Teachers on Call

What To Do If Your Child Is Struggling with Reading

Kids develop at their own time, so take a deep breath and try to assess the situation. Ask yourself, Does my child just need a little more time? Or is my child struggling with learning to read?

Some children end up reading a little later than others—and sometimes when they do begin reading, it almost seems as though they learned overnight! Other children may require extra support and you’ll need to advocate for them.

These tips will help you navigate this delicate situation, without panicking,  by providing support for your child.

Reduce (some) screen time: Devices can be a wonderful tool to learn but when children are on screens they usually aren’t engaging in conversation. Considering reducing non-educational screen time by using a timer or a schedule—be sure everyone in the family reduces their usage so your child doesn’t feel singled out. 

Be open to different kinds of texts: Introduce a variety of text types— comics, joke books, magazines, and more, are all wonderful options to hook struggling readers. 

Try reading online: Reading apps can help engage children who aren’t yet reading. Several offer learn-to-read activities as well as highlighted text and text-to-speech capabilities. We enjoy Ooka Island and Epic! 

Play games: A family game night with board or card games helps get children talking, asking questions, and using descriptive language. 

Speak to the teacher: Set up an interview with your child’s teacher. They’ll share their observations and assessments, providing further insight into the situation, and if needed, the teacher can take the steps to set up further testing and in-school support. 

Permission to give up: Children need to know that they don’t have to like every book they read. Help them understand the difference between struggling to read the book and giving up from frustration, to putting down a book that they aren’t enjoying. 

Keep up the bedtime stories: Read with your child on a daily basis, if possible. While you may get tired of reading the same books, embrace rereading favourite books. Repetitive reading helps children’s vocabulary grow and deepens their comprehension. 

Ask for further support: Lean on the expertise of others to provide reading support. This help can come from teachers, family members, homework clubs and professional tutors.

Posted in: English Tutoring

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5 Secrets To A Successful Start To High-School

Starting high-school can be challenging—whether walking through the doors for the first time or starting a new grade—but with regular check-ins and a strong routine that encourages independence, the transition can be a great learning experience.

Here are a few strategies, straight from our tutors, that’ll ensure a successful (and not-too-stressful) start:

Improve note-taking strategies: Developing great note-taking skills can help high-schoolers maximize their academic results and serve as invaluable references when studying. Our team of OCT-certified tutors shared these fourteen organizational strategies that every teen should try to use this school year. 

Plan to get enough sleep: According to Rebecca Earl from Sugar Plum Sleep, “As children reach adolescence, their sleep patterns will naturally start to shift later. That’s because the release of melatonin, the hormone that helps us feel drowsy, is released later in the day.” Teenagers need at least 8-10 hours of sleep per night, so chat with your teen about their school schedule, extra-curricular and social activities and help them plan a bedtime that reflects the sleep they need.

Use an agenda: Carve out time to sit with your teen to review upcoming homework assignments, important academic dates (e.g., tests, exams etc.) and extra-curricular activities.  Revisit this process every month or so to ensure the agenda is up to date! 

Manage the electronics: Set up an electronic docking station in a central area in your home. Set expectations for every one in the house to leave their electronics there during homework, family time, and to leave them docked at bedtime so they can have a proper rest. 

Set academic goals: September is the perfect time to set goals for the year ahead. Review last year’s report card with your teen and help them set 3-4 goals—1 for the short term, 1 for the end of first term, and another 1-2 for the entire year. Once they’ve been set, break out the agenda and help them organize mini-goals to achieve them.

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Get Ready For The Best Back-To-School Ever!

Returning to school after months away is a big transition for students in all grades, but the road back doesn’t have to be bumpy. Our tutors shared six easy to implement tips that’ll prepare you and your child for the best back-to-school ever:

Adapt your family’s routine: Transitioning to school is easier when preparations begin in advance. Adjust bedtimes and family routines at least two weeks before the bell rings. Talk about why these changes are happening so your child understands it’s about healthy routines and setting up everyone for success.

Set goals: Sit down with your child and review June’s report card. Together make goals for the upcoming school year and consider any additional academic support or tutoring they may require.

Create a dedicated homework area: Organize a homework space that’s quiet, has a comfortable chair, and good lighting. Keep it stocked with papers, pencils, sharpeners, erasers and any other supplies needed.

Make a family command centre: The school year is smoother when papers are organized, and dates are in view. Consider a bin with each family member’s name on it. Place a calendar on the wall and leave a space for the school year calendar and any classroom calendars that come home. This may be the perfect place to dock personal electronics too.

