Author Archives: eliza

Heating Marshmallows: A Science Experiment

3marshmallowsby Diane Burdick, Ed.S.

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When you hear the word “marshmallow,” what comes to mind? Maybe you think of s’mores, or maybe of the party game where you cram your mouth with marshmallows while saying “chubby bunny.” But, if you’re science-minded, you may have different ideas altogether. Here’s just such an idea:  a fun experiment with marshmallows that illustrates Charles’s Law.

This “law of volumes” explains that the amount of space something takes up increases as the temperature increases. And, as it turns out, a heated marshmallow is just the ticket for illustrating this principle to children. 

Things you’ll need:

• 4 large or jumbo marshmallows

• Microwave-safe plate

• Paper towels

• Microwave


1. Place a paper towel on a microwave-safe plate, and place one marshmallow on the paper towel.marshmallow microwave

2. Heat the marshmallow on high power for 10 seconds. Notice the shape and size of the marshmallow, and record any changes from its original shape. Students can use illustrations, adjectives and sentences in their notes. Allow the marshmallow to cool and note its shape.

3. Heat a second marshmallow on a paper towel in the microwave; heat on high for 30 seconds. Notice the shape and size of the marshmallow, and record any changes from its original shape.

4. Heat the third marshmallow on a paper towel in the microwave; heat on high for 50 seconds. Notice the shape and size of the marshmallow, and record any changes from its original shape.

Thinking Questions:

• Which marshmallow expanded the most?

• Which marshmallow shrunk fastest?

• Did the marshmallows ever return to their original shape or size?

What’s Happening:

Visualize the outside parts of the marshmallow as a flexible container of air. When the air inside this container gets hot, the marshmallow will expand, and therefore, the container will also grow and take up more space. As the temperature drops, the volume of the gas decreases, and the size of the marshmallow decreases as well.

Inspiration Source:

Kitchen Science Experiments: How Does Your Mold Garden Grow? by Sudipta Bardhan-Qualen


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When Your Child Starts to Fall Behind {a guideline for parents}

happy boy doing homeworkby Ria Clarke 

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As much as we, as parents, like to believe that we are on top of things, there are times when we let things slide. After all, life is stressful and filled with distractions and constant interruptions. Falling behind happens to the best of us.

But what happens when you begin to notice your student making low grades, or you get a note from the teacher that there’s an issue? What’s a parent to do? Here are some practical steps to get your child back on track.

1. Identify the problem if possible. Make a mental checklist and ask yourself important questions: Have you created a dedicated learning space at home that is free from noise and distraction? Is your child getting enough sleep? Is your child over-scheduled? Have they had a recent eye or hearing test? Are they too engrossed in gadgets or television? Rule out overlooked easy-to-resolve issues, first. 

2. Communicate with the teacher. Don’t wait for the problem to mushroom. My son’s second grade teacher has after-school tutoring for children that are falling behind. During these sessions, she gives them the personalized attention that may be impossible during the regular class period. Regular communication with your child’s teacher will help nip problems in the bud before they get out of control.

Asian Mom Daughter3. Make the necessary adjustments. If you have identified that your child is over-scheduled or is not getting enough sleep, take the necessary steps to ensure that your child cuts back on extra-curricular activities or nighttime television so that he or she is well rested. Make sure your child has all the supplies and essentials handy in their homework center and make sure that distractions are kept to a minimum. And, keep yourself in the loop on their progress by checking over your child’s homework so you catch any errors or missed problems before assignments are handed in and graded.

4. Review the material. Not all teachers offer after-school tutoring, but you can help your child by spending the time to go over concepts at home. Visit your local teacher store and purchase homework helpers and various learning aids to reinforce what your child has been doing at school. Make the review sessions short but meaningful so your child doesn’t get resentful or frustrated.

5. Consider professional help. Ask your child’s teacher for references, or check your local library or go online to search for homework help or private tutors. Investigate established places like LearningRx, Omega Learning Centers, Appleton Learning, Huntington Learning Center, or Kumon for extra help.

