My Favorite Educational Apps and Websites

We are in some different times right now.  In our lifetime we’ve never had to stay at home like this.   We are working from home, and our kids are learning from home.  We can’t go to the parks or zoos, we want to keep our own sanity, and that means that our kids’ screen time is on the rise.  That is fine.  We can’t expect to do crafts or experiments every day while still being able to work.  But what we can be mindful of is the content our kids are watching/playing.  We want them to be entertained, but also get some sort of learning in as well.  There are so many educational apps and websites out there, it can sometimes be daunting to search through and find the right ones.  So here is a list of my favorite educational apps and websites my family uses.

 

Educational Apps & Websites For Reading

Endless games….

There are games that are “endless” called Endless Reader, Endless Alphabet, Endless Wordplay, and Endless Spanish.  These games are available for Android and Apple products.  They engage the player in letter recognition, letter sounds, sight words, and new vocabulary words.  There is a free version of the games, but to make them “endless” I believe I paid around $14/ap for full access.  However, there are builder packages too where you can pay less to get a little more at a time.  These apps are great learning tools, and my kids have fun playing them, so I think they are so worth the price.

 

Epic!…

Epic is a website and app that has a membership ($8/month) for an endless online library.  There is a free version, but again, it is not limitless.  With your $8/month subscription, you can add up to 4 profiles for your kids.  You can choose their age/reading levels, and choose their interests so that books on topics they enjoy will pop up first.  Epic! has reading options for all reading levels too! There are “read to me” books where the story will be read to your child, and “read with me” where the story will be read, but the words will also be highlighted as it goes along.  And there are books where the kids just read and flip through the books themselves.  There are also educational videos your kids can watch on a variety of topics!  Teachers also have the ability to sign their classrooms up with Epic! accounts, so check with your child’s teacher to see if they have login information for your child.

 

Storyline Online…

This is a free website where celebrities read stories aloud to your kids.  It’s super cute!! They show all the pictures, and they also talk about the story a little bit afterwards.  My kids enjoy listening to the stories.  It’s a good break from active computer use, but it still keeps them in the reading mindset.

 

 

PeopleFun…

PeopleFun has different word search apps.  These are great games for adults and older kids who want to give their minds a little challenge!  They are free and fun!

 

 

Educational Apps and Websites For Math

Endless Numbers…

Just like in Endless Reader games, this will cost you, but I think it is worth it.  This Math game teaches number recognition, counting, sequencing, addition, and place value for numbers 1-100.

 

Monster Math…

This is a fun little video game that uses Math equations to advance your monster through different levels.  It’s cute and fun to play.  My son loved it most when he was in 1st and 2nd grades.

 

Prodigy…

Like Monster Math, Prodigy is a video game where you collect characters, and battle creatures.  You solve Math advancing problems to get you through the levels.  This is free, but you can subscribe to a membership in order to gain access to faster upgrades for your characters, but it is not necessary at all. This is aimed at kids from 1st-8th grade.

 

 

Apps &Websites With a Little Bit of Everything

PBS Kids…

PBS Kids has several free apps all with your kids’ favorite characters.  These games teach Math, Science, and Reading depending on the specific ap you get.  They are all very user friendly since they are geared to young kids.

 

RosiMosi (Pre-K – 7th) Grade Learning Games…

There are levels from kindergarten-7th grade, and each app has grade level appropriate games for Reading, Math and Science.  There are free versions, but not everything is unlocked.  Each ap is $4 to unlock all the games within it.  They are fun, interesting , and engaging, so I think that the price is worth it.

Our First Week With E-Learning

With COVID-19 spreading rapidly across the world, everyone is taking precautions.  Our school district has implemented e-learning days for our students.  Logins were sent home in the beginning of November with a note saying that the schools would use e-learning days in the case school was called off for snow days.  This alternative is meant to keep the learning going, and allow the schools to not have to add extra make-up days at the end of the year.

But now e-learning has taken on a new form. Rather than a couple of snow days needing to be made up, it’s weeks, maybe months of school missed.  Teachers were not prepared for this.  Actual lesson plans ran out in the first two days; they were not prepared for e-learning to be implemented long-term.  The first two days we get very specific plans on what we should be doing.

E-Learning Plans

On day 3, we were emailed (and actual mailed) choice plans. There were five different assignments under each subject (Reading, Math, Writing, Social/Science, and Specials).  Then, each day, our kids were to choose one thing to do for each subject, so they were doing 5 things per day.  That has been nice to give choices, but the options were much less specific than the plans for days 1 & 2.

