When a child struggles with reading or math in secondary school, everyone thinks it's a big deal. Parents get concerned about the child's GPA, college opportunities, and eligibility for sports and student activities.
In elementary school, however, some parents have a more relaxed attitude. They think the stakes are lower and a poor grade here or an off quarter there is no big deal.
Those parents are wrong. It is a very big deal when children struggle in reading and math, even as early as kindergarten. Especially as early as kindergarten.
Study after study identifies giant gaps in student abilities as early as kindergarten. There are some kids who start school strong -- with good pre-literacy skills and solid number sense. These kids excel or meet grade-level expectations from their first days in the classroom. Then there are the children who struggle. Maybe they didn't have the benefit of a pre-school program, or maybe they are just late bloomers who aren't into reading just yet. Maybe math is just harder for them, and in their crowded classrooms, they aren't getting the individual attention they need to thrive.
Whatever the reason, these beginning gaps don't just go away. In fact, research indicates that students who fall behind in elementary school never catch up. Without a solid foundation in reading skills and a conceptual understanding of math, these kids struggle to keep up for the rest of their student lives. The achievement gaps that open in kindergarten and first grade only widen and grow as the years go by. Children who struggle to grasp fractions don't go on to ace algebra without some kind of intervention or help. Kids who are slow, tedious readers in elementary school start to drown when they get to Charles Dickens in middle school.
This is why it's essential for parents to ensure that their children establish a solid foundation in early reading, writing, and math skills. It's not enough for your child to "just get by," passing SOLs with basic proficiency and heaving a sigh of relief when another year's done.
We're big believers in establishing that solid foundation. Our elementary tutors are K-6 specialists, and we know how important it is for your child to not just pass, but to thrive and excel, to move confidently from one grade to the next, equipped with the verbal and number skills that he or she will need for years to come.
As a parent or grandparent, there's a lot you can do to make sure your child or grandchild gets the help he needs NOW, rather than waiting and hoping the gaps will close.
Some parents and grandparents find that they alone are unable to help their child. Sometimes the math processes have changed, and sometimes the reading gaps are difficult to address -- after all, most parents are not reading specialists. You might know your child struggles to read but don't know how to help her.
If your child needs help NOW, please call us to talk about it, or get in touch here. Our in-home, one-on-one tutoring is an effective way to close the gaps. We have many strategies to share, and we've seen from years of experience how essential it is that the kids get help sooner rather than later.
We want to tell you about this cool thing we do called the Final Five and how you can use it to help your child stay on track in school. The Final Five is how we spend the last five minutes of tutoring sessions with our K-6 families, and it's designed to maximize the effectiveness of tutoring sessions and enable parents to help their children -- even when we aren't there.
For the last five minutes of each session, the tutor has the parent join the student. The tutor first explains to the parent what the child and tutor covered in that day's session.
Next, the tutor explains to the parent what he or she can do until the next session to support the child's progress in that subject. This might include:
- Discussing any upcoming tests or projects the student can be working on.
- Explaining what the child needs in terms of home support, whether that be materials, study space, someone to review homework or listen to reading.
- Giving the parent and child a small task or project that will enable to child to practice and support the child's progress in that subject until the tutor returns.
We started doing this because many parents told us they want to help and be involved in their child's academic success, but they don't know what specifically to do. The Final Five gives parents direction for that goal.
Here's the neat thing about the Final Five -- you can do it with your child even if you don't have a tutor!
Recent studies have shown that parents who hover too much or get too involved in their child's homework completion are actually counterproductive and ineffective. They actually prevent their child from learning and developing problem-solving independence. So instead of doing that (and if you've ever done it, you know your child doesn't enjoy it anyway), try using the Final Five to support your kid's growth in school.
Ask your child to talk to you about his or her schoolwork for the last five minutes of each homework session. For your own Final Five, you can:
- Review your child's planner and talk about upcoming projects or assessments.
- Ask if your child had any trouble with the assignments and suggest troubleshooting strategies. Would watching a YouTube tutorial help? Can you answer a couple questions? Can the child speak to his or her teacher to get some extra direction?
- Talk about your child's academic goals for the week. What's a priority? What's going on at school? What's interesting?
Your own Final Five allows you to do daily "pulse checks" with your child without micromanaging his or her schoolwork. You'll know when problems are cropping up and develop an ongoing conversation with your child about school.
Our Final Five helps you get the most out of every tutoring session. We really want to see your child succeed! Let us know how we can help.
Maybe you saw this coming, or maybe it was a bolt of lightning out of the clear blue sky. Either way, there's no feeling like the sinking feeling you get when your child brings home a bad report card.
You might feel angry with your child, frustrated with your child's teacher, or ashamed that you didn't know or couldn't help your child. Those feelings are all understandable, but there are some very specific ways you should NOT react when you first lay eyes on that sub-par report.
