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Creating Structure to Motivate Students

motivate students

Creating Structure to Motivate Students

A Guide for Parents and Teachers

motivate studentsUnmotivated students can be a huge problem for educators. It’s far from easy to teach kids even when circumstances are good, and with the added difficulty of cajoling students who would rather not do the work in the first place, teaching can become an apparently insurmountable challenge. When faced with such a challenge, it can be tempting to get negative—to rely on consequences—but that’s the last thing you want to do. Unmotivated students won’t react well to heavy punishments. What you want instead is to create structures within which students can learn to motivate themselves. In this post I’ll explore a few ways to do that.

Why it’s Important to Stay Constructive with Unmotivated Students

Students can lose motivation for a lot of different reasons. In some cases they have friends who are bad influences, which we’ve written about before. Sometimes they have attention or learning disorders that are influencing their performance in class, and if you’re a parent you should look into that. Most often, though, they’re just not seeing the results they expect.

As a student, if you’re disappointed in school—whether you get a bad grade on a test or your teacher doesn’t seem happy with your work—it can set off a cycle of demoralization. Kenneth Shore has a good post on this at Education World that explains the phenomenon: in many cases, an unmotivated student is a demoralized student.

For students, schoolwork can be a source of anxiety and frustration. If you’re doing badly, it can be tempting to checkmotivate students out. If you insist that you don’t really care about the work, then it doesn’t hurt as much when you get a bad grade. Obviously, this becomes self-reinforcing: the more demoralized you get, the less you work, and the less you work, the worse you do, leading to further demoralization.

It should be clear that reflexively punishing kids who are stuck in this cycle is not going to help—you’ll only be making things harder for them, which will contribute to their anxiety and frustration. The only way to snap students out of it is to be positive. You need to give them the sense that they can do the work, that it should be a source of fulfillment and not anxiety. If you can do that, you’ve done 90% of the work it takes to motivate your students. But where do you start?

In many cases, an unmotivated student is a demoralized student. @YesPhonics Click to Tweet

How to Set Up Positive Structures for Your Kids

In a post on Empowering Parents, Debbie Pincus writes that if you find yourself nagging or cajoling your child, repeatedly getting angry with them, or trying to get them to change, you are not going to get the results you want. Even if they go along with what you want, they won’t become any more self-motivated. We talked about something similar in our post on spanking: correcting bad behavior doesn’t work if the only reasons kids are behaving well is fear of a negative outcome. Remove that negative outcome, and you’re right back where you started. This is a less severe case of the same phenomenon.

motivating students #3What you want to do instead is give your students something to work for. Pincus gives 10 ways to do this in another post at Empowering Parents; feel free to read that in detail if you want, but I’ll summarize some of her ideas here. In general, Pincus wants you to give your students real reasons to get motivated. For example, consider applying what Pincus calls the “when you” rule—“when you finish your homework, you can watch TV” or something along those lines. This will not only prevent your child from distancing themselves from their work, it will give them a reward when they do finish it. Over time the pattern of finishing work will hopefully become self-reinforcing, and then your child will reap actual rewards—academic success and a growing sense of self-worth. At that point, with any luck, you’ll have broken the cycle of undermotivation.

Another good way to break the cycle of undermotivation is to teach philosophy. We’ve written about this before, but it’s always good to be reminded: teaching philosophy to your kids can give you a different and more effect way of speaking to them. It might be easier to get a student to stay motivated if you’ve taught them ethics, for example, beforehand.

For more resources on teaching philosophy to your kids, look at, a rich collection of tools for philosophy teachers and parents.

Subscribe to the YesPhonics blog and YouTube channel for more classroom advice—and try our Mnemonic Phonic Technique for free to teach the 72 sounds of English.

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How to Stay Motivated when Homeschooling

homeschooling motivation

How to Stay Motivated when Homeschooling

Advice for parents

motivated when homeschooling Do you ever find yourself, as a parent and an educator, getting burned out? I predict that the answer is yes, and you’re not alone. Many, many parents around the world have trouble staying motivated in their homeschooling routines. While doing research for this post, I read a lot of testimonials from parents who were having trouble sticking with it, and I started to suspect that this problem was actually two intertwined problems. If you read on, I’ll try to solve both of them for you.

Burnout: Two Types of a Problem

Homeschooling parents burn out all the time. A Google search for “homeschooling motivation” returns 625,000 results. It’s an awesome task to take a child’s whole education into your own hands. In conventional schools a whole armada of people would be teaching your child, but if you homeschool there’s only you. And that can be overwhelming.

