Monday, 9 September 2013

6 A+ Ideas for Spelling Homework

Ahhhh homework.  Opinions abound.  Facts remain.  If you practice something diligently, whole-heartedly, with intention to improve, you will improve.  It doesn't matter if it's basketball or piano, karate or reading.  

Or spelling. 

So spelling is my topic today.  Again, opinions abound.  Facts remain.  If you spell something wrong, you will confuse or mislead someone.  You may, in turn, be confused or misled yourself because spelling is the act of producing words, which comes after comprehending words.  It is a secondary act of showing comprehension and a possible signal that you are confused or misguided when you're reading.

Yes, spelling involves memorization.  Some people are not good at memorizing. 

Do they comprehend?  Yes. 

Can they create?  Oh yeah! 

Can they memorize specific letters in a row?  Not so much. 

Spelling is a skill like any other that comes naturally to some and takes persistent effort for others. Teachers get this.  This is why your child's mark in language is not based solely on their spelling tests.  Any English language arts mark will have several components that comprise the total mark.  A teacher's grade book will usually look something like this:

English/Language Arts:
Reading comprehension - 25%
Spelling - 25%
Writing - 25%
Oral presentations - 25%

Every assignment the teacher gives will filter into one of these categories and go towards the total mark.  The spelling category, by first report card mark, may have 10 different marks contributing to it.  The average will be taken of those 10 to make a certain percentage.  So, if little Johnny earns 100% in all his spelling quizzes, his average will be 100%.  Is that enough to guarantee a passing grade in English?  No, because that is only one quarter of the total mark.  It helps, but if he bombs reading, writing and oral, he will bomb English.  This mark breakdown may or may not be given to you as part of the teacher's year plans but I guarantee they have this and shouldn't have a problem sharing it.  It is also a really good indication of what the teacher wants to prioritize that semester or year.  For example, not every breakdown will be perfectly equal like the example above.  It may look something like this:

Reading comprehension - 50%
Spelling - 10%
Writing - 30%
Oral - 10%

In the above example, spelling is only given a weight of 10%.  Does that mean less spelling tests?  No.  But the total marks count for less towards the final grade.  First graders will not understand this (heck, most 10th graders don't understand this) but as a parent, it helps to put things in perspective. You will not always agree on a teacher's break down but at least everyone will be on the same page.

But I digress.

After a full week in the trenches we are starting to get our after school routine in place. I printed off a handy dandy PDF door hanger from Thriving Family (you have to look in the middle right of the page, under Quick Links, it's called Homework Chart and Afterschool Reminders) and put it on our door to greet her before she comes through.  It seems to help her take charge of this routine.

When it comes time to do the homework part of the checklist, she balks a bit.  The TV must certainly not be on (much to my younger sons dismay) but if we all do "homework" together, it's a bit easier for her to accept.

In case you hadn't guessed by the aforementioned ramble, our homework focus for the foreseeable future is language arts.  Reading her take-home book. Practicing sight words.  And spelling.  The first two tasks are usually pretty easy to get through.  After all, she has picked the book so it's of some interest to her.  There is always a new sight word to learn and we can manipulate the words to make funny sentences.  But spelling?  The same words day in and day out.  How can this task be fun?  I realized in the first 30 seconds, we needed help doing this.  So who do I ask when I don't know which way to go?

No, it's not MAP, it's PINTEREST, of course!

I scoured my Teaching & Learning board (which, by the way is not near as organized as it should be so don't waste your time if you're after something is however I lovely "stroll in the park" if you feel like "stopping to smell the roses") and found a few tips and inevitably got side-tracked into the deeper and deeper waters of TeachersPayTeachers and Google in general!  When I finally came up for air, I narrowed it down to these 6 ideas/sites.  To make the cut, the ideas needed to be quick and simple to set up (sometimes I'm getting home from work the same time Miss E is getting off the bus) and I had to have the materials on hand.  That being said, I do have a lot of crafty stuff on hand. You may not.  In any case, the supplies can be found for a buck at your local dollar store and whipped into use in less than 10 minutes.

If you're feeling techy:
If you have a computer or tablet the kids can use, this is a good site for younger children (ie. grades 1-3) because the games involve minimal mouse moves/clicks and you can create a free custom list free without having to sign up.  (I don't think it will save your list, but for us, I'm only going to use this as practice once a week so that's ok) is a great one too, but I find its games need more mouse control to play. 

