Monthly Archives: July 2013

Starting A New School Year: Meeting The Teacher

teacherWith the start of the new school year, your children will be getting a new teacher.  It can be a stressful time for your children, the teacher and you.  To help smooth the start of the school year there are several bits of vital information you can convey to the teacher that will make their lives easier and help them to forge a connection with your student. Taking the opportunity now to speak with your child’s new teacher allows you can to let them know the essentials that will help them to foster a better relationship with your family.  Here are some suggested points you want to cover:

Allergies and medical conditions: If your child has any allergies or existing medical conditions, please inform their teacher. You should also leave a basic outline of actions to take should a medical emergency arise. This could be instructions on how to administer an inhaler or medication to combat the effects of allergies how to recognize symptoms which will require medical attention. Teachers should be aware of any side effects that the medication could cause like drowsiness or vomiting.

Always ensure that your teacher and the school office have your contact details as well as those of your secondary contact person and your doctor. Providing adequate information will mean that your teacher is ready for every eventuality.

Academics: Discussing your child’s academic history will help to highlight areas in which your student excels and where teachers can possibly provide more challenging materials and exercises. You can also highlight areas that your child may have found challenging in the past so that the teacher can keep an eye on progress and provide additional assistance where necessary.

Hobbies and interests: The more your teacher knows about his or her students, the easier it is for them to build a relationship and make a connection. Knowing what your child’s interests and hobbies are will help to provide topics for conversation and will help your teacher to get to know your student better.

Extenuating circumstances: Throughout the year, its best to keep your teacher up to date on major life changes that your child is experiencing in their home life. A death in the family, divorce or an ill relative may have an impact on your student’s academic performance or behavior. When your teacher understands what is happening at home, they are better able to deal with any issues which may arise at school. They can be more understanding and provide support while allowing more time for academic work to be completed.

Religion: If your family practices a religion that stipulates clothing or food choices, tell your teacher so that they can help your child to navigate social and practical issues. You can also help teachers to plan their academic calendars more effectively when they know which days are religious holidays for their students.

Learning style: Each student has a particular learning style which is the way in which they are best able to absorb information. While most lesson plans should present information in ways that students from every learning style should grasp, knowing your child’s learning style will help their teacher to present information in ways that they can relate to and understand.

Forming a partnership with your new teacher will benefit everyone. Be open and honest and provide all the necessary information to ensure a smooth start to the new year.

Note: This post was adapted from a 7/21/13 post on the Tutor Doctor Corp. blog


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Getting Ready For First Grade

Is your child ready for the first grade and, just as importantly, are you?  Each child develops at their own pace, but educators agree that having certain social and academic skills make going to school easier for first graders.  Here is a basic guideline of the skills your child should have.  If you feel they need work in an area, utilize the summer break to get them up to speed. If your child has been attending kindergarten, ask his or her teacher what their thoughts are.  They will be able to advise you on areas that need attention and will be able to suggest activities that will help develop skills your child needs to make the change to first grade as seamless as possible.

Social Skills
First graders can be shy, but they must be able to make friends and converse with teachers and students.  This will enable them to work, play and share with their classmates.  They must be able to follow instructions and use equipment (like scissors and glue) safely and carefully.  Other social skills that are essential are the ability to use words to resolve conflicts and seek the help of adults with tasks they are struggling with or to resolve problems.

Writing Skills
Students should understand the concept of writing.  This means that they can use pictures to tell a story or shapes and letters to represent ideas.  They should be able to recognise the letters of the alphabet and read and write their own names.  They must be able to hold a pen or pencil correctly and demonstrate an understanding of left-to-right progression and top-to-bottom progression.

Reading Skills
Reading and comprehension skills revolve around stories.  If you read to your students regularly and they show an independent interest in books, then you are already most of the way there! Students should show an interest in books which are read aloud and be able to tell simple stories of their own.  They should be able to recognize the letters of the alphabet and their associated phonetic sounds.  They should also be able to distinguish between capital and lower case letters.

First graders should also be able to recognise rhyming patterns and add to them.  For example: if you say cat, hat, bat, they should be able to add another rhyming word.  Students should also be able to sort words into categories like clothing, animals, colors etc.  A basic knowledge of simple punctuation is also a good asset for the future reader.

