Follow by Email

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Why a Summer Academic Experience Matters

The three month summer vacation is great time for kids and a disaster for academic achievement.

Educational research has not discovered any benefits to the embedded practice of interrupting their educational learning progress for three months during each summer.

The opposite has been well documented, the three month summer disengagement with the learning process has been shown to contribute to an accumulated learning deficit among all students. 

Academic school standards and expectations have become more challenging and students can easily fall behind in foundational skills such as reading, writing and math.

For students in the grades Kindergarten through 6th grade, here are some ways parents can minimize the loss in literacy skills during the summer.

1. Incorporate reading and comprehension skills into everyday conversation. This may sound simple, but the literacy expectations for students entering the 1st, 2nd and 3rd grade are considerable. Students entering 1st grade are expected to be able to read words, typically single syllable words. Students entering 2nd grade are expected to be able to read multi-syllable words as well as compound words, phrases and complete sentences. 

After watching a movie or reading a book, following are some suggestions for you to strengthen your child’s comprehension: 
  • Characters: Who are the main characters in the story?
  • Main idea: Tell me what the story was about?
  • Retell the Sequence: What happened first, second, next …?
  • Setting:  Where and when did the story take place?
  • Was this a true story or fiction?
  • Opinion: Do you agree with the outcome of the story and why could have been different?
Listen to an overview of the Summer Camp Program

2. Building a student’s vocabulary is always a positive skill. One of the best ways to easily increase vocabulary is to understand the power of compound words. 
Students will gain the insight that many larger words are simply the combination of two smaller words. Examples of compound words are: 
-backpack, baseball, birthday, cupcake, chopstick, sunshine, waterfall. 

3. Explore the world of prefixes and suffixes. The role of prefixes and suffixes in the English language is remarkable. Once students understand part of the word, they can easily learn new words that contain a prefix or a suffix. Examples are: 
pre-heat, im-possible, dis-engage, by-pass, up-load, color-ful, kind-ness, enjoy-ment. 

4. Learning to spell correctly is an essential literacy skill. Spelling is critical in creating 
the mental association of reading of the word to writing the word and using it
in a sentence. As your child learns to read words, efforts to incorporate the spelling of the word will pay dividends when the time comes to learn writing.

5. Build confidence in the literacy foundation skills. There are many logical and intuitive approaches to learning to read. One approach to building a logical skills set is the following:
• learn to decode speak the phonetic sounds and read the word
• learn the meaning of the word both as a stand-alone word and in the context of a phrase or a sentence
• learn how to spell the word, practice printing the word
• practice writing a phrase or sentence using the word correctly

As a parent concerned about the loss of acquired skills from the end of the school year, you can incorporate some of the above activities as a road map to maintain or improve academic skills. We have seen the effectiveness of these activities which serve to improve literacy skills, build confidence and increase enjoyment in reading, as well as contribute to success in the classroom.

For more information on the First Focus summer in reading, writing and math.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Why Writing Matters!

by Sophia Taborski In order to communicate at all with the outside world, people must be able to learn to write, and writing represents engagement in our digital world,  After all, how are you receiving this information right now?

More crucially, writing requires key skills, such as forming a clear overarching idea, supporting it with solid evidence, and organizing information in a coherent fashion. Those same skills are required in all walks of life, for doctors diagnosing a patient, for engineers solving software problems, and even, to use a popular example from our students, for kids persuading their parents to get them a video game, a skateboard, or pet.

Teaching writing is about more than producing a polished product: it’s about tapping into the cognitive processes of understanding, evaluating, and synthesizing information and ideas. Teaching writing is teaching thinking. In fact, it’s teaching critical thinking.
While all students can feel a sense of pride when they see their articles published, our writing teachers have cultivated a creative team spirit and an emerging sense of pride among our students who are connecting to the power of written communications.

In their later elementary and middle school years, students are bursting with ideas of all sorts.  One of our First Focus students wrote a philosophical piece questioning the purpose of human existence; another pitched a remake of the original Star Wars with John Cena as Luke Skywalker and Oprah Winfrey as Princess Leia. Regardless of the topic, students thought through their ideas and supported them.  

