Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Top 5 Reasons to Have a Pen Pal This Summer

Summer is a great opportunity to try new things! Having a pen pal is a fantastic way for your child to make a new friend or deepen a friendship, but did you know that pen pal writing also has several academic benefits?

Here are the Top 5 Reasons to Have a Pen Pal This Summer:

1. A pen pal relationship allows your child to exercise creativity. 

Creativity is an integral part of each child's learning process and growth. When writing to a pen pal, your child will need to think of new ways to introduce themselves, the events in their lives, and their feelings in each letter. Learning to describe the world around them in vivid detail will make them better writers and will encourage pay more attention to detail.

2. A pen pal relationship gives your child a chance to practice core reading and writing skills.  

There are so many key reading and writing skills found in pen pal writing! Your child will practice handwriting, a lost art in our technological society. At SpiderSmart, we highly recommend practicing cursive letter writing because it improves spelling and stimulates brain development in the areas of thinking, language, and working memory in ways that typing and printing cannot. Another skill your child will implement when having a pen pal is learning how to tell their personal story. Pen pal letters combine facts with feelings to create interesting and engaging literary experiences for children.

3. A pen pal relationship develops your child's cultural awareness.  

Get to know someone outside of your neighborhood, your city, your state, or even your country. It's like traveling around the world without ever leaving your own home! Learning about different holidays, social customs, and families will broaden your child's scope of the world and encourage them to be more tolerant, accepting, and curious about the world.

4. A pen pal relationship encourages your child's critical thinking.  

Kids aren't always dazzling conversationalists. Many times they ask and answer questions with a single word, and hardly any detail or thought is involved. However, through writing with a pen pal, kids learn that they must ask open-ended questions in order to get a thorough response that will be fun and satisfying to read. As they learn more about the world their pen pal lives in, they'll yearn for sensory details and they'll ask questions that ensure their delivery.

5. A pen pal relationship gives your child fun learning experiences throughout the summer.  

The mail is often filled with so much junk that getting a hand-addressed envelope will feel like a special treat! Your child will look forward to receiving and reading these letters, and will also be eager to respond. Letter writing is a way to practice fundamental skills without the feeling of being bogged down with assignments and homework. High interest means high motivation!

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Top 5 Summer Enrichment Activities

It's officially summer! While summer may be a breather from school, it's a very important time to participate in fun activities that continue to stimulate your brain, build your character, and develop your skill set in order to prepare you for the future.

Here are SpiderSmart's Top 5 Summer Enrichment Activities to give your child a fun-filled and memorable summer!

1. Community Outreach

Volunteering in your community has so many benefits! It is a great way for your child to meet new people with shared interests and make lifelong friends. It helps them develop character traits like respect, time management, responsibility, social etiquette, and many other key attributes. It also begins to highlight areas your children are passionate about potentially pursuing in the future! Some examples of community outreach are helping out at the Special Olympics, dishing up food at your local soup kitchen, and beautifying a park in the community. The opportunities for your child to serve their local area are endless!

2. Academic Summer Camp

We all know that daily physical exercise is an important part of well-being.   Mental acuity is another crucial component to your child's holistic growth and development. Academic summer camp is a fun way for your child to exercise and sharpen their mental muscles in order to increase their knowledge base. SpiderSmart's Academic Summer Camp provides your child with a cross-disciplinary approach to learning, where all subjects are explored and their creativity can be fully expressed in a fun, interactive environment. Camp this year will feature topics such as Creative Writing, the Arts, Reading Discussion Groups, and more. Our camp will help your child become a well-rounded learner who will be ready to tackle their next school year head on!

3. Cultural Experiences

Summer is the perfect time to show your child the world, but you don't need to travel to get a taste of another culture. Trying a new restaurant is a great way to have a sensory experience while getting introduced to the values and customs of another group. Attending museums, festivals, and concerts will broaden the scope of your child's cultural knowledge, and may even inspire them to learn a language or study abroad later on. Introducing new cultures at a young age can help make your child more tolerant of differences and accepting of change. It will also encourage them to seek out new experiences. What does your city have to offer that might help your child out of their comfort zone?

