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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Academic Anxiety: How To Help Kids Build Confidence In Their Schoolwork

academic anxiety image 1Sometimes stress can manifest itself in unexpected ways.

Have you ever had a flash of anger come over you as someone cuts you off in traffic… only to realize that you just weren’t paying attention as they changed lanes because you were busy thinking about a fire you were going to have to put out as soon as you got into work?

Or maybe you come home to find that the dog has chewed the corner of the couch, and get uncharacteristically upset… only to realize you’re actually just stressed about having the house ready for your in-laws coming into town that weekend.

Well the same thing can hold true for our kids.

They may misbehave, or procrastinate, or act withdrawn, citing boredom or disinterest, when in reality they’re actually stressed about their schoolwork under the surface.

This is the phenomenon of academic anxiety, and unfortunately it’s on the rise.

In this post we’ll cover exactly what academic anxiety is, what some of its underlying causes are, and some ways to tackle it so that your kids feel more prepared, and less stressed about the rigors of their schoolwork.

Is academic anxiety on the rise?

Yes. Anxiety among kids is significant, especially in areas where there’s a lot of pressure and competition for kids to perform well. Whether it’s preparing for college exams, book reports, or other homework, students are spending hours studying and trying to perfect their academic work.

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Photo: woodleywonderworks

About 8% of kids have a diagnosed anxiety disorder, but many more have the symptoms associate with anxiety like rapid heartbeat, clammy palms, upset stomach and constant worry.

Sometimes, this anxiety results in perfectionism, where kids want their school work to be perfect. So instead of writing an essay just once, if it’s not good enough, they’ll crumple their paper up and write it four more times.

Other times, anxiety will cause them to shut off: either ignoring their schoolwork entirely, or simply putting it off as long as possible through procrastination.

Either way, when kids become overly worried about school work, they don’t have time for being a kid.

The link between ADHD and anxiety

Now although, anxiety can be a problem for any student, it can especially be a problem for students who have ADHD, or who already have tendencies towards problems with focus.

For instance, in some students ADHD can trigger anxiety, and as students get older and move through school their symptoms will worsen.

This is because as they become more aware of their executive functioning struggles, they will begin to realize their work and homework takes them longer. This can then lead to missing assignments or not giving themselves time to complete projects and homework. And it’s a vicious cycle that leads to stress and anxiety from falling behind and not performing to their ability.

Some students may even avoid schoolwork all together and it is not because they are lazy or unmotivated. It may even be a subconscious decision to avoid school work or certain assignments. They may also make a decision to focus on one larger, or seemingly more important assignment and let the others fall to the wayside. This behavior, however, will just lead to increased anxiety and negative feelings about themselves.

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Photo: tinkerbrad

Because there has been an increase in students with both anxiety and ADHD, if you think your child is struggling with anxiety, whether it is related to ADHD or not, it may be helpful to consult a professional and determine if you should intervene.

Some signs you should be aware of for are:

  • Changes in your child’s eating or sleeping
  • Constant negative statements about themselves or any self-harming behavior
  • Displaying physical signs of anxiety such as headaches or stomachaches
  • Withdrawal from friends or family

That being said, there are things we can do as parents, if you think anxiety may be an issue for your child.

How to approach academic anxiety as parents

I recently spoke with WTOP on this topic and laid out a few ways in which we can help our students cope with anxiety.

First, accept how your child is feeling

Accept how your child is feeling, and also know that you can’t be dismissive. What you don’t want to say is “stop worrying” or “it’s not a big deal.” Instead you want to ask questions that will help your child solve problems.

By acknowledging them first, they’ll feel more like you understand what they’re going through and be more receptive to help. It’ll also give them a chance to get their worries out and into the open without worrying about being judged.

Second, guide them towards better time management with questions

So, when you’re talking about homework, you don’t want to say “Do you have homework today?” Instead, ask:

“What are your priorities for today?” or…

“How long do you think it will take you to finish that math assignment?”

Kids that worry a lot about school sometimes have poor time management skills, and if a task should take a half hour, they may spend 90 minutes on it.

By asking “How long will this take you?”, you’re helping them to better estimate their time before they start, which will then reduce the pressure they feel to get it completed quickly, or do more than they are capable of.

Third, help them sort and prioritize their assignments to avoid overwhelm

Sometimes kids stay up late because they start their homework late, often because they’re feeling overwhelmed and under-prepared. When kids are overwhelmed, their assignment load can seem daunting.

In these cases, we encourage kids to sort their assignments into three categories: “must do”, “should do”, “could do”.

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 the work that isn’t required – for example, recommended reading and not required reading it goes into the “could do” category.

Having kids think about their assignments this way can help prioritize what absolutely needs to be done versus what’s simply a nice to have, and get them back into the position of feeling in control of their work, rather than overwhelmed.

Test Anxiety: It’s about more than studying

Now there’s also another variable we haven’t yet touched on, which is also tied to anxiety about school: taking tests.

