Sunday, March 29, 2009

Woo Hoo! Sticker Pictures!

Another Educational Activity to Keep the Kids and Yourself Going Over Spring Break!
This idea grew out of the interesting fact that many children starting at age 5, "give up on drawing". The reason being that what children visualize in their heads does not come out the same way on paper. While I strongly encourage children to continually practice drawing and experimenting with art supplies, this "sticker picture" activity takes the edge off trying to draw some favorite characters and helps children to build a story around a mix of characters that otherwise would not been normally put together.


Stickers of all types including cartoon characters from different shows

Children can draw a picture of a setting or place or any people they wish to include in their picture, if they want to. Then encourage them to add stickers on to the picture. It can be other objects, characters that come from two different shows or from the same show if they prefer. You can help build a story by asking where are they? What might the characters be doing together? Are they friends or meeting for the first time? What are they saying? Why might they be in the same place? You can write down what the characters are saying on an index card that you can attach to the picture or older children can add conversation bubbles. My children have made complete books using this activity. It is a great way to help children to use their imagination and develop dialogue. In some cases you may have to make an example first so they get the idea. For other children, particularly those children who feel uncomfortable with their artistic skills, you can draw the setting for them. It is extremely important that you remind children that you are an adult and cartoonists or illustrators are generally adults too. It is unrealistic for children to draw like these adults. Illustrators are professionals that had to practice a great deal before they became successful. Discuss other jobs that most children cannot master because they do not have enough practice yet.

When you do this project feel free to share your children's unique story ideas with us.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Spring Vacation Survival with an Academic Twist

Here are some short and sweet activities that you can do with your kids. If you just do one a day it can relieve you from the guilt of letting the television run all morning. Many of these ideas came from an ancient, yellowed paged book I found tucked in the book shelf of my childhood bedroom. It belonged to my aunt who was a home school teacher. Funny enough it was written by Jean Marzolo, the writer of the" I SPY" series and Janice LLoyd . She has a wonderful website filled with great books for parents and children at The name of the book is "How to Help Your Child Learn Through Play". Here are a few simple activities (in some cases I have abridged the instructions):

Find out how many

Together take an inventory of things in the house. Keep a written record of the results. Count everything! How many chairs? Sofas? TV's? Tables? Cans of soup? Windows? How many socks do you have? You get the point. You can also have children make a personal inventory. Help your child make a list of the things he/she can do and count how many times he/she can do them. Ask, How many times can you hop on one foot?"..."Snap your fingers?", etc.

Help your child think of different points of view

Have children draw a single object from different points of view (you may have to model or take turns drawing) and write the view of the object. For example: a table from beside and from above, a tree from beside and from above, a hamburger from beside and above.

Name Nuts
Label everything in sight

Using index cards have your child name different objects in your home. As they name, you write them down and let your child use masking tape to tape the index card on to the object. Ideas: refrigerator, sister, mommy, bread, closet, coat, toothbrush, bathtub, boat, door, window, curtain, car, wagon, etc.
Later print the same words on another set of cards. Place the cards face up on the floor and "say", Which of these words so you know? If you think you know a word, take it to the thing it goes with and see if it is the same as the label." Your child can keep the ones he know. ( a shoe box is a good place to store them.)

Each activity can certainly replace one and a half television programs. So get planning and stay tuned for some more clever activities for Spring break!

Sara Lise

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

What can I do to keep my sanity during spring vacation but make sure my kids are keeping up with their academics?

I would be lying if I did not admit that the thought of being home with my three kids during any school vacation , scares me. Even with my trips to the zoo, museums, the library, visiting friends who have a playroom in their basements (an apartment child's dream) and any other free events posted on the blog, I struggle to keep my sanity. One constant I try to maintain is giving my children the opportunity to have "project time". I usually choose an activity that is academic in nature (I'm an educator, you know!) but something they will feel proud of when they are finished. It's a great alternative to leaving the television on because you know when they plead for "one more 1/2 hour program" it always leads to an extra hour and a half of viewing before we somehow get out the door. Here is one literacy idea with more ideas to come as we lead up to the closing of schools.

One of my favorite projects I did while I was teaching was to do a book of poetry with the entire school. I was an arts and literacy specialist and was fortunate enough to work with every grade. While teachers seem to choose poetry randomly throughout the year I always liked to wait for spring. So much is happening in the spring. We emerge from the gloomy winter, there is so much to notice and growth is happening all around including in the children! One of my favorite ways to approach poetry is using a technique from an old timer, Kennetth Koch, who taught poetry to inner city kids in the 70's. He has two books, "Rose Where did you get that Red" and "Wishes, Lies and Dreams". One of his techniques was to read many poems from a specific poet like Williams Carlos Williams and his "I'm sorry I ate your plums...", (one of my favorites as a kid) and get children to use the poet's style as a spring board to write their own poetry.

