Newsletter Library

Alexandra in Tutorland

After a winter that felt like it would never end, we’re finally starting to believe that warm days are here to stay. With break around the corner, we’re getting excited for our Thinking Caps Summer programs. We love using the lazier days of summer to help students discover new interests and hone their critical thinking skills. Our enrichment programs expose students to learning outside the textbooks while our remediation classes bolster basic skills and confidence. As we head toward break, I invite you to join us for Thinking Caps Summer in New York and in the Hamptons.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank our wonderful community of families and education professionals. Your support of and trust in our work makes us constantly strive higher. Likewise, our wonderful, ambitious, and spirited students inspire us each and every year. I am so grateful to share in this experience with the entire Thinking Caps team. It is amazing to be able to be able to spend our days like this!

We look forward to seeing everyone in the new school year! Happy summer...and remember to keep your Thinking Cap on!

A Tale of One Tutor

John Frank

As I write this, I am finishing my 27th consecutive year as a full-time student. Although there have been times when the stress of finals and finishing papers was discouraging, I have never doubted my decision to stay in school for this long. It would be easy to say that I have been driven by my desire to obtain an advanced degree and embark on a career pursuing my passion. However, other integral factors have influenced my decision and transformed my educational experience from a necessary burden to an enjoyable and fulfilling journey. Namely, I have worked to develop supportive relationships in the classroom and have received consistent positive feedback in response to my academic efforts.

When I was young, I tried to complain to my parents about "boring" teachers. Having both been involved in education, my parents were quick to defend my teachers and ask me what I could be doing to make the lesson more enjoyable. Although I was initially disappointed with their response, this advice inspired me to work toward being as engaged as possible in every lesson. In all of my classes, I raised my hand, asked questions, and worked hard to connect whatever topic I am learning to an interest of mine. I ask myself, "In what ways can I relate to this topic" and "How can I make this fun or interesting?" Admittedly, I never found a way to connect personally with topics like geometry or calculus. However, as a natural fan of puzzles, I learned to find joy in solving difficult problems. My newfound enthusiasm for learning was met favorably by my teachers, which transformed the I interacted with them. The "boring" teachers of my past became a useful resource to help satisfy my academic curiosity and push me to new heights as a student.

In large part, my ability to take pleasure in school was facilitated by my confidence as a learner. I enjoyed the puzzles of geometry because I could trust that I would be able to figure them out. Generally, when the going got tough, I was faithful that putting in extra effort would pay off. However, there were some classes in which this was not the case. When I was younger, the classes that I enjoyed the least were those classes in which I felt hopeless. When the content seemed too far out of reach for me to understand, I found myself dreading going to class and working on homework. Motivation is elusive when you doubt your ability to succeed. Again, my parents were pivotal in helping me overcome this challenge. My parents helped me to reconsider what it means to be successful. In my family, success was never defined by a grade; my parents were happy as long as I was enjoying school and able to take pride in my work. Having internalized this measure of success, I found that I was able to remain motivated even for those "impossible" classes. Although the outcome may not have always been an "A," I could always take pride in my work and often found that I would improve.

The (academic) Odyssey

Dana M Rhule, PhD,
Licensed child clinical psychologist

A picture of Dana M Rhule

Summer is right around the corner, and with this season comes many fun trips, camps and new plans for children. Although often welcomed by children and parents alike, these novel summer experiences can also generate a great deal of anxiety and stress. Meeting new kids at camp, flying to new destinations, sleeping away from home, and facing the unknown can create a great amount of apprehension. So here are 6 tips to help your family get ready to embrace the summer.

