What do we do now?

If you live on the East Coast as I do, you are in the middle of  a terrible heat wave.  It’s the kind of heat where you have no desire to walk outside, even if it is just to get to the car.  I have never experienced heat like this as a mother. At least when I was pregnant, I didn’t have to occupy my son, he was safe and sound inside. All I had to worry about was that I was drinking enough water. Now, on the other hand, I am constantly concerned about him if we do dare leave the house.  Is he getting dehydrated? Is the air conditioning working well enough in the car? What do we do now?

The alternative of going out in the heat is being in the house all day, which is often worse. Now that Jack is crawling, he is into everything; the media cabinet and the vent in his room are his two favorite places at the moment. I am lucky in the sense that he plays with a toy (or a vent!), crawls around, I reposition him, he crawls some more and plays some more. It is becoming increasingly difficult to keep him entertained but I will say that a 10 month old is easier to occupy than a toddler! Those moms that are home with toddlers in this weather (I tip my hat to you!) are constantly having to find things to do to keep their little ones occupied.

Here are some cute ideas to pass the time when every option is exhausted, every book is read and every toy is used.

Create a fort: If you have old boxes in your garage (you can also get some at the supermarket), create a fort or castle in your home. You can tape together boxes, cut them to create windows and skylights and decorate with crayons and stickers.  Creating an indoor playhouse is a fun and interesting way for children to learn about dimensions and shapes and also improve spacial relations skills. It is amazing how projects like these  keep children occupied for long periods of time.

Play cards: What ever happened to good old-fashioned card games? War is a great starter game, especially for math skills. It helps children recognize numbers and distinguish between larger and smaller ones. Other card games can be played as well but I thought War was a good one to start with because the concept is simple.

Scavenger Hunt: This takes a little more work but it is totally worth it. It  can be adapted to different ages. Create a household scavenger hunt to find different items in your home. Create clues such as “find something that you brush your teeth with” or “find something in the shape of a square” and have your children search the house. All children love to explore and this gives them a free pass to check out their surroundings in a whole new way.

Bake/cook: This activity can also be adjusted depending on the age of your children.  Another way to practice math skills but also have a great time is to bake or cook. Yes, having the oven on in the hot weather is not ideal but it does provide lessons in following directions, reading, measurement and fractions. You can also make lots of things that do not require turning on the oven. It happens to taste good too!  If they are old enough, your children can read the directions  and they can  find the correct cups you need by looking at the fractions (1/2 cup, 1/4 cup). Have them measure out your ingredients. If they are not ready for this, give them the correct cup and have them measure out the food. Simply having your child distinguish between ingredients (flour vs sugar) is a great lesson. Asking them to find the eggs, milk or other ingredients is an easy way practice identifying different foods. When you are timing the baking or cooking, have your child set the timer. This opens up a lot of discussion around the concept of time (seconds, minutes, hours), which is a hard concept for children to grasp.

Attempts to make something relatable to real life will give your child the chance to make a real connection and therefore, less intimidated by the concept. I hope you can use some of these suggestions to pass the time, whether you are in the middle of a heat wave, a stormy blizzard or anything in between!


Hold them close

I am no longer going to number my entries in the form of chapters – I plan to write this for a long time so it seems pointless to continue to add chapters.

This entry is a little different and probably my most important one to date.  Reading, writing and learning about the calendar are all great lessons but no lesson is as important as remembering to express love and appreciation for our children. In light of the recent events in Brooklyn, it is more evident than ever that every day with our children is a blessing. As parents, celebrating  their unique qualities is the greatest gift we can give them. Nothing makes a little one feel more loved and appreciated than being able to express themselves in a safe and comfortable environment.

Giving children freedom to be themselves and to develop at their own pace are vital parts of their development. There are so many simple ways to do this; we are patient, we laugh at their jokes and stories, we let them wear mismatched and backwards clothes when they decide they want to pick out their outfits.

