#BacktoSchool: The Battle of Homework Hill

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

Back_to_SchoolSchool will be back in session here soon, and once again we’ll begin the battle of homework hill. You know, the part where teachers assign huge projects, send them home for the kids to do, and leave unsuspecting parents to pick up the pieces the night before the project is due.

The thing is, kids need parents to be part of their success academically. They need you to teach them how to prioritize homework over video games; they need you to teach them how to break a big project down into manageable steps.

Doing homework at the end of a long work day, which usually means sitting at the computer for even longer than we already have isn’t always what we want to do. But as parents, it is certainly something our kids count on us to do.

It’s worse when our kids are not enthused about the assignment. It’s worse when our kids forget to tell us they need posterboard (by tomorrow). But it is part of the back to school process.

We also understand that many times our supervision is necessary, which is not really what we want to do at the end of the day, but it is what it is. What makes this experience even more tedious is when the child is downright unhappy with the task of completing their assignments.

In our house, we require homework to be done before anything else. No computer time, no video games, no friend time, no iPods, no dance lessons, no guitar lessons until homework is done. We aren’t ogres. We let them go to the bathroom and get a snack.

[Tweet “Make homework the first priority after school to keep your kids on task. #backtoschool”]

Because our kids have had this expectation from the start, we no longer have to wrestle with them. They simply know it has to be done. It saves us the enormous stress of bedtime homework and the even lovelier early morning oops homework.

It’s not a perfect system, and there are times when we just can’t get all the math problems done before we have to head out the door for dance class. But for the most part, we’ve solved the battle of homework hill by making it the top priority – the JOB – for our kids after school.

When other activities are not allowed until after homework is done, kids often find a motivation to complete assignments that wasn’t there before. It sets a standard of good priorities and gives your child time to complete everything. They may not be in love with the task but homework (done well) is non-negotiable.

Helicopter Parenting vs. Advocating for Your Child

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

wordcloudIn writing and talking to Dave about the damage that can be done when helicopter parents won’t allow their kids to grow, learn, and make their own mistakes, we discussed how likely it was that certain school administrators around the country where our kids attended school might have the perception that we are such helicopter parents.

After all, we did withdraw our son from art class to prevent him from being exposed to her toxic ways. There were times when we were in contact with at least one of our son’s teachers almost every day. And, even as he heads off to high school, we already have started drafting our introductory email that will beat him to each classroom.

Are we helicopter parents?

Nope.

We are involved parents of special needs kids. And for those parents out there who have a special needs child, you will know exactly what I’m talking about when I say there is a difference.

Our older son had Down syndrome. He could not communicate for himself because he was born deaf and has no appreciable language skills. We had to be heavily involved in advocating for him because he could not advocate for himself.

Our younger son has Aspergers as well as a seizure disorder. While he has truly learned to navigate school and society so much more successfully, we do still stay much more heavily involved as advocates to ensure that he is treated fairly – and by fairly, I mean as an individual.

Advocates of special needs kids can certainly become helicopter parents, but there is a difference. Every parent should be involved in their children’s education; it’s when you do not allow your child to take risks they are ready to take, have a voice in their own future, or make decisions they are capable of making that the line is crossed.

 

When Skipping a Grade Is the RIGHT Step Forward

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

20140504_122120Our education system is nowhere near perfect. It’s definitely come a long way, but it seems like we still have a long way to go in acknowledging the talents of individual students. It seems that with laws such as the NCLB Act, a child that shines bright must dim in the classroom, as if it were possible to draw energy from one to “light” the others. Common Core Curriculum has made it even worse, and we are losing our best teachers by the thousands.

While equal opportunity for all students is a must, there should also be a path for those that would like to go above and beyond.

Anika is an excellent student. She has just completed 5th grade, but she is reading at a 12th grade level. Her free time is spent writing essays on prominent political figures, reading, writing her own book, running her own website, and dancing. She is a well-rounded individual who has pretty much been in the driver’s seat of her own destiny. We have done nothing except encourage the passions she has herself developed.

At one point during this school year, she expressed a wish to skip sixth grade. The material was boring to her. With an average of 99% in her studies, we certainly weren’t going to hold her back. Dave and I agreed that she wasn’t being challenged and pursued skipping a grade.

