Is your child sitting the 11 plus this year? Are you feeling overwhelmed by your child’s forthcoming 11 plus exams? Here are key tips to help your child prepare.
There is a growing trend in my town. Since starting my education centre 12 years ago, I have seen an exponential increase in children applying to get a place in grammar school. Grammar schools have grown in popularity since the last recession and parents are now more aware of school standards.
The thought is “if I can’t afford to send my child to a private school, I’ll send him to a grammar school even if it is 30 miles away”.
1. Don’t Start Too Late
Cramming for exams doesn’t work and it’s a short-term solution. You should start preparation at least one year before the exam so ideally at the start of year 5. If you leave it too late it will build unnecessary pressure on you and your child. I find that children who start early also adopt a good work ethic. They get into the habit of regular daily study on top of their school work and these skills will be invaluable at grammar school.
2. Build a Good Foundation
Grammar schools take the top 5% of students. For a child to have a good chance of passing the 11 plus exam, I recommend that the child should be in the top set and the top table in both English and Maths. This alone is not enough, children must be keen readers. Reading improves vocabulary and general knowledge. General knowledge cannot be learnt by reading an encyclopaedia, rather it is learnt through experience or through reading around the subject.
3. Involve Your Child In Every Step
A child who is included in decision-making will be more willing to put the work in. It reduces the burden for you too.
looking at the websites of all the grammar schools you want to see
going to school open days
choosing the grammar school
knowing what is going to come up the exams – is it just verbal reasoning or is it more?
taking charge of preparation; your child should be organised and know what to revise
teach your child to mark the practice questions and tests
teach your child to monitor and record scores
4. Use a Variety of Resources
Use worksheets. You can download practice questions by searching “practice 11 plus worksheets”. Worksheets are better in some ways because once you have downloaded them, you can print them as many times as you need.
Use online sites. Online sites like 11plus.co.uk provide online practice tests and exercises and also do mock tests. Wordbuilder is an excellent site for vocabulary practice.
Use practice papers. When doing practice tests, first focus on ensuring that your child answers every question without a time limit. Work on accuracy and technique and let your child familiarise themselves with the different question types. You don’t want your child reading the instructions on how to answer each question in an exam situation, they should just start working it out. After that you can start doing practice tests under timed conditions.
Play games and puzzles. This blog article talks about how you can still practice verbal reasoning skills to keep your child interested.
Experts say that you cannot prepare a child for grammar school because they either have it or they don’t. I’m not here to argue that point, I’m just here to help you help your child. Whether they get into grammar school or not, it’s the journey that matters more than the outcome.
So many parents feel detached from what’s going on at school; and helpless as a result. They don’t really know how things are going, and if they do, there’s often very little can do to influence matters.
The trouble is: this stuff is important. Really important. What your child is doing NOW is likely to have a massive effect on their future. Do you know how well they’re doing right now?
So here are the 5 tell-tale signs that your child is struggling at school:
1. Hates Reading Aloud
If your child hates reading aloud it could indicate that they lack confidence in themselves or their reading ability. It might be that they don’t understand what they’re reading, it could be that they’ve had a bad experience when it comes to reading at school. Whatever the reasoning, a reticence to read aloud can definitely point towards a struggle. Look at your child’s body language when she reads, I notice children fidgeting, rocking, rubbing their eyes, clearing their throat needlessly and even whispering rather than reading aloud.
2. Guesses At Words
If they ARE reading aloud, but they guess at words, it could be that they’re struggling to decode the word and understand what they are reading. Children will see the first letter and guess what it might be, and generally make wild guesses if the book is too hard. In younger children, they don’t even look at the first letter of the word and will choose a word they are familiar with. This can be a big problem at school when the onus is often the child to learn by self-discovery. If you find your child guessing at words there’s a chance that they’re behind and struggling to read material for their age group.
3. Getting Heated
If your normally placid child suddenly starts becoming more aggressive or heated, there’s a very good chance that something is wrong. It’s almost unheard of for a child to just become aggressive for no reason (particularly a child at primary school age), so generally when it happens, something is bothering them – it could well be their studies at school.
