Phonemic Awareness Pt. III

Vowel Phonemes

The English alphabet contains the following five vowels: A, E, I, O, U. The letter Y is also considered a vowel when it represents a vowel sound, like “fly” or “lonely.” Vowels make up a small percentage of the letters in the English alphabet; however, the list of vowel sounds that these letters can produce is much longer!  Because there are so many different ways of spelling certain vowel phonemes, learning the appropriate patterns for reading and writing require much more instruction than the “sound it out” method.

For instance, take the diphthong (combination of two vowel phonemes) /aɪ/. This sound can be made using multiple different letter patterns:

  • eye
  • by
  • die
  • bright
  • mite
  • Thailand
  • kayaks

So how do we begin to teach these phonological skills when there are so many letter combinations to create these sounds? 

As discussed in part II, vowel sounds are a whole new ball game when it comes to reading instruction. For beginning readers, as previously explained, it’s all about initially hearing the difference between short and long vowels. Parents and educators can solidify foundational knowledge about how to distinguish short vowel sounds from long vowel sounds by incorporating repetition and movement. 

To introduce short vowel sounds, students will want to practice using familiar one-syllable words with corresponding actions. Parents and/or teachers will recite and model the phrase and motion. Then adults should ask children to recite/perform it back in unison:

  • “i as in itch” (scratch shoulder)
  • “eh as in elephant” (pretend your arm/wrist is the elephant’s trunk)
  • “ah as in apple” (motion as though you’re holding and biting into an apple)
  • “uh as in up” (jump or point upwards)
  • “o (aw) as in octopus” (motion with fingers as though you’re an octopus crawling on the seafloor)

In order to introduce long vowel sounds, repeat the phrase, “Long (fill in with vowel) says its name.” This way, children will begin to equate the words that they are hearing to either long or short sounds. This differentiation prepares them for the spelling patterns/rules that correspond to short and long vowel sounds, which they will learn shortly. Examples include:

  • “The word be is a long vowel sound because long E says its name.”
  • “The word tape is a long vowel sound because long A says its name.”
  • “The word oval is a long vowel sound because long O says its name.” 

After children grasp the concept of how these vowel phonemes sound in different words, they are ready to start looking at the letter/sound combinations (diphthongs) in order to correctly read the various vowel patterns. 


Another key concept regarding phonemic awareness is the digraph. A digraph is a combination of two letters that make up one sound. Common digraphs include sh, ch, th, and wh. When introducing these sounds, provide visuals or photo cards to accompany the examples of words with digraphs—the more familiar, the better. 

Here, you can return to tapping, finger stretching, etc., but instead of tapping syllables within a word, you’ll ask students to tap for the phonemes that they hear in each word. For example, cat and that are both one syllable words; however, students will notice how that has an additional letter. But instead of students tapping out the “t” and “h” sounds separately, the two are combined to form the one sound, the digraph “th.” So while 3-letter word cat is tapped c-a-t (3 phonemes, 1 syllable), 4-letter word that is also tapped using 3 phonemes: th-a-t. 

National Physical Therapy Month

October is National Physical Therapy Month, which recognizes those who support individuals with physical, occupational, and speech impairments. The American Physical Therapy Association, APTA, devotes the month of October to recognizing the impact that physical therapy can have through their initiative, #ChoosePT. The goal of #ChoosePT is to shed light on physical therapy as an alternative to pain medication, particularly opioids. APTA’s aim is to raise awareness about the benefits of physical therapy for certain injuries rather than resorting to prescribed pain medication. Of course, the use of pain medication is sometimes unavoidable, especially after a major surgery. However, as the opioid epidemic continues to expand, the ages of opioid overdose victims continues to fall into the early 20s and even teens. Now that the opioid epidemic has officially been declared a public health emergency, families must be prepared to identify and combat opioid overuse.

