into a tub and then sweep that tub...away. Later. (When Derek was younger, I used to have a tub labeled: "Little Junky Things Mom Wants to Throw Away." It just made me feel better to see my protest in writing.)
Organize for Function, Fun, and Favorites
A functional space is a happy space. Sit down with your child and think about what they like to do most, and see if you can create a special zone for that. Derek spent about three months in a fort in the living room with rainbow loom rubber bands EVERYWHERE before I realized that maybe we should make a space in his room for them. Remember that what your child likes to do will change often, and flexible space is the most helpful when hobbies and passions change.
Display Their School Work
Kids feel increased ownership and responsibility when they see their hard work reflected back at them. As someone who has 10 tubs in the garage, each labeled Derek's Preschool Art, Derek's 1st Grade Art, Derek's 2nd Grade Animal Report, and so on...I know often there is more paper coming home than anyone should have to handle. Consider a bulletin board or magnet board that features a few favorite pieces that your child is most proud of. Then, Marie Kondo it! Believe me, there will be more to come next week.
Don't Forget the Cozy
Above all, your child's bedroom should be a place where they want to spend time (bonus points if you want to spend time there too). I rarely cross the threshold of Derek's fortress these days, and I wouldn't describe it as cozy (smelly, maybe, but not cozy). But before they become teens, you have a lot more bedroom latitude. Don't forget to cozy it up with pictures, rugs, pillows, lovies, and plants. The coziest space in a child's bedroom is the spot where you and your kid can cuddle up and read every night. A big chair is great, but a bean bag and even the bed work just fine too.
Natural light is good for everyone. Let the sunshine in!
Use Visuals that Reinforce Learning
I wouldn't recommend setting up your child's room like a classroom. I mean, let's be real. Would you want your bedroom to mimic your office? Still, there are some great ways to create a happy space at home that still supports learning. Here are three ideas:
- Labels: I love my label maker. I would label each of the dog's paws if she would let me. Enlist your child in making labels and pictures for their stuff, because that will help with ownership and organization.
- Maps: A colorful map is always a great conversation starter, especially when you indicate where your family is from or where you have traveled.
- Books!: To me, there is nothing better than a room full of books. In your child's room, display them so they are inviting and begging to be read. (Maybe labeled baskets?) Think about the shelves of a bookstore, where the covers face out to pull you in. As winter approaches, it's the perfect time to think about ways to create a warm, comforting space for your child. It's also a great time to donate some unused or gently loved items to people and organizations who need them. Remember to involve your child in all these decisions and help them make their room their own!
My 3-year-old daughter is a "spirited" child. She came into the world almost a month early, and she's been nonstop ever since. Her personality is vibrant, with very high highs and very low lows. Although I don't have to wonder where she gets it (ahem), I truly admire her for being able to fully express how she is feeling from moment to moment. I never have to worry about her hiding her feelings from me; actually, it's quite the opposite.
With such a big personality, it's important for my daughter to learn self-regulation. As parents, my husband and I work hard to make her feel safe to express her feelings freely and in our home, though it's not always easy to support her in managing her emotions and working through them. I believe that when a kid is having big feelings, they are trying to communicate that something isn't right. It's our responsibility to honor them by listening and supporting them the best that we can.
What is Self-Regulation?
Self-regulation is all about managing emotions, behavior, and body movement in the face of challenge. The ability to self-regulate looks different for a three year old compared to a preteen, and it's not an easy process at any age. For young children, it involves things like:
- Keeping track of changes in the environment
- Assessing how one is feeling
- Handling all of the information that comes from your five senses (sight, smell, hearing, taste, and touch)
- Focusing and paying attention while doing the above
My daughter has some sensory differences, which affect her ability to self-regulate. Essentially, her nervous system gets overloaded from taking in the world. When this happens, she gets very anxious and might start crying uncontrollably, or her anxiety might be misinterpreted as anger. Sometimes we realize this after it's too late, but we'd much rather prevent a sensory overload from happening in the first place. By putting structures in place in your home it's possible to support all children in regulating their emotions.
Ways to Teach Self-Regulation
Here are some teacher tricks to get you started:
Use visual mini-schedules. I create these mini schedules to help my daughter self-regulate during transitions or when she's super excited about something. I know when she needs one because she'll ask me "When are we _____?" a bazillion times. Having something concrete and visual like this eases her anxiety and allows her to focus on just one chunk of the day. All you need is a scrap piece of paper, coloring materials, and fun stickers to get your kid excited!
Prepare for the unexpected. I remember so vividly my mother telling me what was going to happen ahead of time. As a special education teacher, she realized early on that transitions were super difficult for me, and when changes happened, I'd go into meltdown mode. I've started using her ideas with my three-year-old. Here's a couple ways you can prepare:
- Set expectations in a conversation. If we are heading to a friend's house or a restaurant, we talk about what she might expect before we get there. For example, I might say, "We are going to Lizett's house. I see you want to bring your favorite toy. Remember that if we bring your toy into her house, you will have to share. If you'd rather not share, we can leave your toy at home or in the car."
- Wait to discuss plans. Whether you've got toddlers, littles, or older kids who struggle with change, it's a good idea to hold off sharing tomorrow's plans until you're sure they're happening. I learned this strategy the hard way after telling my daughter that we were going to visit her favorite neighbor's house tomorrow, only to have a last-minute cancellation.
- Create a basket of activities. This is useful in many situations: when plans change, or my daughter is overwhelmed with too many options, or a babysitter calls to let me know my kid wants to roll down the stairs for fun, it helps to have a collection of agreed-upon activities for her to choose from. Sketch a bunch of different activities your child enjoys like playing with dough, drawing, climbing, swinging, playing with her dolls, dress-up, drawing with chalk outside, or running an obstacle course. Next, put the activities in a basket. This is a great way to help your child visualize the activities that are okay to play with friends, babysitters, and family members.
Advocate for your child. We recently went to a farm to check out pumpkins and enjoy fall activities outdoors. Upon arrival, we were told that our daughter had to wear a wristband to enjoy the rides. Well, she hates the feeling of things on her wrist, especially in the hot, humid weather we have here in Austin, TX. So I was her advocate. I explained that she has sensory differences and we worked out having her wear the band in her hair instead.
Here's a few ways you can be an advocate:
- Set boundaries. If I had given in and made my daughter put the wristband on, she would have had some really big feelings and we may have had to leave the farm. When an adult--whether it's a classroom teacher, family member, or neighbor--expects something of your child that you know is triggering, it's your job to speak up or teach your child to speak up for themselves. Next, work together to figure out a solution or plan of action that works for your child.
- Know your child's triggers. Does your child get overwhelmed at noisy restaurants? What about when it's super-hot outside? Is it too hard for your child to make a trip to Target without getting a toy? It's so important to know when our children can't handle a situation and to either avoid that situation or teach them coping strategies to deal with their feelings in a healthy way. Which leads us to...
Teach your child coping strategies. If we teach our kids coping strategies when they are little, self-regulation will become second-nature to them as they get older. Here's a few of my favorites:
- Use calming methods. Every child is different, so it's best to teach your child multiple strategies and see what works best. My daughter does well with deep belly breaths, singing through transitions, and using a calming jar. Some other ideas include using weighted blankets, creating a peace corner in your house or child's room, or playing quiet music. It's important to talk about when and why we use calming strategies, and share about activities that adults use to calm down too, such as taking a warm bath with lavender.
- Discuss big feelings. When we give our children the words to express how they are feeling, we can support them when they are feeling overwhelmed, uncomfortable, or nervous. One idea is to provide a sentence frame such as, "When I'm _______ I can _______." and provide emotion words (e.g., "sad," "angry," "happy," "overwhelmed," "nervous," etc.) and a list of strategies ("Go in my swing," "Go for a jog,' "Take a deep breath," etc.) for your child to refer to. You can also support your child by asking questions like:
- "How are you feeling right now?"
- "How does your body feel?"
- "Can you think about what is making you feel upset?"
- "How can I support you?"
Resources to Help You Support Your Child:
Managing the Chaos
I decided it was time for me to take back my afternoons.
Like clockwork, my afternoon default emotions had become some combination of nervousness, anxiety, anger, exhaustion, and short-temperedness.
I was becoming overwhelmed by all the things I hadn't gotten to yet—after-school drop off and pickups, work, meetings, preparing dinner, sibling conflict intervention, cleaning, laundry, lather, rinse, repeat. It was bringing me to a frustrated and cranky standstill.
What's worse, I noticed that my children were reflecting these emotions in their words and actions. Yikes.
Time for a Change
I decided it was time for me to take back my afternoons. As a curriculum designer, I had heard of practices like mindfulness, meditation, and social and emotional learning, but it never occurred to me that they could help transform my own home life. I grew up with the "tough it out" mentality, which worked for me before I became a mom of multiple children. Alas, it wasn't working anymore.
I wanted to learn new tools, and gift my children helpful tools as well. If my children are going to reflect my thoughts and actions, I want them to have the best reflection possible.
I love research, so off to the library I went! I discovered that mindfulness is not just a cutesy buzzword, but an "awareness of thoughts, emotions, and surroundings--and acceptance of that awareness." I read my first self-help book: 10 Mindful Minutes: Giving Our Children—and Ourselves—the Social and Emotional Skills to Reduce Stress and Anxiety for Healthier, Happier Lives.
That title is a mouthful, but the root of my problem was easy to understand: I needed more "nondoing" in my life. Nondoing would give my brain a chance to shut down and reset.
A Mindful Twist to Classic Games
My children love games and competition, so I knew I wanted the beginning of their journey towards mindfulness to encompass games and play somehow. To my surprise, I learned that many classic games could have a mindful twist.
The goal of Simon Says is to be the last person standing because you only moved when "Simon"—the person giving commands—included "Simon says..." at the beginning of the command. Everyone who moves when Simon gives a command that does not start with "Simon says..." is eliminated. Typically, the commands involve jumping around or dancing. The last player standing is the winner. This game is fantastic to cultivate good listening skills—if only kids listened on a daily basis as well as they do to Simon Says!
- Freeze and Melt, a mindful twist on Simon Says: Commands are involved, but it's not competitive. Ask your child to dance or run around like an animal before you say "freeze." They will freeze in place until you say "melt," at which point they should slowly melt into a puddle on the ground. When they're done melting (cue the Wicked Witch of the West!), have them stay on the floor for a few moments of deep breathing. Then, tell them to go crazy again and repeat the "freeze" and "melt" commands. After a few rounds, ask your child what it felt like to transition from one movement to the other.
- Mindful Goal: Help your child become aware of the tight muscles in the "freeze" position and contrast those with the loose muscles of the "melt" position to build body awareness during tense or emotional situations.
"I spy with my little eye" is a common phrase in this game. One player describes an object they see and the other players have to guess the correct object. Then they switch roles. The goal is to figure the from the description which object your opponent is talking about.
- Eye Spy, a mindful twist on I-Spy: Have your child describe things they see in a quiet environment. Point out objects they don't typically notice and describe them. You can also have your child guess a new object they haven't noticed.
- Mindful Goal: Taking the time to pause and observe things will help your child calm their brains so they will see things in slow motion, and then be able to process information without being overwhelmed. It can also help them become more open to appreciate different things around them.
Telephone This is a speaking and listening game where a group of people form a chain and one person whispers a sentence to the next link in the "telephone" chain. As one person after another repeats the sentence they heard to the next person in the chain, the words are often confused and the message is continually changed until the last person shares the sentence they heard with the whole group. It's an interesting game that almost always has a funny result.
- Echoes, a mindful twist on Telephone: Say a short sentence to your child and have them repeat it back to you. Share a longer sentence and have your child repeat it back to you again. Vary the length of sentences each time. Ask your child if it was hard or easy to repeat the sentences. Test your own memory by asking your child to create their own sentences for you to memorize and repeat as well.
- Mindful Goal: Trying to remember someone else's words can help your child focus and really hear what someone is saying. When children focus on other people's words, they can learn empathy.
Trying all of these games with my little ones, with varying degree of success, was fun and enriching for our family. These games serve as purposeful time spent with my children, but also gives us tools to call on in moments of stress or conflict. In tense moments, you can redirect your children to play one of these games, or have them focus on their breathing, to help your child calm their brain and refocus.
Check out this parent-friendly resource to read more about how to incorporate mindfulness in your home: 10 Mindful Minutes: Giving Our Children—and Ourselves—the Social and Emotional Skills to Reduce Stress and Anxiety for Healthier, Happier Lives.
My husband was deployed to a combat zone for a year when we were in our 20s. Neither of us were avid readers at that time--we were busy with our jobs and figuring out life after college. I always had my nose in a book as a kid, but it was difficult to find time for reading as a young adult. When the deployment came, we knew we needed ways to stay connected over the distance and through that long year. I suggested to my husband that we should start reading books together. So, I bought us each an e-reader, and we chose our first book for our little book club.
Reading builds connection, fuels life-long learning, and helps us see the world from varying perspectives. Just as in most areas of life, if we want to be skilled readers, we must practice. When we prioritize reading in our homes, our kids learn through observation. They see that reading is important to us.
If you have a reluctant reader on your hands, they may employ any number of strategies to avoid reading. But don't give up! Here are some simple tips you can use to increase their motivation and engagement:
- Read aloud to them. Little kids need to hear us model how to read with excitement, expression, and skill. Make this part of your nightly routine and snuggle up together to enjoy a good book. It's OK to reread a favorite story. This is actually good for young readers, especially when they aren't typically interested in reading. Rereading the same book benefits your child by giving them an opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the story and build their vocabulary. Additionally, it helps to boost their confidence because they begin to memorize some of the words and they feel like they are reading too!
- Read what they're reading. If your child is an independent reader, choose a book together and form a book club in your family. Make sure that your child is interested in the topic and that the book is on their level. Everyone should have their own copy of the text. Set an assigned page or chapter amount for everyone to read, and then come back together to talk about what you read. When you are reading the same story as your child, you'll have a really good idea if they did the reading and if they understood it. This is a great time to connect with your child!
- Set aside a time to read as a family. When your children see you reading, they're more inclined to pick up a book. Choose a time each day when everyone in the family devotes time to reading. Curl up on the couch, hang out in the backyard, or lounge on some bean bag chairs while you gather the whole family for reading time. Establishing a routine around reading will make it second nature for kids to pick up a book and feel like they are part of something important.
- Help them find the right books. Your child's teacher probably taught your child about picking a book that is just right for them. Most schools have leveling systems that help children pick a book that they are able to read. But not everything is about their level. Kids also need to be able to read books that they are interested in, even if the level is higher or lower than theirs. Take your child to the library or bookstore and explore the shelves together. If your child is excited about a book that you know is going to be difficult, commit to supporting them. This might just be the book that turns your child into an avid reader!
- Offer praise and encouragement. Just as your soccer player loves to hear your applause and cheers from the sidelines as they take the ball down the field, your reader needs the same encouragement, too. Point out your child's strengths as a reader. Look for small successes to celebrate! If your child is motivated by sticker charts, create a chart to track all of the books they have read. If they love lists, keep track of all the titles and authors they have read. These visuals, along with your words of encouragement and support, will help your reader be motivated to continue reading.
If your child's reluctance to read is more than just a lack of interest, be sure to talk to your child's teacher about your concerns. If you notice that your child has difficulty breaking words into different parts (seeing the word run in running) or identifying rhyming words that are part of word families (changing the first letter of can to make new words, like van, fan, and tan), or your child has trouble retelling what they just read, reach out to the teacher for a private meeting. Experts at your child's school will be able to help you understand more about how your child is doing, and they'll be able to share additional suggestions for how you can help at home.
Remember that all children learn to read at different rates, as well as in different ways. Continued practice and learning new strategies will help your child develop their reading skills over time.
What do you say that will stay with your kids the rest of their lives?
This beautiful question that has driven me to think about the words I use and the power that they hold. As an educator, language researcher, and parent, I am aware that the way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice. They internalize our messages, so we must choose our words carefully.
What I have discovered over the past 30 years is that these two words hold the power to change your child’s mood, their minds, and their hearts: You Matter. And if we understand them and leverage them in the right way, these two words serve as an invitation to children to find their purpose, follow their passion and seek to make a difference in this world.
Here is why these two words are so powerful:
- "You Matter" is Affirming: These words are not simply a statement of inspiration, they are a statement of value. There is a difference between being admired for what you know and being valued for who you are. The caliber of our children's productivity, inner strength, contentment, relationships, and competencies is directly impacted by the strength of their self-beliefs. One of the most important goals we can make as parents is letting our children know they matter not just to us, but to the world. When young people get the message that their worth is not dependent on their grades, their perfect behavior, or even a significant feat...they become more secure in who they are and how valuable they can be.
- "You Matter" is Vision Casting: Children are on a journey. They are figuring out who they are and what their place is in this world. For some, that vision aligns with that of the world, but for others who follow a path that has been chosen for them and is inconsistent with who they are, emotional angst and suffering ensues. Our children need us to encourage their vision of success. These words show them they belong with us for who they authentically are. These two words are an investment in this process, casting a clear vision for their future and potential.
- "You Matter" is a Call to Action: When we tell a young person that they matter, we are inviting them into a life of service and action where they will be called upon to use their gifts and talents for something bigger than their own self-interest. I can personally attest that our children are not only ready for any challenge that comes before them, they are ready to do the work and make an impact.
If we want to usher in the future generation of creative, compassionate, and courageous human beings...
If want to unleash a new generation of fierce and determined young people who ask as they enter the world and workforce, "How are we going to make it better?"....
If we want to see a world better than the one that exists today...
Then each and every one of our children need to hear these words from the people they admire and love most.
Once they know this, everything in their world and ours changes.
Do you ever find yourself saying, "I just need a break!"? I know I do. Sometimes life gets overwhelming and I feel like I can't focus on any of it because there’s just too much going on. Managing demanding careers, kids' activities, pets, school work, housework, yard work, exercise, volunteering, and finding downtime is...a lot! Oh, and then there's the deluge of information that's always available on television or my smartphone. It's no wonder focus is difficult some days!
We live in a fast-paced society, and that can be felt in the workplace and in the classroom, as well as during homework time. Many children feel like saying "I just need a break!" too. Young learners often struggle to stay focused. So how can we help them?
A break from the daily grind sounds really nice, and thankfully it's not unreasonable to take one. Short breaks are feasible, pretty easy to accomplish, and they’re actually really effective. Research shows that taking routine, short breaks is beneficial for sharper focus, stress-reduction, and increased productivity.
You may have heard of the term "brain breaks," as many teachers strive to implement them in their classrooms daily. Brain breaks are short periods of time when we take a step away from the routine work we are doing. They are quick and effective ways to energize and refresh our thinking. Using brain breaks with your children provides them with opportunities to develop their creativity through kinesthetic activities. They also boost brain function!
So if you're feeling like your child needs a break during dreaded homework time, use these short brain breaks to help get your child refocused before getting back to work.
- Dance Party: Put on some fun music and dance!
- Keep It Up: Get a beach ball and keep it from hitting the ground. Add a second ball to make it even more fun.
- Jump Counting: Have your child count while jumping with each count. Challenge them by counting by twos, fives, or tens.
- Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes: Use a movement song like this one to get your child moving. For added fun, see how fast you can go.
- Would You Rather: Have your child answer a "would you rather" question and move to a specific part of the room to demonstrate their answer. Ask them to explain why they chose their answer.
- Freeze Dance: This is similar to the Dance Party brain break, but this one incorporates listening skills. When the music stops, your child must freeze and hold their position until the music begins again.
- Physical Challenges: Engage your child in the classic challenge of rubbing their belly and patting their head at the same time. Another version is to try to grab your nose with your left hand and grab your left ear with your right hand. Switch as fast as you can.
- Race in Place: Have your child stand up and run in place. Then, on your signal, your child will get back to work.
- Simon Says: Play this oldie but goodie to see how well your child can follow specific directions… but only if Simon Says!
- Rock, Paper, Scissors: Teach your child to play this fun, quick game and see who wins! Play best out of three to crown a champion.
For another approach to brain breaks, try these options:
- Drawing or coloring: Free drawing and coloring is a great way to refocus and harness your child's creativity.
- Mental math: Give your child a sequence of instructions to follow while doing math in their head.
- Invisible pictures: Have your child draw an invisible picture in the air and let you guess what it is.
- Story starters:Tell the beginning of a story for one minute and let your child finish the story on their own.
Brain breaks are a simple technique that only take 5-10 minutes, but they have lasting effects such as a focused, productive, and (most importantly) happy child! By using them, you’ll take the stress out of homework time...and find yourself and your child giggling along the way.
My 3.5-year-old loves to ask questions. He wants to know the names of all the bones in his leg, he wonders why he can see lightning in the sky but not thunder, and he notices the sounds that letters make and thinks it is too funny when two words sound alike.
I love listening to his questions, thinking about how his brain is growing and developing, and supporting him. I also try hard not to push him in any particular direction by teaching him about the world in a formal way. Instead, I try to incorporate learning opportunities in our day-to-day activities to create a relaxed, brain-friendly atmosphere that is full of fun. Here are some examples of ways you can create learning opportunities right in your own home:
Build Math and Literacy Skills in the Kitchen
When you are planning meals or making a shopping list, include your child. Invite them to write the list and practice their writing skills. Younger kids can make a grocery list by drawing pictures and/or writing the first letter in a word. When you go to the store, ask your child to identify the items on the list and check them off as you put them in the cart. This will provide reading practice, teach your child ordering skills, and help them with sequencing activities.
Later, encourage your child to join you as you cook a meal. Ask them questions about what you might need to do first and model how to follow step-by-step instructions by reading a recipe. Younger children can help measure out ingredients and mix with support. Older children can be in charge of reading the recipe, getting out the correct measuring bowls/spoons, and completing the steps with minimal guidance.
Support Creativity Through Open-Ended Play
Provide open-ended materials—such as blocks, animals, recycled items like boxes, and art supplies—regularly for daily use. Make a space in your home for these materials and have them available for exploration. When your child says that they have "nothing to do" or are "bored," direct them to the materials and allow them the freedom to develop their own activities using self-directed play. Sometimes a child needs to feel "bored" or under-entertained in order to hone their self-motivation skills. A state of boredom can actually encourage them to notice the world around them and interact with objects or others in a new way. As your child becomes more comfortable with open-ended play, their ability to self-motivate, problem-solve, think critically, and use their imagination will grow exponentially.
Use Outings as a Learning Opportunity
Sometimes it can feel overwhelming to think about designing learning opportunities for your child. The good news? You don't have to create anything special. In fact, think about the everyday activities you already participate in and consider them with a new lens. If you are going someplace new—such as a museum, science center, aquarium, or zoo—model how to engage in research before arriving. Show your child how to identify exhibits, use a map, and make a plan before they visit. When you arrive, encourage them to be in charge of the map or decide where to go first. For places that you frequently visit—such as the grocery store, local library, post office, or bank—give your child ownership over the grocery list, talking to clerks, or counting out change. While out, ask questions to support their critical thinking skills, such as:
- "How can we figure out what ______ does?"
- "What do you notice about ______?"
- "What do you see?"
Children are always learning. As a parent, our job is to support our children to ask questions, notice connections, and encourage their creativity.
When I was a Spanish teacher in a California elementary school, one of my favorite traditions to teach was el Día de los Muertos, or the Day of the Dead.
