Nov 16

The Value in Volunteering

renee-volunteer-blog-picVolunteering, whether it’s in a local event or on an international scale, takes time and energy and can be hard work. However, it may also be one of life’s greatest lessons. Volunteering can teach children values such as empathy, responsibility, citizenship and caring, just to name a few. It can be difficult to raise selfless children in a world that is often materialistic and self indulgent. It takes sacrifices to volunteer, and it may help our children understand and appreciate their own circumstances.
Volunteering can help create a mindset of change. Children will begin to realize ways in which they can “Be the change they wish to see in the world” (–Mahatma Gandhi) rather than passive complainers. During the adolescent phase, shifting the focus from self to others can be extremely impactful and positive for social development.
Volunteer work may even turn out to be a bonding experience that families can share together. The time spent helping others can strengthen the bonds among those helping. It’s an awesome way to lead by example.
Finally, children are powerful and magical. Their presence alone can brighten spirits and spread joy. Their impact is amazing and their potential limitless. Help them share their amazing talents and watch the results.
If you would like help getting started, try visiting for some free service projects for kids.

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Oct 11

Top 5 ‘Hacks’ for making worksheets actually work

Let’s face it. Worksheets and deep learning experiences aren’t exactly synonymous.  One of the major critiques of worksheets is they become busy work: rote, meaningless, disconnected, and lacking creativity. When overused, they serve more as babysitters than learning tools and suck the life out of a classroom.  Now, before you grab your worksheet stack and march them all straight to the recycle bin, I want to share with you some ideas I’ve used to un-worksheet my worksheets. Worksheets can work, it just takes a little reworking!



1.  Thinking of using a matching worksheet?
Try a memory card game instead.  You can cut the worksheet apart, or transfer the worksheet content onto notecards for a hands-on upgrade.  Instead of drawing a line from column A to column B, students manipulate the matches by hand which contributes to greater retention.



2.  Sorting words?
Again, cut them up for physically hand-sorting at a pocket-chart or table-top sorting center.  Ever seen a worksheet with instructions like “label each sentence ‘statement’ or ‘question?'”  Instead, label half of a pocket chart “question” and the other half “statement.”  Students then sort the sentence cards into the correct categories.

Copy of Cloverleaf2013OCT-51


3.  What about centers?
Centers are enhanced by using recording sheets, not worksheets.  There is a difference!  Where worksheets replace authentic learning, recording sheets support it.  Students travel from center to center doing hands-on activities and documenting their work on a recording sheet.  When paired with engaging centers, recording sheets are a way for students to solidify what they learned and come away with documentation.  It is all about the pairing!20140408_141821


4.  Math problem practice?
Knowing the basic facts is important in math, but worksheets are not the only answer!  Solving problem after problem to practice the basics can get a little…well… boring.  So instead of letting your math class grow stale and monotonous, cut the math worksheet apart and let students draw the problems from a hat and solve on mini whiteboards.  I have found that students inexplicably and nearly universally prefer working on their whiteboards over paper and pencil.  A small change like bringing out the whiteboards keeps things fresh!



5.  Handwriting?
Get warmed up for the worksheet by practicing in a multisensory medium first.  Some popular options for cursive practice in my classroom include:  sand tray, chalk board, “glow slate,” Magnatab, BoogieBoard, and even simply writing in the air.  For littles, some other ideas could be: gel bags, shaving cream, even pudding!

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Key Takeaways: 

  • Worksheets are not evil.  Just remember… all things in moderation!
  • When using a worksheet, ask yourself, “could I re-work this into a hands-on alternative?”
  • Small, easy changes like cutting a worksheet apart into cards can make a world of difference for student learning.  It doesn’t have to be cute– it has to be engaging!
  • Recording sheets > Worksheets
  • As a rule of thumb, worksheets are for follow-up, not for new learning.

Now go out there and re-work those worksheets!

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Oct 04

The Importance of Reading Aloud to Older Children

cloverleaf_2015_sep-9Many of you have read, agreed with, and followed the research that says reading aloud to young children is extremely beneficial to their development as readers. But did you know that the benefits grow with your children, and even apply to tweens and teenagers? Statistically, only about 17% of children between the ages of 9-11 are still read to, while the number of children up to age 17 who expressed a love for being read to was 83%.

We first learn to love stories by hearing them. Reading aloud with your child (where you both take turns) is, of course, a wonderful and necessary way to supplement their literacy education, but so is simply letting them listen as you read.
Even when children get older, they are listening for clues and cues to how language works. Reading with expression is key to developing fluency in older readers. Model how to read commas, question marks and exclamation points. Change voices and tone to give your child more tools to make “mind movies,” with, a skill that will help them to be better independent readers. You’ll also have the 20160812_132152_hdropportunity to show them what you do when you come upon a word that you don’t know; it’s important that children understand that even highly skilled readers sometimes have to make inferences from contextual clues or use a dictionary to define unknown words.
In the same way you stretch your body to keep it limber, pausing to learn new words with your child stretches the language centers of their brains (and yours, too!). Researchers at the non-profit organization Reach Out and Read determined that “books contain many words, especially the more sophisticated words that children are unlikely to encounter frequently in spoken language. Children’s books contain 50% more rare words than prime-time television or even college students’ conversations.”
20131105_104049Choosing read-aloud books that are above your child’s reading level is great way to expose them to new authors, series, genres and texts. A child’s reading level doesn’t actually catch up to their learning level until around eighth grade, meaning that kids are able to understand books that are too hard for them to actually decode themselves. In today’s media heavy world, your child will likely be exposed to ideas and concepts they’ve never heard of before they’ve had the chance to read about them in the books they read independently. Therefore, the more you read aloud to them from challenging texts, the more tools you’ll be giving them to process all the new information they’re taking in on a daily basis. Having context for the world builds both awareness and empathy, and will help them to be more confident people and learners.
20160826_100728 So now the question might be, “what do I pick to read?” My first suggestion is that you pick a book you loved as tween or teen and start there, because you yourself will be a wonderful and engaging reader of a beloved story. You can also try searching your favorite genre on your county library’s online site. You could look for something you’d both enjoy on a composite list of read-aloud books for older children – I recommend the one here:

Most importantly, enjoy the special time to slow down and tune in together – no matter your child’s age, they won’t forget the joy of the shared closeness and sense of belonging that’s created when you spend time reading aloud to them on a regular basis.

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