Invite Guests—Not Germs—to Your Home During the Holidays

By Elizabeth Verdick, author of Germs Are Not for Sharing

Invite Guests—Not Germs—to Your Home During the HolidaysHurray, it’s the holiday season!

Uh-oh, it’s also cold and flu season.

Parties, travel, and gatherings are all part of holiday fun, but time spent with others during cold and flu season means that you and your children are more likely to get sick. What are you supposed to do—hide out and avoid the crowds? Impossible. There are ways to reduce the risk of getting viruses, though. It all starts with the hands.

Your hands are busy all day long, and they touch so many different surfaces: railings, countertops, handles, money, credit cards, computer keyboards, the steering wheel, the remote control. Did you know that flu viruses can survive on a hard surface for up to 24 hours? As a parent, you probably spend part of your day changing diapers, helping your child in the bathroom, wiping noses, or cleaning up spills and messy faces too. In other words, your hands are in constant contact with a variety of germs through touch. If you then put a finger in your mouth, nose, or eye, you’ve introduced germs into an environment where they take hold and spread.

To reduce your exposure to viruses and bacteria, wash your hands often—the right way. A recent study by the US Department of Agriculture determined that people fail to correctly wash their hands 97 percent of the time. The most common mistake? Not washing hands long enough to kill germs. Looks like many adults need a review on handwashing so we can help our kids do it right! The following CDC guidelines for handwashing can help.

Invite Guests—Not Germs—to Your Home During the HolidaysFollow these five steps every time:

  • Wet your hands with clean running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.
  • Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
  • Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.
  • Rinse your hands well under clean running water.
  • Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.
    (From the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Practice these handwashing techniques with your children as early as the toddler years. You may want to teach the phrase “Germs are not for sharing” as a reminder. As your children get older, check in to make sure they’ve remembered to follow the handwashing steps, especially before and after eating; after using the bathroom; after sneezing, coughing, or blowing their nose; and after touching a phone, computer, or tablet.

Despite all your preventive measures and good intentions, your child still may get sick with a cold or the flu. If possible, keep a child who is ill confined to a specific area of your home to avoid spreading the illness to others. Show children how to sneeze and cough into a tissue or their sleeve (not on each other or you). Keep surfaces clean by frequently wiping them down with cleansers or bleach.

Sick time isn’t any fun, but you can help your child pass the hours by doing quiet holiday-related activities—reading winter-themed stories, making cards for loved ones, wrapping presents, and watching holiday movies. And don’t forget: If you’re the one who’s sick, stay home. You may have many tasks and people to take care of during the season, but you need time for yourself too.

Here’s to staying healthy and enjoying the holidays with loved ones . . . cheers!

For More Information
US Department of Agriculture: “Study Shows Most People Are Spreading Dangerous Bacteria Around the Kitchen and Don’t Even Realize It”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: “When & How to Wash Your Hands”

Author Elizabeth VerdickElizabeth Verdick has written children’s books for kids of all ages, from toddlers to teens. She has worked on many titles in the Laugh & Learn® series. Elizabeth loves helping kids through her work as a writer and an editor. She lives in Minnesota with her husband and their two (nearly grown) children, and she plays traffic cop for their many furry, four-footed friends.

Free Spirit books by Elizabeth Verdick:

Germs Are Not For SharingClean UpTimeNoses Are Not for Picking


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Posted in Early Childhood, Parenting | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Enter to Win a $200 Free Spirit Gift Certificate!

Thank you for another wonderful year! For our final giveaway of 2018, one lucky reader will win a $200 gift certificate to use at

To Enter: Leave a comment below telling us what makes you a free spirit.

For additional entries, leave a separate comment below for each of the following tasks that you complete:

Each comment counts as a separate entry—that’s four chances to win! Entries must be received by midnight, December 21, 2018.

