How do I help my child write an essay?

In a perfect world, students build their writing skills bit by bit over time, writing good sentences, then good paragraphs, and then combining those paragraphs into an essay. Kids can do this with support starting around third grade but it’s a project that might take weeks in class. 

Unfortunately, teachers don’t always build in all these steps, or not all students in the class are ready to be independent at the same time. Either way, the result is an essay that your child has to write on their own and they have no idea where to start! 

Break it Down, Build it Up

Chunk the assignment

Some teachers think about turning their assignments into a step-by-step checklist, while others write a dense paragraph with all the detailed directions buried inside. If your child gets an assignment that seems like a pile of complex instructions, the first step is to help them break it down and decide where to start.

Turn the teachers directions into a checklist. If the directions for the essay say, “Make sure each paragraph has a topic sentence, supporting details, and uses transition words,” turn that into a checklist:

  • Body Paragraph
    • Topic Sentence
    • Supporting Detail 1
    • Supporting Detail 2
    • Supporting Detail 3
    • Transition words

No matter how obvious a detail might seem to you as an adult, like “Make sure your name is on the first page.” or “Number your pages,” include those on your child’s checklist. Those details easily get lost in the shuffle of trying to actually write the content of the paper.

Develop a Plan

Even if your child is full of ideas and could discuss a topic all day, the idea of writing it down in a formal essay can be overwhelming. Start by having your child write down what they know. Everyone has personal preferences for this brainstorming process. Here are some options:

  • Write a formal outline, listing the topic for each paragraph and any known details. (I haaaated this as a student and used to write my paper early just so I could go back and write the outline after and turn it in.)
  • Write each idea on a sticky note or index card so they can be shuffled and grouped differently as the plan develops.
  • Draw a mindmap or web, with the main idea in the center and details in branches around it. You can use a tool like Mindmup to make a digital mindmap or draw one on big paper.

Download my Revision and Editing Checklists to help your child polish their paper.


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Write a draft

I grew up writing drafts on paper (dingy manila paper in elementary school and notebook paper in middle and high school) and having to turn in and edit a draft to earn the opportunity to write a typed final draft. While there are arguments on the subject of handwriting vs typing essays, I can’t justify asking kids to spend their time writing and rewriting an essay when the time could be better spent strengthening their ideas!

I recommend having kids start to organize their notes right on the computer screen. It’s so easy to cut and paste sentences and even whole paragraphs that, as long as we keep in mind that this a draft and it will change, putting first drafts on the screen can work great!

Edit and Revise

Editing and Revising are two different, but related, processes. Revise has 2 parts re (again) and vise (look at/see). So to revise a piece of writing is to look at it again and make meaningful changes. This can include adding missing ideas, using more precise and descriptive vocabulary, or rearranging sentences or paragraphs so they are in a logical order. Many students struggle with this process because they think, “I already wrote this. There’s nothing more to say.” It helps to give them choices or a specific action they can take. For example, “This sentence is too short. You could add the word because at the end and explain more about why this event happened.”

Editing is more about the process of correcting errors in the writing. Like many teachers, I use the acronym COPS to remind writers what to look for when they edit. Grab my Editing and Revising checklist for more detailed steps.

  • Capitalization
  • Organization (this includes how the text looks on the page: fonts, sizes, line breaks, indenting, etc.)
  • Punctuation
  • Spelling

What’s the point of the assignment?

Remember that your child’s teacher assigns an essay for a reason. Your child may be writing it at home because the teacher believes they can do it independently and show their sklls. The teacher may want to assess their knowledge of some content or build their reading stamina. 

So as much as you want to reduce your child’s frustration or make the essay-writing process easier, make sure your role is to facilitate, not to do the work. Make sure the words on the page, and any final decisions about revisions or editing, belong to your child. You can remove barriers, like unclear directions or not being able to find a starting point, but you have to let them struggle sometimes so they can grow as writers.

