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Before coming to HOMER to work on the Learning Team, I spent 8 years as a preschool teacher in New York City. Let’s face it, the teacher’s desk can sometimes become a catchall place for everything under the sun. One of my main struggles was keeping my desk clean and organized. As a teacher you want to be a role model for your students, so that they keep their desks (or cubbies) clean and organized. In prep for celebrating “Clean off your desk day” here at HOMER HQ– I went to a few experts to get their perspectives. The family business is education, so I asked my sister and mother who are both teachers how they manage to keep their desks clean.

Here were the best suggestions from the three of us:

  1. Set aside time each week (either on Friday afternoon or Monday morning) to clean off your desk. As much as you try to keep things organized during the week, there will inevitably be those stray papers and other items that accumulate during the week. Start the week off right by spending the time to tidy it up! (I carried this over into my current job and try to tidy up my desk and close as many tabs and documents on my computer as possible each Friday afternoon!)
  2. Keep a small drawer organizer on your desk for things like paper clips, binder clips, rubber bands, staples, etc. so they don’t just pile up everywhere. As an extra bonus, you will know where to find them quickly when a student asks for one! 
  3. Color coordinate your files. Make sure all of your files or folders are color coordinated based on subject, for both your students and yourself! This makes things much easier to find quickly and helps your students keep their work organized as well. If space is limited, hang something around your desk to organize your folders, with one for each subject.
  4. Use binder clips so that your chords aren’t all over your desk and you can even label them! This is a game changer! 
  5. Use a file organizer to keep track of holidays. As a preschool teacher, I was always decorating the classroom based on the season or holiday we were celebrating. I kept a file folder organizer on my desk that was organized by month, with each holiday having its own file folder. With folders organized by month, I could easily access the appropriate holiday without digging through stacks of papers! 
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It’s getting cold outside, which means more time indoors, earlier bedtimes (more sleep, please!), and lots of opportunities for cooking and snuggling up with a good story. And, with the holidays coming up, lots of kids will be out of school and away from their normal learning routines.

The learning experts at HOMER have put together a Winter Reading Challenge to encourage you to keep your kids excited about learning and give them some breaks from all the sweets. So find a nook to nestle in and start our challenge!

INSTRUCTIONS:

  • Update your iOS, Android, or Amazon app to the latest version and visit the menu in the HOMER Reading app.
  • Read a story. Download the full winter reading list here.
  • Cut out a snowflake (either make your own or download ours with your reading list.)
  • Write the story title on the snowflake.
  • Punch a hole in the snowflake and add it to a string you hang in your child’s room.
  • If your child completes all stories on the reading list for her age group by Jan. 12, we’ll send her a special certificate and HOMER goodie bag to celebrate her achievement.
  • Share pictures with us on Instagram, including #KidPoweredLearning, for a chance to win a Parker The Augmented Reality Bear!
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Written by Peggy Kaye, HOMER’s Chief Curriculum Officer

Featured on Jim Henson’s Family Hub

We’re big fans of learning AND playing. In fact, we often find ourselves doing both and don’t even realize it. Our very own Peggy Kaye, shared a few activities to get your family reading and playing, which were featured on Jim Henson’s Family Hub!  

 

Reading and play – do the two intersect? They can and they should – because when they do, the mix can be magical. Presenting reading tasks, or any other skill, in games or engaging activities lowers children’s anxiety and increases their involvement.

TREASURE HUNT:  

Saturday morning… nothing special on the agenda… might be time for a treasure hunt.

First, decide what the treasure will be. It could be a small toy, a cookie or a special trinket.  Then find a hiding place.  Next, take five to ten index cards (the more cards, the longer the treasure hunt) and write clues on them.  

The first card will direct your child to the second card.  “Look under the red pillow in the living room.”  The second card — which you will hide under the red pillow — directs your child to the third card. Your child goes from card to card until…the treasure…. is revealed.  

This game will take you about ten minutes to prepare, but the fun will last a lot longer than that.  Better yet, your child has a powerful motivation to read each card, which is the unspoken agenda for the game.

SCAVENGER HUNT:  

Next week, you might try a scavenger hunt.  This game works best when there are several players. Make a scavenger hunt list: something soft, something blue and red, something green you can eat, something orange you can wear, and so forth. Each hunter gets a bag to gather their goodies. The first to find everything on the list wins.

FAMILY JOURNAL:  

A shared journal offers a perfect way to make reading and writing an integral part of your family’s life.

To begin, you need a book with unlined paper to use as a journal. Drawing books work beautifully for this job. Once a week, each member of the family picks something that happened during the week that was great, or awful, or especially fun, or something worth remembering.

On the top of a fresh page, write the date, and then each person adds their experiences. Take dictation for young children, or let them use invented spelling. If what’s written isn’t understandable, you can translate underneath.  You might decide to use drawings, with or without captions, to share the week’s memory.  You might decide to include something you all did together rather than have different contributions.

After a few weeks, go back over the book and remember together.  Leave the book in an available spot so that anyone, including your child, can pick it up and thumb through it. If making this a weekly event isn’t optimal in your house, that’s fine. You can pull out the journal when it makes sense to do so.

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Use GoNoodle for learning breaks and beyond!

In partnership with our friends at GoNoodle, we wanted to share the benefits of exercise and movement for young minds, especially as a reenergizing break after a span of learning (and before the next!).

