Search Results for: homework

Managing Homework

As school starts back each year, many families struggle over how and when to schedule homework. Here are a few tips:

  • Let your child help set the schedule – Think about and discuss the child’s needs first. Does your child need a few minutes to unwind and have a snack just after school, or are they the type who want to jump right in and get it done before relaxing? Does your child work best in one long stretch, or would it be best to break the homework time into sessions? Do they prefer to get the hard work out of the way first or knock the easier things off the list and then buckle down? The idea here is the more choices the child has, the greater their sense of control, and they may be more willing to get to work.
  • Consider other pieces of the schedule and mark it on the calendar – Of course, many children work homework around soccer practice and piano lessons. If you have a busy family schedule, it may be best to sit and actually put homework time on the calendar each week.
  • Fully stock their homework area – Before they sit for their first homework session, be sure they have everything they will need. This varies by grade, but at a minimum have sharpened pencils, erasers, and lined paper. Older children may need erasable pens, graph paper, and a calculator. If things are readily available it is one less reason to procrastinate.
  • Two notes on homework area – Be sure their space is well lit. Unless it is just reading, strive to have them seated at a desk or table. I get children laying across the sofa or sprawled out on the floor for reading time, but if there is writing involved, encourage them to get up off the floor and seated.
  • Take a minute to consider what all needs to be done – If there are several tasks, help children make a check list. Just a few tasks, help them to put things in order.
  • Start early teaching them to study and review – By second grade, children should be thinking about reviewing previous work and studying for tests. This is a few minutes additional to their homework time and done regularly, not just the night before a test.

If you want to learn more, join me for a night on Managing Homework & Building Academic Motivation. This is happening Thursday, September 30th from 7:00-9:00 p.m. at my Alexandria location. For more information and to register, please visit http://www.eventbrite.com/org/283710166?s=1328924.

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End Homework Battles

There are two homework battles you should end before they start. The two issues families struggle over most often are time and place.

To settle the time for homework, sit down with your child and a calendar. Write in when all after school activities are taking place. Consider how long homework should take each night. Put a good amount of time on the calendar each night for at least several weeks and then stick to this schedule as best as you can. Keep notes as you go about what works and what doesn’t. After the first several weeks check the calendar again and make a plan moving forward. The idea here is to end the daily debates about when to get started on homework.

Another guideline related to time with homework is how long to spend each night. The best answer is to set the length of homework at the longer end of what it typically takes your child to complete. For the first two weeks, record how long homework takes. If it varies from 25 to 35 minutes, plan for 35 minutes every night moving forward. On nights when assigned homework only takes 20 minutes, use the other 15 for reading or another school related activity. If they get to go play as soon as they finish each night, many will learn to rush through. Keeping it the same amount of time each night encourages them to slow down.

To settle the place for homework, sit down with your child and discuss the options. Think about a quiet, well lit place with a good table top for writing. This may be a counter in the kitchen or their bedroom desk. Once the place is decided, stock it with all the supplies they may need. This includes pens, pencils, a highlighter, paper, notebooks, scissors, a ruler and a calendar. Again, this ends the daily debates.

Good Luck!
Dr. Rene

Answers to Overscheduling

Calendar and to do lists hanging on refrigerator

Parenting often involves a whole lot of scheduling. It’s your own schedule, it’s their school and activities schedule, their playdates and homework or screen time. It is a lot to juggle.

  • Get a Master Calendar – We have a desk size calendar on our dining room table and have each year since our oldest was six. It has our work schedules, school events, parties, weekend plans and vacations. For a while, it had playdates then homework hours. The kids chore chart is right beside the calendar.
  • An hour a day of downtime – If your family’s schedule always seems full, an hour of downtime a day, every day, may be the first thing to put on the calendar. Downtime for children is truly unstructured, go-play time. It is not time on screens and not full of activities that you provide. It’s a time for them to make their own plans. Ideally it’s a full hour at a time, but it’s okay to break it up when you have to.
  • Consider limits – There are so many pulls on our time. It can be helpful to at least consider limits on screen time, set times for homework (even if it varies throughout the week, at least it’s on the calendar), and have 20 minutes of reading and 20 minutes of being read to daily.

