How to Help Your Child with Screen Anxiety in Distance Learning

I’m writing this morning on a topic that many of us are facing as we work to transition our children and teens into virtual learning environments during the pandemic. Screen anxiety shows up in children and teens when they resist, avoid, or shut down in the face of demands to participate in asynchronous and especially synchronous instruction during distance learning.

As a family therapist in Washington, D.C. and nearby Bethesda, MD, I have been treating many families with children who crashed and burned when virtual learning was introduced last spring. As a mom, I experienced it first hand at home. We all might have experienced the introduction of distance learning in different ways–some of us had no exposure in the first month of COVID and then were expected to get our kids online for video classes and live calls; others may have had live classes from the start after a week or two of spring break; and others of us might have been offered a hybrid of live classes, video instruction, packet learning, online learning tools, and interactive group projects to complete through the computer or independently. Yet, all of our children were quickly isolated at home, removed from their regular learning environments, distanced from their friends, deprived of social motivation and in-person connected learning from teachers and classmates, and traveling on a somewhat chaotic, uncertain path of learning.

Many children did fairly well with less than ideal learning circumstances. Most children/teens struggled a bit, and some suffered mightily especially school-aged kids. Despite the hard work of dedicated teachers and loving, committed parents, the problems that occurred were vast. I’ve heard countless stories.

My child refused after day #1! ~My son wouldn’t do anything other than online learning games.~ My child cried and screamed whenever asked to be on camera.~My child would always stay on mute.~My daughter learned nothing. ~My kid needed 100% one-on-one support throughout the entire school day, and therefore I couldn’t work at all.

And now, here we are in September and we are being asked to continue virtual schooling indefinitely. Kids are discouraged, parents are tired and teachers are trying. Yet, I think we have all learned some things from last spring. I know that I’ve spent the summer working on the systems that I will use to help my family with distance learning and coping in the midst of COVID. My colleague and friend, Ann Dolin, who is the Executive Director and Founder of Educational Connections, worked tirelessly over the summer to develop specialized tutoring and support programs to help families manage during this crisis (https://ectutoring.com).

And, as a family therapy practice treating hundreds of families weekly, our team has gathered some tips and suggestions from our lessons learned from COVID distance learning last year.

  1. This is not a one size fits all method. Please realize that distance learning in this manner and for lengthy periods of time especially for school-aged children is not developmentally appropriate. Under normal circumstances, teaching professionals would not support this model. Teachers are working hard to offer the best version of learning through online experiences, yet it will have some problems.
  2. Be kind and flexible with your child and yourself. Every child and family is different. There are no absolutes in what will or what won’t work. Commit to a schedule and plan, and be willing to flex it regularly.
  3. Communicate with your teacher about what your specific goals and plans are for your child. Send your child’s teacher an email with the following information–how distance learning went for your child last year, and what your goals are for your child with distance learning this year (i.e stay on camera, participate in live classes more and more, raise their hand on the camera, listen off-screen and on the mic until more comfortable, etc.)
  4. Create a good learning space. Have a separate desk for your child. Ideally, set up their own laptop, headphones with a good mic, and a wireless mouse. Work on a cleared desk. Use a whiteboard for the daily schedule. Have a separate folder with printouts. Have a box or drawer of good fidgets.
  5. Prepare for siblings learning together. Consider having break-out learning spaces for other siblings so they can work together and apart when needed. Use headsets for kids to minimize distractions. Separate desks at least arm lengths apart if you can. Designate a parent/person for certain blocks of the school day, or hire a childcare provider to help facilitate distance learning while you work.
  6. Buy back to school supplies to get prepared/excited. Help your kids get excited by buying some school supplies and setting up their work space. Everyone loves new notebooks and pens! Get something fun like erasable highlighters or a new wireless mouse, fun gel pens, and composition notebooks with cool designs.
  7. Try to start the same way daily. For the first couple of weeks, try to develop a routine. Have the same point-person start the day if you can. Try to have a routine and a fun outing daily to do during lunch break/recess (i.e. walk the dog, run a fun errand, etc).
  8. Follow the learning schedule flexibly. Write out the schedule daily on a dry erase board. Cross off each class and task when your child completes it. If your child is overwhelmed by how long the day looks, break down the schedule into morning and afternoon and only write out half the day at first. Let your child take body breaks when needed.
  9. Start with realistic and customized goals for your child. If s/he is scared of being on-screen with his or her mic on, s/he can participate off-screen and off-mic at first. Just be sure to tell his/her teacher that is your plan and that you are working with your child to increase their comfort. Then gradually add a feature–turn on the mic, or turn on the screen during fun activities, help your child respond in chat, or raise their hand virtually, etc.
  10. Ask your teacher not to call out or on your child at first if you are worried that they will become too anxious or meltdown. Advocate for your child’s feelings while still expecting them to grow in becoming more comfortable on screen. Expose them to other less threatening virtual interactions (i.e. zoom calls grandparents regularly, interactive apps or facetime with friends, etc).
  11. Create a ladder. Write out with your child their fears or resistance about being in a virtual class. 10 is the scariest and 0 is all ok. Help them think about instances that might make them anxious and write them down and rate them (i.e. Being called on in class. Having my teacher ask me to respond on mic. Getting the answer wrong in the chat. Having everyone see my face on the screen. Having to look at everyone’s faces all at once on-screen.) Try to build a list of coping strategies for each level of concern.
  12. Be willing to accommodate and adjust your child’s learning experience. If your child is fearful or averse to looking at everyone fully in the face on-screen, you can have him/her sit to the side and just listen to class at first, doodle, or play with a fidget rather than focus on the screen images. You also can have them minimize the zoom window so they don’t see everyone, or they can hide their image.
  13. Expose them gradually, kindly, and steadily to new screen skills. Start at the bottom of their ladder and pick a strategy that they can use that day that helps them get more and more comfortable with working on-screen. Pair that new skill with a relaxing activity or coping skill. For instance, they might take a screen break or “shake it off” after showing up on-screen for 5-10timed minutes. Or they could play with thinking putty while they are off-screen but on-mic and answering questions. We are working towards progress, not perfection!
  14. Recognize that they are learning a multitude of skills at once which could cause information and emotional overload. Most school-aged kids don’t have typing skills. Some may not have any computer skills. So trying to learn math, while using OneNote, and typing their answers while also talking and listening and watching on-screen may just be too much, right!?! Have paper and pencils ready to replace OneNote if needed and type their answers for them. Consider practicing a typing program as it makes sense.
  15. Emphasize, empathize, empathize–And Still Return Certain Standards. When your child complains, share in those feelings…”This IS awful!” Match their emotion and intensity and then return to a calm voice if you can. Don’t forget to return to certain goals and standards (even if just silently to yourself in that moment) and consistently ask them to participate. If we give up, we teach our kids that they can’t do hard things and that we can’t help them overcome difficult tasks. Don’t pressure, yet do be kind and firm.

