“Dear Teacher” is a monthly education column written by experienced educators and parents.
Math Test Anxiety
Question: You have written about math anxiety being a real phobia that can actually be seen in the brain patterns in the regions associated with problem-solving. We have strengthened our fourth-grader’s basic math skills so she can handle her homework OK. However, she still panics on tests and can scarcely answer a question. How can we help her do better on tests? — Anxious
Answer: You have taken the first step in helping your child grasp basic math skills. Now you need to help her learn to unfreeze her mind when she is being tested. Instruct her to begin by looking over the entire test to find just one problem that she can answer. Then she should look for others that she can solve. By solving a few problems, her confidence in her math abilities will be enhanced and she will be ready to go back to the start of the test to solve problems that once seemed impossible. Should she get stuck on a problem, teach her to draw a picture of it to make the solution easier or to use smaller numbers to solve it.
Jump Start Your Toddlers’ Education
Question: I am a stay-at-home mom who is anxious to help my toddlers get a head start on learning. What is my best approach? — Off to a Good Start
Answer: One of the best ways to start toddlers on the path to being a learning star is by talking to them. This is true whether you are with them all day long or have more limited time because you are a working parent.
It is sad, but true, that young children from poorer homes usually hear far fewer words than those from well-to-do homes. The difference in the number of words that are heard in an hour is absolutely enormous–more than 1,000. It is believed that this greatly affects the variance in IQ between economic groups. So talk, talk, talk to your children, and whatever your income level is will not be a factor in their being smart students. Incidentally, this does not mean hearing words on television; this simply doesn’t help children.
Beyond just talking to children, introduce them to the world and talk about it. Get out of your home. Go to stores, restaurants, parks, museums and libraries–anywhere they can have new experiences. Let them see rivers, lakes, the ocean, bugs and birds, planes, trains and buses. Have them experience elevators and escalators, and look at the day and night sky. Take them on walks and car rides. Introduce them to all your relatives. Each new experience will widen their horizons. The more they learn about the world, the more they will understand when they begin reading about it in books.
Stopping Homework Procrastination
Question: I’ll admit that there is a tendency to procrastinate in our family. Our son is a prime example of this. He puts off and puts off starting his homework every night. Many nights he procrastinates so much that he doesn’t have enough time to finish his homework. Is there any way to cure or at least improve his tendency to procrastinate? — Delays Starting
Answer: For many families, a homework contract resolves a lot of homework problems. The agreement between parent and child can state a specific time for starting homework. Both must talk over the terms and agree to them. In certain cases, it may be helpful to have rewards and/or penalties to incentivize the child to follow the terms of the contract. You should look at our contract on dearteacher.com. It is found under Skill Builders/Study Skills.
Besides using a contract, the tendency to procrastinate can be reduced by having you and your child look over his homework at the start of a homework session as defined on the contract. Then together you can decide which assignment will be the easiest to do. Starting on the easiest assignment will reduce your son’s reluctance to start his homework. Plus, you can further push your son to start his homework by not letting him do anything else before his homework is completed.
Cyber Safety Resources for Parents
Question: What are the absolute basics that our children should know about what they should not do online? They might not pay attention to us. Who would they believe? — Not Cyber Wise
Answer: One of the best places for parents to get good safety information is on the Facebook website, www.facebook.com/safety. Here you will find sections for both parents and teens. Do read the information under “Tools & Resources,” which includes these topics:
- Updating account information
- Protecting your account
- Controlling who sees your information
- Unfriending someone
- Blocking someone
- Reporting abusive or offensive content
- Social reporting
- Learning advanced security features
It is also helpful to read all the safety and privacy sections on this website.
Another good resource for parents is the website of the Family Safety Online Institute (www.fosi.org). It offers tips, tools and rules of how parents can confidently navigate the online world with their children.