4. Works Hard, But Gets Mediocre Marks
One of the clearest signs that your child is struggling is when they seem to put a lot of effort in, but still struggle to get a good return on that work. This could indicate that the way they’re being taught at school doesn’t suit them, or that they’re behind the average for their age group.
5. Takes Ages To Finish Simple Homework Assignments
If your child is taking ages to finish a simple piece of homework – or the dreaded “learning log”, they may well be finding the work too hard or it might be that they are struggling to motivate themselves to complete the piece of work. Either way, there’s an issue there, so if you feel like the work should be completed much more quickly than it is getting done, it’s worth finding out why that’s the case.
Hopefully now you’re in a better position to work out whether your child is struggling at school. If you feel like they are, and you’d like a professional opinion to help you decide what to do, we’d love to talk – call us on 01582 402225 now.
Distractions can come in various forms and can deter students from paying attention in lessons. I believe that all children can lose concentration at times, but some will get distracted more easily than others. The chances are that nearly all parents will answer “yes” to the following questions.
Does your child find it difficult to pay attention?
Is your child easily distracted by what’s going on around them?
Does your child day-dream a lot?
It is a common problem and a worry for many parents and can actually hinder the progress a child makes. In the classroom setting and at my tuition centre, keeping students focused on learning can be a challenging task. However, at Kip McGrath, we have learnt to overcome these sorts of problems by using some very simple techniques.
1. Keep it Short and Sweet
Children have an average attention span of 15 minutes. After this time, they get bored and lose focus. So work solidly for 15 minutes and then make a change. At Kip McGrath, each activity is designed to last 15 minutes, children are then moved onto another activity which uses another type of skill set or study skill.
For example, if you are working with your child at home with reading. You could spend the first 15 minutes reading, and then move onto writing 5 questions to ask the main character in the book, then move onto watching a short video on a scene from the book and then move onto answering some questions to test comprehension. Notice that each of these activities uses a different type of learning skill and therefore takes the boredom out of learning.
2. Remove All Distractions
If you know that your child will be distracted by the phone ringing or by overhearing an advert on TV, then switch them both off! If there are other children in the room, who are also working, then move your child so that interaction between them is minimal. I teach a child who likes to see what other children are doing and is always keen to help them if he knows the answer, so to avoid this, he sits on the other side of the room with his back to them. Another rule we have for children who insist on a toilet break every lesson, is that they must go before the start of the lesson. Grumbling stomachs can be ignored and all equipment must be on the table before work begins. I even have a stash of sharpened pencils in case a child has a blunt one!
3. Set Realistic Expectations
You need to know what your child is capable of and what is expected of his age before you start assuming that your child has problems concentrating. If a child’s work is not set at the right level, then you will either get a child who is bored because the work is too easy or a child who will avoid the work because it is too hard. Pitching it at the right level is key to how we teach children at Kip McGrath. In fact, I use this strategy when working with my own children. I also check on the national curriculum website, what they should know for their age so that I am teaching them what they will cover at school.
One parent who brought their child for help with maths couldn’t understand why their child was struggling with it. He had tried to help at home by getting his 6-year-old to learn all of the times tables by rote. I asked the child to count up in 2’s from the number 24 – he couldn’t. So the child had not understood the concept of times tables or how to work them out. He also didn’t recognise odd and even numbers.
If you find the national curriculum difficult to understand, then invest in some good study books which will summarise what your child needs to know and use them as a guide.
These techniques work very well for us at Kip McGrath, and I have seen many children who find difficulty concentrating at school just thrive in our lessons. Give them a try.
After seeing the remarkable achievements of team GB in Olympics 2012, it made me think about what it takes to make a champion and whether it is possible to transfer these “champion-making” skills to the classroom. As a parent and a teacher, what can I do to make sure that children can achieve up to and if not, beyond their potential.
What qualities does a champion have? Is it down to natural talent or is it due to sheer hard work?
There is no magic formula, but the key ingredients are:
Passion and Enthusiasm
High achievers love what they do, and have a deep respect for it. Whether it’s a sport like Tennis or whether it’s a science project, they will absorb themselves into it. I’m not a champion, but I love Chemistry, and I have such a passion for it that I see chemistry everywhere. I see car number plates as the elements of the periodic table and I see hexagons and benzene rings. Find out what your child likes, what they have a passion for and allow them to follow it.
