Thursday, April 28, 2011

Getting them to Sleep ... Bedtime Rituals

We all know it's important to get our kids to sleep.  It's important for their health and day-time functioning, and it's important for us to get our own grown-up quality time. 

The best way to get them to sleep (aside from tiring them out, drugging them or knocking them unconscious - the latter two being highly frowned upon) - is to establish a bedtime ritual.  Here are some suggestions on how to do that:

  1. Establish a bed time.  If you have more than one child, you may want to set up the same bedtime for all of them, you may want to allow the older kids a bit more time (for homework and winding down).  I will end this here for now, but if you find you want more suggestions and guidelines on how to establish realistic bedtimes, please let me know.
  2. Wind-down alert.  Let your kids know that in 30 minutes they will need to start getting ready for bed. This will help them wind down what they are doing, getting their school and night-time things in order.
  3. Getting ready for bed. This may mean putting toys and things away, setting out clothes and school things for tomorrow, bathing, getting into pajamas, brushing teeth, and choosing a good-night story.
  4. Bedtime stories. 
    • Bedtime stories, in my opinion should be read aloud (or told) by others.  This allows them to hear a soothing voice and tune out other tensions/noises (without stressing about sounding out words).
    • Bedtime stories should be calm and soothing.
    • Bedtime stories can be old stories or new stories, chapter books, poems, or they can be favorite family stories retold.
    • Kids should be in bed (or at least on bed) and ready to go to sleep when the story is told/read.  
  5. Final tuck-in with kiss (bedtime prayer and/or lullabies suggested) and lights out. This final step is really important.  It is nurturing, comforting and reassuring and it signals that it is now time to sleep. 
The value of the bedtime story:  This is important on so many levels.
Emotionally:  It is nurturing which helps them calm down and helps build relationships.  It is also a nice ending to a possibly stressful day and chores.
Language:  Listening to stories helps incorporate sounds and rhythm of language (important when learning to read).  They are exposed to diverse vocabulary, to different format and genres of print, and they hear rhymes and language patterns.
Cognition:  Listening to stories helps kids learn about other worlds, relationships, cause and effect, and sequences.  They are exposed to different places and different times.  They can brainstorm and predict what will happen or figure out why something did happen.

A note on re-reading and re-telling stories:  Young kids especially love hearing stories over and over again.  This is a good thing.  They incorporate the language and the content of the story.  They like hearing and rehearing it because they know what's going to happen.  It is comforting and reassuring.  Rereading certain books bored me to tears, but they loved it and at times, I'd have my kids help me "read" the story (even before they could read).

[Please see previous posts on reading aloud and departing the text for more on this.]

Some of my family's favorite bedtime stories:
  • Winnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne
  • Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
  • Goodnight Opus by Berkeley Breathed
  • Barn Dance by Bill Martin Jr. and John Archambault
  • A Wish for Wings that Worked by Berkeley Breathed
  • Brian Jacque's Redwall Series
  • Dealing With Dragons Series by Patricia Wrede
  • Lloyd Alexander's Book of Three and Chronicles of Prydain
  • My Father's Dragon series by Ruth Stiles Gannett
  • Many Moons by James Thurber
  • Abiyoyo by Pete Seger
  • Thundercake by Patricia Polacco
  • The Napping House by Audrey Wood
  • The Happy Hocky Family by Lane Smith
  • Tacky the Penguin by Helen Lester
  • Horton Hears a Who by Dr. Seuss
  • There's A Nightmare In My Closet by Mercer Mayer
  • Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

What are or were your favorite bedtime stories?  How do you set up bedtime rituals?

Monday, April 25, 2011

Options, Shining Opportunities, Opening Worlds...

Options, Opportunities, Opening Worlds...That's what learning should be about.

Regardless of our kids' strengths, weaknesses and affinities - as teachers and parents it is our obligation to teach our kids to seek options in life - choices; to look at problems from multiple perspectives in the hope of finding optimal solutions; of allowing them to see a big, open world full of hope and opportunities. A mighty big order, but not intangible.

Some suggestions how:
  • Look at the problem or the opportunity from multiple angles.  Brainstorm options.

We moved a lot when my kids were young and each stop they made decisions about schools to go to, activities to participate in, books to read, etc.  Don't get me wrong, my husband and I would 'stack the deck' so to speak - only offering choices we were comfortable with, but the choice between (acceptable) options was theirs.

