Category Archives: School Readiness

Part 2: {Secret} signs of a cognitive weakness

by Elizabeth Cossick, M. Ed.

This is part two in a four-part series on cognitive weaknesses. Comment on this post to be entered to win a $20 School Box gift card.

Kristen Thompson, brain training expert. Photo by Jen Harris Photography

Most parents and teachers know the typical warning signs of a learning problem: declining grades, apathy, noticeable shifts in mood. “But for many children, like Jenny (featured in part one of this series), the signs that something’s amiss are much more subtle,” shares LearningRx owner and former Cobb County, Georgia, teacher Kristen Thompson.

Here, Kristen shares some lesser-known telltales of cognitive weaknesses: 

  • Completing homework is a struggle and takes an inordinate amount of time.
  • Looking several times at something while copying is necessary.
  • Remembering and independently following multi-step directions is a challenge.
  • Solving math word problems causes frustration. (Math skills are directly connected to cognitive skills.)
  • Responding with, “I don’t get this!” or “What should I do first?” is common.
  • Reading comprehension is weak; the “big picture” is often missed.
  • At test-time, recalling facts and remembering what was studied is difficult.
  • Asking for things to be repeated is a regular occurrence.
  • The student’s sense of direction and map-reading skills are weak.
  • The ability to readily “get” jokes or understand others’ senses of humor seems hindered.
  • Jigsaw puzzles are avoided or deemed “too hard.”
  • Organization of materials and time is elusive.

“The good news, however, is that the brain can be trained to overcome any cognitive weaknesses that might be causing these behaviors,” shares Kristen.

The first step, according to Kristen, is identifying exactly which cognitive skills are being impacted by a weaknesses. For more information on each of these different cognitive areas, stay tuned for part three in this series.

Click here to take a quick online quiz to determine if your child is displaying these warning signs.

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Filed under Academic Success, brain training, cognitive weakness, Critical Thinking, Home Schooling, reluctant readers, School Readiness

Four Timely Reminders for all Educators

 by Mary Jane Downs

Comment on this post and be entered to win a $20 School Box gift card! {winners drawn at the end of the month}

Are you creating a teaching legacy for future generations? What wisdom can you pass down from your experiences?

My daughter graduated as an education major from Converse College in Spartanburg, South Carolina, this past spring. As she is hunting for a teaching position and awaiting her first solo flight, I want to give her some sage advice to ponder as she anticipates the future. Here are four tips from my teaching experience that I will be sharing with my daughter, which are, perhaps, a good reminder for all of us teachers…both young and not-so-young. 

Healthy Fear

A little ‘healthy fear’ at the beginning of each year can be a good thing. You do not have all the answers yet because every class has a different make up. This keeps you willing to seek for the answers…and it can also foster a mutual respect from your students. Don’t fear the fear; embrace it as an opportunity to learn.

The Truth Behind Discipline

Discipline has a lot to do with who you are and how you present yourself. It also has to do with honesty, fairness, your example and what you expect of each student. Bad attitudes and criticism will only aggravate the challenges. Finding the good in each student and telling them so can begin to change even the most hardcore children.

Each New Day is a New Day

Let everyone have a new start each day. Don’t hold grudges against students. It will only bring more friction to a classroom. We all have bad moments, days and periods of time when our behavior reeks. Forgive and move on. Try to find out if there is a reason for a student’s behavior. Then, work to help your student learn to overcome their problems in a more positive way.

Teachable Spirit

The best teachers keep a teachable spirit throughout their career. They never think they have arrived at fully knowing everything. They continually search for the best ways to enhance their students’ learning environment. Then, when all is said and done, your students will honor and respect you for helping them learn to succeed under your watch.

Teaching is a challenge no matter how you look at it. However, starting out with the right kind of wisdom will help you build a rewarding career…and a living legacy.

