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Category Archives: Educators-Tips & Strategies

Boy-Friendly Classroom Strategies

4 Creative Classroom Strategies That Curtail Behavior “Issues”
boys sitting looking at teacher
As the school year begins, teachers and parents align with the common goal of helping ALL kids be successful. Soon into the year, however, teachers may be frustrated, parents may be overwhelmed.

Having been on “both sides of the block,” here’s my message of hope to you, dear teachers and parents, including some boy-friendly strategies that may make everyone’s lives a bit more sane, calm, and FUN!

Dear Teachers, 

As your school year begins, I know you’re busy and likely overwhelmed with all of the lesson prep, classroom prep, meetings, and students. My hope is you’ll recognize these as easy-to-implement strategies that will actually give you MORE time to teach and LESS time to spend on managing behavior – making yours a calmer, saner, and more FUN class for all! Have a great year. Love, Me.

Dear Parents, 

Your teachers are busy, overwhelmed and excited as they prepare for your child. These simple tips may save them some time and will surely save your student some anxiety. Please share with your teacher in a diplomatic, helpful and kind way. Have a great year. Love, Me.

It is easiest to ride a horse in the direction it is already going. – Chinese Proverb

Your son is the “horse.” When parents and teachers create school environments that support active learning they are helping his ride to become smoother than ever before!

Remember that whatever helps boys, helps many girls, too!


1: BUSY HANDS Allow his hands to be occupied when he has to sit still and listen.

Try these:

  • Squeeze ball or other fidget
  • Origami
  • Doodling (Studies show doodling increases auditory comprehension by 29%.)
  • Pipe cleaners


2: BUSY BODIES Allow movement around the classroom during lessons. Too much sitting compresses the vertebrae, leading to fatigue and even more wiggles.

Try these:

  • Clipboards for doing work on the floor
  • Regular stretch breaks (Google brain breaks for tons of ideas)
  • Get out of seats to get supplies (rather than having everything in the desk)
  • Ankle rotations (Motor movement in the lower limbs activates the brain more quickly than arm movement.)
  • Foam Frisbees – give 30 second frisbee break and allow them to throw
  • Beach Ball toss – give 30 seconds to keep in the air as a team


3: CHANGE THE SPACE Simple classroom adaptations can contain wiggles and allow more comfortable learning for all students:

Try these:

  • Stretchy bands around legs of chairs for feet to swing and push against
  • One-legged stools to encourage balance and focus
  • Stand-up desks – as simple as a paper ream box
  • More physical space for boys (Girls are comfortable six to a table, boys do better with four.)
  • Outdoors! (It has been shown that natural light increases test scores.)


4: ADD TO YOUR LESSON Adding variations to your lessons will accommodate learning and active boys! Be sure to include competition – boys love it and its important that girls get comfortable with it, too.

Try these:

  • Stand up and read
  • Stand up when called upon
  • Rotate tasks from desk-to-desk or centers
  • “Swat the Spot” (with a flyswatter) swat the correct answer on the board; ideal for a math or spelling bee
  • Draw before writing
  • Adapt math word problems to allow high-boy-interest topics: two funny, two scary, two gross

Above all, boys love to laugh!

Make learning fun and active and you’ll soon wonder where all your “behavior issues” have gone!

What we learn with pleasure, we never forget. – anon

These PODCAST BUNDLES give you access to hours of expert interviews on all-things-boys:

Gunplay at School-What’s a Teacher to Do?

Gunplay at Home

is one thing. If you’ve recognized your boy’s need to play with weapons/tools in an active, adventurous way, you’ve likely already begun to ‘manage’ that behavior with firm rules. If you’re still trying to figure it out – read Guidelines for Gunplay here.

He’s Hard-Wired For It

In Wired to Move, the hard-wired differences of boys are explained: boys tend “to be less calm, less communicative, and more prone to fight aggressively over territory and bond with a smaller network of people. They are very competitive, often striving to be at the very top of the hierarchy. Preschool boys are six times more likely to use domestic items such as spatulas as swords or weapons than as kitchen utensils. Studies show boys spend 65% of their time in competitive games compared to 35% of girls’ time.”

Gunplay at School is a completely different “beast.”

Parents have a broad spectrum of views on gun play – parents of boys may ‘get it,’ parents of girls may not.

There are sensitive boys that are bothered by energetic boys and every combination in between.

Teachers may have different levels of comfort with gun play, too. So, dear teacher, you have a decision to make.

