It’s the Age AND the Stage…Developmental Readiness for Kindergarten (part 2)

Welcome to part 2 of my commentary and suggestions regarding Kindergarten Readiness.  You can read the first installment in my blog from yesterday.

It is typical for a child to be developmentally ahead or behind his chronological age by up to 9 months without cause for concern.  Just as with sitting up, crawling, walking, reading, etc. children development at different rates and will show strengths and weaknesses in different areas as well.  It is rare for a child to present with the same proficiency in all areas of development at the same time.  Below are some developmental milestones by age group (provided by

Developmental Milestones by Age Group

Three is a common age for many children to begin pre-school.  This post focuses on children beginning at age 3 through age 7 so that you can see the arc of development your child will or is making between pre-school and roughly second grade.  Being able to evaluate a child’s developmental age and stage can help parents make better informed decisions about when their child is ready to begin school.

Age 3

Receptive/Expressive Language  (receptive language is what your child hears and takes in.  Expressive language is what he produces after processing what he has heard).

  • Understands “Who?”  “What?” and “Where?” questions.
  • Sentences are becoming more complex and the child can combine more than four words at a time.

General Development (social, emotional, physical & academic)

  • Cooperative and tranquil.
  • May develop fears and phobias (of the dark, being alone, etc.).
  • Loves to engage in fantasy and may even develop a fantasy friend.
  • Develops empathy and a sense of humor.
  • Displays a vivid imagination and may engage in imaginative play.
  • May tease other children.

Age 4

Receptive/Expressive Language

  • Understands “Who?”  “What?” and “Where?” questions.
  • Enjoys being read to/hearing a range of stories and can answer questions about them.
  • Can construct long and detailed sentences (often run-on sentences with loads of detail and fantasy/tall tales).
  • Can tell a long and involved story while sticking with the same topic and while using “adult-like” language.
  • Can communicate easily with familiar adults and with other children.
  • Will sometimes use “bathroom” words or swears words.

General Development (social, emotional, physical & academic)

  • Can only sit still for brief periods of time.
  • Enjoys physical activity- running, jumping and climbing
  • Loves working with friends, but may still engage in parallel play.
  • Learns best through exploration.
  • Learns more through large motor than small motor activities.
  • Enjoys music, rhymes, rhythm and patterns.
  • Loves to be given “jobs” or responsibilities.

Age 5

Receptive/Expressive Language

  • Thinks out loud.
  • Acts out stories and fantasies as opposed to explaining them.
  • Often does not communicate about school at home.
  • Is very literal.

General Development (social, emotional, physical & academic)

  • Likes to copy things- letters, words, and pictures.
  • Can sit for longer periods of time and concentrate on tasks.
  • Learns best through play and action.
  • Thinks in literal terms.  Many times there is only “one” right answer.
  • Depends on authority to give cues for behavior.

Age 6

Receptive/Expressive Language

  • Likes to explain things.
  • Loves jokes and guessing games.
  • Uses boisterous and enthusiastic language.
  • Often complains.

General Development (social, emotional, physical & academic)

  • Loves to be first.
  • Can sometimes be a “poor sport” and can be dishonest or invent own rules.
  • Loves to ask questions.
  • Likes new games.
  • Learns best through discovery.
  • Begins to understand the concept of time (past/present).
  • Tries to accomplish more than is possible (biting off more than one can chew)
  • Friends become very important.
  • Can be bossy, critical of others and can tease others.
  • School becomes a large environmental influence.

Age 7

Receptive/Expressive Language

  • Is a good listener.
  • Likes one-to-one conversation.
  • Is interested in the meaning of words.
  • Vocabulary level is expanding rapidly.

General Development (social, emotional, physical & academic)

  • Often possesses strong likes/dislikes.
  • Can turn inward and become moody, shy or reach out for greater security.
  • Keeps a neater room or workspace.
  • Relies on the teacher for help.
  • Likes to discover how things work; likes to take things apart.
  • Needs constant reinforcement.
  • May often state that, “No one likes me.”
  • Likes to work slowly and independently.
  • Likes to repeat tasks.
  • Likes board games and manipulatives.

Be mindful that a child’s development can be encouraged, but it cannot be rushed.  Just as with walking and talking, children engage in certain behaviors when they are developmentally ready to do so.  The following activities will provide you with strategies to help your child navigate new developmental challenges.

Activities geared toward improving a child’s vocabulary, awareness of the world and overall intellectual skills.

