Practice Makes Perfect

I love technology.  Learning new programs to use in a classroom is one of the things I miss in retirement.  I do however have some issues with technology in the classroom.

You can call it an app, I call it a game.  That’s not all bad because good learning games are great for reinforcement.  My problem with most apps is that there is too much fluff.  In a lot of them the “story” that take the child though the game over shadows the skill.  There’s a reason teachers teach and reteach.  There’s a purpose for drilling a skill.  The more you practice and use a skill the more likely you will remember it.

When I was teaching we had several math apps on the classroom iPads.  I found them lacking content and too heavy on graphics.  They always left me longing for “Funnels and Buckets”.

For those of you not familiar with Funnels and Buckets it is a DOS math game from the 1980’s.  You choose the problems, you choose the sound effects, you choose the speed.  The object of the game is to zap the math facts falling from the sky before they fill the buckets.  Start simple, start slow.  Learn the facts.

Sadly, it’s no longer available.  Why do I miss it?  I have two children who are really smart in math.  They practiced and practiced their math facts using Funnels and Buckets.  They got really fast and didn’t get let the buckets get filled.  They knew their facts.  Knowing the basic math facts makes math easier.  Fewer errors, more correct answers….it’s simple math.

A simple game, lacking graphics, teaching basic facts.

Oh, Funnels and Buckets how I wish you were still around for the children that need you……… but there are still flashcards.  They’re a little boring compared to Funnels and Buckets but using them every day with an adult will get results too.

Funnels and Buckets, come back!

Hello app developers, are you listening?

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Zoom School Is Over, Now What?

Never before, in your child’s academic career, is it so important for summer review. If you want your child to succeed in their next grade level, reviewing really shouldn’t be negotiable for you or your child.

In my previous post, Successful Virtual Students, I gave tips on how to make this unique learning environment a positive experience for your child. Sadly many children did not get as much out of their zoom classroom as we had hoped. Most children are not mature enough, especially in elementary school, to learn key skills without a teacher physically present with them in a brick and mortar setting.

During the 2020-2021 school year I was the Target Learning teach for our elementary school after the first six weeks. We were in the classroom from day one, following Covid 19 guidelines, but there was also an option to remain at home and Zoom. Those that returned to the classroom, even after going virtual for only 9 weeks, had fallen behind their peers that were in the classroom. Many ended up being my students and it took the remaining school year to try to catch up.

My point is……if your child was virtual for even part of this past school year, they are probably behind academically. I finally told a mother with a child struggling in math that I didn’t think virtual learning was the best learning style. I pointed out that in the classroom the teacher is walking around catching mistakes before they became a habit. After the first couple of weeks of being back and grades rising, the child told me ,”I’m a better student in school”.

With some exceptions, they are all better students in the classroom.

Missing paper……check your desk

Not paying attention…..a tap on the shoulder as the teacher walks by

Not understanding….the teacher can immediately, one on one, walk them through the steps

There are so many ways that a teacher helps students in the classroom that’s just not possible virtually.

I know it’s not your job to teach your child but last year wasn’t a normal school year. Your job, for now, is to make sure your child’s language arts and math skills are on grade level. Order a review book for the level they just completed. Send them to a learning center. Hire a tutor but DO NOT let them be stagnate academically over the summer. A good foundation makes it easier to learn new material. The next grade teacher will start the year with a review of what was taught in the previous grade but won’t spend a lot of time on it. They have new material to teach within the school year.

Don’t let your child start the new school year behind. They don’t have time to play catch up.

The time to review is NOW!

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Successful Virtual Students

When I graduated from college in the 70’s with my teaching degree, I never envisioned myself substitute teaching in the comfort of my own home, in my bare feet. But that is exactly where I found myself in the spring of 2020!

Right before Christmas I had agreed to teach a 5th grade class for a teacher expecting a baby in April. The timing worked out well because I had a trip to Norway in March and would be finished by June when my daughter and I were to travel to England. When I arrived home from Norway, I was invited to come sit in on a Zoom training session “just in case the school had to go virtual”………. and I finished out the school year at my house with a computer, teaching reading and English, to three 5th grade classes.

I spent a week sitting in on the teacher’s Zoom classes before it was my turn to lead the sessions. I don’t know what her first day on Zoom was like but at the end of mine I was exhausted and had a headache. I thought I knew what I was doing but within the first 15 minutes I lost my class. They could see me but I saw a Welcome to Zoom screen. I’m sure there was some eye rolling on their side (or laughing) and almost tears on mine.

So I started the meeting again and there they were, 18 faces, but some of them weren’t moving or blinking. Hmmmmmm. Keep in mind that these children attend a private school where their parents were still paying tuition and still expected an excellent education for their children.

