We just finished 3rd quarter… now what?

Fairfax County recently wrapped up the 3rd quarter

This week is spring break.

And that means this time of year is right about the time where students start to check out, and parents start the 10-week challenge of keeping their kids “with it” enough to close out the year without tailing off.

What we recommend, is that after Spring Break is over, to take some time to revisit the basics.

Things like:

  • Making time each weekend to sit down with your son or daughter and outline what’s coming up in class on a calendar.
  • Continuing to work on building consistent routines around homework and studying after school.

This post is an oldie, but goodie that covers some additional habits you might consider working on after the break:

Read the Surprising Habits of Kids Who Excel post


High School: Lend a Hand and Listen

Last but not least in our series, we sat down with Yara Alemi, one of our highly-regarded high school student tutors, to tell us how best to tackle the transition back to school after break.

(Read our post about Elementary Students Here or Middle School Students Here)

What’s hard about January for your high schoolers?

Yara: One of the things that I always notice with my high school students is that jumping back into the higher level content, once they’ve had that big winter break, can be very difficult for them.

I also work with a couple of juniors, and this is around the time when the pressure of college applications can become really overwhelming.

How do you approach this with your students?

Yara: With the higher level content, one of the big tips is you have to stay organized, and you have to stay on top of it. So with my kids, we go through their syllabus, we make sure that they know when all of their tests are coming up, making sure, for example, that they don’t have three tests on the same day they didn’t realize.

What are some strategies that you take with your students to help them break down all of the work that they’re going to have due in January?

Yara: I’m a big fan of a planner, like many of our tutors. So just spending some time and looking at the monthly view is key, but then I always have my kids make a weekly docket.

So it’s not, “Oh I have to do all of these things by the end of January, it’s so overwhelming.”

It’s, “Okay, this is what I have to do by the end of the week to make sure that I’m still on track.”

And a lot of times, they get a lot of joy from being able to just click “Check” on one of the tasks that they’ve done.

What can parents do to help?

Yara: This is a difficult time for a lot of kids, and I think that one of the biggest things that a parent can do is they can listen. When your child comes to you, and they sound like they have a million problems, as a parent the natural inclination is to jump in and help them out by solving those problems.

But your kids are more likely just looking for a shoulder to lean on, and someone to listen to them. So instead of saying, “I can solve this, and I can help you,” let your son or daughter experience what it’s like to be an adult and have them come to their own solutions. They will lean on you when they need to.

If you’re looking for extra help, a Subject Tutor can deliver that “quick boost” your high schooler needs to feel confident going into January exams.

Contact us if you’re interested.

Get A Subject Tutoring Boost

When the Subject Struggle is Real…

It’s about this time of year when subject struggles (issues with one or two classes despite good performance elsewhere) start to really set in for kids who have fallen behind.

We see this all the time with the students we work with, but I also know from personal experience!

Back when I was in school, it was smooth sailing until I hit eighth-grade algebra, when I discovered what it meant to be a “Swiss Cheese Kid.”

I had holes in my knowledge because I couldn’t consistently focus on what the teacher was saying. In a cumulative subject like math, this meant I began to fall further and further behind.

You may find that your child’s “Swiss Cheese” isn’t all that porous and he’s just missing a few pieces of the puzzle. Maybe he just had a minor clash with a topic or a teacher and simply needs to spend some time revisiting that unit or assignment. Or maybe he’s just encountered some difficult material that he’s avoiding because he’s not sure how to approach it.

In these cases, a quick intervention (help them get started, ask questions, direct them to helpful websites) from Mom or Dad may be just what the doctor ordered.

When a child’s struggle with content goes beyond the short term issues described above, it is important to intervene as soon as possible.

The first option is to provide this extra help yourself. Start by assessing where the gaps are in her knowledge and begin offering extra practice to fill them in.

But keep in mind it is very common for kids to push back against receiving help from their parents, so you will need to be prepared for resistance to your efforts. Kids, like all of us, don’t like being told what to do, especially by their parents.

The other option is to bring in outside help (like what our subject tutors focus on at Educational Connections). So whether it’s with us, or another form of outside help, don’t hesitate to get the ball rolling.

Do, however, talk through it with your child first and look for someone experienced not just in the subject in question, but also at identifying gaps in learning and putting together a workable plan.

