Achievement Gap-Are We Asking the Right Questions

Public  Libraries
Tap into your public library for great service.
 Talk, Sing, Read, Write, Play: How Libraries Reach Kids Before They Can Read Dorothy Stolz at Mt. Airy Library in Carroll county, MD encourages parents to engage their children in 5 basic activities that prepare their child for reading. “A study done in 1995 indicated that children from higher-income families heard 30 million more words at home by the age of 4 than children from low-income homes. This has become known as the 30 million-word gap.”
Public Libraries have more than books to stimulate the imagination. They provide opportunities to develop social skills; to develop small and large muscles; and provides centers for learning academics, creativity, as well as physical skills. Books available on every age level are phenomenal! The personnel are caregivers. There is no excuse for children to be behind before they begin. Children all develop at a different rate and have different potentials. Their potentials must be nurtured from birth on to reach their potential.
     John Dewey,  whose writings influenced Marie Clay, was emphatic about interaction for learning. Piaget maintained concrete experiences are needed for learning to occur. The majority who study learning in young children recognize the value of play. 
There are Family Programs at the library; e.g., “Drop in  and Play.” Meet other families while playing and and talking together. Stay as long as you like. “Mother Goose RhymeTime”  Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes and finger plays for children birth to 35 mos. with an adult; siblings are welcomed. Drop-in. Children 3-5 play “Hooray Kids.” Sing, dance and play ”Hooray” with toddlers and preschoolers. Moving with nursery rhymes, books, music, dancing, parades and more.
On Snow Days snowy stories are read and then they can play with some indoor snow. 
The following photos were taken at Centereach’s branch of the Middle Country Public Lib.
Matias grew in age, social skills, creativity, and knowledge via his public library.

           A young girl playing in the puppet theater captured Matias’ attention.


                                                                                                                              When Matias entered first grade he continue to frequent the library and needless to say he is a fluent reader bringing to life  assigned stories via his dramatic voice and body language. He has developed a great imagination and loves to write and illustrate his stories. But most especially he has developed a sense of empathy and understanding of others by walking in their shoes via countless books read to him. His accommodating, cheerful disposition comes as no surprise since his mother read to him since birth. Every night she reads many books to him and he now reads to her.
When school is closed, one of his baby sitters is his grandfather. He and his grandfather discovered a new word- doppelgänger-( any person who physically or behaviorally resembles another person.)
Check out other uniquely designed libraries by Janice Davis 

Look at the one in White Plains she designed

1756 titles of nursery rhymes and each has a video of someone singing the song. King County Library System

Community Support

Preparing his potato.

Coloring Center - paper provided

Matias is 1.11 in these pictures.

How can the Achievement/Reading Gap be closed when some children entering school have been read to on a daily basis; have been provided with books and educational material including computers and iPads- to only scratch the surface of how some parents take an active role in their children’s development. There is a big achievement gap among the children when they enter school and it will only get wider through the years unless all parents are educated in how to help their children.  Birth to 3 years of age children learn very rapidly when parents support their  development: emotional, physical, social and conceptual.

But are we asking the wrong question? The “learning gap” will always be present because no two children are alike. Shouldn’t we be asking, “How can we help each child reach his/her potential?  Professor David Elkind, Ph.D., author of “The Hurried Child” stressed the importance of free, self-initiated, and spontaneous play developing a healthy, mentally, emotionally and socially adjusted child. As an authority on Child Development, he is forever advocating for the preservation of childhood.The ages at which children learn to walk, talk, and learn the three Rs have not changed, even with all the effort to introduce them earlier.”

Some children have been read to from day 1. Others have had little or no exposure to books prior to entering school. Can those 1,000 or more hours ever be made up or will the gap continue throughout their school years? Children do not need Pre-K for parents/caregivers to take advantage of public libraries.

*******School Hosted a Story Festival

    Three themes were developed in four centers: Space, Sea/Water and Land/Farm. The library, art room, cafeteria, the gym, and music room were used.

    Volunteers from the faculty formed committees to work on each theme. They choose stories to tell and  decorated the center to reflect their theme.  Story tellers dressed as a character in the book they were reading or telling. Volunteers also came from the PTA, family members of teachers.

    The cafeteria was used to set up a Book Fair with three different companies represented. A section of the cafeteria was also used for refreshments which included cookies in the shape of story book characters.

    A committee formed to advertise and set up the ticket arrangement. Five different schedules were created to avoid over crowding in one area.  Each schedule was printed on a different color paper. Every 20 minutes a bell rang and people moved to the next center shown on their schedule. Ten minutes was allowed for moving from one area to another.

    The Farm Center had bails of hay, large cut out animal forms painted and made to stand erect. A barn, silo, and picket fence were also constructed. Music reflected the scene such as “Old MacDonald.”

    The Sea Center had imitation sea weed hanging from the ceiling and waving in front of the story tellers/reader. The back ground for the stage depicted an under water scene in the ocean.

    The Space Center had a tall, long mural stapled on poles arranged in a circular form with Christmas lights placed along the top of the mural. People had to duck to enter the “Space Capsule.” The story tellers dressed in a Space suit. As they were about to tell their story a tape played the theme of “Lift Off” simulating an actual take off. Following that, the story teller started singing the America the Beautiful and then motioned the audience to join in. The story tellers were so authentic that when a story teller looked up into the dark as if she were looking at a beam of light from a space ship, everyone looked up as she did.

       The Gym Center a Story Teller in the gym were four sectioned off areas where a story was told and the story teller dressed as the main characters. Children after ten minutes, rotated to the next center.

It was a fantastic experience for students, parents, staff and faculty.

During the day  Bernard Waber, children’s artist and witer, presented at a school assembly. 

Closing the Achievement Gap

How ‘twisted’ early childhood education has become — from a child development expert 11/24/15 Valerie Strauss Talks about Carlsson-Paige and her  book “Taking Back Childhood”

“We have decades of research in child development and neuroscience that tell us that young children learn actively — they have to move, use their senses, get their hands on things, interact with other kids and teachers, create, invent. But in this twisted time, young children starting public pre-K at the age of 4 are expected to learn through “rigorous instruction...

“Instead of active, hands-on learning, children now sit in chairs for far too much time getting drilled on letters and numbers. Stress levels are up among young kids. Parents and teachers tell me: children worry that they don’t know the right answers; they have nightmares, they pull out their eyelashes, they cry because they don’t want to go to school. Some people call this child abuse and I can’t disagree.

