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Is your child struggling in school?

  • Written by SEPAC

Is homework avoidance the norm for your child?  Does the mere mention of homework send your child into a meltdown and you over the edge?  Or maybe your child doesn’t seem to be reaching their potential and you are perplexed. Problems in the classroom and homework struggles might indicate a learning disability or other conditions that make learning difficult.

SEPAC (Special Education Parent/Professional Advisory Council) will present “When Learning is Difficult: Support for Struggling Students” Wednesday, January 25, from 7 to 9 p.m. at the NSD Admistrative Center (3330 Monte Villa Parkway, Bothell). Come learn about factors that can inhibit learning, strategies and resources for supporting your child, and information about the steps that can be taken in school and outside of school to obtain assistance.  In addition, hear from NSD staff about the process available to parents and teachers to identify, evaluate and support struggling students.

This presentation is for all parents, teachers, and other professionals looking for solutions to make learning easier for their student. No childcare will be provided.

Information: www.sepacnsd.org.

Teaching Snails - Lessons on Learning, the Brain, and the Importance of Timing

  • Written by Erica Peterson, campus manager, Dartmoor School

Learning at a snail’s pace just got a little faster, according to researchers at the University of Texas, Houston.  Yes, top researchers from the UT’s Health Science Center have been working on training snails, and a computer program that models the biochemical processes in the snails’ brains has helped them get a lot better at it. In the terms of a neuroscientist, learning is called “long-term synaptic facilitation,” and in order for it to happen in both snails and people, multiple chemical reactions in the brain have to work together in just the right way. John Byrne, senior author of the study from UT, thought that a computer model could help scientists discover when the chemical processes in the brain align to make learning more possible. Apparently, he was right.

Learning is all about timing, as far as the brain is concerned. Researchers demonstrated this by using the computer model of the chemical interactions in snails’ brain to predict times that the snails would be ready for learning. Based on these predictions, the UT team developed a training schedule for the snails specifically designed to be sensitive to the brain. Other researchers administered training at regular 20 minute intervals, without regard to the snails’ readiness. As suspected, snails that were trained using the special schedule learned better and remembered their training longer.

Of course, snails aren’t people. Scientists are a long way from being able to predict optimal learning schedules for brains as complex as that of the average human. Luckily, it doesn’t take a neuroscientist to tell us that when it comes to learning, timing is important.  We may not be able to track protein reactions in our neurons, but all of us have experienced times when our brains were tired. Or low on fuel. Or grumpy. Or distracted. Any number of things can turn the human brain off.

That’s why all of us can benefit by paying better attention to the brain’s readiness to learn. This is especially important for educators and parents, who often work with students who may not be able to articulate their own state.Are our students’ brains ready? Do our students have sufficient nutrition, or is their blood sugar crashing? Are they ready to focus or are they distracted by an emotion or by an environmental disturbance?   Are they rested, or are they wilting after a sleepless night playing video games? We may not be able to schedule classes by our brain chemistry, but we can still be brain-sensitive as we plan our lives and our students’ educational experiences.

Beware of the Age of Rudeness

  • Written by Mauren Schmidt, M.Ed.
“Ever since Jill started first grade, she’s become louder, messier and not as kind as she was in kindergarten. I think her first grade classroom must be the reason she is the way she is,” said Jill’s mother, Paula.

Susan, a former kindergarten and first-grade teacher, smiled. “Paula, I hear this every year.  What’s happening with Jill is that she has entered a new stage of development — one that’s loud, messy and rude.  Jill sounds like a six year old, a perfect six year old.”

Yes, something different and mysterious begins to happen to our sweet and well-mannered five year olds.  They turn six, lose teeth, get taller and their hair loses its curl and becomes coarser and straighter. And their brain changes.

As physical changes occur in our children, we also see behavioral changes.  Children, who a few months before were content to eat what was served, wear the clothes in their closet and enjoy the activities available,  become less accommodating.  We begin to hear the phrases, “that’s boring,” “that’s babyish,” “that’s not fair” and “that’s yucky.” Then there is the question: “Why do I have to?”

Between the ages of six to 12 years, children are in a period of development where they are trying to become more independent of their family and close circle of friends.They are trying to “break out into society” and make themselves into social beings.

The child of this age has a strong desire “to go somewhere,” whereas younger children are happy to be home, and in fact might resist trips out of the house.  The older child wants to dress differently than younger children. The older child, in fact, is striving to push parents away as he or she develops independence within a group.

We shouldn’t be too quick to label a child discourteous or dirty.

These behaviors manifest themselves as independence grows, and can turn into rebellion if not allowed in some aspect of the child’s life. Children may want to change their names, style of dress, hairstyles and favorite colors.

