Sunday, December 1, 2013

Photo Courtesy of Long Island Press/Jaime Franchi.  Parent Meeting at Ward Melville High School November 1, 2013

Unless you've been hiding under a rock for the last year, chances are, you've heard the term Common Core.  Whether at a play date, during a PTA meeting, or just in line at the supermarket, it seems parents everywhere are talking about it--- and what a disastrous effect it's having on children.

Parent groups around the nation have formed and are in hot pursuit of the abolition of the half-baked education reform. One parent told NY Education Commissioner, John King, that the mommies are angry.  "Angry" doesn't even begin to describe the emotions of some parents, teachers, educators and administrators who are making it their mission to illustrate the damage high-stakes testing and developmentally inappropriate curriculum is doing to youngsters.

Jaime Franchi, a writer for the Long Island Press, aptly describes the fallout occurring on Long Island, in her article "LI Parents & Teachers Revolt Against Common Core."  It's inflammatory.  It's visceral. And it's real.  Have a read.  If you were on the fence about Common Core before, this will certainly change your mind.

Click here for the article:
Parents and Teachers Revolt Against the Common Core

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Early Intervention: A Parent's Perspective

Courtesy of Google Images

As I walked along the streets of my sleepy little town, I noticed the flower buds on trees getting ready to burst, and birds in a hurry to make their nests.  I pushed my daughter’s carriage and thought, what a glorious day.  Then I thought about parents who find it hard to appreciate the start of spring because they are distracted by an aching feeling in their gut. No matter how much they try to put it out of their minds, they cannot. 

That aching feeling in my own gut began the day I brought my daughter to a Mommy and Me class and realized she was not communicating the way the other children were.  As a first time parent, I seemed to worry about everything concerning my daughter, however, this time the worry became more intense and consuming.  When our children are not developing the way they should be, it leaves a lot of unanswered questions which we sometimes are hesitant to ask and seek answers to.  As both a parent and a counselor, I want to take this opportunity to reach out to parents and say to you, we are in this together.

Taking care of you

 Courtesy of Google Images

When seeking early intervention for a disability, the focus tends to be on the child, as you now work closely with professionals providing your child’s services. However, it is important to remember to take care of your emotional well-being so you can be the best you can be for your child.  That could mean keeping healthy by exercising, eating right, and discussing your feelings with a trusted individual. Even a brisk walk can clear your head and keep you focused on providing support for your child. For some parents who are just learning their child has a disability, it is the first time they must deal with deep levels of stress and despair. It’s important to seek professional help if you’re feeling unable to cope with these new feelings.   

Get educated on how you can help your child

Courtesy of Google Images

Your county’s early intervention program should be giving you much of the skills and resources needed to help your child when services are over for the day. For example, when my daughter was diagnosed with a speech delay, her speech therapist gave me tips on how to encourage communication both inside and outside the home.  As parents, we don’t realize many of the things we have been doing with our children don’t necessarily work when they have a specific delay.  If you are the primary parent who goes to the child’s meetings and attends the therapeutic sessions, then you will also be responsible for sharing ideas that can help your child with other family members and friends.   The old African proverb, “It takes a whole village to raise a child” truly takes on a whole new meaning when your extended family and friends support your child with a delay.  Sometimes Grandma and Grandpa could be very helpful in facilitating at-home therapy when utilizing the strategies and resources you provide them.   

Refuse to let your child be a “number”


Courtesy of Google Images

Unfortunately, many counties are experiencing large amounts of referrals to early intervention.  This could mean the special education coordinator who is assigned to your child’s case could be overworked and overwhelmed.  As a result, the special education coordinator may not be able to get to know your child as well as he or she should.  This could be a problem when your child is up for an evaluation to determine eligibility for continuation of services.  If the special education coordinator must solely use test scores rather than a comprehensive knowledge of your child to determine eligibility, your child may prematurely be  released from early intervention services.   Although it is difficult to get around testing numbers in regard to determining eligibility, your child’s special education coordinator should take the time to get to know the “whole” child.  I found it helpful to call the special education coordinator periodically to check in and help her understand my concerns, as well as update her on my daughter’s progress.  This way, when it came time for the meetings, she was very acquainted with my daughter’s case. 


