Poetry’s not boring! Fun ways to ignite your child’s interest

National Poetry Day on Friday 4th October is a yearly celebration that inspires people to discover a love of poetry.  Poetry celebrates being human.  It draws out a whole spectrum of emotions – amusement, delight, joy, sadness, anger, fear, disgust and everything else.  Poetry can be silly or serious.  It can brighten up your day or change the way you view the world.  Here we talk about why sharing poetry with your child is worth your time, and how you can make it an active, fun experience!

Poetry is worth it because it…

  1. Develops your child’s speaking, listening and concentration skills as it’s often read aloud and then discussed. 
  2. Builds comprehension skills.  When reading a poem aloud children learn to read expressively and, in order to place emphasis and emotion into words, they need to understand what they’re reading.
  3. Introduces children to the playful nature of the English language which fosters a love of reading.  Poems can rhyme and have a catchy, musical rhythm.  They can use dynamic, noisy, joyful, luscious language like Michael Rosen’s Chocolate Cake.
  4. Improves children’s reading and spelling.  Children’s reading and spelling improves when they read the same material over and over again.  When a child loves a particular poem they will be happy to read it many times. 
  5. Builds vocabulary.  Through poetry children hear words they haven’t heard before.  Talk about meanings together and look words up in a dictionary.
  6. Inspires children to write and think creatively.  Poetry shows children how to choose the right words to create different images and effects.  As poems follow a pattern, their patterns can be used as a framework for children’s own writing.  Christina Rossetti’s poem What is pink? is often used by teachers who ask children to replace colours and objects with their own ideas.

Try these autumn-themed activities…

  1. Leaf poetry

Find the biggest, best leaf. What colours can you see when you look very closely?  What shape is it?  What does it smell like?  What does it make you think about? 

Find the biggest, best leaf. What colours can you see when you look very closely?  What shape is it?  What does it smell like?  What does it make you think about? 

With a dark pen, cover the leaf in your thoughts.  When the leaf is covered with words, repeat the exercise.  Make a leafy, poem picture by gluing all the leaves onto large card. 

2. Disgusting Halloween

Brainstorm all the disgusting things to eat at Halloween.  For example, ‘rotten fish’, ‘juicy eyeballs’, ‘slimy slugs’.  Then write a poem with the following pattern:

‘I went trick-or treating and I devoured…

One rotten fish

And two juicy eyeballs

I went trick-or treating and I devoured…

Three…

And four…’

3. Macbeth

Find Shakespeare’s famous poem Double, Double Toil and Trouble online.  Watch a traditional performance on YouTube, and also the Harry Potter version. 

Perform the poem with your child by reading a line each (perhaps dressing up and stirring a cauldron!).  Look at the words in the poem.  Are there any words your child doesn’t understand?  Use the internet to find meanings.

4. Funnybones

Funnybones is a picture book by Janet and Allan Ahlberg which ends with the poem, ‘On a dark, dark hill there was a dark dark town…’  If you don’t have a copy you can find readings on YouTube

Make a book by copying lines from the poem and illustrating them on black paper with white chalk.    Older children could change the places in the poem eg. ‘hill’ becomes ‘mountain’ and ‘town’ becomes ‘cave’.

5.  Acrostic Halloween

Hide Halloween themed objects or characters around the garden eg. pumpkin, wand, witch, wizard, ghost.  Children find an object and then write an acrostic poem.  For example:

‘Witch

Wicked

Impossible

Terrible

Crafty

Horrible’

6. Songs are poems!

Listen to and learn some classic Halloween songs like The Monster Mash and The Addams Family.  Change some of the lyrics and perform new songs.

7. Shape poem

Write an autumn or Halloween themed shape poem.  Start by thinking of an object (tree, leaf, woods/the park in autumn, Halloween party, trick-or-treating) and write all the words and thoughts the object inspires.  For example: ‘Halloween party: spooky, dark, dressing up, trick-or-treat, monsters, ghosts, scary’.

Draw or print out an A4-sized outline of the object and write words/sentences around the outline: ‘Cold, spooky night.  Faces concealed by masks.  Apple bobbing.  Dripping chin…’ 

For clarification, type ‘shape poem children’ into Google Images.

8. Adverbs alive!

Give your child an adverb, which could have a Halloween theme, and ask them to write a poem in which every line starts with that adverb.  Encourage use of adjectives and verbs to bring their poem alive.

‘Spookily ghosts creep around the halls

Spookily spiders scuttle

Spookily the night draw cold and misty…’

Find lists of adverbs on the internet.

9. Autumn alliteration

Write a numbered alliterative poem with an autumn or Halloween theme.  Here’s the pattern:

‘One slimy slug

Two spindly spiders

Three ghouly ghosts

Four wicked witches.’

