Tutor Tips to Make the Most of Winter Break: Dr. P.'s 2018 Holidays Top 5

Whether you’re jetting to Aspen or relishing a stay-cation, winter break is a great time for your teen to rest, recharge, and recoup.  As a tutor who works with teens all year, I've got five tips for parents to help them make the most of winter break.

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  1. SLEEP.

Regular readers of “Desk to Nest” know that I frequently advocate sleeping more.  Though sleep binging can’t substitute for getting enough rest on a regular basis, vacations can present a rare opportunity for teens to catch up on needed shuteye.  Just transition back to a bedtime that will allow for at least eight hours of sleep every night three nights before school begins again.

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Just as students fall behind on sleep during the school year, many also fall behind on work.  Have your child check in with teachers this week to make sure he’s all caught up.  If not, advise him to ask the teachers whether he can make up missing work over break.  As a tutor, I’m often surprised at the opportunities that students let slip through their fingers because they’re afraid to ask!  If his teachers allow him to hand work in late, just make sure his backpack is armed with the made-up assignments on the first day of school in January.

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As an SAT and ACT tutor and college application counselor, I always ask students which books they’ve read for pleasure lately.  Nine times out of ten, teens haven’t read anything for pleasure in years.  This break, encourage your child to read.  Have her pick any book she'd like (for a list of 2018’s top books for teens, click here) and then read it along with her. 

If your family’s traveling during the holidays, reading offers a productive way to kill hours in the air(port).  Discuss the plot’s twists and turns over dinner.  Your teen needs to know that you’re just as engaged in reading as you’re asking her to be.  This practice may even become a holiday tradition!  Reading can bring your family together as it increases your child’s attention span and vocabulary.  It may also help your teen feel more comfortable while taking the SAT, ACT, and other exams, where reading plays a key role even in science and math questions.

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During the past few years, I’ve noticed that more and more of the students that I tutor lack basic skills in arithmetic and grammar.  Even very bright students who get good grades in math reach for their calculators to multiply six by seven or divide forty-five by three.  For the generation born in this millennium, comma splices and redundant sentence structures are the norm. 

If you’re going on a road trip this vacation, take a page from Dr. P.’s dad.  Dominick used to quiz my brother and me on the multiplication tables while driving a 21-foot Winnebago (!).  One of the sixteen-year-old students I tutor told me she found this prospect frightening.  Chances are yours does, too!  Firm command of basic arithmetic and grammar is essential not only for success on the SAT and ACT, but throughout college and life!  And if you don’t know what a comma splice is or don’t feel equipped to gauge your child’s writing or mathematical skills, feel free to contact me for a complimentary consultation.


Once you’ve done numbers 1-4 (or even if you haven’t), take an hour or so around New Year’s Eve to review 2018 with your teen and to set some goals for 2019.  I hate to call this practice resolution-setting because abandoning resolutions before January’s come to a close has become commonplace.  Instead, encourage your child to think about 2019 in the context of the past year.  For example, if she’s been getting Cs in algebra, perhaps a realistic goal for this subject, this year, would be to bring her grade up to a B. 

Limit the number of goals your teen chooses to three or four.  Most importantly, counsel her to devise an action plan for each goal.  What are the steps she plans to take to raise the algebra grade to a B, for instance?  Visiting the teacher for extra help once per week? Twice?  Doing test corrections?  Getting a tutor?  Finally, recommend that she write down the goals and action plan.  Some studies suggest that merely writing down goals makes one 50% more likely to achieve them.  And, as I suggest in my public talks, place the index card or paper on which the goals and plans are written somewhere visible.  If your teen sees her goals and action plan every day, making the sacrifices necessary to fulfill might be a bit more palatable.

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How does your family plan on spending the last days of 2018?  If you incorporate any of my tips into your holiday, drop me a line or comment below and let me know how it went!

Wishing you and your teen a restful, productive and fun winter break!  See you in 2019!