Reading and How it Builds Social Skills

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People may not be aware, but there is a direct link between children’s ability to read and their social skills. Reading is all about letters, sounds, and words and is a solitary activity, so how could it help with social skills? Surprisingly, the answer is that it can benefit a child socially in myriad ways. Reading gives children access to a broader world than their own; it boosts their confidence, gives them something to discuss with their peers, and makes them more successful. Reading opens a series of social doors; let us take a more in-depth look at how and why reading is fundamental to a child’s social development.

Confidence

Children with strong reading skills tend to have more confidence, at least within the academic and school setting, where children spend most of their time.

Children who lack basic reading skills are more likely to:

  • Withdraw
  • Become aggressive
  • Be teased or bullied
  • Receive lower grades

When children possess appropriate reading skills for their age, they can:

  • Participate more in class discussions
  • Talk about stories and books with their friends
  • Pave the way for independent learning
  • Choose books on topics that appeal to them the most.

Even if your child is on the quiet or shy side in school, listening to the class discussions and realizing their understanding and comprehension align with the group or the teacher will boost their confidence!

Confidence in school also leads to engagement in more activities. For example, they may join the choir or the debate club or decide to write for the school paper or online journal. Confident children will develop more friendships and be more likely to try new things. When children feel confident, they will step outside their comfort zone from time to time, which will increase social experiences.

Empathy

Reading helps children develop a sense of empathy as they are exposed to characters, cultures, and ideas outside their experience. This is especially the case when they read literary fiction. Children’s books tend to feature characters experiencing strong emotions for one reason or another.

When children read about characters who are forced to go through these experiences, it requires them to further their thought processes.

Children will actively think and ask themselves questions such as:

  • “How might I handle this situation?”
  • “How would I feel if this happened to me?”
  • “How could I help if I saw someone having this problem?”

Parents and educators can further that development by asking open-ended questions while reading.

  • “How do you think she is feeling right now? Why?”
  • “What would you do if your friend said they didn’t want to play with you?”

. Questions like the above give children a chance to process their feelings and reactions.

Adults should be reading children’s books that contain:

  • social stories
  • friendship
  • teamwork
  • kindness
  • helping others
  • conflict resolution

These themes are especially beneficial in developing young children’s empathy; It is never too early to read to your child. Reading to children in infancy stimulates the part of their brain that processes and develops language.

Problem-Solving Skills

Children who are read to and who read are more adept at problem-solving skills. Dialogue and text within books show children appropriate and inappropriate ways to handle problems and conflict. Reading provides children with social competence, meaning they will learn how to react in certain social situations. Reading competence means that children are also better equipped to read social cues given by others. Similar to asking questions related to empathy, adults can ask children open-ended questions about the character’s solutions or reactions, such as:

  • “Do you think their behavior was OK?
  • Why or Why Not?”
  • “How would you react if another child took your toy?”

Asking open-ended questions requires children to expand their thinking and develop language and problem-solving skills. Therefore, it is always more beneficial to a child’s development to pose open-ended questions when possible. Since open-ended questions encourage children to include more information than closed questions, it requires them to think beyond the obvious.

Creates Questions

Reading with children creates an opportunity for them to ask their own questions about the world. They may have no experience with someone being unkind to them and may have never seen people who look or dress differently. They may have no fundamental concept of the world outside their neighborhood, city block, or small town.

The more that children have access to the outside world, the more they grow socially. There is the old phrase “Knowledge is Power,” and reading is an example where that phrase is one hundred percent relevant. More knowledge about the outside world gives children the power to make their own decisions and opinions about that world. When they are enticed and encouraged to ask questions and seek further understanding, they create a larger, more socially diversified world to live in for themselves.

Adults should encourage children to ask questions while reading. Constant interruptions can become frustrating, but these interruptions are how a child makes sense of the story. If the questions become so frequent you can barely read a sentence, try to have them wait until the end of a page to ask questions or make related statements. Asking questions is a way they can further their understanding and develop a larger schema on the topic at hand.

Communication Skills

Reading introduces children to language, which introduces them to basic communication skills. We all know that talking to infants and babies is how they learn a language, but if we only expose them to how we speak and use words, their communication skills will be limited. Children pick up new information quickly and then try it out in various situations to see how it works.

Young children will repeat phrases they’ve heard adults use or heard in movies and books. How often have you observed a little one looking at a familiar book and attempting to repeat the dialogue or narration accompanying that text? The more children are read to, and the more they read themselves, the more their lexicon will grow as they absorb and audition new language skills.

The more words a child has at their disposal, the better they will be able to communicate, which in turn means the better their social skills will be. Strong communication skills are at the crux of strong social skills. Communication, language, and social skills are what set humans apart from other animals. The human ability to share everyday experiences, emotions, and experiences through language creates our communities, friendships, and bonds.

Any and every chance you get to read to your child, you should take it! It doesn’t have to be long and involve storybooks or famous children’s books. Anything you read to them will benefit them. If your child loves dinosaurs and wants to read about nothing but dinosaurs, you’d be surprised at how many dinosaur books are out there! Social stories, fiction, and non-fiction dinosaurs that talk, and dinosaurs that go to school. Children’s books run the gamut of themes, topics, and characters. Just read. Read, encourage questions, ask questions, and have discussions. Every interaction a child has with a book will benefit them socially.

No More Monsters Under the Bed

Almost all children go through a phase of being afraid of the dark.  I imagine even as an adult, you’ve had moments of uneasiness when it comes to what could be lurking in the shadows. 

girl covering her face with both hands

Let’s examine some of the causes of why and ways to address your child’s fear of the dark.

