Category Archives: Improved Learning

Sunday Morning Shout Out

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Do you feel a little remorse after heaping the shopping cart with “toy of the moment” stuff from the big-box stores this holiday season? Are you already envisioning a yard sale in nine months, with much of the stuff you are buying right now?  Would you rather get your child some educational toys this holiday season, and find toys/experiences that will last more than a moment?  How about buying a toy that will help your little wonder and not so little wonder learn?

Now that I have asked these questions, I will point you in the direction of some sage advice.  Last year the folks at “Live Science” have come up a great list of toys that help children explore many science fundamentals.  From toys featuring old friends and familiar product s like Miss Frizzle and “The Magic School Bus,” and Lego sets, to toys that get at chemistry through cooking and exploration through a working microscope, there are a wide range of toys in every price range.  These toys offer toddlers through teens the chance to build robots, do chemistry, familiarize themselves with labs and lab equipment, and fit together gears.  As you shop for your family, picture the heap of toys gathering dust and taking up space in one corner, versus some great quality toys that will go far in encouraging them, to pursue science and find real learning satisfaction.  While there may some of that dusty heap, I am going to plan to offset it with quality items.


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Filed under Improved Learning, My Experiences, Parenting

Sunday Morning Shout Out

Children are all different when it comes to how they learning, studying styles, and the way they approach homework.  In our household, we have a self-starter, a child who needs a little prodding, and a non- homework “doer,” in the throes of preschool.  One of the most challenging times of the day, can be homework time.  The article “Homework Help for the Distractible Child,” at the website, briefly looks at common reasons for distractibility and offers some ways in which a parent can encourage their daydreamer with the homework process.

Children can be distracted for many reasons.  While people often think of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) a neurological disorder that impacts a child’s ability to focus and learn, children can also be distracted for other reasons. They include: stress, anxiety, depression, or a learning disability.  For purposes of this article, we will consider general ways to help any child who is distracted.

The article pulls tips from the book 10 Days to a Less Distracted Child, by Jeffrey Bernstein Ph.D.  He states that parents need to firm, calm, and non-controlling.  If a child is melting down about homework and having great difficulty focusing, a parent needs to be an anchor and calmly steer the ship.  We all have probably seen it or “been there,” -where our responses escalates with our child’s, to no avail.  It is important to empathize, give space to vent, but not get involved in a power struggle.

Dr. Bernstein advises parents to help their children get past the “I can’ts.”  His first suggestion is for parents to suggest to their children to go with the thought “they can.”  He says that parents should establish this mood/mode, leave the room, and see what happens. He also suggests some helpful probes when the “I can’t’s,” start.  You can say “Can you tell me how and where you are getting stuck?  Or perhaps “What part of the instructions are unclear?”  Or even maybe “Tell me what you think the answer is.”

Some of Dr. Bernstein’s suggestions are the tried and true.  He is a big believer in a set time to do homework.  While some kids can do homework right away, he states that many distractible children need downtime to decompress and relax, before they can go back at it.  He underlines the value of knowing your child’s learning style to best help her through the homework process. For example, if they are an auditory learner, answering questions about a reading passage, may be best done by reading out loud (you or your child) and helping them process the passage and questions this way.  Visual learners might best get spatial relationships by a piece of cut fruit or a group of pasta, coins, candy, etc to process a problem. Or perhaps they can draw a diagram, a picture, a make a writing web to best sort out their ideas.

Prioritizing the homework load can go miles according to the author, as can praise, support, and guidance.  Asking questions like “Do you know what you should do?”; “Do you have everything you need to complete the task?” can do wonders to move a distracted child into action.  Encouraging them to break down projects, problems into bite size pieces, huge.  He also points out the value of obtaining extra text books for home.  A distractible child may be prone to forgetting hers.  With Common Core standards today, it might be a helpful guide to the parent who is trying to instruct, guide, and reinforce children through new math, etc. Homework may always be a struggle. But it is a necessary part of learning and reinforcing what is taught at school.  While distractible children may find homework more formidable, a calm, knowledgeable, and positive parent can help the process be more bearable, fruitful, and productive for child and parent alike.



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Filed under Education, Improved Learning, My Experiences, Parenting

Sunday Morning Shout Out

Homework can feel a bit like a jolt of electricity after summer vacationand leave you and your children a bit disorientated.  Are your children finding it hard to hit the books at home?  Does your homework routine need a makeover?  The article at titled ‘10 Homework Help Tips‘  by Ms. Stephanie Wood offers some great ideas to ensure an effective homework routine. The folks at sought and received great tips from parents and teachers around the country, ranging from tips on time and place to do homework, to tips on increasing motivation and curtailing homework anxiety and frustration.