General guidelines – These are all for starters, meaning a good place to start, and then a child may be able to handle more or need to shift to less.

  • In Preschool – In the preschool years, consider only scheduling something fixed on days off. If your child is in school three days a week, maybe plan for two or three activities on the days off. For children in five full days, plan for just one other on Saturdays.
  • Starting Kindergarten – The transition to Kindergarten can be exhausting for children. It is a fast paced, academic environment with little downtime or rest. It may be helpful to lay low on other structured activities for the first month or two of Kindergarten.
  • In Elementary School – Plan for school plus two structured activities at a time. However, there are children who can handle far more and some that school is plenty. Two would men piano and soccer or boy scouts and swimming. It may be helpful to place these on Monday and Tuesday when they are more rested from the weekend, or on the weekend when the rest of the day is relaxed.
  • In Middle School – Plan for school plus three structured activities at a time. Also plan for one major activity and two minor activities at a time. Major activities would be a school sport or being a lead in a school play. These types of activities may meet four or five days a week.
  • Go for variety – For my own children, I encourage them to participate in something athletic and something musical at any given time. I’ve let them pick the instruments and sports, just encouraged them to go broad and try new things often. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests children not specialize in a year round sport until at least twelve years old.

Answers

  • Have a mission statement – When signing up for something, at least consider why you are enrolling and what you hope you or your child gets out of it.
  • Have the child help decide on activities – By about six or seven years old, I’d ask and take their answers in to account. For sure, when they start in the school band, they should pick the instrument. When they register for high school classes, they should have at least half the say if not more.
  • Also fine to have a few givens – In my house, everyone learns to swim. The option may be different in your house. Maybe it’s foreign language classes to be able to communicate with extended family. It is okay to decide some of this for them as well.
  • Make family time a priority – It may be helpful to put this on the calendar as well. Goals might include whole family time, doing something all together at least once a week. Couples time, a date night (even if it’s at home in front of the TV) at least twice a month. Individual pairs in the family, at least once a month.
  • Resist judging them at every turn – Children aren’t supposed to be good at anything. If they join the swim team, focus on enjoying the meets and asking questions to learn about their experience. Focus on their effort and process more than outcomes.

Are we together too much?

happy child girl with a kite running on meadow in summer

Tips for Creating Space in a Family

“I feel like I am disciplining my children way more often than my mother had to discipline me.” I hear this often. It may be that we, as families, are just together too much. Or, at least together way more than we were with our families growing up.

Aging myself here, I was a child in the 1970s. Summers and weekends we were outside, playing in the neighborhood, and riding bikes to the park at six years old with lots of other neighborhood kids. There were long days when my mom would say, just after breakfast, “go find someone to play with,” which meant, “go knock on neighbors doors until you find something to do.” We’d be out until lunch and then often out again until dinner. When I was inside, my mother was often busy with cleaning house, cooking or grad school. She was rarely playing with me.

I am not saying to put your kids outside for the day after breakfast, and let them fend for themselves at 6 years old. I get it doesn’t work that way anymore. If your kid were out there, they’d be out there alone and likely CPS would take issue. And, it’s good to play with your kids.

I am saying our kids are underfoot, they are indoors and often stuck with siblings for much longer stretches. They have constant supervision until much later ages. This shift means more discipline and more sibling conflicts. It means more pressure to provide structured activities and classes. It means arranging more playdates.