  • Social
    • Join a playgroup or host some play dates for your child.
    • Encourage positive behaviors such as sharing, allowing a guest to have first pick of an activity and practicing conversation skills.
    • Promote good manners and a healthy respect for authority.
    • Probe him with open-ended questions such as, “Why do birds fly?” or “Why do we live in a house?”  Questions that will require your child to think of his own answer.
    • Engage in “show and tell” activities.  Not only have your child share, but share something with him too.  By listening and then asking you questions, he will learn to listen attentively, take in information and learn to form questions from verbal information.
  • Emotional
    • Help your child become more self-aware.  How do his actions affect other people?
    • Prepare your child for time away from you and for transitions.
    • Share your frustrations (minor ones like forgetting your keys) with your child and explain how you deal with certain emotions (fear, loss, anger, sadness).  Sharing these experiences will send your child the message that you aren’t perfect either and that you are open to him sharing his personal emotions with you.  Your child will also takes cues from you regarding how to react when life throws him curve balls.
  • Academic
    • Teach concepts informally by counting together in the car or singing the alphabet song together.
    • When unloading groceries, ask him to put the cans in order by size or put them in groupings by color.
    • Ask him to tell you what’s the “same” or “different” about two leaves or pieces of fruit.  Who is sitting in the front, middle or back of a car?  Include concepts such as bigger/smaller,
      • Asking your child questions that challenge him to “think outside the box” and come up with his own answers (not just 2 + 2 = 4) will help him graduate to a level of higher thinking.
    • Ask him to describe the differences between characters on a TV show or in a book.
    • Have your child re-tell stories or make them up from viewing picture books.
    • Encourage your child to play with objects to learn basic concepts:  first/last, front/behind, up/down, same/different, close/far and other comparisons.
    • Allow your child to complete his own sentences, even if the answer is incorrect.  Help him develop his own voice and opinion.
  • Physical
    • Activities geared toward strengthening a child’s small and large motor skills.
      Small Muscle

      • Bead Stringing- in any order, by color, by shape, in a pattern, etc.
      • Cutting
      • Begin by cutting on short, straight lines and then progress to curved lines and then onto shapes.
      • Begin with thicker paper or brown paper shopping bags.  This helps with stability.
      • Playing with Clay/Play dough
      • Coloring
      • Easel Painting

      Large Motor

    • Easel Painting
    • Running
    • Jumping
    • Skipping
    • Galloping
    • Throwing
    • Ball Bouncing
    • Tag, Simon Says or Red Light, Green Light
    • Playing with Blocks or other Manipulatives
    • Sorting
    • Repeating an object built for them by memory
    • Monkey Bars- working on the bars or practicing climbing on a play structure can help develop upper arm muscles and general agility.
    • Balance Beam- a fun gymnastics class is a great way for children to hone their large motor skills.  Walking, skipping and jumping on a low (usually about 6 in. off the ground) beam can help with balance and coordination.
    • Tether Ball- aside from the fact that it’s just plain fun, engaging in tether ball or kick ball can help your child alleviate stress while developing his large motor skills.

Teacher Talk

Remember that when it comes to art projects, it is important to focus on process vs. product.  Resist the urge to make your child create something specific or to direct him too much.  Ask your child to describe his handiwork when he’s finished.  Do not try to label what it is or comment negatively if he decides to paint the sky purple.  Allow your child to create his own meaning for the project.  This promotes creativity and an imaginative mind.

Mom Thought

As a former Kindergarten teacher, school administrator and as the mother of a Kindergarten student, I am pretty familiar with the concept of developmental readiness.  That being said, I still ask the same questions as other parents.  “Will my daughter be able to keep up with her peers?”  “Did I pick the right Kindergarten environment for her?”  “Am I doing enough at home to help my son acquire the skills he needs to do well in school?”  It’s okay to have questions, and it’s okay to ask for help.

Be open to the advice, wisdom and guidance of those who also know and love your child.  However, always keep in mind that you are your child’s primary educator, and no one can take that gift away from you.  It’s easy to get caught up in the comparison game and sucked into the “my child is doing this or that” trap.  Rise above the fray and remember that your child is a beautiful, unique and exceptional young person.  Make decisions with his best interest in mind.  Supporting his individual growth and development is a tremendous gift you can give him as you steer him toward adulthood.

Questions for the Teacher

How do I know if my child is ready for Kindergarten?

This is a difficult question to answer for a few reasons.  To begin, there is still inconsistency among states regarding the appropriate cut-off age for entrance into Kindergarten.  While the majority of states have a cut-off date (the child must be five on or before this date) around September 1, there are still many that have cut-off dates as late as December 3.  This can send mixed messages to parents regarding when the appropriate time is for their child to begin his formal school career.  Couple this with more children attending pre-school and pre-k programs that expose them to academic information formerly unavailable to young children, and there is bound to be confusion.

