Math Anxiety: 7 Steps To Conquer It

Get help for math anxiety

When new concepts don’t add up and math anxiety sets in, students are stressed and parents often feel overwhelmed

It’s something Educational Connections’ Coach Amanda McGill sees often. McGill recently started working with a 5th grader named Sofia who was struggling with fractions, decimals, and multiplication. 

“The anxiety would just shut her down,” explained McGill. “She was just throwing numbers on the paper and guessing in hopes that something might stick.” 

Just one month into their one-on-one math sessions, Sofia now enjoys the challenge of figuring out problems. 

“She had a math test this week and the teacher let me know that she got 100% and her confidence is so much better,” explained McGill. “She is very proud of her accomplishments.”

What is math anxiety?

How do you feel reading through this list of concepts?

math anxiety notebook
  • Pythagorean Theorem
  • Order of Operations
  • Multivariable Algebraic Equations
  • Distributive Property
  • Factoring

Do these words make your heart flutter with excitement? Or do you feel panic and dread?

If the answer is the former, consider yourself lucky, because math is probably “your thing.”

If it’s the latter, then don’t worry… you’re not alone. Because math anxiety is a real problem for both students, and even adults later on in life.

As a teacher, I had many students over the years with a natural knack for numbers. I also taught many that had hardly any “math sense.”

These students could often tackle rote math problems, but throw in a few complicated word problems and they’d feel overwhelmed.

My experience has taught me that apprehension about math and all the physical effects that go along with it (elevated heart rate, queasy stomach, inability to focus) are very real. I’ve seen it in students I’ve taught in the classroom and those that I’ve tutored.

And I’ve always wondered what causes such uneasiness in the first place. So in this post, we’ll dive into what math anxiety really is, its most common causes, and how you (as a parent) can help your student.

How math anxiety affects the brain

Let’s first take a look at how our brains process information.

When students solve problems the information first flows through the amygdala, the part of the brain known as the “emotion center.” It’s only then, after about a millisecond, that the information is transmitted into the prefrontal cortex, where critical thinking and reasoning occur.

math anxiety image 2

This is important in the case of math anxiety because the amygdala is the “filter” that the information goes through first before it gets processed by the analytical part of the brain. And when math is perceived as a “threat,” the amygdala in students, who feel this way, becomes overactive. This leads to the prefrontal cortex being underutilized.

In fact, an individual with math anxiety does not just dislike the subject, he or she feels actual negative emotions when it comes to performing activities that involve numerical or math skills.

And according to a recent study of college students, the sheer suggestion of a math examination triggered a stress response in students with math anxiety, actually cutting off the working memory necessary to solve those same problems.

Researchers say genetics and mindset are to blame

A study published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry reveals that this common problem is actually two-fold.

First, students who have significant difficulty in math come by it genetically. Researchers followed 216 identical twins and 298 same-sex fraternal twins over seven years. They found:

  • Genetic factors related to general anxiety and math cognition accounted for 40% of the variance in math anxiety.
  • The other 60% of variance was explained by environmental factors, including negative experiences with math at an early age and learned behaviors.

Teachers and parents can even pass down their negative attitudes and own anxiety over math. A lot of anxiety surrounding the subject actually comes from classrooms that do not establish or promote a growth mindset. Students with a growth mindset focus on effort and true learning instead of test scores and correct answers.

So ironically, to explain the cause behind anxiety towards math, what we have is actually… well… a math problem:

WEAK ABILITY + NERVOUS TENDENCIES + NEGATIVE EXPERIENCES = MATH ANXIETY

How to help your child conquer math anxiety

Keep in mind that every child has their strengths and weaknesses, and some students may simply struggle in math even if they don’t have anxiety. There are steps you can take as a parent to help your child improve in math and achieve the level of competence they need to succeed in school.

Step 1: Understand that your child is not lazy or unmotivated

Realize that motivation will wane in a subject that is naturally difficult. It makes sense that when a task is hard, humans will naturally avoid it. That’s why poor math students will procrastinate when it comes to homework or avoid it totally.

math anxiety image 3

Studying for math tests will never be at the top of the “to do” list if your child struggles with it. Simply having the understanding that your child isn’t lazy or unmotivated is important, because you can then start to address some of the underlying causes.

Step 2: Realize that math is 100% cumulative

Aside from foreign languages, math is the one subject that’s 100% cumulative. It’s among the most requested subject when parents call our office requesting a tutor. I often use the analogy of a construction worker putting up scaffolding. Without a strong foundation, the next level will not sit firmly.

Think of fractions. If you cannot find the greatest common factor with ease, you will not be able to add fractions with unlike denominators. One skill builds upon the next, and because of this, it’s critical to understand that you can’t simply “catch up” as you might in another subject.

Step 3: Do not delay if your child is having difficulty

Because math skills are amassed, problems rarely if ever improve without intervention. Simply telling your child to “study harder” will not make a difference. Get assistance in the form of a tutor or extra help from the teacher. If they are procrastinating and missing assignments they will begin to fall further behind. This is a huge worry because it can lead to further stress and anxiety.

A study out of Stanford University found that when third graders with math learning disabilities went through just 8 weeks of one-on-one tutoring for arithmetic, the “abnormal brain function” specific to learning math in these children (as measured by fMRI) completely disappeared, and their performance improved accordingly.

math anxiety image 4

This is all just to say: intervention can work, so take action earlier rather than later.

Step 4: Do not push advanced classes

The trend these days is for students to take advanced math classes early on. This begins with Algebra in 7th or 8th grade. This approach is a good one for many students but not for all. Those experiencing significant math anxieties may be further stymied because they feel overwhelmed and underprepared. Although your child may be capable of keeping up, don’t force advanced classes if they’re not ready.

Step 5: Praise effort, not intelligence

Growing up, I had a very hard time in math. My mother used to say, “You’re just like me. I was terrible at math, too. It runs in the family.” Looking back, I know she was trying to make me feel better, but the opposite happened. I started to think that math ability was genetic and there wasn’t much I could do about it. I started to give up. 