How do you do this at home? Read poems to your kids. Many parents read everyday to their children but often skip poetry. You can start with one author, one subject or an anthology. Enjoy them, encourage children to draw pictures of poems, dance to poems, sing poems or have children write their own poems the key is exposing them to it! With young children, talk about rhyming words, keep the beat by clapping or tapping or discuss/draw strong visuals. With older children you can also discuss the poet's intent for instance in the "I'm sorry" poems by Williams Carlos Williams "Do you really think the poet is sorry? Have you ever said you were sorry but didn't really mean it?" A Japanese form of poetry also known as Haiku lends itself beautifully to nature and spring. Traditionally using nature as the topic, the poem contains only 5 syllables on the first line, 7 on the second and finishes with 5 syllables in the last line. This is a great way to get older children to problem solve, it's hard to be descriptive while keeping within the syllable limit. Many times as soon as children get involved in writing poetry they want to continue writing! This is a great opportunity to turn their work into a book. Just think if it's really good you can turn their work into a calendar and give it to the grandparents for the winter holidays, you can call it "A Reminder of Spring".

Some great books and sites for kids poetry:


Sara Lise

Friday, March 20, 2009

NYC DOE Admissions

Can you explain the New York City public school admissions process?
Ahhh! The New York City Department of Education admissions process - the idea itself makes me draw comparisons to the Twilight Zone. Where anything that makes sense no longer holds true and what was true yesterday is no longer true today. As a former student, teacher, current vendor and parent of the New York City system I'd love to say I have all the answers but the truth is, my local public school is great and I never even attempted to look into other options. Thank goodness there are people who want to make sure parents who venture out of their catchment have a way to get some objective information about schools and the admissions process. has put it together an all-in-one, cohesive, comprehensive site on the topic. It was created by a NYC public school mom named Clara Hemphill. Inside Schools not only keeps parents updated on the most current hoops the DOE makes us go through but actually reviews individual schools and posts their crucial statistics as well as teacher and parent comments. It is important to put the site in your favorites so you can check it frequently, as the rules to get into schools are forever changing.

Districts and Zoned Schools

The NYC system is made up of 31 districts and one special education district called District 75. Each district is split up into small areas around an individual school called catchment zones. Children who live in the zone of a particular school may attend that school. If you don't know your district or zone you can go on to the DOE website, or Inside Schools. There are some cases when a school is over crowded they may impose "capping" to limit class size and even children that live in the zone may have to follow some other procedures for getting in. Staying focused on the general issues: Children who want to go to their zoned public kindergarten need to be age 5 by December 31st of the year they wish to begin. Call your zoned school in late September the year before you wish to enroll your child and ask if they give tours. Some schools do not give tours. In the case they do not, find out the name of the school's parent coordinator. Every public school has one and you can find them on the DOE website. A parent coordinator has their own phone number and may give you a private tour and/or answer any of your questions over the phone. Some schools have special programs for instance, a dual language program (languages vary from school to school) so if you are interested be sure to find out if your zoned school has any special procedures that need to be followed.

More Bees with Honey

Beware that many of the people who answer the phones at public schools are 'colorful' characters that are at times abrasive, clueless and can be downright rude. It's not personal, in many cases they are overworked and overwhelmed. If you don't get the answers you want at that moment, call at a different time of day and try to be cheerful, keep a sense of humor and remember, you can attract more bees with honey.

G&T Programs

If you wish to investigate the Gifted and Talented (G&T or T&G) programs, this will add another level of excitement. Children can apply to take a test administered for free by the NYCDOE. You can find out when these test applications are available at the DOE website, your district office or at There are two types of gifted and talented programs. There are those programs that are part of a local school however, children are placed in classes with other children that scored in the 90% percentile or above. The kids in these programs can be kids from the catchment zone or in a catchment that is close by to the school. Check to see in your zone or district if there are gifted and talented programs that begin as early as kindergarten, some start as late as second grade. The other type of G&T program are self contained gifted and talented schools that are not restricted by catchment but serve all children from the 5 boroughs, also known as Citywide gifted and talented schools. The Anderson School on the Upper West Side, NEST on the Lower East Side and TAG in East Harlem are these G&T schools. To get into these schools your child must score in the 97% or above on the test. Because there are only 3 schools, depending on how well the tested population does there may or may not be enough space for all children who scored in the right percentile. In other words, there is no guarantee that your child gets in just because they have the right score. The real anxiety begins in the waiting for the results. In passed years the DOE gave the results so late that many parents had accepted charter school or private school placements only to scramble to get out of deposits and their commitments once they got their positive results.

