More than flashcards – how to help your child learn sight words

What are sight words?

Sight words, also known as high frequency words, are the most common words encountered in printed text. According to research by Edward Fry, creator of the Fry Instant Word list, the 25 of these words make up one third of all printed material. Some of these words are easy for kids to sound out (like big) while others (like the and was) are irregular or “rule breakers.” Two common sets of sight words that schools test and teach are the Dolch words and the Fry word list.

Why are sight words important?

Strong readers have a large vocabulary of words they recognize by sight. Think about your reading here in this paragraph. Are you sounding out each word or recognizing most of them as whole units? Part of the process of learning to read is adding more words to your sight word memory, which increases reading speed and efficiency. Some words (think little, people, McDonald’s and Grandma) are difficult for young readers to figure out sound by sound, but they quickly come to recognize them because they are seen frequently and/or because they are meaningful and kids are motivated to recognize them!

Why do we have to do sight words for homework?

Some teachers assign sight word study for homework. For some kids, not a lot of practice is needed to memorize the sight words. Others need to look at them, read them and spell them again and again to get them into memory. If a child hasn’t memorized the age-appropriate sight words, it can make their reading slow, choppy and frustrating. It can also make it hard for them to spell in a way that others can read their writing.

Assigning this practice at home lets teachers focus on other aspects of teaching literacy. It also may make sense to practice at home because each child is likely to be focusing on a different set of sight words.

Ways to study sight words

There are lots of ways to make sight word practice fun and meaningful and to get the assignment done without losing your mind.

Tactile practice

Have your child write sight words in a shallow tray full of sand or salt, in shaving cream, or on the shower wall with shower paint. You can also fill a quart Ziploc bag with hair gel or colored liquid soap, seal the bag well, and write words with a finger on the plastic. The bag of gel is my favorite because it’s less messy, but any type of practice that gets your kids saying the word and its letters, feeling the shape of the letters as they write and trace and reading what they wrote is good practice because using multiple senses strengthens the memory of the word.

Use the cover-copy-check strategy:

  • Read the word and spell it out loud
  • Cover the word or flip the card over
  • Write it or trace it without looking
  • Check to see if you spelled it right

Games

When I’m working with kids, I’m likely to turn just about anything into either go fish, memory/concentration or 20 questions. Here are some game ideas for sight word study.

Go Fish: Write the words on pairs of flashcards. Use the cards to play go fish. Deal 5 cards to each player and ask, “Do you have was?” If a player draws a match, make sure they read the pair out loud before you let them keep it.

Memory: Use the same pairs of flashcards to play memory. Lay between 5 and 10 pairs of words on the table face down. Players take turns flipping over a pair of cards, reading the cards and keeping them if they match. Make sure they read the words out loud and don’t just match visually.

20 Questions: Lay out the cards where everyone can see them. One person thinks of one of the words, and the other asks questions to figure out which one it is. Ask questions like, “Does it have the /p/ sound?” or “Does it have 5 letters?” Encourage the child to move the cards around and eliminate/flip over cards that don’t fit the clues.

Online games:

  • Popcorn words on Fun4theBrain.com
  • Sight word games at Education.com
  • There are also an ever-changing array of sight word apps for Apple and Android

Mnemonics

Mnemonics are memory tricks, like learning the sentence, “My very educated mother just served us nachos” to remember that the planets in our solar system are Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune. (Remember when Pluto was a planet and our mother served us “nine pizzas” instead? My favorite is the sentence, “Big elephants can always understand small elephants” to help kids spell because.

For sight words, the tricks your child picks will be individual to him or her. Check out Pinterest or search for “spelling mnemonic __” for whatever word your child is struggling with.

Think about meaning

Sight words can be tricky because they make kids remember whether a word starts with w or wh and that the uz you hear in does spelled like the oze you hear in goes.

The question words who, what, when, where, why all have wh.

Does and goes are both verbs and they both get the +es suffix on the end, even though they are pronounced differently.

Spaced repetition

Last, but definitely not least, is the strategy of spaced repetition. The linked video is geared toward medical students, but the idea of the forgetting curve is just as true with kids learning sight words! I’ll post a video soon on how to set up a spaced repetition system for sight words, but here are the big ideas:

If you are starting from scratch, pick five words to focus on. Once the child can read those words accurately on the first try, move those words over and only study them every other day. After a week of studying them every other day, move them to the twice a week group. At the end of that week, move them to once a week, then on to once a month. If the child misses a word, move it back to every day practice until they can do it correctly again. As the child masters the every day words, introduce new ones to work on so they always have about five new (hard) words and a bunch of others that they are getting really good at.

After they can remember a word they haven’t studied in more than a week (monthly), retire the word. It is definitely mastered!

When can we stop practicing?

This question is tricky because it’s different for every child and every set of words. The goal with sight words is accuracy and automaticity. If your child’s teacher is assigning sight word homework, he or she is probably assessing them in the classroom and will decide when to move words out of the practice set. If the child can read the word accurately, with no hesitation, spell the word, and read it when they see it in a sentence or story, they have mastered it and can stop studying.

Boy doing homework

What Will Your Child Learn This Summer?

Are you looking back on your child’s school year and wishing things could be easier for them?

What if:What do you think would make your child's school year better?

  • Sunday night was a time for family dinner instead of scrambling to finish the weekend’s homework?
  • Essay assignments didn’t end in tears or frustration?
  • You didn’t have to spend as much time on homework as your child does?
  • Your child’s grades improved?
  • Your child went to school without feeling worried or afraid of what the day would bring?
  • You didn’t spend mornings looking for missing papers, lost library books, and pieces of clothing?
This summer, let’s work together to help your child get organized and prepared for school.

Does your child know HOW to study? I can teach them!I can help them:

  • Experiment with a planner or agenda book system to find one that actually make sense to them!
  • Learn note taking and study strategies that make it easy to get ready for tests.
  • Take the mystery and uncertainty out of planning and writing essays.
  • Make a plan for homework and stick to it to get a great start on the year!
  • Build vocabulary and reading strategies to help them read with confidence.

Contact me today for a no-cost 30-minute consultation to find out how I can help your child make next year the best school year yet!

 

3 Ways to Memorize Information for a Test

Memorizing and recalling information is a basic, concrete, way of using your memory. It’s simpler (but not necessarily easier) than applying facts to problem solving or demonstrating something you have learned. But sometimes teachers just test you on what you remember.

