Ask Your 4th Grader!

In fourth grade children really get to apply the skills they have learned in the first few years of school.  If you think about kindergarten through 3rd grade as the time in which children are taught how to read; how to add, subtract and multiply; and how to begin to write paragraphs, then 4th grade becomes the time when they really get to apply those skills in order to expand their overall knowledge.

In light of this, what can you do to help your child acquire additional knowledge through the application of these basic skills, while making sure he or she is developing appropriately in this grade?


1.  Division- work with your child to solidify his or her skills in division. Ask your child to complete long division problems.  For example:  137 divided by 7.  Solving this problem will require your child to multiply, divide, and subtract in order to find the right answer, thus applying several skills in one activity.  You can ask the teacher for worksheets in this area or simply work with your child in this area when he or she is doing homework problems that require long division.

2.  Place Value- work with your child to make sure he or she understands place values. This concept is very important in future math subjects and it is therefore good for children to get off to a good start in understanding this topic.  For example:

The number 34.76

3 is in the tens place, 4 is in the ones place, 7 is in the tenths place, and 6 is in the hundreths place.

3.  Fractions- work with your child to make sure he or she understands how to add and subtract fractions with like denominators. For example:

1/3 + 1/3 = 2/3


1.  Reading on a 4th grade level.  Make sure your child can read on a 4th grade level or higher.  Many books have the age ranges and/or reading level for which the book is appropriate right on the back of the book, near the bottom.  Select books within your child’s grade/age range and determine if your child understands the content and can follow story.

2.  Unfamiliar words. Ask your child to read with you and observe whether or not your child tries to figure out words he or she doesn’t know by looking at the entire meaning of the sentence or by taking clues from the content in the material.  Finally look up words with your child; if they are new or difficult to understand.


1.  Writing a multi-paragraph report. Many children will be asked to do some type of assignment in the 4th grade that requires them to write a multi-paragraph composition.  Look out for such an assignment and work with your child to make sure she or he understands the rubric (i.e. the criteria the teacher has laid out that explains how the paper will be scored).  Usually the teacher will want an opening paragraph which states the topic of the report; a couple of paragraphs that explain the main ideas of the report; and a concluding paragraph that sums up everything.

These are a few things you can do to support your child in fourth grade.


Ask Your 5th Grader!

If you have a child entering into the 5th grade this year, you may want to check on a few skills to make sure your child is developing them as he or she progresses through the school year.  Fifth grade obviously prepares a child for 6th grade and middle school…

Many children who aren’t prepared to take algebra or pre-algebra in middle school fall behind in math during high school because it is hard to make up ground as you are trying to re-learn the fundamentals of math (i.e. division, fractions, basic operations, etc…) while also trying to learn geometry and algebra II.

Furthermore, if a child has not mastered basic concepts around structuring a paragraph and writing a report, while in middle school, it will be difficult for that child to excel in high school because almost every class could call for some type of writing assignment as a part of its requirements.  English, history, social studies, health, foreign languages, biology, chemistry, even math… might require different types of writing assignments during high school and middle school.

Therefore, as your child progresses through the 5th grade there may be a few skills you will want to make sure your child develops:

1.  Division

Ask your child’s teacher what your child will learn in math this year. Find out when the more difficult concepts will be taught.  For many children, dividing by double-digit numbers can be a challenge.  In the 5th grade a child should be able to divide by two digit numbers, without using a calculator (e.g. 967 ÷ 38 = 25.45).

Ask your child to complete several math problem requiring division by double digit numbers (e.g. 100 ÷ 47 = 2.13 or 500 ÷ 51 = 9.80). This will require your child to do long division, add, subtract, and work with decimals to get the answer.

This is a good way to “check” many of the fundamental skills taught in elementary school math thus far.  If your child is having difficulty, ask the teacher for additional worksheets and guidance about what you can do at home to support your child’s development.

2.  Fractions

Fractions are also an important part of development in math.  Ask your child to complete math problems with fractions. For example, adding and subtracting mixed numbers with common denominators:

6 ¼ + 4 ¼ = 10 ½  or 5 ¾ – 4 ¼ = 1 ½

3.  Writing

Children in 5th grade should be able to write a multi-paragraph report with a clear topic sentence, separate paragraphs to support their topic sentence, and a concluding paragraph.  This can be done about a topic they have researched, something they have read, or about a specific topic given to them like “Write a report about why our school should purchase new playground equipment.”  This should be done with a clear topic sentence and details to support the child’s opinion.

