• Helpful advice from greatschools.org

    Posted by Sharon Borst on 8/20/2020 7:00:00 AM
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  • Welcome back!

    Posted by Sharon Borst on 8/16/2020

    Welcome back to all!


    I wanted to reach out and say welcome back to all because it will be all of us together in this new learning environment.  We have been for quite a ride since the spring when we all first learned about a nasty virus called Covid-19.  Little did we know then that all that we knew about life would soon change. Not only were our daily routines upended, but we soon found out that trying to make any future plans was like trying to unravel a knot. 


    I hope that you have enjoyed your break and that each of you is ready to begin the new year. We are working hard to plan for your return and I know that it will be another fast-paced and fun year.


    I'll leave you with a few pics of Bella's summer. She is looking forward to coming back to school to see all of her friends.

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  • Strategies for at home online learning

    Posted by Sharon Borst on 8/5/2020

    4 Strategies to Help Students Feel Calm During Distance Learning

    Ways to guide elementary students to regulate their emotions and feel connected to their teacher and peers so they’re ready to learn.

    June 24, 2020
    Boy drawing a picture with markers
    jeniek_smile / Twenty20

    As I work with families, educators, and students during this pandemic time, we’re trying to figure out how to do school in a way that feels safe, comprehensive, and doable with limited technology and internet accessibility. The traumatic conditions of isolation, chronic unpredictability, and physical and emotional constraint are affecting all of us at some level. How do children express their feelings of abandonment, loss, grief, and confusion? How do adults express these feelings? Often, our behaviors tell our stories, signaling the pain we can barely speak of or understand.

    The therapist Bonnie Badenoch says that “the shards of these accumulating experiences that linger in our muscles, belly, hearts, brains, and body systems gradually shape our perceptual systems and how the world looks.” We can plan distance learning curricula, create new ways of presenting content, and innovate our assessment protocols for virtual learning, but with so many unknowns in this time, students’ emotional and social well-being must be a priority.

    We don’t know exactly how schools across the country will reopen, but we do know that every student will need to feel safety and connection to teachers and peers. Many of our students are going to walk in relationship-resistant, and we will need to set aside chunks of time for emotional regulation practices.

    Below are strategies and mini brain-aligned practices intended for distance learning that prepare the brain and body for a calm regulated state, improved focus, and attention. They are ways to create touchpoints—moments of connection—and to release anxiety and build a strong sense of connection in a class.


    1. Express Yourself: When we can share our sensations, thoughts, and feelings, we feel a sense of relief, safety, and calm, and artistic expression is one of the most powerful ways to regulate our nervous systems during stressful periods of time. The teachers I work with have used these questions before distance learning lessons, sharing them in packets sent home so students can have some time to express how they feel before the academic part of the lesson. These questions are also great discussion starters that families can use to explore children’s emotions. 

    • What are two images or pictures that pop up in your mind when you think of this pandemic? What do these look like, sound like, smell like and feel like? Can you draw them, write about them, or act them out?
    • What are two ways this pandemic has affected you and/or your family? Can you express them through images or words?
    • How does your world feel different now compared to six months ago?
    • We cannot see the virus, but imagine that you can. What does it remind you of, and how does it look? What are its colors, its lines? If this virus could talk, what would it say? What would you say to this virus?
    • If you could help create a better world as we go through this pandemic together, what is one change you would like to help create or see? What would your plan look like?

    2. Dual Drawings: Students working with a peer, the teacher, or a parent can create a shared drawing as each takes a turn and draws a line or shape and then passes the drawing to their partner to add their line or shape to the drawing within a specified amount of time. Each partner can add shapes, lines, and color and can observe how this shared activity produces a collaborative design. When I have done this, we usually create together without talking—when the time is up we discuss our creation.

    This activity can be shared with students through packets sent through the mail over a longer period of time. The teacher can begin the drawings and send them home to students as a weekly or biweekly design unfolds. Once students have the starter drawing, they can also mail it back and forth to each other, rather than sending it to the teacher. The key step of reflecting on and discussing the creations can happen throughout the process by having students write short journal entries about what they added and why.

