Let the Summer Learning Begin

Posted on June 13, 2012. Filed under: Education |

Summer vacation is finally here. The children are looking forward to a relaxing, fun-filled summer and, mostly importantly, a “break” from school. But unfortunately for them, you have other things in mind. You may have a child who needs an extra boost and, let’s face it; summer is the perfect time to give them just that. For a child who may be a little behind, catching up is less overwhelming over summer when you don’t have to compete with the current school work that is flowing in.

On the other hand, you may just want ensure that your child doesn’t suffer from summer learning loss or a bad case of amnesia when they return to school in the fall. Promoting reading and a periodic recap of skills learned throughout the previous school year can help your child transition into the start of a new school year with ease.

 Whatever your reasoning is, trying to implement an educational curriculum during the summer may be somewhat trying. One on the main reasons is kids tend to be less focused on school during this time. So your challenge is to make it as fun and interesting as possible. And how exactly will you accomplish this? Give them a choice! And not a choice of whether they have to or not, but a choice of when, where, and what they do. It is amazing how handing over a little control will result in more cooperative children. Bonnie Harris notes in her book, Confident Parents Remarkable Kids, eight principles of confident parenting. Principle 7 says that problem solving, not punishment, teaches responsibility. So rather than punishing your child for not wanting to learn over the summer, teach them how to problem solve. Talk about certain areas in school that may have been giving her issues. Ask her what she thinks that she can do to help herself for the upcoming school year. You will be surprised of the amazing ideas she comes up with. So turn down your teacher volume just a notch and let the summer learning began.

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Squeezing Reading in an Already Jam-Packed Day

Posted on April 23, 2012. Filed under: Education, Parenting | Tags: , , , |

So in-between homework, spelling tests, studying for other tests, extra-curricular activities, home maintenance, dinner and daily hygiene routines, we are strongly encouraged to have our children read 10-20 minutes a day. While no one is arguing the importance of such a task, many parents are wondering just where they will find the time to incorporate this routine in their already jam-packed schedules.

First thing is you must set aside a minimum of 10 minutes a day to read with your child. Maybe turn your bedtime story routine into a partner reading effort where you and your child rotate reading together. In addition, in order to get additional time in, you should encourage your child to spend 5-10 minutes pre-reading the book that you will read together. This stresses to your child that reading is something that she can do on her own.

However, for those days where unexpected things happen and your normal routine has unraveled, here are some tips on how to still get this much-needed practice in for your child.

Incorporate reading time with other tasks – While cooking dinner, doing laundry or yardwork, have your child read his book to you. Listen carefully and make sure to correct him when something doesn’t sound right. Ask him to spell words he can’t pronounce if you are unable to break free long enough to take a look yourself. It is important to still try and make the necessary corrections during this time even if you can’t give your child your undivided attention.

Read on the go – Have to make an unexpected trip? Have your child read her book in the car on the way. Book lights are a great tool to stock in your car to use when you have no natural sunlight. Follow the same tips of asking your child to reread anything that doesn’t quite sound right and to spell out those words she does not know.

Bring books to doctors’ and/or other appointments that your children attend with you. While these places usually have books, bringing a book ensures that your child has a book that he wants to and is comfortable with reading. I also have my son bring books with him to his orthodontic appointment (as I do) so we have something to keep us busy while we wait.

Solicit siblings to assist – If you have older children in the house; recruit them to buddy up with their younger sibling for a short reading session.

In addition, if you have multiple little ones, you can all partner up and read together. You will find this much easier than trying to read with each of them separately. Key tips when doing this is to make sure that all the children can easily follow along. You want her to be able to see the words that your other child is reading. This allows her to learn to recognize words that she may not have known herself. Allow the children to correct each other first and only step in when none of them are able to figure it out. Allow extra time for this task so that each child is getting ample time to read. You may also want to select longer books so that you can stick to one book a night.

Computer Reading Programs – Have your child use a reading program where they can read a story and hear it read back to them. While this isn’t a replacement for having human interactive while reading, it can be used as an alternative when you are pressed for time.

Have an avid reader who wants to read every chance he can get or just want to encourage your child to read more? All the tips above can also be used to get some extra reading time in. Also, here are some additional ideas to squeeze in some extra reading time.

