Posts

At-Home with Learning Essentials

With so many unknowns about the upcoming school year, the collective unease is palpable among educators, parents, and students. Will classrooms be safe? Will adequate support services be available with staggered schedules? Will online lessons be effective for all learners?  

For students with specific learning needs, whether it be an IEP or 504 Plan, the decision about schooling in the fall can be even more fraught for parents. What is the right balance between safety and support? How can that balance be attained? What help is out there?   

Learning Essentials has a plan. As families await the decisions of state and local officials regarding the 2020-2021 school year, Learning Essentials is taking a proactive approach to supporting students in the metro DC area. It is called At-Home with Learning Essentials, and it is a new homeschooling program custom designed to teach K-12 students and support their families.  

When the pandemic hit last spring, schools rolled out distance learning plans that did not serve all students equitably. Students with special needs and learning differences were especially affected, which has led many families to consider homeschooling. With this option, however, families face the daunting challenge of selecting an appropriate academic curriculum and designating who will provide instruction, supports, and evaluation from home.   

This is where Learning Essentials comes in!

At-Home with Learning Essentials is a new service in which our certified educators serve as the teachers of record. All of our team members have extensive backgrounds in special education. We can take the guesswork out of homeschooling by providing families with a customized curriculum, live tutoring sessions, special education resources, and guidance with in-home accommodations. 

We are here to guide students and their families through the transition to homeschooling—from withdrawing from their current school to delivering an academic program that meets their needs to reporting their progress to the county. 

With At-Home with Learning Essentials, our certified educators will: 

  •    Develop an individualized homeschool plan for each child  
  •    Maintain and grow current IEP goals  
  •    Customize each child’s curriculum  
  •    Fulfill state learning requirements  
  •    Track and report each child’s progress and milestones  
  •    Support transition back to school on family’s preferred timeline 

With At-Home with Learning Essentials, families are not only securing the service of a dedicated educator to help them implement and track day-to-day learning, but also the collective expertise of a team that specializes in learning differences and is uniquely positioned to offer customized solutions in the home learning environment.  

Learning Essentials does the work so that children may learn, grow and achieve in a safe, secure learning environment—their own homes. Ready to explore an educational program that is tailored to children’s strengths and special needs? Take the first step today by calling Learning Essentials to schedule a learner profile consultation. 

We’ve got you covered 

Whether families decide to take the homeschooling route or continue with their school district’s virtual learning or hybrid plan, Learning Essentials is eager to assist families seeking additional learning support. This fall, Learning Essentials will be offering several different services, with each plan tailored to families’ individual needs.   

Accountability Partner (1-5 hours per week) 

  • Need some consistent support with larger educational goals and at-home supports as children navigate their own homeschool, hybrid or distance learning program? 
  • Whether homeschooling or distance learning, Learning Essentials will offer accountability partnerships to help children manage coursework, plan and organize assignments and meetings, help students connect with their teachers while providing self-advocacy skills, and overall learning management via daily or weekly check-ins. 

Educational Therapist & Academic Coach (1-5 hours per week) 

  • Seeking at-home methodologies and materials to address learning differences and disabilities and build academic competency? Need intervention to help students develop their visual and auditory processing, attention span and memory skills? 
  • Academic coaches work with students to focus on any number of the following skills: time management, memorization strategies, project management using executive functioning skills, test-taking, independent study skills, and strategies for motivation, confidence, and independence. 
  • Educational therapists work with students on intensive interventions designed to resolve learning problems due to dyslexia, non-verbal learning disorder, reading and writing difficulties (dysgraphia), math disabilities (dyscalculia), and ADD/ADHD. 

Special Education Homeschool Provider (20 hours direct/indirect instruction per week) 

  • Ready to embark on a homeschooling, but need comprehensive help with daily lessons, academic supports, progress evaluation, and state reporting?
  • 10 hours per week direct 1:1 instruction with a certified special educator.  
  • Daily, independent activities based on direct instruction. All materials provided. 
  • For students with special needs, we provide comprehensive guidance to parents regarding teaching and learning strategies, IEP/504 accommodations, and instructional best practices for in-home schooling. 
  • If an official IEP does not exist for your child, we will create a specific learning plan to include learning goals and necessary academic supports. 
  • For families who decide to transition back into public or private school, we will help with the transition process and provide input for the IEP goals.  