Everyone knows that movement is good for the body, but studies have proven that movement is good for the mind as well – especially for children.  Exercise has a long list of brain-benefits including: “improved attention and memory, increased brain activity and cognitive function, and enhanced mood and ability to cope with stress” (via Edutopia).

Teachers rely on GoNoodle’s hundreds of movement and mindfulness videos to break up the day for their students with fun and purposeful content.  After a quick dance party or yoga session, students are ready to sit back down and learn with clear minds and relaxed bodies. Parents can use movement and mindfulness breaks at home as well to channel energy, manage emotions, and reinforce activity from the classroom.  Give GoNoodle a try at home for FREE – sign up for a family account on their website!

Here are some of the different types of activities GoNoodle has to offer:

Dance:

Perfect for an energy burst, family dance-off, or sing-along to your favorite GoNoodle song!

JUMP! in the NTV: Noodle Television channel

 

 

 

Mindfulness:

Kid-friendly mindfulness videos reduce stress, settle anxiety, and boost confidence.

Melting in the FLOW channel

 

 

 

Yoga:

Learning yoga poses and stretches help empower children and get the blood flowing.

Release Your Warrior in the Empower Tools channel

 

 

 

Fitness:

Movement videos are focused on fine and gross motor skills, cross-lateral movement, coordination, and balance.

Full Speed in the Fresh Start channel

 

 

 

Try these breaks and others at home with a FREE GoNoodle account!

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As a child development expert, I fully appreciate how school — whether attending for the first time ever, starting at a new school, or returning to school after an exciting summer break— is a big step for a child’s social and emotional development. I can certainly tell you about how learning to share and moving from solo play to collaborative play are important developmental milestones. But what I didn’t fully appreciate until sending my own son off to preschool, was how emotional the experience can be for the whole family. While there are similarities we all go through, every back-to-school experience is unique and personal. Here are some strategies that have worked for our family and hopefully can be adapted to work for yours too!

Research. As parents, it’s important to find a place where we feel comfortable (or as comfortable as we can feel), so that we are confident our kids are at a school that’s right for them. Visit the school with and without your child, observe, talk to the teachers and administrators, and ask questions to really get comfortable with the place and understand whether it’s a good fit for your family.

Communicate. Form a relationship with the teachers and administrators so that you feel as though you’re all on the same team.

Forecast. My son had an extreme (and I mean EXTREME) case of separation anxiety that my PhD did NOT prepare me for. One thing that helped was forecasting step-by-step how the day was going to go so that he could start to get a sense of what to expect. I would say something like “first, we’re going to get your shoes on and pack your backpack. Then, we’ll get in the car and drive to your school. We’ll walk up the loooooong wiiiindy path to the door, and I’ll walk you up to your classroom. When we see your teachers, we’ll say ‘Hi, Ms. D! Good morning, Ms. L!’ And they’ll help you hang up your things in your cubby. Then, they’ll help you find something to play. What do you think you’d like to play today? There are the garbage trucks, the sand table, the Play-Doh, etc.” It also helped to give my son details about when he would get picked up and see me again. Especially for young children, repetition and consistency are key! We would talk through this so many times so that he could start internalizing it – during dinner, at bedtime, in the morning, and while we were going through each step in the process. This strategy can be helpful for any new experience with children of all ages, though how often you need to repeat yourself and how much detail you need to provide will vary.

Acknowledge. One of the most important things we can do for our kids is respect and acknowledge their feelings, even if they seem silly or irrational (like epic meltdowns when they have to wear their red shirt instead of their blue shirt because their blue shirt is dirty). Simply telling our kids that we see what they’re feeling and understand, will help them feel validated and supported. Sometimes this can be easier said than done! Even knowing the benefits of acknowledgement, I often had to fight the urge to reassure my child that it would be okay, and he would have fun at school. Instead, I paused, took a breath, and said, “I see that you’re feeling a little nervous about school. School is new, and sometimes new things make me nervous too.” For an older child, it might be something like, “I see that you’re frustrated that your best friend is in a different class…”

Model. Even as our kids get older, our own behavior still has a tremendous impact on them. Try to get in the habit of modeling the types of behaviors that you want to see in your child. Seeing you demonstrate kindness to a barista or go out of your way to include someone in a conversation, will help make those abstract ideas concrete and relatable for your child.

Get creative. Find different ways to engage with your child about their school day. Instead of asking them how their day was, ask them to tell you the story of their day from their shoe’s perspective (and tell them the story of your shoe’s day too.) It might be something like, “Well, first I woke up in the closet with all my other shoe friends. I made the long journey down the sidewalk where I almost stepped in a piece of gum!” This will help your child practice perspective-taking, flex their storytelling abilities, and maybe even take the pressure off them of sharing details about their own day.

Trust. Trust the process that your child’s school has established and know that the teaching staff are truly experts in helping kids with this transition. But also, trust your instincts. Hopefully doing your research early will set you up to feel confident about your child’s school, but if something isn’t sitting right with you, talk to your child’s teachers and school administrators to try to find a solution. And finally, trust your kids. They are remarkable and capable young people and hopefully the back-to-school experience helps to show off some of their best characteristics.

I hope these strategies help your family transition back to school. But we also want to hear from you! What are some other things that have worked well for your family? What were some of your biggest challenges with your child going back to school this year?

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