Back To School

Well it’Backs official – Summer holidays are over and the schools from Singapore to Surrey are back in session.

We’re back too, refreshed with new year zing. We’ve still got some spaces for tutoring and we’ve got lots of fresh web content to share so watch this space for techniques, tips and thoughts on helping kids who find reading, writing and spelling harder than most.

Does My Kid Need Extra Help In School?

Does My Kid Need Extra Help in schoolIt’s 2015 and I’m taking a new class. It feels great to dust off the cobwebs in my brain and reconnect myself with some of the neurophysiology that I learned years ago in school.

Part of the course load is a fair bit of designated readings which, technically should be a chore but the reality is that it’s an absolute pleasure as the information is fascinating.

As I go through the information, there is one theme that keeps emerging, and that is how important it is to get help early for your child if you think he or she is struggling in school.

In my experience many people shy away from getting help for one or more of the following reasons:

  1. They think that the problem will go away. Either because the child will mature and ‘it will work it’s self out.’ or just because the child may be slow catching on to a topic but then will ‘get it’.
  2. They don’t know exactly what help looks like, and they are busy, so default to the ‘wait and see’ philosophy.
  3. Money is tight, so people feel that they can’t afford tutoring.
  4. Because of a fear that there might be something ‘wrong’ intellectually with the child.

I find, that typically we do a lot of reasoning in our nearly subconscious. When we hold up our reasoning to the bright light of day  with all the facts to hand we realise that it’s not the compelling argument we thought it was. Let’s take a look at these arguments.

Problem will go away:

This is the default argument, and I hear it from both teachers and parents. Typically it is actually hiding the real argument which is often about money or funding. The thing is that problems don’t typically ‘go away’. You have to remember that most school systems are kind of like a conveyor belt. As children move on the conveyor belt information is fed to them. If they miss a piece of education the conveyor belt doesn’t stop, it just keeps going with more information being added regardless of the holes underneath.

Let’s assume that a child was too young to appreciate a certain concept and that they did mature or that they were slower to assimilate some information. If they were able to go back and cover that topic at a later time they may be able to catch up, but remember that the rest of the class did not stop. There are learning deliverables for the class to reach and so the conveyor belt continues. The next time that child encounters the concept, it is likely that they will be expected to know it and it will be built upon.

As a parent you need to raise your hand and flag the issue when it happens. Teachers try to do this but sometimes things get missed. Most teachers will do their absolute best to provide in classroom extra support and get your kid up to speed.  If the teacher can’t, you should give it a go, and that may be all it takes. No extra money, assessments or time required.  It’s an inconsequential thing at the time but so are the rocks that start avalanches.

The easiest way to make the problem ‘go away’ is to deal with it at the time.

Don’t know where to start:

Many parents just don’t know what help is available. Either because they are new to the country or because they were straight A students themselves and never encountered issues. The first place to go is to the teacher. You are in a partnership with your child’s teacher, the more you talk the better that partnership will be. It’s highly possible that all the help your child needs is available within the school for free. Until you ask for help, you won’t be able to access it.

Money is tight:

Money is tight in both homes and in schools. Until you start asking questions you won’t know what kind of money is required. In many cases a little extra help is all that is needed. In some cases your teacher may suspect a language difference like Dyslexia and recommend an education assessment. In BC where I live it costs $2,000 for a private education assessment for a child. There is funding for assessments. There is currently a 4 year waiting list for a funded assessment.

I’m not saying that the path is easy, but I would argue that the path of watching a child struggle and potentially fail in school is a much harder one. Sure, some people rebound from the adversity of failing in school and come out successfully, but it’s a tough road to carve. 90% of all jobs are not available to people without a grade 12 education and 75% of all crimes are committed to people without a high school education. (Education Week, 2014)

So you need to be creative. Your first stop is through the school, if the school can’t help they may be able to connect you with a not-for-profit that can. I’ve seen homework clubs and free tutoring services locally in Vancouver. If you have a teen, you can also try peer tutoring. Some schools may even give extra credit to a child who provides free peer tutoring to a classmate.

If your child is struggling to learn to read try a Notch Hill Program. We designed them to be an affordable bridge between classroom resources and tutoring. Unlike many free tutoring services you are following a curriculum designed by an expert with years of working with struggling children. The fun games sit on a very specific structure which goes through skill building in the common areas children struggle. One GamePak will cost you the same as one or two tutoring sessions. If you try it and it doesn’t work for you please contact us. We’ll refund you your money and give you some advice on where to go for help next.

Money is always a challenge, but as the famous entrepreneur Robert Kiyosaki says. “Instead of focusing on IF you can afford something focus instead on HOW you can afford it.” Your child’s happiness and future is well with the effort.

