Updates and Changes

Yes, it’s been a while since I updated a lot of the pages on this site! So today I sat down and updated them–I hope you’ll take a few minutes to check out the menu items above under the banner picture:

  • Home: blog posts–you are here!
  • Contact: I’d love to hear what you think–why not send me an email?
  • Freebies: personally designed and thoroughly tested worksheets and other items you can use for your home education or school needs
  • Home Education Tips: links to posts on many specific aspects of learning and education
  • P&PM websites: descriptions and links to my websites and blogs
  • Pen and Paper Mama Services: introductions to the many ways I can help you!
  • Products: learning products and other materials available through my Teachers Pay Teachers site
  • Tutoring Answers on Quora: I answer many questions about tutoring, home education, lifelong learning, and related topics on Quora. Check out links to useful answers.
  • Tutoring Topics: a complete list of links to all the “tutoring” posts on this site
  • Workshops: a list of education-related workshop topics I’d be happy to provide for your group
  • Writing and editing topics: a list of links to writing and editing posts on this site and a link to my normajhill.com site where you’ll find many, many more posts on these subjects
  • About–me! Norma J Hill aka Pen and Paper Mama
  • Comments policy–Generally, I would love to see your comments on any of the posts on this site. However, you might want to check out my policy, just in case.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Updates and Changes

Everyday Math Fun for Families

What are fun ways you incorporate math for preschool and primary children?

Recently I was looking at a Facebook thread discussing this question, and I was delighted to see some of the great suggestions. So I copied them down–and then added some of my own that I have used with my own children, grandchildren, and school and tutoring students.

To start: Focus on learning together–exploring, playing, household tasks, shopping. Kids love to be involved in real family life math from a very young age. If your kids are attending school, avoid bookwork, worksheets, technology learning programs unless they ask for it–and even then, limit it. If you’re homeschooling, follow one basic math system–no need for expensive systems that take hours and hours of tedious work. A half hour a day of “book and/or computer work” should be plenty at the primary level, and at the preschool level, just use paper and crayons (avoid computers or anything that “babysits”) when they want to “play school” and let them decide what they want to write/draw. Simple colouring books with a few dot-to-dots are fine for when they want a math workbook. “Learning tools” and “math programs/systems” can be very expensive; spend less time earning money to buy them, and use that time with your children as you learn and explore together.

Some great quotes from parents:
“My kids got to a Grade 3 level easily and very early, with nothing more than delight-driven math play.”
“Math happens all day at our place.”
“I find that following my children’s interests helps; they are more willing to learn and not drag their feet.”

Play, play, and play some more:

  • Play with dice (there are many kinds; you can use the ones from the games you have, or you can get packages of mixed dice very inexpensively–you do not need to buy expensive “learning game” dice!). Then use your imagination–or better yet, let your children use their imaginations! Same with:
  • Puzzles
  • Lego
  • Mazes (life-size ones: in cornfields, at theme parks, etc. Or outline a real-life route to follow on a map–around town, etc.)
  • Colouring by number
  • Counting books, cars, all kinds of things
  • Help matching socks
  • Charting with numbers on dice
  • Card games
  • Construction toys
  • Board games like Snakes and Ladders, Dominos, Uno, Blokus; there are “Junior” versions of many games, but kids love to play the “grown up” versions with adults!
  • Guessing games
  • Exploration
  • Building–simple things like stacking blocks; design “playhouse/fort” plans together and “build” indoors with cardboard, blankets, etc.; spagetti bridges; or follow plans to build birdhouses, tree forts, etc. Outdoors, use twigs, pine cones, rocks, etc., to design temporary houses, teepees, etc. What works? What doesn’t? How is real-life math involved?
  • Hopscotch
  • Nesting cups (think: what kinds of “math applications” do things around your house have?)
  • Books (borrow from the library!) that involve numbers. Lots of kids’ books that aren’t actually “number books” have all kinds of number involvement. Also magazines–especially “how-to” and “science” magazines–adult ones, too!
  • Skip count hopscotch or trampoline
  • Play outside – counting leaves, pine cones, arranging them in groups, patterning etc.
  • Divide any bunch of things into equal groups. Sort by colour or number or type or any other criteria. Great with M&M’s or animal crackers.
  • Singing or chanting songs that involve counting
  • Road trips: look for licence plates from different places; count particular items or colours; calculate distances based on highway signs; compare speed limits; memorize math facts, formulas, etc.–make up funny fact association rhymes like “12 and 12 is 24, get out the eggs and shut the fridge door.”
  • Play “store”–save up empty containers; use play money.
  • With food: Helping bake and measure; Cooking; Counting out the number of fruits on the plate (like grapes or blue berries) and then doing simple addition and subtraction gives a concrete visual of concepts; setting the table (how many utensils, etc. are needed for X number of people).
  • Keep inexpensive crafty items handy (you can get great deals on basic supplies at sales of leftover school supplies in mid-September; also save scraps from your own projects, left-over wrapping paper, packaging boxes, etc.): crayons, markers, paper, glue, various kinds of tape, rulers, scissors, etc. A great birthday or Christmas gift is a box full of bits and pieces–or a trip to the Dollar Store or a good sale, at which the children can choose the bits and pieces of “crafty” items they like (you can set cost limits, point out better deals, help them compare, avoid pre-made kits, etc.).

