Incentivise me

You know that feeling?….the one where you have been on holiday?

relaxing cat

Where you have slept in for days, drank many a casual coffee, or baileys, or cold pressed coffee with baileys…where you have not done housework but have laid around, played with the kids, gone to bed early some nights and late others…and generally forgone any structure to your days….until it’s Sunday evening. And you have to return to work tomorrow morning. You know that feeling? The one where you know you have to get up early the next morning, you have to deal with the traffic, you have to deal with PEOPLE, you have to perform to certain standards placed upon you by others. You know that feeling of, “I REALLY don’t want to return to all that yet…I’m not ready… just one more day….just a little more freedom….” But instead, you suck it up, give yourself a kick into gear and get back to work. Because you have to. Because at the end of the week (or month, or fortnight) a certain amount of money is given to you for carrying out those duties. You return, because you are incentivised to return.

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Well this morning, Indi needed to be incentivised. She needed to be incentivised to return to school. She needed something to help her 5 year old brain deal with the loss of freedom, the loss of sleeping in, the loss of hanging out with Mumma, the loss of choosing her activities throughout the day, the loss of free play. She needed something else to focus her mind on when the anxiety started telling her that getting back in to her school routine was too hard, too scary, too much. She needed something to help excite her when she told me she was too tired to go to school, that she would miss me too much all day (I think she threw that one in for good measure), that she didn’t know if it was sand and swings day and she HATES sand and swings day…

So I incentivised her.

I told her to wait right there in bed as I had something to surprise her with. Something that she could earn this week. I told her that I had all those feelings too, but that school was important and something that she must do. I told her that I had something she could think about to get rid of the things in her mind that were making her feel sad and not capable….

And I pulled out of the top of my cupboard….

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a Shopkins Pack.

I brought it to Indi, still curled up in bed denying that she was going to school, and I told her, “If you are able to carry out your morning routines each day this week then you will earn this Shopkins Pack. That means you have to get ready for school and do all your morning chore-chip chores without whinging about them, and you have to do your best not to worry about school, for 5 days, then on Saturday, you can open and have this Shopkins Pack.”

Indi “eeked” with delight, inspected the Shopkins Pack…and got dressed for school. We put the INCENTIVE up on the kitchen windowsill where she would be able to see it all week and remember what she was working towards. She completed ALL of her morning chore-chip chores and even had ten minutes to herself before we headed out to school. She smiled in the car and I silently high-fived myself for being on-top of this.

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And everything was peachy….

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Until we got to the school gate and anxiety kicked in again.

She clung to my legs, she sat on my lap and wrapped herself around me, she switched between wanting to play with a friend to not wanting to leave me. Last year she liked to be at school early enough to watch what was going on around her. This year it seems this just allows her to worry. When it was time to line up, the silent tears flowed down her face, and her legs wobbled trying to hold herself up and walk towards her classmates. Her Teacher Aide took her hand and lead her inside to ‘help’ get some things ready before the rest of the kids came in. Once she was in the classroom and busy ‘helping’, her brain switched from worry, to order. She had a role, she had a routine and ‘fitting in’, no longer mattered. She would be fine and I promised to be there waiting at 3:15 when the bell rung, to pick her up (I’ll deal with her reluctance to go to after-school care tomorrow, tomorrow!).

So this week I will continue to incentivise her mornings. We will get to school just before the bell to reduce worry time and I will hope that she finds her confidence in her school routines again. This term, I will (try to) find a balance between incentivising her and placing expectations of behaviour on her. This term I will remember that her brain is wired differently to mine, and I will (try to) be understanding of this. This term I will (try to) teach her strategies to help her remain in control of her emotions and to help her plan for her days. This term we will get back on top of the school routine…and then we will have school holidays…and start all over again…

What strategies do you have in place to help transition your child back into their school routine? Leave your tips and advice in the comments.

Feeling like a reader

I wanted to show you this example of Indi, reading. I think it is a good example of what we are working toward achieving with many of our students.

Today, Indi felt like a reader.

She was able to read her book to us, from start to finish, with no ‘tricky moments’. Yes, of course it was largely memorised. Yes, of course she used the pictures as cues for some of the words. But the main things I want parents to understand is that because she had already done the hard work in decoding the words and in learning her sight words, she was then able to enjoy READING it to Mum and Dad with no, ‘tricky moments.’

Indi was able to feel like a reader. Indi was able to enjoy the story. Indi was able to enjoy SHARING the story. And for any student (regardless of age), isn’t that what what want them to experience?

So what has been done to get here?

