Tag Archive for learning

Succeeding in School: On-Line OR In Person

The school year has started. Well, sort of…I mean, it is different. Some of our children are in school part of the week and on-line part of the week. Others are on-line all the time. No one seems sure about school next month…in person or on-line? With all this in mind, how can we support our children in having the most productive, successful school year possible? Here are a few suggestions.

  • First, provide a space in your home for schoolwork. In fact, make this space specific to schoolwork.  Whether it be a desk or a space at the dining room table, having a space set apart for schoolwork will help your children focus. Designate this space for schoolwork only–no social media use or gaming from this spot. Encourage your children to get up and walk away from this designated area when they engage social media or simply need to take a break. This space is designated for schoolwork only. This will help your children focus; and, it will inform others in the family to “not disturb, schoolwork in progress.”
  • Second, encourage working on one task at a time. Set up your children’s work areas so they are not distracted by other screens, TV’s, people, or cellphones (including their own). Turn on the “do not disturb” on their phone and computer to help them focus. Teach them to focus on one class at a time. Do not disturb them with other household tasks during school time. Learning to focus on one task at a time is an important skill leading to success. Multitasking is ineffective and inefficient.  So, set up their “on-line school environment” to encourage a single focus on school.
  • Third, establish a healthy sleep schedule. Our children still need a healthy night’s rest to function well in school, even when they are “doing school” from home. A good night’s rest improves mood, concentration, and ability to learn. Set up the routines that will allow your children to get the sleep they need. Their academic achievement will thank you for it. (Learn about Your Teen & the Importance of Sleep and The Enemy of Teen Sleep)
  • Fourth, start the day off with positive interactions to promote a positive mood. Negative emotions take up space in our mind and interfere with concentration and learning. There is enough going on in the world that threatens to rob our children of a spacious mind for learning. Make your home a haven in which they can experience positive emotions that support positive spaces in the mind for learning. (Prime Your Children for a Good School Day)
  • Fifth, foster their motivation to learn. I believe this represents one of the great challenges of on-line learning. How can you foster your children’s internal motivation to “do school”? Having our children at home increases the risk that we, as parents, might step in to “help out” and accidently “take over.”  Resists the urge to step in. Promote their independence instead. Ask them about their plan to complete homework, prepare for school, or complete an assignment rather than planning it for them. Allow them to experience their own failures rather than bailing them out. Let them experience their own successes rather than doing the nitty gritty for them. Foster their independence and you foster their motivation to learn. (Read 3 Tips to Motivate Your Child to learn more about instilling internal motivation.)
  • Sixth, acknowledge their effort. Our children need to know that we recognize their hard work, especially in these times of uncertainty. Rather than focusing on the final grade, acknowledge their effort. This will help build a growth mindset that will benefit them for a lifetime.

These six tips can help make this school year a productive, successful year of learning whether they “do school” on-line, in person, or both.

Teach Your Children Hardiness

Times are tough, no doubt. But you can use these tough times to teach your children an important skill: hardiness. Hardiness is a psychological term describing a pattern of managing stress (aka-tough times) in a way that leads to greater success and joy. People who develop hardiness tend to manage stress better, take better care of their health, and view themselves as capable. Doesn’t that sound like traits we want our children to learn? We can help our children grow hardier by promoting the “three C’s” in their lives: commitment, challenge, and control.  Here is a very brief description of each one and things you can say that may help your children grow hardier through the tough times.

