Monday, February 29, 2016

My second grader is having a tough time with the spelling lists that are coming home this year.  On each list there are a few that he just can’t memorize now matter how many times I make him write them!  Are there other ways to get him to memorize tough words?

Even the best spellers get stumped by words now and then.  Fortunately, there are some quite clever ways to practice the spelling of particularly tough words.  If you want to avoid the typical (often boring) ways, try some more hands-on and exciting ideas:
  1. Nibble pretzels into letters to make the word.  
  2. Use magnetic letters on the fridge (or a cookie sheet).
  3. Rainbow words- write the word in crayon while spelling aloud. Now trace in a 2nd color.  Then, trace again with a third.
  4. Use long pieces of yarn to spell each letter of the word on the floor.  Let your child walk each letter as she spells it.
  5. Write a few sentences for your child, spelling his tricky words wrong. Give him a red pen and tell him to be the teacher and find (and fix!) your mistakes!
  6. Close your eyes. Ask your child to spell the tough word into the palm of your hand with her finger.  Can you guess it?
  7. Let him write the words with his fingers in a plate of sand, shaving cream, flour…
  8. Try "chunking" the word. (Break it into smaller, more manageable parts or syllables.  For instance:  "fam   i    ly")  
  9. Find smaller words within a larger word.  For instance with the word caterpillar : cat er pill ar  
  10. Using 2 fingers, tap and chant the spelling of the word down your arm with your child.
  11. Make up silly clues.  For instance if the word is "pirate", you could point out the "rat" in the middle of the word and create a sentence like: "There was a rat in the pirate ship."
  12. Label things in your house with word cards.
  13. If a few letters of a word are particularly difficult to remember, create a mnemonic aid by making a "sentence" of words that begin with those letters. For example:
* If the "UGH" is tricky in "laugh", you could use: "I would laugh if I saw Ugly Gorillas Hugging" as a reminder.
* If the U in “hurt” is tricky, try: “Are U hurt?” (emphasize the U.)
* If the OR is tricky in “author”, try: “Would you rather be the author OR the illustrator of a book?”
Do you have any other interesting ways to practice spelling words?  If so share them here!

There is a whole chapter on Spelling in our book “365 Teacher Secrets for Parents: Fun Ways to Help Your Child Succeed in Elementary School”. Check it out!

:) Cindy & Patti

Monday, September 7, 2015

With this new school year off and running, I want my sons (a 2nd grader & a 5th grader) to be successful. They are both so different. I want them to get good grades, but I worry they will think that's the only thing that matters in life. Where's the balance?

Of course, we all want our children to be successful in life. One of those ways is to find success in school.  Maybe there were some areas they struggled with last year that they want to conquer this year.  Maybe there are just some brand new challenges ahead this year.  Yes, we all want our children to be successful, but just keep in mind:  Success comes in many forms.
To help your children (and the whole family) see this, try some activities:
  1. Discuss success with your family around the dinner table tonight. Try not to be too focused only on academic success.   How do each of you define it? How does each hope to achieve it?
  2. For some inspiration, try reading this poem by Harry Emerson Fosdick:
To laugh often and much;
to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children;
to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;
to appreciate beauty;
to find the best in others;
to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition;
to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.
This is to have succeeded.

3.  Help your child write down all the ways he has already been successful- both big and small.  Now, let the rest of the family do it, too!  Post your ideas somewhere visible for all to see and share.  Let your child see all the beautiful ways he can be successful!

Your child is already full of wonder and beauty and successes. While on the road to academic achievement, try not to lose sight of the many other important things and all of the other ways that people are successful in life.

:) Cindy & Patti

See our workbook available for purchase at for a sample page for you and your child to write down ways your family is successful.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The Milford Library has invited Cindy to sell/sign her 3 books at the AUTHOR FAIR on Saturday, May 2nd from 2:00-4:00 in Milford, MI. If you need a copy of One Smile, One Voice, or 365 Teacher Secrets for Parents- (or just want your copy singed)- come by! She'd love to see you there... smile emoticonfile:///Users/cindy1/Desktop/Picture%20clipping.jpgfile:///Users/cindy1/Desktop/Picture%20clipping.jpg

Sunday, February 15, 2015

I hear my 1st grade daughter come home and talk about other moms and dads helping out in the classroom and it makes me feel guilty; I work full time and can’t get in to help the class during school hours.  Any advice?

