Learning

Learning Outside

Now is the perfect time to get outside and leave the stresses and confines of quarantine at home. While we may still feel the pressure to socially distance and be mindful of our health, especially at this time, enjoying all that nature has to offer is a great way to calm the mind and ease the spirit. Learning is happening all the time, but it is important to draw your child’s attention to the world around them in unique ways. This doesn’t have to be explicit, formal instruction (although there’s undoubtedly value in teaching skills like planting a flower or drying herbs), but a way to open the door to further inquiry and discovery. Here are some ways you can help your child look at their surroundings with new eyes.

Drawing

Recreating nature through art is a wonderful activity that can build fine motor skills, attention to detail, and artistic ability. Sometimes I hear from students, “I’m not good at art”. But what they don’t realize is that drawing a picture of something is a skill that takes practice and is not necessarily reliant on raw creativity. It’s like playing a piece of music. You learn the piece by practicing it over and over and then you are able to play it well. You are not writing a piece of music, but rather replicating what’s already there. Anyone can learn to draw and you don’t need to be super creative to do it. 

One of the projects I loved while I worked at Brookwood School in Manchester, MA involved art and science. Students chose one spot outside and their task over the course of the school year was to periodically draw that same place over and over. With the changing seasons, each place transformed over the course of the year. This is a great project to replicate with elementary and middle school aged children. Your child could choose a tree, plant, or any place outside and over the course of the summer, draw a picture of the same place weekly. This could be done using the same medium, or you could change it up. Maybe one week your child uses watercolor, and the next markers. Their art will look different anyway, because different plants bloom at different times, weather changes, and nature is constantly shifting. 

Words

Language plus experience is what allows children to understand and communicate. Pre-K and Kindergarten age children sometimes struggle to comprehend words like: on, in, below, under, above, over, across, before, after. These prepositions can be difficult unless your child has the experience to create a context. Simply drawing your child’s attention to these words by saying things like “I see you are on the slide” or “I notice you went under the monkey bars” can help them develop understanding of how to use these words. A fun way to incorporate them into your outdoor time is to play Simon Says. Using commands like “hop on one foot” or “stand on the porch” gives children different contexts for the same word and provides deeper understanding of how these words are used.

For children in elementary grades, boost their vocabulary by creating a chart of adjectives, or describing words, like the one below. Your child can move around the yard feeling, touching, and writing down or drawing pictures of what they find that fits those descriptions. It may be helpful to give them examples first. You might point out that a basil leaf is smooth. Ask, “What else can you find that feels smooth?” Be sure to forewarn your child of any plants they should not touch.

Describing Word Example Your Find
smooth Basil leaf
rough pavement
bumpy
soft
damp
dry
prickly
slippery

Scavenger Hunts

Scavenger hunts encourage children to notice their surroundings in new ways. Kids love the challenge of completing the list and they can do it on their own or with a partner. This Reading Mama has great ones for younger children. For elementary children, there are lots of different scavenger hunts you can put together. A scavenger hunt featuring different shapes challenges children to spot polygons in unusual places like in your yard or in the neighborhood. You can go simple and have a color scavenger hunt or a number scavenger hunt. There are lots of different ways you could structure this.

These activities are great starters for having fun and learning outside, but you also want to be open to ideas your child may have. Brainstorming together is quality time spent, and helps you better understand what kind of learner your child is. For more ideas, check out Jennifer Findley’s post on outdoor learning.

Comment with your favorite outdoor learning activity or share this post with a friend!

June 29th, 2020|

Summer Learning

As schools have made the transition to virtual schooling, many parents have told me how overwhelmed they’ve felt. You may be feeling the same way. Whereas your child had previously been responsible for following directions and bringing homework home to complete, they are now responsible for maintaining a schedule, checking for their assignments, completing the work (often on their own), submitting assignments, participating in online classes, and troubleshooting tech issues. At school, children are told when to sit, stand, do work, play, talk to each other, etc. Everything is dictated for them. No wonder families are feeling stressed! I do believe that students would have adjusted better to this new level of independence had it been given in smaller doses; a gradual release of responsibility. But, I have seen great progress in some of the students I work with in taking ownership and accountability for their new responsibilities.

I’ve also talked to many parents who’ve felt their children have been less stressed by school since being home. There is no longer someone constantly watching their every move. They don’t have to ask permission to use the bathroom. The pressures of competition, socially and academically, are no longer there. Family time is not just the few hours after school arguing over homework and eating a meal. 

But this model is not necessarily sustainable. Parents have to work and children require guidance. That’s not to say they need to be told what to do every second of the day, but learning new skills begs encouragement and support from an experienced mentor. It’s yet to be seen how parents will choose to move forward with their children’s education. But one thing is certain, ongoing learning is a must. Schooling and learning are two separate things. Learning can happen anywhere, while schooling happens within the confines of a teacher-lead structure in a designated space. I am hopeful that this summer will provide children with the opportunity to explore. Scheduled activities and socializing will be at a minimum. What a wonderful time to dive deep into your passions and interests! In the same way a routine can benefit children by giving them a sense of structure, harmony, and responsibility, discovery and exploration are equally important in promoting growth, thoughtfulness, and enthusiasm for life and all it has to offer. 