10. Feeling emotional

Go for an autumnal walk.  Stop and sit quietly together.  Ask your child how they are feeling in that moment.  Write down the word they say.  Later, use that word to write an emotion poem:

‘Peaceful is sitting quietly

Peaceful is curling up with a book

Peaceful is not feeling worried

Peaceful is closing my eyes…’

Find wonderful poems…

Find poems your child will love! Visit the library or bookshop and choose anthologies together.  We enjoy:

  • Chocolate Cake by Michael Rosen, Puffin, 2018.  (See Michael’s YouTube video too).
  • Kings and Queens, Eleanor and Herbert Farjeon, Puffin, 2015.
  • Michael Rosen’s Book of Very Silly Poems, Puffin, 1996.
  • Poems to Perform: A Classic Collection Chosen by the Children’s Laureate, Julia Donaldson, Macmillan, 2014.
  • Revolting Rhymes, Roald Dahl and Quentin Blake, 2006.
  • The Day I Fell Down the Toilet and Other Poems, Steve Turner, Lion Children’s Books, 1997.
  • 100 Brilliant Poems for Children, Paul Cookson, Macmillan, 2016.

And finally…

Poetry is worth it because:

‘…it lifts the veil from the hidden beauty of the world, and makes familiar objects be as if they were not familiar.’ — Percy Bysshe Shelley

Support your child’s literacy every day: quick tips

Most adults take literacy for granted.  Think about the tasks you have already completed today – how many of those tasks relied on your ability to read or write?  If you couldn’t read and write how different would your life be?  Most school subjects involve reading and writing, so children with poor literacy quickly fall behind.  Literacy has the power to lift people out of poverty by opening the doors to educational and employment opportunities in our ever-changing technological world. 

Even if your child is an unenthusiastic reader and writer, there’s plenty you can do to ignite their enthusiasm because words are everywhere! Help your child to see that reading and writing has a purpose.  It’s woven into our everyday lives.  Involve them in your daily literacy activities and they will quickly develop the strong skills they need to thrive.

  1. Model reading and writing.  Let your child see that you read and write for practical purposes and for pleasure too.
  2. Write shopping lists together.  When you’re out shopping ask your child to follow and read the list.  Help them to match the words on the list with the packets and boxes.
  3. When you’re queuing in a supermarket ask your child to read the names on chocolate bars and sweets.  You might not leave empty handed, however!
  4. Label objects around the house: ‘door’, ‘window’ etc. so that your child absorbs different words.  You could also label toy boxes and containers.  Your child might help you to write some of the labels and stick them up.
  5. When you’re out and about encourage your child to read the writing on road signs, shop fronts, posters etc.  Do the same indoors.  Read cereal packets, board game boxes – any written material that’s around.
  6. When your child is playing a computer game ask them to read words and instructions on the screen.
  7. Find songs on YouTubeKids that have the lyrics displayed – you will find this really helps with your child’s sight reading.  Never let children search YouTubeKids without supervision as unsuitable advertisements and material can slip through the net.
  8. Cook together so that your child has the chance to read recipes with you.  If they love cooking encourage them to invent their own recipe.  They will have fun being messy in the kitchen.  Tell them that it’s a good idea for them to write down their recipe for future use. 
  9. If your child likes crafts they can follow instructions in craft books.  They could also create their own craft instructions for another person to follow.
  10. Put letter magnets on the fridge.  Write messages for your child to read, and ask them to write messages to you.
  11. Leave secret notes for your child in different places.  You could write a special note and put it in their lunchbox so they have a lovely surprise at school.  At home, you could even experiment with invisible writing.  Your child might write notes back to you.
  12. When you go to restaurants ask your child to read the menu and place their order with the waiter themselves.
  13. Feed your child’s enthusiasm for reading by visiting the library regularly and sharing books together. 
  14. Let your child choose and buy books.  Charity shops are brilliant because they always have so much affordable choice.
  15. Play games.  If your child has been given tricky words to learn for homework, copy them onto strips of card and turn them over.  If your child can read the word they’ve picked then they keep it.  If they can’t read the word then you keep it.  The person who has the most words at the end of the game wins. For a range of free word and phonics games visit Pinterest, Topmarks, and Phonics Play.
  16. When reading to your child, occasionally follow words and sentences with your finger, pointing out sounds or words they’ve just learnt or asking them to read those sounds/words.  Don’t do it too often though or your child may stop enjoying listening to stories!

One final tip:

When it’s time for your child to read their school book to you, break reading into small chunks.  Ask them to read just one page in a sitting.  You can build this up over time.  Think about why your child is resistant – is the book at the right level for them?  If you’re not sure, speak to your child’s teacher.

If you continue to feel worried that your child is falling behind, get in touch with TutorMyKids.  Our dedicated, specialist literacy tutors are here to help you.

Encouraging reluctant readers by taking reading outdoors

Why is sleep important for academic success?

We all know that sleep is vital for our mental and physical well-being.  The damage from lack of sleep can be instantaneous (like an accident) or it can harm us over time by raising the risk of chronic health conditions.  Here we look at why sleep is important for academic success, and how you can help your child to get the sleep they need. 

