‘But That’s Not How I Learned It!’

Last year many parents found themselves struggling as they tried to help their children with homework. The Common Core Curriculum was rolled out and children now do schoolwork a lot differently. Parents discovered that trying to understand homework questions or helping with math problems is challenging to say the least.

Helping children with homework does not have to be all about figuring out the right answers.

Education researchers such as Stanford University’s Carol S. Dweck, Angela L. Duckworth of the University of Pennsylvania, and others are proving that character traits such as perseverance and grit matter more than IQ when it comes to predicting one’s ability to succeed. Homework presents an opportunity for parents to teach children to face obstacles confidently, problem solve, and persevere when the work is difficult. Parents want to raise smart children, but raising children who are smart learners will help them be prepared for a lifetime of learning.

This school year take a close look at how your child does their homework and keep the responsibility for the learning with your child. They will need your encouragement but help them know when to come to an adult for help and when they should think things through on their own. Provide support by making sure they have what they need to do the job. You’ll enjoy seeing how proud they are when they achieve on their own.

Here are 5 steps to take before homework time arrives again:

  1. Your child’s “office”.  Is there a place that works best for your child to do their homework? Children learn differently. Some need a quiet, low traffic area with minimal distractions, while others function very well in the midst of all the household action, at the kitchen counter. Sitting in a chair at a desk works for some, but others need to sprawl out on a rug. I’ve heard that sitting on a large exercise ball helps kids who struggle with sitting still in one place for long periods of time.Be creative with your child and have fun finding ways to make the place for homework feel like their “office”   Buying school supplies may mean buying items to create a temporary or permanent homework/study space; consider temporary  partitions/ space dividers . The investment will be worth it.
  2. Set guidelines for ipods, tablets, and phones. Manage the things that compete for their attention. All electronic devices should be kept in a designated location during homework.  If a phone is needed to call a friend about an assignment,  or if they need to do on-line research,  they should let you know when they use them and when they are finished. Your child needs to show you that they can manage using devices without having them become a distraction.  Creating guidelines together with your child will help them become invested in following them, and keeps the responsibility for doing their homework with them.   
  3. Prepare for failure. Failed attempts, wrong answers, poor grades happen. When they do many children feel they are being judged as not being smart enough. Some avoid failure by avoiding the work, through very inventive ways. Be straightforward when mistakes are made. “You gave the wrong answer” and emphasize the recovery, “So let’s figure out what to do about it.” Your child is less likely to feel judged. Learning from mistakes means trying different tactics before declaring, “I’m not good at this”. That’s when perseverance begins.
  4. Encourage problem-solving. Help your child feel capable of meeting the challenges that come with schoolwork and homework. Look for opportunities to have them take part in some family decisions, for example planning tomorrow evening’s dinner. You will agree sometimes and other times disagree, but the message to send is that their opinion matters and that you trust they are capable of coming up with a solution. Compliment them when they think things thru and offer a plan. The ability to problem-solve will carry over to homework – they will learn to think before sending their default message, “I need help”.
  5. Gather Supportive Resources. A parent mentioned to me that she attended a “Parent University” presentation at her child’s school district. It offered on-line resources that children and parents can refer to for support with various subjects. Ask your child’s teacher to recommend on-line resources that provide support. Let the teacher know that you are open to suggestions for making homework time productive.

Be sure that spouses and caregivers are all on the same page with homework strategies.   Have a place to save specific details and information you want others to know when you are not available.

Change takes time.  When you see your child do their homework without any prompting,  work through frustrations on their own and feel proud of what they accomplish,  you’ll know your efforts were worthwhile.  Print and save this article- it’s a back-to-school coupon that may provide lifelong savings.

Angelo Truglio, Education Consultant, Founder, http://www.icandothatkids.com

Five simple ways to better support kids at home.

The Common Core curriculum, testing and what schools will and won’t be doing to improve the education system – so what can teachers, parents and caregivers do while the decision makers plan their next move? 

Let’s preserve the curiosity and love for learning that our children have at birth and not lose or stifle these traits in the scuffle.

Adult and child

We read “The Little Engine That Could” to a child when they are very young to inspire them to say, “I think I can, I think I can” when faced with a challenge.  As they grow up they need to learn, “How I can! How I can!” … work at something difficult.

I have spent the last seven years, reading, tutoring,  and working  with teachers to create www.icandothatkids;    I have found that there are some simple, proven ways to help children stay energized, persevere and achieve their “personal best” — even as schools raise the bar.

 Help children know what to “think, say or do” when faced with a challenge with these five tips.

1. Talk about “hard stuff” — challenges.  Explain that kids have to do lots of “hard stuff,” called challenges.  Obstacle courses are a challenge, but are fun.  Video games are challenging and that’s why kids love playing them.  Make the connection that doing “hard stuff” is  like an obstacle course or a video game.  Rather than think, “This is too hard!” think,  “This is a challenge that I can’t do … yet!”

2. Break it down. “There’s too much to do.” Help a child think of the challenge as a large puzzle with pieces to be assembled.  Start with a small, doable piece.   When they have a page of math problems that seems overwhelming,  say, “Find the one that is the easiest to begin with”,  then,  cover the other problems with a blank sheet of paper.  Help them focus on one piece of an assignment at a time.

3. Increase ‘think time.’  Don’t jump in too quickly when you hear, “I don’t remember what to do.”  Provide them with time to stop and think.  Suggest that they look for clues or to explain what they are unsure about.  Delay giving them hints or information until you are certain that they have exhausted their resources.  Provide an opportunity for them to think for themselves!