  • Encourage independent play – By three years old, a child should be able to occupy their own time for about 20 minutes. By five years old maybe 45 minutes to an hour. If your child isn’t able to do this, they may need more practice. During the summers in preschool and elementary school, my girls had 30 minutes each day to go to any room in the house to play alone. Some days one was the playroom the other in the living room, other days each others’ bedrooms. It wasn’t that they were in trouble, it was a time for everyone to have a bit of space. For older children, this might be having an independent reading time each day in the summer. Here is a blog post with lots of helpful ideas to encourage independent play.
  • Think downtime daily – Downtime is truly unstructured and relaxed time. This can be when they are busy with independent play. It can be time playing with siblings or time to just look out the window or hang out with the dog. It’s not time on screens and it’s not time directed by you. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) would like children to have at least an hour of downtime a day at three through ten years old.
  • Have more long term projects – To encourage downtime and independent play as children are a little older, it may be helpful to have a few long term projects available. This might be a large jigsaw puzzle on the dining room table, model kits, building sets they are allowed to leave out, latch hook rugs or big fuzzy posters to color.
  • Get them outside often – There is so much more space outside. The playground, the park, a walk in the neighborhood, the field behind your house, county parks, the woods. I get you are going to trail along at least for a while. There is so much benefit to spending time outside and in nature. A good parenting book is Last Child in the Woods by Louv.
  • Take them to the playground and plan to sit on a bench for some of the time – Once they are able to manage the playground equipment, it is fine to take stretches to sit on a bench and watch from a distance rather than follow them around the playground. Yes, it’s good to play with them, but it’s also good to give them some space.
  • The backyard – When they are young, this might be sitting out in the backyard with a good book while they play nearby. As they are older and you feel comfortable, this is letting them outside on their own.
  • Plan playdates then strive for less supervision – So this one may backfire. Invite a friend over and you may need to supervise more. The hope is you find a few friends who get along very well with your child for one-on-one playdates and schedule them more often. Here is a blog post all about playdates.
  • Give them a chance to work things out on their own – When children have conflicts with friends at any age, it is good to let them try to work it out. Even toddlers might surprise you with their ability to give a turn or help another child. It’s helpful to keep an eye on things, and if it starts to go south, you can intervene. Under three years old you are likely making the decisions and walking them through ways to solve. As they get older, it’s helpful to gradually do less. This might be helping them brainstorm solutions or giving a few suggestions. The goal is to support them learning to work it out on their own and they can’t do that if you continue to solve things for them. Give them some room.
  • Give siblings a break from each other – This might be the daily play times listed above. You could have each invite a playdate over and then play with their friends on separate levels of the house. It might be having individual outings with each parent regularly. You might have them work on homework in separate rooms.
  • Give privacy when they ask – At some point, most children close the door when they use the bathroom or sleep, and ask that they bathe separate from siblings. The idea is to plan to give them privacy when they ask for it. As long as you feel they are safe and old enough, step out.
  • Their bedroom is their space in the house – This includes letting them pick the paint and the decoration as young as you can tolerate. As they are in middle school or high school, this might be letting them keep their room how they’d like to keep it. You can insist on a deep clean once a month, and in between maybe just close the door.
  • Good to have some boundaries for your own privacy – When they are little, privacy is often unheard of, they follow you in the bathroom and basically sit on top of you on the couch. It is fine to teach them about personal space and request it as needed.
  • Still set smart limits on screen time – I get that handing them a screen, your phone or a tablet is an easy way to buy you some time, but it comes at a cost. If you do this often or for long stretches, their time on screens may skyrocket. Here is a link to four articles that outline the current screen time limits offered by the AAP.
  • Have hobbies and other interests – It’s healthy for everyone in the family to have outside interests. If you’ve lost your time for that, finding it again will give everyone a bit of space.

Things to Consider When Giving Your Child a Cellphone

Group Of Young Children Hanging Out In Playground

How and when to give a child a cell phone of their own is a big decision for parents. The bulk of research suggests that the less screen time children have the better. The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests having a family plan with set limits on screen use. Giving them a cell phone is putting a screen, often with a camera and the internet, in their pocket. Setting limits becomes that much more challenging.

