Retail & wholesale advertising suggests the new school year kickoff is just days away with limited time remaining to make those last minute purchases of backpacks, binders, pens, pencils and all the various fresh new supplies. I know as child I loved the look and smell of those neatly arranged colorful crayons in my very own Crayola box. A new first day of school outfit always got my children excited for their first day on which they woke early and dressed without nagging, slipped their well stocked heavy backpacks on without complaint and traipsed happily off to the school bus in their spanking new sneakers.

By the end of the first week, enthusiasm began to diminish exponentially in the weeks that followed. The alarm rang too early, the backpacks were too heavy, the lunches “sucked” and the bus ride made them nauseous.

I believe one root to the declining attitude is routine, what kids often refer to as BORING.  7 AM alarm, bus, school, home, snack, homework, dinner, showers, bed. All to begin again the next day. So what can we parents and educators do as partners to keep the enthusiasm alive?While every day cannot be the first with all the fresh new supplies and the excitement of new teachers, we can try to help prevent the boredom associated with routine.


Here are my 5 tips to happy school days.

  1. Set Goals. Ask your children to set 3 goals for themselves (one academic, one social and one athletic) to be achieved in the first quarter of the year (approx. 10 weeks). Mark the date of the end of the first quarter on your calendar, so they can see the end in site. These goals need to be realistic but challenging. While working toward straight A’s may be unrealistic, improving grades from the previous year in just one subject may be quite doable. Just as joining a social club may not fit every personality, finding one new friend may be just right for another. And while everyone is not athletically gifted, everyone can add one form of physical exercise to their daily activities. Think about these goals with your children and how each one might be achieved. Have them write these goals down, seal them in an envelope and tape the envelope to the inside of the their binders as a reminder. At the end of the quarter open that envelope. See how well they did and set new goals for the next quarter.
  2. Refresh supplies & save work.
    Every week or two, clean out those backpacks stuffed with loose papers, gum wrappers and broken pencils. Discard the unnecessary clutter. Replace those once beautiful crayons with a fresh box and those pencil stubs with new ones. Give your child a fresh clean folder to save favorite work and a special place to keep it.
  3. Change up the morning routine. At home try breakfast in bed, or special breakfast 4ibogkpbtday, a surprise sleep in a bit longer day and drive the kids to school. At school plan special days: pajama day, dress as book character day, inside out day, riddle days with solutions revealed at lunchtime.
  4. Change up the after school routine. Think about after school special treats: ice cream, bowling, skating, library visit, movies, etc. Make it a surprise or something to look forward to. Whatever will keep your child excited.
  5. Reward! Discuss what’s being done to help achieve those goals. Reward even the smallest steps forward. Reminder: There is nothing children want more than to please their parents and to be loved unconditionally. Recognize the challenge of achieving their goals and show them your pride in their efforts.

Grooming for the Future


While visiting the LBJ Memorial Library in Austin, Texas, I became keenly aware of the role Mama Johnson played in her son’s life. Following the life story of Lyndon Baines Johnson through annotated photographs, I had an epiphany. Lyndon wasn’t born in presidential shoes, he was a baby and toddler who cried when he was unhappy and whimpered when he didn’t get his way. He was a teen who argued with his parents and challenged their discipline. But Mama Johnson took her role seriously while grooming young Lyndon into a leader, a diplomat and ultimately the President of the United States. With foresight she saved the highlights of his childhood and growing accomplishments in organized folders knowing she was grooming her son for successful future.

The Johnson’s may have had an advantage. Their wealth and political influence certainly helped lead the way to LBJ’s future, but he would not have been the man he was without the childhood building blocks of integrity, self-confidence and independence his mother instilled upon him. She groomed a son for his future, challenging him to rise above his academic difficulties and to pursue his political passion.

As an educator and family coach, I often face parents anxious about their children’s futures. With tear filled eyes they focus on the academic and social challenges their children face. I find myself too often reminding them that it is not our job to raise the perfect child, but to help our children find their passion and to love them unconditionally.

