Parents Supporting Students

These articles all relate to how parents can support students.

10 Things Students (& Parents) Can Do to Start the School Year Off Right

by Dahlia Miller
September 200

School Supplies

  • Buy supplies you like and that will inspire you to be creative with your studying.

Building Good Relationships with Your Teachers

  • Introduce yourself to your teacher or just place a big red apple on your teacher’s desk with a smile.
  • Work with your teacher: have a positive attitude; participate in class; get down to work when it is given; ask if you have a question.
  • Help to make learning easier in your class: attend all your classes; be prepared (with pens, paper, calculator, etc.); pay attention; don’t distract others; take notes; do your homework.


  • If you’ll take 5-15 minutes to set goals for the up-coming year, you’ll improve your focus 5-15%.
  • Think back about last year and look at what you want to improve.
  • Consider what is important to you – why are you studying?
  • Effective Goals Are:
    • Specific (what exactly do you want?)
    • Achievable (don’t psyche yourself out before you even start)
    • Short-term (long term goals are good, but short-term goals build success and are easier to reach).

Study Space

  • Study without distractions – somewhere where you won’t be interrupted or in a quiet place where you can’t hear the TV. Some people work better with a little bit of noise, but most need silence and no distractions.
  • Remember the bed is for sleeping, not studying.


  • Set a specific time of day each day to do homework – decide to do the work and get it done – then the rest of the day is homework-free.
  • Prioritize homework – by due date and level of difficulty. In general, work on tomorrow’s homework first, and do the most difficult first.
  • Break bigger projects or exam study into smaller, more manageable steps.


  • Put a name, date and title on all your work so that you know the order to put things into your binder.
  • Create a system that you will use to carry homework and completed work to and from school.
  • Unclutter your space, unclutter your mind – don’t use up your energy having to dig for what you want every time – keep your backpack, locker, and desk free from garbage and recycling.
  • Keep all of your notes and assignments for one subject in one area: in a separate duotang, binder, or section in a binder. Use dividers to separate your notes into sub-topics, if it’s appropriate.
  • Super keen high school students: put a “Table of Contents” at the start of your binders to track topics for exams.


  • You don’t have to be the biggest, the best or the brightest to have self-confidence. You just have to believe that you are capable of doing your best.
  • Give yourself a pat on the back every time you sit down to start working.
  • With a strong belief in your ability to do your best, you can open yourself to new ideas.
  • Make encouraging notes or posters for yourself and put them up in your workspace and locker.
  • Look for your successes – celebrate small tasks right away with small rewards (a high five, a pat on the back, a chicken dance). Be a cheerleader for yourself!

Time Management

  • Time management = Energy management. Pay attention to what you are doing – if you are distracted, take a break or re-focus.
  • If you don’t have a calendar or day-planner, get one. Mark in up-coming assignments so you know how to organize your time. Post a calendar by your study space and keep it up to date so your parents can see that you are in control.
  • Review your assignments regularly to be sure you know your homework priorities.
  • Set a plan for when to study – what time of day do you study best?
  • Spend 10 minutes reviewing your class notes daily and you’ll be in a much, much better position come test time. Brains like constant review.
  • Work for short periods of time (30-60 minutes depending on you and the topic) and take short breaks. Brains remember beginnings and endings best, so incorporating more beginnings and endings into your study time will help you to remember more.
  • Keep a schedule that allows harmony between work and play time. Our mind is a tool, like a saw, if our mind is constantly in use, it grows dull.


  • Take responsibility when you need help by asking for it.
  • Exercise, eat good food, drink lots of water.
  • Get involved with friends, sports, interest groups, music, community.


  • If you are bored studying…change what you are doing. How can you make it more fun?
  • Study according to your learning style: draw pictures or make up stories in your mind if you’re a visual learner; make up rhymes or teach someone if you’re an auditory learner; stand up and move or squeeze a stress ball while studying if you’re kinesthetic.


  • Be flexible and encourage independence.
  • Ask your children questions about the upcoming year (and just listen as they talk): What are their goals? Do they have any concerns about school? What are they enjoying studying these days?
  • Let your child have some freedom around deciding the logistics of where, when and how they do their homework.
  • To help your child get organized at school, find the answers to these questions (by asking your child): How many subjects per day does your child study? How are handouts/assignments expected to be sorted? Where does your child store his/her materials between classes (i.e. in a desk or locker)? Is there a system used by the school or individual teachers to track homework and assignments? What is it?
  • Encourage your child to keep a positive attitude. Notice when your child is putting effort in and comment on it. Cheer your kids on – if you are fighting over homework, step back.
  • Be informed about what’s going on in school. Ask your kids about their homework. At the grade 4 level and above, students will usually have homework every night. Ask your child how they would like you to support them in getting their work done.
  • Stop yourself from interfering and trying to help – even if you see that your child is doing something wrong; unless you’re asked, stay out of it.
  • When your child asks for help try to have them bring you up to speed – give them the opportunity to teach you.
  • Praise and reward efforts appropriately and often. Avoid criticizing and nagging.
  • Remember that education isn’t a contest or a race; it’s a process that each child experiences differently.

“There is only one thing more painful than learning from experience and that is not learning from experience.”
Archibald McLeish (American poet)

Building Self-Esteem in Youth

June 2005

This month’s issue takes a look at the topic of building self esteem in youth. Pam Turner, an authority on youth self-esteem, spoke with Dahlia Miller of Smart Tutor Referrals (STR). Pam is the owner of Elevation Empowerment Training, providing workshops and one-on-one mentoring to help girls actively create the life they want.

“Low self-esteem is like driving through life with your hand-brake on.”
Maxwell Maltz, American author

STR: Can you explain what self-esteem is?

Pam: No one is really able to nail down a solid definition of self-esteem. There is controversy over what it is. From the research I’ve done, I’ve found that there are two types of self-esteem. There’s Global Self-Esteem. This is an assessment of how you feel about yourself. Do you feel good about yourself? Are you happy with the way that you are? Then there is Earned Self-Esteem. This comes from accomplishments and doing well in things. Earned self-esteem builds on itself: the more successes you have, the more earned self-esteem you have, the better you feel about your chances of future successes, the more willing you are to take smart risks and try new things.

STR: In your opinion, is one type of self- esteem more beneficial than the other?

Pam: I think earned self-esteem is the one that is longer lasting and has a bigger impact. We often think if we just tell our kids that they’re good and that they’re doing a good job, that this will give them high self-esteem. But that’s not the way it is. Kids can tell if the praise is earned. If we just tell kids that they’re doing a good job, we take away that incentive for them to do well. In schools, if we just tell all the kids that they’re doing a good job. Where’s the incentive to work hard?

STR: So you’re not really trying to earn someone’s approval. Then what exactly are you trying to earn with earned self- esteem?

Pam: You’re right. It’s not someone else’s approval we’re trying to earn. We earn self-esteem through our own feelings of accomplishment. The sense that: I can do things; I can accomplish things that I set out to do; I have some control over what happens to me and how I deal with things; I can take on challenges. It’s those kind of internals rather than externals that define earned self-esteem.

STR: What sorts of traits are associated with high self-esteem? What does high self-esteem look like?

Pam: There are lots of traits associated with high self-esteem. People with a strong sense of self worth, self confidence, and high self-esteem are typically able to:

  • deal with things as they come up
  • cope with new situations
  • take on challenges
  • have a greater sense of self control
  • be more responsible
  • work well in groups
  • tolerate frustrations
  • overcome setbacks
  • They are mentally strong because they’ve had successes and know they can handle things.
  • Their schoolwork tends to do better. Actually, there is disagreement about which comes first – does high self-esteem come first so students do better in schoolwork? Or is it that students have been successful in their schoolwork, so that helps to build high self-esteem?

STR: Why do you think building self- esteem is so important, especially for teens?
Pam: Self-esteem tends to plummet for teens once they reach puberty and leave the safety of elementary school. They’re really trying to figure out who they are and where they belong in the world. So, everything that we can do to help them through that time, by giving them opportunities to discover what their gifts are and what their skills and talents are, will help them to develop healthy self-esteem.