Prepare your child for the first grade by encouraging them to learn rhymes, songs and poems.  They should be able to tell short stories of their own with a logical plot and a beginning, middle and an end.  They should be able to distinguish between the way they speak to their friends and the more formal way they speak to teachers.  They should be able to follow instructions, ask questions and make requests.

Speaking with kindergarten teachers, tutors and other care givers will help you to form a comprehensive idea of what your student should be capable of. You can ask their first grade teacher about their progress in the first week of school.  Your first grade teacher is the best person to advise you on areas that your student needs to work on.

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Shark Tracking Promotes Learning

Learning can take many forms and one of the best ways to facilitate someones learning is to tap into their natural curiosity. By finding something of compelling interest to an individual the task of teaching/parenting can be raised to higher levels because the students intrinsic motivation keeps them engaged.  Often they are so engaged that they go beyond what they are tasked to do in homework, reading and writing.  It is like putting Pandora’s Box in front of the student and telling them not too open it.

So, while it is the desire to find these intrinsic motivators in a learner, the task of finding them is not always so easy.  Asking the individual can sometimes shed light on this.  However, often it is not so easy and what works for a female teenager may not work for a tween, college student or any other learner of the same or different gender.  Working one-on-one with individuals certainly makes finding ‘perfect’ learning motivators easier than if I’m working with a classroom of 20 students, but there is still work to be done building the ties to what you wish to teach be it reading, writing, science, math, social studies, etc.

Some of the topics I find that work great for many individuals are:

  • Sports
  • Animals
  • Dinosaurs
  • Warfare
  • Fashion
  • Money
  • Music
  • Movies
  • Art

Both children and adults tend to have some type of fascination with sharks and scanning the news services this morning I came across a story by Pete Thomas on’s blog titled ‘Great white shark tagging expedition said to be most ambitious in U.S. history’.  In it was a link to a group called OCEARCH that is the focus of the article. On July 30th this group of oceanic scientists will embark on an ambitious shark tagging expedition. The hope of the month-long voyage off the coast of Cape Cod, MA is to capture, tag, and release as many as 20 great white sharks.

In the article is a link to the group’s shark tracking web site.  This is where you can build some really engaging learning opportunities for a student(s).  The highly interactive map of the earth shows the position of the 40 sharks that are already tagged.  I can see numerous activities I could use this amazing research for with a current student entering 9th grade I have who needs help in preparing for Global History and Math.  For global the map will be a great catalyst for learning the geography of the world. With math I’ll be able to use the facts and figures about the sharks to create word problems, equations, use matrices for representing data and work on probability topics like:

  • Designing statistical experiments and use real world situations.
  • Draw inferences and display summaries using the appropriate charts/graphs.
  • Analyze, support and argue conclusions based on raw data and statistical information.

Now the hard part for me…reviewing the material and building the lessons!

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Sunday Morning Shout Out

MeanMomIt was a hot summer night.  The air was buzzing with crickets and tree frogs. The spotlight was on me.  Hearing my name, I sauntered up to the glitzy, glam, high stage of the theatre of my imagination and accepted the award.  I was dazzling in sweat and humidity ravished hair.  The Academy of Disgruntled and Equally Tired little daughters made me the recipient of the “mean mother” award.  It was time for my acceptance speech.

Yes, I have waited a long time for this award. Today and all this week, it has been a long time coming. I can remember being the same age as the young women, girls in the academy. There were several times when my sister and I thought our mother was mean for no good reason. As I stand here before you (long dramatic pause),  I can  assure you that I now get it. When the oldest academy member officially  named me a “Mean Mother,” it took me back a bit and then I remembered how I got to where I am now.

Melodramatic music starts

I love you and so care about what happens to you, children, I mean academy members.  When my strong hopes and aspirations for you feel like they are dashed by your seemingly intentional disobedience, my patience and understanding are gone like a great heist in the movies.

More melodramatic music

I am diminished. I am flattened.  I am not fully there!

Add heat that makes Western New York feel more like California; busyness that mean we are more in the van some days, than our home; and a departure, yes a departure from the normal routine, I am ready to erupt like a volcano, or surge like Godzilla out of troubled water.  Yes this is how I became  the “Mean Mama” for yesterday’s screenplay.

