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

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.

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

8 tips for summer holiday learning

10 awesome summer projects for children

Encouraging reluctant readers by taking reading outdoors