Monday, May 15, 2017

Keep Those Brains Active Over The Summer

After 180 days of school, everyone is ready for a break. But is the 10+ week summer really a good idea? It’s not if students do nothing to improve themselves intellectually. While our kids need breaks from the rigorous duties of school, they still need activities that support their intellectual growth, even in the summer. Here are some suggestions for making summer a time of learning.
  1. Read. This is probably the most beneficial thing students can do over the summer. Take them to the local library. Buy some cheap used books on Amazon.com. Or, read the books on the shelf that have never been touched. Kids don’t have to be bookworms to benefit from reading. A key to getting kids to read is to read aloud to them so they will learn to love good stories. Using reading as a quality time activity also helps kids to view it favorably. Then, help them check out books with topics or stories that they will enjoy. You may have to require reading time. For example, have them read for 20 minutes in bed before you turn the lights out. The next time your kids say they are bored, suggest reading!
  2. Take Field Trips. When you are on family vacation, try to schedule in a learning experience. Take in a museum, visit an aquarium, tour a historical sight, or hike a nature trail. Attending enrichment camps that range from academics to the arts are great, but it’s also beneficial when kids have learning experiences with their parents. Not all learning comes from a textbook. Try to work some learning experiences into your summer schedule.
  3. Limit Media. It’s not harmful if used in moderation, but excessive screen time develops a lazy brained and difficult to stimulate kid. This includes TV shows, video games, smart phones, and tablets. Researchers refer to electronic screens as “electronic cocaine” and “digital drugs.” Technology can be fun and useful, but overexposure comes with a brain-numbing price.
  4. Play Thinking Games. Encourage your children to play games that require thinking. Teach them to play chess (you may have to learn yourself!). Buy them games that require strategy, not just rely on chance. Whether it’s board games or card games, they can be fun yet stimulating ways to pass the time.
  5. Get Outside. Pediatricians tell us that children need at least 60 minutes of exercise per day for health reasons. But exercise has benefits beyond physical health. It increases neural activity, improves memory, and helps students learn at a faster rate. Play outside, ride bikes, or go to the park. The important thing is to get exercise outdoors.
  6. Fill in Learning Gaps. If there are some particular skills that your child needs to improve, use the summer to practice those skills. You can purchase practice books, use educational websites, or download e-tablet apps to build your children’s skills in a less intense way than their rigorous school work. Some children may even consider it to be fun.


 Summertime is fun, but don’t forget to keep learning!

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Teach Students Self-Defense, Not Revenge

An exasperated dad once told me how he instructed his son to handle a playground conflict if it were to happen again: “If that kid throws the basketball at your head again, punch him, and just be willing to take the teacher’s punishment.” I’ll explain here why that’s not the best advice to give a kid. But let’s be honest. Most of us have thought the same thing when we’ve seen our kids get grief from one of their “friends.” Every parent has thought, perhaps even said, that a punch in the nose would keep a bully from coming back again. No parent wants his son to be a punching bag; but if we’re not careful, we’ll inadvertently teach our children not to defend themselves, but, rather, to seek revenge. Retaliation is an act of immaturity, and the mature people in a child’s life should be helping them rise above that.

Telling a kid to punch a bully can be problematic for a few reasons. (1) If the oppressor is bigger or stronger, your child could be in for a walloping. (2) If your child is bigger and stronger than the other kid, he could cause far more physical harm to the bully than you every imagined. (3) Telling your children to hit another person who has offended them is equivalent to telling them to unleash, rather than control, their anger – and that can have serious repercussions. (4) Your child needs opportunities to learn controlled self-defense rather than unhinged, angry vengeance. I’ve illustrated with physical conflicts, but the principle also applies to verbal and other forms of social mistreatment.

