“J” is Just in Time

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” 
 Nelson Mandela

Student 3Is there a good time to seek out tutoring?  Does your son or daughter display any of these?

  • Lacks confidence with school work
  • Becomes distraught about going to school
  • Struggles with Maths
  • Reads without interest or understanding
  • Reads through punctuation marks or skip lines completely

Of course, these indicators are not the only signs for a cry for help.  Any change in behaviour or mood may be an indicator that moves you to further investigation.

One thing you should not do is shrug off these indicators as, “Oh, it is only a phase they are going through.” because chances are it is a phase they will not get through.  The cause, or trigger, of the change may vary from changing teachers to taking your children out of school for off-season holidays.  The latter has a considerable effect on children in Year 3, 5 and 7.

Years 3, 5 and 7 appear to be the years when new concepts are introduced in Maths, and probably other subjects.  But we, at the tuition room, see these years as the most influential to the student’s development.  Basically, a lot of new stuff is taught in Maths during these years.  Missing one or two weeks during the school period has a lasting and recurring effect on that area of knowledge through the following years.

Back to our original question, is there a good time to seek out tutoring assistance?

You would think Year 1 students would not require tutoring assistance, after all they have just started school and what have they learned?  Prep is used to prepare children for Year 1 and it is at this stage they learn the simple things like singing the alphabet, counting to ten or twenty and spatial skills such as left, right, in front, under, first, second, last and inside and outside.  Even colouring in pictures helps to develop the fine motor skills required to hold a pencil to form letters while learning to write.

Sometimes children miss some concepts, and this puts them behind during the first year because there is assumed knowledge in Year 1.  Yes, tuition does help to restore confidence to a Year 1 student.

It is always easier to help students who are in Year 2, 4 or 6 because these are the years before the next knowledge jump.  Catching them up in these years aligns their Maths knowledge for the next year jump in concept learning.  We have noticed the most distressed students who come to us are in Years 3, 5 and 7.

When is the best time to bring a student for tuition?  When you notice a change in behaviour that continues for more than two weeks.  There is generally a reason for that change and if it is related to learning then tuition may be your answer.  Having said that, it is never too late to seek out tuition.  We have had students in Year 8 that have received tuition to cover knowledge short falls from Year 5.  No, it is never too late to help a student who wants to be helped.

“It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.” 
 Confucius

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“I” is for Interest

“A man who limits his interest limits his life.” – Vincent Price

Baby ReadingWe all want our children to do well in school and in life, but how do you ignite that spark that fuels a need for knowledge.  How does your child develop an interest in the world around them?

For starters, let’s look at your environment.  After all, we shouldn’t put the responsibility for learning and growth upon the school system alone.  Children’s exposure to teachers and schools is small compared to their exposure to parents and home life.  So, let’s take stock of the most influential environment upon your child’s growth – you and your home.

Talk with your child, not at your child

Talking with your child encourages conversation and participation while talking at your child is more about giving instruction: “Don’t do that”, “Sit and be quiet”, “Go outside and play”.  Which type of parent are you?  Is most of your communication one directional, or do you urge a more open form of communication?  Do you talk with your child about the things you are interested in, such as books, movies, and gardening?

Talk with your child about your interests

Your growth and learning don’t stop when you become an adult.  Your child is likely to become the adult you are because you are the major role model in their life.  Your continued growth doesn’t have to be purely academic.  Your interests, hobbies and activities continue to develop you as a person.  As an adult, have you continued to grow, or do you come home at night and sit in front of the computer surfing YouTube or watching television?

Involve your child with books

Look around your house and count the books on your bookcase.  What? You don’t have a bookcase.  Reading is still the best source of gaining knowledge.  It is a sad fact that today many households don’t have a library.  Their interests and knowledge are not on display.  I enjoy visiting people and scanning the titles on their shelves as it immediately lets me see the interests of the people who live there and gives a basis for conversation.  Many people will have a display case for their sports trophies and I consider bookcases as display cases for your knowledge.  Now, before you go thinking I am some sort of nerd, as well has having several hundred books, our household also has a movie library with several hundred movies.  Display your interests and talk about your interests.

Do things and show your child how you do things 

Involve your child in your interests, within reason.  If your hobby is your garden, then have them help with the weeding.  If you love live theatre, then take them to some live shows to expose them to the experience.  Just keep the experience relative to their developmental level.  Let your children see you reading at night instead of squatting in front of the television.  Being entertained by books offers a different intellectual experience to being entertained by X-Box.  If you are an X-Box kind of dad, you may just have to try a little harder.  Try playing board games that offer challenges and choices while playing to help with the thinking process.  Become involved with your children in thinking games and not just reaction games.