Test anxiety is definitely real and very common. When students are anxious about tests, they are not using the frontal lobe of their brain as effectively. This part of the brain is responsible for focusing, reasoning, and planning. When you are worried and anxious, your frontal lobe capacity diminishes by about 30%.

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For example, a University of Chicago study had students write down all their fears and worries in a journal before taking a test, and found that when kids jotted down their worries right before the test, they performed almost an entire grade point higher on average.

When kids worry, their performance suffers. So below we’ve outlined four main reasons students become anxious before exams, and some methods we can use to alleviate some of this stress.

Problem 1: They don’t know what the test is going to be like

The best way to reduce nerves about what is going to be on an exam is to use all of the real test material you can get your hands on. Whether they are provided from the teacher or through a test prep book, the more your student can familiarize himself with the wording and style of the questions the easier it will be to comprehend when test time comes.

Along with repeated and consistent practice with this material it is shown that taking 5 full length practice tests drastically reduces nerves. I know, it sounds repetitive but trust us on this one they’ll be thankful when they step into the testing room feeling confident and prepared.

Problem 2: They don’t know what will be on the test

Most students have anxiety about the material on their exams because they do not focus on their deficiencies when they’re studying, or better yet they don’t even know what those weaknesses are! When a student understands what skills he is lacking it makes it way easier to study, he’ll understand exactly what he needs to focus on. In turn, he will stop being so uncertain which will relieve this anxiety.

However, sometimes there are still holes in our learning and a student will come across a question on a test that they didn’t study and panic will set in. Sometimes this is because of time constraints in studying but a tutor can be beneficial in this situation. They will help set goals and teach test taking strategies that will help guide them when they are deciding what questions to answer and how to pace themselves if they come across and concepts they are not familiar with.

Problem 3: They don’t know what the testing experience itself will be like

Again, the best way to ease testing anxiety is practice, practice, practice. Especially when it comes to preparing for standardized testing such as the SAT or ACT being sure to take all the practice tests that are assigned under the proper time constraints is vital to a productive test prep plan.

It is the best way to ebb anxiety that is related to taking the real test. Be sure to treat practice tests as if they were the real thing, set up in a quiet area and have all of the materials that will be allowed on test day so they will know exactly what to expect.

Problem 4: They’re worried about what grade they’ll get

As your student takes practice diagnostic tests make sure to track the progress. The more they take the better idea of how they will score on the real thing. If all measures are taken to reduce anxiety on test day they should score in that ballpark. Knowing this information will help to put their mind at ease and boost confidence in their abilities as they prepare.

Next steps for tackling anxiety

The pressures put on kids to do well in school is alive and well. And this means we need to counterbalance this pressure with constructive strategies to help them cope and navigate through their learning experience positively.

So first, if you think your child may be anxious about school, sit down and talk through the situation, giving them the space to air out there concerns.

Then use some of the strategies outlined here (or others you’ve implemented on your own) to help work through the stressors they’re feeling and build a more healthy and productive relationship with school.

And then let us know in the comments:

How have you dealt with academic anxiety in your household?

Do you have any questions or feedback for us on other situations we might not have covered here?

We’d love to hear from you.

ADHD And Math: 3 Struggles For Students With ADHD (And How To Help)

adhd and math image 1I remember in elementary school memorizing my math times tables… what stands out most to be is the “mad minute.”

It was a short quiz of 20 multiplication problems and we were given one minute to complete them… and it could probably be defined as the most stressful 60 seconds of my young life!

Now, imagine doing that exercise, but at the same time not being able to keep track of all these operations in your head and constantly losing focus on the problem.

This is what most of our children with ADHD face when they look at a math problem.

ADHD and math don’t seem to be a “natural” fit, and there are various factors that go into why math is so difficult for kids with ADHD.

So in this post, we’ll break down some of the struggles kids with ADHD face in math class, and some ways to help make sure your child’s math foundation is strong.

ADHD and Math: The issue at hand

Students who are affected by ADHD often have a hard time with math because their memory is not very strong and blocking out external stimuli is a struggle.

Memory, which is where information is stored for later use, is one of many executive functions. Executive functions refer to skills such as reasoning, task switching, and planning. Kids with ADHD do not have strong executive function skills, which significantly affects their performance in school.

Which brings us to our first struggle…

Struggle 1: Word problems are overwhelming

A 25 foot ladder is leaning against a house and a hose is stretched from the base of the house to the garden and passes the ladder after 8 feet and you have to find out how tall the house is and what the angle the ladder makes with the house.

Wait, what just happened?

If you read the problem above and got confused or zoned out, you’re like many people who dread word problems. For students with ADHD, the stumbling block with word problems lies in the combination of words and numbers that make it difficult to store the information in their memory as they progress through the problem.

Even if the student is able to follow along with the problem, when it comes time to solve it, all of their energy and focus is already used up!

The solution to the word problem struggle

Have your student read the problem in small parts and draw a picture of the part he just read.  This breaks the word problem into chunks, allowing the student to place just a small piece of information into his head.  Adding a tactile and visual dimension to his learning by drawing part of the problem at a time only strengthens his memory.

