Teacher Ponderings

Communication Skills for the 21st Century

I have a shy child and an outgoing child and one that is in between. Sometimes they have trouble letting their needs be known-in an appropriate way. Communication is more than just speaking. It is speaking, gestures, signs, dance, drama, active listening, and written. It comes in many forms-and we should encourage each type. Why? Communication is a vital life skill that will prepare your child for school and life! Most importantly, we as adults should be good role models of communicating correctly.

Why are good communication skills important for children?

  • They help children to solve problems better.
  • For maintaining successful interpersonal skills.
  • To express oneself and reveal ones own needs and feelings.
  • They help one to develop self-confidence.
  • They are the building blocks for healthy relationships.
  • They help children learn and understand new things.
  • They encourage following directions, remembering things, staying on topic and elaborating ideas.
  • These skills also aid in having a conversation, talking in a group, taking turns and presenting a viewpoint.
  • When a child can communicate his needs, challenging behaviors decrease. Some behavior problems are a result of a child being unable to express his needs.
  • They prepare children for life and future jobs as well.

How can I help a child communicate better?

Help him to do any of the following:

  • Write a note or letter to someone-then mail.
  • Make a phone call.
  • Send an e-mail or text message.
  • Design a costume or dance move-then put on a show!
  • Make a video of himself on an iPad.
  • Listen! Active listening encourages thoughtful feedback and engaged converstaions.
  • Encourage using “an inside voice” as opposed to screaming or tugging to get someones attention.
  • Ask more questions.
  • Think before speaking.
  • Take your time and don’t rush through what you want to say or write.
  • Teach a peer or younger child or sibling something.
  • Eliminate distractions, like the t.v, cell phone, computer and video games.

What Are Some Ways to Encourage Communication for Children with Special Needs?

  • There are various apps that allow children to type what they want to say.
  • Software, such as BoardMaker, contains many printables for parents and teachers to make ABA type cards that allow children to point to their need or want. Picture schedules can also be made with these.
  • Social stories are available online and in larger bookstores, which allow a parent or teacher to teach and read about how a child can communicate.
  • Give choices instead of demands. For example: do you want to pick up the blocks or do you want to put away the crayons?

For more detailed information about the why, process and how’s of communication, please visit the following sources.






Images from:



Why Field Trips Are Important







Did you know that field trips can have powerful cognitive effects? They actually contribute to the learning process. Visiting places outside of school or having special people visit the school motivates children to learn from new experiences. Environmental awareness also occurs as children see, hear and feel new things.

As I child, I loved field trips! It was always so much fun to ride the school bus to place that I had never been before. Many years later, I can still remember every field trip that I went on-the memories are that strong! You can probably think of a fun place that you visited too! Because field trips can be so powerful, we can promote them in many ways. Even, if schools do not take the children anywhere-fun “trips” can still happen. These days, many schools lack the funding to take children to even a museum or zoo. Some schools are overcoming this by having the field trip come to them. Here are some ideas of ones that I have experienced with my students:

  • A Petting Zoo and Farmer visited and set up his mini-zoo outside of the school. The children were encouraged and allowed to hold the baby chicks, brush the hair of lambs and pick up the rabbits.
  • Colgate sent their Dentist in a mini-bus. Children were able to have the Dentist give them a quick check-up and then they each received a toothbrush and toothpaste.
  • Beach Day was an outdoor event that was set up outside of the school. Parent volunteers helped fill up kiddie pools, slip-n-slides, bubble tables and sprinklers. The kids wore their swimsuits and sunglasses. Afterwards, they sat on beach towels and had a snack.
  • Snow Day was also outside. The PTA raised money to rent a snow blowing truck. It simply made a l0x10 section of fake snow. The children wore their winter coats and mittens to school and were able to build snowmen in the snow.
  • Rodeo Day took place with ponies to ride, pretend cows to rope and line dancing in the gym. The children came to school dressed like cowboys and cowgirls.