I have noticed that some elementary schools don’t require a lot of writing of children at this stage, while others do.

If your child’s class requires these types of writing assignments, follow up on these assignments with your child.  Check to see if your child is following the instructions.  Often there is a rubric, or guide, for what should be included and how it should be structured.  Read through the rubric and make sure your child understands it.  Many times these types of rubrics will be used by states, on state exams, to assess a child’s writing skills.

When it comes to standardized exams, often your child’s teacher might not even be the person grading your child’s writing assignments.  So it is important for your child to learn how to follow the rubrics (instructions) and to learn how to write an effective report.

If your child’s fifth grade class does not require these types of writing assignments, ask your child to complete them at home. Potential topics can be:  “The Perfect Day,” “Why My Parents Should Buy Me My Favorite Toy/Game,” or “Who is Your Favorite Person in History and Why?”  If you need help and guidance about how to structure these assignments some of the worksheets at Ten Things Your Child Should might be able to help.

4.  Reading

Reading is simply fundamental to just about everything we do and to just about everything your child will do in school.  You want your child to enjoy reading and you want your fifth grader to feel more and more confident about reading.  To that end:

Ask your child to read a book of about 150 pages or more. As children get older, more complex reading materials will be a part of their assignments in school.  As a matter of fact, we learn more and more from reading different types of material as we get older; while we are mostly “learning to read” when we are younger.

If your child is not a strong reader he or she will likely not do well in school.

These are a few of the skills you can work on with your child as he or she progresses through the fifth grade.

Back to School: What Are You Doing to Get Ready?

As we prepare our children for school, we typically focus on getting them the necessary school supplies, new clothes, encouraging them to practice important skills like math and reading, getting them ready to start going to bed earlier, etc…  But what are WE (parents) doing to prepare for school?

If it is important for our children to get ready for school, it is equally as important for us to get ready. If we are prepared, then we are more likely to witness success this year and our children will have a much better chance of getting off to a good start in school.

A few things to think about:

1.  Get an idea of what your child will learn when it comes to English (reading and writing) and math this year. If you know a little bit about what your child will learn, you can find ways to support his or her learning at home.

a) Go to the website for your child’s school or school system and look up the curriculum for your child’s grade.  Find a few key areas of development for this school year.

b) Ask your child’s teacher what your child will learn in math, reading (literature), and writing (composition) this year.  Ask about activities you can do at home to support these areas.

c) Ten Things Your Child Should Know may be able to help during the elementary school years.  Activities to support pre-k through 5th grade are already listed in this book, as well as sections where you can ask specific questions of teachers and capture notes from parent-teacher conferences.

2.  Prepare your home.  Establish a good educational environment. If your child knows that education is a priority in your house, then he or she will come to expect certain things and will probably develop good habits that will help in school.

a) Set aside a work area for your child…a kitchen table, a desk,… whatever works for your child.  Many of us already do this, but sometimes these areas become cluttered during the summer and we “forget” about the importance of having this space cleared and ready-to-go before school starts.  Ask your child what he or she wants in their workspace and make it something that you and your child do together.

b) Establish or re-establish rules for watching television and going to bed on time, before school starts.  If you limit your child’s use of media devices (i.e. television, computers, game consoles, iPods, etc..) during school, you will want discuss this again, before school begins.  For instance, no t.v. or games during the week or until after homework is completed and checked.

Even though children get older and feel as if they can stay up later and later, everyone needs a good night’s sleep if they want to function well on a job or in school or wherever…  Older children should be encouraged to go to bed on time, on their own, and to get up and be prepared for school on time- with some help from parents, but with increasing amounts of independence as they get older.

If a child is not able to do this by the time they leave high school, how will they be able to function in a work environment or in college?

Younger children should be encouraged to maintain a bedtime routine (e.g. bedtime stories, etc…) in order to facilitate getting into bed, on time, and getting a good night’s rest.

