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What We Can Learn from Students with Learning Disabilities

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A learning disability indicates that there is an issue or difficulty with acquiring knowledge or grasping concepts, information, or processes. Because of our common understanding of students with learning disabilities, it is unfortunately typical to view a disability as a disadvantage in the classroom. While this can and certainly is the case on some level, what we often neglect to notice are the advantages that come with what we consider a disability. Yes, learning disabilities make certain skills more difficult, but they also bring many unique perspectives to the classroom. Perhaps viewing these disabilities more as differences would open our eyes and allow for a more optimistic outlook.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

Students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) exhibit periods of difficulty focusing, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. These symptoms vary from person to person, but can notably interfere with learning. But, believe it or not, ADHD symptoms may also have their own unique benefits. For instance, hyperfocus occurs when children with ADHD are able to hone in on one specific activity or task for long periods of time. Whether this form of hyperfocus comes about athletically, artistically, technologically, etc., students that practice channeling their attention and excess energy find great success in their interests.

Furthermore, having adapted to managing the ADHD symptoms over time, children learn to self-check and recognize when their level of attentiveness dips and peaks. Children with ADHD are often forced to think or learn a little differently. They become experts at streamlining information, honing in on significant details, and gauging their own comprehension. This sort of self-awareness helps students play off of their strengths and develop creative means of achievement.

Students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder are also highly sociable and friendly. Because they are prone to being talkative, their verbal language skills are often higher than those of their peers. Storytelling, public speaking, and debating are some of their common social strengths.

Dyslexia/Dysgraphia

Dyslexia, a learning disability that affects a reader’s ability to decode, comprehend, and read fluently, certainly presents its own challenges in and out of the classroom. Reading levels can range from below grade level to nearly illiterate—which is not only frustrating for a child, but greatly discouraging, as well. The advantages of dyslexia are widely unknown, as the disorder is seen as a major educational roadblock. However, there seem to be undeniable benefits. Since reading presents a major challenge, some believe that the following behaviors are a means of compensating for the gaps in reading. For example, students with dyslexia typically thrive at tasks involving abstract thinking, creativity, and holistic or “whole picture” thinking. Children with dyslexia also display strengths in reasoning, problem-solving, and persistence.

Similarly, dysgraphia, a disability that affects written language, also has its own unique benefits. Since motor skills affect pencil grip and the ability to master written language, children with dysgraphia compensate by sharpening their listening skills. These learners are masters of recalling oral details, memorization, and storytelling. These conversationalists thrive in social situations and are often helpful problem solvers.

Ready, Set, GO BACK TO SCHOOL!!!! Learning Styles and Techniques: Part 4 of 6

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When it comes to learning strategies, styles, and techniques, learning cannot be explained as a “one size fits all” method. As much as we are told that there are kinesthetic, auditory, visual, and read/write learners, learning processes and preferences are truly more complex than these labels. While there are truths to the different categories of learners, we cannot assume that each young learner fits perfectly and fixedly into one specific category. In fact, depending on a learner’s strengths and weaknesses, he or she will employ different techniques from different categories to best suit the task.

Consider this personal example: a learner, like myself, with a propensity for reading and writing would likely excel in tasks involving creative writing techniques, close reading skills, vocabulary, etc. In the mathematical realm, however, this same learner may need to employ a different learning style. One may assume that a word problem would suit this type of read/write learner. However, for a learner such as myself, the wordiness of a math problem actually got in the way of comprehension. Instead, I would employ visual strategies, such as sketching, diagramming, or graphing to visually break down the word problem.

Depending on the task, a strong learner will know how and when to employ different strategies. This type of fluidity in learning styles takes practice. For instance, in the above example, a read/write learner like myself would likely read a confusing word problem many times before realizing that a visual illustration would actually be more beneficial.

Thus, the best way to help young learners is to provide them with numerous learning strategies and techniques. Then, let the learner decide which different strategies are helpful in certain circumstances. Below are just a few strategies organized by learning style.

