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Game on! What games should kids play?

  • Written by ARA

Kids love video games — they’re exciting, fun and engrossing. While games can promote learning and growth, too much video gaming or playing inappropriate games,  can lead to negative consequences. What should parents know to make good game choices for their children?

Ola Gardner, a faculty member in Game Art & Design at The Art Institute of Atlanta, offers these tips when selecting games for kids:

•Become familiar with the Entertainment Software Ratings Board. These ratings are designed to help potential players understand the game’s content and offer guidance on which games are appropriate for different ages.

•Explore www.familyfriendlyvideogames.com. This site provides a report card on games with detailed descriptions of game content, technical performance and kid friendliness.

•Understand the types of games on the market: edutainment (educational games focusing on teaching the player), role playing games (that offer deep story and character development), action games (that train and enhance hand-eye coordination), simulation games (building vehicles such as planes or cars) and strategy games.

•Use online reviews, ask other parents, ask the staff at your local store and play games with your kids.

It’s also important for parents to understand the different game platforms.

“Generally Nintendo (Wii and the portable 3DS system as well) is a very kid-friendly platform to purchase for younger children. The Sony PlayStation3 and Microsoft’s Xbox 360 have kid-friendly games to play as well, though parents need to exercise caution as some of the games released are for adults only,” says Nick Viola, a Game Art & Design faculty member at The Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale. “The Wii and the Xbox 360 Kinect encourage families to play together and get the players off the sofa.”

Whatever the game and whatever the platform, video games for kids — like those for any age — need to be engaging.

“The interactivity of these games seems to be the crucial factor that engages kids of all ages. Exciting visuals and action are also key,” says David March, a Media Arts & Animation faculty member at The Art Institute of Virginia Beach, a branch of The Art Institute of Atlanta.

And what children’s video games do these experts like best? “My favorite kids’ games are the Ratchet and Clank series and the Super Mario franchise,” says Gardner. Super Mario Brothers is a favorite of Viola’s as well. “Its bright bold colors, simplistic playing mechanics and iconic sound effects will always draw my attention,” he says. For March, favorites include “the side-scrollers like Prince of Persia - things with lots of lush graphics. And I’m a total sucker for almost any game involving flying an aircraft.”

Bottom line? Video games are here to stay. And when appropriately used, they can provide an opportunity for families to play together as well as for kids to learn and grow. To learn more about The Art Institutes schools, visit www.artinstitutes.edu.

Leaders Grow

  • Written by Maren Schmidt, M.Ed.

Research shows that it takes a minimum of 10,000 hours of focused practice to become a master musician, artist, dancer ... parent or leader.

One of the first steps in becoming a leader is realizing that proficiency requires a significant amount of time, commitment and dedication. How much time is 10,000 hours? Practice eight hours a day, and that figure translates to 1,250 days or about three-and-a-half years. That’s assuming eight hours a day with a leadership attitude!

Your initial sphere of influence as a leader is small. Stretch out your arms horizontally to the floor, turn around, look in the mirror and there is your beginning sphere of influence. You. Your ideas, your thoughts, your actions, your habits, your character, your life. The most important person you will ever lead or influence is yourself. And the most difficult person? You guessed it. Yourself.

We grow our sphere of influence by asking a key question: What is the best thing I can do under this set of circumstances?

Leadership is a choice, not a position, and once we make the choice to lead and empower ourselves to direct our lives, we begin to enlarge our sphere of influence to include items of personal concern — our families, our friends, our jobs — that grow over time to include our community and the larger world.

Daily, as we ask the key question: What’s the best thing to do? We need to consider the level of initiative to use. Stephen Covey in The 8th Habit tells us of seven levels of initiative, the lowest being wait until told, then ask, make a recommendation — I intend to, do it and report immediately, do it and report periodically, and ending with do it. Perhaps using a child’s development will help us gain insight into our personal growth.

Let’s consider three-year-old Jacob who wants to help in the kitchen. At the first level, Jacob waits until he is told to do something and shown how to do it. Jacob learns to perform such tasks as setting the table, learning to slice fruits and vegetables, load the dishwasher, stir batter, and drop cookies onto a cookie sheet.

Even as a three-year-old Jacob would work through these seven levels of initiative as his skills grow. He’ll ask to set the table.

He might recommend setting the table differently. He could tell you he intends to set the table. Jacob could set the table and report back immediately, or periodically. At the final initiative level, Jacob would be independent and do it without being told, reminded or anything else. He would just do it.

Day by day, year by year, Jacob’s skills and sphere of influence grow by learning new skills, practicing them, and discovering ways to use those skills to help himself and others.

At some point, perhaps age nine, Jacob would have learned all the skills to independently prepare a family meal.

As adult leaders, we grow by asking ourselves continually: What is the best thing to do? We grow by understanding our skill levels and working each day to build proficiency.

We understand our sphere of influence and maximize our work in that area.  We use the seven levels of initiative to understand how to best approach each task in current circumstances.

Happiness is Who You Are - Promoting Life Satisfaction in Schools

  • Written by Erica Peterson, Campus Manager, Dartmoor School, Woodinville
How can we make our kids happy?

It’s a question that has stumped many parents and teachers alike.

Oftentimes, our answers revolve around giving kids things that they want, like the latest electronic gadgets or the funding and freedom for adventures with their friends. We imagine that they will be happy later on in life as long as they have steady jobs, stable families and nice homes with at least two cars each. We pack them off to school and agonize over grades in the hopes that our efforts will one day pay off in the form of jobs, responsibility and social standing.