    3. Dual Story Writing or Journaling: This activity designed for closure is similar to the dual drawings except we create a story together. This story could be created with images or words and could be a 30-minute, one-day or weekly family activity, or a distance learning collaboration. A student and a peer, the teacher or a parent can write a fictional story together, or create a dual journal by writing alternating entries to share experiences from their daily lives.

    4. Brain Scavenger Hunt: This creates movement, shared and expressed feelings, and connection, and it can be a family ritual or a part of distance learning if students have an internet connection and a device. I have played this through Zoom with fifth-grade students, asking them to find objects around their home that answer these five brain-aligned questions in a specified amount of time. We place our responses on a Padlet so everyone can share what they discovered.

    • Can you find something in your home that can change its shape, is malleable, and stretches like our brains when we learn something new? This represents the brain’s amazing neuroplasticity—our experiences structurally and functionally change our brains, and we are always growing and learning, repairing and healing.
    • Can you find something that feels calming and soothing to you? When we calm our nervous systems, we open up the regions of the brain that can self-regulate, think clearly, remember, and pay attention.
    • Can you find and share something in your home that stresses you out? What you can name, you can tame. For this question, students can draw a picture or write out their answer if it’s not practical to bring the actual object to the Zoom call—for example, if the stressor is the student’s sibling.
    • Can you find something in your home that creates a memory for you? What experience does an image, or an object invoke that creates feelings of joy or peacefulness?
    • Can you find and share something in your home that makes you feel smarter and more focused?
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  • Online Learning Help

    Posted by Sharon Borst on 5/20/2020 3:00:00 PM
    Common Sense Logo
    Over the past few weeks, we parents have had to wear many hats: teacher, librarian, camp counselor, online meeting scheduler, you name it. Now, we're realizing that getting our kids across the finish line of a disorienting spring term requires one more role change: cheerleader. Time to channel your inner Coach Monica (and if you don't know her, add Cheer to your Netflix watch list immediately!). If her underdog squad can be led to national victory, you can surely get your kid through fractions. First, do what Monica does and have a heart-to-heart. Then, find the techniques that motivate your kid, and never give up.
    Author Image
    Caroline Knorr
    Senior parenting editor, mom of one
    What can I do to prep my kid for the final push?
    Check in
    We're in the Upside Down now, and kids—uncertain about their education, isolated, and grappling with new routines—may be motivated by different things than before. Your Type A kid may no longer work for gold stars, and your slowpoke may speed through work just to get it over with. See how they're holding up, ask how they feel, determine what they want to accomplish, and figure out what you can do to support them.
    Lead by example
    While we're all excited to be done with this "triage" education, keep your attitude positive and your approach consistent. If you sense your kid is flagging, find role models—from movies, books, or real life—whose grit may inspire your tween.
    Build their work ethic
    Yes, it's down to the last few assignments. But remember that learning is a lifelong goal. When discussing the end of the year, focus on the skills kids are building, the value of seeing things through, and the feeling of accomplishment. Most kids can push themselves when it's something they love, like creating a successful game or mastering dance choreography. Ask them to call on the same skills that drive them in other areas.
    Praise effort
    Maybe they got a problem wrong but asked the right questions. Maybe they breezed through the day's reading assignment when yesterday's was tough. Now, more than ever, taking notice of and commenting positively on how your kid is growing and progressing can really give them forward momentum.
    What are some surefire techniques I can do immediately to motivate my kid?
    The basics
    • Provide structure and routine. Sticking to a schedule provides the stability kids need to keep their eyes on the prize. Plus, it minimizes their instincts to go rogue. When expectations are set, it's more likely they'll be met.
    • Establish accountability. Maybe you can't motivate your kid—but their best friend can. Have them schedule daily check-ins over text or social media with a friend. Accountability helps kids realize they're not alone and gives them a tangible reason to work hard.
    • Incentivize. Kids may be motivated by rewards, but you want to make it feel as though they've earned their treat (or you'll end up in a vicious cycle). If they finish one packet, they get a half hour on the tablet; two packets, 45 minutes; etc. (Screen-time rewards may not be your usual motivation go-to, but we are in unusual times!)
    Make it special
    • Mark the occasion. Give kids something to look forward to. Plan an (online) family/friend celebration, like a virtual class party or a Zoom dance. Or do a family movie night and let them choose what to watch.
    • Let them see progress. Use a calendar or another visual aid to mark time so they can see how much they've accomplished and how much more there is to go.
    • Do a related activity. Build upon and extend what they're learning with a natural connection. If they're learning about the solar system, let them stay up late and use an astronomy app to map the night sky.
    Mix it up
    • Be willing to experiment. If a kid is struggling with reading a book, turn it into a read-aloud or get an audiobook. If math is "too boring," do the problems on a whiteboard or outside using sidewalk chalk. A change of scenery can do wonders for a kid's motivation.
    • Break up the day. If you have some control over when they do the work, break things up a little. Let them have a slower-paced morning and do their work after lunch. Make an agreement in advance: "If you take the morning off, you still have to get your schoolwork done before you can play online with your friends later today."
    • Change the timing. There's nothing magical about the hours of 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.—that's just when we're all used to school happening. Of course, if your kids are in online classes, you have to accommodate those schedules. But for things like working through a packet of assignments from a teacher, there's no harm in experimenting with different times of day. Sometimes the change is all it takes.
    What if I just can't motivate my kid?
    Appeal to a favorite teacher
    A word of encouragement, such as a recorded video message, a text, or an email, from a beloved teacher can be just the thing. Your kid wouldn't want to let the teacher down.
    Rule out other issues
    Sometimes what looks like a lack of motivation is actually a kid covering up for a problem. Probe for underlying issues and address them. If they just need a mental health break, these apps may help.
    Adjust expectations
    If we've learned anything during this crisis it's to expect the unexpected. Your kid may not end the year where they—or you—were hoping to. Insist on the bare minimum (completion of all assignments), and set up natural consequences for noncompliance (maybe they miss an end-of-year celebration). Empathize with your kid's feelings and move on. Allow yourself a moment to gather your strength and recharge. Celebrate the little victories, and remember, this too shall pass.
    Did you enjoy this email? Thumbs Up Thumbs Down
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  • Roblox: What parents must know about this dangerous game for kids