Fear of a diagnosis:

Some people fear a diagnosis because they fear stigma.
Some fear a diagnosis because they fear that it will reflect badly on the family.
Some fear a diagnosis because they don’t know how it will change things.
Some fear a diagnosis because they fear that they have passed something on to their child.

The fear of a diagnosis is far worse than actually receiving a diagnosis. Why? Because on receiving a diagnosis you are usually given a plan of action too. Plans of action can be worked with and are positive things. Fear is not.

The same goes with stigmas. The fear of a stigma is far worse than the condition. In this day and age, there are very few stigmas that aren’t talked about. My guess is that with a diagnosis you will find community instead of isolation.

If you suspect a learning disability like Dyslexia, you are going to need very structured assistance. Speak to the teacher, find out what the cost and wait is for an assessment in your area. Again, give Notch Hill a try, our multi sensory approach works well with the Dyslexic brain. (The program was actually designed by two Dyslexics!)

If you need an assessment and the waiting list for one in your area is longer than 6 months, move heaven and earth to find a way to get that money. Yes, it’s a lot of money but you will be eligible for assistance with that report and the longer you wait, the longer your child is on that conveyor belt, the harder it is to catch up and the social and emotional toll becomes harder and harder to repair.

Erik Erikson, the American developmental Psychologist said that a child is forming his sense of identity in the first few years of school – between 6 and 10 years. If he succeeds he will have a positive self image. If he fails he will form a negative self image and after 10 years old it is extremely hard to change that. According to Psychiatrist Dr. Kevin Solomons, a negative self image increases the risk of self-disruptive behaviours, tolerating abuse and numbing behaviours like turning to drugs & alcohol. So you can see, time is definitely off the essence.

If you have a child in the school system anywhere from Albuquerque  to Zheleznodorozhny and you think your child is struggling. Please, don’t brush it under the carpet. The quickest and easiest way to ‘make it go away’ is to deal with it.  By asking questions, talking to your child’s teacher and coming up with a plan for your child you are showing your child that success isn’t about being naturally gifted. Success is about hard work, and stick-to-it-ness. Now that is an important lesson in life.

Is It Dyslexia?

when is it a learning disability

One of the concerns that I field often from parents is “My child is struggling / not doing ___ (fill in the blank). Is this a sign of Dyslexia?”

Last week I wrote about ‘b’ & ‘d’ confusion, which is common in all children and also commonly causes parents to worry about a learning difficulty. The other common parent concern is when young (3-6yr olds) write their names backwards.

If you find yourself in this position, please rest assured. These are normal stages for children to grow through and typically do not indicate Dyslexia.

Here’s the thing.

A lot of research into learning disabilities has been done in the last 40 years. We know more about symptoms, triggers, and learning strategies than ever before. There have been many studies showing the huge benefits to early intervention so as parents we are more alert than ever before to try to catch problems in the bud.

If you Google ‘dyslexia symptoms’ you will receive a couple of million results. Many pages give you detailed lists of signs and symptoms to watch for.

Some lists likely include ‘mirror writing’ (writing backwards) and ‘b/d confusion’.


So what is a parent to do?

Speaking as someone who has worked hard to over come a couple of learning disabilities, has worked with kids from a whole range of backgrounds and abilities and is a Mum. Here are my thoughts:

  • Learning disabilities come in all different flavours: Under the umbrella term of Dyslexia alone there are three  different disabilities – Dyslexia, Dysgraphia & Dyscalculia. The symptoms are all different and on top of that every child is unique so no two Dyslexic children will have exactly the same list of challenges.
  • It’s likely just another phase: There is a difference between a child struggling with something as they go through a ‘phase’ and when it becomes more than that. The difference between a child with dyslexia struggling with ‘b/d’ confusion is that they often will have no concept of the difference between the two letters. Every time they see a b or d it will be like the first time, and this will likely go on for months or years without proper help.
  • Learning Disabilities are complex: Kids with learning disabilities don’t just have one challenge. As a parent you will notice time and time again that they are struggling with certain (often quite specific) things.

Your job as a parent is to notice patterns. If it is just a one off thing, then it is not a learning disability. It’s just something that your child finds hard. That’s important to know and you need to help your child through that, but it is also completely normal.

If you think that there are a number of issues, keep a diary of what your child is struggling with and note how long it takes before your child moves on. Writing it down will allow you to see the whole pattern. Which is important information for diagnosis as learning challenges are typically isolated to an area in the brain.

If you think that your child needs extra help. You need to be the person to join the dots between all the little ‘things’ that your child struggles with and present that to your GP or child’s teacher. Share all the information you have, whether it is in a diary format or just verbal. Advocate for your child and ask for an educational assessment. If you can afford to,  pay for a private assessment. If your child is diagnosed there may be funding for your child’s treatment and we know that the sooner we can help a child the better.

