1. Go to museums. Especially if you live in New York City or other major city, you need to take your kids to a museum at least four or five times a year. There's a ton for them to learn about the world around them. And try to find a specific exhibit to go to - a targeted hour or 90 minutes that gets spent on one topic; for example, an exhibit on surrealist paintings - rather than show up and wander around with no agenda.
2. Stop letting your kids watch football and other sports at the expense of reading and other activities that actually create opportunities for critical thinking. If they want to watch football on TV or go to the Knicks game, great, but they should be doing that in return for spending at least 30-90 minutes reading a pleasure book, reading the newspaper, etc - and having you in the same room, ideally reading yourself, to model and to make it more of a family event.
3. Travel. When kids travel to other countries and even to other states, they start to see that others may not do things just the way they do and may not think about things the way they do. This opens their eyes to new customs and encourages tolerance, understanding, and an appreciation of the fact that the world is a very big place. Even traveling to upstate NY from the "big city" can be an eye-opening experience.
4. Get your kids off their "devices." Laptops, iPhones, iPads, etc. can connect kids to the world, but they often do so in a way that is so isolating. Many teenagers stay in their rooms all night or much of the weekend on these devices, in theory "connecting" with friends and the world but doing so all alone. Get your kids off these devices as much as possible in exchange for a trip to a museum, out for a family meal, reading the newspaper with you, etc. If you force them to engage with real people rather than their online connections, you'll help them engage others later in life.
5. Give your kids independence and the chance to make mistakes. This should probably be its own detailed post and definitely belongs higher up on this list, but in brief: kids who can learn to chart their way around their city alone by bus, subway, and on foot, and who can participate in learning true "life skills" like balancing a checkbook, shopping for groceries, doing the laundry, and dozens of other tasks that we as adults do every day, will be better able to engage the world and thrive as they grow older. Give your kids age-appropriate opportunities to be independent, even if it means they'll get lost from time to time or mix the colors and the whites!
Homework and Test Preparation
Like athletes maintaining their conditioning, students preparing for entrance exams need to put in study time on a regular basis. How much time depends on every student’s goals and schedules; this post will focus on how students can improve the lasting impact of their study sessions.
Let’s start by differentiating between learning and practice. Learning, which involves introducing and explaining new and unfamiliar concepts, takes place during tutoring and classroom sessions. Practice, the reinforcement of such new information, takes place at home. This is the goal of homework.
Here are three ideas to consider when planning homework sessions.
1. Remind yourself what you’ve learned. It takes more than one lesson or homework session to master any concept. Instead of having a single “Right Triangle” homework session, refer back to what you’ve learned about 30-60-90 and 45-45-90 triangles throughout your prep. If you’ve first seen Right Triangles on January 9, you’ll need to do Right Triangle homework problems not only the week of January 9, but also throughout January and February. After you’ve done the content homework in your Bespoke book, you can do problems that test the same content in your test’s Official Guide.
2. Test yourself. Looking at information on the written page is less effective at increasing long-term mastery than demanding the brain to recite something it’s learned. Part of this is accomplished every time you do a homework problem – another way to increase understanding is to recite strategies and properties you’ve learned out loud: “In Identifying Sentence Error questions, comparisons must be both logical and parallel;” “When reading a Reading Comprehension passage for the first time, identify Main Idea and author’s point of view.” If you can recite the concept, you’ll use it on Test Day.
3. Mix it up. Do an exam practice section, where different concepts are tested side-by-side. On Test Day, you’ll be ready for that subject diversity.
Great athletes know that a little bit of practice every day is better than a marathon session once a week. As best you can, work test-prep into your daily routine!
This blog post owes its inspiration to the article “The Trouble With Homework,” written by Annie Murphy Paul and appearing in the New York Times on September 10, 2011. (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/11/opinion/sunday/quality-homework-a-smart-idea.html?pagewanted=all).
Like many parents, teachers and tutors, I am struck today by how infrequently kids seem to be reading for pleasure. Sure, most students stay caught up in English class and read the assigned books, but the vast majority don’t go to bed with a book in their hands or camp out on the couch with a novel on a weekend afternoon.
Kids are busier these days than ever before. Sports, tutoring, after-school community service and jobs all conspire to cut down on the time that kids can just hang out and be kids. They are also more than ever tethered to computers, iPads, smartphones, and other electronic devices, which provide countless distractions and have gotten people hooked on the instant gratification of getting an immediate answer from a Google search. The sense of anticipation and wonder as a good book opens up and as characters develop can be lost on today's kids who don't necessarily have the patience to see what happens if they are not grabbed immediately by the first few chapters of a book. The world of kids today is so filled with videos and flashy animations that many students actually have considerable difficulty creating in their mind pictures and scenes from words on a page and, as a consequence, find books rather bland.
Building good reading habits early is important, since your high schooler won’t be as swayed by outside pressure to read for fun. Here are some steps you can use:
1. Find time, several days each week, to read with your kids. Help them pick out some good books (for middle and high school students, these could be spy novels like those by Clancy or Berenson; mysteries like those by Higgins Clark; or suspense and horror like those by King or Koontz).
2. Take them to the bookstore or go on Amazon together. And if you find a book or author that seems to click, buy more of that series or author!
3. Then, sit your child down and read at the same time as him or her, even if for only 15-20 minutes at a time, and do it every day or every other day. Make this mandatory (as in, “dinner will start after we are done reading” or “you can go out with your friends after we do reading”). If you meet resistance to “proctored reading time,” explain that you are happy not to have supervised time if you get the sense that your son or daughter is actually reading on his or her own – that you see them doing this several times each week and that they are asking for more books.
4. Don’t read the same book as your child and don’t quiz them on what they are reading – remember these are pleasure books. Asking open-ended questions such as “Are you enjoying your book?” or “What do you like about it?” can give you a sense of how much reading is going on. And remember, children learn habits from watching those around them.
5. Don’t pay your kids to read or bribe them with rewards – you shouldn’t be paying them to do something they need to be doing anyway. Also, newspapers and magazines are not substitutes for actual books.
If you want your children to read, get them away from their computers and spend time with them reading yourself!
Most students know that studying for admissions tests is important, but many don’t have a specific approach. Bespoke has created a four-step process that should simplify the work of preparing for these tests - it’s easy to remember and covers all the important elements of preparation.
Here you see what you need to do in four simple steps.
1. Take Mock Tests. You should do this at a Bespoke office because it re-creates the environment you’ll be in on test day – with other students, with a proctor, and with timed sections.
2. Test Review. You need to go back over your test to see both what worked and what didn’t. Ask yourself, “what did I do wrong here” – did you misread the question? Go too quickly? Did you make a math mistake? Was it something that you hadn’t studied before? As you answer these questions you’ll start to figure out what you need to work on.
3. Content Focus. Go back to the chapter in your Bespoke lesson book to remind yourself of the appropriate strategy or steps. Then do the homework from that chapter, or find problems from the test’s Official Guide that focus on the same material.
4. Section Practice. Now that you’ve brushed up on the areas that were most challenging, put it in the context of an entire section. Then you're ready for another Mock Test.
The whole cycle should take three to four weeks – as best you can, do a little work every day!