Ready for First Grade Checklist

First Grade has been called “the hardest year” for students because of all the growth they make in this academic year. It is no surprise that education is changing, each year the expectations for students, parents, and teachers becomes more complicated. But I’m a first grade teacher here to tell you, your kindergartner will succeed!

As a teacher, I want to know if your kindergartner can do the following things:

*Follow Directions
*Treat others Kindly
*Try their Best

This summer in addition to practicing numbers and letters, help your child learn these three social skills to get your child ready for first grade.

Follow Directions

Things are very black or white for first graders which can be a struggle at home and in the classroom. If your child struggles following directions at home they might also struggle with it at school. Check in with your child’s teacher and tell them about what works best for your child or what doesn’t. Work together with the teacher to help your child see you are on the same team. It doesn’t have to be all rules and no fun, you can make these into a game!

Practice at Home: Give your child a piece of paper and write four things you want them to find around the house. See if they can find the items in the right order! Play “Follow the Leader” let your child have a turn and then you take a turn! Don’t forget to praise them for following directions! “Thank you for putting your shoes by the door, that helps me a lot!”

Treat Others Kindly

Being 6 years old is tough! You are used to being the center of attention in most aspects of your life and you want that to continue! Most children are still very focused on themselves but are starting to crave friendships.

Practice at Home: Pause the T.V. Ask your child “Is _____ being kind right now? How would that make you feel?” Remind your child about the golden rule – Do to others what you’d want done to you.

Try your best!

Trying your best is not the same as “being the best.” Each brain is developed at a different rate and for a child who is behind, it’s important that they see the value in trying. Is it hard to see your child behind? Yes! And it’s just as hard to watch as a teacher. But working together makes all the difference for your child.

Practice at Home: Instead of doing things for your kindergartner ask “Can I see you try first and then I’ll help?” most times they are able to do the task on their own. Praise when they try and succeed and praise when they try and fail.

If you are stressing out about what your child can and cannot do entering first grade, rest assured that they will be fine. If they truly struggle with learning, their teacher will know and will do everything they can to keep you informed so your child can get the best support they deserve. If you can help your kindergartner develop these things before first grade, you will be on your way to another successful year of learning! Use this ready for first grade checklist to make sure you child get the start they need.

Back-to-School Scheduling | How to Prepare before the First Day of School

Getting Started

Getting back into the school routine can be tough for older students and their parents. Everyone must readjust to early mornings, long academic days, homework, activities, and so on. The stress of juggling so much can be overwhelming and cause unnecessary tension. However, there are ways for students and their families to keep a balanced and healthy schedule when getting back to school and maintain it throughout the year.

The key to achieving a reasonable schedule for older students and parents is to start before the school year begins. The more preparation that takes place before the first day of school, the easier it is for all family members to balance and adjust to the busy schedule.

Make a Calendar

A family calendar can make a big difference when it comes to scheduling during the school year, especially with older students who may have several extracurricular activities. Most school calendars and sports practices are posted over the summer, so families can add “known” events and their dates to the shared calendar before the first day of school. As the year progresses, families can have a “submission” day each week to update the calendar with more specific information.

Last-minute schedule changes will happen, but overall a regularly updated family calendar will help all members have a general idea of what to expect each week. This allows for routine planning and time management, which will decrease overall family stress.

Make Meals

One of the downsides of back-to-school is that with the long, filled days there is less time for preparing and enjoying family meals. Breakfast can be chaotic with everyone getting ready, and many teens opt to sleep a few more minutes rather than eat. Lunches may not offer as many healthy options at school as at home, and dinner is often squeezed in between activities and homework.

The school weekdays may be too hectic for sit-down dinners for the whole family, and that’s understandable. However, it’s still important for teenagers (and parents) to eat healthy meals as much as possible. One solution is to take a little preparation time in the kitchen each weekend so there are healthier options during the busy week. Families can share in cutting fruits and vegetables for snacks and even making larger portions of healthy meals to be refrigerated and eaten during the week. Before school begins, families can make a list of monthly meals to prepare over weekends so that everyone has a share in a healthy food routine.

