10 Ways to Avoid the 4th Quarter Slump

shutterstock_209353861The 4th quarter is often a difficult time of year for students to maintain focus and motivation at school. Here are 10 easy ways to help your kids avoid the 4th quarter slump and finish out the school year strong:

  • Designated Homework Time: If following through with homework is becoming problematic, consider “Designated Homework Time,” a set amount of time that your child works on homework daily.   The standard for homework is about 10 minutes per grade level, so a third grader should have about 30 minutes of homework and a 5th grader should have roughly 50 minutes. Reserve this time in your child’s schedule whether they say they have homework or not.
  • Tie Privileges to the Process Not the Product: Rather than rewarding your child for grades, such as an A on a spelling test, reward them simply for studying. A good reward shouldn’t be a toy or game; it should be a privilege.  An extra 20 minutes of video game time or a slightly later bedtime often does the trick.
  • Factor in Exercise to Boost Attention: All kids are different. Some are more efficient when they start homework right after school, but others need some time to relax or run around beforehand. For those who need a break, consider exercise instead of TV or video games.  Studies have shown that aerobic exercise for 20 minutes before learning can have the same positive effect on focus as a stimulant medication designed to treat ADHD.
  • Resist Paying for Grades: Paying your child for good report card grades is not an effective means of motivation for two reasons. The first is that students cannot sustain motivation for an entire marking period – the payoff is too far away.  Secondly, students get the idea that they would only work hard in school to earn money, not for the love of learning.
  • Empathize with Your Child: A lot of times kids will say, “I wish I could play outside! It’s so nice!” As a parent, it’s important to empathize with them rather than devalue their comments. Try saying, “You’re right, it is nice outside and I completely understand why you’d like to be outside playing. Finish your work and you can go outside.”
  • Try Saying “Yes” More Often: A “yes” response to your child’s request will put her in a better mindset than if she hears “no” right off the bat.  For example, if your daughter asks to play at a friend’s house, but still has a book report to do, instead of replying, “No, you need to do your homework” try saying, “Yes, absolutely! When you finish your homework you can go to Debbie’s house to play.”
  • Use Sunday Nights for Planning for the Week: Sunday nights are a great time to map out upcoming tests and long-term projects. Break down the upcoming projects into small chunks spread out throughout the week. For example, if your daughter has a history test on Friday, encourage her to study small portions of the material each evening leading up to the test instead of cramming it in the night before.
  • Have a Public Calendar: With so many things going on in the spring – tests, spring sports, and extracurriculars – kids have a hard time remembering everything they have to do. I recommend purchasing the Wall Manager Magnetic Monthly Calendar from the Martha Stewart office collection which can be found at Staples. It’s an easy way to keep track of kids’ schedules and for them to know what’s coming up.
  • Visual Reminders Always Trump Verbal Reminders: If your student needs to schedule time to study for a spelling test and complete his book report, instead of nagging him with constant verbal reminders, simply jot down the words “spelling test” and “book report” on a post-it note. Place it in his study area as a visual reminder.  Students always respond more positively to visual reminders than verbal ones.
  • Use a Timer: At times, students procrastinate because they can’t muster the energy to get started. Tackle this problem by encouraging your child to set a timer for just 10 minutes.  Say to him, “Work and focus as hard as you can for just 10 minutes.  Then you can take a break or keep on going.”  Most times, kids can keep going, but they need a sense of urgency to get started.  I call this the “Tolerable Ten”.  The idea is that anyone can do anything for just 10 minutes.


How to Organize Homework Folders & Backpacks

pendaflex-hanging-folderIt’s springtime, which means it’s not quite the end of the year, but your kids (and maybe you) might have a touch of spring fever—routines have fallen to the wayside and your child’s backpack and homework organizational system might be in need of some attention.

But don’t worry, because tutor coach Jan Rowe has some ideas to help organize homework areas.

Check out her videos about the backpack clean out and the homework folder clean-out.

Spending 3 minutes watching these videos now might just save you and your children headaches later, and give you the boost to get through spring and ring in summer.

How to Use & Organize a Homework Folder

How to Organize a Backpack 


Academic Spring Fever? Here’s Help

shutterstock_148535669With the warm spring weather arriving, daylight savings time in effect, and only a few months of school remaining, it’s not uncommon for kids to lose motivation.  What should you do if your child has a bad case of academic spring fever?