One main reason children are afraid of the dark is it is the unknown.  Their brains have not developed the cognitive reasoning to understand that there is nothing there that could hurt them.  They also have much stronger imaginations than adults, which means a more challenging time separating fantasy from reality.  Think of Elsa’s big song from Frozen II – what was she so scared of? Going into the unknown. 

Have you watched the mover Monsters Inc.?  It does a great job showing us how sounds, shapes, and shadows can play tricks on our minds. I can still get spooked when I know I’m home alone at night and hear an odd bump or noise. Yes, logically, I can reason that it was probably someone outside of the house simply settling, but at that moment, I become startled. Young children do not have the cognitive capacity to think logically when scary noises happen. 

There are various other reasons children can be afraid of the dark, including something they saw in a movie or televisions show, a scary story they heard, or a fear of something else such as bugs, snakes, ghosts, etc.

Some children may fear the dark due to a personal experience such as losing someone close, an accident, or some other type of trauma.  

Luckily, we can help most children overcome their fear of the dark using some old-fashioned fun and love at home!

Mother and Son Hugging

Monster Spray is a fun way to help rid the fear of something hiding in the shadows.   You can change the name to match whatever your child is afraid of Ghost Spray, Spider SPray, Witch Spray, etc. 

To make the spray use a plastic spray bottle, water, and a little bit of food coloring (not too much because you don’t want to spray color on everything!) and glitter.  If you’re feeling creative, make a label on your computer to attach to the bottle. Then, spray a little bit of the Monster Spray under the bed around the door, or wherever they are scared, the monsters will come from. 

Read books and talk with your child.  One of the best ways to overcome a fear is to have a safe place and person to discuss it.  There are many excellent books available from your local library that cover childhood fears.  Ask your child about their anxiety in an open and non-judgemental way.  While we may know there is nothing to be afraid of in the dark to them, it is genuine. 

Sleeping, Child, Napping, Girl, Teddy, Teddy Bear, Kid

Does your child have a special stuffed animal or doll they sleep with? If not it might be time to introduce a special lovie to sleep with.

Practice being in the dark together.  Have a “sleepover” in your child’s room, play with flashlights, or use a rotating star nightlight.  Watch movies and cuddled up in the dark.  The more exposure your child has to the dark, the more comfortable they will become.    

It is important to remember that all children are different; while some may overcome their fear in a matter of weeks, it can take months or even years for others.  

Father Reading Bedtime Story For His Daughter while Lying Down on the Bed

I am currently experiencing a sleep regression with my seven-year-old, a common occurrence in school-aged children. To help older kids making late-night visits to your room, take a look at their bedtime routine. Are there any crutches you are providing that they cannot perform themselves if they wake up? For example, rubbing their back to help settle them is fine, but rubbing their back until they fall asleep is equivalent to putting your infant into the crib while sleeping. 

Talk to your older child about what tools might help them settle if they wake up. Would a special blanket (perhaps a weighted one that feels like a hug) help? What about a night light that puts stars on their ceiling or the effect of ocean waves. They might need to have soft music or a white noise machine on all night; if the music cuts out at 2 AM, the abrupt change could wake your child up. Some children might benefit from the permission to read or play quietly if they wake up until they feel safe and sleepy again.

Reading, Bed, Flashlight, Book, Read, Learn, Page

Never punish your child for waking up at night or having nightmares; that will only increase their anxiety. While losing sleep can feel maddening and make us grumpy, try to remain calm and patient.  Calmly remind your child that you need sleep too, so it is essential to find a solution that helps them without making them feel bad about themselves. 

The pandemic has caused children to regress in several ways, so if you are noticing a sleep, behavioral, academic or any other regression it may be related to the experiences of the past year and a half.

A Young Girl Sleeping on the Bed

Eventually, they will overcome their fear, but in the meantime, give them the space to feel and work through their emotions in a loving and supportive way.

It’s OK to Get Upset

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As long as I have been a part of the early childhood education world, the following phrase has been a part of it: You get what you get, and you don’t get upset. 

I don’t know when parents and educators started using this phrase, but can we please stop?

Not only is it dismissive to the child aka you’re feelings don’t matter but more and more research indicates the importance of teaching children how to express and handle their emotions. When we teach children about their emotions, we give them the power of expression and self, and we start letting them know their mental health and well-being are just as important as their physical well-being.

I understand what the phrase is trying to do; it’s saying, whatever happens, it’s going to be ok, but to blatantly and repeatedly tell children they cannot get upset is ridiculous; it’s also not human.

We get upset. I get upset. One day years ago, when I was teaching four-and-five-year-olds, it was my day to be at the school early and open the classroom. On these days, I made a special stop at Starbucks and bought an expensive splurge drink. A parent who was in a rush asked if they could leave their child with me.  Even though I wasn’t clocked in yet and not even in my classroom, I was in the kitchen of the school enjoying my last moments of quiet before the crazy day began; I said yes. 

While in my hazy, still sleepy, somewhat-annoyed-that-the-parent-had-just-done-this-state, and trying to keep an eye on the kid while I got what I needed for the classroom snack that morning, I set my coffee down on an uneven surface and the entirety of my specialty, splurge coffee spilled on the floor. 

It wasn’t even 7 A.M. My once-a-week splurge lay on the floor (and I now had to clean it up). And I had a 4-year-old standing next to me. I vividly remember telling myself silently, “Don’t cry. Do not let this child see you cry over a spilled coffee.” Honestly I wanted to have a tantrum.

