Homework: How to Make it Work

In the education world, homework has become a controversial topic—one in which people are greatly divided. Proponents of homework typically praise the fact that it allows students the opportunity to practice skills, self-check, and reflect on the learning. Conversely, opponents believe that homework has become “busy work,” an unnecessary or burden on young learners. Whatever your stance, most can agree that parents are the likely homework liaisons between young learners and the assignments that frustrate them. Parents are the ones to wipe the tears and pick up the pieces (sometimes literally). Thus, it is not unusual for parents to feel helpless at times when homework is getting the best of their children.

When you are feeling the pressures of homework at home, remember some of these key points:

  • Homework is not your job as the parent. Yes, you should remind, encourage, assist, and guide. However, it is to no one’s benefit that the parent handhold the child through the work. The point of homework is to assess the knowledge or skills acquired during class. If you are the one prompting answers or pulling teeth to get an assignment completed, your child is not getting the most from the learning opportunity.

  • The responsibility piece is huge when it comes to homework. On those evenings when your teen announces a surprise poster is due the following day, remember that this is not your responsibility to go on a late-night Staples spree. Will this frustrate your child? Yes. But encouraging your procrastinating adolescent to “figure it out” will end up being a greater learning moment than if you had scurried into super posterboard mom mode. Just be sure that your method and involvement as a parent matches your child’s age and genuine abilities.

  • Encourage your child to get into the habit of writing down the full details of an assignment during class. If your child or teen is unaware of the exact terms of the assignment, or its due date, the whole assignment can get lost in translation. It is not unusual that, when in a hurry, students will jot down a vague idea of the assignment, with little to no detail about how to complete it. This sloppily-scribbled, nondescript “worksheet” will not be much help when homework time begins. Instruct your child to write down the homework as specifically as possible, i.e., the page number, website, number of questions, chapters to read, or due date.

  • Stress the importance of the attempt. This is key when an assignment is becoming an overwhelming frustration for your child. Crying over geometry homework at the kitchen table will do little to motivate your child. If this happens, encourage your child to complete what she can, and explain the rest to her teacher privately. At this point, it is not about the homework points or credit. It is about the need for clarity before she can master the content or skill. Especially for the younger learners, completion for the sake of credit is not always worth the hours of frustration. Instead, send a quick email to your child’s teacher explaining the effort that your child put into the assignment. Homework is, after all, indicative of the child’s knowledge of the topic. The teacher will be appreciative of the information, as it will help to guide instruction and re-teaching strategies.

Procrastination: Student Strategies for All Ages

Most teachers would admit that every child and teen exhibits procrastination from time to time, regardless of grade level. For some unfortunate souls, procrastination is simply ingrained. So what is the problem with it? Well, when we procrastinate, the task at hand does not diminish or disappear—no matter how much we may hope. Instead, the anxiety of the looming “to-do list” grows, as does our desire to avoid the work at all costs. How can we combat this procrastination tendency?

  • Teach students to assess the situation thoroughly before they decide to evade the work. Of course, everyone, including our students, would rather not have a list of homework assignments or projects to complete. However, the nature of education involves work outside of the classroom—plain and simple. Instead of setting the task aside right away—an out-of-sight, out-of-mind strategy—prompt students to investigate the necessary steps that will be required to complete the assignment. This sort of review strategy forces students to acknowledge the amount of work that the project or paper will entail. The more prepared they are to tackle the task, the less likely they will be to set it aside for lengths of time.
  • Encourage students to jump right in. This does not necessarily mean that they have to rush or complete the task in one chunk of time. Instead, they simply need to scratch the surface and begin. Starting something that they would rather avoid is half of the battle. Once they have begun, the urge to procrastinate is set aside.
  • Remove distractions while working. This is especially difficult for adolescents who would prefer to be glued to their devices while working. Advise students to set aside time to work without any smartphones, television, etc. All it takes is one chime of a notification to derail a work session, further instigating procrastination. A quiet work space, removed from distractions, allows for full focus, which is the best way for students to get the most out of their work time or study sessions.
  • Praise or reward students who complete or submit work prior to the deadline. Whether we are talking first graders or seniors, students respond to incentives. This can mean that the first group to submit work receives their grades first. Or, give praise, small rewards, or extra recess when students exhibit proactivity. Again, the point is to incentivize students so that they are eager to tackle the assignment, as opposed to setting it aside for the last minute.
  • When push comes to shove, stress completion over perfection. The point is obviously to dissuade procrastination. However, there will be times when students simply cannot get the ball rolling in time. When they do put off the work, explain the importance of completing and submitting the work, even when it is sub-par. Of course, keeping high expectations is important. However, the need to perfect something at the last minute is not only stressful, but unnecessary. Use these moments as a learning experience by highlighting the fact that students can avoid this feeling of disappointment or discouragement by planning and working ahead of time in the future.