Check out the image below. It shows what the picture might look like as your child is reading.  By the end of reading the word problem, he will have completed the drawing in the bottom right.

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Taking this piece by piece approach to reading and drawing might mean that your child might have to change the original drawing as he goes, but that’s okay… it’s important to get something on the page before he finishes reading the whole problem.

Struggle 2:Order of operations are confusing

Remember PEMDAS: Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally?

It’s an acronym that stands for Parentheses, Exponents, Multiplication, Division, Addition, Subtraction and is supposed to help us recall the order of operations in complex math problems.

The struggle that students with ADHD have with math problems that require them to conjure up the correct order of operations has to do with their working memory and ability to maintain focus throughout the multiple problem solving procedures.

Solution? Make it visual

Have your student highlight math signs and symbols.

adhd and math image 3Make colored pens, markers, and highlighters your kid’s best friend by encouraging her to color or highlight the sign, – + = x ÷, of each problem.

ADDitude magazine recommends highlighting math signs because it is a visual reminder to the student of the kind of math operation needed to solve the problem.

It may also be helpful in downtime to allow use of mobile math apps that work on the topic your child is struggling with. These tend to be effective because of the very high level of visual engagement kids have with video games and screen time.

Struggle 3: Staying focused enough to finish the problem

Aside from issues with working memory, issues with focus are why students with ADHD tend to struggle with math problems.

Staying intently focused on a single task takes a ton of mental energy, which often conflicts with the desire that many kids with ADHD have for constantly changing stimulation.

This is why completing a mathematical proof, a complex word problem, or a problem involving intricate problem-solving procedures can seem out of reach for your child.

Solution to the focus problem:

Have your child take a focus break. Focus breaks are 2-5 minute breaks when the student steps away from his homework, even if it’s in the middle of a long mathematical problem, and does something unrelated to his work.

This might be spending a few minutes on his phone, playing fetch with the dog, or better yet, a brain exercise to strengthen his focus. Dr. Robert Myers writes about brain exercises that are used to improve the executive functions in kids with ADHD.

Does your child struggle with ADHD and math?

We want to help you and your child who may exhibit any of these struggles. To get more tips and resources to help your child with ADHD, click here.

How To Be A Good Student: The Surprising Habits of Kids Who Excel

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Ask almost anyone:

“What do kids need to do to do well in school and get good grades?”

And you’ll get pretty much the same set of answers every single time:

  • Go to class
  • Pay attention and take notes
  • Do all of the homework assigned
  • Study every night and prepare for upcoming quizzes and tests

But there’s a problem: there are plenty of kids who do all of those things, and still perform poorly.

So why the disconnect?

What makes the difference between an average student and a good student?

In this post (and video) we cover how to be a good student, and some of the surprising habits they’ve adopted that have allowed them to excel. And they probably aren’t what you think.

Let’s start off by saying this:

We all have some predetermined misconceptions about what “A+” students do that allow them to perform at such a high level.

And the biggest misconception? That the best students are born great students.

Yes, there is genetic variability that plays a role in how students learn and adapt to an academic environment. And yes, some students seem to have a natural interest or aptitude for specific subjects.

But you may be surprised to find that kids with straight A’s and high standardized test scores don’t necessarily have higher IQs, eidetic memories allowing them to take in and regurgitate information, or even a natural inclination towards learning.

In fact, sometimes those “gifted” kids with higher IQs and reasoning skills do worse in school.
Learning comes a bit too easy and they never actually have to develop the organization, study skills, and discipline necessary to excel.

As professor of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Herbert Walberg says:

“Top grades don’t always go to the brightest students. Knowing how to make the most of your innate abilities counts for more. Infinitely more.”

So what does make the difference then?

It turns out that students that excel actually have 3 main characteristics in common:

Top students dismiss the myth of intelligence

Many kids think that in order to well in school, you’re either smart or you’re not, but that’s simply not true.

Great students believe that through perseverance and hard work, anything is possible. And it’s because of this attitude that they’re able to achieve such high marks.

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Photo credit: woodleywonderworks

When things get tough they’re willing to pick themselves back up, dust themselves, off and keep on going. And this ability to handle obstacles is essential to consistent learning.

They learn how to experience failure and bounce back

In this case, the “F” word is actually something that should be celebrated… And we’re of course talking about failure.

Kids who have experienced failure are more likely to have higher resiliency, the skill they need in order to bounce back. And this means that they’re more likely to be successful, in all walks of life.

Professor of psychology Angela Duckworth has measured this characteristic (called “grit”), and found that it may be more important than intelligence when it comes to academic achievement

To be gritty means to have the energy and determination to stay focused in the pursuit of goals over a period of time, and have the fortitude to persevere despite challenges, adversity, and failure. Those who are gritty not only work hard, but also have the stamina necessary to keep working hard and push through periods of discouragement and disappointment. These students “compensate by working harder and with more determination” and therefore outperform their higher IQ peers.