SonKissingMom High ResIt is also important to recognize that each child is different and learns differently. Work with your child’s teacher to help your child unlock the potential that may be locked inside. It may be frustrating at first but stick with it. Remember that practice makes perfect.

Ria Clarke is the proud parent of a second grader and a toddler. She’s also a SAHM and freelance writer of various lifestyle and educational issues. When she’s not actively involved in projects and homework or chasing down a toddler, she can be found in the kitchen baking or curled up with a good book.

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How Technology is Changing our Classrooms

by Steven Madison

“The times they are a-changing.” The famous Bob Dylan song lyrics are just as true today as they were when he first sang them in February 1964. The times are always changing, and with the rate technology moves in today’s world, they are changing fast. Ten years ago a cell phone was still a luxury item. Today they are ubiquitous. Twenty years ago we were still listening to cassette tapes. Today, all of our music is digitalized, and nobody needs to go further than their computer screen to buy the newest (or the oldest) music on the market. The times, they are certainly a-changing.

One place where technology has quickly transformed the environment around it is the classroom. While computers were once a novelty, perhaps a 45-minute per week diversion, they are now found in classrooms across the country and put to use by students regularly and naturally. Not all schools have been fortunate enough to have the funding necessary to take advantage of all the available educational technology, but still, the technology even in those classrooms is usually significantly more advanced than most adults would remember from their childhoods.

Bringing technology into the classroom setting has a number of benefits for students and teachers alike. Instead of simply absorbing the information that is taught to them, technology often makes students take on more engaged roles, actively communicating, generating, manipulating, and studying the information instead of just passively listening. This can make a teacher’s job easier. Instead of being the constant focus of attention, she can become more of a facilitator, providing goals, guidelines and resources while the students actively participate.

Just like sports and art can provide outlets for students who are not as academically inclined, technology can provide new ways for students to express themselves outside of the traditional subjects of math, science, social studies, and language. Music programs, video editing, and photograph manipulation are often performed surprisingly well by young kids with innate senses of how the technology works. Some of these students, for example, wouldn’t be able to write an essay about the meaning of family, but using technology, they can make musical tracks, videos, or photographic collages that express those same emotions.

Of course, in today’s economic environment, American students can use every advantage they can get, and refining proper technical skills is the perfect place to start. One of the few industries that is constantly growing is information technology. The earlier children are introduced to these skills, the more comfortable they will be with them, and the more likely to master them later in life.

With all of these benefits that can be derived from having up-to-date technology in the classroom, many teachers are looking to upgrade the technology they have. In a recent survey by software developer Wondershare, 82% of teachers said they wanted a tablet device in their classroom, 73% said they wanted new teaching software, 72% said they would like laptops and 70% asked for interactive whiteboards. 98% of teachers said in the survey that technology assists them in engaging their students.

However, as any consumer knows, technology costs money. Nobody is handing out free tablets or laptops, not even to schools. Is your school district receiving enough funding to take advantage of all that technology has to offer? Talk to your elected officials and research candidates’ records in supporting funding for schools. Technology can do wonders for the education of students all over the country, but before the students can use it, the districts need to buy it. Ask your kids’ teachers how technology is being utilized in their classrooms, and consider donating your own technology or money to the cause.

About the Author: Steven Madison writes for educational websites, such as Anatomy Now. In his past, he has been a tutor, teacher, as well as a member of a school board.

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Celebrating Snow! {5 winter crafts}

by Diane Burdick, Ed.S.

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Thanks to the fun ideas in this article, your kids are sure to never look at snow the same way. Here are some great ways to enjoy real snow outside, as well as ideas to create “snow” inside, if your area doesn’t get the white fluffy stuff regularly enough to satisfy your little ones.

Colorful Ice Balls

frozen balloonsPlace two to three drops of food color inside an empty water balloon. Then, fill the balloon with water from the tap, and tie it off. Next, place the water balloons either in the freezer or outside on the lawn if the temp is below freezing.

Once frozen solid, pop or tear off the balloons to reveal the colorful frozen “ice rocks” within! Use the orbs to make patterns or fun shapes on the lawn. Think simple shapes, such as a heart, Christmas tree, rainbow or a sun.

