Monday, 30 April 2018

Study smart with these 6 effective study guidelines.

Learning isn’t an easy task. For some pupils, just to sit down facing a book is already an accomplishment. However, you want to get the most out of your study sessions.

Learn to work smarter, not harder. This is one of the most important lessons you will ever learn. It teaches you how to maximise your output from the amount of time that you put into your studies. Abraham Lincoln summarised it as follows: “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” This means that if we work smart and first sharpen the axe, in other words preparing the right way for a test, the process of ‘cutting down’ the ‘academic tree’ will go quicker.

Here are 6 effective study guidelines to help you work smarter and not harder:

1. Start with the most difficult work first.

Don’t spend all your time restudying the work you already know. Tackle the work you haven’t summarised and studied before. For example, if you have 3 chapters to study for the upcoming test, don’t start with the work that you know and have already studied. Start with the newest or the most difficult work. When you feel like you understand the most difficult and newest work, then revise the old work.

2. Summarise every day.

One of the best ways to study is to summarise a topic the very day it is taught in class. Make notes during class, ask questions and understand what you have learned. Studying your notes within one day of making them will lead to a retention rate of 60% higher than usual

3. Test your teachers.

Ask your teachers during class what is the most important concept you need to understand about a topic, so that you know what kind of questions to expect in the test. Take note every day which topics your teacher emphasised and be sure to spend more time on those topics when you study.

4. Practice exam papers.

The importance of practise exam papers can’t be stressed enough. Have you ever been writing a stressful test and then suddenly you “hit a blank”? Practise exam papers can easily indicate which topics you haven’t mastered yet and on which topics to focus. Any university student will tell you how important it is to practise with past papers or mock tests. They know how important it is not just to know something from the textbook, but how to apply it correctly. ASP-SchoolProjects specialises in practice exam papers for Grade 1 – 9 (all subjects). Sign up today to enjoy the benefits. 

5. Maximise your knowledge.

Understand that your teachers need to ask questions from every topic and chapter. It won’t make sense to spend all of your time only on one topic when you know your teacher needs to test all of the topics in the test. It is better to know 70% about every chapter than it is to know 100% of one chapter but only 50% about the rest. You might also just have spotted the wrong topic!

6. Variation can boost you marks.

When we have to study for more than one test we tend to feel panicked, because it feels like we could never get through all the work. However, rest assured, studying for two different subjects can actually benefit you. For example, studying for maths and studying for biology works two different ‘muscles’ of the brain. You use different skills to study a diagram or sketch than practising how to solve algebraic equations. We advise you to combine a subject you love and do well in with a subject you are really struggling with. Maybe you love art history but you battle with chemistry. You could easily work out a schedule so that you can practise you chemistry skills for two hours and then alternate it with art history for one hour. You will feel more refreshed when you go back to chemistry after your brain has done something it enjoys.

Study smarter, not harder, for your next test. You will feel calmer, more refreshed and ultimately happier throughout the whole term. If you make use of these techniques – tell us how it benefits you. If you have any other techniques to add, please share it with us!

Monday, 23 April 2018

8 Steps to improve your child’s reading skills.

Children should be able to read and comprehend what they read as it is the foundation of education.

In our previous blog article “Almost 80% of South African Grade 4 pupils cannot read”, we discussed the problematic literacy rate in South Africa. We encourage you to help your children read. The benefits of reading are infinite. Your children’s future will depend on the level of literacy they have. However, reading should not feel like a punishment for them. Mary McLeod Bethune said, “The whole world opened to me when I learned to read.”

This week we want to share 8 steps to improve your child’s reading skills.

1. Read every day.

The first action you can take to improve your children’s reading abilities is to make sure they read every single day. It doesn’t have to be hours on end, but a good 20 – 30 minutes will improve their reading ability significantly. Make reading time part of their schedule, for example early in the morning when there are no other distractions yet. Otherwise, directly after dinner.

