Learning Websites

I am often asked by parents which web sites they should steer this children towards.  Children often do not realise the amount of learning they are doing whilst playing online and how much it can improve their reading skills.  There is a myriad of sites out there and it is hard to know which sites are best, but let me help you by listing my favourite 10 free websites.

  1. Newsround 
  2. Dogo News

I find children are interested in their world.  Newsround and Dogo have news, facts, games and videos to help children begin to engage with current affairs.  Both these sites are similar but have slightly different outlooks.  Newsround is created by the BBC and Dogo by a mum in the USA.  However, both a relevant and a range of sources help children develop their questioning and critical literacy skills.

  1. How Stuff Works

Is your child a budding engineer?  Do they have a real interest in how things work?  Here’s a great website for them to explore and discover answers to their current questions and many more besides!

  1. Nasa

Is it space that captures your child’s attention?  This site is filled to the brim with information and games for them to play

  1. Fun Brain

This site has games in literacy, numeracy and more.  It also has online books and comics.

  1. Oxford Owl

This site is great as it has a range of free ebooks for children to enjoy.  It also has some maths activities and even tips for parents!

  1. Nat Geo Kids

Who doesn’t find the National Geographic captivating?!  They even have a kid friendly site!  It contains everything from animals to wildlife, science to nature, archaeology to geology, geography to history.  I am sure your child will find something which interests them.

  1. Top Marks

This is one that teachers will often suggest as homework.  Why?  Because it is brimming with free games which help support maths and literacy

  1. Teach Your Monster to Read

This is a great site for supporting your child’s reading, I find children adore it.

  1. Natural History Museum

The Natural History Museum is another fascinating website for kids, it has games and fact files.  This is really a great educational resource and endlessly captivating.


There you have it, 10 of my favourite learning websites.  Hopefully it helps you and if you have others to share please feel free!

Why Read?

I recently posted about reading, why children may not enjoy their school reading and approaches you can take to it.  Whilst I happily state I really do not care what a child reads, whether it is games, websites, books, comics of even the Argos catalogue, I really do believe they should be reading something.  So today, we are going to explore five of the reasons why it is important to read.

  1. Vocabulary

Reading helps a child expand their vocabulary.  Think of all the different genres and the different types of words you will find in therein.  They will discover words they never knew existed and then begin to add them to their vocabulary.  How many kids love dinosaurs when they are young due to the fancy sounding names?  That magic of words never leaves you!

  1. Success

There have been studies conducted which show that children who read and were read to achieve better results all the way through to university!  Did you realise that short 15 minutes together a day could make such a difference over such a long period of time?

  1. Improvement

Children who read are exposed to different ways to write.  This can improve their writing, grammar and spelling.  I have seen whilst tutoring that improvements can be made through an increased time in reading books children enjoy.

  1. Confidence

The more you do something the easier it becomes and the more confidence you become at it.  This is true for reading!  Even reading to your child helps improve their technical reading skills.  As they grow more confident they will become more independent and be able to read alone.  This also has the advantage of keeping them occupied and out of mischief.

  1. Exploration

Reading exposes children to cultures different from their own.  It opens their eyes to the possibilities that exist in their world.  This increased understanding of others can help a child develop empathy.  So often children at young ages are playing violent games.  This can have a detrimental impact on them.  Carefully chosen books can do the opposite and help create children who care for their world.

I may have said five reasons but here is an extra one – it is free!  We are lucky in that we really do have some great libraries and they are free to borrow from.  From books to graphic novels, magazines to audio books, you can borrow them for free!  So why not get along and visit your local library?


I don’t care what you read, just read!

As a teacher, and now as a tutor, I am often asked how a child can improve with their reading, writing, spelling or grammar.  There is always 1 simple answer to that.  Read.  Yup, you read that right, my simple answer is to read.  In my opinion, being a reader will teach you more about all these things than the best tutor or teacher can.  However, some children just do not enjoy reading. Why not and what do we do to encourage them?

So, your child gets reading homework and they hate it right?  It is a stress and you dread it.  But why might they feel that way?  I would suggest the problem is actually the books themselves.  Rarely, children get to pick their reading books.  This instantly can decrease enthusiasm for reading.  Furthermore, have you had a good look at most reading schemes within schools?  They often are not that interesting!  Would you enjoy being forced to read these books?  Can you blame your child for not wanting to read it?

What can you do?  I always tell parents that homework should not be a stress.  Children in the middle to upper primary years tend to be competent technical readers.  They have learned the skills to do this.  So, is it important that they read every word themselves?  I don’t think it is.  It is however important that they keep pace with the book, so they can complete work set by the teacher both in and out of school.  So, can you take turns reading paragraphs or pages?  Could it be their bedtime story?  Can they break the set pages down and attempt smaller chunks over several subsequent nights?

But stop a wee moment, whilst I might be saying it is ok not to read every word in their school book I am not saying do not read.  Reading is essential for children, but it must be something they enjoy.  There are many ways to get children to read without it being a book.  Do they like to cook or bake, why don’t they find the recipe and lead the way?  What about gaming? So many games have a lot of words and they do not even realise they are reading!  What about comics or magazines?  Reading really isn’t just books.  Think how often you read without it being a book, this blog for a start, Facebook, that text you just received, the care instructions on your new jumper or even the address on an envelope to make sure it is yours before you open it.  Words really are everywhere!

But if you really want to go the book route I would suggest you go to your local library, let them explore a huge range of genres for free!  From comics to magazine, novels and graphic novels, you’ll find them in there.  There are even audio books you can enjoy in the car.  If they enjoy that you can then suggest books by the same author.

So in short, I do not care what a child reads, merely that they read.