This summer will be a chance for your child to go outside and do some adventuring. There is so much to learn in nature. Falling in love with stories and pouring over books is the perfect activity for a lazy summer day. Math may not be the first thing that comes to mind, but there are loads of examples of math in nature and plenty of fun games to play to practice math skills. As a working parent, you may not have the time and space to support your child in these endeavors. Hiring a professional may be a good option for you. Even meeting once a week can work wonders for your child’s learning progress. Project-based learning is a great way to build new skills in a hands-on, relevant way. Either way, as I said before, guidance from an experienced mentor will be the key to helping your child grow. If you are able to be that mentor, I encourage you! Helping another person learn is very rewarding, as any parent knows. Check out the resources below that will help you in your journey!

Infographics

Kids Discover offers a range of “infographics”. These beautiful images complete with detailed explanations cover topics from history to biology and everything in between! They are a great jumping off point for deeper exploration into an area. When you click on the link, the site may ask if you want to start a free 30 day trial, and if you click “maybe later” you should be taken to the infographics page. Below is an example of what they offer.

Skillshare

Skillshare is a very popular website amongst my middle school and high school students. You can take a workshop on almost anything and a professional will instruct you on the best methods and strategies. You can start a 30 day free trial and there’s plenty to learn! 

Examples of some of the most recent topics are:

Learn Embroidery: Painting with Thread

iPhone Photography: How To Take Photos On Your iPhone

Make Your Voice Heard: Writing For Impact

Real Productivity: How To Build Habits That Last

This Reading Mama

You may recall this website from previous posts, but it is truly great. If you have an early elementary reader, or struggling reader, this website is for you. Becky Spence not only provides fabulous resources, games, and activities, but she explains how to use them and why they are helpful. Many of the printables are free and if you sign up for the newsletter you will be notified when various free resources are available for download. From letter formation, to phonics, to reading fluency, this site has it all! 

I hope you find these resources helpful. If you are looking for support for your child, please reach out to me to learn more about how I can help. I work with struggling learners, but also learners who are just looking for some guidance and support as they go along. I can also help your child stay organized and put a plan in place that is easy for you as a parent to follow.

May 27th, 2020|

Helpful Handwriting Hacks

I often get requests from parents to teach their child proper handwriting techniques. Achieving legible handwriting can actually be quite challenging. If you suspect your child is having serious challenges with the physical act of writing, getting an evaluation from an OT (occupational therapist) could be helpful. I have included some of my favorite resources for handwriting here. I am not a specialist or an OT, so I will leave it to the experts! 

  1. Your child may have already developed a pencil grip that inhibits proper letter formation and ease of handwriting. When a child has not achieved appropriate pencil grip, they may tend to hold the pencil awkwardly or with an especially tight grip. This can lead to problems such as fatigue and muscle cramps. OT Mom Learning Activities is a wonderful resource not only for pencil grip, but also a whole host of tips and strategies pertaining to motor skill development. 
  2. You may notice that your child doesn’t necessarily struggle with letter formation, but seems to write at a slant down the page, or that each new line is started a little further to the right than the previous one. This may not be an issue of handwriting, but actually a tracking issue with the eyes. This article provides a clear explanation of tracking issues and even gives an example of what text may look like for a child with tracking challenges. 
  3. Children who have had support with pencil grip, letter formation, and other aspects of handwriting, but still struggle to write or find it painful may be experiencing Dysgraphia. This article explains in depth what Dysgraphia is. In my experience, children who have Dysgraphia can benefit greatly from learning to type. Typing does not seem to cause the same discomfort and challenges that handwriting does and it’s often more efficient. Typing can be particularly helpful for children who struggle with Dysgraphia and Dyslexia as it allows children to organize their thoughts and express them quickly and efficiently without the added stress of letter formation, spelling, and the frustration of trying to get all your thoughts on paper as quickly as they come. 
  4. If you want to give your child some extra practice with handwriting, check out these freebies! Becky Spence is one of my favorite education bloggers and she always has lots of free goodies on her website. She also does free webinars and has a fabulous blog post on handwriting!
March 9th, 2020|

10 Ways to Manage Behavior

Helping children develop appropriate behavior and ways to self-monitor is one of the most important aspects of raising a child. It can be an exhausting, consuming, and frustrating task, but when done well and with intention, it can be rewarding. Behavior management is also what takes up the bulk of a school day for young students. Imagine trying to corral a group of 20 adults into the same task or command a room of your peers, and how hectic that could be. Now imagine you’re a Kindergarten or first grade teacher with the same amount of people, except these people have had about 5-7 years on this planet, practically 0 social experience, and are still figuring out how to tie a shoe. Things will inevitably get a little crazy. Classroom teachers not only have to ensure that their charges grow academically, but also that they can just simply exist in the presence of one another without stepping on toes, interrupting, or touching the people around them. This is not to say your little elementary student isn’t lovely, adorable, and sweet, but throw them into one room with 19 others, and I’m sure you can imagine why teachers need to have a variety of strategies in their behavior management toolkit. The ones below may help.

