I often receive requests from parents about ways to improve their children's spelling. The following is typical of the kinds of concerns that are expressed.
Dr. Blank, My son struggles with reading, but far more with spelling. At the beginning of second grade, his reading is at the 1.5 grade level but his spelling is at the 1.1 grade level. What is the best way to improve his spelling?
The good news is that lots can be done. The less-than-good news is that the practices we need to use are unfamiliar. So it means getting used to some new ideas.
reading "Seeing Spelling: The Route to Reading" »
If you are familiar with Pilates, yoga and exercise classes, then you are familiar with inflatable balls that let you sit and bounce up and down. Some teachers say they belong in school classrooms too because they sharpen students' attention and improve their posture.
And that's what has been happening in some schools around the nation. One teacher in Chicago checked the Internet for ways to help her restless pupils sit still.
reading "Exercising While Sitting--A Splendid Idea" »
A college admissions consultant, Gwyeth Smith, recently published an article in the Washington Post where he has some simple advice for parents and students: WAIT!
For many, this may seem like a wild proposal whose main effect is to raise the anxiety of all concerned. But it takes on a new light when you consider some of the ideas that are behind it.
reading "Worried about College? Have You Considered Waiting?" »
Years ago, when I was a graduate student, I was introduced to the writings of Korney Chukovsky, a Russian writer from the early 20th century, who explored children's language with love and devotion. His book "From Two to Five" is still an amazing read--if you want to both laugh and marvel at what young children accomplish in learning language. At the time he wrote, he was trying to halt the drive of the Russian leadership to get rid of fairy tales and related fantasy stories on the grounds that they defied the "realism" that the authorities were seeking.
Now it seems unbelievable but our nation is faced with a not dissimilar struggle where the authorities are denying outlets that are vital to children. In this case, it is play.
reading "Play: Amazing That We Are Letting It Disappear" »
Several decades back, Dr. David Hamburg, an astute psychiatrist, gave a talk on the new health problems that our nation was starting to face. In contrast to the problems that earlier generations had to deal with (such as infectious epidemics), he pointed out that the new health problems were the result of “having too much”—too much food, too much alcohol, too much stimulation.
Now a detailed study of 173 research efforts carried out by the National Institutes of Health and Yale University shows how on target he was.
reading "Media: The Most Dominant Force in Children’s Lives" »
Parents often ask me to suggest books for their children to read--both for school assignments and for pleasure. When you are faced with those sorts of decisions, you can get lots of help, information and advice at
It's an excellent resource--offering reviews, finding books that match the ones your child likes, offering stories your child can watch, telling the stories of the lives of authors and on and on. It's the sort of site many kids can navigate easily on their own--so that they can be active partners in the selection process.
When I was a child, the "elders" in my family always advised eating fish, saying it was "brain food." Not caring much for fish in those days, I brushed their comments aside. But, as with so much, they were on the right track. Each year, more and more information appears-- confirming the importance of diet in the way we think and feel. Its effects are far greater than one might imagine. They even extend to the reduction of aggression.
reading "Brain Food" »
A few weeks ago, a familiar scene played itself in my office.
It started when a mother brought her six year old son to see me because he had not made any progress in reading during this school year and she was, understandably, distraught.
I began some preliminary testing. In the one-to-one situation, it was not easy, but at least it was possible to keep his attention to the task at hand. However, if at any point, I did not attend directly to him (for example, when I turned to the mom to get some information), he bounded out of his seat in an instant. Then he raced over to one or another of the toys in the room. It would not be amiss to characterize his behavior as much like “a jack in the box.”
reading "The Magic Touch" »
Many of the families who consult with me for help have children with attention problems. Often medications such as Ritalin are being used--or even more often, such medications are recommended. But many are reluctant to take this path.
Fortunately, there are other paths that are open. Reichenberg-Ullman & Ullman in a well researched book Ritalin Free Kids report their experiences in treating ADD children via homeopathy. If you are interested in learning more about this, you can go to http://www.amazon.com/Ritalin-Free-Kids-Effective-Homeopathic-Behavioral/dp/0761507191
No one today needs to be told that exercise is good for us. But, beyond the physical benefits, the latest research is indicating that it can also build the brain by boosting memory, alleviating stress, enhancing intelligence and allaying aggression. For example, scientists from Yale University reported last year in the journal Nature Medicine that regular exertion affects the hippocampus, the area of the brain responsible for mood. And physical activity boosts the flow of blood to the part of the brain that is responsible for memory and learning, promoting the production of new brain cells.
reading "Train Your Brain!" »
For lots of good reasons, we all take children's development very seriously and do everything we can to help them mature in the best way possible. But with our eyes always geared to the future, we sometimes overlook the fun and value in being immature.
Fortunately, the editors of Klutz are around to get us see things a bit differently. Their efforts which are aimed at "never growing up" started in 1977. It was then that they published their first book--Juggling for the Complete KlutzÂ®. It showed that anyone and everyone can learn the totally non-essential, but fun-filled, activity of juggling.
