Minimize Those Homework Meltdowns

Boston Parents Paper recently published an excerpt from The Parent Backpack for Kindergarten through Grade 5 – Guiding Homework, Projects and Studying – in their Education Enrichment Guide.

For tips and strategies on how to minimize those homework meltdowns…and help your kids learn study skills, click here: Motivate your child to learnIMG_2701

 

To order a copy of The Parent Backpack for Kindergarten through Grade 5 or for more information about the book, visit www.theparentbackpack.com/book. For homework resources, including online video lessons, visit www.theparentbackpack.com/resource-room/

And if you’re looking for good questions to ask at your upcoming parent teacher conference, click here.

Book Tour Half Way Point



Parent Backpack 2 coverToday feels like one big Wednesday for me.

I’m halfway through my fall book tour for The Parent Backpack for Kindergarten through Grade  - completing my ninth out of 18 talks this week. It’s been energizing to see so many parents engaged in their kids’ education. While each talk has been different – from bookstores to schools to libraries – the questions that bubble up are similar, so I thought I’d share some of them here.

One question that comes up more than any other is, “Should I talk to the teacher about this (insert situation) – and if yes, how do I do that???”

The situations range from “my son doesn’t want to go to school in the morning,” or “my child is feeling bullied by some kids at lunch,” to “my daughter is really distracted by what’s going on in the classroom,” or “my son has become friends with a kid who’s not a good influence.” In most cases, if a situation or an issue has caused you to ask yourself more than once, “should I mention this to the teacher?” then the answer is probably “yes.” But how you go about this makes a difference.

Teachers want to know

Most teachers appreciate a heads up when something isn’t going well, feels out of sync, or is causing your child stress. More often than not, this “something” falls in a child’s social-emotional world. And that’s ok because the social/emotional part of school is just as important as academics. When kids feel disconnected socially or emotionally, their learning suffers. Teachers know this and would prefer to hear your concerns sooner than later so they can work to resolve the situation before it becomes a bigger, more complicated issue.

How to bring it up

If you’re familiar with my work, you’ve read or heard about the Power of P3 (chapter 5 of my book – Words that Work with Teachers). P 3 means being Positive, PROFessional and Persistent so your child’s teacher hears your concerns and takes action rather than feels attacked and defends prior actions.

P3Start out with a Positive statement (I’m concerned about x, and I’m confident we can work this out), be Polite and Respectful in your Observations and Feelings (PROFessional) and keep them focused on your child (Alex feels anxious about coming to school, Sam doesn’t feel safe at lunch, Lindsey feels overwhelmed in the classroom and can’t focus on her work, I’m concerned about Jake’s new friendship) and be Persistent in following up as needed (using P3 each time).

If you’re fuming mad about something related to school and your child, it’s ok to get it all down in an email – but don’t send it to the teacher.  Convey your thoughts to your spouse, a trusted friend, or your mom. It’s important to channel your own emotions first so you can refocus your energy on communicating effectively with the teacher. If you do send an email, use P3 and keep it brief. Emails are best to give a heads up, resolve a simple situation, or to agree on a time to talk about an issue, if needed.

Common Core

You may have heard about changing curriculum in your child’s school. The Common Core is basically a new set of standards that 45 out of 50 states have adopted for math and literacy, from K-12.  This means the majority of kids in the country will now be taught the same knowledge in each grade but the strategies and materials schools and teachers use to teach these standards will vary by district. Some of the changes you’ll see in your child’s work this year will be more writing, more non-fiction reading and more understanding in math (show how you got this answer).

The Common Core will also trigger new standardized tests. Beginning in the 2014-15 school year, your child will take a test called PARCC or Smarter Balanced depending on which state you live in, which will replace the state by state tests.  For more information about the Common Core, click here.

The Parent Tool Kit

This past week, ABC ran their annual program, Education Nation.  While often criticized for being political and driven by Bill Gates and Pearson Testing, this program does offer some good perspective on the state of education in our country. This year, Education Nation provided a Parent Tool Kit that some parents have asked me about.