Understanding early intervention is a process
Courtesy of Google Images

Sometimes it is frustrating to sit back and watch your child make little, or sometimes no progress for a period of time in the early intervention program.  I often wish my daughter would wake up and suddenly burst into sentences.  However, my daughter’s speech therapist reminds me that a child with a speech delay usually makes slow but significant strides.  This is the case for many delays, which can sometimes last a lifetime. Your patience will be tested.  You should accept that small changes could be the only thing that your child is able to handle right now.  Big changes will come in time.  Contact the early intervention program to find out if a parent support group is offered.  My county’s early intervention program matches up parents whose children have the same delays. Often these support groups will meet on a weekly basis and are a great way to help you feel like you are not alone on this journey.  Sharing similar experiences in support groups is an important step towards acceptance and healing for both you and your child. 


This week, my daughter was re-evaluated in order to determine if her services will continue past her third birthday. The evaluator shared news that made me feel hopeful and relieved.  He explained my daughter’s delay was simply that, a delay.  This means once she is communicating on an age-appropriate level, she will not have any long term learning difficulties which would affect her in school.  I smiled, but in the very next moment I thought of the parents who would be told their child’s disability would last a lifetime. 

Somehow I know they will find strength in a place they never knew existed for the sake of that child. 



 By: Donna

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Keep Kids' Skills Sharp This Summer: Math Tips

Courtesy of Google Images

 With summer here, it’s easy to get swept up in relaxation and fun.  However, despite a much needed break from the usual routine of both school and after school activities, it’s important that children maintain their current level of academic functioning.  Ask any educator what the first two to three months of school entails and he or she will tell you that it’s spent reviewing concepts lost over the summer. 

With the new Common Core Curriculum in the majority of U.S. states, it is expected that students be able to hit the ground running when they enter their new classroom this fall.  However, backsliding that occurs for students during the summer months make this a challenge for educators.  So what can you as a parent do?  Keep the learning going!  But let’s face it, most kids aren’t interested in doing workbooks during their summer vacation.  The key is to keep it fun and keep it pertinent.

Sneak learning into their day just as you’d sneak vegetables into their diet.
Math is all around us in our everyday lives, so there are tons of ways to keep kids’ minds working on mathematical concepts.

Count the Cash. When planning a trip to the store, bring cash instead of the debit or credit card.  When it’s time to pay, have your child count out the money and give it to the cashier. Then make sure your child counts back the change.  If this is an emerging skill for your child, you might want to go back to basics.  At home, empty your pockets or purse of loose change.  Have your child practicing counting coins and then work his or her way up to dollars.

 Courtesy of Google Images

Teach Shopping Skills. Speaking of shopping, why not have your child help you plan a family meal?  Check out store fliers to determine the cost of items.  Have your child find the total for the order (including tax, for older kids).   For an added challenge, pull out any applicable coupons and have your child calculate how much each item will cost when using the coupon.  Then have him or her recalculate the total. This activity will also give kids a sense of the family food budget.

Courtesy of Google Image
Plan a Family Trip. Break out the old fashioned map (gasp!) and help your child calculate how many miles the family will travel each way.  For an extension activity, you can help your child calculate approximately how many gallons of gas will be required to make the trip as well as how much the gas bill will total.  This is sure to be an eye-opener!
Courtesy of Google Images

Counting, Counting.  For younger children, let their surroundings be their classroom.  Young children can practice counting just about anything, from stairs, to the number of steps it takes from the house to the garage, to the number of grapes in a bowl, to the number of buttons on the T.V. remote.  You can also reinforce greater than and less than concepts while doing this by asking questions such as, “Which is greater, 10 marbles or 15 marbles?”

Courtesy of Google Images 
Real-Life Word Problems.  To extend on the counting concepts above, turn everyday occurrences into math problems.  For instance: “Here is a bowl of cherries.  There are 20 cherries in the bowl. Your sister eats 7 cherries.  How many cherries are left?” Or, “If there are 20 cherries in the bowl, how many more do I need to put into the bowl to make 35 cherries?”