Waste Time

When students are focused on academics, athletics, activities, and after-school jobs, they often don’t take any time to truly unwind. Many parents are guilty of the same, especially with the amount of screen time and online presence that takes over each day. One healthy activity that family members can do together, yet one of the toughest to schedule, is wasting time. Summer is the perfect chance to build time-wasting into the family routine.

Obviously, on some level, no time is really wasted—especially when family members are together. However, it’s important to remember to take a few minutes each week (or even day) and do nothing. This helps the brain and nervous system experience calm, which can alleviate stress and tension. One idea is for families to set a timer for 5 minutes when together and just visit about a particular topic. Some families may use the time for meditation or to play a game. So long as it’s not outcome-driven, it’s healthy.

Parents and students often clash when getting used to the back-to-school routine. However, preparing some aspects of the schedule before the first day of school can help alleviate tension and stress, and bring a healthy balance to the school year.

STEM in the Summer | Keep the Kids Engaged with Fun Hands On Activities

STEM is a growing buzzword in contemporary education. For those who are unaware, the acronym represents an educational movement that encourages training in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. It is considered crucial to teach these skills to young people because many jobs in the current workforce require them. STEM skills are responsible for sparking some of the world’s most vital accomplishments from discovering entirely new elements to putting a man on the moon. And the need for STEM is not slowing down anytime soon.

With the growing need for expertise in these fields, one can imagine the push to keep these talents alive. In 2018, the Department of Education donated $279 million to various STEM organizations including 66.8 million to Education Innovation and Research and 28.2 to million to Supporting Effective Educator Development. Considering the funds involved, it can be assumed that this is a priority for education spending.

If parents and teachers are not paying close attention to STEM learning, they should be. In fact, summer is a great time to get students involved in extra-curricular STEM learning. Igniting a passion for science, technology, engineering and math can happen at a young age. Through STEM-focused summer programs, students of all ages can learn important skills and develop an interest in these fields.

With some online research, one can find a litany of fantastic STEM camps and programs nearby. Various summer enrichment programs are held all over the United States and internationally. They can range from one week to over a month and are offered online and in person. In these programs, students can expect to learn several hard and soft skills:

Hard skills associated with STEM:

  • Coding
  • Robotics
  • Virtual Reality
  • Programming
  • 3D Printing

Soft skills associated with STEM:

  • Communication
  • Critical thinking
  • Leadership
  • Self-management
  • Collaboration

Although summer camps and programs are great for all ages, adolescents might consider more of a challenge. Internships are a wonderful way to gain real-world experience in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields. Applying for and landing an internship is more of a self-driven process than say, signing up for a camp, but mature and responsible students are very capable. Older students should take advantage of community opportunities and get involved.

The first step to getting a summer internship at a local business is reaching out to them independently. Some organizations will post openings at high schools and online. Try asking a school administrator if the campus has any affiliations with local businesses that they trust. Consider medical facilities, engineering companies, veterinary clinics, etc. Often, students will need to reach out to businesses completely on their own and express interest.

The cooperating businesses might ask for recommendations, a resume or an interview so students should be prepared. Once an internship is earned, the hands-on experience can prove invaluable. The student will leave the internship with in-demand life skills and a glowing resume.

Look for ways students can become involved with STEM programs this summer. For young children, encourage a fun and interesting introduction to these fields.  Older students can seek a challenge and attempt to develop a potential career.

Recommended Summer Reading for 6th and 7th Graders to Enhance ELA Skills

Schooled by Gordon Korman

Not only is the plot of this novel original and layered, the writing is honest and direct. This is one of the few young adult novels that carefully addresses the subject of homeschooling. Korman allows the “fish out of water” theme to play out so that readers consider what education truly is, and its significance. The story and the writing are innovative and inspiring.