You can use these simple techniques to help you memorize information for a test.

Can imagining Buddha in a Porsche get you an A?

Can reliving your walk to school help you recall Hamlet’s “To be or not to be” soliloquy?

If you connect images and everyday events to help to the things you are trying to memorize, the answer is ABSOLUTELY!

Visualization

One way to memorize information for a test is to create a silly or outrageous mental picture that helps you recall all the details you have to memorize. In a class I took, the professor went around the room and asked each of us to say a word. He wrote them all on a large piece of paper. Then he gave us 30 seconds to memorize as many words as we could. The next day in class, he asked us to write down as many as we could remember. I was the only one who got all of the 15 or so words. I did it by connecting them and making a silly story that used all the words. The only ones I remember now, ten years later, are door handle, blue and balloon. But hey, remembering 3 out of 15 random words I learned one Saturday for 10 years is something, right?

Here’s how you can use it:

Let’s say you have to memorize the Bill of Rights, the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution. You might picture a man with a speech bubble that has the word “free” in it (First amendment – free speech). His sleeves are rolled up (Second amendment – the right to bear arms (bare arms)). He’s throwing quarters at a soldier standing inside a house (Third amendment – about the quartering of soldiers in private homes). Nearby, a police officer is going through the man’s luggage (Fourth amendment – prohibits unreasonable search and seizure). You get the idea. All the amendments are represented in a single picture, so that when you imagine the picture during your test, you’ll be able to see clues for each one, and each amendment will trigger your memory for another one.

Memory Palace

The memory palace technique, also known as the method of loci, takes this a step further. It is an ancient strategy that relies on your mental image of a familiar location to help you recall new information. It works like this:

As you picture a familiar location, like your bedroom or landmarks on the way to school, you imagine each piece of information on one of the landmarks of your familiar setting. Once you have created your mental image of all the steps or parts you need to memorize at each location, you just have to imagine sitting in your bedroom, looking from your closet to your desk, to the drawers in your bureau, to recall each item on your list. 

Here’s how you can use it:

Start now. “Build” your memory palace ahead of time by constructing a list of 10 or 15 things in your bedroom or noticing the details of your trip to school. That way, when your teacher assigns a poem to memorize, you just assign a line of the poem to each part of your memory palace, which will help you recall the lines and keep them in order.

Mnemonics

A mnemonic is a term for any kind of memory device, but it usually refers to a word or phrase that reminds you of different words that have the same beginning letters. A famous example is ROY G. BIV which reminds us of the colors of the rainbow (Red Orange Yellow Green Blue Indigo and Violet). Another is the sentence, “My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nachos,” which has the same first letter as all the planets of our solar system, in order.

Fun fact: I learned “My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas” because in my day, poor Pluto was a planet, not just a dwarf planet.

Here’s how you can use it:

Create a mnemonic if you have to remember a list of information in a particular order. A simple example would be the water cycle: Evaporation, Condensation, Precipitation, and Collection. You might remember the initial letters: E, C, P, C with the sentence “Every Child Prefers Chicken.”

You may have to try one more than one memory strategy to figure out which one works best for you. Some people prefer to visualize pictures like in a Memory Palace or a mental image while others remember things better when they use words, such as with a mnemonic device. It doesn’t really matter which one you choose. 

The important thing is to be strategic when you are memorizing information. Reading and rereading flashcards will probably eventually get you the results you want but interacting with the information and using the creative parts of your brain will help you remember things for longer and memorize the more quickly. On the other hand, don’t get so caught up in making a beautiful picture or a silly mnemonic that you lose sight of the end goal, which is to remember the information.

All of these strategies take time to implement. The night before a test is not the time to create a mnemonic or build your memory palace. By planning ahead and using active strategies, you will find that studying becomes easier and less stressful and you get the grades you want and have fun doing it!

If you need help setting up study strategies for your classes or creating your study schedule, a tutor can help! Contact me for a free, 30-minute consultation to see if online tutoring is right for you.
3 Great Ways to Memorize Information for a Test

6 Reasons Online Tutoring is Better Than In-Person Tutoring

When I first talk to parents about online tutoring, some of them are skeptical. Meeting with a new person online seems risky and unfamiliar. There are also lots of companies that market themselves as online, on-demand tutors that are impersonal and offer uncertain quality and I think they give online tutoring a bad name. Many people feel comfortable interviewing and choosing an in-person tutor. Why not choose an online tutor the same way? 

The benefits of online tutoring are well worth the initial setup process. Once you figure how how online tutoring works, starting a session is as simple as making sure your child is logged in when the session starts. Here are some benefits you can enjoy when your child meets with their tutor online.

Fewer sick days

Sometimes your child, or your tutor, is just too sick to work. However, there are lots of other times when a cough or runny nose might keep your child and tutor apart. But if you work with your tutor online you can meet on those days without worrying about spreading germs. This also works if you are sick or if somebody else in your house is sick. You don’t have to worry about inviting the tutor into your home full of germs or sitting around the library waiting for your child when you would much rather be lying down.

Meet in any weather

This has been a rough winter for snow storms. I think my New England school district had at least six snow days. And there were other nights when it was too icy or snowy for me to tutor in the evening even if there wasn’t a major snowfall. With online tutoring, as long as you and the tutor have power and internet access, you can meet in any weather. That means fewer evenings of brushing off the car, squinting through snow squalls and watching out the window to make sure the weather doesn’t get worse before your session is over. Everyone stays warm and dry while your child gets the tutoring she needs!

Meet from anywhere

For busy families, the ability to conduct tutoring no matter where you are can be a lifesaver. Although it works best if your child works in a quiet, familiar location, tutoring can take place anywhere they happen to be. I work with some students who meet with me sometimes from one parent’s house and sometimes from the other. Other students might meet with a tutor from their afternoon babysitter’s house or from a friend’s house if they go away for the weekend. If you decide to go on vacation this summer, you might be able to continue tutoring while you’re gone. I know not every kid wants to meet with their tutor in the middle of the vacation, but if you have a long trip planned, online tutoring can prevent your child from losing ground over the summer.