Whether it’s reading comprehension, speed with basic math, or frustration with more advanced classes, our hand-selected subject experts quickly target the biggest problem areas and work with your child to close the gap in understanding.

We get them back on track to improve confidence and decrease anxiety. Tackle those subject struggles before they snowball into a less-than-stellar post-winter break test grade. Click the button below and see if EC is right for you?

“I wanted you to know how pleased we have been with your services! Our daughter has improved her grade so much in Algebra. Karen has been really good for her and our daughter has been able to understand the materials.”
~ Sally, EC Subject Tutoring Parent

How To Handle Bad Grades: A Practical Guide For Parents

bad grades image 1

bad grades image 1There’s an undercurrent that runs through most conversations we have with our kids about school and bad grades.

With some families it’s more explicit:

“We expect you to do well, and come home with A’s and B’s on your report card.”

With other families it’s less so, but still implied:

“We expect you to go into school each day and give it your best effort, no matter what.”

Regardless, when report cards come home, and the results are less than stellar, it’s always a challenge to figure out how to react as a parent.

On the one hand, bad grades represent a failure. They’re the one objective measure we have of how well our children are progressing through school. If they really understood the material, studied for the exams, and stayed organized and diligent, it would be pretty hard not to earn at least a B in most elementary, middle, and high school classes.

On the other hand, bad grades are not always a fair indication of how hard your child is trying, how much they’re learning, or what their potential for success later on in life is. From that angle, we shouldn’t overreact to a C or D, especially because your son or daughter probably feels guilty about it already. But we should put stock into a C or D because that tells us they don’t have mastery over the content that counts.

In this post we’ll explore:

  • What to do if your child comes home with bad grades and how to talk to them about it
  • Whether you should punish your child for bad grades (or reward them for good grades)
  • And how to investigate why it’s happening and what to do about it moving forward

Read on to find out and click here to receive more tips and strategies to help boost your child’s grades!

What do I do if my child gets a bad grade?

You may have high expectations for your child’s grades, or you may be a bit more laissez faire about the whole thing. Regardless, the answer to “How should parents react to a bad report card?” pretty clear: there is a right and wrong way to approach it.

Here are a few initial tips on how to deal with a bad report card when it first comes home.

Step 1: Give it some distance

The first thing you want to do is to make sure you do not react in the moment.

tape measure

It’s tempting to want to express your frustration (believe me, I’ve been there!), especially if this isn’t a new issue.

Step 2: Schedule a time to talk

Instead, wait until you’ve calmed down a little bit and schedule a time to talk. Say to your child, “let’s sit down after dinner to talk about this.”

This will help to avoid a screaming match, which is the quickest way to guarantee nothing productive will come out of the situation.

Step 3: Create an open discussion, and state the feeling

Now that you have a time on the books, the next question is:

How do I talk to my kids about a bad grade?

First off, you’re going to want to start the conversation off with the phrase, “I noticed” and avoid saying, “you.” Often this will alleviate any feelings of blame and allow for a more open discussion.

For example, you might say, “I noticed that your math grade is a lot lower than we both thought it would be. Help me understand what happened,” rather than, “You did not do well in math. This is unacceptable.”

The phrase, “help me understand,” will give your child a chance to explain himself and explain what went wrong. Listen to what your child has to say and state the feeling.

Try saying, “it sounds like you’re having a hard time with algebra and it’s making you frustrated.” By stating the feeling (but not dwelling on it), you’ve shown your child that you’re on their team.

From there you’ll want to ask questions like, “what do you think you can do to get the grade up?” This will create a sense of accountability and also make your child come up with a solution. Because your child helped to create the solution, he or she will be more invested and more likely to follow through.

Punishments and Rewards for Bad Grades: Do they work?

The instant you see a less-than-stellar report card grade, it’s probably your immediate reaction to punish and restrict activities.

phone and earbuds

Either that, or it’s probably to offer some form of reward for turning it around. You’ll want to fight those urges. Here’s what to do instead.

Should I punish my child for a bad grade?

The short answer is: the punishment should be appropriate. Many parents threaten to take their child out of sports or extracurricular activities, but this isn’t an effective solution.

The research says that parents should avoid taking away activities that boost their child’s confidence, such as sports or clubs. With that being said, it is recommended to tie privileges (like video game time, or time out with friends) to academic processes.

