Q + A: How to Help a Preschooler at Home

I’m back with another question with a reader. You can read my answer to my last question about reading pressure here. Thanks for sending in any questions you have!

My daughter is just starting preschool this year. What should I be doing at home to help prepare her, or help her succeed once she is there?

Even though both my boys went to a daycare that morphed into a preschool just before 3, the start of preschool felt like a big deal for each of them. While kindergarten feels a little more like “real school,” preschool will be you and your child’s first experience with teachers, school friends, and a school community. I think it’s natural to want to help your child at school in any way you can. Luckily, you don’t need to whip out the flashcards yet (or ever) to help your child have a successful preschool experience. Here are some things I do recommend:

Begin talking and reading about school a month or two ahead of the big transition. With kids this young, you don’t want to talk about something too far in advance, but you also don’t want to just spring it on them. If you keep your attitude about preschool positive, your child will start to develop some excitement for school. I always recommend kids books as a fun way to talk about what to expect. I mentioned several starting school books in this post, but I’ve listed some preschool specific ones below.

As an added bonus, one of the big focuses of preschool academic skills is called concepts of print. This is skills like knowing we read left to right, top to bottom, and understanding that words have meaning. As you can probably guess, these skills are taught using books and every time you read to your child, you are reinforcing these important skills.

In addition to books, Daniel Tiger is always a much loved way to introduce preschoolers to new things. There are a couple of great episodes about going to school that your child may enjoy watching in preparation for their first day!

Make a plan for your child’s transition with his or her teacher. Your child’s preschool will have a plan for the transition. It may involve you staying for one day, or having a short visit with just your child etc. Follow the school plan but don’t be afraid to make changes when it seems necessary for your child. Despite my positive attitude and book reading, both of my kids had hard transitions to preschool in different ways. It’s okay to call and check on your child if the drop off was difficult. It will get easier. I have just found this age is hard for separation anxiety and all you can really do is keep going, maintain a predictable routine and wait it out.

Help your child build independence with self help skills. I know I mention building independence in almost every one of my posts, but it really is essential for success in school no matter how old you are. Even in small preschool classes, there is still probably a greater ratio of children there than you have at home. Most preschools will teach self help skills like putting on a coat, drinking from a water cup, and washing hands. You don’t need to teach all of these skills ahead of time, but it’s good if children have some concept that they can do things on their own before they start. Maybe you focus on one job at home and be consistent with them completing that job independently. It could be a skill that would be necessary at school, such as putting on their own coat, or it could be a skill that is specific to home such as putting dirty clothes in the laundry hamper. The important thing isn’t the specific task, but just that your child has experienced being responsible for something independently before. Once your child learns how to do something at school, start having them do that skill at home more. It’s not realistic to have your child do everything his or herself every single time, but the more you can make it happen, the more confident they will feel.

Help your child keep track of the schedule. Most kids at this age really like to know what to expect. That can be challenging because they don’t necessarily know the days of the week, holidays etc. I love using visuals for this age. You can make a weekly schedule for them and post it somewhere in your house. My oldest was very interested in the schedule when he was 4 and early 5, so I used to print a monthly calendar and write special events on it. He would check it each day, and later when he learned the days of the week song at school, he would sing it while pointing to the days on the calendar.

Begin to explore letters, playing with sounds, and numbers with your child.  I wouldn’t recommend focusing on academics too much while your child is in preschool, or even choosing a school that does this. But it’s a great time to start pointing out letters with puzzles, books, games and just noticing letters as you go about your day. Numbers are the same, and I actually think even easier to just incorporate into daily life. Here are some fun letter puzzles and games we have enjoyed in my house:

Melissa and Doug Alphabet Train Puzzle

Learning Journey Match It Upper and Lowercase Letters

Leap Frog Fridge Phonics

Sequence Letters

Of course, as you can probably guess there are lots of great alphabet books out there. Chika Chika Boom Boom is one of my favorites. But honestly, it’s pretty easy to find an alphabet book that fits any interest your child has.

Another important skill that can be focused on at this age is phonological awareness. It sounds fancy, but basically it’s just helping kids understand that you can play with language. and manipulate the sounds. Some of the best skills to focus on in preschool are breaking sentences into individual words, breaking words into syllables, rhyming and identifying the first sound in a word. You can read rhyming books, clap the syllables in your friend’s names and play “I Spy” with sounds, for example “I Spy with my little eye something that begins with the f sound” (say the actual sound not the letter).