Become your child’s best teacher

From the day they are born your number one priority is to protect then and to prepare them.  The adult they become is the result of your influence as much as that of the school system they fall into.  Sometimes being a good parent requires learning new skills, but that is alright as learning new skills is part of life’s processes.  No-one is born knowing how to parent.  We learn some of it from our parents through their role modelling and we learn some from interacting with people as we grow up.  Though, having said that nothing will prepare you for being a parent, you just learn as you go along.  But you do have to learn.

Don’t overload your child

You don’t have to expose your child to everything at one time.  There is no need to fill every waking moment with experiences and knowledge.  You should allow down time, so they may process what has been experienced, what has been learnt and to rest and recover.  Being a child takes a lot of energy and there is a need to re-charge their batteries from time to time.  Build quiet times into their day when it is alright to sit and do nothing.  Remember, a tired child will struggle at school.

Be positive about their school experience

“It’s alright mate, you have to go and there is nothing we can do about it.” doesn’t send a positive message about going to school.  The school years are such a wonderful time of our lives and must be reinforced as such.  Don’t bring the woes of being an adult, or the problems you are experiencing upon your child’s fun years.  You can use their experience to bring some release from the pressures of your life.  Encourage them to become involved with school activities and then be supportive and join in with them at these events.  One of my most vivid memories is when my father and his friends turned out to watch me at my school rugby league game.  I played many games but that one I remember.  Don’t under estimate the importance of being part of their school experience.

“We will all be role models in our children’s lives.  We don’t have that choice.  The choice we do have is whether we are a positive role model or a negative role model.  That is our choice.” – Peter Kenyon

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“H” is for Help

Crying StudentA decreased ability to concentrate, confused thoughts, motivation low, increased irritability, grumbling, quarrelsome, overly sensitive to criticism, anxious or depressed.  This may sound like a typical teenager, but they are also signs a coach watches for in athletes.

Good coaches recognise the signs of over-training and adjust their athletes’ schedule so the next phase of over-training, burn-out, doesn’t occur.  A great coach will not let these signs develop because they know how to pace the training sessions without over-stressing the athlete.

What has fitness training to do with students?  Burn-out may occur in any person in any profession at any age.  Many parents don’t realise how much pressure they place on their children when they load up their awake time with sports training and competition outside of school hours.  Some students are playing two sports a season.  Some parents don’t realise they may be setting their child up for burn-out later that school year because they haven’t planned enough recovery time for their student.

If you are a parent who encourages outside sports for their children, then you should consider these three things:

  1. Training and playing sport are tiring, very tiring.
  2. A tired student will find it difficult to concentrate in class.
  3. In today’s world, a person has a much better chance of achieving a high income with good grades than becoming a highly-paid athlete.

An over-committed student who finds it difficult to concentrate in class will eventually fall behind on their grades.  They may require the help of a coach, an academic coach.

When athletic students attend tuition sessions, we ask parents to consider dropping one activity before introducing a program of tuition.  There is no sense in adding to an already over-loaded timetable.  Nothing will be achieved.  The tuition, depending upon the grade the student is in, will probably take one full year to bring them aligned with the class.  That is only one season of any one sport, so they will not miss much when dropping one activity to replace it with tuition.

As an academic coach (with a long background in fitness training) I watch for signs of over-training in our students and act on it.  Sometimes, that action will be to remove tuition from the student’s time-table if nothing else is removed.  We do this for the well-being of the student.

You don’t have to be a sporting student to fall behind.  At times a high achieving student places themselves under unnecessary pressure because they have not learnt to budget time or to study correctly.  A student like this will benefit from some one on one guidance so they may learn from an expert how to research and produce assignments, or how to prepare for secondary school exams.

So, as the school year progresses, watch for signs that indicate your student may not be keeping up and is silently crying for help.

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“G” is for a Good Read

“Today a reader, tomorrow a leader.” – Margaret Fuller

pretty young mother teaching her little kid child

How important is it to be a reader in this world of instant information?

Does sitting with your child and playing computer games produce the same outcome as sitting with them and reading a book?

Does it matter that you have never sat with your child and read to them before they have attended school?

