Students Aren’t the Only Ones Who Hate Tests

Teachers Boycott Standardized Exams

Parents, students, and more recently, educators, have been questioning the need for and reliability of standardized testing of students. New attention is being given to the argument that standardized testing causes a negative strain on classrooms and curriculums as teachers in Seattle recently decided to boycott standardized exams. The boycott doesn’t come as a reaction to necessarily what is best for the students, but because for the first time teachers will be evaluated in part against the results of the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test.

The New Debate Over Standardized Exams

For years parents, students, and some education enthusiasts have been decrying the use of standardized exams. Many of these people have argued that standardized exams drain the energy and attention from real learning opportunities and place the focus on teaching students to regurgitate information.

Ironically, the teachers in Seattle are in part making their argument against this particular standardized exam because they don’t know ahead of time which specific types of information will be covered – they don’t have the tools they feel they need to teach to the test. They don’t receive sample questions and the students complain that the information covered doesn’t mesh with what they’ve been learning in their classrooms. Therefore, the teachers don’t feel they can adequately teach their students to pass the MAP test, which in turn will lower their evaluation scores.

The argument by the teachers is about teaching to test, but the argument that we all should consider is whether or not standardized tests are effective measurements of real academic achievements. The premise for the Seattle teachers’ argument is rooted in the idea that teaching to the MAP test is not possible, therefore teacher evaluations are unfair. The premise should be, however, that standardized tests are inadequate measures of students’ abilities, the focus of the tests takes away from real learning opportunities, and teachers shouldn’t be measured primarily on the basis of test results.

Why Teachers Shouldn’t Be Measured Against Standardized Tests

Think of all the students, in all of the schools, in all of the communities across the country. While they might all fall under the title of public school, they can all vary to tremendous degrees. These variances can drastically affect student performances on standardized exams. Just consider a few of the factors that are largely beyond the control of the teachers that influence students’ abilities in schools.

School funding – Schools that can afford materials and resources to enhance learning might in turn produce students who score higher on standardized exams. Teacher turnover rates for struggling schools also negatively affects children because it removes consistency and commitment from their education.

Typical family structures – Family structures change from district to district. In those communities where many students live in fractured homes filled with turbulent family, financial, and emotional turmoil, the students are less able to make school the healthy focus of their lives. Students who have parents who are available both in time and ability to help with homework and facilitate other learning opportunities will have more of an edge when it comes to things like standardized tests.

Socioeconomic statuses – The socioeconomic status of the families within a school district also contributes to the success or failures of students. In poorer neighborhoods the struggles are compounded – schools don’t receive enough funding, families aren’t earning as much which causes strain on familial structures – the ripple effect eventually hits the students and can cause negative consequences for academics.

  • Research has determined that three-fourths of schools that are ranked in the bottom 20% based on test scores wouldn’t be ranked as underachieving schools if differences in learning opportunities outside of the classroom walls could be included in the measurement of student success.
  • Students from middle-income (or higher) homes tend to show gains in summer reading levels, while students from lower-income homes lose in reading skills over the summer.

Student demographics – It has been shown that teachers who have higher populations of ESL (non-native English speaking) students, students with learning disabilities, students with behavioral and emotional challenges, and students who come from struggling home environments can negatively impact a teacher’s rating if he/she is rated based on standardized tests.

Other Ways to Measure Teacher Performance

We need to get away from the idea that the performances of teachers can’t or shouldn’t be measured. They are charged with one of the most important jobs in society – educating children. If we don’t attempt to measure their effectiveness, we can’t determine how to improve education. Measuring teachers’ contributions to classrooms should include various tools implemented over several years.

Skills and Knowledge – Teachers who build their skills, keep current with improvements in resources, and seek new or improved skills should be considered for financial reimbursements and pay raises. This is a common business practice for employers who seek such things as additional certifications.

Academic Scores – There is a place for measuring the effectiveness of teachers by looking at academic scores. This, however, can be done on smaller scales without standardized testing. Classroom portfolios reviewed by qualified personnel can serve as adequate measures of academic progress, and it takes into consideration all of those factors that negatively affect teachers when standardized test scores are used.

School Wide Assessments – Schools in individual districts can be assessed for effectiveness, and teachers must work together in order to use the resources in the district to effectively teach students. This would help reduce penalizing teachers who are compared against teachers from other districts.

Student and Family Feedback – Students and their families should have some sort of input in the assessments of teachers. These teachers are serving enormous roles in the lives of families, and forming relationships that are mutually respectful and open fosters benefits for everyone.

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Does My Child Need Preschool?

Does My Child Need Preschool?