As I mentioned in my last post, math is one of the most fun and easy things to work on with your child. See that post for many more ideas. Some of my favorite math books for preschoolers are: Ten Apples Up on Top, Round is a Tortilla, and One is a Pinata. The best thing you can do to improve your child’s counting and number sense is to count everything. Food is a great thing to count. If your child wants goldfish crackers as a snack, use it as an opportunity to count how many. Eat one and count how many now 🙂

Form a positive relationship with your child’s teacher. Preschool is a great place to begin to learn what your child is like at school. It’s always surprising to me how different kids can be at home vs. at school. In preschool you are likely to have some interaction with your child’s teacher each day, either at drop off or pick up, or maybe you’ll have the opportunity to volunteer in your child’s class. I’m the type of person who hates to “bother” the teacher if he or she seems busy at all (job hazard). I have to force myself to make conversation with the teacher, but it’s worth it. I find that when I know the teacher, it helps me to know more about what is going on at school and to hear those inside stories about what my child is like at school. I also try to be incredibly appreciative of the teacher and understanding of the challenges of teaching kids at this age (truly, I don’t know how they do it). Any opportunity I get I write short, but specific, thank you notes to the teacher. I give gifts at holidays and the end of the year. If a problem comes up, I go directly to the teacher in a polite way so I can solve it quickly before it becomes a larger problem. I’m not claiming to be an expert, but I have truly enjoyed getting to know my kids’ teachers, and I feel like it gives me some insight in how to help my kid as well.

Don’t worry too much about the extras. This is something I constantly need to remind myself, as it’s easy to feel like everyone else is doing extracurriculars, play dates etc. If you are talking to your preschooler, reading them books, feeding them something they may eat, taking them to the park… reading a blog post about how to help them at school… you are doing great.

There is more I could write about, but this post is already longer than I was planning on. Let’s just say I’ll write a whole post in the future on fine motor skills, and in the meantime, please don’t force your preschooler to sit down and write if they aren’t interested.

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Finding Math in Childhood Life

Young children excel at finding the positive anywhere. Over the summer my husband and I had to stop by the airport for our global entry interview with our two boys, ages five and two. We planned to do something fun with them after so the entire outing wouldn’t be wasted. As it turned out, I’m pretty sure their favorite part of the day was the long escalator we got to ride up and down right before and after our appointment. Just as our children can find small positive things everywhere they go, we can find small ways to incorporate math teaching into our everyday lives with our kids.

Math often takes a backseat to reading and writing, both in schools and with parents. We assume all children need to learn how to read and write, but that some children (people) will just be “bad at math.” Like so many things, this attitude leads to negative math experiences for kids, which leads to math anxiety, which in the end leads to kids who don’t have good math understanding. When you think about it though, you use math all the time in your daily life just like you use reading and writing. You use it when you determine if the cost of an item is a good deal, when you leave a tip at a restaurant, when you decorate your house, when you give your child a dose of medicine,  when you cook dinner, and so much more.

I frequently get questions from parents about workbooks that I recommend. Your child will not learn math from a workbook. They can be helpful for practicing writing numbers or memorizing addition facts sure, but they won’t give your child the conceptual understanding he or she will need to truly be a strong math student. Personally, my five year old really likes work books (and could use to work on his handwriting) so I print out sheets online or get him the dry erase books for occasional use. But, there is an even easier and better way to work on math. Look for math in your daily experiences and build on that!

Photo by Tetbirt Salim on Unsplash

Make counting a habit in your house. When you walk upstairs with your child, count the steps on the way up. Or, when you give your child goldfish crackers as a snack, count how many they have. Start to ask follow up questions, “what if you had one more?” or “what if we gave 2 to your brother?”

Talk to your child about math concepts from a young age. Think beyond numbers for this one. Talk to your child about categories like colors, shapes and sizes. Help your child notice the similarities and differences between these items and sort objects by their size, shape and color. Halloween candy is a great thing to sort. So are toys, balls or food items. If you are out for a walk with your child look for different shapes or colors. You can incorporate numbers later by asking questions like “how many triangles do you see?” “Do you see more rectangles at this park or more circles?” When you are talking about math, ask them to explain their thinking and ask questions to help them elaborate and push their thinking further.

Look for patterns in your daily life or environment. Many babies fall into a predictable schedule when they are too young to talk about patterns, but you are still teaching them about patterns anyway. When they are older they can start to notice daily patterns, days of the week, months of the year, seasonal changes etc. When your child develops a natural curiosity for these patterns, listen as they start to figure them out on their own.

