Sunday, June 26, 2011

Special Needs/Special Gifts


I truly believe that EVERY child has special needs. I also believe that EVERY child has special gifts.
When those special needs are met, the special gifts are revealed.

Let's be honest. Every child needs something. Some of these needs are temporary and some need to be addressed long term and perhaps with medical help. Each child is unique, each child expresses his or her needs in a different way, and your child will look to you to help meet his or her needs.

Most children will not even realize that they are expressing a "need". They may act irritable, sullen, angry, cranky, inpulsive, disruptive, or even try to not be noticed.

Some needs are simple, making sure the need for food and sleep are met. Separating siblings when they are crossing boundaries, and helping children with challenging schoolwork.

Finding what your child's needs can be tricky. If you notice that your child seems "off" for a period of time, consult with the teacher. Express what you have noticed and ask if the teacher can watch for these things too. Ask other adults who have interactions with your child, scout leaders, coaches, etc., to keep an eye out as well. Consult your pediatrician. Take notes of what you have observed in your child. Write down the questions you want answers to, and take notes of what the pediatrician has to say.

As a parent, your honesty in these situations can only benefit your child. As difficult as it may seem, be realistic. Work with professionals you trust.

Don't be worried about "labels". I have had parents withold important information about their child's needs because they had a fear that we would label their child. The child's impulsive behavior led others to think of him as "mean", "argumentative" and "naughty". Rather than supporting this child in his struggle, the teachers often had to ask the child to leave activities because he lacked self control and was disruptive. Be honest with the adults who teach your child.

What are your child's special gifts? Some days it may be hard to find what they are. When you notice that your child is kind, helpful, creative, insightful, artistic, athletic, intelligent, personable, talented, and loving remember and encourage those moments to blossom. These gifts are struggling to take root and grow in your child. By addressing the child's struggles you are helping develop his or her gifts.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Unsupervised Playtime

When you were younger what types of activities did you engage in after
school? As a child I was encouraged to go outside and play with my friends in the
neighborhood. We were often unsupervised by adults. I was aware of the
expectations my parents had of me and would usually abide by these guidelines. We
were free to go to our friends yards, wander through the neighborhood, ride bikes,
play kickball or other games we invented, and to build forts. I have very fond
memories of these afternoons of independence.

I learned many lessons by having this time. The most important was to
take care of my friends and my sisters who often joined the fun. If someone got
hurt it was up to the others to provide aid and comfort. I learned to negotiate and
compromise on game rules and “character play” ( I’ll be the mom, who wants to be
the baby?) I learned how to solve problems and manage spatial relations by building
forts. I figured out how to follow maps and how to be home by supper.
From these unsupervised playtimes I learned that I could navigate my
environment and make friends without the aid of my parents. This was valuable
knowledge that led to self confidence, perseverance, and accomplishment.

When I watch the students on our playground, I observe children that are
developing these skills at different levels. I often try to let them work things out
before I step in to provide solutions. Negotiating the rules of a game, resolving
conflicts, taking on the roles of leadership and working together as a team are some
of the skills they are learning.

I know this is a different time and leaving children unsupervised is not
always wise, however the next time you are watching a group of children play see if
they can work out any issues before you step in to help, you may be surprised by
what they can accomplish!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Summer Activities

Here is a great article from the LATimes.

Turns out that classes, tutoring, and other learning activities are only helpful to the children who enjoy them.  So, find learning activities your child enjoys!

  • Memory games
  • Building with blocks or Legos
  • Writing and illustrating stories ( is a great website for this.)
  • Scavenger hunts
  • Museum trips
  • Music lessons
  • Sports
  • Dance class
  • Tai Kwon Do
  • Gymnastics
  • Capoeira (sp?)
  • Scouting
  • Art class
  • Swimming lessons
  • Little League
  • Drama Class
  • Cooking Class
  • Computer Class
  • Tennis
  • Sailing
  • Paddleboarding
  • Kayaking

The list is as endless as your imagination.  No need to hear "I'm bored!"  Try out a new lesson, everything can be a learning experience and can help increase your brain power, if you have a passion for it!

Monday, June 20, 2011


First of all let me apologize to my youngest brother, Kevin, for not finding a picture with all 5 of us!
I am the oldest of 5, yes, the one with the bow is me!  Growing up with brothers and sisters is filled with love, sharing, and laughter.  It can also come with arguing, complaining, and the classic sibling rivalry.

What I see as vital when working with sibling rivalry is to acknowledge the feelings of both parties.  I am getting ahead of myself. 

In our classroom we work with students on conflict resolution.   We help the students practice expressing their feelings, acknowledging the feelings of the other party, asking for and working toward a resolution, and finally shaking hands.   Only one person may speak at a time, the other person must listen.