Look: what we are doing as parents is really really challenging—working, teaching, coping with chronic stress, and uncertainty. It actually can feel impossible and insurmountable in the moment. Yet, we can do hard things for the sake of our kids. We just have to keep them in mind as we flex and work. Don’t forget to start by acknowledging and appreciating yourself each morning. You make your home run, and get to bring joy or angst into the day. Try to acknowledge the worry that you wake up with, honor it, and then calm yourself for a minute. Then, if you can, try to consciously choose how you want to feel with your child that day. Try to imagine the relationship that you want to create (even when it isn’t playing out that way at that exact moment) when faced with too much adversity in your school day. If your child is resisting or avoiding, take a minute to reconnect with them through a 5-minute break that is light and easy and then start again. And, if you find you need additional help, give yourself that help.

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How to Ask a Teacher for Help When You’re Virtual

Last spring, the shift to a virtual learning environment represented a sudden, emergency shift for schools, students, and parents alike. Everyone was adjusting in numerous ways.

Looking towards the start of the new school year, Educational Connections is dedicated to helping make this transition as smooth and effective as possible. Parents have a LOT of questions.

One common concern we have heard a lot is that kids are finding it much harder to reach out to their teachers for help when they are behind a computer across town, instead of behind a desk in the same room. What are some ways or tactics kids can use to get extra help, clarification on assignment, or speak up when they’re struggling? What can parents do to help?

In the physical classroom, kids can give subtle physical signals for help, hang out after class, or go find a teacher at lunch. In the virtual environment, it’s not that easy. 

Here are some ways to ask for help within the virtual learning environment:

  • Be sure to speak up when the teacher asks, “Are there any questions?”
  • Use the “raise hand” feature within the online learning platform during class
  • Put questions in the chat, using the “send privately” option if that feels more comfortable
  • Email the teacher directly after class while the question is fresh in your mind
  • Ask questions on the teacher assignment page
  • Schedule time virtually with teacher one to one during the teacher planning time
  • Ask for a recording of the class or/or a copy of the teacher’s notes

If the child is very reserved, nervous or shy, you can help them write an email saying something like, “I’m having trouble understanding how to do [are of difficulty or confusion]. Can you please help me with this?” The approach works well because the student is likely to get a positive response. And when they do, they’re more likely to ask for assistance again.

Alternatively, if the student is young or especially timid, you can send an email saying, “I’ve noticed that my child needs help, but is very nervous about asking a question in front of the other kids. Do you have any suggestions?” This allows you to be helpful without taking over or being confrontational in any way. 

Most importantly, please know that teachers want and expect kids to ask for help. We do as well. Please click on the button below to talk about your specific concerns, and schedule your free consultation with one of our learning experts.

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How to Create the Ideal Virtual Learning Space

Student desks are the new toilet paper! Here’s why they’re running out—and what we recommend for your family this fall.

Today, I want to share three practical tips for creating an ideal virtual learning space in your home. This will set your entire family up for success as you navigate the semester ahead. (By the way, if you find this email helpful, don’t miss our upcoming free parent webinar with more virtual learning tips! You’ll find all the info at the bottom of this email.)

If you’re like many of the families we serve, the sudden switch to virtual learning in the spring didn’t go so well. As a result, you might be feeling nervous about this upcoming school year. But we’re here with some good news how to Create the Ideal Virtual Learning Space: If virtual learning was a struggle for your child in the spring, that doesn’t mean it has to be a struggle again this fall!

Tip #1: Create a Dedicated Work Space

If your child was easily distracted in the spring, consider setting up a space that’s dedicated to just virtual learning—no video games or other activities! Having a dedicated work space helps their brain differentiate between work and play. 