As parents, we want to foster effort, not intelligence. Study after study shows that when teachers or parents notice effort, students start to associate hard work with progress. They are less likely to agree with the notion that math is a fixed ability (that you either have it or you don’t). That has a huge impact on their performance in school. I highly recommend Carol Dweck’s book Mindset. In it, she details how the right type of praise can motivate kids.

Step 6: Don’t say: “Don’t worry about it”

If you have a child who is anxious about math and exhibits test anxiety, whatever you do, do not use the words, “Don’t worry about it.” I can guarantee you that your child will worry about it. It’s impossible for nervous students to turn their worry switch off on a dime.

Instead, ask your child the following questions:

  • “How are you feeling?”
  • “What exactly is stressing you out?”

Then let them air out what they’re thinking about. When children are able to express their feelings, anxiety lessens, and you can then move on more readily towards solving the problem.

Step 7: Tackle “Test Anxiety” and allow the math to follow

Test anxiety in any subject increases when students sit down to take a test knowing they are not fully prepared, regardless if they have specific trouble in math. So one effective approach to the problem is to help establish a test preparation routine for any exam your child is taking, math or otherwise. Those habits will then inevitably spill over to math.

The old adage “you can’t study for math” is simply not true. The best way for a student to prepare is to make a practice test and solve the problems as if it is a real exam. This allows the student to know which problems he cannot solve and to practice accordingly. In many instances, proper preparation decreases stress on test days, which may be a big factor contributing to your child’s anxiety towards math as a whole.

Take action

In the end, problems with math tend not to be simply just a “bump in the road.” And because of its cumulative nature, if not addressed and worked through, they can become chronic and significant. 

Relying on the resources from your child’s school might not be enough to tackle math anxiety, like in Sofia’s case. 

“I think a positive of the coaching is that I am able to break things down into manageable steps, do it one-on-one, and make sure she knows it is OK to say ‘I don’t understand’ no matter how many times she needs to say that,” explained McGill. 

Be aware and jump in early if you see symptoms of math anxiety starting to creep in with your own child so their self-confidence and enthusiasm for learning aren’t left behind.

If your child is struggling with math, we’re always here to help!

How Virtual Tutoring Is Helping Our Kids Through the Pandemic

Virtual Tutoring at Educational Connections

When COVID-19 moved most of our lives to virtual environments in March 2020, we scrambled like everyone else. Quickly we had to put our services online and offer virtual tutoring. And we were worried.

But it turns out, being online with our kids was amazing.

Our team had to adapt. And truthfully, we had no idea what it would be like to offer virtual tutoring. Like the kids we served, we were accustomed to in-person learning and instruction. 

It was a completely different experience for kids to work one-on-one with their tutor instead of in a large virtual room with many other students. They were able to build a personal relationship with our coaches. 

But the magic actually happened when we didn’t have to travel to see our students anymore. And we could see them more frequently. 

So instead of sessions that we usually held once per week, it turned out we could see them for shorter sessions two or three times a week! We had time for two 45-minute virtual tutoring sessions or three 30-minute sessions. We were no longer bound by commutes or trying to fit time into busy schedules. 

We could see a difference in how kids approached their work. They were happier and less overwhelmed. They looked forward to school. And this meant they performed better and earned higher grades. 

We also realized that this approach would not have worked prior to the pandemic when there was still a huge amount of “paper flow” (hard copy papers that needed sorting, filing and hole punching). Now, almost every assignment is turned in online which has been a benefit for most students who struggle with organization. We’ve been able to help them set up systems for digital files, use tools like Google Keep to track their to do’s and calendar upcoming tests, quizzes and projects. These things are done perfectly well online.

We also discovered that every child we coached needed support with executive functioning. Even kids who didn’t previously have issues with these skills were challenged because of the new online dynamic at school. 

We knew we had to serve kids in a different way to meet their needs. We could no longer solely be a tutoring company. Instead, we wanted to infuse organization (especially digital), time management, and study habits into everything we do so your kids can reach their goals and be successful.

So that’s why we now believe virtual tutoring is helping. Our kids are best served online because we can see them more frequently and we know that executive function support is best done online. The personal connection with the student and coach makes all the difference.

Back to school after virtual learning: 4 strategies for less stress

Strategies For Less Stress After Virtual Learning

Featured on WTOP News: https://wtop.com/parenting/2021/08/back-to-school-after-virtual-learning-4-strategies-for-less-stress-this-school-year/

This year, far more than any other year, communication and organization are really important. Kids are anxious about their return to school, especially after almost a year and a half of online learning, and so are parents. By practicing effective communication, we can reduce kids’ fears and ours, as well. Here are four tips to help you make this school year successful:

1. Set up a time to talk

It’s natural for kids to feel nervous at the start of a school year, but this year they may also have fears about COVID, returning to school in-person five days a week, or be worried about a subject that was especially challenging in the virtual classroom (hello math!).

It’s important to give space and time to allow them to open up about their fears. Set up a time to talk before school starts. Schedule an “appointment.”

You might say “Hey, can we talk about school stuff after dinner tonight? How about 7:30?”

Here are some questions to ask:

“How are you feeling about the start of school?”

“What do you think will be different?”

“How do you think others are feeling?” This question is especially helpful because children don’t often realize that others have the same exact worries. Realizing they’re not alone can help to normalize feelings.

When your child expresses fear, be careful not to discount it by saying, “Don’t worry! It’s going to be fine,” or “Worrying doesn’t help at all. Just do your best and it will be OK.”

By discounting kids’ fears, we negate their concerns. Instead, use this time to be a good listener and to empathize. You can do this by saying “I can understand your feelings…,” nodding and allowing your child to share openly.

2. Have a weekly ‘Sunday session’

Set up a casual weekly meeting with your kids.

I like Sundays around dinner time (or even over a meal) since it allows everyone to think about the week ahead without distractions. Planning is really hard for most kiddos, especially those with weak executive function skills (a fancy word for study habits).

During this time, you’re going to chat about the upcoming week. For elementary schoolers you might talk about what’s going on after school. Perhaps you have a calendar on the fridge with their extracurriculars (which is a great idea because younger kids need visuals). By talking through the schedule, you’ll be on the same page as your kids and help them learn the importance of planning in advance.