This is how and why I raged!  

More dramatic music

Please rest assured, my most loved academy members, this is not a role I relish.  I play it with thirty extra pounds of guilt  and dread. I am actually going  to do something unheard of here.  I give up my award! Instead agreeing to play this part,  I will say no a little more often lately.  We will escape the heat as best as we can. I will stop being squeezed by time, like a boa constrictor’s prey.  A little more care will be taken… NO A LOT MORE!

So Academy, here is your award back. Just know that someday you will be like me as a mother. You will have these types of moments. But you will also have your star laced ones too…..

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Entry 600

So we have been at this bloggity thing for slightly over two years now.  Time sure flies!  I only realized how long we had been doing it when WordPress was nice enough to show this is the 600th entry. So with that my original entry slowly changed into the ad hoc reflections of a blog writer and editor.   Of course the editor in me is not going to let the writer wander too much.

In thinking about how we have been able to come up with 599 entries focused on education and parenting I wondered how we have come up with all these posts.  That boiled down to:

  • Being a business we see this as part of our service and dedicate time and resources
  • Having a variety of people write entries. We have had entries from five different individuals.  One of the most consistent has been Nicole Kelly and her “Sunday Shout Out”.  It also helped that my daughter Alexandra is an ABT English Lit writer who can produce perfect content in less that half the time it takes me to write.
  • Working as a unit of a larger Corporation that writes periodic blogs also helps since if I have a day where I need something quick or I have other obligations I can quickly edit and post entries
  • Reading the work of other bloggers certainly helps stimulate fresh ideas
  • Scanning multiple news sources both online and in print
  • Volunteering as a member of my daughters catholic school grant committee gives me many a wonderful connection to people and ideas that have a foundation and easy to grasp purpose
  • Being elected as a member of the local Board of Education certainly lets me get an ‘insiders’ view of education practice and policy today.  It is volunteer work and takes quite a bit of time but it certainly is rewarding when we get to see the students and teachers excel!  This brings up a soapbox moment…Personally I think everyone needs to get more involved in their local government before it is too late. The root cause for the problems we face in this country is that we don’t get involved enough to keep common sense in the government and keep our leaders accountable
  • Listening to other parents…oh the stories we can tell!
  • Working with students from a range of age brackets. The people who ask for our services are serious about their education and while it pushes me to higher levels it creates immense pleasure watching someone ‘get-it’ and do well on the goal they have, be it a test like the ASVAB, SAT, ACT or in a course.  Often getting the material together for a session leads to new blog entry ideas.
  • Being engaged with our child’s school through assemblies, field trips, volunteering and reading the dreaded Wednesday package of papers that come home. It takes a load of time BUT it is worth it!  I missed most of this with my oldest children due to work and night school and it is one of my biggest regrets in life.  In retrospect, I can see that I could have changed things and been more engaged…wish I had seen it then…  )o;
  • Reader comments make it worth while and let me know that up to 900 people a day have read our blog entries
  • Setting a goal of 24 entries a month has helped keep us writing
  • Proper tools that WordPress provides certainly makes the process easier. I especially love the auto save! Oh the pain of lost blog entries
  • Lastly, I was reminded by the 112 drafts I have sitting in the hopper waiting for refinement, that being ready for entry ideas at any time of day or night AND saving all those bits and pieces certainly helps capture the spark of creativity

So there you have some of what has kept us going for so long.  Thank you to our Followers and readers!

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Eat Your Way To Better Memory

You’ve had a long summer break free from early mornings and homework, but now you have to get back into the rhythm of things. We’ve looked at ways you can ease yourself back into your routine, but there are ways in which you can jumpstart your brain too. Not having exercised your brain over the break means you might take a while to get your brain back into gear. Only thing is; you may miss out on vital information while you power up your brain.

You can eat foods that will actually help to improve your memory! This will drastically reduce the amount of time you spend studying or doing your homework. Just imagine if you could remember everything your learned, everything you read and everything your teacher said the first time around!

Here are some amazing foods that will help you to feel energized, improve your brain function and help you to remember more.

