Monday, April 22, 2013

Instagram: What You Need to Know as a Parent

What is Instagram?

Instagram is "a fast, beautiful and fun way to share your photos with friends and family.  Snap a picture, choose a filter to transform its look and feel, then post to's photo sharing, reinvented." (Retrieved from

Here is a great post with pictures to explain how Instagram works from YourSphere for Parents.

What Parents Need to Know 

"Parents need to know that Instagram is a popular platform for instantly enhancing photos with cool effects and sharing them across a number of social media platforms.  The terms specify that users should be at least 13 years old and should not post partially nude or sexually suggestive photos but do not prohibit the portrayal of violence, swear words, or drugs.  Users can flag photos for review, but mature content still appears in some photos and in the comment sections.  Photos shared in Instagram are public and may have location information unless privacy settings are enabled." (Retrieved from

Parents also need to know the negative effects of children using Instagram unmonitored.  What started as a fun way to share photos with friends and family, has been corrupted by users with a more malicious intent.  As most parents do, they speak about appropriate photos to post, privacy settings, and only sharing with people you know.  However, this is simply not enough these days.  Here are some tips gathered from
  • You can browse through all photos posted by a user by going to[USER NAME].  You should be monitoring your child's usage daily.
  • When you sign up for Instagram you get to create a user name.  Make sure your child is not using their real first and last names to create their accounts.
  • There is also an optional phone number section where users can submit their phone number as part of their public profile.  Do not allow your child to enter this personal information.
  • Online predators often create fake accounts to gain access to children's photos (such as family beach vacation photos).  Then they can share pictures posted on inappropriate message boards. 
  • When someone "follows" your child on Instagram, they have access to the user's profile information and photos.  This means they know your child's real first name, last name and possibly phone number when they registered for an account, in addition to a photo history of their daily activities.
  • Make sure the "Add to Photo Map" option is set to off.  This creates a map of where each photo was taken.  If your photos are already set to private, then no one (even followers) can see the map.  This is also referred to as "geo-tagging."
  • If your child doesn't know who the person is in real life, then they should not accept them as a follower.  Many children use the number of followers as a competition between other peers - this is not safe.
  • Discourage your child to post photos of themselves or friends.  If there aren't these photos posted, it increases their online safety. 
Blog Posts

Here are additional blog posts from parents and educators that give light to the negative activities that occur on Instagram everyday.  Thank you to an aware parent at our school for bringing these to my attention! :)

Friday, April 19, 2013

Explaining the News to Our Kids

Kids get their news from many sources -- and they're not always correct. I found this very informative article on Common Sense Media about how to talk about the news -- and listen, too.

Help put the news in perspective

Shootings, terrorist attacks, natural disasters, end-of-the-world predictions -- even local news reports of missing kids and area shootings -- all of this can be upsetting news even for adults, much less kids. In our 24/7 news world, it's become nearly impossible to shield kids from distressing current events.Today, kids get news from everywhere. This constant stream of information shows up in sharable videos, posts, blogs, feeds, and alerts. And since much of this content comes from sites that are designed for adult audiences, what your kids see, hear, or read might not always be age appropriate. Making things even more challenging is the fact that many kids are getting this information directly on their phones and laptops. Often parents aren't around to immediately help their children make sense of horrendous situations.

The bottom line is that young kids simply don't have the ability to understand news events in context, much less know whether or not a source of information is credible. And while older teens are better able to understand current events, even they face challenges when it comes to sifting fact from opinion -- or misinformation.

No matter how old your kid is, threatening or upsetting news can affect them emotionally. Many can feel worried, frightened, angry -- even guilty. And these anxious feelings can last long after the news event is over. So what can you do as a parent to help your kids deal with all of this information?

Tips for all kids

Reassure your children that they're safe. Tell your kids that even though a story is getting a lot of attention, it was just one event and was most likely a very rare occurrence. And remember that your kids will look to the way you handle your reactions to determine their own approach. If you stay calm and considered, they will, too. 

