Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Family Traditions

Recently, in an attempt to prepare my students for the MCAS long composition test, I had them write a personal narrative. The topic: “Family Traditions.” The first word that tripped them up was “traditions.” Many children had no clue as to what the word even meant. How could they start the writing process?

Unlike the real MCAS, I could tell them the definition of traditions as well as brainstorm some examples. Most children thought of holiday traditions but I also tried to get them to think of vacation traditions and any others they could think of.

We had many traditions in my family. When I was little we had a tradition of going to dinner at my grandma’s house on Sundays. The traditional Sunday dinner has become a thing of the past in many families, including mine. We spent Christmas Day with my mom’s side of the family at my great uncle and aunt’s house. Having no children of their own, it was not a kid friendly place to be. Picture, if you will, white furniture and carpeting.

One of my favorite vacation traditions was the brown lunch bag for the road trip. We couldn’t open the bag to enjoy its contents until we were officially on the highway. But we already knew what we’d find: a new comic book, quiet car games and candy!

These were designed to keep us quiet and occupied for the majority of our journey. Being voracious readers we were done with all three of the comic books in no time. (We traded back and forth.) My older sister, Cindy, could make her candy last, but not we younger two, Marcia and me. We gobbled it down then enjoyed a sugar rush followed by a sugar crash. Good times.

After modeling the above traditions from my childhood, it was time to set the children loose on their writing. A couple of students were able to accomplish the task with relative ease. The rest had melt downs. They couldn’t think of any traditions. They didn’t know where to start.

After reminding them to make a list, draw a picture, or web out their ideas, they still whined. Most of my students do not like to write. It is too much effort for them. Writing is hard and takes focus and an ability to visualize. I tried to get them to tell their story by painting a picture with their words.

Still no luck for my severest reluctant writers. Some days I feel like I’m pulling teeth trying to get these kids to write. My only hope is that I’m planting seeds for the future when everything clicks and these kids, hopefully, get turned on to writing.

I actually called a few families and explained their child’s difficulties. The homework for those kids: talk with their families about their traditions. As I suspected, the families did have traditions, the kids were just not aware of them.

The bottom line? Talk with your children about your childhood traditions. It’s your heritage and theirs as well. Point out your family’s current tradition. Chances are, you’ve got them, your children just don’t know it.

Are you continuing any childhood traditions with your family? Are you creating new ones? Leave me a comment. I’d love to hear from you.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Teaching Gratitude and Graciousness

As parents the greatest gift we can give our children is the ability to navigate successfully through life. One of the best ways to do this is to teach them to be grateful. Practicing gratitude daily has many benefits but at this time of year we focus more on giving and receiving presents.

Jimmy Kimmel asked parents to play a trick on their children. The parents were to give their children an early Christmas gift. The twist was that the gift had to be something the children would never want. Then the parents video-taped their offspring opening said presents and posted them on YouTube.

Some parents wrapped up half-eaten sandwiches and rotten bananas. I enjoyed watching the little girl open the carton of six eggs and then proceed to crack open an egg. The child who got the rotten banana actually started eating it, peel and all.

Most of it made me laugh out loud but there were two clips that disturbed me. One was the boy in the red striped sweater. He has some anger management issues, I think. The fact that he was allowed to attack his parents bothered me as well. That was bad enough, but the last clip was over the top. The comment made by the young boy about what Santa could do was quite rude. Those parents get no “Parent of the Year Award” in my book. Apparently that language is considered acceptable in that household. I found it vulgar and disgusting especially to be uttered by what appears to be a ten-year old.

See for yourself. CLICK HERE to watch. Oh, and if you read the comments below the video, some of them are quite vulgar as well. (Just my humble opinion)

In addition to being grateful, perhaps we should also teach graciousness. When preparing my children to attend family gatherings, we discussed opening “Aunt Claire” gifts. My husband’s godmother, Aunt Claire, often gave gifts that weren’t quite what he wanted, like the year he received the cowboy hat. Still, he said thank you and even wore it for a short time. Then it was relegated to the back of the closet for all eternity.

Gifts are not so much about the recipient as the giver. There is a great article from USAToday about this very subject. CLICK HERE to read it.

The bottom line is that when you open a gift, even if it’s not something you like, it’s important to smile and thank the giver. It’s more about their thoughtfulness, time, and efforts.  Teaching this to children is key to avoiding social gaffes and possible embarrassment.  A polite, well behaved, gracious child is a gift not only to you and anyone your child encounters, but to your child as well.

Has your child ever reacted in a not-so-appropriate manner when they opened a gift?  Leave me a comment.  I'd love to hear about it.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Achieving the Impossible by Overcoming Procrastination

Everybody procrastinates to some degree. That is, we avoid doing something we should do in favor of something we want to do. Procrastination becomes a problem when it interferes with our lives. We may not reach our fullest potential in our professional and/or private lives.

 According to, there are three steps to overcoming procrastination:

1. Recognize that you are procrastinating. You can’t address a problem if you don’t acknowledge it.

2. Determine WHY you are procrastinating. The most common causes: the task is unpleasant to us, we are unorganized, and/or the task is overwhelming.

3. Develop anti-procrastination strategies. There is a great, free, on-line tip sheet at to help even the worst procrastinator get started.

So, what are you waiting for? Seize the day and get something done!

Have you ever put off doing something and regretted it? Leave me a comment. I’d love to hear from you!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Halloween Etiquette

At this time of year many sources offer advice on safe trick or treating.  I’d like to focus on etiquette.  For grownups and kids.  Many parents remind their children to say please and thank you while they are gathering their treats.  What I’ve observed over the past few years is that parents aren’t taking the time to explain to their children the trick or treating protocol.

1.  Ring the doorbell of houses that have their lights on.
2.  Wait patiently.
3.  When the person answers the door say, “Trick or treat.”
4.  After the candy is put in the bags say, “Thank you.”
5.  Walk carefully down the steps and back to the grownups.

