Monthly Archives: May 2011

Summer Learning- Literacy

Just because your child’s school closes the door for summer doesn’t mean that your child’s education should take a “summer vacation”.  It is crucial that your child read or be read to throughout the summer so that everything that they learned at school this year is not lost.  Reading Rockets provide a brief article about “Summer Reading Loss” which includes research that indicates,  “Our research with 116 first, second, and third graders in a school in a middle class neighborhood found that the decoding skills of nearly 45% of the participants and the fluency skills of 25% declined between May and September. Lower achieving students exhibited a sharper decline than higher achieving students.”  (Click here to read more research on Summer Reading Loss).

Here are some quick tips to keep your children reading and learning this summer:

  • Visit your local library or bookstore.  Most libraries and many book stores offer Storytime for young children where a librarian or volunteer reads books to the children.  Even in the summer, try to keep a schedule for your kids and go weekly if it’s available.
  • Bring books with you (both for you and for your children).  It’s important that children see you reading as well. By modeling book reading you are demonstrating that reading is fun and something that you value not just something you are pushing  them to do. With nice weather, bringing a few books with you to the beach, pool, or park will allow your children some time to read in between other activities.
  • Schedule reading into your daily routine.  If your children are old enough to read themselves, schedule half an hour of reading a day when the entire family sits down to read (parents too!).
  • Set goals for your child’s reading.  Together with your child, select 10 books that your child will read between the time that school gets out and when your child starts up again in the Fall.  After each book is completed, have your child do a mini-book report where they write down what the story was about, draw pictures, and reflect on what they liked about the story.
  • Select books related to vacations. Select books that will get your child excited about your vacation and that you can use as talking points when you are on vacation.  For example, if you are going to Boston this summer, get “Make Way For Ducklings” by Rober McCloskey and then make a point to go visit the duckling statues in the Boston Public Garden.
  • Book Club Play Dates.  Just like parents form book clubs to get together with friends and discuss books, schedule summertime book club play dates with your child’s friends.  This makes reading fun and helps your child associate reading with something fun.  Let your child and her friend select the books they are going to read together when they meet up each time.
  • Get Creative.  Traditional books aren’t the only things that can help children develop and improve their reading:  books on tape, ipad reading apps, literacy developing TV programs also help develop literacy skills.   SuperWhy, WordGirl, and Between the Lions are all literacy focused TV shows that also offer online games and activities to improve literacy.  Some literacy apps include: StoryKit where you can create your own storybook with your child.  WordWord has ebooks that can read to your child and are based on their shows.  Also create your own books, have your children create stories about their summer vacations, activities, and camps!
  • Check out Readingrockets.  It has wonderful resources for fun ideas to keep your kids reading all summer.  They include a 2011 Summer Reading List that provides wonderful age-appropriate book suggestions for your child.

Additional Resources:

Reading Tips for Parents:  Reading Rockets provides quick and helpful Reading tips for parents of Babies, Toddlers, Preschoolers,Kindergarteners, First Graders, Second Graders, and Third Graders!!!

Empowering Parents: Reading Rockets Parent’s Guide (Scroll down to the middle of the Page).  Reading Rockets provides a wonderful PDF that helps parents build their child’s reading skills at home.  The guide begins by explaining that Parents are a child’s first teacher and offers easy tips to help your child become a reader!

Toddling Toward Reading Video: Reading Rockets provide a great video narrated by Reba McEntire about the importance of parenting laying the foundation for their children to read.

Learning to Read and Write: What Research Reveals: Reading Rockets provides a wonderful review of the extensive research on how young children learn to read and write and the important ways in which parents and teachers can aid in this crucial development.

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Technology as a Tool for Learning

I use technology all the time to help me learn and understand things.  Just a few weeks ago, I was attempting to analyze data with complex statistical tests using a statistical package that I wasn’t very familiar with.  Completely frustrated, I did three things:  (1) I posted a status update on Facebook that read “Does anyone know how to use STATA?”.  While I waited for a reply, (2) I googled the specific questions I had “logistic regressions STATA”.  When that only provided part of the answer (3) I searched our University’s Library website for statistics program workshops.  Never once did I open a traditional textbook.

