Kids today still turn to their parents when they have something important to say, but increasingly, kids are looking to teachers to be role models and to provide guidance, according to this year’s Highlights State of the Kid™survey . Of the 2,000 kids polled, 25 percent said that they admire and respect their teachers because they are caring, loving, and kind. My own ten-year-old supports this finding because he told me about his teacher’s kindness on the first day, and subsequent days, of school.
This kind of feedback is a giant warm hug of gratitude to educators from U.S. children. It signifies that teachers realize the critical role of a caring relationship in learning. In fact, research backs up the idea that learning takes place—and brain connections are strengthened—when students feel connected to their teachers, fellow students, and the larger school community.
Kids’ perceptions of teachers as role models of kindness and caring point to a growing movement in education to focus on actively creating caring learning environments and promoting the whole child’s development—physical, social, emotional, and cognitive development. Social and emotional learning in schools means actively working to create a safe, caring, and connected school community in which students feel a sense of trust and belonging and cultivate skills like self-awareness, empathy, and responsible decision-making.
And parents agree! In my own survey of parents, 95 percent said they felt social and emotional skill development was the most critical of all skills for their child’s success in school today and for their future lives. So how do we, as parents, work with our child’s educators on this critical issue? Here are a few simple ideas.
- Ask what your school does to promote relationships and social, emotional, and academic development. Approach your child’s teacher or the school’s parent-teacher association. (Here’s a tool to begin that conversation.)
- Learn more together as partners. Check out my site, Confident Parents, Confident Kids, to learn more about the power of social and emotional learning in schools.
- Get involved. Now more than ever, parents realize that involvement in their children’s education is key to their success. Ask in what ways you can give of your time. It doesn’t have to be volunteering in the classroom.
Show care and gratitude. It’s easy to get caught up in hearing the negative aspects of what’s going on at school. Instead, make a point of asking your child about the positives. What’s going well? What do you like about your teacher? Then, share your gratitude with the teacher. Let her know you notice. Complimentary words at pick-up time or a note from you can make a teacher’s week!
Jennifer Miller, M.Ed., has a master’s degree in education and twenty years of experience focused on children’s social and emotional learning. She is the author of the site Confident Parents, Confident Kids.
With the excitement of the new school year often come many changes for your child: a different teacher, classroom, and classmates, for example. Getting on the same page as your child’s teacher—whether through a conference or back-to-school night meeting—is a great way to support your child. Here are five questions to ask your child’s teacher this month.
1. What can my child and I expect regarding homework?
While homework can vary on a daily or weekly basis, asking your child’s teacher about the typical amount can help you and your child begin to develop a time-management plan for the after-school hours—one that includes extracurricular activities and relaxation. Sometimes there will be more or less homework depending on the day of the week (e.g., more on weekdays vs. weekends). It may also be helpful to understand what homework may consist of (e.g., answering questions or reading a text), if there are any subjects/types of homework to prioritize over others, and how homework may be graded (e.g., for completion or correctness). If you’d like, ask the teacher how she sees homework fitting into the overall picture of your child’s education. The answers to these questions can help you create a routine and environment in which your child can best flourish.
2. Are there any major projects or ongoing due dates?
Besides daily homework, many teachers assign large or recurring projects, like book reports, reading logs, and spelling tests. Knowing what larger projects are to come—such as a science-fair project in the spring—can help you figure out the rhythm of the school year. Likewise, understanding regular due dates will allow you and your child to plan around sick days or days you take off for vacation. Keep an eye out for updated due dates because teachers may need to shift dates around to adjust for pacing.
3. What are your classroom values and policies?
Asking your child’s teacher about classroom values and policies will help you understand the environment in which your child is spending time daily. In terms of policies, don’t be afraid to ask about the nitty-gritty—like the late homework policy, for instance. Knowing what to do if your child needs to miss school or gets a bit off track is crucial. Will points be deducted from late assignments, and if so, how many? What happens if your child misses a test? Can it be made up? Your child will have a better chance of success once he knows the ins and outs of these classroom policies.