    Posted by Family Zone on 3/11/2020

    Roblox: What parents must know about this dangerous game for kids

    Keeping up with the latest in online gaming can be a multi-level challenge for parents - especially when what's ‘cool’ seems to change at the speed of a mouse-click.  One of today's most popular games is also one of the most dangerous.

    Roblox has been called "the world's most popular game you've never heard of." In fact, this massive multiplayer online game has recently outstripped even Minecraft's user numbers.  While the game may seem like an innocent digital playground for children, there are some frightening issues with its online community.

    What is Roblox about?

    Roblox is a vast online platform where kids can create and interact in what its makers describe as "immersive 3D worlds." Players are given the opportunity to create an avatar (player) for themselves and allotted a small amount of digital money to rent a house. Money to furnish and decorate the house requires real world money, with costs adding up fast. A variety of different outfits are also available to purchase which is a huge drawcard for many young children who want to make their avatar look as cool as possible. Players who don’t buy upgrades  may be mocked by other players and pressured into spending more.

    Why is it such a risk to children?

    But additional purchases are not the biggest issue with this game - the social interaction amongst players is. The purpose of Roblox is for players to interact and make friends. This is achieved by wandering around the online world and stopping to talk with other players within an unmoderated chat feature. Like any online multiplayer game, there is little to no control over the types of people or age limits of those playing the game. Despite the fact that strict chat filters can be activated - blocking inappropriate words and phrases -  children are still susceptible to being targeted by online predators. 