VISUAL

  • Use diagrams, illustrations, and graphic organizers to visually conceptualize a task. For instance, a visual learner may benefit from a prewriting outline before beginning a lengthy essay assignment.
  • Color code when taking notes to visually organize information on the page; this can also help with memory.
  • Highlight key words when reading or studying to help retain the information.
  • Rewrite notes or perform task demonstrations to better see and memorize the information after the initial lesson.

AUDITORY

  • Restate the information in your own words to solidify comprehension and memorization.
  • Create mnemonic devices while studying.
  • Organize information into a song, rhythm, or rhyme to help recall.
  • Reread information aloud.
  • Ask and answer questions aloud during lessons or lectures.

KINESTHETIC

  • Pace or move about while studying notes to help with memorization.
  • Fold the corners of textbook pages to refer back to important information.
  • Stand while reading or reciting.
  • Take small, frequent breaks when working on large assignments.
  • Reenact the concept or task; this is especially helpful for science labs, physical or athletic skills, or theater-related tasks.
  • Sit on a yoga ball while reviewing material or studying for extended periods of time.
  • Use a line-reader or cover the text on the page when reading; this helps kinesthetic learners focus on a text line by line instead of getting overwhelmed by a wordy page.

 

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: https://learningessentialsedu.com/workshops/

Ready, Set, GO BACK TO SCHOOL!!!! Learning is a Process: Part 3 of 6

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What exactly does it mean to learn something? How can we know that we have adequately learned it? Are there better or more effective ways in which to learn? These are just a few questions surrounding the art of learningand what better time to ponder these thoughts than at the start of a brand new year of learning? Now, of course, just as every child is unique, each child’s learning style is equally unique. It’s time that we learn a little more about the process of learning.

Learning is a processbut what does this mean? Obviously, children do not simply learn by hearing something. Unfortunately, the human brain is not a recording device or database. Instead, truly learning something involves severalsometimes manydeliberate interactions with the concept.

Let’s use baking as an example. Before learning to bake a cake, the amateur chef will need to be introduced to the concept of cake. The chef may take a bite, look at a photo, or watch a how-to video about cake baking. This introduction prepares the chef for what is to come and ideally demonstrates the end goal or product—a cake.

After tasting a cake sample, the chef will seek to know more about the cake before baking his own. For instance, he may research different flavor combinations, baking methods, or icing techniques. By seeking further information, the chef begins to better understand cake and how it is made.

Next, the chef will attempt the task of baking a cake. Taking all of the knowledge that he’s compiled, the chef will now actually get his hands dirty and try baking a cake on his own.

After baking, the chef will obtain feedback from taste testers. Ideally, these taste testers should be expert chefs who have experience baking cakes or at least some novice chef peers who know how a good cake is supposed to taste.

Taking the feedback into consideration, the amateur chef will now look back at the recipe and baking techniques and make adjustments based on his reflections.

The chef can decide to circle back to any previous steps to perfect his cake. Perhaps he needs to taste other types of pastry, take an extra baking class, alter the ingredients or measurements, or read another cookbook. Either way, the chef continues to work towards his goal of creating a delicious cake. And, since a cake can never be too delicious, the chef’s learning is never finished.


Just as the amateur chef’s journey to the perfect cake is a process, children’s acquisition of knowledge and new skills proceeds in a similar fashion. Learning does not occur in one fell swoop; it is not instantaneous; it is not a uniform recipe or sure-fire set of instructions. Learning takes time, intrinsic motivation, creativity, and patience. When children struggle to learn something, frustration arises. It is important to let your child know that learning is a process that involves trial and errorfailure is a necessary step in this process. No matter the setbacks, we must teach children to overcome and persevere.

Because, just as the amateur chef knows all too well, triumph after failure is even sweeter!

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: https://learningessentialsedu.com/workshops/

Ready, set, GO BACK TO SCHOOL!!!! The Binder. Part 2 of 6

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Sticking with the August theme of organization for back-to-school, let’s focus our attention on a middle school staple: the binder. Melodramatic? Maybe. Essential? Yes.