Some Real Life math:

  • Take along a calculator to the store and let the kids add up the prices of items; compare the difference between prices of different brands; calculate taxes; etc.
  • Open bank accounts for the kids and have them deposit a portion of each week’s allowance. Have them make “wish lists” (record prices from flyers, catalogues, shopping trips) and set up budgets from their allowances. Involve the kids in basic family budgeting sessions.
  • Plan road trips (or other travel) together–distances, costs (gas, flight or boat costs, hotels, etc. Find tourist activities (museums, etc.) that have mathematical applications. Even at theme parks, talk about design features of rides, etc., and how math is involved.
  • Use cash (rather than debit/credit cards) for shopping and have the kids figure out which bills and coins to use.
  • Sewing using simple patterns–how much fabric is needed, what will it cost, what size, etc.?
  • Involve the kids in gardening, constructing a shed or other outdoor furnishings, and so on–they can help measure, hammer nails, screw, etc. If you are getting them a dog, build a dog house together (make plans, determine amount of materials needed, shop together, build together).

Technology/Commercial “learning” products (minimal use):

  • There are lots of free or low-cost computer/tablet/smart phone learning games–reserve as rewards for homework completed, etc. and no more than 10 or 15 minutes once or twice a day.
  • Cuisenaire Rods; Geo stix; Inchamals; other “learning tools” — but use more for exploration and fun. If you are homeschooling, you can use them to illustrate theoretical concepts in the math program you use, but remember that counting, grouping, patterning, etc. can easily be done with what you have around the house: coins, pasta pieces, game pieces from table games, toys, and so on.

Are you wondering … how is all of this math? How can I use these things to teach math? What about my older children? Check out some more precise ideas here.
And check out the links to the many different math ideas under the math tips section here.

Your turn: What family fun math ideas do you recommend? Be sure to share them in the comments section!

Posted in adventures & explorations, art and learning, home learning, learning games, life-long learning, math games and activities, math manipulatives | Comments Off on Everyday Math Fun for Families

Strategies for Home Spelling Study

Many schools are using “Word Sorts” these days for teaching spelling. If you are wondering how you can help your child study his or her school spelling list, whether it is Word Sorts or any other method–or if you are teaching spelling at home–here are some strategies to improve spelling understanding and memory:

