What did you learn today?

This weekend I was fortunate enough to be a guest blogger on Below is the published article.

At dinner tables across the country, parents ask children what they learned in school every day. Those questions are filled with answers such as “I don’t remember”, “I don’t know” and the always popular “nothing”.  Even though parents know that this is not possible, they don’t know where to turn for the answers. Yes, they can do directly to the source and ask the teachers but it is also important for parents to take ownership over their son or daughter’s learning.

Starting in elementary school, most curriculums are based on state standards. These standards are published online and anyone can research them without much difficulty. These standards highlight benchmarks and goals that students must reach throughout and by the end of each school year, depending on the grade level. Along with needing to meet certain standards, each school uses specific programs for each subject area. Anyone can ask their child’s teacher for this information and most likely, the program outline can be found online also. Take a look at these standards and programs and be prepared to see work come home that supports each of these.

When I was teaching, back to school or meet the teacher night was arranged to meet with parents of my students to give an overview of our yearly goals and daily routines. This was generally very well received by parents and a lot of those initial questions they had were answered throughout the evening.

In addition, I sent home a monthly newsletter highlighting topics that will be covered in each subject area, class birthdays, class field trips and book of the month (determined by the school). I encouraged parents to keep this paper handy and refer to it throughout the month. This way, instead of accepting the answer of “nothing” at the dinner table, they could reply with a specific answer such as “I think you are learning about balls and ramps in science, did you do this today?” Letting your child know you are involved and aware of what is going on in school is helpful for you but also for them. Forming a connectedness between home and school is crucial for them to recognize.

Other parents are a great resource. Teachers typically give out a class list with the other parents contact information. Form an email group to keep in contact with them. Share stories, ask questions and form a network to help each other. If you are a first time school parent, talking with parents that have older children in the school can help. They have more experience with the school, administration and teachers. Schools are communities and becoming part of this community will make the transition much smoother for the children and parents.


It’s about that time!

Before school begins, it is important for children to know what to expect and what is expected of them.  Take a trip to school, especially if this is the first time they will be going there daily. Many schools have designated days that are designed for kindergarteners to visit. If you did this, you are ahead of the game! If this day was at the end of the school year, remind them by taking them past the school again over the summer. Even if you cannot go in, it is helpful for them to see the building or the playground again.

Children thrive on routine and consistency. Go through the morning routine with them. Where will you drop them off? Where will they wait for their teacher each morning? Where is the classroom located?

Learning is not just for school, it continues at home. Children should know that there are parts of school that will carry over and things to complete at home. Create a space that is conducive to doing homework, reading and school projects. This can be any area in your home and should be arranged in a manner that specifically fits your child’s learning style (refer to earlier entry on Learning Styles/Multiple Intelligences). Space can be an issue so remember that this does not need to be a large area, just somewhere that is designated as a “learning area”.

What goes in this area? Anything that will promote learning, depending on the age of your children. Crayons, pencils, pens, notebooks, paper, stapler, tape, rubber bands, etc. The key is to have an organized space for everything. I always stress the importance of labeling everything in your house and this area is a great place to start. Take plastic cups or empty soup cans (my favorite) and use for crayons, colored pencils, etc. Use file folders or empty gift boxes for writing paper, notebooks or as a desk organizer to hold a tape dispenser and stapler. Remember my rules on labeling – let them experiment with the spelling and when they discover the correct way, have them change the label. Make a fun sign that says, “[insert child’s name] Learning Area” or “[insert child’s name] Work Space”.

Have a great Labor Day weekend and good luck next week!



Learning to shop or shopping to learn …

A new school year is the perfect time for a fresh start. There is nothing like cracking open a new box of crayons. I can still picture choosing a color, brand new, with no dull to the point or writing in the first page of a blank notebook. Some schools offer a program where parents pay the cost of everything upfront and the school orders the supplies. If this is not the case, most parents are shuffling in and out of Target, Staples, and the like, with a supply list and a check out line a mile long. Children, on the other hand, simply reap the benefits of this task.

