Potty independence – Zippers and wiping and handwashing – Oh, my!

If you’re getting ready to send your child to kindergarten, potty training may already feel like a distant memory. As I start to think about training my daughter, I realize I don’t really remember how we got my son to use the potty. My daughter is three years younger and a lot has happened in those three years! But I am realizing that the bathroom journey isn’t done with my four-year-old as I start to think about getting him ready for school. There are some things that he doesn’t seem to understand or can’t handle independently yet and they may really get in the way of his school experience! Here are some of the things we are working on.

Privacy

My four-year-old can tell you that the bathroom is a private place and that you need a private place to take off your clothes. And then, we have company, and I see that he doesn’t quite get it. I end up running from the dining room table (which has a perfect view of the bathroom!) to save the guests from an unexpected view!

Depending on the school, your child’s kindergarten might have a private bathroom in or near the classroom, or your child may have to use a multi stall bathroom like the older children do. Even if the kindergarten has a private bathroom, learning how to manage a public bathroom will be important if your child is going to the bathroom during lunch or in the gym.

The core message for your child is that every individual has a right to privacy when they use the bathroom. That means one person in the bathroom or stall at a time, close the door, lock the door, and when you’re done, come out with your clothes on and fastened. This can be tricky because when children are little they live in a world of “privacy… but…,” like Mom and Dad will come in to check on you if you’ve been in the bathroom too long or I’ll come in and wipe when you’re done. As a parent, I definitely don’t get privacy in the bathroom every time and even though my son understands that I want privacy when I’m in the bathroom it doesn’t stop him from coming in when two of his Legos are stuck together. Now is the time to start making those blurry lines around privacy a little sharper and more black and white. It may be a shift for your family, but it’s a shift that will help your child with the transition from being home to being in the more public world of school.

The paperwork

When my brother was potty training many years ago, my father famously told him that “the job’s not over until the paperwork is done.” I know a lot of preschoolers, and if we’re being honest, I’ve known some school-age kids, who still needed feedback on their cleanup job after using the bathroom. Now is the time to step up that gradual release of responsibility. I know that in a perfect world I would rather have my kids walking around clean than have them be walking around independent, but if they’re going off to school, they need to be able to do enough wiping to manage. They likely won’t have access to wet wipes either, so be sure that they get some practice cleaning up after using the bathroom with toilet paper only.

Fears

That brings me to a – perhaps less common but definitely real – problem for many students preparing to enter kindergarten. That is fears about using the bathroom on their own. For my son, it has been the sound of the loud flush in a large public bathroom. He also may run back out into the restaurant if the hand dryer comes on. While he may not encounter automatic hand dryers when he gets to school, he definitely does need a strategy for flushing the toilet on his own instead of hiding outside the stall while I do it for him.

Other kids have different fears that may interfere with their bathroom Independence. For example, in one school where I worked, the older students had convinced some of the first- and second-graders that one of the bathrooms was haunted. At least one student took it to heart and was running off the school bus in the afternoon and barely making it into the bathroom before having an accident because she was so afraid to use the bathroom at school. Another student I know began to avoid going to preschool out of the fear that he would have to poop there and no one would be in the bathroom to reassure him that he wouldn’t fall in. Every kid has their own quirky needs and worries in this area. Before they start kindergarten is the time to take a step back and think about whether any of your child’s peculiar anxieties are getting in the way of their safety and Independence in the bathroom.

Clothes

When I was in Americorps we had a uniform with a belt. It was a canvas belt with a free end that threaded through a metal clasp and then, as far as I could tell, became stuck there forever. I remember an embarrassing and nerve-wracking moment when I couldn’t get out of my uniform belt and had to stand there in the hallway while one of my teammates tried to free me, and I concentrated on not wetting my pants. I was 20, not a child. But that’s the memory I think of when I think about kids wearing belts and buttons and tights to school that they have to get out of to use the bathroom.

There are so many adorable kids’ clothes and school shopping is so exciting. Grandparents get in on the act, too, and buy adorable little outfits for the little boys and girls going off to school. And they make for great pictures! But before you send your child to school in a new kind of clothes, make sure that they can independently unfasten and fasten them in a limited amount of time. My son’s favorite pants all winter were a pair of hand-me-down khakis, but he could not get the hook at the top of the zipper done independently. It resulted in him walking around with his pants half open more often than I would like to think about. When I pick out school clothes for him, I go with all elastic waist and drawstring options that he can get in and out of efficiently I get back to his classroom. As his motor skills get better, more options will open up. And on the weekend, when he’s with the family, he can wear whatever he wants!