The most important competencies in young children can’t be tested—we all know this. Naming letters and numbers is superficial and almost irrelevant in relation to the capacities we want to help children develop: self-regulation, problem solving ability, social and emotional competence, imagination, initiative, curiosity, original thinking — these capacities make or break success in school and life and they can’t be reduced to numbers.”

  1. Our misguided effort to close the achievement gap is creating a new inequality: The ‘play’ gap 8/23/16 by Valerie Strauss “ Strauss  quotes      Nancy Carlsson-Paige, “Play is the primary engine of human growth. It’s universal — as much as walking and talking.” ..[.How twisted early childhood education has become — from a child development expert] ...” Play is an engine driving children to build ideas, learn skills and develop capacities they need in life. Kids all over the world play and no one has to teach them how. In play children develop problem solving skills, social and emotional awareness, self-regulation, imagination and inner resilience. When kids play with blocks, for example, they build concepts in math and science that provide a solid foundation for later academic learning. No two children play alike; they develop at different rates and their different cultures and life experiences shape their play. But all children learn through play.”...

“Kindergartens and pre-K classrooms have changed. There is less play, less art and music, less child choice, more teacher-led instruction, worksheets, and testing than a generation ago.

  1. Dr. Elkind, Ph.D, in Child Development,- a leading advocate for preserving childhood. author of The Hurried Child is concerned about the stress our culture places on children and the mental health consequences of continued emotional upset.

We will always have some gap in the cognitive development of our children- they are unique individuals -no two are exactly alike. Our methods and approach certainly can be improved upon but that does not mean that we can hurry along their development. To push the curriculum downward ordering the children to follow inappropriate standard under the delusion that “one- size-fits all,” will only cause emotional problems.  

Dr. Elkind in his book The Hurried Child states. “Children who are confronted with demands to do math or to read before they have the requisite mental abilities may experience a series of demoralizing failures and begin to conceive of themselves as worthless. Such children not only acquire a sense of inferiority that overwhelms their sense of industry but also may acquire …’learned helplessness.’ …children who experience repeated school failure are likely to acquire the orientation of learned helplessness as well as an abiding sense of inferiority.” P 109

“Growth into personhood in our contemporary society takes time and cannot be hurried… growth occurs in a series of stage that are related to age. Each stage brings dramatic changes in intellectual capacity, in emotional attachments, and in social relations. The elaboration of these new capacities in all of their complexity and intricacy is a slow and deliberate process. When children are pressured to grow up fast, important achievements are skipped or bypassed, which can give rise to serious problems later.” P 118

I closely observed one of my grandsons as he went through pre K and K and then in first grade. He entered school so proud of all that he knew – a phenomenal vocabulary for one thing and a great imagination. He loved to picture read.  He came home the first week dejected. This boy with a great self-image had a problem memorizing all those facts thrown at him via direct teaching. He brought home sight vocabulary words to memorize along with letter names and sounds. There was less time for the teacher to read a story each day, less time for playtime, music, art, and gym.  In first grade he brought home a workbook with pages he must do at home. He has to read 25 minutes each night. He was given contrived, phonetically controlled, paperback books he had to read and record for homework. It took an hour and twenty minutes to get through all the work because it was so difficult to keep him on task!  Children in first grade should only be given ten minutes of homework. There should be no homework in pre-k and k.

David Elkind, PhD writes about preschoolers at risk in  Much Too Early l

"It is during the early years, ages four to seven, when children's basic attitudes toward themselves as students and toward learning and school are established. Children who come through this period feeling good about themselves, who enjoy learning and who like school, will have a lasting appetite for the acquisition of skills and knowledge. Children whose academic self-esteem is all but destroyed during these formative years, who develop an antipathy toward learning, and a dislike of school, will never fully realize their latent abilities and talents."

"Those calling for academic instruction of the young don't seem to appreciate that math and reading are complex skills acquired in stages related to age. Children will acquire these skills more easily and more soundly if their lessons accord with the developmental sequence that parallels their cognitive development.

“Only 3 to 5% read early Most of those children have IQs of 120 or higher. Most of them had a parent or relative who took special interest in them. They read to their children, took them to the library, and talked about books with them.” “Jerome Bruner's  discovered the importance of being developmentally ready. He discovered that in French-speaking parts of Switzerland, where reading instruction is begun at the preschool level, a large percentage of children have reading problems. In German-speaking parts of Switzerland, where reading is not taught until age six or seven, there are few reading problems. In Denmark, where reading is taught late, there is almost no illiteracy. Likewise in Russia, where the literacy rate is quite high, reading is not taught until the age of six or seven.

What Dr. Elkind states about kindergartens is precisely what is happening in our Pre-K

After observing the curriculum of our Pre-K and realizing how first grade curriculum is now being pushed down into Pre-K,  I am against Pre-K. We need Day Care but not Pre-K. What Dr. Elkind  criticizes kindergartens for what authorities are doing in Pre-K . They teach with worksheets and homework. Homework is “optional” but what caregiver isn’t going to make their child do the suggested homework? It is just not age appropriate. Pre-K does have some physical exercise and free play but the academic curriculum overshadows the physical and emotional development. Emphases should not be  placed on an academic curriculum such as learning the names and sounds of the alphabet, writing, and math concepts that are not age appropriate.  My grandson does not want to do pencil and paper work. In fact he will give a fake sneeze and cough saying that he is sick so he doesn’t have to go to school. Distracting him with various activities and going through the routine of getting him ready for school without mentioning it, he finds himself in front of the school doors where he sees his friends and goes in without a problem.

Pre-schoolers should be interacting with their peers, learning social skills and developing emotionally. They should be listening to good literature and dramatizing; listening to nursery rhymes, finger plays, songs and work with puppets. They should be developing their fine and large muscles with clay, building blocks, sand ... Develop their imagination instead of taxing their memory with useless activities.  There is plenty of time in kindergarten and first grade to learn the sounds and names of the alphabet. Why tax their memory and ask toddlers to preform inappropriate activities. It is such a waste of time to teach a letter a day to toddlers - pre-schoolers. It is a Behavioral approach which will squelch children’s desire to learn. And what a waste of paper! If the teachers conserved on paper they wouldn’t have to have all these fund raisers asking for money caregivers don’t have.  Learning time is too valuable to spend on inappropriate activities. Put away the paper and pencil. Putting a pencil in the hands too young will develop bad habits in trying to control it- so frustrating!