Sometimes, it is difficult to find the words to express these thoughts to a child. Books are a perfect solution; they give us the ability to tell our children exactly what we are feeling and teach them life long lessons. I wanted to share some of my favorite books that celebrate children’s individuality and independence.

The first selection is one I used in my classroom often and will use with my son as well. Leo the Late Bloomer by Robert Kraus is a charming tale of a tiger named Leo who is not developing at the same pace as his fellow tigers. His dad is concerned, although his mother is not. She knows that he will develop in his own time, when he is ready. Often, we expect our children to meet certain milestones at specific times and children compare themselves to each other. We must remind ourselves and them that everyone is an individual and although some later than others, they all will develop the skills they need to be successful. The goal is to be proud of who you are and not who you are supposed to be in life.

I wish I Were a Butterfly by James Howe is another book that helps demonstrate the importance of being unique.  A cricket wishes desperately he was a beautiful butterfly after being told that he is not special. He is reminded by his friend the spider that each of us are special and have a unique gift to share with the world. It is filled with beautiful illustrations that help children learn to be proud of who they are.

Every person, child or adult, has days where they feel sad, frustrated or happy. Understanding what each of these feelings mean and learning how to articulate them are extremely healthy for children. Today I Feel Silly by Jamie Lee Curtis is the perfect way to explain different emotions to a child. The clever poems give children the words they often cannot find to express how they are feeling.

At the end of the day, all we wish for is that our sons and daughters know how much they are truly loved and valued. When we need help expressing this or need reinforcement, curl up in bed with your children, hold them close, read to them and end the night with an I Love You.

Good morning!

One of the first lessons learned as an elementary school teacher was that children love routines. In fact, they thrive on them. Routine and predictability promote learning – even if at first this begins as basic memorization. The repetitive nature of doing tasks every day at the same time, gives children confidence and control over their learning environment. In a world where children are told when to get up, what to eat, what to wear and where to be, this sense of ownership is precious to young ones. In school, I used this love of routine all day, every day. I liked that my students would walk in to our classroom each morning and know where to look for the daily schedule, where the homework was piled and where they could place their belongings. It made them feel safe and it gave them a sense of trust, which is sometimes hard to earn from children, especially when they are not your own!

Every morning, my class would gather on the rug and have a morning meeting. We discussed the schedule for the day and reviewed the monthly calendar, complete with velcro numbers to add as we went along.  Other things we reviewed included the days of the week and counting the number of days we were in school. With each passing day, we would also determine its place value by showing how many ones, tens and hundreds were in that particular number. The last and final aspect of this morning exercise was a weather chart with a related weather bear to decorate. Each morning, my helpers added the correct date, figured out the days of the week (Yesterday was,  Today is, Tomorrow will be), corrected the number of days we were in school and added necessary ones, tens and/or hundreds. They also determined the weather and dressed our weather bear appropriately. It was easily one of the most fun parts of our day. My students, even those who were not reading yet, knew every subject for the day and what special class we would attend. They couldn’t necessarily read the words but they memorized each sign and, after a while, they discovered that each card said something specific. This memorization eventually turned into real recognition, as they began to notice the word “reading” or “gym” in other places other than on the schedule. Parents – if your child memorizes something they see and repeats the word to you, do not discount this as simply repeating. It is actually a stepping stone of the reading process.  For example, your child may recognize the word “stop” from a stop sign. Eventually, they will see this word other places and be able to read it.

The reason why I enjoyed morning meeting so much was because it covered so many subject areas; reading, writing, math, science and social studies.  We read the schedule of events every morning and wrote the number of days of school (yes, writing numbers is part of writing). In addition, number recognition and ordering of numbers is math-related, especially place value. When determining the weather, we were exploring science and social studies was touched on when there is a holiday.

Here is where you come in: I believe every parent can do a portion of my morning meeting with their children.  Starting with a small piece is a good way not to get overwhelmed. Since numbers and counting are something children are aware of as young as 2, if not younger, it’s an easy way to begin. Create a reusable  monthly calendar on a piece of oaktag. If you create  a blank grid, you can use separate cutouts of the dates and velcro each one on separately. Every month begins on a different day so at the end of a month, you can simply remove the velcroed numbers and start fresh.