I’ve met three-year-olds who have their own phones and tablets. That ownership seems young by any standards. In the United States about 10% of children have their own phone by five years old, and 65% by ten to twelve years old. As a mom, I wanted my children to be able to call home without having to ask permission when they started riding with other families often and spending the night away from home. This made sense to me at 12 years old, around 7th grade. Whenever you decide, here are a few things to consider:

  • Start with a limited phone – Our girls each started with a talk and text phone only for the first two years.
  • The phone belongs to the parent – We made this really clear from the beginning. We own the phone and are sharing it with them. It was understood that we’d check on their phone use, their calls and their texting once in a while. It isn’t an invasion of privacy if it’s part of the plan.
  • Only connect with people you know in real life – This rule applied to talk, text and chat in the beginning. It applies to Facebook and Snapchat now. It doesn’t apply to Twitter and Instagram, but we had a talk to make that decision as a family.
  • Talk directly about inappropriate talk, texts and pictures – If they are old enough to have a cellphone, they are old enough to have these conversations. Make your expectations and limits clear.
  • Good to get permission to add apps or have accounts – It’s helpful to be clear about what apps and accounts they may have, and the need for having permission before they add new ones.
  • Smart to have apps and accounts where they do – You don’t have to be connected to them directly (don’t have to be their friend or follower), but it’s smart to know how each works and what’s available there. I was mildly surprised by what’s available on Instagram.
  • Healthy to set daily screen free times and places – In our house this is all mealtimes, school hours and homework time unless it is specifically required.
  • Set a daily time to turn off – In our house this is 9:00pm on week nights and 11:30pm on weekends and vacations.
  • Safe to hold onto the NOT in their bedrooms rule – When families first started having desk top computers, a common rule was to not have the computer in a child’s room. For safety and for healthy sleep, this rule remains a good one for all screens.
  • Fine for child to be responsible for part or all of this – Some families decide to have their child pay for some or all of their phone service. Other families add weekly chores in exchange for the phone.
  • Either way, discuss staying within data limits and plan if they go over – It is helpful that everyone knows what the limits are, how to stay in and what happens (or who pays) if anyone goes over.
  • Of course, important to consider the individual child – This includes how well they follow rules, meet expectations, how responsible they are with belongings and how much difficulty they’re having managing peer pressure and social conflicts.

 

 

What to Do When Your Child Says “I Don’t Wanna Go to School”

Parent Taking Child To Pre School

At some point, most children go through a phase of not wanting to go to school. For others, that push can ebb and flo for years. My younger daughter, Claire, has always had a difficult time going back after the Winter Break. There were tears in January throughout elementary school.

Smooth, calm morning – I understand their not wanting to go to school upset alone can be enough to knockout off the feeling of a smooth, calm morning. They may lose it, but you need to stay calm. Be the rock. If you need ideas to meet this goal, you might read Screamfree Parenting by Runkel or Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids by Markham.

Matter of fact empathy – When your child is upset, it is best to start there. Matter of fact empathy mean acknowledge the emotion, then continue with the routine. On a difficult morning this might be, “I know you are upset, you don’t want to go,” as you help put on their shoes, and, “I hear you want to stay home. I like staying home with you too,” as you walk them in. You are recognizing emotions and moving forward. Avoid starting with denial or reasoning. Denial would be “You like school. This shouldn’t be so hard.” Reasoning is “All of your friends are there, you’ll have fun at school.” Denial and reasoning are fuel for the argument.

Focus on the routine – It may be helpful to refocus on the routine. Talk to your child about the time available, steps that need to be done and the order. It may be helpful to make a chart together to keep track of the morning. Within each step, it’s often good to offer choices or challenges. When it’s time to get dressed, they might get dressed on the bed or the floor. A challenge might be racing you to get dressed. Here’s a blog post focused on improving your morning routine. If it is truly difficult to get through the morning, you might also start 15 minutes earlier to give everyone a chance to relax.

