Summertime Fun for Kids, Let’s get Physical

boy on tree

Summertime has arrived and the children are inside, hands grasping electronics; cell phones, iPads, tablets, PlayStations, and Xboxes to name a few. (There is even an electronic play phone for babies as young as six months, by Vtech, considered an educational toy.)

You suggest that the children go outside to play and are greeted with strange looks. What is this thing you call outside to play?

According to the CDC, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, children should get a minimum of one hour of physical activity each day. Compare this with the average amount of time a child spends in front of a screen.


Note: Due to overlapping media use, these figures cannot be summed. Average times are among all young people, not just those who used a particular media that day.

A combination of poor diet and lack of physical activity can be lethal.

Overweight children are targets of teasing and at risk for emotional trauma as well as cardiovascular disease, asthma, sleep apnea (breathing stops during sleep for more than 10 seconds), and Type 2 diabetes. Much of this might be avoided.

Children model the behavior of their parents. Include more physical activity into your own life and ask your children to join in on the fun.

  1. Have a scavenger hunt in your backyard.
  2. Jump through sprinklers.
  3. Blow bubbles.
  4. Play freeze tag, hide-and-seek, red-light green-light, Mother-May-I
  5. Go to the pool, lake, or beach.
  6. Have a picnic.
  7. Use colored chalk for sidewalk art, tic-tac-toe, hopscotch, or clues for a treasure or scavenger hunt.
  8. Play parachute games using an old sheet.
  9. Paint with water and large brushes. (Good to help clean-up the sidewalk chalk.)
  10. Bring out the boom box and dance.
  11. If it’s a warm, rainy day with no thunder and lightning, get out the swimsuits and play in the rain.

These activities cost little to no money. The kids will get lots of physical activity without realizing it.



Dietz, WH. Pediatrics. 1998 Mar; 101. (3 Pt 2): 518-25.

Transitioning from School to Summer

Transitioning from school to summer can be difficult for some children.

Usually, I write original material for my blog posts. However I’ve found a great article with so much wonderful information that I feel the need to include it here. This article is from Autism Speaks and is written by Lisa Goring. Images are stock photos.

Although the focus of the article is on children on the autism spectrum, many of the valuable suggestions are great for any child.

children running in summer

School is wrapping up and the sun is shining. It’s almost time for summer!

Many individuals with autism do best with a routine. Some have a hard time with change. As a result, the transition from school to summer can be difficult.

Here are some of our quick tips to help your family get ready for the transition from the classroom to the campground!

  • Prepare your child. As school comes to an end, make sure your child is prepared in advance. Be very clear about what changes will be happening in the weeks and days leading up to the start of summer. Use visual aids and pictures to help with the preparation.

calendar schedule

  • Start a countdown. Highlight the first day of summer break on your family calendar and make it a point to show the calendar to your child each day. Use a fun activity to figure out how many days are left until summer kicks off!
  • Focus on the fun! Continue to let your child know that you are excited for summer and describe the activities you know he or she will enjoy. This will give your child something to look forward to and be excited about.
  • Keep the summer schedule as fixed as possible. For many families, a big perk of summer is the more relaxed and flexible schedule. For your child with autism, however, it may be best to keep the summer routine more structured like it is during the school months.
  • As always, make sure safety is a priority! The warm weather can often lead to higher incidents of wandering. Find some of our wandering resources here.


summer camp words

Happy summer!


Lisa Goring
Executive Vice President, Programs and Services
Autism Speaks

Charlie Chameleon’s First Book Trailer

The Adventures of Charlie Chameleon: New Beginnings 


The book trailer for the first in The Adventures of Charlie Chameleon series is on You Tube! There were two minor changes made after first posting the link. Interestingly enough, I discovered when you upload under the same title there is no overlaying of the video. Instead, a new version with the same name appears with the later date.

I hope you enjoy the  trailer for the first Charlie book, subtitled New Beginnings. I had a lot of fun putting it together.

Please give me some feedback so I know if this is the direction I should go for the following books in the series.


The book trailer link follows, below.

Nine Questions from Preschoolers about Writing




An Author visit with preschool students, talking about writing

Two preschool teachers read The Adventures of Charlie Chameleon: New Beginnings to their students. Afterward I was invited to visit their classrooms and speak with the three, four, and five year-old students about any aspect of the book they wished. Sock Puppet Tim, always a big hit with the kids, helped me by entertaining and answering some of the questions.

  1. How do you think of something to write? I relax and think about things that happened to me when I was little. I think about what happened to my friends, family, and other people I’ve met. Sometimes ideas for stories come to me while I’m sleeping and I wake up remembering part of the dream. I try to write it down so I don’t forget. Ideas come to me when I am not concentrating on anything, like when I’m eating or folding laundry. I just have to remember to write the ideas down.


  1. Do you write on paper? When I first started writing, I wrote everything down on paper. But it took a long time to write and type all the words into the computer. I finally taught myself to think while typing. Now I do most of my writing on my laptop computer. Sometimes I take notes when I’m away from the machine. I never know when I’ll see something that I’ll want to use in a story, so I always keep pens and paper with me, in case I get an idea.


