Parent & Teacher Frequently Asked Questions

Whether you’re new to Starfall or have been using our content and products for years, you might have questions about your child’s academic or behavioral development. We have your Starfall answers! Explore our most frequently asked questions below to find Starfall answers to some of our parents’ and teachers’ most common questions.

adding and subtracting

Q: What is the best way to help children learn to add and subtract?

A: The best way to develop the ability to add and subtract is through the use of manipulatives to solve simple story problems.

Q: When should I introduce worksheets?

A: Practicing addition and subtraction is best done using manipulatives. Once children have an understanding of number concepts, introduce a worksheet to be completed using manipulatives. Once children demonstrate an understanding of number concepts and the concepts of addition and subtraction, worksheets can be used to practice skills such as number facts.

Q: What concepts should my child know before I teach addition and subtraction?

A: Before attempting to teach children to add and subtract, make sure they have a basic understanding of numbers. They should be able to:

Q: When is it appropriate to teach my child to regroup?

A: It is essential that children develop an understanding of our number system and place value concepts before they are taught to regroup in addition and subtraction. When children understand place value, they understand that our base ten number system only includes the numbers zero through nine, which is the basis for the need to regroup. Using manipulatives such as ten frames and connect cubes to construct number representations above nine helps children to visually experience regrouping.

To build regrouping skills, use real-life experiences such as children charting the days they are in school using craft sticks. They then group the sticks by ones, tens, and one hundred. Introducing the concept of regrouping first helps children develop the concepts they will need to successfully learn to regroup in addition and subtraction.


Q: When is the best time to teach the alphabet to my child?

A: Most children are able to begin learning the alphabet between the ages of two and three. The goal is to help your child make the connection between the letters of the alphabet and the sounds they represent. This is a skill that takes time to develop and master.

Q: What are some activities I can use to teach my child the alphabet?

A: Reading to your child is the best way to begin exposing him or her to the alphabet. Children will begin to make connections between sounds and printed letters and words.

Additional suggestions include:

  • Assist the child in recognizing the letters in his or her name.
  • Post an alphabet chart or alphabet cards in the child’s bedroom.
  • Access the ABCs on
  • Play alphabet games such as “I Spy the letter ___.”
  • Read and use alphabet books based on the child’s interest.
  • Use alphabet puzzles.
  • Go on letter hunts.
  • Have the child practice printing letters of the alphabet using non-menthol shaving cream for easy clean-up.

Q: Should my child recognize all of the letters in the alphabet before he or she enters kindergarten?

A: Children should be able to recognize the letters in their own names and be able to distinguish between letters and numbers by the time they enter kindergarten. Some letters are more difficult for children to recognize than others. Focus on the capital (or uppercase letters) first. Access the ABC activities on for exposure and practice.


Q: Is it okay for my paraprofessional or parent helper to administer formal assessments?

A: It is important for you, the teacher, to administer formal assessments for the following reasons:

  • Through the assessment process you can effectively diagnose and remediate or challenge each child and establish a trusting relationship.
  • The most valuable information you obtain from the assessment process arises from your observation of how children arrive at the answers. Errors made in a child’s response can alert you to potential problems such as speech substitutions, visual perception or discrimination problems, auditory discrimination errors or possible vision difficulties. Formal assessments provide an opportunity for you to meet with each child, one-on-one. This dynamic fosters a unique relationship and trust between you and the child.
  • Formal assessment combined with your daily observations and anecdotal records all contribute to your overall understanding of a child’s progress.

Due to confidentiality, parent helpers should not be involved in the assessment process.

Q: How can I use assessment results to drive instruction?

A: Results of assessments should drive your instruction because they create an accurate picture of which children need remediation in order to better understand the skills you assess, as well as which children need to be challenged. Use the assessment process to effectively diagnose and remediate or challenge each child. Errors may alert you to problems with speech, auditory and/or vision difficulties.

Individuals or small groups of children who perform below average on assessments may be grouped to practice specific skills with you or a paraprofessional. The groups should change depending on assessment results.

Q: How often should I assess?

A: During every lesson you should informally assess the children through observation. Individual assessments most typically occur at least once a week. Create a folder with your assessment for each child. Meet with children individually to assess a few skills at a time. It is important that the child takes ownership in the assessment process. If a child gets something wrong, tell the child his or her answer is incorrect, explain why, and help lead the child to an understanding of that concept. It is important to be honest with the child and work as partners in their learning.


Q: Why is having a routine at home so important?

A: Children gain a sense of security through routines because they provide safe, predictable life experiences. Routines provide children with opportunities to learn to care for themselves, their belongings, and their environment.

Having a consistent routine at home helps children practice self-care and home skills. Consider creating a picture chart of everyday routines such as mealtime, bedtime, and getting up and ready for school in the morning.

Q: Why is it important to have rules at home?

A: Having simple rules at home is a good way to teach your child about personal and social responsibility. Rules provide guidelines and limits that children need. Learning the reasons for rules and the importance of following them is also important.

Select three to five rules that are important to you. These rules should generally deal with safety. State the rules in a positive way; for example: “Hold my hand when we are crossing the street,” “Use an inside voice when playing inside,” or “Use kind words.”

Consequences for not following the rules should be linked to the “offense” and be a teaching tool. For example, if the rule is “Walk inside,” and your child runs, the consequence is that your child practices walking inside.

If a rule is to keep the child’s room tidy, and you have reminded the child but the room isn’t tidy, say, “You are welcome to play just as soon as your room is tidied.”

Having rules at home prepares your child to understand and respect rules in his or her preschool and beyond.

Q: My child seems fine at school but when he gets home he whines, cries, and throws tantrums. What can I do?

A: It is extremely important to understand that many four-year-olds do not handle frustration well!

Children coming home from a school environment may be physically and mentally exhausted. A child spends all of his or her mental energy being good for the teacher, nice to his classmates, and attentive in circle time. By the time your child sees you, he or she has hit an emotional and physical low.

Young children also do not handle separation well. Frustration often comes from fatigue, but it may also stem from not seeing you. Unfortunately, a four-year-old doesn’t have the maturity to verbalize his or her feelings.