When it comes to transitioning into middle school, organization is key. Consider this: Middle school is likely the first time that students are encountering things such as late bells, lockers, crowded hallways, confusing schedules, and different classrooms and teachers for each class. Not only are they new to the content and the building, but the middle school model of homerooms, study periods, and moving from class-to-class with the appropriate books and materials is completely new, as well.

That said, binder organization is an extremely important part of the middle school learning curve. Here are some tried and true tips from a teacher about handling binder organization.

1. Consider your child’s schedule. Most of the time, a student’s school day is separated by morning and afternoon classes, with lunch in the middle. Before and after lunch are often opportune times to visit the lockers since the grades transition to lunch at different times. This means that the hallways are less crowded, and students have a little more time to swap out books, binders, and materials. Many students find it beneficial to have two binders—a morning binder and an afternoon binder. The only caveat here is when the typical school schedule is disrupted by delays, early dismissals, assemblies, etc. When this happens, it’s important that students be aware of the schedule and plan to have necessary assignments in the correct binder at the right time. Again, this type of organization comes with practice.

2.  Tabs are your friends. When doing back-to-school shopping, be sure to include tabs or separators on the list. They do not have to be pricey or ornately designed—just ensure that your child can easily set up a tab or label for each class. It may be helpful to include a “parent signature” tab for items that need to be signed and returned to school. Furthermore, a homework or “due tomorrow” tab may help to ensure that homework comes home and is returned for credit. This type of organization will help students submit homework quickly and efficiently at the start of class without missing any important instruction. True story: I’ve watched countless students spend the better part of my class furiously shuffling through mounds of crumpled papers searching for last night’s homework—this doesn’t have to happen.

3.  Purge papers as often as necessary. Of course, at the end of the marking period, middle schoolers are prompted to clean out their binders. However, binders overflow or “explode” long before the end of the term. Encourage your child to purge any unnecessary note sheets, practices, or scratch papers to maintain an organized binder. Colored mini sticky notes or flags are helpful when identifying any papers that should be kept all year. For example, during the first week, I give my students a few documents that they should hold onto for the duration of my class. I encourage students to “flag” or write KAY (keep all year) at the top as reminder of which papers should not be purged.

4.  Consider a pencil pouch. Again, as with the tabs, these do not have to be expensive or elaborate. Most pouches can be purchased for a little more than a dollar. In fact, it may be better to keep this item small and simple, as to save room in the often “over-stuffed” binders. Items to include range from writing utensils, erasers, and white out, to zip drives, band-aids, and mini hand sanitizer. It’s also a good place to stash a $5 bill in case the need for emergency lunch money occurs—and trust me, it will.

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: https://learningessentialsedu.com/brain-camps/

Ready, set, GO BACK TO SCHOOL!!! Organization Style. Part 1 of 6

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Ready, set, GO BACK TO SCHOOL!!!!

TIME MANAGEMENT

It’s that time again—the back-to-school commercials are in full swing! Backpacks, lunch boxes, clothes, and school supplies are some of the things occupying the minds of parents these days. As the sun sets on summer 2016, it is important to ensure that your child is given every advantage to begin the school year with a bang!

While much focus is put on school supplies and the “necessary” materials, one key element in preparing for a successful year ahead is to put organization in the forefront. And, as they say, practice truly makes perfect—or close to it. Organization applies to a multitude of facets in the educational realm. While all are important, organizing time or “time management” is essential. For example, consider if a student has color-coordinated references, organized notes, and an impeccable outline for a research paper, yet that same “organized” student gives himself Sunday night to complete the final draft of his research paper. All of the prior organization becomes a futile attempt if time was poorly organized.

Organization, specifically time management, is a skill that comes with practice. Even as adults, we sometimes drop the ball by failing to plan ahead accordingly. Here are some tips to ensure that time management makes its way into your household this school year.

