Summer Homework: A How-To Guide for Parents and Kids

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It’s become a predictable yearly debate that rolls around every June:

Should my kids really be getting summer homework?

And if they do, how should we approach it so they actually learn something over the summer (rather than just doing busywork)?

Here’s the thing:

At some schools, kids are routinely overloaded with multiple books to read, and big math packets to complete.

At other schools? Nothing is assigned.

My personal opinion is that the right balance lies somewhere in the middle… Yes, we want kids to keep their minds sharp, but not at the expense of having fun over the summer.

So in this post I’ll cover:

  • My opinion on the age-old summer homework debate (in the video below)
  • How to handle the different types of work assigned to students over the summer
  • Some specific recommendations for what you can do as a parent to keep your kids engaged in the process, including a recent interview I did with WTOP’s Every Day is Kid’s Day podcast on the topic

And you’ll walk away with a better understanding of how to make the most out of homework (or lack thereof) this summer.

You can click one of the links below to jump to one of the sections of the guide:

How much is too much summer homework?
How to tackle summer reading (The Amazon Method)
How to handle math packets and workbooks
Creative ways to make Summer Learning fun

Or jump right in with the video below.

How much is too much? What the research says…

When kids do nothing at all in math and reading, the research shows that they can lose two to three months of learning progress over the summer.

Just think: That’s almost as if they decided to end the school year in March!

And if left alone, those losses accumulate over time with respect to their peers.

A 2007 study out of John’s Hopkins University showed that while students (on average) make similar gains in reading comprehension throughout the year, students without access to learning opportunities make no progress over the summer, while students with access outpace them year after year.

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Ultimately, by the time they reach 5th grade, disadvantaged students are the equivalent of 3 full grade levels behind their advantaged peers in reading ability!

But, this trend need not apply to your son or daughter…

Because studies also show that kids who read just four books over the summer are able to almost completely eliminate that summer learning slide.

So here’s my take:

If your son or daughter is being required to…

  • Read three books, probably classics that they really don’t want to read
  • Write multiple essays
  • And complete stacks of math assignments

… that’s probably a bit overboard.

Yes, we want kids to keep their minds sharp, but not at the expense of having fun over the summer.

So my recommendation is to create a balance. Get your summer assignments done, but try to structure it in a way that makes learning fun.

Here’s how to do it…

Required vs. Recommended Summer Homework

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First off, we can break down summer homework assignments in terms of required vs. recommended.

Most schools send out a recommended reading list, and sometimes subject review packets to their students to complete over the summer.

And some actually require that their students complete a certain amount of those assignments over the summer, which are included in their grade for the upcoming school year.

Now, it does make sense to prioritize required assignments over recommended assignments… especially if your school went overboard with what they handed out.

But as long as it’s not too much material, regardless of whether reading is assigned or not, I recommend working with your child to map out a plan of attack for the summer to get it done (on their terms – see below).

How to tackle summer reading (The Amazon Method)

By far, the most popular category of summer homework assigned are reading lists.

And although most schools have a recommended reading list, they tend to be very broad (umm, should my 8-year-old really be reading MacBeth right now?)…

Specific reading requirements

Sometimes though, there are specific books that your student needs to read over the summer (see the “required” section above), especially high school students, and you’ll need to work with them to figure out a plan of attack.

Block off some time at the beginning of summer (don’t let it wait until July!) to sit down and ask them:

“You have these 3 books you have to read this summer. How would you like to tackle these?”

And then let them answer. Help them formulate a (realistic) plan with their input, and they’ll but much more likely to follow it… and not end up in the last-minute reading rush on August 30th trying to get their summer reading done!

Flexible reading requirements

But on the other hand, if you do have some flexibility in terms of what your student is assigned to read over the summer, what I like to do is create a reading list tailored specifically towards the age or interests of your student.

And one of the best ways to do this is: Amazon!

Step 1: Go to Amazon.com and type in “Books for… [insert description of your child]”

For example, if I had a 7th grader at home I would search: “Books for middle school”

Or if I was looking for something more girl-oriented for my daughter I would search: “Books for middle school girls”

It’s amazing what books will pop up on the top of the list for kids…

Step 2: Review the list and make sure that the results are relevant (sometimes they require a little tweaking), and pay attention to the options on the sidebar where you can filter by subject, age rage, etc.