In public schools a whole armada of people would be teaching your child, but if you homeschool there’s only you-this can be overwhelming. Click to Tweet

One situation in which homeschoolers tend to burn out is when there simply aren’t enough hours in the day. This post on the Secular Homeschool forums is a good example, but burnout along these lines happens to all sorts of homeschooling parents, married or unmarried, Christian or secular. Sometimes there just isn’t time to fit it all in—the car needs work, the bills need paying, and groceries are not buying themselves, and somehow in the middle of all of that you’re supposed to teach basic algebra to one kid and basic Spanish to the other one.

The other type of problem is less practical and more philosophical: sometimes homeschooling, even when there’s motivated when homeschooling enough time and money, just feels like too much. A paradigmatic exploration of it is here, on Christy’s Houseful of Chaos: a well-situated woman with enough time to manage homeschool curricula for three kids is simply getting worn out. Not because there’s not enough time or enough resources, but simply because the process of homeschooling can be exhausting on its own.

Now, there’s no reason these two species of burnout can’t occur at the same time, in varying proportions. They are distinct problems, though, and I think they have distinct solutions, which I’ll try to lay out here.

How to Cope with Both Types of Burnout

Solving the not-enough-time problem is tough, but it is doable. A good place to start would be to look into homeschooling co-ops near you. We’ve written about these before, but they’re especially germane here, since they’ll help shoulder some of your burden. If you can find a homeschooling co-op where your child can learn some specialized subjects—law, foreign languages, advanced math, etc.—you can use that time to meet some of your own needs, whether that means grocery shopping, bills, or time to yourself. And ideally, you’ll also be introducing your child to a network of other parents that you trust, so that you’ll have a safety net in case something really serious demands your full attention. Remember that homeschooling doesn’t have to be just you and your child.

The philosophical problem is more nebulous, and I can think of two ways to solve it. One reason homeschooling might be exhausting, above and beyond material or temporal pressure, is that it’s becoming monotonous. If that’s the case, don’t be afraid to change up your schedule—in fact, that’s exactly what you should do, because if your heart’s not in it, you’re not providing the best for your children. So if you find yourself dreading the toil of the next school day, adjust your schedule. Start teaching four long days a week instead of seven short ones, or vice versa. Add a new subject. Find ways to keep yourself invested in the educational project, and your kids will follow suit. One of the joys of homeschooling is having that kind of freedom.motivated when homeschooling

And if you find yourself in need of a more philosophical form of consolation, consider this: homeschooling is a unique liberty in the English-speaking world, and taking part in it is a real privilege. There’s almost nowhere else on Earth where homeschooling parents have the kind of freedom they have in the US and the UK. Homeschooling is heavily regulated in most of the West—in Germany it’s illegal—and in most of the rest of the world it’s unheard-of. If it ever feels frustrating or pointless, remember that you’re taking part in a unique Anglo-American tradition, and helping bring it into the 21st century. Onwards.

Subscribe to the YesPhonics blog and YouTube channel for more classroom advice—and try our Mnemonic Phonic Technique for free to learn the 72 sounds of English.

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Organizing a Homeschooling Co-Op

philosophy for children

Organizing a Homeschooling Co-Op

How to Spot and Solve Disagreements Before They Derail You

homeschooling Starting a homeschooling co-op can be extremely rewarding. We explained how co-ops can help your kids form friendships in an earlier blog post, but it can helpful in all sorts of ways. A co-op can give your kids access to classes they wouldn’t normally be able to take, and it can provide much-needed companionship for parents.

Still, it’s an intimidating prospect. Homeschooling is hard enough, and setting up a co-op almost sounds like school administration. In this post, we’ll give you a simple test you can use to determine whether a hypothetical co-op has legs.

Hidden Obstacles to Organizing a Co-Op

In my hometown, there was a very prominent homeschooling co-op that had gotten big enough that even students who went to public school had heard about it. Students could take classes on a small campus that the co-op owned, they could use school materials at home, they could take online classes, or any combination of those three. Some of the classes were pretty standard—English and civics, for example—but the co-op also took advantage of its members’ specific knowledge to offer classes in areas like Indian poetry and Constitutional law. I always envied my friends who got to take classes there.

Still, there were some people who held onto a healthy amount of distrust about the co-op, because it seemedhomeschooling suspiciously like “school”. They wanted something less formal, and they wanted more control. That’s the kind of problem you’re often up against when you try to organize a homeschooling co-op. Some parents might want it to be the central part of while others might want it to be an informal supplement to their regular homeschooling. Some parents might want the school’s perspective to be Christian and others might want it to be secular. And so on. (There’s some good discussion of how to balance a Christian perspective with freedom of inquiry in this comment thread on the Pioneer Woman, for those who are interested.)

