Creating a Homework Haven at Home
August 25, 2016 · Posted in Education, K-5 Kids, Parenting · Permalink · Comments Off on Creating a Homework Haven at Home

logoBy Dr. Colleen Carroll

Back-to-school season can be a distressing few weeks leading up to the first day in the classroom for so many kids. While some of the angst around this return to routine makes sense – after all, days get colder and shorter and we need to get back to tighter schedules and earlier bedtimes – there are also a few things we can do to ease this transition and actually make it an empowering time for kids.

Many kids dread, and even fear homework. Even the word can spark anxiety in some children (and parents!). This is understandable; as kids get older the homework gets harder and the time spent on it gets longer. However, you can be prepared in advance and lessen anxiety by creating a homework sanctuary of sorts for your child to feel safe, even empowered, as he gets his work done.

The following are my top 5 ways to empower your child at homework time:

  1. Create a homework haven in the house somewhere that’s bright, cheery, and full of all the items he needs to get his work done efficiently, with minimal distractions. Consider the kitchen to be close to a helpful parent, or a bedroom if noise can be a problem.
  2. Don’t let it be obvious that you dread this time too. Children pick up on your emotional state. Instead, be as positive as you can about this learning experience, even when things get tough.
  3. If your child is having a rough time on homework, let the teacher know. There is no reason to struggle for hours over a few problems when really the child just needs more instruction.
  4. Get the hardest subjects done first when she is less tired; trying to tackle the hardest at the end is never a good idea!
  5. Set up an afternoon routine to get homework done before other evening activities whenever possible so it isn’t hanging over your child’s head.

Kids crave routine; they (and most adults) do best when they know what’s coming next and they can be ready for it. By having a homework routine and a space that is comfortable and efficient, it probably won’t make homework fun but it will make it easier to accomplish and more organized for return to school the next day. This in turn will definitely lessen the anxiety around homework in general and allow your child to focus on some more pleasurable activities each evening, perhaps even a little reading.

 

Dr. Colleen Carroll works with parents of kids who struggle and hate to read by getting them off the Xbox and TV and onto books, fast. Her international tribe of Innovator parents testify that their kids are now saying, “Mom, I LOVE reading!” after just a few weeks of her techniques. 

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Don’t Overdo the Prep for Going Back To School
August 19, 2016 · Posted in Education, K-5 Kids, Parenting, Preschoolers, Pressure on Children · Permalink · Comments Off on Don’t Overdo the Prep for Going Back To School

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Finding balance between acknowledging that a new grade begins in a months’ time and reveling in summer fun is hard to strike. Here are some ideas about how to do it:

 

 

  • Don’t talk about school everyday. Let your child be in the present, without the new school year hanging over their head.
  • Do answer any questions that come up, like, “Will so and so be in my class?” or “Will you stay with me at school”, honestly and simply. No long monologues.
  • Do go and walk by school the week before class begins. Point out landmarks, like the pet store, the deli etc. so you can look for them on the walk to school the first day.
  • Do get a little back pack or lunch box to bring on the first day.
  • Do expect stomach aches, difficulty falling asleep or grumpiness around the first days of school.
  • Do tell stories about your first days of school.
  • Don’t talk about the beginning of school with your peers and assume the kids can’t hear.
  • Do remember that a parent taking their child to school is one of the most important jobs. Try to adjust work schedules so one parent can do drop off at least a few days a week.
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Book Writing with Kids
March 26, 2015 · Posted in Education, K-5 Kids, Parenting, Preschoolers · Permalink · Comments Off on Book Writing with Kids

Parents say “Use your words!” to help children turn their raw emotion into understandable language. Here is another way to transform feelings, help children process events and support your child’s love of language, art and books. Make books yourselves, together. Nothing high tech – sheets of computer paper, a stapler and markers are all you need. Turn your life events- moving, saying goodbye, a new baby, fighting with friends, learning to control anger, into a narrative.

Here’s an example. You are moving and a bit worried about how your child will handle it. You want to be able to prepare and discuss, but kids need indirect ways of talking about big things. So, tell your four year old you two are going to write a book about moving. Show her how to make a book by stapling papers together and off you go!

“What should the cover be like? We need a name for our book and a picture. What should be call it?”

“James is moving.”

“Awesome title! I’ll write that and then you draw a picture now for the cover of our book…Is that our building?”

“That’s our house and I want to stay here!?”

“I know, let’s start the book with that. I will write the words and you can draw and write your words. So, page one. James lives at 332 West 24th Street. He has lived there since the day he came home from the hospital. He doesn’t want to move and leave his house! He says, “I want to stay here.”

