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"I Finished My Homework"
Hear those magic words with a minimum of poking and prodding
By Abby Margolis Newman, Scholastic Parents
Doing homework independently. Sounds like an unfamiliar concept these days, doesn’t it? Margaret Briggs, a mother of two boys from Roxbury, Connecticut, recalls that from the first day homework started coming home, her older son Benjamin (now 11) delayed, complained, and repeatedly asked for help and attention from his mother. Briggs felt herself becoming too involved in her son’s homework. After a few years of trial and error, she recently found an effective way to draw the line: "I remind him that I already completed the sixth grade, and I don’t need to do it again. So I’ll help him with directions if he needs it, but I won’t check over his math or write paragraphs."
Cathy Vatterott, Ph.D., professor of education at the University of Missouri at St. Louis, likes this approach. When your child begs for help, "be straightforward," she says. "Tell her, ‘Mom’s not taking algebra this year.’ Then let her know you will be available for questions or proofreading, but that she needs to complete the work the best she can by herself."
Of course, homework help should be age-dependent, decreasing in intensity as your children get older. Your first grader may need you to sit down with her each day in order to make sure she understands her assignment and has the materials necessary to complete it, while your fifth grader should be able to work independently. But children of any age can feel overwhelmed or confused by homework from time to time. Assist by reviewing directions and helping to set priorities.
The 10-Minute Rule
Part of the issue, say many teachers and education experts, is that children are often being given too much homework too soon. The National Education Association (among other organizations) recommends no more than 10 minutes of homework per grade level per night. In other words, a second grader should be spending about 20 minutes a day on homework, and a sixth grader no more than an hour.
If you find that this 10-minute rule is greatly being exceeded, that assignments are going unfinished, or that exhaustion and frustration levels (both your child's and your own) are running high — it's time to talk to the teacher. She may need to modify the type or amount of work; or your child may need some extra help in certain areas. "If a student is struggling to complete what I’m giving him at night, I want to know about it," says Betsy Rogers, a first and second grade teacher in Birmingham, Alabama, who was the 2003 National Teacher of the Year. "Parents and teachers should work together to avoid turning homework into a nightly battle."
It’s important to tell the teacher if your child consistently needs your intervention to do his work. "If your child can’'t complete homework without help, try to determine if the assignment is too hard, if the directions are unclear, or if he didn’t understand the information when it was taught in class," says Vatterott. Teachers want this kind of feedback, she points out, and most will be happy to give a child a chance to redo an assignment.
Every Child Is Different
Another landmine in the field of homework involves parental expectations. My oldest child, Jonah, a fourth grader, has always been self-motivated when it comes to schoolwork. He comes home from school, unpacks his backpack, sits at the table and does his homework, without a single word of prompting. For his third-grade brother, Aaron, doing homework is akin to getting his fingernails pulled out, one by one. So, my approach to Aaron is necessarily different. I need to be more involved, more vigilant, more patient. I ask questions, offer encouragement, and check in regularly on progress.
Dealing with siblings with such vastly divergent styles can be challenging. "Know thy child" is the most important commandment for parents, according to clinical psychologist Ruth Peters, Ph.D. Pay attention to each child's personal study habits. For example, don't hover over a self-starter, but do let a wildly energetic kid ride her bike for 15 minutes after school before settling down to do homework.
Tips for Easing Angst
Whether the kitchen table is Homework Central or your child works better in the quiet of his own room, there are several things you can do to ensure that assignments are completed with maximum efficiency and minimum angst. Click here to read some helpful tips!
"There’s a fine line between helping and doing too much for kids, so they're not learning," says teacher Betsy Rogers. Walking that line may take some adjustment, but finding the right balance will result in less chaos and more self-sufficient kids in the long run.
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Benefits of Tutoring
How To Tell if YOUR Child Could Benefit from Tutoring
By Shannon Converse Ed. M., co-director and founder of My Tutor and Me
Question: Which of these students could benefit from private tutoring?
||Kathy, an 11th grader who is struggling to pass Chemistry.
||Mike, a third grader who gets good grades but has difficulty keeping his school and homework organized.
||Jamie, a bright just-turned-five-year-old who can't wait to go to kindergarten so that he can learn to read?
Answer: ALL OF THE ABOVE! Children of all ages and abilities can benefit from one-on-one tutoring. Read on to learn more about the benefits of tutoring, and how to find the right tutor for your child's needs and learning style. Long ago, to have a personal tutor meant high social status, and was available only to the most affluent. More recently, a stigma had become attached to needing a tutor, implying underachievement or failure. But now, a new and pragmatic attitude has taken hold in the society at large. Many students truly enjoy having a tutor, much as they might enjoy the "in your face" experience of a private pitching coach. It makes them feel special. Tutoring can provide the personal attention that teachers just don't have the time to offer within a class of 25 or more kids. Consider some typical situations in which students could benefit from one-on-one tutoring:
Struggling in School. Brian is struggling to keep up with the rest his class. His self-esteem is suffering, along with his grades. A good tutor can re-teach, or reinforce skills and concepts directly aligned with the school's curriculum to help Brian be more successful in the classroom.
Special Education Needs. Katie has an identified learning disability, often needing to work twice as hard or more to keep up with her classmates. Her Individualized Education Program (IEP) also requires a close and coordinated relationship between home and school. A tutor, familiar with Katie's learning style, can help facilitate this and assist with any reinforcement necessary for her to achieve success in school.
Test Preparation - both for standardized tests, (such as SAT, ISEE and others), or for final exams at school. Students, especially those with college on their minds, often need to brush up on content and concepts that they’ll see on the test. The right tutor will also instill learning tips and strategies for tackling the test format.
Research Reports and Projects. David excels with day-to-day homework assignment and tests, but becomes overwhelmed by larger tasks, such as a long-term History report. Consider hiring a tutor for a specified amount of time prior to its due date. A good tutor will guide David step-by-step through the process, as well as the actual project.
Enrichment. Some students need more challenge in order to remain engaged and excited about learning. Some preschoolers are ready for a jump-start to reading. High school students may appreciate a relaxed introduction to upcoming coursework over the summer, especially if they know already that they’ll be taking an Advanced Placement (AP) Course. Other children – even entire families – may want to learn a foreign language!