Then run them by your child and ask: “Which one of these do you want to read this summer?”

Look over the summaries and let them pick the books they want to read.

Word of caution: It’s not your responsibility as a parent to pass judgment and say:

“You know what honey, this year you’re not reading a graphic novel. You can only read books with words, no pictures.

We don’t want to do that as parents. We really want to let our kids decide, because when they’re invested, they’re much more likely to meet that four book goal over the summer.

Step 3: Either order online or head out to the library…

Make sure to do this before July 4th so the summer doesn’t get away from you, and use your list of books that you picked out.

Then, when you get your books back home…

Step 4: Sit down with them and make a plan.

Don’t assume your child will gleefully run up to his room and begin flipping the pages. They’re much more likely to read consistently if you have “READING TIME” marked off on the calendar at a consistent time each day.

You can even make it a family routine! Having everyone in the house reading at the same time will help encourage your child to get their reading done, especially if they’re reluctant or easily distracted.

Now, many kids are reluctant readers and may need a parent to help them get started… And you need to be willing to make the time to lend a hand.

This can be in the form of “you read a page, he reads a page” or for a really reluctant reader, “you read two pages and he reads one,” until he’s into the story.

Make this a habit, and before long you’ll have a bookworm on your hands!

How to handle math packets and workbooks

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The same principles hold true for other assigned work as well.

Don’t assume your child will be chipping away at those math packets one day at a time (and the thicker they are, the more daunting they’ll seem).

Truth be told: we get lots of calls from parents mid-August, panicked that their kid hasn’t read and annotated a three-hundred-page book and completed a bunch of review worksheets – even though the parent has reminded him at least ten times!

This situation isn’t unique.

The value to any summer learning is doing a little bit at a time over a long stretch. The brain retains information best in bit sized chunks, not by cramming.

And this is even more important for math because it’s a subject that continually builds on itself. So if you miss something early on, you’re probably going to have to back-track when you run into that same concept again in the future.

So just like with reading assignments, if your son or daughter are assigned a math packet (or any other type of subject packet) over the summer, make sure to site down and set the plan early.

Aside from your typical reading lists and workbooks though, you can also encourage learning in other (more fun!) ways this summer…

Creative ways to make Summer Learning fun

Below is a recent interview I did with WTOP’s Every Day is Kid’s Day podcast (interview starts at 0:53) on how to bring a fresh perspective to summer learning, and make things more fun and interesting for your son or daughter this year.

Give it a listen for some more tips on:

  • Using the Amazon Method to make summer reading more fun
  • Alternatives to summer workbooks that are actually fun and effective
  • Whether you should spend the time to try and “preview” material they’re going to see in the coming year
  • And a whole bunch of other useful ideas for staying engaged over the summer

Here are some of those great ways to get your child into learning, outside of school recommended assignments:

For writing: use a dialogue journal.

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One of the best ways to get your child comfortable with writing on a regular basis is to make a game out of it.

So try designating a “special” notebook or journal that lives in your kid’s room that you can use to communicate with them through writing.

Then, simply leave them a note each day, that they read and respond to.

Maybe you say something like, “I noticed how you helped your brother pick up those puzzle pieces. What a nice idea. How did you know he needed your help?”

Leave the journal on his bed and allow him to write back that evening. The next day, you respond.

And be sure not to fix grammar or spelling, just let these be a carefree way to practice writing and even illustrations.

At the end of the summer, not only will they have improved their writing skills, but you’ll also have an amazing keepsake to look back on for years to come.

For reading: listen to audiobooks!

Don’t forget that audio books can be very helpful for developing comprehension and fluency.

Studies show that when kids want to read a book just above their level and listen to the book while following along with the lines, they improve their skills more than if they read independently.

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So using a site like Audible.com or going to your local library website to download audio versions of the books your son or daughter has picked out (or has assigned) for the summer isn’t cheating, it’s just another way to “open the door” to getting them involved in reading.

Plus, it’s great for long summer road trips!

For math: play (math) games on the iPad.

