3 Simple Ways to Help Your Child Achieve Academic and Reading Success

 Photo Melissa Kaufman

Photo Melissa Kaufman

“I just don’t want to go to swim lessons today because I missed last week and I’m afraid I won’t do a good job,” my five-year-old explained to me right after having a sudden tantrum. 

I gathered my composure after discovering what triggered the tantrum. I tried to downgrade the perfectionism that I solely instilled in her five short years and then she said, “Well, maybe if I can’t make it to the end of the pool, I’ll just wait a second and Coach Sam will push me to the end.” 

Eeeee. Facepalm. 

Not what I was hoping she would say. 

But my daughter was doing exactly what I trained her to do – to only try when she knew she would succeed. 

I’ve also noticed that my five-year-old isn’t overly interested in reading. Yep, daughter of a reading teacher - not interested. After this swim lesson, a light bulb went off that perhaps she’s avoiding reading because it’s a newer skill. I am attempting to practice in my own home what I preach as a learning specialist in a school with other parents. I desire for my children to feel positive about their learning and school experience, more than I care about their other achievements because I know this base will allow them to encounter all challenges and opportunities in life. 

In the classroom, I witness firsthand how some children succeed or do well in school because they believe they can, while others hide their talents and abilities. As a mom, I’m attempting to implement some of the strategies I use in the classroom in hopes to better my relationship with my kids and instill more confidence. 

Here are a few things I'm trying at home that I practice at school:

1.    Praise effort 

Children are seeking an identity, and at the same time, they are assessing their abilities as their image–creating labels such as “good at math” or “doesn’t love reading.” Carol Dweck’s research in her book, Mindset, supports praising and modeling effort to instill a growth mindset. By doing so, we can help our children feel more confident in tackling new tasks, regardless of ability.

2.    Redefine success

As you can see from my story above, children pick up on what your idea of success looks like by watching and listening. They are eager to please and will quickly interchange love with success. 

Help your child redefine both success and failure by taking a step back. Stepping back can be challenging to do when you have the heavy responsibilities of keeping your child safe, helping them set appropriate boundaries, and still allowing them to take risks. So start small. Let them put on their own shoes, even if they are on the wrong feet or help set the table even if all the tableware is glass. For older children, let them do their homework without checking it so that they can learn what skills they need to improve. I know these things might make you cringe but wait for a moment and see if you recognize a positive emotional response after they complete the task on their own. 

3.    Create a strong foundation

You do not need to start a phonics program or force "learning time" to give your kids a strong foundation in phonics and handwriting. For example, take advantage of commute time to rhyme or bathtime to spell. Sounds impossible? Try keeping it simple. How about getting Munchkin alphabet letters in the bath and setting up a few consonant-vowel-consonant words in the tub before your child gets in the bath. See if they notice the words and help them sound out the words on their own. Here is a step-by-step how-to and a list of words to get you started!

Picture Books on Being Mindful and Present

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As a working parent and a teacher, I'm often pulled in a million directions, feeling frazzled and overwhelmed. I recognize the mounting and unnecessary stress this puts on my children and me. I'm attempting to be thankful for small moments, even the ones that make me feel like I’m going crazy or running in circles.  I'm not always giving thanks at 8:00 a.m. drop-off when my child dumps her lunch box out in the back seat, but I'm trying to seek out moments of gratitude with my family each day. I'm practicing modeling mindfulness and patience because, as a teacher, I see the many benefits when children are able to calm themselves and breathe in stressful moments. 

If you are in need of slowing down or resetting to gain perspective, check out the books below that will remind you how truly fortunate we are to be here and to know one another.

Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth by Oliver Jeffers. How we learn to grow and take in the world around us is a wonder. A book about a child's smallness in this universe, Jeffers provides some relief for parents as he points out that others will be here to take care of our children when we no longer can do so.

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Forever or a Day by Sarah Jacoby.  For any parent who is attempting to say yes more often, this book is a beautiful reminder of all the reasons we should do just that. Time is the one thing we can never get more of, and in this book, a child asks if we can stay a little longer–so maybe we should.

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Life by Cynthia Rylant and Brendan Wenzel. Cynthia Rylant does a fantastic job of keeping complex concepts simple. Life is no exception. "Life is not always easy. There will probably be a stretch of wilderness now and then. But wilderness eventually ends. And there is always a new road to take."

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All In a Day by Cynthia Rylant and Nikki McClure. Another Rylant book because when paired with McClure’s die-cut illustrations, it’s too beautiful not to mention. “A day brings hope and kindness too…a day is all it’s own.” A sentimental reminder of how much connection we can share in a single day. 

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Breathe and Be: A Book of Mindfulness Poems by Kate Coombs and Anna Emilia Laitinen. A Montessori teacher friend recently suggested this book. She said that she randomly grabbed it from the shelf on the last day of school when the children sit together and express their thoughts or feelings about the year. She is now using it as a yearly tradition. What a special find. "There's a quiet place in my head like an egg hidden in a nest. A place I go when the world is loud."

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Do you have any book suggestions or tips on being present with your children and family? I'm all ears. 

Simple Steps to Teach Your Child to Read

When you recognize that your child is interested in learning to read and ready to begin sounding out words, you might feel that you need to introduce a phonics program or get out flashcards. Less is often more when learning at home. Your role as a caregiver is to reinforce skills they are learning and to do so in a particular order. You will notice that your child will start to examine words on signs and start sounding them out. Reading requires three different parts of the brain to work together to sound out words. So there's no need to force the process on a child before they are neurologically ready.

