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Monthly Archives: January 2014

Supporting Your Kids’ Education: Encouraging Lifelong Learning

Total Confusion: it’s a common feeling among parents who have children still in school and seek to know how to best help them succeed. How much help is too much? How much time with their teachers and the PTA is too much or not enough? How strict should I be? How much independence should they have? When do I cross the line into helicopter or tiger parenting? Are those bad things?

While there’s no panacea for these issues, the only things anyone can say definitively are that every child is different and that parents should be sensitive to this fact (for more discussion on this point in particular, you should check out our post on Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother).

However, while there are no clear answers to all of these questions, there are many things that all parents can do to support their children’s education both inside and outside of the classroom:

1. Lead by Example

If you want your kids to read more, then you should make a show of reading in front of them. If you want them to write more, make a show of writing in front of them (whether it’s letters to family members, blog posts, or full-blown fiction). If you want your kids to get out and exercise more, then you should make a show of getting out and being active yourself.

2. Read with Your Kids

Make reading dates with your kids where you and they go out to a coffee shop or public library to simply sit and read together. Plan a daily Reading Hour with your kids where everyone in the house sits down with something new and reads for a full hour (no radio or TV on in the background and no reading from laptops or iPads!). Read a wide variety of things in front of and directly to your kids whether it be books, blogs, or magazines. And be sure to engage your kids in conversations about what they’re reading right now in school and/or in their personal time. Then take things a step further by sharing with them points that you’re enjoying or learning in the reading you’re doing yourself.

3. Take an Interest in Your Kids’ Interests

This doesn’t mean that you suddenly have to be fascinated by robotics or Batman, but it does mean that you should be glad and excited to ask your kids about what they’re learning/studying/reading/doing lately. What was the best part of their day? What did they learn that was truly surprising that day? What didn’t surprise them? What would they like to learn more about?

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4. Host Family Field Trips

Sometimes kids aren’t interested in things because they simply didn’t realize those things existed for their interest in the first place. So, planning a family field trip to museums (local and out-of-state), to historic sites (local and otherwise), to libraries, to your local county clerk’s office (sometimes those clerks have truly fascinating historical records and documents for kids of all ages to interact with), nature hikes, national parks, etc., can often be a terrific opportunity for kids to discover things they never knew they could be interested in.

5. Don’t Over-schedule

It’s always important to keep kids motivated and to maybe force them into trying the occasional new hobby or two (such as music or scouts) in order to help them push through initial obstacles, but it’s just as important to let them have some bored time as well. Bored time doesn’t mean TV time – this is a very important distinction. Bored time means time that’s totally unstructured and isolated from general technologies – time that kids can spend exploring the outdoors, playing with friends, reading for fun, or making up games and songs for themselves. Basically, it’s time for kids to entertain themselves by finding and creating activities of their own that interest them. This helps kids to develop their sense of creativity while also enabling them to discover those topics and activities that most interest and captivate them.

6. Learn New Things for Yourself

The best way to show kids the joys of lifelong learning, of education in and out of the classroom, is to demonstrate your own interest and desire in learning new things every day. So be sure to take care of yourself by investigating new places, hobbies, activities, languages, and ideas as often as you can. Then go out and share those discoveries with your family. Your kids won’t only benefit from your new knowledge, but from your own desire and enjoyment of the learning process.

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Developing Strong Study Skills, Part 2

As in our last post regarding the development of study skills, one of the most important things to remember is that study skills, as with all skills, require both teaching and practice. Last time we discussed the importance of studying for more than the test; beginning your study time in the classroom; setting up specific times for studying; and maintaining/developing a positive, safe space for studying and asking questions.

 But, as with most skills, studying is multifaceted and only grows more intricate and nuanced the older you get and the more complex your study subjects become.

So this time, let’s focus on the importance of Setting Study Goals, Keeping Organized, and Getting Motivated.

Setting Study Goals

Setting goals is one of the very best places to start when it comes to studying. Studying can often feel like wading through an endless bog without clear direction or ending: When does studying end — when all knowledge is clear and the tests are passed with flying colors or somewhere before then? Or somewhere after? Where do you begin? What’s the best use of study time? How do I know where to focus my time on each subject?

