Family Journal

Family journalsI wrote a few weeks ago about attending a talk by Penny Kittle about helping kids with writing skills at home. In the previous post I shared about how reading helps with writing skills.

One of the tips she gave for helping kids with writing is to start a family journal. The journal is something passed back and forth between either you and one child or the whole family. We are doing two separate journals, since the boys are at very different writing skill levels. The journal is supposed to be fun and a great way to practice many different writing skills.

Some different writing ideas are:

  • Take all the letters in a name or word and use the letters as words that describe it.
  • Use a poem as inspiration and write your own version.
  • Draw a hand and fill each finger with memories of things you have touched.
  • Include a picture and write about your memory of that photo.
  • Start a story and write back and forth.
  • Draw a sketch of the neighborhood and mark places where stories hide.
  • Sketch the outline of an object like a heart or ball and fill with a story about the item.

Jack journal

Will journal

I created fun journals for each of the boys and we have started writing back and forth. Will is drawing pictures and then writing a sentence about it. I can’t wait to see how his writing progresses through the book. We are looking for a way to make writing fun for Jack, so he will be trying most of the ideas.

Do you have any other writing ideas for the family journals?

The Importance of Reading

Reading Jan 2015.jpgLast week I went to a talk by Penny Kittle sponsored by our school district on how to help your kids with writing at home. During the hour and a half presentation she spent more than half the time talking about the importance of reading.

Scholastic published a report on reading in 2014 that shows a significant drop-off in kids reading for fun after the age of eight. The numbers drop in each of the age groups bottoming out in high school where sometimes kids aren’t reading any books for fun throughout the year. Many of the kids aren’t even reading the assigned books, opting for summaries instead. This is leading to a decrease in reading stamina that is needed for college. While she didn’t address it directly, it is likely that these same kids are suffering when it comes to writing.

The study also shows that kids with access to large numbers of books read more. As a parent I have rarely said no to a request for a book (unless it is inappropriate). We are very lucky that our school library is good as well as the public library system in our area. We have access to almost any book the boys could want. When kids can pick their own books they are much more likely to read them.

Another point the study made was the importance of reading aloud with your kids and modeling reading behaviors all the way through high school. Most every night in our house we have reading time before bed. I read with Will and Jim reads with Jack, because they are at different levels. I hope that in the future we will all be able to read together.

I remember as a kid loving to read, even though I am a fairly slow reader. I would read my school books during the day but before bed we would read for fun. My mom, sister and I read the entire Little House on the Prairie series together, taking turns reading to each other. We are working hard to instill these and other habits in the hopes that our kids will benefit from reading in the long term.

What things are you doing to instill a love of reading in your children?

Will’s IEP

Will at school.jpgWill’s evaluation with his school has been completed and he has been placed on an individualized education plan, IEP. We are very pleased with the results and the way the school is looking out for Will.

During the evaluation process he was visited by Krista, his vision specialist, in his classroom. She observed him in the class and also worked with him one on one. Through this evaluation she determined that he needed help advocating for himself and learning to use vision aid tools. It is great that he is on an IEP, because we have Krista as a part of our team. Krista will be working with Will on these skills and we will get goal updates periodically to keep up with his progress.

Along with the specialized instruction Will also will get classroom and testing accommodations. He has a monitor to help him view the active board (an interactive white board in each classroom at our school) and the document viewer. He can move to that desk whenever he needs help seeing the board and can make the screen larger as needed. He is also learning to use magnifiers to help enlarge books or worksheets that can’t be blown up, and also an iPad for viewing things around the room. And he gets preferential seating near the teacher during story time and at library.

For testing, Will gets large print tests and can mark his answers anyway he likes, he doesn’t have to fill the bubble in. His tests are transcribed once he is done. Eventually when tests are timed he will get unlimited time.

He is doing really well in school and is excited every day. We are so proud of him and can’t wait to watch him grow this year. And all of this is due, in part, to the wonderful support we are currently getting from the team at school. We are very fortunate to live in an area with such and acclaimed school district.

