Thursday, November 12, 2009

Sleep: How much kids need and how to get it

With the school year in full swing, do you notice your child winding down and running out of gas as the week wears on? New studies indicate that lack of sleep causes behavioral problems in children and can even be linked to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders (ADHD). According to Sleep for Kids: A National Sleep Foundation, children 5 to 12 years old need 10 to 12 hours of sleep nightly to learn and get along with peers in school. Adequate sleep also allows for healthy bone and tissue growth.

On the flip side, research shows that children perform two years below their grade level on school work and in learning new material when they don't get enough Zzzz time.

For those parents whose kids hit the pillow and conk out, like cutting the strings on a marionette, and you've managed to get enough consistent sleep for the younger set in your household, kudos!

For the rest of us, here's a few tips to make sure your children get enough sleep to meet demands at school and in life.

  1. Establish a bedtime routine and be consistent. Set aside 10 to 30 minutes even if your pattern as an adult is to be flexible and free wheeling. When children form nightly habits, such as watching a TV show, eating a snack (caffeine free), bathing, then reading a book before the lights go out, they are more able to wind down and get ready to relax into sleep. Note: if medicines, such as cough syrup must be given, avoid products with caffeine or other stimulants.

  2. Do whatever you can to make sure your child goes to bed at the same time every night and gets up at the same time in the morning. Researchers report that kids who go to bed at various times rather than having a consistent bedtime are twice as likely to have difficulties in getting to sleep. They also wake during the night more frequently.

  3. Keep the bedtime hour as consistent as possible on the weekends, too. The change in snoozing hours over the weekend can mess up circadian rhythms that take several days to reestablish, thus depriving your child of sleep during the week.

  4. Interact with your child at bedtime. This precious, potent together time will relax both of you, bring you closer, and give your child confidence at home that will transfer to the outside world of school. Besides, these school years will fly by. You don't want to miss this opportunity to snuggle on the bed with your loved one and read a story together before the lights go out. You will, most likely, dearly miss this when fifth or sixth grade rolls around, unless you continue to read novels aloud together (which is actually a lot of fun!). Even if you are a parent that has to travel, you can visit Bedtime Story online and read a story to your child over the phone.

  5. Once the lights go out, leave your child to fall asleep alone. This will help to develop independence as well as make it easier to go back to sleep after normal awakenings during the night.

For ADHD children or other extremely difficult customers in the sleep department, Patricia Quinn, M.D. published some excellent tried and true bedtime techniques in ADDitude Magazine. If your child falls into this category, check it out.

(Special thanks to Lisa Olmos, mother of two in Imperial Beach, California for requesting this blog topic.)

Monday, October 19, 2009

To Be or Not to Be ... Smart

About this time of year, lots of elementary schools across the nation gear up for testing kids to see who qualifies for "gifted" status. Some schools begin this process as early as first grade, but a majority start in second or third.

Most exams have a component where the child learns concepts from easy questions at the beginning of the test, then applies those concepts as the level of difficulty increases. In other words, the child builds on what is learned independently and does a little out-of-the-box-thinking to solve problems. A score of 95 per cent or better usually earns the "gifted" label, although districts and states vary. In some schools, state standardized test scores, performance on classwork, and teacher evaluation are also figured into the equation.

Parents frequently stress over whether their children qualify for the smart-kid designation, but there are several reasons to take a deep breath and relax.

  1. Often kids, especially nervous test takers, miss the "gifted" label the first time around. Parents or teachers can request another test in later years. Many students join the gifted ranks as late as eighth grade.
  2. Gifted testing measures only a small portion of a person's intelligence. If your child makes it, congratulations. Now you will have additional avenues open to your child to take advantage of at most schools. A word of caution: "Gifted" status usually means you will have other wrinkles (e.g. social, organization, focus, patience) to iron out along the way.
  3. Funds for gifted programs usually come from special education. Most gifted kids struggle with social skills or patience for learning new concepts that don't come easily for them. Keeping these kids tuned into what's going on in a classroom and getting them to finish their work or do their homework can be challenging as well. In a sense, gifted programs are special ed for smart kids. If your child doesn't qualify for the gifted program, it may not be a bad thing.
  4. Sometimes gifted programs offer special opportunities, such as additional field trips and science projects. But too often, teachers pile on extra work rather than offering more challenging work or "differentiated instruction" for gifted kids. Smart does not necessarily mean fast, and some kids drown in the extra work.
  5. Intelligence alone doesn't tend to make people happy. The deciding factor as to whether a person is successful in life hinges on self discipline rather than intelligence. Your child will go much further in life knowing how to delay gratification and to see projects through to completion than scoring high on IQ tests. If your child does both, way to go!
  6. Your child is in exactly the right place right now. Personal skills and interests will emerge and develop. Encourage your little one to build on whatever sparks curiosity, jump on your child's band wagon, and enjoy the ride!

