Why Kids Struggle with Virtual Math (And What Parents Can Do About It)

Math has always gotten a bad rap for being the subject kids struggle with the most. It’s abstract, challenging, and cumulative. (This means that each new skill builds on the last, so failure to master one unit can make future units even harder.)

It’s also challenging to teach! If a teacher moves too slowly, some students will get bored and check out. If a teacher moves too quickly, other students can get overwhelmed and give up. In a traditional classroom, teachers can at least monitor the room for signs of confusion or overwhelm. But a virtual classroom makes it significantly harder for teachers to identify and assist students who need more help.

This means it now falls on parents to monitor their child’s progress and recognize when they need help. Of course, many kids balk at their parents’ attempts to step in, so what’s a parent to do? In this blog, we’re here to help with exactly that. Read on to learn practical tips for helping your child succeed with virtual math without ruining your relationship along the way.

Monitor your child’s progress to know where they stand.

Your child’s teacher can’t monitor your child’s participation in your class, but you can. Quietly peek your head in during virtual math class. Don’t say anything, but observe what is going on. Is your child taking notes? Do they seem checked out when the teacher is giving instruction? Are they quick to get a snack or go to the bathroom in the middle of class? These are signs that the material is difficult for them. 

If you see those signs of overwhelm, set up a time to talk to your child about what’s happening in a non-judgmental way. Don’t do it at a time when you’re both frustrated. Instead, set up an appointment. You might say, “Hey Susan, can we talk about your math later tonight? How does 7:30 work for you?” That sets a collaborative atmosphere instead of an adversarial one.

Know what to say (and what not to say).

Before you sit down and talk with your child, have a plan for what you’ll say—because, unfortunately, many of the things we instinctively say only make things worse! For example, if you say, “Here, let me show you how to do it,” your child will likely respond, “Mom, that’s not how you do it! That’s not what my teacher said to do!” (And they’re probably right. The way you and I learned math is drastically different from today’s methods.) 

Or you might be tempted to say, “Listen, Susan, I already went to fifth grade. This is your homework, not mine. You need to do it on your own.” You may hope this encourages independence, but if your child genuinely needs help, this response can discourage them from coming to you when they’re struggling.

Instead, start by simply sharing what you’ve noticed. You might say, “I’ve noticed fractions are really hard.” And—this part’s important—stop there. Let your child respond. Simply stating your observations allows for a more collaborative conversation and opens the door for your child to share their frustrations about where they might need some help.

When you’ve identified an area of need, try asking your child openly, “Susan, do you have examples of this type of problem? Do you have notes, or is this explained online somewhere or in your book?” This is a better approach because it allows kids to be part of solving the problem, instead of you telling them how to do it or not helping at all. It enables you to achieve that happy medium where you can have them look back for an example and try to solve it on their own with just a little bit of coaching from you as needed.

As you speak with your child, choose empowerment over commiseration. Statements like, “Don’t worry, I was bad at math, too,” or “You’re just as smart as your sister, and she figured it outl!” don’t help kids overcome their frustrations. Instead, focus on your child’s efforts (rather than their outcomes or intelligence) and offer specific praise. Affirmations like, “Oh, I like the way you wrote down the steps for that math problem,” or “I love how you worked through that even though it was tough!” can empower kids to keep at it, even when things get challenging.

See what support materials the teacher can provide.

In case you missed it, we recently shared a post about how to ask a teacher for help when you’re virtual. For math in particular, I recommend asking for a class recording, class notes, or study guide. 

Class recordings are beneficial for kids of all ages because they can replay the instructional piece of the lesson, pause to write down the steps, and generally slow down to make sure they understand everything. Class notes can help students understand the steps to solving problems and serve as a reference when they’re feeling stuck during practice. And study guides often provide practice problems for students to work through.

If your child does get a study guide, we don’t just want them to work through it once and say they’ve studied, which is what most kids automatically do. Instead, we recommend making three blank copies of it. First, your child will attempt to complete the first copy just from memory. But when they’re stumped, they can look back at their notes to refresh themselves on the steps and keep going. The next day, they take the second copy and do it again. On the third day, they do the same thing with the third copy. By doing the same problems this way three days in a row, kids will refer to their notes less each time, gain confidence, and retain the steps/processes much better.

Even if your child doesn’t get a study guide from the teacher, they can use practice problems from class notes, their book, and online resources to build their own. Learning to make their own study guides will not only help with math class this year, but all their subjects throughout high school and college. Win, win!