Play card games! I’ve heard it said before that playing card games is to math what reading aloud is to reading. Here are some favorites that practice math skills like number recognition, comparing numbers, subitizing and more: 

Go Fish (you can start with the traditional game, but when students gain more advanced math skills you could make getting a “match” be getting 2 numbers that add up to 10, for example)

War (often called “Top It” at school)

Spot It


Tiny Polka Dot (in my house we actually use these cards to play the game Garbage, but there are 16 games that this one includes in it’s directions and you could make up more, highly recommend these cards!)


Yahtzee ( I haven’t played this game since I was a kid myself, but recently added it to my Christmas wish list for this year. I think it will be a great one to grow into as my kids get older!)

Ask for or buy toy gifts that lend themselves to practicing math skills. Puzzles are a great way to practice spatial awareness and kids love to do them. Some of our favorite puzzles feature the solar system, the USA, and the ocean floor. Other toys that are fun, but also practice math skills are water tables (with different sizes containers to put water in), wooden blocks or other building supplies, and an abacus which is surprisingly entertaining for even very young children. My son’s latest obsession are these math cubes, which he has taken to using to play pretend play games that involve math. Can you tell where I get my enthusiasm for math? It’s my five year old for sure.

Photo by Crissy Jarvis on Unsplash The last way to incorporate math into your daily life is through math books. You are likely already reading with your kids, so why not incorporate some counting or shape books into the mix? My five year old got some books last year called Bedtime Math books. There are 3 options: Bedtime Math: A Fun Excuse to Stay Up Late, Bedtime Math: This Time It’s Personal, and Bedtime Math: The Truth Comes Out. They are designed to be used during the reading time before bed. You can choose one or two pages, read a little bit about something and then answer a math question. They have 3 different levels of questions, and I have found it pretty easy to change the questions to make them possible for your child. They are an easy and fun way to incorporate math problem solving into your bedtime routine. I have many other math books to recommend, but I think they deserve their own post at a later time.

Circling back to the escalator ride with my kids this summer, I can see the math opportunity there as well. We could count the number of seconds it takes us to get to the top. We could compare that to the number of seconds it takes us to get to the bottom. We could count how many times we ride the escalator. We could use important math position words like “going up” and “standing behind you” “what is above us?” etc. We could notice a pattern in our riding, or make a pattern by skipping a stair as we walk up. This little happy moment for our kids can also be a teaching moment for us. If we do this sometimes (not every time), our kids will start associating math with these positive moments and that will start them down the right path in math.

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Introducing Children to School Using Books

It’s still early summer, so this is not a list of back to school books because I’m not ready for that yet. It is a list of my favorite books you can read to kids to get them excited about the idea of school. My kids like to read these books year round, but now would be a great time to start reading them if you have kids who are starting preschool, kindergarten, first or second in the fall.

One of my favorite “tricks” for parenting toddlers and preschoolers is previewing. I’m constantly running through what is going to happen next with my kids, telling them the schedule for the day or week and alerting them to upcoming changes. Books are a great way to do this in a fun and low pressure way.

*Please note the link below are affiliate links. I’m just starting my affiliate program and I need a couple of sales in order to keep my account active, so I hope if you plan to purchase any of these books you’ll use my links. Click directly on the photo of the book below to purchase. Thank you for supporting my blog.

We Don’t Eat Our Classmates is a new favorite of mine and my kindergarten students. It’s a funny story about a dinosaur who goes to school with humans. As an added bonus, it introduces the idea of empathy in a kid-friendly way.

I came across this book last summer on one of my visit independent book stores expeditions. I read it to my students on the first day of school and the last. I had to really focus to not cry both times. Change is hard for both kids and adults, but this book shows us how many great things come from being willing to say hello to the next stage in life.

The Day You Begin is a book about the experience of being different and how sharing your story with others can help you connect. It’s inclusive of many possible differences, but also emphasizes the new school experience. My entire school will be using this book this year in September to begin our community conversations, so it’s good for any elementary age.

Pete the Cat is a well loved character among kids this age (and me, actually). I love the way he perseveres even when the unexpected happens. This book introduces the idea of going to school and the different places that are important at school. Kids who love to participate and sing along will especially love this book.

This is a bit of a cheat because I haven’t technically read this book but I will be buying it this summer for sure. The pigeon is a favorite kindergarten character and Mo Willems a favorite author. I think this will be a great school introduction book that is entertaining as well!