Giving children various experiences is one of the crucial areas where pre-schoolers can be helped. The more experiences a child has and talks about when the child goes to school, the more success the child will realize in learning and with reading in particular. Children need to experience and talk about their experiences in order to learn and to remember the learning.

Stop pushing and let them learn at non threatening pace encouraging happy, congenial children with a desire to learn.  We should start listening to the experts in the field.

“Hurrying children into adulthood violates the sanctity of life by giving one period priority over another. But if we really value human life, we will value each period equally and give unto each stage of life what is appropriate to that stage....In the end, a childhood is the most basic human right of children.”

  1. Boy, 9, creates library in his front yard. City, stupidly, shuts it down. 


What a fantastic idea! Sharing books via a library in his front yard!  The city authority needs their heads examine for wanting to shut down his library!  The city authority should not only give Spencer Collins a medal of recognition for his inspiring, unique plan but also give him a substantial about of money to support his creative idea.  After all, the federal govt. gives grant money to schools to promote independent reading by children.

In Kansas, 9-year-old Spencer Collins has been told by authorities that he must stop sharing books with his neighbors, and close the little free library--honestly, it's just a bookshelf--in his yard. Its slogan was "take a book, leave a book," but city government is mostly about the taking.

Collins loves reading. He doesn't just dive into a book -- he swims through its pages."It's kind of like I'm in a whole other world and I like that," he said. "I like adventure stories because I'm in the adventure and it's fun."

When he tried to share his love for books, it started a surprisingly frustrating adventure. "When we got home from vacation, there was a letter from the city of Leawood saying that it was in code violation and it needed to be down by the 19th or we would receive a citation," said Spencer's mother, Sarah Collins.

Leawood said the little house is an accessory structure. The city bans buildings that aren't attached to someone's home.

The family moved the little library to the garage, but Spencer Collins said he plans to take the issue up with City Hall.

"I would tell them why it's good for the community and why they should drop the law," he said. "I just want to talk to them about how good it is."

The amount of independent, silent reading children do both in and out of school is

“significantly related to gains in reading achievement,”

 says the Commission of Reading in Becoming a Nation of Readers.

The number of books in the home is the only variable that directly correlates with reading scores.

IRAPresident Patricia A. Edwards


“...Obviously, some people born into poverty manage to escape, and bravo to them. That tends to be easier when the constraint is just a low income, as opposed to other pathologies such as alcoholic, drug-addicted or indifferent parents or a neighborhood dominated by gangs (I would argue that the better index of disadvantage for a child is not family income,

but how often the child is read to). SundayReview | OP-ED COLUMNIST 8/9/14

Volunteer Story Teller at the Mall

Today that freshman story teller has a doctorate in Cognitive Psychology- all because she was read to as a toddler.


Here is 3 year old Luca holding his book. His mother bought him the writing kit which had a  blank book and some stickers to use to develop the story.  Thomas and Emily go to the Circus.”

p.1“One day, Sir Topham Hatt told Thomas to go to the circus.

  1. p.2 He told Thomas to bring Luca to the circus with Emily.

  2. p.3.They go to the circus.

p.4 They were at the circus and saw children and some wheels, rides, buses and  cotton candy.

p.5 They were having fun. Then they went home.

  1. p.6 Luca goes home to East N. And Thomas and Emily go home to Tidmouth Shed. They live happily ever after. The End.

  On each page he put appropriate stickers.

In first grade Luca was a reading on third grade level. With his iPad he taps into Google for answers to questions he had such as what sound does the giraffe make?

He texts his grandfather about his day at school or when ever the spirit moves him.

His parents read to him since birth. In the beginning his father sang more songs instead of reading to him but gradually the songs gave way to books.  In preschool he was allowed to choose whom he wanted to read to him - his mother or his father.

After the story was read, his father sometimes had Luca change the character in the story to himself and  retell the story.

Two grandsons when in third grade, Luca and  Matias, would open up FaceTime to talk to Grandpa to tell him about a science project or a something being build with legos or Mind-Craft.

  1. Offsite book shelves encourage reading4/13/14  “Hoping to gain more library patrons and encourage reading in general, the Mooresville Public Library has partnered with a second grade class from The Woodlawn School to install “offsite” library bookshelves at several community outreach facilities. The first of four bookshelves was installed on Wednesday at the Mooresville Soup Kitchen....

We know that there are children who don’t always have access to books, and we want our students to understand the importance of what we’re trying to do and reach out to other children in the community,” she said. “Our children are caring and want them to have books to reach and have the same experiences and enjoy reading like our children do at our school.

“They were really excited about this and excited to help and donate their old books that were special to them and hope will be for others as well.”

Steele said more books will likely have to be added to the shelves every so often.

“It’s based on an honor system, and we know that the shelves will have to be replenished,” she said. “But it’s all about getting a book in their hands, and encouraging them to read. These books are for all ages. In the time that we’ve been here (at the soup kitchen) I’ve already seen two children who have picked up a book and started reading.”

  1. Scouts earn award for community service 12/7/12

“...Michaela and Natalie, who are avid readers, felt a book-related project would be perfect for them. The Cadettes researched the importance of reading at a young age, and found it deeply affected reading and literacy skills. With this in mind, they wanted to provide the soup kitchen and shelters with a vast selection of books. They consulted local librarians and a teacher for recommendations on popular and award-winning children’s books. Natalie immediately thought of her first-grade teacher, Priscilla Levasseur, to get suggestions....

“We spent more than 50 hours building and painting the shelves, and many more hours recording books. It was so weird to hear your voice being played over and over again on a recording,” Michaela said.

“Recording the books was pretty fun, and I think that the children at the shelters will enjoy listening to them,” Natalie added....”


As a  pre schooler Paul could choose his reader. One night he choose his brother who is in first grade to read to him. At the age of 3 he had his own iPad and could bring up his favorite program.

Children don’t need to own an iPad or Tablet, they can  learn to use the computer, iPad, and Tablet at the public library.

