How parents and teachers can help children during the school year with a zing

Don’t expect students to sit still and keep quiet all the time. Schools are under pressure to have students do well on standardised tests such as NAPLAN, and most teachers think that students learn better when they are at their desks with their heads downs and writing.  Studies, however, show that children who are more active have faster cognitive processing speed, show greater attention and do better on standardised tests. Physical activity helps the brain in many ways; it also helps children to cope with the stresses of school. Numerous studies show that the more we sit, the unhealthier – and shorter – our life may be. We must change the mantra of the classroom from “sit still” to “stand-and-play” breaks to refresh and recharge.

Praise children for qualities they can control. Calling your children smart can undermine their ability to learn. “Focus on effort – not on intelligence or ability – is the key to success in school and life,” says American research psychologist Carol Dweck who has spent decades studying how people cope with failure. “Emphasizing effort gives a child a variable they can control They come to see themselves as in control of their success. Emphasizing natural intelligence takes it out of the child’s control, and it provides no good recipe for responding to failure.” What is a better way of complimenting a child: “I’m so proud you got an A” or “I’m so proud of you studying so hard”?

Help reduce maths anxiety. Generally speaking, students with maths anxiety, or maths fear, can master mathematical concepts but tend to avoid maths and performs poorly than their abilities allow. Brain-imaging studies now show that when students with maths anxiety encounter numbers, the region of the brain that registers fear and stress lightens up. The fear is the direct result of school’s emphasis on grading and testing. Research shows that students have only to think they are being graded on their achievements to go down.  Teachers who replace grading with constructive written comments increase student’s learning.

Let children daydream. There is extensive evidence that daydreaming is not waste of time. It helps children to make meaning out of experience and information they encounter. It helps make children creative and improves their school performance. Imaginary friends benefit children’s language skills. Imaginary scenarios and make-believe games help them in understanding complex emotions and social skills. Daydreaming is relaxation, a kind of micro-holiday from which children come back fully recharged and refreshed. Children who do not daydream enough (because they are too busy watching television) tend to be unimaginative.

Let children fight. Writing in the New York Times, Adam Grant, a professor of management and psychology at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, says that children need to learn the value of thoughtful disagreement. By disagreeing they discover that no authority has a monopoly on truth. “They become more tolerant of ambiguity,” he writes. “Rather than conforming to others’ opinion, they come to rely on own independent judgment.” A valued skill in a world of fake news.

Help children avoid myopia. More than 1.45 billion people around the world are currently suffering from some form of myopia (short-sightedness); the number is estimated to rise to about two billion by 2025. Close-up activities like reading and using computers, tablets and smartphones interfere with normal blinking and strain eyes. When used extensively, rather abused, electronic devices can lead to myopia. Reading in poor light or reading a lot – more than eight hours a day – is not considered good for eyesight. Ophthalmologists recommend taking frequent 10-minute breaks from near-work and looking at the distance. The best way to prevent myopia in children is to encourage them to spend more time outdoors.

Help children to put down the smartphone. There is strong data linking bedroom screen time and sleep loss, and children need more sleep than adults. Keeping a smartphone out of a child’s bedroom can be a battle, but it’s worth the fight, advises David Hill, director of the American Academy of Paediatrics Council on Communication and Media. If you are a smartphone junkie yourself, then the battle is uphill.

The friendliest kids in the class. A survey of 300 primary school students in 27 Dutch schools reveals an interesting insight into the seating arrangement of the classroom: children nestled in the centre are ranked higher in likeability and popularity than those on the fringes of the classroom. The researchers advise teachers to mix up seating every few weeks.

© Surendra Verma 2018

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