If you have substantial disagreements on any of these issues, it’s going to be hard for the co-op to last very long.

There’s an excellent, in-depth article on the nitty-gritty of starting a co-op on The Homeschool Mom if you have time, but we can give it to you in broad strokes. Before you start anything, you need to make sure you and everyone else involved in the co-op agree on two big issues.

Before you start anything, you need to make sure you and everyone else involved in the homeschool co-op agree on two big issues. @yesphonics  Click to Tweet

Guiding Principles for a New Co-Op

Most of the disagreements in new co-ops seem to break down into two categories: educational style and formality. Or, in other words, what are you going to teach, and how are you going to teach it?

homeschooling Educational style is self-explanatory: you need to decide the content of pedagogy. The more detail you can talk about this in, the better. It might be tempting to say that teaching is going to be eclectic and leave it at that, but it’ll head off problems down the line if you can sit down with all the parents before teaching starts and nail things down. Will there be any religious content at the school level, or are you leaving that to each family? Will anybody be using methods like Waldorf or Montessori, and if so, is that okay with all the parents involved? This is also a great time to nail down how you’ll introduce philosophy to the curriculum—something that we highly recommend, and have written about in some detail already.

Formality is a little trickier. There’s often a large disconnect between parents here. Everyone assumes they all want the same thing, but in fact some of them think of the co-op as an “enrichment” opportunity—that is, it can offer socialization, as well as instruction in things like art and languages that they might not be able to offer at home—while others think of it as the main part of their homeschooling.

Settle both those conflicts, and you’ll be left with a much better idea of what kind of “program,” for lack of a better word, your co-op is. Okay, now we know it’s a weekly meeting that includes core classes like math and history, and religious content is allowed if everybody’s briefed on it beforehand. Or, now we know it’s a monthly meeting, strictly for enrichment, where students can share what they’ve worked on in the last month. Each of those programs might be called a “homeschooling co-op” on paper, but they’re vastly different in practice. That’s the kind of variance that you have to compensate for when you organize a co-op.

Beyond this, the process is probably not going to be as difficult as you think. One of the many things homeschoolinghomeschooling has on conventional school is the total lack of red tape, which is what can make conventional school administration such a nightmare. Subtract all of that bureaucracy, and solve any disagreements around formality and educational style, and you’re left with the core of what’s great about homeschooling: parents and students exercising their individual liberty.

That’s an important thing to keep in mind when you’re thinking about homeschooling in any form: you’re exercising a fundamental right in a uniquely American way. Homeschooling is an exercise of individual liberty, and co-ops are part of a tradition that comes down to us from Locke and Jefferson. If debates about what to teach in your co-op are getting particularly onerous and you need to be motivated, think about that. Good luck.

Subscribe to the YesPhonics blog and YouTube channel for more classroom advice—and try our Mnemonic Phonic Technique for free to learn the 72 sounds of English.

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Spanking: Busting a Myth and Increasing the Learning Ability of Children


Spanking: Busting a Myth and Increasing the Learning Ability of Children

Debunking an Ineffective Parenting Strategy, and Offering Alternatives

spanking Parenting can be extremely frustrating, as can teaching, and if you’ve chosen to homeschool your kids the stress of doing both is a lot to take. If the frustration gets to you, it can be tempting to take drastic steps. There are some steps, however, that are too drastic for a person to take under any circumstances—not just because they’re cruel, but also because they’re counterproductive. One of those is spanking, which is clinically tied to problems reading and behaving that last a lifetime.

Now, don’t get me wrong, we’re not here to lecture you on what you should and shouldn’t do, that’s not our job; we just want to give you every edge possible to enhance your parenting AND teaching ability.

We’re also aware of how controversial this topic is, and that it may offend some people, however, I’m so confident that using reason and negotiation with your children-instead of corporal punishment-will pay off handsomely in the long run-both educationally speaking and family relationships wise-for whoever acts on this information, that we felt obligated to share this astounding and data driven research. As the iconic French philosopher, Voltaire once said, “With great power, comes great responsibility.” And ironically, France just banned spanking, that’s 52 countries and counting that frown on spanking.

If you’re a parent, spanking may actually make your job harder in the long run. Your kids won’t be any morespanking obedient if you spank them, and they may develop behavioral problems over and above what you’re trying to correct. And if you’re a homeschooler or an educator, spanking is certain to make your job harder, because your students will develop learning disabilities and attention problems.

Especially for parents, though, spanking often gets normalized, and if you’ve started to depend on spanking it can be hard to find other strategies to correct bad behavior. In this blog we’ll explain alternative forms of punishment.

