Coronavirus survival guide: homeschooling the under 11s

The coronavirus has turned all our lives upside down and homeschooling is going to have a major impact on families. We now have to juggle work, housekeeping, and being a parent with being a teacher. At the moment links to resource websites are circulating on social media, but there are so many of them that it’s overwhelming. We’ve created this guide to cut through the noise. Our aim is to point you towards the resources that we think will be most valuable to you.

It’s likely that your child’s school will send work home either this week or next week if they haven’t already. The ideas and links here are intended to supplement the resources you will already have so that you have enough to keep your child busy, motivated and learning…and to keep you sane!

What does my child need to learn?

To find out what is covered in each year group have a look online at the National Curriculum for each subject. For example, you might type into a search engine ‘National curriculum design and technology year 6’.

The BBC Bitesize website is a great second port of call. On this site you will be able to see what is covered in every subject, across every year group. The best thing about this website is that it also gives activities and supplies interactive materials.

How can I structure the day?

The Five Minute Mum gives some brilliant tips about how to structure your day as well as lots of quick activities. Try to replicate the school day as far as possible, scheduling short break and longer breaks. You will know how long your child is able to concentrate for and this will probably vary day-to-day.

During breaks encourage your child to play with their toys outside. Play with them too so that they build on PE skills such as throwing and catching, dribbling a ball and more. If you want more information about how to help your child with PE see the National Curriculum and BBC Bitesize websites (as above).

Make a plan

At the end of each day sketch out a quick plan with just enough information to tell you what you’re doing the following day. Always try to build on what your child has learnt the day before so you revisit anything they find tricky.

Here’s an example of a plan:

Writing: write the beginning of their own version of The Big Pancake

Maths: revise 2 x table; learn addition pairs to 10

Reading: reading book

Spellings: revise ‘about’ and ‘down’; learn ‘saw’, ‘children’

Art: practise mixing colours from primary colours and paint trees in blossom

Science: materials – go around house/garden listing 5 things made from metal, plastic, glass and wood. Ask child why they think different things are made from different materials.

How do I juggle multiple children’s needs?

Always have tasks on hand that children can do by themselves, so that you can focus your attention on one child at a time when you need to do so.

Children could practise handwriting, do a dot-to-dot or colouring, write a letter to a friend, engage in a craft activity, or simply play with their favourite toy. See The Five Minute Mum website (above) for other activity ideas.

Where can I find resources and teaching ideas?

Some educational resource companies are offering free resources for parents. It’s useful to visit these sites once you’ve established what you want your child to learn. Google Images is also a useful resource to find specific worksheets (for example, if you want your child to label the parts of a plant for science you might type in ‘plant label worksheet’).

The following websites are a great starting point for ideas and activities across every curriculum subject including art and design & technology: Teaching Ideas, The School Run

Activity ideas from TutorMyKids

In Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 English, Maths and Science are core curriculum subjects. Here are some ideas to help you.

English

  • Read books every day. Find free e-books on the Oxford Reading Tree website.
  • Read and write poetry.
  • Read familiar stories such as The Giant Pancake and write your own versions over a few days. For example, write the beginning on Monday, the middle on Tuesday and the end on Wednesday. The child could replace characters with their own ideas and change the ending or other events in the story if they want to.
  • Write book reviews of favourite stories.
  • Do some baking or make magic potions in the garden and then write instructions for somebody else to follow.
  • Practice spellings. Learn a few new spellings every week, but make sure learning is secure before moving on.
  • Play phonics games online.
  • Play phonics board games.
  • Play board games such as Scrabble and Pictionary that help children to practise spellings, extend their vocabulary and encourage conversational skills.
  • Play online English games from Ictgames and Topmarks.

For more ideas see our blog post, Support your child’s literacy every day: quick tips

Maths

  • Learn maths through songs. For example, search ITunes and YouTube for times tables songs.
  • Play maths board games you have at home (eg. Monopoly and Snakes & Ladders) or make your own.
  • Do some baking and use the opportunity to teach children cookery maths skills such as weighing, measuring and comparing.
  • Take maths outside!
  • Play online maths games. On this link we particularly recommend Oxford Owl, Ictgames and Topmarks.
  • Complete maths worksheets.

Science

Start with the BBC Bitesize website as this shows you exactly what your child is learning at school. For further activities see:

TutorMyKids’ blog post, Pop, Bang! Six super-simple science experiments

NurtureSchool, How to homeschool science

The Woodland Trust’s outdoor science activities

Top survival tips

Use rewards to motivate your child during this strange and confusing time. This might be a star chart in which they earn a reward at the end of the week or month (depending upon their patience levels!), or they might want you to replicate the system they have in school.

Our children are likely to miss their friends very much, especially as time goes on. Help them to keep in touch with their friends via Skype or FaceTime if you can to help see them through.

Remember yourself in this too. Some days will be good and some will be difficult. Have that glass of wine at the end of the day – you will have earnt it!

How to balance extra-curricular activities with academic studies

Whether you are at school, college or university it is very important to get the balance right between academic studies and extra-curricular activities. Your studies are important for your future success but extra-curricular activities enable you to develop an array of social, communication, cognitive and physical skills, as well as contributing to your happiness.

Here are some tips to help you to best manage your time:

Studies come first

This is true no matter what. To make the most of your education, it’s important that you attend your classes and do your best to learn so that you can achieve your goals. Falling behind now will cause you stress and panic later.

Choose extracurricular activities wisely

You cannot do everything. With some activities it is not enough to attend, you also have to practise at home. Pick only those activities that really interest you and stick to two or three at the most. If you do too much it’s not just your studies that will come under pressure. You need a healthy social life and time to relax as well.

