Get Your Preschooler to be More Independent in the Morning

In the years before I had kids, I knew I wasn’t ready to be a parent because I could barely get myself clean, fed, and out the door to work. Then I had a little kid, and “fed” took a backseat and I learned to take my granola bar to go. Now I have two young children and we are gradually building family routines that help my preschooler to be independent and keep me and my husband from tripping over each other as we try to get ready. 

So how do you get your preschooler to follow a schedule or routine? It’s not an easy process but I would argue it’s much easier to teach your child to follow a routine independently now than it will be when he’s a teenager and you want him to meet you at the car for a ride to the middle school. Start now and start small so your child’s skills and confidence grow as she grows.

Decide what needs to be done

The first and most important step to getting your child to follow a routine is to be clear in your own mind (and be clear with any other adults who are in the mix) what that routine will be. If Dad has one set of rules for getting ready for bed and Mom has another, your child will end up confused and waiting for cues from the adult on duty. 

Write down the routine

Decide on the key steps and write them down in child-friendly words. Use pictures where you can so your pre-reader can understand it on his own. Start with just one part of the day, either getting ready in the morning or getting ready for bed. Once your child learns to follow the list, you can add any other routines you need. My dining room wall currently has lists for morning and evening and, at my son’s request, after school. 

Start your list with things your child already knows how to do. Mine was:

  • Put your bowl in the sink
  • Put your PJ’s in the laundry
  • Put on your clothes
  • Put on socks and shoes
  • Get your backpack and jacket

Don’t try to teach them how to do something at the same time that you make them independently responsible for it. Teach them how to pour their own cereal with as much support as they need and add it to the checklist when they can do it independently every time (without leaving a minefield of Cheerios on your kitchen floor). 

If mornings are stressful and crazy, you might want to start with your evening routine. Likewise, if one parent works late and the other can just barely get the kids fed and stuffed into their beds in time, don’t start there. Teaching your child to follow a routine more independently will take work and time and, above all, patience from the adults, so pick a routine you feel like you can give her time to learn.

Introduce the expectations

When you have a grand unveiling of the new routine checklist, make it the most exciting thing you ever hung on the wall. I put ours in plastic page protectors and started with a dry erase marker so my son could check things off as he finished them. We eventually stopped using the marker because it was one more thing to find in the morning, and because he was able to keep track of what step he was on without checking it off. 

My introduction went something like this, “Hey, Goose? I have something cool to show you! I was thinking about all the things you do by yourself in the morning and I made a list. Check it out! You are doing each of these things all on your own, but I noticed you need me or Dad to remind you when it’s time to do them. So I want to try something new. Now, instead of me reminding you that it’s time to get dressed, you’re going to check your list every day after breakfast and see what you have to do. You are going to be so independent now that you’re three!”

At first, you may want to use some kind of small reward if your child finishes all the steps without prompting. We started in the fall, so we must have used small bits of Halloween candy when my son finished the list. My husband is the one who did the daycare drop-offs at that point, so I honestly don’t remember. If you do decide to give a reward, make sure you’re clear about what it takes to get it. Will your child get it for finishing all the steps? For finishing all the steps with no reminders? What if you have to say, “Go check your list” 5 times? 10 times? Start with something manageable for your child so the reward isn’t out of reach, but make sure you’re not spending all your time reminding them and having them think they are independent.

Start practicing

At first, getting your child to follow a checklist or routine takes longer than just talking them through the whole thing. Because now, instead of saying, “Put your bowl in the sink” and having them head for the kitchen, you have to say, “What’s next? Go check your list,” and wait while they go from the table to the wall to the table to take that bowl to the sink, then go back to the list to find out what comes next. 

For a while, I had to take my super-distracted preschooler by the hand and walk him over to the list every time he got interested in a toy or a shoe or a stray piece of lint. I would turn him to face the list, point to it, and he would say, “OH! Yeah! Pants!” 

Try to use as few verbal prompts as possible as your child learns this process. Remember, you are trying to replace the sound of your voice with the beautiful checklist you created. Try modeling what you want them to do (stand in front of the checklist and look pointedly at their cereal bowl), pointing to the checklist, or handing them the list to get them to read from it. 

Expect more

Over a few weeks, if you are consistent, your child will become more and more independent. You might find that your checklist goes through a few different drafts if your child needs extra reminders for a certain step or puts her bowl in the sink, but never her spoon. 

Once your child masters this checklist, you can think about adding one for another part of the day. You can also use the same idea for jobs that aren’t daily, like taking the recycling out to the curb or picking up toys in the living room. Break it into steps, create visuals, and make it motivating. Kids are often so proud that they can do it on their own that they don’t need a reward, beyond your high five and their own sense of accomplishment. 

So what can your preschooler start doing for herself? What do your children already do on their own?

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When Should Your Child Start Doing Chores?

Pinterest is chock full of lists and infographics and opinions about the right age to give kids chores. Chatting with groups of parents, I’ve realized that chores are an issue that is divisive. There is a huge range of opinions about what are age-appropriate chores. So when should a child start doing chores? I think the answer is “as soon as possible.” I’ll tell you why.

I’ve written before about ways to help children develop executive functioning skills. These are skills that help children “execute” all kinds of tasks, from getting ready for school on time to applying to college. These skills develop over time, even into adulthood, but kids who don’t develop them at the same time as their peers can be at a big disadvantage when it comes to school.

Chores are one way to help children develop their executive functioning skills, as well as improving their confidence, problem-solving and motor skills. Chores can be a way to spend valuable time with your kids. And finally, having your kids do chores means the family gets more done faster! (Eventually). 

If your goal is to have your child building all these skills as early as they can, you will start to see chores everywhere you look. Here is how my kids started out and some ideas I have for turning over more responsibility as they grow.

