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My third-grade son would rather play video games than read. He’s motivated by his allowance, so we’re thinking of giving him a dollar for each book he gets through. Is there any research that shows this works?

Save your money. The research shows that extrinsic rewards aren’t effective in developing a love of reading. In his book, “Punished by Rewards: The Trouble With Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise and Other Bribes,” educator Alfie Kohn shows how “a reward buys us a behavior — in this case, the act of checking out a book and reading it. But at what price?”

He says that quality learning declines significantly when kids are extrinsically motivated.

We want children to be motivated to read because they love to, not because they might get a reward, says Pat Johnson, co-author with Katie Keier of “Catching Readers Before They Fall” (Stenhouse 2010). Keier says that when we reward students for the number of books they read, they often choose books well below the difficulty level of what they could be reading.

Students’ motivation to read is influenced by four interrelated factors, says reading expert Linda Gambrell, distinguished professor of education at Clemson University. They are:

– Their experience with books: If kids have struggled or view books as something they only use in school, they’re more likely to “hate reading.”

– Their access to books.

– Their social interactions about books: Do they see that books can bring pleasure or more knowledge about topics they’re interested in?

– Their ability to choose the books they read.

“Letting your son choose his reading is very important,” says Carl Harvey, library media specialist at North Elementary School in Noblesville, Indiana. “Start with what interests him. Check out an armful of books; don’t worry if some selections look like junk to you. Work with your children’s librarian to find a book with characters like those in a favorite video game or a series with a hero your son identifies with.”

Children’s author Bill Doyle thinks boys often choose games over books because the titles on recommended lists often lack “the action boys look for in games — bad guys and battles, and descriptions of technological derring-do.”

Doyle’s humorous “Scream Team” series features werewolves, vampires and zombies.

“At bedtime,” he says, “let boys read stuff that doesn’t exactly lull them off to sleep. We want them to keep turning those pages.”

Another Doyle series, “Behind Enemy Lines,” a collection of true adventures from military hotspots like those in the Middle East, “gets a lot of fan mail from young boys, including those whose parents are deployed in these wars,” he says.

“Think beyond books,” Harvey reminds parents. Point out the many ways we use reading each day, he advises, “whether pulling up directions on your phone, finding a blog about a new video game your son might like, or sharing a ‘Star Wars’ comic.”

Show your son that reading isn’t just about school — that it informs us, entertains us and connects us to people and ideas that make our lives richer. In time, he’ll see that those are priceless rewards.

My son’s fifth-grade teacher says he’s been lying to me about school. I’m devastated! He’s always been honest with me. I’m trying hard to instill trust and good values in him. How can I teach him not to lie?

It’s an ongoing process, and you’re wise to focus on it now.

“Fifth-graders approaching middle school are moving slowly from an external locus of control — where significant adults in their lives chart their path — to an internal one, where they take the wheel and navigate decision-making, covering all sorts of critical life events, including those connected to health and safety, such as underage drinking and other drug use,” says Stephen Gray Wallace, a school psychologist and director of Susquehanna University’s Center for Adolescent Research and Education (CARE), in Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania.

In truth, your son has probably lied for several years. Studies show “that by their 4th birthday, almost all kids will begin lying to avoid getting in trouble,” says Wallace. “Research shows that many kids learn to lie by observing their parents lie or at least shave the truth. Some parents encourage children to tell ‘white lies’ to avoid hurting someone’s feelings.”

What can you do establish truth and trust?

Express disappointment, not “devastation,” says Wallace.

“Getting emotional gives your son’s lies too much power,” he says. “Behavioral therapist James Lehman’s studies show that some kids will lie because of the excitement factor.”

Don’t call your son a liar; distinguish between the person and the behavior. Labeling him puts him in a corner.

Establish and enforce consequences for lying that make the child uncomfortable in some way.

“This discourages future lying,” says Wallace.

For many families, an apology is one effective consequence.

“If he’s been lying to you about homework, have him pen a note to you and one to his teacher promising to be forthcoming in the future,” Wallace adds.

Communicate that consequences are about enforcing family rules, not morality. “Make it clear that lying is wrong, but make enforcement about meeting behavior standards you expect,” says Wallace. “It’s more effective to say: ‘You broke a law we have agreed you will follow. When you break rules, there are consequences.’”