It goes something like this:
Child 1 - I feel bad when you take my pencil.  (expressing feelings)
Child 2 - I am sorry that you feel bad when I use your pencil.  (acknowledgement)
Child 1 - I would like you to find your own pencil and not use mine anymore.  (asking for a resolution)
Child 2 - Will you help me find a pencil of my own? (working toward a resolution)
Child 1 - OK.  (They shake hands)

That was a simple example.  Rivalry can be much more complicated.    Here is another option:

Use a Peace Rock, (rose, stick, etc.).  Place the Peace Rock in an easily accessible place.  When someone gets the Peace Rock, he or she requests to talk out a problem privately.  The two parties can go speak to each other, before the rock is put back in it's place they can reveal any resolutions they have come up with.

Look at what problems continuously arise.  Is it about personal space?  personal belongings?  attention?  frustration?  expectations?

If it is about personal space, have the whole family talk and come up with guidelines for how to move and respect each other's space.

If it is about sharing and personal belongings, practice asking to borrow things politely, saying thank you, and most of all returning things in good shape and in a prompt manner. If the answer is no, than it is no.  If a child is given a gift and his or her siblings don't respect his ownership the child begins to feel that his rights are usurped and jealousy can emerge.

If it about attention, remember the older child has been pushed off his pedestal by the younger one.  On the other hand, the younger one is not yet as independent as the older one.  They all need attention.  Hug them, tell them you love them, tell them they share something very special, you!  Help them know that you will always give them attention but like a box of cookies, they have to share you.

If it is about frustration, teach children to take a deep breath and to take a break if things are not going their way.  Help the children change activities, declare 10 minutes of peace where everyone does an activity on their own, even you!

Expectations, everyone has them.  You might have a family meeting to discuss what the children expect of each other, what you expect of them, and what they expect of you.  Make a list.
In our family we expect:
To work out our differences peacefully.
To love each other even when we are arguing.
To ask permission before taking someone else's belongings.
To play fairly.
To be kind

You can make the list as long as you want, but remember it all boils down to

Be Kind.
Be Safe.
Do Your Best.

Siblings always know how to push each other's buttons.   Believe it or not the majority of children learn to love their siblings. They love you, they share you, they want to make you proud.  So they share this goal, they share laughter and love.  If they can share these things, they can learn to share everything. 

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Celebrating Dads

Today is more than a day to celebrate the Dads out there. Let's celebrate grandpas, uncles, godfathers, and all the special men children have in their lives.

Let's celebrate all the men who have a positive influence on your children. I appreciate the men who have had something to teach me about who I am and who I want to be.

When I was younger, my dad was a coach and PE teacher. He later became a principal. He also was part owner and director of 2 summer camps. (He is now retired and enjoying the beach.)

One of the things I learned from my dad, was not something he said to me, or showed me how to do. It was something that was on the shelf above his desk.

There were many trophies above my dad's desk. The one that has stayed with me said,

"A quitter never wins, and a winner never quits."
I remember reading that trophy many times. At first I did not understand it's meaning even though I could read the words. I think my dad lives by these words. As a role model for my siblings and me,
he helped us with homework assignments, baked cakes, folded the laundry, took us on trips and outings, dried our tears, talked to us when we were out of line, and loved us.
So Happy Father's Day to my dad and to all the wonderful men who have helped me grow.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Laundry Day

As I was pulling a load of laundry out of the dryer today, I thought it would made a great subject for this blog.
  Chores need to be done by everyone who is part of the family.  It is not necessary to give children an allowance for doing chores.  All family members help out in order to have more time to be together.
Having a family chore time is a great way to keep everyone involved.  There is nothing worse than having to do chores, while other family members are having fun.

I suggest you sit with your family and make a list of chores that need to be accomplished each week.  Divide it into daily chores and weekly chores.  Choose a time each day when chores are to be accomplished.  For weekdays I suggest right after dinner because someone will be taking care of dishes, someone could be folding laundry, someone could be dusting, someone could be taking out the trash and recycling.  You will find the right time for your family.

There are many chores around the house that young children can help do.  Laundry is one of these tasks.
Here are some suggestions for ways your child can help:
  • Children can sort laundry into a  pile whites, a pile of colors and a pile of darks.
  • Put a hamper or laundry basket in your child's room and he or she can bring it to the laundry room when it is full.
  • If you have a front loading dryer, children can put a laundry basket near the door and take the dry clothes out of the dryer.
  • Children can learn to fold the laundry.  Have a table where they can lay out each item.  Help them learn to fold corner to corner and then bottom to top.  Start with towels.  Children can fold a towel in half and then roll it up (Montessori children have lots of practice with this!).
  • Children can deliver folded laundry to the appropriate room where it will be stored.  If the storage area (closet, drawer, shelf) is within the child's reach, he or she should put it away neatly.
Like Mary Poppins said, "There is an element of fun in every job that must be done.  You find the fun and snap! the job's a game!"

