Posted on

How to Reverse the Summer Brain Drain

How to reverse the summer brain drain and still have fun

How to Reverse the Summer Brain Drain

Three Sure-Fire Ways to Get Your Child Motivated and Excited

How to reverse the summer brain drain and still have funSummer’s coming to a close, vacation trips are over, and back-to-school gear is popping up in all the stores. More important than your kid having the right three-ring binder and matching notebooks is that they have the right mindset for the new school year.

How can you reverse the summer brain drain while still enjoying the last bit of summer?

It used to be said that summer learning loss was only a problem in America, where the average summer vacation is longer than that of most international schools. As a result, most of the research on the topic focuses on American students. A 2015 UK study looking at American vacations and standardized test scores estimated “that students’ learning at best stagnates, or, worst case scenario, losses of up to one month of grade-level equivalent learning occurs. Furthermore, the long summer vacation creates a gap of approximately three months in achievement between children from high and low socioeconomic status households.”

Recent European studies (in which a summer vacation is typically 6-9 weeks, compared to America’s 12), however, have indicated the problem is shared among all schools with any amount of vacation.

Any quality curriculum will assume at the beginning that the student may need a refresher on the information from the previous session. But that refresher is only brief, and if your student has forgotten a significant amount over summer, they may find themselves behind before the class has really even started.Click to Tweet

Fortunately, there are exercises you can do now, a couple weeks in advance, to get a major head start on that refresher. These exercises are designed to be built into your daily life activities, so your student will thank you when he or she doesn’t have to sit in front of a textbook for hours, while his or her friends are all out playing.

…if your student has forgotten a significant amount over summer, they may find themselves behind before the class has really even started.Click to Tweet

How do you start?

How to reverse the summer brain drain These exercises are set up into three weeks, but you can adjust the pace depending on how much time you have until school starts. Most of the activities take ten minutes or less per day, so they can easily be combined.

Week 1: Dig up old curriculum

  • Look up some of the lessons and projects your child worked on in their last session, and bring them up in frequent conversation. Perhaps even show them projects you saved, and ask them how/why they made it the way they did. Simply getting your child to talk about things they learned can jog their memories. Even if the memory’s hazy, the more they talk, the clearer it is likely to become. It’s like a book report without the book.
  • If your student is at the stage where he or she is just beginning to spell, the critical knowledge for them is more procedural. This means it’s more important they know the steps and strategies to sound out words, write the shapes of letters and recognize sight words than it is for them to memorize a specific word list. Try the variety of free PBS games online to reinforce these skills, or make up your own game. Or for a more hands-on approach, you can play the letter drawing game, where you take turns writing a large letter on a piece of paper, and having the other person draw something around it using that shape. (A “Y” for example, could become the trunk and branches of a tree.)
  • Apply lessons to everyday activities. Have them figure out which product gives a better deal at the grocery store, or how many gallons of gas you can get for $20. Talk about chemistry when they’re playing with slime. Ask them to read out the recipe and measure ingredients when you’re cooking.

Week 2: Follow their own interests

  • How to reverse the summer brain drain Take a family trip to the library and let them pick out books that interest them. Many libraries also have children’s story hours or “maker space” time. See what your local branch has to offer.
  • Have your summer movie night be something educational and entertaining like Planet Earth, Dead Poet’s Society, The Great Debaters, Matilda or A Series of Unfortunate Events. Just make sure it’s age appropriate.
  • Take a career field trip. If they want to work with animals, take them to the zoo or a local animal shelter. If they want to be a doctor, find one who would be willing to show them around a clinic. Most people enjoy talking about their jobs, and will more than likely be excited to help an interested young student.

Week 3: Get a head start on the new stuff

  • Take a look at the upcoming curriculum to see what’s in store for your child. If you homeschool, you should already have the materials, and if you do public school, a rough curriculum and reading list should be available from the school administration. You could have your kid start reading a required book or practice some of the first lessons ahead of time, or you can take a more informal approach like with the curriculum in week 1.
  • Emotional preparation is just as important as educational preparation. If you sense your child is nervous about the upcoming school year, it may help him or her to tour the classroom or talk with the teacher before school starts. Or maybe they just need a new back-to-school outfit to increase their confidence. This doesn’t mean you have to go out and buy them all the trendiest things. As long as they know they have a reliable support system at home, they’re set to have a good school year.

So go out there, enjoy the last few days of summer, and sneak education to your kid like vegetables in spaghetti sauce. For more fun lesson ideas and other educational resources, subscribe to the YesPhonics blog or Youtube channel.

photo credit: elviskennedy 100 Days of Summer #80 – Splash via photopin (license)

photo credit: JeremyOK siblings-reading via photopin (license)

photo credit: abbilder Bubblebrothers via photopin (license)

Posted on

Childhood Speech Disorders Part 2: Three Common Mistakes in Therapy

photo credit: marcoverch A giant storm on Neptune is disappearing and for the first time scientists are able to see it via photopin (license)

Childhood Speech Disorders

Part 2: Three Common Mistakes in Therapy

For most of my childhood, I had problems with my speech. As mentioned in Part 1, speech errors are normal while children are first learning to talk, but the errors should resolve themselves naturally by the time the child is in kindergarten. My errors, however, weren’t resolved until I was in fifth grade. It took years of speech therapy classes for me to finally pronounce words properly. Looking back, I realize now that there were a few lessons I had back then – both from my school and my family – that I had to unlearn before I could progress.