El Día de los Muertos is a Mexican holiday celebrated throughout Latin America and within Latino communities each year on November 1st and 2nd. It is a time to celebrate and honor loved ones who have passed away, as it is believed that their souls return on these days to be reunited with the living.
Some parents might be concerned that exposing children to a tradition that honors death would overwhelm them or make them too sad. But Día de los Muertos is a beautiful celebration which you can share with your child to help honor beloved family members or pets who have passed in a loving and meaningful way. The Pixar movie Coco does a terrific job at showcasing the Day of the Dead in an authentic and child-friendly way. You, too, can use this movie as a jumping-off point to help your child understand this beautiful celebration.
As with any culturally sacred tradition, it is important to celebrate Día de los Muertos with reverence and respect, and without appropriation. Reading books and articles about how the tradition is celebrated and finding out more information from Mexicans and other Latinos is key to truly honoring the holiday.
I have lived in Mexico City for two years and this is my favorite time of year. Orange marigolds, or cempasúchil, are known as "the flower of the dead" and can be seen all over the city, in the freeway dividers, in stores, and schools. The marigolds, with their bright color and pungent smell, are believed to attract the souls of loved ones who have passed, bringing them back to family and friends on this special holiday. Some people place marigold petals in the shape of a pathway towards their house, to guide their deceased loved ones home.
The city organizes spectacular parades showcasing the color and joy of el Día de los Muertos; community altars, as well as family altars, can be seen everywhere! Scrumptious pan de muerto, or "bread of the dead," is a delicious sweet bread and is available in all bakeries during the weeks leading up to the event.
If you and your family would like to learn more about el Día de los Muertos, here are some tips to get you started.
Start by making personal connections.
Talk to your child about anyone they might know who passed away, including a pet. Remind them of how your family honored or celebrated the life of the deceased. Explain to your child that in every community, people have different ways of remembering and honoring loved ones who have passed away.
Deepen their learning with images, stories, and videos.
Show your child a map of Mexico to give them a point of reference. Explain that el Día de los Muertos is not a time of sadness—rather, it's a joyous event in which families and friends get together to create a colorful altar decorated with pictures of their loved ones, candles, flowers, their favorite foods, skulls and skeletons.
On November 1st and 2nd, families visit the gravestone of their dead loved ones and decorate it with marigolds in elaborate patterns. They place their deceased loved ones' favorite food, beverages, and other symbolic items on the grave site. People play music, sing, and dance. There is a certain level of positive celebratory energy during el Día de los Muertos.
There are also several books and videos that can give your child more insight about el Día de los Muertos. Here are few excellent resources:
- Dia de los Muertos by Roseanne Greenfield Thong
- I Remember Abuelito: A Day of the Dead Story/Yo Recuerdo a Abuelito: Un Cuento del Día de los Muertos by Janice Levy
- The Day of the Dead by Bob Barner
- Felipa and the Day of the Dead by Birte Muller
- Un barrilete/Barrilete: para el Día de los Muertos/A Kite for the Day of the Dead by Elisa Amado
Build an altar.Place a table against a wall (or just use a shelf) and cover it with a tablecloth or papel picado (colorful tissue paper cut into various shapes and designs). Put some boxes to create different levels on the altar. Ask your child for input on the design and placement of items on the altar. Gather pictures of loved ones, candles, flowers, and food, and place them on the altar. These items are called ofrendas, or offerings, to the dead. Remind children of the sacred nature of altars, and how they are treated differently. If you are not of Latino heritage, this is also a good time to discuss the importance of respecting other cultures.
Make art.An excellent way to learn about the Día de los Muertos tradition is to make some art to place on your altar. Here are a few options:
- Pinch pots: Get some quick dry clay and form a small bowl or pinch pot. Paint it with acrylic paint and then add it to your alter. Place dried food, such as rice or beans, in the pot as an ofrenda to the deceased.
- Sugar skulls: A classic addition to a Dia de los Muertos altar are these quintessentially Mexican sugar skulls. Enjoy decorating them with frosting!
- Papel picado: Your child is sure to get their creative juices flowing by making these colorful tissue paper flags or "perforated paper."
- Tissue paper flowers: If you can't get marigold flowers in your area, make these paper ones and place them in vases on your altar.
- Paper skull: Color this intricate skull image and add it to your altar.
Create a dedication.Invite your child and other members of your family or community to place their own dedications or offerings on the altar. Your child could write their dedication on a butterfly cutout template. Have them think of a deceased loved one and write a fond memory or message to them (younger children could draw a picture or say a dedication orally). Alternatively, a dedication could take the form of a letter or art piece as well.
Building a family or community altar can help a child process the death of a loved one by focusing on the joy they brought when they lived. El Día de los Muertos is a tradition that reminds us that death may be inevitable, but we can celebrate those who have passed on with this unique custom.
I was the typical first-time mom with my firstborn—I pureed food he refused to eat, used cloth diapers, disinfected anything that touched the ground, and tried my hand at sign language. I remember lamenting the fact that my one-year-old would not watch the baby sign language videos I diligently checked out from the library. He showed zero interest in them. Fast-forward a few years, and he is all over any video or technology I put in front of him. He loves watching shows to learn about animals and their “creature power” natural defenses. Gone are the days where he is unimpressed by a video. Now begins the era of the tug-of-war standoff between how much screen time and technology use is appropriate—and how much is inevitable.
I am a proud technology user. I live an ocean away from family and friends, so technology has made it easy for me to stay connected with them. For my children, videos spark conversations and give a glimpse into worlds previously unknown. All those are good ways to use technology, but I have caught myself getting sucked into the never-ending refresh of my Facebook news feed while I should have been doing something I had planned for the day. I recognize the potential and challenges that emerge with every new app or technological invention on the market, so the question is: How can I use technology responsibly, and teach my children to use it wisely as well?
What Is Digital Citizenship?
In my search to understand how to monitor technology use within my family, I discovered a new buzz term to describe responsible technology use: digital citizenship. When users of technology have appropriate and responsible behavior when using technology, they are being good digital citizens. In general, a digital citizen:
- Knows the rules and expectations for technology use.
- Respects themselves and others.
- Balances the time they spend online and using media with other activities, like reading a book.
- Reports cyberbullying to parents and school officials.
Okay, now I know what experts are saying about technology use and how I can manage my time, but how do I help my children understand that they should not spend the summer or school vacations watching TV all day? As with any new tool or topic, children need guidance to fully understand expectations. Having conversations about appropriate behavior while using digital tools will help your child take ownership of their actions while using those tools. Even though children are not face-to-face with someone while using technology, they may still interact with people online or produce creative products that others may see. Digital citizens are mindful and sensitive of how people will respond to their digital footprint, or behavior with technology.
Teaching Your Child About Digital Citizenship
Here are some steps to help educate your family about digital citizenship:
- Review the definition of digital citizenship and discuss examples and non-examples. You can make this into a fun game with silly examples to get them out of their seats and talking about the examples.
- Brainstorm words that can be kind and helpful online and talk about hurtful language that should not be used online. It’s hard to know how someone feels when they’re not in front of you - but that doesn’t mean our words have no impact.
- Discuss keeping private information private, like passwords, addresses, and phone numbers.
- Set expectations for digital use in the home. I've found that intertwining this conversation with other things they'll miss out on if they spend all their time with the iPad or a video is helpful.
- Consider writing expectations down and have everyone in the house sign it as a visual reminder of their pledge to follow to those expectations. When the family agrees and everyone is on a united front, the goals you set will be easier to follow. Agreed-upon “No Social Media” days are always the ones where I connect more with my family and relax more!
- Remember to frequently review responsible and respectful behavior for technology use. It’s easy to forget the goals you set with your child or family, so reviewing the goals will be helpful for maintaining them.
Check out this Digital Citizenship Pledge that you can share with your child during your conversations.
For more information, see these websites:
It's almost Halloween, and there are always a million things to do this time of year. As a mama to two energetic young kiddos, I've been on the lookout for spooky (and fun!) activities that foster both creativity and learning—especially if they include everyday materials and a quick clean-up.
To simplify your search for seasonal activities, I have pulled together some of my all-time favorite Halloween picks on Education.com.
Preschool and Kindergarten
- Spooky Slime: In this activity, your child will practice following directions and exploring cause and effect as they create their very own slime. While you do need some special ingredients (liquid starch or slime activator, googly eyes, etc.), you should be able to find them at your local craft store. This activity may sound messy, but is remarkably easy to clean up, making it a hit for the whole family!
- Halloween Rock Art: Let your child's creative ideas flow in this rock art project! Help them collect different kinds of rocks to create Halloween-inspired creatures, making a mess and having fun as they go. For an added challenge, encourage your child to use their finished rocks to make patterns or compare and contrast.
- Pumpkin Designs: Use this activity to help your child create their very own Halloween pumpkin! Since it requires only basic materials, this is the perfect project for young children. Your child will use washi tape, painter's tape, or stickers to decorate a pumpkin using their own unique designs. Simple enough to be done with little support, this project provides an opportunity to practice making and identifying patterns.
- Pumpkin Play Dough: Does your mouth water at the scent of pumpkin pie? Perfect! Use this simple recipe to make fragrant pumpkin play dough that's safe for even the smallest hands. You and your child can work together to follow the instructions and mix the ingredients—then set them off for endless entertainment as they make "pumpkin" creations.
First and Second Grade
- Make an Exploding Pumpkin: This is a project for all budding scientists. With just a few common ingredients, your child will learn all about cause and effect as they turn a jack-o'-lantern into an exploding pumpkin! The best part of this project is that you can experiment over and over using multiple pumpkins to make different kinds of explosions.
- Teal Pumpkin Project Painting: Is teal the new orange? Find out how the Teal Pumpkin Project is spreading awareness about food allergies in this fun painting project. Your child will practice painting skills and learn about empathy for their community by advocating for homes to offer non-food items during neighborhood trick-or-treat celebrations.
- Create Your Own Pumpkin Person: This project puts a new twist on the traditional self-portrait. Your child will get creative as they use a variety of art materials to make their very own pumpkin person. For an added challenge, they can use the included All About My Pumpkin Person worksheet to practice their creative writing skills. Consider making this a family art project and creating a pumpkin person gallery in your home!
- Scary Science with Spiders: Are spiders really scary? Learn all about spiders and their webs in this scientific art project. Using common objects found around your home, your child will soon become a spider expert. Then, they'll use what they've learned to create their very own spooky, sticky web in your home!
Finding the "perfect" Halloween activity can be daunting. Hopefully, these activities will provide lots of creative educational entertainment for both you and your kids!
Halloween is right around the corner, and if your kids are like mine, they’ve been talking about it for a good six weeks. From the costumes to the trick-or-treating plans to the parties and the candy, it’s been nonstop! If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em, right? And maybe throw in a little learning while they’re at it?
Here is a round-up of some of my favorite Education.com resources to support your child’s literacy as you celebrate Halloween. These resources are easy to use and the material lists are simple, and they cover a range of components of literacy development—phonemic awareness, comprehension, writing, spelling, and vocabulary.
For Preschoolers and Kindergarteners
- Building Block 1: Uppercase Letters: These fun worksheets help the alphabet come alive. Your child can review their letters, sounds, and words that start with each letter as they color these wacky letters.
- Finish the Halloween Sentences: Inspire your little learner to practice reading and writing with this festive worksheet! They’ll use visual clues like an image of a spider web to help them complete the sentences with simple, high-frequency words.
- "G" is for Ghost!: With a fun hands-on activity, your child can celebrate Halloween in a spooky and educational way. While creating a Halloween decoration, they will focus on the letter “G.” Letter recognition, the sound that “G” makes, and words that start with “G” will be the topic as your child gets going with this gooey, giggle-inducing, ghostly project.
- Halloween Poem: Exposing your child to poetry at a young age is a great way to build their rhyming skills. Rhyming helps set children up with stronger language skills as they get older. This short Halloween-themed poem provides fun practice with simple rhyming. Your child can use the illustration, the word bank, and their knowledge of rhyming to complete four lines of the poem. To see more benefits of rhyming and tips to help your child build their rhyming skills, check out this blog post.
For 1st and 2nd Graders
- Interesting Animals: Bats: With this reading comprehension worksheet, your child can read about one of the most notorious creatures associated with Halloween. First, they’ll learn some new facts about these interesting animals. Then, they’ll answer a few short questions to demonstrate their comprehension.
- Halloween Words: Frightfully Fun Spelling Worksheets Set: This set of eight worksheets focuses on Halloween-themed vocabulary, like bats, ghost, pumpkin, and candy. In this frightfully fun collection, your child will trace vocabulary words and then use the words in their own sentences. This activity supports your child’s literacy development by working on spelling, reading, and writing.
- Spiders and Their Webs: Another holiday favorite: the spider! This nonfiction worksheet shares factual information about spiders in a reading passage. After reading, your child will label a diagram about the spider.
- Halloween Story Starter: A key component of literacy development is writing, but sometimes, kids don’t know where to start! When writing feels difficult, sentence starters can help. Here, even reluctant writers will enjoy using the sentence starter (“The kids were all dressed up for Halloween and…”) to write their own spooky story. Then, they can create a colorful illustration to accompany it.
Get your child excited for October 31 with these Halloween-themed leveled books. Each one is a different level in terms of text complexity, so check out which version is best for your child.
- Happy Halloween!: Level A
- Happy Halloween!: Level D
- Happy Halloween!: Level G
- Happy Halloween!: Level J
Have a happy and safe Halloween!
As a mama, I try my best to facilitate fun and engaging activities for my kids on a regular basis—and it’s a great bonus if I can do this while incorporating seasonal elements and everyday items!
As a former teacher, I also know that math skills in early elementary school can be an important indicator of a child’s academic performance—not only in math, but also in reading and writing in the upper grades. Math skills support the development of an improved attention span, spatial awareness, and problem-solving skills. Additionally, research shows that having a strong foundation in math supports children in developing important life skills. Everyday opportunities to explore math with your child can be found everywhere—from the toys in their room (e.g., ordering cars by size or color) to the grocery store (e.g. figuring out cost, weighing produce, etc.).
Now that it’s October—and Halloween is on the horizon—here are some of my favorite Education.com resources that are both delightfully spooky and supportive of your child’s math development.
Preschool and Kindergarten
- Spider Web Shapes: In this math-infused art activity, your child will get lots of hands-on practice making and identifying shapes, while learning all about spiders and their webs. Pick up just a few supplies (plastic spiders and paper straws) before starting this spooky project. This is great for both preschoolers and kindergarteners, as you can provide more or less support as needed (e.g., pre-cutting materials and/or challenging your child to create more complex designs).
- Halloween Skeleton: Practice counting and number recognition skills all while creating a Halloween masterpiece. Using materials you’re likely to have around the house, your child will love creating their very own skeleton! Encourage them to count out the correct number of cotton swabs for each part of the body. For an added challenge, have your child count the total number of cotton swabs used to make their skeleton bones.
- Hissing Cat: Halloween and black cats go together like peanut butter and jelly. While creating their very own hissing cat, children will practice their shape recognition and fine motor skills by cutting ovals, arcs, and circles from a paper plate.
- Scary Ghost: Are you looking for some spooky house decorations? Use this scary ghost activity to practice counting to five (or higher if you dare!) while making an adorable ghost out of a paper plate and a few other materials.
First and Second Grade
- Spooky Halloween Jars: Practice the skill of estimation in this fun Halloween activity involving spooky candy or toys. You’ll fill several jars with a variety of items and ask your child to use the estimation slips and their problem-solving skills to determine the total amount in each jar. This is an activity you can get the whole family involved in!
- Halloween STEM Building Challenge: In this innovative Halloween activity, your child will become an engineer as they build structures using different specifications. Not only is this activity super-fun, it will encourage experimentation, adaptability, and creative thinking. Consider this activity as at home or at a Halloween party to provide an opportunity to work as a team!
- Halloween Party Game: In this art-infused math activity, your child will use their creative side to turn recycled cans into Halloween game pieces! They will practice knocking over the cans (and practicing their counting skills) to see who gets to 50 points first! This is a game the whole family will enjoy.
- Halloween Shadow Pumpkin Symmetry: Teach your child all about symmetry using this creative Halloween activity. You’ll work together to create symmetrical Halloween shapes and creatures, while practicing directional concepts and creative thinking skills. When you finish, you’ll have enough shadow puppets to put on a show!
When I taught in Tennessee, tornadoes were a frequent occurrence—so much so that many people were unfazed by the warnings. But not me! One day at dismissal, I could hear the tornado warnings from my classroom and my cell phone went crazy with alerts. I was pregnant, and I took those warnings seriously. I ushered my kids into the hallway and joined them in the “duck and cover” position. The other classes joined us, and we remained in tornado position for a good 45 minutes. While we weren’t comfortable, the children were calm as they had practiced following our safety plan several times.
Our children are growing up in a world where school safety drills are very routine. It’s important for them to practice doing things when conditions are not scary so they will feel calm and confident if the situation changes. School staff is trained in all of these drills, to help ensure procedures are followed and children will feel secure.
Depending on where you live, here are some of the different safety drills your child might tell you about.
Preparing for Safety
- Fire Drills: These really haven’t changed much since you were in school. When a specific bell or alarm rings, students line up with their teacher and follow their emergency route out of the building. They go to a designated spot on or near the campus, and wait quietly while the teacher accounts for all students. When the teachers are given the “all clear,” students re-enter the building.
- Tornado Drills: A school’s tornado plan designates a location for students to shelter in place during a tornado drill. This is usually the most interior room without windows. When a specific bell or alarm rings to signify a tornado drill, students move to their spot. They get down low with their head against the wall and use their arms to protect their head and neck.
- Earthquake Drills: After receiving a notification in the form of a bell or alarm, students duck and cover underneath their desks or tables. They use their arms to protect their head and neck.
- Lockdown Drills: In the event of police activity nearby, an intruder in the building, or, heaven forbid, an active shooter, schools utilize this type of procedure. A lockdown drill can be confusing, scary, or difficult for young children, and for the adults in the school, too. If a lockdown is ordered, teachers and staff will lock all doors and windows immediately, turning off all lights and closing any blinds or curtains. All students are instructed to stay low and away from the doors and windows. Part of the teacher’s job during a lockdown drill is to peek out of the classroom to see if any students are lingering in the hallway, and bring them into their classroom for the drill. Students and teachers must be silent in these lockdowns. When staff receives the “all clear” that the drill is over, the class returns to its normal routine.
Experiencing any of the situations addressed by these drills would be a scary and potentially dangerous experience for children. While we hope to never have to do these in real life, practice is essential so students can remain calm and safe should the unthinkable come to pass.
Create a Safety Plan
Teachers and school professionals by nature are the type of people who plan things out. But with school safety, it’s not that simple. Every event has a different set of circumstances and dynamics. I spoke to Lars Clemensen, a Superintendent of Schools in New York, about school safety in his district. Mr. Clemensen has proven to be an involved and proactive leader for his district on the issue of school safety, collaborating with local law enforcement and other school leaders in the state to discuss, learn, and plan.
“Schools are safest when we have a plan for preventing bad things from happening,” he said, “and in the unlikely event that something bad does happen, the schools are ready to respond.” Lars goes on to say that part of preventing bad things from happening is making sure that all kids are seen and that their needs are met. A school safety plan includes supporting kids who are struggling, staffing schools with school counselors and social workers, and implementing systems and programs that allow kids to be seen and heard.
Districts partner with law enforcement, fire departments, and other entities to ensure proper action and response during an event.
How to Talk to Your Child About School Safety
Some children internalize and worry about the real-life implications behind the drills. While awareness and preparedness is the goal, sometimes anxiety creeps in and the drills evoke reactions in young kids. If this is the case with your child at home, follow these tips:
- Remind your child that school is a safe place and that they are safe. Reassure your child that the adults at the school have a plan.
- Review the safety procedures together. Have your child teach you the plan they learned at school, and come up with a plan for home, too.
- Go over the facts about the specific drill. If you live in an area prone to tornadoes, talk about the science behind the weather event and discuss the alert system that the weather experts use to help keep you safe. The key is to keep it age-appropriate and only share information that is necessary for them to know.
- Share feelings about the topics. Allow your child to share their thoughts and feelings, and do the same for them in an age-appropriate way. Without overdoing it, let them know that you sometimes feel scared about things, but that having a plan helps you stay calm.
If you have concerns or questions, talk to your child’s school principal or teacher. It’s better to go straight to the source and ask questions rather than leave things to chance or go on social media to find answers.
If you check out your child’s history textbook, you’ll probably see a small chapter (or less) on Native Americans and what their lives were like long, long ago. Although many schools across the United States have high numbers of Indigenous (the first people to inhabit a land) students, it’s uncommon for kids to learn accurate information about 21st century Native Americans. It’s also uncommon for Indigenous parents to be invited to school to talk to classrooms about their tribe, culture, and heritage.
As parents, we have the opportunity to teach our kids to embrace differences by teaching them about different people in factual and culturally appropriate ways. Communities across the United States are now celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day alongside or instead of Columbus Day. The purpose behind the shift is to honor and recognize Indigenous people as the first inhabitants of the United States. It also brings to the forefront the importance of making Indigenous people visible in our communities all year round.
Unfortunately, because there is so little curriculum in the United States developed from Indigenous perspectives, our kids often lose out on learning about the beauty and diversity of over 500 Native nations. Indigenous Peoples’ Day is a wonderful opportunity to engage your littles in learning more about Indigenous people living in the 21st century.
While many schools and communities celebrate Indigenous People's Day on Monday, October 14th, you can celebrate it all month long with the following activities.
Celebrate unity and gratitude. We can honor the traditions of others by reading books written by Indigenous authors. One book that young learners enjoy is We Are Grateful by Traci Sorrell. Traci Sorrell, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, takes readers on a journey through the year with a Cherokee family and their tribal nation as they express thanks for celebrations big and small.
Here are some activities you can use to engage your little before, during, and after reading this beautiful book:
- Before reading: Talk to your child about what the words “unity” and “gratitude” mean to them. Provide child-friendly definitions, for example, “unity” means “coming together” and “gratitude” means “being thankful.” Discuss some ways that you come together as a family and show that you are thankful (e.g. high-fives, saying thanks, doing something kind, or cuddling with someone you love). Write some of your ideas down on colorful notecards and place them on the table.
- During reading: Support your child in saying the Cherokee words accurately. Have a discussion about the importance of trying our best to learn new words. Relate this to how crucial it is to say people’s names correctly.
- After reading:. Create a piece of artwork that showcases the seasons where you live. Discuss the different things you are grateful for during each season. Refer to the notecards you created before reading and discuss the ways you show you are grateful.
Extend your learning of Native nations. It’s important for children to see and read about Indigenous kids who presently live in communities all over the United States. A great place to start is with the book Children of Native America Today by Yvonne Wakim Dennis & Arlene Hirschfelder. This incredible book is a compilation of photographs, narratives, and facts that give kids a tiny glimpse of some of the Native cultures around the United States. Here are some talking points to make the most out of your reading session:
- Discuss your own traditions. Talk about what a tradition is (e.g., customs or beliefs you hold as a family or within your culture and/or cultural identity). Explain to your child why traditions are important in many families and how they are passed down from generation to generation. Discuss words like ancestor and descendant, explaining that our ancestors are those who lived on Earth before us, and descendants are those who will live on Earth after us.
