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Low-Cost Summer Programs

March 13, 2014

By Kevin Rutter

Children run through a field holding hands and smiling.

Summer seems like a long way off, but it is never too early to start planning things for your children to do when they are off from school. This is a critical time for kids to engage in activities to supplement their learning at school, learn something new, socialize with their peers, and play.

Growing up, my mom gave me the brochure for summer activities at the local park district and told me to choose one myself or she would choose one for me. I am glad she did because it got me out of the house to meet new friends, exercise, and learn about things I would not have encountered in my daily routine.

As a teacher, I am currently getting letters and emails regarding low-cost summer opportunities for my students from a wide variety of institutions. There are many low-cost summer programs available in your community. Here are some places to start looking:

  • YMCA. They offer day camps, specialty camps, and overnight camps, in addition to daily activities for children.
  • Park districts. Many park districts offer summer day camps that include field trips, learning activities, and sports. They can even cost less than $5 an hour per child!
  • Reading camps at the local library. Your child or teen can join others to read together and discuss books. All they need is a library card.
  • Church camps. Ask your church if they offer youth programs in the summer. These are usually free or discounted compared to other organizations.
  • Local colleges. Local colleges and universities offer various programs for children of all ages, from early childhood daycare to teen theatre programs.

There is an equally large assortment of activities to choose from and different levels of time commitment ranging from a couple of hours on the weekend to overnight summer camps away from home. Do not be scared of these longer overnight camps, as they can be incredible experiences for your child.

Over the years I have had several students who were accepted into really amazing summer camps, only to have the parents say no because they were too afraid to let them go overnight. I strongly encourage parents to let their child attend these types of trips for the experience after checking with teachers, counselors, and program administrators about of the details of the camp including itineraries, safety, and ways to communicate while away.

Summer is a great time to step away from school for your child and great opportunities are out there to expand horizons and develop skills. Feel free to use my mother’s motivational technique: your child chooses an activity outside of the house or you do!


Find Your Child’s Learning Style

March 12, 2014

By Lorena Villa Parkman

Tweens use magnifying glasses to examine objects.

Helping a child with his or her school chores is usually a challenge for parents. There are many things to address in order to help a child be a well-rounded student: time efficiency, best test-taking strategies, smart study tips, and overall helping your child acquire good academic habits.

But even with all of these skills, your child may still need a head start in school, which you can provide through one simple task: understand how he or she learns.

Figuring out your child’s learning style can make his or her education a better experience. Children have different ways of learning, so when parents know their child's best way to learn, they can help him or her more effectively with homework, tests, and overall academic chores.

Test your child

There are many online resources to determine learning styles. Here are some of the best ones:

Study tips for each learning style

Once your child figures out his or her preferred style, you can create a study plan to help him or her understand concepts better.

Include your child’s counselor or teacher

It would be great if each teacher could adapt to the different learning styles that each of their students have, but in today’s school system that is almost impossible. However, sharing this information with your child’s teacher might be useful.

When you talk to your child’s counselor or teacher, let him or her know about your child’s preferred learning style and how this can be taken into account when assigning homework or tests.

If it turns out that even after you have pinpointed your child’s learning style, none of the study strategies are helping, you may want to rule out a learning disability. Seek help from his or her teachers, school staff, or your healthcare provider in order to eliminate this possibility.

Remember that information and engagement is the key to successful education. Knowing your child’s learning strength before you begin a study or educational strategy is important for his or her progress.


My special needs child is falling behind in school. How can I help?

March 7, 2014

By YOU Program Facilitator

F on a test

Question: My daughter is special needs and is falling behind in school. I don’t think she’s getting the extra attention she needs in the classroom. How can I help her succeed?

Answer: With any child, it is important that you as the parent are involved in your daughter’s education. Since she has already been diagnosed as special needs, it is important that you follow up with the school regarding her declining progress. Both public and private schools are required to educate every child who enrolls in them. There are many rules and regulations in place for public and private schools. In either case, to help your school make the best accommodations for your daughter, talk to the administration about adapting your daughter’s curriculum using these five techniques:

  1. Scheduling. The teacher may need to allow your daughter extra time for assignments.
  2. Setting. Your daughter may perform better if she works in a smaller group or one-on-one with her teacher.
  3. Materials. The teacher may need to provide class material in various formats or include extra notes.
  4. Instruction. The teacher may need to reduce the difficulty of assignments or reading requirements.
  5. Student Response. Depending on your daughter’s needs, the teacher may be able to accept her responses in a different format, such as verbally instead of written, or in an outline instead of an essay.

