Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Next Generation Science Standards

Research is clear that students who are exposed to STEM fields -- Science, Technology, Engineering, and higher level Math - in their elementary school years are more likely to select careers in STEM fields than those who don't get significant science or technology instruction until high school. That's not surprising. But one barrier to meaningful science instruction in elementary school is that most teachers at that level have little or no background in science.

While most elementary school teachers have had some science courses in college, these tend not to be in fields like physics, engineering, and chemistry. Studies have shown that most teachers at this level do not feel confident in their ability to teach these subject areas to their students. It's hard to teach what you don't know well.

Many teacher training programs have responded to this situation by ramping up the coursework and training required of future teachers. And schools across the country have sought ways to expand their STEM education in early grades.

One tool that both teacher training programs and elementary and middle schools are using effectively is the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). These standards have been adopted in 19 states and the District of Columbia and another 19 states have adopted similar new science standards, according to the National Science Teachers Association.  There is an extensive website dedicated to the NGSS, as well as several long videos. But, for a short but helpful video that explains the NGSS and how they work, you might want to check out the link below:

Friday, July 27, 2018

Therapy Dogs and ADHD

We've written numerous times about the benefits of dogs as pets. We've shared research that found that children with dogs at home had fewer respiratory or ear infections and needed fewer courses of antibiotics than children who had no exposure to dogs.

We've looked at how using dogs as reading companions can help struggling readers gain skills and confidence. And we've shared how psychotherapists are using dogs in their therapy practices to help their young patients.

Now, a new randomized controlled study (the "gold standard" of how research is conducted) has found that children with ADHD who received Canine-Assisted Interventions (CAI) with a certified therapy dog significantly improved attention and social skills and exhibited fewer behavior problems after only eight weeks. Of note, hyperactivity and impulsivity were not affected. The study, from researchers at the University of California, Irvine, involved 88 children ages 7-9, none of whom had taken medication to treat their attention difficulties. Both the CAI group and the control group received standard behavioral interventions for their ADHD and the control group did improve with these (as did the CAI group), but the children in the CAI group did better and improved more quickly (eight weeks vs. 12 weeks) than those without canine support.

While it is not a cure-all, families whose children have ADHD might consider a certified therapy dog in conjunction with more standard behavioral interventions for their children.

Photo by Andy Omvik on Unsplash

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Simple Summer Play

It's a lovely day in New York and your desk-sitting blogger is thinking thoughts of picnics, parks, and all sorts of outdoor activities.

Being outdoors, moving about, and engaging in play is even more important for kids, so a list of 30 Classic Outdoor Games for Kids, appearing a few years ago on the website, makes for an appealing read, especially since these games require little or no equipment (well, Marco Polo does require a swimming pool). This list will read like a journey through most adults' childhoods, whether you played on a city street, a suburban lawn or driveway, or a country field. It's a worthwhile read.

We've got some additional suggestions, tested on kids we know well. Not all are fully outdoor activities, but all can keep kids busy, active, and having fun for hours.

  • Give your kids a box -- the bigger the better. Appliance boxes make clubhouses, cars, rocket ships and more -- sometimes all on the same day. Parents can create windows or doors. A box of markers can add details. Smaller boxes can be sealed up and stacked, making walls, forts, or roadways. The only limitation for this activity is their imagination and it works for kids of all ages, even babies. 

  • Set up a tire swing. Admittedly, this isn't for everyone, since an old tire and a very sturdy tree branch aren't easy to find. But if you are blessed with both and can come by a sturdy rope and a handy adult to set it up, this can add a new dimension to an outdoor area. Adult supervision is recommended. 
  • Get a box of sidewalk chalk. This colorful, sturdy chalk can bring out the artist in many children and will wash away the next time it rains or with a hose. 
  • Have a water fight. This can involve water balloons, water guns, and even spray hoses for older kids. The rules should require kids to opt in, since not every child likes getting wet this way. And participants should be roughly the same age, so things don't overwhelm younger kids. 
  • Put on a talent show. This is a multi-day activity that can include children of all ages, with the older ones doing the planning and the younger ones participating in a age appropriate ways. Older kids love to be the boss and little ones love to be included. We're not talking about a Broadway production here, but something kids can enjoy and parents can applaud. 
  • Fingerpaint. Outdoors. Easy clean up. Nothing else to say. 
Whatever games or activities you or your children invent, the important things are to be active, to be outdoors where possible, and to have fun. After all, it's summer...

Friday, July 13, 2018

Speak to Dr. Yellin

Families sometimes have questions about The Yellin Center and the work we do. They may wonder if their child could benefit from an educational evaluation. Or they would like more information about how our interdisciplinary team can help them understand how their child thinks and learns and how their individual intellectual strengths and challenges affect them. Or they may want to know if we offer a particular service, such as review of outside assessments, support for older students -- in college, graduate, or professional school, or advocacy support and school guidance for the students we assess (YES to all of these).

To help with these and similar questions, Dr. Yellin hosts phone-in office hours each Thursday from 8 to 9 a.m. EST* (subject to change).  Anyone may call, without appointment, to briefly discuss any questions pertaining to our work or to their child's learning. There is no fee. This service is for families who are not patients of The Yellin Center; current Yellin Center students and families can reach out to our staff, who can make an appointment if needed.

Calls are taken in the order they are received. Due to the limited nature of Dr. Yellin's time, we regret that we may not be able to accommodate all callers each week but, if this occurs, we will arrange a call-back at a later time. 

To reach Dr. Yellin during this weekly phone-in hour, please call the Yellin Center at 646-775-6646.