If you're feeling science-y:
Have your child write words in "invisible ink".
We tried the lemon juice trick but realized that we actually have very few lamps in our house to see the results appear before our very eyes and the ones we do have, have the energy saving bulbs in them so that they actually don't give off enough heat to activate the secret message!  FAIL!  But I still include the list because Miss E had such fun doing it, and we may still try the white crayon/watercolor trick.  As a side note, be sure to supervise the writing because you want them to be practicing the words the right way.  If you suspect they've spelled it wrong (and of course, being invisible, it will be hard to tell unless you're watching every stroke) suggest they do it again.  Because this needs time to dry, the lesson could be lost if 10 minutes later you realize the words were spelled wrong.

If you're feeling "Michaelangelo-ey":
Roll out the playdough. Have your child write in it with a toothpick, then use a rolling pin to "clear the slate".  Or shape dough into letters. If you have letter stamps, use them to print the words out (hint: this works better than a toothpick since most playdough drags a bit and makes letters very messy). 

I loathe playdough but will tolerate it with strict supervision and an old cookie sheet as the work surface. I like this image from MrsStewartsSuperstars:

If you're feeling "confetti-ey" (ok, ok, I realize I'm struggling a bit here with my adjectives, bear with me!):
I snagged this one and a few other gems from Amanda at Kind of a Hippie Homeschooler

Re-use those magazines, catalogs and newspapers in the recycle bin by having your child snip out letters for the words and pasting them down on a piece of paper.

If you're feeling crafty:
This comes from Kelly at The Complete Guide to Imperfect Homemaking.

Clothes Pin Words.  I like this because once you invest in making the clothes pin letters, you can use them again and again so it doesn't become such a "craft" anymore. For first graders who know their letters, let them make the clothes pins themselves (and be sure to have a few extra vowels, and common letters like R,S,T, L & N's), then manipulate them to spell their words.  This is a great "differentiated learning activity" (fancy  buzzword for something that's good for a variety of ages/levels) because you could either create cards like Kelly does or scrap them altogether for more difficulty and just let your child pin the letters to a piece of blank paper to create the word.  My four year old son will participate in this too because it can be geared down for his level, so everybody wins!

If you're feeling touchy-feely:
I know this heading sounds weird, but strangely enough, for my super tactile-"always in your bubble"-"tickle my back" kind of girl, this "finger tracing" activity is just the thing.  Plus, it's a great way to connect with your kid after a long day apart.  Simply trace a word on your child's back or arm and have them guess.  Then switch.  Today, I take it from Caitlin at Simply Second Grade but I'm sure she's not the first to suggest it.  I give her props though because it is just one of 30 - YES THIRTY! - more FREE, CHEAP, SIMPLE ideas to help me and Miss E practice spelling. I pinned this one like, yesterday, and can't wait to try them all!  (Except the handwriting one...we've got a ways to go 'til that one!) Click on this link to her free download.

How will you practice spelling next week?

Carving Time

Are you time starved or do you time-carve?  How do you make time for everything?  

By everything, I mean, the non-life-threatening life events that really are life-threatening if left for too long undone.   You know what I mean don’t you?   The exercise, the chopping of veggies for healthy whole food meals, the husband-wife moments, the time with girlfriends…

Of course with children, there are more than enough “life-dependent” tasks to be done…feeding said children, clothing them, bathing themOn top of that, there is schooling them, exercising them, and disciplining them which again, NEED to be done on a moment to moment basis as the time arises.  No matter how good you are at scheduling (and I would hazard a guess that everyone reading this could successfully land the logistics manager position at any major airport) you simply cannot schedule in time outs, the third bath of the day, the extra load of laundry created by an accident the night before or, of course the dreaded stomach flu.

And so, it seems, caring for all these “right-nows” steals away time for any of those aforementioned niceties. 

But we are told to “make time”.  Fit it in.


There is another saying I’ve been told and this one, this one short phrase makes far more sense.  Yes it’s cliché but if you really visualize it, like with a knife in hand, it makes complete sense.  It’s far more challenging and yet it’s the cold hard truth.  “Carve out the time”.

Now that’s something I can wrap my head around. 

Because quite literally, making time for exercise equates to chiseling twenty minutes out of an otherwise granite-like 16 hour day.  But twenty minutes out of 960 really shouldn’t be hard should it?  No it shouldn’t but we’re not just hacking away here people!  We are carving, we are creating with purpose, we are stone-masons! IT'S NOT EASY!