 

Tips to Improve Reading in the Classroom

Not surprisingly, reading is one of those activities that students either love or loathe. As much as it can be difficult to get a bookworm to put the book down for a second, it can be equally challenging to get a reluctant reader to pick one up. So how can we improve reading skills for both our avid and unenthusiastic readers? The strategies and methods are just as different as the students themselves.

For Reluctant Readers:

Allow reluctant or struggling readers to use digital aids to improve comprehension and ease the stress correlated with fluency and decoding. Listening to audiobooks is a proven method to encourage and boost struggling readers. Explain to students that they must follow along while listening to the text. Many audio tools also allow students to highlight, mark, or pause the reading in order to define difficult terms or make notes along the way. This process allows students to actively engage with the text without relying solely on their own reading skills. While some argue that listening to books on tape is not actively reading, educators know this to be false. These digital tools, such as the audiobook, are simply scaffolds to allow for different avenues of comprehension. Yes, students are following along, but the audio also acts as an added support for comprehension, which can be very encouraging for struggling readers.

Make sure that the Lexile level matches the ability of your reluctant readers. Many students find reading to be discouraging, especially if the level of the text far exceeds their ability to comprehend. Numerous educational applications are available now to help teachers sift through texts and find appropriate levels for all readers. Some apps even provide variations of the same story or article for on, above, or below-grade level readers. This allows all students to read and comprehend the same text, so participation is not an issue.

Appeal to individual interests by providing student choice. As much as possible, students should be provided with texts that engage them and relate to them personally. Yes, the end goal would be for students to embrace reading as a means of exploring new things. However, for reluctant readers, it is all about the incentive to buy in. Charming their interests is a great way to bring enjoyment to an activity that they don’t necessarily love.

For Avid Readers:

Encourage students to explore texts that challenge their current level of comprehension. Voracious readers embrace the opportunity to increase their own vocabulary by encountering more challenging texts. Not only do unfamiliar terms pique their interests, but the complexity of sentence structures or plotlines also helps to stimulate learning and engagement for strong readers.

Allow strong readers to take creative liberties with their writing assignments. Since writing and reading abilities are reciprocal, a strong reader will likely flourish in writing, as well. Provide enrichment by having strong readers extend a novel, poem, or short story. The idea here is that fanfiction not only boosts writing skills, but also encourages advanced reading skills such as close reading, mimicking voice and tone, making interpretive predictions, etc.

Provide time for reading and exploring new texts in class. Obviously, avid readers are happy any time they are able to indulge in their favorite hobby during class. But, more than just silent reading for the sake of it, small bits of class time devoted to reading for pleasure is a great way to foster literature circles or book talks. Socializing over a beloved novel is a way for advanced readers to dig deeper into inquiry-based methods and learn to analyze texts on a more progressive level.  

How-To Stay in the Know: News for Elementary-Age Groups

For elementary students, the topic of news or current events may likely be met with confused faces or outright groans of boredom. I can certainly remember my eyes glazing over when Nightly News occupied the television in my house growing up. And today’s elementary schoolers are no different—they may not be 100 percent enthralled with current events. However, today’s technology means that current events are not only readily available, they are also available to all levels of readers and viewers. For the elementary age group, news events and stories shared with children must be age and reader-appropriate. Below are important pointers and suggestions for staying up on current events with elementary students.

Be sure to preview all news stories, articles, and broadcasts before having students participate. Thankfully, today’s technology and vast number of children’s programs ensure that current events and news articles can be easily assessed for age-appropriate content. Several educational news outlets do this work for us by categorizing material by age group and Lexile range. While it is important that students understand what they are reading, it is equally, if not more important, to be sure that the material is suitable for children. Many issues or headlines are not only disturbing or violent, but confusing as well. Discovery Channel, Channel One, Scholastic, Time Magazine, and CNN all provide student-friendly episodes, articles, and other resources so that current events are academically accessible and appropriate for elementary schoolers.