  1. How long did it take to write your book? It takes me about one year, from starting with ideas of characters and story, to write a book that is ready for everyone else to read. Sometimes it takes a little less or a little more time, depending on artwork and research. That might seem like a long time, but many people help get the book ready and everyone has suggestions to make the book better.


  1. Will you make more books? Yes! The Adventures of Charlie Chameleon series will have many books. Right now I have some ideas for Charlie book #5.


  1. How did you write such good books? Thank you! I am so glad you feel the book you read is good. I write something almost every day. Practice helps a lot. Also, I bring my chapters to groups of people who read them and give suggestions to help make the book better and more fun to read. Reading should be fun!


  1. How many books did you write? So far I have written five books, one is for parents. It’s called Parenting . . . A Work in Progress. I wrote that book to help parents understand their children. I think if parents understand why their children act the way they do, they will have more patience. The other four books are part of the Charlie Chameleon series. The second book will come out this summer, probably June of 2016.


  1. Did you draw the pictures? I love to draw, and did the beginning drawings for the first Charlie book. I sent the pictures to Eli, my illustrator. She used her imagination and my drawings to make the pictures in the book. She did an awesome job!


  1. Is it fun to write a book? It’s fun to write books most of the time. Sometimes writing makes me crazy. There are days when I can’t decide what my characters are going to do next. When that happens, I do something else and come back to my story. If I spend too much time worrying that I can’t write, then I won’t write. If I relax and think about other things, then I don’t worry and my brain can work on my story again.


  1. Where can I find your book? My books can be ordered at any bookstore and are on Amazon at The eBook is in color. The illustrations in the print book are in shades of gray. My books are edited, formatted, illustrated and printed in the U.S.A.

Questions for Ms. Ellen, from Vermont


Questions for Ms. Ellen

The Adventures of Charlie Chameleon: New Beginnings

VermontSkype - Copy

The students in the second grade classroom of Ms. LaRose came up with a questions for me during our Skype with the Author visit. Over the next few blog posts, I’ll answer the questions for everyone.

  1. Why did Boris think Gary’s glasses were funny? Jayden

Boris was bullying Gary, who must have either been pushed or fell on the ground. The fall caused his glasses to slip off and break. Boris didn’t care about Gary or his glasses. Charlie saw this happening and came to Gary’s rescue. When Gary put his glasses back on, they were crooked. Charlie thought the glasses look funny but didn’t laugh at Gary. That would have been rude.

  1. What did the code say on Tamika’s letter to Charlie? Zachary

Oops, I can’t tell you that! Everyone has to do the decoding on their own.

  1. When Charlie wrote back to Tamika, do you have an idea of what he wrote? Naomi

Interesting question! Charlie didn’t tell me what he wrote to her. I guess that is his secret.

  1. Why didn’t Charlie visit Tamika in the end to make a happy ending? Ariana

My question for Ariana was: does every story need to have a happy ending? She didn’t think so. I can say that Tamika comes back into the story in the third book of the series, The Adventures of Charlie Chameleon: Summertime.

  1. What was the main idea of this story? Giada

All people are different and are capable of change. We all have to be more patient with ourselves as we go through periods of change. Charlie and his friends experience a lot of changes in this book.

  1. Why did you write this book? Chloe

I wanted to write stories that adults and children enjoy that has also teaches about exploring feelings with family and friends. Know that it’s okay to feel sad during a transition and that new experiences can be exciting and fun.

  1. Why was Charlie nervous to go to school? Elsie

Charlie was going to a new school and was worried about not knowing anyone. He was scared he would change colors and his classmates might laugh at him. When chameleons are emotional, they change color.

  1. I like the way you used details in this book. Gunnar

Thank you! I have a lot of fun writing about the characters in the Charlie stories.

  1. Why did you come up with a bullying story? Liam

I asked Liam if he ever had to deal with bullies. He shook his head yes, he had. Everyone I personally know has dealt with at least one, often more than one bully. In these stories I want to explore bullying behavior, what might cause someone to act that way, and what to do about it.

Next time I’ll post the last of the questions from Ms. LaRose’s second graders. See you then!

7 Tips for Helping your Child with Homework


Homework is frequently an activity of dread for

parents and children.

A common question and complaint is: What does homework have to do with real life?  Homework can teach study skills, time management, and foster the growth of responsibility—important skills for future success in all areas of life.


Try these tips to help navigate the choppy waters of homework and avoid tears.


1. Snacks to feed the brain.

A hungry person does not think clearly. Small amounts high-protein, lower-sugar snacks like nut butter on apple slices, cheese sticks, Greek yogurt, trail mix, whole-grain toast with butter and cinnamon, and hummus on whole-grain crackers help keep the body energized, mind clear and ready to work. Don’t worry too much about the fat in cheese, yogurt, or nuts. Sugar is a much bigger culprit.

2. Location.

Find a space in the home that is quiet and as distraction free as possible. There should be enough room to spread out homework materials.


3. Materials.

Homework cannot be completed unless all the materials are available. Keep school books, pencils, pens, crayons, rulers, paper, and any school related electronic devices in the chosen study location. Having all materials in one location helps avoid the need to wander the house and avoid homework.