Too Much Homework and Not Enough Time

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Homework comes and goes as a hot topic in the news. Sometimes the focus is on what percent of students stay up late doing homework. Other times it’s on the idea that too much homework can be harmful, that kids aren’t playing outside or spending time with their families. Sometimes it’s about how students are suffering, other times it’s about the burden on parents. I don’t think the data are conclusive on whether homework is, on balance, a good or a bad thing for students. What I do worry about more, though, is the impact of too much homework and not enough time on students who are struggling. 

Child keeps forgetting homework
Boy bent over papers on a table in a dark room

Why too much homework is bad for struggling students

I asked my son’s first grade teacher how long homework should take. Her answer? “Not too long.” It’s usually a math worksheet that’s totally within his capabilities. If I look at it with my teacher eyes, I’d say it’s a 10-minute task for any kid who understood and remembers that day’s math lesson. But there are so many other things that can interfere with that quick 10-minute task. At my house, my child keeps forgetting his homework – like literally forgets it exists between the time he puts it down (on the couch? in the bathroom? by the fridge?) and the time he wanders into the next room. By the time we defeat the many distractions and get him seated, with a pencil, in the general vicinity of a parent, we might already have 30 minutes on the clock! And that was 30 minutes of nagging, negotiating, prompting, reminding, and sometimes whining (although I try not to whine at the children…).

My point is that the teacher is planning homework with the best-case scenario in mind. She’s imagining routines like in her classroom: Everyone takes out their pencil from their desk while she passes out papers. She reads the instructions out loud. Everyone begins quietly scratching away with their pencils.*

* It is painfully clear to me that classrooms rarely actually run this way, but we teachers are often optimistic about what we can get done on that perfect unicorn of a school day!

In real life, struggling students might not remember how to do this work because they didn’t master it in class. They might not be able to read the directions. They might not be able to articulate to their parents what exactly they are supposed to do with an ambiguous worksheet. They might be just plain exhausted from working on the things that are hardest for them all day long. 

How to talk to the school about homework problems

When I assigned homework to my special education students, I always made it clear to the students and their parents at the beginning of the year that I was happy to assign homework if they wanted it, but it was always, always, up to parent discretion. If it was taking an unreasonable amount of time, or if the directions didn’t make sense, we would always defer to the experts in home learning: parents. For my students being assigned homework along with their grade-level peers, I encouraged parents to write a note on the homework or send an email to the teacher with feedback about challenging assignments. Teachers don’t know that homework took hours. They have no idea that buckets of tears were shed over an assignment if it comes in looking perfect (or doesn’t come in at all!).

Child keeps forgetting homework

Here are some things about homework that the teacher needs to know to help your child:

  • “It’s taking X amount of time.” If you are working with and supervising your child, and homework is taking hours, something is wrong. There is some kind of mismatch between the child and the assignment. 
  • “He doesn’t know what the word __ means.” If the directions don’t make sense, or if he doesn’t remember how to do the assigned work, he may need a quick review or more extended support.
  • “She cries every time she has to read.” Maybe she’s tired or sad to be missing out on time with friends, but if the problem is specific to one acdemic area (reading, writing, math), there may be weaker skills in that area. 
  • “I had to type/write it myself to get it done.” Some teachers don’t care who is holding the pencil when those vocabulary sentences get written. Sometimes the focus of homework is the thinking and idea generation. Other times (and the older students get, the more true this is) teachers expect full independence in the area of homework, and may be grading the results. If it’s not possible for your child to do the homework on their own, find out if there’s a way to shorten the writing, or an option for them to type if that would make it go more smoothly. 

Remember, you and the teacher have the same goal: for your child to learn the content and skills for this year’s classes. If your child is struggling with homework more than their peers, you need to ask more questions than the other parents and try to figure out the best path through the challenges.

If your child is having trouble keeping track of homework all together, check out my 7-part free email series, “Academic Planners for Success” for strategies for using a planner to identify and prioritize homework.