4. How can I best support my child outside of school?
Speak with your child’s teacher about tips and strategies for supporting your child outside of school. How can you best help with homework or preparing for tests? What outside resources (e.g., online/library resources or educational games) or book recommendations does the teacher have—specifically for your child’s strengths and weaknesses? You probably already know some, but also ask about community events or real-world activities that your child can get involved in, like those at libraries or museums. The teacher may come up with more as the year goes on and as she gets to know your child better.
5. What is the best way for a parent to reach the teacher, and vice versa?
Since you and your child’s teacher are working together to help your child best succeed at school, keeping communication lines open is key. Find out what the teacher’s preferred mode of communication is: email, telephone, a message through the school’s online portal, or a handwritten note. If you’d like, and from time to time, consider scheduling an in-person meeting outside of conferences to check in with your child’s teacher. Also, don’t forget to ask how you can expect to hear from the teacher, whether that’s also through online or other means.
As soon as you can, get in touch with your child’s teacher, whether that’s a simple hello and introduction during back-to-school night or at a sit-down meeting. This will help you and your family begin to create a plan for the year to best help your child succeed.
Lisa Low is a contributing writer for Varsity Tutors, a live learning platform that connects students with personalized instruction to accelerate academic achievement.
Your elementary school-aged child may not yet have encountered intensive studying or lengthy projects. However, this is a great time to begin instilling good study habits in your child. At this impressionable age, children can begin to grasp the importance of structured study and its long-term educational benefits. Older students, such as those in grades four and five, can benefit from guidance when it comes to implementing positive study habits, and younger students can begin absorbing the basics of these good habits.
Looking to help your student head back to school on the right foot? Here are three study habits to teach your child this fall.
1. Encourage a regular homework routine.
Elementary-school students often participate in a number of after-school activities. Even though your schedule may be busy once the school day ends, it’s crucial to create and execute a consistent homework routine at home. Set aside a designated amount of time each afternoon or evening for your child to tackle any homework. At the beginning of homework time, have her review what assignments she’ll be working on that day. Next, help her prioritize tasks in an order that suits her best. If your student has little or no homework one day, fill the remaining time with reading or another educational activity. Establishing a homework routine teaches students the importance of staying on top of assigned tasks.
Additionally, encourage productivity by creating a positive study environment. Eliminate obstacles, like technology, that can hinder your student’s concentration. Ensure there are minimal distractions in her study space so she can have the best chance of success.
2. Foster independent work habits.
While forming a structured study routine is vital, it’s most successful when your student engages in independent study during this time. Remain present with your younger student in order to provide support when needed, but encourage him to seek out answers on his own before stepping in to help. For an older student, motivate him to work through problems himself as opposed to giving him the answers. If he is unsure of a math solution, for example, prompt him to walk you through how he thinks the problem should be executed. This will allow you to understand where he may be confused and illustrate to him how verbalizing concerns can help solve problems.
Encouraging independent study in your student allows him to learn to work through issues on his own and strengthens problem-solving skills. Regardless of age, establish semester goals with your student, and identify with him specific ways he can work to accomplish them. This may be as simple as getting good grades on spelling tests. Have him note ways he can practice his spelling each week leading up to tests in order to reach his goal. Independent study habits boil down to your child feeling ownership of his education—therefore, these habits can look different for each student and each age group. Assess your student’s workload and current study habits so you can successfully establish the right type of independent work for him.
3. Promote essential skills.
Vital skills—such as organization and time management—play directly into productive study habits. When encouraging good habits at home, discuss with your child the importance of these skills and how educational productivity stems directly from them.
It’s important for students to keep school items organized and in an easily accessible place. With students facing weekly, monthly, and quarterly deadlines, it can be helpful to keep a planner or calendar to identify these commitments. Have your child help with this so she will be able to understand how her deadlines work. At the start of each week, review what will be expected of her in the coming days, and address any questions or concerns she may have. Motivating your student to stay organized, both with assignments and supplies, can help her to understand the importance of this skill to her ultimate educational success.
