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  • Super Summer Holiday Activities

    Pic by Alex Miranda

    “I’m bored!” Does this sound familiar? The summer starts feeling really long when you have bored children at home. That’s why we’ve whipped up a list of activities for you to enjoy that are educational, cheap and help to get your kids out of the house and moving. Have a happy, healthy summer with these great ideas on how to keep your kids occupied.

    Get moving

    Making physical activity part of your child’s daily regimen helps them to stay healthy and gets them interacting with their peers. Instilling an appreciation for nature is also a wonderful gift to give your children. Studies show a direct correlation with the number of times children are exposed to nature when they are young and their appreciation for the great outdoors as adults.

    Walking is a great way to get moving. You can set up a scavenger hunt around your neighborhood or in your local park. Walking in nature reserves is even better! Most nature reserves have free summer programs where children can learn about wildlife and plants.

    Public swimming pools also provide a welcome reprieve from the summer heat and a chance to meet new friends from your neighborhood.

    Get some fresh air

    Backyard camping or camping trips are a great way to teach kids basic survival skills. Learning to make a fire, cook food, put up a tent and identify birds, plants, wildlife and stars are all fun activities.

    Work together with your family to make some bird houses (get instructions here), bird feeders (instructions here) and a bird bath (instructions here). Then sit quietly in the backyard to watch the different kinds of birds that come to your new bird station. You can use a bird call app (download it here) to attract birds to your garden. Identify different species of birds using the bird app here.

    Volunteering

    This is a great way for students to spend their free time in the summer. No matter what their interests, they can find a charity that needs help. From exercising horses to environmental clean ups, being civic-minded is a great way to teach values.

    Academics

    If your child got a bad report card, or if they want to improve their grades in the coming academic year, just a couple of hours a week in the summer can really jump start their new academic year. Start by getting the curriculum for the coming year so your student can read prescribed books and ensure that they have no gaps in their knowledge base that would prevent them from grasping new materials.

    If your child is moving to a different school or starting school, ensure that they have all the skills they need for dealing with higher grades, more independence and increased responsibility. Teaching them study, organizational and language and math skills will give them an enormous advantage in the coming year.

    Consider getting an in-home tutor, even for just one or two sessions a week, to make a profound difference in your child’s grades and confidence.

  • Understanding the Role of School Counselors

    pic by US Department of Education

    School counselors are an integral part of the school system and they are there to help bridge the gap between parents, students, teachers and administrators. They hold an absolutely essential position in each school that is all too often taken for granted and, while the recommended ration of school counselors is 1:250, it’s closer to 1:500 in reality. School counseling has become a sophisticated role and most counselors are Master’s-level professionals with specific training in dealing with the social and behavioral issues students experience.

    What do school counselors do?

    School counselors are there to resolve conflicts between students and teachers and between students on a one-to-one bases.

    They work with teachers and administrators to counsel students on specific social or behavioral issues they are having and how to best resolve them.

    Student appraisals are also a responsibility and they are tasked with determining student’s suitability for various programs.

    Counselors must help students who are sports-oriented to balance their extra mural activities with the grades they need to move on to college.

    School counselors are a wonderful resource for parents and they can help with everything from child development to specific behavioral problems. They also help parents understand new curriculum demands and how to get involved with their child’s school and homework.

    Counselors are responsible for creating and implementing the anti-bullying policy at each school. Here they work with students, parents and administrators to ensure a safe, healthy environment at each school.

    School counselors focus on career development by helping students to find a career path that suits them and the courses and grades they need to pursue their dream jobs.

    Counselors also help with the college application process and with any referrals which may be required.

    They may also be part of health education and have responsibilities to teach students about important issues like drug and alcohol abuse and other health issues.

    In many schools, counselors also serve as test coordinators which mean that regular counseling services are not available to students at a time when they feel most stressed. With mental health becoming an increasingly important concern, it may be time to lend more support and funding to school counselors.

    How to support your school counselors

    The American School Counselor’s Association outlines which duties are appropriate to assign to counselors. If your school counselors have too many duties, petition your school to free up some of their time so that they can pay individual attention to students in need.

    Support your student counselors’ recommendations for programs and improvements to the schools structure that will make your school happier and healthier.

    If your school doesn’t have enough counselors to adequately support the student body, find ways to raise funds or petition for more counselors.

    Show your appreciation for the role that counselors play and use the services they offer to better navigate the academic and social processes that are part of school life.

