Changing the Focus for School Success

Changing the Focus for School Success

“School success” and whether children view themselves as “smart” and “not smart” seems to depend solely on grades received, but what about all the other areas where students shine that aren’t reflected on the report card? What about the student who struggles academically but is the most creative thinker in the class? What about the student who struggles academically, but is the kindest student, incredibly artistic, or an amazing athlete or musician? What about the one who is a natural leader or the one who is most reliable and helpful? Most importantly, what about the one who always puts forth their best effort and works harder than everyone else but still doesn’t get the best marks? Why don’t those students generally feel successful and how can we change that?

Focusing less on marks and more on the journey of learning is a good place to start. I’ve always told my own children and the students in my class that if they get an ‘A’ and didn’t study it is not very impressive. That likely means the student is naturally good at that subject and likely already knew the material if they can get that kind of mark without any effort – lucky them. For me, it is much more impressive to get a ‘C’ (or any mark for that matter) if they studied, practiced, and put in their best effort. The journey is what we celebrate, not the result. Obviously it’s extremely disappointing to get a ‘C’ if a student worked so hard and tried their absolute best, but if that’s the case then at least we know where there are still gaps in the learning and we can keep working on those areas to improve.  Children should still feel successful if they’ve put in the hard work regardless of the result.

Some suggestions on changing the focus by encouraging a child to pursue their talents at school and outside of school in order to feel successful:

  1. If a child is an artist, label them as such and get them into art class. Encourage them to join the art club at school, enter contests and volunteer to help with creating drama sets or school art projects. Talk to the school about getting them to promote and encourage this talent. Same holds true for musicians, actors, singers, photographers or any of the arts discipline.
  2. Highlight and celebrate other attributes besides marks. If you notice your child is always kind to others, point that out and celebrate that trait. Encourage them to start a friendship club at school or a random act of kindness club. Comment on their talent to make other people feel included and cared for and foster that natural and important ability.
  3. When you see leadership skills developing in your child, ignite that spark. Encourage them to lead their class/school in a project, activity or fundraiser. Perhaps they can join student council and encourage them to find leadership opportunities both within and outside of school.
  4. If your child is a master debater and can win every argument, why not encourage them to start a debate club at school or outside of school? Tweaking that potentially exhausting skill into something very productive and successful could be a win-win for all.
  5. Why not encourage your athletic super start to join the school teams and celebrate those accomplishments the same way we would celebrate high marks. Maybe they’d be interested in starting a healthy, active living club at school or start a sports club that doesn’t yet exist.

Hopefully you get the point. Find the abilities and let them shine. Perhaps then, they will feel as successful as the students who are lucky enough to get all A’s. When we light up ABILITIES, there are endless POSSIBILITIES.

Habits of Homework

Happy New Year! As we head back to school, after a much needed break from everyday routines, it’s the perfect time to reflect on homework habits. Whether or not we like or even value homework, it is an inevitable part of most children’s lives who attend mainstream school. For some, it is also a source of tremendous frustration and family battles. But it doesn’t have to be. Homework is what I consider a non-negotiable, in other words, it is part of a student’s responsibilities and must get done. What is negotiable, however, is how much time is spent on homework and how to communicate struggles about homework with the teacher. Negotiate what that means with your child ahead of time. Discuss how much time is reasonable to be spending on homework each night. If you decide that a child in grade 3 should be spending 30 minutes on homework and a child in grade 6 should be spending 60 minutes on homework then try and set up a schedule that accommodates that. If there is a sincere, focused, targeted time spent on completing the homework, then it is okay to write a note to the teacher saying that your child worked on the homework for a specified amount of time and got this much accomplished. It’s valuable for the teacher to know how long things are taking and what is being understood. Here are some tips to eliminate the struggles of homework and to start developing healthy homework habits.

