Ways to Encourage Early Writing

Preschool Kids Education

Before they are writing

There are lots of ways to encourage the skills that support writing from long before they are writing letters and words.

Fine motor activities – Starting in the first year, you can give activities that practice the pincer grasp and exercize the fingers. This is picking up small food like Cheerios or raisins. Later it is using tweezers, putting coins in a piggy bank, dress me dolls and playing with small manipulatives like bristles blocks and legos. This is making small balls with playdough and folding paper for planes and oragami.

Gross motor activities – This includes crawling, climbing, swimming, ball games, frisbee and gymnastics. This is anything that encourages the strength, flexibility and coordination of their arms and hands.

Lots of art supplies early and often – The goal is to encouarge a wide range of art supplies early and often. There is a different pencil grip and pencil pressure using thin markers, thick markers, crayons, pencils, dot art, roller art and paintbrushes. Spray bottles and hole punches build hand strength.

Writing props in play – If children are playing store, give them long paper for shopping lists and a notepad for writing reciepts. If they are playing office, give them a calendar for meetings and a legal pads for taking notes.

A writing supply drawer – By three and a half or four years old, it can be helpful to have a writing supply drawer or box separate from your other art supplies. This might have list paper, notebook paper, staitionary, pens and pencils.

Other writing activities – In preschool this includes maze books, dot-to-dot books, Color Wonder, stencils and scratch paper. In elementary school this includes tracing paper, spirograph, and invisible ink books.

Encourage new positions – When they are coloring with crayons, you can encourage them to color sitting at a table, laying on the floor, standing at an easel, or under the table with the paper taped to the underside. Each position gives a new view on arm and hand position, pencil grip and pencil pressure.

Once they are writing

Once they are writing letters and words, the goal is to encourage writing often.

Give them jobs – There are several fun jobs that encourage writing. The ‘list maker’ writes all the shopping and activity lists. The ‘navigator’ draws maps or traces the route on an actual map for car trips. The ‘historian’ keeps a journal of family activities. The ‘mail carrier’ writes postcards to grandparents weekly.

Notebooks, journals and diaries – Especially over the summer months, it can be helpful to encourage writing daily. This might be easiest with a dated journal or diary. It may also be helpful to keep a writing notebook and pencil in the car.

Writing prompts – For young children, this might be having them draw a picture and then tell or write a story to go with it. As they are older, this might be giving them a starting story line or topic and encouraging them to write the rest.

Book making activities – You can make a book with a few pages of paper, a pencil, crayons and a stapler.

For more writing and other academic supplies, visit: Lakeshore, Kaplan, Discount School Supplies and Community Playthings

 

 

 

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Ways to Encourage Confidence in the Classroom from Home

Teacher with children in kindergarten

Build a broad base of knowledge – When the teacher talks about a new topic in class, it’s helpful if your child has a fund of related knowledge. There are several ways to build this.

  • Focus on building your child’s vocabulary – A child’s vocabulary scores are often reflective of their overall cognitive scores. A rich vocabulary supports confidence in the classroom and reading comprehension.
  • Lots of outings – Everywhere you take your child, you are exposing them to new vocabulary and information. While museums, art galleries and nature walks are great, the beach, pumpkin patches and sports outings also count. Be sure you are answering questions and talking to your child about all they are seeing and doing at each.
  • Read aloud everyday – Aside from being cited as the single most important factor in building successful readers, reading aloud builds a child’s vocabulary and broadens their base of knowledge.

Play school – You might play school at home and encourage your child to be the teacher. During this game they can teach you about any topics they are learning in school.

Playdates with classmates – The more they know and are comfortable with classmates, the more likely they are to be comfortable speaking in front of them. It can be helpful to arrange playdates with a wide range of children from their classes.

Challenges in play – If your child is building a tower, you might challenge them to build it taller or think of two new ways to build the base. When children have a lot of practice at taking on challenges in play, they are more likely to do the same in the classroom. When the teacher says, “who can do this problem on the board?” they are a little more likely to raise their hand and try.

Encourage risk taking in moderation – Children have to take risks to learn to ride a bike. It can be a risk to stand up in front of the class and speak. Encouraging a healthy level of risk taking in play and in life can help them feel confident to participate in class. This might be jumping off something at the park that’s a little higher than the last time or holding just one hand not two for balance.

