Going for the Gold(or Goal)


I’ve never been a good athlete, nor am I good at putting long term goals down on paper and then meeting the benchmarks which will ultimately get me to my destination. But when the desire is there, I will subconsciously search out my objective like an internal GPS. My six year dream to complete a college level math course may seem prosaic to most. However, I need that knowledge to confidently tutor higher level math students whom I have had to turn away. Although I got an A in college algebra years ago, high school math has changed. The courses are accelerated, and more advanced content has been introduced to the high school curriculum. By taking pre-calculus, I can fill those gaps. So four weeks ago, I began an online pre-university calculus course. So please excuse me for my absence on thelearningtutor; the exercises have consumed my brain power.

I’m still pursuing this goal – the course ends in September – but I’ve already overcome many obstacles- mainly financial. When I first considered returning to school, I thought I could do it inexpensively by auditing. I didn’t need another degree, but I quickly learned that the local university charged the same amount because an auditor takes up space. Then I checked into the online version and discovered that even though seating capacity was not an issue, the technological fees actually increased the cost over taking it in the classroom. So I set my dream aside.

But as dreams tend to do, it recurred. Maybe it was because I turned 50, or maybe it was because I had to turn away even more students this past year. In March, I once again explored options for taking a summer course, and I met more dead ends. The local technical college, a more economical choice, could not assure me that the class I needed would be offered. However, they wanted me to complete the application process, which would include transcripts from two different colleges, with its attendant fees. That didn’t make sense. I again considered the local university knowing the cost would be higher. In fact, about $1,100; fees like parking, activity, etc were nearly as much as tuition. Since I only needed one course, I was not eligible for any financial aid.

However, I decided to get creative and raise the funds. The cornerstone of my plan was to sell my diamond engagement ring (gasp!).  I assure my readers that I thought it over carefully and discussed it with Jim. I never wear my ring. In fact, it’s become loose on me so I’m afraid of it slipping off without my noticing. Finally, as a good friend pointed out, I don’t have a daughter to leave it to, so I would get more use out of liquidating it than letting it sit in a jewelry box. But when I researched this option, I learned that the diamond market was flooded, and my devalued ring, at most, would bring $600 if I could find a buyer. I still believed I could get the funds, and I completed the admission process, having faith that God would come through in a miraculous way.  As the date for summer session drew nearer, I had trouble registering for the class, and then I learned that the course was four hours, instead of three, increasing the cost $200.

Deciding God was telling me, “Not now,” I let go again. At this point, I got discouraged and began to think this would never happen. But I couldn’t stop talking about it, and I ended up telling the right person-a divine appointment? He informed me that I could take a free online course called a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course). I thought this was too good to be true, but after googling, I found a pre-university calculus course starting the next week!  Now for someone who wants a degree this will not help, but it is the perfect fit for me since I only need the knowledge.

Now, I spend my evenings doing math and rewatching lectures between students.  Just like the athletes preparing in Brazil, I have wondered many times if the effort and sacrifice of time is worth it. But I’m enjoying the challenge, and I’ll keep my eyes on the prize.



Writing During Summer Break


Most children consider anything associated with school – especially writing- off limits this time of year. When I was young, you couldn’t even find a sheet of notebook paper in our home from Memorial Day to Labor Day. You may be satisfied because your child is participating in the summer reading program, and you may be tempted to leave well enough alone. However, you realize how important writing is for communication. Plus, you know that the more your child practices, the less anxious he/she will be when the time comes to produce five or more page papers in high school and college. As one of my professors liked to say, “If you can write a good sentence, you can write a good paragraph. If you can write a good paragraph, you can write a good chapter.” You see where this is going? I’ve borrowed heavily  from the Bob Jones University ELA curriculum which I found to be logical and easy to use when I taught elementary level students. Use these ideas to get started and to make the process more palatable for your child.