  1. Positive reinforcement

This is a no-brainer but teachers and parents alike may forget to do it, especially when they have a child who they think is doing so many things wrong. Find the one thing he is doing right, even if it’s minuscule, and congratulate him on it. If he’s so used to getting attention for the negative, getting attention for a positive is reinforcing. If you’re a teacher, doing this in front of the whole class can be especially impactful if the child likes to be the center of attention. If you know your student would be embarrassed, it’s best to keep it private. 

Try framing your statement in a way that shows you see your student and recognize his good behavior:

“I notice ________ is helping his friend.” 

“________ is quietly and carefully hanging his coat up!”

  1. Silent reminders and warnings

While it can be useful to praise a student out loud, it is almost always damaging to scold a student out loud. Try using a system of 3 silent warnings or reminders to cue your student. It could be holding up a finger. If it’s hard to get her attention, it could be a touch on the shoulder, or a target word only she knows. When she hears it, that’s a warning. This could also be done to reinforce positive behaviors. For example, the word “bananas” means you just earned a star! 

  1. WHEN is behavior a problem?

There is often a pattern to when bad behavior takes place. Is it when he gets bored? Is it during transitions? Is it during partner work? Is it at the start of a task? Once you know when the behavior is likely to occur, you can preemptively nip it in the bud or address it before it even happens with a check-in. Being able to do this is huge. It means the behavior is less likely to happen in the first place, even if your student is about to do it. Keeping a behavior log can be helpful in figuring this out. 

  1. Good behavior

Ask yourself, “When does my child behave?” What is happening at that time? This forces you to recognize that she’s not always behaving badly (we can start to think that way when we are frustrated and desperate). You can then reflect on how you might be able to replicate some of those circumstantial pieces in other settings or times to encourage better behavior. For example, if your child’s behavior isn’t problematic during play time or when there is an element of play involved, can you experiment with adding more games to learning time? Maybe your child is well-behaved during movement activities. How can you bring movement into learning time?

  1. His level

Imagine you’ve done something wrong, and a giant person three times your size stands over you and starts reprimanding you. You’d probably feel pretty insignificant and perhaps even angry or frightened. When your child or student has misbehaved, crouch down at his level and speak to him directly and quietly. Do not stand at the front of the classroom and call out so that the whole class can hear. If the whole class can hear it, then all eyes are on him and that’s attention. For attention-seeking students, any attention is a plus, whether it’s good or bad. This only serves to reinforce the bad behavior. You can defeat that by not drawing any attention to bad behavior, but addressing it quietly, purposefully, and eye to eye. 

  1. Be selective

Being selective about which behaviors to reprimand can work to your advantage.  Choose one or two very specific behaviors to focus on. If the rest of the behavior is not really causing a problem or hurting anyone, and is a minor annoyance, don’t address it (for now). For a kid with executive functioning and attention difficulties, this will simplify. If you correct every little thing, your child won’t really have a grasp on what she is doing wrong. You can even put those two behaviors on a behavior chart so it’s very clear what the expectation is. For example, maybe you are going to work on simply entering a room quietly and not putting your hands on another person without permission. Some children don’t recognize physical boundaries and while they may not want to hurt someone else, sometimes that can happen. It’s a learning process. You may work with your child on keeping her hands to herself or asking permission when she wants to give a hug, for example. Rewarding or noticing when your child behaves appropriately or does not engage in the negative behavior (over the course of an hour, a few hours, or the whole day) can support behavior change. Once your child has overcome that challenge, it’s good to celebrate it before looking to address another issue.

  1. Empathy

Learning to be empathetic is a skill that is hard for even adults to develop and employ. Understanding another’s feelings or the impact you have on someone can be significant in behavior change. Does your child or student have opportunities to be empathetic? Does he have a chance to see how it feels to do something good and be proud? Has he ever been working on something important, and along comes someone being loud and disruptive? Drawing your child’s attention to their own feelings and the feelings of others can help him understand why his behavior is causing problems. Offering alternatives to those behaviors is helpful and may encourage friendship. For example, maybe your child loves to roughhouse and it’s how they show affection and that they want to play. Other children may not be used to this and may recoil from being bumped or shoved. Explain this to your child and then offer an alternative behavior: 

“I noticed you wanted to roughhouse with your friend. What happened when you tried to play?” (Let them explain.) “Your friend may not be used to playing like that at home. Why don’t you try asking your friend what kind of game they want to play first?”