To get smart kids engaged in school, see my earlier blog post Gifted Contracts.

If you have questions or experiences you'd like to share, send an email to or leave a comment. I'd love to hear from you!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Tips to Help Your Child Learn to LOVE to Read

Some kids devour printed words in every way possible. They read the backs of shampoo bottles and cereal boxes when they don't have a book handy.

But these children are usually the exception that proves the rule. Lots of kids are less than thrilled with reading, and some would rather be stabbed with sharp number 2 pencils than pick up any kind of reading material. For them, reading is more work than fun - a painful chore. They continually count the pages to see how many more they have to get through before they can run around outside or play computer games.

Try these tips to help your child learn to LOVE to read!
Find out what kinds of things spark your youngster's interest.
Check out preferred themes for video games, favorite movies, sports, music, etc.

Take a trip to the library to find books that touch on something included in the above list. For example, kids into sports often enjoy sports journalist, Mike Lupica's, novels where the main character usually has problems in life that he has to solve, but has a passion for a particular sport. If your child likes to pretend, check out books in the fantasy genre. For the younger set that likes to figure things out, loads of authors write mysteries.

Start reading the book together. Take turns reading pages or paragraphs, depending on your child's reading level. The togetherness and shared enthusiasm for a story sometimes can make all the difference in a reading experience.

IF YOUR CHILD HATES A BOOK, EVEN IF YOU ARE HALF WAY THROUGH, AND YOU'VE PUT A LOT OF TIME INTO IT, GET RID OF IT! The best way to take all the fun out of reading is to force your child to finish a library book that is less than fascinating. Your child should be dying to find out what happens to the characters. If getting your child to read with you is like pulling teeth, forget it and move on to the next one. You will save lots of time and energy in the future and gain trust if you allow your child to put down a book that becomes boring.

Check out novels that are part of a series that may grab your child's curiosity. Finding an author that your child enjoys is a gold mine for setting up a healthy, life-long reading habit. For instance, kids who love to solve mysteries often get a kick out of reading Encyclopedia Brown novels by Donald J. Sobol. For kids that like the icky side of things, R. L. Stein’s Goosebumps come to mind. Children who like the idea of time travel and history love Mary Pope Osborne’s Magic Tree House books.

Let your child choose an easier book to read silently and a more difficult book for the two of you to read aloud together. If your child is old enough to read independently, but still wants to read with you, reading two books requiring different skill levels often makes everyone happy. Besides, reading with older children enhances their ability to analyze plots and characters which, in turn, helps them become better out-of-the-box thinkers and problem solvers.
Be ready for some trial and error before you and your child manage to find an author, genre or series that sparks your child’s interest and holds onto it for a while.

Set up a family reading time. Turn off the T.V., computer, radio, or other distractions and set a half-hour aside for family reading every day. Read in the same room, but separately, if your child is ready for independent reading. Use the POWER of your example to your advantage. A little relaxing reading time may be just what the doctor ordered to help you wind down from the day, too. Everybody wins!

Scholastic Parent puts out an excellent list of favorites for young readers. Click on (K-2) and (Independent Reader) for some great author suggestions.
Note: I noticed some of the books mentioned in the K-2 link would be fine material for independent readers. Get used to blurry lines when it comes to classifying book levels. Try not to get hung up on which list the books your child is interested in appear on, K-2 or Independent Reader. Meeting your child where initial interests and abilities lie is far more important than worrying about the reading level where the publisher claims the book belongs. Once your child reads proficiently, you can pay more attention to that stuff.


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

How Good is Your Child's Elementary School? Let's Put Your Mind at Ease

A common topic parents have brought up in my recent travels is the concern for the quality of the education or the clientele at the neighborhood elementary school. Should they look into other schools if the campus is old and the school doesn't have the latest equipment? If the school scores less than 8 or 9, does that make it a bad school? Will kids get a good education if they don't go to a magnet or charter school?

Do these 5 things, and you won't have to worry about your child's elementary school!

  1. Read to your child daily, or make sure that from about third grade on, your child reads independently (Read novels together with older kids. It will give you something interesting to talk about, give you insights into how your child thinks, provide a good model, and bring you closer. My 15-year old and I still read novels aloud to each other, and we're both avid readers!)
  2. Keep tabs on homework to make sure your child completes assignments on time.
  3. Review schoolwork and homework with your child to correct mistakes.
  4. Get the run-down on your child's day at school every day. Details! Gimme Details!
  5. Find out what themes your child's class is working on at school and do things to support those themes at home.
  • Are the kids studying plants? Take them to a nursery. Shine a flashlight under a lettuce leaf to look at the veins. Put apple seeds in a clear glass against a wet paper towel to watch the seeds sprout. Go to, click on your child's grade level, and check out websites on plants.