Monday, July 9, 2018

No School for the Fall? No Need to Panic

Most students know where they will be in school this fall. They may be continuing in the same school they have attended, only one grade higher. Or they may be moving to another school, either from an elementary to a middle school, or from middle to high school. Many have even visited their new classrooms and met their new teachers during a "moving up" day at the end of the school year. Even students whose families have relocated to another school district -- nearby or across the country -- generally know where they will be starting school in August or September.

But not all students have a place for the coming year. Public schools in some areas, including New York City, may have a shortage of places in desirable schools and place some students on waiting lists, so that while a student will have a place somewhere, he or she may not know exactly where at this point in the summer. 

Other students are new to the city, and have not yet been enrolled. For these students, the NYC Department of Education has information available on their New Student Page., which includes information on what documentation is needed for enrollment. They also offer in-person assistance at Family Welcome Centers, which are located in every borough.

For private school students, the situation is a bit different. While public schools must provide a place for every student (although sometimes, due to  over-enrollment in some schools, this doesn't happen by the first day of school), private schools of all kinds have no such requirement. They can generally determine their admissions criteria and often set up their classes months in advance. Many families apply to these schools almost a full year before their student would actually start classes. And that situation can be even more so for private schools for students with special learning needs. 

However, even for students with special learning needs facing limited spots in schools that can offer them the support they require, all is not lost. First, keep in mind that a school that might be full in June can have openings by August, as families move or change their plans. Stay in touch with the admissions office of the school(s) you are interested in and let them know you would enroll if a spot opens up. Also, despite what parents may hear (and schools don't want to advertise this fact), but especially in times of economic uncertainty or downturn, not all of these schools fill their spots. Private school is very expensive, and whether families pay completely on their own, or are seeking reimbursement for special education tuition, some parents find these schools beyond their means.  It never hurts to inquire about last minute openings. There is also the possibility of mid-year openings, as schools or families realize that the "fit" between a particular school and student is not a good one. Again, stay in touch with admissions officers to learn of these places. 

Parents of students who require special education and were contemplating private school should keep in mind that the public system not only is required to accept their child, but to provide him or her with a free, appropriate education (FAPE) under an IEP. There are many reasons why this solution may not be acceptable for some parents, including class size and the rigor of special education supports (although some public schools do provide strong special education programs) but it can offer an alternative while parents seek a private setting they may prefer. 

Photo by Pete Bellis on Unsplash

Friday, June 29, 2018

The Supreme Court

Your blogger has never argued a case before the Supreme Court, although I was admitted as a member of the Supreme Court bar many years ago with other students from my law school alma mater. A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to visit the Court again, this time as our eldest son was admitted to the Court with members of his law school class. We had the chance to meet in a small group with Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg. We got to attend a reception in the Court building and to sit in the courtroom and listen to the Court issue its decisions in a number of cases before our son and his colleagues were sworn in as members of the Supreme Court bar. It was a very memorable experience.

If you have been on a remote island without access to the internet, you might not be aware that the U.S. Supreme Court is very much in the news today. Justice Anthony Kennedy, who will turn 82 in July, has tendered his resignation. Since his appointment by President Reagan in 1987 (he actually took his seat on the Court in early 1988), Justice Kennedy has often served as the "swing vote" on many important cases. His replacement will be appointed by the President and must be confirmed by the Senate. It can be expected that Justice Kennedy's replacement will be more conservative than he has been. Since Supreme Court justices have lifetime tenure (unless they resign, as happened here), Justice Kennedy's replacement can be expected to have an impact on our laws for many years to come. 

Whatever your views of the Supreme Court or its future, you might want to take advantage of some excellent materials geared for kids to discuss these current events with your school-aged children.

A real-life story of a current Supreme Court Justice, geared for four through eight year olds (although this adult enjoyed it greatly), is I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy. With lively illustrations to help children access the story, this explanation of how Justice Ginsburg broke down gender barriers throughout her life is a satisfying read. [Adults who enjoy I Dissent might want to read Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg.]

A whimsical tale for elementary students, with guides for parents and teachers included, is 

Finally, Channel Thirteen, a PBS station, has a list of resources about the Supreme Court for children and for young adults and teens. Unfortunately, the links in this list are no longer live, but a search engine can help locate these helpful books.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Record Keeping

Most families have a file, or a box, or a drawer into which they place important documents relating to their children. These can be birth certificates, report cards, even artwork or notes written by their kids. But, as parents of older or adult children can attest, after a while these artifacts add up and there can be the temptation on the part of some parents to toss them all out. Other parents keep everything - for sentimental reasons or out of concern that something will be needed one day. The larger the storage area of one's home and the longer between moves, the more boxes can accumulate. And families of students with disabilities -- medical issues, learning difficulties, or both -- have vastly increased number of medical and educational documents.

There has got to be a better balance. Just what should be kept long-term and what can/should be tossed out after a while?

There is an extensive and detailed list of items to be retained -- and created -- by parents of students receiving special education services, prepared by attorney Robert K. Crabtree, an attorney, on the Wrightslaw website "From Emotions to Advocacy." However, this list is an old one and while still quite helpful, doesn't take into consideration ways to digitize many of these records. Many of the documents you will need to keep, especially IEPs and  educational assessments, can run in the dozens of pages. Scanning and storing these and other records makes a lot of sense. Remember to create back up copies of all of these documents, and to index them in a way that will help you find them, probably by subject: "IEPs", "Test Scores", "Correspondence". Within that index you can list items by date, or author, or both.

Note that some documents are important long after they are created. We know of a number of young adults who needed to document their medical history or inoculations for school or work years after they left their pediatrician's practice.  Having a record of whether one has had chicken pox or when they last had a tetanus shot can be important long after the fact. Keep in mind that your child's physicians and school both will keep records, and physicians have legal obligations to retain records for at least several years after a child reaches adulthood. Still, while you may be able to get a record from the pediatrician or school, it is always easier if you have it at your fingertips.