A great way to get your children ready for school is to involve them in this process. Whether they are in elementary school or day care, you can include them in this activity in a lot of easy ways. Have a discussion about what they think they need for school. Do they need a lunchbox? A swim suit? A bat and ball? This discussion is a simple way of sorting out appropriate needs for different places (i.e. we don’t need the same things for school, camp, going to a park).

Based on this discussion, make a list before going shopping using drawings, words or magazine cut outs. Even if school gave you a list, it is a fun way for them to learn how to organize information.  Bring a pencil to cross out the items you purchase along the way. If your child is older, you can use the original list given to you and practice reading it beforehand.

This adventure can take the form of a scavenger hunt also. Where can we find the notebooks? The glue sticks? The back packs? If they are having trouble or getting off track, ask them what helps us find the aisles we need? Introduce them to the signs on the ceiling or on the outside of the aisles. Encourage them to help you read those aisle signs!

No matter what the age or grade level of your children, math plays a huge role in the school shopping adventure. If they are the appropriate age, you can compare the cost of two boxes of crayons. Which costs less? Which costs more? If you buy a bulk pack of 5 notebooks for $5.00, how much does each notebook cost individually?

Younger children can easily identify numbers on crayon boxes. How many crayons in the box? How many glue sticks come in a pack? Even simpler is asking them to identify the numbers in the price of an item. They may not know that something costs $1.98 but they might be able to identify the three numbers 1, 9 and 8.

Making lists, organizing information and incorporating math can be used with food shopping in a supermarket or any other form of shopping. The difference is that school is relevant to your children and anything parents do to make lessons relevant to their children’s lives will help them understand the concept better and also make it more interesting! Happy shopping!






The week of weather

Our children are getting a packed lesson in different types of weather. A 5.8 earthquake in Virginia was felt in NY and NJ, among other places, and now Hurricane Irene is scheduled to hit this weekend. Safety is most important. As long as everyone is in a safe place, taking the right precautions with the necessary emergency items, I think this is a great time for some quality learning.  If you do not live on the East Coast, your children can still participate in these activities. Internet and television make us feel like we are exactly where these events are taking place.

Do some research: Explore earthquakes and hurricanes with your children. Use dictionaries, library resources and the internet.  Have them investigate what an earthquake means, how it occurs and how it can affect land. Do the same for the anticipated hurricane. What can we expect? Are the effects the same or different from an earthquake? Find out the last time that your area was hit with either of these types of weather. I heard on the news that a hurricane has not hit NYC in 100 years. This can open up a conversation on what the world was like 100 years ago. Compare and contrast your findings of both types of weather. Make a chart using a big piece of poster paper.

Create some artwork: If you live on the East Coast and you have young children, they probably have not felt an earthquake until this past week.  Regardless of where you live, draw a picture of what an earthquake feels like, this one or any other you experienced. Did the pictures shake on the wall? Did a light fixture sway back and forth? Do the same for a hurricane. What does it look like outside during a hurricane? Since the hurricane has not hit yet, your children can draw a picture of what they think a hurricane looks like and then draw another one while it is going on.  Compare these two pictures.

Make a weather window: This is another idea for artwork that I used to do with my students. Take a piece of blank white paper (8 x 11) and have your children draw a weather picture (a sunny day, rainy day, hurricane, tornado, etc). Using brown construction paper, cut three long strips (11 x 1) and three short strips (8 x1). Using 2 long and 2 short pieces, have them glue the strips on the edges of the paper. These will create the borders of their window. The last 2 strips (1 long and 1 short)  should be crossed and glued in the middle of the paper to create a 4 pane window. Especially if you are inside this weekend, create a few of these and hang them around the house. A great book to read beforehand is Right Outside my Window by Mary Ann Hoberman.

Track the storm: The beauty of the internet is that you can track weather before it happens and as it is happening. Take this time to research the path of the upcoming hurricane. Where has it already hit? Where is it headed? What direction is it going? Talk about directional words (N,E,S,W) and if they are old enough, create ways to remember them (Never Eat Soggy Waffles). You can do the same with the recent earthquake. Where do earthquakes usually occur? Check which states it affected this time and where those states are in relation to where it originated.