Little Lyndon was not perfect. He struggled all the way through school. But Mama Johnson focused on discovering his passion and paving the path to success.


We all want our children to be successful too, and the the road to success begins at infancy. We surround our babies with colorful stimulation, musical sounds and warm embraces. As they grow, we talk and read to them building their language skills and encouraging exploration while keeping them safe and loved.

Yes, there are challenges like colicky babies and fussy eaters, resistant huggers, and more serious physical and social obstacles. But children are more than their challenges. They are all innocent, sweet, little beings needing to feel unconditional love and stimulation. By focusing on the positive children become more than their disabilities. And as they grow we need to help them find their passions and welcome their differences.

Our role as parents is to guide our children through life with its joys and struggles while assuring our children of their safety and our love. And our job never ends. We need to continue to enrich our children and challenge them as we did when they were infants and toddlers. We need to continue to read to them, with them, discuss, ask questions, and build the important life skills of integrity, independence and compassion.

Mama Johnson raised Lyndon with foresight and compassion. She inspired me to look to the future while raising my children, and I share that same goal with you.

Best of luck.


Below is a guest post written by Lorna Kaufman, PhD, is a developmental psychologist in the Greater Boston area. She is the co-auhor of Author of Smart Kid, Can’t Read – 5 Steps any parent can take to help

How Do I Know If My Child Is A Struggling Reader?

Jackson’s mother was worried. Jackson was nearing the end of the 2nd grade but he didn’t seem to be catching on to reading. He loved math and was a really good soccer player but he hated to read – he said it was “boring”. His 2nd grade teacher said not to worry; he was very smart and would learn when he was ready. Besides, boys were often slower than girls when it came to reading.

It is very common for parents to be confused about whether their child is struggling to learn to read when they are in kindergarten, 1st grade, and 2nd grade. They see their child struggling but the teacher advises that he will be fine. What should you do?

There are several steps that parents can take to determine whether their concerns are justified:

  1. Monitor your child’s work that he brings home from school. You can learn a lot about the reading instruction by going over these papers with your child. Ask him to read the papers or stories out loud for you. Jackson was very resistant and did not like to read out loud; this attempt often ended in a tantrum. Children should be able to read the work they bring home from school since it generally represents what they have been working on in class. If your child does not bring papers home ask the teacher to show you his work.
  2. Speak with the teacher. Ask questions about what reading group he is in. If there are no reading groups, ask how his reading level compares with that of the other children in the class. Jackson’s teacher did not have reading groups but admitted that he was in the lower half of the class in reading skills, although there were other children who were having more trouble than he was having.
  3. Go to the library and ask the librarian for grade level books on a topic that interests your child. Librarians can be very helpful in guiding you to such books. See if your child can read the book out loud with you.
  4. Read the National Academy of Sciences guidelines for what every child should know in reading at the end of kindergarten, first grade, second grade, and third grade. These guidelines were written by a panel of reading experts and define the reading skills that should be mastered at the end of those early years of school as children are learning to read. You can find a summary of those guidelines on our website:
  5. Administer the tests that have been designed for parents to give to their children at the end of kindergarten, first grade, second grade, and third grade. This will give you a good idea of whether your concerns are justified and whether you need to take the next step and have your child evaluated. You can find these tests on our website along with videos that show you how to administer the tests: When Jackson’s mother administered the Grade 2 test to him, it became clear to her that he did not have the skills expected of a child at the end of the 2nd grade. He missed nearly half of the words on the word list and had significant trouble reading the first passage.

Jackson’s mother had her answer. It was clear that he was struggling and falling behind his grade level peers. She decided that she needed to seek help for Jackson.

This article is posted with the permission of  Dr. Kaufman, Phd.