Start from the beginning. As we all know, it is much easier to prevent negative habits than to correct them later on. Right from the start, discuss a realistic daily schedule that includes designated homework/reading time, after-school activities, family time, and reasonable sleep/wake times. Of course, be prepared to be flexible when things inevitably come up. But, for the most part, a set schedule will help your child to maintain balance and assuage the stress that comes with cramming.
Model the practice of planning ahead. Especially in the middle and upper grades, projects and assignments become more labor-intensive. With several steps, check-in points, and deadlines, it is easy for students to quickly lose track or get overwhelmed. As with many difficult tasks, showing is more beneficial than telling. Show your child how to organize by breaking down large assignments and setting at home check-in points in advance of the actual due dates. Also, show them how to prioritize more difficult tasks. For example, a five-paragraph argumentative essay is going to need more attention than a vocabulary practice sheet.
Be proactive with organizing your time. It is important to anticipate certain roadblocks to prevent last-minute school stressors. Check the printer for ink before the paper is due; plan for picture day so that the outfit of choice is clean and pressed; pack gym clothes with extra socks so that the morning rush through the dryer can be avoided; email teachers about foreseen absences ahead of time to get any missed work or important information; have a plan for sick days, in which your child has a buddy in the neighborhood to bring work back.

Teaching students how to organize their time is a skill that will prove beneficial throughout their academic and adult lives.

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: https://learningessentialsedu.com/brain-camps/

Twice Exceptional Students: Playing on Strengths

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Parents of twice-exceptional (2E) students know all too well that their child’s learning can be more complicated than expected. Twice-exceptional students, once referred to as GTLD, are characterized by their gifted abilities and the fact that they meet the criteria for an IEP or 504 plan. With such a unique combination of learning strengths and weaknesses, it is no wonder that these learners are unfortunately misunderstood in the classroom. For parents, this can be even more disheartening. However, there are proactive measures that parents can take to help to mediate any future concerns.

Encourage your child to use his/her strengths as a head start or springboard in school. This means that certain skills or tasks can be made easier when students play to their strengths. For instance, if drawing and diagramming is a strength, but written communication or explanation presents an issue, encourage your child to sketch an explanation to a math problem, as opposed to writing it out. Your child is still completing the task and mastering the concept of explaining steps in a math problem; however, he/she is simply arriving at a response in a different manner. A major aspect of learning involves capitalizing on one’s strengths and maneuvering around weaknesses, which is exactly how 2E students can truly shine in the classroom. It is an unfortunate misconception that these unique types of learners are aloof or disinterested. This is simply not the case—quite the opposite, actually.

For twice-exceptional students to be able to exhibit mastery in alternate ways, parents must practice open communication with classroom educators from the get-go. While this sort of request could be misinterpreted, 2E students and their families are not seeking special treatment. They simply recognize learning strengths and their value. Parents should not be wary about these accommodations—differentiation is part of a teacher’s best practices in the classroom. But, in order to help our students, we must be made aware of their strengths and needs.

Twice-exceptional students, when either too challenged or not challenged enough, may become despondent or reluctant. A student’s boredom or frustration in the classroom can often be met with the same reaction—indifference. Again, parents should communicate these visible behaviors to the child’s teachers. The unfortunate truth is, teachers may potentially begin to see a 2E child’s reaction as “attitude” or “laziness.” These types of labels are obviously detrimental to a student’s education. Explain to teachers that your child’s manner in class is a reflection of his/her struggles—that varying the concept, task, or activity is a simple quick-fix.

Encourage your twice-exceptional student to keep a journal for reflection. This is a practice that not only allows students to track their own academic growth, but it also allows students to recognize patterns of strengths and weaknesses. When students understand themselves as learners, they can truly begin to become agents of their own education. The power of knowing how to succeed builds self-confidence, as well.

Screen-Free Week: Getting Old-School at School

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What began as a challenge to turn off the television for one week in 1994 is now a somewhat controversial test of willpower that takes place the first week in May. Originally initiated by the Campaign for a Commercial-free Childhood, Screen-Free Week has proven to be a far more difficult challenge for today’s tech savvy youth.

But let’s be honest, it’s not just adolescents and teens who are self-proclaimed “screen addicts”—we adults are just as hooked to our devices. While those opposed to the idea of Screen-Free Week argue that it polarizes traditional notions of creativity and new technology, others embrace the idea of ditching screen-time for a few days.