For example, you may say to your child, “when you show me that your homework is completed with a respectful attitude, then you can play video games for 30 minutes.” Try using a “when/then” phrase to boost accountability and tie actions to rewards.

Should I reward for grades?

Here, the answer is a little less clear, but in general avoid external rewards if you can. I’ve talked to parents who have tried offering their child just about anything and everything for straight A’s from money to a new car to a trip to Disney World.

But unfortunately, no matter how grandiose the reward, the straight A’s never come. Research tells us that rewarding for grades doesn’t work because it’s too long-term and students lose steam pretty quickly. Students also need to feel an intrinsic motivation for studying, and providing external rewards tends to extinguish their internal drive (especially when they encounter difficulty).

How To Improve: Tips for turning bad grades around

Okay so now that you’ve taken a step back, and assessed your initial response to your child’s poor performance, not it’s time to talk about how to proceed.

Why is my child getting a bad grade?

Before doing anything else, this is the question to answer, because then we can determine the best steps to take to address the underlying cause.

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Students often bring home bad grades for one of two reasons: they don’t understand the content or they don’t have the ‘soft skills’ necessary to succeed.

If it is a contextual issue, then it is usually isolated to one subject (often math/science or English/history). However, if the student is struggling with “soft skills,” things such as organization, time management, and study skills (also known as executive functioning skills), it will probably affect every subject.

Discuss the issue with your child’s teacher, consider enrolling the child in a homework club after school, or seek out a tutor who can focus on your child’s areas of concern.

Turn the lens inward

The research is in: authoritative parenting (warm but firm) is ideal when it comes to academic performance.

In fact, a study by Laurence Steinberg, Julie Elmen, and Nina Mounts, found that students who are raised in homes with parents using an authoritative approach earn higher grades in schools than their peers.

The problem is, a lot of times when good-intentioned authoritative parents become excessively frustrated or worried, they can slip into helicopter (excessively involved) parenting mode. This can give the wrong message to your child. According to Cathi Cohen, LCSW and president of InStep PC:

“If it goes too far it becomes an issue where you’re not helping your child develop resilience or become autonomous. You’re giving them the message through helicopter parenting that they can’t do it without your help. It undermines the child’s natural need to be independent.”

Her advice: take a step back.

“A child has to be allowed to fail and flounder… Helicopter parents are always trying to do their best to help their child succeed, but sometimes it’s okay to let go of the handle bars and its okay if your child falls.”

How do you do that? How do you let go without having your child fall apart?

“You have to treat letting go kind of like a game of Jenga. When you take it out of the box, it is very safe with scaffolding supports in place, and has a lot of structure. As you go through the game, you pull out little pieces and see if it still stands. In a lot of ways, this is how our kids are and they initially need these scaffolding supports. But as they get older, you want to slowly take out pieces from the Jenga tower. You don’t want to remove eight blocks at a time, just one. Start with something small, like a homework routine; then teach the skill, and remove the support. See if they are successful and steady for three weeks and then move onto the next skill. Don’t move on until they’ve been successful for 3 weeks.”

Bottom line: check your parenting style and make sure you’re not slipping into helicopter mode. And then ask yourself what you can do to tackle the grades issue while still allowing your child to figure it out independently.

Address organization habits

You may have heard the expression, “a cluttered desk represents a cluttered mind;” the same principle could be said about backpacks, binders, and lockers. Often times if a student is struggling with school, disorganization may be playing a part. Luckily, the end of the quarter is the perfect time to get organized.

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Some things you can try include:

  • Set up a regular school “check in” time to talk about school each week.
  • Figure out a homework routine that doesn’t involve constant reminders.
  • Get backpacks and assignments organized and ready to go the night before.
  • Schedule a 20 minute “clean sweep” session each week where everyone in the house drops what they’re doing to clean

Just as an example (there are more we recommend here).

Work on study skills

We hear this all the time at Educational Connections: students are spending hours studying, but just not seeing the results. As it turns out, most children haven’t actually developed optimal study skills. For example, 84% of kids study by re-reading content, which is actually the most inefficient way of learning. Determine whether study skills may be a potential culprit.

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Some areas you could address (among others) include:

  • Setting aside study time before starting homework.
  • Having your child use study guides to test themselves rather than just simply reviewing.
  • Set up an optimal study environment that minimizes distractions (this can include distraction-blocking apps as well).