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Fun Summer Recipes

I thought I would put some fun summer recipes up today.  Father's Day is Sunday and before you know it, the Fourth of July will be here.  Time to create delicious and joyful memories!  You may want to review my kitchen rules in my first post before working with children in the kitchen. 

Peanut Butter and Berry Pizza

1 roll refrigerated peanut butter cookie dough (Pillsbury)

1 pint of blueberries

1/2 pint of raspberries

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 C peanut butter

4 0z package of cream cheese (softened)

1/4 cup brown sugar

1tsp cinnamon

1/8 tsp salt optional depending on the peanut butter

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 C milk

1 Tablespoon confectioners sugar plus more for sprinkling over pizza

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Roll out cookie dough into a greased pizza pan. Bake for 15 - 17 minutes. Remove from oven and cool.

Keeping the berries separate, wash and dry them, Sprinkle each type of berry with 1 tablespoon of sugar. Set aside.

Place peanut butter, cream cheese, brouns sugar, cinnamon, salt, vanilla, milk, and 1 tablespoon confectioners sugar in a mixing bowl. Beat until smooth.

When cookie dough has cooled use a rubber spatula to spread peanut butter mixture in an even layer over the dough. Add berries. I like to use the raspberries to circle the outer edge and then fill in inside with the blueberries. Sprinkle with confectioners sugar.

Cut into wedges (approximately 8 - 12). Can be served with whipped cream.

Watermelon/Fruit Boat
1 whole watermelon
1 whole cantaloupe
1 whole honeydew melon
A combination of strawberries, blueberries, grapes, raspberries (whatever is available)
An adult should do the cutting of the watermelon, canatloupe and honeydew.  The children can do the scooping with melon ballers.
Cut a very thin slice off the bottom of the watermelon so that it sits flat.
Cut off the top third of the watermelon.  Using a melon baller, scoop balls of watermelon into a bowl until all the fruit is out of the rind which will be used as the boat.  Using a sharp knife you can cut pointed edges in the rind to make a decorative rim.
Cut the other 2 melons and use the melon baller to scoop out the flesh and put into a bowl.
Add the melon balls and the berries back into the watermelon rind so they are mixed.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Can be served with vanilla or lemon yogurt as a dipping sauce.

Cucumber sandwiches
1/4 cup loosely packed fresh mint leaves, rinsed, spun dry, and chopped fine
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons cream cheese
6 slices of whole-wheat bread
a 3-inch length of seedless cucumber, cut into thin slices

In a small bowl combine the mint, the butter, and the cream cheese and stir the mixture until it is combined well. Spread the bread slices with the butter mixture, top 3 of them with the cucumber, distributing the cucumber evenly and seasoning it with salt, and top the cucumber with the remaining bread slices. Cut off and discard the crusts and cut each sandwich diagonally into quarters or use cookie cutters to create fun shapes.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Follow up to the Groomer story

Today we went to Petsmart to have the boys groomed.  Kim, the groomer was great and took time to make the boys feel comfortable.  So YAY!  The boys look good and we have made our next appointment with Kim!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


In my house, my 2 dogs, Frisco and Ziggy, are my children.  As any parent we love them, take care of them, worry about them, have fun with them, spend money on them, and want the best for them. 

Today was Grooming Day.  We have had a lovely woman come to our house in her Grooming Truck and we have always been pleased with her work.  When the van pulled up at our house, Ziggy our 1 year old rescue started to bark so of course Frisco our calm 10 year old started to bark.  There was a new person at the door.  Our usual groomer had given the business to her son. 

The door opened and Ziggy ran around barking his head off.  He is afraid of new people.  The new groomer turned around and left.  We were surprised and disappointed that he did not take a few minutes to try and connect with Ziggy and take the opportunity to get to know this little rascal.

My students love pets.  I make sure to bring Ziggy and Frisco to class so the students can practice their skills around unfamiliar animals.  Students love to bring in their pets when they are "Person of the Week".  We have had cats, ferrets, dogs, fish, snakes, frogs, turtles, birds, and tarantulas!

There is a special bond between children and animals.  I like to encourage students to take an active part in the care of their own pets, to learn how to introduce themselves to an animal, and to learn appropriate behavior around animals.