More research is coming forward to indicate it does matter that a child is not read to or encouraged to pick up a book, even to scribble in.

Sitting with book in hand and child on lap allows them to see symbols, words and images.  Moving your finger, leading their eyes along symbols of words and from words to images, allows little ones to make connections, at their own pace, with these symbols, words and images.  Their vocabulary grows.

They may not yet be attending kindergarten or pre-school, but you are already preparing their mind for life-long learning.  You have been helping their brain develop neuro-pathways that will assist with learning when they attend pre-school and beyond.  Now, not every child will be ready to make these connections, just as not every child is ready to attend school at the tender age of five.  These things happen when the child is ready, and you can’t rush it.

Spending this quality time with your toddler is crucial to early childhood development.

Andre Biemiller, a Canadian psychologist, studied the consequences of lower vocabulary levels in young children.  The results of his studies indicated that children entering kindergarten in the bottom 25% of vocabulary generally remained behind the other children.  By year six they were approximately three years behind their peers in vocabulary, reading and comprehension.

But what of teenagers?  Is this a time for them to stop reading and focus on computer coding and super hero movies?  Jonathon Douglas, of the National Literacy Trust (U.K.) doesn’t think so in his 2013 article “The Importance of Instilling a Need to Read”

“Teens who choose to pick up a book for pleasure are more likely to succeed in life.”

His article intimates that reading for pleasure reveals a predisposition for life-long learning which he suggests explains increased social mobility.  If life-long reading is one indicator for success, then how may you encourage your moody teenage, or pre-teen, to put down the games console in exchange for the printed word?

We are unlikely to read material that doesn’t interest us, so to encourage a reading for pleasure environment in your household you should supply reading material (graphic novels, magazines, fiction and non-fiction novels) that will be of interest to your teenager.  Hopefully, the school library will also have a supply of reading material that falls outside the curriculum.

What about reading on the internet?  Research has shown that we adopt different styles of reading for different formats.  Internet reading tends to lead to short concentration skimming rather than long-term absorption.

Over the past few decades, authors have been producing extraordinary books written with the adolescent in mind.  These books deal with issues teenagers may be exposed to or experiencing in their life and allows them to deal with them from the safety of the book.

This is not to say teenagers should not be exposed to the classics of Dickens and the like, but there are books more relevant to them and their time.  The classics may come later in life with the pleasure of reading.

Exploring the world through books, gathering information and understanding develops a solid core of knowledge upon which to build ethics, morality and character that becomes the young adult.

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“F” is for Foundations

Tuition Logo 2If your child was an average student last year, chances are they will be an average student this year.  If they struggled with maths last year, they will probably be struggling with maths this year.  Nothing changes unless something changes.  What must change to improve your child’s grades?

The first thing that must change is someone’s attitude.  Children are children and they will not change unless they are given a reason to change.  Telling them to do better or to change their ways will probably not get the result you, as a parent, desire because they do not know how to change.  They are children, they are young, and have a limited frame of reference when it comes to change.  They must be taught how to change.  At this stage the biggest change must be in you as a parent.  You must make the decisions for them, and then guide them along the path.

One of the biggest problems seen in students is they have problems with weak foundations.  They simply don’t know their multiplication tables up to their year level and they don’t have in place a memory of subtraction and addition of the numbers up to twenty (20).   No matter how well a student understands the mathematical concept they are being taught at school, if they can’t perform the foundations, they will not be able to solve the maths problem.  Continually getting the wrong answer whittles away their confidence.

Every student needs to build strong foundations.  You can’t have lasting structure without strong foundations.

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“E” is for Enough Sleep

“Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” – Benjamin Franklin

Male Pupil Finding School Exam Difficult

And on the other side of the coin insufficient sleep will make children hyperactive, lacking in confidence, irritable, inattentive and fall behind in class and if this sounds like your youngster then it is so easy to fix.

Much study has been devoted to knowing how much sleep is needed, or not needed, to remain healthy and productive.  The conclusion being “…. there is a lot of individual differences in what children and adolescents need to sleep to be at their best.” (Australian Centre for Sleep Education).

As a general guide, primary school students require between ten and twelve hours of sleep per day while secondary (higher) school students get by with eight to ten hours each night.  Research has indicated children of any age will arise at about the same time each day so the difference in hours of slumber occurs at the time of going to bed.