The school, of course, was not thrilled with our proposition. Testing demonstrated an overall average IQ (parts of it were extremely high; spatial skills were lower) and they didn’t see a reason for Anika to move forward. They recommended enrichment in the classroom (as if any elementary school teacher has time in their day to individualize the education of a student who isn’t on an IEP).

The problem with the school’s reasoning is that Anika’s success – and everyone’s success – has far more to do with motivation than IQ. Anika’s passion for learning and willingness to work hard is what carries her, and after some deliberation, the school district is allowing her to move to 7th grade.

Are we worried that she might feel a little out of place? Not really. She already socializes with her 14-year old cousins and brother on a regular basis. We are confident that she will find her way and continue to be successful. She has our support, and at the end of the day, we know her better than the school does.

We are bridging the small gap between 6th and 7th grade math this summer, but otherwise Anika has got it covered.

Use It or Lose It: Preventing Summer Slide

Getting Real with Shadra Bruce

summer slideThere are some crazy statistics out there detailing all the knowledge children lose between the end of one school year and the beginning of the next. How incredibly frustrating for both children and parents, who probably slaved over homework and projects, only to lose a third of what they had gained! But just because school isn’t in session doesn’t mean the learning has to stop.

[Tweet “Ideas to prevent #summerslide and keep your kids’ brains working.”]

The youngest of our kids have always taken their own initiative to do something that stimulates their brains. Parker loves his music and spends time writing songs, while Anika enjoys reading and writing reports on topics that interest her. The older two were not so motivated, but we gave them an extra little extra push. Each summer Derek and Kira were required to do a reading and writing assignment each day. They may have considered it torture, but the results were – and still are – obvious. (Just ask Kira, who just finished her master’s at an Ivy league school an entire year early).

You don’t have to assign homework to your kids like they would get at school. Even reading comic books is still reading, which is always more thought-provoking than television or videogames. It also helps if your children see you doing a bit of the same: reading the newspaper, enjoying a good book, or writing in a journal are all options.

[Tweet “Demonstrating that you value life-long learning will help your children adopt the same habits.”]

Our kids will be busy exercising their brains this summer – it’s one way we will all survive summer break.

Is Your Child Avoiding School?

Getting Real with Shadra Bruce

School-Bullies-01Most kids, even if they grumble occasionally, tend to enjoy their time at school, or at least be willing to get up every day and go. When your child refuses to attend school or is so miserable attending school that every morning is a battle, there may be something more going on.

If your child is avoiding school, it might go a little deeper than “not liking it.”

A child who is refusing to attend school or putting up a fight every morning may be doing so for many reasons. If your child is consistently complaining of headaches or stomachaches on school days, this could be a sign of underlying anxiety on the child’s part. It could be caused by the separation from home or other family matters that cause distress, but it could also be the sign of an academic struggle.

The first step is to contact the teacher and see if they can shed some light on the situation. Maybe the child is having difficulty with friendships or is being bullied. If so, steps can be taken to make school a more welcoming place to be, and most schools have no tolerance policies that can be leveraged to help protect your child.

Your child may be struggling academically. Even if the teacher says your child is just not putting in the effort, it may be because they are struggling. Your child may need extra help in a particular subject. Your child may have an undiagnosed learning disorder or challenge that is making it more difficult.

Keep the lines of communication with your child and the school open to identify problems. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or request assesments if you think your child might have an academic challenge, and hold your child’s school to whatever no-tolerance bully policies they have.

It can be hard to tell the difference sometimes between a kid who just likes to sleep in and one who really is having a problem at school, but there are support systems available to help.

Tips for an Awesome Academic Start with Your Kids

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe first kindergarten was established in the 1800s by Freidrich Froebel in Germany to help impoverished children prepare for school.  By the mid-1800s, there were at least two known kindergartens (in Virginia and Wisconsin) in the United States. Kindergarten was, basically, the first form of early intervention for academic success ever created.

Things have certainly changed in the last couple of centuries; in most school systems in the U.S., children now have to take a placement test in order to get into kindergarten and avoid placement in a “begindergarten” or pre-kindergarten program.  Children coming into kindergarten are now expected to have some basic academic knowledge before they even start school, and for those who are not ready, early intervention for academic success now comes in the form of universal pre-kindergarten (UPK) and preschool.

Are we pushing our children to do too much too soon?  Probably not.  Over the last 200 years, we have simply learned more about human cognitive ability.  We know more about how the brain works; educators, parents, and scientific researchers are all realizing that a lot of what determines the academic success of our children is probably determined while they are still toddlers.