  • If doing “Word Sorts”: cut out the words and set them on the table in their groups. Discuss the reason for the groupings, such as the “spelling rule” that applies to each group. Explain and write down the “rules” for each group (example: CVC: short o sound; CVCe: magic/silent e makes the vowel say its name; CVVC: when 2 vowels go walking the first one does the talking and says its name and the 2nd one stays silent. Note: C refers to consonants and V to vowels).
  • Once the words are in their spelling categories, further sort them by rhyming words and/or other similarities. Then glue them onto a new sheet of paper as you have sorted them out, being sure to label each group, and even write the rule with the group.
  • Copying and dictation: On a sheet of lined paper, write the group labels at the top, then write the words in their groups for practice. First, do this by having the child copy the words; then do it by dictating the words in their groups; then dictate the words “mixed up” and have the child figure out which group to put them in.
  • Sentences, quotations, and song lyrics: When dictating words, always make up a sentence that clearly uses each word. Say the word, then the sentence, and then the word again. If possible, make the sentence interesting and relevant to the child’s life. Humour is always good. You can even quote a line from a poem you both know, or sing a line from a song that contains the word.
  • Rhyming spelling patterns: Think of non-list words that rhyme with the words in the list and have the same spelling pattern. Practice these similar words in groups–it will make it easier to remember the list words and the child will be learning several other words at the same time. When similarily spelled words are grouped together, they are easier to remember (e.g. road, load, toad; boat, goat, coat, float).
  • Create sentences that use the words. If you can combine at least 2 of the words in one sentence, it is even more useful, but a sentence for each word is also fine. Write the sentence, and underline the spelling list word(s). Under the list word(s), draw a little sketch. Long-term memory works much better by making associations, so drawing a picture and creating a sentence are both ways to build memory associations. If the sentence is funny, or rhymes, all the better. If the child can create the sentences and/or come up with the sketches him- or herself, it’s even more effective.
  • Silent letter combinations: For example, “knock” starts with the silent letter “k” in the common consonant combination “kn”. There are quite a lot of “kn” words such as knight, know, knowledge, knee, knack, knave, knit and so on. A fun thing to do, which helps with memory, is to write the words lined up one below the other, with the common letters lined up clearly. Then write a sentence (ideally a funny one) that uses as many of those words as possible. If you have a lot of words, use them to write a funny story. By learning words in “groups” like these, more associations are made (and the student also learns other similar words besides the list word).
  • Word history: Oh! And tell the child that in the old days, the “kn” words actually had the “k” sound pronounced. It is fun to practice saying these words with the “k-n” sounds and will help with remembering how to spell them. Looking up the history of words is another great way to help children remember the spelling, as a good dictionary will explain the etymology and development of a word (and its spelling).
  • Listening: While on the topic of “knock”: If a word has a “sound” associated with it, that also helps. So, for example, spell “knock” aloud while knocking on the table or door while saying and/or writing each letter in the word.
  • Taste and Smell and Colour: You can also use other “senses” to help make associations that will help the child remember how to spell a word. For example, if learning to spell “orange,” you could have the child TASTE an orange; SMELL an orange, and COLOR a picture of an orange. The senses of taste and smell create very strong memory associations.
  • Words in context: For words which are frequently used in a certain context, such as STOP signs, point the word out when you see it in context. Later, tell your child to close his or her eyes while spelling the word aloud, and “visualize” the word in its context.
  • Consonant blends: For words that start with a consonant blend (two consonants that are blended together to make a new sound), you can make good use of groups of words that use that blend (eg. drop, drag, drain, dry, etc.)
  • Oddball words: If you are using “word sort” style spelling lessons, to help with the “oddball” words (words which don’t follow the usual spelling rules, such as “love”–which has “o” for the “u” sound–and “one” which sounds like “wun”!), discuss WHY they are “oddballs.” Try to think of various other words that follow this kind of oddball pattern (e.g. love –> dove, glove … you can also point out other words that have the same pattern but make a different sound such as “cove, rove, stove, wove”, and even “move”, if the child enjoys these kinds of “exceptions” and won’t be confused)  and try to remember them together by using them together in a sentence or story.
  • Homophones and homonyms like “rode” and “road” can be really confusing. It is good to write each one in a sentence in which the meaning is clear. For example: I rode my bike to the store. The road was bumpy. Then try and put them together in one sentence, for example: I rode my bike to the store on the bumpy road. While doing so, illustrate the sentence!
  • Texture: For a “texture” type word like “rough,” the student can feel a rough surface while spelling the word aloud.
  • Speech and Listening: It is important to say and spell words aloud, as well as writing them, as this way you are using the senses of speech and hearing. Also, listening to another person spell the word aloud, and then spelling it together can help.
  • “Muscle memory” works really well for some kids. I already mentioned associating “knock” with the action of knocking. A child can also do things like bounce a ball, jump on a trampoline, climb stairs, etc. while spelling words. In fact, they don’t even have to be words that are action words; just the fact of involving the body in the spelling process can be effective. But of course associating an action word like “jump” with actual jumping would work very well.
  • Singing or chanting spelling works really well for some students. They can use a simple tune like those of nursery rhymes, and repeat the spelling with the tune. Or they can instead use a rap beat to chant the spelling.
  • Using different writing tools can also help. Pencil and paper, markers on whiteboard or chalk on a blackboard, using ones arm and hand to spell the word in the air, paint and paintbrush, finger paint, tracing the word in sand or in whip cream, and so on are very helpful for some children.

I hope these spelling strategies will be a help for your child (and maybe to adults in the home who still struggle with spelling, too).

You can find links to lots of related information on phonics, spelling, reading and writing on this page: http://penandpapermama.com/home-education-tips/  under the topics of “Tips to help you tutor your child at home: Reading” and “Tips to help you tutor your child at home: Writing.”

Posted in home learning, learning tips, Phonics, spelling, vowel sounds | Comments Off on Strategies for Home Spelling Study

Improve your tutoring to better support your student

On Quora.com, I was asked what to do when a tutoring student has continued to have difficulty, has failed the exam being tutored for, and still wants more tutoring. You can read my full answer on Quora, but I will also post it in two parts here on my Pen and Paper Mama tutoring and learning blog. The first post focuses on possible reasons students fail tests, even with tutoring, and what a tutor should do next. This post will help you, as a tutor, to analyze your tutoring and hopefully be more successful in the future.



As your student’s tutor, besides thinking of why your student is not succeeding as well as hoped, you also need to analyze if perhaps your tutoring has been inadequate in some way, then figure out how to support him in future. This will require some serious self-examination, followed by a discussion between the two of you, and it may also be helpful if you can discuss your student’s test results (as well as classroom participation and homework completion) with the teacher and possibly with his parents. Here are some possibilities to consider:

1. Tutoring session preparation and progress:

Although your student may have attended tutoring sessions faithfully, did he come prepared with work to do, or did you just go ahead and assign work when he arrived? Did you ask him to email you his class assignments or homework before the lesson so you could prepare adequately? Did you check his progress since his previous tutoring session, at the start of each new tutoring session? Did you discuss your concerns with him, and then with his parents or teacher, if needed? Did you just “stick to the academics” or observe his ongoing progress, attitudes, and other issues, and deal with them as they came up?

2. Understanding your student’s needs:

Did your student know the “basics” of the subject before he started his tutoring sessions? Are you sure? Did you take time to analyze any learning issues he might have, such as gaps in basic knowledge which needed to be covered before even starting to work on current content? Did you ask to see previous report cards, and possibly IEPs (individual educational plans) and related documents? You may not always be able to access all these documents, but even seeing some of them, or discussing such issues with parents and/or teachers can be helpful as you plan future tutoring lessons. If you simply went ahead and focused on current work and/or direct preparation for the specific exam, perhaps you missed out on some pertinent information that would help with the tutoring.