- Discuss some of your favorite things to do as a family. Look at the pictures in the book and talk about some of the things you see kids doing. For example, kids are playing outside, making sandwiches, and making pottery. Talk about some of your favorite things to do as a family. Compare and contrast the celebrations you see in the book with your own special celebrations and holidays.
Learn about what Native nation’s land you live on. Read This Land is My Land by George Littlechild. Next, head to Whose Land: Territories by Land and find out whose land you live on. Although specifically for Canada, this online resource provides an abundance of information about Native nations throughout the United States as well. Once you find whose land you live on, this online resource provides you with access to many of the Native nations’ websites. The websites provide a platform to research upcoming events and ways you can support Indigenous communities, including donating to Indigenous-led and child-centered organizations.
Watch Molly of Denali . This fairly new children’s series on PBS was created by Alaska Native writers and advisers, and it’s one of the first child-centered programs to have a Native American lead. My three-year-old daughter thoroughly enjoys this show, and so do I! The narrative of the show is focused on Molly making connections to her Indigenous roots. Here are a few tips and talking points when watching this show with your young children:
- Talk about words like American Indian, Native American, and Alaska Native. Explain to your child that most Indigenous people (define Indigenous for your child as the first people to inhabit a land or the first people to live in an area) prefer to be called by their specific tribal group. Remind your child if they aren’t sure, they can always ask.
- As you watch the show, point out any Athabascan words (the language Molly’s family speaks) and names you hear. Encourage your child to practice saying them. Discuss the importance of speaking one’s home language and relate this to the languages you speak at home.
- Head to the Molly of Denali website on PBS and have your child play one of the digital games to extend their learning. Check out the lessons, too. Although geared towards educators, there are many ways you can utilize these at home to extend your child’s learning.
To celebrate and raise the voices of Indigenous people all year long, check out some of these resources that will guide you in the right direction:
- Little Feminist: Native American, First Nation, and Indigenous Peoples' Book List
- Lessons from Turtle Island by Guy W. Jones and Sally Moomaw
- Rethinking Columbus by Bill Bigelow and Bob Peterson
- American Indians in Children's Literature
- National Congress of American Indians
Earlier this year I moved to a new state with my family. Soon after settling in, we stumbled across an amazing preschool that my older son now attends and loves. I’m thrilled that we made this huge transition and that he is happy (phew!), yet I have found it harder than expected to be involved in the school community.
One of the challenges is that his school doesn’t have a clear volunteer policy or system in place, so there wasn’t an obvious path to classroom involvement. Additionally, as a work-from-home mama with a 1-year-old, I am often balancing childcare, attending meetings, and completing projects before heading out to pick up my older child from school.
As a former teacher, I know what the research overwhelmingly indicates: that regardless of income or background, students with involved families are more likely to have greater success in school—and in life. They have improved test scores, better grades, consistent school attendance, increased social skills, and overall improved behavior.
From my days in the classroom, I also know what teachers really need.
So what is a busy parent to do? Here are five ways you can boost your involvement in your child’s education with limited time and resources.
Be Proactive and Stay in Touch
If you’ve not done so yet, introduce yourself to your child’s teacher in-person or via email. Consider offering some skills you’d be willing to share to support the classroom. Are you a writer that could show students how to put together a book? Are you super organized? Do you love to sew or knit? Teachers are often running a classroom with 20+ students of varying needs—and it can be daunting. While most teachers really would like to seek out every parent, they often do not have the capacity to do so. By reaching out to them, you give them the opportunity to get to know you as you become involved.
You might also ask the teacher if there are specific needs for the classroom or ways you can support them. Can you coordinate a wish list of items needed? Take home projects to complete? Organize the classroom library or read aloud to the students each week?
Finally, do your best to attend parent-teacher meetings and follow up with any action items or ongoing concerns. Make sure that, if you notice an issue or have a concern, you bring it up to the teacher first (in a kind and respectful way, of course!) You might learn something new, support your child, or even identify an issue that the teacher was unaware of. This will create an atmosphere of trust and understanding.
Get to Know the Staff and Ask Questions
Seek out the school secretary, volunteer coordinator, or head of the PTA. Find out who the different staff are in the building. Who is in charge of lunch? Who is the playground support? What happens during aftercare? The more you know about the role of individual members of the community, the easier it is to support your child in their educational journey.
Ask questions about different ways that you can get involved at the school outside of the classroom, too. Maybe you can join in a once-a-month PTA meeting, or maybe you have an hour a week to support the school librarian. Perhaps you’d like to help with a yearly school event such as a winter fair. Whatever strengths and time you have available, there is undoubtedly a need. They key is asking questions and seeking out the people with the answers.
Once you have determined the school’s needs and your availability, volunteer! This might mean becoming a regular field trip chaperone, stapling homework packets together at home each Thursday night (one of my most appreciated parent volunteers did this for me every week and I was eternally grateful to them!), or picking up and dropping off books from your local public library. There are many ways to volunteer beyond being classroom parent or recess support.
Use the School Calendar
Read the school calendar or newsletter and take note when certain events are happening. Put these events on your calendar at home and ask your child (or their teacher) how you can prepare. Make it a point to ask your child questions leading up to the event and support them in getting ready. Consider reaching out to the teacher prior to the event offering your support or asking how you can extend the learning at home. By keeping track of what’s happening on a regular basis, your child will feel the connection between home and school and be more likely to share the little things happening on a daily basis.
Make Homework a Bridge to School
Good habits start at home, and homework can be a great way to support your child in learning time management and organizational skills. If your child has homework, make it a family activity—set them up to work someplace central like the kitchen table. Use it as a time to get to know what they are learning in school, and to make connections with activities at home. If you notice lots of time-related math problems, consider putting up an analog clock someplace prominent in your home. If you child is learning all about trees, think about visiting the local arboretum over the weekend. If you have younger children at home, include them by asking them to draw pictures about something they enjoyed that day.
Using these tips will help you build a bridge between home and school—not only for you as a parent, but for your child to truly feel that their learning is connected.
When I started working at an arts-integrated school early in my teaching career, I often wondered how I would connect art and academics. In an educational landscape focused on standardized test scores and data, it seemed that the two were mutually exclusive.
What I found, of course, was the exact opposite! Combining art with other subjects—such as literacy, science, and math—helps students develop a creative understanding of the world around them. Not every school has a robust arts-integrated curriculum, so here are some easy ways to incorporate art and early literacy into your child's day-to-day life.
Reading and Writing
- Invite your child to paint a self-portrait and write (or dictate) a description. Do this monthly, and ask them to embellish both the portrait and descriptions with details like favorite color, game, or food.
- Write in clay, play dough, or shaving cream. Children love getting messy and using their hands. This is a great way to practice forming letters, words, or even sentences.
- Create poetry using a simple prompt. For example, writing "I like…" on each line and providing your child with different topics (food, animals, travel, etc).
- Model journaling. Share different ways to keep track of thoughts, ideas, and feelings. Practice letter-sound awareness by painting your own animal alphabet. Write each letter in marker and then have your child illustrate the card with a corresponding animal (e.g., M for monkey).
- Invite your child to carefully examine the illustrations in picture books. See how they tell a story. This is a helpful pre-reading skill as children learn how words are connected to pictures.
Listening and Speaking
- Notice patterns in songs. Identify rhyming words, repetitive lines, and clap or dance to the rhythm of the song.
- Sing along with songs to encourage vocabulary development and improve memory.
- Ask your child to describe what they see in paintings, illustrations, and photographs.This will help them use adjectives and will support language mastery.
- Invite your child to narrate a story as they play. This encourages creative storytelling.
- Act out or retell familiar stories. This will help children practice sequencing skills.
- Plan out bigger projects allowing your child to lead. This will provide valuable practice in presenting and sharing ideas with others.
Using the arts can not only boost literacy skills in young children, it can also cultivate a deeper love of learning.
School is back in session, and when the weekend comes, it can be easy to let exhaustion take over. Here in Austin, Texas, the weather is finally getting a bit cooler and, stressed as I am, I’m looking forward to all the things pumpkin (and spice) as well as making the most of my weekends with my little one.
But there is a lot of anxiety in the world right now. One way we can all strengthen our resilience is to deepen our engagement in our own local communities. Check out these four calls to action that will help you and your kids stay active in mind, body, and spirit this time of year:
- Educate your family on different celebrations. Many holidays and celebrations take place between September and November each year. Fall is the perfect time to take kids to celebrations in their community and extend learning as a family by visiting a museum or seeking out other resources to support your understanding of these important celebrations. Here are a few resources to get you started:
- Rosh Hashanah, The Jewish New Year. Read Apples and Pomegranates: A Rosh Hashanah Seder by Rahel Musleah. Rahel Musleah, who grew up in Calcutta, India, presents a Sephardic Rosh Hashanah seder observed throughout the world. This special service incorporates blessings, songs, and even folk tales relating to each of the eight foods eaten, and will guide readers through seder.
- Muharram. Muharram is the beginning of the first lunar month of the Islamic calendar. Request books like My Name is Bilal by Asma Mobin-Uddin from your local bookstore or library. This book is a good starting place for discussions of cultural differences and the importance of having respect for the beliefs of others.
- Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) festival. Learn about this celebration that originated in Mexico by reading books about important people who have contributed to this day. For example, check out Funny Bones by Duncan Tonatiuh. This book teaches littles all about the artist Posado and his famous day of the dead calavera (skeleton) drawings.
- Indigenous Peoples’ Day. This important day, which falls on the same day as Columbus Day, commemorates Native American history and promotes Native American cultures. Adults and upper elementary students can watch the short PSA Reconsider Columbus Day by Nu Heightz Cinema and check out this article on Teaching Channel that explores ways to honor Indigenous people all year round.
What You Can Do:
- Go on a nature hunt to find a special tree branch. You want to make sure that this branch is large enough and has multiple limbs.
- Bring the branch inside and set it on your table.
- Gather your family in a circle and talk about what the word gratitude means. Explain to them that gratitude has to do with being thankful. Brainstorm some things that you are thankful for in your family (e.g., food, water, shelter, love, family, friends, your dog, etc.)
- Explain to your family that you are going to make your very own gratitude tree. Assist your kids (level of assistance depends on your child’s needs) in painting the tree branch. Let the branch dry before completing the next step.
- Spread newspaper on the table and gather all the collected or purchased leaves. As a family, begin to write down things you are grateful for on the leaves. One-word answers like “family,” “love,” etc., work best.
- Hang the leaves on the branch with string (tie on the ends or hole punch and pull through) and place the branch in the chosen vase or jar.
- Refer to your family gratitude tree throughout the season to remind your children the importance of being thankful for what we have!
There will always be stress in the world, but when you put your community first by taking these small steps, you will extend your children’s learning and help them to focus on what’s important.
More Resources to Support Building Community and Resilience:
I was in 4th grade when my family relocated from New York to Texas. Never having lived away from my small town, my first few months—okay, maybe it was more like a few years—were miserable. Upon reflection, I think I experienced more than the expected discomfort for two reasons. The first, is that I was literally the only kid in the grade who didn't have these specific Adidas sneakers. The second was that kids constantly asked me to say words like "coffee" and "hot dog," only to laugh right in my face because my New York accent sounded hilarious to them. One kid called me "mental" and another pushed me down while we played soccer at recess. Every day, I begged my parents to move us back to New York.
Was this bullying, or was it just harmless teasing? Bullying is defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as "any unwanted aggressive behavior(s) by another youth or group of youths, who are not siblings or current dating partners, that involves an observed or perceived power imbalance and is repeated multiple times or is highly likely to be repeated." (Preventing Bullying, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2018).
Bullying looks different from community to community. Three common types of bullying are:
- Physical: hitting, kicking, punching, spitting, tripping, pushing
- Verbal: teasing, name-calling, inappropriate comments, verbal or written threats
- Social: excluding someone, spreading rumors, making embarrassing comments
I experienced a combination of all three types of bullying in my new school.
Bullying is something that many adults have experienced, or at least witnessed, at one point or another in their lives. As parents, it's heart-wrenching to think about our children being the victim of a bully, and just as heart-wrenching to think about our children actually exhibiting the bullying behavior. Because we want our children to grow up in safe and secure environments, both at home and at school, it's important that we talk to them about this topic so we can help end this widespread problem.
October has been designated as National Bullying Prevention Month, founded by PACER's National Bullying Prevention Center. The purpose of this movement is to put an end to bullying and unite to keep all young people safe from bullying. One way we can do this is by having meaningful conversations about bullying, empathy, and friendship with our children. Here are some books to support you:
Strictly No Elephants by Lisa Mantchev: This book focuses on the experience of being excluded. The author does a phenomenal job sharing a story about friendship and inclusion. Full of important lessons, this best-selling book is perfect for children ranging from ages 2-10.
Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon by Patty Lovell: Molly Lou’s self-confidence is inspiring in this story. While she isn’t a traditional beauty, her grandmother taught her to be proud of herself. When she starts at a new school and is picked on by a bully, she shrugs it off and doesn’t doubt herself. This refreshing story is perfect for ages 4-8.
Stick and Stone by Beth Ferry: A story about kindness and friendship, it’s subtle anti-bullying message is present and effective. In a lighthearted way, the author shares the adventure of Stone, Stick, and Pinecone. This story is perfect for ages 4-8.
A Glass Full of Rumors by A.M. Marcus: This heartwarming book tackles a serious topic with colorful and bright illustrations. Children learn about the dangers and harm of rumors, and an important quote by Socrates: “If what you want to say is neither true, nor good or kind, nor useful or necessary, please don’t say anything at all." The book, with a fun and happy ending, is great for children ages 5-12.
Be sure to preread each of the books before you read with your child, and be ready with questions to ask them while you read together. Some examples are:
- What is bullying behavior?
- Has this ever happened to you?
- How do you feel when someone is mean to you? What are some ways you can tell them to stop?
- Have you ever seen this happen to someone else?
- How do you feel when someone is mean to another child? What can you do to help that child?
- How could they have handled this in a different way?
- What can teachers do to help all kids feel safe and loved at school?
- What can parents do to help all kids feel safe and loved at home?
- What are some reasons someone might be mean to others?
Bullying can be an isolating experience for both kids and parents, so working through it together is essential. Open the lines of communication with your child and let them know you will provide a safe place to talk. It's vital that they know they can come to us with their problems. This year, in October, I invite you to use the hashtag #bullyingpreventionmonth to post on social media and take a stance.
My son Derek has always been a talker. We remain convinced to this day that his first word was "bubble," even though we know it defies logic and all research on linguistic development. Derek started speaking early, and pretty much hasn't stopped in 13 years. (New parents: Be careful what you wish for. Sometimes silence is really golden.)
I remember picking Derek up from preschool, where I would barely say, "How was preschool today?" before he would start chattering on about his day. "We ate grilled cheese. Charlie and I played rocket ship. Look! (taking off his shoe) I brought home lots of sand again!"
I would just sit back and do the parent thing—um-hmming, wowing, and oohing in all the right places. Secretly though, I patted myself on the back for being such a good parent, having the forethought to hang that black-and-white mobile above his crib (which was supposed to stimulate...something good I can't remember now) and slogging through the nightly readings of Max's Bedtime and Moo, Baa, La La La! Look at the little Winston Churchill I have raised!
Somewhere around third grade, though, all talking about school ceased abruptly. Derek had entered the "too cool" phase of development (one that I'm still waiting for him to exit). Suddenly, my standard line of questioning just didn't cut it anymore. Here is an example of a typical conversation in my house from that time:
- Me: How was your day?
- Derek: (grunts)
- Me: Is that good or bad?
- Derek: It was fine.
- Me: What did you do?
- Derek: Nothing.
Have you ever experienced this? If not, do please reward yourself for all that in-utero classical music playing with a cupcake. If not, read on.
Without warning, my little chatterbox stopped the chatter. I knew that, on a developmental level, this was normal: a byproduct of his brain changing and growing; of leaving a more egocentric stage and realizing that the world might not just entirely revolve around him. And as adults, aren't we are the same way? After a long day at work, I'd rather relax on the couch with my beverage of choice than give anyone a recounting of my day. After a particularly stressful day, I also need time to process internally before sharing. Kids are no different.
Knowing all that didn't make things any less frustrating, however. So each day I kept asking the same questions and receiving the same answers. And wouldn't you know it, the same Groundhog Day-esque loop continued to unfold.
Then, one evening, my sister came over for dinner. "Do you like your new teacher?" she asked Derek.
Here we go, I thought. Enter my son the mime, stage left.
"Yes," he said. I rolled my eyes.
Then my sister asked, "So, if there was a zombie apocalypse, do you think your school would survive it?"
And that’s when the floodgates opened. In 10 scant minutes, I learned about his teacher, his classmates, his principal, the lunchroom strife caused by the autocratic noon duty supervisor, and the multilayered, elaborate rules of Wall Ball. Derek provided a storehouse of observations in more detail than I'd gotten in weeks of probing, questioning, and mining through the papers he brought home for clues.
As a former teacher, I knew that asking the right questions could unlock the actual thinking of my students, but even in the classroom it's not as easy as it sounds. Many of us just default to closed questions instead of open ones, which typically get what we need when speaking with adults. Kids are a little different. Early in my career, it was a constant, conscious effort to stop asking, "What is the answer?" questions (closed ones) and instead ask "How do you know?" questions (open ones) instead.
(For more question alternatives to "How was your day?" check out our parent guides.)
And once again, I never thought to apply that knowledge to parenting. But since that zombie question revelation, I've tried to make my daily inquiry into Derek's life a little more creative when he's acting as if he's been put under a gag order. Now that he’s a teenager, I find it's still incredibly helpful.
All parents and teachers need a whole bunch of tricks in their bag, so here are some more tips for getting your little clam to open up.
- Keep your opinions in check: Just like adults, your child wants to be heard and understood. As parents, it is our default to fix and solve. Sometimes, we even jump to the solution before we have heard the whole story (I'm so guilty of that!). So, before you jump in with your fix, listen to everything. Allow plenty of time for your child to process and share before you offer up your sage advice. It might just be that your child wanted you to know (and empathize with) how they feel, not how you would so brilliantly make it all better.
- Put your phone down: It's hard to model that you are truly listening and valuing your child's feelings when you're checking work email. Even when they are talking about something that isn't a problem and you zone out on your phone, you're showing that you're not the best listener in the world. So put that technology down and be present with the good stuff, and they will come to you with the difficult things also.
- Find that perfect time and make it a routine: It would never fail: I'm finally comfy on the couch with my book and have just made it through the first paragraph when, suddenly, Derek comes in and is Mr. Sparkling Conversation (this is usually because he has to turn electronics off an hour before bed. Coincidence?). I spent so many weeks getting annoyed with his timing, until I realized maybe it was me that had to push my peaceful couch time back a half-hour and create that before-bed ritual of talking to my kid. For you, it may not be bedtime, it may be in the car or over breakfast. But find that moment and make it a thing.
...Is it too late to return that black-and-white mobile?
As the daughter of a special education teacher and a special education teacher myself, I understand the barriers many kids who qualify for special education and their parents face at school. When I was a resource room teacher, it felt like there was never enough time to get to know my students. In this post, I want to offer tips for parents of children who learn and think differently.
As a parent, you know your child the best. You play a crucial role in their academic, social, and emotional success. Here are five steps you can take at home to ensure your child feels empowered on their journey of learning:
- Learn about neurodiversity. The word “neurodiversity” refers to the diversity of human brains. The neurodiversity paradigm supports kids with learning and attention differences (e.g., ADHD and autism) to view the way their brains think and experience the world as completely natural. It also supports them to view their challenges as something they need support in only because society is designed for neurotypical (average) brains. Check out the Neurodivergent Narwhals created by autism activist Lei Wiley Mydske for more information.
- Use universal design for learning. Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a framework that supports each child’s unique way of learning. When we use these principles, we offer kids information in multiple ways (e.g., text, audio, video, artwork), let kids show us what they know in multiple ways (e.g., create a poster, design a blog, or think up a skit), and find multiple ways to engage kids in learning (e.g., project-based learning or community-based learning). Learning about UDL and incorporating parts of this framework at home will help get your child excited about learning. Check out this article on Understood.org for more information about UDL and how to use it at home.
- Tap into your child’s interests. When we provide children with opportunities to work on projects they really care about, they are eager to engage and take challenges head on. Examples include: making their own kite, inventing their own sport, creating puppets, designing a home for their dolls with recycled items, creating a habitat for snails, or designing a boat that floats in water. As your child dives deep into their passions, they will explore concepts of math and science as they measure, test out their designs, and work with 3D figures. Reading and writing can easily be reinforced during these activities by helping your child create a script for their puppets, having your child label the items in their doll house, or assisting your child as they research a snail’s habitat and teach others what they’ve learned through creating a video or vlog (video blog). Check Education.com’s vast library of hands-on activities for inspiration.
- Be mindful of your words. Children listen to everything. When we say things like, “Harper is always throwing tantrums” or “Math is hard for Danny,” our children internalize these messages. Use a strength-based approach when discussing your child and the supports they need to live their best lives. For example, we can rephrase to focus on the positive by saying, “Harper has really big feelings sometimes. We use a calm down bottle, deep breathing, and quiet time to help her feel better” or “Danny, I want you to feel as passionate about math class as you do when you are helping me measure ingredients to cook dinner. How can I support you and help you with your homework?” Rephrasing our words to focus on what children need to succeed sends a powerful message that we believe in them.
- Choose books about changemakers with disabilities. All kids need to see themselves represented in their classroom libraries and the books they read at home. Seek out books like:
- A Boy and a Jaguar by Alan Rabinowitz: Written by Alan himself, this is one of my favorite books. As a child, Alan was placed in special education classes because of his stutter. He went on to create Panthera Corporation, a nonprofit conservation organization devoted to protecting the world's 40 wild cat species.
- Frida by Jonah Winter: Read this book to discover how Frida Kahlo turned the challenges of her life into art.
- The Girl Who Thought in Pictures by Julia Finley Mosca: This book explores the life of Dr. Temple Grandin, an autistic woman whose mind allowed her to connect with animals in a special way, helping her invent groundbreaking improvements for farms around the world!
- Charlotte and the Quiet Place by Deborah Sosin: Some children are highly sensitive to sounds, or may have sensory processing disorder. This book shows how Charlotte learns and practices mindful breathing on her own and experiences the beauty of silence. If you are a parent, teacher, or caretaker of a highly active or sensitive child, you need to read this book!
Resources to Help You Support Your Child:
Do you remember hearing and singing nursery rhymes as a young child? It’s no coincidence that many adults can still recite “Five little monkeys jumping on the bed” on demand. Rhyming with young children is not only a great way to get a good case of the sillies, it can set them up with stronger language skills as they get older. Here are some creative ways to use rhyming to help children strengthen their language skills.
- Rhyming helps build listening skills. The first stage in rhyming for a baby, toddler, or preschooler is auditory. When they are specifically engaged in rhyming activities, they are intentionally listening, which builds this skill they’ll use in other areas of life, like listening to take in information, to respond to instructions, or to share their ideas and opinions.
- Rhyming teaches how language works. Rhyming is a great way to help your child learn common sounds and sound patterns in their native language. It also helps kids experience the cadences and rhythm of language.
- Rhyming shows that words have shared letter sequences. Rhyming words helps expose children to simple spelling patterns (In English rhymes, we have words that end with -at such as: bat, sat, flat, pat), which builds a foundation in phonics — or the relationship between letters and sounds — as they become readers and writers.