So why didn’t I have a tantrum? Well, I came close, but I didn’t because I had learned how to process and handle strong emotions. We need to teach our children that it is OK to be upset when something negative happens, but how you respond that matters.

When I was teaching and passing things out, I would always shorten it to “You get what you get.” There was always at least one child in the class who would then say, “and you don’t get upset.” When that happened, I would look at them and say, “It’s ok to be upset when you don’t get what you want; what’s important is how you handle it.” Pay attention to that second part – it is OK to get upset when you don’t get what you want.

I have been performing in theater and music nearly my entire life, which means there are countless times I didn’t get the part or the solo I auditioned for and wanted. Do you know how many times I was upset I didn’t get the part I wanted? EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. Of course I was upset! But here’s what I didn’t do. I didn’t go on social media and bash everyone involved with the show. I didn’t scream and throw things. I didn’t swear off doing theater ever again. 

I talked to a friend or my mom. I went and did something I enjoyed like reading a book.  I took a walk and listened to music. I enjoyed a glass (or two) of wine. I took a bubble bath. The point is I found ways to work through my disappointment and move on. These are the skills we need to be teaching our kids. Go ahead and have your disappointment, but let’s figure out the best way to handle it.

There are times I cried and times I didn’t. There are times it took me a few weeks to get over the disappointment and times it only took a few hours, but I was still upset every single time; because I’m human. 

Is it appropriate for a ten-year-old to cry because their sibling got the last green Jolly Rancher?  In most cases, no; but they are allowed to be bummed out about it. Is it appropriate for a five-year-old to have a tantrum because their best friend got the sticker they wanted at circle time? Probably not, but if they do, we can use it as a teaching opportunity to find other ways to express disappointment.

It is rarely a healthy option to tell kids “Don’t cry” because it is another way of telling them their emotions are not valid, but sometimes it can be hard not to roll our adult eyes and think, “Really? He’s crying because Godzilla is no longer on Amazon Prime?” (And yes, my son did this. So what I like to do instead is say, “It is ok to be upset, but Is this situation worth your tears?” Phrasing things in this way makes children slow down and evaluate their responses.

We can help our children process big emotions and disappointments by using phrases like:

  • I see you’re really upset right now. Would you like some space?
  • This seems to be making you sad. Do you want to talk about it?
  • It is ok to be angry, but it is not OK to hurt people or things.
  • You seem worried. Would you like me to sit with you?
  • I am not sure what is bothering you, but I am here if you want to talk.

The more we as adults recognize and discuss emotions, the more our children will understand them. Like language and social interactions, children learn about handling emotions from the adults surrounding them.

If a child grows up in a house where anger is considered “bad,” they may have trouble processing feelings of anger because they believe it makes them bad. We must also avoid assigning emotions to genders. For example, if children hear that crying and whining is what girls do and boys should be strong and fearless, then we are assigning weakness as feminine, but we are telling our boys that they have to be brave all the time. 

Fear is another normal and completely biological response in many situations; fear is what kept our early ancestors alive. They needed to know when to run, when to fight, and when to hide too, survive. 

Emotions need just to be emotions—all normal and all OK.

Children should be learning self-awareness and understanding of their own emotions, regulating and controlling those emotions, learning to understand what is essential and what is not (AKA is this situation worth your tears?), and reading and understanding emotions in others. 

We do this when we allow children to see our emotions and emotional process and demonstrate how to handle disappointing and upsetting situations. Teaching emotional intelligence puts our children in the driver’s seat of their mental well-being and teaches them how to problem-solve and self-soothe. 

So, teach your kids you get what you get, and you CAN get upset. But also teach them that a tantrum over a Jolly Rancher probably isn’t worth the energy spent, and if you take the red one, at least you still got candy! More importantly, you’re helping them process their emotions and how to handle things independently so that when they are thrity they don’t have a melt down over spilled coffee.

The Power in Positive Phrasing

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One of my son’s favorite books is “No, David!” by David Shannon. We read it all the time. I like to jokingly put his name in the book, and while it is funny, it also hits a nerve for him and me too. That’s because we can both see him as the character in this book, a little boy who has trouble controlling his emotions and actions and, as a result, hears the word “No,” a lot. 

The funny thing is I know that that is the least effective way to communicate with him and to get him to do what I need to be done. I’ve read all the research on positive phrasing; as a teacher, I had that skill down almost to perfection. I even counseled other parents to use it and explained the benefits behind it. As a mom, though, easier said than done.

When you place a negative in front of a phrase, the child doesn’t hear the negative; they hear the action. So “Don’t run inside” becomes “run inside.” Now, I am not saying children hear this and automatically think you are telling them to run in the house, but the negative gets washed away; it’s not effective.

Positive phrasing, in all communication, is more likely to yield the results you’re after. But why? Well, first, it’s more pleasing to the ear and the mind. “Please walk inside” is more compelling than “Don’t run!” Second, when we phrase things positively, we are more likely to speak in a calm voice than yelling or a scolding tone. A calm voice is more likely to garner attention.

Experts say if you want your children to listen quietly and calmly, don’t yell. When you yell, they begin to shut you out and begin to shut down. When you speak calmly and quietly, you show respect, which begets respect, and they are also forced to listen to hear what you have to say.

You may still get surly looks and crossed arms when you talk quietly, but I guarantee they are listening. 

Telling your child what you want or expect instead of what you don’t want sets up clear guidelines; it tells your child exactly what is expected. If you say, “Don’t run,” it leaves room for them to interpret that as ok well, I can still skip, jump, hop, cartwheel, or crawl. If you say, “You need to walk when inside the house,” there is no room for interpretation. It’s cut and dry.