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My child won’t do his homework

If the child isn’t even attempting the homework, there can be a few things going on. It could be a pure “behavior” situation. But I wholeheartedly agree with Dr. Ross Greene that “Children do well if they can.” If your child is refusing to do homework, think about what that behavior is telling you about them and what they need.

If the child refuses to attempt the homework, consider:

  • The timing: Fatigue and hunger make it hard to work.
  • Amount: If they don’t see any light at the end of the homework tunnel, why begin?
  • Directions: Where and how should they start? What does that even look like?
  • And content: Did they understand it in class?

My child keeps forgetting homework

Forgetting homework goes along with the “won’t do his homework” problem in many cases. Leaving everything at school can be an attempt to avoid the unpleasant situation of facing homework at the end of a long day of school. In other cases, though, children forget their homework at school because they are overwhelmed or rushed through routines. 

Here are some troubleshooting steps:

  • Set up a simple homework folder. Label the two sides “Keep at home” and “Return to school.” Homework goes in the “Return to school” side and comes home.
  • Find a planner system that works for your child. It might be paper or digital
  • Use the school’s online resources. For older children, many schools use Canvas, Google Classroom, or another website to post assignments. Find out from your child’s teachers how they notify students of assignments, and create a home routine of checking it with your child.
  • Make a locker or backpack checklist for your child. Laminate it and put it in the homework folder or backpack, or hang it on the inside of their locker. 
  • Have them find a buddy. Brainstorm a reliable friend (or a few) who always have their homework done. This will be the person to ask if they’re not sure what page the homework was on, or if they forget a due date.
  • Make homework part of the daily routine. Ask about it when you see them at the end of the day, and establish a time and a place for getting it done.

Whose homework is it, anyway?

Homework is a sensitive subject for me. It tends to be a one-size-fits-no-one solution to the problem of trying to cram too much teaching into a school day full of obstacles and challenges. “Good” homework can be a helpful way to reinforce skills taught in class. “Bad” homework steals a student’s personal time and causes stress.

Homework is a sensitive subject for me. It tends to be a one-size-fits-no-one solution to the problem of trying to cram too much teaching into a school day full of obstacles and challenges. Click To Tweet

At the end of the day, homework is part of the academic relationship between students and teachers. If you find that your child’s homework is causing you stress and taking as much of your time as it is your child’s, it’s time to talk to the teacher and work on a plan to make homework more effective.

For more about homework, check out these other blog posts:

Too much homework and not enough time
Is homework helping your child or harming them? What to do if the burden of homework is ruining your family’s evenings.

Should I Correct My Child’s Spelling?

Wondering how to help your child with spelling?

Helping with homework is a delicate balance. The purpose of homework is practice, so we shouldn’t expect students to do it perfectly all on their own, or else the assignment is just a waste of time. But what help can you give them that keeps them active and learning instead of having you do all the work? 

Here are some tips for helping your child with spelling words at home.

Grade and subject make a difference

Early grades/Spelling homework

When your kids are young and learning to spell, a big part of the point of homework is to practice spelling skills. A good spelling program will have your child practicing spelling words in a pattern they have learned at school, such as all words with silent e, or all words that have -tch at the end of the word. If the spelling list has a lot of different patterns or your child is really struggling with the words that are assigned, it’s worth a conversation with the teacher about ways to make this work more productive for your child.

If the homework is not spelling homework, teachers in first and second grade are used to figuring out spelling mysteries from their students. If your child is struggling to spell a word like because or television, you can encourage them to write the sounds they hear or use the patterns they know. If the uncertainty of an unknown spelling makes your child uncomfortable, it’s OK to give them the spelling of a word, or to help them make a list of words they often forget that they can hang in their homework area or keep in their folder.

What doesn’t work for younger children is telling them to “look it up.” Using a dictionary is an advanced skill that involves a lot of decision-making and executive functioning skills. Kids will learn to use a dictionary to look up definitions long before they can use a dictionary to check spelling.

Bonus tip: If you have a smart speaker at home or your child has access to a tablet or phone, it’s possible to use speech-to-text to help a child with spelling words. For example, Alexa responds to, “Alexa, how do you spell…” My kids love the independence of checking words themselves.