Elementary teachers love to have help in the classroom!  But their jobs do not stop once the busses take the kids home.  Most teachers we know stay after, come in early, and take things home with them.  If you have a little time to help, but it is only once in a while or after hours, let the teacher know you are willing to help out the class... at home!  Here are a few ways a teacher might love your occasional help, or help from afar:
• Cutting out pieces for a project
• Recording assignments turned in
• Typing up stories the kids have written
• Driving and monitoring a small group on a field trip if you can take a day off
• Coming in and telling the class about a special skill you have by giving a demonstration.
• Collecting and filling out the book order form or fundraiser forms
• Donating items needed for a project
• Planning/ Organizing centers for a party

If you really want to help, but can’t get in during school hours, chances are your child’s teacher will still find a way you can help out.  And when you are working on things at home, you can let your daughter help you, too.  When she brings the organized fundraiser, or the typed-up stories, or the pieces of the project back to school she will sure feel her mom has helped out her class! So… ask what you can do!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015


I have a 3rd grader who is supposed to be learning his times tables. We are just using flash cards, but do you have any suggestions for how I can practice with him in a more fun way?

We have so many fun game suggestions to help practice any math facts but since you already have flash cards, why not try using them (or a deck of cards) in a NEW way to make practicing math facts fun.

Try these ideas:

  1. Play “Bug Off!” Spread the flash cards out in rows, let’s say 6 x 6 to start. Give your child a (clean) fly swatter (yes, you read that correctly). Say, “The answer is 6.” When he sees a card that reads 2x3, 3x2, 6x1, etc, he can swat it!

  2. Or create index cards with the product (answers) on them and ask, “What is 4x6?” and have him swat the card with “24” on it.

  • Time him and see how many he can find in 30 seconds.
  • Use another fly swatter and play the game with him. Take turns or race each other.
  • Have a friend or sibling play with him (with supervision!) and they each can swat the correct answer or equation.

  1. Play War!  Deal a deck of playing cards, half each to you and your child. On each turn, flip over TWO cards and multiply them. The winner is the one with the highest answer. Face cards can be made to be 11, 12, and 13… or wild (you choose the number each time)… or removed if desired. (Hint:  If one particular fact- like x7s- needs to be practiced, write “ x 7 ” on a sticky note and only flip ONE card each time. Multiply every card by 7 for repeated practice.)

  2. Have a “Pop-Top Race”! Write the answers to the equations on pop (or water bottle) tops in permanent marker. Place as many flash cards as you think he can handle on the table (or floor) face up, spreading them slightly apart. It is better to start small and have success; success feeds interest. Lay the pop tops in a line in order from least to greatest. Say GO and have your child pick a fact, think of the answer and then find its pop top. He’ll place the pop top on top of the corresponding equation. Continue until all pop tops are placed on facts.

  • Play with him. Split up the tops and see who can finish placing the tops on the correct equations first.

  • Use a timer and see how long it takes him to put the tops correctly in place. Repeat the game and encourage him to try to beat his last "score".  In between rounds, practice any facts that seemed particularly tough.
  • Play with a friend.
  • Teach a sibling (younger or older) the game.
  • Make sure to switch the index cards around often so he can’t just memorize what goes where!
  • Keep track of the incorrect answers and start the next game by reviewing them.
  • Don't use only the facts he is struggling with. Put some easy ones in there to encourage him and let him feel successful.
What else do you see around the house that can be used to make learning multiplication facts a game? Share your ideas with us and let’s keep making learning relevant and fun!  

Sunday, January 11, 2015

I have 3 kids and I am so sick of the homework battles every day.  I am tired of the fighting and the whining and the begging.  What can I do to make homework easier on everyone?

We’ve not met a parent yet who hasn’t dealt with the homework battle!  BUT, the good news is you can make it all easier on yourself.  (And for your kids, too, of course!)