I recently spoke to a mom of four. Without dedicated work spaces, she found it really difficult to keep her kids organized and on task with virtual learning. Now, she’s setting up a space in her basement for school where each child will have their own desk. This will help her kids make the mental switch to “work mode” when they sit down at their desks.

As I’m recommending that you get your child a desk if possible, I should mention something: Desks have become the new toilet paper! With so many parents preparing for at-home learning this year, many stores are running out. I believe Overstock and Wayfair still have a good selection, so you can check there if you need one.

If getting each child their own desk isn’t feasible, consider using a card table or old folding table. If all else fails, you can absolutely use the dining room table. In that case, we recommend purchasing or making study carrel dividers to turn that table into a dedicated work space when it’s time for study mode.

Tip #2: Get Quiet (But Not Too Quiet!) and Organized

As much as possible, ensure your child’s learning space has reduced distractions (not in sight of a TV or video games) but isn’t too quiet. For most students, the isolation of their bedroom is inherently distracting. One parent told me she went to check on her child and he was sleeping in the middle of a teacher-directed lesson! This isn’t all that uncommon, because working alone in a silent bedroom room for six hours simply isn’t doable for children.

To get organized and make the “back to school” transition feel a bit more fun, let your child set up their learning space with school supplies and any decorations they’d like. This can help them feel more excited and prepared.

If you find their space is getting too cluttered, use their backpack to store books, folders, binders, and other supplies. Using a backpack reinforces the idea that kids are back “in school” while also keeping their dedicated work space clear and organized.

Tip #3: Equip Your Child for Success

In addition to a desk or other dedicated work space, there are three tools we recommend to set your child up for success in virtual learning:

  • Password Card – Many students struggle to remember their passwords, especially when they’re using multiple devices and accounts. Keep an index card handy with all of your child’s logins, and they’ll be more prepared to work without your help.
  • Headphones – If you have more than one child—or need to do some work of your own—consider getting your child some comfortable headphones. This will ensure their online lessons aren’t distracting to others (and cut out any noise that could be distracting to them).
  • Chair – Ensure your child has a comfortable place to sit and work. If your child is fidgety, consider one of these options that allow your child to discreetly bounce and wiggle while they learn.

Bonus Tip: Get Help If You Need It!

If you’re nervous about this school year and don’t want to be the “School Police,” remember that you don’t have to do this alone. We have expert tutors available for virtual or in-home tutoring. Click below to schedule a free consultation to learn which solution might be best for your family. We’re here for you!

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Supporting Your Middle Schooler During Covid-19

If you’re the parent of a middle schooler, preparing for another non-conventional school year can feel intimidating. After working with hundreds of middle schoolers and their families, I get that and I want to help. Read on to discover three priorities to keep in mind as you support your middle schooler in the year ahead. 

School closures in the spring weren’t easy on anyone. After talking with hundreds of families in recent months, I’m hearing that middle schoolers were hit particularly hard. Middle school is never easy. The typical stress is even more intensified with the loss of peer interaction, in-person teacher support, and hands-on classroom time that they’ve experienced during this pandemic. 

Make Decisions That Work for Your Family

A few weeks ago, local school districts announced that parents would need to choose between two days of in-person learning or four days of virtual learning this fall. If you’re a middle school parent grappling with this decision, I want to reassure you that there’s no one decision that’s right for everyone. Each option has pros and cons.

For example, four days of virtual schooling might provide a more consistent routine and academic experience, but children will miss out on beneficial social interactions. On the other hand, two days of in-person school will provide that social interaction, but you may find your child needs extra academic support while learning from home the other three days of the week. Neither choice is all-good or all-bad, so simply choose whichever is best for your family’s needs. Then, do what you can to “make up” for what’s lacking—perhaps by keeping the next two suggestions in mind.

Prioritize English and Math

As you monitor your child’s progress over the next year, pay special attention to Math and English. The skills learned in those middle school classes are foundational for the rest of their academic careers. In English, they’re honing their reading comprehension skills, which prepares them for the analytical and critical thinking that Advanced Placement subjects in high school will require. Similarly, in pre-Algebra and Algebra, they’re learning skills they’ll need in every math class still to come. 

Unfortunately, research suggests that school closures caused by COVID-19 could lead to serious academic setbacks. As reported in The Hechinger Report, one study suggested that “sixth and seventh graders would retain an average of only 1 to 10 percent of their normal learning gains in math for the year, and just 15 to 29 percent in reading.” Such losses could set these students back not only for the 2020-21 school year, but well into high school.

If your child needs additional help to catch up or keep up in these subjects, don’t wait for a normal school schedule to resume. Instead, seek out a tutor or use online resources to supplement your child’s learning. When your child enrolls in more advanced classes in the coming years, you’ll be glad you took the time to give them a solid foundation!

Make Room for Social Development

We can’t underestimate how critical the middle school years are for children’s social development. That’s why this age group seemed to struggle more than any other with the sudden loss of in-person relationships in the spring. Spending time with peers and mentors isn’t just a way to stave off boredom. It plays a crucial role in their mental and emotional health at this stage. 

