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 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.
By Caroline Knorr, Parenting Editor, Common Sense Media
Some schools use a little technology: a few educational apps to mix things up, maybe a weekly trip to the computer lab. Some use a lot: one-to-one device programs, class management systems, and automated grade-reporting. Many districts are even adopting schoolwide networks with names you'll recognize, such as Google Classroom and the Facebook-engineered Summit Learning System. Time will tell if all this technology better prepares students for a digital world. But one thing is true: If it's digital, it uses data, and that means your kid's information is more valuable -- and more vulnerable -- than ever. Schools need to safeguard student privacy as fiercely as a mama bear -- and you, as the parent, need to know how they're doing it. Here are the right questions to ask, and the answers you should expect, to make sure any tech your kid uses at school is protecting your kid's privacy.
How does the school decide if the educational software or apps it uses protect my kid's privacy?
What you should hear in the school's answer:
- Stored data is encrypted, password protected, and only available to certain administrators who need it for educational purposes. Ask who that person is.
- Companies don't collect more information than they need for educational purposes -- and those reasons are clearly and narrowly defined. Keep an eye out for requests for personal information that don't seem relevant to education (for example, your religious beliefs).
- Companies don't trade or sell student info to others. If you suspect your kid's information has been sold (because you're receiving ads in the mail, etc.), notify your school administrator.
- More than one person (for example, a teacher, administrator, and an IT professional) reviews the companies' policies. Ask for their names in case you need them.
Even better: The company supplying the software has undergone some sort of third-party vetting or evaluation process -- such as the evaluation offered by Common Sense Media's Privacy Initiative. The list of companies and software used is frequently updated and accessible to parents and students. Find out where the list is.
What information does the school collect and how is it stored?
Schools need to offer a clear educational purpose for any personal information it asks for. (Social Security numbers are an example of information many schools have collected in the past, but not any longer because they couldn't justify the educational purpose of collecting that data.)
What you should hear in the school's answer:
- The school asks for basic identification only -- for example, name, address, and phone number.
- The school encrypts any information it receives and uses security procedures to protect any data in transit. That means no one can read the information without authorized security clearance and a password. Ask how they do this.
Even better: The school restricts access to information solely to those who need to know it -- for example, only a school nurse has access to medical information, via passwords, technical controls, or other physical safeguards. The school deletes information once it is no longer needed for your kid's education or required to be kept by state or federal law. Ask exactly when your kid’s information will be deleted.
Who can get access to the school's list of students and their contact information?
Federal law limits who can get access to a school's directory of basic stuff like your kid's name, address, telephone number, and other general information.
What you should hear in the school's answer:
- Schools comply with the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) by notifying parents of any information that they collect and what directory information includes, as well as providing parents the choice to to opt out.
- The method of notification is up to the school, so ideally they should use methods that will get your attention, such as a letter sent home that you have to sign. Ask how they notify parents: by email, a letter home, etc.?
- Ideally, schools offer easily accessible and flexible opt-in and opt-out consent options -- not merely one blanket form that opts you into, or out of, everything.
- Some schools offer a checklist that lets you choose which information to share with which third parties. For example, you may feel comfortable sharing your student's name and address with the developer of your kid's reading software application, but you may not feel comfortable sharing your student’s dates of attendance.
- Or even though the school is allowed to share directory information with your kid's after-school program, it gives you the option not to. Ask how your school manages distributing this information.
Even better: Under FERPA, schools are actually allowed to disclose certain directory information without your consent. A yearbook publisher, a class-ring manufacturer, and military recruiters are a few examples of outside organizations to which the school can send directory information. But some of this information is fairly personal, including place of birth, honors, awards, and dates of attendance. A school that's being careful will ask for consent before disclosing this or any other information. Ask if your school does this.
When do I need to provide consent for my student to use software at school?
Schools are allowed to provide consent on behalf of parents when they're using an app that collects information solely for educational purposes, such as an app that helps teachers take attendance. The school, the district, or an authorized teacher should ask parents to provide consent if any software or applications used in the classroom will collect information from students that's not for an exclusively educational purpose. When parental consent is requested the notice to parents should include how they can provide consent and what practices they are consenting to.
What you should hear in the school's answer:
- Schools should notify parents, for example as a list on their webpage, of all educational software that the school has consented to students using, what data it's collecting, how the data is used, and how the data is protected.