Follow up by offering your child an opportunity to play the way he wants to play with you at home. Oftentimes children with behavior problems struggle to build friendships and can become socially isolated, as they don’t recognize the affect their actions have on those around them.

  1. Responsibility

Is your child responsible for righting her wrongs? At a young age, it’s difficult for a child to understand the difference between a bad person and bad behavior. If your child often finds herself “in trouble” she can start to believe that she is “bad”. But you can change this if she has a chance to fix the “bad” thing she did. Let’s say she knocks over someone’s tower, or scribbles on another child’s picture. Politely guide and support her in cleaning it up and fixing it. She could help rebuild the tower or create a picture with/for the other child. The other child may still be angry or upset, but giving your child an action may help her feel like she’s fixing it.  

  1. Environment

Sometimes the environment itself can be overstimulating for a child and cause them to act out. We’ve all felt overwhelmed by a situation or a setting. Maybe you’ve felt this way on a crowded bus, or at a social event. Sometimes we just need a quiet place. Having a place for your child to reset (not a time out) can be helpful. Ask him if he’d like some space. He can move away from the group for a brief, designated amount of time. Depending on your child’s needs, this may be time to just sit quietly, read a book, or perhaps work on a quiet project. For your particularly active kiddos, have some resistance bands, which they’ve already been instructed on how to use, or a stretching mat. If you can tell your child is feeling overwhelmed, perhaps offer this space before the stress and anxiety turn into bad behavior. I would encourage educators to not be too concerned that he is missing out on the lesson because if he’s feeling overstimulated or acting out, he’s not learning anyway. This time for space is not a punishment, but it is also not a privilege. Every child has different needs and you are teaching your student or child a valuable lesson in self-care when you show them that taking some time for space is ok. Even adults need to (and should) take breaks to reset and some people just need them more frequently than others in order to contribute the most and give their best. 

  1. Brain Gym

Carrying on with the theme of taking a break, many schools implement movement breaks to help students refocus. Popular programs include yoga, Zumba, and Brain Gym get kids moving as a transition between lessons. All kids need movement to build strong neural connections in their brains and promote healthy brain development. You simply can’t have one without the other. Bringing movement into your daily routine can help your students release energy and focus better during learning time. 

January 22nd, 2020|

Pictures Support Comprehension

Pictures can help children engage with reading and writing in ways that support comprehension and creativity. As an adult, you may not realize how much you rely on pictures, images, and visualizations to help you understand the world around you. When you read a news article, there’s usually an image to accompany it. When you run through your mental to-do list, you may imagine yourself doing those tasks. Road signs, advertisements, and some of our favorite apps rely on pictures to help us understand. Teaching young learners to visualize is more than just a fun activity that should be reserved for Kindergarten and art class and has its place in elementary grades as well.

When good educators teach reading, they teach children to make a picture in their minds. But this skill is not just a stepping stone to successful reading, but rather a necessary component. Even adults use this method while they read. When a good reader is engaging with a text, they often describe their experience as a movie playing in their mind. Have you ever read a book and then seen the movie version and thought, that’s not how I imagined the characters? That’s because while you read, you were making mental pictures. You imagined those characters in a unique way that fit your reading experience. You probably also had a vision of what the setting looked like, too. Some students struggle with this more than others. This often manifests as reading comprehension challenges. If you cannot imagine what is happening in a book, it’s very hard to understand the story. You can’t see the setting, you can’t see the characters, and so you are just reading words. Some students may depend on books with pictures or graphic novels for longer than others as they mature through their reading development. If you believe your child is having reading comprehension issues, seeking out a professional is advised. There are helpful programs available as well, such as Nanci Bell’s Visualizing and Verbalizing.

Incorporating pictures also works well for developing writers. Of course we want children to become strong writers and be able to convey their meaning in detail through words so that the reader can imagine what they are describing. But to accomplish this skill, children can use drawing as a helpful tool. Has your child ever complained that they don’t know what to write or where to start? Begin with a picture. Drawing a picture allows your child to put the scene or image they see in their mind onto paper so that it is concrete. When they begin to write, they don’t have to come up with the words as they are trying to see a picture in their mind, because they’ve already put it on paper. They can use their picture as a reference. If your child is still struggling to self-start or gets stuck, ask them questions about specific parts of the picture they’ve created. Once they can verbally explain to you what is going on, direct them to put what they’ve said into writing. If your child is new to using pictures to guide their writing, prompt them and help them along by asking follow-up questions about the picture. Once they become successful with verbalizing and then writing, you can guide them to do what you have modeled on their own. Encourage your child to use the five senses to add details and use lots of strong adjectives! Your child will be excited about her newfound ability to write! 

Below are some examples of how I incorporate pictures into the work I do with my students. One of my soon-to-be 5th graders was struggling to understand word problems in math. Creating a character with details about her life allowed this student to visualize and then see the word problems.