Teens are also going through a period where they’re very susceptible to what people think. As a teenager, you sort of feel that all eyes are on you all the time – that everyone is watching and analyzing everything that you do. Which isn’t really true, but as teens that’s what we tend to feel. Kids with high self-esteem, are less likely to be influenced by the group; they’re better able to make their own decisions. If they’re with a group of peers, they’re better able to decide what’s right for them and make better choices.

Low self-esteem has been related to suicide and suicide attempts, depression, teen pregnancy, and also victimization by others (obviously if you don’t feel good about yourself, you’re willing to take a lot from other people). It’s also associated with eating disorders and low economic outcomes in young adulthood.

STR: What are some key ways that parents, mentors and educators can help to build self esteem in boys and girls?

Pam: The more opportunities we can give teens to learn new skills and progress toward goals, the more their self-esteem will grow. Giving them opportunities to become involved in things and develop skills is a key. It could be learning a new sport, an art, a new academic subject, or life skill; the challenge is keeping them engaged and finding things that they can continue to be involved in.

  • Community involvement, getting out there and serving others, can help kids to recognize how they can make a difference in the world.
  • Give them a chance to make their own decisions, from family decisions to decisions about their own lives. We need to give lots of opportunities to develop those skills.
  • Help them to develop a sense of purpose, to figure out where they fit into the world. Kids that feel that they have purpose to their lives, tend to do much better. Assisting them in figuring out why they are here, what their unique gift to the world is and how can they use that will help them immensely.
  • Praise definitely has its place, but it needs to be specific. If a student comes home with a high score on a math test, for instance, we could recognize how much work they put into studying for the test rather than saying, “You’re so smart,” we could say, “That was a great improvement,” or, “You worked really hard to understand that topic.”
  • We can help kids to build connections to adults, mentors, other than parents, so they can learn new ways of looking at life.
  • It’s also important that teens realize that they can build assets in their own lives, even if their family or their school isn’t giving them what they need.

“Think highly of yourself, for the world takes you at your own estimate.”
Author Unknown

Building a Sense of Self-Sufficiency in Youth

May 2008

This month’s newsletter is an interview with Peter Harris, owner of Pacifica Paddle Sports in Victoria, BC. Peter has over 20 years’ experience mentoring youth in kayak and canoe learning and adventures.

STR: First, thank you for speaking with me, Peter. We’ve talked before about this concept of building a sense of self-sufficiency in youth. Can you describe for our readers, from your perspective: what is self-sufficiency?

Peter: It’s feeling like you can take care of yourself. Being able to go into a strange place or situation and organize it into the familiar, or figure out how to approach it, so you can deal with it as you’ve trained yourself to do.

Have you ever heard kids say, “What do I do now?” They’re looking for someone to tell them the next step. They’re expressing dependency. They’re also not engaging with where they are.

Now, think of the word ‘engaged’. When you’re out there, you want to be there, and you’ve engaged your senses – sight, touch, listening, smell, taste, thinking, it’s all there. When someone is in that state, they won’t be bored (in fact ‘bored’ won’t even be in their vocabulary.)

STR: What does self-sufficiency, or lack of self-sufficiency, look like?

Peter: When you’re two years old – you can’t reach the doorknob. You have to depend on someone else for everything. This is complete lack of self-sufficiency.
Think of being 12 and going camping with everything you need on your back, putting up a tarp and pulling out some food and making dinner. The difference between doing that and having your mother cook dinner for you is monumental because you’re involved with generating your own self-satisfaction. Self-sufficiency isn’t just about camping. Learning to cook or getting involved in cooking can also develop that same sense of self-sufficiency.

When you allow kids to learn by doing, this is ‘experiential education’. You can see it when a kid has his hands in the flour making a pie as you’re making one, by the time he’s done it a few times, the motivation to learn and improve is there because he sees the difference between your pie and his, and he has felt the enjoyment of making his own food.

What goes along with self-sufficiency is feeling confident and comfortable.

Think of the difference between being afraid and being curious, being in a state of heightened awareness as opposed to being fearful. The difference is really between risk and perceived risk. There is a difference between what it is like to be with someone who says, “Don’t touch that,” compared to, “Here’s how we do it.”

STR: What are some of the benefits of self-sufficiency?

Peter: Developing a method of dealing with things that can be applied to everything you come across from there on in. Have you ever watched a dog when it’s about to lie down? It will circle three times. So do float plane pilots about to land their planes in an unfamiliar place. What they’re doing is sizing up the landing place.

Someone once said, “Success is 9/10 preparation.” When a person is confident in his or her skills, he is comfortable taking the time to prepare rather than just rushing into a new situation or task.

Self-sufficiency means you’ve started thinking about what you’re doing – you’re not just floating along – you’re living your life.

When you think of the issues that face a kid, they are many. To boil it down, self-sufficiency is problem solving. It is that sense that, “I can solve my own problems.”

When a young person is out in the woods and he’s learned that to make a camp you look for a flat spot and then make shelter or put up a tent – he knows how to deal with his basic needs for food, shelter and bedding. That same competency can be applied to everything: with a school assignment he knows that there is a process to deal with it and to begin by first covering the basics.

STR: How can parents help to foster self-sufficiency in their kids?


  • Model a sense of curiosity and excitement about new experiences. Be genuinely enthusiastic when you suggest, “Let’s go try this.” Try to get them on board rather than trying to bribe them.
  • Overcome the addiction of staying within the familiar. To move kids from non-engagement to self-sufficiency takes significant planning and guidance. The task is to assist the child in developing their own skill sets so they’re more equipped to deal with the broader world.
  • Set a plan to go outdoors – once kids are outdoors, they usually enjoy it.
  • Look at what’s dominating the kid’s life. Invite the kid to participate in things they haven’t done before. It’s important that they not see it as a punishment or deprival. If it took 10 years to create a problem (of not feeling motivated or engaged, for example), it’ll take more than a few days to correct the course.
  • If computer games are dominating the child’s life, present the child with the point that their time is being stolen. This point is most easily taught in contrast – when they feel the enjoyment of exploration of the real world, computer games tend to pale in comparison. Perhaps a parent has the same issue – look honestly to see how TV or computer time fit into the parents’ life-style.
  • Consider applying some game-style problem solving to something outside and active. Most computer games require quick reactions, accuracy and strategy. Advanced forms of hide and seek or capture the flag, for example, can satisfy those same gaming interests using strategy and tactics in the woods or another outdoor environment (woods are ideal because of the natural cover they offer).
  • When you start with a 3 year old, they know how to play. When you start with a 10 year old, they need to learn how. You can put a 3 year old and a 10 year old together so they each have a role model. Get kids out there with other youth so they can learn from their peers. Team-building games and working with a group allow kids to work with each other to accomplish tasks that can only be accomplished as a group. For example, one fun group exercise is to lay a 4x6 piece of carpet on the ground and have as many people as possible standing on it. The task is to turn the carpet over without anyone stepping off it.
  • Allow unstructured play and discovery where the kid is directing it. The difference between playing in a playground and a vacant lot is worth considering. A vacant lot is infinitely diverse compared to a playground. For me, that’s what discovery is all about. Take a kid somewhere where there are natural dynamics going on and he’ll be engaged (like a stream, a rocky beach, etc.). Let the child explore the natural world.
  • Engagement starts by showing respect for and putting a sense of importance on what his interests are. You could ask questions like, “What would you like to do now?” or “Where would you like to go?” Create situations where the kid is the leader. If you are out together you could point out an attraction and ask, “Do you want to check that out?” When the child says, “Can we stop here?” or “Can we do this?” there needs to be a confidence developed where he can expect a positive answer (at least a good percentage of the time) where he’s not completely engaged with someone else’s agenda.
  • Enroll in a recreation program – both parent and kid. When you’re both in it, each of you is experiencing the other in that situation. It’s new, so you’re both learning and you’re both having a new experience together.
  • The bottom line is investing one’s time in developing a broad background of understanding and experiences for your kids. The net effect is making more of the world familiar and building that sense of confidence, capability and self-sufficiency.

Communicating about Homework - Suggestions for Parents

by Dahlia Miller
October 2009

Very few people really enjoy homework. It can be a source of challenge for both students and parents, to put it mildly.

This article explores some ideas about communicating around homework as well as offering some tips for approaching homework. This is a huge topic, though, and we will only be able to skim the surface. There are plenty of good resources available for more information – some are listed in the side bar.