Trust me, I know this is a difficult skill to conquer, especially of late when we’ve all had way more “quality” time with our children than ever before, but it does work. And I need to remind myself of that from time to time too. But just try it, write your self post-it notes or reminders around the house so you see them and can remember it in the heat of the moment. 

Try taking a deep breath before responding to your child’s behavior. It will help you stay calm and it gives you a chance to phrase what you need to say in your head first.

Take some time and think of all the things you say “no” to in a day and see if you can flip them into positives.

Instead of:

  • Don’t leave your laundry on the floor.
  • Stop playing with your food.
  • Stop hitting your brother.
  • We don’t draw on the wall.
  • Don’t dump all your toys out.
  • Don’t talk back to me.

Try:

  • Please put your laundry in the basket
  • I need you to eat because you are making a mess.
  • You need to keep your hands to yourself.
  • Crayons and markers are used on paper.
  • Please clean up your toys when you’re finished.
  • You need to speak respectfully to me.

Phrasing things positively doesn’t mean you are saying yes to everything; it means you set up clear expectations of what is expected and acceptable. 

Save “No” for moments of danger. Then it should be said in a loud, firm voice. Yelling “No” or “Stop” right before a kid touches a hot stove or steps off the sidewalk as a car barrels down will give them the jolt to potentially stop the dangerous choice. 

When children hear no all the time, it loses its polish. Think of “No” as your boy who cried wolf. If it happens all the time, no one is going to listen to it. If you save it for moments of import, your child will not be used to hearing it, so the novelty will grab their focus. 

My boys are fans of the new movie “YES DAY” and have watched it at least twenty times in the last few weeks. The concept is that for one day, the parents say yes to anything the kids ask (within a set of parameters, of course).

They have asked me to have a Yes Day on more than one occasion. So far, the answer is a no… but we’ll see.

5 Last-Minute DIY Mother’s Day Gifts

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Mother’s Day is this weekend, and if you’ve let the ball drop, didn’t realize it was Mother’s Day, or are still scrambling to figure out what to do, I have you covered!

As a mom of two, I love the appreciation I receive on Mother’s Day. My youngest son already said Happy Mother’s Day and made me a card  today! This year his birthday is on Mother’s Day, so he wanted to make sure I got something special too. 

All moms have a different idea of what they’d like to do on Mother’s Day. Personally, I love having the day to myself, a day of quiet relaxation where I can do as much or as little as I’d like. 

Other moms love being surrounded by their brood and the entire extended family; the important thing is that in the words of Tom and Donna from Parks and Rec you, Treat Yo’self. 

If you are reading this and you’re someone who needs to give mom some love I have compiled a list of simple DIY and low-cost or free ideas you should be able to throw together in the next few days.

  1. Printable Card with 3-D Flowers

I ADORE this 3-D printable card from the website www.sixcleversisters.com. It includes the template for the card as well as a template for the flowers. You will need some colorful cardstock to print the flowers from and a piece of plain white cardstock for the card.

The site includes step-by-step instructions, and it is a bit time-consuming to cut out all those flowers, but if you have a crafty kid or teen, or you enjoy this type of crafting yourself, this is a low-cost way to make a unique Mother’s Day Card.

  1. Printable Bouquet

I am a massive fan of the idea of the printable bouquet, and www.123homeschool4me.com has the most adorable one I’ve seen. Each flower has space for your child to write something special about mom on them. Examples are:

  • Mom is so special because…
  • My mom rocks! She…
  • I love when mom….

You can print these out on colored paper or use the black and white template and allow your child to color and decorate them themselves. It even includes the template to print a bouquet wrapper to keep it all together. 

This is one special flower delivery mom is sure to remember and keep forever!

  1. Homemade Bath Bombs

If the moms or special women in your life are anything like me, they love taking a hot bath. Combine that bath with a glass of red wine and a book, and I’m in heaven! 

When taking a bath, my favorite scent is lavender, so when I came across this homemade lavender bath bomb recipe, I knew I had to include it. 

This is the perfect gift to make if you have a little scientist in your life! My youngest son loves making bath bombs with me.

This recipe, found on the site Don’t Mess with Mama, requires baking soda, Epsom salt, citric acid, water, essential oils, and almond oil. You will also need a bath bomb mold or a cupcake tin can work in a pinch.

For an added touch, you can add some fresh or dried lavender to the mix. If mom doesn’t like lavender, you can add whatever essential oil scents she likes best. 

Citric acid can be found in stores like Walmart, amazon.com, Target, and craft stores. Whole Foods has a great selection of essential oils.

  1. Cupcake Toppers 

If you enjoy baking or your kids do, making homemade cupcakes and adding these adorable little cupcake toppers are sure to delight mom.

The site Momtastic offers this free printable and instructions on how to make the cupcake toppers. They also have a link to make the cupcakes pictured if you desire, or you can make your own based on mom’s tastes and favorite flavors or colors.

Cupcakes are such a great idea because they are customizable, and every mom loves eating a sweet treat her kids made just for her.

  1. Mother’s Day Coupons

The past year has been rough for moms (for dads too, but we’ll spoil them next month), so what could be a better gift than coupons to help take some of the workload away from mom and to show her how special she is.

The Spruce Crafts has an entire list of free printable Mother’s Day coupons that include everything from extra hugs to breakfast in bed to offers to do a few loads of laundry!

