Sunday, September 30, 2018

The Best-Kept Secret About School Success

Make learning fun for your child, it’s the quickest path to academic success.

Put simply, kids will work tirelessly if the work is gratifying — that is, if it's fun! That doesn't mean all play and little work leads to academic success; far from it. What it does mean is that each child's own perspective about what is fun or interesting (and not fraught with stress) has a direct effect on how hard she is likely to work at assigned tasks.

There is little challenge to teachers, parents, and education policymakers from children who just plain love it all, love to read, love to write, love math, love to please. But for those children who are not meeting expectations in the core subjects, the current prescription — to narrow the curriculum and focus exclusively on reading and math — may be the turnoff of all turnoffs. Doing more and more drills, spending all day every day doing stuff that is dull at best, is not the way to improve achievement.

Finding the Hook
It follows, then, that our challenge with kids who are not achieving is to find the hook — the point of passionate interest that will draw them in. This means that we should not be narrowing school subject matter for poor achievers. In fact, we probably should be doing the opposite. Our most talented teachers have long known this. They wait and watch for the hook to bring an unsuccessful student into the fold. Maybe a child's favorite activity is fishing with Grandpa, something his teacher discovers in time spent listening to and getting to know him. Then why not find books at his reading level about fishing? Why not translate math problems into challenges about whether a fish meets the legal size requirement? Teachers' best clues to the hook for each child are likely to emerge during "specials" or social studies, maybe even in a shop class or during an assembly of guest musicians or jugglers. Field trips of all sorts are rich with opportunities to find those hooks.

Tailor-Made Learning
Above all, adults need to find something that each child can feel successful at, sometimes a classroom job that may involve some easily accomplished reading or math. But don't cut out history for the 3rd grader who is fascinated by the Second World War. Don't rob the artistically inclined child of a lesson in mural-making or a trip to a children's art museum. Bring hands-on gardening into a science unit that might incidentally also involve both math and reading. Whether or not the basic subjects are involved, being able to pursue genuine interests can rejuvenate kids to do the less exciting work that they still must master.

As a parent, you can be an enormous help by encouraging your child's interests and talents. Acknowledge them, admire them, and discuss them with teachers. Who knows your child's particular passions better than you? So don't hold back, thinking that a fascination with horses or submarines is not a worthy subject for school. It is the "flow" experienced in pursuing those interests that hooks kids on learning for life.

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Thursday, September 27, 2018

Can You Solve the Rebel Supplies Riddle? - Alex Gendler

You’re overseeing the delivery of supplies to a rebel base in the heart of enemy territory. To get past customs, all packages must follow this rule: if a box is marked with an even number on the bottom, it must be sealed with a red top. One of the four boxes was sealed incorrectly, but they lost track of which one. Can you figure out which box it is and save the day? Alex Gendler shows how.

Lesson by Alex Gendler, directed by Artrake Studio.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Black Holes 101 | National Geographic

At the center of our galaxy, a supermassive black hole churns. Learn about the types of black holes, how they form, and how scientists discovered these invisible, yet extraordinary objects in our universe.

Friday, September 21, 2018

How a Gratitude Journal Can Help Make Your Child Happier

It's a healthy habit — and also encourages writing skills.

What if there was a daily practice that could help your kids be happier throughout their lives? In fact, there is! It's called gratitude journaling, and it's a simple practice that leads to increased happiness.

Why Kids Should Start Gratitude Journaling

Studies show that practicing gratitude makes you happier. People who intentionally focus on recognizing people and things that they are thankful for—on a daily or weekly basis—report feeling happy for up to a month after the positive affirmations.

Expressing gratitude is also good for relationships. If we focus on the positive things about a person and acknowledge his or her kindness, it can improve our relationship with that person.

Plus, journaling is an authentic writing opportunity that also helps children academically with handwriting, spelling, and sentence structure.

As parents, we can help kids notice and seek out the positive things happening around them. This practice can become a habit that will hopefully follow them throughout their lives.

Tips for Starting a Gratitude Journal With Kids

1. Share Inspiring Read-Alouds

I find discussing a topic with my children is always easier with a good book—and that goes for gratitude, too. Here are two picks to read together with your kids.

Thank You, Mr. Panda by Steve Antony works particularly well for younger children. Mr. Panda is on a gift-giving mission for all of his animal friends. But his friends don't seem very grateful for the presents they receive. Little Lemur helps them to understand that it's really the thought that counts.