Manage your time

To ensure a healthy balance between your academic workload, extra-curricular activities, social life and relaxing time consider making yourself a schedule. This will help you to see whether you are managing your time smartly or if any changes need to be made.

Prioritize

There will be certain times, such as when exams are looming or assignments are due that you must prioritize your studies. Equally, if you have a dance performance you will need to allow time for rehearsals. Think about what is most important to you at this moment in time. If you have an exam, can you stop any extra-curricular activities for a while? If you have rehearsals to attend, can you minimise study time and catch up later? Talk to your parents or tutors if you are not sure what to do.

Stay healthy

Staying healthy is key to keeping your stress levels low and your energy levels high, enabling you to manage your lifestyle.

  • Eat and drink well. A balanced diet and drinking plenty of water is important for you to be able to function on every level. Without good nutrition you will be prone to fatigue and illness. To live a full life you need to be alert and energetic.
  • Sleep well. For more about this, see our post, ‘Why is sleep important for academic success?
  • Keep fit. As well as keeping you physically fit and warding off the germs, exercise is brilliant for your mental wellbeing as it relieves stress. Pick the kind of exercise you most enjoy so that you are more likely to stick with it. It’s a great idea to choose something physical as one of your extra-curricular activities.

Take study breaks

Studying for too long can result in depression and memory loss. It is very important to plan breaks into your study time. For every 45 minutes of study you need to take a ten minute break to recharge. This might be to go for a short walk or just to make yourself a drink.

Breaks actually benefit your work in other ways too. After taking a break you may find that a tricky concept suddenly becomes clear, or that you are more able to see where to make changes to a piece of writing.

Seek advice

At TutorMyKids we understand how important it is for you to achieve a healthy work/life balance. Our tutors can help you to make a realistic timetable that enables you to manage your studies effectively.

Call or email us for a chat: hello@tutormykids.co.uk, 01223 858 421

Why should my child learn grammar?

Grammar is the way in which words are ordered to make sentences. Using grammar correctly allows us to be clearly understood by others. Grammar is also about how the meanings of words can change when they are used in different contexts: Did you feel afraid when you were watching the Blair Witch Project? No, I’m afraid I didn’t. Strong grammar skills aid both verbal and written communication and enable children to expand their vocabulary by discovering new and interesting ways to present information and communicate their ideas.  Here we share some other reasons why learning grammar is worthwhile.

Foreign languages

Learning English grammar helps children to learn other languages.  According to Richard Hudson and John Walmsley in their article, The English Patient: English Grammar Teaching in the Twentieth Century: ‘…to support foreign-language learning explicit instruction is an important part of grammar teaching and is easier if pupils already have some understanding of how their first language works’.[1]

In order to be able to progress in a foreign language beyond primary level it helps if children understand English grammar. For instance, if a child knows what a preposition, a verb or a conjunction is in English they will easily identify the foreign equivalent.  If they understand the structure of simple and compound English sentences, then that skill can be applied to a foreign language too.  

Speaking a foreign language is an invaluable skill and it is now a compulsory part of the Key Stage 2 curriculum. Proficiency in another language opens the door to understanding other cultures and appreciating their literature and their art. It also considerably enhances career prospects.

GSCEs

Poor grammar, spelling and punctuation will lose a student marks not only in their GCSE English examinations but also in other subjects too including geography and history. The earlier children get to grips with grammar the better their chances later.

Career prospects

If you have ever been in a position to open job application letters then you will know that English grammar is important.  How many letters composed by well qualified, talented people have been thrown in the bin because they were poorly written?  It may be unjust, but it is a fact. The job market is competitive and we need to give children every chance we can, and one way we can do this is by ensuring that their writing doesn’t undersell them.  First impressions count.

Creativity

Grammar supports creativity.  Whilst writing the first draft of a poem or story children write freely and spontaneously.  Afterwards, if they have some grammar knowledge they can return to their work and polish it.  They will know how to successfully convey their ideas to others, portraying the effects and evoking the emotions that they wish.   They will be able to add style, variety and individuality to their work because they can sculpt their raw material – words and sentences.  Grammar is a valuable writer’s tool.

Thinking skills

Grammar develops children’s thinking and investigative skills.  In order to understand it, children need to make logical connections such as classification, causation and time.  When grammar is taught through investigation of children’s existing knowledge it is a good foundation for scientific method.  Moreover, if taught in this way, grammar is interesting and enjoyable.  Children will develop a critical response to some of the ways that language is used every day.

Supporting your child

Anybody who went to school in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s received very little, if any, grammar instruction so it can be helpful to brush up so we can support our children. The best grammar books for clear, concise explanations are children’s books!  Junior Illustrated: Grammar and Punctuation by Jane Bingham and Alex Latimeris a fantastic starting point and very cheap to order on the Internet. 

Useful websites to explore are:

English Grammar Lessons, https://english-grammar-lessons.com/

Grammar Reference, The British Council: http://learnenglish.britishcouncil.org/english-grammar-reference

If you feel you would benefit more from direct teaching, Cactus TEFL offers an online grammar course designed for those wishing to teach English as a foreign language, but it is beneficial for everybody: http://www.cactustefl.com/ela/

Making grammar exciting for children

Learning grammar should always be fun. Children learn best when they are excited and enjoying what they are doing.  We recommend:

Crickweb, http://www.crickweb.co.uk/ks2literacy.html

Education.com, https://www.education.com/games/grammar/

FunEnglishGames.com, http://www.funenglishgames.com/grammargames.html

Topmarks, https://www.topmarks.co.uk/english-games/7-11-years/spelling-and-grammar

How TutorMyKids can help

Grammar is confusing – the rules don’t always seem to make sense. Our specialist English Language tutors are experienced in helping children to understand this complicated area, raising the quality of their oral and written communication.  To find out more, contact us today: 01223 858 421, hello@tutormykids.co.uk


[1] The English Patient: English grammar and teaching in the twentieth century, Journal of Linguistics, Cambridge University Press, https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/journal-of-linguistics/article/english-patient-english-grammar-and-teaching-in-the-twentieth-century/97B51A21E50FD0960400C42C65CBF1A2

GCSE writing for a purpose: informal letter

In our last blog post we talked about writing a formal letter. Today we help you to write an informal letter by looking at the differences between formal and informal letters and showing you an example of an informal letter.