Each set is adorable in its own right, and the bright colors make them fun and unique. You will want some cardstock to print these off and perhaps a pretty ribbon to tie them together, but other than that, this is a low-cost and effortless last-minute DIY Mother’s Day gift.

Whether it is a mom, grandma, step-mom, friend, girlfriend, aunt, or any other special person in your life you wish to celebrate this Mother’s Day, any one of these simple yet thoughtful gifts are an excellent way to say, “I love you, and I appreciate all that you do.”

*I have not been reimbursed or compensated in any way for anything recommended or listed in this blog.

Have a Merry, STEM-y Christmas

The countdown to Christmas is here, Hanukkah begins on December 8th, and December 6th, today, is St. Nicholas Day.  

Gift giving is in the air, especially with all the gifts being sent by mail this year.  

One of the areas in school that many parents and teachers worry children are missing out on is STEM. STEM stands for Science Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, add an A in there for Arts and we have STEAM. 

It is difficult, if not near impossible, for children to engage in the same level of experimentation and hands-on activities that they would do in a classroom.  Parents just don’t have access to the same materials.

To make up for the lack of hands-on STEM in school, I decided my boys would be having a very STEM-y Christmas.

I researched some of the best STEM products out there. Then I combined what I found with my educator’s brain to choose some top STEM gifts.  

I wanted to share what I discovered with other parents out there and highlight some of the best toys I found.

*I AM NOT BEING COMPENSATED IN ANY WAY FOR THE PRODUCTS AND SITES I RECCOMEND BELOW

MindWare

This site is STEM heaven; I wish I had stumbled upon it earlier in my shopping. I guarantee it will be a staple in my shopping moving forward. 

From this site, I purchased the Q-BA-MAZE 2.0 as well as an expansion pack of ramps. My youngest had been asking for a marble run, and I love the uniqueness of this design. This set allows you to configure unlimited designs. Traditional marble runs are also an excellent choice, but I like seeing a new spin on the idea. 

This is an excellent toy because it comes with over a dozen add-on packs, so you can continue to upgrade and make it new.

Concepts Marble Runs Teach

  • Engineering
  • Gravity
  • Problem Solving
  • Trial & Error
  • Creativity

I also purchased the Dig It Up Dino! for my budding herpetologist (a zoologist who studies reptiles and amphibians, don’t worry I had to look that one up too!) My oldest is obsessed with anything lizard, reptile, amphibian, and dinosaur-related. 

I love that this is hands-on, and he has to utilize tools to achieve the goal. Plus, he gets a fabulous T-rex model once he’s completed.  

Concepts Excavation Toys Teach

  • Patience
  • Use of tools
  • Critical thinking
  • Problem-solving
  • Hypothesis and discovery 
  • Refined fine-motor skills

Some of my other favorites off of this site are:

Kiwi Crates

Kiwi Crates is a subscription STEM service explicitly aimed at kids. What I love about this service is that I was able to customize the kit based on my son’s age and interest. They have kits from 0-14 years.  

We began getting crates towards the end of summer because he always wanted to do experiments, and I never seemed to have the supplies needed.  

Everything you need comes in the box, with directions and a book that complements the theme. The site also has a store where you can directly buy items and kits without a subscription. 

These kits are also a great way to get some kid/parent bonding time.

National Geographic Toys

The name recognition alone tells you these are going to be top-quality STEM Toys. 

The toys are not directly available from their site; major retailers such as Target, Walmart, and Amazon all sell Nat Geo’s products.

I love their 3-D super puzzles. The imagery is gorgeous, and they have puzzles available for various ages and skill levels.

Concepts Puzzles Teach

  • Hand-eye coordination
  • Depth perception
  • Logical thinking
  • Problem-solving
  • Spatial reasoning 

I am also a massive fan of their Science Kits, specifically the Volcano kit.

What kid (or adults) doesn’t want to make a volcano erupt? And what makes the National Geographic kit top-notch is that your child has to mold and paint the volcano first, which means we can call this one a STEAM project.

There plenty of other kits out there made by different manufacturers, so find the one that works for you!

Concepts Volcano Kits Teach

  1. Cause & Effect
  2. Hypothesis and result
  3. How materials change
  4. Following directions
  5. Earth science

This next set of toys is comprised of individual toys I purchased from a variety of retailers.

To round up my recommendations, here some simple and easy gifts to enhance STEAM at home!

  • Magnifying glasses
  • Instruments
  • Playdoh & Tools
  • Magna-Tiles
  • Cars & ramps
  • Baking/Cooking Kits
  • Building Blocks
  • Tool playsets

Wherever your child’s interests may lay, there are toys out there to enhance their STEM/STEAM learning. 

Whether it’s the time of year you buy gifts or not, I hope this list inspires you to engage your child in STEM/STEAM learning at home.

Happy Holidays!

Music & Multiculturalism

Music is a powerful tool. It evokes emotions, memories, cheers us up, provides energy, or allows us to wallow if that is our mood.  

Music has been a part of my life as long as I can remember. My parents played instruments growing up, my sisters and I played instruments and studied music, and I studied music as an undergrad.  

Music surrounds us even when we don’t realize it. The birds singing in the trees is music. The hum and rhythm of the fish tank or dishwasher or the absent-minded whistling and humming we may do when working and thinking are music. 

 I am a huge supporter of arts and art education, and every year that I taught PreK, in addition to daily music and activities, I included a unit focused on music. Music is an incredible teaching tool, particularly when it comes to teaching our children about diversity and multiculturalism. 

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If you asked me to name my favorite musicians or composers, my immediate response would be Bon Jovi, Mozart, Ella Fitzgerald, Queen, Idina Menzel, and Rodgers & Hammerstein. That is a somewhat varied list, but those are just my TOP musicians.