The award-winning The Last Stop on Market Street by Matt de la Pena is a beautiful choice for children of all ages. A young child travels with his grandmother on a bus, across the city of San Francisco, contemplating why he doesn't have things that others have. His wise grandmother points out the beauty of what they do have. Once they reach their destination, being thankful for what you do have sinks in deep.

2. Help Them Select a Journal

A gratitude journal can be very basic—just a sheaf of paper stacked together and stapled—or something more formal, like a spiral notebook or a more elaborate bound journal. The only other supply that's needed is a writing utensil.

3. Suggest Writing Prompts

Once you've read a few books about gratitude and have discussed what it means to be thankful, you're ready to introduce the journals.

I like to date each journal entry. Down the road, it's fun to look back and see what we were grateful for at different ages.

Then, the kids are ready to reflect and write down three things they are grateful for that day. This is best done at the end of each day. I like to use gratitude journals right before bed. It's the perfect ending to a day.

Here are a few prompts to help kids phrase their grateful thoughts.

  • I'm thankful for...
  • I appreciate...
  • I'm grateful for...
  • Thank you for...

It can take some time for gratitude journaling to become a habit for your child. So, have a set time and place for them to journal each day. Also, you as a parent can model this positive pasttime by keeping your own gratitude journal. The routine will help a journaling habit begin to form—and can help lead to a lifelong practice of thankfulness.

Connect with Jodie at Growing Book by Book.

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Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Is There Any Truth to the King Arthur Legends? - Alan Lupack

King Arthur has risen again and again in our collective imagination, along with his retinue of knights, Guinevere, the Round Table, Camelot, and of course Excalibur. But where do these stories come from, and is there any truth to them? Alan Lupack traces the evolution of King Arthur.

Lesson by Alan Lupack, directed by Patrick Smith.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

How Trees Secretly Talk to Each Other in the Forest | National Geographic

What do trees talk about? In the Douglas fir forests of Canada, see how trees “talk” to each other by forming underground symbiotic relationships—called mycorrhizae—with fungi to relay stress signals and share resources with one another.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

How to Stop Homework Struggles

Find out how to diagnose and defuse homework tug-of-wars with your child.

The exasperated sighs of parents everywhere signal the seemingly inevitable homework tug-of-wars. Who hasn't wondered, "Why can't he just sit down and finish his work?" or "Should I remind him again about the science test?" Leapfrogging over homework hurdles can be especially tricky if you live with one of the kids described below.

Remember that homework hassles are often discipline problems in disguise. Defuse the power struggles by following the cardinal rules of discipline in general: set limits that are reasonable — and stick to them when it's realistic.

The Perfectionist 
To a certain extent, perfectionists just can't help it: "We all have our temperamental predispositions — ways of relating to the world that are biologically linked — and this is one of them," says Melanie J. Katzman, Ph.D., associate clinical professor of psychology at Weill Cornell Medical School in New York City. "Perfectionism can be a wonderful thing to pass on to your child, so parents shouldn't feel badly about it. But carried to an extreme, it can become debilitating. Perfectionist kids may anticipate that they will never be able to meet their own high standards, so why bother?" To keep your child from getting gridlocked while doing homework, set a realistic example (by handling your own mistakes with composure) and praise effort, not grades.

The Procrastinator
The Procrastinator finds 201 things to do before she actually sits down and starts her homework. Often, she waits until the last minute, then rushes through it. Sometimes the procrastinator will throw you a bone: she'll gladly do her homework, as long as you're right there beside her. That's okay if you're willing, and if your child is young — but eventually, she will need to be more independent.
A child who procrastinates may do so for myriad reasons: she may be disorganized or have poor study or planning skills, or she may be anxious or angry about something at home or at school, in which case you need to play detective and talk to her, her teacher, or a school psychologist to determine why. To help, work with your child to set goals she can meet and to come up with a mutually agreeable homework schedule.

The Disorganized Child
The disorganized child is always "just about" to sit down and start his homework, but then . . . well, something comes up. Since his reasons for his inability to complete his homework often seem so logical, you're thrown off guard. Should you give him the benefit of the doubt? Or is he just taking you down the same old road?