Know the signs that reveal when a child needs outside help.

Most children wrestle with math concepts at some point or another, so how do you know when your child is struggling enough to need outside help? I tell parents to look for three signs:

  1. The problem is chronic. If the difficulty has gone on longer for a week or two, it may be time for outside help. Remember, math is cumulative, so failure to get help with a critical skill now can make math that much harder in future grades.
  2. Your child is frustrated and avoiding their math homework. Avoidance is a critical problem because it compounds a child’s struggles thanks to the “forgetting curve.” The longer kids go between learning a skill and applying it, the more they’ll forget along the way. Regular (yes, daily!) practice helps kids avoid the forgetting curve and retain information. A tutor can help your child tackle the work promptly and frequently to improve their understanding and mastery of a skill. Plus, when frustration makes it difficult for your child to discuss the subject calmly, a tutor can cut through that tension and provide some needed support.  
  3. Their test grades are lower. Your child’s overall grade in a subject can be deceiving. They might be earning a B in math, and you’ll think, “Oh, a B. That’s great. You’re doing really well.” But take a closer look. They might be getting Cs on all their tests, but those are balanced out by As on the homework, class participation, and some extra credit. This is a red flag. If your child get Cs on tests, especially cumulative unit tests, they don’t understand the concept. With modern grade inflation, a C of today would likely have been an F when you and I were in school. This doesn’t mean you need to panic or shame your child for a C, but it does mean that recurring Cs on tests are a sign that it’s time for some extra help.

If you see any of the above signs, our tutors are here to help. With virtual math tutoring, your child can get the individualized attention they need, master critical skills, and build confidence in this foundational subject. And you can relax, knowing your child is getting the help they need without putting a strain on your relationship!

To learn more about your options, schedule a call with an educational specialist today. It’s free, easy, and the best way to identify the right next steps for your family. Just click here to contact us or schedule a call today. We’re here for you!

Math Anxiety: 7 Steps To Conquer It

Get help for math anxiety

math anxiety image1

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?

  • 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:


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.

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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!

Same Storm, Different Boats: When It’s Time for Subject Tutoring

A few days ago, I heard someone say, “When it comes to COVID-19, we’re all in the same storm, but we’re not all in the same boat.” It’s true, isn’t it? The pandemic is a shared event, but your experiences with it are unique to you. How it affects health, work, relationships, and so on will vary from family to family. 

The same is true of distance learning. Yes, we’re all adjusting to online schooling, but the experience varies wildly from home to home, school to school, and subject to subject. In this blog, we’ll talk about the variables that affect students’ virtual learning experiences—and how to know when your child needs help weathering this storm.

The Virtual Learning Variables

Do you feel like virtual learning has you at the end of your rope… only to look around and see a fellow parent who seems mostly unfazed by it all? Or even likes virtual learning? The problem isn’t that you’re a lesser parent or your child is a worse student. The virtual learning approach varies wildly right now, and that parent you spoke with could be having a completely different experience.

Variables that affect your child’s virtual learning experience can include…

  • Their confidence level with each subject
  • Their executive functioning skills (like organization and time management)
  • The online platforms used
  • The school’s virtual learning schedule and expectations
  • The teacher’s ability to provide individualized support
  • Class sizes
  • The teacher’s confidence with technology
  • The demands of parent work responsibilities and schedules
  • The number of siblings sharing devices and internet

The list goes on and on. If you feel like your child is drowning in the virtual learning “storm,” resist the urge to look around and compare yourself to other families. Instead, keep an eye on your child’s particular struggles, so you’ll know when it’s time to call for help.

How to Know When It’s Time for Help

There are two primary areas where virtual learners need help: executive function skills and subject tutoring.

Executive function skills like time management and organization are critical for students to be able to work independently and manage virtual learning requirements. When children don’t have the executive function skills they need, parents become the “school police.” 

If your child struggles to stay focused, loses track of assignments, or forgets to plan ahead for big deadlines, an executive function coach can help instill those skills (and relieve you of your school police badge!).

We have long provided executive function coaching and are happy to help with that. But it’s even more important to recognize when your child needs subject tutoring.

Subject tutoring help is for students who are struggling with particular subjects. Even in a “typical” year, some subjects are more challenging than others. For example, math tutoring is always our most requested subject-specific service. This year, however, more kids are falling behind and struggling to keep up. Large virtual classes make it extremely difficult for teachers to provide individualized instruction (and for students to ask for the help they need).