Whatever children may need in order to reach their full potential as a learner, Learning Essentials is here to provide guidance and support for learners of all ages and ability levels. Our goal is to empower each child to attain success!  

Self-care for Children

There has been a great deal of talk about the importance of self-care. The COVID-19 pandemic has created a great deal of stress, worry, and unease for all of us. What we don’t hear enough about, however, is how crucial self-care can be for children’s well-being. During this time that adults need to preserve their own mental health and well-being, they must also tend to their children who require the same, if not more, self-care. Like general hygiene routines, children must be instructed on how to take care of themselves—this includes emotional care, too!

 

Youngsters may initially find it difficult to actually place their feelings into a category. This is especially true in the heat of the moment. Instead of clearly articulating their feelings, kids may just lash out, cry, or shut down. When this happens, parents typically scurry to diffuse the situation quickly—rightfully so—rather than attempting an in-depth conversation about recognizing feelings before they erupt. Yet there are proactive measures that can be taken. To ease future emotional moments, try the following:

 

  • Parents can help little ones recognize and verbalize their feelings by explaining the difference between a situation that might make one angry versus scared or upset.
  • Use scenarios that relate to your child’s age and interests and speak about these experiences hypothetically. Use the word “pretend” as your term to signify each scenario as strictly practice for identifying future feelings/emotions.
  • For children that have specific social needs, visuals are helpful when teaching and discussing abstract concepts such as frustration, loneliness, etc. Consider using cartoons or emojis to help children visualize and conceptualize scenarios with particular emotions and facial expressions.
  • Parents can also encourage kids to clarify the level of emotion that they are experiencing with a rating scale of some sort. For instance, a “1” would indicate a mild level of joy, anger, sorrow, etc., while a “5” would signify an extreme level of feelings.
  • As kids get older, parents can encourage more advanced forms of expression, such as journaling, drawing, painting, photography, meditating, etc.
  • For many kids, expressing and expelling pent up emotions comes with physical activities. When children are struggling with stress, frustration, anger, etc., parents can prompt activities such as jogging, roller blading, juggling a soccer ball, kickboxing, dancing, golf, and any other sport or physical activity to release energy, center one’s focus, and mediate aggression.

 

In addition to recognizing emotional triggers, part of self-care involves removal from situations that could be emotionally toxic. Like all social-emotional skills, this comes with practice. For children, it can be especially difficult to speak up and advocate for themselves when they need a break or a breather, but this can be greatly beneficial for mental health and well-being.

 

Therefore, in addition to recognizing one’s feelings, parents will want to encourage children to speak up when they are reaching the emotional threshold. Strategies could include:

 

  • Asking teachers or other adults for a “brain break” when frustration hits. This could be as simple as taking a short walk in the hallway or getting a sip of water to cool down.
  • Creating a hand signal or code word for children who are hesitant to voice their feelings. When kids say this word or give the specific signal, parents know then that he/she needs a moment to himself.
  • Explaining to children that everyone, no matter how social or friendly they are, needs a break from the crowd sometimes. Make them feel comfortable taking that time for themselves to calm down, collect their thoughts, or just be alone for a moment.
  • Similarly, in times of stress, children can find comfort in positive self-talk. But again, this is a learned practice—parents will want to model positive self-talk to demonstrate how it works. If a child is feeling anxious about a competition or test, practice soothing self-talk strategies to boost confidence and lower anxiety. Silent mantras such as, “You will do your best!” “You worked really hard for this!” “Everyone is already proud of your accomplishments!” go a long way when pepping children up.

Distance Learning with Multiple Children at Home

Distance learning is tedious enough. Between the emails, Zoom meetings, various portals teachers utilize, and workloads from each class, juggling at-home learning during this new “virtual school day” can be a tall order. Even more difficult, though, is this juggling act when there is more than one school-aged child in the home. How can parents possibly manage distance learning for two or more kids? Obviously, this is new territory for everyone. To ease the stress and confusion, we’ve compiled suggestions and strategies to assist families who are learning at home with multiple school-aged children.

 

Designated work areas

One major hurdle when it comes to remote teaching and learning is organization. It should come as no shock that organizing a learning space is paramount to ensuring continuity of learning now that the usual classroom routines and structures have been thrown out the window. Students need to have a designated quiet place to focus, read, correspond, and create. While this seems obvious, many families are struggling to get children to focus on their remote classwork simply because the environment is not conducive for concentration. While the kitchen counter or a child’s bedroom may have previously been the homework area of choice, times have certainly changed—we’re no longer talking about rushed homework tasks in between soccer practice and dinner time.