  • She has been learning her sight words via flash cards at least every second night (many children need to do this each night, but Indi has a good memory so doesn’t require as much repetition at this stage). The sight words in this book were: the, my, is, said,
  • She went on a ‘picture walk‘ through the book before reading. This is where she looked at the pictures and identified what she could see about them (in this case naming the animals).
  • She had talked about, looked at and decoded the ‘story words‘ before reading. In this book they are: nose, long, longer
  • Now read it it her Learning Coach.

These activities meant that when she brought her book home, although by this stage the story was memorised, she had actually done the hard work already and it was time for her to enjoy it. Notice however, that she is actually reading and not just ‘reciting’. She is reading the words at the same time that they are being pointed to (our next step is to have HER pointing to the words as she reads). At the previous stage, she would recite rather than matching each spoken word with its written form – that’s ok, she still felt like a reader, which is the purpose of our efforts!

This process is one of the BEST ways to build confidence as a reader.

So when we send books home with your child and you can see that it seems like it has been learnt off-by-heart….it probably has! It probably has, because they have already worked hard with us using all the strategies mentioned here as well as a few others, to decode the words. Reading it to you at home is their opportunity to feel like a reader and to enjoy sharing this moment with you!

Be careful, it’s catching!

When Indi arrived home from school yesterday she wanted to, ‘do some learning like the big kids’. So while they logged on to access their work, she logged in to her Reading Eggs and spent the next hour quietly working too.

I love how, given the right environment, a desire to learn becomes contagious. I love how we are able to build the self esteem of learners who were previously embarrassed about their work and ability so they are able to feel truly successful, and I love how our students are proud of each other, of themselves and become role models for others.

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Snacks, snacks, snacks

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Food for thought: we have noticed an increase in sugar and/or salt loaded snacks lately. Although, yummy (for some), these are not appropriate foods to be consumed for learning. The reason for this is it gives a short term sugar high, which is followed by a crash, both of which are disastrous for focus and learning.

good for thought

Remember that the snack you are providing your child is meant to fuel them for learning. The work we do here is intensive, and we need to make sure we are fueling and nourishing our children so they have the best chance to make the most of this time.

Water and nutrient rich food are the best snack choices. Here is a link to an easy to read article, with some great ideas for packing a lunch box and snacks.

http://www.westonaprice.org/health-topics/packing-the-perfect-lunch-box/

And if you are really short on time, here are examples of Indi’s lunch boxes – Indi is ‘sensory’ and so food has always been something we have had to carefully manage. These are all quick and easy:

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Yum Yum, feel free to share your healthy lunch boxes and snacks with us! 
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The road (or roller-coaster) to success

Michael Jordan I can accept failure

Diaz started working with us at Back to Basics Tuition in October 2014. As if being 15 isn’t hard enough already, Diaz was starting to suffer at school. His grades had dropped, he wasn’t speaking up in class, and overall, he was really struggling with his Math. Grade 9 is a year of consolidating previous Math learning, and often, applying it in new ways. It’s an important year; it is really the final stage before hitting the serious senior years. And for Diaz, it was looking like his choices were going to be limited. Diaz is a talented basketball player and improving his grades was vital as he was looking ahead to a possible basketball scholarship to the States!

When I first assessed Diaz, it became clear that he really did not have a solid foundation in Math. He had massive gaps in understanding and it was no surprise that Grade 9 was difficult. It was going to be a challenging road ahead for him, but a challenge he was up to. We worked with Diaz on a foundation Math course where we literally went back to basics. Starting at a Grade 4 level in certain Math strands, we built up through the grades the strands and knowledge he needed to succeed. We worked over the next 14 months, covering 4 ½ years worth of structured Math. From here we focused on working with him on understanding his classroom level Math, and learning to apply that understanding.

Michael Jordan some people want it to happen

Diaz has learnt that learning is really a rollercoaster, both intellectually and emotionally.  There has been the occasional session where we have not  focused on completing Math work, but have needed to focus on helping him understand himself and to remind himself of why  he is putting in all this extra effort, and additionally why he is worthy of us putting in this extra effort. Finding the internal desire to keep this going when his friends are doing ‘fun’ things is something that has been a joint effort between Diaz, his parents and us. But Diaz has always been worth the effort. There is something very special about him and even when the road got tough, there was no way we were going to give up, give in, or turn away.

Is it worth it? Absolutely. When I get feedback like this, I find my eyes getting a little… ‘leaky’.

Diaz exam

“I can’t thank you enough. So overly privileged to have been able to come to you and like Diaz said to me – Mum, I’ll never forget what Kate, Dave and Mitch have done for me and continue to do for me. I tell him all the time to be humble and never forget the people whom have helped him along the way, and he never will!”

Diaz is pretty much a part of our family now. And man, are we proud of him! Is it over? No way! We will continue to push him, challenge him, and show how proud we are of him. And while we see him maturing into a wonderful young man, and when he is on that world stage, we’ll be able to say, “We knew him when he was a just boy, stumbling in the classroom. Look at him now!”