One to two years

Yes, at 16 months, my daughter is starting to help out. She loves it because she’s interacting with us and we cheer and thank her. Some of her skills are:

  • Bring me the ___ (this works for socks and toys, of course, but it also works for having her hand me items from the laundry basket so I can fold them)
  • Put the ___ in the ___ (clothes in the laundry hamper, toy in the toy box, napkin in the trash)
  • She will happily accept a wipe or a tissue but doesn’t really have the hang of wiping her hands or a surface. 

A little closer to two, my son would unwrap the bars of soap when we bought a bulk pack of them. It took practice to put soap in one basket and wrappers in the trash, but that’s what makes it good for building executive functions.

Probably by the time he turned two, he was carrying his empty plate to the kitchen, although I took anything messy for him. 

By two, he was also wiping his table with a water spray bottle and a little cloth. He loved this job the most because of the spraying of water. It took a long time to refine it so it didn’t make a bigger mess than it cleaned up, but I think it’s worth it because using the sprayer builds hand strength and now I just have to say, “Clean the table first,” and at 4 he gets the mild cleaner, sprays down the surface, wipes the table and puts the cloth in the laundry and the spray in the cabinet. The time we invested between two and four has really paid off.

Two to three years

By the age of 3, my son had a lot of responsibilities. They were often more trouble than they were worth because things take him longer and he would often get distracted. Sometimes, there just wasn’t time for him to do things for himself, especially on weeknights. But I tried to make up for it on weekends and in the summer. Here are some jobs he had before he was 3:

  • Clearing his place after dinner, scraping his plate into the trash and stacking it by the sink. (I’d say in the dishwasher, but let’s be real – the dishwasher doesn’t get emptied and reloaded until long after he’s in bed.)
  • Putting dirty clothes in the laundry (thoroughly and on his own, without reminders)
  • Carrying a pile of t-shirts upstairs and putting them in the drawer, with supervision
  • Picking up his toys one category at a time (put all the food in the play kitchen, put all the soft toys in the hammock)
  • Getting dressed (I limited his wardrobe to gray and black pants and a bunch of shirts that all matched so he was guaranteed success)
  • Carrying and unpacking his own backpack after daycare
  • Washing windows with his trusty water spray bottle (this doesn’t actually accomplish anything, but he loved it!)
  • Making a peanut butter sandwich while I helped with things like jar lids and spreading
  • Measuring ingredients into the rice cooker, as long as I stood by to monitor

Three to four years

In the last year, my son has increased independence with the chores he has been doing for a long time, and we’ve started doing visual checklists so he does not need as many reminders to do the things he is responsible for every day. We’ve also added some new jobs:

  • Folding laundry – first washcloths, then moving on to his own underwear, then shorts and shirts, and larger towels
  • Putting away all his laundry
  • Stripping his bed and bringing his sheets down for washing
  • Making a sandwich if I just take out the jars and set up the step stool
  • Washing fruit or vegetables before he eats them
  • Organizing his bookshelf or art drawers (he still needs verbal coaching to point the books in the right direction)
  • Carrying out some of the trash and recycling on trash day
  • Bringing in the empty recycling bin in the afternoon
  • Emptying the silverware basket in the dishwasher
  • Sweeping specific messes, like spilled cereal (I got a broom from the dollar store and cut the handle down so he’s not knocking things down with it)

Please don’t think I’m raising perfect robot children who do all these things happily. There are tears sometimes and there is foot-dragging and there are endless reminders on some days. I frame all these jobs as things that have to get done so we can go more places and have more fun together. Sometimes I do play up the drama a little. “I know, I would love to go to the park this afternoon, but unfortunately, I have soooooo much laundry to fold I won’t be able to take you…unless I get some help….” 

I also give lots of choices. “I’m going to need some help getting ready for dinner. Would you rather go pick peas in the garden or wipe the dining room table?” And if he spends 20 minutes running around the front yard, great, as long as he comes back with the beans! I’m looking forward to adding some chores in the next few years, as the kids get older. Here’s my wishlist:

  • Emptying the whole dishwasher (when they are tall enough)
  • Bringing in groceries from the car and unpacking them
  • Folding more laundry (I don’t know why, but I hate folding laundry)
  • Food prep – making salad, washing and cutting more fruits, mixing, measuring
  • Packing lunches – I’ll make the single serving containers of snacks and side dishes and they will pick a balanced meal from the choices available

In the end, I want my children to learn a few things. One, this house doesn’t run itself. My husband and I work hard to feed everyone, clothe them, and keep the house clean. Each member of the family is part of that system and we do these things for each other because that’s what it means to be in a family. 

Two, I want them to learn how to solve problems and work through jobs more and more independently. Today, my four-and-a-half year old made his peanut butter and fluff sandwich and set it down on the table before realizing he hadn’t cut it. He complained loudly because he had used the last two knives in the drawer to spread the peanut butter and the fluff (“Because I didn’t want them to get mixed together.” Problem-solving!) and didn’t have one to cut the sandwich because he put them both in the sink. I was sympathetic but I didn’t get up from my own lunch or offer a solution. He considered a couple of options: a fork, a spoon. I did have to prompt him to think about where else there could be knives (in the clean dishwasher) but he went through a lot of steps before I had to help him. 

I joke that I want my kids to grow up to be employable and marriageable but really, what would be so bad about that? Employable = problem-solving, skilled, nice to be around. Marriageable = nice to be around and a responsible roommate. Sure, that’s too simplistic but I think it’s a great start. And I’m starting with chores.  

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How to Get Your Kids to Read This Summer

“Go play.” 

“Stop poking your brother.”

“I just fed you!”

“Where are your shoes?”

