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Active Students

One of the frustrations of anyone who has ever tried to hold the attention of young children is that they are easily distracted and may have a hard time focusing on important tasks. For schoolteachers, this is an especially irksome challenge. How do you teach children to write the alphabet when you can’t hold their attention for more than five minutes? But research suggests that what seems like a weakness may actually be one of children’s greatest strengths. We know that children have flexible minds and can learn remarkable amounts of material in a short amount of time. But by staying active, young people can actually increase their focus and be better students.

One of the biggest frustrations teachers of young children encounter is the tendency of small children to be overly active in the classroom. Even getting students to stay in their seats can be a challenge. But thoughtful teachers can use this to their advantage. By incorporating this energy into their lessons, educators can help students to stay more engaged with material. Imagine a lesson where students have to respond to a math problem by clapping to indicate the answer. If the answer is four, students will clap four times. Another possibility is to have students get up, get moving, and use props as part of their lessons. You might teach a lesson where students have to walk to one end of the room and retrieve the correct prop to indicate the answer to a question. These kinds of simple activities make the most of the energy that children bring into the classroom.

There is good reason to think that students’ energy is an important part of the learning process. Studies have shown that children who are more physically active do better on standardized tests and generally perform better in school. These effects are especially pronounced in young boys. Just like for adults, who may notice that they feel better after doing yoga or going for a run, exercise has remarkable benefits for young children.

This doesn’t mean that children have to do a full hour of exercise at school. Just getting up and walking around the room can be helpful. As both parents and teachers of young children can attest, young people have lots of excess energy that they need to expend during the day. Incorporating this energy into classroom lessons can be a powerful teaching tool that helps to settle the minds of restless students, and increases their focus on challenging tasks.

Of course, it will take some practice to find the right mix of activity and instruction. We don’t want to introduce physical activities that ultimate distract our students. But by thoughtfully incorporating movement into daily classroom instruction, we can create classrooms that make the most of young children’s unique energy and invite them to be fully engaged in their education.

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Students in a class Room

Photo Credit : COD Newsroom on Flickr

Here in America, it’s not a very popular notion to take a year off between high school and the start of your college career. For many, it is a sign of not being motivated or not being ready to handle it. However, recent studies are showing some pretty tremendous and beneficial effects of taking that extra year off. And both students and parents are reaping the rewards.

Life Lessons

The simple fact is that many high school seniors are just not ready for college yet, whether academically or in regards to their maturity. And that’s ok. Much like many parents decide their five-year-old needs another year before kindergarten, some high students could use an extra year as well. That first year of college life can be overwhelming to those who are unprepared and has led to staggering dropout rates in recent years.

During this year, many students decide to travel, volunteer, or get some real-world work experience. This becomes a way for students to learn more about themselves, what they want out of life, and to learn more about life outside of their parent’s home and the adult responsibilities required.

For students who experienced helicopter parents who hovered and coddled, this is a time to grow up some. They learn to complete many tasks such as laundry, cooking, dishes, and cleaning for themselves. They can learn to take care of themselves without the extra stress of school.

Academic Benefits

Student with Graduation Cap

Photo Credit : David Lounsbury on Flickr

Once it is time to return to their studies, they are ready to handle those new challenges. And counselors find that these students usually finish college in a shorter amount of time. It has also been noticed that students who decide to wait a year tend to come back with more focus, more maturity, and more self-awareness. They typically know what they want from their education and are less likely to change majors and/or schools several times, saving themselves and their parents a lot of time and money. They also have more realistic career goals and are more motivated to reach those.

When it comes to the actual classroom, professors and parents alike notice better grades and an overall higher GPA than expected, especially in comparison to those who didn’t take a gap year. Students who took this time off also tend to stand out as classroom and extracurricular activity leaders. And they are able to juggle the responsibilities of their classes, sports, work, social life, etc. much easier.

This year is an opportunity for young adults to learn about life on their own, making their own decisions, and not leaning on the support of their parents. It’s a time for them to grow in maturity and learn some valuable life lessons without risking $50,000 in college tuition and fees. When it’s time for that money to actually be spent, it will be much more worth it both to the student and their parents.

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Math Practice

When we talk about teaching math concepts and ideas, repetition is the most common method used. Children are given sheets of the same type of problem to figure out, having them repeat the same actions over and over again. But is this the best way to learn such things?

Repetition and Simplest Form Learning

It’s a proven fact that learning happens as synapses fire. The brain does change structurally when we revisit ideas and learn deeply but repetition is not the only way to learn. Recent studies show that practicing the same functions over and over is, in fact, not helping you to learn the concept as a whole.