This routine may take a while so please be patient. At first, children will be simply be happy to velcro a number onto the paper.  After a while, they will realize that the numbers come in order and it is their job to place the next one on each day. This will become part of their routine. Giving them the opportunity to search for the next number each day and add it to the calendar allows for an incredible amount of learning. Identifying numbers, number order and using fine motor skills by placing the date on the velcro are great lessons. Labeling the calendar is even better, so that they begin to understand that this grid has a name. The same goes for the months of the year.  Even if you point to the month every day and repeat the name of it, children will begin to remember this. Before you know it, they may point to the calendar and say “September”  or “calendar” – it is amazing what children retain, memorize and internalize.

You can begin with any part of morning meeting – a daily schedule, a weather bear (especially fun since they get to dress it) or the days of the week. It is up to you, you know your child better than anyone and what they will respond to best. The main objective is to make them aware of parts of our world that exist for everyone – the months of the year, the days of the week, the weather outside.

Activities that begin in school do not have to end in school. Bring a little bit of your child’s classroom or future classroom to your home. If you would like more specifics on this topic, please feel free to ask. I would be happy to explain in further detail or send you a picture of these morning meeting activities.

Try it and let me know how it goes!

Rounding ’em up!

I hope everyone had a safe and fun holiday weekend! It is often difficult to focus after an extended break; parents are still in relaxation mode and sometimes sleep schedules are interrupted. Everyone has trouble getting back into the swing of things. They say that getting our children back on track as quickly as possible is best, although not the easiest of feats most of the time!

I found that when  I was teaching, the most effective way to round-up my students after a long weekend or vacation was to read to them. The only instruction was to listen and enjoy the book; pure, simple, carefree listening. That is not to say that every time we read, we weren’t learning something. However, when the pressure is off of having to answer questions, sometimes it is more enjoyable for everyone. It allowed them to think without “thinking”, laugh and smile.  Keep in mind, parents, you can do this at home as well.   Story time before bed is a great time to get lost in a book.

One of the books I enjoyed reading was appropriately titled, The Listening Walk, by Paul Showers. It is a light-hearted book about a girl, noticing various sounds around her, while on a walk with her father and her dog.  Any child can relate to parts of this book; whether they are walking in the city or in a quiet neighborhood.

The best part of this book, in my opinion, are the connections that children can make to the environment. If you ask most children what sound a dog makes, they will tell you. If you ask most children what sound a bee makes, they will tell you. The best part is that they love to show you how to make the sounds! These are elements of their everyday world that are easily relatable. You can follow-up by taking your own listening walk or as the book says, just listen for sounds in your home. Either way, it is a good tactic to get your children refocused after a busy few days.

For those with very young children, simply making the sounds in the book is a great way to have them respond. If your children are slightly older, you can start to make connections with them. Many children may do this in school, but if this is new, it is an easy concept to learn. There are three main types of connections: text to text, text to world and text to self. Here is what they mean:

Text to Text – connecting concepts in a book with another book they read. For example, Book A had a dog that talked and Book B had a dog that talked.

Text to World – connecting concepts between a book and a world event. For example, Book A had a tornado in it and there was recently a tornado in Joplin, Missouri.

Text to Self – connecting concepts between a book and something that happened to them in their life. For example, Book A reminded me of my life since the character had a brown dog  and I have a brown dog.

These are easy connections to make and ones that they may already do without knowing. This will just bring it to their attention!

The last thing I want to mention is that anytime you receive a book recommendation, from myself or anyone else, I would highly suggest using your public library. As a collector of books,  I understand why you want to purchase new books or even buy used copies online. However, these days, about the only thing that is free in life is a library membership. I was at a BBQ this weekend and someone mentioned that libraries are obsolete and books can be replaced with Ipads and the like.  I believe that I touched on the use of technology in Chapter 2 but I wanted to respond to this statement. Libraries are not obsolete. In addition to the free membership that allows you to use thousands of perfectly good books, it teaches our children that nothing is as wonderful as turning the pages of a book, finding out what is lurking around the corner and what your favorite character is up to next.   Technology certainly has a place in today’s world but good old-fashioned books certainly do as well, especially in my house.