3. Prepare for interactions with school officials (i.e. teachers, the principal, counselors, etc…). If you have an understanding of the types questions you may have or the information you would like to know, ahead of time, it will help you manage your child’s school year.

Questions to consider:

a) Will the school or my child’s teacher conduct an assessment of my child’s skills early in the year and will I see the results? Some schools and/or teachers will test children early in the school year to see where they are relative to certain skills.  This will tell the teacher, or the school, if that child is in the right class, needs extra help, or just give them a baseline from which to work.

This can be done initially with or without your knowledge.  You may want to see if anything is planned for your child and find out whether you will get the results and what will be done with the results.

b) How did your child’s school perform on the state’s standardized test last year? You may already have this information because schools are required to provide this information to parents, but did your child’s school do well or is there need for improvement? What will the school do in light of the results of the standardized tests?  How will it affect your child?

c) When are parent-teacher conferences going to be scheduled throughout the year?  How does your child’s teacher (or teachers) like to receive communications and questions from parents (i.e. via email, notes, etc…)?

d) Who is the president of the PTA or when will officers be chosen?

These are a few things you can consider as you prepare for the school year.

Race to the Top: What is it?

Just in case you have heard a lot about the “Race to the Top” initiative being implemented by the Obama Administration and are wondering what it is, here is a short summary of this program.

Race to the Top is simply a national competition among states to encourage them to accelerate specific reforms in education.  Over $4 billion has been set aside to support education reforms across the country in these four areas:

  • “Adopting standards and assessments that prepare students to succeed in college and the workplace and to compete in the global economy;”
  • “Building data systems that measure student growth and success, and inform teachers and principals about how they can improve instruction;”
  • “Recruiting, developing, rewarding, and retaining effective teachers and principals, especially where they are needed most;”
  • “Turning around our lowest-achieving schools.”

1.  States can apply for money to support their planned reforms

2.  Finalists are chosen and are required to present their plans to a review committee

3.  The winners are ultimately selected.

Round 1 of this initiative saw 41 applications submitted and on March 29, 2010 Arne Duncan (Sec. of Education) announced the Round 1 winners: Delaware and Tennessee.

Round 2 of the competition is already off and running, with more than $3 billion still available for state and locally-based education reforms.   Thirty-five states and the District of Columbia (see your state’s application) submitted applications and today Sec. Arne Duncan will announce the finalists.

During round 1, Delaware was awarded about $100 million and Tennessee approximately $500 million for their planned reforms.  To see what Delaware and Tennessee plan to implement, see their presentations via the links below.

Delaware Race to the Top State Presentation

Tennessee Race to the Top State Presentation

Back to School: Getting Ready Academically

In most areas around the country children will be returning to school in late August or early September.  What can you do to help your child prepare, with just weeks to go?

A few things to consider:

Start early getting your child back into the “groove” of learning.

Have your child practice important subject areas for a couple of hours a day.

  • Math can be something a child may want to “brush up on” before starting back to school. CoolMath4Kids can be a “cool” site for elementary and early middle school children. can be used by children entering pre-algebra and beyond.
  • Reading is always an important skill to sharpen because it teaches you new things as you practice it and almost every class in school requires some reading!  Have your child pick a fun book to read over the next few weeks.  He or she can simply read for 30 minutes each day, leading up to the start of school.
  • Now may be a good time to start a reading log with your child and celebrate as he or she increases the number of books read because your will certainly add more books to this list when school starts.  Most schools also have summer reading lists.  If you haven’t had your child start on a book from that list, you may want to choose one of these books now to read.
  • Practice writing a few paragraphs, or multi-paragraph assignments, before school starts.  Have your child write a paragraph, or multiple paragraphs based on his or her age, about the book he or she is reading.  This will help your child get back into the practice of writing, editing, and providing details when completing a writing assignment.  You can use one of the guides at as a tool.

Just a few exercises a day and a little extra effort can go a long way in helping your child remember important skills and in helping him or her get off to a good start in school!

Ask Your Kindergartener!

As you work with your child, while he or she is in kindergarten, you may want to conduct a few simple exercises that may help develop important skills at this age.

