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Teacher Appreciation Week – 2014

Posted on: Tuesday, May 6th, 2014 in Conversation with kids, Conversations with kids, talking to kids, Teacher Appreciation Week

Teacher Appreciation week is May 5th- May 9th.  Encourage your kids to say thank you to a teacher that made a difference.  A note, drawing or a hug is all that it would take to make a special teacher’s day.

Indulge me, please, because I would like to repeat my all time favorite thank you.  In the district where I teach, the kids in middle school are given the assignment to write a letter to their favorite teacher.  Many years ago my dear friend and colleague, received a letter from a student that she had taught when he was in third grade.  His letter has been hanging on her bulletin board for 15 years.
One month ago a young man arrived at our building for substitute duty.  One look at him was all it took.  The third grade, letter writing student, was all grown up.  He has become a teacher!  What a tribute, not just to my friend, but to all the teachers that have ever touched his life.

This year when you are encouraging your kids to draw a picture, write a note, send an email, or simply give a hug to his/her teacher, please do one more thing.  Ask the kids to consider becoming a teacher when they grow up.

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April is National Library Month

Posted on: Friday, April 18th, 2014 in Activities for kids, Conversation with kids, Conversations with kids, Dav Pilkey, Family Activities, Jack Prelutsky, Library, Reading, Reading with kids, Shel Silverstein, William Steig

Libraries are awesome places.  They range from single rooms to entire buildings.  They’re filled with countless books, magazines, newspapers, and computers.  Information is either a click away or a few steps down an aisle.  Helpful librarians are always there to offer guidance, taking away any feelings of anxiety about how to access this abundance of information. They are masters of their craft who take pride in their ability to answer your questions and help you find what you are looking for.

I think of libraries like community centers.  They are a place where we get to see our neighbors and catch up on what’s going on, attend various classes or meetings, or take the little ones to story hour.  Libraries are also a place where we can find serenity in our hectic lives. It’s the perfect place where we can find a quiet corner to sit, read, or just think without distractions.

April is National Library Month.  Celebrate as a family and visit a library.  Encourage your children to give a special thank you to the librarians for all that they do.

Before heading out to the library have a chat with the kids.  Make a list of what kind of books they want to borrow.  Suggest making a selection from a new genre (and yes the kids know what that means).  Suggest a poetry book:

I frequently find that poems and short stories written for children often have the biggest emotional impact on the adults who read them to their children.

I also encourage you to help your children consider a picture book, even if your kids are terrific readers. What, you may be thinking, is the point?

  • Take a look at Dav Pilkey’s book, Dog Breath.  The literary devices he incorporates into his writing are hysterical and it takes an experienced reader to “get it.”
  • One final recommendation – at least for today – is CDB!, by William Steig.  It’s a riddle book that is truly challenging. You and your kids will love putting your heads together to figure out the riddles.

Finally, a request from me.  Tell me about your experiences, and your kids’ experiences, with libraries and librarians.  I would love to share your stories.

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Ideas for the Kids for a Spring Break Sleepover

Posted on: Thursday, March 27th, 2014 in Activities for kids, Family Activities, Games, imagination and play, Kid's imagination, parent involvement, spring, Spring break for kids

Of course its spring – snow is in the forecast!  Being the eternal optimist I am ignoring the forecast and celebrating the extended daylight and thinking about Spring Break.  Some families may be going on vacation, but many of us may be planning activities at home and trying to figure out how to keep everyone happy.

Thanks to local community centers, parks, libraries, museums and the movie theatres there are a lot of options for the kids to enjoy during the daytime.  But, when the sun starts to set, how about considering a sleepover with one or two of your kids’ best friends.  Good news for you is that for at least the first hour they will entertain themselves – BUT oftentimes they can use some adult ideas as the night progresses.  Consider these suggestions until it’s time for lights out.

  • Truth or Dare – Prepare questions ahead of time/ or let kids create them when they get there
  • Play “20 Questions” or “I Spy”
  • Create Sleep Shirts using inexpensive T shirts and markers
  • Make sock puppets and a puppet theater out of card board boxes then put on a show
  • Make and eat (of course) chocolate fondue
  • Make and decorate a gingerbread house or just decorate gingerbread cookies
  • Have a scavenger hunt inside the house
  • And finally to get rid of extra energy for the beginning of the never ending lights out and go to sleep time try “Freeze dance”.  (If you’re not sure what that is, search for it in Google.  It’s an updated version of musical chairs.)

As always – send us an email or and let us know how you spent Spring Break.

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Have the Kids Help Select Vegetables to Plant in the Garden.

Posted on: Thursday, March 20th, 2014 in Activities for kids, Gardening, Gardening for kids, Kids doing Research, parent involvement, Planting, Reading, spring

Two days until the official start of spring and yet more snow arrived last night.  Enough is enough!!  I decided that eventually we will smell the roses and decided to think about a garden.  I gathered my available grandkids, via Skype, and our project began.