  • President of the New England Branch of the International Dyslexia Association, President of the Massachusetts Council for Learning Disabilities,
  • Member of the Board of Directors of the International Dyslexia Association, Chairman of the New England Joint Conference on Learning Disabilities, and Member of the Governor’s Special Education Advisory Group for Massachusetts.
  • Professor at in the Graduate Language and Literacy Program at Simmons College in Boston and in the School of Education at Wheelock College.
  • Psychologist in Boston Children’s Hospital, the Eunice Kennedy Shriver Center, and the Learning Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.
  • Author of several articles regarding family and reading challenges



Rarely do I receive anxious calls from parents of straight A students. But this week I listened to the exasperation of a mother shaking the Honor Roll Certificate her 7th grade son had just received. Yes, she was proud; yes, she considers him to be bright; and yes, she admits he earned his academic achievement on his own. She is not a helicopter parent checking her son’s homework for accuracy or even if he has completed his assignments. She is there to help, she explained, when needed. “I have to bite my tongue sometimes, I want so much to interfere, but I want him to learn responsibility and consequence.”


What’s creating her angst is the ease with which he is earning these grades. Homework is completed within 30 minutes, less time than spent at sports practice and music lessons. His baseball coach and guitar teacher raise the bar with his growing achievement. He welcomes the challenge that stimulates him to work harder. “But he spends more time on video games and watching TV than he does on school work.”

Exasperated, she contacted me to ask, “So why can’t the school provide more challenge? I can’t afford private school? What can I do?”

Feeling her frustration I began my attempt to defuse her growing alarm. While a private school curriculum might provide more challenge, her son, more than likely would be successful wherever he was in school. She had done a fine job thus far with her hands off policy, but no student could be expected to ask for more challenging work. It was time for her to take a more active role.

What can she do?

First and foremost, keep in mind, the school staff knows only what your child does from 8:00-3:00, Monday-Friday. They cannot be expected to know what goes on outside of their watch unless you tell them. With that mindset, and accepting that it is probably too late in the school year for her son to be moved to more challenging level classes, she can begin to prepare everyone for proper class placement in the fall.

Next, I advise she contact each of her son’s teachers to share her concerns. Ask what they can do now to help raise the achievement bar and to better prepare him for higher level classes for the next school year.

Finally, contact the school counselor about her concerns and desire for him to be placed in more challenging 8th grade classes. Then, before school begins in the fall, check back with the counselor as a reminder and confirmation that the correct level classes have been assigned to her son.

The job is not done yet. Keep in mind, everyone welcomes appreciation. Emailed notes of thanks can go a long way. In the fall, when the new school year begins, I suggest she keep a close watch on her son’s study time and challenge level. Continue to keep in touch with the teachers and counselor for schedule tweaking before it is too late to make adjustments, and of course, to express your continued appreciation.

No one ever said parenting would be easy, but you needn’t go it alone. Remember the school is your partner in your child’s academic success.




While Jake was soaring and ready to fly solo, his parents had not yet come through with the family dinner plan. And I wasn’t dismissing them until all our goals were met. Today I share with you my family dinner plan that led to the Pullman graduation.


When my children were young and school age, we used to dine out once a week, someplace inexpensive, but not fast food, where everyone could find something to meet their culinary tastes. But, to attend our family dinner, a ticket was needed – a written news article to be read in advance and ready to be shared with the rest of the family as we dined. The idea satisfied my need to encourage reading, and my husband’s desire for the children to develop confident speaking skills.

Each week the younger ones scrambled through kid-friendly magazines (It was the 80’s), while the older ones scoured the Washington Post for news that interested them. There were no restrictions. While there was some grumbling during the week, and last minute rummaging for news, the plan worked better than either my husband or I imagined.

Not only did we enjoy the dinner together, but the children actually listened to each other, responded, asked questions and sometimes even went home inspired to write letters to appropriate sources in response to what they had learned. I remember one very animated discussion about the killing of animals for the fur coats industry.




Bring a  news ticket (internet search is now quite acceptable for the new generation of children) and share a meal. Build children’s speaking and listening skills while enjoying a favorite cuisine. And best of all enjoy one another.