Give Your Kids Attitude

We know we should teach our kids to say, “Thank you.” We try to teach them manners and appreciation so that they can be contributing, positive members of society. But did you know that gratitude is an attitude that is more than just words and emotions? It can actually be valuable to their academic achievements and physical health. And it makes the world go ’round.

Research shows that teaching our kids how to be thankful and have gratitude is an evolving, constant process that needs to begin at birth. While some experts say that true empathy and higher level emotions of gratitude can’t be fully recognized and repeated by children until they are approximately 7 years of age, new research has parents rethinking their approaches. Researchers at Yale University in the Infant Cognition Center have been looking into the questions about gratitude. What they have found is that infants as young as 6 months of age show tendencies to prefer characters who are helpful, as oppose to those who aren’t. 

It is also becoming more evident that children who are grateful experience benefits that surpass the initial emotion. These children:

  •  get better grades in school
  • have better peer relationships
  • are less materialistic
  • set higher goals for themselves
  • sleep better
  • have increased levels of satisfaction
  • suffer from fewer headaches and stomach aches
  • have higher immunity to viral infections
  • have better relationships with family members

What parents wouldn’t want their kids to have these great benefits from an attitude of gratitude? The more difficult question to answer, perhaps, is how do we teach children to be truly grateful? Dr. Emmons talks about the complexity involved with gratitude, and that our children need us to model that characteristic. It involves deep levels of “self-reflection, the ability to admit that one is dependent upon the help of others, and the humility to realize one’s own limitations.” An attitude of gratitude is about being thankful for the little things in life and being strong enough to acknowledge our needs for the actions and words of others in our world.

Tips for Raising Children with Attitudes of Gratitude

Begin when your children are infants, using words that label and identify emotions, creating emotional intelligence and laying the foundation for empathy. Words like appreciate, treasure, and acknowledge can be a part of your vocabulary you use with even the youngest kids. So many times parents think these words are too much for young kids – but if you step back and think about language, there are so many words you never actually remember learning – they were just a part of your environment. Make sure that words of gratitude are a part of your child’s vocabulary and environment. 

Distinguish the differences between needs and wants, and practice what you preach. If you want a cappuccino on your way to dropping the kids off at school, don’t say, “I have to make a stop because I need (fill in the blank).” Kids are very perceptive and will soon see even the little luxuries as needs instead of what they truly are – wants we can live without (just not easily some days).

Work together as a family to volunteer. Nothing raises your own gratitude like seeing the struggles of others and children can be very influenced by social issues. Serve at a soup kitchen together, rake someone’s yard, write letters to legislators for social or legal change, or find another passion you can share as a family.

Count your blessings together as a family. Taking time as adults and role models to verbalize what we are thankful for not only teaches our children, but it helps us identify those really important things in lives. When a son hears his father say at the dinner table that he is thankful that his wife took time to leave him a note in his briefcase, that son hears about love, commitment, and a masculine figure acknowledging someone else with an attitude of gratitude.

Surround yourself with grateful people and be that influence for your kids. It is just as easy to jump on the negative nelly bandwagon as it is to be on the train of gratitude. Kids who hear you complaining about work, family, and finances are missing out on the good and you will be more likely to see them complaining in return. Not often do I find myself cheering for more attitude from my kids, but when it comes to attitude of gratitude, I’ll take all I can get. Gratitude isn’t just for Thanksgiving, so invite it into your home whenever you get the chance.


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3 Foundations for Teaching Kids to Be Good Friends

Watching our children stumble through the forests of friendships, sometimes successfully maneuvering the path and other times finding dark, dangerous caverns, can be one of the most painful things we do as parents. Some parents try to overcome these painful bumps by carefully coordinating friendships from that first Mommy and Me class, before their babies can even hold their legs steady beneath them. Other parents, determined to raise independent children, encourage their children to fly solo and not rely on friends. Maybe you’re like me and in the middle – striving to raise independent children who have strong relationships and friendships with varieties of people. Not always an easy task!

Researcher Gwen Dewar, Ph.D., writes through an evolutionary perspective that for centuries and throughout generations, people have needed friends. She cites studies of anthropologists who “suspect that the need to make friends and allies was a driving force in human evolution.” When people learned to work together, they faced better odds against disease, poverty, famine, and dangers in the environment. Children who were successful socially and made friends were more likely to be helpful with neighbors and peers, giving them an actual leg up on survival. Today most of us just hope our kids survive the maze of childhood free from cyber bullying.