- Rhyming prepares kids to make predictions in stories. When looking for a rhyming pattern, children can make predictions about a missing word that completes a rhyming sequence. (Example: “Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great __ ___ ___ ______ __ ___ ___ ______.”) Later, this skill will be helpful when making predictions about what happens next in a story.
- Rhyming builds vocabulary and exposes learners to new words. Rhyming picture books and nursery rhymes give your children opportunities to hear words that aren’t necessarily in their everyday vocabulary. Even though some words may seem old-fashioned, it’s still helpful to learn them and see how words have changed over time.
How can you help your child build their rhyming skills?
- Sing songs with rhyming words. These can be children’s songs, worship songs, or songs you hear on the radio. My preschoolers are really into music, so we like to have fun with it. Sometimes I like to veer away from the lyrics and personalize songs with my children by putting their names into the songs. They think it’s hilarious, and they have no idea that we are covertly practicing rhyming.
- Read, recite and repeat nursery rhymes. Start with some of the simple classics, like “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” and “The Wheels on the Bus” for your littlest learners. As they grow, do this with more advanced rhymes, such as “Peter Peter Pumpkin Eater” and “Diddle, Diddle, Dumpling, My Son John.” You can find these online or at your local library. You can even take nursery rhymes to the next level by acting them out with your child while reciting them.
- Play games. There are many oral rhyming games you can play with your child, and the great part about them is that they can be played any time,any place. For example, say a word or show your child a picture and see if they can come up with a word that rhymes. Another easy and fun game (that gets you moving!) is to go on a walk in nature, at the mall, or around the house and point to objects. Then, have your child come up with a word that rhymes.
- Picture books with rhyming words. You may have noticed that rhyming is a common feature of children’s picture books. One of my favorites for the younger ones is Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. Not only are there catchy rhymes, but it’s also an alphabet book. Another great book is The Gruffalo: This engaging story has rhyming, repetition, and clever characters.
- Invent and experiment with making “silly” words that rhyme. Silliness abounds with children at this age, so why not join in? Make a string of “silly” words mixed with real words that rhyme and see if your child can jump in with some more words. For example: at, bat, cat, rat, that, flat, splat, grat, plat, blat, zat.
When you support your child in hearing, recognizing, and producing rhymes, you're setting them up for reading success. So integrate these simple activities into your daily routines, and bring on the giggles — and the learning!
“I’m gonna tell them to be kind and make good choices,” my 2-year-old said as he noticed the chaos on the television screen. My husband and I just looked at each other. We were watching the news and didn’t think our little ones were paying any attention while they played. Oops.
In that moment, I realized that my kids are considerably more aware of their surroundings than I had previously thought. With so much happening in the world — natural disasters, war, bullying, community violence, and divorce — whether down the street or across the globe, it’s important that we have a plan to discuss more challenging topics with our children. Indeed, sometimes it feels impossible to imagine discussing some of this stuff with our kids, but as parents, it’s our job to initiate conversation. I know that I’d rather my kids hear of tragedy from me and work through their feelings at home in their safe space, rather than from a friend or a random television screen in an airport.
A key part of self-regulation is to be able to process negative feelings. When thinking about how to approach the conversation, it’s important to try to find a delicate balance between the truth and too much information. What do they need to know? How can I share the facts without scaring them? Are they ready for this?
Here are some tips for mindfully setting the stage for having tough conversations with your children:
- Make sure you’re in a comfortable setting. Where in your house, or your daily life, will the conversation feel most safe for you and your children? Be sure to remove distractions so you can be focused and productive. Only include people in the conversation that need to be there.
- Plan what you’re going to say. One of the key factors in a successful conversation is that you feel comfortable in initiating it. Have a plan in your head about how much information you’ll divulge, the type of vocabulary you’ll use to describe the situation, and what you think needs to be left out of the story. Begin by asking them what they know and allow that to guide the rest of the conversation. If your child is under the age of 5, it’s best to keep it simple and avoid discussion of anything horrific. Big ideas like kindness, empathy, and love are perfect for this age.
- Choose picture books to help you with talking points. Many authors are tackling tough issues in their picture books, and this is a perfect way to support yourself, your child, and the conversation. Check out sites like Raising Luminaries: Books for Littles to find titles that help you explain subjects that are difficult to navigate.
- Make sure you have enough time for the conversation. It’s best not to start a serious conversation while you’re running from the grocery store to baseball practice. Tough conversations warrant more time and space than that. Allow room for feelings and questions, as well as time to decompress afterwards.
- Emphasize that you are a safe space for your child. Assure your child that they can come to you to talk more about this topic. Let them know that they can ask questions, talk about their feelings, or just come and get some hugs. Be sure to follow through and be patient with them. Some topics are big and overwhelming, so your kids may need a little time to understand.
- Stay positive. Remind your child about the power and importance of being a good person. Depending on the topic of your tough conversation, there are different points to drive home. If it’s a conversation about community violence, talk about how they can be good people and point out the good people in their everyday lives. If it’s a conversation about a natural disaster or other catastrophe, reinforce that your child and their family are safe and that you’ll continue to work hard to stay safe.
- Provide your child with tools to process and accept big feelings. Give your child a safe area, like a fort, that serves as a place for reflection. Share a notebook with your child in which you can either write or draw pictures back and forth. Giving them the tools they need to process thoughts and feelings, all while keeping the lines of communication open, will support your child as they work through overwhelming topics.
- Discuss possible steps they can take to move forward. Depending on the topic, children may be personally affected and feel called to help. Or they may even be in a situation where they have to stand up for themselves. Talk about the possible ways they can move forward, whether it is donating supplies, standing up for themselves, or speaking to a counselor. Invite your child to role-play. Share suggestions for what they could say and do, and allow them to practice. This forward-thinking will help your child feel more prepared to go back into the world and face overwhelming topics and situations. We can foster resilience in our children by creating a home where they feel safe to talk to us about anything.
I did an image search online for “parents and homework” and I laughed out loud when I saw the image above. Isn’t that what homework time looks like at your house — smiling parents high-fiveing their happily engaged kids? Really? Great job! If not, read on...
Here’s what happened to me last night: I got home early, ready to meet my family for some much-deserved sushi. I glanced at the kitchen table before heading out to the restaurant and notice my son Derek's Weekly Reflection from his teacher on the counter. It said his writing homework was "hasty and skimpy," and that he failed to explain his reasoning in math. Um, what?
So we get to dinner and I say, "So what's up with the hasty and skimpy homework?"
Derek says, "I don't know, I didn't reread it."
Hello?! I am a teacher. The consummate constructivist educator. Are you actually my child?
I say to my beautiful son, "Honey, why do you think your teacher wrote that? How do you think this useful feedback could help you grow as a writer?" (I actually said, "Derek, for crying out loud. Come on.")
Then came the inevitable litany of excuses:
- “Mom, that’s just a notice that she sends to everyone.”
- “You aren't supposed to do anything about it."
- “Just sign the paper.”
- “Why do I have to redo it?”
- “Warren and Aiden's parents NEVER make them redo their work.“You are making NO SENSE."
The truth is, a child’s homework assignment has the potential to bring the best of us to our knees. Many of us have read the ways to support at home: set up a regular routine and a quiet place to work, get it done early, create a calendar. All great. But what happens when we have done all those things and homework time is still World War III? As parents, we all get frustrated from time to time, and occasionally lose our cool even when we know better. First off, take a deep breath and keep fighting the good fight. And next, here are some tips to help with homework struggles:
Let the Venting Commence
We all need to vent before we can be productive. We all want to be heard and understood, even when we know our feelings are a little out of proportion to the situation. Kids are no different, but oftentimes they can’t express that need. Here are some things you can say during the venting session:
- “Wow, that’s a lot of work.”
- “Yes, our schedule was packed this week.”
- “You sound upset. I would be upset too.”
- “How can I help?”
Chunk It Out
Sometimes the hardest part is getting started. We all procrastinate when the task just seems too large and insurmountable — take a look at my garage, for instance. This technique is from Ann Dolin, author of Homework Made Simple. She calls it “Five Minutes of Fury.” Basically, set a timer for five minutes, say “Ready, set, go!” and have your child do as much as he can in the time. After that, take a break or keep going. Remember to make sure to check for errors or correct messiness before turning it in.
Let Your Child Be the Teacher
Does this sound familiar? “Well, what are you supposed to do on this paper?” Shrug. “What did your teacher say?” “Nothing.”
Just for the record, I’m pretty sure the teacher did not say absolutely nothing. But even in the event that happened, it’s not really productive to dwell there. It’s time to probe a little deeper. A set of prompts could look like this: “Okay, tell me what you do know. What were you doing in math today? Great, how have you been practicing it in class? I know one way to do that, but you probably know a different way. Teach me how to do it.” Often, through these conversations you manage to uncover the real assignment. If that doesn’t work, see the next tip.
Know When to Call It Quits
No educator I know or have ever met wants tears at homework time. If you’ve reached a point of no return, or that point just before you know the tears are coming (yours or your child’s), stop. Congratulate her for her perseverance through something hard. Then send her off to bed and put a sticky note on that piece of paper: “I worked with Luna on her homework for 30 minutes tonight and it was a struggle. Could you please let me know how I can best explain this concept at home? We are happy to work on it again tonight with a little more direction.” For older students, have them write the note instead.
Having a few tips in your pocket can help you and your child reach a detente during homework time, and possibly help him or her develop more self-management skills.
Have you ever played a game as a family...but at a certain point the younger kids start throwing pieces, and/or the older kids are checking out on their phones? This is the universal sign that they’re either over- or under-challenged. Fortunately, there are some clever strategies to help make some of the most beloved old board games just challenging enough to keep kids of all ages engaged. Try these tips to make the game accessible to all players, and give them some fun math practice, too.
Game #1: Multiplying Past Uno
Traditional Uno is a fun game for matching colors and numbers, but you can add different levels to the same game to bring an extra challenge for older children.
- Level 1: Have younger children identify the colors and numbers as they place them into the pile. If you have a toddler watching along, encourage them to say the numbers and colors, too!
- Level 2: Challenge children to multiply the number on the card they are covering with the card they place on the pile. If they cover a red 3 with a red 5, they will multiply 3 x 5 to get 15. If your child is just learning to multiply, you can let them use a multiplication chart!
- Level 3: Take the challenge to the next power with exponents! Have your child use the number they cover and raise it to the power of the card they place down on the pile. For example, if they cover a red 3 with a red 5, they will answer 3 to the fifth power, or 3 x 3 x 3 x 3 x 3. Don’t worry, they can always use a calculator for faster calculations!
Game #2: Candyland Makes a Difference!
Yes, it’s exciting to think about a magical land filled with candy. Add an even sweeter touch to this matching colors game when kids practice counting and subtracting.
- Level 1: When players draw a card with a color, have them count aloud the boxes they move.
- Level 2: Have players continue to add on to their previous number as they make their way to the finish line. For example, if they are on the 14th square color from their last turn, when they get another turn, they should continue counting up from 14. Highlight a hundreds chart to help them keep track of their last number, or they can write the numbers on their number chart as they go!
- Level 3: Instead of using the color cards from the game, challenge your older children to use two 20 dice and move the difference of the two dice. Since they may finish long before the younger players, have them complete the board two or three times in order to win.
Game #3: Sorry Substitutions!
Saying “Sorry” is never as fun as when you’re eliminating an opponent’s pawn on the board! Since all pawn movements in the game are based on the numbers on the cards, you can add an extra challenge, or simplify the game, by changing the cards.
- Level 1: Let players use the number cards that come with the game, but use a separate deck with a limited number of cards. So, if you really want your children to recognize numbers like 1, 2, and 3, then you can use the cards with only those numbers. As your children learn more numbers, you can add those to the deck. Alternatively, you can use ten frame cards.
- Level 2: Switch out the number cards for cards with number sentences (10 - 8) that ask players to add, subtract, or divide to get the number of places they need to move their pawn. Increase the challenge further by adding two-digit numbers.
- Level 3: Make the math more difficult when you substitute the number cards for cards with exponents or equations that contain variables! Since some exponents may repeat, like 2¹ = 2, players can practice solving the cards quickly and memorize some of the applicable rules.
Remember, in gameplay, the rules of the game are what all the players agree to. Feel free to change any game to make it accessible to each individual member of your family using some of these math-inspired adjustments!
Have you ever heard someone — maybe your child — say something like "I’m so good at this!" or "I stink at this!" or I’m never going to get this! and "I’m smart!"
These statements are examples of mindsets, or particular ways of thinking. All of them, whether positive or negative, are firm declarations about the capabilities of the speaker. The statements above are examples of a fixed mindset, or the belief that our abilities are unable to change no matter how hard we try. However, this isn’t the ideal attitude for learning, problem-solving, and being resilient. There’s a different, more beneficial, mindset that we are trying to develop in children, teens, and adults: the growth mindset.
The growth mindset is the ideal mindset for learners and people of all ages, and it’s best if we can foster this at a young age. Let’s explore what growth mindset is, why it’s important, and how we can use the right language with our kids to help them be the kind of people who don’t give up when the going gets tough.
Growth Mindset and Its Importance
Growth mindset is the idea that our brains grow and develop through practice. For example, if a child struggles with reading and just can’t seem to get it, they might be convinced they’re just not a good reader and that practice won’t help at all (a fixed mindset). But with a growth mindset, they’re more likely to keep trying different strategies until they experience improvement. Without a growth mindset, it is hard to approach situations that might result in failure. And that makes sense because it doesn’t exactly feel good to fail. The child struggling to read doesn’t want to fail, so they’ll avoid reading at all costs. But with a growth mindset, they can approach a challenging event and feel empowered to push through and try new strategies, rather than give up. A growth mindset allows them to focus on the process and progress they make rather than the final product. With a growth mindset, the struggling reader will keep practicing, learning, and trying new strategies until they improve and can read on their own.
Growth Mindset: Language to Use to Foster Growth Mindset
Every morning, my four-year-old son enjoys building with magnet tiles in his bedroom before we get our day started. When I inform him that it’s time to clean up, he insists that I come see today’s creation before he puts it away. Each day, his building is more advanced than the previous day’s, and I want to make sure he knows I’m impressed. What’s the best way to praise him, though? I could say:
- Good job, buddy!
- That is an awesome castle!
- So cool! It’s so tall and colorful!
- Wow, I can tell you really used your creativity!
While I know all of these responses would put a smile on my son’s face, I have to think about the bigger implications of my feedback. Rather than praise the final product (which is pretty cool, I have to admit), I need to take a different approach.
Carol Dweck, the Lewis and Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology at Stanford University and the author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, is one of the world’s leading researchers on the concept of mindsets. She and her colleagues found that mindset plays an important role in motivation and achievement. They point out that it’s natural that we are all a mixture of fixed and growth mindsets, but they also suggest that using certain language and strategies can help us move closer to growth mindset in our thoughts and practices.
Here are some other phrases you can use with your child to develop their growth mindset:
- This was a difficult task, but your hard work paid off!
- Is there another strategy you can try?
- You have a big task ahead of you. This might take some time.
- Let’s learn how to do this!
- Mistakes can help us learn what to do better next time.
- That was a creative way to solve your problem!
- If you learn and practice, you’ll be able to do it on your own.
- It was really hard to get started on this, but look where you are now!
- What will you do differently next time?
- There’s always room for improvement, so let’s keep trying.
- When you learn how to read these new words, it grows your reading brain!
- What steps will you take next to grow your understanding?
- The feeling that this task is hard is the feeling of your brain growing!
As parents, it’s easy to give the praise that we’ve always heard, but it’s essential that we move away from the fixed mindset. Developing a growth mindset in our children (and in ourselves) is an ongoing process, and it’s important that we are mindful of our own thinking and the language we use with our children.
Books to Teach Kids About Growth Mindset
Check out these picture books to support your conversations about growth mindset at home.
The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires: This charming picture book highlights the story of a young girl with an idea to make the most magnificent thing. Though she has a plan, she experiences troubles and must persevere and change course in order to find success.
Your Fantastic Elastic Brain: Stretch It, Shape It by JoAnn Deak, Ph.D.: The author of this fun and informational book is both an educator and psychologist. This book teaches about the brain as something that can be exercised, just like the muscles in the rest of our bodies.
Beautiful Oops! by Barney Saltzberg: It’s okay to make mistakes! This major life lesson is the focus of this interactive book for young readers.
I Can’t Do That, YET: Growth Mindset by Esther Pia Cordova: Perfect for ages 4-8, this book tells the story of a girl who develops a growth mindset throughout her journey to reaching her potential.
The first day of school is upon us. Your child (and let’s be honest, you!) are probably experiencing all kinds of feelings in anticipation of the new year. Maybe they’re starting a new school, getting a new teacher, or hoping to be in the same class as old friends. They might be feeling nervous, excited, or a combination of different feelings. Whatever the circumstances, a little preparation goes a long way. Here are some fabulous read-alouds to help both you and your child get acclimated to the new year!
Books About the First Day of School
How to Get Your Teacher Ready
Begin your back-to-school preparation by reading How to Get Your Teacher Ready by Jean Reagan to infuse some humor in your back-to-school preparation. This hilarious take on a classic “how-to” text will give your child all the information they need to get their teacher ready for the first day, as well as all of the important milestones for the year ahead (e.g., the 100th day of school, picture day, etc.). As your child learns how to prepare their teacher, they will, in fact, be getting ready themselves.
It's Back to School We Go! First Day Stories from Around the World
Ever wonder how school might be different or the same all around the world? Read It’s Back To School We Go!: First Day Stories From Around The World by Ellen Jackson to learn how children prepare for their first day of school around the globe. Using beautiful pictures and first-person accounts from children living in 11 different countries, your child will learn that, while they differ in some ways, they have much in common with children around the world.
The Day You Begin
Next, read this story full of gorgeous art and lyrical text, where children learn that sometimes we all feel different and that, in fact, makes us special. The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson is a great read to share with your child that a little bravery and kindness can help you find your place.
Books to Help Kids Leave their Families and Go to School
Lena's Shoes are Nervous
Heading to school can be hard! In this book, it’s the first day of kindergarten and Lena is fine, but her shoes are nervous! Read Lena's Shoes Are Nervous: A First-Day-of-School Dilemma by Keith Calabrese and Juana Medina to learn how one little girl helps her shoes to bravely set out on the first day of school.
Hello Goodbye Dog
In a story full of loyalty and love, one dog does her best to stay with her best friend, Zara. Through a series of setbacks and challenges (dogs aren’t allowed at school!) and one great idea, this pair finds a way to stay together. Hello Goodbye Dog by Maria Gianferrari is a tale about the power of true friendship.
Families come in all shapes and sizes. In The Great Big Book of Families by Mary Hoffman, children will love looking through the delightful illustrations as they read all about families and their day-to-day lives. As your child heads off to school, this celebration of families will provide a wonderful reminder of the diversity within families, all with one thing in common, love.
Llama Llama Misses Mama by Anna Dewdney is the perfect read-aloud for a child who might be wondering, “What happens when my parents leave me at school?” In this story, Llama Llama is worried about missing his mama as he heads off to preschool. His mama tries to prepare him, but ultimately Llama Llama finds out that new friends and loving teachers can make for a wonderful first day experience.
Books about Friendships at School
All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold is a lovely story all about a day in the life of one school where children learn from one another’s traditions while developing deep friendships across cultures. Children learn that no matter who they are, they are welcome and celebrated at school.
What happens when you’re the new kid in school — and nobody can pronounce your name? The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi is the story of Unhei, who has just moved from Korea to the United States. Worried that she won’t be accepted, she decides not to share her Korean name, choosing instead to adopt an American name instead. In this heartwarming story, Unhei discovers that she is welcomed for who she is, and that her friends want to learn her real name and its special meaning.
In Princess Cupcake Jones Won’t Go to School by Ylleya Fields, Cupcake is a modern-day princess who doesn’t want to go to school! She tries everything to get out of going, but her mom stays one step ahead. When she finally arrives at school and meets a friend, Cupcake finds out that maybe school isn’t as terrible as she thought. In fact, school might be pretty great.
Choose one or two books to read each day before the first day of school. Practice asking open-ended questions about the characters as you read, e.g., “How do you think __ __ __ __ feels? What makes you say that?” This provides an opportunity for your child to practice empathy, process their feelings, and make connections with others. Head to your local library and start reading!
Additional back-to-school books for your kids’ bookshelves:
- Back to Front and Upside Down by Claire Alexander
- Here Comes Teacher Cat by Deborah Underwood
- First Day Jitters by Julie Danneberg
- School’s First Day of School by Adam Rex.
- Adventures to School: Real-Life Journeys of Students from Around the World by Miranda Paul, Baptiste Paul, and Isabel Munoz
- Twindergarten by Nikki Ehrlich
- Stella Brings the Family by Miriam B. Schiffer
- A New School Year: Stories in Six Voices by Sally Derby
- Heather Has Two Mommies by Lesléa Newman
- Miss Bindergarten Gets Ready for Kindergarten by Joseph Slate
- The Exceptionally, Extraordinarily Ordinary First Day of School by Albert Lorenz
- Dear Teacher by Amy Husband
By now, you may have heard about these buzzwords in education: social and emotional learning (SEL). Many schools embed SEL into their curriculum, or use a specific SEL curriculum, because of its proven benefits. SEL is the process through which children understand and manage emotions, achieve goals, understand and show empathy, develop positive relationships, and make responsible decisions. As parents, we have the unique opportunity to set the stage for SEL in our homes. We want our kids to be resilient, empathetic, and to choose kindness when presented with a difficult decision. Although you might feel pressured to focus more on math and literacy learning than your child’s emotional health, introducing simple at-home SEL practices will help your child thrive at home and at school. And guess what? This foundation will support math and literacy learning for years to come.
Check out these five SEL practices to help your child develop a strong foundation in understanding their emotions and the emotions of others:
Spend Time Together
Children are born with the need to connect with people around them. Positive relationships with parents and caregivers help children feel safe and secure. Our children need us and they value our time and undivided attention, so put down your device and take the time to get to know your child. Value their interests by playing games they enjoy, taking them to the park, and discussing what’s going on in their world. Some questions you can ask to make the most out of your time together include:
- What did you like about today? What would you change about today?
- What’s one kind thing you did today? Can you think of someone else who did something kind?
- Is there anything you’d like to talk about? I’m always here for you!
- What would you like to do next time we spend time together?
Build Your Child’s Kindness Muscles
The kindness jar is a practice I used when I was a classroom teacher. Now I see the monumental benefits of this practice with my own child. Before you begin this practice, you’ll need a plastic container, notecards or sentence strips, and markers.
What To Do:
- Gather your family together in the living room or kitchen and bring out the jar (labeled “Kindness Jar”), the notecards or sentence strips, and markers.
- Ask your child what the word kindness means. Discuss ideas as a family.
- Explain to your child that, every night, each family member will have a chance to talk about one kind thing they did or someone else did that day.
- Provide examples and discuss non-examples (e.g., holding the door for someone, helping someone when they fell down and hurt themselves, or listening to a parent instead of running away).
- Write an example of something kind on the notecard (or sentence strip) and place it in the jar.
- Repeat this process daily until the kindness jar is full.
- Once the kindness jar is full, decide on a fun family activity that promotes connection. Some ideas include: a picnic at the park, a slumber party in the living room or in a tent under the stars, a movie night at home or at a theater, or a dance party with healthy snacks.