“Go read a book. A book. Yes, a book!”

Summer is officially underway. Have you checked the calendar yet to see when school starts again?

Kids seem to fall into two groups when it comes to reading. There are those that are begging to go to the library again to trade their huge pile of books for another. And then there are those who need to be urged, inspired, begged or forced to read. There are so many other things a child can do with a summer day and for many, reading falls pretty low on that list. 

Does it even matter if your kids read in the summer?

It sure does. You may have heard of the summer slide. The summer slide is the tendency for kids to lose skills (up to a month’s worth of learning!) over the summer. While the risk is greater in math, some students also lose reading skills, especially kids who struggle. In my experience as a teacher and tutor, what school-age children tend to lose is reading stamina and the ability to think through a question or problem. Getting their brains running from a standing start in the first week of school can be hard for all of us.

Some schools will assign specific summer reading and expect children (usually middle school or older) to take a test or discuss the book when they get back. Obviously, these assignments impact your child’s grades and have the potential to get their year off to a rough start if they don’t read the book or read it well. Other schools set a more general expectation for reading and might give you suggested book lists for your child’s grade. 

How do you get your kids to read in the summer? 

So once you decide it’s important, how do you get your kids to sit down with books and make the magic happen? Routines, Reminders, Rewards and Requirements. There are other ways, but I couldn’t think of any others that start with R, so here we go:


Pick a part of the day and make it a routine that everyone takes out a book and reads at this time. (No fair playing on your own phone while they do this. If you can’t sit down and read, take yourself to another room or they will call you on it.) For some families, first thing in the morning works, while others take a siesta after lunch for reading and relaxation. Bedtime is a nice time to read, too, but any part of the day that you can make consistent for your family this summer will do the trick! Shoot for 20-30 minutes, depending on the age of your kids, but if that’s hard, start with 10 minutes and work your way up. Play quiet instrumental music, dim the lights, or go to the room with the coolest air conditioning if it helps your kids get comfy.


I know. You’ve been reminding your kids to read, and you’re still reading this post looking for better ideas! Other ways to remind/inspire your kids to read are: make the books available and appealing. Think about the way the book store displays best sellers. Stand them up in the kitchen next to the snacks or feature them prominently on the coffee table. Keep a stack of picture books in the car or in the bathroom, wherever your kids seem to spend all their time. 


There’s some research that shows that rewarding kids for spending time reading can actually backfire, so tread lightly with this one. One thing that has been proven effective is rewarding kids for reading by getting them more books. This can be awesome if your child gets into a series and you can reward them by picking up the next one at your bookstore or library. My public library has moved their summer reading club online. My four-year-old doesn’t totally get it, but I think it’s great for school age kids. We type in the number of minutes he read, and we can list his books. He earns digital badges for reaching each goal for minutes of reading. This program also has other non-reading tasks that match the summer’s theme. For example, this year’s theme is space, so one task was naming all 8 planets. (I can’t help it. I keep typing 9. Poor Pluto!) 

And I don’t care what the research says. If you need to make lemonade when you finish The Lemonade War or go out for butterbeer when you finish a Harry Potter book, by all means, celebrate reading! (Where does one go for butterbeer, anyway?)


I saved this one for last because it’s my least favorite way to get kids reading. But some kids are never going to get the chance to fall in love with a book because they will never open one on their own! For your reluctant and resistant readers, you might need to make reading a “must-do” before they go out to play or get screen time. I know some parents don’t give the kids the wifi password until they’ve finished their chores for the day. 

It doesn’t have to be books

The cool thing about summer reading is you do not have to limit yourself to books. Of course, that’s true all year, but it might feel more true in the summer when there’s no reading log for the teacher or homework. It counts as reading if your child reads travel guides for your summer vacation, reads stats and game recaps for their favorite baseball team, or even reads magazines about their favorite video game or reality TV star. 

You might get your kids involved in reading recipes to bake a cake or reading directions to put together a new toy. My son is starting to read and is fascinated by cereal boxes and whatever comes in the mail. That won’t be enough to keep your sixth grader’s brain active all summer, but my point is find those moments for reading wherever you can!

One student I tutored had a summer “reading” assignment to listen to a podcast. For older children who are really focused on story and comprehension, podcasts and audiobooks still “count” as reading. There are some great podcasts for younger children, too, like Shabam! and Eleanor Amplified, but they don’t give the same eyes-on-the-page practice that your beginning reader needs to become fluent. They are still great for car rides and quiet time.

Read with them

Your kids are not too old to be read to. Oh, I don’t know how old your kids are? Doesn’t matter. I just wrote a whole post on reading out loud to kids, so I won’t repeat myself here, but I think reading aloud is a totally underappreciated way to connect with your kids and bring them a love of stories. 

And if your teenager absolutely will not sit still while you break out the Shel Silverstein poems, try reading what they are reading. Let them recommend a book to you and read it, even if it’s incredibly lame. I think taking book recommendations from your kid can be especially challenging if your child has interests totally unlike yours. You might have to read about war battles or awkward middle school crushes or robots or proper English ladies pining for a husband. You might not love it. But how can you expect your kids to take your book recommedations seroiusly if you don’t read the books they recommend? You will have something new to talk to your child about and you might learn something important about the way they view the world. 

Make it a game

I was thinking about all my memories of reading in the summer. As a teenager, I loved pulling a chair out onto the deck and putting my feet up on the railing. I read A Tale of Two Cities on a hill in the shade in a park near my house. I couldn’t read in the car, but I read everywhere else! I remember getting wet thumbprints on the book pages by the pool and reading in the evening, freshly showered, in front of the fan. 

I made a summer bingo board to try to inspire kids to find some of those same reading moments that I loved so much. Put in your email address below and I’ll send it to you, too. I’ll send you some updates, too.

