My Child Needs Help With Learning But Where Do I Start?

We are all familiar with the feeling of satisfaction that we get after spring cleaning our houses.  So how about doing that with our brains? Research on learning has shown that “clearing out the junk” that is filling our brains can help us to be better learners and this is more important for children.

As a parent, one of the hardest things to decide is where to start, especially if you only vaguely know that your child can’t do maths or can’t write good stories in english.  There will be some gaps in your child’s learning; they will naturally have strengths in some areas and weaknesses in others.  It is these areas of weakness that can give children the feeling of their brain being “full”, so that they don’t have the mental processing powers to learn more.  So what should we do to help our children de-clutter their brains?

1.  Ensure that your child gets plenty of sleep. 

Children need a full night’s sleep to stay mentally alert throughout the school day. All too often, kids are too wired to sleep – they’ve been consuming E numbers, watching TV, playing video games right up to bedtime. There’s so much excitement in the house, that they want to be part of it.  So it’s important to establish a pattern or ritual in the evening that will help them quiet down and go to sleep. Have an established bedtime and stick to it, including during weekends.”  I love this infographic showing the importance of a good nights sleep in children.

2.  Review your child’s learning. 

Testing your child’s learning will help you to identify problem areas and most importantly – where to start.  It is better to concentrate on specific topics rather than teach everything with the hope that it will make some difference.  If there was a hole in a wall, would you rebuild the whole wall or just patch up the hole?   Just patching up the hole saves time, money and energy if done properly, so apply the same principle to your child’s learning.

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You can buy books with test papers in them specific to your child’s age or download resources off the internet.  Discuss the results with your child so that your child knows exactly what they can and cannot do.  Next write out some tragets for your child to aim for.  Once you’ve identified weaknesses, focus on those but only covering up to 3 topics at a time.  This repetition and re-inforcement will give your child confidence.

3.  Break down and classify the information your child needs to learn.

When we de-clutter our houses, we have to break down the task into smaller manageable chunks.  Like tackling one room at a time or sorting out the toys first.  The same goes for de-cluttering information in children’s brains.

  • tackle one subject at a time

  • if the subject is too big, then one topic at a time, for example just “writing” in english or just “arithmetic” in maths.

  • break down what your child needs to know into either “know really well”, “confused” and “don’t know”.

The topics that fall into the “don’t know” category are the ones that will need the most attention.  The aim is to review the list periodically so that topics move from this category into one of the others.

We use this strategy at work and focus on those weaknesses, we fill in those gaps and help the children to build firm foundations for their learning.

When Your Child Needs Help With Reading

I have been fortunate enough to work with many youngsters over the past few years. Many have been academically able and highly motivated and have achieved outstanding results at school. Many have lacked self-belief and have needed encouragement and backing, in order to progress to levels they would not have believed possible. So I have decided to share some of these stories with you and hope to add new case studies on a regular basis.

Do you have a gut feeling that (s)he is not ‘doing fine’?

We are constantly told by mothers who bring their youngsters for assessments that they really regret not having listened to their hearts and trusting their own judgments (often from a year or several years before), rather than listening to those who tell them that their children are ‘doing fine.’ One such mother was 6-year-old Zach’s mother.

Yet when Zach’s mother brought him to me for an assessment, she told me that he didn’t know his numbers beyond 10, and that he didn’t know the 45 high frequency words he had to know in reception year. She tried to help him at home, but didn’t have the expertise and knowledge to do so effectively. Little or no support was given by the school. His mother said the following: “I find it hard to put on paper what I feel in my heart. When I came to see you with my son Zach, I was so worried about him, yet his teacher said that he was doing fine.”

I tested Zach’s reading and discovered it to be at least a year below what it should be and he didn’t understand the concept of calculations in maths. He could count from 0 to 10, but not from 10 to 0, and he couldn’t recognise the difference between 13 and 30.