What should you avoid doing?

Over-emphasizing phonemes

There are three effective speech therapy methods for those with a phonological processing disorder (discussed in part 1):

  1. Demonstrating how to pronounce the sounds correctly
  2. Having the student identify which sounds are correct and incorrect
  3. Having the student repeatedly practice troublesome words.

The first method is where we come to our first common mistake. When teachers and parents demonstrate the correct pronunciation of words, they often over-emphasize phonemes (the units of sound in a word). If a child is dropping his or her r’s, for example, the first reaction is to make the r’s stand out in the demonstration. Rather than saying “rabbit” or “bathroom” normally, many are inclined to say “R-R-Rabbit” and “bath-Room.” This can lead to the student developing disjointed speech patterns, or over-emphasizing the phonemes themselves.

Phoneme awareness is a useful method for articulation students, but should be implemented only after the student is able to read. A 2010 study found that “most children in the study were not cognitively ready for more advanced, abstract phoneme manipulation tasks” until they were able to read, anyways. That way, phonemes can be emphasized more on paper by highlighting/pointing to letters than by vocal cues.

Limiting therapy to professional sessions.

Childhood Speech Disorders Part 2: Three Common Mistakes in TherapyAnother important aspect of therapy is that it should be constant. Professional therapists are helpful, but they can only interact with the student for a couple hours at a time. The role of parents as therapists is increasingly praised in current research, and should be encouraged as often as possible.

The “parental therapy” method is extremely beneficial because it can be implemented anywhere and anytime, and it incorporates fun family bonding activities (story time, play time, shared meals, etc.) to make speech therapy seem less like a chore. Check out Mommy Speech Therapy or Home Speech Home for speech therapy activity ideas you can do at home.

The “parental therapy” method is extremely beneficial because it can be implemented anywhere and anytime, and it incorporates fun family bonding activities… Click to Tweet 

Allowing people to “parrot” your child

Let’s face it, some speech mistakes are cute, especially when little ones make them. Some mistakes are so cute that adults or other children are inclined to adopt the words themselves. My cousin used to say “namik” for “napkin” when she was two, and our whole family started telling her to wipe her hands on her “namik” at dinner because we thought it was cute. This made it more difficult for her to break the habit when she grew older.

Hopefully, knowing the current research on speech therapy can help parents and educators avoid some of the same difficulties I faced in my education.

Subscribe to the YesPhonics blog or Youtube channel for more language education advice.


photo credit: barry burke1 flower girl via photopin (license)

photo credit: Oleg Green (lost) DSC05045 via photopin (license)

Posted on

Childhood Speech Disorders Part 1: Understanding the Basics

Childhood Speech Disorders Part 1: Understanding the Basics

Childhood Speech Disorders

Part 1: Understanding the Basics

Childhood Speech Disorders Part 1: Understanding the BasicsSpeech-language impairment has been called the “most common and least diagnosed disability of childhood,” affecting approximately one in every 12 children. 46 percent of children enrolled in early intervention programs have communication impairments, while 26 percent have developmental delays in multiple areas, usually including language skills (NIH). If not identified and treated early on, a child’s communication disorder can lead to behavioral, cognitive or emotional problems later in life.

Nobody expects a baby’s first words to be perfect. They’re going from gurgling to learning a sophisticated language in a couple of months. Bumps in the road are to be expected. Speech development errors are very common in English-speaking preschoolers. These errors usually resolve themselves naturally by the time the child reaches kindergarten. If the errors persist by the time the child is six, or if a younger infant or toddler is missing several milestones, it may be a sign they need extra help from a pediatrician or speech-language pathologist.  before we can help them, we must understand the root of the problem.

What causes speech disorders?

Speech is more than simply knowing what sounds go with what letters. There are a lot of complex processes that go on in a person’s mind and body for them to be able to speak. First, he or she must hear the sounds correctly, both as someone else is saying them and from their own mouths. This is where phonological processing disorders spring from, including:

  • Fronting: when a sound that should form in the back of the mouth forms in the front (e.g. saying “baf” for “bath” or “sue” for “shoe”).
  • Backing: when a sound that should form in the front of the mouth forms in the back (e.g. saying “gog” for “dog”).
  • Consonant deletion: skipping one or multiple consonants in the beginning, middle, or end of words (e.g. saying “seep” for “sleep” or “ouse” for “house”).
  • Metathesis: switching the order of sounds in a word (e.g. saying “pasgetti” for “spaghetti” or “aks” for “ask”).
  • Gliding: substituting “liquid” L and R sounds with W and Y (e.g. saying “wabbit” for “rabbit” or “yady” for “lady”).
  • Syllable deletion: skipping “weak” syllables, commonly in the middle of longer words. (e.g. “bum-bee” for “bumblebee” or “te-phone” for “telephone”).

photo credit: marcoverch <a href="">A giant storm on Neptune is disappearing and for the first time scientists are able to see it</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">(license)</a>The good news about phonological processing disorders (PPDs) is that they are a mere matter of auditory perception. There is nothing physically or mentally stopping a person with a PPD from making the correct sounds. He or she must simply pay attention to which sounds are right and wrong, break his or her old speech habits, and learn new patterns.