The winner will be contacted via email after January 1, 2019, and will need to respond within one week to claim his or her prize or another winner will be chosen. This giveaway is in no way affiliated with, administered, or endorsed by Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest. Winner must be a US resident, 18 years of age or older.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

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The 5Es of Deeper Learning

By Richard M. Cash, Ed.D., author of Self-Regulation in the Classroom: Helping Students Learn How to Learn
Part of our Cash in on Learning series by Richard M. Cash, Ed.D. Click to read other Cash in on Learning posts.

The 5Es of Deeper LearningBack in the day, Madeline Hunter’s lesson plan design was all the rage! As a novice teacher, I was taught how to construct lessons based on the plan:

  1. Stating the objectives
  2. The anticipatory set
  3. Input modeling and practice
  4. Checking for understanding
  5. Guided practice
  6. Independent practice
  7. Closure

The plan’s sequence was intended to move students from being dependent to independent. Later, the resurrection of the Gradual Release of Responsibility (GRR), as popularized by Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey, was also built around the theory of providing students a structure to develop greater responsibility for their learning. I’d like to add to these ideas by sharing five Es that can encourage deeper learning and student satisfaction.

The most powerful tool in learning is student interest. If students are interested in the topic or ideas being shared, they are more likely to pay attention. Engagement, the act of avoiding distraction, is a critical component in developing or piquing student interest. Engaging students in the learning process also means making sure they feel confident they have the skills and abilities to do what is coming (self-efficacy) and that the learning will be meaningful (“I can use this information in the very near future”) and relevant (“This makes sense to me, because I can relate to the content”). Students also need to know that their teacher will be supportive throughout the learning process.

Consider these different ways to get students interested in the topic of study.

  • Start your lesson with a provocative question that gets students involved in discussion related to the standard or objective of the lesson, such as “Is immortality desirable? Why or why not?”
  • Help students uncover their background knowledge of the topic or skills being developed.
  • Share work from previous students to show your students that they, too, can do this.
  • Provide various websites or videos that offer overviews of the topic.
  • Have students play a game or investigate an app that uses the topic or skills about to be taught.
  • Bring in professionals who practice in the discipline to talk about what they do for a living.
  • Go on a field trip (real or virtual) based on the unit topic.
  • Have multiple resources around the room about the topic—make sure to include visuals as well as written materials.

Now that you have caught students’ attention, it’s time to let them explore the topic. Exploration is the way we learn—infants are constantly exploring their world, finding out what works and what doesn’t, recognizing how their feet or that rattle tastes and feels in their mouth. Our curiosity of how things work and how to solve problems compels us to want to know more. Exploration helps us build a greater sense of confidence and creativity in thinking.

Try these ideas to encourage exploration.

  • Provide authentic, real-world problems that include the topic or skills being developed.
  • Have students brainstorm different solutions or possibilities around the problems or issues.
  • Help students connect what they already know about the topic or skills they already have to new information.
  • Offer tasks that are open-ended, encouraging students to come up with different ways to solve problems or uncover different perspectives about a topic.
  • Give students ample time to investigate the complexities of ideas through a variety of resources and materials.
  • Have authentic materials in and around the classroom so students can experience, hands-on, the tools of the discipline.
  • Encourage students to examine the various careers and professionals that interact with the topic or use the skills being developed.
  • Get students involved with debates and discussions about the importance of the information, products, and skills being developed. Coach the “naysayers” to find usefulness.

The 5Es of Deeper LearningExplain
All kids learn at different paces. Some need more explanation, while others need less. How you explain things to students matters. Harsh condescending tones will turn off your students to what you are trying to get across to them. While you might be frustrated, you must understand that the student is even more frustrated. Begin your explanation with reassurance and a supportive attitude. Ask questions of students to find out what they do and do not understand. Clear, step-by-step explanations work best.

Here are a few ways to provide effective explanations.