We got there!

Now that you arrived at your destination (or one of them for the weekend), it is time to relax and catch some rays or catch up with some friends and family. Your kids run around and play, dig in the dirt, dig in the sand or take a ride on the swings. As parents, we watch, join in the playing and marvel at how much fun a swing or a pail and shovel can be to a child. Take it one step further this time.

If you can educate your children on the way to your destination, whether it be locating license plates or something else, why not continue the learning when you arrive? I was at the beach yesterday with my family and I was amazed by the amount of “teachable moments” that were available.

The beach provides some of the most easily accessible lessons, using our natural environment. The beach is all about tastes, colors, textures, sounds and smells. In other words, it is all about using our five senses. Children use all of these senses, some simultaneously, to discover and learn all about the world.  We can take an active part of this process by introducing descriptive words early on. This is so important; it will increase  vocabulary tremendously.

While your child digs in the sand, talk to them about how the sand feels; is it cold or hot, is it smooth or rough? While your child collects seashells, talk to them about the colors of the shells, what they feel like and what shapes they resemble. If your child is too young to already know these terms, teach the words to them. It is never too early to start!

The beach is known for coolers full of water, fruit, sandwiches and treats. Ask your child what the yogurt tastes like; is it sweet or salty? If they do not understand these words yet, explain them. The fruit tastes sweet, the chips taste salty, etc. Similarly, the sounds at the beach are priceless. Seagulls talking and looking for food, children laughing, airplanes flying overhead, music playing. Bring these sounds to the attention of your children. You may be surprised at what they can identify just by hearing the sounds; they may recognize an airplane just by the motor or another baby just by the sound of crying. The smells at the beach are (for the most part) very pleasant; the salty ocean, the concession stand food. If old enough, ask your child what they smell and how they know it is the ocean or the smell of french fries. As a bonus, if they happen to connect the smell of the food with food served at school or camp, they have just made a text to world connection. I will talk more about that in my next blog!

Of course, the beach is not the only place to explore the five senses, the same can be done at a park, at your house or in your backyard. You can continue this process every day, not just in the summertime, by collecting things from outside and using household items. Sandpaper, pasta and rocks are wonderful ways to expose children to the five senses. Put them in separate boxes and create “feely” boxes, as I used to call them or place different items on a table and let them explore! Our homes and our world are filled with ways to educate children.  Try it and let me know how it goes!

Are we there yet?

Hello parents! With the July 4th weekend approaching, many of us will taking some long road trips. Whether you will be traveling to a BBQ, visiting family or going to the beach, you may be slammed with the always charming question from your children or your spouse, “Are we there yet?”

In today’s society, we are certainly not lacking in ways to occupy our children during these car rides. Portable DVD players, iphones, ipads, ipods; am I forgetting any other device with an i???  I myself am addicted to my iphone, so I can relate to the fascination, but the disconnect between people seems to grow as we continue to connect to the internet and electronic devices. More importantly, this lack of interaction means valuable, educational time that parents and children can be talking, discussing and laughing falls by the wayside. Sometimes, it is just easier to let children play what they want; they are occupied, happy and quiet! I get that and I am all for letting your child play the games they want, even educational games, but there is a time and place for everything.

I have vivid memories of taking long car rides with my family to visit relatives or go skiing. Yes, there were hours of listening to the radio, reading books or just gazing out the window but there was also a lot of talking and playing our favorite car game – the license plate game. As an adult, I passed this tradition to my husband and we will teach my son when he is old enough to understand.

This is the concept: We would record all of the different license plates we saw on the road. It is a simple game that can lead to a lot of interesting conversation.You can start with just listing the plates or you can introduce the game in a more challenging way.  For each state you spot, you must figure out the state capital and the nickname (i.e. the garden state). To go a step further, ask them in what part of the country each state is located or list well-known landmarks that exist in that state. The possibilities are endless, it just takes some creativity (and maybe a little help from your internet connected devices)!