For older students, you can go a little more in-depth. Talk about the weekly schedule, but also share what you have going on so they can anticipate travel schedules and transportation needs for extracurriculars, like sports practice. You and your child will value these conversations because it reduces the last-minute stress of a situation when someone forgets about a dance practice or violin lesson.

You can also use this time to think ahead about academics.

Here are some examples of questions you can ask to get your child thinking about their assignments:

“What do you have coming up this week?”

“What tests, quizzes or projects are due?”

Setting aside time for kids to open their laptops and see what’s on their calendar is extremely helpful. Without this verbal prompt, many will just show up to school on Monday unprepared, which is not a good way to start the week!

When you ask your kids about their schoolwork, don’t expect a detailed explanation like this one, “Well, gee Mom, let me see. I’ve got a biology test on Friday, an English essay due on Thursday, and oh! I can’t forget that I have to present my group project in history on Wednesday …”

Some of the best sessions I’ve had with kids involves their own self-discovery where I’ve said something like:

“Tell me what you have going on this week. What does your week look like?”

Then I see it click in their mind as they think about various classes and ultimately say, “Oh shoot, I need to order ‘Catcher in the Rye’ on Amazon. I totally forgot I have to read chapter one by Friday.” Or “Ugh … I can’t believe I have two tests on Friday. That’s so unfair!”

Sure, the timing of two tests on Friday isn’t ideal, but without having time set aside to look at the week at a glance, it’s unlikely this student would have thought ahead to study over a few nights instead of cramming the night before. So the exchange doesn’t have to require lots of talking, just a bit of prompting.

During your Sunday Session, do your best to not use judgmental questions or tones.

And if you’ve said some of these things, don’t worry. We’ve all been there. But try to avoid “judgment” statements such as:

“Why didn’t you start that history project yet?”

“OMG! I’m so sick of you procrastinating!”

“You said you already had the supplies for that project, and now you’re asking me to take you to Michael’s at the last minute?”

The time needs to be a “no judgment zone” in order for it to work. Otherwise, kids will tune parents out in two seconds flat.

Our job isn’t to micromanage our kids.

I’ve never found micromanagement to be a successful strategy as a parent or educator. No one likes to be told what to do, especially kids! But what does work is asking kids questions out of curiosity and listening well.

This is easier said than done, so if you’d like a bit of help in this department, I highly recommend the classic book, “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen.” There’s a reason this book has been a New York Times bestseller and is beloved by parents around the world!

3. Consider the Clean Sweep

Let’s talk about organization! The real trick to help kids stay neat is to set up a recurring system. I call this one “The Clean Sweep.” It’s a weekly appointment to get organized. It can be set up on Sunday evenings either in place of the Sunday Session or in addition to it. Ideally, it’s at the beginning of the week, so Monday may work well, too.

Here’s how to do it:

Choose a time, say 7 — 7:20 p.m., and everyone in your family gets involved. Everyone — not just your disorganized kid — is straightening up their materials and getting organized for the week.

It could be that your kids are organizing their binders and getting their papers in order while you clean out your purse or perhaps organize the junk drawer.

Given that Fairfax County Public Schools has moved away from Blackboard to Schoology, it’s also an excellent time to ask your child to show you how work is assigned and housed in the new system.

It doesn’t really matter what the task is, but the idea is to have that standing appointment to maintain neatness on a weekly basis. And to make it light, crank up your child’s favorite music. Kids are more likely to participate if the session is not arduous, but is easy and productive instead.

4. Use a ‘Launchpad’ to make mornings easier

The Sunday Session and Clean Sweep are great ways to get ready for the week ahead, and a Launchpad can help you get ready for the next day.

School mornings can be rushed and stressful, especially after a year of mostly virtual learning. You can eliminate the stress by setting up a “launchpad” by your front door (or by the door from which your child exits each morning) before the school year begins. This can be a basket, box, even an old dish pan! Really any container that can hold the items that need to go to school the next day (think backpacks, lunchboxes, sports gear …)

Cue your kids to get everything in the launchpad the night before to ensure your morning is organized and stress-free! This will allow the entire family to launch into each day confident, prepared, and ready for success.

The evening is also an ideal time for kids to lay out the clothes they’re going to wear the next day or to begin packing their lunches. The key is to get the things that cause stress in the morning taken care of the night before.

Back to school is typically a stressful time for families until they settle into a routine. Nothing has been routine the past year, so now, more than ever, it’s important to practice communicating effectively with our kids and implement activities that create good habits. By demonstrating patience and a willingness to listen, we can help them achieve all they’re capable of academically and beyond.

Here’s How to Prepare for College After a Crazy School Year

Prepare for College After Covid

2020 was hard. It presented challenges for every person. But, it’s difficult to wrap our heads around the obstacles students faced. Schools completely closed, some re-opened, others were virtual, and many operated in a hybrid environment. Many changed their learning platform multiple times. 

Nearly all of the activities that kids expect to participate in were heavily modified or postponed altogether. It will likely be years before we truly understand the impact the pandemic had on learning. 

Despite all of the problems, students and teachers pushed forward. Now, as the world re-opens, many kids are preparing for their final year of high school or gearing up for the first semester of their freshman year in the fall. 

Schools are returning to “normal” class schedules and activities, but COVID has left a permanent mark on the college experience. 

Colleges and universities are waving standardized test requirements, which have been a staple of the admissions process for decades. 

Last year, when many colleges moved to online learning, a significant number of students decided to take a gap year. Now, many of them are planning to enroll, creating a more competitive environment. 

Preparation for college is as important as it has ever been. More emphasis is placed on essay writing. And mock testing is still a major part of getting ready for college, especially if a child can score well on exams. 

There’s a lot to think about for your child’s college future. We’re here to walk you through some of the most important things to keep in mind. 

Mapping Out the Road to College 

Simply preparing for college is a lot of work. You have application deadlines, scholarship requirements to meet, campus visits, and interviews.  

On top of everything, you’re still working, and your kids most likely have many other activities outside of school (which is a good thing for the college application!). 

Even if you have experience applying for college and scholarships, it can be challenging to help your child navigate college preparation. 

Our team understands the college admissions process. We know what it takes to get your child’s application noticed. And we can help you walk through the journey by managing deadlines, keeping track of applications, and submitting information at the right time. 