How much sleep does my child need?

The NHS website gives the approximate number of hours’ sleep a child needs by age.  A six-year-old needs nearly eleven hours, a ten-year-old almost ten hours, and fourteen to sixteen-year-olds require about nine hours.

Sleep and memory

While we sleep we consolidate memories, and that’s essential for learning new information. Memory functions are described as:

  • Acquisition – introducing new information into the brain
  • Consolidation  – the way the brain processes information so that it becomes embedded
  • Recall – recalling the new information we have acquired.

All three functions are necessary.  Acquisition and recall happen while we are awake, but consolidation happens most effectively when we are asleep because that’s when our neural connections strengthen.

Some studies have shown that certain types of memories are consolidated during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep – when you dream.  Other studies conclude that some types of memories are consolidated during slow-wave, deep sleep.  There are still plenty of questions for scientists to answer on this subject!

Sleep and focus

A sleep-deprived child cannot focus fully and therefore cannot learn effectively.  Sleep deprivation impairs children’s ability to concentrate and think by:

  • disrupting the levels of hormones like cortisol, dopamine and serotonin that affect mood, energy and thought.  Your child will feel irritable, perhaps aggressive, and certainly unable and unwilling to work.
  • over-working the body’s organs and muscles so you child starts to feel ‘icky’.

A lack of focus can result in poor judgement, excessive mistakes, and physical accidents. 

What are the benefits of adequate sleep?

  • Being in a better mood – happier, motivated, and thirsty to learn.
  • Better decision making skills and judgements.
  • A sharper memory that is able to consolidate knowledge.
  • Being more able to solve problems and feeling more creative.
  • Making fewer mistakes and having less accidents.
  • Improved gross and fine motor skills.
  • Faster reaction times.
  • Higher self-esteem.
  • Feeling more sociable and less irritable with others.
  • Being generally more capable and productive throughout the day.

What can I do to help my child have a good night’s sleep?

  1. Ensure your child has plenty of exercise during the day, but be aware that exercise too close to bedtime can actually stop your child from sleeping well.
  2. Avoid fried food, sweets, caffeine and soft drinks from late afternoon onwards.
  3. Set a bedtime that suits your child.  Some children get up at 6.30am no matter what time they go to bed.  If that’s your child, then ensure they go to bed early enough to get their full quota of sleep.
  4. Try to keep bedtimes and wake-up times consistent even on weekends (as much as possible, anyway!) otherwise your child will feel jet-lagged and it’s hard to get back on track.
  5. Have a consistent bedtime routine.  Whatever your routine (eg. bath, in bed by 6.30, three stories, a song and lights out) keep it the same so your child knows what’s coming.
  6. Turn off all screens at least two hours before bedtime.  Screens emit light and light makes the brain think it’s daytime.  Light stops the body producing enough of the hormone melatonin which makes us sleepy. 
  7. Keep electronic devices out of the bedroom for the reasons above and to stop your child from using them when they should be asleep.
  8. Reduce stress levels.  Keep bedtimes very calm otherwise your child’s body will produce the stress hormone cortisol which stops them being able to shut down.
  9. Create a sleep-friendly environment.  Make sure your child’s room isn’t too hot (or too cold), and that it’s dark, comfortable and quiet.  Think about your individual child’s preferences.  Some children sleep better with their bedroom door open a crack and some low-level noise from the living room below.  Do what works best for them.

Having stressed the value of sleep, it’s important to make sure your child doesn’t worry themselves if they can’t sleep (“You’re in bed and resting so that’s okay”).  We all know that the more we toss and turn fretting about the sleep we’re losing the worse we make the problem. 

Although continued sleep deprivation is detrimental, most people survive as any mother who has nursed a baby through the night will know!  If your child has an ongoing problem consult your doctor for advice.

Exam resits: your guide to a fresh start

If you didn’t get the A Level or GCSE grades you wanted you might feel as though your dreams are over – but that’s far from true.  With hard work and time you can still achieve the results you need. 

Students like you who don’t give up but pick themselves up and try again show themselves as determined, resilient individuals – and that’s a valuable foundation for the future.

So, are you ready for a fresh start? Here’s our guide to resitting your exams:

Do I have to go back to school?

No – not if you don’t want to.  Not all schools offer the chance to resit exams anyway, so check with your teacher.  You can study at a sixth form college or online.  Search Google to find out what is available locally.  You might decide to resit through an online, distance learning course which gives you the flexibility to study part-time while you work. For extra support with your exam retakes, consider hiring a private tutor.  TutorMyKids can find you a professional tutor to support you in overcoming difficulties and understanding tricky concepts.  A private tutor can help you to exceed your expectations and achieve success.

Do I need to resit GCSE subjects?