So what are your favorite tips and tricks for getting your kids reading in the summer?

Big feelings in small bodies – Why adults saying sad when they mean angry is my pet peeve

I started my teaching career in a classroom with students with autism spectrum disorders and/or intellectual disabilities. They were in middle school when I had them but they were the sort of kids whose parents often knew from birth that they were going to need extra help. Many had been in public school special education since their third birthdays and they had definitely learned some things that I don’t think we ever planned to teach them. One of the hardest things to change for these kids was the idea that when they behaved in a way that negatively impacted other people, their peers and the adults in their lives felt “sad.” 

It’s not that those kids never behaved in a way that made me feel sad. Sometimes they broke my heart because it was clear that they were doing their best and still struggling, or they wore their hearts on their sleeves in a way that was so much more real than what adults express. 

But when a seventh grader is goofing around and steps on my foot out of carelessness, I don’t feel sad. I feel annoyed! And it’s so much harder to help kids problem-solve and figure out how to exist in a world full of people when all they have heard is that their behavior makes people feel “sad.” 

I know how it happens. Before I worked in public school, I worked in early intervention and visited kids in their homes and preschools. When a 2-year-old with a language delay hits a peer, you tell them hitting makes their friends feel sad. Sad is simple and non-threatening and you can use it for anything. “Mommy feels sad when you yell and wake your sister up.” “Nana feels sad when you say her spaghetti is gross.” “You aren’t following safety rules crossing the street and that makes me sad.” Manipulative? A little. But many kids don’t want the people they like to be sad, so they understand that and they can work to change their behavior. 

But eventually, maybe sooner than we think, those little people (with or without disabilities) become bigger people, and they need an emotional vocabulary to deal with their own feelings and respond to the feelings of others. Toddlers hit when they are sad, or angry, or overwhelmed, or sometimes excited. They might be tired or hungry or just plain ticked off at you. And as long as there’s that gap between big feelings and words to name them, kids continue to act out in ways that don’t help them and are often not socially acceptable. 

One way to help your preschooler be emotionally literate and ready for school is to help him or her name those feelings and start to figure out what to do about them. 

Name that feeling

Sometimes preschoolers are overwhelmed by such big feelings that they can’t stop and name them and think about them. I mean, have you ever raged at the poor teenager who makes your coffee at the drive-thru or snapped at your spouse and realized after the fact that you had no idea why? We can usually think back and realize that we had a lousy night’s sleep or that we are nervous about an upcoming meeting, but preschoolers have a much harder time thinking about the past and the future, so all that cause-and-effect stuff is a mystery to them.

Before they can learn to deal effectively with emotions, they need to name them. They can practice that through play. Act out: What does your face look like when you’re angry? Let’s pretend the dolls are excited to go to the park! How do you feel when you have to go upstairs and it’s dark? Show me. There are many different emotions we can name and show, but for preschoolers, I think the most useful ones are: happy/content/calm, sad, scared/worried, angry and excited. They might find it easier to recognize these in book characters (because their faces don’t move) or loved ones before they can recognize them in themselves or in other kids. 

Some great books for talking about emotions with preschoolers are:

  • When Sophie Gets Angry –  Really, Really Angry by Molly Bang
  • How Do Dinosaurs Say I’m Mad by Jane Yolen and Mark Teague
  • Feelings by Aliki
  • Wemberley Worried by Kevin Henkes
  • The Color Monster by Anna Llenas
  • Glad Monster Sad Monster by Anne Miranda and Ed Emberley

As your child is beginning this process, they might need you to help them recognize and name their feelings. Before you jump in and assume you understand, it’s best to do some detective work. It might seem like your child is just grumpy when it’s time to go to camp, but if you ask a few questions, you might find that she’s really nervous because she will be meeting new counselors or angry because she thinks you’ll be having fun without her while she’s gone. 

You can tread lightly by saying things like, “You keep yelling and saying you don’t want to go to camp. Sometimes people yell because they’re angry. Are you angry?” You might have to play a little bit of 20 Questions but hopefully you can get to the bottom of your child’s big reaction and offer them the right kind of help.

Once your preschooler can name their big feelings, it is a lot easier for them to figure out what they need to handle the feeling and/or change the situation. There are so many different strategies that can help kids, from breathing techniques to calming boxes to distraction to drawing. What’s important is that your child should have a toolkit of maybe 3 or 4 strategies that work for them. Practice them when things are calm. Have your child coach you to use a strategy when you get stuck in traffic or stub your toe. Keep the materials or picture reminders nearby so they are easy to grab when they are needed. 

After we worked through sad, happy, and angry with my son, the next feeling he asked to learn about was worried. Until we started really talking about feelings when he was four, I had no idea that worry was such a big part of his life. Now, at four and a half, he is a bit better about expressing his worry or disappointment, and it is so helpful to understand why he is upset, instead of guessing that he’s tired or feeling shy. He might still respond with a loud squeal when he thinks he might run out of time to go somewhere fun or do something he wants, but his long, loud, sweaty meltdowns are largely a thing of the past. 

And that’s why teaching children to name their emotions, and being honest with them about your own emotions, can be so valuable. It helps them feel more in control and makes them more able to face challenges and rebound from setbacks. And all this emotion stuff lays the groundwork for all their other accomplishments – in school, in sports, in relationships, everywhere.

Download a free Calming Strategies Visual and join my email list for more ideas and updates on my upcoming book 4 Things to Teach Your Child Before Kindergarten.