We know that children learn by doing. The adventurous play that usually involves guns allows boys to emulate superheroes, play out their conflicts, build confidence, and confront fears and anxieties. Children are a “miraculous orchestration and integration of the entire body,” when they play, according to Heaven on Earth author Sharifa Oppenheimer. As a mom of boys and a preschool teacher for many years, she purposefully dealt with gun play differently at home and at school.

She states that at school she “found gunplay in any form counterproductive to the well-being of the whole group.” So she simply said, “No weapons.” If they use fingers or sticks as weapons, she says, “No pointing.”

Then – and this is key – she offered alternatives that include all the adventure and excitement they seek in their gun play. A few suggestions will usually spark their own daring adventures.
Sharifa includes:
• Arctic explorers, caught in a blizzard
• Amazon paddlers, with pythons slithering by
• Firefighters, saving dozens of people

Class Agreements

Another ‘seasoned’ teacher, Teacher Tom, offers this advice: “We have classroom agreements. We put guidelines around the play. The main one is not pointing and shooting at other people. The other part is the grown-ups being flexible and redirecting play only when it starts to feel unsafe and unkind.”

Children are remarkably wise when we listen first and then guide them. Read how Teacher Tom’s class of 5-year olds negotiated good guy/bad guy play in their school setting here.

Superheroes are Your Friend

Boys want and need heroes to emulate.

In Wired to Move, author Ruth Hanford Morhard explains, “Well-orchestrated superhero play stimulates boys’ imaginations and creativity, develops empathy, builds confidence, helps confront fears and anxieties, and builds an understanding of boys’ roles in society. With the right guidance, it can even help boys overcome natural tendencies such as impulsiveness, aggression, and lagging verbal skills. For boys from unstable environments, superhero play can help them feel more in control. And it expends some of that seemingly limitless ‘boy energy.’”

It is okay that your son experiences different rules at school and home.

He will adjust to each environment and learn increased adaptability and flexibility.
And isn’t THAT a huge life lesson?

Have you read the other gun play-focused posts?
Voices on Gunplay – Parents have asked about and shared their personal experiences with their sons who make everything into a gun.
Guidelines for Gunplay – They’re going to play, what boundaries will you keep?
Aggression. Violence. What’s the Difference? – Reassurance that just because he likes gunplay, he won’t be led to violent behavior.
My Family Hunts – Incorporating a ‘hunting ethic’ into your son’s play.

Join us on Facebook for lively conversation about all-things-boys.

What to Do About ‘Wired’ Boys

I was recently introduced to the book, Wired to Move: Facts and Strategies for Nurturing Boys in an Early Childhood Setting by Ruth Hanford Morhard. She does amazing work as Ruth Reid & Company, consulting with Starting Point in Cleveland, Ohio.
Screen Shot 2014-11-11 at 3.08.28 PM

Whether you are parenting or teaching young children or older children, I think you’ll find great value in what she has to share! Thanks Ruth!


What to Do about “Wired” Boys!

by Ruth Hanford Morhard

Recent media stories in the New York Times and NBC talked about fidgety boys who are struggling in school, noting the huge gap in behavioral skills and performance between young girls and boys entering kindergarten—a gap that continues to grow throughout their school years.

The Times article noted, “today’s education system fails to acknowledge the profound differences between boys and girls. It asks boys to sit still for hours and provides them with too few role models in front of the classroom.”

This is an issue that can be addressed early—through simple changes in preschool classrooms and teaching methods—and that parents, too, can use at home to help boys perform—and behave—at their best.

• Why Boys Are Fidgety
Sure, boys are “fidgety”, and there are good reasons why. It begins with the way their brains are wired. Boys are “wired to move.” When a boy is physically active, his brain is active. If his brain is not stimulated, he tunes out. He’s not built to sit and listen for a long time. His attention span and learning ability are directly tied to movement and activity. While there are many other differences in boys’ and girls’ brains, this is perhaps the most significant.

• Why Girls Generally Do Better
Girls’ verbal and listening skills are normally better developed than boys’, and they’re more adaptable to change. Most early childhood programs are geared to the ways girls’ learn. The teachers and caregivers are female and more attuned to the ways girls learn and behave. They expect boys to sit still, listen and follow directions—but they’re not made that way. They learn differently and our teachers need to adapt.

• How to Engage Boys
It’s important to keep boys’ brains awake. Allow enough time for physical activity and incorporate movement into daily routines. If you’re reading a book, let them act out the characters or pretend they’re flying like the airplane in the story. Alternate quiet and physically active times. If they need to sit quietly, give them a squeeze ball or other object to manipulate. And keep verbal instructions to less than a minute.