I’ve put together a quick Q&A of questions parents commonly ask during my school presentations that I hope will help you figure out how to best help your child.

My child doesn’t seem to care nearly as much as he did at the beginning of the year. What is the first step in battling spring fever?

It’s important to realize that motivation will ebb and flow during the school year, and this is a time when students are more focused in counting the days until summer than studying; parents are losing steam as well.

One thing you can do is re-establish old routines that may have worked well at the beginning of the school year.  For example, maybe you had a set bedtime for your child or a time at which she started homework. If routines have gone by the wayside, it’s not too late to put them back in place. They foster a sense of order and can greatly reduce procrastination.

How do you get your child to actually follow through?

I’m a big fan of putting things in writing. A visual cue is almost always superior to a verbal one. This could be as simple as a checklist by the door or an evening routine posted on the refrigerator. Visual reminders reduce the chance that what you say goes in one ear and out the other.

Just yesterday, I had a parent say to me, “I felt like I was nagging my son too much, so I put our agreement in writing.  We agreed that after dinner, his backpack has to be ready by the door for the next day, and then he get gets to play video games for an hour. The TV has to be off by 8.”  She said, “Just posting that information on the refrigerator has taken the emotion out of the request. Things have been a lot better the last few weeks.”

My daughter has a number of upcoming exams. How do I motivate her to study?

This time of year, kids are more distracted than ever and they have a lot going on, from spring sports to end-of-the-year banquets. They’re also more likely to be distracted by social media.

When it comes time to studying, you really have to limit their choices. There needs to be a time in the evening when they don’t have to decide between the lure of an electronic screen and studying. Set up a routine for a block of time, say 8:00 pm to 8:45 pm, where social media is turned off and everyone in the family is device free. This allows uninterrupted time to study.

What about those end-of-year, long-term projects, research papers, and book reports?

I like to ask students two main questions: what do you have that’s coming due, and when will you do it? You can phrase it as, “If I see you have a plan, that will make me feel better and I will know that you have it under control.” Then ask, “When should we check in with each other?” This technique puts it on the child and provides accountability.

It seems like no matter how much I try to help, my kids and I end up in a battle, especially when it comes to math.

When your child is stuck, you really have three choices. You can:

  • Tell him to buck up
  • Show him how to do the problem
  • Say to your child “Do you have notes on this? Where do you think you can find the information? Have you done a problem similar to this?”

The latter is the best approach because it enables the child to become an independent learner, a skill that’s not just for this year, but for many years to come.

My child is consistently inconsistent. Sometimes he does the work and he’s on top of things, and other times when I don’t check up on him, everything falls apart.

No parent wants the role of “homework police,” but when your child has many missing assignments, you must get involved.

First, take time to email the teachers in the classes your child isn’t turning in work. Find out if there’s an opportunity for the assignments to be written down at the end of class. So often, kids don’t record their work and simply cannot remember everything that needs to be done. Also, determine how the teacher reports homework. If he or she religiously posts to Blackboard or your school’s homework portal, that’s a huge plus. There is a small cohort of students who will never use their assignment book, no matter how much they’re encouraged. If not, recording homework on their phone (photos of the assignment work great) or using the homework portal is the next best thing.

Our tutors often tell their students that they actually shouldn’t start off doing homework such as math, English, science, or any other subject. Their first subject should be “organization.” That means, make a list of all the work that has to be done that day. Spending five minutes organizing a “to do” list can actually save lots of time.

If your child doesn’t clearly understand what needs to be done, you will need to step in. Have him or her list the assignments and then begin tackling the first one. Be sure your child knows what to do—maybe even watch him do the first problem or question, and then walk away. Check in from time to time, but allow your child to be independent while doing homework. A little upfront oversight in creating the “to do” list can go a long way with consistently inconsistent kids.


4 Study Tips for Elementary Math & Science

frustratedboyStudying for math and science can be a stumbling block for some elementary students.  Trying to keep numbers, diagrams, and science terms straight in your head sometimes overwhelms study sessions and students (and parents!) might shut down.