6 Reasons to Read to your Kids This Summer

I’m a big fan of reading. It’s been my favorite reason to stay up late since I was old enough to do it on my own. But I have happy memories from long before that when my parents, usually my dad, would read us bedtime stories. He very patiently read the Disney version of Cinderella to me hundreds of times. He read us novels like A Wrinkle in Time. My mom read me Little Women and got us a hardcover classic children’s book every Christmas for years. I’m looking at them on the bookshelf now and wondering when I can trust my own kids with them. Remind me, when do kids outgrow the paper-eating stage? Anyway, whether your kids are lap babies or pre-teens, there are lots of reasons to read to kids in the summer, and lots of fun reading activities you can try.

Model fluency and vocabulary

So this is the boring, teacher-y reason to recommend reading to kids this summer. Reading books to your child lets them hear how good reading sounds. It exposes them to structures and rhythms and vocabulary words in good books that they can’t read on their own yet. Or, even if it’s an old favorite that they can read on their own, they can learn from the way you read it, the places you pause and the questions you ask. 

Expand genres

You can read your child books they might not pick on their own. Stuck on superheroes? Maybe it’s time to introduce them to Harry Potter or Percy Jackson. Loving fairies? How about Peter Pan? Read them old favorites from your childhood or browse the librarians’ recommendations at your local library for new favorites. Read to them from magazines or the newspaper. Check out the books that have been made into their favorite movies. Find a biography of a favorite athlete or historical figure. 

Quality time

Making a point of sitting down and reading to your kids this summer is a way to make sure you spend some quality time with the family. I know “Quality Time” is a cliche and that it puts pressure on busy parents to not just keep their kids alive, but to Make Memories. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. Think about summer as an opportunity to slow down and do this one thing that will get your whole family sitting in the same place, not fighting over toys, not begging for snacks, and not watching TV. 

A break from the midday heat

My kids are pale little creatures, about half Irish. Sunshine is their kryptonite. So whatever I can do to keep them out of the sun between about 11 and 2, when the sun is strongest and shade is hard to find, becomes my favorite activity. I won’t lie, a few days a week that’s a nap for the small one and an after-lunch Netflix matinee for the big one. But when everyone is awake, it’s a great time to sprawl all over the couch and read out loud.

Learn together

The couch or your kids’ bedrooms are great places to read, but reading out loud to your kids doesn’t have to mean getting snuggled up. You can show your child how to read for information, like reading guide books to plan your summer vacation or reading the directions for their new swingset. When my curious 4-year-old wants to know something, he asks, “Can we watch a video on YouTube about it?” That’s the easy way to find out something new, but reading is not obsolete. Find a book or a website about the things your child is curious about and show them how to read for information. It will be easier now than it will be when they are back at school and following their curiosity is put aside in favor of research and reports

Start a new tradition

What’s the most relaxing place for you? Do you love lying on a picnic blanket in the park? Chairs on the beach? Rocking on your back porch? In a tent, listening to the crickets? Think about what makes you happiest – then add a book. You don’t have to make every book you read an amazing adventure, but you can give your children the powerful gift of remembering reading as relaxing, warm and fun, something you do because you love it. 

The point

I started this blog post with half a dozen tabs open with all kinds of research I could cite about why reading to kids makes them happier and smarter and makes their sweaty socks smell better (OK, no, it doesn’t do that). But really, parent to parent, I say read to your kids this summer because it makes everyone feel happy. And if you’re dreading it for some reason, it’s time to try something new. New place, new time, new reading material. It’s summer. Have fun!

If you want a free summer reading bingo board and some email blog updates with more ideas to make reading fun, give me your email address below. 

Five Reasons to Start with a New Tutor This Summer

1. You have more time

No PTA meetings. No school drop-offs. And it seems like our adult schedules let up a little in the summer, too. More time to meet with a tutor, find the right fit, and set a schedule without making yourself crazy!

2. Your child doesn’t have any homework

When I meet with students for the first time during the school year, we end up doing a lot of homework triage. Instead of starting with the foundational skills they need to succeed, like vocabulary or strategies for reading comprehension, we have to just find a way to get through the homework so they can catch up or keep up with the class. In the summer, I can build lessons around students’ needs and interests and they can make good progress without worrying about falling behind in some other area of their learning.

3. Your child feels less stressed

This goes right along with the homework. But students also feel stressed by extracurriculars, music lessons and practice, sports, and social stuff during the school year. In the summer, kids are sometimes even bored! It’s a beautiful thing. And it gives them lots of breathing room to work on their reading or writing skills.

4. Tutors often have more availability

During the school year, I’m limited to evening hours because I teach during the day. In the summer, I have some afternoons open for tutoring and can often meet earlier in the evening (or later) to give families a flexible schedule that fits their needs.

5. Your child will start the school year confident in her new skills instead of worried about the new challenges

This is the best reason! What could be better than knowing that the academic worries that made this past school year hard are not problems anymore? Your child can walk into school next year excited to show off what he can do!

Contact me for a free consultation and demo lesson to see if online tutoring is a good fit for your child this summer.

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Can my child fail her kindergarten screening?

Schools have a variety of different practices for kindergarten screening. Some have kids come in during the spring for a tour, screening, or orientation. Other schools do it right before school starts at the end of the summer, or even on the first few days of school. If you are wondering about your child’s kindergarten screening, the best source of information is the school itself. The second best source is any group of local parents, in person or on social media.

No matter when they schedule it, your child’s new school will probably have one or more events before kindergarten starts, so kids can get used to the new school building and teachers and other staff have the chance to meet the students. This often includes a brief screening assessment. A kindergarten screening is a great opportunity for teachers to get to know students and for kids to meet some new adults and show off what they know by playing some short learning games.