Here are some other ideas:

  • Grocery Store visits can be arranged with a local grocer. One of the workers simply gives a tour of each section of the store and explains what types of healthy foods are available. Students can even sample fruit and veggies.
  • A Local Textile or Bottling Factory is another place where children can see how things are made.
  • Picking Berries or Local Veggies is a great way to show children in person, where things come from.
  • Having a X-Ray Technician bring real x-rays to school is a fun way for children to see what doctor’s really use.
  • Visit a Radio Station! Children can hear how the DJ speaks carefully and clearly. Maybe they can get a chance to be on the radio also!

Source: http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/fr135

clipart via ripleys.com



Should Our Children “Work”?

Should children HAVE money?

As a mom I say “yes”, but under specific conditions. Merely giving children money for the sake of it is not a good idea. This is how the “money growing on trees” ideas get started. I say this, because I have done it before and now I regret just giving my kids money. If you are not interested in giving monetary rewards…keep reading…I have non-monetary prize suggestions, also!

Should children EARN money, then?

Again, I say “yes.” Why? Well, when it all comes down to it, parents DO provide for their children. They are the ones who buy them their clothing, food and entertainment. So, why not let them earn these things? Dave Ramsey also promotes the idea of requiring children to work for what they get. I agree to a point. Young children of course should not have to earn rent money to live at their own home and they most certainly should not earn money to buy their own basic clothing. Fancy clothing-yes! Extra shoes-sure! I am sure you are getting my point here. I think that a child should earn money to buy their own toys, tasty treats and other fun stuff that is not necessary to survive.

Earning Opportunities:

They can engage in simple household tasks, like:

  • Taking out the garbage
  • Putting away their laundry
  • Making their bed
  • Helping clear the table after meals
  • Helping put clean dishes away
  • Taking care of a pets needs: filling the water bowl, taking them for a walk

Children can also earn money for things that they already have to do, like:

  • Going to bed on time
  • Brushing their teeth before bedtime and before school
  • Packing up their backpack and getting things ready for school
  • Eating breakfast
  • Doing their homework

The above are tasks that have to be done anyway. They are tasks that mom usually does by herself and then she’s so exhausted and frustrated because no one is helping, right?!! So, by enlisting the rest of the family, everything that needs to get done, will get done and the kids will earn stuff they want, in the process.

What if I don’t want to give my child MONEY? What else can I give them?

  • Children can earn points. You can even keep track of their points on a new website called “Chore Monster” (it’s free!)
  • You can download a simple “chore chart” online and keep track of what they accomplish. When the chart is complete-they can earn a desired toy or prize.
  • Print out or buy tickets or coupons that they earn. After they have earned a certain amount, they can trade them in for a prize or sweet treat.

What does Research Say?

  • Research shows that children learn responsibility and independence by engaging in housework (and also homework).
  • When children earn money, they also learn about saving, giving to those less fortunate and spending their money wisely.
  • As children get older, they can learn about investing their money. As a result they can start saving up for a larger and more expensive item, like a video game, toy or even a new bicycle.
  • By earning money, as opposed to “being given money,” children will learn that hard work pays off!

What do you think? What has worked for you and your children? I would love to hear your ideas and suggestions!





The Writing and Reading Connection

As an educator and Master teacher, I always knew that writing and reading were inter-connected. Actually there are so many things that us educators already “know.” Over the past decade, though, research proves that so many of the things that we already “knew” are actually true. Here is some research to back up the fact that by becoming a better writer, you will become better at reading.

1. Writing forces a child to focus on forming letters correctly.
2. When children are learning and practicing writing words, messages and stories, they are also learning to read those words in their own writing and in books.
3. Writing left to right instills that practice and knowledge of reading left to right.
4. As simple as it sounds – reading and writing mutually reinforce each other!
5. Paraphrasing things on paper, like vocabulary word definitions or what was just read, actually helps increase Reading Comprehension!
6. When a child sounds out words when he writes, he is actually developing phonemic awareness at the same time. Phonemic awareness is a pre-reading skill!


Bad Handwriting?







For the past 12 years of my teaching career, I have worked with many children who struggled with their handwriting. Some of them had existing disabilities, such as down’s syndrome, autism and speech impairments. Others did not. Fortunately, an Occupational Therapist visited my classroom often and worked with these children (between the ages of 4-6). I was able to witness and borrow many of her techniques.