For most of us, it’s a constant battle to keep our kids AWAY from the devices over the summer… but it need not be either or.

One of the best ways to “bridge the gap” is to give your child the opportunity to use educational apps or websites on their phone or iPad that will keep them learning, without feeling like math always has to involve drudgery.

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Multiplication.com is great site for staying sharp on math facts. And pretty much every elementary schooler needs to practice their addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division over the summer to stay sharp.

Funbrain.com is also perfect for allowing a little screen time in-between reading or homework sessions, while still learning at the same time.

For learning that’s fun: find local adventures!

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Yes, you could have your kids spend their summer doing workbooks and refresher material, and that would probably help them stay sharp… but most kids find that to be a drag on their motivation to learn.

Instead, find a local museum or science center and take field trip!

Use the outing to ask your kids to guide the learning session and pick out what they want to explore… and then tell you about it.

And then watch in amazement at how excited they are, not even realizing that they’re “learning,” but just enjoying the moment and experiencing something new.

Summer camps are great for this too, so do some Googling and find out what’s going on in your area.

Now let’s hear from you..

How have you handled the balance between required summer schoolwork and fun?

What have you done that’s helpful in your family to keep summer learning alive without going overboard?

I’d love to hear from you in the comments 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!

12 Writing Activities for Kids This Summer (That can actually be fun!)

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[Writing practice] + [Summertime] = [Fun for your kids]

I wasn’t a math major, but I know enough to tell you that in the majority of households, that equation DOESN’T hold true.

It’s hard enough to get them to sit down and write during the school year… How in the world is this going to happen over the summer?

But think about reading for a second. If you’ve ever seen your kid pick up a book on their own outside of school, you know that reading can be associated with fun – sometimes enough so to win out over friends, TV, and video games.

And the same can be true for writing… if we approach it in the right way.

Well it turns out summer is the perfect time of year to do that. The stakes are low. There are no due dates or grades to assign.

And you can just focus on discovering writing activities that can help build the habit of writing, without seeming like a burden… and maybe even turning into something FUN (whether they’ll admit it to you or not).

So we put together a list of fun things you can try (with a few practical ones thrown in for rising Juniors and Seniors), that might just get your child to put pencil to paper this summer. Check out the 12 writing activities ideas below:

Writing Activities For Elementary School

1. Practice writing names and numbers

For younger elementary-schoolers, have them practice writing their names and letters. Find templates online of the alphabet, print them out, and write over them with crayons or markers. Grab a bucket of chalk and write fun words and numbers on your driveway or sidewalk—there’s minimal mess and easy clean-up whenever it rains.

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If you’re going to the beach this summer, get your kids to write in the sand! They can spell their name, their favorite pet, or a simple sentence. They’ll be having too much fun to even realize they’re practicing.

2. Send letters from camp

With older elementary-schoolers, writing over the summer may seem like an exasperating task. They just spent nine months practicing their writing during school; the last thing they want to do is practice over the summer!

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Try having them instead write letters to family and friends. This works especially well if you send your kids to sleepaway camps. Ask that they send you letters to update you on all the fun activities they’re doing while they’re away.

3. Write to athletes for autographs

You can also show them “Through the Mail.” Through the Mail is a method that encourages children to write to their favorite professional athletes in exchange for autographs. It’s easy to find each team’s address on the “team by team” tab of NFL’s, MLB’s, or almost any other sports site.

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(Image credit: Cathy T)

I love the website Cardboard Connections. It contains a step-by-step approach for writing the best letter possible in order to get those autographs back. Through the Mail has been around for years and if you’re the parent of a sports-minded kid, consider it a great option. Encourage your child to set a goal of four letters to improve their writing skills and to better their chances of getting an autograph in return.

Writing Activities For Middle School

4. Write a Kidpreneur business plan (for the Budding Entrepreneur)

It’s no secret that many successful entrepreneurs struggled in school, yet they found ways to leverage their strengths. So I love the idea of encouraging children to start a business, no matter how small. And part of a successful business includes a written plan.


(Image credit: amy gizienski)

The Kidpreneurs website matches students with business coaches to help them develop and execute a business plan. Alternatively, the wildly popular book, Lemonade Stand Millionaire also teaches children of all ages an approach to follow their dreams.