4. Organizing.

Many schools supply students with calendars to write assignments due for class. Check the backpack for the calendar. (Sometimes a plethora of papers lay hiding scrunched up at the bottom of the backpack.) If your child is having difficulty getting all the information from the board to the calendar, speak with the teacher. It may be possible that there is a vision, distraction, or eye-hand coordination issue. The teacher may provide a homework list, pre-printed that may be attached to the calendar.


5. Movement.

Children need to move around and if hyperactive, actually think better when moving. Staying seated for extended times is not a good idea for any child. Short breaks should be encouraged about every half hour. Getting the “wiggles” out periodically will allow for greater concentration.


6. Mood.

Frustration due to length of time to complete an assignment is a huge problem. If this happens regularly children may become anxiety ridden over homework. If frustration is rearing its ugly head, draw a horizontal line on the paper, sign it and give the length of time it took to get that far. The teacher may have assigned too much work and not realized that, or may decide that half the amount of problems to solve or questions to answer is enough.


7. Ownership.

Homework takes less time if parents do it, however children need responsibility and homework is part of their job. Be supportive, the homework belongs to the kids.

Twelve tips to assist on the writer’s journey toward publishing



In Mundelein, Illinois, sometime in the early 1990s, I prepared the science center of my preschool classroom for the day’s experiment. Kevin, my student, checked out the setup and decided he knew how to conduct the experiment and what the conclusion would be. “Teacher, I know your experiment. This sponge (he pointed to the long, skinny, natural sponge) holds more water than those two.” Kevin was correct.

I asked Kevin’s mother if I might use his statement when I got around to writing a book. She consented, but I never seriously thought I’d write one.

Life changed.

Several moves later, on a whim, I joined the Arizona chapter of the Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators. At my first meeting I met Gale, who suggested I join the West Valley Writer’s Workshop in the Phoenix area. This led to joining one, then two critique groups.

The critique groups kept me writing. I didn’t want to attend meetings empty-handed with nothing to read for critique. By this time I’d begun writing parts of a Parenting manuscript—adolescence first then working backwards to infants and toddlers. I studied child growth and development in graduate school, and I am a mom, so writing on the topic of parenting made sense.

I find the following twelve tips useful:

  • Keep copies of projects you especially enjoyed. They may provide useful information for your stories. Names and details must be changed unless permission has been granted.
  • Find a comfortable writing space. I tried different areas of the house and finally found a room where I worked best. However, over time I’ve found that my work area changes with the seasons.


  • Make time for writing. Most writers have day jobs. I taught, so I sectioned off time on the weekends and one to two hours per day during the week, depending on the teaching load and inspiration.
  • Write what you know and enjoy. Writing from experience gives a rich, full-bodied read. Use research to add details, enhancing the story.
  • If the writer creates a story and others say, “bad idea, no one will ever publish it,” don’t listen to them. Write what needs to be written, according to the writer’s heart.
  • Take notes in a paper or online journal about humorous and not so humorous stories that happen at work and with your own children at home. These stories make great vignettes. My children, adults now, have given me permission to use snippets from their lives in my books.


  • Read aloud what has been written. I am always surprised at the multitude of errors I catch by reading my work out loud.
  • Consider membership in a writer’s organization. Writing is solitary work, but if you want to get your stories out to the public it is necessary to make connections in the writing and publishing world. The website has a good list of organizations for writers and editors. The site is a work in progress.
  • Join critique groups. They are invaluable. For me, it’s like attending graduate school for free. Every group will be different. I like the in-person groups to get to know the other writers on a more personal level. Every week brings new writing in many genres. I am in awe of the growth in the critique member’s writing. Some days I go home wondering how I’m going to implement the changes suggested by group members, but it’s all for a good cause—polished writing.
  • Check out Meet Up. A plethora of groups on the site cover a variety of interests—writing is one. Say, for example, a writer wants to work on a Sci-Fi fantasy book. Sci-Fi groups are available on Learn more about the topic at the meetings, and use knowledge gained for book material if you choose. The possibilities are limited only by imagination and time.
  • Consider a writer’s website. An inexpensive, user friendly option is WordPress,, which is what I use. New themes are frequently added.
  • Start a blog. People want to know about the writer and what he or she is doing. Blogging provides the writer with an opportunity to communicate directly to and develop a personal relationship with the reader. I love it when people make comments on my blog.

What began as an offhand comment to a parent of a preschool student twenty some years ago became the inspiration for my first book—Parenting . . . A Work in Progress, published in December of 2014. This was followed by a children’s chapter book series, The Adventures of Charlie Chameleon, the first one, subtitled New Beginnings, was published in December of 2015, soon to be followed by School Days, Summertime, and then Holiday Celebrations.

Sometimes it’s good to do the scary thing; take a deep breath and jump right in.

Charlie Chameleon in the Classroom

24 in class


The Charlie stories are written to engage readers with characters who are easily relatable. The stories model how children can deal with life’s situations. Each chapter ends with one or more activities directly related to the individual chapter, for home or the classroom.