The top tip this article had was to get homework done good and early.  While some kids can hop off the bus and go right at it, other kids need a short break, before they begin their homework.  The biggest take away from this tip was to give a specific time frame-say 3pm to 5pm for homework, and to not start after 5pm for younger children especially.  Young children (and often parents too) are too tired to start at this point and there is dinner, maybe classes or practice, and the bedtime routine to start.

There was a great suggestion to create a call list for when homework is forgotten.  If that vital spelling list is forgotten, a homework buddy can go over it on the phone or have a grownup take a picture of the list to send over the phone. Or it could be e-mailed.

There were tips for motivating the overwhelmed and dispirited child.  It was suggested that you can build initial confidence by tackling that first homework problem together and then turning it over to your child, once she is confident and calmer about her work. Here and always, it’s a good practice to heap the positive feedback on your child’s efforts.  When you do this, you should be as specific as possible. What about the dispirited parent, who has his own homework woes, listening to his child whine and melt down over school work?  The article suggests leaving the room, (sanity saving action) but staying close by until the whining subsides.  It also suggests letting your child complain for a short time and practicing empathy to get over the initial hump.

For daydreamers and procrastinators, there are these tips.  A daydreamer may work better in a separate and specific spot to do his homework. In the article, a parent mentions setting her child up in her office.  There is something about letting a child work in a special place (like where you do your important work) that can be very motivating.  For that special procrastinator in your life, the article discusses having her try to beat the clock, to get over the initial hesitancy and inertia.  A parent can set the clock for five or ten minutes and instruct her child to fire away at her school work.  “ See how many math problem you can finish in 10 minutes!  I bet you can beat the clock!”

Other great tips include helping your child breakdown large tasks into more bite size pieces.  By taking a dry erase board or dry erase calendar, you can take that large project and schedule it out into more manageable steps.  For example, if your child has a special project they need to do on the fifty states, that culminates after two months of work, you can look at what has to be accomplished each of the eight weeks.  Doing it this way can help the most overwhelmed child and parent, too!  A last great tip they gave is something like an emergency switch.  If your child is truly done in and exhausted by specific homework, you can cut in half what they need to do. Either you or your child can explain that he did have of what was assigned, but could not complete it.  If a child uses this technique sparingly, it can help squelch a much larger homework problem.  He must then get the help he needs at school , through a peer, a tutor, or you, to further overcome their struggles.  With these tips, struggles should lessen.  Homework woes should ease and everyone should breathe easier at night…

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Filed under Education, Improved Learning, Parenting

Sunday Morning Shout Out

While “Auld Lang Sang” may be more associated with New Year Eve’s, back to school has it own “Auld Lang Sang” feeling too.  We start the new school year with many resolutions for our children, family, and home life.  Do you swear that this year everyone will be more organized, less rushed, more calm, more together regularly, etc?  Like a gym come February, many of our school resolutions get lost once the school year gets into full swing.  At the website Great,  in the article “Start the School Year Right: Tips From Our Expert,” there are some fantastic tips to launch a good school year.

There are tips aimed at better communication and improved understanding within our home.  The article discusses striving to really listen to our children (especially when they are being really open-bedtime, during a television show, after a shower, a car ride, etc) and focusing in on what our children are saying.  We should strive for understanding and give short, concise advice or guidance, when needed.  One way to do this is to get into a regular practice of talking or listening a few minutes each day, and take our conversations with our children as the little pearls that they are, for everyone’s benefit.

There are also tips for improving what I will call family sanity. -The top tip-not to get too overextended in extra activities, especially with young children.  It just over taxes and stresses everyone out!  Along these same lines, the article discusses scheduling time as a family to relax, be it through a movie night, game night, or commitment not to schedule anything extra , night.  There are the miscellaneous tips aimed at improving academic success and surviving the wilderness of adolescence, for both parents and teens alike. When you have to be in the car for games, rehearsals, practices, etc, there are tips to make the best use of downtime to increase academic success.

Through fun games and educational games, vocabulary, math, geography, and you name it academically can be improved. The article looks at the special dynamics of the middle school and high school years.  Typically, it is a time when parents become less engaged at school.  The article heavily suggests finding ways to engage, be it through the PTA , education forums, or parent support groups.  It discusses the careful dance of “negotiated freedom” for teens, via chances to prove themselves and committing to doing their part to uphold their responsibilities and place in family life.

There are some other great ideas here, too.  What do you do to launch a successful school year?  What helps you keep it going?


