Wednesday, February 26, 2020

First Job

With this post, we introduce a new member of our blogging team, Kate Taylor, who recently joined The Yellin Center Team as a Clinic Coordinator. Welcome, Kate!

With the arrival of March comes the gentle reminder that spring and summer are close at hand. Soon, school will be out and kids everywhere will be looking forward to the happy months of summer vacation. But for teenagers, summer break is not just a time for fun--it can also mean getting a job, one of the first big steps into adult life.

Why is the first job such an important milestone? Most obviously, having a job brings new financial responsibilities into your child’s life. Teenagers gain a sense of independence and control over their own life, as well as a physical reward for the benefits of hard work. A job is also a great opportunity for some hands-on experience in money management. Instead of monitoring or controlling your child’s wages, allow them to explore the benefits of spending versus saving through their own decisions. That doesn’t mean that you can’t offer budgeting advice, or help them to set up a bank account. But control over their own money helps your teenager to practice the saving and budgeting skills that will be so important later in life.

Having a job also allows teenagers to expand their social networks and develop their socialization skills. School environments can be very close knit and structured. Behavior in school is dictated by strict social rules that can be frustrating and constricting. Having a job is a great first step for teenagers to expand their social networks outside of the school environment. The teamworking skills that come along with a job are also crucial. Whether they strengthen their friendship-making skills, or they learn how to deal with prickly coworkers, your teenager will definitely have the opportunity to fine-tune their socialization skills. Furthermore, the hierarchical relationship between management and employees can help your teenager to develop the social skills necessary for dealing with authority figures.

When I first started working, my dad told me that the most important thing you can do is show up on time. “Fifty percent of life is just showing up,” he told me. Time management is one of the most important things you learn when you start working. Managing this balance is doubly important if your teenager decides to continue working during the school year. Keep an eye on their grades to make sure that working is not disrupting their academic career--at the end of the day, school should always be prioritized over a job. Whether your child has to schedule work around school, juggle two jobs, or organize their social life around a job, the time management skills developed while working are incredibly helpful later in life, especially if your child is seriously considering college.

The benefits of a job are extensive, but it is also important to recognize that a first job can be overwhelming, and requires a lot of energy, both physical and mental, from your child. As a parent, it is your job to prioritize your teenager’s mental and physical well-being over any obligations to a part-time job. Make sure the workplace is a safe one, whether that means fully understanding the job tasks (working with machinery or in a kitchen, for example) or the people in the workplace (helping your child to recognize inappropriate behavior from supervisors or coworkers and what to do if it occurs). Make sure your child is taking care of themselves. Regular communication is important, especially if their job requires any extended driving time. Shifts can disrupt mealtimes or regular bedtime, so always check that your child is eating enough and getting enough sleep. Also make sure that the job is not stopping your child from having an active, relaxing social life with both family and friends. There are going to be a lot of changes and adjustments when your child starts working. Whether they need advice, comfort, or support, be sure you are paying extra attention to their emotional needs.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Managing Screen Time

Smartphones have revolutionized the world, putting an unprecedented wealth of resources at users’ fingertips. But many parents worry that the siren song of these alluring devices is a little too enticing. Research indicates that their concerns are well founded, like this study from Preventative Medicine Reports that found associations between screen time and lower psychological well-being among children and adolescents; this study from JAMA Pediatrics that found a link between screen media use and lower academic performance among children and adolescents; this study from PLOS that documents a connection between screen time and inattention problems in preschoolers…. We could go on. 

It seems like common sense that too much of anything isn’t good for anyone, yet young people are desperate for more time on their phones and tablets. So what are parents to do?

Apps that limit screen time are a great solution to this problem. After a discussion about family device policies, parents can set boundaries on kids’ technology use and then let the app itself be the bad guy, freeing them from having to monitor screen time and starting arguments when the limit has been reached.

New apps that will help control kids’ screen use crop up regularly. For now, here are a handful of current options that are worth investigating:

Available on: App Store, Google Play

Moment quietly tracks pick-ups and screen time, then generates weekly reports. We like the feature that allows the app to send notifications about how a user’s daily performance compares with pre-set goals. The overall tone of the app is encouraging, not punitive. Of course, these gentle reminders will work only if the user in question is convinced that too much screen time is to be avoided. Moment doesn’t shut down devices, it just provides a snapshot of how much time is being spent on them. So, if learning that she spends seven hours a day on Snapchat won’t shock your teen, this may not be the strong-arm solution you seek.

Screen Time

Available on: iPhone (it comes pre-installed)

This solution couldn’t be more convenient, though it’s easy for determined kids to change the limits they’ve set; you need buy-in from your child for this to work. Screen Time allows users to schedule time away from the screen in advance or limit the amount of time they spend on a particular app. Like Moment, Screen Time works best if your child agrees that limits on phone use should be in place.