1.7 yrs. old

Strategies for Engaging Parents in Home Support to Reading Acquisition by Sharon Darling 
 Phonemic Awareness: 
    Sing alphabet songs with their child
    Read stories that their child choose
    Help their child clap the beast or syllables in words
    Point out letters, especially letters in their child’s name
    Play with language and rhymes
    Sing songs that manipulate phonemes
    Read aloud often, encouraging their child to read aloud
    Let their child choose books to read and reread favorite books
    Model reading for fun and pleasure
    Act out a book or story
     Talk with their child when they go to the library about how to pick out books of interest at an appropriate level

    Read aloud a variety of genres
    Talk with their child about daily events and about books they read together
    Talk about how the illustrations and text in a book support each other
    Search for new words in texts with their child and look them up in the dictionary
    Help their child learn new vocabulary based on hobbies or interests.

    Ask their child to predict what might happen next in a story
    Ask who, what, where, when, and why questions 
     Ask about the topic of the book before reading it
    Ask about books being read at school and be familiar with them in order to extend conversations
    Ask what the main idea or message of the book might be

Concept of Print
    Point out the title and author’s name to their child when reading together
    Talk about where reading begins on the page and show how the words flow left to right
    Play games to match lowercase and upper letters
    Make a book with their child, using large print and illustrations.

    Provide multiple writing materials and tools,
    Encourage their child to write his or her name 
    Let their child see them writing for various purposes
    Ask their child to say words out loud as he or she writes 
    Respond to the ideas their child has written
    Encourage their child to write the way he or she talks, and then ask the      child to read the writing aloud
    Plan a time and place for their child to write every day
  1. One Hour of TV a Day Linked to Overweight and Obesity 3/20/15

“Using data from more than 11,000 children, researchers from the University of Virginia found kindergartners and first graders who watched just one hour of TV daily were more likely to be overweight or obese than children who watched less.

Six Major Types of Partnerships Between Schools, Families, and Communities

The Six Types of Partnerships Framework, developed by Joyce Epstein (1995) and her colleagues at Johns Hopkins University, is a useful model for analyzing and designing family-involvement programs. This framework describes the general categories of partnerships that exist between schools, families, and communities. They are:

  1. 1!  Parenting: Helping families establish home environments to support children as learners

  2. 2!  Communications: The use of effective forms for school-to-home- and home- to-school communications

  3. 3!  Volunteering: The recruitment and organization of the school’s volunteer program

  4. 4!  Learning at Home: Helping families assist their children with homework and recognizing other learning at home opportunities

  5. 5!  Decision making: Including parents, students, and community members in the school decision making process

  6. 6!  Collaborating with the Community: The identification and integration of resources and services from the community

  7. “Professional parents on average spoke more than 2,000 words per hour to their children whereas poverty/low income parents on average spoke only about 600 words per hour to their children. This resulted in a gap of more than 32 million words between rich and poor children by the time the youngsters reached the age of 4....”    What Is The Best Way To Improve Education in America? By Joseph Batory, 2/3/16

Strategies for Encouraging Positive Parenting Skills

  1. 1"  Survey parents: Ask parents what information and workshops they would find most helpful.

  2. 2"  Consult with parents and others in the community: Ask about their preferences and the best ways to translate or modify messages to all parents.

  3. 3"  Establish home visiting programs: When teachers visit with parents in the home, teachers can share with them school and classroom expectations, and parents can share information about home situations that might affect student achievement.

  4. 4"  Make referral information readily available: Put referral information on bulletin boards, in newsletters, and on information tables at school events. This information can include times and locations of parenting classes, agency services to families, and parks and recreation schedules. Offer information about parenting that is provided by community agencies and churches.

  5. 5"  Offer school space: Have a room available for parent-led support groups and parenting education classes where parents can share their parenting successes and challenges and gain knowledge to enhance their parenting skills. Schools having the greatest success with parent centers are those with a parent-and-teacher team that coordinates activities and use of the room. When parents know it is a place they can gather informally, as well as hold scheduled meetings, it can become more than a place of work; it becomes a place to connect with others.

  6. 6"  Provide child development information: Conduct workshops on what parents can expect as their child moves into middle school or high school. Workshop topics can include:
    " Changes in homework requirements
    " Communication with your adolescent or teen " Specific issues of parenting the adolescent

  7. 7"  Capitalize on parent attendance at neighborhood and community fairs and events: Offer outreach materials such as brochures, posters, bookmarks, tip sheets, school phone numbers, and welcoming messages.

  8. 8"  Offer a sharing night for parents: Have parents share their best practices for nurturing, discipline, homework help, creating time for reading, or other pertinent topics.

Strategies for Enhancing Communication With Families

  1. 1"  Emphasize the importance of strong family involvement: Devote staff meeting time to
    exploring ways to improve communication with families.

  2. 2"  Devote Title I or other funds to compensate teachers for time spent making home visits: This time can pay back huge dividends when teachers develop relationships with families and can communicate with them about ways to support their children. ( Our Title I teachers visited the homes explaining to parents/caregivers how they could help their children.)

  3. 3"  Solicit financial support to improve telephone communication opportunities with families: Many schools are still operating with only one or two phone lines, making it virtually impossible to reach teachers during the day.

  4. 4"  Share school expectations: Share the school’s goals and policies about student expectations and school assessment procedures.

  5. 5"  Make sure that all teachers have an e-mail address with easy and regular access: This form of communication can link parents at work and at home.

  6. 6"  As a faculty, develop a format for classroom newsletters: Basic information about classes and opportunities for parent support can be included and sent home on a weekly or twice monthly basis. Students can do some of the reporting, which can be directly linked to writing goals.

  7. 7"  Have several mechanisms for gathering opinions from parents, students, and teachers: Have a suggestion box in the hall, a tear-off suggestion form in the newsletter, a questionnaire at student-teacher conferences, a random sample phone-call effort, focus groups, or an annual satisfaction survey.

  8. 8"  Communicate frequently about the school’s achievement data: Share the school’s achievement data and offer parents suggestions about ways they can help their children succeed.

  9. 9"  Send information to both parents: In the case where a child doesn’t live with both parents, it’s important to keep each parent informed about the child’s progress and about school activities.

  10. 10"  Update signs around the school: Be sure that notices asking parents to check in at the office include a warm welcome in all languages represented at the school. Students can create the signs as part of their language arts curriculum. English†Final¨†Grade†8

Educate America Act called on schools to promote partnerships. Following are a few examples.

Developing Partnership

Between Home and School

An example how one school planned events to work with parents.

The SIT Committee (School Improvement Team) developed three basic goals: decreasing the number of students in the lower quartile; develop partnership between home and school and supporting the SIT Committee through on-going staff development program and teacher questionnaires to solicit the needs of the staff and to determine the effectiveness of the program.

