Tuesday, December 19, 2017

What does soccer have to do with reading?

What does soccer have to do with reading?

I am an excellent reader, primarily because reading is one of my hobbies.  However, if you give me instructions on how to build a piece of furniture, I may not understand it.  I not only have no experience building furniture, but I don’t know the names of the parts.

According to Daniel T. Willingham, who recently wrote an editorial for The New York Times called “How to Get Your Mind to Read,” reading comprehension has more to do with factual knowledge than general reading ability.  Most people can sound out words alright, but making meaning of them is another story.  The reason wealthier students do better on IQ tests and standardized tests are their greater knowledge of various topics.  For example, I once took an IQ test, and one of the questions I got wrong was a question about farming.  Needless to say, I had no experience of farms.

Professor Willingham sited an experiment on third graders.  The readers who were identified as “poor” readers were “three times as likely to make accurate inferences about” a passage on soccer as readers identified as “good” readers who didn’t know much about soccer. “This implies that students who score well on reading tests are those with broad knowledge; they usually know at least a little about the topics of the passages on the test.”  He concludes that “comprehension is intimately intertwined with knowledge.”

Professor Willingham advises that education officials write “content-rich grade level standards” and using “high-information texts in early elementary grades,” which “historically have been light in content.”  In other words, children need to be taught general knowledge throughout their lives.

The best thing you can do to help your own children is to read to them daily when they are little and encourage independent daily reading when they get older.  They should read about topics that interest them on an appropriate level so that reading will be a joy, not a chore.  I recently gave my 11- year old niece Guinness World Records 2018, which she and her siblings devoured, just as my own children had at that age.  Children should choose their own books, but can also gain broad knowledge by reading magazines and newspapers, going on historic trips and to museums, and by having family discussions about various topics.  Children absorb new information like sponges – parents can take the initiative to help them broaden their minds.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Building Relationships with Teachers

Setting up Parent-Teacher Conferences

Building Relationships with Teachers

Now that first quarter report cards have come out, some parents may have questions about the grades.  While most elementary schools have November parent-teacher conferences, this is not true for most middle and high schools.  However, it is still important to be connected with the teachers, who play a large part in your children’s lives. 

One of the most important things I learned at Teachers College was to emphasize positive first, whether meeting with parents or writing student evaluations.  No one wants to open a report card or attend a parent-teacher conference to be bombarded with negatives about their child. So we teachers start off by talking about what the child is doing well, and then lead to ways the student can improve, being constructive and positive.  I learned the flip side at my 2 ½ year old daughter’s conference at her pre-school.  We were told that she wouldn’t go to circle time, had difficulty with transitions, bla, bla, bla, nothing positive whatsoever.  This felt terrible.  The following year, we sent her to a different pre-school. 

Teachers are human too, and they do not want hear all complaints from parents.  In fact, complaints tend to put people on the defensive, which is not productive or helpful to your child.  So it is important to build a positive relationship with your children’s teachers from the beginning.  This includes showing up at school events and conferences, volunteering for at least one activity, and thanking the teacher in some way for what she does.  When I was a classroom teacher, I received and appreciated many useless gifts during December holidays, but what I appreciated the most was a heartfelt note.  I had become a teacher from the business world, to more work and less pay.  In fact, I worked way harder and longer hours as a teacher than I did at my previous office job.  Like most teachers, I did it because it was fulfilling, and I wanted to make a difference.  Being appreciated enhanced my job a great deal.

 If you are concerned about anything at school, you should not be shy in contacting the teacher with your concern.  You can do this by email, phone call, or by setting up a meeting.  It is your job as a parent to advocate for your child, which you can do in a constructive way.  

  1. Start the conversation with something positive. 
  2. Plan what you want to say in a non-accusatory way.  
  3. State your perspective, ask for the teacher’s perspective, and work with the teacher to find solutions.  Have a pleasant and relaxed expression. 

Then the teacher will want to help.  Be sure to pick your battles.  A teacher will be more likely to make the extra effort for a child whose parent rarely complains than for a constant complainer. 
As your child gets older, you should teach him to advocate for himself.  He can address the teacher with his concerns, and if this doesn’t work, you can then intervene.  In our family, by 10th grade I stayed out of the picture.  If something extreme had happened, however, I would have intervened.

If you do have a concern that you want to personally address, always go to the teacher first.  Teachers get very annoyed with parents who go to an administrator without approaching them first.  

I can tell you from personal experience that educators are there because they want to make a difference.  We can best help our children by building positive relationships with their teachers and by appreciating the teachers’ tremendous efforts to educate our children.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Apps for Meditation

Meditation for your Child

Meditation is a helpful tool for kids. Many parents and specialists use it as a tool to help kids deal with stress and frustration. Apps are a great way of introducing the idea of meditation to your children. Here are 8 of the top rated mindfulness/meditation apps. 