    This problem isn't unique to Roblox. Far from it. Throughout the online gaming world, wherever games are marketed to children, online predators lurk. Social games like this are often used as a platform to lure children away from the game and onto other platforms: eg., Facebook, Snapchat and even in some cases Skype. Roblox appeals directly children under 12, easy targets who lack the ability to discriminate between appropriate and inappropriate requests.

    The game invites players to explore imaginary worlds of all kinds. Some of these are sexual in nature. One British dad who decided to check out the game his sons were obsessed with was shocked to discover avatars having virtual sex, ABC News reported in 2017. 

    "The chat function poses a real danger to children playing this popular game," explains ySafe psychologist Jordan Foster, a leading Cyber Expert at Family Zone. "With limited safety measures embedded within the game, children are open prey for predators to communicate with.

    "Consider it similar to sending a child out into a real room filled with strangers, with no barriers in place to stop people being able to talk to whomever they like.'

    For these reasons, Ms. Foster regards Roblox as unsafe for children under the age of 12 and possibly older children as well.  

    How can I protect my kids?

    As part of Family Zone’s many helpful features, we can block Roblox from your children’s devices, without blocking other games they may be allowed to play.  The lack of moderation (despite language filters) in the chat feature and uploaded user content leaves children at risk of exposure to a worrying range of inappropriate adult content, bullying and abuse.

    At Family Zone, we understand that navigating the journey as a digital parent can be difficult. But you're not in it alone - our team of Cyber Experts can help you sort out what apps and content are appropriate for your child, and provide you with the tools and resources you need to protect your children online. 


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  • Teaching Kids Resilence

    Posted by Sharon Borst on 2/3/2020 10:00:00 AM

    Teaching Kids About Resilience



    Resilience, or the ability to bounce back from hard situations or roadblocks, is a word that comes up a lot of education. Many of our students go through hard experiences outside of school and all of them face challenges and roadblocks inside the school. We want our students to be able to overcome these challenges and face future challenges head-on with confidence.


    Resiliency can be built by:


    1 – Supportive Relationships

    The hallmark of resilience is having supportive relationships both in and out of the family unit. We want our students to have lots of people they can rely on and go to in times of struggle. I focus on directly teaching my students what supportive qualities actually look like because let’s be honest: some of them are going to people for support who aren’t all that supportive!

    We talk about qualities like trustworthiness, honesty, loyalty, kindness, and more. Reading through scenarios and picking out the supportive or not-so-supportive qualities really helps them to grasp this concept and also evaluate where they are seeking support in their own lives.

    2 – Setting, Planning, and Working Toward Goals

    It’s great to have goals, but helping kids actually map out goals and plan how they will get there is a must! Being able to set goals and have a future focus can also help kids when they’re going through something hard now. We talk about small steps toward long-term goals, people who can help us at each stage of the goals, materials we’ll need, how to keep track of goals and monitor progress and more! Graphic organizers are great for this, but also being that supportive person to check in periodically and cheer them on is huge!

    3 – Confidence in Strengths & Abilities

    Self-efficacy is a major component of resilience. When students believe they can succeed, they’re more likely to attempt tasks perceived a challenging! Developing self-efficacy comes down to this:

    • learning from past experiences
    • learning by observing others
    • feedback from others with experience
    • imagining success
    • recognizing emotions connected to actions


    4 – Communication Skills

    Assertively communicating needs is a must for developing resiliency. To teach this, we talk about different communication styles and then practice making assertive statements in different scenarios. Students can also share their own tough situations, and peers can offer suggestions for speaking up or responding in assertive ways.

    5 – Managing Big Feelings

    Self-regulation is an important life skill in all arenas. This isn’t something kids pick up in one classroom lesson or one counseling session, but ideally they get practice and reinforcement daily through classroom activities, literature, and more. In groups, we practice identifying emotions associated with struggles and identify helpful coping strategies.

    6 – Problem Solving Skills

    Problems come up, and facing them head-on with different strategies is a must! Teach kids problem-solving strategies like:

    • try multiple strategies
    • look at the problem from different angles or perspectives
    • be comfortable asking for help
    • use mistakes to help you move forward
    • and learn from mistakes


    7 – Safety & Security

    Let’s face it: many of our kids don’t have a sense of safety and security at home or they may not feel that way at school. Helping kids identify safe places and safe people can help them build resiliency. In counseling group, this looks like assessing a wide range of people and places and having kids identify those places, people, and things that give them a sense of security.