William Bowen, a former president of Princeton University, author of Crossing the Finish Line, found that the schools kids go to has much less to do with whether a child will graduate from college some day than high school grades - from ANY school! Students with 3.0 grade point averages or better in high school have a much greater chance at getting a degree than peers with lower grades. Bowen says kids with higher grades do better at the university level because they have the ability to finish projects, and they have the necessary study skills.

Do the five things I mentioned above and start developing good study skills and a sense of responsibility toward schoolwork now to nurture successful, well-educated children.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Sleep: The magical back-to-school ingredient to ensure a great start in a new grade

Most of us are coming down the summertime home stretch. We're getting ready to send our kids with fresh backpacks to the next grade. Some parents are great about keeping the sleep routine in tact over the vacation months, but for most of us, the school sleep routine has gone out the window.

Follow these easy steps to get that all-important snooze time back on track and avoid that annoying back-to-school head cold.

1) Help your child adjust to an earlier bedtime a few nights before school starts. A lot of kids (and teachers) are too nervous and excited to sleep the night before a new school year begins anyway.

(Check out to read about back-to- school anxiety.)

2) Get into some serious exercise in the late afternoon. Take your kids swimming, have them help you wash the cars and squirt them with the hose, or play a game of soccer in the park. Do anything you can think of to wear them out.

3) Draw a relaxing bath (and try not to feel too jealous). Your child will not only wash off the sweat or chlorine, but you will set the stage for winding down the day. My sister-in-law used to say, "If a kid gets cranky, put 'em in water." And let's face it, grumpy kids are often tired kids.

4) Start the bedtime ritual about a half hour earlier each night until you reach your school-year zzz-time hour.
Plopping kids into bed too early when they're not used to it makes most kids restless and frustrated, not sleepy.
5) Snuggle and read a book together. If you have gotten out of the evening reading habit over the summer, this is an effective way to get the younger set back into the routine for school. For those who have kept up the reading ritual, bravo! Start a half hour earlier, and your good to go.
6) Turn on a fan during these last several warm evenings for white noise or play soft music. In just a few days, playing the same sound will lull your little one to sleep.
7) Be firm. Tell your child that once the lights go out, he has to stay in bed (barring an injury or nightmare jitters that need soothing). If a face peeks around the corner, walk him back to bed, give hugs and kisses, and leave the room. Consistency now will make bedtime a happy time to look forward to all year.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Back to School Helpful Websites

For many of us, it's time to get ready for the new school year. Check out these websites to get your child's education started off on the right foot.

When is best to start YOUR little one in kindergarten?
Birthdays make a difference, and it's much more individual than you might think. Find out what the studies say about state cutoff dates and student achievement. Get answers from pediatrician Gretchen Gainor at Children's Clinic in La Jolla, California. Read about parents' and kids' personal experiences with being one of the youngest kids in class versus waiting a year to start school or "redshirting" to be one of the oldest.
"Too Young for Kindergarten? Assessing the impact of early school enrollment"
San Diego Family Magazine, August 2009

Do you want to have a great working relationship with your child's new teacher?
Check this link out for quick, helpful how-tos.
"Ten Ways Parents Can Foster Positive Relationships with Teachers"
National Parent Teacher Association

Here's an excellent place to find FRESH IDEAS for PARENTAL SUPPORT for kids as well as some good reminders.

"100 Ways to Help Your Child Succeed in School"
Printable brochure: National Parent Teacher Association

Do you have a wiggly and/or distracted kid?This article is helpful whether your child has been diagnosed with AD(H)D or not.
"10 Easy Ways to Start the School Year Right"
ADDitude Magazine
(By the way, this is the most positive, helpful magazine and website I've found for dealing with attention deficit disorders.)

If you have other websites you'd like to share to help parents out in starting the new year, please leave a comment and post them!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Hot Tip on Wholesome Dolls

In a recent survey, 47% of African American girls preferred light skinned over dark skinned dolls. In light of this disturbing fact, I wrote an article for San Diego Family Magazine about trends in attitudes regarding race in the United States (to view "Which Doll is Prettier," visit, click on the July issue, and go to page 76).
In the course of my research for "Which Doll is Prettier," I had the fortune to interview Leonard Simonian, president for Only Hearts Club, a toy company that produces a multi ethnic assortment of dolls, similar to Barbie, minus the sex pot image. Simonian, father of three, decided that girls, including his own, deserved to play with fun dolls that helped to develop a positive self image. Only Hearts Club dolls look and dress like real girls, and each has a hobby, such as horse riding, soccer or dance.
Like American Girls, each Only Hearts Club doll also has a story book that describes her life, friends, hobbies, and defines her moral character by putting her in a situation where she has to make tough choices. What could be better than giving kids another motivation to read? My girls loved reading the American Girls series, but the dolls were big and expensive, so they never made it to the toy box.
Only Hearts Club offers an entire wardrobe of darling clothes for the funloving dolls to wear as well as a bunch of other accessories. Reasonably priced, the Only Hearts Club line is available for purchase on line, at most Target and other select toy stores. For more information visit
I wish Only Hearts Club had been around when my daughters, now in their teens, liked to play with dolls.
Happy pretending!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Book Swaps Make Better Readers - and it's economical for parents, too.