If you dare to check out the Common Core website, you’d come away with your head spinning. The Parent Tool Kit gives parents a terrific user-friendly summary of what kids will be expected to know at each grade level in math and literacy – and what you can do to support this learning. But I offer one caveat:

Making connections at home to what our kids are learning in school is one of the most important things we can do to enhance learning. But be careful that those connections don’t become another lesson. Keep them fun and casual – one statement that reiterates what the teacher states in a newsletter, a question about a book your child is reading, or helping your kids memorize math facts are all good supports. Drilling your children on each benchmark listed before they complete a grade or making a check list of what they know and don’t know will turn kids off and demotivate learning.

IMG_1511And remember to praise progress and effort over grades or outcome. This is another topic I talk about that has many parents shaking their heads in agreement. If you’re interested in attending a talk on The Parent Backpack for Kindergarten through Grade 5, you’ll find my book talk schedule here. Hope to see you soon!

 

A Parent Quiz on Schools & Education

 

I was thrilled that The Boston Globe asked me to write a quiz on parent involvement in education. It appeared in the September 14th edition of their G  magazine. I’ve posted it here so you can test yourself.

And yes…the answers are included:

 

By ML Nichols

SEPTEMBER 13, 2013

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During the school year, it’s the most-asked question in American homes, echoed by millions of parents, five days a week: “How was school today?,” usually followed by “Is your homework done yet?” And the inevitable, droning answers: “Fine.” “Nope.”

At this point, some tired families acquiesce; others brace for homework meltdowns; and still others jump in and overdo it.

Most parents know it’s important to participate in their children’s education, and scores of studies from major American universities support the finding that kids do better in school when their parents are involved. But what does getting involved actually mean? What’s the best way to connect to your child’s learning with the little time you have? How do you help your kids succeed in school without getting too close to the process?

While our children soon will sweat through their initial benchmark tests, it’s only fair that parents take their own back-to-school quiz. How do you score when it comes to being involved in your child’s education? Take this test and see.

 1. Three of the following statements are true. Which one is false?

a. Teachers hold higher expectations for students whose parents are involved in their education.

b. Reinforcing at home what your kids are learning in school has a greater impact on their education than attending a fund-raising activity.

c. It’s helpful when parents correct their child’s homework before they turn it in.

d. The gifts teachers appreciate most are thank-you notes from parents or students and classroom wish-list supplies.

 

Answer: c. Correcting your child’s homework gives teachers a false impression and ultimately hurts your child; teachers use homework to gauge which students need more instruction, which are ready to move on, and whether the lesson was effective.

 

2. The best strategy for raising a child who likes to read is to:

a. Remove all picture books from your child’s bookshelves.

b. Introduce a phonics-based program to your child before kindergarten.

c. Prod your child up the ladder of early readers through first grade.

d. Read to, with, and in front of your child at least 15 minutes every day until they’re in middle school.

 

Answer: d. Research confirms that reading daily (anything — books, magazines, sports pages) with your child in a fun, bonding, and expressive way is the most important thing you can do because kids will associate reading with pleasure.

 

3. New brain studies indicate the most effective way to study for a test is to:

a. Highlight key facts and read the material over multiple times.

b. Write out the concept or questions with answers and examples in your own words; quiz yourself regularly for at least a week before the test.

c. Review the answers at the back of the chapter orally.

d. Both a. and c.

 

Answer: b. Because the brain is a muscle that grows stronger with use, having students write out questions, then retrieve information and connect the dots repeatedly is more effective than passively reading or listening.

 

4. New public-school standards for learning (called the Common Core State Standards Initiative) will launch this fall in Massachusetts. What changes will this trigger in your child’s curriculum?

a. More nonfiction reading and persuasive writing in all grades.

b. Showing more work in solving math problems.

c. A higher level of critical thinking and deeper understanding.

d. A new standardized test in English and math.

e. All of the above

 

Answer: e. The initiative, which has been fully adopted by 45 states, seeks to standardize and improve education across the nation.Common Core benchmarks will be supported by one of two new standardized tests in the 2014-15 school year.

 

5. Which of the following strategies will not help you build a positive relationship with your child’s teacher?

a. Filling out forms and permission slips on time.

b. Reading the class newsletters and reiterating key messages at home.

c. Making sure homework is finished every day.

d. Sending the teacher a comprehensive e-mail detailing a problem along with your proposed solution.

e. Volunteering to help in the classroom or with trips when possible.

