Monthly Archives: July 2011

Launch Education Guest Blog

I was given the wonderful opportunity to guest blog for Launch Education– a great tutoring company located in Los Angeles, New York City, and Washington,DC.  The full blog post is below but can also be found on their website if you click Here.

The Crucial Role of Parents in Education

by Alexis Lauricella

It’s pretty clear that the education system as a whole in the United States is struggling to provide youth with an adequate, let alone quality, education.  For decades, the US government has enacted policies and programs with the goal of “fixing” our education system by creating new rules and procedures for schools and teachers. Only recently, after decades of continuingly failing schools, a new bill was introduced to the House of Representatives that recognizes the crucial role that families, and particularly parents, have on children’s academic achievement.  The goal of the Family Engagement in Education Act of 2011 is to provide incentives for schools and districts to engage parents in children’s education with the hopes of closing the achievement gap.  This bill is clearly only in its infancy, but the message is clear: parents and families are crucial factors in the academic success of children.

The teachers and school systems clearly can’t do it all on their own. Government funding and regulation are attempting to “not leave any children behind”, but unfortunately, kids are getting left behind and no one is coming to pick them up.  Recent reports from the Annie E. Casey Foundation (Fiester & Smith, 2010) indicate that 67% of all 4th grade students are not proficient readers and these numbers are even higher for African American and Hispanic children.   Literacy isn’t the only issue.  Students are also performing poorly in Science and Math, especially compared to children in other countries (Fleischman, Hopstock, Pelczar, & Shelley, 2010).

The US school system undoubtedly needs considerable work and there is no quick-fix answer to the problem.  But, parents can help, and even when children in are highly competitive, wonderful academic institutions, parents have a responsibility to be involved and help their children academically.   No one expects that parental involvement will fix the achievement gap or the failures of our education system as a whole, but their involvement is crucial!

Research demonstrates that parent involvement does help- significantly! When parents are involved in their children’s education, their children perform better academically and socially (Henderson, 1987; Jenyes, 2003).  This doesn’t mean that parents have to volunteer at every school function or become the president of the PTA in order for their child to reap the benefits of education.  There are thousands of fun, creative, and easy ways to get involved in your children’s educational success. Here are just a few:

  • Parent-teach Conferences.  Parents can take the lead and work directly with their children’s schoolteachers to determine ways that they can enhance their child’s education at home. Parents can take advantage of the one-on-one time that is provided during parent-teacher conferences to determine what concepts will be taught in class that year and how to can expand upon these concepts at home.
  • Get Creative. The technological advances of the past decade have provided many new ways for children to learn.  Take advantage of quality websites that offer educational worksheets or activities related to a particular topic your child is studying at school.  Search for videos (either online or at your local library) related to the concepts your child is learning in school; maybe having the information presented in a new way will help your child learn. Take learning outside the classroom by bringing your child to the library to find related books on topics covered in class, to a museum to see a related exhibit, or even to a park where you can find real world examples of the science concepts being taught in class.
  • Combine subject areas and interests.  If your child is learning multiplication tables in school but really loves to write, work with your child to write a story about multiplication problems.  Similarly, if your child loves baseball encourage her to keep scores and calculate batting averages while you watch a game or ask her to write a newspaper article about the game you watched together using some of the new vocabulary words from class.

Teachers will educate and work with children at school, but parents need you to help; to expand upon the learning that is occurring in school and help your children prosper and succeed both academically and socially. It would be ideal if teachers and school administrators facilitated and encourage parent involvement with or without incentives provided by the potential Family Involvement in Education of 2011 bill. However, until this bill passes or other action is taken to encourage schools to include and incorporate parents, parents should take the lead and find ways to get involved!


Fiester, L. & Smith, R.  (2010).  Early warning!  Why reading by the end of third grad matters.  A KIDS COUNT Special Report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.  Baltimore, MD.

Fleischman, H.L., Hopstock, P.J., Pelczar, M.P., & Shelley, B.E. (2010). Highlights From PISA 2009: Performance of U.S. 15-YearOld Students in Reading, Mathematics, and Science Literacy in an International Context (NCES 2011-004). U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Handerson, A. T. (1987). The evidence continues to grow: Parent involvement improves student achievement. Columbia, MD: National Committee for Citizens in Education.

Jeynes, W. H. (2003).  A meta-analysis: The effects of parental involvement on minority children’s academic achievement.  Education and Urban Society, 35, 202-218.

The Family Engagement in Education Act of 2011. Parent Teacher Association.  Retrieved from on July 11, 2011


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Summer Learning: Social-Emotional Development

Over the summer it is important to maintain the skills that are learned during the school year.  I already wrote about the importance or maintaining literacy, math, and science skills, but other skills related to social-emotional development can also “slide” during the summer.

