3 Uncommon Signs of Academic Trouble

This is a serious problem, but this comic is still funny.

It’s report card day! Your child digs through loose papers and crumpled fruit snack bags in order to find it and quickly hands it to you before running off to play. You take a deep breath and open it slowly. You both worked hard this quarter. You asked him every day if he had all his homework done, and he always said yes. His grades should reflect that…right?

Wrong. Your heart sinks as you look at the letters and look again. What went wrong? With all the investment that you put into your child’s education, it can be worrisome, and even anxiety producing, for him to continue to not do well in school. One way to avoid a devastating report card day is to catch academic problems before they get out of hand.

Low test scores or low homework grades are obvious signs that your child is in trouble. But there might be a few signs you may not think to look for.

Mood Swings around Homework or Test Time

I’ve tutored dozens of kids and one thing I’ve noticed with the vast majority of them is when they don’t understand something, their entire mood shifts. A child can come into a session smiling and completely pleasant but as soon as we start long division or I’m asking questions about their book report book, they either get mean or they start cracking jokes. It’s a defense mechanism, and if you think about it, you probably know adults who do the same thing. If your child has a hissy fit every time you ask about homework, it could be a sign that they’re struggling but don’t know how to ask for help.

The Magical Disappearing Homework!

I worked with one student for awhile who had the hardest time getting his homework into the teacher’s hands. The night before, I saw that his homework was done. His mother saw that his homework was done. But at some point between getting on the bus in the morning and the start of the class, his homework disappeared. His report card was a disaster that quarter, and it wasn’t because his test scores were low or he didn’t understand the material. It’s because in elementary and middle school (and even many high schools), simply turning in your homework counts for a lot of credit. When you don’t do that, your grades can plummet.

While he wasn’t necessarily struggling academically, this child was losing his homework and that was a sign of a larger organizational problem that needed to be addressed. Now, he’s finishing up his junior year of high school and is one of the most organized, disciplined students I know–all because someone recognized what was going on.

Test-Induced Illness

I’ll admit it…I’ve done it. You wake up the morning of a test and you can’t get your heart to stop pounding. The pressure of doing well and the overwhelming amount of knowledge that you simply don’t know creates a stomach ache. You do whatever trick you need to do to get the thermometer to give out an inaccurate reading (I won’t give anyone any ideas…) and voila! You bought yourself an extra day to study.

Test-induced illness could be a sign that your child doesn’t understand the material or he may understand it just fine. Either way, stress over tests at this level is unhealthy. This kind of anxiety around academics can turn into a serious problem later on, especially as the pressure increases in high school and college. Know when your chid’s tests and quizzes are and when projects are due. If you have these dates listed on your own calendar and start to notice a trend, do what you can to alleviate some of your child’s anxiety.

If you start to notice these or any other worrisome behaviors, check in with your child. Some children are hesitant to talk about what’s bothering them, so try to create an atmosphere that’s comfortable for them. You could go out for fro-yo and chat or take a yoga or martial arts class together or simply sit for awhile and watch his favorite TV show.

If your child doesn’t even know what’s going on (sometimes they don’t), talk to the teacher. Together, you might be able to pick out different trends that are unique to your child and determine if a tutor, academic coach, or psychologist can help.

Hang in there! And on report card day, don’t despair too much. Approach it with some amount of objectivity and you might be able to notice things on your own that you can do to help your child.

Homework comic
How many kids wish this would work?

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14 Awesome Reasons to Encourage Kids to Read

Do you read with your kid?

Here are just a few of the plethora of reasons to encourage kids to read. As a parent, teacher, educator, tutor, or whatever connection you have to students, hopefully this list inspires you.