As adults, technology provides us with efficient ways to search for and learn information. So why is there such resistance when people mention using technology as a learning tool for children?  In April, an article in the Christian Science Monitor reported about a school in Maine that has decided to give each of their Kindergarteners and ipad2.  The title of the article was “iPad2 in kindergarten classrooms: A good idea?”  The article includes criticisms about the iPad potentially taking away from teacher instruction.

What I find so fascinating about this is the hypocrisy of the entire issue.  First, adults are constantly modeling the use of technology as a teaching tool.  How many times has your child asked you something to which you have responded, “That’s a good question.  We should google that when we get home” (Or right this minute for those of you who have a smart phone).  You can learn from technology so why can’t your children?  Second,  our current education system isn’t working.  This generation will be LESS literate than the one before it (Waiting for Superman), 44% of American 4th graders cannot read fluently (National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Pinnell et al., 1995), and low income and less educated parents are less likely to read to their young children daily (US Department of Education).  And these are just statistics related to literacy- our children are also struggling in Science and Math as well (See the National Center for Education Statistics Early Childhood Longitudinal Study for more details on 5th grade Education skills).

I am a HUGE advocate for research.  I want studies to be conducted that demonstrate the ways in which technology can be used in the classroom and by teachers to help educate  young children!  However, there are many apps and computer games that have not yet been tested but that are being created with the help of educational consultants and child development researchers to help educate children in a way that is fun which can help to potentially create a generation of children that LOVE learning!  And in response to the criticisms that iPads in schools will take away from teacher instruction–  As of 2007-2008, the average public elementary school classroom had 20.3 students; maybe providing other ways for children to learn in which they can receive scaffolding, help, and immediate corrections and reactions to the work they are doing is a good thing- even if those reactions are being provided by a computer (some of the time).

No one is recommending that teachers or parents disappear and that we let Steve Jobs or Apple raise our children, but the question is why can’t they help? Because at the moment it looks like we can use all the help we can get!

Resources for Parents:

Common Sense Media is beginning to review and rate apps to help parents and teachers decide which apps to use and what types of educational skills children may learn from each.

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Parent Groups


Parents want their kids to experience lots of different things.  Their children play soccer, basketball, baseball, and lacrosse; they sign up for ballet, gymnastics, and karate lessons; they attend art, violin, and piano lessons; they go to reading groups at the library on Monday; yoga on Tuesday, and Spanish class on Thursday.  Not to mention that they also attend school and have weekly scheduled playdates with friends.  And yes, they turn 5 next Saturday and will have their birthday party at the local indoor pool with 25 of their closest friends.

Sure this is a bit of an exaggeration and a compilation of the activities of all of the kids I know, but as crazy as it sounds it’s not all that extreme.  Parents like to make sure their kids get an opportunity to play sports, learn about music, and socialize with other kids.  But when your child is running around to 2 or more activities a day, when does Mom (or Dad) get any stimulation or experience with new things?

Whether your child is 2 weeks or 20 years old, parent groups are a great way to get yourself involved and active and around other people who likely are experiencing the same things you are.  A good friend of mine recently had a baby and joined a mother’s group at a local hospital.  She came with a list of questions she had about everything from how to tell when the baby was really done eating to exactly how much of her hair she would lose!

Parents need activities and support just the way kids do.  Sure, maybe you have already done your time on a lacrosse field or sitting practicing the piano but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t other activities that you might like to still do.  And finding other moms (or dads) to partake in activities is good for you and your child!  Staying at home with your child and doing the same things everyday with your daughter isn’t good for anyone.  In mom’s groups you can get ideas for new games to play with your child, new foods to try, new songs to sing, and simply comfort that other people are feeling the same way you do.  There are multiple studies that demonstrate the positive effect social support has on alleviating parenting stress[1], attitudes toward parenting[2], and maternal adjustment[3]. had a great article about finding mother’s groups.  Local Hospitals, Universities, recreation centers, child-care centers, libraries, and even craigslist are ways to find other moms (or dads) that you can connect with on a regular basis. Here is a video of a mom talking about her experience with a mom’s group at ISIS.  Here are other resources for starting a parenting group from Family Empowerment Network.

