The Top 3 Best Places To Do Homework (And Where To Avoid)

best places to do homework image 1Any parent familiar with the nightly homework struggle knows that where homework gets done can become just a much of an issue as when homework gets done. So a common set of questions we often get from parents is: “Are there any best places to do homework? And where should we avoid?”

In this post, we’ll outline our top 3 choices for best places to do homework, along with some areas we recommend you avoid.

Are there actually best places to do homework? It depends…

Now let’s start off by saying, even though we’ll outline some good choices for homework spots, each child has their own particular learning preferences.

This means that although the kitchen table might bit a great choice for one kid, it might be loud, distracting, and not conducive to focused work for another.

So first things first, recognize that your child may already have their favorite places to do homework in mind, and involve them in the process of making it a regular habit to work in the most productive spots. And the research actually supports this idea.

Metacognition: Self-aware students do better

Metacognition is defined as, “awareness and understanding of one’s own thought processes.” This term’s origins are in the field of psychology, but a study out of Vanderbilt University actually ties metacognition or self-awareness to college success.

The study looked at college freshman and found  that those who were more effective in choosing their study habits (and locations) were much more successful in the classroom.

In other words, the students who knew themselves and the way they learn best performed better and got better grades. It’s important to note that these successful students didn’t all use the same study habits; but rather, they were able to identify what worked best for them and stick to those strategies. This is because every person takes in, processes, and learns information a little differently.

Keep this in mind when choosing the ideal homework location.

Best Homework Spot #1: The Kitchen Table

If you’re like me, when you grew up your parents expected all homework to be completed at the kitchen table. For some kids, this is a great option. It allows them to spread out all their books in the hum of a busy area, which for some kids who hate the quiet, is absolutely perfect!

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But for others, like me, this isn’t a great spot because it’s in the center of the house and there are so many distractions. Every time someone walks by to the fridge, sink, or garage is yet another opportunity to lose focus.

Best Homework Spot #2: The Couch Lap Desk

While this won’t work for some due to the temptation of the TV (or the ability to slowly sink into napping mode) we’ve found that some students are really successful on the couch with a lap desk.

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Comfortable, quiet, and free from distractions, this is usually a good spot if your child likes the ability to “sink in” and focus from the lounging position.

Best Homework Spot #3: The Outside Deck Dweller

A lot of students prefer the nice, cool, air conditioned indoors over going outside for homework time, because there’s less of a chance of discomfort (or your papers being blown away!).

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But we do come across those few students who just absolutely love being outside. For these kids, you can blend the best of both worlds, and have them do their homework outside on the deck.

Hey, maybe they’ll even get some much needed Vitamin D in the process!

The ONE homework location to avoid…

As we said before, much of your child’s choice of homework location depends on their personal preferences. But there is one place that’s generally regarded as a “no-no.” And thats… the bedroom.

Because this is the one place in the house your son or daughter are most likely to be distracted by toys, phones, computers, and all other forms of impulse to NOT study or do homework. So you should probably keep that one off the list.

How to help your child figure out what their ideal learning environment is

First of all, you want to give your child the flexibility to try a few different places.

If you find that your child is having a hard time focusing in a designated homework area, encourage him to try a different location and then ask leading questions such as:

“How focused did you feel in the ____?”

Or “did you feel like you got a lot done when you were studying in the ___?”

You want to avoid asking the question “which did you prefer?” because many times students will choose the convenient location over the one that leads to productivity.

If there’s a lot going on and you still find that your student is having a hard time focusing, encourage her to find outside locations. This could be a public library, or staying after school for a homework club or a teacher’s office hours. Sometimes there’s just too many distractions in the home for a student to get a lot done.

Finally, if you find yourself caught up in arguments with your child over where she is doing her homework (e.g. she insists on doing her homework in her bedroom though she’s not getting a lot done), try bringing in a neutral third party such as a tutor. Many times, this third party will eliminate the stress between the parent and the student while working with the student to figure out what learning environment they perform best in.