All teacher involvement was on a volunteer basis.

Activities to Accomplish Goal 1: Decreasing number of students in the lower quartile:

  1. -A Reading Festival (day and night)

  2. -Principal Mentor Program

  3. -After-School Clubs for Enrichment

  4. -Self-Esteem Program

  5. -Annual Triathlon

Objective  2:  to develop a partnership between home and school which supports learning. Success measured by pre and post parent involvement


Activities to Accomplish Goal:

  1. 1.Parent Surveys

  2. 2.Storytellers in storybook character costumes

  3. 3.Theme Book bags

  4. 4.Math Game Workshops for Parents

  5. 5.Parent Newsletter

  6. 6.Maintain Share-A-Book Program

  7. 7.Parents’ Day at a Conference Center organized by the Reading Ass.

Objective 3: To support SIT objectives though an on-going staff development program.

  1. 1.Teacher Share-A-Skill Program

  2. 2.Workshop: “Improving Student Achievement and Behavior Through Self-Esteem”

  3. 3.Video-Tape Library

Developing Partnership Via Workshops

A program for the evening workshops; in Spanish on the backside. Baby sitting was available and when needed, transportation was also available.

                                            7 PM -9PM

7:00 - 7:15 Introduction and Workshop Overview by Principal

7:15- 8:45 Workshop sessions repeated every half hour

( Parents choose 3 workshops for the duration.)

The topics that were covered were suggestions by the faculty - needs of the parent/students at that time.

... How to Choose Good Literature and An Introduction to some Fascinating Books, Chants, Poetry, and Jump Rope Rhymes

...Writing: Invented Spelling and Responding to Literature etc.

...Helping Your Child by Modeling, Reading, andWriting Strategies

... Developing a Love of Learning through Early Reading and Writing

... Developing Home Experiences and Activities into a Life Long Love of Learning

... In Spanish Learning in Your Native Language Helps Second Language Learners

... Reading: the Interactive Process and the Place of Phonics in the Literacy Program.

Babysitting in Gym: Offering Reading,  Storytelling, and Literacy in Movement

Strong Families, Strong Schools

Goals 2000: Educate America Act called on schools to promote partnerships that would increase parental involvement.

A group of experts in the field of literacy presented their

expertise in Becoming a Nation of Readers.

They maintain:

-Reading begins at home.

-Knowledge gained in the home lays the foundation for rdg.

  1. -Concepts learned help understand things, events, thoughts, feeling, language vocabulary

-Reading depends upon wide array of background knowledge. The more knowledge the child acquires at home the greater their chances of success in reading, e.g., trips, walk in the park, zoo, museums, are important background for reading.

-The way in which parents talk to their children about the experiences influence what knowledge the child gains from the experiences and their later ability to draw on the knowledge when rdg. Talking about experiences extends child’s concept and associated vocabulary.

Reading Aloud to Young Children Has Benefits for Behavior Attention


“we’re talking about

birth to 3 year olds —”

”Reading aloud, Play and Social-Emotional Development” said Dr. Alan Mendelsohn ,NYU School of Medicine                  “...Reading aloud and playing imaginative games may offer special social and emotional opportunities, Dr. Mendelsohn said. “We think when parents read with their children more, when they play with their children more, the children have an opportunity to think about characters, to think about the feelings of those characters,” he said. “They learn to use words to describe feelings that are otherwise difficult and this enables them to better control their behavior when they have challenging feelings like anger or sadness.

Reading Aloud with Children at All Ages

Parent Involvement  -

Regardless of  the background or socioeconomic status of the parents /caregivers, every parent/ caregiver can enrich their child’s development.  How pathetic when parents/caregivers either don’t  care and leaves the emotional and intellectual development of their child up to teachers or they are unaware how they can help their child grow into a beautiful human being. Talking and interacting with their children from day one is a given. Observing all signs of physical and intellectual growth and showering the baby/child with honest praise is important. Giving the baby/child many experiences e.g., by letting the child stand next to the parent while the parent is cooking, cleaning, mowing the lawn, shopping, even making beds and setting the table.  Encouraging them to join in be it wiping a dish, stirring the salad, picking up debris...and then talking about it for sure builds up their vocabulary.

With babies, cardboard picture books need to be strategically placed around. At one year old, my granddaughter picked up a book and shoved it in her father’s face. She wanted him to read it to her and not just once but many times over. The attention, interest, and the cuddling up on dad’s lap all are reinforcing  the importance of books.


Infants,babies, and toddlers enjoy the sound and rhythm of the language and gradually they learn that pictures and print carry a message.  The colorful artwork of the artists in picture books capture their attention. Repetition self-motivates them to develop their memory, reasoning, and predicting skills without any pressure to achieve. They thrive on the attention they get from their observations.

Baby Claire 1.3 yrs.

My one-year-old granddaughter loves sitting in her high chair and holding the iPad as various pre-school literacy and math programs flash onto the iPad screen. I am not advocating buying an iPad and using it as a baby sitter. However, when the caregiver needs a third hand for whatever reason, the iPad, temporarily,  serves as a good surrogate caregiver. It is most captivating when the toddler makes the connection between the screen and what was read to them previously.

Besides the positive verbal interaction at home, there is the literacy world at their beckon call: classroom library, school and community libraries to help parents/caregivers.  Besides encouraging parent-educators to provide positive daily observations and interaction viz. drawing attention to print around them, there is much more caregivers need to do: read every day/night to their child- “except on the nights they don’t eat.” Reading books every day/night to their charges is the one of greatest gifts to give their children. Teachers need to constantly remind the parents of the importance of reading to their children. In some situations reading material needs to be available to the parents. Besides the classroom library, school and community libraries teachers may need to send home backpacks of reading material for  a week for handicap parents/caregivers. If parents can’t read, recorded stories via tapes or CDs need to accompany at least one or two books.  If there is a computer at home, list electronic books available via the Internet.

Workshops for parents need to be provided, along with transportation and baby sitting in some cases. I taught at a school where it was done. Where their is a will there is a way. If all else fails, workshops can be video taped and sent home to the parents.  Who doesn’t have a TV at home? As poor as the poorest can be, there is always a TV in the home.

The interaction encouraged through reading to children is priceless.

On my Family Reading/Backpack page are numerous reasons why family reading is so important.

Repetition is the mother of some learning, therefore; following comments and Internet sites will repeat and repeat, hoping the message sinks in some way or another.