2. What should my children read?

This is sometimes a confusing question, because we might initially not know at what reading and comprehension level our children are. That’s why we need to try out all forms of literature to see what level of difficulty they can handle, what they enjoy and how fast they can read. If your children are slow readers, then start of small, with short pieces of reading material – like an article out of a magazine, poetry or a blog post (just like this one). Later on you can increase the volume by changing to short stories and novels.

3. Choose the right book.

The most important aspect of reading is your child’s interest in the topic. Of course they won’t want to read Early Modern English literature if they aren’t interested in Shakespeare. However, if they have a sports hero, let them read their biography, or if they’re interested in superhero movies, let them read the comic books. Don’t force your children to read something they don’t enjoy. Open up their world by showing them all the different kinds of books that are available. It’s important to note that the correct book must be compatible with their reading level and appropriate to their age.

4. Gradually increase the difficulty of books.

Sometimes when children are forced to read in class they get discouraged because the reading material is too difficult or they lack interest in the subject and give up too early. It is our job as parents to make sure our children doesn’t fall behind. Ask them if they are able to read the books prescribed in class. If they aren’t able to, find books that are just slightly less difficult. When you can see they become more comfortable with the reading material, increase the pace and difficulty of the books.

5. Learn to pause.

It is important to know how to read, but it is even more important to understand what you are reading. Otherwise it is just a string of senseless words. Teach your children to pause every few minutes when they are busy reading to ask a question about what the just read. This promotes understanding of the topic and the story. Children should ask themselves the following questions when they are reading:

What did I just read?
What are the most important things that happened in the last chapter?
Did anything confuse me?
Did anything surprise me?
Are there any parts I didn’t understand?

6. Check your rate per minute and practice to improve that.

The goal isn’t always to see how fast your child can read. However, as children get older their total words per minute need to increase proportionally. In the beginning of each term, do an easy reading test. Take a page of a book or an article and let your child read the page (not out loud, as it take longer to fully speak each word). Set a timer for one minute and then count the number of words your child has read in that minute. Make sure to ask questions about the text so that you know your child didn’t cheat. Remember to keep track of the amount of words per minute by writing it in a diary or journal. Next term you need to repeat the test. See how much your child’s reading skills have improved.

7. Take care of your eyes.

Our eyesight is one of our most important senses, that’s why we need to take care of our eyes. Know whether your child requires glasses or not, and that their glasses or contact lens prescription is up to date. Make sure they read in well-lit places and that they receive enough nutrients to keep their eyes healthy. This includes food that have Omega 3, zinc, vitamin C and vitamin E.

8. The apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree.

The best tip to help your child read better is to lead by example. Are you as a parent reading enough? Your children will be more likely to read if they see you always have books on your nightstand, or that you love going to a second-hand book sale.

Foster a love for reading in your children by reading to them at night. Also ask them to read to you. If you and your teenager enjoys the same books, then form a small book club where you talk about the book and the characters. Marilyn Jager Adams, a specialist in cognition and education, said the following: “Read[ing] aloud with your children is known to be the single most important activity for building the knowledge and skills they will eventually require for learning to read.” Show your child that reading will open up worlds for them and that reading a book is one of the best ways to explore and go on new adventures.

Let us know what you and your children are currently reading. On what level of reading skills are they currently and how do you encourage your children to read? We would love to hear other parents’ stories.

Monday, 16 April 2018

Almost 80% of South African Grade 4 pupils cannot read.

The importance of reading and how to find the time to practise this skill.