Quality over quantity

The type of strategies and words you are pointing out to your child will make more of a difference than the number of words your child is learning at one time. Maintaining the child's confidence and interest is the first and most important priority. Think of a time that you tried something new. Did you take up tennis or running, or learn a new software program for work? How did you learn the new skill? If you were given all of the information at one time, chances are that you didn't continue implementing it over time. You might have quit, felt overwhelmed or lost interest. If you had a great teacher or program that introduced one concept at a time and allowed you to master each, perhaps you stuck with it.

Where to start?

So where to begin? We will keep it simple. Once a child knows all of the letter names and their sounds, then they can start to decode three letter words. We call the first words that a child reads CVC words, which stands for consonant-vowel-consonant.

For a list of CVC words that you can practice, sign up for my mailing list using the button below, and it will be sent to you! Enjoy! Feel free to email me with questions if I can help.

Short Vowels

Focus on short vowels and pointing out only one short vowel at a time. Practice that same vowel for about a week or two. The only thing you need to do is to recognize the letter or word as you are traveling or reading, seeing signs, and just going through everyday life. For example, a sign says, "No Dogs." You might say, "Oh look, that word has the short vowel o in it for o/octupus. D-o-g. It says dog!" You are modeling how to sound out a short vowel word. If your child is frustrated by this then back off. Most likely they want more control and might start pointing the letters out on their own after they watch you do it first.

How to keep it simple and practice at home

To practice, you might also want to put letters in the tub or magnetic letters on the fridge and practice CVC words during down times like making dinner or bath time. Make spelling and reading a part of play, and it will feel more natural to your child. It's also the perfect time to have a few decodable books around the house. Start with the short vowel BOB books. You might want to leave them on the kitchen table or in a box in your family room. 

As always, please reach out to me and let me know how these suggestions work for you and your child! 

Back to School Books

The first day of school brings a wide range of emotions for the entire family. These books should help bring a little laughter and emotional support for first-day nerves. 

Mae’s First Day of School by Kate Berube. Every child (and parent) feels nervous on the first day of school. Fear of the unknown is difficult for us all. This book shows a relatable progression of a girl’s first day of school and how she transforms from nervous to excited and hopeful. 

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The World-Famous Book of Counting by Sarah Goodreau and The Greatest Opposites Book on Earth by Lee Singh and Tom Frost. These books are full of creative ways to engage a young reader from pop-ups to flaps. Kids love them and adults love the artistic designs and illustrations. This book is perfect for Pre-K children but also fun for Kindergarten and beginning readers who can retell the story themselves and feel they are reading to build a little confidence.

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Adventures to School: Real-life Journeys of Students From Around the World by Baptiste Paul and Miranda Paul, Illustrated by Isabel Munoz. This nonfiction book is a refreshing way to introduce children to school. It shows thirteen different children's journeys to school from around the world. Children will also enjoy learning a little about each country, as the book highlights the country’s flag and some key details.

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The Friend Ship by Kat Yeh, Illustrated by Chuck Groenink. One of my favorite books of the year! Sometimes you are searching for true friendship or something new in life, while everything you need is right in front of you.

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School's First Day of School by Adam Rex, Illustrated by Christian Robinson. Everyone gets nervous on the first day of school, even the school building itself. Nothing goes as planned for the building on its first day with children, but all is okay in the end and everyone wants to try it again the next day. A unique take on first-day jitters.

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The Teacher’s Pet by Anica Mrose Rissi, Illustrated by Zachariah OHara. A class bands together to help their teacher when his love for the class pet clouds his judgment. The tadpole grows into a hippo. The pet's size and needs are destroying the classroom. Kids love the idea of being in on a secret and knowing more than a teacher.

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The Smallest Girl In The Smallest Grade by Justin Roberts, Illustrated by Christian Robinson. This book reminds us that you can make a big impact on those around you by speaking up. Sally McCabe might be small, but she’s an observer of the world, and so one day she realizes she can make a difference despite her age or size.

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The I'm Not Scared Book by Todd Parr. I should probably just carry all of the Todd Parr books in my back pocket for every messy life situation. The author writes about the most complex topics and feelings and makes them simple for children. This book is a beautiful reminder that when we feel scared, we often can take a simple step to feel calmer or to laugh.  

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The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires. This book will resonate with perfectionists and worriers. It helps our children see the beauty in the process rather than the product. You might also want to check out The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes. 

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A Squiggly Story by Andrew Larsen, Illustrated by Mark Lowery. This book is a cute story about the power of writing and getting started. You don’t have to know how to write everything or anything to create something beautiful.

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10 Winnie The Pooh Quotes To Get You Through Any Life Situation

 This beautiful quote by  design roots

This beautiful quote by design roots

Winnie the Pooh turned 90 this year! Do you remember how you felt when you watched it or read it as a child? I always had a sentimental feeling and an almost sad one. Rereading it now, I can see A.A. Milne was actually speaking to the adults who had seen more days, more happiness and more sorrow than to their children. He used the sweetest characters to get the message across in a childlike way. 

Perhaps the best piece of advice comes from Christopher Robin: "You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think."Here are a few of the most moving quotes from Winnie the Pooh to get you (and your children) through almost any life situation:

"Sometimes the smallest things take up the most room in your heart." 

"Life is a journey to be experienced not a problem to be solved."

"Piglet noticed that even though he had a very small heart, it could hold a rather large amount of gratitude."

"Some people care too much, I think it's called love."

"How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard."

 I asked  SusieCakes  to make something for the occasion and they more than delivered. honey bee cupcukes, yes please!

I asked SusieCakes to make something for the occasion and they more than delivered. honey bee cupcukes, yes please!

"You can't stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes."

"When you see someone putting on his Big Boots, you can be pretty sure that an Adventure is going to happen."

"It wasn't much good having anything exciting like floods, if you couldn't share them with somebody."

"It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn't use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like "What about lunch?" 

Well Happy Birthday, Winnie the Pooh! Thank you for sharing your wisdom with the world.