 

If teachers and parents expect children to sit and focus for an extended amount of time, they need to provide a comfortable space, free of distractions. When siblings are working in close proximity, distractions are bound to emerge. Therefore, it is important that each child has his or her own private work space, equipped with comfortable seating, a laptop or other device, necessary school materials, and some form of desk or surface on which to work. If space is an issue, parents should consider lap desks as an alternative to bulky furniture desks.

 

Headphones 

Headphones are a true lifesaver when it comes to remote learning. Since many teachers are utilizing Zoom calls and other video tools to conduct teaching and learning, students would benefit from noise-cancelling headphones that allow them to focus solely on the instruction. Headphones also spare other house members the headache of trying to block out the instructional videos and video chats.

 

Individual check-in times

Many parents are finding that, on top of their own jobs working from home, they have now suddenly become homeschool teachers of multiple grades levels and content areas—as if everyone doesn’t have enough to deal with right now! To avoid being stretched too thin, parents should consider designating certain time(s) of the day for each child to check-in, seek help, review work, etc. Limit this form of “parental assistance” to a half hour per child if possible. If parents find that a child needs more support, they should communicate with the school and specific teachers about classes and assignments that are becoming unmanageable. To stick to the 30-minute check-in period, children should be encouraged to jot down their necessary questions ahead of time and be prepared to articulate where and how they need assistance. Set a timer so that children know that they are “on the clock” for only a specific amount of time. Whatever questions or issues that they are still having after check-in time has expired should be directed to their teacher.

 

Coordinate brain breaks and snack times

With multiple kids in the house, coordination is key to productive distance learning. Depending on each child’s age and learning needs, siblings may need more or less time for movement, screen-free learning, “brain breaks,” etc. As much as possible, try to establish universal times throughout the day when children break from learning to keep motivation, focus, and energy levels up and running.

 

It is important to move, converse, socialize, play, and create throughout the day to interrupt the monotony of virtual learning; however, if one child is playing outside while the other is concentrating on school work, parents may want to rethink the learning schedule. Allowing simultaneous break times ensures that kids aren’t being distracted by siblings during work sessions. There is no jealousy or “unfairness” factor if siblings are getting a break at the same time. Be consistent with breaks as much as possible; use a timer if necessary to set limits for learning versus playing.

Making Remote Education Work for Students with Special Education Needs

It is increasingly remarkable to think that just a few weeks ago, students and teachers were still in class, working towards end-of-quarter goals. So much has changed as Covid-19 has spread across the nation, shuttering schools indefinitely and leading students, parents, teachers and administrators to ask: What do we do now?

 

Learning never stops—it just changes course.

Many students were sent home with assignments to complete and deadlines to meet. Others are accessing online materials and connecting remotely with instructors. In some places, students are even taking a short break from the standard curriculum to explore educational videos, podcasts, interactive games and virtual museum tours.

 

The remote education opportunities are seemingly endless—that is, until special learning needs are added to the mix. Then navigating this “new normal” can seem downright impossible.

Although federal law mandates that school systems provide equal access to education for students with learning disabilities, no one seems to know what that means in our current situation. Across the nation, school districts are grappling with how to provide remote education to as many of the seven million impacted students as possible, without defying the law and potentially losing critical funding. Yet, with mere weeks to prepare, how can schools possibly replicate the services of diverse therapists—occupational, learning, behavioral, speech, physical and vision—as well as adaptive specialists and aides? It is not feasible.

 

Learning Essentials is here to help.

With our team of certified, advanced-degreed tutors, Learning Essentials is the premier special education tutoring company in the DC Metro area. We “get” these students and their diverse needs. We have the education and experience to assist students with learning disabilities and differences during this massive transition. Our learning strategies and multi-sensory methods are proven, and our team is equipped to offer fully online support for all learners.

 

As administrators, teachers, and parents struggle to create and implement in-home supports for special needs students, Learning Essentials is ready to step in with solutions. We can suggest modifications to learning content, accommodations for optimal learning environments, and techniques that can guide parents and support students in accessing the curriculum in these unprecedented circumstances.