If we simply hacked away the 20 minutes, the kids would be left to their own devices (which means my 5 year old would take it upon herself to scramble everyone eggs, my 4 year old would go check out the latest heavy duty mechanics going on underneath the nearest tractor - which is within his walking distance - and my 1 year old would be seeing what new heights he could reach after discovering he can push our bar stools next to the stove top)  And this would all happen in 5 minutes!  If that was 5 minutes left alone, imagine the “fun” we’d have with 20!

Of course, twenty is a random number.  It happens to be the length of one of Jillian Michaels’ Shred-it DVD’s which I love and has earned it’s respectful spot with my carving knife so I'm going to run with this example.  But maybe all you can realistically carve out is five minutes in the morning and five minutes in the afternoon (and no, doing your business on the toilet does not qualify for “me-time” even though I know, some days that’s the only time that is set aside just for you – minus the fingers wriggling under the door and the shouts of unfairness drifting through the wall.)  Or maybe what you really need is an entire evening out (like four complete ,unadulterated...or should I use the word unchildrenated...hours!  Oh my, the extravagance!)
Whatever the time needed, it's carving you must do.  

Carefully, with precision, realizing that when you cut into your day, a piece falls off, so you better not need it that much.  And really ladies (and gentlemen!) I challenge you to scrutinize what you think you need.  I only suggest this because I have to do it hard-core to myself every now and then, and I know, it isn’t easy.   
Do you really need that pile of laundry folded right now?  Do you really need the house in perfect order after suppertime (because you know if you leave the house for an evening and Dad is in charge...the supper dishes, crafts from the morning, toys from the afternoon may or may not still be there in all their glory when you get home).
Here's my example.  By exercising for 20 minutes in the morning, I will not get the breakfast dishes done.  They will sometimes even remain on the table…milk souring, eggs hardening, crumbs scattering throughout the kitchen.  Is this pretty? No.  But so what?  Am I entertaining the queen today?  Leave ‘em for lunch, or better yet supper!  When I challenged myself to only do dishes once a day, my day opened up considerably.  But I can’t stand dishes in the sink!  Believe me, neither could I, but if I was exercising (and I presume you’re not exercising in your kitchen), guess what?   I couldn’t see them!  But I still know they’re there causing me more work for later.  Yes you will and this is what the unpleasant but necessary carving is all about.  Get over it and carve away.  Likewise, to avoid aforementioned hacking and leaving the children to their own devices, you will need to give them something to do.  A simple craft is nice but requires instruction and supplies.  You could try and entice them to do the task with you but in most cases, it's not safe (ie. a 1 year old chopping veggies?) nor something they will actually love to do, and in some cases just not possible.  But here's the thing.  Technology is a tool.  It can be used and abused.   Use it.  Purposefully and with intention.  Control the amount of screen time they get so it's a novelty, and pay attention to the program that's on and ask them questions about it later.  A little forethought and your carving just became much easier.

Sometimes you’ll carve the wrong thing.  It happens.  Like when I decided to carve out some one-on-one time with my daughter by listening to her read while expecting the boys to stay in their room for some quiet time.  Forgetting that there are books on a shelf in their bedroom.  Egad!  And there are blankets in there. Horror!  And there are clothes hung up on hangers.  Ha!  Not anymore!!  And it turns out the 15 minutes I wanted with miss E is now costing me an hour to supervise and implement operation bedroom-clean up.   Yup, well-intentioned carving gone wrong.  

Lastly, certain carves will just not happen when you want them too.  Personally, I could not, would not, not in a house, not with a mouse, carve 20 minutes for exercise into my daily schedule in the first six months of my childrens' lives.   Similarly, carving out the necessary hour in my morning to blog never happened until this year, the first year I am not teaching full time.  Usually, when I try to carve time out for something that's not ready to happen, I end up slashing and slicing away and the whole rest of my day ends up looking pretty ugly. I'm pretty sure Michelangelo never whittled David up on his first go either, so be patient with yourself, carving out time is difficult and there are seasons for certain things.

The best part about being a time carver is that we get a new piece of granite every day, whether we like it or not.  Plus, we're clever so we won’t carve the wrong piece off twice, after all, it leaves a mark.  And, like any great stone-cutter, once we get used to it, we feel much more comfortable holding the knife and watching pieces fall. 

What will you carve out today?  