Fast Facts

  • According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, over 30% of teenagers consider the typically-abused medications, such as Vicodin and Oxycontin, to be “easily accessible” to teens.
  • Surveys indicate that 1 in every 5 high school seniors admits to having taken a prescription drug to get high.
  • Shockingly, about half of adolescent users claim to have obtained the prescription drugs illegally from a friend or family member.
  • While efforts to combat opioid addictions have increased across the country, the number of adolescent deaths related to overdoses has grown significantly over the last five years.
  • While negative peer influence has a major impact on impressionable teens, adolescents with close familial ties, whose parents are more involved and vocal about their disapproval of prescription drugs, are far less likely to engage in their misuse.
    Similarly, teens who prioritize their academics are also less likely to abuse opioids.
  • Because the average adolescent brain is still developing, and doesn’t fully mature until age 25, teens are especially susceptible to risk-taking, impulsivity, peer pressure, and addiction—it is almost as though their brains are primed for seeking the instant gratification that opioids seem to provide.
  • Because of the “euphoric” effects, teens with depression, anxiety, or other mood disorders are more likely to engage in prescription drug misuse.
  • Adolescents often believe that, because these opioids are prescribed by doctors, they are much safer than the typical “street drugs.” However, the truth is that the addictive properties are the same—making prescribed opioids just as, if not more, dangerous than heroin, fentanyl, etc.

Stay Safe: Strategies for Parents

  • When doctors prescribe a post-procedure pain killer for your child, ask about the possibility of an alternative to the typically prescribed opioid. Will a higher dose of ibuprofen or acetaminophen manage the pain?
  • If prescription opioids are necessary, follow the dosage instructions carefully; do not exceed the daily dose prescribed by the doctor.
  • Monitor the number of pills carefully and secure the prescription yourself; do not leave it up to your teen to administer his/her own doses.
  • When pain has been adequately managed, your teen should not continue taking the medication. It is not like an antibiotic where you should finish the full prescription.
  • Many doctors recommend flushing leftover pills to avoid their misuse.
  • Talk openly with your teen about the dangers of abusing prescription drugs. Remind them that even one instance of abusing a prescribed opioid could contribute to an addiction and/or overdose.
  • Stay keen on any mention of a “pharm party,” as these are growing more popular among high school students. At a pharm party, teens bring prescription drugs and other pills to trade or sell. Sometimes pills are tossed into a bowl and passed around like candy, which is why parents must carefully monitor how and where their prescription drugs are stored.

Accommodations Translated, Part II

In “Accommodations Translated Part I,” we introduced several key distinctions. We explained the four categories: setting, presentation, response, and timing. We also discussed the difference between accommodations and modifications, as they relate to special education services. To continue our parent’s guide to classroom accommodations, we hope to explain a few of the more ambiguous terms, while still stressing the importance of open communication between parents and teachers when discussing IEP/504 accommodations.