But that’s easier said than done, because in order to help kids develop git and resiliency, parents need to do two things:

First, they need to get out of the way

Now I’m sure you’re heard the term “helicopter parents” used to describe parents that are overly involved in micromanaging their kids lives. But it turns out there’s a new term on the block social scientists have started to use: “lawnmower parents”

This describes a subset of parents who attempt to smooth out and mow down all obstacles. According to Wendy Grolnick out of Clark University these are, “parents who are oriented towards control rather than supporting self-sufficiency often raise children who fail to develop autonomous motivation academically.”

In plain english: lawnmower parents prevent kids from developing the ability to handle learning on their own.

Then, they need to instill a “growth mindset”

Okay, so if we’re not helping our kids handle obstacles, what do we do instead?

Well it turns out another researcher out of Stanford has an answer for us. Students who are intrinsically motivated rather than extrinsically are more likely to reach long-term success.
Dr. Carol Dweck’s research shows this.

Students who have what she terms a “growth mindset” (they believe that intelligence and success are not fixed traits but are things that are practiced and developed) are more likely to succeed academically than those with “fixed mindsets” (students who believe they don’t have the ability to influence their innate traits).

For example, a study that looked at 111 French school children, ages 11 and 12 who were given a problem too difficult to solve showed this exact effect. After attempting the problem, the researchers divided the group into two. The first group was simply asked how they attempted to solve the problem. The second group discussed that failure happens frequently in learning and it is important to keep trying. The second group, scored much higher on a later test than those who did not receive the pep talk. Researchers on the project said:

“fear of failing can hijack the working memory resources, a core component of intellectual abilities. Fear of failing not only hampers performance, it can also lead students to avoid difficulty and therefore the opportunities to develop new skills. Because difficulty is inherent to most academic tasks, our goal was to create a safer performance environment where experiencing difficulty would not be associated with lower ability.”

Bottom line: failure is good for kids when we give them the tools to overcome it on their own.

Top students use study guides

Next misconception: some students just don’t test well.

Now this may be true in some cases, but top students do well on tests regardless of whether they’re “naturally” good at testing or not. And this comes down to preparation.

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Photo credit: Amy

In fact, research shows there’s a direct correlation between the number of study guides that kids use to prepare for exams and GPA.

What does that mean?

First, when these students get a study guide from their teachers they not only pay attention to it, read it, and learn from it, they actually fill it out at least three times and use it to study multiple times before the exam. This helps reinforce the material in a way that best fits the test format, something you won’t get by reading through your notes or the textbook.

On top of that, if they’re not given a study guide, in math for example, they’ll rework problems from the book or the back of their chapter or problems given to them in class. Or if they have a history exam, for example, they’ll go through the book or they’re notes, take those those main headlines, turn them into questions, and basically try to predict what the teacher is going to put on that test, and create their own version of the test. And they do this many times over.

Bottom line: successful students take exam performance into their own control by using study guides to prepare rigorously.

Top students schedule what they like to do first

Finally, many parents assume that all of this work may occur under the assumption of a packed schedule full of study time, homework assignments, and test preparation.

But where’s the time for sports, extracurriculars, and fun?

As it turns out, this is a big misconception as well, because good students don’t just schedule study time, they schedule what they love to do first.

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Here’s an example:

When kids are struggling they often want to turn things around for themselves, so they’ll take this buckle down approach and say: “Okay from 4 to 5 I’m going to study, and then from 5 to 6 I’m going to go to soccer practice, and then from 6 to 9 I’m going to study again.”

The problem is, this usually doesn’t work, because it’s far too demanding and more often than not, kids can’t actually hold themselves to that type of schedule.

Instead, what these top students do, is they schedule things that they like to do first. So for example, if they want to play a video game, or they want to talk to their friends or hang out, they’ll actually make time for that in their calendar, either daily or weekly, and then they’ll put their study information around those fun things.

They build their schedule around the “fun stuff” so that the studying stays “contained.” This way they know that if they get their work done, they’ll still have time left over to enjoy themselves, instead of constantly having schoolwork hanging over their head.

Now when they list their study information they don’t just write down “study” because that’s too vague. Instead, they’ll write down specifically what they’re going to do:

“Biology questions page 54, 1-8”

Specificity matters because it reduces the thinking involved with getting started. If kids know exactly what they have to do when they sit down to do homework or study, it’s much more likely that they’ll get started and stay on schedule rather than procrastinating.

Bottom line: the best students don’t just live in the library. They schedule in time for themselves and their friends, and balance this with their study time.

How to be a good student: Next Steps

Okay so now that we have an idea of what actually makes a successful student, here are some things you can work on right now with your child to help them improve:

1. Have your child take the “grit” assessment.

Once you know where they stand, you can help them perform activities that help foster “grittiness.” Professor Duckworth also has a TED talk that has some suggestions on things you can do to help foster this resiliency that seems to be so critical:

2. Help them understand the value of study guides.

Even if you have to help out at first, getting your child started on using study guides provided by the teacher, or by creating their own, is a critical habit to develop to improve exam performance and give them an edge when it comes to taking tests.