    

Another soon-to-be 5th grader wrote an opinion essay about caring for the earth. The pictures she created helped her understand the problems she was reading about in her research articles and acted as a springboard for her writing.

       

August 8th, 2019|

Making the Most of Summer

At the end of every school year, I always have an influx of new students as parents are looking for summer tutoring. Some of these children come to their first tutoring session reluctantly. Their parents have signed them up for extra academic support because the closing school year has been especially challenging. These are often students who have fallen behind and struggle with learning. The last thing they want when school gets out for the summer is more education. Teaching these students is some of the most rewarding work I get to do.

Being in a school atmosphere creates a unique set of challenges for any child. Not only are children expected to sit still for extended periods of time, but they are also expected to stay focused during that time. They have to keep up with the pace that has been predetermined. They may leave the classroom to receive extra help, but often feel like they’ve missed something when they come back from pull-out time. There’s also the competitive nature of school. How am I doing compared to my friends? Am I keeping up? This math seems really hard. Am I the only one who doesn’t get this? On top of all of this, there’s the added distraction of the social aspect of school. It’s no surprise that some students come to me at the beginning of the summer with a somewhat sour attitude. Their experiences with education probably have not been overly fulfilling and successful. Many of them are lacking foundation skills and need to go back to basics.

The reason I love doing this kind of remedial skill work is because it’s an opportunity to show these children that they can be successful. It’s also a time and space that allows them to think and question without the fear of being compared, stigmatized, or embarrassed. One on one work always yields faster and better results than whole group work. When these students start to recognize their own progress and understanding, they are ecstatic! Getting something right feels good. For a child who has struggled through school, this can be a major confidence boost. It often changes their attitudes about learning. Students finish the summer feeling prepared for the upcoming school year, instead of feeling a sense of dread.

Some parents may be reluctant to sign up for summer tutoring because they want their child to have a break. Unfortunately, learning regression is a real problem for average and below-average achieving students. In my blog post about summer learning regression, there are some startling statistics about the growing gap between high achieving students, and average and below average students. Even 15-20 minutes of daily practice over the summer can help your child maintain their skills. One to two hours of tutoring a week can help them gain new skills and progress. If you’re considering summer tutoring for your child, I encourage you to set up a phone call with me. I am happy to answer any questions you have and I work with each student to create a customized plan that will help them reach their learning goals.

May 6th, 2019|

Oaxaca

I’ve just returned from an absolutely magical month away in Oaxaca, Mexico. Strangely enough, I don’t feel the typical depression that many folks feel when they return home from a long vacation, especially when home is a windy, snowy/rainy tundra (I’m minorly exaggerating; I live in the Northeast). Maybe it’s because I have such amazing friends and family here, or maybe it’s because I love my job. It’s definitely not because I love snow.

I went to Mexico for a few reasons other than just wanting a vacation. I detailed my reasons in the blog post I wrote before I left. For one, I did learn Spanish. I’m not fluent, but my restaurant Spanish is pretty solid, and I can at least sort of joke around (mostly in a self-deprecating way regarding my poor Spanish). Having had zero Spanish before I left other than what Duolingo provided me, I feel like I made progress.

I did step out of my comfort zone. Living in Oaxaca was very different from my usual day to day. I spent two weeks on the coast in a hippie beach town called Mazunte. Then I spent four days in the absolutely stunning mountains of San Jose before moving on to the city of Oaxaca. The cultures of the places I spent time in are very different from the culture of western Massachusetts, and really the Northeast in general. I had to learn to do things a little differently. For one, I constantly needed to call upon my patience. Things are just done more slowly. Restaurant service was painfully slow, but once you become accustomed, you just plan ahead. It’s not uncommon for your server to completely forget to bring a drink or some other item you’ve asked for. I also learned very quickly that the check is not brought to you unless you ask for it (that first time was a long wait). It’s not just service that takes longer. In Oaxaca, many of the beautiful things that I experienced were created by hand. Food is made from scratch, textiles are woven by hand, ceramics are made by generations of women working under one roof carefully adding the right amount of water to the clay they had just dug out of the ground, and care is put into these things. Yes, they take time. But the finished product is something to marvel at.