Spanking Doesn’t Work

Unless you’re reading pretty far-flung philosophy, it’s a settled question that you do not have the right to hit another person. You certainly don’t have the right to hit your spouse, and in most states you don’t have the right to hit your pet. Why would you have the right to hit somebody small and defenseless?

The most common defense of spanking is that it’s in the child’s best interest. Spanking your child, so the argument goes, should only be done “with love”, should only be done as a last resort, and should only be done to deter them from serious behavioral problems. If your child is persistently defiant and won’t listen to reason, for example, they need to be spanked. In the future, they’ll be cured of that bad behavior and your life with them will go back to normal.

spanking The problem is that this doesn’t work. And that’s attested by the overwhelming majority of child development researchers. A review of the literature—that is, just about everything written on the subject of spanking—by child psychologist Elizabeth T. Gershoff, published in Child Development Perspectives and available in full online, shows that spanking is always less effective than nonviolent punishment. It doesn’t deter anything you’d want it to deter. Not single instances of disobedience, not overall patterns of bad behavior.

Why doesn’t it work? You can read Gershoff’s section on that, but basically, when you spank a child, you’re teaching them that they only need to behave when they’re under the immediate threat of physical violence. Leave them alone, and they’ll revert to bad behavior until you catch them again. Spank your kids and you’re dooming yourself to waste your time chasing bad behavior forever.

Not only that, but you’re failing to model the appropriate behavior, which means that your child doesn’t have a better idea of how they should act than they did before you spanked them—and that, again, means more time that you’ll have to spend, years from now, teaching them how to behave. You can save yourself that time by simply choosing not to spank today.

Children who have been spanked are more likely to be aggressive, from early childhood on. This is consistent acrossspanking cultures, as another paper by Gershoff proves. They’re more prone to depression and anxiety and they’re more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol. Pertinently for this blog, they’re also less motivated to learn and their reading skills suffer, which means that if you’re an educator as well as a parent, you have an extra reason not to spank.

In other words, spanking is more than just painful—it’s useless. If you choose to spank your child, you are only going to make your life and your child’s life more difficult.

Spanking produces short term compliance and long term rebellion. @yesphonics Click to Tweet

So How Do You Stop?

If spanking is already part of the way you typically discipline your children, it can be hard to shift away from it, even as your children get older. (According to an article by Murray A. Straus, as recently as 1995 half of American parents continued to use corporal punishment until their kids were 12 years old.) But think about this: the negative effects of spanking are “dose-dependent”, meaning that the less you spank your children, the better off they’ll be. You want to dump it as a punishment tool as fast as possible.

With that in mind, you’ll want to find some nonviolent alternatives you can incorporate into your family routine. Katherine Kvols at Positive Parenting has a list of 9 such alternatives.

Kvols’s most in-depth suggestions have to do with providing logical consequences. If your kids break a neighbor’s window, to take Kvols’s example, you should make sure they mow the neighbor’s lawn and wash their car until they can pay back the cost of the window. That way you’re forcing them to face the consequences of their actions and make up for what they did, rather than simply punishing them physically.

spanking Children need to know, when they screw up, that they could have acted a better way, and that if they act like that in the future, they’ll be rewarded. That’s the basic philosophy; if you follow it, you won’t have to worry about your kids internalizing the idea that punishment is arbitrary and painful.

You can read Kvols’s article to understand the techniques. For now, understand how bad spanking can be for your kids and how important it is to stop doing it. You don’t want your kids carrying an albatross around their necks for the rest of their lives just because you let stress get to you.

Subscribe to the YesPhonics blog and YouTube channel for more homeschool and classroom advice—and try our Mnemonic Phonic Technique for free to learn the 72 sounds of English.

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Teaching the Alphabet First: Debunking a Myth


Alphabet Teaching the Alphabet First: Debunking a Myth

Teach the 72 Orton Phonograms First

We’re usually taught that learning English starts with the alphabet. Kids need to learn those 26 letters before they can make the language work for them, so we need to teach them the alphabet as early as possible. But while it’s obviously true that kids are going to need the alphabet to read, it’s not necessarily the case that they need to learn it first. In fact, in many cases it makes more sense to shelve the symbols of written English at first and start with the sounds instead.

The Pitfalls of Alphabet-First Reading

The problem with the English alphabet is that every letter points to so many different sounds. The letter “a” sounds completely different in the word “lake” than it does in the word “lack”, and knowing that that letter is called “a” is not going to help a child remember why it makes the sound it makes. And that’s only a single vowel. Think about all the conditional rules and all their exceptions that make up the English language. Silent vowels at the ends of words and silent consonants at the beginnings, the suffix “-tion” making the same sound as the word “shun”, the cluster “gh” sounding the same as the letter “f”, except when it’s silent—think of it like this and it starts to seem like a pretty daunting task for a 4-year-old.