These words from Ben Simmons are echoed by ‘our’ Diaz:

Ben Simmons

When I grow up…

What did you want to be when you grew up?

A recent post on Human’s of New York‘s page made me smile about this topic.

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I remember wanting to be everything from a teacher, to a ranger (I thought the name ‘Ranger Kate’ sounded awesome), to an interior designer, to a ballet dancer! However, the teaching theme was really the only consistent one through the years.

Whenever I assess a new student I ask them what they would like to be when they grow up (or if they are highschool students, when they leave school). There are of course the standard ‘famous’ answers of, a professional sports person, a pop star, a dancer, a singer. I was told earlier this week by a student “a business owner so I can make lots of money!”. I hear the ones who would like to follow in their parents footsteps and become ‘a carpenter like Dad’ or ‘a Doctor like Mum’. Sometimes I ask them what their Mum and/or Dad do (this is all about making conversation and breaking the ice before we start doing the actual assessment). Some children know exactly what their parents’ job title is, others are a little more vague, ‘he goes to work in his office’, ‘she does things for other people’ ‘he fixes computers and stuff’. What I have noticed in the last year is the change of descriptions of Stay at Home Mums from ‘she just stays at home’, to ‘she looks after our family and makes sure we have everything we need.’ I love this a lot.

Some answers make me laugh, “a big boy”, “a mermaid”, “a gym worker and do push-ups and squats”.

Here are some of the answers I’ve had in the last month or so:

  • An inventor and a scientist (girl 10yrs)
  • An artist (girl 7yrs)
  • A zoo keeper, vet or singer (girl 10yrs)
  • A footy player (boy 10yrs)
  • A builder (boy 7yrs)
  • A farmer (boy 10yrs)
  • Something to do with being a shopping person (girl 8yrs)
  • A mermaid (girl 6yrs)
  • A scientist (boy 8yrs)
  • An aviation engineer (boy 7yrs)
  • A policeman (boy 8yrs)
  • An engineer who designs things (boy 10yrs)
  • A professional basketball player in the US (boy 15yrs)

I asked my Indi (4yrs) yesterday what she would like to be when she grows up and she said, “A Mummy.”

So what did YOU want to be when you grew up? – And what are you now?

Have you asked your child recently what they would like to be?

Send us in yours and their responses, I would love to hear the dreams of our future generation!

You Are A Great Teacher

Sometimes it’s nice to be told. Many moons ago I was a classroom teacher. I loved classroom teaching. I loved seeing these little people grow under my care. I loved seeing their knowledge expand. I loved the closeness of the relationships I developed. I was a great teacher and this was often reflected in the notes left from students and parents as well as the general feeling in my classroom.

It was a huge decision I made when I chose not to continue classroom teaching. It was all I knew. It was what I was good at. It was what everyone expected of me. But it had also sucked all energy out of me and I was constantly ill. It is hard to give everything you are to 32 little (and not so little; those grade 8 students are getting tall!) people on a daily basis and still have something left for yourself and your family. So when we moved countries, I chose for a change in direction.

Fast forward a few years, a few up’s and down’s and many great lessons, and here we are; teaching in a different capacity. One of the differences I find from the teaching I do now to the teaching I did then, is we don’t often hear what a great job we are doing. I think this is possibly because the relationships we have are slightly different to that of a classroom teacher. We see our students once or twice a week for one to two hours as opposed to five days a week for six or more hours. We see dramatic results with our students, from massive gains in self esteem flowing through to improved behaviour in and out of school, to lifting of academic results usually of 2 or more years! The thing is, it is kind of expected of us. We are a ‘pit-stop’ in the children’s learning journey and although the parents are both relieved and grateful, it is seldom that we hear from the students how much they appreciate our efforts. Part of this is because they have had to work so jolly hard to achieve their results. And they should own this; it is THEIR work. But little do many realise how hard we work alongside them. How much of ourselves we give to ensuring they too believe in themselves like we believe in them. How hard it can be to motivate a student who has no self belief. The hours we spend behind the scenes to prepare work, to analyse results, to test and measure our delivery, to discuss what needs to be done to better help and better prepare each student and to make constant changes to make sure we are getting the best out of each of them.

We tell our students when we think they can work harder, work smarter or make more effort. We help our students understand how they learn and work with them to increase their own responsibility for their work. We often tell our students how proud we are of their efforts and achievements.

Appreciation comes back to us in the increased confidence we see in our students. It comes back to us in their smile, it comes back to us in their report cards. But to be honest, sometimes it’s nice to be told.

A message left for us this week by one of hour students.

A message left for us this week by one of our students.