Spotlight on Learning

Apr 9, 2020, 10:55 AM

                 Some Ideas On How to Make Our Current Stay-at-Home World Less Stressful


Every day seems to bring new challenges and new learnings on how to exist in a Covid-19 world. Here are a few things that you can do to make life more manageable and enjoyable while you are at home with your children.


  • First, create a set schedule and write it down for you and your family. Here are a few sample  schedule links to give you some ideas  ;


  • Include exercise and quiet time on the schedule. If you can get outside to walk or play games be sure and do so. Use online classes for exercise, yoga, and movement of any kind.  Remember exercise and sunlight help us all feel less depressed, less anxious, and more positive about our lives.



  • The Santa Fe Science Initiative will soon have Science activities to do at home, https://           The Reading Group Facebook page @readytoreadsantafe, also has lots of great resources.


  • Add some fun! Audible and Apple books have free books for kids. Your local library and book stores may also have read aloud programs. The Santa Fe Public Library has extensive resources ranging from Read-Alongs to virtual visits to Paris Art Museums. Book Are Magic in Brooklyn, New York has frequent read-aloud events through their instagram account (booksaremagicbk).


  • Teach your kids how to do something you know how to do and they don't such as—knitting, crocheting, baking a cake, painting a wall, or planting an avocado pit.


  • Now is the time to learn new skills or practice newish ones such as typing , learning to dictate on the computer, practicing math facts, putting extra time into that musical instrument your child is learning to play, learning to juggle or to do magic tricks. 


  • Use Zoom, Skype, Face time, Google Hangout, etc. to create play dates for your child or chats for your teens. They can play the same board or card game virtually (keep the groups small, start with one friend at first). Many of today's kids don't know how to have a conversation, so if your child could use a little help create conversation starter sticks or paper strips with topics such as:
    • What have you been doing this week?
    • What movie, DVD, TV program have you seen this week that you liked? What have you seen that you didn't like?
    • What's the weirdest thing you've done this week?
    • The coolest thing?

    You get the idea.


  • Organize a kid or teen book group with your children. You can have a family group if your children are readers or match your child to a school friend. Have everyone read the same book and have a virtual book club meeting to discuss the book. Don’t forget to order books from your local independent book sellers to help them stay in business. If your child could use some help organizing the book club meeting, create questions together to ask about the book.


  • Make regular appointments with extended family for virtual chats. Share books, movie ideas, or even share a meal or snack  —agreeing to make the same food and eat together virtually. 


These are just a few ideas to help you get through these unusual times with your family. Stay well and stay safe.

Mar 1, 2020, 12:32 PM

 Choosing A Planner

During my many years of working with students with attention and focus issues, executive function difficulties,  learning challenges, and a combination of all three, I have become more and more convinced that students need to start working with a planner or agenda in the early grades. Classrooms and teachers that use a planner/agenda system for the entire class and  teach students how to use the planner, are providing a concrete organizing structure that can be built upon over the years. If that teacher teaches students about how the agenda is an external organizer for the frontal cortex/executive function part of the brain, all the better.

Most adults keep a calendar and a to-do list. For most of us, finding the system that works takes trial and error. I keep a paper calendar with pages for the entire month and pages for the week. I need to see the entire month and then specific days. I also keep a daily to-do list which fits onto pages of a specific week. When my to-do list needs a modified and numbered to-do list, then I know things have gotten out of hand and I need to winnow down to one list!

When selecting a planner/agenda for late elementary, middle, and high school students, choose a large enough format so that students can easily write on the pages; keep the size in line with a sheet of paper, make sure the planner can easily fit in a binder, limit the heft and weight of the planner so that it is actually used, and pick a planner that has both monthly and weekly entry pages so the student can see the past and future and not just that day. You may need to try several formats with your child or students before you find the perfect fit. The more the student is invested in the planner the more likely he/she is to use it.


Two planners that I have been looking at in some detail are designed by professionals who conduct professional development training on executive function for teachers, parents, and students. Both of these organizations also work with students and families. The first is created by Executive Functioning Success,  Marydee Skylar and her team have created a planner for adults and one for middle/high school students.  Their  thirteen month student planner is a little larger than a standard size sheet of paper and has front and back interior plastic pockets s for storing loose papers,  two page monthly calendars with space and lines to write events, activities, assignments, etc for each day. There are pages for project planning, sheets to track weekly commitments, and tear off daily to-do pages that include sections for homework and after school chores and fun. As a disclaimer, I have to admit that I have taken Marydee’s “Seeing My Time” Class and own a copy of her student planner.