Think about the differences between the school year and summer:  During the school year your child is in a classroom for about 7 hours a day with a teacher and about 20 kids her own age. She has spent 9 months getting to know the children in her class (and sometimes they have known each other for years before).  Your child knows that Sarah has a short temper or that Billy tends to cry when he doesn’t get his way.  Similarly, your child has developed a relationship with her teacher.  She knows that Mrs. Smith will put up with whispering in the classroom during math but that she is strict about ensuring that each child has a chance to read aloud during story time.

In the summer, all of this changes.  Your child may be at home with a parent and an older or younger sibling, with a new summer nanny, or at various summer camps with new counselors and campers each day.  Your child may be going to the beach, the park, or the pool more regularly and thus meeting more new friends whom he will know for shorter periods of time. You and your family may take vacations which likely alter your child’s sleep and eating schedules, they may be slightly stressful or overwhelming, or they may be opportunities for your child to visit with cousins and other children he doesn’t seem as frequently. With all of this change your child might need to relearn and continue to work on social-emotional skills that are often a daily focus in early education classrooms.

Social-Emotional development is tough to define because it is quite broad, but basically it’s your child’s ability to control and express emotions in an appropriate and healthy manner.  This is something that is particularly hard for parents to  teach during the summer because there are no worksheets children can complete or assignments children can do to “practice” emotional development skills.  The best opportunity for children to work on social-emotional development is through play and experience.

For teachers, social-emotional development is slightly easier.  They generally work with the same age group/grade each year and know generally what to expect regarding emotional skills plus they have a classroom full of same-age students who will test each other’s ability to regulate and control their emotions.  At home during the summer, this can be more difficult.  A parent isn’t going to yank a toy away from a 5 -year-old just to “test” her ability to appropriately react and calm her emotions (meaning her ability to restrain herself from throwing a tantrum, grabbing the toy back, or hitting).

As a parent, you have the benefit of more one-on-one time with your child.  This provides more opportunities to sit down with your child and discuss emotions, feelings, and appropriate reactions to those feelings as they come up on a daily basis.  Also, given the new situations and people your child may be around during the summer you may have increased opportunity to see your child’s social-emotional skills “tested” in new ways.  While this can be challenging and frustrating as a parent, it’s also a great opportunity to continue to help your child develop these skills.

Some ideas of ways to discuss and work on social-emotional development skills with your child during the summer:

  • On your way to a park, pool, beach or anywhere where there will be lots of new kids around, remind your child that the toys you are bringing are toys that should be shared with other kids.  If there is a special toy that your child is very protective of, encourage your child to leave whatever toys he doesn’t want to share with his new friends in the car.  This will minimize the chances of a complete emotional breakdown.
  • Once your child is playing with other children, even before anything happens, remind your child to play nicely and share with her new friends.  Also remind her that if she needs or wants something that she should remember to ask for it.  By providing this prompt prior to any specific issue there is a better chance your child will ask rather than grab something out of someone’s hands (although depending on the age and personality of the child this prompt will have levels of effectiveness).
  • On your way home, talk to your child (even if they are pre-verbal toddlers) about the day’s events playing with their friends.  Talk about feelings that your child felt while playing with a new friend.  Was it frustrating to share a toy?  Did you like getting a chance to play with Timmy’s shovel, wasn’t that nice of him to share?  It was very kind of you to let Jill borrow your bucket, that was really good sharing.  Expressing and talking about emotions helps children begin to process the different feelings they experience and to understand the words for what they are feeling.
  • When there is an emotional meltdown (and yes there will be sometimes).  Try to remove your child from the situation.  Sit with your child on a bench preferably away from the other children so they don’t see what is going on without them there and give your child a moment to calm down.  Once your child is calm, immediately discuss what bothered your child and why he felt the need to react the way he did.  Sometimes with young children need help processing exactly what happened that set them off.  Sometimes their emotions come out before they cognitively have a chance to grasp what was going on.  Encourage your child to stop and take a deep breathe whenever they feel very frustrated or angry, this might give them a moment to process their emotions before actually reacting.

Social-emotional development skills are important skills for later school success and social experiences. Unlike other academic skills, social-emotional skills are often practiced and developed in summer camps or other social experiences that happen during the summer.  It’s not a skill that parents need to go out of their way to “practice” with their children, but it’s a skill parents should be thinking about when playing and spending time with their children during the summer months when they are less likely to be in large group settings with consistent teachers and peers.