5. Write to a Pen Pal (yes… these are still around!)

Pen pals may seem like they’re from a bygone era (especially with text, Facebook and Snapchat at your kid’s fingertips). But actually, they’re alive and well!

Check out this video about the benefits of writing to new friends from overseas.

For a way to connect with pen pals, International Pen Pal Friend World has a host of options. The site matches kids with others throughout the world with similar interests.

6. Work on keyboarding skills

I’ll never forget my sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Cameron, who told us that one of the most important classes we could take in middle school was typing. She was right! The ability to type quickly saves time and reduces frustration.

Students these days do not have the opportunity to take dedicated keyboarding classes… And with the rise of mobile, they may actually be faster with their thumbs!

So If your child is of the hunt and peck variety, consider a free online typing program this summer. I really like Edutyping. Check up on your child periodically to be sure he’s not looking at the keys as he types since this undermines the goal of being able to touch type.

And if they’re resistant? Just remind them that typing correctly is an even FASTER way to chat back and forth online with their friends!

Writing Activities For High School

7. Create a personal website

When your child hits high school, talk starts fairly quickly about not only preparing for college, but also applying for jobs and special programs. One of the best ways to stand out? Create a website!

Then, your child can record their experiences, awards, and activities for prospective colleges. Younger high school students can also create a website and use it as a journal or blog. Most websites (WordPress, Wix) are free to register and easy to personalize.

Many high schoolers purchase a domain using their first, middle, and last name to create a website of their experiences, awards, and activities. First, a domain in your name is very cool, but secondly, it allows students to have a portfolio of sorts that they can share with admissions officers as they’re applying for college. Not every admissions department will take the time to review it, but the smaller ones will. It’s a great way to get your child to record their activities as they go along instead of at the last minute when it comes to submitting applications.

8. SAT Writing Practice

Studying for the SAT doesn’t have to be all about formal study sessions and test prep, especially during the summer. And the good thing about the SAT writing section is that it provides test takers with a broad theme that can be approached either formulaically or creatively.

So summertime is great for getting familiarized with the format, but also having some fun coming up with creative topics to write about. The best part about it? Because (again) there are no looming deadlines, you can have them pick away at it slowly and do once small practice session each day. And a great place to start might be using resources you can find online like Khan Academy’s writing practice section.

9. College admissions essays

For most rising Seniors, college admission essays end up being a HUGE chore… but mostly because they wait until September or October when they’re in a time crunch and distracted with homework, sports, and other extra-curricular activities. So if you’re son or daughter will be working on their applications in the fall, summer is a great time to get a head start on writing your essays because they’ll have more time to think of topics and important achievements and get all their ideas out on paper without the pressure of a looming deadline.

Here’s how to take advantage of this and make your summer really count:

First, make sure you have a list of schools and their essay requirements. Not every school has the common application essay prompt, so be sure to separate the ones that don’t have it on your list.

Then, plan out a few brainstorming sessions for them to jot down their favorite accomplishments and achievements (this is their time to brag so don’t be shy!). From this more free-form writing exercise, you can work with them to pick out a few good overall topics to start writing their full essay from.

Do this and you’ll be way ahead of the game come September.

Writing Activities With an iPad or Tablet

10. Turn your doodles into writing

For kids, iPads generally mean apps, games, friends… fun stuff! So we can take advantage of those positive associations and build iPad use into the writing process as well. One way you can do that is through turning doodles into writing. A student who benefits from the tactile nature of handwriting can brainstorm his or her ideas on paper, capture of photo of his ideas, import the picture into a word processing app, and continue typing his work.

Or, if you have the iPad Pro or another writing compatible tablet, you can have them start off by handwriting their ideas directly onto the tablet itself. Here’s great demo:

Either way, you’re giving them the opportunity to change things up, so that they can customize the writing process to something that can be more enjoyable and sustainable.

11. Use dictation to get started

Other students, who may have a little more resistance to getting starteed because they’re not naturally inclined to write, might do better speaking out loud to get going.

So try instead to use Siri or another voice dictation tool to have them verbalize their ideas into writing in a note or document first. Then, once the ball is already rolling, jumping into actual writing once something is already written becomes that much less of a barrier.

