“G” is for a Good Read

“Today a reader, tomorrow a leader.” – Margaret Fuller

pretty young mother teaching her little kid child

How important is it to be a reader in this world of instant information?

Does sitting with your child and playing computer games produce the same outcome as sitting with them and reading a book?

Does it matter that you have never sat with your child and read to them before they have attended school?

More research is coming forward to indicate it does matter that a child is not read to or encouraged to pick up a book, even to scribble in.

Sitting with book in hand and child on lap allows them to see symbols, words and images.  Moving your finger, leading their eyes along symbols of words and from words to images, allows little ones to make connections, at their own pace, with these symbols, words and images.  Their vocabulary grows.

They may not yet be attending kindergarten or pre-school, but you are already preparing their mind for life-long learning.  You have been helping their brain develop neuro-pathways that will assist with learning when they attend pre-school and beyond.  Now, not every child will be ready to make these connections, just as not every child is ready to attend school at the tender age of five.  These things happen when the child is ready, and you can’t rush it.

Spending this quality time with your toddler is crucial to early childhood development.

Andre Biemiller, a Canadian psychologist, studied the consequences of lower vocabulary levels in young children.  The results of his studies indicated that children entering kindergarten in the bottom 25% of vocabulary generally remained behind the other children.  By year six they were approximately three years behind their peers in vocabulary, reading and comprehension.

But what of teenagers?  Is this a time for them to stop reading and focus on computer coding and super hero movies?  Jonathon Douglas, of the National Literacy Trust (U.K.) doesn’t think so in his 2013 article “The Importance of Instilling a Need to Read”

“Teens who choose to pick up a book for pleasure are more likely to succeed in life.”

His article intimates that reading for pleasure reveals a predisposition for life-long learning which he suggests explains increased social mobility.  If life-long reading is one indicator for success, then how may you encourage your moody teenage, or pre-teen, to put down the games console in exchange for the printed word?

We are unlikely to read material that doesn’t interest us, so to encourage a reading for pleasure environment in your household you should supply reading material (graphic novels, magazines, fiction and non-fiction novels) that will be of interest to your teenager.  Hopefully, the school library will also have a supply of reading material that falls outside the curriculum.

What about reading on the internet?  Research has shown that we adopt different styles of reading for different formats.  Internet reading tends to lead to short concentration skimming rather than long-term absorption.

Over the past few decades, authors have been producing extraordinary books written with the adolescent in mind.  These books deal with issues teenagers may be exposed to or experiencing in their life and allows them to deal with them from the safety of the book.

This is not to say teenagers should not be exposed to the classics of Dickens and the like, but there are books more relevant to them and their time.  The classics may come later in life with the pleasure of reading.

Exploring the world through books, gathering information and understanding develops a solid core of knowledge upon which to build ethics, morality and character that becomes the young adult.

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“F” is for Foundations

Tuition Logo 2If your child was an average student last year, chances are they will be an average student this year.  If they struggled with maths last year, they will probably be struggling with maths this year.  Nothing changes unless something changes.  What must change to improve your child’s grades?

The first thing that must change is someone’s attitude.  Children are children and they will not change unless they are given a reason to change.  Telling them to do better or to change their ways will probably not get the result you, as a parent, desire because they do not know how to change.  They are children, they are young, and have a limited frame of reference when it comes to change.  They must be taught how to change.  At this stage the biggest change must be in you as a parent.  You must make the decisions for them, and then guide them along the path.

One of the biggest problems seen in students is they have problems with weak foundations.  They simply don’t know their multiplication tables up to their year level and they don’t have in place a memory of subtraction and addition of the numbers up to twenty (20).   No matter how well a student understands the mathematical concept they are being taught at school, if they can’t perform the foundations, they will not be able to solve the maths problem.  Continually getting the wrong answer whittles away their confidence.

Every student needs to build strong foundations.  You can’t have lasting structure without strong foundations.

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“E” is for Enough Sleep

“Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” – Benjamin Franklin

Male Pupil Finding School Exam Difficult

And on the other side of the coin insufficient sleep will make children hyperactive, lacking in confidence, irritable, inattentive and fall behind in class and if this sounds like your youngster then it is so easy to fix.

Much study has been devoted to knowing how much sleep is needed, or not needed, to remain healthy and productive.  The conclusion being “…. there is a lot of individual differences in what children and adolescents need to sleep to be at their best.” (Australian Centre for Sleep Education).

As a general guide, primary school students require between ten and twelve hours of sleep per day while secondary (higher) school students get by with eight to ten hours each night.  Research has indicated children of any age will arise at about the same time each day so the difference in hours of slumber occurs at the time of going to bed.

What time should a child go to bed to be at their peak the next day?  To make this exercise easier and because Australian schools commence at 9:00 am, let’s assume our children get up at seven to start their day during the week.  This would require a primary school student to be in bed by 7:00 pm and no later than 9:00 the night before, and our secondary student in bed by 9:00 pm no later than 11:00.

The younger the child the more sleep required.  Students from grades one to three require closer to twelve hours of sleep each week night while those from grade four to six/seven may drop to needing ten hours of sleep.