3. Involvement of your student’s learning team–and regular reporting on your part:

Do you keep in close contact with parents and/or teachers? Do you send out a short email report after each tutoring session to inform them of what you have covered, let them know of any issues you’ve observed, and ask any relevant questions? Yes, this can take a bit of extra time, but it will improve your tutoring, build your reputation as a tutor, build important relationships with the student and other members of his learning team, give the parents good ideas on how to help the student study at home, let the teacher know how you are supporting the student’s learning, provide yourself with a written record to refer to in similar situations in future–and of course help your student pass his exams.

4. Becoming an independent, motivated learner:

Are you sure that your student understands your directions? Do you perhaps help him go through each problem step by step, but then fail to have him do a few questions on his own to make sure that he is really “getting it”? Are you perhaps “helping him” too much? As his tutor, your job is to help him become a strong, independent, self-motivated learner. You may need to back off a bit with your “help” and insist on him taking a bit more responsibility.

5. Previews as well as reviews:

At the beginning of each session, do you have your student try out a couple sample questions based on the previous lesson, and a couple questions based on the new material you intend to introduce in this new lesson–and then observe how he approaches them? If you just start right into tutoring/teaching, you may be providing information or skills he already knows or may be missing out on basic information and skills that he needs extra preparatory help with. Previewing is often just as important, and sometimes more important, than new teaching and end-of-lesson reviewing.

6. Relational issues:

Have you had difficulties in your relationship with your student? Since you’ve already worked together for a month, you should know each other well enough to both be honest with each other. Your student may have been holding back from you some of the difficulties he is having outside the tutoring time, or he may have been shy to tell you if your teaching methods and personality have been causing problems for him. You also need to be honest with yourself about any frustrations you have been having with him, such as if he has not been coming adequately prepared for the tutoring sessions. If you are frustrated, your student may be picking up on that and becoming frustrated himself but may feel he can’t say anything as he must treat you respectfully. You can and should encourage reasonable openness and honesty while still being professional.

7. Your ability to meet your student’s needs:

When you agreed to work with your student, were you comfortable that you would be able to help him with the level of work required? Did you later perhaps begin to realize the subject matter and/or his learning issues were more difficult than you expected? What did you do at that point? If you carried on with the tutoring, but were stressed, could that have affected both your interactions and your tutoring ability? Should you perhaps at this point refer him to someone else who can help him better, rather than continuing to tutor this student yourself? Or could you take some time to improve your own skills so you can tutor him more successfully?

Posted in become a better tutor, self-evaluation as a tutor, tutoring | Comments Off on Improve your tutoring to better support your student

When your tutoring student needs more help with exams

On Quora.com, I was asked what to do when a tutoring student has continued to have difficulty, has failed the exam being tutored for, and still wants more tutoring. You can read my full answer on Quora, but I will also post it in two parts here on my Pen and Paper Mama tutoring and learning blog. This post focuses on possible reasons students fail tests, even with tutoring, and what a tutor should do next. The next post will help you, as a tutor, to analyze your tutoring and hopefully be more successful in the future.

Why, after the tutoring you have already done, did your student still fail the test? Here are some possible issues and some ideas on how to overcome them:

1. Inadequate studying and/or lack of energy:

How heavy is your student’s schedule? Does he work, participate in sports and hobbies, take several difficult subjects, or have family or other responsibilities that interfere with study time? If he has a very busy or distracting schedule, can you help him set up goals, priorities, and a practical schedule?

2. Study skills:

Does your student lack adequate knowledge of study skills? A couple of tutoring sessions focused on specific study skills such as organization, research, notetaking, and summarizing can make a big difference in test preparation and success. (Check out my website series on organization, time management, priority setting, and other study skills and techniques for more details. )

3. Lack of suitable space for studying:

Is your student’s homework space too loud or occupied by too many other people? Does he try to watch TV, listen to music, or constantly check his smartphone while studying? Is there too much chaos in his environment? Can you help him find a quiet study corner such as at the library, or set up a quiet corner at home? Can you encourage him to turn off electronic distractions such as TV, radio, his smartphone, and internet connections on his computer?

4. Difficult classroom environment:

What is your student’s classroom environment like (and for that matter, his tutoring environment)? Can he focus on his learning? Does the classroom teacher have time to help individual students? If the environment is not ideal, could he meet individually or in small groups with the teacher or an EA (educational assistant) or a peer tutor at school during breaks before, between, or after classes?

5. Anxiety issues:

Exam anxiety can cause even the most academically prepared student to fail an exam. Take some tutoring time to discuss methods to overcome anxiety, such as a good night’s sleep before the exam, no last-minute binge study, a healthy breakfast and/or lunch that includes “brain foods,” relaxation techniques such as meditation or yoga, calming music (without lyrics), and no “screen time” within 1 to 2 hours before bedtime or in the 1/2 hour to hour before the test. Time spent on relaxation techniques can be valuable in making that academic knowledge stick.