And even when some kids get it, an article on Education World points out, there are others who won’t. Many children, especially children with analytic learning styles, need a more logical approach to reading instruction. They need to see the language assembled bit by bit, built up from its component parts, rather than seeing the whole picture and then breaking it up into its component parts post-facto. The alphabet, in other words, is exactly the opposite of what they need.

This conference paper is a good demonstration of the importance of phonics in early reading: when two groups of first graders were taught to read based either on phonics or on what’s called “whole-language” reading—a teaching style that relies heavily on contextual fluency and the alphabet—the phonics group improved more in reading fluency and spelling, and in fact the whole-language group actually lost ground in spelling. What this suggests is that when the time comes to learn the alphabet, kids with a solid grounding in phonics are actually better prepared than their counterparts.

While it’s obviously true that kids are going to need the alphabet to read, it’s not necessarily the case that they need to learn it first. Click to Tweet

How to Teach Reading with Phonogramsalphabet

So how do you get away from relying on the alphabet? The solution is to ground your teaching in the basic sounds of the English language. English is made up of 72 sounds, and by the time a child is old enough to read, they already know those sounds, even if they don’t know they know them. Building out from that system of sounds to a more abstract system of letters is a more structured, more logical way to teach kids to read—it’s exactly the bit-by-bit assembly of the language that many kids require.

Teaching phonograms might not come naturally to everyone, especially people who were taught to read with whole-language methods. If anything, phonics sounds harder than the alphabet, not easier—after all, there are 72 sounds and not a simple 26 letters, and some of them come with built-in contextual rules. When you get into it, though, you’ll realize that explaining those sounds is a lot simpler than explaining the baked-in complexity of English letters. The process is a lot simpler and more intuitive than you’d expect from an intimidating number like 72.

We also have a lot of free resources at YesPhonics that are intended to expedite the process of teaching reading phonetically. Last year we published a three-part series on how to teach phonograms, which starts here. Those articles will give you a little background, walk you through the basics of the Orton-Spalding phonograms, and explain how you can use them at home or in the classroom. We also have a video over on YouTube that will walk you through our Mnemonic Phonic Technique, which is particularly helpful if you’re teaching or studying English as a second language.

Subscribe to the YesPhonics blog and YouTube channel for more classroom advice—and try our Mnemonic Phonic Technique for free to learn the 72 sounds of English.

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How to Get Out from under Standardized Testing

Campbell's law

How to Get Out from under Standardized Testing

Campbell's lawA Guide for Parents

I have a Princeton Review study guide in my living room right now that has this to say about the new edition of the Graduate Record Examination:

“…It’s safe to say that neither GRE—new or old—is a realistic measure of how well you’ll do in grad school, or even how intelligent you are. The GRE provides a valid assessment of only one thing: The GRE assesses how well you take the GRE.”

It would be fair to accuse the Princeton Review of cynicism for publishing something so weaselly—after all, they’re about to spend 400 pages under the assumption that the GRE is important. It would not be fair, however, to single them out, because everybody else in the American education system is doing the exact same thing as they are: teaching to the test.

How Teaching to the Test Took Over

High-stakes standardized testing in the United States was a well-intentioned idea: make all students take a single test every year, and you’ll be able to measure educational achievement without having to account for the way tests vary from classroom to classroom. You will, hypothetically, arrive at a single impartial set of data by which all students can be measured. This data would be El Dorado for educational administrators, so it’s not surprising that standardized testing became a federal mandate under George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind program in the early 2000’s.

Standardized tests were the only measures of achievement in No Child Left Behind, though, and if a school district tested poorly the results could be catastrophic: missed testing targets three years in a row, for instance, would force a school to provide extra instruction to its students while those students were allowed to transfer to other schools. In other words, every time a school failed to hit an arbitrary goal, it was forced to work with fewer resources, which made it harder for the school to recover. The only way for a school to get out of this death spiral, in many cases, was to focus all of its curricular efforts on nailing its test targets every year.

Campbell's lawThe type of instruction this leads to is, to put it mildly, ineffective. In an Educational Leadership article from 2001 (the dawn of the NCLB era), W. James Popham lays out a distinction between curriculum-teaching and item-teaching. Curriculum-teaching works like this: a teacher learns that a standardized test will measure her students’ ability to solve algebraic equations with two variables, and decides to teach multivariable equations this semester instead of geometry. In item-teaching, though, another teacher might look at this year’s standardized test, clone all of the multivariable equations, and drill her students on them until test day.