Now they've written what they describe as the ultimate how-not-to guide for ages 8 and up. It is The Encyclopedia of Immaturity and it contains more than 300 entries such as How to Skip a Stone, How to Do a Wheelie, How to Hang a Spoon from Your Nose, How to Really Annoy Your Older Sibling. They are presented with lots of full-color photographs, illustrations and diagrams that can enable your whole family to do all lots of unnecessary things that make childhood a very special time. For more information, go to http://www.klutz.com/
Parents and other family members often wonder about the best toys to give. Now there is a website that offers some valuable advice. It was set up by teachers and is called TRUCE--an acronym for Teachers Resisting Unhealthy Children's Environment. The goal is to help adults make informed choices about toys--both inclusion (that is, by highlighting the ones that are most productive to play and thinking) and exclusion (that is, by eliminating those that encourage violence and overstimulation).
For more information, you can go to http://www.truceteachers.org/toyguides/T_Guide_web_07.pdf
For the vast majority of children with reading difficulties, the problems are confined to reading. Their struggles are a tragic result of the limited and inadequate systems used for teaching reading.
But for some children, the problems go well beyond reading. Typically the youngsters are termed "children with special needs." As those familiar with the children know well, the families face many challenges. They benefit greatly from knowing the resources that are available and how to access those resources.
One site that provides invaluable information is www.eparent.com. Among their offerings is a yearly resource guide. The 2008 is on its way. It offers comprehensive national directory of service organizations, associations, federally funded programs, parent and training information groups, and many other resources for the special needs community.
Those who want that material now can turn to the 2007 edition http://www.eplibrary.com/reference1resource1anddirectories/
reading "Resource Guide for Children with Disabilities" »
If you would like to help your child achieve masterful scores on the SAT vocabulary, you can now do so via an interesting setup. You can go to the website www.freerice.com. There, your youngster will learn some interesting, esoteric words. But in addition, right answers lead to grains of rice being sent to the hungry of the world. So along with the fun of the word-game, players get an extra jolt of "feel good" joy:
reading "Growing Your Vocabulary While Feeding Those in Need" »
When Albert Einstein was asked to account for his incredible insights, he was reputed to have said, "It's because I never stopped asking the questions that children ask."
So people in England should have been prepared for the recent developments that have the country all abuzz. As the Guardian newspaper put it, "Everywhere you look, people are talking about teaching philosophy to children."
reading "Einstein Was Right Again" »
Parents who consult with me are generally focused on helping their children with language and reading skills. Often though, in the course of conversation, they say something like, "By the way, my son, or daughter, is quite good at music but wants to stop the lessons. What should I do?"
As with all questions of teaching and learning, the answers are not simple. Still, all other things being equal, my advice is generally to have the lessons continue. One of my deeply held beliefs is that the development of skills--in all areas--has enormous payoff for a person over the course of his or her life. Many times, students have come back to me to tell me how pleased they are that they did continue--because as adults, they find great pleasure in music and in the competence they have in this realm.
Now, via a recent Harris Poll of 2,565 adults, there is evidence to support what I have been encouraging. The study showed that whether it's chorus, band or violin lessons, music impacts Americans' lives in many positive ways.
reading "Music Education Linked to Academic and Income Success" »
A lot of my work is focused on helping children with learning problems. One of the things that continually impresses me is the energy, time and devotion the parents give to helping their youngsters. It is awe inspiring.
At the same time, there is often another component in the situation that tends to receive far less attention. It concerns the other siblings in the family. As one child told me, "I lose because I am normal. My sister gets all the attention and I get almost none of it." Fortunately, the situation often leads to some wonderful things. For example, the sibs commonly become more mature and caring than other "normal" children. As you might imagine, those traits serve them, and others, well.
The issues in this very understudied area are incredibly intricate. As with so much of life, there are no easy answers. But there is a lot to be gained by starting to think and talk about the complexities.
So jf you, or someone you know, is in this situation, you might find it helpful to look at a book tilted " The Normal One: Life with a Difficult or Damaged sibling" by Jeanne Safer (Delta, 2003).
reading "Being "Normal" : The Hidden Side" »
A favorite pastime for parents and children is bedtime reading. It's a true win-win situation. Not only is it enjoyable to sit back and experience a good tale, but it can be a major help in expanding a child's language and reading.
In my experience, most children and parents select stories as the books of choice. By that I mean, fiction as opposed to fact. There are many benefits to this type of reading and it, in no way, should be discouraged. At the same time, there is no reason to restrict the choices to these types of books. There are tremendous benefits to be had by expanding the selection.
There is, of course, the old adage, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." Since bedtime reading seems so great, you might be wondering why the suggestion for any modifications at all?
The answer rests with something parents and children are very concerned about--namely, school achievement.
reading "Making Bedtime Reading Even Better" »
Among the many magical properties of The Wizard of Oz is its power to reach everyone--regardless of age. That sort of experience is rare and it is to treasured. Fortunately it can found in the work of a number of artists.