3. Work with them to build an effective study schedule.

Have them start off by blocking off “fun time.” Then have them write out, specifically, what they’re going to study and when to help reduce procrastination.

Do these three things, and your student will be well on their way to achieving their full academic potential!

12 School Organizing Tips To Start The Year Strong (For All Ages)

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There’s that famous quote that holds true in almost every area in life: “Eighty percent of success is showing up.”

For our purposes though, let’s amend it slightly:

Eighty percent of school success is showing up AND staying organized.

I’ve worked with tremendously gifted students for whom learning came easy, but their performance in school did not reflect their true abilities. I’ve also worked with many students over the years who struggled to pick new things up, but managed to keep at it, stay motivated, and achieve success.

Surprisingly, it’s organization that usually makes or breaks students’ level of success in school, because it’s one of those “cornerstone” habits that impacts almost ever other area in their academic lives.

So whether your child is:

  • In elementary school and just starting to get the school routine down
  • In middle school and figuring out how to manage the increased workload in their classes
  • Or in high school and getting prepared for upper-level courses, SATs, and college applications

Below you’ll find a list of 12 school organizing tips for you to use to start off the year strong.

1. Set up a regular school “check in” time

First up is a common cliche in parenting: get involved.

Unfortunately, just “getting involved” in your child’s schoolwork isn’t quite the right approach, because more is not always better, and sometimes you can create even an even bigger issue than you started off with in the first place by being nitpicky or overbearing.

So before you jump in, spend a little time to think and determine what level of involvement you’re going to have with homework, grades, and other aspects of their academics. This way you have a good idea of what you need to discuss with them before you start.

Then, set up a regular meeting time with your son or daughter to talk each week about assignments, what’s going on in class, upcoming tests, and any other concerns they might have.

This shouldn’t be a lecture, so frame it as a conversation: “Can we set aside a few minutes to talk each week about school?” And leave it open for them to discuss how they’re feeling and what they would like to see you do better.

2. Don’t nag

Now that you’ve established a line of communication with your child, it’s extremely important to then give them the space they need to get organized and figure out how to manage their schoolwork in a way that works for them.

Kids may not immediately see the benefits of staying organized, but constant reminders are the last thing they want to hear. So when you are helping them get organized this year, make it clear that you don’t want to nag, you just want to set them up for success.

Then because you have a regular meeting time set up to discuss school together, use that time to suggest changes, voice your concerns, and make sure that they’re staying on track.

3. Set up a homework routine

Making the best use of time after school can be a BIG struggle, especially for busy families. Your kids just finished sitting in class all day, and the last thing that they want to be thinking about is studying and homework.

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That’s why this is one of those times that can benefit tremendously from setting up a routine that you hold to, especially for elementary and middle school students.

First, set a regular start time to help avoid the “I’ll do it later” syndrome. This could be:

  • Right after school
  • After 30 min break
  • Before dinner
  • After dinner
  • Right before bedtime

And consider scheduling in some downtime after school or other activities to give younger students a break.

For high schoolers it’s hard to tell them exactly when they have start, but using one of those “blocks” as a general rule can help curb the late-night stress of realizing it’s time for bed and they’re homework isn’t done.

4. Keep homework contained (but mobile)

Another problem that crops up during homework time is the seeming explosion of papers and books and binders all across the house.

Now interestingly, studies are now showing the kids are more productive when they vary where they do their homework. But that being said, it can be hard to stay organized when they’re constantly shifting spots.

So first off, make sure you’ve designated at least three spots that homework can be completed and try to stick to them. This will help eliminate some of the clutter if you have a space cleared off already.

Then, for younger students, you can try putting together a mobile organizer for all their school supplies that they can take with them from spot to spot. For older students in middle or high school, you can try helping to set up their backpack so that it permanently holds all of the supplies they’ll need to do their homework on a regular basis. This will also allow them to do homework during study hall, breaks, at the library, after practice, etc.

5. Get everything ready the night before

Now a lot of the family energy during the school week is spent on mornings, making sure that everybody is ready to go and out the door on time. But as they say, a truly productive morning starts the night before.

So instead of leaving everything until the morning of, a great way to stay organized is to do things like packing backpacks the night before the, making sure that all assignments are in there and ready to go, and making lunches the night before.

You can even put it all together into a basket or in a specific spot next to the door each time, something we call “The Launching Pad.”

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You can even have them set aside outfits for the next day. Say hello to less stressful more smooth school day mornings… just make sure to do it all early enough that everyone still gets to bed on time.

6. Improve the sleep schedule

A big part of staying organized is actually having enough focus during the day to make sure that you remember assignments, that papers go in the right places, and you have the ability to sit down without distraction and study or do homework on time.

And probably the number one contributing factor to that is getting enough sleep at night.

So making sure your child is getting to bed at the same time consistently will help improve their level of focus throughout the day. A great way to do this is to set an electronics curfew and enforce an hour of quiet time before bed for winding down.