Today we got an email from the district saying that the teachers are in video meetings all day long today, working to get something together so that our kids can remain engaged throughout this quarantine.  Engaged is the key word here.  They were very pointed in reassuring us parents that this is not to stress us out.  These lesson plans are sent out to keep our kids engaged in learning, and they don’t actually count for grades.  Not quite sure how that will affect their education/grade levels later, but I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.

When I first started writing this blog, it was day 1, and I was ready to throw out a bunch of pros and cons, but then I decided to wait and give it a week.  Allow myself, and my kiddos, to work out the kinks of working and learning from home.  So after being in it for a week, here’s what I’m seeing as the ups and the downs of e-learning.

 

E-Learning allows for you to go at your own pace.

Being at home, we are free from the time constraints at school.  We can break for snack, lunch, or the bathroom whenever we want.  We don’t have to hurry through a lesson to make it to another subject.  My third grader got to work ASAP, and just buzzed right through his work, and was done in about 3.5 hours.

The “choose-your-own-adventure” lesson plans that were sent give my 3rd grader a sense of control over his day.  He knows he has to do everything, but he can choose what to do and the order to do it in.  He liked that.  I chose things for my kindergartener to do based upon difficulty level and his cooperation level. I did allow him to choose what to do first between 2 choices I picked out for him.  Kids like choices, they make them feel in control.

On the down side, my kindergartener is a slow poke, a procrastinator, and a silly guy.  He would rather make jokes than finish his tasks.  This has been an issue with him at school as well, but he was improving and starting to get his work done on time in class.  Being at home with a looser schedule, I feel he is more distracted or just not ready to learn because we are home.

After the first day, the routine had been set, and Alexa was even set up with reminders for when we would start e-learning, and when there were scheduled breaks. Once he knew more about how the day would go, he has been better at staying on task, not great, but better.

 

Not everyone is a teacher.

I used to be a teacher.  Long term, I taught pre-k, 4th and 5th grades. And as a sub, I have been in k-8 classrooms. I know how kids learn best, and I have a knowledge of the concepts the lessons are trying to teach.  My background allows me to work with a 3rd grader and a kindergartener simultaneously on different topics.  On day 1 I even had my two year old niece set up “working” on her coloring while my boys worked.  It wasn’t too hard for me.

However, not everyone is a teacher.  There have been parents galore on social media describing their struggles.  They are not used to the multi-tasking that goes along with teaching students of different levels and abilities.  They are not used to the approaches teachers use to best reach their students.  It’s been tough for them.

But their struggle has been met with support.  I have seen so many teacher moms posting about how anyone who is struggling can reach out to them for help and answers.  And I know for a fact that the teachers in my kids’ schools have had regular office hours where they are answering emails and Google chats from parents and students.  I’ve been having an issue with one of the logins for a learning account for my kindergartener.  His teacher and another teacher have been keeping up with responses and fixes to the issue.  I didn’t expect them to be so fast.

Whether parents are experiences with e-learning are good, or not so good, I know for a fact, we are all feeling extra grateful and appreciative of actual teachers right now.

 

The balance of school work and your own work.

My job is this, writing.  Every couple of weeks I put a new blog out, so it’s nothing high stress or demanding of my time.  However, I still struggled a bit this week to get this blog out.  I mentioned before that I started writing this blog on day 1.  I wanted to wait a week to see how it went, but also, my kid was using my computer most of the day.  Then, when he was done, I was about done too, and didn’t feel like sitting down to write.

At our house, my husband is set up upstairs with his monitors.  He was lucky and able to go to his office to get some supplies to help him better work from home.  My 3rd grader has his Chromebook from school that he can work on, and my kindergartener works from my laptop.  We are fortunate to have a computer for everyone.

But not everyone does.  Some homes may have to share one computer, and then how do you balance that out?  I’m not sure, but I guess that goes back to the flexibility of e-learning; you can put it on hold when mom or dad needs to do some time sensitive work.  Our district was really great in reaching out to families in need too.  Our schools are 1:1 technology.  Kids in grades K-2 all have their own Chromebooks that are always left at school, and kids in grades 3+ all have Chromebooks that they can take home every day.  The district sent out an email saying that if a kid needed a Chromebook to use, they could go sign one out from the school to use for the duration of this quarantine.  But I know not every district can do this.

 

The uncertainty of it all.

This whole situation is new for us.  As parents, we don’t know what to tell our kids when they ask when they can go back to school.  We don’t know, it will be a few weeks at least.  We also don’t know what the ongoing lesson plans will look like.  No one knows what to expect, and that is a little unsettling and stressful for all of us.

But one thing that is reassuring is the sense of community.  Local schools and restaurants are offering free meals for kids in need.  I’ve seen teachers of after school activities (including ballet, karate, and painting) are teaching classes through videos so kids can still be active at home.  And people are being kind, offering to shop for the elderly and needy.  And as mentioned before, teacher moms offering to help other parents however they can.  In  a time of uncertainty, this sense of community is comforting.  We shall see how it all plays out.