Helping your child study effectively for math and science is a vitally important skill and worth developing early on so that she can carry it with her as she moves into STEM—science, technology, engineering, and math—subjects in high school.

You can make a difference in your child’s math and science performance now and in the future by trying some of the following tips.

1. Play “Beat the Clock”

Print out math or science facts that need to be memorized for an upcoming test from websites such as superkids.com. Sites like this one allow the selection of specific facts such as multiplying with fours or addition of twos only. Practicing one fact pattern at a time leads to quicker mastery.

Jot down the time it takes your child to work through the page. During the next practice session, set the timer for that amount of time and say, “I bet you can’t beat the clock!” Keep decreasing the time as your child progresses to automaticity.

2. Changing numbers

Because math and science are taught differently now than they used to be, sometimes parents don’t know exactly how to instruct their kids on solving problems the way they are taught in school.

But if you want to help your student practice, the best thing you can do is to take a math problem from your kid’s notebook or textbook and change the numbers in the problem.  If you just change the numbers, you and your child can refer to his class notes to make sure he can solve it in the exact same way.

To learn more about the best ways to help your kids with homework, check out this blog about Common Core math.

3. Use a dry erase board with many colors

To practice for an upcoming math test, write a few math problems on a small dry erase board. Kids love using dry erase boards and many prefer them over traditional pencil and paper.

Try out different color markers, too. Color increases attention, so don’t be afraid of using bold hues.  Putting each part of the equation or graph in different colors helps students follow along with very long solving procedures.

Research shows that kids with ADHD especially benefit from having the signs in math problems stand out in a different color. This helps with their attention and memorization.

4. Draw a picture

Kids have a tendency to want to solve problems in their heads.  By drawing a picture, it makes your child lay out all the steps visually, which allows her to avoid mistakes and often get the right answer.

This technique doesn’t work with all math problems though.  It’s best for word problems, anything to do with geometry, and certain fractions that can be drawn out.


How Your Child Can Develop Great Study and Organizational Habits

It’s a new year, which means we are all trying to develop habits that we can sustain for the next 12 months or longer.  As you know, this is often easier said than done, especially when it comes to helping our kids develop habits to help them succeed in school.

But rest assured, because this article will teach you and your kids how to keep New Years’ resolutions regarding studying and organization and actually develop sustaining practices that you can implement in your household.The result? Kids who you don’t have to nag about studying and staying organized.  If this sounds like a good way to kick off a new year, keep reading!

The result? Kids who you don’t have to nag about studying and staying organized.  If this sounds like a good way to kick off a new year, keep reading!

Making Habits Stick

The key to making habits stick is that you have to tie them to something you already do; otherwise, you’re relying on willpower.  And let’s face it: willpower doesn’t always work as well as we would like it to and it works even less with kids.

It’s unrealistic to expect your kids to sit down and study for extended periods of time, especially if they have poor attention.  Yet when kids don’t do something or don’t study as much or as hard as they need to, we often attribute this to a character deficit.  This means that the kids are often thought of as lazy or unmotivated.

But actually, that’s not what it is at all.

What’s really going on is that they haven’t incorporated what they need to do into a habit.  When habits are automatic, you don’t have to think about them—it’s like being on autopilot.  Truly having a habit means that the willpower side of the story gets kicked out the door because you no longer have to rely on willpower to accomplish what you need to.

Below you will find ideas for how your child can develop study and organizational habits and how you can help.

Use Small Chunks Of Time

Many kids don’t know how to take advantage of very small chunks of time, which is exactly when they have the opportunity to develop a good study habit.  Research shows that studying in small chunks as opposed to long stretches is more beneficial to remembering.

Let me show you what this study habit might look like.

Your child’s schedule is packed with school and extra curricular activities, but she has 20 minutes before practice or 15 minutes on the bus or car ride home.  These small gaps of time between school and activities is precisely when she should study.  Bus rides work best for high schoolers who play a sport and are in and out of the bus all afternoon and evening long. She may not be able to complete her entire study guide or review all of her notes, but studying in these small chunks of time will be most effective for her retention of information.  This is so because she will be repeating the information every day before practice and putting it into long-term memory by sleeping on it between studying.

Why will developing this habit work?