Friday, 6 September 2013

7 Questions Teachers Want You to Ask - Part I


----This ended up being a real novel of a post (conciseness has always been my nemesis) so I’ve divided it up just so I can get it off and at least offer a few suggestions in case you’re interested tonight!  More to come tomorrow! ----

During the first part of September, many schools offer a “Meet the Teacher”  or some sort of Open House event.  As a teacher, I’ll admit to always being a little taken by surprise (why, I have no idea…it’s always been done and always will be done!) by this night, but I suppose it’s because those first few weeks of school starting are always so hectic.   

Organized chaos is an understatement at this time of year.   Clubs and sports are starting, classroom routines are being implemented, learning difficulties are being assessed, year plans and personal growth plans are being demanded by the powers-that-be.  There seems to be so many things taking precedence over a silly little evening where parents drop in just to say “hi”, after all it’s not like we can give a fair assessment of little Johnny when we’ve only taught him for 5 days!  

Yet this is SUCH an important opportunity that teachers and parents should never let pass because we all know how busy things get once all those clubs, sports, routines, homework and challenges get going full-swing.   No one should miss this opportunity to help get their child off to the best start possible, and make no mistake, although teachers spend a great deal of your child’s awake hours with them, the parent’s role and attitude towards their learning is paramount.  

There are varying degrees of communication at any given “Meet the Teacher” night.  Some schools require teachers to present certain aspects of their classroom and year plans and parents just sit collectively and listen.   While there is usually time for questions, sometimes there may not be time for individual conversations.  At the other extreme, some schools let parents informally drop-in, seeking out the necessary teachers (usually one or two at the primary level and other times five or six for teenagers) and let the conversation go where it may.

If your school happens to be more like the former, this list of questions may end up being answered in the presentation already.   A paper copy of these questions can be downloaded for free from my teacherspayteachers store (7 Questions Teachers Want You to Ask ) so you could just print out this handout at home and write notes directly on it.  If the questions don’t end up being answered, I would still seek out the teacher at some point and ask them.  For the school with a more casual approach, this may be helpful because your teacher may end up being a tad like me and without a prescribed checklist of things to cover, ends up scrambling for child care that same night and barely managing to put on a clean shirt! (Oh, of course I have my classroom perfectly organized, my year plans color coded and my reward systems posted, after all that was necessary for the students on Day 1, but to think about and distribute parent-focused material??…that’s a different story!)   So, again, here are some great questions that might just get overlooked and will help start a healthy, quality dialogue between you and your child’s teacher.

 1.       How can I help my child read/study?

      No one needs to tell you how important reading is.  If your child is just learning to read, the teacher may have specific books and allotted times that he/she wants the children to read.  (ie. 15 min each night, book taken out from class library)  If your child is older and reading is now expected in order to study for a variety of subjects, ask what resources might be helpful.  Perhaps the teacher has some supplementary books/texts/magazines/websites/audio material that he uses for hisr specific subject.  Also, finding material that your child likes to read “just for fun” is also vital.  Pick your teacher’s brain for ideas.  This is especially important if your child doesn’t enjoy reading.  Again, this is a starter question and can lead to passing on helpful information if your child has problems in some area of literacy, is disinterested or has trouble concentrating.

2. Where does my child sit?

      This is crazy-important and can explain a lot of things if troubles arise.   If your child wears glasses or has any trouble hearing, a spot near the front may be imperative and the teacher may not realize how weak a child’s eyesight or hearing is just by looking at them.  Obviously, easily-distracted students will find windows, class pets on the shelf and even posters disrupting.  Even a best friend nearby can be a worst enemy when it comes to concentrating on a lesson.   Usually, one of the first consequences of not listening or interrupting a lesson will be a desk move, but if you can help the teacher avoid even that, by letting them know of possible difficulties, I’m sure they would be most grateful.  If nothing else, it’s nice to just have your own visual of your child in the classroom.