I decided to concentrate on his reading, and to teach him how to learn and work independently. One of the most striking things was his poor retention. For example, to login onto our computer programmes, children must type in their name with a capital letter and then press “enter” to start. In one lesson, a child can do up to 3 computer based activities which requires the child to follow the same login procedure. It took Zach 8 lessons to remember to do this without waiting for the teacher to prompt him. And I think that this was partly due to his poor memory and partly his over-reliance on adults (parents and teachers).

So, where are we now? Zach’s reading age has improved by 18 months in just 14 weeks, he is able to answer comprehension questions in simple sentences and he is reading more fluently and with expression. He comes to lesson and gets going without being told to, and asks for harder work. His mother can’t believe the transformation and he now holds his head up high. He says that schoolwork isn’t hard anymore. He believes that he can do anything if he tries.

Spend Quality Time With Your Child – Watch TV Together!

This year I have decided to spend more quality time with my family.  And do you know what I will be doing – sitting on the sofa watching TV most evenings and weekends. 

There used to be a time when I would schedule outings and activities every weekend to the extent that it took up most of the week arguing about where to go and what to do.  We went on regular trips to London, museums, parks, ice-skating, picnics and clocked miles and miles on the car milometer. 

All this was in aid of spending “quality time” with the family.  But as I look back on the best of these times, then they were the ones which were spontaneous and natural.  Like the time we ended up going to Namco’s and playing on the games and slot machines.  We only did it because the movie we wanted to see was sold out. 

The most natural thing we do as a family is watch TV together.  When I say watch then I mean as they watch TV in the BBC programme “The Royle Family“.  The TV is on, but we aren’t really watching anything. It is the only time in the day that we actually talk.  The TV just provides a familiar background noise.  And if the whole point of quality time is to get talking, then why not do it in the comfort of one’s own home.

What I Have Learnt About Franchising….

My franchising story started in 2004, when I was browsing on the internet for alternatives to teaching in a classroom and I stumbled across Kip McGrath.  Kip McGrath Education centres provide professional after school tuition in English and maths and the business is a franchise.  Franchising is a practice where a corporation permits another entity to use the company’s already successful business solution. The franchisor and the franchisee enter into a contract to use and capitalize on the company’s successful business solution and/or its existing brand awareness (most often called Goodwill) for a faster return of capital.

Setting up something similar had crossed my mind in the past. But, with all the news about traditional firms closing left and right, the horror prevented me from taking action.  I also knew that I would be copied very easily as the idea and concept was not new and to try to copy for example just the computer programmes that Kip McGrath use would require months of my time.  Private tuition was and still a growing business in the UK and there are a lot of cowboys out there.  By going down the franchising route, I knew that I was part of a bigger organization that already had reputation for providing tuition worldwide.  (Kip is an Australian company and is also in New Zealand, America, South Africa, Singapore, Nigeria and Kenya).  The business model worked and it reduced the chances of failure. 

Kip McGrath is also a recognized brand name and I know that in Luton, where I setup my first centre, it is now the household name for tuition.  But even though the statistics showed it was a successful franchise to run, I still went to my initial interview with about 20 questions which were mainly to do with the contract which I looked through with a fine toothed comb and got a business link mentor to the same for me. 

So what have I learnt?

