It’s mid-summer now and typically when parents and kids start (we said start) getting ready for back-to-school. Well, as we are all aware, things will be very different this year. At this point, we’re not sure what learning will look like for students of any age. Will kids be returning to classrooms full time? Will there be a hybrid learning module with part-time learning at home and in the classroom?  At the extreme, will we be facing more lockdown measures and be online? A lot of the decision-making rides on what we are collectively doing in the next few weeks. Even if the government eases up on restrictions, our range of feelings run from “Please get my kids back in school! They need structure and it’s better for their mental health (and ours)!” to “Hellz, no we are not out of the woods yet! I’m keeping my kid at home!” and everything in between. We also want to make sure teachers, custodians and other staff are well equipped no matter which way the education directives go. So much to consider for parents, kids and educators. But, what can we do in the meantime?

First, you want to make sure you’re home is prepared for back-to-school with the possibility of some, or even all learning goes online. We wouldn’t be surprised if older grades are required to learn remotely at least for the first few months. Now is the time to check and clean up home computers and laptops. If it’s time to upgrade computers watch for back-to-school offers this time of year. An example, we just checked the Apple site and there’s currently an offer of free AirPods with certain purchases and special educational pricing on Macs and iPads. Btw, if your family is tight with finances you may also want to check with your school to see if there are any accommodations available. Your family may be able to borrow a laptop or tablet for class work.

Ensure your home wifi is sufficient – especially if there are other kids and maybe even a parent or two who will continue to work from home. With everyone online, your home may require an upgrade to the system or get better at-home coverage with something like Nest WiFi to help disperse the signal from your router to cover a broader area or multi-level homes.

Kids should also start preparing their workspace. Ideally, this space is a quiet area. Minimize distractions and take the time now to declutter. Get organizational tools like daily journals to help keep track of assignments and proper shelving. Make sure lighting is good wherever they work from. Also, check for a comfortable chair. We have several in our home from Staples Canada.

Some of our kids have already had a taste of online learning for a few months of this past school year. Let’s be honest, we all felt like we were just trying to tread water to stay afloat! So, what can we do NOW to start gearing up the kids for back-to-school (pandemic or not) both physically and also mentally?

We checked in with VanessaVakharia, Educational Innovator and CEO of The Math Guru (a super chill and inspiring space for students of all ages that offers tutoring services in midtown Toronto) and author of Math Hacks for some tips…These past few months have been overwhelming and exhausting for families, especially with parents trying to still work. Realistically, what are a few things we can do to refresh now as we look towards September?

 

VV: I totally get it – it is BEYOND exhausting and I feel for all of the families out there unable to even begin to plan a course of educational action for their children! As parents, you want the best for your children and it’s frustrating to feel like your hands are tied. That said, I really think that it’s so so so important not to head down that scary “what if?!” rabbit hole! Remember that for once, most of us really are in the exact same position: we don’t know anything! While it’s important to use the time you have to get your kids mentally refreshed in terms of course content, I would like to suggest that the MOST important thing you can do right now is work on developing a new mindset surrounding education – and this goes for both kids AND their parents (yes, I’m looking at you!). If your kids get the sense that you’re freaking out about school or that you don’t think school is important, they will follow suit! Spend August helping them (and you!) develop a more positive mindset around the possibilities that may present themselves in September. Focus on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do things differently. Step into a growth mindset that allows your kids to see themselves as capable of thriving NO MATTER WHAT the educational climate is in September! I know we’re all stressed, but I promise that spending this last month on mindset work will make a huge difference in the fall!

There are some subjects that are worth reviewing now that we have some time — any tips?

VV: One of the things I’ve been really trying to reinforce to parents is that review does not need to be curriculum-specific. When we talk about the “summer slide” (kids forgetting stuff over the summer months – which has now turned into to “covid slide” by the way :)), we often think that the antidote is having them review exactly what they learned the year before. Yes, there is definitely an advantage to that. But if you have kids who already hate Math or English, a more realistic approach is to simply have them do something – anything – that involves Math and English, on a weekly basis. This might involve reading a book of their choice, baking, going through grocery store flyers to find the best deals, creating a curbside pickup lemonade stand…! As long as they’re practicing their Math or English muscle, they’re going to be ahead of the game in the Fall, trust me. Plus, they will start creating more positive memories and associations with those subjects instead of remembering the piles of workbooks they were forced to do over the summer – which is a big deal!

Yes! That summer slide! Traditionally, the first few weeks back are used to review some of the previous curriculum. If we want to jump start, what are some good resources? 