    8 – Sense of Humor

    While we don’t want kids laughing through real pain, being able to find humor in little things goes a long way!

    Published by Counselor Keri



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  • Changing Times

    Posted by Sharon Borst on 8/24/2018 1:00:00 PM

    Changing Behaviors


    It is that time of the year! Summer is winding down and soon we will be embarking on a new and exciting school year.  This involves changing or modifying some learned habits.  One of the difficulties we, as educators, are often asked is how do to help children increase or decrease certain behaviors. These behaviors may involve functioning in academic, behavioral, self-help or social areas. Examples of increasing behaviors may be focusing on a task or assignment, making positive remarks to peers, completing work, or complying with teacher requests. Examples of decreasing behaviors may be blurting out, leaving one’s seat, or disrupting class.

    An effective tool to help with behavior change is self-monitoring.  Self-monitoring has two components, first the student measures and records their own behavior and secondly they compare it to a pre-determined standard or target behavior.

    Self-monitoring offers several advantages. It requires that the person be an active participant in the intervention with responsibility for measuring and evaluating his or her behaviors. In order to accurately accomplish this the student must learn the intended behavior.

    Step one..Describe and define the behavior. Remember to stick to the behavior or act and not generalize about the person. It’s important to teach a replacement behavior. For example, instead of telling them to stop doing something let them know what they should do instead.

    Step two..Choose a reinforce. This is something that occurs when the desired behavior is exhibited. Reinforcers do not always have to be a tangible item such as a treat or toy. They can also be things like extra TV time or extra time with a parent or friend. It’s important to know what motivates your child and to design a reinforcer accordingly.

    Step three..Make a plan and goal. Perhaps you want your child to be able to get up in the morning and get ready for school without you having to poke and prod them. So you explain what the expectation is and your set a goal. The key is to start small. They didn’t get this way overnight and they certainly won’t miraculously reverse it overnight. Make one day the first goal and if they accomplish it provide the reinforcer and set another goal.  It helps to have a visual as well and this is easy to make yourself. This allows the student to track their own progress.

    Have fun and remember above all be positive!

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  • Half way there!

    Posted by Sharon Borst on 2/5/2018 1:00:00 PM

    It is hard to believe that we are through the holidays and on our way to spring. I am sure that many of you are ready for spring to come. I know that we have had our share of wintry mixes over the last couple of weeks often causing headaches with daily planning.  I’ll try to recap some of the great things happening her at PCIS. First I would like to say a big thank you to all of the students and many parents and mostly the staff for the wonderful and warm condolences on the passing of my mother. Students presented me with cards for her and I took them with me to Wake Forest and read her each one. It was a wonderful moment. My mom was born in the western mountains of North Carolina and she was truly an amazing woman. She was not only my rock, but my best friend as well and I miss her dearly.


    Now on to our successes! We have been working hard in guidance studying citizenship/cooperation, self-control, respect, empathy, integrity and now perseverance. Students are learning how each trait interconnects and overlaps with one another and it is really starting to sink in. I am so impressed at the level of knowledge so many of our students possess and the unique way that they are able to express themselves when speaking and sharing during our time together.  During week one we look at defining and describing the trait. Week two is usually filled with video clips, activities, and more discussion. By week three they are ready for Kahoot!  Kahoot! is a great game to play.  The students love the content and mostly competing against one another. This is a great way to learn! Our final week is one of my favorites – skit week.  Students are placed in groups and given only a few sheets of paper and a sticky note to write their down their lines. You would be amazed at the level of creativity produced by these teams with such minimal assistance and substance. It is so important to show our children that they can have fun without all of the technological gadgets!