My recommendation is to set up a conference with your child’s pre-school/pre-k teacher.  She will be able to walk you through where your child falls on the spectrum of milestones and should be able to make a confident recommendation.    This being said, and if your child does not attend a formal school program, the following list should provide you with solid guidelines by which to evaluate your child’s school readiness level.  And while it isn’t an exhaustive list of everything a child should or could know for school, it will allow you to make an informed decision about school placement.

  • Can your child…
    • Be away from you for up to a few hours?
    • Express his ideas to adults other than you?
    • Name most of the parts of his body?
    • Take care of his personal belongings?
    • Work independently without constant adult attention?
    • Make simple decisions if given a few choices?
    • Listen to and follow directions?
    • Retell familiar stories, rhymes or songs?
    • Find ways to independently resolve conflicts with his peers?
    • Draw simple recognizable figures?
    • Use a pencil or crayon with a comfortable, controlled grip?
    • Join a group of children listening to a story?
    • Listen to a story without interrupting?
    • Repeat a series of four numbers without practice?
    • Identify the primary colors?
    • Talk in sentences of up to five or six words?
    • Sort objects by color, size and/or shape?
    • Share with others?

My further recommendation would be that your spouse and you answer the above questions separately in order to gain a greater understanding of your child’s strengths and weaknesses.  This is also something you can give to a nanny or daycare provider.  Although you are your child’s primary educator, those who interact with him will have valuable information and observations to share with you.

We’re getting ready to tour some local public and private elementary schools.  What are the signs of a strong Kindergarten program?

First and foremost, you need to decide if you are looking for an academically inclined Kindergarten or a developmentally inclined Kindergarten program.  The former focuses more on a child’s academic advancement, while the latter places the focus on a child’s social/emotional development.  Both are important, and I believe there should be a healthy balance between the two focus areas.  Something else to consider is the school’s expectation for skill mastery- socially, emotionally, physically and academically.  Make sure your goals and expectations line up with those of the school.  With all this in mind, here are some signs of a strong K program:

  • The children are focused and not aimlessly milling about the classroom.  Kinder students are full of energy, enthusiasm and curiosity.  Strong programs build on these strengths by providing students with a variety of free and directed activities.
  • Children are exposed to a variety of activities throughout the day (picture books, block building, painting, dramatic play, to name a few).
  • Teachers work with groups of varying sizes- one on one, small group and whole class instruction are all important to a child’s development.
  • The classroom is light, bright, filled with color and is decorated with student artwork, dictated stories and other educational items such as number cards and the letters of the alphabet.
  • Children learn formal subject areas through exploration, instruction and informal methods.  For example, the teacher may use the calendar to teach counting, number groupings and number recognition.  For the kids, however, it’s just plain fun!
  • Children are given time to play and explore.  They are not sitting at a desk all day.
  • Teachers read books throughout the day and persistently expose children to reading material.
  • My personal favorite is that daily lessons are planned around common themes- transportation, occupations, weather, the five senses, etc.  Again, the emphasis should be on environmental knowledge and teaching concepts through everyday activities.
  • The curriculum addresses the individual developmental ages of all students.  All children will not read at the same time.  The teacher should address varying progressive levels through activities and instruction.
  • Students look forward to school and parents are actively encouraged to be a part of their child’s learning/classroom experience.

Mom/Teacher Wisdom

Focus on the program and not the teacher.  Students are not always assigned to their favorite teacher and many schools do not take requests for class changes.

Moving On

Whew!  That was a lot to take in….I know.  However, armed with the right information, you can make better informed decisions regarding your child’s academic, social and emotional future.  If you have additional questions or would like to set up a counseling session via phone or in person, contact me at  I also do in-home presentations for parents in groups of 5-15 people and speak to PTA groups.


Filed under Education, Parenting

It’s the Age AND the Stage…Developmental Readiness for Kindergarten

The greatest gifts you can give your children are the roots of responsibility and the wings of independence.

-Denis Waitley

Putting Child Development in Perspective…

As the inexperienced mom of a six month old, I was thrilled when my sister-in-law, Shannon, invited me to join my first playgroup.   The boys and girls ranged in age from about six to eighteen months, and in kid years, that’s a pretty big spread!  Spending time with children of this age range allowed me to witness a wide span of behaviors and competencies.

It was easy to observe that children do not develop, grow or mature at the same rate.  There were children in the group who walked as early as nine months and others, my daughter included, who did not walk until close to fourteen months.  By eighteen months, however, every child in the group was off and running.  Because of my background in education, I wasn’t too anxious when McKenna Kate took her time to learn to walk.  She is a very deliberate child, one who closely observes and evaluates her surroundings.  I can never get away with grabbing an extra cookie or skipping a page of her favorite book when she is watching!  I believe she was just taking her own sweet time to walk.  Even with teaching and administrative experience, however, I can relate to any parent’s pang of concern when their child does not hit a specific developmental milestone at the same time as his siblings or other children.

