Gifts that Last, Don’t Need a Pretty Package

Looking for the perfect gift?  Here’s one that will last a lifetime!  And here’s how I know. I was talking to a friend who told me she loved going home for her birthday..her eyes were big and bright, a huge smile filled her face, and she became quite animated. I agreed that it is always fun to be with your family on your birthday.

But she went on to explain that the best thing about her birthday is when her dad tells The Story of the Day She was Born!  She said, “That’s always been my favorite thing about my birthday, and it still is!” She said, “Just before we sing Happy Birthday, my dad tells about the day I was born as if it was truly an AMAZING EVENT! This young lady has been enjoying her story for about 60 years!

I know that as a parent, I’ve spent a considerable amount of time  searching for the perfect birthday gifts for my kids, especially, when they were younger. The idea was always to make the day special.  But, in all honesty, there were very few gifts that were so special that they actually remembered what they received from year to year.  It’s not that they were ungrateful children, they were always happy at their birthday parties.  But, life teaches us that very few material things have significant meaning that can stand the test of time, and surely not a lifetime…sometimes we parents forget that, being blinded by the latest-greatest fad that we think our kids really want, or need.  Deep down we know the thrill will probably be short-lived, but we have conditioned ourselves to be okay with that.

I had to share this story because it demonstrates how simple things can build self-esteem in children, and it’s never too late to start an awesome tradition like this one.  Even if your kids are older like mine, they still love to hear the stories of their baby days.  I can imagine my middle son, soon turning 27, grinning ear to ear, listening to ‘His Story’ just like he did when he was a little boy listening to his favorite tales about the Ninja Turtles and other wild beasts!

The birth of the precious prince George has been a fascination around the world.  But, the joy of his birth is no different to his parents than any other parents who are eagerly anticipating the birth of their own little prince or princess.

Cover of "The Perfect Gift"

I think equipping your child with the words of their special birth-day is the gift that will last and last.  Children are never too old to hear about how much excitement and joy their birth created for their parents.

Parents, we’re working too hard looking for stuff, to go into those pretty packages!  Don’t you think?

One Size Doesn’t Fit All…Anymore…

Image representing Twitter as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase

If you want to know how students feel when they are trying to learn concepts that are out of their comfort zone, simply put yourself in a situation that requires new learning.  I have thought about this quite a bit this summer…I decided this was my time (summer vacation) to become more tech savvy… but where to begin?

Social Media seemed like a good place to start. I’m probably like a lot of people out there.  I know just enough to not look too ‘old school’.  I have a Face Book account, sort of… I have a few friends and have posted some things, but I have mostly commented on the posts of others. I am on LinkedIn and have a Twitter account…and as you can see, I have taken up blogging.

But learning how to get to the next level has been a challenge for me.  In fact, there have been days when I have just said, “Forget it, I have managed this long without tweeting, blah, blah, blah.”  The adult in me quickly steps in and straightens up my bad attitude. I really do believe that it’s important that I learn to embrace all that technology has to offer – I understand the value.  I am a motivated learner, so I am more likely to take the valleys better than someone who is being forced to learn something.

Students who struggle in school often face these emotions every day.  They have decided, and some have had it reinforced, that they just aren’t good at a certain subjects.  Students form both strong likes and dislikes about these subjects that can last a lifetime if there is not a break in the pattern of getting those negative feelings reinforced.

As a parent or teacher, it’s so easy for us to forget the early stages of the learning process… many times I have heard parents say, “But, I’m an engineer, I just don’t know why my kid doesn’t do much better in math.”

When I sit in a technology class, or attend a seminar, I am reminded of the diversity in every classroom … students come with a range of background knowledge that includes everything from true beginner to very skilled… teachers know that the one size classroom, no longer fits all…they must blend the art of teaching with the science of teaching to create an environment that nurtures all.

A Textbook and a Twinkie …….. Just Won’t Cut It!

Before this past school year ended a parent asked me if she could borrow a Texas History textbook for the summer.  She was asking for it because she wanted her child, who struggled a bit in reading comprehension, to get a head start on learning about Texas History before he got to 7th grade.

Although I understood this parent’s good intentions I could not, or should I say would not, give her the text book.  There are many wonderful things that come from books, there is no doubt.  Text books though, tend to be full of facts and figures and to target only the basics of what a student is supposed to know at a certain age. Today, textbooks are used as resources that provide details and structure to grade level objectives, but there are better ways to help a student prepare for the next grade level.