Sloppy handwriting is hard to read, messy and is just not pretty to look at. It can be frustrating for the child because no one can read and understand what he is writing about. A parent becomes discouraged because she knows the potential of her child. A teacher may get irritated by “bad handwriting” because she can’t grade the child adequately.

Why are we so Worried?

To be honest, some educators are not, because of the increase in testing and influx of technology. However, good handwriting is important. There is actually evidence that indicates that children who write better and faster, get better grades. But don’t be fooled-superb handwriting is not an indicator of success. There are many intelligent and successful people who have horrible handwriting!

What Causes Good and Bad Writing?

  • Investigate to see if the problem is cognitive or physical. If a child can’t remember how to write a letter or shape or they take too long, then the problem is cognitive. If they have trouble forming the letter, then it is likely physical.
  • Be aware that a pre-requisite to good handwriting is developing the fine motor muscles in the hand, wrist and fingers.
  • If a child’s fine motor muscles have never been “worked out” or used often, then they will most likely struggle with holding a pencil or crayon correctly.
  • Holding a pencil correctly is another pre-requisite to good handwriting.
  • Some children’s problem may be from an existing or “not-yet diagnosed” disability. Having an evaluation from an Occupational Therapist is a good idea.

What Can I Do to Help?

  • Check that the child is holding the pencil correctly.
  • Be sure that when writing, the child’s feet are touching the floor and the table/desk is below chest level. He may need a shorter table or chair.
  • Check that his posture is tall and straight. Slouching and laying on the table does not help handwriting!
  • Be sure that his vision is not impeding his writing (Is it possible that he may need glasses?)
  • Encourage him to play with his food. That’s right! Here are some fun food activities: Pull grapes off the stems, cut strawberries, spread peanut butter on bread or help with mixing and stirring in the kitchen. These activities make the hands strong enough to write better!
  • You can also ask an OT yourself at: http://www.handwritinghelpforkids.com/expert.html
  • Encourage typing. That’s right. It builds up fine motor muscles, too!
  • Increase their physical activity through gross motor fun. Try these muscle developing activities: throwing a ball back and forth, playing “wheel-barrow,” crawling, climbing
  • Play outdoor games like baseball, tennis, jacks, marbles, clapping songs
  • Enforce the use of silverware at dinner time. Grasping a utensil increases fine motor strength.
  • Provide various writing tools like thin, short or fat markers and crayons, golf pencils, chalk, gel pens, paint brushes.
  • Bring out the play-dough and clay! This fun is disguised a muscle building.
  • Encourage your child to button and zip his own clothing and shoes.
  • Rake leaves and wash the car
  • Sort laundry
  • Write letters on the table with shaving cream or finger write on the shower door or wall
  • Encourage block play, snap cubes and snap beads as well as necklace beading.
  • Provide handwriting letter stamps for your child to stamp and then trace

The Benefits of Learning Another Language!

As an educator, I am asked all the time by parents “what can make my child smarter?” This is how I am going to answer this question from now on…have your child learn another language!

How does learning another language help a child “get smarter” you ask?  This is what recent research reveals about bilingualism and dual language learning.

Current Research about Learning Two Languages:

  • A child’s thinking and cognition is improved by learning another language.
  • Children who know two languages are better problem-solvers!
  • Their brain works differently.
  • Knowledge of a second language affects how you read in your native tongue-sometimes faster.
  • It alters grey matter – the area of the brain which processes information, just like exercising builds muscle.
  • It improves skills in the native language.
  • Regardless of race and socioeconomic status, children with dual languages, did better on standardized tests.
  • Higher creativity in story-telling occurs.
  • In terms of language-semantic development, they were ahead by 2-3 years.
  • It exercises the brain, as it is a cognitivly-challenging task.

 Old Myths about Dual language Learning:

(Keep in mind, these are beliefs that are not backed up by research. Some children did experience these obstacles, but some of those children also had prior learning/speech disorders in their native language)

  • It confuses children.
  • Learning another language takes brain power away from learning the native language.
  • The native language worsens as a result.
  • Test scores decrease.

