Spicing Up Phonics: Tips for Parents Pt. II

Phonics instruction can be quite tedious, as we have established in part one. However, it doesn’t have to be! Parents can employ the use of different games and challenges to help children build their phonics knowledge at home. Beginning with basic sounds, then corresponding letters, vowel patterns, and so on, children are able to garner more knowledge of phonics and language without the droning, repetitive instruction that we usually associate with phonics lessons in the classroom. See more strategies and activities below!

Rhymes in the car

To help children with rhyming patterns inconspicuously, parents can challenge them to a “rhyme off” to fill the time during a long car ride.

  • Allow children to choose a word; sight words are great for beginning the rhyme off as well!
  • Going back and forth, each participant must come up with a new word that rhymes with the original word.
  • If the original word is chair, participants will continue with hair, fair, pair, etc.
  • Since you are just working with sounds, allow for any and all vowel patterns that rhyme with the original word, like dare, care, bear, etc.
  • Then later on, to extend the activity, parents can show how some of the rhyming words followed a different vowel pattern of spelling.

Guess the digraph

Simply put, a digraph is a combination of two letters (di-) that make one sound. Examples are vast, but some include: ch, sh, wh, ay, th, ph, etc.

  • Parents will simply say a word that includes a digraph, such as phone.
  • The child will then say the letters that make up that digraph and isolate the sound; “phone is ph; ph says fff—.”
  • To extend the activity, challenge your child to come up with another word that includes the same digraph, such as “phony.”
  • Want even more of a challenge? Write out a word that includes a digraph and ask your child to identify the two letters that create that one sound.
  • For instance, if parents write down “chocolate,” the child would identify ch as the digraph.
  • Parents should explain that, on their own, the letter C makes its own sound; same thing with the letter H. However, in combination, the two letters create a new sound.

The new name game

This is another phonics challenge that is great for long car rides.

  • Essentially, participants follow the letters of the alphabet coming up with real people’s names for each letter.
  • It can look like this: Alex, Brennan, Creighton, David, Ethan, Felicity, Gail, etc.
  • If you want to add even more of a challenge, parents can say that names have to alternate genders, or perhaps you have to try the entire alphabet using names that are typically considered “girl names.” Amy, Brooke, Courtney, Dana, etc.

You can also modify the game for children who have not quite mastered the alphabet by simplifying the rules. Instead of going through the alphabet, choose one letter and take turns coming up with names that start with that letter.

Spicing Up Phonics: Tips for Parents Pt. I

Phonics instruction that young learners encounter in school can unfortunately be repetitive, systematic, and downright drab. Many phonics programs that schools use to teach reading and writing acquisition are prescribed—meaning that they follow a specific, almost formulaic pattern for everyday instruction. While these programs help students memorize and familiarize themselves with letter/sound patterns, they often fail to spark imagination, creativity, and engagement. With this in mind, parents can supplement their child’s formal phonics instruction with several different activities that also allow for some fun at the same time.

“I Spy Collage”

To help children make connections between letters and their corresponding sounds, parents can use old magazines for letter/sound inspiration.

  • Allow children to choose a letter of the alphabet.
  • Using craft scissors and adult supervision, children should skim through the magazine to snip out photos of objects that begin with that phoneme or sound.
  • After snipping a solid collection of images that begin with specific sounds, children can then organize the magazine clippings into numerous different categories.
  • On one day, ask your child to sort images of vowel sounds.
  • Then ask your child to sort images into long and short vowel sounds.
  • On another day, ask your child to organize clippings in alphabet form.
  • As an extension, parents can help children come up with a picture story using the various magazine images. Children can then glue the clippings down and have a visual short story that represents their alphabet journey.

“Leap to the letter”

An engaging way to incorporate movement involves just a few household items.

  • Using colored construction paper or card stock, write down different letters of the alphabet, one letter per piece of paper.
  • Scatter the letter cards facedown around the room or backyard, making sure that the papers are trailing one another in stepping stone format. It will look like a giant game board trailing around the room.
  • Using dice, ask your child to roll, count the number, then take that same number of hops onto the colored letter cards.
  • Once they’ve taken the appropriate number of hops, ask him or her to turn over the letter card that they are standing on.
  • Your child should then make that letter sound, as in /p/, for example.
  • To extend the activity, challenge your child to find an item in the room that starts with the same sound.
  • Want even more of a challenge? Use a small chalkboard or scratch paper to keep track of each “hopped” sound. Then help your child arrange those letters into sight words.