The most important thing for this weekend is to be safe. We don’t want to scare our children, just make them aware of weather that affects our world. Most of them like learning about these conditions and find it interesting. This past week provided us with lots of great information and experience to use with our children. Challenge your children to investigate events in our world and learn something new!

Have a safe weekend.

Let’s get organized!

As Jack gets bigger, so do his toys. They grow in quantity and number but my house seems to stay the same size. Sometimes it looks like a toy store exploded in my living room. I know many of you can relate. When it comes time to clean up, I am attempting to make Jack part of the process.  He is still too young to help me put away his toys but I have been very diligent about talking to him when I am cleaning up. If there was a fly on the wall, it would definitely be laughing at me as it hears me telling my 11 month old that it is “clean up time” and “it is time for Jack’s toys to go back where they belong”. I am not naive to the fact that he doesn’t understand exactly what I am saying but what I know for sure is that he watches everything I do with watchful eyes.

Often, kids toys to fall into basic categories: balls, dolls/action figures, rattles, art supplies, blocks, etc. I figure, why not start organizing these as early as possible? When I am in a hurry and want to grab a good car toy for Jack, I find myself clawing through an unorganized toy bin. Then, I am stuck putting all of the toys back in that I just threw out! By the time I finally leave the house, I am exhausted and frustrated. At least someone has his favorite toy!

After the hundredth time this happened and with the start of school approaching, I started to think about how I organized my classroom when I was teaching. Everything had its own place. After only a short time, my students knew where everything belonged and the importance of why we kept our room neat. All it took was getting into a routine and some reinforcement. I encourage parents to do the same at home; there is no reason why after a long day of work, going to school or taking care of your children, you should spend your evening cleaning up your children’s toys.

Start simple and include your kids.  Create bins out of shoe boxes or pick up some inexpensive bins/baskets (Ikea has great ones). Gather some of the art supplies and trucks and start organizing! Having many boxes vs. one large toy bin is not always ideal based on your space so condense two or three categories into one if need be. To combine one of my other suggestions (see Labeling entry), have your child label each bin with pictures or words. They can also help put the toys in the appropriate baskets. Eventually, they will see that you are always putting the blocks in the “block” basket and they will catch on.

Remember that they see this everyday with other things in the house; socks are together in a drawer, the coats are in a closet, the plates are all together in the kitchen. Children respond best when they see that what goes on in their little world also occurs in the world the rest of us live in! It simply needs to translate to their belongings so take your time and be patient. Happy organizing!

It’s raining cats and dogs …

The past few days on the East Coast have been wet to say the least. I thought that the summer heat was done and the nasty weather had arrived, a few months too early. It got me thinking about the book Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. Based on my last recommendation with food taking shape of more interesting things, this selection takes this concept to a whole other level!

In the town of CHEWANDSWALLOW, supermarkets do not exist and weather comes three times a day in the form of breakfast, lunch and dinner. Every meal, the weather would bring snowing mashed potatoes, raining soup or storms of hamburgers. The weather predictions included “becoming heavy at times, with occasional ketchup.”  One day, it gets worse and the delicious weather the town once enjoyed turns inedible and dangerous. There were repetitive meals of overcooked broccoli, pea soup fog and a storm of pancakes and maple syrup that closed the town school. Everyone abandoned the town in fear of their lives and started a new life in a regular town with supermarkets and regular snow storms.

In chapter 5  – Good Morning, I discussed the weather chart aspect of a morning meeting routine. Learning types of weather is an important concept that can be learned early on and this is an extension of that activity. Challenge your kids to think of creative ways to describe the weather. What foods reminds them of certain weather and in an imaginary world, what foods should fall from the sky for each meal? Ask them to predict the next days weather; what would fall for breakfast, lunch and dinner? Take it a step further and have them create a weather chart for the week.  Using drawings and/or pictures from a magazine, each day can have “weather” predictions for three meals.