The first teacher’s students, obviously, are going to be better at math. They’ll know how to solve multivariable equations, while the second teacher’s students will only know how to solve one type of problem, over and over. The problem is that the second teacher’s students will score higher on the standardized test, because they’ve essentially been taking it, bit by bit, all semester. And since the standardized test is the only way to measure students, the second teacher will look better than the first one. Now imagine that the school district has just missed its test targets for the second year in a row, and it’s easy to extrapolate that the first teacher will be under a lot of pressure to change the way she teaches. This is a special case of a principle called Campbell’s Law, which the education historian Diane Ravitch sums up in a blog post.

Apply Campbell’s Law all over the country and you have American education today. Even though the last provisions of No Child Left Behind were washed away in 2015, the fundamental problems of standardized testing persist in the form of the Obama administration’s Race to the Top program (which we’ve written about before). In some ways they’ve gotten worse. Education reformers around the country are quixotically focused on firing teachers when their students test poorly—in other words, when the teachers won’t teach to the test—and in the worst cases, poor standardized test scores are an excuse for closing schools in droves.

If it becomes clear that all your kids are learning is how to take a test, then they’re being shortchanged, and you have a problem. Click to tweet

So What Can You Do as a Parent?

Campbell's lawThe American education system has such a big, diffuse problem that it’s hard to tell where to start solving it. If you feel comfortable homeschooling your child, that’s an obvious solution: taking them out of traditional school means you can forget about item-teaching and standardized testing and the whole mess. If your kids are in public school, though, try to hold your school district accountable. Ask your child what they learned in school every night. Work on homework with them. If it becomes clear that all they’re learning is how to take a standardized test, then they’re being shortchanged, and you have a problem.

My advice is to bring your concerns to your child’s teachers first, but bear in mind that they’re rarely any freer than their students. Whether it’s pressure from the school district or the culture of the school in general (or their unions, teachers’ hands are often tied, even if they know it’s not helping their students. If you can, try to organize other parents and speak to the administration. If that doesn’t work, another solution is to opt out of the test entirely.

Taking your students out of standardized tests is legal under 2015 education law, according to The National Center for Fair and Open Testing, and the secret of standardized testing is that public opinion is turning against it. Fewer and fewer colleges require SAT or ACT scores, and students are starting to walk out of tests all over the country. The National Center for Fair and Open Testing offers a guide for parents who are interested in organizing opt-outs in their school districts. Even teachers’ unions, formerly strong advocates of standardized testing, have started to come out in favor of opting out. Opting out might seem like the nuclear option for parents worried about teaching to the test, but if your local school district is unresponsive or immobile, it might be the best choice.

Whatever you choose to do, remember that you don’t need to let the educational system fail your children. There’s a growing consensus that high-stakes standardized testing is a dead end, and you can be part of it.

Subscribe to the YesPhonics blog and YouTube channel for more classroom advice—and try our Mnemonic Phonic Technique for free to learn the 72 sounds of English.

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The Dangers of Daycare

dangers of daycare

The Dangers of Daycare

Homeschooling’s Not as Costly as It Seems

dangers of daycare In your first year or two of parenting, you might get a sense that sending your child to daycare is as mandatory as sending them to school. Even if it creeps you out—or you think your child isn’t ready to spend so much time away from you—it’s easy to give into the pressure. Let me be the first to tell you, though, it’s not mandatory (neither is sending your kid to school, in fact), and you’re well within your rights to be nervous about daycare.

Even When It’s not a Disaster, Daycare Isn’t Perfect

If you’re considering sending your child to daycare, you’ve probably heard some pretty intimidating stories. These can range from laments about the everyday misery of children stuck in a big building full of strangers for hours to some truly horrifying anecdotes about kids left out in the freezing cold for hours, daycare workers refusing to change diapers, and owners drugging kids to facilitate naptime.

These are freak occurrences, obviously, but even on a systematic scale there are some troubling things about child care. In a very measured, well-balanced article on the subject, Slate’s Melinda Wenner Moyer points out that many studies have linked child care to persistent behavioral problems, some of them lingering well into adolescence. Daycare is linked to poor academic habits, disobedience, and impulsiveness as late as age 15. Some researchers maintain that sending kids to daycare can make it harder for mothers to care for their children—and this is at a critical time in child development, between the ages of 0 and 5, when it’s most important to form parent-child bonds. One study has even found that children experience the same sense of abandonment when they’re in daycare for more than 20 hours a week as they do when they’ve truly been abandoned. Not even excellent care heads those problems off.

It’s hard to establish causal relationships in complex data sets like this, and daycare works perfectly well for a lot of kids when it’s high in quality. But it’s hard to guarantee that, and if you follow the links I posted above and your gut tells you daycare is not right for you, there is an alternative.