What is it? When is it used? How is it helpful?
Flash pass Flash passes are used as a discreet means of signaling a student’s need to leave the classroom to take a “brain break” or cool down. They can be used for students with emotional disabilities, anxiety, ADHD, and health issues, among other things. Flash passes allow students the opportunity to hit the “reset” button during times of stress or when emotionally triggered. Flash passes often allow students to quietly leave to visit a break/cool down room, nurse’s office, counselling department, or resource room. It helps students self-assess and regulate their emotions by providing them with an additional means of calming down before a breakdown.
Scribe and/or oral response When a disability complicates a student’s ability to write, like dysgraphia, for example, a human scribe means that a teacher or support staff will write the response or passage as the student dictates. The response is the student’s genuine response, but without the complication of physically writing it down. This ensures that students are evaluated on their knowledge and understanding, just like every other student, but without the barrier of their disability. This accommodation also helps to build self-esteem because students’ ability to respond is not limited by their capacity to write.
Reduced workload Reduced workload is tricky because, if the learning goals or standards are reduced, this becomes a modification, not an accommodation. However, many students with identified learning disabilities may benefit from the accommodation, so long as the learning objectives are still assessed and met. If a student has a condition that limits his or her ability to maintain focus for lengthy periods of time, a reduced workload will help.  Essentially, with reduced workload, students are expected to meet the same objectives by using the same methods, but will be required to produce fewer examples, answers, paragraphs, etc. For instance, a student with PANDAS, for whom extended focus could trigger physical symptoms, teachers may require that student to write a 3paragraph essay, as opposed to 5 paragraphs. The student is still accountable for meeting writing standards for introducing, supporting, and concluding a topic; however, the additional body paragraphs are not required to demonstrate mastery. 
Chunking Chunking assignments and tasks is used when students struggle to tackle multi-step tasks or projects due to attention issues, executive functioning deficits, etc. While chunking is a “best practice,” meaning that teachers use this routinely for all students, it is not guaranteed unless documented in a student’s IEP. For a biology project or argumentative essay, for example, a teacher would break down the assignment into manageable daily/weekly steps.  Chunking works to benefit students in several ways. It makes the complex task seem more manageable and less daunting by breaking it into practical, feasible steps. It also helps students explicitly organize the workload by telling them in what order the steps should be completed. This is especially helpful for students with executive functioning deficits, because they often lack the skills necessary to organize complex tasks independently. Finally, chunking helps students manage their time with realistic checkpoints and soft due dates. Teachers are able to mitigate any struggles during the learning process and help simplify steps if necessary.  
Extended time Extended time, as it sounds,  allows students to have additional time to complete and/or submit assessments and assignments. This accommodation is frequently used when students struggle with attention issues, organization, processing disorders, etc.  Additional time, which could mean anything from 50-100% extended time past the due date, is meant to ensure that students are evaluated based on their abilities without their disability interfering. One major aspect that the IEP team will need to discuss is how the accommodation will be used. Parents, teachers, and the student should agree upon how extended time will be used. Will it apply to homework assignments, or just major tasks? How will that look during assessments? How will the student request extended time? At what point in the process of a project or essay should the student ask for extended time?  


Accommodations Translated, Pt. I

The IEP and 504 process can be overwhelming. With so many aspects, considerations, components, and details, the documentation can be dizzying for families. One major piece of the puzzle that is crucial to understand is the list of the student’s accommodations—these are the specific supplementary aids and services that are legally guaranteed to students to assist in their learning. However, often times the terminology and phrasing can be unclear for families, especially those who are unfamiliar with clinical “teacher speak.” So what do some of the more commonly confusing accommodations actually mean for families? Let’s take a look!

  • First of all, accommodations are typically categorized into 4 groups: setting, presentation, response, and timing.
    • Setting involves an adjustment to the learning environment that is more conducive to the student’s learning needs. This could mean “reduced distractions” and/or “small group testing,” which we’ll explain more thoroughly later.
    • Presentation refers to the way in which the material is offered or presented to the student. An example might be to supplement a required reading with the option to listen to an audio recording of the same text.
    • Response accommodations refer to the manner in which the child answers or completes a task or assignment. Access to a Word Processor, for example, is a common accommodation for students with dysgraphia.
    • Timing, as it sounds, involves the child’s school schedule and/or allotted time for task completion. For instance, a child with ADHD may benefit from taking more rigorous courses first thing in the morning, as opposed to having content-heavy classes after lunch.
  • Additionally, there is an important distinction between accommodations and modifications. 
    • Accommodations are put in place to help students with various learning difficulties to circumvent their challenges or disabilities. However, accommodations do not alter the expectations for learning; nothing is “watered down” or simplified, as some parents often misconceive. 
    • Modifications do change the content or amount of the information that the child is required to learn. For instance, instead of completing a timed 30question multiplication quiz, students with a modified workload might have to answer 15 questions.

Another common misconception involves a widely-used accommodation—preferential seating. Contrary to what many parents assume, preferential seating doesn’t necessarily mean in the front and center of the classroom. This accommodation actually means that the student should be seated wherever he or she will be most successful and have optimal access to instruction. That said, preferential seating could mean different things for different students; it could also mean different seating from class to class. For example, a student who becomes easily distracted by visual stimuli might need to face away from the windows in one classroom, but away from the doorway/hallway in another. 