Ask about school – It can be helpful to shake up the questions you ask after school. If everyday you ask, “how was your day?” Kids tend to give the easy answer, “fine.” There are hundreds of other questions you could ask. Here are a few related to participation and confidence:

  • “Was there anything really hard to do today?” and, “how did you figure it out?”
  • “What did you learn about in science class today?” and, “did you already know anything about that or was it all new?”
  • “Did you have to work in groups today?” and, “how did it go?”
  • “Did you raise your hand and answer any questions today?”

School skills in real life – If your second grader is learning how to count money, carry cash and let them be your banker. Let them count the money to and from cashiers. For a seventh grader learning to calculate percentages, have them figure out the tip at restaurants.

Teach flexible thinking – Flexible thinking includes teaching kids to brainstorm ideas or solutions and think about the range of related outcomes. This might be encouraging children to come up with a plan B when their first plan doesn’t work. You might practice plan A vs. plan B for small issues often. You can also teach flexible thinking by playing games like Gobblet, Connect Four and Labrynith which require players to make new strategies often.

Encourage persistence – When a child is stuck, you might give a bit of empathy and ask them questions or give them hints to help them move forward. You might help them break the task down into smaller pieces. I’d also highlight the benefits of practice and that the more they try, the more likely they are to solve and the easier it may seem the next time.

Focus praise on effort, process and progress more than outcomes – When a child gets a good grade, it can be helpful to focus your language on how much they studied and how hard they worked. When they win a race, focus on how often they practiced and how much they’ve improved their time.

What to Do When Your Child Says “I Don’t Wanna Go to School”

Parent Taking Child To Pre School

At some point, most children go through a phase of not wanting to go to school. For others, that push can ebb and flo for years. My younger daughter, Claire, has always had a difficult time going back after the Winter Break. There were tears in January throughout elementary school.

Smooth, calm morning – I understand their not wanting to go to school upset alone can be enough to knockout off the feeling of a smooth, calm morning. They may lose it, but you need to stay calm. Be the rock. If you need ideas to meet this goal, you might read Screamfree Parenting by Runkel or Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids by Markham.

Matter of fact empathy – When your child is upset, it is best to start there. Matter of fact empathy mean acknowledge the emotion, then continue with the routine. On a difficult morning this might be, “I know you are upset, you don’t want to go,” as you help put on their shoes, and, “I hear you want to stay home. I like staying home with you too,” as you walk them in. You are recognizing emotions and moving forward. Avoid starting with denial or reasoning. Denial would be “You like school. This shouldn’t be so hard.” Reasoning is “All of your friends are there, you’ll have fun at school.” Denial and reasoning are fuel for the argument.

Focus on the routine – It may be helpful to refocus on the routine. Talk to your child about the time available, steps that need to be done and the order. It may be helpful to make a chart together to keep track of the morning. Within each step, it’s often good to offer choices or challenges. When it’s time to get dressed, they might get dressed on the bed or the floor. A challenge might be racing you to get dressed. Here’s a blog post focused on improving your morning routine. If it is truly difficult to get through the morning, you might also start 15 minutes earlier to give everyone a chance to relax.

Note any patterns – By day two, the second year of Claire’s January blues, I was ready. Maybe it’s worse in September in your house. Maybe Mondays each week are hardest. Most things are easier when you see them coming. Knowing the pattern can help you plan.

Speak with their teacher – Whenever there’s a school related difficulty, it’s good to check in with the teacher. The teacher may be able to point to something specific happening at school, or may let you know everything seems fine once child is there. Either way, it’s helpful information. You might also ask the teacher for help. This might include setting up a specific way for your child to start school each day. Coming into a known situation (everyday the first thing will be this) may be easier than not knowing day-to-day. This might be giving your child a morning buddy; a friend to be together with for first transition activities and classwork.

Speak with your child – Occasionally and out of the moment, ask them what’s going on in the mornings before school. Ask what they are thinking about. Ask if there’s anything they are happy about, worried about, excited about or scared about at school. One question here and there, in a relaxed tone, at a calm time may be helpful.

Organize one-on-one playdates with a variety of kids from the class – Playdates give kids a chance to get to know their classmates. The more positive social connections they have with classmates; the more they might want to go to school.

