Friday, February 27, 2009

Free Tutoring

As a teacher I have seen so many people pay for tutoring, buy practice books, etc. Usually, you can get all the help your child needs for free. Teachers often get kits with their textbooks of all the things they need to supply each student. These kits have to be used for several years, so the teacher cannot give you the supplies. However, if you are a parent that can be trusted, the teacher will often let you borrow things. You could probably get things like rulers, sets of coins and bills for money practice, protractors, compasses, calculators, small clocks for practicing time, counters, shapes, fraction bars (to help with learning fractions,) etc.

Another thing that teachers get with their textbooks is extra practice books. If your child needs help, have them do some extra practice at home. Teachers cringe on the inside when you ask for extra worksheets, because they honestly don't have the time to make more copies. If you would like the extra help for your child, ask the teacher to write down the lesson numbers she has planned for the next week. Then go into school (schedule a time with her ahead) and make copies from the extra workbooks that the students don't use in class. Usually a teacher will work with you on that and be happy to give you the books if you will look up the pages and make the copies yourself. Most books have the lesson numbers on each page somewhere so you should be able to figure out what to copy from the list of lesson numbers that you asked for.

One final thing that parents often asked me about is tutoring. Honestly, tutors can be counterproductive sometimes. If the tutor doesn't teach a skill the same way that the teacher did, it can be confusing to the child. Also, the tutor doesn't know how the test will look. So, who knows all of this information besides the teacher? The textbook companies do. In most cases they are the ones that write your child's tests, so they would know how to tutor your child. They also are very likely to present the material in the same way that the teacher did, since she is teaching from their books. How are you going to get the textbook company to tutor your child? Actually, most companies provide free e-books online. This is great because your child can do homework on the computer using the e-book and not have to lug home 20 pounds of book weight. Most of the time, these sites will also provide extra practice, re-teach lessons, games, and tutoring for each lesson in the book. You will probably have to ask the teacher to give your child a user name and password to access the site. Once you have that information, you should have access to all kinds of resources (for free) that hit on the exact skills your child is covering in class.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Book Review ~ Narnia Series

Title: Narnia Series

Author: C. S. Lewis

Accelerated Reader (AR) Level: 5 (worth 6-7 points)

Ages that Will Enjoy the Book: 9-15

Movie Version Available: Yes (several versions)

Review: The popularity of this series has swelled again recently due to the new Disney movies. I enjoyed the books. They are well written and pretty well known, so not much of a review is needed. My main point in recommending these books is to say this: there are two orders in which to read this series. They were written in this order: The Magician's Nephew, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Horse and His Boy, Prince Caspian, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Silver Chair, and The Last Battle. Yet when they were published, they were released in a different order: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Prince Caspian, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, The Silver Chair, The Horse and His Boy, The Magician's Nephew, and The Last Battle. People have many views on which order you should follow when you are reading them. As a person who read them first by the publishing order and later on by the order they were written in, I must say that they make a WHOLE lot more sense when read in the order they were written.

Also by C. S. Lewis

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Make a Puzzle

Teachers are known for being resourceful. Nothing can be wasted! I learned a way to turn old calendars into puzzles. First, I would laminate each month's picture. (I laminated them because they were for my class. If you are making them for use at home, you could choose to skip that step.) Then, I would cut the pictures into various shapes (usually squares to save time.) Finally, cut out the small picture from the back cover of the calendar that matches the picture you just cut. This will serve as a guide. Put all of the pieces in a Ziploc bag with the guide facing out.

My third and fourth graders loved them. They seem easy to solve, but if you cut squares, it's hard to tell how they fit together because any side could be the top, and there's no curves to match up.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Website Review ~ Circus Builder

Appropriate for ages: 6-10
Helps with: Phonics – Vowel sounds

Review: This is a quick game that helps children learn their vowel sounds. However, it is not as simple as it may sound. It is geared more for a second through fourth grade student. I do believe that it would be good for younger students as well, but they may need assistance reading some of the words. The basic idea is this: you read a word, then, pick from three choices the word that uses the same vowel sound. What makes this a bit more challenging is that all three words might have the same vowel, but all using different sounds. It is a good little review game if your child needs extra practice in this area.