While our ancestors might have had to form friendships in order to survive, we might encourage our children to seek friendships as necessities to thrive. Childhood is a time to learn about relationships. It doesn’t mean that our kids have to have 17 best buddies, 25 good friends, and a whole circle of peers who adore them. Popularity shouldn’t be the end game plan. It is more important to raise children who are thoughtful, empathetic, and have people in their lives with whom they can have fun and share experiences. Tennessee Williams once wrote, “Life is partly what we make it, and partly what it is made by the friends we choose.” Teaching our kids to choose friends wisely begins with teaching them to be good friends.

Teach empathy from babyhood. When you are out with your baby or toddler, or at home reading stories together, use words to identify emotions. If you see someone trip, say to your child, “I hope that person is OK and doesn’t feel embarrassed. We all trip sometimes.” If the person is near you, offer to help. Demonstrating positive, empathetic actions and using words that are respectful reminds children how to treat others – the foundation for friendship.

Be a good friend. As adults we have our own friends, whether they are our girlfriends we like to grab coffee with on the weekends or our spouse with whom we have a created a life together. Our children, even when we aren’t watching, are watching us. If we spend time visiting with a friend, then turn around and gossip on the phone to another friend, we are teaching our children to treat others the same and to expect the same from our friends. Talk about your friendships with your kids and why they are important to you. I have been blessed to call the same person my friend for more than 25 years, after we first met in junior high. I talk with my kids about how our friendship has changed, the struggles we went through, and why the friendship is so meaningful. They see my friend supporting and encouraging me, or just making me laugh until I cry. Treat your own friends well and your kids will learn through your actions.

Give your child time to find friends. If you sign your preschooler up for art class and are worried that she hasn’t made friends the first week, stop and take a deep breath. Kids all have their own timetables and comfort zones when it comes to making friends. If you still think that your child just isn’t outgoing enough, don’t make a big deal out of it. Instead, strike up your own conversation with one of the kids in class, asking him about his artwork. Your child might feel more comfortable once he sees you take the first step. Older kids also need time to develop friendships, so it is important to keep their schedules from becoming so overcrowded that they can’t even talk to themselves! Encourage them to participate in activities that really matter to them and they will be more likely to meet people with similar interests.

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Stay-at-Home Moms Can Stay Connected to the Job Market

You have made one of the most important decisions – to become a stay-at-home mom. Your life right now is intense, probably filled with diaper bags, toys strewn across the floor, or perhaps crayon shavings in your shoe. While you might be encased in the tender lives of your children and daring to glimpse toward the future in 5, 10, or 15 years is too much to fathom at this point, keep a small space in your conscious for you. If you are in the majority when it comes to stay-at-home moms, you will eventually return to the workplace in some capacity, at some point. Right now that might seem like the last thing you want to consider or have time to dwell upon, but making small, even minute decisions today will make that transition a successful endeavor, whenever it happens.

Ways to Stay Prepared for the Workplace as a Stay-at-Home Mom

Volunteer in the community.

Volunteering is a great way to stay connected with other adults and can bring you the connections you might need in the future. Businesses, both local and national, are behind many charities, so developing relationships with businesses can actually be a very natural side effect of volunteering. These relationships can introduce you to fascinating people, and be the bridges you might need for future employment.

You might be thinking – When would I have even a minute to volunteer? Look for something you can do with your kids or find a mom who is willing to swap you volunteer time each month. When I had very young kids in the house it was a great experience for us to share as a family volunteering and it gave them valuable lessons. We would visit residents in nursing homes (they love to see babies!), participate in community performances, or help at church together. Even 3 hours a month can get you into the community, and even give you experience you can add to a job résumé. Some volunteering you can even do from the comfort and space of your own home, such as giving web support, stuffing envelopes, or making a few calls.

Take up a new hobby or enjoy an old one.

As a stay-at-home mom you still need to take time for yourself, something that can be easier said than done, but is vitally important to your sanity and ability to refresh your outlook. It can also be an amazing way to stay connected for your future. One friend of mine took a cake decorating class as a fun adventure, and when her kids became older, began to teach the classes herself. She could also double as the mom who brought the best cakes for birthday parties and other activities! If you are a writer, join a writing group, even online, and spend even one hour each week or two honing your craft and connecting with others in your field. Hobbies keep our skills fresh and connect us to others with the same interests.