Middle Grades/Written responses

Kids from about third grade up might have to write responses of one or more sentences on their own, eventually expanding to paragraphs or essays as they move into middle school. These writing prompts are a great opportunity to coach your child to revise and edit their writing to fix their spelling. They should learn to use the available resources, like the text they read or the words in the question they are answering, to check their spelling. 

Here are some stages many students move through as they learn to do this independently:

  1. Early on, they might not notice their own spelling errors, so you might underline misspelled words when you proofread their work.
  2. They begin to learn more about what correct spelling looks like. You might tell them “I see 2 misspelled words in this paragraph. Do you know what they might be?”
  3. They also become more aware of their common errors. You can say, “Check the tricky words list in your folder and see if you got those right.”

High school and college

By the time students get to high school, the bulk of their longer writing assignments will probably be typed. They need to learn how to appropriately use spellcheck and spelling suggestions. I once knew a very bright engineering student who accepted all the spelling and grammer suggestions given by Word and ended up with a long, important paper that was almost totally unreadable. Human friends had to go back through the draft and try to undo all the computer’s errors. 

Spellcheck is an incredible tool, but plan to work through it with your teen the first few times and teach them that computers are really good at doing things over and over again, very quickly, but they aren’t smart.

If your teen continues to struggle with spelling, so much that it impacts the quality of their writing, there are some easy-to-use software options that can help.

  • Speech-to-text: Using Google Voice (included with Docs) or a standalone product like Dragon Dictation, writers can speak their draft into their device. Learning to use this effectively, including punctuation and editing, can take some time.
  • Word prediction: Co:Writer is software that I more often recommend for younger students, but it has the helpful feature of customized dictionaries for different subject matter, so writers can have suggestoins from content-specific vocabulary, which is helpful in classes like science or history where words that aren’t common in our everyday speech come up often.
  • Grammarly: Grammarly is a subscription-based spelling and grammar checker that gives some explanation for the changes it recommends, including noting when a change makes the writing less wordy or more readable. This can help writers fine tune their emails and short notes, as well as longer papers.

What if they need more spelling help?

Most students make spelling errors. Whether it’s not knowing whether to write there, their or they’re, or having difficulty with less common words like conscience and photosynthesis, mistakes happen. For the majority of students, learning to be aware of the mistakes they tend to make and learning that good spelling is a part of clear communication is the path to better, more careful spelling. But other students have done the same work as their classmates and continue to make an unusual number of errors in spelling. If you are concerned that your child’s reading and spelling development, reach out to the teacher and consider whether more evaluations would be helpful. Poor spelling can be a sign of a learning disability like dyslexia, or a sign that they haven’t gotten the spelling instruction that they need.

For these struggling students, they may need more explicit instruction in letters and sounds (including rules like using -tch at the end of words with short vowels, like fetch) and spelling rules (like doubling the final consonant before adding -ed, like in the word begged). 

Learning the history of words, whether they come to English by way of French, Greek or another language, can also help students know which pattern to choose. Some students become better spellers when they study a language like Greek or Latin that has a large influence on English.

Ultimately, if you’re looking for ways to help your child with spelling, the key is to help them find resources and learn a process that will help them avoid and correct errors. Find a middle ground between “It’s your homework, look it up” and spelling out the word every time. Giving too much (or too little) help won’t help your child learn to spell better, but giving the right support can help them grow in confidence and independence!

If your child is struggling with spelling and they need more than tips and strategies to help them, contact us today about 1:1 online structured literacy tutoring with our Orton Gillingham tutors.

Should my child handwrite or type their writing work?

When I was a kid, the process for written work at school was very rigid: 

  • You get a blank piece of paper and write your plan for the story.
  • You write a draft on yellow paper.
  • You meet with the teacher to talk about revising and editing.
  • You get the nice white paper and you write a final copy in your best handwriting. 