Courtesy of Google Images
Empty That Piggy Bank!  Pull out the stopper and have your child count all his loot.  Counting money is an important skill that takes some kids longer than you might expect to master, especially in today’s society where we use plastic to pay for much of our purchases.  When your child has found the sum, create a math problem for him to solve.  For instance:  “If the remote control car you want costs fifty dollars, and you have thirty-six dollars in your piggy bank, how much more money do you need to save?”
Courtesy of Google Images
 Be a Clock Watcher.  Now that we’ve entered the digital age, it’s become harder to find a good old-fashioned analog clock.  Children have become dependent on digital clocks, as they are everywhere; from our computer screens to our microwaves.  As a teacher, it’s alarming to me when, for instance, a student doesn’t understand that a quarter past four is the same as 4:15.  If you don’t have an analog clock in your home, please get one.  Review time-telling concepts with your child including elapsed time.  Once again, you might want to rely on the good old-fashioned word problem here.  For instance, you might ask your child questions such as, “If it’s three o’clock now and dinner is at six-thirty, how many hours until dinnertime?”
Courtesy of Google Images
Measurement.  You’d be surprised how many children don’t know how to properly use a ruler.  Practice measurement in a fun way this summer by having your child measure objects around the house.  You’d be surprised how much kids will get out of this activity.  It’s not just about using the ruler properly.  From this, children will also gain an understanding of what a certain measurement looks like in the real world.  This becomes even more important when children are asked to make a reasonable measurement prediction, such as, “What is the more likely measurement of a refrigerator, 60 inches or 16 inches?"

Courtesy of Google Images
Create a Chart.  Once reserved for older kids, interpreting data is now a math concept elementary school kids are expected to handle. A tally chart is one great way to reinforce data interpretation. For instance, help your child create a tally chart of objects around the house (such as different color socks family members have). When the chart is complete, have the child construct a summary statement of the information contained in the chart, such as: “There are more white socks in our house than any other color.” Or, “There are twice as many black socks as blue socks.”

Chart courtesy of Google Images
Practice Those Facts!   New learning standards require children to analyze, interpret, collect and organize mathematical information; all higher-level thinking skills.  Having said that, children are expected to have complete mastery of math facts (addition and subtraction by the end of grade two and multiplication and division by the end of grade four) in order to compute more abstract math concepts.  The unfortunate reality is that sometimes, a child is able to conceptualize how to solve a math problem, yet is unable to arrive at the correct answer because he or she does not know math facts.  Give your child a leg up by regularly reviewing these facts for quick and accurate recall.  Keep it fun by visiting one of the many educational websites which address math fact practice.  One I particularly like is Xtramath.  This site helps your child master basic facts including addition, subtraction and multiplication by using repeated practice.  Children move to more challenging levels once they have mastered the skills in those previous.

Be sure to have a look at these sites as well.  They are chock full of great math practice!

Math Games and Problem Solving:
Math Playground
Practice with multiplication tables

Word Problems:
Maths Zone

Math Flashcards:
Fact Monster
Money Flashcards:
A Plus Math

Buy it…with the Little Farmer:
Lizard Point Consulting
Elapsed Time:


By: Michele




Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Are More Teacher Resignations on the Horizon?

                                                           A video of one teacher's poignant resignation letter, courtesy of YouTube.

With the recent devastation in Oklahoma, many people are talking about the way in which teachers attempted to protect their students from the tornado which ripped through the town, and ravaged two elementary schools.  These stories are eerie echoes of the heroic efforts of Sandy Hook Elementary School teachers who, in some cases, sacrificed their own lives for the sake of their students' safety.

Many people were awed and inspired by the selfless acts of these educators, however, those in the profession know first-hand how instinctual such actions are for a teacher.  Teachers often view their class as surrogate children.  They nurture, educate, inspire, encourage, protect, defend and champion for them each day as a part of their normal routine.  Why then, would it be so foreign for a teacher to risk her own safety for the sake of her "children?"


A teacher's devotion runs deeper than the average professional.  Consider this.  If your child were sitting in the dentist's chair and a tornado began to rip through the office, do you think he would be throwing himself on top of the child to protect him or her?  How about your lawyer?  Your banker?  Your hairdresser?  Your accountant?