Higher level vocabulary is included for the children’s personal enrichment. Humor is used to keep children interested and willing to increase their reading ability. The stories are purposely written to amuse adults as well as children.

My primary goal in writing the Charlie stories is to promote empathy. Over the course of the series, the characters, Boris Bunny the local bully in particular, grow and change.

The first book in the series, The Adventures of Charlie Chameleon: New Beginnings deals with change. In the book, Charlie learns that he must move and leave his home, friends, soccer team, and school. He encounters a bully, makes new friends, and attends a new school. Children learn through reading these chapters that it is okay to feel sad during transitions and new experiences can be fun.

The next two books, School Days and: Summertime, are in the final stages of editing and are awaiting illustration decisions. A fourth, on holiday celebrations, is still in the early writing phase.

The following link contain an author biography along with a review from Readers’ Favorite:

I can provide a PDF for classroom use and am on Skype as ellen.buikema if any teacher would like the students to have a long distance chat with the author. I taught regular and special education for 23 years—with an Early Childhood emphasis as well as Resource Specialist.

Contact me anytime!

Review of The Adventures of Charlie Chameleon: New Beginnings

The Adventures of Charlie Chameleon (New Beginnnings, #1)The Adventures of Charlie Chameleon by Ellen L. Buikema
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Reviewed By Barbara Fanson for Readers’ Favorite

The Adventures of Charlie Chameleon: New Beginnings is a very imaginative story about a chameleon and his family. He even has a pet fish — a fish that gets seasick! Author Ellen Buikema is a very creative writer. Who else would have put a water-helmet on a fish so he can jump up and down on a bed? But, I don’t think I want to join them for breakfast; they’re eating waxworm cereal. When Charlie learns that his father has a new job in another town and they will have to move, he is not too happy. He doesn’t want to move away from his best friend Tamika the turtle, his school, or his soccer team.

Buikema does an excellent job describing the characters and the scenery. The Adventures of Charlie Chameleon even includes a recipe for the Berry Smoothies that Charlie and Tamika drank. The book also includes an email with a secret code activity for readers to solve. Charlie makes friends with Gary Gecko, who wears glasses, and the two play spaceships and astronauts together. They’re even in the same class. I think everyone can relate to Buikema’s lovable characters.

It was nice to see a spaceship activity sheet with instructions on how to build a spaceship, but I wish there was an illustration of the spaceship. Elizabeth Engel’s well-drawn illustrations are helpful and fit the junior grade novel. It’s a short, but captivating read that will keep you spellbound with problems and solutions confronting Charlie daily. And now I’m yearning to read the sequel.

View all my reviews

Ten tips to help your child learn to love reading


  1. Sing, play, and talk with your child. Children love to hear your voice. It doesn’t matter if you sing on or off key. Interaction is what children crave.

momWith BabyReading

  1. Read aloud to your child every day. Reading to your child is the next best thing to a hug. Bring books along to the dentist, doctor, or on other errands where there will be some wait time. Read to children as part of a bedtime ritual. Routines are reassuring.



  1. Have a variety of reading material that is easily available. Place books in baskets in different parts of the home, including in the bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, and TV areas. This allows children to choose books on their own and makes cleaning up after themselves easy. Consider putting together a backpack prefilled with books to grab and go for short or long distance travel.


  1. Read many types of books. Children love learning about their world, how things work, and all kinds of animals. Reading for information is important for childrens’ future. They love books with rhyme, silly words, and fairy tales. Start bringing your children to the library when they are young, and visit regularly.

dadReading With Son


  1. Pace the reading. Read with expression! Change the quality and volume of sound while reading to make listening to stories fun. Take your time, don’t rush. Stop now and then during reading time to let your child think about the story. Ask questions to encourage thinking.


  1. Repeat. Children enjoy reading favorite stories over and over again, even after they are able to repeat all the words by heart. Encourage them to read their favorite lines with you. Point to the words as you read them together. Talk about your child’s favorite characters in different contexts, like “What do you think The Cat in the Hat would do if he was in our kitchen right now?”


  1. Find words and letters everywhere. As early as age two, children may identify logos they see often at home and other places they travel. This important milestone is the beginning of the knowledge that print has meaning. Cereal boxes are great to use for finding letters and logos, as are menus, calendars and occupant mail. Take turns finding the same letter with your child. Write to do and grocery lists together. Have him make words with magnetic letters on the refrigerator.


  1. Help your child learn about letter sounds. Show her how to write her name. A child’s name is her first “stamp” on the world. Say the sounds of each letter as you print them. Sing an alphabet song and include the sounds of the letter in the song, for example: . Encourage your child to write but try not to correct him. Beginning writing should be playful.



  1. Limit tube time. Select TV programs with your child in advance. Watch TV and talk about the programs together. Monitor time on other electronic devices. Video games are good fun and many of them are educational, but balance is needed. Too much close work does not give the eyes enough exercise.


  1. Get involved with your child’s school. You are your child’s first and best advocate. Get to know your child’s teacher. Find out how you can support your child in her academic goals. If at all possible, volunteer time in the classroom. Work schedules make this difficult, but advance planning can help make this happen.

You are your children’s first teacher. Reading to them is a great start in preparation for life in school and beyond.

