What can I do to challenge my 10-year-old in math? She’s ahead of her grade in school. I want her to keep challenging her, but I’d like it to be fun. Her teacher this past year differentiated her from the other students by giving her a more challenging packet of worksheets, which we worked on, but I want to do more. It was easy to make or find fun math games when she was little, but as she gets older, it seems harder now.
Three things that I do for my students and my own 10-year-old to challenge them in math: Teach your child chess, and learn the game yourself if necessary. Though chess doesn’t require the manipulation of numbers, it’s a game that demands forethought, focus, problem-solving with a multitude of steps, and perseverance. All of these skills are essential for the more complex problem solving that your child will be doing in the coming years.
Engage your child in logic problems and lateral thinking puzzles. These are challenges that require children to use many of the problem-solving strategies required in mathematics and forces them to expand beyond what they know and enter new, previously unforeseen realms. One of the hardest things for students to do is to take skills they already know and apply them to never-before-seen circumstances. Logic and lateral thinking puzzles expose kids to these new circumstances and require them to remain focused, diligent, and determined. This is exactly what your child will need to do in the coming years, so experiencing and practicing these scenarios now will pay dividends later one.
Engage your child in code breaking. Many middle grade novels published today actually contain codes to be broken, as do television shows like Gravity Falls. Code-breaking requires children to look for patterns, compare and contrast, and guess and check, which are all problem-solving skills. You can also try Mail Order Mystery, a company that sends mysteries to the home—an envelope of clues each week—that require children to break codes, piece together information, examine evidence, and draw conclusions. You could also invite your child to construct their own codes for you to crack.
None of these recommendations are the kind of math that your child will be doing in school, but all of them will prepare your child’s mind, develop their skill set, and establish a work ethic that will make tackling that future math much easier for them.
—Mr. Dicks (fifth grade teacher, Connecticut)
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What advice can I give my 5-year-old on dealing with bullies and kids that are mean? They typically encounter this in group games and sports at school. I know some people recommend saying, “Stop, I don’t like that” and then walking away to tell an adult, but is that really the only option? I’d like to talk to my child about other ways they can protect themselves (without getting into an altercation). What might that look like?
When your child and their classmates are older and capable of greater nuance, there are things you can say to bullies to disarm them. Asking a bully, “What’s wrong with you?” or “Are you okay?” can prove highly effective. Empathy in the face of cruelty can sometimes be like dousing a fire with water.
But your child is five years old, which makes this much more challenging. A kindergarten or first grade bully will not respond to “What’s wrong with you?” or “Are you okay?” with any kind of introspection or logic.
Speaking your feelings aloud and telling an adult about the bullying is actually an excellent strategy for two reasons:
1. It helps your child get the help they need.
2. It gives the adult an opportunity to help the bully learn the error of their ways.
Also, when your child is five years old, the stigma of being a tattle tale or being unable to solve their own problems is not an issue. As my wife, who teaches kindergarten, assures me, “They are all constantly telling on one another.”
One thing you can do is talk to your child about why a child might say unkind things to them. If your child understands that an unkind remark or bullying behavior often has more to do with the person acting unkind than their target, this can mute the emotional response of your child. When kids understand that most children lash out because they are unhappy, upset, or unskilled in handling the particular circumstance, they don’t take the unkindness as personally. In fact, it’s a useful tool for all of us.
—Mr. Dicks (fifth grade teacher, Connecticut)
My high schooler came out as trans this past year and changed their name. The school was incredibly accommodating, and their teachers were supportive. In spite of a wonderful attitude and a great therapist, it has obviously still been a tough year that’s been full of change. Every item that has come home from the school this year (ID badges, report cards, letters, etc.) has listed my child as their new name. When they got their yearbook, however, they were listed by their deadname, with their new name alongside it in parentheses, as if it’s an aside, not their identity. My child is so upset. What’s the best way to handle this, to get my child an apology they deserve, and to ensure nothing like this happens again—to my child, or any other?
Dear Proud Protector,
I’m sorry that your child is so upset. It sounds like they have lots of support at home and at school; I’m so glad to hear that. I deal with so many trans and LGBTQ+ students who feel alone on both fronts and I want you to know that just in writing this letter, you’re setting an example for other parents and you’ve certainly shown that you are on their side.
The simplest way to make your child’s feelings heard is to reach out to the yearbook advisor and ask, “How did this happen?” Without even knowing the details of the situation, I see several possibilities here.
The first is that there are many yearbooks advisors who have been instructed that they must— under all circumstances—print the legal name of every child, in part because yearbooks are sometimes viewed as legal documents and resources used by law enforcement. While I hear and understand your frustration, and I know that this must have been devastating to your child after a year of progress, please consider that this may have been done to honor them. If the new name was not legal at the time of their deadline for those specific pages (all yearbooks have staggered deadlines and pages due as early as October and November), including it in parentheses—while it may seem belittling now—may have been the most generous thing they could do at the time.
However, it’s obviously also possible that it was simply an editorial mistake. Remember, this is a student publication and mistakes happen. As a literary magazine advisor, I know that all sorts of disappointing errors are printed no matter how many times we comb through the book (which is always much smaller than the yearbook).
And still a third possibility: the yearbook advisor or their staff may not have been trained in how to deal with a situation like this.
Whether it was a mistake or a miscommunication, reach out to the yearbook teacher. Tell them how you feel and how your child feels. Hopefully you don’t have to educate someone, particularly an educator, on how to treat a trans students. I know how burdensome that can be for a minority group, and it shouldn’t be your obligation to teach them how to handle these situations. But if you want to prevent it from happening again, that may be necessary. Many people who don’t often work with or interact with trans youth don’t understand the hurtfulness of deadnaming or using incorrect pronouns. I think many people falsely liken it to their own cisgender experiences of having their names mispronounced. But this isn’t like someone calling me Voo-na instead of Von-uh. It’s more akin to someone callously or hurtfully calling me Erica instead of Eric. I understand this because I work with trans youth all the time. Other educators might not have that experience under their belt yet.
A word of caution: yearbook teachers can be a defensive bunch. I say that with all the love in my heart for the many yearbook teachers that I count as friends. It’s just a matter of course: they spend a lot of time working on that book. So please, don’t enter the conversation on the attack. I think your child has every right to an apology, and I love that you are ready to defend them and seek restitution, but reach out with that simple question: “How did this happen?” Let them know how upset your child is, but seek answers, not contrition and hopefully, when this advisor has had a chance to evaluate what happened, an apology will come.
—Mr. Vona (high school teacher, Florida)
How important is it for college applications for high school students to do something “academic” like an internship, or a summer residence program at a college, versus having a part-time job (not supporting the family, just making some pocket cash) and playing sports over the summer?
The importance of summer internships or college residence programs will depend upon where a student applies and how selective those schools are. For highly selective institutions, a resume with impressive achievements is advantageous. Such resumes matter less to schools that are easier to get into. In fact, many students qualify for automatic admission based on things like SAT scores or class rank.
Despite the importance of college, I think teenagers should decide how they want to spend their summers based on what they want to do with their time (within reason, of course). If they are excited about an internship, then they should do it! Internships are often valuable, enriching experiences. But if a teen would rather spend the summer earning money, let them get a job. This can also be a rewarding experience, even if it’s not as impressive to college admissions officers.
It’s certainly important to plan ahead for college. That said, focusing too much on completing activities just for the sake of a good-looking resume can lead to burnout. Good luck!
— Ms. Holbrook (high school teacher, Texas)