Here are five things NOT to do when your child shows you (or you discover) the poor grades:
1. Don't yell. The situation is already intense. You feel frustrated and upset, and your child probably does, too. Yelling only ups the intensity for all involved, and it usually causes your child to shut down. Even if your child lied to you or blew off major assignments, yelling on your part does nothing except communicates to your child that you're angry and out of control. If you can't have a calm conversation right away, let your child know that you'll discuss the report when you're feeling calmer and have had time to think about how to react constructively.
2. Don't lecture. When you're ready to have that conversation, make sure it's a two-way dialogue. If you go into "Charlie Brown's teacher" mode (you know, WAH WAH WAH WAH WAH WAH), you're not going to learn anything about why this problem exists and what you and your child can do to fix it. Most kids, when asked in a non-threatening, respectful manner, will be able to tell you exactly what's going wrong and what they think might help improve the situation. But if you start the conversation with an angry rant about how your child is "disappointing you" and "ruining her future," your child will kick into a defensive, defiant mode of her own.
3. Don't blame the teacher. Even if you're child's teacher isn't setting the world on fire, help your child see where he has some control over the situation and what he can do to improve his performance. If he says, "I don't like how he teaches" or "He doesn't like me," re-focus the conversation on your child's role and responsibilities as a learner. Allowing your child to blame the teacher sets your child up to believe that his success or failure in life is in someone else's hands, and he doesn't have control over his life or responsibility for his choices.
4. Don't focus only on the negatives. Chances are, your child's report card contains good information, too. Maybe she earned an A in art, or maybe a teacher noted how well she works with other students. Find something positive to talk about so your child doesn't feel like all you see is what she can't or didn't do. If you really can't find something positive about the report, contact her teachers and ask. Just say, "I'd like to talk to my child about how she can improve her performance in school, and I'd like that conversation to include a discussion of her strengths and weaknesses. Can you share some positive observations, as well as your specific suggestions for improvement?"
5. Don't just talk about grades. Those grades matter. Of course they do. But they are only indicators of small areas in your child's life -- one subject here, one subject there, and most important, one moment in time. They are not permanent indicators of your child's character or destiny, or for that matter, your parenting. So when you talk to your child, instead of focusing on grades as the final outcome, focus on work habits, school routines, and daily actions and choices that can get your child back on track. Talk to your child about self esteem and taking pride in one's work and contributions. Research shows that focusing on grades, and not the growth and process by which those grades are earned, sets your child up to be completely unmotivated in school.
Finally, if you feel stuck, please call us. We absolutely have strategies that can help your child get back on track, and we'd love to talk to you about the resources available for your child.
What are your best tips for handling poor grades?
Recent studies have shown that parents who struggled with math anxiety in school can unwittingly pass this learning difficulty to their own children. This happens when parents who have their own "math insecurity" assist their children with math homework.
These parents don't do it on purpose -- in fact, it's often because they are trying so hard to help their children do better in math than they did.
The problem is, their help backfires.
Instead of helping the child feel more confident with math, the parents often make what they think are reassuring remarks:
Researchers at the University of Chicago studied about 400 elementary students. They tested the kids' math abilities at the beginning of the school year, and they also surveyed them on their feelings about math. How do they feel when taking a math test? When doing their math homework? Parents completed a survey, too, responding to questions that asked about their own math anxiety and how much they help their kids with homework. At the end of the year, the students were re-tested in math and re-surveyed.
Turns out: the kids with math-anxious parents who helped with homework not only internalized their parents' discomfort with math, they actually learned less than their peers.
This kind of math anxiety has long-reaching effects. Adults who struggle with math don't just get nervous when it's time to split a restaurant bill. They also don't understand their credit card interest, how to best finance a car purchase, and what kind of savings will be needed for retirement.
So what's the moral of this story? Should parents who've had their own problems with math not help their children?
Well, it depends. If you can maintain a "math positive" attitude, you can probably provide support with passing your anxiety down to your child. You can do this by:
If you find that you're unable to support your child's math development without communicating your own angst, talk to us. Our tutors have an excellent track record of success, even with students for whom math has presented a years-long challenge.
One Chesapeake parent tells us:
"My daughter now understands the subject that once gave her so much trouble. Not only has she worked her way from a D to an A-, but she also passed the Algebra II SOL with a Pass-Advanced score!"
The most important skills we can teach our children are perhaps not division or solving equations, but grit and persistence. Kids need to learn that they can do hard things and that their teachers and parents will support them in the process. Math homework is a great opportunity to practice those skills.
Ask any teacher or student about their favorite day of the week, and you'll get varied responses. Some will say they like Fridays, when the work week winds down and the weekend stretches ahead. Some will declare a love for Saturdays, when they've had a good night's sleep and have nothing pressing on the agenda for the next day.