Your turn

What study locations have your kids found to be most productive?

Take a moment to share in the comments! We’d love to hear some new creative ideas.


If you live in the Washington DC Metro area and would like to learn more about our tutoring services, please fill out the contact form below: 

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SSAT Scores: What Is A Good SSAT Score?

ssat scores image 1Needless to say, having administered the SSAT test to hundreds of students in the Northern Virginia area, I get asked about SSAT scores… a lot!

And of the questions about the SSAT I usually receive, among the most common include:

“What score does my child need to get into ____ school?”

“What should my daughter wear?”

“Do you need a copy of her birth certificate?”

“Can my son eat lunch?” …and so on.

Among these, one thing is clear: the SSAT is confusing and parents, regardless of their experience, have a lot of questions about it.

So I wanted to take the time to answer the three most frequently asked questions about the SSAT to make the confusing process a little bit easier for parents everywhere.

1. What is a good SSAT score?

During the peak SSAT season (late November – early February), I am asked on a daily basis what a good SSAT score is or some variation of the question. Many times parents want to know what score is necessary to get their child into a specific school. The truth is, there isn’t a magic number and it really depends on the child’s background and schools to which he or she is applying.

Most schools want to see above the 50th percentile, but some of DC’s more competitive schools are looking for students who are above the 75th percentile. However, almost every school will tell you that they take SSAT scores with a grain of salt.

Often times, SSAT scores are used as a benchmark. Once a student has reached a certain point, he or she will be considered for admission based on other information such as GPA, teacher recommendations, and extracurricular activities.

Finding out what SSAT scores a school typically looks for can be tricky, because unlike at colleges, most private schools don’t publicize the information. You can always ask an admissions representative what their average SSAT percentiles were for their last incoming class, but some will not share that information. The best bet is to try to aim for above the 50th percentile.

2. What accommodations does the SSAT offer and will my child qualify?

The SSAT offers the following accommodations to students: 1.5 extra time (extending the test time to 4.5 hours compared to 3.25), use of different test equipment (laptop with a spelling aid, calculator, etc.), answer directly in book, the use of a reader or scribe (a non-family member who can either read the test out loud for the child or bubble in the test booklet for the child), large print, and extra breaks for students with diabetes.

The most popular accommodation is extended time. This accommodation adds half of the standard time to each section.

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So, for example, the reading section is typically 40 minutes, but with extended time, it is 60 minutes. It is important to note that students who receive this accommodation are still given the standard 5 and 10 minute breaks.

One of the most confusing parts of the accommodation process for parents is determining if their child will qualify. The general rule of thumb to follow is if the student receives the accommodation in school, then he or she will likely be approved for it on the SSAT. The SSAT typically mirrors accommodations granted on students’ IEP or 504 reports.

For students to be given accommodations during their test, parents will need to apply for those accommodations about a month in advance. To do so, parents must select the accommodations they are applying for and provide documentation, including a contact at the school who can verify the student requires these accommodations, and wait for the SSAT to either approve or deny these accommodations.

Some testing sites offer the SSAT on a national date for students with accommodations, but many students with accommodations prefer to take a flex test because of the smaller and more intimate atmosphere.

3. Does my child need to prep for the SSAT?

The SSAT has a statement on its website discouraging students from preparing for the test. However, the reality is, if your child does not prep for the SSAT, he or she will be at a disadvantage, especially in the Washington DC area, where test prep is the norm for the SSAT.

Working with an experienced SSAT tutor has a few advantages. First, students are able to take a practice test. For most students, one of the most challenging parts of the SSAT is the stamina required. Taking a practice tests allows students to get a feel for the length of the test and also the types of questions they will be asked.