Listen To Your Child
Feeling like you are racing against the clock can prevent you from being totally present with your child. It’s important to dedicate specific times throughout the day to check in with your child to see how they are doing. When my child is busy playing, I often miss important cues that tell me she’s hungry (she starts to visibly show frustration and/or anger with her body and words). Plan out specific times throughout the day to check in with your child and ask them if they need your support. Rephrasing what your child says is a great way to show you are listening and you truly care!
Create A Home Where All Feelings Are Welcome
When parents are busy trying to check things off their to-do lists, kids can feel ignored and have nowhere to go when they need to talk about big feelings. Make a point to discuss feelings as a family. Share situations like, “Today at work I had a really hard time understanding a new project. I felt really nervous about doing something wrong. Have you ever felt that way?” This will encourage your child to share their feelings about situations that happen at school, with friends, or with their siblings. Remind them that you are there to talk, and all of their feelings matter.
Model Self-Care Practices
Every parent has had one of those days. You know those days...the days where everything goes completely wrong. Instead of bottling up your feelings, model self-care practices. Your child will benefit from seeing you take care of yourself and deal with big feelings in a healthy way. Some self-care practices for adults include: journaling about your feelings, talking to another adult about the situation and reflecting on next steps, exercising or doing yoga, taking a long walk, practicing mindfulness and deep belly breaths, or playing board games with your family. Encourage your child to partake in self-care practices when they’ve had a hard day, too. Some self-care practices for children include:
- Make a calm down bottle to manage stress.
- Design a peace corner in your home for your child to retreat to when they are upset.
- Provide your child with access to awesome books that show characters dealing with big feelings such as The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds, Jabari Jumps by Gaia Cornwall, or Come With Me by Holly McGhee.
- Invite your child to create their own feelings chart to hang in their room. Encourage your children to use the chart to help them figure out how they might be feeling and what they might need.
For more tips on how to support you child in school this year, check out Education.com’s Parent’s Guide for your child’s grade level.
A few weeks ago I wanted to purchase a new shelf for our living room to house our daughter’s growing collection of toys. The only space left in the room was pretty small, shoehorned between an old chest and a chair. To convince my husband that it was feasible, I measured the length, height, and width of the space and found a shelf online that fit perfectly.
This is a great example of a learning opportunity for kids of all ages. My child is three years old, but she was able to carry the measuring tape, hold the paper and pencil, and was totally engaged in helping me solve the problem. Older children would be able to measure the space, record the measurements, and help parents search online for a shelf that has the right dimensions. You could take this one step further by giving your child a budget for the shelf.
Math is all around us, yet many kids cringe when told they’re “doing math.” We can integrate math concepts into our daily lives — in our tasks around the house, out in our neighborhoods, and when planning for the future. Besides integrating math into plans for new furniture purchases, here are three easy ways to use real-world learning to prepare your child for math success in the upcoming school year:
1. Cook a Meal Together
It’s important for kids to know that dinner doesn’t appear magically on the table. Cooking a meal involves a lot of mathematical thinking, from figuring out the costs, doubling the recipe to feed hungry mouths, and measuring ingredients accurately. Some ideas to capitalize on this real-world learning opportunity include:
- Preparation: Involve your child in the planning of a meal. Estimate how much the meal will cost by looking up the ingredients online prior to going grocery shopping. If your child is in early elementary school, help them write down the amounts and add them up to find a total. This is also a great way to help your child get comfortable using a calculator. Older children can practice estimating the cost by rounding the ingredient prices up to the nearest dollar. Head to the grocery store and have your child help navigate the aisles to find the ingredients. Challenge older children to compare the amount you thought the meal would cost with the actual cost. Discuss taxes and how they affect purchasing items from the store.
- Cooking: Print out the recipe or display it on an iPad or computer so it’s easy to read. Gather the ingredients, measuring cups, bowls, pans, and other cooking materials you need on the counter. If your child can read, encourage them to read the directions step-by-step. Assist your child as they help you safely cut up the food (for little hands, consider a wavy chopper), place the food in bowls and pans, stir as needed, and check the recipe for accuracy. You can also discuss the temperature needed to cook certain foods, while reinforcing safety procedures (adults should always control the oven and stove).
- Dishing It Out: Figuring out portion sizes is an awesome way to connect to parts of a whole and fractions. If there are four members in the family, how many pieces of the homemade veggie pizza will each person get? How can you figure it out? What about the salad? How can we make sure that each person has the same amount? Encourage your child to explain their thinking to make the learning stick.
2. Shop Around the House
Create story problems using everyday grocery items you already have. This activity doesn’t involve getting in the car, and you can modify the activity to help your child learn how to add, subtract, multiply, and divide.
Before you begin, you’ll need the following: 10-20 grocery items, blank piece of paper to solve the problems, sticky notes, notecards, markers, and pencils.
Here’s how to get started:
- Create labels using the sticky notes. Write any amount from $1-$10 on each sticky note. For example, label macaroni and cheese, milk, and a granola bar as $2.
- Create story problems for your child to solve using the items and record them on notecards. For example: Dad went to the store and bought pasta sauce, pasta, and broccoli. How much did he spend altogether?
- Be mindful of the difficulty level of the story problems depending on your child’s needs. Lower elementary students may only add 2 items, whereas upper elementary students may add 5 or more!
What To Do:
- Instruct your child to choose a story problem. Next, have them gather the items and figure out the correct mathematical operation to use. Encourage children in upper elementary to use multiplication to solve problems when applicable. For example, if your child solves the problem by adding $3 + $3 + $3, prompt them to think of a different way to find the answer by saying, “I noticed you added the same number a few times to solve the problem. Is there another operation (e.g., multiplication) we could use to solve this problem?”
- To challenge your child, have them create story problems for you to solve, or create story problems that involve multiple steps and operations.
- To support early learners and visual and tactile learners, use real money or play money to support learning.
3. Collect Data
Adults collect data all the time, even if we’re not aware that we’re doing it. Whether it’s comparing prices of bananas at two different grocery stores or finding trends in our month-to-month spending habits, data helps us in so many ways. We can help our children understand the importance of data collection by encouraging them to take in data throughout the summer. Here are a couple ideas to get you started:
- I Spy In My Yard: Create a simple bar graph on a large piece of brown packing paper or a large poster board. Ask your child to choose five animals they see in their yard during the summer (if you don’t have access to a yard, have your child think about the animals they see at a narby park or outdoor space). If your child is really into birds or bugs, you can choose different types (e.g., robins, blue jays, etc.) Create a title and label your graph (X-axis: Animal Types, Y-axis: Number Of Animals Seen). Keep track of the animals you see for a few weeks. Ask your child to think about the animal they saw the most and the least. Encourage your child to reflect on why they may have seen certain animals more than others (e.g., nocturnal vs. diurnal).
- Weather Over Time: Ask your child to help you make a bar graph on a large piece of paper. Next, have your child reflect on typical weather patterns in your community. Have your child choose 3-5 types of weather and label them on the X-axis. Then have your child label the number of days on the Y-axis. Record the weather in the morning or at the end of each day. Reflect on which type of weather you saw most over the span of a month, and ask your child to think about if the weather stayed the same throughout the day or if it changed (e.g., from rainy to sunny to cloudy). Encourage your child to think about how keeping track of weather patterns helps people plan their day. Challenge older children to watch a weather report on TV each night and make a prediction if the meteorologist is going to be right or wrong.
For more tips on how to prepare your child for the new school year, check out Education.com’s Parent’s Guide for your child’s grade level.
Real-World Math Resources:
Early elementary school literacy instruction is focused on instilling a love of learning and supporting children as they learn to read and write. Although you might not have a background in education, it’s important to remember that you truly are your child’s first teacher and there are many ways you can support your child’s learning at home. Parents play a vital role in their child’s literacy development: Through their actions and words, they show children that literacy is a valuable and worthwhile endeavor. Here are 3 simple routines you can use to promote literacy at home:
Create a Cozy Reading Corner
Inspire your child to love reading by setting up a cozy reading corner. Include a bean bag chair, soft lighting, stuffed animals, and a basket with their favorite books (for inspiration, Pinterest has some fun ideas). You can support your child in reading by encouraging them to draw pictures or write about their favorite characters from the stories they read, and display their creative work using a piece of twine and clothespins. You can make it a fun ritual to set up a time each evening for your child to spend time in their cozy reading corner. If possible, find a comfortable spot and dive into a new book yourself!
Begin a Word-of-the-Week Practice
This is a fun way to increase your child’s vocabulary. Write down an interesting, wacky, or difficult word, such as “magnificent” or “humongous.” Next, look up the meaning online or in a dictionary, or provide your child with a kid-friendly definition of the word. Encourage your child to act out the word or draw a picture of the word’s meaning. Challenge the whole family to use the word of the week in daily conversations. Keep a tally of how many times each family member uses the word, or even better, write down the sentences you hear them say. Allow older children to help choose the word of the week.
Start a Family Book Club
Involve the whole family in reading by starting a family book club. Books can vary from simple and short picture books to longer chapter books that you can read aloud to your child. Here is a fun project for the whole family. You’ll need:
- One medium-sized mason jar, tin can, or bucket
- Small pieces of paper or craft sticks
- Notebooks for each family member
- Coloring materials
- Sticky notes
- Stickers and other creative supplies
- A cheap basket or bin
What to do:
- Gather your family in a common area and brainstorm all the books you’d like to read together. Need inspiration? Find ideas by visiting your local library, online bookseller, or find recommendations from other educators or parents online.
- Write your book ideas on the small pieces of paper or craft sticks. Encourage your child to help you.
- When you are finished, put all of the slips or sticks in your bucket.
- Take turns shaking up the jar and choosing one of the books. Next, set aside time to request the book from the library, or find an online version instead.
- Read the book together as a family. Some books may take longer than one week to read.
- Name your book club. Deciding on a fun, catchy name will foster even more togetherness and get your kids excited about reading.
- Buy notebooks for each family member participating in the book club. Explain that these will be your reading journals. Decorate the journals with colorful patterns and stickers. Tell your child that they will use their reading journals to record their ideas, thoughts, pictures, and questions.
- Encourage deep thinking while you are reading with your child by prompting them to think about questions like:
- What is the story about?
- Who is the main character in the story? What are they trying to do?
- What is your favorite part of the book?
- How did this story make you feel?
- What new facts did you learn about this topic?
- What questions do you have after reading?
For more tips on how to support your child’s literacy development at home, check out Education.com’s Parent’s Guide for your child’s grade level.
I went to a “Mom Chat” group today. I have wanted to go since I first arrived in Germany six months ago and, on a whim, I decided that today would be the day. I get anxious in new circumstances, which is why it took me this long to get up the courage to go.
I walked in (10 minutes late!) and I could already see people were grouped in cliques. The childcare area was at capacity and could not accommodate my three preschoolers. I tried to start some conversations with other moms, but they avoided eye contact and silently continued their crafting.
Ultimately, I busied myself with my own children, thinking about how to extract myself from this awkward situation. With a little more thoughtful preparation, I could have done so much better! Maybe if I arrived on time and set some expectations for myself in advance, the day could have ended with new friendships, rather than a heavy feeling in my stomach.
I’m an adult and I still get the jitters about meeting new people. Can you imagine your child attending a new school or grade level for the first time and having to meet new friends? And then a complete stranger, aka the teacher, sets all the rules and expectations? Fortunately, there are many things that you as a parent can do to help set your child up for success and ease some of the anxieties they may face throughout the lead up to their first day of school.
Maintain a Back-to-School Countdown>
Knowing the date and time beforehand can eliminate some of the mystery surrounding the first day of school. Using a paper calendar, add a sticker, or use X- marks on each day leading up to it. It’s normal for your little one to get frustrated that it is “taking sooooooooo long” to get to the big day… or to feel a little nervous! You know your child better than anyone else, but I’ve always found that a countdown to big days can help manage expectations.
Practicing a countdown also has the added benefit of allowing your child to practice their numbers and days of the week while giving a sense of security in knowing when the big day will arrive. If you have younger children, I suggest starting your countdown only a week in advance for their shorter attention spans.
Take a Tour of the New School>
Try to get a tour of the school before the new school year begins. If you know what school your child will attend ahead of time, you can even participate in some of the school activities open to the public. Previewing the school will help your child become familiar with the building and some of the staff members. While on the tour, discuss important locations within the school building, such as the main office, exits, cafeteria, and my personal favorite... the library.
Alternatively, sometimes schools let children play on the school grounds during the summer or after-school hours. Encourage your child to meet new friends at the playground. It’s likely they will attend the same school the following year. While at the playground, you can help them establish a sense of ownership by cleaning up after they use the equipment.
Discuss What to Expect on the First Day of School>
Talk about what school will be like and typical rules. Review a potential schedule for the day while at school. You can call the main office to get a sample schedule to review with your child. Will your child have two teachers? If so, will they switch classrooms or will another teacher be in the same room all day? Will there be teacher’s aids in the classroom? Mention the special classes they might have, like art and gym, and how they’ll be able to check books out from the library.
Sometimes schools use the summer break to make the classroom lists. When you get a notification about your child’s teacher, make a big deal about it. Practice saying the teacher’s name and talk about what things your child wants to know about their teacher. Visit school's website to see if the teacher's page has any helpful information. Some neighborhood communities have Facebook pages, so feel free to ask around for some details about the teacher or grade-level team of teachers.
Discuss Topics They Might Encounter on the First Day of School>
Okay, so let’s talk ice-breakers. They are great because they get new people talking and getting to know each other, but children get anxious when they don’t know what to say or how to respond to a question. Role-play with your learner using some typical questions they might encounter on the first day of school. Some typical questions they may encounter are:
“What did you do this summer?” “What is your favorite subject?” “What do you want to learn this year?” “What is you favorite animal?”
Sometimes teachers do an interest survey to help get to know your child. Discuss your child’s interests and things they feel comfortable sharing with others.
Go to school with a neighbor>
Don’t we all agree that everything is easier if you bring a friend along with you? Get to know a family that lives near you that has a school-age child as well. Maybe set up a play-date before the school year starts so they can get to know each other. If your child has a new friend to bring with them to school, that friend may be able to introduce your child to new people, or at least be someone to talk to in the beginning of the school year.
To sum up...>
School can be a major deal for some kids, especially if they're not used to being away from their parents, or if it’s a new school in a new town. While every student has different challenges and confidence levels, there are some things parents can do to ease the tension a bit. The first couple days may be a challenge, but you can help make it just a bit easier by taking the initiative to prepare your child for the first day of school.
“How do you feel?”
This might seem like an easy question to answer, yet so many people — especially young children — get overwhelmed by their feelings. Research shows that the ability to identify and understand emotions is an important skill that will not only improves a child’s well-being as they grow up, but also will set them up for better academic success and life satisfaction.
Children learn best through positive modeling, so here are some great ways to incorporate emotion-based language and practices into your day-to-day life.
- Use books to introduce and highlight emotions. Children’s literature is rich with examples of books that support emotional literacy. Try adding in these books to your bedtime reading list as a way to normalize different emotions and provide examples of what they can look or feel like. Another great practice is to ask questions about characters in any story, e.g “How do you think __ ___ ___ ______ __ ___ ___ ______ feels? What makes you say that?” This encourages children to flex their empathy muscle while practicing recognizing emotions. Here’s a great list of books for young children to get you started:
- When Sophie's Feelings Are Really, Really Hurt by Molly Bang
- When Sophie Gets Angry, Really, Really Angry by Molly Bang.
- Mean Soup by Betsy Everitt
- It's Hard to Be Five: Learning How to Work My Control Panel by Jamie Lee Curtis
- Today I Feel Silly: And Other Moods That Make My Day by Jamie Lee Curtis
- In My Heart: A Book of Feelings by Jo Witek
- The Color Monster: A Pop-Up Book of Feelings by Anna Llenas
- All Kinds of Feelings by Sheri Safran
- A Book of Feelings by Amanda McCardie
- The Great Big Book of Feelings by Mary Hoffman
- Post a feelings chart like Mindfulness: Guide to Feelings or the Carson-Delossa Feelings Chart somewhere prominent in your home. Using the chart, identify your feelings throughout the day. Encourage your children to use the chart to help them figure out how they might be feeling and what they might need. An extension to this activity, would be to invite your child to create their own feelings chart by drawing faces on index cards and making a poster to hang in their room.
- Share daily “rose and thorn.” Dinner is a great time for everyone in the family to share a high and low point over the course of your day. Practice using feeling words as you describe your day, e.g., “I felt excited when...I felt worried when...I felt brave when...” to deepen and strengthen your child’s emotional vocabulary. Building in a regular, meaningful reflection using is a great way to deepen relationships and become more comfortable with expressing emotions.
- Ask open-ended questions. Do you ever ask, “How was your day?” and get a dispassionate, “Good” — or worse — crickets? So many things happen during the day, it can be hard for children (and adults!) to think back and share on what really happened. Ask questions such as, “When did you feel happy today?""What made you feel worried today?" "When did you feel grateful?" "Can you tell me about a time when someone was kind to you today?” to help your child think about their day in relation to their feelings.
- Create and use an art journal to keep track of ideas and process feelings. Art is a wonderful way for children to express themselves, especially when the prompts or materials are open-ended like those in suggestion 4 above. Model how to use a sketchbook-style journal to express your feelings through different artistic modalities (painting, drawing, collage) and provide time to work side-by-side or collaboratively with your child.
- Acknowledge feelings. Provide a safe space for your child to experience their emotions by listening to their needs. This practice both helps your child understand their feelings and also provides them with the knowledge that you see and hear their needs. Phrases such as, “It seems like you are feeling disappointed to leave the playground. It can be hard to leave before you are ready.” or “You looked really happy riding your bike this morning.” Invite your children to hear feeling words used in relation to their own experiences and allows them to agree or disagree, while helping them to share how they feel.
By supporting your children to develop their emotional intelligence at home, you will be giving them a skill that will benefit them throughout the rest of their life. education and well into adulthood.
Father’s Day gifts don’t need to be fancy. The real reward is seeing the fruits of a father’s love and labor reflected in their children. That’s why the best Father’s Day gifts come from children — they’re honest expressions of appreciation for their dads. So, before you go rushing to the store to find something last minute, check out this list of Father’s Day crafts that any papa would love to receive from his kiddos.
- Personalized Father's Day Card
What’s more fun than a Father’s Day card? One your kids make themselves. With some cardboard and a pair of scissors, kids can make a card that looks cute and stands on its own.
- Plan a Father's Day Hike
For families who appreciate adventure! Let your kids show off their knowledge of your neighborhood by having them map out a hike. Then make a day out of enjoying the hike together.
- Father's Day Rebus Puzzle
Show your children the fun and challenge of using pictures to tell their dad they love him. You can write something simple, or make it a tongue twister.
- Father's Day Paperweight
This simple project also provides a chance to show your kids that anything can be turned into something beautiful. And yes, people still use paperweights.
- Make a Father's Day Crown
If it’s your family’s tradition to let Dad be king for a day, might as well make it official. A perfect project for the real little ones.
- Father's Day Apron
You need to buy a blank apron beforehand, but this can be a real special treat for the dad who likes to spend time behind a grill.
If you want more options, check out these ideas for making Father’s Day a success. Instead of picking one on your own, let your children make the decision. They’ll be more excited about it and that’s sure to make the gift even better for Dad.
Do you cringe at the word “assessment?” Parents and teachers alike are often discouraged by the thought of “assessing” their children, probably because standardized tests have given assessments a bad name. Yet testing remains an integral part of a teacher’s job, and they're important for us parents, too.
The reality is that teaching isn’t successful unless there’s learning. Assessment is a necessary part of the process. If we don’t assess, we don’t know if the “teaching” did anything for the learners. Did they listen? Did they learn something? Can they do anything with what they learned?
Good assessment is frequent. Assessments are designed to provide a snapshot of a child’s understanding in a given moment, so if we can get more snapshots, we have a more complete picture of their knowledge. As parents, we can assess our children’s learning throughout the year. Whether during informal activities in the summer or projects throughout the year, here are five simple ways to assess your learner so you can identify gaps in their knowledge and learn which ones to address.
- Draw It - Foster the creative spirit in your child by having them draw as a way to show what they know. In this quick assessment, have them draw what they understand, and also what is confusing, about a specific topic. For a small variation, present an image and have them add to it by drawing and labeling.
- Explain What Matters - Can your learner understand the “bigger picture”? Have them explain the most important part about a given topic in two or fewer sentences. To get them started, provide sentence supports, such as “The most important part about _____ is ______.” This allows your child to write down their thoughts in complete sentences before sharing out loud.
- 3-2-1 - The number system in this assessment provides a structured task. Your learner will record 3 things they learned, 2 things they want to know more about, and 1 question they have. They can use words or drawings to demonstrate their understanding. Use this 3-2-1 Assessment worksheet to get your child to reflect on their learning and what questions they still have.
- Hand Signals - The beauty of an assessment like this is that it’s quick, easy, and free. There are several variations to this check-in, and you can put your own spin on them based on your personality and that of your child.
- Thumbs up or thumbs down: This is simple for yes and no questions, as well as for determining if your learner is ready to move on to another step.
- Five Finger Rating Scale: Use 1 finger to show minimum understanding and 5 fingers to show maximum understanding. This is a great activity to use for assessing how comfortable your child is about vocabulary, too.
- Heads and Noses: Have your child put their finger on their head if they agree or their nose if they disagree. After demonstrating hand signals, ask your child to elaborate on their hand signal.
- Roll the Dice - All you need for this assessment is some dice and some sentence starters. Have your child roll the dice and then respond to a prompt based on the number rolled. If you have more than one learner with you, they can discuss in a group while you observe. If you’re in a one-on-one environment, engage in a discussion with your child and have them roll the dice more than once. Prompts can vary based on subject, topic, and age, but they could include:
- I want to remember…
- Something I learned today…
- One word to sum up what I learned is…
- This reminds me of...
- I'm still confused about…
- An "aha" moment that I had today was...
Frequent assessment gives us a more solid foundation as we figure out what to do next. Assessments don’t need to be time consuming and complicated, and they don’t need to be scary, either. Quick and easy check-ins with your child give you valuable information about their learning, letting you know how to help them be their best.
With summer around the corner, does your child have boundless energy? You may want to try using Total Physical Response. TPR is a technique that gets children moving while reinforcing new language structures and academic vocabulary. Long used to teach English learners, TPR is now being incorporated across many subject areas. Whether you are a classroom teacher or a parent who wants to work on vocabulary with their child at home, TPR is a great way to engage kids as they learn new words.
TPR helps children remember new vocabulary and phrases by creating a mental association between speech and movement. By using it, learners react to verbal input with movement, mirroring the way that children learn language from their parents. The movement helps children better understand the new language and serves as a memory aid. The TPR method gives learners an opportunity to hear the same language repeatedly over time before they are expected to produce the language themselves. Because it gives kids the chance to actively participate in learning, TPR has even been found to lower stress levels.
Here are a few ways to use Total Physical Response at home:
TPR is a fun way to teach vocabulary. In a lesson that incorporates TPR, a gesture is taught as new words are introduced. Get your head around what TPR looks like by watching teachers use the strategy. You can start by watching a middle school science teacher use TPR to teach science vocabulary on the Teaching Channel.