It is the rare kid who won’t be hooked by the plot line here! You continue your book about moving with your story and blend in the language your child uses in the prose. You translate a life event into a story, and thereby give a way to process feelings for your children.

Let’s cut to the last page.

“So James and his mommy, daddy and Maggie the dog move will move to their new house at 112 West 89 th Street. They will always remember and miss their first house. The End.”

Your child now can look at this book of his own creation, his own words, his designs. He is in charge of his own story, which we all know, helps.

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Summer Reading List
August 6, 2014 · Posted in Education, K-5 Kids, Teens · Permalink · Comments (2)

As the semester came to an end in college, I remember excitedly making my summer reading list. Nothing I had to read, just things I wanted to read. Creating the list was a signal that summertime was near, with less responsibility and a little more breathing room. I loved making those lists with my kids and doing the ritual trip to Barnes and Noble to pick out a stack for each of them. They ranged from Caldecott winners to The Babysitter’s Club.

Making this a ritual supports the idea that reading is fun and valuable even when not in school. In the age of Amazon, the actual bookstore experience is a special one, you stumble onto things you never even thought about, you look carefully at book jackets and have the solid feeling of a book in hand. This is a great summer ritual for you and your children.

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Has the World Gone Mad?
June 28, 2011 · Posted in Adult Children, Education, K-5 Kids, Mental Health, Parenting, Pressure on Children · Permalink · Comments Off on Has the World Gone Mad?

You can always count on the NYT for a splashy parenting story. This one is a real doozy. The Times reports in, “Push for A’s in Private School is Keeping Costly Tutors Busy” that some parents are paying tutors amounts equal to their child’s private school tuition! Since it is hard to believe, here is a quote from the article-

“Prepping”…did not start the week before the exams, the mother pointed out. She said she had paid Mr. Iyer’s company $750 to $1,500 each week this school year for 100-minute sessions on Liberal Studies, a total of about $35,000 — just shy of Riverdale’s $38,800 tuition.

Last year, she said, her tutoring bills hit six figures, including year-round SAT preparation from Advantage Testing at $425 per 50 minutes; Spanish and math help from current and former private school teachers at $150 an hour; and sessions with Mr. Iyer for Riverdale’s equally notorious interdisciplinary course Constructing America, at $375 per 50 minutes.

Forget high school, let’s focus on toddlerhood tutoring. In Child-Psych.org, a terrific blog on parenting and child development research the author writes:

Junior Kumon program enrolls students from two to five years of age and primarily utilizes a drill and kill methodology designed to provide early reading and math enrichment.  The primary problem that I saw was that the author could find no evidence that this method actually leads to these little people  growing into big people with greater chances for professional success.  In fact, the research overall seems to be lacking.

On the other hand we have plenty of research that shows the ill effects of hyper-focus on performance in children. Jean Twenge, research psychologist and author of Living In the Age Of Entitlement, analyzed the results of years of study on whether people feel that their sense of control over life comes from the internal or external forces. Intrinsic or internal goals are those that have to do with one’s own development as a person–such as becoming competent in a chosen endeavor and developing a meaningful philosophy of life. Extrinsic goals include goals of high income, status, and perfect appearance. Scores shifted dramatically for children aged 9 to 14 as well as for college age students from 1960 – 2002.  The average young person in 2002 was more External than were 80% of young people in the 1960s. The rise in externality 42-year period showed the same linear trend as did the rise in depression and anxiety in children and teens.

“Twenge’s own theory is that the generational increases in anxiety and depression are related to a shift from “intrinsic” to “extrinsic” goals. Twenge cites evidence that young people today are, on average, more oriented toward extrinsic goals and less oriented toward intrinsic goals than they were in the past. For example, a poll conducted annually of college freshmen shows that most students today list “being well off financially” as more important to them than “developing a meaningful philosophy of life,” while the reverse was true in the 1960s and ’70s.”

If parents continue communicating to children that worth is in their performance by spending untold sums of money for tutoring, when the child is already at the top of the class, or that math skills must be learned as young as two years old by signing them up for kindergarten Kumon, they are not helping fight the tide of American culture that says your worth is in how pretty, rich and skinny you are, and where you go to school. Our children need our balanced perspective, a focus on loving the person they are, not on their accomplishments.