I’m sure everything they tried with their teacher, in the beginning, they tried again with me. Freeze your screen or stop the video, not doing work that was done as a class, coming in late because it wouldn’t let you sign in, and the list goes on. As a result, some of these children were not successful virtual learners. They didn’t take it seriously or worry about accountability.,

Many students are successful in a virtual classroom but if your child isn’t one of them I have a few tips for you.

First of all, keep a regular school schedule. Don’t let your child stay up past their regular school bedtime. Don’t let them sleep in until the last possible minute before their virtual class. Don’t let them skip breakfast or bring it to the virtual classroom. Do make sure they are dressed in school attire. Do ask your child, should you see them away from the virtual classroom, if they asked the teacher for permission to leave. All of these send them the message that virtual school is just as important as in person school.

Like many of you, your child is working from home and needs a designated workspace. When trying to pick out a space think of your own workspace. Chances are you have everything you need close by so you can put your hands on anything you need quickly. Your child’s workspace needs to be the same. School books, paper, pencil, notecards, etc., should be at the workspace. It should be somewhere quiet where they can work alone without distractions. It should have a flat work surface and a chair to sit in. The number one thing that should be missing from the workspace is any other electronics! Cellphones, TV’s and other devices have no place in a virtual classroom. You also don’t belong in their virtual classroom, so don’t sit off to the side and coach them. Take this situation as a good time to start sending them down the path of an independent learner.

Most likely you aren’t getting a folder once a week with your child’s graded work. You are going to have to check grades once a week online (folder day might be a good day to choose). If that’s not an option for you, check in with the teacher to see if all work has been turned in and if there’s any area where you might need to help them. In the classroom they are accountable to the teacher but at home you need to take on that role. Ask your child to show you what they learned each day. Ask them to explain concepts to you or to tell you about the book they are reading. Ask if they have homework and tell them that when they finish (and show you), the cellphone, TV, etc. will be available.

Sometimes being successful is all about the accountability!

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Let’s Measure A Dinosaur!!!

One day your children are in school and the next day your child’s school and your office are cohabiting ……in your home. You’ve been told you will be homeschooling. For some of you it means you are now the teacher. There’s online resources such as YouTube videos, virtual tours and Pinterest to help you navigate through this. If you are not already on Pinterest, sign up immediately especially if you have elementary age children. There are hundreds of ideas to make learning at home fun. Even this post might eventually end up being on Pinterest!

During part of my teaching career I taught preschool and kindergarten which meant we explored the land of the dinosaurs for at least a couple of weeks each year. It’s a staple unit of study in early childhood education. Young children, especially little boys, love dinosaurs!!

Back in the day, before Pinterest, we would buy theme books at the teacher store and come up with our own ideas. I liked to keep my young students moving getting out of the classroom was a way to do that. We had an extremely long hallway at our school and the idea that it would be the perfect place to measure the length of our favorite dinosaurs from tip to tail end found a spot my plan book.

There are several benefits of doing this activity with your child. Your child will learn facts about dinosaurs. Your child will be outside in the fresh air. Remember, they are probably used to a recess time and need a break away from workbooks and screen time. Your child can be involved. Let them color the dinosaur markers for the yard. They can assist you in measuring out the dinosaur lengths and that is math enrichment. Your child will walk the height or the length of a dinosaur and may never look at a dinosaur skeleton the same way ever again.

I found several freebies about dinosaurs on Pinterest that might help you get started. Click on the pictures and it will take you to the site to find the printable.

I particularly liked this free dinosaur booklet. For the younger children it is a cut and paste activity. What really drew me to this activity was the shadow of the man standing next to each dinosaur picture.

There are several sites that have free dinosaur color sheets. This was the one that I found that had several different dinosaurs to color.

For the little ones I found a couple of little readers.

You will find, especially if you are new to Pinterest, that Pinterest kindly suggests other dinosaur pins to explore and you might be able to find even better printable sites than I did.

Now it’s time to measure those dinosaurs!! After the dinosaurs have been colored, cut out and the dinosaur’s length written on it (or you could use the dinosaur cards from the first link I gave you) they then need to put on sticks, orange cones or something else that will allow them to be seen above ground. If you have a nice long fence to put them on that would be even better because then your child could step back and see the differences. Next you need some sort of measuring tool. When I did this activity I was fortunate to find a 60 foot tape measure in my husband’s tool box. I held the tape measure and a student held the end and walked down the hall until I told them to stop (or yelled if it was the brontosaurus). They would then put the picture on the wall. After they were all up we would take our dinosaur walk reviewing each one. We left our activity up for several days and we’d see other classes taking a look.