Fatty Foods
No, this doesn’t imply that pizza and French fries are good for your memory! We mean healthy fats. Healthy fats are foods which contain oils from the Omega-3 family. The Omega-3 family of fatty oils help you to improve your memory. The best sources of healthy fats include salmon, flaxseed oil, canola oil, wheatgerm, eggs and walnuts.

Free radicals flow through your bloodstream and into your brain where they break down brain cells. You can neutralize free-radicals with antioxidants. There are many forms of antioxidants including berries (especially blueberries and acai berries), garlic, carrots, broccoli, tea, soy, read grapes, spinach, tomatoes and whole grains.

High Tyrosine Proteins
Your brain needs neurotransmitters to function properly. Your body can’t make some of the neurotransmitters (like tryptophan). Good sources of tyrosine proteins include soy, seafood, dairy products and eggs.

Vitamins and Minerals
You already know that you need the full range of vitamins and minerals live a healthy, happy life, but certain elements are especially important to the brain. Here are the vitamins that will help you to improve your memory:
• Vitamin B6: meat, fish, nuts, vegetables, beans and legumes.
• Vitamin B12: kelp, venison, shrimp, yeasts, algae, scallops, trempeh, miso, tofu and salmon.
• Vitamin C: Citrus fruits, guavas, red peppers, kiwis, tomatoes, strawberries, brussel sprouts and melons.
• Iron: chocolate, clams, oysters, muscles, liver, dried apricots, sunflower seeds and sesame products.
• Calcium: dairy products are your best bet here.

Fiber slows down the rate at which your body absorbs sugars and improves digestion. Eating more fiber means that your brain has a slow and steady supply of essential energy. This improves your memory and all your brain functioning. The brain will only function when it has enough fuel. Foods high in fiber include beans, fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds and whole grains.
Improve your memory (and general health!) by incorporating more memory-building foods into your daily diet.

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Five Board Games for Middle and High School Students

Summer holidays can be long and when rainy days or long trips confine teens to the home, there are many games which can encourage them to spend some time to interact with family members. This gives them a break from their computers and phones and gives you all an opportunity to have some family fun while learning.

Settlers of Catan
This board game is intense action mixed with resource management. Each game takes about an hour to play and can accommodate up to six players with an extension pack. Players must gain resources such as sheep, wheat, wood and brick to build settlements, armies and roads. This is a strategy game which teaches students to think ahead and use their resources and bargaining skills wisely. Settlers of Catan has been voted the best game of the year in the US and Europe. This game is very engaging and every game is completely different from the last.

Say Anything
This is an excellent way to get your teens talking and helps them to build social skills. Players will have to practice excellent communication skills to win and it helps you to get to know each other a little better. The game takes about 35 minutes to play and is easy to follow: 1) Ask a question from the card you draw. Some examples of questions include: “What’s the best movie of all time?” or “If I could have a BIG anything, what would it be?” 2) All the players write an answer and turn it face-up. 3) You choose which answer you like most (this is based on wit, style and accuracy). The players then try to guess which answer you picked. This is a great game for getting to know family members better and it.s fun to think of new and original answers to the questions.

Ticket to Ride
This game revolves around the adventures of Phileas Fogg and players must collect railway stations to connect routes around North America. The longer the route, the more points the player accumulates. Additional points can be accrued when you fulfill your Destination Tickets by connecting two distant cities. The player who builds the longest continuous railway also gets additional points. Games take 30-60 minutes to play and are a great way to inspire a love of travel and improve knowledge of North American geography.

This is a great way for the whole family to play together because Cranium relies on a whole bunch of skills from general knowledge, humming tunes, charades and drawing to sculpting play dough. No matter the age of participants, they can all contribute to their teams with their own special talents. The fact that this game has so many different ways to answer a question keeps it fresh and exciting. Many questions are for team play which means all the teams get to participate, keeping the game fun and exciting.

This is Scrabble for math lovers. The board functions in much the same ways as Scrabble with tiles which contain numbers and equations. You can help students to improve math and especially algebra skills by playing this game. The board can accommodate 2-4 players from ages 8 and up.
Note: This post was adapted from a 7/22/13 post on the Tutor Doctor Corp. blog

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