    1. Set up a homework friendly environment – this space should be free of distractions and free of clutter. It should contain all the materials needed to complete homework including pencils, erasers, rulers, paper, computer and anything else a child might need.
    2. Use a timer – if homework is a struggle, have your child set a timer and enforce focused, purposeful homework time. That means the timer stops if the child gets up for a snack, uses electronics or becomes distracted in any way. The timer can also be used in shorter increments with breaks built in. For example, two thirty minute blocks as opposed to a one hour block.
    3. Same time every day – as much as schedules allow, it is best to get in the habit of doing homework at the same time each night. This becomes part of their daily routine and fewer fights occur when it’s a daily expectation. If there is no assigned homework, a student can always read, practice math facts, write a story, do a science experiment, cook, play an instrument, do art, build or play an educational game (to name a few ).
    4. Promote independence – the older children get the more independent they should become in knowing what is for homework and getting started on their own. If a child cannot do homework independently (at least in part) then the teacher needs to be aware that the homework is too difficult and adjustments should be made.
    5. Praise effort and progress – reinforce positive work ethic and habits. Praising efforts highlights the journey of learning and places less emphasis on the results. It is much more impressive to achieve high marks as a result of hard work than it is to receive high marks simply because it is an easy concept for a child.
    6. Chunk homework into manageable tasks with time frames – this means having an organizational system that helps the child to see what to do first, second and third and how much time each task will take. It can look something like this:

 

    • Math sheet – 10 minutes
    • Read paragraph – 5 minutes
    • Answer 3 questions – 10 minutes

 

 

 

No one said it is always going to be easy, but with consistency, negotiated expectations and a positive outlook, homework can run smoothly. If you need help managing homework expectations or setting up habits in your home, feel free to give me a call at 613-316-6457 or visit my website at www.possabilities.ca to book an appointment.

 

 

 

School Progress Reports – Next Steps

School Progress Reports – Next Steps

November is progress report month in many schools. This is typically the first formal communication on a child’s progress this school year. For some, it is a time of relief in discovering a child is progressing well, working at grade level and moving forward as expected. For others, the November progress report can invoke a feeling of stress and concern if a child is not progressing as expected. For the purpose of this blog, we will focus on the latter scenario.

This time of year is about next steps. It is still early enough in the school year, that a lot of positive changes can be put in place if a child receives an unexpected progress report.

  1. Communicate concerns at parent-teacher conferences. The goal of this meeting should be to come up with a collaborative plan on putting steps in place to improve learning based on comments from the report. For example, if the progress report suggests difficulty starting work independently, then the conversation needs to be about how to support that child in becoming more independent in the future. Here is a reminder of a blog from August about how to communicate positively with teachers. https://ottawacapitalregion.macaronikid.com/articles/59a483598c16451afeb37d59/tips-for-fostering-positive-communication-between-home-and-school
  2. Try to pin point the root of the problem in order to work on solutions for change. Analyzing issues to understand what is at the core of the problem is important. For example, if the progress report suggests the child struggles with Math concepts, then try to pin point what area of Math is difficult. Perhaps it is a struggle with word problems, basic facts or fractions. Narrowing down the struggle can result in purposeful remediation either at school or at home. If the comment is about having difficulty listening to the teacher, then try and find out if it is because the child does not understand, is distracted by a neighbour or is sitting at the back of the room.
  3. Advocate for resources and supports if you think something is lacking. It is within a parent’s right to request additional services at school if a child is not thriving. Perhaps an IEP (Individual Education Plan) needs to be put in place or revised to add accommodations or modifications to assist the learning. Maybe a Learning Support Teacher (LST) or Learning Resource Teacher (LRT) can be brought into the conversation to enhance supports.
  4. Talk to your child. Find out from his/her point of view what is going well at school, what is challenging and what they feel could change in order to improve. Empowering a child to be their own advocate and to be part of the process of getting help is a great strategy for implementing positive change. Always focus on, and highlight strengths and use those strengths to tackle challenges.
  5. Get help now. There are a lot of ways to seek help if the progress report is disappointing. In addition to getting additional resources within the school, sometimes outside resources can be helpful. (Pricy I know, but perhaps worth the investment if finances allow for it).
  • Meet with a psychologist about the possibility of getting a psycho-educational assessment done if a learning disability or attention issue is suspected (a school psychologist can do this too as long but there will likely be a wait time).
  • Hire a tutor to assist in areas of need.
  • Hire an organizational coach if Executive Functioning skills are lacking.
  • Read books – there are so many exceptional resources available to parents on all kinds of school related issues.