If your gut tells you that your child needs help, do not let any one tell you to ‘wait and see if s/he grows through it.’ Children typically do not ‘grow through’ learning challenges. They fall behind, the catch-up becomes harder and the emotional toll is large. If someone is telling you to ‘watch and wait’ it is typically because there is no funding for help. Find out if that is the case and look for other options for assistance.

So feel free to search online and look for all the signs and symptoms of specific learning disabilities. But remember, that one symptom is just that. One symptom. Learning disabilities are complex, children with learning disabilities will struggle in a number of areas, and often with more than one specific disability. At the end of the day the best person to diagnose is someone who has detailed knowledge of the whole gamut of learning disabilities like an Educational Psychologist or Speech Language Pathologist.

Until, that point. My advice is to observe and support your child emotionally and practically as he or she learns and grows. Whether your child has a learning disability or not there will be good days and tough days in your child’s life, what makes the difference is having a parent stand by you every step of the way.








George Patton

Quote from George Patton – famous for a lot of things, but I didn’t know that he also struggled with Dyslexia.

George Patton - Dyslexic

Confusing The Letters ‘b’ and ‘d’.

What is the one thing that just about every kid ever made has in common?

At some point during the ‘learning to read’ process he or she went through a phase where he or she had a hard time telling the difference between the lower case ‘b’ and the lower case ‘d’.

It’s pretty much universal. Also, pretty much universal is the modern day parental response, which is concern that their child is dyslexic.

It’s not dyslexia, it’s just normal. Those two letters are easily confused and it takes a while longer for them to stick. As adult’s who have been literate for many, many more years than not it’s hard to remember what it was like to learn letters.

So let me take you there.

I used to live in Japan and so in an effort to understand the culture around me or at the very least be able to order dinner I studied Japanese. When you live in a country with a different written system you learn what it is to be illiterate. As I studied and studied the Japanese alphabets (yes that’s plural) two letters were really hard for me.

Japanese Katakana letters for 'shi' & 'tsu

Japanese Katakana letters for ‘shi’ & ‘tsu’…it’s pretty easy to tell them apart, right?!

I drew them out here – ‘shi’ and ‘tsu’. Now when you compare them you can observe some differences, but when you see them written in a word without the comparison available it get’s really tough, and you know what? Japanese adult’s can’t see how hard it is any more.

Does that sound familiar to you?

So going back to your child’s struggles with ‘b’, ‘d’ and maybe ‘p’ too. It’s not dyslexia, its just tough and it takes practice. Dyslexia is a bigger issue and there will be numerous signs of it within a child. I have a blog post on potential red flags for dyslexia scheduled for next week.

The good news is, that helping kids get the hang of ‘b/d’ confusion is well documented, not that hard and it starts with fun.

In Notch Hill. The letter ‘b’ is introduced with Baby Ben Nog. Baby Ben, loves to play baseball. So when I’m working with kids I draw this picture.

Bat Before Ball graphic to help with b/d confusion in kids.

Don’t tell me you can’t draw. Any one can draw this.

We talk about how a ‘b’ always has the bat before the ball. The ‘d’ does not. In the ‘d’ you can see Dad Nog’s drum. But to keep it simple I focus on the ‘b’  and when I see a kid pause at a ‘b’ or ‘d’ I give the verbal clue. “Is the bat before the ball?”

 There are three keys to being successful with this strategy:

  • Start with the image: You don’t have to be an artist to draw a baseball bat and a ball like I’ve done above. Draw it with your child sitting with you explaining as you go. If he or she struggles on a different day, don’t hesitate to draw it again until you feel that he or she has grasped the image and can ‘see’ the image in the mind’s eye when you give the verbal clue. Having your child colour the image you’ve drawn will also go a long way to helping cement it in the brain.
  • Keep it simple – I mean really simple: That’s why I don’t go on too much about Dad Nog’s drum. I use the verbal hint  “Is the bat before the ball?” and say very little else to let the child sort it out in his or her mind.
  • Be consistent: The trigger is always the same  “Is the bat before the ball?”. It’s sort of like Pavlov’s Dog, I’m conditioning the child to hear that sentence in their own head even when I’m not  around, until eventually of course it will just become as natural to him or her as it is to us.

As with all phases, this too will pass. The key for you is to keep the mood light and playful. Focus on the fun, the graphic, the story & the characters. Be consistent and in time your child will get the hang of it.


Good luck!

A Preschooler Tip on Writing…

Involve preschoolersInvolve preschoolers – get them to sign their name in any and all greetings cards that you send out.

At first it’s a great way to teach them to recognise and write the letters in their name but bigger picture it’s a wonderful way to include and involve your child in family life. It also starts to demonstrate to your child that there is a joy in writing. I typically ask my son if he’d like to decorate the card after he’s signed it. Some times he does and sometimes he doesn’t.