12. Capture ideas with Evernote

Half of the battle when it comes to getting students going with their writing isn’t even the writing itself… it’s coming up with ideas on what to write about. That’s why using an app like Evernote can be an amazing tool for getting that process going.

Download the App on all of the devices your child uses (you can create a free account), and then take advantage of their web clipper, photo scanner, and note-taking capabilities by having them start saving ideas! Anything that interests them… whether that’s a specific book, sports teams, fashion, etc. just starting this as a habit will have them slowly but surely building a massive catalogue of ideas they can tap into when it comes time to write. And it’s fun to collect ideas too!

Now over to you…

How are you helping your child keep up with their writing skills?

Tell us in the comments below.

We’d love to hear tips and tricks on how you’re practicing writing over the summer.

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!

The August SAT: 3 Steps to Take Advantage of One of the Rising Senior’s Last Ditch Efforts…

For years, SAT and ACT exams took a summer break along with students, meaning that students could get away with taking a short break from preparation before taking an early fall exam.

But no more!  For the first time ever, the College Board has announced that there will be a summer SAT, which will take place on August 26th.

What does this mean for prep? If your child is a rising senior, it means that this is one of her last chances to take the test before she begins applying to colleges. She has likely taken the test once or twice already and is looking to get that score up in order to get into her target schools. If your child does not take advantage of the summer downtime and begin preparing for the test, the summer slump is likely to kick in and those scores can drop. So the pressure is on to recognize the urgency of preparing this summer.

Have your rising senior follow these 3 steps to ensure she is ready for the August test:

1. Prioritize your areas of focus.

This means that you have to decide which sections you need to review the most.  Do this by reviewing your previous score reports (and if you don’t have previous score reports, take a practice exam ASAP!!). See which sections you did the worst on and start reviewing concepts from these sections, since there’s the most room for improvement, waiting a couple of weeks to revisit the sections you did well on.

2. Start prep NOW and make a study calendar!

This means TODAY—not next month.  Remember that the first step to preparation is making a timeline and scheduling when you’re going to study, complete homework, and take full length practice exams. Treat your preparation like a class, penciling in a couple 1-2 hour study sessions on your calendar every week.

3. Take full length practice sections and exams multiple times.

Taking full length sections is the ideal follow-up to a study session.  Furthermore, taking a full length practice exam after every 4 weeks of prep is essential to conditioning you for the exam and giving you more information regarding your continued areas of struggle and improvement.  Don’t forget to add deadlines for taking full length practice exams and full length sections on your study calendar.  This will help hold you accountable to actually completing these tasks.

And of course, don’t forget to make sure your child registers for the actual SAT exam here.

Worried your rising senior isn’t ready for her last ditch effort? Let us help!  Email our test prep manager, Payton, at [email protected] or submit a Get a Tutor form today.

New Summer SAT Date Announced! Should My Rising Junior Take This Test?

Your child just finished 10th grade and now he wants to prepare for the first-ever summer SAT—what?! Is this a good idea, or a wasted effort?

Now that the SAT has announced a late summer test date—August 26th—for the first time ever, you might be wondering if this should be your rising junior’s first attempt.

Taking the August SAT might be a good match if your child

1. Has Determined the SAT is the Right Test.

Before taking the SAT or ACT, you will want your child to take a practice SAT and ACT to determine the test that is the best match. Do not use the actual August SAT as a “practice” or “trial” run. Sign up here to take a free full length practice test of both the SAT and ACT before school is out to determine the right test for your child.

2. Took Pre-calculus/Trig as a Sophomore.

Math on the SAT goes up to trigonometry, so your child should not be taking the SAT unless he has already taken pre-calculus. You don’t want your child to take his first real exam before he has been instructed in all the content.

3. Is a Recruited Athlete.

If your child is a recruited athlete and tests must be completed prior to spring, then preparing for and taking the August SAT is a slam dunk move. Utilizing the summer for prep leading up to the August SAT will allow your recruited athlete the knock out an exam before school even starts, giving him another 1-2 chances to take the test again in the fall.