Formal letters are addressed to people you don’t know – they are appropriate for job applications, letters to newspapers etc. Informal letters, on the other hand, are written to people you know well – friends and family.

Let’s start with an example of an informal letter:

Your friend is considering taking part in a clinical trial to earn some money. Write a letter to your friend to express your opinion.

Dear Lucy,

              When I saw on Twitter that you’re thinking about getting involved in a clinical trial to make some money I was totally gobsmacked! Please don’t do it! I know that money is tight and you’re having problems paying your rent but letting somebody pump your body with an untested drug is really stupid.

              You’re one of my closest and oldest friends and I can’t just sit back and watch you do this without saying something. Why are you risking your health for a little bit of money? I know you think it’s easy money but it isn’t!  Think what the long-term consequences could be for your health! Can’t you just get a job like everybody else? I saw that there were a few people on Twitter encouraging you, but please don’t listen. They don’t care about you; they just want to be entertained at your expense. They will soon change their tune if things go wrong.

              Do you know what you’re getting yourself into? These drugs have NEVER been tested on people, only mice. You will be a human mouse. They even make you sign a contract so you can’t sue them if things go wrong. Does that really seem safe to you? “Just sign here and then I’ll stick this giant needle into your arm.” Sounds great doesn’t it?

              What about the side effects too? Did you think about those? You could have a heart attack or anything. What about your family and your friends? How are they going to feel when you’ve made yourself ill for a bit of money? It just isn’t worth the risk is it? You feel as fit as a fiddle now, but will you when the clinic has finished with you?

              Please just find a job. I know it doesn’t sound that exciting and the money doesn’t seem as ‘easy’ but it’s much better than the alternative. Work in a bar or a club and then you will just get paid to socialise! Seriously, think long and hard before you decide. Long-term health risk vs. quick money – I know what I would choose! Give me a ring to talk about it.

                             See you soon,

                             Karen

Language

The language used in informal letters differs from formal letters. In informal letters we use:

  1. Colloquial words/expressions

Everyday language which includes slang and regional expressions eg. ‘gobsmacked’.

2. Contractions

‘Don’t’, ‘doesn’t’ etc.

3. Abbreviations

Shortened forms of words and phrases  – eg., etc., vs.

4. Clichés

These are over-used phrases like, ‘fit as a fiddle’.

5. Imperative voice

The imperative voice is a command or request – ‘Please don’t do it!’

6. Active voice

This is when the subject of the sentence is the person or thing performing the action.

7. Short, simple sentences and exclamation marks.

Short, simple sentences are used in informal letters. In formal letters sentences are longer and more detailed.

8. Exclamation marks

Used in informal letters, but don’t overuse them otherwise the letter becomes comical rather.

Vocabulary

Use informal vocabulary: ‘help’ rather than ‘assistance’, ‘buy’ rather than ‘purchase’, ‘need’ instead of ‘obtain’, ‘thinking’ instead of ‘considering’, and so on.

Use phrasal verbs appropriately

Here are some examples:

Formal: Clinicians did a test.  Informal: Clinicians carried out a test.

Formal: We must eradicate bullying. Informal: We must stamp out bullying.

Formal: We should maintain standards. Informal: We should keep up the standards.

Formal: Let us organize a meeting. Informal: Let’s set up a meeting.

Salutation and valediction

There are differences between the ways you can begin and end formal and informal letters:

Formal: Dear Sir/Madam or Dear Mr Stevens. Informal: Dear Rebecca.

Formal: Yours sincerely or Yours faithfully. Informal: All the best, See you soon, Best wishes or Regards

Would you like support with GCSE English Language?

TutorMyKids offer GCSE and IGCSE English Language tuition. All our tutors are experienced, professional, and have a passion for their subject. They have expert knowledge of exam board requirements and a thorough understanding of the curriculum.

To discuss how we can help you to prepare for your exams, get in touch with us today.

GCSE writing for a purpose: formal letter

In our second English Language blog post we talk about writing a formal letter to express a point of view. Here is an example of the sort of question you might see in your exam:

Many people prefer to spend their holidays in Great Britain rather than travel abroad. Write a letter to a magazine editor giving your opinion on this topic.

Here’s a sample answer:

Dear Mr Smith,

              After reading several articles in your magazine which suggest that it is unethical to travel abroad, I felt compelled to express my contrasting point of view. As a child I spent many happy summer holidays in Wales and Scotland and I love rambling in the countryside, but I cannot agree that we should all stop taking holidays abroad.

              One argument put forward is that air travel is detrimental to the environment. However, a single flight abroad just once a year is inconsequential compared to the millions of tonnes of pollution pumped into the atmosphere by coal power stations around the world. I am not a global warming sceptic; in fact I passionately believe that we are facing a climate emergency. My electricity at home is generated by solar power and I vigilantly recycle my waste daily. Considering all my efforts, surely I should be allowed to take one holiday abroad a year?