If your child is struggling at school and you feel you need help or support with any of these suggestions, please feel free to give me a call at 613-316-6457. As always, please remember that when we light up ABILITIES, there are endless possibilities.

 

Why is my Child so Disorganized?

Your child’s room looks like it was struck by a tornado. Your child’s school bag is filled with crumpled papers that never seem to have a proper place. Your child rarely knows if he has homework or when it’s due. Your child can’t remember the list of instructions you gave him to take a shower, brush his teeth and get in his pajamas. Your child tells you at 9:00 on Sunday night that he needs new shoes for gym the next day.

By contrast, your other child has a meticulously clean bedroom and his school bag is neat and organized with every paper in its proper spot. That child runs upstairs to do homework without ever being asked or reminded and always knows when everything is due. He follows directions with ease and wouldn’t dream of being unprepared for gym class.

Does any of this sound familiar or strike a nerve? What is the cause of this drastic difference? Some would argue personality, others would argue maturity and although these certainly can be contributing factors, the weakness lies in something called Executive Functioning Skills. These skills allow us to plan, focus attention, remember instructions and juggle multiple tasks successfully. Executive functions are controlled by a region of the brain called the prefrontal cortex so there may be a neurological reason as to why a child is struggling with these tasks.

We would never be frustrated with a child who had difficulty seeing the board at school or tell them to just try harder to see. We go to the eye doctor and get them glasses. If a child struggled with Math, we would not be upset with the child, we would teach them strategies and give them tools in order to help them succeed. The same is true for working with a child with weak executive functioning skills. No child is trying to be disorganized, forgetful and oblivious to deadlines. It is our job as parents to recognize the strengths and weaknesses of our individual children and help guide, coach, support and give them tools to help compensate.

Here are some tips to help a child with poor Executive Functioning Skills:

  1. Give one instruction at a time. Have the child repeat back the expectation. Break complex tasks down to manageable chunks.
  2. Provide visual cues to set up routines and habits with short, concrete instructions. For example, the visual card for bedtime routine might have a picture of a shower, a picture of a toothbrush and a picture of pajamas.
  3. Be patient, and build in time for practice. Clean his room with him and make it part of the daily routine every day until he can do it on his own and it becomes a habit. Make sure he understands where everything needs to be when you ask him to clean up.
  4. Strategize with the teacher to put in systems at school for communication, homework and due dates.
  5. Make daily checklists and use an organization system like a calendar or agenda to prioritize daily responsibilities.
  6. Acknowledge this is difficult for your child, support them and reward them when you see positive changes and effort.
  7. Read as much as you can on Executive Functioning Skills and help your child understand why these areas are difficult for him.

If you need help understanding Executive Functioning Skills or needs assistance in helping your child become more organized, feel free to give me a call to set up an appointment at 613-316-6457.

Tips for Fostering Positive Communication between Home and School

Parents sometimes find it difficult to know how much and when to communicate with teachers at school. I advocate for strong, positive, purposeful and open communication. I also think it’s important to try and encourage and help a child advocate for themselves first before a parent steps in to help. Here are some tips on how to keep communication positive, ongoing and healthy.

