Top 5 Homework Essentials for a Successful Start to the School Year

1. A planner

I encourage all of my students to use an "old school" paper planner. Every Monday encourage your student to write what is DUE on each day. Then write the plan of action, the DO, for each day. By breaking work into chunks, homework and projects become more manageable and students have more confidence and do not struggle as much to get started on their work.

2. Pens and/or sharpened pencils

I cannot tell you how many students I tutor who have a desk full of dull pencils without a sharpener in sight. Kids need to be ready to go the second they sit down to work. A dull pencil or no pen is just another excuse to dilly dally.

3. Paper

Make sure your student has the appropriate lined paper (college-ruled to 3-lined Kindergarten paper) as well as plenty of scratch paper. Sometimes when a student runs out of paper, he or she will simply stop writing even if the work is incomplete! Additionally, when a student does not have scratch paper to figure out Math problems, he or she will skip steps and, consequently, not solve the problem correctly.

4. Post-Its

Post-its are an excellent tool for students to jot questions or thoughts about what they are reading or to point out issues they are having with homework that they can bring to their teacher's attention the next day. A variety of colors and sizes let kids get creative and actually want to use them to organize or note-take.

5. A full belly

A full belly before starting homework means no excuses midway through a Math worksheet. A healthy, protein-rich snack keeps students focused and energized. Kind bars, fruit with nut butter, and cheese with whole grain crackers and dried fruit are just a few of my favorite snacks.

Great Read: "Raising Kids Who Want to Read"

How do we teach our kids to read? First teach them to LOVE reading.

Note-taking: Fact Fragments

Welcome back to school!

So often kids want to copy full sentences into their notes. Not only does this defeat the purpose of taking notes; it also is plagiarism!

Here is a wonderful animated demo on how to take notes using fact fragments.

Reducing Test-Taking Anxiety

Do you have a child taking the state tests this month? Check out my article on how you can help reduce your child's anxiety. Have fun, relax, and read on!

Effective Math Practice

Lately I have been noticing a gap in my elementary-level students' math skills. Third graders who are learning division are not yet comfortable enough with their multiplication facts to be able to recognize the relationships in a fact family. Fifth graders who are working on complex word problems get frustrated and overwhelmed when they get stuck on a multiplication or division fact.

For example, when a student sees a problem like 6 ÷ 2, she is typically able to recognize that the 3 is missing because she is familiar with 3 X 2 = 6. However, when she sees a problem like 32 ÷ 8, she immediately feels overwhelmed because she cannot answer the related multiplication sentence of ? X 8 = 32. The problem 2 X 3 has become intuitive, whereas 4 X 8 has not. 

Multiplication and division facts and fact families are crucial as they serve as a major building block in future math skills, such as perimeter and area, multi-step word problems, and geometry. If your child is struggling with one of those aforementioned areas, then chances are, her basic math skills may not be as sharp as they need to be. 

Good news: there is help! Think past flash cards and mad minute drills and introduce your technologically-savy student to some excellent websites and apps. 

*** Improvement requires practice and consistency. ***

I highly recommend the IXL site. It is membership only and costs $9.95 a month or $79 a year. It is WORTH it. The students who I work with who consistently practice on IXL have razor sharp skills and a very clear understanding of math topics.

In terms of apps, I suggest you check out this great selection of math apps for grades K-2 and grades 3-5

Finally, I'd like to suggest addition & subtraction,  multiplication & division, or fractions & percents bingo. It goes back to the old-fashioned way of drilling, but adds a level of competition, which drives kids to WIN!


Engaging Our Youngest Readers

Reading with our children from right from early childhood is of the utmost importance. I wrote an article for MommyBites, a national website focused on support, resources, education, and connections for moms-to-be and new moms, that focuses on way we can engage even our youngest readers. This is the first part in a two-part series.

Find it here and please share:

10 Educational Activities you can Trick your Kids into Doing this Holiday Break

Woo hoo! No school for 12 days! Let's melt our brains and eat really sugary foods and be lazy! Then, we can go back to school on January 2 or January 6 and feel just like we did in September after that amazing long summer break!!

Sound familiar? Of course it does. The kids who I work with are basically chomping at the bit, daydreaming about video games, vacation, and presents. And, hey, I get it; so am I (minus the video games bit). I think it is extremely important that kids take breaks from the monotony and sometimes pressure of their daily schedules to have fun, rest, and recharge their batteries. As a tutor, I additionally think it is important to temper this time with some fun, yes, FUN,  activities that they will not even realize are educational. By staying engaged over break, your kids brains won't go to mush...and then all of those sessions they have spent with their teachers and tutors won't go to waste!

1. Write a wish list for the holidays. This one is a given, and it's probably been done already. Even kids who can't write yet can cut pictures out of magazines and circulars to make a collage...which brings me to my next activity...

2. Make a collage. Pick a theme: all about me, what I want to be when I grow up, fashion, pets, whatever! Have your kids cut through magazines to make a cool collage that he or she can hang in the bedroom or on the fridge. Your kid can even make one for a friend or family member as a holiday gift! When I got my tonsils out in 7th grade, I must have made 2 dozen of these. Plus, it is a great way to use up those magazines you have laying around the house to go through another time.

3. Write thank you cards for gifts. This one is just a good habit to get into anyway. You don't have to buy expensive thank you cards; the kids can make their own with stamps, stickers, and other art supplies. A simple: Dear xyz, Thank you for my gift. Love, your kid -- is sure to make anyone's day.

4. Play online games. One of my absolute favorites that I have listed in the Helpful Links section of this blog is Story bird. It is an incredible site on which kids can create books with beautiful graphics. Check it out and share your experience!

5. Help categorize the grocery list. Categorizing is a great way to help kids with organizational skills. Write a disjointed grocery list and then ask your kid to rewrite the list for you, dividing the food items into categories like dairy, dry items, produce, etc. -- or instead of rewriting, your kid could even cut out each item on your list and glue it onto a new paper in separate categories, which would be good for kids who are more tactile in their learning.

6. How about getting out and exploring the City? If your child is into it, have him or her give an oral news report of the day when you get home. Make it fun and dramatic!

7. DO something together and urge your child to explain how to do it step-by-step: make a recipe, build something, have him or her teach you how to do something he or she is learning in climbing lessons or art class or whatever after school activity he or she is involved in.

8. Art! This is a great way for kids not to numb out over break. Make a craft or draw or paint something and don't worry about doing it perfectly.

9. Play a game that uses dice or how about some old-school Monopoly -- your kid is sure to use math skills!

10. How about some musical exploration? Learn song lyrics, play music, go listen to music. We all know music is proven to stimulate our brains, so just like art, let your kid's brain grow instead of turn mush this break.