Even if someone has superior genes, it’s not enough to get to the top. Champions and high achievers actually enjoy working hard, and constantly push themselves to achieve more. In fact, if they are in a situation in which is too “easy” for them, then they will soon get bored and get out. Striving and struggling and working to the extreme limit is what they thrive on. After a bad test result, they are more likely to analyse the test in detail and revise twice as hard to improve. Mo Farah, the winner of the 10,000 metre race, trained 120 miles every week without fail. Children need to see how much hard work goes into making a champion. Show children how much it really takes to make a champion, the hours of hard work, the many failures and the lessons learned.
Champions are extremely focussed and never take their eye off the target. I’ve seen this in many athletes in the Olympics, and when an athlete loses concentration, they lose the game. Being focussed is a fundamental skill for children to learn. It’s easier to focus when there is a target to aim for, so whatever task a child has to do, give them a target. Target driven learning is much more successful.
Ambition and High Aims
Champions know what they want and they aim high. Aiming high allows them to visualise success, and it drives them. But just having ambition is not enough. You will find that Champions have a main target but also lots of min-targets and goals. They adhere to a strict timetable and nothing can get in their way. So if your child wants to climb Mount Everest, then let him have those dreams. It may seem like a pipe dream to you, but don’t discourage your child. Instead help and encourage him to take one step at a time remembering to give rewards for small achievements.
A Love of Competition
Champions are not afraid of losing a game or playing or racing against someone who is better than them. They see competition as part of the struggle to get to the top. They use competitions as opportunities to learn and improve and to gauge their success. Encourage your child to be more competitive.
By competing, they learn how to:
work under pressure
how to stay focussed
how to handle things when they don’t go their way
how to perform in front of other people
The journey to excellence begins with a belief and an attitude that says “no matter what happens, I will and I can do it”. I believe that once a child has this in their heart, then anything is possible. What do you believe?
It’s exam season and most children in school are doing tests or exams. Almost every parent knows what it feels like to know that their child has a test the following morning and their child is not prepared. Just this last week, I have taken double the amount of calls I usually take to put worried parents’ minds at ease. Homework is a common cause of arguments in homes and we’ve all fallen into that trap where parents nag about homework and children ignore……
Does your child expect you to help them with homework? Have you ever done your child’s homework for them because you thought it was too hard? And how do you tread that fine line between helping your child with homework and interfering/doing the homework for them?
Homework has many purposes; the main one I think is to re-enforce what has been learnt in school. It teaches children how to work independently and finally it teaches them to be responsible.
At my centre, we give homework for all of the above reasons and our policy is to allow the children to do their homework without ANY intervention from parents. Parents are encouraged to check that the homework is done and that it is done to a suitable standard, but not to sit with their child while the homework is being done. If a parent has to intervene, then we ask them to highlight or mark the questions they helped with so that we are aware of any areas of difficulty.
Sometimes parents don’t even realise that they are helping. Take the following scenario for example:
Child: Mum I can’t do this question.
Mum: I can’t help you, but I will read out the question for you. The question says “Katie has 5 apples and Tom has 6 apples, how many apples is that altogether?”. So Katie has 5 apples, can you picture that in your brain?
Mum: Good. And Tom has 6 apples, can you picture that?
Child: Good. Now work out how much that is altogether.
Without even realising the parent had broken down this question into simpler words and steps.
When parents do help, then it can cause many problems:
1. The parents try to teach the child their way.
The way that you and I learnt how to do simple arithmetic is totally different to the way it is taught now. For example, the traditional method of adding up is to add in columns, but many schools use the “partitioning” method to teach addition. If your child has been taught partitioning and you are trying to teach them the traditional “column” method (maybe because you think it’s simpler), then you could end up confusing your child. Confusion can lead to mistakes, which can lead to loss of confidence. So ask your child how they work things out at school. Use the method they use at school first and if your child is confident with it, then you can teach your method.