Now that I have two children, I have been blessed with the opportunity to watch them grow and develop at their own pace.  Coincidentally, Mac walked at almost the same age as McKenna Kate.  However, he developed a desire to be read to at age two, much earlier than she did.  In fact, McKenna Kate did not enjoy being read to, nor did she exhibit the desire to write her name until she was close to four.  In a nutshell, children travel through a myriad of ages & stages as they grow and mature.  It’s a gift that no two children are exactly alike when it comes to their development, not even twins.  It’s their way of saying, “Look out world, I’m my own person!”

The History of Kindergarten

German philosopher and teacher, Friedrich Froebel, originally conceived Kindergarten in the 1800s.  The direct translation from German to English is “children’s garden.”  He saw it as, literally, a place to fill with plants and flowers and nurture children’s curiosity.  It was not meant to be a functional classroom.  My, how times have changed!  And, with many children beginning their formal school experience at an even younger age, our societal expectations of what a child should grasp have increased drastically.  Last time I checked, however, the human brain was quite the same.

Chronological Age vs. Developmental Age.  What???

Children actually possess two ages- one chronological and one developmental.  A child’s chronological age is easy to determine…just check the calendar for his birthday!  Determining a child’s developmental age?  Well, that is much more complex.

A child’s developmental age can be determined by evaluating several areas of development- academic, social, emotional and physical.  Children enter and exit different stages of development approximately every six months from birth-six and then about every year from age six until they reach adult maturity.  This may explain why your extremely cooperative 4 year old begins to defy and mystify you with his knack for answering “NO!” to everything you ask of him when he hits 4 ½.

Assessing each of the four areas is a reliable method teachers and administrators use to determine a child’s developmental age and whether or not he is ready for school.  Combining the developmental age of a child in each of these areas allows educators to come up with an average age at which the child is functioning as a “whole person.”

To illustrate, a 5 year old child may possess a developmental age of 5 for social, 5 ½ for emotional, 4 ½ for academic and 5 ½ for physical.  Looking at it in simple terms, this child’s developmental age is roughly 5 years of age.  In other words, the child is functioning as a “whole person” at a 5 year old expectation level.  I understand that it may be a bit confusing, but parents need to understand that while their child may exhibit a strength in one area, he may lag a bit behind in another area.  That is typical, as most children do not exhibit the same developmental age in all areas at any one time. Remember, children are individuals and will follow their own timeline.  This is why it is paramount that teachers and parents work together to give children well-rounded opportunities for development.  This is also why it is never good for a school program to focus on any less than all four areas of the developmental sphere.

A Little About the Importance of  Early Childhood Education

It is important for parents to understand how children advance from one developmental stage to the next.  Lev Vygotsky, a foremost expert in the field of psychology and child development, purports that people move through the stages of development by scaffolding, or building upon information previously learned through personal experience and formal/informal instruction.

In order for children to be able to apply previously learned information to new encounters, they must first take in said information through a host of different experiences.  For example, children learn what a farm is through the following avenues:

  • having a teacher or parent read to them about farms,
  • learning about the animals that live on a farm,
  • becoming familiar with the items one might find on a farm (tractor, barn, crops),
  • by looking at photos of these items,
  • by watching “Charlotte’s Web” or another movie that takes place on a farm,
  • by visiting a farm, and
  • by milking a cow and smelling the scent of hay.

It’s nearly impossible to teach a student what a farm is by simply explaining it to him without pictures, props, books, vocabulary and, above all, personal experience.  Strong teachers are well versed in what is considered age appropriate for all aspects of student development and are trained to provide students with opportunities and experiences that support the current developmental stage that child is in at the time.  Teachers also present new, more advanced material to encourage students to move to the next developmental stage.Parents can also work with their child at home to prepare him for a successful school experience at any age and stage.

Stay Tuned…

In my blog post tomorrow, I will continue this discussion by presenting a list of developmental milestones by age group.  This list, while not exhaustive of all behaviors for each age, can give parents a solid snapshot of what their child may experience at a particular developmental age.  I will also go into more detail regarding how parents can work with their child’s teacher to make a strong assessment regarding their child’s readiness level for Kindergarten.


Filed under Education, Parenting

Wake Up from Your Slumber!

The following is an excerpt from one of my favorite songs, Slumber, by Needtobreathe.  If the lyrics don’t encourage you to think about your life and what you’re doing to live it to the fullest, I don’t know what will.  Let it be the motivation you need to get up, get going and achieve your goals.  Yes, you really can!


they force you back under those covers.