Just take a look at what reporter Steven Yoder from The Hechinger Report found in speaking with adolescence specialists:

When puberty hits, the brain reorganizes dramatically, said Laurence Steinberg, a professor of psychology at Temple University, who specializes in adolescence. The neural pathways dealing with learning about social connections become more active, helping adolescents become attuned to what other people are thinking and feeling and how best to relate to them.

It’s at this age that, through interactions with peers and adults, young people acquire the ability to read facial expressions and interpret nonverbal communication, Steinberg said.

Kenneth Ginsburg, a pediatrician who specializes in adolescent medicine at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, told Yoder that isolation “flies in the face of what their brains are telling them they need.”

This fall, remember that middle schoolers don’t just want social interaction. They need it. Look for opportunities to provide that however you can. Maybe you opt for two days a week of in-person school. Maybe you set up Zoom calls between your child and their peers. Maybe you arrange socially-distanced hangouts for your child with one or two friends in your backyard. How you do it is up to you, but ensure your child has opportunities to safely but consistently develop their social skills over the next year.

In the months ahead, I expect most middle school parents will face an overwhelming number of opinions, decisions, and concerns. Instead of getting bogged down in it all, try to remember these three priorities: Make decisions that work for your family. Prioritize English and Math. And make room for your child’s social development. Do that, and you’ll set your child up for success in middle school, high school, and beyond—no matter what the future may hold.

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What does it take to be a tutor at Educational Connections? 🧠

Have you ever wondered what it takes to be a tutor at Educational Connections? Do we hire high school students? College students? Teachers? Who exactly will be supporting your child in their academic journey?

It’s a great question, and we hope today’s email clears it up. Read on to discover what we expect from our tutors—and how we sift through our extremely skilled team to match each student with the best possible tutor for them. Then, click below to find the best tutor for your child!

Distance Learning Programs

What We Require of Our Tutors

Our standards for our tutors are extremely high. When you get a tutor from Educational Connections, you can expect your child to work with someone who is:

  • Highly Trained – 87% of our tutors have a master’s degree or higher. We require at least a bachelor’s degree and proven experience in the classroom.
  • Continually Learning – We require and provide ongoing professional development and tutor training to keep our tutors up-to-date on the best strategies for supporting your child in private, one-on-one sessions.
  • Creative and Engaging – Our tutors use games, online activities, and more to make every tutoring session fun and engaging. Parents regularly tell us their kids always look forward to their next session with our tutors!

How We Find the Best Tutor for Your Child

While any one of our tutors could likely provide a great experience for your child, we take the time to match each student with the best possible tutor for them. After talking with you to learn more about your child’s needs, we use a proprietary software to match your family to the best fit based on four important criteria:

  • Skillset and Background – The tutor must be skilled, trained, and experienced in the specific area where your child needs help.
  • Personality – The tutor’s personality and techniques must match what you’ve told us about your child’s favorite teachers.
  • Location – The tutor must be able to provide convenient, in-home tutoring if necessary. (For the time being, our services are virtual, but we still consider location to ensure your child can continue working with their tutor when in-home tutoring can safely resume.)
  • Schedule – The tutor must be able to meet with your child at a time that fits your family’s schedule. We offer tutoring seven days a week with flexible times to meet your needs.

We’re proud of our high standards and unique process because we’ve seen how well this works. In the past 21 years, the families of over 10,000 DC students have trusted us to support their child’s academic journey!

Whether your child needs help with summer learning, subject struggles, test prep, or executive function skills, our professional tutors help them reach their full potential so they can enjoy a future full of opportunities.

Click below to schedule a consultation and learn more. We can’t wait to help you find the best possible tutor for your child!

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Our 3 most popular posts of 2019 👏

Do you ever look around at other parents and think, “Why does everyone else seem to have it all together? Am I the only one figuring this out as I go?”

The truth is every parent is making educated guesses on what’s best for their child, and every parent second guesses themselves from time to time! And, as parents, where do we turn for answers? The internet!

Over the past year, some of the posts on our website have attracted tens of thousands of readers like you. Today, I want to share with you our three most popular posts from 2019 so you can see what questions your fellow parents are asking—and get the advice we’ve shared with them!

Check out the posts below, then forward this email to a fellow parent as a reminder that we’re all in this together… and no one has it all figured out!

#1: How to Handle Bad Grades: A Practical Guide for Parents

No parent wants to see a bad grade on their child’s report card. If it does happen to your child, it can be really hard to know how to respond. Perhaps that’s why this post has been our most-read post of the year with over 31,000 views.

Check it out for helpful tips concerning…  

  • What to do if your child comes home with bad grades (and how to talk to them about it)
  • Whether to punish your child for bad grades or reward them for good grades
  • How to investigate why your child got the grade and what to do about it moving forward

With report cards coming up after the break, this is a great piece to read now or bookmark for later. Here’s to hoping you won’t ever need it… but being prepared just in case!

#2: This $5 Tool Makes Homework Much Easier

So what’s the simple tool our tutors love? Whiteboards! 

They’re not flashy or tech-savvy, but they still work wonders with elementary, middle, and high schoolers. Read on to learn what you need to know to make this whiteboard trick work in your household.

Read our post to discover…

  • Why planning for an entire month isn’t realistic, but planning for one day at a time is too short-sighted
  • The best way to avoid stress later in the week
  • The truth about kids being disorganized or falling behind

Schedule a call with us if your child could use a little extra help.