Monday, February 23, 2009


Often we focus on parts of a whole when we work with fractions. The age old example of using a Hershey bar to illustrate this comes to mind. This teaches about breaking something into pieces and working with the fractional parts. But, sometimes fractions are wholes that are part of a group. In other words, sometimes things don't have to be broken to be part of a fraction. M&Ms can be a great way to illustrate this kind of fraction. You may have 10 M&Ms. 5 of them are blue. None of them are broken. The 5 whole blue M&Ms show the fraction 5/10 or 1/2. Many times, children only get experience with fractions that deal with broken parts. Then, when they see whole parts of a group, they do not understand. Pull out some M&Ms and practice this kind of fraction with your child. He will gladly work on his fractions if he can "clean up" the candy when he has proven that he understands.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Book Review ~ Gooney Bird Greene

Title: Gooney Bird Greene

Author: Lois Lowry

Accelerated Reader (AR) Level: 3 (worth 2 points)

Ages that Will Enjoy the Book: 8-11

Movie Version Available: No

Review: Kids will enjoy this book because it is silly and humorous. Teachers and parents will like it because it teaches children the parts of a good story. Through the wild tales that Gooney weaves to share with her class, kids learn the elements of fiction. Gooney explains the elements in some detail to her fellow students, so they too can tell wonderful stories. Though this book is very educational, it is extremely entertaining. I read it to my class of third graders. They loved it, and I was able to gain a lot of teachable moments through this story. Another added bonus is that Gooney loves to use big words. Often, she explains what they mean. That is a great learning opportunity for kids as well.

Also in the Gooney Bird Greene series

Also by Lois Lowry

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Corresponding with Teachers

There are 3 main ways to correspond with your teacher outside of scheduled meetings: phone, e-mail, and notes. Find out which your child's teacher prefers. By corresponding in the way that your teacher prefers, you are greatly increasing the chance that you will receive word back quickly. For example, some schools do not have phones readily available to teachers, and if they do, it is not usually convenient to answer the phone during school hours. Some teachers like notes because they have a hard copy that they can stack or file. Still others like e-mail because it is easily accessed on their computer desktop with no paper clutter. After you have found out the preferred method, keep these simple etiquette tips in mind:

  • Be patient. Teachers are overbooked, and there is really nothing they can do about it. Realize that it may take a couple of days for your child's teacher to get back to you. Often, teachers do not even get a chance to read notes or e-mails until after school is over. Therefore, it may take awhile before the teacher can respond.
  • Be brief. Again, teachers are overbooked. Get to the point of the message quickly. This will also help to ensure that your return message deals with the question you are asking.
  • Be polite. Emotion does not always come through in written form as you intended it. If you are doubtful of how your message will be received, have someone else read it and give you their opinion. Be cautious about writing notes if you are upset. Teachers usually keep all notes on file for the entire year.
  • Write legibly. This seems obvious, but I have gotten many handwritten notes that I cannot decipher.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Website Review ~ Glubble

Website: Firefox add-on: Glubble
Appropriate for ages: 14 and under
Helps with: Internet safety and general education

Review: Glubble is a Firefox add-on. In other words, it only works if you use Firefox as your internet browser. If you are not a Firefox user, you may want to consider it. Firefox is a free download, and a wonderful browser with many free add-ons to personalize your internet experience.

Glubble can be used to help your kids ease into the internet. It helps you find educational activities on the internet for your kids to play with. There are even puzzles and audio books. Also, you can make a family page where kids can connect with their extended family (or whoever you give access to the page.) That is a nice feature if your child wants to be involved in social networking, but you aren't quite ready for them to have a facebook account. Once you complete the registration for glubble you will have a page that is accessible from any computer on the internet. That is a great feature because you won't have to worry about packing it on the flash drive.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Become a Volunteer

Teachers often have many tasks that they would love to receive help with. Volunteering is a great way to learn a little about your child's class and help out at the same time. A few things to remember are:

  • Copies – Keep papers and books organized. A jumbled stack of papers that are all mixed together will not be very profitable.
  • Grading – Your child's teacher may or may not feel comfortable with accepting help with grading. If he does, remember that all grades are confidential and must not be discussed with anyone.
  • Filing – This may seem like a mindless task, but make sure you are paying attention. No one likes to have things filed in the wrong spot.
  • Cutting things out/ getting projects ready – Teachers often like help with getting things ready for projects, art time, etc. Sometimes these things are even projects that you can take home to work on.