Keep the news relevant but light. Of course, we want students to be aware of some of the important events happening around them. But, at the same time, we must be sure not to expose them to anything that is too jarring or upsetting. News stories for elementary-age groups should involve topics to which students can relate. Make sure that the information they are getting connects to something in their own lives. This is a great way for students to begin to connect to the outside world, as well as recognize their place in it.

Encourage questions. Questions to ask include: What is the purpose of relaying this particular story, i.e., who will benefit from knowing or learning about this? Who might this news story be targeting? Is there a recognizable tone in the story or clip? How does this story or event affect the people around me? How do I benefit from knowing about this story or current event? Again, these questions prompt students to consider what they have just learned.

Know the difference between credibility and unreliability. Again, this is a new concept for elementary schoolers. When it comes to news stories, news media is so prevalent these days that accurate stories can easily be spun or altered and quickly posted to a pseudo-reliable news source. Fact-checking is something that elementary school students can begin to do in order to double check a source that may seem unreliable. Today’s school libraries and media centers have wonderful resources that help with providing credible sources. Whether primary or secondary sources, schools purchase multiple paid forums, anthologies, and online databases for students to conduct research or investigate specific topics.

Secrets of a Great Student: Part II

Great students have many characteristics in common—prioritizing, accepting challenges, adopting a positive outlook, self-checking, and advocating, among others. Of course, every learner is different, and what works for one will not necessarily suit another. However, here are five additional commonalities among great students.

1. Great students recognize the importance of learning. This may sound obvious, but education is not necessarily immediately appreciated by young learners. For many, school can be frustrating or boring—a negative experience at times. No matter how eager a learner, every student is going to be met with bouts of repetition, memorization, and deep focus—not always mentally-stimulating practices. However, academic success comes with the knowledge that learning can and should be a challenge—that anything difficult is going to come with frustration, but will be immeasurably beneficial.

2. Successful students step outside of their comfort zones to pick up new skills, hobbies, and talents. In the same way that we know that learning never ends, great learners embrace the idea of constantly trying to build their repertoire of knowledge. Whether it be a new topic, sport, artistic skill, social goal, or unfamiliar hobby, successful students are not satisfied unless they are soaking in something new. Their thirst for knowledge transcends what they know they are already good at—instead, they want to try for more. Great learners do not rest on their laurels, but rather recognize that past achievements are mere stepping stones for continuous growth.

3. Great students seek help from others. Much like advocating for oneself by asking questions and seeking help from teachers, learners work through struggles and difficulties by reaching out for assistance and advice from others. Whether this be advice from adults or peers, adolescents find success through collaboration and cooperation. The ability to recognize their own weaknesses as strengths in others helps students begin to utilize their peers. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness—this is a sign of self-recognition and self-awareness. To know what you need help with is to strive for more knowledge from others.

4. Successful learners are eager to teach and/or share what they have learned. As many educators know, mastery of content or skill is best exhibited when students are able to instruct others. To teach someone else indicates that a student understands the inner workings of a concept. It is a crucial opportunity to take information or skills absorbed and articulate the concept in one’s own words.

5.  Successful students practice creativity and innovation. Again, to step outside of the box is a risk and is not always comfortable for young learners. However, this ability to try a new way of doing something exhibits strength, confidence, and ingenuity. Learning is all about growth and development of skills and knowledge. Great learners know that there are multiple roads to success in any given goal. Whether addressing a simple math problem or mapping out a plan for the future, great students know that trails to success are paved individually and creatively.

Secrets of a Great Student: Part I

Being studious is not necessarily innate. Sure, there are some children that seem to take to academia more readily; however, there is no denying that children can improve their propensity for learning. In fact, an important notion of education is that learning is infinite—it is never “over” or “maxed out.” Since learning truly never ends, we can also presume that learners are always improving and growing. So, what exactly do great students do to achieve greatness in the academic realm?  

A great student is sure to prioritize. This is not always easy, especially nowadays when children are overscheduled like never before. Practices, rehearsals, tournamentsall of these activities are likely familiar to school-age children. Families today are packing as much activity as possible into any given weekday. And, as much as athletics, arts, music, and other extracurricular activities are an integral part of education, successful students know that academics must take a top spot on the list of priorities.   