This is a great story about a girl who moves to the United States from Korean and starts school here. It follows her attempt to find an American name and her ultimate desire to teach everyone her really name. It’s a great read for all children if they may never been in this situation 🙂

David is another beloved character for the preschool and early elementary grades. He’s a lovable little trouble maker that a lot of kids relate to. They will especially love the day he tries to go to school without pants on 😉

The Kissing Hand is a classic for the preschool and kindergarten classrooms and a particularly good one to get if your little one is reluctant to leave his or her parents for the first (or not the first) time!

Both my boys have gone through Llama Llama phases and this book is perfect for a child starting preschool for the first time.

I forgot this book in my original post but I had to come back and edit. This is a brand new book that I ordered before it even came out because I loved another book by the author (called Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut if you are interested). It’s about a little boy who is going into kindergarten and his mom tells him he will be the “king of kindergarten.” It runs through the different parts of his future first day of school. It’s the perfect book for any kid who needs a positive look into what going to kindergarten will be like.

I’d love to hear your books about school favorites in the comments, and please let me know if you give any of these books a try!

Summer Plans and Goals

Hello all! I suppose I underestimated taking something else on in addition to teaching kindergarten. But I’d like to build this blog if I can, so maybe the summer is the time to get in a rhythm! Please help by sending me questions to answer. They can be questions about teaching, parenting or parenting a school age child (preschool counts!)

July 4th is tomorrow and while I know some people consider that the middle of summer, I still call it the beginning. Now is a good time for developing plans and goals. We are having an incredibly good summer so far. I am out of the baby stage with my boys (ages 2 1/2 and almost 5 1/2) and it’s becoming truly fun to do things with my kids.

Plans to Look Forward To

We have a lot to look forward to this summer. We joined our neighborhood pool and the boys have been loving swimming there and seeing neighborhood friends. The lifeguards also do swimming lessons on weekday mornings. Jack was a little hesitant but both boys enjoyed trying them out. Later in July we will be doing them daily. I only did one week of afternoon camp for Max this summer so that he could do the lessons when we are home. There are so many great camps out there , but we also enjoy the flexibility to do things as a family so I think we will save most camp experiences for when the boys are a little older.

We also have a lot of trips to look forward to as well. Our Cape time is treasured family time, and it is especially great for the kids because they feel at home there. Eric and I are also going on a 5 day trip to Los Angeles to visit a good friend of mine. In August, we are going with Eric’s family to the mountains in New Hampshire. Hopefully at the end of August we will welcome a new cousin for the boys. We are all so excited for my sister to have a baby girl.

Professional Goals

I’m taking three classes this summer for salary advancement. I haven’t done a ton so far but what I am accomplishing is mostly during nap time and after bed. The subjects are teaching English Language Learners, helping kids develop good attitudes about math and teaching kids to be mindful. I also like to get a few organizational tasks done in the summer, updating my scope and sequence, creating my schedule etc. This in addition to writing kids names on everything, which is always a task. Most of this probably won’t happen until August, but it should be on the list.

Ask a Teacher Mom Goals

I hope to write in this space four or five times this summer, and develop a topic list for the first half of the year. I’m hoping to answer a few questions, so send them my way! Or if you have topics you want me to write about, I’m happy accept ideas.

Personal Goals

I have a few organizational tasks I want to accomplish at home this summer. I’d like to set up a system for papers before Max starts bringing home paper in bulk. I know the elementary school years can be prime time for crazy papers/paperwork so I’m hoping to get ahead of it and then make changes where necessary. I’m also hoping to print and set up some pictures on a shelf in our bedroom and on our piano in the office. We have so many great pictures I want to see all the time.

Max is in a great phase where he is really happy to do “work” with me. I printed him a letter book, number book and a hidden words book. We have fallen into a pattern of doing a couple of pages of each during some of Jack’s nap times, maybe 3 or 4 times per week. It takes 10 minutes tops and it’s fun to have this time with him. I also have him reading one (super easy) book to me before bed every other night when it’s my turn to put him to bed. I always read 3 or 4 books to the boys at bedtime every night, but I want to try to incorporate a little more reading into our mornings or maybe an extra book during nap time. I love reading to him and I know this phase won’t last forever. We used to read a lot more, but now that the boys are bigger and can do more, it’s not always our first go to.

Last, but not least, exercise goals. I have been doing a lot of swimming and some Fitness Blender videos. I don’t have any trouble motivating myself to swim laps (in the pool or ocean) but I need to be better about incorporating other work outs since swimming isn’t always an option. Luckily, I have been doing a lot of walking, swimming, and playing with the boys which counts for something.