Make time to talk often. Listen without being judgmental.

“Kids are more likely to tell you the truth if they’re not afraid you’ll overreact,” says Wallace.

If your son knows that you do not ever want him to smoke, for example, “You have to be willing to listen calmly when he tells you that a friend’s older brother is offering him e-cigarettes,” says Wallace. “This kind of listening takes patience and time.”

To set the stage for listening, “One mother frequently picks up her 12-year-old from school, rather than have him ride the bus,” notes Wallace. “She takes a long way home to hear what’s on his mind. It gives them opportunities they rarely have at home.”

As your son becomes more independent, Wallace says these conversations continue to be important.

“When you aren’t there to listen or react, you want to be able to trust that he will make safe choices and be personally accountable for his actions,” he says.

For more, visit eCAREforkids.org.

One of my partner’s and my New Year’s resolutions is to become more involved in our kids’ school. Our work makes it impossible to volunteer or attend meetings during the school day. What other activities make a difference in helping them succeed?

It’s useful to have met with your children’s teachers at least once during the school year, preferably early so you can build a relationship. But the most important things you can do to boost your children’s school success happen within your family — in the attitudes you foster and activities you pursue with your kids on nights and weekends.

“Research gives us new ways to think about parent involvement,” says Bill Jackson, founder and CEO of GreatSchools.org, a national organization dedicated to guiding parents in getting a great education for their children.

“What this couple should resolve is more involvement in their kids’ education,” he says. “There’s a difference. There’s nothing wrong with active parental participation at school, but the real drivers of school success are the things parents do outside of school — the standards you set and the beliefs you hold about achievement.”

Jackson outlines the drivers that matter.

– Prepare children for learning. “This means making sure that kids get good nutrition, exercise, quality sleep, are on time for school and have good attendance,” says Jackson. “You can’t learn if you’re absent. This may seem like a no-brainer, but there’s a lot of learning lost when kids are tired or hungry in class.”

– Partner with teachers. Solve problems collaboratively. Don’t automatically accept your child’s version of every issue.

“Seek out great teaching, too. It’s OK to request the best teachers,” Jackson advises.

– Support literacy and numeracy development. “There’s not enough time for adequate math and reading skills practice in class, so supplement at home,” says Jackson.

Cultivate key skills early. Read and talk with children daily. Engage in number talk and problem solving. Ensure math-fact mastery. Guide kids to higher-level math.

– Build knowledge. “This means model curiosity; talk about new information, books and ideas,” says Jackson.

“Make connections to topics children are studying. For example, use the spelling list to build vocabulary by spotting the words used in various contexts. Discover and feed kids’ interests. Do they love ‘Star Wars’ movies? Take them to NASA.org to explore past and future Mars expeditions. Show your kids that learning is fun by being a lifelong learner yourself.”

– Build character. Help kids become emotionally intelligent and resilient.

“Promote enduring values kids can fall back on,” suggests Jackson. “Foster a growth mindset, the belief that our most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work — that brains and talent are just the starting point. This keeps kids from giving up and thinking, ‘I’m just not good at that.’”

– Advocate for excellence; choose great schools. “Speak up for high standards,” advises Jackson. “Know school strengths and weaknesses. Choose high-performing, good-fit schools for your kids.”

– Put college on your kids’ radar early. “Talk about post-secondary pathways,” says Jackson. “Set the expectation as early as elementary school that they will go to college. Don’t wait until they’re freshmen and discover that they should have worked harder at algebra.”

I don’t look forward to this holiday break. Our four preteens from a newly blended family like the structure of school, but fall apart on weekends: bickering and competing for attention. In January, they have state testing, so I plan to do some homeschooling during vacation. Are there any good online test prep sites?

You want to turn the holidays into a study hall? You’ll get the Grinch of the Year award!

“I understand the desire to replicate successful routines during stressful times, but practicing math facts over Christmas is likely to backfire,” says Marissa Gehley, founder of KNOW (Kids Need Our Wisdom). “Kids need a breather, so forget the test prep. Focus on family-building activities. Everyone will be emotionally stronger and go back to class in a fresher frame of mind.”