Don’t stay at home!

As the homeschooling, stay-at-home mother of four kids I am used to the questions from people – Do you get out of the house? In reality, I treasure the rare occasions where we do get to stay home, even for less than 24 hours! Go to places like the library, gym classes for moms and tots, and community education activities. You get to meet great families, share adventures with your kids, break up the monotony, and keep your ears and eyes open to the world around you.


There are lots of small things you can do to build your network and keep you informed and involved in your passions and your future career possibilities.

  • Sign up for that college newsletter from your alma mater and read about the advancements in your field of study.
  • Keep in contact with people who are in the workplace, even though you might find yourself gravitating only to other moms.
  • Take a class or two through a local community college or online college.
  • Offer to lead one or some of your kids’ groups. This can be a great way to meet other adults and can be a résumé booster to add leadership skills.
  • Read about your interests – staying current is one of the most important things you can do and it will help keep you connected to others in the field.

The decision to stay at home with your kids is an amazing one. I made that same decision more than 12 years ago and never regretted it. I did learn along the way, however, the importance of keeping one tiny toe in the doorway of employment. I have now gone from stay-at-home mom to part-time work-at-home mom, all while homeschooling, and find myself with a future I am excited about, even after the kids fly from the nest.

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Teach Your Children to Listen by Teaching Them to Talk Back

Being a parent means you will at some point (or at millions of them) have one of those days. The type of day where your child just does not seem capable of listening to anything you say. Believe it or not, you might actually be able to get your kids to listen by teaching them to talk back. Don’t be confused – there is a distinct difference between talking back and back-talking. I try to have as little of the back-talking as possible in my house of 4 kids, but do try to encourage as much talking back as possible. Talking back involves a process of teaching your child to verbalize what he heard, which can be sometimes vastly different from what was said. Talking back is one of the most effective ways I have found to ensure that my kids are listening, and it has taught them to be better listeners, something we can all probably use a bit more of in our homes.

If you have ever given your children directions, a task to complete, or a set of instructions for a household chore, only to return to find it untouched, you are not alone. I’d be a gazillion-are if I had a fraction of a penny for every time this happened in our home. Then I learned through the eyes, or ears, of my son who is being tested for auditory processing disorder, how important it is to ask for parents to ask for feedback.   

Take for example a typical conversation within a family.

What the parent says: “It is time to get your backpack ready for tomorrow and then get ready for bed.”

What the child says: “OK.”

What happens: The backpack might make it to the front door, but it is not ready for the next day with the necessary supplies. Pajamas are on, but teeth haven’t been brushed and toys haven’t been put away.

What went wrong: When a parent gives directions like the ones in this example, he or she knows what is included in each of these steps. Get the backpack ready actually means putting that artwork into the folder and adding it to the backpack. It also means make sure you have a snack packed for the fieldtrip and there is a needed pack of travel tissues added to the front. Getting ready for bed includes donning pajamas, brushing teeth, putting the dinosaurs away where they belong, and feeding the pets.

How to use talking back to create better listeners

All too often when we give directions we do it when our kids are distracted and we assume they understand all of the unsaid information. This combination leads to unfinished tasks and frustrated families. If we take an extra minute to ask for our kids to talk back, we will save ourselves and our kids the time and frustrated pain of retracing steps.

How to ask for effective talking back: First of all, realistically understand from what maturity and development stage your child is coming and communicate with him based on that. For some kids this might mean changing the directions to include something such as: “It is time to get your backpack ready for tomorrow. Do you know what you need to include in your folder?” Asking for feedback helps your child to take responsibility, and it also gives them the opportunity to verbalize their understanding of the instructions. For some kids, it is important to leave this portion of the conversation as is, without giving the unrelated instruction for getting ready for bed. Wait until the first task is completed and then give the instructions for getting ready for bed with something like, “It is time to get ready for bed. What do you need to do in order to be ready for a bedtime story?” Again, this helps build responsibility and you will know whether or not your child fully understands everything that is expected.

Older kids don’t need as limited instructions or as much help, but asking for talking back is still helpful. For my 15-year-old I can give her the same directions as those listed in the example, then follow it with, “Do you need my help getting any of that done?” Asking for her to respond to my directions makes her responsible for ensuring the outcome, but lets her know that I am available if needed, such as for signing her field trip form before putting it in her backpack.  