Other speech disorders are much harder to overcome with speech classes alone. Physical traits such as poor motor skills or a cleft lip may affect speech, but often require medical attention in order to jump that hurdle. In the same vein, speech disorders can coexist with psychological issues (e.g. trauma or autism), and may call for the help of a counselor or mental health professional.

How effective is treatment?

It will take time, hard work, and patience, but almost all communication disorders can be improved by therapy. Click to Tweet 

According to an Indiana University study in 1998, “children who receive phonological treatment exhibit both narrow and broad changes in their sound systems that enhance their overall intelligibility and general communicative functioning.”

As a bonus, we have more resources available at our fingertips now than previous generations ever dreamed of. In addition to therapy, people with communication and speech disorders canlear secondary language skills (e.g. writing, sign language) and take advantage of modern communication aid apps.

So don’t give up hope, and look out for our next post, “Childhood Speech Disorders Part 2: Common Mistakes in Therapy.”

Subscribe to the YesPhonics blog or Youtube channel for more language education advice.


photo credit: Oleg Green (lost) DSC07784 via photopin (license)

photo credit: marcoverch A giant storm on Neptune is disappearing and for the first time scientists are able to see it via photopin (license)

Posted on

The Effects of Reading to Infants

The Effects of Reading to Infants

The Effects of Reading to Infants

Reading and the Link Between Language Development

The Effects of Reading to InfantsWe’ve all heard the saying, “start them young.” These days, the starting point for formal education is getting younger and younger. People are buying computer coding books for babies and sending three-year-olds to prestigious preschools for $43,600 a year. But don’t worry. One of the best head starts you can give your baby is a lot cheaper: reading to them.

That may sound like common sense, but there’s a lot of science behind the practice of reading to babies. And with science comes questions. Why is reading important? How young should you start? How much time should you spend per day? Do you really have to read Goodnight Moon for the thousandth time? The following information should help you answer all these questions for yourself, while encouraging you in your choice to do what’s best for your child.

Why is reading to infants important?

Studies have shown that there’s a clear link between reading and language development. The more babies hear language being used, the more their brains are stimulated. The more they are stimulated, the more likely they are to start speaking at a healthy age. Establishing this routine when they are young also makes it more likely they’ll enjoy reading when they’re older, because they associate it with valuable family bonding time.

Outside of academics, there are also several emotional benefits to reading to babies. Babies in the womb begin toThe Effects of Reading to Infants hear at 18 weeks. By seven or eight months’ gestation, they can recognize their mother’s voice from other voices, and they respond to it by calming down and lowering their heart rate. For newborns, hearing their mother’s voice is one of the only familiar constants they have in this new world outside the womb, and it can have a powerful calming effect on them. Reading to infants provides emotional benefits to the parents as well. Babies aren’t the only ones going through major life changes in the time after their birth, and reading has been shown to provide parents with a much-needed sense of control, intimacy and normalcy with a newborn.  

How should you do it?

There’s no exact recipe for healthy infant reading habits; the most important thing is that you do it, and do it while they’re still young. Click to Tweet

How young is up to you. If you want to start before they’re born, go ahead. If you want to wait until you can physically hold them in your arms, that’s good too. If you get tired of reading baby books, feel free to read from one of your books, magazines, or newspapers. They’ll develop language skills and bond with you regardless of the content. Both you and baby should enjoy this time, and you should do whatever you need to do to make it not feel like a chore.

You can subscribe to the YesPhonics blog or Youtube channel for more classroom advice. Happy reading!


Lariviere, Janice and Janet Rennick. “Parent Picture-Book Reading to Infants in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit as an Intervention Supporting Parent-Infant Interaction and Later Book Reading.” Lippincott Williams & Wilkins 32(1). Jan. 2011. Web. 1 June 2018.

Marx, Viola and Emese Nagy. “Fetal Behavioural Responses to Maternal Voice and Touch.” Public Library of Science 10(6). 8 June 2015. Web. 1 June 2018.

photo credit: MTSOfan My Grandmother Reads to Me via photopin (license)

photo credit: Paul of Congleton 2nd of April 2016 via photopin (license)

Posted on

The Homeschooler’s Balancing Act: How to Manage Your Child’s Progress

The Homeschooler’s Balancing Act: Grade Level

If there’s one question a homeschooled kid can’t easily answer, it’s what grade they’re in. Sure, your six-year-old is reading at a third-grade level and can identify every species of dinosaur known to man, but a math lesson designed for one day takes them two or three days to complete.

The biggest advantage to homeschool education can also be the biggest challenge; the student is often free to go at his or her own pace. Click to Tweet

A little tipping in the scales of subject areas is normal. High schools offer – and fill – both remedial and advanced subject classes every year for a reason. Some unbalance can even be helpful, as it leads students to develop a “hook,” or an area of expertise that top colleges look for. While parents aim to raise well-rounded individuals with A’s across the board, colleges aim to have well-rounded classes, with a top concert pianist in one slot and a prize-winning robot designer in another. That means the kid who is unremarkable in one area and would rather spend all his time honing his talent in another has nothing to worry about.

So when does falling behind in one subject become worrisome?