We can map out the college prep journey for you. That’s one less thing you and your child have to worry about. 

Why Mock Test Prep is Still Important 

Many schools have moved to test-optional applications, meaning they will not require a standardized test score on an application. 

This trend began before the pandemic but is accelerated by many students’ difficult learning environment. Now, some of the top universities in the country are waving test requirements. 

Recently, the University of North Carolina voted to extend their test-optional requirements into 2022, so it appears schools will keep this policy in place, at least temporarily. 

Many students are likely celebrating the fact that they don’t need to take these hours-long tests, but it’s not time to dismiss the mock exams just yet. 

Despite the shift away from testing, your child will still find value in taking mock tests. 

A mock test can determine whether they should take the SAT or ACT. Even if a school is test-optional, you should still submit good scores to enhance the application. 

Mock tests can also be a simulation for college testing environments. Most high school kids do not sit through a timed test in the classroom. Putting them through a timed scenario will better equip them for test-taking at a higher level. 

College Prep Is Not a Solo Journey 

College applications are challenging during normal times and even more so after a school year like we just experienced. Many kids are re-thinking what they want out of a college experience. 

The busyness of life prevents many kids and parents from sitting down and mapping out the college prep experience. 

While there is some great info online (and some not-so-great information), using Google as a guide is not the most reliable method to plan for college.  

Sending your child to school is an investment. It costs time, money, and energy for you and your child. By working together, we can take much of the stress from your plate while setting up your kids for success during their college experience. 

What you do leading up to their first year can be a major determinant in their path as they go through school. 

So reach out to us. Let’s talk about your child’s goals and needs. And if we can help take some of the burdens off your shoulders, we’ll be glad to work on your college road map. 

Your “A” Student May Still Need Tutoring: The Dangers of Grade Inflation

Dangers of Grade Inflation

Every year, colleges and universities across the country welcome a new class of freshmen students. And every year, many of those students struggle, finding college harder than expected. Some will lose their scholarships or drop out altogether. The surprising part of that story? Many of those students made A’s in high school.

While we can and should celebrate our children for making good grades, we have to be careful to assume our A or B students don’t need extra support. Thanks to grade inflation, good grades don’t always reflect true mastery of a subject. In this blog, we’re going to explore the grade inflation phenomenon and share three signs that your A or B student might benefit from tutoring.

What is grade inflation, and why is it so common?

Grade inflation is the tendency for teachers to give higher academic grades when the same work would have earned lower grades in the past. Did you know that an A is now the most awarded grade in high school and college? In fact, receiving an A is three times more common now than in 1960. The number of B’s and C’s has decreased drastically, making room for a lot more As. (Interestingly, the number of D’s and F’s given has remained about the same.)

There are several reasons for this phenomenon, including:

  • College Acceptance Standards – High school teachers know that getting into a good college is more competitive than ever. These teachers want their students to succeed, and they don’t want to give grades that could decrease their students’ chances of a scholarship or acceptance.
  • More Capable Students – It’s worth noting that we’re also seeing that the average SAT and ACT score for admitted college students has increased. Some argue that this is a sign that today’s students are simply more capable, leading to higher grades.  
  • Student Selection of Courses – We even see grade inflation in college. Students want to keep their scholarships and do well, so they tend to sign up for classes where they’re more likely to get an A. With websites like Rate My Teacher and Rate My Professor, students can post a rating and review of their teachers. Many college students choose classes and professors based on their tendency to give high marks.
  • COVID-19 – We’ve been talking about the grade inflation phenomenon for a few years, but COVID-19 has only made it worse. Virtual learning has made it much more difficult for teachers to accurately assess each student’s mastery of a topic. Plus, no teacher wants to add extra stress to families who may be struggling with illness, job loss, and isolation. And teachers know that assigning low grades could cause pushback from students, teachers, and even principals. As a result, teachers are far more prone to give out As to students across the board.

What’s the downside to grade inflation?

One downside to grade inflation is that it’s becoming harder for top students to stand out. Several years back, I asked a local guidance counselor at a top-performing public high school in Fairfax County about the issue of grade inflation. He said that at his school’s graduation, they stopped reading the names of students with a 4.0 GPA because over 25% of the graduating class had a 4.0 GPA or higher.

Another downside is that students (especially in college) sometimes avoid more challenging classes that could yield lower grades, such as math, physics, and engineering. This could prevent a student from discovering a hidden talent or passion, causing them to miss out on a career path that would’ve been a perfect fit for them!

As an educator, I’m also concerned about what’s called “the rigor gap.” This is the gap between a school’s evaluation of a student’s level of mastery of a standard compared to their demonstrated mastery of that standard on statewide standardized tests. For example, researchers at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute found that 36 percent of Algebra I students in North Carolina who scored a “B” in the classroom did not pass the state’s corresponding EOC. Referenced in Figure 3.

This discrepancy is partly because students with inflated grades don’t know they need to study. One study in 2021 found that students studied 50% less when they expected teachers to award higher grades. On the other hand, researchers have found that when teachers have higher grading standards, students tend to learn more and perform higher two years later.

It’s worth noting that these studies were all done before COVID-19. As we mentioned before, the problem has only gotten worse in the past year. For example, the Arlington School System told teachers that they could boost a student by a full letter grade if the student could submit “artifacts of their learning that would demonstrate proficiency with concepts that they were unable to demonstrate earlier in the school year.”

One of the biggest risks of grade inflation is that students with freely given A’s don’t know what they don’t know. They could enter the next grade or college completely unprepared. In every grade, from elementary to high school, the subjects build on the standards from the year before. If your child hasn’t truly mastered this year’s material, he or she could find future grades much, much harder.

3 Signs Your A Student Needs Tutoring

If your child’s grade isn’t always reliable, how can you know your child needs help? Here are three signs your A or B student may need tutoring support.