Should our children be a punching bag? No. Is it possible to defend one’s self while behaving in a Christian manner? Absolutely. Do you remember what Jesus Christ told His disciples to do if one of them did not own a sword? “Let him sell his garment, and buy one” (Luke 22:36). The disciples would be travelling from town to town, and they needed to protect themselves from thieves. Why then, did Jesus tell Peter to put away his sword in Gethsemane? The reason lies in the purpose and the people arresting Christ. Christians must be prepared to suffer persecution for Christ’s sake at the hands of evil authorities. However, it’s lawful to physically defend yourself when an individual is oppressing you unlawfully. So rather than telling your kid to punch someone, here’s my advice.

First, teach the difference between self-defense and revenge. Using physical force to stop a physical assault is self-defense.  Tell your child to shove them, tackle them, or do something to keep from being harmed; the objective is to protect oneself, not to hurt the aggressor in retaliation. Tripping someone because they tripped you, or gossiping about someone because they gossiped about you, or punching someone because they threw a basketball at your head is revenge.

Second, teach kids to boldly speak the truth. Some bullies never quit because they have never been confronted with a bold, emphatic “Stop it!” Without using insulting language and four letter words, kids may need to tell someone, “You’re acting like a jerk, and no one wants to be around you when you act like this!” The truth can hurt, but sometimes it needs to.

Third, teach kids when they can resolve a problem themselves and when they should enlist an adult. The emphasis of my advice in this article has been on how to teach kids to handle themselves when they might encounter an occasional conflict. But children also need to learn to report incidents to authorities and not handle major incidents alone. If an incident involves someone being physically harmed, bullied (consistently targeted by an aggressor), or socially maligned, authorities need to be informed. Some childhood conflicts will only be resolved with the assistance of an adult.

In everyday life, adults must do their best to properly react to conflicts that they did not invite upon themselves. The best way to become a wise responder as an adult is to learn proper responses through childhood conflicts.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Mind Average Children So They Will Become Above Average Adults

Why are so many parenting books written to help parents with strong willed or rebellious children? It’s understandable given the parental stress involved and their desperation for relief. But my point here is to call attention to the average child. While difficult children can monopolize parents’ and teachers’ attention, and gifted children may attend special schools or programs to enhance their gifts, it’s often the average child that lives with lower expectations, and at times, less attention than needed.

Average children, when properly trained, grow up to become the movers and shakers of the world, partly because they earned their way there. While rebellious children are absorbing all of their parents’ time and gifted children are receiving well-deserved awards for their accomplishments, average children are learning to succeed in a world where praise must be earned and accomplishments result from hard work. However, children don’t become achievers on their own. They need training that shapes the perspectives of a leader and the habits of an achiever.

To gain some insight about average people, consider the biblical writer Jude. In various ways, he could be considered an average child who became an above-average, spiritual leader. He was a half-brother of Jesus, but this special relationship did not make him an above-average kid. His parents were average, blue-collar folks from Galilee who lived with common means. Spiritually, he fought the same temptations that the average Jew battled during that day. In his childhood and early adulthood, he and his siblings were skeptical about Christ and unwilling to accept their half-brother as the Messiah (John 7:3-5). But at some point in his life (we don’t know the details), he accepted the truth and became not only a leader in the church, but also a writer of the Book of Jude. It’s been noted by scholars how much Jude’s epistle and the second chapter of 2 Peter compare. Both of these men, God-chosen for leadership, addressed common problems that confront common people. Similarly, I’ve always believed that hard-working average students often make the best teachers. This is partly because they have worked hard to get to their position, but it’s mostly because they understand the plight of the average student and the best ways to overcome common challenges. Here are some principles gathered from Jude that will help us challenge average kids:

Be aware of common misconceptions and deceitful people. Jude warned us about “ungodly men” (v.4) who propagate unbiblical ideas while “denying the only Lord.” Our kids need to learn to think for themselves rather than believing everything they hear and see on social media, the news, and movies. The best way to detect deception is to know truth. Do our kids know what characterizes a godly person, what is the difference between true and false doctrine, and what makes a person spiritual? This training needs to begin early, and it requires consistency. This is why children need spiritual training, not only on Sunday, but every day of the week at home and school.