1.  Ask your child to count, out loud, with you from 1 – 30.  This is a fundamental skill your child will need throughout school and here is where the foundation is laid.

2.  Ask your child to read a book, on a kindergarten level, to you several times over the course of a few weeks.  Help your child with words as needed or read some of the words together.  As your child is able to read more and more of the book by his or herself, CONGRATULATE him and encourage him to keep reading.

3.  Ask your child to complete several handwriting worksheets for kindergarteners.  You can ask your child’s teacher for extra worksheets, search for free worksheets on the web, or purchase a workbook.  Either way, you will be helping your child practice his or her handwriting skills.

These are just a few of the exercises you can do to help support your child’s development in kindergarten.  For more information, please see Ten Things Your Child Should Know about Reading, Writing, and Math (Pre-K – 5th Grade).

Summertime: Making Sure Your Child Doesn’t Forget “Everything”

How do you keep your child academically “sharp” over the summer?

As we are all probably aware, children can lose a significant amount of academic “sharpness” over the summer.  This is mainly due to a lack of practice and exposure over the summer months.  This can be a real problem for students who were struggling in school before the summer began.

It can also be a challenge because some teachers may review previous content, from the year before, when school starts back up.  But there is no guarantee that any given teacher will spend enough time reviewing the content your child needs, before moving on to new material in the new year.

In order to help address this issue, there are several things you can do:

1.  Understand Academic Expectations

Gain a knowledge of what content your child should know, given his or her grade-level, and try to anticipate what your child might be taught in the next grade.  A simple list of skills, per grade, may help you.

Ten Things Your Child Should Know may be able to help you in this effort as this book lists skills, by grade level, that can easily be used to help you determine your child’s development of basic skills.

Also, Common Core Standards have recently been released by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) in an effort to help standardize what children should know in order to prepare them for college.

2. Reading:  Encourage Your Child to Read Over the Summer

Scholastic has a summer challenge asking kids to “read for the world record.”  For a child who is motivated by challenges, this might be a fun activity.

For a list of books that might be fun for kids to read see The Stacks website.

A Reading Log can also be found at Ten Things Your Child Should Know, which could help you and your child track what types of books he or she is reading and celebrate milestones together.

3.  Practice Math Skills

Free worksheets are already pre-populated via Ten Things Your Child Should and can be used to help sharpen your child’s skills in multiplication, division, addition, and subtraction. offers tools that can help you create worksheets, on the spot, that correspond to your child’s level of development.

4.  Writing:  Encourage Your Child to Complete Several Writing Activities Over the Summer, with Your Guidance

One of the most important ways your child will have to express himself in school is through writing.  Yet, many children do not have the necessary techniques and confidence to be skilled at writing.  Over the summer encourage your child to complete several different types of writing assignments.

For example, write a summary of one of the books he or she reads this summer; write a letter to a family member and mail it; or write an essay or paragraph about “The Perfect Summer Day” and try to make that day come true for your child.  Discuss the books and writing assignments your child completes and make sure you verbally congratulate her or him on a job well done.  You want to make writing fun for your child because if they don’t enjoy writing, they won’t perform to their fullest potential when they are required to write in school.

Free writing guides are available via Ten Things Your Child Should  Tools are available for 1st & 2nd graders (“My First Book Report”) and for children in higher grades, 3rd grade – high school, (“Paragraph Guide,” “Gathering Information for a Research Assignment,” “Gathering Information for a Literature Assignment,” and a “Report Outline”).

These guides can be used during the summer and during school to help you guide your child’s development in writing.

Other Sites

There are additional sites and activities that can be found on the web that may be of use to you.

Edheads.comEducational games and activities… some are very realistic; especially the ones that allow children to perform virtual surgeries.

Cool Math 4 Kids – All kinds of games and activities for math.

Cosmeo – Run by the Discovery Channel, this site offers a wide range of activities and lessons from literature to math.  It does cost about $10 per month for full use of the site, but well worth it in a pinch.

For example, many math textbooks are housed on this site.  Children can simply find their textbook under the math section, type in the page number from their book, and receive instruction about a specific topic in their book.

I hope the information covered here will be useful to you in some way and feel free to share your thoughts and ideas about what to do over the summer and during school!