Control What You Can: Admissions Factors to Consider in COVID-19

In a year where not much is within our control, it’s good to know what you can control in the test prep and college admissions process.

In this final post, we’re going to talk about a few of things your child can control when working to strengthen their college applications.

3 Ways to Improve Scores

One thing your child can do to strengthen an application is to work to achieve their best possible score on the SAT or ACT. Once your child has mock test or actual scores in hand, there are three ways a tutor can help improve those scores.

1. Review Test-Taking Strategies – Test-taking strategies are things like using the process of elimination or working backward to get to an answer when you aren’t sure right away. These are “best practices” and can vary based on the test and section. 

2. Work on Targeted Content Review – Maybe your child needs to brush up on geometry because it’s been a while. Or perhaps grammar rules weren’t their strength, and they need a refresh of that content. Focusing on those weak spots can help improve scores.

3. Take Full-length Practice Tests – We’re currently offering mock tests virtually so kids can take them safely at home. They mimic the real test so students can practice and improve their pacing and boost their mental stamina before test day. 

In each of these areas, students need to know and work on their weaknesses. It seems counterintuitive since students often hear, “Work on the things you love to do and focus on your strengths!” But when it comes to test prep, focusing on weaker areas helps to improve scores more than a generic approach or focusing on areas where the student is already strong.

Our tutors combine these three methods to tackle students’ weaknesses and improve scores. We’re so confident in our approach that we even offer a test prep guarantee! If a student completes a test prep package program and their scores fail to increase, we will provide three complimentary sessions.

Additional Areas of Focus

Working on weaknesses to improve test scores is one of the key things students can do to improve college admissions applications. Another? Getting help with college application essays—and starting early.

No matter how a school considers test scores, essays have become vitally important. Juniors can take control by working on application essays and test prep during their junior year and over the summer. Then, when senior year arrives, they can focus on their grades. (Fall semester grades are still important for applications!)

Plus, working ahead on these things can enable seniors to get in their applications by the early action deadline of November 1st. This reduces stress in their senior year so they can focus on their grades and enjoy every moment of a very special year—and so can you!

To make this entire process easier for you and your family, we offer The Road to College, a special college admissions program for high school students. The Road to College is our way of making the college admissions process as stress-free as possible. Click here to learn more and schedule a consultation. We’re here for you! 

Thank you for joining us for this special 4-part series on college admissions during COVID! Do you have additional questions about testing or college admissions during COVID? Do you need help identifying the best test or test dates for your child? Are you looking for a virtual test prep tutoring program guaranteed to raise your child’s scores? If so, click here to schedule a free consultation with one of our test prep experts today!

SAT/ACT Test Prep During COVID-19

Once you’ve decided whether or not your child should test and taken the first steps of practice tests and test selection, it’s time to pick your child’s test dates and begin test prep.

Pick Test Dates Strategically

Once a child selects the SAT or ACT, it’s time to pick test dates, and we encourage students to do so strategically. Research shows that most students achieve their best score in the spring of their junior year or the fall of their senior year. We suspect it’s because they’re older, they’re more mature, and they have more curriculum under their belt. 

With that in mind, it really is okay to take a fall test, but you want to consider if your child will have the capacity to test again in the late winter or spring. We recommend “pairing test dates,” which means planning for two test dates.  After the first test, the student can identify areas of weakness. Then, they can practice, practice, practice to improve their score in those areas on the second attempt.  

For the ACT, for example, you could pick a December and a February date, or maybe a February and an April date. For the SAT, maybe it’s a December and March date, or perhaps a March and May date.

If you’re not sure which dates are best for your child, we can help! We do this all the time and offer free consultations for exactly this purpose. Click here to schedule a free consultation, and we’ll use your child’s PSAT score or SAT/ACT practice score to determine the best test timing for your child.

Decide How to Prepare

There are essentially three ways a child can prepare for the SAT/ACT.

1. Independent Prep – If you have a very independent, motivated student with strong practice test results, they might be fine buying a book or using an online resource to practice independently. 