Why do we say trick or treat?  Basically we’re threatening the homeowner with a trick such as soaping windows (or worse in some cases) if they don’t give us a treat.  Click HERE for a great website about the origins of the phrase and some history of Halloween traditions.

The biggest complaint I heard this year was that grownups are now carrying their own trick or treat containers.  When the door opens they are begging for candy and they’re not even wearing costumes.  This is downright rude.  Candy is expensive and it is purchased with the intention of distributing it to children.  Do what all parents have done over the years: raid your kids’ Halloween candy stash after they go to bed!  Kids shouldn’t eat all that candy anyway.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Teaching Your Child To Cross the Road

If you read this week’s “Ponderings” you know that I witnessed a near calamity recently. As parents we hope that our children make good choices and would never do something so stupid. Although we can’t guarantee that they will always use common sense, it is still our job to teach them strategies for safety and success as well as the rules of society and laws of the land.

There are some great resources for teaching your child to cross the road safely. Pedestrian laws vary from town to town, city to city so it’s important to know them, show them, and practice them with your child. Remember, by “show them” I mean model, model, model. If you say, “Always cross in a crosswalk,” and then jaywalk where your child can witness, all your parenting efforts are out the window.

As usual, the web is a fantastic resource for how-to information on teaching your child how to cross the road safely.  Click HERE, HERE, and HERE for some great links on how to teach your child pedestrian safety laws.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Politeness Pays

Politeness really pays. When children are sitting politely waiting for their balloon, I pick them first. The other day as I was feverishly making balloon animals for a dozen children, only one of them said thank you. The others just grabbed their balloon. Often when I’m clowning I have parents who prompt their child to use their polite words. To them I say, “Thank you!”

A well-mannered child doesn’t happen by accident. Teaching your child manners starts with you modeling good manners and then having her say please and thank you when she is able to say a few words. Most importantly, manners need to be practiced in order for them to be part of your child’s daily habits. Manners are an important part of civility and by using manners on a daily basis your home will be more peaceful. An added bonus is that when you are out in public your child is apt to be better behaved, earning you kudos as a good parent!

There are some great resources on the web for teaching manners to your child:
· The Etiquette Princess has a great book for young children.
· Sylvan Education has a page with lots of links for teaching manners.
· The ever popular Emily Post has a great site with lots of articles about manners.

Unfortunately what I see happening lately is that parents are not teaching their children manners and it is one more thing that the schools have to teach. This leaves less time for teaching the nitty-gritty academic subjects. As a result I am seeing an overall decline in intelligence and higher level thinking abilities. Is this what we want for our next generation?

Is your child polite?  Leave me a comment.  I’d love to hear from you!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Whine-free Zone

It’s late, it’s a school night, and you need to go grocery shopping. As a single parent, this is tough. You have few options but to drag the kids along with you. If you have a partner, could one of you stay home with the kids while the other does the shopping? Different strategies work for different families but the bottom line is what’s best for the kids?

By 7PM most kids are winding down from their day, or at least they should be. Kids need lots of sleep! According to Webmd, kids 4-6 need 10-12 hours of sleep per night! Taking your children to the grocery store at this hour is just asking for trouble. It’s hard for children to behave when they’re overtired. Why set yourself up for disaster?

If you have to bring your children to the grocery store, make sure they’ve had something to eat beforehand. This will help alleviate the whining for snacks. You can always pack an easy to eat snack such as a cheese stick or crackers. When my mom took us shopping we always got a little box of animal crackers to munch on when we shopped. At the end of the trip the cashier rang up the empty box. Yum! CLICK HERE for some great tips on how to have a stress-less grocery shopping trip with your child.

Before going anywhere out in public it’s important to communicate with your child what they can expect as well as what you expect from them. Children need lots of direction when it comes to good behavior and lots of practice.

Follow-through is the hardest thing for most adults. We have to say what we mean and mean what we say. Giving kids mixed messages is frustrating for all.

Dealing with children takes a lot of energy. Have you had something to eat? Have you gotten enough sleep? According to Webmd,  “Most adults need seven to eight hours a night for the best amount of sleep, although some people may need as few as five hours or as many as 10 hours of sleep each day.”

After a long day at work it’s difficult to stay one step ahead of your energetic child. Putting in the effort to teach them self-control and good behavior when they’re young will pay off big time when they get older. It’s your job as a parent and they’re worth the effort, don’t you think?

What do you think? Do you have any “shopping with children” strategies? Leave me a comment. I’d love to hear from you!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Getting Organized

Do you have CHAOS?  According to Flylady, that’s “Can’t Have Anyone Over Syndrome” due to a less than organized home.  Flylady is a helpful resource for getting organized.  She encourages you to just begin where you are and take baby steps.  I have found it very helpful in all aspects of my life.  CLICK HERE to check out her website.  You can sign up for daily emails to help you on your path to a more organized and less stressful life.

In addition to the many books you can purchase and websites where you can pay for organizational strategies, there’s also a free online resource called Organized Families that provides free suggestions and strategies to get and keep your family organized.  CLICK HERE to check out that website  
Now that school has resumed, you may wish to reference some of my older blogs.  I’ve got some great tips on time management as well as how to help with the homework blues.
Do you have any tips for organization that have worked well with your family?  Please leave me a comment.  I’d love to hear from you!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Letting Your Child Stay Home Alone

How do you know when your child is ready to stay home alone?  Every child is different and different states have different laws.  The recommended minimum age ranges from 8-12.  CLICK HERE for a link to the legal age limits for each state—not all states have them, however!

This can be a tough decision for families but the reality is not all grownups can be there when their child gets home from school.  CLICK HERE   for an online quiz to see if your child is responsible enough to stay home alone.

According to Child Welfare Information Gateway,  there are some things to consider when making this decision:
  • Is your child physically and mentally able to care for him- or herself?
  • Does your child obey rules and make good decisions?
  • Does your child feel comfortable or fearful about being home alone?