  • Keep a journal – Your child can simply use it for keeping a daily record, or you can give him writing prompts. Be sure and check for complete sentences. When I taught history, I was appalled at the number of fragments in college level essays.
  • Send thank you notes – After an outing to a museum, park, historic home, etc. have your children write their own thank you notes to the staff. Be sure to give them some direction, such as describe three items or activities which interested you most. I used this activity many times with my fifth and sixth graders. After one field trip, my students were writing their notes, and one girl piped up, “This is fun and educational,” which was music to this teacher’s ear.
  • Draw pictures and caption them. In fact, have them draw pictures to add to thank yous and journals. If your child is at the preschool level, she can simply label the image for handwriting practice. For those just beginning to read and write, have them write a one or two sentence description.
  • Summarize books. As your child finishes each book, have them write a paragraph summary (increase paragraphs for advanced students). If they need help organizing their thoughts, use this graphic organizer created by This Reading Mama. In fact, their journal can consist entirely of book summaries. The process I use for my students is write a draft, skipping lines. Next day, revise the draft. By skipping lines, one can easily add in more details without cramping his/her writing. On the third day, proof for spelling and punctuation errors. Using a colored pencil for revisions and corrections will make them easier to see. Finally use neat handwriting to produce a final draft.
  • Get a pen pal. You may have to give your child a history lesson in pre- Facetime days. If they’re resistant to writing letters, suggest a correspondent, maybe a relative or someone they met on vacation. In fact, they may have to make more than one attempt to find someone to reciprocate. But the reward will be worth it. They will get their writing practice, expand their horizons, and look forward to mail call.
  • Collaborate on a project. This can be a fun way to include yourself and all your children, no matter their writing level. Here are some of the projects, my fifth and sixth graders enjoyed when I taught in a classroom. Compose a sense poem, a limerick, or even riddles. After visiting a historic site, work together on a fictional narrative, using the historic site as the setting. Create the characters together. Have each person add at least one historical detail. After discussing, each child can write the story in his/her own style.

Whichever suggestion you use, my final advice is to participate with them. If you want them to journal, then journal with them. While they write their thank you notes or letters, you write one also. You will be engaging your children and improving your own communication skills.

Which suggestions would you like to add?




Free (and nearly free) Children’s Books

Baby and books

I’m assuming that if you’re reading this post, you agree with introducing children to books when they’re babies to instill a lifelong love of learning. I know many parents who fill their homes with books, but buying books at retail can be expensive. Of course, my favorite resource for books is the public library. While I’m always thrilled at the crowds of children attending preschool story time or summer reading events, I realize much more are absent. While visiting the library is not a priority for some families, others want to and will actually go and check out numerous books. But in the hustle and bustle of everyday life, the books become overdue, or they are lost. In these cases, a person can spend more on fines and book replacement than actually buying discounted books. And children like having their own books that they can peruse and reread whenever they like.

Fortunately, I know of two great programs which will send infants and preschoolers a book a month- absolutely free – until their fifth birthday. Sixty books is enough reading material for a child to have his/her own library. And what child doesn’t love getting mail! One well-known program is Dolly Parton’s Imagination Station. In order for this program to work, local sponsors are needed, so you will need to check the website to see if it’s available in your area. If not, you’ll find information for starting a local program. The same goes for another great reading program which operates here in Georgia, the Ferst Foundation For Childhood Literacy. You simply go to their website, enter your county’s name to see if your child is eligible to receive books.

Now if you don’t have access to these programs, there are still numerous other resources for providing low cost books.

  1. Helping others move. My husband and I find ourselves once or twice a year helping friends or neighbors move. I’m amazed at the books I’ve collected over the years from these moves. There is always an offer to go through a donation pile. If the family has older or adult children, you have a great chance of finding children’s books.
  2. Yard sales and thrift stores. I don’t spend over a dollar, even for nice, board books. In these cases, people want to get rid of stuff. If they want more, I know I can find other sales for the price I’m willing to pay. The local Salvation Army store will many times offer paperbacks @ 10/$1 and hardbacks @ 4/$1.
  3. Library sales. Many of the local libraries in my area have friend’s groups which maintain a bookstore. Prices are rarely more than a dollar, and they even have sales. My favorite is to fill a bag for a set amount. Since I try to keep my book collection to a manageable amount; these stores become a revolving door as I make donations whenever I acquire “new” books.
  4. Rewards programs . Although I no longer participate, I’ve collected several nice, new books in the past five years from the Kellogg’s Reward Program. They partner with Scholastic books and offer children’s books as an incentive to buy their products. So if you buy a lot of Kellogg’s products, this is something you’ll want to sign up for.

What other resources are you aware of for free or cheap books? Please share in the comments.

Summertime Tutoring


The school year is ending here in west Georgia. Today is the last day for many schools in this area, and some will let out next week. While many parents see summer break as a time to get away from academics, for the struggling student, it is an opportunity to catch up. Just a few hours of one-on-one tutoring can make a tremendous difference when school resumes. For others, it means they remain sharp and continue to advance their skills. Two years ago, as we were getting ready for a new school year, I commented to my student J. that she was working more quickly with fewer mistakes. I loved her response, “I used to think math was a monster, now I think it’s easy.”