Even as a student teacher, we worked for weeks with students on the idea of a draft and making our writing better, and we did it the same way. But now it’s decades later, many schools have a computer or iPad for every student, and we’re still using those old ways of organizing the writing process. There are benefits of handwriting vs typing notes or an essay, but there’s a lot to be said for technology, too!

What’s the goal?

Young children

For young children, the keyboard is a much more abstract way of producing words than writing letters with a pencil. The connection between their ideas, their fingers, the keys, and the screen is weaker. Think of it as the idea having to travel further to become part of a story or sentence than if they can write it with a pencil. Before preschoolers and kindergarteners can write and spell, teachers often write down the sentence they dictate. Some students will continue to need this for a few more years, especially if their writing fine motor or spelling skills lag behind grade level expectations. While they build their skills, dictating to a person might help them produce the best quality work.

Middle grades

From third grade to the end of elementary school, typing goes from being a nice-to-have extra to an essential school survival skill. While I haven’t found any specific evidence to back this up, many experts, including occupational therapists, recommend beginning formal typing instruction around third grade. Before that, kids hands are often too small to be positioned comfortably on the keyboard. Besides, in the early grades they need plenty of time to focus on handwriting skills.

Benefits of handwriting vs typing
Boy writing in a notebook at a wooden table

Just like younger students needed adults to dictate to before their handwriting skills were efficient, middle grades students will need to use other strategies while their typing skills become efficient. Often, by the time a beginning typist finds the letters she’s looking for, she has forgotten what word she was trying to spell!

For students that are having a lot of difficulty with fluent handwriting, speech-to-text, like the Voice Typing feature in Google Docs, or the embedded feature in a Chromebook or iPad, can make the difference between writing telegraphic stories in messy pencil and writing long, well-developed compositions. Speech-to-text does bring up the next challenge, which is teaching students to revise their stream of consciousness writing. Speech-to-text lets students write so quickly that they don’t stop to think about where to begin and end sentences. But as a teacher, I would much rather students get some text on the page for us to edit and discuss, than watch them struggle to scratch out a couple of sentences. 

Moving on into middle school, being efficient on the keyboard can make the difference between knocking out a quick paragraph for homework and struggling through a lengthy pencil-and-paper writing and editing process. 

If your child turns in writing that is vague or full of errors, try these free checklists for revising and editing.


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High school

By high school, students need efficient typing and computer skills to be able to keep up with the increasing workload. While many teachers make time for handwritten work in class, and there is some evidence that it has benefits, I don’t believe that having students write out longer compositions is the best use of their time. I would rather have students quickly put a draft on the screen and then have additional time to revise with adults and peers and opportunities to make quick changes to the document. There are lots of improvements to writing that will never be made if it means erasing a whole sentence or line on paper. But if the student can quickly type the replacement words, they get a lot more opportunities to think about and improve their writing. 

Final thoughts

For some students, starting typing a little on the young side and getting good at it can save them endless time and frustration as they get older. Students with dysgraphia or difficulty with handwriting will have so many  more chances to write out their ideas if they aren’t limited by their pencil speed! On the other hand, paper and pencils aren’t going away in our world any time soon, and being able to jot a quick note is also a valuable skill. It’s important to think about the purpose of the acitivity and how much writing is expected.

Along with the benefits of writing on screens come challenges. Devices can have many more opportunities for distraction, and technology needs to be explicitly taught if we want children to use it a certain way. Thoughtful computer instruction, including practice typing, should be a part of every elementary student’s learning. That way, they’ll have choices about the best tools for them in middle and high school!

Should my child handwrite or type their writing work?
Handwriting has benefits for building brain connections, but can be time-consuming or frustrating for some children. How do you decide when to focus on typing?
Don’t forget to grab your writing checklists!


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8 Realistic Ways to Conquer Backpack Clutter

It’s the middle of winter. All my dreams and ideals about how my kids will come in, greet me warmly and gently place their bags on hooks by the door are gone. Sometimes there are math papers between the couch cushions. Both children want to keep every precious scrap they bring home from school. It’s time for some new ideas for organizing school papers.