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Homework Mutiny
June 21, 2011 · Posted in Education, K-5 Kids, Play, Pressure on Children · Permalink · Comments (1)

All the push back about too much homework is finally paying off. Parents and school officials are taking an earnest look at the pros and cons of overloading children with homework. We hear about the prolonged battles and stress about homework constantly. Parents are not sure how much they should be involved, kids breaking down in tears if they can’t finish, or don’t think they’ve done well enough, and a unfortunate and unnecessary preoccupation with the product and not the process of learning. This excerpt from the recent NYT front page article frames the conflict well.

“…the anti-homework movement has been reignited in recent months by the documentary “Race to Nowhere,”about burned-out students caught in a pressure-cooker educational system.

“There is simply no proof that most homework as we know it improves school performance,” said Vicki Abeles, the filmmaker and a mother of three from California. “And by expecting kids to work a ‘second shift’ in what should be their downtime, the presence of schoolwork at home is negatively affecting the health of our young people and the quality of family time.”

So teachers at Mango Elementary School in Fontana, Calif., are replacing homework with “goal work” that is specific to individual student’s needs and that can be completed in class or at home at his or her own pace. The Pleasanton School District, north of San Jose, Calif., is proposing this month to cut homework times by nearly half and prohibit weekend assignments in elementary grades because, as one administrator said, “parents want their kids back.”

Ridgewood High School in New Jersey introduced a homework-free winter break in December. Schools in Bleckley County, Ga., have instituted “no homework nights” throughout the year. The Brooklyn School of Inquiry, a gifted and talented program, has made homework optional.

“I think people confuse homework with rigor,” said Donna Taylor, the Brooklyn School’s principal, who views homework for children under 11 as primarily benefiting parents by helping them feel connected to the classroom.

In this time of both high pressure and lower academic standing of American students it is well worth looking at this issue on a large scale.

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Change Kindergarten-Not the Age Cut Off
May 31, 2011 · Posted in Education, K-5 Kids, Parenting, Preschoolers, Pressure on Children · Permalink · Comments Off on Change Kindergarten-Not the Age Cut Off

In many states children can start kindergarten as young as four years old. A New York Times article recently reported on the challenges for these kids in, Too young For Kindergarten? Tide Turning Against 4-Year Olds. The article highlights teachers that advocate for an age cut off that would prevent 4-year olds from starting kindergarten.

“They struggled because they’re not developmentally ready,” said Ms. Ferrantino, 26, who teaches in Hartford. “It is such a long day and so draining, they have a hard time holding it together.”

Advocates of lower income children worry, rightly so, that these children, who benefit from an early start at school, will be cut out of public education for a year, while wealthier families will be able to pay for another year of preschool.

Nowhere in the article, did anyone advocate for changing kindergarten back to a play based, non-academic setting where children can socialize and learn in a developmentally appropriate manner.

A letter to the editor in the NYT a few weeks back that hit the nail on the head of our inability to see the backward thinking of our current educational ethos popped into my head.

To the Editor:

In your May 15 issue, I could not help but link Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa’s Op-Ed article, “Your So-Called Education,” to the Sunday Styles article “Fast-Tracking to Kindergarten.” Mr. Arum and Ms. Roksa lament that college students do not improve their writing and reasoning skills while in school. Their answer: increase the time students spend studying and ratchet up the reading and writing assignments.

Then consider the pained and puzzled look on the face of a 3-year-old girl in the “Fast-Tracking” article as she struggles to match round orange letter discs with letters splayed across a cardboard sheet before her. Research shows that she will not gain much from her intense preschool efforts. Less formal education and more time playing are better solutions.

It appears, then, that we are paying big money to educate our youth but failing at both ends of the pipeline and for opposite reasons. Our college students are not dedicating enough time to studying, and our early learners are spending too much time in formal academic tutoring.

But, here’s the point: It’s not the amount of time that counts, but how we use it.

KAREN GROSS

President, Southern Vermont College, Bennington, Vt., May 15, 2011

Couldn’t have said it better!

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A Yin Yang Childhood
January 12, 2011 · Posted in Anger, Discipline, Education, K-5 Kids, Parenting, Pressure on Children · Permalink · Comments (1)

A self-proclaimed “Asian mom-in-recovery”, in one of my groups, sent me the link to the Wall Street Journal article, Why Chinese Mothers are Superior, by Amy Chua, with the note, “Something you might enjoy. Amusing and also illuminating.” Of course, she was 100% correct. It was amusing and illuminating. The article is a no-holds-barred peek at the intensity of the beliefs and practices that characterize  ‘the Chinese mother’. The author quips, “I’m using the term ‘Chinese mother’ loosely. I know some Korean, Indian, Jamaican, Irish and Ghanaian parents who qualify too.”