This may not be a popular decision especially if you have kids who are older and in high school but they’ll thank you when they’re not dragging when they get out of bed the next morning.

7. Use color coding

A great way to make organization fun, especially for younger kids, is to use color coding. Now that’s not to say it can’t be helpful for older students as well, because the research does shows that it can help with visual memory. But figuring out how to get your kids engaged in the organizing process can be difficult, and this is one way to let them have some say over how they want to do it.

You can have them organize their notebooks and binders by color (e.g. math is green, science is red, etc.), or even go as far as using specific colored pens and pencils for either different types of assignments or different subjects.

And let’s face it who doesn’t love going to Target or Walmart to pick out some new stuff!

8. Label and organize binders and notebooks

Then once you have some initial color coding in place, you can further organize all of your notebooks and binders by adding in some labeling.

So not only can you have a binder for a specific subject or subjects but you can also designate certain sections within them for notes, homework assignments, study materials for tests etc. You can also create labels for things like papers that need to be signed and returned to the teacher, returned assignments that are already graded, and any longer-term homework or projects that aren’t due right away.

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Again this is a great way to get your child engaged in the process by allowing them to figure out what organization method would work best and to run with it, so put out the suggestion, and the let them determine how to get it implemented.

9. Schedule a weekly “Clean Sweep”

Even the most organized among us tend to build up clutter over time, no matter how hard we try.

So a great way to combat this is to schedule a 20 minute pre-arranged session each week where everyone in the house drops what they’re doing to clean and get organized.

Not only will this help your kids stay on track with their school organization efforts, but will also help foster a sense of family involvement so that it’s not just that your child is being singled out. They can see you and other members of the family doing the same.

10. Archive old assignments

Along those same lines, your kids are also going to have a buildup of old papers and assignments that aren’t necessarily relevant to what they’re doing in school right now.

Archiving and properly treating (i.e. not throwing them out too soon) all assignments should be a regular part of your organization routine.

A great rule of thumb is to make sure that you’re keeping old tests and quizzes and then tossing everything else. That way if there are any cumulative test throughout the year, your child will be able to reference back to previous questions to study, and will know which areas they need to work on where they may have gotten marked off previously.

11. Use an agenda book

It’s incredible the impact just getting something down on paper can have.

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So for students in middle and high school, an agenda book (or something like it) should be the official holding place of all things important. So encourage your child to fill it out with what homework is due, what tests are coming up, projects or after school activities, and anything else that’s important to remember each day.

Then once it’s down on paper it’s going to be easier for your son or daughter to figure out how to schedule time to complete their assignments based on when they’re due and how important they are.

12. Create a calendar for extracurricular activities

Finally creating a calendar for extracurricular activities is a great way to get the entire family on the same page.

Maybe you have a swim team practice on the schedule twice a week from 4:00 – 7:00. Maybe there’s band practice on Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 5:00 – 6:00. Maybe there’s a big quarterly science project due at the end of the month. Whatever it is, getting it on a calendar the whole family can see will help everyone stay informed and on the same page.

You can even take a step further and give every person a different color to stay even more organized!

Time to get organized this school year!

Although these are just a few organization techniques that you can apply to your kids’ schoolwork and other activities, they can have a huge impact if used regularly.

That being said, there are a virtually unlimited number of organization ideas you can try, so don’t feel limited to just this list. Use it as a starting point that experiment and customize for what makes sense for your family.

Then, if you come up with something that works great, or if you have something that you want to share that’s not included in this list, go ahead and leave us a comment below. We’d love to hear what works best for you!

Summer Tutoring: What I Gained From Staying Academically Active

The year was 1979. Rod Stewart and Peaches and Herb were topping the charts, and there I was staring blankly at my math test, feeling lost. Although I should have been able to do two-digit divisor long division, I really couldn’t. It all seemed so complicated and I froze.

The fourth grade was coming to an end and instead of feeling proud of all I had accomplished, I felt overwhelmed by what I hadn’t.

But that summer, my mom made one of the best decisions about my elementary academic career that she ever made: she hired my teacher, Mrs. Lewis, to tutor me over summer break.

I remember my mom walking me over to Mrs. Lewis’ house, just a few doors down the street from us. I would sit around the kitchen table with Mrs. Lewis a couple times a week for an hour each time, and although I never really wanted to go to see her, when I left, I felt so relieved.  She helped me to review fourth grade math concepts and to preview what was to come in fifth grade. This review-preview technique was really effective and the summer was a perfect time to use it!

By the end of the summer, I was finally understanding long division, and I also understood fractions, decimals and percents. I had come a long way since that fateful end to fourth grade… When I went back to school that fall in the fifth grade, I had never felt so much better about math, a subject I never liked my whole life.
 

The time I spent with Mrs. Lewis really paid off. Not only did I feel confident going into fifth grade, but that confidence motivated me to actually study for math, something I had never done before, and of course, this helped me to get good grades, another feat I had never been able to accomplish. Although my grades in math were never bad before my summer tutoring, they were mostly Bs with an occasional C, I really didn’t understand the work at a deeper level. I superficially knew how to solve the problem, but I didn’t really understand how numbers were connected to each other, and I had no idea why I even converted fractions, decimals, percents in the first place.  But now that I was in fifth grade fresh off of summer tutoring with Mrs. Lewis, things were clicking and making sense for me—I had both the content knowledge and the confidence to tackle fifth grade math with ease.