Even a virtual subject tutor can work wonders in helping a child regain their confidence, catch up, and get ahead in challenging subjects this year. That’s because virtual tutors can do more in a one-to-one or one-to-a-few setting than teachers can do with large Zoom classes.

Unlike teachers with big classes, tutors can use interactive digital whiteboards and other tools to provide engaging, interactive, and personalized instruction. Tutors also make it easier for your child to ask for help or get clarification when they need it.

If your child struggles to follow the teacher’s virtual instruction and complete tasks independently, it might be time to seek out a subject tutor. If your attempts to help are met with frustration and resistance, it might be time to seek out a subject tutor. And if the trouble is in math, science, or foreign language, it’s definitely time to seek out a subject tutor! 

Those “cumulative” subjects require skills and knowledge that build year over year. Waiting until school gets back to normal to get help in subjects like these will make the next levels much tougher. So don’t wait—the sooner your child has subject tutoring, the better.

Request a Tutor

Our tutors are trained and ready to provide support to virtual learners who are falling behind. With personalized, engaging, and interactive tutoring sessions, your child can catch up, keep up, and regain confidence—all without your help! 
To get started, just click below and schedule a consult. It’s the simple first step in getting a tutor that can help your child “ride out the storm” this year and ensure smoother sailing in the years to come.

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“Help! My Kid Is Bad at Virtual Learning”

Do you remember your early parenting days of trying to get your child to take a bottle or use the potty consistently? When your child struggled to master an essential skill, you likely felt helpless, overwhelmed, and anxious. With the sudden switch to virtual learning, many parents find themselves feeling those difficult emotions all over again.

If you feel like your child is just “bad” at virtual learning, you may be worried that there’s nothing you can do to help, that your child will inevitably fall behind, or that nothing will get better until schools reopen for in-person instruction. 

If that’s you, take a deep breath. Remember how your child eventually mastered those skills that seemed so impossible in the infant and toddler years? They can master the skills they need for virtual learning, too, but they’ll need your support.

In this blog, we’re sharing some practical advice to help you inspire confidence in your child, so they can tackle virtual learning and succeed—this year and beyond. 

Step 1: Reframe the Problem

When your child is unmotivated or unfocused with online classes, it’s easy to feel like the problem is that he or she is just “bad” at virtual learning. But saying that in front of your child will only erode their confidence and make things worse. 

The real problem is that large Zoom classes of 25-30 students allow for little to no personalized support. Teachers can no longer glance around the room, see who is struggling, and provide extra help. 

For young students, these huge online classes simply aren’t sufficient. They need personalized attention, interaction, and support to thrive. It’s unrealistic and inappropriate to expect young children to spend 6-7 hours a day on virtual platforms. (Of course, you may not have much say in the matter, so we’ll share tips to help your young student throughout this blog.)

Older students can figure out how to succeed online, but these kids have spent most of their lives learning the skills needed for in-person school. It’s going to take time to learn the skills they need for virtual school, too. Teens don’t like feeling like they’re struggling or failing, so they’ll need extra support as they figure out a new academic approach that works for them.

Reframing the problem takes some of the pressure off of your child (and you) and allows you to find solutions that work. And that starts with setting them up for success.

Step 2: Set Them Up for Success

When kids attend school in person, structures and routines help their brains switch to “learning mode.” At home, families will have to create those structures and routines for themselves. Here are a few things you can do to help your child focus on virtual learning:

Create a study space. When it’s left up to them, teenagers are prone to work on their beds, and this environment does nothing to spark motivation. Instead, create a designated workspace that signals to their brains when it’s time to work. Students don’t necessarily have to spend all their school time at their desks, but a workspace will prove helpful when it’s time for more challenging subjects or projects. 

Let little kids wiggle and doodle. Young children can’t be expected to sit at a disk for hours on end. Instead, provide them with a few comfortable options to rotate among throughout the day, from nontraditional ball seats to makeshift standing disks at the kitchen island. During synchronous learning time, provide a notebook and colored pencils so your child can doodle while they listen. Parents often worry that doodling is a distract, but research shows this can improve their ability to focus and retain the material.

Ditch the phone. Phones are designed to capture and keep our attention. If your child’s phone is right beside them and lighting up with notifications, they’ll never be able to focus. Have them put their phone in another room when it’s time to work.