Teachers love help! On the plus side for you, teachers are often more willing to work with and help out parents who have made the effort to be a classroom helper.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Book Review ~ A Series of Unfortunate Events

Title: A Series of Unfortunate Events

Author: Lemony Snicket

Accelerated Reader (AR) Level: Mostly 6, but a few are 7s (most worth 5-9 points)

Ages that Will Enjoy the Book: 8-13

Movie Version Available: Yes (covers the first few books)

Review: When these books first came out, libraries and bookstores could not keep them on the shelves. I was teaching third grade at the time, and several of my students were absolutely in love with this series. I read the first book. I could not stand to read any farther. Many adults that read them with their children felt the same way. There must be something about them that adults just don't "get." For whatever reason, kids seem to like them. They are written in a classic style. The vocabulary used in this book will surely stretch your child to new levels. I think this series is very educational in that aspect. While they were not my favorites, I think they are good for kids. Not many books on the market today are written with rich language and complex wording. They have not been "written down" on a child's level. They are much more like the classics of old. It may be good for a child to experience such a work of literature.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Are you under Involved?

Your child probably spends more of his daytime hours with his teacher than with you, his parent, in a typical school week. Have you taken the time to meet the person with so much influence on your child? Many parents do not take the time to meet their child's teacher, but believe me, on the first sign of supposed trouble, they are in the classroom complaining. This is not a good way to get help. Please realize a few things:

  • Teachers do not get into teaching for the money! They teach because they care about children. Teachers do want the best for your child. They are not trying to sabotage your child's education. They have no reason to just decide to pick on your child. This is true with very few exceptions. Do not automatically take your child's side. Do now assume that your child has told you the whole truth on every situation.
  • If you want a teacher to help your child, schedule a meeting. Then, calmly and rationally work with the teacher to find out what you can do to help your child improve.
  • Show some interest in your child's class. Do not just contact the teacher when you need something or want to complain. A quick note of thanks will go a long way. It might help you gain more cooperation from the teacher when you do need help. Offer to help. Teachers understand that you work and lead busy lives. Offering to help out from home can be a great way to volunteer. Your teacher will sincerely appreciate this effort.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Website Review ~ The Science Explorer

Appropriate for ages: 8-12
Helps with: Science

Review: This website has several simple science experiments. They are intended to be done with items from around the house. Some require adult supervision, while others could probably be done independently. I like this website because it can help to cultivate a child's curiosity in a good way. It is good for children to learn how things work and to experiment with science in everyday life. I found that the experiments are very clearly illustrated. It should not be hard for children to follow these directions with a little help or (if there are no safety issues) on their own.

*If you like this site, they have published 2 books full of more experiments. The Science Explorer and The Science Explorer: Out and About.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Critical Thinking Skills

Education is moving away from memorization and towards critical thinking. Obviously memorization will always be a part of school, but its role is becoming smaller and smaller. The amount of information in our world is growing exponentially. New ideas, technology, and ways of doing things are being created every day. Simply memorizing the facts will not cut it anymore; you could never keep up. Education has realized this, and is turning to teaching "how" and "why" as opposed to lists of facts. Students today need to be able to figure out answers instead of just recalling them.

What can you do to help your child prepare for this phenomenon so he will do well in school and ultimately in life? Make sure you ask your kids to evaluate things. Have them give their opinion, but then have them back it up with why they think their opinion is valid. Get them involved in solving puzzles. This will improve logic which in turn improves critical thinking. Instead of just telling your children things, have them think things through. Far too many parents are thinking for their kids. This does not benefit your child at all. Make sure you are interacting with your kids in such a way that they are stimulating their brains and learning to reason. This will be so helpful to them in school, but really, it is a life skill that kids cannot live without.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Book Review ~ Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Title: Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Author: Judith Viorst

Accelerated Reader (AR) Level: 3 (0.5points)

Ages that Will Enjoy the Book: 5-9

Movie Version Available: No

Review: This was one of my favorite books as a child. Alexander is having "one of those days" where if anything could go wrong, it did! Children will enjoy laughing at Alexander's miserable day and the adorable illustrations that accompany it. I think the thing that makes this book so inviting is that we've all felt exactly the way Alexander feels. In his self-pity, he warps reality just a bit, but we can all relate. After all, "some days are like that, even in Australia." It is a picture book, so it is a quick read. It is perfect when your child's day didn't go quite according to plan. Although, I must admit, I love reading this book even when I have had a great day.

