Friday, October 13, 2017

When should I push my child?

This "smart" kid was so used to school
being "easy" that it took her 35 years
to love the discipline of learning math.
(But at least she got her teeth fixed.)
Watching our children struggle is hard.  We never like to see them upset, and when they cry over school work or say, "I can't do this! I'm stupid!" it's enough to break your heart.  On the other hand, we want our children to learn persistence and develop resilience.  So how is a parent to know when to step in?

Clearly, there are times when a child is asked to do work that is inappropriate to his ability, or for which he has not had a proper foundation laid.  Sometimes there are learning disabilities involved.  These issues have all been addressed in previous posts.  My topic today concerns the child who is capable, but is handicapped by his own fears or weak study habits.   This is the immature learner-- the typical child-- who needs loving adults to push him to reach his potential.

Sometimes "I hate math" (or whatever) means something else.  Sometimes it means, "I hate the way it makes me feel that I'm not smart anymore." 

It doesn't take long, once children start school, for them to size each other up and start comparing themselves.  They all know early on which of their classmates are good at the things the teachers want them to do; these are the "smart" ones.  Without even thinking about it, children begin to base their identity on being the "smart kid," or the funny one or the fastest runner or even the meanest kid in class.  It is a comfortable feeling to know where you stand and who you are.  But this early self-pigeonholing can cause problems.

When I began teaching, my assignment was middle school Spanish.  It was there that I noticed a phenomenon common to those "smart kids."  I called it crash and burn: many kids who had sailed through elementary school, learning to read and write with ease, were completely undone when they had to learn the vocabulary and grammar of a foreign language.  Meanwhile, some students who had struggled in earlier grades did well in my class.  I saw it happen again when I was teaching middle school math. Why?  Did the "A" kids lose brain cells?  Did the "C" kids catch up?  Was I just bad at teaching smart kids?

I thought about it, and realized I had done the same thing myself when I was in school.  I had sailed through the early grades thinking I was pretty bright, until I started floundering in my high school Algebra 2 class.  Crashed and burned.

So I developed a theory based on my experience and observations: the students who had previously struggled were not taken by surprise when Spanish-- something that was new to them-- took some effort to learn, because they were already accustomed to spending time to memorize and practice new things. The "smart" kids, on the other hand, had assumed "school is easy for me because I am smart."  But now they were unable to simply soak up a new language the same way that they had earlier, almost intuitively, picked up reading and arithmetic.  In short, when they began to struggle, they were shaken to the core, terrified that they were no longer "smart." 

In my generation, schools began to try to prevent this phenomenon by providing "gifted and talented" programs for selected students.  The idea was, challenge them on their own level and they would go far.  The problem was, we weren't really challenged in those programs.  We did some enrichment activities-- learned songs in French, touched a brain and lung, studied the metric system(!), played on the only computer the school had, learned calligraphy, had discussions on "values clarification"-- but it was all very, very easy and fun stuff.  The dangerous idea that being "smart" means school is easy was simply reinforced.

And so the crash and burn phenomenon can happen when a student hits higher level math, or begins to play a musical instrument, or anything that doesn't come easily.  And different students hit this wall at different times, and in different subjects.  But to preserve their "smart" identity, some children may place the blame on the difficult subject.  Then they can go on their merry way, avoiding whatever scared them (as I did with math for 35 years) and may be effectively closing doors of opportunity in their future.

Unfortunately, parents and even teachers can reinforce a child's negative attitude toward a tough subject without even knowing it.  It's one thing to sympathize with a child's frustration, and give them encouragement, but well-meaning adults may make things worse with comments like, "math is hard!"  "I was never very good at spelling, either."  "You'll never use this in the real world, I don't know why they make you learn it."  "Some people are just not good at science."

(Now before you go all "The Animal School" on me, I understand that we all have our gifts.  I am not talking about expecting a turtle to fly, or forcing a child who dreams of being an artist to get an advanced math degree.  But as  Sal Khan (of Khan Academy) insists, the percentage of people who could be literate in both math and language is far closer to 100% than our current educational system produces.)

The good news is, once these kids can get past the wall, they often excel.  Learning that struggling is a positive experience is one of the keys to success-- not just in school, but in life.  "When the going gets tough, the tough get going" is the reason my husband, who has fought dyslexia since he was a child, ended up with a PhD.  He got up and over his wall early.  My wall came later, and it has taken much longer to get over it.

