Monday, August 26, 2013

What makes kids smart?

With Labor Day approaching, Back to School has already happened in many communities and it makes perfect sense to ask ourselves: “What makes kids smart or better stated, what do kids need to succeed in school?”

All parents know children need to be good learners to be successful in and out of school. The smartest Kids in the World, is a recent book that points to 3 reasons kids excel in school—and the author looks to schools not in the United States to find the factors that seem to determine academic success.

In Norway teachers are well trained and love their jobs. Only top students are allowed to enroll in teacher-training programs, which are more demanding than such programs in America. Coupled with that belief in the idea that students know they need to work hard to graduate, go to university and get a good job. Compare this with the fact that a quarter of American students fail to graduate from high school.

The second piece of information comes from Korea, where rigor is on steroids, with kids attending hagwons, the cram schools where Korean kids get their real education. Parents see this as the only way their children will pass the country’s stringent graduation exam, which is seen as the key to a successful, prosperous life.

The third piece of information comes from Poland, reproducing best practices learned from Finland and Korea—well trained teachers, a rigorous curriculum and a challenging exam required of all graduating seniors.

Every child deserves well-qualified teachers who like their students, a vigorous curriculum and a way to evaluate students’ knowledge upon high school graduation.

As the school year begins, these ideas should be front and center of any debate about children and education.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Don’t Shoot! It’s an ‘Empathy Game’

A new generation of Video games, which are telling a story are pumping empathy as opposed to adrenaline.

I welcome the arrival of the video game industry to the world of story telling which is how children learn empathy. Man is a storytelling animal who needs stories to help us understand others and ourselves. Stories create connections between a reader and a character and the empathy that comes from those connections help us be more human and often bring a therapeutic effect for a person struggling with a challenge.

Empathy and perspective springs from the experience of reading and talking about a story and permits children to understand their own and other people’s feelings.  A good story allows you to step inside a character’s shoes and feel and think what they are experiencing.

Children need to have high literacy skills, the use and command of language, so they can tell their own stories and understand the stories of other.  Stories help us regulate our emotions, consider consequences, think before acting, and consider how others feel, all of which help us thrive in all aspects of our lives.

The relationship between parent and child is part of the reading experience. Parents who Conversationally Read— read and talk about a story with children— feel more connected to their children and more satisfied in their role as a parent. In turn, the reading experience for the child gives a clear message they are loved and understood. This is how we help children thrive and reach their full potential.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Readers bring books to life.

P.L. Travers, author of the well loved Mary Poppins would be 113 years old today. In addition to creating one of the most well known and loved character in a children’s book, she wrote extensively about the power and influence story has on our lives. Travers informed my long held belief that a book is only half complete once it is written. It takes a reader to complete the book— readers bring books to life. And Travers wisely said:

“A writer is, after all, only half his book. The other half is the reader and from the reader the writer learns.”
~ P.L. Travers

A bit of trivia— (born Helen Lyndon Goff; 9 August 1899 – 23 April 1996) was an Australian-born novelist, actress and journalist. In 1924 she immigrated to England where she wrote under the pen name P. L. Travers.
For those who think of the author or Mary Poppins and Peter Pan in the same vein— Travers greatly admired and emulated J. M. Barrie the author of the novel Peter Pan which bears many structural resemblances to the Mary Poppins series. Indeed, Travers’ first publisher was  Peter Llewelyn Davies,Barrie’s adopted son and widely regarded as the model for Peter Pan.

Celebrate the birthday of P.L Travers, author of Mary Poppins, and listen to the song “A Spoonful of Sugar “helps the medicine go down.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Begin the school year with a mindset that encourages excitement about learning.

We live in an age of information. We are inundated by it. Too much information can swamp the boat of wonder, especially for a child.
Creative & critical thinking depends crucially upon habits of mind that are most readily acquired by children: curiosity; voracious observation; sensitivity to rules and variations within the rules; and fantasy. Quality children's books instill these habits of mind and inspire a child’s sense of wonder of the world, placing a youngster on the road to lifelong learning.

Conversational Reading, reading and talking with children about a story, encourages children to be like the kid in Dr. Seuss’s On Beyond Zebra who refused to be limited by the fact of the alphabet: "In the places I go there are things that I see / That I never could spell if I stopped with the Z."