Teach Them to Communicate: Helping Your Child Become Socially & Emotionally Independent (Part 3)

As parents, our main job (other than keeping our children safe and alive) is to prepare them for life without us.  We need to teach them life skills so that they can become more and more independent.  If our children can be independent, functional, and helpful members of society, we have done our job.  But many of us overlook the emotional aspects of this independence.  We focus on physical independence, teaching physical skills and chores.  But we forget to teach our kids how to communicate their emotions.  We forget to teach them how to handle their feelings independently.  Open and honest communication with them is key to this.

Communication between you and your child is key to every aspect of parenting, but in this particular blog I want to talk about how it pertains particularly to teaching your child to communicate and process their own emotions.  Talking things out with a parent is the first step a child will take in thinking things through for themselves.

 

Young children better understand their emotions when you help them communicate.

Young children don’t always have the vocabulary to express their feelings.  They don’t have the words to tell you what’s upsetting them, but they need to express their feelings.  This is when tantrums and meltdowns happen.  To alleviate a tantrum/meltdown, or avoid it all together, you can communicate with your child.

Talk through what is going on so they can learn how to better communicate their thoughts and feelings.  Ask who, what, when, where and why questions to find out more.  And for very young kids, ask pointed questions, “Are you hungry? Are you sad that your brother isn’t sharing? Do you really want to use the red cup?”  By asking questions you can start to build your child’s emotional vocabulary so that eventually they will use the words to describe what they are feeling.

Then, after you have discovered their feelings, talk them through ways they can get through it.  Whether it’s playing with something else to be patient, or just calmly voicing their dislike in something so that others understand, kids need to first be coached through their emotions before they are able to do this themselves.

 

Older kids might not fully understand their emotions either.

Similarly to the young kids, older kids might not have all the vocabulary (or even understanding) of their emotions. When kids are young, we tend to over simplify our emotions into happy, sad, or angry.  But as they grow, their emotions become more complex, and they need help and guidance to understand and navigate these emotions.

Anger and sadness are usually “symptom emotions” for deeper feelings such as jealousy, disappointment, resentment, betrayal, or anxiety.  Once again, talk through what is going on so they can learn how to better communicate their thoughts and feelings.  Ask who, what, when, where and why?  Really listen to them without judgement, allow them to communicate with you and just simply gather information at first.

After you have helped them to identify and understand their feelings, you can begin to give advice on how they can get through it.  I hope you have noticed that I keep saying “get through it” rather than saying “fixing the problem, or feel better”.  Many times in life, emotions are not fixed easily or just switch to being all better.  Emotions are complex and often linger, so learning to work through and deal with your own emotions is a key life lesson.

When giving them advice on how to work through their feelings, give them examples of a time when you were in a similar situation, or felt a similar way. Share the tactics you use/used to cope with those particular feelings.  When you open up about your emotions to your child you are doing several great things:

-Help to give validation to their feelings

-Help them not feel alone

-Give them a sounding board for solutions

-Give them a feeling of security and safety to ask for help

 

Open and honest communication can happen anywhere at any time.

Talking can be done literally anywhere you are.  I love to have good long talks with my kids in the car!  They can’t get out, and even if they don’t talk back, I know they can hear me.  But these car talks are usually more broad topics rather than dealing with specific issues.  If your see your young child starting to have a tantrum/meltdown, have a talk immediately.  Or as soon as you notice something is off about, or bothering, your kid, take them aside and have a chat!

When having an open and honest conversation with your child it is important to remain non-judgmental of their feelings.  If you are critical of the way they are feeling, they won’t come to talk to you in the future.   It is important to be sincere in your own feelings and empathy for them.  Also, it is best if you can have these conversations one-on-one.  Sometimes when you have young kids, one-on-one alone time is nearly impossible to come by, but if you can, make it happen.  The one-on-one time will convey their importance to you, it will make them feel safer in talking, and it shows that they have your full attention.

Remember, before they can identify, understand, process and work though their emotions independently, they need to be taught and guided. Open and honest communication about emotions with your child is the first step in them learning to work through their emotions independently.

Let Them Be Bored

Let Them Be Bored: Helping Your Child Become Socially & Emotionally Independent (Part 1)

Our job as parents is to raise our children in a safe and healthy home, teach them about the world, and help them find their way. Ultimately, preparing them to be functional, capable, independent adults.  We are not here to fix their every problem or make their lives free of obstacles (i.e. bulldozer or snowplow parenting).  Nor is it to constantly provide entertainment for our kids (we can let them get bored).  We want our kids to be able to navigate their own emotions, thoughts, and social interactions, and that can’t happen if we keep solving all their problems for them.