Second, tutors teach content that students may not have covered in the classroom. Because the tests range in grades they cover (5th-7th graders take the Middle Level test and 8th-11th graders take the Upper Level test), there is a wide range of content covered on the SSAT.  Additionally, the SSAT tends to be a logic-based test requiring more than just rote memorization. For many students, especially those on the younger side, this can prove difficult.

Finally, if your child is moving from a public school and only has experience with standardized state tests (such as the SOLs), where he or she is encouraged to answer every question, the SSAT is completely different. On the SSAT, students are actually penalized for guessing incorrectly. In fact, for every answer a student gets correct he or she gains a point, for every question he or she gets incorrect a quarter-point is deducted, and should a student omit a question, no points are deducted.

Even for students who have straight A’s and a firm grasp on the content, a few sessions with a tutor to learn strategies for the test often benefits them.

So if you think your child may benefit, you can request a free diagnostic test from us here, which will get you started off on the right foot. We’ve also outlined a typical timeline for the application process, which you can find here.

What other SSAT questions do you have?

Have any other questions about the SSAT or the private school application process?

Let us know below in the comments! We’d love to help.

How to Write a Private High School Application Essay Worth Reading

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If you want to write a high school application essay that is worth reading; one that your audience will remember:

Forget everything you’ve ever learned about writing an essay.

Okay, I may be being a bit melodramatic. You still need appropriate grammar, syntax, spelling, and formatting.

But as for the generic boring cluster that begins with “In this essay, I am going to be discussing ___ by looking at x,y, and z,” throw that out the window because it’s nothing but a one way ticket to Snoozeville not only for you but for anyone tasked with reading it.

Remember Your Private High School Application Essay Audience

The biggest mistake students make when writing an essay is that they forget who their audience is. Your audience, be it a teacher, an administrator, or an admissions committee, has likely read hundreds if not thousands of student’s admissions essays.

This means that you are going to have to do more than throw in a few SAT words to impress them. The key to writing an essay worth reading is writing an essay that has not been written before. It needs to be your own story, not the story you think they want to hear.

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One of my favorite things about writing is that there is no right or wrong answer. An essay isn’t a scantron that you have to correctly bubble in or risk some computer incorrectly grading you.  You can’t just play eenie miney moe and hope for the best. Writing is personal. It’s written by one individual and read by another.

But all too often students, especially in the application process, forget this. They write the essay they think that the admission committee wants to read when in reality it’s an essay that the committee has probably already read a million times.

From private high school applications to college ones, this is information that your child will be using for many years. We want to keep up with their journey, so click here to get updated resources and tips so we can help them every step of the way.

The Importance of the Essay Topic

What is the root of this cause? The topic.

If your topic is flawed, cliché, generic, or boring, it doesn’t matter how well crafted your essay is it will be forgotten. When approaching your admission essay, think of it this way: when the admission committee begins reading your essay they’ll view you as just a number, but when they finish it you want them to view you as an individual student.

So, how do we accomplish this?

It’s simple: don’t write the essay you think an admissions committee wants to read, write one that YOU would want to read. If your own essay bores you, it’s highly likely that it will bore everyone else.

Let’s say that your topic is to discuss an extracurricular activity that has played a large impact on your life. A lot of times students are tempted to write what they think the admission committee want to hear.

“I love to volunteer because it has taught me to be appreciative of what I have,”

Or “I love National Honors Society because it allows me to combine my love of academics with my love of service.”

While both of these are wonderful extracurricular activities, unless you are truly passionate about either and have specific details to intertwine into your narrative, it’s going to come off dry and predictable.

What Your Topic Should Be Instead

When describing their ideal student, one of the top words used by the Director of Admissions at some of DC’s top private schools is “passionate.”

Admissions Committees are not looking for a cookie-cutter student; rather they are looking for a student who genuinely loves something and will share that love with other students.

So if you love to spend your weekends driving four-wheelers or riding horses or making short films on iMovie, write about that because I can assure you that your natural enthusiasm will read a whole lot better than the stale and generic “I love to volunteer” response – unless that is actually what you spend your weekends doing.