 

Fifth grade ended with me doing well in math and because of this, my mom was happy and I really didn’t do much of anything that summer!  I watched a lot of General Hospital and Days of our Lives. I went to a few camps, but I didn’t work on academics, and boy was that a bad decision, because after that summer, there I was in sixth grade feeling lost yet again. Although I was young at the time, it really hit me how much one-to-one instruction I needed and the positive impact it had on my life.

This pattern of taking summers off continued until I was in high school when I finally realized that my mom was right and staying academically active over the summer was the right move for my academic career and my emotions.

If you are interested in keeping your child academically active this summer and think we can help, check out our summer tutoring packages and submit a Get-a-Tutor form so we can tell you more!

Common Mistakes Students Make When Preparing for AP Exams & How to Avoid Them

The first weeks of May are quickly approaching and AP teachers are ramping up their review sessions.  However, there are a few things your students should know as they step up their studies at home.

Below are three common mistakes students make when studying and ways to avoid them.

1. Not recognizing that all exams have the same structure.

All exams have a multiple-choice section and a free response/DBQ (document-based question) section.  Therefore, the idea that your biology free response is easier or harder than your history DBQ can be debunked if you realize that in both circumstances you have to make an argument and support that argument with evidence.

Remember: never make a statement without backing it up with evidence!  For history, that evidence will come directly from the documents and for biology it’ll come from a set of data or your own personal knowledge.

2. Taking a practice exam without analyzing the results.

If you have access to a study guide you typically have two practice exams at your disposal plus a pre-test.  After each practice you do, go back through all of your questions and ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Did I guess on this question?
  2. Did I know the answer to this question?
  3. Did I have the right answer but changed it?

Label the questions a, b, or c using the categories above and once you’ve done this, you have a better idea of which topics you need to focus your studies on.  This does not mean you don’t study the topics you know, but that you spend more time reviewing the things you don’t know while continuing to review all topics.

3. Only now starting to study.

If you’ve not been keeping on top of your AP studies all year, then you’ll have to target your studies.  The dates of all your AP exams are posted online and/or have been given to you by your teacher.

Remember, all students take the same AP exams on the same day all over the country.  So, look at your calendar now and make a study plan based on your practice exam analysis. View the AP exam calendar here. So, if you’re taking AP Chemistry and AP World History you should spend the bulk of your time studying Chemistry first since the exam comes before the AP World History one, with brief reviews of history.  But don’t save all your history review for after the Chemistry exam!  Preparing now for both will help you incorporate your knowledge into your long term memory.

Why Your Child Doesn’t Organize or Plan Ahead (And What You Can Do About It)

Time management. Organization. Studying. Planning ahead.

Do these ideas give your child a sense of excitement? Or fear of the unknown? If your child seems uninterested or even afraid of these ideas, it may be more than just a feeling of being overwhelmed and a dislike for school. They may have executive functioning deficits.

 

I hear the phrase “executive functioning” more and more these days, and whether or not students have it. What exactly is executive functioning?

Executive functioning skills are cognitive processes in the frontal lobe of the brain, the area behind the forehead. These are skills that are really important for kids when it comes to school. Executive functioning skills are important for focus, self-control, planning, sustaining focus and resisting distractions. These skills allow people to juggle multiple things in their mind at one time. For example, when writing an essay, can you remember to capitalize the letters and use proper punctuation, spell the words correctly and also make sure you’re writing makes sense? If you can, you probably have good executive functioning skills.

Executive functioning skills also have to do with a thought process: finishing something, starting something new, planning ahead, and staying organized along the way. Executive functioning skills get better as kids age, but even at a young age, the skills are important for school success.

 

Executive functioning sounds a lot like ADD or ADHD. How exactly are they related?

Issues with a child’s executive functioning skills are actually very closely related to ADD or ADHD. Professions no longer use the term “ADD”; it was replaced in the mid-1980s by Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, or AD/HD. The slash actually represents with or without. A child could have ADD and not the hyperactive part, but they still have an ADHD diagnosis. ADHD has to do with things like focusing and sustaining focus for a period of time and also being able to regulate attention.

Many parents say, “Well, my kid doesn’t have a problem with attention. He can play X-box for 3 hours. But when it comes to homework, it’s much harder for him to regulate attention!” That’s really where ADHD comes in. It’s not about paying attention to any one thing, it’s about making yourself pay attention when things are difficult and there is trouble regulating attention.

When it comes to executive functions, sometimes people can have poor executive functioning skills but they may not meet the criteria for ADHD. However, everybody with ADHD does have poor executive functioning skills.

 

I think my child is showing some symptoms that he has issues with executive functioning. What are some signs that might help parents see this?

