Marina Koestler Ruben

Marina's Blog

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The Best Facebook Groups for Parents to Follow

If you've read How to Tutor Your Own Child, you probably saw Chapter 6, "iDon't Think iKnow Where My Homework Is: Helping Kids Connect and Organize for the Twenty-First Century."  In it, I address how to maximize the educational impact of 21st-century technologies.

Now, I wish I could go back and augment the section about Facebook--since the book's publication, I've become much more familiar with Facebook accounts worth following.  While I can't amend the book, I can share information via this blog.  So here, in no particular order, are some of my favorite Facebookers.  For the most part, I'm letting their sites' descriptions speak for themselves:

1. How to Tutor Your Own Child -- Obviously this recommendation is biased(!), but I do try to provide information that will benefit parent-tutors, from book recommendations (e.g., Cheaper by the Dozen) to educational conversation starters ("The 45 Most Powerful Images of 2011") to video resources (YouTube's education channel).

2. Children's Book-a-Day Almanac -- "Daily children’s book recommendations and events from Anita Silvey."

3. Play at Home Mom -- "We are a group of moms who have a firm belief in positive parenting and play based learning. We hope to inspire, educate, uplift, and empower you all to be the best moms (and dads) you can be. "

4. Read Aloud Dad -- "Read Aloud Dad is all about children's book reviews, read aloud tips and advice for all those who are involved with reading to and with children!"

5. Tinkerlab -- "TinkerLab aims to help parents tap into a child’s natural curiosities through creative experiments that support independent thinking, enthusiasm for the wonders of the world, problem posing and solving, and the imagination. The projects and ideas shared here are child-centered and value the processes of exploration, experimentation, and curiosity."

6. Grammar Girl -- I did mention Grammar Girl's podcast in the book, but not her Facebook page.  "Grammar Girl provides short, friendly tips to improve your writing. Covering the grammar rules and word choice guidelines that can confound even the best writers, Grammar Girl makes complex grammar questions simple with memory tricks to help you recall and apply those troublesome grammar rules."

7. I Can Teach My Child! -- "Helping you be your child's first teacher--Activities and resources for parents of children birth to 5 years."

8. Our Montessori Home -- Advice and resources from a Montessori family.

9. -- "My goal is to sneak in a little bit of learning for my kiddos--disguised as fun--every day."

Thanks to all of these Facebookers for their contributions to families everywhere!

Readers, what sites provide you with inspiration?  Do you use any of the same resources that I do, or do you have other recommendations?  Use the comment section (below) to share your favorite Facebook groups.

Extreme Parenting with Lisa Ling

Last night I paid our cable company to reinstate our access to the Oprah Winfrey Network just long enough to watch Our America with Lisa Ling, which was doing an episode about "Extreme Parenting."  Ling interviewed four families: wealthy "tiger" parents who pay $40,000/year/child for a year-round high-pressure school, unschoolers who allow their four children to learn through self-motivated pursuits and field trips, a father focused on his high schooler's NFL prospects, and the pageant-minded mother of two toddlers.

It was frustrating to see the show try to generalize about multiple educational philosophies over the course of only one hour (minus the time spent on commercials), especially given the small sample size.  It was hard for Ling to provide a balanced view of the four approaches in such a limited time.

Ultimately, all four parenting methods seemed to raise one question: What are you willing to have your children sacrifice to ensure their well-being?

  • The tiger parents gave up their children's freedom and free time for the sake of their "success" in graduate school and beyond.
  • The unschoolers gave up their adherence to mainstream educational expectations to allow their children immediate happiness and, they hoped, the ability to maintain their passion for learning long-term.
  • The NFL father mandated a path for his son in the hopes that the discipline would allow his child to beat the odds and make it farther in life than he (the father) did.
  • The pageant mother took liberties with her children's happiness (they resisted the pageant preparation) and health (she used candy as a drug to energize and control them) to prepare them for a world where beauty queens get ahead.

While I bristled at some of what the tiger parents did, I felt that their methods could still lead to children with basically sound values.  But I found the pageant family's approach very troubling.  It saddened me to see them putting a spray tan on a crying toddler and popping what looked like Sweet Tarts into their daughter's mouth to help her stay "wild" enough to attract the judges' attention.  The parent of a slightly older (elementary school-age) pageant participant seemed to be pouring an energy drink between her painted lips.  It was heartening to see a commercial that indicated there will be follow-up with the pageant family next week and that the mother may be giving up the entire endeavor.

I don't think there's just one right approach to parenting or to education, but I do think that every family can strive for the same outcome, which is to have children who approach their family's educational philosophy feeling enthusiastic, engaged, and appreciative--and who feel that it's leading them toward a desirable outcome, whatever that may be.  Based on the show's brief exploration of these four families, my impression was that the unschoolers and the footballer were the children who best met these criteria.  Again, that doesn't necessarily mean these families are following the ideal system for their own children or anyone else's--just that they must be somewhat in tune with their own children's needs, which is a valuable goal.