Here are a few guidelines (this is mostly for dogs but can be adapted to other types of animals):
  • Before approaching an unfamiliar animal, ask the owner's permission and abide by their wishes.
  • Be calm and quiet.
  • Move gently.
  • Kneel down and let the dog sniff your open palm.
  • Make eye contact with the dog.
  • Do not reach over the dog's head to pet it, move your hand around his side and pet him on the back.
  • Avoid behavior that will excite the dog such as running, squealing, yelling, jumping, sudden movements and loud noises.

That's really all it takes to make friends with a dog.  If your child is afraid of an animal, don't force him or her to touch it or insist the child should not be afraid.  Acknowledge the fear.  Then help your child learn more about animals, start with something small like a guinea pig or hamster.  Children can overcome their fears but it takes time, patience, and love.

Now if I could only get that groomer back here, I could help my son Ziggy overcome his fear of this fellow with time, patience and love.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Do YOUR Best

I was thinking about experiences I have had during Parent/Student/Teacher conferences.  Students in First Grade and up are involved in these conferences to encourage "ownership" of their learning.  If there is something that needs to be addressed that is sensitive and will affect the child's well being, we ask the child to go to the porch for a few minutes.

One conference that comes to mind happened early on in my teaching career.  It opened my eyes to how children take on the experiences that belong to the parent. 

Suzy and her parents arrived for the meeting.  It was Suzy's first year in our class.  Suzy was a good reader and was very proud of that.  She showed her parents work in the language curriculum, stories she had written and books she had read.  Her parents were happy and impressed by her progress.

When I asked Suzy to show her parents her math work.  She turned shy and said, "I am not as good in math, and some of my friends are doing better than I am."  Before I had a chance to tell Suzy and her parents that she was doing just fine and making good progress her mom said, "Don't worry about it, I could never do math and I don't expect you to do well in that subject either."

I was stunned by what I had heard.  Suzy immediately perked up because she had been given a "pass" to not do well at math.  I am sure this is not what her mom intended but these were the words Suzy carried with her the rest of her school career.  My co-teacher and I worked very hard to help her find joy in numbers,  logic, problem solving, and balanced equations.  Every math teacher she had after she moved out of our class found it challenging to gain Suzy's attention.

Suzy was and is and intelligent person.  She graduated from high school and attends college.  I am saddened that she was given an excuse to not discover and internalize math concepts because her mom said she did not hold high expectations in this area. 

The expectations you hold for your child are the expectations your child will aspire to meet.   I have three guidelines in the class.  These 3 simple rules cover everything.  Each one has it's own importance, but the last one is about academics.

Be Kind
Be Safe
Do Your Best

Do Your Best - not your friend's best, not your parent's best, not your older sibling's best.  Do YOUR Best.  Give everything you try the best you have and you will succeed.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Reading with your Elementary Age Child

    We all want our children to enjoy reading and to read well.  Here are a few tips that will encourage your child to pursue reading and enjoy the pleasure of delving into a book.

    Read to your children.  
Even when children are competent readers, parents can continue to read to their children even in upper grades.  Choose a book the whole family will enjoy.    Help create an active listener by asking questions, encouraging the child to retell or act out part of the book.  Encourage children to ask questions too.  When you read to your child you are creating an atmosphere where the child’s imagination can soar, where vocabulary and ideas can be explored, and making memories that will last a lifetime.  Children need to listen to expressive readers.  

    Listen to your child read.   
 If you have the time, it is always best to focus your attention solely on your child, but we all lead busy lives.  You can listen to your child read while you are preparing dinner or folding laundry.  Children want parents to be involved in their lives and this is a simple way to give them time.  You can help your child decode words, understand concepts and vocabulary, and become a more fluent reader.  When a child comes across an unfamiliar word it is easy to tell them what it is.  I suggest you wait and give your child a chance to sound it out before you help him or her.  If you have children who are close in age, they can read to each other while you listen.  Even if your children are 11 or 12, they will read better if they know they have your attention.

    Choose books wisely.  When you are choosing a book to read to your child, pick one that is above his or her reading level.  When choosing a book for your child to read, make sure he or she is comfortable with the length of the book, the number and size of words on the page, and the reading level.  Many books have the reading level listed on the back of the book.

Turn off the electronics.
I have said it before and will say it again.  There should be a time when everyone in the family reads.  Children will see you reading and want to emulate mom and dad. 

If your child seems to find reading challenging it is best to meet with his or her teacher and ask what she is doing and how you can do it at home.  Learning to read is a magical process.  It takes more time for some children than for others.  Be patient but be aware of your child's reading progress.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Cleanliness may be next to Godliness, but Messiness is next to FUN!

