Tag Archive for learning

Help Your Children Get “Ready to Learn”

Learning can happen anytime and anywhere…not just in school. In fact, most learning probably occurs outside of school. Our children learn by watching us. They learn while playing. They learn everywhere. But if you really want to get your children “ready to learn” in more formal settings like school, a series of five studies out of Ohio State University offers a simple, yet powerful suggestion. In this series of studies, participants played a simple computer game in which one group saw “colorful images of unfamiliar creatures” later identified as “flurps” and “jalets.”  They received no information about these creatures in the first phase of the study. They simply saw them. A second group played the game and did not even see the creatures.

In the second phase of the study, both groups received explicit instruction about “flurps” and “jalets.” The researchers measured how long it took participants to learn the difference between them. The first group, who had previous exposure to the creatures, learned the differences between “flurps” and “jalets” more quickly than those who had no exposure to them. Simple exposure prepared them to learn.

In another study, participants would see the creatures in the middle of the screen and have to push a one button if the creature jumped to the left or a different button if it jumped to the right. No one told them that one category of creature always jumped left, and another category always jumped right. Surprisingly, participants did not recognize this difference while playing the game. Mere exposure did not teach them which creature jumped in which direction. But, that exposure did allow them to learn the differences between the creatures more quickly than a group who had received no exposure to the creatures. In other words, the exposure did not teach them about the creatures, it simply prepared them to learn about the creatures.

What does this mean? It means that merely exposing your children to new places and things prepares them to learn about those places and things. They may not learn from simply experiencing the new object or place, but the experience prepares them to learn about it more quickly when they receive actual teaching. In other words, you can prepare your child to learn by simply exposing them to new things. Here are some ideas to prepare your children to learn.

  • Go on vacation. When you go on vacation, your children encounter new places, new people, new foods, new ecosystems, new animals, new history, and more. Simply experiencing these things prepares them to learn about them in their school studies, readings, or family talks.
  • Listen to a variety of music. Don’t get stuck in one style of music. Let your children experience a variety of music. Also, buy some toy instruments and let them play with them. Let them bang on the Tupperware, shake the toy tambourine, hum in the kazoo. As a result, they will be better prepared to learn about rhythm, melody, harmony, and instruments.
  • Play with sports equipment. Toss a ball around. Play catch. Swing a bat or a tennis racquet around. Run. Have fun. It will prepare your child to learn about sports when they get more serious.
  • Play board games and card games. Games can expose children to the concept of “chance” and numbers as well as strategy and more. Counting dice, counting moves, deciding if it’s worth the risk to ask for another card…all these prepare a child to learn math and science skills.
  • Cook with your child. Measuring ingredients for pies or cookies prepares your child to learn about math.

These are just a few ideas. There are many more. Take the time today to engage your child in something new and get them “ready to learn.” What activities can you think of that will expose your child to a skill that they will later learn as part of life?

Your Child’s Learning Curve on Criticism

Children learn through naturally occurring rewards and losses, natural consequences. Behaviors that bring a natural reward tend to increase while behaviors that result in a loss decrease. In other words, children learn from experience. Parents, however, can interfere with this learning in a subtle way, often without even knowing it. Fortunately, you can avoid interfering with your child’s ability to learn from experience by limiting this one behavior—criticism.

A study published in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology suggests that parental criticism interferes with a child’s ability to learn through the natural rewards and losses they experience every day. To say in more directly, criticizing your child will hinder their ability to learn from natural consequences.

But not all “criticism” is the same. For instance, “constructive criticism” instructs. A child who asks a parent to check their essay or offer advice on improving their tennis swing actually invites “constructive criticism” because they know it will help them grow. When given well, “constructive criticism” is given in kindness and is couched in concern for and interest in your child. “Constructive criticism” will not interfere with your children’s ability to learn. Instead, it will enhance your children’s ability to learn.