Do you have any fun summer plans or goals for the summer? I’d love to hear!

How to Really Prepare Your Child for Kindergarten

In just a few months my oldest son will be starting kindergarten. I attended his “Kindergarten Information Night” in March and he has Kindergarten Screening this week.   The question that is always asked by parents with entering kindergartners is, “how can I get my child ready for kindergarten?” It’s surprising that we have any extra time on after filling out 700 forms and locating the necessary proof of residency to even worry about this, but we do. Here are my best recommendations for getting your child ready for kindergarten.

Purchase or Acquire Supplies Wisely

I don’t mean pencils, though by all means do purchase the ones the teacher asks for if that’s something your school does. I mean, buy your child clothes, coats, shoes, backpacks, lunch containers etc that are not going to make your child and the teacher miserable. A couple of my personal pet peeves include boots that tie (why do these exist?), lunch containers that require a knife for even the teacher to open (not kidding, had to get myself a knife from the teacher lunch room to open a lunch box the other day) and tiny backpacks that don’t actually fit the items a child needs. You don’t need to buy all new items, survey what you have and what you can get from family and friends. Make sure your child has a large backpack that they can zip and unzip independently, a coat that’s the same. I know you may be tempted to get your child tie shoes so that they will learn, but in reality they won’t have time to learn that at school and the teacher will spend the time they should be teaching your kid, tying his or her shoes. I had a child this year who told me he has “weekend shoes” that tie, and that is probably the route I’ll go with my son when I’m ready to start having him practice tying shoes. Most kindergartners even if they can tie will spend longer doing so than you want them to do during a math lesson.

Build Independence

In addition to buying items that are possible for a kindergartner to do independently, they also need to know that they are capable of doing things independently. This doesn’t mean when you are in a huge rush to get to work you can’t help with coats and shoes, but make sure there is opportunity to practice these skills at other times. I used Max’s 5th birthday as an excuse to start practicing some of the independent skills I know he will need. I told him now that he is five, he has to wipe himself (with me checking after- which I eventually phased out), put away his own laundry and bring his own dishes to the sink. If your kids have been doing these things for years, great- try adding more responsibility. If they’ve never done anything independently, start with shoes and coats and adding the bathroom skills a little later. If you are wondering, no, it’s not really going to make your life that much easier but it is SO important for your child to feel the confidence that comes from doing things independently, and that makes it worth it.

Academic Skills

This is the least important of all the things you’ll do to get your child ready, but still worth mentioning. You don’t need to buy workbooks or drill your child with flashcards each day. Here are some easy ways to incorporate academic skills:

  • Count everything. Count apple slices, goldfish crackers and crayons you are using to color. Make sure they are moving or lining up each object as they count.
  • Ask your child follow up questions after you count, “what if I gave you one more goldfish?” or “what comes next when you count?” or “what if I eat one of the goldfish, how many now?”
  • Play games. We love Zingo, Garbage” using the Tiny Polka Dot cards and Spot It.
  • You already know how important reading is. Add some rhyming books to your routine and have your child practice identifying which words rhyme. Remember that rhyming words sound the same at the middle and the end, like bat/cat and sleep/peep. Once they are good at identifying, try to help them produce rhyming words. Start with the members of our family, “what words rhyme with mom?” “what words rhyme with dad?”
  • Draw with chalk. Write names of the people in your family on the driveway. As a bonus, have your child help spell the names: “what sound do you hear at the beginning of Katie?” etc.
  • Make birthday cards for friends. Have your child draw him/herself with the friend. Say the birthday child’s name and ask your child what letter they think the name starts with. Have your child write their own name to sign the card and if possible, the birthday child’s name.
  • Keep lots of opportunity for play in your child’s life. Some things that really help with school readiness: pretend play, building with blocks or Legos, water or sand play, art projects and play dough.

Please let me know if you have any questions about getting your child ready for kindergarten!

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Q + A: Reading Pressure

As promised, I’ll be answering a monthly question from my readers- anything you’ve always wanted to ask a teacher (or a parent!) This first one is from one of my personal Instagram followers, and it’s a good question, but a hard one! I hope I do it justice.

“Why is there so much pressure for children to read at such a young age? Why don’t we take pointers from places like Finland? This generation is going to be stress buckets with no coping skills.”

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

When I was in elementary school, about thirty years ago, I did not learn how to read until I was in second grade. This was not particularly rare or notable at the time. Apparently, I was (what I’d call now) a sight word reader, who had memorized a lot of words but had no real phonics skills or instruction.