 

I also had to dig deep and find an inner calmness that I didn’t know was there. It can be very challenging trying to travel from place to place, order food when you have food sensitivities, fulfill basic needs, and get medical care when you aren’t fluent in a language. This was all definitely out of my comfort zone. I had to trust in my ability to convey that I cannot eat a certain kind of food, only to find out that’s exactly what I’d been served. I was sick on more than one occasion. At one point, due to a communication blunder, we had to stop a bus driver and get off the bus because we realized that once we left town, we would be 3 hours from the nearest ATM and we had no cash. We certainly dodged a bullet there, although the driver was less than pleased! I also didn’t have drinking water at my fingertips. I had to go out and buy it and remember to make sure I had stocked up before the end of the night for drinking and brushing my teeth. We had to be so vigilant about bug spray and making sure the mosquito netting was closed over our bed at night for fear of being eaten alive or worse, contracting Dengue Fever, a mosquito-borne illness (which my boyfriend ended up getting by the way). All of these things required me to be alert, plan ahead, and remain calm. But I managed to travel safely and enjoy myself, just like so many other travelers do every day. I met so many people who were doing the same thing, and some for even longer. I met people who had been traveling South and Central America for three months already and this was their day to day. It encouraged me to look at these mishaps as just part of traveling and learning.

   

I can say for sure that I had an adventure. To me adventuring means there’s a large part of your trip that is left unplanned. The only thing we knew is that we would be on the coast, in the mountains, and in the city for some amount of time. The details were yet to be seen. During our time on the coast, we met up with a friend from Massachusetts who lives in Oaxaca nine months of the year. The remaining three months she is a chef on Martha’s Vineyard. So as you might have guessed, we had some pretty amazing food endeavors with her! She was super helpful in pointing us in the right direction for not-to-be-missed experiences, one of which was a boat tour where we got to see turtles and dolphins as well as snorkel in a cove. Because of that simple connection with the tour guide who also owns a local restaurant in San Agustinillo, Restaurante Alejandra, we were one of the first people called when the turtles were coming ashore to lay their eggs, a once-a-year event. We showed up to the secluded beach to see thousands of turtles coming ashore and bobbing in the waves. These were the kinds of escapades that characterized our entire trip. We would meet someone who was really interesting, and they would tip us off to the next amazing experience we never expected to have.

   

Our adventure unfolded in this way, leading us to a beautiful mountain top yoga retreat three hours into the San Jose Mountains where all the food served was grown right there and the layers of purple misty mountains lead me down trails that were clinging to the sides of cliffs.  

     

From there we caught a ride with a New Yorker heading eastward into Oaxaca City to seek medical care for my boyfriend Josh who contracted Dengue Fever. Once in the city and after getting the help we needed, Josh rested up while I set off exploring. An artist from Mexico City I met at our hostel pointed me towards Mercado 20 de Noviembre, lush and full of smells, sounds, and sights I’ve never encountered. It offered the most beautiful textiles I’ve ever seen, fresh food, and more.

    

The colonial architecture of the city was equally interesting. We saw Zapotec, Mixteca, and Aztec ruins that had been overtaken by conquistadors lusting after gold and land. It was not uncommon for the conquistadors to steal gold from these indigenous cities as well as stones to build their churches atop temples and indigenous architecture. I saw a church plopped right on top of an Aztec “pyramid”.

    

I had the opportunity to visit some villages surrounding the city and watch ceramics being made by hand. The women who graciously welcomed us into their compound showed us how they mold the clay. One woman was digging lines into the pottery with a special stone her mother had given her which had been passed down over generations. One of the ceramicists offered to take us to her home down the road and introduce us to her parents and sister who were sitting outside and sifting corn. It was very humbling. We visited Hierve el Agua, a natural calcium buildup that lead to the formation of beautiful mineral water pools on the side of a mountain as well as one of the two petrified waterfalls in the world. The views were stunning and the town we drove through to get there is a self-governing town, given permission to run themselves from the government of Mexico. They build and repair their own roads, have businesses, and make decisions as a community. The natural tourist attraction that is Hierve el Agua allows the town to profit and use the money to build their community.

   

I even went to a lucha libre wrestling match where the main event was Japan vs. Mexico. Don’t be fooled. This wasn’t a major show in a stadium of any sort. It was a wrestling ring thrown together in an abandoned lot in a neighborhood on the outskirts of the city. It was awesome. The costumes and masks were a sight on their own. There were tiny men flipping and throwing gigantic opponents across the ring and even into the crowd. There were female wrestlers, which I hadn’t expected, and three men who came in from Japan to be a part of this event. The trash talking was plentiful, as were the laughs.

   

Throughout all of this, I ate very well. The food in Oaxaca is delicious. I went to so many restaurants and street vendors, tasting my way around the city. One of my favorite classic Oaxacan dishes is Alambres, a fry up of ham, onions, peppers, and another meat of your choice, served with fresh, warm tortillas. The moles I tasted were thick, warmly spiced, and intensely flavorful. I brought some back home to make on my own! Then there was the market food. You could walk into the market, choose your cut(s) of meat, and they would grill it up right there and serve it with your choice of sides. 

