Saturday, June 27, 2009

Don't Know Much About History...

So the summer has begun and my ideas are many... I have received lots of questions since we went on facebook. Make sure to add us as a fan and encourage friends to join! Please keep sending those questions in and check back often for your answers.

I received a great question from Diane who asked "Is it important to keep my kids connected to patriotic American holidays? While our family 'celebrates' the day off we certainly don't make any reference as to why we have the day off. It seems my kids don't learn much about them at school? Should we be doing more?"

Answering this question is almost like giving me an opportunity at Speakers Corner in London and allowing me to stand on my soapbox! I am getting my 'Patriot on' and posting a few thoughts on how we can and should educate our children about our American holidays.

On to my soapbox...
I, like many of you, grew up thinking that major American holidays were simply created so that I could enjoy a backyard bar-b-que with my lucky friends or family that had a backyard and of course, so that Macy's could have a sale. You know Memorial Day, Veteran's Day, Labor Day and July Fourth which, in addition to a Macy's sale, put on the best firework display in the country! I appreciated many of these experiences as a child (still do) and think Macy's is really one of the few stores that does a great job giving back to New York City.

Something recently changed the way I thought about these holidays. Two of my cousins were sent to war; one to Iraq and one to Afghanistan. (The Afghanistan cousin left a six week old daughter and 5 year old son for a year). Having children of similar ages and being close in proximity we spent a lot of time visiting and watching first hand how our cousins coped without knowing the fate of their dad and husband. Can you imagine not being without your kid/dad/spouse for a year? While I made small references to these "support the soldiers" and other patriotic holidays in the past, looking at these sacrifices that hit so close to home it was clear I needed to do more to connect my kids to the history and celebrations of this country .

I started this past Memorial Day by taking my kids to the Vietnam Memorial in Lower Manhattan. It wasn't easy to see those veterans cry at the wall and deal with such painful memories, but boy, were we ever welcomed! One smile after the next on those Vets faces thanking us for coming! We took the time to remember and the thanks was so heart warming. It was a teachable moment for sure! I talked to my children about why these soldiers were sad and why it meant so much to them to have us there; they felt remembered. History is a favorite subject of mine so I always incorporate a book or small activity about a holiday with both my students and my own kids. For so many educators though, history often falls by the wayside in elementary schools. A teachers' day gets bogged down with the basics and very little time is left to explore and discuss the importance of our history in the way that we should. As well, if parents do not carry over what might be shared in class the information goes no where.

So to my point - This Fourth of July Independence Day (America's 233rd birthday), go to your bar-b-ques ( I know I always look forward to seeing a special group of friends), go to the sales and enjoy the extra day with your kids. However, take the time to share some history about the day and those many other "day off/sale days". Older children (7 years or so) are capable of learning a small bit about the history. For younger children acknowledge the holiday with a craft or song and a small explanation (take out a map of the United States and have your little ones sing "Happy Birthday") the important idea is that children learn that these days exist for a reason. You don't have to be a flag waving, Stars and Stripes boxer short wearing, America the Beautiful humming patriot, to learn about the history of the US of A!

Below is great kids site and a few books that address different Independence Day. Check them out:

Happy Fourth!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

"Are you ready for the summer?" (Remember the Meatballs theme?)

A few quick promotions before we answer this week's question:

Join our blog on facebook!  Please suggest to your friends.  

Speaking of friends...
Our friends at Go Baby have started a new mom inventors program and they are looking for product testers. Check it out:

Our question this week comes from Jane: "How do I get my kids to clean up and take responsibility?"  I'm expanding on this question just a bit and tying it into the current season.   I'm talking about how to use the summer to motivate your kids to not only take responsibility around the house but to stay motivated in terms of their learning and not just academics!

Clean up , baby!
Start the clean up routine from the time children are very young.   From the time my kids were about six months or so I would clean up their toys right in front of them at about the same points each day and narrate my actions.  Before AM snack, before lunch, before bedtime, etc.  I would say as I put the toys away, "okay, help me clean up".  Sometimes accompanied by the oh so lovely "clean up song".   As my children got older they were expected to help out more and more until they could do it independently.  Cleaning up should be a natural part of your routine and it should happen at set times, usually as a transitional activity before a meal or outdoor excursion.  Bottom line: If clean up does not happen neither does the next activity.  