Remember that as children learn and grow, they understand much more than they are capable of doing at first. The same holds true with homework, study skills and communication. A healthy dose of patience will go a long way in helping a parent to stand by while their child makes study skills “mistakes”.

Make observations about behavior (without guessing at the child’s motives), get in touch with your own needs (for respect, acceptance, safety, trust, peace, love, etc.) and make requests based on those needs.

Identify or acknowledge your child’s feelings as they come up. This gives students a chance to express their emotions and move through them to find solutions. Although it may seem fairly passive, just describing is much more effective than denying, criticizing, offering advice, explaining away or ignoring feelings.

Describe rather than praise or blame. Description doesn’t get involved with whether something is “good” or “bad” it just points out what has and/or hasn’t been done. For example, saying, “Your binder is organized and your backpack is ready to go for tomorrow,” shows your child that you see and recognize his efforts. He can draw his own conclusions about how organized a person he is. Similarly, “You’ve done five math questions and have six more to go,” could be easier on the ears than, “You’ve still got six more questions to do.”

Make requests. How do you feel when someone demands something of you? Almost all people resist demands. A request, however, is a different story. You might try, “Would you be willing to…?”

For contentious issues, describe the situation as you see it and listen to your child’s feelings. Then describe your feelings and request a shared brainstorm to come up with some possible solutions. For example, “The teacher called to say that you haven’t handed any homework in for the last week. I guess it’s hard to get into homework after a long day of school.” Listen first, and then describe your needs: “My concern is that you’ll start to fall behind.” Brainstorm, writing down all ideas without discrimination to start (so your child sees that you take her suggestions seriously). Together evaluate which proposals could work and how you’ll put at least one into action.

Model the behavior you’d like to see:

  • When your child is speaking, listen.
  • Don’t be bossy, sullen or whiny.
  • Stretch yourself and learn more. Let your kids see you struggle and persevere in learning a new skill or topic.
  • Be curious – about your kids, about the world, about your kids’ understanding of the world.
  • Demonstrate self-confidence – be polite yet firm.
  • Ask your child to check your spelling and math.
  • Be responsible with your schedule, your eating habits, and your work/family life balance.

Set up a good study environment – a quiet place with proper lighting and enough supplies.

Set a consistent routine, allowing some flexibility, but change the routine sometimes.

Set a time limit for TV and computer. (Some experts suggest a limit of 2 nights per week for TV.)

Set a time limit for homework. 30-60 minutes per night is adequate for students up to grade 9 or 10; 60-90 minutes for grades 10-12.

Reward study time rather than grades. Homework requires effort and discipline. Habits of self-discipline are created over time. This is one of the main reasons why homework is assigned in the first place.

Discuss what kind of support your child would like for homework. Do they want you to remind them that it’s homework time or to check in to be sure that their backpack is packed in the morning? Do they want a reminder of homework that needs to be handed in? Do they want you to help break bigger projects into more manageable steps? If your child responds to checklists for backpacks or homework tracking, create some.

Check your child’s agenda daily or at least every second day. If it seems important to you, they’ll begin to see it as important to them too. Check that they have completed their homework. Or, have your teen show you their completed work daily.

If there is no homework, ask your child to teach you something that he learned in class that day.

Help prioritizing if your child seems stumped about where to start with homework or is avoiding getting started. Help them to evaluate where to start: What is due first? How long will each assignment take? What is hardest? What could be broken down into steps? Sometimes starting with the hardest thing first is nice as it gets it over with; sometimes starting with something easy is good as it builds confidence and momentum.

Suggest interesting alternatives for study: tape recorder, video, power point, experiments… Show an interest in the subject matter and in their studies in general.

Ask yourself, “What kind of teacher am I? How can I do better?” Listen to your tone of voice when you are talking about homework – are you patronizing or lecturing?

Show love and respect, acknowledging efforts even if they don’t “measure up”.

Notice your child’s reactions to your help. If your child is interested in having your assistance, provide some if necessary, but if your child seems to react negatively, step back.

Stop while it’s still fun if you’re working together (for spelling, reading, multiplication tables, etc.). If it’s not fun, go to the library and find some books about learning games – there are books in the parent-educator section of the library.

Know your child’s learning style – it may be different from your own. Keep this in mind if you are teaching your child or asking your child to teach you something she has learned.

Ask questions like, “Is there another way to do it?” “What else can you think of?” “This may be one way to do it.” Be patient – wait for answers.

Have trust and confidence in your child’s ability to learn independently. Don’t hover as they work.

Ask simple, direct questions to open up a dialogue about school. “Tell me one good thing and one bad thing about school today.” can bring a much more detailed answer than the very general, “How was your day?”

Observe how you describe your child’s abilities. Let them hear you say good things about them.

Write an encouraging note for your child and put it in his lunch, on the fridge or in chalk on the sidewalk.

Facing the Changes and Challenges of Making the Move to Middle School

by Ruth McGhee, in conversation with Chris Harvey, Principal of Arbutus Middle School in Victoria, BC
March 2005

“Change is not merely necessary to life, it is life.”
Alvin Toffler, author

Teaching is my ‘other’ job, because without doubt the most important job I do is parenting. And this year, I am acutely aware from personal experience of the challenges that come with making educational choices for our son who will start school this fall. I am not sure if these decisions are easier - or harder - because I am a teacher: I have strong opinions about what kind of educational environment I want for him. What I do appreciate, though, is that I have a choice to make, and that even within the public system here, we are not simply limited to the assigned school in our neighbourhood. Of course, the educational choices we make for - and eventually with - our children are ongoing. The next big one looming on the horizon for us will be which middle school my son will attend. Many of our closest friends are in the midst of making the middle school decision for their children, and I have been privvy to several dynamic discussions on the topic. The questions and concerns they raise I hear over and over again: “Is my son socially ready to move to a bigger school?” “My daughter is very sensitive, and I don’t think she will be able to manage having several different teachers.” “ Will the workload be significantly more challenging?”

Any questions about middle school and I turn without hesitation to Chris Harvey, Principal of Arbutus Middle School and energetic advocate for the middle school concept. It is hard to walk away from a visit with Harvey and not be impressed by the welcoming atmosphere he has created at Arbutus. He has an obviously great rapport with the students and is an inspiration to faculty and staff alike. I recently spoke with Harvey on the topic of making the middle school decision, and asked him what he perceives are the most significant changes and challenges that students and families face in the transition; he also gave me ever-important advice for parents - advice that goes beyond simply “Which middle school should I send my child to?” and reaches to the realm of just plain good parenting.


Kids themselves tell us, notes Harvey, that the most significant changes they face are: the increased choice of courses they can take, and the fact that they will have several different teachers. As for making educational choices, exploratories provide students with the opportunity to try their hand at music, drama, the arts, woodworking, Home Ec, and computing sciences, to name a few. Gradually allowing students a modicum of control over their own education is an essential element in helping them to mature and develop as independent learners. As for the increase in the number of teachers a student may have, Harvey says this change takes place gradually: all teachers plan and meet together to discuss common planning and kids’ issues. Kids still need to feel that they are being cared for, and it is no coincidence that many middle school teachers are former elementary school teachers: “they have the Mamma Bear/Papa Bear attitude,” Harvey remarks.


One of the major challenges students will face is building new friendships. Children will likely have been with the same group of students in a smaller elementary school setting for, in most cases, five or six years. Now they are dealing with kids from other schools. And if, in the course of making the middle school transition, parents choose to send their child cross-boundary, or to a private school, then their child may be completely surrounded by new faces. “Kids and their parents want them to be surrounded by familiar faces, so you have to put some thought into that,” remarks Harvey. Careful attention is paid to classroom composition in order to make this part of the transition as smooth as possible.

“Another major challenge students face is organisation,” observes Harvey. With more choices for courses, and more than one teacher, comes the increasing demand for personal and time management. Most students these days are introduced to using an agenda in elementary school; these are essential to success in middle school. Teachers provide crucial support for students as they learn to manage their time and commitments, making sense of what lies ahead.

Advice to Parents

Harvey has some key advice for parents who are searching for the right middle school for their child. He starts off with suggesting some key questions that parents should ask of any prospective middle school principal:

  • “What sets you apart as a great school?”
  • “What are your school’s goals for improvement and what are you doing to get there?”
  • “How do teaching teams plan and work together?”
  • “What is your attitude toward parents?”
  • “Do you have a partnership with parents and how do you ‘walk the walk’?”