       

I took so much away from this trip and I know I’ve grown personally. I feel so much more appreciative of every moment of each day and am teaching myself to focus on the present, instead of planning everything ahead, or thinking about what I’m doing for the weekend while there’s a beautiful day I could be experiencing right now. I feel so grateful for the life I have that includes family, friends, clean water, shelter, food at the ready, and the opportunity to earn money to support myself, all the while doing something I love. There are some things I learned about the Oaxacan people that are important to share. I never once felt in danger, uncomfortable, or in fear for my safety. I am a pretty safe traveler, but regardless, I never met anyone who made me feel this way. Most people were incredibly gracious and willing to help. The people of Oaxaca are humble, but proud. They are quick to joke and in general are easy to talk to, even if your Spanish is as cringe-worthy as mine. They are hardworking. There were women who would walk up and down the beach all day long selling homemade tamales, dressed head to toe in 85 degree weather, sweating. I would go to a restaurant early for breakfast and see the same server at the restaurant I would go to for a late dinner. All of the vendors, business owners, and servers whom I encountered were honest about money. If I didn’t understand the price, they wouldn’t take advantage of that. Instead they would punch the numbers on a calculator and show it to me. I never received incorrect change, and the prices didn’t change on items from day to day. I’ve heard stories of this happening to tourists in foreign countries, but that was not my experience in Oaxaca.

   

There are a lot of places on my list that I would love to visit. Many people asked me why I wasn’t traveling all around Mexico and into Central America with a month at my disposal. I felt it was important to stay in one general area and really get the feel of the place. I wanted to get to know the culture. I’m really glad I did this. For me, there’s no rush. I hope to do a similar trip next winter to a Spanish speaking country and sharpen my Spanish skills, meet some interesting people, make some new friends, and have another adventure. Until then, I’ll be adventuring here in Massachusetts!

February 28th, 2019|

Free and Easy Math Resource

It’s time for my monthly blog post! This month I’ve decided to share with you one of my favorite math resources: Math Aids. This website allows users to create worksheets for essentially any math skill for free. You can customize each sheet and they’re great for basic skill practice.

Worksheets should be used a supplemental tool to quality math instruction and child-centered math discovery and exploration. The purpose of a worksheet or workbook is not to instruct or introduce a skill, but rather to allow the student to gain proficiency with practice. Here are some of the reasons I love this website:

  1. You can determine the number of problems you want on the sheet. I have some students for whom too many problems on a page is visually overwhelming. Even for children who don’t have a learning disability, seeing a page loaded with math problems can be daunting. With this website I can customize the number of problems for many of the worksheets.
  2. It’s not all about the numbers! I like that Math Aids is not just a resource for computation math problems, but also offers word problems. More than half the children I work with face a reading based learning disability. Some of these students are quite proficient in math and have a strong number sense, but when it comes to applying those skills to real world situations or word problems, they are at a loss. I can use this website to create word problem practice.
  3. It has a wide range of math concepts. Math Aids has worksheets for simple mental addition to Algebra II. This allows me to get resources for all of my math students in one place. I work with kiddos as young as 6, and as old as 17. Their ability levels vary quite a bit and as my students progress and face new challenges, I can quickly make worksheets to fit their changing needs.

This website is a super tool for homeschool parents and teachers, but it can also be useful for parents of children attending traditional school. If you know your child is struggling in a particular area, it’s worth checking out Math Aids to find some practice work to supplement the one-on-one work you are doing with your child at home.

December 7th, 2018|

Building Mental Math Fluency

Mental math fluency is one of the most important basic math skills a child needs. Finger counting, skip counting, and using pencil and paper are inefficient ways to do simple calculations. When your child is faced with a more complex math problem, such as long division, it can be distracting, tiring, and lead to errors if they have to constantly stop and figure out small calculations. Also, building strong mental math skills helps your child deepen their understanding of numbers and how they work together.

Fluency develops from strong number sense (how numbers work together) and practice with mental addition and subtraction. There are a few easy ways to accomplish this and your child can quickly learn to add and subtract sums in their head. From there, your child can then move on to master multiplication fluency with a strong foundation and confidence. Start with the basics of numbers that make 10 and doubles facts.

 

Make 10

Knowing which numbers combine to make 10 is a very useful skill. It translates to adding larger numbers too. For example, if your child knows that 4+6=10, then figuring out 54+6 is not so challenging. Using the skill of making 10, your child will understand how far away the next multiple of ten is from a starting number. So if you are at 54 and you know that 4+6 makes 10, you know the next multiple is 6 away. Your child can use this thinking to break a problem apart into simpler components. For example, if the problem is 54+8, you can think “I know that I can use 6 of the 8 to get to the next ten, which is 60. Then there are 2 left. 60+2 is easy! The answer is 62”.

 

Doubles

If you know your doubles facts, you can quickly and easily solve pretty much any simple math problem. Work first with your child on memorizing doubles facts (1+1, 2+2, 3+3, 4+4, and so on). Then from there, you can practice addition problems similar to doubles facts, such as problems in which one of the addends is one more or one less that the other. Point out that the problem 3+4 is similar to 3+3. If 4 is only one more than 3, then the answer will be one more than the doubles fact 3+3.