How many of us have a bunch of books lying around the house, sitting on shelves, lonely and untouched, for who knows how long? Here's a great way to get your kids all excited about reading, change the scenery on your shelves, and clean out those messy piles stacked in corners.


Pick a place where everyone can bring books they've already read to trade for fresh ones. The school auditorium works well. Teachers and administrators appreciate events like these, so they'll help you get the word out. Community centers, public parks, and libraries make good venues, too, anywhere kids can explore piles of books and choose a few favorites to take home and curl up with.

Here's how it works: If someone brings 5 books to trade, they can choose 5 books they haven't read yet to take home.

Book Swaps bring out the best in the younger set. Kids who bring a lot of books to trade often let other children that don't have books to swap grab a title or two in their stead.

And you don't even have to plan it if you do a little poking around to find someone else to do the legwork.

Girl and Boy Scout troops are always looking for community service projects. Most high schools require documented community service hours for students to graduate. The BOOK SWAP gives people a chance to give back to the community, and the kids love it!

Deborah Rosen, a friend of mine from Connecticut reported: "The kids just love (book swaps). The first time we did one, the kindergarten children were so excited, they (switched out books) and sat right down on the floor (where they were standing) and started reading them. It was so cute!"

BOOK SWAPS are fun, green, free, and they get kids noses back into books. What have you got to lose?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Get It In Gear: Raising mentally and physically fit kids

Looking for a resource that can build both brain and body power for your kids? I recently discovered Karen Ronney's book Proud Parents' Guide to Raising Athletic, Balanced, and Coordinated Kids. Lots of studies in recent years make the connection between physical fitness and brain power. When and where can parents get the ball rolling for their children?

Tennis pro, coach, and awesome mom, Karen Ronney, says it's never too early to play physical games with kids to help develop their bodies and minds.

It turns out, some of the stuff you have already done, such as, lively games of Peek-a-boo, popping your head up from behind the chair in the living room and clapping hands in Pat-a-cake rhythms and reciting rhymes, has already given your kids a leg up on the academic ladder.

In Proud Parents' Guide, Ronney gives parents over 200 games to play with kids, in less than 10 minutes a day, from birth to age 6. Play toss with a rolled up pair of socks and a laundry basket while you're folding clothes. Have your child stack storage containers on the kitchen floor while cooking dinner, and bowl the boxes over with a potato. Use all kinds of household items and simple play equipment that you probably already own to develop healthy bodies and nimble brains.

Ronney explains all the whys and wherefores for how games build coordination, develop "natural athletic talent" and jumpstart learning. The book is organized in two parts, the first outlining how the mind/body connection works and how kids develop athleticism and coordination. The second half lists games separated by age group, the level of difficulty, and the benefits your child will get out of playing - besides giggles and a great time.

Here's the best part: Ronney says it's never too early or too late to begin playing games with your child to get those mind and body juices flowing.

In the last couple couch potato TV and computer generations, not only have kids gotten pudgier, they've gotten slower. Schools are beginning to rediscover the physical/mental relationship and the lost art of PE, but we are a long way from regular physical exercise and practice in coordination in most elementary schools. For homeschooling parents, creating opportunities for physical fun and workouts is a must.

Check out the book on Ronney's website

Whether you take a look at Proud Parents' Guide to Raising Athletic, Balanced, and Coordinated Kids or not, think of ways to support your child in being physically active. Less trips to the school nurse and more energy to make it through all the demands of the day make both parents and kids happier.

Do you have a fun idea for an activity that you like to do with your child(ren)? Be sure to share it!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Correction With Love

I started taking Bikram Yoga classes (hot yoga) about a month ago to rehabilitate a running injury. Last week, the instructor saw great "potential" in me. Translation: He corrected my movements 13 times in one class - by name. "Trish make sure you ..."

I know because I counted.

Supposedly, I was on the verge of some big breakthrough, and this guy wanted to see me realize success. Instead, I couldn't do anything right. By the end of the class, even my "dead body pose" didn't meet his expectations. When you can't manage to lie down and look, well, dead, that's just sad. I suppose the instructor's intentions were honorable, to help me achieve the next level of yoga competency, but his need to fix every nuance of each pose in one session had the opposite affect.