Recent findings of a global assessment conducted by the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) reveal that 78% of South African Grade 4 learners’ level of reading literacy in their language of learning fall below the lowest internationally-recognised standard. In other words, nearly 8 out of 10 Grade 4 learners can’t read comprehensively. The most recent quinquennial (5 year period) report, PIRLS 2016, published in 2017, also revealed that South African learners scored the lowest literacy mark out of the 50 participating countries. Researchers of the University of Pretoria’s (UP) Centre for Evaluation and Assessment (CEA) were responsible for the data on reading and literacy levels among Grade 4 and 5 students in South Africa. 12 810 Grade 4 learners were tested in all 11 languages and 5 000 Grade 5 learners in Afrikaans, English and isiZulu. Celeste Combrinck, acting director at the UP CEA says: “While less than half of the learners who wrote the tests in English and Afrikaans could read‚ 80% of those learning in one of the other nine official languages effectively cannot read at all.” Boys performed worse than girls, with 84% of boys not passing the lowest criterion compared to 72% of girls. Among all 50 participating countries, South Africa’s gender gap is second largest next to Saudi Arabia. 

Many factors play a role in these disconcerting statistics. It includes, but is not limited to demographics – such as living in remote rural areas or townships, increasing class sizes and fewer new teachers entering the system. Many learners speaking a different language than English fail to master their home language’s reading and writing skills, before switching to English around completion of grade 3 – and thus they struggle to learn and comprehend new material if their basic literacy skills are lacking. 

It is devastating to know that the vast majority of South African primary school learners can’t read. Illiteracy should be a grave concern for the future development of our youth and our country. Celeste Combrinck says that: “Being able to read is the key to academic and future success. If you can’t read‚ your opportunities in school or after school will be limited‚ which is why reading should start at a very young age.”

While we can try to find and blame the cause of these problems on demographics, the schooling system, teachers, parents, etc. it isn’t productive and it doesn’t change the statistics. Parents should be proactive and do everything they possibly can to ensure that their children learn how to read. Before we go further and address how you and your child can find the time to learn this vital skill, we want to discuss the importance of reading.

Why every child should be able to read:

1. Reading is an essential skill to function in society.

To be able to read in our modern society is not a requirement, but you won’t get very far if you can’t. Therefore it should be viewed as a compulsory skill every successful person should have. When you think about it, there are text everywhere! From road- and warning signs, to instructions on medication or machinery. It doesn’t even end there – everyone has to pay bills, fill out medical forms or other documentation at some point. These everyday activities only require very basic reading skills, but what most literate people assume as the norm can be a great frustration and burden for those who cannot read. 

2. Reading sets children up for success.

Learning how to read is a sequential process. This means that every skill builds on the proficiency of previously learned skills. When children start to learn how to read they break down a word into basic sounds. The various sounds connected to certain letters will eventually form words. Once they recognise the words when they read it, they will be able to make the association between that word and its definition. Eventually they will start to pick up on more words within a sentence and be able to read a sentence and understand its meaning. Finally they will be able to read and comprehend entire passages when they connect sentences. This accomplishment of mastering the sequential process by building the sounds to form words; words to form a sentence and sentences to form passages will boost their confidence and teach them what their minds are capable of. They will begin to understand the value of reading. They will develop a hunger for more knowledge and their minds will absorb it like a sponge. The love of learning and the inner-satisfaction it brings will ensure that they do well in school and strive to improve themselves in other aspects of their life. 

3. Reading is paramount to finding a well-paying professional job.

By being able to read, you are able to complete your school education and study at a college or university. In most cases reading is required as part of the job-performance and you have to be able to read in order to study. You can follow your dreams and build your own bright future if you care about your education. If you cannot comprehensively read, you are limited in what you can accomplish with your life. 

4. Reading develops important language and communication skills.

Young children are exposed to new words every day. They pick up new words when we speak with them, when they speak with their friends or hear us speak with others and even pick up new words on the radio or TV. However the vocabulary we use to talk to children is often limited. By reading books to young children, you expose them to even more new vocabulary and build a more solid foundation for communication. Books often contain new, unusual or interesting words. Reading not only teach young children new words, but also how language works. Reading unlocks their creativity and awakens their thought processes. Reading can improve their understanding of the world and other people; teach them morals and values. The more words children can learn, the better it will be for them in the future. Words enable us to communicate our thoughts and ideas to others. It allows us to connect on a different and even deeper level. When we read we are able to better understand other people’s opinions and thoughts.