Those who are taught primarily this way learn to apply those concepts to one situation type only and it typically causes students to dislike the subject altogether. They learn to produce mindless and impractical answers and relationships, instead of being able to connect and reason as a whole.

This is further complicated by the fact that many teachers and/or text books only offer the most simplified version of the concept in isolation to anything else. These simplified versions are then practiced and drilled, causing boredom in most students as they learn to just accept the concept and repeat it, instead of learning the why behind it and where it might actually be used in the real world.

This can be seen when we look at how simple shapes are taught as well as mathematical equations and more complex ideas.

For example, students were asked to name the following shape.


It is a hexagon (a six-sided polygon), but most students couldn’t give this answer because they were taught that the proper shape of a hexagon looks like this.

Regular Hexagon

They were taught the simplest form of this concept and not to relate it to any other form. Over half of all students who took part in this study couldn’t give the correct response to this and other questions about similar shapes and concepts. When students only learn these simplest versions, they are not given the opportunity to really learn what the concept or idea is all about and easily form misconceptions about it.

Non-Example Learning

Teaching a variety of situations and definitions is important to learn and master each concept. So is the teaching of “non-examples.” These are definitions of what a concept is not. For example, when teaching the concept of the above-mentioned hexagon, teachers should also include examples of other polygons or shapes that are not hexagons. When teaching about mammals, giving examples such as a sparrow and teaching why it is not can be much more efficient than simply showing many examples of dogs and cats.

Giving students a more comprehensive and comparative learning method teaches them to differentiate between what is and what isn’t in a realistic way. They can then learn to apply that method to multiple situations and not just the simplest form or a perfect model.

Let’s make sure to teach in a way that gives children realistic expectations of what they can apply these important math concepts and ideas to. To learn more about Math help click here.

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Student-Led Conferences

Most of us are familiar with parent-teacher conferences. It’s a time when teachers meet with the parents of their students to discuss performance and how the child is progressing. However, in recent years, many schools are trying a new approach.

They are called student-led conferences and they seek to understand the why behind your child’s academic endeavors. While typical parent-teacher conferences can be very informative and helpful for the parent and teacher, this new method includes the student and gives them more responsibility for their education.

How Does It Work?

Student-led conferences are designed to have the student sit down with the parents, show them some of their work, and explain their grades. Teachers are nearby to assist the students and to also add their own opinion or report of the child’s progress. Some also allow for separate teacher-only conferences to be held later.

The format can differ by teacher or teacher team. Some are structured a bit like an open house where parents and students visit each classroom separately, while other teacher teams decide to hold the conference as a whole in the same room.


Preparation for these conferences is handled primarily by the student themselves. Typically, at the beginning of the school year, teachers will give each student a folder to put together a portfolio of their progress and graded work.

As the time for conferences draw near, students get their folders neatly arranged and prepared for their parents, including a prepared script of sorts. This helps the child to put their thoughts on their classroom behavior, grades, and learning achievements into words, as well as to keep them on task during the conference as nervousness may set in.

Many teachers also role play with their students during the week before conferences are held, giving the students an example of what they should say and how to respond to questions. This also gives them a bit of practice, which helps to calm their nerves.

Pros and Cons

Students, teachers, and parents across the nation agree that one of the biggest advantages to this type of conference is that it makes the student take more responsibility for their education. They begin to understand that they are in charge of their own efforts and they alone can change the outcome.

Most students enjoy being able to share their side of the story and thoughts. And most parents agree that both themselves and their child come away with a better understanding of their child’s learning process, strengths, and weaknesses.

However, for students whose parents aren’t as involved, their preparation leads to disappointment when parents do not attend. Other parents have reservations on hearing from primarily just their child and still like to talk to the teacher more.

With so many new ideas entering school on a daily basis, it’s easy to become skeptical. But keep an open mind about this one for sure. You just might find that student-led conferences benefit your child far better than the more common parent-teacher conferences.

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Boy Doing Homework

We can all recognize the benefits of homework, even though we do not like it. We know it can help teach children about time management and give them a good foundation of study skills, as well as give them continued practice on subjects they are learning in class. But is there a point where we say it is too much? Or a child is too young?

Parents around the country are asking the same question. It comes as a response to seeing their students come home with what seems like mountains of homework and some of them are only just beginning their academic careers. Many parents and teachers alike are seeing some pretty negative results to this.

Some parents have reported their kindergartners coming home with up to 25 minutes of homework every day, their first graders seeing about 28 minutes of daily homework, and some second graders spending approximately 29 minutes a night on school work. It may not seem a like a lot of time compared to what some middle school and high schoolers see. But for a five-year-old who doesn’t have the capability to sit still for more than 10 or 15 minutes at a time, this can be overwhelming.