Whether your kids have truckloads of homework or not much, it is important for your family to have a Homework Policy. This may include rules for when homework is to be completed, where, and how.  Here are 2 ways to get rid of the battle:
  1. Choose a time- that you and your child agree on- for when homework is to be completed.  If you establish rules that must be obeyed, your child will feel no need to argue with you

    * Rules may be different for different kids, for different subjects, even for different days of the week.  The important thing here is for your kids to be involved in choosing.

    * Here are some possibilities: first thing after school, just before or right after dinner, before any TV/ video games, etc. Just make sure that they has time to finish before bed.

2. Now, write it down or type it up.  Have your kids sign it.  Post it somewhere visible.  

*The next time your kids try to put homework off, you can avoid the back-and-forth.  Just say, “Read your Homework Policy”.  It takes the pressure off you and puts the responsibility back onto them.  And this is where it should be; after all it is their homework, not yours!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

My son is in 4th grade. He would rather do just about anything than read. How can I get him to WANT to pick up a book?

This is the question we are probably asked most often. Families are so busy with work, school, activities and everyday life that ensuring our kids are reading often seems overwhelming.

Research shows that even as little as 15 minutes a day can not only enhance your child's love of reading but also contribute to his or her overall academic success. It doesn't matter if you have a kindergartner or a 5th grader, children enjoy being read to and greatly benefit from it, too. It is free, fun… and cuddly! It is also perhaps the easiest way to increase your child’s academic skills.

Here are our Top Three ideas for how you can help give a boost to a reluctant reader:

  1. Reluctant Readers may begin to look forward to reading with DEAR Time (Drop Everything And Read).  

    Experiment and find an uninterrupted time that works well with your family - perhaps right after dinner or right before bed- where everybody (yes, you, too!) drops everything they are doing... and just reads! (For the very young child, you can read to him, have him “read” to you, or just let him enjoy the book on his own.)  

Scheduling a specific time, and having the whole family participate, takes the emphasis off of you “telling” your kids to just read. This way, it just becomes a habit at a certain time every day.  Play around with the length of time. See what works for your family. See how you can make it fun! You don’t want it to be a chore. Hopefully having this time every day will allow your child to get into a book and even look forward to continuing reading it the next day. Share what you read about and encourage others to, too. And enjoy your down-time!  

  1. Reluctant readers may also enjoy “Buddy Reading.”

In Buddy Reading, you read one page (or one paragraph) and then your child reads one page (or one paragraph). Take turns for as long as you choose to read. This takes some pressure off of your child, he gets a little break when you read, and on your turns you can model fluent, expressive reading.  

Sometimes, for independent readers, you can even do this just for the first chapter. Often this is all it takes for a kid to get into the book. It helps them get a good foundation of the story. Lots of times kids say they don’t like a book they’ve picked but really it is just that they didn’t have enough comprehension in the beginning, when major things are explained, to want to read more.

  1. Reluctant Readers may not feel like reading because they may simply be frustrated with too-tough text, so help them find one that’s “Just Right”.

If you find your independent reader isn’t captivated by the book he has chosen, follow this “Rule of Thumb” to find out if the book is at the right reading level for him. Here’s how:

  1. Have your child begin reading a page from anywhere in the book (not from the ending, though!).
  2. Each time he comes to a word he does not know, have him put one finger down, starting with his pinky.
  3. By the end of the page, if he has put his thumb down (indicating at least 5 difficult words) it probably means the text will be too difficult for him and comprehension may be lost. Stopping to decode too many words breaks up the flow of reading and interferes with understanding and enjoying the story. Ditch this book and try another.  

If he found too many difficult words, but is still dying to read the book, perhaps it would be a good one to read aloud to him or buddy read together.

Give some of these ideas a try and let us know how they go! Our book has even more ideas for reading success (and all areas of the curriculum). Check it out at

Feel free to send us questions you have about helping your elementary child at home. We'd love to hear from you! Look for our new Q & A soon! (Maybe it will be yours!)

Happy Learning! :) Cindy & Patti