I hope this is an nice activity break for you and your child. Have fun with it. My classes always enjoyed it. I hope your child will too!

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Spelling Test This Friday!

Growing up I was not a good speller and I dreaded the Friday spelling test. I’d take a practice test the night before. With my mother calling out the words I’d write them but when it came to taking the test I didn’t know the words well enough to not second guess myself. I’d take too much time deciding which way was the right way to spell the current word and end up getting behind on the words being called out. As a consequence, I’d get flustered and wish I was anywhere but in a classroom taking a spelling test.

I’ve tutored several elementary aged children in spelling. The one thing I’ve learned from the experience is that some children cannot be successful on a spelling test when they start studying the night before the test. It seems like a logical statement……some children cannot be successful on a spelling test when they start studying the night before the test. Unfortunately, some parents can’t recognize the importance of the statement even when their child week after week does poorly on their spelling test.

Some children need to start no later than Sunday night. That’s why most teachers send home and/or post the words online on Friday. They need as much exposure to the words before the practice test on Wednesday or Thursday. Many children can write the words 3 times every day and be good to go on Friday. Others need more exercises to help keep the correct spellings fresh in their mind.

To me the first thing the child needs to know is what the words are. If your child isn’t a reader yet, read the words to them. If they are older and can read, have them read the list to you. As the words are read by whoever is reading them make sure the child knows what they mean. One of the words this past week on a test I was giving was “barnacle”. It’s a word I don’t think I’ve ever used in writing but because I’ve seen it in print, can pronounce it and know what it is, it would be easy for me to write.

There are many spelling activities to help your child prepare for a test. One of my favorites is air writing and it’s especially good for troublesome words. In air writing they are making a picture in the air of the word. Eyes are raised up to an imaginary paper or board. An adult says the word and watches to make sure the air writing is done correctly. As the word is being spelled with the index finger the eyes are following the finger and the letters are being said by the child as they are written. When the word is spelled it is “underlined” from left to right. Then the adult starts asking questions. Lets say the word was “house”. Questions might be:

  • How many letters do you picture in “house”?
  • What two vowels do you see in the middle of “house” ?
  • What letter do you picture at the end of “house’?
  • What letter comes after the “o” in “house”?

Some other good exercises, especially for the lower grades are:

  • Write the words three times is a standard but when I’m tutoring I ask them to say the letters as they write them.
  • Rainbow writing – girls seem to like this one better than boys but if camouflage colors were used the boys might like it better. First you copy word in pencil. Then you take 3 different crayons, markers or my favorite, colored pencils, and outline the word in one color, then the 2nd color and then the third color.
  • Block writing – write how every many letters as there are blocks in each row. Letters should be said as they are written.
  • Unscramble the words
  • Read and Write – Spelling list is in one room and paper and pencil are in another room. The child looks at the word goes to the other room and writes it. When the last word is written the paper is brought back to the list to see it is all correct. Yep, the boys like this one and usually run to the other room! I’ve used it with upper elementary age boys.
  • Break the list up in to word families or just practice 4-5 the first couple of days. On the night before the test concentrate on the missed words but don’t skip the others when giving a practice test.
  • Spelling City on the internet
  • Pinterest has many, many more ideas!
Rainbow Writing
Block Writing

It is so disheartening for a teacher to watch a child week after week struggle with spelling tests. They want to cry for the child that never gets that 100 on the practice test to earn the privilege of reading or drawing while others are taking the Friday final test. Please, please, please help your child be victorious on Wednesday or at least by Friday. Please help them feel good about their efforts. Please, if your child needs it, start working with them by Sunday on their spelling list. Hopefully it will result in a big smile and a high five at the end of the school week!

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Don’t Push!

In the past few years I have experienced first hand what it is like when people constantly make remarks hoping to push you into doing something you are not ready to do.

Here’s the back story…..

I don’t know when it happened but I ended up with a bowed right leg. I suspect my meniscus tear contributed to it happening. I ended up with arthritis in the knee which sometimes hurt and sometimes it didn’t. Some times I limped and sometimes I didn’t. During this time not much was said, except for once in awhile someone would ask why I was limping.

A few years later my left knee became windswept. X-rays showed that the top bone had slipped off of the bottom bone and my knee pointed to the right. How it happened is a mystery. It didn’t hurt but it made me look crippled. It was with this knee that the comments started coming:

How much pain are you in? …….I’m not. Does it hurt to walk?…..No. When are you going to get your leg fixed?….When I’m ready. When I’m ready. When I”m ready!!!!!!!