Hire the best available tutor

Opening your search to online tutoring means you can work with a tutor from anywhere in the world who has the skills your child needs to learn. You will be able to find a tutor who shares your schedule, or your child’s special interest, or who is knowledgeable about your child’s greatest area of need. And tutoring rates can be more affordable because the tutor doesn’t have to travel to your home and therefore those travel costs are not built into your fee.

Students are more comfortable

One of the greatest advantages of online tutoring is the comfort it brings many students. For students that are anxious or shy around new people, sometimes having the distance of a web camera and not having to sit side-by-side with the tutor or look them in the eye helps them to feel more comfortable and focus on the lesson. It also make students more comfortable when sharing materials. When I can share a document on the screen and point to it with my mouse, we don’t have to sit side-by-side. This can be especially an advantage for older students, like middle school and high school kids. I can also quickly point out mistakes or highlight information without interrupting the students flow. I keep the work right on the screen where they are already reading or writing.

Easier to share resources

Speaking of sharing resources, online tutoring is great because it lets me as the tutor introduce new resources quickly and flexibly when they’re needed for the lesson. When I travel to a student’s home or to the public library, I don’t always have access to the internet. So if a topic comes up that a student doesn’t have background knowledge about or something that they are confused about, it’s harder for me to share visuals to quickly teach them something new. On the other hand, with online tutoring, I can quickly pull up a picture or a resource to share a needed fact. For example, when reading an article about Olympic records, I realize that my student wasn’t familiar with the long jump event. A quick Google search and a couple images from Wikipedia let me show him what the event looks like, and what the article was describing. This can be especially helpful for students who are working to build their vocabulary or who are visual learners.

And if a student finishes the work I had planned, I can quickly open the next article we plan to read, instead of being limited to the text I have printed in my bag. I was working with an in-person student recently and he was talking about what he had learned about Wilma Rudolph, the Olympic runner. He was very impressed by her story but, unfortunately, I had to stop him and totally change the subject to the text I had planned for that evening. If we had been meeting online, I could have quickly shown him a different article I read earlier that connected to his interest in Wilma Rudolph. I brought the connected article the next week, but it felt like a missed opportunity to capitalize on his interest.

Who is online tutoring for?

Online tutoring isn’t the best solution for everyone. For some younger learners, it can be challenging to navigate using the mouse or too distracting to have to draw or write their responses on the screen. I can facilitate a lot of this by offering to do the writing myself and keeping the lessons very verbal.

Other times, a parent has found they need to sit beside the young student and support them as they learn to use the mouse and keyboard efficiently. Although there can be a learning curve for some students when doing online tutoring, it can be a great solution for older students who are comfortable on the computer. Many students who are digital natives, used to using devices throughout their school day and for fun, find online tutoring very natural. 

Contact me for a free 30-minute consultation so I can show you how online tutoring would look for your child.
6 Reasons Online Tutoring is Better Than In-Person Tutoring

Private Tutor vs. Tutoring Centers: Finding the Right Fit for Your Child

Hiring a tutor for your child is not a decision most parents take lightly. Often, the family has tried having a parent help with homework, encouraging the child to stay after school to meet with the teacher, and extra practice in workbooks or on websites like Khan Academy. Sometimes, in spite of all these efforts, the child needs extra support from a tutor to master the skills he is missing and meet his goals at school. There are many ways to find a tutor, and in this post I will outline some pros and cons of finding a private tutor and attending a commercial tutoring center.

Getting Connected

Unless you live in a very rural area, tutoring centers like Sylvan and Kumon are heavily advertised and widely available. You might drive by them in your errands or see their advertisements in your local paper or in Facebook. A tutor is just a click or call away. These big companies have a staff of people ready to talk with you about your request and match you to an available tutor.

Finding the right private tutor can take a little more effort. Local teachers often tutor students in their school community. Other parents hire high school or college students to tutor their children. For some students, this is enough. For students with greater needs, like those who need tutoring for dyslexia or dysgraphia, or students who need help with executive function, it is important to find an expert who can offer your child the best strategies for learning. To find a tutor that is a good match for your child, you may need to email, call and interview more than one person to find the best fit. It is easy to use an internet search to find tutors in your subject in your area. Online tutoring is another awesome way to work with the best tutor you can find without having to worry about travel or geographical limitations. Meeting with a tutor through video conferencing opens up your search to the best available tutor in the world, not just the best tutor in your town.

Scheduling

Tutoring centers are flexible and convenient. They are often open all afternoon and evening and they usually have many tutors they can assign you to. You will be able to set up a tutoring schedule that can fit in with your busy life and your child’s schedule of sports and activities.

Independent tutors are individual human beings, so they may or may not be able to meet your exact scheduling needs. But while they may not have unlimited hours to offer you, independent tutors are often willing to be flexible to best meet your needs. Offering flexible arrangements like every other week tutoring, or changing your time slot if needed are benefits that you can get with an independent tutor. Instead of working with an employee of a tutoring company, who may have fixed work hours, you can choose an independent tutor who sets his own hours.

Curriculum

In my experience, large tutoring companies offer more of a “one size fits all” approach to curriculum. A large tutoring center often has access to a wide variety of curriculum. Some companies use commercially available workbooks and worksheets and the quality of this curriculum may vary. Other large tutoring companies have developed their own proprietary curriculum that may or may not be a good fit for your child’s needs. Before you commit to a tutoring center, be sure you know what type of curriculum they use, and also what kind of assessments they offer to make sure your child is learning what they came in to learn.

Independent tutors have almost unlimited options in the curriculum they offer. Some tutors are willing to work with your child’s textbook and homework material. Others have their own preferred resources or develop individualized lessons for each student. In my experience, independent tutors are more likely to be flexible about the curriculum they use. It is in their best interest to use the materials that make your child most successful! An important part of arranging tutoring with a private tutor is still asking about curriculum and assessments.

The Personal Touch

As an independent tutor, it is my business to make sure my students achieve their tutoring goals. So if it’s appropriate, I have arranged with some students to review draft of their paper or to connect with them outside of our tutoring meetings to remind them about what they need to complete. I often send emails to parents or students to see whether they have tried the techniques I taught them, or finished the homework assignment that was giving them trouble when we last spoke.