  1. Approach all communication as allies – If you work under the premise that you are all working toward achieving the same goal, which is to help your child succeed, you will have more luck communicating positively. All conversations should be approached with the assumption that you and the teacher are allies, working together. It is important to lower the walls and to go into all conversations with the mindset of working together. Even if you don’t agree with everything the teacher says, communicating in a respectful, non-confrontational, non-threatening way will lead to more amicable results. Show appreciation for their time and for taking your concerns seriously.
  2. Address specifics – Communicate with a purpose and with a specific goal in mind. It is very important not to be reactive but to communicate once you’ve really thought about what the issue might be. Understand your reason for initiating a conversation, and think about what you are hoping to achieve from the conversation. Take some time to understand the problem, looking at it from different perspectives. Think of flexible and multiple solutions you can present that are realistic and achievable before approaching the teacher.
  3. Listen to all sides before making assumptions – It is easy for “mamma bear” or “daddy bear” to surface quickly when a child comes home unhappy or stressed from school. Sometimes our instinct is to jump in and try to “fix” the problem very impulsively. It is important to gather all the facts and information before approaching teachers with “guns a blazing.” It is important to initiate the conversation with a teacher by stating your child’s concerns and then asking the for their input, feedback and perspective of the situation. Sometimes that might mean giving the teacher some time to investigate the problem and letting them get back to you later to discuss the issue from all perspectives.
  4. Be proactive – Start communicating as soon as there is an issue worth addressing. Don’t let incidences build before approaching the teacher. Nipping small issues in the bud right away often diffuse situations from escalating. That said, judge what situations warrant you being involved. It is important to let children sort out minor incidences on their own as it is part of growing up and becoming resilient. Find out the best way to communicate with each teacher and use their preferred method. Some teachers like email, some prefer phone and others use the agenda. Be flexible with how and when you communicate and give teachers time to respond.
  5. Work together in collaboration – Make it clear to the teacher that you are willing to do your part at home to support and enhance whatever issue is happening at school. Teachers will be more willing to help when they know that you as the parents are also doing your part at home to support your child. Your child should always know you are working with the school in partnership to address all issues. Your child should never think that you are going in to “fix” a problem or that there is a negative feeling toward the staff at the school. Older children should be part of the process and conversation to help problem solve issues that arise.

Keeping a positive, open mindset with your child’s teacher will go a long way in advocating for your child and getting the results you are hoping for. Never speak negatively about your child’s teacher in front of your child, even if you feel frustrated. If you feel you need support in communicating with your child’s teacher in a positive and healthy manner, it is one of the services I offer. Sometimes it is helpful to have an advocate who is not emotionally attached to the situation. I can be reached at 613-316-6457 if you’d like to discuss further.

Should I Get My Child Tested?

In my opinion, all students have the right to feel successful in the classroom. With the proper resources and supports in place, every child should be given the opportunity to shine. It is heartbreaking to watch a child struggle day in and day out in school when it’s a place they have to attend every single day for 14+ years. When parents start to worry about how their child is doing in school, one of the questions that may arise is if and when they should have their child tested. This means bringing a child to psychologist to have a full psych-educational assessment done to evaluate cognitive, academic, attention, memory and social abilities. It is often an overwhelming and emotionally charged decision and sometimes parents are unsure whether the cost of the assessment is indeed beneficial. Here are some questions to consider before making the decision to test a child.

  1. Is your child falling behind or struggling in school academically and/or socially?
  2. Is your child verbalizing that school is too hard or they don’t feel successful in the classroom?
  3. Is homework a struggle and taking far longer than it should?
  4. Is your child resisting reading and writing?
  5. Is your child disorganized and lack executive functioning skills?
  6. Has your child’s teacher mentioned they are concerned or did they receive an unexpected report card?
  7. Is your gut feeling that your child’s academic performance is not matching their potential?
  8. Is your child very anxious or reluctant to go to school or do homework?

If you answered yes to many of these questions, there is a strong likelihood that an assessment will help your child succeed at school. The purpose of an assessment is find out why your child may be struggling at school, and then offers suggestions and recommendations on how to improve their performance in the classroom. The assessment is the first step to acquiring a useful IEP (Individual Education Plan) for your child that is purposeful and individualized to addressing your child’s specific needs. Assessments are without a doubt extremely costly. Some school boards offer the service but the wait times are often long so getting your name on that list sooner than later is advised. If you have insurance, or can afford the cost, it is my recommendation that you get a private assessment done. A proper assessment is a useful tool to help parents, teachers and the student themselves understand how they learn, what their strengths and weaknesses are and what modifications or accommodations are necessary to implement in order to improve success in the classroom. If you would like a list of psychologists who provide this service, feel free to contact me at sharonreichstein@gmail.com

 

Transitioning to Summer

Although it’s hard to tell from the crazy weather that summer is upon us, it is here. For most children, that is great news as they look forward to less structure and more freedom. But for some children, the lack of structure, predictability and routine is extremely stressful and the transition to summer can make them feel quite anxious. Many of us are creatures of habit and feel calm when we know what to expect. Our children are no different and some handle transitions better than others. Here are a few tips to help anxious children transition to summer.