Note any patterns – By day two, the second year of Claire’s January blues, I was ready. Maybe it’s worse in September in your house. Maybe Mondays each week are hardest. Most things are easier when you see them coming. Knowing the pattern can help you plan.

Speak with their teacher – Whenever there’s a school related difficulty, it’s good to check in with the teacher. The teacher may be able to point to something specific happening at school, or may let you know everything seems fine once child is there. Either way, it’s helpful information. You might also ask the teacher for help. This might include setting up a specific way for your child to start school each day. Coming into a known situation (everyday the first thing will be this) may be easier than not knowing day-to-day. This might be giving your child a morning buddy; a friend to be together with for first transition activities and classwork.

Speak with your child – Occasionally and out of the moment, ask them what’s going on in the mornings before school. Ask what they are thinking about. Ask if there’s anything they are happy about, worried about, excited about or scared about at school. One question here and there, in a relaxed tone, at a calm time may be helpful.

Organize one-on-one playdates with a variety of kids from the class – Playdates give kids a chance to get to know their classmates. The more positive social connections they have with classmates; the more they might want to go to school.

Carpool – So this might be more time consumming than the initial push to avoid school, but your child may be more willing to go if they arrive with a friend. If your child is a bus rider this may mean having a bus stop buddy or asking the bus driver to help with seating friends together.

Alternate who manages the morning or drop off – It may be easier for a child to move through the morning with or separate from one parent than another, or from a sitter or grandparent versus a parent (if that’s available, even short term).

Things to bring – Not everyday, but occasionally, it may be helpful to have something for your child to take to or deliver to school. This might be something small to show his teachers or friends, a note he wrote or drew to someone, a snack to share with the class or a thing you need delivered to the office or guidance counselor.

Open talk time – As children move into late elementary school, keeping communication open is so important. Open talk time is an easy way to work towards that goal. This allows time for the child to vent and be heard, and for you both to work through things in a calm exchange.

Address any known causes – If there are academic concerns, revisit your homework plans, find new ways to practice the needed skills or hire a tutor. If it’s a social concern, meet with the guidance counselor, coach your child on ways to manage or follow up with the teacher. On either front, continue to monitor and follow up with interventions as needed. Do what’s needed to support your child in the area of concern.

Read related storybooks – For younger children, these books could be I Love You All Day Long, Llama Llama Misses Mama, The Kissing Hand or DW’s Guide to Preschool. For older children, Sophie’s Squash Go to School, The Brand New Kid or Sometimes I Worry Too Much but Now I Know How to Stop.

Read related parenting books – If it becomes a longer term or bigger issue, helpful parenting books include Helping Your Child Overcome Separation Anxiety, or School Refusal by Eisen and Engler or When Children Refuse School by Kearney and Albano.

There are also therapists who work with children around anxiety issues and school refusal.

 

Finding a Balance in Offering Children Choices

fitting

I am a firm believer in the steps of positive discipline as a framework for effectively managing most discipline exchanges. An active step is offering your child choices about how, when or where they can do the behavior you want them to do. If you want them to put on a coat you might offer, “the red or the blue.” If you want them to start homework you might offer, “start with reading or math,” or, “work at the kitchen table or your bedroom desk.” The goal is to gain the behavior by offering your child decision making power. The child buys into the behavior by making a choice.

Choices offer a more flexible step than consequences, and should be used in rotation with challenges and contribution first for most behaviors. It’s also good practice to offer choices occasionally outside of discipline moments. It’s nice to give even young children choices about what to eat for breakfast, what to wear or how to spend their time on a Saturday afternoon. Here’s a full post on the use of choices in discipline.