In the Sesame Street video, cookie monster gets to chose between two bags of cookies.  It is the same amount of "cookie" - either many small cookies or one large one.  Even giving your child these types of options is empowering.

Knowing there are options, opens worlds and doors.  Knowing how to make decisions is a learned, acquired skill that requires practice and patience.  The more opportunities they have to observe you making choices and to practice their own, the more confident they will be and the better their decision making skills will be.

  • Talk decisions out.

When making decisions - big or small - for yourself, you family, or your child - talk it out.  be they school options or dinner options, discuss them.
    • visit schools, 
    • visit potential vacation spots online what would they like to do (IF your comfortable with their involvement in this decision - you may just want to ask them which sites they would want to visit IF you go there)
    • when shopping discuss options 
      • organic vs. farmed vs. regular, pasturized vs. ultrapasturized, etc. 
Talk about the strengths and weaknesses of each option.  LISTEN to your child.  What does she like/not like?  Are these valid likes or dislike? If they are, acknowledge them.  If they aren't, figure out what isn't valid, explain it and discuss options.

There should always be options in life.  Help your children  comfortably discover and evaluate options.

  • Read books and comic books, watch movies and videos that present various perspectives.  Here are a few suggestions:
    •  Goodnight moon (by Margaret Wise Brown) and Goodnight Opus (by Berkeley Breathed)
    • The Sons of Liberty comic book and Esther Forbe's Johnny Tremain
    • Laika (graphic novel by Nick Abadzis) and October Sky  (by Homer Hickam)
    • The Scarlet Pimpernel (by Emmuska Orczy), Les Miserable(by Victor Hugo),  and A Tale of Two Cities (by Charles Dickens)
    • D'Aulaire's Book of Greek Myths and George O'Connors Olympians series (graphic novels). 
When you read different books on the same topic, or read a book and watch a movie on the same topic, talk about the different ways the same story was told.  Talk about the authors' options. 
  • Network to find the best options and opportunities.  This is getting both easier and harder.  It is easier because things and people are so much more connected with the web, cellphone, etc.  It is harder because there are SO many options.  Always get references from people you know.
  • Don't Overwhelm with options.  As I noted above, especially with young kids - stack the options.  Give them limited choices you are comfortable with.  First, you don't want to overwhelm them, you want to empower them, helping them to strengthen their problem solving skills.  Second, you don't want arguments, so if you can live with all the choices you are way ahead of the game. 
IF your kids do get overwhelmed with options:  Help break them down.  Help eliminate the poor options,  and tackle the better options together.  
    One final IMPORTANT point:  Kids shouldn't make all the decisions.  They need structure and adults to model and help contain their world around them.  Pick and chose the opportunities and the options they have a voice in- at least when they're young. 

    Options provide opportunities...seize them, guide them, shape them!  What are some of the options you provide your kids?  Please let us all know in the comments.

    Monday, April 18, 2011

    NO! How to use "NO" to Help Them Shine

    No television was allowed in our house as the kids grew up...well not quite true, they were allowed educational shows on PBS such as Sesame Street, Reading Rainbow, Mister Rodger's Neighborhood and Wishbone.  They didn't like hearing "NO" you can't watch what your friends are watching, and they thought they were fooling me with play dates as they went to friends to watch - once homework was completed.  The thing is with "NO" they learned limits, they learned structure, they learned about exceptions.

    "No!" and/or  " Wrong!"

    The way I look at this, there are two issues with "NO."  
    1. Telling a child, or anyone that they can't do something. 
    2. Responding to a question with a wrong answer.
    In regards to not being allowed to do something, sometimes it is for the safety of the child, sometimes it's for the sanity of the adult, and sometimes someone is just being mean and/or petty.

    We'll ignore mean and petty today, and save them for another day.

    Regarding "NO" : Use this sparingly.  You want inquisitive minds and you want your kids to explore and to take calculated, relatively safe risks.  This is how they learn and create.  Boundaries and options are better than, "NO." Say for example, "no, you can't go outside now, it's late and time for bath and then bed... but, you can pretend you are Ishmael hunting a great white whale in the bath tub!"

    Regarding "No, Wrong":  Giving an incorrect response can actually be GOOD.