 

Ready for help? Contact Learning Essentials today for a free consultation. Let us set the best course to keep special needs students on the path to learning.

Visualization as a Cognitive Tool Pt. II

As previously discussed in part one, visual prompts, tools, and strategies can help learners who may struggle with linguistic presentations. Whether attentive issues, behavioral struggles, or deficits in auditory processing are the obstacle, visualization methods can assist with students whose needs vary in and out of the classroom.

 

Reading/Writing/Literacy

  • Use visuals to provide context for vocabulary terms. Teachers can boost memory and recall by pairing terms with images that explain or represent the definition. For example, science teachers may want to accompany terms for the parts of a flower with a diagram that depicts each part. They could use photos or time lapse videos to demonstrate how organic matter decays or decomposes. In history or world studies, students can benefit from seeing locations, countries, and landmarks that they are studying so that they have a better grasp of its importance. Instead of simply discussing Tanzania, teachers will want to show Tanzania on a map so that students can conceptualize its location with background knowledge of the surrounding areas.
  • For practices involving phonics and fluency, obviously pronouncing new words for students to chime back is beneficial to start. However, when working independently to decode, students may find that visual cue cards for prefixes/suffixes are more helpful for their visual approach to reading. For example, struggling decoders might find it helpful to see how words are segmented or broken down into parts and then physically put them back together like a puzzle. Visually speaking, words like “cub” versus “cube” could be confusing to beginning readers or English language learners. Teachers should provide opportunities to use letter cards or scrabble pieces to match “cub” with the photo of a baby bear; then add the “e” to match the word with an image of an ice cube. The physical manipulatives, combined with the images, help young readers visualize the proper spelling while also solidifying pronunciation and definitions.
  • Similarly, teachers and parents can help beginning readers by incorporating visual aids into sight words. As a memorization tool, basic flashcards only go so far. Instead, think about how the letters of the word could be constructed or decorated with images that relate to the word’s meaning. For example, the sight word “look” could be spelled using googly eyes for the double “o” to demonstrate someone looking at something. Perhaps the word “play” could incorporate athletic equipment to form the letters, with “p” resembling a basketball, “L” formed by a hockey stick, and “y” in the shape of a tennis racket.

 

Additional Concepts

  • If content involves a process or step-by-step explanation, consider using flow charts, mind maps, or other visual diagrams to help students conceptualize the process. For differentiation, teachers may ask advanced students to create their own flow chart using their text or class notes, while struggling students may use a word bank/concept bank to complete a fill-in-the-blank flow chart. Either way, the objective is the same; students are demonstrating knowledge of a specific process by constructing a visual/diagram.
  • For essays, written responses, and notetaking, teachers should instruct and encourage students to utilize graphic organizers to visually compose comprehensive outlines of their drafts. In spider diagrams, the main idea of the written response is the spider’s body, while the legs connect to supporting details, quotes, and examples, which helps students visually compose a well-supported argument or claim as a prewriting activity.

Besides standard images or symbols to help students, teachers can expand upon the idea of visuals to include videos, films/documentaries, art, graphic novel excerpts, artifacts, and video games. The more engagement and connections to prior knowledge that visuals can offer, the stronger the learning experience will be.

American Heart Month—Teen Relationships, Part I

February is the unofficial “month of love,” thanks primarily to Valentine’s Day. February is also American Heart Month, which is meant to promote heart health and wellness and to provide community resources for preventing heart disease. It also happens to be Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month. Since teens are more likely to experience love and dating before being diagnosed with heart disease, we figured we should use this opportunity to discuss healthy relationships—because knowing one’s worth and how to set healthy boundaries is an equally important facet of protecting one’s heart.

 

The National Resource Center on Domestic Violence estimates that, each year, over one million American teens experience physical violence at the hands of a romantic partner. While physical abuse is certainly the most obvious or undeniable form of violence, dating violence includes any form of threats, as well as verbal, emotional, sexual, or digital abuse (threatening texts, posts, phone calls, or blackmail). As if these abuses were not devastating enough, teens who experience dating violence are also far more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol, or suffer from depression and thoughts of suicide. With such destructive consequences, it is imperative that parents know the warning signs of a potential relationship issue and how to intervene.