#3: What’s your child’s homework personality?

How is the school year going for you and your family so far? It’s around this time of year that assignments can pile up, calendars can fill up, and stress can build for the entire family. Add a child’s disorganization or poor time management to the mix, and things quickly go from bad to worse.

Read our post to learn about...

  • Focus Apps for Tick Tock Tommy
  • Planning Ahead with Last Minute Lucy
  • Weekly Check-ins with Hot Headed Harry
  • Clean Sweeps with Backpack Bonnie

If your child resists your efforts to help, know you’re not alone. I’ve been there! And that’s why I’ve created a special Executive Function Coaching program to connect your child with an expert tutor who can coach her to find and implement systems that will work for her… without any work on your part!

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The Secret to Finding Your Child’s Ideal Tutor

We just got some exciting news, and we have you—and, of course, our incredible tutors—to thank! Our test prep tutoring was just voted Best for Families by readers of Washington FAMILY magazine.

Thank you for voting for EC Tutoring. And, more importantly, thank you for the bigger honor of allowing our wonderful tutors to help your children!

We are so grateful that the families of over 10,000 DC and Northern VA students have trusted us to come into their homes and help their children master the skills, confidence, and strategies to succeed in school and beyond.

After 21 years in business, we’ve learned that the best thing we can do for families like yours is to take our time finding the tutor who is the best possible match for your child’s personality, background, and goals.

In fact, we’ve even developed a unique process (called The Dolin Process) to make sure we match students and tutors successfully again and again. Here’s how it works:

Step 1: Understand Your Needs

Whenever you request a tutor, we’ll start by talking with you to understand your child’s biggest needs and goals. Do you want your child to achieve a certain test score? Partner with a tutor who is phenomenal with students on the autism spectrum? Meet with someone who can work around their grueling sports schedule? Once we know what you need, we’re ready to move forward and find the right tutor for you.

Step 2: Reach Out to Our Tutors 

Faith, our office manager, ends each day by emailing our tutors to highlight new students’ needs and goals. Tutors who believe they may be a good match for your child are invited to respond.

Step 3: Review Responses

Each morning, our team meets together to review all responses to Faith’s email. If we’re already confident one of those tutors would be a great fit for your child, we’ll move forward in connecting them with your family. Otherwise, we move to step 4…

Step 4: Use Tutor-Matching Software

In many cases, initial email responses from tutors may not include the best match for your child. When this happens, we use our software to suggest better fits, so we can reach out to those tutors on your behalf.

Our software finds the best tutor for your child based on four important criteria:

  • Skillset and Background — Is the tutor skilled, trained, and experienced in tutoring the right subject?
  • Personality — Do the tutor’s personality and techniques match what you’ve told us about your child’s favorite teachers?
  • Location — Will the tutor be able to serve your family in your home?
  • ScheduleWill the tutor be able to meet with your child at a time that fits your family’s schedule?

Step 5: Make the Match!

Once we identify the right match, we can connect the tutor with your family. This is how we send the best tutor for your child to your home for a tutoring experience that’s enjoyable and effective for your child and convenient for your entire family!

We’d love to show you how this award-winning process can help you find the perfect tutor for your child this school year! Just click below to request a tutor and meet your child’s ideal match.

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Our Summer Tutoring Message for 2019

In 1978, I could not do long division.

And believe me, I tried.

There were just way too many steps.

It was confusing, frustrating, and I could never get it right.

Well, that summer (the summer between fourth and fifth grade) my mom got me a tutor, Mrs. Lewis.

I rode my bike to her house every week.

And you know what?

By the end of the summer, I could do long division!

I had mastered the steps and I felt great about myself.

So when I went to fifth grade, it was really the first time in my life I actually felt confident about math.

Now, I’m sure you’re not actually all that interested in my fifth grade math performance (and neither am I for that matter).

But it’s illustrative of what I want to share with you today…

Our take on summer tutoring for 2019: a time where grades, schedules, and distractions dominate during the year, often leaving an inadequate amount of time and focus available for learning to happen how we’d like it to.

Summer tutoring isn’t just for kids that are a little bit behind and need to get caught up because they can’t afford to lose any ground.

In fact, we frequently see kids that are doing just fine in school, do nothing over the summer, and subsequently fall behind the following year.

And that means more effort in the fall to catch back up during the most hectic, difficult, and distraction-filled time of the school year.

So this year, we’re making it simple.

Work with a tutor now through summer and save 15%.

You’ll get:

  • 12 sessions you can use anytime between now and September 2nd, 2019 before the school year starts back up.
  • Time dedicated to moving your child’s understanding and confidence forward using the review/preview method.
  • Your choice of a hand-selected tutor who is just right for your child, who can incorporate both accountability and fun to keep sessions productive and engaging over the summer.

Most of all, it’s an opportunity for your child to finally get ahead of the game and feel great going into next year.

If you’re interested, click the link below to fill out a short questionnaire, and we’ll be in contact shortly to discuss.