Early intervention does not necessarily mean sending your child off to preschool or UPK, although those can be excellent choices for working parents.  If you want your child to be academically successful, (children who are successful academically are also healthier, happier, and have higher self-esteems – it’s really not about the grades) I believe the approach should be less “intervention” and more lifestyle.

Reading to your infant, playing classical music, teaching your baby basic sign language, exposing young children to music and playing musical instruments … these are all forms of early intervention for academic success.  Actively parenting your child, avoiding overexposure to television and video games, and providing a safe and healthy environment for your child also contribute to their overall success.  Help your child be physically active (also crucial to brain development) and focus on eating healthy foods.

MomsGetReal tips for an awesome start:

  • Feed your child’s curiosity!
  • Teach balance in all things
  • Disconnect and spend quality time with your kids
  • Read to your kids from the day they are born (or sooner)
  • Make books readily available to your kids (even before they are reading independently)
  • Expose your kids to different places, languages, ideas, and cultures
  • Encourage your kids to ask questions, think critically, and explore

What to Do When Your Bright Child Won’t Do His Homework

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

Dealing with a student who is more advanced than the rest of the class can be just as challenging as dealing with a kid who struggles. It is up to you to keep him motivated and involved so that he can reach his true potential. Unfortunately, you can’t really control what is being taught. You can, however, challenge his mind outside of school so that he feels more obliged to complete his schoolwork.

Supplement His Education

Smartly dressed young kid working on a laptopThe National Association of Gifted Children believes that one of the worst ways to teach a bright child is by giving him busy work. So it’s really not a surprise that your child doesn’t want to do homework. You can tell him that he just needs to do it so he can pass, but then you can enroll him in some online courses where he can activate his brain and learn new skills. The Penn Foster YouTube channel is a great place for you to learn what kinds of courses are available for your child. He can study many different subjects, and can even work towards becoming a pharmacy technician or veterinary tech. Penn Foster also offers high school courses, which may be a great alternative to public school since your child can set his own pace.

Let Him Interact With Other Bright Kids

Another way to challenge his mind is by having him build relationships with other kids with the same IQ. Brilliant.org is a great site for kids with high IQs to get together and compete. This website will analyze your child’s abilities and give him a ranking. He is then challenged with different questions every day. When he answers them correctly he earns points that can be redeemed for prizes. What’s even better is that he can build relationships with the other kids and participate in some friendly competition.

Get Him Hands-on Experience

It’s clear that studying his textbook is just not challenging your kid. Instead, take him on mini field trips so he can learn the same knowledge first hand. Museums can be very educational and a great way for your child to learn. You may also want to check into the local colleges to see if they offer any special programs for high school students. For example, Lamar University in Texas offers a unique hands-on experience for high school students considering a career in nursing. The students can perform simulated medical procedures on high-tech mannequins, letting them get a real feel for the profession they are considering. The key is to keep your child’s brain engaged so he can reach his full potential. If he can stimulate his brain in other ways, he may be more willing to complete the formality that is homework.

 

What to Look for in a Guitar Teacher

The best thing about learning to play guitar is that the process is as much about fun as it is about learning. Even the initial frustrations that come with learning a new instrument are muted by the sheer joy the guitar student gains by those little incremental improvements. Many people undertake the journey to learn to play guitar on their own, and indeed many people have a keen musical ear and natural aptitude that allows them to learn by themselves and at their own pace. But those who want a more structured learning environment are going to need a teacher. This especially applies to children looking to take that first step to becoming a guitar virtuoso.

guitar lessonsBut hiring a guitar guru isn’t as simple as choosing a service ad on Craigslist. There are many teachers out there, which can make the process of finding the right one difficult. Students need to take into account a number of considerations before settling on someone, because it’s just these considerations that will determine the level of compatibility between student and teacher.

With that in mind here are some crucial things to keep in mind when looking for that first guitar teacher.

GO WITH A GAME PLAN

Guitar teachers don’t function to hold impromptu jam sessions with their students; the best ones always prepare and show up with a plan. A good teacher can evaluate a student on their first meeting and propose a structured method for achieving that student’s particular playing goals. These quality teachers will always be clear and open about their methodology and will oftentimes have the student perform exercises in order to evaluate their level of skill.