In a similar manner, “corrective criticism” can help your children learn and grow by addressing misbehavior. At its best, “corrective criticism” addresses the behavior, not the child. As a result, it does not make a judgment about the child or their character. “Corrective criticism” also places the behavior to change within the larger, more positive perspective of your child by acknowledging that the misbehavior does not define your child. It implies or even explicitly states that the misbehavior is not a reflection of their true self and their true values.

The damaging criticism referred to in this research is “corrosive criticism.” “Corrosive criticism” is often given in anger. It often demeans the child. It may involve sarcasm, humiliation, or shaming. “Corrosive criticism” hurts. Our children may incorporate the words of such criticism into their belief system and begin to feel inferior and inadequate. “Corrosive criticism” fills our children’s minds with self-contempt and guilt. It weighs on their mind and makes them doubt themselves and their interpretation of the world around them. It interferes with their ability to learn from natural consequences. (The three types of criticism taken from The Use and Abuse of Parental Criticism with Adolescents | Psychology Today.)

If you want your children to learn to the best of their ability from the natural consequences of daily living, avoid “corrosive criticism.” Do not use sarcasm, put-downs, or shaming to discipline or punish. Avoid all name-calling. Instead, learn to discipline in love with the goal of encouraging, instructing, and lifting your children up. As you do, they will learn from your healthy discipline and from the natural consequences of daily life. That’s a “double whammy” of growing maturity.

Help Children Learn with These 2 Surprising Twists

You can encourage your children to learn their schoolwork (and anything else really) with these two surprising twists.

  1. Give them a break. Neurobiologists have found that taking a break while learning and studying helps us retain the information for a longer period of time. Sure, cramming may get a person through the test (there is a time and place for that) but taking breaks while studying over time helps us retain the information longer. Why? Because reigniting the neural pathways that the novel information travels along after allowing them to lie dormant for a brief time seems to better “train” them for retention. This means encouraging your child to break up their study time with some breaks. What might they do during these breaks? See the next bullet for a wonderful research supported “break activity.”
  2. Go for a swim or engage in some other familiar form of exercise. University of Delaware researchers taught 6- to 12-year-olds new words before engaging them in swimming, cross-fit training exercises, or completing coloring sheets. The children who swam were 13% more accurate in follow-up tests. And no wonder, “motor movement helps us encode (put into our memory) new words” by increasing Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), a protein important for learning in the brain. The cross-fit training exercises did not help as much as swimming because the exercises were new to the children and so demanded more mental energy to complete properly. With that in mind, if you want your children to learn and remember what they are learning, let them engage in a familiar exercise, one that has become more automatic, after they study for a short time.

I’m going to suggest my daughters follow these two ideas in their own studies. They’re in college now, but I believe these two ideas will help them learn their material better too. What am I saying? I’m going to do this myself! I like to learn. And we can all learn more effectively when we take some breaks and do a little exercise. I think I’ll take a break now and go for a little walk. Enjoy.

From Where Do Our Tweens Learn Values?

What values do you want your children to learn? Who do you want to teach them those values? Of course, we all want to teach our children the values we believe in and support. But there is another teacher in your home. This teacher reflects the values of our society and teaches those values to your children, tweens, and teens whether you agree with them or not. Who is this teacher? TV’s, videos, and screens.

Tweens’ average daily screen media use ranges from 4-6 hours per day with 53% of that time being with TVs and videos. As you can imagine from these numbers, TV shows and videos can have a huge impact on the values our children learn. A recent report by UCLA’s Center for Scholars and Storytellers assessed the values tweens (8-12 years old) saw portrayed in popular television shows from 1967 through 2017.  This study examined the top watched “tween television shows” and “surveyed which values were being communicated in the storytelling.”  The 16 values they tracked included achievement, benevolence, community, conformity, fame, financial success, hedonism, image, physical fitness, popularity, power, security, self-acceptance, self-centeredness, spiritualism, and tradition.  You can learn more about the findings in The Rise and Fall of Fame: Tracking the Landscape of Values Portrayed on Tween Television from 1967 to 2017. But I want to share how just a few observations about how values have changed over that 50-year period.