In an article reviewed by Nicole Green MD, you will find some great tips on this topic.  They include:
  • Factors to Consider
  • Make a “Practice Run”
  • Handling the Unexpected
  • Before You Leave
  • Ready to Go

CLICK HERE to read the entire article.

Knowing your child is home alone can be nerve wracking.  Taking the above steps to ensure their safety just might give you some peace of mind.  The effort is worth it for everyone, I think.

What do you think?  Does your child stay home alone?  Do you have any advice for other parents?  Leave me a comment.  I’d love to hear from you!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Haircuts Without Fear

Many children are afraid to get their hair cut because they think it might hurt.  That word “cut” just turns some children into screaming, squirming maniacs in the salon chair.  Is it a simple fear or a full blown phobia known as tonsurephobia? 

According to Kendra Van Wagner - Psychosocial Therapist, some haircut phobias are due to a bad past experience.  Perhaps the stylist nicked an ear or you just can’t stand the buzzing of the clippers.  CLICK HERE to read the entire article.

At one point or another you are probably going to want your child to get a haircut of some sort.  How do you make sure it is a pleasant experience?  There is a lot of great advice to be had at baby  
There’s also a cute book, “No Haircut” by James Grady, illustrated by Janet Grady.  “Sprinkles First Haircut” by J.C. Schwanda and illustrated by Dan Kanemoto is another good book for children to help ease their haircut fears.

Making sure your child is well rested, well fed, and distracted seems to be the common strategies used by many parents.

Do you have a strategy to help make your child’s haircuts more pleasant?  Please leave me a comment.  I’d love to hear from you!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Politeness Pays

One of the best things that parents* can teach their children is manners. I always give “extra points” to the parents of children who say please and thank you when I’m making animal balloon sculptures. 

Politeness pays! People are more apt to want to interact/help your child is he is polite. The basics of please, thank you, and excuse me come in so handy every day! As a clown I will give the patient, polite child a balloon much faster than the demanding rude child.

This applies to the classroom as well. School is preparation for the “real world” for when children get older and go on to further education and/or jobs. Being able to wait your turn and use courteous words gets you farther in life. 

Civility breeds civility. By this I mean if your child is well-mannered, people will treat him better. Conversely, if your child is ill-mannered, people will avoid interacting with him. Which would you prefer?

And as always, your actions speak much louder than your words. Do you set an example? Are you polite and well-mannered? And not just to others but your child as well. That way they’ll be polite and well-mannered to you. It’s a two-way street!

How did you teach your child manners? Leave me a comment. I’d love to hear from you!

*By parents I mean any primary caregiver of children.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Stress and Overscheduled Kids

Unfortunately today’s kids can be very stressed. CLICK HERE for an informative article on childhood stress. The demands of schoolwork, afterschool activities, and family can take their toll. The results are not pretty: lowered grades, disinterest in school and other activities, and even illness/injuries. What’s a grownup to do?

Teachers need to be careful when scheduling homework, especially in the older grades where students have more than one teacher. The teachers need to communicate. I try to give plenty of time for long-term projects. Nightly reading and math fact practice is expected, however. I sometimes suggest to students who are having trouble fitting it all in that they can break up their homework into chunks: do some at night and some in the morning before school.

Coaches and other extracurricular grownup leaders need to be cautious of their demands on children’s time. Often children are overbooked with sports, scouting, AND art lessons of one form or another. I know that parents want their children to be well rounded but we don’t want them falling flat!

So the bottom line starts and ends with parents and guardians. Parents and guardians have (or should have) the ultimate say in how much or how little their child is involved in extracurricular activities. If you feel stressed with all of the chauffeuring to and from these activities, imagine how your child feels?

Besides not overscheduling children, I highly recommend teaching them to meditate. Of course, it helps if you as the grownup model meditate, too. Dr. Robert Puff speaks about the benefits of meditation for children and gives a simple how to on this video. CLICK HERE for a link to the video. This Yoga Journal article link can help you instruct your child on how to do simple yoga. CLICK HERE for the link to that article.

What do you do to help your child feel less stressed? Leave me a comment. I’d love to hear from you!

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Your Child's Written Work: To Edit or Not To Edit?

After your child finishes a writing assignment for school, do you immediately proofread and edit it “with” them?  As a caring parent it's normal to want to help your child with their homework. However, giving him the opportunity to find and fix his own mistakes is important. Throughout their school careers students are required to edit their work without assistance. Therefore it is crucial that they have experience doing so. 

One strategy that I recommend is having the child read their piece out loud. Very often they’ll hear their mistake and be able to correct it. If they don’t notice, perhaps a gentle, “Does that sound right?” after you read it aloud to them, might help.

Sometimes though, when we read our own work, our brain fills in what we intended to write. You can read what your child has written out loud to them. If they have typed their assignment on the computer, you can have the computer read it to them. ReadPlease is a computer program that reads text aloud. CLICK HERE for free downloadable software.

A critical tool for every household is a dictionary. A good dictionary will include synonyms antonyms which can help increase your child’s word usage. Why use mundane words like said, sad, walk, when retorted, depressed, ambled, would be so much more interesting! The verbs are the power of our language, not the flowery adjectives. 

One of the reasons children balk at writing is because handwriting is so cumbersome. I recommend teaching touch typing to children. There are many free typing tutor software programs available that have a game format, making it fun for the children to learn and practice. CLICK HERE for a link to an article comparing the different programs.

The more children write, the better they get. Encourage your child to write as much as possible. Model writing whenever you can. The more they see you writing, the more they’ll want to write. And most importantly: writing should be a joy and never used as a punishment.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Music Everyday

You’ve heard that old saying, “Music soothes the savage beast”* When it comes to music, especially singing, children are more than just soothed! Music increases a child’s language skills with rhythm and rhyme. Music pulls a group together as a community. Music helps calm children down or rev them up. Music can help with breathing and thus public speaking/oral reading. Can music make your child smarter?   Click HERE for a great website with more information.   Click HERE for a website with free classical music from many composers.