As this reader asks above, why are things different now? What has changed?

As a parent, it may feel that the pressure to get children reading younger is coming from teachers, but actually, most of us are also concerned about the increasing expectations placed on young children to master academic skills at a young age. In other words, we agree with you. I’ve been teaching for thirteen years and in that time I’ve gone from teaching 15-20 “sight words” to kindergarten kids, to over 50 words. It’s not that I just woke up one day and thought “I’m bored with those 15 words- I think I’ll teach more” or even that I genuinely believe my students today are better off than they were 13 years ago. That’s what I’ve been asked to do by my administrators, and my district is definitely not alone in these increasing expectations.

One of the major reasons for the increasing expectations is high stakes testing. Many blame the “No Child Left Behind Act” passed in 2001 which required each state to have a measure of accountability to make sure schools and students were improving in order to receive more funding. In fact my school just recently sent out it’s “report card” to parents which basically lists how we are doing on testing. That, and the more newly adopted Common Core Standards have definitely added pressure for students to be in a certain place by the end of each school year. I myself (as a student) piloted the high stakes test that Massachusetts adopted called MCAS in the late 90s, so it was definitely around this time that rating schools and teachers based on students test scores began. As schools try to improve their scores each year, the pressure has fallen to teachers and their students. I completely agree it is sad, and I’m truly hoping we (as a society) swing back in the other direction soon.

Here is some good news:

We are now using a more balanced approach to literacy instruction which includes both instruction in sight words and also explicit phonics instruction, among other things. This means that kids like me, who probably could have learned to read earlier with a more balanced instructional approach, are not struggling for as long.

We also have a lot more support in our schools for students who are not meeting expectations, though some might argue that we need this because our expectations are so high.

Many great teachers are keeping learning to read fun in the early grades. They sing letter/sound songs, play sight word games, and help students develop a growth mindset so that they will understand that effort will lead to their success. Authors are also writing such fun, relatable and FINALLY more culturally relevant books for more students, which hopefully students are getting their hands on.

Everyone is starting to understand the crisis of social emotional learning this reader refers to when he says “this generation is going to raise a bunch of stress buckets with no coping skills.” Schools are now starting to prioritize what we call “social emotional learning.” Even my preschooler has been taught how to identify his feeling, and take a deep breathe to calm down. In kindergarten, we introduce more calming down strategies, practice proper breathing techniques for relaxing, and teach explicit problem solving steps for the common issues that come up in kindergarten. Kindergarten teachers everywhere are fighting for more play time in the classroom to practice these important social emotional skills we are teaching.

What can you do as a parent?

Choose a preschool for your child that focuses on learning through play. Since you will likely have a choice of your child’s preschool, do some research and pick a place that focuses on learning and preparing for kindergarten through play, music, and hands on exploration.

Advocate for and support play and decreased academics in the early grades. You don’t have to get involved politically necessarily or do anything drastic, just support teachers quietly when they do things to keep learning fun, make sure their kids get outside every day etc. Don’t ask for more of a “challenge” for your child or complain when your 5 year old doesn’t have enough homework 😉 Believe it or not, a lot of the pressure to increase academic expectations is actually coming from parents. It’s hard to keep everyone happy!

Help your child with academic concepts at home, but only in fun ways. Opt out of elementary homework if you have to. I’ll be talking about fun ways to help your child at home more on this blog, so stay tuned.

Keep reading aloud to your child even when they start to read on their own. The two of you can enjoy much better books with you reading, and this will help your child continue to enjoy books even on the days that reading itself might be hard. As a bonus this is a fun way to bond with your child that does not involve playing a kid invented game where the rules keep changing throughout.

Help your child develop coping skills at home too. Give them the gift of open time for play and less scheduled activities. Encourage them to manage things they can handle at a young age: chores around the house, conflict resolution with friends/siblings and even advocating for themselves with trusted adults like teachers. Again, I’ll be talking about all of this more on this blog.

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments or on social media. What do you think about children learning to read younger? How has this experience been for your own children?

Incorporating Books into Birthdays

Whether you are a reluctant birthday celebration planner (me) or a Pinterest party planner, there are a lot of ways you can incorporate books into birthdays. Kids love books and they tend to bring more long lasting joy than other similarly priced small items.