Free, with $2/month and $7/month upgrades

Available on: Google Play

This app does it all: controls screen time, blocks apps, locates/tracks the device, shuts down texts, etc. Kids can even navigate to a screen that shows them how much time they’ve got left for a given day, view the schedule for the week, etc.

$40/year for up to five devices
Available on: App Store, Google Play, Google Chrome, Windows, macOS

If your kid hops from device to device, Mobicip is for you. Using the cloud, this app tracks and filters use of apps and websites on both mobile devices and computers, keeping kids safe from questionable content and limiting the time they spend on screens.
Of course most experts seem to agree that there’s one important factor here that none of these apps include: good modeling by adults. Children whose parents are constantly buried in their own screens are likely to follow suit; after all, their parents are their first and best role models. So if you’re really worried about how much time your kids spend on their phones, be sure you start by taking a critical look at your own habits.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Strategies to Resolve Letter Reversals

Our last post looked at why children reverse letters when they write and how proper and consistent letter formation can help with this. Today, we share some other ways to help when children reverse their letters.

The "bed" Strategy

This simple strategy for recognizing and writing b and d give students an image to hold in their memories and a gesture they can make with their hands. Show your child the picture of the bed, emphasizing the /b/ sound when you point to the b and the /d/ sound when you point to the d. Show him how to hold his hands to make his own bed image. When he is writing and comes to a word that uses either b or d, ask him to look at the image (or, better yet, close his eyes and see it in his mind) or hold his hands in position to remind him which letter to use.

Recruit the Gross Motor System
Writing very large letters/numbers employs the gross motor system, strengthening a child’s memory for the sequences of movements needed to form letter and numbers. Kids think it’s fun, too! Using a wet sponge on a sidewalk, sidewalk chalk, a dry erase marker or chalk, challenge your child to write individual letters, numbers, or words that use problematic letters. You could also try “sky-writing,” in which a child uses her finger or whole hand to “write” in the air. Be sure she follows the sequence of motions she’d use to form the letters and numbers if she were using a pencil.

Make It Tactile
Feeling different textures can be useful in learning letter and number formation by underscoring the tactile experience of learning (rather than the largely visual experience that most children get). Your child can trace letters in a sand tray, on a piece of sandpaper, or on the carpet. He might also “write” in a layer of shaving cream spread on a table.

Another way to make letter formation tactile is to help your child form letters and numbers from clay or pipe cleaners. You could even use cookie dough and bake your child’s work – yum!

Make it Playful
This will sound familiar if you read our sight word posts. Your child might enjoy guessing games that require her to identify letters and numbers by how their shapes feel. A simple way to do this is to trace letters or on her back and ask her to say what has been written. She can also trace letters on an adult’s back for them to guess.

Another guessing game requires some set-up: Glue foam or wooden letters or numbers on pieces of card stock and add a line for the letter/number to sit on with a line of glue or puff paint (so that your child can feel which way the letter should be oriented). The cards can be put into a bag or box. With her eyes closed, ask your child to draw one out, feel it, and say which number/letter she is holding.

Friday, February 7, 2020

Letter Reversals

We are continuing our series of posts by Beth Guadagni, M.A., who teaches students with dyslexia in Colorado. Today, Beth looks at what happens -- and what teachers and parents can do -- when a child reverses letters. 

Most dyslexic kids reverse letters (and even whole words) when reading and writing, but so do most young learners. Parents frequently panic when they see a child flipping b's and d's, assuming that this is a sure-fire sign of dyslexia. More likely, the child simply needs more practice and better practice. Multi-sensory strategies (learning opportunities that stimulate a child’s auditory, tactile, and kinesthetic senses along with their vision) are extraordinarily useful in giving kids the practice they need to get comfortable with directionality.

First, let’s take a look at why reversals happen. During a young child’s life, he learns that an object seen from one side is the same object seen from another side. Whether he’s standing on the left or right of the blue armchair in the living room, it’s still the same armchair, even if the image appears to be reversed when he moves from one side to the other. When he begins school, he has to unlearn that concept; applied to letters and numbers, directionality can really change things.

This ability to appreciate mirror images is really useful—in most settings. On the page, it presents problems. Here are some ideas for helping your child:

Letter Formation – It Matters!

Watch your young child as he is writing and insist that he form letters the same way every time. This is particularly important with b and d. Many parents and educators skip this step, thinking that as long as the letter looks right in the end, how the child wrote it isn’t important. This is far from true. Remember:
  • To make a lowercase b, the child should write the line first, starting at the top and moving downward. The loop is added next, so the letter takes two separate strokes.
  • To make a lowercase d, the child should write the loop first. Then, without lifting her pencil, she can sweep upward to form the line, then down again for the tail.
Why does this help a child stop making reversals? Following the same sequence of motions each time embeds letter-writing in muscle memory, so a child can store that information along with the physical appearance of a letter. This helps with writing and, believe it or not, reading, too.