A New Chapter

Will first day of Kinder.jpgA new chapter in our lives began today as we watched Will climb on to the school bus to go to full day Kindergarten. With a big smile and his huge backpack Jack guided him to a seat.

At school Will was escorted from the bus to his class line by a bunch of the neighborhood friends, mostly boys Jack’s age. Jack, Kadin, Willy and Griffin excitedly came up to Will and gave him high fives as they walked across the blacktop. Will is like their little brother too, since they are either only children or the youngest. Talia tightly held Will’s hand as she navigated her way to her 1st grade line, which is right next to Will’s Kindergarten line.

Talia spotted me as they were walking and turned to say that she would make sure he got to his line every day since she was right next to him. How fun for her to be the bigger kid at school this year and watch after Will. I couldn’t stop the tears of happiness for Will and all the kids that are so excited that he is finally at school. For those who still wonder why we live where we do and put up with some grey days throughout the fall and winter…well, now you know. This is home. And friends like this are what make it home.

Today is filled mixed emotions for me:
I am excited and happy for Will in this new chapter of his life. He is ready for this step.
I am anxious and nervous about what the classroom will be like for him with his vision. He is the first visually-impaired child at our school (Creekside Elementary is only five years old), and it is new to some of the staff.
I am sad because he is my baby and growing up.
I am lonely. For the first time in almost ten years I will spend most of my day by myself. Will has been my buddy, running errands, going to the gym, having lunches and daytime play dates. The house will probably seem very quiet for the next few weeks.
I am going to cherish the next two years, because these are the only years where both boys will be at the same school.

He only looked for me once as he stood in line and in the classroom that was filled with parents. I blew him a kiss and headed out the door.

Today is a milestone for our family, a time full of many emotions, a bunch of change and lots of hopes.

Photo Friday

Photo Friday – Career Day

career day.jpg

Jim spoke at career day this week in Jack’s class about a career in communications. Jack introduced Jim and was so proud to have his dad there. The kids asked great questions. Jim did a great job, but was unfortunately sandwiched between a baker and a woman who rolled in a candy cart. It is hard to compete with cupcakes and candy.

jim career day.jpg

Back to Preschool

Will schoolWill recently started his second year of preschool at the school we moved him to last November. He is so excited and happy, asking to go to school each day.

After enrolling him in and removing him from a Montessori preschool last year (just not a good fit for him), we moved him to a traditional preschool run by the local Catholic Church. Although we are not Catholic, we love the values and teaching methods in the classroom. Both of his teachers have commented about how happy he is and that this is a great place for him. I also feel more connected to the teachers and other parents at this school. And most importantly, we know that they are his biggest advocates when it comes to preparing him while overcoming his vision impairment.

This year, Will gets to stay an extra hour and have lunch at school too. It is good practice for him, since he will hopefully be in full day Kindergarten next year and eat at school too. He isn’t a good social eater (too much social, not enough eating), so I am hoping that he can learn how to do it this year.

The expectations on preschool are so high now, practically requiring that kids come into Kindergarten reading. It is difficult to balance the academic needs for Kindergarten with the social needs of a child — playing, learning social skills and doing art projects. All of these are just as important for this age as learning letters and numbers.

I am looking forward to a really fun year for Will.

Kicking Off Summer

IMG_7020.jpgToday is the last day of school for Jack; Will has been done for two weeks. Our bus stop has a tradition of throwing a lunch party for the kids. It is a perfect way to kick off the summer.

Some of the mom’s make a big sign for the kids to run through coming off the bus. The kids are so excited. Last year we had some horns and face painting, but mostly the kids just loved to run and play. Not only do we have kid food, but some adult drinks as well.

At Jack’s school they have a fun tradition of the kids wearing the next grade’s color to school on the last day. During the assembly the kids move to the spots they will sit the next year, making them feel like they are moving up. Jack is wearing green today, the 3rd grade color and Will supporting his big brother.

I remember being so excited for the last day of school and looking forward to a summer full of late nights and lazy days, sunshine and popsicles, BBQs and bike rides. There is nothing like summer as a kid.

Hopefully the weather holds out for us and the kids can have the perfect kickoff to summer.