This unfortunate experience reminded me of when I've watched adults get a little too overzealous in correcting kids, both parents and teachers. On rare occasions, I've been guilty of trying to make too many corrections at once, too.

When we do activities with our kids, from games to homework to chores, what can we do to encourage improvement while keeping everybody happy and confident?

  1. Keep comments as positive and encouraging as possible.
  2. Before making a correction, give a specific, sincere compliment about something the child has done well. "Hey, look at that. You remembered your capital letter at the beginning of the sentence."
  3. Ask unemotional questions: Did you remember to ...? What do you think comes next? What do you think would happen if ... ? "Now what do you need to complete this sentence?" Answer: a period - or whatever ending punctuation is required
  4. If a child has made several mistakes on something, choose one or two things to focus on, and leave the rest for another time. Example: Your child brings a note to you, a reminder that there is a birthday party after school on a given day. There are no capitals or periods, words are misspelled, and the handwriting is barely legible. -Compliment your child on writing the note to help you remember the event. -Pick one concept to bring attention to and ignore the rest.
"Oh my gosh. I would have forgotten all about that party. Thanks for writing me a note. Oops. What did you forget to do at the beginning and end of this sentence?" -to put a capital and period. "Great. Can you add those things and then put the note on the bulletin board (or on the refrigerator - wherever you put reminders in your family)?"

The most potent learning happens when kids feel competent and supported ... adults too, Mr. Yoga instructor. :-)

What kinds of things do you do with your child that generates confidence and good results?

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Just Say NO to Hiccups!

At our family Easter bash today, a kindergartner came down with a serious case of hiccups. To this little boy's amazement and joy, we got rid of them instantly. Over the years, I've done the spoon-in-glass technique with literally hundreds of kids (and adults, too) with 100% success.

To nix the hiccups:
  1. Fill a glass of water.
  2. Put a spoon in the glass, head down, with the handle poking out.
  3. Lean the tip of the spoon against the hicupper's forehead before suggesting to drink as much of the water as possible. (Actually it doesn't matter how much water gets swallowed, but it sounds good.)
  4. Viola! The hiccups are gone.
Skeptical? Hiccups are caused by spasms in the diaphragm. The idea behind scaring or offering water to a person with hiccups is to distract them, so the diaphragm can relax. These things seldom work, or they take several tries, because hiccup victims can think past swallowing and loud noises. The spoon puts the focus on the gentle poke in the forehead, so the diaphragm can get back to normal.

If you're in a place where you don't have easy access to a glass or metal spoon, have no fear. It may take an extra try, but paper cups and plastic spoons work, too (For some reason, it doesn't work as quickly with a fork. Go figure).

Margaret Gordon, my friend Jeanne's mom, gave me this spoon-in-the-glass hiccup remedy when I was in third grade, some thirty years ago, and it hasn't failed yet!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Names for 10: the Mathematical Boost

Most of us have lots of names: our formal name, full name, possibly a title at work, a nickname our friends call us, "Babe" or however our partner refers to us, Mom or Dad ...
If you stop and think about it, most of us answer to all kinds of names; why should it be different for the number 10?

Since life tends to be expressed mathematically in base 10, kids who know the Names for 10 become math whizzes on paper and in their heads.

Knowing the Names for 10 (10 and 0, 9 and 1, 8 and 2, 7 and 3, 6 and 4, 5 and 5, 4 and 6, and so on) helps kids solidify number relationships. You'd be shocked to know how many kids, even sixth graders, don't have a solid understanding of these partner relationships.

All kinds of number functions become clear and easy once the Names for 10 become second nature.

Since games and food make learning more fun, try this (and don't be surprised if your own mental math gets faster too):

Use Skittles, M&Ms, Fruitloops, Goldfish, or (for the more healthy minded) almonds or dried soy beans - anything that allows your child to count out 10 pieces to put on a plate, napkin or table. To cover a portion of the food items, use a cup or the child can use a (washed) hand.

  • Have your child count out 10 items.
  • Tell your child that you are going to figure out what number partners go together to make 10.
  • Model for your child by saying that 10 and 0 are partners. Then cover 1 item, and have your child tell you how many are left. Tell your child that 1 and9 are partners. Then cover 2 items (8 are left, so 2 and 8 are partners), and so on.
  • Then have your child cover 1 item and tell you 1s partner (9), and continue the process consecutively until all 10 items are covered (0 and 10 are partners).
  • Don't spoil the discovery. Let your child tell you about the commutative property of equality (4+5=5+4) when it becomes apparent.
  • If your child is tired at this point, stop here.
  • If you're still having fun, model by asking your child to cover a number of morsels with a cup or hand. Count the leftovers, and "guess" how many your child has covered, based on the number partner to make 10.
  • Switch roles. This time, you cover a number of items, and let your child "guess" how many are covered using its partner number to make 10
After you've played the game a few times, you can skip the consecutive drill and go right into the partner guessing game.