In 1967, Community Feeling was the #1 value portrayed in shows for tweens. By 2007, Community had fallen to #11. Fortunately, it rose to #5 by 2017. Valuing a sense of community has had quite a roller coaster ride in television.

In 1967, Benevolence was ranked #2 in values portrayed on television shows popular among tweens. By 2007 it had dropped to #12. It did rise to #8 by 2017. Still, it fell below achievement, self-acceptance, image, popularity, community feeling, fame, and self-centeredness.

On the other hand, fame was ranked #15 in 1967. It rose to #1 in 2007 and remained #6 by 2017.  Achievement was ranked #10 in 1967 and rose to #2 in 2007 and #1 in 2017. What five values were between the #1 achievement and the # 6 fame in 2017? #2 was self-acceptance. #3 was image. #4 was popularity. #5 was a sense of community.

Notice the difference. The top 3 values in portrayed 1967 were a sense of community, benevolence, and image. The top 3 values portrayed in 2017 included achievement, self-acceptance, and image. Benevolence ranked #8 in 2017. Achievement, popularity, fame, and self-centeredness all rank above benevolence. Are these really the values we want our children to learn? I think most of us would say not. Instead, we’d say, “Houston…we have a problem.”

This review of “televised values” also looked at reality shows vs. fictional shows. Not surprisingly, reality shows conveyed self-oriented values like fame, image, and self-centeredness. Fictional shows conveyed more community-oriented values like benevolence, a sense of community, and self-acceptance.

We must ask ourselves: what values do we want our children to observe and learn for 4-6 hours a day? Right now, they are learning the values conveyed through television and social media. As a parent, what can you do?

  1. Teach your children to be wise consumers of television. Teach them to use critical thinking when they watch various shows. Teach them that reality shows do not depict the life of your average person and fictional shows do not depict the complexity of struggles people experience in life. Complex problems do not resolve in a 30- to 60-minute show, or even in a 2-hour movie.
  2. Expose your children to real world issues in an age appropriate manner. Let your children learn about the world at a level appropriate for their age. This may be as simple as taking a trip to another state or reading fiction stories about various people’s struggles. Trips to history museums are also a way to let our children learn about the world.
  3. Volunteer. Serving other people is wonderful way for your whole family to learn and have fun about the needs of the world around us. In the process, we also learn that people with needs are often people like us.
  4. Read. Research suggests that reading increases empathy and kindness. Read your children a story at bedtime. Even as children become teens and young adults, we can read a book at the same time (maybe one of their choice) and enjoy talking about it as you both read.

These are just four suggestions to help convey the values of your family to your children and teens. What are your suggestions for teaching our children the values we cherish instead of leaving it up to TV and videos? Share them below. We could all use some suggestions.

Is Free Play REALLY Better for Kids?

What happens when children get to play together without interference from adults?  Amazing things happen…like problem solving, creativity, independence, and learning limits (Read Make Your Child “a Head Taller Than Himself”). I’m not just making this up either. A recent study published in the School Community Journal explored the impact of children’s participation in recess and The Let Grow Play Club.  Study participants included 460 Kindergarten through fifth graders attending an elementary school in Long Island, NY. One hundred of these students were chosen to participate in The Play Club for one hour every week while the rest participated in regular school recess (40-minutes long). Results were obtained through observation, student interviews, and teacher interviews. What were the results? Good question.

In student interviews, the students actually noted that the Play Club helped them “stay focused” during school, increased their energy level and mood, and gave them the opportunity to socialize and make more friends.

Teacher interviews suggested that students who engaged in the Play Club were better able to focus and concentrate during school. Teachers also noted an improvement in social skills like negotiation and problem-solving without adult intervention. They were better able to make adjustments to meet challenges that naturally arise during play. Overall, they exhibited greater creativity.

Observations supported the interviews, revealing the same results.