No teachers will express enthusiasm for Sunday, and here's why: it's the day teachers spend getting ready for the week ahead. It's a work day. And while it's kind of a pain, teachers have figured out a secret that smart students would be wise to adopt.
The secret is that those who do their Sunday work reap the benefits for the rest of the week. Sunday is a day to get ahead, get organized, and get on top of the tasks unfolding Monday through Friday. In other words, Sunday matters!
Six reasons why Sunday matters to your student:
For some families, Sunday might not be the best day to make these things happen, due to sports schedules or church commitments. It actually doesn't matter if you do your "Sunday work" on Saturday. What matters is that students get the time to process the past week, plan for the week ahead, get organized, and invest time in their studies.
What Sunday routines work best for your family? Leave us a note in the comments!
Back-to-School season is generally filled with a mix of excitement and worry.
On the one hand, the school year stretches ahead as a blank slate for new experiences and success. The kids are excited to see their friends again, and many enjoy the learning and social opportunities at school. Parents are often ready for the structure and routines of school, and they are cautiously optimistic about the fresh start.
On the other hand, Back-to-School can be a stressful time as well. Kids worry that they won't like their teacher, or they'll be separated from friends. They wonder if they'll struggle in certain subjects or be able to keep up. Parents get anxious about new bus routes, hectic mornings, angst-filled homework sessions, and whether their child is prepared for this next level.
A little preparation can minimize the stress and maximize your child's chance of academic and personal success. Here are three things you can do to ensure a smooth start to the school year.
Organize Your Home
You can reduce stress and chaos by making sure there are specific places designated for school gear and school work. For example:
Communicate with the School
Most parents go into each school year with certain hopes and fears for their child. Maybe your child has always struggled with reading, and you're hoping for some extra attention there. Maybe your child feels shy at school and would like to make friends but isn't sure how. Maybe your child has health issues that need support at school. Maybe your child is already overwhelmed at the prospect of a big high school year of AP classes and college applications. Have you talked to your child's teacher(s) or guidance counselor about these concerns? When parents get upset with the school, it's often because an expectation has gone unmet. So start the year by communicating your hopes and expectations in a clear, respectful and collaborative way. Simple concerns may just require an email, while more complicated matters might need a conference. You are your child's best advocate, so don't wait to speak up.
Be Mindful of Your Child's Health
Your child's mental, social, and emotional performance at school is largely driven by how he or she feels physically. Are you setting your child up for success? Think about:
Taking some time to think through these issues is an important way to "set the stage" for a great school year.
And if your child struggles academically despite your best efforts, consider calling in some back up with a professional tutor.
What are your best Back-to-School strategies? Leave us a note in the comments below!
Last week, one of our new tutors sent us this message (with names changed to protect privacy), following a back-to-school session with her student:
I had an excellent session with my client, Becky, last night. When I first came, her dad said she was not happy because he had just yelled at her for forgetting her math homework at school.
She was feeling like a failure. By the time we were done, she had gotten the math problems texted to her by a friend, we had worked on getting her planner and binder organized and we had gotten the rest of her homework nearly done -- all in good spirits. She was so happy, telling her dad corny states jokes I had just told while going over her map homework, and best of all, she felt so much more confident than when I had arrived there. I left feeling like she was ready to take on school the next day. Times like this truly inspire me as a teacher and validate why I love to teach. I had to share it with you since you are the reason I am tutoring right now. I am so happy to have an outlet for doing what I love to do most -- motivate and inspire struggling students.
And there it is, the very best reason to get your child a tutor: "She felt so much more confident than when I had arrived there."
There was a situation in that home that night that most of us are all too familiar with -- a stressed and unhappy child, a frustrated parent, and no homework getting done. By the end of just that one tutoring session, that child was relaxed, confident, and ready to tackle the next day of school.
That's a priceless result, for both the child and the parent.
Getting your child a tutor is an investment in her self-efficacy as a learner. You're not just trying to get her math homework done; you're trying to equip her with the skills and confidence to continue learning and succeeding on her own, long after the tutor is out of the picture.
How can we help your child build that kind of learning mindset? Leave us a comment below, or give us a call today!
As summer draws to a close, many families in Hampton Roads are rushing around to get ready to go back to school. It can be an exciting, yet hectic and stressful, time for students and their parents. Back-to-school is one situation where it pays to be proactive, so consider these three tips for making this school year the best one yet.