Another point to remember is that the teacher is the key to making the textbook something of value.  He or she adds the colorful background that might have been edited out of the textbook.  The teacher can get students to laugh and cry because many teachers are skilled story tellers! So, picturing this child sitting alone at his kitchen table with a textbook and a Twinkie, but no teacher, I had to come up with some other ideas.

Students will do much better at remembering details when they have background knowledge about events and places. Studies have shown again and again that background knowledge, even the slightest bit, can make a difference in a student’s comprehension.  Many experts support the idea that providing background knowledge can be the most important component to a student’s reading experience.

Summer is the perfect time to imagesventure out and see a few sites and to experience and imagine what happened “once upon a time”.  Every state has many unique places to visit and students are a hundred times more likely to learn something by visiting them. It will make your child more eager to learn when he returns to school and will give him something to write about when the teacher asks, “What did you do on your summer vacation?”

If traveling isn’t an option, there are many wonderful movies that can bring history alive.  Watch these movies together and open the door for discussion.  “Do you think this is a true story?”  “What were some of the things you learned about the people, or the places mentioned?” Even when movies take artistic liberties by stretching the truth, you can use this as the basis for talking about what really happened and separating fact from fiction.  And of course, there are novels that tell the tales of our past…these are all superior to reading a textbook.  If you’re not sure what’s appropriate for your child’s age/grade just ask the reference librarian at your local public library.  They have an astounding amount of knowledge and information to share.

Where have you taken your children so they can experience some of our history?  What movies or books would you recommend for other parents for the same reason?

It’s not rocket science…never say stupid and math in the same sentence

I was talking with a young girl yesterday who shared with me that her struggles in math came down to the fact that she still didn’t really know her multiplication facts very well; this young lady is about to start high school, which means she is about 14 years old.  It may seem shocking to you that a 14 year old would still struggle with basic math facts, but  you’d be amazed at how many times during the school year I hear that very same sentiment…usually, I hear it from a parent, or quite often from the student’s math teacher.

It’s important to understand that knowing the basic math facts is just one little component of a student’s math toolkit.  Students who have sharp tools can handle the more rigorous math that is being done in school today.  I remember, and so might some of you, a time when we drilled the facts again and again until we knew them.  

14601299-multiplication-table-handwritten-with-wooden-dummy-chalk-on-a-school-blackboardThis was part of our daily math experience, and by golly, we learned those facts!  But, today, there is a greater emphasis on developing critical thinking skills in order to  facilitate higher level thinking for problem solving.  This is what’s necessary for 21st Century learners.

Since there are only so many hours in a school day students cannot spend much class time on rote memorization skills. Therefore, once students have been taught the meaning of multiplication which typically occurs in 2nd and 3rd grade, drilling those math facts has to be done mostly outside of school. Many students will learn their facts because they are just intrinsically motivated to do so, they pick them up in conjunction with other concepts that are being taught, or their parents find a way to make them practice… flash cards are one way, Mad Minutes, are another and my all time favorite Multiplication War is the best way I’ve found to make it happen…It is expected that most students will eventually get the facts mastered in due time.

The young girl that I talked with yesterday, and many students like her missed out somewhere along the way and now they feel frustrated, and even stupid about math. What I was picking up from her was a sense that she was down on herself for not trying harder when she was in the earlier grades.

As someone who is totally devoted to building student self-esteem, I feel so sad for kids who find themselves in this situation. They may actually have very good reasoning skills and a keen ability to do well in math, but they don’t even know it because they rarely get the satisfaction of being that person, in the class, that raises their hand first and knows with confidence that they came up with a solution. Basic elements are holding them back.  I  feel for parents who desperately want their child to succeed in school but are not sure how to help.  I recently received an email from a mom who told me her daughter “feels so dumb in math, what can she do? She ended with, “Please help!”  This prompted me to come up with a few suggestions:

  • speak positively about math regardless of your own feelings and experiences… math success is more important than ever for the 21st Century learner
  • never say, “You take after me, and I was awful at math” … that just gives kids an excuse to not do well
  • make sure your student has the basics down before middle school..they should be able to add, subtract, and multiply basic facts fluidly
  • use math vocabulary whenever the opportunity arises – math words are abundant and kids are like sponges if you are consistent.. I visited a kindergarten class once in which the teacher consistently asked the students to sit on the circumference of the circle…every one of them knew what to do…5 years old!!
  • play board games that require some math thinking and conversation; ie: Monopoly, Yahtzee, Battleship, Connect Four, Risk
  • math skills improve with practice, just like any other activity that is worth doing..make time for practice!