2. The parents have to learn all about the topic first.
This takes time and it is difficult to know what the expectations are. In such cases, the parent’s anxiety can spread to the child. If you don’t know about the topic, then don’t use search engines to gather information so that you can help your child. It’s better to help your brainstorm what they know about the topic and start from there. Teach them how to look up information and develop their research skills instead so that they are the ones looking things up on search engines and not you.
3. The children start to rely on help from parents.
Some children are reluctant to ask their teacher for help at school so they will ask mum or dad because it’s much easier. So a shy child may not have understood what she was doing in class earlier that day, she didn’t ask for help from the teacher and therefore waited until she got home to get mum to explain it better. Encourage your child to ask for help from the teacher first. Be firm and resist the urge to help, and that way, if they don’t get help from you, they are more likely to ask in school.
In contrast, I think that teachers should only set homework that they know the child will be able to do. It mustn’t be too easy either. I have often changed the planned homework at the last minute because I knew that the child was not confident enough to do it by themselves at home.
4. The children learn that at the first sign of trouble, mum or dad will bail them out.
Children need to take responsibility for their own learning. The homework belongs to the child and should be completed by the child. Some children need re-assurance and there’s no harm in explaining how to do the homework so that the child can get started. One parent told me that when her daughter was doing her maths homework, she asked for help. The homework was on long multiplication which involves many steps and so, the mother sat down with her daughter and wrote down all the steps involved. She then sat there until the daughter worked out the second problem correctly. Then she decided to leave the room and within seconds, her daughter said “mum this is too hard, I’m stuck”! The mother still left the room and the daughter completed the rest by herself – CORRECTLY.
5. Parents end up nagging and bullying their children into doing homework.
This can lead to resentment and sets homework in a negative light.
Back To School Toolkit
There are some things that I can’t do without, whether it’s at home or at work in the classroom. These objects have either made my life much easier or have provided fun and inspirational ways of approaching learning. All the items on my list have been tried and tested over the years.
A Decent Dictionary
For many years I used to have a tiny pocket dictionary in the house which was actually a free gift when I opened my first bank account. It was well used and handy as it was small enough to carry around. However, it was just a dictionary and not dictionary/thesaurus, the writing was too small and even after looking up the meaning of a word, I often found it difficult to comprehend.
Things have changed a bit since then. I would definitely recommend getting a dictionary which is also a thesaurus. The ones we use at our centre are by Collins and are available to buy here.
We use these daily to help children who need help with number work. What I love about this one is that you can draw all over it with a dry wipe pen and wipe off again. Every home should have one if they have young children and every primary school should have one too. There are hundreds of ways of using this as a teaching and learning tool. Click here for ideas.
A World Atlas
With the development of “Google Earth”, atlases seem to be going into extinction. But I think that nothing beats turning the pages in an atlas, and looking for places of interest. At our centre, we have a map of the world on the wall, and both children and parents never tire of looking at it. I have this one at home, and its simple and easy to use.
Pictionary is a board game where you have to draw a picture of a word shown on a card. the other players have to guess what it is. But I use it in a different way. I use it to develop vocabulary and thinking skills. Children have to tell me things about the object without saying what it is. It’s not as easy as it sounds, but excellent for getting kids to think. Try this word: engine.
I use playing cards as a visual and kinesthetic stimulus for children doing maths. Here are some great ideas on how to use playing cards to help your child with maths.
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.
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.
If you are helping your child prepare for the 11+ verbal reasoning tests, then try the following games to put in a bit of fun into your schedule. Your child won’t even realise that they are learning skills to pass the 11+ exam.
1. Challenging crosswords – give children exposure to lots of words and therefore can improve spellings. They encourage children to use dictionaries and encyclopaedia’s but with the added benefit of being fun. You can play online here.
2. Suduko is a number puzzle game that children as young as 5 can do. For younger children you can make up grids similar to these. Sudoku improves analytical thinking in children, it teaches them elimination and logical thinking.
3. Scrabble – increases the vocabulary of a child. It teaches spelling skills to children. It enhances the mathematical skills in a child and shows us how adding one new letter can change a word or the entire meaning of a word. It helps develop critical thinking and teaches problem solving skills. It helps in developing an improved memory and concentration. Here’s a great website for playing Scrabble online.