Great students accept and embrace challenges. The wise saying “a smooth sea never made a skilled sailor” certainly applies here. Students who not only accept challenges, but readily chase them, exhibit a few strong characteristics of great students. The pursuit of something difficult means that students are not afraid or intimidated by failure. They are likely confident in their abilities, but also, they know that failure is often a valuable learning experience. The notion that struggle makes you stronger is one that great students try to keep in the forefront when faced with difficulty.

With the grit and hardworking mentality of a great student also comes a positive outlook. Great students not only embrace challenges as mentioned above, they also keep a positive mindset during their endeavors. Remaining positive is quite possibly the most difficult practice for great students. It is natural to feel let down or discouraged when things do not go as planned. However, great students harness those feelings and use them as motivating factors for moving forward—they turn lemons into lemonade, so to speak.

Great students self-check. They are able to recognize their weaknesses and areas of need in order to succeed. Because they are so in-touch with themselves as learners, they know how to study, organize, draft, and execute school work efficiently and effectively. They recognize when they have been able to retain information, and, conversely, when they may have zoned out or missed the mark. Being in tune with how they learn best ensures that time and energy is never wasted when studying or working.

Great students advocate for themselves. This type of productive accountability is often difficult to achieve in elementary school. Students with shy or reserved personalities tend to struggle with this concept at first—speaking to adults can be intimidating for them. As uncomfortable as it may be at first, great students learn to speak up, ask questions, and seek help when necessary. When students take initiative, this type of go-getter attitude also builds self-confidence.

The Value in Letting them Fall or Fail

It goes without saying that a strong support system at home can mean all of the difference when it comes to student academic success. Yes, parents play the most influential role when it comes to motivation and achievement. However, one flipside to the supportive and involved parent is when caring becomes coddling. Circumstances vary from family to family, and even from child to child within the same family—what helps one learner could hinder another. However, at a certain point, it becomes obvious, especially to educators, that some students have simply never been given the opportunity to struggle.

Given the opportunity to struggle? Why, you may ask, would any parent or teacher want students to experience such an opportunity? The reasoning is quite simple: children whose parents fix their every problem, mend their every snag, intercept their every challenge, become reliant instead of resilient. When speaking of mountains, hurdles, or obstacles, it is of course a natural response for parents to want to absorb or shoulder those struggles—to ensure that their child sails smoothly through their education. However, as Franklin D. Roosevelt so eloquently stated, “Smooth seas never made a skilled sailor.”

Roosevelt’s quote rings astoundingly true in an educational sense—a child who never encounters difficulties, challenges, or “rough waters” while learning will be ill-equipped when it comes to real world difficulties. Failure is not something that parents anxiously await; however, there is much to be said about the resilience of a young learner when he or she knows that failure is a necessary part of the learning process. Without the difficulties, a student will simply expect “smooth sailing.” Much like the inexperienced sailor, these learners will likely capsize at the first sign of rough waters ahead. Instead, parents must be willing to, however reluctantly, stand aside and allow their children to navigate the obstacles on their own. This is no easy feat—it is against all natural inclinations to watch their own children struggle. But, in these moments, it is important that parents find comfort in the fact that these “failures” or challenging times are securing a child’s ability to recognize self-advocacy, independence, self-reliance, responsibility, self-confidence, and motivation. The gains are truly infinite when children learn to stand on their own two feet.

Now, of course, there will always be occasions when a student may need help to keep his head above water. As a parent, you will recognize these instances in your child’s education better than anyone else. When this happens, step in as the experienced captain or simply provide a little bit more of a guiding light. But remember, as they say, experience is the best teacher, and the worst experiences often end up teaching us the greatest lessons.    

ADHD MONTH: Looks can be deceiving

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Since the classroom environment lends itself to tasks involving focus, attentiveness, attention to detail, cooperative learning, and time management skills, educators are sometimes the first to notice the growing prevalence of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and the symptoms that accompany the disorder. More and more children are exhibiting attention issues in and out of the classroom—the CDC reports that over 10 percent of children and teens have ADHD. With this significant percentage of cases comes just as many ways for the disorder to manifest itself—and every child is different.