Carpool – So this might be more time consumming than the initial push to avoid school, but your child may be more willing to go if they arrive with a friend. If your child is a bus rider this may mean having a bus stop buddy or asking the bus driver to help with seating friends together.

Alternate who manages the morning or drop off – It may be easier for a child to move through the morning with or separate from one parent than another, or from a sitter or grandparent versus a parent (if that’s available, even short term).

Things to bring – Not everyday, but occasionally, it may be helpful to have something for your child to take to or deliver to school. This might be something small to show his teachers or friends, a note he wrote or drew to someone, a snack to share with the class or a thing you need delivered to the office or guidance counselor.

Open talk time – As children move into late elementary school, keeping communication open is so important. Open talk time is an easy way to work towards that goal. This allows time for the child to vent and be heard, and for you both to work through things in a calm exchange.

Address any known causes – If there are academic concerns, revisit your homework plans, find new ways to practice the needed skills or hire a tutor. If it’s a social concern, meet with the guidance counselor, coach your child on ways to manage or follow up with the teacher. On either front, continue to monitor and follow up with interventions as needed. Do what’s needed to support your child in the area of concern.

Read related storybooks – For younger children, these books could be I Love You All Day Long, Llama Llama Misses Mama, The Kissing Hand or DW’s Guide to Preschool. For older children, Sophie’s Squash Go to School, The Brand New Kid or Sometimes I Worry Too Much but Now I Know How to Stop.

Read related parenting books – If it becomes a longer term or bigger issue, helpful parenting books include Helping Your Child Overcome Separation Anxiety, or School Refusal by Eisen and Engler or When Children Refuse School by Kearney and Albano.

There are also therapists who work with children around anxiety issues and school refusal.

 

Make the Most of Your Parent-Teacher Conferences: For Parents AND for Teachers

little cute boy in glasses with young real teacher, classroom studying

For Parents:

Before

Consider your compliments, questions and concerns – It is nice to be able to greet your child’s teacher with something pleasant. Conferences are also a time to share your concerns about your child, the class or the school, and to ask any questions that you have. It’s best to be prepared. Take a few days to think about this, and jot yourself a few notes.

By the time your child is in grade school, ask if they have any compliments, questions or concerns – I started asking my children this before conferences when they were in preschool. Their inputs became helpful around third grade.

Know the time limits and be on time – Know that this is a full day for your child’s teacher. At many schools, conferences are scheduled back to back. Be on time. If it becomes apparent that you need more time, ask to schedule a follow up phone call or conference.

Go prepared – It’s good to have a pencil and paper with you (or notes on your phone IF you can really narrow your focus to notes). If you are a note taker, feel free to take notes throughout the conference. Even if you aren’t, you might need to jot down a book title or important dates.

During

Follow the teacher’s structure – Hopefully the teacher will let you know an outline of the time available. Please respect that outline.

Listen with an open mind – This is a time for your child’s teacher to share about your child’s strengths and any concerns in the classroom. This is also a time for the teacher to make recommendations for school and home about how to work on and improve any areas of concern. This may be difficult to hear. It is important to keep an open mind and really listen.

Ask yourself, does that sound like my child – Hopefully, your teacher is pausing to ask you at least occasionally if this sounds like your child. It can be helpful to know going in that many children behave differently at home than they do at school. It is normal. It’s still good to consider where there is overlap.

Participate in discussion of any recommendations – When there are concerns, teachers should be making recommendations of things that may be helpful to do at home and in the classroom to best address the issue. It is helpful if parents add ideas, note what has or hasn’t worked before, and make suggestions for classroom (know that these may or may not be taken for a range of reasons).

Even when there is a disagreement, err on the side of support – You may entirely disagree with particular feedback you are getting. It is fine to say that you disagree. Also remember the point above, your child may be functioning differently at school than at home. It can be helpful to still take note and commit to further observation or investigation. When there is debate, you might ask if another teacher or guidance counselor could also observe and weigh in. You might ask the teacher to provide the related recommendations and continue to track progress so you have more time to consider. Err on the side of finding beneficial ways to learn more and move forward together.