4. Career Shadowing

As your child continues to progress, it is crucial that they begin to focus their ambition. A primary way this focus can be achieved is to begin the career shadowing process. Ask your child what careers they are considering. If they are unsure, ask them what careers they find interesting and would like to know more about. Then, get in touch with an expert in your child's fields of interest and inquire if your child can shadow them. The first-hand experience your child will gain by studying an expert in their profession will be indispensable. In many cases, the expert being shadowed will also give your child the chance to take part in their daily work activities. These hands-on opportunities will not only allow your child to narrow down potential career options, thereby honing their focus, but also expand their abilities and general knowledge.

5. Learn a life skill

Reading, Writing, and Math are important skills that should be kept up, even over the summer. However, children also need to learn independence and self-sufficiency. The school year is so packed with homework, sports, and other lessons that there may not always be time to stop and let children explore basic life skills. Summer is the perfect opportunity to teach your teen to change a tire, coach your tweens on how to resew a button, or even show your child how to take care of the garden. Allowing time for these experiences will help your child to become more connected to the world around them, and they wont need to rely on others for assistance with basic tasks. Ask your children what skill they might want to master this summer, and set some goals together!

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

The Top 100 Books Recommended by the College Board

Go to the author to get at his meaning, not to find yours.” This advice of John Ruskin’s informs the redesigned SAT, which insists that students set aside personal reactions to their reading in favor of logical interpretations. To score high, students must understand challenging texts, arriving at inferences only through precise evidence.
At a disadvantage are students who read mainly digital content and popular novels: they expect reading to be easy, fast, and entertaining. These teens are further handicapped by shallow engagement with their reading. “What do I think this article was about? What was the author saying to me?” Questions like this will not be asked on the SAT. And the weak reading skills they perpetuate present a serious concern.
The remedy is literature. On its list of 101 Great Books Recommended for College-Bound Readers, the makers of the SAT offer a menu of novels and cultural texts that build serious reading skills. These texts demand close reading and logical analysis. They require students to attend to details, to think critically, to witness an interconnected conversation about panhuman themes, even when the writing style becomes challenging and unfamiliar. Few students will read all 101 of these texts before entering college. But those who do tackle a fair amount before the SAT are well prepared. The test’s reading passages may not appeal to students’ personal tastes and preferences, but students who made good use of the book list are prepared to read them, analyze them logically, and find the author’s true meaning.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Top 5 Ways to Create a Strong SAT Essay

No part of the new SAT has been more deeply affected by the test's redesign than the Essay. Nearly everything about the Essay has changed, from the format and length of the essay, to the scoring system and the fact that the test has been labeled "optional".

The truth is, the vast majority of colleges and universities still require the Essay to be completed to even be considered at their institutions. Therefore, it is crucial to grasp the foundational concepts behind the reconstructed Essay in order to present a your best work to the admissions board of your choosing.

1. Understand the scoring system in order to achieve a high score. 
When you take the Essay portion of the SAT, you will receive three scores:
  • Reading: How well you demonstrated your understanding of the passage
  • Analysis: How well you analyzed the passage and carried out the task of explaining how the author builds their argument to persuade an audience 
  • Writing: How skillfully you crafted your response 
Therefore, it is important to ensure that you read the passage thoroughly and for comprehensive understanding of the text, can confidently analyze the passage provided, and have the writing skills to produce an essay that flows well, with precise vocabulary and correct grammar.

2. Reading 

The new SAT Essay asks students to respond to a passage. Close reading is required in order to sift through the text for fact, statistics, quotations, research, and examples. However, students must be able to identify these elements and weigh their importance according to the structure of the passage, as well as reflect on how and why the author has utilized them. Has the author made any appeals to the audience's fears or sense of honor? Be on the look out for ways that the author has tried to influence the readers' opinions.