Once you ask these questions, there is then the task of discerning which are the good or right answers for you. It will depend on what you are looking for, of course, but Harvey’s general advice is “to look for a school that wants to get better, and is actively doing that, backed up by good data and research. You want to look for people who are in love with what they do, who like kids, and are broadening kids in various ways.”

If you are reading this article, you are likely already interested and involved in your child’s education. You will nod in agreement at Chris Harvey’s most important advice for parents: “Stay involved! Stay connected! We talk about the home-school-student triangle, and parents must be part of that triangle and not just passively let their child’s education happen. Parents should be constantly in touch with their kids, and when necessary, the school. While there is no direct correlation between parental involvement and academic achievement, there is ample indirect evidence that proves it positively affects a student’s attitude toward school, and impacts decisions about further education. “Do whatever you can,” continues Harvey, “join PAC committees, drive to sports events, volunteer in any capacity - let your kids know you are part of the school; stay connected and don’t let go.” Harvey is clearly an advocate of parental involvement and its key role in students’ success. His enthusiasm and vision for middle school education is contagious, and I am encouraged to know that there are people like Chris Harvey in our schools. “There are lots of us out there,” he encourages me, and I am happy to know our middle school kids are in such good hands.

Helping Elementary Students with Homework

by Maureen Bouey
July 2003

“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”
W. B. Yeats

This issue is the first of two issues focussed more towards parents than students. We’ll look at how you can best support your child in becoming a successful student during his/her school experiences. In particular, we’ll discuss how to help your kids with their homework.

The elementary years are when your child can learn to love to learn. By creating a positive and encouraging learning environment at home, you are providing the optimum environment for school success. Let us consider the following suggestions:

Let your child have some freedom around deciding the logistics of where, when and how they do their homework. Even if you have provided a lovely desk, chair and reading lamp in their bedroom, and they seem to prefer lying on their stomachs in the kitchen or living room, don’t worry. As we have learned in doing our Learning Styles Assessments, kids all work in very individual ways, and have distinct preferences for such things as temperature, body position, environment, and so on. So if your child happily starts their own homework without any prompting, DON’T fuss about how, when and where YOU think they should be doing it. As much as is possible, you want to encourage independence, and have them understand that homework is their responsibility, not yours. This is critical for future success.

Leave them be. When they are working on something, stop yourself from interfering and trying to help – even if you see that they’re doing something wrong; unless you are asked, stay out of it. At the most, you could gently, and very generally, ask if they’d like any help. This helps them develop independence and, importantly, an ability to focus on their own. If a pattern of difficulty begins to emerge for your child (for example consistently low scores on spelling tests for example), you will want to step in to suggest they seek help (either from you, another text or from another knowledgeable person).

Avoid lecturing to them. When they do ask for help, try to make it look as though you’re learning from them, rather than the other way around. You could even play dumb a little; pretend you’ve forgotten how to do it. Allow them to ‘refresh’ your memory. This is a good way to approach helping your kids because teaching someone how to do something is one of the best ways for kids, or anyone, to learn something new. Of course, this doesn’t always work; sometimes you will need to provide more direct help, and a little bit of this is fine, just as long as it doesn’t become a nightly habit. (This becomes a different issue for homeschooling parents who will need to do some more formal teaching with their kids.)

Be as patient and adaptable as your life circumstances allow. (I know that this is easier for some than others.) Be as supportive as you can in providing them with all the materials they need. Be aware that this sometimes means being flexible and spontaneous when it’s inconvenient: “Oh! - I need to make a collage for my social studies class. Tomorrow!” Of course you would have preferred more notice, and it’s fine to say so (without sarcasm). But, you might just let go of being ‘right’ about their not having planned this very well and pop out to get the supplies anyway, if you can. This shows them that they are important, and their projects are important. My experience is that this improves with time. (Time management is an important skill which should be incorporated in as many ways as possible - on an ongoing basis.)

Avoid criticizing; instead look for ways to encourage and support your kids. It’s okay to stretch the truth a bit when you praise your child’s work – what you say should be true – but be generous. Sometimes you have to look harder than others – but there’s always something positive you can say about whatever assignment or project they’re working on. “Wow – beautiful drawing/great handwriting/that’s an interesting idea/ that’s the perfect word”, etc. In other words, focus on whatever positives you can find. Soon, there will be more and more of them.

Encourage independent reading – in whatever way seems to most interest them. In some ways, this is probably even more important than their homework. Allow them to use a computer for fun, communication and research, but put a limit on it. Likewise with TV, it is now well-documented that kids who watch hours and hours of TV (especially unsupervised) wind up having short attention spans – even as adults. When they get to the higher levels of school, in particular, a love of independent reading will really pay off.

It’s also a good idea to encourage independent writing. It doesn’t really matter what they write, it could be letters, stories, poems, even grocery or ‘to do’ lists – anything is good, because it’s the process of writing which helps to develop fluency. They could write and ‘produce’ little books of their own (computers have made this easy!), songs, or newspapers. Perhaps you could see about getting them published in a children’s magazine.

Avoid putting a lot of pressure on kids about grades, especially if they’re clearly doing their best. In the worst case scenarios, this has even been known to lead to cheating. Perfection should not be the goal.

“The great aim of education is not knowledge but action.”
Herbert Spencer (1820 - 1903)

Helping Middle and High School Students with Homework

by Maureen Bouey
August 2003

This age period is considered by many to be the most challenging time (and not just in school either!). Well, it is challenging. It’s challenging for the parent, it’s challenging for the teacher and…it’s challenging for the student.

If you are a parent, take a moment right now and think back, to your own high school years. For many of us, it was a pretty darned bumpy road! It’s helpful to keep that in mind when dealing with your own adolescents (compassion is a key element here).

“Patience is the companion of wisdom.”
Saint Augustine (354 AD - 430 AD)

Reading and Writing

Keep them reading and writing on their own. If you have a son who is writing fantasy stories because he loves to do it for heaven’s sake, don’t discourage him. Basically this just means acceptance on your part; you don’t have to praise, offer helpful criticism, or even provide compliments (unless you really do love what they’ve produced). The important thing, as it has been all along, is to let your sons and daughters retain ownership of their own productions and accomplishments. Your role is to be friendly and responsive, but to keep some distance.

Learning Styles

  • Remember that learning styles continue to play a major role in how your kids learn. For example, a kinesthetic teenager whose clothes are too tight, or whose shoes don’t fit properly may not be able to study. And remember, kinesthetic kids often need to squirm, jiggle or move their bodies somehow.
  • It doesn’t necessarily mean they aren’t focussed; frequently it’s HOW they focus. An auditory learner can be very disturbed by sounds around her - or the opposite may be the case – she may need to have music, the TV in the background, or other background “noise”. The visual student can become very distracted by a messy room, by too much “viewable” stimulation or – by not enough stimulation.
  • Becoming aware of what your son or daughter focuses on naturally, can provide you with a clue to what their inherent learning style is. This is key because, as Faith and Cecil Clark say, “Distractions to one child are fuel for concentration to another”(1). It really helps to take your own child’s particular style into consideration. They often know themselves what works for them – and what doesn’t. Do your best to help them work with their learning style – they couldn’t change this, even if they wanted to.
  • Model a balanced work schedule. Studying or working on something for hours on end with no pause is an unhealthy formula for both physical and mental health. When you are working on something, be aware of your own rhythms and take regular “restorative” breaks. Encourage your kids to do the same. Peter Russell says that interrupting yourself “can lead to higher recall of the material…” (2) Fresh air, shooting a few hoops, a walk, listening to music, or eating a healthy snack are all things which can provide a beneficial respite. Incidentally, I would definitely discourage TV, computers or video games being used for a homework break. These are not restorative.

Changing Worlds

  • Although you may be challenged, it is important to acknowledge your child’s changing world, aspects of which you might not like or understand. This is the stage of life where many kids begin to differentiate themselves from their families and to seek recognition and acceptance from their peers. Their music, style of dressing, speech, etc., are all important aspects of their “culture”. While you don’t have to allow anything that goes against your own moral or ethical value system, just understanding and acknowledging his attempts to find his way will pay off in spades.