Suppose you asked me to name music I enjoy and listen to regularly. In that case, I’d say classical, mostly piano and cello music, Broadway show tunes, country music, jazz standards, classic rock, 90’s rock, Edith Piaf, and choral music (particularly Rachmaninoff).

Then, I listen to other music types at various times just because I feel that vibe or want to hear something outside the box for me.  

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The point is music is hugely varied and can take us to many places and encourage us to learn more about the artist, the period, and the culture.

Music can be a window into other cultures for children and we should encourage them to learn more about those cultures.  

Some music you can introduce to your class or children at home includes the following dance types:

  • Salsa
  • Ballet
  • The Hora
  • Irish Dance
  • Russian Dance
  • Country Line Dancing 
  • Hip-Hop

Play some videos and using a YouTube, or watch a tutorial to learn the basic steps with your child, and dance along! Children LOVE to dance, so play anything with a good beat, and they are sure to bop along!

My 6 year old has learned almost all of Michael Jackson’s live Billie Jean performance from simply watching and attempting to learn the steps!

Disney 2018 – Pro Latin

Riverdance 2009

Next, tie that music in with books related to the culture and music they stem from. As you read through the books, you can branch-off based on your child’s questions or topics while reading.

As a final tie in, introduce your child to various instruments from different cultures. This can be through visual aids such as computers or books, or if you can get your hands on some instruments or see a live performance or demonstration even better!

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The more you expose your child to different types of music, the more you expose them to different cultures. It provides windows of opportunity to learn and experience, and it begins to create an understanding that all cultures have something unique to add to the human collective. 

Inspiring Books for Teachers

Teachers have been a topic of interest of late. Many are preparing their classrooms both virtual and face-to-face and some have already begun teaching for the year. I spent 14 years teaching and I remember the joys, frustrations and excitement of preparing a classroom for a new group of learners. All teachers are facing a new set of rules this year as they embark on the 20/21 school year and first and foremost, I want to applaud them and thank them for all that they do each and every day for our children.

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Second, I want to say, I know the struggle of keeping the fire alive day after day when faced with a difficult student, a challenging set of parents, a lack of funding for curriculum, lack of support from administration. Sometimes the, “Why do I do this?”, creeps in. This school year I know many teachers are facing a new set of worries, frustrations, complications and fears; yet they return because they love the children and they love to teach.

I decided to share some books that have inspired me most or helped me most as a teacher. Some are fiction, some are “How To” and some are reflections on education and society. Each one has helped me or motivated me in one way or another as a teacher and if you are an educator reading this I hope they can do the same for you!

The Essential Conversation: What Parents and Teachers can Learn from Each Other

I believe this book should be required reading for ALL educators, and it wouldn’t hurt parents to read it either. The title subtitle says it all, what parents and teachers can learn from each other, because it should be a collaboration. We have become increasingly parent against teacher in this nation instead of working together to provide the framework our children need to succeed. I see the degeneration of the parent-teacher relationship now more than ever as countless people sit behind their computers and complain that teachers “need to get back into classrooms and work.” The community has lost connection with teachers, what they do, the hours “off the clock” they are still working and and instead respect for teachers has been replaced with contempt by many.

Teachers have somehow become the be all end all solution to every problem, every child has. I have had many fortunate collaborations with parents in my career that resulted in positive and on going relationships. I also had those who wanted to blame me for every problem their child was having, you can’t win them all. But if we worked together, kept the lines of communication open and on both sides worked towards what is best for the child, I bet we’d see amazing results!

Know-It-All: One Man’s Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World

First I love A. J. Jacob’s writing, it is real, funny sarcastic and you actually learn something to boot! If you haven’t read one of this books, please do, they’re wonderful What I love about this book is that I WAS the kid who’s parents’ owned the complete encyclopedia set and I did sit and read it. I have loved learning and reading as long as I can remember and I haven’t stopped yet! This book is a funny reminder that we simply can’t know it all even when kids think we do.

It is important to be honest with children if you don’t know the answer to something and then take the opportunity to discover the answer together! I have often, both as a teacher and a parent, stopped what I was doing to look something up on the internet, or grab a book off the shelf so that a question could be answered. By admitting we don’t know everything, we show kids that it is OK not to have all the answers but that there are always ways of finding them!

We Need to Talk About Kevin

This book is one of the most powerful fiction books I have ever read. I have rad it twice so far and will probably read it again. I recommend this book to ALL teachers and parents, especially parents of boys. I will not delve too much into the plot, but I will say this piece was an eye opener on mental health in children. The first time I read it was before I had children and in today’s day and age I think this book is even more releavnt.

It is also an important reminder that as an outsider to everyone’s life but your own, you have no idea what another parent or family is facing or dealing with. Judgement hurts us all, it creates barriers, us vs. them. Unless you are living the life, you have no place to make assumptions on why a child behaved a certain why, or what a parent is facing personally. Thorough my experience as a teacher and my education I have been privy to things in children’s homes no one would ever guess. While none of us are perfect, mistakes are made, bad decisions chosen, do your best to reserve judgement on a child or family that doesn’t seem to make sense to you and instead find out in what ways you can help.

Teacher Man

If you are a teacher and you haven’t read this book yet, you should. Frank McCourt, was that teacher, the Robin Williams in Dead Poet’s Society teacher, the one that got his students. This book is powerful and shows just how much a teacher can give of themselves to their career and to their students. It is also an insider look into the fact that teachers, believe it or not, are humans like everyone else out there. That teachers have their ups and downs, professional disappointments, vices and personal problems.