As a teacher, I’ve noticed children don’t seem to know their nursery rhymes and other early childhood songs. As Peppermint Patti I’ve tried to initiate “Patty cake” and “Eensy Weensy Spider” with little ones who look at me as if I’m insane. This makes me sad. Those classic childhood songs and fingerplays are so much fun and so important for early language development! When did parents stop teaching them to their children?

Sometimes during the school day I will play various types of music to either pep up or calm down the class. We also sing many “camp” songs together. Sometimes they’ll even teach me the songs they learned at camp over the summer! I love to learn new songs. A few years ago my student Adam taught me the Beaver Song:

Beaver 1 Beaver All let's all do the beaver call.
Beaver 2 Beaver 3 let’s all climb the beaver tree.
Beaver 4 Beaver 5 let's all do the beaver jive.
Beaver six Beaver 7 let’s all go to beaver heaven.
Beaver 8 Beaver 9 STOP!! It's Beaver time.

Singing brings us together as a community. On Fridays we always have pizza for lunch so we chant the Pizza Song:

Eat. (R)
Eat a. (R)
Eat a lotta. (R)
Eat a lotta, eat a lotta, eat a lotta pizza. (R)
No, no don’t eat the pizza! (R)
Pizza’s got a lotta hot and spicy pepperoni. (R)
Pizza’s got a lotta hot and spicy peppermoni got a lotta hot and spicy pepperoni on the top. (R)

The leader chants the line and then the group repeats (R). We start slow and each time we do it, we go faster! The students love to see how fast they can go!

Music comes in really handy.  One time when we were on a fieldtrip, we had some time to kill so I gathered all 150 third graders and led them in a sing along. It made the wait time go by so much faster. We also like to sing on the bus when we go on fieldtrips. This is sometimes thwarted by the bus driver playing CDs or some sort of Disney radio.

I can't imagine a day without music.

*FYI the actual saying is: “Musick has Charms to sooth a savage Breast”…from a play by William Congreve, The mourning bride, 1697. Click HERE for the internet source.

Do you have a favorite song or fingerplay you taught your child? Leave me a comment. I’d love to hear from you!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Healthy Snacking

Getting all the necessary nutrition into your child on a daily basis is tricky.  Giving him a multivitamin may help but the best source of vitamins and minerals are from a variety of healthy foods.  Viewing snacks as mini meals of nutritious offerings is a great way to provide your child with the daily nutrition he needs.  As a certified Lifestyle and Weight Management Consultant, I try to teach the importance of choosing a variety of healthy foods every day. 

On the Mayo Clinic website you’ll find a great article “Healthy snacks for kids: 10 child-friendly tips.” There are other great resources on the internet such as this very informative article “Healthy Snacks for Kids” fromthe Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine website.  At the Center for Science in the Public Interest website you’ll find ideas for serving healthy snacks to children and much more!   
Snacking is a great way to help picky eaters get the daily nutrition that they need.  There’s a great article on tips for picky eaters on the Mayo Clinic website .  Cooking with kids helps them want to try new foods.  Discover more about this at the PBS website. 
Fueling your child with nutritious food not only keeps them alert, focused, and able to work, it also sets good habits in place for a lifetime of good health.  In addition, a healthy child is able to attend school on a regular basis which has been shown to increase academic achievement.
Does all this mean that you can’t give your child a treat?  Not at all, but treats should be just that, rare special nonnutritive foods just for fun like a cookie or other sweet.  However, there’s no rule that says you have to have dessert at every meal--save dessert for dinner.   Check out some cookbooks to help you get started. I found some great books HERE.
Does your family have any favorite kid-friendly recipes?  Leave me a comment.  I’d love to hear from you!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Bats Are Good

Hooray for Bats! Bats are really very beneficial to our ecosystem yet they have gotten a bad rap over the years. Tired of getting eaten alive by mosquitoes? You need more bats in your neighborhood!

My family had a lot of experience with bats when I was growing up. In 1977 my parents bought an old (built in 1799) brick house. They still live there today. It has thirteen rooms, nine fireplaces, and bats. Every summer evening we could see their dark silhouettes swooping in the dusk sky catching their supper.

Sometimes the bats would get into the house. One night, I’m told (I slept through this event) a bat got into my younger sister Marcia’s bedroom. She wrapped up in her comforter, cocoon style and inch-wormed her way down the hall to our parents’ bedroom as Dad went to investigate.

Meanwhile the bat had followed Marcia and had perched on the wall in the corner of our parents’ bedroom. My mom called, “Buster, the bat’s in here now.” So Buster, that’s Dad’s nickname, came into the room and whooped, “Whoop, whoop.” The bat dive bombed the bed. Mom screamed and scrambled off of the bed and attempted to get under it…

…Only to find she didn’t fit. Not that Mom was too chubby, she’s actually quite thin. No, the bedframe was really close to the floor to accommodate the thick mattresses. Dad eventually got the bat outside and everybody went back to sleep. How I slept through all of this excitement I’ll never know.

Speaking of bats, Brian Lies’ Bats at the Beach, Bats at the Library, and Bats at the Ballgame are delightful and engaging! His illustrations are vivid and detailed, making the reader stop and take a closer look. The rhyming text is gentle and fun to read aloud, not forced. Brian Lies won this year’s Crystal Kite award for his newest book, Bats at the Ballgame, a NY Times best seller!

Find out more about bats at Brian Lies’ website then spend an enjoyable summer evening with your family outdoors observing the bats in your neighborhood. (You’ll need blankets to lie on and some bug repellant.) As they flit about, it’s fun to imagine they’re on their way to a new adventure!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Road Safety

Bikes, scooters, rollerblades, and skateboards are fun! Having a concussion is not.

