Letter from Mara

The Importance of Becoming an Interesting Person

When we think of kids and learning, academics generally come to mind. But while schoolwork and grades are undeniably important, the value of extracurriculars shouldn’t be overlooked. Most kids aren’t “passionate” about school. Sure, they are motivated (we hope!) to do well, but students rarely love to do homework, and they generally don’t look forward to studying or working on academic projects. Yet, learning is and should be fun, and it is important for students to identify the things they do like to learn about, and invest themselves in developing those passions. Not only will it make them a more well-rounded person, it will also make them a more unique and interesting applicant to universities and jobs. This month’s posts are all about the importance of extracurricular pursuits, an especially timely topic to consider as the weather warms and summer break nears!

Smarten Up's Favorite Tech Resources

Students nowadays can barely fathom a world without digital flashcards, video tutorials, online learning games, and the powers of Google to handle just about any task. The wealth of online resources and apps to support student learning and organizational skills is seemingly endless, which is why it is so important to narrow down the field to identify the best tools to effectively support our students. With that in mind, this month’s blog posts highlight our favorite tech resources for elementary, middle, and high school students. From math and reading games, to instructional videos and 21st century literary guides, we’ve featured sites and apps to help learners of all ages.

Smarter Summers

It's hard to believe, but the summer countdown is on. Sure, it's only May and the break won't officially begin until June, but as the flowers bloom and the temperature rises, and as finals are scheduled and camp packing lists go out, summer feels like it's around the corner. It brings a sense of relief for all of us - sunny days, weekend adventures, more time to spend with family, and happier, less stressed kids (and hopefully adults too)!

At the same time, as an educator, I also look at the summer break as a valuable time for learning. While kids deserve a break, it is important for them to not totally check out. Most students lose about two months of grade level equivalency in reading and mathematical computation skills over the summer months – what educators and researchers refer to as “summer learning loss” or “summer brain drain.” However, by keeping kids more engaged over the break, we can help to ensure a smoother, more confident transition into the new school year. For elementary students, this means building a stronger foundation for reading, writing, and mathematical growth. For middle schoolers, this means learning how to think bigger by making meaningful connections between academic skills and the greater world we live in. For high schoolers, this means planning ahead for their many very real and very big next steps - honors and AP classes, internships and volunteer opportunities, test prep, and college applications.

May's blog posts are all about how to avoid that summer slump and make the most of the break. We offer suggestions, programs, and support for students of all ages over the vacation. For more information on our group classes or individual tutoring you can visit the Smarter Summers page, or email me at mara@smarten-up.com.


Creativity and Learning

My first teaching position was at the Parkside School, which is a school for children with speech and language based disabilities. For so many of my students, it was plain to see that standard academic assessments would not be a fitting measure of their brilliance or potential. They were masters of topics that captured their curiosity, while it was a real challenge to engage them with material that didn’t speak to their strengths or interests. 

At the same time, as a New Yorker with a lot of creative friends, I was surrounded by adults who had struggled their way through school. Some had learning disabilities that made the task of being a “good student” incredibly difficulty no matter how hard they worked, while others struggled with ADHD and were labeled “trouble makers.” Plus, there were those who simply weren’t interested in or motivated by standard academic curriculum. School was a largely miserable and disheartening experience for all of them. 

I founded Smarten Up with these two groups of learners in mind. Our guiding principle is that learning should be fun. While school is not always easy, and understanding new material is often difficult, at Smarten Up we believe that every child is capable of learning. All it takes is creative instruction. That is why we strive to connect each student’s interests to classroom material. 

April’s blog posts are a celebration of creativity and the many ways in which the arts can enrich learning. Our increasingly structured, competitive, and engaged world leaves less and less time for the sort of sensitivity, flexibility, and self-exploration that comes with creative expression. Hopefully these posts will remind all of us to make a little more time for the arts in the lives of our children (and ourselves)!