Other ways to get your kids to talk back

  • Ask them to repeat the instructions or information you just gave. For younger kids and times when the information is detailed, repeating back will help both of you make sure you are on the same wavelength.
  • Make sure they have eye contact with you when you speak with each other. They can dismiss your words more easily when they aren’t looking your way, and the same goes for you.
  • Take time to listen. Don’t shout out directions to do chores as you fly out the door. It closes the conversation at letting them know what you have to say is more important than their questions or their responses.
  • Don’t always just talk. We can get so caught up in doling out the information we think our kids need that we forget that they have ideas, concerns, and even basic ramblings. Ask them open-ended questions and get them to take the leadership role in the conversation.

By asking your kids for feedback and input, you are letting them know that their ideas and perceptions are important. It is also a lifelong skill that they will need in academics and their future careers and relationships. Our words make sense in our own minds, but by giving our kids the opportunity to talk back, we make sure that they understand our words as we intended them. Speaking and listening with intention is one of the most valuable gifts we can give our kids. Let them talk back!

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10 Tips For Raising Active Readers

10 Tips For Raising Active Readers

Does your child really know how to read?

Learning to be an effective, active reader can make the difference for your child between reading books and understanding them, between passively floating across the words and actively taking the words in and thinking about them. By the time your child enters college she will need to know how to actively read. Some colleges even develop assistance courses on the subject on reading effectively. Even if your child is just starting on the journey to becoming a reader, there are lots of things you can do to make their experiences more meaningful.

10 Tips

  1. When you read aloud to your kids, pause and ask questions. Get them thinking about the words you are reading. Ask things that require them to imagine how they would have felt and reacted in similar situations.
  2. Have your child re-tell you a story that you read to him, you read together, or he read on his own. Retelling stories reinforces ideas and helps build vocabulary.
  3. Have fun with making up your own alternate endings or imagined sequels. This helps kids to empathize with characters and expand on the what if moments.
  4. Teach your kids to pay attention to reading clues. These include titles of books, chapter titles, pictures and illustrations, and overall design of the book. If a chapter is listed as Week 3 (instead of Chapter 3), ask your child what the author might mean by this. These subtle clues help them to discover the context of the work and make inferences.
  5. Watch movies based on books after you and your child have read them. This way you can compare notes, talk about similarities and differences, and discuss interpretations.
  6. Teach them about the best ways to care for their books, such as using bookmarks instead of dog-ears and caring for the spine of the book. Caring for books is one tiny step in respecting the efforts of the author, and it gets your kids to pay attention to the tangible item of the book iteslf.
  7. When you and your older child read non-fiction books, make notations about interesting facts or questions you might have. Keep a notebook on hand for such purposes, and make sure your kids see you actively reading. If you read a book together about sharks, write down the page numbers of the types of sharks you found most interesting, or those that lived closest to you. Reinforcing facts by taking notes is a valuable tool to teach kids that will assist them in their education for years to come.
  8. Introduce them to the joys of sticky notes! They make great small, colorful notes that are easy on books and easy for kids to use. Encourage them to place them in the books they read whenever they come to a favorite, exciting, or unbelievable part of a story. That way when they want to relive the wonder of it with you they can flip to their sticky note mark and read you an exact quote.
  9. Encourage your kids to keep a notebook of new words. Have them write down the page number of the word and the actual word that is unfamiliar. Growing up I often heard “look it up” when I was unsure of a definition. I have found with my own kids that having them explain the context of the sentence or paragraph helps them discover the meaning on their own. If all else fails, then grab the dictionary!
  10. Find a book club through your local library or community education program. Providing kids with environments where they can discuss books with their peers is an excellent way to prepare them for future academic and business endeavors. One of my sons is in an all-boys book club (but they don’t call it that – it’s just not cool enough), where the boys get to read exciting works of fiction, talk about their assigned chapters and what they think will happen next, and then eat lots of great snacks and run around playing in the yard with their friends.

On the surface reading can seem like a quiet, almost mundane activity where we are the observer. When we take the time to teach our kids to be active participants, we help them to develop critical thinking skills, empathy for characters, and higher cognitive processing capabilities. All this can really start before they are even reading on their own – actually – it should start before they are reading on their own. Let their books be their stage and open new worlds for them.