What can you do?

  • Reduce separation whenever you can, even if it means not leaving him or her in school the second half of the day.
  • Try to avoid “time out” or sending your child to his or her room as a disciplinary measure. Separation plus more separation will only lead to more meltdowns.
  • Be present with your child at home rather than trying to multitask.
  • Be patient during tantrums and love your child through them. Your child is trying to cope with new and changing emotions.

Remember, this won't last forever. Usually as children become more comfortable at school and with all the transitions, the tantrums subside. But if they continue for a prolonged period of time or begin to disrupt daily life, consult your child's pediatrician.

Q: It’s always a struggle getting out the door and to school on time. What can I do?

A: Children thrive on routine. It makes them feel safe and provides an environment in which the child knows what to expect. Ways to use routines to help your morning go smoother include:

  • Make sure you have a very specific morning routine. You might even want to create a checklist for your child.
  • The night before, lay out three outfits that you approve of your child wearing to school. Let your child decide which outfit he or she will wear.
  • Explain that you need to leave the house by a certain time and show your child that you are setting the alarm to get up early enough to do everything that needs to be done (eat breakfast, brush teeth, get dressed, etc.) before you leave. Say, “We will leave the house in 15 minutes.” Then be prepared to leave, even if your child isn’t ready. He or she can brush his or her hair in the car!

Children need to know that you are willing to follow through on your promises. The more you deviate from this, the more power your child has in derailing you. Be kind and empathetic, but firm.

Children also thrive on feeling like they are in control. Whenever possible, give your child two choices that are acceptable to you and let him or her decide. For example ask, “Would you like cereal or eggs for breakfast?” or “Would you like an apple or a granola bar for a snack?”

Q: What do I do when a child does not or will not finish his or her work on time?

A: Provided you know that the child is capable of completing the assignment, simply say, “You can finish your work now, or during free choice time. It doesn’t matter to me.” Then be prepared for the child to finish his or her work during free choice time. This empowers the child to make a decision and it is not viewed as punishment from you.

Q: How can I help my child understand and follow the rules in our homeschool?

A: Consider using the following techniques to help your child understand and follow your homeschool rules:

  • Involve your children in creating the rules for your homeschool. Ensure children understand the reason(s) behind a rule, since this is when they will obey best.
  • Explain that the children should treat others as they wish to be treated (The Golden Rule). Ask what they did wrong, why they did it, how it made the other person feel, and what they should have done differently. Reinforce this often and it will soon become second nature for the children to think about.
  • Discuss consequences (natural consequences when appropriate are extremely effective). For example, if your child continues to play during a lesson, the lesson will need to be extended before he or she has free time.

Q: How can I stop my children from interrupting when I am instructing one of their siblings?

A: Try the following strategies to stop children from interrupting when you are working with one of their siblings:

  • Work with your children to list emergency situations (bleeding, fires, illness) that would not be considered interrupting.
  • Create a strategy or signal that works for you when your children need to tell you something. For example, they may come and place a designated object (such as a small stuffed toy, a favorite rock, etc.) on the table next to you. Explain that they should continue to do their assigned task and that you will get to them as soon as you can. Be sure to follow through as quickly as possible to demonstrate to them that the procedure works.
  • Children may gently touch your hand and wait for their turn with you.

Q: How can I keep my child from being distracted by objects in the environment such as television, video games, etc.?

A: Distractions in a homeschool environment can be difficult to manage. Implement the following strategies to help prevent distractions:

  • It is extremely important to have a designated area set up as your “classroom.” Visuals should be limited to meaningful materials, especially work that has been created by your child(ren).
  • Your classroom should be free from electronics and non-educational games that will distract your child.
  • During instructional time, the computer should be used for educational purposes only, such as and research.

Q: How can I keep my child focused on the topic of instruction or an assignment?

A: Clear routines and expectations can help keep children focused on the topic at hand. Try the following strategies to help your child stay focused:

  • Follow a daily schedule or have a regular routine or pattern (posted as a visual) to help keep your child focused.
  • Make sure all lessons and assignments are brief and allow a scheduled time for movement in between. This time may include visiting Songs and Rhymes and/or Math Songs, and performing the actions with your child(ren).
  • Schedule “free choice” breaks for your children after they have remained on task for the time period requested.
  • Provide checklists for your children. This will help them stay on task while also providing a sense of accomplishment.

Q: What should I do when my children are distracting each other?

A: Distractions are not limited to only television and video games! Sometimes it may be necessary to provide different work areas when the children are distracting each other. You may also want to try increasing their workload. This will help to keep them focused on their studies and they will have less time to distract their siblings.

child development

Q: When should I be concerned about a child’s development?

A: Potential signs that may predict developmental issues in four- and five-year-olds include:

  • Has difficulty seeing or hearing
  • Doesn’t speak in sentences of more than three words
  • Finds it difficult to handle small objects such as a pencil or crayon
  • Often trips when running or walking (clumsy)
  • Has difficulty eating, dressing self, or using the toilet
  • Has difficulty responding to two-part commands such as, “Pick up the ball and throw it to me.”
  • Doesn’t participate in pretend play
  • Throws tantrums over insignificant matters; or still clings or cries when a caregiver leaves
  • Often appears afraid, unhappy, or sad
  • Doesn’t play with other children or acts aggressively

Children grow and develop at different rates. If your concern persists, see your child’s physician for advice.

Q: What can I do to help my child develop?

A: There are many things you can do to help your child develop:

  • Provide your child with lots of playtime! Play helps young children express feelings like excitement, joy, anger, or fear.
  • Provide opportunities for creative and artistic play. Drawing, painting, dress up and pretend games help with your child’s development. Musical play such as dancing, jumping around, or making music with simple instruments is also very important for young children.
  • Read with your child. Tell stories, sing songs, and recite nursery rhymes to encourage your child to talk, think and imagine!
  • Cook with your child to help develop his or her motor skills, learn to follow directions, and acquire new vocabulary and simple math concepts.