Independent and unstructured play time is vital to a child building these skills.  However, these days kids’ schedules are jam packed.  There is always a practice or event to go to, so they don’t have time to get bored.  Kids often feel too much pressure to excel in so many things as well.  It seems like our days are filled with school, activity, homework, dinner & bed time.  We are always rushing from one thing to another. So what can we do to help them learn how to navigate their emotions, solve their own problems and take responsibility over their own feelings and actions?

We are going to…

  1. let them be bored
  2. let them fail
  3. have open and encouraging communication with them about their problems, thoughts and emotions

This blog will focus on the first…

Let them be bored.

Boredom will allow them to use their creativity and imagination. When we were young we got kicked outside and we ALWAYS found something to do.  This creative and imaginative thinking starts the internal process of problem solving.

 

 

Boredom can lead to large motor skill development.

When kids are bored they will start climbing, digging, or building things.  They will create a body awareness of what they can do, where they can fit, and of how strong they are.  This body awareness and accomplishment will lead to confidence!  That confidence will be their internal backing for wanting to tackle other obstacles in the future.

 

Boredom will lead to more social interaction.

If you’re bored and outside you seek others to keep you company.  So there is more play with siblings or neighbors.  Together, kids will create games and rules to play by.  And when left alone, they will work through disagreements on their own.  This gives them practice in negotiation, problem solving, compromise, and working together.  None of which would be learned if a parent just jumped in to solve any and all issues that arise.

 

If the weather is too severe to be outside, indoor unstructured play can have many of the same benefits.  But instead of large motor skill development, indoor play usually has more to do with fine motor skill development.  If left alone to be bored, kids will start drawing, writing, sculpting (playdough), or building (blocks, LEGOs).  These activities engage the brain for thinking, creating and problem solving.  They also improve the fine motor skills used for writing.

 

Boredom will also:

-Teach delayed gratification

-Allow your child to sit with their thoughts and feelings

-Develop a personal understanding of their thoughts and feelings

-Allow time to interpret the reasons behind their thoughts and feelings

-Time to ponder life and the way things work

-Put them in the position of being responsible for their own feelings and actions

 

Your child may protest being bored and want to immediately be entertained by you, or some device.  But when they are left to sit with their own boredom for long enough, their brains will start working and developing their skills.  So let them be bored. Throw them outside if possible. Give them the time and space they need to play and learn in an unstructured environment.

Preparing for Parent-Teacher Conferences

Parent-teacher conferences can be a little daunting, especially if it’s your first time going to one.  Going into a meeting not knowing what to expect is a tough task for some, but in all reality, these conferences are meant to give you feedback on how your child is doing in the class.  And if you’re a little nervous going into it, just remember that the teacher is probably a little nervous too.  Here are a few tips to help you prepare and get the most out of your parent-teacher conference.

 

1)  Sign-up for Parent-Teacher Conferences & show up on time

Parent-teacher conferences are a great way to get some insight into your child’s development, so don’t skip them.  Make sure you get all the time allotted to you by being on time (aka just a little early).  Don’t waste the teacher’s or your time by being late. When I was a teacher, I would set a timer so that I was sure to give each parent the same amount of time.  It was frustrating when some were late, and then wanted more time.  A teacher has 20-30 conferences to get through, be respectful of them and the other parents waiting for their conference.

 

2)  Enter Parent-Teacher Conferences with an open mind

Let’s be real; you know your kid’s not perfect, and you know he behaves differently around you than he does with others.  Listen to what the teacher has to say without being defensive; she is a professional telling you what she sees on a daily basis.  Ask what you can do at home to help keep your child’s behavior more consistent between school and home.

 

3)  Ask to see examples of your child’s work

Most likely the teacher will already have some work examples on hand, but if she doesn’t, don’t hesitate to ask to see them.  It is important for you to get a visual understanding of how your child is doing. And as parents, we know we can’t always rely on things that were sent home to actually make it home.  So, work examples that the teacher has are the perfect way to see your child’s academic abilities.

 

4)  Ask about your child’s social-life in the classroom

Who are her friends?  Does she share/work well with others?  Is she nice to others?  Are others nice to her?  What school activity does she seem to enjoy the most?  You may or may not know the answers to some of these questions from what your child tells you, but it is always nice to get an “outsider’s” perspective on what’s going on.

 

5)  Ask what you can do to help support your child’s growth and education

Teachers do their best to mold the minds of a classroom full of children each year, but at the end of the day you are the parent and need to take responsibility for your child’s growth and education.  What social skills do you and your child need to work on?  Which academic skills do you need to practice with your child?  Are there more/better ways your can be incorporating learning into your child’s everyday life?  You and your child’s teacher are on the same team, so work together!