5. Reading is exercise for the mind.

The mind should be viewed as a muscle (although anatomically speaking, your brain isn’t a muscle, but it contains a bit of muscle). Like any other muscle in your body it requires exercise in order to develop correctly and function at its best. One way that a young mind can be exercised is by learning how to read. When children are exposed to reading from an early age it improves their brain activity in specific areas that are important for language development. By developing language skills, it will also help them learn how to listen. The combination thereof plays big role in our overall communication skills. 

6. Reading strengthens concentration.

Initially when you start reading for your toddler, they might not pay any attention to what is actually going on. They might want to continually turn the pages or throw the books around. However, it is crucial that you don’t give up at that age. By reading to them every day, they will get used to it and eventually start paying attention and listen to the story. Their concentration will increase and they will be able to focus for longer periods. It will be very useful to them if they can concentrate for longer periods once they go to school and start learning.

7. Reading enables children to learn about a vast number of topics.

Fairy tales, history, nature, biology, space, science, sports, arts, culture, food and every other aspect of humanity… Different books that covers various topics can give children a lot of information and expand their knowledge. They will become more diverse and all-rounded children if they are exposed to as much topics as possible. Through reading they will begin to understand the world better; understand themselves better.

8. Reading expands children’s imagination and creativity.

Reading will allow a child’s imagination to grow. This is something truly spectacular to witness. When they read a story book, they envision what the characters look like, how they behave, how they speak etc. Children’s minds are shaping these characters according to how they interpret the words. They immerse themselves for that while in that imaginary world. Their minds are filled with excitement and wonder. You can see it in their eyes. Once they find that spark, no matter the type of books they enjoy reading, you can be certain that they can imagine just about anything! They can bring some of those wondrous ideas across into reality and use it to express themselves creatively. Their minds will be able to find solutions in unique ways – and this is by no means limited to only arts, music and literature. Mathematics, business, engineering, architecture, science, sports etc. all require a sense of creative thinking in order to move forward and come up with unique ideas that will improve those specific fields. All of this just from reading books! 

Now that we have discussed why it is important for every child to learn how to read, we want to address the matter of illiteracy in our country and how we as parents can and should do something about it! First of all, many parents aren’t always sure when, where and how to start teaching their children how to read. A lot of parents are extremely busy with their work schedules that doesn’t always allow them to spend as much time with their children. As a result, they don’t start early enough and once their children actually goes to school they shift that responsibility onto the teachers. In our next blog we will discuss how you should go about to actually teaching your children how to read. In this article however, we want to make sure that you can find the time in between a busy schedule to help them practice their reading skills. 

How to find the time to practise reading:

  1. Read early in the morning before school.
  2. Read in the evening after homework is completed.
  3. Schedule reading time in your calendar.
  4. Join a book club or start a book club with friends that enjoy the same type of books.
  5. Remind yourself to practice your speed-reading during short breaks.

“The more you read, the more things you know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” – Dr. Seuss. We hope you feel encouraged to start your reading journey right now! We believe that when the next PIRLS is published our children will have made tremendous progress and shifted the literacy figures into a positive direction. Let us know how you feel about these statistics and your thoughts on how to resolve the issue. Do any of your children have difficulty learning how to read? We would appreciate it if you share any advice on techniques that have helped with their reading skills. 

Monday, 9 April 2018

Do you need some motivation after the school recess?

10 Ways to stay motivated and determined to make this year a success.

The new term has started. Some might have been a bit idle during the school holidays and lost a little bit of their determination to work hard. We have tried to help you out with great ideas to keep your brain active during the holidays, but it is understandable to feel like you aren’t exactly ready for your busy schedule and heavy work-load. 

We are only four months into the year and now certainly isn’t the time to slack. Have you ticked off any of your New Year’s Resolutions? Are you on track with you academic performance? Is your productivity at its peak?