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Don’t Watch Scary Movies with Your Kids

Don’t Watch Scary Movies with Your Kids


A shiver goes up your spine as you recall the scary scene from that movie – and you can’t imagine letting your child watch anything remotely frightening, especially without you filtering every frightening connotation. Scary movies will cause nightmares, phobias, and the unrelenting need to be attached to a parent’s side – right? Research actually shows that despite all of our best intentioned efforts to support and protect our children, we can actually contribute to their fears simply by being with them. In a study published in Child: Care, Health and Development, researchers and authors were surprised themselves to find that parents who attempt to comfort and protect their children by watching scary movies with them and talking about the programs actually exacerbate the problem.

The research did show that television shows and movies can frighten children. This probably doesn’t surprise most parents. However, the results also showed that these children were more than three times as likely to be scared if they discussed the shows or movies with their parents. If parents dared to watch the programming with their children, the children were four times as likely to be frightened of the content. Apparently all of our good intentions to be there and support our kids can actually backfire. Our little munchkins are so in tune with our emotions that the smallest flinch or subtle reaction by us, the ever-loving parent, raises their fear levels.



Does all of this mean we just let our kids watch anything, do anything, that might be frightening, without our presence? No – researchers say that we need to alter our interactions with our kids. We need to equip them with better ways to handle their fears. It is more important to give them the tools to be brave than to comfort them when they are scared. As difficult as it can be, we need to not coddle and over-protect. The real world is full of scary things. The best thing we can do for our kids is to help them learn how to deal with those scary things on their own.

Let older kids watch scary movies without holding their hands. Beyond the age of about 7, kids are able to start to discern real from fantasy, and can compartmentalize more effectively. This doesn’t mean that your 2nd grader can watch horror shows and not be affected. It means that when we are choosing programming with our children and we might be inclined to think that our 2nd grader will be frightened by Where the Wild Things Are, we need to reconsider. Scary shows don’t necessarily create phobias. Not having the skills to deal with the fears can.

If your child is fearful and running into your room every night, don’t automatically let her snuggle in your bed as you smooth her hair and her fears. She might have watched a show on spiders with you that left both of you with creepy, crawly skin, so you think that you are empathizing with her. What you are actually doing is reinforcing her fears. Instead, acknowledge that she is afraid and ask her how she can be braver. Start with one night sleeping alone, perhaps with a night light. Give your kids the tools to be brave on their own.

Don’t make light of their fears and turn them into a joke. It won’t help your children to belittle their fears and won’t give them the tools they need for bravery. Dismissing the fears of children only reinforces to them that you won’t take their worries seriously, and that could set your relationship up for serious issues in the future.

As Halloween is approaching and my children are caught up in the spooky fun of haunted trails and scary movies I will try to refrain from holding their hands as we crunch through the haunted corn maze. I will make every attempt to let them experience some frightening fun, on their own, as I save my flinches and shrieks for date night scary-movie-watching with my husband.

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Are Best Friends Bad?

Bullying is bad. It seeps into the souls of children and can slowly chip away at their confidence, self-worth, and feeling of belonging in the world. Loneliness is generally not a comforting emotion, and being excluded from relationships with peers is a challenging and sad experience for many children. Of these points, I agree. However, new approaches by school and community leaders attempt to have me believing that best friends – those close friendships that can be the rite of childhood passage – can also be at the root of disconnect in social circles and even contribute to bullying. Yes, your child’s best friendship might be one of the biggest downfalls they can experience in their social development. Huh?

The Bad Side of Best Friends

In an article by Hilary Stout, A Best Friend? You Must be Kidding, published in the New York Times, adult role models and leaders are quoted as purposefully and directly discouraging children from forming relationships with best friends. The contention is that when children focus on close, exclusive friendships they are at risk of isolation and could possibly be the perpetrators of negative actions in cliques and of bullying.

Christine Laycob, director of counseling at Mary Institute and St. Louis Country Day School in St. Louis goes so far as to tell parents that their children don’t need best friends. “I think it is kids’ preference to pair up and have that one best friend…we try to encourage them not to do that. We try to talk to kids and work with them to get them to have big groups of friends and not be so possessive about friends.”