Sometimes "I hate ____" means I hate having to put out an effort to learn something.

As adults, I believe we can and should push our children to truly learn to learn-- not just to do what comes easily to them.  Will they need Trigonometry in their job as a store manager?  Will reading Shakespeare prepare them to be a pharmacist?  Maybe not, but the experience of tackling something difficult, and persisting until they understand it, will build a resilience, work ethic, and confidence in themselves that will serve them throughout their lives.

So when your child says she "hates (insert subject here)," it could be that she is truly not ready for the subject-- or it could be that she simply hasn't developed her learning muscles, and the possibility of failure scares her.  That's when she may need a push.  To determine the difference, consider these PUSH areas:

Persistence: Is she giving up as soon as something gets difficult?  Do the tears start the minute she sees "Write an essay..."? Does she melt down when she doesn't understand a math concept the first time?  Or does she genuinely try to do the work, looking for and correcting her own mistakes, re-working problems, asking for help when she really needs it?  A student who consistently and genuinely tries, but doesn't succeed, may not be ready for the topic at hand.

Unfamiliarity: Does he respond to new material positively, and seem proud when he masters it?  Or does he feel threatened by new concepts, afraid that they will "prove" he's not "smart" enough to understand them?  Sometimes a child will put up a fuss whenever he comes up against a new skill or concept, but calms down after the new wears off and he realizes he can do it after all.  That's a red flag that it's not the topic, but the child's fears, that stand in the way of his learning.

Self-talk: Is she more likely to say, "This is stupid!  I can't do this!" or, "This is tough! But I'll get it."  The child who verbally abuses herself or disparages the work itself is caught in a self-fulfilling prophecy.  As Henry Ford said, "If you think you can or you think you can't, you're right."  The Little Engine That Could had the right self-talk.

Habit: Does your child often take short-cuts, and find ways of avoiding work?  Is procrastination a recurring problem? Does he do the minimum necessary to get by, careless with his spelling and writing mechanics?  Or does he follow directions, read explanations, and show all the steps in his math work?  Looking back on my math experience, I remember many days when my homework wasn't done.  Hmmm. Correlation?

So how does a parent effectively PUSH a child who really needs it?  Try these ideas:

Persistence: 

  1. For long assignments that seem overwhelming, help your child break a task into smaller chunks.  Use a calendar to schedule each stage of a long-term assignments, or a time chart for daily homework and breaks.  
  2. Does your child feel overwhelmed at the prospect of doing twenty math problems?  Use a timer to see how many you can get done in fifteen minutes.  Then have him do a chore, or work on another assignment, or practice his music for ten minutes, and then come back and do more math.  Repeat until done. 
  3. Choose a quick physical reward for each segment completed (hug, high five, happy dance).
  4. Help your child identify resources that he can use when he gets stuck.  Are there notes from class?  Explanations in a textbook?  Information on the teacher's blog?  Many, many topics are explained in videos on You tube, or educational websites like Khan Academy.
  5. Remind your child of past successes that took practice and persistence.  Riding a bike, roller skating, swimming, reading-- even if you have to go back as far as his infancy to tell him how he never gave up but kept trying to walk even after he fell down over and over, let him see that he HAS been and can BE successful because of persistence, not because he's "smart."
  6. Find an activity your child is motivated to excel in that will require persistence.  Earning Scout badges and rank advancements, martial arts, playing the violin all require practice and effort.  Once a child discovers that hard work pays off in one area, it will be easier to transfer that persistence to another.  (Although the transfer is not necessarily immediate.)
  7. Read or watch movies about famous people who overcame obstacles through persistence.  
Unfamiliarity:

  1. For difficult new material, help child think through what he already knows about a topic.  If he's learning to add decimal numbers, he probably already knows how to add multi-digit numbers, and he may also know how to use decimals to write dollar amounts.  Help him figure out what he doesn't know about the new topic, and put it into words.  How is adding decimals different?  How do I know where to put the decimal in the answer? 
  2. Remind your child that everything is new for everybody the first time they do it.  Discuss how new can sometimes feel scary because of the "unknown."  Share stories of doing something new and being scared at first, and how the feeling went away.
  3. Have her teach you to do something that she knows how to do but you don't.  Display a good attitude about your own mistakes. 
  4. Have her make a list of things she has never done before but wants to try-- riding a horse, baking a cheesecake, building a rocket.  Then let her do some of the age-appropriate ones, and discuss how things get easier the more you do them.
  5. Teach her the concept of the "learning curve" and have her predict how steep the curve will be for each new concept or skill she learns.