First we had a conversation about what to plant.  We established a list and then set criteria about what was most important to us for this project.  The list was short – what would be easy to grow, take minimum maintenance and taste the best.  Everyone had an opinion and off each child went to do a little research.  Since garden space is somewhat limited – it was decided that we could only plant four types of veggies.  Knowing full well that agreeing might provide a challenge, I sent up a criteria chart so that the final selections would be chosen fairly.  The chart shown below lists 5 veggies.  The kids assigned a point value to each cell in the chart going from 1 to 5 with 1 being the worst and 5 being the best.






String Beans


  Easy to Grow     _______ _________ _________ _________ _________
  Maintenance _______ _________ _________ _________ _________
  Tastes Best _______ _________ _________ _________ _________
    Total _______ _________ _________ _________ _________


If you like this approach, use our chart as a guide.  Then have the kids assign numerical values and see which veggies win.  Be sure not to tell the kids that they are doing math and science lessons while having fun.  After all this “work” the kids can begin researching the steps for starting seeds.

Be sure to let us know – how the garden grows.

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Why Should Parents Prepare their Children for Standardized Testing?

Posted on: Tuesday, March 11th, 2014 in Conversation with kids, parent involvement, Standardized Testing

Since the beginning of the 21st century standardized test scores have become particularly important.  Too many of our nation’s students were struggling and not performing as well as their peers in other countries.  In an effort to turn things around, George W. Bush signed into law the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 in January 2002.  Standards were set, measurable goals were established, and assessments were developed to measure student achievement.

Despite criticism of the law and the weight put on the testing, the truth remains that standardized testing is a substantial part of the modern education experience.  So what does this mean for parents?

Parents are their child’s first teachers.  Parents talk to their children, read to them, take them places.  Parents ask their children questions and expect answers.  For example: the parent asks the child to pick out a circle from other geometric shapes on a page.  The purpose is to determine if the child knows what a circle is.  If so, the next shape is introduced. If not, practice is provided until the child can recognize and select the circle.  This is testing.  Testing in school is the logical extension of this process.  Its purpose is to determine what the child does and does not know so that future lessons can be designed to meet the needs so that success is ensured.

Why should parents prepare their children for standardized testing?  The answer is so the child can achieve the best possible scores they can.  Why is this important?  Standardized testing:

  • Identifies a child’s strengths and areas where improvement is needed.
  • Provides information to parents so that they know how their child is doing.
  • Enables school districts to design a curriculum to support the needs of every child.
  • Student performance on the standardized tests impacts the funding that districts receive from the state.  Significant improvement in scores can win increased state funding but significant drops in scores can decrease state funding.

How should parents prepare their children for testing?  The same way they would any other test:

  • Offer encouragement and reminding them NOT to worry.
  • Validate that the whole testing experience will be challenging.
  • Provide frequent reminders that it is important for them to make their best efforts.
  • Praise his/her efforts.
  • Be sure that your child gets a good night’s sleep.

Be sure that your child eats a good breakfast.

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The Truth Behind Presidents’ Day

Posted on: Thursday, February 13th, 2014 in Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, History, Holiday, Honesty, President's Day

On February 17th we will be celebrating Presidents’ Day.  I have always assumed that the third Monday in February was not just a day to partake in great sales events, but to honor the memory of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.  While doing some research on how this day came to be I learned some surprising information.  Be sure to let me know if you were as surprised as I was.

The official name for Presidents’ Day is WASHINGTON’S BIRTHDAY.  In 1885 it was decided to establish a federal holiday to celebrate the “Father of Our Country’s” legacy.  For 80 years this day was celebrated on Washington’s actual birthday – February 22nd.  But in 1968 lawmakers signed into law the Uniform Monday Holiday Act to create three day weekends.  And there it is; the Act did not officially establish “Presidents Day nor was the intent to include Lincoln’s birthday.  HOWEVER since the federal observance of Washington’s Birthday was placed in the week between February 15th – 21st, and Lincoln’s birth date is February 12th, we, the people, nicknamed the day – Presidents’ Day.  As another interesting note, Washington’s Birthday can never actually occur on his birthday.  The third Monday in February can never be later than the 21st and, as noted above, his actual birthday is the 22nd.  So now you know and yes it’s time to honor George and tell the kids about the real holiday.

You can read more about it on this government web site:


National Archives: By George, IT IS Washington’s Birthday

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Technology for Kids in the 21st Century.

Posted on: Thursday, February 6th, 2014 in Activities for kids, Conversation with kids, Conversations with kids, Critical Thinking Skills, Homework, parent involvement, Reading, Technology and kids, Technology for kids

The 21st century has brought so much new technology to us that options of how to keep the kids busy is limitless.  Tired parents (or in our case grandparents) are lucky to have access to countless educational television programs and digital games that can hold a child’s attention for hours.  But, as the adults in charge, it is important for us to be mindful of the importance of keeping a balance.