You may also need to speak with the school regarding an Individualized Education Program (IEP), which would provide a different level of special education services. If your child is enrolled in a private school and the above options are not adequate, you will need to speak with your local or state educational agency (LEA or SEA) about further accommodations.

You can learn more about special needs education and an IEP in our YOU: Your Child's First Teacher books, specifically on pages 16-17 in Through Elementary and Middle School and page 23 in Through High School and Beyond.

Do you have a question you would like answered and featured on the site? Submit it here.


Puberty: How and Why to Talk to Your Tween

March 6, 2014

By Amelia Orozco

A preteen boy and girl

It’s unavoidable but something that needs to be done. No, I am not talking about doing your taxes or a getting a yearly mammogram. Albeit, those are much easier to do than talking to your tween about puberty.

Although you may hope someone else does it, you are the best source of information when it comes to talking to your children about puberty and the body and emotional changes that come along with it. Here are a few reasons to consider why having “the talk” with your children is important.

Reason #1 You can control how much you want them to know at that particular time in their life. Break down the talk in phases based on their age, beginning at around age 10. Then determine how much to share with each passing year. This approach will make it less overwhelming for you and your son or daughter.

Reason #2 As children enter their tweens, more than their bodies will undergo changes. It will seem they are on an emotional roller coaster. Their moods will change from one day to another. Their perceptions of others and themselves are altered as they become aware of the changes in their own bodies. Having open discussions with your children will reassure them that what they are feeling is normal and that they should not feel ashamed.

Reason #3 Intercept before the media or their friends do. Skewed images of teens that are unnaturally thin, physically mature, and “perfect” according to media standards are everywhere, from the Internet, TV, and magazines. These images imprint a false sense of expectations, which are difficult or impossible to fulfill. Peers can also be an influence depending on the amount or lack of information they have been given by their own parents or guardians. It is best to well-inform your son or daughter, even using online or library sources to show the biology that explains it all.

How do you get over the embarrassment of talking to your tween? It’s best to find a balance in your role as a parent. Although it may be tempting to be their buddy, it’s important they see you more as a parent and someone who can help them through this difficult time. Depending on the relationship you foster with your son or daughter from a young age, either parent can talk to their tween through this time.

I would recommend asking if they rather talk to their mom, dad, or other relative. In a single parent home, I would recommend this for either boys or girls. Given this choice, children will feel more comfortable asking questions, which should be encouraged so that they do not feel the need to seek answers elsewhere.

I have used The Care and Keeping of You, a book published by American Girl to talk to my daughters about this subject, which includes tips on personal hygiene and feelings. A good book for boys is The Boy’s Body Book: Everything You Need to Know for Growing Up You, by Kelli Dunham.

Amelia Orozco is the senior editor and writer at the Chicago Zoological Society/Brookfield Zoo and a community and entertainment reporter for TeleGuía Chicago. A mother of three, Amelia also maintains an active role in her community and church by working with youth and promoting education and diversity through her writing and volunteer efforts.


My son is smart but doesn’t perform well on tests. How can I help him do better?

February 28, 2014

By YOU Program Facilitator

A student struggles during an exam.

Question: My son is smart and does well in school but doesn't perform well on tests. I'm worried he won't get into good colleges because of his SAT scores. What can I do to help him?

Answer: People refer to this phenomenon as the Poor Test-Taker Syndrome. Don’t worry, it’s not a disease and it can be changed. It requires strategy, practice, and patience.

Try these tips that might help your son perform better on tests:

  1. Practice makes perfect. Create practice tests for your son in the subject he will be tested on. After he completes a test, grade it and let him know which answers were incorrect. However, don’t tell him the right answers. Let him retry the questions he missed and learn the right answers by rereading the text. Keep practicing!
  2. Calm down. Exams are often timed, which can result in anxiety for your son. He might be rushing through the questions and making careless mistakes. Remind him to breathe deeply before the exam starts and remember that he is a great student in class. These exercises should help him focus and remember that he already knows what the test is about.
  3. Learn concepts instead of memorizing. Memorizing is not always useful if your son is under pressure. Help him understand the concepts behind the facts he is studying. After he reads a passage, ask him to briefly summarize what he just read, which will help him understand the concept rather than memorize an answer. If he understands the material, he should perform better on the test.

If none of these strategies are helping your son with his test scores, talk to his teacher, school staff, or your healthcare provider to determine if he has a mild learning disability.

We discuss addressing difficulties, emphasis on critical thinking, and homework support in greater detail in in the YOU: Your Child's First Teacher three-book series. Please refer to pages 50, 66, and 85 in Through Elementary and Middle School for more information.

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