Q: What developmental skills will my child learn and develop in preschool?

A: Developmental skills your child will learn in most preschools include:

  • Developing self-esteem
  • Developing self-control
  • Developing fine and gross motor skills
  • Developing hand-eye coordination
  • Solving problems
  • Understanding the connection between cause and effect
  • Understanding different moods and feelings such as sadness, happiness, anger, and excitement

classroom management

Q: I have a very active class. It’s hard to get their attention. What tips do you have?

A: Here are some strategies you can try to get your students’ attention:

  • If you have a very auditory group, sing your directions.
  • Say, “Clap once if you hear me. Clap twice if you hear me.” The children should stop what they are doing and saying to clap after you.
  • Clap a pattern and the class repeats it.
  • Whisper your directions.
  • Teach the “Opposites” game as a signal for the children’s attention. You say “up” and they say “down.” Choose different opposites each time.
  • Say, “If you hear my voice, touch your nose!”

Q: Getting ready and lining up to go to lunch or outside is always a battle. How can I get the children to line up quietly?

A: Here are some techniques to teach children to line up quietly:

  • Sometimes the way we word our instructions makes all the difference. Rather than saying, “You need to be quiet or we’re not going to lunch,” you might say, ”I will take quiet children to lunch.” Praise the children who line up quietly.
  • Tell the children you know they know how to line up, but they must have forgotten. Explain that you will practice lining up quietly during free choice time to help them remember how to line up. Then do it!
  • Let the children know that they are very smart, and you know they can walk quietly in the hallway. Tell them that that you would be happy to practice with them during playtime.
  • Say, “I notice Suzy is lining up quietly.” This usually motivates others to line up quietly. It’s important to say, “I notice” rather than “I like the way” because the child should feel like he or she is doing the right thing rather than pleasing the teacher or parent.
  • For an extremely challenging class, assign the children an order for lining up.

Q: Sometimes the children seem bored and aren’t paying attention. What can I do to help motivate them to be more engaged?

A: The more active children are in the classroom, the more they will be engaged and empowered. Here are some tips to motivate children to be more engaged:

  • Let children take turns “being the teacher.” When you ask a child to answer a question or call a child to the board, allow that child to select the next volunteer rather than doing it yourself.
  • After a few sentences, partner children and allow them to discuss a question relating to what you just said. After a short period of time, volunteers share their answers.
  • After a story or activity, group children and assign a “facilitator” to each group. The groups work to solve a problem or answer questions related to the activity or story. Then the facilitators report back to the class.
  • Make sure there’s not a lot of “sit and listen” time. Break it up. Use direct instructions in small segments. Sometimes the teacher is the most active person in the classroom when it should be the students instead. Mix it up and you’ll see a different level of engagement.

Q: What do I do when the children are unsettled and just not focusing?

A: Consider teaching children some relaxation techniques such as:

  • Tell the children to “smell the flower” and “blow out the candle” and have them pretend to do these two actions. This forces children to breathe from their diaphragms, which is a calming technique.
  • Tell the children to pretend they have a balloon. They take a deep breath and pretend to blow up the balloon, expanding their hands as the balloon inflates. When the imaginary balloon is full, the children slowly close their hands as they exhale. Repeat.
  • Turn off the lights, play soft music, and tell children a story about yourself.
  • Whisper directions.
  • Check the moon calendar! Seriously, right before a full moon children are often more unsettled. Knowing this ahead of time may help you anticipate their behavior.

Q: What kinds of class behavioral systems or plans are effective in the classroom?

A: Traditionally, classroom modification plans do not serve to modify individual behavioral issues. The best classroom modification systems are based on natural consequences. A behavior system based on natural consequences may include statements such as:

  • “I call on children who raise their hands.”
  • “You can finish your word during work time or you can finish it during center time.”
  • “I take quiet children in the hall.” (Explain that you will practice with children so they can learn to walk quietly in the hall.)

Another positive classroom modification system is to create a “Joy Jar.” Design a container to fill with small objects or tokens. Explain, “Each time we cooperate as a class or show respect during class, the class can earn a token. When we have collected ___ tokens we will celebrate.”

Ask the children to help you make a list of celebration ideas such as extra time outside, longer center time, treat, movie and popcorn, or other fun activities.

Q: When is it appropriate to introduce an individual behavioral plan?

A: In order to modify or change behavior, the target behavior needs to be identified. It is important to select only one behavior to work on at a time and the behavior needs to be very specific. Some examples of target behaviors include:

  • Completing assignments
  • Raising your hand to share
  • Participating in class discussions
  • Remaining in place during instruction
  • Solving problems with words

Privately discuss with the individual child that you have a plan to help him or her be happier in school. Identify the target behavior you will be working on with the child.

Create a chart with names of the days of the week horizontally across the top. Decide how many stickers would be reasonable to earn in one day.

Place the chart near your desk where the child has access to it. Identify an action that you will perform that will signal the child to stop what he or she is doing and place a sticker on the chart. Examples of signals include the teacher touching his or her nose or tapping his or her head.

At the end of the day take a minute to discuss the child’s success that day. Often children don’t need a reward beyond the stickers.

Reevaluate the chart after a few weeks. If you think the behavior has been modified, celebrate that with a certificate. If the child had additional needs, consider changing the target behavior and continue the chart.

composing and decomposing numbers

Q: What is composing and decomposing numbers?

A: Composing numbers means to take two or more numbers and put them together to create a new number. Often you will see activities using number bonds in which a child has two individual numbers and is asked to “bond” them together to create a new number. Decomposing numbers is to take a number and break it apart into smaller numbers. This becomes very helpful when you begin working with numbers 10 and above. For example, decomposing 43 means four sets of 10 and three ones.

Q: What methods are effective for teaching children to compose and decompose numbers?

A: Seeing numbers broken down into a pattern of groups of tens and ones in a visual way helps children see the importance of working with numbers, putting numbers together and breaking numbers apart.

Using ten frames and manipulatives is a good way to present children with the concept of composing and decomposing numbers.