      3. Where do the students go for recess/break and which areas can my child play/hang-out in?

I like knowing this as a parent, but often take this information for granted as a teacher because it becomes so habitual to teachers so fast.  After all, we usually have minimum three breaks a day, not to mention before and after school arrival/pick-up so teachers (who usually supervise these breaks) and students get to know these places immediately.   As a parent you might be interested in this for a few reasons:  

a)      Physical Challenges.  Is your child a dare-devil?  Like, not just curious, like a real kamikaze-energy-bomb that pays zero attention to consequence.  Say so. While the teacher probably knows this already (those things tend to rear their heads in the first 10 min of class) it’s not a bad idea to throw this out there just to let them know that that delightful teeter totter over there likely looks more like a catapult to your darling David and he may need to be encouraged (by you and teachers) to play games on the ground.  You’ve been playing with your child at parks for at least five years now, so you know better than anyone what they’re drawn to and capable of!

b)      Bullying. Be pro-active with “bullying”.  Because this is such a volatile buzzword these days, I’m quoting  it and am now about to qualify.  An ounce of prevention is worth a hundred pounds of cure.   Or maybe a thousand.   While there are umpteen ways I can suggest to avoid your child becoming a bully-target, I will leave that to another post.  I will however indulge a little in bully-friendly locations.  Bullying often doesn’t happen two feet in front of a teacher in plain daylight.  Under a jungle gym, around a corner, behind a building…not every schoolyard is perfect and these places are hot spots.  Teachers know that and are aware of them, but they are also only one person.  One person in a sea of sometimes 50 or more little bodies, running around carelessly, scraping their knees, falling off swings, throwing garbage on the ground or bickering amongst themselves – all things that demand their attention.  And then there are the students that like, or even need, to be alone.  If you have a child like this, you’ll know it. Unfortunately, the same places they go for refuge are are the key places a snide remark or a hurtful shove will start.  Visit the child’s playground after school one day or on the weekend and do a walk-about to show them possible trouble spots where bullying may occur.  I feel this is especially important if your child is a bit of an introvert because even though they thoroughly enjoy or maybe even need some quiet-time to themselves, it can also be an invitation for trouble.  For older students, lower level hallways, bathrooms and change rooms are always the red-flags, but be aware of classrooms far from the staff lounge or even a courtyard area that students are allowed to hang out in in good weather.  Identify these locations and figure out ways your tween or teenager can avoid these places, especially if they’ve encountered teasing in the past. 

c)       Peace of mind. Again with the visual…I like having a real-life place where I can “see” my child playing, not just an abstract term called recess. 

 If you have your teacher meeting tonight and would like the complete list of questions (minus the commentary) download the word doc from here: 

----Stay tuned for the remaining four essential questions tomorrow! ----

Thursday, 5 September 2013

7 Questions Teachers Want You to Ask - Part II

----Thanks for sticking with me!  Here are the remaining four essential questions that will go a long way in establishing great communication between home and school.  ----

 4. What are your discipline procedures? At what point will I be contacted should things go wrong?  Do you have my contact info? 

Schools will have varying degrees of continuity between classrooms when it comes to discipline.  One school may enforce a common "three strikes your out" rule and each teacher follows it to the tee.  This method is usually easier to apply in a school with minimal grade levels (ie. K-3 or a traditional high school)  Rural schools or smaller private schools offering grades K-6, K-9 or K-12 will usually have less consistency among classrooms because of obvious age differences among students.  (Thinking chairs don't work particularly well for 16 year olds and a lunch time detention to some 6 year olds would actually be very enticing) In addition, every teacher is human (yes, we really are!) and so have much different tolerance levels to noise, sarcasm and “extraneous distractions” (my term for chewing gum, drinks, snacks and even the existence of cell phones in the classroom)
Also, different subjects allow for different working conditions – a quiet individual reading period is quite different than a lively social studies class debating political sides or economic philosophies.   

Nonetheless, the three above factors, when taken too far, will inevitably kick-start some class management strategies and possibly disciplinary procedures.  I don’t suggest you need to know about every single glance, verbal warning or seat move, but it is useful to clarify their consequences just so everyone is on the same page.  As a side note, it might be worth asking what the teacher’s view of noise and aforementioned extraneous distractions are, again, just so you’re on the same wavelength. 

5. How would you prefer to be contacted if I have any questions or if my child is absent?

Some teachers will prefer to deal with any issue right away so a phone call is best but you might want to check on their available times.  If they are the type to put in their extra hours before school, they may be happy to receive a call at 7:45am (after all they’ve already been working for an hour!)  Others will work until 6 every night so after school is best.  Alternatively, they may prefer to deal with things during their lunch time so double check the lunch break times. I may catch some flack for this, but I find the preference between phone and email has some to do with a teachers age or experience with technology.  I would never assume this, as I know some young teachers that hate emailing and quite a few with 30+ years experience that email/blog/text/tweet and Facebook on a regular basis.  I'm just suggesting you ask because what may come natural to you may not be the easiest method for them to respond to.