You may be thinking, “But I’m not a teacher. I’m a parent. What does this have to do with me and our home?”  Well, play can have the same positive benefits in the home setting that it has in the school setting. If you want to give it a try, encourage your kids to go outside and play with their friends. If they have trouble doing so, help them come up with ideas. If they still have trouble, you might try the Let Grow Independence Kit and involve the neighbors in developing your children’s free play in the community. In the Let Grow Independence Kit, children can choose activities to do in their home. They will learn new things and have fun. In fact, a random sampling of kids and parents who have used the Let Grow Independence Kit revealed a “flourishing of idiosyncratic interests the kids would never have had the opportunity to pursue otherwise.” In other words, you might just be surprised at how much your children learn through play and what they develop an interest in during play. But don’t take my word for it. Let the children play…and watch what happens.

Effective Parents Do This

Effective parents do this all the time. Although this skill undergirds almost everything else an effective parent does, we rarely talk about it. When do effective parents do this? Before they discipline, before they step in to help, before they assign a chore, before answering a question (like “Where do babies come from?”), and before granting a privilege represent just  few of the time a parent will do this.  What is “this” that effective parents do this often? They observe their children deeply and sensitively.

Sensitive observation involves listening as well as watching. It begins at birth (if not in utero) and continues for a lifetime. Sensitive observation carries many benefits. Observation helps them build a stronger relationship with their child. It also gives a parent wisdom and power as they discipline and teach their child. How does it do this?

  • Sensitive observation teaches a parent about their child. They learn to recognize the signals of boredom, tiredness, and hunger. With this knowledge a parent can intervene in the wisest manner possible when inappropriate behavior arises. They can respond differently when inappropriate behavior is a response to hunger or tiredness than when it is a ploy for power or a testing of limits.
  • Sensitive observation also helps a parent differentiate between a child’s needs or problem behaviors and their own parental fears and projections. It helps a parent recognize their own escalating fears as opposed to the objective difficulty of a situation. A parent who engages in sensitive observation of their children does not have to take on their children’s failures or mistakes. They can allow their children to learn from those moments instead. They do not feel the need to rescue their children for poor time management or simple neglect. Instead, they can allow their children to experience the consequences and grow. On the other hand, a parent who engages in sensitive observation does not have to gloat in their children’s success. They can allow their children to enjoy their own success and the effort they invested to achieve that success.
  • Sensitive observation allows a parent to trust their child’s developing cognitive and motor skills. It allows a parent to recognize their child’s competence and ability. This will also provide a parent with wisdom regarding when and what household activities to invite a child to participate in. It will allow a parent to step back and allow their children to take appropriate risks within the scope of their children’s abilities.
  • Sensitive observation allows a parent to accept and acknowledge their child’s emotions…all of them. With sensitive observation a parent can exhibit empathy while remaining confident in their own ability to hear, support and problem-solve with their child rather than shame, guilt, or distract. They will be able to accept their children’s emotions and hold them safely while helping their children learn to express and manage them effectively.

Sensitive observation is a powerful parenting tool we all need to use. So put on the glasses, open the ears, and observe your children. You might even discover how amazing your children actually are.

Your Child Learns Best When

We all want our children to learn life skills. A study published in Nature Human Behavior [August, 2020] reveals a great way to help our children learn those life skills quickly. In this study, participants were asked to choose one of two symbols on a computer screen. Some symbols resulted in a cash reward at the end of the exercise while other symbols took the cash reward away (punishment). The initial step in this study involved “trial and error learning.” In this section of the study, the participants quickly learned which symbols offered the reward (receiving cash) and which offered punishment (taking away the cash reward). Interestingly, they learned from the reward symbols more than they learned from symbols that punished.

In the second part of the study, the participants made their choice and were then immediately shown which symbol gave them a reward and which resulted in a loss.  In this scenario, the participants learned equally well from reward and punishment. It seems that immediate teaching led to both reward and punishment being effective in helping the participant learn which symbol rewarded and which symbol punished.

In the final segment of this research, participants completed “forced-choice trials.” In this case the participants were told which symbol to choose, either the reward symbol or the punishment symbol. They simply chose the symbol they were instructed to choose. In these trials the participants learned much more slowly.

Consider these findings and what they can teach us as parents.