4. Has Heavy Spring Commitments.

For children with heavy spring commitments—including sports schedules, band or orchestra events, or other training and travel commitments for an extracurricular—taking the summer SAT as their first time and then subsequent tests in the fall will leave their schedules open in the spring. Taking the August SAT, or an early fall ACT if that is the test of choice, would alleviate stress for your child who will need and want to devote time and energy to his extracurricular activities come spring time.

If we can be of help in designing a test preparation program best suited for your child, or if you are interested in learning about the services our tutors can provide, email our test prep manager, Payton, at [email protected] or submit a Get a Tutor form today!

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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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?

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The College Application Essay: Better to Start Now Rather than Later

EiStock_000015974259Largeven though it’s summer, instead of spending your days watching Netflix and lounging by the pool, your time would be best spent by taking some time to prepare for upcoming college application essays.

Don’t wait until September or October when you are stressed out with homework, sports, and other extra-curricular activities. Now is the time to write your essays so you have more time to think of topics and important achievements, edit and proofread your drafts, work with a mentor on writing, and get all your ideas out on paper. The common application essay questions are already available on admissions websites, which means you have more time to draft an essay.

Here’s how to take advantage of this and make your summer really count:

Create your list of schools & find out their essay requirements

Before you start your essay, create a list of the schools to which you want to apply. Not every school has the common application essay prompt, so be sure to separate the ones that don’t have it on your list – you don’t want to do the wrong essay!

Jot down your accomplishments & achievements

Write a list of your biggest accomplishments and achievements. This is your time to brag so don’t be shy!

Did you win the state championship this year? Did you get a perfect score on your hardest test? Did you solve a problem that had been bothering you for quite some time? Finding out what you’re most proud of can be helpful when figuring out which prompt to write about.

Determine what best topics might be

Have your surroundings or situation at home strongly influenced your beliefs or a path you have taken? Each of us has our own unique set of circumstances and surroundings that often have a profound influence in shaping our lives. Determine what is important to you, share a failure, or talk about a time you challenged an idea. Find more topics on our “The College Admissions Essay: Coming Up With a Topic” blog post.

Find a mentor to guide you through the revising & editing process

Ask someone to proofread your essay and work with you on revising your essay. Some teachers may be available in the summer to help out.

Tutors are also available to help you organize your thoughts into a clear and cohesive essay. If Educational Connections can be of assistance in this process, give us a call today and we can work on finding the right tutor match for you.

 

Check out these resources on writing your best essay:

How to Write the Best College Essay in 6 Easy Steps

https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/get-in/essays/8-tips-for-crafting-your-best-college-essay

https://www.petersons.com/college-search/college-application-head-start.aspx

https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/get-in/essays/tips-for-writing-an-effective-application-essay-college-admissions

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Avoiding Summer Assignments? Here’s Help!

Schools assign book reports, math packets, and science projects over the summer to get kids ready for the coming school year. When your kids return to school, much of the curriculum is based on those summer assignments.
b9a7698b-714a-4246-a418-59d14c0cff50Did you ever notice your child’s first quarter grades are lower than other quarters? That might be because of avoiding summer assignments. To start off on the right foot with grades and confidence, it’s important that your child completes the work thoroughly, before it becomes too late.

To help your child tackle these summer assignments, set up a time to talk with her. Help her break down the work into manageable chunks. Split the math packet with 100 problems into 20 problems per week—that averages to less than 3 problems per day. If your child has to read a novel, split the book up so they have a couple of weeks to read a certain amount. Put your assignment agreement in writing, so every family member knows what is due when.

If you really can’t get your child to focus, try instilling a “quiet-time” period each night. It can be after work, after dinner, or right before bed. During this time, everyone is unplugged – no TV, computers, iPads, cell phones, or tablets. It’s similar to DEAR (Drop Everything and Read) that your child probably had in school. Because it’s a family routine, and it’s an expected part of the student’s day, there’s a lot less nagging.shutterstock_114896335

It’s okay to let your children have some fun this summer! See if they want to work on the math packet with their friends from class. You and the other parent can take turns overseeing the work to make sure your students are still on track. Being together provides accountability and helps make learning fun!

If none of these options work, consider a tutor with Educational Connections. With more than 200 tutors in a variety of fields, we guarantee you’ll find one to help work on those assignments.

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