  1. 1000Books Before Kindergartenl

  2. Georgia girl, 4, completes steep 1,000-book reading challenge before preschool 1/3/17
    “... Arana’s parents ... began reading to their baby right when she was born.

“And I have two other small children too,” Haleema Arana said. “So she’d heard us reading stories to them, as well... By the time she was 18, 19 months, we realized she could recognize a lot of words. And we kind of took it from there.”

Her mother read books to her other young children on a daily basis. 

According to one estimate, “By the time high-income children start elementary school, they will have spent about 400 more hours than low income children in literacy activities.” Class Notes American Teacher May/June 2012. 

However, it is the attitude of  parents/caregivers which will have the biggest influence on children.  With the positive attitude toward learning, school and teachers, children can rise above poverty and succeed. People need to take advantage of the public libraries.

Valuing Education/Accepting Responsibility at Home

    Unless the parents value education, unless they accept responsibility at home, and until the parents realize that the schools can not do it all, there will always be an “achievement gap.” If a district is serious about closing the “gap,”  it will find a way.

Attitudes anchored in the home are at the root of children working up to their potential. If all parents/caregivers take an interest in the development of their children’s cognitive skills; realized how important it is to read to their children; provided creative play; engaged in conversation; and provided numerous cognitive experiences, more children would be working up to their potential; there would be less of an achievement gap.  Some parent/caregivers need to be shown how to care and work with their children through their various developmental stages before their children begin formal education. This is the goal of a program call  PAT- Parents as Teachers.

PAT is an internationally recognized early childhood parent education and family support program. 

National Center for Parents as Teachers - St. Louis With the PAT program the govt. provides services for the preschooler but will not mandate the service. Some parents do not trust outsiders. Some are ashamed of their poverty, and lack education.

  1. To Help Language Skills of Children, a Study Finds, Text Their Parents With Tips 11/14/14 NYTimes

  1. National Center for  Family & Community Connections with Schools                        

  2. Quality of Words, Not Quantity, Is Crucial to Language Skills,Study Finds, 10/15/14 “Above all prekindergarten and kindergarten need more quality interaction then quantity. " …conversational fluency… a far better predictor of language skills at age 3 than any other factor, including the quantity of words a child heard."

  3. Recognizing the important role of parents/caregivers in education congress set guidelines for them. (1994.Goals 2000: Educate America Act)

One teacher said, “So many of our children suffer not only from lack of necessities, but they suffer from parental neglect, too.  Their parents never read to them.

All too often the parents of children who are lagging behind say they work; they have no time to read to their children; they can’t read English; they have no books to read to their children; they can’t get to the library; they have no money to buy books;  and some say they can not read.  None of those excuses are acceptable. Where there is a will there is a way. The busiest of parents can take 10 min. out of a day to read to their child/children. If parents can’t read English they should read in their native tongue or listen and follow along as their child listens and tracks the print with a “Read Along.” Non English parents/caregivers can get picture books from the library and tell their children stories via the pictures - pictures tell the story. Early in my teaching career I sent home “Read Alongs” for parents to supervise. I even sent home personal tape recorders on occasion. One mother who only spoke Portuguese told me she was learning English by listening and following along with her fifth grader. That was enough encouragement for me to keep enlarging my personal library for my students.

Today’s public libraries are filled with CD and DVDs, computers to use and now even live stories to take home via the so called “Nook” - a piece of technology like the lap top or computer except it is a piece of hardware that can be signed out from the library and taken home. The Nook gives options: listen to the story; read along with the story; or record one reading the story. The Nook hold many stories. If the battery needs charging an adaptor is included in the kit. There is also the Kindle and other tablets available.

All parents/caregivers need is proof of residence to get a library card to take the books home or a Nook in a carry along bag. On another page of this site “Electronic Books, Talking Books, and Read Alongs” are lists of books on the Internet to read or listen to on line. Leveled Books and Leveled books such as A-Z can be run off for a fee.  However, hard bound books found in libraries and book stores should be the first choice whenever possible in lieu of photo copied books. For a list of suggested books for Family Reading and then there is the Author Study page.

Education is a community affair.

In some localities local churches provide a meeting place for young mothers to bring their toddlers such as What is MOPS? It's a Christian organization, often run out of Baptist or Episcopalian Churches nationwide. Baby sitters care for the toddlers and mothers participate in various types of workshops. Families do not have to be of the same faith as the church sponsoring the meetings. The sessions are open to all but for a slight fee to defray expenses. That type of gathering could be duplicated with funds coming from local organizations  and even a federal grant.

Long before we heard of the “Achievement Gap” Mary Ruth Dieter of Arkansas was delivering books via horseback to children in remote areas. 

Horse Back Librarian- Eastern Kentucky.

  1. The Amazing Story Of Kentucky's Horseback Librarians (10 Photos)

  2. The Kentucky Pack Horse Library Project

Where there is a will there is a way.

  1. Boy, 9, Creates Library in His Front Yard. City, Stupid, Shuts it Down

Traveling Books

To reiterate, libraries now have a variety of tablets such as the Nook and Kindle e-book readers. The Nooks are pre-loaded with titles for children.

It is a great surrogate parent for those parents who can not read; for children who do not a recorder at home nor a computer or lap top; or for those children whose parents work when the children are at home with a care giver. 

Three choices:   Read by Myself, Read to Me, Read & Record     



   The school/community has to supply the books for recreational reading at home if the parents don’t have access to the public library or if they don’t have a computer at home.

Homelessness, children going to bed hungry, is a very difficult situation. These children need intellectual stimulation and enrichment. Community centers that provide food for them could develop a center within that facility for a reading center where donated books could be housed and older children can read to the younger ones.

Poor schools could team up with a school in an affluent area. Have gifted writers, write stories for the children who have no library in their town. Some ways to get reading material into the homes: 1/2 off book fairs, book clubs, solicit money from PTA and visit a book warehouse... Tap local organizations for books; viz, the Rotary Club. Some organizations have people going into the hospitals to give new mothers books to read to their babies. Have a school library make stops in the community where children can’t get to the library. A bus can serve as a library on wheels.