May I have another...
With the more relaxed pace of summer this is a great time to introduce a new responsibility for your child.  Teaching your child to make their beds, set the table, clean the table, fill the dishwasher, etc. are extremely important tasks to keep your household running smoothly.  It is also important to show your children that as they grow they have the power to help the family.   Choose only one task to add (I like to add a new task for each season) as you want to keep it  from appearing as flouting the child labor laws!  Model first and teach your child the way you want to the task accomplished.  Accept what you are asking them to do will be far from perfect at first and not look exactly as you would do it.  Let it go. Encourage the effort and know they will get better.  If your kids are attending sleep away camp find out what they had to do as the nights they were a "waitron" or "serving wench" and carry it through in your home come their return!  

Learning comes in all shapes!
I'm sure that you've joined the New York Public Library and Barnes and Noble reading clubs like I suggested in last week's post.  But what about math?  Statistics show that most children stay the same or excel in reading over the summer but lose lots of ground in math.  Here are a few suggestions: 

Discuss money in real situations.
As you pay the ice cream truck or the "icee" man in your 'hood talk to your children about the cost of what they are purchasing, the amount of money they have and  the change they should get. Eventually let them go up by themselves with you watching in the background.  Someone recently short changed my son.  Another important teaching moment happened  while gingerly  telling/showing the vendor there was a mistake.  Oy!

Count up sea shells at the shore.  Use a sectioned plate and let your children categorize shells by shape, size, color.  They can do this many times.  Discuss choices.  Ex. "How did you decide this  group goes together?"

Let your children help or pack their own suitcases.  Discuss,  "If we are going away for "x" amount of days how many pairs of shorts, shirts and socks will you need?"

"Do, do, doo!"  Sing with the kiddies and go to concerts and...
Take advantage of the free events happening in your area.  In New York City free events happen with great abundance during the summer.  Use your excursions as opportunities to try a new train line.  Discuss with your children how to get back home from various destinations.  Look at maps before  leaving and have your child follow while you are on the road or in the subway (a great occupier of children's time).  Does your child know what the closest train or bus stop is to their home?  Do they know your cell phone number and know how to dial it (this takes practice)?  Do your children know what to do if they lose you in a crowd?  This tip comes from my cousin:  Tell your child to find "a mom with a baby" (not a security officer as many uniform officers can be confusing)  and let them know they are lost.  If they are old enough to know your cell phone number (by age 4)  they can ask them to call you on their cell phone.

Finally, there is nothing wrong with buying a workbook/activity book and "gently" requiring your kid to do a few pages a week.

Here are a few that I like:

Kumon Series

Mad Libs

Sudoku for kids

Bridge Activities for the Summer Workbook

All items can be found at Barnes and Noble or Amazon.

For more ideas see my prior posts on indoor and outdoor activities.

Here's to a mild summer with a lot less rain, lots of safe fun and weekly visits to our site!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Leave this child behind?

Not without reading this post!

I received many questions about holding your child behind one school year, particularly in the pre-school years. I have some personal experience with this, read on:

I am a November baby and my husband's birthday is the very last week of December. We both attended New York City Public Schools and back then, starting your child late or "holding them back" voluntarily was not the thing to do. Well, I failed just about every math test I took and struggled through school my entire life until my Junior year of high school. My husband on the other hand, knew from age 4 that he wanted to be a "vertebrate paleontologist", the school wanted his parents to allow him to skip two grades and he was accepted into a gifted and talented program by age 8. We both graduated college. I continued on and received my Masters Degree in Education and my husband quit a post grad program to wander aimlessly through the desert in the Middle East. In the end, we are relatively successful in our respective fields and work hard not to pass along too many issues onto our kids.

While it is not uncommon for there to be a disparity in the learning curve between children born in the earlier part of the year versus children born in the latter half, it is not the rule as in my personal example above. Children develop at different rates and many factors (not just birthdays) should be taken into consideration when deciding whether or not to hold a child behind a year. Decisions made about holding over any child, at any age, for any reason should not be taken lightly.

I had one friend that practically begged her son's kindergarten teacher to hold her late September "baby" back because he was having some maturity and learning issues earlier in the year. By the middle of year the classroom teacher felt that the child was making improvements and he might be ready by the end of the year to move on to the first grade. My friend was worried. I convinced her to give him time (often these children catch up in the spring), hire a reading tutor during the summer and honestly, to allow him to grow up. She later admitted that it was hard for her to let him move on. Many parents want their children to stay behind because they don't want their kids to be the youngest in the class or even have their own fears about their kids growing up. A parent's behavior can set the tone for the child. In the end, her son is doing above average work now.

