Summer is a busy and fun. It’s also a time an alarming number of kids forget some of things they spent so much time learning during the school year. Here’s four easy and authentic ways you can reinforce those Math skills when you’re out and about:

1. Mall Math How many cars in the parking lot? Pose puzzle questions for your kids to grapple over. They’ll have to figure out how many cars can park in a row. Hopefully they’ll remember that multiplying the number of cars by the number of rows will get them the right answer.

2. Restaurant Reasoning Carry around cash so whenever you’re out your child can use money in a real way. This will not only ensure that they’ll have a more concrete understanding of how money is used, but it has the added bonus of teaching the value of a dollar. Make sure to have a pen or pencil ready so they can total their entire order, pay for the bill, and count the change to make sure they got the right amount back! If they’re older, review how to find the percentage of the total so they can determine the fair amount to tip. Have a discussion about service, the importance of doing a job well done, and then decide together whether to leave 15% or 20%. Another spin would be to give your child the cash ahead of time and then they have to determine how much they can afford to eat. Of course, they’ll have to figure in the tax and tip ahead of time.

3. Bank Estimation Estimating is a tough skill to get. The only way it’s learned is through practice, practice, practice. When you’re in line at the bank, have your kiddo estimate how many people are in the room. A little trick is having them count ten people and then use that to help them eyeball the room before they make their estimate. If the line’s really long, have them count the people one by one and compare the total number of people to the total number of people they estimated.

4. Movie Time So your peanut has been begging to see Cars 2 or Mr. Popper’s Penguins? On the day you’d love to take them, have them get the list of times. Tell them what you have to do after the movie (make dinner, visit a friend, walk the dog, etc.). Then ask, “When exactly will this movie be over? I need to know the time so I can make sure we can fulfill our other obligations.” After they do the math is the perfect time to ask them, “But what if there are three previews? They usually last about four minutes each. What time will we get out then?”

Making math a part of the normal routine ensures your kids will be practicing their skills so they don’t feel behind when the school year starts. It also gives them a much more solid base for understanding math concepts than a worksheet ever could.

Turns out, you’ll probably be giving your kid an extra edge when the year starts.

Melissa Spiegelman  is the founder of Tandem Teaching, where she provides strategies and solutions for parents whose children  are experiencing classroom struggles, and an expert consultant to the  USC/LAUSD/RAND/UCLA Trauma Services Adaptation Center for Resilience, Hope and Wellness in Schools. Melissa also teaches art playgroups for toddlers.  Contact her for a private coaching session.

Once school’s out, most kids don’t even want to look at a pen and paper. There are three ways that you can ensure that writing is an exciting outlet for your child’s creativity.

1. Write a Letter There are few things in life that bring me more joy than finding a real letter in my mailbox among the bills and catalogs that usually fill it up. Go to Ross or the dollar store to buy some stationary. Address the envelope and provide the stamp. Your child chooses who to write to (try to steer them toward grandma or someone else you know will write back!) and what to write about. When they get mail back they will quickly become addicted to writing back!

2. Summer Writing Contests The site Brimful Curiosities lists eleven different writing contests kids can enter. With prizes ranging from a new bike to a trip to London, your child will surely be excited to participate in some of them. There’s even one where the winner actually gets published in a magazine!

3. Start a Blog My cousin was visiting last weekend. When I was driving him around Santa Monica and Hollywood he wasn’t familiar with any of the landmarks I was pointing out. Two things that did excite him? The Google building. The Yahoo building. We’re living in the age of the internet. WordPress and Blogger require users to be 13 before they can use the sites, but Dr. Patricia Fioriello gives parents safe, comprehensive advice on how to start a blog for kids under 13 here, at Kids Learn to Blog.

Email or leave a comment to let us know how these tips works, or other ways you keep your kid writing during the summer months.