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

This is a valuable novel not simply because of its award-winning status, but because it’s an excellent and unusual contribution to the genre of science-fiction for young adults. Stead intertwines multiple plot-lines, and the central character is a strong, intelligent girl. The novel’s setting also reflects a time period that is quite different from what young adults experience today, particularly revealing an independence from social media and heavy parental involvement.

Feathers by Jacqueline Woodson

This short novel incorporates multiple young adult themes as well as poetic language. Inspired by Emily Dickinson’s line “hope is a thing with feathers,” the young female protagonist reflects on the lack of hope she has in her environment and the people around her. This work examines racial differences, bullying, and socio-economic disadvantages. What sets it apart from other young adult novels is the character’s honest struggle with religion as a means of faith, comfort, and hope.

Holes by Louis Sachar

Sachar’s novel has maintained its popularity among young adult readers, and rightfully so. Though many students may have already seen the movie adaptation or read the book, Holes is an opportunity for all young adult readers to re-discover the beauty of Sachar’s storytelling and the significance of theme. This novel is unique in its portrayal of judgment, prejudice, and the ambiguity of punishment. The characters, both kids and adults, are as flawed as the system that intends to rehabilitate them.

The Watsons Go to Birmingham by Christopher Paul Curtis

The novel is an excellent vehicle of historical fiction for young adults. The story is divided into two: that of an African-American family living in Michigan in 1963, and that of the church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama, the same year. Curtis’s prose is gentle in leading the reader to fondness for the narrator and his family with humor and a loving tone. This makes the overt and painful racist act of the subsequent church bombing as jarring for the reader as it is for the book’s characters. Curtis humanizes the fictional African American people through the family for his young adult readers, and then incorporates a non-fiction tragedy to effectively (and in an age-appropriate way) illustrate the senselessness and horror of racial violence.

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Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton

This novel is frequently recommended for its honest portrayal of European colonialism, the breakdown of African tribal systems, and the rise of apartheid in South Africa. However, Paton was ahead of his time in that the novel also reflects the impact of humans on the environment. Paton’s character development humanizes individuals of all races, yet reveals the de-humanization of prejudice, systematic discrimination, racial violence, and destruction of nature.

The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr

Though some young adult readers may consider this editorial book to be a “downer,” Carr offers interesting perspectives regarding the effects of the internet and life online. He incorporates both neurology and psychology, which will interest those pursuing biological and social sciences. However, Carr also addresses the everyday and long-term effects of online distraction. This book would be particularly valuable for college and career-bound students as a consideration of how people spend their time, gather information, and develop expertise.

Ellen Foster by Kaye Gibbons

This novel addresses the themes of child abuse, domestic violence, racism, and the clear failings of the foster care system in America. Through a first-person account, the young narrator immerses the reader in her traumatic yet hopeful experience. The language of the novel, considered by most to be colloquial and “uneducated,” further reinforces the prejudice of the American South, the lack of responsible elementary education, and the upheaval of a displaced child.

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

In his book, Sedaris presents a collection of personal narrative essays that cover a wide range of topics, from his childhood experiences and being gay in Raleigh, North Carolina, to his eventual culture shock and residence in France with his life-partner. Sedaris is considered one of the great American humorists, yet his writing is also inclusive and vulnerable. Though he writes from his own observation and memories, Sedaris gives insight into family dynamics and finding a true self.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

When it comes to dystopian fiction for young adults, there is a long list of choices. The Road, however, distinguishes itself from others in the genre due to the absent pretense of a seemingly utopian setting. Instead, McCarthy presents his characters in an immediate post-apocalyptic world. The novel follows the journey of a father and son who fight to survive in world where life seems to have lost any value or meaning. McCarthy’s poetic language somehow manages to keep alive the themes of faith, love, and redemption.

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The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Though some parents may consider aspects of this novel to be “inappropriate,” it is a genuine portrayal of an adolescent boy trying to navigate his Native American / Indian identity along with his duty to family and intellectual dreams. This novel has excellent appeal for young adults, and it provides a window into “reservation” culture about which most American students are unaware. **Alexie certainly has created bad press for himself in the past couple of years, but I think the literary work in this case is greater in value than the alleged flaws of the writer.