So, you've decided to hire a tutor. How do you know you'll select the right person? Here are some important considerations:
- What is the professional and educational background of the teacher? Is s/he state certified? Does s/he have experience working with children in your child’s age group? What is his/her teaching style? Is s/he funny or serious, a skilled communicator? How will lessons be structured? Will the teacher’s style match your child’s personality? Is s/he open to consulting with your child's classroom teacher?
- How will progress be measured or substantiated over time?
Once you’ve decided on a tutor and have scheduled the first session, be prepared to provide samples of the student’s work or test results. A good tutor will glean from it valuable information to help develop a productive approach. Be sure to clearly articulate your goals with that tutor. After a few sessions, ask the tutor for a brief meeting to check in on those goals and others s/he has identified. You’ll know that your child is progressing well with the tutoring when s/he finds homework to be easier and school less frustrating. When your child starts to demonstrate enthusiasm and takes pride in what s/he has learned, you’ll know that you made the right choice.
Shannon Converse Ed. M. is co-director and founder of My Tutor and Me, LLC, a service that matches quality tutors with families in the Southern CT and Westchester County areas. She is also a Special Education teacher for the Ridgefield Public Schools. For more information about tutoring call (203) 857-0196 or visit the My Tutor and Me website at www.mytutorandme.com.
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To Do Or Not To Do: The Question of Tutoring
by Carolyn Warnemuende, M.S.
Many years ago a jump rope rhyme said, "No more pencils. No more books. No more teachers’ dirty looks." Girls, since boys didn’t jump rope in those days, then jumped the number of school days remaining until the end of the year. No matter how much children like school, most anticipate the close of the academic year and the beginning of summer vacation.
Children express a sense of dismay when they learn that as well as play, summer plans may include summer school or tutoring. Although many schools offer summer school programs, space is frequently limited. When parents want academic assistance for their children, they often look toward tutoring.
The idea seems valid. Tutoring means individual or small group instruction. It means personal attention and interest. Parents discover, however, that finding the right tutor can be tricky. In this article, we will look at three reasons to consider tutoring and who best provides the needed services.
REASONS TO CONSIDER TUTORING
Tutoring serves three basic purposes: to remediate poorly learned or unlearned skills; to maintain learned skills; to teach new skills. Some students finish the school year not having integrated the skills of the completed grade. Often summer school is scheduled for these students. It is a time to review and hopefully learn what was not achieved during the academic year. If a child needs remedial assistance and summer school is not available or if parents prefer individual assistance for their child, tutoring is required. Remedial tutoring usually focuses on reading and math. The tutor offers instruction intended to teach unlearned or poorly learned material.
All children lose a few skills during school vacations. Some parents hope to alleviate this situation by providing the opportunity for their child to maintain learned skills during the long summer months. Maintenance tutoring does just that. The tutor determines where the child currently functions and provides activities that support his or her achievement. Enrichment through literature, enhancing writing skills and deepening a student's ability to analyzed material are all part of good maintenance programs.
When pursuing tutoring which addresses the teaching of new skills, parents must seriously consider their reasons. Study skills tutoring which focuses on organization, effective work habits and test taking strategies is invaluable. Students entering advanced programs, such as advanced science classes, may find it useful to learn some of the vocabulary of that class before entering. Students engaged in independent study programs may benefit from tutoring which assists in learning new skills. Tutoring which is sought simply for the purpose of moving the child ahead of his peers is not in his best interest.
FINDING THE TUTOR
Finding the tutor to meet your child's needs can be challenging. Someone whose qualifications are, "I like to work with kids" rarely turns out to be satisfactory. The first step in finding a good match for your child is knowing the reason for seeking tutoring.
When looking for a tutor to assist with remedial work, your pediatrician, school counselor and local college or university are good resources. Classroom teachers often tutor over the summer months. Students working on special education credentials or graduate degrees in education can be effective. An educational therapist knows how to work well with students who are not achieving successfully. It is important to remember that remedial assistance is best provided by someone who has experience in education and who understands how to determine what a child needs.
You have more leeway in choosing a tutor to assist your child in maintaining existing skills. The person needs to listen to him read and review what was read, provide him with appropriate math practice and play math and reading games with him. Mature high school students, college students and senior citizens may be available for such tutoring. Men and women in the field of education are excellent. Often school districts have lists of people who want to tutor.
A trained study skills specialist is your best choice when the goal of tutoring is learning effective study skills. There are specific strategies study skills specialists teach that become invaluable to students throughout their academic years. Resource teachers and educational therapists may teach study skills well. Your pediatrician or school district will be able to guide you toward an effective study skills specialist or tutor.
Mature high school students who have taken advanced classes or college students can serve as tutors when a student wants an introduction to the vocabulary for an upcoming class. The purpose of this tutoring is exposure to unfamiliar language, not the acquisition of concepts.
All children need short breaks from school and academics. If you decide that tutoring will assist your child, provide some time at the beginning or end of summer when he is not engaged in academic activates.
Clarity about the purposes for tutoring and selecting a tutor who is qualified to work with your child to fulfill that purpose gives the best assurance for positive outcomes.
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It’s Not How Smart You Are…It’s How You Are Smart!
What parent can not see gleaming rays of genius in their child? And yet, how many children come to school and demonstrate their own unique genius? There was a time when it might have been a joke to suggest "Every parent thinks their kid’s a genius." But research on human intelligence is suggesting that the joke may be on educators! There is a constant flow of new information on how the human brain operates, how it differs in function between genders, how emotions impact on intellectual acuity, even on how genetics and environment each impact our children’s cognitive abilities. While each area of study has its merits, Howard Gardner of Harvard University has identified different KINDS of intelligence we possess. This has particularly strong ramifications in the classroom, because if we can identify children’s different strengths among these intelligences, we can accommodate different children more successfully according to their orientation to learning.
Thus far, Gardner’s work suggests nine intelligences. He speculates that there may be many more yet to be identified. Time will tell. These are the paths to children’s learning teachers can address in their classrooms right now. They are:
VISUAL/SPATIAL — children who learn best visually and organizing things spatially. They like to see what you are talking about in order to understand. They enjoy charts, graphs, maps, tables, illustrations, art, puzzles, costumes – anything eye catching.
VERBAL/LINGUISTIC — children who demonstrate strength in the language arts: speaking, writing, reading, listening. These students have always been successful in traditional classrooms because their intelligence lends itself to traditional teaching.