Keep a printed schedule nearby. Seeing what they’re working on now, next, and later helps students stay focused. Older kids can use whiteboards or an agenda to plan for the day and strike through completed tasks. Young kids love velcro schedule boards and whiteboards. They can use removable stickers or dry erase markers to decorate tasks they’ve completed. For students of all ages, working through a schedule provides a sense of accomplishment to power them through their day.

Allow for brain breaks. Young kids, in particular, need regular breaks to play outdoors and get some exercise. But even for older students, seeing scheduled breaks on the calendar can keep them motivated. Encourage your child to take scheduled breaks for a healthy snack, time to text friends, or to go outside and walk the dog. Giving your brain some downtime allows it to come back refreshed and ready to work once more.

Step 3: Encourage Engagement

If the problem is not that your child is “bad” at virtual learning, but that most virtual learning is de-personalized, the question then becomes: How can we make virtual learning more personalized for kids? How can we get them off the sidelines, so to speak, and into the game? Here are a few things you can do to encourage that critical engagement that will help your child progress this year:

Make time to connect with classmates. Big Zoom classes don’t provide space for the meaningful peer interaction kids crave. If you’re comfortable with it, allow your child to meet in-person for small study groups with 2-3 peers. Even if you want to keep interactions online, encourage your child to set up small online study sessions to go over study guides, review for a test, or discuss notes with friends. Talking about the material with peers helps provide some social connection and increases the likelihood of understanding and remembering the material.

Encourage your child to ask for help. We did an entire blog post on strategies for getting your child to ask for help during virtual learning, so you can click here to read that. The longer a child puts off asking for help, the more intimidating the “ask” can become. But as kids reach out and ask teachers for assistance, whether it’s in class, in a private chat, or over email, they’ll get an encouraging response from their teachers. This creates a positive feedback loop in their brains and encourages them to keep reaching out for help as the year goes on.

Consider getting a tutor for more personalized support and accountability. Even kids who hate virtual learning are thriving with our virtual tutors. Why? Because the real problem isn’t the virtual platform but the lack of personalized attention and support. Our tutors have personal relationships with their students. They provide the personalized, one-on-one attention kids and teens are craving. And they can use all the fun, engaging Zoom features that just won’t work with a big class! 

Plus, virtual tutoring allows our tutors to provide shorter, more frequent sessions. Instead of meeting once a week for 90 minutes, they can meet with your child multiple times a week for 30 or 45 minutes. The tutor becomes an accountability coach and learning partner, helping your child plan ahead, follow through, and build confidence with virtual learning.

If you’d like to learn more about our virtual tutoring support, click here to browse our virtual services or click here to schedule a free, private consultation. We’re here for you!

Remember: your child isn’t “bad” at virtual learning, just like they weren’t “bad” at taking a bottle or potty training. They just have to learn an entirely new skill set (and the large, impersonal Zoom classes don’t make it any easier). Hang in there, provide support where you can, and above all—cheer them on. They need to know you believe in them before they can believe in themselves!

How to Ask a Teacher for Help When You’re Virtual

Last spring, the shift to a virtual learning environment represented a sudden, emergency shift for schools, students, and parents alike. Everyone was adjusting in numerous ways.

Looking towards the start of the new school year, Educational Connections is dedicated to helping make this transition as smooth and effective as possible. Parents have a LOT of questions.

One common concern we have heard a lot is that kids are finding it much harder to reach out to their teachers for help when they are behind a computer across town, instead of behind a desk in the same room. What are some ways or tactics kids can use to get extra help, clarification on assignment, or speak up when they’re struggling? What can parents do to help?

In the physical classroom, kids can give subtle physical signals for help, hang out after class, or go find a teacher at lunch. In the virtual environment, it’s not that easy. 

Here are some ways to ask for help within the virtual learning environment:

  • Be sure to speak up when the teacher asks, “Are there any questions?”
  • Use the “raise hand” feature within the online learning platform during class
  • Put questions in the chat, using the “send privately” option if that feels more comfortable
  • Email the teacher directly after class while the question is fresh in your mind
  • Ask questions on the teacher assignment page
  • Schedule time virtually with teacher one to one during the teacher planning time
  • Ask for a recording of the class or/or a copy of the teacher’s notes

If the child is very reserved, nervous or shy, you can help them write an email saying something like, “I’m having trouble understanding how to do [are of difficulty or confusion]. Can you please help me with this?” The approach works well because the student is likely to get a positive response. And when they do, they’re more likely to ask for assistance again.

