The Best Holiday Gift Ideas for Your                      Child's Teacher
    Teachers get enough mugs and would prefer something else.
As a long-time teacher, I have a good sense of what my fellow educators would like to be given this holiday season. While any gift is greatly appreciated as a token of your gratitude, some receive less favor: a mug (we get too many), a plate of cookies (we already battle enough high-calorie treats in the faculty room), an ornament made by your youngster (we love children's art but are surrounded by it at school), jewelry and clothes (it's unlikely to be our taste). The best presents are those that simply say to the teacher: “I see how hard you work. I see how you go the extra mile to make my child's experience at school a positive one. I know how much of your own money you spend on supplies. I see all that and I want to say thank you.” Here are 12 items that are greatly appreciated:
  • a gift card to a book store or school supply store
  • a gift certificate to a restaurant
  • a basket of healthy treats such as fruit, nuts, and protein bars
  • a gift certificate for a massage
  • a bouquet of fresh flowers or a live plant
  • a basket of teacher supplies: colored pencils, Sharpies, pens, markers, chalk, and stickers
  • movie tickets
  • a basket full of items for a luxurious bath: soaps, lotions, and candles
  • slippers or socks
  • books for the classroom
  • something the classroom needs (ask the teacher): pencil sharpener, boom box, CD's, paintbrushes, art supplies, a globe
  • something unique and personal that reflects the teacher's interests: a basket of dogs toys and treats, a cook book and cooking tools, a board game to play with her kids, a beach tote with a towel and sunscreen for her upcoming trip to Hawaii
Speaking from personal experience, I'd say the most cherished gift is a note explaining why you value the teacher. I suggest you and your youngster sit down and brainstorm all the amazing things—both big and small—that you appreciate about her, being as specific as possible. Include things that you like as a parent and your child likes as a student. Jot down 10 of them in a card. They might include:
  • I'm grateful that you let us have “Fun Fridays” when we can paint, color, and draw.
  • I'm grateful that you explain the math assignment slowly and clearly and help me with problems I don't understand.
  • I'm grateful that you're always available after school so parents can talk with you.
  • I'm grateful that you always make creative bulletin boards to display our work.
  • I'm grateful for your big welcoming smile on Monday mornings.
  • I'm grateful that you give rewards stickers.
  • I'm grateful that you read books with such passion.
  • I'm grateful you let me feed the class fish.
  • I'm grateful you let me read my stories out loud to the class.
  • I'm grateful that your parent-teacher conferences are organized and informative.
This means so very much to a teacher because, unfortunately, we hear more complaints from parents than compliments. Moms and Dads take too much for granted and don't make the effort to acknowledge all we do. I once taught kindergarten with an amazing young teacher named Maddie, who always went above and beyond for her students. She was the most energetic and creative educator I ever knew and a natural at it. She was born to teach.

Each year in March Maddie would celebrate Dr. Seuss's birthday with her class by making green eggs and ham. One year a boy who was Jewish ate the ham. When his dad found out about this, he came storming into the classroom (I was next door) and started to rage at Maddie like nothing I had ever witnessed in my life. Maddie was worried for her physical safety as he swore, cursed, and accused her of “soiling” his son. No matter how many times she said “I'm sorry,” he kept berating her with his uncontrolled fury as I listened, ready to call the police.

I tell this story because I don't think most people today understand how badly teachers get treated. There was a time when education was a lofty profession, and those in it were admired and respected. But those days, unfortunately, have long since passed. More and more is expected of teachers now—preparing students for high-stakes testing, keeping them safe from school shootings, protecting them from online bullying, and being super vigilant about the warning signs of suicide.

After that horrific experience, Maddie was never the joyous teacher she once was and, at the end of the year, she left the profession for good. She had no problem securing a higher paying position in a tech company. She was replaced by a teacher who never did cooking projects, who never celebrated Dr. Seuss's birthday, and who just stuck to the basics. We need parents to stand up for teachers and show their appreciation—during the holidays and throughout the year—or more Maddies will be gone.

Teachers are constantly battling sugary high caloric treats in the faculty room. They'd prefer something healthy like this fruit and nut tray over cookies or cake.

Magical Mystery Pictures: Coloring With Your Preschooler

After years of getting relegated to the sidelines, coloring has gained huge popularity in the last few years and rightfully so. Today, adult coloring books get sold at supermarket checkouts, middle schools have coloring clubs, and occupational therapists encourage all kids to color, not just those with special needs. We now see experimenting with crayons as a wholly positive experience – helping us relax, enhancing our fine motor skills, and stimulating our creativity.