 

Signs of a potentially harmful teen relationship:

  • If, after entering a new relationship, your teenager suddenly pulls away from friend groups and family activities without warning, it may be an early sign of a controlling situation. Abusive partners often easily become jealous, territorial, or vengeful if a boyfriend or girlfriend is giving his or her time to others. The isolation is also another way that an abuser exerts mental control over his or her partner. Isolation and withdrawal from family and friends also allows the abuser to push the boundaries of control or violence—if no one is around to intervene or ask questions, the control can continue or progress.
  • When cellphone and/or social media use changes drastically, parents should start asking questions. Control can, and likely will, extend into digital realms eventually. Perhaps a controlling boyfriend insists that the girlfriend remove photos, posts, chats, and other personal memories from online profiles. Additionally, a cautious girlfriend or boyfriend might exhibit stress or anxiety if she or he is unable to answer a controlling boyfriend or girlfriend’s text or incoming call. If texts and phone calls become excessive, especially if they’ve gone unanswered, this could be a sign that a controlling relationship has begun.
  • Similarly, if a boyfriend or girlfriend takes a partner’s phone or insists on knowing passwords or codes, this could be the start of something dangerous. Again, these types of behaviors are all about control and power. Obsessively checking in, reading messages, intercepting phone calls, browsing history or email—all of these are signs that a teen is attempting to control his or her partner on an invasive level.
  • Excessive apologies could be another sign of an unhealthy relationship brewing. Another major aspect of mental or emotional abuse involves the use of guilt—specifically, tactics to elicit guilt. If you notice that your teen is overly sensitive to questions and criticisms and follows any minor misstep with an apology, this could be a learned behavior from a boyfriend or girlfriend who is trying to make your teen feel bad for insignificant mistakes or shortcomings.
  • Furthermore, if your teen seems to be more critical of himself, it may be because his partner is feeding him that harsh criticism. Negative self-talk often stems from hearing other negative talk or incessant put-downs.
  • A teen in an unhealthy relationship might defend or minimize the situation when questioned. If family or friends question the relationship or criticize the teen’s partner, the first instinct is to excuse or defend the other’s behavior. While family and friends are simply trying to highlight the potential issues, a confrontation or intervention could have the exact opposite effect. Oftentimes, a critical eye from a parent or friend drives the partners together even further, solidifying the relationship on a harmfully dependent level.
  • Threats to end the relationship are another token move for abusers who wish to establish control and codependency. If your teen’s boyfriend or girlfriend constantly threatens to break up with him or her, the angle is probably manipulative. The point again is a power move; the partner is toying with the other’s emotions and using the relationship as a ploy or pawn: “Do what I say or I’ll break up with you” is just another mind game used to exert control.

National Stalking Awareness Month

2019 marks the 15th year of recognizing January as National Stalking Awareness Month. The CDC defines stalking as, “a pattern of repeated and unwanted attention, harassment, contact, or conduct directed at someone that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear.” Many people are probably unaware of the staggering statistic that roughly 1 in 6 women will be a victim of stalking at some point in her lifetime. The purpose of National Stalking Awareness Month is to not only raise awareness, but also promote prevention efforts and provide community supports and assistance to victims.

 

While anyone can become a victim of stalking, teenagers are among the most vulnerable and experience the highest rates of incidents among victims. Below are tips for families concerning precautionary measures, proactive steps, and other safety strategies to prevent children and teens from becoming victims.

 

CLEAN UP SOCIAL MEDIA ACCOUNTS

For many teens, social media is their method for connecting and sharing with friends. However, much too often, teens are oversharing in their profiles. Talk to your teen about the importance of certain levels of anonymity online. Details such as phone numbers, addresses, specific school locations, full names, and birth dates when put in the wrong hands can be used to stalk victims. Remind your child that “privacy” settings are not always full-proof. Furthermore, that new “friend” or follower request could be anyone—literally.

  • Do not accept friend requests from people that you do not personally know
  • Do not “check-in” to public places online; this information can be accessed by anyone
  • Do not “tag” specific current locations, especially if you frequent these locations regularly
  • Report any suspicious users and log the attempts this person has made when contacting you
  • Do not respond to any unwanted messages, conversations, requests, etc.
  • If teens have a webcam or camera on their laptop, consider covering it when not in use

 

SWITCH UP YOUR EVERYDAY ROUTINES

Stalkers often rely on victims’ routines to track their whereabouts closely. The less predictable the routine, the more difficult it is to follow. If your teen jogs a specific loop on the weekends, goes to the same coffee shop after school every Wednesday, bike rides through the park to school every day, or walks the dog around the same neighborhood route, encourage her to switch up her day-to-day patterns. A sudden change in one’s habits is sometimes enough to dissuade an unwanted observer. These modifications also prompt teens to try out new places, explore new running paths, or simply catch the bored dog off guard by changing his walking route.