Melissa Spiegelman  is the founder of Tandem Teaching, where she provides strategies and solutions for parents whose children  are experiencing classroom struggles, and an expert consultant to the  USC/LAUSD/RAND/UCLA Trauma Services Adaptation Center for Resilience, Hope and Wellness in Schools. Melissa also teaches art playgroups for toddlers.  Contact her for a private coaching session.

Teachers, students, parents . . . we all get the same sick feeling in the pit of our stomach when we realize after the first reading assessment after summer that a kid’s reading level has dropped half a grade level, a whole grade level, or even more. It’s not surprise, though. The brain is just like any other muscle: use it or lose it.

One way you can ensure your kid “uses it” is by
using metaphors. Things are always more fun for me and my students when I do this. They aren’t students when they’re trying to solve math word problems, they’re detectives, searching for clues. Not to get the right answer but to solve the case.

I have three metaphors you can start with to help keep your kiddos reading muscles strong over vacation. Have them try out these jobs:

1. Book Reviewer Once a week, take your kiddo to the library. Pencil it into your routine. Their job is to check out the latest books and the classics. If they were writing recommendations, what would they say? Take them to an independent book store, because they’re likely to have employees write book recommendations.
Small World Books, on the Venice Beach Boardwalk, is my favorite and I’ve bought many a book based on it. After your kiddo reads a book, have them write it on a sticky note and leave it inside the front cover of the book. They might not be an “official” book buyer, but they’ll get a taste of what it’s like. And, they can even set up a little store of their own.

2. Navigator Purchase a map of your local area. Wrap it up like a present and excitedly watch as they open it. Help your child locate important landmarks in the community or places they’d like to visit. Read the map together on the way there. I know so many of us have iPhones and GPS systems, but there’s something so engaging about a map. Sell it to your kid with using a pirate metaphor, and they’ll love it. It will develop their brain and will provide a lot of fun for the family.

3. Personal Shopper/Nutritionist Give them a cookbook and encourage them to pick out healthy meals for the family. Have them write a list, bring it to grocery store, and supervise as they read the signs on the aisles to locate the ingredients. They can even read the labels to choose brands with healthy ingredients when it comes to items like bread or chips. Have them read the return policy and discuss the final date to return or exchange items. Don’t forget to pay them! They are doing a valuable service for the family.

As long as you’re visiting the library frequently, your child will probably even come back advanced instead of behind!

Melissa Spiegelman  is the founder of Tandem Teaching, where she provides strategies and solutions for parents whose children  are experiencing classroom struggles, and an expert consultant to the  USC/LAUSD/RAND/UCLA Trauma Services Adaptation Center for Resilience, Hope and Wellness in Schools. Melissa also teaches art playgroups for toddlers.  Contact her for a private coaching session.

Summer is a great time to learn. I’m a huge advocate for turning off the TV so that kids have rich opportunities to learn to make their own fun, problem solve, and engage in activities that stimulate their imagination.

I also know that sometimes the only “Me Time” you can get is by turning to electronics!

When those times arise, I want you to know about some great websites that promote summer learning in a fun and fabulous way. They’re also great if your child needs skills reinforced over the summer, or wants to be more prepared for the grade they’re about to enter. Here are my top three:

1. Site:

Grade Level: PK-8

Description: This site is, by far, one of the best educational resources out there. It has fabulous games that are targeted to the specific needs of your child. Sign up your kid for the grade level they just finished if you think they need to review, or sign up for the upcoming year if they have a solid foundation and want to get acquainted with the concepts and skills they will be learning in the year to come. Then, you will be emailed daily lessons that are easy for kids to do independently covering Math, Science, History, Vocabulary, and activities to go with it. It’s engaging, enjoyable, and very effective. Did I mention that it’s free? Amazing, amazing, amazing.

2. Site:

Grade Level: Pre-K-2nd

Description: Motivates children in an atmosphere of imagination and enthusiasm to provide opportunities for child-directed instruction. It’s a fun and engaging site that teaches kids how to read with phonics.


Grade Level: Pre-K – 8

Description: Complete coverage of math curriculum, aligned by State Standards. This means you can look at your child’s end-of-year report card, and have them review the specific part that they need help on. You can also have them preview and practice what they’ll be learning in the year to come so they can enter confident and extra prepared. It’s a fun and colorful site with questions that adapt to your child’s ability, increasing in difficulty as they improve. It also provides immediate feedback and question-specific explanations to make sure your child understands each concept.

I would love to hear how these sites work for your family.  Shoot me an email or leave a comment in the comment section below.

Melissa Spiegelman  is the founder of Tandem Teaching, where she provides strategies and solutions for parents whose children  are experiencing classroom struggles, and an expert consultant to the  USC/LAUSD/RAND/UCLA Trauma Services Adaptation Center for Resilience, Hope and Wellness in Schools. Melissa also teaches art playgroups for toddlers.  Contact her for a private coaching session.

Baby Daniel.                                                                     

This was what this sweet baby looked like the last time most of you saw him. It was what he looked like the last time I saw him.

I know that so many of you were instrumental in raising money to save this baby’s life. I want to thank you for that, and I want you to celebrate you, because it worked. By the time enough funds were raised to transfer Daniel to Columbia, he was so weak that the doctors weren’t even sure if the transplant would work. Baby Daniel just went back to Columbia last week, for his first checkup since he went home to Belize. He’s doing even better than the doctors dreamed he would. I want to thank you again, for all of your support and work in making this happen.

I just got back from visiting the baby and his family in San Pedro. My deepest wish is that everyone who helped contribute to his recovery is able to, someday, see the miraculous recovery this baby has made in person. He’s happy, healthy, and so very loved. The love and support he felt from his parents and the community, we believe, was a major contributor to his amazing recovery.

It was like heaven. I experienced something I wasn’t sure would happen. And it did. He’s a healthy, happy baby now!

I’m feeling really proud, right now. Proud to be a part of the global society that supported this baby. And grateful that so many people we didn’t even know took him into their hearts and petitioned news stations to cover his story. Proud of the people who’d never met this amazing family that contributed and raised funds to support his treatment. I like being a part of this country. Even when our healthcare system fails, the people joined together to help a baby, a baby that’s not even “ours”, from a different country. You all realized that every baby is ours, no matter the color or creed or citizenship. Our global community joined together to help him get what he needed.

I was so surprised. I have to admit it. I had no idea so many people would care, and get so involved, and I’m so very grateful. I’m looking forward to the day that you  all can see this baby, and how happy and healthy and curious he is. It’s amazing.

I have to tell you that I work every day with kids that are living in poverty. Sometimes, since I’m so in it, I feel like people don’t care. Through this experience with Daniel, I’ve realized that people DO care, and want to help. I realized, through this process, that people just don’t know how.

I was going to insert a quote from Hillary Clinton’s book: It Takes a Village. Then, I realized that you know that it does. I don’t have to tell anyone that’s reading this any of that. You know. You all want to help. You all DID help. And that’s why this baby is doing so well.

Since you all seem to want to continue your mission to make the world a better place, I want to let you know some ways you can:

  • Baby Daniel: You can still contribute to his medical care by donating to his continuing medical care. The instructions on how to do this can be found at
  • Contribute to The Center for Assault Treatment Services Northridge Hospital Medical Center’s CATS program. It is the only 24-hour, 7 day-a-week program for victims of sexual abuse and assault of all ages in the San Fernando and Santa Clarita Valleys of Los Angeles County, California. Make a donation under Nicole’s Team in honor of an amazing child that my family was lucky enough to love. You can contribute here:

I appreciate your help in either one. And there are so many other causes you can donate your money or time to. These two organizations are just very close to my heart. But you all know that whatever you contribute to is important, and I’m so thankful you’re doing it.

I don’t usually end posts like this, but I’m sending so much love to all of you that care. Thank you. On behalf of myself, and on behalf of the people who receive your kindness. Thank you.