What doesn’t work

I speak from experience when I say the following systems do not work for everyone, and if it’s not your jam, you’re flirting with disaster by trying to live with a system that doesn’t fit your family.

  • Pinterest-perfect baskets – some people need to see what they have. Tucking it away in a basket means it gets forgotten
  • Deal with it later – putting everything in one place and promising that you will get to it is a recipe for missed deadlines and forgotten forms.
  • Keeping everything – in my opinion, this is as bad as keeping nothing. Original artwork buried between half-finished math worksheets doesn’t help anyone.
How to organize kids school papers at home
Table covered in paper and other clutter

How to Organize School Papers at Home

1. Notice where papers naturally collect

You know how, in a giant open parking lot, the fall leaves or drifting trash all tend to end up pooled in the same corner against a building or tree? We have those places in our homes, too. It’s often the first flat surface inside the door. For us it’s the dining room table, but other houses have counters or shelves or chairs that are magnets for everything that doesn’t belong on them. 

This is where your system belongs! Sorry, you’re not getting your whole dining room table back today, but we ARE going to make it less scary. You want everyone in the house to use this system, and if you tuck it away in the closet where “it belongs,” they’ll never think of it again!

2. Pick the best tools for your family

If you have one kid bringing home papers, you may be able to use a single basket or accordion file. For a larger family, consider a desktop inbox tray or a paper sorter. A file box seems tempting but it takes more effort for each person to find their name and put their papers in a folder, so this can backfire.

3. Be there

Prepare to stand between the after-school stampede and the snack cabinet and talk them through the process. Some children may be fine with a written list but others need the loving, annoying presence of a real, live parent.

I found that if my son gets past me to the kitchen, or even the bathroom, it’s ten times harder to get him to organize his school papers than if I catch him at the door. 

4. Write down the plan

Write a checklist of unpacking steps. Try to keep it down to 5 or fewer. Use pictures, even if your kids are readers. I count them off on my fingers when we walk through the door: 

  1. Unpack folder and lunch bag
  2. Wash hands
  3. Snack
  4. Homework
  5. Freedom!
If you’re thinking, “Yeah, but we need more than a checklist. What if the papers don’t even make it home?” then you might need our free email course, “Academic Planners for Success.” This 7-email series will help you get your children and teens organized for school.


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But What Do we DO with All This Paper? 

Organizing the papers by child is a good start, but what do you do with it all? There are things that need to be signed, read, and returned. Some are for your child and others are for you. And there’s homework to complete and return. 

5. Sort the papers every day

When papers come home from school, they need to be sorted into three groups:

  1. Keep at home (finished work and art projects, notices, etc.)
  2. Child needs to complete and return (homework)
  3. Parent needs to complete and return (forms, etc.)

6. Assign a folder

If your child didn’t get one at school, provide them with a home-school folder and label the sides “Keep at Home” and “Return to School.” 

  • The “Keep at Home” pocket contents go in the kid’s bin or box.
  • Sort the “Return to School” pocket into 2 piles:
    • Homework goes back in the folder and moved to the homework area
    • Parent paperwork goes in the parent bin for you to go through.

Weekly Routines for Organizing School Papers

If you follow this system, you’ll end the week with a pile of papers for each child and maybe some odds and ends for parents to do over the weekend. This is your opportunity to teach them how to organize school papers at home. 

7. Go through it once a week

Set aside time with each child to help them go through the pile once a week and decide if they want to:

  • Keep forever (like special art projects)
  • Take a picture and let it go (drawings, some writing, great grades, etc.)
  • Recycle it now (worksheets and odds and ends)

8. Designate a (limited) space for the keep forever stuff

I have a file box for each child. They can add whatever they want but when it’s full, it’s full. My parents gave me one under-bed storage box and it has everything I wanted to save from about third grade through high school. Other parents designate a bin per year. This will depend on your available space and your personal philosophy about paper keepsakes. 