“Don’t limit a child to your own learning, for he was born in another time.”
Rabbinical Saying

  • Let your child have more freedom than in elementary school around deciding the logistics of where, when and how they do their homework. Remember, the goal here is to work towards encouraging your child’s ownership of the study process. This can only come about with his being allowed to make some of his own decisions.
  • Let your child know that you are supportive, but that their work is their responsibiliy. Do not harangue them about assignments and homework. Do your best to remain calm no matter the situation with your child’s homework. If they come to you for help, you will want to offer your best suggestions and support of course. As your child ages the subject matter of their homework may be difficult even for you. In this situation, you can use your resources to direct your child toward help (from a text or another knowledgeable person perhaps).
  • Continue to avoid putting pressure on them about grades, especially at the middle and junior high school levels. This is harder for most parents than at the elementary school level. But, if they are doing their best, enjoying themselves, and have an overall good attitude towards school, then pressuring them about grades will probably just be counterproductive.

(1) Authors of Hassle Free Homework
(2) The Brain Book

How You Can Communicate in Conflict

by Nichola Watson and Dahlia Miller
December 2003

Nichola Watson has worked in Toronto and Ottawa coordinating activities and programs meant to help alleviate youth conflict.

“[We] must evolve, for all human conflict, a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.”
Martin Luther King (1929-1968)

Have you ever disagreed with one of your teachers or parents? Has someone that you know ever said something or acted in a way that made you feel uncomfortable? Pretty silly questions! No one escapes conflict. It is a part of every person’s life.
Better questions to ask might be: What did you do? Were you satisfied with how the two of you worked through the conflict?

Since we all experience conflict, it seems like a good idea to learn some respectful ways to communicate during periods of conflict. Imagine how peaceful the world might be if everyone understood some fundamental steps to working through conflict effectively. Let’s use youth conflict as our focus as we consider how to approach conflict.

Some Conflicts Youth Are Facing Today Derive From:

  • Inappropriate language, whether it is verbal (swearing, name calling, discrimination) or non-verbal (body
  • Peer pressure;
  • Boyfriend/girlfriend relationships;
  • Misunderstanding of information;
  • Differences (cultural, gender, socio-economic, opinion, understanding);
  • Negative attitudes, dislike;
  • Irresponsible behaviours (bullying, unprotected sex, abuse of any kind, being neglected, etc.);
  • Going against institutional regulations;
  • Non-cohesiveness with authority figures;
  • Lack of attention from teachers, parents, and peers.

Conflict can be good. It opens up space for change. Let us all remember that conflict is a part of our everyday lives. It is our positive responses to conflict that continue to mold us into responsible citizens.

However, conflict that is ignored or dealt with inappropriately can be damaging to all those involved. Some view conflict as a competition that warrants a winner and a loser. But, when one person’s needs are not met, there is no true resolution.

Strategies for Conflict Resolution:

  • evaluate yourself first;
  • be respectful of others feelings;
  • communicate honestly and openly;
  • maintain some level of emotional control;
  • be prepared to compromise – the focus should be on everyone interests.

When you are communicating, it is important to remember that humans want to be understood and loved. We all want to communicate and share our experiences. We all must work together to solve our problems and conflicts.

I have learned that when one is faced with a conflict one first must evaluate oneself. It is each person’s responsibility to analyze the problem objectively. This is potentially quite difficult. This approach begins with objectively examining the level of threat one is feeling toward ones beliefs and values. With an objective approach we are able to begin restoring our sense of equilibrium and well-being.
As difficult as this is, we all need to practice stepping back from the conflict to really listen to what we are feeling and thinking. Once we understand what our needs and feelings are, it is much easier to communicate those without over-reacting, and to hear others’ needs and feelings.

It is important that all parties involved actively listen to each other. To listen actively, listen to the words and feelings that you hear from the other person. Can you hear the need behind the words? You are listening for what the person is communicating to you (verbally and non-verbally) about their feelings of dis-equilibrium (i.e. they feel out of balance).

Once you have a sense of what the other person is saying, tell her your version of what she just told you. Repeat your understanding of her message. This way you can confirm that you understand the other person. People need to feel heard. Just by listening and feeding back your understanding of someone’s words, you will help that person to relax and be more open to compromise.

When you understand where the other person is coming from, you’ll be better able to understand his behaviour and suggest a solution that appeals to him.

Express what your experience is, what your needs are, and what solution would work for you. If you can give this information calmly, it will help the other person to understand your needs. More than calmly, especially in conflict situations, we need to remember to communicate as gently and lovingly as possible. Even if you are expressing that you would like not to be spoken to in a certain way again, you can say this lovingly with words like, “When you say things like that, I feel hurt. It is important to me that we act respectfully toward each other. Please don’t speak to me this way again.”

Next you’ll need to work together to find a solution. Once the parties understand each other’s needs, it is much easier to reach an effective compromise. Begin by working together to find out exactly what the problem is.  Try to find all sources of the problem.

Thus, one must listen, negotiate, and communicate. With that in mind, we can all model proactive approaches, which will minimize conflicts.

“You must reflect on your emotions, transform them, and then be willing to listen to the other person. Then you must take Right Action to eliminate the causes.”
Thich Nhat Hahn

Listening to Music While Studying

by Maureen Bouey
June 2003

Probably most people would agree that music has some kind of an effect on all of us. Recently, some middle school students in the United States became interested in looking at how three different kinds of music (in this case, classical, alternative and country) can affect memory. They set up a study where fifty people memorized two lists of 20 words each – with one minute to memorize each list. After the minute, the list was taken away and participants had another minute to recall and write down as many words as they could remember out of the original twenty.

Three groups were used in the study, and each one listened to a different form of music (alternative, classical, and country). When memorizing the first of two lists, there was no music; during the memorizing of the second list, music was played.

Results for the participants who listened to classical music were the most positive, actually showing an increase in memory. Those who listened to the country and alternative music had lower scores when the music was being played, due to being distracted, while those listening to alternative music had the lowest scores of all. While not an official research study, it does nonetheless demonstrate an important link between learning and music.

So, what do the experts say? Let’s take a brief look at some general information about studies of the links between learning and music.

Many studies have shown that linguistic rhymes, dances, movement, and play in the early years are very important in bringing together the emotions, mind, and body of a child. There is also plenty of research to show that playing music to a child early in life helps to build the neural pathways that allow language, memory, and spatial development to take place.

Music has also been shown to change results in intelligence measurement. Over the years there have been many studies and numerous methods used to measure intelligence. Relevant to our topic, some of these studies have shown that high-frequency, clearly organized music has the ability to naturally stimulate and refresh the brain in a matter of just minutes. This kind of music seems to improve focus and concentration, and can therefore benefit concentration and studying.

Perhaps you’ve heard of “Super-Learning”? Dr. Georgi Lozanov, the Bulgarian professor who pioneered the research into Super-Learning, suggested slow Baroque music for optimal learning (music by Bach, Handel, Correli, Telemann). He said that Baroque’s precise and complex structure engages our brains to an optimal level. There have even been studies proving that this type of music can actually cause your IQ to go up by as much 9 IQ points! (Please do not mistake this as an endorsement of IQ tests.)

Numerous other benefits have also been linked to listening to Baroque music. Just a few examples are:

  • Increased learning speed
  • Reduced number of errors
  • Improved creativity and clarity
  • Faster physical healing
  • Integrated brain for more efficient learning

So we know there are definitely some beneficial links between learning and music – at least some types of music. And while Baroque is not the only kind of music that falls into this beneficial category, it is true that some types of music can definitely be unhelpful: distracting and interfering with the learning processes.