Each student and curriculum is unique, and there is no set line dividing what is and isn’t acceptable. Special needs students are even harder to gauge. There are, however, a few research-backed guidelines to help you determine of your student’s academics are within a healthy range.

-Is the student more than one grade level behind in any subjects? In public school, being held back in a remedial class once is okay. Twice is a serious issue. If you homeschool in one of the 23 states with educational neglect statutes, your student being more than a year behind in a subject could spark legal investigations.

-Is the subject in question English, Math or Science? These are called core subjects for a reason, and struggles in them should be addressed early on to avoid problems in the future. If you intend for your child to eventually take a GED, SAT or ACT exam to get into college or get a job, being up to speed on these three subjects is important.

-Does the student’s academic struggles coincide with problems in your parental relationship with him or her? Do you find yourself fighting with or having to comfort your child after every hard test or lesson? A 2016 homeschool study found that a parent-child relationship in homeschooling can have an indirect effect on academic stress by affecting the child’s self-esteem. These issues, if left unresolved, could affect not only the student’s grades, but their mental health.

What can you as a parent do about it?

Don’t fret if your situation matches any of these scenarios. There are several resources and methods at your disposal homeschooler’s balancing actto help get your child back on track, including:

-Switching curriculums. What works for one student may not work for another. It could be they need a different style of learning (visual, auditory, kinesthetic, etc.) or they need a program that reinforces the same information through multiple subjects.

-Encouraging the subjects they excel in. Don’t slow down on the lessons they’re advanced in just to allow the slower subjects time to catch up. Having an area of expertise can do wonders for your child’s self-esteem and college portfolio.

-Hiring a tutor or counselor. If academics are affecting your relationship with your child, or the subject matter isn’t your strong suit, having a third party help out can lighten the load, while still giving you control over your child’s education. If money is an issue, look to see if another homeschooling parent would be willing to teach a subject, or if you can receive a mini-grant for homeschooling costs. If you simply need a counselor for emotional stress, many health insurance plans will cover that.

-Doing a little each day. Cramming to meet short-term deadlines is a recipe for disaster. They may pass a quiz enough to graduate to the next lesson, but a week later, they’ll likely forget everything they learned. If catching up means they have to do a little work over weekends or vacation, so be it.

As a parent and a homeschool teacher, you know the needs of your child best. Don’t worry. There’s support for you around every corner! Subscribe to the YesPhonics blog or Youtube channel for more classroom advice.


Heaton, Elizabeth. “What Kind of Hook Do I Need to Get Accepted Into an Ivy League College?” Huffington Post. 10 August 2017. Web.

“How to Report Educational Neglect in Homeschool Settings in Each State.” Coalition for Responsible Home Education. August 2017. Web.

Mulyadi, Seto, et. al. “The Role of Parent-Child Relationship, Self-esteem, Academic Self-efficacy to Academic Stress.” Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences. (Vol. 217.) 5 February 2016. pp. 603-608.

photo credit: RyanTaylor1986 Learning To Write via photopin (license)

photo credit: shingleback Read via photopin (license)

Posted on

Teaching ESL students

Teaching ESL students

Teaching ESL students

Advice for parents and educators

Teaching ESL studentsTeaching is hard, period. You know this whether you’re a public school teacher or a homeschooling parent. You take on an enormous workload, pull long hours with little or no compensation, and always need to present yourself with a fresh face, whether you’re truly happy or not. And yet there are some things about the process that you won’t even know you’ve been taking for granted until you have to go without them. One of those things is a common language.

Working with students who are learning English as a second language, or ESL, presents a unique problem, because whether they’re a child you’ve adopted or a student in your classroom, you likely won’t share a language with the child you’re teaching. This can be extremely difficult to work through, but if you work diligently, it’s doable. We’ll try to explain the best way to go about teaching ESL students in this post.

The pitfalls of conventional teaching techniques

Right off the bat, teaching ESL students is not like teaching any other students. ESL students are more than just non-native speakers of English; they’re often also very insecure about their lack of fluency in the language, and that might creep into your lessons in ways you don’t anticipate. Communication takes many forms, and it’s much more complicated than the grammar of the language you’re speaking. It’s important to keep that in mind, because you might get less mileage out of your standby teaching techniques when you use them with ESL students.

For instance, it’s standard practice in American teaching to expect students to respond to questions you ask, and to Teaching ESL studentsexplain what they don’t understand if they’re pressed. ESL students, though, might not know exactly how to respond to your questions, and that might frustrate them to the point that they check out. Then, if you ask what they don’t understand, you’ll be dealing with someone who’s substantially less receptive to your teaching than would be normal.

In my experience working with ESL students, they will often develop a dependency on your teaching. This is a problem for teachers in any configuration of languages, but it’s a particular risk for ESL students. Like I’ve outlined above, you might find that your usual Socratic techniques are not working. Your ESL student is not following your questions or has trouble responding to them, so you resort to working through problems with them on a very minute scale. At some point in this, the dynamic might switch to you supplying them with the answers. At that point, you’re just nurturing dependency in the student. Their English is not going to improve, because you’re effectively speaking for them, and they’re going to find it harder in the future to work on their own. In all the teaching you do, that’s the scenario that you should try hardest to avoid.