2. Group Classes – Your child can take a group class with lots of other kids. Right now, those are all happening virtually. If a student is relatively strong in all areas and just wants to review test-taking strategies and get general practice, this might be a fit. But it doesn’t provide time or space for customization based on a child’s particular needs for improvement.

3. Private Tutoring – The advantage of private tutoring—and the reason it’s the only option we offer—is that it can be customized to each child. Our tutors can work with your child to identify their strengths and areas for improvement. By focusing personalized instruction on the skills a child finds most challenging, the tutor is more likely to help boost their score.

Whichever path you choose, don’t wait until close to test day to begin! The brain works best when you space things out rather than cramming at the last minute. Most students test two or three times, and they generally start test prep about two to five months before their first test, depending on how much they need to work on. We recommend weekly sessions with practice homework in between to best prepare students and build their confidence.

To learn more about our test prep tutoring during COVID-19, click here. You can also click here to schedule a free consultation. Our test prep experts are happy to answer your questions and handpick a tutor for your child’s testing needs!

You can also click through to read our last post in this special series on college admissions: Control What You Can: Test Prep Factors to Consider in COVID-19.

To Test or Not to Test: How COVID Affects the SAT and ACT

For 2020-21 seniors, test scores are, for the first time ever, completely off of the table. Since COVID cancellations made it so difficult for students to test in the spring, schools are not requiring an SAT or ACT result for admissions. 

If your child is a senior this year (2020-21), important admissions factors will include their grades in college prep classes, strength of curriculum, admissions essays, extracurriculars, recommendations, and AP/IB test scores. Testing isn’t much of a concern.

But what if your child is a junior, sophomore, or freshman? Read on to learn more about what you need to know. 

Test-Required, Test-Optional, and Test-Blind

After this year, we expect schools to once again fall into three different categories:

  1. Test-Required – These schools will require students to submit an SAT or ACT score with their application.
  2. Test-Optional – Students can choose whether or not to submit a test score. While not submitting a test doesn’t hurt, submitting a good test score can help. Most students choose to test. Then, they decide whether to submit the results based on the strength of their application with or without them.
  3. Test-Blind – These schools won’t consider test scores at all, even if they’re terrific. They’ll just focus on other factors. Although no scores are required for this year’s seniors, we don’t expect many schools to be test-blind for future applicants.

The specifics of these policies can vary from school to school, even within one state, so it’s important to look into the guidelines for the schools on your child’s list.

For example, UVA is test-required for any students not in this year’s senior class. As of right now, their website indicates that current juniors will be required to submit a test score with their applications next year. William and Mary, on the other hand, is launching a test-optional pilot. For the next three years, they’re going to test out a test-optional policy, then decide whether or not to revert to their test-required policy. 

James Madison, George Mason, and Christopher Newport are test-optional—so is VCU, although test scores are recommended there. Typically, when you’re applying to a college, you should follow their recommendations!

Reporting Test Scores to Colleges

Unless every school on your child’s list is test-blind (which is unlikely), they’ll want to at least take the test—but they don’t need to automatically report their scores!

Even test-required schools allow for “score choice.” This means the student can pick their best score from all of their attempts to share with schools. You can wait until your child is done with all of their test attempts and report only their best score to colleges.

There’s also something called “super scoring,” where the college will cherry-pick your best sub-scores from each attempt. For example, let’s say your child takes the SAT and gets a 500 on math and a 600 in evidence-based reading and writing. They retake it, and the scores reverse. They get a 600 in evidence-based reading and writing but only a 500 in math. With super scoring, the school will take their 600 in reading and writing from the first attempt and their 600 in math for the second attempt for a final score of 1200, which is better than the 1100 they actually got each time. 

A new change to the ACT is that the ACT will automatically super score. So if you take the ACT twice, colleges will only see your super score. With super scoring, testing multiple times can’t hurt and can only help! This is good to know because a small score increase can make a big difference and open up more options for a student.