You Can’t Come to My Birthday Party

This has been the single most transformative book to my career as a teacher. I read this and spent half a semester of grad school implementing this in the Pre-K room I was assistant teaching in at the time. I read this, and a light bulb went on.

We have all heard little kids say these things:

You can’t come to my birthday party!

You can’t come to my house!

You can’t play with my anymore!

It’s how children try to handle conflict and disagreements, by attempting to wield the little power they have or think they have. This book centers on helping children solve conflicts appropriately by giving them the tools to do so. It places the teacher in the role of mentor not judge or decision maker, but instead empowers children to make decisions regarding disputes together and in their own words. Since I first read this I have employed it every classroom I have worked in and have trained other educators on the principles and methodology as well.

A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, Power

A Call to Action is a reminder that there are many out there without the same access to education as those of us in more affluent countries and communities. It is a reminder than in many parts of the world and within many religions it is considered taboo to educate women and girls. This book was a reminder to me that we need to continue to encourage our girls to break the barriers of male dominated careers and help them know that they have the same rights to be an astronaut, doctor, member of the military, engineer, professional sports player and whatever else their heart might desire.

I temper this by saying, our young boys need to support to, just often in a different arena. We have to stop telling our boys they need to be “tough”, that they “can’t cry” and we have to allow our children both boys and girls, the opportunity to express themselves, follow their interests and be whoever it is they want to be. Cue the next book….

This is how it Always is

This book gave me goosebumps up and down. Not just because as a parent, it is hard to imagine what it would be like if my child were transgender, I know I would love either one of mine just the same, but what internal struggles would I have? It also affected me because of the way the education system failed this child by just not understanding and making their life so much harder.

This is a fictional story, but LGBT children and their families have been facing these struggles for a long time. These children don’t know where they belong, they often feel forced to hide part or all of who they are, and LGBT teens are one of the largest groups of individuals who commit suicide. This book is a reminder that while we can’t always understand what a child is going through, or know how to help, and it may even make us feel uncomfortable, but as the caring adults in their lives we need to find ways to let them know that we are indeed there for them and that we love them and that we wil be there to help them figure it out as best we can

The End of Education

This book is an insightful and critical look at how education has changed over the decades. While published 25 years ago in 1995, it still offers relevant insights into the modern education system, the changes made for the worse for both children and educators and insight into why and how we need to fix and rectify the American education system.

There have, of course, been many other books throughout the years that have impacted me one way or the other, but these are the ones that have been the most influential. Being a teacher is a hard job, being a parent is a hard job, let’s all remember to treat each other with respect. While we may hold different opinions on the current schooling situation we can still maintain that mutual respect needed to do what is best for our children. Stay Well!

Back to School Tips!

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The countdown to back to school has started, in some states, children have already returned. Regardless of whether your child is attending in person or virtually, things look a little different this year, but there is no reason it cannot be a fun and exciting event! In typical years, many children have anxiety and frustrations about the returning school year: no one wants to let go of the summer fun! This year both you and your child may be facing some extra emotions and obstacles, but that does not mean the new school year should be dreaded. Here are my top tips on how to make the start of the 20/21 school-year a positive one!

Back to School Shopping!

Every child loves back to school shopping: new clothes, new materials, new backpack. Even if your child will be attending school virtually this fall, there is no reason they can’t have a snazzy new outfit for the first day! They will be connecting with their friends again, meeting their teacher for the first time, and just like adults who work from home, getting dressed makes you feel better about yourself and makes you more productive! Giving your child the chance to pick out a new outfit and dress up is a guaranteed way to make them excited about school.

Talk to Them

Children have worries and fears just like we do, and even if your child seems completely relaxed and ready to go back, they most likely have a concern about something. It could be having to wear a mask all day, or their sport season being postponed, or how are they going to talk to their friends if they have to stay 6 feet apart? If your child is attending virtually, maybe they are concerned because their computer skills are lacking or they had a hard time reading the content in the spring, or perhaps they’re sad they still won’t see their friends face to face.


You can’t force a child to talk to you, but you can let them know the doors of communication are open. Asking a simple question like, “Hey, do you have any concerns about school you want to talk about?” lets your child know you are there to listen. Validate that it is ok to feel nervous or anxious or mad and that you are willing to listen if they decide they want to talk about ANYTHING.

Prepare Them

This year will present a new list of challenges, so send them into battle prepared for success. Teach them how to wash their hands adequately and express the importance of it. This is important for little ones as well as teens who might brush it off. As the mother of two boys, my favorite response to asking them to wash their hands post-bathroom is, “But I didn’t touch anything.” For little kids, have them sing the ABC’s or Happy Birthday Twice through. Post reminders in the bathroom with pictures or invest in a timer or a flashing light to make it fun.

Go over mask-wearing, the proper way to wear it, and why we wear it. Treat it like any other article of clothing that is required for school like shoes or a shirt. Buy them masks that they want to wear! This can be an opportunity to let them express their personality. Assure them that all the other children will be wearing one too, so while it may seem odd at first, it will eventually just be another part of getting ready for school.

Play Time!

Get them outside and playing! Regardless if your child is attending face to face classes or virtual classes it is A LOT of sitting. Children in elementary school need AT LEAST 1 hour of active play every day. If they haven’t had the opportunity to run around and burn off some energy in an after care program or with a sitter, let them play when you pick them up. In fact, make it a rule that they play! Homework can wait, their brains need a break and their bodies need exercise.