In the video below, you can see TPR in action in a bilingual third grade classroom. The students take it a step further by helping the teacher create the gestures:
Here's a teacher using TPR by combining repetitive language, movement and drawings on the board to tell a story to primary school children:
One way that teachers incorporate TPR in the classroom is through using signal words and gestures. A signal word is what a teacher calls out to gain the attention of the class during a transition. Teachers choose a vocabulary word based on what the class is studying and develop a gesture that represents the word. For example, during a unit on geometry a teacher might use "angle" as a signal word. When the teacher calls out the word "angle" students form an angle with their arms and respond chorally with the definition, "the figure formed by two rays meeting at an endpoint."
Try using a signal word with your child at home by choosing a vocabulary word that you would like to reinforce. Let your child know that when you call out the word, your child should respond with the definition and a gesture. Use the signal word as a fun way to let your child know that it is time to transition to a new activity, for example at dinnertime or bedtime.
Action songs are a great way to get kids practicing language in an interactive way. Linking movement to songs and chants helps children internalize the meaning of new words. For example, watch this teacher combine gestures and song to teach middle school science.
Children learn best when they are relaxed, so why not dial up the fun by incorporating TPR in games? A simple game of Simon Says will get kids moving and learning commands. Or, play a game of charades and have your child act out new vocabulary words for others to guess.
TPR is fun for both adults and kids. Try using TPR with signal words, songs, and games, and be prepared to be amazed by how it helps children retain academic vocabulary. To learn more about the research that led to the development of TPR, and to find TPR-related resources, visit tpr-world.com.
You might be surprised to learn that children develop literacy and language skills on the first day of their lives. From the moment a baby enters the world, they take in information from their surroundings, including how to communicate with others. When children play, they learn how language works and how to interact with other people. As the saying goes, "play is the work of a child."
You can foster literacy at home by using these five tips:
- Create a Play-Rich Environment
Setting up an environment in your home that provokes wonder, curiosity, and metacognition is easier than you think. Remember that less is more, and having too many toys or crowded spaces can overwhelm your little one. To foster uninterrupted play, try to:
- Keep toys at eye level or below in the play area so children can access them easily.
- Provide objects that can be used for more than one purpose. Ideas include: scarves, blocks, baskets, mason jar tops, ropes, pom-poms, spools, feathers, and bottle corks (these suggestions are not intended for children under three years old). Model how to use these objects in imaginative play.
- Find a variety of costumes and props for dramatic play. Dramatic play provides many opportunities for children to practice language by explaining thinking and roles, creating pretend scenarios, solving problems, etc.
- Say “Yes” to Unstructured Time
From longer hours at work to enrolling kids in lots of extracurricular activities, families are exhausted. Instead of scheduling an activity for every waking moment, say yes to unstructured time (also known as “free time”). Play is a building block of healthy brain development, and an important precursor for learning to read and write. So take your little one outside to dig or create a structure with rocks. Or if the weather isn’t ideal, set up a castle in the living room and enjoy watching your child’s imagination at work.
- Vocalize What’s Happening
When you play alongside your child, you can foster language development by discussing roles, objects, and directions. For example, if your child has a doctor kit and wants you to be the patient, you can expand your child's vocabulary by referring to the tools in the doctor kit by their correct names (e.g. thermometer, stethoscope, etc.) To introduce more complex sentences, vocalize what you are doing in your role: “Hi doctor. I am so sick! I need you to take my temperature.” Remember that infusing language into social interactions benefits literacy development.
- Use Experiences to Expand Themes
Build your child’s repertoire of play themes by exposing them to new experiences. Children “play what they know” and are unable to gain new ideas unless they experience them firsthand. So take that trip to the aquarium, spend time at museums and bask in the sun at the beach. Enjoy watching your child integrate these new experiences into their play.
- Be Present
More than anything, your child will thrive if you show them that you are interested in what they are doing. When you value play, you show your child that you care about their happiness. When children feel comfortable and supported, they will be more likely to take necessary risks and try new things.
Resources on Promoting Literacy Through Play
Developing Literacy Through Play by Alissa Marie Mielonen and Wendy Paterson.
Summertime Solutions: The Benefits of Unstructured Play from PBS Parents
Building Language and Literacy Through Play from Scholastic
Most kids love the precious time off that comes with summer vacation -- they’ve worked hard during the school year and they deserve some unstructured free time to have fun. Also, the freedom of summer contributes positively to a child’s self-esteem, well-being, and creativity. When kids have free time, they often come up with their own games and projects, causing them to feel good about themselves, thus boosting their self-esteem.
But there's a downside: the freedom of summer can cause the infamous “summer slide,” where kids forget some of the reading, writing and math skills they've learned at school. Many students, especially struggling readers, go down in reading levels during the summer due to lack of practice. Math skills are also easily forgettable for kids during the two plus months of school break. A lot of teachers spend weeks playing catch-up in the fall to make up for the summer slide. To avoid this dip in learning, it’s up to parents to encourage continued learning during the summer.
Traveling can be a fantastic way for parents to encourage continued learning during the summertime, while also giving their kids a memorable experience. Whether taking the kids on a road trip to visit family, or hopping on a flight to explore a different state or country, the learning possibilities are endless. If you and your family have a road trip or vacation planned this summer, take advantage of this built-in quality time to incorporate some fun learning activities. With a little planning, parents can create learning opportunities that are so fun the kids won’t even realize you are sneaking education into their free time.
Here are five tips for parents wanting to convert a road trip into a learning experience:
- Research: Before going on the trip, spend some time with your child researching the place you are visiting. Ask them what they would like to know about the place and involve them in the planning process. For older children, encourage them to plan out tentative itineraries and figure out distances between sights. Incorporate math thinking by having them figure out the budget for activities, accommodations, and food. If you are traveling abroad, give your child a chance to practice converting the currency.
- Audiobooks: While on a long road trip, listen to an audiobook and discuss the characters, plot, and setting. Go to the library or bookstore ahead of time and have your child help you choose an audiobook that interests them and would also interest the grown-ups. Perhaps it’s time for your family to start the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, or you may prefer Chris Grabenstein’s nail-biting mystery Escape From Mr. Lemoncello’s Library.
- Make a Travel Journal or a Summer Trip Scrapbook: Maintain your child’s writing skills during the summer by creating a journal or scrapbook of their experiences. A journal is a terrific way to encourage writing practice. To further spark their creativity, encourage doodling and sketching as part of their journaling. Model this activity by writing in your own journal alongside your child. Consistent journaling is a healthy habit to get into as it fosters self-reflection.
- Board Games: While on the plane or in a tent/cabin, play board games that require problem-solving and math skills. Games give your child a fun, low-stress way to practice their math skills, such as adding or multiplying. Some games promote strategic thinking or spatial awareness, which also strengthens their math skills. Kids get to experience real-life application of math skills through these board games. See this blog post on math games for some resources on how to adapt classic games to your child’s level while also making them educational.
- Talk, talk, talk: Sign your family up for guided tours or classes on local art in the area, then discuss the experience as a family. Remind your child to observe and engage with the environment of the place they are visiting. Some trips are conducive to science conversations around landforms, habitats, flora and fauna. Other destinations are ideal for reviewing history. The crucial goal is to have rich conversations with your child, that center on the place you are visiting.
The most important rule of thumb to follow for successful summertime learning on the road is to follow your child’s lead. Be flexible as their interests will ebb and flow while you travel. One path for learning may lead to a completely unplanned teachable moment. Savor the spontaneity and go with it! The equation of “kids = curiosity” lends itself beautifully to another equation I swear by: “travel = learning”. You just have to facilitate these critical learning opportunities and let your child do the rest.
As the school year comes to an end, parents scramble to enroll their children in activities to beat the summer slide. But did you know that pretty much anything you can teach indoors can be taught outdoors, too?
Check out these 5 ways you can bring learning outdoors for your kids this summer:
Plan Scavenger Hunts
Don’t worry if you don’t have a yard, take the scavenger hunt to the park instead. Scavenger hunts can be modified for every age, ability, and skill. Some ideas for scavenger hunts include:
- Reading and Writing - Hide sight words (check out Education.com’s sight words) around the yard and encourage your child to read them aloud to you as they find them. Challenge older children to create a sentence using two or more of the sight words, or have them use a dictionary to figure out the synonym or antonym of each word.
- Math - Collect addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division flashcards. Provide your child with a clipboard, paper, and pencil to solve the math problems as they find the cards hidden around the yard.
Explore the Endless Possibilities of Chalk Chalk is one of the best inventions ever. Why, you ask? The possibilities for learning with chalk are endless:
- Reading and Writing - Ask your child’s teacher to provide you with sight words that should be practiced over the summer. Draw shapes on the ground, and write one sight word in the middle of each shape. Challenge your child to jump from sight word to sight word as you call out the words. To make this activity extra engaging, have your child jump like a kangaroo or waddle like a duck. Modify this activity for older children by using more complex vocabulary words, or quizzing them on the capitals of each state (write down a state in each shape and see if your child can name the capital).
- Math - For little learners, write down numbers 1-10 and see if your child can find small items such as leaves and pebbles to correspond with each number. Help older children learn their multiplication facts in a visual way by writing down a multiplication fact (e.g. 6 x 3) and challenging them to find natural objects outdoors to represent the math problem as an array.
- STEM - Outdoor classification activities are a great way to hit upon subjects like science, engineering, or math! Education.com’s Chalk it Up! An Outdoor Classification Activity is a great place to start.
Plant a Kid’s Pizza Garden
A garden is the gift that keeps giving. The best part is that you get to use herbs from your garden to make a pizza when your herbs thrive! Here’s how to start a pizza garden with your family:
- Prepare - Bring your kids outside to the section of Earth ready for gardening. If you don’t have space or a yard, consider getting a plot at a local community garden. Choose your seeds/small plants (pizza herb ideas include: sweet basil, basil, oregano, thyme, and rosemary) and let your child plant them in the ground. Incorporate reading/writing by having your child create plant labels with craft-sticks, stones, wine corks, or clothespins.
- Visit the garden daily - Encourage your child to visit the garden daily with their nature journal. Document the growth of the herbs by drawing pictures, recording observations, using measuring tape, and taking photographs.
Storytelling with Small World Play
Even with minimal outdoor space, it’s possible to create small worlds in old planters and tin cans. Young children will work on their language skills by creating names and adventures for their new friends. Mathematics comes into play as children group and count items (e.g. I need 3 flowers, one for each fairy). Older children can create a blog or book about their small world.
Create Space to Deepen Knowledge
If you have a tree-house, fort, or cabinet outside, gather props to support your child’s inquiries. For example, if your child is interested in trees, use an old basket and gather an assortment of nonfiction and fiction books all about trees. Field guides, charts, and other classification resources are also great props to include in this space. Don’t forget to add coloring materials, sketchbooks, binoculars, and other materials to support your child’s exploration. Remember that all STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) learning begins with asking questions. Children are constantly wondering about everything; be there to support and guide them along the way.
Despite what you might have heard, May is the longest month of the year. In public education we often referred to ‘The Ninety Days of May’ right around the second week of this month. Why? Spring Break is but a memory, Open House looms, but summer remains just a little too far away to be believed. May is also the month many schools are administering their state testing. (“I love testing!” said no educator ever.)
After two decades in public education, I can tell you exactly what happens when you say “assessment” in a room full of educators. Noses crinkle. Eyes roll up at the ceiling. Body language shifts and people look at you like you drank the last of the milk and returned the empty carton to the refrigerator.
Assessments, especially the big statewide ones, have gotten a bad rap over the last... hundred years or so. And while I will be the first to admit they are fraught with issues, let’s not forget assessment is a critical and crucial component of quality instruction. Assessments are an important part of the cycle that lets us know how our students are doing and what we need to do to support them.
There are two types of assessment. The first is Summative (think: summary, after the fact). Summative assessments include unit tests, chapter tests, finals and midterms in high school and beyond, end of year state testing. These are primarily used to determine what a student has learned after instruction concludes. Summative assessment is evaluative.
The other type of assessment is formative. To illustrate, think of it as forming an opinion, like whether I should eat that maple donut or not, despite what my jeans tried to tell me this morning. In the classroom, these take the form of polls, question of the day, anecdotal conversations with students, even a simple thumbs up or thumbs down, and one of my favorites, exit tickets.
Formative assessment is the bread and butter of teaching, if used as it was intended: to take in actionable information and adjust course. Unfortunately, often formative assessment is used in classrooms summatively. Teachers learn what a child knows or doesn’t know, but the most important piece (the adjustment!) is sadly missing.
But how do you meaningfully fit a response to the data you’ve collected into your day? Some (like me) might argue that making certain every student in your charge has the understanding needed to move to the next level is one of the most important things you do. But I also know the reality of teaching - so much to cover in such little time, with an ever increasing span of needs and an ever decreasing pool of resources.
Don’t despair. There are many ways to quickly and efficiently act upon that data.
Try this tomorrow:
After collecting your exit tickets, separate them into two piles - Got It and Didn’t Get It. If everyone got it, pat yourself on the back and move on. Have a chocolate. In fact, have the whole box, since you’re probably dreaming.
So now you have a pile of Doesn’t Get It tickets. Split these into two more piles: Errors and Mistakes.
Literacy Guru Doug Fisher likes to delineate the very crucial difference between errors and mistakes. A mistake is often made through lack of attention, like when we make a typo or calculate the tip incorrectly on the dinner bill. We know how to calculate the tip; we just made a mistake. Mistakes are easily corrected. However, errors occur when the student doesn’t know how to fix the problem, because they don’t have enough knowledge. This is an important distinction to make because as Fisher says, “Correcting mistakes while failing to address errors can be a costly waste of instructional time.”
The following day, return your mistake tickets to students and see if they can spot and correct mistakes on their own. If they really are mistakes, I’ll bet they can.
Now review the Error pile. Look for patterns. What kind of errors are your kids making? Group the cards in ways that make sense to you, and decide what information is needed to correct these errors. Doug Fisher identifies error types, and if you want to geek out on those types like I did, read his article.
Finally, pick one error that is representative of the class. First thing in the morning, show off this error to your students. Remember that we are building resilient humans who persevere in their learning. So love those errors to death, praise the student who made this teaching moment happen for everyone, and provide the appropriate instruction to correct the error. This strategy is sometimes called My Favorite No, and you can learn more about it on the National Education Association's website.
After this becomes routine for your students, you may want to praise and celebrate the correct answers once in a while too, just to keep things interesting.
Have you ever played a game as a family and someone felt left out? You know, when the younger kids are throwing pieces and the older kids are on their phone? Try these tips to make the game accessible to all players, and give them some fun math practice, too. Here are three traditional games with a twist:
Game #1: Multiplying Past Uno
Traditional Uno is a fun game for matching colors and numbers, but you can add different levels to the same game to bring an extra challenge for older children.
- Level 1: Have younger children identify the colors and numbers as they place them into the pile. If you have a toddler watching along, encourage them to say the numbers and colors, too.
- Level 2: Challenge children to multiply the number on the card they are covering with the card they place on the pile. If they cover a red 3 with a red 5, they will multiply 3 x 5 to get 15. If your child is just learning to multiply, you can let them use a multiplication chart.
- Level 3: Take the challenge to the next power with exponents! Have your child use the number they cover and raise it to the power of the card they place down on the pile. For example, if they cover a red 3 with a red 5, they will answer 3 to the fifth power, or 3 x 3 x 3 x 3 x 3. Don’t worry, they can always use a calculator for faster calculations.
Game #2: Candyland Makes a Difference
Yes, it’s exciting to think about a magical land filled with candy. Add an even sweeter touch to this matching colors game when kids practice counting and subtracting.
- Level 1: When players draw a card with a color, have them count aloud the boxes they move.
- Level 2: Have players continue to add on to their previous number as they make their way to the finish line. For example, if they are on the 14th square color from their last turn, when they get another turn, they should continue counting up from 14. Highlight a hundreds chart to help them keep track of their last number, or they can write the numbers on their number chart as they go.
- Level 3: Instead of using the color cards from the game, challenge your older children to use two, 20-sided dice and move the difference of the two dice. Since they may finish long before the younger players, have them complete the board two or three times in order to win.
Game #3: Sorry Substitutions
Saying “Sorry” is never as fun as when you’re eliminating an opponent’s pawn on the board. Since all pawn movements in the game are based on the numbers on the cards, you can add an extra challenge, or simplify the game, by changing the cards.
Remember, in gameplay the rules of the game are what all the players agree to. Feel free to change any game to make it accessible to each individual member of your family using some of these math-inspired adjustments!
Graphic organizers are effective tools for teaching and learning since they are equally helpful for both teachers and students. Graphic organizers simplify teaching by putting content into a more interesting, visual format, while making the learning more interactive for students. These visual tools can help students tackle challenging vocabulary or help them organize and show connections between new concepts.
Graphic organizers are especially helpful in assisting English Learners (EL) grasp and master content in their second language. A dense piece of text can be overwhelming for ELs to tackle, but when a graphic organizer accompanies a text, the information becomes more accessible and easier to comprehend. By creating a visual representation of facts and information, graphic organizers support student learning by explicitly showing the relationship between concepts and ideas. The organizers help students to make their thinking visual and take a metacognitive approach to their learning.
Furthermore, graphic organizers can increase student engagement by encouraging them to interact with the content through conversation with peers. Have students complete a graphic organizer in pairs or small groups, and notice how the graphic organizer lowers stress while simultaneously requires students to collaborate and discuss the material together.
For ELs who need extra support, provide sentence stems/frames or a word bank to facilitate the use of academic language as they use the graphic organizer. If using a more complex graphic organizer, fill out some of the sections in the organizer to give students a scaffold for them to successfully complete it.
Below, I’ve provided a list of graphic organizers and how they can help ELs. They work across all grade levels and subjects.
- Vocabulary Instruction Chart - A super valuable pre-assessment to check how well your students understand new vocabulary words. It allows you to tailor the vocabulary instruction based on their needs and prior knowledge.
- Frayer Model - An effective graphic organizer for teaching vocabulary. It has a section for an image representation, definition, examples, non-examples and a sentence. Students can complete the model with a partner and then present it to other students.
Compare and Contrast
- Venn Diagram - A classic graphic organizer that is extremely useful for comparing and contrasting in any subject area. Two overlapping circles show students a clear visual representation of how two items or concepts are similar and different.
- Top Hat Graphic Organizer - Students will organize their comparisons effectively with this chart in the shape of a top hat. Similarities go on the bottom while differences go on the top two sections.
Categorize and Organize Information
- Bubble Map - A terrific general concept web, perfect for brainstorming, that can be used with ideas or information in any genre or subject area. Perfect for group exploration.
- Timeline Organizer - Information is easier digested if it follows a sequential order. Use this timeline to help students make meaning of a story or a historical event.
- T-Chart with 3 Columns - Sometimes a simple t-chart can go a long way. Use this graphic organizer to help students describe characters, explain solids, liquids, and gases, or discuss different groups of people during a particular time in history.
Multiplication can challenge young mathematicians, and memorizing basic facts is a major pain point for some. Developing a strong conceptual understanding of what it means to multiply will help kids master facts more easily.
Beginning in second grade, students are introduced to multiplication through repeated addition and arrays. This foundation is essential as students progress to multiplying multi-digit numbers beginning in third grade. Different approaches to multiplying multi-digit numbers include the grid method (sometimes called the box method or area model) and the standard algorithm (sometimes called long multiplication).
These approaches can help students develop a strong conceptual understanding of multiplication.
Early exposure to multiplication will include problems that require repeated addition. Consider the problem: Jenny has four cups. There are three paint brushes in each cup. How many paint brushes does Jenny have in all?
This problem asks students to add equal sized sets repeatedly: 3 + 3 + 3 + 3 = 12.
Exposing kids to problems that require adding equal sized sets repeatedly will help them to conceptualize multiplication in concrete ways. Students will learn later that another way to solve the problem is 3 x 4 = 12.
For more practice with repeated addition, try out this worksheet.
An array is a simple arrangement of objects into rows and columns that helps children visualize multiplication. An array for the example problem above would appear like this:
This array makes it easy to see that there are 3 columns and 4 rows (3 x 4 = 12).
Arrays are a helpful way to represent multiplication as numbers get bigger.
To use an array to multiply:
- Print a copy of the 5 x 5 array found here.
- Practice multiplication facts to 25 by covering lines and rows of dots to show different multiplication problems. Cover the bottom row and two left columns to practice the fact 3 x 4.
- Talk about how the array shows repeated addition. Reveal another column of dots to show that 4 groups of 4 dots (4 x 4) equals 16, which is the same as 12 + 4 = 16.
- Reorient the array by flipping it on its side to show that 3 x 4 and 4 x 3 both equal 12. This lays a foundation for children to understand the commutative property.
- Introduce a 10 x 10 dot array to support kids as they memorize their multiplication facts to 100!
For more practice multiplying with arrays play the game Candy Shop Arrays.
The Grid Method
Also sometimes called the Box Method or Area Model, the Grid Method helps kids develop number sense by decomposing each factor in the multiplication problem.
Follow these steps to solve the problem 27 x 56:
- Represent the factor 27 as 20 + 7. 56 is represented as 50 + 6.
- Create a grid, or box:
- Multiply each number in the left column with each number on the top row, solving for four "partial products." 6 x 20 = 120 6 x 7 = 42 50 x 20 = 1,000 50 x 7 = 350
- Write each number on the grid.
- Add the 4 partial products. Here, 56 x 27 = 42 + 350 + 120 + 1,000. So, 56 x 27 = 1512.
Watch this video for more examples of multiplying using partial products.
The standard algorithm, also called long multiplication, is handy because it makes it possible to multiply numbers of any size.
Follow these steps to multiply 56 x 27:
- Starting on the left, multiply 7 x 6 = 42. Write 2 below the 7, and carry the 4. Multiply 7 x 5 = 35. Add 4 to calculate the first partial product, 392.
- Write a 0 below the 2. Multiply 2 x 6 = 12. Write 2 to the left of the 0, and carry the 1. Multiply 2 x 5 =10. Add 1 to calculate the second partial product 1,120.
- Add the partial products. 392+ 1,1 20 = 1,512.
Watch this video for more examples of how to multiply using the standard algorithm:
Teaching many ways to multiply will be sure to get kids thinking about what it really means to do it. By learning different approaches to solving the same problem, children begin to think flexibly and conceptualize math in a way that will lay the foundation for future success.
Adults often ask kids what their favorite subject is, and once we get past the responses of “lunch” and “recess," we tend to see a trend between two major subjects: math or reading.
Then come the questions:
- How do I get the math lover to feel excited about reading?
- How do I get the reading lover to feel excited about math?
One way is to use picture books to teach math concepts - it’s the best of both (reading and math) worlds. Great picture books about math engage readers, foster creativity and teach important concepts. Many authors have caught on to this idea, so the amount of math-focused picture books is ever-increasing.
See our 10 recommendations for picture books that will teach, review, and reinforce math concepts in the classroom and at home.
Uno, Dos, Tres: One Two Three
By Pat Mora
This bilingual counting book uses charming illustrations that are based on Mexican culture. This beautiful book provides opportunities for identifying numbers and counting items.
The Mission of Addition
By Brian Cleary
A definition of addition is followed by pages of fun cartoon illustrations and word problems that promote discussion and understanding of this foundational math concept.