Last spring I decided I was ready, not because I was in constant pain or because of the comments, but because I had finally gotten tired of the stares. The stares along with the difficulty of walking up stairs without handrails encouraged me to make the appointment.

Keep in mind that when I make a decision I jump all in. So with the decision made and the surgery date set I started making a plan. Surgery was in 6 weeks and I decided I needed to strengthen my legs. I set up an appointment with a trainer and he showed me what to do. He said I should do the routine 3 days a week and I went 6. After the first 4 weeks I was walking up stairs easily. I was doing so much better that a friend asked why I was going to have the surgery. I told her because I was ready.

Four months after right knee replacement I scheduled surgery for my left knee replacement. Like I said I jump all in. My reward? I now have two straight legs. Can I climb those stairs without a handrail? Yes. Do I feel comfortable coming down stairs without a handrail? Not yet. I’m still in the healing phase.

My whole point of this post is that the desire to do something that others think you need to do has to come from within you. You have to want to do it. You have to be ready to do it.

The same goes for children in the classroom. Let me give you an example. I substituted in a 3rd grade classroom years ago. There were two boys that never finished their work and never got to go out for recess. Fast forward to two years later and I substituted in their 5th grade classroom and they were among the first to finish. I asked what happened and they told me they had just decided to do their work. Doing work, behaving in class, participating in class, being nice to classmates and the list goes on………to want or be ready to do these things has to come from within the child. Pushing, nagging and hounding isn’t going to make it happen until they make the decision to want to make it happen……and maybe some maturity along the way.

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Math Facts Are A Must!

Babies, operations and the confession to myself that I missed teaching were the reasons I ended up in the classroom 3 times during the 2017-2018 school year. Don’t get me wrong, I love retirement! Having the flexiblility to travel whenever I want to can’t be beat but I found myself missing being around the elementary students. So I accepted not one, not two but 3 long term substituting jobs.

The third and longest of the three was 10 weeks to finish out the school year. With the help of the other two teachers everything went smoothly until I realized there was higher math involved. There was a little bit of panic and a little bit of convincing myself that I could step out of my comfort zone of teaching children to add and subtract numbers 1 through 10.

With Smartboard pen in hand, I blindly led twenty 3rd graders towards learning two quotient division. Along the way there was a lot of different approaches to see which one would click. After many trials and errors and turning the lined paper horizontally, finally, we were on our way to success.

I am proud to say every child in the class ended up knowing the necessary steps and understanding the concept. However not every child got an “A” on the test. The reason was simple. They didn’t know their multiplication and division facts.

Children can not be successful in math if they do not know their basic math facts! Children can not be successful in math if they do not know their basic math facts! Children can not be successful in math if they do not know their basic math facts! Children can not be successful in math if they do not know their basic math facts! ……………..I can’t stress this enough.

They need home practice. They need home practice often. Children practice music at home before their recital, they shoot baskets at home before the big game so it makes since that they need to practice math facts at home before they advance to the more difficult math concepts.

Help your child be successful in math. Please.

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Do Something Everyday For Someone Who Can Never Repay You

At some point in time I read somewhere,” Do something every day for someone who can never repay you”. I try to live up to that quote. I’m not successful everyday. I interpret the quote to mean to be kind and thoughtful so if I’m out and about its not hard to stay on track. Be kind to people, be kind to animals, and be kind to your environment. It’s really pretty simple.

I transport rescue dogs so they can be united with their new family or safely watched by a rescue until their forever family comes along. Those precious dogs can’t repay me for the time or money that I’ve invested in their future but the kisses of gratitude are priceless.

A couple of winters ago in Wyoming I saw a woman starting to walk with her elderly mother on an icy sidewalk that I had almost slipped on. I told her why she might not want to continue that way. Do I expect to have them do something for me? No, the chances of ever seeing either of them again is very slim.

In my 20’s I had just gotten off of a very bumpy flight in a small plane. A young mother from that same flight ended up in the ladies room in a panic. She was so nauseous and didn’t know what to do with her baby. I held her baby until she was able to do so herself. We never exchanged names (although at this point in time I would probably offer to give her my driver’s license) and I’ve never seen her again.

I was recycling the other day and someone just dumped their boxes. So after I put my cardboard in the bin, I broke their boxes down and put them in also. I know they won’t ever be able to pay me back…..they don’t seem like the kind that would.

I love the commercial where someone opens a door for a stranger and the recipient pays it forward and then there is a domino effect all day from that one act of kindness. I try to teach students to pay if forward if someone has been kind to them. I just think it helps them be better adults.