I’ve met parents who fall at either far end of the continuum on their use of choices. There are parents who feel children shouldn’t be given choices. That all things go easier when children are told what to do, and discipline provides the follow up. That offering choices gives too much power and creates a struggle where there wasn’t one previously. There are also parents who give their children too many choices, choices for everything all day. When these parents offer a choice and the child says, “no,” the parent may offer another choice and then another until the child agrees. There is a good balance between these two extremes. Choices tend to gain compliance, too many choices and behavior runs amok.

Choices too often – When children have choices for absolutely everything, it may be a struggle for them when choices aren’t available. The idea is to use choices, challenges or contribution before consequence language for most discipline exchanges. It’s also great to give choices at other times during the day. It becomes too much when the child is frustrated if there aren’t choices available. The goal is for children to be flexible to this and equally follow requests or directions when there aren’t choices available.

Too many choices – Giving a three-year-old a choice of eight things is likely overwhelming and can lead to frustration. The idea is to start with a choice of two and go wider as they ask for a third choice.

Giving choice, after choice because the child doesn’t like the options – You offer a choice of two things and the child says, “no,” so you offer a choice of two other things and then another. This can quickly become a pattern that repeats often and adds frustration to the system. The answer is to stick with the first offered choices and help children to choose.

If you end up choosing – If the child doesn’t choose, you can choose for them, but you have to let them know that’s coming. You might say, “this is taking too long, you can choose, or I will choose for you.” If you then end up choosing, it is good to stick with the choice you made. Sticking with it encourages children to choose when you say, “you can choose, or I will choose for you,” moving forward.

Continually changing their choices – Let’s say you offer the choice of a red or blue coat, and the child chooses red. The coat is on, you are leaving the house, and the child yells for blue. Once the follow through has happened, as best you can, it is good to stick with the first choice. This helps children to choose well the first time, rather than going back and forth as a game.

Choices are meant to make a discipline exchange easier. If choices are adding to the difficulty, it’s good to step back and think about how the choices are off track. I am happy to answer questions about this or any other discipline questions in the comments below.

 

 

 

Encouraging a Sense of Responsibility

One beautiful middle eastern little girl with pink dress and long dark brown hair and eyes on white kitchen,helping parents to wash dishes and drinking water and smiling looking at camera studio.

Responsibility is best taught in small doses across childhood. Think of gradually increasing expectations, ownership and chores overtime.

Responsible for belongings – A way to build a sense of responsibility is to have them gradually be responsible for their belongings. This means teaching them to keep their toys clean and all the pieces together, keep their floor reasonably clean and keep matching gloves throughout the winter.

This also means they are gradually responsible for their sports and activity supplies. At four and five years old, they should be helping you to pack their ballet or soccer supplies. By six and seven, you should be helping them pack their supplies. By eight and nine years old, they should be packing their own supplies. You might make them a checklist or a picture chart, but it’s important to encourage independence here.

In kindergarten and 1st grade, you can help pack up their school supplies and be sure they have what they need. By 2nd grade, they should be packing and you can check after. By 3rd grade, check every other day. By 4th grade, it’s theirs to do but check in occasionally, and offer more checking if they struggle.

Avoid rescuing them – If they lie to someone, have them talk to that person and fess up. If they take something from a store, even a small something have them return it and apologize. If they get a bad grade, focus the follow up on how they can improve and do better, and check in more as they go. Avoid working to get them out of it – speaking to the person about the lie for them, letting them keep the small thing or taking it back yourself, calling to ask to excuse the grade.

Avoid creating work for other people – This has been a mild mantra in our house. When the girls were little, we’d all spend a few minutes cleaning our mess before we left a restaurant. If you decide you don’t want something when you’re shopping, it has to go back to where it belongs.

Model and encourage work before play – Clean bedrooms before friends come over, and do chores before going out to a matinee.

Model and encourage helping others, even small acts of kindness – This may be shoveling a neighbor’s driveway, helping someone carry groceries or just checking in with a friend who’s been sick or is elderly.