 

DO NOT FEEL PRESSURED TO OBLIGE

Sometimes, in an effort to maintain one’s social courtesy or show politeness, children and teens feel pressured to say “yes” to a kind offer. Parents have probably taught their kids from a young age to hold the door for others, smile and say “hello” when someone greets them, say “please” and “thank you” when someone shows them a kind gesture. Obviously, being well-mannered is not the issue. However, we do need children and teens to be aware of the option to say “no” or walk away to ignore someone’s unwanted attention. Remind them that agreeing to something just out of politeness is not necessary; they should never be made to feel coerced or intimidated when it comes to unwanted attention or “seemingly” kind offers. Remind teens of the following:

  • “Oh come on, give me a smile,” from a stranger in no way obligates you to respond.
  • If someone pesters, coaxes, or berates you for not saying “hello” or calls you rude for ignoring them, keep ignoring them.
  • If someone asks you how you’re doing or where you’re heading, you do not have to respond.
  • If someone offers to walk you home, offers you a ride, or approaches you too closely, move away and remain in a public place until the person has left or until you feel safe.
  • If a peer asks you to hang out or go out on a date, do not feel that you have to agree out of kindness. It’s better to let them know straight out that you are not interested in that way.
  • If a stranger or peer’s attempt at a conversation is crossing the line or making you feel uncomfortable, use your phone as an out. Call a parent or pretend to receive an incoming call from a parent; use headphones as an indication that you do not want to converse with strangers around you.

 

TELL SOMEONE

Parents should explain the signs of stalking and clearly define which types of behaviors are classified as stalking. Tell your teens to speak up to you or another trusted adult if they believe someone is following, watching, harassing, or intimidating them. Remind them not to ignore their instincts—if something feels off, it very well could be.

Enrichment at Home

Enrichment is a typical educational buzzword; however, its utility is not limited to the classroom. Parents can play a major role in their child’s academic enrichment—and it is not as intimidating as it may seem. Enrichment does not have to adhere to a specific curriculum, but rather includes any activity that fosters a learning experience.

 

What are enrichment activities?

Enrichment activities at home can take infinite forms and do not necessarily mirror a typical classroom lesson or activity. Enrichment encourages learners to take a more expansive or in-depth look at a concept or topic, perhaps by further research, approaching it with a different lens or perspective, or connecting the subject to a more meaningful or rewarding facet of the real world. Whatever the activity may involve, the notion or goal is typically the same—encourage further exploration, intrinsic curiosity, and lifelong learning.

 

Considerations for enrichment at home

  • First, enrichment at home or in the classroom should never be reduced to extra practice, bonus worksheets, or additional math problems. The key to worthwhile enrichment activities is that they deepen or expand upon a learner’s understanding—they do not simply bombard the learner with additional assignments.
  • Enrichment at home should at least loosely connect to something that your child is learning or has learned in school. However, the enrichment activity itself can really go in any direction once the connection to prior knowledge has been made. This allows children to access their prior knowledge and build upon that through the enrichment activity. Your child is also able to make real-world connections from these learning experiences outside of the classroom.
  • What does your child like to read or study? Create a running list of topics that your child has expressed interest in and use that list to search for learning opportunities around the community that connect to these topics. Kids can get in on the research as well, which helps them to foster natural curiosity and intrinsic motivation for learning.
  • Consider certain learning opportunities that the whole family can partake in, but be sure that the enrichment activity is age-appropriate. This is not the time to overwhelm young learners with topics or concepts that are too abstract, complex, or mature.
  • Enrichment activities should rely heavily on your child’s choices or interests; this is not an opportunity for parents to persuade or nudge a learner’s interests to match their own.