6. The test covered material he was not prepared for:

Did your student receive an outline from the teacher on the material that would be included in the test? If he has a textbook on which the test is at least partly based, and/or handouts from the teacher, has your student been trained in study methods using these materials (for example: use of methods like SQ3R and KWL, note-taking, use of headings, and creating and answering questions from the text)? Did the test cover material only from class time, or was your student expected to do extra outside reading, research, and study which he may not have done, or at least had not done sufficiently? These are issues you can discuss with him before carrying on with the actual subject tutoring. If your student lacks these skills, teaching them to him can be as important as the time spent on the actual course content.

7. Tutoring time preparation:

Did your student bring his everyday classwork with him to the tutoring lessons so you could see what he was covering in class? Did your student check with the teacher regularly to ensure he was covering the correct material? If you, as the tutor, had any questions about the test, did you also contact the teacher?

8. Test questions that all or most students did not expect:

Do a bit of investigation to find out if other students had similar difficulties with the test. What kinds of materials were in the test that weren’t covered in the class? Perhaps a group of students can to together to the teacher and respectfully discuss that (and, if necessary, go to the school counsellor or administration if this is a serious, ongoing issue). Also, when helping your student prepare for the next test, together think carefully about the unexpected material in the previous test and then think of what kind of “unexpected” questions might be asked on the upcoming test.

9. Inadequate presentation of the material by the teacher:

Sometimes a teacher knows the subject matter very well, but is lacking in some area of teaching skills, may have a heavy accent the student doesn’t understand, may be culturally unaware of his students’ situation, or may not be adequately trained to deal with special needs. Can you meet with the teacher in a non-confrontational way and make suggestions on how he or she might deal with your student’s specific issues?

10. Your student is not engaged in his learning:

Does your student pay attention in class, attend regularly, and do homework on time? Discuss this first with the student, and then with the teacher and parents if needed. If the student is not engaged in his learning, why might that be? A lack of interest in the subject? Distractions in the classroom or in other parts of his life? Possible learning differences? Try to help the student figure out his issues and help him to come up with solutions.

11. Difficulty with specific kinds of test questions:

While your student may have studied the test material itself, did he have difficulty with particular question formats, such as multiple choice, true/false, sentence/ paragraph/ essay answers, questions which require memorized skills such as formulas and math facts, questions which require creation and/or use of graphs and charts, and so on? If possible, have your student bring you his test; in fact, he can bring a variety of quizzes and tests from various subjects and leave them with you. Then you can analyze what question formats he needs help with, and really focus on guiding his development of those skills. Many times, “practice tests” are available from the teacher, or online based on the specific subject and location, which you can use in tutoring sessions to help him prepare for test-taking.

12. Special needs:

Is it possible your student has learning differences such as dyslexia, autism, FASD, ADHD or other special needs? Has your student been tested and/or diagnosed? Has he had ongoing learning issues over the years? If so, during school tests he may be able to have adaptations such as having a scribe read the questions to him and/or write down his dictated answers, be allowed extended test time, do practical examples rather than giving theoretical answers, or take the test in a quiet office area. Such adjustments can make his test-taking more successful.

13. Medical issues:

Poor eyesight, hearing problems, chronic pain, and medications (prescribed or self-medicated) can interfere with learning and testing. Often these kinds of issues are undiagnosed, but a good medical checkup with follow-up treatment can make a big difference.

14. Mental health issues:

In the one-to-one relationship between a tutor and student, you may notice symptoms that others may not have picked up on, or the student may more easily confide in you. While you cannot diagnose and treat the student yourself except in providing basic support and encouragement, you can refer the student to professionals who are in a position to help: the school counsellor/psychologist, social workers, medical specialists–and of course, his parents.

15. ESL, cultural differences, PTSD, discrimination:

In today’s world, as people move from place to place, not only may a student face challenges with learning a second language and adapting to cultural differences, he may also be a refugee from a war-torn nation, be facing religious or racial discrimination, and be trying to work through personal issues such as gender and sexual issues. A student may also be facing various kinds of abuse outside of (or even within) the learning environment. These are not easily solved problems, but if you suspect they are issues your student may be facing, you can discuss them with him on a basic level, then refer him to appropriate professional help and/or community or school programs that may be relevant.

16. Personal attitudes to learning:

Why did your student come to you for tutoring? Was it his idea, or was he being pressured by parents or teachers? If he came under pressure, was he feeling resentful or perhaps just didn’t care and so didn’t study after the tutoring sessions in order to pass his exam? If he still feels this way, is it worthwhile to continue tutoring? Can you discuss his feelings with him and help him change his attitude? If not, can you meet with parents and teachers and search together for solutions?

17. Parental attitudes toward learning:

By the way, it is wise to discuss with the parents their goals in having their child tutored, and find out if they have any strong feelings about your position as a tutor. If they insist that you “stick to academics” and not get involved in “personal issues,” you may need to decide if you are comfortable with that. You should be honest with them about your tutoring approaches and goals, so that if they are not comfortable with your methods they can find another tutor whom they feel they can work with better.

18. Learning styles:

Different students learn in different ways. Some students excel in theoretical reading and writing, while others are more “hands-on” and practical. Some students have strong skills in areas such as music, drawing or other arts, oral expression (listening and speaking), and so on. Perhaps your student has difficulty with the format of the testing (and even the classroom presentation) of the teacher. Can you experiment with different ways of presenting the material to the student? If you find a way that really seems to work, why not share your insights with the teacher, who may be willing to use some of those methods during classes and in testing.