*If you like this book, she has written a couple more to go with this mini-series: Alexander, Who's Not (Do you hear me? I mean it!) Going to Move; Alexander, Who Used to Be Rich Last Sunday; and Absolutely, Positively Alexander (which is all 3 books bound into one book.)

Also by Judith Viorst

Monday, February 9, 2009

Are you over Involved?

Yes, there is such a thing as a parent that is too involved. Don't get me wrong, teachers do appreciate parental volunteers. I love it when I have parents who make my copies for me, and I ADORE parents who are willing to grade spelling tests. (Oh, how I hate to grade spelling!) But, some parents just go too far. A few rules to remember regarding classroom etiquette are as follows:

  • You are a guest. The point of a classroom is for education. Teachers are grateful for your help, but don't disturb the learning process. Make plans ahead of time so the teacher expects you. That way she can have everything ready when you come. You can go over instructions, etc. ahead of time so learning can continue as you enter the classroom. Do your best to minimize interruptions. Children have short attention spans, so the teacher will have to start from the beginning when the lesson is interrupted.
  • Do not undermine the teacher's authority. The teacher understands that it is your child, but she has to accomplish a lot in a little amount of time. Also, for the sake of sanity, she must have a set of institutional rules for her class. For example, it may not seem like a big deal to you if your child talks in line, but if that is the rule, then you are causing problems with the teacher as well as the other students when you encourage your child to break this rule. No matter how small or insignificant a rule may seem, support the teacher's authority.
  • Accept "no" for an answer. Teachers appreciate your help, but they also have different personalities. Some teachers do not want parents to help them with grading, etc. Often, the jobs that teachers need help with are not the most enticing ones. I used my volunteers to make copies for me. I know that is not the most fun job, but that is what I needed. If the job you are looking for is not one they have available for you, gracefully accept it.
  • Do not follow your child's class around constantly. Sounds crazy, but parents do it! School is not the time to socialize with your child or his teacher. Teachers are required to get more done in a school day than they are given time to accomplish. Having parents follow your class everywhere makes it very difficult to get things done. It is disruptive because students are distracted by extra people in the room.
  • Schedule your appointments. Teachers are professionals. It is amazing the amount of requirements (outside of teaching) that are placed on teachers. Time is very limited. If you need to speak with a teacher, schedule an appointment. Also, give the teacher an idea of what your concerns are. That way he can be prepared with helpful information at the meeting.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Website Review ~

Appropriate for ages: All Ages
Helps with: Reading and Research

Review: This is a collection of books and older periodicals. The nice thing about this site is the variety. Also, since it is run by Google, it is very organized and easy to navigate through. Many of the periodicals cover topics of science and history so they will be wonderful for research. The books, however, can be disappointing at times. The problem is not the variety or amount of books. The problem is that they often omit the end of the book. This is mostly due to copyrights. By leaving the end off, they can possibly get you to buy the book from them. I would just suggest that you scroll through books and see if the end is missing before you get too involved. Otherwise, this is a great book resource, and closer than the library.

Thursday, February 5, 2009


I have noticed that, for some reason, children have a tough time grasping the concept of rounding numbers. The teachers on my grade level came up with some strategies to help with this.

1.) First underline the place that you are rounding to. So if you are rounding 5,469 to the nearest ten, you would underline the six because that's the place you are rounding to. This keeps you focused on the correct number. Kids very easily get confused. I have noticed that they often want to round to the first number regardless of what the directions say. I think this is a result of the worksheets they are given in class. When kids are taught to round they first learn how to round to the 10s place so they practice on 2 or 3 digit numbers. Then they learn to round to the 100s place; the practice has 3 or 4 digits. Through this they learn that the place rounded to is always at the beginning. Later on when they are given bigger numbers, they don't understand the difference.

2.) Circle every digit after the one you underlined. That helps kids realize that all of those numbers will become zeros. Sometimes they forget and only make the first number a zero. By circling all of them, they can remember to make them all zeros.