Swat the letter

This is another fun activity that requires very little prep time and minimal materials. What parents will need are plastic magnetic letters, a magnet board or refrigerator, and a fly swatter.

  • Scramble the magnetic letters around the surface of the fridge in no particular pattern.
  • As you call out sounds, your child will take the fly swatter and swat the letter that matches the sound that they heard.
  • Parents can also increase the challenge by saying words or names, then asking the child to swat the beginning or ending sound of that word or name.

IEP Process Must-dos for Parents

The IEP process can be daunting for families, especially for those parents who are new to the concept of special education. When you combine the lengthy documents, clinical terminology, and educational/legal jargon, the individualized education plan can seem like a beast to be conquered. However, it is imperative for parents to always remember this: you are your child’s greatest advocate. With your participation and advocacy throughout the IEP process, parents can ensure that their child’s needs are prioritized.


Speak up


For the initial evaluation and any future reevaluations, it is crucial that parents vocalize any and all concerns regarding areas of need. The IEP team is obligated to test and evaluate the suspected disability or disabilities; however, you know your child best. If you suspect other learning disabilities not originally identified as a concern, speak up about them. Be specific about what you have seen. What does the specific struggle look like for your child? What have you observed over the course of several months? How would you objectively define this need? It is your job to make sure that all avenues are explored when it comes to your child’s learning needs.


Do your homework


Unless waived by the parent, schools are required to send the IEP 5 days prior to the meeting so that parents can review. Please do your due diligence. Comb through the documentation thoroughly; highlight areas where you have questions or need clarification. Ask specifically what certain accommodations will look like in the classroom. If possible, seek assistance from your own private consultants, including an advocate, psychiatrist, pediatrician, etc. You want to maximize your time during the meeting by coming prepared, as opposed to reviewing documentation at the table.


Simplify it


Creating and sharing an easy-to-read reference sheet with teachers at the start of the school year can be very beneficial when it comes to supporting your child’s needs. Of course, teachers have access to students’ IEPs; however, they are rarely given direct/full copies of the documentation. They also are not typically given ample time to review the IEP thoroughly, unless that teacher is also the child’s case manager. To ensure that your child’s needs are met and areas of concern are known, consider making a “vision statement” to share with your child’s teachers. Include a recent photo on the sheet to familiarize the teachers with your child. It may be beneficial to include the specific learning disability; however, it is not required. The important information to include on the vision statement should be as follows:

  • Your child’s motivators
  • Personal interests/hobbies
  • Successful learning strategies
  • Most beneficial accommodations from the IEP
  • “Look-fors” or areas of concern that may require extra attention or support

Talk to your child

Discussing learning needs directly with your child is a great way to build self-advocacy skills. Ask about where they sit in each class; the time they are given during class to work on assignments; the relationship that they have with the teacher; the additional adults/supports in the classroom; the resources that are provided to help them through a difficult task. All of these questions allow parents to see more closely inside their child’s learning.  




Sign when you are ready

Too often, the IEP meeting flies by with questions still lingering. Since changes to the IEP are typical during meetings, it is important that parents take time to review those changes to look for inaccuracies, unclear language, or missing details. Do not feel pressured to sign the documentation until you have had the chance to thoroughly review it and get clarification where needed. Parents can request that all other parties sign the document and send the “draft version” home for further review before signing.


Accommodations Translated, Pt. I

The IEP and 504 process can be overwhelming. With so many aspects, considerations, components, and details, the documentation can be dizzying for families. One major piece of the puzzle that is crucial to understand is the list of the student’s accommodations—these are the specific supplementary aids and services that are legally guaranteed to students to assist in their learning. However, often times the terminology and phrasing can be unclear for families, especially those who are unfamiliar with clinical “teacher speak.” So what do some of the more commonly confusing accommodations actually mean for families? Let’s take a look!