Over the holidays two of our grandchildren came for a visit.  It was wonderful but, as much as I hate to admit it, we did get tired.  Keeping an almost six year old girl and an 10 year old boy happy and busy was a challenge at times.  We had compiled a list of things to do that would appeal to both kids and for the most part everyone was happy.  Truthfully, after spending most of the day out and about it would have been great to be able to come home and collapse, but of course that was not an option.  Even though both kids were on a school break, our 10 year old still had some homework to do.  He had to do his daily reading.

It would have been easy for us to turn him loose on the computer since there are web sites available that would provide him material to read and then, through multiple choice questions, test whether he had comprehended what he read.  Yes, easier for us, but not necessarily what’s best for him.  The computer may test his comprehension of the material read, and that’s fine for what it does, but it doesn’t engage him in conversation.  It’s conversation that helps to develop his ability to express himself verbally; to develop his critical thinking skills through dialogue; and to learn how to interpret body language.  It’s these skills that will help him communicate more effectively as he goes through life.

Technology is truly wonderful but it’s only part of our kids’ world.  It’s up to us as parents to make sure that it remains only a part and that technology is balanced with human interaction.

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The joy of sharing a day with others.

Posted on: Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014 in Building Character, Community Service, Conversation with kids, Day of Service, Family Activities, Holiday, Martin Luther King Day, parent involvement, Technology and kids

Last week I blogged about the MLK day of service. I suggested visiting a senior citizen’s facility.  This is reminiscent of a visit we made two years ago along with one of our grandsons.  This is how it happened.

Our eight year old grandchild is a faithful reader of our blog and when we arrived for a weekend visit he informed us that with the help of his mom he had arranged for all of us to go to a nearby senior center.

Needless to say we were thrilled.  Monday morning we set off for our visit.  When we arrived we were excited to see how busy the center was with all ages of volunteers.  We were escorted to a living room area where we were quickly introduced and left to make new friends.  One resident, in particular, took a liking to our grandson.  After a few minutes of chatting about the football happenings over the weekend, he asked if we could help him on the computer.

Our third grade expert immediately took charge.  While his first suggestion was to play games, our new friend had his own ideas.  He had heard about SKYPE and wanted to try visiting with his great granddaughter.  Fortunately he had the necessary account information on a piece of paper.  In no time at all he was visiting with his great granddaughter 1,000 miles away.  I’m really not sure who was happier.

Words can’t express what a joyful time we all had.  We’re hopeful that, with that wonderful experience, he’ll be anxious to visit with his new friend again soon.

Please share your stories with us about how you spent your day of service/ joy

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Martin Luther King Day – A Day of Service

Posted on: Wednesday, January 15th, 2014 in Activities for kids, Black History, Building Character, Community Service, Conversation with kids, Day of Service, Martin Luther King Day, parent involvement

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?”  Each year, Americans all across our country answer that question by coming together on the King Holiday to serve their neighbors and communities.  The MLK Day of Service is a part of United We Serve, President Obama’s national call to service initiative.

Reaching out to others is easy and can be amazingly rewarding for all.  The list of possibilities is endless.  This year consider taking the kids to visit a senior citizen’s facility.  Usually a quick phone call to the center asking for a time to visit is met with overwhelming enthusiasm.  And don’t be surprised to learn that a family pet may also be included on the trip.  These visits can be short and just perfect for young children.  Often when you arrive the only thing you have to do is walk around and smile.  Seniors love to see children and their beaming smiles will light up the room and fill your heart with joy.  If your child chooses to bring along a favorite book or stuffed animal that will undoubtedly be a good conversation opener.  It’s never too early to show the kids how personally rewarding it is to reach out and help others.  Sometimes, all it takes is a smile

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Concerned because your child insists on reading the same book over and over?

Posted on: Thursday, January 9th, 2014 in parent involvement, Reading, Reading tips for kids, Reading with kids

Remain calm when your child chooses to reread a favorite book for the gazillionth time.

Over the years countless frustrated parents have come to me and asked what to do because their kids keep selecting the same few books over and over and over.  My answer is always the same – Don’t Worry.  Then the questions start: how will he/she become a better reader, the book is too easy, what’s the point?

The value of your child’s rereading the same books over and over lies in the old adage “practice makes perfect”.  Feeling comfortable when reading builds confidence and skills, specifically fluency.  Fluent readers learn to read with expression.  Fluency builds a child’s ability to comprehend as decoding becomes secondary to reading and thinking about what’s being read takes on primary importance.

So smile when you see your child selecting the same book.  Even though they might not realize why they gravitate to the same book, instinctively, I believe, they realize the importance of why they keep rereading a favorite story.

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