  1. Your child struggles to study independently, stay organized, and turn assignments in on time. If you never see your child studying or doing homework, but they’re getting good grades, there may be some grade inflation going on. Tutoring can be a great way to ensure (a) they master the standards they’ll need for future classes and (b) they learn executive functioning skills like organization and task management. Those skills will become all the more critical as we move towards in-person school in the fall.
  2. Your child avoids or is frustrated by key subjects. Does your child get As and Bs but hate doing their math homework? Or avoid writing English papers until the night before they’re due? If so, tutoring can provide a way to build confidence in key subjects. Struggling in a core subject for even one year can harm your child in the long run because material and concepts build upon each other. Each year becomes more challenging, so if your child is overwhelmed by a subject now, the problem will only grow with each new year.
  3. Your child’s test scores don’t match their final grade. One common method of grade inflation is buoying poor test scores by weighing smaller assignments more heavily. Regularly scheduled tests are the best indicator of your child’s mastery of a subject. If your child is getting an A or B in a class but not on tests, there’s a good chance that other assignments outweigh the test scores, and your child may benefit from some tutoring support.

Do you remember when the general public opinion of counseling was that it was only for people facing a significant trauma or trial? Now, most people acknowledge that nearly everyone can benefit from a good counselor, even if they’re not in the midst of a divorce or mental health crisis.

It’s helpful to think of tutoring in the same way. Tutoring isn’t only for students in danger of failing a grade. Nearly every student can benefit from individualized support outside the classroom. And in a world where an A or B doesn’t mean you’ve necessarily mastered the material, it’s all the more important for parents to dig deeper and make sure their children are on track and prepared for the next grade, whether they are in 1st grade, 12th grade, or any in-between.

Know someone whose child may have these good grades, but is struggling with missing assignments? Share this blog with them so they can learn more about what their child is experiencing and how we are here to help.

Start with a Free Consultation

If you’re wondering whether your student could benefit from extra support from a subject tutor or executive functioning coach, take the first step today by scheduling a free consultation. 

Simply click here to schedule a time that works for you to speak with one of our specialists. We’re here to help you look past the letter grades and achieve peace of mind, knowing your child is genuinely prepared for next year—and beyond.

Spring Fever: Overcoming Low Motivation and Missed Assignments

Overcoming Low Motivation and Missed Assignments

Spring is in the air. Flowers are blooming, birds are chirping…and students are losing all motivation at the end of a long school year! If your child is losing track of assignments or forgetting to do them in the first place, you’re not alone. In fact, we’re having parents left and right ask us how they can get their kids over the finish line.

In this blog, we’re going to look at why spring fever is at an all-time high this year. (Of course, it’s not a surprise after the year we’ve had, but the last reason might really surprise you.) Then we’re going to share a simple solution you can use to get your child back on track without causing any more tension in your relationship. 

5 Reasons Spring Fever Is at an All-Time High

Every year, we see students struggle to stay organized and on track as the weather warms and summer vacation comes into view. And whether or not a child has good grades typically has very little to do with it. That’s because missed assignments and low motivation are more often rooted in executive functioning challenges than academic struggles. 

Let’s look at five reasons spring fever is at an all-time high this year:

  1. Virtual Learning Burnout – Kids (and their parents) are just plain “zoomed” out. After more than a year of virtual learning and little to no in-person contact with teachers, many students feel unmotivated.
  2. Isolation and Grief – We’ve lost a lot this year. Some students have lost loved ones to COVID-19. All students have been grieving their previously normal social lives. It’s a lot to manage as a young child.
  3. Mental Health Challenges – Depression and anxiety are at an all-time high in young people. This can make it hard for even the best and brightest students to stay motivated and complete assignments.
  4. Distractions at Home – Whether it’s siblings on their own Zoom calls or the draw of their favorite video game, there are a lot of distractions at home that don’t exist in the traditional classroom. This puts kids’ executive functioning skills to the test in a very challenging way.
  5. Executive Functioning Weaknesses – Executive functioning refers to the soft skills required to manage time, organize assignments, track progress, and so on. These skills don’t come naturally to most students, but they can be taught and learned. No matter how strong of a student your child may be, executive functioning becomes more important with each passing year (and into adulthood!) as the demands of school increase.

We don’t want to gloss over how overwhelming and difficult this list feels. Parenting is never easy, but parenting isolated kids in a pandemic is an especially heavy burden. If your child is struggling with mental health or isolation, we don’t want to over-simplify the solution. He or she may need extra help from a caring professional.

But if your child mostly is doing well but simply can’t seem to stay organized and keeps forgetting assignments – strengthening their executive functioning skills can go a long way. That’s where our simple “one thing” solution can come in handy.

The “One Thing” Solution

As an adult, when you have a lot on your mind, you probably create a to-do list. Whether you have a favorite app or simply scribble notes-to-self on a napkin, to-do lists are the go-to solution for many adults. They’re not, however, the best option for a student with spring fever. When kids are facing the challenges outlined above, a to-do list can feel more overwhelming than helpful.

That’s why we recommend the “one thing” solution instead. We simply ask kids, “What’s the one subject that’s most important to you right now?” Then we can say, “Ok, looking at that one subject, what’s the one assignment that, if you completed it, your grade would improve and you’d feel a whole lot better?”

For most kids, taking this “one thing” approach feels far more doable than a laundry list of items to check off. And it can be applied to many different responsibilities. For example, many students find the college application process to be intimidating. You can break it down by asking, “Looking at the common app, what’s the one thing that, if we got this done, you’d feel very accomplished this week?”

Identifying and completing one valuable task can give students a feeling of accomplishment and build a sense of momentum that carries them through other tasks, too. For kids who feel tired and overwhelmed, this “one thing” approach gives a sense of control and relief while still helping them tackle some tasks.

Make Strides This Summer

Have you ever had your car battery die in a parking lot? Oftentimes, you get someone to kickstart your car so you can get to your next destination, but you still may need a new battery to keep your car running into the future. The “one thing” solution is kind of like a kickstart. It can help you get your child across the finish line of this long year, but they may need more support to strengthen their executive functioning skills.

Right now, many schools and teachers are more lax about kids completing assignments because they understand how trying this year has been. In the fall, however, we expect standards to raise once more and kids who struggle with executive functioning may find the transition difficult—unless they prepare over the summer.