  • Visual Schedules can help children see what is happening each day or each week. These can easily be done on white boards, printed out or simply written on a piece of paper. Children tend to handle change better when they can predict what that change will look like.
  • Monthly calendars are great so children can see the bigger picture of their summer. Perhaps weeks 1, 3 and 6 they are at camp. Maybe weeks 2 and 4 they are at grandparents or a babysitter and maybe week 5 they are on vacation and week 7 is to be decided. If it’s all written out on a calendar, children can then see a framework of what will happen each week and be able to anticipate the changes in a calmer way.
  • Involving children in the planning of their summer is a great way to help alleviate anxiety. If you are planning a family vacation, giving children input on what you do and see will make them feel more involved with the holiday.
  • Prepping children on the weekend what the week ahead will look like and allowing them to ask questions and express concerns is a great way to reduce stress. If they are going to a new camp that week, they will likely have lots of questions about what it will be like. Working through scenarios that may cause anxiety is a great tool for minimizing the worries.
  • Eating well, sleeping well and exercise are just as important in the summer in order to keep stress levels to a minimum. We often relax our sleep schedules and eating routines during the summer which is nice and fun for the children but lack of sleep will contribute to stress levels, so keep that in mind if a child is highly anxious.

 

Enjoy the summer and hopefully this crazy weather will improve! PossAbilities Educational Consulting is open during the summer, so if you have any school related questions or if you want to enroll your child in a little bit of tutoring, feel free to get in touch at sharonreichstein@gmail.com

How to Encourage Reluctant Readers to Read

How to Encourage Reluctant Readers to Read

One of the most frustrating things as a parent is when you have a child who dislikes reading. Most of us understand and see the value of raising a child, who loves books, enjoys reading and appreciates literature. For some children, however, reading is simply not an enjoyable task. I think it’s important to understand why a child dislikes reading. Is it because they haven’t found books that interest them or is it because they find reading a challenging task?  Here are some tips to encourage reluctant readers to read.Read to Children: A great way to start the love of reading is by reading to your child (any age – even 10 year olds love being read to). Find a book you really think will capture their interest and read it to them. The first step to getting a child engaged in reading is to gain their attention with a captivating book.

  • Read a Variety of Material: Reading a variety of material is important to find out what interests your child. Reading can come from reading newspapers, magazines, taking quizzes, on-line stories, comics, graphic novels, video game instructions and so much more. Try and be mindful to encourage reading in all of these different formats.

 

  • Choose Books at the Right Level: Be really careful to help your child choose books at their reading level. The fastest way to turn a child off reading is by encouraging them to read materials that are too difficult for them. Always be supportive and always help a struggling reading. Do not get frustrated with your child if they are having difficulty. It is NOT their fault.

 

  • Audio Books: Sometimes we just don’t have time to read to our children but audio books serve the same purpose. It allows struggling readers to have access to books that are too difficult for them to read on their own.

 

  • Make it Part of a Routine: Try and make reading part of a household routine that is not optional. Just like brushing teeth happens naturally as part of getting ready for bed, so should reading time. Try and make it positive and rewarding and something that everyone in the house simply does at the same time every day.

 

  • Genre Bingo: For children who are struggling to find books they like, you can create a Genre Bingo game. You can put different Genres of books on a bingo card and encourage your child to pick a different Genre of book each time they choose a new book. This is a great way to expose children to different types of reading material. When your child gets a “BINGO”, a prize is always fun. Some Genres to include on your Bingo Card could be: Humour, Adventure, Mystery, Fiction, Non-Fiction, News Article, Historical, Comic, Graphic Novel, Science Fiction, Drama, Biographies, and Action.

 

If your child is really struggling with reading, feel free to contact me to discuss further. If there is a learning disability at play, early and appropriate intervention is vitally important. Feel free to contact me at sharonreichstein@gmail.com

What is an Educational Consultant?

What is an Educational Consultant?

I’ve been blogging for several months and it dawned on me the other day that perhaps some people don’t know who I am or what an Educational Consultant is, so I thought it would be a great idea to explain more.