  • First of all, accommodations are typically categorized into 4 groups: setting, presentation, response, and timing.
    • Setting involves an adjustment to the learning environment that is more conducive to the student’s learning needs. This could mean “reduced distractions” and/or “small group testing,” which we’ll explain more thoroughly later.
    • Presentation refers to the way in which the material is offered or presented to the student. An example might be to supplement a required reading with the option to listen to an audio recording of the same text.
    • Response accommodations refer to the manner in which the child answers or completes a task or assignment. Access to a Word Processor, for example, is a common accommodation for students with dysgraphia.
    • Timing, as it sounds, involves the child’s school schedule and/or allotted time for task completion. For instance, a child with ADHD may benefit from taking more rigorous courses first thing in the morning, as opposed to having content-heavy classes after lunch.
  • Additionally, there is an important distinction between accommodations and modifications. 
    • Accommodations are put in place to help students with various learning difficulties to circumvent their challenges or disabilities. However, accommodations do not alter the expectations for learning; nothing is “watered down” or simplified, as some parents often misconceive. 
    • Modifications do change the content or amount of the information that the child is required to learn. For instance, instead of completing a timed 30question multiplication quiz, students with a modified workload might have to answer 15 questions.

Another common misconception involves a widely-used accommodation—preferential seating. Contrary to what many parents assume, preferential seating doesn’t necessarily mean in the front and center of the classroom. This accommodation actually means that the student should be seated wherever he or she will be most successful and have optimal access to instruction. That said, preferential seating could mean different things for different students; it could also mean different seating from class to class. For example, a student who becomes easily distracted by visual stimuli might need to face away from the windows in one classroom, but away from the doorway/hallway in another. 

In order for the accommodation to be truly beneficial, the decisions being made about seating should be a collaborative effort among the IEP team and the student. Open communication is key here. It is also important to note that preferential seating can be a fluid arrangement; if seating does not appear to be successful, teachers should discuss with the student and rethink what “preferential” should look like moving forward.

Vision Statements for Families of Students with IEPs

When skimming through a teacher’s Special Education binder, the collection of IEPs and 504 plans, as informative as they are, have the tendency to reduce a student to a list of symptoms, behaviors, accommodations, and strategies. Furthermore, a student’s entire learning profile and educational plan is often reduced to a snapshota one-sheeter used for quick reference in the classroom. 

Children benefit when supports and strategies are consistent and measurable, and IEPs are certainly informative and essential for keeping educators, families, specialists and pediatricians all on the same page. However, the downside of the IEP or 504 is that it draws attention to the negatives, weaknesses and areas of need. To adequately introduce your child to his or her educators, perhaps it’s time to get creative by supplementing the formal documentation with a more personalized vision statement!

What is a vision statement? 

In the simplest of terms, a vision statement is a declaration of one’s main goal or objective. Ideally, a personal vision statement would provide the framework for one’s intentions by aligning set goals with plans for achieving those goals. Therefore, a child’s vision statement should account for where the child would like to see himself down the roadwhat does his ideal future path look like?

Because the IEP offers mainly technical informationhow to best support the child, what his/her needs are, how his/her diagnosis manifests, etc.the vision statement allows parents the opportunity to share personal information about the child’s hopes for the future. This information provides valuable insight and allows the IEP team to see that student as more than a diagnosis or label. 

What should you include in your child’s “About Me” vision statement?

To construct your child’s vision statement, parents will want to prepare to clearly articulate their child’s aspirations by first talking to their child about his or her hopes for the future. Questions to ask might be:


  • What is something that you consider to be a personal talent?
  • What are 3 of the most important aspects of your life?
  • How would you characterize or describe yourself in 3 words?
  • What is something that you cannot live without?
  • What motivates you?
  • What do you hope to accomplish in your life?


In discussing these questions, parents can help synthesize the responses and streamline their child’s overall ambitions into a clear vision statement for the IEP team. This vision statement will then act as a guide for educators as they encounter and assist that student throughout the course of his or her learning.

Some examples of a student’s vision statement might be:

“To let my natural curiosity guide me and increase my motivation for learning…”

“To use my social strengths to relate to and learn about different cultures, people, and places…”

“To use my tenacity and optimism to persevere through difficult challenges…”

“To allow creativity to enhance my ability to problem-solve…”

“To be proud of my efforts by always trying my absolute hardest and giving my all…”

How is the vision statement beneficial? 