Posted in adaptations, anxiety, exam tips, learning differences/disabilities, learning styles, parent-child relationships, scheduling, special needs, study skills, tutoring | Comments Off on When your tutoring student needs more help with exams

Back from holidays and answering tutoring questions

It’s been a month since I last posted here–I’ve had a wonderful, totally-electronics/screen free holiday on beautiful Quadra Island, and then had children and grandchildren visiting here in the sunny south Okanagan. And now I’m back to doing some summer tutoring, along with writing and editing.

I’ve also been answering several in-depth tutoring questions on quora.com — some of which I’ve worked on at a new local “Write-In” where writers meet at a cafe for a couple hours of focused writing time together. It turns out that I can really focus in that kind of environment–so I’ve produced lots of tutoring information which I’m also going to share here on my penandpapermama blog! Keep posted 🙂


Posted in tutoring, writing | Comments Off on Back from holidays and answering tutoring questions

Efficient Learning: How to Focus


This is the twelfth–and final!–post in the series “Organization, Time Management, and Priority Setting for Students.” For a complete listing of the posts, check out the topic on the Home Education Tips links page.

In the previous post, “Efficient Learning Using Tutoring and Other Help,”  we discussed how tutors, teachers, and parents can help you make your learning more efficient, and how you can participate most effectively. Today we’ll look at some practical tips on how to focus effectively on your learning and studying.

You can make more efficient use of your time if you learn to focus well. Here are 5 things to do if you’re having a hard time focusing :

  • If you’re bored: Plan to reward yourself with something you like once you’ve finished studying–maybe a fun activity or a tasty snack.
  • If you’re hyper: Get some exercise before studying and/or do pushups or jumping jacks between questions. Maybe get someone to quiz you while you shoot your hockey puck at a goal or jump on a trampoline. Record your notes and listen to them while jogging, biking, or hiking. If you’re just a bit fidgety, handwrite your work instead of typing, or stretch a rubber band or bounce a ball while you think of an answer.
  • If you’re tired: Take a 15- to 20-minute power nap (longer may not help!). Or take a 10-minute power walk (someplace cool) to rev up your brain. If you’re exhausted, go to sleep early and wake up earlier than usual after a good sleep.
  • If you’re busy: If you over-schedule yourself, you’ll feel swamped. Redo your schedule, removing less important things and setting priorities. Do keep some fun activities so you still have things to look forward, but remember that studying is really important.
  • If you’re distracted: Find a quiet study spot away from distractions like electronics, noisy people, and views of interesting activities and sights. Turn off your phone, the internet on your computer (unless you really have to use it to study), and music with vocals. If you’re distracted by problems or thinking of things you need to do, stop for a couple minutes and jot down a to-do list or some ideas to solve your problem.

Many times, some really simple solutions will help improve your focus:

  • Make sure you have a glass of cold water handy so you don’t get thirsty.
  • You might want to have a healthy snack handy. Some great brain food snacks are green tea, boiled eggs, wild salmon (dried or smoked), walnuts, dark chocolate, acai berries–in small snack-size quantities.
  • Before studying, use the washroom, wear comfortable clothes (but not so cozy they’ll put you to sleep!), and set the thermostat at a comfortable level.
  • If you’re a morning person, wake early and study then when your mind is fresh and clear; if you’re a night owl, work in the evening (but avoid screen use right before bed).
  • Try giving yourself some positive encouragement: “I know I can do this!” or words to that effect.

If you’re still having trouble focusing, try to analyze the reason(s) and then figure out solutions to your issues. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from parents, a teacher, counsellor, doctor, tutor, or other professional.

  • not being prepared to read and study;
  • a lack of interest in the material;
  • material that is too difficult;
  • lack of motivation;
  • lack of a suitable goal;
  • anxiety;
  • health issues such as hearing difficulties, sight problems, chronic pain, health problems that cause exhaustion, hyperactivity, and so on.

Now it’s your turn:

Which of these ideas could you put to use? What other ideas can you come up with? Please share your thoughts in the comments. Thank you!

Posted in health and learning, homework tips, organizational skills for learners, scheduling, study skills, studying tips, time management skills for learners | Comments Off on Efficient Learning: How to Focus

Efficient Learning Using Tutoring and Other Help

This is the eleventh post in the series “Organization, Time Management, and Priority Setting for Students.” For a complete listing of the posts, check out the topic on the Home Education Tips links page.

In the previous post, “Learning Methods, Health Issues, Family Responsibilities,”  we discussed how learning methods, health issues, and family responsibilities can affect efficient learning and what you can do about it. Today we’ll take a look at how tutors, teachers, and parents can help you make your learning more efficient, and how you can participate most effectively.

Make the Best Use of Tutoring Time:

If you have a tutor for a particular subject–or two or three subjects–make efficient use of your tutoring time. Bring the exact materials you need. Never come empty-handed and say, “Oh, I forgot my math textbook” or “Oops, I left my half-finished essay at home.” And don’t bring along work from other subjects, unless you contact the tutor ahead of time and get permission. If you have a specific topic you want to discuss, a quick email to the tutor a day or two ahead of the lesson can allow the tutor to prepare effectively, gathering helpful material, making a list of suggestions/ideas, and so on. Tutoring time needs to be focused learning time, not to mention that it is generally quite expensive–so you don’t want to waste it!

