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here to help teens solve their problems we will focus on that moment when you sense that your teen has become withdrawn, when you find it more difficult to get close, to talk, be more included in their lives and to understand better what is going on in their inner world.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!

If you need any advice on the parent-teen connection, you’ve come to the right place!

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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!

 

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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].

Speaking of things that are beneficial, here’s an e-book with 5 ways you can help your child improve their executive function!

Nobel Coaching – Executive Function

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. 🙂

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

by Anja Baudisch

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

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CREATIVE IDEAS FOR HOW TO SPEND HOLIDAYS WITH YOUR FAMILY: PART 2

by Milena Ćuk, Life Coach and Integrative Art Therapist-in-Training

LET’S SING AND PERFORM!

No celebration is complete without music!

When you’re together, you can sing Christmas songs – or any other songs that you like! When everyone is present, grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, it’s always interesting to spot the intergenerational differences in the songs that are selected. If you’re feeling especially bold, you can also organize a karaoke party.

Don’t forget to record the moment, by making videos or taking photos. You’ll capture funny moments and laugh together for days! Teenagers will love recording video on mobile phones. However, these days, children are exposed to gadgets from such an early age that even younger children are skillful enough with cameras that they too could help with recording your event.

Another activity that you can add to singing is this: Each of you can choose a favorite song and prepare choreography. Then, you can make the decoration for the stage, adjust the lights and start your own family show! You perform one by one, cheering and laughing. This is especially good if you’re recording video of each performance.

In the end, you’ll all be dancing in your own home party! Put on your dancing shoes and turn on a disco ball, if you have one – if not, improvise!

Christmas dance

via Youtube

PICTURING YOUR FUTURE, AND YOUR PRESENT

As the last month of the year, December is an ideal time to wrap up the current year, and make some plans for the next one. Use the time around the holidays to reflect on your current situation in life, and consider your values, and desired long-term life goals.

By practicing these activities with children or showing them examples with your own behavior, we can include them in these traditions, and, at the same time, help them prepare to make plans and decisions for themselves as grown-ups.

People often make a list of New Year’s resolutions. However, here, we’ll give you some ideas of how you can present your resolutions using images. Although these suggested activities are suitable for adults and older children, you can adjust them so that they will work with younger children as well. Also, you can still do these in January, if you don’t manage to get to them in December.

  1. Holding the past and future, in your hands

Future hands

via Cynthia Emerlye

In this activity adapted from art therapy first trace the shapes of both hands on a piece of letter-sized paper. Fill the shape of your left hand with the main accomplishments, experiences or feelings that have marked this past year. It’s best to express these things in drawings and colors, but you can use words as well. When you have completed the current year, shift your focus to the shape of your right hand. Fill the empty shape with your strongest desires and goals that you will work on during the coming year.

When you are done, share your work with others. Older teenagers can be sensitive regarding their privacy issues; so, they may be reluctant to participate in this activity with you. However, you can still encourage them to do the activity alone or with their friends. Also, when it comes to sharing, everybody can choose whether and how much to share. Sometimes, we forget important and good things that we have done and this activity can show us how good it is to be reminded.

  1. Vision Board

Vision board

via Milena Ćuk

The power of the imagination has found its place in the therapeutic process as well in the strategies we employ in making our dreams come true. Instead of making a list of goals for the next year, sit for a while, relax, and get in touch with yourself.

Ask yourself what it looks like for you to feel fulfilled and happy. Imagine. Where are you? What are you doing? Who is with you? What are the most important aspects of your life you want to present through this collage – and imagine scenes as if they are already happening in the way you want. If you are making a poster for the next year, put all these scenes together with next year in mind.

A poster showing your resolutions expressed through pictures can take many forms, sizes, and shapes. Gather some magazines, brochures and other printed sources. Start looking for the pictures that represent the closest to what you have in mind. When you cut out the pictures, attach them with glue to the blank paper or poster. You can also use Pinterest or other sources on the Internet to find even more images for this activity.

Vision board

via Milena Ćuk

Sometimes, you don’t have a clear vision of what you want. If this is the case, search for the pictures that are most attractive to you. In either case, avoid ambiguous representations or negative symbols. For instance, if you want to achieve success in school, find an education-related picture that motivates you.

