How Do I Help My Middle Schooler with History? Pt. 2


historyIn part 1, I suggested several ways to get your child interested in the past. Today, I have some advice for learning the material which leads to better grades. History is defined as the written record of man’s past so reading is intrinsic to doing well. Even though your middle schooler can read the words, she may not really comprehend what she is reading. Show her how each unit is divided into chapters, then those chapters are composed of sections and each section may be further subdivided. Help her formulate questions which may be answered in each section.  The goal is for her to connect each subtopic to the main topic and finally to the chapter. This aids in seeing the “big picture, ” and helps put everything into context. Be sure she studies the pictures and maps, and understands their connection to the reading. Have her summarize each section she has read. Putting the material in her own words demonstrates her comprehension.

Once she has summarized the readings, she can begin learning important terms. Many texts will place these in bold font. They are usually categorized as people, places, events, or ideas (i. e. capitalism). I like putting these on notecards for easy review.  A complete definition or description, the importance, context, and date or time period are needed. For example,  Manhattan Project:

  • Secret American plan during World War II to develop the atomic bomb.
  • Began as  as a response to Germany’s nuclear program.
  • Was not used in the European theater, but was instrumental in bringing an end to the War in the Pacific when an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima  August 6, 1945 and on Nagasaki August 9, 1945.

If your child is visual, she may want to draw a picture to help her remember. If she is an auditory learner, she can record the terms and listen to them as a study strategy.

Initially, she may seem overwhelmed, but encourage her to study a few minutes every day. If she knows even some of the material really well, it will result in better grades. Finally, if possible, review returned tests with your child and talk about strategies for making the best use of her knowledge. From my years of teaching, I have discovered many careless mistakes like skipping questions and not reading the instructions or questions carefully.

What suggestions would you add? 


My First Teacher

Mama with doll
My mom when she dreamed of being a mother.

I remember a few years ago, as I rose early one morning, I glanced at my reflection in the window and saw my mother’s face staring back at me. Until that moment, I had not realized how much I resemble her. More than sharing her looks, I hope I have inherited her character. She has always taken care of those that society tends to forget, especially shut-ins and the elderly. As a child, I tagged along on many of these visits. Even though she has slowed down, she stills gets joy from cooking meals and making sure those around her are happy and satisfied.

Most of what I learned from my mom came from simple observation. She definitely wasn’t a helicopter mom, but I was a clingy child and stayed close to her side. She taught me how to carry on a conversation with strangers just by listening to her interactions around others. I can cook because I spent so much time in  her kitchen; I’m sure most of the time getting in the way. On the weekends, she allowed my sisters and me to rummage through her cookbooks and cabinets to bake whatever caught our fancy.


Although my mom did not finish high school – she married at seventeen- she made sure that I and my four siblings got the most of our education. At 58 years old,  she set an example for the importance of higher learning by getting her GED and graduating from a community college. When we were growing up, she made summer weekly trips to the library a priority. And she always rewarded us for any A’s on our report cards.

A few years ago, I wrote down the reasons I’m blessed she’s my mother and gave the list to her. I’m glad I did this because even though I think I’ve expressed those sentiments in other ways, I wanted her to see it in black and white. For this Mother’s Day, I’m sharing a Billy Collins poem. Happy Mother’s to my mom and all mothers!

Teacher Appreciation Giveaway!

This giveaway is now closed. Congratulations to Laurie for winning the gardening package! There are still a few days left to enter the Georgia State Parks package giveaway.

digz-giveawayI’m so excited to offer the first giveaway on!  Teachers have my utmost respect.  You put in long hours each day, give up a part of your weekend, and fall asleep while grading papers. I know; I’ve lived that life. When I was teaching, I usually  felt sad because my time with my children was ending,  but I also counted down the days because I desperately needed to decompress.