This book can be a good way to discuss appropriate choices for each meal. Traditionally, we associate eggs with breakfast and sandwiches with lunch. Growing up we would have eggs for dinner all the time. I loved doing this and as a child, it is always fun to “break the rules”. Ask your children to think of a lunch to have for breakfast and a dinner to have for lunch. If this is OK with you and the ideas are healthy, honor these wishes. It might make mealtime more successful and interesting for your children, aside from making brussel sprouts into wizard gumballs!

We are family …

Capturing special moments of our children through pictures and home movies is a must;  the first time they walk, eat solid food, school plays.  Along with these important milestones in their little lives,  we want to have a recorded history that involves family members. As parents, educating our children about family history is, by far, one of the most important lessons.

We just returned from a wonderful Maine vacation. Complete with my sons first road trip, a special wedding at a family home and great quality time with my husband and son, it was chock full of memories. We will always remember this vacation and how the summer before, pregnant at this house we adore, we pictured being there for our cousin’s wedding with our new son or daughter. All of a sudden, he we are. The wedding, the special home and our son, almost 1 year old already.

On the other hand, Jack will not remember any of this vacation spent with his family. For that matter, he won’t remember much from his early childhood and although this is par for the course, it still seems kind of sad.

Picture after picture, video after video, we captured  moments from the vacation, especially ones that involve his family members. We want Jack to grow up recognizing and remembering these people and special family pets, and although it will take a long time for him to make the connections and understand the meaning of aunt, uncle, cousin, etc, it is never too young to start. 

We plan to start a family bulletin board for Jack. It will be ever changing and will include people in his life and our lives. Unfortunately, we cannot live near all of our friends and family but that does not make them any less important.  Pictures are a great way to let your children know that family is always around you, no matter how close or far. Throughout the year, as we collect pictures from special times,  fun weekends with family and friends and holiday cards, we will add them to the board. Although he is still young, we will continue to point out everyone by name and hope that as Jack grows up, he will begin to recognize everyone on his own.

Every family can do this; create a space in your home to keep pictures of the important people in your life. Talk to your children, even if you aren’t sure that they are understanding – because one day, it will make sense to them. As they grow, these conversations will develop and change.  Discuss your family history by explaining how each relative is related to one another. Start simple with Grandpa and Grandma are mom’s parents, just like you have parents. These concepts get more complicated so using a family tree with pictures is a great way to help them understand where they come from and who they are.  Showing them pictures and videos of time spent together will make it even more clear. Yes, they will laugh at us, make fun of our clothes and question why we put them in those outfits. In response, we will threaten to show everything to their future girl/boyfriends. Isn’t that par for the course as well?!

Even as adults, we should still ask our parents questions about our history. Learn as much as you can so you can pass along the knowledge and stories. Encourage other relatives to share memories. Each person has a different perspective on history and often, they each have keepsakes from the family. Documents, jewelry and old photographs all contribute to learning about your family. The more you share with your children, the more connected they will feel towards their own relatives. We hope that as our children become adults, they will continue these traditions with children of their own.

I wrote an article for my local newspaper about the same topic and included a book recommendation with some great family friendly activities- below is the link!

Wizard gumballs or brussel sprouts…

At an early age, we learn about the four basic food groups and the importance of eating healthy. This is sometimes forgotten or it falls by the wayside and then one day, you have children. All of a sudden, they become an integral part of our lives again. The problem is, kids would rather you forget like you did before.

If you can relate to children giving you trouble at mealtime, I have a perfect book for you to read with them. I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato by Lauren Child is a great book to read when those breakfasts, lunches and dinners you worked so hard to make, get cold as they sit uneaten on the table. It tells the tale of Lola and her picky eating habits. Her clever brother Charlie, creates an imaginative way of turning food into scrumptious treats. Along with some great laughs, the book is filled with lessons and activities to share with your children.