Fun and Simple Outdoor Play Options

Baby Pool or Sensory tub filled with water, plastic measuring cups, large eye droppers, rubber ducks (or other floating animal) and small plastic watering can

Backyard scavenger hunt: provide them with a list of things to check off or find

Bikes, Trikes and Skateboards – if you have a safe area for them to ride and play then use it!

Sprinklers – While it’s warm enough hook up a sprinkler to the hose and let them run free

Hopscotch, Jump ropes, Bean Bag Toss, Ladder Golf, Soccer Ball (speaks for itself)

Create an obstacle course using ropes, stepping stones, a balance beam, log or 2 x 4

Beach Ball Challenge, how long can they keep it in the air!

Give Them Space

Give your child a dedicated area to work, especially if they will be doing virtual schooling. Consistency is key, so create a space for them to work and make it theirs (at least while they’re working). Make it comfortable and quiet, and add little touches that make it more personal such as a picture of their grandma, some figurines of their favorite toys, or a poster of their favorite movie. If you have the room to create an area in their bedroom, I highly suggest it, just make sure what’s in their room won’t be a distraction from their work! The idea is to provide a safe and consistent space where your child can get their work done with little to no interruptions.

Office Hours

If, like many parents, you will be working from home with your kids also home, set office hours. This can work with children ages 5 and up, but it will take some practice and consistency. Set your office hours for 2-3 in the morning and 2-3 in the afternoon and explain to your children that you are working. This is an interruption-free time, emergencies excluded (their brother taking their nerf gun is not an emergency). Create an office hours sign that you can hang near your workspace to let your children know you are not to be disturbed. Keep in mind, that this doesn’t mean the house will be silent. Instead teach your children how to use a respectable volume in their voice while playing. They are going to need reminders at first, probably for a week or two. Remain firm, consistent but not harsh. If you are going to be on a call or Zoom chat, give your children a heads up that you will be doing so, so there are no unexpected surprises. In-between your office hours lavish your kids with the attention they need and want. Play a game, go for a walk, or make and eat lunch together. You need to take a break just as much as they need some mom or dad time!

Expect the Unexpected

None expects the Spanish Inquisition, and no one expected COVID or for it to last this long. Be ready and willing to remain flexible. If your son is having a really rough day and could use some extra snuggles, cut your office hours short that afternoon. When your daughter has come home on the 5th day of school and lost her 3rd mask, don’t yell and berate, this is new for her too. If your kids consistently say they’re bored after school, look at what toys they no longer play with an consider investing in some new outdoor gear. As families, we have already spent the last six months adapting the way we do things, how we function as a family and how we are navigating this thing called life, and we will continue to adapt. You’ve Got This! You Are an Amazing Parent.

Goldfish vs. Animal Crackers: How to teach young children about elections

The 2020 United States Presidential election is looming a mere three months away. And when I say looming, this is probably one of the most controversial and historical elections in U.S. history. As the 2016 election taught us, surprises can happen, and polls can’t always be believed. Regardless if you vote red or blue, teaching children the importance of elections and how the government works is key to creating generations of future voters. In all the years I taught preschool and pre-kindergarten, if there was a major election, I held a class election.

Now before you gasp and wonder, did she really polarize the children into two political camps? Yes, I did, sorta, but they weren’t democrat vs. republican; they were Goldfish vs. Animal Cracker. The only way for children to understand something is for it to be relevant to them. While I encourage reading children books about presidential and governmental figures, elections, and who can forget School House Rock videos, most of it will go over their heads, especially in preschool. Planning, implementing and carrying through on a classroom election, or if you are a parent reading this, a home election is a guaranteed way to educate children on politics without getting into the controversial nitty-gritty.

The concept of an election is actually quite simple to teach to children. You let them know there are two choices and each person gets to vote for one of those choices. The one with the most votes wins. Of course, as adults we know it is much more complex than that, but this is how you start. Teaching about elections not only gives young children a chance to learn about something some adults might consider beyond their scope, but it incorporates math, logic, and social emotional development. How does it feel if your choice won vs. if your choice lost? It teaches children we can hold different opinions but still remain friends and work together.

Each time I taught this unit I divided the class in half. One half was team Goldfish and the other was team Animal Cracker. The children had campaign meetings, created posters for their candidate, designed the election box and the ballot. Then, the children would “campaign” by visiting other classes and asking them to come and vote on election day. You can scale this activity down within your household and invite your relatives or close friends to vote via email.

Providing children with the opportunity to have a choice empowers them. And while the selection of snack may seem minor to you, it can be major to a preschooler! You can also extend this concept into voting about what toys to put out in a center, voting on the theme for a class party or voting about what book to read. For parents, you can host family votes on what movie to watch, what to order for take-out night and what board game to play! Once the concept of voting is introduced it can be used over and over again. Children will also learn about disappointment because no matter how much you want it, your choice will not always be the winner.

Engaging children in heavy political discussions and discourse is useless and not developmentally appropriate, although if you discuss politics at home, they are sure to overhear some of your opinions. This is not the time to preach and convert them, but you can use it as a way to say, “Mommy and Daddy don’t like “X” because of “ABC” or vice versus, “I like “Y” because she believes in “ABC” and so do I. It is important to explain to children why you feel a certain way, this will help build their cognitive development as well as a social and moral understanding of what it is important to you and your family.

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No matter what happens in the November election and how uncomfortable your Thanksgiving dinner, virtual or otherwise may be, there is nothing wrong with teaching young children the importance of voting and how the political system works. Remember, one day soon they will have a voice and they will be making the decisions so why not start the preparations now?