Begin with books: Ease back-to-school jitters and evoke feelings of excitement with the help of school-themed books. Visit the library or bookstore to get some books about school, moving, making friends or even about bullying. Books give children the words to express their emotions and will help open up meaningful conversations between your and your child. 

Before bed routine: Mornings are much less stressful when things are packed the night before. As part of their pre-bed routine, ask your child to organize their knapsack with everything they need for school the next day—refer to the family command centre calendar to know what’s needed. This step will help eliminate forgotten library books, signed notes, and running shoes. 

If you love back-to-school shopping as much as we do, you’ll love this fun giveaway! Our friends at Staples and Raincoast Books are gifting one lucky Teachers on Call fan a back-to-school prize pack.

Staples is gifting the winner a $100 Staples gift card and select school supplies. 

Raincoast Books is gifting the winner six books! Once Upon a Chef, The Truth About My Unbelievable School, What Can a Citizen Do?, The Pout-Pout Fish and the Bully Bully Shark, Delilah Dirk and the Pillars of Hercules, and Seven Rules You Absolutely Must Not Break if you want to Survive the Cafeteria

Entering is simple. You can win the Staples and Raincoast Books prize pack by entering below! We’ll announce the winner on August 27th.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Contest is open to Ontario residents only.

Posted in: Math Tutoring, Parent Education Resources, Science Tutoring

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Mid-Summer Check-In Tips from Julie Cole

Are you as surprised as we are to discover we’re halfway through summer? With the school season only weeks away, a midsummer check-in can be just the thing to make sure you’re on track before the bell rings again.

We consulted parenting expert, and Mabel’s Label’s co-founder and mother of six, Julie Cole, to find out how she gets everything done before summer is over.

Julie suggests organizing your checklist by the vowels. And as educators, we agree.

“A” is for:

Appointments: There’s no need for your child to miss school over appointments. Schedule haircuts, the dentist, eye check-ups…and whatever else is hanging around on your list.

Academics: Kids need a break over the summer but August is the perfect time to dust off their little brains and do some practice—refresh the times tables, pull out the books, and spend time reviewing tough concepts. This will help all kids feel better prepared for back to school but especially any little ones with a learning disability.

“E” is for:

Entertainment: Now’s the time to make good on any promises you made about special summer activities. Check the list and schedule a time to make them happen. And with it being midway through the summer, you may begin to hear, “I’m bored.” It’s not your job to be your child’s summer entertainment. Encourage them to get creative and adventure independently— give them the freedom to make it happen.

“I” is for:

Inventory: Pull out last year’s school supplies and take note. What can be used again and what needs replacing? Refrain from last minute shopping when everything is on low supply and buy online or plan a shopping excursion before the final August rush. Now’s the perfect time to order your Mabel’s Labels to keep everything organized and reduce the chance of kids losing their supplies.

“O” is for:

Organization: Pull out the family calendar, it’s time to plan those extra-curricular activities. Discuss what your kids are wanting to do, consider other family needs, and then you can decide what will work.

“U” is for:

You! The parents! Was there something you wanted to do this summer? Put yourself on the list so you can meet your own summer goals!

Check out this video from Breakfast Television Toronto where Julie shares these tips in detail

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11+ Multi-Sensory Ways To Practice Sight Words

Sight words are the most common words found in texts, and for a child who is learning to read, being able to quickly recognize and recall these words is critical to becoming a fluent reader.

When a child can read the words ‘by sight’, they’re more easily able to focus on comprehension as well as applying their decoding strategies to words less frequently encountered.

Finding multisensory ways to learn the sight words, also known as high-frequency words, more easily helps children to learn them.

Our team of Toronto English tutors shared over eleven, fun and effective activities, families can play at home that will help children know these words at a glance.

To get started with the below activities, first, you’ll need to find the sight words. Your child’s teacher may have provided a list during the school year, otherwise, download the Fry or Dolch list as a helpful starting point.

Then, starting with twenty words at a time, write down each sight word on an index card. Do this twice so you have a pair of cards for each word. Shuffle the cards and choose a different activity every day to build early literacy skills.