Tutors from a tutoring center usually work set hours on site. Companies may even have policies that prevent these tutors from communicating directly with students and parents outside of their tutoring sessions. While there are many options online for instant homework help, these convenient sites won’t know about your child or be able to remind her about what she learned before to help her with tonight’s assignment.

Cost

I saved this for last, because the cost of tutoring varies widely depending on what services you are looking for and where you live. Tutoring centers often offer group tutoring, which can keep costs lower. They may offer pricing deals if you buy a block of tutoring hours, enroll more than one child, or commit to a long-term contract. When you buy tutoring from a tutoring center, keep in mind that your fee pays for the physical surroundings as well as the support staff and administrative staff running the center. The tutor who works directly with your child probably will not be highly paid. As a result, these jobs don’t attract the most highly-qualified and experienced tutors.

The cost for private tutoring varies, too. You can hire a high school or college student for not much more than minimum wage. Hiring a professional tutor, someone with an education degree and teaching experience, or someone with a specialty like learning disabilities tutoring or test preparation tutoring costs more. But a cheap tutor isn’t always a good deal. An experienced professional tutor can assess your child and identify the problem your child is having. She may be able to correct the problem in just a couple of well-planned lessons. An inexpensive, inexperienced tutor might put in many hours with your child without dramatic results.

The Final Decision

There is no one “best” or “right” kind of tutoring. Students and families can find almost any tutoring solution to meet their needs, from meeting with a local college student at the library after school to having a private tutor come to your home, to taking your child to a small group class at a large tutoring center. As you shop for a tutoring solution for your child, think about your child’s personality and academic needs. Consider your family’s schedule and other family members’ needs. Set your budget for tutoring and be prepared to talk about your goals for what you would like your child to accomplish through tutoring. By preparing before your first conversation with a tutor and knowing what you expect, you can find a tutor that will help your child make the most of her study time!

Choosing a private tutor or a tutoring center is one of the first steps toward getting your child the help they need.

How and Why to Use a Color-Coded Binder System

Some links in this post are affiliate links.

Elementary homework is simple and even fun, compared to middle school assignments

In elementary school, staying organized was pretty easy. Homework was the same, week to week, and teachers gave lots of support and reminders, and parents did the same at home. Some kids internalized those routines, and others got by with help. And yes, sometimes work got forgotten in a student’s desk or lost in the bus, but the stakes were low.

Fast forward to middle school

Different teachers all day long, and lockers to manage. Suddenly, kids are responsible for holding on to work for days at a time and finishing it at home, then returning it for a grade. They are taking notes and getting materials they need to study for a test weeks from now.

Some teachers explicitly teach systems for keeping it all organized. Some teams of teachers plan for all the kids they teach, so everyone’s materials match. And in some schools, with some teachers, you are on your own.

If your student hasn’t been given a specific supply list to follow, start here with a color coding system.

Why color-code?

A color-coded system is ideal for kids who:

Color coding folders is a great way to help kids get organized
  • Are distractible. A consistent color system gives kids with ADD/ADHD an extra layer of prompts.
  • Are poor readers. Being able to remember that all red items go with science, for example, means they can more quickly find and file items without taking the time to read each handout or page of notes.
  • Have poor short term memory or slow processing speed. These kids might need more time to make decisions about where to put things, and again, the colors add another layer of cueing.
  • Are anxious. The time pressure of making it from one class to the next can make adults crazy, let alone an anxious kid. A color-coded system is ready to put things in and quick to straighten up later if something gets hastily misfiled.

How to set up color coded binders

  1. Decide on a type of binder. One big, zipped, binder (like this one from Case-It) works well for fifth and sixth grade, or for classes with workbooks (and not a lot of handouts or note paper). A series of 3-ring binders (I like these sturdy ones from Avery) works for students who can get to their lockers a few times a day, and if teachers tend to give many handouts.
  2. Shop. Back to school time is a great time to stock up, of course. Invest in sturdy binders (marked durable or heavy-duty) so they can withstand lockers, backpacks, and teenage indifference.
  3. Organize. Label each folder, binder and notebook with the name of the class (and for the notebook, with the date you started it). Put the colored pencils or pens in a pencil case or zippered pocket. Put the key to the color code in 4 places: a plastic sleeve in the front of the binder, a plastic sleeve hanging in the locker, taped into the cover of the child’s planner/agenda book, and hanging over the homework area.
  4. Use it! Start class with the correct binder, folder, and notebook at
    Use colored pencils to mark each paper you get in class with the date.

    your desk. Take out the matching colored pencil. Put a quick mark in the top right corner of each page the teacher hands out. Better yet, put the date and a quick direction on each page. Write “study,” “read,” “have Mom sign” to remind yourself what to do with the paper.

  5. Maintain it. At the end of the
    Every evening, put new papers in the binders when you start your homework.

    school day, or when you get home, do a quick visual check. Are all the items in the folders marked with the right color? Are there any papers that belong somewhere else? Use the three-hole punch to put any papers you are keeping in the notebook rings.

  6. Clean it out. At the end of the week, month or term, look at everypage in a binder. Remove any old work (stuff that’s been graded and notes/handouts when the test/project/unit is completed), clip it together and put a sticky note with the date on it. Then file it in long term storage (or put the whole thing in the recycling, if you’re sure you don’t need it again).
Need help getting your child organized? Contact me for a free 30-minute consultation to help you decide if tutoring is a good fit.

 

How and Why to use a Color-Coded Binder System to Stay Organized at School

Stay Organized with Google Keep – at Home and at Work

I’ve always been a list-maker. I used a paper-based system for years, and I would keep a running list on scrap paper or in my planner. But when I got out of college and stopped going everywhere with my backpack, I started leaving my lists behind. So I have turned to digital systems for to-do lists to help me stay organized. After trying Evernote for a few years and using the notes feature of an iPad and a few different cell phones, I was really excited to learn about Google Keep. I have started using Google Keep to help my students plan projects and keep schoolwork organized. Here are some of my favorite features.

Using Google Keep at Home

Groceries

I keep a running grocery list. I use the share feature to share the list with my husband. The list has check boxes so I can check off items I bought and uncheck them when we need them again. Once a week, the reminder feature tells me I need to plan my shopping for the coming week.

Google keep is great for this because it syncs between all my devices. If I am sitting at my desk planning meals for the week, I can pull up the list on my laptop. Then I can use my phone to look at it while I shop and check off items as they go into the cart. When I find an unusual item or a terrific price, I take a photo and attach it to the list so I don’t forget.