At the end of a game, let your child eat each item, one by one, tell you how many pieces have been eaten, and what partner number of morsels to make 10 must be left.

The above activity helps with reasoning skills, addition, subtraction, and number relationships.
After the first time, most kids can set up the game and do most of the steps themselves while you're making dinner or doing another activity if you have a time crunch.

Car or doctor's office variation: Take turns "guessing" the partner when one of you says a number aloud. (What is the partner for 6? Answer: 4) When you get good at it, make partners or "Names" for 100. (What's the partner for 43? Answer 57) As the games get harder, they're more fun, and the kids get more into it.

If you have other ideas for variations, other math games to share that work for your family, or a question to ask, leave a comment. :-)

Friday, April 3, 2009

Make Math Fun and Easy With "Names for 10"

Since our entire math system is in base 10; 10 cents in a dime, 10 dimes in a dollar, 10 tens in 100, 10 hundreds in 1000, etc., if your child knows all of the "Names for 10" well enough to play with them, mental math and all kinds of other concepts are a snap.

So what are the "Names for 10?"
0 and 10
1 and 9
2 and 8
3 and 7
4 and 6
5 and 5
6 and 4
7 and 3
8 and 2
9 and 1
10 and 0

When your child knows these relationships, inside and out, you won't believe how numbers will be easy to add, subtract, multiply and divide on paper as well as mentally. Dealing with money, word problems, even geometry concepts are a snap when the Names for 10 concept gets thoroughly internalized. How the numbers fit together make sense on a whole different level, whether manipulating single, double or triple digits.

Stay Tuned for fun ways to develop Names for 10 skills ...

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Supercharge Reading and Writing, or Get the Gears In Motion

Get reading and writing skills in high gear by using your child's own words to boost motivation and get the literacy gears clicking.

This process, called "Language Experience," is most often used with children and adults who are learning English.

But Language Experience, using kids' own words to teach them to read and write, works wonders for just about everybody!

Here's how it works:

1. Choose a picture from a magazine, a photograph, or a toy together. Your child will have buy-in if he gets to help pick out the item.

2. Ask your child as many questions about the item as you can think of.
Examples: Who (or what) is in the picture?
What are they (What is it) doing?
Why do you think ... ?
What have you done that is kind of like what you see in the picture?

3. Ask the child to make up a quick story about the picture or toy, and tell him that you will write it down.

Hints: Prompt the child to include a beginning, middle and end.
Keep the story as simple as possible.

4. When the story is finished, read it aloud and let the child make changes, if desired.

5. In your neatest printing, write the first sentence from the story on a long strip of paper.

Hints: Paper can be cut into 3x12 inch strips from construction paper or lined writing tablets. These can be purchased at the drug store or variety store in the stationary section.
If you live near a teacher supply store, you can also buy "sentence strips."

6. Have the child point to and read each word in the first sentence. This will not only help to reinforce letter sounds and blending, it will develop a sight word vocabulary.

7. When your little reader is comfortable reading that sentence, copy the next one, and repeat number 6.

8. Continue the process until the child gets tired, you run out of time, or the story comes to an end.

9. Read whatever portion of the story you have written on strips out loud together, and put the sentences in order.

10. If your child is excited and would like to keep going, mix up the first three sentences, ask him to read each sentence and put them back in order.

If the kid is tired, don't make him keep going or he won't want to come back to it later.

11. Mix up the next three sentences, have the child read them and put them in order, and so on.

12. Once your child has been through the whole story a couple times, cut up the first sentence to make word cards. Have your child read each word, mix up the cards, and let him put the sentence back in order.

Note: Since these are your child's words, these cards will become reading sight words or "instant words" that your child knows because he learned them in context.

13. Provide a piece of paper and pencil for your child to read each word and copy it to write the complete sentence.

14. Repeat the above process with all of the sentences until your child has copied the entire story. Ask your child to read the story aloud.

-The entire process may take several sessions.
-Quit working before your child gets exhausted.
-If your child tires of the story before you make it through the entire process, pick a new object, and start a new story. There's no rule that says you have to finish all the steps for each story.
-Keep reading picture books to your child for variety and to stimulate story ideas.


Thanks for the question, Stacy. :-)

If you have a question, please leave a comment. The answer to your question may be the next post!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Fun for Mom: The Womens Blogger Directory

Hey Moms,

Check out The Womens Blogger Directory for lots of fun information and insights from the girls.