Setting predefined, realistic goals is one of the fastest ways to bypass these classic, nagging questions.

Before beginning any study session, make a list of what subjects you want to tackle during that specific session. Are you going to spend this session working on the trombone or are you going to plunge into the wilds of Charles Dickens? Are you going to review your chemistry notes or get those calculus problems squared away? While it is, of course, necessary to practice and study for all of your subjects and skills, it’s also important to know that you can’t do everything in a single evening – no matter how early you begin or how late you stay up.

So,

  • isolate those things that were most difficult for you in class,
  • isolate those things that feel most pressing for other classes,
  • and isolate those things that seem to best connect the two.

Once you’ve got these things pinned down, create a game plan! How much time are you going to allot to each subject and why? What do you want to walk away from this study session knowing or having improved upon? Is there one particular skill or technique you want to strengthen? Is there one particular type of problem you want to become more familiar or comfortable with? Is there one book you need to finish reading or one set of Spanish vocabulary words you need to have memorized/absorbed?

Beginning each study session by defining your goals will not only help you keep focused and on track in your studying, but will also help you improve your time management skills and to feel more productive as you begin to better recognize the incremental accomplishments of each session.

Keeping Organized & Cutting Stress Off at the Pass

Organization is a key component of success in virtually every situation. As with setting goals, making certain that you, your study space, and your study materials are all well-organized will help you make the most of your study sessions and to keep from growing needlessly stressed. After all, who hasn’t sat down to do some test prep only to suddenly discover some crucial page of class notes is either missing or totally indecipherable thanks to sloppy handwriting or poor/nonexistent formatting/organization?

Stress is a monster of the mind that can be easily headed off at the pass when you prepare with simple attention to organization. When you take notes in class or from a book, make certain that those notes are either in a spiral or somehow secured within a binder or folder – don’t let a rogue loose-leaf be the stress of you. Once you’ve got your notes in a safe, runaway-proof place, make certain that the notes you then take on those sheets are organized in some regular fashion so that when the Tired After School You goes to review what you wrote earlier in the day as Bored or Distracted in Class You, you’ll be able to understand not only what your teacher was saying, but what you were thinking at the time.

Ever seen someone giving a lecture who suddenly pauses in mid-speech to squint at a page before, laughingly, apologizing for the fact that they can’t read their own handwriting? This can be a bigger problem than you know. Not only does poor handwriting mean that crucial details can be forgotten or lost, but it can also mean that you haven’t been paying as close attention in class as you ought to. Especially if you’re someone who struggles with remaining attentive when being lectured to, giving a bit more focus to the clarity of your handwriting in note-taking can help not only with your general organization but also with helping you focus on the task/lesson at hand.

So, now that you’ve got your notes neatly written and well-organized before you, also make sure to keep your study space just as well put together – don’t leave distractions resting on your desk (whether they’re toys, cellphones, computers, or video games), don’t let your desk get so cluttered that you can’t find any of the tools necessary to getting work done (such as pens, pencils, and papers), and make sure that you try to station yourself in a spot with as few inherent/obvious distractions as possible (for example, setting up your study session in the middle of the living room floor before the television set probably isn’t the most study-friendly spot in the home).

Getting Motivated

I’m sure no one is surprised to find that getting motivated is one of the hardest parts of studying even though we all know and understand the importance and value of studying to our educational lives. However, it is often precisely this line of thinking – that studying is important for education – that can tend to be a killjoy when it comes to getting motivated to actually do the studying. After all, spending time doing something for a class that’s only three to four months long can often seem like a waste or unimportant. However, what we all so often fail to keep in mind is that, like education, studying isn’t just about passing a test or a class, it’s about improving yourself for the rest of your life, it’s about preparing yourself for a much wider and more amorphous world than you could ever dream of or fully anticipate.