Most documents, once digitized and carefully backed up, can be shredded. This will leave a few items still in paper format, but the reduced number of paper documents and the careful digital storage and indexing of most files means that when something is needed that it can be retrieved quickly and easily. It can be overwhelming to tackle your child's paper records, but the result can make things easier for years to come.

Photo credit:

Monday, June 18, 2018

Kids Can be Lifesavers Too

Summer is a time for being outdoors -- at the beach, pool, park, and elsewhere. But all of these wonderful activities also can result in traumatic situations, including drowning or sudden cardiac arrest. While vigilance is the best way to avoid accidents in the water, we all know that these situations can arise without warning and in a brief moment.

We also know that cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and the use of an automatic external defibrillator can reduce the rate of permanent injury or death when there is a water accident or medical crisis. In fact, early and effective "bystander" CPR has been shown to have a positive impact on the rate of survival and longer term recovery from cardiac arrest. The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly urges the  the training of children, parents, caregivers, school personnel, and the public in the provision of basic life support, including pediatric basic life support, as well as the appropriate use of automated external defibrillators (AED).

What is less discussed is the role that even young children can play in helping in these life-threatening emergencies, whether the victim is a child or adult, and the kind of training that is appropriate at each age level. As of the fall of 2017, the American College of Cardiology found that 39 states required CPR training of high school students, although the specifics of such training varied from state-to-state and not all state laws required AED training. Most training was done in school during a required health class. But children who are old enough to use a phone be trained to call 911 and to seek out an adult to help. Children in the older elementary grades or middle school can be taught the rudiments of CPR - chest compressions to an appropriate tune to set the pace ("Stayin' Alive" is often recommended).

Parents can find out what kind of training their child's school offers. If it doesn't take place until the later grades, or isn't sufficient to truly train a child to react in an emergency, classes at the local Red Cross or through another organization may be the way to go. Empowering children to help in an emergency can be a life-changing experience for all involved.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Pediatrician Screening for Social Media Use Urged

In the latest issue of the journal Pediatrics, a team from the Baylor School of Medicine has proposed expanding the guidelines for adolescent health screenings to include questions about social media use.

The proposal is based on data that finds teen social use resembles the patterns of substance addiction, with usage increasing over time from an average of 16 minutes a day between ages 10 and 12 to an average of 71 minutes a day during adolescence. Teenage girls report the highest usage, some 142 minutes per day on average. Anxiety during periods of withdrawal increase with age and usage, with 80 percent of college students indicating that they feel anxious when they are not able to access their devices, the authors report.

Furthermore, the proposal notes that research has shown clear relationships between mental health and social media usage. Excessive use of social media may contribute to feelings of isolation, depression, and anxiety in vulnerable teens. In addition, teens with mental illness may use social media to express their thoughts and feelings.

Because of this, the authors believe that pediatricians need to expand the current standard for psychosocial screening: HEADSSS, which stands for questions about:

  • Home life
  • Education
  • Activities
  • Drugs
  • Sexual Activity
  • Safety
  • Suicide and/or depression.
This kind of screening is generally done without a parent in the room, so the teen will be more likely to be open with the physician. An additional "S" for social media usage should be added, the authors urge, and they suggest that pediatricians should ask all patients older than age 11 the following questions:
  • Which social media sites/apps to you use regularly?
  • How long to you spend on social media sites/apps on a typical day? 
    • suggestions are given for how a teen might track this usage
  • Do you think you use social media too much?
    • If the answer is yes, ask if they have tried to fix this
  • Does viewing social media increase or decrease your self confidence?
  • Have you personally experienced cyberbullying, sexting, or someone online asking to have sexual relations with you?
    • The physician may need to explain to the patient what these terms mean
If social media screening raises concerns, the physician may follow up in one of several ways, including follow up visits or referrals to mental health resources. Parents should make sure that their child or teen's physician uses the HEADSSS screening -- and adds the additional "S" to inquire about social media. 

Photo by on Unsplash

Friday, June 8, 2018

Free Speech Issue for Students

Yesterday your blogger attended the Annual School Law Program given by the Practicing Law Institute here in New York City. Each year, this program features expert speakers on issues of interest to attorneys who work in the field of education and this year's program was especially strong, touching on Section 504, the latest court decisions impacting special education, and ethical issues.

One particularly timely topic, presented by Professor Emily Gold Waldman of Pace University Law School, was student protest and speech and how the courts balance the free speech rights of students with the rights of schools to discipline students for their conduct. Although the U.S. Supreme Court cases in this area aren't new, they are certainly timely in this era of political polarization and student activism.

The earliest of the cases presented by Professor Waldman was Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District , from 1969. It involved students who were suspended for wearing black armbands in 1965 to protest the Vietnam war. The school had learned of this plan and had adopted a policy that anyone wearing a black armband would be suspended. The school followed through on its threat and the students sued. The U.S. Supreme Court, in a decision by Justice Fortas,  found in favor of the students and noted that,

"In our system, state-operated schools may not be enclaves of totalitarianism. School officials do not possess absolute authority over their students. Students in school, as well as out of school, are "persons" under our Constitution. They are possessed of fundamental rights which the State must respect, just as they themselves must respect their obligations to the State." 

The decision went on to state:

"They neither interrupted school activities nor sought to intrude in the school affairs or the lives of others. They caused discussion outside of the classrooms, but no interference with work and no disorder. In the circumstances, our Constitution does not permit officials of the State to deny their form of expression."