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It used to be that Kindergarten was the great evening agent – it leveled the playing field as much as possible for children before they entered 1st grade. Those were in the days where kindergarten was half-days, at most, and it consisted of fairy tales, building blocks, and finger paints. Now these traditional kindergarten activities are being bumped by preschool, and kindergarten is a full-time job for 5- and 6-year-olds.

Is preschool the new kindergarten?

Does my child need preschool in order to succeed in kindergarten?

These are the questions that parents today are facing, and the answers and expectations of society aren’t always on the same page. It is becoming the expectation of teachers that children coming into their kindergarten classrooms have attended either preschool or a have been in a formal daycare setting – and they are probably right. Approximately two-thirds of children in the United States attend preschool or are in daycare during these formative years.

Research seems to indicate that children who attend preschool score higher on average in pre-reading skills and math skills than their kindergarten counterparts who don’t attend formal preschools. The follow-up research, however, is ironic. Of those children who attended preschool, studies indicate that by the time these children enter 6th grade, they have slight increases in behavioral problems. They tend to act out and disrupt classroom activities more often.

And those academic edges that kids had in kindergarten? Those seem to fade by the time kids who attended preschool are in 5th grade. The exceptions to this group of kids are those children who attended affluent preschools and are still slightly ahead of the curve. However, this could be attributable to the fact that these children who come from extremely financially secure backgrounds could also be exposed to other cultural opportunities that enhance their overall studies.

The Benefits of Preschool

Preschool began as a way to jump-start education for children – those who were early bloomers and those who seemed to need a head-start. There is little doubt that when children are exposed to a positive and stimulating environment, that there can be benefits that will help them succeed in formal school.

  • Experience following directions from someone other than a primary caregiver
  • Experience working in groups with peers
  • Opportunities to experience interactions with children of other backgrounds
  • Opportunities to build skills needed for kindergarten

Can My Child Succeed without Preschool?

The benefits that children can gain from preschool aren’t only found in preschool settings, however. They can be supplied by parents and caregivers who are proactive and take the time and energy to expose their children to myriads of opportunities in the real world.

  • Visits to museums (science, art, children’s, etc.)
  • Opportunities to volunteer in the community as a family
  • Daily reading and writing opportunities
  • Interactions with people of all ages from all walks of life by being engaged in the community
  • Trips to the library and things like story time
  • Opportunities to play with children other than siblings (those little sibling hierarchies don’t matter as much in the classroom!)
  • Engaging activities that encourage kids to explore art, social studies, their faith, and the world

Not all parents are rushing their children through academics. In fact, some parents are taking the opposite approach and practicing what is known as red-shirting – holding their kids back from starting kindergarten in an effort to give them an edge. The effects of this practice are debatable, as are the benefits and drawbacks of preschool.

As a homeschool mom who is about to graduate her first child from high school, I can wholeheartedly say that preschool is not the be-all, end-all of academics. When we provide engaging and enthusiastic opportunities and environments for our kids, they flourish. And we have to go back to the basics and ask ourselves:

Have kids and their basic needs and abilities really changed, or are we just changing our expectations and social norms?

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Tracking Kids with Technology

Does Technology Keep Our Kids Safe or Create Minions?

If you’re a parent chances are you have had that heart-stopping moment when you couldn’t find Billy in the grocery store aisle or he didn’t return your call out the backdoor for lunchtime. My first memory of this as a mom came when my distracted toddler was following the square tiles on the floor of the department store instead of following in our heels. We veered left, she veered right, and what ensued was her shrill shriek: Mmmmoooommmmm!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Where are youuuuuuuu???????

Immediately we knew where she was, and for an instant we feared she was being attacked by store mannequins by the fear in her voice. But she simply lost sight of us, planted her feet firmly in the location where she realized she was without us, and began flailing her arms above her head, less than 3 feet away from us. This was an unintended test – she passed with flying colors. Don’t be quiet, don’t worry about creating a scene, let everyone know your situation.

GPS and Monitoring Devices for Kids – Necessary Evil?

For any parent who has experienced this panic, for themselves or their kids, a GPS and flashing beacon sometimes seems like a welcomed option. And sadly for some parents, the reality is that monitoring systems might have reduced dangers or eased pain when their kids didn’t innocently go missing for moments. However, as technology seeps into everything we do, we have to stop and ask how much we want it to replace common sense.

The Benefits of Monitoring Devices

Products like Amber Alert GPS tracking systems allow parents to monitor the movements of their kids from their own smart phones or computers. For some families the added protection and assurance is worth the invasion of privacy and expense.