Hand washing

Kids are gross. Listen, I taught my son to wash his hands before I even taught him to use the bathroom. There’s a little song I made up and everything. And yet, I still catch him dipping his hands in the water, squirting a handful of soap, and rinsing it immediately into the sink and then drying his hands on my nice clean towel and trying to walk out of the bathroom. Yuck.

To an extent, kids are going to do a bad job with things like washing their hands and faces. Even if they know they’re getting rid of germs, they don’t really get it and they don’t really believe you that washing their hands will keep them healthy. So continue to reinforce this skill with your child and know that the teacher will, too. But you do have to accept that no one is going to supervise them scrubbing their hands every time. Yikes. So you may want to find out whether hand sanitizer is an option. In some schools it is, and others avoid it.

As much as it grosses me out (OK, I have a thing about germs) to think of a bunch of five-year-olds using the same bathroom all day with little adult intervention, I do realize that kids become independent eventually! This last window before your child starts school is your chance to give them the skills to be independent and confident so they can take care of business and get back to their classroom day!

Does your child have total bathroom independence? What if you weren't around to coach them?

Photo by Curology on Unsplash

I wrote a book about getting your preschooler ready for kindergarten. Join my mailing list for updates about the book and tips for preschool parents!



Sorry, I don’t tutor kindergartners – Here’s why

When I used to do test prep tutoring for high school students through some of the big tutoring companies, I pretty much only talked to parents who were looking for that specific product. I’ve been tutoring privately for two and a half years and now that I talk to a wider cross-section of parents, I am surprised by how often parents are looking for tutoring for their kindergartners! Sometimes, they feel their four- and five-year-olds have fallen behind kids their age and want them tutored in basic academic skills like letter names, shapes, and counting. Other times, they want their preschooler to “get ahead” so they can do well in kindergarten.

I’m sympathetic to these requests because I know starting school can be incredibly stressful for parents. I have a four-year-old myself and I find myself wondering all the time if he’ll do well when he starts school or if we have some hard work ahead of us.

As a reading and writing tutor, I don’t take on students that young. Especially working online, I don’t think I can meet the needs of the youngest learners. In fact, I would go as far as to say that I don’t think “tutoring,” in the traditional definition, is appropriate for students before around first grade.

I think that four- and five-year-old preschoolers and kindergartners, frankly, have way more important things to do than to sit with a tutor. I would rather see them on their feet, playing, creating, following directions, problem-solving, and learning about the world around them. Children this age have a short attention span for things that aren’t their own ideas and that’s not a problem! That’s the way they are supposed to learn.

That’s not to say they don’t have a lot to learn before they start school. There is a huge range of starting points for kids entering kindergarten. But kindergarten teachers expect that wide range to enter their classrooms at the end of every summer.

In any public school classroom in the U.S., kids are likely to have birthdays at least a year apart. That’s just the nature of the public school system, due to enrollment cutoffs. Teachers expect that and use a variety of techniques to meet kids where they are and bring them through the year. By high school, you wouldn’t be able to guess the age of many of the students.

In kindergarten, though, the differences can be dramatic. But in my experience as a public school teacher, some gaps are much more concerning than others. I would much rather see a student come in to the classroom who can converse with peers and adults, manage her behavior, navigate the classroom space, and solve problems. If she doesn’t know all the letters in the alphabet when she starts school, I can work with that!

Parents are constantly getting the message that they need to get their kids “ready” for kindergarten. There are workbooks and intensive preschool programs. There are family members pressuring parents to do more, comparing these preschoolers to other people’s children who were reading earlier or doing remarkable things before kindergarten! And because parents want the best for their children, they’re not sure where to turn.

Stay tuned for the next few weeks where I will be sharing some ideas for how to know whether your child is ready for kindergarten success and what kind of activities and lessons you can teach to help them be ready or when school starts this fall!

As a special education teacher, I have worked with students coming in for kindergarten screening for years. I will share some of the things that make us wonder or worry about an incoming student as well as some of the best ideas I’ve learned for promoting of the things that really matter for your child going into kindergarten.

Sorry, I don't tutor kindergartners - Here's Why

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash
Kindergartners need lots of play and real-life experiences, not a tutor.

Coming soon: 4 Big Things to Teach Your Child Before Kindergarten. Join the mailing list for updates about the book and tips and tools to get your child ready for school!



How Do I Study for Finals?