I’d like to encourage everyone to wear their properly fitting helmets as well as practice safe riding habits! There’s a reason for this: it can save your life!

One way to encourage a child to wear a helmet is let them decorate it with stickers. Another is to wear one yourself! Children learn by example. Actions speak louder than words!

However, even more important than wearing a helmet is using safe riding habits. Have you taken the time to teach your child the “rules of the road?” As more and more people use bicycles for transportation in the U.S., it’s crucial that everyone obey these rules, whether you’re driving a car or a bicycle.

Do you bike with your family? Do you have a favorite bike trail? I’d love to hear from you! Leave me a comment below.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Taking the Family to the Beach

In The Cats of Mrs. Calamari, the characters go to the beach. Do you have access to the ocean from where you live? If so, the beach is a great place to take your family. Even if you’re far from the ocean, a pond, lake, or river are fun to visit, too.

Your day will be more enjoyable if you remember some important things:
• Sunscreen
• Bug repellant
• Healthy snack and meals (a cooler on wheels is handy!)
• Water and juice beverages (plastic containers, no glass!)
• Bathing suits
• Hats and a change of clothing
• Shelter—pop up cabana or umbrella for shade
• Towels (two per person and leave one set in the trunk)
• Beach chairs, blankets or quilts for sitting on
• Beach toys (shovel, pails, etc.)
• Bubbles (be considerate of others who may not want to be “bubbled”)
• Plastic bags (for wet clothing as well as packing home your trash)
• Baby powder (for helping to remove excess sand)
• Camera (don’t forget the camera bag for protection!)

Optional but fun:
• Bug net/container for catching/releasing specimens/magnifying glass
• Fish net/pail for catching/releasing specimens
• Kite/balls/Frisbees, etc. (be considerate of others and watch for power lines)

Good to know:
Not all areas allow inflatable flotation devices or facemasks/snorkels. It’s good to check these things out before you go!

A day at a shore of any kind can be a day of discovery for you and your family. Digging holes is fun! Just be sure they’re not too big—they can collapse and cause injury! Don’t forget to fill them back in when you’re done.

Be sure to end the day on a happy note. There’s nothing worse than driving home a car full of sunburned, hungry, thirsty, bug bitten, sand encrusted, tired children. After rinsing off as much sand as you can, pat dry with the extra towels you previously stowed in the trunk. Dust any residual sand off with the baby powder. That and a visit to a local ice cream, burger or clam shack makes for an enjoyable ending to a memorable family outing.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Appreciating a Job Well Done

Has your child had a great school year? Have you thanked her teacher? I’m not saying you need to rush out and buy an extravagant gift, I’m suggesting a note or card of thanks.

If you’re really grateful, write a letter stating the specific things your child’s teacher has done and send it off to the superintendent and principal. Imagine the teacher’s surprise and delight to have their bosses be made aware of their hard work!

Teachers also love receiving letters of appreciation from their students. In this week’s Pointers blog I’ve included some tips to help children write a letter of appreciation to their teacher.

Most teachers love what they do and are happiest when helping children achieve. It is so rewarding to watch a child who was struggling suddenly make a breakthrough. We call that a “light bulb moment.”

Having a hand in shaping the future generations is an awesome responsibility. Somebody’s got to do it and do it well. It’s hard work but it’s worth it and knowing somebody appreciates our efforts gives us the boost to continue.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Praising Children

We parents want what’s best for our children. No argument there, right? We want them to succeed and be happy. For most of us that means we tell them how smart, beautiful, athletic, etc. they are from the day they are born. Unfortunately, in doing so, we are setting them up for failure! Are you skeptical? Here’s a great article on this very subject:

I’m guilty of praising my children for their intelligence. Now that they’re in their twenties, I’ve seen the consequences. College was too hard (too much work) and after a few semesters, they dropped out. Thankfully, my daughter has a good job with opportunities for training and advancement. My son is still trying to find his way. I have faith that he’ll get there some day.

Seeing the errors of my ways, I’m trying to modify my praise in the classroom. I’m praising my students for their efforts. I’m also trying to be very specific so they know exactly what they’re doing well.

“Effort is everything” is one of my favorite sayings in the classroom. Yesterday I quietly took one of my students aside and told him how proud I was of his efforts. Because he was willing to work hard, he made two years’ progress in reading in this one school year!

I’m pretty certain I can tell which children in my class have been praised for intelligence at home. Just like the article said, these students give up easily and choose easier tasks where they know they’ll have success. I worry about them. Success is tied to your ability to work through difficult tasks. “When the going gets tough, the tough get going” is another of my favorite sayings.

Have you listened to how you praise your child lately? Perhaps it’s not too late for your family.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Ice Cream!

Ice cream is such an amazing treat! Have you ever tried making it with your children? It’s a lot of work but fun. When you’re finally done you’ll definitely have a deeper appreciation of this great invention! A helpful website for making ice cream with children is There are several youtube videos that involve making ice cream with liquid nitrogen—very interesting!

Speaking of inventions, do you know who invented ice cream? Find out at Check out the links to related topics such as recipes that use ice cream as the main ingredient!

There are also many children’s books involving ice cream. You’ll find a comprehensive list at One of my favorite poems about ice cream is by Shel Silverstein, "Eighteen Flavors."

With summer almost here, ice cream is definitely in season! I recommend spending some quality time with your family as you enjoy some delicious ice cream! Leave me a comment about it—I’d love to hear from you!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Summer Reading for Children

Ahhh…Summer! Eight whole weeks of quality time to spend with your child! But wait, after a few days you may hear those dreaded words, “I’m bored!” What’s a parent to do? Why, head right to the library, of course!

There’s so much more at your local library than just a bunch of books. The summer reading programs at area libraries are chock full of craft activities and entertainment. Sign your child up right away, check out some books for him and get him reading!