 

Ideas for enrichment at home

  • If your child has read a book for school of particular interest, explore similar titles or other works by the same author to encourage reading for pleasure. Amazon or Barnes and Noble offer easy online searches to provide full lists of novels that other readers enjoyed based on the title you search.
  • Similarly, if a specific genre has grabbed your child’s attention, use that as a springboard for searching other titles or works that fall into the genre or subgenre.
  • If children are learning about a certain time period, author, musician, artist, or country (which they definitely are in school), do a little research of exhibits, documentaries, book talks, movies, or concerts that connect to their prior knowledge of the time period or subject area.
  • Use student-centered websites to present new material when children are on vacation or summer break. NewsELA, National Geographic, CNN 10, and the History Channel offer wonderful, grade-level organized resources for further exploration of a range of topics. You can also modify the searches to account for a child’s specific reading level to ensure that texts are accessible, yet challenging.
  • Consider enrichment opportunities that do not necessarily tie directly to an academic content area. Mentorships, volunteer opportunities, clubs and organizations provide participants with a plethora of skills. Children can learn about time management, giving back, environmental preservation, friendship, collaboration, perspective-taking, listening skills, etc.

Critical Thinking Skills as an Approach to Behaviors at Home

Especially as children become stir crazy cooped up inside during the winter months, behaviors can begin to plummet. Perhaps routines have been off, bedtimes have been extended, or one too many holiday desserts has sent someone into a tizzy. Whatever the case may be, we can always appreciate a fresh approach to dealing with misbehaviors. If time-outs, confiscated iPads, or groundings are wearing on the family, a different approach could be beneficial. With a little patience—okay, maybe a lot of patience—conversations where parents prompt children to think critically about their behaviors can change the way in which children see misbehaviors all together.

 

Critical thinking encompasses a complex set of higher order thinking skills. As opposed to memorization or fact-based knowledge, critical thinking includes relational, analytical, reflective, argumentative, or systematic thought processes. It is not so much what you know or think, but why or how you know and think that way. Because critical thinking often involves aspects of perspectives and/or decision making, these strategies can be the perfect platform for dealing with behavior management.

 

When siblings or peers argue:

  • Parents can mediate by asking questions about how an argument began. By taking a moment for reflective thinking, children begin to see how a small issue may have escalated or blown out of proportion.
  • If children are calling one another names, diffuse the situation by talking about how these are opinions; they are not based on facts. Just because someone calls you stupid certainly does not mean that you are stupid. These words hurt, of course, but ask your children why this person’s cruelness affects them; do you value this peer’s hurtful opinion?
  • Encourage siblings to take the other’s perspective for a moment. Ask why she thinks her brother acted that way towards her. Why might his friend have behaved this way? The key is not so much in finding the exact purpose, but instead taking a moment to consider where that other person could be coming from.
  • Ask about alternative responses for next time. Is there a better option for dealing with a conflict like this in the future? What is the best way to respond to your little brother next time this happens? What are we not going to do again, and why?

When “so-and-so’s parents” let them do A, B, or C:

  • A rational explanation and some critical thinking can go a long way when children are upset over things that other kids are allowed to do. Calmly explain that everyone’s family operates differently, and so-and-so might be able to stay up until 10 pm simply because their parents work late… Or perhaps so-and-so sleeps in and rushes out the door every morning…Or it is possible that so-and-so feels like a walking zombie at the school most days? Whatever the scenario, remind your child that there are reasons behind your household routines—and another family’s routine is frankly irrelevant.
  • Discuss the implications of these decisions. If a friend is allowed to see R-rated movies, but your children are not, explain how an inappropriate movie could make them scared, uncomfortable, worried, restless, sleepless, and ultimately cranky or sluggish at school. Help them connect the dots between the rules and their purposes so that they see these guidelines as meaningful, instead of arbitrary.
  • Ask your child flat-out: “Besides the fact that so-and-so is allowed, do you have a valid reason or justification for changing the rules this time?” This forces children and teens to justify or support their stance with effective reasoning.

When frustrations boil over:

  • Encourage children to take a beat to evaluate the situation—what can we do to potentially solve this problem or ease this frustration? Think about why this particular task is causing so much frustration and use that as a new point of entry.
  • If math homework is about to cause a fit, take a brain break, walk away from the math packet, and cool down. Then, approach the problem with a cool head and fresh viewpoint. Think about it in “grand scheme of things” terms—is this something that is going to keep me up all night or ruin my month? Chances are, this meltdown will be a non-issue in a matter of hours.
  • Help them break down the problem or situation and tackle the parts that they feel confident about. Remind them to apply what they know and then use those methods to chip away at the task.
  • If the task is still complicated, encourage children to write down exactly what it is that they don’t know or are missing—what would they need to solve this problem or complete this assignment?
  • Apply the skill to a simpler problem and use that momentum to approach the more complex problem. Oftentimes, in simplifying a question, we are better able to see aspects of the problem that we may have missed due to the complexity.