The Essay’s Opening Paragraph

Don’t believe me?

Consider these two opening paragraphs. You tell me which one you want to keep reading?

1. “’Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.’ These famous words were spoken by John F. Kennedy, one of the best politicians of all life. John F. Kennedy led America and has become my role model. He encouraged me to get into politics which is why I joined student government. When asked what extracurricular activity has had the largest impact on me as a person, I immediately thought of student government. In this essay I will discuss how student government has impacted me as a person by growing my leadership skills, developing my social connections, and making me take academics more seriously.”

2. “I don’t ride for blue ribbons or Olympic gold, although I respect and admire those chosen few who do. I don’t ride for the workout, although my trembling muscles at the end of a good lesson indicate otherwise. I don’t ride because I have anything to prove, although I’ve proven a lot to myself along the way. I ride for the feeling of two individual beings becoming one, so perfectly matched that it’s impossible to tell where rider ends and horse begins. I ride to feel the staccato beat of hooves against dirt echoed in the rhythm of my own heart. I ride because it isn’t easy to navigate a creature with a mind of its own around a course of solid obstacles, but in that perfect moment when horse and rider work as one, it can be the easiest thing in the world. I ride for an affectionate nose nudging my shoulder as I turn to leave, searching for a treat or a pat or murmured words of praise. I ride for myself, but for my horse as well, my partner and my equal.”

Next Steps: Your Perfect Admissions Essay

Okay, now you have the framework.

First, remember that you’re writing to a private school admissions audience that has probably seen every high school application essay in the book. So don’t write the one you think they want to read… write the one that you care most about.

Then, choose the essay topic that resonates most with you as a student. That enthusiasm will shine through in your writing, and hopefully “wow” the reader enough to convince them they have to have you at their school.

If you found this article helpful, click here for more free resources and tips that you can use to prepare your child for any application process that comes up next!

Should My Child Take the New SAT?

The third and final post in our “New SAT” blog series answers the most complex of the frequently asked questions parents have about the new SAT: should my child take the new SAT?

This question is the most challenging because it is going to be different for each student. One of our biggest beliefs at Educational Connections is that the idea of one-size-fits-all does not work when applied to education. This is especially true in test prep. For this reason, we recommend that every student take a full-length practice ACT and SAT to determine which test is the better match. We also create entirely customized test prep programs to make sure that students are receiving tailored instruction unique to their learning style and test prep strengths and weaknesses.

With all that being said, there is no blanket answer to the question, “should my child take the new SAT?” But here’s what we do know:

Scores will not be released until June

Because the test is brand new, the College Board will need two rounds of test takers to normalize the test. This means that even if you take the test in March 2016, you will not receive your scores for almost three months. This is a drastically longer wait time compared to the current SAT or ACT’s two week turn around.

For some students, this can be worrisome. Many students prepare for a March test, and then depending on their scores, continue to work with a tutor to boost their scores by the May test. With the new scoring schedule, students will not have the valuable information to boost their scores from one test to the next.


The middle range for colleges will be unknown initially

One of the first steps in preparing for the SAT or ACT is determining the middle 50% of the colleges you consider. This activity typically gives students a goal for test prep and helps them in the school selection process.

Because the test is brand new, colleges will not have this middle 50% data for the previous freshman class. Speculation will certainly be possible. Top tier colleges will be looking for high scores, but the exact numbers will remain unknown.

 Test taking strategies will be different

The current SAT is a test of logic that relies heavily on use of test prep strategies. When students work with tutors one-on-one to learn these strategies, we often see a huge bump in their scores. But because the format of the test is being completely redesigned, many traditional SAT strategies will no longer apply.

As stated before, it’s really challenging to give a yes or no answer to this question. There is a lot of uncertainty surrounding the new test; however, the format is in line with the common core and that may really benefit a number of students.