Photo by Robyn Budlender on Unsplash

Party Favors

Unfortunately the idea of the “goodie bag” is still alive and well at kids birthday parties. While there is nothing inherently wrong with a plastic bag filled with candy, stickers and small toys, it’s going to cost you a lot more than you probably want to pay for something that will probably get suspiciously hidden by the receiver’s parent within 24 hours. For the last two years we did a paperback book as a favor for my son’s 4th and 5th birthday party. To get the books at a reasonable price, I used my son’s preschool Scholastic Book Order. They typically have a couple of books each month that are only $1 each. I get a small selection of the $1 books, and then a few other of our family favorites that are also reasonably priced. Since our birthday parties (so far) have been made up of our friend’s kids basically, we have a wider age range than a classmates party. Usually it’s possible to get a wide range of ages and interests on Scholastic if you order online. Scholastic does take a little while to come, so you do have to plan ahead for this. Luckily, Amazon also has some cheap-ish paperbacks so that route could work as well. Last year I put a ribbon around the books with a little note (that the kids promptly ripped off anyway), but this year back to work full time I got some solar system bookmarks to stick in each book and called it a day. I love watching the kids choose a book and then start reading at the end of the party!

School Birthdays

Celebrating your birthday at school is different than it used to be. Many schools don’t allow food at all, so cupcake celebrations are out. One easy way to celebrate is to offer to come in and read a story to your child’s class. If you want to, you can buy a copy of one of your child’s favorite books and donate it to the class in honor of your child’s birthday. If your child’s teacher does family reading differently or you can’t make it in on the day of your child’s birthday, just send in the book wrapped anyway and the teacher will read it. The kids think it’s a little silly to give a gift when it’s their birthday, but they like the attention and the fact that now one of their favorite books is on the classroom book shelf.


The most obvious way to incorporate books into birthdays are to give them as gifts! You can give them to your own children or to your child’s friends. I tend to grab multiple copies of favorite books if I see them at a local bookstore or for a good deal on Amazon. Here are some of my favorite gift books for each birthday. The images are affiliate links, which will help support my blog at no cost to you! Thank you 🙂

1st Birthday

2nd Birthday

3rd Birthday

4th Birthday

5th Birthday

Elementary School Years- 6 through 10th Birthday

I know that once kids learn to read they get into chapter books. It’s possible to pick out a chapter book for a gift but it helps a lot to know their reading level and interests. If I don’t know that, I like to go the picture book route. I think all kids can enjoy picture books even if they are older. Here are some of my favorites for the elementary set.

What are your favorite ways to incorporate books into birthdays? Maybe I have some theme birthday party planners for readers out there? My “Little Blue Truck” themed birthday party for my son’s 1st birthday was not something to blog about, but the cake was pretty impressive.

Thanks Caroline Winn Photography for this photo!

Building and Maintaining a Positive Relationship with Your Child’s Teacher

Be Honest

When I first started teaching I remember hearing about teachers who refused to read anything about their future students because they preferred to form their own first impressions. This is very uncommon to find now and is more of an “old school” mentality. The reality is, it’s the best thing for everyone if we know what we are getting in to. We can form classes accordingly, set up our classroom to best support your child, and react in a way that’s most beneficial to everyone if we know the truth. Do not send your child to school and hope for the best. Be honest with the school and your child’s teacher about your child’s real strengths and real struggles. If your child does better with structure, tell the school. If your child struggles with transitions, be honest about it. If your child needed behavior support in preschool, or at his or her old school, be honest about it. If you’ve found something that has worked well for your child, tell us. Trust that teachers are professionals who will be able to form their own impressions with the help and advantage of prior knowledge.


I know, I know, teachers send home so many papers and e-mails! Still, try to read or at least skim most of what you receive from the teacher and school. This is particularly important if you have a question you are thinking of asking the teacher. It’s frustrating as a teacher when you have spent a lot of time preparing things for parents to read and then you have proof they didn’t read it in the form of a question you have to answer again. If you know you haven’t had the time to read notices lately, make sure to check with a few parent-friends to see if they can answer your question before you ask the teacher.