  • Commitment. Commitment refers to a sense of meaning and purpose in life. It is marked by involvement instead of withdrawal and isolation. A person of commitment keeps their eye on the larger meaning of life, their purpose. They look at problems within the context of “something bigger,” the context of values, priorities, and meaning. Questions you might ask your children during “hard times” or problems that can promote commitment include:
    • What makes this so important to you? What does this mean for you?
    • What do you ultimately want from this situation? In an ideal world, what would be the perfect outcome?
    • What is most interesting to you about this…?
    • What makes this situation so important to you? Why does it arouse such strong emotion in you?
    • How do you think you can become a better person by dealing with this challenge?
  • Challenge. People with hardiness see the problem as a challenge, an opportunity to learn and grow. Because they are committed to a life of meaning and purpose, they see the challenge, the tough times, as an opportunity to move toward the ultimate goals of their values and purpose. You can help instill a sense of challenge in your children with comments like:
    • What can we learn from this situation?
    • That did not work out the way we/you wanted. But we did learn that….
    • How can you use what you learned in this situation to grow stronger? To bring your life more in line with your values?
    • How can you communicate you values and priorities effectively during this tough time (problem, conflict, etc.)?
    • Remember other times when you overcame problems even when it was hard?
  • Control. Control refers to our belief in our own agency, our influence in the situation or our ability to choose our response. It is the opposite of powerlessness. It combines with a sense of challenge to see what aspects of the stressful situations we have influence over and then seeks to exert that influence to create a positive change. We can help our children grow an appropriate sense of control by asking:
    • What are your options?
    • What will you do now?
    • What parts of this situation can you change?
    • There are a lot of contributors to this situation. Which ones are within your power to change?
    • What mistakes did you make? How will you do it differently next time?
    • How can you improve this situation? Or make this problem better?

Simple questions that can help your child develop hardiness over time…and reap the benefits of growing into a hardy adult.

Nurture Your Child’s Success in School

I hate to say it, but report cards are not a very good measure of school success. We want our children to learn so much more in school than how to regurgitate enough information to get an “A” on their report card. We want them to develop a joy for learning. We want them to learn how to think independently and to ask insightful questions. We want them to develop a sense of competence. We want them to learn the social skills necessary to become successful in the workforce. And, we want them to develop an intrinsic motivation to learn and grow. Those traits would reveal a child’s success in school. An “A” on the report card just doesn’t reflect all these skills. In fact, pushing for good grades can even undermine this deeper success. Pushing for good grades can devalue the process of learning the skills of life and replace it with a crazed obsession to achieve the end product of an “A” without really learning anything. This anxious effort for an end product can crush the intrinsic motivators inherent in our children, motivators like curiosity, and a desire for competence. It can limit our children’s sense of mastery and leave them feeling anxious, unsuccessful, and less competent to meet the challenges of the world after high school.

If that’s the case, what can a parent do? If grades alone don’t reflect success in school, what does? How can I nurture school success if I don’t push for good grades? Good question. Let me offer a few suggestions.

  • Determine your priorities. What do you really want your child to learn in school and life? What are your educational priorities? Do you really want them to simply recall the dates of Lincoln’s assassination or to develop a compassion for people as well? Which is more important for your child to know: the formulas of calculus or the social skills that will bring them success in the world of work? What Do You Really Want for Your Children? Once you know your priorities, you can encourage the types of learning that reflect your priorities.
  • Celebrate effort. Don’t get me wrong. Grades still have their place. However, if we focus on the end goal of the grade, our children miss out on the real precursor of successful learning—effort. Effort is what contributes to good grades. So, acknowledge & celebrate effort. (Learn more here.)
  • Enjoy the content. Do your best to make learning fun. Don’t focus on the dates or the dry facts alone. Pack the dates and dry facts with stories of the funny, the inspirational, the humane. I love the stories that show the inspiration of heroic acts amid tragedy or the acts of love in situations filled with hate. For math, I like to celebrate Pi day with various pies. Or, talk about the Fibonacci numbers and enjoy Fibonacci in music. For history, discover the Righteous Among the Nations (you can read some of these stories here) and the funny stories as well as the successes of various presidents (For one example, consider William Howard Taft). Make learning fun. Teach your child to enjoy the content. Your creativity is the only limit to how you do this. 
  • Model learning. Children learn much more from the example of their parents’ lives than they learn from their parents’ words and directives. So, what are YOU learning? You can learn something for work or something unrelated to work. Learn a language. Take a class in photography. Take instrumental lessons. Whatever you might enjoy, use it to model learning. And as you learn, talk to your children about the excitement, the struggles, and the joys of learning new things.

Nurture your child’s school success. Learn something new yourself. And, most important, have fun.