    First, "No, WRONG" can be harsh, painful words - and again, you want your kids to want to explore options and take risks.  Too many "no, wrong"'s can discourage creative thinking and going out on intellectual limbs, and so many times there are many perspectives to an issue.  Too many "wrong"s can easily discourage kids from voicing opinions when there are multiple ways of responding.

    Second, a wrong answer (in my opinion), is ever so much better than no answer.  With a wrong answer, our kids are at least engaged in learning.  They are trying to sort, consolidate, manipulate data and information.  With a wrong answer you have the opportunity of exploring the world from another perspective. No response is no risk.  No response is no learning.  This clip from Billy Madison, is funny in the movie, but no one likes hearing that their responses made everyone stupider for listening to them.

    Be you parent, grandparent, responsible 'other' or educator - take advantage of the wrong answer and open up new worlds!

    How do you deal with saying "No" or "No, wrong answer"?
    • Reinforce your child's responding.
    • If you say "no" because of safety issues, explain the ramifications. Explain that they could get hurt or that there is no time for that activity but they may want to do something that takes less time.
    • Provide alternatives:  Provide more appropriate alternative options if you have to say "no" and provide alternative perspectives if an answer is incorrect.
    • If a response is wrong, instead of a "no" ask if they've thought of the problem from a different perspective. 
    I remember one of my students, for example, said that kids with learning disabilities are not smart.  This is clearly a response that has to be dealt with as it is clearly not true.  In fairness to this student, I must say that he had just moved to the States from Hong Kong and there were definitely cultural factors involved. But, that said, his response had to be addressed.

    Instead of saying, "no, you're wrong," I asked him if thought Einstein was not smart.  When the student responded "no, he was brilliant" I then told him that Einstein had learning disabilities and added that learning disabilities means people process information and learn differently.  They see the world differently, and in Einstein's case this helped him discover many properties others had not seen.  This then led to a discussion on perspective, on different ways to study for tests, and different ways of solving problems, and the class discussed how they tackled the same problems differently.  It led to self awareness as well as to greater respect for others.  It also helped validate their own idiosyncracies and relieve many of their own insecurities with class material.

    What happens when the wrong answer is funny?

     We all know kids say the darndest things and sometimes they are so serious and so proud of their answers, and we can't help but laugh.  When they're young,  a laugh with a side of love and a hug can be reinforcing. The love and a hug aren't always as effective with an older child.  With them, after the inevitable, unavoidable laugh or chuckle, I would still opt for the hug, and then get serious, validate the try, and discuss what went wrong.

    The point is that wrong answers (aside from sometimes being entertaining), are jumping off points for learning.  Take advantage of them.  Talk about them - why the wrong answer was initially given, what merits are there to that answer, why is it wrong, how can you find a better answer?

    Please let me know how you handle "no" or wrong answers.  And, if you have time (almost 10 minutes) enjoy this "The Weakest Link Elvis Special...Wrong Answers."

    Thursday, April 14, 2011

    Spice it Up!,r:0,s:0
    Why is it that in education everything seems to be in black and white?  We are all designed so differently, how can we all fit this black and white design?

    It was traditional classrooms or open classrooms, teaching reading using whole language or phonics. Why don't educators understand that teaching is not just one way?  Students thrive with multiple approaches and methods.  We all like a little spice in life!

    The bottom line:  There are all kinds of minds in a classroom with all kinds of strengths, weaknesses and affinities.  Some of us learn best by doing, others by seeing, still others by listening. Some of us are creative thinkers, while others more linear, logical thinkers.We have to teach to all of them and not to "the average student" (who in my opinion does not really exist).  Learning has to be meaningful and as such we need to spice it up so everyone can wrap their minds around whatever topic is up on the docket.

    From Theme Thursday (
    Think back to when you were in school...(for those like me that was a long time ago - see my last blog on memory :-)   What lessons stuck with you the longest?  My bet is that they were interactive (somehow you worked with the material) and was personally meaningful.  For me, it was chemistry.  My teacher made jokes and introduced the material with really cool experiments and bravado.  What was it for you - I'd love it if you share this in your comments.