One public library had a special holiday activity. They advertised for people to read,  be recorded and be on their website as well as on the flat screen TVs throughout the library.  They made a CD/DVD of the parent/caregiver reading to their child and also gave a copy to the parents/caregiver. Parents were taken to a little room with a rocking chair where they could read their favorite story to their child while it was being recorded. I Love You More by Laura Duksta - about a boy and his mother- was one of the books read.  It's a two in one book because first the mother tells the boy how much she loves him and then the boy tells his mother how much he loves her.  Where the two stories meet in the middle of the book is a picture of the earth encircled with the words; that section they read together. “I love you more than anything in the whole wide world.” What a treasure!

One mother/teacher who took part in the activity expanded the idea.  “We have Share-a-Book at school.  Why not have Share-a-Story?  Record teachers reading favorite stories in the interactive, animated way they naturally do and have children bring them home for the weekend on DVD's. This would be an opportunity to expose them to stories, vocabulary, book knowledge, etc.  Even more so, ESL students would benefit.  Some of their parents want to help their children, but lack the proficiency in English to do so. That’s why workshops for parents are necessary.

Mobile Library/Book Mobile.

    Every district has its own unique resources. Great writers can be found throughout the grades. That talent could be tapped. The computer can do magic with their stories. Those stories can be illustrated by the author or an artist in the class. There are many ways of binding books: plastic spiral, staples, hole punch and ribbon, laminate and secured in a plastic folder....

Some large sparsely populated states with large sections of low income residence provide books for loan via the mail -especially important where libraries closed in poor small town areas. As a child growing up in rural area without a library in a town of 79 people, I realize the importance of traveling libraries.

Book Sales at Public Libraries

Phenomenal books can be purchased for a song at Public Library book sales. All too often the books they are getting rid of are better than the new ones they are purchasing from the Pearson Co. From my observation all the new picture books appear to be published/printed outside the US - especially China and Indonesia. Pearson Co. is publishing so many books with poor art quality. So many characters have the appearance that were found in old comic books. The latest reprints don’t have the quality as the initial prints.

Story Festivals

   Besides workshops for parents, schools can provide story festivals for the entire family. During the summer months and holiday breaks, the malls could set up a “Story Teller” center. Local high school or college students can be asked to volunteer to take turns reading or telling stories. (Talented students who love the lime light, can always be found.)

Schools  Involving Parent/Caregivers

    Schools especially must involve those parents/caregivers who appear indifferent or incapable of parenting and supporting their children’s academic life. Most schools have parent/teacher conferences and invite the parents into the classroom but that is insufficient. Workshops are needed for parent/caregivers on how they can support their children. Refreshments, door prizes, baby sitting, transportation, and translators need to be provided. At the end of the workshop, a packet of educational material for parents/caregivers could serve as an incentive for them to spend quality time with their children.

Technology e.g. Imovie

    Even in schools that are doing what researchers recommend, there is still a “reading gap” among students.

    True some parents work and can not afford to take time off from work - workshops need to be provided at different times. The nonfunctioning parents such as the addicts and the mentally challenged is yet another problem. Some have a fatalistic attitude.  There are other parents that are a challenge.  Some parent are intimidated because of the school environment. Consequently, attendance is not the magic key for them: technology is. Some times we have to bring the school to the parents /caregivers via digital movies. Workshops and classroom activities can be recorded, burned into CDs and sent home or posted on the Internet via “Cloud” or “Dropbox” to be viewed at home. (My Computer Page discusses technology such as Keynote and movie making etc.)

Presentations & Lessons to Video Tape

Tech companies: Dell, IBM, Apple, Google etc. have their “Cloud” to post any type of communication. The Cloud is a good storage facility so conducive for sharing; to help parents stay connected to their child’s classroom and teacher.

There is “Dropbox”  to help communicate and share with parents.“Anything you save to your computer can be saved to your Dropbox, including all of your documents, movies, music, photos, internet name it.” Videos taped of a lesson can be posted on the Cloud or in the Dropbox.

Video taping, editing, and burning into a CD or DVD is so easy to do with today’s latest technology. A collection of lessons by the classroom teacher can be placed on DCs/DVDs. Every time a teacher presents a new concept, the lesson can be video taped. Then, when students are absent the lessons can be sent home for absentee students to view especially if an absenteeism is due to a prolong illness or accidents. If some students have difficulty with a new concept being introduced, they can take the CD/DVDs and view the presentation as many times as necessary in school or take it home and review it along with their parents. The familiarity of fellow students and teacher make the student more receptive than if it was a purchased video filmed by strangers with strangers. Anyone can video tape: para, class mother, or older student; a tripod can ever be used. Whatever the situation, the lesson can be placed on the Cloud, in Drop Box, or sent home on a CD or DVD.

The students become most attentive and make a special effort to use their higher order thinking skills to construct meaning when they know they are being recorded and the presentation will be sent home. Just as dramatizations follow stories and just as naturally a discussion, so too the use of a vast range of devices to make videos can become routine.

In preparation for reporting to parents/caregivers, students can be taped as they are doing paired reading. When editing you can easily crop and just capture one student reading or split the frame into two frames, saving each in a separate file. Using the video, the teacher can take a running record of each student. (A little creativity and the camera can be unnoticed.) A folder/file can be set up for each student. Excerpts can be copied from the master tape and placed into student’s folder/disk. Parents/caregivers and student not only view their progress but it can be copied, saved and sent on to the next teacher. The recording is a most useful in substantiating a log on a child.  Parent/ caregivers are sometimes in denial of their child’s abilities or behavior- of course with the permission of the parents, they can see their children’s performance. Parents/caregivers want to see their children performing.

When my two grandsons were 2 yrs. of age, they knew the alphabet - upper and lower case- when all mixed up. Luca who is a few months older knew the sounds of each letter and forms his name without being asked. Their mothers had large manipulative alphabet mats on the floor, alphabet board games including a manipulative sound box on the refrigerator. I am not advocating those practices but I definitely advocate having many manipulativeness around to play with and as well as picture books.

Because the parents read everyday to their children, both grandchildren role played with their trains and stuffed characters. They both had the trains talking to each other; e.g., one stating he is in danger and the other train stating he is coming to help etc. They both picture read. Both are very savvy with the iPad- can find their favorite stories on UTube.

At the age of 3 Matias was making predictions, talking about the characters and evaluation; e.g., “ Diesel Ten” was mean. He related what he heard in his stories to his own life; e.g., “He’s like Grandpa” and points to his grandfather.

At the age of three Luca was verbally constructing his own stories. After his father read three stories to him - bed time ritual- Luca would make up a story about himself patterning it after a story his father just finished reading to him.