How Can Your Parents Be Involved Effectively?

If your parents want to talk with your teacher or tutor about your learning needs, it should generally be done in a planned meeting time, not during class/lesson times (nor directly before or after, either, as the tutor or teacher probably has other students or other important work scheduled). It would be good for you to talk the situation over separately with the teacher/tutor and with your parents, then all meet together to find a solution.

Sometimes students feel that their concerned parents may be interfering in some way with their learning, or disrupting their schedule. If this is a problem for you, see if you can talk about it to a school counselor (or, if you aren’t in school, with another counselor or trusted adult friend) who can help you present your needs and views to your parents in a professional and caring, patient way, and together you can all come up with some solutions.

A Tutor Can Help You Find Gaps or Inefficient Habits in Your Learning:

Sometimes your study problems might be as simple as a “gap” in your learning or a “skill” you are missing or even some little “habit” you need to overcome (like mispronouncing words habitually, and therefore spelling them incorrectly). A teacher or a good tutor can sit down with you, go over your work, and quite quickly notice the small things you’re missing that are making everything else so difficult. It might be something as basic as not knowing how to regroup or not knowing the order of operations in math. It might be you need a review of how to write a clear sentence and avoid run-on sentences. With this help, you can fill in those gaps in your learning, and the more difficult work will soon fall into place. Don’t be embarrassed to ask for this kind of help. It can make a huge difference in your success.

Now it’s your turn:

Which of these ideas could you put to use? What other ideas can you come up with? Please share your thoughts in the comments. Thank you!

Coming soon: More Tips on How to be more efficient in your learning:

  • How to focus
Posted in learning tips, parent-child relationships, scheduling, study skills, tutoring | Comments Off on Efficient Learning Using Tutoring and Other Help

Learning Methods, Health Issues, Family Responsibilities — and Efficient Learning

This is the tenth post in the series “Organization, Time Management, and Priority Setting for Students.” For a complete listing of the posts, check out the topic on the Home Education Tips links page.

In the previous post, “Healthy Tips for Efficient Learning,”  we discussed some practical tips on how taking care of your health–eating, exercise, brain breaks, and sleep–can make you a much more efficient learner. Today we’ll focus on how learning methods, health issues, and family responsibilities can affect efficient learning and what you can do about it.

Learning methods:

If you are really short of time and you feel that there is a lot of wasted time in school classroom situations, and if you are a strong self-motivated learner, consider whether learning from home (self-directed or through an online school) could help you complete your learning in less time and more efficiently.

On the other hand, if you are already engaged in home learning but find it really hard to self-motivate and self-direct, would a more structured program through an online school, or even going to an actual school, help you make better use of your learning time?

Health issues and family responsibilities and expectations:

Sometimes students have health issues that interfere with learning time. Or they have extra home responsibilities as their parents are ill or have to work long hours just to keep the family going. Or the students themselves may have to work to help support the family (this is different than working just to have your own spending money for enjoyment). In these situations, you may have to decide whether the timing of your learning goals is realistic. Here are some possibilities:

  • Could you get permission to take only core subjects for the time being, and use the extra time you’d use with “electives” for study time for the core subjects?
  • Could you find a job that has a higher hourly wage so you can work less hours for the same income, or cut back your hours to provide just enough income that meets the family’s true needs?
  • If you are required to do home responsibilities like childcare, could you check out activities your younger siblings or your own children could attend a couple times a week (like children’s hour at the library or a kid’s club–there are a number of community organizations such as churches or service clubs who may offer free or very low-cost activities), freeing up some study time for you? Even if you have to take the kids there and home again, take along your study work and do it in a corner.
  • Sometimes, especially for home-learners, but also possibly for school learners, your parents (or even you yourself) may provide a workbook or other learning material or topic that they think is really interesting, or is important for personal development or religious beliefs, but is not directly connected to the learning you really need to focus on at the moment. See if you can get permission to put those “extras” aside for the moment, and really focus on what must be done to meet your learning goals and deadlines.
  • If your parent tends to hover over you while you are studying, usually they are trying to be helpful, but for many students, this can be distracting and frustrating. If this is a problem for you, see if you can spend the first two or three minutes of the study time discussing the upcoming work, and the last two or three minutes going over with it. This will show your parents that you are really focusing on your work, and that you appreciate their care. And if you really do need help, ask them if you can be allowed to work independently (in another room, for example) on the work you can do yourself, but assure them that you’ll call if you need help.

Now it’s your turn:

Which of these ideas could you put to use? What other ideas can you come up with? Please share your thoughts in the comments. Thank you!

Coming soon: More Tips on How to be more efficient in your learning:

  • Tutoring and other help
  • How to focus
Posted in education, health and learning, homework tips, organizational skills for learners, studying tips, time management skills for learners | Comments Off on Learning Methods, Health Issues, Family Responsibilities — and Efficient Learning

Healthy Tips for Efficient Learning

This is the ninth post in the series “Organization, Time Management, and Priority Setting for Students.” For a complete listing of the posts, check out the topic on the Home Education Tips links page.