Or if your child will be away at camp and unable to visit the library, Scholastic Books has a great website for parents with all sorts of information about how to get kids to read and a free summer reading program

A summer full of reading is win-win for you and your child. He might possibly learn reading is fun while earning prizes and you have peace of mind knowing he will probably not experience the dreaded “summer slide.” The “summer slide” is a regression in reading skills that occurs over the summer when children don’t read. This is especially dangerous for newer and weaker readers.

It is crucial that you choose “just right” books for your child. These are books that are neither too easy nor too hard but just right. Before the end of the school year, ask the teacher what book level to choose for your child. You friendly local librarian can help and there are many book lists available on the internet that can get you started as well. Scholastic has booklists, too:

So sign your child up soon! You’ll be glad you did!
How do you keep your child reading throughout the summer? Please me a comment. I’d love to hear from you!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Friendly Letter

One of the best ways to have a close relationship with your child is to write to her and have her write back to you! This helps establish a wonderful way of communicating that may come in very handy when she is a teenager and has trouble talking to you. It also gives her practice in writing!

This two-way correspondence can take several forms:
• Letters—you can have a mailbox in your house where you leave letters or cards to each other. Have your child decorate a box to make it look like a mailbox. You could have an area for writing and making cards set up in your home, if you have room!

• Journal—a journal can pass back and forth between the two of you. Your child can creatively decorate the cover.

• E-mail—this is appropriate for older children but often the only way they’ll communicate once they’re a teenager.

Here’s the most important part—save these letters or at least some of them. You could put them in a binder or a pretty file box according to the year. Then when the time is right you can present them to her; perhaps when she is having a child of her own? It’s also fun to look back and revisit time gone by.

Do you write to your child? Do you have any ideas to add to mine? Please leave me a comment. I’d love to hear from you!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Visiting the Zoo

When taking your child to a zoo it is important to be well prepared. For our annual Bronx Zoo trip the children visited the website and mapped out their routes. ( That way they wouldn’t be running all over the zoo and having to backtrack which wastes time and energy. Other large zoos have websites to check out as well. There are many wonderful smaller zoos close to home, too. (Springfield, MA:, Rhode Island:, and the Boston area:

Along with planning what you and your child want to see at the zoo, planning food and rest times is important, too. Most zoos let you bring in water bottles and bag lunches and snacks. Portable, non-perishable food is best. We toted a sandwich for lunch along with granola bars, cheese sticks, and water bottles. As we ate our way through the day my mini backpack got lighter and lighter! Zoos do have food available for purchase which is always an option. Keep in mind it’s expensive and the lines can be long.

Weather is always an important thing to consider. Rainy? Raincoats and/or umbrellas are in order. Sunny? Sunscreen and sunglasses are a must. Hot? Humid? Chilly? Dress accordingly. Nothing ruins an outing like being over or underdressed. Again, the internet is your best friend. Go to and type in the location of the zoo. The weather for your destination will be displayed.

The most important thing about visiting a zoo with your child is to take the time to teach your child to act calmly and quietly around the animals. They’ll see more critters that way! Never let your child bang or knock on the glass enclosure. And be sure to read about the animals you are viewing. If your child asks you a question and you don’t know the answer, don’t make one up! Be honest and say you don’t know but that you’ll help your child find out. If you see a zoo docent, ask them. If not, make a note of the question and remember to look it up when you get home.

A public outing is also a great opportunity to teach your child manners. Chances are they might see people who look a little different than they do. Talk ahead of time that staring, commenting, or pointing at people is rude. Also practice walking single file on a narrow path or sidewalk. It’s rude to be a sidewalk hog! Preparing your child in these ways helps make your day more enjoyable and less stressful. It also provides your child with appropriate examples and expectations resulting in him being better behaved as well as more pleasant to be around.

Visiting the gift shop at a zoo is a great way to bring home a memento for your child and support the zoo. (Zoos depend on gift shop revenues.) A good way to make this a good experience for the both of you is to save the shopping for the end of your day. That way you’re not lugging your souvenirs around and chance losing or breaking them. If your child has not need for one more stuffed animal, consider something practical like a water bottle or baseball-style cap. Set a dollar amount spending limit and help him shop. Some children need more guidance than that. You could tell him to choose from three things you’ve preselected such as a tee shirt, postcards, etc. That way you won’t be spending a lot of time wandering aimlessly through the gift shop.

A visit to a zoo can be a day of discovery for your child. Being prepared helps to make it more enjoyable! It’s also a great opportunity to teach him about the importance of conservation. We need to work together to keep our planet safe and healthy for all its critters. Go wild!

Have you brought your child to a zoo? Please leave me a comment. I’d love to hear from you!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Helping Children Deal With Loss

Death is a part of life. This is a tough thing to deal with at any age. Helping children process the death of a loved one can be challenging. Occasionally my students lose a family member. During my first year in the classroom, one of my students lost her older sister, a high school student. It was a really difficult time. Thankfully, we have adjustment counselors on hand to aid in the grieving process.

The loss of a pet can be very traumatic for children. I can usually tell when something is bothering one of my students. I take them aside and quietly ask if there’s anything wrong and if they’d like to talk about it. I give them options like taking a walk, visiting the counselor, writing about it, or just sitting quietly. Sometimes I’ll call their parents to get more information.

This year two of my students lost their dogs. I loaned them my cherished copy of “Dog Heaven” by Cynthia Rylant. It’s a wonderful book that children and their families can find comforting during a sad time. She has also written “Cat Heaven” which I’ve recently added to my collection.

Children often feel powerless and not in control of much in their lives. Death is no exception. Although grief can look very different for children, they go through a grieving process just like grownups do. The website, Partnership for Parents has a wonderful article about grief at different ages. ( Scholastic is another great site with a comprehensive article by Dr. Bruce Perry that parents and teacher may find helpful. (

One of the best things a parent can do is let the teacher know about any loss a child is experiencing. That will allow him to support the child in the school setting. Every child is different and how you choose to help your child grieve is up to you. Just know that there is a lot of support out there, both on the Web and in your community.