  • Is your Child Ready for Elementary School?

    pic by Mark McQuade

    Even if your child is old enough by the cut-off date for your elementary school’s enrollment, it’s more important to focus on their physical, social, and cognitive development to see if they are ready to start school. Parents understand that putting their children into school before they are ready can lead to anxiety and a negative academic experience that may dog the rest of their school career. Here are some guidelines to the skills your child needs to be ready for ‘big’ school.

    Start by talking to your child’s kindergarten teacher; they know your child best and will know how they cope with the classroom situation, what areas require improvement and whether they will manage with the challenges of elementary school.

    Can your child follow basic instructions? It’s vital that they are able to listen, then carry out instructions in order to fit into the classroom situation.

    Personal care is also important and your child should be able to go to the bathroom and wash their hands by themselves. They should also be able to dress themselves and be mostly self-sufficient.

    Whether your child went to kindergarten or not, they should have a rudimentary understanding of the alphabet and phonetic sounds, for example the letter ‘A’ is for apple and acorn. They should also be able to count.

    Fine motor skills are also important and your child should be able to hold a pencil properly, use a scissors and perform other precision tasks.

    Your child also needs language and comprehension skills. You can test this by reading a simple age-appropriate book while showing them the pictures. Then ask them to recount the story using the pictures as cues.

    Playing well with others is another essential element to school-readiness. Being shy or independent is fine, but they must be able to get along with their classmates, share and take turns. Your child will be interacting with other children all day, so social adaptability is important if they are going to be happy.

    Of course your child may need a little work in some of these areas and the summer is a great time to get them ready for the new academic year. You can practice skills they will need in the classroom like sitting down, lining up, listening to the teacher, going to the bathroom and washing hands.

    Take time this summer to draw, paint, make crafts and cut with scissors to get your child accustomed to following instructions and honing fine motor skills. If your child is shy, consider a summer day camp and play dates so that they can socialize a little more. If they don’t already have a routine in place, this summer is a great time to get them accustomed to following a schedule. Start with bedtimes and meals at the same time every day so that they can get a feel for what the school day will be like. If you aren’t sure that your child is ready for the school experience, ask an educational consultant for a review.

     

  • Understanding the Common Core State Standard Initiative

    The Common Core initiative was implemented in the U.S. for K-12 students and outlines what they should know and understand after completing each grade. The initiative focuses on English language and math skills and aims to create consistent standards across the country and ensure that students who graduate high school are adequately prepared to take college courses.

    The Common Core only outlines what skills and knowledge students should have; it is up to each state to develop curricula that would help students. Experts agree that the standards require a higher level of understanding than the systems that were in place in many states. As a result, some states will have to improve their standards to be aligned with the common core. While the Common Core has been widely accepted, some states have reinstituted their own education standards rather than those proposed by the federal government.

    Christopher Lien, Tutor Doctor Franchise owner, had this to say about the difficulties some states are having with the implementation of the Common Core Standard: “Misinformation or misunderstanding of the nature and objectives of Common Core have sometimes resulted in parents’ fear, cynicism, and skepticism. Homework can initially appear foreign from the parents’ prior experience, and some conclude they’re unable to assist their children with homework. A closer look and steady patience can help parents perceive the critical thinking aspect of the lesson, and eventually fears and unfamiliarity can subside. At the same time, the implementation of Common Core has increased the opportunity for tutors and supplemental education providers to assist students and families in succeeding with their studies,” he said.

    Many elements of the Common Core have contributed to the improvement of the way in which students are educated. One of these is taking into consideration the learning styles of students so that the teacher is able to present information in a way that appeals to every learning style and is more inclusive.

    Lien shares a story about his own child and how the Common Core has helped her to excel: “One of my daughters is a visual learner and was initially having difficulties understanding numbers. Multiplication and division didn’t come naturally for her. When presented with different visual methods of solving a multiplication problem, she rapidly increased in number sense skill and eventually became better able to solve problems without needing visual representations. The visual methods included grids of dots and rows and matrices of squares. Once she had rows or groups of ten squares, she could group them together to solve two-digit or three-digit problems.”

    If your school or state is in the process of implementing Common Core, the best thing to do is to educate yourself. Schools and states have websites and information to help families with the transition. Be sure to ask your teacher where you can go to learn more about the new curriculums and what Common Core will mean for your children.

    If your children are struggling with the transition, consider a private one-on-one tutor. Here the tutor will work with your family, the teacher and your child to find the missing skills and building blocks in their foundation. Teaching the skills will help your child to be an independent learner for life.