Self-talk: 

1. Model positive self-talk!  If you catch yourself saying anything like, "I'm so stupid," correct yourself. Better: "Wow-- I need more practice with that!   I haven't figured this out yet.   I'll be so proud when I get this done!  Whoops-- I made a mistake here.  I might need help with this."
2. Avoid praising your child for being "smart" or "good at ___."  Instead, compliment him on his hard work and persistence: "Your hard work paid off!  Your effort really shows.  I'm impressed with your work! I'm proud of you for sticking with it all the way!"  (This is sometimes a hard one to remember.  I still struggle with not saying "the s word.")
3. Respond to the feeling, not the statement.   Adults who constantly respond to a child's, "I'm stupid!" with, "Oh, sweetie, you're my little genius!" may actually reinforce a child's negative self-talk. The child may feel encouraged to keep saying negative things in order to hear the compliments, or will simply stop listening to the apparently baseless praise.  Instead, let them know you are listening by reflecting their feelings:  "You sound frustrated," or "I hate it when I feel that way."  Later, find something specific and positive to sincerely praise about the child's efforts.

Habit: You may need to choose your battles, especially if he is consistently careless, but as often as possible:
1. Praise careful work, excellence and attention to detail.  Don't look for perfection (careless people may be hidden perfectionists who don't try, because their results can never be as good as they want them to be), but make a point to recognize extra effort, and do so specifically:  not, "That paragraph is great!" but, "You described the dinosaur five different ways!  Nice job!"
2. Require completion of tasks, on time.  Little things like putting their dirty clothes in a hamper instead of on the floor for mom to find, and putting the pieces of a board game back in a box after playing with it, are ways of being courteous to others.   Even small children can do these things.  The same applies to completion of homework.  If your child has an assignment list, you may need to help him go over it each night to be sure his homework is truly done.
3. Emphasize following directions.  If you ask your child to put his clothes away, and he throws them on his bed, he has not followed directions.  Likewise, if a worksheet says "Answer in complete sentences," and he gives 1-2 word answers instead, he has not done the assignment.
4. Reject lazy work.  If the student knows how to use capital letters and periods correctly and still writes sentences without them, make him go back and correct his work.  If he is randomly putting answers down on his math paper, or not bothering to show his work, he needs to redo it correctly.

Watching our children struggle can be heart-wrenching.  But we also know that allowing them-- or worse, enabling them-- to give up, simply to make their present life easier, is never in their best interest.   When we can help our children learn persistence and develop resilience, we are teaching them critical skills they will need to find their own brand of success in their adult lives.  And that's a job we can be proud of.


Sunday, October 1, 2017

The importance of immediate feedback

Ever wonder why your old math textbooks had the odd-problem answers in the back of the book?  Or why flash cards can be so helpful?  Or why educational computer games and digital learning are so effective?

A big part of the answer is immediate feedback.  When a child is learning multiplication facts, for example, the use of flash cards or electronic math drills allows him to form a question (What is 5x6?), put forth an answer (um...35?) and verify its correctness (no: 5x6=30) within seconds. The initial uncertainty in the brain actually forms a "hole" to fill or a connection for the brain to attach the information to. With enough repetition, the correct facts are cemented in the child's memory.

A screenshot from the free online math drill at mathsisfun.
Sometimes a learner doesn't recognize what he does and doesn't understand.  In this case, working through a problem and getting immediate feedback is critical to efficient learning.  Case in point, I am currently taking an online math course myself.  The homework assignments in this course are set up so that when an answer is submitted, I am immediately informed as to whether my answer is correct.  If it is, hooray, my procedure was good.  If not, then I have the immediate opportunity to find my error and fix it while the problem is still fresh in my mind.  More than once I have hit "submit," thinking I had worked the problem correctly, only to find I had not.  Other times, I am unsure whether I have done something right, and am pleased to find that I have.  Either way, the immediate feedback allows me to remember the correct procedure much better than the delay of a day or even a week as we used to do in the old days of turning in homework on paper.