Have you helped your child deal with death? Please leave a comment and share your experience. I’d love to hear from you.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Maple Sugaring

If you live within driving distance of a sugarhouse in the spring, you’re in for a real treat—maple syrup! This is a fabulous day trip for families. Before you go, check to make sure if and when the sugarhouse is operating. Most have websites or contact information. Not all have full breakfast menus available. Be sure to ask.

There are other important factors to consider when maple sugaring. The most important consideration is weather. Check weather forecasts before you plan a trip! What will the temperature be? You don’t want your children to be over or underdressed. Has there been a lot of rain or thawing? The ground may be muddy—boots might be a good idea. Maple is very sweet so I usually pack water bottles and cheese sticks to offset sweetness and of course, wet wipes for sticky hands!

Not all sugarhouses offer live demonstrations and lectures. Background research with your child will tell you which ones do. The internet is a wonderful resource! In fact, the Massachusetts Maple Producers Association has a super website with great information. ( There’s even a “Maple Month Passport” that you can download. If you visit at least four sugarhouses, you'll be eligible to win a supply of Massachusetts maple syrup! Hurry—sugaring season is about halfway done! Get started now!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

April Fool's Day

April Fool’s Day is a great opportunity to teach your child how to play practical jokes and pranks in appropriate ways. The whole point of April Fool’s Day is to make someone look like a fool, not harm or scare them.

One of the best sources for kid-friendly pranks is Family Fun Magazine. It has all sorts of ideas to help celebrate this fun day. ( Here are some other websites with interesting information regarding April Fool’s Day: and

Have you ever pranked someone on April Fool’s Day? I’d love to hear about it. Leave
me a comment below.

Thursday, March 17, 2011


Imagination is more important than knowledge— Albert Einstein

How’s your imagination? Have you visualized any pictures in clouds lately? A study led by Donna Rose Addis of Harvard University suggests a link between a decline in imagination and an increase in memory loss. ( As you exercise your imagination, invite your child along as well. Not only will it help you strengthen your brain, it will help her with visualization skills that are vital in good reading comprehension.

Imagination is also key when it comes to writing. When your child writes a personal narrative (autobiographical story) she needs to be able to imagine the timeline in her head. The study by Addis et al discusses a link to memory and imagination. Both use the same part of the brain.

Here are some great imagination activities:
• Puppets—make some simple puppets with your child and help her act out a fairy tale. No elaborate sets necessary—just a vivid imagination! Here’s a great website to help you get started:

• Cloud watching—get comfortable outside on a partly sunny day. You’ll need cumulous clouds for this—the puffy cotton ball types. Point out what you see in the clouds and ask your child what he sees. This may take some practice. Don’t give up.

• Squiggles—draw a squiggle on a piece of paper. Have your child turn it into a drawing. (Check this out--Creative “Squiggle” Exercise Stimulates Your Imagination)

• “What Are You Doing?” is a charade-like game with a twist! You mime (act-out) an activity such as washing dishes. Your child asks, “What are you doing?” You reply something totally different such as, “Walking the dog.” This is not as easy as it sounds!

• “No Way!” is a game where you make up the most outrageous fib you can think of as an excuse for not doing something like homework or cleaning your room. Perhaps you were kidnapped by aliens???
So next time your child says, “I’m bored,” help him use his imagination! The sky’s the limit!

Do you have any suggestions on how to boost imagination? Please leave me a comment—I’d love to hear about it!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Read Aloud

Reading aloud to your child can be a relaxing way to end your day. After she has a hot bath or shower, there’s nothing better than to tuck her in with a story. This habit can start before she is even born! Reading aloud and conversing with her helps her learn crucial language skills.

What to do if your child has a short attention span? Choose short, simple books with large colorful pictures. Use an excited voice and ask your child to look for various details in the pictures. Ask her what comes next. Or perhaps ask her to tell a new ending to the story. Don’t give up; eventually your child will sit through the reading of a book and be a better reader/writer because of it.

Another great time to enjoy a story together is when you’re driving in the car! Go to the library and get a book on CD. Next time you’re on a trip, pop in the CD so you and your family can listen to the story while you drive. Who knows, maybe it’ll spark some great conversation at the next rest stop?

What are some of your child’s favorite books? Leave me a comment below.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Indoor Winter Fun

If the weather isn’t great, there’s a lot you can do indoors with your child! I don’t own any video/computer games so here are some of my favorites:
Snow experiments—

• The Great Melting Race—make two snowballs, one tightly and the other loosely packed. Put them in waterproof bowls. Predict which one will melt faster. Predict how long it will take each one to melt, and time them! You can put them in different places in your home to affect the melting rate—on a heater, in the refrigerator, etc.

• The Snow to Rain Ratio—snow is a good insulator because it has a lot of air mixed in. Depending on the density of the snow, the snow to rain ration is about one to about seven-nine. Here’s an experiment to show this:

1. With a meter/yardstick, measure the amount of snow that is on the ground.
2. Scoop some loose snow into a cylindrical see-through container like a canning or mayonnaise jar.
3. Measure how many inches of snow you scooped.
4. Have your child predict how many inches of water the snow will melt down to.
5. Then, have her do the math to see how much rain would’ve fallen if the snow had been rain! (how much snow is on the ground x how much melted snow is in the jar)

While snow is melting you can enjoy:
• Jigsaw puzzles
• Board games
• Twister, charades
• Crafts of all kinds
• Of course, on a nice stormy day, I always love to read a book!

What do you like to do on a snow day with your child? Leave me a comment below!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Outdoor Winter Fun

Here’s something to think about: Have you played outside with your kids lately? It’s a great way to get some exercise and teach your kids how to have fun and be safe in winter weather.