The Action of Subtraction
By Brian Cleary
This book tells what subtraction is and then provides examples in fun, rhyming stories. The best part is that this book’s silliness will engage those reluctant math learners.
What Time Is It, Mr. Crocodile?
By Judy Sierra
This silly story features a hungry crocodile who has created a schedule for his meals. Each illustration includes a clock, so it’s great for telling time on a clock.
By Loreen Leedy
This cute book is about standard and nonstandard units of measurement. Penny has an assignment about measuring an object in different ways, so she enlists her dog to come along on the measurement journey.
Sir Cumference and the Isle of Immeter
By Cindy Neuschwander
This medieval geometry story focuses on perimeter and area. Be sure to check out the rest of the Sir Cumference series for more geometry-themed books that make math fun.
By Joan Horton
Kids can relate to the main character’s overwhelming stress about the multiplication tables. The easy rhymes in this book will engage your learner, all the while giving them a little multiplication boost.
The Multiplying Menace Divides
By Pam Calvert
This book is great because it has an engaging storyline and it teaches about division, which can be a scary topic for those who aren’t math lovers. Added bonuses include the beautiful illustrations and the funny story.
The Grapes of Math
By Greg Tang
Use this fun, rhyming book to get your kids thinking outside the box when it comes to problem solving. Challenge their brains with fun riddles and arithmetic puzzles.
This list highlights just ten of the many wonderful math picture books that are out there. I encourage you to continue giving your learners opportunities to make these powerful connections between reading and math. And then enjoy watching your young mathematicians blossom!
Close your eyes for a moment and think about a young person that you care for deeply. Now take a few deep breaths and really reflect on what you ultimately want for this young person. Chances are that when you really tap into your hopes for this individual, what you most desire for them is happiness and well-being. All over the world we are recognizing that this is what matters most, but how do we get there? We can start with social and emotional learning (SEL).
For more context, the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning (CASEL) defines SEL as “The process by which children, adolescents, and adults can acquire and apply the necessary knowledge and skills to understand and manage their emotions, feel and express empathy for others, set and achieve positive goals, and make responsible decisions.”
These are the skills we all need for success. In fact, a cost-benefit study of SEL interventions showed a positive return on investment averaging a yield of $11 in long-term benefits for every $1 invested. Also, a 20-year study shows a link between SEL instruction in kindergarten and well-being in early adulthood, and a 2011 meta-analysis found an 11 percent gain in academic achievement.
While SEL is increasingly being prioritized in schools and classrooms across the globe, the home plays a critical role in supporting the social and emotional development of young people. What follows are some key ways you can begin to practice SEL in your home. Also, Education.com now offers SEL lessons and activities that you can use to explicitly teach SEL to your child.
Practice Mindfulness Together
The late, great Dr. Maya Angelou felt that at all times we unconsciously ask each other four critical questions (Schafer, 2017):
- Do you see me?
- Do you care that I’m here?
- Am I enough for you, or do you need me to be better in some way?
- Can I tell that I’m special to you by the way that you look at me?
If our child asked us these questions, we’d have to first be fully present and available to them. As parents, the greatest gift we can offer is our presence. But faced with countless demands on our time, offering our full presence becomes a rare occurrence..
Practicing mindfulness helps us to become present and pushes us to be there for our children. Practicing it while using several of the Education.com activities can be a fun way to connect and deepen your SEL skills while also strengthening your relationship with your child.
You can start by choosing an Education.com mindfulness activity to explore together, from using a mindfulness bell to practicing mindful walking. Or just try taking a few deep breaths every time you hug your child so you can really feel each other’s embrace and sense the gratitude you have for one another.
Also establish some ground rules around technology in the house if you haven’t already done so. Technology can enhance our lives but it also has the capacity to limit face to face interaction, which is essential to the deep connection that’s needed for all of us to thrive as we practice and grow our SEL skills. The American Academy of Pediatrics has developed a Family Media Plan that provides some wonderful guidance. Also check out A Parent’s Guide to Young Children in the Digital Age by Nancy Carlsson-Paige.
Employ a Restorative Approach
Restorative Practices (RP), a key element of many successful SEL initiatives, are specific practices inspired by indigenous values that build community, respond to harm or conflict, and provide circles of support for community members.
These practices seek to support collectivist values while utilizing a structure that emphasizes interdependence.
Employing a restorative approach in the home can help us shift from “blaming and shaming to relating,” and yet still hold our children accountable when they cause harm. The next time there’s an “incident” in your home, ask your child these six questions:
- What happened?
- What were you thinking about at the time?
- What have your thoughts been since?
- Who has been affected by what you did?
- In what way have they been affected?
- What do you think you need to do to make things right?
These questions are respectful and require your child to reflect on the past, present, and future. They also help your child take ownership for the impact their actions have had while simultaneously developing their agency. If you get the response, “I don’t know” to “What happened?” then explore the question in other ways like, “Tell me what you think your role was in the incident?” At all times avoid asking “Why did you do that?” These questions can also be used when you’ve been unskillful with your child, modeling how you use the questions to repair harm can be a powerful way of modeling SEL in the home.
Focus on Strengths
Another great way to practice SEL in the home is focus on your strengths as a family. At the dinner table, each night have every family member share a strength they have observed in another family member in the past 24 hours. Get specific when sharing strengths. You can take it a step further and focus on your strengths as a family through emphasizing how you support each other and work as a team. When we focus on our strengths several positive things happen including relaxing our brain, which promotes creativity. Dopamine is also released which has several benefits, like increasing our happiness and improving our alertness.
SEL starts with Adults
James Baldwin said, “Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.” SEL starts with adults and one of the most powerful ways in which we teach SEL to young people is through modeling SEL. When we fly, we are reminded (in time of emergency) to always put our oxygen masks on first before assisting our children. Similarly, we cannot bring SEL effectively into the home unless we first attend to building SEL within ourselves. Start small, explore which practices from this blog post really resonate with you and choose one to implement consistently.
- Durlak, J. A., Weissberg, R. P., Dymnicki, A. B., Taylor, R. D., & Schellinger, K. (2011). The impact of enhancing students’ social and emotional learning: A meta-analysis of school-based universal interventions. Child Development, 82, 405–432.
- Jones, S., & Kahn, J. (2017, September). The evidence base for how we learn: Supporting students’ social, emotional, and academic development. National Commission on Social, Emotional, and Academic Development.
- RWJF. (2015, July 16). Children with strong social skills in kindergarten more likely to thrive as adults.
- Schafler, K. (2017, November 14). How to change your life in one second flat.
This is the second in a two-part post on using Google Classroom. Part one can be found here.
Recently, we looked at Google Classroom’s ability to share assignments. This week we’re going to go over its roster functions.
Setting Up Your Roster
To start using Google Classroom, you need to add students to your class. You can invite the students through their Gmail account or the students can self-enroll by using the class code.
To add students yourself:
- Log onto Google Classroom and click on the “People” tab at the top of the page. You’ll be taken to your roster, which should at first only have your name.
- In the Students section, you can click on the button near the right to add students.
- Type in their emails in the box that pops up and press the Invite button at the bottom of the popup.
If you want students to add themselves, the code they need is at the bottom of the page. It goes away after you invite students, but you can find it again on your classroom’s landing page and the Settings page.
For additional tips on roster, check out the video below.
With your class roster set up, you can tap into Google Classrooms awesome features, such as sending students assignments and quizzes. The platform also allows you to communicate with individual students or assign work to the entire class at once. To do this, visit the stream page, which is also your class’s landing page. There you can send messages to everyone in your class, share files with them -- even YouTube clips -- and your students can do the same. It acts as a newsfeed, just like social media. You can control what students can do the stream (post, comments) through the Settings page.
You can use the roster to message students individually. Find the student you need to connect on the people page and click the checkbox by their name. Under the actions dropdown, you will find an option for email.
The Classwork page is where you can create assignments and send them to your students. You can also upload your extra material here to the class Google Drive. There’s also a link to the classroom calendar, making it quick and easy to schedule out due dates.
Through the roster, you can also connect to outside apps and services, such as Education.com. These sites connect your students to lessons, materials like glossaries and worksheets, even games. To see the kind of apps that connect with Classroom, you can visit edu.google.com.
This is the first in a two-part series on using Google Classroom. Part two will run next week.
Computers in the classroom have come a long way since Oregon Trail. What was once an exciting new tool is now an almost ubiquitous feature in K-12 education. Computers can be an important resource for teachers and students, providing everything from lessons materials to attendance platforms to research tools.
It is almost daily that new edtech tools are unveiled, declaring that they will solve a teacher pain point or help students learn more effectively. Whether those resources can live up to their hype, only time will tell. However, one resource that has been in classrooms for several years now and has steadily emerged as a reliable, useful tool is Google Classroom. A veritable teachers’ toolbox in one package, Google Classroom can manage grades, assignments, quizzes, and much more. It’s a digital foundation for a successful classroom.
That’s why Education.com partnered with Google to bring our lessons and resources to Classroom. Through the Classroom API, teachers can assign materials to students on Education.com with the click of a button. That work can then be shared to the rest of the class and even the public with another click of the button.
If you’re a teacher who is new to Google Classroom or has heard about it but not used it, you should expect to use Google Classroom (or a similar program) in your own classroom at some point in your career. It is free to use and easy for school districts to adapt to their needs, which is one of the reasons why it’s used all over the world -- Google estimates over 40 million students and teachers currently use the program.
To prepare yourself for using Google Classroom, here’s a few notes on what you can do with the program.
One note to keep in mind when using Google Classroom is that the company did all it could to make it easy to use. Not only is it simply designed, it makes the most tedious daily tasks much easier.
“Google Classroom is a huge time-saver, both for teachers and for students,” Kelleth Chinn, elementary school teacher and technology coach, said. “It’s also great for organization, because online assignments are always in one central location, and they're instantly accessible from any internet connected device.”
Take for example the ability to share assignments and other documents with your students. No longer do you have to print out and pass out your worksheets to your students; it’s all done online. Any file in Google Documents or your Google Drive can be shared with your students with just a click of the share button.
You can create your own documents or find them through the various sites connected to Google Classroom, such as Education.com. There you’ll not only find lessons, but support materials such as glossaries and worksheets too.
Students can then work on the assignments online and attach additional materials, if required by the assignment.
If you have more questions about Google Classroom, visit Google Support. You can also learn more about getting started on Classroom through this video, hosted by Super Schoolhouse.
More on Google Classroom comes next week, when we publish part two.
This is the first part of a two-part post; check back next week for Part 2.
It’s a common scenario when teaching English learners (ELs): the textbook or unit plan comes with a lengthy list of key vocabulary. Should all of them be taught in depth? The risk in trying to tackle all these words is that ELs can end up overwhelmed. They could memorize the definitions but they need to effectively incorporate new vocabulary into their academic discussions and writings. Also, focusing only on pre-selected vocabulary doesn’t provide ELs with the skills they need to become better independent learners.
So which vocabulary words should be used to teach ELs, and how should those words be introduced and practiced? For answers, we spoke with Dr. Sydney Snyder, principal associate at SupportEd and co-author of Unlocking English Learners’ Potential. Dr. Snyder has 15 years of experience teaching ELs, both in the U.S. and abroad.
Question: How do I decide which words to teach ELs?
Sydney Snyder: In a synthesis of research-based strategies for teaching academic content to ELs, Scott Baker and his panel of researchers recommend teaching a small set of academic vocabulary intensively over the course of several days. This means, in general, that five to eight words, but no more than 10 words, is appropriate. These words should be selected from a short text that aligns to the content being discussed in class. Baker recommends selecting words that are:
- are key to understanding the text and likely unfamiliar to students,
- are frequently used in the text,
- are used across disciplines (general academic vocabulary),
- are multiple meanings, and
- have affixes (prefixes or suffixes).
In order to further narrow down words for intensive focus, it can be helpful to pre-assess student understanding of key vocabulary. You can use pre-assessments to select the priority vocabulary and also as a tool to differentiate new vocabulary lists for ELs of varying proficiency levels. In other words, not all students are going to need practice with the same words. Possible pre-assessment strategies might include:
- Having students do a self-assessment in which they rate their understanding and ability to use new vocabulary (see Figure 1).
- Having students match words and their definitions.
- Asking students to do a word or concept sort.
- A word or concept sort involves having students sort key terms into categories that either you provide or that they determine on their own.
Colorín Colorado provides a video of this strategy in action, which you can see below:
As you are deciding which words to select for in-depth focus, you can also identify words that you will quickly teach while reading the text with your students. Words for a quick explanation usually:
- require minimal teaching time,
- can be taught with a visual, synonym, simple definition, or example, and
- are not essential to understanding the text.
Once you have determined which words you will focus on for in-depth instruction, Diane Staehr Fenner and I recommend using the following framework for vocabulary instruction.
Q: What are some strategies I can use to introduce new vocabulary?
SS: When introducing new vocabulary, it is important that students have an opportunity to explore that vocabulary in varied ways. It’s essential to provide (or have students write) a student-friendly definition. You don’t want the definition to be more complicated than the word itself, though. The definition should be aligned to the meaning of the word as it is used in the text or the content being learned. Wordsmyth.net is one resource for developing student-friendly definitions as this website provides definitions at the beginner, intermediate, and advanced level.
In addition to a simple and accurate definition, you can also consider using visuals, gestures, examples and non-examples, synonyms and antonyms, and translations in home languages. When providing translations, it’s important to remember that even if students are literate in their home languages, they may not understand the meaning of academic words in their home language. While some academic words can be easily introduced with images and a short definition, more abstract vocabulary may present a challenge for both ELs and non-Els. To support deeper understanding of such vocabulary, you will need to offer students an opportunity to provide examples and non- examples of the word and use the word in authentic discussions. For example, if you were exploring the word justice, you might provide scenarios to students and discuss whether the individuals in the scenario received justice and then ask them to come up with their own scenarios in pairs or small groups. Using a Frayer model can be another effective way to explore abstract vocabulary words and phrases with Els (see Figure 2).
This article originally appeared on Education.com on June 4, 2018. It was last updated on Sept. 12, 2018.
On February 13, Education.com hosted a webinar with Dr. Diane Staehr Fenner, co-author of Unlocking English Learners’ Potential: Strategies for Making Content Accessible. Along with Heather Anderson, 2016 Oregon Teacher of the Year, Dr. Fenner led the session through a host of practical ways to help English Learners (ELs) succeed in the classroom.
1. Know your ELs
There is great diversity among ELs. Before you can successfully plan instruction and scaffolds for students, you must learn more about your specific students’ strengths and areas of growth. Begin by assessing your ELs’ level of proficiency in English and gather information about your students’ ability to read and write in their home language. If your students are new to the United States, try to connect with parents to determine what educational experiences they had in their home country.
In addition, it helps to find time to connect with you EL students and gain a better sense of their experiences, their likes and dislikes. As Dr. Fenner stressed on the webinar, it’s important to operate from an assets-perspective and start with getting to know all the things our EL students can do.
Watch Dr. Fenner discuss the importance of knowing your ELs:
2. Identify needed language and/or skills
When planning for individual lessons, consider the academic language and skills your students will need in order to effectively participate in the lesson. Think about language demands at the word, sentence, and discourse level. Consider vocabulary, syntax, structural, and sequencing skills. After identifying which language and/or skills students will need, it is time to plan your lesson and corresponding supports for ELs.
Dr. Fenner on the power of academic language and how it affects ELs:
3. Plan the lesson
Most likely, you will be planning lessons for ELs at varying levels of English proficiency. To help meet the needs of all ELs, consider scaffolds that you can provide for beginning, intermediate, and advanced students. Use the chart below for ideas about how you can support students at all levels of EL proficiency. The scaffolds for all levels provide great ideas too!
Dr. Fenner on planning lessons for ELs:
4. Select and develop appropriate materials
When planning a lesson, think about what are the most appropriate materials to use with your ELs. In the webinar, Dr. Fenner presented various criterion for selecting materials, including connection to content learning objectives, age appropriateness, multi-modality supports, home-language support, and availability for access beyond school. She provided a checklist to use, which can be seen below.
After planning which materials you’ll use, think about how you can adapt these materials for use with ELs. For example, you could have students start with a short passage before moving onto reading an entire text. You could also pre-teach vocabulary or provide a visual glossary to accompany the introduction of new words.
Dr. Fenner briefly discusses preparing materials for EL lessons:
5. Make adjustments
During the webinar, Dr. Fenner discussed the importance of providing and eventually removing scaffolds as students develop fluency. As Dr. Fenner said, the goal is to “use and lose scaffolds.” As your ELs make their way through lessons, assess how they are doing and adjust the scaffolding and materials that you provide them in response to their needs.
Dr. Fenner on the benefits of collaborating on lessons for ELs:
What steps do you take when planning and implementing lessons for ELs? Whatever your current process is, consider how you can incorporate some of Dr. Fenner’s ideas into your approach.
Watch the entire webinar below:
Presidents Day is coming! Help bring this holiday to life by giving kids a chance to connect to presidents past and present. Their ages and interests can guide your lessons on this holiday. Here’s where to start:
At this age, it’s about relating content to kids’ lives. Start by teaching who presidents are and what they do. Use a K/W/L chart to collect ideas about what your kids know and want to know. After teaching about presidents (try the book suggestions below), have kids share what they learned and add their thoughts to the “L” section of the chart.
Once kids become familiar with the role, get them to think about what they would do if they were presidents. Preschoolers can draw pictures while kindergartners can fill in the sentence frame “If I were president, I would ____.” First graders could take it a step further and write an informational essay!
Kids in second and third grade are ready to learn more about past presidents. Start with founding fathers like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Have children choose one president to research and use art -- posters, collages, etc. -- to share what they learned.
After talking about presidents of the United States, tell them that schools can have presidents. Ask kids to think about what they would do if they were their class’ president. Discuss campaigning and have kids write speeches explaining why they’re the best candidate for class president.
Fourth and fifth graders will likely have some background knowledge on presidents, so have them pick one to research. After learning about their president, kids can write a picture book to share what they’ve learned. Use the suggestions below to show what a book about presidents looks like.
Also consider discussing the election process and how candidates are chosen. Have kids think about how it works at a school level. Challenge kids to create two different plans for electing a school president. These plans can be expressed using flow charts and pictures.
No matter your kids’ ages, have fun learning about leadership as you celebrate President’s Day!
Ellie May on President’s Day by Hillary Homzie
President’s Day by Anne Rockwell
I Am George Washington by Brad Meltzer
I Am Abraham Lincoln by Brad Meltzer
This is the second part of a two-part post for teachers on incorporating the instructional strategy of scaffolding into their classroom.
Question: How can I select scaffolds by ELs’ English Language Proficiency Level?
Diane Staehr Fenner: Now that you’re more familiar with what scaffolds are, as well as the three different categories of scaffolds, the next step is to select and try out some scaffolds for ELs. It can feel a bit daunting to try out a scaffold or two if you haven’t done so before. So, I’ll give you some guidance to help out.
In order to select appropriate scaffolds, you’ll need to know your ELs’ backgrounds, as well as their academic strengths and needs. You’ll also need to have a sense of the linguistic demands of your instructional tasks to determine which scaffold(s) will best support your ELs in being able to successfully engage with and complete the academic task.
Selecting scaffolds can cause us to look at our instructional tasks in a new, exciting way. Instead of simplifying the tasks we give ELs, it is instead the nature of the scaffold that is critical for ELs’ success with a particular lesson.6 As you consider how to scaffold a specific activity, think about the three categories of scaffolds that you may wish to include; you don’t have to include all three of them. (See Part 1 https://www.education.com/blog/whats-new/elscaffoldingpart1/) Your ELs’ strengths and needs will vary depending on the academic task that they’re working on.
Also, please keep in mind that there are no hard and fast rules for selecting appropriate scaffolds for ELs of varying proficiency levels. Some scaffolds might be developmentally appropriate for all students (e.g., graphic organizers or pair work) and may be used as supports for the whole class, including English proficient students. It is also important to note that an EL’s need for a particular scaffold will vary depending on his or her familiarity of the content and the complexity of the task.
The table below provides some general guidelines for you for selecting scaffolds for ELs at different English language proficiency (ELP) levels (beginning, intermediate, and advanced). This graphic is adapted from my scaffolding collaboration with Dr. Diane August. Even though this table provides a starting point, I always suggest using your professional judgement when selecting scaffolds.
Q: How can I incorporate scaffolding for ELs into my lesson planning?
DSF: Once you have selected a scaffold or two to try out with your ELs, it’s time to think a bit more deeply about how you’ll incorporate those scaffolds into your instruction. Our “Scaffolded Lesson Planning Checklist” will provide you with some considerations in doing so. In scaffolding instruction, I recommend you constantly reflect on the efficacy of particular scaffolds you use and adjust your instruction appropriately.
Q: How can I collaborate to scaffold ELs’ instruction and assessment?
DSF: One final consideration in successfully scaffolding instruction and assessment for ELs is to collaborate. As you begin scaffolding your instruction, think of other teachers who could support you in this endeavor. If you’re a grade level content teacher, you could turn to an ESOL teacher in your school for resources and advice on how to scaffold a particular lesson. If you’re an ESOL teacher, you could offer to work with content teachers to suggest scaffolds for particular lessons and assessments. You also may wish to offer to model the use of scaffolds in a particular lesson. Collaboration is key to successfully implementing scaffolding for ELs.
This is a starting point to help teachers incorporate scaffolds into their instruction for ELs, framed around one chapter in Unlocking English Learners’ Potential: Strategies for Making Content Accessible by Dr. Diane Staehr Fenner and Dr. Sydney Snyder. The book offers a toolbox of strategies for teaching ELs and ensuring they can succeed in today's more rigorous classrooms. For more in-depth training on scaffolding for ELs, please see SupportEd's face to face and online professional development.
- Gibbons, P. (2015). Scaffolding Language, Scaffolding Learning: Teaching English Language Learners in the Mainstream Classroom. (2nd ed.) Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
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This is the first part of a two-part post on incorporating the instructional strategy of scaffolding into their classroom. Check back next week for Part 2.
With English Learners (ELs) numbering more than 4.8 million and comprising 10 percent of the general school-aged population, all teachers should consider themselves teachers of ELs. To that end, all teachers must have strategies and tools to support ELs in accessing challenging content while helping them acquire academic language. With the right tools, teachers can easily incorporate the instructional strategy of scaffolding into their teaching.
How can teachers acquire these tools? For this, Education.com turns to the EL expertise of Dr. Diane Staehr Fenner, the president of SupportEd. Started in 2011, Support-Ed provides EL professional development, curriculum and assessment expertise, and programmatic assistance to school districts across the country.
Question: What are scaffolds?
Diane Staehr Fenner: According to Pauline Gibbons (2015), a scaffold is a temporary support a teacher provides to a student that enables the student to perform a task he or she would not be able to perform alone. This support comes in such forms as classroom materials and/or resources provided to the student, the instructional practices the teacher uses, or even how students are grouped during instruction.1 Scaffolds will vary and change over time as ELs’ knowledge of content and academic language increases.2 In fact, our goal when scaffolding for ELs is ultimately for them to be able to perform the task independently and without use of scaffolds.
Scaffolding for ELs should not be limited to scaffolding instruction only, but should also include supporting assessments as a way of making them more valid for ELs. Imagine not only being instructed in a language you don’t understand, but also taking content assessments in that same unfamiliar language.