So if you’re like me, being outside in the sunshine with my hands in the dirt does more to restore my spirit than anything else. To help you do this,  is giving away a gardening package, consisting of a watering can, flower seeds, a kneeling pad, and three pairs of Digz gloves. These gloves have reinforced palms and pads, plus an adjustable wrist strap so you can keep out the dirt while gardening. Digz gloves are sold at Home Depot.

This contest is open to all K-12 teachers in the contiguous U.S. who are currently teaching in a public or private school. To enter, comment below with the grade or subject you teach, plus a tip for refreshing your spirit. The contest ends Thursday, May 19. The winner will be chosen by a random drawing and notified via e-mail.



2016 National Public Gardens Day


This opportunity comes once each year- the Friday preceding Mother’s Day. Many public gardens around the country participate in National Public Gardens Day by offering free or discounted admission. As you may have gathered from previous posts, I love spending time outdoors, and I enjoy learning about flora and fauna. Two years ago, Jim and I took advantage of National Public Gardens Day to visit Callaway Gardens. We had such a great time! We attended a birds of prey program where the birds flew low over our heads from one handler to the other. On the guided wildflower hike, we not only saw many varieties of native flowers but spotted a tree frog and a couple of queen snakes. The many species of butterflies in the Day butterfly center amazed me. There was always a staff member nearby to answer questions, and we have continued to add to our knowledge with a butterfly field guide purchased from the gift shop.

So be sure to check for a garden near you to visit on May 6. I wish I could visit them all. Which gardens have you visited?


A Cat, a Mouse, and a Hermit Crab

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It doesn’t take long for visitors to my home to notice Angel, my calico cat. She quickly sizes up a person, and if they’re friendly, she’ll walk up to them and begin catspeak. If they’re sitting, she’s liable to hop onto their lap without warning. She’ll look up as if to say, “Do you realize how special you are that I’ve chosen your lap?”

Some of my students are especially fascinated by Angel. If she doesn’t appear upon their arrival, they want to know where she is. Angel has become an asset to my tutoring. During the winter months, she spends most of her time in a chair in front of the bay window, in close proximity to my students. In fact they can actually reach out their hands and touch her. One little boy will pet her at least a couple of times during our sessions, sometimes not even turning from his work as he does this.  Just her presence gives comfort. Most of the time she naps; sometimes she snores, providing comic relief. If you have a cat, you know that it has a very calming effect  on those aournd it. This is beneficial for children who may already be anxious about their academic performance. It seems as if Angel is saying, “Take it easy and relax.” When I began working with J. he was stubborn and did not want help nor would he listen to instruction, but he liked Angel. He tried to pet her, but his approach was to charge her, and she could easily outrun him. I told him that Angel would come to him if he would simply squat and hold out his hand, but initially he refused.  However, J. had met his match and finally learned that Angel was more stubborn. A year and a half later, J. is very different both with me and with Angel as evidenced by the photo.

Pip was the name of our class pet the final year I taught in a classroom. He was a left over science project. My students asked to adopt him; someone brought in a hamster cage, and they all promised to feed and keep his home clean. So he stayed. All of the fifth and sixth graders loved him. Most would take him out and hold him. One girl enjoyed tearing paper strips to replenish his bedding. My only job was to purchase food from the pet store. Pip became a welcome distraction at the moments we most needed him. He even escaped his cage a couple of times, causing concern among fellow teachers, but we always discovered him in our room and returned him safely to his cage.

The hermit crab was a favorite pet of a fellow teacher. Each year she bought a new one and had a contest among her second graders to name it. The hermit crab remained in her class the entire year. The children could remove it from its aquarium; they built houses for it out of Legos and made obstacle courses for it to maneuver.  They even gave it bits of fruit from their lunches. At the end of each year, she held a second contest, and the winning child kept the crab. As she told me,  the crab was a perfect pet, requiring little maintenance. Giving them away to the students at the end of the year meant it had a home, and she didn’t have to worry with it.  An added benefit is their hardiness, living for several years.