              Having spent every childhood holiday listening to the rain hammering on a caravan roof I think I have earnt the right to lie on a beach somewhere soaking up the sun, and swimming in a crystal clear (pollution-free) sea. In all honestly, who wouldn’t prefer to do so? According to a government survey one in five people in Britain today are vitamin D deficient. Therefore, a week in the sun is important for our emotional, mental and physical health.

              Spending time abroad also opens our minds. It allows us to meet different people and to experience new cultures. Our horizons are broadened by visiting famous sites like the pyramids, the Statue of Liberty and the Amazon rainforest. Only by experiencing the world first-hand can we truly appreciate its wonders. I’ve learnt about volcanoes from visiting Mount Vesuvius, and Roman history by visiting the Coliseum. Learning from books and the internet just isn’t quite the same. Moreover, many countries rely on tourism. What will happen to their economies if tourism is taken from them?

              I appreciate that air travel has an environmental cost which is why I choose to travel just once a year. Foreign travel makes a huge difference to myself and to my whole family. I will never forget the look on my mother’s face when she fulfilled a lifetime dream and climbed to the top of Sydney Harbour Bridge. The memories I have from travelling abroad are priceless, and I would encourage your readers to keep expanding their horizons by travelling both inside and outside Great Britain whenever possible.

Yours sincerely,

Nicola Higgins                              

When writing a formal letter like this you need to include the following:

  1. Addresses

In the top right hand corner write your address and then leave a space before writing the date underneath. The date should be in long form eg. ‘July 14th, 2020’ rather than ‘14/07/20’.

Just below your address, on the left hand side of the page write the name of the person you are sending the letter to, their job title and their address.

For the exam, you can make up both addresses. Make sure you use capital letters for proper nouns.

2. Salutation

This is the greeting. In the sample letter here we’ve written ‘Dear Mr Smith’, but if you didn’t know the person’s name you would write ‘Dear Sir/Madam’.

3. Complimentary close

Sign off your letter with ‘Yours sincerely’ if you know the name of the person (as in the sample letter), and ‘Yours faithfully’ if you’ve stared the letter with ‘Dear Sir/Madam’.  Sign the letter with your signature, and beneath your signature write your name eg. ‘Nicola Higgins’.

4. First paragraph

In the first paragraph of your letter clearly state your point of view and use a tone that is more formal than your everyday language. Do not use contractions (don’t, I’m, can’t, it’s) or vague words like ‘good’ and ‘nice’. Always be respectful and polite even if you are writing a letter of complaint.

5. Use persuasive techniques

When expressing a point of view check that you have used at least 6 of the following techniques:

  • Anecdotes
  • Comparison
  • Counter argument
  • Direct address (‘I’)
  • Emotive language
  • Facts
  • Imagery (simile/metaphor)
  • Opinions
  • Repetition
  • Rhetorical questions
  • Statistics
  • Triples

How many different techniques can you spot in the sample letter?

6. Final paragraph

In the last paragraph of your letter restate your point of view as strongly as you can using a persuasive technique and suggest a course of action.

Read the final paragraph of the sample letter. Has the writer’s point of view been restated effectively? What persuasive techniques are used? What course of action is suggested to the editor?

Do you need help with GCSE English Language?

TutorMyKids offer GCSE and IGCSE English Language tuition. All our tutors are experienced, professional, and have a passion for their subject. They have expert knowledge of exam board requirements and a thorough understanding of the curriculum.

Whether you are struggling with a particular aspect of English Language or need more in-depth tuition, please get in touch to discuss your needs.

What are learning gaps and how can a tutor help?

Learning gaps are the difference between what a student is expected to have learnt by a specific point in their education and what they have actually learnt. For example, by the end of Year 2 most children are expected to have reached Gold band reading level. However, if a child is placed on Gold band reading books before they can read the Year 1 high frequency words and sounds then this will slow their progress further because they will be wasting time staring at pages they cannot read. In maths, if a young child is unable to count backwards they will struggle with subtraction later on. 

Learning is like a child’s wooden block tower – each block builds upon the last. If a block is missing from the tower then it is hard for a student to progress.

What causes learning gaps?

Learning gaps are caused when a student is pushed on to the next level of learning before they’ve fully grasped what came before. 

Learning gaps occur for all different reasons, for example:

  • A student has missed a lesson due to illness or other circumstances.
  • The student cannot focus in class due to bullying, difficult circumstances inside or outside school, or lack of confidence in the subject.
  • The teacher didn’t cover the concept adequately for the student.
  • The pace of the lesson was too fast for the student.
  • The teacher thought the student understood the concept because they mechanically followed the steps but they didn’t really understand what they were doing.
  • The student didn’t master the concept well enough to be able to apply it.

How are learning gaps identified?

If a student is struggling, a teacher or tutor will need to carry out a diagnostic assessment to find out whether there is a learning gap and the nature of the gap.  For instance, if a child seems to be having difficulty in a particular area of maths a quiz is a useful starting point.  Analysing the child’s maths books and talking to them directly will also help to pinpoint problems.

How should a learning gap be addressed?

The only way to address a learning gap is to specifically provide instruction to fill the gap. This could include revisiting activities and topics from previous units and previous years.  Material may need to be presented in a different way than it was before bearing in mind the particular student’s preferred learning styles, and the pace of teaching may need to be slower. The student will need plenty of opportunity to ask questions in order to address misunderstandings. They will also need opportunities to apply their knowledge to a variety of situations so that understanding is secure.

At school, ideally the teacher would find time outside the classroom to provide individual instruction. In the classroom environment, the teacher would need to adapt the content of new material so that the student with a gap can access it as well as those who have a more through grounding. In maths, this could mean using smaller numbers and more straightforward problems so that the struggling student isn’t handicapped by their lack of understanding of prior material. 