Even though kindergarten screening can be a very positive experience, I have rarely seen a parent look as anxious as parents do as they watch their freshly scrubbed and combed little boy or girl walk away with a teacher for their screening. It’s totally understandable. I mean, before your children turn 5, how many times do you really just have them walk away from you with another adult for set for any reason? Maybe they’ve been with babysitters or daycare or preschool teachers but for the most part, you’ve been along to at least ease the transition.

I promise you, kindergarten screenings are nothing for either you or your child to be nervous about. Hopefully, reading this post will take some of the mystery out of the process and help you and your child enjoy their introduction to their new school!

Why do kindergartens do screenings?

Take a moment to see the world through kindergarten teacher’s eyes. All of a sudden, on the first day of school, about 20 little people enter your classroom. They’re excited, they’re curious, they’re shy, they’re crying, and they’re wondering when it’s time for snack. The teacher has to keep the class moving through the day and engaged to give them a great first day of school, so she doesn’t have a lot of chances to sit and chat with individual kids that first day. Kindergarten screening is where children have the opportunity to interact one-on-one with one of the professionals that work within the school and they are incredibly valuable for teachers. It can speed up the process of the teachers at school getting to know your child’s strengths and their needs.

What will they ask my child to do at kindergarten screening?

Schools use many different tools for the kindergarten screening process. Regardless of whether they have published assessment tool that they use or whether they have put together their own set of activities, they are often looking for some of these skills:

  • Communicating verbally – this can include chatting with the adults in the room, giving information like their full name, naming pictures and saying what words mean
  • Following directions to do physical and tabletop tasks, like hopping on one foot and pointing to your nose and making a pattern like my pattern with your blocks.
  • Motor skills including ability to use a pencil and scissors
  • Knowledge of common preschool material like letters, numbers, and colors.
  • Behavioral observations like whether the child separates easily from a parent, is friendly or shy, or is impulsive about touching the assessment materials

What happens if my kid isn’t good at that stuff?

As long as your child meet the age requirements for kindergarten and is in the right neighborhood for the school they’re attending, the school cannot turn them away. There’s no such thing as failing a kindergarten screening.

Teachers use the information they gain from kindergarten screenings to plan strategic groups for different skills. For example, a teacher might have a whole group of entering kindergartners who don’t know all their letter sounds and she might plan to work with those students more frequently until they master the skill. Sometimes other experts come in to work with groups in the classroom, like occupational therapists or speech therapists, and they may pay special attention to a group who’s having trouble with a particular skill, like making a certain speech sound or using scissors.

In some cases, teachers might note significant concerns about a child’s development. Often, these are children who we already know needed extra help with speech and language or motor skills as young children. They might have had early intervention services or they might have been seeing a therapist privately before starting school. It’s still helpful for teachers to see these kids in action in the screening environment and get a perspective on what they might need when school starts. In other cases, teachers may have concerns about a student who has not been identified previously. Teachers use information they get from the kindergarten screening to make a note of who to keep a closer eye on as school begins so that they can provide extra support, gather more information, and communicate with the parents as soon as possible about any concerns they have.

Will I find out how my child did at kindergarten screening?

This depends on the school. In some schools, parents get a written report that gives them scores for the kindergarten screening tool that the school uses. In other places, parents might get a more generic letter that states that their child participated and no concerns were noted. You may also get follow-up communication that your child has been selected for short-term extra help with a professional in the school, or that the school would like to talk about some things they noticed or recommend further testing. If you have questions about any of these communications, it is a great idea to get in touch with the person who sent you the letter or with the child’s teacher to find out more about what they are noticing with your child as he or she starts school.

While the process of sending children’s kindergarten screening can cause a lot of anxiety for parents, please remember that the purpose of the whole process is to get your child off to a good start in kindergarten and make sure they have the tools they need to succeed there. Everything that teachers ask or do during the screening process serves that purpose. Teachers want kids to have a good experience with the screening and we want them to enter kindergarten feeling confident and excited about all the things they will learn!

How to use Quizlet to study

What if I told you the best way to study material was to hand write your own flashcards?

Yeah, I’m not making flashcards for every term in every test either so I know you’re probably thinking, “OK, if that’s the best way to study, is there a second best way I can try?”

Maybe! Although there are benefits to hand writing your own notes and flashcards for studying, because it helps you process and learn information both when you write them and when you read and study them, creating your own flashcards can be a daunting process. When you have a lot of material to learn, you might avoid preparing for a test because it is too overwhelming.

That’s where I think Quizlet can be a great resource. First, you need to find the study material that fits your exam on Quizlet. Luckily, thousands of students and teachers have come before you and have created study sets for almost any academic knowledge topic I have searched for. Even better, often kids from your own school or your own teacher will have created study sets for you and your classmates. This is best because it will follow closely the way your teacher teaches.

Once you find a set of cards that matches what you need to learn, you can copy them to your own new list. This is a good option because then you can add cards or add more information to cards in a way that helps you study, based on the study guide or other information you’ve been given.

Click the copy button to make your own copy of a pre-made set of cards so you can edit them

Often, students say they study by reading through the cards. This is a good start to studying, but it is not enough when learning new material. Flipping through flashcards is too passive and creates the false belief that you understand things that have passed in front of your reading eyes. While reading the flashcards maybe enough to make the material familiar to you, really mastering it requires a more active process.

Luckily, Quizlet has many features that help you interact with the cards in a more productive way.

Quizlet’s Learn feature

If you’re sitting down with a set of material for the first time, you might want to use Quizlet Learn feature. With the learn feature, you are looking at a small set of cards to begin with and choosing the correct answer in a multiple-choice format. You will get feedback about which ones you get right and which ones you get wrong and the system keeps track of how many terms you have got cracked. After you get the item correct in multiple choice format, the next time you see it will be in a fill in the blank format. This takes the demand on your memory from recognition to explicit expression of the answer. This explicit, or declarative, memory is harder to achieve than just the recognition memory. So you’ll have to go through the cards more than one time to get to that level.