What time should a child go to bed to be at their peak the next day?  To make this exercise easier and because Australian schools commence at 9:00 am, let’s assume our children get up at seven to start their day during the week.  This would require a primary school student to be in bed by 7:00 pm and no later than 9:00 the night before, and our secondary student in bed by 9:00 pm no later than 11:00.

The younger the child the more sleep required.  Students from grades one to three require closer to twelve hours of sleep each week night while those from grade four to six/seven may drop to needing ten hours of sleep.

Problems occur with teenagers as their bodies are not ready for sleep when the clock says it is time for bed and they stay up whiling away the hours until slumber overtakes them.

Unfortunately, the activities they do while waiting to sleep may not be conducive to bringing sleep on and they miss out on their required sleep quota.  They then go into sleep debt which they try to reclaim on weekends by sleeping in.  This problem may be compounded by staying up later during weekend nights to interact with friends and sleeping even more of the morning away to further knock the body clock around and make sleeping during the week more difficult.  As a parent, you must take control of this situation.

Children deprived of sleep, like adults, are hard to rouse and will feel sleepy during the early part of the day.  Unlike adults, primary school students will become more active during the day, though still be less able to concentrate.  Because they have become more wired, they will be less likely to fall asleep easily, thus becoming more sleep deprived.  Parents may have trouble identifying a young child who is not getting enough sleep because they are active.

Some home factors compound sleep deprivation in children.  Families in general are not going to bed as early as they need.  For one reason or another, parents are staying up later and as role models may be setting poor examples of a healthy lifestyle.

We see how the concentration of a child who has insufficient sleep is affected in our tuition room.  A student who the previous week was performing wonderfully on our program suddenly has low scores and answers very few questions.  When asked what they did the previous night the answer always involved a late night of movie watching, game playing, internet surfing or social media.  We have also seen how a poor student can change so quickly when they stop being tired.

You can take steps to create good sleep habits by cleaning up the bedroom and the time leading up to retiring.  Some good sleep hygiene habits are:

  • No T.V., computer, mobile phone or exercise 1 hour before going to bed.
  • No T.V., computer, mobile phone in the bedroom.
  • No coke or caffeine drinks 2-3 hours before sleeping.
  • Set bed-times and wake times and keep them to form healthy habits.
  • As a parent, be a good role model and lead by example.

You can visit the Australian Centre for Education in Sleep TM   website for a more comprehensive read.

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‘D’ is for Don’t Give Up

Young girl screamingPeople are social animals, meaning we need to mix with others, and children are no different, but what is going on when a child who was excited about attending school is suddenly resisting?

The school year has start and there was mixed emotions from the new attendees.  Most of the time going to school for the first time will be met with excitement generated from buying books, a school bag, trying on uniforms and covering school books.

The first day or three will be an absolute dream, unless it is your first child going off to school and the tears come from you.  But there may come a time when the novelty has worn off and your eager young prodigy has dug their heels in explaining they have finished with school.

Sometimes a simple explanation that this is their lot for the next twelve plus years (an explanation better than that I hope) will have them merrily kitting up for the next day, but at times there may be a deeper problem.  School refusal is an emotional problem experienced by some parents with their children.  Some signs of school refusal are when your child:

  • Throws tantrums about going to school
  • Hides when it is time to leave for school
  • Begs or pleads not to be taken to school
  • Complains about being ill when it is time to leave for school

There are other indicators for school refusal you may read about on the Raising Children website.  Addressing the cause is the key to handling the problem.  There are many causes, but tuition can help when the cause is “school refusal because of academic problems”.

It is sad to think a Year One student is experiencing academic problems, but it does occur with no fault of any person.  A new school student may be having difficulties because:

  • The assumed knowledge of Year One (e.g. spatial skills, order and counting, grouping, singing the alphabet) has not been learned in Prep.
  • The student is not quite ready to learn. Sometimes students struggle with learning something they see others around them learn easily.  They become frustrated to tears, at which point we praise them for giving it a go.  We also have a system for learning that creates fun, and this distracts them from any inadequacies they may feel.  One day their eyes light up as they have answered a question correctly, but more importantly they understood the question they answered.  Their brain is now ready to learn, and they take off catching the class (with the help of our tuition system) and at times moving to the head of the class with their results.  Every child is ready to learn at a different time, so you never give up on them.  Sometimes they are seven years of age before they are ready academically for school.  This is a problem when school commences at five years of age.
  • The student has a learning disability and this may be something as simple to correct as a tracking issue.