I use scrabble tiles to help children with anagram type questions. Start with giving the child just 3 tiles (one must be a vowel) and ask to make as many words as possible. Then move up to 4 tiles and so on. Children need to be taught how to work out new words in a systematic way rather than just randomly putting the letters in order to see if they make sense. This skill of doing things logically and in sequence is a fundamental skill for verbal reasoning questions.
4. Chess – Chess is one of the best games that will make children think of different strategies to achieve victory. It improves concentration and memory and teaches children how to solve problems. Research has shown that it significantly improve mathematical ability. Please read this article for more benefits.
But if you haven’t got the time or struggle to explain things simply to your child, let us do the work for you. Book your child for a free assessment and let us take care of things.
If you are thinking about changing your child’s school, then the hardest part will be knowing if you are doing the right thing or not. Will it affect your child’s self-esteem or school progress? What if the new school doesn’t live up to your expectations? What information will be shared between the old and the new school? All these questions will be going through your mind and it’s perfectly natural to worry.
But don’t think you are alone in all this. Through my job, parents tell me that they are unhappy with their child’s school and below is a list (and some anecdotes) of some of the reasons for changing schools. For confidentiality, I have used initials of the parents and children.
1. Your child is unhappy.
This was the reason why I changed my son’s school. During his reception year he cried every single day and hated it. It wasn’t one thing that I could pin-point, it was a combination of horrible dinner ladies, teachers shouting, large classes and unruly children. School was a nightmare for him and he preferred to forget about it once he was out the school gate. The day I picked him up from his new school he had a big smile on his face and talked about school all the way home.
2. Your child’s needs are not being met.
This happened with A’s daughter K. K was going to one of the top schools in Luton, which boasted top place in the OFSTED league tables and scored “outstanding” in all reports. But K’s needs were not being met. K suffered from epilepsy and missed many days of school due to this. Also when she was in school she would have mild seizures called “absences” During an absence seizure, the child appears to be daydreaming or switching off. Because most children tend to daydream at times, absences can be very hard to spot. These children are missing out on tiny pieces of information. For example, they might hear the first part of a sentence but not the end. But unfortunately, however many times K’s mother tried to explain this to her teachers, they would not listen. She was falling behind at school and also being bullied because she had a slight speech defect due to her epilepsy. Every time her mother had a meeting with the teachers, she was made to feel as if she was asking too much. They would not listen to her, when she approached them about the bullying, again it was brushed under the carpet. She suffered at the hands of this school until K was in year 4. Then she changed to a smaller school, which felt right for K. And that is where K is right now and I am glad to say, very happy.
3. Your child has been treated inappropriately/unfairly.
A is a bright little 3-year-old and goes to nursery happily. He enjoys the school environment and his teachers say that he has an aptitude for numbers. But yesterday, when his mother went to pick him up from school she was told he got sent to the head. She asked what he did and the teacher said she asked him to put his coat on several times and he didn’t. He wasn’t rude or answering back and was giggling because he thought it was a game. Anyway, A’s mother replied that she did think that he deserved a punishment of some kind, but thought it was a naughty chair level offence and save the head for if it happens again. Then today, another boy who has a past record of aggressive behaviour hit another child on the head deliberately and the boy was crying but he only got a telling off. It’s not the first time this has happened either. A’s mother has decided to change schools now because she didn’t want him to be labelled as a naughty child. She was not happy about the way he was handled.
These are all true stories, and I have heard variations of these from many worried parents. Sometimes it could be that the school has not recognised a learning difficulty in a child. Or it could be that the child is not getting the help they need if they do have special needs. The most extreme case was of a year 6 boy who I tested and found that he had a reading age 5 years below his actual age. And yet the school had failed to give him the necessary support. But by then, it was too late to move school because the boy would be leaving for high school anyway.
I am not against teachers and schools because I think that they do have a tough job. The point I am trying to make in this blog is that changing schools, for any of the above reasons is fully justified. I would love to hear about your experiences, if you have done something similar.