I’ve known other teachers who’ve kept pets. In my experience they are always a welcome addition. What about you? Do you have a classroom pet, or did you have one growing up? Was it more of an asset or distraction?

Educents Dream Classroom Giveaway

teacher giveaway

Every teacher spends money out of pocket to provide the best education for his/her students. Educents if giving away from $100 to $5,000 in teaching supplies so teachers can build their dream classroom. If you are not a teacher, you can still visit the site and vote for your favorite to win! Be sure to check back with the in May for its own teacher appreciation giveaway.

Free Pass to Zoo Atlanta

Do you homeschool? Do you need an idea for a frugal and educational field trip? Zoo Atlanta has a great program through the Georgia public library system. Go to your local library, check out the Zoo Atlanta Library Pass DVD from the front desk. When you return the dvd, you will receive a receipt valid for fourteen days for admission to Zoo Atlanta. This offer is good for general admission for up to four. Did you know about this program? Have you taken advantage of it?


How Do I Help My Middle Schooler with History

There are two different ways to interpret this question: How can I help my child better understand history? And how can I help my child get better grades in history? I will address the first question in this post. Your middle schooler probably sees history as an abstract subject because she’s twelve (a lifetime for her), and she may be studying about people who lived 3,000 years ago. It’s hard for a young person to imagine people living lives so different from her own. With your help, she can see  a connection – history is like a tapestry where people and events are woven together and each have an effect on the other and future generations.

First, you want to engage your child in the stories of the past, make her wonder about life a hundred years ago. As Jurassic Park  author Michael Crichton once said, “If you don’t know history, you don’t know anything. You’re a leaf that doesn’t know it’s part of a tree.” A  good place to start is with her own family history. The more personal you make history for your child, the more interested she will be. Look at old photographs together, ask her questions about what it may have been like to have been a child during her grandparents and great- grandparents’ youths. Are there any ancestors who have served in the military? I find young people to be particularly fascinated by World War II. Find some published diaries or journals to read at the public or school library.

Aunt Virginia

Aunt Virginia is our family matriarch. She was born in 1918. Her mother survived the flu pandemic and was sick when giving birth. At 97, Aunt Virginia’s mind is still sharp, and she loves sharing family history.

Help her see that everyone and everything has a history. Take her to historic sites to learn about important people and events in engaging ways. You will be walking in the footsteps of those long gone, if there’s a historic interpreter present, you can ask more detailed questions. Some places hold living history events where you can observe pioneer skills in use. Some of my favorite memories are family trips to these destinations. The seed, which was planted, led to my becoming a history major.Your child may not initially be impressed, but if you show interest, chances are she’ll follow. As a college instructor, I witnessed how the older students in my American history classes influenced the eighteen and nineteen year olds. When nontraditional students began to ask questions and give input, I noticed the younger students would perk up and listen more intently, even to the point of joining our discussions.

Relate historic happenings to current events. This presidential election year offers many great comparisons. Immigration is an issue that has recurred in previous elections. Remember the “Know-Nothings” of the 1850’s? They won several state elections on an anti-immigration platform. Discuss Bernie Sanders’ candidacy.  How do his ideas and his presidential bid compare to Norman Thomas in 1932?

Now you know where to start; you’ll be amazed at your discoveries. Next time I will offer some suggestions for improving history grades.

What about you? How have you’ve made history more interesting for your child or student? What do you enjoy most? If you have a question you would like for me to address, send it to


Visit a National Park for Free

canons-acadia-national-park-massasuchetts-usa West Georgia schools are on spring break this week. Although most trips are already underway, I thought now is a good time to remind every parent of a fourth grader about a wonderful government program. It’s called Every Kid in a Park. This program gives free passes to be used in the national parks. The passes can be ordered by an individual and teachers may order for entire classrooms. I’m a lover of nature and of our national parks ( After college graduation, I worked as seasonal ranger at Fort Pulaski National Monument). So take advantage of this opportunity and begin planning for the summer by visiting