So, when you’re trying to psych yourself up for a study session and just aren’t feeling the pull to take that extra step forward (whether it be in Spanish, piano, or chemistry), just remember that you’re not doing this for your grade, your teacher, your school, or for some ghostly college entrance exam – you’re doing this for you. Knowledge isn’t simply power, it’s a means of giving yourself an extra foothold in the world, of giving you greater self-confidence and appreciation for both yourself and the world. Studying may seem like small potatoes when you’re in elementary, middle, and high school, but just remember that life is much larger than these and that you’ll want all the tools possible at your disposal when it finally comes time to leave semester finals and standardized exams behind.

Online Resources for Students: Math, Science, Studying, and Everything In Between

It’s always crazy trying to find help and advice on how to study and approach different subjects. After all, there’s a virtual ocean of information out there just waiting for you to waste your study time wading through it rather than actually sitting down and studying.

 So, we’ve tried to cut through some of that ocean for you by assembling a shortlist of some of the best online resources out there for a variety of different student needs:

This resource is a truly fantastic way of learning not only about new books for your kids, but gives kids a fun opportunity to see and read about the thoughts of other kids their age on those very books. This not only introduces kids to the idea that their thoughts matter and can be published, but that reading and the critical analysis of texts can be fun for them and useful to others.

PBS Kids is filled with all sorts of online educational games, materials, and contests for younger students (of all education levels) looking to improve their computer literacy while learning about everything from creative writing to mathematics.

“The Exploratorium is a twenty-first-century learning laboratory, an eye-opening, always-changing, playful place to explore and tinker. For more than forty years, we’ve built creative, thought-provoking exhibits, tools, programs, and experiences that ignite curiosity, encourage exploration, and lead to profound learning. Dive in and discover what we’re all about.”

As more information comes out about ADD and ADHD these days, we’re becoming better able to diagnose children and adults with the disorder as well as better at understanding how it can impact them and how to deal with it. However, some schools and teachers are better educated on this subject than others.

Thus, resources like ADDitude magazine are particularly useful for parents today. After all, chances are, if your child doesn’t have ADD, then one of their friends will. ADDitude, founded in 1998, is a magazine that strives to provide “clear, accurate, user-friendly information and advice from the leading experts and pracitioners in mental health and learning for [over] 10 years.”

The Why Files was created at the University of Wisconsin-Madison under the auspices of National Institute for Science Education with support from the National Science Foundation. It is currently funded through the Graduate School, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Each week, we bring you a new story on the science behind the news.”

“This site is designed to help you learn in a fun way. We’ve made problems that are not only challenging but fun. We also have different resources to help you with your work. We have 3 fun games for different levels of math.

We have 8 great mathematicians to lead you through this site. If you click on Meet the Mathematicians you can read about them and solve problems that they may have solved too! We also have prepared 6 great math quizzes, and 13 problems!”

Discovery Education is a terrific resource for students at nearly every level, offering everything from science tutoring to step-by-step mathematics assistance through games, videos, and other interactive media.

Mission Statement

“The mission of the International Children’s Digital Library Foundation (ICDL Foundation) is to support the world’s children in becoming effective members of the global community – who exhibit tolerance and respect for diverse cultures, languages and ideas — by making the best in children’s literature available online free of charge. The Foundation pursues its vision by building a digital library of outstanding children’s books from around the world and supporting communities of children and adults in exploring and using this literature through innovative technology designed in close partnership with children for children.”

“Our mission is to support the entire research process, from the conception of a topic all the way through to the paper or presentation. Great content is only one part of successful research. Our Skills Center makes the process less intimidating for students and helps instructors and librarians teach critical information literacy skills.”

The Center is made up of three distinct areas: Student Resources (including access to Research Tutors, Wizards (aimed at walking students through important writing and research tasks), and Activities related to Lesson Plans), Teacher’s Corner, and the Reading Room.

Get your kids more interested in the many possibilities within reading by introducing them to this web resource focused upon Lewis Carroll’s classics, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. It’s filled with every kind of activity from straight-up reading to interactive online games based upon the books.