Tips for kids under 7

Keep the news away. Turn off the TV and radio news at the top of the hour and half hour. Read the newspaper out of range of young eyes that can be frightened by the pictures. Preschool children don't need to see or hear about something that will only scare them silly, especially because they can easily confuse facts with fantasies or fears.
At this age, kids are most concerned with your safety and separation from you. They'll also respond strongly to pictures of other young children in jeopardy. Try not to minimize or discount their concerns and fears, but reassure them by explaining all the protective measures that exist to keep them safe. If you're flying somewhere with them, explain that extra security is a good thing. 

Tips for kids 8-12  

Carefully consider your child's maturity and temperament. Many kids can handle a discussion of threatening events, but if your children tend toward the sensitive side, be sure to keep them away from the TV news; repetitive images and stories can make dangers appear greater, more prevalent, and closer to home.

At this age, many kids will see the morality of events in stark black-and-white terms and are in the process of developing their moral beliefs. You may have to explain the basics of prejudice, bias, and civil and religious strife. But be careful about making generalizations, since kids will take what you say to the bank. This is a good time to ask them what they know, since they'll probably have gotten their information from friends, and you may have to correct facts.

You might explain that even news programs compete for viewers, which sometimes affects content decisions. If you let your kids use the Internet, go online with them. Some of the pictures posted are simply grisly. Monitor where your kids are going, and set your URLs to open to non-news-based portals. 

Tips for teens  

Check in. Since, in many instances, teens will have absorbed the news independently of you, talking with them can offer great insights into their developing politics and their senses of justice and morality. It will also give you the opportunity to throw your own insights into the mix (just don't dismiss theirs, since that will shut down the conversation immediately).

Many teens will feel passionately about events and may even personalize them if someone they know has been directly affected. They'll also probably be aware that their own lives could be impacted by terrorist tactics. Try to address their concerns without dismissing or minimizing them. If you disagree with media portrayals, explain why so that your teens can separate the mediums through which they absorb news from the messages conveyed.

***Also, for a kid-friendly newscast, check out CNN Student News.  Each weekday there is a new 5-10 minute world news report presented in an age appropriate way.***

Thursday, April 18, 2013


Some people confuse assertiveness with aggression, and think that to assert yourself means to be pushy, selfish, or rude.  However, that is not necessarily true.  Being assertive means having the ability to stand up for yourself, your ideas, and your beliefs, without being aggressive or demanding.

Assertive people are able to respectfully communicate their needs, wants, feelings, beliefs and opinions to others in a direct, confident, and honest manner, without intentionally hurting anyone's feelings.  Assertiveness is the middle ground between aggression and passivity.  Even assertive people may not get everything they want or need every time they want or need it.  There will always be disappointments, even when a situation has been handled well.  However, when your children know their values and beliefs, and can convey them to others, more often than not they will feel successful and confident about themselves and their decisions.

All young people need assertiveness training.  It is a life-long skill that helps people lead healthy lives and make wise choices.  Assertiveness is a skill that many people have a difficult time with, but it is a skill that with time and practice anyone can learn - even your children.  In our Second Step curriculum, students learn how to be assertive in the classroom.

How do children learn this skill?
Parents can take an active role in teaching children to be assertive by helping to foster their self-image, develop effective communication skills, gain an awareness of one's own values and beliefs, and most importantly by serving as good role models.

How can I help my child boost his or her self-image?
A child who has a healthy self-image and is confident in their opinion is more likely to assert his or her beliefs.  Assisting your child to develop this confidence requires welcoming them to voice their own thoughts and beliefs.  Teaching children that there is one right answer or one best way of doing something will lead them to think speaking their minds can get them in trouble.

Let your children know their beliefs are valued.  Help them understand that they can say "no" or disagree and still be liked and respected.  Allow your child to voice his or her opinions and encourage them to talk with you about their thoughts.  Be open to what your child has to say.  Ask questions to learn more about how they developed their thoughts.  Probing for more details will cultivate your children's ability to examine his or her own beliefs.  Even if you disagree with your child, make sure to let him or her know that you respect their opinion.  It is important for children to understand and appreciate that people can have different thoughts and beliefs, so be sure to share your thoughts and beliefs, as well. 