Consider any suggested screenings or evaluations – Again, keep an open mind. Screenings or evaluations often provide beneficial answers, and may connect children to valuable services. Here are helpful ways to think about early evaluations and intervention.

If you aren’t taking notes on your phone, turn your phone OFF – This is your child. This is your child’s teacher sharing time and valuable information.

After

Follow through on recommendations – If there are areas of concern, it is so helpful to follow through with recommendations. If they are beneficial, your child is ahead. If they don’t work, at least you can rule out the approach.

Schedule screenings or evaluations – Some evaluations take just a few days to schedule. Others can take several months. Good to make phone calls within a day or two.

Note follow up questions and concerns – As you work on recommendations or observe your child, it can be helpful to take notes on progress and jot any questions that come up.

If needed, schedule a follow up phone call or conference – It is fine to request to touch base with teachers moving forward.

For Teachers:

Before

Encourage parents to be prepared – When you announce conference times, it is nice to give parents a bit of guidance. This might be encouraging them to think about their questions and concerns, or letting them know the outline of your time at conferences (below).

Prepare yourself – Plan in depth for each conference. Consider individual strengths and any concerns for each child. Review your recommendations, and talk out loud through any potentially difficult conversations you are aware of.

Bring props – This might be a few photos of a recent class activity, or the products of a class project. It can be nice to have something to show as part of your greeting.

Bring things to send home – This might include the weekly or monthly plans, a lunch calendar or any of the student’s recent art. It might be best to save this as a transition to mark the end of the conference.

Bring examples of any strengths or concerns that you can – If you are going to make a point about the child’s drawing or writing, bring a sample.

Set start and end times (with at least 5 minutes between) – However long your conferences are set for, clearly share the start and end time with parents.

Send reminders – Everyone is so busy these days, good to send several reminders.

Bring extra paper and pencils – It’s nice to have these on hand to offer parents if they’d like to take notes.

Bring tissues – Someone may cry.

During

Stay on schedule – If you find you need more time, it’s best to schedule a follow up phone call or conference.

Take a few notes throughout the conference time – For the teacher, taking a few notes helps to keep the conversation on track.

Slow down – This is important information for parents. You are sharing about how their child is doing in school, and possibly sharing new concerns. It is helpful to slow down particularly when speaking about concerns and recommendations.

Speak plainly – It’s best to avoid any educational jargon.

Let parents know the order of the conference – Once you’ve greeted parents, it can be helpful to let them know the order of the conference. For my conferences, this would be first sharing strengths, then discussing any concerns and recommendations, then opening the time to answering parents questions. Parents may be able to better relax and listen once they know there is time built in for questions.

Within strengths – Plan to share two or three strengths. One can be a personality trait. Aim for the next one or two to be new skills or growing abilities. Be sure to have an anecdote or work sample to support each point.

Within concerns – You may not have concerns for all of your conferences. For the ones that do, limit to two or three concerns. Again, be sure to have an anecdote or work sample to support each point. Take care to word your concerns in hearable language, meaning they’re stated in a positive way. Rather than starting with, “John is being so aggressive when he is angry,” you might say, “we are working on having John use gentle hands even when he is angry.” You can go on to talk about the aggressive behavior. Be sure that for every concern you have, you have at least four recommendations readily available for how to work on the area of concern. This should include at least two ways to address this at school and two ways at home.

Ask if they share the same view – It can be helpful for strengths and concerns to at least occasionally ask if parents have seen this at home or if it sounds familiar. This brings the parent into the conversation, so it’s not a one-sided listing.

Recommendations – The reason for having at least four recommendations available is, during the conference some of your recommendations may be knocked out. Parents may let you know that something’s already been done, or why it likely won’t work. You might still try it, or you might decide to take it off the list. The point is that recommendations are a work in progress. It is good to ask parents what they think about the recommendations, and if they have any ideas to add for school or home. Recommendations might include having a related screening or evaluation.

Avoid all diagnostic language – When listing concerns and recommendations, avoid making, or guessing, at any diagnosis. Rather than giving a label to your concern, focus on fully describing the concern, any related behaviors you are seeing and any impact on the child. Avoid saying you “suspect a language delay,” rather explain your concerns about the language you are hearing and gives examples. Any impact might include the child’s own frustration in communicating, or missing out on play because the others often don’t understand his speech if this is what you are seeing. It is fine to talk about developmental expectations if you have a good reference point.