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Filed under Education, Improved Learning, Organization, Parenting

Sunday Morning Shout Out

It’s that point of summer.  When we are down to the last week(s), I get the compelling need to make the most of the time left.  It’s a need to fulfill the summer bucket list, but also to make sure we have taken enough time this summer to work on sustaining academic skills.  In taking stock, I believe we need to amp up our efforts with math.  I feel that the girls have done well with digging into some good summer books. I feel that our son has mostly been read to in ample fashion.  Math- we could be a better friend to and partake in more activities.

In turning my focus to math, I have Googled different math sites for some summer assistance.  One site that I am liking is  It is broken down by age and such skills that run from addition and telling time to doing algebra and geometry.  My girls will clock, (but not too many hours to get in the way of summertime fun) some time at this site to brush up on skills before school starts.  At this site, there are lessons, explanations, and instructional videos. It is made by graduates from Stanford, Harvard, and Berkeley.  You can create an account to keep track of your progress.  Did I mention it is totally free?  Now I know I sound like a paid spokeswoman, but honestly this seems like a great product that your children will enjoy and that will give you peace of mind.  It’s a good way to remind kids that math is fun, just like summer.  It is reassurance that come time for school, your children will not be left in the dust.

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Filed under Education, Improved Learning, Learning Resources, Parenting

Sunday Morning Shout Out

With this blog, I am constantly thinking about educational and parenting issues for columns.  With summertime, more time has been spent thinking about children, behavior, and summer slide, than actual time spent in the classroom.  As a parent, I guess my head is literally more in the sand, the water, the soccer field, or at the fun summer event than the classroom, until now.  I have just become acquainted with the standing desk.

A few weeks ago, “The Washington Post” ran an article “Standing Desks At Schools: The Solution to the Childhood Obesity Epidemic.” Perhaps you think of such desks as simply a feature in swank modern offices.  In fact, more and more schools are using them as a way to fight childhood obesity and attention problems.  They give student, what researchers’ term, “active-permissive environments,” to best learn in and succeed.

Standing desks have been found to be a powerful tool to help children expend energy and calories, a boon to this country’s obesity epidemic and its poor cousins of heart diseases, Type 2 Diabetes, and host of other maladies that are affecting young people today at epidemic rates.  A study reported in the “American Journal of Public Health,” titled “The Impact Of Stand-Biased Desks In Classrooms On Calorie Expenditure In Children” found in its sample of 80 first grade students that students with standing desks burned 17% more calories than those in traditional desks.  Students who were obese in the study burned 32% more.  Multiply the use of standing desks, by five days of school per week, and we have a pretty powerful obesity fighter.

This also turns the old belief of sitting still and learning on its head.  Researchers found that being able to move around is essential to processing new information and learning.  Think of the learners that get lost, while seemingly feeling tortured by the demands of sitting still to learn.  Studies have found the use of standing desks is very effective in helping children who would otherwise become distracted and perhaps behavioral issues in the classroom, more able to stay focused and learn.  Being able to move around while listening to the teacher, allows students a different way to complete course work.  It breaks up monotony for the students. It clears the way for certain learners who tune out and perhaps act up.  Movement promotes learning.

So while I personally prefer thinking about sitting in the sand this time of the year, before we know it-school will be here.  With such promising studies about the standing desk’s efficacy, perhaps more schools and homes will start using them.

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Filed under Education, Education Reform, Health, Improved Learning, Parenting

Sunday Morning Shout Out

summerslideStatThis summer, will you swim like a fish?  Will you travel like an adventurer?  Will you camp like a scout?  Perhaps yes.  But, will you read like a worm?  For struggling readers or hesitant readers, this break from school can contribute to summer slide.  Summer slide refers to the academic losses that commonly occur when students are out of school during the break.  When this occurs, the first few months of each school year need to be spent catching up with skills that have been lost.  For an already struggling student, this simply might not be enough.  Fortunately, there are things that parents and care givers can do to help overcome it.

The article “Avoiding Summer Slide (Great Tips and Idea)“, by teacher Kathleen Wainwright has some great ideas on how not to go down that slippery summer slide.  From designating reading time each day and making sure your library card is well-oiled and ready to use, to reading together, incentivizing reading, and packing books along for long lines, car rides, appointments, etc, there are many ways to keep reading going strong.  Perhaps one of her best tips is just to turn the television off (I will add all electronics) and have specific quiet time at night, when everyone in the entire house reads.  It could be newspapers, cookbooks, magazines, or novels. Lead and read by example!

Summer is short and it own type of fast paced.  The stakes are too high to let reading become one of those things not in your summer plans.  Like an old carnival attraction, the fall from the slide is too high and dramatic.  It’s downright treacherous!

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Filed under Academic Advice, Education, Improved Learning, Parenting, Reading