No matter how strong your child’s grades are, they need to master executive functioning. If they struggle with organization, time management, and self-motivation, this summer is the ideal time to improve without all the pressure of normal schoolwork. Better executive functioning skills will not only serve them well next year but for the rest of their lives.

We offer executive functioning coaching all summer for all ages. As always, we’ll cater each one-on-one tutoring session to your child. If they have summer assignments, we can use those as a framework for practicing important skills. If not, we’ll create fun science projects with them as a no-stress way to learn those skills. Either way, we make it fun and easy for your child to make strides this summer. 

To learn more about how our summer programs can help your family, click here or schedule a free consultation with us here. We’re here for you!

Is Your Child Ready for Next Year?

Summer Learning Solutions at Educational Connections

It’s a difficult time to be a parent of a K-12 student. From virtual learning to online tests and even virtual college campus tours, you’ve been there through it all and it’s almost the time you have been waiting for: summer. However, it’s hard to ignore the feeling that your kids may not be ready for the next school year.

On one hand, kids have just walked through a highly and extremely challenging year with little or no face-to-face time with teachers. Many are falling behind where they need to be and will affect the rest of their educational journey.

On the other hand, kids (and parents!) are just plain burned out. You’ve done all the homeschool hacks, the Zoom classes, the virtual events, and you desperately want a break from it all. We get that too and we hear you. This past school year has not been easy for anyone.

Learn About Summer Learning Solutions

We feel the tension, too, so we’re taking a very intentional approach to our summer tutoring programs. Each program will be fun and engaging for “zoomed-out” kids, low-key and stress-free for overworked parents, and completely personalized to meet your child right where they are.

Read more to discover three ways we’re here to serve your family this summer, or click below to get started with a free consultation.

Schedule a Free Consultation

 #1: We Can Assess Where Your Child Is

It is almost impossible to know with complete confidence where your child stands academically at this point. Maybe they had no one-on-one time with a teacher all year or couldn’t focus during zoom classes. Maybe their school relaxed the grading system and you’re not exactly sure what they’ve mastered.

Whatever the case, we’re offering assessments to help you know with full confidence how ready your child is for next year. Once we measure where your child stands, a tutor can work one-on-one with them to fill any gaps in their learning and boost their confidence in challenging subjects. It’s a simple, stress-free way to identify where your child is and get them where they need to be.

#2: We Can Handle the “Review and Preview”

After a long year of making sure they were on every video call and completing every virtual assignment, take a few months to simply enjoy your child again. Let us handle the necessary work of reviewing last year’s standards and previewing next year’s material. 

For younger students, we offer subject tutors to help them catch up and regain confidence. For older students, we have writing coaches, AP tutors, and college application coaches to help your high schooler conquer the big “next steps” between here and college.

#3: We Can Boost Their Executive Functioning Skills

Executive functioning refers to the softer skills kids need to learn in order to succeed in school and life. Think organization, time management, and task prioritization. Summer is the perfect time to practice those skills, and we make sure kids have fun doing it!

If your child has summer assignments, we can build their executive functioning toolkit around completing those. (Giving you one less thing to worry about!) If not, we can help your child dream up some creative science projects to practice breaking down big tasks, tracking their progress, and meeting deadlines—all while discovering that learning really can be fun!

Support for Every Student

This is not the summer for one-size-fits-all tutoring packages. We’re offering a wide range of options to help your child get the exact support they need to prepare for the next school year. These will include:

No matter where your child stands today, we’re here to ensure this summer provides both the personalized review and refreshing break they need most while being ready for next year.

Start the Conversation Today!

In over 20 years of business, we’ve never seen kids more in need of one-on-one attention over the summer. (And after the year we’ve had, who could blame them?)

We’re here to make it easy for you to form a plan and ensure everyone in your family starts next year rested, prepared, and confident. Just click here to get started with a free consultation. We’re here for you!

Powerful Questions To Help Kids Become Independent And Productive

Questions to Ask Your Kids

While this month marks spring break for many of our students across the area, for us at Educational Connections, it marks our 23rd year in business. In 1998, I never in my wildest dreams would have imagined that we’d have such a positive impact on our students. From bright but disorganized kids to the child who wants to perform at a higher level, and everything in between – we are committed to overcoming every child’s challenges. My team and I are forever grateful for our families who chose to be a part of this journey with us and have become a member of our Educational Connections family.

Over the years, my tutors and I have homed in on many strategies to help kids in school, no matter the area. In math, we’ve taught tricks to learn the multiplication tables and games to master the Pythagorean Theorem. For our reluctant writers, we’ve developed color-coded graphic organizers and used cool software like Rev. But I can tell you from my many years of experience, there is no better strategy to help kids develop self-awareness, responsibility, and independence than ‘powerful questions.’

Powerful questions are prompts we use to ask kids how they might best tackle some of the common yet tricky obstacles they encounter. These types of questions get kids to buy in and engage far more than telling them what to do.

Now let’s take a step back for a moment. Because you’re here, we can already tell you’re committed to helping your child improve their attitude towards school, homework and study habits, and academic performance. Chances are you also picked up some ideas along the way on how you may help them get organized, overcome procrastination, or study smarter. While these ideas may morph and grow with hybrid learning, the core strategies remain the same.

Click below to get more strategies like Powerful Questions and other resources that you can use to help your child!

Get More Strategies!

So, what’s the real problem?

You, as “Mom” or “Dad,” may know what to do, but your son or daughter may have other ideas…

Anyone who’s tried to feed broccoli to a toddler, or get a teenager to stop watching YouTube videos and do their math homework, knows that no matter how much “sense” it makes, or how much logic is involved, there’s not much arguing with “I don’t want to do it that way.”

And this couldn’t be more true when it comes to schoolwork. Unless our kids are ready and willing to make changes to their homework and study habits, no matter how hard you push, nothing meaningful is going to improve until they take it upon themselves to do those things independently.

So how do we do that?

This is where Powerful Questions come in. 

What are Powerful Questions?

Now looking back, Socrates figured this out loooong before any of us did:

Asking questions to spark thinking is far more effective than “telling” someone what they need to do.

Apply that idea to your kids and their approach towards homework and studying, and you find that if you can frame your questions in the right way, you’ll actually facilitate the self-awareness, empowerment, and independence they need to become self-starters and take on the behaviors you’ve been encouraging them to.