  • Children with developmental disabilities who are more prone to wandering and poor decisions
  • Children with behavioral issues that make trust difficult
  • Families who live in environments where 3rd party monitoring is a reassurance and not an intrusion

The Dangers of Tracking Our Kids

Yes – there are days when I wish I knew a little bit clearer picture of precisely where my children went that day, but then I remind myself that I am not raising minions. I am raising children who learn to stand on floor tile and scream, flail their arms, and do so with confidence that they understand safety rules. Turning to technology to keep our kids safe poses the danger that we – our kids and us as parents – will become reliant on technology and skip the “stranger danger” conversations. We risk moving from communication and skill building to charts and maps of our kids’ lives.

Tracking Devices and Schools

A federal judge recently ruled that a Texas school can legally require students to wear locator chips while they are inside the school building. At first I read this and thought this must be in response to concerns over school safety issues in light of the tragedy in Connecticut. But it turns out that money, so many times over, is the responsible party for this tracking travesty.

School officials claim that the tracking is not being used to spy on children, but instead to locate students who are in the building and late to classes. Why would the district care so much and want to implement this technology plan? Because Texas law distributes education funding based on attendance records of students who are present in their first-hour classrooms. The school district using the tracking plan, Northside, claims that it is losing $1.7 million each year because students are tardy to classes.

So instead of implementing incentives for these students – perhaps that $1.7 million for tardiness results in no field trips, school dances, ect., or higher taxes for parents who then do something about their children’s tardiness – the school district has chosen to track and attack. Find the kids who are late and get them to their classes so the school can get its money.

What lesson does this type of tracking teach children?

  • Responsibility for attendance?
  • Responsibility for academic progress?
  • Responsibility for the money parents pay in taxes for educational purposes?
  • That the school will track kids who are making bad decisions instead of helping them learn to make better ones?

Tracking children and therefore “fixing” the funding problem doesn’t teach children the responsibility and skills needed to succeed in life. It teaches them to be minions. Would you want your employer tracking you if he suspected you of spending a few too many minutes at the water cooler? Or would you expect that your behaviors at work (both good and bad) will have their own rewards and consequences? Tracking our children for safety might be one thing, but tracking them for an easier way out of funding crises creates drones.

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10 Fun Freebies for Families

The grocery bills keep rising, the costs of music lessons seem to snip holes in the pocketbook, and orthodontist bills just prepare you for college bills. Raising kids is an expensive adventure. That is why I absolutely love finding free bargains that give a little boost to our days. Some of these are things that are actually on our “need” list, while many of them just add some fun extras that make life easier or bring a smile to a face. Freebies for families are some of my favorite treasures – and here is just a sample of some that help ease the financial crunch.

Free eBooks for Kids

Due to some savvy Black Friday shopping there are now new tablets in my house, but I don’t want to spend a fortune (or anything, really) filling the memory on the tablets with books for the kids. So I’ve been surfing and searching for free eBooks, and here are some of my favorites. (Most of these are for Kindle apps, but there are also options for Nook, or you can download the free Kindle app.)

1. Amazon Kindle Store – Go to the Kindle store at Amazon and select “Children’s eBooks” from the left side menu. Then look to the right and you should see two lists – one for the Top 100 Paid eBooks for kids, and one for the Top 100 Free eBooks for kids. Select the titles that interest you to see more about the books, then you can add it to your cart (just make sure that you have your tablet or mobile device synced to the Kindle store, which you can do by selecting Manage Kindle).

2. The Library – Check with your local library, or the library of a nearby University (or maybe even your alma mater), for selections of eBooks. Our library loans eBooks for free, and also offers free audio books for download. You can borrow for free for up to two weeks – all it takes it a library card.

3. – This is basically a filtering service you can use to be alerted to free eBooks that are offered through Amazon. The benefit is that it allows you to select the genre (Children’s) and many other categories, and be alerted as new free titles are added.

More Freebies for Families

4. Boston Market Birthday Club – If you have one of these restaurants near you, sign up for a birthday club offer for your kids.

5. Bob Evans – Another birthday club for kids that will get them a free meal – one step closer to lowering that grocery bill!

6. Hy-Vee – If you have a local Hy-Vee grocery store, your kids can sign up for a Kids Club membership that will not only give them free birthday meals, but invitations to special in-store events – including classes and tours behind the scenes. If you don’t have a Hy-Vee store near you, check with your local grocery chain to see if they offer the same enticements to shop their store.

7. LEGO Club – If you’ve got a LEGO builder half as enthusiastic as one of mine, you need to sign up for the free LEGO Club online. You can even take it a step further (if you are ready to hear the “I might want to save my money to buy…” that I usually hear) and request a product catalogue. This great color guide shows all of the possible sets your builder can imagine. Technical difficulties prevented me from ordering my catalogue online, but I just called the 1-800 number listed and ordered it for free within a few minutes.

8. Barnes Noble Kids’ ClubSign up your kids who are 12 and under for special discounts and a free cupcake on their birthdays.