Find the right tutor for your child this summer

“Things are going very well, thank you. Jaimee is really helping to make concepts less abstract for Kesha and working with her specifically on how to apply them in her work.” ~ Carol, EC Tutoring Parent

“Ivey has worked with Patrick several weeks now, and it is going well. We have found Patrick to be thoughtful, earnest, engaging, and patient. Ivey says the sessions are helpful, and our family is experiencing less stress and conflict around homework since Patrick and Ivey began working together.” Kennedy, EC Tutoring Parent

Why Is Math So Hard? School Subjects Where Falling Behind Spells Real Trouble

why is math so hard image 1The question “why is math so hard?” is one we come across so often with the parents and students we work with, it’s become almost a given. We hear things like:

“My son just doesn’t seem to ‘take’ to math. He’s just like his mom.”

“Why is it that even when my daughter really ‘buckles down’ and tries to catch up in Algebra, she still does poorly on quizzes and exams? But then she can turn around, spend a weekend with her history textbook, and ace her essays and tests?”

“It seems like ever since they started algebra, he’s been struggling and hasn’t been able to ‘get it’ no matter how hard he tries.”

But what most people don’t realize is, although math may present some specific difficulties for some children, most of these questions aren’t actually about math at all, but rather any of the school subjects that build on each other cumulatively.

With these types of classes, because each topic builds on the last (like layering bricks), they’re very unforgiving if your child starts to fall behind. And if you’re not on top of it, a “C” on a quiz or two can quickly snowball into a string of C’s on their next report card, or more importantly, a lack of understanding of those topics and a permanent aversion towards them for the rest of their time in school.

Now don’t worry, it’s not all gloom and doom if your child finds themselves behind in these subjects. In this post we’ll cover exactly which subjects you do need to watch out for, how to know when your child is truly struggling, and when you should step in to get them some extra help.

Why is math so hard? What most people think the problem is (and what’s really going on)

When a student continues to struggle in a complex, cumulative topic like math, language, or some of the more advanced sciences (physics, chemistry), we tend to think a few things right off the bat:

  • Maybe they just don’t have the “math gene,” I certainly didn’t
  • Maybe their teacher is just going too fast for them
  • Maybe they’re just more “right-brained” and don’t find math or science interesting

And to some extent, those things can be true.

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In 2005, Gallup conducted a poll that showed math as the subject students found the least interesting and most challenging across the board. These students found math to be the least intrinsically motivating, either because they never found it interesting to begin with, or because they developed that attitude over time.

But apart from genetic pre-dispositions, which may preclude students from pursuing a career as a mathematician or PhD chemist, most likely this lack of interest and motivation is coming from somewhere else. Let’s dig a little deeper.

The Swiss Cheese Problem

It was 1983, and there I was sitting in my 8th grade algebra class at Hoover Middle School in Indialantic, Florida. I look up at the board and I see yet another equation, and my neck starts to get stiff, and my shoulders get tense, and I thought to myself:

“I’m never going to learn this”

But I really wanted to. I was sitting in the front row of the class, talking myself into learning. However, inevitably within a few minutes I was off daydreaming about something else as my teacher droned on and on and on.

And when I would go home to do my homework, I didn’t really know what I was doing. It started off where I would do most of it, but maybe leave a few questions blank. But then slowly but surely that turned into: I only did about half of the homework questions. And then after a few weeks, not much of it at all.

And what happens when you aren’t really doing the homework?

(1) You don’t get any of the extra practice, which means
(2) You don’t know what’s going on in class the next day when you move on to more complicated problems, which means
(3) You’re even further behind when you go to do the next set of homework problems…

And on, and on, until that unit test grade smacks you in the face with a C or a D, and your motivation continues to dwindle.

This was all a complete surprise to my parents and teachers, because for all intents and purposes I was the model student. I always came to class, sat in the front, and acted as though I was paying attention.

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But behind the scenes, my understanding of what was going on in these cumulative classes looked more like “Swiss Cheese:” I had some of the pieces put together, enough to struggle through at first. But there were holes in my learning and those accumulate over time.

This was my issue with math, and it’s the same issue we see over and over with the students that we help.

School subjects that are cumulative are like building a brick wall

Math, the languages, and many of the sciences are cumulative: if you don’t learn the fundamentals, you’ll continue to be more and more confused, and fall further and further behind as the class progresses forward.

This was my problem in algebra class. But you can see this problem happening with far earlier than that. Take fractions, for example.

If your child has difficulty understanding fractions, they may be able to remember a few simple concepts like:

1/4 = 2/8 or 1/6 + 5/6 = 1

But if when it comes to adding fractions with different denominator (e.g. 1/4 + 2/7) they don’t grasp the method, then what happens when they get to more complicated arithmetic problems like this:

102/7 + 25/4

A gap in understanding appears.

As these gaps accumulate, it becomes harder and harder to fill them in, and more unlikely that you will be able to fully grasp algebra or calculus later on. If a student becomes discouraged at an early age and it is not remediated quickly, then it is probably that the student will become disillusioned with the subject entirely.

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It’s like building a brick wall: if your foundation is weak, whatever you stack on top of it is going to be unstable, and quickly be reduced to rubble if put under scrutiny.

Cumulative vs. non-cumulative school subjects

Now the story can be much different for subjects like english and history. If your son or daughter struggles with the “Hamlet” unit in english class, or misses class during “Roman Empire” unit in world history, they may end up with a few poor grades on some essays and a unit test, but beyond that it’s relatively straightforward to recover.