The outcome was different in Bethel School District v. Fraser, a 1986 decision weighing in on a 1983 incident where a student was prohibited from delivering a speech filled with sexual innuendo and references. The Supreme Court noted the Tinker decision, but distinguished it from the situation here, and found in favor of the school district, stating,

"It does not follow, however, that, simply because the use of an offensive form of expression may not be prohibited to adults making what the speaker considers a political point, the same latitude must be permitted to children in a public school."

Two other cases help clarify students' rights. Hazelwood School District. v. Kuhlmeier was a 1988 decision upholding the right of a school district to censor student articles in the school paper. The Supreme Court found that because the the school newspaper was sponsored by the school, it could be distinguished from the situation in Tinker. Likewise, in Morse v. Frederick, decided in 2007, when students held up a banner the school deemed to be offensive ("Bong Hits for Jesus") during an Olympic Torch Relay that the school had taken students to watch, outside the school, the Court found the school could discipline the students since the activity was similar to a class trip and “schools may take steps to safeguard those entrusted to their care from speech that can reasonably be regarded as encouraging illegal drug use.” 

Students contemplating protests in and around their schools may want to familiarize themselves with these and similar cases, to understand their rights -- and the limitations that schools can place upon them. 

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Summer Reading Resources

Summer is a great time for children to take advantage of the often slower pace to build their reading skills. It's not always easy to pry kids from their screens, but there are some excellent resources that can help children grow a love of reading that will last well beyond their school vacation.

Once place to begin is with a summer reading initiative from Reading Rockets, called Start with a Book.

Start with a Book allows kids and parents to start with a topic -- music, inventions, science, and many more -- and suggests books at an appropriate level for kids of all ages. The website also contains tips on the importance of reading aloud, how to build a home library, and how to get kids hooked on reading, during the summer and all year 'round.

Closer to home, here in New York City, the Brooklyn Public Library, New York Public Library, and Queens Library all have summer reading programs for kids. The Brooklyn Library program kicks off this coming weekend with activities in all branches.  There are also book lists for all ages, as well as challenge contests. The Queens Library has its kick off event tomorrow, at branch libraries throughout the borough. And the New York City Library has a guide to summer reading, with book lists for all ages.

Help your child find a book and make summer more fun while building skills for the next school year.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Carmel Academy - A Unique Program in Connecticut

Earlier this week, Dr. and Mrs. Yellin had the opportunity to visit Carmel Academy, a private K-8 school located on a lovely 17 acre campus in Greenwich, Connecticut. Carmel is a Jewish day school, and religious instruction and Hebrew language lessons are part of its curriculum.

But what makes Carmel Academy unique is the way it integrates a special education program - Providing Alternative Learning Strategies (PALS) - with the general curriculum in which most Carmel students participate. As Jonathan Holub, the Head of the PALS program, explained during his informative tour of the campus, there is a great deal of fluidity between the regular and the PALS classes. Students in the general education track who need some additional support in a particular subject may become part of a PALS class in that subject. Likewise, PALS students who can handle a more advanced class in one or more subjects may spend part of their day with typically learning students. The class schedule for each grade makes this flexible arrangement possible. Students in the PALS program thus feel very much a part of their grade and typical learners interact with the PALS students in class and across other school activities.

The PALS program notes that its basic tenet is that their students are not expected to to meet the demands of the curriculum; the curriculum is expected to adapt to the needs of the student.

Other notable features of PALS include:
  • Small classes, capped at ten students with two teachers in each class, provide hands-on, multi-sensory instruction. Notably, both general and Judaics teachers have special education training.
  • Instruction is thematic and interdisciplinary, so that subjects are connected across all academic areas. 
  • All students are involved in general and Judaic instruction, but the depth of Judaic instruction is individually determined for each student. 
  • On site professionals include occupational therapy (and a sensory gym), speech and language therapy, Orton-Gillingham and Lindamood-Bell reading specialists, a school psychologist and full time nurse. Outside consultants are brought in when needed. 
Clearly, Carmel is not for every student, even for every student seeking a Jewish day school. The PALS program focuses its curriculum on students with language based learning disabilities and would not a good fit for a student with significant emotional difficulties.

For families seeking a Jewish religious school with integration between special education and regular curriculums, Carmel is definitely worth exploring.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Helping to Meet Classroom Needs

A recently released report from the U.S. Department of Education, through its National Center for Education Statistics, looks at spending by classroom teachers on supplies for their students and classrooms.

Based on data from the 2014-15 school year, which included teachers in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, fully 94 percent of teachers spent their own money on classroom supplies, without reimbursement. The average expenditure over the course of a school year was $479, with teachers in schools with a high percentage of students who qualify for free lunch tending to spend more.

Clearly, teachers are stepping in to fill gaps in the supplies they believe are needed for optimal learning in their classrooms. But there are things that parents can do to help with this burden. One option is the organization Donors Choose. Donors Choose was founded in 2000 by Charles Best, a teacher at a Bronx public high school who needed books for his students. To date, the nonprofit organization has fulfilled over a million projects for almost 80,000 schools across the country and has a four star rating on Charity Navigator.

The model is a simple one. Teachers post information about the projects or materials they need. Donors can view these requests and fund some or all of a particular posting. Donors Choose keeps an eye on the donation to make sure it is put to good use. Take a look around their website. See their impressive list of corporate partners. And see what you can do to help teachers and schools in your area or around the country.

Monday, May 21, 2018

A Changed Perspective

Last Friday, your blogger once again was a guest at HALA, The Hillside Arts and Letters Academy, a New York City public high school located in the historic Jamaica High School building in Queens, New York. Created as part of a New York City initiative to close large, academically failing schools and to replace them with smaller schools, HALA shares its current building with three other schools and all four schools share an auditorium, cafeteria, and sports teams.