 

6)  Write things down

Before you go into your parent-teacher conference, write down all the questions you’d like to ask so you don’t forget.  Take notes while the teacher speaks, especially noting helpful tips or more questions that you might think of.  Also write down the answers to your questions so you can remember everything when you get home.  This also is very helpful if you need to relay the message of the conference to a parent who couldn’t be there.

 

7)  Talk to your child when you get home

After your parent-teacher conference, have a parent-child conference.  Talk about how the meeting went.  Talk about the good, the bad, and they ways you plan to help your child improve and continue to succeed.  Have your child weigh in on what he thinks he’s excelling in, what he needs to work on, and what steps he can take to start improving.  This parent-child conference will send the message to your child that you and his teacher are on the same page, and that you are there and willing to support your child in school and in life.

4 Types of Bullying and How to Help

Bullying is a hot topic these days, and for good reason.  It has come a long way from calling a kid names or shoving in the hallway at school; bullying has become more aggressive, more violent, and more relentless than ever.  Whether your child is being bullied, a bystander of a bully situation, or even the bully, you should have a serious talk with your child about the topic. Here are 4 types of bullying you shouldn’t forget to talk about.

 

Physical Bullying

This is probably the most obvious form of bullying, the physical overpowering of one person over another.  It may be shoving, flicking, throwing things, tripping, knocking things out of another person’s hands, punching, kicking, etc. Regardless of what is actually happening, if the person on the receiving end of it isn’t amused, asks the other person to stop, is being physically or emotionally hurt by it, it is bullying and needs to stop.

Lately the news has had more and more stories of physical bullying being taken to the extremes with victims ending up in hospitals or even the morgue.  Bottom line is that your child needs to know that it is completely unacceptable to physically bully or abuse another person in any way, shape or form.

 

Verbal

Again, this form of bullying is fairly easy to spot, most of the time.  However, it too has become a lot more aggressive and hurtful.  Kids have come a long way from calling each other names like “four-eyes,” or “dork”. Today’s kids are using much more sinister vocabulary.  Racial, ethnic, religious, homophobic, and sexual slurs are common staples of verbal bullying these days.  And you would think that curse words would have lost some of their “punch” as often as they are used.  No matter what the old adage says, words do hurt.  And can they be very damaging to a young person’s self-esteem and self-worth.

When damaging words are thrown at you day in and day out, and people casually use your person, gender, religion or race in jokes that they laugh at all the time, you may begin to question who you are and if those words really define you.  I mentioned that verbal bullying is fairly easy to spot most of the time, however sometimes it’s not.

Some people are so passive in their verbal bullying that it is hard to even know that it is happening unless you are the one who is left feeling bad after it has been said.  Girls are the worst at this form, and there is even a term for it, “Frienamies,” friends who are really your enemies.  Frienamies will make you feel comfortable so you open up to them, and then immediately betray you and spread your secrets around.  Frienamies are experts at the backhanded compliments such as, “Oh! The pattern on your shirt is really cute! It totally draws attention away from your double chin.”  Sneaky, yet still hurtful.

Cyber Bullying

This is one of the hardest forms of bullying for many kids. Bullying used to happen at school, or to and from school, and once the kid reached home, they were safe. Not anymore.  With everyone connected 24/7 with various social media outlets, kids can torture one another from anywhere, at any time, with an instant audience of however many 100’s of followers they have.

Digital photos can be altered into cruel memes and shared with 1,000’s instantly.  And with the anonymity of an online profile a bully can easily hide from the consequences of his or her actions.  Fake profiles can be made to trick and toy with people’s emotions. This is called “Catfishing”.  Some victims of cyber bullying have actually killed themselves because they feel that there is no other way to escape the emotional terrors and cruel comments from their peers.

One way to monitor your children is to be aware of the aps they have on their phones.  Know all of their passwords to social media accounts so you can check in on them.  Be friends or followers of their social media accounts so they know that you will see what they are posting.  Also, it is a good idea to have a rule about using the internet behind closed doors. Make sure that all computers, phones, and tablets that have access to the internet are always kept in very social areas of the house.

 

Ignoring/Bystander Bullying

This form of bullying may be the hardest to identify or label.  Sometimes kids think that just because they are not actively being mean that they are not being a bully. However, ignoring someone’s existence  just because they are different is just as bad.

Let’s say a new kids joins the class.  At lunch she walks up to a table of girls, they see her, but no one acknowledges her, no one moves over to make room for her.  How does she feel?  What message does that send?