Additionally, although the school will most definitely have your contact info, the individual teacher may not.  In this digital age, it is probably floating close by in cyberspace but it still might be worth jotting down a preferred number (or email if you prefer), and giving it directly to them.  Records in the office can sometimes get dated, may not have your cell or work extension if you prefer to be reached there, may only have one spouse’s number, and can be surprisingly difficult to find at a moment’s notice. 

6. What is new for you this year?

Even though that Gr. 5 teacher seems like they’ve been there since the dinosaurs or maybe they taught you and now they’re teaching your child, I challenge you to still ask this question.  Inevitably, the teacher’s responsibilities will change from year to year.  They may be implementing a new curriculum (governments like to change these every 10 years or so, just, perhaps they’re dealing with a split grade classroom (In Alberta, for example, there has been a shift towards having two gr. 1/2 classes instead of a single gr. 1 and a single gr. 2 class, depending on class sizes), or they might be teaching an altogether new subject.  You might be surprised at what you find out and it might explain a few things in coming weeks. 

For example, when I taught tenth grade science for the first time – and please remember I’m a French major - it was all I could do to stay one lesson ahead of my students.  Every night I would go home with at least an hour of homework and there was many a quiz made at midnight that had spelling mistakes.  For the record, no one ever gave me a hard time about them, and I'm thankful for that and all the other mistakes I probably made that year, but most parents knew that I was a "newbie" and I can't help but think that gave me some leeway. I think it's fair to say most of us feel much more sympathetic to people tackling a new challenge than the seasoned pros and teachers are no different.

7. What “special days” are planned already or may be planned?  May I be of assistance?

School wide events will be listed on some handout that would have come home or the website, but in a one-on-one conversation a teacher might release some other, smaller, more class specific events that they have planned or are in the works.  Even with older students, I feel this question is of use even though there is less hands-on “field trips” and more in-class study.  A high school science teacher may appreciate an extra hand setting up experiments or a junior high English teacher may welcome an extra supervisor when they watch the movie version of their latest novel study (or allow you to bring in snacks at least – everyone seems to love food!)  You may also have to check with the office about being “a stranger” in the school, but certainly it’s common-place in most kindergarten rooms so shouldn’t be a big deal  in later years either (as long as your child will have you!) If you are willing to help out during the day it is always nice to relay that information, in case something does come up where assistance is needed.  It will save the teacher the steps of writing and copying out a newsletter home asking for help, waiting for said letter to return, and then, when only half of them come back,  phoning around asking for help. 

Lastly, There are a million curriculum related questions that you could ask but those are very specific to your province/state, child’s grade and school.  You will most likely be given some info relating to concepts covered anyway, but if you aren’t, you should certainly ask!

On a final note, by no means is this list exhaustive and if nothing else, I believe if you ask just one of these questions  it will show that you have taken the initiative to foster healthy dialogue between you and your child’s teacher.   

In case you missed the link in the previous post, here's how to get a free, editable list of questions and a few other handy dandy things that are helpful for Meet the Teacher night (word doc).  Parents, I'd recommend taking your own copy but this is also helpful for teachers to hand out in advance of the evening (you could fill in a younger child's schedule already and put your own contact info in) so parents come equipped with some good conversation starters. 7 Questions Teachers Want You to Ask

Teachers, what questions do you think parents should ask?  Or shouldn’t ?
Parents, what questions do you find most useful to ask?

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

New Baby

Well, my first baby is on her way to grade one this morning. My middle baby will be going to pre-school next week and my last baby is turning two pretty soon and he is clearly moved into the toddler phase.  The Hubs and I have determined, with much certainty and peace, that three is our lucky number and so, it seems, the perfect time to start a "new baby" - this blog.

Much like the decision to have a child, this blog idea has been rolling around upstairs for a while now.  Bits and pieces emerged and departed like storm clouds passing through on a summer day. Sometimes, they were loud and and impressive only to dissipate quickly and others took their time, looming, waiting, growing larger and more substantial.

On the brink of  a career "hiccup" (more to come on that later), I decided to take a cue from my two boys and just jump in the puddle with both feet and splash around a bit, giving no particular care to the mess I made.  I realize I will have to clean up my mess later, and I will eventually grow out of jumping in with both feet (on second thought, hopefully not!) but that's what life (and this blog) is all about anyway, right?  Evolution, growth and seizing the moment.