Be aware of the consequences for not submitting to authority. Jude used several examples to prevent the people from making the mistakes of past rebellions. References to Korah (v. 11) and others are mentioned for their mutiny against God-appointed leaders. Jude also warned people to not follow the example of those who “speak evil” (v. 8) of godly authorities. There’s an important leadership principle that can be applied here: No one can become a successful leader if they have not yet learned to be a follower. No one becomes an achiever alone. Achievers have been greatly influenced by someone else. Children become achievers when they learn to discern the difference between deceivers and godly authorities, treat these authorities with respect, and learn from them. These average kids will grow to become high-achievers in their homes, churches, and communities.

Become a deliberate person. Average people always follow and rarely lead. We need to challenge our kids to be initiators. Initiatives that Jude presented include spiritual growth by “building up yourselves” (v. 20), strengthening faith by “praying in the Holy Ghost” (v. 20), “earnestly contend[ing]” as defenders of truth (v. 3), “build[ing] a defense against deceitfulness” (v. 17), and “keep[ing] yourselves in the love of God” (v. 21). If children become adults who love, serve, and worship, it will result from a childhood of habit training.

So rather than allow kids to pass through their childhood like average kids do – over-exposed to worldliness, addicted to their devices, entitled to a life of comfort, and mindless about “fake news” and false philosophy, challenge them to become thinkers, hard workers, and leaders.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Are We Teaching Our Kids To Be Nice... Or Kind?

The folks at Sesame Street have been concerned lately about the younger generation’s lack of kindness. A statement from the Sesame Workshop noted that there has been an increase in “anger, fear, bullying, and violence” and that “narcissism is on the rise, empathy is down, and… students think their parents prioritize grades over being kind to others.” They recently surveyed hundreds of teachers and parents about how well children today are being taught kindness.  Here are some of the more notable results:
  • Parents (70%) and teachers (86%) agreed that their children are growing up in an unkind world. Parents (73%) and teachers (78%) agreed that kindness is more important for the future than academic success.
  • Less than a majority of teachers believe parents are teaching their kids to be respectful (44%) and empathetic (34%).
  • A majority of teachers (73%) believe all or most of their class is kind, and a majority of parents (88%) believe their children are kind.
  • A majority of parents did not report that their children were very thoughtful (46%) or very helpful (40%).

I’m sensing the Lake Woebegone effect – our kids are much better than the average, but everyone else needs to do a better job of teaching kids kindness. Perhaps these results indicate that we need to do better at defining kindness. Do manners and being “nice” equate to kindness? We have all met kids who show manners when they are around adults but say and do unkind things around other children. A lack of empathy can be a big contributor, as well as a narcissistic mentality. If children never feel the pain of others and never make sacrifices for others, then they will never become kind people. Being kind and teaching kindness goes beyond being “nice.” Manners are important, but kindness goes deeper than acting nice and wearing a fa├žade in front of the right people.

Teaching kindness involves habit building. Empathy, thoughtfulness, and service cannot become a child’s way of life without years of practice. To accomplish this kindness training, consider two essential elements. First, teach in context of real life. Don’t pass opportunities to teach in the moment. When you see children behave unkindly, don’t be tempted to look the other way simply because intervening is inconvenient. Point out unkind behavior and require children to change their actions. Likewise, praise kindness when you observe it. When you see others act selflessly, make sure your kids witness it and hear you endorse that kind of behavior.

Second, build habits of kindness with everyday tasks. Involving your kids in church ministries and community service projects has its benefits, but it’s unlikely to teach them to be kind in their everyday life. Children need to learn to be kind and helpful in little tasks. They need to help around the house, hold the door for others, allow their friends to go first, and hold their tongue when aggravated. Showing “kindly affection” and “preferring one another” (Romans 12:1) begins with life’s daily routine.

We all wish the world was a kinder place for our children to live, but we have little control of the entire world. What we can influence is the impact our children will make in the world. Let’s make it a daily priority to teach them to be kind.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Why Children Should Recite the Pledge of Allegiance

Given the recent discussion about a school in Florida that issued parent waivers for opting out of the Pledge of Allegiance and Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to participate in the National Anthem, it seems timely to discuss the importance of the Pledge of Allegiance. The pledge shouldn’t be regarded as an empty tradition in our nation’s classrooms. It has a purpose, and there are benefits to teaching students the pledge and requiring them to recite it.