Next Steps For Parents: Be proactive with bad grades

Most importantly, as a parent you want to be proactive about your approach, whatever you end up deciding to do. If you can get ahead of the curve and have a plan of attack, your chances of successfully navigating the dangerous emotional waters of a bad report card go up dramatically.

For more tips and strategies on how to boost your child’s grades, click below!

The School Routine: 8 Painless Ways To Start Easing Back In

school routine image1Every summer has a rhythm to it…

In June, the whole family is excited! Your kids are “free at last,” and you’ve finally earned yourself a well-deserved break from the before and after school routine.

Then July rolls around. Prime vacation time. It’s the middle of summer and everyone is ready to get away… whether that’s to the beach, to visit family, or just for a road trip or two.

Some pro-active families are keeping up with reading and maybe some practice assignments here and there… but for most, schoolwork couldn’t seem further away.

Then there’s August… the “wind-down” month. Maybe you’re getting in some last minute vacation time, but everyone has the first day of school in the back of their minds, whether they care to admit it or not.

And although summer should be enjoyed, the problem is: if you’re not careful, August is gone, and the first day of school hits the whole family like a ton of bricks.

Your kids are…

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Image credit: JON_CF

…trying to scramble last minute to get their summer reading done so that they’re not left behind in class.

…now having to sacrifice most of their previously free time to do homework and study – something they haven’t done in months.

…waking up WAY earlier.

And you’re having to manage them through that whole process, not to mention adjusting your schedule to pack lunches, get them to school on time, and make sure they’re actually getting their assignments done.

But, there is an alternative…

In today’s post, we’ll cover 8 things we recommend you start now, so that you can slowly ease the family back into the school routine without it being such a shock to the system.

Not only will this be more comfortable for everyone involved, it’ll also set the stage for a more successful school year once the end of August does finally hit. Getting off on the right foot sets a great tone for the rest of the year and leave the whole family better off in the process.

1.Get the ball rolling on summer reading or other assignments

school routine image3First, make sure you set aside some time to address any required assignments or a reading list that may have been provided by your child’s school.

If you can catch it now, and then plan out time to work on those assignments, you can avoid that last-minute scramble to finish up books, math packets, and other summer assignments during the days leading up to the start of school.

A great way to get summer reading done, especially if your child finds it a bit daunting, is to set aside time for DEAR (Drop Everything and Read). This works best when everyone is getting in on the “DEAR” action… so come up with a time as a family (after lunch, after dinner, etc.) where everyone in the house puts down what they’re doing, turns off all electronics, and sits down to read.

2. Start the sleep schedule shift

If you’re looking for a recipe for disaster, spend 3 months getting your kids used to staying up late with a lazy 10am wake-up, and then abruptly force them out of bed at 6am to head off to learn for 6 hours straight.

Well without realizing it, this is exactly what happens to most of our families in the lead up to the start of school. Whoops!

Now of course we’d never intentionally send our kids off to school in a zombie-like sleep deprived state, but it is important to keep in mind that study after study shows that loss of sleep for kids can negatively impact not only their performance in school, but also their physical and mental health.

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Image credit: Adrian Sampson

So that being said, it’s a good idea to address the summer vs. school year sleep schedule difference at least one week before school starts to get your kids (and you) adjusted before the first day.

First, schedule a family meeting to sit down and establish what that schedule is going to look like. What time are you going to wake up? And what time to does bedtime need to be in order to get enough sleep each night?

Then, each day leading up to school, set the alarm clock a little bit earlier so that by the final day of that week, they’ll be getting up at almost the same time they need to get up in order to be ready for school. So if that’s 6am, the schedule might look like this

Day 1 – 9:00 am wake-up
Day 2 – 8:30 am wake-up
Day 3 – 8:00 am wake-up
Day 4 – 7:30 am wake-up
Day 5 – 7:00 am wake-up
Day 6 – 6:30 am wake-up
Day 7 – 6:00 am wake-up

But waking up is actually only half of the equation, because is your child isn’t also starting to wind back bedtime, it’s going to be harder and harder for them to stick to the schedule and they’ll start losing sleep before school even starts! Not good.