How long does it take to close a learning gap?

It depends upon the nature of the learning gap and how soon it is addressed. It can take a week or several years. The quicker a gap is identified the less of a knock-on effect there will be for the student. Once a student falls behind, it’s a difficult cycle to break.

How can TutorMyKids help?

One-to-one tutoring by a qualified teacher is the most effective way of addressing a learning gap. A private tutor can adapt teaching to meet a student’s specific needs.  They can personalize instruction to suit a particular student’s level, pace and unique learning styles – something that’s very difficult for a teacher in a busy classroom to achieve.

Equally importantly, students tend to be more comfortable to talk to a tutor about their difficulties than they are to draw attention to themselves in a classroom.  By talking they become partners in their learning, asking the questions necessary to further their understanding.

At TutorMyKids we know that learning gaps should be addressed as quickly as possible through regular and rigorous teaching.  For fast, effective tuition call us today on 01223 858421 or email: hello@tutormykids.co.uk

10 of the best (free!) maths games websites for primary children

Most children love interactive games so they’re a brilliant way to practise maths at home. Children can choose games that appeal to their interests and take control of their own learning by selecting the level of challenge that’s right for them.  All the games here are suitable for playing on a PC, and most work on Macs and Ipads too.  Before children play remind them about internet safety, particularly the importance of never giving away personal information online.  We recommend reading Kaspersky’s Top 7 Online Gaming Dangers & Risks for Kids and Teens.

Here’s a selection of our favourite maths games websites.

1.Topmarks

Topmarks divide games into age categories: 3-5, 5-7, 7-11, and 11-14 years.  Categories cover all relevant areas of the National Curriculum. 

Mental Maths Train for 5-7 year olds is one of our favourites.  It’s a bright, attractive game that enables children to choose an operation (adding, subtracting, multiplying or dividing) and a level of challenge.  A sum appears on the screen.  When children click on the truck with the correct answer the train whistles and whooshes away.

2. ICT Games

Each game is aimed at both Key Stage 1 and Key Stage 2 so children select the number range and operation to match their ability.  Learning objectives, which are organized by year group, appear alongside each game. 

We love Duck Shoot.  It’s a fairground game in which children count in multiples ranging from 2 to 12 depending upon their preference.  When they click on the correct duck there’s a ‘ting’ and when it’s the wrong duck the cowboy running the game yells ‘youch!’

3. Maths Frame

These games are supposed to be aimed at Key Stage 2 but when you click on some of them you find they’re suitable for Key Stage 1 too.

Key Stage 2 Maths Invaders is great fun.  Children choose an operation, say fractions, and they select the type of fractions they want to work with (halves, quarters etc).  Levels range from ‘very easy’ to ‘very hard’ so children can self-differentiate.  A question appears in the starry sky and children shoot the rocket displaying the correct answer.

4. Oxford Owl

Oxford Owl games are for children aged 3-5, 5-7 and 7-9 years old.  There are printable worksheets to reinforce the skills practised in the games.  Many of the games follow exactly the same format so there is the danger of boredom. On the plus side this means that they’re easy to understand and so even very young children can play independently. There’s also an audio button so the instructions can be read aloud to young children. 

Match the Shape is a lovely game for 3-5 year olds in which children drag and drop shapes onto real-life scenes.  In a park children drag a triangle onto a kite, an oval onto a balloon, a square onto a window and a rectangle onto a waste bin etc.

5. BBC Bitesize

This is more of an interactive learning experience than a set of maths games.  Children click on a skill they would like to learn eg. ‘How to multiply and divide by 0, 1, 10 and 100’ which takes them to a learning page.  There they find a video teaching them the skill beneath which are step-by-step written instructions.  Each written instruction is accompanied by an interactive activity so children can practise what they have learnt at each stage. 

If children are having difficulty mastering a particular mathematical concept at school then this is a particularly useful website to explore.

6. SplashMath

This is a US website with games for children in primary and secondary school.  There are logic games, puzzle games and racing games for practicing skills across the mathematics curriculum.  Games are easy to understand so they can be played by young children independently.

The Ruler Game is a fun way to teach measuring skills.  There’s a child’s voice narrating the instructions and gentle sound effects bring the game to life.

7. Crickweb

Here you’ll find seventy-four maths games for children from 4-11 years old covering the topics in the Early Years Foundation Stage and National Curriculum.  Most of the games use Adobe Flash Player which can be downloaded for a fee.  Games are easy to understand with audio instructions to foster young children’s independence. 

We like Sweet Shop –  a money game in which children choose items to buy and then drag and drop the correct coins to pay for them.

8. Hamilton Trust

Hamilton Trust Quick Maths games cover Years 3 – 6 and they all require Adobe Flash Player to work.  The games are designed to accompany the Hamilton Trust’s maths plans for teachers but they’re free and can also be used at home.  They are a fast-paced, exciting way to reinforce children’s maths skills.

One of our favourites is Jigsaw Subtraction Facts for 14 and 15 in which children piece together puzzle pieces to make the target numbers 14 and 15.

9. Nrich

Nrich is a Cambridge University initiative which aims to develop both children’s mathematical thinking and their problem-solving skills.  These games or ‘interactives’ are aimed at primary aged children and they really do challenge children’s thinking because even the instructions can be difficult to understand, retain and follow. 

We recommend trying activities yourself before suggesting them to your children in order to avoid frustration. 