Alternatively, if the student is young or especially timid, you can send an email saying, “I’ve noticed that my child needs help, but is very nervous about asking a question in front of the other kids. Do you have any suggestions?” This allows you to be helpful without taking over or being confrontational in any way. 

Most importantly, please know that teachers want and expect kids to ask for help. We do as well. Please click on the button below to talk about your specific concerns, and schedule your free consultation with one of our learning experts.

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How to Create the Ideal Virtual Learning Space

Student desks are the new toilet paper! Here’s why they’re running out—and what we recommend for your family this fall.

Today, I want to share three practical tips for creating an ideal virtual learning space in your home. This will set your entire family up for success as you navigate the semester ahead. (By the way, if you find this email helpful, don’t miss our upcoming free parent webinar with more virtual learning tips! You’ll find all the info at the bottom of this email.)

If you’re like many of the families we serve, the sudden switch to virtual learning in the spring didn’t go so well. As a result, you might be feeling nervous about this upcoming school year. But we’re here with some good news how to Create the Ideal Virtual Learning Space: If virtual learning was a struggle for your child in the spring, that doesn’t mean it has to be a struggle again this fall!

Tip #1: Create a Dedicated Work Space

If your child was easily distracted in the spring, consider setting up a space that’s dedicated to just virtual learning—no video games or other activities! Having a dedicated work space helps their brain differentiate between work and play. 

I recently spoke to a mom of four. Without dedicated work spaces, she found it really difficult to keep her kids organized and on task with virtual learning. Now, she’s setting up a space in her basement for school where each child will have their own desk. This will help her kids make the mental switch to “work mode” when they sit down at their desks.

As I’m recommending that you get your child a desk if possible, I should mention something: Desks have become the new toilet paper! With so many parents preparing for at-home learning this year, many stores are running out. I believe Overstock and Wayfair still have a good selection, so you can check there if you need one.

If getting each child their own desk isn’t feasible, consider using a card table or old folding table. If all else fails, you can absolutely use the dining room table. In that case, we recommend purchasing or making study carrel dividers to turn that table into a dedicated work space when it’s time for study mode.

Tip #2: Get Quiet (But Not Too Quiet!) and Organized

As much as possible, ensure your child’s learning space has reduced distractions (not in sight of a TV or video games) but isn’t too quiet. For most students, the isolation of their bedroom is inherently distracting. One parent told me she went to check on her child and he was sleeping in the middle of a teacher-directed lesson! This isn’t all that uncommon, because working alone in a silent bedroom room for six hours simply isn’t doable for children.

To get organized and make the “back to school” transition feel a bit more fun, let your child set up their learning space with school supplies and any decorations they’d like. This can help them feel more excited and prepared.

If you find their space is getting too cluttered, use their backpack to store books, folders, binders, and other supplies. Using a backpack reinforces the idea that kids are back “in school” while also keeping their dedicated work space clear and organized.

Tip #3: Equip Your Child for Success

In addition to a desk or other dedicated work space, there are three tools we recommend to set your child up for success in virtual learning:

  • Password Card – Many students struggle to remember their passwords, especially when they’re using multiple devices and accounts. Keep an index card handy with all of your child’s logins, and they’ll be more prepared to work without your help.
  • Headphones – If you have more than one child—or need to do some work of your own—consider getting your child some comfortable headphones. This will ensure their online lessons aren’t distracting to others (and cut out any noise that could be distracting to them).
  • Chair – Ensure your child has a comfortable place to sit and work. If your child is fidgety, consider one of these options that allow your child to discreetly bounce and wiggle while they learn.

Bonus Tip: Get Help If You Need It!

If you’re nervous about this school year and don’t want to be the “School Police,” remember that you don’t have to do this alone. We have expert tutors available for virtual or in-home tutoring. Click below to schedule a free consultation to learn which solution might be best for your family. We’re here for you!

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Supporting Your Middle Schooler During Covid-19

If you’re the parent of a middle schooler, preparing for another non-conventional school year can feel intimidating. After working with hundreds of middle schoolers and their families, I get that and I want to help. Read on to discover three priorities to keep in mind as you support your middle schooler in the year ahead. 

School closures in the spring weren’t easy on anyone. After talking with hundreds of families in recent months, I’m hearing that middle schoolers were hit particularly hard. Middle school is never easy. The typical stress is even more intensified with the loss of peer interaction, in-person teacher support, and hands-on classroom time that they’ve experienced during this pandemic. 