The first thing to decide is whether you want to resit a particular GCSE exam.  If you failed Geography, you don’t have to retake the exam.  If you need a certain number of passes, you might decide to study a different subject altogether, and you can!

However, you might have to resit English Language and Maths GCSEs.  You will need to keep studying these subjects until you are eighteen if you didn’t get a grade 4 or above.  The good news is you can study alongside other courses such as A Levels or BTECs, so there’s no need to put your plans on hold.

When can I resit my GCSEs?

You can retake GCSEs in May/June, and you can also resit some subjects in November.  When you choose a GCSE provider they will explain your options.

When can I retake my A Levels? 

A Level resits take place in May/June.  See AQA, Cambridge Assessment International, and Edexcel exam board websites for details.

Do universities still consider students who resit exams?

Yes.  Most universities will not penalise you for retaking exams.  In your UCAS personal statement focus on the valuable experience that resitting an exam has given you.  By trying again you are demonstrating commitment, determination and focus.  Perhaps you’ve been busy with work experience or volunteer work whilst you’ve been studying?  Talk to friends, teachers and parents who can help you identify the positives.

What’s the most effective way to revise?

Revise actively not passively.  Don’t mindlessly highlight passages in notes or textbooks.  Here’s what works:

  • Read a section of your textbook or notes and write yourself some questions.  Without looking at the original text try to answer your questions.  Repeat the exercise until you are confident. Each time answer the questions in a different order. 
  • Read notes just before you go to sleep.  While you sleep your brain processes and consolidates your learning. 
  • Read your notes into a recording device.  Play them when you are doing something that doesn’t require concentration like cooking, cross-stitch, running, or sitting outside in the sunshine. 
  • Give your memory a helping hand by:
    • Using mnemonics thought up by others or by making up your own.  Here’s a science example: OIL RIG – oxidation is loss, reduction is gain.
    • Inventing or memorising sayings. For example, to spell ‘necessary’ remember ‘one collar and two socks’.
    • Using visual cues. Draw charts, diagrams or sketches to help you to recall key concepts.  For instance, to remember the plot of Shakespeare’s Macbeth you might draw a basic flow diagram with labelled sketches of the action. 
  • Do practice exam questions, particularly focus on the types of questions you find difficult.  Although the same questions never come up twice, this helps you polish your exam technique.  After you’ve answered a question compare it to the exam board’s model answer.

How often should I revise?

Every day, but not all day.  Make yourself a structured plan.  Aim to revise for about three to five hours every week day, and an hour or less on Saturdays and Sundays. 

Break up your study time into manageable chunks.  Stop every hour or so – make a cup of tea, watch television for a bit, go for a walk.  Some breaks will be just a few minutes, some will be longer.  Make sure you stick to your daily allotted time though. 

Don’t exhaust yourself by over-studying as that’s counter-productive.  Your brain needs time to rest and consolidate information, and you will feel miserable if you spend too long revising.  Exercise is particularly important (healthy body, healthy mind – it’s true!).  While we’re on the subject, try to resist the temptation to eat too many bars of chocolate and packets of crisps while you revise and find yourself some healthier snacks.

Don’t study too little either, otherwise you will feel guilty and stressed.  If you work part-time and you need to reduce your hours then do it.  If friends pressure you to socialise more than you are comfortable with, be firm.  It’s only a few weeks until your resits are over – it’s worth sacrificing time in the short term to achieve your long-term goal. 

Remember: resitting an exam is certainly not the end of the world.  What you learn personally from this experience will have a positive impact on your future. 

If you would like one-to-one support to retake an exam, get in touch with TutorMyKids and we will help you to achieve the result you have worked so hard to achieve.

What are the pros and cons of homeschooling?

Are you considering homeschooling your child?  If so, you are amongst an increasing number of parents.  According to a BBC report the number of children being homeschooled rose by around 40% between 2014 and 2017.

There are many reasons parents choose to home educate their children including bullying, being penalised for missing school due to poor health, failure to meet special educational needs, the inflexibility of school life, or general disillusionment with the education system.  If you are considering home educating your child, you will have your own personal reasons.  The purpose of this blog is to help you to weigh up some of the pros and cons.

Pros

1.Deeper understanding

The government judges schools on test results.  This can lead to ‘teaching to the test’.  As teachers cram children’s heads with exam-passing information they are in danger of depriving children of the opportunity to gain in-depth understanding of subjects and to enjoy learning.  Homeschooled children can learn about history in historic buildings and museums, science in laboratories, geography out in the field, and literature at the theatre.  They discover that learning is life and not restricted to one room.

 2. Personalised learning

Outside a class of thirty, teaching can be tailored to meet an individual child’s abilities, interests and learning styles.  You can research different methods including Montesorri and Waldorf and find a method or combination of methods that suits your child.  You can nurture your child’s abilities giving them the time and space they need to learn at their own pace – no self-confidence damaging bottom sets!  Your child can be taught through their own interests.  If your child loves cars then they can be taught maths and English around the theme of cars.