In order for the accommodation to be truly beneficial, the decisions being made about seating should be a collaborative effort among the IEP team and the student. Open communication is key here. It is also important to note that preferential seating can be a fluid arrangement; if seating does not appear to be successful, teachers should discuss with the student and rethink what “preferential” should look like moving forward.

Vision Statements for Families of Students with IEPs

When skimming through a teacher’s Special Education binder, the collection of IEPs and 504 plans, as informative as they are, have the tendency to reduce a student to a list of symptoms, behaviors, accommodations, and strategies. Furthermore, a student’s entire learning profile and educational plan is often reduced to a snapshota one-sheeter used for quick reference in the classroom. 

Children benefit when supports and strategies are consistent and measurable, and IEPs are certainly informative and essential for keeping educators, families, specialists and pediatricians all on the same page. However, the downside of the IEP or 504 is that it draws attention to the negatives, weaknesses and areas of need. To adequately introduce your child to his or her educators, perhaps it’s time to get creative by supplementing the formal documentation with a more personalized vision statement!

What is a vision statement? 

In the simplest of terms, a vision statement is a declaration of one’s main goal or objective. Ideally, a personal vision statement would provide the framework for one’s intentions by aligning set goals with plans for achieving those goals. Therefore, a child’s vision statement should account for where the child would like to see himself down the roadwhat does his ideal future path look like?

Because the IEP offers mainly technical informationhow to best support the child, what his/her needs are, how his/her diagnosis manifests, etc.the vision statement allows parents the opportunity to share personal information about the child’s hopes for the future. This information provides valuable insight and allows the IEP team to see that student as more than a diagnosis or label. 

What should you include in your child’s “About Me” vision statement?

To construct your child’s vision statement, parents will want to prepare to clearly articulate their child’s aspirations by first talking to their child about his or her hopes for the future. Questions to ask might be:


  • What is something that you consider to be a personal talent?
  • What are 3 of the most important aspects of your life?
  • How would you characterize or describe yourself in 3 words?
  • What is something that you cannot live without?
  • What motivates you?
  • What do you hope to accomplish in your life?


In discussing these questions, parents can help synthesize the responses and streamline their child’s overall ambitions into a clear vision statement for the IEP team. This vision statement will then act as a guide for educators as they encounter and assist that student throughout the course of his or her learning.

Some examples of a student’s vision statement might be:

“To let my natural curiosity guide me and increase my motivation for learning…”

“To use my social strengths to relate to and learn about different cultures, people, and places…”

“To use my tenacity and optimism to persevere through difficult challenges…”

“To allow creativity to enhance my ability to problem-solve…”

“To be proud of my efforts by always trying my absolute hardest and giving my all…”

How is the vision statement beneficial? 

The student vision statement is instrumental in several different ways. First, because the statement expresses personal hopes and goals, it allows educators and the rest of the IEP team to see further inside the student as a whole person, not just as a diagnosis with specific needs. The vision statement also provides insight into how the student sees himself or herself; educators get a sense of the student’s self-perceived strengths and interests. These details help the IEP team reach the student on a more personalized, individual levelthey are not just looking at accommodations, but also at additional motivators to help students “buy in” to the academic challenges ahead. Finally, for parents, it is important that their child will be seen as a uniquely capable and successful student, one with all of the same potential and complexities as any other child. The vision statement places emphasis on the child as a person first, not on the diagnosis or struggles. 

LE Does It Best: How To Make the Most of Tutoring Time

As discussed in part I, the educators at Learning Essentials (LE) are fully committed to helping every learner achieve his or her goals. The adage, “It takes a village,” truly grounds our methods and mindset around education. We believe that, with the help of our “playbook,” students and families experience academic support through collaboration and communication. Below are just a few of the ways in which LE tutoring sessions incorporate best practices.