With all of this in mind, it’s good to get the ball rolling on practice tests and test prep—just know you don’t need to automatically report scores right away. 

For now, visit our next post in this college admissions series: The First Steps of SAT/ACT Test Prep.

The First Steps of SAT/ACT Test Prep

Unless your child is a senior in the Class of 2021, it’s fairly safe to assume you should move forward with preparing your child to take the SAT or ACT. So where do you begin? That’s what this blog is all about.

Start with a Practice Test

Our first recommendation to juniors is to figure out which test (SAT or ACT) they’re going to take. They can use practice tests to identify which test they’ll naturally score better on. Since every college in America accepts both tests with no preference for one over the other, we recommend each student start by taking two practice tests, one for the SAT and one for the ACT. 

After a student takes both, we can analyze the results to identify their best direction moving forward. For about ⅓ of students, there’s a clear best choice. The other ⅔ score about the same on both and base their decision on their comfort level with each test. 

If your child hasn’t yet taken practice tests, that’s the first step. To make that first step safe and easy, we offer virtual practice tests most Saturday mornings. You can click here to view our upcoming practice test dates and register for one. We’ve made it very easy to register and test in your home so you can get the ball rolling as soon as possible.

Compare the SAT and ACT

If your child is one of those who score similarly on both practice tests, it’s helpful to understand the differences so you can make an informed decision about which one to take. Let’s go over how they’re alike and different.

The SAT is considered a power test. There are fewer questions, but they’re wordier. They require critical thinking and lots of analysis. The challenge with this test is in trying to understand what exactly they’re asking you to do. 

The ACT, on the other hand, is considered a speed test. There are more questions, but they’re shorter and a bit more straightforward. Kids often say things like, “The ACT feels more like what I’ve learned in school, but the difficulty with the ACT is actually the pacing and the speed.”

The SAT has two math sections. One allows students to use a calculator and one does not. These sections add up to 800 points. There’s also evidence-based reading and writing for another 800 points, giving students a potential total of 1600 points.

The ACT has four sections: math, reading, writing (which is more like grammar), and science. The science section makes some students anxious, especially if they don’t love science, but the questions are more like reading comprehension questions. Students are presented with graphs and charts, and they’re asked to extrapolate information. It’s very coachable if you have a tutor to help. The total for all four ACT sections is 36 points. 

Both tests are long. The SAT is 3 hours and 50 minutes. The ACT is only 15 minutes shorter, coming in at 3 hours and 35 minutes.

If you’re not sure which test is best for your child, we can help you make an informed decision based on mock test results. Click here to schedule a free consultation with a test prep specialist, and we’ll walk you through everything you need to consider.

Once your child has completed mock tests and selected a test, it’s time to dive into test prep. Check out the next blog in our college admissions series to learn more: SAT/ACT Test Prep During COVID-19.

What Parents Should Know About College Admissions During COVID

For years, there have been three significant admissions factors for students applying to selective or competitive colleges. Number one: grades in college prep courses. Number two: the strength of curriculum and level of challenge in a student’s course selection. (In other words, did they take AP, IB, or dual enrollment courses?) And number three: admissions test scores on the SAT or ACT.

That’s not to say that the college admissions process was ever stress-free, but the admissions factors were fairly straightforward. This year, of course, COVID has thrown all of that—much like everything else in our lives—for a loop. 

To offer some clarity on what to expect in an unexpected year, we’re doing a special 4-part series on everything parents should know about college admissions during COVID. Read them in order, or click a topic below to jump straight to any post that interests you:

To Test or Not to Test: How COVID Affects the SAT and ACT

The First Steps of SAT/ACT Test Prep

SAT/ACT Test Prep During COVID-19

Control What You Can: Admissions Factors to Consider in COVID-19

We know there’s a lot to consider this year, but remember: You’re not in this alone! If you still have questions about college admissions, test prep, or anything else, just click below to schedule a free consultation with one of our experts. We’re here for you!