A little tip, though: avoid throwing the frozen “water” balloons! They’re even heavier and more dangerous than a packed snowball. {Thanks, Hurrayic, for the inspiration!}

Water Color Snow Painting

Snow PaintWhat’s the winter equivalent of sidewalk chalk? Making water colors in the snow, of course! Fill empty condiment bottles with water and several drops of food coloring, shake it up, then let your kids squeeze the colors out on the fresh snow.

Children can practice their cursive writing in the snow, or create simple pictures like rainbows.

{Thanks, Really Quite Lucky, for this snowy idea!}

“Snowy” Glitter Play Dough

Glitter DoughHomemade sparkly play dough snowballs allow your child the fun of making a snowman (on a smaller scale) and staying warm at the same time!

Make your basic homemade play dough recipe (sans food coloring). Then, add a small container of white or silver glitter once the mixture has slightly cooled. Voila! Sparkly, beautiful, snow-like play dough!

{This idea came from The Marathon Mom}

Fluffy Snow Explosion! 

ivory soapKids love this one! You can make your own fluffy looking snow substance with a new bar of Ivory soap.

Cut the soap into large chunks, set on a microwave-safe plate, and cook it for about one minute.Watch as the air bubbles inside the soap expand as they are heated up, and create a fun fluffy snow-like substance. It’s great fun in the bathtub!!

Here’s a how-to video for this idea.

Happy Snow Days!

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Silly National Holidays {and how to use them in the classroom}

chocolate covered bacon!

Anyone want to celebrate Chocolate Covered Anything Day?

by Diane Burdick, Ed.S

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Thanksgiving and Christmas may be over, but that’s just fine by me because I recently discovered a new favorite holiday. And although I’ve been celebrating the spirit of this day for many (many) years, I didn’t know there was an “official” holiday for it until recently. It can be summed up in one glorious word: CHOCOLATE.

That’s right, December 16 is “National Chocolate Covered Anything Day.” So of course I celebrated it with gusto this past month. And it got me thinking: what other lesser-known holidays are out there languishing without celebration?

A little digging led me to discover the answer: quite a few! Many of these holidays are silly, most are funny, and almost all are downright perfect for a teachable moment. Here are a few lesson ideas, based on January’s wacky holidays:

January 10: “Peculiar People Day”

Look up the word “peculiar” in the dictionary. Have students copy the definition and then write their own definition in their own words below it. Younger students can then draw a peculiar person, and older students can create a description of a peculiar person.

Since peculiar people aren’t boring in the least, be sure to brainstorm a list of colorful synonyms and adjectives to describe peculiar people. For example, you could ask children to consider what would make a basketball player peculiar from his teammates (height, or lack thereof), or what might make a ballerina peculiar (clumsiness, huge feet, a mohawk, etc.). They can write a “peculiar person paragraph” and illustrate it. Or, better yet: have them trade paragraphs with a classmate and illustrate each other’s based on the descriptions! 

January 15: “Hat Day”

Provide magazines and have students search for hat pictures, cut them out, and make a “wacky hat” collage. Older students could research styles and fashions of different eras and see what types of hats were popular in each era. What was the purpose of each type of hat? For example, why are cowboy hats so different from baseball caps? Why did women used to wear hats to church? Why are Kentucky Derby attendees famous for wearing hats? Or add in a little math: What’s the average hat size in your classroom?

January 23: “National Handwriting Day”Girl writing with colored pencil

Practice using your best handwriting to write thank-you notes to people in the school. Brainstorm a list of seldom-thanked staff members (media specialist, janitor, cafeteria workers, front desk receptionist, etc.) who might appreciate a well-penned note.

January 25: “Opposite Day” 

Have fun with this one! Students can practice talking in opposites, or you can give instructions in opposites (“Stand up,” “Put your books away,” “Don’t write this down”). Give a sticker or small prize to the student who most successfully figures out and follows the correct instructions all day.

Here are some other wacky January holidays to get your creative juices flowing!