Illustration of PatrickAny time I’m asked to reflect or write about what I believe about education, I always seem to talk about the class’s last project. No matter what we’ve been exploring, the work is so inspiring, I want everyone to know about it. The latest project my third grade class completed illustrates everything I believe about exceptional education: students interest and opinions drive the curriculum, schools should be hands on, encouraging students to work together, and parents and staff should collaborate to reflect work together to build a strong school culture.

I had just finished reading a book about Teddy Roosevelt. I was planning to have a brief discussion about his life. The students, however, had a different agenda. They discussed at length the environmental issue that would cause the conservation president to “totally flip out.” They decided to design, create, and open a natural history museum just like Teddy Roosevelt had when he was only nine. This museum would inspire people to love nature, teach them about Teddy’s life and inform them about environmental issues affecting us today. The Teddy Roosevelt Museum Project was on.

Within forty minutes the students had not only chosen a new area of study, they had also made a plan for the next month of school. Exceptional instruction has nothing to do with the ability to come up with a picture perfect products at the end. Its success is rooted in a students feeling comfortable and empowered to make decisions about what they learn, and how they choose to demonstrate their knowledge. Did you catch that?Student interests and ideas drive extraordinary classrooms.

The job of the educator is to connect as many questions and new insights to what the students are already brining to the table.

In one full swoop, we addressed standards in earth science and civic responsibility. In language arts alone we read for information, wrote essays, and spoke eloquently to our museum guests. Standards were not driving my instruction. They were the necessary tools of achieving our common objective. Like all learning should be, the topic was meaningful and relevant to the classroom.

The next five weeks was a whirlwind of planning meetings and curating our ever-expanding collection of prized shells, feathers and fossils.

We made dioramas and created two massive wall displays on his life. We built a gift shop in the corner, assembled a team of security guards and even had a group working on advertisement/publicity. A life-sized Hopi monument was built in the corner. Each day was different. Groups shifted and changed. The classroom was slowly becoming transformed into a real museum!

This project illustrates the importance of hands-on curriculum in education. When kids’ hands are moving, their minds are working. When students are building and creating, they internalize what the state standards expect them to, while also learning far more. They master how to work together with their peers. They understand how to share ideas, how to collaborate, how to compromise. They begin to understand who they are in the group and how they contribute to it. These are the skills that individuals need to be successful in the workplace and the social world.

I celebrate that their interest is high. That they’re learning, in a way that “tricks them” into learning. So often, kids are sent the message that schoolwork is laborious. I feel so happy that I’m able to teach in a school where we can infuse play into learning. It sounds frivolous to our auditors, to the state inspectors and the school board. It might even sound like that to parents who aren’t familiar with this type of learning. But I live it. I’m there.

I realize that the diverse opportunities that my students are given to learn enable them to internalize the content. It transforms them into life-long learners. It is an opportunity I wish for every student that goes through any school system in this country, or any other, but I fear it doesn’t happen very often.

My hope is that you join the movement. My hope is that the movement spreads, quickly. Because we need this kind of educational experience more than ever right now.

Sometimes my parents say they can’t believe their three kids were raised in the same house by the same two people. We’re all soooo different. My brother was a star athlete in high school while my sister and I were bench warmers. My sister could pass any test without ever studying, but didn’t get straight A’s because she didn’t see the point of homework. I couldn’t sleep if my work wasn’t ready to turn in on the due date. My brother only wanted to learn about things that interested him. He was a sponge when it came to those subjects, and the rest he could’ve cared less about and didn’t try to hide it.

That’s one of the tricky thing about parenting. Every kid is so different, so you have to adjust your style for each one. It’s a real balancing act. One of my favorite parents is struggling with that right now. I’ve been working with her fifth grader this year, and it’s been delightful. He works hard, is deeply engaged in any project we’re doing, and is a voracious reader.

She recently clued me in that it’s a different story with her seventh grader. He just doesn’t want to read. The parent teacher conference she went to last month that was scheduled for 20 minutes turned into an hour. She was at her wits end. Out of her four kids, only one is a resistant reader. She showed me the chart the teacher gave her to fill in at home. When he reads for a certain amount of time, he gets a reward. Has it been effective? Yes and no. Some days it works, some days it doesn’t.