Teach responsibility with volunteering and community efforts – This can be participating as a family with your school’s charity efforts, your church’s outreach programs or finding places and ways to volunteer together. The website our-kids.com has a resource list of places to volunteer as a family in the Northern Virginia and D.C.

Teach responsibility through chores – I like the idea of starting contribution, children being helpful throughout the day, by 18 months to two years old. They can carry small things to be helpful. By two-and-a-half they can match socks, they can set out spoons and napkins. By three-and-a-half, they can pour dog food and water plants.

By four or five years old, I like the idea of adding chores because they are part of the family. This is daily things like putting clothes in the hamper, putting plates in the sink or even helping make the bed, that are just expected and maybe charted, but not paid for. I particularly like pet care as a chore they do as part of the family. It encourages care for a living creature and responsibility to a relationship.

If you start there, by six or seven years old, I like the idea of adding paid chores. Keep contribution and a few chores they do to be part of the family, then, when you are ready, consider chores for allowance. Again, these are daily, otherwise they are things you keep track of and kids get paid weekly. If you lose the contribution and chores for family, it’s hard to get them to be helpful unless you pay them – and that’s not the goal.

As they get older, by nine or ten years old, you might be more flexible about chores. Maybe there’s a chore to do twice a week or a list of chores to pick from. It’s fine to get creative as long as everyone is aware of the new rules.

Prioritize school work, attendance and deadlines – It’s good to put homework or study time on the calendar daily, so kids see it’s importance. Encourage regular attendance. Help children to plan for and meet deadlines for projects and tests.

Encourage self care – Once your child can tie their own shoes, you are done tying their shoes. Have goals for self care. This may be getting dressed by five years old and taking showers independently by eight years old.

Be sure to set a good example – This includes keeping promises, showing up on time, taking care of your own belongings and keeping the house reasonably clean.

How to Encourage Kids to be Independent Problem Solvers

mother helping in homework to her son

Whether you have a four-year-old working on a new puzzle, or an 11-year-old working on difficult math problems, there are effective ways to support the problem solving process. Your tone, words, intensity and approach are all important. Overall, the goal should be the child becoming a more independent problem solver.

Here are several tips to get you started.

  • A warm and positive exchange – If helping your child with homework becomes a shouting match, take that as your cue to stop. Supportive problem solving is meant to be just that, it requires that you keep your calm. Frustration and upset tends to close down problem solving.
  • Ask how they want to be helped –  If a two-year-old asks you for help, just help. If an older child asks for help, pause and ask how they would like to be helped. Then listen and do your best to follow their lead. The goal here is for your child to feel in charge of the problem solving process and to take as much ownership of the process as possible.
  • Best to tie new knowledge to what is previously known – If a child is moving up from 25 piece to 60 piece puzzles, remind them how to look for edge pieces or to group by color. If your child is learning multiplication, start by reviewing repeat addition.
  • Give hints and suggestions not answers – When a second grader asks how to spell ‘elephant’, the last thing you do is spell ‘elephant’. Look through a zoo book together to find it, sound it out slowly and have them write the letters they hear, or type “ele” in the Google search box and help him choose from the words that pop up. If you just spell it, you are doing all the problem solving. Get them started in one of these ways, and they are learning to problem solve.
  • Focus on giving minimal help – The goal is to give the child just enough to be able to move forward.
  • Corrections shouldn’t feel like corrections – This is an easier guideline when children are young. When a two-year-old says ‘ram-baid’ for ‘band-aid,’ hopefully you don’t come down on them in a heavy way. You might say, “oh, you need a band-aid. Let’s go get you a band-aid.” Clearly modeling a correction, but the child doesn’t walk away feeling corrected. This can be much harder as your child gets older. Let’s say you just helped your 11-year-old work through three difficult math problems, each with several errors. Your child confidently says he’s got it and moves on to the next problem to immediately make the same errors. You feel frustrated and say, “no! That’s not how you do it. You are doing it wrong again.” That correction feels like a correction. At this point, your child doesn’t want to sit next to you let alone do math with you. A better thing to say would be, “hmm, that one looks tough too. Let’s look at the one just above,” or, “look at the problem we just did together. Can you find how we solved that one differently?” Clearly a correction, but it doesn’t feel so heavy.
  • Allow your child to struggle – It’s not good to let your child struggle to the point of tapping out, but it is good to let them grapple some. Jump in at the first sign of frustration, and you may be stopping the independent problem solving process.
  • Be flexible in your support – The idea is to give more help when they struggle and less help as they succeed. Listen to their words and watch their body language to know when they are moving forward.
  • Ask open ended questions – Open ended questions are better than choice, and choice questions are better than yes/no. Open ended questions allow the child to think about the possibilities and consider options. While choice questions at least allow the child to make a decision. These are more flexible for problem solving than yes/no questions which just require agreement.
  • Talk through your own problem solving – If you are working next to your child on a puzzle, talk about how you are matching colors or looking for certain shapes. When working through a math problem, talk about each step in detail. Hopefully your language will become their language in independent problem solving.
  • Process is more important than product – If you want your child to take ownership of outcomes, they need to have ownership of the process. This means letting them make decisions and letting the work be theirs. In second grade, Alicen had to make a time line of her life. She picked the pictures, wrote the captions, organized, drew arrows and glued. I thought it looked great. She didn’t think people would be able to follow it. I pointed out the arrows and she said the arrows weren’t enough; that it needed numbers. She proceeded to write a big, purple, Magic Marker number covering every picture. That would not have been my decision, but, in the end, she was thrilled with the outcome and took full ownership of her time line.
  • Remain available – If you are unavailable when kids get stuck, they tend to give up.