HALA opened in 2010 and your blogger has visited for numerous functions over the years; one of the two current Assistant Principals is Matthew Yellin. Matt began his teaching career at HALA and continues to teach a class or two each semester, even as his primary role has changed. And he continues to recruit his family and friends to assist at school events.

But this post isn't about the terrific students I met during Senior Interview Day, when 12th graders prepare a resume and submit to mock interviews for "jobs" in their hoped for fields. It isn't even about the excellent scores this school achieved during its reviews by the NYC Department of Education.

What was striking about this visit was how I felt about the metal detectors that all students and visitors to the building need to pass through whenever they enter. For several years, each time I visited the school, I was troubled by the security procedures, even though the safety officers were always polite to me and seemed efficient. When I mentioned that this must be an issue for the students, it was explained that it was a real inconvenience, especially when large numbers of students were arriving at once. I was told, this level of security went back to the day when Jamaica High School was a single school, with thousands of students. Still, the process made me uncomfortable.

I am still troubled by these devices, but for a different reason. Now I am grateful that the students -- and the staff -- are protected by metal detectors. I am not so naive as to think that these devices or the folks that operate them are foolproof, but I appreciate the level of safety they offer nonetheless. And I am sad that the world in which we live, where school shootings seem to pile one upon another,  has managed to change my mind about the need for this level of security. Very sad.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

What's Cooking?

Any parent who is faced with providing dinner for his or her family knows that eventually this can become a chore. Deciding on a menu, having the ingredients on hand, and doing the preparation and cooking, not to mention the clean-up, can challenge even the best cooks and most dedicated moms and dads. Furthermore, making sure that everyone gets healthy food and finds something they will eat can add to the job. It's one reason that prepackaged meals that come in a box, ready to cook, are finding an audience.

But neither boxed meals nor dining out is a practical every night solution for most families, and certainly not for those who are concerned with nutrition and budgets. One solution is to enlist children to help with nightly dinners. Sure, busy parents may not want to take the time to involve their children in dinner preparation. It can slow things down and require more thought than working parents can bring to this task. All they want, much of the time, is to get dinner on the table as quickly and easily as possible.

But, with a bit of planning, parents can involve children in this job, making it a time for family interaction, and getting real assistance while teaching children important skills.

Start on a weekend. Spend some time discussing what everyone likes to eat and what might be a healthy way to include that in family dinners. Have kids do a bit of a kitchen scavenger hunt, checking to see what ingredients are on hand. Work with them to make a shopping list for the week's menus. Planning makes everything easier and the skills involved in this part of the job are important ones for children to master. And have the menus for the week readily accessible. 

  • Involve children in shopping. Specific lists are a must. Not just "vegetables" but "two red peppers and three green peppers;" not just "chicken" but "one package of chicken drumsticks, about 10 drumsticks." If you have multiple children, old enough to be on their own in a supermarket, you may want to break the list into parts. If you shop in small neighborhood stores, you may want to have your child ask the counter person for a specific item. And once the shopping is completed, have the children help to unload and put the groceries in their proper place. 
  • Prep in advance. Lots of elements of recipes can be prepared in advance and stored for several days. Chop vegetables and portion and freeze packages of meat or fish. 
  • Assign tasks. This can be by the day - with one child helping on Tuesdays and Thursdays and another on Monday and Wednesday. Or by job, with even the youngest children able to set the table or put bread on a bread board. What about other days? Pizza night works well for many families, as does breakfast for dinner. It's not easy to cook, especially with children, every night and a couple of nights each week of something simpler can keep things doable. 
  • Older children can do real cooking, especially if they have been working up to it with simpler tasks. And everyone can pitch in with clean up!
  • Don't forget the skills that cooking can build: reading directions, writing out lists, measuring, working on the sequential step-by-step tasks involved in cooking. 
With some planning and patience, family dinner preparation can be helpful for everyone.

Photo credit: sydney Rae

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Going Easy on Homework Help

It is rare to speak to a parent who is not somehow involved in their child's homework. From making sure their student has a time and place to work, to answering the occasional question, to actually sitting with their child and providing lessons and guidance, parents seem to be part of the homework process, especially for younger students.

Often, homework is a chore for both child and parent, one that both may dread. Are there ways to make children more independent when it comes to this inevitable part of most school programs? What works best to build skills without fraying tempers?

One answer seems to emerge from a study out of Finland. The First Steps Study is a wide-ranging long-term examination of learning and motivation in some 2,000 Finnish students from kindergarten through high school. In this component of the study, reported in the journal Learning and Instruction, researchers looked at 365 second through fourth graders and at how their mothers supported their children's homework. They found that the more opportunities for independent, autonomous work that the mother offered the child, the more persistently the child worked on his or her school assignments. This, in turn, resulted in the mothers offering more opportunities for independent work.

In contrast, when mothers offered their children concrete homework help, the children were less independent in their work and the mothers responded by offering more and more help. Note that this effect persisted even when the child's ability level was controlled for. Notably, the study does not mention interventions by fathers. The study authors posited, in a press release from The University of Eastern Finland, that,

"One possible explanation is that when the mother gives her child an opportunity to do homework autonomously, the mother also sends out a message that she believes in the child's skills and capabilities. This, in turn, makes the child believe in him- or herself, and in his or her skills and capabilities."

Similarly, concrete homework assistance - especially if not requested by the child - may send out a message that the mother doesn't believe in the child's ability to do his or her homework.

It is difficult for some parents to draw down their level of homework involvement. It seems, however, that doing so may have long term benefits for students, and likely for their parents as well.

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

One Thousand Blogs!

Today marks our 1000th blog post and we are celebrating this milestone with pride.