Maybe this is the first time you’ve studied for cumulative final exams or maybe your studying hasn’t worked out so well in the past. But this year is different! You’ve got this! Starting now, you are going to make a detailed plan for how to study for final exams, including what to study, what you already know, learning what you need to rock your exams, all while getting enough sleep and taking some breaks.

Come back for more posts on how to use different materials, like Quizlet and your textbook, to study for different kinds of material.

Soon, the school year will be over and you will be able to breathe a sigh of relief because you did it! But first you have to make it through finals!

Get Ready!

To get started, make a list of all the classes you’re taking and what kind of final test, paper, project, or other assignment you will need to complete by the end of the year. List the due dates as soon as you have them. Great places to look for this information are

  • Your teacher’s website
  • The syllabus
  • The board in your classroom  
  • Your notes from the beginning of the year or semester

If you can’t find the information written anywhere, it’s not too soon to ask the teacher about it. They should be announcing the details soon, but if they haven’t, it’s fine for you to ask. A lot of times when people say they don’t know how to study for final exams, the real problem is they have no idea what they will be tested on!

Once you know what the test will be, you can start preparing for it. We’re going to focus on in-class exams in this blog post. Hopefully, the teacher will give out some sort of study guide. That may be a list of topics to be covered in the exam or it may be a more specific list that includes vocabulary terms and key concepts to review. If you have a study guide, start there.

If you don’t have a study guide, you need to make your own. Start by going through your textbook and your class notes.

  • Make a list of all the chapter titles and main headings from the textbook that you covered during this semester.
  • Make a list of all the major topics you have class notes on.
  • In a science class, list the topics of any labs you completed.

This can look really overwhelming, at first, but soon you will be crossing things off this list, so don’t worry.

If you have your quizzes and tests from earlier in the semester, pull those out too, along with any other worksheets or graded work the teacher has handed back. (If these things are hard to find, come back after finals to read more about how to organize your binders and stay organized all year long.)

Get Set!

Now that you know what’s going to be on the exam, you have to figure out how ready you are now. There are a couple ways to do this. One is to take any quizzes or tests you took during the semester and use those grades as a guide. For example, if you got a 75 on the geometry quiz on triangles last week, you can assume you know about 75% of what you need to know about triangles on the exam. Remember that if the grade you’re looking at is from early in the semester, you may have forgotten some things and you might not score as well today on the same test as you did when you had just learned it.

If you don’t have a quiz grade on the material, take a quick look at the topics on your list. How many of them could you confidently explain? How many of them are familiar but you don’t know everything about them? How many have you forgotten all together? Use that information to estimate the percentage for each of the topics on your list. Do you know 50% of what you need? 25%? 99%? These numbers won’t be exact but they will help you decide how much study time each topic needs.

Now, repeat this process for each of the classes with an exam. You might want to do this over a few days, because looking at every grade and every piece of paper in every binder in your bag can be really overwhelming. But don’t wait too long. We tend to avoid things that are hardest for us. It’s tempting to start reviewing for biology if that’s a class you feel comfortable in and leave the geometry for last if it’s not your favorite. But you’ll be more stressed later if you don’t give yourself enough time to study for the exam that will be hardest for you. Be brave! Make your list now of what you need to know.

Decide when you will study

Put your exams on the calendar. Figure out what your schedule looks like between now and the exams. Take a colored pen (or schedule it on your Google Calendar) and draw boxes around the time you have available for studying each day of the week. For example, if you get home from school at 4:00 and homework usually takes an hour, and dinner takes an hour, then maybe you have a one or two-hour stretch in the evening that you can use for studying. If you have a few weeks until your exams, you don’t have to take up every minute of the day with studying. If you work after school on Thursday, you might not squeeze in any study time between homework, dinner, and getting enough sleep. It’s okay that you aren’t studying every waking minute, as long as you have a plan for getting it all done. Studying for shorter stretches of time is better for your brain and results in longer-term learning.

Once you’ve figured out how much time you have to study, start writing in, generally, what you’re going to study at those times. For example, if you’re most worried about your history exam, put some history study time in each of your study blocks, starting this week. If you have an hour to study, you might choose to spend half of it studying history and the other half studying Spanish. That way you don’t get overwhelmed with one topic and your brain has some time to process that information before you study it again. Researchers have found that spacing out your studying like this helps concepts stick in your brain better than when you cram for an exam and try to get it all in the night before the test.

Study!

Now you just have to stick to that schedule. If you have a few weeks until exams, you might want to start studying for the hardest exam the first week, add in the next hardest the second week while you continue studying for the first, and continue to add exams as you get closer to the test. That way, you get the most study time in your hardest subject and continuously review it until the final, while also giving time to your other classes.