If you’re unsure if your child should take the new SAT or just stick with the ACT; we recommend that you have your child take a full-length practice test of both the new SAT and ACT over the summer. We are offering a handful of test dates this summer. To view the full calendar, click here. After students complete the practice test, our test prep team, will schedule a 20 minute phone consultation to go over the results and help provide you with guidance. This service is free with no strings attached, and is really the best way to know if the risk with the new SAT will be worth the possible reward.

If you have more questions about the new SAT, check out our earlier blogs, “What Parents Need to Know About the New SAT,” and “How Will the New SAT Impact My Child,” or email Educational Connections’ Test Prep Manager, Michael Oliver at [email protected].


How Will the New SAT Impact My Child

In the first part of our New SAT series, we spoke about what every parent needs to know when it comes to the new SAT. In this blog, we mainly focus on the changes to the test and how they compare to the current format. Now that we’ve covered the basics, we wanted to answer the second most frequently asked question: how will the new SAT impact my child?

Since the College Board is rolling the new SAT out mid-test year, this new format is really impacting three classes of high school students. We will go through how the test is impacting students in the class of 2016, 2017, and 2018 in this blog, but to get the most current SAT and ACT exam dates, please click here.


Class of 2016

Rising seniors in the class of 2016 have three more opportunities to take both the ACT and the current SAT. The remaining ACT dates are:

  • June 13, 2015
  • September 12, 2015
  • October 24, 2015

The remaining SAT dates are:

  • June 6, 2015
  • October 3, 2015 (tentative date)
  • November 7, 2015 (tentative date)

Since the new SAT is not being rolled out until March of 2016, rising seniors will not have the opportunity to take it, since most college applications are due prior to this test date.


Class of 2017

The rising juniors in the class of 2017 have the most options and the most confusing decisions to make. These students will have several dates to take the ACT including:

  • October 24, 2015
  • December 12, 2015
  • February 6, 2016
  • April 9, 2016
  • June 11, 2016
  • September 10, 2016

They will also have the opportunity to take the current SAT this fall on the following dates:

  • October 8, 2016 (tentative date)
  • November 6, 2016 (tentative date)
  • December 28, 2016 (tentative date)
  • January 2017 (unreleased date)

This class will also be the first group of students who are able to take revised SAT. They will have two opportunities in March and May of 2016, as well as a few chances in the fall of 2016.

Though we typically advise juniors to take their ACT or SAT tests in the spring of their junior year, some students in the class of 2017 may want to consider taking the current SAT while they have the opportunity in the fall.

Class of 2018

The class of 2018, the rising sophomores, can already begin planning their ACT test date (the ACT releases dates two years in advance):

  • October 22, 2016
  • December 10, 2016
  • February 11, 2017
  • April 8, 2017
  • June 10, 2017

They will also have plenty of chances to take the revised SAT. We don’t have the exact dates for the new SAT but dates will likely be offered in October, November, and December of 2016 and January, March, and May of 2017.

The class of 2018 will miss the opportunity to take the current SAT and will take a PSAT this year that parallels the new test.


Now that we’ve covered how each group of students will be impacted by the new SAT, our next blog will answer the third most popular question parents have: “Should my child even bother with the new SAT?” To read that blog click here or to read our first in the series, “Everything Parents Need to Know about the New SAT,” click here.


What Every Parent Needs to Know About the New SAT

In the spring of 2014, the president of the College Board, David Coleman, announced that the organization would be redesigning and launching the college entrance exam in the spring of 2016.

This announcement left many parents and students confused and unsure about how to best prepare for college admissions. Some of the questions we have most frequently heard include:

  1. What are the major changes that will be included in this new SAT?
  2. Who will be affected by the change?
  3. Should my child even bother with the SAT or just focus on the ACT?

In the first of our four-part series on the redesigned SAT, we are going to focus on the first question: What are the major changes that will be included in the new SAT?