  • Before learners are matched with a tutor, the executive director will conduct an intake meeting to assess the student’s learning style, preferences, strengths, and areas of need. This allows for the creation of a comprehensive learning plan, which will ensure that the best supports are put into place from the start. 
  • While we do not diagnose specific learning disabilities, our team is equipped to observe students’ learning profiles and connect families with the necessary professionals. We aim to ease the stress and confusion surrounding unique learning needs by providing academic tutoring, coaching, brain camps, parent workshops, and academic consulting. 
  • With collaboration from parents and any other necessary supports (teachers, pediatricians, behavior specialists, etc.) the team at Learning Essentials will develop learning goals and an academic “playbook” for the student. This playbook is a uniquely individualized approach to ensure that each learner receives customized instruction to work towards his or her personal best.  
  • Our advanced-degreed, highly qualified educators will work to provide learning support for any and all areas of need through one-to-one tutoring sessions. We address every aspect of a student’s educational needs, from medical needs and learning disabilities to psychological referrals and communication between the schools and families. It is always our goal to advocate for each learner and help him or her to simultaneously develop autonomy.
  • Because communication is a best practice for student success, parents are not only part of the initial collaboration, but are also thoroughly kept in the loop after every tutoring session. LE tutors will submit detailed reports about the session goals, materials used, visible progress, and plans for next steps. With parent permission, tutors are also encouraged to communicate with the child’s teachers to ensure full support by adapting materials and differentiating instruction to meet the student’s unique needs.  
  • Unlike traditional tutoring services, LE tutors strive to not only address academic and study skills, but also to provide learners with methods for boosting motivation and develop an intrinsic desire for learning independently. We essentially aim to empower students by “training” them how to learn.
  • Because the LE team is comprised of educational professionals, such as certified MCPS teachers, case managers, educational psychologists, language-based experts, experts in executive functioning, literacy coaches, and applied behavior therapists, we are able to fully support families with cutting-edge methods for instruction and research-based strategies to develop creativity, confidence, and positive study habits.
  • As part of our approach for consistent communication, LE will not only work to help students reach their learning goals, but will also evaluate and discuss progress along the way. In measuring progress, tutors are able to modify and adapt instructional techniques and strategies as a best practice for learning. By individualizing each “playbook,” students’ needs are addressed in a personal but fluid fashion, allowing for flexibility and creative approaches to learning.

LE Does It Best: How to Make the Most of Tutoring Sessions

Learning is not accompanied by a one-size fits all instruction manual. There are countless roadmaps to lead a young learner towards academic success. An essential starting point is for parents, educators, and the students themselves to identify academic strengths, utilize these skills, and accommodate any learning difficulties to establish grit and perseverance.

Basically, we need to know what we’re good at, what we’re not so great at, and how to use the former skills to compensate or balance out the struggles. This all seems well and fine, but often students struggle to reach this precarious balance of strengths and weaknesses, especially when the pressure for grades, scores, benchmarks, and admittance looms.

However, at Learning Essentials (LE), we know how to help families bridge the gaps to ensure academic achievement. Below are the best methods to make the most of your tutoring and study sessions, followed by ways in which LE helps to establish these routines for students of all abilities and needs.

– Establish and maintain a regular and consistent tutoring schedule. Depending on a child’s needs, tutoring may need to take place several times a week, once a week, or on an as-needed basis for major projects, exams, papers, etc. The key is to lay out a tutoring schedule that incorporates definitive learning goals aligned with the families realistic schedule.

– Treat tutoring sessions as a priority. Tutoring time needs to be taken seriously, but keep the conversation positive, since a student’s effort and motivation have a huge part in how successful the sessions will be. Provide reassurance that tutoring is not a sign of failure or incapability, but an extra measure to simplify learning and to help your child reach success.

– Build in flexibility. While consistency is key, we all know that daily life can become hectic, especially in the throes of the school year. Therefore, flexibility on the tutor’s part is essential. Talk about scheduling and a plan for last-minute cancellations up front.