• How to Help Boys Learn
Boys learn best by doing—so let them learn their ABC’s and numbers by manipulating objects—have them make ABCs out of clay or count objects like coins or blocks or crayons. Give them puzzles to put together. Boys are also visual learners—they see better than they hear—so display pictures of the things they’re learning about and use the bright colors they respond to best. Build on their strengths—like spatial-mechanical abilities. Give them enough blocks so they can make large objects and have lots of balls of different sizes

• What About Behavior?
When boys don’t sit and listen or when they won’t stop running and jumping and wrestling with one another, it’s easy to think that’s bad behavior. It’s not. They’re just doing what boys do. If they’re forced to sit quietly, they get frustrated and act out. They need time and space to get physical both indoors and outdoors.

Adapting to the way boys’ learn benefits the boys, their teachers, caregivers, parents and even the girls. Everyone benefits from a less disruptive environment.

There’s a lot more to learn about helping boys perform and behave at their best. It’s important to their future–and ours. Check out: Wired to Move: Facts and Strategies for Nurturing Boys in an Early Childhood Setting, available at booksellers everywhere. And if you’re in the Ohio area, check out: Starting

If you need strategies for your ‘wired’ boy, schedule a 20-minute complementary discovery call with Janet here.

And you aren’t alone!  Join us on Facebook:

Are There Benefits to Homework?

Yes or No?

Love it or hate it — Homework is back at the forefront of educational debate.

Like so many trends in education, the pendulum swings back and forth.

Every school, every administrator, every teacher has a different take on the benefits of homework.

Screen Shot 2016-08-06 at 2.55.01 PMEvery parent has a love/hate relationship with homework!  From all the nagging and reminding to the feeling of inadequacy when you can’t remember algebra or how to diagram a sentence.

In a recent article for Lifehack, Maria Onzain reports, “After over 25 years of studying and analyzing homework, Harris Coopers’ research demonstrates a clear conclusion: homework wrecks elementary school students. In his book, The Battle over Homework: Common Ground for Administrators, Teachers, and Parents, the homework guru gives details about the relationship between homework and success at different grade levels.”

  • Homework has significant benefit for high school students
  • It drops off for middle school students
  • There is NO BENEFIT at the elementary level.

Giving homework TOO EARLY:

  • Generates a negative attitude toward school (which carries through all their school career)
  • Damages relationship with parent because of the constant reminding
  • Gives a false sense of responsibility-its the parents who are planning and remembering, not typically the child (It does help build it at a later age.)
  • Takes time away from needed sleep (10 hours is great!)
  • Leaves less time for kids to be kids (go outside and play!)

Home context matters

As a mentor to a Somali refugee family, I know that what goes on at home has a big influence on whether homework ever comes out of the backpack. In this family of 9, there is not a consciousness about reading and schoolwork, the parents work outside the home, and English is not their first language. My 13 year old student has a hard enough time at school and he certainly isn’t going to sign on for more difficulty at home (where there is no one to help him anyway) but because homework assignments are graded, he is constantly at a disadvantage.

Parental Help

You helping isn’t seen to be of great benefit in the study, either.

All of the nagging and reminding that accompany homework can escalate into “the epic homework battle.”

This definitely affects parent child relationships – at least it did for me.  True confession…I was in 3rd grade and still had not mastered the times tables. My mom quizzed me every night (which I hated) and then she had the “brilliant” idea of hanging the flashcards around my room – right up where the wall meets the ceiling. So, every night – in that “magical” time before bed – I got to recite the times tables.  Only I still couldn’t do it… and I was angry and that time with my mom was filled with angst and anger. Not recommended.

If teachers are going to give homework, they must be sure that parents understand how a specific concept is being taught otherwise, they can mitigate any of the positive effects of homework.

No rescuing!

Parental involvement should lessen as kids get older. You are building personal responsibility and that includes dealing with the consequences of forgotten homework, reports, and projects. Teach them how to remember their work for school but make it very clear that you will not be bringing anything forgotten to school. THEY will have to navigate and negotiate with their teachers, another great way to learn personal responsibility!


If you and your son are challenged by homework – join the 5-Day “Help! My Son Hates Homework – and I Do Too!” Challenge – you’ll get tips and strategies to make peace with homework – once and for all!







Spelling Strategy

…because you can never have enough tools in your toolbox – and hopefully this one will ease some of the homework fights and tears…

#1 Spelling Strategy

Have you noticed how some people seem to be ‘natural’ spellers?  Maybe you are one.

When creative spellers ask them how they do it, they may say it just looks right without being able to explain why.