Not to toot our own horn, but Think Tutoring 101 (the official blog of Tutoring 101), is always on the lookout for and dedicated to providing you the latest news regarding colleges, studying, standardized exams, college entrance exams, supporting young students, and just about everything else education-related you could imagine. We also provide all manner of exam prep information and materials on our parent website for you to look into and take advantage of.

 

Now get out there and learn something new!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How To Choose Your College Major

So, you’re about to graduate from high school and want to go to college… What do you want to major in?

For some students, this question is simple. For some, the answer has felt clear since the moment they learned what college was. But for yet other students, this question is a bitter specter haunting them at every turn and just waiting to ruin their day.

What that third group of students doesn’t always realize however, is that they’re in just as exciting a spot as the preceding groups, if not an even more exciting spot.

But let’s start from the beginning. When you first start thinking about how to spend your time in college, try asking yourself the following questions:

What exactly am I looking for in a college experience? What sort of careers interest me the most? Do I want to learn a trade, socialize, philosophize, train for a specific job, figure myself out, or just start exploring all the other wild opportunities out there?

As many people will tell you, it’s just as important to go into college thinking about what you love as it is to go in thinking about what majors may seem stereotypically “better” for landing you that first college graduate job. The truth is, however, that some of the most stereotypically “better” or supposedly more lucrative majors (such as pre-law or business) can often lead students down a path that doesn’t interest them and that doesn’t have the pay-out they were planning on upon graduation. The truth is, choosing the major that interests you most is useful not simply because of its innate ability to grab and motivate you, but because they can often lead you to think more creatively about your coursework’s application in a variety of settings and thus set you apart from other prospective employees in the job market later on.

One of the biggest non-secret secrets about college and the job market is that both are currently well overrun with business majors who are only there out of a supposed lack of interest in other things (despite the fact that business courses and degrees can be incredibly useful, challenging, and fascinating if approached with creativity, interest, and self-motivation), and law students who discover too late that lawyering is oftentimes more akin to being unemployed than being Boston Legal’s Alan Shore.

So, when you begin thinking about what major to focus yourself on, begin by trying to answer one of the toughest yet most basic of questions:

What sort of careers interest you the most?

And, regardless of what that answer happens to be, an important first step to making meaningful college decisions is actually to turn straight to the heart of the issue – research into who currently holds those positions you’re most interested in (Who are the high powered lawyers you admire? Who are the judges, CEOs, artists, and doctors?), and have your parents and teachers help you craft a formal letter or email to send out to this individual(s) asking them what they’d suggest, what their careers have looked like over the years, and what they look for in prospective employees.

This isn’t something many students think of, but it’s actually usually fairly easy research to do and can often yield surprisingly fruitful results. This isn’t to say that everyone will always (or even in most cases) answer your letters, but you never know who might actually get back to you and what advice they might be able to give about what majors, courses, and skills they’d be most interested to see in their employees or what skills they find most useful in their own daily work.

Another important initial step in the major-choosing process is to meditate upon one’s self and upon one’s strengths and weaknesses.

As Darin Ford, Director of the Hegi Family Career Development Center at Southern Methodist University, told US News in 2011,

“It’s an artful balance of synthesizing interests, skills, and personality strengths while acquiring experience outside of the classroom—in the first four semesters, if possible—that will lead to a more informed major choice.”

Essentially, KNOW THYSELF. That most classic of philosophies can be one of the most vital to you when trying to decide what major to commit to—almost as important as maintaining an open mind. After all, even if you’ve always loved reading and writing and just know that an English major is the right thing for you, that doesn’t mean you should feel comfortable ruling out the possibility of a STEM minor or turning down an opportunity to take that stray class on the French Revolution or Macro Economics.

In other words, don’t forget about the Multitudinous nature of the world just because you’ve found your talent and your love early on.

Best advice? Simplest advice?