3. Focussed attention

Teachers don’t just teach.  They have paperwork to complete – an energy-sapping, time consuming mountain of it! They have government initiatives to comply with, meetings to attend, and so much more.  You are free from these obligations which gives you more energy and time to plan, teach, address your child’s misconceptions, and reinforce learning to ensure there aren’t any gaps.

4. Higher academic attainment

It’s difficult to find UK data comparing the academic achievements of homeschooled children to those in school.  However, data from the USA is available for scrutiny.  A study by Sandra Martin-Chang of Concordia University (2011) suggests that homeschooled children achieved higher academic results than their state schooled peers.

As far as the UK is concerned, the benefits of one-to-one tuition are well recorded.  Although parents may lack teaching experience, the advantages of individualised tuition can outweigh this.  Children who receive personalised support achieve higher academic results, have a greater depth of understanding and are more confident in their abilities.

5. Broader arts education

Arts subjects are being increasingly sidelined in mainstream schools due to lack of funding and the pressure to achieve academic results.  However, learning art, design and music is invaluable for children’s emotional and brain development.  Research has shown that learning to play a musical instrument strengthens memory and enhances spatial reasoning and literacy skills.  Arts subjects are enjoyable, bring a sense of achievement, foster creative thinking skills, and celebrate humanity.

6. Fosters an entrepreneurial spirit

In deciding to home educate your child you are modelling an entrepreneurial spirit.  You are not simply slotting into the system.  You are setting your own goals, and forging a new path together with your child.  You and your child need to be self-motivated and take responsibility for learning.  Read how Richard Lorenzen, founder and CEO of Fifth Avenue Brands says that being homeschooled inspired his entrepreneurial spirit.

7. Improved family relationships

Homeschooling means spending more quality time together so strong bonds develop. You can both learn to ice-skate, explore nature at the park, visit a city to understand human geography, and bring literature to life with a theatre visit.  Learning is a shared, mutually enjoyable experience. 

Cons

1.Cost

If you home educate your child you won’t be able to work much, if at all.  You will also have to buy resources, find money for activities, and pay exam costs.  On the positive side, some activity centres and museums offer discounts for homeschooling groups, and the cost of home educating your child is less than private school fees.

2. Socialising

Home educated children are exposed to fewer world views and generally have less opportunity to socialise with children from different backgrounds.  They will not have to negotiate and learn to deal with conflict to the same extent as children attending state schools.  This can make them less resilient and less tolerant of others.  Although homeschooling groups will give your child opportunities to build relationships with others, it’s still a concern.

3. Parental qualifications

Teachers train for years and they have extensive experience teaching a variety of subjects.  Your local authority will get involved if they discover you aren’t providing your child with an adequate education.  You must be honest with yourself about weak subject areas and address any issues by educating yourself through distance learning or in-person classes, by employing private tutors for your child, or a mixture of both. 

At TutorMyKids we can find you experienced, professional maths, English, science, humanities and language tutors who are qualified to teach from primary to A Level.  All our tutors are proficient in adapting their teaching styles to children’s particular learning styles, personalities, interests and levels.

4. Access to higher education

Home education isn’t a barrier to higher education.  Most universities, including Oxford and Cambridge, will consider home educated students as long as they meet the same requirements as everybody else. 

However, college staff have considerable experience in supporting children to select the right universities and write their applications.  As a parent you will need to fulfill that role which is especially hard if you haven’t been through the system yourself.  You also need to find a suitable reference for UCAS since this would normally be your child’s form tutor.

TutorMyKids A Level maths and English tutors can support your child with the admissions process.  They can write a personal reference, read through your child’s application and provide any guidance they need to help them meet entry requirements.

5. Your work-life balance

When you homeschool your child, home is work and work is home.  You are your child’s teacher and their parent, and it’s not easy to balance the two roles.

You might face opposition from family members and friends who don’t agree with your decision to home educate.  This can be stressful to cope with, and it is important to remember that those people are expressing concerns because they care for your child.

Both you and your child will need some time apart.  For your child, it’s important for their independence, and for you it’s to recharge your batteries.  If you have time to pursue your own interests and see your own friends then you will return to your child happier, healthier and more energetic.

Deciding to homeschool your child is a huge step which requires considerable thought. 

If you decide to make the leap, TutorMyKids can find you home education tutors who will work alongside you to provide an individually-tailored, high quality education for your child.

Why it’s essential to limit your child’s screen time

During the summer holiday, when you’re struggling to get jobs done or you just need an hour’s peace and quiet, screen time can seem just the answer.  The problem is that both you and your child can pay the price.  When a child has spent too long in front of a screen you start to notice that their mood changes.  When the screen is switched off they can become angry, confrontational, or feel too miserable and ‘low’ to focus on a different activity. 

Here we look at the pros and cons of screen time, and consider some ways to limit its adverse effects. 