Meal Planning

I have a plan of recurring menus that my family likes, that are quick enough to prepare on weeknights. It’s not a perfect system but it gets us fed. One of the tools I use is a weekly to-do list that pops up on Google Keep. For example, if I’m serving tacos this week, Google Keep has a list of all the advance prep steps that I would do the weekend before: chop the peppers, grate the cheese, check the pantry for salsa, etc. I have a reminder set for that list every two weeks, because that is how often I have tacos on the menu. I archive the note when I’m done with the chores and don’t see it again until the following week, when it’s time to prep again.

Seasonal Chores

I have a recurring reminder for seasonal chores like changing the smoke alarm batteries, switching out everyone’s toothbrushes, and calling to get the boiler maintained every year. They are not items I put on my calendar, because they can be done somewhat flexibly. Also, I don’t want to flip ahead 6 months to find out when daylight savings begins before I can put an event on the calendar for changing the batteries. So it pops up once every 6 months around the week of the time change and I just leave it up on my Keep to-do list until I take care of it.

Holiday and Seasonal Shopping and Activities

I have a holiday gift list, a list of fun things to do this summer, and a list of new clothes my son needs. For example, when I realize he is outgrowing three pairs of pants, I put pants on the list and pick some up next time I see a good sale. This prevents me from buying things I don’t need, because I’m trying to shop from memory. It also stops me from standing panicked in the middle of the mall in December trying to remember the great gift idea I had for my father.

Knitting Pattern Notes

I love knitting and crocheting, but I don’t often have time to work on my projects. I tend to forget where I am on a project and it takes me forever to look at the piece, read through the directions, and get oriented. When I’m knitting a complicated pattern, I paste the row by row instructions into a note in Google Keep and I add checkboxes. Then, as I knit, I can check off each completed row with a quick gesture. No fumbling for a pen or shuffling index cards, which was the system my grandma taught me as a kid for keeping track of pattern repeats.

Chores

I have a list that pops up every Saturday morning, early. (Too early, but I have to get started before my family wakes up and the fun starts.) It has all the things that perpetually need doing, like sweeping and mopping the floors, washing sheets and folding a staggering amount of laundry.

To those regular items, I add any special errands or chores that I want to do in a given weekend. A checklist gives me accountability and a sense of satisfaction when I check off items.

Distracting my Toddler

Last but not least, Google Keep is a great tool to hand my son when we are waiting for dinner in a restaurant. I can pin the app open, so he can’t get out of it, and open up the drawing feature in a new note. He quickly learned to choose different types of markers and highlighters and to change the color. Sometimes he draws faces, other times he just scribbles and experiments with color. Either way, he is proud to show us his picture, and I never have to pick up crayons that have rolled across the floor. When he gets older, I’m excited to teach him to play tic-tac-toe on the screen, too.

Using Google Keep at Work

Client Notes

When I talk to a parent interested in tutoring for her child, I open Google Keep on my laptop while we are on the phone. I jot down any information I get about the student and family. A recent set of notes includes test scores, favorite books, names of siblings and pets.

Then I add to the note anything I want to cover in our first session, like stories we might read or assessments I want to use. During or after the meeting, I can jot down test results and observations. It helps me remember the details about new students, especially in a season when I am meeting a lot of families.

Professional Goals

I have another note, with a weekly reminder, that prompts me to check in on my goals. Am I posting on social media as much as I planned? Have I designed the flyer I want to share with parents? Am I meeting my scheduling goals for this blog? What was that YouTube video I wanted to add?

That reminder means that I can’t ignore those goals for weeks at a time. Every time it pops up, even if I don’t have time to sit down and address those items, it refreshes my memory about what I should be doing. Google Keep helps me keep my eye on the prize!

Drafting Blog Posts

Since my list of blog topics is on Google Keep, it makes sense that I often start blog post drafts there, as well. When I’m out of the house and have a couple of minutes, it’s quick to open up Google Keep, start a new note, and outline the post I want to write next. By long-pressing on the note, I can choose the option to “Copy to Google Docs” and move the blog post over when I’m ready to format and finalize the post. I can also open the Keep note on my computer and paste it right into the blog post editor on my website. Google Keep is a flexible tool that gives me a lot of options for quickly starting my writing. For some reason, it’s a lot less intimidating to sit in front of a little note screen, designed for quick things like grocery lists, than a stark, blank document on my computer. It makes it seem like no big deal to just jot down a few ideas.

The Takeaway

When a tool has as many uses as Google Keep does, it’s no wonder it has a place of honor on the favorites tray of my cell phone. It’s right there with the camera and my text messages. I have my personal account and my professional account linked to my phone, which lets me access either set of notes with just a couple taps. Between the checklist function, bulleted lists, sharing, photos, and drawing, Google Keep is an all-purpose tool that should be in anyone’s productivity suite. 

Come back soon to read how I teach students to use Google Keep to organize their school work and avoid forgetting what they need to do.

Create, share and use lists and notes in Google Keep

Creating Space and Time for Homework

Although some researchers question the usefulness of homework, it is still a standard practice in most schools to assign some work for students to do after class. This can vary from independent reading to elaborate projects that involve multiple trips to the craft store. My philosophy on homework is that it should be minimal and that it should be reinforcement and extra practice of things that the child has already learned in class. That means if they did not master the concept in class, they shouldn’t be expected to spend hours learning it at home, especially in elementary school.

That also means that in a perfect world, teachers should be assigning homework that students can mostly do on their own. As a parent, you can help your child succeed by creating a space and time in your home where he or she can do homework to the best of his or her ability. You can also check their work to make sure they have put in their best effort and not made any obvious, careless mistakes. However, I believe that if homework is taking a lot of parental effort every night, something is wrong. Be sure to communicate with your child’s teacher if the homework seems extremely difficult or if your child doesn’t seem able to complete it. It could be a sign of a more serious problem.

Here are some ideas for creating a homework-friendly environment in your home, no matter how old your child is.

Homework in Elementary School: Laying the Foundations for Success

Homework can be overwhelming for young students.

In many schools, homework begins as early as kindergarten. Although I don’t think this is the best use of after-school time for five- and six-year-olds, families that have to get in the habit of homework for their youngest learners have some specific things to consider.