  Luca loved to listen to Peter and the Wolf while he has corresponding characters act out the musical. Matias loved to draw (scribble) and tell about his drawing. He also was very good at putting puzzles together. They both loved to sing- they have quite a repertoire of songs. Of course they sang on pitch.  Luca and Matias both loved the outdoors- kicking balls, running, climbing the jungle gym...

At the age of 3.2 Luca was reading- sounding out words as well as spelling words- that is not the norm but he showed an interest in letters, sounds, and reading and his parents supported it.

My other two younger grandsons, Paul and Keanu, have opposite personalities as their older brothers. They want to run around outside; kick balls; and climb. After being totally exhausted they sit down and pull out their iPad to interact with various programs. Both love to be read to and picture read at the age of two.

My point being: children are amazing - like sponges- but they need parents/caregivers who guide them and give them time. Luca and Matias were ahead when they enter kindergarten unlike a group of kindergarteners who  are retained because they lacked the basic concepts and skills. That is criminal; retention at all levels destroy  the child’s self-image.

Being mentally challenged is one thing but to have indifferent or uninformed parents is another. Schools have the challenge to inform and show parents how to support their children.

When the parents become actively involved then we have hope of our children reaching their potential but still keeping sacred their childhood.

Because my granddaughter’s mother read every night to her children - adding theatrics along the way, her daughter not only became an avid reader but also a great writer. At the bottom of this column you will find her 8th grade English exam; it was an exam so it was written in school.

  1. A Door-to-Door Push to Get Parents Involved at Struggling Schools 8/8/15 “... ““Bringing families into their child’s education is essential,” Mr. de Blasio’s schools chancellor, Carmen Fariña, said. “Study after study shows that family engagement improves student performance and attendance.”

The theory is that when parents are more involved, students are less likely to be absent or to have discipline problems, and that parents will give their children academic support at home and will lobby politicians to properly fund schools.


  1. The Story of Ferdinand Activities

Classics never grow old.


2-yr.0ld Claire imitating the doctor after a visit. Oh the

power of a good example! She is pretending to be using a stethoscope on her doll.


Admonition to the Public Schools of N. Carolina:  in 2009

“It is our responsibility to cultivate children’s delight in exploring and understanding their world. Early childhood is and should be a time of

laughter, love, play, and great fun.”

                                              Copple & Bredekamp, 2009


Dear Educators of Young Children,

A child's early years are critically important to his/her future success in school. We also know that it is during these years that children learn to value and love learning. If we are to make the most of these years, and it is imperative that we do so, then schools must be READY to engage and serve our children and their families. This is a big order, for children come to us in all shapes and sizes, from all kinds of backgrounds, and with varying degrees of abilities and interests.

We must create classrooms that encourage learning, lead children to cooperate with others, and promote children to develop the social skills that assure success in life.

It is imperative that learning environments meet the needs of all students in inclusive settings. We must link standards, assessments and accountability and use them as tools to guide curriculum development, instructional design and teaching practice – all focused on the learner.

Schools and communities are already working together to develop primary school programs that serve the needs of all children. As we pursue high quality programs to ensure that children reach their potential, The North Carolina Guide for the Early Years is an excellent resource and model for local schools.

Our promise to the children and teachers of North Carolina is to advocate for policies, laws and regulations to enhance the quality of their life and work. We pledge our best efforts to the rights of children, so they may learn in safe environments – ones that are responsive to their development and needs. By doing so we can best appreciate and respect each child's uniqueness, contributions and potential.

Given our opportunities and challenges, it is with pleasure that we dedicate this The North Carolina Guide for the Early Years to the children of North Carolina and the very special group of professional educators who are entrusted with their learning and care. We wish you every success as you pursue the great adventure of learning and growing together.

June St. Clair Atkinson
State Superintendent
NC Department of Public Instruction


No mention of comparing children, schools and states with Standardized testing; understandable since they only destroys children’s self-image and their desire to learn.


Program for Story Festival

2 yr. old Claire enjoying her time at their public  library

The Dangers Of Heavy Backpacks -- And How Kids Can Wear Them Safely

“Physical therapists advise that children carry loads no heavier than 15% of the body weight,” A 100 lb. child, therefore, should carry a maximum of 15 lbs.; a 50lb. child’s load shouldn’t exceed about 7 lbs..”

The Dangers of Heavy Backpacks and How the Children Can  Wear Them Safely 8/ 27/14 Updated 7/12/17

Rosemary Wells, author of 150 children’s books gives these 10 principles in preparing children for school:

  1. Teach your child self-respect.

  2. Listen to you child.

  3. Show your child that you have patience and persistence.

  4. Teach your child to have trust.

  5. Have your child share in the work around the home.

  6. Teach your child the importance of honesty.

  7. Make sure you spend time with your child.

  8. Read to your child every day.

  9. Introduce  your child to writing and drawing

  10. Help your child establish regular, healthy habits.

  1. Parents Reading to Their Children US Dept. of Ed.

First six years:

ß Talk and listen.
ß Listen to stories read aloud.
ß Pretend to read.
ß Learn how to handle books.
ß Learn about print and how it works.
ß Identify letters by name and shape.
ß Identify separate sounds in spoken language.
ß Write with scribbles and drawing.
ß Connect single letters with the sounds they make.
ß Connect what they already know to what they hear read.

ß Predict what comes next in stories and poems.
ß Connect combinations of letters with sounds.
ß Recognize simple words in print.
ß Sum up what a story is about.
ß Write individual letters of the alphabet.
ß Write words.
ß Write simple sentences.
ß Read simple books.
ß Write to communicate.
ß Read simple books

Made on a Mac
  1. Up date 5/8/23

The Farm Theme in the Music Room

The Space Theme in the Art Room

The Storybook Scavenger Hunt in Gym


Raising A “Shining Star”

Rosemary Wells who has written 150 books for children has given advice to parent on how to prepare their children for school.

“All children bring to school what they learn at home,”

she states.

She gives 10 key principles in preparing children for  school:

  1. -Teach your child self-respect.

  2. -Listen to you child.

  3. -Show your child that you have patience and persistence.

  4. -Teach your child to have trust.

  5. -Have your child share in the work around the home.

  6. -Teach your child the importance of honesty.

  7. -Make sure you spend time with your child.

  8. -Read to your child every day.

  9. -Introduce  your child to writing and drawing

  10. -Help your chid establish regular, healthy habits.