Seeing as public education has more or less embraced the use of technology in the classroom, it can even be difficult to separate educators from our beloved screens. Yet, trying as it may be to unplug, old school methods can still serve a purpose in our new-age classrooms. While students may groan in aggravation or roll their eyes in boredom at the thought of abandoning classroom technology for a week, there is much to be said about the “traditional” roots of education.

Here are a few ideas and activities that may seem old-school, but which provide truly beneficial skills that may have been left by the wayside in favor of our 21st century ideas of teaching and learning.

Have students thumb through an actual dictionary

Gasp! A what?! A recent trend that I’ve noticed in the classroom is the total lack of familiarity when it comes to a tangible dictionary. Of course, students are well-versed in online tools such as Merriam-Webster.com, which is an obviously speedier method of spelling and defining words. However, a physical dictionary forces students to practice old-school methods such as sounding out words, identifying alphabetical order, and skimming.

When students are required to search a dictionary, however infrequently, a common response that always elicits a chuckle is, “That word is not in the dictionary.” I once had a 13 year-old tell me that “unusual” was not in the dictionary. When we returned to his desk, his dictionary was opened to “unn”—a clear indication that he would’ve struggled for a while to find the word. Students are so used to instantaneous responses via the click of a keyboard that they are incapable of doing the actual leg-work when necessary. Simple practice with a dictionary can help students brush up on skills involving spelling, putting words in alphabetical order, identifying parts of speech, pinpointing synonyms, etc.  

Break out the flashcards

Much like the dictionary dilemma, students may have become somewhat dependent on calculators to solve simple multiplication or division problems. Again, this is not always problematic—many higher-level math courses and math or science-related careers necessitate the use of a calculator. It is, however, problematic if students become reliant on on a calculator for every little problem. Research has proven that, even with the rise of new math curriculum methods, rote memorization of multiplication facts is still the most advantageous method.  

Logically speaking, whipping out the calculator to calculate the number of packs of burger buns to buy for a barbeque may take longer than if you simply used your times tables and mental math. No harm will come of leaving the calculators aside for a week—it could, however, help to solidify the long-forgotten times tables!

Proofread > Spellcheck

Another convenience (crutch) that many students have fallen back on is the use of spellcheck. I cannot pass judgment—as I write this sentence, I am utilizing spellcheck in the hopes that it catches anything I’ve mistyped. Just as my students do, I allow myself to trust in the fact that my mistakes will not only be identified, but corrected with the click of a button. The notorious red squiggle, as helpful as it can be, creates an unrealistic safety net. As we well know, spellcheck is not flawless, especially when it comes to reading the context of the sentences.

Shutting down the word documents and practicing the art of proofreading or peer editing on paper is a worthwhile skill that requires no screen at all. Besides the obvious skill of penmanship, handwritten work allows students to rely solely on their own mastery of the English language. When there is no spellcheck or autocorrect to fall back on, drafting, brainstorming, and editing become imperative to the writing process.
Educators may be surprised by just how well old-school methods can supplement our new technology in the classroom. Even if just for a week, abandonment of the screens may teach students to effectively hone and rely on their own knowledge and skills.    

Screen-Free Week at Home

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The true roots of Screen-Free Week began back in 1994—a time when there were significantly fewer screens. Initiated by the Campaign for a Commercial-free Childhood, the original movement was intended to encourage families to shut off the television and partake in other activities for a week. Screen-Free Week has proven to be a far more difficult challenge for today’s youth. Giving up their myriad devices cold-turkey is considerably more difficult for today’s teens and children that have grown up with technology literally at their fingertips. The average American child gets a cellphone at the age of 6…

While those opposed to the idea of Screen-Free Week argue that it polarizes traditional notions of creativity and new technology, others embrace the idea of ditching screen-time for a few days. I will reserve judgment, as I have no horse in this race—I am simply an educator who is encouraged to prepare my students for the digital world. I will, however, provide a few recent observations that may fall more on the side of those in support of Screen-Free Week.