Older students can practice time management through a variety of techniques. Have your child create homework timelines each night to help her learn to prioritize important tasks and spend the appropriate amount of time on each. Though younger students can’t compose study timelines, they can learn and execute basic time-management skills. Explain to her the importance of working through tasks in a timely manner and not getting sidetracked by outside distractions.
When teaching your student good study habits this fall, have an open conversation about areas where she may benefit from more structured practice. Instilling positive study habits in students at a young age can set them up for overall academic success.
Caitlin Grove is an Associate Content Coordinator for Varsity Tutors, a live learning platform that connects students with personalized instruction to accelerate academic achievement.
As a fourth- and fifth-grade teacher, I’ve found that using puzzles in the classroom has benefits for students of all learning levels and abilities. Solving puzzles adds variety to daily lessons, helps children practice math concepts, and develops mathematical thinking—not to mention that puzzles are a fun and engaging way to bring math “to life”!
Puzzles serve as a great motivator for all types of math learners because they promote creativity, perseverance, and strategic thinking. Students who are struggling in math may find a new route through puzzling. At the same time, students who are comfortable with (or even proficient in) mathematical concepts can be challenged to think about learning in a different way. Puzzles can help solidify concepts and encourage deeper understanding, and they also provide the opportunity to manipulate, problem solve, and promote creativity.
Types of Math Puzzles
I have used a variety of puzzles in my classroom that have helped my students learn a number of different math skills:
These puzzles offer students practice with their visual and spatial skills. Mazes also help develop this skill set.
Pentominoes are a fun way to practice geometry skills as well as visual and spatial skills. Here’s how I use them: First, my students learn about what makes a shape a pentomino and how a set of pentominoes can be manipulated into larger or more complex shapes. After becoming more comfortable, students learn how to put several pentominoes together to create their own puzzles. Once their pieces are arranged, they trace the outside of the new shape, remove the pentominoes, and challenge their peers to solve their puzzle. It’s a great example of bringing math to life for students, and giving them the opportunity to develop their own ideas and spatial understandings.
These popular puzzles are ones that give children an opportunity to practice using their deductive reasoning skills and problem-solving skills.
There are all kinds of logic puzzles, but I use grid logic puzzles most often. Each puzzle has a series of categories and a number of options within each category. Each option is used once, and the goal is to figure out which options are linked together based on a series of clues. Each puzzle has one solution and is solved using simple logical processes.
Just like their previous work with pentominoes, after giving my students several logic puzzles, they are now creating their own! Many of the students choose to create puzzles with a classmate, which provides opportunities for collaboration and discussion about the puzzle. This helps to build classroom community. In addition to learning how to problem solve, students are learning about the importance of being specific, composing clear clues and directions (algorithms), and reviewing their work.
Math riddles are another type of puzzle that challenges students to think critically, logically, and creatively. Examples are polygon riddles and other brainteasers.
Math riddles are an excellent tool to help students think critically and to practice their problem-solving skills. One example of how I use math riddles is during our geometry unit, when the students are learning about polygons. I give the students one clue at a time, and they remove possibilities from their shape cards. An example of a polygon riddle: Clue 1: This polygon is not a parallelogram. Clue 2: This polygon does not have any right angles. Clue 3: This polygon does not have any obtuse angles. Clue 4: This polygon has exactly 2 congruent sides. What is the name of the polygon? Answer: Isosceles triangle. These riddles reinforce the students’ understanding of shapes and geometry vocabulary like parallel sides, perpendicular sides, types of angles, and lines of symmetry. After solving several riddles, the students create their own puzzles to share with each other. Another type of puzzle that challenges kids to think creatively is brainteasers, such as: What occurs twice in a week, once in a year but never in a day? Answer: The letter e.
Puzzles are a wonderful way to draw kids into math learning. After all, solving math problems is, in a way, just like solving puzzles. When kids see mathematics as puzzles, they are more engaged and have a more flexible approach to learning math.
Jackie Metcalf is a fourth- and fifth-grade teacher at the University of Pittsburgh’s Falk Laboratory School in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She has been teaching for 19 years. She is married and has two children who enjoy puzzles.