What’s Next?

Now that you know what to study and when to study, you may be wondering how to study it? There are lots of different ways to review and study material. You can use tools like Quizlet, your own flashcards, and your class notes to review what the teacher taught you. You may want to form a study group or get someone to quiz you. We’ll talk more about effective strategies to tell you how to study for final exams in upcoming posts.

Get a free study schedule template! Sign up for my mailing list to download this resource and get updates on new tools and strategies.

 how to study for final exams
Create a simple plan to study for your final exams.

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

I hate mind-mapping for planning writing! (But I love teaching it!)

I keep reading about how much people love mind-mapping for planning writing. People talk about how freeing it is to sit down in front of a web of ideas instead of a stark, blank, page. They talk about how it speeds their writing process, reduces their anxiety, makes them better writers. They describe amazing feats, like ebooks or term papers finished in record time.

I’m jealous of those people because looking at a blank map and trying to imagine my ideas in that two-dimensional space is enough to give me hives. I’m a list-maker, a table-filler. I am much more comfortable when I sketch a chart of main ideas and sources to support them, or a bulleted list of sketchy details. It doesn’t work like magic for me, but it is reliable and comfortable. So that’s what I usually model as my students are brainstorming instead of mind-mapping for planning writing.

But last summer, I realized that I was doing all the work on the bulleted list I made for one student. Not only was I typing all the ideas he gave (which I do a lot for my online students, as most school-age kids aren’t fluent on the keyboard yet), but I was also retrieving all the ideas from the list as he needed them in his paragraph. I realized my list was doing absolutely nothing to make him an independent writer.

What a waste of lesson time!

So I researched a couple of free tools for mind-mapping that are compatible with Google Drive, which is where we do all our shared writing.

I found Connected Mind. That offered incredible flexibility in shape, color, font, and in the direction, length and shape of connections between nodes. It is a tool that could make gorgeous, detailed maps that would look terrific in a presentation or as an end product in their own right. For planning writing, my student and I both found it overwhelming and distracting. I felt like I needed to write out a draft on paper to make sure I got the map just right. It totally defeated the purpose of a quick mind map.

The second tool we tried was Mind Mup.  It’s a winner!

  • It has a simple interface with a limited number of options for type of node, size and color
  • It automatically arranges your nodes by spacing them evenly and rearranging them as you add more.
  • You can add images from Google Drive
  • Nodes can be rearranged by dragging and dropping

The amazing thing about mind-mapping as a teaching tool has been “walking through” the map with the student to check for logical connections and missing details. This process can be more difficult and time consuming when a student has already written a whole paragraph about an idea. They believe they have fully explained themselves and sometimes can’t see a gap in logic or detail that is glaring to you as a reader. With the mind map, it’s easier to get the student to explain the thought process between nodes, and to suggest what might be missing. While building a mind map can take some serious time, it’s worth it to see the student’s writing plan come together. As the saying goes, “If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you find the time to do it over?”

Learning how to use mind-mapping to plan writing has been eye-opening for me as a tutor. I became a tutor because I realized that the one-size-fits-all approach of schools doesn’t meet the needs of all students. By using mind-mapping, I can better support my students who are visual thinkers and save them a lot of time and frustration! So even though I’m not using mind-mapping for my own writing, I make a point of showing it to my students and practicing it as one way to organize and improve their writing.

Mind-mapping for planning writing isn’t for me, but it might be for you!

Do We Have to Read this Book Again? Yes, We Do

Read it again!

I’m so tired of re-reading the same books to my preschooler!

There must be hundreds of picture books in my house. There is everything from the classics of my mother’s childhood to brand new books by Julia Donaldson and Ian Falconer. We love them all! So then why, oh why, does my three-year-old only want to read Kermie, Where Are You?, a lift the Flap Book in which Muppet Babies characters play hide and seek in the nursery?

So do I have to read it again? The reading research says yes!  Just like my preschooler wants to watch the same Alvin and the Chipmunks Halloween movie over and over again, beginning when it hits Netflix in August, and tell me the same knock-knock joke over and over again until it makes my ears fall off, he wants to hear me re-reading the same familiar stories over and over again.

As exhausting as these repetitions are, they are what our young children need to become strong readers. By re-reading the same books over and over again, they are building an understanding of what language sounds like. They are learning to anticipate events in the story, which strengthens their comprehension. And they are strengthening their memory of the vocabulary they hear in the story.