Problems occur with teenagers as their bodies are not ready for sleep when the clock says it is time for bed and they stay up whiling away the hours until slumber overtakes them.

Unfortunately, the activities they do while waiting to sleep may not be conducive to bringing sleep on and they miss out on their required sleep quota.  They then go into sleep debt which they try to reclaim on weekends by sleeping in.  This problem may be compounded by staying up later during weekend nights to interact with friends and sleeping even more of the morning away to further knock the body clock around and make sleeping during the week more difficult.  As a parent, you must take control of this situation.

Children deprived of sleep, like adults, are hard to rouse and will feel sleepy during the early part of the day.  Unlike adults, primary school students will become more active during the day, though still be less able to concentrate.  Because they have become more wired, they will be less likely to fall asleep easily, thus becoming more sleep deprived.  Parents may have trouble identifying a young child who is not getting enough sleep because they are active.

Some home factors compound sleep deprivation in children.  Families in general are not going to bed as early as they need.  For one reason or another, parents are staying up later and as role models may be setting poor examples of a healthy lifestyle.

We see how the concentration of a child who has insufficient sleep is affected in our tuition room.  A student who the previous week was performing wonderfully on our program suddenly has low scores and answers very few questions.  When asked what they did the previous night the answer always involved a late night of movie watching, game playing, internet surfing or social media.  We have also seen how a poor student can change so quickly when they stop being tired.

You can take steps to create good sleep habits by cleaning up the bedroom and the time leading up to retiring.  Some good sleep hygiene habits are:

  • No T.V., computer, mobile phone or exercise 1 hour before going to bed.
  • No T.V., computer, mobile phone in the bedroom.
  • No coke or caffeine drinks 2-3 hours before sleeping.
  • Set bed-times and wake times and keep them to form healthy habits.
  • As a parent, be a good role model and lead by example.

You can visit the Australian Centre for Education in Sleep TM   website for a more comprehensive read.

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‘D’ is for Don’t Give Up

Young girl screamingPeople are social animals, meaning we need to mix with others, and children are no different, but what is going on when a child who was excited about attending school is suddenly resisting?

The school year has start and there was mixed emotions from the new attendees.  Most of the time going to school for the first time will be met with excitement generated from buying books, a school bag, trying on uniforms and covering school books.

The first day or three will be an absolute dream, unless it is your first child going off to school and the tears come from you.  But there may come a time when the novelty has worn off and your eager young prodigy has dug their heels in explaining they have finished with school.

Sometimes a simple explanation that this is their lot for the next twelve plus years (an explanation better than that I hope) will have them merrily kitting up for the next day, but at times there may be a deeper problem.  School refusal is an emotional problem experienced by some parents with their children.  Some signs of school refusal are when your child:

  • Throws tantrums about going to school
  • Hides when it is time to leave for school
  • Begs or pleads not to be taken to school
  • Complains about being ill when it is time to leave for school

There are other indicators for school refusal you may read about on the Raising Children website.  Addressing the cause is the key to handling the problem.  There are many causes, but tuition can help when the cause is “school refusal because of academic problems”.

It is sad to think a Year One student is experiencing academic problems, but it does occur with no fault of any person.  A new school student may be having difficulties because:

  • The assumed knowledge of Year One (e.g. spatial skills, order and counting, grouping, singing the alphabet) has not been learned in Prep.
  • The student is not quite ready to learn. Sometimes students struggle with learning something they see others around them learn easily.  They become frustrated to tears, at which point we praise them for giving it a go.  We also have a system for learning that creates fun, and this distracts them from any inadequacies they may feel.  One day their eyes light up as they have answered a question correctly, but more importantly they understood the question they answered.  Their brain is now ready to learn, and they take off catching the class (with the help of our tuition system) and at times moving to the head of the class with their results.  Every child is ready to learn at a different time, so you never give up on them.  Sometimes they are seven years of age before they are ready academically for school.  This is a problem when school commences at five years of age.
  • The student has a learning disability and this may be something as simple to correct as a tracking issue.

Sometimes you may need the assistance of your G.P. or a child psychologist to help overcome your student’s school anxiety or low academic results.  Never give up on them and consider an after-school tuition program to help subdue their anxieties and achieve academically.

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“C” is for Copy Book

writingThe downside to the information age is the decrease in fine motor skills used for writing.

It is a problem I am seeing more often as laptops and tablets replace the use of pad and pen.  An increasing number of students are unable to form legible letters of the alphabet or write numbers clearly enough, so they may read them thirty seconds later.

Some students going into Year 8 are incapable of writing between the lines of a paper or forming numbers within the squares of a quad ruled page.  Students in Year 5 are unable to produce or read their name in cursive script.  These students are struggling with the fine motor skills required to help them to learn.

I have recently finished reading an article by Maria Konnikova, “What’s Lost as Handwriting Fades?”, which suggests evidence is emerging of a greater link between handwriting and learning.  It appears children learn to read more quickly when they first learn to write by hand.

Learning is a complicated process.  When we reproduce letters, or anything else, by hand a plan is required before executing the action.  The result is highly variable in that it will not exactly represent the original.  Learning to identify variable representations is important to decoding letters when reading.