Which explains those odd answers in the back of the book: when students are working independently, it does no good for them to do the work if they are doing it wrong.  As I used to tell my classroom students, "Show your work as you do each problem, but then check your answers. If it's wrong, redo it until you get it right!"

So whether your child is practicing math facts or doing homework, make sure he has access to quick feedback.  Maybe this means checking the back of a book, or trade-and-grade the next day in class.  If you are homeschooling, maybe it means giving your child the answer key to check his own work when he is finished each day, or in some cases, sitting beside a new learner to help her catch errors as soon as she makes them.   The sooner the feedback, the faster the learning.






Saturday, July 8, 2017

A twist on multiplication flash cards.

I read a short ebook this week by Renee Ellison called Teach Math Faster.  (Quick read, only $0.99 on Amazon Kindle.)  She has some very good hands-on ideas for helping children with math basics.  One of them was a twist on the tried-and-true multiplication flash cards, in which she added a visual representation of each quantity instead of simply writing the numerals.

Why is this helpful?  Because the more often a child can use concrete ideas when learning math, the better he will understand what the numbers are doing. Math educators call this "number sense."  For example, instead of rotely memorizing the words and symbols of
6 x 4 = 24,  the child using Ellison's flash card design sees an array of 24 blocks, arranged in four rows of six blocks each.

This is the front of a
Teach Math Faster flash card.
Now of course, children who are old enough to learn multiplication will have long mastered the concept of number symbols standing for quantities.  However, many children have only a shallow understanding of what multiplication actually means.  They will use "times" as a verb-- "I can times six an three"-- in the same way that my children used to think that verse was a verb meaning "to defeat"-- as in, Godzilla versus ("verses") Megalon.  (They would say, "I'm going to verse those bad guys!")  But when the front of the flash card shows a graphic representation of what  "six times four" means, the concept is reinforced at the same time that the memorization is taking place.

An added dimension of concept reinforcement occurs when a range of multiplication facts is studied-- while "8x7=56" uses the same number of digits as "2x5=10," there is a clear difference between the space occupied by ten squares compared to fifty-six squares.  The child's number sense increases when she sees just how much bigger 56 is than 10.

On the back of the flash card, Mrs. Ellison repeats the array, this time without the numbers, and provides the product:

This is the back of a Teach Math Faster flash card.
So when the child is using this flash card, he is reading the numbers on the front and multiplying them in his head just like a traditional flash card.  He checks for the correct answer on the back, just like a traditional flash card.  But his brain is experiencing something totally new: the abstract symbols are gone, replaced by a picture of what's happening in the problem.

Genius!

Now for the bad news:  as far as I know, this style of flash cards is not commercially available.  Like the other manipulatives in Mrs. Ellison's little book, they have to be home made.  She recommends using graph paper to keep the size of the squares consistent-- otherwise, there is less visual impact in the size difference that I explained above.  So you-- or your child-- write the numbers in the squares and cut the arrays out, then glue them onto index cards.

One suggestion I would make:  if you are using color-coded math manipulatives such as Cuisenaire rods or Math-U-See blocks, match the flash cards to whichever set you're using.  It's as simple as adding lines of the appropriate colors to the edges of the array on the front side of the card, like this:

This array matches Cuisenaire rods, with
forest green for 6 and magenta for 4.
Math-U-See would use purple and yellow.

Cuisenaire rods and Math-U-See blocks
use different colors to signify quantities.
Be sure not to color-code the back side of the card, however, because that would too quickly give away the numbers that the student is supposed to be memorizing.  The array itself already shows the answer if the student counts the blocks, but he still has to work for it. Color-coding the front side makes sense because the number symbols are also written in, so nothing is being given away.

As mentioned in a previous post, adding color provides one more level of connection for the brain.  If your child already associates certain quantities with specific colors, tapping into this association will increase his number sense as he learns his multiplication facts.


Friday, June 30, 2017

Make an abacus: a fun summer math craft!

Other than loose rocks and seeds that prehistoric people used to count with, one of the most ancient math manipulatives is the abacus, or counting frame.  If your

This Chinese abacus predates our written number system.
kids have one, great! But just like growing their own garden can tempt kids to eat their vegetables, making math "toys" can encourage them to see math as something fun and exciting.  So why not have them make one?