I’m not saying they need to choose the story every time, or that you have to be re-reading the same boring book non-stop until they lose interest. I absolutely say to my son, “Not tonight. I find that book boring. I would much rather read something else now and read that one later.” I say the same thing about shows he wants me to watch. We have many interest in common, but I don’t need to be excited about all of his book choices, and he doesn’t need to be excited about all of mine. We often take turns choosing books or I suggest that he read a less challenging, more repetitive book to himself or to his baby sister. Usually, he remembers enough of the story to do it.

Give yourself a break

Another option for endless re-reading of books is narrated ebooks. Epic Books is one source that, with a paid subscription, lets your child choose from a collection of pretty good books. And many of them have built in read-aloud narration. Your public library might also subscribe to Overdrive, a collection of digital books. Many of the picture books, from Pete the Cat to Llama Llama can be read aloud by the app.

The light at the end of the tunnel

But at the end of the day, we often just need to suck it up and read Go, Dog, Go yet again. Just remember, this, too, shall pass. Someday, they’ll be reading by themselves. And maybe they’ll have a good recommendation for you!

Why do young children want to read the same book over and over again? Is it even good for them?

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

5 Reasons to Give Audiobooks to Reluctant Readers

Getting books into the hands and brains of your slow developing or reluctant readers isn’t just a good idea, it’s essential. Over time, kids who read less fall farther and farther behind their average reading peers. Researchers have found that as early as first grade, average readers read up to three times as many words in a week as their lower performing classmates. They have called it “the Matthew Effect” because in reading, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. When kids miss out on reading all those words, it limits vocabulary, makes it hard for them to comprehend more complex stories, and prevents them from becoming more fluent readers. They fall farther behind and become even more likely to avoid reading.

For this snowball of important reasons, it’s a great idea to give audiobooks to reluctant readers.

But isn’t reading an audiobook cheating?

This is the number one question that comes up when I suggest audiobooks for reluctant readers. But is it cheating when you listen to the news on the radio instead of picking up the newspaper? Is it cheating when your best friend starts to text you a great story and you say, “Call me instead!”?

Audio books are a great tool for kids to use and they don’t replace learning to read. In fact, they complement it.

Here are five reasons to get your kids listening to audiobooks

Build vocabulary

Students can comprehend material at a higher level than what they can read.  by listening to audiobooks at their listening comprehension level, kids can be exposed to vocabulary that they will not be able to read independently for a while. In turn, a better oral vocabulary helps with their reading comprehension and their ability to read those familiar words when they first see them in print.

Grow a love of stories

Listening to audiobooks can be just plain fun! Kids who struggle to read or get bored when they’re reading with their eyes may find it much easier to get into a story when they hear it. That doesn’t mean it’s cheating. Sometimes they are exposed to a story for the first time as an audiobook, then later go on to read other titles in the series.

Replace screen time

Audio books can be a nice compromise to replace screen time for long car trips for example. Times when kids are “bored” are great times to listen to audiobooks. You can either choose a title to listen to as a family or have the kids put in earbuds and listen to their own choices on tablets or smartphones.

Promote independent reading

If you find yourself struggling with your child about independent reading time, audiobook might be a solution that get them over the hump and help them create an independent reading habit. You might make a deal like letting the child listen to the book first and then having them reread it with their eyes. You could also set a schedule where Tuesday and Thursday are audiobook nights and the other nights are for eye reading.

Practice comprehension skills

Just like vocabulary, comprehension can be improved by listening to audiobooks. Kids have the chance to listen to text that is more complex, and maybe more interesting, then what they can read independently. Understanding things about story structure and character traits will help them comprehend better when they do read text with their eyes. Plus, it gives them a chance to practice those story-level skills without feeling distracted by the mechanics of reading words.

Some kids avoid reading because it feels hard. These can be kids with ADHD, or with specific learning disabilities, including dyslexia. Other reluctant readers do not have disabilities, but for one reason or another would rather do other things and avoid reading. No matter the reason, audiobooks can be an excellent stepping stone towards a love of reading. Free audio books are available for download at many public libraries. You can also get books on CD from the library. Finally, a subscription to Audible would get your child a steady supply of new audiobooks each month. No matter what option you choose, consider offering audiobooks as part of a “balanced diet” of reading.

If your child is avoiding reading, they may be struggling with basic skills that make reading and writing frustrating and hard. Tutoring can help. Contact me today for a free 30-minute consultation to find out how online tutoring can help your child be a more confident reader by the end of the summer!

Audio books can improve kids’ vocabulary, comprehension and motivation to read!

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

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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