Raising Resilient Children

Raising Resilient Children

Resilient children are able to adapt successfully after exposure to risk or stressful events. They bounce back from adversity.


Resilience involves several factors. The main factor is to have caring and helpful relationships in the family and its environs. Relationships that provide an atmosphere of love and trust, model good examples, and offer support, help boost resilience in a person. Other factors include the ability to make practical plans and take action to execute them; positive self-outlook and confidence in one’s strength and ability; aptitude in problem solving and communications skills; capability to handle strong feelings and impulses.

Ten risks, or hazards, may contribute to children’s difficulty in becoming resilient, psychologically well-balanced people:

  1. Poor mental health of parents
  2. Poverty
  3. Maltreatment
  4. Exposure to violence
  5. Natural disasters
  6. War
  7. Famine
  8. Divorce
  9. Physical disability or illness
  10. Low birth weight

Multiple risks make children more vulnerable to collapsing from the weight of stress, but they may still become resilient—especially if they have a loving environment.

momAnd GirlHug

Daily stresses, which have a lower degree of trauma than a major life event, may play a larger role in a child’s development. For example, daily doses of the neighborhood bully on the way home from school may have a stronger lifelong impact than the death of a friend.

Another risk factor is family who overprotects, or over-schedules their children. Exposure to some risk will give children a chance to become resilient, which is necessary for a psychologically healthy adulthood. If we are overprotective, our children won’t learn how to deal with adversity.

If children are always sheltered from life’s hazards how can they learn to adapt to life stressors when outside of the family nest?


How can children learn to fly if they never have the opportunity to use their wings?

Daydreaming and alone time are non-existant if children’s free time is over-scheduled. When adults make too many decisions, children will have difficulty thinking for themselves. Children need unscheduled time to be creative and develop rules for their own games. This is how leadership skills are developed.

Let your child make her own decisions. As a part of making these decisions let her experience the consequences of her decisions and actions. Help your child feel that he belongs to a family and that his presence is greatly appreciated. Give him the opportunity to care for a family pet, care for a younger sibling or assign him chores that will fit his abilities.


Resilient children learn how to be:

  1. Self-starters
  2. Leaders
  3. Adventurous
  4. Problem-solvers
  5. Comfort-seekers and givers of comfort
  6. Optimistic
  7. Hopeful
  8. Creative
  9. Autonomous



LeBuffe, Paul. An Introduction to Resilience Theory.

Young Children’s Views on Sharing

Sharing is not easy.


 Young children may share toys. Sharing should be encouraged, but not forced. Forcing children to share their toys is like forcing adults to hand over their keys to people with whom they are barely familiar, not knowing when or if they’ll ever see their vehicle again.



Before age five, it is difficult for children to share. Children’s belongings are like extensions of their body. Handing over toys is similar to giving up a part of themselves.

Sharing teaches children to compromise. If Susan wants to play with Eric’s toy and is not having any luck, suggest she try giving Eric a different toy in trade. Be sure to let her know that Eric might not be ready to share and that is okay.

Setting time limits can work, especially with a large group. Young children have a strong sense of fairness. If there is a fifteen minute limit to use the classroom iPads, it is a rule that must be followed by everyone. If using a physical timer instead of a clock on a wall, beware the very bright child who will turn the timer knob for more time when no one is looking.

Play is the easiest and best way to learn anything.

Being around other little ones and interacting during play can be a lesson in sharing. Be sure your child is used to being around other children his age as early as possible. According to Renee Mosiman, a family therapist and co-author of The Smarter Preschooler: Unlocking Your Child’s Intellectual Potential, “Having a regular set of playmates over the years encourages trust among friends. As your child develops that sense of trust, he will be more likely to share with others.”

Young Children on Sharing     (anonymous source)

  • If I like it, it’s mine.
  • If it’s in my mouth, it’s mine.
  • If it’s in my hand, it’s mine.babiesNot Sharing
  • If I can take it away from you, it’s mine.
  • If I had it a little while ago, it’s mine.
  • If it’s mine, it must never appear to be yours in any way.
  • If I’m doing or building something, all of the pieces are mine.
  • If it looks just like mine, it’s mine.
  • If I saw it first, it’s mine.
  • If you are playing with something and you put it down, it automatically becomes mine.
  • If it’s broken, it’s yours.

Buikema, E.L. Parenting . . . A Work in Progress. 2014

Thankful Feathers – A Lesson on Caring


One of my favorite activities for young students is

Thankful Feathers.

*                      *                      *

“What are you thankful for?” asked the teacher sitting in a circle on the floor with a group of 20 four- and five-year-old children.

A student blurted out, “What’s thankful?”

“Please raise your hand, Romell.”

His hand rose up like a shot as he repeated himself. “What is tankful? I mean thankful?”

The other students giggled. Romell, known for his short temper, gave his fellow students some serious mean-eye.

“Class, is it okay to make fun of people when they say a word the wrong way?”

“No, teacher,” chimed most of the 20 students.

“All right then. What do you say to your friend?”

“Sorry, Romell,” stated all but the loudest laughers.