Ignoring is bullying.  In the same sense, being a bystander to bullying and doing nothing is also a form of bullying.  By allowing it to happen, you are just as much to blame as the person doing the actual bully.  Talk to your child about compassion, respect and empathy.  Teach them that every single person deserves to be seen, to be heard, and to have a happy existence.  Teach them that not everyone is strong enough or confident enough to stand up for themselves.  If they see something wrong to step in and help that person.

How to Help

What help looks like may vary in different situations. In a verbal altercation, helping might be speaking up and telling the bully to stop. During a physical altercation, it may be pulling the bully off, or getting a person of authority to intervene.  Online in a cyber situation help might look like a positive post of support, or a formal report to the website officials. And in an ignoring type of situation, it can be as simple as scooting over to make room at the lunch table.

Why Good ECE Schools Don’t Use Worksheets

Worksheets are designed to give teachers a clear cut way to determine their students comprehension of the material that has been taught.  Questions are asked, the correct answers are given, and the teacher knows the student understands the material.  Directions are given, directions are followed, and the teacher can assess the student’s performance.  It’s all very concrete, and seems to be a valid way for teachers to assess their students. But good ECE schools hardly use them.

But why don’t good early childhood education (ECE) schools use worksheets?  Worksheets are fine assessments for older students, but there are several problems with introducing worksheets in an ECE classroom simply because they are not developmentally appropriate.

Good ECE Schools Understand Age Appropriate Activities

First and foremost, worksheets are mundane activities.  Completing a worksheet mostly consists of sitting at the table or desk, using a pencil to follow the directions, with no interaction with peers.  This doesn’t work for preschoolers.  If you have ever been around a preschooler you know that it is next to impossible to get them to sit down and complete a task without talking.

Kids of this age need to be social, they need to move and manipulate objects and interact with others.  To expect them to sit quietly and work is like expecting your dog to pick up his own waste; it’s simply expecting more than they are physically capable of.  In addition to worksheets being a challenge for a child’s gross motor control, they are also challenging for a child’s fine motor skills.

Young children need lots of practice with fat crayons, paint brushes and markers before they are physically able to hold a pencil correctly and make controlled markings.  If teachers, or parents, don’t understand that, then they may be too critical of a child’s attempt at writing.  This could ultimately dampen the child’s enthusiasm.  Teachers and parents should be encouraging children to succeed by setting appropriate goals for them.  However, worksheets just don’t support that.

Worksheets Can Be Cognitively Stifling

Worksheets can also be cognitively stifling for young minds.  Questions on worksheets typically will have just one correct answer; match the pictures with the letters they start with.  Directions on worksheets typically have only one way to complete the task; connect the dots to make the shape.  With worksheets, there is no room for abstract or critical thinking, or problem solving.

Kids are either right or wrong when it comes to worksheets.  If they’re right, it may have just been a lucky guess rather than a sign of understanding.  If they’re wrong, there is no way to learn from their mistakes.  So if worksheets are so inappropriate to use in ECE schools, then how do teachers assess their students’ knowledge and growth?

Good ECE Schools Use Play-Based Curriculims

Good ECE schools will have a play-based curriculum in place.  Play-based curriculums allow children to learn abstract and critical thinking skills though physical manipulation of real objects.  An example of this would be stringing beads to learn about patterns.  Play-based curriculums also allow for ample interaction between classmates. This, in turn, leads to ample opportunities for working on self-control and problem solving.

But how can the teachers assess their students of they are just playing?  Teachers who use play-based curriculums aren’t just sitting at their desks while the kids run amuck.  These teachers engage with the children, “play” with them, and guide them through lessons.  While the teachers are involved with the students, they observe, take notes, or mark a checklist of skills mastered and of those needing more development.

Concrete evidence can be found in work samples, such as a Science journal where children can draw their experiment observations.  Many ECE schools will have portfolios for each child that contains samples of their work throughout the year so parents, and teachers, can actually see the growth and progress the children have made.  In addition to portfolios, daily pictures and weekly, or monthly, newsletters are great ways to show parents what is being accomplished in the classroom, without sending home piles of completed worksheets.

The Reasons Behind Toddler Biting

Do you remember the biting incident in the 2014 World Cup? In short, Uruguay’s Luis Suárez bit another player on the shoulder during a game.  This alone is deplorable, but what is even more astonishing is the fact that this is the third time Suárez had bitten another player.  Some of you may be outraged, wondering how a grown man could continually behave so poorly.  But others may be fearful, worrying if this is the future of their little biting toddler.  I assure you, it doesn’t have to be.