A friend of mine, Kelly Armstrong, author of The Embassy Wife,
a hilarious account of what it's like to raise American kids abroad (,
recently won the Womens Blogger Directory Sisterhood Award

The Womens Blogger Directory

lists blogs by ladies with all kinds of expertise and wisdom. Listed in categories such as parenting, health, recipes, and poetry, there's a whole array of blogs to enjoy.

Try it out and have some fun!

Monday, March 23, 2009

KidZui: Safe Computer Fun for Kids

A friend of mine told me she once innocently ended up on a porn site while surfing the web with her six-year-old, so now she makes sure her daughter steers clear of the computer.

I told her about

If you want your child to visit excellent educational websites that make absorbing lots of skills and information fun and painless; if you want to spark interests in everything from math, science, art, music, history, geography, math, literature, and anything else you can think of, take a trip to

KidZui provides lots of free services:
  • links to thousands of websites arranged by grade level, kindergarten through sixth, listed by subject and interest categories
  • weekly emailed reports of children's online activity and graphs of Internet activity for a 30 day period.
  • the ability to add family blogs and the website of your child's school to KidZui
  • you can register multiple children on different grade levels and receive reports on each child's Internet activity
  • additional services are also available for a nominal fee.
KidZui keeps your child safe from unsavory, inappropriate websites while it opens a new world of opportunities for learning and healthy playtime. On family trips to the zoo, museums or libraries, or just out and about, you'll be surprised at the interesting facts and ideas your child has picked up by playing computer games and watching cool video shorts.

If you have a great website for kids or anything else you'd like to share, leave a comment. I'd love to hear from you.

Trish Wilkinson

Monday, March 16, 2009

Pencil Grip: How important is it?

Kids hold pencils in all kinds of ways these days. Truthfully, if the way a kid holds a pencil works for them, I don't think an unconventional grip is anything to worry about.

Most teachers still teach kids the conventional grip: pinch the pencil between the thumb and index finger, then use the middle finger for a "couch" for the pencil to rest on. The thumb, index finger and middle finger should form the three points of a triangle, or the fingers should form a tripod around the pencil. The remaining two fingers (ring and pinky fingers) relax in succession, or in a row, below the middle finger.

Since children begin writing in kindergarten, the muscles in their hands may not be strong enough to hold a pencil "correctly" yet. Getting primary grade kids, K - 2, with weak hands and wonky grips to write can be a challenge for parents. For young children, it can be literally painful and exhausting to write for any length of time.

If your child has difficulty holding a pencil using the "tripod," here are a couple fun activities you can do to build strong hands and develop enthusiastic writers.

1) Set up a place for your child to play with play dough and modeling clay on a regular basis. Any kind of molding and shaping makes muscles in the hand stronger. For added fun, have your child roll out and form the letters to spell new spelling words with the modeling clay. As the hands get stronger, the pencil will get easier to hold.

2) If your child already holds the pencil in some unconventional way, but it doesn't seem to cause a problem, don't worry about it. There are more ways than one to do most things, right? But if your child complains that writing is hard or boring or distractions come easily because writing is just no fun, use the magic of tape.

  • Show your child how to hold a pencil with the thumb, index and middle fingers (the tripod).
  • Then tape the two middle fingers together, side-by-side (they love this part!), to help remind them to keep their fingers in place. You may want to tell your child's teacher you are taping fingers at home and ask if she will do the same at school for consistency.
  • If your child consistently holds the pencil correctly for 21 days, the pencil grip will change, and so will the writing attitude.
Note: The new habit may take longer to develop if your child forgets to change the grip at school, and you may still get requests for tape long after the grip is under control, just for the fun of it.:-)

If you have questions or experiences about pencil grip, or you have anything else on your mind about your kids' learning, please leave a comment, and I'll get back to you.

Enjoy the ride!

Trish Wilkinson

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Green Light - Red Light: Getting Kids' Writing Going in the Right Direction

Recently, I met the conscientious mom of a kindergartner who told me she was concerned that her daughter wrote her name and simple sentences from right to left; that is, backwards.

Is it time to panic? Get the kid tested for a learning disability? Nah. Young children's precious innocence sometimes keeps them from getting things straight (Remember the pint sized sociopath from last month's blog that was convinced old people should be put to sleep like her beloved geriatric dog?). Some kids as late as second or third grade still write their letters a little on the cock-eyed side. Truth is, sometimes getting things going in the right direction takes a bit of fun and games with a family member or friend.

Play "Green Light - Red Light" to get writing going in the right direction.