There is fun in being messy.  Admit it, when you were young you enjoyed messy activities.  Finger painting, mud pies, baking, clay, paper cutting, blocks, legos, I could go on and on, all are messy activities.

Making a mess is part of childhood.  Children naturally become engaged in activities that have many pieces, face it, messes are a creative outlet for children.  So, I say, celebrate the mess!  Enjoy the fact that your child is engaged, using his hands, eyes, fine and gross motor skills, sense of sequence, story telling, architectural skills, spatial relationships, and sense of wonder.  It's all good.

Here are some guidelines to help parents cope with messy activities.
  1. If your child is truly engaged in an activity, don't interrupt.  Take advantage of these opportunities, your child is developing focus and concentration, skills that are valuable.  Give your child a 10 minute warning before he or she needs to stop working, then again at 5 minutes.  It is beneficial to prepare children for upcoming events and also for the end of activities.
  2. Define the activity area.  At school we use floor mats about the size of a small welcome mat or throw rug to define the space for the child in which the child keeps his or her materials.  Other children know to walk around these mats so as not to disturb the child's work.  You can do this at home, use a beach towel, or if a larger space is needed a sheet to define the area where your child can work.
  3. Only one messy activity at a time.  This means one activity needs to be cleaned up and put away before a new activity is taken out.  This is probably the most challenging guideline.  Children can be "trained" to clean up after themselves if parents make it a partnership and are consistent about doing it.  At first divide the work with your child.  You might say "I will pick up the blocks (legos, crayons, markers, paper scraps etc) on this side, and you clean up the ones on that side."  As the child gets older he or she can take on more of the clean up activity. 
  4. Shy away from comment such as "Good Job!"  Praise is a tricky subject.  Children know when they deserve genuine praise.  Comments such as "Good job" are not specific and don't recognize a child's individual effort.  I recommend that you ask the child to come up with the praise.  Even young children can answer the questions, "How do you think we did on clean up?",  "Do you think we made a good team?" and "Are you proud of the job we did together?"  This gives the child ownership of the evaluation.
  5. Ask Permission.  There can be certain activities in your home that children must ask permission to do before diving in.  You and your family can decide which ones these are.  Painting comes to mind.  Siblings should also ask permission to join an activity that another child has already begun.  Learn to respect your child's wishes if he or she wants to work alone.  Help your child learn to politely say, "I would like to do this by myself today.  We can do something together later."  Make sure they follow through on an activity with the sibling later.
These 5 simple rules make messy activities more manageable and will help your child have some "Freedon within Limits."  More about that in an upcoming blog.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Keeping Things in Order

Let's face it, staying organized is tough for children and adults.  Whether you are managing your family or a classroom, a few simple tricks can help everyone keep things in order.  Here is an idea to help your child keep his or her room in good shape.

As in all primary and elementary Montessori classrooms, the lessons are lined up on shelves.  They are organized from left to right (the direction in which we read) and from top to bottom.  The order begins with the simplest and most concrete lessons and continues on to the more abstract, challenging lessons.

In my classroom there are 20 different shelf units.  Once organized, I take a photo of each shelf and tape it to the top of the shelf.  Each child in my class is responsible for dusting, straightening and keeping one shelf in order for the entire year.  The photo on the top of the shelf is a visual to help that child keep the shelf organized.  This is a trick you can use at home. 

Take photos of the child's room and storage areas.  Bookshelves, closets, toy boxes, and even each dresser drawers can be photographed.  To clean the shelf, I have students start at the top.  They take everything off the top shelf and line it up in the same order as the photo on the floor.  They use a clorox wipe to clean off the shelf and each item.  Then they put the items back on the shelf in the proper sequence.  Then move to the next shelf down until the whole unit is complete.

When first starting out, children may need assitance until getting the hang of it.  Children as young as 5 are capable of this activity.  Children are part of a family and everyone in the family helps.  In my classroom children are part of a community and everyone in the community helps.

When parents come to visit the classroom their children show them different lessons they know and work they have completed.  I have often heard a child proudly tell a parent, "This is my shelf!  I am in charge of keeping it clean."

More tips on organization will be in further posts.  Give your children the tools to independently take care of the world around them.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Best Teacher for your Child

This one is for the parents out there.  You've known your child longer than anyone else.  You shared your child's joys, smiles, laughter, tears, successes, mistakes, boo-boos, fears, and illnesses.  You know your child's favorite color, favorite breakfast, favorite bedtime story, and secret dreams and plans.  There is no one who knows your child as well as you do!

You are your child's first and best teacher.  Before children can talk they observe the world and the people around them.  They take in your voice, your scent, your touch.  When you look into an infant's eyes, they look deeply in yours.  I have observed that if the adult waits for the infant to break eye contact, the eye to eye connection can last for many minutes.  Let the infant be the one to break the eye contact when he or she is ready. This is an infant's way of learning about their world. 