If you are recommending a screening or evaluation, helpful to provide parents a list of providers – If you are suggesting a Speech/Language evaluation, it’s helpful to give parents a list of area providers. Given the list, parents are more likely to make the contact.

Within questions – Be open to all questions. If you can’t provide an answer, note the question and make a plan to contact parents once you have an answer.

End on a positive – Plan ahead to end on a positive note. It’s all the better if this can be in addition to the previously listed strengths.

After 

Note if there are disagreements, upsets, unanswered questions, a need to schedule a follow-up conference or anything else that seems important – This is best done immediately after the conference. Take notes when your memory is fresh. Write this in objective language.

Follow through on recommendations – Move forward with fully implementing recommendations.

Note follow up questions or concerns – As you work on recommendations or observe the child, it can be helpful to take notes on progress and jot down any questions that come up.

If needed, schedule a follow up phone call or conference – If there were any recommendations made, it’s good to schedule a time to follow up. This will help everyone be accountable, and let’s you discuss any changes or additional recommendations that need to be made.

 

Things to Consider When Choosing a Preschool

Child.

If you are hoping to enroll in a preschool, there is a lot to consider. A great place to start is scheduling visits to all the preschools you are considering. This may be individual tours or open houses which could be offered while children are in classes or not. If children are in classes, it’s best to watch for happy, relaxed, busy children who are enjoying the program. Also make sure to pick up their brochure during your visit.

You can also compare preschools by visiting their websites. Print their mission statements or About Us pages then add these to the brochures from visits and compare. These write-ups should give you a good sense of their overall philosophy and lay out of what they feel is most important in the preschool setting.

Here is a list of things you might consider. While you likely can’t observe or ask about each, it can be helpful to pick the ones most important to you and compare.

  • Location, drive and cost – This is a practical place to start and can easily rule out certain preschools.
  • Schedule of program – If you are not a morning person, it can be a struggle to make a 7:50 a.m. start time. Consider the start and stop times and number of days available. Consider your abilities between morning and afternoon classes, and also full-day classes.
  • Discipline philosophy – This might be the most important thing to consider. Many preschools take a positive discipline approach. Others use time-outs and reward systems. A few religious schools hold on to the threat of corporal punishment.
  • Class size and ratios – Smaller class sizes and lower ratios are often a goal. However, there are some systems, such as Montessori and Catholic schools, that tend to have higher class sizes and run smoothly.
  • Teacher requirements and ongoing training – Different preschools have different teacher requirements. Some require a high school degree, others a college degree, and others a college degree in an education related field. NAEYC accreditation (see below) requires the school to have a percentage of teachers with education related degrees.
  • How they build in academics – Think of academics on a continuum, from an academically oriented preschool that focuses on letters and numbers through worksheets and seat work; to a play based system that incorporates academic ideas; to a play based system that doesn’t focus on providing an academic foundation. I prefer that middle play based system that provides a strong academic foundation.
  • Wide variety of appropriate materials  – There should be more than enough toys, art supplies, books and other supplies for the number of children in the room. Many schools have a large storage of toys, art and other supplies so teachers can easily rotate what is available in their classrooms.
  • Mix of time – This is looking at how much time children spend in small groups, large groups and independent play.
  • Daily activities and enrichments – This is looking at what’s built in to a typical day including center, snacktime, playground and enrichments. Some schools have no special enrichments. Others offer music, science, nature, second languages, art, P.E. and other enrichments.
  • Parent-teacher communication – Some preschools offer one or two parent-teacher conferences. Some send monthly, weekly or even daily notes home. Others have classroom or school message boards.
  • Parent participation – Cooperative preschools require participation in a regular way. Some preschools have parent organizations that do fundraising and other classroom activities. Others invite parents in to the classrooms to read stories or run art projects. Some preschools prefer parents stay out of the classrooms and don’t offer much in the way of participation.
  • Previous and current families’ feedback – You might ask to speak with other families. You might also go online; in the DC area you can log onto dcurbanmom.com and scroll down to the Preschools forum to anonymously ask for feedback. You might ask parents in the neighborhood.
  • Sense of organization – If it’s during the school day, there’s going to be some amount of chaos. In general rooms should be organized, materials stored in a neat way and furniture placed so there’s plenty of room to move and work and play.
  • Cleanliness – Except for momentary circumstances or incidents, the place should generally be clean. The toys and supplies should be clean.
  • Indoor and outdoor space – Some preschools have large classrooms. Others have small classrooms, but they make very good use of their space. Some have acres of outdoor space; others have none.
  • Quality of playground area – There is a wide range of what is available on preschool playgrounds. If they are going to be outside daily, it’s good to take a look.
  • Amount and use of outdoor time – This is something to consider at both preschools and elementary schools. Nature immersion schools can spend whole days outside. Other schools may not go out daily.
  • Potty training requirements – Some preschools are relaxed about age guidelines. Some encourage potty training by a certain age, and others require it. If you aren’t there, it’s helpful to know the expectation.
  • If full-day: nutrition, eating style and naptime – Full day kids are are eating at least one meal, sometimes two at school. It’s helpful to know what is provided and the logistics around meals. Families are often encouraged to help children build healthy eating habits. Full day kids are also napping at school. It is important to know your states nap requirements and how your preschool follows them.
  • Types of preschools – There are several types of preschools available and each with their own approach. I hope to write another post soon about the differences in types of preschools, but for now, know that if you are applying to one you should know how they differ from others. This includes play based preschools, religious schools, Montessori, High Scope, Reggio Emilia, nature immersion, Multiple Intelligences programs, Waldorf and Museum preschools.