Another good visual aid is a hanger and clothes pins. Children experiment with different ways to create equations that equal 10 by sliding some clothes pins to one side of the hanger and some clothespins to the other side to show different ways to equal 10; for example, 6 + 4 = 10.


Q: Why is comprehension so important?

A: Comprehension skills and strategies teach children to remember what they read, communicate to others about what they have read, and monitor and reflect upon their own understanding.

It is imperative that these reading habits are instilled early and practiced often, as understanding is the desired outcome of all communication, whether written or spoken. Children attuned to understanding recognize that reading, listening, and conversing require their active participation.

When teaching comprehension, it is most effective to explicitly name the skill or strategy, demonstrate how it helps the child’s understanding, and explain how the strategy might be applied in other cases. In so doing, the children receive a “comprehension toolbox.” With practice, children learn to pull from their toolboxes to creatively and skillfully build their own understandings.

Q: What are some ways I can help my child with comprehension?

A: Ways to help increase a child’s comprehension skills include:

  • Ask questions that will spark your child’s curiosity and have him or her look or listen to clues in the text.
  • Connect what your child already knows while they are reading. Model this by sharing your own connections.
  • Assist your child in making inferences by putting together what he or she already knows with clues from the story.
  • Predict what might happen next as you read aloud.
  • Check for misunderstanding.
  • Identify unknown vocabulary words.
  • Discuss problems and solutions in the story.

Q: Does vocabulary instruction affect comprehension?

A: Vocabulary instruction awakens children’s interest in word meanings. A child who is curious about the meaning of words monitors his or her understanding and asks for clarification—two key comprehension strategies.


Q: Is it okay for a child to use his or her fingers to count?

A: Using fingers to count is one of the beginning stages of counting and is a good strategy. Research shows that there is a specific region of our brains dedicated to the perception and representation of our fingers even when we are not using our fingers in a calculation.*

*Cooper, Marta. “A Stanford professor says counting on your fingers is “critical” to understanding math.” Quartz Media, Published online 24 April 2016.

Q: What are some fun ways to practice counting?

A: Take the opportunity to count everything in natural settings—count cars, steps, houses, and even people! Create a chart to count each day or how many days to a holiday or special event. Read counting books, sing counting songs, and have children play with counting puzzles. Play games to determine what number comes next.

Q: To what number should my child be able to count by the end of kindergarten?

A: Most state kindergarten math standards expect children to be able to count to 100 by the end of the school year.

Q: Should I teach children how to count by twos, fives, and tens?

A: Skip counting helps children see number patterns and provides a great foundation for number sense and later is the basis for learning multiplication and division facts. You can play simple games to practice skip counting using a number line or collections of objects.

Q: Why is counting on from a given number so important?

A: Counting on allows a child to continue counting objects added to a previously counted group without needing to recount the entire group. For example, give your child three bananas and ask him or her to count them. Then, give your child two more bananas. Counting on involves using one-to-one correspondence in counting the additional two bananas by counting “four, five” instead of restarting at one and recounting all five bananas.

Using coins is a great way to practice this skill. Give your child a nickel and two pennies. Instinctively the child will say “five” for the nickel and continue counting “six, seven.” This is a wonderful way to demonstrate the concept of “counting on.”

Q: How can I help my child with counting to 100 by ones?

A: Take the opportunity to count everything in natural settings. For example, count cars, houses, and signs while you drive. Count blocks while playing, count food items while cooking (i.e. macaroni, beans), and toys while cleaning up. Use a number line or hundreds chart to indicate and count numbers, or to play counting games.

Play games in which you provide a number (such as seven) and ask the child to count on from that number to 100.


Q: What if there is something my child wants to learn that I don’t know how to teach?

A: Parents do not have to be experts in every subject area. Use this opportunity to teach your child to become a lifelong learner by taking advantage of learning with your child.

Search your community for resources that will help both you and your child learn, such as online videos, support groups, community centers, museums, and library activities.

Contact other homeschool families to plan field trips together or invite teachers or other community workers to give presentations to the group.

Q: I’m just starting to homeschool my children who are three and four years old. There are so many curricula from which to choose. What do you suggest?

A: Starfall’s Pre-K curriculum is available to homeschool families starting at $289.00 (includes membership). This includes materials, books, scripted lesson plans, and more. Check the Starfall Store for more information.

Q: I'm just starting to homeschool my children who are five and six years old. There are so many curricula from which to choose. What do you suggest?

A: Starfall offers two curricula for the Kindergarten level - English Language Arts and Math. Both curricula include materials, books, scripted lesson plan PDFs, an annual Starfall membership, and more.

The Starfall Kindergarten ELA Homeschool Curriculum offers a dynamic balance between parent-directed instruction and child-directed learning. The parent guides the child or children as they explore their interests, contribute their insights, and encounter new information. As a Starfall parent, you will preview skills, formally introduce them, then create opportunities for your child or children to apply, integrate, and practice these skills repeatedly as they move toward mastery by year’s end. The Starfall Kindergarten ELA Kit is available for less than $400 (includes membership).

Additionally, Starfall's innovative Kindergarten Math Curriculum takes parents and children on a journey through a variety of systems of early math, exploring topics including numbers, measurement, place value and fractions. The curriculum ensures long term retention of concepts by introducing them and revisiting and reinforcing them throughout the school year. The Starfall Homeschool Kindergarten Math Kit is available for less than $211 (includes membership).

Check the Starfall Store for more information on our Kindergarten ELA and Kindergarten Math curricula.

early math concepts

Q: What are the basic math concepts in Pre-K?

A: Basic math concepts children should learn in preschool include:

Q: What math concepts should my child learn in preschool?

A: Basic math concepts that children should learn in preschool include:

Q: What are the benefits of using a number line?

A: A number line is beneficial for:

  • Counting in sequence
  • Counting by ones, fives, or tens
  • Adding one more
  • Skip counting—even and odd numbers
  • Counting backwards from any given number
  • Counting in sequence from any given number
  • Identifying numbers that come before, after, or between

Q: How can I help my child learn measurement?