It’s important to always be wary of teachers who show up ill prepared or who insist on improvising the lesson. These “teachers” are likely making up everything as they go, and it’s not going to benefit the student in the long run. The worst-case scenario is that a student spends months with a poor teacher and winds up not progressing at all. And that waste of money and time is nothing compared to the sense of frustration the student feels at not reaching their potential.

LOOK FOR CONCRETE TEACHING SKILLS

Many interested in learning to play guitar will often watch a live performance with a virtuoso guitarist and decide that person is the teacher for them. But playing skills and teaching skills are two different things. Usually the best teachers are better suited to the classroom than the stage. There’s no point in choosing a teacher based on their general virtuosity because it will be many years – if ever – before the student is able to play that well. That’s why it’s best to focus on those teachers who have experience and success with teaching beginners.

GAUGE EXPERIENCE

Taking experience into account, it’s important to ask the potential teacher questions. How long have they been teaching? How many students do they teach per week? How long do students typically stay with the teacher? Questions such as these can help the student make the correct decision when it comes to hiring a teacher. If the potential teacher has a full roster of students, ensure that they are also organized and have a system in place to keep thorough track of those students’ progress. Because while a popular teacher is certainly fun, if they don’t have time for the student then there isn’t much point.

By following these simple guidelines students — as well as parents looking for an instructor for their children — should be able to search out and settle on a guitar teacher with whom they are compatible. And it’s just this compatibility that can mean the difference between getting a running start on guitar playing or stalling right out of the gate. Because in the end, the level of progress the student makes is directly is the direct result of a quality teacher.

Elizabeth Wright is a professional blogger that provides information and advice for early childhood education and after school care in Boca Raton. She writes for The Learning Experience, a leading Day Care Center.

The Value of Game-Based Learning in Education

We’ve invited Jeff Peters, the founder of Global Puzzle, to share his perspective on the value of game-based learning and introduce you to his new site. Sign up now to be notified of the site’s launch at http://globalpuzzle.net!

globalpuzzleGames are important aspects in every student’s learning. The evolution of games from field games to video games reflects part they play in our lives. Video games came from a point they wanted to create a man’s real life but the new generation games project our future one thing man craves to live. Almost all institutions have allocated time for games while others will play games during their free time. Games contribute to effective learning by letting the learners apply their skills in real world. According to game development experts at GlobalPuzzle.net, games get to be accepted when they involve learning during play despite the major factor being entertainment. Creation an enthusiastic environment makes learners comfortable since a dull education has no much gain in learning. Most games are played on computers and this gives the learners additional skills on how to use a computer. This exposure gives learner’s confidence when they are tasked to learn about other computing skills. Their curiosity in the computer may also lead to innovations of their own since some of these games present future ideas that can be implemented in real life or ways of solving an existing problem. Playing online games adds skills like Internet using and search. Continuous using of the computer increases a learner’s efficiency and fastness of completing computer related tasks.

Creativity and Fast Thinking

Games make learners think and act quickly during these gaming simulations. This aspect helps learners understand other concept faster and act accordingly in problems that require then to strategize. When the game is highly engaging in doing many activities at once or simultaneously, learners effectively improve on their multitasking skills. When learners enjoy these engaging tasks they will easily adapt to other demanding work without tiring up or getting bored. They can be able to make fast and accurate decisions since games have always provoked in doing so. Creative thinking help the learners in classroom work and in real life experience making their education even more practical. Games may challenge a learner’s ability to memorize challenges and steps to solving them. Learners develop ways how to work out and accomplish goals while learning from their past mistakes. Continuous practicing equips learners with good tactics to memorize events, which are very valuable skills in education. Brain is kept healthy and remembering ability is boosted. Since brain’s memory diminishes with age, gaming should be encouraged even to adulthood.

Attention and Career Base

Games always seek the full attention of a player. It’s discouraging how many learners may fail to make it in their education due to poor attention towards their studies. Playing games enables learners improve on their concentration skills that can be directly applied in their studies. Games portray specific ideas and learners can acquire useful skills from playing these games. When a game requires map mastery, a learner can be able to apply his/her skills in the real world and also in their studies if related skills may feature. They easily develop a good attitude towards specific things after doing them actively in games. Learners easily understand and solve the tasks willingly in the real life since they have already encountered them elsewhere. Games present some learners with interest careers as they can be into creating their own games. Game-based learning can’t be assumed since it adds a lot of value to education. Improvement in game learning goes in parallel with educational growth.
GlobalPuzzle is a unique puzzle game online where you get to challenge people of all ages with your own questions that the whole world is trying to answer and uncover the picture, which will be revealed at the end of the game. GlobalPuzzle aims to bring wisdom and will change your worldview. Follow GlobalPuzzle on Facebook.