NAEYC accreditation is an additional thing to consider. This certification, from the National Association for the Education of Young Children, is designed to ensure high quality learning experiences. They assess teacher qualifications, safety standards, curriculum structure and administrative efforts. I wouldn’t rule out a school that isn’t accredited, but if it is, you can check a lot of things listed above off your list.

Please Don’t Worry About Labels or Early Services – Embrace Them

preschool teacher and child giving high-five

I work as a school and developmental psychologist at a few private schools and in my outside practice. In this role, there is a great deal of effort put into directing families to appropriate assessments and matching children with valuable services. While I understand a parent’s hesitation at the process (it’s big), and their worry about labels (they stick), the information gained about a child and the beneficial services that often become available in the process far outweigh the concerns.

I can see how the evaluation process is intimidating. You are taking your child to see an unknown professional for a series of unfamiliar evaluations. Even on the easy end for a speech and language screening, a parent doesn’t know what to expect. On the hard end, a full educational and psychological evaluation can take three or four long visits. The happy news is that some evaluations are fun for young children. A full evaluation may include puzzles, mazes and word games. An OT’s office looks like an indoor playground. In most cases, you will likely meet a professional who really enjoys working with children and makes the process as comfortable as possible.

Evaluations can also be expensive. If you are looking at an evaluation through the public school system the cost is covered. Private evaluations can range from a hundred to a few thousand dollars depending on the level of investigation. Some Universities and hospitals also provide these services. Universities with graduate student evaluators often work on a sliding or reduced scale. Hospitals often work in an easier way with insurance coverage.

And then there’s the labels. If you are using a private evaluation, it is up to the parents to share or not share the information that follows. I’d encourage you to share though, because a lot of the point is providing information to your child’s teachers and other professionals to make better informed decisions, determine placement and provide an individualized plan. If you are using the public school system and accept services, that does become a piece of your child’s records. That said, the services are often very helpful. The services are also flexible, meaning children test in and out of services with evaluations provided on a regular schedule. Parents can also advocate for changes as their child participates in the system.

I want parents to think of the labels as keys to unlock the door to better services and individualized instruction. The labels also give parents a specific thing to focus on, learn about and support that hopefully replaces the broad concerns they had previously.

There are a few other important differences between the public and private evaluations. The central focus of evaluations offered through the public system is to determine if the child’s concerns meet the criteria for their services and programs. The goal is to prepare children for success in school and best meet their academic needs. The focus is not to provide a diagnosis or recommendations for success at home.

Meeting the criteria for services and programs can be a high bar. When a child qualifies through the public system, it seems safe to assume it is at least a moderate rather than mild concern. So if qualifying points to at least a moderate concern, I strongly encourage parents to take any services that are offered. When a child doesn’t qualify, it doesn’t automatically mean your child won’t benefit from services. There may very well be a concern that should be addressed, but it leaves it up to the parents to address it through a private provider.