- Schools should generally not ask for parental consent as a way to limit their own liability. When schools ask for consent, the school should have verified beforehand that the software is safe and that there is no safer or non-commerical alternative that could substitute for that software.
Even better: Schools ask for consent when they use educational products that are not essential. For example, if a student could learn a concept using an existing math worksheet rather than playing a digital math game -- and the teacher wouldn't have to create a worksheet specifically for that student -- the game is likely not essential. In that case it's nice if schools want to give parents the option to consent or not.
What's the school's policy on Bring Your Own Device (BYOD)?
BYOD programs are a lower-cost way for schools to integrate technology into the classroom. But tablets and laptops store a lot of sensitive information, including personal data (name, address, etc.), raw data such as performance reports, and "cookies" -- the personal identifiers that track your student’s path around the internet. Also, many students may not have reliable broadband internet access at home in which to complete online assignments, so BYOD should be used in conjunction with other programs at school.
What you should hear in the school's answer:
- The school vets the privacy policies of all third-party programs installed on your student’s devices and makes sure that they comply with the Children's Online Privacy and Protection Act (COPPA). Look up any app the school recommends on Common Sense Media or Common Sense Education to double-check its practices.
Even better: The school has a written process about device searches (which includes notifying you before the device is searched). Schools should ideally not install monitoring software, track the device's location, or remotely access the camera on a student's personal device. Be aware though that schools are required to monitor their internet networks under federal law, and some student data may be collected through that monitoring. Ask who within the school and district can access any device-specific tracking information and when this information is deleted.
Common Sense Media is an independent nonprofit organization offering unbiased ratings and trusted advice to help families make smart media and technology choices. Check out our ratings and recommendations at www.commonsense.org.
Taking a test can be unnerving for many students, but especially so for younger children. Whether your student will soon take his first classroom reading exam or a statewide standardized test, fear and uncertainty can impact his performance. Luckily, there are ways to prepare your student for testing that can help him feel more confident and capable. Here are four strategies you can implement when preparing your elementary student for an exam in any subject.
1. Review what she can expect
If this is your child’s first time taking a test, help her understand what it entails. Explain the types of questions that she will face, such as fill in the blank, multiple choice, and matching. If possible, practice answering these question types at home. It can also be useful to discuss which sections of the exam will be timed (if applicable) as well as how to approach them—for example, if there is a question she is unsure of, it may be best to come back to it after she has finished the rest of the test.
2. Find creative ways to build his vocabulary
A great way to help your child prepare for a test is to incorporate vocabulary strengthening into study time. Generally, if your student feels confident in his vocabulary skills, this will help in many academic subjects—including math and science. To do this, encourage him to read often. Read texts with him from a variety of age-appropriate sources, including magazines and newspapers. This will broaden his exposure to new words and their definitions.
Certain games like Jeopardy can also help your student learn new vocabulary words and practice concepts in a fun, stress-free environment. Identify vocabulary areas or subject-specific concepts that he would benefit from improvement in, and incorporate these into your own DIY version of the game.
3. Discuss relaxation techniques with her
Positive testing habits and opinions start early. For this reason, having positive early testing experiences is key. If her first memory of taking a test is stressful, this might be difficult to shake as she progresses through her education. When discussing assessments with your student, talk about coping strategies that can help her relax during this experience. Perhaps she is worried about feeling overwhelmed when she doesn’t know the correct answer to a question. If this is the case, encourage her to take a few deep breaths, count to five, and consider coming back to the question later.
4. Listen to his concerns
If your student has concerns about an assessment, address them directly. As previously discussed, test anxiety can influence performance on an exam, so understand what parts of testing make your child uncomfortable. For instance, perhaps time constraints make him nervous. If so, set aside several hours to practice timed exams, and utilize relaxation techniques if he becomes overwhelmed. After speaking with your child, communicate with his teacher (if necessary) to form a plan for test days.
Taking a test can be intimidating for young students, but gentle support can see your child through the process.
Caitlin Grove is an Associate Content Coordinator for Varsity Tutors, a live learning platform that connects students with personalized instruction to accelerate academic achievement.
With the new year upon us, re-energizing your student about learning can seem challenging. With the right tactics, however, motivating your child to tackle 2018 doesn’t have to be a source of conflict. Techniques like promoting leadership or discovering your student’s preferred learning style can help both you and your child start the year strong.