Make Decisions That Work for Your Family

A few weeks ago, local school districts announced that parents would need to choose between two days of in-person learning or four days of virtual learning this fall. If you’re a middle school parent grappling with this decision, I want to reassure you that there’s no one decision that’s right for everyone. Each option has pros and cons.

For example, four days of virtual schooling might provide a more consistent routine and academic experience, but children will miss out on beneficial social interactions. On the other hand, two days of in-person school will provide that social interaction, but you may find your child needs extra academic support while learning from home the other three days of the week. Neither choice is all-good or all-bad, so simply choose whichever is best for your family’s needs. Then, do what you can to “make up” for what’s lacking—perhaps by keeping the next two suggestions in mind.

Prioritize English and Math

As you monitor your child’s progress over the next year, pay special attention to Math and English. The skills learned in those middle school classes are foundational for the rest of their academic careers. In English, they’re honing their reading comprehension skills, which prepares them for the analytical and critical thinking that Advanced Placement subjects in high school will require. Similarly, in pre-Algebra and Algebra, they’re learning skills they’ll need in every math class still to come. 

Unfortunately, research suggests that school closures caused by COVID-19 could lead to serious academic setbacks. As reported in The Hechinger Report, one study suggested that “sixth and seventh graders would retain an average of only 1 to 10 percent of their normal learning gains in math for the year, and just 15 to 29 percent in reading.” Such losses could set these students back not only for the 2020-21 school year, but well into high school.

If your child needs additional help to catch up or keep up in these subjects, don’t wait for a normal school schedule to resume. Instead, seek out a tutor or use online resources to supplement your child’s learning. When your child enrolls in more advanced classes in the coming years, you’ll be glad you took the time to give them a solid foundation!

Make Room for Social Development

We can’t underestimate how critical the middle school years are for children’s social development. That’s why this age group seemed to struggle more than any other with the sudden loss of in-person relationships in the spring. Spending time with peers and mentors isn’t just a way to stave off boredom. It plays a crucial role in their mental and emotional health at this stage. 

Just take a look at what reporter Steven Yoder from The Hechinger Report found in speaking with adolescence specialists:

When puberty hits, the brain reorganizes dramatically, said Laurence Steinberg, a professor of psychology at Temple University, who specializes in adolescence. The neural pathways dealing with learning about social connections become more active, helping adolescents become attuned to what other people are thinking and feeling and how best to relate to them.

It’s at this age that, through interactions with peers and adults, young people acquire the ability to read facial expressions and interpret nonverbal communication, Steinberg said.

Kenneth Ginsburg, a pediatrician who specializes in adolescent medicine at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, told Yoder that isolation “flies in the face of what their brains are telling them they need.”

This fall, remember that middle schoolers don’t just want social interaction. They need it. Look for opportunities to provide that however you can. Maybe you opt for two days a week of in-person school. Maybe you set up Zoom calls between your child and their peers. Maybe you arrange socially-distanced hangouts for your child with one or two friends in your backyard. How you do it is up to you, but ensure your child has opportunities to safely but consistently develop their social skills over the next year.

In the months ahead, I expect most middle school parents will face an overwhelming number of opinions, decisions, and concerns. Instead of getting bogged down in it all, try to remember these three priorities: Make decisions that work for your family. Prioritize English and Math. And make room for your child’s social development. Do that, and you’ll set your child up for success in middle school, high school, and beyond—no matter what the future may hold.

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What does it take to be a tutor at Educational Connections? 🧠

Have you ever wondered what it takes to be a tutor at Educational Connections? Do we hire high school students? College students? Teachers? Who exactly will be supporting your child in their academic journey?

It’s a great question, and we hope today’s email clears it up. Read on to discover what we expect from our tutors—and how we sift through our extremely skilled team to match each student with the best possible tutor for them. Then, click below to find the best tutor for your child!

Distance Learning Programs

What We Require of Our Tutors

Our standards for our tutors are extremely high. When you get a tutor from Educational Connections, you can expect your child to work with someone who is:

  • Highly Trained – 87% of our tutors have a master’s degree or higher. We require at least a bachelor’s degree and proven experience in the classroom.
  • Continually Learning – We require and provide ongoing professional development and tutor training to keep our tutors up-to-date on the best strategies for supporting your child in private, one-on-one sessions.
  • Creative and Engaging – Our tutors use games, online activities, and more to make every tutoring session fun and engaging. Parents regularly tell us their kids always look forward to their next session with our tutors!