1. Get Organized
Think about your routines from last year. Were you losing permission forms? Was homework left behind on the kitchen counter? Were you rushing back in from the bus stop to grab shoes for PE? Was every morning a mad dash to make it to school on time with all needed papers and supplies? Start this year right by implementing a few systems to help your routines run smoothly. Decide where your child will do homework (hint: not near the TV), and stock up on the needed supplies. Set up a basket or paper tray (on the counter or mounted on the wall) where you can keep school papers and forms. Think through your evening routine and make a plan with your child to get school things organized the night before -- backpack stuffed, papers signed, clothes selected and shoes located, and everything ready in a designated spot. Keep a family calendar in a shared spot so everyone's on the same page. These are simple modifications that can really de-stress your mornings.
2. Get On Schedule
Don't wait until Labor Day weekend to get your child's bedtime back on school hours -- that's too late! Start the shift now if you haven't already. You want your child to be rested and bright-eyed on the first day of school. In our house, we've been kind of terrible with enforcing a bed time. If bedtime is supposed to be 8:30, we find that pajama-selecting, teeth-brushing, story-reading, water-getting, etc. all add up to kids who are still awake at 10:00 p.m. Lately, we've been doing a "head to bed time," and it's working much better. Instead of shooing the kids upstairs at 8:28 for 8:30 bedtime, we start the routines much earlier, around 7:45. This gives everyone time to unplug from iPods and TV, handle their bedtime routines, and have quiet moments to read and talk before lights out.
3. Get In Touch with School
Now is the time to think about any special communications that could help your child as the school year starts. If your child has allergies or special medical needs, get in touch with the school nurse. If your child has learning needs and has an IEP or 504 plan, get in touch with her teacher or the school's case manager and make sure that everyone is aware of your child's learning needs. If your child has a weak subject or needs remediation, get in touch with us! We can talk about back-to-school tutoring programs. If you can, consider reaching out to your child's teacher and offering to help with back-to-school set-up and parent communication. Even if you can't volunteer in the classroom, introducing yourself and staying in the loop is a great way to show support for your child's education.
Teachers and parents, what strategies will YOU use to make this school year the best one yet? Leave us a comment with your great tips!
It's August, the time of year when everyone's thoughts turn back to school. While we still have a few (hopefully sunny) weeks left of summer, you need to start thinking about how to prepare your kids for a successful academic year.
For some kids, back to school is an exciting time to get some new shoes, shop for colorful supplies, and compare class assignments with friends. For other children, however, this is a time of anxiety and dread.
Will I know anyone in my class?
Will my teacher like me? Will I like her?
Am I going to bomb math again?
I barely survived Spanish last year. I know I'm not ready for Spanish II.
I procrastinated on my summer assignments, and now I don't know if I can finish.
You can address this kind of back-to-school anxiety with some easy steps to ease the transition in the weeks ahead. Here's what we recommend:
1. Keep a positive attitude. Even if you are also dreading school (and the ensuing homework battles), don't model negativity for your child. Be positive and encouraging. Remind your child of the good things, such as seeing friends each day and playing at PE. Tell your child that the year is a new beginning, and you are confident he can succeed.
2. Involve your child in the preparation. Let your child open the school mailers, and have her mark the calendar with important dates (such as Open House). Make a shopping list with your child, and when you can, let him pick out the colors of his notebook or the style of his lunchbox. Little things like this give your child a sense of control and excitement about school.
3. Ease back into school routines. If your kids have been staying up late and sleeping in, now is the time to start adjusting the schedule so you don't have to do it all at once on Labor Day weekend. Same thing goes with meal schedules and other household routines. Has your child been reading this summer? Make it a part of her daily routine now. Everyone fares better if the first week of school doesn't come as a mental and physical shock.
4. Consider summer tutoring. If your child's back-to-school stress is related to a history of difficulty in school, do what you can to make sure he starts of strong this year. For many kids, the right thing is a few hours of summer tutoring. This can offset "summer brain drain" and also give your child a jump start to the curriculum for the fall. Nothing eases anxiety like early success and confidence. We have learned that a little summer tutoring -- being proactive -- is more effective, less stressful, and cheaper than playing catch-up in September.
How do you get your children ready to go back to school? Leave us a note in the comments!
I encourage all parents and grandparents to strongly consider helping their students PRIOR to the start of the school year in September. Personal tutoring can make a big difference at the start of the school year.
We are finding many students become frustrated, disgusted, and in many instances feel defeated with a new subject they are not familiar with within 10 school days after the start of school.
When this happens it becomes difficult to turn the student around and what then happens is that it is a matter of always "catching-up." Tutoring at this point becomes expensive because you are trying to catch up plus keep up the pace. The best time to prepare for September school start is in August when only 3 or 4 hours of one-on-one tutoring, by a properly qualified tutor, can get the job done! This will enable the student to enter the classroom with high self confidence in their ability to meet the challenge of the new class.
This is particularly important with building block courses such as math, reading/writing, and foreign languages although the pre-school tutoring practice works well with any course the student is fearful they may not "like."
What subject is your child dreading come this September?