8 Quick Reads for Elementary Students About Gratitude

By: Beth Werrell
Children's Books That Teach Gratitude

Is your child an avid reader? We put together a short book list to help you introduce your child to or reinforce some gratitude lessons during this holiday season. These easy reads for elementary schoolers are perfect tools to engage your child in reading while teaching them life lessons in thankfulness.

Sylvester and the Magic Pebble

This simple, impactful story teaches children to appreciate what they have. It begins when Sylvester the donkey discovers a magic pebble that grants his every wish, but soon after he is confronted by a lion. In a panic, Sylvester wishes to be a rock to escape the danger, but being that he can no longer hold the pebble while he is a rock, he must remain a rock until he is switched back into a donkey by outside forces.

The Giving Tree

This emotional tale about an ever-changing relationship between a boy and a tree takes the reader through a journey of giving and self-sacrifice. The story begins with a young boy who loves a tree. He plays in its branches, eats its apples, and slides down its trunk. As the boy gets older, he comes back time and time again to ask the tree for more, until the tree is left a stump for the now old man to rest on.

Rainbow Fish

This story follows the most beautiful fish in the sea, who, in the beginning, is reluctant to give up his beautiful scales. But as he realizes he can spare ...

The Future of Education: Highlights of the 2015 Blended and Online Learning Symposium

By: Beth Werrell

Keeping Pace with K-12 Digital LearningWhat will students need to know to thrive in the 21st century? How will educators, parents, and schools "get them there from here?" How will our education system, classrooms, and instructional methods need to change if we’re to ensure every child has the chance to reach his or her potential?

Those were the big questions driving the agenda at last week's Blended and Online Learning Symposium. Presented by the International Association for K–12 Online Learning (iNACOL), the annual conference brings together educators, students, and innovators to share the latest ideas in blended and online education.

Here are a few of the answers heard by Connections Academy teachers and Connections Education staff, along with the 3,100 other committed educators attending the conference.

Personalized and Competency-Based Learning

In her opening address, iNACOL President Susan Patrick described an education landscape undergoing a seismic shift toward personalized learning—a shift largely driven by research and innovations in online learning.

Patrick said, "Online learning is the core for challenging our thinking about how we deliver education at anytime, anyplace. Tools in online learning have helped drive whole new not just school models, but [also] instructional models in the classroom—shifting how we build these models around how students learn best. [We’re] taking the research on how students learn and then redesigning learning environments around [students]. This is the overarching goal of personalized learning. This is changing lives."

In these personalized environments, Patrick said educators and schools will be able to:

  • Identify gaps in ...

Gratitude Journal Prompts and Writing Worksheets for Thanksgiving

By: Beth Werrell

Expressing thankfulness can be hard for young children, but having them write down their thoughts and emotions can allow them time to process and organize ideas. Journaling is a simple way to encourage your child to think about what is important to him or her and what he or she is grateful for. Today we will provide you with some simple tools, namely writing prompts and a printable writing worksheet, to get your kids past the blank page.

First, download and print out our worksheet with simple writing activities, and then use the journal prompts we’ve provided below to get your child thinking about what he or she is thankful for.

Quick Writing Tips for Kids

Now your child can get journaling! Don’t have a journal? If you are feeling crafty, make your own homemade journal together in just a few simple steps. Here are some quick tips for writing journals:

Don’t be afraid to break the rules while journaling. This is your child’s time to learn and express him- or herself.

Write what’s on your mind and don’t silence yourself. Journaling should encourage students to reflect on their feelings without reserve.

Be creative. If your child feels like drawing a picture or writing a poem to accompany his or her journal entry, that’s great!

Accept that you will make mistakes. Have your child focus on expressing his or her feelings. If he or she makes grammar or spelling mistakes, these can ...

Using Reading Comprehension Questions to Read Between the Lines

By: Tracy Ostwald-Kowald
Ask Questions to Boost Reading Comprehension

Absorbing and interacting with reading material often brings questions—and questioning is a skill that comes naturally to most children. While some questions can be challenging to answer, it's important to encourage your child to continue this practice, because thoughtful and insightful questions help readers understand and draw them more deeply into whatever they're reading.