So what are you supposed to do? If your basic repertoire of teaching techniques is not available, how do you reach an ESL student? There’s no easy answer to that, but there is one rule of thumb I can always recommend.

If your basic repertoire of teaching techniques is not available, how do you reach an ESL student? Click to Tweet

Focusing on the language

Teaching ESL studentsThe key to teaching ESL students is to remain extremely focused on their needs. Always remember that their mastery of English is the most important thing. (ESL students tend to excel in math and science, where the language barrier is lower.) So when you’re working on reading and writing with them, make sure that you stop and work through every grammatical construction at whatever pace you need.

You will probably wind up learning a lot about English. It’s a nice perk of teaching ESL: you learn to explain things like when to use a definite article, when to use an indefinite article, and when to use no article, which you have probably never really thought about as a native English speaker. At first these things can be devilishly difficult to explain to a child who has grown up speaking Korean or Amharic, but it’s important that you work on it, because otherwise your student will develop a lot of linguistic gaps. You want to prepare your students as well as possible for the world they’re about to enter, so you owe it to yourself to slow down and work on the language at a granular level.

Obviously, this is easy if you’re homeschooling than if you’re in a conventional school. Being able to work on things for as long as you need without a district-mandated sword hanging over your head is one of the great advantages of homeschooling. Teaching ESL in a conventional school might require you to organize a special study group for ESL students, or use some quiet reading time to work with your ESL students. In a perfect world, the district would hire a dedicated ESL teacher, but if you’re being asked to teach ESL students yourself, you’re going to need to fit in dedicated language instruction where you can. Try to stay extra-involved with the students’ parents, who will likely be anxious that their children receives the best education they can. But whether you’re in a homeschool or a conventional school setting, remember that the most important thing is to make sure you’re working towards independent, confident English. If you can get even some of the way toward that goal, you’ve done an excellent job.

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.

photo credit: USEmbassyPhnomPenh នៅ​ថ្ងៃ​ទី១ ខែ​មិថុនា ឆ្នាំ២០១៥ មជ្ឈមណ្ឌល​ធនធាន​ព័ត៌មាន របស់​ស្ថានទូត​អាមេរិក បាន​ស្វាគមន៍ ក្រុម​និស្សិត​ចំនួន​២០​នាក ក្នុង​កម្មវិធី​ក្លឹប​ភាសា​អង់គ្លេស​។ via photopin (license)

photo credit: Barrett Web Coordinator Reading%20Fun%20Day%202013%20Jun%2014,%202013%2010-20%20AM via photopin (license)

photo credit: woodleywonderworks teaching with emotion: a halloween story via photopin (license)

Posted on

Reaching out to struggling students

Reaching out to struggling students

Options for parents and educators

Reaching out to struggling studentsHomeschooling’s not easy. In some ways it’s the hardest thing in the world. Having sole responsibility, not just for a person’s upbringing, but for their education as well—it’s pretty daunting. And yet you can ameliorate most problems in homeschooling with a little help from the community. The internet and the proliferation of at-home courses of study are powerful tools for any homeschooling parent looking for solutions. There are some problems, though, where the little edifice of homeschooling solutions will not be a lot of help.

One of those problems is a failing student. When a student is apparently getting all the help they need and is still struggling, it can be a painful experience for everybody involved—but it’s also a thorny conceptual problem, and you’re not going to get a lot of outside help solving it. Despite all the resources at your disposal in the homeschooling community, nobody knows your children better than you do, and if you aren’t sure what to do, other people’s opinions are not going to be much assistance.

Still, there are heuristics you can use to figure out why your child is struggling. People tend to fail in predictable ways, and if you can figure out the particulars of your student’s difficulties, you can help them improve. We’ll try to provide some advice about those particulars in this post.

Listening to your students

Students in homeschooling situations tend to struggle for one of a few reasons. Do they need structure? Do they need expert instruction in a particular subject area? Do they need to develop study skills on their own? If you can figure out exactly what’s going on, you’re golden. But the rub is figuring out the problem in the first place.

A good rule of thumb is to listen to your student. They might not understand exactly what they’re struggling with, but if you listen to them, there’s a good chance that you’ll be able to figure it out together. And I don’t just mean ask them what the problem is, although that certainly helps—you can turn it into part of the curriculum itself. A member of a forum I read while I was researching this post mentioned that her kids had always had trouble sounding out words when they were learning to read. Simply working more on sounding out words didn’t work, but when she asked her kids to write lists of words they had trouble with, a pattern emerged: they were words like light, gnome, and ought. So, she thought, we’ll step back and do some work conceptualizing silent consonants—and it worked. So as a first step, always ask your kids what they’re having trouble with and go from there.

That’s a pretty simple intervention, though, and if you have a student you think might really be failing, chances are you’ve already tried something along those lines. If you’re still not having any luck, we have some basic rules of thumb for what you can try.