If given the preference of working with a child during the school year or summer break, I choose summer. After tutoring for eight years, I see the most significant progress in those students I work with June- July. There are a couple of reasons for this. During the school year, the focus is on completing school assignments and test preparation; in contrast, the focus is on strengthening a child’s weak areas during summer tutoring. Another factor which I believe plays a very important role is peer pressure or lack of it during summer. While I believe in healthy competition, when a child gets so far behind, he begins to think he is dumb when he hears classmates talk about how easy that test was or bragging on getting A’s. The struggling student begins to view school as an insurmountable obstacle. When a child gets help in the summer, the work is tailored to his needs; his only competitor is himself; and as he practices, he becomes more aware of his improvement. I also add a few more games in summer to make the work more palatable.

Do you have to hire a tutor? Absolutely not! Children are eager to learn, and summer is a great opportunity to sneak in some teaching without a child realizing it. I’ll continue to post about opportunities I discover, and be sure to check past posts in Learning Opportunities. A great idea my friend had was to give her children three review math problems which they had to complete before beginning their fun activities each day. Local libraries have great summer reading programs. Read my post from summer 2015 at iheartpublix for ideas to combine grocery shopping with math practice.

But if you know your child needs the support and consistency private tutoring offers, then I believe the investment is well worth it. Several years ago, I worked with a weak reader who was preparing for fifth grade. Although I only worked with him during the summer, his reading drastically improved.He is now in high school and making honor roll. If you want to hire a tutor, a good place to start is by asking your child’s teacher. Post a request on facebook and other social media. And of course, if you’re in the west Georgia area, I would love to work with your child. You can find my contact information in the About Category. Have a great summer!

I and other readers would love to hear your suggestions for continuing the learning process during school breaks in the comments.

My First Teacher

Mama with doll
My mom when she dreamed of being a mother.

I remember a few years ago, as I rose early one morning, I glanced at my reflection in the window and saw my mother’s face staring back at me. Until that moment, I had not realized how much I resemble her. More than sharing her looks, I hope I have inherited her character. She has always taken care of those that society tends to forget, especially shut-ins and the elderly. As a child, I tagged along on many of these visits. Even though she has slowed down, she stills gets joy from cooking meals and making sure those around her are happy and satisfied.

Most of what I learned from my mom came from simple observation. She definitely wasn’t a helicopter mom, but I was a clingy child and stayed close to her side. She taught me how to carry on a conversation with strangers just by listening to her interactions around others. I can cook because I spent so much time in  her kitchen; I’m sure most of the time getting in the way. On the weekends, she allowed my sisters and me to rummage through her cookbooks and cabinets to bake whatever caught our fancy.


Although my mom did not finish high school – she married at seventeen- she made sure that I and my four siblings got the most of our education. At 58 years old,  she set an example for the importance of higher learning by getting her GED and graduating from a community college. When we were growing up, she made summer weekly trips to the library a priority. And she always rewarded us for any A’s on our report cards.

A few years ago, I wrote down the reasons I’m blessed she’s my mother and gave the list to her. I’m glad I did this because even though I think I’ve expressed those sentiments in other ways, I wanted her to see it in black and white. For this Mother’s Day, I’m sharing a Billy Collins poem. Happy Mother’s to my mom and all mothers!

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?

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?

A Lesson from Passion Week

During the years I taught at a Christian school, we began the day with a Bible story. I told the stories mainly from memory, but I kept the text in front of me for details I might forget to include. I taught a combined fifth and sixth grade class, and we were covering the Passion stories. As I told the story of Jesus sharing the Passover meal with His disciples, an important detail caught my attention which I had not noticed before; the disciples argued about who would be first in God’s kingdom.

Wait… hadn’t Jesus already covered this ground? Had he not made it clear that His kingdom was about serving and not being served. As I later looked through the gospels, I confirmed that this conversation had taken place on two other occasions before the Last Supper. So here was Jesus about to sacrifice Himself so that they could spend eternity with Him in heaven, and they were concerned about who got the best position. This was a timely message for me because I had been repeating a lesson on behavior and was frustrated with the results. I don’t remember what it was I wanted my students to learn. What I vividly recall is what Jesus’s response taught me. He didn’t say, “I have more important matters on my mind,”  “I don’t have time for this,” “How many times do I have to tell you…” He didn’t sigh before patiently repeating that His kingdom was about serving, not being served. He didn’t even remind them that He had explained this before. He knew this was part of the maturing process: He knew, with the exception of Judas, they would die serving Him, some a martyr’s death.

And the word for me: sometimes we have to hear or be instructed several times before we embrace a teaching whether it involves math or a moral principle. So if you’re a mother, teacher, or some other leader: be patient, trusting that in time, your pupils will learn.