  1. Scoring

Students who receive a new SAT score report will notice a few major changes. Firstly, the test is reverting to its original 1600 point scale with two 800 sections for math and evidence-based reading and writing. This is different from the test format that the College Board rolled out in 2005 that introduced a third 800 point writing section.

Students will also find that there are sub-scores and insight scores for social studies and science. These sub-scores will likely be used for state assessments and not for college entrance.

The essay score will be scored separately from the other test sections.

Lastly, perhaps the largest change is that students will no longer receive a point deduction for wrong-answers. This will largely impact how students prepare for the test as it becomes beneficial to answer every question rather than omit answers.


  1. Anatomy

Beyond the score report, the entire test is going to look drastically different. The old SAT was formatted to include: 3 Math tests (10-25 minutes each), 3 Critical Reading tests (20-25 minutes each), 3 Writing tests (10-25 minutes each), 1 required essay (25 minutes), and 1 Experimental test. Within each multiple choice section, students had five answers to choose from.

The new test has been nipped and tucked to include 1 Evidence-Based Reading and Writing test, which will include a 65 minute Reading section and a 35 minute Language and Writing Section, 1 Math test, which will include a 55 minute section with a calculator and a 25 minute section without one. The essay is now optional and will be placed at the end of the test (compared to the front). Students will be given 50 minutes for the essay. Finally, students will only have four multiple choice answers to choose from.


  1. The Essay

As I mentioned in the last section, the essay is now optional, 50 minutes, and will be placed at the end of the test. But these aren’t the only changes the SAT essay is experiencing. The content and scoring of the essay is also being altered.

On the old SAT, the essay section was a creative writing prompt. Students were scored on structure and writing capability. This essay was scored on a scale of 1-12 by two testers and combined with a multiple-choice writing section for the total writing section score.

On the new SAT, students will have 50 minutes to analyze a 650-750 word document and draft an analytical essay. Students will be scored based on their ability to read the text, analyze the information, relate it to outside content, and their writing abilities. Students will need to be able to explain how the author builds an argument by citing specific facts. The new SAT essay will be scored on a 1-4 scale by 3 readers and will not be included in the student’s total score.


  1. The Math Section

In order to be more in compliance with the Common Core, the content of the SAT is drastically changing. The old math section had a large emphasis on computational skill and did not go up higher than Algebra II. The new SAT will require students to focus on problem solving and data analysis and will include questions up to Trig.

Similar to the essay section, the math students will require analytical skills not needed on the prior SAT. The new math section will include real-world problem solving accompanied by informational graphics. Students should expect to see an abundance of word problems, with one multi-question problem.

On the previous SAT, students were able to use a calculator for every math section. However, they will only have access to a calculator for 37 questions on the new SAT and will be expected to answer 20 questions without one.


  1. The Reading and Writing Section

One of the biggest changes is that the Reading and Writing sections are being combined into one section again. This section is being called the Evidence-Based Reading and Writing section. As indicated by the title, all reading passages will be non-fictional and will test students’ understanding of passages from literature, social studies, and the sciences. There will be one primary source document included in the “Great Global Conversation” section, which will require students to relate the content to real-world events.


So why are these changes occurring?


Naturally, one of the biggest questions parents and students have regarding the new SAT is: Why? Why did the College Board decide to redesign its entire test? There are a few reasons.

Though this has not been stated by The College Board, it has been speculated that the ACT played a massive role in the decision to revamp the SAT. For the first time in history, the number of students taking the ACT surpassed the number of students taking the SAT in 2012. This means that the SAT has lost the control in the college entrance market.

One of the main reasons why the ACT was able to surpass the SAT was due to state partnerships. In 13 states, the state pays for all 11th grade students in public high schools to take the ACT and in some of the states, it is used as an end-of-the-year assessment.  Due to the lack of classroom content included on the old test, the SAT is rarely used in this capacity.