Good news about screen time:

  • It gives parents time to relax. 
  • Watching television and playing computer games gives children down-time.
  • Children enjoy time on screens.
  • Smartphones and tablets are tools for communication.  Children can see distant relatives on Skype, learn new languages with pen friends from abroad, or make their own videos to share with others.
  • There are educational advantages.  Children can learn languages, maths, phonics, reading and science – almost any subject – via a screen. 
  • Technology is embedded into modern life.  Children will need computer skills when they go out to work.
  • Some apps such as Pokemon Go and Geocaching encourage children to go out and explore when they wouldn’t otherwise. 
  • Computer games can encourage children to be physically active eg. Guitar Hero and Wii Dance.

The disadvantages:

  • Child protection.  Dangers include cyberbullying, grooming, and being exposed to inappropriate material.  It’s vital to have technology safeguards in place and to educate children about internet safety.
  • Mental health issues.  Some studies suggest screen time isn’t detrimental to children’s mental health but others disagree.  The best thing to do is study your child’s moods.  How does screen time affect them?  Remember – screens are addictive (as any adult with Facebook will know).
  • Boredom intolerance. By giving children a screen to stave off boredom we are doing them a disservice (and who hasn’t given a child their mobile phone in a restaurant?).  We are depriving them of learning strategies for coping with boring situations which are, after all, part of life.  Boredom can be a friend.  It’s a stimulus for creativity and it motivates us to make changes to our lives. 
  • Living in an artificial world.  Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and online gaming should not replace face-to-face interaction and real-world friendships.  Friendships are vital for mental well-being.
  • Declining social skills.  Who hasn’t visited a friend who spent the time glued to a screen, texting somebody else?  It’s not behaviour that we want to encourage in our children.
  • Physical injuries.  Too much screen time can cause cell phone elbow, text claw and back and neck problems.  A study carried out by iposture, found that 84% of young adults in the UK experience back pain mainly due to over-use of screens. 
  • Eye strain.  Blurred vision, headaches, dry eyes, and dizziness can be caused by staring unblinkingly at a screen and scrolling too quickly.  New evidence shows that eye strain can trigger nearsightedness.
  • Poor sleep caused by screens in the bedroom.  Games and social media platforms are addictive so your child will be tempted to play late into the night.  Also, light from a screen tricks the brain into thinking it is daytime.

How can you limit screen time?

  1. Don’t allow screen time in the morning.  That’s because children enjoy screen time so much it triggers a dopamine rush, so any activity that follows will seem dull in comparison.  Screen time in the morning kills children’s motivation to do anything else.
  2. Set a time limit.  Guidelines about how much screen time is healthy for children change all the time.  It’s really best to use your own judgement by observing the effect screen time has on your child.  Observe their moods, their eyes and their posture.  As a rough guide, more than an hour at a time is too much.  Use an oven timer if needed.
  3. Set screen time to a certain time of the day.  If children know what to expect and when, they are less likely to argue with you.
  4. Only allow screen time after other activities; whether it’s riding a bike, visiting friends, going to the library, visiting a soft play centre, reading, painting, or playing a board game – it doesn’t matter.  Other activities first, screens second.
  5. Keep screen time out of the bedroom.  See ‘Poor sleep’ above.  It’s also hard to police what children are playing, who with, and for how long, when screen time happens behind a closed door.
  6. Encourage high quality screen time such as:
    • Creating your own films with iMovie
    • Developing coding skills
    • Learning a new language
    • Playing games that encourage physical activity
    • Watching and discussing an educational television programme together.

Screens have a positive and a negative impact on children’s lives.  Screens are part of modern life and we cannot – and should not – unplug altogether. 

Lead by example.  Let your child see that you limit your own screen time.  Keep phones and screens out of your bedroom, don’t text or scroll your phone when you’re playing with your child, and don’t have the television constantly on in the background.  

Think about when screen time enhances your life and when it has a negative impact on your own well-being.  Children learn by observing the behaviour of adults.

It’s essential to limit your child’s screen time – and you can!

Screen-free summer entertainment tips

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Encouraging reluctant readers by taking reading outdoors

Encouraging-reluctant-readers-by-taking-reading-outdoors.

How can you encourage your child to read?  According to research conducted by King’s College London, most children learn better outdoors.  They feel more curious, motivated, and happy to concentrate when they’re outside.  

Share stories under a tree, in a tent, on a picnic blanket or snuggled up in a pile of cushions and blankets.  With a bit of preparation you can go out whatever the weather. The worse the weather, the more exciting it can be!

Find stories and non-fiction books your child will love by browsing together at the library, and by picking out books that you think they will enjoy.  Extend your child’s reading with activities linked to books, and join in with activities yourself – enjoyment and enthusiasm are infectious.

Here are some examples of how to get your child interested in reading through story themes.   