There are many ways to make an abacus.  You can find a variety of abacus types and a variety of materials they can be made from.  However it's made, it's a great math manipulative your students can use over and over.

The type of abacus you make depends on what you want to use it for.  A simple 100-bead abacus is a great way to show place value.  The traditional Chinese or Japanese abacuses are a little more abtract.  These ancient counting frames are still base-ten models-- that is, they represent numbers whose digits represent multiples of 10 based on their position in the number-- but they use fewer beads per row because a separate section of each row contains higher-value beads.  Click here for a tutorial on how these traditional abaci (or abacuses) work.


A ten-bead per row, 100 bead abacus.
Math programs such as Right Start routinely use a 100-bead type of abacus to model place value.  This abacus typically has 100 beads, arranged in ten rows of ten beads each, often with five of one color and five of another to make the numbers easy to read.  The abacus is held so that the rows are vertical, and the row on the far right is the ones' place, with the next row to the left being tens, then hundreds, and so on.  When decimals are introduced, a dot can be placed along the frame to redefine the rows as hundredths, tenths, ones, etc.


One of many abacus apps.

Of course, you can find online abacus apps and use those, but it's so much more fun to have a real one you can actually put your hands on! Especially if you made it yourself.

To construct your own abacus, you will need beads, a frame, and rods of some kind to string the beads on. The beads themselves can be plastic pony beads, wooden beads, homemade clay beads,  even paper beads.  The frame can be made of wooden strips, popsicle (craft) sticks, or cardboard.  The beads can be strung onto wire, string, pipe cleaners ("chenille stems"), toothpicks, or bamboo skewers.  Even string can be used.  This clever video shows an abacus made entirely of paper and tape!

Two types of abaci among
 my favorite math "toys."
My favorite, portable, sturdy abacus is made of 50 pony beads, strung 10 at a time onto bamboo skewers, with the skewer ends hot-glued between pairs of popsicle sticks.  But if all you have is Froot Loops, tape, and plastic straws, the cereal can be strung on the straws and taped to a frame cut from the cereal box.   Be creative!   Other options, with more detailed instructions, are linked below.



Monday, June 26, 2017

Color can add hands-on interaction to assignments

Not every assignment that your child is asked to do will be as "hands-on" as she might need. Some worksheets and study guides tend to be so non-engaging that they end up being more busy-work than instructional aids. However, there are specific modifications you can make to the assignments which can increase her whole-brain involvement without affecting the intent of the assignment (or the grading of it).  One of the easiest modifications is to add extra concept-bridging steps to the assignment through the use of color.

No, I am not talking about coloring pages here.  Handing a child a picture to color rarely engages his brain in any way that reinforces learning.  On the other hand, asking a child to add colors to a diagram, text or drawing in a way that requires analysis of the words or pictures will make a significant impact to his learning.

A net and its solid.
Add color.  Highlighters, markers, crayons, and colored pencils are indispensable when it comes to helping your child sink her brain into a pencil-and-paper assignment.   In a recent math lesson, one of my students was having trouble visualizing the net of a geometric solid.  He couldn't see how the faces of the 3D drawing matched the faces of the net diagram. Ideally, we could have cut out a series of nets, then folded and taped them together to build paper models of the solids-- and we did do one just to make sure he understood the concept-- but that's very time consuming and we had many different solids to figure out.  This was a case where "hands-on" had to be a little more creative, and color-coding became the hands-on bridge from looking at a simple assignment to actually being able to work with it and analyze it.
The net and solid, color-coded.



For this assignment, I had him color-code the faces of the solid figure and the corresponding faces on the net; he was then able to make the connection between the 2D and 3D figures.  Once he could see the way the faces related to each other, where they connected, and the shape of each one, he could more easily match the solids to their nets.






