Thursday, July 31, 2014

Getting Prepped for Returning to School- Reducing Child Anxiety

Going back to school can be exciting for some students, but nerve racking for others, especially if kids are moving to a new school. Every year I see a few parents walking around campus before school starts and I think it's a great idea. School can look very different when you have 1000+ students walking around, so figuring out where you are going on campus before school starts is a wonderful idea. Stowell Learning Center has a similar tip and explains it well:

 Part 1 Don't Get Lost

"I'm in the land of giants. How do I get out of here?" seven-year-old David thought to himself.

After finishing lunch, he and his two friends had taken a wrong turn out of the cafeteria. Instead of finding themselves headed back to their second grade classroom, they had mistakenly entered...The Junior High part of the building.
Those sixth-seventh-eighth graders were HUGE! And they ALL seemed to know exactly where they were and where they were going. It was really scary.

All of this anxiety could have been avoided if he had just been given a tour of the school before the first day. It's such a simple thing.
Before the first day of school, go to the building. Take a look at it. Where are the entrances? Where is the playground? What can you figure out just by looking at the outside?
Is there a map you can download or get from the school?

If you can get inside, do some exploring:
  • Where is the lunchroom?
  • Where is the PE area?
  • Where is my classroom?
  • Will I have to change classes? If so, where are the other rooms?
  • Where is the office? (Hint...It's almost always near the flagpole).
  • Where are the bathrooms?
  • Where is the library?
  • Are there multiple ways to get to all of these rooms?
  • In what order might I need to go from room to room?
  • Take a few pictures so you can remember what it looks like
Getting lost can happen to anyone, but it is more apt to happen to students who struggle. Start the year by removing this anxiety. It's such a simple thing thing to fix beforehand, but getting lost during school can ruin a whole day.

Make sure the first few days are fun and not an exercise in frustration.


 Part 2

As we get closer to the beginning of school, many students develop some anxiety, nervousness, or reluctance about starting a new year.

Let's face it, there are different things every year...different room, different teachers, new students, new subjects, etc.

On top of all that, teachers have reputations among students. Certain rooms may have stories told about them. Some subjects have a reputation for being challenging. Whatever it is, getting students to talk about whatever is on their minds, as well as developing a plan to overcome "hurdles," is a good idea.

This week you'll find some guidelines of things to talk to your son or daughter about as the first day of school approaches OR even after school has started.

BE GENTLE AND UNDERSTANDING. These issues may not seem very important to you, but they can be very real to your child
What Could Possibly Happen? Let's Make a Plan!
is a list of typical concerns of students. Very few of these things seem really important to the operation of the "cosmos", but they can be very real to students.

WARNING - You need to be VERY careful! You don't want to create anxiety where there isn't any. DON'T DON'T DON'T show this list to your student! This list is for your reference.

Step 1 - At an appropriate time (when your child is in the mood) sit down together and just ask what they're feeling about the new school year. What are they excited about? Do they have any concerns? What are they hoping for? They may not be thinking about it at all. They may be thinking about things none of us have considered.

Just remember, no matter how trivial it might sound to you, it is REAL to them!

Step 2 - Make a list of the BEST things that could happen in the upcoming year. What would the "best year ever" look and feel like?

Step 3 - Now, make a plan just in case everything doesn't work out exactly as we all hope. If any of the concerns actually occurs, what will you do? How will you handle it? What would it feel like? How can it be made OK?

Essential - Find out what your child has been thinking about as the first day of school gets closer. Make a plan. And DON'T create worries if they aren't there already.