If he does…it turns the card into a wonderful gift so long as you don’t associate any metaphors to the pictures…we’ve had a fishing boat catching a giant squid drawn in an anniversary card and a ship being sunk in a terrible storm drawn on a 40th birthday card. The receiver of the latter card commented that the picture captured her feelings about the day precisely!

Getting Back To Play

It’s fall, and everything is about getting back to school. This is a reminder that it’s still important to play.

Play Lies at the core of education.

“Play lies at the core of innovation and creativity. It provides opportunities for learning in a context in which children are at their most receptive. Play and
academic work are not distinct categories for young children, and … are inextricably linked for them.”

Crayon Love…

Using Crayons at different ages.

A couple of things I bet you didn’t know about Crayons!

I love crayons.

I love their bold bright colours and I can never resist reading the names of the colours…apparently I’m not the only one. There is a Wikipedia page that lists out all the crayola colours! They are good for kids too, as you have to press hard to draw with them which helps build those all important fine motor muscles in our fingers that enable us to hold pens and eventually write.

I do have a couple of cool crayon tips that I’ve picked up over the years that I’m happy to share.

  1. You can start kids with crayons about the time they turn one year old. First wrap the crayons in tape so that if they get bitten the crayon won’t break apart and get eaten.
  2. Once they hit Kindergarten age, give your kids broken crayons to draw with. The shorter size makes them harder to use, and so help refine those fine motor muscles even more.

Happy colouring!

My Kid Read His First Sentences And I Didn’t Say ‘Well Done.’

Treasure Island

The Treasure Island game is the last game in “Treasure on Notch Hill.”

My son passed a big milestone this week. We completed the Treasure Island game inside the Treasure on Notch Hill gamepak for the first time. In the game, children have to read short sentences to win the opportunity to turn over cards on the gameboard to ‘hunt’ for treasure.

As he turned the last card over on the gameboard I wanted to shout and scream and holler- WAHOO!!! He’s done it! He’s learned to read his first 22 words!! He’s well on his way to becoming a reader!! I opened my mouth about to say the words “I’m so proud of you” Then I stopped and closed it again.

You see, I don’t want him to learn to read in order to please me. I don’t want him to feel that he needs to achieve things in life just to earn my praise and support. I want him to acknowledge that feeling of satisfaction that you get from sticking with something that is tricky and overcoming adversity. I want his incentive to come from within, and his reward to be his internal joy of achievement.

There’s two types of incentives in this world. Intrinsic and extrinsic. An extrinsic incentive is the traditional ‘carrot and stick’ approach. “If you do that, I will give you this.” Our whole society is based on a layered system of extrinsic incentives from the car dealerships who incent you to take on debt with the lure of an interest free period. To employers who dole out performance related bonuses, to teachers who dole out performance related stickers.

The problem is, that as soon as you take an extrinsic incentive, you stop doing something for yourself. The internal motivation you had to do what ever it was you were doing gets up and walks away replaced by the prospect of the reward you’ve been promised.

Over the years there’s been a load of research on the effects of Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. The eminent Psychologist Alfie Kohn  says:

“Does praise motivate kids? Sure. It motivates kids to get praise. Alas, that’s often at the expense of commitment to whatever they were doing that prompted the praise.”

From <>

There is an old story about a grumpy old man who hated the fact that after school children from the local school would play loudly in the park in front of his house. One day he spoke to the children and told them how much he loved their noise and that he would pay them $1 per day for playing there and making as much noise as they could. The kids thought this a great idea and came back the next day. The next day the old man apologised because he hadn’t been to the bank. All he could give was 75c. The next day he apologised again and paid them 25c the day after it was 10c until one day he said he had no money to pay them. The children were angry and told the old man that if he couldn’t pay them then they would never play there again.

That is how quickly and simply an extrinsic motivatior can crush the joy and pleasure of an experience.

Obviously, that example is a much more vivid example than my saying “I’m so proud of you” to my son. But the mechanics are the same. With extrinsic motivation you can extinguish the joy of learning, shorten concentration, slow learning and create a system where you need to praise more and more in order to motivate.

So what did I say?

Very little. Maria Montessori said that a smile goes a long way. I have found this to be true. I also asked him how he felt about his achievement. “Really, really good Mum.” – and with those words, I think both of us were fulfilled.


For more on extrinsic and intrinsic motivation check out Alfie Kohn’s website or look into Maria Montessori’s methodology.

Beautiful Quote

I don’t usually post quotes from parents at my workshops, but I thought that this one was really beautiful the other day. So with permission I’m reprinting it.

“Supporting my son in his efforts to learn to read is not just a life skill. It is a gift to unlock his dreams.” Joanne Klein, Dunbar PPP

Supporting childs's dreams

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