Future Benefits of Knowing Two or more Language:

  • The opportunity for getting a better job, which requires bilingualism.
  • The chance to travel to other countries for that job!
  • Improved tolerance and awareness of other cultures.
  • Increases social skills with those of other culutures.

Isnt’ this all amazing! I am so excited to learn what this new research proves about bilingualism! I would love to hear your experiences with children learning two languages!






The Positives of Having a Pet







Psychological research has actually been conducted to determine the effects that pets have on people of all ages. Recent research reveals that by having a pet, a child’s social skills can improve! A pet can also help children learn about responsibility, friendship, love and trust. For adults and the elderly, owning a pet can actually ward of depression, lowers blood pressure, decreases anxiety and boosts the immune system!

Many people believe that furry pets will cause allergies in children. However, research gives us insight that those exposed to animals will actually have a lesser risk of developing allergies.

In addition, “playing with a dog can elevate levels of serotonin and dopamine — nerve transmitters that are known to have pleasurable and calming properties.” Quite simply-animals make people calm and happy!

If having a pet is not an option, then you can instill these skills and health benefits by visiting a petting zoo or a farm or even by “pet-sitting” for a friend.

















Why is Homework Important?

Do I have to do my Homework?

This is the common question that I here from children. I even remember hating homework. Although it is not normally fun, it is very important for a child’s brain! It actually helps improve a child’s thinking and memory. The more a child “practices” what he is learning at school, the more permanent his learning will be. Homework is like brain exercise where thinking is being trained and “worked-out.”

According to http://blog.eskool.ca/parenting/why-homework-is-important/ there are many important reasons why Homework is valuable:

  1. It helps develop positive study skills and habits are developed.
  2. It encourages good time management.
  3. It teaches children to work independently.
  4. Homework allows a child to take responsibility for his or her own work.
  5. It allows children to review and practice what has been covered in class.
  6. It helps your child to prepare their mind for the next day’s class.
  7. Homework helps a child learn to use resources, such as libraries, reference materials, and computer Web sites to find information.
  8. It encourages a child to explore subjects more fully than classroom time permits.
  9. It allows children to extend learning by applying skills to new situations.
  10. Howework helps parents learn more about what their child is learning in school.

So now, you are prepared with the proper answers to the question “Why do I have to do my homework?”

How much is too much homework?

“According to the National PTA and the National Education Association (NEA), the following amounts of homework are recommended:

  • From kindergarten to third grade, no more than 20 minutes per day.
  • From fourth to sixth grade, 20 to 40 minutes per day.
  • From seventh to twelfth grade, the recommended amount of time varies according to the type and number of subjects a student is taking. In general, college-bound students receive lengthier and more involved homework than students preparing to enter the workforce immediately after graduation.” (www.kidsource.com)

How can I encourage my child actually DO his homework?

  • Agree on and establish a special “homework time.” For example, right when your child gets home from school, or right after dinner time.
  • Monitor and limit t.v, computer and video games. Allow him to play only after his homework is complete.
  • Together, choose the best location for doing homework: a desk in his room, the kitchen table, etc… (on the couch in front of the t.v is not the best place)
  • Give him a mini-reward when he is finished with his homework. For example, more video game time or an ice-cream treat!
  • Be available to assist him, so that when he becomes frustrated he does not just give up.
  • Enlist an older sibling or family member to help –or- hire a homework tutor!
  • Allow your child to shop for some writing tools that are used only for homework, like colorful pencils, mechanical pencils. Then buy a special supply box to put them in.

All in all, having a child do his homework, teaches us as parents a great deal of responsibility as well. Together, we can tackle it!

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Who’s Your Hero?

Is your all time hero Mother Teresa, Amelia Earhardt, Abraham Lincoln, Princess Diana or Michael Phelps? Perhaps your hero is Mohhamed Ali or Martin Luther King Jr. All of these passionate historical heroes are truly special and brave. According to Encarta, a “hero” is somebody who commits an act of remarkable bravery or who has shown an admirable quality. Whoever your hero is- you more than likely admire him for his character and his actions.