We began blogging in August 2009 as a way of reaching out to the families we were seeing, to share information about learning, legal issues, schools, and strategies that they would find helpful. Over the years, we have expanded our subject matter and our roster of regular bloggers, including many of our Learning Specialists. Each writer brought their special interests and expertise to their posts, making for a rich array of topics and information.

Beth Guadagni wrote about language and reviewed books, and continues to blog from her current position as a teacher at a school for students with dyslexia. Renee Jordan shared educational games she had created for her own students when she was a classroom teacher, and Lindsay Levy wrote posts on a wide array of subjects, especially how we think and learn.

Currently, our writers include Dr. Jacqueline Kluger, who brings her insights into research and behavior, and Susan Yellin, who writes about legal issues and serves as editor of the blog. Even Dr. Paul Yellin blogs from time to time, when his schedule permits. And no discussion of our blogging team would be complete without noting the enormous contribution of Jeremy Koren, who was our Operations Manager when the blog first started and has written posts, helped with technical issues, and probably had the idea for writing a blog in the first place. From his current job on the west coast, he is always available when needed.

Thanks, Jeremy and all of our writing team, past and present. This celebration is only a brief pause in our mission to keep the students, parents, educators, and others who we serve and who read this blog, entertained and informed about our work and issues related to learning and education. Thank you for taking the time to read our posts!

Monday, April 30, 2018

Schoolhouse Rock

For those folks who were children in the 1970's and 80's, ABC Television's "Schoolhouse Rock!" was most likely a part of their education. The television series ran from 1973-85, and was then brought back from 1993-99, with both new and old material. Finally, new segments were released directly to video in 2009. Many versions of the videos are available online from numerous sources. 

We've been thinking about this show and its impact on generations of students since we heard about the death of Bob Dorough, who died on April 23rd at the age of 94. Dorough -- a jazz pianist and singer -- was approached by the father of a child who was struggling to learn multiplication, even though he had no trouble remembering songs. The initial song, "Three is a Magic Number" was the first one in the Schoolhouse Rock! series.

Not all the Schoolhouse Rock! videos were sung by Dorough, although he had a hand in almost all of them, either as writer or music director. And the series did not stick just to multiplication or even just to math. Grammar was one of the early topics tackled, and Dorough wrote (but did not do vocals) on "Conjunction Junction", which used trains to illustrate the role of conjunctions.

Music is a great way to learn, and Bob Dorough and his colleagues were able to reach children through a medium that got their attention and conveyed information that stuck with them. Dorough was a Grammy winner and was involved in all aspects of writing and recording music over a career that spanned more than 50 years. But the best way to appreciate his diverse and creative endeavors is to hear directly from him, as he explains his life and work, using song,  in a TED-X talk from 2017. Thanks, Bob. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Rewriting Equalities to Build Numeracy - Part 2

In our last post, we wrote about the work of Dr. Barbara Dougherty, the Director of the Curriculum Research and Development Group at the University of Hawaii. Dr. Dougherty's work emphasizes the importance of of instilling a solid sense of numeracy (being able to reason with numbers and other mathematical concepts) and operations (recognition of the relationships among addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division) to provide students with a true understanding of math.

One way to do this is to teach students to "Rewrite Equalities", a process that begins with understanding the meaning of = .

How do we do this?

Step 1: Establish an understanding of =

= does not represent “the answer” (as most kids think it does). It means that whatever is on one side has the same value as whatever is on the other side.

This seems simple, but it’s a big intellectual leap for kids. One of the biggest revelations will probably be the insight that it’s possible to have multiple numbers on each side of the =.

Try modeling this with manipulatives and sticky notes. Start with this:

Then show students that you can also do this:

Or this:

Or even this:

In all of the examples above, there are still a total of seven pennies on each side of the =. Challenge them to build their own models.

Step 2: Entry-Level Equalities

When it’s time to move from manipulatives to numbers, the teacher should demonstrate how to rewrite an equality in a few different ways. Begin by writing and explaining a series like this:

3 + 5 = 8

8 = 3 + 5

8 = 4 + 4

7 + 1 = 8

Now, invite students to take over with their own ideas. How many can they come up with? 

The student who remembers the commutative property doubles the number of expressions s/he can write, but don’t tell them this! Wait for someone to figure it out.

In my classroom, after they’ve worked for a while, students pick their two favorite expressions to write on the board and explain to the class.

Questions to Push Thinking:
  • Can you rewrite the equality using a different operator, like a subtraction sign?
  • Can you rewrite the equality by putting two or more numbers on each side of the equal sign?
  • Can you rewrite the expression using decimals or fractions? What about negative numbers?

Step 3: More Advanced Equalities: Focusing on Operations

Challenge students to rewrite an equality using only the numbers in the inequality. They may use any operators and any format they’d like.

So a simple expression like this:

4 + 6 = 10

could be rewritten like this:

10 – 6 = 4

A more complex expression, like this:

3 x 4 x 2 = 24

could be rewritten like this:

2÷24 = 4 x 3

Students will notice that more complicated expressions can be rewritten in more ways.

I’m my classroom, we’ve learned that there is tremendous power in simple activities and procedures. I hope other educators find this activity to be as valuable as we have!

Monday, April 23, 2018

Rewriting Equalities to Build Numeracy - Part 1

Recently, I was fortunate to attend a two-day seminar on teaching math to struggling learners in the middle and upper grades, led by Dr. Barbara Dougherty. Dr. Dougherty, the Director of the Curriculum Research and Development Group at the University of Hawaii, is an insightful and innovative educator with a passion for helping all students develop of deep appreciation for math. If I could sum up the most important lesson I learned during my two days with Dr. Dougherty, it would be with a statement she repeated many times over the course of the conference: Pay now, or pay later.