  1. Listen to your child’s worries and emotions. This does NOT mean agreeing that what your child fears could happen is going to happen, nor does it mean endlessly reassuring your child that bad things can never happen. This does mean making room to hear and acknowledge feelings and letting your child know that you care and want to help. Instead of not talking about worries or dismissing them as silly or impossible, offer your children empathy ("It must be really hard to feel so scared about this.") and a helping hand ("Why don’t we figure out some ways to make this feel a bit better together?")
  2. Problem-solve any particularly difficult situations. Identify the specific situations that feel the most overwhelming, scary, or dreaded to your child. Together, generate a list of solutions that could help make the situation feel even the tiniest bit better. For example, if a child hates his bunk at sleep-away camp, help him find a great new sleeping bag or add some new decorations to his current one. Brainstorm together and consider any and all solutions that feel acceptable to both you and your child.
  3. Prepare and practice for difficult situations. Make time to discuss and practice together how your child could navigate tough situations more effectively. This could include helping your child practice coping strategies, such as taking some deep breaths, imagining a pleasant scene, or using positive self-talk ("I can do this!" for a younger child or "This is really hard for me but I've faced scary things before" for an older child). This preparation could also include role-playing how to use effective communication or social skills to deal with tricky situations, such as meeting new people at camp or responding to teasing. When done in a fun and positive way, children can really embrace their inner actor and get into this type of practice!
  4. Encourage and praise your child's efforts to face fears. Facing what makes us afraid is usually the last thing we want to do... We avoid things for a reason! Unfortunately, when we avoid, we stay afraid, and we can miss out on so much in the process. So acknowledge even the smallest of your child's attempts to face their own fears. If needed, provide a little extra incentive or reward for your child’s efforts to do so. Managing anxiety and confronting scary things is hard, but it's the only way to conquer fear. So encourage and celebrate your child’s and your own efforts to do so!
  5. Be mindful of your own anxiety. As most parents already know, children are a sponge! If parents are anxious, kids absorb that anxiety, even if they don't know what it is about. So try to be aware of your own anxiety. This doesn’t mean that you can’t own when you are anxious—we can't really hide it even if we try! Rather, show your child how to deal with anxiety in an effective way. For example, if you are anxious about flying and you know it's starting to show, you might say, "I'm feeling a little nervous about the flight. So I'm going to take a couple deep breaths and remind myself that I’ve flown before and can do it again. I might even enjoy the view!"
  6. Know when to consult with a professional. It is normal for children to feel apprehensive about new experiences and social interactions. However, for some children, their worry can be incredibly overwhelming and distressing for themselves or their family, and can repeatedly get in the way of doing things they want or need to do. If this is the case and the above strategies haven’t proven sufficient or successful, consult with a professional. Many families wait a long time before seeking help and suffer through much pain, anxiety, and conflict in the meanwhile… but it doesn’t have to be that way. Reach out to a professional who can provide some support and direction to help your family enjoy the summer to its fullest!

Dana M Rhule, PhD, is a licensed child clinical psychologist, a Clinical Assistant Professor of Population Health at NYU Langone Medical Center, and the Director of Child & Adolescent Psychology at Union Square Practice (USP). Dr. Rhule provides psychological evaluations, parent training, school consultation, and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for children and adolescents struggling with anxiety and difficulty regulating their emotions and behavior.

Sense and Sensibility

A picture of a computer with Demystified books in front of it.

A student asks: I'm counting down the days until summer vacation and cannot wait to just soak up the sun and be lazy! But lately, all my teachers have been talking about "brain drain." Is this a problem I should be thinking about? How can I prevent brain drain from happening to me?

Answer: Summer is slowly approaching, and we know we can all use a good tan! But brain drain is indeed a real concern! Research has revealed that students lose between two to two and half months' worth of math skills from previous year's learning, as well as experience significant setbacks in their reading ability. We know you wouldn’t want all of the hard work you put into school to go to waste. Thankfully, brain drain can be completely reversed! You'll want to participate in meaningful learning over the course of the summer by reading daily. Pick up the newspaper or read a chapter in a pleasure book several days a week to make sure your vocabulary continues to grow. As far as your math skills go, talk to your teacher. He/she may be an excellent resource to give you some ideas for math workbooks to complete in between play and television watching! Remember you want to keep your skills sharp, because you know how the saying goes, if you don't use it, you lose it!

Much Ado About Learning

Here goes my list:

-- Avery Erwin

-- Asja Parrish

My favorite picture book of the moment is "Louise Loves Art". It has a great design, is fun to read, and incorporates conflict resolution. For Young Adults, I recommend "Ruby Red" by Kerstin Gier (be prepared to buy the whole trilogy). If older students are looking for an enjoyable but well written summer read, I recommend "The Art of Racing in the Rain" by Garth Stein or "The Elegance of the Hedgehog" by Muriel Barbery.

-- Jacey Kinnaird

I think a good young adult novel is A Separate Peace by John Knowles. It's not a difficult read, but it's definitely an intricate story that students of all ages can probably appreciate. I read it in high school and loved it, but I think middle school readers would be able to get just as much out of it. I also recommend reading the news, as boring as that may sound. It's amazing how unaware a lot of our students are - especially during the summer - so just picking up the Times now and then is a good way to keep reading (and vocabulary!) skills sharp, as well to stay informed.

-- Zoe Mitrofanis

Lord of the Rings always the first that comes to mind. Oh, and Catch 22.

-- David Moroney

I can’t pick just one! Here's my summer list:

-- Jen Gayda

Since I work mainly with high school students, my suggestions are for older readers. They include: Unbroken, The Goldfinch, The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

-- Lizzie Thompson

The summer is a great opportunity to get hooked on a fun series of books (since, after all, students finally have the time for it!). My favorites are and will forever be the Harry Potter books. They always remind me of eagerly poring over them on warm, lazy days at the shore. Older readers may also appreciate the world created by George R.R. Martin in his Game of Thrones series. Both of these collections are prime examples of books that are far superior to the screen versions they inspired. Whatever the choice of material, relaxing outside with a great read is my idea of the best way to while away a summer day!

-- Kate Durham

My list always includes: A River Runs Through It, Abstract Wild, and Mrs. Dalloway.

-- Danielle Jacobs

I'd recommend Johnny Got His Gun, Dharma Bums, Kafka on the Shore, The Hare (by Cesar Aira) and Seamstress and the Wind (also by Aira).

-- Pat Song