In many cases of doing kind things for others, you are never thanked. That’s never bothered me before……..until now. You see, today, someone did something for me that I can never repay them or even thank them. I was at the drive up window at Starbucks ready to use my reward. When I got the window I was told that it had already been paid for by the person two cars in front of me. I have no idea who it was.

So, to whom it may concern, THANK YOU! Thank you for reminding me that kindness can come when you least expect it. You made my day and you can be assured that I will pay it forward.

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Memories Along The Road To Getting Older


I have a brain full of memories. Some are happy, some are sad.  Some of them are trying to get lost the older I get.  It gets harder and harder to pull them out and remember all of the details.  Cherished memories from my childhood and younger adult years are being bullied by newer memories…….”You’re in my space!”…….”Get LOST!”……”She doesn’t need you anymore!”…..and the list goes on.  No, I don’t have the onset of dementia.  I just have a 66 year old brain with 66 years of memories.

Even though I get frustrated sometimes when my memories are fuzzy, my brain is trying to make them crystal clear.  It has a team of five, busy all the time, sending messages back to tell it which memory to pull out next.

My memory champions are see, smell, hear, touch, taste. We learn about the five senses in elementary school to help us connect with the world around us.  Now they are stepping up their game to help me reconnect with memories that I thought were long forgotten. Memories come at me from all directions in whatever environment I happen to be in at the time.

Stepping out in to the crisp, clean air with the smell of pines the first thing in the morning.  Walking on a western town’s boardwalk.  Listening to the river going by.  Looking at the rocks at the bottom of a clear mountain stream.  The smell of a canvas tent in the heat of the afternoon.  Summer vacation.

Hot humid summer nights. Felling freshly pressed cotton. The scent of bath powder. Watching fireflies and listening to the frogs and crickets.  A breeze coming through an open window.  Sounds from a nighttime baseball game.  Seeing an old army cot.  Summer nights.

Examining handmade doll clothes.  Finding a pretty cup and saucer.  Eating Campbell’s chicken soup.  Children buying grocery store toys and coloring books.  Teen magazines.  Saltine crackers with white icing.  A mid century divan.  Pneumonia.

Little snakes in interesting places.  Fishing poles and red and white bobbers.  Eating pan fried fish.  Roasting hot dogs on a stick.  Climbing rocks.  A country car ride.  State Lakes.

I could write a book.  Nothing concrete, just memory jolters here and there.  I never know when one is going to pop up.  They just do and I smile and hold onto them until they settle back into the pool of memories ready to pop back up when needed.

And they are my happy thoughts.


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Childhood Sick Days

I’ve been sick.  Sickest I have ever been in my adult life.  It made me miss my mother.

Even though husband did an excellent job of making sure I got better there were times while I was sick that I just wished my mother was taking care of me.

When I was a child I was sick a lot with bronchitis and pneumonia.  My brother and I slept upstairs and it wasn’t unusual for him to go downstairs in the middle of the night to announce to our parents that I was sick.  My father would come up to get me while my mother was making a bed for me on the divan (the sofa of the 1950’s) in the living room so they could monitor me the rest of the night.

In the beginning I was usually too sick to do anything but cough and sleep until the doctor made his house call (yes, I’m that old), left some awful tasting medicine out of his black leather bag and with much fuss, my parents gave me a spoonful.  If my fever got out of control my mother would give me these wonderful rubbing alcohol back rubs and then changed the divan to clean, fresh sheets.

By lunchtime my father would walk home from work and have his lunch while my mother went to the grocery store to get the “sick supplies” and then on to the school to pick up my work.  The sick supplies usually consisted of new crayons, coloring books, chicken and rice soup and popsicles.  Sometimes there would be a little grocery store toy.

Once I began to feel better, I began to get bored.  This is when my mother’s caregiving skill would shine.  As a housewife of the 1950’s-60’s she had a lot to do during the day whether she had a sick child at home or not.  She still had to cook 3 meals everyday for the rest of the family, do the laundry, ironing, dusting and all the other chores on her daily list.  On top of her routine, when I was home sick, she spent a lot of time with me.

She would sit in a chair next to the divan and color with me.  She’d have me pick a doll and she would sit and hand sew a new outfit for it.  My favorite activity was the tea party.  She’d get the little demitasse cups and saucers my grandmother gave me and fill them with throat soothing hot tea.  Then she’d put white powder sugar icing on regular saltine crackers for our cookies.  They tasted like a cone for ice cream and whenever I get to that part of my ice cream it takes me right back to the tea parties.

She never wavered in her sick days attitude.  As I got older, I got sick less. Sitting next to me became sitting in the room with me, coloring books became teen magazines, doll clothes became knitting lessons but the chicken soup and the tea parties remained the same.

I miss her just remembering …………



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