Dr. Dougherty was referring to the time it takes to build numeracy skills and operational sense. These two critical components of math education are often given a mere nod in the classroom, if not overlooked completely by teachers scrambling to cram as many procedures into students’ memories as possible before exam time. This rushed approach, while understandable, is a mistake, according to Dougherty. A solid sense of numeracy (being able to reason with numbers and other mathematical concepts) and operations (recognition of the relationships among addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division) underlies a deep understanding of math. Happily, these competencies are available even to students who struggle with numbers and even those with dyscalculia. But learners need time and the right platforms for exploring the relationships between numbers.

There are lots of ways to set the stage for this kind of inquiry, but one of the simplest is an exercise in which students rewrite equalities. This powerful strategy is deceptively simple: give students an equation and ask them rewrite it, keeping both sides equal. So,

6 + 4 = 10

might be rewritten as

10 = 6 + 4

9 + 1 = 10

15 – 5 = 10

5 x 2 = 10

7 + 3 = 20 – 10


My fifth graders have loved this activity, and even those who will swear they hate math cheer when I announce that we’ll be warming up for class with a new number sentence to rewrite. There are lots of reasons to try this in a classroom setting or with an individual student. 

Rewriting equalities:
  • It's fun! – My students, without any guidance from me, treat these challenges like riddles, and they are tickled when they come up with novel solutions.  
  • Builds operation sense – Crunching numbers with a real goal in mind makes practice relevant and motivating. 
  • Builds numeracy – With practice, students develop a sense for how to point the magnitude of a quantity in the direction they want; for example, they discover that most of the time, multiplying by a positive number will make a quantity much larger than adding by the same number. 
  • Accommodates a wide range of skill levels – More advanced students can use fractions, roots, exponents, etc., while those still building basic skills can gain comfort with simpler operations like subtraction or multiplication. 
  • Sets the stage for algebraic thinking – Many teachers take for granted that students who have only ever seen a mathematical expression with a single number to the right of the =, structured like this:  5 + 3 + 1 = 9 will be able to transition to algebra, when problems may have multiple numbers and variables!) to the right of the =, like this: 5 + 3 = 9 – x.
A misunderstanding of = is often behind the confusion because students haven’t been taught to think flexibly about an equality. (Check out Part 2 of this post for examples of how to implement this process in the classroom and for more about the “equals” sign.)

Friday, April 20, 2018

The Quad Preparatory School

Yesterday, Dr. and Mrs. Yellin had the opportunity to visit Quad Prep - The Quad Preparatory School, located in lower Manhattan. Quad Prep was founded to serve "twice-exceptional" or "2-e" students - gifted children with learning differences.

It was actually a second visit to Quad Prep. Their first visit was shortly after the school was founded  by Dr. Kimberly Busi, a physician who is the parent of a 2-e child, who believes that parents should not have to choose between settings that foster gifted children's enormous academic potential and those that provide appropriate support for their areas of challenge, without sufficient academic stimulation. Dr. Busi took action to address these concerns and Quad Prep was founded with just a handful of students in an East Village location.

Now, only a few years later, the growth and development of the school is astonishing. The attractive and open physical space is on one large floor of an office tower, and has been designed to foster the individualized learning model that is fundamental to Quad Prep's approach. Classrooms have places for one-on-one instruction as well as group activities and there are numerous "nooks and crannies" where support services or individual or small group work can take place. Students range from kindergarten through 12th grade, divided into multi-age groups (within two years) of eight to ten children, based on the students' needs and abilities. Even this arrangement is individualized, so that a third grader with extra skills and interests in chemistry, for example, can work on that subject with a more advanced, older group.

The academic curriculum is rigorous, with emphasis on both STEM subjects and the arts. Upper school students take a foreign language, currently selecting from Latin and Arabic as well as more traditional choices.

However, academics are far from the whole story. Each classroom features a team of teachers, including both academic instructors and clinically trained psychosocial teachers who support the school-wide social-emotional curriculum and who act as liaisons with  the therapists and other specialists who work with each child. There are weekly phone conferences with parents and any outside providers, supplementing the individual instruction and support with a team approach to each student.

The students were saw were thoughtful and engaged in a wide array of challenging activities. As the school notes:
"...If you have met one twice exceptional child, you have met one twice exceptional child. No two Quad Prep students are the same and there is not a specific mold into which we expect or even hope our kids to fit.... We pride ourselves on how well we individualize attention: rather than expect a child to fit us, we truly fit ourselves around each of our students. In turn, each child is given the opportunity to capitalize on their strengths and further develop their passions, while also receiving empathic support and empowerment to cope with challenges."  

These are impressive goals and, for the right student, this is an impressive school.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Earth Day

The Earth Day Network grew out of the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970 and now, almost 50 years later, works with more than 50,000 partners in over 190 countries, using education, public policy, and consumer campaigns to preserve and improve the environment. The Network notes that more than one billion people world-wide participate in Earth Day activities.

The focus of  this year's Earth Day - this coming Saturday, April 22nd -is on plastic pollution, the bottles and bags that choke our waterways, litter our beaches and streets, and pose a deadly threat to fish and birds throughout the world.


While many schools have marked Earth Day with special lessons and events each year, we were impressed with a Climate Education Week Toolkit created by the Earth Day Network, with a week's worth of lessons focused on ending plastic pollution. The Toolkit breaks its resources down by ages - those for grades K-5, 6-8, and 9-12. In addition, for each lesson topic, it has three kinds of activities: those that provide basic information about the subject; those that prompt students to analyze and think about the problem; and those that give suggestions of ways that students in each age group can help address the problem. 