“Now think about what you can do to make your friend feel better.”

Romell seemed appeased.

The word sorry in itself is not enough. In the classroom an act of kindness toward the offended party to make up for the offense was required. The question “What can you do to make your friend feel better?” made it easier for the young students to come up with a way to mend the hurt they caused.

“Does anyone else know what it means to be thankful?”

Another student raised her hand.

“Yes, Lara, what does it mean to be thankful?”

“Well, my brother didn’t eat all his dinner yesterday. I saw him give it to our dog, Ninja, when no one was looking.”

The teacher looked perplexed. “Lara, did you want to tell us what thankful means?”

“No teacher. I don’t know what that is.”

Four and five-year olds, given an opportunity to speak, will talk about anything—not necessarily on topic. The teacher opted to answer as group time was almost over.

“Being thankful is like being happy. What makes you thankful also makes you feel happy. So, think about what makes you happy.”

Ten students raised their hands, stretching as if it pained them to sit in one place.

“Please, don’t tell me now. See me after group time and let me know one at a time.”

Each child chose a different colored piece of construction paper in the shape of a very large feather. A featherless construction paper turkey had been stapled to a classroom wall.

The children were asked to choose a feather and draw a picture on the feather of what makes them happy/thankful. Extra traced feathers were available for students to cut by themselves if they wished.

What makes me feel happy?

  • Bruce: “My daddy. He cooks good pizza.”
  • Angelica: “Toys make me happy.”
  • Maverick: “My Auntie Jo. She’s nice to me.”
  • Lara: “My mom. She makes me happy.”
  • April: “My dad. He makes funny faces.”
  • Diego: “My mom. Her goes to the store and buys me things.”
  • Julius: “My grandma. She makes me food.”
  • Abijah: “My daddy. He tells me funny jokes and he always laughs and dances.”
  • Romell: “My dad. He gives me cereal. He makes me happy when he cooks.”
  • Alberto: “Papi. He plays with me.”
  • Chris: “Mommy. She plays cars with me.”
  • Sam: “My dad. He lets me play PX.”
  • Valerie: “My sister. She smile and fix my hair.”
  • Rene: “Dad. My dad plays X-Box with me.”
  • Jake: “My mom. She cooks good food.”
  • Hailey: “My brother. He always makes me laugh and he does funny stuff.”
  • Deja: “My mama. She cooks dinner for me.”
  • Denise: “Mom. She gives me a big hug.”
  • Sebastian: “My dad. He plays wrestling with me and baseball with me.”
  • Delilah: “My mama. She plays with me and tickles me. That makes me laugh.”

This activity is also a favorite of the families.

I’ve used the “thankful feathers project” to assess children’s language and fine motor skills for many years in all socioeconomic strata, in four different states. I have found children to be universally thankful for the affection and attention found within their families. The little things we do for our children make the biggest impact. Playful interaction with family members ranks considerably higher than toys.


Traveling with Children by Plane


toddler on plane

The following suggestions for traveling with children are from flight attendants:

  1. Fly Early
    This is your best chance to avoid delays. Early in the day the children are sleepy and more interested in staying put in one place.
  2.  Use Layers
    It can get cold in the plane. Comfortable layers that are easy to get on and off are a real plus, especially if a bathroom trip is needed.
  3.  Switch Strollers
    Instead of a regular-size stroller, use an umbrella stroller. If you’ve got more than one child with you, consider a child harness (leash). The airport is a very busy place and children are easily distracted and may get lost. Better to keep everyone safe and minimize travel stress.
  4. Seat children Away From the Aisle
    Grabbing a snack from the food and beverage cart is tempting. No one wants those little hands burned from hot coffee or water.
  5. Use Pull-Ups
    Even if your child has outgrown diapers of any kind, the use of pull-ups is less stressful than attempting to race to the bathroom or deal with an in-seat accident.
  6. Germs
    “The floor is a Petri dish,” a flight attendant confides. “You’re in the air, things jostle. That’s not just water on the bathroom floor.”
  7. Keep Calm
    Life is not lived in a vacuum. People will be cranky from the car ride to the airport or some other life event and blame their frustrations on others. Worry about your child and do not engage with a passenger who complains the moment your child laughs. Remember, most passengers are on your side.
  8. Pack Snacks
    Juice and water are available on the plane but often healthy snacks aren’t. Consider bringing some low-sugar snacks to munch, like toasted oat cereal, string cheese, or pretzels.
  9. Prepare for Changes in Air Pressure
    Drink some water right after takeoff and again during the last 30 to 45 minutes before landing. The swallowing helps with the pressure and gives the added hydrating benefit.
  10. A Little Appreciation Goes a Long Way
    Be kind to your flight attendants, especially during the holidays. They have families too, and may be missing them.

A note about flying and driving:

When flying, then driving, rent a car seat from the car rental company. Many major rental car agencies rent children’s car seats with the rental cars. Advance reservations are necessary. Or better yet, according to Consumer Reports, bring your own. Prices average, as of this writing, $10 per day per car seat and the child safety seats vary in age and quality. The seats may or may not have installation books.