  • Preparing for High School

    pic by Library and Archives Canada

    The move to high school is a big one and most students (and parents) may be feeling a little anxious about the change. One way to help alleviate your child’s nervousness and prepare them for their new life as a high school student is to be prepared. Knowing what to expect will help to bolster their confidence and makes for a smooth and easy transition to their new environment.

    Doing Research

    Start by browsing the school website with your student. You can look at the news sections to read more about events at the school. You can also learn more about the teachers, councilors and other staff members. Read the school newspaper or magazine and the yearbook to give you and your student an idea of what to expect and how you can get involved.

    Orientation

    Attend the high school orientation to learn about school rules and to see what facilities the school has. If possible, take this opportunity to meet your child’s teachers and introduce them to your child. Let your child explore the school so that they won’t get lost on their first day.  One good practice is to find all of the classrooms your child will be attending and navigating to them from different parts of the school so that they always feel like they know where they are going.

    After School Activities

    Encourage your student to investigate clubs and sports that they can get involved in. This is a great way to meet new friends and to make your child feel like they are part of the school community. If they are trying something new, they have the summer to practice which will boost their confidence too.

    Routines

    One of the biggest changes when moving to high school is the amount of work your child has to do in a week. You can help them transition by teaching effective organizational, time-management and task prioritization skills. You can also encourage them to do some of the requisite reading, or provide in-home tutoring over the summer months.

    If your child struggles academically, you can really give them a jump start by filling in the missing building blocks in their academic knowledge over the summer. Just one or two sessions a week is all they need to catch up and even move ahead so that they can start the new academic year without adding academic woes to their list of challenges.

    Start getting your child up at the right time for school a week prior to the start of the school year so that they get accustomed to a morning routine. If they have to get themselves to school, you may need a practice run or two to ensure that they have the route and timing under control.

    Ensure that your child has ‘emergency’ fare for a taxi or bus should they lose their transport pass or miss the school bus. Discuss emergency plans for worst case scenarios, put all relevant numbers onto their phones and make sure they have your number memorized in case their phone isn’t working.

  • How to Pick the Right Elementary School for your Child

    Pic by Phil Roeder

    Picking the right school for your child will ensure that they are in an environment they can thrive in. Making the right choice from the start will ensure that your child gets the best building blocks to their education and that they are in a healthy, happy space and develop positive attitudes to school and learning. Selecting a school should take time, research and carefully weighing the options in your area.

    Private or Public?

    Don’t discount a school simply because of the way it is governed. There are great, lousy and mediocre schools in both the private and public sector. You should consider all the viable options in your area to find one that best fulfills your wish list and suits your child’s needs and disposition.

    Make a List, Check it Twice

    Write down all the things you are looking for in a school. Focus on the teachers first because they really are the most important element in a successful academic career. Next focus on the facilities that are available, and whether the school environment is one that suits your child’s learning style. Does your child need a very structured environment, or do they prefer one that is more open and flexible?

    You should also focus on what kids of support your child will need, and how the school deals with social and emotional issues. Also worth investigating is the way homework is handled, how behavioral issues are resolved and how the curriculum is structured.

    Extra-curricular activities are also important, so ensure that the school offers activities that your child will enjoy.

    How are parents expected to get involved in school activities and how far is the commute? Check that the school’s policies and values are aligned with those of your family.

    Doing Research

    Start by going to school orientations and fairs to get an idea of the kinds of facilities the schools in your area offer. You can get an idea of the demographics and grades of the students by researching your school on the Great Schools website. Here you will find data and reviews from other parents so you can get a better idea of how a school really performs.

    Speak with friends and family members who have sent their kids to schools in your area, and speak to their kids too so you can get a better idea of which institutions are best suited to your needs. Schools that look good on paper may not always be great in practice.

    Pick the Right School for your Child

    Getting your child involved in the decision-making process will help them to feel confident when they start school. Choose the school that best suits their personality and style; it’s best to go with your gut on this. If you are still unsure, there is a great book online for free which helps parents to choose a school that aligns most with their child’s needs. You can find the Picky Parent’s Guide here.

  • Hurricane Season: Is your Family Prepared?

    Pic by Paul Townsend

    As hurricane season arrives, ensure that your family has an emergency plan in place. Even if you don’t live in an area that experiences hurricane’s you should have a family emergency plan which covers every contingency. Being prepared is the best way to mitigate damage and injury.