As the child grows and develops ways to communicate, think about how you communicate with others.  Children will emulate their role models.  Teach your child to say "Please" and "Thank you" but then be sure to use those words yourself. 

Teaching children to not interrupt is an important skill for school.  Do you allow your child to speak to you in the middle of a conversation you are having with someone else?  Do you interrupt each other at the dinner table?  Modeling and teaching children to wait for a break in the conversation is very useful.  I always tell students that they can interrupt me if it is an emergency.  An emergency constitutes someone in danger.

When your child reaches school age the recognition of and respect for boundaries is necessary.  A boundary is an invisible border so this is a difficult lesson to master.  Children need to observe a situation before entering it.  For example, when 2 people are having a conversation and you want to get to the other side of the room, walk around the conversation and not through the middle.  Example #2, teach children to ask permission from their siblings before using one of their belongings and then to return it after they are finished.  Example #3, knock on closed doors before entering.  Boundaries may not be apparent until you spend a moment observing the situation.  Take a look at how you respond to the boundaries in your family.

As your child reaches the age where he or she is learning to read, think about your reading habits.  Does your child see you read?  Is there a family reading time when you turn off phones, TV and computers and read?  Reading time does not have to last for hours, when beginning start with 10 or 15 minutes.  You may read to your child, or have all the readers take turns. Modeling reading is a vital part of learning to read.

Playing games with children is important to their social development.  Taking turns, following rules, being a good loser, and being a good winner can all be modeled during a game. 

Children are observers and learn more from our actions than from our words.  Let your child observe the best in you.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Beauty of Routine

I have observed that children thrive when they have a onsistent routine.    Whenever a child comes into class and has an "off" day, I ask them what was different about their day.  Inevitably there was something that took the child out of his or her normal routine. 

"I woke up late."
"We were out of orange juice."
"I couldn't find my shoes."
"I forgot to brush my teeth."

You get the picture.  After all how many of us would get off to a bad start if we didn't have coffee or tea?

Having a routine gives children security.  A morning routine provides a framework for the day to come.  Setting up a routine is simple. 

First be consistent about bedtime.  Elementary students and younger children need to have between 9 and 11 hours of sleep.  Bedtime should not vary  (too much) on the weekends or holidays because it will be hard to get back to the "normal" bedtime.

If your child has trouble waking up, provide an alarm clock and make sure it is set every night.  Many children wake up naturally when they are well rested.

Morning chores should be consistent.  It doesn't really matter which order you choose to accomplish morning tasks, but it helps if your child does them in the same order every day.  Children like to have a visual reminder, so leave the list on the fridge or make a colorful chart your child can check off.  Using a white board and dry erase markers allows you to reuse your visual.

Let's say you choose the following tasks for the morning routine:

Make the bed.
Put PJ's away.
Get dressed.
Make and eat breakfast then put dishes in sink or dishwasher. 
Grooming (teeth, hair, face, hands)
Any pet care or other necessary activities that need to be done before you leave.

For things to go easily do these tasks the night before:
Make lunch.
Put homework and other necessary items in a backpack.
Lay out clothes and shoes.
Put dirty clothes in a hamper of laundry basket.
Bathe or shower.

Once you have established a routine that works for your family, go ahead and make changes in it from time to time.  After all we want to raise children to be flexible and go with the flow.  I think if they are secure in their environment and the expectations for what needs to be accomplished are clear, variety can be delightful.   Isn't it nice to have a cappucino every now and then?

Monday, June 6, 2011

Preparing Children for New Experiences

Bucky was my first dog.  He was a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel.  As you can see from his picture, he was a smiler.  He had the most beautiful face, with soulful eyes, a turned up nose, buck teeth (hence his name) and beautiful ears.  Just looking at him made me happy.  He was gentle, sweet, and brought love everywhere he went.  My heart fills up when I think of him.

Bucky passed away at the age of 12 this past October.  He died in my arms on the way to the vet.  He had been sick and was ready to cross the Rainbow Bridge. 

When I returned to school the next day, the students sat in circle with me and my co teacher, Robin.  I explained what had happened.  They all knew and loved Bucky.  He was a regular visitor at school.

The majority of these students had not had an experience with death.  We explained to the students that when someone loses a loved one it is proper to say how sorry you are for their loss.  It is also appropriate to share how you feel and a memory of Bucky. 