Ideas for Reading Aloud with Older Children

Leisure time for mother and daughter

The Department of Education encourages parents to read aloud to their children 20 minutes a day at a minimum. The idea is to read aloud to them for longer stretches and more often as you are able. It’s also suggested that you continue to read aloud to your children long passed the time you thought they’d listen. Children who read aloud through high school do better on Verbal SATs than those that read to aloud through middle school, and those who read through middle school better than those that do through grade school.

I know most parents reduce their reading aloud time as children become more fluent, independent readers. The trick is to give time for both. When my older daughter wanted time to read to herself, we added that to the bedtime routine rather than replacing our read aloud time. So they got 20 minutes of read aloud, and an additional 20 minutes of reading books independently.

There are lots of good ideas to help read aloud continue:

  • Keep it part of the daily routine – This way you don’t have to find the time each day, it’s already there. It also makes it expected. If you stop reading aloud for a long stretch of time, children may be more hesitant or think “it’s for babies” when you try to start again.
  • Let your children pick the books – At any age, it is helpful if children feel they have some choice in the matter. Letting them pick the books is an easy way to give this. When the girls were little, I’d read the same books 20 nights in a row if that’s what they picked. Now we take turns choosing chapter books. I almost always pick a classic because they never do.
  • Take turns reading aloud – Once they are fluent readers, it can be nice to take turns during this read aloud time.
  • Occasionally read more active participation books – This might be a fill in the blank book or a quiz book. This might be something along the lines of the Choose Your Own Adventure series that let the reader make plot decisions throughout the book.
  • Shake up the types of books – As they are older, some children are drawn to biographies or sports books, others to how-to books or articles from magazines.  You might also try poetry or plays. Any reading is fine.
  • Read picture books longer – Once you start chapter books, it’s good to include picture books occasionally. There are so many picture books that really are aimed at older kids. You might try Stripes or Mr. Peabody’s Apples.
  • Occasionally, read their homework aloud – Not often as they need to be doing this reading, but I think it’s fine once in a while to read their homework aloud. I’ve done this, especially when they are struggling with a topic or the reading seems particularly dry to them.

Any other ideas? Please share them here!

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