All 8 of these apps have been recommended by ADHD & Wellness Coach, Elizabeth Ahmann, ScD, RN, ACC.
For more information on Elizabeth visit her webpage at www.lizahmann.com

Insight Timer

Home to more than 1,700,000 meditators, Insight Timer is rated as the top free meditation app on the Android and iOS stores
Rating: 4.9 stars

Stop, Breathe & Think

Stop, Breathe & Think is an award-winning mindfulness and meditation app that is simple, fun and easy to use. Check in to how you are thinking and feeling, and get recommended guided meditations or yoga and acupressure videos tuned to your emotions.
Rating: 4.9 stars


Popular, but in-app purchases add up cost-wise. Guided meditations suitable for all levels from Headspace.
Rating: 5 stars


Nice app, also subscription based. Join the millions experiencing less anxiety and better sleep with our guided meditations, breathing programs and Sleep Stories. Recommended by top psychologists and mental health experts to help you de-stress.
Rating: 4.9 stars


Activities and games for stress and anxiety. Whether you're feeling stressed, anxious, depressed, or you're dealing with constant negative thoughts, Happify brings you effective tools and programs to take control of your emotional wellbeing.
Rating: 4 stars

Breathing Bubbles

Emotional well-being is critical for children. Breathing Bubbles is an app that helps kids practice releasing worries and focusing on good feelings.
Ages 5+ - Release worries
Rating: 4 stars

Breathe, Think, Do with Sesame

This is a resource app for you to share with your child to help teach skills such as problem solving, self-control, planning, and task persistence.
Has both kid and parent section
Rating: 5 stars

10% Happier

First seven days are a free course for skeptics. Clear and simple meditation. Learn to meditate and improve your practice with New York Times bestselling author Dan Harris and some of the most respected (and cool) meditation teachers. Designed for skeptics, built for a lifetime of mindfulness.
Rating: 4.7 stars

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Streamlining the Homework Experience

Is homework a battleground in your house? 

Does it take too long to complete? 

Are assignments not being written down? 

Organization and time management are serious challenges for many students, impeding their ability to get their work done efficiently.  Here are some tips that might help.

Organizing Materials

It is imperative for students to have separate binders/folders/notebooks for each subject or one or two large binders that are separated by tabs for each subject.  Students who do not file away their papers have trouble finding their homework and staying current with assignments.  

Here are some more filing tips:
  •       Backpack – there should be no loose papers.  If necessary, students should go through their       backpacks each day to make sure all papers are filed properly.
  •       Organizing papers – Teachers continue to hand out numerous papers.  Students need to find       personalized systems that work best for organizing them.
o   Binders with tabs – students must hole punch papers or use binders that come with folders
o   Folders and spiral notebooks color coded by subject
o   Homework folder with an unfinished side and a finished side
o   At the end of each quarter, go through papers and either file away for later or recycle
  •  Load homework folder and pack backpack at night.

Writing Down Homework

While to parents, it may seem like writing down homework should be an easy task, students often find this a struggle.  For older students having supplies on hand make staying on task easier.  I found that the zipper pouch was a valuable asset to store essentials as well as my day to day needs.  Having the calendar made it easy to jot down when assignments were due when as well as social engagements.  

These days, there are many ways to record homework:
  •          Use an official homework planner.
  •          Use a small notebook to record each day’s homework, chores, events, and tasks.
  •          Take a picture of the homework assignments.
  •          Talk into your phone to tell yourself the assignments.
  •          Use a homework app.
  •          Go to Blackboard to find the assignments.
  •          If stuck, ask a friend.

With guidance, each student can find a system that works best.  The trickiest part is writing down assignments that have multiple parts or planning which days to study for a test.  A Google calendar works well for recording long term assignments and the days scheduled for working on them.  The calendar should also have sports practices and other activities that might limit homework time.  A Google calendar can be color coded by subject or by family member.

Organizing Time

For time challenged people, everything takes longer than you think.  How many times do you hear, “This will just take a second”?  Really, does anything take just take a second?
  •         Predict how long a task will take and then see how long it really takes.
  •         Use a schedule or check-off list.
  •          Break down homework into small, manageable chunks with planned breaks
o   Example: Homework 25-40 minutes
   Break 3-8 minutes – take a mini-walk, stretch, snack, pet dog
  •         Eliminate distractions.
  •          Schedule homework time each day with a parent on call.

Visualize Yourself  

The sooner you complete homework, the more time you have for fun.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Who Controls your Life, you or your Phone?