But the way these questions are framed is a key point. Here’s an example of a typical conversation you might have with your child:

Mom: “Jimmy, do you have homework today?”
Jimmy: “Yeah.”
Mom: “Well, you better start it now because you have soccer at 6:00 and I don’t want you staying up late again tonight because you started your work too late!”
Jimmy: “Ugghhhhggg…”

The problem here may seem like it’s as simple as: Jimmy just doesn’t feel like doing his homework.

But it actually starts off on the wrong foot because the question Mom asked is a non-starter: it doesn’t get Jimmy thinking about the things he needs to do to get started on his homework.

This is what we refer to as a Yes/No/Why Question, and Powerful Questions are the opposite. They are instead:

  • Open-ended and non-judgmental
  • Not intended to give advice or to solve the problem for the student
  • Intended to get them thinking in the right direction that will provide a much higher chance of a solution they come to themselves

Here’s a side-by-side comparison of some common Yes/No/Why Questions you might naturally ask, and some powerful alternatives you could replace them with to encourage independent thinking.

Yes/No/Why Questions: Powerful Questions:

Do you have homework?

What are your priorities today?

Did you study for that science test?

What’s the one thing you might do to study for your science test?

Are you ready for your big English exam?

On a scale of 1-10, how prepared do you feel for the English exam?

Why didn’t you study?

Going forward, what’s the one thing you might do differently?

Why didn’t you turn that in?

Did something get in your way of getting that assignment done?

And here’s the process to go through when you do go to re-frame that conversation:

  1. Ask an initial powerful question to spark thinking
  2. Listen to responses without passing judgment
  3. Restate or paraphrase what the student is saying
  4. Give positive acknowledgments along the way

Okay so now with that in mind, let’s reframe our conversation with Jimmy using Powerful Questions instead:

Mom: “Jimmy, what are your priorities today for homework?”
Jimmy: “I have to science test tomorrow and some math homework.”
Mom: “Oh, okay, a science test and math homework. What might you do first?”
Jimmy: “Probably study for science.”
Mom: “Okay, that sounds like a good plan to study for science first. I can tell you want to get that out of the way. Great idea. How will you know you’re ready for the test?”
Jimmy: “I’m going to work through the study guide again and practice the vocab words on Quizlet.”
Mom: “Sounds like you have a good plan. You’re going to work through the study guide and Quizlet before soccer. Let’s leave by 5:30. Sound okay?”

Now, let’s not pretend that this is how your conversation will go the first time you try this.

More likely you may encounter:

Mom: “Jimmy, what are your priorities today for homework?”
Jimmy: “Huh??”

Or…

Mom: “Jimmy, what are your priorities today for homework?”
Jimmy: “I don’t think I have any…” as you stand there with his math assignment in your hand.

So if this happens don’t get discouraged, this process takes some getting used to on both sides. The important thing is to keep trying, and to gently lead and prod them in the right direction, trying your best not to outright tell them what they need to do.

Why Powerful Questions work

Powerful questions work well with kids, even the resistant ones, for two reasons:

First: By asking the right questions, you’re not telling kids what to do

And no child (or adult for that matter) likes to be told what to do. It puts people on the defensive… and when they’re on the defensive, they’re far less likely to engage in conversation.

When kids feel defensive or judged, they can begin to shut down. However, when you ask open-ended questions more out of curiosity, kids are much more likely to listen and to talk to you.

Second: They foster executive functioning skills (EF)

When it comes to schoolwork, EF skills have to do with getting started (being a self-starter), focusing well enough to get the work done, and then moving on to the next assignment. The problem is that at times, parents can end up being the Homework Police, by nagging, prodding, and negotiating to get their kids to do three things: get started, focus and finish.

By asking the right questions, you’re encouraging kids to think ahead about how they might get started on their own, what’s important to get done, and how they’ll go about doing it.

For many years, our executive function coaches have found that this approach works incredibly well for all kids, even during online or hybrid school, and it can work in your home, too.

So give it a shot!

If you found this strategy helpful, go here to get access to even more!

“Does my child need to take the SAT/ACT?”

FAQs for Test-Optional College Admission

Walking your child through the college admissions process can be overwhelming. From SAT/ACT test prep and admissions essays to college tours and financial aid applications, the to-do list is long and complex. When your child’s school of choice turns out to be test-optional, you may wonder if you can strike the SAT/ACT from your list altogether.

We understand the desire to simplify the process, but skipping out on these tests may not be the best option for your child. In this blog, we’re tackling your common questions about test-optional schools. Read on to learn what you can do to increase the chances of your child receiving that coveted acceptance letter! 

What does test-optional mean?

Before we get into the application process for test-optional schools, let’s get on the same page about what that term means. Each school your child applies to will fall into one of three categories:

  • Test-Required – These colleges require that you send in an SAT or ACT score in order to be considered for admission.
  • Test-Blind – These colleges do not look at SAT or ACT scores for their applicants. 
  • Test-Optional – These colleges leave it up to each applicant to decide whether or not to submit scores. 

While test-optional schools have been around for a while, we’re seeing more and more schools move in that direction, especially in the wake of COVID-19. Going test-optional is a way for colleges to offer flexibility after a year in which a global pandemic made it much more difficult to prep for and take the SAT/ACT.

Plus, going test-optional has greatly increased the number of applications those colleges and universities have received. Kids are throwing their hat into the ring at selective schools where they would not have otherwise applied because they didn’t have the test scores. With more applicants, colleges can be more selective and improve their admissions statistics, so we suspect many schools will stay test-optional for a while longer.

What do test-optional colleges consider when admitting applicants?

All colleges, test-optional or not, try to look at the big picture when reviewing applicants. Your child’s grades, strength of curriculum, extracurricular involvement, and performance in college-prep courses will all be taken into account along with other factors, especially essays. 

At a test-optional college, you get to decide whether or not the SAT/ACT tests will be part of that big picture review. If you opt not to submit the scores, they’ll simply consider the rest of your application in full without them. When you do submit them, however, they will weigh those into the decision. We don’t know how heavily test-optional schools weigh submitted scores, but we do know that they take them into consideration.