Develop new family traditions: Rituals add joy and structure to holidays. Since you’re a newly blended family, create new traditions to observe. For example, the family might decide to create a holiday recipe book and add to it each year. Or have a family movie night, enjoying classics such as “Elf,” “The Polar Express,” “The Muppet Christmas Carol,” “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” “Miracle on 34th Street,” “It’s a Wonderful Life” and “Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” Discuss the themes and lessons in these movies.

Create a New Year letter: When two families come together, there’s news to share. Let kids create the family’s holiday greeting. It could be an email, an annotated slide show posted online for friends, or a printed card. Ask everyone to contribute an original piece of writing, art or a photo.

Give back: There are plenty of opportunities for families to volunteer this time of year, from collecting for Toys For Tots to stocking food pantries. Check doinggoodtogether.org to find a good fit. Or use the search tool at networkforgood.org to find projects for families.

Make a 2015 family resolution: What can the family do together to foster enjoyment and take the stress out of everyday life? It might be planning a family pizza and movie night each month; check commonsensemedia.org for reviews. Alternatively, “you might decide as a family to train for and participate in a 5K run or a bicycling event for a charity you all can support,” says Gehley.

That resolution might also include scheduling regular family dinners. What kids really want, says Gehley, is more time with their parents. Meals are a good place to find it. Studies show that when families regularly eat dinner together, kids eat better, have fewer eating disorders, get better grades and are less likely to abuse alcohol and drugs.

“Dinner-table conversations give parents opportunities to check in on academic, behavioral or physical changes. You gain more insight than simply asking, ‘what happened in school today?’” says Gehley. “Whatever activities you choose to enjoy together over the holidays, your newly expanded family is likely to be grateful for the opportunity to learn, grow and play together. Nothing allows the brain to work at full capacity like a loving, healthy and engaged home environment.”

My husband wants to get our preschooler her own tablet. We’ve read to her on ours since she was a baby. Our pediatrician is concerned. We thought reading to her was a good idea. What does it matter whether we read on a screen or on paper?

Experts are divided on this. While the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) strongly encourages parents to read to children from birth, they recently issued recommendations advising parents to “minimize or eliminate altogether” any screen exposure (tablets, phones, TVs) for children younger than 2, citing research on brain development. For older preschool children, the AAP suggests limiting screen time to less than two hours a day. (For more, go to healthychildren.org.)

There is research suggesting that too much screen time has negative effects on kids, from increased childhood obesity and behavioral problems to poor sleep patterns.

There is less research on children using screens to learn to read. “I don’t know why the AAP decided it’s smart to ban screen time,” says Dr. Marilyn Adams, one of the nation’s foremost reading researchers. “How about banning time with ‘bad’ screens?”

Adams says it’s the quality of the content and interaction that matters. She’s less concerned about whether kids turn a paper page or swipe a tablet page and more concerned that parents understand the benefits of reading to their children “early and often.”

Researcher and educator Dr. Michael Milone says that the two key elements associated with reading to kids are joint attention (both of you focusing on the same thing) and the nature of the interaction (talking, pointing, explaining and such).

“There are qualitative and quantitative differences in both elements,” says Milone, “when the text is a book versus a digital device.

“In the traditional view of comprehension, the book is probably superior. But we’re entering a different world, one in which traditional comprehension isn’t as highly valued as before. If you can write code or analyze data to predict a change in the price of natural gas, you will be successful, even if your favorite reading is a series of tweets.”

Because digital devices are convenient and entertaining, “they will become dominant, if they are not so already,” says Milone. “It may be comparable to the change that took place when writing and books became dominant over memory and the oral transmission of information. It’s going to happen, so we have to adapt to it.”

If you decide on a tablet, choose a device and content that will enhance your daughter’s emotional and cognitive development. Many educators and parents rely on Children’s Technology Review (www.pickyteacher.com). Its Children’s Technology Review Exchange, or CTREX, is a database of education software and hardware that helps parents quickly determine which apps, games and digital media are best suited to their kids. You can browse online in guest mode, or you can subscribe and get full reviews and rating details for $59 a year.