If you look beyond the provocative nature of  Chua’s strict, demanding and insulting behavior with her children you will read an essay that takes a poke at the differences between Chinese and Western styles of parenting. And the extremes in approach and behavior are hilarious.

“If the child comes home with a B on the test, some Western parents will still praise the child. Other Western parents will sit their child down and express disapproval, but they will be careful not to make their child feel inadequate or insecure, and they will not call their child “stupid,” “worthless” or “a disgrace.” Privately, the Western parents may worry that their child does not test well or have aptitude in the subject or that there is something wrong with the curriculum and possibly the whole school. If the child’s grades do not improve, they may eventually schedule a meeting with the school principal to challenge the way the subject is being taught or to call into question the teacher’s credentials.

If a Chinese child gets a B—which would never happen—there would first be a screaming, hair-tearing explosion. The devastated Chinese mother would then get dozens, maybe hundreds of practice tests and work through them with her child for as long as it takes to get the grade up to an A.”

The Soho Parenting staff, huddled around the Mac, got a kick out of reading Chua’s characterization of Western precious parenting. One psychologist, a young mother herself, laughingly relayed a story about her playgroup in which her toddler grabbed something from another child. “A hush and gasp fell over the room. I felt the weight of the question, ‘OH MY GOD, SHE’S GRABBING!! WHAT DO I DO?”  Thankfully, I snapped myself back to reality, and into my role as mother. Despite the fear of being kicked out of the group, I did what any self respecting ‘Chinese mother’ would do–I took the toy out of my child’s hand, gave it back to the marauded child, and told my little one, “No grabbing!” with all the sternness I could manage.’

We found the article so refreshing, in contrast to the scores of “Western parents” who ask, “Is it Ok to tell a two year-old not to hit me in the face?” Chua is not paralyzed by the idea that one false move will be psychologically traumatizing. Her focus is on the strength, not the vulnerability of the child and on her  role of parent; leader and teacher, not friend.  Obviously, we do not agree with punishment that humiliates, or undue expectations of perfection, but like with sleep training, children need their parents to provide structure and tighter parameters even in the face of a child’s protest. Holding a higher bar for our children, whether in relationship to manners and socialization or in helping them persevere in the face of frustration, boredom or insecurity will build resiliency and pride.

And let us not kid ourselves. In the privacy of our ‘western’ homes there’s a whole lot of  pressuring, shaming and  demanding going on. We just keep it a dirty little secret. So how about trying to balance east and west, embrace both your Chinese and American mother and give your children the benefit of a yin yang childhood.

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If Boys Will be Boys, They Need More Help
December 7, 2010 · Posted in Communication, Discipline, Education, K-5 Kids, Mental Health, Parenting · Permalink · Comments Off on If Boys Will be Boys, They Need More Help

A study 0f 43,000 American High School students by the Josephson Insititute, a non-partisan, non-sectarian, organization, whose mission is “to improve the ethical quality of society by changing personal and organizational decision making and behavior”, is a treasure trove of information. I want to focus on gender differences regarding bullying and intolerance.

Here are some specific findings:

Is it sometimes OK to to hit or threaten a person who makes me angry?

Boys 36.7 %      Girls 19.1%

I am prejudiced against certain groups.

Boys 28.2%    Girls 17.5%

In the past year I bullied, taunted or mistreated someone.

Boys 32.7%   GIrls 20.6%

In the past year I bullied someone because they belong to a different group.

Boys 14.7% GIrls 6.6%

In the past years I used racial slurs or insults.

Boys 37.2 %   Girls 19.4%

The differential between boys and girls is dramatic. As parents, we need to pay particular attention to helping boys manage negative emotions, giving clear limits about aggressive behavior and not succumbing to the “Boys will be Boys” excuse.

Helping our boys to be tolerant and kind will change society!

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The Marshmallow Test
December 7, 2010 · Posted in Discipline, Education, K-5 Kids, Mental Health, Parenting, Preschoolers · Permalink · Comments Off on The Marshmallow Test
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Dr. Walter Mischel’s study of impulse control in the 1960’s and 1970’s using a marshmallow and the directive to wait-and-you-will-get-two has turned out to have incredible predictive ability and teaches an important lesson to parents. The ability to delay gratification at age four predicts higher SAT scores, school success, and successes in life such as relationships, employment and healthier weight.

Making children wait, helping to handle not getting what they want and delaying gratification has profound positive effects. So go ahead, just say no!!!!!!!!!!!!

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