Kids who have executive functioning difficulties often have a hard time staying organized. It’s not just in subjects, but also time management. If your child might have a messy backpack, forgets to write their assignments down, and doesn’t always bring the right materials home from school, he might be struggling with executive functioning skills.

Help your child create a mental to-do list for what he has to do for homework that day or even plan ahead. Long-term planning is often really difficult for these students. If something is due two weeks from now, they have a hard time breaking that assignment down into smaller, manageable chunks. In addition, kids with weak executive functioning skills might have a hard time focusing and putting effort into homework, especially when it’s really not interesting to them. They might even be able to just focus for 5 or 10 minutes before they lose track. For these kids, they need to have breaks on a regular basis and have assignments broken into smaller pieces so these chunks are much more attainable than a single, massive, intimidating project.

 

What is the first step in helping my child improve his executive functioning skills?

If you suspect your child has some executive functioning deficits, the first step is to realize that tasks like focusing and planning ahead are just going to be harder than for other kids. It’s not that your kid wakes up one morning and says, “You know what? I’m just going to really aggravate my mom.” or “I’m going to frustrate my dad.” It’s not like that at all. Kids want to please! They want to do a good job, but things like staying organized and focusing and planning ahead are just innately difficult for them.

It’s really important to acknowledge the fact that your child is going to need much more structure than the typical kid. You might not see a plan to start homework from your child the minute they come home from school each day. You might need to engage in a dialogue with your child to make sure they know what they’re going to do first, second or third. You’re also going to have to provide a distraction-free area for him to do homework. If left to his own devices, he’ll often do homework in places like his bedroom, which is really distracting! A child with executive functioning deficits just needs a little more external structure than the average student.

 

What do I do if my kid doesn’t want to listen to me?

A low frustration tolerance is typical for kids who struggle with attention. It’s not uncommon for these kids to really push back towards their parents’ overtures, even when they know they need the help. If your help has gone on deaf ears by your child, consider getting someone else to do the heavy lifting. Often, kids are much more willing to listen to someone who doesn’t have an emotional attachment to them, like a tutor or someone who has training in Educational Coaching.

Educational Coaches have the ability to work on three specific things with kids. One is organization, both with materials and time. The second is time management of short and long-term assignments, and the third is study skills. Kids with executive functioning issues get by because they’re really smart, but when the work becomes harder and there’s a lot more of it, they really have a hard time.

 

Having somebody who can work in these three areas, in addition to helping with subject areas, is really the key. Give us a call at 703-934-8282 or fill out a Get a Tutor form and we would be happy to help.

Back To School and Back To Stress?

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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.

 

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Top Tips for Getting Your Child to Finish Summer Work

On Wednesday, I had the pleasure of being interviewed for a segment on WTOP radio about finishing summer work! Completing those school-issued summer assignments should be a big priority, and here’s why.

Listen to the clip or read below for all the tips.

 

With only a few weeks left in the summer, how much of a priority should summer work be?

Schools assign tasks such as reading books and math packets to get kids ready for the coming year.  And when they return to school, much of the instruction is based on those assignments.  So, if your child hasn’t done them, he’s starting off the year behind his peers.  Furthermore, high school report card grades are lower in the first quarter of the year than the other quarters.  To start off on the right foot with grades and confidence, be sure your child gets their work done before school starts.

What should you do when your child hasn’t even thought about all the work that’s due in just a few weeks?

The first step is to set up a time to talk in a non-judgmental way, even if you’re frustrated that your child hasn’t even cracked open a book.  Sit down with your child to help him break down the work into chunks.  For example, if a book needs to be read, determine about how much he’ll need to read daily and how he will do it.  Will he read with you or alone? Remember, especially for elementary school kids, it’s fine for you to read a page, and then have your child read a page.

And consider that if your child is really behind, morning and evening reading during the next few weeks will help your child get back on track.

What if you really just can’t get your child to focus?

One thing that works well for many families is to have “quiet time” for about 30 minutes each night after dinner – at least until the start of school.  During this time, everything is unplugged – no TV, computers, or cell phones.  It’s a time that everyone in the family, no matter how busy, drops everything and reads or works quietly.  Because it’s a family routine, there’s a lot less nagging when it’s an expected part of the day.

What if your child doesn’t work with you?

To be honest, some kids aren’t too keen on their parents’ overtures to help.  That’s where study groups come in.  If your child has an assignment, such as an essay or math packet that was assigned to a number of students, encourage her to invite friends over to work on it together. And if that’s not possible, Skype or FaceTime are great options.  This “togetherness” approach not only provides accountability but helps to make learning fun.

How about rewards to motivate your child to get that summer work done? Or should you withhold privileges?

Consider tying short term privileges to meeting deadlines. When the assignment is complete, privileges are granted. For example, when your child is done with a task, they can watch TV for 30 minutes or play with their friends. But for some kids, it’s simply getting started that’s the obstacle, and they really struggle with procrastination. For those kids who need instruction with time management, consider an after school program or an Educational Coach to help with strategies for reducing procrastination.

 

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