    Create an emergency plan

    Create a disaster kit which contains essentials your family will need to survive for a few days. This should include warm clothing, blankets, water, first aid kit, food, important documents, flashlights, batteries and other essentials. You can get a full list of emergency supplies from the FEMA website here.

    Agree on a family meeting place other than your home. This could be a storm shelter, school or local meeting point that all members of your family know how to navigate to from places they are most likely to be like school, friend’s homes or sports facilities. If you cannot locate your family members, contact the Red Cross on 1-800-RED-CROSS/1-800-733-2767 or visit their website.

    Find shelters in your area before disaster strikes so you know exactly where to go. If you have pets, find hotels nearby that will accommodate them as most shelters do not accept pets. Pack some pet food into your emergency kit.

    In the US, you can find your nearest shelter by texting SHELTER + your ZIP code to 43362 (4FEMA).

    Prepare your Family

    Each family member should have a list of contact numbers to call in the event of an emergency. They should have these numbers in their phones as well as a hard copy in case they have no service or if their battery is flat or their phone is damaged. The National Hurricane Center recommends keeping these contacts handy:

    • Law Enforcement
    • Public Safety Fire/Rescue
    • Hospitals
    • Relatives or friends who live nearby

    Check that you also have an emergency evacuation plan at your workplace and that your child’s school has one in place that they practice annually.

    Pack a bag with emergency supplies in your vehicle during storm season and check that your vehicle is in good working order.

    When a storm hits

    If you work or live in a high-rise building, seek shelter below the 10th floor when there are high winds. Ensure that you know the location of a shelter on higher ground if you live in a high flood risk area. Don’t just look at wind strength to determine if you should evacuate during a storm. NOAA’s new storm surge maps also show possible storm surges that could help you to keep your family safe. You can also assess your vulnerability to floods by checking the government website:  FloodSmart.gov or at FEMA’s Map Portal.

    Canadian residents can check their flood zones on the Public Safety site.

    UK residents can check the Environmental Agency site here.

    Being prepared for emergencies and storms will mean that you and your family know exactly what to do when disaster strikes.

  • How to Get Your Kids to do their Chores

    Pic by Mary-Frances Main

    Are chores a constant battle in your home? Do you have to ask a hundred times before things get done while “I’ll do it later” is what greets most of these requests? Chores are important because they help your children to understand responsibility, prepare them for the routine, mundane tasks they need to fulfill on a daily basis in order to make their lives possible and give them the skills they need to one day run a home of their own. For some parents, getting the chores done is often more trouble than it’s worth. Here’s how to get your kids to do their chores every day.

    Kids resist doing their chores because routine maintenance tasks are boring and take them away from activities they should be doing. While a general reminder to do chores is fine, if you find yourself nagging, it’s time to change the behavior.

    Stop the cycle

    If you find your kids only do their chores if you nag them and stop once your attention is elsewhere, stop whatever activities they are doing. Whether it’s TV, games or time with friends, stop the distraction and talk to them about the situation. Explaining abstract ideas of responsibility is rarely a hit, so concentrate on what they have to gain by doing their chores now. That means that they can resume their fun activities once their chores are done.

    Up the ante

    If focusing on the positive consequences of completing chores doesn’t work, set time limits. For example, if chores aren’t done by dinner time, or if the dishes aren’t done in 30 minutes, then limit internet time or set an earlier bed time. I have a friend who nagged her children every day until they were old enough to get internet access. Now she changes the WiFi password every night and they only get the new one when their chores are all done. Now she never has to nag her kids to do their chores.

    Rewards

    Rewarding your child for chores completed is always preferable to punishment. You can offer extra internet or TV time or a later bedtime for chores that are done on time without nagging.

    Another way to incentivise the chore routine is by linking it to their allowance. Each chore that is completed earns an extra portion of their allowance. If they don’t want to do their chores, siblings can opt to do their chores for them and earn more allowance.

    This is a good way to teach children the link between working and receiving a salary. Take care that this doesn’t lead to a situation where your children won’t do anything without getting paid. If you find this is the case, rethink your strategy.

    Don’t turn chores into punishment

    The idea here is to get your child to do their chores without hating every minute of it. You can start by giving them a choice of what chores they want to do. Making a choice gives children a sense of control and they are less likely to complain. Don’t make chores a punishment or you will only add to their reticence to complete their daily tasks.