Another option is to order a seat before the trip and have it sent to a friend or relative who can bring it to the airport for you to use in a rental car, or have it installed in their vehicle, then pick you and your child up from the airport.


Bickering in the Backseat



It is the rare child who does not fight and argue in the car every now and then.

There are many ways of dealing with bickering children while in route to somewhere. Handing the most responsible child five pounds of candy to dole out for the purpose of keeping everyone in the back seat quiet is not the wisest move. Neither is turning around in the front seat and slapping each child in a long horizontal wap.

Safety must come first. Children accustomed to wearing seat-belts from infancy are unlikely to fuss over the need to wear them. Just make sure that it is a carved-in-stone rule. If anyone in the car is acting in such a way that he may hurt himself or others, pull over and stop the car. Decide whether to continue after all is settled down or turn around and go back home. If a parent says, “I mean it. If you don’t stop we’re going back home.” and the children continue to raise a ruckus, the parent must turn around and return home. Otherwise the children will learn they do not have to pay attention to the parents’ requests. Follow through is a must, so if you are on a long distance trip to see family or are on vacation the “go back home” statement will not work and you’ll have to change tactics—perhaps find a place to park the car and not start driving again until all are quiet.


The best way to prevent backseat bickering is to keep the children happily occupied. Consider putting them to work. If a child is one who always asks, “Are we there yet?” give that child the job of navigator. Before the trip begins, bring out the road atlas and check Yahoo® and Google® maps. Not only are you keeping the child busy, you are providing fantastic, practical life skills in math and geography. If more than one child is interested in being the navigator, give each a section of road to help keep the family going in the correct direction.

No one likes being in the middle seat the whole way for a long trip. Try rotating seats on a schedule. Flip a coin to see who gets to sit in the front seat with the driver first. Fairness is an enormous issue with children. There is less arguing if the rules are the same for everyone.

Have the children help decide potential punishment for poor car behavior. Children are more likely to follow the rules they have helped make.

Reward good car behavior with something non-food related. If your family has a movie night, the children may choose a movie out of several previously chosen by the parents.

A little autonomy goes a long way.

Research from:

Lansky, V. (2004). Trouble-Free Travel with Children. Minnetonka, MN: Book Peddlers

6 Tips and 7 Games for Travel with Children

When traveling with children:

  1. Plan to add one third extra time to get to your destination to avoid the extra stress of arriving late.
  2. Stop for gasoline when the tank is half-full to allow for scheduled potty stops.
  3. Drive at night or early in the morning if the trip is a long one so the kids can sleep for at least part of the drive.
  4. Avoid driving in rush hour like the plague.
  5. End the travel day early so the kids can adjust to their new surroundings. Playtime at the pool or a walk around the motel/hotel/resort stretches the muscles and allows for getting-out-the-wiggles time before dinner.
  6. If the children need to be “dressed” for an occasion, stop before you get to the destination.


Safety Belt Song (sung to the tune of “Jingle Bells”)

Safety Belts, Safety Belts, Wear them all the way.

Every time you’re in your car, Any night or day, oh

Safety Belts, Safety Belts, Put them ’round your lap,

Then before you start to ride, Everybody—SNAP (National Safety Council)


Travel games that require no equipment:

  1. Twenty Questions—Write down the name of a person, place, or thing. Using 20 questions total, everyone asks yes or no questions to guess the written name.
  2. “I’m going on a trip and I’m bringing . . .”—This is a memory game. Each person repeats the original sentence, including what everyone else is bringing, then adds their own. Keep going until someone forgets an item.
  3. Alphabet game—A competition to find all the letters of the alphabet, in sequence, from license plates, signs, billboards, and restaurant menus.
  4. Reverse—Spell words backwards so others may guess the word.
  5. “I spy with my little eye something . . .”—Use color, shape, size, or rhymes-with for others to guess what has been seen.
  6. Storytelling—A story in the round game where one person starts a story, stops in mid-sentence so the next person may continue the story.
  7. License Plate Lunacy—make up wacky phrases using the letters of license plates. For instance, “IDB” can be “I Despise Broccoli.”

Research from:

Tsai Podlaha, M. (12/2013). The reality of child seats and rental cars. Consumer Reports.

Lansky, V. (2004). Trouble-Free Travel with Children (pp.). Minnetonka, MN: Book Peddlers


Beta review of chapter one


The following beta review for chapter one of The Adventures of Charlie Chameleon: New Beginnings was dictated by a second grade student to her mom and sent to me via email. I thank her parents for giving me permission to post her very first book review. It made me smile.

Hi, Ms. Ellen. I liked your story a lot. It was very nice. I liked Tamika because she is a turtle, and I like turtles. I also want to say Tamika’s mom is crazy for putting on the headband and stuff. :> I thought Charlie was very cute because of the way I imagined him. But your way [in the illustrations] was nothing like what I imagined, and that’s a good thing. I really wish that I got to know more about Frankie, though. And I want to know more about Charlie’s life and when he’s moving. So next time could you send more stuff about Frankie? And could you send the next chapter? Pleeeeease? As I said, great story. Thanks for sending it.

