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5 Ways to Celebrate World Teachers’ Day

October 1, 2015

By Jessica Vician

5 Ways to Celebrate World Teachers’ Day | Honor your child's teacher with one (or more) of these 5 easy ways to say thank you on World Teachers' Day. | Illustration of a tree of knowledge courtesy of UNESCO.

On Monday, October 15, we celebrate World Teachers’ Day. With UNESCO’s 2015 theme, “empowering teachers, building sustainable societies,” we will honor the great impact teachers have on our society.

Your child’s teacher is more than just a teacher for a class or for a year, but a teacher who can help change the world for the better through their teachings. According to UNESCO’s website, “teachers are not only a means to implementing education goals; they are the key to sustainability and national capacity in achieving learning and creating societies based on knowledge, values, and ethics.”

Celebrate them on World Teachers’ Day with one (or more) of these five ways to say “thank you.”

  1. Send your child’s teacher an official World Teachers’ Day e-card. UNESCO will post it on their website and send as an e-postcard on October 5.
  2. Write a thank you note from both you and your child. On the top half of the card, tell your child’s teacher how much you appreciate his or her efforts, expertise, and patience. Express the value of what the teacher does for your child and how his or her work impacts the world. Read this article if you need suggestions on what to say.

    On the bottom half of the card, ask your child to write his or her favorite thing about the teacher or the classroom and say “thank you.”
  3. If your child is in middle or high school and has multiple teachers, ask him or her to write a short thank you note to each teacher and deliver it before or after each class on Monday. A brief recognition and expression of gratitude demonstrates to each teacher that they are important and valued.
  4. Email the students’ parents in your child’s class and ask each person to donate a few dollars to get the teacher flowers or a plant. Through crowdfunding, no one will need to spend much money.

    If the florist is too expensive, visit your local nursery or home improvement store and purchase a plant, pot it yourself, and drop it off at the school. It takes a little extra time and effort, but will save you and the other parents money on delivery services.
  5. Send an email to the principal, copying the teacher. Tell the principal how helpful the teacher has been over the past month or so and share the qualities both you and your child appreciate the most. This public acknowledgement honors the teacher while letting his or her supervisor know you appreciate the work.

These are five simple ways to express your and your child’s gratitude for his or her teacher. Celebrate World Teachers’ Day by taking a little extra time this weekend to prepare one of these recognition gifts and send it to school with your child on Monday.


Whistle While You Learn: How Learning Music Can Improve Your Child’s Brain

September 15, 2015

By Jessica Vician

Whistle While You Learn: How Learning Music Can Improve Your Child’s Brain | Learning to play music by age seven can help a child's brain develop stronger, help them learn a better vocabulary, teach them to focus, and more. | A girl practices guitar.

Music is a powerful thing. When we sing or play an instrument, it’s a form of expression. When we listen to it, it stirs up emotions and memories. From the song you listened to on repeat after your first breakup to the song you and your partner first danced to at your wedding, music is a key part of our memories.

Music can also teach our children valuable emotional and academic skills that they can’t learn in the classroom. It engages both the right and left sides of the brain—the creative and logical sides—and it helps children learn to focus, improves their critical thinking skills, and helps nurture their emotional maturity, according to VH1 Save the Music.

The earlier a child learns to play music, the more it will help his or her brain development. Playing music also helps children:

  • develop a better vocabulary and reading skills 
  • learn to focus, especially if they have learning disabilities or dyslexia
  • avoid alcohol and drug abuse

As someone who took piano lessons from ages seven to 14, I can personally attest to the importance of learning music. Here are several qualities and skills that I developed from it:

Confidence, Humility, and Modesty
I’ve never been the most athletic human. Growing up, my parents signed me up for sports to stay active. I also learned, in my mother’s words, “to be a good loser,” since my teams rarely won. So in fourth grade when our class learned to play the recorder, it was nice to finally excel in a fun, non-academic school activity.