MATHEMATICAL/LOGICAL — children who display an aptitude for numbers, reasoning and problem solving. This is the other half of the children who typically do well in traditional classrooms where teaching is logically sequenced and students are asked to conform.
BODILY/KINESTHETIC — children who experience learning best through activity: games, movement, hands-on tasks, building. These children were often labeled "overly active" in traditional classrooms where they were told to sit and be still!
MUSICAL/RHYTHMIC — children who learn well through songs, patterns, rhythms, instruments and musical expression. It is easy to overlook children with this intelligence in traditional education.
INTRAPERSONAL — children who are especially in touch with their own feelings, values and ideas. They may tend to be more reserved, but they are actually quite intuitive about what they learn and how it relates to them.
INTERPERSONAL — children who are noticeably people oriented and outgoing, and do their learning cooperatively in groups or with a partner. These children may have typically been identified as "talkative" or " too concerned about being social" in a traditional setting.
NATURALIST — children who love the outdoors, animals, field trips. More than this, though, these students love to pick up on subtle differences in meanings. The traditional classroom has not been accommodating to these children.
EXISTENTIALIST — children who learn in the context of where humankind stands in the "big picture" of existence. They ask "Why are we here?" and "What is our role in the world?" This intelligence is seen in the discipline of philosophy.
Teachers are now working on assimilating this knowledge into their strategies for helping children learn. While it is too early to tell all the ramifications for this research, it is clear that the day is past where educators teach the text book and it is the dawn of educators teaching each child according to their orientation to the world. The following is an except from educational consultant Walter McKenzie on the theory of multiple intelligence. To learn more, visit www.surfaquarium.com.
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Designing a Kid-Friendly Workspace
Create a comfortable place for completing homework.
By Toby Leah Bochan
Whether your child is going back to school or heading off for the first time, the beginning of the year is a great time to encourage positive study habits at home. One of the best ways to encourage your child to complete his assignments competently and on time is to create a homework space that's all his own.
The Set Up
First, consider your child's study style. If she is easily distracted, a secluded, quiet spot is best, but if she’s more comfortable working with other people around, choose a corner of the living room or kitchen. Make sure the area is free of clutter and that other family members respect "homework time." While music may be okay at low levels, TVs should be turned off — very few people can resist becoming distracted by TV. But no matter where your child does her homework, the U.S. Department of Education recommends that the space has bright lighting, relative quiet, and close-at-hand supplies.
Two other essentials are a reasonably large work surface and comfortable seating, but these basics are more complicated than you might think. "The most common problem I see with children's study areas is that the table is too high," says occupational therapist Karen Roston, who works with children both in New York City public schools and at their homes. She recommends that the table be about waist-level when the child sits down. "When your child sits down to write or study, her arms should rest comfortably on the desk (or table) and her elbows should be bent at an angle of ninety degrees or more. It's also important that her feet touch the floor and don’t dangle. "If you can afford to buy an adjustable chair, that’s great, but you can also adjust your existing furniture by stacking pillows or even telephone books on the seat. If your child’s feet don’t rest on the floor, use a footrest, boxes, or more stacked telephone books. A final tip from Roston is to use a rolled-up towel or small pillow between the back of the chair and the child's lower back to provide lumbar support.
Finally, let your child take part in creating his study space so he'll feel more comfortable and be less likely to think of homework as a chore. Faith Clair, Ph.D., and Cecil Clark, Ph.D., authors of Hassle-Free Homework, report that younger children often work best when they are allowed to incorporate play and fantasy into their routine. Your child might feel less intimidated if he has a favorite stuffed animal sitting beside him to "help" study spelling words, or if she has a "magic thinking hat" to wear when stumped by a math problem.
A few additional ergonomic guidelines should be followed when your child works at a computer. The monitor should be level with his head, and it should be directly in front of him, about 18 to 30 inches away. Make sure there’s no glare falling on the screen or use an anti-glare screen, as glare causes eyestrain. If your child is very young, consider getting a kid-sized keyboard and mouse or switching to a trackball, as little hands often have trouble using these adult-sized components.
Once you've got the space and furniture covered, stock up on basic supplies. For younger children, also include arts and crafts materials. For older children, include a dictionary, thesaurus, and an atlas. Use colorful jars to hold supplies, or for a portable option, use plastic stackable cubes or even a sturdy shoebox. For kids working at a common area such as the kitchen table, bringing out the "homework supplies" is also a great way to indicate that study time has begun.
The other essential item for all ages is a wall calendar where your child can record assignment due dates and other important information. Louis Colligan, author of Scholastic's A+ Junior Guide to Studying, also suggests that children display the phone numbers of one student in each of their classes so that they have a peer to call if they are stuck or miss class. For more information, visit www.scholastic.com.
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5 Surefire Strategies for Developing Reading Fluency
Give your child the practice to read with ease and confidence, and watch accuracy and understanding soar.
Have you ever watched your child struggle with what you know to be a great book, just perfect for their age and development? According to studies, 45 percent of all fourth graders tested in the U.S. are not fluent readers. Without that fluency, the world of imagination, humor, and drama contained in the finest books is no more than a tangle of words.
One definition of fluency is the ability to read aloud expressively and with understanding. When fluent readers read aloud, the text flows as if strung together like pearls on a necklace, rather than sounding halting and choppy.
Here are some strategies to help second through fifth graders make important gains in this area. Before you use these techniques, however, you should ask a teacher to assess your child and determine his needs.
1. Model Fluent Reading
In order to read fluently, your child must first hear and understand what fluent reading sounds like. From there, he will be more likely to transfer those experiences into his own reading. The most powerful way for you to help your child is to read aloud to him, often and with great expression. Choose selections carefully. Expose him to a wide variety of genres including poetry, excerpts from speeches, and folk and fairy tales with rich, lyrical language – texts that will spark your child's interests and draw him into the reading experience.
Following a read-aloud session, ask your child: "After listening to how I read, can you tell me what I did that is like what good readers do?" Encourage your child to share his thoughts. Also, ask your child to think about how a fluent reader keeps the listener engaged.
2. Do Repeated Readings at Home
Repeated readings at home are ways to help your child recognize high-frequency words more easily, thereby strengthening his ease of reading. Having your child practice reading by rereading short passages aloud is one of the best ways I know of to promote fluency.
For example, choose a short poem to begin with, and read the poem aloud several times while your child listens and follows along. Take a moment to discuss your reading behaviors such as phrasing (i.e. the ability to read several words together in one breath), rate (the speed at which we read), and intonation (the emphasis we give to particular words or phrases).