The image of the happy American adult is so ubiquitous that it can be a shock to discover that, statistically speaking, typical markers of success such as marriage, homes and jobs don’t have a very big influence on people’s reports of their satisfaction with life. It’s true, and researchers at the London School of Economics have added another study’s worth of data to back it up. They studied life satisfaction ratings from over 8,000 Australians who reported their levels of happiness twice, once at the beginning of the study and again four years later. Researchers wanted to correlate positive changes in life satisfaction with changes in other life factors to discover what makes people happy.

The results pointed to one primary life factor: personality. People whose personalities changed over the span of four years gained a lot more in happiness than their peers who merely changed jobs, got married, and bought houses. Specifically, participants had to gain positive personality traits, such as becoming more agreeable, more conscientious, and more open to new experiences. Equally important were reductions in neuroticism—a personality trait describing how strongly participants respond to life events with negative emotions.

Such personality changes strongly predicted gains in happiness.

It’s a finding that surprises many and prompts a reconsideration of the role of school in the life of young people.

There’s no doubt that education is essential for financial stability later on in life, but what if schools could contribute even more to students’ wellbeing?  According to Erikson’s theory of psychosocial development, school years are seminal to the development of personality and personal identity, particularly the years when most students are in junior high and high school. Because they contain students who are already primed for personality formation and ready-made social groups ideally suited for personality practice, schools powerfully influence how students develop.

And if school experiences are already formative for students, they may as well be constructive.

We need to reconsider how our schools affect the development of our students’ personality traits, and how we can create opportunities to foster positive growth. Are teachers modeling positive traits like warmth, respect, and willingness for social participation? Do students who struggle with anxiety, anger, and other negative emotions have sufficient access to counseling services and other venues for help? Are our students taught about the importance of character and how it can influence happiness?  We can maximize the benefits of school when we keep in mind that happiness is not about what our students have, but who they are.

Leaders Have Imagination

  • Written by Mauren Schmidt, M.Ed.

Being an effective leader requires immense imagination.  As leaders we must envision the person who is not yet there; the situation that has not arrived; the community that is to be formed.

As leaders we must imagine the human potential, and this is no small or easy task.  We have to have vision and curiosity.  We have to empower others to use their imaginations and find their way in the world to life a life that only they can imagine.  We have to imagine and believe that what we do is making a difference.

A recent story in The Oregonian about the founders of Sseko Designs highlights the imagination of leadership.  About four years ago Liz Forkin Bohannon, not long out of college, decided to do a four-month trip to Uganda, to see what she could see. What she found through some volunteer work were college bound girls unable to go to college due to not having the $5,000 a year to pay for tuition, and not having a way to earn the money.  The opportunities were not there.  Unimagined human potential being wasted.

Bohannon, not married at the time, thought that starting a charity might help. But a Ugandan friend suggested that finding the students work – helping them to help themselves – would be the way to go.

An idea of making a flip-flop type of sandal appeared along with three students who were struggling to raise college tuition. Bohannon made a commitment to the students that if they worked on this sandal-making project, she would guarantee the nearly $15,000 they needed for college.

The three students and Bohannon, now married with her husband on-board with the challenge, made and sold enough sandals for the three to go off to college in 2009.

In 2011, Sseko Designs sold over 10,000 pair of Ugandan made shoes, with 10 students working their way to college.  One of the original three students is scheduled to graduate in a few months with a computer engineering degree.

Liz and Ben Bohannon with their imagination of leadership envisioned college graduates who could work their way to college and enrich their lives and communities with their experiences.

Leaders need imagination as they innovate, grow, listen, and respond with enthusiasm to the needs of the people around them.

Our challenge as parents, teachers and other adults is to see in a child an adult who is not yet there, to see an opportunity waiting to be discovered, and to envision a world we all will be making together.

New vision skills boost student performance

  • Written by Dr. Mary Baker, Behavior Optometrist at Overlake Family Vision

We all want our kids to succeed in school, but hidden barriers to learning can trip up even the brightest students. Twenty to thirty percent of all school age children have a vision problem that is significant enough to interfere with learning.

Often these problems aren’t detected by school eye exams which typically test only for 20/20 vision at a distance. The typical school vision screening detects only 5 percent of all vision problems and is often done by a parent volunteer. School screenings aren’t equipped to check for important visual skills that are necessary for reading and using the computer. For example, they don’t determine if children can coordinate both eyes as a team, track print across a written page without losing their place, or comfortably adjust focus when looking from near to far away.

Children who are struggling with undetected vision problems often fail to progress well in school.  What are the clues that your child may have a learning-related vision problem? Some of the signs include slow reading, difficulty copying from the chalk board, skipping words or lines, losing their place when reading, and reversing words and letters.

Fortunately there’s something that can be done to correct the vision problems and make learning enjoyable. We recommend having your child’s vision checked by an optometrist who tests for visual function as well as eye health and visual acuity. Look for an optometrist who specializes in vision therapy. This type of therapy has been very successful in improving vision skills with exercises that may use lenses, prisms and filters. The therapy usually involves regularly scheduled office visits and home therapy assignments.

When kids have better vision skills, they are better prepared to learn in school. In our program, when kids achieve better visual skills, grades start to come up, self esteem improves and so do relationships at home and at school. The best thing about vision therapy is that since good vision skills are learned, the results of vision therapy usually last a lifetime. These skills have a significant impact on your child’s success and can even affect whether or not your child goes to college!