Kindergarten Through Second Grade

These are the years that children are building their homework habits, so it’s very important to help them develop a positive attitude towards the work they have to do. And investment in good habits now will make the homework process go more smoothly for years to come.

Readiness

Make sure your child is ready to work before you sit down to do homework. Younger children may come home from school hungry, tired, or just fidgety from being in their chairs all day. Follow your child’s cues to determine whether they need a play break when they first get home, or maybe a snack. Some children, on the other hand, do their best work right after school when they’re still in “learning mode.” Develop a schedule that works best for your child’s energy level.

Close Supervision

The younger children most likely need a parent in the room or even at the table with them to read directions, redirect them if they get distracted, and give them praise and encouragement. As your kids get more familiar with the homework routine, try to set short independent goals, like asking them to copy their spelling words onto the paper while you load the dishwasher. Be sure to give them lots of praise for their independent work when you check in a few minutes.

Minimize distractions

Young learners can be distracted by a TV on in the house, other children playing while they’re trying to work, or just the stories or worries going on in their own brains. Set up homework in a quiet part of the house where your child is unlikely to be distracted by family members or other excitement. Gently redirect your child to the homework task when they become distracted it try to change the subject or tell a story. You are trying to help them learn to redirect their own attention. This skill, part of executive functioning, is essential for managing attention and keeping themselves motivated as they get older.

Tools

Have the right tools available. The type of homework your child brings home will vary, but helpful tools to have on hand are:

  • Pencils, a sharpener, and erasers
  • Crayons or colored pencils
  • Lined paper that’s appropriate for the size of their handwriting
  • For math, a ruler, graph paper, object like coins or small blocks that they can count and used to help them solve problems
Resources

Children this age are likely to complain if you try to tell them something that is different from the way their teacher taught it. However, they’re also likely to need help doing the work. Your child’s teacher will likely share resources for homework at the beginning of the school year for along with the homework paper. If he or she does not give you the information you need, ask whether the school district or textbook they use has a website with parent information. There are often videos and demos that you can use to learn how to help your child.

How Much Time?
  • It won’t be productive for your young child to spend too much time at one sitting in front of their homework. If you notice your child getting fatigued or distracted, and you find it’s too hard to get them back to work, it might just be time for a break. Try splitting homework time up between after school, evening, and the morning before school, if needed. Some parents report that homework that might take an hour in the afternoon takes just 10 or 15 minutes first thing in the morning.

 

Grades 2-5

Homework is pretty common by the time students are in second grade. They are likely to have math practice, spelling or vocabulary work, and maybe an independent reading assignment. Many elementary teachers stick to a predictable weekly routine for homework, which means you can usually do the same at home. Here are some tips for helping your elementary students get their homework done.

Prepare to work

Just like the younger children discussed above, older elementary students might also need a break after school or snack to help them get ready to sit down and do their homework. However, by this age, they should be able to communicate to you how they’re feeling and help you strategize about what they need to get ready to work. That doesn’t mean they should do whatever they want before they start their homework. Come up with a reasonable plan by working with your child that might give them a short time to play followed by homework, followed by the reward of more time to do their favorite activities.

Increasing Independence

As children move through elementary school, they develop more independence and more responsibility for completing their work. By third grade, students should be able to complete a simple assignment such as questions about a story or a math worksheet without direct help from the parent. they may still need you close by. Many elementary students are not ready to work on their homework all alone in their room, and may do better at the kitchen table or another public part of the house where an adult is available if needed.

Managing Distractions

While older children might be able to manage their attention a little bit better than they could a year or two ago, they are still likely to be distracted by the TV computer or cell phone in their work environment. If you are supervising homework, it’s a great idea to make this a no screens time for yourself as well. That ensures that you were available to help your child, as needed, and keeps your child from being distracted by your device.

Having the Right Tools

Children should be bringing home any tools that are specific to their assignment, like multiplication charts or science notebooks that have the information they need to refer to. It’s still great to have a set of household homework tools, though, which will keep your child from rummaging through the house for the things she needs to complete an assignment.

Kids need access to the right tools to make homework time go smoothly
  • Pencils, pens, erasers, sharpeners
  • Lined paper, blank drawing paper, and graph paper
  • A calculator if your child works with one in math
  • Ruler, protractor, and other math tools needed for their curriculum
  • Highlighters, glue sticks, colored pencils, markers, and crayons
  • Parent knowledge/resources: Many schools or textbook publishers have online resources like videos to refresh your child’s memory about a concept or skill. If the teacher has a class website, make sure to check it for homework reminders or tips and strategies.
How Long Will It Take?

The amount of homework assigned increases from year to year throughout Elementary School, with schools often following the recommendation that students should have 10 minutes of homework per grade. That means first graders would have 10 minutes of homework while 5th graders might have 50. However, students are very different from each other, so homework that takes one child 15 minutes might take another child an hour. Be mindful of time of day when scheduling your child’s homework, and be willing to intervene if you find that the homework is taking too long. It doesn’t benefit your child to struggle alone over an assignment they don’t understand, and it certainly doesn’t help them if you give in and leave them through it step-by-step. If they are struggling with an assignment, encourage them to try their best and help them communicate with their teacher to explain where they got stuck.

 

Homework in Middle School: Increasing Independence 

By 6 or 7th grade your student should be able to complete their assigned homework independently. But that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook! As a parent you can continue to give them appropriate setting to work on their homework and to monitor to make sure they are doing what needs to be done and that they understand the material. By this time in their school career kids are finding the teachers grade many of their independent homework assignments. That’s why it becomes extra important that you not hover over them and that you don’t help with the work itself. Teachers are using homework to measure what students learned in class and how independently they can apply it.

Some other things middle schoolers need for homework:

Tools

The same kinds of tools that they did when they were younger: pencils, pens, highlighters, markers and scissors.

Internet Access

Middle schoolers are more likely to need an internet connection to complete their homework, either to read an assignment or to do research. Many teachers use online format for studying, practicing math skills, and turning in assignments. The stayfocusd extension for Google Chrome is a free tool that prevents users from going to certain blocked sites (chosen by you) too much, or within certain hours of the day.

Accountability with Independence

Monitor your middle schooler and make sure they are using their access productively, and not just texting their friends. Help them manage their time to make sure they can get done all parts of the assignment in the time they have.