CTREX is for people who are tired of gimmicky review sites with outdated information, says Dr. Warren Buckleitner, the founder of Children’s Technology Review and an editor.

“There are no suspicious ratings, affiliate links or social agendas,” he says. “Subscribers can learn about a new product the day it’s released.”

My kids love their teachers and want to give them each a holiday gift, even though the PTO discourages individual gifts because not all families give. What would be appropriate? For example, is it insulting to give a gift card to an office supply or discount store?

What to give or whether to give a gift to a teacher is a perennial parent puzzler prior to the holiday break.

Some schools issue guidelines, ranging from no gifts at all (or nothing more than a certain dollar amount) to encouraging a gift from the whole class, where one parent collects whatever each family wants to contribute toward it. That way, no child feels left out.

Other schools leave it to families. A recent survey of A-Plus Advice Teacher Advisers suggests that gift cards are the way to go. Teachers have more mugs, totes and apple paperweights than they’ll ever use. Avoid books, candy, foodstuffs, beverages or personal items such as colognes, lotions and spa services. Also, don’t re-gift something you’ll think they’ll just love.

Teachers value gestures of appreciation, from a handwritten note or a homemade greeting card to gift cards they can use easily, says Illinois elementary teacher Pam Evans.

“While gift cards may seem impersonal, teachers often use them to purchase supplies,” she says.

Evans has also enjoyed gift cards to movies, local eateries and bookstores.

“Giving gift cards to a store like Target lets teachers decide whether to spend the gift on themselves, the classroom or both,” says California teacher Bill Laraway. “Unless you know the teacher would enjoy it, a gift card to an office supply store may not be perceived as personal enough.”

Virginia teacher Jill Warner says, “Any gesture that recognizes us is always greatly appreciated. A gift card to a local drive-through, coffee shop or favorite hangout says so much more than a travel mug.”

Laraway adds, “What really matters to me is receiving a card with a handwritten personal message, whether or not there’s a gift card inside. I really appreciate it when someone takes the time to write a note of thanks.

“If you choose to offer a gift card, don’t just fill in the ‘to’ and ‘from’ lines. Include a note; it makes the gift more meaningful, rewarding and memorable. Teachers can re-read it and reflect upon it.”

You don’t have to spend money to show appreciation. “I teach in a low-income middle school, so rarely do I receive gifts, but I cherish the handwritten notes I get from students because I know they come from the heart. I read them over and over again after a tough day,” admits Kansas teacher Valerie Snyder.

Artfully bundling together expressions of appreciation can touch a teacher’s heart. “Last year, a parent asked families to submit things for a tribute book — a letter, story, poem, photos or drawings,” says Sally Hawks, a New York educator. “She created it online and then had it printed. It gave me a chance to reflect and share my joys and success with my family. I still look at it often.”

Often, my daughter Kristen, a third-grader, is taught math differently from the way I learned, so when she struggles, I show her my way. I never criticize her teacher’s methods. I want her to love math, so I try to make sure that she understands what she’s learning. Will I confuse her?

One of the beauties of math is that there’s more than one way to approach a problem, and it’s useful for kids to learn that early.

“Showing her another (way) will only enrich her learning,” says Marilyn Burns, an author and one of the nation’s top math educators.

You’re wise not to criticize her teacher, says Burns.

“If your daughter ever seems confused about your approach, step back and confer with the teacher,” she says. “Children do best when teachers and parents are partners. This doesn’t happen enough with math.”

How can you best support your daughter’s math learning? Focus on mental math, says Burns, the founder of Math Solutions.

This refers to giving children exercises and problems to solve in their heads. Ideally, says Burns, “they are designed to review and advance essential basic skills. They help build number sense, convey the importance and relevance of math in our daily lives, and ground her learning.”

Mental math is “a necessary skill,” she adds, “but one teachers don’t have enough class time to devote to.”

Every day we add, subtract, multiply or divide mentally, notes Burns: “We figure how much time it takes to get to school, estimate the price of a sale item or double recipes by calculating in our heads.”

With mental math, you put away the paper and pencil and present a problem. It might be an addition or multiplication problem presented as an estimation challenge.

