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Parent Assistance

Piñon Tutoring is proud to be a resource for parents who are considering homeschooling or are enhancing their children's education at home.  The ins and outs of creating an educational environment at home can be overwhelming and more complex than what at first meets the eye.  There are several questions to consider before creating and instituting an at-home learning environment:

How do I know what my children should be learning in their grade?

Answering this question can be challenging as each learner is different.  In general, the state of New Mexico follows Common Core Standards to provide benchmarks by grade level for what students should learn in Math and English Language Arts.  New Mexico uses its own Science and Social Studies Standards, which are created by the New Mexico Public Education Department.    All of these standards are guides to what skills and concepts students should have a handle on by the end of each school year.

Reading the standards and understanding their meaning are entirely different.  For example, in Math, standard CCSS.MATH.2.NBT.B.7 states that a second grader should be able to "add and subtract within 1,000, using concrete models or drawings and strategies based on place value, properties of operations, and/or the relationship between addition and subtraction; relate the strategy to a written method. Understand that in adding or subtracting three-digit numbers, one adds or subtracts hundreds and hundreds, tens and tens, ones and ones; and sometimes it is necessary to compose or decompose tens or hundreds."

This means that in second grade a student should learn how to fluently add and subtract numbers whose sum or difference is less than 1,000.  Additionally, students should be able to do so by manipulating real objects or drawing, understanding that each place value is ten times larger than the previous one (i.e. a "10" is ten "1's"), and further understand that addition and subtraction are inverse operations, then relate how their manipulation of objects or drawing connects to the standard pencil-on-paper method of adding and subtracting.  Students should also understand that place values must be lined up when performing addition and subtraction, and that sometimes you may have to "carry a one" or "borrow a one" (composing and decomposing).

In lieu of following the standards, there are several curriculums available for teaching students at their grade level in different subject areas.  Choosing a pre-packaged curriculum has benefits including taking the guesswork out of what to teach and when, however they can be quite expensive, difficult to follow or understand, or flat-out boring for students.  If you decide to choose a pre-packaged curriculum, it is important to do some research to discover what will best accommodate your family's finances and beliefs while also providing meaningful and engaging lessons and activities for your children.

How can I tell if my child is understanding new concepts?

The best way to know what your child understands or needs to practice more is to perform assessments.  There are two types of assessments: formative and summative.  Formative assessments happen during learning in the form of assignments, discussions, and quizzes.  You check this type of work for accuracy to determine if your child is understanding what you are teaching.  Summative assessments happen after learning and are longer, broader, and more formal.  They might include a final project that addresses a concept or several concepts, or a unit test.

Another useful tool is a pre-and-post test.  To design a pre-and-post test, you review the concept to be taught and create a test that addresses this concept in depth.  Administer the pre-test before you begin instruction on this concept.  It is likely that if your children have never had exposure to the concept before, they will not do well on the pre-test.  That is fine!  They haven't learned the material yet, so sub-par performance is to be expected.

After you teach your children about the concept and feel they have a strong grasp on it, administer the post-test (which is the exact same test as the pre-test).  Compare their pre-and-post tests to determine if there has been significant growth.

Best practices in education indicate that students build on prior knowledge.  It is important for your children to understand a concept fully before moving on to a new one that builds upon the former.  The Common Core Standards are progressive, meaning that they are formatted in such a way that they build upon each other sequentially.  Skipping around within the standards is not advisable.

How can I make learning interesting and engaging?

Perhaps one of the biggest challenges in education is designing learning experiences that are meaningful, memorable, interesting, and engaging.  One of the easiest ways to accomplish this goal and prevent boredom or burnout is to design instruction so that it connects to your children personally.  What are your children's interests and hobbies?  What intrinsic skills do they possess that you can incorporate into lessons?  What do they like?  These are the questions you should ask yourself before designing a unit or lesson.  In a technological world, long gone are the days where rote instruction on a chalkboard suffices to engage students.  There has to be buy-in from your children, so there has to be something about the lesson that interests them.