[1] Quittner, A. L., Glueckauf, R. L., & Jacskon, D. N. (1990).  Chronic parenting stress: Moderating versus mediating effects of social support.  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 59, 1266-1278.

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Boomerang Boy

by Bobbi Snow
This year my twenty-four year old son came home to live with me.  He
finished college, lived with friends in a house, completed several
rites of passage and then moved home.  At first, there was something
compelling about having some more time with this child I adore since I
believed there were so many lessons I failed to teach him.  Would this
be my opportunity to make up for all the things I wished I had done
earlier?  Maybe he would learn to fold wash right from the dryer. Cook
something healthy that took longer to cook than to eat. That would be
nice. Perhaps he could learn to write a decent thank you note.  As time goes on, I realize we are just mother and son in real time. No
going back to redo anything.  Habits are set and, in fact, are even
more pronounced when he slips into his old bedroom and old patterns.
If I thought I ever had impact or control over his behavior, I was
delusional anyway.  It is clearer to me now that my son is his own
person, on his own journey, and just happens to be my roommate.  It is
safe and comforting for him here.  We have set up a routine of daily
life as if he were a young dependent. But he is not so young.  I did
not mean to set this up; it just emerged.I am an in-charge type of person and I took charge. I cook all the dinners. I feed his cats.  I keep the calendar and assure we are responsible about appointments. I clean the house and make sure he helps by giving him his to-do list. I ask two or three times for the
recycling bins to be brought back in without showing impatience or
stress. This routine is just like when he was ten years old.

I have always loved being Jake’s mother.  I still do.  But when is a
good time for him to be more independent?  According to the last
census, 56 percent of men age 18 to 24 and 48 percent of women live
with their parents. Certainly I never would have dreamed of moving in
with my parents after college. I never would have expected any
financial support or wanted any guidance, but then my parents did not
know who I was.  I kept myself hidden, had a superficial –but
loving– relationship of respect and distance. I took care of myself.
In contrast, I know so much about my son Jake.  My friends and
relatives today know so much about their kids.  We are in a different
kind of culture than the one I am familiar with.

We are on speedial with our kids.  They come to us for everything. Of
course they want to live at home.  We have worked hard to make a home
that works for them.  I see this glorious connection to our sons and
daughters and wonder how they will ever become independent of us. How
will they maneuver through the tough challenges of life outside the
warm confines of the home?  Are we coddling them into a connection of
collusion that stunts their growth? Are they prepared to face the
realities of the big world out there when we are defining the
realities for them daily?

On this Mother’s Day I will celebrate how lucky I am to be Jake’s
mother and will seriously consider whether I should propose that he
and we might be better off if he had roommates closer to his own age.
I am not sure how the conversation will go or if Jake will take me up
on my suggestion but I do know I will reassure my “boomerang child”
that he can stay as long as he needs to.

Aired on NPR 5/6/2011

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Early Screening of Autism

Today in the New York Times there was a very brief article about the use of a Questionnaire to detect Autism earlier.  The New York Times did a very nice job summarizing the findings of the research.

The questionnaire used in this study was the Communication and Symbolic Behavior Scales Developmental Profile Infant-Toddler Checklist (CSVS-DPIT-Checklist).  Despite the focus on Autism in this article, the questionnaire is actually used to assess a range of disorders including language delays, Autism, and global developmental delays.  In the study, pediatricians had parents complete the questionnaire for their child at the child’s 1 year pediatric check-up.  The staff at the pediatrician’s office then scored the questionnaire and reported to the doctor whether or not the child “failed” the questionnaire (indicating some sort of delay). If the child failed the parent was given a flyer referring them for treatment at the Autism Center of Excellence.

The main point from this study was that while there were some false-positives (meaning children “failed” the screening and did not end up being diagnosed with Autism later) the use of this questionnaire and screening did identify children as early as 12 months with developmental delays and got them into treatment programs earlier!   Generally, children are not diagnosed with Autism until they are over 2 years and therefore do not receive treatment until then, but with this screening tool children more children may be able to start treatment for disorders at earlier ages.  Also important to  note, the pediatricians that participated in this study are continuing to use the screening tool at the children’s 1 year old check-up.

The Autism Center of Excellence has wonderful resources including Early Warning Signs of Autism, Treatment, and general Toddler Development information.

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