There is a part of each of us which intuitively knows that teachers would do whatever possible to ensure the safety of our children.  If not, why would we entrust them with our most precious gifts for seven hours a day?  So why then, would lawmakers and school districts be creating systems and procedures which question, quantify and measure every decision and action a teacher makes in the classroom?  Why is it that we trust teachers enough to let them spend more time with our children than we do ourselves, yet don't trust their professional judgment when it comes to how to educate them?  Why is it that we now have a canned curriculum in our schools, which has eliminated all autonomy and creativity in the classroom for teachers?  Why are teachers being penalized for not making the grade when the playing field has become so skewed that no one even knows who's on what side anymore?  Master teachers are being placed on teacher improvement plans because of their students' standardized test scores, but no one wants to discuss how egregiously flawed the tests are in the first place. 

Sadly, some of our most creative, talented and devoted educators are beginning to leave the classroom.  They are tired and frustrated over the changes taking place in education.  Teaching is no longer fun for them.  They no longer see the progress or excitement in their pupils which once made it all worth the countless hours spent planning, preparing and grading each week.  One notable teacher, in his resignation letter, said that he was not leaving the teaching profession, but rather, it had left him.

Parents, we need our educators more than ever.  In a world so wrought with challenges, teachers are the ones to help prepare and encourage our children to be the best individuals they can be.  If teachers continue to submit resignation letters, who will be left to educate our children?  It's time to speak up.  Email or write letters to your elected officials.  Talk to them about the perils of the new Common Core learning standards which are wreaking havoc on our schools and causing undue stress on our young ones.  Tell them to abolish the new standardized testing regime.  Ask them to re-think the teacher evaluation system.  The only way to see change is to make noise.  If we don't, we will continue to see more teacher resignations.  Do we really want a government take-over of our schools?

Protect your child's rights. Support your child's teacher.  Take a stand.

By: Michele

Monday, May 13, 2013

Parent Concerns Over Speech Delays in Children: A Guide

            Parents are often the first to notice when a child has a speech or language delay.  Yet while the parent may realize there is a problem, he or she may not know where to look for help or how to determine if the child’s speech issue warrants evaluation.   

            While every child reaches developmental milestones at different rates, Allison Cortellini-Whitted, MS Ed CCC-SLP, certified speech and language pathologist, notes several markers for parents to watch out for. By the time babies are about nine months old, they should be babbling, gesturing at objects, and startle in response to loud or sudden noises. Between the ages of 9 and 12 months, babies should be able to follow a one-step direction, such as, "Get the ball." Children between the ages of one and three should be able to express their needs and wants without resorting to tantrums and should be able to put words together in a meaningful way.  She also encourages parents to use what she calls the 1-2-3 rule. According to this, at age one, a child should be using one-word utterances. By age two, he should be using two-word utterances. And by age three, he should be using three or more word utterances.

            A child who has a speech delay may struggle with verbally making his needs and wishes known. The child may point at objects rather than making sounds or words. At times, the child may cry or display acting out-behaviors because of an inability to appropriately express himself. Likewise, the parent may feel equally frustrated as she tries to ascertain the child’s wishes. If there is frustration on the part of both the parent and the child, it may be time to have the child evaluated.

What Should Parents Do if They Suspect a Speech Delay?

            The first step parents should take when concerned about their child's speech is to talk to their pediatrician. After discussion, the doctor may refer the parent to a speech and language pathologist for an evaluation. Some doctors, however, may feel that it is not necessary to conduct such an evaluation or that parents should wait and see if language develops. If a parent still feels her child’s speech development is inappropriate for his or her age, the parent should continue to pursue it with the county's Department of Health.

Rule Out Other Causes

            A child who is struggling to communicate may not just have a speech issue. Sometimes, a hearing problem may be the root of the problem. If a child is unable to properly hear sounds, the child's speech and phonological awareness will be negatively affected. Therefore, it is important that the child's hearing be tested by an audiologist, who will not only examine the child's ear canals, but will also perform a thorough hearing evaluation. This evaluation is far more sophisticated than the hearing screening done at a doctor's office.