As educators, we pretty much get a daily bird’s eye view of how each student learns, or struggles to learn. Even so, we occasionally (and inadvertently) forget that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder can reveal itself in drastically different ways. On a personal note, just last week, I held a student after class to discuss his constant roaming around the classroom. After asking him to be seated several times during instruction, my patience had admittedly dwindled.

He very calmly and candidly explained that, especially during the long block periods, he finds it difficult to focus while seated at his desk for too long. While this particular student did not show up to my class with documentation of an attention disorder, his need to move, at first misunderstood, is no less legitimate.

As demonstrated above, students with ADHD symptoms can be mistaken as disruptive, disinterested, disorganized, etc. It is important to be mindful of the catalysts to those behaviors—i.e., what do these behaviors truly mean?

ASSIGNMENT COMPLETION

When a student’s focus drifts during class or at home, assignments can be left by the wayside, going uncompleted or altogether neglected. Educators need to distinguish the difference between carelessness or disinterest and a student’s tendency to be distracted and drift. An incomplete project or homework assignment does not necessarily signify a lack of attempt. Anything from noise in the classroom to a transition during instruction can deter a student’s focus, making it difficult for him or her to complete the assigned work in the provided block of time. Again, this is not due to laziness or lack of interest.

Group work can also add a layer of difficulty to assignment completion. Students with ADHD can benefit from the conversation and movement that group work provides. However, these components can be just as equally distracting if the group’s conversation shifts off task. The group work can become overwhelming to the point that the student will drift and separate from the group. Again, this is not indicative of the student’s unwillingness to participate.

BEHAVIOR

As in the case of my “wandering student” above, children and teens with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder often find it beneficial to move about the room. This constant need to move is not only distracting to other students, but may also be seen as an avoidance technique. While this may be true in some cases, most often the student is moving because it helps him to focus or expend any excess energy. Frequent breaks, rotation stations, or standing and working from a clipboard are all methods to help alleviate the need to roam. These small bouts of movement also allow the student to focus.

If a student appears to be reading, doodling, or is otherwise “off task,” it may not be an indication that she is intentionally ignoring instruction or avoiding work. These seemingly defiant behaviors are actually a method of channeling a student’s focus—a self-soothing method, if you will. For some students, especially those with ADHD, putting their hands to work is a way of keeping themselves centered and attentive. A stress ball is also helpful for students whose attention is benefited from multitasking.  

As educators, we need to focus our attention not only on what we are teaching, but also to whom we are teaching. By paying careful attention to the learning needs and styles of our students, we can not only help our easily distracted students to learn more effectively, but also improve the overall learning environment for our entire class.  

 

Ready, Set, GO BACK TO SCHOOL!!!! Note taking skills: Part 6 of 6

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Note taking is arguably one of the more frustrating aspects of classroom instruction. For many, it requires stamina, both in attentiveness and fine motor abilities. As students get older, note taking becomes both more prevalent and more independent. When post-secondary education comes into play, note-taking skills can truly make or break a lecture, class, or semester. With such an emphasis on this skill, it is a wonder that more secondary schools don’t offer classes on note taking. Whatever the case may be, each learner must adopt his or her own preference when it comes to taking notes in class.

  • The first thing to consider is the different benefits of note taking. For instance, depending on the student and material, notes may be taken to help aid memory, comprehension, organization, or a combination of those skills.

 

  • When taking notes in order to memorize information, it is important that students spend the time and energy writing only what they do not already know from memory. They can apply your prior knowledge later when studying, but during the class or lecture, they should limit their notes to new information. This not only saves time, but also allows students to focus in on the new or unfamiliar information.

 

  • Abbreviations are another important aspect of note taking. Again, abbreviating notes can be very individualized. It is important that the note taker stick to a system or style of abbreviating, as to better ensure that the notes will make sense later on. Abbreviations can be done by shortening words, summarizing phrases, or even using symbols in place of text. But remember, an abbreviation is only helpful if it maintains the clarity of the notes.

 

  • Keep notes organized. This is essential for studying and retaining the information later on. Students may prepare note sections ahead of time so that they can focus primarily on the lecture and less on the set-up of the page. For instance, if their teacher is introducing vocabulary prior to a history lesson, they can set up a section strictly for definitions and then add content notes on a separate page.