Schedule a Consult

Why Kids Struggle with Virtual Math (And What Parents Can Do About It)

Math has always gotten a bad rap for being the subject kids struggle with the most. It’s abstract, challenging, and cumulative. (This means that each new skill builds on the last, so failure to master one unit can make future units even harder.)

It’s also challenging to teach! If a teacher moves too slowly, some students will get bored and check out. If a teacher moves too quickly, other students can get overwhelmed and give up. In a traditional classroom, teachers can at least monitor the room for signs of confusion or overwhelm. But a virtual classroom makes it significantly harder for teachers to identify and assist students who need more help.

This means it now falls on parents to monitor their child’s progress and recognize when they need help. Of course, many kids balk at their parents’ attempts to step in, so what’s a parent to do? In this blog, we’re here to help with exactly that. Read on to learn practical tips for helping your child succeed with virtual math without ruining your relationship along the way.

Monitor your child’s progress to know where they stand.

Your child’s teacher can’t monitor your child’s participation in your class, but you can. Quietly peek your head in during virtual math class. Don’t say anything, but observe what is going on. Is your child taking notes? Do they seem checked out when the teacher is giving instruction? Are they quick to get a snack or go to the bathroom in the middle of class? These are signs that the material is difficult for them. 

If you see those signs of overwhelm, set up a time to talk to your child about what’s happening in a non-judgmental way. Don’t do it at a time when you’re both frustrated. Instead, set up an appointment. You might say, “Hey Susan, can we talk about your math later tonight? How does 7:30 work for you?” That sets a collaborative atmosphere instead of an adversarial one.

Know what to say (and what not to say).

Before you sit down and talk with your child, have a plan for what you’ll say—because, unfortunately, many of the things we instinctively say only make things worse! For example, if you say, “Here, let me show you how to do it,” your child will likely respond, “Mom, that’s not how you do it! That’s not what my teacher said to do!” (And they’re probably right. The way you and I learned math is drastically different from today’s methods.) 

Or you might be tempted to say, “Listen, Susan, I already went to fifth grade. This is your homework, not mine. You need to do it on your own.” You may hope this encourages independence, but if your child genuinely needs help, this response can discourage them from coming to you when they’re struggling.

Instead, start by simply sharing what you’ve noticed. You might say, “I’ve noticed fractions are really hard.” And—this part’s important—stop there. Let your child respond. Simply stating your observations allows for a more collaborative conversation and opens the door for your child to share their frustrations about where they might need some help.

When you’ve identified an area of need, try asking your child openly, “Susan, do you have examples of this type of problem? Do you have notes, or is this explained online somewhere or in your book?” This is a better approach because it allows kids to be part of solving the problem, instead of you telling them how to do it or not helping at all. It enables you to achieve that happy medium where you can have them look back for an example and try to solve it on their own with just a little bit of coaching from you as needed.

As you speak with your child, choose empowerment over commiseration. Statements like, “Don’t worry, I was bad at math, too,” or “You’re just as smart as your sister, and she figured it outl!” don’t help kids overcome their frustrations. Instead, focus on your child’s efforts (rather than their outcomes or intelligence) and offer specific praise. Affirmations like, “Oh, I like the way you wrote down the steps for that math problem,” or “I love how you worked through that even though it was tough!” can empower kids to keep at it, even when things get challenging.

See what support materials the teacher can provide.

In case you missed it, we recently shared a post about how to ask a teacher for help when you’re virtual. For math in particular, I recommend asking for a class recording, class notes, or study guide. 

Class recordings are beneficial for kids of all ages because they can replay the instructional piece of the lesson, pause to write down the steps, and generally slow down to make sure they understand everything. Class notes can help students understand the steps to solving problems and serve as a reference when they’re feeling stuck during practice. And study guides often provide practice problems for students to work through.

If your child does get a study guide, we don’t just want them to work through it once and say they’ve studied, which is what most kids automatically do. Instead, we recommend making three blank copies of it. First, your child will attempt to complete the first copy just from memory. But when they’re stumped, they can look back at their notes to refresh themselves on the steps and keep going. The next day, they take the second copy and do it again. On the third day, they do the same thing with the third copy. By doing the same problems this way three days in a row, kids will refer to their notes less each time, gain confidence, and retain the steps/processes much better.