Read together – Usually my weekends are my time to catch up with personal reading. Just last week my step-daughter saw me reading and wanted to read her book as well. What I thought was going to be a nice silent reading session outside in the backyard turned into each of us sharing our books aloud a page at a time. No I didn’t get to read as much as I wanted to but it was really enjoyable for both of us and she even bookmarked her place and asked if we could do it again when she came back from her Mom’s. The bonus is that I tend to read self-help books so I felt that she was getting a little lesson out of it as well. It was an all-around win-win!

Have books readily accessible – Many Moms have emergency kits in their cars that consist of an array of items (such as snacks, toys, extra clothing, blankets, etc) just in case. Make sure books are a part of that kit so that if (or should I say when!) your child is looking for something to do during that long car ride or while waiting somewhere, reading is an option.

The key is to maximize your time as much as you can. Ten minutes can easily be found if you take advantage of those empty moments in your day.Readingcan be done almost anywhere and anytime and by not being afraid to capitalize on these unconventional opportunities, you lift the boundaries on reading in your child’s mind. What are unique ways that you make reading fit in your day? Please let me know, I am always looking for new tips!

Need tips on how to help your child overcome reading challenges? Please click here to view my previous blog on the topic.

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To Teach is to Learn

Posted on April 19, 2012. Filed under: Education, Parenting | Tags: , , , , , |

To teach is to learn. How profound is that? Maria Koestler Ruben states in her book “How to Tutor Your Own Child” that you must have a “love of learning” in order to pass that trait to your child. A child that wants to learn has an easier path to academic success.  But I would like to take that one step further to say that if you love to learn, then you will be a better tutor for your child. As the Japanese Proverb so graciously points out — To teach is to learn.  In order to help your child, you will in fact be learning. The more enthusiastic you can be during these sessions, the more positive your child will feel about the learning process.

My children always tell me that I would make a great teacher. I think sometimes they think that I just naturally know how to do everything it is that they are working on. When the truth of the matter is, some things I do know and others I’m learning as I’m teaching it to them. I always make a point to figure it out rather than just say I don’t know because I have a desire to learn how to do it. I would definitely say I have a strong passion for learning in that regard. Just yesterday, I went to my daughter’s high school orientation and I literally felt a rush come over me when they were discussing the curriculum.  I’m such a nerd. But I was very excited about all the things my daughter (and I) would be exposed to over the next four years.

Now I’m not saying that you have to go to Amazon and order dozens of textbooks in order to educate yourself on traditional academic subjects which in return will stress the importance of learning to your child. Creating an environment that values learning extends beyond academics. It could be teaching yourself how to make a new dish or how to do minor repairs around the house. The goal here is to show your child that learning new things is fun, exciting and empowering.

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Notetaking 101

Posted on April 18, 2012. Filed under: Education, Parenting | Tags: , , , , |

So you’re trying to do the “parently” thing and help your child study, only to discover that the notes they have taken for the test are incomplete or don’t make any sense whatsoever. Sound familiar? Read on, my friend. So you’re thinking it would be a colossal waste of time for both parties involved to study from these notes. At this point your only option is to go through the book or whatever materials you have handy and try to redo the notes. This can be stressful in those last-minute study session scenarios (which they usually always are!) but most times is the only way to ensure your child does well on the test.

If this happens ever so often than perhaps your child was having a bad day and wasn’t as attentive as they should have been during class. A friendly reminder of the importance of these notes may be all your child needs to get them back on track. However, if you find this happens often, than perhaps there’s a bigger issue – maybe your child simply doesn’t know how to take notes. Think about it…How often are we taught the art of taking good notes? This seems to be just one of those things that is assumed a child will catch on to.

So put your teacher hat on and I will share some tips that I have learned on how to improve your child’s notetaking. This idea came from Dr. Judy Willis which she shares in her book How Your Child Learns Best. It really takes a hands-on approach and is on my list of tips to try!