Good Communication
Good communication skills are critical to being assertive.  Encourage your child to talk and write about things that are important to them.  Writing can help children gather and express their thoughts and opinions more clearly.

Young people also need to learn the value of listening.  Part of being a good communicator is being an active listener.  Active listeners are engaged in conversations, ask questions, and seek clarification when they are unsure about what is being said.  As a parent, you can both model and teach these skills by role-playing different situations with your child.

Role-playing is a great way to rehearse what you want to say and prepare for what response may be given back.  Practice how to react in different situations and share some feedback with your child on how he or she is delivering the message.  Help your child look at an issue from another person's perspective.

Be a Good Role Model
Parents can model assertive behavior for their children.  Teaching by example is one of the best ways to demonstrate this skill to young children.  Remember that your children are watching your actions.  If you are easily frustrated or angered, most likely your child will see that and learn to be that way as well.  Being assertive is a difficult task for many adults.  You may also need to practice and role play a situation before you tackle it head on.  Showing your child that you are able to confront a situation before you tackle it head on.  Showing your child that you are able to confront a situation openly and honestly will give them the courage to do so, as well.  This will also show them that you, too, need to practice this skill and that is "okay."

Teachable Moments
Television and books are useful tools for teaching your child to recognize the feelings of others.  Point out and talk about assertive, aggressive, and passive behaviors you see in movies, videos and television programs you watch together.

Recognize situations in which your children are asserting themselves and compliment them for that.  This shows your children that you are proud of how they handled a difficult situation, builds their self-image and encourages them to express their feelings clearly in the future.

Treat your child with empathy and respect, and they will learn to treat others in the same way.  The key to promoting positive interactions among children is teaching them to assert themselves in an effective and respectful manner.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Walk For Water

Let’s Fill the Jugs: Campus-Wide Community Service Project!

Through Legacy of Giving and the Gazelle Foundation, we are raising money to build a clean water system for the citizens of the Songa region of Burundi. Kids, parents, and relatives can help by collecting, earning, and donating money.

The Lee 6th graders are leading this effort, and they are going to each classroom at Lee to encourage all students to donate their time, talent, or treasure to this cause! Check out one of the amazing powerpoints the 6th graders are using in the classrooms! (It even has a Led Zeppelin soundtrack!) 

Ask your kids about it! They could sell lemonade or do extra chores around the house to earn money for a great cause!

You can donate online (choose Lee Elementary) at and/or bring cash or checks to school and put them in the water jug for your student’s classroom! Let’s fill the jugs and meet the 6th graders’ goal of raising $1,000! That’s only $2.50 per student! Checks should be made out to Walk for the Water, with Lee Elementary in the memo line.

Finally, please join us for the Walk for the Water at the Tony Burger Center on April 27th at 8:30 am. Register for the walk at

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Testing Tips Foldable

There is so much myth and worry that comes with becoming a 3rd grader taking the STAAR test.  We hope to soothe these nerves by opening up the conversations about their anxieties.  We have so much confidence in our students and we are not worried about their abilities to find success with the exams.  Our mission is to help your child feel confident and comfortable about what he/she knows.

Since our 3rd graders are new to standardized testing, I wanted to provide them with tips to help the experience be as painless as possible.  I stumbled across this great idea from Vanessa at Savvy School Counselor Blog and adapted it for our students' needs.  I wanted to accomplish creating the foldable in one guidance lesson, so I shortened it to 8 tips that were most relevant for our students.  Here is an example of my model:

I pre-folded and pre-cut their foldables to save time.  We glued in the RELAX star paper with additional tips, and then we were ready to start recording and discussing each of the strategies.
  • BE PREPARED:  I began with 3 tips for them to be prepared for testing.  The first was to go to bed early.  This was received with many moans and groans. :)  I explained that when you are nervous about something coming up, you often have lots of thoughts swirling around in your mind and have trouble falling asleep.  By getting into bed early, you won't lose as much sleep tossing and turning.  Next I mentioned to have a hearty breakfast.  Your brain is a muscle, just like the ones in your arms and legs and even your tongue!  It gets tired and fatigued when it is thinking for long periods of time without a break.  We can feed our brain the energy it needs to help us try our best on the STAAR tests by eating eggs or oatmeal.  Anything with lots of sugar in it will give your brain energy for a little bit and then you'll crash fast.  Finally, I reminded students to bring a healthy snack to eat during your break.  I also shared with them that we'll be providing water bottles for them.
  • NO FEAR:  There are a lot of rumors circulating about the STAAR test: if you don't pass it you won't go to 4th grade, if you don't pass it the school will close down, if you don't pass it you'll fail, etc.  All of these are not true.  The focus needs to be on trying your best and not being afraid.  You are prepared and ready for to try your hardest and show-off your smarts.
  • JAIL THE DETAIL:  Tests are full of tricks around every corner.  They include a lot of extra information that you might pay more attention to than what is really important.  Circle and underline key information, for example circling important numbers you need to solve a math problem, underlining the question, writing out quick summaries of what you've read, etc.  Also, be sure to eliminate extra information that is put there in an attempt to distract you.
  • CHECK IT OUT:  After you finish your test, go back and check your answers if you have time.  Also check your bubbles to make sure they're completely filled in.  It would stink to have bubbled the correct answer but have it counted wrong because the scantron scanner couldn't read it accurately.
  • REFRAME YOUR THINKING:  What you think will come true, so use positive self-talk to pump yourself up for the test.  Say "I can do it!"  "I'm going to try my personal best!"  "I am ready at attack the test."
  • PLUG IT IN:  Remember to read through all of the answer choices before selecting one.  You need to find the right one that fits into the outlet of accuracy.  Even though answer choice A may look right, there could be a better choice.
  • PACE YOURSELF:  You will have 4 hours to take the test, this is A LOT of time.  Then benchmark tests do not take you this long.  There is no need to rush through to be the first one finished, because you'll be sitting there quietly for a long time waiting for everyone else to finish.  That's boring. :)  If you get stuck on a question, just skip it and come back to it later.  Your teacher will check over your answer document to make sure you've bubbled in an answer for every question, so don't be worried about forgetting to come back to it.
  • STASH THE TRASH:  Cross out those ridiculous answers that you know are wrong.  There is always at least one, sometimes even 2 or 3 that don't answer the question or make any sense.  Narrow it down to increase your probability to choosing the correct answer.     
Afterward I had the students decorate their foldables to take home and share with their families over the next few weeks before testing began.




What is Empathy?

Empathy is putting yourself in someone else's shoes.  Feeling what they feel, seeing what they see, hearing what they hear.  Second grade is a great year to begin discussions about empathy because students are developmentally becoming less egocentric and willing to think outside of themselves. Here is a great visual for reinforcing this idea:
I started by reviewing the I Messages (see blog post here) we've practiced in the past.  Then I introduced the Empathic Response.  When friends are trying to solve conflict and let us know what is going on with them, it is important for us to listen carefully and restate what they are experiencing in order to help solve the problem.  Here is the Empathic Response poster to help with phrasing your statement to show your understanding:

Afterward we read one of my favorite books, The Scrambled States of America by Laurie Keller.  I was lucky enough to meet her a few years ago when she visited an elementary school I taught at.  She writes and illustrates her own stories, and the little details she adds excite readers.  

In this story, the state Kansas is unhappy and decides to plan a party and invite all of the states.

At the party they come up with the idea to switch places.

Well, as you can see from above, they are all excited at first.  But then conflict starts to occur.  As each of the states begin to complain, we stopped and came up with I Messages and Empathic Responses the states could use to communicate effectively with each other.

After the story I gave students a packet full of the different state pictures.  They picked two states to have a conflict, glued them to their paper, and wrote out a conversation between them using I Messages and Empathic Responses.


Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Touching: Safe vs Confusing

In first grade this week I gave a lesson on appropriate touching.  I made a criteria chart to help students learn about the touching rule.  It's important for young children to be aware of how to protect themselves and also understand that it is never their fault if someone touches them inappropriately.

The first type of touching is a SAFE touch.  It will make you, and others, feel happy, safe, and warm inside.  It shows that you care.  Some examples include a good night hug from mom, dad, and other relatives; hug or high five from a teammate or friend; hugging your pet.

The second type of touching is a CONFUSING touch.  This is an unwanted touch that makes you feel scared, mixed up, uncomfortable, or confused.  It is not warm and it doesn't show that someone cares for you.  Some examples include a hug you don't like from someone you don't want a hug from, tickling under your shirt, touches that are uncomfortable or hurt, a pat on your bottom.  If you have a weird feeling in the pit of your stomach, it's best to report it to an adult immediately.

The third type of touching is a PRIVATE touch.  Something is private if it belongs to you.  Your body is private.  Everything that is covered by your bathing suit is private.  Nobody should touch these places unless you have given them permission and it is for a very good reason.  We discussed that doctors might touch your private areas with your permission to check your health, and your parents should always be present.

If someone touches you in a way that is not wanted, confusing, or a private area you need to tell them, "NO." "STOP." LEAVE ME ALONE." in a stern, loud voice (we practiced this aloud) and go find your parents or a trusted adult right away.  If the first trusted adult doesn't believe you or help you, keep telling trusted adults until you find someone that will help.  I reinforced that it is not your fault when someone gives you unwanted touches to your private areas.  

I found a great article about how to teach touching safety rules to your children at home.

Teaching Touching Safety Rules from the Committee for Children:
There are three things you can teach your children before you begin to teach them specific touching safety rules.

1. Teach children the correct names of all of their different body parts, including their private body parts.

Children often find it hard to tell about sexual abuse because they don't know the words to use. Learning correct (anatomical) words for private body parts gives children the words to use and helps them know that it is okay to talk about those body parts.
When teaching your young child the different body parts, consider using the correct words for private body parts along with words such as tummy and ears. You can give older children more information because they are able to understand more. You can also explain that the parts of their bodies covered by a swimsuit are their private body parts.

2. Teach children that "You are the boss of your body."

Let your children know that they are in control of who touches their bodies and how. Model this for children: "I don't want you to jump up and down on me. Please stop." Likewise, immediately respect their wishes not to be touched in certain ways. "Looks like you don't want me to pick you up right now. Okay." As you supervise your children's interactions, make it clear that they need to stop tickling or roughhousing if a sibling says "Stop!" 

In addition, do not insist that your children give or receive hugs or kisses from relatives if they do not wish to. This teaches children that it’s okay to say no to touches from people in their family. Some relatives might expect a hug from your children every time they see them. Tell relatives that you are teaching your children to be bosses of their bodies as part of teaching them safety about touching, so that family members won't be offended by your children's behavior.

3. Explain to children that there are three kinds of touches.

The three kinds of touches are:
  • Safe touches. These are touches that keep children safe and are good for them, and that make children feel cared for and important. Safe touches can include hugging, pats on the back, and an arm around the shoulder. Safe touches can also include touches that might hurt, such as removing a splinter. Explain to children that when you remove a splinter, you are doing so to keep them healthy, which makes it a safe touch.
  • Unsafe touches. These are touches that hurt children's bodies or feelings (for example, hitting, pushing, pinching, and kicking). Teach children that these kinds of touches are not okay.
  • Unwanted touches. These are touches that might be safe but that a child doesn't want from that person or at that moment. It is okay for a child to say no to an unwanted touch, even if it is from a familiar person. Help your children practice saying no in a strong, yet polite voice. This will help children learn to set personal boundaries.

Touching Safety Rules

Once children can name their private body parts and know about different kinds of touches, you can teach them that there is another kind of unsafe touch that is also not okay. This kind of touch is when someone older or bigger touches their private body parts. How you explain this will depend on the age of your child.

For a young child you might say, "Another kind of unsafe touch is when a bigger person touches you on your private body parts and it is not to keep you clean or healthy. So we have a family safety rule that it is never okay for a bigger person to touch your private body parts except to keep you clean and healthy." 