January 1: First Foot Day and Z Day

January 2: Run Up the Flagpole and See if Anybody Salutes It Day

January 3: Festival of Sleep Day

January 4: Trivia Day

January 5: Bird Day

January 6: Bean Day

January 7: Old Rock Day

January 8: National JoyGerm Day and Man Watcher’s Day

January 9: Play God Day

January 10: Peculiar People Day

January 11: National Step in a Puddle and Splash Your Friend Day

January 12: Feast of Fabulous Wild Men Day (couldn’t find a good explanation of this one…but it sounds fascinating)

January 13: Make Your Dream Come True Day (love this!)

January 14: National Dress Up Your Pet Day

January 15: Hat Day

January 16: Hot and Spicy Food International Day

January 17: Blessing of the Animals at the Cathedral Day

January 18: Winnie the Pooh Day

January 19: National Popcorn Day

January 20: National Buttercrunch Day

January 21: National Hugging Day (awww)

January 22: National Answer Your Cat’s Question Day (bizarre-o!) and National Blonde Brownie Day

January 23: National Handwriting Day, National Pie Day, and Measure Your Feet Day

January 24: Eskimo Pie Patent Day

January 25: Opposite Day

January 26: Australia Day

January 27: Punch the Clock Day

January 28: Rattle Snake Round-Up Day

January 29: National Cornchip Day

January 30: Escape Day

January 31: National Popcorn Day (just in case you missed it on the 19th! :)

Whichever holiday you choose to celebrate and integrate into the classroom, we’ll be excited to hear about it! Leave a comment about what you’ve already celebrated, or the holiday you plan on bringing into your classroom in the new year.

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Countdown to Christmas! {3 creative ideas}

by Diane Burdick, Ed.S

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Kids love counting down to Christmas. After all, it is one of the most exciting times of the year! But just how do you get ready for the season? If your answer is simply x-ing out the days on a calendar, might we suggest a few fun crafts to add to your classroom Christmas tradition repertoire?

Santa’s Disappearing Beard

Santa's beardThis idea, found here, is super simple to make!

1. Create a long Santa beard from lined paper (like notebook paper).

2. Add a face from construction paper.

3. Then clip off one line’s worth of the beard each day.

The shorter Santa’s beard gets, the closer you are to Christmas. Not only will kids enjoy snipping Santa’s beard, but it helps them visualize the length of time left before Christmas.

Merry Muffin Tins

merry muffin tinsMaybe instead of a traditional counting down calendar, you want give tiny gifts too. Sure, you could spend lots of money on a container, but consider repurposing something you already have around the house — a 24 count muffin tin — into the perfectly portioned gift container. Thanks to Heartland Paper for this ingenious idea!

1. Cut out circles of heavy paper (such as scrapbook paper, or cardstock covered with wrapping paper) slightly larger than the muffin tin openings.

2. Decorate each circle with a number for each day leading up to Christmas.

3. Attach a small magnet to the back of each circle, and cover each opening with the decorated circle.

4. Place a small trinket or piece of candy in each opening.

5. Display the new muffin tin calendar on the table, or tie a ribbon through the hole in the top of the tin and hang on the wall.

Chinese Takeout Containers

Chinese takeout adventIf you’re the type of person who loves to give gifts all season long, then garland made from numbered and decorated Chinese takeout containers will give you the perfect opportunity to tuck away gifts AND count down to the Big Guy’s arrival.

1. Purchase empty boxes at the craft store or online, and decorate each box with a number and bits of fabric or festive paper to make it look more Christmasy.

2. Fill each container with goodies— such as candies, freshly baked cookies, crafts or small toys.

3. Line up the containers on the fireplace mantle or clip to a piece of rope with clothespins for an enticing display.

This idea is courtesy of Find affordable containers in an array of colors here or here.

Any way you choose to celebrate the countdown to the most exciting day of the year, we hope you’ll find time for all the joys this season has to offer. 


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Top Three Family Games

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Oh the weather outside is frightful….so a cozy family game night sounds delightful!