As a first step, always ask your kids what they’re having trouble with and go from there. Click to Tweet

Potential solutions for teachers

One thing to try is a step back to basics. Remember, assignments are just a means to an end, and one of the great things about homeschooling is that it allows you the freedom to change your curriculum whenever you need to. When I was in high school, I was terrible at math and I could never seem to remedy the fundamental problems in my understanding of the subject. It was obvious that I needed to work on the foundations of my understanding before I would really be comfortable doing calculus, but with another assignment constantly on the horizon I never had enough room to breathe. Well, homeschooling gives you that room. If you have a student whose understanding of the concepts at hand just seems to have some holes in it, you may have gotten over-reliant on your curriculum, whatever it is, and you might need to take a breather, diagnose whatever conceptual issues your student is hung up on, and focus on those for as long as it takes. It’ll pay off in the long run.

Reaching out to struggling studentsAnother thing might be structure. This comes up a lot in the blogs I’ve read on the subject—a student without enough structure might be neglecting their assignments, and it might be on you to provide some of that structure. If your student seems bright and engaged but just doesn’t do the work, it might be good to implement a study hall as part of your homeschooling, when you stop teaching for a certain amount of time and let your child simply work on their assignments. This is different from simply letting school be out for the day—you should make sure they’re doing their work in a public space, under supervision, so that they don’t simply drift off. In my experience, even the most dreamy student will finish an assignment if they’re kept on track for the first few minutes of work.

(You might also want to radically reduce the amount of structure if you think your student would do better with more room to be creative. But that’s much more intuitive than the paragraph above, so I won’t belabor it here.)

If your student is struggling despite the fact that they seem to understand all the relevant concepts and be comfortable with the level of structure you’re providing, then the problem might lie with something outside the classroom. If you suspect that might be the case, I’ll return to my above point about talking to your student. There’s no substitute for good communication with your student, and that goes for personal issues as well as academic ones. In fact, if there’s one overriding heuristic I’d like you to take away from this post, it’s that. If you have a student who’s genuinely struggling, the most important thing is to let them express why. It’s easy to get so caught up in your teaching that you forget to communicate, but sooner or later it will become a classroom problem, and you should always address it before it gets to that point.

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.

photo credit: J Λ S Θ N DSC_3635 via photopin (license)

photo credit: J Λ S Θ N DSC_3777 via photopin (license)

photo credit: woodleywonderworks Holiday Story via photopin (license)

Posted on

Developing a Work-life Balance in Homeschooling

Developing a Work-life Balance in Homeschooling

Practical Solutions for a Persistent Problem

Developing a Work-life Balance in HomeschoolingIf you read a lot of homeschooling blogs (and I do!), you’ll notice one thread of complaint come up again and again: homeschooling parents consistently have a hard time separating the work of education from their lives outside of teaching. Either they’re letting their lives come first or letting their educational work sprawl until it’s consumed everything else in their life. The first scenario is probably more familiar to homeschoolers: it’s the nightmare situation in which kids get out of bed at noon, stroll downstairs for breakfast at 2 pm, and never get any work done because their parents are busy with other things. The second scenario might be more unpleasant, though, at least for the students: days that drag on and on, with no well-defined breaks, in which kids are constantly resentful and parents are constantly anxious about having to teach.

Every homeschooling parent has to think about heading these problems off. Learning how can be a challenge, for reasons that have to do with the structure of the homeschooling relationship. But it is doable, and in this post, we’ll provide actionable solutions for the problem of boundaries.

Work-life Balance in Homeschooling

Work-life balance is a buzzword right now—there’s a growing awareness that employers, who can call, text or email at any time, have gained too much control over the lives of the people who work for them. That’s a pretty clear-cut problem, but the issue is a lot fuzzier for homeschoolers. Who works for whom in homeschooling? Where does work end and life begin?

The sticking point is that many people choose homeschooling precisely because it lacks the artificial divisions Developing a Work-life Balance in Homeschoolingbetween life and work that conventional school has created. There are no bells, there’s no passing time. You don’t get sent to the principal’s office for tardiness. Families come to homeschooling specifically to escape the strictly regimented world of conventional schooling. So while the solution to work-life problems in the outside world might be reducible to a strict time past which employers are not allowed to contact their employees, the problem with homeschooling is murkier. Many parents have the sense that their kids’ innate creativity simply can’t flourish in a heavily regimented system—so why would they want to create regimentation in their own homes?

There are no easy answers to this as an ethical argument. However, in practical terms, if your homeschooling days are either endless or nonexistent, you are probably going to need rules and boundaries. It’s a bitter pill, but it’s important to at least set a clear start and end time to the day. Clear times for snacks and lunches help too. And if your homeschooling is more elaborate—if you’re a member of a co-op, for example—you might also need to develop classes that start and end at specific times.

That might sound bleak to parents who have been imagining blissful days of education with no regimentation, but don’t be afraid. In the next section we’ll give some simple solutions and explain how to create flexibility in your homeschooling life.

Who works for whom in homeschooling? Where does work end and life begin? Click to Tweet

Learning the Rules in Order to Break Them

My Latin teacher in high school told me that it was always better to learn a set of rules first and then break them later, as opposed to experimenting first and then trying to build discipline out of that. He was talking about learning the convolutions of Ciceronian rhetoric, but if you’re a beginning homeschooler the statement applies to you as well. If you set rules and enforce them early, you’ll be more confident when the time comes to break them later.