A: Introduce your child to measurement by first using nonstandard units (cubes, paper clips, craft sticks, etc.) to measure simple objects. Discuss measuring from a baseline and the importance of accuracy when lining up objects to measure. Use language such as shorter, longer, equal, taller, and smaller.

When the children have a basic understanding of measurement, use natural settings to introduce different measurement tools such as:

  • Scales (bathroom scales or food scales)
  • Thermometers (oral thermometers or outdoor thermometers)
  • Rulers/yardsticks (measure the child’s height)
  • Tape measures (measure the child’s toys, fruit, or other objects)
  • Timers (time moving from one place to another)
  • Stopwatches (clean up time)
  • Measuring cups and spoons (cooking)
  • Clocks (lunch time, play time, outside time)

Q: What is one-to-one correspondence and how do I teach it?

A: Often young children memorize how to recite numbers in order without understanding that numbers represent quantities and that each object counted represents one more. One-to-one correspondence is the ability to match one number to one object.

Use manipulatives and natural settings for children to practice one-to-one correspondence such as:

  • Playing counting games (count the blocks in towers, books, cars, or crayons)
  • Counting objects in a line (rearrange and count again)
  • Determining the number of items (snacks, books, pencils, or paper) needed for the number of children present
  • Counting different motions (clapping or jumping)
  • Setting the table, making sure to prepare one setting for each person present

Q: What shapes should children recognize in preschool?

A: In preschool, children should learn to recognize and identify basic shapes such as circles, triangles, squares and rectangles. They should also be able to recognize and compare 2D and 3D shapes in the environment. For example, a cone is the same shape as an ice cream cone and a party hat.


Q: Why is teaching estimation important?

A: For many children, estimation is a difficult concept. Kindergarten children want to be right, so if there are 18 objects, saying there are about 20 is not good enough! Although children are usually encouraged to calculate the correct answer, being able to estimate is a valuable skill.

The ability to estimate shows that a child has good number sense. Children who have good number sense are able to use that skill to determine whether their answer to a math question is reasonable.

It is important for children to understand that estimation does not replace the need to produce accurate answers. However, teaching children to estimate helps them become critical thinkers and better understand expectations. Children also learn early to use mental math in order to arrive at reasonable answers to problems.

In real life, estimation is part of our everyday experience. When shopping in the grocery store and trying to stay within a budget, for example, we estimate the cost of the items we place in our carts to keep a running total in our heads. For young children the ability to estimate helps them to determine how much they might accomplish in a given period of time, for example when the teacher informs children that they have only five more minutes to work or play before clean up time.

Q: What are some fun, engaging ways to practice estimating?

A: In real life, estimation is part of our everyday experience. When shopping in the grocery store and trying to stay within a budget, for example, we estimate the cost of the items we place in our carts to keep a running total in our heads. For young children the ability to estimate helps them to determine how much they might accomplish in a given period of time; for example when the teacher informs children that they have only five more minutes to work or play before clean up time.

Some fun ways to practice estimations skills include:

  • Estimate how many food items are in a package before opening it.
  • Have an estimation jar containing various objects. The children estimate and then count the objects and check their estimations. Change the objects frequently.
  • Estimate how long it will take to arrive at a destination.
  • Estimate how many steps it will take to cross the room.

learning differences

Q: My child struggles with letter reversals. Does he (or she) have dyslexia?

A: It is perfectly normal for children between the ages of three and seven to occasionally reverse letters when they write. However, if the child still frequently writes backwards or upside down beyond the age of seven, it could signal a learning issue.

Q: My child has been labeled with a learning difference (or ADD or ADHD). Will homeschooling help my child?

A: Children certainly can do well learning at home if they have learning disabilities. An important difference between a homeschool and a traditional school environment is that your child can learn at his or her own pace, and you have more control over the environmental distractions often present in a traditional school environment. Homeschool can be designed to address the unique needs and develop the strengths of a child with a learning difference.

Many school districts provide resources and services to children with learning differences who are homeschooled. Contact your local district to determine whether these services are available.

Q: What are some effective ways to accommodate and assist children with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)?

A: Consider using the following strategies to to help your students with ADD/ADHD:

  • Find a quiet location (away from traffic, windows, and distractions) for children to complete their work.
  • Create a secret signal with the child to help him or her recognize when he or she is off task (a begin work cue). Try making eye contact with the child and touching your nose or giving a wink.
  • Give instructions one step at a time and keep them simple.
  • Allow time for frequent breaks.
  • Provide individualized visuals such as charts and pictures as reminders and for schedules. Remember to utilize the help of experts in your school when creating these charts.
  • Schedule frequent, brief conferences with the children to check their comprehension.

Q: My child writes most numerals backwards. How can I help my child? Is this an indication of a learning problem?

A: Number reversals are very common in young children. Have your child practice writing and identifying numbers using a multi sensory approach, such as writing numbers in pudding, shaving cream, or salt. Repetition is the key. As your child becomes more familiar with number sense, assist him or her to begin to identify reversals and self-correct. If the reversals continues past seven years of age, it could indicate a learning issue.

Q: What are some fun activities to help children who struggle with math concepts?

A: Providing children with hands-on experiences is a fun way for them to learn. Examples include:

  • Using manipulatives or concrete objects to demonstrate math concepts and exploring different ways to solve problems.
  • Playing math games (Starfall members have access to math games at
  • Using a deck of playing cards, determining more or less, and working with familiar number patterns.

learning styles

Q: How do I determine the learning style of my child?

A: A preliminary way of determining learning styles is to observe a child’s eye movement when answering questions. While this method is not sufficient to confirm a child’s learning style, it is a useful indicator.

Start by asking a “thinking” question such as, “What did you do on your last birthday?” and watch the child’s eye movement as he or she thinks about the answer. Their eye movement will give you a clue as to your child’s learning style.

  • Visual: Eyes look straight up and the head may tilt back. The child is remembering what he or she saw or will see, or is visualizing the answer.
  • Auditory: Eyes move to the right or left. The head may move sideways. The child is recalling where he or she heard something, or listening to him/herself think of the answer.
  • Kinesthetic: Eyes go straight down and the head may tilt down. The child is remembering how he or she did something, or how he or she would do it.
  • All three: Eyes stay forward, no movement at all, indicating a balance of all three learning styles.