  • Find an article/book that is of interest to your child and read together. You can read this to your child or have them read it aloud. Either will work as the focus here is deciphering what is important from the reading.
  • Pause periodically during the reading and discuss some of the important aspects of the book with your child. This will hopefully help your child remember some of the key points.
  • Once the article/book is read, both you and your child should take notes simultaneously.
  • Once complete, compare your notes. Mark those notes that you both wrote down. See what your child wrote that you didn’t and determine together whether this was a unique point that needed to be written out or whether it was captured somewhere else in your notes. Point out those things that you wrote down that they didn’t and explain why these were important to include.
  • Repeat this exercise as often as necessary until your child shows some confidence in taking notes. Once they seem to get the hang of it, you can begin to show the tips of how to abbreviate and/or add side notes so that they can make sure they capture everything and can better understand the notes they took during class.
  • When taking unaided notes, you can teach your child how to recognize those things that are important to know (bolded terms, important people/places, bulleted-out lists, chapter summaries and questions)

Becoming a good note taker will allow your child to excel on exams by giving them the material they need to study. Building their confidence to achieve this task empowers your child to be able to study on their own and become more self-reliant. While you will always do what you can to help your child, empowering them to do it on their own allows them to take charge of their education and is something they can take with them into adulthood.

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Helping Your Child Overcome Reading Difficulties

Posted on April 2, 2012. Filed under: Education, Parenting | Tags: , , , , |

Today I went to conference with my first graders’ teacher who had nothing but positive things to say about their progress. However two years ago, I was sitting in that very same seat with the very same teacher but not the very same conversation. You see, three months before the school year was up, my son was very behind in reading which spilled into other subjects at school. He was so behind that the teacher mentioned holding him back as a possible option. I was devasted to say the least. To give some background, my son never attended preschool and when it was time for kindergarten, our school district was one of the few that still only offered a half day program. Just my luck.

Once he began school, it was clear very early on that he was a child that was going to need more assistance when it came to schoolwork. So there I was in that very same seat just two years prior thinking about all the things his teacher had said and wondering what I was going to do. Holding him back, in my opinion, would only discourage him more. But I also knew I couldn’t push him forward to continue in an environment where he was struggling. I knew that he needed more than I could give him at home and the nights of reading just ended up leaving us both flustered and irritated with one another. But I pressed on. Each month his teacher would flag me down after school or give me a call letting me know how much he had improved, I was estastic and she was just as excited as I was. The end of the school year came and he was still two levels below reading level. *Sigh* However, the teacher was so impressed with his improvement that she said that if I could get him in a reading program that summer, she would pass him to the second grade. That meant more to me than she will ever know. You see, as parents we always want to believe and hope for the best in our children but at that very moment I felt like she believed in my son as much as I did. I was going to do everything I could to get him caught him, I felt I owed him that. I know I’m not alone in the literacy struggle so I wanted to share some tips on how we overcame this obstacle.

Reading Courses – In addition, to the basis tutoring centers like Sylvan and Tutor Time, you can probably find a summer reading program to enroll your child in. These are costly but because they are taught with a group of children, they are usually less expensive than one-on-one tutoring. I signed my son up for a $300 6-week (and only six session!) reading course that summer . I’ll be honest, I really wasn’t confident that this course would bring us up to our goal but my options were few and the course was starting soon. What I found most beneficial was that you received a book with a CD and there was plenty of homework to get additional assistance throughout the week. In addition, parents could stay during the entire course–in fact it was strongly encouraged! This allows you to note how the teacher teaches the class and use these pointers when you are going through the material at home. When looking for a summer reading program, be sure to ask what is offered to determine whether it’s the best fit for you and your child.

Summer School – Most schools have summer school as an option for at-risk students. That year, we weren’t sure whether summer school would happen with the budget cuts. But right when his reading program had ended, I received a letter in the mail inviting him to summer school. Two weeks, 4 days a week and 4 hours a day of extra instruction. He sure wasn’t very excited about going to summer school but I just saw it as another means to acheive our goal. Note: Even if your child is not invited to summer school, if you feel that they need extra help, contact the school. If they end up with open spaces, you can usually choose to enroll your child. When deciding whether summer school is the right option for your child, consider what subjects will be taught during summer session. If your child could use extra assistance in another area that is being taught – then go for it. If not, you may feel that your child’s time is best spent concentrating on reading.