“For example, give Kristen an addition problem with two two-digit numbers, say, 32 plus 54, and have her explain how she’ll find the sum,” says Burns. “To add challenge, have her figure out how much more is needed to make 100. This gives her practice manipulating numbers and develops her mathematical thinking to arrive at the answer in different ways.”

Money presents great mental math opportunities, says Burns: “How can Kristen spend exactly $100 by buying two things with different prices? Three things with different prices? How could she spend exactly $100 by buying three things with different prices if one item costs $37?”

Always ask Kristen to explain her thinking, even when she gives correct answers.

“Explaining is important,” says Burns. “Don’t correct an incorrect answer immediately. Take time to question and let her explain. Kids often self-correct if given the chance. Never leave Kristen with a misconception, but don’t rush to solve mental math problems for her.”

Math play presents great opportunities to boost mental math skills, too.

“For example, building sophisticated structures with blocks promotes problem-solving and spatial skills,” says Burns. “Math-related puzzles and riddles promote logic. KenKen puzzles get kids thinking about number relationships and using logic.”

Everyday mental activities are extremely valuable, says Burns: “They boost skills and make classroom learning stick. They show Kristen how much math is a part of our lives.”

My two preteen daughters spend weekends with my new wife and me. While my wife loves the girls, she’s quick to criticize them and corrects their mistakes immediately. My ex and I have our differences, but we think kids need room to make mistakes to become independent. My wife says that’s asking for trouble as the girls head into their teenage years. Who’s right?

Don’t think of this as an either/or situation. There are times to correct a child on the spot, and there are times to allow the situation to play out.

“Effective parents vary their responses depending on the situation. Some poor decisions require immediate feedback; others present genuine learning opportunities that may allow the child to make a better decision the next time,” says Dr. Jane Bluestein, a New Mexico-based educator and author who has advised thousands of parents, teachers and children over the past 40 years.

If one of your daughters makes a choice that puts her in danger, intervene right away.

“Discuss safer options and help her connect those choices to more positive outcomes,” says Bluestein.

But if her science project fails, it’s no biggie. Talk about how experimentation is part of the scientific process. Discuss how “mistakes” can lead to unexpected discoveries. Albert Einstein inspired students by telling them that “a person who never made a mistake never tried anything new.”

Bluestein adds: “The most constructive way to help a child learn from mistakes is to shift your focus from what’s wrong or undesired to the behavior you want.”

For example, say your daughter uses a snarky or defiant tone with you. Telling her that she’s being disrespectful is less effective than saying, “I want to hear what you have to say when you’re willing to talk to me in a more respectful voice.”

If your child’s mistake is a result of a lack of understanding, explain what she needs to know. Don’t play the blame game. If you say, “Too many sodas can cause an upset stomach,” that’s more validating than, “You’re sick because you drank too many sodas, even though I said not to.”

If your daughter makes a mistake while trying to achieve an unclear goal, help her focus on what she’s trying to accomplish. Ask, “How did you want this to turn out? What was supposed to happen?”

Avoid expressing disapproval or disappointment. Instead, try, “That’s interesting!” or, “That wasn’t what you had in mind, was it?”

Get your daughters to reflect on their mistakes. Once the dust settles, ask them what they might do differently next time. Can they guess possible outcomes of a different approach?

Never shame kids or call them stupid.

“I disagree with ‘tiger’ parenting advice that condones humiliating children or calling them names in order to motivate desirable behaviors or academic achievement,” says Bluestein. “There’s a big difference between making a mistake and being one.”

Encourage your wife to fight the temptation to fix the girls’ every misstep. “It’s always better to guide kids to a solution by helping them rethink their approach, strategy or goal,” says Bluestein.

(For more advice, go to janebluestein.com.)

Our second-grade son’s teacher sent home a note saying he was receiving “Response to Intervention” support for math. She asked for a meeting to discuss it. I’ve looked it up but am still confused about it. Does it mean he needs special education?

Not at all. Response to Intervention (RTI) is a process intended to help a child catch up in a skill area before he could end up in special education. RTI has been used in reading for more than a decade. While used less frequently in math, the fact that your son’s school employs it is a good sign.