The 5 W's (and How) of Reading Comprehension

To get started and help your student learn to summarize a passage, think of the basic W's of reading comprehension: what, when, where, who, and why—and the one stray H, how. If the readers can answer all of these questions about a selection, they understand. They comprehend. They "get it."

Asking the five W questions (and one H) is just the beginning, however. In 7 Keys to Comprehension, one of my favorite sources for reading strategies, the authors suggest generating questions while reading. The most valuable questions, the authors suggest, are often the self-questions, the questions that arise in readers' minds while they're reading.

Poems are great for this approach because they pack a lot of thought into a few lines and often generate self-questions. Let's try Jack Prelutsky's "Louder Than a Clap of Thunder."* After each stanza (like a paragraph), stop, think, and question. I've included in italics a few samples generated by my own students.

Louder than a clap of thunder,
louder than an eagle screams,
louder than a dragon blunders,
or a dozen football teams.

How loud does an ...

7 Quick Astronomy Questions and Answers for Kids

By: Beth Werrell

Astronomy is the study of celestial objects outside of our planet's atmosphere. It can be a great subject to explore with your child and help pique his or her interest in space exploration and science. To help you get the discussion started, ask your child a few questions about our galaxy. We've provided the answers below!

You can use our constellation projector craft as a fun way to illustrate the astronomy lesson.

Download and print the constellation templates, and then click the link below to create your own star projector with your child.

A Constellation Question-and-Answer Session
  1. What is a star?
    Stars are formed from clusters of gas and dust, which give off heat and light.

  2. Why are some stars different colors?
    The different colors of stars indicate how much heat a star gives off.
    • Red stars are the coolest of the stars.
    • Yellow stars, like our sun, are medium-heat stars.
    • White and blue stars are the hottest.
  3. How large is our sun?
    Our sun is referred to as a "dwarf star," which, in comparison to "giants" and "supergiants," is a very small star. It appears larger than the rest because it is so close to our planet.

  4. How many stars can we see?
    On a clear night, and with very good eyesight, a person may only be able to see 2,000 to 2,500 stars at one time, even though it may look like more.

  5. What is a ...

Where Are They Now? From Online Student to Online Teacher

By: Beth Werrell
Where Are They Now?  Anna Ridenour, Class of 2011

Despite the growth of online education, virtual school is still unfamiliar to many families, so when parents consider making the switch, they sometimes wonder if learning in an online environment will prepare their child to achieve real-life goals. At Connections Academy schools, the feedback we receive from graduates is overwhelmingly positive!

Ohio Connections Academy alumna Anna Ridenour is one great example of a successful online student. She started with the school in eighth grade and was inspired by her online education to become a teacher herself. After completing her degree at Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati, she came full circle by returning to Connections Academy as a math teacher.

During a recent national counseling session, Anna spoke to Connections Academy students about her educational and career journey. While telling her story, she urged students to choose their careers by "finding what you are passionate about and doing the things that excite you." For Anna, that passion was math, and she happily told the students that to her, "Math is cool!"

Anna also discussed some of the benefits of learning online, echoing what we hear regularly from many graduates and their parents:

  1. Academic content and quality
    When starting out in college, Anna felt well prepared and knew the things she needed to know to succeed. "I was already used to having rigorous academics and teachers who really challenged me," she said.

  2. Time management
    Anna stressed how virtual school helped her learn how to manage ...

How to Spread Kindness and Stand Up Online

By: Meredith Yowell
Spread Kindness to Combat Bullying Teaser

While having compassion for others is critical for your child's character development, becoming an upstander against bullying and unfair treatment of others goes beyond having compassion. It takes specific skills to stand up to bullying. A great way for children and teens to develop these skills is to voice their opinions online and spread kindness virally.

Random Acts of Kindness
"Showing kindness to others who may be different is not something you can teach. It is through modeling the adults around them that our children learn that the person inside is what matters most."—Alicia Crenshaw, Connections Academy parent

The "Nice It Forward" movement is just one example of students using social media to randomly spread kindness and positive messages to their peer communities. This particular movement involves one teen who decided to use the Twitter handle "@OsseoNiceThings" to share kind words about fellow classmates in Osseo, Minnesota. Many other movements have been gaining popularity and are proof that simple acts of kindness, such as a few loving words, can spread virally.