Here's a list of concerns students sometimes have about the new school year. What if:

  • You get the "bad" or "mean" teacher?
  • You're in a different room than your best friends?
  • You're in a room with people you really don't like?
  • You get the "hard" teacher?
  • You get the "easy" teacher??
  • You have to sit in the front?
  • You have to sit in the back?
  • Lunch is early?
  • Lunch is late?
  • There is a smell in the room you don't like?
  • You can't understand the teacher? (accent, mumbles, talks softly)
  • The teachers talks too loudly or harshly?
  • There is waayyyy too much homework?
  • There isn't any homework?
  • The teacher just doesn't seem to like you or notice you?
  • You're the teacher's "pet?"
  • Your new backpack, notebook, etc, is too big / too small?
  • What if other kids make fun of your clothes / backpack / shoes / pencil / lunch?
  • What if you get yelled at the very first day?
  • What if you feel "lost" on your very first assignment?
  • What if you can't find your way around the building?

Part 3

 We continue getting ready for school to start.

Two weeks ago we discussed the advantages of setting up a place for your student to do homework.

Every student needs to know where he or she will do homework. Having all the materials together in one place, with the right lighting, an appropriate place to write, and be comfortable reading, simply make the process of getting homework started and completed easier.

This week, we'll take that one step further.

This is a week to sit down with your child and work out some details. I promise you that taking the time now will save you much "negotiation" later on!

Here's to the best year ever,

Jill Stowell
Create a Routine From The Start
Humans are creatures of habit.  If we create good habits and routines around homework, there will be much less argument and negotiation. 

Designate a set time when
homework will be done

This will solve a multitude of problems. If your child knows that every day from 3:45 - 4:45 is homework time, it will become an everyday routine. If it's "what we always do," pretty soon, no one expects anything different.

Ideally, you want to have homework time to be the same time every day. Determine the time with your student. Does she need a snack or a little down time before she starts? How much time will that take?

Look at your student's needs, the typical amount of time homework takes, and your family activities. Then if at all possible, designate the same time everyday for homework.

If this is not possible due to parents' work schedules, or other activities, create a weekly schedule where the homework time may vary from day-to-day, but there is a designated time each day of the week.
Stick to your designated
homework schedule.
Don't let anything else take priority.

Do not schedule appointments or take
phone calls during this time.

Nothing gets priority
over homework during
the set homework time!
Children are often guilty of saying, "I don't have any homework today." (This may or may not be true!) Sometimes, students forget their materials, forget to write down their assignments, "conveniently" forget details, or just find it easier to say they don't have  homework.
Whether your son or daughter has
homework or not,
the designated homework
time is for homework.
If she actually has no homework from school, homework time should be spent studying for spelling tests or other upcoming tests, working on long-term assignments and book reports, doing free-reading, or writing in a journal. This preserves the homework time routine and helps remove the temptation of saying there's no homework when in fact there is.

You'll find that the routine of a schedule really creates much more order and calmness when it's time to do homework.

BUT, the time to set all of this up is right now, BEFORE you get too far into the school year.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Studying with Sidewalk Chalk-FUN!

I used this concept from Stowell Learning Center with my 7th grade students to prepare their vocabulary presentations to the class.  The students had a higher average of complete detail and understanding of their project. Many students said the concept map really helped them prepare their presentation project and made it easier.  

White Board or Sidewalk Chalk Can Make Test Study More Fun and Effective 
Use a large white board and colored markers or the sidewalk or patio and sidewalk chalk.
As the student goes through her study guide or notes, she should pull out the key concepts, events, or ideas. Using one or two words, write each key idea on the board or on the sidewalk and draw a circle around it.
As the student continues to go through her notes/study guide, she should be looking for dates, vocabulary, events, people, or ideas that relate to the various key ideas and connect them to the key idea they relate to by drawing a line out from the circle.
This activity helps the student to think about and organize the information. While it's important to memorize certain dates and names for tests, understanding and working with the information is generally far more effective for studying and test-taking than trying to just memorize everything by rote.
Having the student orally explain the diagram she created on the board or sidewalk will greatly enhance retention of the information.
Using different colors and working with a study partner to build the diagram will make it more fun and will also improve retention.


Having Fun and Being Academic This Summer

We try to give you tips that are helpful, interesting, and a little less formal than regular school.
Starting this summer, 
it's time to have some FUN!