I had been taking piano lessons for a year or two, so I already knew how to read music, which made it easy to pick up a new instrument. Finally I was one of the best students at an activity, which made me feel really good (the other students who excelled were also piano players, for the record). And of course, my mom was there to teach me modesty and how “to be a good winner,” too.

Hand-eye Coordination
I might be giving away my age here, but in sixth grade we learned how to correctly type on a keyboard. Once again, my trusty piano lessons came in handy. Since I had learned how to read music while making my fingers move to the appropriate key, I had unknowingly already nearly conquered typing. I was able to quickly learn the QWERTY keyboard and type efficiently—a skill that has saved me throughout my life, from churning out papers in undergrad to transcribing interviews when I worked in broadcast news.

Learning to read music was my first formal introduction to learning another language. Similar to language, the characters don’t offer much information until they are placed on the staff, when they become notes to read. A letter alone isn’t much, but when combined with other letters it becomes a word, which then becomes a sentence when combined with other words.

Reading and playing music at a young age developed my ability and interest to learn new languages. I studied French from seventh grade through college, can read and speak some Spanish, and between those two languages can figure out enough Italian and Portuguese for travelling. With English as my first language and music as my second, learning French was easier than if I had never learned a second language.

Ask anyone who knows how to play music if they regret learning. Much like having children, most people will tell you that it is one of the most rewarding things they have ever done.

Get your child started by listening to music and asking which instruments he or she is drawn to. Talk to the school’s music teacher about how to introduce that instrument into your child’s education. The school may offer a class or the teacher may recommend group or private lessons.

Your child will learn so much more than just a few chords. It will change his or her education, brain, and life.


Special Needs: How to Advocate for Your Child’s Education

August 27, 2015

By Lynn Samartino

Special Needs: How to Advocate For Your Child's Education | All parents should know how to advocate for their child's education, but it's especially important for parents of children with special needs. This special education teacher takes you through three key strategies to advocating for your child. | A teen sits with his head in his hand while struggling to take a test.

All parents should know how to advocate for their child’s education, but for parents of children with special needs, it is especially important. As a special education teacher, I want to get to know the parents of my students, build a rapport with them and involve them in their child’s education.

Many parents focus on their child’s social, emotional, and physical well-being at home (which is very important), but leave the entirety of education to teachers. As the YOU Program demonstrates, these pieces go hand-in-hand, so a teacher-parent partnership is critical for a child’s academic success.

To ensure your child receives a highly qualified education in accordance with their special education services, work on these three things: knowledge, involvement, and communication.

To advocate for your child, you must educate yourself on school details and your child’s educational rights.

  1. Understand your child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP).
    All students receiving special education services have an IEP. Each year, you will review that IEP with necessary school staff to ensure your child is making progress through goals and objectives. This is the guide to your child’s education.

    Prepare for the annual meetings by learning what the IEP fully entails, why your child has one, what the components mean, and how it is implemented. The IEP lays out the framework for your child’s education and the school should follow everything outlined in it.

    If you need help understanding the IEP, meet with your child’s teacher or a staff member who can explain each section. Although it is discussed thoroughly during the IEP meeting, if you have additional questions, don’t hesitate to schedule a follow-up meeting.

  2. Speak with other parents at the school.
    Get to know other parents of the school community. You can learn from each other, including how to successfully advocate for your child’s education (and possibly what doesn’t work as well).

When you are involved in your child’s education, you are well informed and have a better understanding about how to advocate for your child. When teachers and staff see and know that you’re involved, we can better collaborate and partner with you.

  1. Volunteer in the classroom.
    By volunteering and occasionally being present in the classroom, you can ensure that your child’s IEP is being implemented appropriately. If you have a paid job in the classroom, you can help support the IEP implementation. Through these opportunities, you can communicate regularly with the teacher to make sure the appropriate services are being provided in the least restrictive environment.
  2. Attend parent-teacher conferences and school-sponsored events.
    Plan ahead and attend parent-teacher conferences, family reading night, or any other events offered throughout the school year. Build rapport with the community, school, staff, and teachers at these events. You can learn more about education and how the school operates.