Because it’s tied to something she already does in her everyday routine: waiting for practice to start or riding home on the bus or in the car.

Connect Studying With Homework

What I’ve often seen is that kids don’t like to study for exams.  They will do homework, since it’s a concrete assignment with a due date, and is short enough to complete in one sitting.  However, since studying isn’t a set assignment, they will often procrastinate.

What can they do to stop the procrastination cycle and develop an effective study habit? Tie studying to homework, a task that they already perform each night.

Here’s how it can work: encourage your student to set aside 10-20 minutes for studying before starting homework each night.  Encourage your child to set a timer to hold himself accountable. After the timer buzzes, the student should move onto homework that is due the next day.  Soon enough, a routine will be set.

The key is to attach the new activity of studying to something the child does every night anyway, like completing homework.

Organizational Habits: Give Yourself Visual Cues

Let’s be honest, if you have cookies on the counter, sooner or later, you’ll eat them.  This is why willpower is not good enough to form a habit! But if there is fruit on the counter, you might not eat it, but at least you won’t eat cookies.

Surrounding yourself with an environment overflowing with visual cues and reminders of whatever habit you want to develop will help you stick with something long enough to incorporate it into your routine.

What does all this mean with regard to organization?

It means that you ought to surround your child with a home full of visual cues that prompt him to stay organized.  Here are some examples:

1. Place a calendar in a public family space

Making a calendar of weekly homework assignments and long-term projects is a great way to visually remind your child of when things are due and most importantly, when your child needs to start working in order to complete the assignment.

Placing this in a public family area that the child walks by repetitively each day introduces an organizational tool into his everyday environment, which means the chances of getting into the habit of planning ahead are high.  It also helps hold your child accountable for completing his work, since multiple members of the family can view his tasks.

2. Get a launching pad

Put a bin or box by the door your child will exit in the morning or a spot that she walks by multiple times each day—maybe even near the kitchen island. At night, all materials that need to go to school the next day, such as the binder, backpack, lacrosse stick, etc. should be put in the launching pad. The next morning, your child launches into a new day in an organized way!

Seeing the launching pad every day will signal to your children that they need to fill it up before they can unload it as they walk out the door.

3. Use labels and signs

Labels and signs are an effective way to conquer chaos.  Because visual reminders are far  superior than verbal ones, try placing sticky note labels near your child’s launching pad or homework desk when you want to remind him of something.

When you make a verbal correction, after about 12-15 words, your child has tuned you out.  So instead of saying “Did you clean out your backpack yet?” place a note on their homework desk with a reminder, not an order.

If you want to know more about how to help your child with their study space, homework help, and motivation, check out these other blog posts.

10 Ways to Enhance Your Student’s Study Space

Four Questions Parents Ask About How to Help with Homework

9 Study Strategies to Boost Grades and Motivation


Why Calling Your Child Smart is Actually Dumb: 5 Ways to Properly Praise Your Child

A teacher instructs a schoolboy in a high school classYour 3rd grader comes home from school and proudly flashes her spelling test with an A+ and a sticker, posts it on the refrigerator, and you say “You’re so smart—you got a perfect score!”

Then your 11th grader reports during dinner that he got a 34 out of 36 on the ACT and you say “Oh my goodness, you have always been so intelligent!”

Is this you? Are you in the habit of telling your kids that they are smart?

If so, you’re not alone, and this article will teach you why it’s worth it to break this habit.

It seems like a harmless, and rather, supportive phrase to say, right?  But in fact, research actually shows that focusing on innate intelligence when praising your kids is actually a disservice.

Saying “you’re smart” teaches kids that they either have the capability to achieve a good grade, or they don’t, and that nothing they do can change this.  Dr. Carol S. Dweck from Stanford calls this perspective a “fixed mindset” and says that it is far inferior to a “growth-mindset.”

Having a growth-mindset means that you understand that the brain is elastic, meaning that it changes and grows as you use it.  Think of it like a muscle: the more you work out your brain, the stronger it gets.

How Can You Strengthen Your Child’s Brain Muscle? 

Have your children take risks by learning new things instead of just rehearsing what they already know.  They will appreciate that mistakes are opportunities to learn and grow the brain, instead of reflections of personal shortcomings.