Children look at certain foods with an aversion. Instead of arguing this, make it into a game as Charlie did for Lola. For instance, carrots become orange twiglets from Jupiter and peas morph into green drops from Greenland. Create an alter ego for the meatloaf sitting on your plate. It looks like meatloaf and smells like meatloaf but it is not meatloaf. These pieces are bricks from a space station. When you pile them high, they build a wall that prevents aliens from seeing top-secret space work. Ask them what they see in their “meatloaf”. What else is this color? What is shaped like meatloaf? Children’s imagination reach far beyond an adults. Give them a little push and in no time, they will be off and running.

Visually, this book is very appealing. The illustrations are a combination of drawn characters and photographs of food placed together on the same page. It is an interesting way to create a picture and a great way to challenge your children. Have them do the same thing, using hand drawings combined with actual pictures, taken from photographs or magazines. They can use the book as a reference to help them get started. After completing several pictures, compile them to create a book. If they are having fun with this activity, they can illustrate one of their favorite books, using this combination of mediums or a different combination, such as water colors and permanent marker. Discover what their interpretation is of a book that already exists.

I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato is written in a clever style. Lauren Child uses different fonts and sizes and her placement of words changes from page to page. When reading this book, take time to point out these variations to your children. Ask them what they notice about the writing, what is interesting to them and how they might place words on a page in a book. Using a computer document or paper and pencil, show them what the words bold and italics mean. Show them different examples of fonts. Have them write an original book and encourage them to invent their own unique writing style, using these examples or ideas of their own.

This book is centered on the idea of making interesting creations out of food that kids find boring or bland. After reading this, try these activities with your little ones. Join in the fun and see if maybe, some of those wizard gum balls that you thought were brussel sprouts weren’t so bad after all.

You say tomato, I say tom(ah)to …

One of the most interesting aspects of having a child is discovering who they are as they get older. Every child is smart in his or her way and learns in different ways. Early on, it is evident that children are drawn to specific things, whether it be music, building with blocks or cooking.  Although parents pride themselves on knowing their children like the back of their hands,why are parents sometimes surprised by what  they hear at a parent/teacher conference? Did they somehow miss something? The answer is absolutely not, they did not miss anything. What is overlooked is the fact that characteristics of a child that seem insignificant may affect them in a school environment. Knowing that your child concentrates well in complete silence, builds amazing creations with legos or enjoys reading maps are details that need to be shared with teachers. More than ever, classrooms and lessons are geared toward individual learning styles so that each student has the opportunity to show an understanding of subject matter in the most optimal way for that child.

Parents know what children like to play with at home; they see toys/activities and immediately know if their son or daughter will enjoy them. These likes/dislikes are a direct indicator of what may help them learn and thrive in a school setting. It simply comes down to putting these characteristics into three different learning styles and eight different multiple intelligences.

Learning styles are very important when interpreting information – we all fall into one category (or sometimes teeter between two) and so do our children, at a very early age. The earlier you know how your child learns, the more effective you will be at supplementing their learning at home.  You can find a learning style inventory online on several different web sites. These are  the three main styles:

Visual Learner – Those who learn through seeing things (needs quiet, likes colors/fashion, reading maps, diagrams)

Auditory Learner – Those who learn through hearing things (reads out loud, enjoys music, follows spoken directions well, listens to speeches or lectures)

Kinesthetic Learner – Those who learn through experiencing/doing things (sports, likes studying with loud music, builds models, role-playing, can be fidgety if confined to a seat)

Check out one of the inventories online to see what type of learner you are, as well as your child. If your child is still very young, keep this in mind for the future. You may already see signs of what type of learner they are, simply by watching them interact with their environment.

Multiple Intelligences are also important as they show how individuals are gifted in many ways other than the typical reading and math areas. Children may exhibit exceptional qualities in areas such as designing, music or acting. Often times, children who do not excel in the basic areas of school or learn in a typical fashion seem distracted or disruptive. The reality is that they might be bored and not challenged. For this reason, it is important to listen to and watch your children closely. If you see they are gifted in an area or show great interest in learning about something, foster this curiosity and let you child’s teacher know about this interest. The eight areas of multiple intelligences are: linguistic (word smart), logical (math smart), spatial (picture smart), bodily (body smart), musical (music smart), interpersonal (people smart), intrapersonal (self smart) and naturalist (nature smart). You can refer online to these multiple intelligences for a greater description/ There are also surveys to help you determine what “smarts” they favor. Try it – it may surprise you!