If your gut tells you daycare is not right for you, there is an [email protected] Click to tweet

You Can Make Homeschooling Work for You

Homeschooling is a great alternative to outside daycare, and it’s an option you should consider even if you don’t think you can afford it. Keeping your kids out of daycare and closer to you, dangers of daycare whether it’s through high school or just until kindergarten, can give your kids a chance to bond more closely with you, help them navigate interpersonal relationships, and ensure that they have a solid educational foundation.

The obvious objection to all of this is that it’s expensive. How are you supposed to stay home with your children without cutting your family’s income in half? And it’s true that homeschooling often means taking a hit on your income—but consider the expense that childcare represents. In some places, daycare is more expensive than college tuition, and even where it’s not it represents a significant cut taken out of your family’s pocket. Couple that with the cost of commuting to and from your daycare provider for two years and you might find yourself with something not unlike a year’s income.

The point here is that homeschooling your child instead of sending them to daycare is more affordable than you think. If you’re willing to let one parent stay at home, and you have the wherewithal to cut expenses—cheaper groceries, less driving—the costs will even out. It might sound frustrating, but keep in mind that what matters is what’s best for your child. If daycare makes you viscerally uncomfortable, do what you need to keep your child out of it. It’s not as difficult as you think.

Subscribe to the YesPhonics blog and YouTube channel for more classroom advice—and try our Mnemonic Phonics Technique for free to teach the 72 sounds of English.

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How to Help Your Children Form Good Friendships


How to Help Your Children Form Good Friendships
Advice for Homeschoolers 

If you homeschool your kids, you’ve probably found yourself thinking deeply about things parents take for granted if they send their kids to public or private school. Friendship is a good friendshipsexample. A parent of kids at public school might wonder whether their kids are making friends, but a parent of homeschoolers has to wonder how they’ll meet enough people to make friends in the first place. Thankfully, at least in this case the solution is simpler than you’d expect, because homeschooled kids make friends just like any other kids. They just need to be introduced.

Where to Start Looking for Friendship

If you’re a kid, it can be a little lonely to be homeschooled. What grade are you in if you’re a twelve-year-old reading Milton? What does it mean that you’ve never sat at a desk? How come all the homeschoolers on TV are in cults?

With all of that in mind, it’s crucial to introduce your child to friends. If there’s a homeschooling co-op where you live, that’s a great place to start. If not, think about starting your own. After all, one of the pluses of homeschooling is that you never need to get any forms made out in triplicate—you can just start an informal homeschooling meet-up and go from there. Church groups, volunteer groups and afternoon classes activities like art or yoga are also great options for homeschooling parents.

And depending on your comfort level with traditional school, you might also consider enrolling your child in an after-school club or a sport. The Home School Legal Defense Association has a comprehensive list of states that allow homeschooled kids to play interscholastic sports, and if it’s allowed in your state this can be a great way to introduce your child to new friends.

Before you unleash your child on the world of traditional schools, though, it’s a good idea to stop and consider what kinds of friends you want them to make. Traditional school can be a tough adjustment even in small doses, and your child might not immediately take to it, or might take to it in the wrong way. A good safeguard against this is to spend some time at home studying philosophy together—not necessarily so your child can recite the formulations of the categorical imperative, but simply so that they understand how to think clearly and logically about situations they’re going to face in traditional school.

This is a good preventative, but it’s not infallible. If it becomes clear that they’re not good for your child, then you have a problem that’s separate from a sense of isolation, and probably more pressing.

It sounds counterintuitive, but kids make friends with their bullies all the time—although perhaps “friends” should be in scare quotes. Click to Tweet 

What to do When Your Child’s Friends Are Bullies

All kids can get into poisonous friendships. It’s a risk that comes with friendship per se, and homeschoolers aren’t exempt. As a parent, you need to face up to that, and if you see your childfriendships spending time with kids who are clearly not good for them, you can’t ignore it. You’ve probably heard horror stories about kids getting into drugs via their friends, but in most cases the problem is the much more mundane cruelty of bullying.

It sounds counterintuitive, but kids make friends with their bullies all the time—although perhaps “friends” should be in scare quotes. James Lehman on Empowering Parents explains that kids sometimes make the calculated decision to befriend their bullies because it seems like a safer decision than going it alone—they might have to put up with torrents of cruelty, but at least they won’t get shoved in the halls. Homeschooled kids can be susceptible to this kind of reasoning, especially when they’re newly enrolled in sports or after-school clubs, because they’re simply not used to the kind of social maneuvering that characterizes traditional school.