  1.  Before going into a franchise always ask yourself the question – can I do this without franchising, because if you can then you will save yourselves thousands of pounds in franchise fees.  A good franchise cannot be copied.
  2. How much time will the franchise take? What makes most people decide on purchasing a franchise is the opportunity to run away from the regular 9-5 office job. Owning a franchise is the best way to become one’s own boss. However, purchasing a franchise does not mean a lot of free time for your family and friends. When I opened my first Centre in September 2004, the business took off so quickly that within the first 6 weeks I had to employ another teacher, and was working 7 days a week.  My son and husband were neglected because the hours were evenings and weekends.  Think about how much time you can spare and the impact it will have on your lifestyle.  To make any business successful you have to “work it”.  The more you put into it the more you get out.  And by my nature I’m the sort of person that doesn’t do things by halves, I can’t provide a half hearted service I can’t not be passionate about my business, I can’t stop caring about the children.
  3. Do it for the right reasons.  It would be unrealistic to say that money wasn’t a major factor into helping me decide to setup in business.  I didn’t take a wage from my business for the first 2 years because I re-invested all of the money back into the business. But it wasn’t the main reason.  I didn’t go into it for money, I went for it because I loved teaching, I loved helping worried parents and I loved to see children understand something new in class.  So if you’ve decided to try franchising, but can’t decide what to do then start off by thinking “what is it that I am good at” “why am I doing this”?  Look at the experience?  You might have a dream that there is something you’ve always wanted to do – then do that. 
  4. It’s given me confidence.  I would never have dreamed of speaking to a group of women at such an event as this.  But you know, for the last 2 years I have been a regular guest on the Lorna Milton Show on BBC three Counties Radio.  I am the reading and writing expert and I get such excellent feedback after every show that I thought well I must be doing something right.  And so now I have my own radio show.  It’s a small community radio show run completely by volunteers and I along with my husband do the “Kip McGrath Education Show” every Sunday afternoon at 3 pm. 
  5. I’ve learnt from other franchisees and vice versa.  If you have your own business you have to go out there and try different things to help it take off.  But with franchising, if I want to design a new newspaper advert, rather than do it from scratch, I just send an email to all the franchisees and get loads of samples for free.  The most important thing in business is knowing what works and in franchising you get that.  If I want to moan about something business related I just ring up one of the other franchisees and within 10 minutes I’m calm again.  It’s like being in a big family. 

Gareth Malone’s Extraordinary School for Boys

It’s been entertaining watching Gareth Malone trying to teach literacy to this group of primary school boys based in a school in Essex.  

His target was to raise the reading age of boys.  In the first programme he teaches them how to debate, when most of them can’t even construct a logical argument.  In the second programme he teaches them the love for books and reading and in the final episode he tackles writing. 

At first glance it looks like the boys aren’t learning anything and that Gareth is a bad teacher. He’s not textbook, and he has made some classic mistakes like all trainee teachers but eventually he does get through to the boys.  His methods are totally against what is dictated to school teachers because he makes learning fun.  He makes it relevant to the boys’ interests and he praises their smallest achievements.  A lot of these techniques are what I use with my students. 

I encourage the children to try a new way of working out a maths problem, I encourage them to take many small steps to reach their targets and I encourage them to believe in themselves.  Yet I don’t hold their hand and confine them to their desks.  I use a variety of learning materials (including computers) and teach them how to work independently.  That way they feel a sense of achievement through their own efforts. 

But my parting questions are:

Why has a qualified professional teacher not helped him yet? Why is he not receiving additional input to better his reading skills? Perhaps the teachers haven’t noticed and have just labelled him lazy? Why has it taken a TV personality to come in to the school to notice this?

Investing in Your Child Will Reep Rewards….

Many of us think that exams are everything and that the only way of measuring success is to look at improvement in test results.  I cant deny the importance of exams and they do show what a pupil has learnt, but I want to share a story with you which may change your mindset.

I have been teaching a 6 year old boy called Ali for about 9 months.  He is a bright boy and learns quickly but he hasn’t shown significant improvements in test results.  He lacks confidence and test performance often depends on his mood.  At school he is easily distracted and is under-achieving.

Last term his mother was invited to the end of year school play in which he was performing, but he kept his part in the play a secret.  The 30 minute play was narrated by this little boy, who had been labelled as “the naughty one” in years past.  He had memorised the whole script and kept it a secret from his mother to surprise her.  His teacher had chosen him because she had noticed an improvement in his behaviour and attitude in class.  He was also the best reader in the class.

His mother truely believes that he would never had done this if he hadn’t been tutored to give him the confidence that he needed.  She felt guilty that she was pushing him too much yet she knew that he would benefit from it.