Whether or not your child should submit scores will depend on the overall strength of an application with or without the scores.

Should my child study for and take the SAT/ACT? 

We highly recommend that most students study for and take the SAT/ACT, even if every school on their list is test-optional. If they take the test and don’t like their score, they can simply not submit it. There’s no harm done.  However, if they take it and score well, they can strengthen their application and perhaps be admitted to a school where they would have otherwise been waitlisted or rejected.

(You may be asking, “No harm done?! What about all the lost time and effort?” If you’re worried a strong score is too out of reach to be worth the time and effort, we recommend starting with an inexpensive mock test. Then, you can review the results with our specialists and determine what a realistic goal is for your child.)

Right now, grades, especially in college-prep courses, are the most important factor on applications for college admissions. While extracurriculars have always played a role in applications, the challenges of the last year have eliminated or greatly reduced students’ abilities to participate in sports, clubs, jobs, and volunteer opportunities. With this in mind, there could be extra weight put on grades. A strong performance on the SAT/ACT can bring some balance back to the application and, to some extent, make up for less-than-stellar grades.

With this in mind, it’s a good idea to put a test prep plan into place for your child. If your child is a junior, it’s not too late to start studying for a test in the late spring, summer, or even fall. If your child is applying early decision or early action with a November 1st deadline, they can take the test as late as September or October of their senior year and still have the test make it on to their application.

Since grades are the most important application factor right now, your child may need space to finish their junior year strong first. They may need to use the summer for test prep and take the ACT in mid-July or the SAT at the end of August. Then, they can focus on current schoolwork without added interruption or stress. 

Note: The ideal timeline for test prep and test-taking will depend on your child’s particular courseload, needs, and plans. Click here to schedule a free consultation with our team, and we can help you chart a course that works best for your student.

Should my child submit his or her SAT/ACT scores to a test-optional school?

Once your child studies for the SAT/ACT and achieves his or her best-possible score, you’ll be able to decide whether or not to submit those scores to test-optional schools. Again, this will depend on how strong your child’s application is without vs. without those scores. As a general rule of thumb, we recommend submitting scores if they fall within the upper portion of the mid 50th percentile of the range that a school typically accepts. 

For example, James Madison University accepted applicants with an average SAT score of 1120-1290 and an average ACT score of 23-28 last year. If you apply to James Madison and your score falls within the upper 50th percentile of those ranges, we recommend submitting your score. Your score can be an additional data point for the school to identify you as a good match for them. It can also set you apart from similar applicants who didn’t submit a score.

If your child takes part in our college application coaching or test prep tutoring, we’re happy to help you consider the options and make the best decision for your child. 

Just click below to set up a free consultation and learn more about these services.

At the end of the day, performing their very best on the SAT/ACT can never hurt and just might help your child get into their test-optional school of choice. And performing their best starts now with a clearly-charted plan for test prep and test-taking!

We hope we’ve helped answer some of your questions about test-optional schools, but we also know that the college application process is overwhelming. Remember—you don’t have to do it alone! Our college application coaches and test prep tutors can help your family navigate this important process with more confidence and less stress. Just click here to get started with a free consultation. We’re here for you!

Back to School After COVID-19: 3 Tips for Hybrid Learning

It’s been twelve months since COVID-19 shut down our schools and pushed us all to virtual learning. After a very, very long year, it looks like Fairfax County Public Schools are finally heading back to school this month! Students are excited to see their friends, interact with their teachers face-to-face, and reclaim some sense of normalcy. While we’re all looking forward to this big step in that direction, hybrid learning will in many ways represent another “new normal” with its own set of challenges.

In this blog, I want to help you set your family up for success with hybrid schooling. Check out these three tips to go “back to school” the right way, then share this blog with a fellow parent who is counting down the days until that first school drop-off!

#1: Review Your Systems

No matter how your child learns—in-person, virtual, or hybrid—there are always due dates, assignments, and resources to keep organized. For many of us, the switch from in-person to virtual schooling last year required new systems for keeping things straight. The transition to hybrid learning will likely require further adjustments to your routine.

Take some time now to review your child’s systems for keeping track of assignments and due dates. When information is communicated both in-person and online, students will need a plan for keeping everything organized. Tools like Google Calendar, the DayBoard app, or even an old-school whiteboard can help your child track assignments and due dates in this new season. Once hybrid schooling begins, you may make additional tweaks as you figure out what works for your child and family, but go ahead and get some sort of systems in place as a starting point now.

#2: Have a Launching Pad

Before we went to online learning, we often recommended families create a “launching pad” for each child. This is a place, often a basket or cubby by the front door, where kids can put everything they need for school. The night before school, your child can place their school supplies, sports gear, and musical instruments in their launching pad. This cuts down on those early-morning frantic searches and the inevitable texts about forgotten “must-haves” as soon as you get to work.

When families stopped leaving the house for school (or much of anything else, really), there wasn’t as much need for a launching pad. With the move to hybrid schooling, however, it’s time to bring this routine back! Each night, encourage your child to gather everything they’ll need for the next day and put it in a designated “launching pad.” Doing this daily, regardless of whether the next day is virtual or in-person, will help your child stay organized and cut down on the back-and-forth confusion of a hybrid schedule.

#3: Work Ahead of Due Dates

Working ahead of due dates is a good practice no matter what, but it’s especially wise if your child is on block scheduling for hybrid school. We recommend students start assignments the day they’re assigned rather than the night before they’re due. That way, if there’s a question, your child has time to ask it in-person at school—especially if they only see their teacher in person once a week!

Working ahead like this can cut down on late-night homework stress, last-minute emails to the teacher, and incomplete or incorrect assignments. But we know this is easier said than done, especially if your child is a procrastinator by nature! Remember, we’re here to help.

Extra Support with Hybrid Schooling

Hybrid schooling requires strong executive functioning skills like time management and organization. These skills are critical to succeeding in school and life, but they must be learned! Of course, many students push back at their parents’ attempts to help in this key area. That’s where our expert coaches come in.

Our Executive Functioning coaches can help your child work independently and master those important skills. Click here to learn more and take our simple yes/no quiz to see if this program is right for your family!

Register Now!