The Toolkit also includes links to videos, such as How Much Plastic is in the Ocean? from PBS, as well as books, TED Talks, and even catchy songs for younger students. We think this is a terrific resource for both educators and parents -- for Earth Day and year round. 
photo credit: Emilian Robert Vicol via flickrcc

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

More Educational Games

Last week we shared some of the educational games we have included in the Resources section of our website. We know that some of the information on our site is tucked away in its "digital corners" and may not be obvious even to families who visit our site often. So we are shining a light on some of these excellent resources that we often recommend to the students and families we serve. Here are our suggestions for games, sites, and apps that build skills in math, language arts, and logic:


Game Classroom - kindergarten - grade 6
This site is arranged by grade and topic. Each option provides sample problems for students, teaching tips for adults, and links to online resources for more teaching tips. Instructional material is accompanied by complementary games. While many of the games on this site cover topics appropriate for upper elementary school-aged students, their formats are not as appealing as options for younger students.
Addimal Adventure - kindergarten & 1st grade
Developed by researchers at Columbia, Addimal Adventure gives kids more than drill: it uses a research-based understanding of how brains develop numeracy to teach addition. This app helps kids build a solid base for higher math skills, and the graphics and storyline are top-notch.

Motion Math - preschool - 6th grade
This wonderful suite of games is based on the neuroscience behind learning numbers and developing number sense. There's something here for everyone, from Hungry Guppy (matching digits and amounts) to Zoom (place value and decimals). Kids can practice fractions, math facts, and estimation skills with Motion Math's games. We love them because they cleverly pair conceptual learning with drill to promote learning. 

Invasion of the Moon Monkeys - any age learning multiplication
Practice your facts, and save the world while you're at it! Download this fun, challenging app and prepare to be addicted.

Mathmateer - any age learning multiplication
Another good one for math fact practice. In the game, correct answers will earn players "money" with which to buy new parts for digital rockets they're building. This website, made by the same company, provides practice worksheets and other resources.

For more great math games, jump to our Math page.
Reading Decoding
StarFall - grades K - 3
This site is divided into four levels. Level 1 is dedicated to learning letter sounds, Level 2 covers the process of sounding out words, and by Level 4, kids can choose from plays, Greek myths, comics, and other genres to practice their reading skills.

Montessori Crosswords - kindergarten & grade 1
Learners are shown a picture and asked to drag letters from the alphabet into boxes to spell the word in this high-quality app.  They can hear each sound by tapping on it, reinforcing phonics skills.

Learn With Homer - ages 2 - 6
The Homer Method infuses the best research on how children learn to read with high quality, engaging art and storytelling. This innovative app is free, though users may wish to supplement material with in-app purchases.

Auditory Processing Practice
Earobics - pre-kindergarten - grade 3
This multi-sensory software delivers systematic instruction to help students develop phonemic awareness. It also provides resources for helping children learn phonics, develop fluency, build vocabulary, and practice comprehension skills.

Headline Clues -  grades 6 - 12
This is a great reading comprehension game that changes daily with the news. Students read a piece of a news story, then have to fill in the blanks in the partially written headline above to introduce the article.

Rain Words - grades 4 - 12
In this game, players use spelling knowledge to create a correctly aligned crossword puzzle. It’s a great option for improving spelling, critical thinking, and patience.
Other Areas
Spelling City  - all ages
Kids will love using this fun site to practice their spelling skills and build vocabulary. Students, or their parents or teachers, can enter customized lists, then use the site's flashcards and games to practice. When students have had enough drilling, they can take a test to see how well they remember what they've learned. One nice feature is the ability to view anyone's list, so busy parents can find one that's appropriate for their child easily if there's no time to create one. Access Spelling City on the computer or download the app, where you can create a free account to access pre-loaded lists of spelling words, or enter your own list to play with.


Samorost - grade 3 and up
Players must help our hero Gnome navigate his way through a deliciously whimsical world to save his planet from an asteroid by solving a series of puzzles. Part of the puzzle, however, is figuring out what the puzzles are. Solved it? Check out Samorost 2, Machinarium, or some of Amanita Design’s other games. Although Samorost is free, some of Amanita’s other offerings require a fee. - grades 3 and up
Play old favorites like Sudoku and Hi-Q, and less known gems like Hare and Hounds and TacTix.

Copy Cat - grades 3 and up
This is a wonderful game for building spatial skills. Players must use patterns on the faces of a spinning solid shape (like a cube) to replicate a picture.

The Set Game - grade 3 and up
In this challenging game, players must group images on digital cards together to form a set based on concepts like the shapes, number of shapes, and features of shapes. This is a great exercise for concept-building, and the website above provides a different challenge each day. Look for the original card game in toy stores, too!

Traffic Jam - grade 1 and up
This classic is now available online! Traffic Jam challenges players to plan several steps ahead as they work to free the red car from a traffic jam. It will take several well-planned moves to do it! This site shows the minimum number of moves required for solving the puzzle, so if kids figure it out in more moves than specified, ask them to try again with fewer moves. You can purchase the actual game from ThinkFun, too.

One Hundred Doors - (age depends; see below)
Available for iDevices and Android, this game is downright addictive. Players must figure out how to open the door in front of them using clues they see around them. The reward for opening a door? Another door, which is slightly harder open. Younger kids will be able to pass the first few levels easily but may become frustrated with the later levels, so it may be best to play with a parent or a friend. (Really stuck? Find videos explaining how to solve each level on YouTube by typing in the name of the game and the specific level.)

Links are provided for informational purposes only. Links do not indicate endorsement of any particular products or services. Some resources may not be appropriate for all learners. We urge you to carefully review any of the products, services, or tools linked to from these pages prior to allowing children to use them without adult supervision.