10. Math Playground

This is a US website with innovative games suitable across the primary age range.  They have a ‘game spotlight’ which encourages children to try a game that’s new to them each time they visit.  Children can play games with a friend or by themselves against the computer.  Beneath each game ‘learning connections’ or objectives are listed.  These include a breakdown of both mathematical and thinking skills.

The Grand Prix Multiplication game will appeal to all vehicle lovers.  Children choose a car colour to race.  When a sum pops up if they answer it correctly their car zooms ahead!

Does your child need extra help with maths?

TutorMyKids offers both short-term and long-term mathematics tuition for children from primary age onwards.  Whether your child is struggling with a particular area of maths or needs to master a greater range of skills we are here to support them. 

We aim to foster a can-do attitude which in turn will raise your child’s achievement.  Get in touch today!

GCSE writing for a purpose: articles

This is the first in a series of blogs to help you to ‘write for a purpose’ in preparation for English Language Paper 2.  In this post we talk about how to write an article which requires you to argue a point. 

This is a sample question from an AQA English Language paper, June 2017:

 ‘Parents today are over-protective. They should let their children take part in adventurous, even risky, activities to prepare them for later life.’ Write an article for a broadsheet newspaper in which you argue for or against this statement.

Here’s how you could tackle it:

1. Gather your ideas

Decide whether you are for or against this statement.  Think of at least five strong points to support your argument and jot them down, perhaps as bullet points.  Each point will become a paragraph in your article.

2. Plan for skills

You need to demonstrate the following skills (which you can remember as ‘DAFOREST’):

  • Direct address.  Address the reader as ‘you’ to make them feel the article is personally relevant to them.
  • Alliteration.  Alliteration is a great technique for making statements memorable.
  • Facts.  In an exam you will make up facts. For a newspaper article invent some quotes that will support your argument.
  • Opinions.  Use your own opinions (this goes without saying here!).
  • Rhetorical questions.  These are questions which don’t need an answer but help to strengthen your argument eg. ‘Do you think today’s children are smothered and cosseted?’
  • Repetition.  Like alliteration, repeating words or sentences reinforces your message.  Some stories and poems, for example, start and finish with the same sentence.  Politicians use repetition in speeches to argue their points eg. Tony Blair’s famous quote, ‘Education, education, education…’
  • Emotive language.  Again, this strengthens your argument.  Words like ‘smothered’, ‘stifled’ and ‘oppressed’ elicit a strong emotional reaction.  Instead of the word ‘bad’ you might use ‘torturous’ or ‘barbaric’.
  • Statistics.  This is linked to facts.  Use made up statistics to support your argument.
  • Three (rule of).  For example, ‘By overprotecting children parents are undermining their self-esteem and confidence and causing rebellious behaviour’.

Jot down how you are going to demonstrate each of these skills in your article (perhaps at the same time!), for example:

Direct address/rhetorical questions: ‘Do you tidy your child’s room or put away their clothes?’ ‘Do you interfere with their friendship choices?’

Alliteration/rule of three: ‘If you ease up on the reins your child will be more confident, contented and courageous enough to bounce back after failure’.

3. Plan the counterargument

You need to predict how your reader might argue against some of your points.  Jot down these ideas as bullet points and consider how you will defend your arguments.  For example, ‘You might think that tidying your child’s bedroom is kind, but it causes them misery in the long-term because when they leave home and live with another person they will become unpopular if they don’t help with household chores’.

4. Plan your headline and subheadings

Headlines are much easier to write when you know what your article is going to be about because the job of the headline is to tell the reader, in an instant, what to expect from the article. 

Write a headline that pique’s your reader’s curiosity and draws them in.  Use action verbs and remove any unnecessary articles.  You can use persuasive devices such as alliteration, rhetorical questions and the rule of three in your headline.

Subheadings are important too because they ‘hook’ your reader as they are scanning through the article. Subheadings outline the key idea in each paragraph – the shorter they are the better!  You don’t need to use a subheading for every paragraph; always consider where you think they’re most useful.

5. Plan connectives

What connectives will you use to join paragraphs and sentences?  Try to include a variety.

Adding information: and, also, as well as, furthermore, moreover, too

Building upon an idea: as long as, if

Cause and effect: because, consequently, so, therefore, thus

Comparing: as with, equally, in the same way, like, likewise, similarly.

Contrasting: alternatively, although, apart from, but, except, however, in contrast, instead of, on the other hand, otherwise, unless, unlike, whereas, yet

Emphasising a point: above all, especially, indeed, in particular, notably, significantly.

Giving examples: as revealed by, for example, for instance, in the case of, such as.

Sequencing ideas: firstly, secondly, afterwards, eventually, finally, meanwhile, next, since, whilst. 

6. Write your answer

Planning your answer as above should not take more than 10 minutes.  The only way to speed up the process is to practise exam questions.  Sample questions from the English Language GCSE Paper 2 can be found online.  The more you do now the quicker you will be on the day. 

After 10 minutes planning you will have 35 minutes to write the rest of your answer.  Don’t forget to leave some time at the end to read through and check your writing.

When writing your answer:

  • Write an engaging opening.  Use emotive language or a rhetorical question to draw the reader in.
  • Look at your plan and write your paragraphs in an orderly sequence.
  • End with a clear and firm conclusion to your argument, perhaps using the ‘rule of three’.

7. Edit your answer

You’ve finished – hooray!  Take a few minutes to check for SPaG – spelling, punctuation and grammar.  Make any improvements you need to.

Would you like further support?

TutorMyKids offers one-to-one tuition for GCSE English Language and English Literature students.  Our tutors can collaborate with you and your teacher to address the areas you’re struggling with, strengthening your skills and giving you an extra boost of confidence on exam day!