And studies are proving it. Kids who report having over the recommended amount of homework on a regular basis tend to have more of a dislike for school, more behavioral problems, and more physical health issues as well, such as migraines, sleep deprivation, ulcers, and weight loss. Homework is literally stressing them out and making them sick.

Early education children should be spending far more time with their families, playing outdoors, and learning about life in general than stuck in a chair being drilled on math concepts. A healthy early childhood needs a balance of the two, proving that more is not always better.

How Much Homework Should They Have?

Homework doing by school student

The National Parent-Teacher Association or PTA and the National Education Association or NEA both agree on what is called the “10-minute rule.” This suggests that children should have no more than 10 minutes of homework each night per grade. So, first graders should have no more than 10 minutes of homework time, second graders should have less than 20 minutes of homework, and so on up to 120 minutes of homework time for high school seniors.

Luckily, we are not seeing an overabundance of schools giving too much homework yet. Recent studies show that only about 20% of schools report an average homework time over the recommended amount. These schools are most generally those in affluent communities, where parents and teachers are more likely to push students into the top schools in the country.

If you find that your child has what seems to be too much homework, there are ways to help them out without doing the work for them. Check out some ideas to help your child succeed here.

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Tuition-Free Colleges

Photo Credit: Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

We all know that figuring out how to pay tuition can be one of the most stressful parts of the college experience. There are scholarships, grants, savings accounts, and loans to consider. Some students work while in school to help cover the cost of attending. Ultimately, students and parents have to work together to figure out the best solution for their finances. However, even as tuitions continue to rise across the country, you may not have heard that there are some schools that don’t charge tuition at all. These smaller colleges find ways to offer undergraduate degrees without charging students to attend.

For instance, at the College of the Ozarks in Missouri, full-time students work part-time during the school year in exchange for free tuition. While the students still have to pay for health and activity fees, they are eligible for Pell Grants and other financial aid to help cover these expenses as well. Berea College in Kentucky has a similar program. Berea’s No Tuition Promise guarantees that no admitted student pays tuition.Instead, the school covers tuition and students work 10-15 hours a week to pay for room and board. Berea students also receive laptop computers that they can use during their four years in school and keep after graduation.

It isn’t just small liberal arts colleges that offer free tuition programs. The Curtis Institute of Music in Pennsylvania offers full-tuition scholarships to all admitted undergraduate and graduate students. This is especially significant because getting a degree in the arts can be an especially costly undertaking. For comparison, tuition at the Rhode Island School of Design is about $50,000 a year, not including housing and other fees. By contrast, students at the Curtis Institute receive scholarships estimated to be worth $42,000 a year for undergraduates.

Of course, some larger universities are also recognizing the burden that rising tuition puts on students and families. A handful of the nation’s top universities have begun to offer generous tuition assistance to students whose families make less than a specified amount of money. Perhaps the most generous program of this kind is Princeton University’s need-blind admission program. Students who apply to Princeton are considered for admission regardless of their families’ income, and are guaranteed 100% of their financial need be met by the university. At Rice University, students whose families make less than $130,000 a year receive guaranteed free tuition, and those who make less than $65,000 have their room and board covered as well.

All of this is good news for families and students who are saving and planning for a college education. As colleges and universities increase their assistance for low- and middle-income students, college becomes a more realistic and less burdensome opportunity for talented students.

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Flipped Classroom

Photo Credit: Pan xiaozhen on Unsplash

If you have children in middle or high school, you may have heard of the flipped classroom. It works in lots of different ways, but the main idea is that teachers actually assign instructional lessons for students to do at home, so that they can devote class time to more complex and personalized tasks. Instead of presenting new material to students in class, and then assigning practice exercises for them to do at home, teachers can supply video or other lessons for students to review on their own as homework. That leaves much more time for questions, individual instruction, and other forms of follow-up in class.

While the concept is not new , the idea of the flipped classroom has become much more popular in recent years. This is due in part to two chemistry teachers in Colorado who stumbled onto how well it worked for their students. Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams teach at Woodland Park High School. The teachers noticed that when they posted online copies of their lectures for absent students to review at home, students who had been in class also took advantage of the opportunity to review the lessons they had already learned . This gave the teachers the idea to take advantage of students’ ability to cover new material on their own at home. If the students could get the basic idea by themselves, there would be more time in class to collaborate, ask questions, tackle advanced projects, and engage the material in other ways. Eventually, the teachers posted their lessons online, inviting others to try the method in their own classrooms. It has proven to be popular in schools across the country and at lots of grade levels.