Developing a Work-life Balance in HomeschoolingThe same goes for homeschooling. There’s a great list of suggestions in this post from More than a Homeschool Mom, but the gist of it is that you need to set clear times for snacks and lunches, and banish everything that’s not pedagogy to within those boundaries. That means when class is in session, there’s no snacking for the kids, and no calls, emails or social media for the parents. Everybody is completely focused on the task at hand. Then, when the timer goes off (the blog suggests you use an egg timer or other machine, to make sure you don’t get too flexible with snack breaks), all those things are allowed again.

Learning to fit your teaching into those timeframes will, in turn, teach you to design more elegant lesson plans. You’ll develop a sense for what can and can’t be taught within a given timeframe. And as you get more confident doing that, maybe the need for regimentation will start to fall away. But you need to start by being strict with yourself. In the end, it’ll be to the benefit of you and your students.

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.

photo credit: Steve Corey Princess and the Ballerina via photopin (license)

photo credit: sean dreilinger reading ten little zombies aloud – to two little boys – MG 1064.JPG via photopin (license)

photo credit: sean dreilinger nick, rachel, sequoia and newfound friend in the children’s library – _MG_9322 via photopin (license)

Posted on

Integrating New Students: A Guide for Educators

Integrating New Students

Integrating New StudentsIntegrating New Students: A Guide for Educators

Giving Confidence to Children in Homeschool Co-ops and Traditional Classrooms

Any teacher can tell you how hard it can be to introduce a new kid to the classroom mid-year. And any parents who have been through it will talk at length about the anxieties it stirred up in them. It’s an inherently stressful situation not just because you want your students to make friends, but also because it has real educational consequences: poor first impressions can throw successful students off and send struggling ones into a downward spiral.

This might seem especially difficult if you’re leading a homeschooling co-op, because the usual structures that organize classroom introductions aren’t present. As if that weren’t enough, homeschooling co-ops tend to be smaller, tighter-knit, and more idiosyncratic than conventional classrooms. With all of that in mind, it might seem like an insurmountable problem to introduce new students to the co-op, especially partway through the year.

However, as in so many other cases, the apparent weaknesses of homeschooling will become strengths in the right hands. The adaptability and freedom of the homeschool model will furnish you with a number of options for integrating new students, and we’ll try to explain how in the body of this post.

The Stakes of School Changes

Even if you haven’t been to public school, you probably have an image of the classic first day at a new school. Students stand up in front of the class and introduces themselves shyly. Later, new students eat lunch alone, play by themselves at recess, and talk to their parents in a shellshocked voice when they get picked up. If they’re lucky, they might make a new friend or two, but it’s far from a sure thing.

There’s a lot of truth to this, and those agonizing first days at a new school may have long-termIntegrating New Students consequences. Students who change schools frequently are 35% more likely to fail a grade and 77% more likely to have behavioral problems. This isn’t strictly because of their school changes (poorer students tend to change schools more often, and poverty likely has more of an effect on behavior than new schools) but it’s hard to imagine that it doesn’t contribute. It should follow that it would have long-term benefits to make first days as easy as possible.

So what are you supposed to do as a homeschooling teacher? First days for new students at your co-op probably don’t look anything like they do for most American kids, and you might feel adrift when you look for resources. This article from Teachthought has a lot of suggestions, but they mostly apply to public school teachers. And Google will turn up a lot of results for parents thinking about joining a homeschooling co-op, but not a lot of classroom advice.

Our advice, as in a lot of other cases, is to take conventional curriculum advice and adapt it to what homeschooling—and, in particular, your style of homeschooling—does well.

The apparent weaknesses of homeschooling will become strengths in the right hands. Click to Tweet

Homeschooling and Flexibility

Let’s return to that article from Teachthought. It offers 5 things teachers in conventional schools can do to make students feel more welcome, from group work to team-building games. There’s nothing that precludes homeschooling teachers from taking advantage of these techniques, and in fact, the freedom that homeschooling offers can let you use them to their full potential.

Integrating New StudentsGroup work, for example: a public school teacher might be limited by the need for students to produce material that administrators can assess. Homeschooling, which doesn’t have arbitrary curricular benchmarks, can be a lot freer in its approach to group work. A public school teacher might place a new arrival in a group of welcoming students, but that group will probably not last more than a few days and might not do its job making the student feel at home. In a homeschooling co-op, however, a teacher can group students for long periods of time, keep a closer eye on the new arrival, and make sure they have support from their peers for as long as they need it. That flexibility is unique to homeschooling, and it’s an asset you should take advantage of as an educator.

Take another example, this time from an article on Teachhub: student mentors. Teachhub mentions student mentorship as its first suggestion, and a lot of other classroom blogs agree with them. I had a good experience with student mentors in high school, so I can attest to the effectiveness of the model. But homeschooling offers whole new landscapes of flexibility for an educator. You could buddy an older student up with a new arrival for long periods of time, and even delegate some teaching to the student mentor—after all, making sure students can teach the material is an excellent way of making sure they retain it. In a homeschool setting, student mentorship can be a way to teach leadership and responsibility much more comprehensively than in a public school setting. It can even be a way to hammer home some lessons you might have gleaned if you’ve taken our advice and made philosophy a core part of your curriculum: you might use mentorship as a way of putting philosophical lessons to work in real life.

All of these possibilities are only open to you if you’re a homeschooling teacher. So don’t be discouraged if you don’t find a lot of resources that are specific to your situation in homeschooling: a lot of ink has been spilled about introducing new students to your classroom, and all you have to do is adapt it.