So the second part of this trick is to also set a bedtime alarm that follows a similar adjustment schedule. There may be some moaning and groaning, but if you make sure to explain and set the expectations up front, it will help your son or daughter understand why they’re doing it. Plus they’ll (hopefully) be tired enough by waking up earlier that this isn’t too much of a “task.”

Execute this plan, and you can help smooth out one of the biggest “shocks to the system” when starting school again.

3. Start the morning routine

Now the “waking up” piece of the puzzle is taken care of, your family is getting ready to wake up on time for school. But then what do they do after that?

That might seem like a silly question, but having a morning routine established that makes sure your son or daughter are off to school in the morning with everything they need each day is another key component of reducing stress and disorganization during the school week for the whole family.

Because there generally isn’t a structured routine in the morning during the summer, all too often, even if everyone is up on time, mornings during the first week of school turn into a mad dash of collecting backpacks, school supplies, lunches and breakfast before ushering everyone out the door.

So when you have that family meeting to establish the new wake-up schedule, also take some time to discuss what needs to happen each morning. Talk it through so that the expectations are clear, and include some “night-before” preparation as well to make mornings easier.

Then, to take it a step further, actually turn it into a fun visual checklist for them to follow that you can post on the fridge or front door.

During the lead up to school, practice waking up at the set time and then slowly adding in steps of the new routine – whether that’s getting dressed and brushing their teeth, getting their backpack ready (try the Launching Pad!), or making sure to be at the table ready for breakfast…

And before you know it, the first day is here and they’re off to school with everything they need.

4. Plan out lunches ahead of time

Okay ready for another one we usually don’t think about until the first week of school?

Packing. Lunches.

This is definitely one of those things where if you get off to a good start with some healthy habits, they can be pretty easy to maintain. But if you get off to a rocky start (e.g. sending them to school with a few bucks, which if we’re honest are probably spent on snacks…) it can be hard to change those habits mid-stream.

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Image credit: Melissa

So let’s get the routine down now. Again, have a sit down with your kids and brainstorm a few different easy lunch ideas that they’d like to eat, but will also be healthy enough to keep their energy levels up throughout the school day (and avoid the post-lunch crash).

A good formula for this is (more details here):

  • A fruit and veggie
  • Protein
  • A drink
  • A small dessert
  • Whatever else rounds out the meal

The week before (the magic time window) is a great time to go shopping and start making lunches again so that the whole family gets back into the swing of it before the big day.

5. Organize the homework space and gather up school supplies

Now it’s time to take stock of what needs to happen after the school day – primarily, where homework and studying gets done!

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Identify a few places your child can do homework this year (the bedroom isn’t a great idea) and give the spots you’ve select a once-over to determine what you might need. Then make a list and plan a trip to the local office supply store to get what you need.

Now, if your son or daughter is on the younger side, many schools provide a list of materials you’ll need for the start of school (and sometimes teachers will make modifications), so it’s probably a good idea to plan your school supply run after you’ve been to the open house…

6. Attend the open house

Most schools have an open house. Make the commitment to go, even if you’ve heard it all before. Here’s why:

When school starts up again, parents tend to most worried about… you guessed it… academics.

What are the requirements?

When are the tests?

What does my son or daughter need to know in order to perform well and learn what they need to?

Now’s the time to start engaging with the process and answering those questions for yourself so that you know what the expectations are going into the new year.

For your kids though? It’s the two F’s: friends and fitting in.

This is especially true during a transition year, either to middle school or high school, when they’re going to be encountering what seems like a whole new world of people, teachers, and routines.

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Thankfully, the open house will help with all of these things. As parents we can get a sense of the requirements being put on our kids, and our kids can start the process of getting comfortable in their new environment by:

(1) Working their locker. Have them do a trial run 3 times with their locker combination to make sure they’re confident they can get in and out when they need to.

(2) Walking the path from class to class. Again, do this with them 3 times during the open house so that they know where they’re going, and feel comfortable during the day.

Although simple, these small details my a surprisingly large difference in how kids feel about starting school again. So the more you can help them build up their new routine, the smoother the first week will be.

7. Make a checklist

Now having family meetings and going to the open house are all well and good… But it’s easy enough to get caught up in trying to squeeze the most out of the end of summer and forget to tackle your school lead-up preparation until it’s too late.