Reading at Home – Yeah, I know you heard this a million times but the more reading a child does, the better reader he/she will be. Of course this must be supervised reading where you can correct your child as they go. And remember bigger isn’t always better. The key is to make sure you are reading appropriate reading-level books and if your child is behind, you can’t always rely on the age recommendation. Reading assessments are usually done at school and with the help of your child’s teacher, use that score to help pick out appropriate reading-level books. Here are some additional tips when reading with your young ones:

  • Don’t spend too much time on one word. While it’s important for a child to try and sound out words, it’s also ok to help them out when they are struggling. Remember – a lot of early reading involves memorization of commonly used words (also known as site words).
  • Pick a time when your child is in a good mood. Trying to read right before dinner or bedtime may make your child more frustrated. Your reading time will be more productive when there’s not other distracting factors.
  • Take turns reading – This takes some of the pressure off your child and makes them feel more like they are spending with you and less like they are doing homework. There are books that are designed just for this purpose.

Capitalize on Your Child’s Strengths – Use other strengths that your child may have to help them along with their reading. My son has a great memory. Part of learning to read is the ability to recognize sight words. So we often practiced these words on flash cards. The more he started recognizing the words, the easier it was to get through our daily readings and the more encouraged he became.

Online Resources – There are many great websites online to aid the early reader. Your child’s school and/or teacher should have resources that are already being used at school that you can use at home as well. Some sites that my children’s school recommend are:

Library – What better way to show your child the value of reading than to take them to the one place that will give them a plethora of reading options. Introducing your child to the library early may get them excited about reading. It also gives them the opportunity to select the books they want which gives them a feeling of control. Try and let your children pick the books that they want. If you feel they are picking out books that are too difficult and aren’t beneficial during your reading time, make a deal with them that they can pick out whatever book they want but they must also read a book that you pick out.

As of today my son is in the 3rd grade and is already reading at a 4th grade level. He loves going to the library and reading for pleasure. As I proudly told his former teacher this at conference. She was equally excited and as we sat and discussed his progress, I saw us both get sort of teary eyed at his accomplishment. So if you are in this position, I urge you not to get discourage. Address the matter immediately, be patient and seek outside help if necessary.

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Parents are Educators

Posted on March 25, 2012. Filed under: Education, Parenting | Tags: , , , , |

Yes, you heard it right. Every parent is an educator by default — it doesn’t matter whether you took courses in teaching or you have a degree in education. Let’s face it, our teachers are wonderful but are limited as budget constraints force them to teach in overcrowded classrooms without the books and resources they need. Teachers really can use our help and we owe to it to our children to give it to them.

So how do you know what your child’s needs are? And once determined how do you find the resources to help them? Anybody that knows me knows that I am the Google Queen so of course I went straight to the Internet. Big mistake! My kids looked at me like I was giving them a worksheet in an ancient foreign language and it proved more discouraging than helpful. Unfortunately school curriculum varies by State, School District, and even individual schools at times, so you also need to know exactly what your child is working on in the classroom. Here are a list of resources that are already available to you that will help you answer these questions.

Parent/teacher conferences – Well let’s just call these your personal tour guides through the “areas of concerns” you will need to actively address at home. Make sure that you keep an open mind. As parents, we often find it hard to have our children’s weaknesses pointed out. The defense usually comes from our own insecurities as we feel like it reflects badly on us as parents. We often look to blame the teacher about what they are not doing. (Remember bad teaching does not give you the excuse to not to help your child.) I encourage you to truly investigate any concerns that your child’s teacher may bring up.

So what if my child excels? Many schools do not require that parents attend conference for those students that are doing well but it’s always a good idea to go regardless. Even a child who seemingly excels in everything has “areas of opportunity” as they need to be challenged — a need that will probably only be met if you take over the reigns and push them further. Attending conferences serves as encouragement to your child. They love to hear all the wonderful things their teachers had to say and the teachers can give you suggestions and resources that will help you further challenge your gifted child.  The downside? Conferences are typically only twice a year and a whole marking period or even semester has flown by before this feedback is received.

Report cards – Report cards come out four times a year and usually you will get progress reports toward the middle of each marking period. For those schools that do not have progress reports, do not be afraid to ask the teacher if this can be provided. In my experience, most teachers love a proactive and involved parent and do not mind providing additional information for you throughout the year. Progress reports will help you intervene quickly if your child is having problems and also gives you an opportunity to help them bring up their grade before reports come out. *Remember that learning holds more importance than a grade (I’ll talk more about that in a future blog)!