Next, ask your child to engage in an "echo reading," in which you read a line and your child repeats the line back to you. Following the echo reading, have your child read the entire poem together as a "choral read." You will find that doing readings like these can be effective strategies for promoting fluency, because your child is actively engaged.
3. Promote Phrased Reading
Fluency involves reading phrases seamlessly, as opposed to word by word. To help your child read phrases better, begin with a terrific poem. (Two of my students' favorites are "Something Told the Wild Geese" by Rachel Field, and "Noodles" by Janet Wong).
After selecting a poem, write its lines onto sentence strips, which serve as cue cards, to show your child how good readers cluster portions of text rather than saying each word separately. Hold up strips one at a time and have your child read the phrases together. Reinforce phrased reading by using the same poem in guided reading and pointing to passages you read.
4. Enlist Tutors to Help Out
Provide support for your non-fluent readers by asking tutors — instructional aides, parent volunteers, or older students — to help. The tutor and your child can read a preselected text aloud simultaneously. By offering positive feedback when you child reads well, and by rereading passages when he or she struggles, the tutor provides a helpful kind of one-on-one support. The sessions can be short — 15 minutes at most. Plus, if you provide tutors with the text that your child's teacher plans to use in an upcoming group lesson, you can give your child a jump start prior to the next lesson.
5. Try a Reader’s Theater in Class
Because reader's theater is an oral performance of a script, it is one of the best ways to promote fluency. In the exercise, meaning is conveyed through expression and intonation. The focus thus becomes interpreting the script rather than memorizing it.
Getting started is easy. Simply give your child a copy of the script, and read it aloud as you would any other piece of literature. After your read-aloud, do an echo read and a choral read of the script to involve your child. Once your child has had enough practice, ask your child to read different parts. For fun, put together a few simple props and costumes, and invite family and friends to attend the performance.
For the presentation, have your child stand, or sit on a stool, in front of the room and face the audience. Encourage your child to make eye contact with the audience before he reads. Once he starts, he should hold his script at chest level to avoid hiding his face, and look out at the audience periodically.
After the performance, have your child state his name and the part that he read. You might also want to videotape the performance so that you can review it with your child later. In doing so, you will show him that he is, indeed, a fluent reader.
This article was written by professional educator Lisa Blau, who passed away after a lengthy battle with breast cancer. Lisa was a devoted, innovative and a gifted author of educational resource materials and an adjunct professor at Seattle Pacific University. For many years, Lisa traveled throughout the country, giving training seminars for K-5 educators. Lisa trained over 25,000 educators, from small country schools to huge auditoriums at state reading conferences. For information on Lisa's professional books, visit amazon.com.
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Top 10 Tips for Mastering Math Facts
The teaching and learning of mathematics is facilitated by the development of a definite task analysis. Each skill builds upon and rests on the previous skills learned. Therefore, knowing all multiplication facts will help in the learning of subsequent skills in hard multiplication, division, fractions, etc. Try the following steps in order to teach your students their multiplication math facts.
Check to see that all students know their 0’s, 1’s, 2’s, 5’s, 10’s, 11’s – drill on these, have students all say them orally, show students how to count 5's on their fingers (hands-on)!
After several days of practice, give a 2 or 3 minute timed test on these facts. Keep giving the test, each day, until all students or most students pass. Use a stop watch. Ask students to write down their time and each day, and to try to beat their old time. Once all students pass, CELEBRATE! (Some ideas for celebrations are popcorn party, extra recess, treats…)
Teach the 3 times tables. Students use hands to count out "0,3,6,9,12,15,18,21,24,27,30". Drill on these each day. Students say the 3's when they come in to class, when they go out from class, etc. THEY ALL CAN DO THIS.
Teach the 9 times tables. Make a set of HUGE hands, cut from bendable poster board. Number the fingers on the hands, from 1 to 10. Use these hands to show that, say 9x4, can be visually seen by bending down the 4th finger and there you have 3 and 6 fingers. Practice and drill on this. All kids must do the finger bending with their own hands, too. In this way, they learn that they always have their 9 times tables with them!!
Also, teach that, say, "9x7" starts with a "6", "9x5" starts with a "4", etc. Teach that the 2 digits of the answers equal 9 — example, 36=3+6, 45=4+5, 81=8+1, etc. DRILL DAILY!! Give a 3 and 9 times table timed test.
Make it a 2 or 3 minute test. (as previously done). Students try to pass and then to beat their old score. Partner up kids who pass with those who still need to pass. Each day have a "2-minute test your partner" time. Celebrate when all pass.
Teach the hardest fact of all: 7x6=42! Make a big glittery sign for this. Do whatever is necessary to make kids aware of this fact.
Teach the facts that rhyme: 6x6=36... 6x4=24… 6x8=48. Sing them, rap them, say them, etc.
Teach these poems, which the kids love: 7x7 is 49, you are cool, you are fine!!! 8x8 is 64, close your mouth and shut the door!!! (Some kids will make up their own poems!)
Once students learn the 0’s,1’s,2’s,5’s,10’s,11’s,3’s,and
9's, the only facts left are:
4x4=16 6x6=36 7x7=49
4x6=24 6x7=42 7x8=56
4x7=28 6x8=48 8x8=64
Students have only 10 facts to learn!!! 7 of these facts have raps, rhymes, etc. to facilitate learning. These 10 remaining facts go on flash cards. Each child has 2 sets of cards — one for home and one for school. Run these last facts on construction paper. Kids put the answers LIGHTLY on the back of each card. Check the cards to make sure the correct answer has been written. Now PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE!!!
The ultimate activity is the 5 minute timed test. This equals 80+ facts. When making this test, put the harder facts near the top and make the last 2 rows easy rows. Even after some kids pass, they should continue to take the test in order to beat their previous score.
Certificates and treats go out to all students when they pass the test. The class goal is for all students to pass this 5 minute timed test. This is a class goal, and when all students pass, CELEBRATE!
TYING IT ALL TOGETHER:
There is a great deal of success built into this task analysis for times tables. This entire process has been used successfully with 3rd graders and 5th graders. Students were able to learn hard multiplication, division and fractions because they knew the facts!!!
Information for this article was obtained from a lesson plan developed by V. Halsted, Lincoln Elementary School – Woodburn, Oregon. Many thanks.