  • Remind your child that green means "Go."
  • With a green crayon and a ruler, draw a heavy, straight vertical line down the left margin of a homework paper, or put a good-sized green dot at the beginning of each line on the page. The green dot or line is the "Green Light." Ask your child to begin writing, or GO, next to the Green Light.
Note: Use a crayon because kids can feel the wax; that is, it makes a tactile boundary, unlike pencil, marker or pen.
  • With a red crayon, draw a vertical line down the right side of the page. Red means ... yep; it means "Stop." Say, "Red Light!" when the pencil gets to the red line to playfully remind the child to stop writing.
    For added fun, make car engine sounds for revving up, then driving, then squeak sounds for putting on the brakes at the end.
  • Ask the child to GO, or start writing again, on the next line at the "Green Light" a.k.a. the green line or dot.
  • For fill-in-the-blank or individual word answers on homework papers, put a "Green Light" or dot at the beginning of the space and a "Red Light" or dot at the end.
  • As soon as you think your child is ready, put the crayons in that miniature hand to place all of the Green and Red Lights on the homework papers to start the game.
  • For reversed individual letters, put a green dot where your child needs to begin writing a specific letter, and a red dot where forming the letter ends. Hint: get a crayon sharpener. Making dots with dull crayons is a pain in the neck (and a few other body parts).
For example, a lowercase b starts at the top line, goes down to the bottom line, up to the middle, and around to form the "belly," or however you want to describe that silly but ever so important letter.

For kids with b and d troubles, a d begins just below the middle line, goes up to the middle line and around to form the 'doughnut,' then reaches all the way to the top line and down to the bottom line again. Getting your child in the habit of forming these two tricky letters as described will save a world of frustration, for both of you!
  • If your child still reverses a letter while using Green and Red Lights, write the entire letter with the green crayon 21 times as neatly and consistently as possible.
    • Why 21 times? Studies show it takes 21 days to make a new habit, and I've found 21 repetitions works well for this game, too.
    • With your supervision, and your little one's car sounds, your child traces the entire letter going in the correct direction with a pencil. Remember: the wax from the crayon helps with tactile memory.

  • Play Green Light - Red Light for several days in a row, and watch your child's writing transform!
The beauty of games: They usually have wonderful, unintended side effects.

Green Light - Red Light helps in learning directionality. TRULY understanding left and right is a HUGE help in learning to read, too. The game also gets little people to put their margins in the right places, so expanding into writing paragraphs, essays and stories comes naturally.

Enjoy the moment. They grow up too fast!

Do you have a story to share? A question to ask? Leave a comment!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

If You Have a Spacey Smart Kid, Try This

Recently a friend of mine lamented that her daughter already knew most of the material the teacher presented in class and was spacing out during lessons. Her daughter didn't like school because she was usually bored. I said, "Try using a contract." Usually teachers use contracts to help unruly kids get their behavior in line, but contracts work great for smart kids, too.

Here's how it works:
  • Find out the current classroom theme, and set up projects to go with the theme to do outside of class. This will help to keep your child engaged at school.
  • Brainstorm ideas with the teacher on thematic activities that your child can do when other children are still working, and your kid is all done.
  • Write it out. List activities and expectations on your child's skill level with a space for quick teacher comments.
  • Ensure the teacher that you plan to make this quick and easy. The time crunch to fit in all the curriculum can be daunting without an added individual contract. Come to an agreement when your child can share finished projects with classmates, either in a small group or during an already scheduled sharing time, for example.
  • Make a copy for the teacher to read and give input. She has professional expertise that will help you revise activities and make them work better. It's also important to get a teacher to buy in.
  • If the teacher is overwhelmed and can't support the contract at school, go over goals and projects with your child at home after school or after dinner. Insist, diplomatically, upon having activities for your child to do if assignments are finished early while other students are still working. Idle kids get into trouble.
  • Ask the teacher to allow your child to display outside projects in the classroom, whether the teacher can squeeze in the time for sharing them with the rest of the group or not.

Using a form I've come up with, my friend wrote out a contract with her daughter at home. Since the classroom themes are winter and nature, my friend and her daughter went on a nature walk where they collected items that represented signs of the season: a branch without leaves, a nut from a squirrel's hidden stash of food. The little girl glued them to a chart and added winter pictures she drew and photographs she cut from magazines. Then she sounded out the name for each item and labeled them. With her mom's help, she used a children's picture dictionary to correct the spelling of the words and made up her own spelling list. On her regular assigned sharing day, she showed her classmates the work she did at home. Her teacher found a spot for the chart on the bulletin board. When other kids are finishing up assignments, this little one practices reading sight words and winter words. So far, my friend's daughter is enjoying the projects, she is much more in tune with what goes on in the classroom, and she's much happier in school.

Share ideas you've tried to get your smart kid engaged in school.

For an example of a contract and a copy of the form, email me, and I'll send it along!