Stout even reports on a camp where children who appear to have developed close friendships are separated, supposedly for the good of themselves and the rest of the campers. The idea is that when children are too focused on singular friendships they don’t leave room for meeting new people and developing friendships with a broader range of individuals.

Yes – close friendships, especially during childhood, can lead to painful disagreements and sadness when the friendship changes somehow or if one child moves away. Sometimes children are left with feelings of loneliness and seclusion, having ineffectively migrated away from other friendships. Sometimes there is near heartbreak if a close friendship ends in betrayal of trust amid bullying. I have painfully watched as my own children said goodbye to best friends who moved away.

The Importance of Best Friends

Even though I have seen the sadness that losing those close relationships can bring children, I wouldn’t have traded those experiences for them if it meant not experiencing the best friend bonds. There is so much to be learned from childhood friendships, and frankly, sometimes adults are just too concerned with controlling the details to do any good.

The article by Stout includes conversations with psychologists who do worry that denying children the benefits of close friendships denies them the opportunity to learn about the security and emotional support that best friendships can bring. Some psychologists question the approach of encouraging children to form multiple superficial relationships. They fear that friendships that are directed by adults do not help children develop the social skills needed later in life. The abilities of kids to empathize, persevere, support, and nurture are rooted in their close peer relationships. While there is risk of sadness and betrayal, the risks of not allowing children to deal with these real life scenarios are greater. Social and emotional intelligence can’t be taught from afar or by creating false environments.

As a parent I am thrilled to see my children form close friendships, even when I have seen them go through the pain of losing some of the connections. That is real life. Best friends can be the single support in our lives we have that allows us to be ourselves, faults and all, and we can give that gift back to someone else. My daughter will quickly tell anyone that she has a best bud, someone she has known for more than 8 years, with whom she giggles, tell secrets, and shares funny stories. Maybe I am so thrilled that she has found this connection with someone because I know what it is like to meet someone who seems to know your soul. For more than 25 years (yikes!) I have been fortunate to have a best friend – someone who lets me be myself and still loves me. We might not talk every day like we did in high school, but we both know that we will always have each other in our hearts. Don’t take that opportunity away from your kids.

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Does Your Child Hate Math?

Does Your Child Hate Math?


I recently discovered some thought provoking information regarding the teaching of mathematics – one of those subjects that people tend to either loathe or love. Could history be telling us that we are doing it all wrong and formally teaching mathematics too early? Or are we only trying to catch up to where we should have been for a long time?

Harvey Bluedorn, in the article Formal Arithmetic at Age Ten, Hurried or Delayed? (2001), gives insight into the historical perspectives of at what ages mathematics were formally introduced to children. This background clearly shows a tendency to wait – give children time to develop other skills before hauling out the textbooks that comprise pre-algebra. Throughout history it appears that civilizations across the globe withheld formal teachings of mathematics until children were closer to a teenager, or perhaps even 15 years of age. During the 16th century there began a movement to teach arithmetic to children who were – gasp – only 10 years old.

The 19th century led to the even more rebellious practice of teaching children ages 6 or 7 the basics of arithmetic, but this was only done by a select few teachers. It is entirely a modern trend that developed in the 20th century to formally teach children mathematics. Were generations passed ignorant to the importance of an “early start” in mathematics, was there simply no great need, or did they have a better understanding of the way a child’s brain works? Just maybe it was a combination of both – but the implications are still valuable.

Other academic studies from the modern age also seem to support the proposition that early formal mathematics instruction is not always the best option. Prime Time for Education: Early Childhood or Adolescence?, by William D. Rohwer Jr., reports that, “early childhood may simply be an inefficient period in which to try to teach skills that can be relatively quickly learned in adolescence.” Test results also showed that early formal education in mathematics did not necessarily equate to successful math test scores later in life.

The idea is not that children shouldn’t learn basic math skills. The idea is that children should not be formally taught math with those weighted arithmetic books that involve rote repitition. Young children, those under the age of 10 years, are still developing language and thought skills. Focusing on positive developments in these directions will give them the foundation onto which mathematic skills can be built.

As the current trend in schools is to push for more rigorous academic standards, we would probably be hard pressed to easily sway school administrations and politicians that what our kids really need is to slow down. As a parent who homeschools, I am proponent of thorough, thought-provoking studies for our kids. I am also, however, more capable of adjusting my approach to see which methods work on an individual basis. For parents who sit and do math homework with their 7 year olds at night and sometimes see that frustration or hesitation, talk with your child’s teacher and school administration. Subjects like math can be learned at these young ages without the formality of 100 page lesson books.