“We know a lot more today about tackling early reading and math struggles than we did 30 years ago, and many classroom teachers have the tools to help kids. The whole point of RTI is to identify and remedy problems in early elementary school, when they are easiest to correct,” says Dr. Michael Milone, a New Mexico-based educator and researcher who consults with school districts. “RTI is a comprehensive, multi-step assessment process intended to help children before they might be placed in a formal special education program.”

RTI emerged from well-intentioned policies that, over the years, have frustrated many parents and educators and left many children without services when they needed them most. “A diagnosis that would qualify a child for special education could take years, allowing that student to fail while awaiting a change in instruction. Or worse, students might ‘fail enough’ to get into special education, but not get the appropriate instructional interventions that could help them move forward,” says Milone.

Federal legislation passed in 2004 to align IDEA (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) with No Child Left Behind allows for intervention immediately after a disability or skill weakness is suspected.

There are reasons a second-grader might struggle with math that have nothing to do with a learning disability. “Math learning builds. You have to nail one concept before moving on to another,” says Milone. “If a child lacks key mathematical and numeracy concepts early on, it can adversely impact later learning.”

Here’s how RTI can help your son catch up, says Milone: “The RTI process identifies at-risk students using a range of screening assessments and provides their classroom teachers with plans for intense instruction and ways to monitor progress. If the students respond to the intervention, they are returned to regular instruction. If they don’t, they get additional, more intense instruction. If they still don’t respond favorably, they are referred for formal special education assessment. We hope that RTI will reduce the number of kids going into special ed as the result of inappropriate instruction.”

Milone suggests asking these questions at your meeting: What screening procedures, interventions and instructional programs will be used? How long does an intervention continue before determining whether he is making progress? How will his progress be monitored and communicated to us? How can we help at home? Will you put his intervention plan in writing? At what point are students who are suspected of having a learning disability referred for formal evaluation?

For more information, see “Questions to Ask Your School about RTI” at understood.org.

With a daughter entering kindergarten, and a son not far behind, we recently bought a house near a school loved by parents and hyped by the real estate agent. When we started house hunting, the school had a rating of 9 on GreatSchools.org. The website now rates it a 7. Parents still like the school, and our daughter seems happy, but should we worry?

Do some digging and ask questions before you put this on your worry list. In most states, GreatSchools compiles a rating using publically available data that reflects how well students do on standardized tests compared to other students in the state. The rating is on a 1-to-10 scale, where 10 is the highest, 1 the lowest.

“While test results give you a good sense of how well students are performing at a given school, they only offer a limited snapshot of school quality,” says Mike Gallaher, a senior analyst at GreatSchools.org.

That’s why a growing number of states are making more data available to parents, such as attendance, information on how much students learn in a given year, how prepared they are for college work or an assessment of the school’s learning climate.

GreatSchools is currently focused on three aspects of academic quality, says Gallaher: “One is student achievement — how well students at a school do in academics, measured as the percent of students meeting state standards based on state standardized tests.”

No. 2 is student growth — how much students are actually learning in a year, rather than how much they already know.

“A school with high growth could be a school with students that started behind grade level and have now caught up,” notes Gallaher.

No. 3 is college readiness. “With high schools,” says Gallaher, “we look at school graduation rates and performance and participation on college entrance exams (such as the SAT and ACT) as indicators of how well students are prepared for life after high school in college or careers.”

Schools in states that have rolled out the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and are testing children on those standards may see a drop in their GreatSchools rating if the tests and instruction aren’t yet closely aligned.

“This is worth asking,” says Gallaher. Other things to ask: What measures does the school use to track academic progress if not state tests? Has there been a change in leadership? Is there high faculty turnover? Is there any change in the student population, with new students needing extra support to catch up? What is the school’s rating history?

Look at other factors, too, such as parent and community comments, what programs the school offers that are important to you, such as arts, music, after-school enrichment and so on.

“Take this opportunity to walk through all the data with the principal,” suggests Gallaher. “At GreatSchools, we’re willing to answer questions about how a school’s rating is derived.”

There may be very good reasons for the drop in score, or the school’s leadership may not be aware of it and will welcome your advocacy on behalf of academic excellence.

For more, go to greatschools.org/about/ratings.page.

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