Lazy mornings; they multiply,

glory’s waiting outside your windows.

Wake on up from your slumber, baby open up your eyes.

Tongues are violent, personal and focused,

tough to be with your steady mind.

Hearts are stronger after broken.

Wake on up from your slumber, baby open up your eyes.

All these victims stand in line for,

crumbs that fall from the table, just enough to get by.

All that while your invitation.

Wake on up from your slumber, baby open up your eyes.

Take from vandals all you want now,

please don’t trade it in for life.

Wake on up from your slumber, baby open up your eyes.

Sing like you want to.

dance like you used to.

Come on darlin’ open up your eyes…

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If You Don’t Challenge Yourself, No One Else Will…

A few days ago I posted the following Facebook response to a friend who called herself “the biggest fatty” at the gym.

I hear clients at the gym berate themselves like this all the time.
You are worthy of kinder words.
We all fall off track.
We all eat things we shouldn’t sometimes.
Blah, blah, blah.
The point is that you hit the gym today.
Start measuring yourself by your successes,
no matter how small, instead of by your failures.
You deserve better of yourself and
are capable of achieving anything you set out to do!

It elicited 17 likes and few choice comments about New Year’s Resolutions, trying to focus on the positive and staying ahead of the fitness game.  One friend, however, requested some tips for those who don’t possess six-pack abs (neither do I), have never taken a spin class (gasp!) and it having been so long since they hit the gym, might actually get struck by lighting while crossing the threshold.

After 14 years as a group fitness instructor, I still don’t consider myself a fitness expert or claim to possess the hardest body in the gym.  What I have learned through personal experience and the experience of my clients, however, is that if you want to live a healthy, balanced life, being fit needs to become a part of your daily routine and your overall lifestyle.  Here are a few tips to help you develop a self-improvement plan and stick to it.

  1. Start small.  Grand gestures and sweeping reforms are for politicians.  Period.  Choose a goal that is tangible and appealing.  The majority of people drop their New Year’s Resolutions because they set themselves up for failure.  Cutting out all sweets, dairy and bread followed by a vow to hit the gym 5 times a week is enough to discourage anyone.
  2. Do your homework.  All group fitness classes were not created equal.  Are you just starting out?  Are you a former athlete who needs to get back into shape?  Do you have any injuries?  Choose a group fitness class that peaks your interest and fits your schedule and lifestyle.  You’ll never see me at a 5:30am spin class because I cherish my sleep.  However, I am all over the gym at 9:30am.  If you like to dance, try Zumba.  If you want a hard push, go to boot camp.  Looking for something lower impact?  Get on a spin bike.  Need some Zen time?  Yoga is the perfect fit.  Talk to the front desk and ask about the instructors.  I bet that you’ll go back to a class if you like the time, the music, the workout and the teacher.  When you do find a class and instructor you like, talk to him/her.  Share your fitness goals and ask for help.  That’s why we are in the gym- to help you achieve success.  I love nothing more than working with a client to help her reach her fitness goals.
  3. Focus on your success, and not your failure.  Rather than focus on the day you missed at the gym, tally up the days you made it.  Readjust your goals by week to fit with your work/childcare schedule, travel plans, etc.  If you stay too rigid, you will end up judging yourself harshly and give up on your goals.  Take it one day at a time in the beginning.  When I went back to the gym after the birth of my son, I couldn’t run a half mile on the treadmill.  I truly thought that I would never get back into shape.  After a good cry, I put the pity party hats away and focused on what I could do.  I began to look at what I could handle and how I could build on that success.  I ended up losing all of the weight within a year.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   * Just as a side note….NOBODY outside of Hollywood loses baby weight (or any weight for that matter) in 8 weeks.  Put down your copy of In Touch Magazine and get back to reality.  Real women with real lives, average pocketbooks and NO private chef also lose weight the real way, by sweating it off slowly and in a healthy manner.  Stop comparing yourself to a unrealistic expectation.
  4. Train with a friend or join a training group.  Misery loves company, right?  Seriously though, pounding the pavement for 2 or 20 miles seems like a lot more fun if you’re doing it with someone else.  The gym where I work, Breakthru Fitness, offers several group training opportunities that kill two birds with one stone- you pay less with group training and the reap the benefit of the group dynamic pushing you to reach your goals.
  5. Keep your eye on something other than the scale.  I’m a HUGE fan of measurements.  Case in point.  My waist measured 34 inches after the birth of my 2nd child.  My waist now measures a fit 27 inches.  Where and how many inches you lose all over your body can help you stay focused and feel successful, even if the scale doesn’t budge.  There are a myriad of factors that can affect what the scale reads (water retention, your period, what you ate the day before, putting on muscle, etc.).  The measurements, however, they never lie.  I also have a dress I purchased in 1997.  I keep it for reference.  When that dress feels snug, I know it’s time to really watch what I’m eating and turn up the sweat machine.