  • Don’t go looking for passions. They’ll find you and they won’t be in any one thing – passions are BIG.
  • Don’t be afraid to change your mind – being curious is a virtue that will keep you healthier and happier than you know.
  • Don’t be afraid to simply wait until college to make these kinds of decisions. Each college is different, after all, and you never know which professor will be able to speak your special language and put things in perspective for you.
  • Think about what role model you want to be and what changes you want to make in the world. Do you want to be the first woman president of the United States? Do you want to be a STEM star? Do you want to reach out to those in need? Do you want to devote your life to the Romantics or the Sciences? Do you want to help make Science Romantic?
  • Seek advice as often as you can. Ask professors what they’d recommend, talk to career counselors, talk to people who already hold your “dream job,” talk to your friends, your parents, your spiritual mentors. You don’t need to listen to all or any of them, but talking with them will yield you more possibilities and more options than you could’ve ever hoped for, and will show you just how Big the world actually is.
  • Don’t let anyone make you feel bad about the decisions you ultimately make. Be proud, work hard, and take responsibility.

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Good luck!

Can’t I have a “Do Over”? — Reflections of a Mom & Teacher

I often wish I could travel back in time to change parts of my parenting style and certain decisions I made while raising my children. So often I just want to say, “Can’t I have a ‘do over?’” My husband and I have 3 girls, ages 20, 18, and 6. And, really, it wasn’t until our youngest came along that I realized I’d gotten my wish—in my youngest, I have the “do over” opportunity. But now that I have it, I’m left to wonder: What should I do with it? What will we keep in our parenting style and what will we do differently?

I’ve spent over 20 years obsessing about the role parents play in the future success of their children, especially in regards to the learning experiences parents can provide them. I suppose my fascination with this is an occupational hazard given my work as a teacher and proprietor of Tutoring 101. Thanks to this work, while I was raising my girls, I was also able to observe hundreds of local families and how their kids turned out academically.  Many families were friends from church or the neighborhood, but I was also able to learn from parents I’d never have otherwise met.  However, even the best of them, I’m sure, share my desire for a parenting “do over” at times.

For my “do over,” for my youngest daughter, I will probably draw greater inspiration from some of the “Tiger” Moms and Dads I’ve come to know as well as from the Montessori approach, which encourages kids to explore their own intellectual interests.  I’ve seen how a more active parental interest in kids’ day-to-day schoolwork and extracurriculars can improve kids’ academic performances. Thus, for my youngest, I will not only more intensely and intentionally emphasize the importance of study skills and discipline, but also that of creative exploration.

These things may sound somewhat obvious, but a lot of parents end up losing some of that intentionality and discipline themselves over the years in favor of leaving homework and schoolwork up to their children and their children’s teachers. After all, for my first two girls, even I was skeptical about the merits of striving for perfection on homework because I was so focused on my children understanding the concepts. However, I realize now that I can emphasize both. I can be sure they understand the concepts while still taking that extra time to have them strive for 100% accuracy—it’s all a matter of me being just as disciplined and dogged about their education as I want them to be. In this same vein, I will also have them practice more in whatever they attempt in arts or athletics; I want them to explore more creative possibilities, but to do so with a serious and sincere effort. The most successful kids I’ve observed over the years are those who put in the most time on their extracurriculars and hobbies.

As for what I will keep this time around: I know I’ll keep my broad, personal emphasis on learning and knowing so that I may continue to serve as an example of a lifelong learner. My husband and I have always been dedicated to exposing our girls to a wide variety of things that interest us personally. Thus, we often engage them in family activities such as home science projects, reading, museum visits, and travel. I will also continue providing extra tutoring for them (though they already perform well above average) as well as continue my practice of engaging them in discussions of career possibilities.

All in all, however, I think my most important “do over,” will be in simply better helping my youngest to follow her passions. I’ve always encouraged my children and the kids at my tutoring business to find an area of study that fascinates them and to explore that field both in and out of school. I believe all people have unique gifts and natural talents to develop, but it all takes discipline. So, while I may never get a real time traveling “do over,” I know that I, like my children, am a lifelong learner and can constantly change and improve myself and my parenting style. By listening to my youngest more and not dismissing her interests as whimsy, I know I’ll not only be helping her learn and better engage with the world, but I’ll be helping myself to do likewise.

–Tanya Donaghey, Founder and Proprietor of Tutoring 101

Tanya Donaghey is the mother of 3 girls and has over 25 years experience in education.