In the previous post, “Practical Tips for Efficient Learning,”  we discussed some practical tips, such as planning ahead, knowing your personal learning patterns, organization, alternative ways to learn, and scheduling, to help you become a more efficient learner. In this post, we’ll focus on how taking care of your health–eating, exercise, brain breaks, and sleep–can make you a much more efficient learner.


Healthy Eating Habits

  • When you wake in the morning, have a good breakfast to get you going. Eat healthy foods; don’t rely on coffee and sugar, which just cause you to crash after the initial fix.
  • On the topic of snack breaks, make sure they are just short, light, healthy snacks. Avoid sugary or caffeinated treats. Schedule your meals at set times, and take a good half-hour to eat a healthy, well-rounded meal, preferably at the dinner table with others, enjoying their company and conversation, and with screens (TV, phone, etc.) turned off. Make your mealtimes into friendly face-to-face people times as much as possible. (And leave your studying behind during these important times).
  • If you need to help with cooking/preparation of meals and clean-up after, schedule that as well–but don’t try to squeeze it into your mealtime itself.
  • If you must eat by yourself, turn on some enjoyable music or listen to a podcast or radio program you find interesting or entertaining. Or maybe you can schedule your meals at the same time as a friend, and you can both video Skype, chatting (and seeing!) each other as you eat. Prop up your screen across the table as if the other person was actually sitting over there; don’t put it within reach, tempting yourself to do texting, social media, etc. Other than that, avoid screens!
  • Get out of bed at least an hour before your school work time. Have a shower. Get dressed in real clothes (even if you’re a home learner). Eat a healthy breakfast before your study time–and allow a half hour for the food to have time to invigorate your mind and body. Include carbs, protein, dairy and fruit or veggies in your breakfast (eg: whole wheat toast with peanut butter, cheese or milk, grapes or carrot sticks). If all this takes more than an hour, get up a bit earlier.

Good Sleep

  • Sleep well. Teens need, on average, a good 9 to 10 hours of sleep a night. Turn off all screens an hour before bedtime, as screen light before bedtime can be very disruptive to your sleep. Don’t do vigorous exercise or drink coffee or other caffeinated drinks after supper, and save your “lighter” homework for the hour before bedtime.
  • Read something soothing such as poetry or a calm kind of novel, or watch a calm TV program such as a documentary rather than a drama. Do some assigned reading, curled up comfortably in bed, with a small lamp or book lamp (rather than a bright light) to signal your body it is nighttime.
  • Leave your cell phone, etc. outside your bedroom. If you wake in the middle of the night, don’t just toss and turn and get stressed; listen to some quiet music without lyrics or read some poetry with a small lamp for about 15 to 20 minutes, then try to go to sleep again.
  • It is better, if you must, to cut short your scheduled sleep time on the morning end than on the evening end, as the first few sleeping hours (especially before midnight) are most important to good sleep. It might seem hard at first to get up early, but within two or three weeks it will become easier; make sure you do it daily (with maybe one sleep-in day per week) and your body will adjust, and you’ll be in much better learning shape.


  • Get exercise and fresh air. A healthy body produces a healthy brain–and you’ll learn so much more efficiently. An hour or two of extra sleep per night and healthy eating could result in many hours of a more active brain and more efficient learning.
  • Before learning, get some exercise. That might be something like situps and stretches, or a walk around the block or a quick bike ride. Walk to school rather than take a bus or car ride (or at least get off the bus a couple stops before the school). If you are a home learner, make sure to do some other kind of exercise before learning. You’ll learn so much more efficiently.
  • And during learning, take some exercise breaks:

Brain Breaks

  • How much time can you work efficiently without getting distracted or bored? Half an hour? Forty-five minutes? When that happens, take a little (no more than 5 minute) brain break. Do some stretches. Have a glass of water or juice. Have a healthy snack (a piece of fruit, for example). Go for a speed-walk around the block in the fresh air.
  • But don’t do things that could stretch into more time–checking and/or answering texts, emails, social media, things like that. In fact, turn your cell phone right off, turn the TV right off, turn the computer off or use software that doesn’t allow you online for a set amount of time.
  • If you’re doing online courses, see if you can download the needed information at the beginning of your learning session so you don’t need to be online during learning time.
  • Even if you don’t think you need a break, a short break every half hour or hour will reinvigorate your body and brain, and you’ll work much more efficiently, correctly, and energetically. If you find you are developing a headache or other pain, that is usually a sign that you’re going too long without a break. Schedule regular short breaks and you won’t end up with headaches or tummy aches.

Now it’s your turn:

Which of these ideas could you put to use? What other ideas can you come up with? Please share your thoughts in the comments. Thank you!

Coming soon: More Tips on How to be more efficient in your learning:

  • Learning methods, health issues, family responsibilities
  • Tutoring and other help
  • How to focus
Posted in health and learning, homework tips, learning tips, organizational skills for learners, study skills, studying tips | Comments Off on Healthy Tips for Efficient Learning