While visiting the National Zoo this Mother’s Day, I was in awe of the number of families with small children out to enjoy a sunny afternoon at the zoo. What better way to celebrate Mother’s Day than to get outdoors, enjoy DC’s spring weather, and observe some wildlife? With such a vast park, there is plenty to see and do at the National Zoo—even several interactive exhibits. However, as zoo staff were encouraging passersby to duck into the zebra exhibit to meet with zebras up close and personal, two disinterested elementary-aged children remained parked on a nearby bench, zoned-in on their iPads.

I have no qualms about children engaging with technology—quite the contrary, in fact. Advancements in technology have greatly benefitted teachers and students in the educational realm. We’ve come a long way since chalkboards and typewriters, thankfully! However, I do believe that, as Screen-Free Week tries to encourage, screens should be monitored and limited at the parent’s discretion. For instance, Screen-Free Week does not have to be looked at as a loss of technology for seven days. Instead, perceive it as an opportunity for face-to-face interactions and creative activities for seven days.

Instead of entertaining the kids at dinner with individual iPads, bring some coloring books to the table. Ask your children if they could rename the crayon colors, what would they call them? You could even cover the table with butcher paper and have the family play word games or write silly stories. A week without the iPad at the table is not going to hurt anyone—it could actually inspire some creativity or spark interesting conversations!  

If going on a family outing to a place such as the zoo, aquarium, museum, etc., instead of bringing the selfie-stick, pack a few disposable cameras and snap away! Yes, the photos taken on a smartphone are immediately viewable, but seeing what you’ve captured on a disposable camera after the film develops is always an entertaining surprise.

While we all love our TV shows, giving up the screens for a week allows the family to get creative. When TV is not an option, we have to think outside of the box to entertain ourselves. Take an evening to play a board game, create a neighborhood scavenger hunt, or play charades—your favorite shows will be saved on the DVR after your screen-free week is up.

For Screen-Free Week, encourage your teens to set an auto-reply on their email. This way, any unread email will bounce a reply to the sender letting them know that they will get a reply in a few days. In place of email, snapchat, and text messages, practice the lost art of letter writing. Send handwritten mail to family members, neighbors, or close friends. Postcards are always a welcomed means of communication, too!

Sure, technology makes our lives significantly more convenient. But Screen-Free Week is all about reminding us that we are capable of living without these luxuries. It will be difficult, as we are part of a society that is largely dependent on our devices throughout the day. Giving up our screens for a few days may help to show us just how “wired” we are to our wireless devices.   

Ideas for Summer Learning: Math

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The summer months are full of outdoor activities and opportunities for kids to enjoy the lovely weather. With camps, vacations, and other plans happening throughout the summer months, it is no wonder that academic skills take a backseat. As much as children and teens would like to forget about school over the summer, there is no denying that continuing to engage in academics over the long break is greatly beneficial.

A study performed by Johns Hopkins found that students can lose anywhere from one to three months of learning or previously retained information over the summer. The research also indicated that math skills are compromised at a greater rate than reading skills. With such convincing statistics connected to summer learning deficits, it is extremely beneficial for students to engage in some sort of academics over the break. The thought of academics may initially be met with groans; however, the key is to turn up the fun by implementing games, challenges, or riddles.

          1.     Create math games for road trips. These math-related games not only pass the time, but they also prompt kids to brush up on their basic math skills. Games can be as simple as counting the road signs along the way, to estimating arrival time. License plates also provide plenty of opportunities to practice number recognition, subtraction, and addition.

          2.     If out on a walk around the neighborhood, ask your child to tally the animals that they see, counting dogs, birds and butterflies, for example.

          3.     Hopscotch is another sidewalk activity that incorporates numbers. Use chalk to create a grid on the driveway. Create challenges where your child can only jump on the odd or even numbers. Or, ask your child to add up the total of all of the blocks that they stepped on.

          4.     During a summer thunderstorm, teach your child to count the seconds between lightning and thunder. Then explain how the seconds between can roughly estimate the distance of the lightning strike.

          5.     A pair of dice can be a simple way to create games involving number relationships and probability. You can even create a chores gambling game. Tell your child that the number that he or she rolls will indicate the number of chores that they must complete for the week.