Lehman writes that if you notice your child getting bullied by friends, you should talk to them like an adult: sit down with them and, on the level, ask what they hope to get out of being friends with their bullies. Luckily, homeschooling tends to foster strong, open relationships between parents and kids, and your child might be more willing to confide in you than you’d expect.

And if you’ve been talking about philosophy at home, this is a great opportunity for a teachable moment. Try to clear away the haze of social anxiety from your child’s mind and talk to them in clear, reasonable terms. Would they want everybody to treat each other the way their friends treat them? Are they really friends with their bullies, or are they just being used as a means to an end? These are questions that might not occur to your child when they’re acting as a normal kid, but when they’re acting as a student of philosophy the answers should become clear. Focus on questions rooted in philosophy, and you’ll have a better shot at convincing your child to back out of their toxic friendships.

If all else fails, feel free to take matters into your own hands by confronting the parents of said bullies; this is a great chance to let parents with out of control children know exactly how ineffective their parenting has been. It’s also a great opportunity to nip future bullying problems in the bud, especially if parents know that you’ll confront them on this behavior. This does take some courage, but it’s worth it when you know that your child feels safer with you at their side.  

Homeschooling might make it a little exasperating to find friends for your children. Still, you may find that the rewards outweigh the costs: a network of strong friendships that exist outside school is probably healthier for your children than a few friends they only see at recess and lunch. Homeschooling friendship, like homeschooling philosophy, is a big investment of time and energy, but it pays off.

For more resources on teaching philosophy to your kids, look at, a rich collection of tools for philosophy teachers and parents.

Subscribe to the YesPhonics blog and YouTube channel for more classroom advice—and try our Mnemonic Phonic Technique for free to teach the 72 sounds of English.

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What to Do when Students Won’t Do Their Homework


What to Do when Students Won’t Do Their Homework

And the Best Way to Address the Issue

Homework Teaching can be a beautiful experience, but no teacher in the world will tell you that it’s a walk in the park. In particular, students who don’t turn in their homework can be enough of an obstacle to ruin days and weeks. It can be tempting to get adversarial with these students—but the solution is simpler than that. In fact, as with a lot of solutions to complicated problems, it’s so simple you might not even think of it. If you want to understand why students don’t do their homework, ask them.

Here’s Why Students Won’t Do Their Homework

Imagine being in elementary school in 2016. When you come home from school there are flashing colors on TV and on the iPad that are all competing for your attention, your friends are calling, there are piles of leaves to jump in—and you’re supposed to diagram sentences and practice addition? On paper? And once you’ve forced yourself to sit down and do it, you need your parents’ help to make any progress, and soon they’re angry at you for taking so long. You work into the night, until it’s finally done, then go to bed resenting your parents. And nobody even tells you why it’s important.

These are the kinds of responses education expert Susan Kruger got when she asked her students why they didn’t do their homework. Kruger’s responses varied, but they fell into a few broad categories: students didn’t know what the point of the work was, or didn’t want to make waves at home, or simply didn’t know how to do the work in the first place. None of these students were mean or lazy. On the contrary, most of them were as frustrated as the teacher.

In cases like this, traditional discipline will only make the problem worse. Punishing students for not doing homework that they’re scared to do in the first place is not going to make it any less scary. These students need a teacher who can bridge the gap between school and home, and who can work with their parents to make homework make sense.

…the first step to fixing chronic homework problems in your classroom is to talk to the students themselves. @yesphonics Click to Tweet 

How to Win Over Parents and Influence Students

Like we pointed out above, the first step to fixing chronic homework problems in your classroom is tohomework talk to the students themselves. The next step is to talk to their parents. In 9 cases out of 10, parents want the same thing you do: student success. If parents have become part of the reason their kids have chronic homework problems, they’re probably not doing it on purpose. It’s more likely they’re just using the wrong techniques, as explained in this article on Teachervision—they’ve fallen into habits that enable homework delinquency. Parents who finish assignments for their students are rewarding passivity, while parents who give too much negative feedback are punishing effort. Your goal as a teacher is to identify those habits and find alternatives.

If parents are hovering near their kids during homework, encourage them to take a step back. Perhaps their child should have to do every other problem on their own. If parents are letting homework take all night, consider offering partial credit on unfinished assignments if there’s a note from mom. Find a system that rewards students when they make an effort and punishes them when they don’t. If you work, patiently and regularly, in a system that has clear rewards and punishments, you’ll start to see improvement in your students.

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to chronic homework problems. Meting out impartial justice will get you nowhere. Personal attention and strong relationships with parents, on the other hand, can make all the difference in the world.

Subscribe to the YesPhonics blog and YouTube channel for more classroom advice—and try our Mnemonic Phonic Technique for free to teach the 72 sounds of English.

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