You figure out what they did wrong, why they missed what they missed, and approach the next topic with a renewed study strategy. These non-cumulative subjects are much less “dangerous” to fall behind in, because a short-term concerted effort can recover much of what was lost during the period they missed.

Here’s a quick breakdown of which subjects fit into which category:

Subject Type Subjects If they fall behind…

Non-cumulative

English, Reading, Social Studies/History, Earth Science, Biology

Pay attention, use questions and reminders to guide them in the right direction, but no need to immediately step in. Unless they repeatedly struggle, or show aversion to multiple different topics, books, or units some gentle guidance and suggestions should be enough to ensure they get back on track.

Cumulative

All Math classes (Arithmetic, Geometry, Pre-Algebra, Algebra, Calculus, Statistics, etc.), All Foreign Languages (Spanish, French, German, Latin, etc.), Chemistry, Physics

If they show any signs of multiple poor grades in a row, uncharacteristically low grades, a big unit test failure, or an aversion to the subject, take action now to either step in yourself or hire a tutor to help them catch up as quickly as possible.

Other potential signs include: when they don’t want to show you the homework portal or say they don’t have homework in that class, or you suggest they go see the teacher and they refuse to.

Now the real question becomes: what do we do about it?

Step 1: Are they really falling behind, or just temporarily struggling?

Now how do we know whether our kids are actually starting to slip in class, or whether they just had a bad week or two that led to some uncharacteristic grades? When do we need to think about stepping in?

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The good thing is, like we briefly summarized in the table above, there are some telltale signs that indicate whether or not your child is falling behind in one of these cumulative subjects.

You probably DON’T need to step in yet if they:

  • Had one or two low homework or quiz grades, but then quickly recovered (still pay attention though)
  • Came home with an out-of-the-ordinary test grade with a clear cause you can point to unrelated to their understanding of the material (e.g. a stupid mistake, were sick when they took the test, etc.)
  • Are having trouble with one or two specific concepts, but are open to help and willing to work through it

You probably DO need to step in a get some extra help if they:

  • Come home with a string of low grades on quizzes and assignments
  • Bomb a unit test or come home with a highly uncharacteristic grade
  • Are spending an inordinate amount of time studying each night with no improvement in grades
  • Seem “down” about the subject or aversive to studying it
  • Say they don’t have homework or studying for that class
  • Don’t want to go see the teacher if you suggest it

You know your kid best, so use these guidelines and your best judgement to evaluate whether they’re having real trouble or are just going through a temporary sticking point. And if you do suspect something is up, it may be worthwhile to have a brief dialogue with their teacher to see what they say about their performance in class.

Step 2: How to help them “catch up” in cumulative school subjects

Once you have recognized that your child is struggling, there are two paths you can take: either (1) step in to help yourself and work with them and their teacher to get them back on track, or (2) hire a tutor to help them “fill in the gaps,” rebuild their foundation in that course, and get them confident and motivated to keep up during class again.

Steps you can take as a parent

The first thing you can do in the case of a poor test grade, is to help them take advantage of the retake policy if the teacher has one. If your child isn’t making test corrections or letting you know about a chance to retake the test, it’s a good sign they’re feeling defeating. So take this opportunity to discuss options with their teacher and see if there’s still a chance for kid to retake test.

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Second, kids are usually afraid of rejection and typically won’t be willing to write the teacher an email with a question or an ask for help. So sit with them and help them write out an email to their teacher:

“Hi Mrs. Smith,
I’m working on my homework due this Tuesday and I’m really not understanding how to use the Pythagorean Theorem. Can I stop by after class tomorrow to ask you about it?”

Most of the time just writing and sending that one email will lift a huge load off of their shoulders, especially when they realize their teacher is most likely going to be very receptive to helping them out.

Third, see if they can attend study hall after school and sit in the classroom with their teacher while they do their homework. Inevitably they’ll end up asking for help with problems they’re stuck on and feel more comfortable doing so with their teacher in the room without the pressure of their classmates present. This will help them get in the routine of asking for help when they need it without feeling embarrassed.

Steps you can take with a tutor

Although many parents are fully equipped to help their children with homework and studying, a tutor is, in the large majority of cases, are more effective means for getting your child back up to speed in a subject like math or foreign language if for no other reason than: they’re a new face and an outside voice with less “stake” in the game.

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Photo: US Department of Education

Additionally, if a tutor really knows what they’re doing, they’ll be able to diagnose where your child is struggling, and take progressive steps to close those subject gaps, catch them up, and build up their ability to keep up with the new material. Here’s for example, what our tutors will generally do:

  1. Assess where the student is right now, and identify any gaps in the fundamentals that will need to be addressed right off the bat.
  2. Build an execute a plan to fill those holes in understanding and re-teach that material expediently so that the child still has time left over to work on the current work going on in class.
  3. Spend additional time helping them through their homework, and helping them prepare for upcoming quizzes and tests. Because the worst thing that can happen is to have them continue to lose ground and lose confidence as they go back to the basics and try to re-learn older material.
  4. Once the student has started to master the old material they missed out on, then ideally the tutor will have them start to preview what they’ll see next so that they feel more motivated and focused by the time they get to school and take on that topic during class. This is much more powerful than remediation alone, and will improve grades and confidence more than simply reviewing and correcting material after the fact.
  5. Work with the student to take practice tests ahead of their actual exams. In general, kids who perform poorly in specific subjects like math tend to have a very inaccurate idea of how much they actually know. Tutors can create and administer practice tests to both help students identify where they still need work, and also to prepare for the pressures of solving problems within the testing format and timeframe.