Private evaluations are focused on deciding the level and area of all concerns, providing diagnostic language where it is appropriate and giving a broad range of recommendations for home and school success.

While private evaluations provide a wealth of information, they may not be seen as sufficient for qualifying for public services. Often, schools will take outside testing into consideration, and will add their own pieces or provide whole additional assessments to give further evidence.

Whether an evaluation shows no clear concerns and you are given a few ideas of how to address the original concern, or your child qualifies for support services, or there is a specific diagnosis, the evaluation itself is helpful. You are gaining valuable information about your child, and are in a better informed position to make decisions and provide support moving forward.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Starting at a New School this Fall?

Back to school

Whether your child is starting at a new preschool or elementary school, the first day can be daunting. There are several things you can do over the summer months to help prepare for the first day.

  • Visit the school’s website – Explore the website with your child. Point out pictures of happy children and read about fun yearly activities. Look for pictures of your child’s teacher or classroom.
  • Play on the school’s playground – If it’s available, playing on the school’s playground can build happy memories during the summer that might carry over to the fall.
  • Plan playdates with future classmates – If you have a class list, start contacting families over the summer to play or meet at the pool. If there’s no class list, you might ask neighborhood families if they have or know other children starting at the school. It can be so helpful to see a familiar face on the first day.
  • Attend all back-to-school nights and visit-the-classroom opportunities – This is partly to support your child’s gradual entrance to the new school, and partly to be sure you are an informed parent. Often teachers review school policies and give important information at these events. The more you know about the school the better.
  • Review the drop-off and pick up policies and have a plan for separation as needed – Share the plan for drop-off and pick-up with your child. As best you can, be sure they know where to go and what to do. If your child tends to have separation anxiety, it’s good to know the school’s policy for this as well. Here is a link to a blog post about separation: https://parentingbydrrene.com/2012/07/23/tips-for-separation-at-the-start-of-the-school-year/. Here is a link to a 20 minute podcast (#341) I gave on managing separation anxiety: http://www.parentsperspective.org/index.php?s=separation.
  • Re-establish bedtime and mealtime routines – If you’ve lost a sense of routine, it’s good to rebuild this at least several days before school starts. If children are allowed to stay up late and sleep in the day before school, getting up and getting ready on time can be that much harder. If your kids are grazers over the summer months, it can be helpful to get back to regular meal and snack times as well.
  • Remind them of other positive transitions they’ve made or you’ve made – Remind them how much fun they had when they started at a new camp last summer or when they joined a new soccer team. Tell upbeat stories about when you started school.
  • Read upbeat children’s storybooks about the start of school –   Upbeat books include DW’s Guide to Preschool by Brown, What to Expect at Preschool by Murkoff,  If You Take a Mouse to School by Numeroff, Kindergarten, Here I Come by Steinberg and Welcome to Kindergarten by Rockwell.

Ideas for Reading Aloud with Older Children

Leisure time for mother and daughter

The Department of Education encourages parents to read aloud to their children 20 minutes a day at a minimum. The idea is to read aloud to them for longer stretches and more often as you are able. It’s also suggested that you continue to read aloud to your children long passed the time you thought they’d listen. Children who read aloud through high school do better on Verbal SATs than those that read to aloud through middle school, and those who read through middle school better than those that do through grade school.

I know most parents reduce their reading aloud time as children become more fluent, independent readers. The trick is to give time for both. When my older daughter wanted time to read to herself, we added that to the bedtime routine rather than replacing our read aloud time. So they got 20 minutes of read aloud, and an additional 20 minutes of reading books independently.