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.

photo credit: Rafael Souza ® Crayons via photopin (license)

photo credit: cantanima Свияжск (Sviyazhsk) via photopin (license)

photo credit: theirhistory Art lesson via photopin (license)

Posted on

Cutting Through Overcomplicated Classrooms

Cutting Through Overcomplicated Classrooms

Advice for Teachers In Public Schools

Cutting through overcomplicated classroomsAt YesPhonics, we typically write about issues around homeschooling and parenting. We’re not narrowminded, though, and today I thought I would write about something a little further afield: problems facing teachers in the public school system.

As you’re probably aware, public education has a lot of problems in this country. Some of them we’ve written about before, particularly a scourge of standardized testing that makes it almost impossible for teachers to do their jobs. Others are more complex: funding cuts, the ballooning class sizes that they create, and an overreliance on technological boondoggles. In practice, these three problems all boil down to an over

I’ll try to round up those problems in this post and discuss ways that you, as a teacher, can make your life a little simpler.

Bloat and Simplicity

All of these problems—the testing, the tech, the class sizes—are symptoms of a broader trend in American society. Education, like everything else in American public life, is bloating out of all proportion to what it really takes to do well, and if you’re a teacher, the people who suffer the most from this process of bloat are you and your students.

In the face of changes like this, it’s often good to get back to the fundamentals. After all, the essential model of teaching—a group of people learning from a central figure—has mostly stayed the same since Socrates and Confucius. The roots of that model go very deep, and bureaucratic mismanagement is never going to completely dismantle it. Your job, in the face of all this bewildering complexity, is to stay as true to that model as you can in your classroom. That doesn’t necessarily mean throwing out SAT prep and smartphones completely—I’m sure many readers would like to do that, but the district probably won’t let you. What it means is that you should strive to create a sense of personal connection in your classroom.

Conveniently for us, this kind of personal connection is what we prize most in the homeschooling model. But it’s not exclusive to that model, and if you’re a good teacher you can create it in the classroom as well. If you can do that—if you can make your classroom a place of simplicity rather than complexity, and a refuge from the world outside—then you’ve got it made. I’ll try to explain how you can create that kind of environment in the next section.



If you can make your classroom a place of simplicity rather than complexity, and a refuge from the world outside, then you’ve got it made. Click to Tweet

How to Combat Bloat in the Classroom

If you’re teaching a 30-person class in elementary school, or a 60-person one in high school, it’s probably hard to imagine forming a real personal connection with every one of your students. There are ways you can work around unmanageable class sizes, though. Consider assigning solo work or small-group work more often to your students, then making the rounds and trying to work through problems with your students. If you lean on this model often in your classes, you’ll have gone a long way toward creating the kind of active, personal environment that characterizes homeschooling, and you’ll have made the classroom a smaller and more comfortable place for your students.

Likewise with standardized testing. It’s probably not kosher to encourage your students to opt out of standardized testing, no matter your personal feelings on the matter. But consider trying to make teaching-to-the-test the kernel of your lesson plan rather than its ultimate goal. If you’re being asked to teach the single-variable equations over and over in order to juke the stats, consider writing up a problem set that includes single-variable equations as well as multivariable ones, then teaching multivariable equations as an advanced option. Again, this will allow you to cultivate personal relationships with students who might otherwise fall through the cracks thanks to the transactional model of teaching to the test.

Finally, if the problems in your classroom have to do with technology, consider paring it back almost completely. A lot of technological utopianism in education, especially in high school, is implemented poorly and without a lot of real thought toward how it will work in practice. So, for example, a school might ask teachers to field questions on Facebook in order to keep students engaged. That sounds smart and forward-thinking, but in practice, as you and other teachers probably realize, it’s going to lead to a lot of students disengaging, phoning their questions in, and disappearing into social media. If you can avoid that kind of technological gimmick, it’ll help you retain the judgment it takes to tell when lesson plans could actually benefit from technology.

I’ll try to give an example that captures all three of these. When I was in high school I had a very by-the-book Latin teacher who spent most of his time drilling us on case morphology and word derivations. When it came time for finals my third year of Latin, though, he instead had us each submit a complete portfolio of translations of Catullus, including audio recordings of us reciting the poems so that he could be sure we were understanding the prosody. After we had turned them in, he gave us each a long personal write-up along with a grade, which showed how engaged he was with our progression as Latin readers.

I still think of that project as one of the high points of my educational life, and it demonstrates the above attributes extremely well: my teacher was bent on finding personal connections with each and every one of us, and he maintained a healthy skepticism toward technology that could still turn into enthusiasm if it provided good pedagogical techniques. On top of all that, he was doing this at the time of the year when other teachers might have had us prep for the National Latin Exam—clearly, individual skill-building and creativity were more important to him than test scores.

Obviously you won’t be able hit all three of those points every time—neither was my Latin teacher. But it’s an ideal to shoot for, and if you can come close reliably you’ll be doing your students a real service.

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.

photo credit: yooperann I AM MORE THAN A SCORE via photopin (license)

photo credit: bionicteaching city public schools via photopin (license)

photo credit: woodleywonderworks First grade reading – small group breakout via photopin (license)