 

Answer: d. E-mail is not an effective way to discuss issues. When there’s a conflict with your child that needs to be resolved, send a brief e-mail to the teacher stating your concern, your questions, and a request to talk or meet.

 

6. Match up learning style with corresponding characteristics. Which characteristics are associated with: visual (spatial) learners, physical (kinesthetic) learners, and auditory (language) learners?

a. Process and learn through what they hear; they prefer to verbalize ideas.

b. Learn best through images and words they see; they tend to notice details.

c. Learn best by what they do and experience; they prefer hands-on projects.

 

Answer: Visual learners learn best through (b.) images and creating pictures in their mind; physical-kinesthetic learners like to (c.) touch, feel, and use their hands; auditory learners learn by (a.) what they hear and prefer to recite spelling words orally. Most children learn in a combination of ways but lean toward one style. Understanding how your child learns can help you support homework, projects, and studying.

 

7. Overloaded school backpacks cause more than 20,000 back injuries per year. Which statement is not true? The ideal student backpack should:

a. Weigh no more than 10-15 percent of your child’s total body weight when packed.

b. Have wide padded shoulder straps and a hip strap to distribute weight.

c. Not hang below the waist or hip line.

d. Include wheels so it can be pulled around school or carried.

e. Keep the heaviest books closest to the back.

 

Answer: d. Many schools don’t allow rolling backpacks because they’re a hazard in crowded hallways.

 

8. Praising hard work and effort leads to a more confident, competent child. True or false?

Answer: True. Research shows that simply praising a child’s “smarts” is counterproductive because the child may develop fear that they could lose their “smart” label if they fall short on difficult challenges — and begin avoiding them. Praising progress and hard work motivates kids because effort is a factor they can control, and it reinforces the message that learning and improvement is achievable.

 

9. Which statements are true about fueling your child’s brain and body?

a. An overload of simple carbohydrates (sugar cereals, juice, junk food) negatively affects concentration and behavior.

b. Some research suggests foods like blueberries, tomatoes, broccoli, kale, fish, eggs, whole grains, walnuts, flaxseed, and pumpkin seeds may enhance your child’s brainpower.

c. Chemicals released during exercise help improve concentration, motivation, and learning.

d. Elementary age children need 10-11 hours of sleep per night; teens need 9.25 hours to optimize learning.

e. All of the above

 

Answer: e. Diet, exercise and sleep affect your child’s ability to process, learn, and retrieve information.

 

10. Which three statements or questions are more likely to result in a constructive conversation with a teacher?

a. “What are you doing to stop that bully from beating on my child?”

b. “I’m wondering what else we can do to make sure Emily doesn’t fall further behind?”

c. “I know many other parents in this class who feel the same way I do.”

d. “Sam feels intimidated on the playground; he doesn’t feel safe at lunch.”

e. “We’ve noticed Alex finishes her homework very quickly; are you seeing this in class?”

 

Answer: b, d, e. Keep communication positive and professional by sharing your child’s feelings, behaviors, or your own observations. When teachers feel accused or blamed, they are more likely to focus on defending their actions instead of helping your child.

 

11. Which strategies help minimize homework meltdowns:

a. Help your child break down work into sections so it’s not so overwhelming.

b. Carve out time for play or unstructured activities so your kids can process their busy day.

c. Alert teachers if your child’s homework takes far more time than the accepted 10 minutes per grade (e.g., 40 minutes, fourth grade) without breaks.

d. Encourage your kids to use online videos and podcasts and also their siblings to explain or reinforce lessons rather than mom or dad.

e. All of the above

 

Answer: e. In addition to involving your child in the decision about where and when homework is done and providing a well-stocked homework supply bin, all these strategies will help keep thingson a positive track.

 

12. What are the two best ways to help kids stay organized for the school year?

a. Preview, review, and remind — but don’t rescue.

b. Invest in an agenda notebook in first grade, so they begin writing in a calendar and develop early habits.

c. Pack your child’s backpack before school and clean it out each week so they have a fresh start.

d. Display visuals that show kids what a clean desk, backpack, picked-up room, and “ready to go” look like.

 

Answer: a, d. Many kids need to make mistakes before they can take full responsibility for their schoolwork and belongings. Don’t do for your child what they can do. Even 6-year-olds can pack their own backpacks.