Rewarding kids for reading worries me. I think reading is a reward in itself.  All kids are different, and this strategy might be necessary for some kids. But before you resort to rewarding reading, I want you to try three things.

1. Have a casual conversation with your kid. If it’s your son, have it when you’re driving somewhere. (They’re more likely to share when the situation is less formal.) Ask them what they want to know more about, what their friends are talking about, what they want to be when they grow up. Write down as many details as you can remember the first chance you get.

2. Visit the library or the bookstore. The librarian is your friend! They know the most popular books, and when you present them with the list of your child’s interests, they’ll be able to steer you toward books that are right for them. Check them out and surprise your child with them when they get home from school.

3. Read with them. Trade off pages or paragraphs. Pause to talk about the book. Bring it up at other parts of the day.

The level of the book isn’t important at this stage in the game. The goal is to hook them any way we can.

Melissa Spiegelman  is the founder of Tandem Teaching, where she provides strategies and solutions for parents whose children  are experiencing classroom struggles, and an expert consultant to the  USC/LAUSD/RAND/UCLA Trauma Services Adaptation Center for Resilience, Hope and Wellness in Schools. Melissa also teaches art playgroups for toddlers.  Contact her for a private coaching session.

Image of Queenie Every year I have at least one parent ask me for tips on how they can talk to their child about race and racism. On the flip side I know that there are parents who are offended when a teacher teaches their child about racism and will often object to it by making statements such as, “my child is too young” or “I don’t want them to know about it  just yet.”  While some parents seem to think that the cure is to teach their child to look at society through a colored blind lens. Unfortunately, taking both of these routes leaves your child’s knowledge about race and society up to their friends, media and scattered truths available to them in the classroom curriculum.  The truth of the matter is that children receive countless amounts of information about who and what society values and leaving it up to your eight year old to judge all of this information is unfair and downright wrong. If you don’t participate in this process your child will most likely take the information that they receive and make broad stroke generalization about race, culture and society.

Case in point, last year during one of my units of study my first graders were learning about the importance of Carnival in Trinidad. As we were learning about the different costumes, many of which were created around the oppression they faced while in slavery, an question about race emerged.

The class erupted into dialogue about race and inequality of Black people, all of this was done in first grade language of course. As I worked out many of my students mis-understandings,  one of my students interrupted the discussion and confidently said “I thought Martin Luther King, Jr. took care of that.” His statement took me by surprise because I have never had a student actually say something like that to me. I realized that he thought that Dr. King had abolished racism and inequality. I’m sure that this was based on the fact that he had heard numerous times that Martin Luther King Jr, had a Dream, his conclusion of course was that racism was non-existent.

He was so confused, this was partly due to the half-truths that he like many students learn about race and history in American classrooms.

By now you’re probably asking what can you do to talk to your child about race?  First it’s important for you to know that as a parent you provide a safe place for your child to learn this information and process it. Why? Because, your child can come back to you over and over again to get clarification about  as the information crystalizes in their mind over time. Secondly, its important to understand that racism, prejudice and discrimination are all different concepts that inadvertently effect one another.

What’s the difference?

1. Racism has to do with power + privilege and the systematic use of that power. This has to do with laws that are made against a people and the people within that system who use that law to work in their favor. (Think-Voting Rights Act)

2. Discrimination is the mistreatment of a person due to their race, sex, religion, heritage etc.

3. Prejudice is when you pre-judge a person based on stereotypes or misguided reasons and or opinions.

Clarifying this information is the first step in making sure your child understand what racism is and what it is not.

How to Talk to Your Child About Racism!