Parents, Are You a Buzz-Killer or a Responsive Encourager

As parents, we want our children to learn and grow. After all, who wants to spoon-feed a child for twenty years?  No, we want them to learn and grow, to become independent and self-sufficient, responsible and mature. And do you know how children learn? They learn by exploring…and they explore everything. From the time they start putting things in their mouths they are exploring and learning about themselves, the people around them, and their environment. Unfortunately, we sometimes hinder their exploring, and their learning as a result, without even knowing it. Let me give you an example taken from an experiment completed at the University of Washington. One hundred fifty toddlers (15-months-old) sat on their parent’s lap while an experimenter sat across from them demonstrating how to use various toys. This experimenter was a “responsive encourager.” The “responsive encourager” showed the toddler the toys’ movable parts and how the toys made sounds. They rattled and buzzed and moved the toys around in response to the toddler’s excitement. The toddlers were intrigued. They leaned forward and pointed. They wanted to explore (aka—explore) the toy. But alas, a second experimenter, the “buzz-killer,” entered the room and sat nearby. The “buzz-killer” complained about the toys. The “buzz-killer” grumbled, complained, and angrily called the toys aggravating and annoying. (You can watch a variation of this experiment on video here. Notice how the child’s whole affect changes!)

The toddlers were then given the opportunity to play with the toys. One group of toddlers were allowed to play with the toys while the “buzz-killer ” sat nearby and watched them or read a magazine with a neutral facial expression. These children hesitated to play with the toys. They appeased the “buzz-killer” by limiting their exploration of the toy. They hesitated to explore the moving parts and the noises. They hesitated to engage in behaviors that would let them learn about the new toy and their environment.

A second group of toddlers had the chance to play with the toys while the buzz-killer left the room or turned her back so she couldn’t see what the children were doing. This group “eagerly grabbed the toys” and began to play with them. They imitated what the first experimenter, the “responsive encourager,” had shown them. They explored the moving parts. They explored the noises. They manipulated the toy and learned about it. They learned how it worked and they made it work. They explored and learned just as the “responsive encourager” had hoped.

Sometimes we complain about our children’s exploration. We become the “buzz-killer.” They make too much noise; we grumble. Their behaviors are aggravating and annoying; we scowl. They ask too many questions; we sigh. They get into too much stuff; we huff and puff. But when we grumble and complain, act annoyed and yell, we become the “buzz-killer” who hinders their exploration…and their learning. We hold them back from learning about their world, themselves, and the people around them. We become the “buzz-killer” in the room hindering our children’s growth.

Yes. There are times we need to set limits. There are times we will ask our children to explore more quietly, at a different time, or in a different room because we are tired or don’t feel well or just need some peace and quiet. However, we want our general response to be that of the “responsive encourager.” We want to encourage exploration, even participate and stimulate greater exploration. Because when our children explore, they learn and grow. So which are you? A “buzz-killer” who hinders learning and growth or a “responsive encourager” who promotes learning and growth?

Oops…Parenting Surprises & Lessons Learned

Parenting is full of surprises. Sometimes the biggest surprises involve catching myself doing the absurd. For instance, my daughters were having an argument upstairs. They kept getting louder and louder. Their comments became harsher and harsher. I could just imagine balled fists and reddened faces. So, I walked to the bottom of the stairs and yelled, “We don’t yell in this house.” Did I just do what I think I did? Yes, I did. I yelled at them to stop yelling…and I did it with a rather harsh tone. Surprise! I surprised myself and learned a lesson that day: to discipline effectively, don’t yell across the room (or into another room). Walk over to your children. Let them see your presence next to them. Get down on their level and talk to them rather than yell across the room. You might even touch them gently on the shoulder as you remind them of the expectations. Your presence next to them speaks volumes more than your voice from across the room. That wasn’t the last time I surprised myself though. There was the Battle of the Red Jello, too. 

We were enjoying a family dinner at a small restaurant. My daughter had eaten her chicken and her broccoli. She had even eaten two helpings of broccoli.  We now prepared to order dessert. But my daughter still had a small square of jello on her plate. “Eat your jello.” “I don’t like red jello.” With that short exchange, the stand-off began. I cajoled, demanded, and even offered minor threats. Still, my daughter stood her ground. “I don’t like red jello.” After a short, but epic battle in which I sustained great damage to ego, a realization dawned. I’m arguing with a 7-year-old to eat her jello even though she has already eaten her chicken and two helpings of broccoli. Hmmm…surprise! Lesson learned: make sure the battle really is worth the fight. Make sure it really matches the priority your trying to teach. The Battle of the Red Jello just wasn’t worth the time and energy. Let it go.