 

If you got 11 or 12 answers correct, congratulations! You’re doing a terrific job of supporting your child’s education. If you answered eight to 10 questions correct, don’t fret, because most parents are right here with you. If you managed seven or fewer, the good news is that you probably picked up some tips to give you a hand in helping to make your child a better student. And the beginning of the school year marks a great time to start.

ML Nichols lives on the South Shore and is director of The Parent Connection, a nonprofit parent-education group. She is also author of “The Parent Backpack for Kindergarten Through Grade 5: How To Support Your Child’s Education, End Homework Meltdowns, and Build Parent-Teacher Connections.’’

Pinch me! Parents magazine features The Parent Backpack!

IMG_1349WOW!! Really? 

I can’t believe I’m reading a review of The Parent Backpack in Parents Magazine!

Can I get any luckier? Here’s what Parents magazine writer Kristen Kemp wrote on page 18 of the September back-to-school issue:
 
Every so often, I run across a book so good it belongs on every family’s shelf. That’s the case with The Parent Backpack for Kindergarten through Grade 5: How to Support Your Child’s Education, End Homework meltdowns, and Build Parent-Teacher Connections.
Author ML Nichols, director of nonprofit The Parent Connection, has written a guide for surviving and thriving in elementary school. She explains the system – from testing to special education to how administrators choose your kids’ next teacher. Best of all, she outlines whet to expect academically at different ages, defines fancy edu-terms, and offers advice for advocating for your child. Hopefully, you won’t need to contact the teacher and principal often – bit if you do, this book provides fantastic strategies.
THANK YOU Parents magazine and Kristen Kemp for this awesome review! And thank you, once again, to all the amazing teachers, parents, writers, friends and family who helped me make this book the best it could be. This would not have happened without you!

 

These next couple weeks will be exciting and nerve-wracking as kids and parents face a new school year. If you’d like to take a peek at the first chapter of The Parent Backpack for Kindergarten through Grade 5, you can do that here on my “Look Inside” pages. 

Better yet, if you’d like to buy a copy for yourself or someone you know, click on any outlet in the top right corner of this page. The Parent Backpack for Kindergarten through Grade 5 is available in paperback or as an e-book.

Still pinching myself…

 

ML

 

 

 

Countdown to Launch Date

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The countdown is on! Seven days until The Parent Backpack for Kindergarten through Grade 5 is released. The books have shipped . . . and mine just arrived. [Read more...]

Common Core = Common Sense

A decade ago, if you asked an educator in this country if we would ever get to a “national curriculum,” 90% of them would say, “not in my lifetime.”

This fall, for the first time in our nation’s history, 90% of our public schools will begin using the same standards for math and literacy. Forty-five out of fifty states (all but Alaska, Minnesota, Nebraska, Texas, and Virginia as of this posting) have adopted what’s referred to as the “Common Core State Standards Initiative.” These standards define what our kids are expected to learn in math and literacy from kindergarten through grade twelve so they’re ready for college and future careers. [Read more...]

10 Steps to Fewer Homework Meltdowns

homework boy mad
It’s an all too familiar scene for many families.

Homework overload. Exhausted kids spending too much time on homework  – or doing everything but homework. And stressed out parents who just want it done.

Amidst the ongoing debate around homework (how much is too much, how long should it take, is it even necessary) lies the harsh reality that it’s still assigned in 99% of schools and needs to be done.  I’ve written about why I think homework is important. Now, I’ll share ten things you can do to help your family avoid those dreaded homework meltdowns. [Read more...]

Top 10 Parent Resources

dad-and-mom-on-computer2It’s hard to believe that kids are back to school already. Amazing how summer gets shorter and shorter every year.

To help your family get off to a great school start this fall, I’ve created a Parent Resource page with some terrific websites related to school, learning and education. [Read more...]

40 i-Pad Apps for Kids

My friend Melissa Taylor is a teacher-turned-writer who blogs at Imagination Soup and  writes for Parenting magazine and Mom Congress. She posted some great recommendations last month on the top i-Pad apps for kids. [Read more...]

Understanding that Kindergarten – Grade 5 Journey

With Kindergarten Sign-ups and Orientations filling up calendars across the country, I thought I’d take a moment to share some perspective that I wish I had when my oldest daughter entered Kindergarten. And if you’re a parent with older kids still trying to make sense of it all, it’s never too late. [Read more...]