– Remove distractions. When planning to keep tutoring sessions productive and get the most out of each meeting, discuss how to maintain a focused learning space. If tutoring at home, ask your child to hand over the phone, or other device for the duration of the session. Stress that this is not a punishment, but that uninterrupted instruction is key for success.

– Decide on a tutoring location that promotes concentration. Perhaps the neighborhood library or child’s school would be best. If working at home, set up an area that accommodates quiet productivity, away from screens, visitors, phone calls, and siblings. If the work space looks out into the backyard where siblings or neighborhood friends might play, consider closing blinds or relocating—your child shouldn’t have to watch others play while he’s working on school work.

– Set up a functional workspace. Make sure it is spacious enough for all necessary learning materials and consider flexible seating options. Especially for students with attention difficulties or tendencies toward hyperactivity or restlessness, a yoga ball, beanbag, cube, or stool can promote concentration and focus through muscle engagement.

– Discuss the length and frequency of brain breaks with your child and his tutor. These brief breaks in instruction and learning allow for little minds and bodies to take a much needed hiatus to recoup and refocus during a tutoring session.

– Set goals for tutoring sessions, both short term and long term. Be sure to discuss steps and methods for attaining these goals. It is important that parents know the trajectory of their child’s tutoring plan—what skills each session will address, how they’ll be measured, and what the plan might be for struggles or difficulties ahead. Transparency and communication are crucial components to establish a successful tutoring plan.

Reading Better

For elementary and middle school-aged students, reading better, in their minds, often means simply reading faster. While reading fluency and words per minute (wpm) are crucial indicators of a strong reader, a student whose primary goal is to read quickly is not necessarily reading properly. To curb this “faster is always better” mentality while still promoting fluency growth, parents and educators can help shift the focus to a more broad definition of a strong reader.

  • Strong readers do much more than absorb and store the information that they have read in their minds. Recall is important, but application is more important. This means that, after students read, an immediate process or task to apply that information or combine details from the text with another skill is critical.
    • After reading about ancient civilizations, for example, ask students to participate in a discussion in which they compare ancient tools and building methods to today’s modern tools and structures.
    • While reading a “how-to” text, ask children to restate each step in order using the text. Then ask them to consider why certain steps must be completed before others.
    • When reading a novel or story, encourage students to make connections to the text with questions and considerations, such as:
      • Why do you think the character responded in that way?
      • How do you think he/she is feeling at this point in the story, why?
      • Have you ever felt that way or experienced something similar?
      • What would you do if you were in this same situation?
      • What kind of relationship do these two characters have? How do you know?
      • Do you think the character is making good decisions?
      • What do you think might happen next based on what we have read?
      • Have you read anything like this before?
      • How was that story similar or different?
      • Does this story, setting, conflict, or character remind you of anything you have heard or watched before?
    • If students are asked to complete a multi-step assignment or required to read complex or lengthy directions, encourage them to break the steps or directions down into smaller, manageable procedures. Prompting students to rephrase instructions or directions is also a good practice for applying what they have just read.
  • Teach young readers how to consider their intent for reading whatever it is that they are reading. When reading for pleasure, their reading strategies might include making predictions, visualizing the details of the story, or discussing the section or page with a friend who is reading the same novel.  However, if a student is reading something for school, the strategies are likely different because of his or her intent.
    • Ask students to consider their goals for reading prior to diving into the text. Do they want to memorize certain information? If so, rereading is going to be a necessary process for that text. If a student is reading something to learn a new skill or strategy, they may want to summarize or simplify the text as they work through each page or chapter.
    • Similarly to goal-setting before reading, teachers should encourage readers to consider one thing that they hope to gain from the text. Are you seeking another’s perspective? Absorbing new vocabulary? Looking for clues to a math word problem? Comparing/contrasting information? Summarizing a process? Investigating a problem and potential solutions? Following a sequence?
    • Ask students to then identify if their goal or intention was accomplished or met by reading the text. If not, ask them to question why they may have missed the mark while reading.