One by one, each student took a turn to express what he or she was feeling.  Because of the preparation we had given, each comment was said with genuine sincerity.  Some shared memories of Bucky.  Some told me how sad they felt.  All of them said how much they loved Bucky.  One child said that Bucky was in heaven and watching over all of us.  One said that he would live in my heart and in her heart forever.  Many cried.

Each child was able to express their emotions and sentiments because they were prepared to do so.  This is the point of this blog.  Children who are prepared and know what to expect usually act appropriately.  If your child is facing a new school, new camp, new teacher, new experience, take a few moments to talk about what the right thing to say or do would be.  Children who are prepared can act with confidence and poise.

I will cherish my memories of Bucky and how my students helped comfort me with their words.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Raising Appreciative Children

The school year has ended here.  Students have packed up their books and belongings, attended the Moving Up ceremony, and have already begun Summer Vacation.  I have taken time to reflect on the experiences we shared in the classroom this year.  As you know I teach children in grades 1 - 3.  I thought about how each and every child who was in my class hugged me goodbye for the year and said "Thank you."

Appreciating each other and being grateful is something that we work on in class.  We practice our manners along with math, grammar, cultural studies, reading, and science.  Each week the students write a thank you note to someone who has helped our class or done something special.

I had an idea that I wanted to share with those of you who read this blog.  This can be done with children of all ages.  I have to say that Oprah Winfrey is the inspiration for this idea.  As I watched her last few shows, I was impressed by the gratitude that she felt and that was expressed to her by others.

Children thrive on routine, tradition, and rituals.  Why not make it a tradition in your home to have everyone take a few moments at the same time to write in a gratitude journal and share it with the family.  Children who are too young to write can draw pictures and dictate their thoughts to a parent or older sibling.  Children like to emulate their parents so set an example by writing in your own journal.

One of the important aspects of this is to share what you are grateful for with the members of your family.  Young children may say the same thing every day, and that's okay, but as you share the things you choose they will expand their horizons and include many different people, experiences, and gifts.

When it is your turn as the parent to share your thoughts, I suggest that you regularly end with a thought that includes the child or children.  You may choose to say something like, I am grateful for the love I have for you, (child's name),  Look right into their eyes, hold their hand and connect with each child individually.

Our lives are so busy, sometimes we forget to be grateful for the people we love the most.  Of course you feel it all the time, but we often need a reminder to express our feelings.  Make this a tradition in your family, you will be glad you did~

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Using all of your Senses

We have a wonderful Farmer's Market here in town.  Vendors sell everything from local fruit, veggies, seafood and cheese to handmade crafts and handiwork to delicious and aromatic baked goods.  My husband and I love taking our 2 dogs, Frisco and Ziggy, to the Farmer's Market early in the morning.  This is also a great place to take children for wonderful learning experiences.  Young children especially benefit from outings where they can train their senses.

Walking through the produce with your child, you can ask them to look and name the colors.  They can compare different shades of red, yellow and green.  Is the broccoli a darker green than the celery?  Which shade of red is closer to orange, the apple or the tomato?  What is the brightest color at the produce table?  Which is the softest color?  What vegetables are smooth?  Bumpy?  Leafy?   You can help your child compare and contrast and train their eyes and sense of touch.

It is said that the sense of smell often is often what our first memories are made of.  Smell each vegetable and fruit.  Which smells sweet?  Which smells spicy?  Which one smells the freshest?  Asking questions like these increases your child's vocabulary and helps train the sense of smell.

Sit for awhile if you have the time and listen to the sounds of the Farmer's Market.  Can music be heard?  Which direction is it coming from?  Do you hear laughter?  Dogs barking?  Babies crying?  The sounds of the Market are varied and come from all around you.  Training the ear to pick out different sounds and the direction from which they come is a great activity.

Perhaps the most important training from the Farmer's Market happens when you get home.  You can help train the sense of taste.  Children are more apt to try something if they have a hand in growing it,  preparing it or picking it out.  Cut up small pieces of different veggies, have a taste test.  Children love to skewer cut up fruit and make kabobs.  If you try a variety of fruits and vegetables, your children are likely to follow your lead.  Serve the vegetables first, add them to foods they already enjoy like pizza, lasagma, and tacos, and make a point of enjoying them yourself, all these strategies will set a good example for your child's taste buds.

Enjoy the time you spend on an outing like this.  It is counterproductive to have to rush off to soccer, ballet, or piano.  Make the time to help your child develop his or her senses.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Blooming in the Classroom

I can't tell you how lucky I am to have 3 years with my students.  My students stay with me from the ages of 6 to 9 years old.  Many of them continue on with me as I work with the 9 - 12 year olds on a Shakespeare production each year.

Today is Commencement and Moving Up.  Our school uses a gate to represent moving from one level to the next.  Tonight all the students will walk through the gate, moving on to new adventures and planes of development.