9. Toys R Us Birthday Club – The bonuses are minimal with this club, but if you have a birthday kid who gets a few extra spending dollars from Grandma on her birthday and Toys R Us is where she likes to spend it, you can get special coupons (and the bonus of wearing a birthday crown when she shops!).

10. – This site is based on local groups where you can offer things for free or post a request for a “wanted” item. You’ll find everything from cribs and kids’ clothes to books and yard toys.

Raising kids is not a free ride, but a few freebies along the way can be fun and help ease the entertainment portion of the budget. What free bonuses have you found for your family?

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7 Ways to Develop Focus

A child doesn’t have to be diagnosed with ADD or ADHD in order for you to experience that exasperated feeling when he just won’t pay attention. While this is a common theme and underlying driver for why parents and educators investigate the possibility of something more than an inability to pay attention, there are many more criteria that must be met in order for an accurate diagnosis to be made.

Whether your child has definitively been diagnosed with a condition such as ADD, or you just keep finding yourself begging your child to pay attention or just focus, the following resources and activities can help you and your child develop the tools needed to build attention spans.

Tips and Tools for Building Attention and Focus

As a mom of 4 kids I’ve accumulated more than 50 years of parenting when all of those years of kids are added together – and I’d be ready to retire and buy my own island if I had just a penny for every time I inwardly begged for my children to pay more attention. So when I find great resources that help me build my children’s attention spans and squelch the begging to just please focus, I want to share those ideas with other parents and educators. Building attention and focus skills is sometimes taken for granted as an ability that comes with age. However, there are great ways we can increase the amount of “focus energy” our kids can harness.

1. Attention Games, by Barbara Sher 101 Fun, Easy Games That Help Kids Learn to Focus

Trickling my finger along the library shelves one day I came across this parenting tool. Broken down by games targeted to age groups infant through teenager, this book is a collection of sensory-rich games and activities. The premise of the book is that if we want to help our children focus their attention, we need to get them interested. Sure – doing chores and listening to our instructions might simply not be interesting to our kids, but by using some engaging attention games we can help them build their capacities for focusing. Each age section lists games by title, and then includes the following:

  • A brief description of the game
  • A description of the types of attention that are the focus of the game
  • Materials needed
  • Directions for the game
  • Ways to vary the game
  • A synopsis of what is being learned

2. Where’s Waldo? – And Other Great Concentration Tools

Books like Where’s Waldo and hidden picture books require kids to concentrate on finding certain characteristics within the page – building those every-important focus skills.

3. Puzzles

Stock a bin or basket at your house with crossword puzzle books, word searches, Soduku, or any other type of puzzle you can find. For kids who are really struggling with attention spans – steer clear of 1000 piece puzzles, or consider setting up a puzzle table where anyone in the family can stop by and work on finding a few pieces whenever they have time.

4. Sequencing Games

Take any three or more objects and create patterns with them that your kids can recreate – but add in the dimension of timing them to encourage them to stay on task. Everyday household items work well for sequencing, and you can use these games as fillers while you wait for dinner to be ready or before leaving for an activity.

  • Paperclips
  • Plastic spoons and forks
  • Buttons (you could create a sequence completely out of buttons, just differentiating by color)
  • Coins
  • Small toys like LEGOs or building blocks

Other Tools for Developing Attention Spans

5. Chore charts – Implement these to help your kids stay on track, and keep you from becoming a repeating parrot doling out the same instructions to your child over and over again.

6. Bubble timers – Staying on task is often required in life, and these gentle bubble timers can help kids who struggle with timing issues.

7. Better Directions – Break activities into small chunks of time or smaller levels of responsibility. Yes – it would be wonderful to tell a distracted child to Go clean your room, but you are much more likely to see progress if you instruct him to Put away your laundry, pick up toys from the floor and put them into the toy bins, and replace the books onto the shelves. Breaking tasks down into manageable pieces increases the chances for success and decreases your frustration levels.

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Does My Child Have ADD or ADHD?

The Challenging Questions and Answers Facing Parents

Does my child have ADD, ADHD, or another attention stealing disorder like Central Auditory Processing (CAP) Disorder? If you have ever asked yourself this question – you are not alone. Everywhere we turn in the news and in our education systems we hear that ADHD is on the rise. More children than ever are diagnose with ADD. And if your child does tend to be the squirmiest one in the classroom or the most forgetful one of his friends, you might also be subject to well-meaning family and friends suggesting their own diagnoses. But before you are ready to fill a prescription or sign your child up for special education classes at school, consider all of the information.

Attention! Is Your Child Distracted?