  1. Play Go Fish using the sight word cards. Make it a family affair!
  2. Visit the Dollar Store to pick up a magnetic alphabet set.
  3. Grab the chalk and head outdoors for a sidewalk spelling bee.
  4. Bend pipe cleaners to form letters and combine to make words.
  5. Write a sight word on a piece of paper. Take turns tracing it over with different coloured markers or crayons.
  6. Spell words aloud in silly voices (e.g., Spell ‘said’ in a silly voice)
  7. Draw a hopscotch grid outside. Fill in each square with a sight word.
  8. Fill a bin with dried beans. Toss in the set of alphabet letters. Choose a sight word card and then hunt through the bin for the correct letters.
  9. Form body words. Use arms and legs to make each letter.
  10. Write a sight word on an index card. Cut it up so the letters are separate. Mix them up and try to spell the word.
  11. Roll out playdough-it’s the perfect material for building a sight word vocabulary:
    1. Golf tees and toothpicks easily carve out words
    2. Stamp magnetic alphabet letters down into the playdough
    3. Create a pile of thin strips of playdough. Use each strip to form a letter and build words

Posted in: English Tutoring

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Reflecting on the School Year

The school year is coming to a close.   After a busy year, the last couple of weeks of school are a wonderful time to reflect on what your child has learned, their successes and opportunities for the summer and year ahead.

Here are some conversation starters to have with your child to stimulate dialogue.

1) What school year accomplishment are you proud of the most?

2) Are there are new skills or strategies that you learned during the year?

3) What project or homework assignment are you the most proud or excited about?

4) What are three things you did this school year to help your classmates?

5) What there something you did not know at the start of the school year, but you know now?

6) What did you learn from your biggest challenge?

7) If there was something you could change this year, what would it be?

8) Did you have a favourite part of the day in class?

9) Were there any surprises this school year?

10) Did you have a favourite story or novel in English class?

11) Was there a Science lab or experiment that you enjoyed the most and why?

12) What was the funniest thing that happened?  End the school year on a positive note!

Posted in: Parent Education Resources

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5 Educational Family Field Trip Ideas Around Toronto

Summer is a welcome break from the routine of school, but it doesn’t mean the learning has to stop. With a little planning, there are plenty of opportunities to weave education into the summer months. One of our favourite ways to take advantage of the holidays is to plan regular family field trips that can’t always happen due to busy school year calendars, often filled with extracurriculars.

If you are planning on being in or around the GTA during the summer months, there are no shortage of fun and educational activities to explore. Here are a few of our top choices for summer activities in and around Toronto.

Ripley’s Aquarium: With over 20,000 different aquatic species and animals to discover, Ripley’s Aquarium is a fantastic place to visit. More than 5.7 million litres of water make up North America’s longest underwater viewing tunnel. Ripley’s Aquarium gives you the chance to participate in many different touch exhibits featuring sharks, crabs, shrimp, and stingrays. There are also changes to see an amazing daily dive show every 2 hours, daily. Made up of 9 differently curated galleries that showcase both freshwater and saltwater environments from around the world, Ripley’s Aquarium is the place to learn this summer.

The Ontario Science Centre: The Ontario Science Centre is an excellent choice for summer fun-especially on those scorching days when you don’t want to be outdoors. The Science Centre boasts a variety of exhibits and offers many daily demonstrations that bring science to life. Who can forget visiting there as a child and watching a peer’s hair stand on end due to static electricity? For kids under eight, plan on spending hours in KidSpark—an area that encourages scientific learning through play and exploration.

Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory: The Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory is a massive facility with a beautiful indoor tropical garden that features thousands of flying butterflies from all over the world. Not only are there butterflies in the indoor tropical garden but there are beautiful reflecting pools, waterfalls, streams, red-eared slider turtles and so much more. It’s an enjoyable educational experience for children of all ages.

Casa Loma: You needn’t go on a European vacation to experience the castle life. At Toronto’s Casa Loma you and your family can explore the suites, gardens, and travel the 800ft underground into a tunnel that leads to the stables. Use the self-guided audio tours to learn about the early 20th century.

Hilton Falls: If you are looking for a fun, outdoor experience, Hilton Falls is a fantastic place to visit. Hike the trails, go trail running or even go mountain biking. Explore the trails and beautiful water features like rivers, the reservoir, and the falls. Stop by the old Mill Ruins to find some remarkable history.

There are several different fun and educational activities that you can participate in as a family this summer, so get planning and have fun!

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20 Ways To Celebrate The End Of The School Year

The end of the school year is the perfect time to reflect on goals and enjoy all the wins and changes from a year of learning. We’ve gathered twenty ideas to help you and your child celebrate all their accomplishments and make the start of summer epic.

1. Create a countdown calendar to pump up excitement during the last month of school.

2. Look back through the agenda, binders, and notebooks to see all of the great things they’ve accomplished this year.

3. On a big piece of paper list or draw all the knowledge gained over the year. Pin it up in the house so everyone can see!

4. Plan a family show and tell to share favourite pieces of work and accomplishments.

5. Write a letter to the homeroom teacher list their most significant accomplishments. These are the notes they’ll keep forever.