Using Play to Experiment

Jack toysA few weeks ago I got to go help with an activity in Jack’s 2nd grade classroom. It was an activity making toys to illustrate force and motion principles they were learning in their science unit. The activity was led by a local man, who was a science teacher and now goes around to schools teaching science through toys.

Since I majored in chemistry in college I am always interested in how teachers use fun activities to show scientific principles, making the lesson more real and fun for the kids. For this lesson the kids all made a clothespin person and a track of parallel bars for him to move on. They used tools to build the track and person and then could decorate them with markers.

The person had a wire for arms that could be moved to change how he moved on the track. Once the kids had completed their set they experimented with how the person moved, by changing the arm position, the angle of the track and the place they applied the force. Our class set up a long chain of tracks and tried racing their guys.

science toys

They also created a spool toy that used a rubber band inside as the force to move the spool across the floor. It was fun to see them chase the spools along the floor, learning about how they moved on the floor, some in a straight line and others turning.

It was a fun morning to spend working on science. Jack came home and told Jim all about how it worked and why it would react differently in certain situations.

Handwriting Skills

Jack doing homeworkJack has horrible handwriting; it is worse than doctor handwriting. We have been trying to work with him on it for the last year or so. He will get better for a while then get lazy and go back to his old patterns of fast and messy.

I realized after watching him a few months ago that he is actually forming his letters incorrectly. I think it all started back in Kindergarten when he had a huge handwriting packet to do and not enough time to complete it. We just had to get through it or he would have been spending hours each day working on those sheets. It took me some time to realize it all came back to letter formation.

A friend’s son has a similar problem and she got some materials from Handwriting Without Tears. I ordered the booklet and Jack worked on it over spring break. He didn’t make it through the whole book, but at least got through the letter formation pages. They have a different, simpler method of creating the letters than he learned before, or didn’t really learn before. Unfortunately we did have a few tears on the first few days because he didn’t follow directions, but once he learned that he needed to, he did great.


For Will I have been trying to work with him on how to write his letters correctly as he is learning them. I hope this will give him a better foundation and make his writing skills stronger in the beginning.

Even though our children will spend most of their lives typing, it is still important for them to learn to write correctly. The handwriting you create now stays with you for the rest of your life.


This post was not solicited or compensated in anyway.

Understanding 504 Plans

Some children with learning disabilities, mild special needs or other health conditions that are limiting in a classroom setting may need a 504 plan. These children don’t qualify for special education services or plans called Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), but still have difficulty participating in a normal classroom without some accommodations.

The term 504 Plan refers to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which prohibits discrimination against a person based on disability from any program or activity, public or private, that receives federal funding. The law leaves the definition of disability to the Americans with Disabilities Act and Ammendments Act (ADAAA). The ADAAA was expanded in 2008 to incorporate a broader definition of disability.

According to Section 504 a person is disabled if he or she “(i) has a physical or mental impairment which substantially limits one or more major life activities, (ii) has a record of such an impairment, or (iii) is regarded as having such an impairment.” Major life activities can include reading, concentrating, learning, communicating, seeing and hearing. In order to determine if a child is eligible for a 504 Plan, they will be evaluated by a team of people determined by the school. Unlike an IEP, the child must already be enrolled in school for the 504 evaluation to begin; IEP evaluations and plans can be written prior to the child entering school.

The key difference between 504 Plans and IEPs is that children with 504 Plans have learning accommodations made within their classroom, making the typical learning environment accessible for the student. IEPs are created when a 504 Plan isn’t enough and the child needs additional special education services, pull-out help or other more intensive programs. IEPs require measureable growth documentation and is reviewed and updated annually.

Some potential accommodations that can be included in 504 plans are preferential classroom seating, extra time on tests or assignments, larger print worksheets or books, additional verbal instructions or providing short breaks from classroom activities. There are many more accommodations depending upon the child’s needs and specific area of disability.

The National Center for Learning Disabilities has an introductory video on their website which provides some additional information about 504 Plans.

If you think that your child might qualify for a 504 you should contact your school or your school district’s special education department.


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