I’m not just a fitness instructor with stamina and drive.  I’m a person with insecurities and a weak spot for champagne.  I’ve gained weight during two pregnancies….try 60 pounds with my son!  I’ve lost weight after two pregnancies….40 lbs. after #1, and yes, 60 lbs. after #2.  I have felt the victory of winning  triathlons with my former teammates AND been embarrassed to enter the gym post birth.  I have cursed my body and my children, collapsing crying onto the couch after my first post-birth workout.  I know the highs of “being good” and lows of “being bad.”  As do many women, I have always had a complex relationship with my body, one that has become comfortable with the assumption that I’ll always have 5 lbs. to lose.  Even with all that, I climb on the bike each week because I know my body will thank me later.  I know my children are watching the example I set for them.  I know I am staving off illness and keeping my bones from deteriorating.  I’m also a much nicer person when I sweat out life’s stress and take my problems out on the concrete.  More importantly, I am doing something just for myself, and honestly, that feels pretty darn good.

Get out there.  Find a form of exercise you enjoy and take small steps to achieve your goals.  Challenge yourself.  If you don’t, no one else will.

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A Merry Little Essay for the Holidays…

While You Lay Sleeping….

I placed my hand on your chest and

relished the sound of your heartbeat.

While You Lay Sleeping…

I felt your warm breath tickle my ear and

welcomed a tear of unconditional love.

While You Lay Sleeping…

I envisioned your future and

marveled at the possibilities.

While You Lay Sleeping…

I caught a glimpse of who you might become and

dared to believe all your dreams would come true.

While You Lay Sleeping…

I traced the line of your face and

caught a fleeting, backward glance of my childhood.

While You Lay Sleeping…

I embraced your tiny shape and

vowed to protect you for as long as I live.

While You Lay Sleeping…

I watched you dream and

quietly realized that mine had already come true.

I finally understood why I was put on this earth…

All While You Lay Sleeping.

Please feel free to reproduce- credit to Melissa Lowry.  Thanks!


Filed under Parenting

Just in Time for the Holidays…

How to Teach Children about Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation

 What is done is done for the love of it- or not really done at all.

-Robert Frost

Every child has developed a case of the “gimmies” at one time or another.  And heck, when Hollywood celebrates yet another brat getting a Range Rover for her 16th birthday, the rest of us typical parents don’t stand a chance.  So, during this season where we desperately want our children to grasp of concept of giving vs. receiving, it’s also important to take a look at what motivates our offspring to accomplish a goal, even if that goal is simply resisting the urge to hit his little sister.  As an early holiday gift, here are some ways you can help your child become more intrinsically motivated.

How do we get children to do things for the love of doing it?

Motivation comes from either oneself (intrinsic) or other people (extrinsic).   The million dollar question?  How do we teach our kids to become motivated from within themselves instead of from outside factors such as treats or money?

As parents, we need to…

  • Focus on the long term and good decision making skills.
  • Instill values that motivate our children to do things (social, emotional, academic) because they are responsible and want to succeed in life.
  • A very important aspect of teaching intrinsic motivation is assisting your child in his development of strong self-esteem.  This isn’t done through bribes, rewards and/or false praise.  Parents help children build strong self-esteem by teaching them that they are worthy of love, praise, success and that they should love themselves for who they are.  When people allow their identity to become tied to only material things, they value themselves based on what they “have,” and not “who they are.”  The same idea can be applied to one’s to physical appearance.

Teacher tools to use in place of tangible rewards

  • Lunch with teacher
  • Extra recess
  • Praise
  • Special class helper

Parent tools to use in place of tangible rewards

  • Read an extra book at bedtime
  • Choose an outing w/a parent one on one time)
  • Choose the movie for family movie night

A way to practice delayed gratification and the value of working for something.

  • Have your child choose an item he would like you to buy for him.  Tell him that by working hard, he can earn it for himself.  Set up a plan where your child “earns” credits or money (depending on his age and developmental level) toward the item.  Keep a tally of what your child does to “earn” this item (chores, community service, positive behavior- whatever you choose) and then allow him the pleasure of purchasing the item once he’s earned it.
  • Go one step further.  Really talk about the item and if it was worth the effort.  This is important because children (and adults) often have fleeting “fancies” and desires.  Engaging in this activity will allow you to help your child understand the concept of delayed gratification AND assist him in differentiating between fly by night desires and real goals.