Mary Jane Downs is an author, speaker and teacher who lives in the foothills of the Asheville Mountains. She loves long walks with her camera in hand, reading, hand quilting, and cooking for friends. Mary Jane has been published in Awe Magazine, Inspiredmoms.com, as well as a guest blogger. Mary Jane has found her writing and love of quilting to work well together. Quilting gives her time to think and gain insight for story ideas, and writing helps her to express those ideas and thoughts to others. Read more by Mary Jane at www.maryjanewrites.com.

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Filed under Academic Success, Behavior Management, Motivation, School Readiness, Teacher Inspiration, Teaching

a long way from Legos: the latest, greatest building sets {and how to use them in the classroom}

by Elizabeth Cossick, M. Ed.

Comment on this post and be entered to win a $20 School Box gift card! (Which you could use to buy…building sets! :)

Legos and Lincoln Logs used to rule the roost when it came to building sets. Not so these days, my friend. Magnets, gears and pulleys make today’s building sets more engaging–and mind-bending–than ever. Whether you’re looking for sets for a classroom, birthday gift, or just a rainy day, here are our top picks for kiddie-approved, creativity-inspiring building sets, followed by some ways to incorporate them into your classroom.

Gears, Gears, Gears!

The fun Gears, Gears, Gears! sets allow young builders to construct buildings, vehicles, factories and the like. There are a variety of sets, from beginner to themed kits (like this cute Movin’ Monkeys set), but all are interchangeable. Sets include spinning gears, pillars, connectors and cranks to set creations in motion–plus interlocking plates for limitless building.

Magneatos

I first discovered these magnetized balls, rods and plates when my son received a Magneatos set from his Popi. Three years later, they’re still a favorite. No wonder why Magneatos have garnered so much praise: recipient of 2005 & 2006 OPPENHEIM AWARD WINNER; featured on NBC’s Today Show and Featured in MONEY magazine; recipient of Oppenheim Toy Portfolio Award (Top Honor); recipient of Oppenheim SNAP (Special Needs Adaptable Product) Award Winner.

Thistle Blocks

Thistle Blocks are an oldie but goodie– a cousin to the Bristle Blocks from my own childhood. Guess what? These stick-to-each-other squares, rectangles and rods are still tons of fun. 

Flexiblocks

What set allows children to build movable bridges, creatures, vehicles and reptiles all with the same blocks? Flexiblocks! These wonder blocks, shown below, can be configured into a limitless variety of critters and formations: a boredom buster for sure. 

In the Classroom

Here are three ideas for using building sets in the classroom to encourage critical thinking and creativity, while practicing  hands-on geometry, public speaking, measuring, graphing and writing.

  • Hold a Building Challenge.

Break students into groups or pairs. Give each group the same number of blocks (or have pairs bring in building sets from home) and set the clock. Give the groups 15 or 20 minutes to build. Then, have each group present their creation to the class. The class can vote on which structures win Most Creative, Most Impressive, Most Blocks Used, Most Movable, etc.

Skills utilized: critical thinking, cooperative learning, oral speaking/presenting

  • Create (and Write About) a Fantasy World.

Allow students (individually or in small groups) to build a fantasy world with sets of blocks, including buildings, creatures, people, vehicles, bridges–whatever their imaginations hold. At the end of a set building period (around 20-30 minutes), students will then write either fiction stories, descriptive narratives or poems about their fantasy world, explaining what it looks like, who lives there, and how life works within the world of their imagination.

Skills utilized: critical thinking, cooperative learning, writing, grammar

  • Have a Race and Chart the Results.

Lots of building sets have circle or disk components that make great wheels. Allow students to build vehicles and then hold a race. Make predictions about which vehicle will go farthest. Create a starting line with tape, line up students two-at-a-time to race their creations. Then, use a ruler or yard stick to measure the distance traveled. Chart or graph the distances as a class on a piece of a bulletin board or chart paper. Be sure to note which are creative and aesthetic, even if they don’t go the distance! :)

Skills utilized: critical thinking, predicting, math, graphing, measuring, comparing/contrasting

For more great building sets, click here and here and here.