    February also meant that it was time for Bella to go to training. Bella is a beautiful Pyredoodle puppy that I received from the Perkins Family in October. I have been over the moon with her. She is working very hard to become a therapy dog for PCIS next year. All of the students have heard many “Bella” stories and I have shared many pictures of her as she grows up.  She will be away in training for four weeks learning her own set of “character traits” so that she can become a proud member of the PCIS team. I will keep you posted on her progress as she works to pass her therapy test!


    I hope that you all are taking care of yourselves and staying well amidst this difficult flu season and that you too are looking forward to Spring!


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  • October 2017 Video Games

    Posted by Sharon Borst on 10/3/2017 10:00:00 AM

    October 2017


    As we start the New Year, I felt it appropriate to post some interesting information regarding children and gaming. Some may not be familiar with the term gaming. Merriam-Webster defines this as “the activity of playing computer games: the act or activity of gambling”. I am referring to the former in terms of definition, however based on much of the latest information published about the topic, parents may in fact be gambling with their childrens’ future if they are not attending to the time and content of gaming.

    Many of the benefits of video games cited include problem solving, hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills, situational awareness, perseverance and more.  Video games actually change the brain’s physical structure much like other learning concepts according to psychologist C. Shawn Green of the University of Wisconsin. Video games can also increase self-confidence and self-esteem as players are rewarded for reaching new levels (“The Positive and Negative,” n.d.). There are numerous age-appropriate video games that can be found online at https://www.commonsensemedia.org/game-lists. This cite provides the name of each game with a short description along with the appropriate age ranges of 2-4, 5-7, 8-9, 10-12, and 13+.  It is vital to also understand that screen time is equally as important as the content your child may be viewing. As with most anything…moderation is key.

    In terms of the negative effects of video games, there is equally a long list of potential problems. Perhaps one of the biggest negative effects involves allowing children to play video games that not age-appropriate. I cannot count the number of times our students want to talk about playing games such as Call of Duty and other mature, violent video games. These types of games typically have a rating of “M” for mature and are not intended for individuals under the age of 18. As with movie ratings, young children are not allowed entry to “R” movies, however there is no such way to monitor whether young children play inappropriate video games other than parental monitoring. Some of the effects of playing these types of games for young children include increased aggressive thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, learned violence through the interactive nature and rewarding of violence, social isolation, unwanted values, and the confusion between reality and fantasy (“The Positive and Negative,” n.d.).  Young children are not equipped to differentiate between reality and fantasy and thus are at risk of having a distortion between what is real and what is not. If you find that your child only wants to talk about playing a particular game then he/she may be spending too much time playing video games. Most important is that parents monitor their child’s behavior both on and off the video game. Also, consider time spent on homework and grades as a benchmark when considering excessive video gaming. A red flag that your child is spending too much time gaming can be an aggressive or angry reaction when they are told it is time to stop or that the game is being taken away.

    Hopefully you will find a happy, healthy compromise when it comes to video games for your children by selecting age-appropriate games and monitoring the time spent playing them. We look forward to ensuring that all students have the opportunity to be fully prepared to learn!


    The Positive and Negative Effects of Video Games. (n.d.). Retrieved January 10, 2017, from http://www.raisesmartkids.com/

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  • Start of the New Year!

    Posted by Sharon Borst on 9/19/2017 11:00:00 AM

    Happy New Year! (..sort of)


    Even though it is not technically the start of the calendar year, it marks our new year of learning, exploring and growing. I am so excited to be here this year at Pumpkin Center Intermediate with such a wonderful staff and fantastic students. I knew that I would miss all of my students from my previous school, however it is as if they have all followed me here. I see similar smiling faces, happy greetings and curious minds. 


    This year seems to be off to such a smooth and great start.  I hope that you will take a moment to review the updated School Counseling section of our website to see all of the great resources that have been added. The monthly classroom guidance schedule is also posted and please feel free to contact me with any questions or issues. I will be posting articles, helpful tips and general news through the blog and I would welcome any suggestions for topics or other ideas.


    A special thank you to all of the staff, students and parents for such a warm welcome! I look forward to a great new year!


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