Children may demonstrate both visual and kinesthetic eye movements. The eye movement that occurs first indicates their primary learning style.

Q: I have a verbal and easily distracted group of students. How can I best meet their needs?

A: Determining the learning styles of your students will help you address this situation. The three most common learning styles are visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. While most students use a combination of learning styles, one usually dominates.

When delivering instruction, it is important to present information in ways that communicate to everyone. Often we teach from our own learning styles without realizing it. For example, visual learners tend to use verb phrases such as “look here” and “see this,” thus inadvertently diminishing the attention of auditory and kinesthetic learners.

Q: What are the three most common learning styles?

A: The three most common learning styles are visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. While most students use a combination of learning styles, one usually dominates.

The Kinesthetic Learner

  • Makes feelings known and expresses them physically—gestures when speaking
  • Seems distracted and has difficulty paying attention to auditory or visual presentations—loses interest in long discussions
  • Fidgets while looking at books

Meeting Kinesthetic Needs

  • Involve kinesthetic learners directly in the instruction—they are excellent volunteers and helpers
  • Incorporate movement, use ASL
  • Make up a tune and sing directions
  • Drop the pitch of your voice

Key Kinesthetic Verbs

  • act out, draw, give, feel, make, write, do, build, get, touch, want, use

The Auditory Learner

  • Can be working on something unrelated and still hear directions and instructions
  • Enjoys listening to others but can’t wait to talk
  • Likes hearing himself/herself and others talk during recitation, stories, and discussion

Meeting Auditory Needs

  • Encourage auditory learners to verbalize information to themselves and others—partner sharing and discussion is a must
  • Stand to the right of the group when delivering directions
  • Make up a tune and sing directions

Key Auditory Verbs

  • ask, discuss, explain, listen, say, answer, hear, sound, talk, whisper

The Visual Learner

  • Looks around and examines
  • Has great recall of words presented visually
  • Recognizes words by sight and relies on configuration of letters for spelling
  • Sometimes stops and stares into space

Meeting Visual Needs

  • Invite these children to help you create lists during whole group instruction. They learn best when they write things down
  • Charts, webs, and images are sure means of keeping their attention
  • Show the pictures during read-alouds

Key Visual Verbs

  • look, show, watch, picture, see, visualize, view, imagine

number concepts

Q: Why is it that children seem to understand “more than” better than “less than”?

A: The fact that children are usually more successful at determining which number is “one more” than which number is “one less,” is an indication that they do not fully comprehend the meaning of numbers. Continue to work on counting and one-to-one correspondence to help children strengthen their number skills.

Q: How can I help my child with the concepts of more than and less than?

A: Begin with using manipulatives to demonstrate the concept of more than/less than. If you have a number line, connect the work they are doing with manipulatives to the abstract numbers on the number line.

For example, using manipulatives, create a set of five and a set of eight. Once the child determines the number in each set he or she should identify which set is less than the other, and relate it to the numbers on the number line. Continue to practice and give the child opportunities to create sets.


Q: What does it mean to decode?

A: A key skill to becoming a good reader is the ability to sound out unknown words. This process is called decoding. Decoding begins with the ability to match letters and their sounds. It also involves being able to take apart the sounds in words (segmenting) and blend sounds together. When children can do both, they can sound out words. Beginning readers start with decoding one-syllable words, such as cat, and work their way up to longer ones.

Q: Why is it important to focus on sounds in the final position?

A: In order for children to successfully decode and encode words, it is essential they understand that words are comprised of a combination of smaller sounds or phonemes. They must also understand that within a single word a given phoneme can appear at the beginning, end, middle, or even more than once. We strive to teach children to identify a phoneme regardless of its position or frequency in a word.

In the course of normal speech, people tend to drop or slur final sounds. As a result, children may not hear or learn to pronounce words correctly. Modeling emphasis on final sounds supports not only children’s proper articulation, but it also attunes them to listen to the entire word and determine whether or not they heard it correctly. These skills will contribute greatly to children’s ability to encode, or spell, words.

Apart from clearly articulating final sounds when we speak, you can also emphasize final sounds through activities in which children identify and produce rhyming words. Identifying and producing rhyming words indicates children’s awareness of final sounds.

Q: Why is substituting sounds in words so important?

A: A child’s ability to manipulate spelling patterns is a key principle of reading and writing success. It is important to introduce this skill early during the first part of the kindergarten year and practice it increasingly throughout the year.

After children have learned a number of sound spellings and have practiced blending them to form words, we introduce a group of simple, single-syllable consonant vowel consonant (CVC) words that share a common spelling pattern (a word family). By manipulating a word family, (changing h in hat to r to create rat), children quickly discover that substituting the first letter (the onset) will result in a new word even though the spelling pattern (the rime) remains unchanged.

The result of this discovery is an increased ability to decode and encode words within that word family, and transfer of this principle to other word families such as — ight or —ay.

phonological awareness

Q: What is the difference between phonological awareness and phonics?

A: Phonological awareness involves the ears only. It is the ability to identify, hear, and manipulate the smallest speech sounds without print.

Phonics involves the eyes and ears. It is the process of teaching beginning readers to connect the sounds of spoken language with letters or groups of letters. Children then learn to blend the sounds of letters together to form words, or decode.

Q: Why is phonological awareness important?

A: Children hear and recognize sounds long before they make associations with printed symbols. Phonological awareness has to do with the child’s ability to hear and manipulate the sounds within words.

Q: What are some examples of phonological awareness activities that I can use with my child?

A: Some activities related to phonological awareness include:

  • Sentence Level—How many words are in the sentence, “I love to go shopping with mom.”
  • Word Level—Do these words rhyme: cake and bake?
  • Word Level—(Onsets and rimes) Listen to these sounds—/f/, /un/. What is the word? (fun)
  • Syllable Level—How many parts are in the word butterfly?
  • Phoneme (individual sound) Level—What is the last (or final) sound in box?
  • Phoneme Blending—Listen to these sounds: /h/, /u/, /t/. What is the word? (hut)

Remember, phonological awareness is the identifying sounds in absence of print.