What I'm going to suggest to you may not look like it's very academic (from Stowell Learning Center). In fact, it may look (at times) just silly.

But it's meant to be fun while also working on many learning skills.

Go to your local bookstore and buy the book Wreck This Journal by Keri Smith. Or get it from Amazon. (No, I don't make any money from this.)
This is a wonderful, fun, irreverent, creative, out-of-the box project(s) you can do with your kids. Yes even older kids will like this!

If you haven't seen it, this is a 96 page paperback book with an instruction about what to do on each page. Here are some examples:

  • Document your dinner. Rub, smear, splatter your food. Use this page as a napkin.
  • Collect your pocket lint. Glue it here.
  • Infuse this page with a smell of your choosing (hmmm...something boys and girls may have very different ideas about!)
  • Tear this page out. Put it in your pocket. Put it through the wash. Stick it back in.
  • Scribble wildly using only borrowed pens (document where they were borrowed from)
It goes on and on. It's silly, and fun, and requires you to let go and use your imagination. Oh, and to break most rules you live with at school!

What's the value?
Besides fun, it's about reading, following directions, figuring out how to do the activities, thinking, breaking out of "the mold," imagining, interpreting, and experimenting.

The nice thing is, there is no wrong way to do any of it.

You can use it as a reward or just go crazy with it all day long. Or do one or two activities each day. It's really up to you.

This can also be really fun project to do together. Parents and kids will get a lot of joy from discovering how each other might approach any one page.

Despite the fun, it's a really good way to develop thinking skills while "thumbing your nose" at convention.

Summer Trips With A Taste of Geography

During the regular academic school year Stowell Learning Center offers weekly tips for parents to help them make homework a better experience for everyone at home. During the summer they take a break from homework and offer some summer learning tips - things you can do to promote learning during the summer.
 A summer trip is a great time to make academic skills come to life.
School-age children often wonder how the things they are learning at school actually relate to their everyday life. Parents wonder how they are going to keep their children from forgetting everything they learned at school during the summer break.
With a little creativity and common sense, fun and practical activities can be made-up that will keep up children's skills and make the learning relevant.

  • Locate your home and destination on a map.  Find out such things as:  What route(s) will you be taking?  What direction will you be going?  What states, cities, or counties will you be going through?

    Download a blank map and have your child color in and label the states (or countries) you will visit.

  • Get a book or pamphlet or download information on the cities or states you will be going to.  Find something interesting that you would like to see or share with the family.

    Have each child report to the family on the places they have researched, "making their case" for visiting that place.

Summer Trips and Keeping Up on Writing

Are you taking a trip this summer? Here are some (more) things you can do (from Stowell Learning Center) to help keep your learning skills over the summer:

Not taking a trip? Pretend. Plan a trip; imagine what it would be like. In many ways, an imaginary trip might be even more fun - you can see all kinds of different things!

  • Keep a daily journal. Write down things that you thought were fun, different, or interesting. At the end of the week, choose one entry to read to your family.
  • Tell or write two facts and two opinions about something you saw.
  • Compare a city you have traveled through to your home city. How are they the same? How are they different?
  • Draw some of the road signs you have seen. Write or tell what you think they mean.
  •  Get a book that is local to where you are traveling. Listen to or read the story as a family. Make pictures in your mind. Discuss the story. (On our vacation through Yellowstone last summer, we read a story about an ancient Indian boy living in the Yellowstone area. Traveling through the area helped the story come alive and was a great way to pass the miles).
  • Think about something you saw on your trip. Picture it in your mind. Describe it without telling what it is. Have other family members guess what you were thinking of.
  • Read menus! Collect menus from restaurants that will allow you to keep one. As you read different menus, you will get used to how some of the common words look. Make up your own menu to play with.
  • With the help of Mom or Dad, create an itinerary for each day. Read the day's plans to the family