I’m a special education teacher with 19 years of experience working in a special education classroom and my passion is helping children with learning disabilities. This year I decided that I was ready for a new challenge so I opened up my own business called PossAbilities Educational Consulting. My motto is, “When you light up abilities, there are endless possibilities.”

As I navigate this new role, I’m excited about the different opportunities I am presented with and my favourite part of my new job is the change and diversity that each week brings.

So what exactly do I do?

IEP consults – one of my roles is helping families ensure their child’s IEP (individual education plan) is personalized, strategic and meaningful. The key phrasing in this acronym is individual. Many IEP’s I read are very generic and not individualized enough to showcase the wonderful talents of the student. My focus is always ensuring that abilities shine through in order to help tackle the challenges. For example, if a child is an exceptional visual learner, then the IEP should reflect visual teaching strategies. Furthermore, I help make sure that once the IEP is developed, it is actually being implemented accordingly in the classroom. With the beauty of technology, I consult with families all over Ontario.

Psycho-educational Assessments – many of the children I work with have psycho-educational assessments. One of the services I offer is reading through the assessment to make sure families understand what the assessment means for the child in the classroom. In other words I help families understand how the results of the assessment translate to day to day functioning in the child’s life. I also help parents prioritize the goals from the assessment in order to make sure they appear on the child’s IEP. I have training in psychometry and am learning to be a psychometrist so this is a great service I provide to families.

Advocacy – I help parents (and children once they are old enough) advocate positively for services that they need in order to succeed. Empowering families to advocate for what is fair is so rewarding. The definition of fair is ensuring that every child has what they need in order to succeed, not that everyone has the same resources. My favourite analogy to help children understand this concept is glasses. Would we ever deny a child glasses if they needed them to see? Would we ever insist that the whole class must wear glasses because one child needs them? Of course not – and it’s the exact same for any resource that a child needs to succeed. One child might need extra time, or a computer, or a scribe or a quiet place to write a test, or a standing station, or a fidget toy, but that doesn’t mean all children need it or that no child should have it. Teaching children to be proud to ask for supports that they need is very rewarding and often difficult to do. I also help families choose a school placement that might be more appropriate than the placement they are in.

Tutoring – I am a reading specialist and I teach children how to read and spell. One of my passions is teaching children real, true rules for the English language. English is actually very ordered and structured once we understand the rules and reasons for why words are spelled the way they are. For instance have you ever wondered about the spelling of ‘love’? Did you know that no English word ends in the letter <v> and so we end all these words with a single silent <e>?  Did you also know that <uv> isn’t a combination in English that can go together because in cursive it looks like a <w> and when you can’t use a <u> in English, you use an <o>? These simple but very true rules, explains the spelling of <love> and <have> and <move>.

Workshops – all public school parent councils are able to apply for PRO grants (Parents Reaching Out) grants. I’ve been going to different schools to give workshops to parents and they are so much fun and really interactive. Two of my most popular workshops are my ‘Learning Styles Workshop’ and my ‘Sneaking Math into Everyday Lives’ workshop.  I love giving workshops and am always developing new ones to target different needs and requests.

If you are interested in learning more about any of my services please feel free to send me an email at sharonreichstein@gmail.com.

Behind the Scenes of Homework

Behind the Scenes of Homework

Today’s blog comes at a time when homework continues to be a “hot” topic. The controversial topic about the benefits/non-benefits of homework is an ongoing debate and not one we will resolve in this blog. Whether you are adamant that your child should have no homework or you feel your child isn’t getting enough homework, the reality is that for most of us, homework is still on the table and usually part of our daily/weekly routine. The purpose of today’s blog is to look at the “behind the scenes” of homework and to perhaps help reframe your thinking around the secret benefits of homework regardless if we agree or disagree with the actual work being assigned.

If navigated properly, homework can teach a child to become more responsible and organized, teach time management skills, teach perseverance and problem solving skills when presented with a challenge, as well as teach delayed gratification in a world quickly becoming one of instant gratification.