The student vision statement is instrumental in several different ways. First, because the statement expresses personal hopes and goals, it allows educators and the rest of the IEP team to see further inside the student as a whole person, not just as a diagnosis with specific needs. The vision statement also provides insight into how the student sees himself or herself; educators get a sense of the student’s self-perceived strengths and interests. These details help the IEP team reach the student on a more personalized, individual levelthey are not just looking at accommodations, but also at additional motivators to help students “buy in” to the academic challenges ahead. Finally, for parents, it is important that their child will be seen as a uniquely capable and successful student, one with all of the same potential and complexities as any other child. The vision statement places emphasis on the child as a person first, not on the diagnosis or struggles. 

LE Does It Best: How to Make the Most of Tutoring Sessions

Learning is not accompanied by a one-size fits all instruction manual. There are countless roadmaps to lead a young learner towards academic success. An essential starting point is for parents, educators, and the students themselves to identify academic strengths, utilize these skills, and accommodate any learning difficulties to establish grit and perseverance.

Basically, we need to know what we’re good at, what we’re not so great at, and how to use the former skills to compensate or balance out the struggles. This all seems well and fine, but often students struggle to reach this precarious balance of strengths and weaknesses, especially when the pressure for grades, scores, benchmarks, and admittance looms.

However, at Learning Essentials (LE), we know how to help families bridge the gaps to ensure academic achievement. Below are the best methods to make the most of your tutoring and study sessions, followed by ways in which LE helps to establish these routines for students of all abilities and needs.

– Establish and maintain a regular and consistent tutoring schedule. Depending on a child’s needs, tutoring may need to take place several times a week, once a week, or on an as-needed basis for major projects, exams, papers, etc. The key is to lay out a tutoring schedule that incorporates definitive learning goals aligned with the families realistic schedule.

– Treat tutoring sessions as a priority. Tutoring time needs to be taken seriously, but keep the conversation positive, since a student’s effort and motivation have a huge part in how successful the sessions will be. Provide reassurance that tutoring is not a sign of failure or incapability, but an extra measure to simplify learning and to help your child reach success.

– Build in flexibility. While consistency is key, we all know that daily life can become hectic, especially in the throes of the school year. Therefore, flexibility on the tutor’s part is essential. Talk about scheduling and a plan for last-minute cancellations up front.

– Remove distractions. When planning to keep tutoring sessions productive and get the most out of each meeting, discuss how to maintain a focused learning space. If tutoring at home, ask your child to hand over the phone, or other device for the duration of the session. Stress that this is not a punishment, but that uninterrupted instruction is key for success.

– Decide on a tutoring location that promotes concentration. Perhaps the neighborhood library or child’s school would be best. If working at home, set up an area that accommodates quiet productivity, away from screens, visitors, phone calls, and siblings. If the work space looks out into the backyard where siblings or neighborhood friends might play, consider closing blinds or relocating—your child shouldn’t have to watch others play while he’s working on school work.

– Set up a functional workspace. Make sure it is spacious enough for all necessary learning materials and consider flexible seating options. Especially for students with attention difficulties or tendencies toward hyperactivity or restlessness, a yoga ball, beanbag, cube, or stool can promote concentration and focus through muscle engagement.

– Discuss the length and frequency of brain breaks with your child and his tutor. These brief breaks in instruction and learning allow for little minds and bodies to take a much needed hiatus to recoup and refocus during a tutoring session.

– Set goals for tutoring sessions, both short term and long term. Be sure to discuss steps and methods for attaining these goals. It is important that parents know the trajectory of their child’s tutoring plan—what skills each session will address, how they’ll be measured, and what the plan might be for struggles or difficulties ahead. Transparency and communication are crucial components to establish a successful tutoring plan.

Test-taking Hacks for Students

Spring has officially sprung, which means that, unfortunately for students, testing season is about to rear its ugly head. From standardized state tests, to district assessments that measure literacy and math growth, the copious amount of testing on the horizon can leave students thoroughly fatigued. One of the more daunting aspects of an assessment could be the “unknown” factor. Students are left wondering, Did I guess correctly? Was there a chance that I answered the easy ones too quickly? What if my score is terribly low, or lower than last year? As much as we educators and parents would like to ease their concerns, there is little we can do to stomp out those pervasive doubts. We can, however, ensure that students have plenty of test-taking strategies at their disposal so that, even when guessing, they can improve their odds with logic and sound reasoning.