If your preferences run to more popular types of music, here are a few suggestions about how can you best prevent music from interfering with your studies:

  • Play something that is on the mellow side. If the music makes you want to play the drums on your binder, it’s going to be too distracting.
  • Turn down the volume. You are looking for background music, not something you need to shout to be heard over.
  • Pick your music before you start to study, then leave it alone. The time you waste picking out new music and changing CD’s could be put to better use studying.
  • If you’re studying in the same room as somebody else, be considerate and wear headphones.
  • It can sometimes be difficult to memorize things if you are listening to a song with lyrics. Try to find something that is strictly instrumental.
  • If you do have to memorize a list of some kind, some people find it helps to make up a song using the items on the list. Again, listen to an instrumental piece of music, and put your lyrics to it.
  • Put on some music that is familiar to you so you won’t want to listen so intently. Save your new CD for another time.
  • Try not to become so dependent on studying to music that you can’t study without it. Every once in a while, study in a quiet place.
  • Only study to the radio if you can be sure that you won’t be listening to a lot of talking, commercials, or news, and if you know what kind of music you’ll be listening to.
  • If you find the music to be distracting at any time, turn it off. Some people can get so defensive about studying to music that they will keep it on even if it gets to be a hindrance.

(These tips were excerpted, with permission from:

Optimizing Summer Learning

by Dahlia Miller
June 2008

We all know that it’s important to rest and rejuvenate in the summer. Since learning happens 12 months of the year, our children benefit from seeing that it is given a priority during the summer months. Learning isn’t just done in school; it’s part of life. Let’s explore a few ways to make summer learning fun and look at a few reasons why it’s so important to do so.

Some students find that they can get a better handle on subjects and move ahead with them in the summer when they aren’t as busy. Studies show that regular review of notes can help the brain to develop stronger links to previously learned information. As the brain is challenged, it stretches to form new connections. Basically that means that with summer review, in September your child can start running from a jog rather than a dead stop. So he’ll be better able to take in new information rather than focusing on remembering and trying to understand what was learned in the previous school year – he won’t be playing ‘catch-up’ in the fall.

Summer (and other breaks from school) can be the perfect time to bolster your child’s sense of confidence in learning. There is a greater degree of flexibility since you aren’t strapped to a school schedule. Because there isn’t the pressure of assignments to keep up with, learning can be done for interest’s sake and a greater degree of competency with newly learned skills can be fostered. Summer is a time when interests can be explored (and linked to academics at the same time).

Building your children’s sense of confidence in learning isn’t only the school’s responsibility, and it can be easy if they are given some direction and allowed to explore the world around them. Imagine, for example, discussing and researching the length and height of waves you’re likely to encounter before going kayaking with your family. This is math and physics and family fun all rolled into one. Perhaps you would find an interesting website with information about waves and wave dynamics that your child might return to out of interest on another day.

Learning needs to feel natural and fun, not like a burden. Young people naturally want to learn about life and the world around them. If you can build enjoyment of learning without pressure, then your kids will likely be willing to devote more time to it. They’ll feel that it’s enjoyable and that they are successful. If you show them that their efforts are recognized and supported, then they’ll feel good about it.

Keep in mind that the last thing you want to do is stack feelings of guilt onto learning. You don’t need to give yourself or your kids a hard time if you aren’t putting an hour into completing math workbooks everyday like the family next door, for example, or if you aren’t getting out to “educational” family fieldtrips at least once per week in the summer. If you let your children feel that they aren’t doing enough, they may feel a sense of futility linked to education and learning in general. If your schedule is too packed to focus on academics in the summer, you can always hire a professional tutor to come in several times per month. In fact, there are many ways learning can be introduced into your daily life without much extra effort on your part.

Here are a few suggestions of ways that you can offer your children opportunities for growth and development in the summer:

  • Notice your child’s responsiveness; when does s/he learn best? Focus “academic” discussions during that time of the day.
  • Get into games – there is an abundance of stimulating games that your child may enjoy (especially if the whole family happens to be into them): crosswords, Sudoku, chess, memory games, role-plays and charades, and board games with a learning component.
  • Improvisation can be lots of fun. Brainstorm settings, characters and situations together and then act them out (for example grandma in a playground with Sponge-Bob buying an ice cream cone together). You’ll most likely find yourselves laughing together while exploring and practicing a variety of social skills.
  • Ask your kids to cook (recipes involve math especially when they need to be doubled or halved). Shopping for ingredients gives extra practice in estimation of costs, price comparison (i.e. algebra) and money management as well.
  • Suggest that your kids build things (bird feeders, go carts, etc.) – this is especially great if they work from plans or create their own plans. Planning, measuring, being creative, and the hands-on of actual building are great confidence builders as well as offering experience and practice in hand-eye co-ordination.
  • Read a series of books with your kids. You could role-play, or at least discuss, what you think the ending may be. Also, discussions about the characters, their conflicts and the writer’s intent build skills for literature analysis.
  • Attend readings. Local authors and out-of-town authors often present their work in book store or library readings. This is a wonderful way to look into a written work from the author’s perspective.
  • Libraries offer free summer reading clubs and rewards for kids who read a certain number of books over the summer.
  • Buy or borrow magazines, books, books on tape and videos that might interest your child. Books on experiments and crafts that can be done at home are great fun. Recent videos about science and nature are very entertaining and educational.
  • Get creative with what you have at home – the bathroom scale, scrapbook supplies, a magnifying glass, food colouring – encourage your kids to come up with activities with 3 or 4 randomly selected items.
  • Watch trends together – weather charts, stock markets, plant growth, animal tracks in your backyard, etc.
  • Plan family activities and field trips where you are all learning. Perhaps you could try a new sport together or attend a free outdoor presentation offered by a park naturalist in the neighbourhood.

There are several good books on thinking games and suggestions for parents on encouraging a love of reading, math, science and nature at the local library.

“The important thing is not so much that every child should be taught, as that every child should be given the wish to learn.”
John Lubbock, 1900’s British Statesman

Qualities of a Good Teacher

by Dahlia Miller
October 2005

“Knowledge - like the sky - is never private property. . . Teaching is the art of sharing.”
Abraham Joshua Heschel

Anyone can be a teacher, right? There isn’t much to teaching, right? As long as a person understands a topic, that person is qualified to teach it, isn’t that true? What is there to teaching anyway besides explaining how to do something?

Well, a lot.

There’s much more to teaching than demonstrating a process. A teacher, tutor, peer tutor, parent, in fact, anyone in a teaching role, has a tremendous impact on a student. How the student is addressed and supported leaves lasting effects on his/her self-esteem and skill set.

I’ve listened to hundreds of students’ stories about their experiences of being taught. I’ve heard many positive stories, and unfortunately have heard horror stories as well. Students who are told that they are stupid, or that they don’t deserve to be in the level that they are in, students who are told that they aren’t trying, or can’t do it, or that they must have a learning disability don’t take these comments lightly. They notice when their teacher is frustrated or doesn’t want to take time for them. Students carry these negative experiences with them, and change their behaviours (often in negative ways) accordingly.

On the other hand, it’s wonderful to witness the inspiration sparked in a student when a teacher makes an effort to be a positive teaching model. A teacher can inspire a student to go further than she thought possible, to see herself as capable, to cultivate an interest in learning.

Having interviewed hundreds of tutors, and been an academic director, I’ve come to recognize many of the qualities that good teachers demonstrate consistently. In our December 2004 issue, we looked at the qualities of a good student, now let’s have a look at the qualities of a good teacher. So what are these qualities?

We can break effective teaching behaviours into four broad categories. As you read through these lists, consider teachers that you’ve known who have exhibited these qualities. What feelings did they inspire in you as a student? Also, please consider how you can incorporate these qualities when you are in a teaching role.

Qualities of a Good Teacher

1. Communication

How well we communicate affects how well we are heard. Much of the communication in teaching is listening. Listening with our full attention, we begin to discover what a student needs. Then, if we ask open-ended questions at appropriate times, the student can explore the topic, and any issues, with the teacher’s guidance.

Behaviours that define the quality of communication are:

  • Effective listening
  • Clear communication
  • Knowing when to jump in
  • Building confidence
  • Asking questions

2. Approach

A skilled teacher is capable of changing her approach to meet the needs of her students. An engaging teacher is one who is interested in the topic and in developing her students’ interest in it. She monitors her students closely for their responses, presenting concepts and topics in a style that is both informative and stimulating.
A student who loves stories would rather discuss a concept than build a model of it. A student who enjoys movement would rather form letters with his body than read phonics books. We’re all different. Different approaches spark our different interests.