Make a nice, relaxing atmosphere where everybody will have the opportunity to work individually and to interact with others. After the activity is completed, you can all share and discuss what you have created. The same rule applies here – everybody can choose what and how much to share.

Did you like the ideas that we have prepared for you? Share pictures if you tried some of these! Also, inspire us with the creative activities that you enjoyed with your family! You can also check out the first part of our creative holiday ideas here!

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CREATIVE IDEAS FOR HOW TO SPEND HOLIDAYS WITH YOUR FAMILY: PART 1

by Milena Ćuk, Life Coach and Integrative Art Therapist-in-Training

So, once again, we’ve made it to the holiday season! Happy Holidays!

There are so many reasons to embrace and cherish the holidays, but, first and foremost, the holidays are a perfect time for families to spend quality time together. Many of you probably have your own family rituals such as decorating the Christmas tree and your home, making gifts and holiday cards together, dining together, making a snowman, creating resolutions for the new year, and maybe even starting a small snowball fight. Whatever the tradition, the holidays are a time for togetherness.

In this article, we will share some ideas related to creative joint activities that you can do at home that you can add to your family traditions. There’s no need to point out how activities performed as a family are paramount in strengthening the bonds within families and for nurturing healthy relationships.

In creating our list, we considered the spirit and meaning of Christmas and the New Year and aimed to offer something creative, to cover (and combine) different forms of expression and to find activities in which all family members can participate. And we considered fun too, of course. 🙂

Some activities that we suggest here are suitable for toddlers and younger children; others are very good for teenagers. You, as parents, can easily participate in all of them. We recommend that you and your family review the activities and select the ones most appealing to you so that nobody feels forced to participate. We created this list to inspire you. We hope that, in reviewing it, you’ll come up with even more ideas.

ACTIVITIES FOR AROUND THE CHRISTMAS TREE

The Christmas tree in your home is a great motivator to use when planning activities with your preschooler or toddler. Using your Christmas tree, you can employ simple techniques to develop your child’s imagination and motor skills.

  1. Christmas tree craft and matching game

For this activity, you’ll need paper (card stock or cardboard), scissors, glitter glue, and supplies for coloring and decorating: permanent markers, washi tape, watercolor paints, tempera, oil pastels, etc.

This activity is especially good for families with small children where each of you can create several trees with different designs. An added benefit, the trees you make for this matching game can also be used to decorate your home, or even to use on Christmas-themed hats! We’re sure there are more uses for these trees; let us know if you come up with some!

To make the trees, start by drawing a simple triangle on a piece of card stock or cardboard. Make sure to let your children do this – the shape doesn’t have to be perfect! Let them experiment with colors and materials you have prepared so that they create their own designs. Glitter glue, tempera, and the other materials are best applied by hand. Don’t worry about dirty hands – children love sensory activities – not to mention a little bit of mess!

easy-christmas-tree-craft-for-preschool-11

via Nurture Store

For the matching game – simply cut several trees in half and lay all the pieces out, in a jumbled arrangement. Ask a child to find each of the matching pairs. This is a good activity for toddlers to look carefully and spot similarities and differences.

christmas-tree-matching-game-1

via Nurture Store

  1. Christmas tree balancing activity

christmas-activities-balance-pin-1

via The Inspired Treehouse

This activity is good for developing balance, motor skills, coordination, and the core strength of your kids. Even more importantly, it is easy to set up!

You will need green painter’s tape, paper or yarn-wrapped ornaments (you can make them easily during preparation activities), and a paper star.

First, create a large Christmas tree on the floor in an open space, using the painter’s tape. Place the ornaments in a pile at the bottom of the tree and create the rules for the game. It’s more fun if you are part of the game and if there is more than one child participating since it is a good opportunity to practice teamwork.

It’s easiest if you have the kids take turns squatting or bending to pick up an ornament and then walking along the trunk and branches of the tree (being sure to keep their balance!) until they find the spot they want to decorate.

You can always add or change instructions depending on your kids’ ages and to keep them focused.

  1. Easy Ripped Paper Tree Craft

tree-pin-1

via TOTS Family

For this activity, you only need construction paper and glue sticks. It’s ideal for toddlers and younger kids since you don’t need scissors and they’ll love the paper tearing! And, they’ll get to practice their fine motor skills. Of course, older children and parents can have fun as well with this creative activity!

A FAMILY PICTURE, WITH SOME HUMOR

Nowadays, making family photos is easier than ever. However, you can make it even more fun by adding some acting and hand-made details to the process. Also, don’t discount the old-school value of depicting your family through drawings since this nurtures our imaginations and subjective perceptions of each other.

  1. No ordinary Christmas photo shoot!

a15b617d210bc34f809beefe6910d743

via Pinterest

Forget about posing! Why not make funny facial expressions with hand-made Christmas symbols instead?

For this very important family photo shoot, you’ll have to make some preparations. Prior to the shoot, organize a workshop to create the props that you will use. You’ll need cardboard, scissors, markers, tape or glue, glitter, and sticks. You can always add other material for even more decoration ideas – be creative!

With the children, make some Christmas symbols from the cardboard such as reindeer horns, Santa’s hat, Rudolph’s nose, Santa’s beard, a snowflake, etc. After you have created your decoration, attach a stick to each item. You can also create some colorful and shiny Christmas glasses to wear too!

christmas photo

via Pinterest

Now, you’re ready and the photo shoot can begin! During the shoot, you can change props and even change who takes the photos. Also, you can add improvisation and acting games for making even more funny poses and facial expressions such as: Santa needs to go to the bathroom! Or, happy snowflake! And, with the glasses, you can coolly pose as Johnny Depp (or any other celebrity/character everybody is familiar with).

As your imagination unfurls, so too will other ideas for even more creative photos.

Don’t forget to tell us how your photo shoot went, and send us some photos, of course!

  1. How well do we know each other?

christmas photo shoot

via Mashable

In this family workshop, you’ll need paper and pens for each member of the family. Of course, you’ll probably want to add markers and some crayons too, for added color.

First, everyone should draw the family as they see it. Make sure to leave space in the upper part of the paper so that you can draw a speech bubble above each member of your family. Once you have everyone drawn, add the words ‘I’m dreaming of…’ at the top of the paper. Then, fill the bubbles with the rest of the words – but before you do, you’ll have to put yourself in the shoes of your loved ones.

This is a good psychological exercise to be done with teenagers and even with your partner. It’ll be interesting when you compare your answers. In this fast-paced life, sometimes we lose sight of the needs of our growing children or even the changing needs of our partners, and we consequently disconnect.

For younger children who haven’t yet learned to write, you can have them draw symbols within the speech bubbles instead of words.

Or, for a new twist, consider these themes:

My biggest fear is…

My passion is…

What I need the most in this moment is…

Whatever you decide for your theme, don’t forget to share what each of you has added, and to discuss it. You might just discover important insights and share some experiences that help you understand your family even better!

Check out the second part of our holiday ideas here!

 

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10 PRINCIPLES TO HELP PARENTS DELIVER EFFECTIVE FEEDBACK

by Milena Cuk
Life and Assertiveness Coach
Integrative Art Psychotherapist-in-training

As parents, we have a duty to prepare our children to live independently in a world where they will interact with many different types of people. To prepare them for adulthood, we must recognize the importance of providing them feedback, both positive and negative (corrective). Positive feedback, such as giving compliments, expressing affection, and acknowledging your children’s efforts and successful performances, is important in building their confidence, in helping them learn new skills and in maintaining a close and open relationship with them. Giving constructive, negative feedback is important too, in learning new skills, in learning to respect boundaries and the needs of other people. Feedback is essential for self-improvement and for the personal growth of your children.

If you have a teenager at home, you may feel frustrated or worried when faced with certain changes in his/her behavior. The transition from childhood to adulthood is a sensitive and tempestuous period of life marked with questions of self-identity, first heartbreaks, a strong need for peer approval, exploring sexuality, etc. It is a period of discovering new aspects of reality. Sometimes, these aspects include alcohol, drugs, and rebellion against authority. These can all lead to a decreasing interest in education, and, in the worst-case scenario, risky behavior or trouble with authority figures. Parents fear adolescence. As parents, you are aware that your teen must go through the process of discovering the world of adults, but you do not want him to get lost. And often, you do not know what to tell him and how to approach his questions, in order to give him enough freedom, but, at the same time, to protect him from harm.

Luckily, there are guiding principles for providing feedback that motivates. In this article, we have gathered our experience from our coaching practice to explain these essential principles and to give parents some examples of how to use them. In our practice, we encounter common dilemmas that we hear from parents and stories of difficulties that many teens face. We have found that these principles are universal and can be applied regardless of the age of your children.

Principle 1
Be realistic

From the start, you should constantly consider the demands you make of your children, and make sure that they are realistic. Sometimes, even the best-intentioned parents are too demanding, asking that their children keep tidy rooms, the best test scores in their schools, the best results on their sports teams, and that they always do what their parents ask. Don’t forget that perfection is the enemy of good. Also, teenage rebellion against social norms and authority is normal, and a phase of their development. You should not ignore the boundaries they push, but HOW you react is important. On the other hand, some parents are overprotective or overindulgent, which causes their children, when they grow up, to have difficulties coping with life’s challenges.

The demands our children face are constantly changing, with their ages, their temperaments, their capacities, and with the changes society experiences as time progresses. Our children today face different challenges, with peers, social trends, in their schools and communities, more than we did. We should try our hardest to acknowledge this.

Principle 2
Show positive attention

In our coaching practice, we see so often that parents are too busy in their lives to spend enough quality time with their children. At the same time, they still demand that their child “become somebody and something one day.” In their frustration, they focus their communication with their children solely on criticizing their “bad” behavior. Sometimes, parents’ fears about their children’s bad behavior are self-fulfilling. The child, receiving ever-increasing amounts of criticism, reacts with even more “inappropriate” behavior in a quest to seek attention from the parents (“look at me!”) even if all he will get is negative attention, in the form of criticism and punishment. Sometimes, they see negative attention as better than no attention at all.

Children need to be loved and accepted by their parents. It is important to show them a “daily dose” of smiles, warm eye contact, and physical contact, such as touches and hugs. Children need their parents to listen to them and take an interest in their lives. Children need compliments and praise too. In our busy lives, feelings of love and affection between family members often go unspoken. “I love you”, “I am so happy to have you as my daughter/son”, “I like you the way you are”, “I believe in you!” – are strong messages that build the foundation of your child’s stability, self-confidence, and trust. These messages need to be heard over and over.

Principle 3
Praise honestly

When you praise your children, focus on the positive, and be honest. Remember the old saying that “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” You can always find something good and beautiful in another person, whether this relates to that person’s appearance, a certain behavior they exhibit or an accomplishment they achieved.
Be specific when offering praise.

Consider these examples: “Oh, I really like the colors you picked for your outfit. They’re so creative!”; “Good job preparing a dinner without even being asked!”; “Good point” – for the opinion they’ve just expressed. “I really liked how you cleaned your room!”; “I really liked the way you helped your younger brother; I am proud of you.”
Offer praise not only for a good performance but also the effort your child has invested. Encourage the journey, not just the destination. “You worked really hard on that paper.”; “You’re doing great, just keep moving!”; “You are almost there!”; “You will make it!”

Even though it’s important to be specific when praising behavior, don’t forget to praise your child’s personality and their positive traits. This praise will strengthen your child’s self-confidence and encourage a healthy self-image. For example: “You are a wonderful person!”; “You are so smart!”; “You are beautiful!”; “You are very capable!”; “You are so kind!”

Principle 4
Offer compliments, but make sure they’re genuine and sincere

Compliments need to come from your heart. They have to be genuine and offered sincerely. If not, they lose their power.

Unrealistic compliments can harm your children. They can lead to unattainable goals and distort their self-image. It’s best to avoid messages like: “You are the smartest boy ever!”; or “You are the most beautiful girl in the world!”

Principle 5
When providing negative feedback, never criticize a child’s personality

Messages like these never help. They are always harmful: “You jerk”; “You are crazy”; “You are bad”; “You are so clumsy”; “You are a liar!”, etc. Negative feedback should be designed so that it promotes change and improvement. If you label your child as a bad person, he may begin to think that this is a permanent condition. Offering feedback like this does not help your child learn what he needs to change in order to better himself.

Principle 6
Negative feedback: Focus on the behavior

Constructive feedback should always serve as a call for changing some concrete behavior.

“It bothers me when you are late.”
“Your music is too loud. Please, turn down the volume.”
“Please, go back to the dinner table and push your chair in.”

We should point out what concrete behavior bothers us, and make it clear how it is unacceptable.
Avoid unrealistic comments like: “You are always late”; “You never do your homework on time”; “You never do what I ask of you”, etc.

Principle 7
Deliver praise publicly; deliver constructive feedback privately

When giving corrective feedback to children, regardless of age, you should catch them alone. Most people feel humiliated when they are criticized in front of others. Negative feedback should not make somebody feel guilty or ashamed. Instead, this feedback should help your child become aware of his own behavior, correct it and learn.

Principle 8
Don’t take it personally

Parents sometimes feel offended or upset, when one of their ground rules is broken, or if inappropriate behavior is repeated, or can cause harm. This happens even more frequently with teens when they exhibit their rebellious or risky behavior. Parents sometimes see teens’ behavior as reckless and disrespectful, and something that needs to be punished. And this is sometimes true. However, this behavior can occur for several reasons, such as strong inner conflicts and pain, insecurity or peer pressure.

In these cases, it is important to keep communication open in order to understand what is going on in your teen’s head and heart. Always remember to stay calm and consistent in your discussions with your child.

Principle 9
Different forms of corrective feedback

What is the best way to provide corrective feedback? This depends on many factors. Delivering corrective feedback is a skill that you can practice. The most important thing to remember is that you follow the principles stated above. Here are examples of corrective feedback offered correctly:

“We know that you don’t like bringing the garbage out and would rather do something else, but we’ve made a deal, and we need you to take it outside.”
“I feel angry and frustrated when the bathroom is not cleaned after you bathe, even after you promised to do it. We have a rule that everybody cleans up after them and I would like it to be respected. I always try to do what I promise and I would appreciate if you do the same. What do you think?”
“Gosh, you were really good during the game. You were so focused, fast, and catching the ball really well. It seemed, though, at the end that you were out of breath. Maybe you should focus more on practicing breathing and endurance? What do you think?”
“When you don’t come home when you said would and you don’t call us, I get worried that you’re in trouble. Please, don’t let it happen again, OK?”
“You know how proud daddy and I are of you. You are a smart girl who’s always done so well in school; so, we find these lower grades surprising. Is there something going on that’s bothering you, and keeping you from studying? What’s going on, honey?”
“You know that this behavior is unacceptable (for instance, your son took money from your wallet without asking). Since you were little, we’ve taught you about honesty. What happened this time?” In general, it is good to keep the conversation open to hearing your child’s side of the story and to understand why your child broke the rule. For instance: “What made you do this?”; “Do you have some thoughts to share with us?”; “Help us understand.”

As parents, it is easier to evaluate your rules or determine appropriate consequences when you understand the entire situation.

Principle 10
Balance negative feedback with positive feedback

Do you give more positive feedback or negative feedback? Delivering more positive feedback is recommended by the experts. Positive feedback is more powerful, and it helps build healthy relationships.

In the end, don’t forget to praise yourself – for everything you do for your children. You also deserve praise for your efforts in working on your parenting skills. That’s why you’re here, right?

If you have trouble communicating with your child and you don’t know what to do, don’t hesitate to call us today!

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HELPING KIDS SUCCEED – MINUS THE STRESS

Parents usually resort to more study time, tutoring and advanced classes when they want to help their children achieve their academic goals. This achievement-centered approach might be helpful, but studies have shown that kids with more self-control achieve more academically. Therefore, it makes sense to help kids develop and practice skills related to self-control rather than make them take that one extra class, which is often stressful. Practicing these skills is not only useful for academic success – having a higher level of self-control also means being able to better tolerate stress and control your emotions. More self-control leads to increased empathy and social competence. And, all of this results in better concentration abilities.

The Marshmallow Experiment” have shown that skills related to self-control are better predictors of academic success than IQ scores. In this experiment, children knew that a two marshmallow reward could be had if they did not eat the first marshmallow right away. It’s important to note that the children were not punished for eating the first marshmallow right away, nor were they praised for waiting. When practicing self-control, it is critical to remember this because bettering this skill is about controlling one’s impulses to achieve a goal, and not about pleasing others and avoiding punishment. It is also important to start the practice at the child’s current level and focus on his/her own progress rather than comparing their progress to others. Doing this could lead to feelings of inferiority, leaving the child hesitant to keep trying.

One of a child’s earliest experiences with self-control occurs during imaginative play, and parents should make sure that their children have enough time for it. During imaginative play, kids set their own rules and are motivated to follow them when the game is fun. For example, they have to control their behavior and inhibit their impulses when they want to achieve their goal of becoming an astronaut or a teacher. Another way of improving self-control skills would be through fun activities with parents. These activities should involve some structure, such as taking turns; so, board games could be especially useful. During the game, it is important to let the kid monitor him/herself and if that proves too hard for them, find an alternative appropriate for their current level of self-control.

Imaginative play and board games as means to improving skills related to self-control prove that achieving success doesn’t have to be stressful or boring for the child. It can be fun, and the more they do it, the more self-control they will develop. These ways to develop self-control also show that playing is not the opposite of learning; rather, playing IS learning.

– via Psychology Today

FLIPPING VHS TAPES, THE CLASSROOM & WHAT CAN WE FLIP NOW?

by Andrew Sachs

Learning, motivation and the future of education

In education today, flipping classrooms and instruction is getting a lot of attention lately. The promises include increased motivation, mastery of content and not grades, an applicability of the approach to all types of learners, and an unmatched pace of learning. In this post, our founder details his first experiences with flipped instruction 30 years ago, and his more recent experiences: his daughter’s self-study for an AP Calculus exam, as well as his wife’s challenges in flipping a public school classroom. Finally, he details a method for families with high school students to try, by implementing flipped instruction principles, using AP exams.

Learning from books while skipping class

In the late 80s, while attending college for electrical engineering, I mastered learning from a textbook, mostly as a survival technique. I attended my early college lectures, because I had to, even though my college professors would just lecture what was in the textbook. They mandated my attendance and supplied test hints and homework assignments I could not miss, during their lectures. As an undiagnosed ADD learner, I would get bored or fall asleep in the lectures, and I accidentally discovered that I learned more quickly when studying the book directly; so, I started doing just that. Thanks to my friend Jessica, who shared her outstanding notes from my few classes that didn’t mandate attendance, I learned efficiently and effectively and preserved my grades, all while skipping class.

Resorting to lures or mandating class attendance always struck me as particularly inefficient. Why not just make the classes more interesting? I realized, only later in life, how impossible it is to make classes interesting to all students at all times. I know now that my professors were really trying to help the core body of students by doing what they felt was in our best interest.

Flipping VHS tapes and Learning at Light Speed at Stevens Institute of Technology

In 1988, I had an opportunity to take a self-paced particle physics class. The class consisted of workbooks, a textbook, chapter exams, advancement after mastery, lectures on VHS tapes and a room of talented physics teaching assistants; Sal Khan would have been excited (1). This was the flipped classroom – 20 years before Sal Khan made his now-famous YouTube videos for his nieces and nephews. To electrical engineers, the class was quite interesting because it covered the actual physics occurring at the subatomic level, which dictated the behavior of semiconductors. Effectively, the class covered the Legos of the electronics world.

The flipped class structure of the particle physics course seemed particularly suited to my learning style, and it seemed efficient too. I could attend excellent lectures, consume the content from the book, practice on modules, lean on teaching assistants when I was stuck, and progress after I mastered the material, even while I was sleeping if I wanted to. Like many engineering classes, the modules built upon each other, to give the student a comprehensive understanding of a complex subject. There was an added benefit too if you could remain focused: By taking so many modules in one day, you didn’t forget content between the modules, which allowed you to make quick progress through the content. Heck, if you wanted to, you could complete the class within just three days, which is exactly what I did.

My motivation had more to do with efficiency than anything else. I wanted to learn the material as quickly as I could, take the final exam, and be done with it. I knew I was not the brightest student, not by a long shot, but after three 12-hour days, alternating my existence between the TA room, my bed and a spot in the library, I finished the course material, took the final exam and scored the highest final exam grade in my class of a few hundred students. I credit my time-crunched life, a well-structured course, and great teaching assistants for my ability to learn at light speed.

Fast forward nearly 25 years, and my daughter was working on some AP Calculus material as a high school freshman doing self-study. She had some tutoring, and mastered most of the material within 3 days, intermittently asking her online tutor and me for help. While she only scored a 3.0 GPA on the exam, she showed how much could be learned quickly in a “flipped environment” – provided the resources and motivation were present.

Trying to flip the American Classroom, lots of stakeholders

Sal Khan, the Khan Academy, and his backers deserve all the credit for bringing the notion of a “flipped classroom” into our lexicon and making it something we could strive toward. The Khan Academy model gives us a student-centered learning model where students are not pushed ahead before they master the information; they are allowed to move at their own pace. With accessible content, exercises, and assistants, students spend their time learning and closing their knowledge gaps, not waiting for others to close theirs while their thoughts drift away in boredom or confusion. In flipped instruction, each member of the class moves along at his or her own pace. It lifts the bar on the rates at which students can learn, and this results in greater mastery of content. Students can accomplish learning and not just grades. They can find and maintain their motivation (2).

While schools nationwide work to adopt flipped classroom models, the challenges are significant for the many different stakeholders. My wife is dedicated to improving education, and this has afforded me a nearly first-hand visibility into the challenges facing teachers trying to flip classrooms. The challenges come from many areas including:

  • Mandated state or district tests with particular timings – This goes against the notion of self-determined progress. Also, taking a test covering material you learned two months earlier is difficult.
  • The shift from grades to mastery – Parents, teachers, administrators and even colleges still have “grades on the brain” and will require time before they see objective proof of mastery as a substitute for grades and class ranking. If a child finished the material in 4 weeks, does that make it an “A”?
  • Non-universal access to broadband and equipment to watch content at home – Without supplying the equipment and services to those in need, the digital divide increases, and students cannot accelerate equally.
  • Change is hard – Yes, it is. Different administrations, schools, departments and teachers will make uneven progress toward what is, quite possibly, the biggest change in education since the schoolhouse.
  • Content for your curriculum – It is no small task to amass the content needed for your school’s curriculum. In a flipped classroom, it must all be available online, allowing unrestricted progress for all students.

While there are barriers and challenges, it is clear that this reinvention of the classroom holds incredible potential and will be a key part of a reinvented educational system.

How can a student or family take advantage of the technology now?

While we wait for our schools to flip, what can parents and families do now to take advantage of these resources and these new accelerated ways of learning? Clearly, leaning on these resources to augment normal instruction is great (3). However, how can a student use these resources to accomplish the whole course learning at an accelerated pace? The answer is embedded in the cost of college classes for Americans.

Almost all colleges accept Advanced Placement (AP) exams for credit from incoming freshmen. These are college-level courses, taught in high school, and credit is given based on scores earned on the final (AP) exam supplied by the College Board. Due to the unavailability of instructors in many school districts, and a push to have the exams widely available, it is not a requirement that a student takes the class in order to take the test. They can self-study, take the final and, with a four or five out of five on the exam, get credit at most colleges, thereby saving costly tuition that would have been spent if the respective class had been taken at college. AP classes, exams, and credit are great ways for families to accelerate college, make it a bit easier, and potentially save money.

So, self-studying for an AP exam is a great way to take advantage of these flipped resources. A high school student could, during a break or even during the year, self-study and take the exam for credit. Depending on the level of independence, the student might also wish to use a tutor to help with learning acceleration and a coach to help with motivation. Many students start with great intentions, but tracking progress and maintaining motivation to accomplish the goal is a critical element in actually finishing the material and earning a good score on the exam.

Conclusion

While we will certainly see flipped classrooms are most certainly where we will end up, the switching costs needed to implement this educational model are significant for many public education institutions. This progress, unlike learning, is not likely to be realized at light speed. However, either through enrichment or, as outlined above, with college credit AP exams, families can take advantage of these new learning techniques and help their students realize real progress on their learning journey.

There are many other aspects of reinventing learning that we do not touch on in this post. Self-directed learning, project-based learning, and mastering your own learning processes are just a few of the areas that promise continuing efficiencies in our learning organizations. My next post will focus on self-directed, project-based learning that helps activate, not just maintain, student motivations.

Resources

For those wishing to learn more about flipped classrooms and how to accelerate these changes, please visit these resources:

  1. www.khanacademy.org
  2. http://www.jonbergmann.com/
  3. https://www.cte.cornell.edu/teaching-ideas/designing-your-course/flipping-the-classroom.html

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