We worked with a young boy whose insightful mother came up with a mnemonic to help him with b's and d's. When he wrote a b, he said “bat to the ball” to himself. The “bat” was the stem of the letter, which he had to write first. The “ball” was the loop. When he wrote a d, he said “dog to the door” to remind him to write the “dog” (the loop), then the “door” (the stem). This clever strategy marries the auditory and kinesthetic senses.

Resource: Handwriting Without Tears

If you’re worried about letter formation, we love Handwriting Without Tears. Its step-by-step instructions are easy enough for parents with no training in early education to follow at home.

Monday, February 3, 2020

Sight Words – Part Five: Games!

We're winding up our series on sight words with some games to play in class or at home. 

Games can make for the best practice! Here are some fun ways to drill sight words in a playful way that will keep kids engaged. As a bonus, you can use sight word flashcards for many of them, making the set-up that games require less time consuming.

Tic Tac Toe
There are two variations of this game. Both begin with sight word flashcards face down in a pile. To play the simpler version, each player must draw a card and read it aloud before marking either an X or an O on the board. To make it more challenging, be sure each player has a pen in his own color. The first player will draw a sight word card and read it aloud to the other player. Instead of writing an X or O, the second player must spell the sight word in the square he chooses.

Fishing Game

There’s no competition here, but kids think this game is tremendously fun anyway. If you’re pressed for time, put a paperclip on each sight word flashcard. If you have time to really get into the theme, cut out simple paper fish and write a sight word on each, then slide a paperclip over each fish’s head. Put all the prepared words into a very large bowl or bucket. Now you need a fishing pole: tape a piece of string 18-24 inches long to a ruler and affix a magnet to the end. Give the pole to the child and show him how to dip the magnet into the “pond.” He should read the word on each fish he catches, then go back for more!

This old favorite is great for practicing sight words. You’ll need two sets of flashcards with sight words written on them. Eight to ten pairs seems to be a good number—fewer than that is too easy, and more than that is overwhelming. Mix the cards up and turn them face down, arrange them into a rectangle, and take turns looking for matches. Make sure each player reads the words aloud as he turns the cards over. For extra practice, when the game ends each player should read their cards aloud while counting them to determine the winner.

Go Fish
You’ll need quite a few sight words for this game - at least twelve - but the good news is you can use the pairs of cards you made for Memory. Give each player three or four cards, which he should keep hidden. If you’re using flashcards, these will be unwieldy to fan out in one’s hand like playing cards, so cut a file folder in half and give a piece to each player. The folder can be propped up in front of the player so that he can spread his cards in front of him in secrecy. The rest of the cards go face down between the two players. The first player should ask the second if he has a particular word. If he does, he must give his card to the first player. If not, the first player must “go fish” by drawing from the pile in the middle. The game continues until someone runs out of cards, and at that point the one with the most matches wins.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Sight Words – Part Four: More (Fun) Practice

Struggling readers need lots and lots of exposures before they start to recognize sight words automatically. It’s important to make practice fun, though, because the more of it a child is willing to do, the more she’ll benefit. Here are some ideas I’ve used in private tutoring and classrooms:

Sensory Practice
Let your student go beyond just seeing and writing words and recruit her tactile systems by:
  • giving her something with texture, like a sand tray, piece of carpet, or section of wall, and letting her trace words with her fingertip.
  • tracing a word on her back and asking her to guess what it is. Start with short words (“it,” “am,” etc.) If this is really tricky, ask her to say each letter as you trace it before you move on to the next one.
  • shaping the letters in the word with modeling clay rolled into ropes.
  • skywriting the word (tracing huge letters in front of her so that she has to use her whole arm), or writing the words in large letters on a dry erase board (or on a window with a dry erase marker or fingerpaint), chalkboard, or on a wall or sidewalk with a wet sponge or sidewalk chalk.
Cut-Out Flashcards
This one will work better for some kids than others, but it’s worth a try. Print out the sight words you want to practice in large font, then cut around the outside of the word, hugging the border of each letter as closely as you can. Don’t cut the letters apart; you want to cut around the word as a single unit. Discard the word itself and keep just the silhouette. Glue this onto a dark piece of construction paper and use these cards for drills. This format helps some students appreciate the shape of words so that they recognize them as whole units more readily.

Letter Mix-Up
Give the student a handful of Scrabble tiles or magnetized letters that spell a sight word and let her unscramble them. If she’s new to this, tell her what the word is before she begins. If she’s an old pro in need of a challenge, simply hand her the letters and challenge her to figure it out.