    If you are in a bad cycle of nagging and fighting about chores, it’s time to change the routine. Speak to your children about ways in which they can work at being better about chores, ask them which chores they would like to do and when they would like to do them to give them a sense of participation in the process.

  • What to Do About Bad Grades

    pic by Leland Francisco

    It’s that time of the year again when some families have to deal with the reality of bad grades. Poor academic performance can put strain on your family. Your student may experience a drop in self-esteem and confidence which will only compound the problem. We believe that every student can learn, but each student learns differently. You have to find the learning style that suits your student’s ability and then provide them with the tools they need to succeed in academics.

    Start at the beginning

    Speak with your child and their teachers to ascertain the root of the problem. Perhaps social or behavioral issues are influencing academics, or perhaps your child is missing some important building blocks in their knowledge.

    Teachers have full classes and very little time, so they assume that students have the foundations from previous grades that they will add onto. If your child has some gaps in their knowledge base, they will fall further behind each year.

    Study Skills

    Each child has a learning style and, while most teachers try to present information in a number of different ways, they may not be speaking the academic language your child understands. There are many tests available online which will help you to find out what kind of a learner your child is. Then you can help them to convert information into a format that is easy for them to understand.

    Some students need to learn organizational and study skills. While most teachers do impart these skills in the lower grades, if your child doesn’t know how to organize their time, how to study effectively, how to write a good essay or how to summarize texts, their marks will not be a true reflection of their abilities.

    Language skills

    If your child does not excel in language arts, they may be underperforming on all their test. The ability to read and comprehend texts in a timely manner and then communicate effectively through writing are essential skills for students to succeed. Encouraging reading and working on writing skills may improve your child’s overall academic performance.

    Consider a tutor

    Tutors are a great way to get your child the help they need. Tutors can test your child to see what their learning style is. They can go back and find what building blocks are missing in your child’s knowledge and help them to understand the fundamentals.

    Tutors should liaise with teachers to find the best solutions for your student. Working one-on-one with a tutor will avoid all the embarrassment or anxiety they feel in a classroom environment and their self-confidence will improve too.

    Tutors can teach students the study and organizational skills they need to be great independent learners.

    The summer vacation presents a unique opportunity to give your child a jump start on the new academic year. Summer tutoring need not take up much of their time, but it will help them to catch up and build confidence to face a new academic year without the anxiety that they usually associate with academics.

  • Should Your Child Repeat a Grade?

    Picture by P Cutler

    If your child struggled through the last year and the school is recommending retention, there are some very important points to consider. Studies show that repeating a grade can be harmful for students and grade retention is one of the biggest predictors of high school dropouts. Before you decide to keep your kid back a year, discuss alternatives with your teachers and school administrators.

    Limited gains

    Students who are held back may initially show improvement, but the gains they get from retention only last a year or two before they begin to fall behind again. When students are struggling at school, the answer may not be more school. Instead, speak with teachers about what is holding them back to solve their academic issues over the long term.

    A study by Roderick and Nagaoka (2005) found that 3rd graders who had been kept back a grade struggled during the next year, had higher rates of special education placement, and showed no advantage two years later than those who had moved to the next grade. The study also found that 6th graders who had been held back a year had lower achievement growth than students with similar academic issues who were not retained.

    Age concerns

    Older students may have different developmental interests than the younger students in their grade. Bullying and lack of confidence can lead to behavioural and social issues which only compound the academic problems.

    Long-term gains

    Most studies which compare students which similar academic performance to see if retention helps to improve grades show that it is not effective in fostering positive academic growth. Holmes (1989) carried out a meta-analysis of 63 different studies that examined the academic impact of retention. Fifty-four of the studies concluded that students who were retained and students who were promoted performed at very similar levels. This means that retention had no significant effect on academic performance. In fact, students who had not been held back slightly outperformed their retained peers the following year (Norton, 1990; Walters & Borgers, 1995).

    Solutions to poor academic performance

    Whether you decide to promote or retain your child next year, this action alone is not enough to overcome academic problems. Perhaps your child needs to learn study skills, or maybe some fundamental building blocks are missing from their knowledge base. In both cases, academic losses will be compounded and they will drop further behind each year.

    Discuss the underlying problems with your child’s teacher. They will be able to direct you to the causes, both academic and behavioural, that your child is experiencing.

    Consider a personal tutor who will be able to adapt material to suit your child’s learning style, teach them the requisite academic skills they need to succeed and fill in the missing building blocks to their knowledge base. Taking a hands-on approach will help your child to succeed which will improve their self-confidence too.