  • Be specific in your language—avoid ambiguous terms or unfamiliar words.
  • Keep it simple, avoiding overly complicated terms and language.
  • Use ongoing descriptive feedback to help students see what they do well and what needs attention.
  • Encourage them to ask questions about what they are learning.
  • Enlist the assistance of other students—they may be able to explain things in kid-friendly terms.
  • Use videos or websites as supports to explain information.
  • Draw diagrams or sketches, since some students have greater comprehension through visual learning.
  • Use affirming language that recognizes students’ struggles and supports their growth.

Elaboration is a strategy students can use to help them build on prior knowledge and affirm new knowledge. Elaboration involves making connections between ideas and materials and the student’s own experiences. Education and cognitive psychologists define this strategy as elaborative interrogation: the generating of explanations for why an explicitly stated fact or concept is true.¹ The word interrogation in this case means to question. Having students ask and answer how and why questions deepens their understanding.

Consider these ideas for using elaboration in learning.

  • Have students create a learning log of new ideas gained each day.
  • Use graphic organizers, such as webs, to show connections between information.
  • Describe how new ideas and information connect to students’ daily lives.
  • Have students draw pictures of new ideas, graphically representing how they picture the information.
  • When a new idea is presented, have students work in small groups to discuss how they understand the information.
  • Create bulletin boards that visually represent the connections between topics.
  • Teach through concepts (big ideas), encouraging students to make generalizations about how the world works (more on conceptual learning can be found in Advancing Differentiation: Thinking and Learning for the 21st Century).
  • Encourage students to use the Five Whys to Therefore method of questioning—ask at least five why questions and then form a therefore answer. (This, too, can be found in Advancing Differentiation).

In this case, evaluate does not infer teacher assessment of student work. I suggest students should routinely evaluate or judge the what and how of their learning process. This student self-assessment process can be an effective tool to increase motivation and self-efficacy (beliefs about one’s ability to succeed).

Try these ideas for assisting students in their own evaluations of learning.

  • Every day, have students write their reflections on what and how they learned in a learning log.
  • For younger students, use happy, neutral, and sad faces to help them define their progress.
  • For older students, have them use emojis to define their progress.
  • Encourage students to pause throughout lessons to take their “learning temperature” (from “feeling fine” to “I need the doctor for help”).
  • Post self-evaluation questions around the room to prompt reflection.
  • Form network groups—small groups of students who meet routinely throughout the learning to question and help each other.
  • Have students graphically represent what they learn—visualizing is an extremely effective tool for learning (more on visual learning can be found in Visual Learning and Teaching: An Essential Guide for Educators K–8).

¹Dunlosky, J., Rawson, K. A., Marsh, E. J., Nathan, M. J., & Willingham, D. T. (2013). “Improving Students’ Learning with Effective Learning Techniques: Promising Directions from Cognitive and Educational Psychology.” Psychological Science in the Public Interest 14(1), 4–58.

Richard CashRichard M. Cash, Ed.D., writes the monthly Cash in on Learning blog posts for Free Spirit Publishing. He has given hundreds of workshops, presentations, and staff development sessions throughout the United States and internationally.

Free Spirit books by Richard Cash:

Self-regulation Advancing Differentiation Revised and Updated Edition Differentiation for Gifted Learners

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

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Winter Holidays: Learning About Differences Can Lead to Common Ground

By Allison Wedell Schumacher

Winter Holidays: Learning About Differences Can Lead to Common GroundWhen I was in sixth grade, my teacher had us read Robert Frost’s poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” which remains to this day one of my favorites. It was one of my first experiences with literary analysis. When we got to the stanza that ends, “The darkest evening of the year,” my teacher asked, “What night do you think he’s talking about?”

I’m not sure whether any of us 11- and 12-year-olds came up with the answer—the winter solstice—ourselves, but that was the first time I really started to understand that many cultures and religions celebrate the return of the light in one way or another. And we’ve been doing it a long time. One of the earliest stories we know about is Persephone, who, according to ancient Greek myth, was the daughter of Demeter (goddess of, among other things, grain and the harvest). Persephone was kidnapped by Hades, lord of the underworld, and when he took her down to live with him, the world became dark and lifeless because of Demeter’s grief. After an arrangement between Demeter and Hades, Persephone was allowed to return to the world, but she had to go to the underworld for three months each year: winter.