How To Raise a Bilingual Child

MomsGetReal Guest Contributor Adrienne Erin

As a parent you want to offer your children every possibility imaginable to eventually become a successful adult.  If you are thinking about raising your child to be bilingual, there are both challenges and advantages that you need to consider. Raising a bilingual child can offer a tremendous advantage in today’s society and offer a plethora of future employment opportunities. Although there is a considerable amount of research available, sifting through the information can leave you still uncertain about your choice. Knowing your options before making the decision will leave you better informed and give you a better understanding on how to raise a bilingual child.

Better Late Than Never (But Early is Best)

70851946Studies show that teaching your children a second language should begin at an early age, but even if you don’t start teaching your child from birth it is still possible for them to become bilingual. Nevertheless, young children are much more receptive and adapt easily to multi-tasking. They harbor the ability to gain a better understanding of language concepts.

When my husband and I were making the decision to raise our daughter to be bilingual (fluent in both English and French), we did not really begin to focus on it until she was starting kindergarten. Now, we try to speak a lot of French around her at home, especially during mealtimes, and though she started at age five she’s really been picking it up over the past three years!

Challenges and Concerns

Research suggests that raising your child to be bilingual offers enhanced reading and writing skills along with strong analytical and academic skills. Children who are learning a second language often have a broader knowledge of cross-cultural understanding and communication.

If you do not fluently speak a second language — or even if you used to but are a little rusty — raising your child to be bilingual will be a learning curve for the both of you! There are many options available to parents without strong language abilities to choose from. From tutors to educational facilities that offer bilingual services, there are several options to choose from. My family looked into sending our daughter to a bilingual elementary school, but we don’t live close enough to one to make this practical. This is definitely a good idea if you live in a larger city, however!

Make it a Team Effort

Everyone in your family, including extended family, should be on board and supportive about your decision to raise a child to be bilingual. If you do not have this support, it could become very difficult to cultivate the language speaking skills you are hoping for and make teaching an uphill battle. Speak with all family members about your choice and make sure they support your decision.

My husband’s family is partially French, so they were extremely happy to learn of our decision, but my own family was a little hesitant. Some were concerned that French was not a practical choice; some thought our daughter should be able to choose her own language to study when it became a class option in 7th grade. We asserted that any second language is better than no second language – it still opens more doors than a single language ever will! Also, we aren’t planning to pressure her into studying French in middle school – if she would like to take German or Spanish and learn something completely new, she is more than welcome to!

Be Persistent

Much like learning anything else, being persistent is going to be one of the most fundamental requirements to teaching your child a second language. If you waver from your plan and teachings, you could find yourself starting all over again.

Something we have found to work well for us is having French dinner nights. During these meals, which we try to have at least four nights per week, everyone at the table is required to speak French. This has worked really well for us!

Make it Fun

Playing games, reading books and singing songs in the language you are teaching is an excellent way to engage your child in learning while making it fun. There are so many television shows — such as Dora The Explorer — that are available for your child that incorporate second languages.

Since we have a satellite TV, we get a number of French-language Canadian channels. My husband’s French family members have also made it a habit to send our daughter French postcards – which she is always delighted to respond to!

Stay Positive

Teaching your child a second language from birth, especially if you yourself are unfamiliar with the language, can be frustrating. Some children will pick up the language quickly, others will go back and forth between the two, others will just struggle consistently, but most will have a good handle on it by age 4 or 5. Don’t scold your child if they choose not to speak the language or be concerned if they go back and forth. Remember to stay positive and provide the best learning environment you can to encourage their bilingualism.

Transitioning Into Adulthood

Your child’s future employers are sure to value the dimensionality bilingualism provides. Employers are constantly on the hunt for employees with a diverse range of skills and abilities. Morningside document translation services, for example, offers professional services through a global network of language consultants. This is just one of the many companies that require second language knowledge, and raising your child to be bilingual can be one of the best things you can do to ensure their future success.

 

This post was contributed by Adrienne Erin on behalf of Morningside document translation