  1. Participants learned more quickly when they were able to make a choice rather than being told what to do. Our children will learn more quickly and more effectively when given a choice. We may not always like the choices they make or the consequences of those choices, but they will learn better when they are allowed to make a choice. So, if you want your children to learn well, allow them to make a choice whenever possible…and it is often possible.
  2. Participants learned more effectively in response to rewards than they did in response to punishment. Our children will also learn best in response to rewards. Rewards can range from a simple “thank you” to a trip to the toy store. The most powerful reward, however, is your attention, recognition, and time. Notice your children’s work and positive behavior. Acknowledge it. This is the most powerful reward you can offer to encourage positive behavior as well as reinforcing their learning.
  3. Punishment did help the participants learn when accompanied by teaching. There will be times in which we have to punish our children. Children learn best from punishment when it is accompanied by teaching. When your child “loses” a toy or a privilege because of some misbehavior, explain the reason for this punishment. Teach them the positive behavior you desire to replace the behavior you are punishing.

These 3 principles all come back to making choices. Children, like all people, learn best when given a choice. And, when children learn through their choices, they also grow more cooperative, competent, and motivated. They learn from the consequences more readily…and they become more engaged in learning in general. Give your children a choice and watch them learn.

This Will Make Your Children Smarter

This simple activity has been shown to help children and adults learn more and remember better. In fact, two recent studies (one in 2017 and one in 2020) have shown how this activity increases brain activity to increase learning and memory. What is this activity? Writing by hand.

Writing by hand is a slower process to learn and practice than using a keyboard. It uses more intricate movements and stimulates more sensory areas of the brain than using a keyboard—the nuanced sensation of the paper, the ever-shifting feel of the pen, the subtle movement of the hand and fingers as they form different letters and shapes, the scratch of the pen on the paper, the sensation of the pen or pencil rolling across the paper, the vision of seeing the letters and words form, etc.  These sensory experiences create more contact between different areas of the brain, helping to further integrate the brain and open it up for greater learning.

Receiving so many Christmas gifts and experiences offers a tremendous time to help our children (and ourselves) get smarter by writing thank you notes. Of course, writing thank you notes has many other benefits as well (see 7 Wonderful Benefits of Writing Thank You Notes). Because it has become a lost art, if you need help knowing what to write, check out Forgotten Family Arts: The Thank You Note.

By the way, you don’t need to limit thank you notes to Christmas either. Write them with your children after birthdays, graduations, or simple get-togethers. Enjoy writing them as a family for no apparent reason except to show appreciation and gratitude to someone for whom you are thankful. You’ll build stronger relationships, improve mood, and yes, even “get smarter.”

A Simple Act to Enhance Your Children’s Memory

Neuroscientists from the University of Geneva recently published a study demonstrating an interesting way to improve memory. It will work for your children, your teens, and even you! The way to enhance your memory is as simple as getting physical. That’s right. Put down the remote. Turn off the Xbox. Get off the couch and get moving.

In the case of this particular study, participants attempted to learn a motor sequence (like typing) after spending 30 minutes of moderate cycling or after 15 minutes of intense cycling or after a period of rest. The participants who participated in the intense exercise learned the motor sequence more quickly. They memorized the motor sequence more easily than those who rested or exercised moderately.

You might be thinking, “I don’t need to learn to type faster. I don’t need to learn any motor activity right now.” Maybe so. (Although it may help you memorize the sequence of the video game or the password you ‘punch in’ to various devices.)  Still, a previous study showed that exercise at a moderate level of intensity enhanced associative memory. Associative memory is the ability to learn and remember relationship between items. For instance, learning to associate a name with a person, a label for an object, or a smell with a food.  It can help you remember the which capitals go with which states or what symbols have what meanings in math or science. You get the idea. Associative memory can help your children with academic work.

So, if you child is struggling to do their homework, take a break and go outside. Go on a quick bike ride. Play some catch. Go for a jog. Take a swim. Wrestle. Play some one-on-one basketball. Then return to the homework. It might just help them learn it quicker and better!

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.

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