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Stop Schoolwork Struggles
By Margery D. Rosen
Do you live with a perfectionist, a procrastinator, or an underachiever? Here's how to diagnose and defuse homework hassles.
The exasperated sighs of parents everywhere signal the seemingly inevitable homework tug-of-wars. Who hasn't wondered, "Why can't he just sit down and finish his work?" or "Should I remind him again about the science test?" Leapfrogging over homework hurdles can be especially tricky if you live with one of the kids described below.
Remember that homework hassles are often discipline problems in disguise. Defuse the power struggles by following the cardinal rules of discipline in general: Set limits that are reasonable — and stick to them when it's realistic.
Though she's a straight-A student, Jordyn, 9, is afraid to raise her hand in class unless she's certain she knows the answer. Ten-year-old Max's science project is late — again. He's been working on it for two months; it's still not "right."
Many people wish their kids were more like Jordyn and Max. But the parent of a perfectionist knows better: When nothing less than the best is acceptable, goals are often unattainable, super-high expectations unrealized, anxiety and frustration rampant.
To a certain extent, perfectionists just can't help it: "We all have our temperamental predispositions — ways of relating to the world that are biologically linked — and this is one of them," says Melanie J. Katzman, Ph.D., associate clinical professor of psychology at Weill Cornell Medical School in New York City. "Perfectionism can be a wonderful thing to pass on to your child, so parents shouldn't feel badly about it. But carried to an extreme, it can become debilitating. Perfectionist kids may anticipate that they will never be able to meet their own high standards, so why bother?" To keep your child from getting gridlocked, set a realist example (by handling your own mistakes with composure) and praise effort, not grades.
The Procrastinator finds 201 things to do before she actually sits down and starts her homework. Often, she waits until the last minute, then rushes through it. Your procrastinator may readily admit that she knew a month ago that the replica of an Iroquis longhouse for social studies was due tomorrow. She just didn't mention it to you. As a result, her work may be incomplete, messy, and nowhere near as good as it could be. Often, the procrastinator will throw you a bone: She'll gladly do her work, as long as you're right there beside her. That’s okay if you’re willing, and if your child is young — but eventually, she will need to be more independent.
The procrastinator procrastinates for myriad reasons: She may be disorganized or have poor study or planning skills. Or she may be anxious or angry about something at home or at school, in which case you need to play detective and talk to her, her teacher, or a school psychologist to determine why.
She also may have lingering doubts about her ability. "Avoiding an assignment is a convenient solution for kids who believe their efforts may be futile," says Dr. Katzman. Rather than face a situation she dislikes or one that makes her feel incompetent, she thinks: "If I don't try, then I have a reason for doing poorly. If I try and fail, it proves I'm not really smart." Trouble is, as the poor grades and negative comments pile up, putting work off becomes a self-defeating proposition.
On the other hand, some people thrive on the adrenaline rush of a tight deadline. "These kids may count on a burst of anxiety to push them over the finish line," Katzman notes. "If she’s up until 2 a.m., that’s not okay; you need to have a discussion about appropriate bedtimes. But assuming she's doing well, sticking to household rules, and getting enough sleep, let her keep her own pace — even though it’s not the way you would work."
To help, work with your child to set goals she can meet and to come up with a mutually agreeable homework schedule.
The Disorganized Child
Scott, 12, knows his lab report for earth science is due tomorrow, and he’ll finish it right away — as soon as he figures out where he put the form the teacher handed out that explains exactly what to do. Oh, that's right — it’s in his binder! And that's in his locker! But since it's Sunday night, well, what is he supposed to do? He tried, didn’t he? Why are you so mad at him, anyway?
The disorganized child is always "just about" to sit down and start his work, but then … well, something comes up. Since his elaborate, convoluted reasons for his inability to complete his homework often seem so logical, you’re thrown off guard. Should you give him the benefit of the doubt? Or is he just taking you down the same old road? Subconsciously, the disorganized child may feel inadequate, so he invents excuses and explanations or simply "forgets." Deep down, he's unsure about what he doesn't know — and afraid to ask for help.
You could tear all your hair out over the antics of a disorganized child — and he still won't be able to do what he needs to do. Sometimes, the problem may be a learning disability. Sometimes, it's as simple as providing a reasonably quiet, efficient workspace, or teaching him to organize materials, allocate time and gather information. The trouble is, if you're always supplying the information, reminding them to study, or rushing that forgotten paper to school, you undermine the whole purpose of homework. And the disorganized child will never gain the confidence he needs to do things for himself.
Rachel, 11, has always been a good student — until this year. Now, more often than not, she arrives home from school in a funk. Her last report card had two Cs on it — a grade she'd never received before. She doesn't seem to care. "I'm not that smart," she'll say.
Parents of underachievers often hear the lament "I'm dumb" or "It's just too hard" from their perfectly capable kids. And they often hear it around fourth or fifth grade, when the workload intensifies; students must get used to stashing their gear in a locker, as well as the different styles of different teachers for each subject. To get your underachiever moving, you need to be a cheerleader.
Needless to say, if your child is genuinely unable to do the work, you, in tandem with his teacher or school psychologist, must figure out why and enlist the help he needs. A learning difficulty or anxiety over problems at home may be affecting schoolwork. Or perhaps the work is below his level and he needs more challenging assignments. By addressing problems early, you prevent them from mushrooming.
For more information, visit www.scholastic.com and visit the “Homework Hub” – an exciting, new area of Scholastic.com that offers resources, tools, and advice to promote kids' at-home-learning success.
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American children must be ready to learn from the first day of school. And of course, preparing children for school is a historic responsibility of parents.
Test. It’s a loaded word. Important…something to care about…something that can mean so much we get apprehensive thinking about it. Tests are important, especially to school children. A test may measure a basic skill. It can affect a year's grade. Or, if it measures the ability to learn, it can affect a child's placement in school. So it's important to do well on tests. Besides, the ability to do well on tests can help throughout life in such things as getting a driver's license, trying out for sports, or getting a job. Without this ability, a person can be severely handicapped. Your child can develop this ability. And you can help the child do it. Just try the simple techniques developed through Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI) research.
It’s helpful for a child to understand why schools give tests, and to know the different kinds of tests. Tests are yardsticks. Schools use them to measure, and then improve education. Some tell schools that they need to strengthen courses or change teaching techniques. Other tests compare students by schools, school districts, or cities. All tests determine how well "your child" is doing. And that's very important.