1. Experiment with different learning styles
According to Howard Gardner, there are seven types of intelligence, also known as learning styles: interpersonal, intrapersonal, kinesthetic, linguistic, logical, musical, and visual. Gardner’s theory states that each student learns differently. For this reason, identifying which styles suit your student best can help her feel more confident. For example, she may absorb material more effectively when it is written on the chalkboard during class or on paper during homework time.
One key component of motivating your child is helping her feel confident in her abilities. Talk about how she prefers to interact with information, or experiment with several ways together. Discovering her individual learning style (or styles) can help your child begin the year motivated to tackle what lies ahead.
2. Encourage leadership skills
Is your student in fourth or fifth grade, or middle school? If so, it can be very helpful to urge him to take leadership of his education and any projects he may face in the coming year. Yes, you will still be present to assist when necessary. But if your child feels that he is in control of his education, he may be more likely to excel.
Allowing your student to practice leadership can take many forms, such as letting him choose which homework to tackle first. This may sound like a simple decision, but it is important to promote positive decision-making skills in your student’s everyday life. Discuss any areas where he would like to exert more leadership skills—perhaps he would like to help his little sister with reading or he would like to choose his extracurricular activities for the spring.
3. Foster an outside connection to learning
Your student will learn a great deal in the classroom, but engaging in activities outside school that continue this learning can be very beneficial. There are many ways you can strengthen your child’s connection to learning, both inside and outside your home. She could conduct simple experiments if she is interested in science, or write short stories if she is intrigued by the arts. Ask her about her interests and gauge what she might find exciting.
Another great way to motivate your student is to take field trips to local learning centers, museums, and historic sites. If your child is struggling with science, one way to get her excited about the subject might be to take her to a science museum and let her explore. She may find connections to information she has learned in the classroom and, in turn, may gain a better understanding of the concept. For example, if she is studying weather in science class, but cannot fully grasp the concept, she could explore the weather exhibit at a local science center. This idea can work for other subjects and locations as well, such as art museums and libraries. Speak with your student about areas where she is struggling or would like to delve deeper, and research how you can incorporate an outside learning connection into her education.
Motivating your student in the new year doesn’t have to revolve around helping him set resolutions. If you initiate an open dialogue about your child’s strengths and weaknesses, you can successfully motivate him to succeed in 2018.
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.
Studying can be a true challenge for children—for some, the thought of having to sit at a desk for hours alone causes dread. It can be difficult to think of ways to help make your elementary school student’s studying less tedious, so here are three creative ways to help.
Role-playing can easily energize a study session. Many children already use this strategy during their free time, so the association of role-play with an exciting activity can work to increase positive energy around studying. Role-play suits any character, but it can be particularly helpful to ask your child to be a teacher. You can be the student. Children can learn a great deal when they teach material to someone else. Speaking through it helps them to articulate concepts and ideas. It also reveals gaps in their knowledge, which they can use to better target their review. You can ask questions that a student would ask in order to test your child’s knowledge of the material.
You might also try bringing other characters into the mix. Examples include Kermit the Frog or Hermione Granger—any persona that would be fun!
While studying is traditionally associated with sitting down at a desk or table, this doesn’t suit every learning style—particularly kinesthetic learners. But kinesthetic learning, which focuses on physical activities, isn’t just for kinesthetic learners. Nearly every child can benefit from associating study material with movement. If the weather is nice, go outside and take a walk with your child. The change in scenery can reinvigorate his study time, and the elements in the environment and in specific movements can strengthen the associations his brain makes with concepts. For example, try quizzing him—or have him quiz himself—while hopping or jumping. This can provide a new way to access information; your child can recall “the topic I studied while hopping.”
This strategy can involve any type of art. Drawing, painting, sculpture, and sketching are all great ways to visualize information that might otherwise stay stagnant on the page. Encourage your child to represent new concepts or ideas in as many ways as possible: mind maps, tables, webs, etc. Perhaps there’s one specific type of visualization that she gravitates toward. This method can help her understand facts and relationships that might otherwise be hard to describe verbally. You might also have your child try different mediums beyond paper and pencil, marker, and crayon. Keep in mind that they don’t even need to be permanent works of art. Perhaps she would like to practice math problems with shaving cream in the bathtub, or spell words using magnetic letters on the refrigerator. Maybe you could create a story together around specific terms or vocabulary words that she needs to remember.