Parents should understand that the "clean" part of this rule applies to young children at an age when an adult might help them with diaper changing, going to the toilet, or bathing. The "healthy" part of this rule refers to doctor visits; for example, when the doctor gives a child a shot. An adult family member should always be present at doctor appointments. At some point during the teenage years it will become appropriate for your children to handle their own doctor appointments.

For an older child you might say, "Another kind of unsafe touch is when someone touches you on your private body parts and it is not to keep you healthy. So our family safety rule about touching is that no one should touch your private body parts except to keep you healthy."

Teach your children the following safety rules:
  • It is not okay to touch someone else's private body parts.
  • It is not okay for someone to touch his or her own private body parts in front of you.
  • It is not okay for someone to ask you to touch his or her private body parts.
  • It is not okay for someone to ask you to take your clothes off or to take photos or videos of you with your clothes off.
  • It is not okay for someone to show you photos or videos of people without their clothes on.

Body Image & Self Esteem in Girls

As girls progress throughout the grades they begin to take more notice of themselves and how they are alike and different to other girls in their grade.  They focus on hair styles, clothing labels & style, and body shape - many of which are influenced by our media.  Girls start to feel that they aren't skinny enough or pretty enough and judge themselves harshly against unrealistic expectations that society promotes.  All of this pressure can have negative effects on growing girls and promote unhealthy behavior.

I showed my 6th grade girls this video created by Dove's Campaign for Real Beauty entitled "Evolution of Beauty":


After watching the video, we discussed their reactions to it.  What surprised you? What is beauty to them?  What characteristics do they have that make them beautiful?

Then we took a quick self-esteem quiz that I found on PD & Life Skills website:

We also discussed ways to have a positive body image with this poster I found on Pinterest:


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Promoting School Community During Testing

Third grade is the first year students begin taking the STAAR test.  With this new responsibility comes new anxieties.  Starting about a month before testing, I work to ease these nerves with our third graders.  One of my favorite books to do this with is Hooray for Diffendoofer Day written by Dr. Seuss, with the help of Lane Smith and Jack Prelutsky.  What makes this book so special is that Dr. Seuss was never able to finish it, but two of his friends looked through his drafts and completed the story for publication.

In the book students are faced with an unexpected test that begins in 10 minutes.  If they fail it, the school will close down and they will have to move to another dreary town.  The students panic at first, but are reassured when they begin the test and see that their teachers have prepared them for it by teaching them to think.  This book is a great springboard to dispelling the myths of the STAAR test that students hear from their peers.  I let them ask every "what if" and share every worry that is in their mind about the upcoming testing.

Then we channeled our discussion into providing support for other students that will be taking the STAAR test earlier then them, our fifth graders.  Although they've been testing for a few years now, they still feel that same anxiety and nervousness that you feel.  One way we can help ease this is by writing them inspirational letters.  Each third grader then wrote a supportive letter to a fifth grader sharing that they believe in them to do their best and other tips that might be helpful.

Upon receiving these letters, the fifth graders were so excited to find out who wrote them their letter and many of them wrote thank you notes back. :)

Monday, April 1, 2013

5th Grade STAAR Secrets

STAAR testing is a time of the year where many students develop higher levels of anxiety.  Although they have been practicing and are fully prepared to do their personal best, the looming accountability is scary.  With my fifth graders I started by giving them a Test Anxiety Questionnaire I found on Marissa's Elementary School Counseling Blog.  There are 10 statements that students rank on a scale of 1-5, never-always.  Afterward they add up their scores to see their level of anxiety.  Most students ranked low to medium levels, but there were a few students that had an unhealthy level of test anxiety that I met with privately later in the week.

We then created acrostics using the letters in our first names to describe testing strategies that we found successful to use.  I saw this idea on Working 4 the Classroom blog and adapted it for our needsI provided students with construction paper and foam letters to be creative.  Here is my example:

Here are excerpts from students (to keep their names confidential):