It is more obvious than ever that every person, young or old, learns and processes information in a unique way. As I said in one of my past entries, we always want to show our children love and acceptance, for whoever they are. School can be a confusing time for children, especially if they do not fall into one of the typical categories of learners. You always want your child to feel safe and comfortable in school; to feel that this is a place where they can express who they are and show their understanding  in a way that makes sense to them. The start of the school year is quickly approaching. Doing some exploration will be a helpful tool to have as a parent and one that you can share with his/her teacher come the fall.

Always celebrate who your children are and help them grow into the most unique and self-assured people possible! Good luck!

Is it that time again?

If anyone has been in any drugstore, toy store or clothing store lately, you may have noticed all of the back to school items in stock and on the shelves. I find myself asking no one in particular,” what month is it”? I always knew that stores get ready for back to school early, just as they do for all holidays (i.e. Halloween in August, Valentines Day in January), but as a mom, I notice it in a different way.  As a teacher, I loved it; I stocked up on school supplies and got great deals on the items I needed to get ready for September. As  a mom of a child too young for school, I was not as excited.

I made a huge mistake and tried getting a pool float for my son at a popular children’s store. I was told in a matter of fact, what is wrong with you kind of way that “summer was over” and they were in the back to school phase. So, I left without a float and my ego deflated. My child cannot have a float to swim in for the pool but he can have all of the folders and notebooks he needs for school … in 4 years when he gets to Kindergarten!

It got me thinking about the idea of the right time to start gearing the kids and ourselves up for school. Many children and parents have anxiety around school and although I am a huge advocate of continuing the learning during the summer, it is approached in a more light-hearted, relaxed manner. Once school is upon us, there is often a sense of  nervousness felt by all, especially if your child is going to school for the first time.

I wanted to recommend some easy ways to ease the whole family back into the school mindset, without taking away any of the relaxation that summer provides.

Involve your child in the process:  This may take a while so I recommend doing this on a day you have time to spare! If your child is in elementary school, they have learned the basics of money.  Look through a CVS circular or something similar and have your child select an item that they will  need for school. Then, discuss how much it costs and work with your child to find the correct amount of money using dollars and cents. Take your child to the store and allow them to pick out the item and pay for it. Money is a concept that is much easier to grasp when it is done in a real world setting.You can do this all summer as a continuing lesson; explain how much money the ice cream cone costs and show them what $2.00 looks like in dollars and cents. I will have more to say about using money in real life situations in a later blog!

Read school related books: Begin to incorporate books that are school related into your reading routine. This will simply introduce the idea that school is coming back and it is a fun experience! One of my favorite books is If You Take a Mouse to School. It is a charming book about what happens if a boy takes a mouse to school. From asking for a lunchbox to sharing  a backpack, this mouse goes on an adventure that will have your child laughing out loud! The book provides an amazing opportunity to teach and reinforce the concept of sequencing (what happens first, second, etc). It is the type of book that your child will want to read again and again because they will begin to remember the story and be able to repeat the next happening with the mouse. There are other books in the series to enjoy as well  such as If You Give a Pig a Pancake and If you Give a Mouse a Cookie. Great finds and lot of laughs!!

Listen to Great Music: I am learning about the overwhelming love of children’s singers/bands such as Laurie Berkner and I have to say that this is the most fantastic way to incorporate learning into children’s lives. Singing with children is a great chance to learn about numbers, colors, feelings, animals and anything else that is included on these songs. Music is a very important part of a child’s education and it is vital to introduce the concepts of rhythm and movement early in their life. It deviates from the traditional types of learning and provides a healthy outlet for children to express themselves and learn something concrete at the same time.

I hope these suggestions help – let me know if you try something!