    What does this mean for parents?
    Whether your kids are in school or home schooled
    • Talk about the topics they are covering in the classroom. 
    • Visit museums with related exhibits, 
    • Watch movies that deal with these topics, 
    • Brainstorm about what might happen if... or what might have happened if...
    • Go to the library or book store and get books related to the subject (either fiction, nonfiction or science fiction; prose or graphic novel) to read aloud together (and discuss).
    • Create your own experiments or products from ages and eras being studied.  
    • If studying colonial America, for example, make candles or butter as they did back then.  Find recipes from the countries and eras your child is studying. 
    What does this mean for teachers? Don't just have your students read something from a book and don't just lecture.  You have to make the lessons come alive:

    • Create a "day in the life" of characters you are reading about in language arts, or studying in science or history;
    • In math, ask students to show their work, but if they compute something differently, pay attention to it, ask them to prove this to be a viable method by using it on different examples.  IF it doesn't work, they will more easily use your methods. If it does work you have allowed them to create a more lasting understanding of underlying processes.
    • When evaluating students, don't just give tests.  (Test taking is an important skill, but it is not the only skill and memorizing for tests, is not always the best way to assure retention.)  Have students create projects, plays, dioramas, etc.
    • When teaching make sure students can play with the subject and materials.  Pose questions that really make them think and apply the subject matter,  present verbal and visual aspects of the lesson, introduce it so that it somehow relates to their own lives.
    • Provides a compelling argument for using the Socratic method of teaching - even in a third grade math class.  It is worth a visit!
    • If you ask them to read passages, ask them to relay the passages in graphic novel form, or to act out some aspect of the lesson (making it visual and tactile as well).

    These are just some generic suggestions.  Please let me know what works or worked for you as a student, as a parent, and/or as a teacher.  How did or do you spice learning up?

    Tuesday, April 12, 2011

    Memory? What Memory?

    Science fact:  Fish Have No Memory!

    Quick short-term memory quiz (for those who just watched the video above):
    1. How many strike outs were there in the game?
    2. How many requests did the yellow fish make for a hot dog?

    While the fish above have no memory, they seem to survive just fine in school.  Our kids, though, absolutely need memory to survive and succeed in and out of school. Today I look at memory demands kids face in a typical day, and then show and tell suggestions to help boost memory. 

    Part I. Basic school day demands:

    Preparing for school our kids must remember what they have to take with them to school (homework, books, lunch, snacks, change of clothes for after school or for gym, the comic they promised to share with friends during recess, etc.).  They must also remember their schedule before, during and after school each day, and how they are going to get to the required destinations.

    Arriving in school they must remember what they need for each class for that particular morning or portion of the day before they can get back to their lockers or cubbies.

    Regardless of subject matter, students must remember where the class is meeting, what the teacher just said or demonstrated as well as what was said a few minutes ago, last class, last week, and what was read for homework, all while remembering the strings of information they want to relay and how best to relay them.  They also have to remember to take out and hand in any homework due.  In addition, when giving directions, teachers typically give them verbally and students must remember each step of those directions.

    Math class demands: Students must remember math facts and formulas (for geometry, converting fractions, etc.). Students also must remember sequences for solving problems (commutative principle, associative principle, when to add and multiply numbers in and out of parentheses, and when and how to do long hand subtraction, division and multiplication, etc.), computation short-cuts, as well as the prompts given in the examples to be solved.

    Language arts class demands:
    • When reading students must remember sight vocabulary and phonics in order to recognize and decode the text in front of them.  They must also remember the meaning of the words, sentences, paragraphs, pages, and chapters they just read - all while keeping track of the names, dates, and events, they just read.
    • When talking or writing students must remember what they want to write or say, in the order they want to say it, while remembering the words they need, their spelling and punctuation (when writing), and the best way to say or write it.
    • If responding to a question they also have to keep that question in mind checking and making sure they staying on topic as they answer it.
    In science classes, not only do students have to remember all those items of a language arts class (if they are reading or writing anything in class), but they must also remember lab sequences and safety rules to follow.

    In social studies classes, not only do students have to remember all those items of a language arts class, they also have to remember sequences of names, dates, and events and their significance to a particular time or times in history.

    Then there are memory demands of gym, music, art, and after school programs, and remembering social conversations they had with friends, parents and other adults...but I am assuming you get my point and want to move on to constructive memory training suggestions.


    1. Repetition and Rehearsal- teaching students to repeat strings of facts over and over - either chanting to themselves or through songs (my kids learned the state capitals in a song and years later, still remember them).