          6.     Mini-golf is another great way to practice counting and addition. Make sure that everyone keeps a scorecard so that each person is accountable for tallying strokes. At the end, have the kids add up the final scores—but remember, the person with the lowest score wins in golf!

          7.     Ask your teen to handle the grocery shopping this week. Give him or her the list and the budget, making sure to mention that he or she may not go over the limit and must get everything on the list. This activity allows teens to practice real-world math skills such as budgeting, estimating, and conversions.

          8.     Create your own geo tracking scavenger hunt. This type of challenge, which practices using coordinates and gauging distance, is another subtle way to hone math skills.

          9.     Puzzles, board games, and Sudoku are a few other fun math options. Gather the family together to work on a jigsaw puzzle when the weather takes a turn. Puzzles are great for fine-motor skills and shape recognition, while Sudoku offers a more advanced level of thinking.

          10.     Cooking or baking is a great method for practicing fractions. Whip up your favorite summer treats with the kids—and let them do the measuring! Baking is also a great way to help children practice following directions.

          11.     Even checking the weather can enhance math skills. Percentages and the likelihood of certain weather events, daily average temperatures, sunrise and sunset times—all of these weather-related statistics can be used to practice math skills. Ask your child to use the weekly forecast to identify the hottest and coolest days of the week. How many days are predicted to have rain? Are there any noticeable patterns or correlations between humidity and air quality?   

With a little planning, your busy summer schedule can easily be modified to include fun math activities for the entire family. No calculators necessary—just curious minds!

Summer Learning: Inspire Summer Reading

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Reading and writing are likely the last things on your child’s mind as the summer kicks off—and this is nothing new. The battle of the books has been going on forever. Even I, an English literature major and secondary English teacher, was not fond of reading when I was growing up. It wasn’t until college that I found my love of books. When there are countless activities that are undoubtedly deemed more “fun” than reading and writing, it’s no wonder why kids gripe. And yet, the benefits of summer reading cannot be denied. Rather than harping on the idea and shoving a book into your child’s hands, take a look at some subtler ways to encourage literacy this summer.  

Embrace the audio book. Listening to audiobooks is a proven method to encourage reluctant readers. Especially if your family is hitting the road for vacation, an audiobook is a great way to get your child reading for pleasure. While some argue that listening to books on tape is not actively reading, this is far from true. The audiobook is simply a different means of comprehending a text. While listening, your child is still actively engaging with the text by following the plot, analyzing the characters, and making inferences and predictions. Furthermore, most audiobooks have renowned readers that provide entertaining renditions of the different characters, keeping even the most reluctant reader engaged.

Lead by example. With constant technological stimulation around the house, it can be difficult to peddle reading as a leisure activity. However, showing your own interest in literature can be a major influence on your child’s own perception of reading for pleasure. One of my favorite things to do when a summer thunderstorm strikes is to pick up a book. Make an experience out of the act of reading for pleasure. First, make sure to silence cell phones, shut down laptops, and turn off the television. Open the windows to allow the sound of the storm to set a relaxing ambiance. Put on some comfy clothes and curl up on the couch with your current read. By showing your child how books can provide a different kind of entertainment, a more relaxing form, he or she may be more inclined to partake in a leisurely afternoon of literature.

Think outside the book. Sure, reading books is the ultimate goal for parents of reluctant readers. But reading materials can take many forms. If your child enjoys sports, cooking, or video games, provide them with materials that revolve around such topics. Sports articles, cookbooks, and even video game blogs allow unenthusiastic readers to brush up on their favorite topics. Even try an unorthodox method of using reading as an incentive. For instance, when choosing a take-out restaurant, allow your child to choose the place, but only after reading the reviews online. Perhaps you offer your child a day-trip to the location of their choice. However, the catch is he or she must read up on activities to do in the area. Check out local live music opportunities. Pick a family-friendly artist and ask your child to read a few song lyrics before seeing the live show.

By keeping these tips in mind, you, too, can call a truce to the battle of the books this summer!