Everyday by David Levithan

This novel is a study in empathy, in that the main character inhabits a different person each day and must go through life as someone else for 24 hours. Levithan incorporates a sense of science fiction / fantasy in the novel, however it is incredibly realistic in portraying a spectrum of adolescent lives. The book is also beautifully written.

The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak

There is an excellent body of “Holocaust” fiction for young adults, but Zusak’s novel is unique in its storytelling. His characters are multi-dimensional, and the novel gives deep insight into the difficult choices facing German citizens during the rise of Nazi power. The book is considered lengthy by some, and Zusak demands an intelligent reader. This novel would elevate a young adult’s understanding of history as well as the art of language.

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

This novel may seem antiquated to teenagers who are used to the ease and accessibility of most young adult fiction. However, the themes of prejudice, poverty, and innocence are as relevant today as they were during the novel’s setting. This novel is also valuable in understanding point of view and the importance of a narrator, as well as geographical diction.

Monster by Walter Dean Myers

This novel is gritty in its urban setting and heartbreaking plot. It’s a reflection of the current African American experience, and it doesn’t shy away from difficult subject matter. The literary value of this novel broadens the scope of how narration can be achieved, in that the story is told both as first-person journal entries and a third-person screenplay. This allows young adult readers to interpret the events of the novel with their own critical thinking.

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Ways to Combat the “Summer Slide” – Stopping Students from Falling Behind over Summer Break

The “summer slide” is when children fall behind on their reading skills over the summer break.

Studies show that most children enter a new grade on a lower reading level than when they left the previous one when they don’t continue to read over the break. Luckily, there are many tips and tricks for beating the summer slide.

Reading as a Chore – Not so Fast

Children may view reading as a chore, but this doesn’t have to be the case. A common issue for families is a lack of reading material in the home. Libraries offer free summer reading programs and book challenges. All it takes is a quick visit to learn about programming and to apply for a library card. Generally, libraries will have a children’s librarian that can suggest books for your child that will interest them and be on their reading level.

When children choose their own books, they will be more invested in what they are reading. This is shown to increase reading levels more effectively than assigned reading. Children are more likely to read books from start to finish if their interest is piqued. This doesn’t only apply to chapter books. Graphic novels, comic books, magazines, and joke books are all great ways for children to apply their reading skills and reinforce the joy of reading.

Books that Interest Students – Let them Pick

It may also help to introduce books that you think will interest your child to them. They may skip over great options just because they don’t know that they will connect with the material. Introducing characters, settings, and problems in the story can get them interested in a book. Once they are interested, stop right there with a cliffhanger. Think of this as the literary version of a movie trailer.

If you live too far away from a library or don’t have the time to visit one, the Overdrive app is a valuable resource that can be downloaded to most tablets. Overdrive lets you download thousands of ebooks, audiobooks, and videos from your local library. All you need is your library card in order to create an account.

Reading to your child every day is a great way to integrate literacy into the home and share the experience as a family. Most children’s books are written above a child’s reading level and are intended for adults to read the books to them. But, don’t simply read to them. Ask your child questions about the characters and help them make connections with their own experiences and the world around them.

Look Around – Words are Everywhere

Literacy is everywhere. It’s not just in books. When cooking, let your child help read recipes and introduce them to new vocabulary words. Allow them to help you make a grocery list and read labels while in the store. Show them that reading is an important part of everyday life, and they will develop more of a joy for reading.

Digital Reading and Educational Gaming – A Summer ‘Cool Down’

In the digital age, gaming is everywhere now and I know the last thing most parents want is their child playing video games over the summer all day. But who would have thought that gaming could actually prevent the reading summer slide? There are websites out there that allow students to review reading while play games and actually learn something at the same time. Sites such as Kahoot, Review Game Zone and ABCmouse provide educational gaming to students. These site should not be used all day, but rather as a way to provide a nice break when students need to ‘cool down’ from being outdoors in the summer.