Make a plan of attack

For most, a standardized test means a strictly timed assessment. The projected stopwatch on the board allows students be aware of the time as it expires. However, this countdown can also exacerbate the already stressful environment.

  • Help students tackle the time constraint by encouraging them to complete the easiest questions, sections, or passages first.
  • Remind them, as they skip through the assessment, to circle or star questions that they have decided to skip; the last thing they want to do is lose points by forgetting to answer questions or entire segments of the test.
  • Prompt students to read the questions first, then approach the accompanying passages or texts. This allows students to read with purpose; they know what they need to look for within the text having seen the test questions to come.
  • Teach students to budget their time, especially when assessments include essay responses or written components. If the assessment contains an essay at the end, students will want to give themselves enough time to draft an quick outline and then respond to the prompt.


Beat the guessing game

When it comes to guessing, we want to make sure that even the most hesitant students are making educated guesses, as opposed to the “eenie, meenie, miney, mo” method.

  • For multiple choice, true/false, matching, or bubble sheet assessments, students should be discouraged from looking for a specific pattern of answers. It is rare that exam answers would follow a predetermined, distinct pattern. As much as it may be comforting or reassuring to come across an answer pattern, blindly adhering to that pattern is ill-advised.
  • Eliminate wrong answers to remove distractions, then choose your best guess from the remaining options. If an answer does not make grammatical sense, check with the teacher or instructor before selecting it—it could be a typo, but it could also be a subtle hint that it is not the correct answer.
  • If guessing, avoid answers that contain absolute phrases, such as always, never, or none. These phrases are often trick options, meant to make students overthink the question. Words like probably, sometimes, or often are more plausible answers.
  • If presented with numeric options for multiple choice answers, and you have no clue how to approach it, choose the mid-range numeral, as opposed to the largest or smallest number.
  • If no other strategies apply for multiple choice, and you are forced to guess, choose the answer option with the most detail—those are more often correct.
  • Only select “all of the above” if you truly know that all of the above are correct. Do not assume that, if a) and c) are definitely correct, b) should apply as well. Carefully consider whether a) or c) is most appropriate.

When in doubt, if you see two multiple choice answer options that are opposites, such as enigmatic and straightforward, one of those is likely the answer. Students should know to look for antonyms or opposites when guessing on vocabulary questions. They should also be encouraged to examine words and phrases around the term in question to decipher any possible context clues.

New Emergency Procedures in MCPS

A dismal update, but essential nonetheless, pertains to Montgomery County Public Schools’ new emergency response initiative. Teachers and students have been or are currently receiving training and information regarding the new procedures. Parents are also to be briefed on the updates at some point in the coming months. While these are trainings intended for “worst case scenarios,” we unfortunately live in a day and age where the “worst case” is becoming a woeful reality.


Original protocols

The original or former protocol for intruders and/or immediate threats to the school was to simply lockdown. A lockdown meant that, no matter the circumstances, location, or immediacy of the threat, teachers would uniformly follow lockdown procedures. This meant completing a brisk hall sweep to collect any students in the hallway, locking the classroom, pulling shades, and shutting off lights. The point of the lockdown was (and still is) to make it appear as though the classroom is vacant. There should be no noise, movement, or activity once the lockdown has been put into effect.


Alterations and considerations

Because of the fact that, depending on various circumstances, a lockdown may not be the best strategy for surviving an intruder or immediate threat, MCPS, as well as state and national law enforcement, saw a need for more specific measures to be put into place to protect students and staff against instances of school violence. As opposed to the original plan of locking down no matter what, the new acronym, ADD, offers staff more options to consider when facing a potential threat at school.


Avoid (A)

“Avoid” is the first option that students and staff should consider if circumstances allow for safe evacuation. Essentially, the goal is to avoid or flee the area if at all possible. For instance, if a shooting is taking place on one side of the building, teachers and students on the other side of the building, farther removed from immediate harm, should evacuate the building using the nearest exit. In this instance, teachers would instruct students to silently and swiftly flee the building.