To make sure that doesn’t happen, after the open house, make a checklist of what you need to have ready for the start of school. Make sure everyone in the family has something to do so that the burden isn’t only on you.

Then, pick a regular time each week (or day if you’re close to the start of school) to go over what’s left as a family. You don’t have to be a taskmaster, but you do have to set some accountabilities for the family so that everyone is better off when the school year hits.

8. Get involved from the start (and put yourself in their shoes)

And finally, if nothing else make sure you’re setting the tone for the school year right at the start by making the commitment to be involved.

Be sure to discuss not only where homework will be done but at about what time it should start. Discuss these logistics with your child and get their input. And then apply that same process to each important aspect of their school lives.

Being involved doesn’t mean micro-managing their schedule and how they accomplish their schoolwork… but it does mean having the discussion with them about it.

Perhaps most importantly, when you’re doing this, put yourself in their shoes:

  • What are they thinking about?
  • What things are they worried about that you might take for granted?
  • And what can you do to help (in a way that gives them the autonomy they need to feel in control)?

Ask these questions on a regular basis, and for the most part, it’ll be hard to go wrong.

So that’s it! Eight ways you can re-start the engines on the school routine now

…so that when that first day of school hits, you, your kids, and the whole family will be ready for smooth sailing this year.

And if you have any other suggestions for how to make this school year the best one yet, just leave a comment below. We’d love to hear from you!

“A” Grades Are The New “B” Grades: Grade Inflation & Why GPAs Are Higher Than Ever Before

When your kid gets a “A” in class, it’s not that special anymore. In fact it’s A LOT more common than it used to be.  And that’s not because they are better students–it’s because the teachers are less discerning.

WTOP’s Shawn and Hillary spoke with Ann Dolin, President of Educational Connections Tutoring, about the problem with grade inflation.

Click below to listen or if you prefer, read the transcript that follows the recording.

What is grade inflation?

Grade inflation is the tendency for teachers to give higher academic grades when the same exact work would have earned lower grades in the past. Now, an A is the most awarded grade in high school and in college. In fact, receiving an A is three times more common now than in 1960. The number of Bs and Cs has decreased making room for a lot more As. Although it’s interesting, the number of Ds and Fs given has remained about the same.

Why is this occurring?

In high school, teachers realize that getting into a good college is more competitive than ever, so many report they don’t want to decrease their students’ chances of a scholarship or acceptance.

But we’re also seeing that the average SAT and ACT test score for admitted college students has increased. So students are more capable, and some argue that that’s why grades are higher – more prepared kids equal higher grades.

But college is also incredibly expensive. Students not only want to do well, but they want to get their money’s worth. So they tend to take classes where they’re more likely to get an A. With websites like Rate My Teacher and Rate My Professor, students can post a rating and a review of their teachers. So often, when college students are in the process of course selection, they’ll look at these ratings. And one of the top reasons students chose professors is based on their tendency to give high marks.

What’s the downside to grade inflation?

First, when you’re a top student, it’s hard to stand out. A couple of years ago, I asked a local guidance counselor at a top performing public high school in Fairfax County about the issue of grade inflation. He said that at his school’s graduation, they stopped reading the names of the kids with a 4.0 GPA because over 25% of the graduating class had a 4.0 GPA or higher.

And a recent study published in the Journal of Economics of Education Review found that when it comes to college, students are actually taking easier classes, typically in the Humanities area, because these courses statistically yield higher grades, and they’re avoiding classes that yield lower grades, such as those in math, physics, and engineering.

3 Habits To Try Now for a Successful School Year

It’s the start of a new year, and if you’re like many parents across our area, you’re looking for new ways to help your kids develop strong habits at home and school. Last Thursday, I spoke with WTOP on ideas to make a positive change for the new year.


Q: How can parents help to create better habits, both at school and at home?

With the start of the new year, it’s common for parents to want to help their kids do a lot of things — and at the top of the list is to be more organized. However, a parent’s definition of “organized” can be completely different than their kid’s! To maintain organization throughout the year, it’s important to include organization into your routine.  If it’s your child’s study area, help her get it neat and tidy to start the new year, and then snap a picture of it. A photo gives kids a point of reference to look at down the line. This idea works great for kids’ rooms, too.


Q: What about procrastination? That seems to be a big issue for kids.