4. Making mistakes is good!  The surest way to succeed is by working through mistakes.  Not enough emphasis is put on the fact that mistakes will happen.  It’s normal; everyone makes mistakes and they  help us get very good at something!  Mention the most recent mistake you have made, how it felt and what you did to eventually succeed.

5. Use ‘process praise.’  Acknowledge how your child is achieving. For example, say, “That was a lot of work. I really like the way you stuck to it and didn’t give up!”  Or, “I’m impressed that you didn’t let anything distract you from getting your homework finished!”  Research has proven that children who are praised for how they accomplish a task build confidence quicker and are more willing to take on difficult tasks that come their way.

Post these tips on the refrigerator.  You may find yourself on automatic pilot, saying or doing what you have in the past to help motivate a child. These tips provide you with an opportunity to do something different and perhaps challenging, and you will experience what your child is experiencing!

Anyone Mention “Life-Skills”?

There has been a great deal of press coverage this past week regarding NY State’s math and reading test scores.   Since the Spring, parents, teachers and administrators have been speaking out about the effects of the Common Core Standards on education.

Focusing on the State Common Core Standards alone doesn’t get us where we want to be.  We need to  be just as concerned about providing students with the life-skills they need to meet challenges and become learners for life.  When children know “how” to do better and feel capable, they can enjoy learning and be proud of their accomplishments.

A 4th grade teacher whom I have worked with to help her students adopt learning strategies, recently commented:

“At this time last year, my reaction to the Core Curriculum was that the expectations seemed an almost impossibility for them. Recently while practicing Common Core sample questions, one student who has struggled the most this past year demonstrated a significant improvement in reading. Because the students have strategies, they are empowered to approach the work as a challenge, and know how to do their best.”   J.F. 4th Grade, Long Island, NY

People with spreadsheets of assessment results are getting a lot of attention.  Let’s look beyond the test and develop the skills and strategies needed to improve outcomes.   We have kids disengaging mentally because learning is not enjoyable.  Rather than making learning a burden it should be a positive experience.

Parents need to be involved.   Let’s reduce their frustration when trying to understand what is being taught in order to help their child. They can be shown ways to encourage their child to stay on task, persevere and feel proud of each step they take towards achieving.  Schools can provide parents with tips and tools to help them nurture life skills for achieving and help parents be successful in this role.

Common Core standards are here. Let’s take advantage of this situation and rethink, reorganize, and reframe so everyone will benefit, especially the children.

~ Angelo Truglio, Educator / Founder  www.icandothatkids.com

The Big Engine Knows “How I Can”


The Little Engine That Could is a book that is very familiar to generations of children and parents.  Positive thinking is important. however what’s even better is knowing, “How I can. How I can. How I can!”

Children stay energized for homework, tests and other challenges when they understand HOW to get the work done.

“We want our children to be able to cope with adversity, learn from failure, and work through difficult challenges. This requires self-efficacy—the ability to define a goal, persevere, and see oneself as capable.  Self-efficacy is the belief that you have skills that you can rely on to help you navigate life and reach your goals.”
~ Self-Efficacy: Helping Children Believe They Can Succeed; Communiqué Handout: November, Volume 39, Number 3 1; National Association of School Psychologists

We have all heard the term self-esteem, which is about feeling good about oneself.   Self-efficacy,  not a very familiar term,  will help us understand why we need to put more emphasis on HOW children learn and examine what we can say, not say, do, or not do,  as we try to help children succeed.

“An individual’s belief that they have learned a strategy leads to control over achievement … which then raises self-efficacy.”   
~ Dale Schunk, Education Psychologist, 1991.

The I Can Do That! Kids Action Stars from http://www.icandothatkids.com are tools to help children develop self-efficacy – a feeling of “I am capable”,  as they work at challenges that come with schoolwork, learning new activities or behaving appropriately.

The bright colored Action Star characters help children remember 10 essential strategies for achieving, and children have fun using them because of a game approach.  Children have to Outsmart OBST (as in obstacle), the character that makes things difficult.  They use the Action Stars to outsmart OBST.  They learn to focus, persist and they feel capable of achieving.

With the I Can Do That! Kids Action Cards children have at their finger tips, reminders of what to THINK, SAY or DO as they work.

Card Set shot

Parents can avoid confrontations and keep their child on track by suggesting Action Stars for their child to use.  For example, when a child is getting frustrated by mistakes or “not getting it”, rather than saying, “Don’t get upset, you have to keep trying”, they remind the child to use the Action Star ERASOAR.  It encourages children to be “blooper brave” – mistakes are bloopers, they will happen and getting frustrated or giving up lets OBST win!  When a child makes a mistake, they use ERASOAR to help themselves persist and they earn points to outsmart OBST!

The Action Stars help children replace negative thoughts with actions that help them succeed by using their “helpers”,  even when OBST tries to get in their way.

Praise the child… but use praise that reinforces the use of the strategies. Rather than saying: “You did great because you are very smart!” say, “I like the way you kept trying and didn’t give up.  Look how well you did!”   This helps children  understand HOW they succeeded and encourages them to continue using the strategies.

Parents and children start becoming familiar with the Action Star strategies by first working at fun challenges like a tongue twister, riddle or brain teaser.  Just like in a video game, they tally points using the Action Stars and work to Outsmart OBST!

Videos for children:  https://icandothatkids.com/kids.html

Comments welcomed!