As a preschool and kindergarten teacher, I've always known the benefits of coloring and got concerned when it became marginalized. With our country's push for academic rigor, higher test scores, and technological prowess, coloring got seen as old-fashioned and a waste of time. Fortunately, parents and teachers are now recognizing its value once again. They realize coloring is crucial for developing other fine motor skills such as writing, cutting with scissors, stringing beads, and tying shoelaces.

While coloring books are good, there are many more creative ways to use crayons. Making Magical Mystery Pictures was one of my favorite activities to do with my sons when they were preschoolers. It was so easy but brought them so much joy. We'd often do it in the afternoons as a relaxing prelude to nap time or in the evenings before taking a bath. Enjoy!

1. Get a white piece of construction paper and a white crayon. Without your child watching, draw a picture on the paper with the white crayon. Press hard. For my sample, I drew a crescent moon and some stars.

2.Grab some paint, water, and a brush. I chose black paint for my picture. Mix the water and paint. Cover the surface with newspaper. Then have your child paint over your crayon drawing.

3. Your child will get so excited when the picture magically appears!

Every youngster needs a high-quality art kit and this one fits the bill. It includes 140 pieces: crayons, pencils, markers, and paper. With its sturdy handle, your child can take it anywhere: outside to get inspired by nature, in the car during a long drive, to Grandma's house for an overnight. Give your youngster a gift that will inspire her for years to come!

Easter Coloring With Your Preschooler: Making an Egg Basket

When it comes to art projects with your preschooler, the mantra is less is more. After all, your child is just beginning to explore materials and get creative. Projects that are too complicated will only lead to feelings of frustration and boredom. Too much adult interference will make her feel controlled and incompetent.

Your child most likely will not grow up to become a professional artist. But she will grow up to lead a life that's often hectic and harried. Having art as an outlet – whether it's coloring, painting, or sculpting – will serve her well, relieving stress and bringing joy.

Coloring is one of the best and simplest ways for a youngster to use her imagination, develop independence, and enhance fine motor skills. Here's an easy and cute project for you and your child to make together. It will brighten up your home for Easter, making your child feel proud.

1. Cut out a large basket shape, using scrapbook or construction paper.

2. Cut out eggs from white paper.

3. Let your child color the eggs as she pleases, experimenting with different colors, shapes, and lines.

4. Help her glue the eggs to her basket. 

Find a place to display the basket for all to see. Happy Easter!

Your kids will love this LEGO kit, created especially for Easter. LEGOS are ideal for enhancing fine motor skills, imagination, and independence. This makes a wonderful gift for a child or grandchild.

How to Make Shamrock Pudding With Your Kids to Celebrate St. Patrick's Day

When my boys were little, celebrating St. Patrick's Day created a challenge. Going to an Irish pub and drinking green beer was out of the question. I wasn't a fan of corned beef and cabbage so making that for dinner got ruled out. There weren't St. Patrick's Day books to read, songs to learn, or animated specials to watch.

When I was a kid, we'd pinch anyone at school who wasn't wear green. But even that tradition has long faded away, which is probably a good thing. After all, who wants to get pinched to celebrate a holiday?

The only thing I could think of doing was taking my boys to McDonald's for shamrock shakes but that was nothing too special. Then I found this incredibly simple recipe for Shamrock Pudding – the perfect thing to make with my then preschoolers. Here's how to do it:

1. Gather the ingredients: pistachio instant pudding, milk, green sprinkles.

2. Spoon a small amount of pistachio instant pudding into each cup. 

3. Add milk. Stir the mixture until the desired consistency is achieved.

4. Add green sprinkles. Place in the refrigerator to get firm. 

Eat and enjoy! Happy St. Patrick's Day!

After years of searching, I finally found a St. Patrick's Day book that my sons loved. It's all about catching that elusive leprechaun. My boys asked me to read it many times each March and it quickly became a family tradition.

How to Praise With a Purpose: Stop Telling Your Kids How Awesome They Are and Prepare Them for the Real World

While sorting through my teaching materials from the 1990's, I came upon a handout with suggestions for praising children called: 86 Ways to Say “Very Good!” Since it got safely tucked in my file cabinet, I must have thought it was worth keeping all those years ago. But, in light of recent research about praising children, I knew it was now time to dump it.

It turns out all 86 suggestions are contrary to what experts now recommend when complimenting children. The often-heard superlatives listed on the handout – superb, terrific, marvelous, tremendous, perfect, and sensational – do little or nothing to motivate children. Other suggestions -- “I'm so proud of the way you worked today” and “That kind of work makes me very happy” – also fail because they focus on the parents' emotions, not the child's. 