Q: What if a child struggles with phonological awareness?

A: Inability or difficulty to hear/manipulate sounds within words (in absence of print) is the number one predictor of a learning difference.

First, it is important that explicit instruction in phonological awareness has occurred before making any decision regarding academic evaluation. However, if the child is still struggling with manipulating or hearing sounds after explicit instruction and considerable practice, professional evaluation is recommended.


Q: What are some important concepts children need to learn when handling books?

A: Most importantly, children need to know how to handle books with care. In addition, as you read a book you might discuss the following:

  • A book has a front cover and a back cover.
  • A book has a beginning and an end.
  • A book has pages.
  • Each page has a top and a bottom.
  • You turn pages one at a time to follow the story.
  • You read a story from the left to the right of a page, and you read from the top to the bottom.
  • Illustrations can help with understanding the story.

Q: What is the best way to teach children to read?

A: The best way to teach a child to read is to read to the child! You can start this the day the child is born. Make a habit of reading your own books, magazines, etc. aloud. Modeling a love for reading helps to create a love of reading in your child.

Additional suggestions as the child is older include:

  • Continue to read aloud to your child. This is the single best way to teach a child to read! Reading books aloud to children stimulates their imagination and expands their understanding of the world. It helps them develop language and listening skills and prepares them to understand the written word. Even after children learn to read by themselves, it is still important for you to read aloud together.
  • As you read, interact with the child. Point out how the text and illustrations work together and discuss vocabulary in the story that may not be familiar to your child.
  • Reread books. Use your finger to track the words as you read.
  • Occasionally omit words and have your child supply them.
  • Visit the library often.
  • When your child asks a question or is curious about a subject, seek out books or websites to read to help them learn more about the subject.
  • Encourage awareness of print in the environment. Point out signs and familiar words in grocery stores, road signs, etc.
  • Access "Backpack Bear's Books" on for simple rebus style (use of pictures) and decodable stories. The "Learn to Read" section contains the next level of texts for simple emergent reading.

Q: Is it okay for my child to look at illustrations to help him or her read a word?

A: Absolutely! It is part of the reading process. Illustrations provide meaningful clues to children as they are learning to decode words. They also help children make connections to the text that assist them to comprehend what they are reading. Pictures and illustrations are sometimes referred to as “visual text.”

Q: How can I help my child become a confident reader?

A: Read to and with your child for at least 20 minutes every day. Once your child is able to read to you, make sure that you still read to your child. Children will often resist reading because they fear that means the adult will no longer read to them!

Partner read with the child and read one page, the child reads the next, and so on.

Rotate the books the child reads. Begin with a text they can read fluently. Follow it with a text that presents more of a challenge. The challenging text should be no more than one level above the child’s reading level.

Always provide honest praise and excitement for your child’s accomplishments.

Access “I’m Reading” at for stories your child can confidently read. This index provides buttons children can press to hear a sentence read aloud if they get stuck. Have the child practice online with the story, then show how he or she can read the story independently to you.

Q: What are some fun activities to help children learn reading concepts with which they are struggling?

A: Helpful activities to help children learn reading concepts include:

  • Looking for sight words in magazines, road signs, and advertisements.
  • Keeping a whiteboard handy for your child to use; children love to write on whiteboards!
  • Playing word games that focus on rhyming and opposites.
  • Encouraging your child to assist in making lists (grocery store). Have him or her carry the list and check off items as they are placed in the cart. Remind your child to look at the first and last letter for clues.

Q: I have children who are reading above grade level. What accommodations should I make for these children?

A: Some children have good visual memory skills and therefore memorize words. They may have skipped some essential developmental stages and therefore have not mastered the foundational skills that will support them when the number of new words they encounter outnumbers what they can memorize.

These children may also be “reading” without comprehending. There is a tendency to perceive children who can read as mature, and assume they will not enjoy or benefit from group activities.

If you encounter children who have mastered all of these skills and are reading above grade level, try the following strategies to help meet their needs:

  • Provide opportunities for them to mentor other children. This practice will simultaneously solidify their knowledge and help others (including you).
  • Provide reading material at their reading level to read for pleasure. More advanced stories can be found in the “Talking Library,” “I’m Reading,” and “More Phonics” sections of
  • If you have several children at approximately the same reading level, form a “Challenge Book Club.” Members meet occasionally to discuss a book, with a focus on comprehension.


Q: I keep doing rhyming activities but some children still struggle with the concept of rhyming words. What can I do?

A: Rhyming words are extremely difficult for some children. Try moving through the four different levels of mastering rhyming words that include:

  1. Saying two words and asking if they rhyme
  2. Saying a word and asking the child to say a word that rhymes with it
  3. Saying three words and asking which word does not rhyme.
  4. Reciting a passage from a nursery rhyme and asking which words in the passage rhyme.

Reciting a passage from a nursery rhyme and asking which words rhyme is the most difficult unless you over-articulate the rhyming words or the children are familiar with the nursery rhyme

Rhyming is a phonological skill; however, some children may need the power of visual imagery to make the connection. Use pictures of rhyming word pairs to pair the auditory and visual. Songs are probably the most effective and fun way to practice rhyming words.

The best advice is to keep practicing. This is a developmental process and it will come in time.

Note: A child must understand all four levels in order to be proficient in the skill of rhyming.

sight words

Q: What are sight words?

A: Sight words, or high frequency words, are commonly used words that young children are encouraged to memorize as a whole by sight, so that they can automatically recognize them in print without having to use strategies to decode or sound them out.

Q: What is a good way for children to learn sight words?

A: The best way for children to learn and retain sight or high frequency words is through repetition. The more stories they read that include the targeted sight words the more fluent they will be in recognizing them without needing to try to decode the word.