Now, grab some eggnog and kick up your feet.  Merry, merry.  Happy, happy.  All with a perfectly wrapped ribbon on top!

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Parenthood: A Perspective

I was planning to post something more serious today, but I found this in my archives of discarded material from Answer Keys.  I dusted it off, made a few changes, and I think it turned out pretty darn good.  Feel free to re-post or pass it along…just let them know who wrote it (that’s me, by the way).  Enjoy!


A gift.

An awesome responsibility.

An opportunity to influence.


A feeling of unconditional love.

An experience unlike any other.


Parenthood gives us unfathomable joy


Awesome responsibility.

It gives us the gift of seeing the world again through a new, less jaded lens.

Parenthood allows us to influence a life other than our own.

Parenthood gives us the power to persuade.

The opportunity to build something beautiful.

To love fiercely, openly and unconditionally.

Parenthood gives us the freedom to dream again…

this time for someone else’s future.


It allows us to give and sacrifice in ways we never thought possible.

Parenthood means our hearts will break…

The day they’re born.

When they take their first steps.

Their first day of school.

The day they get a driver’s license.

When they leave for college.

At college graduation.

When they marry.

As they begin the circle of life again with the birth of their own children.

We do it, though, understanding the risks & anticipating the obstacles.

Owning the heartbreak.

We do it because we can envision the rewards we will reap

by gifting the world with another beautiful life.

Parenthood is love, hope, disappointment, joy

and every other emotion rolled into one.

Parenthood is life.

And what a beautiful life it is.

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Quick Tip of the Day for Parents- Spelling Test Prep for Grades 1-3

It’s a few weeks into school, and you’ve got your groove back.  Carpool is humming, schedules have been ironed out, and after school activities are well under way.  You cruise down the boulevard with your Starbucks latte (non-fat, natch!), Sexy Back by Justin Timberlake blaring out the windows (no more Kidsrock 20!), and your ear buds in so that you can touch base with your BFF.  Let’s face it….life is good!

Well, that is until reality hits at 3:00pm and you have to pick up your little cuties, pop in the age appropriate music, cart everyone to activities A-Z, get a somewhat healthy dinner on the table AND, conquer homework for one or more little monsters….I mean, cuties.  Honey- this requires an entirely new plan!

Let’s face it, homework and studying for tests can be difficult, especially in the younger grades where they have yet to develop independence, study/time management skills and parents are expected to walk children through directions, guided reading and the dreaded spelling list!

So, here are a few tips to make that spelling list a bit more manageable!

  1. Tape the list to the back of the seat.  This way your child can quiz himself on the way to school.  It also begins to teach independence and works for other activities that require memorization (phone numbers, the spelling of one’s name, etc.).
  2. Utilize bath time.  Buy some of those funky bath markers and have your child spell out the words on the wall while she’s in the tub.
  3. Get jiggy with it.  Most spelling words in grades 1-3 are context or phonics based.  This means they either go along with a topic the child is studying in class (i.e. jobs- police, fire fighter, paramedic, etc.) or how words are linked by their sound/symbol relationship (i.e. c-v-c words (consonant-vowel-consonant):  hat, cat, mat, etc.).  Make up a rhyme or a rap that includes the words, their meanings and their spellings.  This allows the child to learn the words in context and commit them to memory in a fun and creative way.
  4. Keep it on context.  Take index cards and have your child write out each spelling word.  Attach the index card to the object (i.e. mat – put it on the doormat).  This will give your child a chance to learn the word within the context it’s being used.  This helps with retention and with comprehension of more difficult words (i.e. drawer, fireplace, etc.).
  5. Break things up.  Although 10-15 “easy” words may not seem like a big deal to us, the task of learning all of them within a week may seem daunting to your child.  Break up the list so that you cover a few words M-W and then use TH to review all of the words together.  Although it may seem boring, having your child write out the words by memory (even just one time) can her identify problem words and commit them to memory.  Additionally, let your child fix her own mistakes.  If she spells a word incorrectly, indicate that one or more of the words are spelled incorrectly, but don’t say which one(s).  If she cannot find the mistake, circle it.  However, do not correct the spelling.  Allow her to develop an ability to catch and correct her own mistakes.
  6. Bring it home.  As your child’s primary educator, look for ways you can incorporate the spelling words into your everyday vocabulary.  Have your child listen for when you use the word, and when you do, have them shout out how to spell it and its meaning.  Using larger, more complex words in the correct context will better help your child commit their spelling to memory.