 

  • Put a date on the notes. This way, if there is any confusion when looking back at the notes, students can speak with their teacher or peer about the specific lesson or lecture. Dates also help when taking notes because they allow students to see the progression of the concept, information, or task in a sequential manner.

 

  • Rewrite notes when necessary. There are a few benefits to this technique. Rewriting not only gives students an opportunity to clean up or organize the material a little better, but it also aids in memorization. Rewriting something, especially if students paraphrase or explain the notes in their own words, allows them to test their knowledge of the material. Simply writing something down doesn’t guarantee comprehension—rephrasing notes allows note takers to break down and articulate the information as they make sense of it.

 

  • Highlighting is also recommended when rewriting or editing notes. Research indicates a link between color and memory; it also helps to focus students’ attention on the more vital information when studying.

 

Join us for “Homework. Got an Easy Button?”, a free, highly interactive 60-minute session designed to provide parents with concrete ideas and practical tools to support their student’s study practice at home. For more information, click here: http://learningessentialsedu.com/workshops/

Looking to empower your child to succeed? Learning Essentials’ Brain Camp teaches students practical step-by-step ways to study, organize, manage time, prepare for tests, and use executive functioning strategies— essential skills for today’s academic environment. Click here to learn more or enroll: http://learningessentialsedu.com/workshops/

 

Ready, Set, GO BACK TO SCHOOL!!!! Managing long term assignments: Part 5 of 6

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As much as some students would like to deny this, the fact is that essays, projects, and long-term assignments are right around the corner. With the start of the school year comes many great things—the opportunity for students to show what they know is one of them, whether they want to admit it or not. One of the more difficult tasks during the school year can be the larger, multi-step assignments that transpire over several weeks. Here are some tried and true tips from an educator to assist with the task of managing long-term assignments.

Plan It Out

Often times, teachers will provide students with a suggested schedule, graphic organizer, or guide for completing the assignment in a manageable and timely fashion. These suggestions often come strongly recommended, whether they are officially deemed as graded checkpoints or not. Since teachers are the ones who have created the assignment to begin with, it is reasonable to expect that they have a solid understanding of how to appropriately plan for such a task. If the teacher has not provided an outline or any sort of mandatory checkpoints, it is strongly recommended that the student map out a personal schedule. This is beneficial in several different ways—it holds the student accountable for each aspect of the task; it allows the student to view the task holistically, while simultaneously grasping the requirements of each portion; and it supports time management and organization.

Ask Questions

If a student is confused about any aspect of the long-term assignment, it is imperative that he ask his teacher for clarification. Playing the guessing game or “winging it” is never recommended. Asking questions immediately sidesteps the issue of having to start over, which saves time and frustration. It also helps the teacher to see the assignment from the student’s perspective, allowing her to provide further instruction or clarification for the class. Asking questions from the start allows the student to fully grasp the objectives of the assignment, thus helping him meet the expectation.

Study the Rubric

A long-term assignment should always be accompanied by a rubric or checklist of some sort. This item indicates how the task is going to be scored or assessed. Students should not only read through, but also look carefully at the rubric to ensure that they have every opportunity to succeed on the assignment. Again, asking questions for clarity is a wonderful way to gain a better understanding of what exactly is required of the student.

Speak to Your Teacher if Falling Behind

Students often forget that teachers were once young learners themselves—we are caring, accommodating, and understanding. We are also in tune with our students’ capabilities. If the task or assignment is truly overwhelming or unmanageable, students should be able to speak openly with the teacher about the difficulties. Of course, be proactive about this discussion. DO NOT wait until the due date to ask for an extension or clarification—this will likely not be met with an obliging response. Speak up as soon as you find yourself in the weeds. This way, your teacher knows that you are not procrastinating—you simply need some assistance.  

Join us for “Homework. Got an Easy Button?”, a free, highly interactive 60-minute session designed to provide parents with concrete ideas and practical tools to support their student’s study practice at home. For more information, click here: http://learningessentialsedu.com/workshops/

Looking to empower your child to succeed? Learning Essentials’ Brain Camp teaches students practical step-by-step ways to study, organize, manage time, prepare for tests, and use executive functioning strategies— essential skills for today’s academic environment. Click here to learn more or enroll: http://learningessentialsedu.com/workshops/