Most of the tests your child will take are "teacher-made." That is, teachers design them. These tests are associated with the grades on report cards. They help measure a student's progress--telling the teacher and the student whether he or she is keeping up with the class, needs extra help, or, perhaps, is far ahead of other students.
Now and then your child will take "standardized" tests. These use the same standards to measure student performance across the country. Everyone takes the same test according to the same rules. This makes it possible to measure each student's performance against that of others. The group with whom a student's performance is compared is a "norm group" and consists of many students of the same age or grade who took the same test.
Avoid Test Anxiety
It's good to be concerned about taking a test. It's not good to get "test anxiety." This is excessive worry about doing well on a test and it can mean disaster for a student.
Students who suffer from test anxiety tend to worry about success in school, especially doing well on tests. They worry about the future, and are extremely self-critical. Instead of feeling challenged by the prospect of success, they become afraid of failure. This makes them anxious about tests and their own abilities. Ultimately, they become so worked up that they feel incompetent about the subject matter or the test.
It does not help to tell the child to relax, to think about something else, or stop worrying. But there are ways to reduce test anxiety. Encourage your child to do these things:
- Space studying over days or weeks. (Real learning occurs through studying that takes place over a period of time.) Understand the information and relate it to what is already known. Review it more than once. (By doing this, the student should feel prepared at exam time.)
- Don't "cram" the night before — cramming increases anxiety which interferes with clear thinking. Get a good night’s sleep. Rest, exercise, and eating well are as important to test-taking as they are to other schoolwork.
- Read the directions carefully when the teacher hands out the test. If you don’t understand them, ask the teacher to explain.
- Look quickly at the entire examination to see what types of questions are included (multiple choice, matching, true/ false, essay) and, if possible, the number of points for each. This will help you pace yourself.
- If you don’t know the answer to a question, skip it and go on. Don’t waste time worrying about it. Mark it so you can identify it as unanswered. If you have time at the end of the exam, return to the unanswered question(s).
Do's and Don'ts
You can be a great help to your children if you will observe these do's and don'ts about tests and testing:
- Don’t be too anxious about a child’s test scores. If you put too much emphasis on test scores, this can upset a child.
- Do encourage children. Praise them for the things they do well. If they feel good about themselves, they will do their best. Children who are afraid of failing are more likely to become anxious when taking tests and more likely to make mistakes.
- Don’t judge a child on the basis of a single test score. Test scores are not perfect measures of what a child can do. There are many other things that might influence a test score. For example, a child can be affected by the way he or she is feeling, the setting in the classroom, and the attitude of the teacher. Remember, also, that one test is simply one test.
- Make sure your child attends school regularly. Remember, tests do reflect children’s overall achievement. The more effort and energy a child puts into learning, the more likely he/she will do well on tests.
- Provide a quiet, comfortable place for studying at home.
- Make sure that your child is well rested on school days and especially the day of a test. Children who are tired are less able to pay attention in class or to handle the demands of a test.
- Give your child a well rounded diet. A healthy body leads to a healthy, active mind.
- Provide books and magazines for your youngster to read at home. By reading new materials, a child will learn new words that might appear on a test. Ask your child's school about a suggested outside reading list or get suggestions from the public library.
After the Test
It's important for children to review test results. This is especially true when they take teacher-made tests. They can learn from a graded exam paper. It will show where they had difficulty and, perhaps, why. This is especially important for classes where the material builds from one section to the next, as in math. Students who have not mastered the basics of math will be unable to work with fractions, square roots, beginning algebra, and so on.
Discuss the wrong answers with your children and find out why they answered as they did. Sometimes a child misunderstands the way a question is worded or misinterprets what was asked. The child may have known the correct answer but failed to express it effectively.
It's important, too, for children to see how well they used their time on the test and whether guessing was a good idea. This helps them to change what they do on the next test, if necessary.
You and the child should read and discuss all comments written by the teacher. If there are any comments that aren't clear, the child should ask the teacher to explain.
This brochure is in the public domain. Feel free to photocopy or reprint it. Courtesy of the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement.
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Many Latin teachers today speak Latin orally in their classrooms and treat it as if it were a modern language! The students live and breathe Latin and are absorbed in the Romans and their culture, translating Caesar, Vergil, Ovid, and Catullus, learning about gladiators, war, love, politics, and daily life. With all of this, how could Latin be referred to as a “dead language?”
Latin has been gaining popularity in the past decade. In fact, there is a nationwide resurgence of Latin, especially in the Northeast. Schools are beginning to teach Latin as early as 5th grade, and in some schools even early Elementary. Ambitious students are capable of reaching Advanced Placement (AP) levels of Latin in high school. Many high schools that offer Latin also have “Honors” levels available.
Medical and legal terms derive from Latin, as do the scientific names of every plants and animal. Our political system is modeled after the Roman government. The culture of the entire Roman Empire was rich in tradition, including its important lessons and stories in mythology, sporting events, architecture, theater, literature, philosophy, and art history.
Your child’s English grammar, vocabulary, and reading levels will also instantaneously improve due to the numerous derivatives and cognates, rigorous format of translating, and disciplined grammar. It has been proven that students who take Latin receive much higher scores on the Verbal section of the SAT than students who take a modern language.
If your child is struggling with Spanish or French, a logical switch would be to go into Latin, rather than German, Russian, or Italian. Remember that Latin is the “mother” and basis of the Romance languages. “Her children” include French, Romanian, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese. By learning Latin, doors are immediately opened to being able to translate, read, and understand numerous modern languages.
Written by Erika S. (Click here to view Erika’s bio.)
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Surviving the New SAT
Every year, more than two million high school students take the SAT college entrance exam, which can be an anxiety-inducing experience for many of them.
This year, they may be more anxious than ever because a new version of the exam is being introduced for the first time nationally on March 12.
On The Early Show’s Study Hall, David Gruenbaum, the author of “New Sat 2005: Inside Out!,” offers parents advice on how they can help their kids prepare for the exam.
The following are a combination of tips from Gruenbaum and from the College Board on what parents can do to help their children prepare:
- Get involved. Help them with their vocabulary, reading and math if you can.
- Understand the entire process. The more parents know about the test, how it works in terms of what's on it, when and where to take it, the better they can help their teenager.