Give the Benefit of the Doubt

As you all probably know, kids are not the best sources of information. They can lie, but more frequently they just don’t give all the necessary background that you need to form a solid opinion on a situation. Also, a teacher is focused on 20+ children at a time, so what might be a huge deal for your child and you, might not be the first thing on the teacher’s mind. There have been a few times since my kids have been in school that I’ve been frustrated by something that their teacher did or did not do. It’s hard, but I always try to take my own emotion out of it and give the teacher the benefit of the doubt. For the last two years my preschooler has had the opportunity to “show and tell” during his star student week. I am very strict about not letting him bring toys or anything to school any other day except this one day each year that he is allowed to share. Coincidentally, both years, he didn’t get to share on his actual day, or at least that’s what he told me.  From my perspective I see his careful choosing of just the right object, his anticipation to show his friends and teachers, and how patiently he waits for the day. Then I see him come home disappointed that it didn’t happen. That’s frustrating to me even as a teacher who knows that any number of things could’ve come up that meant he didn’t have a chance to share. When these situations come up, I try to give the teachers the benefit of the doubt and involve my child in his own self advocacy. Instead of drafting an angry e-mail or showing up at drop off with a passive aggressive comment, I help him practice how he can respectfully ask to share the next morning at school. By choosing the latter I am giving my preschooler important skills and I’m keeping my positive relationships with his teachers intact.

Say Thank You

It may seem like teachers are very appreciated, I mean we do have a whole “Teacher Appreciation Week” in May and your child is writing “I love Ms. [Insert Teacher’s Name] everywhere. But the truth is, it’s still rare to receive a genuine and specific thank you from a parent. Don’t worry so much about holiday gifts and instead spend a little time writing a thank you to a teacher for something specific they did for your son or daughter and/or the class as a whole. It doesn’t have to be formal or at a specific time of year, just responding to an e-mail with a positive thank you can go a long way!


I think teachers are pretty great, but everyone makes mistakes and your child’s teacher might make a mistake. Once I had a little boy whose birthday was the first week of school. I had a list of birthdays but I completely forgot about is in the midst of everything else going on. Normally the child would remind me, but this child didn’t have the English skills yet to remind me. I figured it out a few days later and I felt awful. Birthdays are a big deal for kids and their families and to not have it acknowledged at school in kindergarten must have felt really bad, especially for a family that had just moved to the country. When I realized it, I apologized profusely, made sure he had a crown and we sang “Happy Birthday” in English and French a few days late. If his mom was upset about it, I never knew. We went on to have a great year together and I had his sister in my class the next year. I always appreciated that, and the other small acts of forgiveness I have received over the years.

Image result for teacher shoe tie meme

If you *really* want to be the teacher’s favorite here is one final tip: don’t buy your kid tie shoes until they are an expert at shoe tying. Please.

Welcome to Ask a Teacher Mom!

Welcome to Ask a Teacher Mom!

I’m starting this website as a resource for parents and teachers, to help both groups work well together. I want this to be a place where parents can come to learn how to get their kids ready for kindergarten, no flashcards-I promise. I want to talk about my favorite kids books and math games. I’m hoping parents can learn about effective ways to communicate with their child’s teacher that strikes the delicate balance between advocating for your child and still being respectful of the teacher as a person, and the school as a place that needs to educate many children at once.

I also want this to be a resource for teachers, to help them bridge the gap between school and home. For teachers to learn how to prevent frustrating parent/teacher relationships where possible, and manage them when prevention isn’t possible. I’m not sure I have any real advice on how to be a teacher and a mom at the same time, but I can promise to speak openly about some of the real challenges.

In case you are wondering about qualifications, here are mine. I’ve been a kindergarten teacher for 12 years. My first class of kindergartners will graduate high school this year, which some might say makes me old but, more optimistically, I am experienced and I was pretty young and inexperienced when I began my teaching career. Before I had my own children, I also had a pretty serious tutoring business on the side, working with kids grades K-5 to improve their skills after school and in the summer. I have a degree in Early Childhood and Communications, as well as a Master’s Degree in Reading and Language. I spent multiple summers working at a school for children with language based learning disabilities and while I was there, I trained in the Orton Gillingham method of teaching reading and spelling. In addition to being a teacher, I’m also a mom to two boys, Max and Jack. Max is 5 and in Pre-K, and Jack is 2 and in the Toddler room at the same school as his big brother. I’ve always been interested in parent/teacher communication but having two children in school myself has made this passion grow even stronger. My husband is also a teacher, but he teaches Middle School Physical Education.

My plan is to post two to three times per month. The posts will be a mix of the content discussed above, personal stories related to my children or my classroom, and hopefully answering questions from my readers. This means I need you to write to me. Do you have a burning question that you’d like to be answered by a teacher? Ask in the comments or e-mail me at askateacher@gmail.com! I’ll answer your question no matter what, and if I think the answer will be applicable to others, I’ll publish my thoughts here too.

Thanks for your support and I hope I see you here again soon!