Potions

Picture books:

Meg and Mog by Helen Nicoll and Jan Pienkowski

Potion Commotion by Peter Bently and Sernur Isik

Paperbacks:

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

The Worst Witch by Jill Murphy

Activity

The child makes a magic potion by mixing natural ingredients (stones, soil, weeds, leaves) with water.  Add a sprinkle of bicarbonate of soda and a dash of vinegar for a magical fizz. Encourage the child to jot down the ingredients on a sparkly notepad as they go.

Once the potion is made, the child writes a recipe, giving it a name e.g. ‘Invisibility Potion’, ‘Wishing Juice’.    The child reads their recipe to you. If you have written a recipe too, you can swap and read each other’s.

Monsters

Picture books:

Monsters Love Underpants by Claire Freedman

Not Now Bernard by David McKee

Paperbacks:

Fing by David Walliams and Tony Ross

Tom Gates: What Monster? By Liz Pichon

Activity

Make a monster by pressing clay onto a tree and adding natural materials for features.  The child writes a fact card for their monster detailing the monster’s name, age, special powers, what it looks like, what it eats, where it lives, and what it likes to do.  Ask the child to read their fact card (and yours too, if you have joined in).

Picnics

Picture books:

Florentine and Pig Have a Very Lovely Picnic by Eva Katzler

The Teddy Bears Picnic by Gill Guile

Paperbacks:

The Enchanted Wood by Enid Blyton

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

Activity

Support the child to read and follow instructions from a children’s cookbook to make picnic treats (Florentine and Pig contains recipes).  Write a picnic shopping list together and, as you shop, encourage the child to read and follow their list.  

Before the picnic, the child writes invitations to toys or friends.  After the picnic give the child an attractively presented thank you letter from a guest (the letter should be at the child’s reading level).   

Gentle Giants

Picture books:

George’s Amazing Adventures: Jellybeans for Giants by Adam & Charlotte Guillain

The Smartest Giant in Town by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler

Paperbacks:

The BFG by Roald Dahl

The Gentle Giant by Michael Morpurgo

Activity

Outside, hide a letter from the story giant.  The letter should provide details about the giant and its life and also ask the child questions about themselves.

The child finds the letter by following props or footprints relevant to the story.  For instance, The Smartest Giant in Town props could be a trail of discarded clothes.

Once the child has read the letter, they write a reply to the giant.

Treasure!

Picture books:

Mr Men: Adventure with Pirates by Roger Hargreaves

The Pirates of Scurvy Sands by Jonny Duddle

Paperbacks:

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

Scarlet Silver: Swashbuckle School by Sarah McConnell and Lucy Courtenay

Activity

Write and hide clues that lead the child to hidden treasure (perhaps chocolate coins).  Make the clues descriptive, incorporating some directional language: ‘Turn right by the garden table and walk towards the flower bed’.  For extra engagement, write some clues in secret writing.    

Once the child has completed the treasure hunt, they could create one for you to follow!

What else can you do to encourage a reluctant reader?

At Tutor My Kids we believe that with the right support reluctant readers can be inspired to read for pleasure.  

  • Set an example.  If your child sees that you love reading, they soon will too.
  • Read to them.  They are likely to appreciate exciting stories that are above their current reading level.
  • Motivate children through their interests.  Encourage them to choose books independently, and at the same time introduce them to books you think they will enjoy.

Remember, writing is everywhere – indoors and outdoors.  It’s on signposts, labels, instructions, cereal boxes, flyers and so on.  Wherever they are, encourage your child to engage with the written word and they will soon be a fluent, interested reader.

Mental-health-disorders-in-children-on-the-rise

Mental health issues amongst our young people are rife at the moment, with bullying, exam pressures, social media and school anxiety a huge problem. According to NHS Digital, in 2017, 12.8% of children and young people aged 5-19, have at least one mental disorder. This was an increase from 10% in 2004. This change was largely driven by an increase in emotional disorders (including anxiety and depression), which for 5-15-year-olds rose from 3.9% in 2004 to 5.8% in 2017.

I had the great pleasure to meet with a parent recently, who’s supporting her child with a bullying problem. The school have been really supportive and she’s enlisted the support of The Diana Award, set-up by Princess Diana, and has trained to be an anti-bullying ambassador to take the message to local schools.

We spent time also discussing the power of social media to affect children and their self-esteem. And given how connected our children our, it’s also incredibly difficult to get away from their bullies online too. I also spoke with a friend who told me her daughter was being targeted by a ‘friend’ on social media with some really vicious posts. I do think it is so much harder for our kids that it was for us, when typically the bullying stopped at the school gate.

At Tutor My Kids, we work with many students in the Cambridge and Ely area whose mental health is preventing them from attending mainstream school lessons and support them with one-to-one lessons either in school or in their home. Our amazing tutors in Cambridge and Ely have the skills to support them with their academic work and have the pastoral skills to support them with their self-esteem too. Usually, this is provided and funded by schools but sometimes privately by parents.