Another planner which shares many of the characteristics of the Executive Functioning Success planner is created by Cognitive Connections,  Sarah Ward and Kristen Jacobsen,  A friend of mine ,who owns and runs a school for students with learning challenges in Maine, brought the work of Cognitive Connections to my attention and I plan to take some of their webinars.  360 Thinking Academic Planner contains monthly calendar pages, planner pages for each day, and homework to-do sheets with sections for writing down the assignment, materials needed, and due date. There are also project planning sheets. Each planner contains 5 1/2 months of pages for a semester.

Both planners include access to support videos for using the planning systems and both are products of models developed to teach students executive function skills. There are other products on the market, but these two planners are created based on executive function research and years of work with students.

Jan 28, 2020, 10:42 AM

Human beings and other animals need and crave structure and routines.  Structure and routines help us to be more efficient, save us time and energy, and free up higher order thinking skills for more important things than planning how to execute a routine or task each time we need to do it. Structure and routines help us feel more secure.  Even my cat Gus craves routine and structure.  He instinctively “knows what time it is”—time for breakfast and going into his space, time for dinner and bedtime routines, and acts restless and perhaps a little confused if his human is not following “the routine”.


I once had a job that took me into many classrooms to observe students.  The first thing I looked for in a classroom was a written schedule prominently displayed.  It made me feel more comfortable knowing what the class was doing and what was coming next.  And I am sure that having that written schedule that could be reviewed with the class, made the students feel more comfortable too. And if there was not a written schedule for the class, I spent time and energy trying to figure out what was going on and what was coming next. 


Setting a structure at home and school makes for a smoother and more productive life for our students.  Children and teens need extensive adult support and practice in following schedules and learning routines and procedures before they are ready to create their own schedules and plan how to tackle multi-step tasks and projects.  Some parents make the mistake of having no structure at home, thinking their children need a break from the structure of school.  Children feel “safer” with structure, with knowing what the expectations are, knowing how they are doing and knowing what happens if they meet the expectations, what happens if they don’t meet them, and what is coming next.


 It is helpful to have a “visual schedule” and a calendar at home and school.  Young children can use a picture schedule until they learn the schedule.  For example, a bedtime routine schedule with pictures and words for brushing teeth, putting on PJs, reading a bedtime story, help establish independence and reduce bedtime resistance and chaos.  If  mornings are difficult, create a visual schedule for the morning routine.  



When your child becomes a reader, create a words only schedule.  Some children will need more specific steps but don’t have so many steps to complete that your child is overwhelmed before they start.  Pointing at the picture or words instead of continuously reminding or nagging your child can pull you out of the exhausting verbal reminder game.  It’s no longer mom or dad doing the reminding, it’s the schedule. (You can find many examples of “visual schedules” online.)


Teens can start developing their own schedules but still need help doing so. The pre-frontal cortex, which is the center of executive functioning and planning is not fully developed until the mid-late 20’s (] Teens who gain practice in following routines and then setting routines and schedules are better prepared when they leave home to create healthy, productive structures and routines for themselves.


Even if you are a family who uses a calendar on a personal device, it is still helpful to have a print calendar that you can write on and place in a location for everyone to see. A print calendar helps make the abstract concept of time more concrete for children, makes the past and future more tangible, can serve as a focal point for keeping individual and family appointments In view, and help keep school and fun event planning in one place. When choosing a calendar, select one with enough space to write on and write in pencil as events and appointments may change.  


Developing classroom and family routines and structure creates calmer, more predictable environments which help children and adults to be more efficient and feel more secure.  By adding routines or planning tools such as a print calendar, daily schedule, task/chore charts, etc, or tweaking strategies that you have been using, you can help your children and students by: lessening the stress of unpredictability, introducing the concept of dealing with change when events don’t happen or dates are altered, teaching the importance of structure, and helping children and teens create their own schedules and routines.

Nov 17, 2019, 1:10 PM

Some learning concerns are “invisible” to teachers. Invisible or hidden disabilities. According to Lingsom (2008) and Valeras (2010), are impairments combining able-bodied appearances with a disability, resulting in few visual identifiers. For example, Identified and unidentified students with learning disabilities, mild to moderate hearing loss, auditory processing disorder, and/or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may not be easily noticed as students who have learning challenges and need extra support to be successful in school.

Often these students work extra hard, try to blend in with their classmates, and may give brilliant oral responses during class discussions. And yet their written work may be full of spelling and grammatical errors, be brief, or not quite answer the question. Some of these students turn in partially finished projects, misplace completed assignments, fall behind in completing classwork and homework, and appear to teachers as if they do not care about school. Teachers don’t experience the frustration and confusion that these learners and their parents do, don’t see how long it takes for these students to finish homework, how confused they may be about directions and class expectations, and the feelings of failure and shame that these learners often take home with them. 