3.) 5-9 rounds up; 0-4 rounds down. To help kids remember which ones round up and which ones round down, use an illustration they are familiar with. We told them that you become a "big kid" when you go to school. You go to kindergarten at age 5, so 5 and up are big kids and round up. Kids under the age of 5 don't go to school so they are "little kids" and get rounded down.

These are some of the tips we used to help kids pick up on rounding. With a little practice, they can use these skills to master this concept.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Book Review ~ The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane

Title: The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane

Author: Kate DiCamillo

Accelerated Reader (AR) Level: 4 (2 points)

Ages that Will Enjoy the Book: 9-12

Movie Version Available: No

Review: I must admit; I judged this book by its cover. It looked boring to me, and I was not interested. However, I selected it because it won an award in my state for being one of the best children's books published that year. Still I was skeptical. I asked a fifth grade teacher what she thought. (She had read it to her class.) She said that her students really liked it, and she would recommend it. Still doubtful, I started to read it to my class (fourth graders that year.) We fell in love with this book pretty quickly. I even found myself reading ahead, because I couldn't wait to find out what was going to happen. I think this book is best when read aloud. It is a great book to read as a class or to share with a parent in the evenings.

The main character, Edward Tulane, is a collectable rabbit doll. He does not understand love or kindness. Edward is very proud, but he soon learns many lessons about this sort of behavior. The journey that Edward finds himself on is rather unbelievable. The book takes you through many different emotions as you travel with Edward. The story is wonderful no matter how you read it, but I just cannot stress enough how special it would be as a parent/child read together book.

*Also by Kate DiCamillo

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Pay Attention

I have noticed as a teacher that many kids have a hard time listening to what is being said to them the FIRST time it is said. Sometimes kids have to be told a direction even 10 times before they can comprehend and follow through on what they have been told to do. Now, I am not talking about kids who don't want to do what they are told. I am just talking about kids who do not listen and pay enough attention to get the directions. Being able to focus during school is crucial. In early grades (K-2) many tests (especially standardized) are given orally. Often, the teacher will not be able to repeat the instructions more than once or twice. It would be a shame for a student to miss a question that he knows the answer to just because he did not hear it. Oral tests continue through the upper elementary years as well. Most students in upper elementary are still taking oral spelling tests. When the days of oral testing draw to a close, it is time to start taking notes (middle and high school.) Students need to be able to catch what a teacher is saying and write notes after hearing it only once or twice.

What can a parent do to help their child pay better attention? Start by practicing at home. Focus in on how many times you repeat directions for your child. Are you saying the same things several times? If you are you need to talk to your child and explain that you are going to help them learn to pay attention. Then, start saying things once (maybe twice) without any more repeats. Expect kids to listen to what you say the first time you say it, and have consequences if they do not. Obviously this may take awhile if bad habits are already in place. It can be tiring for you and for your child, but it is important that you are consistent. I have had many parent teacher conferences that start out with parents who wonder about their child's grades. Often by the end of the conversation, it boils down to this: the child is not paying attention. Many parents have even told me that they don't think about it. They just repeat themselves until the child follows the directions. This is an easy rut to get into, but trust me it flushes out in their school work. I find that it often affects more than just listening. Often these same children (many of whom are not found to have Attention Deficit Disorder) have a difficult time following written directions. That starts affecting every test at that point.

So, what if your child does have Attention Deficit Disorder? Many times parents with elementary aged kids use this as an excuse. I understand that it is a legitimate problem, but I also understand that eventually the child has to become responsible for what he hears ADD or not. In high school the teacher will not repeat 20 times because your child did not listen the first time. I have dealt with many ADD kids. The best thing you can do for them is to help them practice paying attention while they are young. It will be time consuming and require extra effort, but it is so helpful for them down the road. That way when someone does expect them to be responsible for what they are told, they won't have years and years of bad habits to break.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Website Review ~ The Math Worksheet

Appropriate for ages: 6-11
Helps with: Math

Review: This website will generate math worksheets in the following areas: addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions, measurement, graphing, telling time, and 1-100 charts. The worksheets can be made quickly, yet it is easy to tailor them to meet your exact needs. You can pick the number of problems and even print up a key to go with it. The site also has the option of a subscription. If you subscribe (as an individual or as a school,) you can get access to almost 200 more worksheets. However, the ones listed above are available for free. It is a great way to practice math skills, but I would especially recommend it for timed tests where students have to do a certain number of math problems in one minute.