Nothing piques students’ interests and excitement like choosing their own topic for a research paper. 

During the research process, we brainstormed myriad topics as a group, and you can see the results for yourself.  While students were researching on their own, they became engrossed in each others’ topics. I couldn’t resist turning that exchange of ideas into a teaching moment (even as I begrudgingly redirected the students to focus on their own work).  I exclaimed “This is why you’re writing!  People want to know what you have to say!   

In addition to enthusiasm, elementary and middle school students also possess the flexibility which makes their openness and developing maturity, the best time to establish foundational writing skills.  I’ve previously taught a college freshman writing seminar.  While many of those students made insightful points and crafted astounding essays, some of them lacked the time necessary to re-learn and internalize basic organizational and reasoning skills. Elementary and middle school students, however, readily seize writing basics and release their imaginations on engaging essays.

Structured Writing provides Logical Organization
At First Focus, we teach a tried-and-true framework for writing essays.  While some may find writing to a formula stifling, a formula actually provides students with more freedom to focus on generating their own content.

Our writing teachers have embraced this effort to promote the development of written communication skills within our academic camps and after-school classes.  During this summer of 2018, we will be conducting a range of writing camps, designed for students entering the 2nd through the 8th grade. You can click on the following links to learn more about the purpose, content, schedule, and pricing of each camp: Beginning Writing, Intermediate Writing, Advanced Writing and Middle School Writing.  

Learn to Write in a Summer Camp
The one-week JumpStart Reading Camps operate from June 25 through August 10, 2018.  Students entering kindergarten have four camps to choose from, most students take two or three weeks of the progressive camps to be ready for immediate engagement in kindergarten. Students entering 1st grade have two progressive weeks of reading camp to develop a deeper level of reading skills with sight words.  

Each camp course book is designed to provide two weeks of instructional content and has different topic material for each week. Students who complete a reading camp are better prepared for the incoming grade level expectations.  The exposure to an academic program during the summer provides an opportunity to advance their skills from the end of the school year.

Students who receive a learning experience during the summer show a significantly higher level of skill retention, leading to a higher level of early engagement with the curriculum for the upcoming school year.  
For more information, please visit email us at or call 650-938-3100 from 1:00- 6:00 pm Monday - Friday.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Insights from the Research, Writing and Presentation Camp

First Focus conducted a Writing and Presentation Camp during the last week of December.  The objective in this camp was to train students how to:

  • Research a selected topic
  • Write up the results of the research
  • Collaborate and Consolidate with team members
  • Translate the findings into a slide deck
  • Make a presentation to the class
Insights from this Camp:  

Click on the image above to see a final presentation

Structure works:
Assigning two or three students to be part of a group provides an opportunity to experience teamwork, personal accountability and participation in the final results. Students are given a range of topics,  each group can select from the list of topics.

The teacher demonstrate how to conduct research on the internet, how to reference information with an active link, how to link to images, and how to use an online database for specific information in an organized manner. The teacher provided a framework to help each team classify information, write about their findings and arrange the information according to priority.

We found students were generally very good team players, some students immediately paired with their friends in the camp, while others created new team relationships.  Once assignments were defined, the work was completed with collaboration and the teams consolidated their separate findings into the working draft. 

Creating a written outline based on the research can be challenging, we shared the strategies and techniques used writing an informational article.  Each team selected a State, wrote an informational article about the State and then read the article to the class.

The class and the teachers provided feedback on the article, the organization, the main points, details and  summary.  The teacher assisted in defining the feedback into actionable improvements.

Presentation Skills:
Based on student and teacher feedback, each team then revised their article and created a presentation using Google Docs - Slides.  Students had one practice session and then gave their presentation to the class.

Results we observed:
As the process continued throughout the week, students demonstrated a higher level of quality in the content of the written article and in their presentations.

Students began to understand why a picture is worth a thousand words.

Most Important:
We observed a sense of confidence and pride in their work.

For more information on the upcoming camps:
The next Research, Writing and Presentation Camp will be held on Winter Break, February 20-23, 2018 and Spring Break, April 9-13, 2018

For more information on the camp, click on

And to register for one of these camps, call us at 650-938-3100, email at First Focus or click on