This leads to the second biggest reason behind the revamped SAT. According to The College Board, the new SAT will correspond with the Common Core Standards, whose implementation David Coleman spearheaded before taking his role with the College Board. Coleman said, “No longer will the SAT stand apart from the work of teachers in their classrooms.” It is likely that the SAT is hoping to regain control of the college entrance exam market by developing a 21st century test that in some ways mirrors the current ACT.


Podcast – The Motivation Meltdown: When Parents Care but Kids Don’t

Learn More in Less TimeIn this podcast  Educational Connections’ President, Ann Dolin, M.Ed. speaks about what parents can do to boost their child’s motivation and foster resiliency.

Parents who listen to this podcast will learn:

  • The main reasons students struggle to stay motivated in school
  • The latest research on rewards and consequences
  • Effective communication strategies – how to talk so your kids will listen and how to listen so your kids will talk
  • Ways to foster resiliency, even when kids seem to give up easily
  • How to leverage technology to benefit learning, not distract from it
  • Crucial study skills for high school and college success





Our May Tutor of the Month: A Writing and Educational Coaching Whiz

Robbyn EllisOur May Tutor of the Month is a Writing and Educational Coaching whiz. Robbyn Ellis, works with Educational Connections students on organization, time management, and study skills, as well as, English and reading. Robbyn creates strong bonds with her students. One mom described her as being, “very sensible” saying Robbyn made her son feel at ease during tutoring sessions.

Robbyn has spent the past decade and a half working with children as a nanny, teacher, and tutor. She has extensive experience working with students on English, ELL, and preparing for college level writing courses. She graduated Summa Cum Laude from Western Connecticut State University with a BA in English. When Robbyn is not tutoring she is a talented musician and has played trumpet for years. She has even toured Australia and New Zealand with a brass band twice.

If your child is struggling with writing, reading, or executive functioning skills, we have great tutors, like Robbyn, who can help. Contact us today to learn more about getting started with one of our top-notch tutors.


Video Games: Do They Hurt or Help?

Video Games: Do They Hurt or Help? Many parents feel as if video games are controlling their children’s lives and that their kids are addicted to technology. But when it comes to video games: do they hurt or help? Can there be a positive effect? Educational Connections’ President, Ann Dolin, recently appeared on WTOP to discuss what the research says about video games and their impact on students and academics. Click here to listen to Ann’s full interview.


Video Games: How Much Time is Too Much?

Kids love video games! But a new research study out of Oxford University found that students who play video games for more than three hours a day are more likely to be hyperactive, aggressive, and disinterested in school. However, the study also found that there are actually some benefits when students play an hour or less of video games per day.


What Are the Positive Effects of Video Games?

The study out of Oxford found that when children play a team-based game with a competitive element, they are more likely to get along with their peers. Alternatively, children who play solitary games were more likely to perform better in school and display fewer overall emotional problems.

Another study from Brown University found that whether kids play alone or with others, they develop stronger visual processing skills. When kids are very young this can be seen in their ability to put together puzzles or build with building blocks. As they get older visual processing skills become evident in math subjects, especially Geometry.


Does the Content of the Video Games Matter?

Interestingly, the Oxford study found no correlation between the type of game being played (whether it’s Grand Theft Auto or Mario Kart) and negative behavior. What the researchers found was that when it comes to aggressive behaviors and video games, it really boils down to how much time the child is spending in front of the screen. Three hours is the tipping point and anything beyond that is where we see major problems.


What Can Parents Do to Reduce Screen Time?

As a parent, it’s definitely important to manage the amount of screen time your child is getting. As the research shows, video games are okay, but only in moderation. Screen time rules extend to phones, computers, and tablets too. If you find that your child’s use of technology is excessive, sit down and have a heart-to-heart discussion with him.