Here’s a formula for a night of family bonding (and brain exercise…shhh!):

1. Don your snuggliest pjs. 

2. Get cozy! Light a fire or pile blankets on the floor…whatever seems most inviting to your crew. 

3. Pop some popcorn. Try this top-rated recipe for homemade caramel corn!

4. Bust out one of these top family games: perfect for a night at home by the fire or to wrap up under the tree!

Electronic Hot Potato

Toss the tater back and forth, up high, down low, around and around. Don’t get caught holding the spud when the music stops. If you’re caught, you have to collect a potato chip card. Once you have 3 chips, you’re out of the game. Includes Electronic Hot Potato, 13 Potato Chip cards, 2 “AA” batteries and instructions. For 2-6 players. $15.99. Buy here.

Sneaky Snacky Squirrel

Your forest friends are hungry and they need your help! Spin the spinner, squeeze the matching colored acorn with your Squirrel Squeezers, and squish it into your stump. Be the first to fill all the knots in your stump with delicious acorns and you win! You could also spin “pick an acorn,” “steal an acorn,” or “lose an acorn,” so be strategic, little squirrel! 2-4 players. Ages 3 and up. $21.99. Buy here.

Morphology Junior

Morphology Junior is a creative, challenging and fun board game where players use their imagination and know-how to create words out of pieces like wooden sticks, glass beads, colored cubes, wooden people and string, for their teammates to guess. Grades 2-8. $29.99. Buy here.

For more top family game ideas, click here. 

Happy playing!

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Part 4: {fun!} Games to train your brain

by Elizabeth Cossick, M. Ed. 

This is part four in a four-part series on cognitive weaknesses. Comment to win a $20 School Box gift card.

Here are a few tips for sharpening children’s cognitive skills using everyday items, as shared by Kristen Thompson, LearningRx owner and former teacher.

  • Work on critical thinking with learning-geared computer games, like Disney’s Where’s My Water, that require critical thinking to solve a multi-step challenge.
  • Improve logic and reasoning by identifying patterns. Set out blocks in a certain pattern (red, blue, yellow, yellow, red….) and have children continue the pattern. For more pattern ideas, click here.
  • Build mental processing with a deck of cards. Tell the child to shuffle the cards thoroughly, then sort the cards into four piles as fast as he/she can. Note: no need to put the cards in order, focus on speed.
  1. Pile 1: RED cards Ace through 10
  2. Pile 2: BLACK cards Ace through 10
  3. Pile 3: BLACK face cards
  4. Pile 4: RED face cards
  5. Now, add difficulty: Next time count by 2’s out loud as you sort the cards. Then, count by 3’s out loud as you sort the cards. After that, sort again, and each time a face card is added to a pile, call out the name of the card (Ace, King, Queen, Jack). Do not say anything when adding other cards. Finally, each time an even numbered card is added to a pile, call out the number of the card (2, 4, 6, 8, 10). Do not say anything when adding other cards. Click here for more card ideas.
  • Improve memory…with your refrigerator! Open the refrigerator door and ask your student to look inside for 20 seconds and try to remember all they see. Then, shut the door and ask the student to write down everything they can remember. Open the door together and count to see how well they did. Now, add difficulty: Same 20-second peek as above, but this time ask your student to recall the items one shelf at a time and remember as much as possible from that one area at a time. Open it up and see how well he or she did.
  • Get moving! Physical activity is good for the body and the mind.

Kristen Thompson owns the LearningRx Brain Training Center in Kennesaw, Georgia. Call 770-529-4800 or visit for more information. Activities featured here are from

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Part 3: Identifying cognitive skills

by Elizabeth Cossick, M. Ed.

This is part three in a four-part series on cognitive weaknesses. Comment to win a $20 School Box gift card!

In this four-part series, we’ve been discussing cognitive weaknesses. So far, we witnessed a student success story and examined some hidden warning signs of a cognitive weakness–or a breakdown in the brain’s ability to carry out a critical cognitive skill. So, just what are these all-important cognitive skills? Essentially, they are the brain behaviors responsible for learning.

Here’s a rundown of the critical cognitive skills, and how each impacts a child’s ability to process information: 

Attention Skills:

A student’s ability to attend to incoming information can be observed, broken down into a variety of sub-skills, and improved through properly coordinated training. There are three primary types of attention:

Sustained Attention: The ability to remain focused and on task, and the amount of time we can focus.