Kindergarten and the Common Core

Miss Linda's AM preschool class 2015

The idea behind Common Core State Standards is a good one: creating one set of challenging academic expectations for all students to improve achievement and college readiness. A major problem with the draft K-12 common standards is that they went from the top down—from college and career readiness and worked backward, not thinking about how and what the youngest children need to learn, and building from there.

Expectations for Kindergarten: “Compose and decompose numbers from 11 to 19 into ten ones and some further ones, e.g., by using objects or drawings, and record each composition or decomposition by a drawing or equation (such as 18 = 10 + 8); understand that these numbers are composed of ten ones and one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, or nine ones.”

How does this help very young students grasp mathematics? I can say that it frustrates the parents.

When the standards were first brought to light in March 2010, many early childhood educators and researchers were astounded. “The people who wrote these standards do not appear to have any background in child development or early childhood education,” wrote Stephanie Feeney of the University of Hawaii, chair of the Advocacy Committee of the National Association of Early Childhood Teacher Educators.

Teacher-led instruction in kindergartens has almost entirely replaced the active, play-based learn by doing that we know children need. Research from many years in cognitive and developmental psychology and neuroscience show this to be true. The Kindergarten teachers I have worked with no longer keep play areas such as kitchen sets in the classrooms anymore because there is no time left to do imaginary play – effectively contributing to the stunting their social skills development.

The Common Core State Standards call for kindergartners to learn how to read, but early childhood experts says that forcing some kids to read before they are ready may be harmful. There is no evidence to support the widespread belief that children must be early readers in order to become strong readers and achieve academic success.

There are children, excited to begin school, who find their feeling of joy replaced by stomachaches induced by stress and are not willing to go to school. Kindergarten should not cause anxiety other than the common anxiety due to separation from family, but it does with increasing frequency.

There is no evidence that “throwing stuff at kids when they’re young” at a time when their brains are not sufficiently wired to do the work is an intelligent thought. This is not sink or swim. Let the children begin academics later in school—at age six or seven like the students in the better performing countries.

Research from:

Standardized Testing: What else can we do?


IMG_20150924_152224_181-1Photo from Janice G. Toland’s Teaching My Way To Insanity: 35 years in an institution . . . of learning

The beatings will continue until moral improves.

The U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, has admitted that the current amount of standardized testing is causing too much stress. Unfortunately, the policymakers aren’t listening.

Teachers are pressed to increase test scores. With their job performances tied to students’ scores, anxiety and the temptation to teach-to-the-test increase. This severely dilutes teacher’s creativity, making educating less interesting for all involved.

Standardized testing takes up an enormous amount of time that could be better spent. The average teacher now reports spending about 30 percent of their work time on testing-related tasks, including preparing students, proctoring, and reviewing results of testing.

Students are tired of being tested. After a while, they don’t care anymore and give up. I’ve seen students overwhelmed by questions they have not yet covered in class that are included on the tests. A child should not suffer from stress-induced headaches and stomach pains.

Eventually, what may happen to our over-tested children is learned helplessness—what happens when people come to believe they have no control over their situation and that whatever they do is useless. This condition may be a root cause of students giving up.

The only ones benefiting from standardized testing are the test makers.

Test making is big business. Test sales in 1955 were $7 million (adjusted to 1998 dollars), that figure was $263 million in 1997, an increase of more than 3,000 percent. The business of test making and creating instructional support materials aligned to the Common Core Exams has become a 1.7 billion dollar business with the two largest vendors being Pearson Education based in New York and McGraw-Hill Education, also in New York, (A., Ujifusa, Education Week, November 2012).

Schools need to be held accountable, but other methods are available:

  • Give the National Assessment of Educational Progress tests in fourth, eighth, and twelfth grades.
  • Use the Gallup student poll, a 20-question survey that seeks to measure levels of hope, engagement and well-being. How a student feels about school relates directly to persistence.
  • Try video-game type assessments.
  • Use performance based assessment, projects, individual and group presentations, reports and papers and portfolios of work collected over time.
  • Presentations, performances and reports may be used in lieu of standardized tests. These are designed to measure higher-order skills like creativity, students’ well-being and technological literacy as well as traditional academics.

A world without bubble tests would be bliss.

Research provided by:

Learned Helplessness: Why Bother

The Testing Industries Big Four

Misguided Direction: Will Students Turn Their Backs on Education

NEA Survey: Nearly Half of Teachers Consider Leaving Profession Due to Standardized Testing

What Schools Could Use Instead Of Standardized Tests

Book News!


Book one of The Adventures of Charlie Chameleon series is written and will be ready for the final edits this coming Friday, September 25th. The book is divided into four chapters; Our New Home, Moving Day, A New Friend, and Charlie Starts a New School.

Charlie lives with his mama and papa and his rather naughty pet fish, Frankie. The first book in the series is all about change—New Beginnings. Charlie finds out his family is moving due to a job change. He has to say goodbye to his best friend and soccer buddy, Tamika Turtle. After moving, Charlie makes a new friend, encounters the neighborhood bully, and starts school in New Town. There are lots of changes in Charlie’s life in this first book.

A segment from one of the stories to be within book 2 is on the Excerpt page of the website.

Take a look and tell me what you think!