Build on!

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Filed under Activities, Art, Centers, Critical Thinking, Parenting, School Readiness, Science, Summer Learning

Toys that Teach: Christmas Gifts that Go the Distance

by Elizabeth Cossick, M. Ed.

Comment on this post and be entered to win a $20 School Box gift card…just in time for Christmas! 

I recently sat down with my 4-year-old son to craft a Christmas wish list. Two hours and about 40 items later, we were done. And he’s only 4!! I didn’t even know he knew half those toys existed!

As his mom, I obviously have a more realistic idea of the toys he will actually play with beyond Christmas afternoon. My job is to sort through his list and pick the items that won’t be quick to become toy box fodder. To help me (and hopefully you) find toys whose impact and interest will last longer than the egg nog, I consulted with Chris Persson, mom of two, former teacher, and co-owner of The School Box along with her husband Dave.

“The best gifts,” says Chris,”are those that blend fun with learning. The toys we carry at The School Box are highly engaging, but allow kids to learn while they’re playing–often without even realizing it!” It’s like sneaking applesauce into the brownie mix: something good for your kids, incognito.

Here, Chris shares her top picks (and The School Box’s top sellers) for holiday gifts.  

1. Hands-On Science Kits, $14.99-$26.99

What child (or adult) wouldn’t want to build a robot out of an empty soda can? Or make their own slime laboratory? Or create a doorbell from electromagnets? As gifts, these kits are just plain cool.

What Kids Learn: “These kits bring science to life while reinforcing critical thinking skills,” says Chris.

 2. Games Galore, $10.99-$29.99

The School Box’s unmatched game selection is the perfect red herring for undercover learning. my new fave: Cartoon It!, a fast-paced memory game with an artistic twist. Younger kids will love Maze Madness, where they guide a ball through a twisty-turny maze. Game on!

What Kids Learn: “Games promote memory, strategy, fine motor skills, fair play and more. Plus, they’re fun!” Chris asserts.

 3. Froggy Ecosystem, Price: $19.99

This funky gift is an annual best-seller. It’s two little frogs in a plant-filled, self-sustaining ecosystem: no cleaning required. Much lower maintenance than a puppy on Christmas morning!

What Kids Learn: “They learn all about habitat and lifecycles,” says Chris, who notes that these fly off the shelves during the holidays.

These gifts have me thinking that The School Box may be as sly as those applesauce-laden brownies. Perhaps they should really call themselves The School and Toy Box: where your kids will learn without even knowing it. And, as for my son’s list, I think there may still be room to add a froggy or two.

 Need more gift ideas? Visit www.schoolbox.com to order online or find a location near you. Or stop by any School Box location for Super Saturdays, where kids make a (free) craft! Second and fourth Saturdays each month, from 10 a.m.-2 p.m.

This article was adapted from Little Black Dress|Little Red Wagon Magazine. 

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Filed under Critical Thinking, Games, Holidays, School Readiness, Science

Does Music Make You Smarter?

By Elizabeth Cossick, M.Ed.

Comment on this post and be entered to win a $20 School Box gift card!

The nursery rhymes your mom sang to you when you were little. The hokey pokey at a childhood birthday party. The song you jammed out to while driving your first car. The first dance at your wedding. The nursery rhymes you now sing to your own children. There’s no denying it: music is a powerful part of our lives. But…can it actually make us smarter?

Research says yes. While loud, cacophonous music has been found to–of course–be a distraction and impediment to learning, music done the right way provides a slew of academic benefits. Here are just a few:

  • Body-Mind Integration

When playing a musical instrument, singing a song or learning a dance step, children experience a unique melding of mind and body. In the brain, this means that neurons are firing away, brain activity is moving across both hemispheres, and sensory integration is occurring. So, how does this equate to the classroom? Sensory integration (using and interpreting the senses simultaneously) is crucial for reading, writing and math.