Even if your child doesn’t get a study guide from the teacher, they can use practice problems from class notes, their book, and online resources to build their own. Learning to make their own study guides will not only help with math class this year, but all their subjects throughout high school and college. Win, win!

Know the signs that reveal when a child needs outside help.

Most children wrestle with math concepts at some point or another, so how do you know when your child is struggling enough to need outside help? I tell parents to look for three signs:

  1. The problem is chronic. If the difficulty has gone on longer for a week or two, it may be time for outside help. Remember, math is cumulative, so failure to get help with a critical skill now can make math that much harder in future grades.
  2. Your child is frustrated and avoiding their math homework. Avoidance is a critical problem because it compounds a child’s struggles thanks to the “forgetting curve.” The longer kids go between learning a skill and applying it, the more they’ll forget along the way. Regular (yes, daily!) practice helps kids avoid the forgetting curve and retain information. A tutor can help your child tackle the work promptly and frequently to improve their understanding and mastery of a skill. Plus, when frustration makes it difficult for your child to discuss the subject calmly, a tutor can cut through that tension and provide some needed support.  
  3. Their test grades are lower. Your child’s overall grade in a subject can be deceiving. They might be earning a B in math, and you’ll think, “Oh, a B. That’s great. You’re doing really well.” But take a closer look. They might be getting Cs on all their tests, but those are balanced out by As on the homework, class participation, and some extra credit. This is a red flag. If your child get Cs on tests, especially cumulative unit tests, they don’t understand the concept. With modern grade inflation, a C of today would likely have been an F when you and I were in school. This doesn’t mean you need to panic or shame your child for a C, but it does mean that recurring Cs on tests are a sign that it’s time for some extra help.

If you see any of the above signs, our tutors are here to help. With virtual math tutoring, your child can get the individualized attention they need, master critical skills, and build confidence in this foundational subject. And you can relax, knowing your child is getting the help they need without putting a strain on your relationship!


To learn more about your options, schedule a call with an educational specialist today. It’s free, easy, and the best way to identify the right next steps for your family. Just click here to contact us or schedule a call today. We’re here for you!

Same Storm, Different Boats: When It’s Time for Subject Tutoring

A few days ago, I heard someone say, “When it comes to COVID-19, we’re all in the same storm, but we’re not all in the same boat.” It’s true, isn’t it? The pandemic is a shared event, but your experiences with it are unique to you. How it affects health, work, relationships, and so on will vary from family to family. 

The same is true of distance learning. Yes, we’re all adjusting to online schooling, but the experience varies wildly from home to home, school to school, and subject to subject. In this blog, we’ll talk about the variables that affect students’ virtual learning experiences—and how to know when your child needs help weathering this storm.

The Virtual Learning Variables

Do you feel like virtual learning has you at the end of your rope… only to look around and see a fellow parent who seems mostly unfazed by it all? Or even likes virtual learning? The problem isn’t that you’re a lesser parent or your child is a worse student. The virtual learning approach varies wildly right now, and that parent you spoke with could be having a completely different experience.

Variables that affect your child’s virtual learning experience can include…

  • Their confidence level with each subject
  • Their executive functioning skills (like organization and time management)
  • The online platforms used
  • The school’s virtual learning schedule and expectations
  • The teacher’s ability to provide individualized support
  • Class sizes
  • The teacher’s confidence with technology
  • The demands of parent work responsibilities and schedules
  • The number of siblings sharing devices and internet

The list goes on and on. If you feel like your child is drowning in the virtual learning “storm,” resist the urge to look around and compare yourself to other families. Instead, keep an eye on your child’s particular struggles, so you’ll know when it’s time to call for help.

How to Know When It’s Time for Help

There are two primary areas where virtual learners need help: executive function skills and subject tutoring.

Executive function skills like time management and organization are critical for students to be able to work independently and manage virtual learning requirements. When children don’t have the executive function skills they need, parents become the “school police.” 