If you answered “no” to any of the above questions, then you are in need of some motivation. You have much to do and there and there is still plenty of time left to achieve everything you set out to do this year! 

Here are our 10 ways to stay motivated and determined to make this year a success:

1. Reorganise.

One of the best ways to regain motivation is to clear out all the clutter. Start with cleaning out your backpack and pencil case if you haven’t already done so. Throw away used papers and empty pens. If you feel like getting a brand new start sort out your whole room, and especially your study desk.

2. Rewrite your goals.

Review the goals you set up for this year. Is it still achievable and what plan can you come up with to make your goals a reality?

If you haven’t set up any goals, check out our blog article on setting goals and how to achieve it. (Blog post 1: ‘How to set New Year’s resolutions that you will actually achieve’).

3. Set up a brand new schedule.

Set up a new schedule that includes the time and dates of this term’s tests and extracurricular activities. Plan your days and know when to hand in tasks, know the test dates and when there are rugby-, netball- and hockey games. Read our blog on how to set up a schedule the right way – Post 3: ‘Four tips to help you set up a schedule for a successful school year’.

4. Focus on your health.

Make this term a commitment to stay healthy, especially since the nights are getting cooler, we don’t want you getting sick. Maintain a balanced lifestyle that includes a balanced diet and regular exercise. If you want more information on what a balanced lifestyle requires, read our blog “What should a healthy and balanced lifestyle entail?” (Blog 10).

5. Get a good night’s sleep.

Getting enough sleep is essential for growing children and teenagers. This is especially important the evening before the new term starts. Set out your clothes and pack your school bag the night before so that you don’t have any stress of being late the next morning. 

6. Surround yourself with positive people.

Surrounding yourself with a good peer group will not only elevate your mood, but also improve your marks. It is well-known in psychology that our friends and people who surround us will have an impact on our performance. If you surround yourself with people and friends that are always complaining, sooner or later you will start to complain too. The opposite is also true, if you surround yourself with positive and motivational people, you too will become motivated.

7. Escape from distractions.

You might have spent a lot of time on leisure activities and social media this holiday. However, now is the time to set your priorities straight for a successful term – that include less time spent in front of the television and more time to focus on your schoolwork.

8. Don’t forget everything you’ve learned so far.

You worked so hard the previous term. It would be a shame if all the knowledge you gained over the last couple of months are forgotten. Start to re-read through your study notes of last term – remember that each topic builds on the previous one. It’s important to maintain a good base of knowledge.

When you receive your previous tests back – go through your answers and review what you wrote. Understand why you made mistakes and if you still don’t comprehend the work, ask your teacher to explain it to you again.

9. Get excited about the new term.

“Optimism is a happiness magnet. If you stay positive, good things and good people will be drawn to you.” – Mary Lou Retton. Excitement and optimism will never fail you. If you are excited to learn something new, go to class with a positive outlook and ask questions because you genuinely want to learn and better yourself. Your brain will then start to enjoy the process of learning and studying. If you teach yourself how to be optimistic your grades will improve, because your mind believes it is having fun and want to do good. Draw in good things, good grades and good people into your life, simply by getting excited about life.

10. Aim for progress, not perfection.

Don’t worry about being perfect and getting perfect grades. The only question you need to answer is this: “Are you giving your best effort and doing better than yesterday?” If you can loudly proclaim YES, then you are on the right track! Keep going, you are doing great. The rest comes with time!

Commit yourself this new term to give your very best. Stick to your new schedule and get excited about life. “Your ability to discipline yourself to set clear goals, and then work toward them every day, will do more to guarantee your success than any other single factor.” – Brian Tracy.

Let us know how and where you will get new motivation for this term? 

Monday, 2 April 2018

10 Inexpensive, interesting and educational things to do during the school holidays.

We want children to relax during the school holidays, but we don’t want them to watch TV the entire time.