When problems are on the cusp or horizon:

  • Call it psychic power or paternal/maternal observations, but parents are often able to tell when an issue, conflict, or temper is about to erupt. Teach children this reflective skill by modeling how to gauge one’s feelings and emotions. This helps to avoid or circumvent conflicts or attitudes that could be problematic.
  • Discuss the concept of foresight and how such anticipation can help in our decision making. Remind children that everything they do has an impact or effect on those around them.
  • In considering these implications, children are able to pause to consider the ripple effect that any decision might have. The ability to contemplate and deliberate based on past experiences and logical reasoning allows children to make more informed choices, and thus behave in more considerate or responsible ways.

Motivating the Unmotivated

While motivation is often linked to academic achievement, the same is not necessarily true for motivation and intelligence. We are all familiar with the naturally gifted student who fails consistently, not for lack of intelligence, but because of his or her lack of motivation. These seemingly hopeless situations can be difficult for parents, especially when they know that their child has all the potential and wherewithal. But what can be done to boost motivation? How can we inspire and incite action when the foundation is nonexistent?

 

Investigate the root of the problem

Oftentimes, a lack of motivation is the result of a bigger issue. For unmotivated children, there is likely some sort of deterrent or impediment between the child and the task. Sometimes the issue stems from a learning obstacle, such as a disability or cognitive barrier. Other times, unmotivated students have had multiple or severely negative experiences in school that have caused them to be “turned off” or “checked out.” It is also possible that the child simply does not see the value in putting forth effort and exhibiting self-motivation. Whatever the case may be, parents can begin to establish motivation by examining the reason behind its absence. Talk to children about why they truly do not want to try something. Is there a reason that they are so opposed to showing effort or enthusiasm for learning? Pose the questions so that they do not sound interrogative, but instead seek to understand the child’s position.

 

Set longterm and shortterm goals

Even the most unmotivated child has some sort of goal or aspiration. Parents should tap into these interests as a means to foster motivation, both in the immediate and distant future. Ask your child what he or she would like to accomplish tomorrow. Allow that answer to span outside of the academic realm. For instance, if your child is lacking motivation in school, but shows an interest in making the club soccer team, encourage that level of interest first as a springboard. Perhaps tomorrow’s goal is to juggle the soccer ball 30 times without dropping it, but this year’s goal is to make the soccer team. Talk about how these short-term goals are essentially the building blocks towards reaching the long term goal. Hone in on the fact that practicing, strategizing, focusing, and modifying will be key for reaching that short-term goal. And that while failure and outside obstacles are going to occur, resilience and motivation are 100% controllable internal factors. Then, when the topic of academics arises, remind that unmotivated student of the steps and lengths that he went to in order to accomplish the juggling goal. Discuss how you can translate that motivation into effort towards schoolwork.

 

Express excitement and admiration when they do show motivation towards anything

Kids, especially young children, may not fully conceptualize the notion of intrinsic motivation—they don’t necessarily know why they care, they just do. To boost their understanding of building and maintaining motivation, praise their effort when they exhibit it. Acknowledge their focus and drive for whatever it may be that they’re working on—the more you point out this motivation, the more likely they are to internalize this concept of self-motivation and effort.

 

Lead by example

We all know that attitude is contagious; the same can be said for effort and motivation. When children see motivated parents with their own interests and passions, they begin to see that effort comes from a true desire to achieve, create, accomplish, and grow. Passionate people inspire those around them, so parents can certainly boost motivation at home by expressing their own efforts and motivation for their genuine interests.

 

Instruct with positive and negative consequences

Different from bribery, positive and negative consequences ensure that children learn how to take ownership for their actions and level of effort (or lack thereof). Of course, no child will be intrinsically motivated to make his bed. Instead, parents should remind children that failure to complete their chores will result in a consequence—essentially, children will recognize that they’re actually punishing themselves by choosing to neglect their tasks. Thus, they become motivated by the desire to avoid the negative consequence. Consequently, a positive outcome from doing one’s chores can boost motivation and the desire to accomplish tasks in the sense that the child connects his or her effort to the reward or positive result.