One more surprise…I can only embarrass myself three times, so I’ll have to quit after this one. It all happened when I couldn’t find a piece of sheet music. I wanted to play it on the guitar and I knew I had the music somewhere, but I couldn’t find it. I remembered hearing my daughter playing it earlier, so I asked her where it was. “I don’t know.”  Convenient, I thought as I began to scold her for being careless and losing things that don’t belong to her. “Why do you always take things? I wish you’d learn to put things back where you got them from!” “Hey Dad,” she politely interrupted. “Didn’t you have it in the kitchen at lunch?” Oh yeah…now I remember. I had put it on the table after showing it to my daughters. Oops. Surprised…and embarrassed. Another lesson learned: Don’t jump to conclusions. Don’t cast blame when you don’t know where blame lies. And, “never” use words like “always” or “never.”  You might have to eat them sooner than you think. This incident taught me another lesson, too, and this one was hard to swallow. Sometimes I have to apologize, even to my children. “I’m sorry I accused you and yelled at you.” “It’s OK.”   “Thank you for being understanding.” “Why wouldn’t I? You taught us that way.” What? Another surprise?! We taught our daughters to show grace and forgiveness. Forgot about that. Cool.  I guess the surprises aren’t all bad after all.

Do Your Child a Favor: LOVE Mistakes

One-hundred-twenty-three children played this video game, all 7-years-old.  No, it’s not the start of a bad joke. It’s the start of an interesting study about learning. Anyway, the children played a fast-paced game in which each player helped a zoo-keeper capture escaped animals by pressing the space bar when an animal appeared UNLESS…(there is always an “unless,” an exception) a group of three “orangutan friends” appeared. These “orangutan friends” were helping capture the other animals. They were “allies,” so the player had to refrain from capturing them. Although the children had fun playing the video game, the real purpose of the game was to test accuracy and impulse control (not pushing the space bar when the three “orangutan friends” appeared). One more thing you need to know—the whole time the 7-year-olds played, researchers monitored their brain activity. In particular, they wanted to know what happened in the brain when a child makes a mistake.

They discovered that some children exhibited a significant increase in brain activity about half-a-second after making a mistake, indicating their awareness of the mistake and their attention to what went wrong. These children exhibited improvement in their performance after making a mistake.

Another group of children did not exhibit this significant change in brain activity when they made a mistake. They seemed to “gloss over” the mistake and mentally avoid acknowledging it. Their performance did not improve. They continued to play and make the same mistakes over again.

Of course, the implication of these results seems obvious: when we pay attention to our mistakes we learn from them and improve our future performance. So why do so many children not pay attention to mistakes? Perhaps they have never learned the importance of acknowledging and learning from mistakes. As a parent, you can help remedy this situation and increase your children’s ability to learn by loving mistakes!

  1. Love your own mistakes. When you make a mistake, acknowledge it. No need to get defensive or angry. Simply acknowledge the mistake. Attend to that mistake and figure out how you can avoid it in the future. In other words, learn from your mistake. Talk to your children about mistakes you have made, what you learned from those mistakes, and how you corrected it. Modeling this type of response to mistakes will create an environment in which your children are free to do the same.
  2. Love your children’s mistakes. When you children make a mistake, address it calmly and directly. Don’t belittle them for the mistake, but don’t gloss over it either. Don’t shy away from the mistake with a simply, “It’s OK, you’ll do better next time.” Address the mistake. “You made a mistake. Mistakes happen. Let’s figure out where you went wrong and how we can fix it.” The opportunity to figure the mistake out opens the door for improvement. So explore the mistake. Talk about the mistake and what might fix it. Then enjoy the solution.

When we love our mistakes children will learn to accept mistakes as a learning opportunity. They will delve into challenges with little fear of mistakes or failure because they know mistakes lead to growth. They will pay attention to their mistakes and improve the next time; and, as a result, they will enjoy greater confidence in the present and success in the future.