  1. Responsibility and Organization– Ultimately homework is the responsibility of your child. Helping your child get into the habit of using an agenda (be it written, picture based, recorded or teacher web page based) is a useful tool that will allow them to be organized and responsible. In other words, the first step to teaching responsibility around homework is ensuring that your child – not you – but your child knows what is to be done and when it is due. If these habits are put in place at a very young age, this will not be an issue as they become older and their executive functioning skills often wane.
  2. Time Management – Extracurricular activities, family time, meal prep and important free time for playing and hobbies are essential aspects of after school routines and in my opinion are equally important as homework. Busy lives is a perfect way to help children learn how to time manage. Discuss with your child how much time they predict their homework will take, what other responsibilities they have that night and help them figure out when homework should happen. The best kind of homework is assigned one day but not due the next day which allows for discussion and planning on what night and at what time the homework should take place based on other events and activities your child may have. As they get older, the child should be deciding when homework gets done on their own and not because mom or dad said it’s time to do it.
  3. Perseverance – One of the most difficult challenges with homework comes from a child feeling frustrated because the homework is hard. Letting your child struggle to come up with a solution (obviously within reason) is not a bad thing. If we rescue a child and “give” them answers the minute they feel stuck, they will never learn how to problem solve and persevere. I am not advocating not to help your child with homework, I absolutely think there is a time and a place for help, but for me that comes in the form of questions, guidance and reassurance. Asking your child questions like “How do you think you can try that another way?” and making comments like “I can see that looks challenging for you, it’s okay to try and get it wrong, is there an example in your notebook or textbook of a question like that?” or giving them a clue to get started and then advising them to try again. There is absolutely nothing wrong with your child not understanding the homework, trying their best with different attempts, and asking the teacher for help the next day in school. Your child’s struggle with homework should not turn into a stressful power struggle with you at home.
  4. Delayed Gratification – Homework is a wonderful tool to help a child understand the concept of self-reward. Teaching a child that rewards and “fun” can happen once hard work is achieved, is a powerful life-long lesson. Delaying playing a video game or texting a friend or going on a bike ride, is not a negative thing. It’s a great way to help a child understand that all of the fun can still happen, just at a later point in time and can be seen as a reward for getting responsibilities done efficiently.

Although the actual content of the homework often leaves much to be desired, the concept of homework can be used to teach really important life lessons and that’s what I recommend you focus your energies on with regard to homework routines. One note of caution is that balance is crucial, and as a parent, if your child is spending too long on homework due to slower processing speed, a learning disability, a memory deficiency or a true lack of understanding, please make an appointment with your child’s teacher to discuss the struggles that are taking place and ask for homework accommodations. No child should be sitting through hours of homework each night. For more information about homework or any of the “behind the scenes” topics of homework, please feel free to contact me to discuss further. http://www.possabilities.ca

 

The Optimal Learning Zone – Part 5 (Positive Mindset)

The Optimal Learning Zone – Part 5 (Positive Mindset)                                                                                                                                

Today the focus is on Positive Mindset in this 5 part series. A quick recap from the previous blogs in this series, to be in the Optimal Learning Zone you need to:

  • sleep well
  • eat well
  • exercise
  • have a positive mindset

“If you say you can’t you won’t be able to.” Ask any student I’ve ever taught and they will tell you this all too well. I don’t accept the words “I can’t” from my students. The first time a student says, “I can’t do this.” I look at them and say, “You are right, you won’t be able to”. My response often catches students off guard, but the truth of the matter is, if a student verbalizes that they can’t, then they’ve already decided in their head that it’s too hard and there will be little I can do to convince them otherwise. They are automatically closed off from learning. It’s a defense mechanism most of us use because it shields us from failure, from struggling and somewhat “excuses” a hard task.  What I teach my students is to rephrase and reframe their thinking. When they come across a task that is really challenging or difficult, these are the words I want to hear. “Wow, this is really tricky, but I know I can do it. Will you help me if I get stuck?”  Students want reassurance, they want support and they want guidance. Most of all students want to achieve. This shift in thinking teaches students that I believe in them, that I support them and that I will always help them if they’ve tried and as long as they have a positive mindset. The shift in learning in a classroom of this nature is remarkable. The same can be true for helping with homework and for anything else that feels challenging in your child’s life. Deliberately changing mindset is a powerful tool and allows children to feel good about themselves and to persist even and especially when things are hard. Being in a positive mindset is one factor to being in the optimal learning zone. Here is some language that will help change the mindset in your home. These are simply examples, but you can rephrase for everything negative your child is expressing.