It is interesting to note that the flipped classroom is a lot like what happens in many liberal arts classes at the college level. Students are assigned reading to do on their own before class. Then they meet with professors to discuss the reading and to challenge their own and others’ sense of what the material means and what it says about the world. Of course, it may be easier to imagine college students tackling material on their own. Bergmann, Sams, and others have proven that, with the right tools, students in middle school are also perfectly capable of picking up a lot of basic material by themselves.

One possible long-term benefit of this trend is that students in high school and earlier can gain exposure to college-style instruction. Students who are used to learning new material on their own may have an easier time adjusting to college courses where a good portion of instructional material is read and processed outside the classroom. Because of this, the flipped classroom may be helping to bring K-12 classrooms more in line with the culture of the colleges and universities they are preparing their students to enter.

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Potato Stick

Photo Credit: Gilly on Unsplash

Trying to get a picky eater to finish their vegetables can make meal time one of the most stressful parts of the day. But there are some easy, helpful guidelines you can follow to encourage fussy eaters to try new things.

The first is to make sure your child is actually hungry at meal time. This may seem obvious, but it’s an obstacle for a lot of children. Think about what your picky eater likes to eat. Chances are, they snack on small portions of these foods throughout the day. If you’re raising a child who only likes applesauce and yogurt, they’re probably eating those things multiple times a day outside of meal time. This can mean that they’re not terribly hungry when it’s time for dinner. That makes it easier to refuse the carrots you want them to eat. By limiting (but not eliminating) snacks, you give your child a higher incentive to at least try the foods you want to start incorporating into their diet.

This brings us to the second guideline. It’s important not to give kids too much of a new thing to try at once. Remember that even people who aren’t particular picky won’t like everything. And no one wants to be stuck eating something they don’t like. For a child, it’s often easier to turn down a new food altogether than to try it and say they don’t like it.

To get around this, try putting only one bite worth of a new food on your child’s plate a meal time, alongside the things they like to eat. So you might put one piece of corn next to their spaghetti, or one slice of banana next to their applesauce. The deal is that the child tries just a bit of one new thing on a regular basis. This way they don’t feel intimidated by the new food, but they’re at least exposed to something they might eventually like.

The final guideline is to remember that it takes time for children to like new things. A popular rule of thumb says a child tries a food fifteen times before they like it. So remember, developing your child’s appetite for healthy foods is a marathon, not a sprint. With time and patience, even the most picky eater can learn to love foods that are good for them.

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Children help parents

What’s the appropriate age to introduce chores into your children’s routine? A study from the University of Minnesota found that teaching toddlers to do chores can have surprising payoffs later in life. People who began doing chores at the age of 3 or 4 were actually more successful as adults. Doing chores from an early age was an even better predictor of success than having a high IQ.

Lots of parents are familiar with children’s instincts to help around the house. Young children are often excited to help prepare dinner or do laundry. Often though, it’s easier to decline their help and complete these tasks ourselves. We think that including them will just slow us down. And this may be true. However, it turns out that taking advantage of children’s natural inclination to help can actually teach them valuable life skills that are more difficult to learn later. In many cases, parents and teachers report that assigning chores to young children teaches them to be part of team, and to take responsibility for their environment.

Children help parents

While involving very young children in daily chores may be somewhat unusual in the U.S., it is actually quite common in other places. At elementary schools in Japan, daily chores are a normal part of many students’ education. Beginning in first grade, students are responsible for everything from cleaning floors to serving lunch. Educators in Japan believe that it helps to teach the kind of civic skills and community-mindedness that we want students to develop. Because students take part in the practice from such a young age, cleaning up after themselves becomes a normal part of everyday life, even at school.

Although it is much less common, some schools in the U.S. have also begun using chores to teach children to be responsible for their space. At Armadillo Technical Institute in Phoenix, school-age children spend 30 minutes a day helping to clean the school after lunch. Kim De Costa, the school’s executive director, says that being responsible for the school’s upkeep teaches the students to respect their environment and encourages them to think of the school as theirs.

Even if most children in the U.S. don’t learn chores at school, parents can still use simple tasks to help teach valuable life skills at home. Researchers in the University of Minnesota study stress that it’s important to provide safe, easy opportunities for children to contribute. For instance, a toddler can help set the table using plastic cups and plates. Or a young child can practice their colors while helping to sort laundry. The key is to introduce these responsibilities before children are adolescents and have their own schedules packed with activities and other responsibilities. This way, young people learn to approach school and work with a sense of discipline that continues to pay off later in life.

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