Our kids are silly putty. They are pulled and stretched in every conceivable direction. The seemingly endless distractions of over-the-top schedules, technology at every turn, and constant hum or noises in our environments can take a toll on our children’s ability to focus. This lack of ability to focus, however, does not mean that kids necessarily have a disability.

According to teachers and doctors from the Oxford Learning Center (an organization that helps to treat people with learning and behavioral disabilities):

It is time to stop making kids into victims. Using the most modern tests and checklists, competent professionals are identifying kids with ADD at an alarming rate. Once this diagnosis has been made, these kids are identified as having a deficit! When we are confronted with a child who does not seem to be able to pay attention, our first assumption should not be that they cannot pay attention, but rather that they are just not paying attention.

The above statement is so powerful for parents. It helps to give us back some responsibility and even control in an environment where society is fairly quick to diagnose and label. It seems that too often it is easier for classroom control or to ease the frustration of worn out parents if there is a label disability or behavior because then a professional treatment plan can become available – and that can be very comforting. However, it might mask the real, underlying issues.

ADD or Something Else?

There are many causes for the symptoms that lead to the diagnoses of ADD, ADHD, or similar disorders. Anxiety, unidentified learning styles such as kinesthetic learning, and even allergies and medical conditions can cause children to have some of the most common symptoms of attention deficit disorders.

If you’re struggling with concerns about whether or not your child has ADD or ADHD, you’ve probably heard of some of these warning signs.

  • Difficulty following directions
  • Difficulty completing assignments
  • Difficulty organizing activities
  • Challenges with time management
  • Impulsive behaviors
  • Fidgety behaviors and trouble remaining seated
  • Interrupts regularly and seems to lack a verbal filter

These and so many other symptoms often send parents to the pediatrician, looking for answers and help. The truth is that according to medical specialists, many children do have legitimate diagnoses of attention deficit disorders, and many children are also misdiagnosed. I’ve played the wonder-game. It is draining and emotionally exhausting. But it is worth it to dig as deep as you can go and then dig a bit deeper.

Testing for ADD and ADHD

If you are searching for direction and struggling with a child who just can’t seem to focus or pay attention and you have been led down the ADD or ADHD path, there are many tests and tools that are available to you, your child’s school, and medical specialist. No one, two, or even three tests should be used to confirm a diagnosis. Keep digging and use as many tools as available to make sure the path you are on with your child is his or her reality.

  • ADD-H Comprehensive Teacher’s Rating Scale – This scale helps to differentiate between ADD and ADHD.
  • Conners Teacher Rating Scale – This is what your child’s teacher probably used if you received a recommendation to follow-up with a medical specialist.
  • Conners Parent Rating Scale – This is similar to the teacher scale and the two can be used to make sure that the situations that are observed in school are the same as those at home.
  • Child Behavior Checklist by Achenbach – Another tool for teachers that consists of 112 questions.
  • Home Situation Questionnaire (HSQ) – There are more than a dozen categories included and parents are asked to judge the typical behaviors of their children.
  • Tracking Lists – Behavioral lists that parents use to monitor behaviors over time.

Accurate and thorough diagnoses of attention deficit disorders cannot typically be made in an afternoon after marking a few boxes and answering “yes” to certain questions. Evaluation of several skill areas is essential to making sure that parents are headed in the right directions with their kids.

  • Oral language
  • Non-verbal intelligence
  • Cognitive skills
  • Auditory processing capabilities
  • Academics
  • Building Attention and Focus Skills

Building Attention and Focus Skills

There are many things our developing children can’t do. They have to grow into their abilities, and some need more direction and teaching than others.  Focus and attention skills are so infinitely imperative for our children that when we are faced with situations where they clearly lack these skills, it can be frustrating and even frightening. We begin to ask ourselves if we are missing something – if something such as ADD and ADHD could be the cause.

If this is your struggle as a parent, find resources that help you filter through the jargon and the rhetoric. A wonderful comparison I found through the Oxford Learning Centre is this:

Consider the following: You would never say, “My child cannot play the piano! He must have piano disability!” If your child cannot play the piano, the reason is usually that he has never learned how! Why then, when a child cannot pay attention, do we first assume that he must have a deficit? We need to adopt a major paradigm shift. A change in our thinking keeps paying attention in the realm of the possible. It assumes that, before we panic and turn to medicine and other drastic measures, we will attempt to teach the child how to pay attention. It assumes that the child has something to do with this, that the child will be, and has to be, a willing and major participant in the process. It is an active process, not a passive one.

Whether your child has a solid diagnosis of ADHD, ADD, a processing disorder, or another similar condition, or you are just struggling to teach your child the skills needed to focus and pay attention, there are great resources and easy steps we can use in the home. Next week I’ll have a list of resources, games, and activities you can use with your child to build focus skills and increase attention spans. The road is not always easy – but if we wear the right kinds of shoes we can walk it more smoothly.