Another use of color can help students understand math processes. For example, some of my students have struggled with long division or multi-digit multiplication, getting lost with all the different numbers that have to interact with each other.  Here we see a number multiplied by 23.  The digits 2 and 3 are color coded to match their products as the number is multiplied out:


In this way, a student can see that 1353 is the complete product of 3 x 451, while 9020 is the complete product of 20 x 451.  Notice the "placeholder zero" is colored an almost invisible gray to reflect the "invisiblitity" of the ten's place zero that makes 23 = 20 + 3.    Division can be analyzed the same way, writing each digit of the quotient in a different color so that the student sees what is happening in the process:


Color coding is equally effective in studying spelling rules.  Students who cannot identify the individual phonograms in a word are stuck with memorizing the unique spelling of every word they encounter, which severely limits their ability to spell. What they need is a way to see the phonograms in a word as they study its spelling. While my favorite hands-on spelling instruction is done by manipulating movable letter tiles, or physically cutting up words into syllables and letter combinations, this is not always practical. Instead, students can be shown how to color code the various phonograms in their spelling words.



Color-coded phonograms.
In this assignment, for example, a student might have been told to simply copy his spelling list.  That's easily done without involving much of the brain, even if he has to "copy each word five times each." Instead, modifying the assignment to add in some color-coding will require the student to analyze and interact with the words in a more hands-on way, which can increase the likelihood of actually learning to spell the words.



For the example above, the student may the words himself, changing the color of his pencil for each phonogram.  He could also write them in regular pencil and then underline the letters in different colors.  Highlighting or using colored pencils to circle the phonograms in a pre-printed list could achieve the same purpose for students who have diffficulty with writing.

The directions for the above example could go something like this:
1. Separate each word into syllables.*
2. Write single-letter vowel sounds in black, single-letter consonant sounds in blue.
3. Write double letter (same letter) consonant sounds in red, two-letter consonant sounds in green, two-letter vowel sounds in purple.
4. Underlined silent e..
5. If a separate, single-letter consonant or vowel sound follows another one, give it a different color (e.g., the "c" in escape, or the "a" in creation).

(*Note: I was taught that syllables are officially divided in the middle of double consonants: bel-low.  However, for the sake of identifying phonograms, the sound of a double letter such as /l/ occurs once in the word, so we can treat "ll"  as a single phonogram spelled with two letters, just like ph or sh, which are never separated.)


Color-coded roots, suffixes and prefix.
Besides learning the spelling of words, adding color can help children learn the meaning of words.  Vocabulary study often emphasizes prefixes, suffixes, and roots from Greek or Latin.  Color-coding can be very helpful for this as well.  Simply highlighting prefixes in one color, and suffixes in another, can help a student focus on the base words and analyze the meanings of words.  Or in a list of words that share certain roots, highlighting each root in its own color can call attention to the shared meaning of the words.

This concept can be easily extended to have students color-code the roots to match the corresponding key words in their definitions:


As you can imagine, analyzing words this way gets the hands, eyes, and brain involved in a manner that simply copying the words over and over cannot do. Similarly, color can be used to analyze text.  People have used highlighting to mark important information for years.  Why not use a variety of highlighting colors more intentionally?  If your child's assignment involves reading for information, he may use color to match information in the text to individual questions, either before he writes his answers, or afterwards.  While it may seem redundant to mark up a text in this way, the process actually increases reading comprehension by engaging the brain in a more concrete way than simply writing an answer.  Some schools teach this technique of "justifying" a response, requiring students to mark the information in the text that supports their answer:

This worksheet becomes more effective when the student
 uses color to match textual information to the questions.



Adding the targeted use of color to an assignment is limited only by the imagination.  A science diagram can be color coded to indicate the function of various structures. A history article might have facts highlighted that correspond to opposing political views. Whatever the student is asked to learn, color can help add hands-on interaction to even the most black-and-white of worksheets.








Sunday, June 25, 2017

Laura Kasbar - Converting Apraxia and Scripting to Conversational Speech...




There are several people/companies that I get very excited about who are working with the special education community.  Asperger Experts is one of them.  Geminii is another company; they produce a speech therapy video system to improve verbal communication for children with autism, Down Syndrome, traumatic brain injury, or apraxia of speech due to other issues.