            Sometimes, speech issues can occur as a result of orthodontic situations.   According to Dr. Anthony V. Bonavoglia, DDS, MS, some children’s speech issues can be a direct result of prolonged finger habits, tongue thrust or open bite situations.  Children with an anterior tongue thrust, “a condition in which the tongue makes contact with any teeth anterior to the molars during swallowing,” (Annals and Essences of Dentistry) demonstrate articulation difficulty, particularly with the production of the “s” sound.  Additionally, Dr. Bonavoglia notes, patients with tongue thrust issues often have an open bite, in which the incisors don’t come together.  “When patients swallow, the tongue is placed between or behind the front teeth,” he says.  This constant pressure against the front teeth causes the teeth to move out of alignment, thereby impacting speech production.  According to Dr. Bonavoglia, approximately five percent of the population suffers from open bite.


            Other speech issues are a result of prolonged finger habits such as thumb or digit sucking, or from pacifier use. To correct these orthodontic anomalies, Dr. Bonavoglia uses specialized appliances such as the tongue crib, which provides a home for children’s tongues.  This appliance retrains the patient how to swallow by providing the correct position in which to place the tongue and, “…allows the teeth to drift together so the bite can close.”

            Some patients may benefit from myofunctional therapy, in which a specialist trained in the muscular structure of the tongue and neck provides exercises and stimulation which can be likened to physical therapy for the mouth.  The goal of myofunctional therapy is to improve swallowing, speech, and tongue position and is intended for patients whose dental or orthodontic treatment alone is insufficient to bring about desired improvements.


What Happens if My Child Requires Speech Services?

            If your child does indeed have a speech or language delay, the child would be entitled to speech and language services. Children from the ages of zero to three qualify for early intervention services.  Early intervention speech services are provided by the county of residence, and take place in the child's home or day care. A preschool aged child’s speech and language therapy is provided by the local school district.  Preschool and school-aged children are assessed by the school district’s speech and language pathologist and referred to the Committee on Preschool Special Education and Committee on Special Education, respectively. Speech services are provided in an individual or group setting, depending on the child’s needs.


What Can I Do to Help at Home?

Allison Cortellini-Whitted suggests the following tips:

  • Take the batteries out of toys. Many toys today make sounds (such as automobile or farm animals). Since the toys already make the sound, a child doesn't need to learn how to make the sound himself.
  • Don't keep snacks or toys on shelves where the child can reach them. Provide your child with opportunities to have to request things from you, thereby practicing verbal skills.
  • Have your child help with chores by following directions. For example, while putting away laundry, give your child instructions such as, "Take the socks and put them in the top drawer," or while cooking tell your child to, "Go in the refrigerator and take the carrots off the middle shelf."
  • Work on speech while reading. Have your child retell the story. Ask who?, what?, when?, where?, why?, and how? questions.
  • If your child has articulation issues, don't interrupt him while he is speaking. Wait until he is finished and then ask him to say the words correctly.
  • Play board games that focus on language and memory skills such as: Guess Who?, Memory, Scattegories, and Apples to Apples.

            Dr. Bonavoglia recommends that all children have an orthodontic evaluation between the ages of six and seven.  He also recommends parents work on correcting finger habits such as thumb and digit sucking as well as nail biting, to prevent further speech and orthodontic difficulties.

            If you suspect your child may have a speech delay, continue to pursue all avenues to find help your child. And, as Cortellini-Whitted suggests, remember to continue to, "Create situations where children have to use their words to communicate."

 By: Michele

For More Information

Speechville Express website for speech and communication disorders

Children’s Disability Information- Articles and resources for parents of special needs children Click for a list of speech milestones by age

To contact Dr. Bonavoglia call: 845-297-4075 or visit him at:

Dutchess County Health Department- 845-486-2759



Kindergarten Readiness: The Kindergarten Screening

 So, it's that time of year where many parents are realizing their baby is going to kindergarten. All of a sudden parents are filled with fear and anxiety about this place called "school" and they begin to question whether their child is ready. For some parents, the week of the dreaded kindergarten screening can be scary and overwhelming. So I thought I'd give some insight as to what we look for when your child is about to have his or her very first elementary school experience.

Who might you talk to?