Procrastination is incredibly common, especially when it comes to work that requires planning ahead. For example, if there’s a book report due in three weeks, expecting your elementary schooler to break down such a big task into smaller chunks might be unrealistic. Kids often need parental help because time feels vague and intangible. You can make time feel more concrete by tying it to something they love. Let’s say your son is passionate about baseball. If you’re feeling creative, take a pack of baseball cards and divide them evenly into four piles and each time he completes one of the small tasks leading to completion, give him those cards as a reward. You’re not bribing; you’re rewarding him for getting his work done.


Q: Focus and attention to detail are things that parents may also want to improve. What can we doStudent Teacher Prepping for New SAT?

We all want our kids to pay attention, especially when it comes to the quality of their assignments. So we say things like, “Don’t forget to check your work!” but that rarely helps. I often think of task completion like the bell curve. When you’re getting started, you’re climbing that hill. When you’ve finished, you’re sliding down the back side, just wanting to be done, thinking about the next thing. To kids, asking them to muster up the effort to go back and review every last question and climb back up the hill usually doesn’t have a good outcome. Instead, say, “As you do that math worksheet, circle the hardest ones, and just go back and check those” or “Just review three of the ten math problems.” By making a difficult task feel easier, kids are much more likely to complete it.


Top Apps To Focus and Finish

As students prepare for exams before winter break, many are having a hard time getting and staying focused when their cell phones are inches away. We know taking away these electronics will cause a battle and result in an argument, but how do we get them to focus on studying and not Snapchat? Today, I interviewed with WTOP radio about top apps that students can download to focus and finish.


How do you encourage your child to develop good study habits?

One thing we know for certain is that each child faces their own unique challenges when it comes to studying; But what we’ve found that it’s common for kids to procrastinate because they feel overwhelmed and underprepared. So they will put off studying when there’s a lot to do, especially for a quarter test or mid-term exam. And if you have a kid like that, start off by asking powerful questions.

Instead of “Have you studied?” ask, “What are the three things you’re going to do to get ready for that exam?” or, “How will you know you’ve studied successfully?” By asking questions, you’re not telling your child what to do, you’re helping them to figure it out with a bit of guidance.


5789da94-c6bd-4413-b0ff-0ac3d6c335f0With so many assignments online these days, it seems like kids are more distracted than ever by their computers.

Yes, that’s absolutely true. Think of it from your child’s point of view. Would you rather scroll through your twitter feed or study for math? Play Minecraft or complete that study guide? For most kids, technology is much more interesting. And although it can be a distraction, technology can also be an advantage.

I love the apps Self Control for Mac and Stay Focused for PCs. They both allow kids to blacklist websites they deem to be distracting (Facebook, Reddit, Twitter, whatever it may be) for a certain period of time, say 20 or 30 minutes, so they can focus on what they should be doing – studying.


What about the phone? I bet that distracts kids even more than what’s on their computer screen.

Yes, and kids think nothing of having their phone in hand while studying, but they really do not need it to study – even if they say they do! It’s okay to have a basket labeled, “electronics go here” say to your kids, “put your phone here until you’re done studying and then it’s all yours.” If this might be hard for you, another option is an app called Forest. Whenever kids want to focus, they click the app to plant a tree. In the time they set, say 20 minutes, a tree will grow while they’re studying. But, if they leave the app, the tree will wither and die. So the harder they work and study, the lusher their forest is, and that’s motivating to kids!


Back To School and Back To Stress?


Summer is officially over and kids are back in school. In some households, back to school also means back to stress. So, how can parents make the transition into the school year more successful and less stressful? This week, I was able to interview with WTOP radio about starting off a successful school year without the stress.


How do I get my child off to a successful school year?

You absolutely want to attend Back to School Night and listen for information on two topics. The first is how progress is communicated. In most school districts, progress reports are sent to parents electronically every two weeks, or, at minimum, a mid-term point. Be sure you know when these dates are so you can discuss with your child how they’re doing early on and not late in the game when things may have gone wrong.

Second, you want to know how your child’s teachers will report homework assignments. There’s nothing worse than finding out that your little Jimmy didn’t turn in a book report, and you were thinking, “what book report”? So, at Back to School Night, find out from each teacher how they’ll be communicating homework assignments. You’d think that all teachers would have the same process, but they don’t. Get on the ball early, so that you can help your child stay on top of things.