The research by Virginia Berninger, a psychologist at University of Washington, indicated that when a child who composed text by hand (either printing or cursive) “They not only consistently produced more words more quickly than they did on the keyboard, but expressed more ideas.”

There is also a suggestion of different neuro-pathways being developed in the brain when a child progresses on from printing to cursive writing.

Research at the University of California has reported laboratory and real-world studies of students learning better when they take notes by hand than when they type on a keyboard.

I ask you “Is it time to throw away the pen and paper and adopt the technology of the keyboard?”  Was it time to give up walking when we invented the car?

My suggestion to help build a better student is to let your pre-school use colouring books and pencils, jigsaw puzzles and building blocks to help develop fine motor skills. 

When they are at school continue to use the old-fashioned copy book, so your student may practise and learn to form letters and numbers.  Encourage them to practise twenty minutes a day until they are proficient with writing the printed word. 

Allow this to develop into the practice of cursive writing so they may be able to record classroom notes in secondary school, lecture notes at university or record the minutes of a business meeting.

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“B” is for Breakfast

Empty Gas TankNo student can function well without fuel for the brain.  Going to school without breakfast is starting the tank on near empty.  The body’s metabolism is slowed until the first meal to break the fast and it is running on reserve supply until then.

“B” could also stand for B vitamins as they help to convert the nutrients of food into energy; and there lies the next problem when developing a better student.  How nutritious is the food if breakfast is eaten?

Children and teenagers require quite large amounts of nutrients to supply a growing body.  Now I didn’t say they required large amounts of kilojoules, as it is nutrients that build healthy bodies and minds.  Poor choices in food quality can lead to delivery of lots of kilojoules with few nutrients.  This may lead to the problem of childhood obesity.

Parents play a pivotal role in the development of their children’s eating habits.  They do this in their role of parent by not giving into the child’s whims for their favourite snack foods and their position as role model when they lead by example.

The energy requirement of a teenager in growth spurt is only marginally greater than that of pre-teen children and adults but their protective nutrient (protein, vitamins and minerals) per unit of energy consumed is greater.  This means a teenager requires high quality nutrient foods to maintain healthy body and mind rather than high energy foods to keep them active.

“The energy needs of teenage athletes are increased, often greatly, if heavy training and competitive sports are involved.” (Human Nutrition and Dietetics – Ninth Edition).

It is important for your child to maintain three meals a day with the addition of healthy snacks for morning and afternoon tea.

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“A” is for the Academic Year

Male Pupil Finding School Exam Difficult

Sometimes there just doesn’t seem to be enough hours in a day to fit in what needs to be done, and there seems to be not enough weeks in the year for the school curriculum.

There are forty academic weeks to the Australian school year, little enough time for what needs to be learned.  The problem is the school year is not exactly forty weeks.

There are several public holidays to be removed, and then there are “student free” days also to be taken out.  If we remove the school camp that all students seem to be attending these day, sick days and time spent out of school for one reason or another (sports, museums, etc.) then we have a shortened academic year.

This all puts our teachers, and students, under pressure as a larger amount of acquired knowledge is squeezed into a reduced amount of attended time.

“A” initially stood for Academic Year but now I think it should stand for “Attendance”.

So, how do you make a better student?  Don’t add to the problem by reducing your student’s school attendance by removing them from school for a week’s holiday because it is more convenient.

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“The Golden Peacock Glittering Hot” – Rainer (aged 6)

Peacock

The Golden Peacock Glittering Hot

Just yesterday, I saw three elves, one golden fairy and a peacock mixed with fire. They were all reading books in Santa’s library, but the fairy was doing an important job – guess what it was? She had to make all the words and put them into the books and the peacock had an important job too, to make Santa warm with its glittering hot fire. Wait! Don’t leave this book. There’s more. On Christmas Eve they all didn’t do their jobs and so I’m writing this story for you.

Rainer, aged 6. 

See the short film of this story on YouTubeThe Golden Peacock Glittering Hot

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“The Old Man” – by Cohen (aged 9)

HorseThe Old Man

Once upon a time, in a mystical place very close to your house, an old man was saving his money to buy a magical flying horse. He took a job at the toy store and put on his funny robe, tap hat and cape every day, to work 24/7 for months. His boss was very pleased with the effort he put in selling toys, unicorn corns and invisibility potions. One day, when he arrived at work, he saw a magical flying horse just like he’d been wanting for so long and his boss said, “You have worked night and day, so here is your magic horse.” The old man rode off on the horse and he gave all his money to the poor people who lived in the mystical place.

Cohen, aged 9

See the movie of this post on YouTube The Old Man

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“The Journey of Weirdness” – by Rainer (aged 6)

The Journey of Weirdness:

HikerA little boy was climbing a mountain in the snowy weather with all his supplies. He saw chameleons coming out of a rock.  This surprised him because he was climbing in Australia.  So, maybe they were sucked up in a tornado?  Next, he saw tweetie-birds. But he kept walking up the slope because his home was half-way up the mountain. He kept climbing past the witches’ hut, which he’d never seen before because it was not real. He was really surprised that day on his climb.

Rainer, aged 6

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