Discuss what active reading looks like. For many students, especially reluctant readers, reading simply means getting to the endeach page or paragraph is just one step closer to being finished. When completion is the goal, students tends to daze, daydream, and lose focus of the text. Remind students that, if they get to the bottom of a page and realize that they had been thinking about something completely different from the actual text, they were not actually absorbing the information. This is similar to the difference between seeing something and looking at somethingsounds like the same thing, but looking at something means to examine it; seeing it means to just come across something without actual consideration.

Enrichment at Home

Enrichment is a typical educational buzzword; however, its utility is not limited to the classroom. Parents can play a major role in their child’s academic enrichment—and it is not as intimidating as it may seem. Enrichment does not have to adhere to a specific curriculum, but rather includes any activity that fosters a learning experience.


What are enrichment activities?

Enrichment activities at home can take infinite forms and do not necessarily mirror a typical classroom lesson or activity. Enrichment encourages learners to take a more expansive or in-depth look at a concept or topic, perhaps by further research, approaching it with a different lens or perspective, or connecting the subject to a more meaningful or rewarding facet of the real world. Whatever the activity may involve, the notion or goal is typically the same—encourage further exploration, intrinsic curiosity, and lifelong learning.


Considerations for enrichment at home

  • First, enrichment at home or in the classroom should never be reduced to extra practice, bonus worksheets, or additional math problems. The key to worthwhile enrichment activities is that they deepen or expand upon a learner’s understanding—they do not simply bombard the learner with additional assignments.
  • Enrichment at home should at least loosely connect to something that your child is learning or has learned in school. However, the enrichment activity itself can really go in any direction once the connection to prior knowledge has been made. This allows children to access their prior knowledge and build upon that through the enrichment activity. Your child is also able to make real-world connections from these learning experiences outside of the classroom.
  • What does your child like to read or study? Create a running list of topics that your child has expressed interest in and use that list to search for learning opportunities around the community that connect to these topics. Kids can get in on the research as well, which helps them to foster natural curiosity and intrinsic motivation for learning.
  • Consider certain learning opportunities that the whole family can partake in, but be sure that the enrichment activity is age-appropriate. This is not the time to overwhelm young learners with topics or concepts that are too abstract, complex, or mature.
  • Enrichment activities should rely heavily on your child’s choices or interests; this is not an opportunity for parents to persuade or nudge a learner’s interests to match their own.


Ideas for enrichment at home

  • If your child has read a book for school of particular interest, explore similar titles or other works by the same author to encourage reading for pleasure. Amazon or Barnes and Noble offer easy online searches to provide full lists of novels that other readers enjoyed based on the title you search.
  • Similarly, if a specific genre has grabbed your child’s attention, use that as a springboard for searching other titles or works that fall into the genre or subgenre.
  • If children are learning about a certain time period, author, musician, artist, or country (which they definitely are in school), do a little research of exhibits, documentaries, book talks, movies, or concerts that connect to their prior knowledge of the time period or subject area.
  • Use student-centered websites to present new material when children are on vacation or summer break. NewsELA, National Geographic, CNN 10, and the History Channel offer wonderful, grade-level organized resources for further exploration of a range of topics. You can also modify the searches to account for a child’s specific reading level to ensure that texts are accessible, yet challenging.
  • Consider enrichment opportunities that do not necessarily tie directly to an academic content area. Mentorships, volunteer opportunities, clubs and organizations provide participants with a plethora of skills. Children can learn about time management, giving back, environmental preservation, friendship, collaboration, perspective-taking, listening skills, etc.

Critical Thinking Skills as an Approach to Behaviors at Home

Especially as children become stir crazy cooped up inside during the winter months, behaviors can begin to plummet. Perhaps routines have been off, bedtimes have been extended, or one too many holiday desserts has sent someone into a tizzy. Whatever the case may be, we can always appreciate a fresh approach to dealing with misbehaviors. If time-outs, confiscated iPads, or groundings are wearing on the family, a different approach could be beneficial. With a little patience—okay, maybe a lot of patience—conversations where parents prompt children to think critically about their behaviors can change the way in which children see misbehaviors all together.