One is Maira Kalman who has written many delightful books that appeal both through words and pictures. Penguin has just released her latest which is titled The Principles of Uncertainty. If you want to bring something new, appealing and quite special into your nightly reading time with your child, this is a great book to include.
reading "Adding Some Spice to Bedtime Reading" »
Some years ago, a bestselling book appeared with the priceless title Chicken Soup for the Soul Since the inevitable problems of life leave all of us hungry for this type of nourishment, a whole range of materials has subsequently appeared using this theme.
Now, an appealing new resource has been added to the list. It is geared for parents of children with learning difficulties and it is available at a website called Soul Support: Connecting Lives One Click at a Time You can find it at www.soulsupporter.com.
It offers a variety of resources including ways for parents to connect with other parents, lists of useful resources and a forum for posting ideas.
For many children, and for many adults as well, the physical act of writing is quite onerous. The difficulties can stem from a number of sources. Problems in sustaining the fine motor movements that writing requires and problems in accurate spelling are just a few of the possibilities. Regardless of the cause, you might find that you can take advantage of a friendly dragon who has been designed to assist you.
reading "Is Writing A Burden? Maybe You Need a Friendly Dragon" »
We hear a lot about globalization and the many changes it is bringing. One -- which has not achieved much attention -- is the need to learn other languages. If we are going to compete on a world-wide basis, our children are going to have to be fluent in a range of foreign languages. Now some of our English-speaking compatriots across the ocean are trying to do just that through a pioneering plan that has been started in the schools.
reading "Trying Out a Foreign Language?" »
Children often find writing to be far more difficult than reading. If that comment fits your situation, you may find it helpful to adapt the suggestion of a parent who recently wrote to me. She described the way she transitioned her son from reading to writing in the following way:
"I pulled my youngest child out of public school two months ago and am undertaking one of the biggest challenges of my life. As I started reading your blog posting on Children Reading Before Speaking, I realized that reading is so much easier for him. So a couple of weeks ago I decided to apply a technique I heard you lecture about some years back.
reading "Building Writing Skills: A Parent's Suggestion" »
Summer! Vacation time! For many American families that involves a trip to Disney World, Disneyland and/or the Disney Cruise Line. And chances are that one or more family member has a special need such as a child with ADD, a pregnant mom, grandparents with declining mobility, a child with food allergies, a teen-aged daughter "converted" to vegetarianism. To help with these and many other everyday needs, there is a new book that will prove useful. It is PassPorter's Walt Disney World for Your Special Needs: The Take-Along Travel Guide and Planner! by Deb Wills and Debra Martin Koma. This guidebook offers 400 pages of information, photographs, maps, charts, and advice covering 24 special needs categories that will ease your trip from start to finish.
There is a new book in the long line of books aimed at explaining how great leaps or breakthroughs come about --whether they be the invention of the printing press, the development of radar, or the cracking of the DNA code. The title of this book, which is filled with wonderful tales, is Smart World: Breakthrough Creativity and the New Science of Ideas by Richard Ogle. The publisher, quite appropriately, is the Harvard Business School.
While few of us will ever get to play a role in truly revolutionary ideas, all of us throughout our lives are fortunate to experience some components of the breakthrough experience. The term commonly used to characterize this experience is the "aha" moment.
And children--who are in a much more active phase of learning than adults-generally experience it from more than we do. You can see it happening
reading "The Importance of "Aha"--A Great Cue from Your Chilld" »
Years ago, a popular detective series on both radio and TV had a somber lead character by the name of Sargeant Friday. Central to Sargeantâ€™s persona was the one-liner that he used in all his interrogations "All we want are the facts."
In light of a recent report from the Civitas think-tank in England, students would be well-advised to adopt that line as their new mantra. The report states that in an effort to revamp ideas to "promote fashionable causes" politicians are eliminating facts and figures from history, geography and science.
reading ""Just the Facts, Please"" »
There is a magic to the computer. Among its powers is the capability of making the written page come alive. You can see this, for example, in software programs where stories are read aloud as the pages appear on the screen. The combination of seeing attractive pages of print while simultaneously hearing the words is unbeatable.
Now you can give some of that power to your child through free software that speaks the words that your child writes. Natural soft is one such program and you can find it at http://www.naturalreaders.com/?gclid=CIvX-ajBtowCFRKsGgodEBPORg.
For children in special education, there is one resource that far and away outranks all the other help they receive. That resource is their parents. Their commitment and devotion make them, by far, the strongest advocates a child can have. But motivation is not enough. It must be paired with solid information. One of the best places to get that information is Wrightslaw--Special Education Law & Advocacy. If you would like to check out the website, just go to http://www.wrightslaw.com/info/rti.index.htm
Dyscalculia (or problems in arithmetic) rarely receive the attention or concern that reading problems evoke. However, math is another key area that children need to master. If you want to get information on this topic, you might want to turn to http://www.k12academics.com/dyscalculia.htm
Parents often write to me to tell me about ideas they have that make the teaching in the Phonics Plus Five sessions move as smoothly and effectively as possible. Here is one of those ideas.
"My husband and I share the teaching and we have set up a three-ring binder where, each session, we store the worksheets our son has completed. That way, for any new session, all we have to do is go to the binder and see what has been done. That tells us exactly what lesson to do next. The binder also keeps the papers in perfect order."