I like to think of the classroom as a garden.  A teacher scatters seeds among the fertile minds of the children.  It is always interesting to see what takes hold in each individual.  What grows with nurturing and care is always a litlle bit of a miracle.

Tonight I send all my students through "the gate".  Some will return to me next year, some will move on to other schools, and some will move up to a higher level.  I have seen each child grow as they learn in a place that provides light, care, and understanding.  They have each blossomed into more mature, responsible, happy, interesting, and kind human beings.

Isn't this what we want for all of our children.  We want them to pursue their passions, grow in a healthy environment, be able to take responsibility, able to resolve conflicts, and able to make good choices for themselves.  I am very proud of each and every one of them.

I have the best job in the world.  I get to encourage, inspire, enlighten, and start these children off on an amazing journey through life.  I love that many of my former students keep in touch with me and remember me fondly.  It is always a good day when your garden is in bloom.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Eating The Rainbow

I have a busy day today, tomorrow is the last day of school and there are lots of activities during the next two days, so I have a short post today.

Eating the Rainbow
This is not a new idea, many health professionals have talked about eating foods that contain all the colors of the rainbow.  Here is an idea to help children track the colors of the foods they eat.

Children love stickers, markers, and charts.  Work with your child to create a color chart.  Write the names of the colors of the rainbow down the side of the cart.  I like to write them in colored marker so that even young children who are not yet reading can recognize the color.

The child can put a colored sticker next to each color food that he or she eats.  You could make a chart for everyone in the family.
An easy way to get these colors into your diet is to make a rainbow salad.
yellow bell pepper
red cabbage'
Toss with your favorite salad dressing, add nuts, seeds, or croutons and enjoy!
Remember, when eating from the rainbow it means the natural color of the food not foods with added dyes!  Make it fun.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Let's Do Lunch

Whenever you ask children at school what part of the day they enjoy most, many will say LUNCH and RECESS!  Over the years I have seen students bring many different kinds of lunches. Students bring in everything from sushi to Lunchables. At our school we do not provide a "hot" lunch so each day student must bring their own lunch.  I believe that from first grade up, students should make their own lunches

Here are a few tips to help you!
Pack lunch the night before.  This will help save time in the morning.  Make it part of your evening routine. 

Include a cloth placemat and napkin.  When students unpack their lunch they can set up the placemat which helps them define the table space.  The placemat also puts a barrier between their food and the table, so if they drop a grape on the placemat, it would be safe to pick it up and eat it.

Be sure students can easily open the containers that hold their food.  If you want to send food with such as soup or tuna in the can, the student should practice opening cans like these at home.  This includes oranges, cut them into quarters for easy eating.

Pack a variety of foods.  The best lunches are the ones that have small amounts of different types of food colors and textures.  Small containers of colorful fruit, crunchy veggies, creamy yogurt, and small sandwiches or wraps are the easiest for most young children to eat. 

Let your child pick out the foods he or she wishes to have for lunch within limits.  Ask your child to help choose which fruit they would like to eat, which veggie, what type of sandwich?  If you ask what do you want to eat for lunch?  The answer maybe cookies and ice cream, so avoid that question. 

Limit treats to one day each week.  Cookies, granola bars, fruit roll ups, and other special treats do not have to be an everyday option.  Pick one day each week and put a special treat in the lunch box, this will help children realize that these special items are occasional occurances.  Good nutrition is an everyday occurance.

Suggestions for Student Made Lunches
Wraps - Use whole wheat tortillas, students can choose their favorite lunch filling, pb and j, turkey with lettuce, cream cheese and chopped celery, or ham and cheese.  Students can fill and roll their wrap.   Cut into small pieces for easy eating.

Cubes - Cheese cut into cubes, sandwiches cut into quarters (or use cookie cutters for fun shapes), fruit and veggies cut into cubes, all of these items are fun to eat and easy to pick up!

Dips - A container of ranch dressing, peanut butter, cream cheese, salsa, or hummus along with carrots, celery, cucumbers, apple slices,  or whole wheat pita make a fun and satisfying lunch.

Water - Water is the best beverage choice.  I have seen many students bring fruit juice as their drink.  When they drink the fruit juice it fills them up!  Many times they do not eat the more nutritious food because of the sugar in the fruit juice.

Just wanted to mention...
Students should be able to unpack their lunch box when returning home from school.  They can put items in the sink or dishwasher and wipe out their lunch box with a damp paper towel.

Always include an ice pack in the lunch box for food safety.

Avoid prepacked lunches that can be purchased.  Students will learn more about nutrition and food planning if they are able to help you plan and choose healthy options.