Do Not Let the Summer Slide Slow Down Your Child

The summer slide can start your child off on the wrong foot at the start of the school year. These tips will help ensure their academic success in the new year and help them become more confident in reading overall.

Combating the Summer Slide with Learning Programs

According to the National Summer Learning Association, nine out of ten teachers spend the first three weeks of the school year re-teaching lessons. That means that students are performing about a month behind where they left off the previous year. This is largely due to what is referred to as the Summer Slide, which is a steady decline of learning and retention in the summer months. Fortunately there are affordable ways teachers, administration, and parents can work to avoid this.

Summer programs are offered through public and private schools, colleges, independent organizations, tutoring services, churches and even online. Programs offered through a child’s school is ideal because it can be more affordable than a private program. Often these district programs include camps in the areas of science, creative arts, athletics, STEM, etc. Sometimes they fill up quickly so forward planning is crucial.

Many districts have a calendar of summer events posted online. If a month-long camp is too much of a commitment for families, they can opt for a day activity now and then. If available, parents should get involved and volunteer at programs of interest. This sets a shining example of the lifelong learner all parents want for their children.

Although many districts do offer these programs, they really should be made more of a priority. Staff can ultimately save resources for the upcoming year, not to mention the potential benefit of increased test scores. The low cost of district-offered programs benefit low-income families who are the main victims of the Summer Slide. Parents can contact local school districts to advocate for summer programs in their neighborhood. Educators can talk to administrators to affirm the important of these programs.

For middle and high school-aged students looking to stay engaged and proactive during summer, nearby community colleges offer a wide selection of courses– albeit at a price. This is a great opportunity for adolescents to expand on their skills or pursue a possible career interest. The Best College Reviews Organization compiled a list of impressive summer programs in various colleges around the United States. Teachers and parents can research to find out what is offered in their area.

If price is a concern, an often cheaper option for summer learning is online programs. Some programs are free and others are offered at a low price. These cater to all age groups, but may be more suitable for older students with a substantial attention span. Online schools and organizations offer credit recovery courses, interest-based courses, foreign language courses and many other choices. For families with busy schedules, this is a more flexible option.

Parents, teachers, and administrators should advocate for and support summer programs that benefit students. These programs can serve as a way to prevent summer learning loss and narrow the achievement gap overall. Come fall, students and teachers alike will benefit from the summer learning.

Movies with a Mission, to Learn over the Summer

As an educator, I am all too familiar with this scene: students drag themselves to school on the first day in August remembering very little of what they learned the previous year. I know their former teachers went over these concepts ad nauseam; why don’t they remember? Many argue that summer is to blame. It seems that summer has become the classroom’s worst enemy. While the two-month break is a great time to relax and let kids be kids, the truth is that it can be a dangerous time for education. Teachers work hard to instill core skills and understanding during the school year and the break seems to wash it away.

Movies, a Fun way to Engage over the Summer

Luckily there is a fun, engaging way parents can promote learning during summer. Educational videos exist for all ages to review and add on to student learning from the previous year. For elementary school, basic song-driven movies can serve as a creative way to remind young students of what they learned. The classic series Schoolhouse Rock comes to mind, but Sesame Street and Little Einsteins have the same benefit. Many young children naturally have a musical learning style and reciting songs or mantras can help them retain information. Plus, a refreshment of basic content is crucial during the long summer months.

To encourage a deep dive into content, many movies can help broaden students’ understanding of a topic. For example, Disney’s Wall-E could pair well with a unit on conservation and sustainability. The goal is for students to take this learning back to the classroom and make connections to new content. The Iron Giant is another film that expands on what elementary students may have learned about history, especially the Cold War.

Example Movies for High School Students Over the Summer

Middle and high school students can also greatly benefit from educational shows and movies over summer. Adolescents can be notorious for neglecting to flex their educational muscles when they have time off. It is especially important for older grade levels to maintain stimulation. For these older students, movies serve as a way to form a deeper understanding of a text or concept. As an English teacher, I am impressed when a student is interested in a film adaptation of a novel we read (after we have read it, of course).  There are countless wonderful book-based films to guide the student including To Kill a Mockingbird, Romeo and Juliet, Frankenstein, and The Great Gatsby.