Take Action

Whether you decide to step in yourself first, or move forward with a subject tutor for your child, the most important thing is to work quickly to get them moving in the right direction.

If you’ve done the work to identify that they’re really struggling, further delay will only make things worse. So put together a plan, and start working towards stopping the cumulative snowball effect from progressing any farther.

If you think tutoring may be the best option to get your child back on track, and you live in the DC/Virginia/Maryland area, you can contact us here or call (703) 934-8282 and we’ll be happy to walk you through some options we have available.

If you’re not local to us, a quick Google search for “Algebra tutor” or “Spanish tutor” within your area should yield some good options to choose from. Feel free to use our math or foreign language tutoring overviews to give you a sense of what to look for.

And finally, if you have any comments, questions, or feedback for us, leave a comment below! We love hearing from you and would be happy to help where we can.

Summer Tutor: When it helps… and when it doesn’t

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Should we think about getting a summer tutor?

Or is it better to just take the summer off?

“My son had a rough go this last year in math. Would it be worth it to have him work with a tutor over the summer to help get ready for when he starts Algebra for the first time in the fall?”

“I’m not quite sure what to do for my daughter. She came home with all A’s and B’s to finish out the year (like usual), but she always seems so stressed out and overwhelmed by all the work she has to do. Would it help to get ahead over the summer so she can hit the ground running next year?”

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“Both my kids are starting at a new school this coming fall – one middle school, one high school. My youngest seems un-phased by it, but my oldest keeps telling me she’s nervous about the transition… I’m not quite sure how to help.”

For all of us who have kids in school, summer is a time to decompress, regroup, and take some much needed time away from the daily grind of rushing out the door each morning, picking up and dropping off from after-school practices and events, and staying up far too late on last minute assignments…

And a lot of times, it’s just that straightforward: take school out of the picture for a few months, and the whole family is better off.

But sometimes, by the time mid-June rolls around, you’re asking yourself:

“Is there something else we need to be doing this summer so that they’re better prepared for next year?”

Now… studies do show that students who don’t practice their academics over the summer fall 2.5 months behind their peers, and that students who have a tutor during the summer are more likely to succeed in college than those who don’t.

But does that apply to your son or daughter?

Or are they better off using that time for rest and recovery, followed by a quick refresher in August before the first week of school?

Here’s how to tell:

No need for a summer tutor Consider getting a summer tutor

Kids working above grade level and have mastery over the content areas.

In other words, your child is achieving mostly A’s and is independent during homework time.

Also, their grades are the result of their own achievement (not the result of a your or a tutor’s help).

Students who are shaky in any given subject…

…especially one that’s cumulative where one skill builds upon another, such as math, math-based science, foreign languages, reading or writing.

A summer review can be a game changer for these kids when instruction is two-fold. First, a good review of any weak areas helps kids create a solid foundation in the skills that are they need to build upon. Second, taking the latter part of the summer to preview what they’ll see in the coming year helps build confidence and motivation.

Students working above grade level, even if they’re a little disorganized and tend to procrastinate.

Students that have difficulty with staying organized and focused, but are achieving A’s without outside support do not need tutoring over the summer.

These students do well in the fall with an educational coach to support their organization, time management, and study skills, but this isn’t necessary in the summer. These skills are best learned within the context of school work.

Kids who have good grades in an particular subject, but it’s not their natural strength.

For example, perhaps your son or daughter has an A or B in English, aren’t a particularly good writer, but they are taking an Honors class in the coming year…

In these cases, students are well served by improving their skills over the summer so they are ready for the rigors of advanced classes.

Kids that are achieving high grades and are anxious.

Most often, these students need downtime to recharge.

If they’re slightly weak in a subject, say math, for example, they do well previewing the curriculum in August so that they feel comfortable and confident in the fall. They do not need tons of tutoring throughout the summer.

Kids who have assigned summer work (math packets, books to read or essays to write) and have the habit of waiting until the last minute to start.

If you have a kid who has waited until mid-August in past summers to even think about summer work, consider getting help.
An educational coach can help him or her to plan out these assignments and practice time management skills to get the work done on time, or even early.

Students going into middle school or high school.

Far and away, we get the most calls in late fall from parents of kids who are new to middle or high school (typically grades 6 or 7 and 9). By November, it’s become clear that the change is far more challenging than kids expected, and their study skills and grades could be better.

I’ve found that when these students have the opportunity to set up some organization systems, preview content of upcoming classes, and review any required summer work, they have a leg up come the first day of school. With continued support through the first quarter, they’re off to a great start, which is what every kid needs in a new school.

Taking the time to understand where your son or daughter is academically in this way, can make a big difference not only in how well they start off next year, but how much they get out of their summer break as well.

So where does your child fit in?

If you’re not quite sure, click here to send us an email with the subject: “What should we do this summer?”

We’ll email you right back with our specific recommendations for your son or daughter.