Whether asking questions, communicating your child’s needs, or just discussing an assignment, communicate regularly with all the teachers and staff that your child works with daily. Technology provides ample opportunities for communication, so use it to your advantage.

  1. Email key staff members.
    You or your child’s teacher can start an email chain with the necessary school staff so that everyone can work together for his or her educational success. Regular emails are convenient and make it easy to check in quickly.
    At the beginning of the school year, share your email address with the teacher so they can keep you regularly informed. Ask the teacher if they have a website for you to view assignments, important dates, and lesson materials.
  2. Say hello during pick-up and drop-off.
    If you pick up or drop off your kids at school, have a brief chat with the teacher every so often. Many things can be communicated in just a few minutes and issues resolved. It is great for me to quickly touch base with my students’ parents before the day begins or at the end of the day to inform them of the accomplishments made during class time.

Think of the process of advocating for your child’s education as a three-legged stool. The stool supports us when we need to sit, but it must have all three legs to balance and stand. Those three legs are parental knowledge, involvement, and communication. By practicing those three “legs,” your child can succeed in school, no matter what his or her needs are.

Lynn Samartino, M.A. is an upper inclusion special education teacher for 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students at Chicago Public Schools. In her 10+ years of experience, she has spearheaded after-school programs, developed the Inclusive Model, and managed the integration of new technology into academics.

She holds certifications in general and special education with endorsements in middle school, language arts, social science, and English as a second language (ESL).


Build a Strong Relationship With Your Child’s Teacher in 4 Steps

August 18, 2015

By Jessica Vician

Build a Strong Relationship With Your Child’s Teacher in 4 Steps | Beyond the first impression, you need to establish a good ongoing relationship with your child's teacher to demonstrate your respect and dedication to your child's education. Here are four ways to do that. | A mother extends her hand to her child's teacher in a vector image.

Arrive on time. Respect and listen to the teacher. Say please and thank you.

These three simple tips are a great way for your child to make a strong first impression during the first week of school. These tips also help you make a good first impression with your child’s teacher.

Beyond the first impression, you need to establish a good ongoing relationship with your child’s teacher so that they know you respect them and care about your child’s education. It also communicates to your child that you value his or her education and performance. Here are four ways you can start building that relationship.

1. Pick up your child from school one day to introduce yourself.
Introduce yourself to the teacher and communicate that you want to help them by making sure your child is prepared to learn when he or she comes to school in the morning. Letting the teacher know you both want the same thing—for your child to learn and succeed—is a great first step.

2. Provide your contact information and an open invitation to connect.
Yes, the school office already has your contact information, but giving it directly to your child’s teacher with the invitation to reach out if they have any concerns or successes to report shows them that you’re open to talking, you take your child’s education seriously, and you’re an engaged parent.

3. Show your appreciation.
Send thank you notes from you and your child with his or her homework every few months. Let the teacher know that even when you’re not there, you appreciate what they do for your child.

Need more ideas to show appreciation for your child’s teacher? Try these 9 suggestions, courtesy of a teacher.

4. Be respectful and start with the teacher.
If you learn of an issue in the classroom or with your child’s academic performance, talk to the teacher before anyone else. You demonstrate respect by honoring their expertise first and not immediately rushing to the principal.

If you’ve tried this method and you’re not satisfied with the teacher’s response, then let them know that you would like to discuss the situation with their supervisor. Being honest about taking the discussion to someone else maintains transparency and invites the teacher into that conversation to better resolve the issue.

Language Barrier
These are simple ways to establish a good relationship with your child’s teacher, beginning in the fall and continuing throughout the school year. But what happens if you don’t speak the same language as the teacher? You can still make the same efforts, but it will require a little planning on your end to get started.