If your child struggles to stay focused, loses track of assignments, or forgets to plan ahead for big deadlines, an executive function coach can help instill those skills (and relieve you of your school police badge!).

We have long provided executive function coaching and are happy to help with that. But it’s even more important to recognize when your child needs subject tutoring.

Subject tutoring help is for students who are struggling with particular subjects. Even in a “typical” year, some subjects are more challenging than others. For example, math tutoring is always our most requested subject-specific service. This year, however, more kids are falling behind and struggling to keep up. Large virtual classes make it extremely difficult for teachers to provide individualized instruction (and for students to ask for the help they need).

Even a virtual subject tutor can work wonders in helping a child regain their confidence, catch up, and get ahead in challenging subjects this year. That’s because virtual tutors can do more in a one-to-one or one-to-a-few setting than teachers can do with large Zoom classes.

Unlike teachers with big classes, tutors can use interactive digital whiteboards and other tools to provide engaging, interactive, and personalized instruction. Tutors also make it easier for your child to ask for help or get clarification when they need it.

If your child struggles to follow the teacher’s virtual instruction and complete tasks independently, it might be time to seek out a subject tutor. If your attempts to help are met with frustration and resistance, it might be time to seek out a subject tutor. And if the trouble is in math, science, or foreign language, it’s definitely time to seek out a subject tutor! 

Those “cumulative” subjects require skills and knowledge that build year over year. Waiting until school gets back to normal to get help in subjects like these will make the next levels much tougher. So don’t wait—the sooner your child has subject tutoring, the better.

Request a Tutor

Our tutors are trained and ready to provide support to virtual learners who are falling behind. With personalized, engaging, and interactive tutoring sessions, your child can catch up, keep up, and regain confidence—all without your help! 
To get started, just click below and schedule a consult. It’s the simple first step in getting a tutor that can help your child “ride out the storm” this year and ensure smoother sailing in the years to come.

Schedule a Consult

“Help! My Kid Is Bad at Virtual Learning”

Do you remember your early parenting days of trying to get your child to take a bottle or use the potty consistently? When your child struggled to master an essential skill, you likely felt helpless, overwhelmed, and anxious. With the sudden switch to virtual learning, many parents find themselves feeling those difficult emotions all over again.

If you feel like your child is just “bad” at virtual learning, you may be worried that there’s nothing you can do to help, that your child will inevitably fall behind, or that nothing will get better until schools reopen for in-person instruction. 

If that’s you, take a deep breath. Remember how your child eventually mastered those skills that seemed so impossible in the infant and toddler years? They can master the skills they need for virtual learning, too, but they’ll need your support.

In this blog, we’re sharing some practical advice to help you inspire confidence in your child, so they can tackle virtual learning and succeed—this year and beyond. 

Step 1: Reframe the Problem

When your child is unmotivated or unfocused with online classes, it’s easy to feel like the problem is that he or she is just “bad” at virtual learning. But saying that in front of your child will only erode their confidence and make things worse. 

The real problem is that large Zoom classes of 25-30 students allow for little to no personalized support. Teachers can no longer glance around the room, see who is struggling, and provide extra help. 

For young students, these huge online classes simply aren’t sufficient. They need personalized attention, interaction, and support to thrive. It’s unrealistic and inappropriate to expect young children to spend 6-7 hours a day on virtual platforms. (Of course, you may not have much say in the matter, so we’ll share tips to help your young student throughout this blog.)

Older students can figure out how to succeed online, but these kids have spent most of their lives learning the skills needed for in-person school. It’s going to take time to learn the skills they need for virtual school, too. Teens don’t like feeling like they’re struggling or failing, so they’ll need extra support as they figure out a new academic approach that works for them.

Reframing the problem takes some of the pressure off of your child (and you) and allows you to find solutions that work. And that starts with setting them up for success.