Pop, Bang! 6 super-simple science experiments

It’s World Science Day on 10th November.  Part of the purpose is to highlight the relevance and importance of science in our daily lives. 

Here we’ve compiled six of our favourite experiments.  They’re really easy to follow and you will find all of the ingredients in your kitchen cupboard or local supermarket.

Go ahead and stoke the fire of enthusiasm by amazing your child with the magic of science!

Animated Stickman

You will need:

Dry wipe marker pen

Glass bowl or plate

Water

Instructions:

  1. Draw a stickman on the plate or the bottom of the bowl with the dry wipe marker.
  2. Slowly pour water into the bowl or onto the plate and watch the stickman slowly rise.
  3. Gently swirl the water around to see the stickman move.

What happened?

Marker pen ink contains alcohol and different pigments.  The alcohol dissolves leaving behind the pigments as a solid.  The solid slides about when the glass gets wet because glass is so smooth.

Bag Explosion

You will need:

Bicarbonate of soda

Cellotape

Mixing bowl

Tablespoon

Toilet paper

Vinegar

Ziplock bag

Instructions:

  1. Make a bicarbonate of soda pouch by putting one tablespoon of bicarbonate of soda on a square of toilet paper.  Fold the toilet paper and cellotape closed so that the bicarbonate of soda doesn’t leak out of the sides.  Don’t overdo the cellotape though!
  2. Pour 75ml vinegar into the ziplock bag.
  3. Zip the bag so it is almost closed, but there is enough of a gap to fit the bicarbonate of soda pouch in.
  4. Insert the pouch into the bag but don’t let it touch the vinegar.
  5. Zip the bag tightly shut.
  6. Carefully place the bag in the mixing bowl.
  7. Swish the bowl about to mix the chemicals and watch what happens.

What happened?

When vinegar and bicarbonate of soda mix they react to produce carbon dioxide, water and sodium acetate.  The carbon dioxide builds up and is trapped in the bag and so the bag explodes!

Fizzing Snowballs

You will need:

Bicarbonate of soda

Pipette

Tablespoon

Teacup

Vinegar

Water

Instructions:

  1. Fill the teacup 1/3 with bicarbonate of soda.
  2. Gradually add water to the teacup until the bicarbonate of soda forms a compact snowball.
  3. Place the snowball in the freezer overnight.
  4. Take the snowball out of the freezer.
  5. Pipette drops of vinegar onto the snowball to see it fizz.

What happened?

When vinegar (an acid) is added to bicarbonate of soda (a base) they react to produce carbon dioxide.  Change the experiment by warming the vinegar before squirting it onto the snowball.  You could also try freezing the vinegar instead of the bicarbonate of soda and sprinkling the bicarbonate of soda onto the vinegar. 

Lava Lamp

You will need:

Alka Seltza tablet

Clean, empty lemonade bottle

Food colouring

Torch

Vegetable oil

Water

Instructions:

  1. A quarter fill the bottle with water.
  2. Fill the rest of the bottle up, almost to the top, with vegetable oil.
  3. Add a few drops of food colouring.
  4. Drop half of the Alka Seltza tablet into the bottle.
  5. Turn off the light and shine a torch at the bottle as you watch the lava fizz!

What happened?

You will notice that the oil floats on top of the water – that’s because oil is less dense than water.  The food colouring sinks through the oil and mixes with the water because it is the same density as water.  The Alka Seltza tablet dissolves producing carbon dioxide.  Carbon dioxide is lighter than water and so it floats to the top bringing some of the coloured water with it.  When the carbon dioxide is released from the coloured water the water becomes heavy again and sinks.  This process repeats until the Alka Seltzer tablet has completely dissolved.

No-pop Balloon

You will need:

Balloon

2 pieces of cellotape about 6cm long

Sharp needle

Instructions:

  1. Blow up the balloon.
  2. Make a cross shape on the balloon by sticking the two pieces of cellotape.
  3. Stick the needle into the centre of the cross and leave it there.

What happened?

The cellotape stops the balloon from popping quickly.  What causes a balloon to pop is not the sudden release of air but the widening of the hole.  As the balloon’s hole gets bigger the balloon rips and pops. The cellotape slows down this process.  You can try experimenting with different sized balloons and different sorts of tape to compare what happens.

Storm

You will need:

Food colouring

Dessert spoon

Pint glass

Teacup

Shaving foam

Water

Instructions:

  1. Half fill the pint glass with water.
  2. Spray shaving cream onto the water until the glass is 3/4 full.
  3. Spread the shaving cream evenly over the top of the water with your finger so that it’s flat.
  4. Half fill the teacup with water and add 10 drops of food colouring.
  5. Add the coloured water, spoonful by spoonful, to the shaving cream and watch a storm form under the foam!

What happened?

Like the shaving foam in the glass, clouds in the sky hold onto water.  When the water gets too heavy for the clouds it falls out (precipitates) as rain, hail or snow. 

Does your child need extra help with science?

TutorMyKids can put you in touch with an experienced science tutor who can help your child to understand tricky concepts and rekindle their enthusiasm.  To talk about your child’s requirements, please call us for a chat.

10 stress-busting tips for students

The 6th November is International Stress Awareness Day which focuses our minds on caring for our emotional wellbeing.

Most students at one time or another suffer from stress.  This can be due to workload and deadlines, exams, family expectations, social problems, relationship issues, money worries – so many reasons. 

A little bit of stress is good.  It can motivate you to prepare for exams, for example.  However, too much stress can cause anxiety, depression, and other health issues.  That’s why it’s important to learn to manage stress effectively. 

There will always be stressful times in your life, so stress management is an important life skill to master now.