There are lots of good ideas to help read aloud continue:

  • Keep it part of the daily routine – This way you don’t have to find the time each day, it’s already there. It also makes it expected. If you stop reading aloud for a long stretch of time, children may be more hesitant or think “it’s for babies” when you try to start again.
  • Let your children pick the books – At any age, it is helpful if children feel they have some choice in the matter. Letting them pick the books is an easy way to give this. When the girls were little, I’d read the same books 20 nights in a row if that’s what they picked. Now we take turns choosing chapter books. I almost always pick a classic because they never do.
  • Take turns reading aloud – Once they are fluent readers, it can be nice to take turns during this read aloud time.
  • Occasionally read more active participation books – This might be a fill in the blank book or a quiz book. This might be something along the lines of the Choose Your Own Adventure series that let the reader make plot decisions throughout the book.
  • Shake up the types of books – As they are older, some children are drawn to biographies or sports books, others to how-to books or articles from magazines.  You might also try poetry or plays. Any reading is fine.
  • Read picture books longer – Once you start chapter books, it’s good to include picture books occasionally. There are so many picture books that really are aimed at older kids. You might try Stripes or Mr. Peabody’s Apples.
  • Occasionally, read their homework aloud – Not often as they need to be doing this reading, but I think it’s fine once in a while to read their homework aloud. I’ve done this, especially when they are struggling with a topic or the reading seems particularly dry to them.

Any other ideas? Please share them here!

Reasons to Teach Your Children Cursive

The Common Core State Standards, which help to guide what education is provided by our public school system, has left teaching cursive off the list. There are SO MANY REASONS to teach children cursive, and each is as compelling as the next.

Cursive….

  • Helps children with spelling – Because the letters are connected, cursive helps children to learn common letter patterns. It also provides improved muscle memory which reinforces correct spelling over printing the words.
  • Boosts their letter recognition – Cursive heightens the differences between letters that are more similar in print including ‘b’ and ‘d,’ or ‘p’ and ‘q.’ This provides a benefit to early reading skills.
  • Fewer reversals and inversions – As cursive helps differentiate letters, children who learn cursive tend to make fewer reversals and inversions in their writing overtime. Children who rely on printing more commonly make these mistakes and do so over a longer period of time.
  • Additional boosts to reading – When a child prints, they are thinking about reading one letter at a time. Cursive encourage the brain to think about whole words at a time. Reading with fluency requires children to take in and think about whole words.
  • Often more legible than print – Because of the connections between the letters, cursive encourages more spatial planning between letters and words. This focus tends to make a child’s overall writing more legible.
  • Increases their ability to concentrate – As cursive writing takes sustained effort and attention overtime, it gives children active practice at staying on task.
  • Benefits to fine motor and visual-motor coordination – The start and stop movements of printing are very different from the flow of cursive writing. Cursive builds muscle endurance and dexterity beyond printing. These are all skills that are beneficial over their lifetime.
  • Benefits brainstorming and note-taking – As cursive is faster and more efficient, it allows more flexibility in brainstorming and more detail in note-taking. Handwriting lecture notes is better than typing in that the physical process itself supports retaining information.
  • Supports creative writing – Fourth grade students who write stories in cursive tend to write longer stories and express more complex ideas than students who keyboard.
  • Higher SAT scores – As if those weren’t reason enough, it’s reported that students who write the essay portion of the SAT in cursive tend to score higher on that section than students who print. It may be that the writing itself is allowing students more time to focus on content.

Please, encourage your schools to teach your children cursive. If not, teach them cursive at home.

I’d also like to thank my 4th grade teacher Ms. Rhoda-Jo Stress for challenging and not so gently encouraging my cursive.

Easy Ways to Bolster Early Math Skills

One of the easiest ways to support early math development is to build math language into your daily play and conversations with your child. Math language includes numbers, amount, measurement and position words.

  • Numbers – Count napkins as you put them on the table, or count toys as you put them in the toy box. Talk about how many animals you see at the zoo and how many french fries are on their plate.
  • Amount – This includes using descriptors such as some, more, a little, a lot, more than, less than, a couple, a few, several and many.
  • Measurement – Discuss how small, big, short, long, light or heavy things are.
  • Position – This includes words such as in, on, over, under, near, far, above and below.

Other ways to encourage early math skills include:

  • Play board games – Many children’s board games practice early math concepts including Memory, Hi Ho Cheerio, Chutes and Ladders, Colorama and Uno.
  • Talk about the daily math you do – When you go to the grocery store, you may be calculating how much time you have, how much money you have, the weight of fruit and the discount of coupons. The idea is to discuss the basics of this math with your children.
  • Cook together – Most recipes include directions about measurement, temperature and time. Point out and discuss the math as you enjoy cooking together.
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