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Printables to Encourage Reluctant Readers

Printables to Encourage Reluctant Readers

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Setting Reading Goals and Reaching for the Stars

Are you a bookworm but you are raising a book-balker? A child who balks at most of the books you suggest from the shelves and who would rather shovel the snow and clean the toilets before willingly grabbing a book to devour? Many educators and parents are now using the term reluctant reader to describe these kids – the ones we so desperately want to expose to the joys of reading – but who we sometimes turn away from reading because we are trying too hard. Try these printable reading activities and goal trackers with your reluctant or struggling readers, or even with your emerging readers you are trying to keep motivated.

Beginner BookmarksThese printable bookmarks are divided into 10 minute chunks – when your child has finished reading 10 minutes, he can put a check in the box, place a small sticker in the box, or even use a hole punch to mark his progress. You can decide together what the reward will be when he has completed one bookmark (equivalent to 1 hour of reading). For some kids the completion of the bookmark is the reward, but others might need extra encouragement, such as a coupon to choose the movie for family night or a trip to the local park.

Reach for the StarsThis dot-to-dot printable can be used with the goal that works best for your child. The goal might be to read for 10 or 20 minutes each day, or even just to read 3 pages of a book. Decide that with your child, and then use this printable sheet to track her progress. Each time she reaches a goal she gets to connect a dot.

Recommended Reading – Empower your reader by giving him a voice in regards to the types of books he likes to read. Use this printable sheet for him to share with others the books that he would recommend. Just yesterday I watched as one of my sons handed the local librarian a new hardcover book that he received for Christmas, read once, and told her he would like to donate the book to the children’s collection because it was not one that he really enjoyed but wasn’t available yet on the shelves. The empowerment he felt because he was able to share his recommended reading with other kids was enormous – and he can always check it out again if he wants to re-read it.

Basic Book Report – If your reluctant reader (and maybe writer) hears the words book report, he might recoil in distaste. Sometimes just lightening the load and the expectations alleviates the pressure to not only read the book, but then write an amazing report about the book. Use this basic book report form to help reluctant readers focus on the basics of the book – recognizing authors and illustrators, main characters, settings, and the overall idea.

Reading can be one of the most enjoyable activities for some children, but for others it is a chore and a source of frustration. But we can keep plugging along and trying every trick in the book. As long as we keep trying to expose our kids to great stories and opportunities to listen to and read varieties of books, we keep the reading door open in their lives.

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Recess Makes for Better Grades

Recess Makes for Better Grades

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The Many Benefits of Physical Activity During the School Day

If you ask my nephew about his favorite times of the school day – he doesn’t hesitate to answer recess, gym, and lunch. And he is not alone in this category of kids who just can’t wait to get away from their desks and face fewer restrictions on their movements and conversations. This doesn’t mean that my nephew (or any of the kids like him) isn’t academically inclined. It means that he knows something that was recently published as a new policy statement for the American Academy of Pediatrics:

Recess is essential for healthy development.

Dr. Robert Murray, co-author of the policy which was published Monday in the journal Pediatrics goes on the record to say that recess is a “crucial and necessary component of a child’s development.”

Recess is about more than four-square, tag, and shouting across the playground. It is essential for children who are regimented to spend hours behind a desk or seated in a circle each day. Children not only get to wiggle out those ever-present wiggles, but they are also exposed to important opportunities.

  • A more unregulated opportunity to develop communication skills
  • Cooperation and sharing opportunities
  • The good old fashioned need to move and release physical energy

In fact, pediatricians are pushing for school districts to keep recess as important as any other class period during the day. A teacher wouldn’t consider keeping a boy out of math class because he was goofing off during assembly, and pediatricians say that children shouldn’t be denied recess as a punishment or because they are struggling academically and need to use recess as study time. The time that children spend sitting in classes and through lectures is counteracted by things like recess and free play time. They are needed to help balance each other.

Murray goes on to discuss how valuable recess is, comparing it to the breaks we need while at work during the day. The difference is, however, that most of us work in environments where we have some control over our movements. We don’t need to ask for permission to use the bathroom, stand and stretch our legs, or to go get a drink of water. We do these things because our bodies tell us that they need these mini breaks. During the day, kids who are behind desks aren’t able to move as freely, and recess is the time they need to decompress from the rigors of academics.

Recess Not a National Priority

Research has shown that children who are allowed to move throughout the day in the form of recess and other opportunities actually perform better academically. They are able to pay closer attention to their studies and assignments. The research also shows that when emphasis is placed on physical activity it can help lower the climbing obesity rates.