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Math & Girls

It’s sad that it is 2011 and we are still discussing gender differences and gender stereotypes in math and science performance in America.  It doesn’t help when the President of Harvard, Lawrence Summers, makes comments that there are innate differences between men and woman that result in fewer women succeeding in math and science careers (Bombardieri, 2005).  The good news is that research evidence doesn’t support Summers’ theory, the bad news is that many students still believe that boys are better at math and science.

In response to Summers’ statement a few years ago, professors at Stanford got together to discuss gender in math, science, and engineering.  According to Jo Boelar, an associate professor of mathematics education at the School of Education at Stanford, “There is a huge belief that boys are better at math which is vastly out of proportion to any data that we have.  And yet people believe it. You go into schools and the children will tell you that.” (Johnston, 2005).

A recent article in the Journal of Child Development by Cvencek, Meltzoff, and Greenwald (2001) provides further evidence that even 6 years later, this vision that boys are better than girls at math than girls still exists- even with elementary school-aged children.  A fascinating study that examined both implicit and explicit attitudes about gender stereotypes and math (e.g., “that math is for boys”) found that children ages 6-10 years old believe “math is for boys” and that boys are more likely to identify with math than girls are.  These stereotypes appear even in the youngest children tested.

What’s really interesting about this study is that unlike most other research that has relied on explicit self-report measures (asking children or adults how “good they are” at math, etc), this study used BOTH explicit self-report measures and an implicit association task to examine children’s attitudes toward math.  When thinking about research with young children you have to consider how the child is interpreting and understanding the question that is being asked.  There are some limitations to asking children how “good they are” or “how much they like” anything.  For example, asking these types of questions may be a better measure of self esteem than actual performance, a child may say, “I’m great at math” because she thinks she is very good at everything (measuring self-esteem more than actual ability).

The authors of this study adapted an implicit association task to examine how children viewed gender stereotypes related to math implicitly (meaning without directly asking the children about their attitudes about this topic).  How did they do this?    Children played a computer game where they were given target words one at a time (e.g., story, Emily, graph, David, numbers, Hannah) and were instructed to categorize them as fitting into one of two categories.  Children played this came when the categories were stereotype congruent meaning that they paired “boy” and “math” together in one category and “girl” and “reading” together in another.   The then saw and heard the target words, for example “number”, and had to indicate using an keyboard whether it fit in the “boy/math” category or the “girl/reading” category.  Children also played a version when the categories were stereotype incongruent meaning they paired “boy” and “reading” together in one category and “girl” and “math” together in another.   They then measured the association with math terms and the child’s own gender compared to the opposite gender.

Findings from this study indicate that children demonstrate both implicit and explicit gender stereotypes at very young ages, even before any performance differences begin to appear related to math.  Given these types of findings, it is important that as parents and teachers we work to minimize these gender stereotypes related to performance in any academic field!

Ways to encourage your children to excel in all academic fields, regardless of gender:

  • Meet New People & Learn about Careers.  Take your children to places where people don’t fit into gender stereotype roles.  For example, when you take your child to the doctor’s and there is a male nurse, ask why he became a nurse and what he likes about his job.  Likely he will say that he was interested in helping others or learning about medicine, explain to your child what types of classes and skills he had to learn to become a nurse.  Similarly, when you see a woman working at the Science Museum, don’t just ask about the display that she is showing, if she has time, ask her to explain to your children how she decided to become a scientist.
  • Be Positive. Encourage your child to practice and study all of the subjects.  Avoid statements that “math is hard” or “I’m not good at math either”.  Instead provide positive statements like, “doesn’t it feel great to get the answer right?”
  • Always Do the Best You Can  Remember that not everything is going to come easily to every child and kids get frustrated when they don’t understand.  Not every little girl is going to be a math whizz and not every little boy is going to become a literary genius- but that doesn’t mean that they don’t have to try and they should always strive to do the best they can!  (The same goes for the parents- even if you hated math growing up, keep your negative comments to yourself and work do to the best you can too!)
  • Books about Careers and Academic Success.  Find books at the library that provide models of women and men in non-traditional women’s roles and vice versa and talk about how anyone can be anything they want to be.
As much as this is still something that people think about and discuss there is hope that gender stereotypes related to academic success will continue to decline.  Just last year more woman than men earned PhD’s (de Vise, 2005)!
Cvencek, D. Meltzoff, A. N., & Greenwald, A. G. (2011).  Math-gender stereotypes in elementary school children.  Journal of Child Development, 82, 766-779.
Bombardieri, M. (Jan 17, 2005).  Summers’ remarks on women draw fire.  Boston Globe
de Vise, D.  (Sept 14, 2010).  More women than men got PhDs last year.  Washington Post
Johnston, T.   (Feb 8, 2005).  In wake of Harvard president’s comments, Stanford professors discuss gender in math, science and engineering education.  Stanford News Service: News Release.


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