  • Spacial-Temporal Reasoning

Spatial-temporal reasoning is the ability to visualize spatial patterns in one’s mind. It’s a skill needed for engineering, architecture, art, science, games and math. So, how do you improve spatial-temporal reasoning? Through music, according to the MIND Research Institute. MIND did a study where children were engaged in a series of computer games involving math problems; simultaneously, they received musical keyboard training. What researchers discovered was further proof of the “Mozart Effect”–the idea that listening to a piano sonata enhances spacial-temporal performance. Why? Music has a structural pattern that mimics math: listening to patterns and symmetries in music aids in concepts like counting and fractions. The takeaway? Music makes kids better at math.

  • Social/Behavioral

Music has also been found to aid in mood improvement. This concept is a simple one: happy music = happy kids. Calm music = calm kids. Wild music = wild kids! Students take social cues for appropriate behavior from the music they hear.

Incorporating Music at Home and School

So, music is clearly beneficial. Now, how can you easily incorporate it into your classroom and home?

  • CDs: An obvious answer is the good ol’ CD player. Play songs in the car, when your children are your captive audience. One rule: You control the dial! You may even be able to sneak in some Mozart here and there.
  • Instruments: If you are able to provide music lessons for your child (and if they’re willing to participate), lessons are wonderful, especially during the formative elementary and middle school years. But, if formal lessons aren’t in the cards (or budget), opt for some simpler alternatives, like a tambourine, rhythm sticks, or a hand drum.
  • Music Programs. There are also several stellar, research-based programs out there specifically designed to combine music with learning. One of the best is Rock ‘N Learn, a series of over 50 CDs and DVDs that uses music (like really fun, hip music) to teach everything from division to phonics to Spanish. Not only does Rock ‘N Learn set concepts to a catchy tune (read: aids in memory), but it also makes learning very positive for children (read: fun). The CDs and DVDs are affordable, too, ranging from $10-$20 each.

The moral? More music = more learning. Now that’s worth singing about!

Sources: Keith, Kimberly. http://childparenting.about.com/cs/k6education/a/mozarteffect.htm

MIND Research Institute: http://mindresearch.net/cont/programs/prog_stmm_desc.php

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Filed under Academic Success, Math, Music, School Readiness

Are You Prepared for a School-Time Emergency? {3 ways to know}

Comment on this post and be entered to win a $20 School Box gift card.

“Do you think a school emergency card is enough to protect your kids if something happens to you during school hours?” asks attorney Steve Worrall to a crowd of parents attending his popular Protect My Kids! seminar last month in Marietta, Georgia.

The majority of the room raises their hands yes. A few parents are undecided. Yet from a legal standpoint, all of them are wrong.

“Contrary to popular belief, a school emergency card will not protect your children from spending time in the hands of social services if something tragic happens to you,” says Worrall. “The emergency card only gives named contacts permission to pick your kid up if they are sick, not take short-term custody of them if one or both parents are killed or incapacitated in an accident.”

For this reason, experts such as Worrall recommend parents create an emergency plan so there is no confusion or legal headaches should tragedy strike. According to Worrall, this plan can be created in three easy steps:

1. Legally name short-term guardians for your kids.

Short-term guardians are the people who have legal permission to care for your child until the surviving parent or long-term guardian can arrive. This should ultimately be someone who lives close by and one who will comfort your children in an emergency.

2. Make sure your short-term guardians match those named on the school emergency card.

In addition to listing friends and neighbors who can pick your child up from school if he or she gets sick, it’s equally important to list the full contact information of your short-term guardians for true emergencies. Without this information, your children could be placed temporarily in the custody of social services until the surviving parent or legal guardian can arrive.

3. Make sure the babysitter knows what to do if you don’t return home.

It’s extremely important that parents give their a.m. or p.m. babysitters detailed instructions on what to do and who to call if they don’t return home. In most cases, a babysitter will panic and turn to the police for help, again opening the door for social services to temporarily take custody of your kids until a long-term care provider can arrive.