“Rest and self-care are so important. When you take time to replenish your spirit, it allows you to serve others from the overflow. You cannot serve from an empty vessel.” – Eleanor Brownn

This holiday we want every school kid to rest out well and take time to relax.  To rest and recharge is one of the key elements to your success. Well-deserved rest during the holidays is necessary for children to perform their best when school starts again. However, we don’t want children to become bored and lethargic. There are many exciting activities you can do during the holidays that will keep your mind sharp and recharge your spirit.

Here are our list of 10 inexpensive, interesting and educational things to do during the school holidays:

1. Visit a museum.

The best way to learn about the world isn’t just from reading about it in a book. Going to a museum will intrigue your senses and teach you about how we as people have developed over the years. There are many fascinating museums in South Africa you can visit. Some great South African museums include:

2. Spend time with animals.

Visit a zoo, aquarium, bird sanctuary or a nature reserve. There are many sanctuaries and bird parks across the country. Visiting one is a great way to learn about animals you might not have known about previously. If you have a camera or smart phone, take photographs of these animals and tell your friends what you have learned.

3. Make some money.

A little extra pocket money for any school kid is always a great thing! You can use it to spoil yourself on days when you need a boost. For example, learn how to bake cookies or make something with your hands. Take your product and showcase it to friends and neighbours and sell your product. Who knows, you might become a renowned business owner.

4. Explore space.

Have you ever wondered about the stars and planets? We live in a vast universe and knowledge of our world requires knowledge of our planets. The Wits Planetarium will teach you everything you need to know about the stars in a short and entertaining show. Visit their website for more information and to book your tickets.

5. Unleash your inner artist.

Recharging after a long school term by engaging in artworks and artists. Art can move you emotionally, inform you and even inspire you to be creative yourself. Our country is filled with art galleries and there are many exhibitions that take place weekly. Be on the lookout for an art exhibition near you.

6. Learn about an industry.

Are you interested in engineering, design or farming? There are many companies that have created visitors centres where you can see exactly how the company or factory operates. For example: Clover, dairy products and juice manufacturer, has opened their visitors centre in 2017. This enables people of all ages to see how the dairy industry operates. You can make a booking here.

7. Lend a helping hand.

There are never enough volunteers! When you go to your local SPCA or old age home this holiday, you will be amazed by what you can learn. At the SPCA you give dogs and cats baths and clean their sleeping areas and play with puppies and kittens. At an old age home you can read stories to the elderly and spend time getting to know them. You can simply listen to stories of their youth or to serve them food. Any help is always appreciated. 

8. Play a game.

Arcade Games or a game of putt-putt is always fun. Entrance fees to most of these games aren’t too expensive and you will be able to challenge your friends to the highest score. Arcade Games and putt-putt are great ways to practise your hand-eye-coordination, relieve stress and it is also fun to try something you don’t do every day! 

9. Learn about your family.

During the school term we tend to neglect the people we love most – our family. Make this holiday the time where you get to know your family again. Draw up a family tree, ask about the origins of you bloodline and who your great-great grandparents were. Ask your parents or search the internet to find out what your Family Coat of Arms is and which country your ancestors originally came from. This is great family time with your siblings, parents and grandparents.

10. Grow your own culinary garden.

A great way to optimise your holiday without becoming a couch potato is to grow your own vegetable or herb garden. It is a good way to spend time outdoors without leaving your house. There are many ways to grow a culinary garden. The best news is you don’t even need a big backyard. You can simply start with a couple of seeds in a pot. Learn about different plant species, how you should use or prepare it in your meals and how it can supplement your own kitchen. It’s a fun activity for the whole family. Next time you need to go out to get tomatoes you can simply walk into your garden and pluck them yourself.

Take care of yourself this holiday, try activities you have never previously thought of and fill up your soul with enriching and exciting adventures. Let us know if you have tried any of these 10 activities and whether you enjoyed it.