Finally, studying can be both more enjoyable and productive with a buddy. That buddy might be you, a willing sibling, or a friend.
By the time kids enter kindergarten today, most are, unsurprisingly, well versed in the basics of digital communication. Which isn’t a bad thing, except if it takes the place entirely of learning to write by hand.
For many kids now, that’s what has happened. When the Common Core Standards became the law of the land in 2009, handwriting curricula was not part of the package. Many schools, feeling the need to pack in more class time for technology instruction and test prep, let handwriting go by the wayside, especially cursive instruction, which was generally taught in second and third grade, but the preference today is to teach in third and fourth grade.
Then something interesting occurred.
“Lots of studies started to show that kids write more, write faster, and express more ideas when they write with a pen or pencil than when on a keyboard,” says Virginia Berninger, a psychologist and Professor Emeritus at the University of Washington, who is a leading researcher on children and handwriting.
Karin James, a psychologist at Indiana University, agrees. She also says the act of physically forming letters engages young brains in unique ways. Not only does it support letter recognition, it also plays a role in early recruitment in letter processing in regions of the brain known to be connected to successful reading. “It helps with spelling, too,” Berninger adds, “because when you link letters into words, you form a spelling unit that makes it easier to pull the word in and out of memory.” Studies have also shown cursive to help children with their expression of ideas, and the accuracy of their reading.
The research that’s come out in the wake of the Common Core Standards has caused a backlash of sorts, with states (14 of them now) adopting formal handwriting curriculum back into the classroom. Yes, keyboarding is essential (and needs to be well taught, meaning attention to professional development for teachers), but there’s value in penmanship, as well. “All the research, over many, many years, points to teaching students to be hybrid writers,” Berninger concludes.
So, what does a hybrid writer look like?
- Ages 6-8 (grades 1 and 2): learn and practice manuscript, aka block letters or print;
- Ages 7-12 (grades 3-7): learn and practice cursive, aka script;
- Ages 9 and up (grades 4+): learn and practice keyboarding, aka touch typing.
Let’s break it down, just a little, so we can help support penmanship at home.
In the early years, from preschool through first grade, we can help kids develop the fine motor skills they need to hold a pencil. Encourage fun activities that work the thumb and pointer finger together: pick-up sticks, crafts with chenille sticks, playing marbles, squeezing eyedroppers, and playing board games like Operation. Put your own phone down from time to time so you can model what it’s like to craft a handwritten card (get their help with affixing the stamp and mailing), create a shopping list, or write special dates on a wall calendar. “We need to show our kids how to use multiple writing tools at every stage,” Berninger says.
When cursive instruction kicks in at school, applaud it! “Every class should have an instructional handwriting class,” says Berninger. “If yours doesn’t, you should ask for it, and if it does, let teachers and administrators know you approve.”
At home don’t drill your kids, workbook style, because studies have shown that children balk when parents act like teachers. Instead, keep it fun. This is a great time to introduce kids to calligraphy, fonts, and typefaces. Check out the works of Linda Scott, the author of lots of Bubble Writer books that are super appealing for young children. Ask your kids to handwrite place cards for dinner using their fanciest script. Have markers and colored pencils in easy reach so kids get as used to picking up a writing implement as they are to pulling out their phones for quick communication.
And then there’s the process of actually learning to type. With two years of formal printing practice, and two more years of rigorous cursive, keyboarding is the final step to raising a hybrid writer. At school this will look like an integrated approach of touch typing and other keyboarding skills into existing literacy programs. “When touch typing is introduced, kids learn it quickly, and it frees them up to look at the screen,” says Berninger. The method is far superior to “hunting and pecking,” which is not efficient at all. The goal is for kids to look at the screen while they type rather than down at the keyboard so they can focus better on their thoughts and ideas. There are tons of touch-typing games online, so orient some screen time in that direction to support the instruction your school-age child is getting at school.
Pam Abrams is a writer and mother of two who splits her time between the city and the country, and frequents the farmers’ markets in both locations.
When helping your elementary-school student with homework, it’s important to be prepared. Keep reading to learn four ways you can help your child get the most out of this educational experience.
1. Show—don’t tell
It can be tempting, particularly with younger students who are struggling, to give away answers when helping with homework. You don’t have to be a teacher to know that, in the long run, your child isn’t learning the material with this approach. Think of creative ways to help her find the answer she is looking for. Discuss a scenario that may apply to the problem at hand, use a household object to illustrate how to reach the answer, or have your child describe how she thinks the problem should be solved.