A note about the next two strategies: You need to mark in books for these, so I suggest either making photocopies of the pages or investing in temporary highlighting tools. I really like these erasable highlighters, and you can also try this removable highlighting tape.

Sight Word Hunt
Open a book so that two pages with text on them are visible (or hand out photocopies of different pages) and race to see who can find the most sight words you’ve studied on their page. Students can mark the words on the text, or write a list.

Real-World Reading
Let kids who love stories help you read them. Ahead of time, go through a book you plan to read to the student and highlight or circle all the sight words you’ve practiced. Then read to the child, using your finger to track so she can see where you are in the sentence. When you come to a highlighted word, pause to let her say it for you.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Sight Words – Part Three: Daily Practice with Timed Drills

More on sight words by Beth Guadagni ...

OK, I know what you’re thinking: This doesn’t sound fun. Students hate being timed. The pressure makes them panic. Bear with me! I use this drill all the time with my severely dyslexic students. If anyone is going to have anxiety about reading, it’s them. And my kids like it! There are a few tricks I use to make sure this is a rewarding experience for them:

1) Choose the material to be drilled thoughtfully. If the student can’t read the list/phrases/text you’re drilling with at least 90% accuracy, it’s too hard. I try to pick texts they can read even more easily than that. Remember, we’re practicing fluency here, not decoding skills, and they can’t get faster with a list that’s simply too hard.

2) Make their progress visible to them. This is really the part that matters. I keep a piece of large-grid graph paper for each list/text the child is practicing. After each reading, we write the date at the bottom of a column and then the child colors in the number of squares that shows how many words he read correctly. In the end, we have a bar graph that shows day-to-day progress, so it’s easy for the child to see how much he’s improving (and since you’re using the same list over and over again, he will improve if you do this drill almost every day). Don’t be afraid to do two or even three repetitions in one sitting either—that’s where you’ll really see the numbers jump. Bonus: This is a great introduction to graphs!

I recommend doing this as a warm-up to each instructional session. If your student isn’t practicing sight words every day, this drill should be a daily exercise anyway because consistency is critical when it comes to fluency. It can take as little as one minute!

Start with a Dolch list (see our previous post, if you missed it). Be sure to pick one the child can read with very good accuracy. I like to have a student read the list at a leisurely pace before introducing the timer to be sure the level is right. If even the lowest Dolch list is too hard, pick all the words he read correctly and just a few that he missed and make your own list by mixing these up. It’s okay to repeat the words several times on one list if you need to make the list longer without making it harder.

  • If the Dolch list is too long, break it into two lists. 
  • If you’re giving the child 30 seconds to read, you want somewhere around 20-30 words per list. 
  • If you’re giving the child 60 seconds to read, you want somewhere between 40 and 60 words per list.
  • Arm yourself with two copies of the list, plus a pencil, a piece of large-grid graph paper, and a stopwatch or timer.
Give one of the lists to the child and ask him to read it as quickly as he can for a set interval of time. I suggest 30 seconds for kindergartners and 45 seconds to one minute for older kids. Set the timer and let him loose! As he reads, use the other list to keep track of his errors. Any words he self-corrects should NOT be counted as errors, though note them for your own benefit because these are words that he needs to practice more. (Future posts will give you lots of suggestions about practicing.) When the timer goes off, congratulate him on a job well done! Now go over the list with him and show him the words he missed. I like to mark on the child’s list to help him the next time he reads. For example, my niece read “there” as “the” during one of our drills, so I underlined the last two letters to remind her to look at the whole word.

Next, do a little math. To calculate the number of words he got right, use this formula:

Total Words Read – Errors = Correct Words Read

Ask the child to help you count and do the subtraction if you want to make this a multidisciplinary exercise! Now, give him a marker and help him color in the graph to show how many words he read correctly. I like to do at least two trials per session because there’s always a huge bump after the first one that makes kids feel good, and I’ve even had students beg for a third try!

Leveling Up
Once your student is reading somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 sight words per minute correctly, it’s time to increase the challenge. Before you go to the next Dolch list, though, I suggest you introduce the lists of phrases, made from the grade-level Dolch words, which were included at the end of my previous post and use them for drills. Here’s why: the jump from lists of individual words to pages covered with sentences can be daunting for some kids, so reading with these short phrases is a good intermediary step. They provide practice with phrasing, too. I wrote these, but feel free to invent your own! Make sure, if you do, that you stick to words you know the child can decode easily.

As the phrases begin to become easier, you can introduce the next Dolch list; having two separate drills going at once is just fine.

I hope your young reader enjoys this as much as my students do!

Tune in next time for some fun ways to practice sight words.