Other ways to use Quizlet

For some sets of material, or some students, the learn feature might not be the way you like to study. Instead, click through the deck of cards, saying the answer to yourself before you flip over to see the material on the back, and star any cards that you do not get right.

On your next pass through the cards, you can study only the starred cards. using the stars, you can set up a variation of the spaced repetition system that is so helpful for studying and memorizing new material. Quizlet is not really designed to sort cards into categories based on how well you know the material, but you can use the Stars to roughly approximate this system.

Create your own

There are so many card sets available on Quizlet that you might not need to make your own cards. But maybe you should! One benefit of making flashcards is that you have to think about and organize the information in your brain before you can put them on cards. You can type the information into a document and then upload it to Quizlet or type it right into the card maker. Be sure not to cram too much information onto your cards and write them in a way that you can study either the front or the back and remember what is on the other side.

Print them out

I’m not a person who usually prefers paper. I tend to use digital forms for documents, notes, communication, and anything else that I can get in digital form. People will say do you want me to make a copy of that for you? And I’ll say oh no I’ll just lose it.

But sometimes, there’s no substitute for having a physical reminder in your hand to study from. I was studying for a big exam a couple years ago and a friend who was studying for the same exam printed out a set of cards from Quizlet and gave me a copy. I cut them apart and studied them and there was definitely something satisfying about seeing the pile of cards that I knew growing while the cards that I was still studying were part of a smaller and smaller pile.

Don’t let the idea of writing out flashcards for every fact you are studying stop you from using flashcards to study! Find the info you need on Quizlet or make your own. Study on your computer or put the app on your phone to study on the go! You’re going to nail this test!

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Making your own flashcards is best, but Quizlet is a great shortcut

How to Prepare for Your Parent-Teacher Conference

You’ve made it through back-to-school shopping, those first weeks of homework, and waking up to an alarm clock. Your child knows the routines for getting ready in the morning and doing homework at night. You’ve even mostly figured out how to get dinner on the table before your kids fall asleep. So now it’s time for the parent-teacher conference! Schools often hold conferences at the end of the marking periods or after the first few months of school. That means teachers have some data to report and parents have some questions in mind.

Meeting the teacher can be exciting or it might be tense, depending on how your child’s year is going.

The conference is a great opportunity to find out more about your child’s school day. But what should you be trying to find out?

Ask about expectations for homework at the parent-teacher conference

Depending on the teacher, school policies, age of the students, and subject of the class, homework expectations can vary widely. Many districts have a policy about how many minutes per night of homework students should have at each grade level. While I am very cautious about recommending homework to students because research shows that it may not benefit younger children, every teacher has their own philosophy.

Find out from the teacher how much time homework should take your child every night. Also discuss with the teacher a the plan for nights when the homework is taking your child much longer than the expected time. If your child is a struggling reader, for example, even the math work might take extra time as they struggle to decode the word problems.

Talk to the teacher about a plan for prioritizing the homework. Be honest about the amount of support you are providing at home to help your child get the homework done. If you are finding that you and the child are spending an exceptionally long time working together to try to complete the homework or if you find that your child is totally relying on you to reteach something they have learned in school, there may be a mismatch between the homework they are getting and their independent skill level.

One possible solution is to agree on a time limit for homework. If your child works more slowly than his peers in math, for example, agree that he will complete as many as he can in 15 minutes, if the rest of the class is expected to take 15 minutes to complete it. If handwriting is an issue, talk to the teacher about weather your child can type his spelling list for practice, or whether he could write the target words one or two times in if the class writes them three times. this can be tricky are at the upper grade levels, when some teachers grade homework assignments. but it is important that you and the teacher share expectations for homework and can work together as a team to help your child be successful.

Benchmarks for reading and math

Ask your child’s teacher what benchmarks or informal assessments they are using to learn about your child’s skills in reading, writing, and math. These are most often determined by the school district. Ask how many words per minute your child should be reading at this point in the year and how many she is reading. Find out how long the average written composition is for students in your child’s grade so that you can figure out whether her writing meets the standards. This is an important conversation because it means you won’t be surprised when report cards come to find that your child is not meeting expectations for the grade level.

If your child is not meeting benchmarks, ask what is being done to help them

Often schools use an approach called response to intervention, which identifies students who have not met learning targets at a certain point in the year. These students are given targeted additional support in their area of need. The way the support is given varies a lot from grade to grade and school to school but it often includes small group instruction where targeted concept is pre-taught or re-taught to help children who have not yet mastered it. Although the data may not be directly shared with parents, because response to intervention is a dynamic process in which students are moving in and out of intervention groups as they reach their goals, your teacher should be able to tell you generally when and how students are moved in and out of groups and how those decisions are made.

You may also ask about what staff members are participating in the response to intervention groups. It helps to know who the teachers are that your child is meeting with. You might be surprised or confused to hear them mention an unfamiliar name because often staff from across disciplines including paraprofessionals, teachers at other grade levels, and specialists like special education teachers and speech and language pathologists participate in response to intervention and take groups of students with the same specific skill needs.

Best way to communicate about questions or problems

Teachers often cover this on back-to-school curriculum nights at the beginning of the year, but if you don’t have a plan for the best way to get in touch with your child’s teacher, make sure you ask at the conference. Is it best for you to email your concerns? Do they prefer to have a phone message left for them at school? By the same token, be sure to let them know the best way to reach you. Do you prefer to be called on your cell phone or at your work number? Does the email address you gave at the beginning of the year still reach you during the day? It’s important to have a plan for communication to ensure that issues don’t linger and questions can be answered promptly so that your child and teacher and get on with the business of teaching and learning at school!