A good teacher monitors her approach by:

  • Checking comprehension
  • Gearing approach to interests
  • Teaching to the student’s level
  • Using learning styles
  • Watching responses

3. Mentoring

The teacher’s role as a mentor carries a responsibility to model respectful communication and support. Students look to teachers for clues as to how to behave and respond to others.
A teacher can benefit by honestly considering how she leads students. The more a teacher knows herself, the better she’ll be able to move beyond her limits.
When you are in a teaching role, what types of responses do you give to students when they are right? What types of responses do you give to students when they are wrong?

Other behaviours that support a teacher’s role as mentor are:

  • Maintaining professional distance
  • Helping set goals
  • Being kind
  • Being patient
  • Supporting

4. Professionalism

A teacher who models professionalism accepts his responsibility to be current with his information and open to learning. He appreciates the student-teacher relationship and stays within the boundaries of his role.

A professional teacher is one who is:

  • Knowledgeable
  • Friendly
  • Open to sharing with other teachers
  • Prepared
  • Focussed on the student

Through reflecting on your gifts and skills as a teacher you’ll gain better perspective. With practice and perspective, you can learn to step back from any teaching situation to see what direction or approach will most benefit your student(s). Through practice we can all learn to use our strengths as teachers. This will allow us to lead our students most effectively.

Happy teaching!

“Learning is finding out what you already know. Doing is demonstrating you know it. Teaching is reminding others that they know just as well as you. You are all learners, doers and teachers.”
Author unknown

Supporting Good Study Skills in Your Child

by Dahlia Miller
June 2006

"You have to do your own growing no matter how tall your grandfather was."
Abraham Lincoln

Helping your children to develop effective study skills is a challenging feat. What’s that saying? You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, says something similar.

He asks us to consider the topic of control. Whose behaviour is ouside our control? Whose behaviour can we influence? Whose behaviour is inside our control? The people we can’t control are all those outside our circle of influence – basically anyone who isn’t a friend or family. The place it gets a bit sticky is determining whose behaviour we can control and whose behaviour we can only influence. Having been the mother of a two year old throwing a temper tantrum on the grocery store floor, I bear witness to the fact that I cannot control even my own children’s behaviour. The truth is, the only person whose behaviour we can control is ourselves.

With that in mind, it can be easier to approach our children to guide them in improving their study skills. Essentially, we need to remember that all we can do is offer suggestions; we cannot control how they use our advice, however sage it may be.
Students have a lot of responsibilities on their shoulders. Are you aware of what your child is expected to do on a daily basis at school? The first step in supporting your child in effective study skills is getting an accurate understanding of what is expected of him.

Answer these questions (on your own, or with your child’s help if you don’t know the answer):

  • How many subjects per day does your child study?
  • How are handouts/assignments expected to be stored (ex. in duotangs or binders), or is there no expectation?
  • Where does your child store his/her materials between classes (i.e. in a desk or locker)?
  • How many times per day is your child expected to return to this storage place to retrieve materials? How much time is given for this?
  • Is there a system used by the school or individual teachers to track homework and assignments? What is it?

How effective are your child’s current study habits? You could ask her to take the self-assessment in our article “Top 35 Study Habits”. This can help you/her to determine what her weak points are in studying. If possible, discuss these weak points with your child. Keep in mind that effective studying requires balance.

Studying three hours per day may look like effective studying, but it isn’t if the student isn’t studying the right material or if she isn’t taking time to make friends, play sports or relax.


Students are essentially required to carry a portable office with them and to pack and unpack it several times per day – hundreds of times in a term. Could you do this and maintain a sense of organization?

Here are some quick tips for keeping bags/backpacks in order:

  • Pull out anything that doesn’t need to be there (out-dated notices, old lunches, etc.).
  • Determine if anything doesn’t need to be carried on a regular basis (ex. texts).
  • Stack books in bag according to size.
  • Put accessories into smaller compartments – let your child assign a place for everything.
  • Keep water bottles in separate compartments.

Keeping on top of assignments, tests and projects is another major aspect of staying organized as a student. One way to help in this regard is to ensure that your child has all the stationary she needs. Some useful supplies include:

  • White board with built-in calendar
  • A variety of coloured markers (for white board and paper)
  • Large, sturdy dividers with pouches (to be used as in/out boxes)
  • or Plastic pockets for binders (to be used as an in/out box)
  • Calendar or day-timer that she likes (the school may provide one)

Also, it’s a good idea to check every month or so to be sure that your child is fully stocked for school supplies both at school and at home.

Time Management

Many children (and adults) do not have an accurate sense of time. They don’t truly know how much they can or can’t do in five minutes, in an hour or in a day. This lack of awareness can lead to all kinds of issues with time management: from not accurately judging how long it will take to complete a task (like an essay, for example) to not recognizing how much time has been put toward homework versus computer games in an afternoon.

This problem sometimes stems from not having enough experience with analog clocks (clocks with hands that move around). Parents can also sometimes confuse their child’s sense of time. How many times have you said you’ll leave in five minutes only to take another twenty to get out the door? Over time, this leads to confusion about just exactly how long five minutes is.

It usually leads to a feeling of defeat and lack of purpose if the student feels that she is putting a lot of time into studying but with little return. Some students are surprised to realize that while they’ve been sitting at their desks for two hours, they’ve really only focused on work for about 30 minutes. Encourage your child to study in 45-50 minute periods and take short breaks. The brain and memory function most effectively when used in short spurts (ever noticed how you tend to remember beginnings and endings but often lose the middle parts of what you’re focusing on?). If your child seems challenged with time management you might ask her to track her work for a week. Ask her to make a mark every 15 minutes on a page tracking focus or lack of focus.
Students often aren’t sure how to break large tasks into more manageable chunks. They end up sitting at their desks feeling overwhelmed, uncertain how to start.

Parents can help students stay on track by asking about their goals. I’m referring to small goals here. If they have an essay due next Friday, have they set goals for when they’ll have the brainstorming, outline, and rough draft completed?

There are many aspects to study skills – too many to cover in one short article. Patience and understanding are virtues that parents can display when working with their children in supporting study skills. For more information, you could refer to some of our other articles on study skills.

“Our insistence on hearing the answer we expect keeps us from asking the question we should.”

Supporting Teens in School

by Dahlia Miller
May 2009

This article was originally published in Parenting Teens Magazine in October 2005

“As we are called to our faults, we become them. As we are seen for our virtues, we live them.”
Frances O’Brian

Schoolwork doesn’t need to be a struggle between parents and teens. After all, you both have common goals. That doesn’t mean that answers will always come easily. In fact, many parents experience growing pains at this time.

Supporting a teen in learning can be a complicated dance – one step forward, one step sideways, one step backward, and another step forward. Like any dance, enjoyment comes when we relax into the movement and know who is leading; when one partner steps forward, the other steps back. Believe it or not, like it or not, your teen is the one leading when it comes to the dance of schoolwork.

The point of schooling is for our teens to discover the disciplines of learning and of taking responsibility. The goal is to work towards encouraging your child’s ownership of the study process. This can only come about with his being allowed to make many of his own decisions. How can you support this development? What follows are suggestions to inspire your creativity in supporting your teen in school.

Study Habits

There are many facets to good study habits including organization of time, space and materials. Your role is to ensure that your teen knows what good study skills are and to set up the supportive structure providing space, time and supplies. Accept that he’ll make errors in the learning process with time management, organization, and setting priorities. Academic success demands effort – this awareness can take time to develop.

Help to set up a regular study space – a desk and comfortable chair with adequate light and all necessary supplies. Consider providing a small monthly budget for school supplies and stationery. It’s easier to get excited about school when you’ve got new binders, and access to poster board, stencils, report covers and other stationery.

Encourage a set time for study – with a “no phone calls or texting” agreement during this time. (Let your teen choose the time.) Regular breaks are good, but TV or computer are not restorative and so should be discouraged until after studying is done.

Have a calendar posted specifically to track tests, projects and reports. Help your teen to walk backward from due dates to recognize when to begin reviewing or working on a project.

What motivates your teen? What does he want (clothes, car, cell phone, etc.)? This can be the fodder for an incentive program.

Communicating about Schoolwork

Engage in thoughtful conversation with your teen. Show interest and allow differences of opinion. Demonstrate effective listening. Express your belief in his learning process and in his ability to succeed. Knowing that someone is interested and believes in you is a powerful motivator.

Point out positive attitudes and study behaviours that you notice in your teen. Offer specific compliments and avoid dumping – criticizing and nagging do not set a good example. Find something to praise – recognition is huge to the receiver.