A Few Words of Caution

This system is something you will do with your children, not to your children. If you’re the one with your hands on all the papers, they will learn that their job is to bring you their backpack so you can unpack it. It is so much harder sometimes to stick around and give them reminders and ideas for organizing school papers. But when you start this system, you are committing to letting them make decisions and trusting that, with your guidance, their decisions will get better with time!

Decluttering backpacks and homework
Even if you have a place for homework, kids’ backpacks tend to get cluttered over time. Here’s a routine for organizing backpacks and homework areas.

For my free 7-part email course, “Academic Planners for School Success,” and periodic tips and updates for helping your child learn, sign up here.


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How young is too young for online tutoring?

“I’m looking for a reading tutor for my first grader, but I think he’s too young for online tutoring.”

“Can an 8-year-old do online tutoring?”

“Could you really keep my second grader focused online?”

I have talked to a few parents who were looking for reading and writing tutoring for their young children but had not considered online tutoring because it seemed like their children weren’t old enough. While many of my students are in middle school or high school, online tutoring can also be a great approach for children who are younger, as long as they have the right tutor and a parent to help them get set up the first few times.

I started online tutoring using Zoom for video conferencing with a fifth grader. For the first one or two sessions, his mom helped him log in and made sure that the tools were working for him. Then she was able to step away. At first, I shared my screen with the student and he could watch me or I could give him control of the screen when it was time to practice. Gradually, he got better and better at using the online tools and learned to share his screen with me when he had something like a story that he wanted me to see.

After the first few sessions, that fifth grader was able to use the tools in Zoom as well as any teenager or adult I have used it with.

I’ve worked with younger students, too. I find that students in first through third grade need a little more adult in-person help than older students. For my younger students, a parent usually sets up the session and makes sure that they are sitting so that they can be seen on camera and that they can hear the audio. For some younger children, it works best when a parent hangs out where they can hear the session and checks in as needed to help with things like finding letters on the keyboard or positioning the camera. For these students, having the computer set up in the kitchen or living room, where parents can work nearby but siblings don’t interrupt, can work well. Some children, even as young as third grade, are pretty independent. Some students are able to sit alone at the computer and follow my directions and guidance to use the mouse and keyboard to participate in the lesson.

Some great features of online tutoring that I love for young learners are:

  • It’s easy to incorporate online games or quick videos that keep kids engaged and motivated.
  • I can quickly update my lesson, like by typing more words that they need to practice. My handwriting is not great, so if I write words out by hand it takes me longer. Typing also lets me pick a font that works best for students.
  • The student and I can shop for books in the ebooks section of my public library and read one together on the computer screen. With in-person students, I bring a selection of books and stories with me, but I don’t always have something that the student is excited about.
  • Convenience for the families. With young children at home myself, I know it can be challenging to get everyone into the car and to the place they need to be, let alone to have the other children in the house stay quiet and occupied while a tutor is visiting for one of the children. With online tutoring, siblings seem less distracted by the tutoring experience and tend to interrupt less than when I’m actually visiting someone’s home. On the flip side, if you are sitting somewhere waiting for your other child to finish sports practice or dance, all you need is a wifi connection and a quiet place to sit and tutoring can still go on! This flexibility can be a huge help for busy families.
  • Health. Another benefit for families is that online tutoring can help everyone stay healthier during cold season. I don’t do in-home tutoring when I’m sick, but there are days when I can tutor online in spite of a cough or runny nose. When you have sick family members, or your child is getting over an illness, but well enough to work, online tutoring can go on as usual. Meeting consistently is so important for students to make progress, and online tutoring lets us do that.

If you’re thinking about online tutoring for your young child, there is not much of a downside. Lessons are fun, engaging, and flexible. Thanks to digital games, ebooks, and video conferencing, your child can get anything they would get from in-person meetings and maybe even more!

If you’re interested in trying online tutoring, contact me today for a free 30-minute consultation to help you decide if online tutoring is a good fit for your child.

How young is too young for online tutoring?

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 Matt 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 she has 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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