While some may feel that scaffolded assessments give ELs an unfair advantage over proficient students, that is simply not the case. When you remove or diminish the language barriers that might be obstacles for ELs, you increase the validity of that assessment and can more accurately identify content knowledge and skills. An assessment does not need to look the same for all students, as students can demonstrate what they know in a variety of ways.3
In scaffolding an assessment, for example, ELs at beginning levels of English proficiency may demonstrate their understanding of content through non-verbal assessments such as picture sorts, where ELs at higher levels of proficiency may benefit from using sentence stems or frames to complete an assessment.4 As with scaffolding instruction, as students gain English proficiency, teachers can gradually release scaffolded support on classroom-based assessments.5
Q: What are different types of scaffolds for ELs?
DSF: Scaffolds can be grouped into three categories:
- Materials and resources
- Student grouping
Our “Categories of Scaffolds and Examples” table shares examples of each category of scaffold, though this list is not exhaustive. In my collaboration with teachers of ELs, I find that many only think scaffolds fit into the “materials and resources” category. Often, they’re surprised at the types of scaffolds that we consider to be within the “instruction” and “student grouping” categories. Sometimes, they’ve been scaffolding for ELs all along but just didn’t realize it!
Gibbons, P. (2015). Scaffolding Language, Scaffolding Learning: Teaching English Language Learners in the Mainstream Classroom. (2nd ed.) Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Daniel, S., Martin-Beltrán, M., Peercy, M., Silverman, R. (2015). "Beyond "yes or no?" Shifting from over-scaffolding to contingent scaffolding in literacy education with emergent bilingual students." TESOL Journal, 7(2), 393–420.
Gottlieb, M. (2016). Assessing English Language Learners: Bridges to Educational Equity: Connecting Academic Language Proficiency to Student Achievement. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
August, D., Staehr Fenner, D., & Snyder, S. (2014). "Scaffolding instruction for English language learners: A resource guide for ELA."
- Gottlieb, M. Katz, A., & Ernst-Slavit, G. (2009). Paper to Practice: Implementing TESOL’s PreK-12 English Language Proficiency Standards. Alexandria, VA: TESOL International Association.
Copyright © 2018 Education.com LLC All Rights Reserved
Monday, January 21, marks the 33rd year in which Americans celebrate the birth of Martin Luther King, Jr. As you talk with your children or students about Dr. King, take a minute to think about what you would like your students to learn from him.
While Dr. King lived “long ago”, as children might see it, his life's work and accomplishments still resonate today. Explore with children the connections that they can make to their lives. For example, explore concepts such as nonviolence, protest, and equality. Imagine how your children can put Dr. King’s messages into action.
Below are a few ideas that might spark activities in the home or classroom.
Discuss bullying, both face-to-face and cyber. Work together to consider how to deal with bullying and issues of inequality in a peaceful way.
Take inspiration from how Dr. King was able to spark change through the power of his words. Is there something around your school or community that children feel should be fixed or changed? Have children brainstorm how they can peacefully get their voices heard.
Focus on collaboration. While Dr. King played a huge role in the Civil Rights Movement, he did not work alone. For example, to make their voices heard and to protest unfair treatment or laws, people would often march peacefully. These marches required a lot of people to work together. Discuss with children how people can work together to speak out against treatment or laws that might be unfair.
Connect to the present. People around the world are using the power of protest and non-violent resistance. Share that these tactics are not just a thing of the past, but a powerful approach to change. For example, consider talking about how over 785,000 people around the world marched in 2015’s Global Climate March to show their support for preventing climate change.
For more inspiration or information about Dr. King’s life, a few good kid-friendly titles include:
Happy Birthday, Martin Luther King by Jean Marzollo
Martin's Big Words: The Life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. by Doreen Rappaport March On! The Day My Brother Martin Changed the World by Christine King Farris
The Education.com Dashboard is now called Progress Tracker. This exciting new tool provides tons more more detail on how your child or student is mastering each subject and skill.
Assignments now appear in separate sections to allow teachers and parents a quick and easy way to manage assignments and track student progress towards mastery.
Our audience of parents and teachers spoke, and we delivered; Education.com is proud to unveil...Assignments! This new site feature allows users to choose from our hundreds of engaging learning games and exercises to create assignments for students. See below for details and simple instructions on how to use this exciting new feature:
How to Assign Games or Exercises
- Select a game or exercise that you would like to assign.
- Click on the "Assign" button.
- From here, you have two options: Add the game or exercise to a new assignment, or add to an existing assignment.
- If you're creating a new assignment, give it a name. Adding a description or due date is optional. Click "Next".
- Select the child(ren) you want to send this assignment to, then click "Done". You will see a confirmation message once it has been successfully assigned.
How Children Can Access Their Assignments
- Your students can log in through your Pro membership log-in, or at learn.education.com by entering the Classroom Mode code.
- Once your child selects their profile, they will land on our main menu where they will see available assignments and due dates (if applicable).
- To complete the assignments, students click on the games or exercises listed on the assignment page, play, learn, and have fun!
- The main menu also allows students to see their progress in each individual game and exercise in the assignment.
Track Assignment Progress
As your child completes each assignment, you'll be able to track their performance in the Assignments tab of our Progress Tracker. You'll also be able to make edits to assignments from here, like removing games or exercises, or changing the due date.
We're very excited about our new assignments feature. For us, it represents our continued commitment to making our products easier and more useful to teachers, parents, and young learners. To that end, please feel free to give us your candid feedback. We'd love to know how we're doing and what can be improved.
School may be out, but fun, independent learning is always in. With our free Summer Learning Series, your little one can still build skills, gain confidence, and get inspired all summer long.
Each week during the series, we'll release a new volume of curated worksheets and a premium guided lesson, designed by our award-winning artists and teachers. Instead of a lengthy reading list, our series is chock-full of puzzles, drawing projects, singalong songs, and animated games. Plus, we've paced it so that you simply tackle one week at a time.
We'll help you navigate all 12 weeks of our Summer Series with weekly emails, so you never miss a volume—no matter where your summer adventures may take you.
During the long summer weeks, too many kids lose their momentum, forget skills they worked hard to learn, and have a difficult time picking up the thread when school resumes. In fact, the average student loses about two months in math and reading skills. Our program is designed in partnership with teachers to specifically address the skills kids need to make the transition between grades, from kindergarten through sixth.
We passionately believe year-round learning is in every kid's best interest. As longtime members will know, we've hosted all types of summer programs, from DIY camps to reading adventures. And we couldn't be more excited about what we've got in store for you this year!
Our Summer Learning Series kicks off this Sunday, June 11th, so keep your eyes peeled for our first volume. We hope that you (and your kids) love it as much as we do. Let us know what you think—tag us on Twitter @education_com or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You may have noticed that Education.com looks a little different recently! We’re excited to reveal our updated look and introduce a few new exciting features that we think you’ll enjoy.
Skills Organization and New Exercises in Learning Resources
Until recently, millions of Education.com users visited us daily to download a worksheet or play a game. We took a close look and realized that our users wanted resources that were more focused around practicing a specific skill. In order to better help parents and teachers achieve this, our expert educator team reorganized our library of learning resources by skills. Now if you want your child to work on subject-verb agreement, you can find all the different resources we have that teach that skill on a single page, whether it’s a worksheet, game, story, activity, or exercise.
Grouping our resources by skill also acts as a great tool to help parents understand what skills are covered in each grade and subject. For instance, by selecting 1st Grade and Math, parents will find that Number Sense is an important topic covered in their child’s grade.
Finally, we’re proud to introduce exercises to our collection of learning resources. To complement our games, songs, and stories, we’ve added math, reading, and writing exercises for 3rd-5th graders. Exercises allow kids to practice skills using interactive graphs, visual models, and many other components that can increase conceptual understanding. With the addition of exercises to our existing early learning program, Education.com members now have access to an entire digital learning program from Pre-K all the way through 5th grade!
We’re extremely excited to reveal our Guided Lessons section as an integral part of the new Education.com. Our guided lessons section creates an online learning program that combines all of our learning resources into carefully designed, sequenced lessons that help kids learn math, reading, and writing skills. Through guided lessons, parents and teachers can work with children or allow them to learn independently to build foundational academic skills.
With over 150 lessons and growing, Education.com members can access our step-by-step curriculum, created by our team of experts that include national and state Teachers of the Year, accomplished curriculum designers, and veteran graduates and advisors from institutions like Stanford University and UC Berkeley graduate schools of education.
Guided Lessons are kid-safe—meaning they’re entirely free of ads—and incorporate progress reporting, so you can quickly identify areas where your learner excels or needs help.
Lastly, our Teaching Tools section is a quick place for you to access content that is relevant to educators, like our worksheet generator, lesson plans, Common Core resources, and more upcoming tools.
We really think you’ll love the new Guided Lessons and updates to Learning Resources and Teaching Tools as much as we loved making them. We at Education.com love to hear what our members have to say, so please tell us what you think about our new look and if there are any other things you’d like to see! Tag us on Twitter @education_com or send us an email at email@example.com.
Here at Education.com we’ve been working hard to bring you a new experience we think parents and teachers will love. We’ll be revamping the site and introducing new features based off feedback from both our loyal users and our brilliant education advisors.
More details and full access to new features are coming soon, but we want to give you an exclusive sneak peek of what’s coming:
Some people come to Education.com to look for worksheets or games, but sometimes you don’t care about the type of resource, you just want something that will help your child learn a specific skill, like two-digit addition. We’ve organized each of our 30,000+ learning resources by skill, so you can find all the different types of learning resources we offer that can help teach a certain skill or subject. (But don’t worry, you can still search for worksheets or games too.)
In addition to our online games for PreK - 2nd grade, we’re expanding our digital offerings to include fun exercises suitable for 3rd - 5th graders to practice Math and ELA skills.
We’re really excited about this one! Our curriculum designers and experienced teachers have designed a learning program with an immersive experience that can take kids all the way from PreK through 5th Grade. Complete with a points and rewards system for kids, and detailed progress reports for parents and teachers, our new guided lessons are the perfect blend of learning and fun.
I want to assure all of our current customers that there’s nothing to worry about—everything you’ve enjoyed about Education.com will still be around. We’ve just reorganized the site to make it even easier for you to find the learning resources you know and love, and we’ve added some great new features to improve ease of use and learning outcomes for your kids.
Stay tuned! We’re looking forward to unveiling the new Education.com very soon.
Have concerns, questions, or thoughts? Shoot us an email to let us know what you think, or send us a tweet @education_com.
Second graders can finally get in on the fun of Brainzy! We recently expanded our math and reading program for kids ages 3-8 to include a new second grade math section, featuring games, songs, and stories.
To help us with our expansion into second grade, we recruited experienced educators to identify the most important math concepts to cover. Once overarching skills were determined, teacher consultants were brought in to help. Our education experts oversaw the execution of each skill in a digital context, translating the most effective hands-on, manipulative learning strategies into gaming experiences. We then tested our games in real second grade classrooms to ensure their quality and effectiveness. Boasting 38 new games, our new sequences cover essential second grade math skills, including addition, subtraction, place value, geometry, measurement and data, time, and money. Fun and creative songs and stories put new concepts into contexts that help math learners understand them in fresh ways.
These Brainzy games encourage students to try out new skills without a fear of failure, and have fun as they persevere to master each skill they tackle.
You can unlock our entire second grade learning program on the Brainzy dashboard as part of your Plus or Pro account. A sampling of our brand new games are available to play, with more being added each week. Check out a selection of our second grade math games now. Later this year, we’ll add second grade reading games to help your child grow and become a better reader and writer.
This morning, I received an alert from the bank about a suspicious transaction. I immediately went to log into my online account, but I couldn’t remember my password. Because I change passwords so frequently out of paranoia, I was locked out.
Most of us use logins for everything. For online banking, food delivery, retail, streaming music... the list goes on. We all know the drill. Type in the wrong password, request a new one, go to email to confirm, use your childhood phone number as the new password (again). Times have changed, and we can no longer afford to use the same password over and over again.
Even more than the average person, teachers need to easily access all the utilities they use in the classroom. Clever, an educational platform for teachers, has taken this challenge on—imagine that.
Today, we announced a new partnership with Clever, and we think you’ll love them. If you’re a teacher and you haven't heard about Clever, you probably will soon. As we’ve all seen, there are seemingly an unlimited number of new learning applications available for teachers to use in the classroom. This is a good thing, right? Potentially. New technologies also come with challenges—especially if you’re dealing with sensitive student data. Keeping track of all those URLs, apps, usernames, and passwords takes time. The Clever team realized these challenges, so they developed a platform where educators can easily choose applications and learning tools that support their teaching needs while eliminating the challenges of accessing them in a secure way. And it's very simple. Districts can keep track of what applications teachers in the school system are using, and individual schools can approve applications and products for use by teachers and students. No brainer, right?
Education.com aims to be everywhere teachers, parents and homeschoolers look for educational resources online—including in the tech systems schools and districts use most. Between our more than 2.5 million U.S. teacher members and Clever being used in 1 in 3 domestic schools, it was a very natural fit. So for us, it was an easy decision to put the Clever login right next to our own.
So if you’re a teacher and your school isn’t using Clever yet, talk to your principal about getting it in your district. It’s a great tool, and now you’ll be able to log in with your childhood phone number just once.
What does this mean for you?
The Education.com app acts like a bookmark by giving you quick and easy access to the site and your membership without requiring you to log in each time.
Brainzy by Education.com allows your kids to start playing Brainzy games right away without requiring you to log in and access the page for them each and every time! Simply download the app, log in once with your Plus or Pro membership, and your kids can play, navigate levels, and even switch players all from the app. Closing out the app doesn’t log you out, so they can get back to Brainzy easily without your help.
These apps can be downloaded on any Mac or PC that has a Google Chrome browser. They’re especially convenient for classrooms that use Chromebooks.
In addition to the apps, we've launched a new feature in Brainzy for our Pro members: Classroom Mode! This has been requested by many of our teachers and we're excited to bring it to you.
Pro members can now turn on Classroom Mode in their Brainzy Dashboard. When enabled, Classroom Mode lets a user customize Brainzy with a teacher and school name and generates a unique code their students can use to login:
Students only need the unique access code to login to Brainzy (http://play.brainzy.com). They no longer need the teacher's email and password.
After logging in with the code, the student will see the customized teacher and school name.
Classroom mode also works with the Brainzy by Education.com App, so your students can quickly get to Brainzy and start playing. We hope you enjoy these new features and we at Education.com can't wait to show you what's next!
We've updated the workbooks section of Education.com! Just as with lesson plans, search for and find the workbooks and subjects you're looking for with our improved search bar located on the left side of the screen. The search bar located here works even faster than before to look through titles, subjects, and tags including Common Core nodes for the workbooks that apply, allowing you to quickly narrow your search within workbooks. You can also use the navigation panel on the left to filter by grade and/or subject. Hold down the shift key to click and select more than one filter.
Now you can choose between Grid View and List View. Grid View showcases each workbook's cover image, plus at-a-glance info for the subject and grade. List View provides descriptions and other information to help you make your decision and compare multiple books on one web page.
Visit the workbooks section and see for yourself! We hope you enjoy the new features.
We’ve just launched the Download History feature! With Download History, you can find and re-download the resources you’ve used in the past that may be useful again. For instance, if you teach the same grade every year, you can easily retrieve the same content you used in previous classes for this year’s students.
You can find Download History in your account dropdown.
Search for your materials by year and month using the navigation to the left. When you click on a month you’ll automatically be scrolled to it. You can tell where in time you are by what’s highlighted.
To re-download your content, simply click on the thumbnail. If it’s been a while and you’d like more information about your download, click on the title and you’ll be taken to its description page.
We’ve launched a new notification system which you may have noticed in the top right corner of your screen when you logged in. With it, we’ll keep you updated on the goings on of Education.com and your account including new features (such as lesson plans, learning games, and more), blog posts, account reminders, and promotions. Enjoy!
As you can see in the image below, once you've clicked on and read a notification it will become gray. Notifications will remain for a limited amount of time; if you don't want to see a message anymore simply click the "x" to delete the message.
We've updated the lesson plans section of Education.com! This includes improvements for speed - pages now load up to four times faster so that you can find resources more quickly. To go along with that we've made the search bar in lesson plans (on the lefthand) more powerful. Try it out - search by author name, Common Core node if applicable, or any important terms that may come up in the text of a lesson plan.
Now you can also filter by multiple grades or subjects. Want to see both preschool and kindergarten lesson plans? Hold the shift key when selecting grade or subject filters.
We started out lesson plans by asking contributors to give us their best, tried-and-true lessons from their own classrooms, and grew from there. We hope these new technical features help you get the most out of that lesson plans content.
Achievement Certificates are available to print for your kids as they progress through Brainzy games or for anything worth celebrating! Simply log in to Education.com and go to your games dashboard to take a closer look and download your certificates.
Brainzy is a math and literacy program created by Education.com made up of rich stories, games, and songs for kids ages four to seven. Try out individual games or stories in the games section of the website. For the full program go to your games dashboard, or, if you're not an Education.com subscriber see what you'll unlock in Brainzy if you join.
Save any Education.com worksheet directly to Google Drive.
Are you signed in to your Gmail or Google+ account? Then you're one click from saving worksheets to your Google Drive. Saving direct to Drive is an alternative to downloading worksheets onto your computer, emailing links to yourself, or using the Collect feature.
We're happy to be able to provide this option for our users who have Google accounts; to make grabbing the worksheets you want even more convenient.
Twelve new themed borders are ready to top off any of our customizable worksheets. Head over to our worksheet maker to generate word lists and puzzles by putting in vocabulary words of your choice into Options, or choose Options settings for math worksheets. Select a Theme to add a little, not a lot, of decoration to the page, then download or save to use your worksheets when you need them.
Don't see what you want? Give us your feedback and ideas to help improve worksheet generator here.
Organizing for the classroom requires teachers to meticulously plan out each day, hunting for resources to complement each lesson and creating backup plans for students who need differentiation.
We recruited over 70 contributors with experience teaching elementary-aged children from all over the United States to share their expertise. Working with a diverse group of educators gave our lesson plans a wide breadth of themes and knowledge, ensuring that all teachers could find a lesson that worked for their classes.
To date, we have published 965 lesson plans and counting, moving forward to our goal of 1000. Our lesson plans cover math, science, reading, writing, social studies, and ESL topics.
"The inspirations for our lesson planning template included the structure of mini-lessons used by Lucy Calkins in the Teachers College of Reading and Writing Curriculum and the structure of interactive modeling developed by Responsive Classroom," explains Tatum Omari, the Director of Curriculum at Education.com. "The end product we were aiming for with our template was one that incorporated best practices in instruction and that could easily be adapted to any subject area."
Many of our lesson plans are paired with original Education.com content, such as worksheets, customized worksheets, workbooks, digital games and activity ideas. These materials help students practice the skills using a range of strategies, so there’s something useful for every kind of learner.
Our new lesson plans help streamline the process of classroom planning by offering educators structured plans that help students practice everything from counting and multiplication to reading comprehension.
Lesson plans are available for preschool through fifth grade—check out our growing collection at http://www.education.com/lesson-plans/.
There are so many resources on Education.com—where do you get started? We've chosen to focus on grades preschool to five. So while we offer content in the grades above, we really shine in elementary school subjects. Read on to see what we have and hear about what's coming soon.
Our 4,200 activities are made up of arts & crafts, group games, and practice ideas for reading, writing, math, science, and social studies in preschool to high school. You can find activities here: http://www.education.com/activity/all/.
Brainzy, our online learning program, offers 450 Common Core-aligned games for preschool, kindergarten, and first grade, with second grade coming soon. You can access a sampling of featured games, stories, and songs online: http://www.education.com/games/educational/.
Lesson plans are our latest content addition, and written by teachers for preschool to 5th grade in math, reading, writing, science, social studies, and ESL subjects. At over 900 lesson plans currently available on Education.com, we’ll soon reach 1000! You can view our latest lesson plans here: http://www.education.com/lesson-plans/.
Our 1,800 science fair projects explore physical science, Earth & space, and life science topics for kids in kindergarten through high school. You can see science projects here: http://www.education.com/science-fair/.
We offer 359 workbooks in a growing library of academic skills and seasonal topics for preschool to 5th grade. Workbooks are written in collaboration with educators to cover reading, writing, math, science, socials studies, and the arts. You can browse workbooks here: http://www.education.com/workbooks/.
Education.com features more than 18,000 worksheets for students in preschool through high school, covering reading, writing, math, social studies, science, and seasonal and holiday content. This includes coloring pages just for fun and fine motor skills, all sorts of stories, and even Common Core aligned material. Find resources here: http://www.education.com/worksheets/all/.
Our worksheet generator provides 17 templates to create endless worksheets for math or reading practice. This includes word searches, crosswords, word scrambles, and matching lists with words of your choice. Worksheets to practice the basic operations and fact families can be customized in several ways, generating from 5 to 20 problems on a page for you. You can try it out here: http://www.education.com/worksheet-generator/
Signing up to Education.com for free gives you limited access to our most popular content including the ability to make your own worksheets, and you'll stay up-to-date with our newsletter. As an Education.com Plus member you get access to worksheets and answer sheets, worksheet generator, activities, workbooks, and science projects, a limited number of lesson plans per month, and up to three player accounts in Brainzy. As an Education.com Pro member you get unlimited access to everything, an ad-free website experience, up to 35 player accounts in Brainzy, and early access to new features. All levels of membership allow a certain amount of access to the content and resources above, and our Brainzy games sections and portal are always free of advertising.
Stay tuned to the blog to see more lesson plans, great holiday content, a new grade level coming to Brainzy, material to meet your Common Core needs, and more!
Welcome to What's New! Here you'll find out about things we’re working on, like when we launch new tools or features on the website, and what seasonal content you can expect. Come back often to find out more about the parts of Education.com you already know and use, and upcoming features we think you’re going to love.
We're so proud to bring your favorite workbooks to print; put together through Education.com’s partnership with Dover Publications.
“One of the main requests we have heard from our members,” states co-CEO Todd Schwartz, “is to make our worksheets available in a book format. So for the past few years, we’ve searched for a publisher that shares our core values—and the name that we kept returning to was Dover Publications. Dover has been in business for over seven decades and they have always made sure to keep prices low and the educational content high. In fact, they offer hundreds of books for children that are filled with the same type of educational activities that are found in our worksheets. It is also exciting that their wide distribution network will make our products available in entirely new channels.”
“When Hayward and Blanche Cirker founded Dover in 1941,” adds Dover’s President, Frank Fontana, “they were determined to publish high-quality works at prices that were in reach of just about any reader. Our very first title was a low-priced reprint of a mathematics text, so we have been in the educational business since day one. Even our children’s titles help educate as they entertain since we publish coloring and activity books about counting, famous people, historical events, and more. So a partnership with Education.com makes perfect sense—we’re very complementary companies. Education.com provides the worksheet expertise, and our staff of professionals design, edit, publish, and market the actual books. Flipping through the first few titles, it’s obvious that the collaboration has been a rousing success.”
The workbook series launches with 20 grade-specific titles, including Creatures & Counting, Adventures in Writing, Fun with Nature, Earth & Sky, Math Mania, and All Sorts of Science. Each workbook offers 100 pages of worksheets
Printed and distributed by Dover Publications, the new Education.com workbooks are now available at www.doverpublications.com, Amazon, Books-a-Million, and other major retailers.