Mental health is a hugely complex area with few obvious solutions. But do talk to your children, the school and get support sooner rather than later.

Why-a-maths-assessment-is-key-to-getting-the-best-tutor-for-your-child

At Tutor My Kids, tutors in Cambridgeshire, a maths assessment is a usual part of our process of putting in the right tutor for your child. It enables us to assess your child’s abilities, their maths gaps and how they approach their work. The importance of getting the right tutor in terms of personality and approach, who will bring out the best in your child is, in our opinion, an integral part of getting the best tutor for your child.

Whether your child is struggling with the basics or the more advanced work makes a huge difference in finding the best maths tutor for them. A strong mathematician may benefit from a tutor who can really question and stretch them, whilst an underconfident student needs a much more gentle, encouraging approach. Establishing this can make the all the difference between ‘ok’ tutoring and exceptional tutoring.

Establishing where your child is with their learning

How confident a student is with their maths is a key determiner to the kind of tutor who will work best with them. Students who are working on the higher paper and are looking to get the best grades for sixth form, invariably need a supportive approach, but one which challenges them to think strategically to tackle the type of questions at level 8/9. A student who has always thought of themselves as a weak mathematician will need someone who can fill in missing gaps, gently, to raise their confidence and enable them to gain the marks they need to pass their GCSE maths. The new GCSE exams need a particular set of skills – see What’s different about the new GCSEs and what skills are needed?  Whilst dyscalculia is rare, it can be a problem. At Tutor My Kids, we do offer dyscalculia screening. Take a look at How dyscalculia screening helped a parent. So, it’s absolutely key to establish where your child is with their learning. Then we can look at the personality match between the student and the tutor.

Getting the personality match right

At Tutor My Kids, we think that getting the right personality match for your child is absolutely key to great tuition. We always meet you and your child in your home, to get a feel for your home ‘culture’ and your child’s personality. We establish what kind of approach will best support your child. We meet all our tutors at Tutor My Kids face to face and know the kind of students that they most prefer to work with – some love pushing the most able students, others simply adore helping the students that don’t ‘get’ maths. This joint knowledge and personal approach helps us to get the best possible match of tutor for your child and your family.

Putting it all together

This is where the magic happens. We put together your child’s level, approach to learning, confidence and personality and bingo we get a great tutor matched to your child to help and support them in their goals. It’s brilliant when we get this right! Student’s simply fly! See our client testimonials and tutor testimonials for a taste of this.

If you’d like more information on tutors in Ely, Cambridge, Newmarket and Huntingdon, take a look at our For Parents page, email Rachel or call Rachel on 01223 858421.

If you’re a teacher interested in finding out how to join our amazing team and working with really well assessed students, please take a look at our For Tutors page, email Rachel or give her a call on 01223 858421.

 

Maths-Gaps-Why-they-occur-and-the-problems-they-cause

I’ve never met a child without some gaps in their maths learning; it’s inevitable. How they affect a student depends on where the gaps in their knowledge are.

Why gaps in maths knowledge occur

Gaps in learning maths can occur for a huge number of reasons. Maths is hugely sequential, which means that many new concepts build upon previously taught ones – miss one and you may have problems. Missing learning can result from any number of factors: missing lessons, not grasping a concept fully before the class moves on, losing concentration, teacher absences and a host of other reasons. It’s not unusual for sight or hearing problems to be picked up part-way through a school year which means children may not have been able to see or hear the lessons well. On top of that, there have been curriculum changes.

New curricula

In 2014, the new primary school maths curriculum was introduced, which meant that (in order to move us higher up the international education rankings) pupils were expected to know more maths earlier. This means that if your child was born in 2002-2004 (and to an extent 2006-2008), there were in the thick of that and may have more gaps than younger students. These years had to get up to speed really quickly for the new year 2 and year 6 primary school SATs, which was a problem for many. I wrote about this in  2015 – Why is my child finding maths particularly hard at the moment?

Plus to compound that the new GCSEs are very different from the old ones – take a look at  What’s different about the new GCSEs and what skills are needed to succeed. These exams require a more thorough understanding of the curriculum, more skills in problem-solving and ability to retain knowledge of all the curriculum.  It’s hardly surprising there are many students struggling.

What problems are caused

Gaps in maths cause difficulty in taking on board new concepts, which can delay or pause learning in some topics. If these gaps are very early (foundation or year 1) in the curriculum, it can mimic the effects of dyscalculia – see Does my child have dyscalculia? Gaps later in the curriculum tend to have a less profound effect, but can still be problematic.

Much of the tutoring that our teachers do at Tutor My Kids, in maths, is gap filling. Whether it’s dealing with a year 3 child who’s struggling or a GCSE student who needs to simply pass their exam.

For information on maths tutoring, click here,  email Rachel or call Rachel Law on 01223 858421.

If you’re interested in becoming a tutor, please take a look at our tutor page, the kind words from our tutors and our other blogs.