Your teen needs to know that you notice his efforts.

If you notice ineffective study habits, point them out. Remember, though, there is no need to repeat advice. Allow your teen to take on responsibility and experience successes and failures – there is no need to lecture – he’ll learn from his own mistakes.

Seize the moment if your teen wants to talk about school. Ask a question or two and listen well. How does he feel about learning? How does he feel about his ability? What is his favourite subject? What are his goals for this year and beyond? Who is his favourite teacher and why? (This teacher can become an invaluable ally if you develop a relationship with her.) Share a horror story or two about yourself as a teen at school. How did you feel? What was hard for you? What did you do to overcome your challenges?

When your teen presents a problem with school or schoolwork, let him know that you believe he is capable of finding solutions. Let your child know that you are supportive, but that his work is his responsibility. You can help to build decision-making skills by turning questions back to him: “What do you think?” “What are your options?” “What approach are you going to take with this?” If necessary, help him to break the problem into small, manageable steps.


Assume there is homework every night. If there is nothing due the next day, study time can be spent reviewing or preparing for an upcoming project or test.

Read your teen’s homework every now and then. It’ll give you a sense of his ability and level. Avoid expressing shock and indignation at sloppy work – home ought to be a safe environment to make mistakes. Ask if this is a good example of what he is capable of; if he seems to be lacking in some skill, offer to help or to find help.

Encourage your teen to teach you something he is learning – you don’t need to understand or comment. This is a great study technique and will give him practice in expressing his understanding of a topic.

As your teen ages, the subject matter of his homework may be difficult even for you. In this situation, you can use your resources to direct your child toward help.

Don’t put a spotlight on your teen’s academic performance. If you are expecting change in a habit, give it time. Don’t harangue him about assignments and homework. Keep in mind what your teen responds to – does he like attention, or not? Do your best to remain calm no matter the situation with your teen’s homework. Keep in mind that you are looking to help your teen develop into a capable adult – this takes time.

Approaching Learning

Be enthusiastic about learning. Model a creative approach to work and learning.

Beware of setting unrealistic goals for your teen. This is a sure-fire way to let the air out of his balloon. Your teen is looking for more independence. If he is making a positive effort, is enjoying himself, and has an overall good attitude toward school, then pressuring him about grades will probably just be counterproductive. He needs to develop his own goals and meet them.

Help your teen to understand his educational and career choices. Visit campuses and go to university and college open houses. Look at course requirements and prerequisites together. Talk to people in the career field he is interested in. Talk about options – how much does he need to earn to buy those things and have the lifestyle he wants? – this can be quite an eye-opener.

Offer lots of opportunities to try new activities. Encourage well roundedness. Acknowledge what is important to your teen. Notice when something ignites him and encourage it. Has he taken on some project of his own accord? (One parent described to me how her son wanted to buy a puppy. Suddenly he was doing research and making sales calls.)

Do you have realistic expectations for your teen’s school performance? Some kids find school and learning easy, others don’t. What is your teen’s real capability? What are his strengths and weaknesses? Remember that small successes build self-esteem. Getting outside help or transferring to a less difficult course may do more to develop his confidence than struggling in a difficult course and getting poor grades.

“I have found the best way to give advice to your children is to find out what they want and then advise them to do it.”
Harry S. Truman

The Value of Play

by Maureen Bouey
May 2004

“The most effective kind of education is that a child should play amongst lovely things.”
Plato (427 BC - 347 BC)

Education isn’t a contest or a race; it’s a process, and one that each human child experiences differently.

As parents, we love our children and want the best for them, but these days there is an unmistakable ambiance of competitiveness around the lives of children.

In California, there is now even a prenatal university; pregnant women are taught how to stimulate the baby while in the womb to produce a brighter child!

We fill our kids’ days, weeks and months – sometimes to overflowing – with both in and out-of-school activities, as we try to give them every possible advantage. Many parents spend much of their day in their cars, ferrying children to and from school, lessons and sports. It’s all done from, and for, love, of course.

Just for a moment, let’s stop, take a deep breath, and remember:

1) With respect to learning, formally structured learning environments are not the only way to learn, and
2) Plain good old-fashioned fun – for its own sake – is an important factor in every child’s (and every adult’s) well-being.

First, it is often said that “play is children’s work”. Imaginative play and experiential hands-on (kinesthetic) learning is important to children’s learning processes. Play also helps children of all ages to be more creative, and self-sufficient.

Just some of the benefits of playtime are: creativity, thinking and language skills, small and large muscle building, conflict resolution opportunities and many other important physical, cognitive and social skills.

Well-known medical expert and media personality, Dr. Alan Greene1 notes, “We know that active play improves school performance, concentration, mood and behaviour.” Play is simply fundamental to healthy minds and bodies. And, life lessons learned while having fun with siblings and friends often wind up having the deepest impact, and being the most memorable.

“If A is success in life, then A equals X plus Y plus Z. Work is X; Y is play; and Z is keeping your mouth shut.”
Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955)

The second point is that fun is an important factor in our overall well-being. It is essential for us to keep schedules that allow harmony between work and play time. We all need to rejuvenate and refresh ourselves with play – regularly. “Play” can be any spontaneous activity that is unstructured.

A spontaneous activity is different from enrolling a child in Little League or signing her up for violin lessons (however worthwhile these are). Spontaneous play occurs when we do an activity freely, without being directed. When children organize their own ball game, puppet show or an afternoon of imagining, they are meeting their own needs for spontaneous play.

More and more experts agree that this kind of spontaneous play is key for children’s physical health, as well as for their emotional well-being. Famous Enlightenment philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau said, in his celebrated book on educating children3, “You are worried about seeing him spend his early years in doing nothing. What! Is it nothing to be happy? Nothing to skip, play, and run around all day long? Never in his life will he be so busy again.”

The United Nations even included the right to play in the 1989 UN Declaration on the Rights of the Child.

“If you want to see what children can do, you must stop giving them things.”3 They really do not need, or particularly benefit from, the vast quantities being showered on them. Dr. Greene suggests providing your child with a few simple, versatile toys: blocks, Lego, wooden spoons and bowls, etc., to allow the imagination room to play.

I remember when my sister and her two pre-school aged boys came to visit one summer; my sister and I got some large fridge and stove cardboard boxes from an appliance store and brought them home. The boxes became forts, houses, schools – the kids liked them so much, in fact, they wound up laying them on their sides and “camping” in them with sleeping bags at night. Each had his/her own “bunker” and decorated and painted it according to individual taste. It was free, it was fun, it was creative, and it was memorable!

If your children complain of being bored, too many scheduled activities could be the culprit. In an Internet published document on this subject, the Illinois Early Learning Project Research Centre4, notes: “If a child says, ‘I’m bored,’ she may need more unstructured time for play.”

Children need down time and time to be alone – some more than others. They need time when their imaginations and creativity can take hold and they can be utterly absorbed in whatever they are doing. These are the times when children experience the full benefits of play. Avoid lots of television watching; you may or may not want to completely restrict your child’s TV viewing, but remember, TV watching does not fall into the category of “creative” spontaneous play.

Children learn by observing what you do, not doing what you say. All of us need to play to balance ourselves. Katherine Gibson, in “Unclutter Your Life”, talks about “cluttered kids”5.

“… kids are over-organized…Instead of tunneling their way to China in the backyard, these tiny tykes are conducting interactive, multimedia explorations of simulated archeology {using the computer}digs – all without dirtying their Baby Gaps...”

Children and adults alike, we all benefit from a balance of work and play in our lives. If we want our children to lead harmonious lives, we need to do two things: role model both working and playing, and give our kids space to just “be” who they are. After all, as many Buddhists say, we are human beings, not human doings.

“The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the objects it loves.”
Carl Jung (1875 - 1961)

1 Chief Medical Officer of A.D.A.M., Founder & CEO of, and Pediatric Expert for On the Clinical Faculty at Stanford University School of Medicine, President of Health Internet Ethics, helped URAC develop its standards for eHealth accreditation.
2 Emile, 1762
3 Norman Douglas
4 Part of the Illinois State Board of Education.
5 Katherine Gibson, Unclutter Your Life. (Victoria: Beyond Words Publishing) p. 100