  • Through the training, teachers have been instructed to call 911 en route or once they have reached a safe distance from the building; they should not call 911 from inside the building if planning to then evacuate, as getting students to safety is the first priority.
  • They are also supposed to take students to a location that is far enough away so that the building is no longer in direct sight.
  • If students get separated from their class or teacher during that evacuation, students should continue to run to a safe location in the neighborhood and call for help or ask a neighbor to call 911.
  • Parent/student reunification plans would be made once the situation has been resolved and there is no longer a threat to public safety.
  • Under no circumstances should students or staff return to the school building once they have evacuated. Only after safety is assured and the crime scene(s) has been processed will anyone be permitted to return to the building.


Deny (D)

“Deny” is the second option of the new procedures for active assailants. Essentially, deny is similar to the former lockdown procedure, except for the fact that makeshift barricades have been added as a suggestion when locking down.


  • Teachers will still do a quick hall sweep to bring in any students who may have been in the bathroom, health room, etc. Then teachers will lockdown, quickly securing the door and covering any windows.
  • Teachers, with the help of any capable students, should begin barricading the door using as much furniture as possible. Even doors that swing outward should be barricaded as much as possible. The point here is to put as many obstacles as possible between the assailant and the civilians in the classroom.
  • On average, police arrive on scene 3-4 minutes after the first 911 call has been placed. Therefore, mere seconds can make a substantial difference in the casualty count. With this knowledge, anything that impedes an entryway or slows the assailant buys vital time for students and staff.
  • Suggested barricade items include desks, chairs, bookcases, laptop carts, work benches, etc.
  • Once the door has been thoroughly barricaded, the lights should be turned off and the room should be silent, just like in the former lockdown guidelines.


Defend (D)

“Defend” is the final option—essentially the last-case scenario when dealing with an active shooter in the building. Defend is the back-up plan when avoidance or evacuation is not possible and the “deny” efforts have been compromised and the room is no longer secure. As scary as this sounds, it is critical that staff be prepared to defend if necessary.


  • Defense measures would come into play if the lockdown and barricade fails to keep the shooter out of the immediate area.
  • Teachers have been instructed to fight off or disarm the assailant by any means possible. SWAT trainings, provided to MCPS teachers, instruct teachers and/or capable and willing students, to aim for eyes/face, throat, and groin areas if attacking the assailant.
  • Using any item in the classroom as a weapon or shield is also suggested.

Teens & Employment Pt. II

When teens are eager for employment, there are things to consider before diving into the workforce. Depending on a child’s age and level of independence, parents may want to assist in the process of job hunting, applying, and interviewing without fully micromanaging the operation. Previously, we discussed the importance of matching part-time opportunities with your teen’s interests or hobbies, as well as how to plan for scheduling conflicts and juggling obligations. In addition, families will want to cover a few more bases before beginning the job hunt.


Teens need to know that they will start at the bottom

A first part-time job, as exciting as it may be, will likely not be glamorous. As logical as it may seem, teens need to be reminded of the fact that the “tasks” required of the part-time job won’t always be entertaining or equal to their level of skill. It is important that children understand that, with little to no experience in the workforce, no job, title, or task should be considered “below” them.


  • Prepare teens for the cold realization that their first job is probably going to be underwhelming—and a serious check to the ego. As a new-to-the-workforce, part-time employee, teens will be spending much of their time stuffing envelopes, restocking shelves, making photocopies, scooping animal cages, filling orders, clearing tables, washing dishes, etc. They must be prepared to go into the experience with a “whatever it takes” mindset.
  • Talk to them about appreciating the experience—it’s not about the menial tasks; it’s about the greater lessons that teens garner from these part-time jobs. By starting at the bottom, teens learn about the importance of everyone’s contributions. They also gain insight into what will be required of teamwork, reliability, cooperation, diligence, and people-pleasing.
  • The workplace is one arena where effort and hardwork will always be recognized. In school, children are evaluated on the outcome or result—they do not always achieve based on the amount of effort that they put into their studies; it’s the grade that is emphasized. However, at work, employers are familiar with the learning curve. They know that newbies are being thrown into a sink-or-swim scenario and are often supportive and understanding of errors when effort is apparent. Remind your teen that, like everything worth having, a job is not going to be easy. But with the trials and tribulations that come with the part-time job, they are also gaining life skills that will benefit them greatly as they enter young adulthood.


A boss or manager is not the same as a teacher or parent

Today’s teens have the luxury of second, third, and sometimes fourth chances. Many school districts, in an effort to give students additional opportunities to practice reflection and error analysis, require teachers to offer a certain number of reassessments, rewrites, or retakes to students. While these practices certainly boost grade point averages and self-esteem, they do not adequately prepare students for the real world, where one opportunity is often all that is given.