This Spelling Strategy is a playful way to learn to see words, which means you can spell them, too!

First, tell you child to imagine a screen about arm’s length in front of his forehead.  This is a magical visual blackboard at forehead level and about arm’s length from the body. He can imagine the blackboard and the letters he’ll see on it to be any color or texture.

Begin with familiar and one- or two-syllable words.

  1. You write the word on paper.  If it is long, divide into syllables:  pine-ap-ple.  He looks at the word, remembering what it looks like.
  2. He looks up to his forehead screen with closed eyes and see the word as written in #1.   Spell the word backwards, out loud. Do this 3 times.
  3. When he can spell it backwards comfortably, have him sound out the word while looking at the word on his “forehead screen.” This attaches the sound of the word to the picture of the word.
  4. Spell the word from his forehead screen with his eyes closed, out loud, repeating as needed.
  5. To solidify his learning and engage muscle memory, have him write the word with his finger on his thigh.

That’s it!

Some children find it very difficult to visualize internally.

Before attempting spelling words you could start with visualizing something fun, “Close your eyes and tell me what grandma’s dog looks like.”

Why spell backwards?  It is difficult to spell a word backwards unless you can actually see the word – key to spelling correctly.   Try it with names, too!

#2 Spelling Strategy

After learning this strategy, a mom wrote to me, “Last night I tried the stepping-spelling strategy…AMAZING!!! I called 3 of my friends and told them about it. My son loved it and each word ended in a step to hug me!”

Some kids find writing and re-writing spelling lists an arduous process and so they begin to resist spelling homework.  For your active ones, try this strategy:

Say word out loud.  Then spell it:  step forward on the consonants, and backward on the vowels. Say the word again at the end.

So, STAIR would go like this: “Stair.”  “S” [1 step forward]; “T” [a second step forward]; “A” [one step backwards]; “I” [ a second step backwards]; “R” [ a step forward]. “Stair.”

To increase the challenge, incorporate the strategy of envisioning the word, as explained in #1 Spelling Strategy above, and include spelling and stepping the word backwards.

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#1 Strategy adapted from Rediscover the Joy of Learning.




Turn Your Child’s No into Yes

What if you could turn your child’s NO into YES?

Is your child’s first response to everything an immediate and adamant “NO”?

You aren’t alone.

Many parents share your frustration (and anger) when every single response seems to be NO.

You aren’t alone, even teachers get frustrated when their students say NO – sometimes before they know what the request is going to be!

What happens to YOU when you hear the word NO?

Notice how you feel when you read it right now.

NO is a powerful word.

NO can make you shut down.

NO can make you feel rejected.

NO can take you to a younger stage in life when adults held sway.

  • Do you feel like you have a little general at your house, ruling with a great big stick and a great big NO?
  • Do you walk on egg-shells, afraid that your next request will be met with a resounding NO?
  • Do you avoid asking just to avoid the NO?

Change your Frame

What if you viewed NO as just the beginning of the conversation?

What if you considered NO as simply an opportunity to learn more?

What if you decided that NO was the first step towards YES?

(Can you see how you might already be changing how you feel about NO?)

How did NO get into the room in the first place?

NO is the ‘easy’ answer when:

  • He’s overwhelmed with too many requests, questions, or words.
  • He doesn’t have enough information.
  • He feels strong emotions that he can’t put words to.
  • He is, by nature, an observer and needs time before joining in.
  • He is, age appropriately, using his own free will and choice.
  • He is tired and/or hungry.

What if you welcomed his NO with interest and curiosity rather than frustration and anger?

Accepting NO.
He said it. Can you accept it?
(By the way, NO may also sound like: “I don’t know,” or “I don’t care.”)

Resist going head-to-head and end up lamely saying, “Because I said so.”

Be patient. Wait.
(Deep breathing helps here.)
Stay neutral and calm – and then tell him what you DO want.

What do you want instead?
Because our brains think in pictures rather than words, it is important that you give him plenty of ‘food for thought.’

When you say, “Don’t run” or “Don’t spill your milk,” he has to picture himself running and spilling milk before he can picture not doing those things.

Ask yourself, “What do I want instead?”
Tell him with enough detail that he knows exactly what you want.

“I want you to hold my hand in the parking lot.”
“I want you to see if you can keep your milk in the glass.”

Choose your NOs with care.
At the river on a summer day, I overheard a dad telling his son, “Don’t throw sand.” There was no more perfect place to throw sand and I wondered if this dad was thoughtlessly echoing words from his childhood.

Where could you make your own NO be a resounding YES? Leave a comment below.

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