  • Card games such as 7-Ate-9 and Math War are great at building basic fact skills, and can be played at various levels without the intimidation of tests and pop quizzes. Some other good ones to try include Smath, Math Blaster, and Dominoes.
  • Invest in puzzles and other simple toys like cash registers that incorporate numbers into every day creative play. Tangrams are simple and easy ways to introduce shapes and can be extended for more complicated math lessons.  
  • Engage your children in real world mathematics problems. This was how children for centuries learned their arithmetic. Ask them to weigh things at the grocery store, compare prices, count the money for purchases, watch you pay bills (yes – this is a great lesson on so many levels!), and use their brain for calculations instead of the nearest computer or calculator. If the problem is too large for them to handle, let them watch you figure it out – on paper.
  • Read great books together like The Number Devil: A Mathematical Adventure, by Hans Magnus Enzensberger, Rotraut Susanne Berner, and Michael Henry Heim. My 7 year old read this last year, then passed it on to his older siblings. It is an intelligent look at how numbers relate to each other and how we use them. My son was deeply intrigued by how the authors wove this story around the tricks of mathematics, and he absolutely learned amazing tricks that he still uses. It is fascinating to hear him calculate equations at the age of 8 now and use the principals taught in what is essentially a storybook.

So, save your kids the trauma of growing up to hate math. Bring the fun, edgy, and eclectic methods into their academic studies that will enhance their abilities and understanding. History is an amazing teacher, and it looks like it is trying to teach us that kids don’t have to master Algebra by the 3rd grade. Whew.


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The Power of Poetry for Our Kids

The Power of Poetry for Our Kids

The term poetry might possibly conjure up numerous stuffy feelings for you and your kids, and perhaps vague feelings of confusion. What do those lines mean, anyway? Renewed interest in the value of poetry in the lives of children is stepping forth by several individuals and groups, among them a new group, Poetry at Play. This organization is energized about and focused on bringing poetry back to the literary forefront of children’s education and lives. They aren’t the only ones who are struggling to bring attention to the need for and positive response to the rhythm of poetry for young people. Are you fostering your children’s exposure to poetry, or running from its stuffy name and giving up the idea of raising a new generation of Shakespeares?


According to Morag Styles, a Professor of Children’s Poetry at Cambridge University, “Children’s responses to poetry are innate, instinctive, natural – maybe it starts in the womb, with the mother’s heartbeat?” Styles and other proponents of poetry for youth often refer to the natural rhythm of the verses that draws children into the language, even if we are unaware that it is poetry. You can see it in the line at the grocery store, singing a hymn at church, or in a pediatrician’s waiting room. Mothers sway. Even if they aren’t even holding babies, their bodies sway to the sometimes unheard patterns of language. Perhaps we are singing songs somewhere deep within our subconscious, but there is a rhythm there.

Children respond to those rhythms, and often seem to crave them. It might be a silly song we make up to sing to our infant to calm a middle of the night crying session, or the goofy story we make up about the mashed banana flying into our baby’s tiny mouth. Whatever it is, we create rhythms for our kids and they respond to it. As they get older they incorporate poetry into their own games – What Time is It Mr. Fox?, Red Rover, and any multiples of jump rope songs require the cadence of poetry. Your tweens and teens most likely listen to poetry every day, coming across their MP3 players in song.

Mother Goose is the ultimate example of poetry for children, but it is so much more than that. Styles also cites research that refers to an international and universal response to poetry, steeped in the tradition of oral storytelling. Listen to a child recite a familiar story that you have told her since she was a baby, and you will most likely hear her invoke the same pauses and rhythm that you use. The same emphasis you place on syllables will be the ones she enunciates with enthusiasm. This is a root feature of poetry.

Not only do children respond to the rhythm of poetry, but learning to recite poetry is a perfect way to learn language and speaking skills. My 8th grade son is using an English curriculum produced by the Institute for Excellence in Writing that requires the memorization of poetry as one of the components. The memorizing of poems aids in the study of linguistics and helps to increase vocabulary.