Sometimes you may need the assistance of your G.P. or a child psychologist to help overcome your student’s school anxiety or low academic results.  Never give up on them and consider an after-school tuition program to help subdue their anxieties and achieve academically.

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“C” is for Copy Book

writingThe downside to the information age is the decrease in fine motor skills used for writing.

It is a problem I am seeing more often as laptops and tablets replace the use of pad and pen.  An increasing number of students are unable to form legible letters of the alphabet or write numbers clearly enough, so they may read them thirty seconds later.

Some students going into Year 8 are incapable of writing between the lines of a paper or forming numbers within the squares of a quad ruled page.  Students in Year 5 are unable to produce or read their name in cursive script.  These students are struggling with the fine motor skills required to help them to learn.

I have recently finished reading an article by Maria Konnikova, “What’s Lost as Handwriting Fades?”, which suggests evidence is emerging of a greater link between handwriting and learning.  It appears children learn to read more quickly when they first learn to write by hand.

Learning is a complicated process.  When we reproduce letters, or anything else, by hand a plan is required before executing the action.  The result is highly variable in that it will not exactly represent the original.  Learning to identify variable representations is important to decoding letters when reading.

The research by Virginia Berninger, a psychologist at University of Washington, indicated that when a child who composed text by hand (either printing or cursive) “They not only consistently produced more words more quickly than they did on the keyboard, but expressed more ideas.”

There is also a suggestion of different neuro-pathways being developed in the brain when a child progresses on from printing to cursive writing.

Research at the University of California has reported laboratory and real-world studies of students learning better when they take notes by hand than when they type on a keyboard.

I ask you “Is it time to throw away the pen and paper and adopt the technology of the keyboard?”  Was it time to give up walking when we invented the car?

My suggestion to help build a better student is to let your pre-school use colouring books and pencils, jigsaw puzzles and building blocks to help develop fine motor skills. 

When they are at school continue to use the old-fashioned copy book, so your student may practise and learn to form letters and numbers.  Encourage them to practise twenty minutes a day until they are proficient with writing the printed word. 

Allow this to develop into the practice of cursive writing so they may be able to record classroom notes in secondary school, lecture notes at university or record the minutes of a business meeting.

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“B” is for Breakfast

Empty Gas TankNo student can function well without fuel for the brain.  Going to school without breakfast is starting the tank on near empty.  The body’s metabolism is slowed until the first meal to break the fast and it is running on reserve supply until then.

“B” could also stand for B vitamins as they help to convert the nutrients of food into energy; and there lies the next problem when developing a better student.  How nutritious is the food if breakfast is eaten?

Children and teenagers require quite large amounts of nutrients to supply a growing body.  Now I didn’t say they required large amounts of kilojoules, as it is nutrients that build healthy bodies and minds.  Poor choices in food quality can lead to delivery of lots of kilojoules with few nutrients.  This may lead to the problem of childhood obesity.

Parents play a pivotal role in the development of their children’s eating habits.  They do this in their role of parent by not giving into the child’s whims for their favourite snack foods and their position as role model when they lead by example.

The energy requirement of a teenager in growth spurt is only marginally greater than that of pre-teen children and adults but their protective nutrient (protein, vitamins and minerals) per unit of energy consumed is greater.  This means a teenager requires high quality nutrient foods to maintain healthy body and mind rather than high energy foods to keep them active.

“The energy needs of teenage athletes are increased, often greatly, if heavy training and competitive sports are involved.” (Human Nutrition and Dietetics – Ninth Edition).

It is important for your child to maintain three meals a day with the addition of healthy snacks for morning and afternoon tea.

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“A” is for the Academic Year

Male Pupil Finding School Exam Difficult

Sometimes there just doesn’t seem to be enough hours in a day to fit in what needs to be done, and there seems to be not enough weeks in the year for the school curriculum.

There are forty academic weeks to the Australian school year, little enough time for what needs to be learned.  The problem is the school year is not exactly forty weeks.

There are several public holidays to be removed, and then there are “student free” days also to be taken out.  If we remove the school camp that all students seem to be attending these day, sick days and time spent out of school for one reason or another (sports, museums, etc.) then we have a shortened academic year.

This all puts our teachers, and students, under pressure as a larger amount of acquired knowledge is squeezed into a reduced amount of attended time.

“A” initially stood for Academic Year but now I think it should stand for “Attendance”.

So, how do you make a better student?  Don’t add to the problem by reducing your student’s school attendance by removing them from school for a week’s holiday because it is more convenient.

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