People with a growth-mindset do not rely on their raw intelligence; instead, they put a lot of effort into difficult tasks because they understand that it is possible for them to learn how to do the task at hand.

So, what can you do to develop a growth-mindset in your children? Check out the 5 examples of “process praise,” or praise that draws attention to the effort your student puts into schoolwork instead of innate intelligence.

5 Ways to Praise Your Child

  1. “That geology homework seemed really tricky.  You did a great job reviewing your class notes, referencing your text book, and completing the questions.”
  1. “You really improved on your last German test! What do you think you did this time around?”
  1. “Wow—you sure did get a wonderful grade! All the work I saw you doing this week really paid off!”
  1. It takes courage to choose the most challenging English book to read for your project—good for you!”
  1. “It’s OK that you made a mistake. Mistakes are like puzzles waiting for you to solve them.”

By re-training your child’s mindset with these phrases, you are expanding your own brain by introducing a new habit and perspective on praise.

I challenge you to break the habit of using the “S-word” this year and try your hand at process praise.  You might be surprised how your child’s confidence is boosted and how he will begin to feel less dejected when he makes mistakes.


3 Easy Study Habits for the New Year

There’s no better time than now to help your child establish great study habits for the rest of the school year. Just what are the top skills kids need for school success? Click here to listen to my interview with Sean Anderson and Hilary Howard from WTOP. For those whWTOP logoo’d rather read than listen, here’s a synopsis of the interview.

What can parents do to help in the New Year?

The first step is to establish habits. There’s a lot of new research on habit formation so when it comes to changing behavior, it’s less about willpower and more about setting up routines. For example, let’s say you want your child to be more organized this year. Try something called a Clean Sweep. A Clean Sweep is a 20-minute time to get organized for the coming week. For kids it might include filing papers in their binder or cleaning out their backpack. The key is to have this type of activity tied to something already part of your weekly routine, such as after a Sunday dinner. And remember, you have to be part of the Clean Sweep too, and that’s because kids are more likely to follow through when someone else helps to keep them accountable.

What about study habits, especially for the kids who are tightly scheduled and go straight from school to sports or another activity?

Many kids don’t know how to take advantage of very small chunks of time. In fact, research shows that studying in small chunks as opposed to long stretches is more beneficial to remembering. For example, if there’s a science test on Friday, your child has two choices for studying: one is to study the night before for an hour, which is what most kids will do, and the other is to take that same amount of time and break it up into small increments – 20 minutes on Tuesday, 20 on Wednesday, and 20 minutes on Thursday. This second choice is what translates into a better grade because you’re repeating the information and putting it into long-term memory by sleeping on it.

So, when kids have these small gaps of time between school and activities, this is really where their opportunity lies to develop a habit.

At this point, there are only about three weeks left in school before the end of the quarter. What do you do if your child is in a hole and needs to turn things around quickly?

This is the time of year when teachers tend to pile on end-of-quarter homework and projects and these projects can account for a big part of the report card grade. So first, you need to find out what’s big that’s due. Is there a large assignment such as a book report or research paper? Sit down with your child to make sure he has a game plan – if not, work with him to come up with one. So often, kids procrastinate because they’re overwhelmed and underprepared, not because they simply don’t want to do the work. They need a parent or another adult to help them backwards plan and this where you come in. Backwards planning is when you identify the big goal and date due and then all the little steps needed to get there.

So try this out now and then make it a habit for future projects until your child has the hang of it on his own.


The Common Core Math Dilemma: Finding the Balance Between Helping Too Much and Not Enough

Frustrated student

Helping your child with math can be tough, but throw the Common Core way of doing things into the mix and the situation is ripe with frustration. Common Core is a new way of teaching students more critical thinking skills than the standard methods of teaching mathematics and language arts do. Students are expected to analyze problems and think critically instead of solving by rote memorization.

If you live in Virginia, you are in one of the three states that has not yet adopted Common Core; however, if you reside in Maryland or the District, your students will be exposed to Common Core standards in math and language arts, which means you have some learning to do too!

When it comes to math, here’s an example of a word problem we may have seen in elementary school ten years ago, before Common Core:

Math problem





And here’s what the Common Core version looks like:

Common Core math problem





Although it would be easy for a mom or dad to help a child with the first version, which relies on simple math, the Common Core version is a lot harder to tackle for two reasons. First, the language is more complicated, and secondly, it requires the use of algebra.

