Ask the Teach: Information for Summer


Q: At my daughter's recent kindergarten conference, I got the surprise of a lifetime when the teacher said my child might be retained. At the fall conference, everything was OK except for some behavioral problems. Right now, according to the teacher, her reading is satisfactory, but she is weak in identifying the numbers to 30 and writing sentences. Plus, she doesn't always follow directions or pay attention. This class is chaotic and noisy when I volunteer, but my daughter is definitely not among the worst-behaved students.

Unfortunately, my daughter was part of this conference and was told that if she didn't straighten out, she would be in kindergarten for another year. This was so upsetting that my daughter started crying. The teacher relented a bit by saying that having a tutor or attending summer school might allow her to go to first grade. There's no way she can attend summer school, so I guess we'll have to go the tutoring route. What else should we do?

- Shocked

A: It's certainly very unprofessional for a teacher to threaten a young child with being held back unless she shapes up. Go back to this teacher and have her spell out the areas in which your daughter must improve. You need a specific list of benchmarks that your daughter must meet to be promoted. Then find a tutor who can start working with her now and continue through the summer.

You also need to find out exactly when the final decision on retention will be made and who will make it. Because your child's reading skills are on target, we would suggest that you lobby long and hard for your child to be promoted. Retention rarely benefits children.

Right now, you should be play-acting school situations with the goal of improving your child's classroom behavior in the few weeks remaining in the school year. This could be helpful if behavior issues are playing a role in the possible retention issue.

Q: Do you know of a way we can explain the placement of the decimal point in multiplication to our daughter so it's more than a mechanical operation?
- Concept Lacking

A: Find a set of multiplication problems involving decimals like 34.7 x 12.38 in your child's math textbook. Using a calculator, have her find the product ignoring the decimal points. In this problem, she would get 429586.

Ask your child to locate the correct position of the decimal point in the answer. To do this, have her estimate the answer by rounding each factor to the nearest one and multiplying the new factors. For our example, 35 x 12 = 420. Suggest that the decimal be placed in 429586 to get as close as possible to 420 (product of 35 x 12). The decimal point is at 429.586.

After your child has worked through a number of similar problems, ask her to make up a rule for locating the decimal point in multiplication. It is placed so that the number of digits to the right of the point equals the number of places in the factors. For example, there are three decimal places in the problem 34.7 x 12.38, so she should place the decimal three places from the right of the product: 429.586. If your daughter still has difficulty understanding the rule for decimals in multiplication, have her work with smaller numbers.

This explanation is from the book "Helping Children with Mathematics." The book has activities to help children in grades 3-5 learn basic math concepts while enjoying working with their parents. It is available online at

Q: What can I do during the summer to get my children interested in books? All three of my children dislike reading.
- Not Readers

A: Usually, children who dislike reading are not good readers. Begin by finding out more about your children's interests. You are probably asking yourself right now what your children's interests have to do with their picking up books and reading. Everything. The more interested children are in the topic of a book, the more likely they'll enjoy reading it. Use the following inventory to discover more about your children's interests:

When nobody is around, I like to ...The sport I like to play best is ...The part of the world that interests me most is ...What makes me laugh is ...My main hobby or leisure time activity is ...The subject that I like best in school is...I would really like to learn more about ...The job I want do when I grow up is ...The television show or movie that I like best is ...The best book that I have ever read was ...

Use this inventory at the library to find interesting, easy-to-read books for your children. Then have your children look at these books until they find appealing ones. The more your children read, the more interested and better readers they will become.

Parents should send questions and comments to or visit

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