2. Ask questions
Another important tip to help students find answers is to constantly ask them encouraging questions. There are many ways you can help children reach the correct answer without giving it away. Sometimes, simply hearing the problem phrased in another way can help a student refocus and reach the answer. Prompting questions such as “What does this problem remind you of?” or “Have you seen any other questions like this one?” can also help your child remember examples given to him in class.
3. Disconnect from electronics
In today’s society, electronics are becoming an increasingly present part of students’ lives. However, if it isn’t necessary to your student completing her homework, an electronic device should not be a part of homework time. Electronics can be an obvious distraction to your child’s homework, and this can prevent her from fully processing information. Your child might not be the biggest fan of the no-electronics rule, so best practices include limiting your own electronics use when working with her, and incentivizing time without electronics with rewards.
4. Take occasional breaks
The electronics ban doesn’t need to last from the moment your child gets home from school to when he finishes every last bit of homework. Set reasonable expectations by letting him take occasional breaks. For younger students, these breaks will occur naturally as they lose interest or motivation to keep working. When this happens, take a moment together to relax and reset. For older students, schedule break time together. Breaks can come after completing homework for one subject or on a time-based schedule—whichever makes the most sense for your child. During this time, let him eat a snack, play on his electronics, or spend some time outside.
While helping your child with homework can seem like an overwhelming task, it doesn’t need to be. Supporting him comes in many forms, and not all of them require you to be an incredible teacher. By acknowledging that the work he is doing is valuable, you can help validate the time and effort he puts into completing homework assignments. With plenty of prompting questions and an occasional break or two, you and your child will be on your way to success in no time at all!
Samhitha Krishnan is a contributing writer for Varsity Tutors, a live learning platform that connects students with personalized instruction to accelerate academic achievement.
As summer comes to a close, both you and your child are sure to experience a range of feelings about the start of school—a possible mixture of anxiety, excitement, relief, and stress. So how do you go about handling this change? Here are five tips for successfully tackling the back-to-school transition.
1. Get organized
One of the most entertaining (and practical!) back-to-school tasks is school-supply shopping. Reference the supply list provided by your student’s school, and check if you have any materials from previous years that still have some life in them. Then, involve your child in picking colorful folders, pencils, and so on that are required and fit in your budget. Don’t forget about a calendar—while your student will have a planner (often supplied by the school), choose a way to display family and school events to keep the entire family in the know. Lastly, check to see that your child’s student records and paperwork are up-to-date.
2. Ease back into a schedule
If you’re like most families, your child’s bedtime routine and daily schedule have relaxed over the summer. Several weeks or a week before school starts, have your student begin going to sleep and waking up earlier so he gets used to an early wake-up time. Try 10 minutes earlier at a time, for example, so the shift doesn’t feel too jarring. Plan a morning routine together so your child knows what to expect. (Who will get breakfast ready? Will an alarm wake him up? Who is responsible for lunch?)
3. Discuss and work through anxiety
Going back to school can be stressful for a number of reasons, whether your child is going to a new school or simply a new grade. Talk with her about any worries she might have, encouraging her to discuss with siblings, cousins, or friends if she’d rather talk to someone her own age. Discuss any new procedures or situations she might find herself in, like how to use a locker or what to do if she can’t find a classroom. This is a great time for role playing!
4. Prioritize healthy meals and snacks
Summer can be full of treats, like ice cream every night or snacks any time of day. Ease your family into a healthier eating pattern before the school year begins. You might try swapping out the ice cream, for example, with a healthier treat like a fruit Popsicle. You can also plan regular mealtimes in lieu of a relaxed schedule. Anticipate times when it’s easy to make an unhealthy choice, like during the before-school rush or after school when your child comes home hungry. Healthy eating will help your student be more alert, with the ability to perform better at school.
5. Visit your child’s school
Contact the school to see if you and your child might be able to visit before school is in session, as this can help relieve some anxiety about the transition. Familiarize yourselves with the school building (if it’s a new one), the classrooms, gym, and cafeteria. This is also a great way to get a bit of face time with a new teacher (and/or principal) and to map out any confusing routes if your student moves between classes.
Try the above tips while savoring the last moments of summer, whether that means going on family trips or hanging out at home with neighbors. As the season ends, don’t forget to prioritize staying active and spending time together before your child goes back to school.