Biting is Common in Toddlers

Biting is a common, and normal, behavior for toddlers, and they usually grow out of it by the time they are three.  However, you can’t just sit around and wait around for your child to grow out of it; you must teach your child that biting is an unacceptable behavior.  Unfortunately, toddlers won’t magically stop biting just because you tell them once; it is going to take some patience, some time, and some consistency to alter their biting behavior.  If you are bitten by your toddler, you must be calm but stern; no yelling.  Say, “Ouch!  That hurts me!  NO BITING!”  Make your message short and sweet; if you’re too wordy, your message will fly right over your toddler’s head.  If you are consistent, she will eventually get the message that biting is not acceptable.  By why do toddlers bite in the first place?

Controling Emotions is a Big Challenge

As adults, most of us are pretty in control of our emotions and actions.  However, toddlers are just beginning to really feel complex emotions, and they are definitely not in control of them.  If a toddler feels threatened, angry, frustrated, or jealous his first reaction may be to scream, hit, kick, cry or even bite.  You have to help your toddler learn self-control when facing these emotions.  Try coaching him through the situation with something like this: “If you feel like you’re going to bite, take a deep breath and slowly count to three.  Then use your words to tell me what is wrong.”  Give your toddler some key phrases he can use to help him convey his emotions.  Phrases like: “I don’t like that,” “I need space,” “I was playing with that,” or “Can I have a turn,” are a good place to start.  If you notice your toddler consistently biting in particular situations, try to intervene with emotional coaching before it escalates to biting.

Biting is No Laughing Matter

But what if your toddler bites you and then laughs at your pain?  Don’t worry, she’s not evil; she has just learned that biting is a funny game.  One time she bit you, or someone else, and the reaction was hysterical, and she wants to get that reaction again.  Did you make a funny face?  Did you say silly things while trying to stop yourself from cursing?  Or did you eventually laugh because her sweet giggles made you forget that she just bit you?  Well, I hate to say it, but any of those things could be considered positive reinforcement for biting.  Toddlers love to be silly and see you be silly, so if they know that they can get you to act silly by biting you, they will keep biting.  But if your reaction is boring, the biting will eventually stop.  Just try to remember to be calm, stern, and consistent.  And I think it goes without saying, but don’t play any pretend biting games (i.e. silly monster eats the little girl’s arm) if you have a biter because toddlers don’t know how to pretend bite.

It Could Be a Physical Reaction

So we have toddlers who bite because they are reacting to emotions, or because they think it’s funny, but there are also those who seem to bite for no reason.  These unpredictable biters may be teething and need to soothe their little gums, or they may just have an oral fixation.  This kind of biter is a bit trickier to deal with because the biting is filling a physical need rather than an emotional reaction.  But your response should still be calm, stern, and consistent.  Try to avoid the biting by using a pacifier strap to attach a teething ring to your toddler so he has a quick, on-hand (no pun intended) option for something to bite if he needs.  You can also try giving your toddler some crunchy snacks to chomp into.  Carrots, celery sticks, apple slices, or even frozen banana slices are perfect for crunching and soothing little gums.

 

If you have little biters at home, I’m sure you don’t want them to be all grown up, on a soccer field, in a boxing ring, or in a business meeting and biting someone because they are frustrated.  You can stop the bad behavior before they take it with them into adulthood.  Just remember that you are the one who needs to teach your toddler that biting is an unacceptable behavior.  Try to identify why your child is biting, give him the tools to help him avoid biting, and when he does bite, be calm, be stern, and be consistent.

 

Reading Support for Kids 3+

By the time your child is three to five years old, you have probably taught them, or are beginning to teach them,  the letters of the alphabet, how to sing their ABC’s, and to recognize the letters of their names.  You’re doing good, and you feel your child is as “Reading Ready” as he can be when he starts school.  Because somewhere in this age range, children do start entering school, and their formal reading education will begin.  However, this does not mean that it is all up to the teacher now.

If you want your child to fully grasp, and eventually master the skills needed to read, then you must be actively involved in the process as well.  Here are five ways you can be involved and supportive of your child’s reading education.

1. Expose your child to reading in the world around them.

Reading is literally everywhere around us, so there is no need to set aside hours from your busy schedule to go over flash cards with your child.  Just open his eyes to all the letters and words around him.  While driving you can point our letters and words on signs you pass.  “S-T-O-P spells STOP,” and “Look, Billy, Burger King starts with the letter B just like your name.”  Simple things like that can help your child recognize and learn letters as well as whole words, and remembering what words look like is an important first step in learning to read.

2. Expose your child to reading at home.

Books are the obvious choice for this, but think outside the box as well here.  Order your child a subscription to a children’s magazine; kids love getting mail, and it will give them something new to read every month.  Have your child help you write the grocery list or a letter to a friend.  When coloring at home, you can point out the words of the colors on the sides of the crayons or markers.  And if you really want to go for the gold, you can make labels for everything in your house so your child can easily see that he is sitting in his CHAIR at the TABLE.