1. Speak candidly with your child about a culture and its history. Yes, of course its important for you to convey it in a developmentally appropriate way, but I strongly advocate speaking truthfully about mistreatment of any group of people that has led to death, torture and other harsh realities as it pertains to racism. In my opinion many kids think that fighting, guns and mistreatment of women is fun and make believe for this reason,  I strongly advocate for children knowing about the full effect of these ideas and not fall prey to virtual fantasy about these realities and ideas.

2. Educate your self about culture and heritage and make sure that you’re not conveying your own personal prejudices and discriminations about a culture to your child. Let history tell the story!

3. It’s important to present information about the culture and its greatness prior to teaching about colonization, oppression of this particular group. This way children can have a view of the culture and appreciate it as opposed to learning about a people from a place of displacement and inferiority.

4. Racism has nothing to do with liking someone or disliking someone. It’s about creating laws and systems that purposely oppress a group of people and make it virtually impossible for them to be free or pursue their dreams. Think of an iron and what it does when you are pressing out the wrinkles on your clothes, thats what racism is.

Three books I recommend:

A Kid’s Guide to Latino History

A Kids Guide to African American History

A Kids Guide to Asian American History

Let me in on some of the discussions that you are having with your child.

Illustration of PatrickI had a parent come to me at the beginning of the year. She asked me what she could do to support the classroom. I could tell she could be my “go-to parent.” She was organized, involved, and attentive. For a moment, possibilities raced through my head: field trip coordinator, parent volunteer organizer, phone tree head . . . the possibilities were endless!

 Then, on a total whim, I changed my mind.

 “The most helpful thing you can do to support me in the classroom is to plan lots of play dates for your son.” Her son had special needs in the classroom. I had already seen a few social issues rear their heads since school started.

For kids, especially one with special needs, play is the primary way their intellectual, social and emotional selves develop.

Over the year this young boy grew into a totally different kid. His demeanor changed, his sense of humor developed. It was amazing to se him growing in so many different ways.

The mother was singing my praises, calling me a miracle worker. I knew I wasn’t the one who deserved the credit. I knew where all these changes were coming from: her son had more time to play in authentic ways.

I can’t stress enough how important play is for kids with special needs, or behavioral problems in the classroom.

Here’s a paradigm shift. For every call home you get from a teacher, outburst you see at home, or times that little voice in your head asks, “Is my child normal?” plan two to three play dates.

You’ll see changes in no time.

P.S. A playdate with video games doesn’t count!!

Melissa Spiegelman  is the founder of Tandem Teaching. She is currently working as an expert consultant to the USC/LAUSD/RAND/UCLA Trauma Services Adaptation Center for Resilience, Hope and Wellness in Schools. She also provides consultations to families who are seeking support as they navigate the school system, offering parents quick tips they can implement to enhance their connection with their children, as well as ways to bring out their children’s inherent gifts. Contact her for a private consulting session.

How Was Your Weekly Ride?

by Melissa on February 11, 2011

As you know we end each week with our uphill climbs and our downhill celebrations, below is a glimpse of how my week went.

Uphill Climbs

This week I felt like I was trying to master a juggling act, and it was impossible to keep all of the balls in the air. There’s always so much I want to do, and projects that I want to take on. I have to learn how to pace myself, or I end up getting sick or burnt out.

I’ve been coaching Z for a few months, now. He faces so many challenges that it sometimes feels overwhelming. I spent Monday and Tuesday wondering if all of my time and energy is making a difference.

Coasting  downhill (celebrations)

I bought a day planner. Seeing my obligations in black and white makes it easier to pace myself and say no when I need to.

I met with some other adults in Z’s life. We looked at his progress from when I started working with him, and he’s grown so much. I guess it’s like a kid who you’re around every day. You don’t notice when he’s grown a few inches.

I’ve been witnessing so much emotional growth in my classroom. It is so exciting for me. I hear the way they talk to each other, and am filled with joy. They’re becoming little NVC experts! They seem so happy, too. Yay!

Patrick and I got to check out Mrs. Queenie’s new place. It’s fancy! Patrick was glad he bought those new sunglasses. And shoes.  Made him feel like he fit in!

How was your week?