  1.  Sleep

Sleep is number one on the list because students are famous for late nights!  You need between 7 and 9 hours sleep a night to be productive, focused and safe.  However, if you are feeling stressed then it’s much harder for your brain to shut down so from this respect sleep should be last. 

The main thing is to avoid too many late nights and to keep a consistent sleep pattern.  Go to bed early and read or listen to gentle music for an hour or so to switch off.  If you can’t sleep don’t obsess about it because, of course, this makes the problem worse.  Anybody who has cared for a small baby will tell you that months and even years without adequate sleep is not ideal but will not kill you!

For more about sleep see: Why is sleep important for academic success?

2. Exercise

For your mind and body to function effectively you need regular exercise.  Exercise helps you to concentrate and it improves memory and general cognitive ability as well as lifting your mood and improving your sleep. 

Choose exercise you enjoy so you’re more likely to do it.  If you like to dance, join a class.  If you want to lift weights, join a gym.  Find a gym that runs from a school or leisure centre and doesn’t require you to be locked into an expensive contract.

Meet a friend and go for a jog.  For those who want a challenge check out Couch to 5K.  You could take regular brisk walks combined with a high-impact exercise DVD that raises your heart rate.  If you’re time poor search the internet for 15 minute exercise routine programmes.

Intensive exercise before bedtime can make it difficult to sleep, so stick to Yoga or stretches in the late evening.

3. Healthy eating

Your diet can sap your energy or boost your brain.  A balanced diet is made up of carbohydrate, protein, fruit and vegetables.  Include some of each with every meal.  Here are some examples.

Carbohydrates: brown rice, wholemeal bread, potatoes cooked in skin, wholewheat pasta, low sugar breakfast cereal, oats.

Protein: eggs, fish, read meat, beans, lentils, poultry, milk, cheese, yoghurts.

Fruit and vegetables: carrots, tomatoes (fresh or tinned), frozen peas (and other veg), salad vegetables, onions, peppers, oranges, apples, bananas, pears, grapes, tinned fruit in unsweetened juice.

Food doesn’t have to take long to prepare.  Beans or sardines on toast, boiled eggs, jacket potatoes and vegetable-based pasta dishes are quick and easy. 

Avoid takeaways and fast foods.  Cook from scratch by finding yourself a student cookbook.  Don’t deprive yourself of treats though – all in moderation!

4. Relaxation techniques

There’s a book called 100 Ideas for Primary Teachers: Mindfulness in the Classroom by Tammie Prince which, although not aimed at students, contains a wealth of easy-to-follow and very effective relaxation techniques that are great for everybody.

The techniques in the book draw upon the following:

  • Breathing
  • Active meditation
  • Guided meditation
  • Mindful walking
  • Positive thinking
  • Yoga

The internet has a wealth of information about each of these too.  See Relaxation coping skills – activities to help kids calm down at home and at school.

5. Do what you love!

What makes you happy?  Is it socialising with friends?  Being immersed in a craft project?  Playing basketball?  Whatever you love doing, make time for it alongside your studies.  Remember to have a work-life balance.  If you do you will feel:

  • More motivated and therefore more productive in your studies
  • Have higher self-esteem
  • Happier and friendlier towards others.

6. Listen to music

Music has many benefits.  It can:

  • Help you to concentrate by making you feel calmer.
  • It can inspire creativity, getting your ideas going.
  • Make you feel better.  When you enjoy music your brain releases a chemical called dopamine which lifts your mood.
  • Motivate you to exercise.  Running, spinning or dancing to music keeps you going!
  • Be sociable.  There’s nothing like a shared love of music to bond friends.

7. Think positively

Negative thinking can be paralysing.  It can stop you from moving forward in life and achieving your goals.  Thinking positively boosts confidence, makes you feel happier and reduces stress levels. 

But what is positive thinking and how do you achieve it?  See the NHS Moodzone (below) for ways to manage unhelpful thinking habits.  Also see 7 practical Tips to achieve a positive mindset.

8. Explore Moodzone!

The NHS provides free mental well-being podcasts to help young people who are feeling low or anxious.  Each podcast gives simple advice to boost your mood.  There’s a mood self-assessment to help you to choose which guide will help you the most.  You will find:

  • Anxiety control training
  • Overcoming sleep problems
  • Low confidence and assertiveness

9. Manage your time

Create a study timetable and stick to it as far as you can.  Make sure the timetable is realistic.  It’s vital to rest, exercise and socialise too.  Remember that work can often take longer than you think it will so be kind to yourself when you’re planning.  Set yourself up to succeed.

Choose the best place to study.  Where are there fewest distractions?  Where are you less likely to daydream and procrastinate?  Some people study better when there is a buzz around them and others prefer quiet.  Be honest about which one is you.

10. One step at a time

When you’re on top of your studies you will feel more relaxed.  Sometimes you might feel like you have so much to do that you don’t know where to start.  This becomes a vicious cycle because then you’re too frightened to begin and so the mountain becomes a daunting climb.

So take small steps.

Decide what you want to (realistically) achieve today.  Don’t work for more than 40 minutes in one stretch.  Take 10 to 15 minute breaks with an hour for lunch. 

At the end of the day reflect upon what you’ve achieved.  If you need help from your tutor because you’re grappling with a difficult concept then get help as soon as you can.  Don’t allow any difficulties to become road blocks.

Are you feeling overwhelmed by your studies?

If you feel you need extra help TutorMyKids can find you an experienced, qualified local tutor who will support and motivate you with your studies.  We offer tuition in the evenings, on weekends and during the holidays. 

Whether you need regular tuition or short-term, intensive revision sessions please get in touch.