However, even though the research clearly shows that recess is a positive part of the school day, because there aren’t scores to be measured on a standardized test, recess is not a priority for far too many school districts. Recommendations by the American Heart Association include 2.5 hours of physical education each week, and 20 minutes of recess every day. But even in the face of all the research and at the urging of health officials,

  • Only 8 states suggest or require 3rd graders get daily recess.
  • 23 states (less than 50%), have any laws requiring schools to offer PE classes, and only 6 of these states require the minimum amount of 2.5 hours/week.
  • About 70% of schools surveyed report offering 3rd graders recess every day, but only 18% were given the recommended amount of 2.5 hours each week. However, those schools that offer the recommended amount of PE were less likely to fulfill the recommended hours of recess, and the reverse was also true.
  • Schools within states that mandated or encouraged PE or recess were more than twice as likely to meet these recommendations.
  • Schools with mainly minority populations are least likely to have the recommended PE and recess times.
  • Research also shows that recess should be scheduled before lunch time for the maximum benefits for the students, so they don’t rush through eating to get to the coveted recess.

What Can You Do About Your Child’s School?

Researchers and health advocates both agree – parents need to demand that states require schools to offer adequate PE and recess times. Unless and until this happens, schools will likely continue to forgo what has been proven to be beneficial because PE and recess aren’t covered directly on standardized tests. Parents can also push for more frequent and smaller breaks throughout the day if PE classes aren’t possible. Even if your child is not a kinesthetic learner, research has shown that exercise and free play provide academic and health benefits – which probably explains why my nephew is so smart!

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What is Your New Year’s Resolution, Mom?

Out of the Mouths of Babes

What is your New Year’s Resolution, Mom? This is the question my 9-year-old posed to me yesterday – which made me pause to even wonder why a 9-year-old would contemplate this goal-setting tradition. So I did what any parent who isn’t prepared with an answer might do – I turned the question to him: What is your resolution for the New Year?

To have less greed in my heart.

Well – that makes my original answer that was floating around in my head of keeping caught up on laundry seem pretty low on the priority pole. Anything short of saving the world was going to seem pretty petty in comparison to my 9-year-old’s resolution. So now I tried what any homeschooling parent might do – turn this into a lesson for both of us about goal setting and goal keeping. It is probably the biggest failure for resolutions (any time of the year) that we don’t have a plan for keeping the goal. So when I looked into the cherub face of my son, I wanted to find a way to help him keep his goal, as well as to help me set some goals – and keep them – even if they are just about the laundry.

Printable Tools for Helping Kids (and Moms) Set and Reach Goals

Making S.M.A.R.T. Goals

For a small community college, the Maine Community College System has some big ideas about goal setting. They use an acronym for goal setting – SMART – that is easy for adults and kids to remember.

Specific – Our goals should be about something specific – an action or an event.

Measurable – There should be a way to measure the success of the goal.

Achievable – We should be able to achieve the goals if we have enough resources.

Realistic – Our goal should have a realistic likelihood of success.

Timely – There should be a specific timeframe for reaching the goal.

Using this SMART model, I developed this worksheet for my son and me to work through together for our goals. It is one thing to want to have less greed in our hearts, or just to keep the mountain of dirty laundry to a maximum height above sea level, but it is another all-together to actually plan ways to succeed. He can’t just summon the powers that changed the Grinch’s heart, and I won’t be sending children out in 10 degree weather in just shorts and tee-shirt because it involves smaller loads of laundry.

More Steps for Reaching Goals

Teaching kids to set and reach goals can be both one of the most challenging things for parents, and one of the most rewarding. It is why we sometimes turn to behavior and goal charts, why we are constantly striving to teach them to plan ahead, think about their futures, and make positive choices.

When it comes to the youngest ones in our family, goal setting and reaching can be a difficult concept to convey. They live on dreams of becoming an astronaut who will travel to all of the planets (in a week) – so making and keeping a goal of learning how to play the guitar can seem almost mundane to them. However, for our kids, these goals are just as reasonable as any other they could set. We don’t have to rain on their parades with constant doses of reality checks, but we can help them learn to break down their goals into reasonable steps. We want them to reach for the stars, but we need to make sure they are equipped for the ride.

  • Help your kids shoot for the stars with this printable worksheet. They can use small star stickers to mark each step their rocket achieves until they reach their ultimate goal.
  • Print this simple ladder worksheet and have your kids label each step they need to reach their goal.
  • Acknowledge the steps your kids are taking to reach goals. I can see you are working hard to reach your goal of finishing that book because I see you reading 10 pages each day.
  • Remind your kids that it is OK to readjust goals when you realize you might have missed some important steps along the way.
  • Use this printable visual reminder for your kids about what their goal is, and the steps they need to take along their way.