VV: For sure, and I would also imagine that there will be even more time and attention dedicated to reviewing this Fall given the way last year ended! One of my fave websites is ixl.com. It’s super affordable and curriculum-specific, so kids can go to the exact topic that they need, and find a ton of practice questions! Khan Academy is also amazing – AND FREE! I would definitely give it a whirl, kids love it because it’s video-based, and it’s super well organized and easy to use!

How much time ideally should our kids be spending on reviewing? 

VV: It really, really depends on the kid! One thing I want to highlight is that consistency is much more important than quantity. So, it’s more beneficial for your kid to do 10 minutes of multiplication practice a day for 2 weeks than to do 3 hours on one given Friday (Also, ew, who wants to do three hours of times tables?!). I would break down your kid’s review into bite-sized pieces, and reward their effort. So, maybe Monday through Friday they do 20 minutes a day, with weekends off. Have them do their review at the same time every day, preferably in the morning so that they get it done nice and early, set a timer so that they know that once it goes off, they’re DONE! If you have a kid who really really struggled last year and has a specific pain-point like math, you can always couple a strategy like this with an hour of extra support every week (for example, a tutor that will teach them a specific lesson weekly or a Khan Academy video that might help them re-learn a specific concept)!

When parents get frustrated, what is your advice?

VV: I know it’s easier said than done – trust me – but my best advice is to just remember that we’re all in this together, that you’re not alone, and that this isn’t forever. Everyone has had to adjust and that includes schools and universities as well! So if you’re freaking out about marks, don’t. There will be a different standard moving forward. Accommodations will be made in the future for what is happening NOW. It’s going to work out, one way or another – and it’s OKAY not to know exactly how. As impossible as it seems, your kids will be okay. And so will you!

What about the kids, what advice would you give them when they get frustrated?

VV: I think the same advice applies to be honest! I think that “this isn’t forever” is a really big one right now, and to try to reinforce to kids (and parents and everyone!) that this truly is like, a ONCE in a lifetime thing, and to try to look at it as an adventure instead of an obstacle blocking our way. We’re all trying to find a new way, isn’t that kind of cool?!

 

Yes, that’s a great perspective! Okay, so tell us about your business these days. How has The Math Guru adapted to the new ways of helping families?

We pivoted to online tutoring the second things went sideways in March and we have been so so happy with the results! We put a lot of effort into maintaining our vibe and brand, even online, to make sure that kids still felt the same warmth and understanding through their screens! I really think that online education has been given a bad reputation because of the way it was/wasn’t rolled out by certain schools and school boards and I totally understand that there are a ton of logistical issues and red tape for schools to get around. For us, we’ve found that we can deliver great virtual education and that the biggest compliment consistently received from students and their families is “wow, I really didn’t think that tutoring could be this great online – but it really feels like I’m right back in your studio with my tutor!” I hope that as time passes, that more organizations find ways to adapt virtually because the truth is, for many kids, it’s much more convenient and renders educational support more accessible. There are students we service now who otherwise wouldn’t be able to make it to our studio because of distance, or lack of access to transportation, for example. I’m also pumped about all of our new online workshops, bootcamps, and our upcoming pep-talk series. It’s a brave new world out there and I’m really looking forward to when we can be back in our studio – but am also excited for all of the possibilities that this new virtual-friendly world has opened up for us!

Not all families can afford additional tutoring, or may not necessarily have unlimited data or wifi access at home any suggestions for them? 

Absolutely! I think it’s really important to remember that there is a way for EVERYONE to learn math, not just those with super high-speed wifi! I just want to take a moment to tell everyone that my own personal fave thing when I was a kid, was flash cards! Even now, our tutors get their students to make their own times tables flash cards and to use them with siblings and parents daily, and kids LOVE that! I think you would be surprised at how much you can do with random pieces of paper and a set of markers. Don’t be too hard on yourself. Have your kids read something (anything!) daily to practice their literacy skills, have them write you a bedtime story, help you measure stuff for baking, count random stuff around the house…anything that helps build their mind-muscles! And remember, focusing on positivity and mindset are half the battle so work on being positive, doing nice things for other people, failing and recovering from ANYTHING and feeling that amazing feeling of working HARD at something. You don’t need to teach the curriculum to help your kids get stronger, smarter, and more resilient this summer!

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The Math Guru was founded in 2010 by Vanessa Vakharia, a certified high school math teacher with a Masters in Mathematics Education. She’s also been interviewed on many television, radio, online and print media across Canada sharing her positive learning vibes.