What systems are in place for behavior in the classroom

How is behavior managed in your child’s classroom? Is there something that works at home that your teacher hasn’t tried?

You may have a child who makes it all the way through the school year without ever mentioning the behavior management system in the classroom. Or you may know the system inside and out by the end of September. It helps to find out from the teacher what the individual and group behavior expectations are for your child’s class and what systems are in place to address those. Does your teacher use a token economy system, like tickets the children can trade in for prizes? Does the class earn a collective reward when they get enough marbles in their jar? Are behavior corrections public like names written on the board or a classroom behavior chart? Or are corrections and reminders individual and personal? Does your child’s classroom use consequences like removal of recess time?

You know your child best and you may be able to suggest approaches to reminders or consequences that will be effective and efficient at helping your child be on her best behavior throughout the school day.

Suggestions for working with children at home

If there is an area where your child is not yet up to grade level, the parent-teacher conference is a great opportunity to ask the teacher for suggestions on how to practice at home. Does he recommend specific books or stories for building reading fluency? Are there math games that will help your child learn to recognize place value or memorize the multiplication tables? Is there a website that offers video reviews of the math skills your child doesn’t seem to remember? If you plan to give your child extra practice for their school work at home, resources from the teacher are a great place to start to keep your practice aligned with what’s going on in the classroom.

Recommendations for independent reading book

Some readers may have worked their way through every book in the house and most of the classroom library and be looking for more. Others may have trouble settling into a book or a series that interests them. The classroom teacher can tell you what your child has been reading in school and what other readers in the grade tend to like. That gives you good information for your next trip to the bookstore or library.

If your child is struggling, what’s next?

Talking about a child who is struggling with what is taught in class makes for a challenging conversation on both sides. As a parent, you feel worried that your child isn’t getting what he or she needs or you may feel frustrated that the school doesn’t seem to be solving a problem that you see at home. Maybe it’s not the first conference you have sat in where the teacher said your child is not meeting the grade-level benchmarks.

While it can be difficult, try to stay open to this new teacher’s plan. The vast majority of teachers are doing their best and using a range of creative tools to help your child be her best.

These conversations are easiest when the parents and teachers share the same concerns. For example, your son is avoiding reading at home and the teacher has data that shows he reads slower than his peers and has trouble with some of the phonics rules that were taught last year.

Ask the teacher what strategies she is using in the classroom to support him. She may talk about spending one to one time with him or having another adult in the school spend time with him regularly during the week to practice his reading. She may have him participating in targeted small group instruction, in which he and several classmates with the same needs are reading together. These approaches often fall under a system called response to intervention which is a method for supporting students that is based on classroom assessment data and providing targeted teaching in the area of weakness.

Ask how the teacher will know if his reading is getting better. Find out how often he is participating in groups, what specific program – if any – is being used, and how long the group will go on. For example, is her plan to reevaluate his skills after 8 or 12 weeks or will he participate in this small group all year long? While it is hard to rearrange and reformulate groups frequently, and kids often need the same practice for a large portion of the year, I hope you will hear that the teacher plans to reassess skills in a month or two and find out what the student should work on next.

What if you and the teacher don’t agree?

You might hear something surprising or unpleasant at the conference. Here’s how to deal with it

The conversation at the parent-teacher conference about next steps to support your child can be more challenging when you and the teacher are not seeing the same things. For example, you might be really concerned about a weakness in spelling while the teacher says your daughter’s skills are age-appropriate and that she’s getting better. It can be frustrating as a parent to hear a teacher dismiss your concerns. Try to remain open to what you’re hearing, but if something is an ongoing problem, don’t plan to give up. The teacher has the benefit of seeing many students over a period of years make progress through her class. She may have seen that students with your daughter’s needs often grow out of a skill weakness during her class. If the teacher does not jump on board with a concern you have, consider this conference the beginning of many conversations.

Try to leave the conversation with the thinking that you will both keep an eye on the problem you’re seeing and talk or meet again if you continue to have concerns about your child’s progress. Teachers understand that your role as a parent is to advocate for your child. Their role is to provide the learning environment and curriculum that allows your child to succeed and gives them the tools they need. You are on the same team, even if your perspective is different.

Another difficult conversation occurs when you hear your child’s teacher saying that there is a problem with your child’s learning and you were not aware of it. It is easy to feel blindsided and defensive the first time you hear that you’re sweet, smart, child is not making the progress expected in class. Again, think about the perspective your child’s teacher can offer you. She has seen many children over a long period of time. Your perspective is often limited to what you have seen your child or children do. She may be aware of challenges in school that you had not yet considered. If the area the teacher is worried about is something you know your child can do, think about why your child might not be showing their best skills in class. Think about how how to build your child’s confidence or help them demonstrate their strengths to the teacher.

On the other hand, your child might truly have a weakness in an academic area. Kids are great at focusing on the things they are confident in and avoiding things that they find difficult. It may be that you have not seen your child’s weakness because it’s in an area that he doesn’t engage in at home. The teacher may have seen problems in an area you have not observed.

The Takeaway

A parent-teacher conference is a rare opportunity to get to know your child’s teacher and to spend a little time in the world of school where your child spends so much of her time. Also, think about how your child might be feeling about two of the important adults in his life sitting down without him. Most likely, he will want to hear that you and the teacher like and respect each other and that you are both proud of him and excited about the way he will grow this year. Hopefully, a parent-teacher conference with a positive conversation we’re both parties walk away with that feeling. If it doesn’t come easily, hopefully you can at least find some common ground with the teacher and come up with some positive elements to share with your child.

Tips for things to ask your child’s teacher at the parent-teacher conference