Q&As from Parents at St. Patrick's in DC

Thanks so much to St. Patrick's Episcopal Day School (K-8, DC) for the well-organized book event yesterday!  A great group of parents packed into a classroom to hear my presentation about tutoring, and they asked smart questions.  I'd like to adapt parts of the Q&A here, for everyone's benefit:

Q: How do I encourage a distractable student to stay on task when I'm out of the room?

A: Ask your child how long a particular task should take.  Then set a timer and challenge your child to see whether he can finish by the time it goes off.  You can set your own alarm and check back at intervals (and at the end of the time) to see if the time pressure has helped your child stay focused.  This can also help your child develop time management skills and a more accurate sense of how long particular tasks take.

Q: My child works too quickly.  How do I teach him/her to slow down and check his/her work?

A:  If your child consistently rushes--for example, when working on math problems--ask him to talk you through the process of completing a problem.  As you do it, model the pace that you think is appropriate.  Then ask him to teach you how to check your work.  Do so slowly and deliberately, doing the process while speaking the language that you want your child to be using in his head while reviewing.  It can be hard to TELL a child how to slow down, but he may change his speed if you SHOW him how you'd do it.

Q: When my child reads a book that I haven't read, what's a productive way to engage him/her in conversation about it?

A: You can certainly try, "Tell me about your book," but if you want to get more specific with your questions, allowing your child to think about the reading in a new way, you can attempt these as well: "Would you recommend this book to me?  To students of a certain age or interest?  Why?"  "Who's the main character and what does he/she want?"  "Is there something that's standing in that character's way?"  "Did you think this author has a particular way of writing?" OR "Do you think you could identify this author by his/her writing?  Is there something unique about it?"  Asking more directed questions will allow your child to create focused responses, which will be a useful skill to have when responding to writing prompts or just trying to make a concise point in conversation.


I ran out of time at the event, so I didn't get to recommend two other ideas for reading matter.  One is the book I recently raved about, Guerrilla Learning.  The other is The Teacher's Calendar, an annual publication that lists each day's historical, literary, and cultural anniversaries.  It's a good resource for parents and children, providing fodder for interesting, timely, and educational conversations.  Enjoy!

Online Educational Resources

For the past several months, I've been posting links to education resources on my Facebook and Twitter pages.  I'm categorizing all the links here, for easy access.  I hope you find these useful.  I'll plan to update and organize this list as I accumulate links.  (Last updated 12/1/11)



Leafsnap, an electronic field guide (free)

My First Classical Music App ($4.99)



Chalkboard contact paper

Felt rolls and flannel boards

"Five Favorite Museums to Visit with Kids"



Light panels

List of "Top 25 Picture Books"

List of "Top 25 Teacher Mom Blogs"

"Pumpkins and Place Value"

Sensory boards

Window writing



"Q&As from Parents at St. Patrick's in DC"


Caldecott Medal Winner, 1938 - Present

Newbery Medal Winners, 1922 - Present

Other book and media awards

About Encyclopedia Brown

About Guerrilla Learning

Material World: A Global Family Portrait

Math for Grownups, by Laura Laing



College application tips


"DC parents choosing to home-school their children" (includes names of support organizations)

Don't write lesson objectives on the board.

Franz Liszt as first rock star

"A home-schooler goes to college"

NYT: Waldorf education in California: "A Silicon Valley School That Doesn't Compute"



"Video game playing tied to creativity"



How to "Prepare for the Science Fair"

"To Remember Better, Build a Mansion in Your Mind"

YouTube's educational videos



Calendar of writing prompts

"Crafting a Thesis Statement"

Jokes from McSweeney's to use as lead-ins to grammar/punctuation review


Essential Book for All Parents

It's rare for me to wholeheartedly endorse a book as being important enough that every parent should read it, but I've just finished one that's as close to that designation as I'm ever going to find.  It's Guerrilla Learning: How to Give Your Kids a Real Education With Or Without Schoolby Grace Llewellyn and Amy Silver.

I don't even know where to start.  I think I highlighted most of the book.  I just tried to go back through my Kindle to figure out what parts of the book I should write about, and it seems I marked 265 passages, some of which are multiple pages long.

Basically, Llewellyn and Silver make the point that, even if your children are enrolled in school, you can go a long way toward improving their educational experience with  your own positive influence and support.  (Yes, I partly like their book because it reminds me so much of my own.)  After laying out their thoughts on what doesn't work about the traditional school system and why you should stop stressing about "high-stakes" testing and other fabricated perils of mainstream "education," they go through each school subject area (science, math, history...) and provide suggestions for how to naturally and dynamically engage your child in that subject.  Their resource lists provide an incredible collection of books that you might want to read next.

This book is applicable for anyone with children, no matter what types of school they do or don't attend.

Llewellyn is renowned for her pioneering work in the homeschooling and unschooling worlds.  She's the mastermind behind the Not Back to School Camp, for unschooled teenagers, and the author of The Teenage Liberation Handbook: How to Quit School and Get a Real Life and Education and Real Lives: Eleven Teenagers Who Don't Go to School Tell Their Own Stories.

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