Selective Attention: The ability to remain focused and on task while being subjected to related and unrelated sensory input (distractions).

Divided Attention: The ability to remember information while performing a mental operation and attending to two things at once (multi-tasking).


The ability to store and recall information.

Long-Term Memory: The ability to recall information that was stored in the past. Long-term memory is critical for spelling, recalling facts on tests, and comprehension. Weak long-term memory skills create symptoms like forgetting names and phone numbers, and doing poorly on unit tests.

Short-Term / Working Memory: The ability to apprehend and hold information in immediate awareness while simultaneously performing a mental operation. Students with short-term memory problems may need to look several times at something before copying, have problems following multi-step instructions, or need to have information repeated often.

Logic and Reasoning:

The ability to reason, form concepts, and solve problems using unfamiliar information or novel procedures. Deductive reasoning extends this problem-solving ability to draw conclusions and come up with solutions by analyzing the relationships between given conditions.

Students with underdeveloped logic and reasoning skills will generally struggle with word math problems and other abstract learning challenges. Symptoms of skill weaknesses in this area show up as questions like, “I don’t get this,” “I need help…this is so hard,” or “What should I do first?”

Auditory Processing:

The ability to analyze, blend, and segment sounds. Auditory processing is a crucial underlying skill for reading and spelling success, and is the number one skill needed for learning to read.

Weakness in any of the auditory processing skills will greatly hinder learning to read, reading fluency, and comprehension. Students with auditory processing weakness also typically lose motivation to read.

Visual Processing:

The ability to perceive, analyze, and think in visual images. This includes visualization, which is the ability to create a picture in your mind of words or concepts. Students who have problems with visual processing may have difficulty following instructions, reading maps, doing word math problems, and comprehending.

Processing Speed:

The ability to perform simple or complex cognitive tasks quickly. This skill also measures the ability of the brain to work quickly and accurately while ignoring distracting stimuli. Slow processing speed makes every task more difficult.

Very often, slow processing is one root of ADHD-type behaviors. Symptoms of weaknesses here include homework taking a long time, always being the last one to get his or her shoes on, or being slow at completing even simple tasks.

To identify specific weaknesses within these cognitive skills, visit For tips on strengthening cognitive skills, stay tuned for part four in this series. 

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Part 2: {Secret} signs of a cognitive weakness

by Elizabeth Cossick, M. Ed.

This is part two in a four-part series on cognitive weaknesses. Comment on this post to be entered to win a $20 School Box gift card.

Kristen Thompson, brain training expert. Photo by Jen Harris Photography

Most parents and teachers know the typical warning signs of a learning problem: declining grades, apathy, noticeable shifts in mood. “But for many children, like Jenny (featured in part one of this series), the signs that something’s amiss are much more subtle,” shares LearningRx owner and former Cobb County, Georgia, teacher Kristen Thompson.

Here, Kristen shares some lesser-known telltales of cognitive weaknesses: 

  • Completing homework is a struggle and takes an inordinate amount of time.
  • Looking several times at something while copying is necessary.
  • Remembering and independently following multi-step directions is a challenge.
  • Solving math word problems causes frustration. (Math skills are directly connected to cognitive skills.)
  • Responding with, “I don’t get this!” or “What should I do first?” is common.
  • Reading comprehension is weak; the “big picture” is often missed.
  • At test-time, recalling facts and remembering what was studied is difficult.
  • Asking for things to be repeated is a regular occurrence.
  • The student’s sense of direction and map-reading skills are weak.
  • The ability to readily “get” jokes or understand others’ senses of humor seems hindered.
  • Jigsaw puzzles are avoided or deemed “too hard.”
  • Organization of materials and time is elusive.

“The good news, however, is that the brain can be trained to overcome any cognitive weaknesses that might be causing these behaviors,” shares Kristen.

The first step, according to Kristen, is identifying exactly which cognitive skills are being impacted by a weaknesses. For more information on each of these different cognitive areas, stay tuned for part three in this series.

Click here to take a quick online quiz to determine if your child is displaying these warning signs.


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