How do I get my child to pay attention during schooling?

Creating interesting and engaging lessons is the best way to ensure that your child is paying attention.  However, it is also important to establish consistent schedule, assert yourself with the role of "teacher" rather than "parent," create behavioral expectations, and set daily goals.  Piñon Tutoring has dedicated an entire blog post to this topic, which can be found here:

It is also important that you ensure your child is well rested, has eaten, and that your environment is free from distractions.  There is a lot of heady pedagogy that supports these claims, but, in a nutshell, students are incapable of learning unless their basic physiological needs are met and the only thing to focus on is what you are teaching them.

How long should I spend on each subject?

Research has shown that the average person's educational attention span is their age plus-or-minus 5 minutes.  Yes, really, it's that short.  Of course it is nearly impossible to entirely teach a subject in that amount of time, so it is important to set dedicated time limits to each subject and each activity within that subject.  

Ideally, no subject should be taught for more than one hour.  After an hour, it is a pretty sure bet that you and your children will be burnt out on, say, identifying the subject, predicate, direct objects, and indirect objects of a sentence.  

Additionally, within that hour, it is important to mix things up.  One strategy is to structure each subject with a warm up activity (5-10 minutes), direct instruction (15-20 minutes), individual practice (15-20 minutes), and a wrap up (5-10 minutes).  

During the warm up, choose an activity that will get your children excited about the subject.  Games, short skits, free association, and discussing an evocative image are good choices.  Participating in a warm up activity not only inspires interest and makes students want to know more, it also activates the learning centers in their brains.

During direct instruction, use a purchased curriculum or a lesson you have designed to teach children about the concept they need to learn.  Rather than treating your children as vessels to be filled with knowledge, guide them to create their own knowledge by asking them questions about what they think should happen next or how they think something works.  This practice gives their voices value, and in turn gives you the opportunity to steer their thinking onto the correct course.  If a concept simply isn't clicking, don't panic.  Instead of frustrating yourself and your children by continuing on, take a break and then switch the next subject.  You can reflect on what wasn't working and what to change for the next day.

During individual practice, provide students with an opportunity to show what they have learned.  Worksheets can be useful here, but frequently the most meaningful learning comes from experiences.  For example, if you just taught a lesson about food chains, go outside with your children, some paper and pencils, and start searching for an animal.  If they see a bird, you can have them draw the bird and prompt them with questions about what the bird eats (seeds, berries, etc.).  Have them draw the seeds, berries, etc. and where the bird might have gathered them (from a plant) with an arrow pointing from the seeds to the bird to show the transfer of energy.  Prompt with another question about where the plant that grew the seeds or berries got its energy to grow (from the sun) and have them draw the sun with an arrow pointing to the plant.  You can continue prompting with questions about what might get energy from eating the bird, etc., and in no time you've addressed photosynthesis, producers, primary consumers, and secondary consumers.

During the wrap up, have your children reflect on what they have learned.  This time can be spent journaling, drawing, or demonstrating their knowledge in some other creative and calm way.

These are just a few questions that might arise when considering education at home.  Starting a home education practice can be challenging and time-consuming, but it can also be immensely rewarding and meaningful.  Piñon tutoring is here to help.


Piñon Tutoring is happy to offer parent sessions in the following areas:

How to Design a Curriculum

Weekly Lesson Planning and Scheduling

Understanding State Standards

Assessment Techniques

Creating Engaging Lessons

Behavior Management Techniques

If you are just starting out or are more experienced but could benefit from fresh ideas, Piñon Tutoring can get you on track to be successful in your home education pursuits.  Whether just an initial consultation to get you started or a recurring appointment to keep you on track, booking a session today can help you cultivate deep roots for successful growth.

Note: parent sessions and student session are priced the same.  To book a parent session, simply book for the amount of time you would like to spend discussing home education with a tutor.  After booking you will receive the Piñon Tutoring Initial Questionnaire, on which you can designate your session as a parent session.

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