How We Find the Best Tutor for Your Child

While any one of our tutors could likely provide a great experience for your child, we take the time to match each student with the best possible tutor for them. After talking with you to learn more about your child’s needs, we use a proprietary software to match your family to the best fit based on four important criteria:

  • Skillset and Background – The tutor must be skilled, trained, and experienced in the specific area where your child needs help.
  • Personality – The tutor’s personality and techniques must match what you’ve told us about your child’s favorite teachers.
  • Location – The tutor must be able to provide convenient, in-home tutoring if necessary. (For the time being, our services are virtual, but we still consider location to ensure your child can continue working with their tutor when in-home tutoring can safely resume.)
  • Schedule – The tutor must be able to meet with your child at a time that fits your family’s schedule. We offer tutoring seven days a week with flexible times to meet your needs.

We’re proud of our high standards and unique process because we’ve seen how well this works. In the past 21 years, the families of over 10,000 DC students have trusted us to support their child’s academic journey!

Whether your child needs help with summer learning, subject struggles, test prep, or executive function skills, our professional tutors help them reach their full potential so they can enjoy a future full of opportunities.

Click below to schedule a consultation and learn more. We can’t wait to help you find the best possible tutor for your child!

Distance Learning Programs

Our Tutors Told Me Their Best Tips and Tricks 🤫

Over the weekend, I met with a team of our expert tutors (virtually, of course) to learn more about how online tutoring is going and how students are responding to virtual learning. After what has felt like weeks of difficult news, I was so encouraged to hear they’ve found many creative ways to effectively engage kids during this time!

I asked them to share their best tips and tricks with me so I could pass a few on to you today. Try these strategies out in your own home or contact us so we can do it for you! We’ll get you matched with a tutor who can meet with your child virtually and lead them through the perfect activities for their age level, personality, and academic needs. Click here to schedule a consult to discuss how we can match your family with a tutor.

Use a Conversation “Cheat Sheet” to Dig Deeper

Tutor Sonia told me she got tired of asking students how school was going just to hear, “Oh, it’s fine. It’s going well.” So she created a conversation “cheat sheet” to help her dig deeper. Here’s what it looks like:

By working through each subject one at a time and asking specific questions, Sonia found kids were more likely to open up. This helped her figure out where they were truly confident or struggling so that she could adjust her tutoring sessions accordingly. If you’re struggling to gauge how your own child is really doing right now, try using this chart to ask strategic questions about their online schooling.

Make Learning Fun

In talking to my tutors, I was thrilled to hear that some students are thriving and even doing better with online schooling than they did in the traditional classroom. Others are dragging their feet a bit, but even those students are getting engaged when our tutors get creative and make learning fun! 

For example, one tutor discovered that a student who was struggling with fractions really loved to cook. She decided to make him some cooking lessons—but instead of asking him to simply follow the recipe, she also had him convert all the fractions into quarters. He was able to practice multiplying, dividing, and doing mental math with fractions. He loved it!

Another tutor traded out traditional math problems for a packet of math-driven puzzles, jokes, and riddles. Others have found fun activities on sites like Happy Numbers, IXL, or XtraMath.com. If your child is reluctant to do optional work assigned by their teachers, try finding a creative way to practice the same skills—or contact us to get matched with a tutor who can do that for you!

Form a Virtual Book Club

Unless your child has always loved to read, it can be extremely hard to convince them to put down their device of choice and pick up a book right now. Some kids find reading boring, difficult, or isolating and would rather be online, connecting with friends. One of our tutors found a way to incorporate reading and social connection with a virtual book club. She’s finding readers of all levels love this opportunity to connect with peers.

If your child isn’t interested in reading, consider forming a virtual book club with their friends or classmates. Suggest a few books, and let them pick one that interests them the most. Knowing they’ll get to discuss the story with others can be just the motivation they need to crack open a book. Plus, they’ll practice important skills like critical thinking and information retrieval in their virtual book club meeting.

I’m so proud of the many ways our tutors are keeping students engaged and on-track during distance learning. These tutors take the time to get to know each student personally and plan sessions and activities just for them. Not only do kids enjoy the sessions, but parents love seeing their children thrive in online schooling—especially without their help!

If you’d like to learn more about pairing your child with one of our expert tutors, just click below to schedule a free consult. You can also call us at (703) 934-8282 or hit reply to this email. We’re here to help!