During the London 2012 Olympics this year, heroes have truly emerged. 19-year old Usain Bolt won the gold medal in track and field while showing his flair and pride. He made history as the first man ever to win the sprint double, twice. And of course, Michael Phelps has won the most Olympic medals-ever! What persistence and dedication he has had!

There are many athletes that do not make the headlines, however anyone who tried out for and also made it to the Olympics are role models. Years of training and perseverance led them to compete among the best athletes in the world. They believed in and then chased their own dream. That is inspiring in itself!

One unlikely hero, who inspires me to simply “try it” is Wojad Shaherkani, a woman athlete from Saudi Arabia. She is one of the first woman athletes EVER representing and competing in the Olympics for her country. Prior to the London 2012 Olympics, Saudi Arabia did not permit women to perform in the Olympics. This 16-year old judo competitor, stuck to her Islamic practices. She competed in her head covering, even though judo is a contact sport. The strict dress code did not allow her to wear the traditional Saudi head scarf, so she wore a swim cap instead. Perhaps she was thinking, “I can do it my way, and your way. You won’t stop me.” Her acts were brave and I truly admire that her actions speak volumes. Many people spoke negatively of her athletic participation and still do. Coming from a country where women are denied equal rights, Wojad pressed forward and stood up for Arab women. She wasn’t being an extremist, but a hero, instead!

Age has not stopped certain athletes. The most decorated Olympic Basketball player ever, Teresa Edwards holds the record as both the youngest and the oldest Olympic gold medalist in women’s Basketball. She was 20 at her first Olympics and 36 at her last. I am sure that over the years, she thought to herself, “why stop”?

15-year old Gabrielle Douglass is the first African-American to win the gold medal for gymnastics. She competed against world champions and world record holders. Her poise, focus, and stamina allowed her to perform with a smile. Her many years of training paid off. Do you think she ever felt out of place at the gym? If so, she didn’t let that sway her or steal her confidence.

The Olympics are a great tool and backdrop for teaching our children to be strong and brave. When my children viewed the pole vault, high jump, running and diving events-they were amazed and attentive. They had never before seen someone do such interesting feats. My daughter became a gymnast at home, while watching the competitors. My youngest son was inspired to jump-a lot! I was both surprised and happy to see them enjoy watching the Olympics. Perhaps, it was like a live action video game to them. Most of all, I want them to partake in hard work, display confidence and persist when things seem hard. I thank these athletes for their inspiration!

Rumor Has It – Finding the Truth in Online Information

Adele says “rumor has it.” It is so easy to believe “rumors” no matter how good and pure of heart that they may seem. I recently read a beautiful story behind an amazing poem. I read the story on a Facebook group that I am a part of. I was mesermized by the thoughtful words of an inspirational elderly man. A picture was attached to his story and I was curious if the picture was the actual photo of the author. I needed a picture to go along with the story. So, I began researching via Google… I did find his picture, but after hours of research.

Here is the Original Poem

Source: http://www.palletmastersworkshop.com/old2.html and http://www.palletmastersworkshop.com/

Below are versions of the story behind the poem that follows. I directly “cut and pasted” them from the sources listed. Please keep in mind that both story one and two are false.

Story 1 “When an old man died in the geriatric ward of a nursing home in GRASS VALLEY , CA . It was believed that he had nothing left of any value. Later, when the nurses were going through his meager possessions, they found this poem. Its quality and content so impressed the staff that copies were made and distributed to every nurse in the home. One nurse took her copy to Missouri . The old man’s sole bequest to posterity has since appeared in the Christmas edition of the News Magazine of the St. Louis Association for Mental Health. A slide presentation has also been made based on his simple, but eloquent, poem. And this little old man, with nothing left to give to the world, is now the author of this ‘anonymous’ poem winging across the Internet. Remember this poem when you next meet an older person who you might brush aside without looking at the young soul within. We will all, one day, be there, too!” – http://www.facebook.com and more than 10 other websites.