Start this conversation by expressing your concerns. You can say something such as, “I’m not sure if video games have a place in the home.” Then you’ll want to give specific examples as to why you are concerned. “Recently, your grades have dropped from As and Bs to Cs and Ds, and you haven’t been getting your homework completed. Let’s agree on a compromise.” A compromise might be something like, “If you complete your homework by 7:00 pm, you can play video games for an hour. If you do not, you will lose privileges for the next day. If this continues to be a problem, then video games will not be allowed during the week.” This puts the ball in your child’s court and allows them to be responsible for their behavior.

To read more about technology and learning check out our blog posts “Are Kids Too Wired to Technology? The American Academy of Pediatrics Thinks So,” and “Six Top Apps for Students to Study and Manage Time,”  or listen to Ann’s full WTOP appearance.

The Motivation Meltdown: When Parents Care But Kids Don’t

Take a minute and think about how you wish your child kept his room. In your mind, his bed is probably made, the clothes are neatly hung in the closet or folded in his drawers, and you can even see the floor! Now think about what your child’s room actually looks like. Unless you’re raising a neat freak, it’s probably very different from the first room you pictured.


Why is this? Why do kids hate to keep their room clean?


Well, simply put, they don’t view it as important. To a kid, there are a million things more important than making their bed. I mean, why would you make your bed, you’re just going to sleep in it again, right?


This response might really anger you. Of course, cleaning your room and making your bed matter. It’s showing respect for your things and creating a calm, clean living environment.


This is what we call a clash of values. To you, the parent, having a clean room is a high value. It’s important. You invest the time to keep your house clean and you expect the same from your child. To your child though, this is a low value. They could be spending the time cleaning hanging out with friends, surfing the web, playing video games, studying, etc. Like I said, there are a million things he may rather do than make his bed.


When you have a clash of values, when one person views something as a high value and the other as a low value, then you’re always going to have some form of a collision. In a lot of houses, this turns into a power struggle.


Your son asks why he needs to make his bed; you respond with, “Because I said so.” Then the two of you go back and forth until someone ends up angry or grounded.


The same thing happens in academics with school work all the time.


One mom said at a recent parent presentation, “I am so done with my son! He won’t check his work, he speeds through it just because he wants to play on his stupid x-box. It’s ridiculous!” Yikes, she was frustrated. So we asked her some questions, how were his grades in general? She said he had all A’s and one B. In this case, the mom had a high value and the son had a low value on checking work. But, he was still being successful in school. Our advice to this mom: if he’s successful in school, let him do what he’s doing.


There are a lot of situations where you and your child’s values aren’t going to match up. For example, the bedroom situation. The perfect room you imagined might never be a reality for your child. It’s important to find a compromise in the middle where the two values can meet. Maybe, it’s that all dirty clothes need to be put in the hamper and there can be no dirty dishes in his room. The key is finding a middle ground where you can both be happy.


Now, other times, your high value is going to be something you can’t compromise on. For example, one dad spoke to us about his daughter, who hated math so much she refused to practice her math facts and was failing because of it. This was a situation where compromise wasn’t an option. We recommended that the father explain that learning basic math facts is essential to academic success. He went on to get a tutor to come in and present the information in a different way than the girl’s teacher had been. Having this professional in the house helped ease the tension between dad and his daughter and also helped the girl see the value in math. The tutor tied the subject to her interests, or her values, making the content more interesting.


If you find that your child’s values and yours are always colliding, we recommend first having an open conversation. Express your expectations of your child and make sure they’re realistic. For example, if your child has chronically struggled in school, it may not be realistic to say, “I expect you to get straight As,” but it is okay to say, “I expect that you complete your homework nightly and get started after a 30 minute break when you get home from school.” This way, you’re tying your expectations to daily tasks that your child can accomplish. If you get a lot of pushback, we recommend working with an outside professional who can help guide both you and your child in setting values and expectations.


For more information on motivation, check out Educational Connections’ President, Ann Dolin, M.Ed.’s upcoming, free, parent webinar “The Motivation Meltdown: When Parents Care But Kids Don’t.