- Get the student motivated. Gruenbaum thinks it’s very important for parents and teens to visit colleges, so they can get excited about going and set goals for themselves.
- Don't wait until the fall of the senior year to take the exam for the first time. Gruenbaum said that any parent who allows his child to wait this long is putting him or her in jeopardy. He suggests that sophomores take it in the fall of this year.
- Have students study together.
- Hire a tutor or find a good college-test preparation school. (Ask for references.) Gruenbaum said that he has 17 years of experience. Because of the new test, some schools are hiring college students who may not be good teachers.
- Don't take the test too seriously or too often. Students who take the exam too often may burn out.
- Practice taking the test. It’s the best thing to do for people who say they aren't good at taking tests.
Tips from the College Board
- If you have younger kids, get them to read as much as possible all the way through high school. Heavy reading will help increase scores on all parts of the test.
- Be sure they take challenging courses in high school and not just try to take the easy courses because it’s not going to help.
- Encourage them to do practice tests. There are many ways they can do that. For example, by going to the College Board website, where there are several free practice tests and an SAT question of the day that the child can look for. There is a free practice that is sent to the guidance counselor of every student who registers to take the SAT. The counselor gives it to the student.
- Be sure to have several No.2 pencils with erasers. If you are nervous, you may break a few. Bring an allowable type of calculator.
College-bound students have been taking the SAT exam since 1926. Typically, students first take the SAT in March of their junior year. If they want to improve their scores, they can take it again in October of their senior year. Many students also take the test in their sophomore year to see how they will do. They can take it as many times as they want. Most college admission officers consider the highest score the student achieves.
The SAT has been revised over the years and some changes have probably been more significant than others. This is considered a big one. Click here to find out what is new.
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Planning and Structuring Your College Admissions Essay
By Jay Brody
Next to finding a good topic, planning your admissions essay is probably the most difficult part of the process. That’s because an admissions essay is unique. It doesn’t have the same goal as a typical high school essay, which is to carefully follow the proper form and structure, and to demonstrate your mastery of a topic and the English language.
No, the admissions essay is different. Here, in just a page or two, you need to somehow establish a bond with an admissions officer whom you’ve never met. Sure, that admissions officer wants to read an essay that's carefully put together and is written well. But even more importantly, he or she is looking to find out a little something about what makes you tick. What’s important to you? How does your mind work? What are you interested in? Why do you deserve a spot at School X?
In high school you’ve probably been taught the "five paragraph essay," or something similar to it. An introduction, three idea paragraphs, and a conclusion. While there's nothing inherently wrong with this setup, and in fact it may be a decent way to approach the essay on the SAT or ACT, the strict five-paragraph approach can sometimes suck the life or passion from a student's writing. This is fine if you're in history class, writing about the Revolutionary War. But if you're trying to get through to an admissions officer who reads hundreds of essays each month, you need to work hard to establish a personal connection.
That doesn’t mean there’s a right or a wrong way to plan and set up your admissions essay. In my experience, here are some approaches that work (and some that don’t):
Admissions Essay Structures That Work
- Telling a Story. If your essay is about something that happened to you, try just telling the story as it took place, from start to finish. You can open your essay by setting the stage, and close it by telling what you learned. Stories are interesting and typically do a good job of keeping the reader engaged.
- Discussing an Important Activity or Aspect of Your Life. This can also be done in chronological order. In essays about being an immigrant in America and developing as a filmmaker, these authors lead the reader through their adventures, so that the reader can understand the author’s development at each stage.
- Analyzing Something That’s Important to You. Sometimes good college essays simply discuss a personality quirk or issue that’s important to the author. This works fine, but you need to make sure that you’re discussing your topic in an orderly way. Don’t just babble about, say, your love of running. For this type of essay, you might want to map out what you’ll say paragraph by paragraph, before you begin. Note that if the paragraphs could go in any order, it’s probably not a great essay. Ideally, as in this essay about science, there's really only one order that makes sense.
- Going with Your Gut. Sometimes the best essays spring directly from the author’s mind onto the page. There’s nothing wrong with this approach. But you need to make sure that there's a natural progression to your essay. Don’t just throw words on the page.
These are just a few essay formats that work. The key is that each of these setups leave the author with an essay that moves forward from start to finish with a purpose and in an orderly way.
Unfortunately, many college essays don’t have such a purpose. Here are some commonly-used admissions essay structures that hurt the author and confuse (or bore) the reader.
Admissions Essay Structures that Don’t Work
- Writing Without Organizing. The worst thing you can do structurally when writing your admissions essay is just to write whatever comes into your head, in any order. Don’t just write until you hit your word limit! Whether it’s in story format or you’re writing about the various aspects of something important to you, your essay structure needs to have rhyme and reason. Each paragraph should be about something different, your transitions should be clear, and there should be a reason that you’ve placed everything in the order you chose.
- Too Many Flashbacks or Asides. Confusing admissions essays often are hard to keep up with. If you change time periods or use a flashback, make sure it’s very clear. Lots of admissions essays lose their reader’s interest by being difficult to follow.
- Boring and Pointless Commentary. When discussing Topics, we talked about what makes an essay interesting. But poor structure can also make an essay boring. If you're writing about tennis, don’t just use an introduction, three paragraphs about different reasons you like tennis, and then a conclusion. That's dull! The essay should progress, and if you’re just listing 2-4 arguments or reasons for something, your essay is probably not interesting or personal enough.
Jay Brody is an independent college counselor in Chicago. In addition to helping families with all aspects of the college admissions process, he manages a number of SAT courses and tutoring programs. Jay is passionate about helping students find — and get accepted into — their dream schools.
For more information and helpful tips about the college application process, please visit
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The Joys of Doing Nothing
By Margery Rosen
In a world of Instant Messenger and toddler soccer, allowing kids unstructured time may sound like heresy — but it’s the greatest gift of all.
It starts off innocently: a playdate or two for your toddler, maybe a gym class once week. By the time he’s in second grade, he’s taking art lessons and playing pee-wee baseball and soccer. A few years later he makes the travel soccer team, which conflicts at times with basketball. But he still manages to squeeze in Boy Scout meetings and saxophone lessons before tackling his homework. You cheer him on during games, even though it may mean sitting in the bleachers, cell phone in hand, as you field calls from your office. You joke that you feel more at home on the road than in your living room. In fact, you are running as fast as you can toward that elusive goal of raising a well-rounded child.