Usually the kindergarten "screeners" consist of the kindergarten teacher, a speech language pathologist, a special education teacher, the physical education teacher, and a psychologist. Sometimes ESL (English as a second language) teachers are also involved if a child does not speak English as their first language.

Will they make my child go into "that room" alone?


 Yes, we do. For most kids, after they leave you, they are just fine, even happy to share all that they know (they even tell stories about you and what you made for dinner the night before... or worse….).  Of course, if the child is too fearful, we do have the parent come in, however, only long enough for the child to become comfortable. We do this to see how children handle and interact with others on their own. It's an important first step to becoming independent learners and thinkers.


What are they looking for at the kindergarten screening?

 Mostly we are looking for readiness skills. I know, what in the world does that mean? Basically we want to see if your child can use the knowledge they have learned from their surroundings and apply it in order to become a creative thinker and learner.

What are some readiness skills my child should have before entering kindergarten?

By the time children enter kindergarten, they should be able to:

-Write and identify their first, and perhaps, last name.

-Answer simple “wh” questions (What is your name? How old are you?)

-Identify colors, shapes, some letters and numbers.

-Orally count to 10 and sing the ABC's.

-Draw a picture of a person, including include major parts of the body (eyes, ears, nose, mouth, arms, legs, feet, etc.)

-Understand and use concepts such as top, middle, bottom, same, different, and next to.

-Follow a 2 or 3-step direction (e.g., pick out a pencil and write your name at the top of the paper )

-Sequence a picture story that is out of order, and then tell what happened in that story.

-Express their needs and wants in a clear manner that is understood by their peers and adults.

What if my child can't do these things?

If your child is having difficulty with one, two or three of the above, please don't panic. School IS meant to be a place of learning, and if the professionals are concerned, they will notify you. If you are thinking, "My child can't do any of these things," you may want to notify your pediatrician of your concerns. Usually a speech language evaluation is recommended to see how well your child can process, understand, and use language.

Remember, the kindergarten screening process is not meant to be scary; it's just a tool to help the professionals figure out how they can help, and what they can do to make your child's kindergarten year successful.


Standardized Testing and Children with Language Impairments


Standardized testing and children with language impairments. In a nutshell, these two phrases rarely go together. Unfortunately in today's society, the "higher ups" in education feel that standardized testing is the best way to assess our students, teachers, and overall progress of American education. In reality, these tests rarely give an accurate portrayal of the actual progress and knowledge that has been acquired by students. Many parents worry about how their child will do, and what the testing means for their child. I'd really like to tell you these tests help us identify strengths and weaknesses, but truthfully, they are no more than a small snapshot of your child on a particular day, of a particular week in the school year.  Although we do have to give these assessments, as educators and parents, it is our job to help our children feel comfortable with the language and formats used on tests.  

As many of you know, kids across America will be sitting down in the next couple of weeks to complete their state’s version of the standardized test. Many of the questions use language that is difficult for students to understand and interpret. I have compiled a list of words/phrases that the children will see and hear frequently on standardized tests and have provided examples for you as parent to use daily to help your child become familiar with test language.

Right after…           
Ex: Right after dinner, please finish your homework.
Mostly about…         
 Ex: What are you reading? Can you tell me what it is mostly about?  
According to the information…     
 Ex: According to the information on this package, we need to bake the cookies for 10 minutes.
 Ex: Help me do the laundry. What does not belong with the socks?

Main purpose…         
Ex: What is the main purpose of cleaning your room by 7pm? (We have company coming over for…)

Best describes…          
Ex: What best describes how you feel after you get in trouble?, win the lottery?, clean your room? What best describes how I feel after you clean your room?  (ecstatic, elated, etc….)

Most important…        
Ex: What is the most important thing about getting ready for school, going to the mall, etc.?

First, middle, last…      

Ex: Anything they can retell using these words, such as what happened at school, at a party, etc.

 Ex: “I hate cleaning my room!”

 “Is that a fact or an opinion, dear?”

I hope this helps to give you some ideas and some insight as to some of the language used on state exams. Working together as educators and parents, we can hope to alleviate some of the stress caused by standardized testing and realize that a snapshot does not tell the story of the journey.