None of this is jaw dropping, nor is it rocket science.  However, I’m a parent too, and I know how overwhelming it can all be.  Sometimes, it’s nice to have a little extra somethin’, somethin’ in your arsenal of parenting tools.  I hope these help and would love to hear your comments or what else you do to prepare for those elementary grade spelling tests.  Happy studying!

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Back to School…Back to Bullying? Types of Bullying- Types of Bullies

You will never reach higher ground if you are always pushing others down.
-Jeffrey Benjamin


When parents think of school safety, they may imagine fire drills and disaster preparedness lessons.  With school violence in the news and at the forefront of many parents’ minds, however, more and more schools are creating bullying policies and adopting programs to combat the issue.  Research reveals that students report the majority of bullying takes place on school grounds, most often in the classroom, on the playground, in the cafeteria, bathrooms and in the halls.

Schools should take multiple steps to combat bullying and educate teachers, parents and students about the short and long term effects bullying can have on both the victim and the perpetrator.  Strong schools have programs that include the following elements: a clear school policy, faculty training, a curriculum that teachers can use in the classroom, a support system for students, and an open line of communication with parents.  Perhaps most important is that all adults and children in the school community foster a culture of caring.  When everyone involved has no tolerance for bullying and is dedicated to promoting a healthy and safe environment, bullies have no choice but to stop their negative behavior.

These steps are extremely positive and will help ensure a safe school campus.  However, as your child’s primary educator, you are still the first line of defense in keeping your child from being bullied or from becoming a bully.

Types of Bullying

Physical/Direct- hitting, punching, scratching, kicking, spitting or other forms of a physical attack.

Emotional/Indirect- spreading rumors or stories about someone, systematically excluding a student from activities, tormenting a student by making fun of a handicap or related issue, using sexist or racist slurs, name calling and various threats.

Cyber– using the Internet or cell phones to inflict emotional harm on another child by posting negative images, sending threats, leaving hurtful voice mails, creating negative web sites or posting negative information on a social networking sites.

Male bullying tends to be physical or involve intimidation and coercion (handing over lunch money) while female bullying tends to be indirect in nature.  Girls are more likely to exclude one another, spread rumors and use cyber bullying as a tool for harassment.  That doesn’t mean that girls never get physical or that boys never use the Internet to bully.  These patterns simply expose how gender can affect the type of bullying taking place in a given situation.

Types of Bullies

Current research reveals different roles children play in the bullying cycle.

Ring Leader– the person who leads or dictates the act of bullying through intimidation and influence

Assistant– the is the persons who participates in the bullying so as to avoid being a target of the ringleader.

Reinforcer– this child shows positive encouragement toward the main bully.

Bystander– a student who witnesses the act of bullying but stays silent out of fear and appears to condone the act because of his silence.  It is very easy for children to fall into this category.

Defender– the student who stands up against a bully or group of bullies.

A common myth is that bullies are anti-social and outcasts among classmates.  This could not be further from the truth for today’s bullies.  Recent research indicates that many of today’s bullies are typical kids who do not exhibit the stereotypical bully profile.  Many students engage in group bullying that allows them to feel they are not really responsible for their behavior.  It can be extremely difficult for children to walk away when it’s the popular kids who are doing the bullying.

Although many schools use the terms “teasing” and “bullying” interchangeably, it is important  that parents understand the difference between the two.

  • Teasing is a non-threatening back and forth that takes place between children on the same emotional and physical level.  Bullying, on the other hand, is when one or more children engage in systematic and organized behavior that is threatening, hurtful, physically harmful or spreads negative information via the Internet.
  • Research over the past 15 years supports that teasing can be a positive force in relationships.  School age children can use happy, fun teasing as an important part of play, and it can actually enhance their ability to express positive feelings toward one another.  Parents and children can enjoy teasing among each other too.  Teasing is even present in the animal world!  Juvenile monkeys pull the tails of other monkeys to engage them in play.
  • Teasing should be fun and mutual.  Make sure your child knows when enough is enough.

This post is part 1 of a 3 part series I will be posting over the next several days.  Read all 3 to get the full scoop on how to identify, approach and combat bullying.

Parts 2 & 3 will address the following-

  • Signs of bullying for both the victim and the bully
  • Steps parents & children can take to thwart a bully (both online and in person)
  • Steps parents can take to work their child if he/she is a bully

To read my entire Lesson Plan on Approaching Bullying, pick up a copy of my book,  Answer Keys: Teachers’ Lesson Plans for Successful Parenting at, Amazon or other fine retailers.

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No, You Are Not Raising a Hoodlum

No, You Are Not Raising a Hoodlum – Tulsa Kids – September 2011 – Tulsa, OK.

This is a fantastic article.  I have recommended visiting the Gesell Institute’s website & books to parents and fellow educators alike.  Enjoy!!!

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