3. Use educational television shows, videos, or computer games to support what your child is learning.

These can help your child learn to read as well as be fun for him, but you need to be involved too.  If your child is watching Sesame Street or Super Why, sit with him and talk about what the program is trying to teach.  Just make sure to limit the screen time to 1 to 2 hours per day, and that the programs are educational and non-violent.

4. Read aloud with your child.

This is one of the best ways you can help your child learn to read.  When reading aloud to your child, remember to run your finger under the words you are reading so your child can begin to understand the direction of text.  Also, make sure to talk about the pictures and how they relate to the story.  If your child asks questions, stop reading and answer them, as it may lead to a better understanding of what is happening in the story.  And for goodness sake, use silly voices for the characters because the more fun you have reading, the more fun your child will have.  Even after your child learns to read, keep reading to him.  Children can listen to and understand more difficult stories than they can read.

5. Listen to your child read aloud.

This can build up your child’s confidence in his ability and help make reading more enjoyable.  If your child asks for your help with a word, give it to him right away so that the meaning of the story is not lost.  Don’t force him to sound it out, but also don’t stop him from sounding a word out if he’s doing it on his own.  Also, make sure that you are not over correcting your child’s reading.

If he makes an equal substitution for words within a story, then let it slide.  For example, if your child says “dog” when the word was “pup,” it’s fine; your child still understands the context of the story.  However, if a word that doesn’t make sense is used, such as “road” for “read,” then just ask your child to read the sentence again because you didn’t understand what was read.  Keep an eye on your child’s frustration levels when he is reading.  Pushing a child beyond his limits when trying to read can make it difficult and ultimately less fun.

 

These are just five ways to be involved in your child’s reading education, but they are five good ways.  Just remember that it doesn’t matter what you do, it just matters that you are there to do it.  But however you are involved, keep in mind that the most important thing you can do is give your child tons of praise.  Encouraging comments and support from a parent is infinitely valuable to a child and his confidence.  And when your child is confident, he will enjoy reading and learning even more.

Becoming Reading Ready: 6 Steps to Develop a Strong Early Reading Foundation in Newborns to Three Year Olds

On average, children learn to read between the ages of five and seven years old.  However, reading doesn’t just start at some magical age; as a parent, you need to make sure that you are helping your child to become “reading ready.”  Below are six ways to encourage and develop your child’s love of, and foundation for, reading, starting right from birth.

Reading Ready from Birth to 1 Year Old:

1)  Talk, sing, recite rhymes and do finger plays with your baby.  By just listening to you speak, your child will learn spoken language and begin to build a strong foundation for reading.  Just remember, that as you talk and sing, make it as conversational as possible.  Look you baby in the eyes when speaking, and allow your baby to have a response time before moving on to the next idea.  Even though your baby may not exactly respond, it gives him time to process what has just happened, another good skill used when reading.

2)  Start setting aside time every day to read together.  Children as young as six months old can begin to enjoy books.  Even if they don’t follow the story just yet, they will love to hear your voice and look at pictures.  Just noticing the direction in which you turn the pages gives them clues about how to read.  Read picture books with your baby snuggled in your lap, and point out the things you see.  This helps develop word association, and puts them on the path to being reading ready.  Bedtime is an ideal time for reading together because it allows some winding down time so your baby can get ready to sleep.

3)  Allow for independent “reading” time for your baby.  Amidst the toys on the floor, provide board books and soft books for your baby as well.  Sure, the books will be chewed and banged around, but they will also be looked at.  This allows your baby to explore books in her own way and imitate how you read.

1 to 3 Years Old:

4)  Continuing to read every day is important, but at this age, allow your child to pick the books you read together.  Yes, you will probably read the same books over and over and over again, but repetition is part of learning.  When your child becomes familiar with a book, have him start finishing the sentences, or have him tell you what is going to happen next in the story.  And when reading new books, allow your child to name objects in the book, or make predictions about what will happen next based on the pictures he sees.

5)  Take trips to the library.  Kids love experiencing new things, and at the library there are literally thousands of new books to choose from.  Make it an event, don’t just go, pick out a book and leave.  Stay a while and really explore the different types of books to choose from, and maybe even stay for story time.  It is good for children to hear books read by other people as well as yourself.

6)  Continue to encourage, but not force, independent reading time.  You can do this by keeping books in her bedroom, or in a special reading nook.  Make sure there is a comfortable bed or chair next to the bookshelf so she can cuddle up with a book, and that there is good light or a reading lamp.  I always like the idea of reading buddies as well.  Reading buddies can be stuffed animals that the child can snuggle with and read to.  I enjoy b