All of this is to say that humans have been celebrating the return of the light and anticipating the arrival of spring for at least 3,000 years, so it’s no wonder that there are a lot of different ways to do it. Helping children learn about the things different cultures do to celebrate at this time of year (and why they celebrate at this time of year) is important. The more children learn about how families are different, the more open-minded and compassionate they’ll be.

So how can we help our kids learn these things? For starters, you can do lots of reading together. Books like The Shortest Day: Celebrating the Winter Solstice by Wendy Pfeffer can help your child learn about the science behind the shortening of days and how different cultures and religions celebrate winter holidays.

But learning about these celebrations in person is even better. Step into just about any home during November through January, and it’s sure to have some holiday decorations in evidence, whether they’re for Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, or one of the many other holidays celebrated at this time of year. As an adult, you may feel silly asking about holiday decorations—one feels one should know by now why there are nine candles on a menorah even though Hanukkah is only eight days long.

That’s when kids’ natural curiosity comes in. Don’t pretend you have all the answers; instead, encourage your child to ask questions (respectfully, of course) about others’ holiday traditions, where the traditions come from, and what they mean. Even if someone celebrates the same holiday(s) your family does, your child is bound to learn something interesting about this person’s family traditions.

What’s wonderful about learning about (and appreciating) the differences in cultures and religions is that doing so brings to light the similarities between your holiday traditions and other people’s. Maybe you celebrate Christmas and your neighbors celebrate Diwali, but both holidays focus on light, love, family, and generosity, among other things.

Helping your child maintain a spirit of open-mindedness and curiosity during the holiday season (no matter what the holidays look like for your family) can help pave the way for compassion, tolerance, and learning in the future—which is just about the best holiday gift you can give.

Allison Wedell SchumacherAllison Wedell Schumacher is a writer, editor, and mom whose diverse work focuses on sexual abuse prevention, bullying prevention, social-emotional learning, public safety, and theater/acting. She is the author of Shaking Hands with Shakespeare: A Teenager’s Guide to Reading and Performing the Bard (Simon & Schuster, 2004), and her work has been featured here and at,, and Committee for Children. You can find her on LinkedIn.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2018 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved.

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11 Prompts to Inspire Creative Thinking in Students

11 Prompts to Inspire Creative Thinking in StudentsAs the holidays and winter break approach, keeping students engaged can get a little challenging. When kids’ attention starts to wander, pull them back in and inspire them to find new ways to see the world with these creative thinking prompts.

  1. Name five things you could do with a 100-pound watermelon.
  2. Invent a machine that would make someone’s life easier. Draw or describe it.
  3. Make a list of 10 rhyming words. Use these words to write a poem.
  4. What does it mean to be a good citizen? How could you encourage your friends and family to be good citizens?
  5. Pretend you are an elephant. Do you live in a zoo? Or in the wild in Asia or Africa? Tell about your day.
  6. Make up a silly word and tell what it means. Pretend you are adding it to the dictionary.
  7. What is one thing you could do today to make a difference in someone’s life?
  8. Your family just told you that you are getting a pet dinosaur! What will your dinosaur look like? Will he be ferocious? Will she be the size of your house? Draw a picture of your new pet.
  9. You have been elected to start your own country! Tell about it.
  10. Think of something nice to do for someone. Be more creative than just holding open a door or smiling at a new student. Write or tell about what you would do, and then come up with a plan to do it.
  11. List some things that can be recycled (plastic bottles, old newspapers). Now, list some items that aren’t recyclable (Styrofoam, lightbulbs). How could you reuse these items? Why do you think recycling is important?

Creative Thinking In a JarFor more activities and questions to turn kids’ imaginations upside down, check out Creative Thinking In a Jar®.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2018 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved.

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