“Creating a back-to-school and babysitter emergency plan is so easy–and something that will greatly pay off if a parent is injured or, God forbid, killed during school hours,” Worrall says. “The first few hours after an emergency are the most painful for a child, so it’s important for parents to make sure their kids spend that time with people they love and trust, rather than in the arms of the state,” he concludes. Good advice for parents and teachers, alike.

For more information on Marietta family attorney, Steve Worrall, please visit GeorgiaFamilyLaw.com or call 770-425-6060. You can also sign up for an upcoming Protect My Kids! Plan Workshop at protectmykidsplan.com to gain detailed guidance on how to guarantee that your kids are legally protected…no matter what.

Stephen M. Worrall is an experienced family law and wills, trusts, estate planning, probate and elder law attorney in Marietta and Atlanta, Georgia. He concentrates his practice in all areas of family law, including divorce, adoption and prenuptial agreements, and family estate planning, including estate planning, including wills, trusts, guardians for minor children and incapacitated adults, probate and trust administration. He also helps families plan to protect their assets and their children in the event of their death or incapacity, and to transfer their whole wealth: their financial, intellectual, and spiritual assets, to their loved ones.

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Filed under Parenting, School Readiness, Welcome

Cookin’ Up Some Word Muffins! (creative guided reading & center ideas)

 

by Rachel Stepp

Comment on this post to enter to win a $20 gift card from The School Box! Comment winners are awarded each month.

If you are running out of creative ideas for working with struggling readers, it’s time to make word muffins!

With this activity, students will either work with you to practice phonemic sounds, or they will work independently with a specific list of words.

Student-Teacher Activity (or Guided Reading Lesson)

Materials:

Muffin tin

Magnetic letters (ideally more than one set in various fonts)

Procedure:

1. Explain to your student that he or she will be combining special “letter ingredients” to create word muffins.

2. In this activity, you will be working on phonemic awareness and letter sounds. Display all of the magnetic letters so that the student can see them all at once. Then, say a word aloud and ask the student to spell it out with the letters.

3. If the student is struggling while trying to spell the word out, then help them sound it out by saying the word sound-by-sound.

4. After the student creates the word using the magnetic letters, put all of the letters for that word in one muffin cup. Yea! You have just created a word muffin!

5. Following that same procedure, allow your student to fill up the pan with words.

Student Solo Activity (or Center)

The procedure is similar if students are working independently to create word muffins.

Procedure:

1. First, create a list of scrambled words.

2. Prepare the word muffin tin by putting the letters for the scrambled words in each of the muffin cups. (So, each cup will hold the letters for a different word.)

3. Students will take all of the letters out of one cup at a time and try to unscramble them to form a word. If they are unaware of a word, they will need to sound it out.

4. You can ask your students to write down their unscrambled words on a piece of paper so that you can review their answers later.

TIP: You will find that it is probably necessary to have more than one set of magnetic letters to do this because sometimes letters repeat.

Another Magnetic Idea

If you simply want to work on your students’ spelling and phonemic awareness, you can use a metal cookie sheet as the base for magnetic letter work. It provides a nice solid surface on which the letters can be manipulated while still being controlled.

TIP: If your students are searching for letters to create words or to identify letter sounds, have them first organize all of the magnetic letters alphabetically. This will help them find the correct letter quickly. There is no need to waste time searching for letters! I usually do this by writing the alphabet on sentence strips and then having the students place the magnetic letters on the sentence strip before beginning their word work.

Children love the unique use of these kitchen items in the classroom. It’s a “yummy” way to encourage phonemic awareness and sight word mastery!

Looking for magnetic letters in different fonts and colors? Here’s a slew of ‘em at www.schoolbox.com.

Rachel Stepp is a graduate student at The University of Georgia and a regular contributor to A Learning Experience. We appreciate her great ideas!

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Filed under Centers, Phonics, Reading, School Readiness, Spelling