6. Choose favourite pieces of work and put them into a scrapbook or a notebook.

7. Pick a favourite art piece and hang it up.

8.  Write notes or make pictures to each teacher telling them what they enjoyed the most.

9. Buy a book, inscribe it, and donate it to the school library.

10. Make friendship bracelets and give them to classmates.

11. Predict all the new things they’ll learn next school year. Write them down.

12. Choose a favourite piece of work and share it with a family member who lives far away—either mail it or use Facetime!

13.  Go on an educational field trip to celebrate!

14. Make a summer bucket list full of activities to look forward to once school’s out.

15. List 20 fun ideas to celebrate the last day of school.

16. Find ways to serve others at school with acts of kindness.

17. Visit the library for a pile of books to enjoy once school is out.

18. Make a memory collage highlighting the year.

19. Start an end of the year tradition. Blow bubbles, plan a special meal, or an outing to look forward to every year.

20. Create a top ten list of the school year.

Posted in: Parent Education Resources, Toronto Tutoring

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Five Strategies For Accessing Quality Summer Reading Materials

One of the factors contributing to the summer slide is that students don’t read as much over the summer. Reading less may be partially caused by a less structured schedule and camp activities, but there’s another critical reason: access. During the school year, students can get reading materials from the school library or their classroom teacher, but over the summer they lose this easy access to a steady flow of quality reading materials.

We polled our team of Toronto tutors to ask for their strategies for finding quality reading materials to enjoy all summer long.

Visit The Local Libraries: Toronto has many branches across the city with several having storytimes and summer reading programs. Sign up for a library card and then pull out your family calendar to plan biweekly outings to exchange books. And if visiting the library is difficult, with a library card, your whole family can even borrow books digitally!

Organize A Book Swap: Purchasing new books can add up quickly, but a book swap is a free way for children to find new reading materials that come recommended by their friends. There are a few options to make this as easy as possible: Invite your children’s classmates over for a pre-summer book swap or work with your child’s teacher to host one in the classroom. Another low-key possibility would be to place a box at the school and have students bring in their pre-loved books in exchange for another.

Go Book Shopping: Celebrate the end of the school year with an outing to the book store. Be prepared with a list in mind; consider buying the next book or two in your child’s favourite series. And before you leave the store, browse through famous family classic’s, we love Harry Potter, for a family read-aloud that’ll take the summer to enjoy.

Explore Your Bookshelves: Often when we ‘shop’ our bookshelves we’ll find several never been read books and ones that are worth rereading. Use the end of the school year as a good time to tidy the shelves, gather books that are no longer loved (but in excellent condition) for swapping or donation, and rediscover what’s already available.

Visit The Children’s Book Bank: Located in downtown Toronto, the Children’s Book Bank’s mission is to improve literacy in low-income communities by providing free books to children living in these neighbourhoods. It’s a warm and welcoming space, much like your favourite bookstore or library, which invites children to choose books and keep them, for free. They also provide regular programming and are open all summer long.

Posted in: English Tutoring

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How To Help Your Child Prepare For Year-End Tests

As the school year winds down, the season of test-taking begins. EQAO tests are happening soon, and high-schoolers are preparing for exams. These exams feel like high-stakes situations leaving children feeling anxiety and stress around both the result and the actual testing experience. Fortunately, whether your child is in elementary or secondary school, there’s plenty you can do to support them.

Talk about the actual test: Discuss the purpose of the test with your child and if appropriate, how it directly impacts them (e.g., gathering useful information about their knowledge vs. a percentage of grade).

Discuss strategies for calming nerves: Learning how to slow down and focus on your breathing is a proven strategy relax and reduce anxiety. With practice (follow these tips), children can do this during stressful situations to bring on more relaxation and reduction of tension.

Practice test-taking strategies: Highlighting important words or numbers, writing down formulas, and skipping the question to revisit it later are helpful tips to practice with your child in advance.

Schedule time to review material: Take out the family calendar and work with your child to block out extra time to prepare. If possible, plan on reducing additional commitments during this period. Being ready for a test and exam goes a long way towards feeling confident about the results. 

Prepare necessary tools: Talk with your child about what they need and are allowed to bring to their test. Pencils, erasers, pencil sharpeners, calculators and water bottles are relatively standard equipment for tests. Elementary students doing EQAO are often allowed to bring in books, magazines, and drawing paper to use if they finish before their peers.

Maintain a healthy sleep schedule: Sleep helps your brain function and increases energy levels and focus. A proper bedtime routine including plenty of before bed screen-free time will help your child have a good night’s rest.

Show empathy and support: Taking exams and tests is hard and so is being a student. Sharing your own experiences and words of encouragement can help your child feel supported.

Posted in: Parent Education Resources

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