  • Unlike parents and teachers, employers are less likely to consider emotions, personal baggage, or careless errors as legitimate excuses for missteps. Their mentality is, “If you can’t do the job, I’ll find someone else who can.”  It may seem cold, especially to a teen who is used to getting multiple opportunities to succeed. However, teens need to understand that “one and done” is often the true expectation in the adult world.
  • Remind your teen that a boss’s stern demeanor, constructive criticism, or inflexible exterior is not personal—it’s just business. Their goal is to manage the team and do right by the company or organization. When the manager asks an employee to do something, it is not exactly a request. Talk to teens about how to take initiative, follow through on a commitment, and put forth their best effort.
  • Finally, it is important for teens to know that their job is their job. Teens should not rely on parents to call employers, set up interviews, call in favors, or make excuses for their tardiness or missed shifts. Just like a college professor would not entertain excuses from students’ parents, an employer is not going to make those exceptions either. Teenagers, when responsible enough to apply for and take a part-time position, must be responsible enough to handle their own working relationship with the employer.

A Teen’s First Job Pt. I

So your teen is set on part-time employment to make some extra spending money—great news! However, there are several discussions that should happen before teens take the plunge and make that serious commitment.


Encourage your teen to start by brainstorming his/her interests

One solid starting point when teens begin considering a part-time job is to point them in the direction of their own interests. It is much more enjoyable to invest your time and work somewhere when the job revolves around things you enjoy. Ask teens to think about what they like—then brainstorm from there.


    • If he/she prefers the outdoors, consider the following options: lawn mowing, mulching or other landscaping jobs, dog walking, raking leaves, assisting a summer camp, lifeguarding, bicycle delivery service, park service, etc.
    • If he/she enjoys animals, consider applying for dog or cat sitting, pet stores, zoo assistance, pet groomers, pet training schools, pet boarding companies, veterinary help, or rescue organizations.
    • If he/she is interested in helping others, think about retirement communities, church camps, child care programs, babysitting, food/clothing/book collection for the needy, hospitals or clinics, and programs to help people with disabilities or Special Olympics.
    • If he/she prefers art or literature, consider employment at local bookstores, libraries, museums, painting/crafting studios, music venues, or local newspaper or magazine publications.


Consider how the work schedule will fit in with life BEFORE applying

As much as teens may be thinking about all of the wonderful ways in which a little extra cash can help them, they need to really think about the time commitment that this part-time job will require. If school comes first, this potential job will come second—meaning that activities with friends, spontaneous weekend trips, and hangouts will all be pushed to the backburner. With this level of commitment, your child will need to consider the following:


  • How much time he/she is able to commit per week; some employers will want to hire only when employees can work a minimum of 10 hours per week, for example. You will need to sit down as a family and really crunch the numbers to ensure that the hours required for the job are realistic for your teen’s prior commitments.
  • Logically speaking, how would your teen get to and from his place of employment? If he has a car, that is much more manageable. However, if he isn’t driving yet, or shares the family car, public transportation may need to be arranged. Does he know the bus loops? Is the job within a walkable or bikeable distance? How long would he need to carve out in order make it to his shifts on time?
  • Your teen must also be prepared to make scheduling sacrifices. Besides school work and family obligations, the job will have to come first. That might mean missing the big game, a last-minute ski trip, or having to decline someone’s sweet 16. Will it be a bummer? Yes, but that is the level of commitment that even a part-time job will require. Teens must be prepared to say “no” when a social event conflicts with the work schedule or weekend shift. If they are not ready to sacrifice fun for funds, then it is not quite time for a job yet.
  • Tardiness at work is not the same thing as tardiness in school—there is no detention as retribution. Instead, if your teen is late to work, she must be prepared to face the difficult, sometime irreparable consequences. Discuss the fact that both the employer and your teen’s fellow coworkers are relying on her to show up on time. Being late to work often has ripple effects of which your teen may need to be reminded. Her tardiness might mean that customers have to wait, the business may lose money, other employees may have to cover her absence. Essentially, tardiness is a reflection of one’s level of care and responsibility. Remind your teen that showing up late, even once without notice or a justifiable reason, is a very bad look.