P.S. We’ll be rolling out information about online group classes, including live virtual book clubs, later this week. Stay tuned!

Creating a Schedule Is Easier Said Than Done (But These 3 Tips Can Help) ⏰

Today, I want to share some helpful tips for creating a schedule that works for your household—but before I do, I need to take a quick moment to draw something important to your attention. 

As you may have heard, the College Board canceled the June SAT test. Whether or not this affects their testing plan, we highly recommend all sophomores and juniors use this time to move forward with test prep so they can achieve their best possible score later. 

To help, we’re offering a VIRTUAL mock SAT this Saturday. Students can take the mock SAT at home, under timed conditions, and with a proctor present (via Zoom). They’ll gain familiarity with the types of questions and pacing, so they can be ready for test day later this summer or fall. We’re also offering virtual, one-on-one sessions with test prep tutors to help students stay on track and prepare for the SAT. If your child is a sophomore or junior, please click below to learn more about those services.

Now--on to today's helpful hints! One of the most common tips we’ve seen for people navigating quarantine life and virtual schooling is to “create a schedule.” A schedule can help you maintain a sense of control, normalcy, and predictability when your family needs it most. 

But creating a schedule—especially right now—is easier said than done. There’s no “one-size-fits-all” solution, and it takes time to find what works best for your family. If your attempts to create a schedule keep falling flat, try the following tips to find a rhythm that suits your family’s needs. 

Pick a Schedule That Fits Your Personality—And Your Child’s

When it comes to time management, people typically fall into one of two categories: the quiet clock or the loud clock.

“Loud clocks” seem to have a knack for time management. They’re generally aware of what time it is throughout the day, how long projects will take, or how much time is left before an upcoming deadline. Loud clocks thrive on clearcut schedules and feel best when their day is blocked out and planned ahead of time.

“Quiet clocks” don’t have that same awareness of time. This doesn’t mean they’re lazy, unproductive, or unskilled; they simply don’t have a strong internal clock that keeps track of passing time. They may find it harder to follow a strict schedule and prefer looser routines that don’t come with hard and fast boundaries.

When you’re trying to figure out a schedule that works for your family, take your personality—and your child’s—into account. If you’re a “loud clock” parenting a “quiet clock,” you may find yourself frustrated as you try to force your child to follow a strict schedule. Consider shifting from scheduled time blocks to more general rhythms and routines.

If you’re a “quiet clock” parenting a “loud clock,” you may find your child is floundering a bit without clear expectations for their day. Consider whether a more structured schedule would make him or her feel more comfortable.

Encourage Older Children to Take Ownership

While young kids may thrive on being told how the day will go and what’s expected from them, this level of oversight won’t always go over well with older kids. 

Instead of forcing your high schooler into a specific schedule, I recommend asking intentional questions that encourage them to take ownership of their responsibilities and day. You can ask questions like:

  • Tell me what you’ve got going on today. What do you hope to get accomplished?
  • What are your priorities during quarantine? How can you work on those today?
  • On a scale of 1-10, how motivated do you feel right now? Why do you think you feel that way? 
  • Which subjects do you need to tackle today? Which one would you like to do first?
  • What do you like about our routines and rhythms so far in this quarantine? Is there anything you think we could do better?

These conversation starters encourage independence and responsibility while also cutting back on the tension that arises from disagreements over the minute details of your day-to-day schedule.

Adjust Expectations and Get Help If You Need It

In a normal school day, there is a lot of “filler” that happens throughout the day—from socializing to changing classes to eating lunch. No one can work for eight straight hours, and you may be surprised to know many homeschooling families only devote a few hours a day to actual instruction. And that’s okay! 

Instead of expecting your middle schooler to stay in their room all day and do their work, ask them to focus on schoolwork for just 25 minutes at a time, a few times a day. This is more realistic and still offers sufficient study time to stay on track academically.

On the other hand, if your child has little or no assigned work, they may need your help finding some activities to keep them engaged. In my free ebook on homeschooling during this crisis, I share a handful of great online resources you can check out to fill your child’s days in a productive way. You can click here to download that.

If you need some extra help, we also offer virtual homeschooling sessions. You can be completely hands-off and leave the homeschooling to a professional tutor—whether your child has a long list of daily assignments, optional work, or nothing at all! We have flexible options, ranging from daily sessions to as-needed support, all conducted virtually to keep your family safe. Just click below to learn more and match your child with their ideal learning coach.