3+3=6

3+4=7

This works for 3+2 as well. Once you know how to do this, you can move onto facts where the addends are two away from each other, such as 3+5. The idea is to make a connection with a math fact you do know, and work from there. Once your child practices this enough, they will start to see the connections and patterns and their math fluency will grow.

 

Making It Happen

I have found that the best way to build mental math fluency in these two areas is using flashcards and games. Another great tool for visual learners and hands-on learners is Cuisenaire rods. These simple colored blocks are useful in showing number relationships. The kit comes with a booklet detailing many activities for higher order math as well. 

Games and flashcards make rote memorization fun and challenging in an exciting way. Your flashcards should feature the “make 10” or doubles fact on one side and the answer on the other. For example 6+__=10 is on the front, and 4 is on the back. You’ll want to have the fact in the opposite order as well on another card: 4+__=10. You can make flashcards for problems similar to doubles facts as your child progresses, such as 4+5, or 4+3. Practicing flashcards daily is the best way to become fast and fluent.

 

Some great, simple games to play include Go Fish and the Memory Game. With Go Fish you can change what makes a “pair” to numbers that make 10 (take out the face cards), or you can play it so that a pair is a double fact with one addend 1 more than the other (4 and 3 could be a pair, or 4 and 5 could be a pair). Have your child say that fact and the answer when they make the pair.

 

For the Memory Game, you can have the problem on one card and the answer on another. For example, if you’re doing all doubles facts, have all the facts (1+1, 2+2, 3+3, etc.) on cards and put the answers on separate cards. Place all the cards face down on the table. Players take turns flipping over two cards and trying to match the problem with its answer.

 

There are plenty of ways to get creative with math fluency. Think about your child’s learning style and interests and brainstorm some creative ideas to modify these activities or create your own! If your child is an artist, for example, let them make the flashcards colorful or interesting if it will help them remember better. If your child is struggling to develop mental math fluency despite your best efforts and you suspect there may be some learning challenges present, contact me to set up an assessment and get your child on the path to success!

April 6th, 2018|

When a Child Says “I Don’t Know”

I distinctly remember being a student in elementary and middle school and being chided for giving the answer “I don’t know” to a teacher’s question. It just simply wasn’t an option. I even remember hearing the response “That’s not an answer” from one of my teachers. It became engrained in me as well as my classmates that not knowing wasn’t an option. So what were you supposed to do if you really didn’t know? I suppose the idea was to encourage students to look for the answer, or to pay attention more in class. Maybe. I also recall the moment when I learned this wasn’t a practice unique to the school I attended. I was completing my pre-practicum to become eligible for graduate school and I was under the supervision of an elementary teacher at a school five minutes away from my college dorm. I was excited to be in the classroom, learning new techniques and getting a chance to interact with students. It was during a word study lesson that a student gave the answer “I don’t know” to the teacher’s question, and was quickly told that it wasn’t a satisfactory answer. Of course, being a young, impressionable teacher-to-be, I took this as the best way to respond to a child who really didn’t know, and this response would undoubtedly spark the desire for said child to open up a book and start searching for a better answer. Learning would be taking place! Right?

In Steven D. Levitt and Stephen K. Dubner’s book Think Like A Freak, this quote struck me: “It has long been said that the three hardest words to say in the English language are I love you. We heartily disagree! For most people, it is much harder to say I don’t know. That’s a shame, for until you can admit what you don’t yet know, it’s virtually impossible to learn what you need to.” This chapter goes on to detail the importance in our culture of trying to be an expert at everything or always knowing the answer. But is this a good thing? In my experience, I have found not. So many children are being taught from an early age that it’s not ok to say “I don’t know”. On top of that, we have a whole society of parents and teachers who have taken this lesson to heart and set the example for our younger generation. Children begin to think that mom and dad, their teachers, really any adult, must know more than they do. Adults always have the answer. It creates the false impression that children have everything to learn from adults, and adults have nothing to learn from children; they already know it all. It fact, I learn from children every single day. Even more damaging, children begin to grow into adulthood, finding that they don’t have all the answers, and feeling the pressure of having to pretend they do.

So what is a better way to encourage your child to be a thinker without creating a false sense that they have to always have the answer? I think one of the most important things that parents and teachers can do is model “not knowing”. I appraoch teaching and learning much differently than I had when I first made the decision to pursue education. Now, if one of my students asks me a question that I don’t know the answer to, I happily say “I don’t know. Let’s find out together.” Not only does this show the child that they don’t need to always have an answer, but it also shows them that they are capable of searching for their own answers to questions. It allows them to explore different sources of information and use their own judgement to determine what the most reliable answer may be. It is empowering. I believe it also shows children that there may not be an answer to every question. And that’s ok. In our society, we find that hard to accept. But the more we become used to this idea, the more open we will be to learning and discovering.

February 16th, 2017|