  1. It sparks the imagination.
  2. Reading often can help with standardized tests later in life (i.e. the SAT, AP Tests, and the ACT)
  3. Fiction opens doors and windows to new worlds and often tell us things about life and human character that we wouldn’t otherwise know.
  4. Non-fiction can provide expertise in new fields. Knowledge in most fields can be obtained through some form of the written world.
  5. We get an inside peek into people’s lives. By encouraging your child to read biographies, they might find someone who inspires them.
  6. The more you read, the easier it gets to read and understand.
  7. Reading improves vocabulary.
  8. Reading helps with other skills like visualizing, which is a useful trick for enhancing your mind-body connection.
  9. Reading helps with writing. It improves how kids understand language and sentence structure, so they’re more likely to mimic what they read in their own writing.
  10. It can be contagious! If you kid is talking about the Hunger Games, it can be a great example to other kids and encourage them to read as well.
  11. Reading can help with social skills. Studies have show that children who are poor readers early in life tend to show signs of aggression later in life (I have some theories about this which may be explained in a later blog post).
  12. Reading saves money. Well, this might be a benefit more for parents than children. Reading is cheap. With libraries being free and now offering an array of e-books, the country’s most popular titles are at their fingertips.
  13. For young kids, the reading habit can start early–by you reading to them. By reading books to your kids, you help them grasp the language faster. This will help them be better communicators when they get older.
  14. It’s an excuse to bond with your kids. They may not want you watching iCarly or Gossip Girl with them (and you may not want to watch those shows either). But adults read young adult novels just as much as young people.
There are many, many more reasons why kids should read. I, personally, attribute much of my success to the fact that I learned how to read early. What are some of your reasons for wanting kids to read widely and abundantly?
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I’d love to connect with you. Meet with me on LinkedIn. Check out my Twitter or Pinterest!
If you’re a potential client or editor, please feel free to check out my online portfolio or email me for my resume.

5 Ways Parents Can Get Involved in Elementary School

How are you involved with your elementary school kids?

Parental involvement is important. That much is clear. Currently, the media blames teachers for the current state of education. But before the media blamed teachers, they blamed parents, especially parents in the inner cities.

Research and dozens of studies show that what happens at home with regard to school can be more important that financial circumstances and zip code. Justice Sotomayor and President Obama are also examples that what happens at home can be more important than other circumstances.

It’s clear that parental involvement matters. What’s unclear a lot of the times is how parents can be involved. Here are 6 ways you can be more involved in your elementary school student’s education. Or if you’re a teacher, here are 6 things you can encourage your families to do.

1. Make sure kids get to school…on time. One of the big ways parents can help is by getting kids to school. This could mean anything from making sure they get to the bus stop on time to dropping them off in front of school. Parents who need to leave before their kids in the morning might consider arranging to have the school call them if a student is absent or late.

2. Help with homework. This is the standard way parents can be involved. When we think “parental involvement,” we think homework help. My mom continues to help my siblings with projects and book reports. Sometimes knowing the material isn’t necessary. Sometimes all parents need to do is create a safe, quiet space where the kid can work for a couple hours. But being realistic, sometimes helping with homework isn’t always possible. Good thing there are four more options in this article!

3. Attend parent/teacher conferences. Parents can be involved simply by meeting with teachers. Teachers can help with this by making themselves available outside of standard work hours. As a teacher, I had parents who just dropped by class (they asked ahead of time, of course) and sat in the back for an hour or two. I also made my phone number available to parents so that they could reach me if they need to. That parent-teacher relationship is crucial to student achievement.

4. Emphasize Education. If parents think school is stupid and say it aloud around their kids, chances are the kids will think school is stupid too. If parents say school is good and important, it definitely helps with the kid’s perspective on education. They are not yet at an age where rebellion and finding their identity is key. When they are young, let them know that school is important and college is attainable. That’s what my grandmother did for me, and I think I turned out pretty good.

5. Do your own teaching. Teaching is one of the many hats that good parents wear. My grandmother taught me a ton of things. From virtues like perseverance and patience to the difference between Monet and Manet, she taught me a lot. She taught me about life, love, literature, history, science, and more. I learned as much from her as I did in my 16 years of education. Parents can be that for their kids regardless of how much education they have. Parents still have things they can teach their kids. Most of my learning happened at my grandparent’s dining room table.

This is not an exhaustive list. There are plenty of ways parents can be involved with their kids.

What are some ways you as a parent are involved or you as a teacher encourage parents to be involved? 

(Photo Credit: Dell’s Official Flickr on Flickr Commons)