As many of you can understand, it's taken me 30-odd years to nail down what I think I'm good at but most importantly, it's taken me that long to generate enough confidence to share.  So, with my teacher-voice lurking in the shadows and my Mom-eyes (in front and in the back of my head) scanning for treasures, I hope to share some clever ideas, thought provoking questions, light-hearted laughs and heart-warming moments from my teacher-mom journey. 

I hope you enjoy this adventure with me, guaranteed to be full of side notes (I love mind has a tendency to wander), a few quotation marks, the odd cryptic metaphor (they always make sense to me!) and a lot of ideas that will finally get their chance to materialize in print! I'm not a photographer but I love photos almost as much as I love the subjects in them (99% of the time my children) so I hope to be able to post a few blog-worthy snaps as well.

I am quite certain that if I were to compare this blog to a newborn it would inevitably be the overdue colicky type...not particularly attractive (c'mon, admit it, how many newborns are really cute? Plus, 2 of my 3 were overdue...wrinkly and full of dry scaly skin, so I'm allowed to say that!) and demanding far more attention than I'm physically and mentally able to give (technology is my friend but it's not my bestie).  It will no doubt, as all babies do, grow out of that phase and develop into something I am confident with, proud of and feel like I have some degree of control over.  For now, it's a colicky newborn - beet red, wrinkly and screaming -  and I will pace and bounce and put my heart and soul into it with no visible rewards.  But that's ok.  If nothing else in this teaching/parenting journey, I've learned patience.  I will be patient and thank you for being patient along with me.  Now, let's get on this ride and hang on tight!

5 Best Afterschool Questions to Ask Your First Grader

The following questions are really the spark that generated this entire blog and hopefully some useful material for teachers and parents of school-aged children.

For some time I have been mulling over the best way to communicate with the kidlets.  Of course each child is different and responds differently to different types of questions, tones of voice and levels of sarcasm.  The standard question "How was your day" is stale and unproductive and yet, I seem to use it again and again.  Admittedly, I whole-heartedly do want to know how their day was, but it doesn't matter if you're asking a 5 year old or a 15 year old, I guarantee you will not get the response you're looking for with that question.

 As a teacher and generally curious person, I always stand firm behind the statement, "There are no stupid questions".  Yet, to be perfectly frank, I challenge you to ask the question, "How was your day?"  and not get a "stupid" response.  (If not stupid, it will most certainly be generalized, monosyllabic and boring).  And so, without further a due, here is my list of the questions I plan on asking my 6 year old this afternoon when she bursts through the door. 

1. What did the teacher say or do that made you smile?

2. Where did you play on the playground?  With whom?

3. Who had the coolest/tastiest/best-looking lunch?  Why?

4. When did you feel the happiest?

5. What will be fun tomorrow?

My daughter, at her tender age, shares quite openly and freely, so I have no doubt at least one of these questions will certainly be answered without it being voiced by me, so my first plan is to certainly listen and pick up her verbal and non-verbal cues.  But as the evening, week and month progresses I think these questions will give me a good base to draw some thoughtful conversations.

Since my little girl started pre-school I've been post-it noting the most potent questions I can think of, so for a while at least, this blog will focus on those.  Stay tuned for more "best after-school questions" to ask in coming posts and maybe even a freebie fridge poster if I get my act in gear developing it!

In the meantime, "back to school" is the perfect time to start fresh with afterschool/dinnertime conversation.  Make that vow to turn off your phone, put the mail/paper/distractions aside and sit for 1/2 an hour just conversing and interacting with your child(ren). Here are some tips to asking the "right" questions:

1. Use open ended questions.  Starter words like "Who" , "What", "Where", "When", "Why" & "How" will ensure at least more than a one-word answer and can often lead you down more specific question-paths.

2. Avoid "Did" and "Are" as question starters.   These will only give you a Yes/No responses.  Note: sometimes these are good to "warm someone up", so-to-speak, but have a few "5-W question" in the side-lines to follow up and create conversation.

3. Be specific.  Use the teacher's name (do they call her/him by their whole name or just Mrs. K? or some other abbreviation?), friends names, subject names and place names that are used by your child.  If they call quiet reading time "DEAR" or "SQUIRT", use that term instead of "quiet reading time". This degree of comfort and familiarity leads to quicker and more free conversation.  If you don't know what some terms are, ask your child's teacher at meet the teacher night, or send them a quick email explaining what and why you'd like to know. 

What was the first thing you asked your child this afternoon?  And what was their response?