To have less greed in my heart. Somewhere along the way one of my parenting goals has been coming true – raising children with purposeful hearts. Somehow, though, that mountain of laundry is the bane in my housewife existence! I’ll be reviewing those SMART guidelines for goals to see if I can achieve my resolution of controlling the laundry. Whatever your life, parenting, and personal goals are, I wish you and your family the energy to see those come true in 2013 – Happy New Year!

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Scream Free Parenting

Parenting – it’s not about the kids. This is the ironic message that is delivered in Scream Free Parenting, by Hal Edward Runkel. According to Runkel we are too focused on our kids, too ready to help them, control them, mold them, and be with them. We scream because we are anxious that our kids do better, have better, be better than we were and perhaps are. It is time to quiet the screaming.

Screaming might refer in this book to literal screaming, where parents meet the challenges of parenting with throat scratching and ear-splitting screams. For other parents screaming might mean disconnecting from our kids or overcompensating for their misbehaviors. Creating a scream free environment then means parenting through calm, nonreactive authority. The temper tantrums of your two-year-old and the talking back from your tween won’t be calming, so this is where Runkel’s message rings true – parenting is about the parents.

How to Parent with Calm Integrity

Runkel continues to remind the reader that effective parenting occurs when we are calm – when we give ourselves room to cool off before we react, and when we make conscious choices about how we are going to react to our children. Some of the advice Runkel promotes includes:

  • Don’t react with emotion to your child’s misbehavior. “Your emotional responses are up to you. You always have a choice.” Runkel says we give our children too much emotion-draining power when we claim they can push us over the edge or push all of the right buttons to drive us crazy. We need to own up to our reactions to them – and try to take it down a notch or two.
  • Don’t micromanage our children’s lives. If we helicopter parent our children, we can’t expect them to grow strong wings of their own.
  • Let natural consequences rule the world. Runkel reminds us to consistently seek to balance protecting our kids from true dangers and allowing them to experience life’s lessons (even the ugly ones).

The sooner we can expose our children to the universal law of sowing and reaping (at whatever age they happen to be right now), the less they will need to have the larger consequences teach them as they get older.

  • Perhaps my favorite lesson from Runkel – the kind that I have on my refrigerator as a reminder – is about remaining consistent in our parenting.

Don’t ever set a consequence that is tougher for you to enforce than it is for them to endure. Choose only those consequences that you are willing to enforce.

The Crazy Points I Just Can’t Embrace

Yes – there are many lessons for parents in Runkel’s book that are really worth embracing and attempting to implement. However, there were several points in Runkel’s book where I just wanted to bang my head on the floor and scream – the kind of points that I just can’t ever fathom even attempting to use in my home. One specific point has to do with respecting the space of our children.

According to Runkel, my kids’ rooms are their spaces and I should respect my children by allowing them to use their rooms as they see fit. If they don’t want to clean it – fine. Runkel even goes on to say that:

If it is “their” room, then let them keep it the way they want to. Whenever you feel anxious about their mess, go clean your own room.

How much did children pay Runkel to write this chapter? Sure – the advice sounds like something that might be dished out in a psychologist’s office and somewhere there might be a grain of truth in the giant sand castle of parenting. Runkel claims that it is our parenting anxiety that makes us want our children’s rooms to be clean. Yep – I’m anxious. About the fire safety hazard of allowing a teenager take over a 14X14 space, and the policies of the CDC against allowing unknown substances to regenerate themselves in the corners of children’s bedrooms. I’m anxious, too, about the carpet I paid to have installed, the window treatments I invested in to help reduce the heating or cooling costs I have to pay for each month. But according to Runkel I need to stop being anxious about bedrooms because we want our children to feel that they are responsible for their own spaces.

The idea proposed by Runkel might sound – liberating – for children. But there are other ways to allow children to learn how to embrace their spaces.

  • Let them choose the color schemes, posters for the walls, etc.
  • Mandate a monthly room cleaning for all in the house, including Mom and Dad
  • Give them tools for keeping their rooms clean – bins for sorting, baskets for hiding, and under the bed Ikea treasures to store their treasures

They are responsible for their own bodies, too, but if we don’t insist their teeth get brushed, their underwear be changed, and their faces occasionally washed of the mystery goo, we would probably be held on charges of child endangerment. You can’t teach a child to respect himself, his belongings, and those people and things around him by only setting a good example and giving him ownership of the rest. If children didn’t need us to help guide them and lead them, we would be like sand tiger sharks that are born as independent swimmers ready to take on the world. Sand tiger sharks also eat their siblings before they are born – only the strongest survives. I’m trying to stay away from adelphophagy [eating one’s brother] and work toward the kind of harmony Runkel promotes. But the bedrooms need to be clean enough to pass health inspections.

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