Critical thinking encompasses a complex set of higher order thinking skills. As opposed to memorization or fact-based knowledge, critical thinking includes relational, analytical, reflective, argumentative, or systematic thought processes. It is not so much what you know or think, but why or how you know and think that way. Because critical thinking often involves aspects of perspectives and/or decision making, these strategies can be the perfect platform for dealing with behavior management.


When siblings or peers argue:

  • Parents can mediate by asking questions about how an argument began. By taking a moment for reflective thinking, children begin to see how a small issue may have escalated or blown out of proportion.
  • If children are calling one another names, diffuse the situation by talking about how these are opinions; they are not based on facts. Just because someone calls you stupid certainly does not mean that you are stupid. These words hurt, of course, but ask your children why this person’s cruelness affects them; do you value this peer’s hurtful opinion?
  • Encourage siblings to take the other’s perspective for a moment. Ask why she thinks her brother acted that way towards her. Why might his friend have behaved this way? The key is not so much in finding the exact purpose, but instead taking a moment to consider where that other person could be coming from.
  • Ask about alternative responses for next time. Is there a better option for dealing with a conflict like this in the future? What is the best way to respond to your little brother next time this happens? What are we not going to do again, and why?

When “so-and-so’s parents” let them do A, B, or C:

  • A rational explanation and some critical thinking can go a long way when children are upset over things that other kids are allowed to do. Calmly explain that everyone’s family operates differently, and so-and-so might be able to stay up until 10 pm simply because their parents work late… Or perhaps so-and-so sleeps in and rushes out the door every morning…Or it is possible that so-and-so feels like a walking zombie at the school most days? Whatever the scenario, remind your child that there are reasons behind your household routines—and another family’s routine is frankly irrelevant.
  • Discuss the implications of these decisions. If a friend is allowed to see R-rated movies, but your children are not, explain how an inappropriate movie could make them scared, uncomfortable, worried, restless, sleepless, and ultimately cranky or sluggish at school. Help them connect the dots between the rules and their purposes so that they see these guidelines as meaningful, instead of arbitrary.
  • Ask your child flat-out: “Besides the fact that so-and-so is allowed, do you have a valid reason or justification for changing the rules this time?” This forces children and teens to justify or support their stance with effective reasoning.

When frustrations boil over:

  • Encourage children to take a beat to evaluate the situation—what can we do to potentially solve this problem or ease this frustration? Think about why this particular task is causing so much frustration and use that as a new point of entry.
  • If math homework is about to cause a fit, take a brain break, walk away from the math packet, and cool down. Then, approach the problem with a cool head and fresh viewpoint. Think about it in “grand scheme of things” terms—is this something that is going to keep me up all night or ruin my month? Chances are, this meltdown will be a non-issue in a matter of hours.
  • Help them break down the problem or situation and tackle the parts that they feel confident about. Remind them to apply what they know and then use those methods to chip away at the task.
  • If the task is still complicated, encourage children to write down exactly what it is that they don’t know or are missing—what would they need to solve this problem or complete this assignment?
  • Apply the skill to a simpler problem and use that momentum to approach the more complex problem. Oftentimes, in simplifying a question, we are better able to see aspects of the problem that we may have missed due to the complexity.

When problems are on the cusp or horizon:

  • Call it psychic power or paternal/maternal observations, but parents are often able to tell when an issue, conflict, or temper is about to erupt. Teach children this reflective skill by modeling how to gauge one’s feelings and emotions. This helps to avoid or circumvent conflicts or attitudes that could be problematic.
  • Discuss the concept of foresight and how such anticipation can help in our decision making. Remind children that everything they do has an impact or effect on those around them.
  • In considering these implications, children are able to pause to consider the ripple effect that any decision might have. The ability to contemplate and deliberate based on past experiences and logical reasoning allows children to make more informed choices, and thus behave in more considerate or responsible ways.