What is Growth Mindset?

In tutoring we will often study a single subject area, it might be maths or literacy or something else altogether.  Often, for a myriad of reasons, the children I work with find this area of study difficult, and this can lead to negative feelings.  These feelings can lead to a child switching off to a subject.  Deciding it is hard and they are not good at it and never will be.  This is when I find myself suggesting to parents that we supplement this specific subject area with that of growth mindset.  But what is growth mindset, why do I think it is important and what have I learned myself from it.

In basic terms, Growth Mindset is the understanding of how the brain works and how our attitudes make an impact on our learning.  Carol Dweck discovered that mental attitude and our self-beliefs made a real difference to levels of achievement.  It turns mistakes into a positive tool to learn from.  Children learn that reflecting on and learning from mistakes helps neurons connect, strengthens existing neural connections, which in turn helps us learn.  This is not only achieved through reflection but also through using a range of strategies, asking questions, practicing skills and developing good habits.  This is what is classed as a growth mindset.  The interesting things is that these are all things that we naturally do within tutoring sessions.

This image illustrates perfectly the difference between a growth and fixed mindset:

growth mindset

It is important to know though that whilst we talk about a growth and fixed mindset, and we would like every child to develop a growth mindset, it is not a destination to be reached or an aim to achieved.  It is in fact a journey and we need to continuously reflect and improve to help us maintain momentum on the journey.  This, I think, is the hard bit.  To keep on trying when things are tricky takes determination, tenacity and self-belief.

So why do I think this is important? Today, I worked with a young lad who was confident with the 4 times table and answered 4×7 almost instantly.  He was willing to give it go and any answers he had not memorised he was willing to try and work out using his learnt strategies.  He was showing a strong growth mindset.  However, we are working on all the times tables, so we then switched to the 7 times table.  Instantly he said he found this one difficult and explained he hadn’t practised, he showed a fixed mindset.  I reassured him, and we began the questions.  Quickly we got to 4×7.  He couldn’t answer it this time.  What was the difference?  There was none!  The equations were the exact same, the digits in the same place, my approach the same.  So, the difference was not in the work but in his attitude to the work.  He approached the 4 times table with a can-do attitude, feeling confident.  The 7 times table began with him saying he could not do it, and guess what, he couldn’t.  Conversely, when I told him to stop and breathe and told him not to worry as he knew this, when he looked at it again he could work out the answer easily.  His attitude made all the difference.

From working one to one with these children I have discovered a few things about growth mindset.  For me, it is important that children understand some things in life are hard.  This is a fact.  This is ok.  But it is not only them who encounter hard things, adults do too!  I will often discuss my university studies, my difficulties and achievements with the children.  I also encourage their parents to engage in similar conversations about their lives.  It is amazing to see the realisation dawn on a child that everyone finds things hard sometimes.  You can easily do this on a subtle level.  Discuss your day with your child, your successes and any difficulties.  How did the successes and difficulties make you feel?  How did you over come any difficulties?  What would you do differently next time?  Ask them about their day and a similar way.

I have also started to recognise when my own mindset moves more towards being fixed.  This is often when I am finding things tough in my own studies, like the children find their specific subject area tough.  Understanding how my mindset works is helping me develop my own strategies and keep on trying.  This in turn is helping me achieve great results within my Masters.  It is healthy and hugely rewarding to finally excel at something which was tricky.  And, this is always the aim in tutoring, to help children succeed in something they find tricky!


If you would like to know more about Growth Mindset please look up https://www.mindsetworks.com/science/Default

or check out the TED talk by Carol Dweck at https://www.ted.com/talks/carol_dweck_the_power_of_believing_that_you_can_improve



The Journey Begins

Thanks for joining me!  Today we start the website and the blog.  But how exactly did I get into tutoring? Well, here is a little about me.

I was born and raised in the Muirhouse in Edinburgh back in the 1980’s.  Have you seen Trainspotting?  Well that is where I am from.  It isn’t a bad thing though, it taught me the grit and determination I have needed to succeed in whatever I have put my hand to.

My parents valued education, indeed my father was a teacher, yet I left school at 16 years old.  I was not, and to this day am not an academic.  However, in my early 20’s I gave up a job in a law firm to go to college and then onto the University of Edinburgh to study primary teaching.  I am now back at the University of Edinburgh, this time studying a Masters in Learning for Sustainability.  It was daunting to go back to uni when I am no academic, a Masters degree is for learned people, no?  However, I recently met a lecturer called Dr Sam Harrison who has completed his doctorate, runs a great sustainability residential project up north and was quite frank in saying he is no academic (though he really knows his stuff).  He is the first person who made me think maybe this wee lass from Muirhouse might just find her way through academia!

But back to the matter at hand, how I ended up a tutor.  My studies taught me that it is essential that learning is engaging and meaningful.  Indeed, my best grades at university have been those where could see a meaningful reason to study and take enjoyment in doing so.  The subjects I struggled with were those that were dull, where I was expected to learn facts and figures but could not see how they might relate to real life.  As a teacher (I am currently teaching a wonderful primary 6 class on a Wednesday) and now as a tutor, I keep that in mind.  With over ten years experience I still hold true to the philosophy that learning must be real, meaningful and most importantly, fun!

To me, tutoring gives me the best parts of teaching.  I get to work closely with children and their families to help them progress.  I get to challenge them and help them achieve things they never felt possible.  The children themselves are inspirational and it is a wholly rewarding job.  The biggest compliment I get is when parent’s say the confidence their child is developing eclipses that of the single curricular area and carries over into their entire lives.  Children seem happier, more confident and are willing to challenge themselves.

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton