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PROCRASTINATION AND TEENS – HOW CAN WE HELP?

by Milena Ćuk,

Life Coach and Integrative Art Therapist-in-training

“Much of the stress that people feel doesn’t come from having too much to do. It comes from not finishing what they started.”

David Allen

Have you ever spent hours staring at a blank page trying to write a meaningful paper or e-mail, etc.?  Have you ever postponed a boring or unpleasant task until the last minute when you couldn’t put it off any longer? Have you ever caught yourself doing all sorts of unimportant activities such as washing dishes or rearranging the furniture instead of getting started on a pressing obligation? What was your favorite time zapper when you were a student yourself?

Let’s face it – we’ve all procrastinated. If you want to help your teen avoid becoming a chronic procrastinator, we suggest you start by admitting that you’ve dealt with this issue as well. We hope that gaining a better understanding of the underlying causes of procrastination and following some of the tips we suggest, will enable you to help your teen overcome the habit.

So, what is procrastination?

Authors Olpin & Hesson (2013) define procrastination as the avoidance of doing a task that needs to be accomplished. While delaying tasks from time to time is nothing to worry about, it becomes a problem when transformed into a habit and starts to affect important aspects of our lives – academic, professional and personal. Or,  as Alyce P. Cornyn-Selby put it: “Procrastination is, hands down, our favorite form of self-sabotage.” Fortunately, each habit is learned so it can be unlearned as well.

In order to understand a teen’s mind and world better, I asked my 15-year-old niece about her experience with procrastination as it related to schoolwork. This is what she told me:

I used to have a lot of problems with this pro, pro… Now it’s much better, but back when I was routinely putting my school obligations off, it was always when I was up against more complex tasks; when I knew the work would be more difficult and that I’d need more time to complete it. Why was I acting like this? Because I didn’t want to face it. I didn’t want the burden. It was easier to leave it to the last minute. I could force myself to study only when it was urgent and when I knew that I couldn’t postpone it any longer. Deadlines, actually, are a great help in this! And while I was waiting till that very last moment, I was usually hanging out, watching movies, a TV series on the Internet, or just lying down and doing nothing.

According to psychologist Linda Sapadin, author of the book How to Beat Procrastination in the Digital Age: 6 Change Programs for 6 Personality Styles, my niece fits the Crisis Makers style of procrastinators. Crisis Makers, addicted to the rush of high emotion, wait until pressure mounts to take action. Other styles are: Perfectionists (afraid of making mistakes, they waste tons of time unnecessarily focusing on details); Dreamers (lack initiative and fail to translate their big ideas into action); Worriers (afraid of change, they’re focused on worst-case scenario); Defiers (may be openly rebellious or passive-aggressive, defy authority or avoid making agreements and often don’t do what they promised); Pleasers (have problems setting priorities and saying “No”, so they make the job harder than it needs to be).

It is very important to first identify the root of the procrastination since this is the key element in pursuing the ongoing battle against it. For instance, if you realize that your teen’s perfectionism is the reason he’s putting off his school obligations, you should focus on helping him overcome his fear of making mistakes, as well as talking to him about time management and related coping skills.  Reassure him it’s okay to make mistakes; teach him that perfection is an illusion, the enemy of the good; advise him just to keep moving, not to get bogged down in details and lose focus on his main objective.

We should acknowledge that chronic procrastination is not a simple matter of time management or self-discipline but a complex psychological and/or neurocognitive issue (Burka and Yuen, 2008). These authors suggest that procrastination is a strategy people use to manage other issues, for instance: fear of failure, fear of success, fear of feeling controlled, or fear of facing reality.

Also, in this high-tech, digitalized age we live in, the accessibility of gadgets and the virtual worlds we tend to inhabit (this applies especially to teens) are not helping us win the procrastination battle. On the contrary.

You can read about the advantages and disadvantages of technology in one of our previous articles: Education and Technology: A Match Made in Heaven or Hell?

So, what to do if you recognize that your teen has a problem with procrastination?

I asked my niece what has helped her. She said:

When I was younger, my parents would keep reminding me to study but it didn’t work. I would pretend to study in order to please them but in actual fact, it was waste of time and I’d end up cramming anyway. Now that I’m in high school, I realize that everything depends on me. My subjects are more complex and since I want good grades, I’d exhaust myself staying up at night with mountains of schoolwork. And I was tired during the day, both in class and during training (volleyball). I realized that procrastination makes me tired and leads nowhere. I now try to organize myself better and study more consistently. And it’s funny – it is not as hard as I used to think. I think that’s because I made the decision on my own, nobody forced me to. It wouldn’t have worked if anybody else tried to force me or to organize my time for me. I had to do it for myself.

We can learn a lot from our kids, don’t you agree? However, it is also useful to get empowered through reliable sources. There are comprehensive and detailed programs developed in order to overcome the habit of procrastination. For your information, you can check the references at the end of the article.

In a nutshell, these are our suggestions:

  • Talk openly and without criticism about the issue of putting obligations off. Show empathy. Through talk and through time it is more likely that a teen will gain insight about how procrastination is affecting him and whether and what he wants to change.
  • Remember your own experience with procrastination and how it made you feel. Share that with your teen. What tasks nowadays do you hate to do and tend to put off? You can talk about it as a common problem and search for solutions together.
  • Share what worked for you when you struggled with procrastination. It doesn’t mean it will work for your teen, but it’s a good start. Praise his efforts to beat the habit.
  • You should figure out what is at the root of his/her procrastination. Underlying reasons need to be addressed, such as any kind of fear, resistance, perfectionism, etc. Don’t hesitate to ask for help from a coach or therapist if you estimate that it is needed.
  • Help him/her learn how to study and how to plan his/her time.
  • Help him recognize his favorite time zappers – how he usually deflects when he procrastinates (social networks, TV, video games, surfing the Internet, oversleeping, panicking, etc.) and make a deal that he try to overcome these impulses during study time. That is where time management skills are important.
  • Encourage him to ask for help if he doesn’t understand the subject matter or doesn’t know how to do his homework.

One of the first authors of self-help books, Robert Collier, has suggested:

“If you procrastinate when faced with a big difficult problem… break the problem into parts, and handle one part at a time.”

This strategy is well-known and is recommended in all manuals for overcoming procrastination: to break a bigger task into smaller, measurable actions with a realistic deadline for each of these smaller actions.

The other one well-known tip for more demanding tasks is to hit the most difficult (or the most unpleasant) part first, if at all possible. As the pioneer in the personal development field, Dale Carnegie observed: “Do the hard jobs first. The easy jobs will take care of themselves.”

Help your teen recognize what motivates him and what gives him energy. Teach him to use these as rewards for maintaining self-discipline and progress in the adoption of a new habit. It is easier to go through unpleasant tasks if we know that we will be rewarded afterward.

Teach your teen to deal with details at the end. For instance, if he is writing a paper, teach him to write the main parts first, to keep moving and to leave dealing with details last.

While these are general tips to deal with procrastination, keep in mind that each person is unique and tailor your approach to what works best for your teen.

Need additional support in helping your teen overcome procrastination? Don’t hesitate. We can help. Schedule an appointment with our coach.

References and useful links:

  1. Procrastination: Why You Do It, What To Do About It Now, by Burka, J. B. & Yuen, L. M. (2008)
  2. Stress Management for Life: A Research-Based Experiential Approach, by Olpin, M. & Hesson, M. (2013)
  3. Beat Procrastination in the Digital Age, by Dr. Linda Sapadin http://beatprocrastinationcoach.com/
  4. Procrastination and Science, including quotes related to procrastination https://procrastinus.com/
  5. Award winning video by John Kelly about examination of procrastination https://vimeo.com/9553205
  6. TED Talks: Tim Urban – Inside the Mind of a Master Procrastinator https://www.ted.com/talks/tim_urban_inside_the_mind_of_a_master_procrastinator#t-831583

4 IDEAS TO HELP YOU GET CLOSER TO YOUR TEEN

by Milena Ćuk,
Life coach and Integrative Art Therapist-in-training

This article is about finding acceptable common ground between teens and their parents and offers practical suggestions to help parents tackle important life issues with their teens in informal, constructive ways.

If you have a teenager at home, you’re witnessing a unique process your child is going through – the transition from childhood to adulthood, which manifests itself psychologically, emotionally, physically, and behaviorally. Nowadays you may find it difficult to get close to your son or daughter. Activities you used to enjoy together no longer interest them. And when your teenager seems distant, you aren’t sure why. Are they in love? Worried about schoolwork? Fighting with a friend? Could it be something even more serious? Or perhaps they’re simply off in their own world.

Problems adolescents are facing may seem trivial to us but insurmountable to them. And that is why talking things over with a caring, supportive adult may help alleviate their stress. Also, they may get stuck in very serious problems because they were ashamed to ask for help in the first place before the situation got out of hand. That’s why it is important to create an atmosphere of trust in your family, to have an understanding with your children from their earliest childhood that they will come first to you for help if they are confronted with a situation they cannot handle, or if they experience any form of intimidation such as bullying, etc.  True, we should acknowledge that some teens need space to work through their private issues alone and are reluctant to share their thoughts when we might want them to. Be patient, and reassure them you are always there for them. They will open up when they are ready.

If you are reading this article we’re sure you’re doing your best as a parent. So rather than simply addressing strategies here to help teens solve their problems we will focus on that moment when you sense that your teen has become withdrawn, when you find it more difficult to get close, to talk, be more included in their lives and to understand better what is going on in their inner world.

Each of the suggested ideas is just an example. First, ask your teen if he/she is willing to participate, to modify or to suggest something else.

1. Let’s talk about role models!

Role model, idol or hero – definitions don’t matter here. The idea is to talk about people who inspire us, whom we admire and are drawn to emulate. So, to open up a dialogue with your teen we suggest you talk about people who inspired you when you were growing up, the traits and abilities you admired in them and why you sought to follow their example.  This could be a family member, a fictional character, a celebrity – anyone at all. Now, invite them to name someone who inspires them. In opening up about how you thought when you were their age, you open space for connection and further sharing with your teenager. This could be done anywhere – at the dinner table, in the car, or waiting in line somewhere.

If you want this activity to be meaningful, you have to show genuine interest! Listen carefully. Don’t judge your teen’s choices even if you don’t like them. Talk about it! You can learn a lot about their needs and aspirations through this conversation, and perhaps find out more about the social media pressure kids are exposed to nowadays, the pressure to be popular, pretty, successful, rich, and so on. You can use this opportunity to talk about different ways to fulfill the need to be accepted and loved; how to restore positive self-esteem, or about the value of things money can’t buy.

2. Volunteering together in the community

Being involved in working for the same cause brings people closer. Talk with your teen about causes they care about and suggest you do something about it together. You could join a local organization or initiative that works with kids, homeless people, animal shelters, the environment, etc.

Even better – why not come up with a project of your own? Maybe there is a poor family in your neighborhood you can help with food or clothing; a local lake you could help clear of plastic bottles; or a local community center that needs painting and renovation.

Just look around – there are so many worthy projects you can take part in with your teen and the sense of accomplishment which follows is priceless.

Then again, encourage teens if they want to organize a volunteer effort with their peers. Offer your support – a place to meet, food, transportation, t-shirts, etc. This shows them you want to support their individual efforts, too.

It’s best to let teens take the lead in this while you act as an assistant. While you’re working alongside them, you’ll have the chance to talk about all sorts of things including private issues that are on their minds.

Besides strengthening bonds with your teen, community engagement has multiple benefits for young people. It nurtures their ethical and social values, expands connections with other people, enhances their self-confidence and fosters a proactive approach to life.

3. Movie Night

Old civilizations had myths and stories to learn about the mysteries of life; we have movies. Although children and teens are spending too much time parked in front of the screen and certainly should be encouraged to go outside and take part in other activities, the benefits of high-tech can and should be used for educational and yes, for family bonding purposes.

So why not organize a movie night with your teen every now and then? Sit down with them and agree on a movie or movies you could watch. Perhaps you could include your teen’s best friend every now and again. A friend nearby is comforting.

Encourage discussion about the movie when it’s over. Why it was chosen, what you learned from it, who your favorite character was, etc. Don’t push – let the discussion take its natural course.

Let’s use our love of stories and the abundance of available movies to our advantage to connect us with our teenage children. And of course, provide food you all like. Food brings us together, too!

4. Sharing your passions

Were you a passionate collector of tapes, of rock magazines? Maybe you kept a notebook with inspiring quotes, drawings, and your own thoughts. Or you had a special box of memorabilia; movie tickets, photos, postcards. Maybe you had a special hobby. If you’ve kept treasures like these over the years, now is the time to dust them off and show them to your teen, if you haven’t already done so. This can be a precious, intimate moment. A collection you created with passion carries the essence of your spirit. It is a reminder of who you really are, and when you share it with your teen it invites them to share a passion of theirs or to discover a new one.

There’s a story behind each passion. Stories connect people, so use them. You could broaden this activity to include grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc. This could make for a great extended family bonding experience.

Help teens nurture and develop their passion. They may want to build bird houses or shoot a movie. Great! Engagement in activities that fulfill them benefits their mental health and could be crucial for their career. And you will be there as their supporters. Remember to keep these collections and passing passions to share with your teenagers after they have reached adulthood. We all love to revisit those times gone by and we appreciate our parents saving these memories for us.

Have you found these ideas useful? Share your thoughts and experiences!

Need additional ideas or support in making that parent-teen connection? Don’t hesitate. We can help. Schedule an appointment with our coach.

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A FAMILY BOOK CLUB: 5 BOOKS TO READ WITH YOUR TEEN

by Anja Andjelkovic

Reading to children at an early age has copious benefits, such as: develop the brain, prepare for school, improve language skills and social interactions, and more. In fact, the scope of these benefits is so vast, that some parents start reading to their children as early as when they are still in the belly, or even just the size of a poppy seed.

What if you didn’t read to your child when he/she was little or, you did but they have lost interest in reading now? As with almost anything in life, it is never too late to start again! Although, teens may view reading as “uncool” or irrelevant, never underestimate the power of a good story.

So, how can you encourage your teen to read more? You could try suggesting some of the novels listed below and then discuss them together. A great option would be to read the novels out loud so the entire family can become a little book club. It might seem counterintuitive to read out loud to older children (especially teens) but it is a fun activity that comes with several benefits. Reading aloud can help your child improve their pronunciation as they will actually hear the words they would typically read silently. It is also a great common activity that becomes a bonding experience between parents and children. Naturally, there might be some resistance at first, but try it a few times. After the initial awkwardness has passed, you might just discover what a rewarding experience it can be. If you decide you’d rather read on your own and then discuss the books together, that’s great too, as long as the reading leads to an open discussion.

To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee

To Kill A Mockingbird

 

Classics are classics for a reason and this is one of them. To Kill a Mockingbird is a necessary read for everyone, as it deals with issues that are as current now as they were in 1960 when the novel was first published. The story is told from the perspective of a six-year-old girl, Scout, who lives with her father, a lawyer, and her older brother. Scout’s father, Atticus, is appointed to defend a black man accused of having raped a white woman. As you can expect, the novel goes on to discuss controversial topics of race, rape, inequality and prejudice.

After reading the book with your teen, it would be interesting to discuss a current event that is affecting the world, such as racial inequality, gender roles, or class divide. Discussing important topics such as these is a great way to get your teen interested in news, current events, and politics. This is an opportunity to learn more about your child on an intellectual level and engage in meaningful discussion. Tying these topics into the story by reviewing how the characters dealt with them can allow you to deliver a few life lessons (without the eye roll). Make sure that all parties have a chance to talk and listen.  This is an excellent opportunity for your teen to explore how he/she feels.

Note: The novel contains some violence and one of the main characters is being tried for rape. It also contains inappropriate language and deals with sensitive topics.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Stephen Chbosky

Perks of Being Wallflower

Choosing the right book may be one of the biggest challenges you face when encouraging your teen to read. The key is to find something relatable, whether it be in the age of the characters or the story within. The Perks of Being a Wallflower involves teenage characters with typically average teenage problems; making it a great book to start your family book club.

The story follows a shy, struggling, fifteen-year-old boy named Charlie. As he is coping with the suicide of his best friend alongside his own mental health issues, he finds himself among a new group of friends.  While Charlie’s situation is very specific and sometimes pretty dark, the things he experiences are things most teenagers will endure at some point. Being able to talk about these experiences while sharing your own may encourage your child to open up. With a book that encompasses love, friendship, heartbreak, and self-esteem issues, you’re bound to be able to throw in a life lesson or two somewhere.

It is important to note that it is best to be understanding and patient with your child if they do not want to open up or are struggling to discuss something. Reading together is supposed to be a fun, expressive, bonding activity for everyone involved. There is a lot that can be learned from this book, but it is best to keep an open mind and really dive into the message and its characters to get the most out of it.

Note: The novel contains violence and it deals with sensitive topics such as suicide and child abuse. It also involves sexual content, the characters drink, smoke and do drugs, and there is a use of inappropriate language.

Coraline, Neil Gaiman

Coraline

Neil Gaiman’s Coraline is a somewhat dark, twisted story relative to that of Alice in Wonderland. Although Coraline is also considered a children’s book, adults love it because they can revisit their own childhood memories and gain different perspectives on them. Since this book is extraordinarily unique, there is a large opportunity for length discussions.

The main character of this story is a girl who is not quite a teen yet named Coraline. Her family moves to a home that has left her feeling neglected, yet adventurous. As she beings to explore she finds herself in a parallel universe where everything seems very much the same, but her parents have buttons for eyes. Her parents are the perfect, caring and permissive parents she wants them to be, but it is slowly revealed that “The Other Mother” is not as nice as she seems.

This story attracts readers of all ages because it touches on things we’ve all experienced as children. We’ve all been dissatisfied with our parents and their rules, or even felt like we didn’t matter that much; especially in our teen years. This would have led to us creating our own “dream world” of some sort. This is something that can be discussed with your teen: what their dream world would be like, how would the characters in it act, why he/she is choosing that as their dream world. You can also share your dream world with your teen and try to remember what you wished for when you were younger; you will surely find some similarities to Coraline and to your child as well. While talking about these worlds, focus on the relationship between parents and their children and discuss it with your child. You might learn what bugs your teen about the relationship with you and try to explore it and you will surely have an interesting discussion from which everyone can learn something.

Note: The book contains some violence.

The Diary of A Young Girl, Anne Frank

Diary of Anne Frank

Written by a young Jewish girl in the throes of World War II; this book clearly demonstrates the horrors of war and the consequences of conflict. It is also important because it shows the war through an eye of a child who writes about things any child would write about: the relationship with her parents and sister, friends and a boy named Peter.

Reading Anne Frank’s diary calls for a lesson about the war and the Jewish persecution, The discussion of this book can actually start with you and your teen reading up on this horrible period of human history. While learning about the war, you will surely find plenty of topics to talk about.: “What brings a man to hurt another human being?”, “Why have people agreed to this?”, “Where was all this hatred coming from?” are a few topical questions that are bound to lead to lengthy debates. You will read in Anne’s diary that despite everything, she still believed that people are really good at heart. This can easily lead to a lesson on judgment and respect for others.

The topics that this book brings up are all serious topics that should be discussed when your child is ready. This story is essential to the history of the world and gives a great deal of insight into the life of a Jewish child during that time.  his book is here to remind us of what happened and, that teaching the future generations about the horrors of it may prevent history from repeating itself.

Note: As it deals with the topics of war, the book contains violence, sexual content, smoking, and drinking.

1984, George Orwell

1984

Orwell’s 1984 is a pivotal book, and essential to read during a time like this when surveillance and technology are at their most evasive. There is a lot to learn from this book that also evokes a lot of emotion. When reading at the right age, this book is bound to spark a lengthy debate.

1984 is set in a dystopian world of surveillance led by “Big Brother”: where there is constant war, manipulation, and dictation by the political system. In this world, independent thinking is a crime, and so is pretty much anything that doesn’t abide by the rules of the dictatorship. This book is popular amongst teens due to their strong feelings on surveillance, government, and human rights.

The main points of discussion about this novel concentrate around critical thinking and what can happen when there is a severe lack of it. This is a good way to encourage your child to voice his/her opinion and not to be afraid to disagree with everyone else. Another way to deepen the discussion is to talk about free will and the importance of it in a modern society. Also, compare Orwell’s dystopia to our society and see what your teen thinks about where we stand. Adults will enjoy this book because it is one of those good ones that changes together with you and the more experiences you gain in life.

Note: The book contains sexual content, violence, and scenes of smoking and drinking alcohol.

Happy reading! Enjoy!

TO PLAY OR TO LEARN? 5 BENEFITS OF IMAGINATIVE PLAY.

For their children to succeed, parents usually think that they should steer their minds away from playing and get them focused on academics. Pretend play, also called an imaginative play, has been proven to develop skills employers are looking for, and it also is the foundation of abstract thought. Thus, the question today is not whether you should encourage your child to study more or let him/her play. The question is how to encourage your child to engage in imaginative play as much as possible. This article aims to show ways to do so and will also list some of the benefits of this type of game and explain why it is so important for your child’s development.

What is an imaginative play?

This type of play, also called pretend play, make-believe play or symbolic play, entails acting out different stories. During this process of acting, children play with emotions and ideas forcing them to decide between many possible scenarios [3]. For example, when you see your child enjoying an elegant tea party with his or her teddy bears or become a part of a superhero/superheroine group with friends, you are witnessing the imaginative play.

Children develop the ability to pretend very early in their childhood, around 18 months [1]. At this age, the imaginative play associates with the infant’s ability to recognize relationships between objects and the actions related to them. For example, the child first recognizes that a cup is connected to drinking. Next, they use sounds or gestures to indicate drinking. Finally, the child will start to combine this knowledge and begin using an object similar to a cup to feed his/her tea party teddy bears [6]. This pattern gets more complex with age, peaking when children are pretending for longer periods of time when the parents start taking notice of it, or when the child vocalizes that they are pretending [5].

How is this beneficial for my child?

Many parents worry that imaginative play is a waste of time, or that their child may go too far and lose sight of reality [5]. While these fears are understandable, it is imperative to note that this is a healthy and even beneficial part of a child’s life.

  • Imaginative play encourages the cognitive development of a child. Research has shown improvements in their executive functions (higher functions that allow people to act more goal-oriented and adaptive). These children also have a better working memory which means they can manipulate information as they process it. Also, they are better at shifting their attention from one task to the other [8], helping to promote logical reasoning. Each developed scenario has its logic that they must continue to recall, involving lots of reasoning and attention to detail [5].
  • Imaginative play encourages the development of emotional abilities and emotional regulatory skills as well [5]. While engaging in this sort of game, children have to act out emotions, which in turn helps them express their emotions later. Highly emotional games such as “playing doctor” may help them cope with similar situations later in life [4].
  • Children might be pre-exercising for skills they will find useful later in life. For example, playing “house” entails a lot of recollection of things they see their parent(s) doing every day. Acting these scenarios out may help them succeed in a parenting role later in life [7].
  • Imaginative play encourages the development of generic knowledge. Accomplished through the authenticity of their imagined world/scenario, generic knowledge is useful in following verbal instructions [7].
  • Social skills are also being nurtured through imaginative play as this type of game usually involves the presence or imagining of others. Children learn how to initiate and sustain the social relationship. They also start to acknowledge that they are not the only ones in the story, thus losing their egocentricity and considering other people while creating or modifying the story [5].

How do I encourage this behavior?

With a bit of patience, time and imagination, this should be easy and fun!

As a parent, you can get involved in your child’s game by imitating. If you notice that he or she is pretending to be something or someone, your first step should be to get involved in the dialogue according to the scenario. By asking questions about the character or story you inadvertently extend their playing by forcing them to expand upon their imaginary world and to come up with alternate scenarios.

Exposing your child to new experiences gives them more material to pull from when playing. These new experiences and a few props can lead to extended play time and some unique stories.

While encouraging your child to pretend, it is important always to make them feel that they are in control of the story. Let them know that you are only there as a part of the story and they can decide how it ends.

Finally, playing and learning are synonymous to each other. Imaginative play encourages cognitive development, emotional regulatory skills, generic knowledge, and social skills. Being involved in your child’s imagination is stimulating and educational for them, and fun for you!

References:

  1. Bosco, F. M., Friedman, O., & Leslie, A. M. (2006). Recognition of pretend and real actions in play by 1- and 2-year-olds: Early success and why they fail. Cognitive Development, 21(1), 3–10. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.cogdev.2005.09.006
  2. How To Encourage Pretend Play Just Pretending : How to Encourage Pretend Play and to Support Young Children in the Land of Make Believe. (2016), (July).
  3. Kaufman, S. B. P. D. (2012). The Need for Pretend Play in Child Development. Retrieved December 26, 2016, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/beautiful-minds/201203/the-need-pretend-play-in-child-development
  4. Lillard, A. S., Lerner, M. D., Hopkins, E. J., Dore, R. A., & Smith, E. D. (2013). The impact of pretend play on children’s development: A review of the evidence. Psychological Bulletin, 139(1), 1–34. http://doi.org/10.1037/a0029321
  5. Narvaez, D. (2014). Is Pretend Play Good for Kids ? Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/moral-landscapes/201404/is-pretend-play-good-kids
  6. Orr, E., & Geva, R. (2015). Symbolic play and language development. Infant Behavior and Development, 38, 147–161. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.infbeh.2015.01.002
  7. Sutherland, S. L., & Friedman, O. (2013). Just pretending can be really learning: Children use pretend play as a source for acquiring generic knowledge. Developmental Psychology, 49(9), 1660–8. http://doi.org/10.1037/a0030788
  8. Thibodeau, R. B., Gilpin, A. T., Brown, M. M., & Meyer, B. A. (2016). The effects of fantastical pretend-play on the development of executive functions: An intervention study. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 145, 120–138. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.jecp.2016.01.001
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MATH THAT EXCITES AND MOTIVATES? YES, IT’S WITHIN YOUR REACH

Our founder has a long history of interest in mathematics. Here, he reflects on how, congruent with the Growth Mindset [1] approach to teaching, interest, and motivation awakened by teachers and parents, and not innate ability, led to his efforts and achievements. Mathematics, including statistics, is a foundational element in navigating life well and excelling in many careers. The founder details techniques parents and teachers can use to help students of all abilities activate their interest and maintain their motivation for learning mathematics. We have found that these techniques help create mathematically accomplished learners.

The Challenge for Parents and Teachers – How to Excite and Motivate

My first recollection of being interested in mathematics comes from second grade. We had a self-paced mathematics workbook and I found myself competing against a classmate named Wally to see who would finish first. I don’t remember now who won, but I realize that, even as a second grader, that feeling of competition pushed me to try harder and do more. Reflecting back, I am guessing that I was guided by a wise teacher who knew how to get the most out of me while also keeping me out of trouble.

Parents and teachers today are challenged with exciting and motivating their students, with their varying levels of abilities and motivations, to achieve in mathematics and other subjects. Today, I find myself the coach of a math team comprised of amazing students of varying levels, all really interested and excited about mathematics, and I wonder how their learning path led them to join the math team. Psychologists tell us that, to understand this subject, we should take a step back and review motivation for cognitive tasks such as learning and, even before motivation, understand how an interest in a subject starts.

Why the focus on interest and motivations? Because it matters. While, for years, America has focused on the teachers’ capabilities and depth of knowledge in the materials they are teaching, no surprise, students’ own beliefs and motivations form a significant part of effective learning. Carol Dweck’s Growth Mindset research shows that, like compound interest, differences in attitude can accumulate to significantly different accomplishments over time. This research holds true across different ability levels, cultures, and socio-economic groupings.

First, Activate Interest

Researchers, such as Paul Silva from the University of North Carolina, have been making progress on examining the science of interest, understanding what interest is, determining how topics become interesting and learning how we can cultivate interest in ourselves and those around us [2]. Interest helps the brain to focus and can drive everyone to think more clearly, focus better and achieve more in any particular area, regardless of their ability.

Paul Silva’s research details how, for a subject to be deemed interesting, it must be novel, complex, but still comprehensible. The tools to help make math interesting can take many forms, including:

  • Make mathematics relevant to the family [3]- Can you estimate how much money is needed to purchase a group of items? Which is cell phone plan right depending on how much data everyone uses? What is the effect of just a 0.2% expense charge on your retirement after compounding for 30 years?
  • Mathematics through logic puzzles and workbooks – A huge array of math and logic puzzles and workbooks is available for all levels. Browse in the library or bookstore and bring home what captures your student’s attention. These are some of the founder’s favorites: https://goo.gl/d66ji4.
  • Amazing Results, Paradoxes & Fallacies [4]- How much is $0.01 doubling each day for a month [5]? Prove that 1 = 2 [6]. And, consider this favorite of my nephew Mitchell, prove that 1+2+3+… infinity = -1/12 [7].
  • Crazy Math Challenges [8]- How many marshmallow bags would we need to fill up your brother’s room? How fast must Santa be traveling to deliver presents to all those homes within 24 hours?
  • Math using projects – This is probably the most useful form of instruction as the retention rate for hands-on learning achieved through projects is very high. Consider this example: If you built a marshmallow cannon, how fast would the marshmallows have to travel to go up two stories [9]? How high must a track’s starting point be to accomplish a 2’ diameter loop-de-loop for the racers [10]?

To make these activities novel and complex, present content from a wide variety of sources and levels to see what engages students and challenges them. For classroom teachers, this means having items at all levels available. Parents can more precisely gauge their child’s interest and abilities by trying different content at different levels.

As parents and educators, we soon find the delicate balance in keeping content comprehensible. We must encourage persistence and innovative thinking, but not frustrate the student at the same time. We can subtly monitor progress and ask our students leading questions, and help them understand the material while not taking away from their achievements. While the student may need hints to reach the right solution, the key is that the student can approach the problem on their own.

Then Maintain Motivation

“If Kids Don’t Want to Learn You Probably Can’t Make ‘em” – Jack Frymier

My wife, a very talented classroom teacher, sees her job, at the beginning of each school year, as getting to know each child, discovering what motivates them and then using that knowledge to teach them more effectively during the year. As humans, parents, and teachers, evolution has left many of us with instinctual approaches to motivation better suited for motivating physical tasks and encouraging behavioral modification, e.g. take out the garbage or you don’t get your allowance. While effective for simple tasks, this form of motivation falls short in motivating us in highly cognitive tasks such as learning. We need to take care. Pressure, unfair competition, threats, or punishments can all disrupt the learning process. Teachers and parents can accelerate the learning process by weaving in techniques such as autonomy, rewards for effort and achievement, and the delivery of more positive than negative feedback. Students respond well to our genuine interest in their learning pursuits and our reinforcement of the relevance of their study materials too [11].

James Middleton goes a bit further and details how, to maintain interest, the student must continue to see how the activity provides continued stimulation while also remaining in their control [12]. In practice, that means letting the student choose. All parents and teachers know how addictive and enticing electronic devices can be; so, for most students, all this must be accompanied by some sort of non-electronic relaxation time, where playing Call of Duty on your phone or texting friends is not an option.

A very useful tool for parents can be to utilize the Pomodoro technique and combine study time, e.g. study for the first 45 minutes of the hour, and use the remaining 15 minutes for non-electronic relaxation and explore some of the learning activities explained above. Teachers can ask students to select from these activities during these breaks from structured learning. Even though it’s the equivalent of asking your child: “would you like to take a bath or go to bed?”, it still allows them to retain control.

Parents and teachers may want to try some of these motivational tools:

  • Learning Gamification – Reward for progress and efforts – While sourced from the mortal enemy of learning, gaming, the techniques work just as well in incentivizing learning as they do in encouraging gaming addictions. In this case, at least, the student might find him/herself hooked on something useful [13].
  • Reward Systems that work in a student’s home – A properly designed reward structure can help bring focus to students who find it hard working for longer-term goals (e.g. ADHD/ADD). Teachers can convey home the students’ awards while parents can deliver the actual reward. These rewards can take the form of money, screen time (with limits), or even tasks performed by the teacher/parent such as doing the dishes at home or cleaning up their students’ desks.
  • Drawing practical inferences – Students can benefit from periodically linking the learned material back to real-world applications, e.g. using probability to determine if you should bother checking Google Maps for traffic on the way to school.
  • Project-Based Learning [14]- A huge subject beyond the scope of this article, it’s been shown that accomplishing learning through projects is one of the most important elements in maintaining motivation. The theory is that the project learning helps link the learning to practical inferences.
  • Demonstrate genuine interest in their learning – We need to show a genuine interest in what our students are learning. This recognition and attention will provide much-needed reinforcement for students.
  • Engage in well-matched competitive efforts – Competition is a motivator. When engaging our students in a competition, we need to make sure that both students believe that, with effort, they could succeed. This could be tiered competitions in the classroom, competitions formed through a website like chesskids.com, or even employing a system of handicaps so that the less accomplished learner can still win.
  • Engage/relate items they are already interested in – This could be as simple as labels. E.g. How many phases does it take to burn a …
  • Encouraging revision and learning from initial mistakes – This is quite simple to do at home, but a real challenge for the traditional classroom environment. Allowing students to revise their work is a significant learning and motivational tool.
  • Value/Reward/Recognize the knowledge acquisition itself – Have acknowledgments in the family or classroom for knowledge progress regardless of level. Psychologically, it is quite simple to fall into the pattern of always recognizing the most accomplished students, but implementing some tools that help force you to spread the praise can combat this tendency, and motivate the students who really need it.
  • Address anxiety surrounding tests or studying – Sometimes, anxiety due to previous failures, whether perceived or real, can interfere with future progress. Work with a teacher, coach or other professional to help with organizational abilities and study habits. Addressing anxieties and providing encouragement can go far in removing this blocker of motivation.

Summary

Teachers and parents have many available tools to activate interest and maintain motivation for learning in students. Research shows that applying just a few of these techniques regularly can result in a significant difference in student engagement and, ultimately, accumulated learning. Teachers can engage parents to educate through these tools and activities and personalize them for their children while parents can assist teachers in complementing classroom efforts. Parents and teachers must keep a constant eye on the tools they deploy, ensuring they stay positive and work well with encouraging cognitive tasks while being specific to the motivators of each student.

While these tools can be used to activate, or re-activate, a learner, regardless of level, in any subject area, the focus on math is because of its criticality for other subject learning, the long-term usefulness of education in life and careers, and the history of math in being a source of challenges. Not learning the state capitals has few long-term effects, but not knowing your multiplication tables can trip you up for life.

The astronomer Galileo Galilei observed in 1623 that “[the entire universe] is written in the language of mathematics” and that science and society are governed by mathematical principles and ideas. From counting and sets to systems theory and practice, understanding mathematics helps us, as humans, overcome our genetic programming, and function better as a society.

Postscript and Thanks to …
In writing this article, I did a little self-reflection on my own mathematics learning journey. I was lucky to have parents, teachers, and colleagues who gave me many of the above items. Here are a few key people that I could remember who helped me on that journey:

  • 2nd Grade – Ms ??? for letting me compete with Wally P. to finish that workbook first.
  • 3rd Grade – Scott S. for being a worthy, nearly unbeatable competitor in “around the world”.
  • 7th Grade – for Ms.??? for working with me 1:1, and encouraging me to compete in and study for the county math exam.
  • 9th Grade – Dr. Zalewski – For allowing me to earn my first C in math [15] and teaching me to work hard at math again. I also remember waking up in class after being hit by chalk. I guess I knew he cared and knew I could do better.
  • 10th Grade – Mr. Philips – For “bet A points”, “minus B”, and more contagious enthusiasm contained in one teacher than I thought was possible.
  • 11th Grade – Ms. Potrikus – For 3/11 day, having purple as my favorite color again and an understanding of how Newton got to inventing calculus.
  • 12th Grade – To the ‘ov people’. I took the AIME exam that year and got clobbered by all these people whose last names ended in ‘ov’ (e.g. Kasparov) from the New York City area. I began to think about how a whole culture can bring about an accomplishment.
  • High School – Dr. Swanson for encouraging my efforts at leadership on the math team. We really managed to get kids excited about math and make it a team sport.
  • The entire MAA/AIME/Mathematics Olympiad team that created the tests every year that I would get excited about. Yeah… I was that kid and still have a stack of the old tests.
  • Stevens Institute of Technology – Dr. Roger Pinkham – For introducing me to Apostle’s Calculus book, deep mathematical thinking and an appreciation for how math describes the universe. Ohh.. and to Vivek and Henry L. who showed me what real math-smart people could accomplish.

References:

  1. https://www.edutopia.org/article/growth-mindset-resources
  2. Silvia, P. J. (2005). What is interesting? Exploring the appraisal structure of interest. Emotion, 5, 89-102.
  3. http://illuminations.nctm.org/uploadedfiles/activities_home/familyguide_fulltext.pdf
  4. Some favorite paradoxes, fallacies, and amazing results:
  5. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/videos/b/92966fc7-c54d-4405-8fa6-cbefd05bbd6f
  6. https://www.math.toronto.edu/mathnet/falseProofs/fallacies.html
  7. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w-I6XTVZXww
  8. E.g. http://www.eduplace.com/kids/mhm/brain/gr6/index.html
  9. http://community.homedepot.com/howto/DiscussionDetail/Marshmallow-Cannon-9065000000008MO
  10. This was used by the founder to teach his son calculus
  11. https://www.edutopia.org/blog/strategies-helping-students-motivate-themselves-larry-ferlazzo
  12. James A. Middleton, “A Study of Intrinsic Motivation in the Mathematics Classroom: A Personal Constructs Approach,” Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, Vol. 26, No. 3, pages 255-257.
  13. https://www.lynda.com/Higher-Education-tutorials/Gamification-Learning/173211-2.html
  14. https://www.edutopia.org/project-based-learning-guide-importance
  15. This sentence initially read “..gave me my first C..”. My teacher wife corrected it. 🙂
,

EDUCATION AND TECHNOLOGY: A MATCH MADE IN HEAVEN OR HELL?

by Anja Anđelković

We call our times the Information Age or the Digital Age. Both describe the world where we live today. Truly, our lives have never been more dependent on information. And, we have never found ourselves in a world where information has been so easy to access.

Certainly, living in the Information Age has advantages, such as easier communications, access to knowledge, and flexibility. There are disadvantages too: feelings of isolation and an over-dependence on technology and information. With our world changing more with every new day, the skills we need to be satisfied with our lives also change, and our education and learning systems evolve too. Naturally, technology has found its way into our classrooms and our discussions about studying and learning. In this article, we will discuss these technologies we find in our new age, and how to use them effectively in supporting our academic pursuits.

Heaven! I’m in technological heaven!

Ready-to-use knowledge

Students often complain that what they are learning in school is irrelevant or not applicable to our modern world. But, what’s more relevant to today’s world than technology and how to use it? To live, and succeed, in the 21st century, we not only need to know how to use technology, we need to know how to use it well. Today’s children need digital literacy, teamwork and effective communication in order to succeed in their future jobs – skills that are closely related to technology, especially in today’s world where most communication happens online and teams are becoming increasingly virtual, with people who have never met in person. If children were to learn the skills needed to succeed in this modern world, they would not only stop criticizing the system for not providing them with necessary and applicable knowledge, they would also be better prepared to live in a world that’s constantly changing. This world will continue to expect even more from the younger generations, and these expectations will surely include technology and communication skills that will continue growing ever more complex.

Technology as an Avenue to Learning in the 21st Century

Technology is also useful in that it can make students feel more independent and allow them to find the learning strategies that best fit their needs. Students are most motivated to learn when they study topics that they value and when they are engaged in the learning process. Simply put, students value feeling that they have control over their learning.

As children of the 21st century, students find technology familiar, and we, as their parents and educators, can use this in getting them more motivated about learning. Using technology, students can easily access more information about a topic, or seek additional explanations for topics they have not yet mastered completely. Since students cannot always get all the information they need in school or, in some cases, the school environment simply does not meet their needs, teaching children to effectively use technology to fulfill their learning needs can make them more independent and show them ways to learn that do not involve strict curriculums or even more time spent in the classroom.

Turning hobbies into productive study tools

Contrary to popular belief, technology isn’t only a means to procrastinate through Netflix, Minecraft, and Facebook. There are apps and strategies out there that can help your student learn, and learn more efficiently.

Let’s face it. Our kids spend a lot of time on social media. But, social media isn’t all bad. By putting our children’s interest in social media to use, we can find a great instrument for sharing knowledge among their peers. By using social media for the right purposes, our children will not only contribute to the exchange of knowledge, but they will also develop a sense of competence and confidence. They might enjoy themselves when they can see that their contributions help others.

Beyond social media, students can use technology to find ways to shorten the time they spend on studying, writing flashcards and revising their writing. In our world today, students can use a wide variety of software to organize and help with their academic tasks. And they will be among the first to point out to us that using technology usually works faster than any outdated method we’ve carried over from our 20th-century childhoods.

Learning tools for everyone

We’ve seen that technology can give our students some great tools that they can use in  mastering their studies. And technology can do this for students of all abilities. A lot of progress had been made lately in developing apps in the field of special education. These apps have made the lives of some students much easier and they have helped them feel even more motivated to learn.

These advances are not only great for students with special needs, but also for other children who share the classroom with them. Through technology, they are taught how to respect all people, and are prepared for life in an inclusive society.

And now the bad stuff…

With all this praise for technology, it might be easy to forget about all those times you thought about how easier life would be without electronic devices. You might forget about the last time you criticized someone for using their phone too much. (Un)fortunately, you weren’t all that wrong when you lamented all this technology. Technology, like anything else, has a downside. This too carries over to the learning process.

Let me check my messages just one more time…

Technology can, and does, distract. This is probably the most obvious disadvantage of using technology in education. Because students use technology every day, it can easily become too distracting and even draw their attention away from their studies. This is especially true today because there are so many apps and social media platforms and students often feel required to stay on top of them all. To do this, they are constantly multi-tasking, and this leaves a higher risk that their learning will be negatively impacted. Naturally, social media isn’t the only culprit; games and other online content distract students from their academic pursuits too. Technology, as we noted above, is a source of procrastination.

Why would I study when I can just google the answer when I need it?

While the constant access to enormous amounts of information is a key advantage of technology, it can also be a huge disadvantage because this can leave students intellectually lazy. Students may feel that there is no point in studying something when you can just search for it online, and find your answer in just a second. This is one of the ways technology has made us spoiled and has also diminished our capacities. These days, we simply do not need to remember as much as before. When viewed from this perspective, technology can actually be seen as something that makes us more dependent, even though we made a case earlier that it also helps build students’ independence.

Always staring at the screen

And while technology can bring people together, it is also known for rending them apart, or at least disconnecting them from the real world. This is especially true for our children today, who spend most of their time socializing online even if they have trouble initiating social contact in the real world, and experience anxiety when they actually have to talk to people. While this may appear to have nothing to do with education, it actually has everything to do with education. Socializing is necessary for children’s development in that it helps them find their own place in society.

What to make of it?

After reading these advantages and disadvantages of using technology to help with learning, it is not entirely clear if technology should or shouldn’t be used in education. The answer lies, like always, somewhere in the middle. Some aspects of technology can definitely be useful and make a student more confident and productive, while these same technological aspects can, on the other hand, make that student even more dependent on technology.

In order to use technology properly, moderation is important. Research has shown that excessive usage can lead to problematic behavior. However, it’s important to remember that forbidding students to use technology won’t help them to achieve more. They may even grow resentful as they want to multitask and keep on top of their fast-changing world. A better way to make sure that technology does not become a distraction is, again, making sure that our children are not multitasking excessively. Students should focus on developing metacognitive skills that help them keep focused on their task while they are doing it, and then checking social media later.

So, while we wouldn’t advise you to pretend to live in the 19th century and ignore all things new and digital, we also caution that we shouldn’t get too excited about everything happening online. In a best-case scenario, if our students keep using technology wisely and in moderation, this will surely help them in their studies, in developing new skills, and new knowledge.

References:

  1. Basilotta Gómez-Pablos, V., Martín del Pozo, M., & García-Valcárcel Muñoz-Repiso, A. (2017). Project-based learning (PBL) through the incorporation of digital technologies: An evaluation based on the experience of serving teachers. Computers in Human Behavior, 68, 501–512. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2016.11.056
  2. Birkinshaw.J. (2016, June). Beyond The Information Age. Retrieved from https://www.wired.com/insights/2014/06/beyond-information-age
  3. Brown, E. A., Thomas, N. J., & Thomas, L. Y. (2014). Students׳ willingness to use response and engagement technology in the classroom. Journal of Hospitality, Leisure, Sport & Tourism Education, 15, 80–85. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.jhlste.2014.06.002
  4. Crook, C., & Bligh, B. (2016). Technology and the dis-placing of learning in educational futures. Learning, Culture and Social Interaction, 11, 162–175. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.lcsi.2016.09.001
  5. Domingo, M. G., & Garganté, A. B. (2016). Exploring the use of educational technology in primary education: Teachers’ perception of mobile technology learning impacts and applications’ use in the classroom. Computers in Human Behavior, 56, 21–28. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2015.11.023
  6. Firmin, M. W., & Genesi, D. J. (2013). History and Implementation of Classroom Technology. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 93, 1603–1617. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.sbspro.2013.10.089
  7. Junco, R. (2012). Too much face and not enough books: The relationship between multiple indices of Facebook use and academic performance. Computers in Human Behavior, 28(1), 187–198. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2011.08.026
  8. Rosen, L. D., Mark Carrier, L., & Cheever, N. A. (2013). Facebook and texting made me do it: Media-induced task-switching while studying. Computers in Human Behavior, 29(3), 948–958. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2012.12.001