Charter Schools

Charter Schools according to the DOE website are"publicly funded and open to all students in New York City through a non-discriminatory admissions lottery." These schools are given a certain amount of freedom with their policies and curriculum. You can find a list of charter schools on the Department of Education website. Call individual schools for tours and lottery information.

Pre Kindergarten

Public pre kindergarten programs are tough to find in New York City and tougher to get into because of the the demand. I am currently going through this process right now for my daughter. Applications usually come out in March, online. A list of full-day and half-day pre kindergarten programs are listed with a few other community options. The best thing to do is continually check the DOE site and sign up for their pre kindergarten e-newsletter.
So there you have it. It is complicated if you want something other than your zoned school. My overarching advice is not to get too nuts - your child will find a school and probably get a great education. I once heard a group of moms talking on a New York City public bus. Their kids had all grown up in New York City and had all gone to public schools. One woman exclaimed, "there is just something special about a New York City public school kid." I have to say, I agree with her!

Good Luck!
Sara Lise

Thursday, March 19, 2009

College-bound 3 year old?

I would love to play some educational word games with my 3 year old daughter but I don't know any. Can you suggest some?
What a great question! When I would take my oldest son to daycare on the bus, we often had a lot of down time together. Doing the regular NYC schlepp left us both zoned out and the travel time seemed wasted until I realized that some of this time could be used to make a connection and even be educational. I also noticed at the end of the day after the television goes off, right before dinner and right about when my kids are about to annoy each other, games come in very handy. "I Spy" is a great traditional game that can be played anywhere. I like to call games like this "parent glue", a way to connect with your kids. Below are a few more ideas. Do them on your way to school, waiting at the doctors office, or anywhere when you have just a few extra minutes. You can start modeling these as early as age 2 for some children but age three is perfect!

Sensory Bag: I love doing this one right as I am making dinner and PBS kids has just been turned off! It's great way to work on descriptive language! Put one item in a small brown paper lunch bag without your kids seeing. For example: beans, pasta, legos, a small stuffed animal, scrunched up tinfoil or any unusual object. Tell them to reach into the bag and feel around without pulling the object(s) out and to describe what they feel. If your kids have trouble prompt them. Is it hard or soft?, big or small?, crunchy?, smooth? squishy?, Is it something you can eat?, etc. kids will love choosing objects to put in the bag for you to guess too.

I'm thinking of an animal...You begin by using descriptive language to give hints about an animal. For example: "I'm thinking of animal that has 4 legs, it is usually grey, it is very large, it makes a loud horn like sound, it has a large trunk." When your child guesses the animal it is their turn. It takes some time for them to master their descriptions but give it time and keep it fun! You can help by asking for details that children might leave out, like "where does this animal live?" As your child gets older the animals can become more exotic. If you haven't guessed already my animal was an elephant.

What Doesn't Fit?
This is a super game to get children classifying, a very important skill. Name four different items for your child, 3 that go together and 1 that does not fit ex, pen, pencil, crayon, ice cream and then ask "what doesn't fit? In this case ice cream does not fit and then ask your child "why?". All the other items you use to write or draw with. The first few times you do this make the examples familiar and simple putting the item that does not fit first or last. Over time examples can get more sophisticated ex, guitar, cello, flute, violin. While all are instruments, all except the flute have strings.

Choose a letter and have each member playing the game name objects that they see around them beginning with that letter.

I hope your family has as much playing as mine does!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Report cards, What do they mean?

Throughout my school career I remember report card day as a day my stomach was tied into knots. I always had conjured up a reason as to why I did not do well; the teacher was lying, they had me confused with someone else or there was the rare case when I even doctored my grades. I know, quite sad. Who knew that I would grow up to be someone who dedicates her life to education. As a parent, I am thrilled that my oldest child is doing so well in school. I almost feel bad for my parents who never got the wonderful feeling of receiving a good report card in the early years. As for parents that have a child much like I was, take heart, there are lots of ways to help. For one - keep reading this blog!

So what do these report card grades mean? In New York City public schools the grades are based on how well your child is achieving the standards. Children are evaluated on numerical indicators:

4 - Exceeds grade-level standards
3 - Meets grade level standards
2 - Approaches standards
1 - Far below standards

One of my fellow parents said to me today "A 4 is perfect, right?" It is very important not to think of these standards as absolutes. Learning is ongoing, and at times, a subjective process. Posing to our children that a grade of "4" means perfection and a grade "1" means hopelessness sends children a message that the grades are actually who they are and in some cases all they can ever be. The numbers show a snapshot of where a child is now, not forever. We must continue to work hard no matter the starting point. There should always be room for improvement for the top student or at least lots of encouragement and discussion about continuing good habits. Ask your child "why do they think they did well?", "What work habits are working for them?" For the child that is having some difficulty, start by empathizing with your child even if you feel frustrated or disappointed. Ask them about why they don't think they don't understand or what is hard for them. It is important to discuss that we can't be good at everything. Some things we just have to work harder for. Talk with their teacher about a plan to move your child in the right the direction. Ask about extra help and what you can do at home without turning you into a nudge. Consider sticker charts for motivation (example, 1 sticker for every book finished or math homework done correctly) keep it simple and lots of genuine, specific praise for effort. In the end, most children find their way. Just look at your facebook friends and remember what many of them used to be like!