    2. Visualization - sometimes visualizing directions and items helps us remember them and their required sequence.

    Here is a video from Sesame Street demonstrating the power of repetition and visualization.

    Sesame Street Animation:  Repetition to help memory...visualizing to help memory

    3. Rhyming - turning strings of information into rhymes helps kids remember.  It does not work for Grover however in the following Sesame Street clip, but you and your child can watch this together and figure out why.  Different types of strategies work for different types of kids and for different tasks.  You will have to experiment which one works best for you.

    Using rhyming to help boost memory.


    4. Mnemonics- are finger / hand/ word games, tricks, or rhymes kids can use to help remember sequences or strings of words, numbers or events.  I learned to remember which months of the year had 30 and which had 31 days by reciting the months across my knuckles.  Roy-gee-biv or short sentences with ROYGBIV - represent the visual color spectrum (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo[thank you, Roger], violet).  What are some of the mnemonics you used?  What are some your child uses?

    5. Build Associations.  Teach kids to make associations and connections between what they know and have to remember.  The more personal you can make something, the more one thing is associated with another, the more memory connections and channels there are to retrieve the information (see my blog on humor it discusses how humor connects various memory channels).

    Let's continue the conversation.  In the comments, please leave your favorite memory strategies or your child's favorite mnemonic device.  Why constantly re-invent the wheel?  Also, please watch these videos with your kids, talk about different strategies she or he can use to remember.  Also talk about how different strategies may work for remembering different types of things.  What works best for you?  What works best for him or her?  These should be ongoing conversations.  Let's learn from each other.

    Thursday, April 7, 2011

    Facial Literacy Or...Securing Social Skills - Part 1

    Facial Literacy - n. The ability to read faces.  

    In my training as a school psychologist and lead facilitator for Mel Levine's Schools Attuned program one issue that kept coming up was the difficulty we professionals have with teaching or providing remedial intervention for kids with weak social skills.  In my opinion, there are many reasons for this difficulty, but one of them is that kids with weak social skills are befuddled with, and have a lot of trouble interpreting facial and non-verbal cues.

    This is a vital skill when interacting with others because the face provides information that words often do not, or that may for various reasons conflict with verbal information.  Reading these emotions are so important for social (and sometimes for physical) survival.

    Reading faces: When reading faces there are a number of factors that need to be integrated:
    • Eye Contact:  When speaking with people it is important to look at them in the face (but not to stare).  We equate having eye contact with a sense of interest and honesty, and when people cannot look us in the eye, we are more wary and apprehensive. 
    • Eyes also express emotion, excitement, exhaustion.  
    • Eye brows communicate emotion and excitement as well.  A raised brow appears questioning or possible excitement.  A furrowed brow expresses anger; a relaxed brow contentment.
    • Our mouths, even when not talking are expressive as well.  We frown,  smile, smirk, pout, grimace, gag, and gasp. Each nuanced move expresses an emotion or reaction.

    Other non-verbal cues essential for reading others: Listening (not just hearing, but listening) and processing what is being said, reading faces, reading posture, understanding and being able to adhere to a 'social distance' when interacting, and acknowledging (if not agreeing) with others' responses, feelings and perceptions are all integral to social success. In time, I hope to cover all these factors, but let's start with Facial Literacy now, and build from there.

    So what can you do to help your kids' "Facial Literacy"?
    • Make faces.  Play games.  Have one person/team make a face and have the others guess the emotion they are trying to relay.  IF you don't guess correctly talk (and listen) about what was 'misread'. 
    • Talk about what the consequences are in social interactions when you make different faces.
    • Picture books and graphic novels are great books to read faces with - together.  Look at the facial cues the artist is giving.  One of my favorite examples is in Laika by Nick Abadzis (First Second Books).  As this story takes place in Soviet Russia in the 1950's and is about the space race, the main characters cannot frequently say what they are actually feeling and it is through the facial expressions and body language found in the illustrations that the reader "reads" their true intent.
    • When out at restaurants, on walks, waiting on lines in the supermarket, look at faces and make up stories about what these people may be thinking or feeling.  It helps boost creativity as well as verbal and non verbal expression and social cognition.  Just do it tactfully and politely so as not to offend someone you do not want to offend.
    • Draw faces with different expressions on cards.  Make a separate card with the name of the corresponding emotion.  Play memory or matching games with the cards.