You can read more on Back To School Tips Every Parent Must Have here.


Issues families have over homework don’t usually come to light until the end of September or October when the homework load becomes too much. How do you avoid stress and frustration?

In talking with thousands of parents and kids, one thing we know for certain is that each child faces their own unique challenges. So, to avoid stress and frustration, it’s always helpful to think back on what happened last year. What was the biggest issue you encountered? For many, it’s procrastination! So before you see your child starting to procrastinate on homework assignments this year, talk to them about possible solutions. One idea is to use a timer to help kids get started on homework, especially for those in elementary school. For example, if you want your child to start homework in 20 minutes, set the timer for that amount of time and say, “When the buzzer goes off, it’s time to begin.” So now it’s the timer telling your child to start, not you. It takes the emotion out of the request.


What about the flip side, the kid that spends too much time on homework?

For students spending an excessive amount of time on homework, we use a technique called “must do”, “should do”, “could do”. We have the kids sort their assignments daily into one of those three categories. The work that absolutely has to be done first goes into the “must do” category. If it should be done, but not necessarily at that time, put it in the “should do” category – like a math assignment that’s not due for a couple of days. And then if the work would be more of a step up but isn’t necessarily required, it goes into the “could do” category. Having kids think about their assignments this way can help balance what absolutely needs to be done versus what’s simply a nice to have.


How do you find that balance between extracurriculars and academics?

Time management is the key to finding a balance. The biggest mistake I see kids make is not using small chunks of time to their advantage. They often think, “I need a few hours of time to get all this work done”, but in reality, they can probably check more things off their homework to-do list by using small increments of time. Use that 20 minutes before soccer practice for completing the spelling homework, or that half hour before dinner to get math done.

In fact, studies show that dividing work into smaller chunks helps kids to be more focused and efficient.


And remember, if your child isn’t listening your advice, don’t take it personally. Kids tend to respond better to outside help, when it’s not coming from their mom and dad. Even in my own home, my kids are more likely to listen to one of our coaches or tutors than to me. Consider getting a third party perspective, like a tutor, for your child.




Help! My Child Isn’t Excited About The New School Year!

parent-teacher-conferenceA new school year brings new classes, schedules, and after-school activities full of excitement. But for some, a new year means a new set of nerves and anxiety. If you’ve noticed your child is avoiding school supply shopping or hasn’t checked to see what friends are in their classes, they may be nervous for the year to start. Many kids wonder, “Who will my new teacher be?” “What if I don’t remember anything from last year?” “Do my friends have the same lunch I do?”

As a parent, it’s normal to want to protect your child from all the things they think are scary. The good news is, these fears are completely normal, and they can be overcome. Here are some things to keep in mind when trying to reduce the “Back to School” nerves.

Let them know what to expect

I recommend sitting down with your child a couple nights this month and talk about what school will be like. If your daughter is going into middle school, let her know how block scheduling works. If your son is going into 3rd grade, talk to him about the subjects he may be learning. For high schoolers, talk to them about parking at school on time and getting to their locker. Having open discussions allows your children to feel more comfortable about what may be keeping them from being excited. Remind them that you too were a student once and their fears are normal!

Do a practice run of the first day of school

Take a day and practice waking up early, getting dressed, and waiting for the bus stop! It may seem silly, but when the first day of school comes around, your child will be less nervous because they will have already done it once before. Most schools have open houses in the summer, so you can also visit the classroom, playground, or cafeteria. For middle and high schoolers, take locker day to walk around the school and find the classrooms. Work on getting their locker combination memorized and that they can actually open their locker! Do as many practice runs as it takes to get your child comfortable.

Pack and organize materials the night before

Pack the backpacks up the night before and place them next to the door. Make lunch (stay away from sugary snacks – research shows sugary snacks increase anxiety) and keep it fresh in the refrigerator. Set out a new “first day of school” outfit and make sure your child is getting as much sleep as possible before the first day.

Don’t drag out the goodbyes

For some students, dragging out a goodbye brings more anxiety than necessary. You don’t have to show tough love, but try to keep the tears in until you are out of their sight. Tell them how excited they’ll be when they come home to tell you how great their first day was!

You can find more tips on back to school on our blog post! What kind of tips do you do with your kids to ease “First Day of School” nerves?