Suggested games and activities to help children learn sight words include:

  • Provide each child with index cards. The child writes one sight word on each card, prints their name on the bottom and places the cards in a baggie. Then partner children in pairs to flash the cards to one another or play “Concentration.”
  • Play rapid recognition where you flash word cards and the class says the word as quickly as possible.
  • Conduct individual assessments where children identify specific sight words. Children will want you to check off the words they know. This serves as a motivation to practice those words at home.

Q: What is the difference between sight words and vocabulary words?

A: Sight words are words that the children see frequently in stories. Vocabulary words are words that are specific to concepts. Children encounter vocabulary words during read alouds and daily conversations.

Often we assume children understand the meanings of vocabulary words used in stories and oral conversations, but many times when these words are used in isolation, children are unable to correctly provide their meanings.

We encourage you to frequently question children regarding the meanings of words to determine which words they do not understand. Children will begin to value active listening for understanding and begin asking for clarification.


Q: What is subitizing?

A: To subitize is to quickly identify numbers of objects in relatively small sets, without the need to count. It is recognizing a number without relying on other mathematical processes. Subitizing plays an important role in the development of basic math skills, especially addition and subtraction.

Q: Why do children need to subitize?

A: Subitizing provides the early basis for addition and subtraction skills. Understanding “how many” without counting will help children count on from a known patterned set, combine numbers from sets, and develop mathematical fluency. For example, when you roll dice you automatically recognize that five dots on a die is five without counting the dots.

Q: Should you introduce subitizing before addition and subtraction?

A: Subitizing is initially presented as the rapid recognition of images, such as the dots on dice and dominoes. Children quickly learn these patterns, and without really trying, commit the patterns to their visual memories. The children then extend this skill to the ability to add on from a given number.

For example, if a domino has three dots on one side and six dots on the other side, the children learn to identify the larger number (6) then count on (3) from that number (6, 7, 8, 9). Repeated recognition of patterns of dots and use of tally marks help children learn number combinations. Eventually, when a child looks at a domino with three dots on one side and six on the other, he or she will instantly realize that six plus three equals nine. Therefore, subitizing provides an early basis for composing and decomposing numbers.

Q: What are arrays and how are they helpful?

A: An array is a systematic arrangement of objects placed in rows and columns. They are helpful when teaching young children various math skills because they provide children with a clear visual representation.


Q: What types of intervention do you suggest for children who struggle with teens?

A: As with learning to read the numerals zero through nine, there are many everyday situations that provide purposeful opportunities to practice recognizing numerals and numeral writing. For example, recording the score of a game between the teacher/parent and children, counting crayons in a container and then recording the number, lining up the children and having them “count off” as you indicate them in line, assigning a “teen” number to each child (they can write their teen number on a whiteboards or paper), and playing games calling out different teen numbers are all excellent opportunities in which the children can receive needed daily practice.

Repeated exposure to the numbers and experiences that involve recording them will help those who are struggling while also providing reinforcement for the others.

Q: How do I help children who reverse two digit numbers, especially teens?

A: Repetition is the key to success. Model how to write these numbers correctly and provide multiple opportunities to practice, using not only pencils and paper, but also shaving cream, salt, and other materials. If your children are developmentally ready, you may also begin to use manipulatives to demonstrate place value.

Q: Do children need to have a solid understanding of place value before introducing teens?

A: It is very common for children to experience some difficulty with the numbers 11-19, since their names do not follow the common rules, and numerals now take on very different meaning depending on their placement.

The key to understanding numbers beyond 10 is to understand place value. However, children do not need to have a full understanding of place value prior to introducing the teen numbers.

Expose children to numbers beyond ten daily during the calendar, number line, and hundreds chart routines, and most importantly through the place value activity, in which they are bundling sets of tens with ones left over.

Activities involving counting on from a given number and the use of ten frames also assist children in their understanding of the “tricky teens,” which provides a foundation for formally introducing the numbers 11 through 19.


Q: When should a child know how to write his or her name?

A: Children develop fine motor skills at various times, so there is no set guideline. The first stage in writing one’s name is the ability to make circles and draw lines from left to right.

Children should be able to first recognize their own names and then be able to distinguish between letters and numbers.

To help the child, you can write his or her name with a highlighter and have the child trace inside the highlighted area. It’s not important that letters are formed correctly. This will come with time and practice.

Q: Should you correct children’s writings?

A: The kid writing/adult writing dynamic creates a safe, responsive environment that eliminates the requirement for children to ”get it right.” Children freely and confidently take risks and apply their knowledge of letters, sounds, and mechanics because they know you will be there to interpret, guide, and celebrate their efforts. Here’s how it works:

When children begin to write, encourage them to put their thoughts into words in whatever way they can. Some may scribble or pretend write. Others may attempt to write the letters that stand for the sounds they hear in words.

All of these efforts are “kid writing.” As children write, circulate around the room, reading and responding to their kid writing, and adding adult writing to capture their ideas. Adult writing must occur during, not after, the writing session. It is equally important that children share their writings with each other when they finish.

Children benefit because they:

  • Take risks without worrying about being correct
  • Receive immediate feedback delivered in a friendly, constructive, and collaborative fashion
  • Can refer back to adult writing in previous compositions and self-correct
  • Receive one-on-one affirmation of their efforts and successes
  • Recognize that what they write is important to themselves and others
  • Associate writing with meaning, cooperation, and pleasure

Teachers benefit because they can:

  • Quickly assess and diagnose each child’s application of what they’ve learned
  • Note trends that might indicate the need for whole group instruction
  • Demonstrate correct spelling, capitalization, and punctuation
  • Observe phonetic and speech errors such as /compuder/ (computer) and /wat/ (rat)
  • Clearly communicate their expectations to each writer
  • Scaffold feedback to meet individual learners’ needs
  • Encourage children to further develop their thoughts and reward their successes

The child is sure to write more in order to share his or her experience with you!

Q: How can I make writing fun?

A: Writing is fun when it is meaningful to children. Many children enjoy keeping journals, writing notes to friends and relatives, and making lists. Other writing activities might include keeping diaries and writing to penpals. Another favorite is for children to write stories about themselves and imaginary friends.