The key to enjoying outdoor activities in the winter is to dress appropriately. If you don’t wear enough, you’ll get cold. If you wear too much and you get sweaty, you’ll get cold. Layers are the way to go. That way if you start to overheat, you can peel one off.

You also need to think about your activity—how strenuous is it going to be? Snowshoeing, for example, is very active so you don’t want to dress too warmly. Ice fishing is just the opposite—lots of sitting around so you need to layer up!

I prefer mittens to gloves and neck warmers to scarves. I tend to get scarves caught on things—choke! (Word to the wise: Make sure your child goes to the bathroom before dressing for outdoor activities.)

Winter outdoor fun ideas:
•Snow angels—show your child how to lie on her back in the snow and move like she’s doing jumping jacks. Help her get up carefully and turn around so she can see her angel in the snow!

•Snow people and other sculptures—the sky’s the limit what you can sculpt with snow! There was a green Loch Ness-like monster in a local pond recently!
--It’s also fun to put food coloring and water in a spray bottle to color your creation.
--Don’t forget to dress up your snow person!

•Snow forts—I don’t recommend tunneling in the snow—just build walls. You can help your child build snow furniture, too!

•Snowball fights—make sure the teams are even and the snowballs aren’t too tightly packed. You don’t want anyone getting hurt.

•Ice skating—make sure the ice is thick enough on lakes and ponds. Set a good example for your child and obey the thin ice warnings—don’t skate if it’s not safe!

•Snow shoeing, downhill, or cross-country skiing are all very fun and great exercise!

•Snowmobiling—don’t forget helmets! Again, obey the laws and be safe.

What outdoor winter activities does your family enjoy? Leave me a comment below.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Traveling With Friends and Other Critters

Traveling with children can be so much fun! You get to see new places and learn new things through their eyes! Traveling with a friend is even more fun! My favorite traveling friend is Little Red Hen. (She’s a stuffed toy but she doesn’t know it.) We go to lots of interesting places and take loads of pictures. Then we put those pictures into scrapbooks.

Studies show that people who travel are happier. I read about a study that compared the emotional well-being of people who shop and acquire things versus people who go on vacations. People who shop are happy for a very short time. People who go on vacation are happier for longer periods of time and continue to be happier when they relive their experiences. Scrapbooks are an excellent way to help you relive those experiences.

Here’s some tips for taking interesting vacation pictures.
Take pictures of:
• The before and after activities such as packing and unpacking
• Traveling to the destination—we photograph the train or plane ride to the cruise ship
• Signs that tell you where you are and what you’re looking at—that helps you remember when you go to make your scrapbook
• Funny things—anything that you find interesting and/or weird
• The people you’re with and meet along the way— sometimes you need to ask permission if you’re photographing someone you don’t know
• Food you eat
• Things you do—take pictures of everything!

Other tips:
• You need at least 200 pictures to make a 20 page scrapbook. You won’t use them all but it’s important to have a good selection.
• Take the pictures in both landscape and portrait format. That gives you more options when it comes time to putting your pictures into your scrapbook.
• You can use a traditional scrapbook method where you print the pictures and manually glue them into a scrapbook.
• You can digitally scrapbook on line through various websites like Shutterfly and Kodak.
• If you don’t want to make a scrapbook you can also make posters, calendars, and more at those websites.

It’s even more fun to travel with a friend like my Little Red Hen. Next time you travel, bring one of your child’s small stuffed animals and take pictures of their adventures! It’s fun! It’s also a great way to get a young child to hold still for a picture. Happy traveling!

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Feeding Geese

Feeding wild waterfowl can be a fun and inexpensive winter family outing. You only need to travel as far as your nearby park, as long as there’s a pond or other body of water. There are several things to keep in mind when you’re feeding wild birds. The first thing to do is to check and make sure it’s legal. Not every municipality wants people feeding the birds. If feeding the birds is okay, it’s time to get ready to go! Make sure your family is dressed appropriately for the weather and you have a good supply of birdfeed on hand. If you want to record the memories, bring a camera to capture the moment!

The worst thing to feed the wild birds is moldy bread. It could make them sick! The best thing to do is to get cracked corn, hen scratch (cracked corn, wheat, barley, and oats), and duck pellets from the feed store.

When you get to the park, encourage your family to be quiet and move slowly. You don’t want to scare the birds. Watch where you walk because there’s probably poop on the ground. Not only is it smelly, it’s also slippery! Bring a beach chair and sit, watching the birds. After observing them for a few moments, ask your child: What do you notice? This is a great opportunity to help your child use her observational skills. Encourage her to describe what she hears, smells, and feels as well as what she sees. Enjoy a nice conversation about what the birds are doing and why. If your child asks you a question that you don’t know the answer to, be honest and let her know that she can help you look it up when you get home.

Once the birds are used to their human visitors, it’s time to try and feed them. It’s not good to sprinkle the feed in the water. Sprinkle the feed on the ground near the edge of the pond. You can even sprinkle it in a “path” that leads closer to your child’s chair. Have her sit down, wait patiently, and chances are a brave bird will start nibbling her way. (info, coloring pages, a maze, etc.) (info)

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Getting Back Into the School Routine

Now that winter break is almost over, it’s time to help your child get ready to return to his regular daily school schedule. With New Year’s landing on Friday night, chances are the family is staying up late and sleeping in on Saturday.

Here are some strategies to try:

On Saturday and Sunday, have your child
1. Eat healthy meals/snacks similar to his school day schedule.
2. Drink lots of water.
3. Get out and play in the afternoon.
4. Check if his homework is done.
5. Have him pack everything he needs for Monday morning (library books, sneakers, homework, etc.).
6. Have him get to bed at his regular school night bedtime both Saturday and Sunday.
7. Have him get up on Sunday as close to his school wakeup time as possible.

Do you have any tips on how you help your child get back into the school routine after a vacation? I’d love to hear them! Please leave a comment below.