Fun and Easy Ways to Incorporate Poetry into Your Children’s Lives

  • Find authors who speak children’s languages – Shel Silverstein is a great example of a poet who can make children smile and want to hear just one more poem.
  • Play a game around the dinner table where you work to create a joint poem. Have one person begin with one or two lines, then have it move on to the next person. The crazier the better!
  • Instead of a storybook every night, switch it up by reading poetry.
  • Invest in inexpensive refrigerator poetry magnets – they are small and are just random words and phrases that can begin an evolving work of art on the fridge to which everyone in the family can contribute.
  • Read song lyrics with your kids. You will probably see them tapping their foot to the familiar ones.
  • Expose your kids to different types of poems and try with them to create some. Haikus and Acrostic name poems are great ways to begin. For an Acrostic poem, write your child’s name vertically on a piece of paper. For each letter of his name have him come up with a word or phrase that describes himself. This can be a real window into his soul, or sometimes it can just be a silly way to communicate. Do the same for your own name and get in on the fun with your kids. You don’t have to be Shakespeare to have poetry make a positive difference in your life.

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Practical Skills Our Kids are Losing

Hunting, gathering, foraging, sewing, hiking, building. These probably don’t sound like activities that would make your kid’s top ten list of things to do this weekend (and maybe not your list, either). The reality is that while our kids keep up with the fast pace of the present and look toward the future, they are losing out on opportunities to learn real, tangible skills, steeped in historical and social significance. These real skills can also help sharpen their cognitive and emotional IQ levels. Instead of having things handed to them, partially complete, ready to move forward at the push of a button, tasks that require more concentration from the ground up engage kids’ minds. All that by doing some good old fashioned tasks.

While they might not have to build a fire in order to cook the fish that they caught (in order to not be hungry), there are solid, practical skills that our kids need in order, if nothing else, than to know how far their world has come. You don’t need to be an expert in these areas, but you do need to consider teaching your children about these basic, forgotten skills.

Fun, Easy Ideas for Teaching Practical Skills

Building Blocks
You don’t even need to own your own hammer for your kids to learn how to use one. Attend a workshop with your kids at your local hardware or home improvement store. Big chain stores like Home Depot hold regular classes, often free or for a very small fee, where all of the necessary tools and extras are supplied. Kids build things like birdhouses, bird feeders, small stools, and picture frames. Building experts lead kids through the steps necessary to make their creations, and sometimes even throw in a child-sized woodworking apron.

Simple Sewing
Kids – even the boys (maybe especially the boys) need to know how to sew. Buttons falls off, pants get ripped, and curtains can be too long for the dorm room window. Sewing is a basic, but often overlooked skill. If you don’t own a sewing machine, check into community education courses near you. Sometimes local sewing clubs hold beginning sewing classes where they are more than happy to show the next generation how to wield a needle and thread. To get boys interested in the activity, let them pick out fabric for their favorite sport team and help them make a pillow case – you don’t even need to cut the fabric – just fold and sew!

Garden Games
Even if you live in a studio apartment you can teach your child how to grow something – anything. But don’t just hand him a Chia Pet and tell him to add water. Take him to the local nursery and check out all of the samples of dirt. Ask questions about which kind works best and for which seeds. Have your child choose seeds or a seedling and the proper equipment for it – dirt, natural fertilizer, whatever he chooses. Last summer I had the pleasure of taking my niece and nephew to the nursery where they each chose a seedling, brought it back to my house and potted it, then took it home. A couple of months later my niece called me and told me that she had a tomato on her plant and more flowers – she was so excited to have been able to nurture the plant and bring it to fruition.

Happy Hiking
This isn’t the kind of hiking where you take a color-coded map, plug in GPS coordinates, and follow a tour-guide through a one mile trail hike of a city park. Take the kids on a hike where you don’t know the trail, aren’t sure what to expect, or perhaps can just make your own trail. Pack a bottle of water and a camera and lace up the shoes. When kids are allowed to truly explore the environment they have the opportunity to become more connected with it and develop a deeper respect for their surroundings. They also might have to learn on the fly about NOT touching plants with leaves of 3, but those are the kinds of lessons you can’t duplicate by following someone else’s example.

Families are busy. We are connected and interconnected through technology and the crazy hours of our schedules. However, we are increasingly becoming disconnected from those basic, foundational activities that teach lessons of all kinds. So take a minute and get back to basics with your kids.

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