Dear Teacher



Children Can Use their Fingers to Solve Simple Math Problems

 Question: Our children have just naturally used their fingers to count and solve simple math problems. Now our child's first-grade teacher wants her to stop doing this, saying it is babyish. I strongly disagree. Do you have any evidence about the benefits of young children using their fingers? — For Finger Counting

 Answer: Many teachers feel exactly the same way as your child's teacher about children using their fingers in math class and want them to stop using them. They apparently are wrong. Recent research in neuroscience has completely contradicted this viewpoint. In fact, Jo Boaler, an education professor at Stanford University, has written that evidence from both behavioral and neuroscience studies show that when people receive training on ways to perceive and represent their own fingers, they get better at doing so, which leads to higher mathematics achievement.

Looking at the Benefits and Downsides to Year-round School

Question: This year, the elementary school my children attend has become a year-round school. What are the benefits and downsides to this new school schedule? – No More Summers

Answer: Year-round school is definitely not a schedule that was around when most of today’s parents were in school. The first school to employ this schedule was back in 1968. And it is definitely not universally popular throughout the country. Only about 3.000 of the close to 200,000 public schools in the country are using it.

 With year-round schooling, the year is typically made up of from 8- to 10-week periods of schooling that are broken up with 3- to 5-weeks of breaks. Some schools have two 90-day school sessions with two 30-day breaks.

Parents are not universally sold on year-round schooling. Many think that their children are totally losing their summer vacation. They are not! However, their children’s vacation breaks will definitely be shorter.

The major arguments for year-round schooling are preventing summer learning loss and reducing student and teacher burnout. It also gives students the opportunity to take remedial and enrichment courses during breaks.

 One major argument against schools using a year-round schedule is how it can complicate child-care arrangements. Another is that it makes it more difficult for younger students to explore non-academic activities in the summer and for older ones to get jobs. It also complicates the making of vacation plans, especially if the children in a family are on different break schedules.

 Studies are definitely mixed on the actual benefits of year-round schooling. Some show a decidedly positive impact on learning. Others have not. Many school districts have tried year-round schooling and then gone back to a more traditional schedule.

Even though the number of public schools with year-round schedules is not really large, changes are definitely taking place in school schedules. Up until fairly recently, schools traditionally began after Labor Day and ended after Memorial Day. Now many schools are beginning in August or even late July and ending before Memorial Day. Then there are fall and winter breaks along with breaks for Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter.

One thing that parents need to realize is that no matter what the school schedule is, most children are almost always attending school for 180 days.

Where You Can Learn more about the Common Core standards

Question: Where can I find out what the Common Core standards require children to learn at different grade levels? — Seeking Information

Answer: You are wise to want to learn more about the Common Core standards, as much misinformation about them exists. First of all, they are educational standards only for English language arts (ELA)/literacy and mathematics in grades K-12. These standards do not dictate how teachers should teach these subjects; this is determined by teachers and their schools.

The purpose of the standards is to get every child in grades K through 12 ready for college and the workforce. The standards tell exactly what essential knowledge and skills students should have acquired at the end of each grade level no matter where they live.

 It is important to understand that these standards were a multi-state effort that was coordinated by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. Keep in mind that it is not mandatory for states to adopt these standards; however, they are becoming part of many new textbooks and standardized assessment tests.

 There is a lot of information online about the Common Core. Visit for a great overall picture of the standards. On this website, you will learn how the standards were developed, find out their importance to your child, and be able to read the standards for each grade level. There are also sections on myths and facts about the Common Core, as well as frequently asked questions. If you have general inquiries after looking at all this information, you can send them to

Once you have the general picture about the Common Core, you should visit your own state's website to learn about its state-specific implementation efforts. You can find this information by searching on your own state's page for "Common Core Standards."


Parents should send questions and comments to dearteacher@dearteacher. com or to the Dear Teacher website.