1. Ask the school to provide a translator.
Ask the school’s translator to be present when you introduce yourself to the teacher and give both the teacher and translator your contact information. Work with the translator to find an effective method for open and, if necessary, frequent communication between you and the teacher through the school’s translator.

2. Find a friend or family member to translate your thank you note.
You can write it in your language at the top of the note and then have your friend write the English translation at the bottom. This way, the teacher sees your writing and your intention, but also understands your message in their language.

Teachers want to build a good relationship with you just as much as you want to build a good relationship with them. Start with these steps and you will notice a difference with both the teacher and the student.

The relationship with your child’s teacher is important, but did you know that your child only spends eight percent of their time at school? Learn how you can support their education the other 92 percent of the time in the YOU: Your Child’s First Teacher books, available on Amazon.


How to Prevent the Summer Slide

July 14, 2015

By Sandra Braceful-Quarles

How to Prevent the Summer Slide | The summer slide occurs when children don't practice any academics during the summer vacation, often leading to over two months' of learning loss. Here are some tips to prevent that learning loss. | Three students approach a teacher's desk, frustrated.

Summer break is a time to relax, have fun, and enjoy these lazy days. Students are given a break to spend more time with family and friends, go on vacations, and discover something new. As your child’s first teacher, you should be aware that not participating in any learning activities over the summer might cause the dreaded summer slide.

The Research
The U.S. Department of Education defines the summer slide as the loss of learning that takes place during the summer months when children are not engaged in educational activities.

You may think, “how much learning could possibly be lost over a few summer months?” Over 100 years of research shared by the National Summer Learning Institute suggests that score two to three months lower on the same standardized test given at the end of summer compared to the beginning of summer vacation. After a few summers, those months can easily add up to a loss of one school year.

The Solutions
So what can you do to reverse or prevent this anticipated loss? Good news: there are many options available for you and your child. Remember to focus on their interests and having fun while they learn during summer vacation.

The Library
Your local library is a great place to start. Many libraries have summer reading programs to encourage students to read over the summer. Kids usually receive a reward at the end of the program based on the number of books they read.

Encourage your child to choose a book he or she enjoys reading, and not the one you want your child to read. Turn to a page in a book and use the Five Finger Rule for mistakes while your child reads as a guide: 0 – 1 = too easy; 2 - 3 = perfect choice; 4 = okay to try with an adult; 5+ = too hard.

The Kitchen
Cooking is a fun way to incorporate reading, math, and art into a learning activity. The reading part comes with following the recipe, which makes the dish taste delicious. Have your child—the chef of the day—read instructions aloud as you act as his or her assistant.

The math is the measurement part of the recipe. Instead of using 1 cup, use 1/3 cup (pour three 1/3 cups into 1 cup) to show that they are equal.

Children can show artistic skills when plating and presenting the meal.

Hobbies are the perfect opportunities for reading and learning. If your child shows an interest in a particular topic, suggest he or she learn more about those activities. For example, if your child is interested in swimming, read about how to become a better swimmer, convert laps in pool meters into miles, or learn about famous swimmers.

Already planned a vacation? Create before, during, and after vacation activities. Read brochures or books together before you leave. While on vacation, point out locations and cultural qualities that you learned about in those reading materials. During the vacation or upon your return, encourage your child to write about the activities in a summer adventure journal.

Enjoy your summer of learning and relaxing. Your child has many resources available to prevent any learning loss. With these tips, the only summer slide your child will ride is at the local playground or amusement park.

What other lessons do you incorporate throughout the summer to keep your child’s skills sharp? Tell me in the comments below.

Looking for more ways to improve your child’s learning experience outside of school? Pick up a copy of YOU: Your Child’s First Teacher on Amazon.

Sandra Braceful-Quarles is an educator, community liaison, and tutor working in the south suburbs of Chicago. As an active member of her worship community, she is passionate about giving back and volunteering to help others. She and her husband have three children and two grandchildren.

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