So what are effective ways to praise our children, making them more confident, independent, and willing to take on challenges? Here are some suggestions based on the latest research:
  • Emphasize effort: “I see how hard you worked on that science project. You should really feel good about it”...”You studied so long for that test. Give yourself a break and take a bike ride”...”Your hard work and thoughtful planning really shows on this essay.”
  • Describe the behavior but don't judge: Parents tend to overdo it with over-the-top compliments such as: “That's the best painting ever” and “I couldn't have done it better myself.” This excessive praise often seems phony and condescending to kids. Studies show it's more motivating when moms and dads simply notice and mention positive behaviors: “You cleaned your room all by yourself”...”You took out the garbage without me reminding you”...You filled the gas tank after borrowing my car.”
  • Notice improvement: “Last year division gave you headaches and now it's a breeze!”...”Your free throws have gotten so much better. All that practice paid off!”
  • Don't compare: Children don't like to get compared to others, even when their parents put them head and shoulders above the crowd. Kids want to feel unique so compliment them on what makes them different: “This essay really shows your appreciation for nature”...”That green dress really looks beautiful with your red hair”...”I like how you always put a smiley face on your suns.”
  • Show unconditional love but limit the praise. Employers today complain that young workers need too many compliments, too much hand-holding, and too much cuddling. They're unprepared for the real world where praise gets handled out sparingly. Wise parents give their children all the love in the world but don't handicap them by giving too many kudos.

This Book Shows You How to Make Praise Meaningful and Parenting Easier

As busy parents, we often go for the quick and easy answers and that's why the superlative amazing gets so overused. This book helped me become a more thoughtful mom – not just surviving each day with the kids but keeping in mind my long-range goal of turning them into happy, confident, and responsible adults. The chapter on descriptive praise helped me realize that my compliments were meaningless and not at all motivating. When I began to notice and mention positive behaviors, my boys did them more often. It was a simple change that made a huge difference in our daily lives.

Zoo-phonics and the Egg Game

Spring is the ideal time to play this simple Egg Game  that re-enforces your child's Zoo-phonics skills.  With the Zoo-phonics program, you teach the sounds of the letters first. Each sound gets paired with a Zoo-phonics animal that performs a unique movement called a “signal.”

Bubba Bear makes the “b” sound while reaching up to the honeycomb. Gordo Gorilla makes the “g” sound while peeling a banana. Timothy Tiger makes the “t” sound while shaking the bars of his cage. These signals help your child remember the letter sounds, locking them firmly in her brain for all time.

Once your child knows the letter sounds, she's ready to learn the letter names. This is an easy game to teach the letter names while simultaneously reviewing the signals and sounds. All you need are 26 plastic eggs. Write the lower-case letters on slips of paper, putting one slip in each egg.

Then hide the eggs around the house and yard and let your child hunt for them. When she's found all 26 eggs, have her open them one at a time, saying the letter inside and doing its signal and sound. Keep track of which letters she doesn't know. Save those eggs for a hunt on another day. Enjoy!

Add this classic book to your home library. It's a true piece of literature that both you and your child will adore. Your youngster will love cuddling with her very own Velveteen rabbit. It's makes a terrific gift for birthdays and baby showers.

Zoo-phonics and Red Light, Green Light

When I was a kid, my classmates and I would often play Red Light, Green Light on the playground at recess. When I became a kindergarten teacher, I took that old childhood game and infused it with Zoo-phonics instruction. It got the kids up and moving while simultaneously letting them practice their Zoo-phonics signals and sounds. 

Because it's so simple to learn, kids as young as 4 can take part. I played it with my sons when they were preschoolers – sometimes in the park and sometimes in our yard. You can also play indoors if you have a wide open space. Best of all, there are no materials needed. Here's how to play:

1. You are the traffic light, calling out commands to the players: green for go and red for stop. 

2. Stand across from the kids in a wide-open area, at least 15 feet apart (more with older kids). You want enough distance so the players can move toward you but not so much that they can't hear you. 

3. Turn your back to the players and call out "green light" and the name of a Zoo-phonics animal such as Allie Alligator, Lizzy Lizard, or Willie Weasel. The children move towards you as fast as possible doing the signal and sound for the animal you named. 

4. Turn around to face the kids and call out "red light." They must stop dead in their tracks. If you catch some still moving, send them back to the starting line. Keep going, moving back and forth between red and green lights.

5. The winner is the child who reaches you first. If the winner is old enough (6+) and can handle a leadership role, she may become the traffic light. 

To play Red Light, Green Light and other fun Zoo-phonics games, you and your child need to know the 26 animals – their signals and sounds. This DVD is all you need. You'll learn them so quickly. Then your child will have the foundation she needs to become an enthusiastic and skilled reader.