You could tear all your hair out over the antics of a child who's disorganized — and he still won't be able to do what he needs to do. Sometimes, the problem may be a learning challenge. Sometimes, it's as simple as providing a reasonably quiet, efficient workspace, or teaching him to organize homework materials, allocate time, and gather information. The trouble is, if you're always supplying the information, reminding them to study, or rushing that forgotten paper to school, you undermine the whole purpose of homework. And the disorganized child will never gain the confidence he needs to do things for himself.

The Underachiever
Parents of underachievers often hear the lament "I'm dumb" or "It's just too hard" from their perfectly capable kids. And they often hear it around 4th or 5th grade, when the amount of homework intensifies. Students must get used to stashing their gear in a locker, as well as the different styles of different teachers for each subject. To get your child who's underachieving in motion, you need to be a cheerleader.

Needless to say, if your child is genuinely unable to do the homework, you, in tandem with his teacher or school psychologist, must figure out why and enlist the help he needs. A learning difficulty or anxiety over problems at home may be affecting schoolwork. Or perhaps the work is below his level and he needs more challenging assignments. By addressing homework problems early, you prevent them from mushrooming.

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Sunday, September 9, 2018

What is Imposter Syndrome and How Can You Combat It? - Elizabeth Cox

Even after writing eleven books and winning several awards, Maya Angelou couldn’t escape the doubt that she hadn’t earned her accomplishments. This feeling of fraudulence is extremely common. Why can’t so many of us shake feelings that our ideas and skills aren’t worthy of others’ attention? Elizabeth Cox describes the psychology behind the imposter syndrome, and what you can do to combat it. 

Lesson by Elizabeth Cox, directed by Sharon Colman.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

See the 1,000-Year-Old Windmills Still in Use Today | National Geographic

These amazing windmills are among the oldest in the world. Located in the Iranian town of Nashtifan, initially named Nish Toofan, or "storm's sting," the windmills have withstood winds of up to 74 miles an hour. With the design thought to have been created in eastern Persia between 500-900 A.D., they have been in use for several centuries.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Homework Help for Kids: Supporting Your Learner

Help your child finish homework with confidence using these simple guidelines.

Homework help should, of course, be age-dependent, decreasing in intensity as your children get older. Your 1st grader may need you to sit down with her each day in order to make sure she understands her assignment and has the materials necessary to complete it, while your 5th grader should be able to work independently. But children of any age can feel overwhelmed or confused by homework from time to time. Assist by reviewing directions and helping to set priorities.

The 10-Minute Rule
Part of the issue, say many teachers and education experts, is that children are often being given too much homework too soon. The National Education Association (among other organizations) recommends no more than 10 minutes of homework per grade level per night. In other words, a 2nd grader should be spending about 20 minutes a day on homework, and a 5th grader no more than an hour. If you find that this 10-minute rule is greatly being exceeded, that assignments are going unfinished, or that exhaustion and frustration levels running high — it's time to talk to the teacher. She may need to modify the type or amount of work, or your child may need some extra help in certain areas.

Every Child Is Different
Another landmine in the field of homework involves parental expectations. Dealing with siblings with such vastly divergent styles can be challenging. "Know thy child" is the most important commandment for parents, according to clinical psychologist Ruth Peters, Ph.D. Pay attention to each child's personal study habits. For example, don't hover over a self-starter, but do let a wildly energetic kid ride her bike for 15 minutes after school before settling down to do homework.

Tips for Easing Angst
Whether the kitchen table is Homework Central or your child works better in the quiet of his own room, there are several things you can do to ensure that assignments are completed with maximum efficiency and minimum angst:

  • Understand your child's physical needs, and make sure they are met before homework starts. Most kids will need a healthy snack, and many will need to blow off some steam with physical exercise. Let them run — but set a time limit.
  • Set a regular homework schedule. With myriad extracurricular activities and sports schedules, it may not always be possible for your child to do homework at the same time every day. Still, a regular routine works best, whether it's right after school or immediately after dinner.
  • Have your child track daily assignments in a notebook or planner. Stay organized! Many schools provide a homework "agenda book" or something similar. If not, buy your own.
  • Designate a homework area, and make sure your child has all the supplies she needs. Small, clear, plastic stacking boxes are perfect for holding — and keeping visible — sharpened pencils, markers, staplers, paper clips, rulers, calculators, etc.
  • Come up with a system to ensure that homework is not only completed, but turned in. Peters recommends using two clear pocket folders, one marked "homework to be done" and the other "completed homework." If the completed homework is visible in the same place every day, it's more likely to end up in the backpack the next morning.
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