2016 National Public Gardens Day


This opportunity comes once each year- the Friday preceding Mother’s Day. Many public gardens around the country participate in National Public Gardens Day by offering free or discounted admission. As you may have gathered from previous posts, I love spending time outdoors, and I enjoy learning about flora and fauna. Two years ago, Jim and I took advantage of National Public Gardens Day to visit Callaway Gardens. We had such a great time! We attended a birds of prey program where the birds flew low over our heads from one handler to the other. On the guided wildflower hike, we not only saw many varieties of native flowers but spotted a tree frog and a couple of queen snakes. The many species of butterflies in the Day butterfly center amazed me. There was always a staff member nearby to answer questions, and we have continued to add to our knowledge with a butterfly field guide purchased from the gift shop.

So be sure to check for a garden near you to visit on May 6. I wish I could visit them all. Which gardens have you visited?



A Cat, a Mouse, and a Hermit Crab

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It doesn’t take long for visitors to my home to notice Angel, my calico cat. She quickly sizes up a person, and if they’re friendly, she’ll walk up to them and begin catspeak. If they’re sitting, she’s liable to hop onto their lap without warning. She’ll look up as if to say, “Do you realize how special you are that I’ve chosen your lap?”

Some of my students are especially fascinated by Angel. If she doesn’t appear upon their arrival, they want to know where she is. Angel has become an asset to my tutoring. During the winter months, she spends most of her time in a chair in front of the bay window, in close proximity to my students. In fact they can actually reach out their hands and touch her. One little boy will pet her at least a couple of times during our sessions, sometimes not even turning from his work as he does this.  Just her presence gives comfort. Most of the time she naps; sometimes she snores, providing comic relief. If you have a cat, you know that it has a very calming effect  on those aournd it. This is beneficial for children who may already be anxious about their academic performance. It seems as if Angel is saying, “Take it easy and relax.” When I began working with J. he was stubborn and did not want help nor would he listen to instruction, but he liked Angel. He tried to pet her, but his approach was to charge her, and she could easily outrun him. I told him that Angel would come to him if he would simply squat and hold out his hand, but initially he refused.  However, J. had met his match and finally learned that Angel was more stubborn. A year and a half later, J. is very different both with me and with Angel as evidenced by the photo.

Pip was the name of our class pet the final year I taught in a classroom. He was a left over science project. My students asked to adopt him; someone brought in a hamster cage, and they all promised to feed and keep his home clean. So he stayed. All of the fifth and sixth graders loved him. Most would take him out and hold him. One girl enjoyed tearing paper strips to replenish his bedding. My only job was to purchase food from the pet store. Pip became a welcome distraction at the moments we most needed him. He even escaped his cage a couple of times, causing concern among fellow teachers, but we always discovered him in our room and returned him safely to his cage.

The hermit crab was a favorite pet of a fellow teacher. Each year she bought a new one and had a contest among her second graders to name it. The hermit crab remained in her class the entire year. The children could remove it from its aquarium; they built houses for it out of Legos and made obstacle courses for it to maneuver.  They even gave it bits of fruit from their lunches. At the end of each year, she held a second contest, and the winning child kept the crab. As she told me,  the crab was a perfect pet, requiring little maintenance. Giving them away to the students at the end of the year meant it had a home, and she didn’t have to worry with it.  An added benefit is their hardiness, living for several years.

I’ve known other teachers who’ve kept pets. In my experience they are always a welcome addition. What about you? Do you have a classroom pet, or did you have one growing up? Was it more of an asset or distraction?

Educents Dream Classroom Giveaway

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Every teacher spends money out of pocket to provide the best education for his/her students. Educents if giving away from $100 to $5,000 in teaching supplies so teachers can build their dream classroom. If you are not a teacher, you can still visit the site and vote for your favorite to win! Be sure to check back with the thelearningtutor.com in May for its own teacher appreciation giveaway.

Free Pass to Zoo Atlanta

Do you homeschool? Do you need an idea for a frugal and educational field trip? Zoo Atlanta has a great program through the Georgia public library system. Go to your local library, check out the Zoo Atlanta Library Pass DVD from the front desk. When you return the dvd, you will receive a receipt valid for fourteen days for admission to Zoo Atlanta. This offer is good for general admission for up to four. Did you know about this program? Have you taken advantage of it?


How Do I Help My Middle Schooler with History

There are two different ways to interpret this question: How can I help my child better understand history? And how can I help my child get better grades in history? I will address the first question in this post. Your middle schooler probably sees history as an abstract subject because she’s twelve (a lifetime for her), and she may be studying about people who lived 3,000 years ago. It’s hard for a young person to imagine people living lives so different from her own. With your help, she can see  a connection – history is like a tapestry where people and events are woven together and each have an effect on the other and future generations.