I would love to know your thoughts on this topic..please feel free to comment!

More ideas at

Don’t Just EAT the Pizza!

There are so many opportunities for reinforcing math in our everyday lives and it’s important for moms and dads to understand that this is the real key to your child’s math success.  Unfortunately, many kids think of math as nothing more than another worksheet and this is so sad because as we all know nothing in our daily lives happens without math!  It’s everywhere!

So here’s a few conversation starters to go with your next pizza..

A pepperoni pizza.

A pepperoni pizza. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  •  If 1/4 of the pizza has pepperoni, what does that look like? What fraction does not have pepperoni?
  • Pizzas are rectangular or round.  Which provides more area?  What do you need to know in order to figure this out?
  • What’s the diameter of the pizza? How does that tell me about the size/area?
  • If five people plan to share it equally, what fraction does each person get?  What percent of the pizza is that?
  • If ordering, which Pizza Place gives the most for your money?

I can go on and on with this stuff… here’s something even better. Make a pizza or two with your kids because, let’s face it, when the pizza arrives or is taken out of the oven, most of us are ready to, well…. just eat! And this may not be the best time for a little math chat.   But, when you’re making it, the fun part is the doing…

Fabulous crust is the Pillsbury Pizza Dough in the cylinder (math word)! Plan the pizza making with the kids, take the kids to the store, let them pick some of the toppings…this is a full afternoon of ‘something to do’… and your kids will think it’s better than most outings that cost a fortune and are over in minutes.  Have you taken the family to the movies lately?  eeegads!  For more ways to engage the kids and especially to keep them learning go to

Life goes by faster than any old summer vacation…

That’s a quote from a movie that I wouldn’t even begin to  recommend, but it IS a really great line…and is one that is relevant to those of us who are beginning, the much coveted, summer vacation!  If you’re a teacher you’ll totally understand when I say there are two basic

emotion icon

emotion icon (Photo credit: Łukasz Strachanowski)

emotions that we deal with when it comes to summer vacation… the first, of course is JOY! It’s impossible not to feel joy with all the excitement and anticipation of school year coming to an end! The kids are beyond control and can’t wait to be free…much like the teachers.  And then, about ten weeks down the lazy days, another emotion strikes — depression?  That could be too strong of a word for this, but it has to do with thoughts like, “The whole summer went by and what have I done with my time? What do I have to show for all the days off? How did it all slip away so fast? The same piles are still stacked up here and there!!!

What to do? It’s been said that a goal is just a dream if there is no here’s how I plan to change the second emotion, when it tries to creep in about ten weeks from now.  I’m going to have fun, I’m going to relax, but I’m also going to plan some specific ‘to do’ s and I’m going to get them done.  Then, I’m going to take the extra minute that it takes to write on my calendar what I did.  It might be lunch with a friend, it might be cleaning the blinds, it might be sorting through a pile, whatever, I just want to know I’m using this precious time to take care of some things that are adding to the clutter that I feel when things get hectic. And, life does get pretty hectic during the school year.

The older I get the more certain I am, that life really does go by faster than any old summer vacation, so I plan to make every day count!  I hope you do too!

What kids really want…this summer…

I once did an ‘unscientific’ survey of students in my school… the question presented was something like “What do you call GREAT vacation time?”  The kids brainstormed the possibilities and came up with a list of about five things such as:

* a trip to Disney World or some other exclusive place * going to camp *getting signed up for activities such as tennis or swimming lessons * going to visit relatives * or not a lot of planned activities, but time to relax and have fun with friends and family.  The overwhelming favorite among our students was the last choice!  It seems that kids really want some down-time.  They want to relax, have an overnight once in awhile, play games at their own house and enjoy family and friends.  In talking with students further, I found that this didn’t really mean they wanted to sleep until noon every day, but they didn’t want to have to get up an go day after day.  And, they did want interaction with the family.  Going to see relatives was the 2nd most popular choice! You don’t have to spend a huge amount of money on a vacation to have happy kids… stay-cations are the envy of LOTS of kids!