Many general education teachers and some special education teachers are not well trained in learning differences and what they can go to help all learners in their classes. I have worked in four states throughout my long career and it always amazes me that some teachers know so little about how children learn, learning challenges, and developmentally appropriate teaching.

If your child is in a school or a class with a teacher who is not well versed in understanding learning differences, then you as your child’s best advocate have some work to do. Find and give to all teachers who work with your child and the school administrator brief articles that help explain your child’s learning challenges; give concrete examples of what your child finds difficult along with suggestions of what can be done to help your child; and offer specific suggestions.  If your child has a 504 plan or an IEP, review all modifications and accommodations with all those who work with your child. If your child does not have a 504 or an IEP, but you suspect that your child has a learning challenge that warrants an evaluation and possible special education support, then ask for your school to start this process. And if you and your child are lucky enough to be in a school and class where great teaching for all is the expectation, please thank the teachers and administrators. 

All students need teachers who are structured yet flexible, who give clear instructions that are also written down; who provide visual models of assignments; who start homework in class and check for student understanding; who engage with all their students; who work with the school staff including special education and ESOL teachers to understand their students and create the best program for all of them; who have high expectations for all their students; and who find and encourage each student’s  talents and “islands of competence” (Robert Brooks, 2019, 

The student—teacher match is one of the most crucial predictors of a successful school year. Children know if teachers are fair, if they enjoy teaching, are excited about learning, and expect all learners to succeed.  Every child deserves to be in a classroom where this is the norm.



Lingsom, S. (2008). Invisible impairment: Dilemmas of concealment and disclosure. Journal of Disability Research, 10(1), 2-16. Retrieved from

Valeras, A. B. (2010). ‘We don’t have a box’: Understanding hidden disability identity utilizing narrative research methodology. Disability Studies Quarterly, 30(3-4), Retrieved


Oct 13, 2019, 3:38 PM

Read With Your Kids #3

Want to create strong readers and build good reading habits? One of the most important things that you can do is read with your children and share your love of reading with them. Even if you are not a fiction reader, grab the newspaper, a magazine, technical manual, or cookbook and show your children that reading is a crucial life skill necessary for living a happy and productive life. 

Start sharing books with children when they are babies. Find books that have simple text, great  pictures, and are kid engaging. If there is a lot of text, paraphrase the story, simplify the text, and point to the pictures as you tell the story. As children become talkers, ask them questions starting with show me or point to the picture of _______.   Books with repetitive text like Sheep in the Jeep and Are You My Mother? help children learn the rhythm of language. Reading the same books over and over again and waiting for your child to finish a sentence or rhyme are important to developing early reading skills. 

Pick books for early readers that use decodable text, words that can be decoded using the phonological skills that your child should be learning in school. Look for books that have more words that can be read by your child than words that cannot be read by her. When you read together you can tell her the words that she has not yet learned how to read, while she reads the words that can be decoded using the skills that she has learned. If your kindergarten-third grade child is not being taught to read in a structured phonological sequence, then you may want to talk to your child’s school about what they are doing and suggest they take a look or  listen to the following: .

Read books aloud to your children that are above their reading level. Read books that you loved as a child, books that are popular with children your child’s age, and books that they pick out at your local library or favorite children’s bookstore. If you live in the Santa Fe area, check out Bee Hive Bookstore ( where the friendly and helpful staff can help you find books that will grab any reader. Now you can also order any book online through the website. Explain words that are unfamiliar to your child before reading the word in a passage in the book; provide background knowledge if the topic, location, or time period are unfamiliar to your child. Don’t use this book as one that you and your child take turns reading, save this book as your special “read aloud book”. You can keep up this habit into middle school and beyond. Make it a part of your bedtime ritual.

With middle school and high school students who are good readers, read the same book that  they are reading and discuss the book with your child. Ask each other questions, ask for opinions, discuss favorite and not so favorite parts. Look online for discussion questions if you can’t think of some yourself. The point is to share the experience of reading ; not to ask the world’s best questions. 

Set up a reading time once a week or more often when everyone in the household reads what they want to read including the funnies, sports page, graphic novels, picture books, magazine articles, non-fiction and fiction books, etc. for a specific amount of time such as  30 minutes or an hour. Anyone who chooses can share what they have read after the “reading time” is up. No need to make this mandatory, just try to give everyone who wants to share an opportunity  to talk.

Making reading an important and fun daily activity develops life-long reading habits, strengthens reading and vocabulary skills, and opens up the wonderful world of reading and imagination to your child.