Help to Plan

Middle School also tends to be a time of longer, independent projects. Help your middle schooler break down the project into all of its steps and develop a timeline for completing it that doesn’t have them staying up all night the night before it’s due!

Someone to Manage the Schedule

Keep a family calendar that includes family events, sports commitments, and other activities that will keep your student busy in the coming days and weeks. Refer to it when the student is planning a project or preparing to study for a big test.

A Place To Work

Middle schoolers are often trying to gain more independence and would prefer to do their homework in their room or in another location where they have more privacy. For most kids this is a good choice, but you know your child best. If you feel they’re not ready to work without direct supervision, set a policy that homework gets done in the kitchen or dining room.

Consider getting a portable box or caddy that holds all of the homework tools so your child can choose to work flexibly, such as using the floor for a big poster or doing long reading assignments in their quiet bedrooms.

High School Homework: Supporting an Independent Learner

By high school, your student will be almost completely independent with doing their homework. But your job’s not done yet! As classes require more homework and more long-term projects, students will probably need more help with the planning and scheduling of their homework. Continue to use a family calendar like the one recommended for middle schoolers and continue to talk to your child about their upcoming deadlines. Helping them keep these assignments in mind means that they are less likely to forget something and less likely to leave it until the last minute.

Changing Assignments

Besides having more homework in high school students are also more likely to have in depth, detailed assignments. They are less likely to have simple worksheets. Help your child learn to set reasonable expectations for how long a piece of homework will take to avoid staying up way past bedtime trying to finish an assignment that is taking longer than expected. Another way to help your child finish his or her homework efficiently is to make sure they have a range of study and reading strategies that are appropriate for the material there being asked to work with. Often, these strategies are taught as part of academic classes. If your child class is not teaching the difference between skimming and close reading, or different tools for note taking while reading, you might want to seek out a study skills class or some tutoring for your child. These strategies are essential tools that he or she will need to succeed in high school and Beyond. Some students are able to come up with strategies of their own and put them to work while others need to be explicitly taught how to do these different kinds of reading.

Helping When You Don’t Feel Like an Expert

It’s tempting to take a hands-off approach to high school homework because your child is likely to be studying material that you haven’t looked at in years, if you ever studied it at all. However, you don’t have to be an expert in the content to help your child study or complete their work. Offer to quiz your child on material for a test using the questions at the end of the chapter or the study guide they’ve been given. Invite your child to talk through their understanding of a complex concept. Even if you don’t know enough to tell them whether they are right or wrong, hearing themselves explain the concept will help them to identify any gaps in their understanding.

Keeping Them Organized

One final and very important step that parents can take to help their high school students succeed is to help them keep their materials organized. For some students, that just means getting them some supplies like appropriate binders and notebooks and some kind of file box or accordion file for work that does not need to be kept in the binder but should be stored for future reference. Other students need a more Hands-On approach to organization. If your child needs it, make sure to sit down with them periodically, once a week once a month or once a quarter, to go through all of the papers in their binder. Make sure that they are filed with the correct class materials, that old papers are cleaned out and either thrown away or filed, and that work is dated and put in order so that assignments are easy to find. Even good, responsible student fall into the Trap of cramming papers in a folder or binder thinking that they will remember where they put them or that they will clean it up later. By giving your child time space and encouragement to organize their materials, you are helping them build good habits.

Finding Time for Sleep

Beyond helping your child organize and complete their homework, it is important that parents promote sleep for high school students. Successful students are often very busy with sports, activities, classes, and social engagements. Sleep often takes a backseat to all of these more exciting activities. But research shows that when teenagers don’t get enough sleep, their academic performance and their mental health are impacted. Consider household rules like keeping cell phones out of bedrooms or setting a lights-out time for homework activities. It might not be easy for your child to fit everything in earlier in the evening, but it is important to prioritize their sleep and health!

The Pay-Off

So why should you put so much energy and effort into getting homework done, when your name isn’t even going on the paper?

Although it’s still a hotly contested topic, homework is here to stay. Unless your child attends a school that does not assign much (or any) homework, these assignments will be part of your life for years to come. Creating good homework habits as early as you can will help your child succeed and reduce the stress in your home in those precious hours when you are all home together!

Stress less about homework and enjoy more family time!
If homework is overwhelming at your house, consider finding a tutor. Contact me at readingwritingtutor.com for a free 30-minute consultation and find out if online or in-person tutoring is the right way to help your child succeed!

 

Five Ways To Use Color To Get – and Stay – Organized For School

We live in an exciting, fast-paced, colorful world. On your next trip to the grocery store, take a moment to drink in all the vibrant hues that companies use to catch your attention and get your shopping dollars. Notice how quickly your eyes can tell the difference between the bright yellow Cheerios box and the blue of Frosted Flakes. Are you taking full advantage of your brain’s response to color in your organizational systems? 

Below are five ways to integrate color into your organizational system for school materials. Try one at a time in the least organized area of your school life, or go nuts and spend the weekend putting together a comprehensive color system that makes you feel organized and prepared for the challenges ahead!

Does it matter what colors you pick? Nope. Choose colors that make sense to you, or that make you feel good about what you’re doing. For example, I tend to make science stuff green because it makes me think of nature. In my personal folders, writing stuff goes in purple, since it’s my favorite color, and I want to do more writing. I’m hoping my brain will tell me how much I want to write when I see those pretty purple materials, or see writing time blocked out on my calendar in purple pen. Do whatever makes sense to you, but do it, and stick with it to see results!

1. Coordinate your class materials

Give each class in your schedule a color, like pink for math, green for science, etc. Match your notebook, binder, and folder for that class. This can take some setup at the beginning of the year, since it’s not always easy to find the colors you want for each type of supply.

*Tip: when you find the colors you need, stock up! Those pocket folders and one-subject notebooks won’t last all year. 

*In a pinch: if you can’t find the colors you want, use a neutral one like black or white and decorate it with markers or colored yard sale sticky dots. This can help when you have the right binder and folder, but you’re down to the last few notebooks in the county.

2. Match your Google Drive folders

This has been a game-changer for me. Between my own classes, material for my students, and my own projects, I have A LOT of folders in my Google Drive. Assigning a color to the frequently used or super important ones makes them jump out at me. Use the same colors as you do for your physical class materials to make things easier to find.