3. Your main focus is to analyze an argument.   
The new SAT Essay asks you to analyze the provided passage in order to explain how the author builds their argument to persuade an audience. This is a very different task than the one asked for in the previous Essay. The piece presented  on the test will be in the form of a lengthy argumentative passage, however, you will not be asked to take a stance on the issue presented in the passage. In fact, if all you do is express your own opinions on the issue presented in the passage, you will not receive a strong score on the test's Analysis dimension. Again, the support you provide for your analysis should come from using extensive textual evidence to create your response to the question of how the author builds their argument in the passage to persuade their audience.

4. Writing (style, fluency, grammar, strong vocabulary, etc.)

One part of the SAT Essay that hasn't changed is the fact that your writing will be scrutinized for the basics. Learn your own writing weaknesses and how to curb them. Practice formal tone and structure, and brush up on sophisticated punctuation. One good rule is to always use one semi-colon and one short, dramatic sentence in your introduction.

5. Take the test more than once.

Take the test, get your scores, and reflect on how you can improve. After your test has been evaluated, you will get a detailed breakdown of your scores. Summarize your strengths and weaknesses. Keep practicing the timed essay portion, and get feedback from teachers, friends, and mentors. You should practice this type of self-analysis in all areas of the test!

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The Top 5 Reasons Why You Won't Get into the College of Your Choice

1. You think applying to college begins and ends in front of a screen.

You might fill out the actual application on the computer, but the application process for college begins as soon as you step into an elementary school classroom. From your very first moments in the academic realm, you're sculpting a profile that will one day be put on display for admissions councils. College boards want to ensure that the students accepted into their academic institutions are well-rounded and will have the stamina and longevity to thrive in a rigorous college environment. College is a holistic experience comprised of learning how to prioritize, manage a schedule, live on your own, and handle adult responsibilities. Do you have what it takes to succeed at this level?

2. You had too many endless summers.

Summer is presented as the opportunity to take a break from school, relax, and recharge for the next academic year. This is a great idea in theory, but most school systems give a long 10 weeks of summer, and you need to use some of that to build your academic profile in order to be on track for college acceptance. Summer is the perfect opportunity to participate in activities that show admissions councils that you are as well-rounded as you can possibly be. This is your chance to work, volunteer, and participate in your community, so that you have more substantial headlines on your applications. Also, if you turn off your brain completely during an "endless summer", it will be extremely difficult to re-engage with school in the next academic year, causing an imminent drop in your grades and jeopardizing your chances at getting into the college of your choice.

3. You woke up one morning and decided, "Ah, I'm going to write my essay today."

Writing is a process. College application essays are no different. You must research, write, edit, and revise. It doesn't hurt to have a second pair of eyes on your work, either! Drafting and redrafting your work are also crucial steps in this process. Once you have written the best draft you can write, ask a parent, friend, or teacher to review your essay. You can also bring essays in to tutoring centers (like SpiderSmart!) to polish your work while still allowing your authentic voice to shine through. The essay is your one chance to show the admissions council your personality. It is important to make the best impression possible!

4. Like everybody else, you have good grades, good test scores, play soccer or lacrosse, and play the piano.

What sets you apart from the millions of college applicants across the United States? Your  leadership skills and life experience are what will boost your chances of getting into the college of your dreams. If you don't stand out from the crowd, you will get lost in the endless stream of applications that come across the Dean of Admissions' desk. Internships, work experience, and leadership roles in school and your community are key examples of the traits college boards are searching for in an ideal candidate. If you are not yet involved in these kinds of niche opportunities, now is the time to start!

5. You chose poorly. 

When selecting your ideal colleges, you need to think about what's best for you- but also what's best for the school. It is important that you tour different institutions and get a feel for which environment will help you grow the most. However, most schools are looking for a certain type of student. Do you fit the profile of the schools you're aiming for? The Admissions Company can calculate the odds that you will or will not be admitted to a certain college, and show you strategies on how to improve your chances. Don't waste your time, energy, or money applying to schools that are not likely to admit you! Choose a school that you have a shot of getting in to- or, at least do what you can to make yourself the type of candidate they will accept.

Thank you to Dr. Sybil Gohari for submitting this week's Top 5 headlines.