Monday, March 16, 2009

How do I set up good financial habits with my children especially in this bad economy?

I was truly fortunate to grow up in Manhattan with parents that made me feel like I had everything even though they were just making the most out of what modest means they had while staying fiscally responsible. One of the best things I think you can do for your children is to make money, whether you have it or not, a very neutral topic in your home. Leave your kids out of most of the financial details and focus on what you value instead. Talk candidly to your kids about the daily choices you make. Try to talk about an item in terms of how important it is to you or why it is a necessity versus how expensive or cheap it is. Below are some tips on how you can set up good financial habits early on with your children.

Teach the value of money early on - Allow children to touch and encourage using "play" and real money. Have your children describe coins, compare and contrast size, feel and color. I always make my children identify any money they find in the couch by name and value before they drop it into their piggy bank. You can make it even more challenging for older children. For example if they find a quarter ask, "How may of those coins would equal $2.50?"

Always make your purchases about choice even if you have the money. All purchases have a time and a place. Identify why you are making the purchase. Is it a real need? Do you want it to, fit in socially? Is it to feel better? Who will it make feel better? Will it enrich your families lives?

When you can't afford an item for your child do not drive it into your child's head. Make it about choice rather than claiming it as something you can't afford. If it is something you really want your child to have, look for alternatives. Can something else be given up? Can you barter for the item? There quite a few bartering sites around like craiglist and

Make sure your child has a long term savings plan (bank, account, cd, 529 plan), a short term savings plan (piggy bank money, allowance, etc.) and include in your child's financial plan something that many people believe is the law of money, charity. Many experts in the finance world agree that if you wish to make money you must send some out into the universe for a good cause. Neale S. Godfrey's book, Money Doesn't Grow on Trees: A Parents Guide Raising Financially Responsible Children, is a super choice!

Perhaps if we teach our children the value of money we can save them from the same fate we are living through now.

Friday, March 13, 2009

How can I be sure my child is comprehending when I read aloud to them as well as when they read on their own?

Learning to read is an extremely complex process. We not only need the tools to break down phonemes (the smallest sounds in language) in order to decode words but we need to understand what each word means and how they work in the context of a sentence and eventually paragraphs. After all that work, it's a difficult task for some children to truly understand what was read to them or what they have read aloud. Parents can model appropriate techniques while reading to their children and can ask children to do the same techniques when they read aloud. Here are some simple ideas to get your child comprehending.
One technique called "Think aloud" is used by many teachers. As you read to your child, pause after a character is about to make an important decision or is about to get into trouble or any other important turning point in the story. Comment to your child about what is happening. For example: "Uh oh, I think Thomas is going to run into some real problems if he goes too fast." Do this on a consistent basis throughout a story so children realize that good readers are constantly making predictions and drawing conclusions about the characters and events.
Another technique is making a 'text-to-self' or 'text-to-text' connection. When a certain event happens in a story ask your children if they have ever been in a similar situation or if it reminds them of another character from another book or even someone you both know. Don't be afraid to spend a little time making comparisons. It can truly enrich a child's reading experience and allow them to connect and reflect on what they read.
Reading to your children from the time they are born (or before!) is extremely valuable. It is not important to have very young children sit and listen in a traditional way. The important factor is that children are listening to language on a constant basis and developing a positive relationship to literature. When they reach the age of 4 try to read at least 15 minutes a day and by the age of 6 they should read at least one book a day to you in addition to you reading to them.

Some other ideas to help with comprehension:

  • Have children create their own mini books (young children can draw the pictures and can dictate the story to you. Older children may do both tasks or as a fun twist you can draw the pictures based on what they have written)
  • Choose books that have simple words so your child can focus on what is happening in the story
  • Have children keep a journal
  • Make up songs and oral stories
  • Knock, Knock Jokes (there are tons if sites)

    Read, reflect, connect and enjoy!
    Sara Lise

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Welcome to my new blog!

I am an experienced educator and parent workshop facilitator in New York City and I want to share my knowledge with you! Here are some of the things that you can expect from this blog:
Ideas to assist you with your children's comprehension and math skills; effectively communicating with your kids' teacher; dealing with bullies; creating fun activities for your kids; creating good habits for kids and finance; choosing the right schools; getting kids involved in the arts and answering your everyday parenting questions. Send your parenting and education questions to