3. Code Your Papers

When you are picking out colored school supplies, grab a set of colored pens, pencils or highlighters, too. When a teacher passes out paper, grab the matching pen for the class and write today’s date in the corner in color. This is especially important if you don’t have a chance to hole-punch papers during the school day, or if you tend to let papers pile up somewhere.

*Bonus points- next to the date, write a verb that reminds you what to do with the paper, like study, file, answer, or get signed. That extra info will save you time when you deal with those papers at homework time.

4. Make your Planner Pop

Remember those colored pens you’ve been using to date your classwork? Put them to work in your planner or agenda book, too. Use the assigned color to write down homework for each class. Have some extra colors? Use one for sports, after school activities, family stuff, or appointments. Or have a special color for tests quizzes, or friends’ birthdays.

*Tip: Use colors for whatever is most important to you, but don’t go too crazy. If you make the system too complicated, you might avoid writing in your planner altogether.

5. Tie in your Google Calendar

All this magical color coding can be carried over in Google Calendar, too! Put your class schedule in as a set of recurring events, then edit today’s event to include any assignment from that class.

All these systems take a little time to set up, but the payoff is huge! Spend a little time before school starts, or some Saturday afternoons, getting all your materials organized, then relax and enjoy knowing that all your stuff is where it belongs!

Five ways to organize your school materials and your digital files to help you stay organized and find things quickly.
If your child needs help getting or staying organized, a tutor can help. Email me at bethsullivantutor@gmail.com to schedule a 30-minute free consultation.

The Transition to Middle School

From what I remember about middle school, it could have been the sequel to Lord of the Flies. Except I vaguely remember some adults being in the building.

Basically, I spent 90% of my time thinking about where to sit in the cafeteria, and whether it meant something that Kenny closed his locker and walked away as soon as I got to mine, and whether I had enough hair spray in my bangs. I guess I spent the other 10% thinking about academics, but frankly, that part is a little fuzzy.

Is it any wonder that these people, who were very recently children who definitely had monsters in their closets and needed timeouts, struggle to meet their teachers’ expectations in middle school?

So much changes in those last couple of pre-teen years. Physically, hormonally, cognitively, and emotionally, no one comes out of middle school the way they went in. For better or for worse.

Add to all this personal stuff the constant pressure on teachers to push academics down, down, down to younger students, and vulnerable middle schoolers are dealing with more pressure and stress than ever before.

So how do we protect our middle schoolers?

First of all: be there. According to this piece in the New York Times, even teens who seem to hate their parents feel better and have better outcomes when their parents are available regularly. The author, Lisa Damour, calls them “potted plant parents.” They are moms and dads who are just there, fading into the background. A study connected this parental availability with lower rates of behavioral and emotional problems.

Promote healthy habits like eating breakfast and lunch and getting enough sleep. As middle schoolers mature and get more freedom, they sometimes make short-sighted choices that affect them negatively. They may stay up too late, skip meals, or choose junk foods that affect how they feel and how they learn. Try for a family meal most nights of the week. Research shows that family dinners lead to positive outcomes for health and learning, but if you’re not home at dinner time, maybe you could sit down for breakfast?

Another important way to prepare your child for middle school is through teaching mindfulness strategies. This is one of the hardest practices to sell to adults and kids in our busy world, but I believe one of the most important. A growing body of research shows mindfulness training and practice is helpful for improving students’ attention, emotional regulation and compassion for others, while decreasing their stress and anxiety. It sounds counterintuitive that slowing down in this way is going to help your child make their way in the fast-paced middle school world, but these skills help teens learn to direct and sustain their attention, calm themselves when they feel anxious or upset, and understand their emotional reactions to challenges.

Preparing for academic success

Beyond health and social-emotional strategies, kids need some concrete strategies for dealing with the academic challenges of middle school.

  1. Organize in advance – Follow the teachers’ school supply lists in the summer. If they don’t use a specific system for color coding, create one. Give each academic subject a color and buy a folder, notebooks, and maybe a binder in that color.
  2. Get a planner – Some schools provide them. If not, look for a school year planner that fits your student’s needs. Make sure it has enough room to write assignments.
  3. Create a homework space at home – It could be permanent – like a desk in a quiet space, or temporary – like a file bin or supply caddy you can put on the dining room table, then clear away at meal time.
  4. Create a weekly and daily routine – Often, teachers spend class time teaching students to fill out their planner or agenda book with class assignments. Support this and supplement it by sitting with your child over the weekend to look at the week ahead. Is it a busy week of practices and rehearsals? Is there a big project due next Monday? Every day after school, help your child to look at their planner and plan for tonight’s homework. Someday, they’ll do this on their own, but if you can find a moment to call them from work in the afternoon, or have them sit in the kitchen while you make dinner, you will build a habit that will pay off for years!
  5. Clean and organize periodically – Depending on the child, binders and folders tend to get cluttered and lose organization over time. Take an hour on a relaxed weekend to spread out everything, sort it, throw out the junk, and file away important completed work, like things they might need to study for an exam later this year. Some kids might need this once a month, while others need a weekly check in, and some can make it to the end of the academic term without making a mess.
  6. Give them responsibility – You are providing tools and support for homework, but at the end of the day, the grades are theirs. The transition to middle school can bring a steep learning curve for parents and kids. Be careful to set boundaries you are comfortable with so your child knows they have your support, but she also develops skills and independence to succeed on her own.

When to get expert help

The transition to middle school can be challenging for even the most capable and mature students. For many middle schoolers, good habits established during these years will make them available during the school day to learn what their teachers are teaching. The best case scenario is they will experience some challenges, and some moments of stress, but their strong foundational skills will serve them well.

For other students, learning disabilities, ADD/ADHD, or weak basic skills might make it very difficult for them to succeed in class. If you and your child have tried some strategies, but school is still not going well, you might need to consult with other professionals. Talk to your pediatrician, a guidance counselor or special education teacher if you think an educational disability might be affecting your child’s progress. A tutor who is knowledgeable about middle school curriculum, study skills and executive function can also be a great help.

Contact me to schedule a free 30-minute consultation today to see if tutoring is a good option for your child.

 

Middle schoolers need structure and support to meet the new challenges they encounter.

 

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