At age six, one of my daughters went from shoulder length hair with a penchant for lavender party dresses and black patent leather shoes, to red and blue rugby shirts, corduroy pants and an over-the-ear haircut.  She also changed her name to Luke, in honor of Luke Skywalker.  It wasn’t hard to miss that she was not five any more.

During this six to12-year- old period of childhood, there are extremely powerful forces at work within the child.  It is a period of robust good health. The colds and ear infections of the previous six years are infrequent.   Growth is steady and good health gives strength to the mind.

The intellect of the child is most receptive to learning at this age. The ability to reason appears, and the use of imagination begins. A developing sense of morality emerges in the child, along with an awareness of good and evil. The child is also drawn to the enormous or the oddball.  At this age children love exploring the Guinness Book of World Records.  Hero worship is also part of this age child’s activities.

As you notice these changes in your six and seven year old, don’t panic. Your child is taking his or her first steps into a new world of independence, great intellectual growth and a developing a sense of right and wrong.

There is so much of the world and life for the six to12 year old to learn, experience and understand.

Impatience can be read as rudeness. At the next stage of development, during ages 12 to15, we’ll have an opportunity to reintroduce the grace and courtesy of social skills to a more receptive audience.

Enjoy the missing teeth, the new hair-dos, the different clothes, because these changes let you know that your child is navigating the path to adulthood.

Kindergarten: Readiness & developing literacy at home

  • Written by Karen Pettersen

When kindergarten teachers ask about what they like to see in a well prepared kindergartener, it’s not how many letters and numbers they know. It’s how do they conduct themselves in a classroom? Can they make friends?Resolve social conflict? Participate in a group setting? Can they follow directions and stay on task?

These are the basics for a good beginning to formal education. Preparation for classroom readiness is most likely to occur in a classroom format.  Enrolling your young child in a toddler group or preschool is your first step. There are many great programs to choose from.

To create interest in literacy at home, model reading and writing. Let them draw scribbles that look like writing such as having them add “their words” to a letter to grandma.  Even if they can’t write yet, if you have them mimic writing and then ask them what it says, they absorb the idea that you can communicate through writing. Reading in front of them and to them is the most powerful thing you can do.  Read good stories that capture their imagination and create a desire to read themselves. Play letter games:  “Your name starts with a J.  It looks like a fish hook. Let’s find Js while we’re driving, on menus, etc.”  Make it fun and don’t force it on children at this age.  A very young child who is forced to learn past their natural interest level learns to dislike learning and shuts down.

When do you worry about the kid who doesn’t like homework or writing?   First grade.  First grade is when study habits and work ethics need to be modeled and enforced. Good study habits take a long time to develop, and parents need to set the stage for their children’s success by being tuned into their child’s homework and study expectations at school.  Parents also need to follow up to make sure that children are meeting those expectations on a regular basis.

Assign times for your children to do their homework after school. Set up a place for them to work and make sure the TV is turned off.  Don’t schedule too many extra curricular activities that sabotage their time/energy/focus from completing their school work. Be available to help, but at all costs, don’t do it for them.

The curious truth about school success

  • Written by Erica Peterson, Campus Manager, Dartmoor School Woodinville

What makes a student successful? Ask Sophie von Stumm, a psychologist and researcher at the University of Edinburgh, and she’ll tell you that it’s not just a matter of IQ. In fact, her review of 200 studies of school success turned up a simple, yet commonly overlooked ingredient in the magic potion of academic success predictors: curiosity.

Stumm calls it having a “hungry mind.” “If you’re intellectually curious, you’ll go home, you’ll read the books. If you’re perceptually curious, you might go traveling to foreign countries and try different foods,” she notes in a press release for the Association for Psychological Science (Curiosity par.4). Either way, curiosity feeds the brain’s capacity to gather, organize and process new ideas and new experiences.

But what exactly is curiosity, and how do parents and educators harness this powerful force to help boost the success of the students who need it the most? Put simply, curiosity measures not how well students think, but how much they enjoy thinking and willingly engage in thinking tasks. In the studies reviewed by Stumm, curiosity was assessed with a common psychological measure called the Typical Intellectual Engagement Scale. This assessment has participants report how often they engage in activities that involve brain power, such as reading philosophy and news, enjoying art, or just thinking about life. Students who like these tasks tend to also participate in them frequently, and students who participate in thinking tasks develop their mental muscle.

Tragically, many students who would typically benefit from this powerful force for intellectual development lose their curiosity early on. For some students, repeated failures in school can cause burn-out; for others, too much homework causes intellectual activity to be associated with feelings of frustration.

For curiosity to exert its power, intellectual activity needs to be fun. That’s great news for parents and educators, who can help students to find the venues for intellectual exercise that are most appealing.

“Teachers have a great opportunity to inspire curiosity in their students, to make them engaged and independent learners. That is very important,” comments Stumm (Curiosity par. 6).