This video features the originator of Geminii, Laura Kasbar, who developed the videos for her own on-spectrum children based on her background in foreign language learning. She explains the research behind its development, as well as the research that has been done actually using Geminii, and shares some success stories.  She doesn't promise miracles; some children have used it and their command of language becomes asymptomatic, while others (especially adults who have lived their lives without speaking) may gain only a few words-- although, as Kasbar remarks, just being able to say "yes" and "no" can have a profound impact on a person's life.  She does admit that its effectiveness is limited for people who have seizures, as the seizures seem to erase any new learning.  (I have heard of that issue before.)  The system is currently available as a monthly subscription at about $98/month, with scholarships available.  Using the subscription, parents are able to tailor a program to their child's specific needs and modify it as the child progesses.

As Ms Kasbar explains, the strength of the video system is that children with speech apraxia may need as many as 8,000 repetitions of a concept to learn it, and learn best in short, frequent sessions.  Using a targeted video for a few minutes, several times a day over several months allows more input to the child's brain than he might get from years of weekly, hour-long sessions with a speech therapist.  While I am not a speech therapist, and have never used this program, nor do I yet know anyone who has, the principles used in its development make it a program I would recommend to anyone whose child has speech problems.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Signs that your child might benefit from a change of educational venue

Back in the day, my parents and grandparents didn't have much of an option when it came to how their children were educated.  It was pretty much understood that we would be going to the neighborhood schools.  That's what everybody did-- unless you were rich, in which case you went to a private school, or handicapped, in which case you were bused to the special school.  Whatever school you attended, you were likely to be surrounded by teachers who had been teaching for years and years.  They had their routines down pat, and taught the same thing every year because it worked. Except when it didn't, in which case you were generally out of luck.

Now things are very different. There are so many options out there for educating your child that a parent can become very confused, not to mention locked in a guilt-trip of worrying if they have made the right choice, and constantly second-guessing themselves.  Our children only have one shot at childhood, and what if we mess it up?  What if we make the wrong decision, and our child's future is in ruins?

The good news-- or maybe the bad news-- is that no perfect method of schooling exists.  There are benefits and drawbacks to every one: home schooling, classroom learning, online, hybrid, public, private.  Only you can decide which is right for your family and your child.  And it may be that what is perfect for your child one year becomes less effective in the future.  While too much moving back and forth can be detrimental to your child's education, it's okay to take each year as it comes.  For example, my two children started out in public school, but various circumstances made us decide on home school after they finished first (younger) and second (older) grades.  This proved successful for the next six years, but when our older child was ready to enter high school, he elected to rejoin his former classmates, as did his younger sister.  With proper planning, they hit the ground running and made a smooth transition back into public school.  When I was a public school teacher, I had students enter the classroom for the first time in sixth grade, while others made the opposite transition, choosing to home school for the first time during the middle school years.

The "default," of course, is still the neighborhood school.  The advantages to this option include easy opportunities to make local friends, trained teachers and specialists, and relatively low cost.  It also allows your child to experience a variety of adult leaders with different personalities and strengths. Another benefit is that someone else carries the responsibility for lesson planning, grading and monitoring your child for the bulk of the school day.

If you have doubts that your neighborhood school is the best choice for your child, there may be local magnet schools, charter schools, or private schools that would suit her better.  If your child is thriving in a group setting, but the curriculum or school philosophy is a poor fit, you should investigate these first.  But how do you know if homeschooling might be the best alternative?

Signs that homeschooling might be helpful


  • anxiety- mental or physical distress that appears highest on school days.
  • falling behind- needing help to keep up with the academic concepts.
  • lack of challenge- needing more depth or breadth to the academic work.
  • lack of interest- no excitement for learning.
  • missing basic/foundational skills- significant deficits in math facts, spelling, writing, reading. 
  • overload- inability to complete assignments in time allowed.
  • physical unfitness- spending all day on school work, with no time to play.
  • lack of time- no time for family activities, hobbies, personal interests.

On the other hand, what if you have been home schooling for a while and you suspect it might be losing its effectiveness?  Here are some things to look for:

Signs that classroom learning might be helpful


  • loneliness- if interaction with scouts, youth groups, sports, home school groups isn't enough.
  • boredom- when your student needs activities and resources that you can't provide yourself.
  • seeking stimulation- some children learn better when discussing things with peers.
  • lack of confidence- sometimes seeing that peers also struggle with learning is reassuring. 
  • desire to interact with peers- even siblings aren't enough sometimes.
  • competitiveness- the child who is challenged by others' success may lag behind at home.

What signs have you seen that might suggest your child would benefit from a different mode of education?