It should also be noted that in some private schools and schools around the country a child will not be allowed to enter kindergarten unless they are age 5 at the start of the first day of school. This too can create a huge gap since some children are a year ahead of other children in their grade. As well, many states do not mandate the kindergarten year and therefore if you hold your child back without discussing it with your local school they can catapult your child right to first grade once they turn six, forcing them to skip kindergarten.

Here are some other important factors to consider when holding a child back:

-How does the child/parent deal with separation?

-Is the child receiving therapy or any other intervention services?

-How does the child handle social situations with peers?

-Is your child's maturity/temperament developmentally appropriate?
-How will holding your child back help or hurt them? Do not assume children will be unaware because they are young.

-Does the child have the basic academic skills they need to succeed in the next grade?

-If not, can basic skills be achieved with extra help from a tutor or intervention specialist over the summer or during the school year?

-Are parents willing to carve out time and provide recommended exercises and activities to promote these skills in their home?

It is best when parents discuss their decisions with educators that know and directly serve their child. In the case of a disagreement consider consulting with your child's pediatrician, a developmental pediatrician, school counselor and most importantly don't discount your intuition.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Read Baby Read!

Okay, so my leisure reading has been reduced to amNewYork but I try to provide my cuties with something more substantial when it comes to their reading, especially during the summer. The four parent questions below range from babyhood to 5+.  So after you read my PSA to join both the local Library and Barnes & Noble summer reading programs, scroll down to get the appropriate information for your age kid or you can read this entire 'jam packed full of good information' entry. Here we go!

All children should get their library cards (they can get one as soon as they are born!) and make a habit of going to the library between once a week and once a month.   Sign up for the Summer reading program at or sign up at your local library. They are even encouraging parents to sign up this year (is this the end of amNewYork for me?). You could also join Barnes and Noble's summer reading program.  All children will receive a book when they complete their reading log.

Our first question from Helen addresses children birth-age 3:

"I feel so silly reading to my infant.  Sometimes I feel she is not even paying attention.  Do I keep reading to her?"

Children should be read to every day from the time they are born (even in utero) and continue being read to until they tell you "Mom, have you seen the latest Economist?"
Infants and young children should have at least 2-3 books that are read to them over and over each day. I try to create a ritual around a particular book. For instance, "It Looked Like Spilt Milk" is only read at nap time and "Goodnight Moon" is only read at bedtime. This creates familiarity with text and pictures as they become acquainted with reading.  Don't worry, while it may seem they are not connecting at first, they are! Just the sound of your voice, hearing the language and the pictures creates a new way for a child to connect with you. Keep doing it!  For toddlers, let children choose their own books.  It's okay if they choose the same books over and over even if those are not exactly what you might choose for them. You can gently guide but do not push.  If children have ownership of their reading they will learn to love reading.

Our second comes question from Tamar for ages 3-4:

"Should we teach our child to read before school starts?"

Reading is complex and it involves many components such as decoding (the breaking down of sounds in a word), comprehension in context of a sentence, a paragraph and in terms of understanding the entire story, making predictions and inferences.   For parents, it is not necessary to 'teach' reading.   It can often backfire and turn your child off especially if they are not ready, or you can become frustrated as well.   The best way to begin getting your child to read is to read aloud to your child for 20 minutes a day.  By exposing children to literature you are showing that you value reading.   As you read you can ask questions such as: "Does this character sound like anyone you know?" "What do you think will happen next?" "What would you do?" "Did that ever happen to you?" Asking children to connect to a text (also known as a "text to self" connection) is a wonderful way to get children to be active listeners and readers.  You can even have children ask you these questions.  Kids love to play the teacher!

Another wonderful technique to get children involved in reading is to expose them to books without words such as Pat Hutchin's book "Rosie's Walk", Mercer Mayer's "Bubble, Bubble" or encourage them to 'read the pictures' in a book they are already familiar with.

Books with repetitive language like "When I was Little: A Four Year Olds Memoir of her Youth" by Jamie Lee Curtis and "Joseph Had a Little Overcoat" by Simms Taback are very effective in getting children to hear the repetitive language and become familiar with letters and phrasing. Using poetry or books that rhyme and pointing out words that 'match' or make the same sound, are also wonderful tools.

Finally, doing letter searches on the train, for instance: "find all the J's" (use the first letter of your child's name often!) or play "Let's think of all the L words we can and make a list" can also be helpful without making it a boring task.  