You are stressed and exhausted, and you are not alone. Parenting today often feels like a frantic race in which we are forever a few steps behind. Kids today have half as much free time as they did 30 years ago, notes a national study of 3500 children, 12 and under, released by the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research. "Children are affected by the same time crunch as their parents," notes Sandra L. Hofferth, a senior research scientist at the institute.
"As a society, we have talked ourselves into believing that we have to make every moment count, and that we have to fill our children as we would empty vessels," says Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, Ph.D., co-author of Einstein Never Used Flashcards: How Our Children Really Learn and Why They Need to Play More and Memorize Less. Hirsh-Pasek, a professor at Temple University in Philadelphia, continues, "Parents feel compelled to give their kids every advantage they can afford. So they cram their days with art, music, sports, and even weekend enrichment programs." Is it any wonder that when youngsters have a free moment, they complain that they're bored? More likely, they simply don't know what to do with themselves.
"There is a myth that doing nothing is wasting time, when it’s actually extremely productive and essential," says Dr. Hirsh-Pasek. "During empty hours, kids explore the world at their own pace, develop their own unique set of interests and indulge in the sort of fantasy play that will help them figure out how to create their own happiness, handle problems with others on their own, and sensibly manage their own time. That's a critical life skill."
What’s more, the pile-on of extra-curricular activities, on top of several hours of homework as they get older, may actually backfire. "Many overscheduled kids are anxious, angry and burned out," notes child psychiatrist Alvin Rosenfeld, M.D., co-author of The Overscheduled Child. "They display a range of symptoms from headaches and stomachaches to temper tantrums, an inability to concentrate in school, and sleeping problems. In the long run, it may be harder for them to make confident choices and decisions about what they want to do on their own." More importantly, by cramming activities into a child's schedule, you deprive him of something very special: The joy of just being a kid.
The Parent Trap
Why the pressure to overbook? In this multi-tasking world, in which the push to do more and do it faster is pervasive, perhaps it was only a matter of time that the effects trickled down to childrearing. Yet some experts believe parents have misunderstood the tidal wave of information on child development reported in the last two decades.
"This generation of parents has swallowed whole, and in some cases, is choking on, the belief that the sooner you expose a child to learning, the more he or she will learn," says Rosenfeld. "And if they don’t get it during those critical early childhood years, well, forget Harvard."
In fact, there is a wealth of information that proves exactly the opposite. "Children continue to learn and develop throughout childhood," notes Hirsh-Pasek. "But they need time to recharge their batteries and process what they’ve learned. Free time allows them to explore, to be scientists, discoverers, creators, and innovators. They do that when they build pillow forts in the family room, sail away in a laundry basket to a foreign land, or find the remarkable in the mundane."
Then, too, kids with time to daydream nurture their inner lives. "They practice making mistakes or tolerating what can go wrong — a child calls them names, they're not picked for the school play. They figure out how to steel themselves against such possibilities," says Hirsh-Pasek. "That's self responsibility and self reliance."
Of course, letting kids just hang out sounds much easier than it actually is. We are raising our children in a very different world than the one in which we grew up. Single or working parents must rely on after-school or summer programs to keep kids safe. What's more, there is a body of research that shows that activities outside of school foster confident kids, proud of their accomplishments and challenged by new goals, who do better academically than those who don't.
But in our well-intentioned efforts to give our children the best of everything, perhaps we've forgotten the importance of a balanced life. "As parents, we have a choice," says Hirsh-Pasek. "We can groom our children to be worker bees — to take in information and it spit right back out — or we can help them be creative problem-solvers, to look at a cloud and see dinosaurs or birds, to be energized by their own imaginations and curiosity." That's where doing nothing, sometimes even to the point of being bored, comes in.
Stop the Frenzy
This media-savvy generation is being raised to believe that life is a non-stop rollercoaster of over-the-top phenomenal fun times — and if every moment isn't filled, well, something's wrong. Now is the time to stop the madness and re-order your family priorities. Remember:
Leading a frenetic life is not inevitable or enviable. Parenting is not a competitive sport. So ask yourself, honestly, what makes you think it is. Pressure from other parents or family members? Concern that your child will lack the extra edge to get into a good college? Children, like adults, have their own threshold for stress. Some families handle a busy schedule better than others, and some kids thrive when involved in multiple activities. If you sense (by noticing her mood, grades, and health) that your child isn't one of them, or if scrambling from one activity to another is not the way you want to live your life, resist the urge to sign up for another appealing lesson.
- Be a role model. You are your child's best teacher. If she sees that you value unstructured time, she will, too. "The world is a rich learning environment, without all the frills," says Hirsh-Pasek. Carve out time to turn off your cell phone, stop checking your email, and just hang out, without lamenting that you "should" be doing something instead of "wasting time." Create retreats in your home to beckon everyone: a window seat lined with pillows, a corner filled with art supplies, musical instruments, CDs, a deck of cards. Eliminate, limit, or refuse to buy more high-tech gear such as video and computer games. See what happens.
- Check in with your child. "The more we fill up their time, the less they do it," says Hirsh-Pasek. Even as early as first grade, involve your child in decision-making and planning. Ask if he feels his days are too busy, or if he wishes he had more time to play with friends, read, or just relax after school. Don’t assume you know how he feels.
- Un-plan. In a blank calendar, fill in a typical week in your child's life, listing each activity and when it’s scheduled. Circle unstructured time. Is the schedule weighted too heavily in one direction? Trust your gut. If it feels too busy, it probably is. Or, if your child seems tired, unable to concentrate in school or on homework, has frequent meltdowns or difficulty sleeping, she may be on overload.
- Schedule unstructured family time. Keep it sacred. What do your kids want to do on Saturday? Stay in pajamas all day, order pizza and watch a movie? Go bike riding, dance to favorite CDs, plant tulip bulbs?
- Make sure kids get enough sleep. Turn off the TV and computer; turn on the answering machine. Create a bedtime routine that includes at least 15 minutes of calm, soothing activities such as reading, chatting, or listening to music.
- Tune out "I’m bored!" cries. Despite your efforts, it will happen. And it doesn’t mean you’re not being a good-enough parent. Instead of jumping in to offer entertainment, make a few suggestions, be strong, and let her figure out for herself how to fill her time. "More often than not, I find that it’s the parents, not the kids, who are fearful that their child will lose out than that the children who are pushing to do more," says Hirsh-Pasek.
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