So, when your child asks for help with his or her math homework and you find that he or she is learning to solve math problems differently than how you were taught to problem solve, you have 3 options:

You can say…

  1. “Here’s how you do it, honey. Solve it like this…”
  1. “This is your homework not mine. I already went through the fifth grade!”
  1. Or you could say, “Is there an example in your book? Do you have similar problems in your notes?”

The third choice is always the best one and it works for just about any problem your child faces, including Common Core assignments.

Why Option 3 works best:

You want to empower your child to be independent when it comes to homework. If you say, “This is how you do it,” your child will inevitably say, “Well, that’s not how Ms. Brown says you’re supposed to do it.”

And if you say “This is your homework not mine,” your child may feel dejected and give up without persevering.

But if you encourage him to seek out examples, you’re fostering resilience so that he can help himself if he’s stuck in the future.

How Much to Help?

When children are young–first, second, and third grade–they will need more hand-holding because they don’t yet have the fortitude to start and finish homework without some adult guidance. However, by fourth grade or so, a good rule of thumb is to help your child get started, and to then walk away. Let him know that you’ll be in the other room if help is needed, but that you are not there to necessarily micromanage homework.

At the end of the day, encourage independence so that your son or daughter can find solutions when they’re stuck. But if you find that there are more bad days than good, seeking outside help early on is important. An objective person (not mom or dad) can break down problems that seem overwhelming and complicated into smaller chunks.

Intervening early on is key. Touch base with your child’s teacher when there’s trouble and if needed, get support in place before your child develops negative feelings about math, or any other subject for that matter. It is important for students to follow the steps they have learned in class, so when in doubt, use our tips to help minimize the stress on both sides!


Tutoring Decreases Math Anxiety

Tutor and student

Do anxiety and frustration hold your child back when it comes to math? If so, there’s help.

A recent study from Stanford University Medical Center found that one-on-one math tutoring can help reduce anxiety about doing math problems.  Once anxiety is reduced, performance improves.

Anxiety doesn’t just affect kids who struggle with math. In fact, those who already excel at math can also feel a high level of worry, which may affect students’ career choices later in life by discouraging them from following math and science career paths.

To combat anxiety, the study showed that students who received one-on-one tutoring exhibited less activity in the amygdala (the fear center in the brain) after about 8 weeks of tutoring. In contrast to methods that target other parts of the brain to control anxiety, tutoring targets the root of the problem.

Researchers are currently investigating whether tutoring can help with anxiety in subjects other than math that involve complex problem-solving. Read more about how tutoring can relieve math anxiety by changing fear circuits.


Our November Tutor of the Month is…

AAllillison Curtice! Allison has only been a tutor for a short time but has been working with students in the realm of education for 10 years–WOW! Her tutoring preferences are K-12 reading, writing, social studies, and geography.

Allison is a special education teacher in Fairfax County Public Schools. She works with students across various age and ability levels, which gives her a wonderful foundation when it comes to tutoring since she can adapt to the needs and goals of each individual student. Allison shared with us that she loves “working with students who are having a rough time getting information and seeing them have that ah-ha moment when they finally do.”

When she’s not tutoring, Allison enjoys going to the gym, hanging out with her two very awesome cats, Paige and Phoebe, cooking, decorating her balcony in the summer with colorful flowers, and immersing herself in anything to do with history.


Allison’s Tutoring tips:

Build a relationship with your students.

“When you meet a student for the first time, spend some time getting to know them. It’s very important that they know you are truly interested in them. Also, each time you see them after that, ask them how things are going and about any activities they are involved in. This type of bonding goes a long with motivating a student to do work.”

Integrate creative reading strategies.

“When it comes to having elementary students read, have the student break a reading assignment into chunks. Have them draw a line after each paragraph.  Have them read the paragraph, doodle a picture (for the younger children), or write a summary (for the older children). This helps when students have to answer questions at the end of the reading passage. They are then able to find the answers more quickly instead of having the reread the whole paragraph.”

Looking for a great tutor like Allison for your student? Give us a call at (703) 934 – 8282!