Step 2: Set Them Up for Success

When kids attend school in person, structures and routines help their brains switch to “learning mode.” At home, families will have to create those structures and routines for themselves. Here are a few things you can do to help your child focus on virtual learning:

Create a study space. When it’s left up to them, teenagers are prone to work on their beds, and this environment does nothing to spark motivation. Instead, create a designated workspace that signals to their brains when it’s time to work. Students don’t necessarily have to spend all their school time at their desks, but a workspace will prove helpful when it’s time for more challenging subjects or projects. 

Let little kids wiggle and doodle. Young children can’t be expected to sit at a disk for hours on end. Instead, provide them with a few comfortable options to rotate among throughout the day, from nontraditional ball seats to makeshift standing disks at the kitchen island. During synchronous learning time, provide a notebook and colored pencils so your child can doodle while they listen. Parents often worry that doodling is a distract, but research shows this can improve their ability to focus and retain the material.

Ditch the phone. Phones are designed to capture and keep our attention. If your child’s phone is right beside them and lighting up with notifications, they’ll never be able to focus. Have them put their phone in another room when it’s time to work.

Keep a printed schedule nearby. Seeing what they’re working on now, next, and later helps students stay focused. Older kids can use whiteboards or an agenda to plan for the day and strike through completed tasks. Young kids love velcro schedule boards and whiteboards. They can use removable stickers or dry erase markers to decorate tasks they’ve completed. For students of all ages, working through a schedule provides a sense of accomplishment to power them through their day.

Allow for brain breaks. Young kids, in particular, need regular breaks to play outdoors and get some exercise. But even for older students, seeing scheduled breaks on the calendar can keep them motivated. Encourage your child to take scheduled breaks for a healthy snack, time to text friends, or to go outside and walk the dog. Giving your brain some downtime allows it to come back refreshed and ready to work once more.

Step 3: Encourage Engagement

If the problem is not that your child is “bad” at virtual learning, but that most virtual learning is de-personalized, the question then becomes: How can we make virtual learning more personalized for kids? How can we get them off the sidelines, so to speak, and into the game? Here are a few things you can do to encourage that critical engagement that will help your child progress this year:

Make time to connect with classmates. Big Zoom classes don’t provide space for the meaningful peer interaction kids crave. If you’re comfortable with it, allow your child to meet in-person for small study groups with 2-3 peers. Even if you want to keep interactions online, encourage your child to set up small online study sessions to go over study guides, review for a test, or discuss notes with friends. Talking about the material with peers helps provide some social connection and increases the likelihood of understanding and remembering the material.

Encourage your child to ask for help. We did an entire blog post on strategies for getting your child to ask for help during virtual learning, so you can click here to read that. The longer a child puts off asking for help, the more intimidating the “ask” can become. But as kids reach out and ask teachers for assistance, whether it’s in class, in a private chat, or over email, they’ll get an encouraging response from their teachers. This creates a positive feedback loop in their brains and encourages them to keep reaching out for help as the year goes on.

Consider getting a tutor for more personalized support and accountability. Even kids who hate virtual learning are thriving with our virtual tutors. Why? Because the real problem isn’t the virtual platform but the lack of personalized attention and support. Our tutors have personal relationships with their students. They provide the personalized, one-on-one attention kids and teens are craving. And they can use all the fun, engaging Zoom features that just won’t work with a big class! 

Plus, virtual tutoring allows our tutors to provide shorter, more frequent sessions. Instead of meeting once a week for 90 minutes, they can meet with your child multiple times a week for 30 or 45 minutes. The tutor becomes an accountability coach and learning partner, helping your child plan ahead, follow through, and build confidence with virtual learning.

If you’d like to learn more about our virtual tutoring support, click here to browse our virtual services or click here to schedule a free, private consultation. We’re here for you!

Remember: your child isn’t “bad” at virtual learning, just like they weren’t “bad” at taking a bottle or potty training. They just have to learn an entirely new skill set (and the large, impersonal Zoom classes don’t make it any easier). Hang in there, provide support where you can, and above all—cheer them on. They need to know you believe in them before they can believe in themselves!

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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