I love my iPhone and the multitude of things that it does.  However, I have noticed that smart phones can be pretty addicting and all-consuming.  Have you noticed:

  • people walking down the street and driving (yikes!) looking at their phones

  • your child/teen/spouse keeping his or her face glued to the phone while you are trying to have a conversation

  • increased addiction to social media and news that may be real or fake due to the easy proximity of the phone

  • family dinners that consist of phone engagement rather that family engagement

  • procrastination of homework and chores due to the endless fascination with the phone

  •    forfeiting of real life activities and events in favor of just sitting around with the phone
  • that your child texts all night instead of sleeping 

The list goes on.  Let’s think about setting limits.  Perhaps phones should get down time so conversations and real human interactions can flow.  We don’t need phones at meal time.  We can put away phones before bed, possibly in a separate room if the phone is too irresistible.  We can even declare a day or part of a day as phone free, and put all the phones in a basket, and maybe play a board game or go for a walk.

If you think perhaps your phone controls your life, and maybe your kids’ lives, take pause and re-take control of your life.  Set a good example for your kids and nudge them into activities that are so much fun, they won’t miss their phones.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Practicing Good Sleep Hygiene

 Most of us know that getting sufficient sleep is important to maximize productivity.  The exact amount needed varies from person to person.  However, due to stress or annoying body rhythms, sometime it is difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep. 

Here are 13 tips to improve your whole family’s sleep hygiene: 

1. Get moderate exercise daily, preferably in the morning or late afternoon.

2. If you can’t fall asleep in 20 minutes, read some more or switch rooms. It is much easier to fall asleep when you feel sleepy.

3. Maximize exposure to bright light during the day and minimize it at night. Use a nightlight in the bathroom.

4. Create comfortable sleep conditions (think mattress and temperature).

5. Read something relaxing in bed to get your mind off your own stuff. Use a book or kindle, but not a bright light.

6. Limit naps to less than 30 minutes, or else you will fall into a deep sleep, and it may be difficult to fall asleep again later.

7. Some foods, like bananas, have tryptophan, which can help you fall asleep.

8. Your body naturally produces melatonin at night, but if you don’t feel sleepy, over-the-counter melatonin at bedtime may help.

9. Avoid stimulants or sedatives close to bedtime, including coffee, soda, chocolate, and alcohol.

10. Avoid heavy meals.

11. Minimize liquids 2-3 hours before bedtime.

12. It really helps to add some down time to the end of your day.

13. If you have trouble falling asleep, do not look at the clock. You don’t want to get stressed about not getting enough sleep, which can make falling asleep even harder.

Source: Peter J. Houri, Sleep Specialist from the Mayo Clinic

Friday, January 27, 2017

The Shocking Truth About Multi-Tasking

How does Multi-Tasking Affect Productivity?

When we multitask, it often seems like we are getting so much accomplished.  But our brains are fooling us.

Did you know that the brain can’t really do two things at the same time?  When we multitask, the brain has to rapidly shift its attention from one task to another.  Then it has to shift back.  If you multiply these shifts by all the times you switch activities, you will actually lose some time.  MIT neuroscientist Earl Miller noted that our brains are "not wired to multitask well... when people think they're multitasking, they're actually just switching from one task to another very rapidly. And every time they do, there's a cognitive cost."

One reason people love to multi-task so much is the illusion of getting more accomplished more quickly.  Another reason is that for every tiny task that you perform, such as answering a text, your brain rewards you with a dollop of dopamine, our reward hormone that we get for instant gratification.

In addition, research shows that while focusing on one activity, the brain uses the hippocampus for memory; however, while multi-tasking, the brain uses the stratum, which leads to superficial understanding and shorter term memory of the material.  Therefore, if you really want to be efficient, you need to concentrate on one project at a time.  The gratification dopamine burst will be less frequent, but your accomplishment will be real and comprehensive.

Do you have children or teens who are addicted to their phones?  By interrupting their homework to check texts and answer Face Time, they will not accomplish their homework as thoroughly and will certainly lose time.

Here are some strategies for maximizing productivity by limiting multitasking:

·         Do not multi-task projects that require thought, analysis, and judgment, like many homework assignments.  Give these tasks your full attention to maximize performance.  Take breaks to check email, phone calls, or go for a walk, but concentrate on your task for at least 20 minutes straight.
·         If you must multitask, choose 2 activities, one which is mindless.  For example, folding laundry or doing dishes can easily be paired with talking on the phone.  Regarding homework, limit multitasking to background music and using the internet to help research a project or calling a friend specifically about a project.
·         You and your child can do an experiment.  Try an activity while concentrating exclusively on it and again while multitasking.  Which way has the better result?
·         Keep an eye on your child by having him do homework in a family area or have an open door policy to his room.
·         Have family dinners with a no-electronics policy to generate bonding and meaningful discussions.

Finally, how do parents multitask?  Do we “listen” to our children and spouses while doing one or two other activities, or do we give them our full attention?  It’s true that many of us have too much to do each day, but we, too, will improve productivity and reduce stress while keeping multitasking to a minimum.