In the end, don't push but encourage a love of reading.  

Our third question comes from Teresa (applies to children five+)

"How do I know when my child is ready for the next reading level?"

Children are ready for the next reading level when they can read a book with 97% accuracy.   If percentages are not your thing just figure they need to get most of  the words right.  Not only should children be able to read the words but they should be able to find answers directly from the text such as "What color was Lucy wearing?" A step up from this activity would be asking advanced questions that children have to infer from the text or have to connect to other life situations.   Remember that a book that may seem simple or too easy to read does not necessarily mean your child is comprehending. Always ask questions and discuss or have your child retell the story in sequence.

Our final question comes from Melissa:

My son is five and a half and still not reading. I'm getting worried:

Depending on your child's school it may not be in their philosophy to 'teach' reading until the age of six or later. If this is the case, you may want to use many of the suggestions I have decribed above. I have also found books on CD very effective to get a non reader reading.   If this is not the case, you may want to talk to your child's teacher and discuss your concerns.   For some children they may simply not be ready and yet all other possibilities should be ruled out.   An eye and ear exam is a good place to start.   I had no idea my oldest child had the poorest of eyesight until he was almost 4 years old!  It was only after he got glasses that he began to show a real difference in his learning and personality.  There is a no frills online site that I think is very non-threatening and has some fun pre reading games.   The rest of the site also has some great information. It is called Get Ready to Read. If your child's situation seems much more complex, you may want to discuss your situation with a special educator or developmental pediatrician.    We are fortunate to live in an age of solutions.  There are techniques and therapies that can make a world of change for children very quickly.  The good news is that you care and are asking the right questions, keep looking for the answers on behalf of your child.

So, here's to a summer of reading!   You can even create a kids' book club along with the programs described above!   You can meet weekly and it is super way to keep children learning and connecting over the summer.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Got intervention?

There were so many wonderful questions submitted this past Sunday at Mamapalooza, Make sure you keep checking back for your answers!  

Congrats to Laura G. on winning the Outmat from!

Congrats to Micheline S. on winning Lori Sunshine's book, "I'm Not Really Tired"

I’ll begin this week with one question from a concerned parent, “What are some of the reasons for gross (large) motor skills delays in babies?”  I would like to broaden the question by asking “Why are so many children in need of intervention services, such as occupational therapy, physical therapy, play therapy and speech?”

Heredity and other familial connections aside, the short answer is the early childhood specialists are better at diagnosing these delays.  They realize that the earlier children are treated the better the chances of them adapting to therapy more readily and the treatments will be more effective.  As well, school standards have more expectations from young children.  The longer answer gets a bit more complicated.  An early intervention physical therapist shared with me that researchers are also looking at environmental factors and even stress during pregnancy as playing some role in children with developmental delays.  

Think back to when we were kids; do you remember the weak kid? The uncoordinated kid?  The kid that never communicated their ideas in a way that made sense?  The extraordinarily, painfully shy kid? The kid that had tons of quirks that stopped him from participating in regular activities?  Well, we now know how to help those kids and we can detect which children might have these issues very early and prevent or minimize the delays so children can feel successful in the school years.  

It is important to keep in mind that children develop differently and in many cases children will catch up depending on how severe the diagnosis.  Take a look at the NYC Department of Health’s Check List for Growing Children  Though it contains a list of milestones for each age, the intent is not to drive you nuts when your child is missing a few of these milestones (give approximately 3 months for each age for your child to reach a milestone).  You may want to look for help when your child is not catching up and milestones are consistently being missed.  Depending on your pediatrician, some over-diagnose and some under diagnose.  Be your child’s best advocate and if you suspect something, get them evaluated.  Remember, with a prescription, these services are FREE to New York State residents.  These services vary state to state. 

Accepting that your child may have a problem in their development can be hard.  Some parents deal with it by telling everybody and some are so ashamed they tell no one.  A few tips: 

-A delay is just that, a delay. Many children can overcome them with therapy and time.

 -A delay does not have to define your child.  Celebrate who your child is and not what they are currently unable to do. 

-If you choose to tell others it may not be necessary to tell every person you meet that “She’s in therapy.”  Find a small supportive group to tell and don’t make it the focus of your conversations and certainly not in front of your child.  

-If your child has aged out of the Early Intervention Services program (3 years of age), look for hospital settings that might take your health insurance. 

-Educate yourself and ask questions.  Learn how to provide your child with the exercises and materials they will need to be successful.

“Every stage, good or bad, ends”