Being an upstander can include simple acts like these. Help your child understand that just a few thoughtful words can go a long way.

Having trouble seeing? Try going directly to YouTube.

Reach Out and Connect
Sometimes someone who is different could turn out to be a really good friend. Showing kindness, spending time with the person, and giving a smile is all one needs to do. Be a friend! —Mae Brown, ...

How Prior Knowledge Helps Kids Understand What They Read

By: Tracy Ostwald Kowald
Activating Background Knowledge for Better Comprehension

In my sixth grade class, we were reading a scene from a novel in which the character was waiting impatiently for her sister. Immediately one of my students waved her hand energetically to get my attention. "I can identify with that," she announced. "I'm supposed to walk home with Elizabeth after school, and I'm always waiting while she talks and talks and talks."

The girl in my class knew exactly what it felt like to be the character in the novel we were reading. She had experience that helped her understand what she'd just read; background knowledge contributed to her comprehension.

Background knowledge enlivens reading material. Knowing something about a topic gives readers a point of contact, a connection to the material or the story. Without the understanding that prior knowledge brings, reading material can be more difficult to comprehend. Activating and connecting background knowledge is one of seven key strategies to reading comprehension, which are valuable principles for teachers and parents or Learning Coaches.

Consider Bruce Lansky's poem "The Virus Cure." *

Your laptop has a virus?
Don't tuck it into bed.
Don't give it tea, no matter what
the family doctor said.
Don't take it to the school nurse.
Don't rest it for a week.
The only way to cure it is to
show it to a geek.

Today's students are likely to know what a laptop is. Sadly, they probably also know what a computer virus is and does. As they read how the humorous ...

Kids and Smartphones: 5 Ways to Help Them Avoid Overuse and Stay Safe

By: Stephanie Osorno
Helping Kids Use Smartphones Wisely

These days, technology is available to us at our fingertips—literally—with the help of smartphones. And because families often have busy schedules, many kids are receiving smartphones of their own so they can stay in frequent contact.

While smartphones are a convenient and even entertaining tool, they give users more opportunities for cyberbullying through instant access to platforms such as social media sites and text messaging. If you are thinking about giving your child a smartphone, consider some of the following tips to help him or her have a positive and safe experience!

  1. Discuss your family's smartphone rules.
    Before you hand the smartphone over, sit down with your child and let him or her know the limitations and rules. Having phone rules will not only help you better control and monitor usage, but will also encourage your child to be a safe and productive smartphone owner. Here are some questions to ask yourself as you decide what rules work best for your child:
    • Do I want him or her to have access to social media sites on the phone? If so, which ones?
    • Should I take away the phone during specific times (e.g., homework time, dinner, family gatherings, etc.)?
    • Would it be a good idea to review any app before my child downloads it?
    • Should I limit the amount of text/picture messages he or she can send and receive so as to avoid distractions?
  2. Explain why being safe is important.
    It’s no surprise that kids are not ...

Nurturing Healthy Eating Habits in Picky Eaters

By: Beth Werrell

Do you have trouble getting your child to even try a piece of broccoli, let alone eat a whole nutrient-rich meal? There is no need to "trick" your child into eating healthy meals if you instill healthy habits early. From meal planning to prep, below are some tips to help you teach your child to love healthy foods.

Plan Meals Thoughtfully

Mix nutrient-rich foods into familiar dishes. By adding foods like mashed cauliflower into mashed potatoes, or putting ground flaxseed into your pancake mix, you can add more nutrients to common meals.

Grow your own vegetable garden and let your child tend to it. This hands-on approach teaches your children where food comes from and how it ends up on their plates.

Engage your child in the meal-planning process. Let him or her help you shop for ingredients. Allow your child to pick out new fruits and vegetables. For younger children, call out produce with funny names, like kumquats, or strange shapes, like star fruit, to keep the shopping experience exciting.

Serve foods with healthy dressings and dips so that your child has options to mix and match flavors. This makes mealtime more fun for young children and gives them some freedom to choose their flavors.

Create mix-and-match meals, such as a bean taco bar with salsas and other healthy topping options, so that your child can choose from an array of healthy flavors.

Use colorful produce and get ...

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