Homework – Aww yes, that good ol’ homework will let you know exactly what those little darlings are working on. And as they get older the homework will slowly diminish and/or will be completed sometime during the school day — or at least that is what we are told! But even in these cases make it a precedence that you see their homework regardless of how much of “a breeze” it was. You will be amazed of how many mistakes you can find on homework that was so easy they literally flew through it. Identifying these mistakes helps you identify areas that your child could use help on at home and can even give you homework ideas on those homeworkless nights (wink).

Daily Classroom Assignments – While these assignments appear to be nothing more than a wasted tree in our child’s backpack, they truly are indicators of how they are doing. See what grades they received or where corrections were made. Save these papers and, on yet another homeworkless night, work to correct them together. You can also duplicate the problems in these worksheets and give them practice work to help them become more proficient.

Test Scores – Whether you feel your child is a great test-taker or not, test scores are important to pay attention to. If your child does badly on a test, have him retake it at home. If he/she shows a big improvement, you may want to talk to your child’s teaching about the testing environment to see what options you may have to improve scores. One thing to take into consideration is whether or not your child studied. If they studied and did not improve with a home retake, than you have once again identified something that you can work with them at home with. Note: If your child struggles in reading or reading comprehension, give him/her the test verbally at home to see how they do. (Reading concerns will also be discussed in a future blog). Also, many schools give assessments in reading and even math. Make sure you have access to this information to also guide you. Finally, you have State tests, such as the MEAP, that tests your child on what they should have learned. Be sure not to get caught up in comparisions. Just because other kids have scored low in a State or School District doesn’t mean this isn’t something that you should be concerned about. I once had a principal tell me, “Oh don’t worry about the MEAP scores this year, the State made the requirements so most of our students were not proficient.” And I’m thinking that doesn’t ease my mind at all because the material is still something they are expected to know regardless of whether no one in this school does or not. Just as it is important to know what your child is working on in the classroom, it is also important to know what is expected of them for their grade level. Unfortunately, these aren’t necessarily the same. These State tests will, however, give you an ideal of where your child places and also identifies “areas of opportunity” where you can introduce some of those things they have not been taught yet.

Online Tools – My middle schoolers have what is called Parent Connection, an online tool where you can view your children’s individual assignments. Through this tool, you can see their individual assignment grades, missing work and their cummulative grades up until this point. If available, use this tool to keep your child on track, but try not to become that overly obsessed parent that checks it multiple times a day (I only say this because I was once a member of this club!). Realistically, though this tools are suppose to give you an up-to-date representation on how your child is doing, teachers have to input this data and some have different timeframes in which they update.

Your child – Keeping an open line of communication is always your best resource to helping your child. Some children are more in-tune and when you talk to them, will come right out and say what they were struggling with. My daughter came out and told me that she was having difficulty on a certain subject. “How is that possible, you got an A your class assignment. “Yeah, I know but we worked on this together as a class.” Aha…never would have figured that out if I was simply relying on her grade. But then there’s the other child who you have to drag it out of him. When talking to my son, I asked him how his day was. Here’s how the conversation went:

Me: Well how was school today?
Him: Bad
Me: Well why was it bad?
Him: I missed recess because I didn’t finish my work.
Me: Is this the first time that this has happened?
Him: No
Me: Well how many times did it happen last week?
Him: Like three
Me: Okay well that’s a problem if you can’t get your work done during normal class time. Do you know why this is? Is it too hard, is the class too noisy?
Him: (Insert confused smiley here)

I did talk to the teacher and in this case, it was more of him being too much of a chatterbug than struggling with the work. But this example just makes the point that this is something that I would have never know, unless I asked.

What the….
Overwhelmed yet? Well don’t be discouraged, it’s a lot to take in and I have only scratched the surface. The parent manual forgot to tell us that one of the requirements of being a parent would be to relearn the Properties of Matter or experience a blow to our ego after discovering our math skills are sub par, at best. However, the fact that you are still with me means that you are vested in your child’s education and I am here to give some resources and tools that I have come across that will help you see that investment flourish. Whether your child excels or struggles, is a motivated learner or needs a push, or whether you have the financials means to get outside help or you don’t; there will be something in this for everyone.

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