There are always teachable moments in things we do with our children. You never know when you will spark some curiosity or introduce something to them that they will take interest in exploring further. The younger the better and the longer the car ride, the more license plates you will find, I promise. Try it this weekend and let me know how it goes! Happy 4th of July!

Label Love

Now that I have introduced my main objective, I will share my first tip for continuing your child’s education at home and it involves spelling.  With the various spelling strategies taught in school, many parents struggle with which one to use at home. Some of you tell your child to sound out the word, some say to look it up in the dictionary or refer to spell check on the computer. I believe that a combination of these strategies can be used, often depending on your individual child but the one universal piece of advice I have is to let each child explore his or her surroundings and come to a conclusion on his or her own.

This spelling tip will allow them to do just that. It can be used for children of all ages, it will just need to be adapted based on the grade level.  It may sound strange but it  is a tactic that I used in my Kindergarten and 1st grade classrooms that worked tremendously. It is also a suggestion I made to the upper elementary, middle and high school teachers I worked with after teaching in the classroom. I/we labeled our classroom  and you are going to label your house! Yes, label your house. Everything in it. The doors, the food, the refrigerator, the toilets, the televisions, etc.

Sound weird? Let me explain. When my students entered their classroom the first few days, everything was new. We wrote and drew a lot at the beginning of the year and there were so many questions of, “how do you spell this?” and “how do you spell that?” We hadn’t learned all of the sounding out strategies yet, they didn’t know how to use a dictionary or a word wall, much less spell check on a computer, so what was I to do? So, everyone got a bunch of index cards and tape and we started labeling. However they thought a word should be spelled, that’s how it went up on the index card. The only way it was corrected was when someone realized that a word was spelled differently. This happened when we were reading together, when they were reading alone, when someone saw a sign for the word “shelves” and realized that our class spelling was incorrect. We would cross out, never erase, the incorrect spelling and write the correct version underneath. Gradually, my students became aware of their surroundings and started to notice words and the patterns that they followed. They took an interest in how words were spelled and why certain combinations of letters created certain sounds. It was the most successful way to have them take ownership of their own learning. One by one, week by week, all of the words in our classroom were labeled correctly and they remained posted around the room for the entire school year. They used these index cards as reference points and before they knew it, they did not need the index card; they had committed the correct spelling to memory. Mission accomplished.

The same can be done around your home. It is a fun way to incorporate spelling into your child’s life, outside of the classroom setting. If your child is younger, you can start with simple words such as bed, light and door. If your child is older or you want to challenge them, you can add words such as television, refrigerator and staircase. Perhaps they will be on an educational website, see the spelling of mirror and realize that the spelling looks different from how it was spelled on the index card on your bathroom mirror. Maybe they will see a sign for apricots in the supermarket and realize the correct spelling of the word. It will happen in random locations, at random times but having your child understand the importance of spelling and realize the feeling of accomplishment will never be random. It will be priceless! Try it out and let me know how it goes!

Welcome to TheMommaFiles

Welcome to TheMommaFiles! As an educator and now a stay at home mom to my beautiful son, I want to share my passion for education. Education does not stop in the classroom; it continues in the home during the school year, on vacations and throughout the summer. I am going to share my ideas on how to make learning exciting for your children.

When the school year ended, many parents were feeling some anxiety around their children being home all summer. If their child’s teacher made a recommendation that they need to continue the schoolwork over the summer, the anxiety can sometimes elevate to a level of panic. No more fears! I am going to help by suggesting  educational activities to help address these educational needs and maybe even make your child smile while doing it.

Yes, there are many children who go to summer camp, participate in after-school activities or spend time away from home. This is no excuse not to educate your child – it is time that must be carved out, just like bath time, dinner time or TV/computer time. It seems overwhelming at first but I promise you it is not, it just takes some adjustments and some deep breaths!