First, you want to engage your child in the stories of the past, make her wonder about life a hundred years ago. As Jurassic Park  author Michael Crichton once said, “If you don’t know history, you don’t know anything. You’re a leaf that doesn’t know it’s part of a tree.” A  good place to start is with her own family history. The more personal you make history for your child, the more interested she will be. Look at old photographs together, ask her questions about what it may have been like to have been a child during her grandparents and great- grandparents’ youths. Are there any ancestors who have served in the military? I find young people to be particularly fascinated by World War II. Find some published diaries or journals to read at the public or school library.

Aunt Virginia

Aunt Virginia is our family matriarch. She was born in 1918. Her mother survived the flu pandemic and was sick when giving birth. At 97, Aunt Virginia’s mind is still sharp, and she loves sharing family history.

Help her see that everyone and everything has a history. Take her to historic sites to learn about important people and events in engaging ways. You will be walking in the footsteps of those long gone, if there’s a historic interpreter present, you can ask more detailed questions. Some places hold living history events where you can observe pioneer skills in use. Some of my favorite memories are family trips to these destinations. The seed, which was planted, led to my becoming a history major.Your child may not initially be impressed, but if you show interest, chances are she’ll follow. As a college instructor, I witnessed how the older students in my American history classes influenced the eighteen and nineteen year olds. When nontraditional students began to ask questions and give input, I noticed the younger students would perk up and listen more intently, even to the point of joining our discussions.

Relate historic happenings to current events. This presidential election year offers many great comparisons. Immigration is an issue that has recurred in previous elections. Remember the “Know-Nothings” of the 1850’s? They won several state elections on an anti-immigration platform. Discuss Bernie Sanders’ candidacy.  How do his ideas and his presidential bid compare to Norman Thomas in 1932?

Now you know where to start; you’ll be amazed at your discoveries. Next time I will offer some suggestions for improving history grades.

What about you? How have you’ve made history more interesting for your child or student? What do you enjoy most? If you have a question you would like for me to address, send it to krenhamil@att.net.


Visit a National Park for Free

canons-acadia-national-park-massasuchetts-usa West Georgia schools are on spring break this week. Although most trips are already underway, I thought now is a good time to remind every parent of a fourth grader about a wonderful government program. It’s called Every Kid in a Park. This program gives free passes to be used in the national parks. The passes can be ordered by an individual and teachers may order for entire classrooms. I’m a lover of nature and of our national parks ( After college graduation, I worked as seasonal ranger at Fort Pulaski National Monument). So take advantage of this opportunity and begin planning for the summer by visiting http://www.everykidinapark.gov.


Memorizing Multiplication Facts

In the years I have tutored, I have noticed a disturbing trend: students no longer memorizing multiplication facts but instead relying on skip counting or a calculator for math. This is a mistake. Several months ago, I helped a high school graduate prepare for the ACT. When she contacted me, she had already taken the test three times, but her math score was still too low for acceptance into her college choice. I learned she had run out of time during her prior attempts. The ACT math portion has sixty questions to be completed in sixty minutes, a minute per problem. While working with her, I observed her reaching for the calculator for even the simplest of addition and multiplication. I pointed out that mastering those operations instead of keying them into a calculator would gain her time. This was a key factor to her improved score and subsequent acceptance into college.

Also mistakes can be easily made keying in data or skip counting – a child who isn’t fluent in addition will have trouble with skip counting. As math problems increase in complication, skip counting takes unnecessary mental effort. It’s best to save those mental faculties for analysis. As I tell my pupils, “You will multiply 7 x 6 thousands of times in your life, it’s much simpler once you know 7 x 6 =42.”

So how do you help your child become fluent in multiplication?

  • Playing math games makes learning facts fun. Multiplication bingo and card games can be found online or in educational stores. There are many games available for download over the internet; many for free, others for a nominal charge. No matter what game you choose, my suggestion is to play with your child and use auditory learning by having all players say the complete number sentence aloud.
  • Use multiplication in real life settings. When attending events, ask your child to figure how many seats are in different number of rows. “How many weeks will it take you to save for a tablet, bicycle, etc. if you set aside your weekly allowance?”
  • Drilling is not popular, but it is important to memorizing facts. First, your child needs to build confidence by becoming fluent with one fact family at a time. I like to start with 0,1,2,5, 10, and 11. From there, I move on to 4, 3, and 6. Once they’ve mastered these, they realize their goal is attainable and are ready to tackle 7, 8, 9, and 12. Make the drills more engaging by participating with them. This is easy to do on car rides. My students and I will takes turns repeating the sentences within a fact family. For example, if he starts with 1 x 6 = 6, I’ll reply with 2 x 6 = 12. Then we switch and repeat the process. Using silly voices will also make it more fun. Reinforce these exercises by letting your child write the facts in shaving cream or salt.

How about you? What are some methods which helped you learn, or what do you use when teaching?