Change your Words Change your Mindset
This is too hard. This may take some time and effort.
I can’t do it. This is tricky but I will try my best.
I’m not good at this. This is hard for me, but I’m on the right track.
I don’t understand. I’m not clear on what this means, what am I missing?
I’ll never be able to. If I keep practicing and trying, I will get it.
No one will help me. If I try first, my teachers and parents will help me.
I give up. I’ll use my problem solving strategies and try again.

Another great tip for shifting to a positive mindset is focusing on the positive aspects of a child’s day. Instead of asking, “How was your day or what did you do today?”,  rephrase that question to,  “Tell me 2 great things that happened to you today or tell me 1 new thing you learned today.”

Just like sleeping well, eating well and exercising need to be modelled from the adults, so does a positive mindset. If children watch the adults in their lives tackle problems with confidence, resilience and a positive mindset, they will begin to model that behaviour. What do you say in front of your child when you are faced with a difficult problem? For more information on the Optimal Learning Zone or any other question about learning, feel free to email me at sharonreichstein@gmail.com or visit my website at http://www.possabilities.ca

The Optimal Learning Zone – Part 4 (Focus on Exercise)

The Optimal Learning Zone – Part 4 (Focus on Exercise)                                                                                                                                

This series began by talking about the 4 “simple” things we can do at home to optimize learning at school. As teachers, we know that children learn their very best when they are in their “Optimal Learning Zone.” To achieve that zone, parents need to ensure they focus on 4 key areas with their children;

  • sleep well
  • eat well
  • exercise
  • positive mindset

Today’s blog will focus on exercise. In order for our children to be in their “Optimal Learning Zone,” they must be active. Being active reduces anxiety, clears the mind and allows children to focus at their best. Here are some tips to ensure children stay active and are ready to learn at school.

  1. Extra Curricular Activities – Most of our children are involved with lots of extra-curricular activities. I always insisted on a maximum of two activities outside of school for each child, but one of my criteria was that one of the choices had to be something active. My son is a second degree black belt and does Tae-Kwon-Do twice a week and my daughter enjoyed many different activities throughout her childhood. Over the years, she’s chosen dance, gymnastics, soccer, Futsal, and acrobatics to name a few.
  2. Encourage kids to get involved at school – Most schools have great athletic departments. Being on school teams and playing intramural sports at lunch is a great way to get children to be active. Encourage your child to run around at recess instead of chatting in the corner with a friend.
  3. Family activities – As a family, we try and pick activities that keep all of us active and we try and choose things we can do together. When our kids were younger we always took advantage of Summer Sunday bike days on the Parkway. We try and ski most Sundays in the winter. We also love to hike. Playing with kids at the park is a great way to encourage being active. Running with a kite, playing tennis, jumping on a trampoline and going for a jog are all great ways to get active with the family. Skating on the canal is a perfect, free activity great for the whole family.
  4. Modelling exercising – We as parents need to be mindful that we are our children’s role models. That’s true for sleeping, eating and now exercising. If we are asking our children to exercise then we need to be thinking about how we incorporate exercise into our own lives. Ensuring exercise is a regular part of our routine and making sure our children are aware of what we do, is important in helping them develop their own mindset about exercise. Even if we hate it, we need to ensure that we are not associating negative feelings with exercise in front of our children.
  5. Wii Fit – If children insist on screen time, then negotiate part of that screen time to “active” screen time. Lots of the consoles come with active games now. Wii Fit is a great example. My daughter has Just Dance for the PS4 and when we play together, I’m definitely out of breath!

Lastly, make sure when we talk about exercise with our children, that we are framing it in the context of being healthy. Many of us exercise to try and lose weight but that is not the message we want to send our children. Try and framework exercise into the context of keeping our bodies and minds sharp so that we are in the Optimal Learning Zone for work and school! If you have any questions about exercise or being in the Optimal Learning Zone, please feel free to email me at sharonreichstein@gmail.com