Another website quoted the story a bit differently:

Story 2 “When an old lady died in the geriatric ward of a hospital in England, it appeared she had left nothing of value. The nurse, packing up her possessions, found this poem. The quality so impressed the staff that copies were distributed to all the nurses in the hospital. This poem then later appeared in the Christmas edition of “Beacon House News,” a magazine of the Northern Ireland Mental Health Association. This was the Lady’s bequest for posterity.”” – http://crepusculum60.wordpress.com/crabbit-old-lady/ (I couldn’t find the poem published in any publication from the Beacon House or the Northern Ireland Mental Health Association).

Story 3 A message board user posted: “It’s been around a fairly long time. I worked as a care assistant in many nursing homes and residential homes between 1995 and 2004, and without fail, in every single one, someone would have pinned a copy of this poem on the staff noticeboard.” – http://message.snopes.com/showthread.php?t=13896

Surprisingly, I discovered that the poem (that I thought was written by an elderly man in a nursing home) was actually written by a home-bound disabled man who has authored hundreds of poems. David Griffith is the original author of the widely circulated poem, “Too Soon Old.” I also discovered that the poem (as mentioned in the false background, did not actually appear in the Christmas edition of the St. Louis Association for Mental Health. This magazine does not exist. It is only found in google searches, in places where others have quoted the un-original version of the poem and background behind it. More than ten websites quote this poem as having been published in this non-existent magazine. However, an elderly person in a nursing home may have been found with this poem in his pocket. Perhaps the words of this poem spoke to his heart and how he felt as his years were coming to an end. Perhaps many aged individuals feel this way right now. (Source: http://www.truthorfiction.com/rumors/c/crabby-old-man.htm )

Story 4 -The real story….I found the original authors website, thanks to Dianne’s article @ http://www.dianeatwood.com/catchinghealth/2011/12/is-the-crabby-old-man-depressed/. Mr. Griffith’s website has his countless number of poems published online. They are amazing! He writes about his brother who is mentally ill, and shares insight for Kevin’s pure love for God. David also wrote some humorous poems called “Adam’s Underwear” and “Dr. Seuss Explains Computers.” David is actually a home-bound disabled person. He’s been writing and publishing short stories since 1969-forty three years ago (as of July, 2012). I have emailed him to find out more about him. To be honest, I am not sure if he is still living. His website is dated 2001-2008 and his guestbook is too full to receive more messages.

A link on his page led me to his photo. http://www.faeriekeeper.net/criteria1.htm (you can view it there, as my blog won’t let me post it….it must be copyrighted)

After typing his name in google images, I found a similar picture. At the following website, I found out that he was born in 1941 in Corpus Christi, Texas. If he is in fact still alive, he would be age 71. He was number 10 in a 10 child family. His parents were born late in the 1890s, and they too were from large families. He played high school football then later joined the Marines where he served two tours in Vietnam. After his military service he went to College and become an engineer and then a Southern Baptist Minister. He became homebound after suffering from a series of stress related heart attacks in the late 80s, and then a motorcycle wreck. He was left with spinal injuries and with a mobility impairment in 1991. He also suffers from Multiple Sclerosis. Once fully disabled Dave refused to give-up, but started a writing workshop and came on the internet full time. He is the author of over 600 poems and 100 short, stories, much of his works can be found at http://www.palletmastersworkshop.com where he maintains over 450 pages of his writings in page format. Dave is single, and lives alone with a full-time caregiver in Fort Worth, Texas. He refuses to live the life of a “cripple,” but rather travels, writes and maintains as active a lifestyle as his illnesses and injuries allow. Source: http://www.msmusings.com/archive90/97/GALLERY%2097,%208.htm (published 2007)

So, why did I spend all of this time researching the true story? I simply wanted to prove and follow several points. First, don’t believe everything you read on the internet. Second, think of how others feel-no matter how young or old they may be. Actively listen and help them in some way-don’t feel sorry for them. Next, research stories and find out the real meaning and history behind them. Also, enjoy poetry! Finally, learn about the stories behind your favorite poems and authors-it might make the poem come to life and become more personal. Last but not least, don’t quote a poem, statement or article without first reading the actual article and/or source.