Marina Koestler Ruben



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Why I'm Smitten with jaZams, a Toy Store in Princeton

I was in Princeton, NJ, this past weekend and made my first trip to jaZams, an amazing children's book and toy store in Palmer Square.  Here's their site.  They're also on Facebook.  I see that Yelpers like them as well.

If you're ever in the area, I highly recommend an in-person visit.  It's a large store with high ceilings,  natural light, and a magical feel.  Mobiles dangle overhead, and educational products abound.  JaZams prides itself on selling toys that encourage imagination and creativity.  
Among the products that caught my eye:
Magnets from Greggo.  I bought the magnetic animal track tiles--because you never know when you might be at the fridge door wondering how to identify the claws of a nine-banded armadillo.  They also have magnetic Braille alphabet squares, desert animals, composers, human organs, and lots more.  While the site doesn't sell to individuals, you can find many of their magnets on Amazon.
Building blocks from Uncle Goose: Maybe I just have a thing for wooden building blocks, but I can't get over how great these are.  Their high-quality blocks come in upper and lower case, Braille, foreign languages from Arabic to Chinese to Swedish (among others), Egyptian hieroglyphics, nursery rhymes, and US Presidents.
Mini easels and canvases: So cute, with obvious value for children (or adults) who want to create tiny art displays.  They can paint their own works or try to mimic other artists' styles.
The store was jam-packed with other recommendable toys, books, and art supplies.  I'll jot down notes about others on my next trip.  If you know of any other particularly great educational toy stores I should check out or recommend, please let me know.

Greek Families Spend 18.6% of Their Money on Tutoring

Greece tops the EU countries in total family funds spent on tutoring services.

I thought the US spent too much money on tutoring, but now I see that we're not alone.  According to this article in, a study by the Network of Experts in the Social Sciences of Education and Training (NESSE) found that

Greek families invest 952 million euros a year, or 18.6 percent of total household budgets, on tutoring.

18.6%!  And we're not just talking about a few families--more than half of all the students in Greece receive private tutoring.  Sadly, we're not talking about tutoring with the Socratic method; the article implies that much of this tutoring is prep for students taking university entrance exams.  Makes you want to drink hemlock, doesn't it?

Close behind Greece are Cyprus and Malta.  The Times of Malta reports here that a European Commission study found that the

private lessons industry in Malta has become almost “crucial” for Maltese students, even in cases where it is evident they are not necessary...  The study confirms that high-stake exams, particularly to obtain Matsese certificates at the end of fifth and sixth forms, is the main contributor to the private lesson culture...

Interviews with students there indicated that

Malta had reached a point at which it was not considered “normal” to abstain from private tutoring.

How skewed.  Private tutoring has its valid role, but what we should really be striving for is a culture where it's not considered "normal" to abstain from learning.

Memorial Day Weekend Sleep Diary

Use vacations and weekends to find out how much sleep your child really needs.


As the parent of a five-week-old, I'm intimately acquainted with sleep deprivation.  This morning, I sifted through my handbag for a house key several times before realizing I was holding the key already--in the same hand I had used to search for it.

Your child may not have a newborn (unless it's an egg or flour baby for health class), but he or she probably misses out on sleep for another  reason.  Maybe TV.  Or text messaging.  Or late-night homework.  And your child may not have keys to lose, but he can just as easily misplace something significant.  It might be homework.  Or notes.  Or academic information that he would otherwise retain.

That said, did you see "Zombie Prevention: Your Child's Sleep" in the New York Times on Monday, May 23?

According to the National Sleep Foundation... [children should sleep] 11 to 13 hours for preschoolers 3 to 5; and (yes!) 10 to 11 hours for schoolchildren ages 5 to 10....  Teenagers need more sleep than adults — eight and a half to nine and a quarter hours a night....

As you've probably heard before, the consequences of sleep deprivation are grim.  Among them are fatigue, inability to retain information, lower grades, obesity, and depression.

Author Jane E. Brody suggests that you track your child's sleep habits.  (Or get your child to help, if "able and willing.")  Compare the amount of sleep your child gets on a school night with the amount he or she gets on weekends and vacations.  She suggests a three-column diary:

In one column, record lights-out time....  In a second column, record sleep latency--that is, how long it takes them to fall asleep.  And in the third column, record wake-up time, noting whether arousal occurs naturally or with an alarm....

Column two seems a little tricky to me, though there's no harm in including it if you can get the data.  It'll probably be most striking to see the difference in the overall number of hours your child sleep per night.  

Give the sleep diary a try over Memorial Day weekend, assuming your child has the freedom to sleep late.   Compare it with the amount of sleep her or she gets when school resumes next Tuesday.  (I'm hoping my child sleeps for five consecutive hours by then, but your goal should probably be more ambitious.)

What if my teen won’t show me her writing?

I want to be involved in my child’s academic work, but she won’t let me see her writing. What do I do?

Here are a few of the reasons that a student might hesitate to share her work:

1. She feels bad about the quality of her writing.

Find ways to comment positively about your child's work before you say anything negative.

For example: “You've analyzed this quote really well.  Now your reader knows why Lennie wants to tend the rabbits. But do you need so much of the quote?  Are there any parts that you could cut and still make your point?”

2. She wants to avoid your criticism.

Keep your comments entirely impersonal. Your child should not think your comments about her work are tied to how you feel about her as a person.

NO: “How could you write something like this?"
YES: “Tell me about this sentence. What do you think works, and what doesn’t?”

3. As a matter of pride, she wants to complete assignments independently.

It’s good that your child wants to keep his work to herself, as long as the results he’s getting satisfy you/her.

If you do need to see the work, find ways to allow your child to retain independence in the process.

For example:

“I’d love to review part of your paper when you’re done. Would it be better for me to look at the first draft or the finished version?”


“Which paragraph would it be most helpful for me to review?”


If you have other tricks for coaxing reluctant writers to share their work, feel free to share them below.


Welcome to the How to Tutor Your Own Child blog!

Read on for education resources, including websites, news articles, and event information.

If you have questions about tutoring (or anything else), you’re welcome to e-mail them to marinakruben at I’ll post questions and answers on the blog.

Thanks for reading! Looking forward to your thoughts.


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