Watching educational movies can promote multi-lens views of an event or idea. Looking at ideas from several angles before passing judgment is a major element of critical thinking. Any educator will tell you that critical thinking is a skill that is heavily weighted in the Common Core Standards in all states. Movies like The Truman Show can be eye-opening and can encourage students to think critically about the world around them. The Help, a movie that employs African-American and Caucasian narrators to analyze the Civil Rights Movement in the south, falls into the novel-adaptation category. This movie instills a powerful lesson on “walking a mile in someone else’s shoes”.

Movie Worksheets

A great way to keep students on topic during these films is to provide movie worksheets. You can do a google search, but often the worksheets you find are behind a paywall or you must log in first to download. There are some sites out there, but the one that seems to be the best has pre-made Movie Worksheets for free. They have hundreds of worksheets for with no log in required. The only real issue is many of them do not have answer sheets but at least its a start. They have some major films that can be used in the classroom such as: Hidden Figures Worksheet, SuperSize Me Worksheet, What Darwin Never Knew Worksheet to name a few

Teachers consistently encourage parents and students to take an active role in education. The summer months are a great opportunity to do that. The next time you are deciding which movie to watch on a Friday summer evening, choose a movie with a mission: one that will refresh or expand education.

Blogging the Summer Days Away to Keep the Kids Busy

Summer is in full swing– kids are enjoying their newfound freedom while parents have started counting down the days until fall. Typically, children spend the first week of summer excitedly rushing from camp to the beach to sleepovers. After the honeymoon phase, however, they will inevitably slump on the couch and proclaim: I’m bored!

Instead of turning to Fortnight or another mindless movie, there are so many good reasons why kids should spend their free time blogging. A blog, for those who are unfamiliar, functions as a public or private online journal operated by a small group or individual. Most blogs have a niche or specialty, like gardening or cooking. They are usually conversational, but can be more formal depending on the purpose.

Blogging serves several purposes for young people and it is the perfect task to keep their minds buzzing in the leisure of summertime. Teachers can assign blogs as a creative summer task or parents can encourage them. Here are some reasons to encourage the young ones in your life to keep a summer blog:

Blogging encourages a passion or hobby

Since most blogs have a theme, the young people creating them will have the challenge of choosing a specific interest. Maybe she couldn’t get enough of that robotics club she joined last year. Or he loves painting and design. Whatever the topic, blogs encourage children to dive deeper into a particular passion and learn more about it.

It develops Language Arts skills

Regular reading and writing during summer ensures that students are practicing or enhancing what they learned the previous year. Since blogs focus on the individual’s interests, it will not seem like a chore and they will love writing about their chosen topic. Keep them challenged and growing in the summer.  

Blogs build self-esteem

Young people do not have the opportunity to be experts very often. Blogs allow them to take the wheel and share what they know about a topic, no matter how small. Explaining or teaching a concept to others reaffirms their understanding and also fosters pride and accomplishment. Encourage them to share their posts and expand on them.

It can turn into a lifelong venture

Often, exploring a passion at a young age ignites a career choice down the road. Getting a jumpstart on an interest could prove very beneficial. Even if blogging does not turn into a career venture, it is something children will have to look back on for years. Since all work is digital, it’s less likely to get lost in the chaos of everyday life.

If you are on board, here are some popular (and free) blog sites to explore:

If you do allow your child or student’s blog to be public, be sure to have a serious conversation about their digital footprint. Once the child hits the submit button, the information is always out there in some way or another. Explain boundaries like withholding all personal information. Stay involved so you know and see what they are writing.

If you are a parent who does not have access to technology at home, don’t worry. Students can still write down and sketch their ideas on paper. They could make a mini-magazine or take the pages to the computer lab once school starts up again. The important part is that they are exercising creativity, language skills, and getting some positive reinforcement along the way.

Happy blogging!