Pledging Allegiance


Reciting the pledge allows students to practice pledging to something other than themselves. It reminds them that there is a cause greater than themselves. If patriotism erodes, then there will be no desire or, at the least, a sense of duty to improve one’s community. Patriotism cannot survive if our nation’s citizens pledge themselves more to their preferences than the well-being of their nation. The “liberty and justice for all” that we enjoy will erode if our children fail to accept responsibility to their nation.

Freedom


We enjoy freedom unlike people from any other nation because patriots abandoned personal preferences and comfort to fight for their nation. Reciting the Pledge of Allegiance reminds students of the cause these patriots valued. Some have refused to recite the pledge, but why do they have the freedom to refuse? Is a citizen of a communist country permitted the option of protesting their government? Is a citizen of an Islamist country permitted the freedom to protest Islam? The freedom Americans enjoy cannot be found in most nations.

Whether or not citizens have the freedom to refuse the pledge is not the question. After all, this is a nation that allows freedom of speech whether others agree or disagree. The issue at hand is about respect. Refusing the pledge shows a lack of respect for freedoms that were bought by the blood of patriots. Although one may have the freedom to refuse the pledge (or protest the National Anthem), their protest disrespects the patriots’ sacrifices. If our children don’t learn to value the concept of patriotism and show gratitude for the freedom they enjoy, then freedom will die. Freedom cannot survive if no one is willing to be a patriot. And we can’t expect our children to want to grow up to be patriots if patriotism is no longer valued.

Indivisibility


Although the freedom to protest a particular issue is a benefit Americans have, children need to learn the difference between protesting an issue and protesting America. It’s self-destructing to protest the system (America) that permits one to engage in protests. If our children intend on living in a nation that offers them freedom to improve their community and protest when necessary, they need to learn to pledge allegiance to the nation that permits such flexibility.

We are a pluralistic nation – ethnically, religiously, socioeconomically, and politically, but our indivisibility lies in a belief in freedom that can hardly be found when searching the annals of history. Teaching patriotism to our kids gives us a means to pass the torch of freedom to the next generation and instill a responsibility to be active citizens and protect their own freedoms.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Survival Guide for Parents of Middle School Students

1. Require organization. Middle grade students need help with organization. This applies not only to their school responsibilities, but also to their entire life. Their hyperactivity, desire to play, and new awareness of the world tend to conflict with responsibility and orderliness. You may need to require helpful habits rather than hoping your child will exercise them independently. For example, make it an absolute requirement that finished homework be immediately placed in the book bag to avoid wasted time gathering it in the morning or forgetting it altogether.


2. Calm emotions. These may be the most extreme emotional years of your child’s existence. Everything is either awesome or horrible. School is either exciting or boring. Their classmates are either best-friends-forever or bullies. Most kids need help understanding that most of their experiences lie somewhere in the middle. Don’t ignore their feelings of rejection or depression, and talk to their teachers about issues that may need to be addressed at school; but also be their stabilizer who helps them see that unfortunate scenarios may not be as critical as imagined.

3. Keep them busy. Middle-school- age students have energy to spare, and they will find ways to expend that energy. Help them use their energy in a meaningful way. Sometimes, they just need to be sent outside. Other activities such as sports and the arts can be productive, but be careful about over-commitment that makes life more stressful or robs time from academics. If your children appear bored or tend to find mischievous ways to expend their energy, then it’s probably time for them to increase their chores. Volunteer them to give some of their time to a ministry, or volunteer them to rake the neighbor’s yard. Find something productive for them to do, because idle hands at this age causes significant problems, and in many cases, big regrets.

4. Communicate with their teachers. Since communication is a two-way street, be sure to learn how the teachers communicate information to parents. Some teachers use blogs to post important information; some send out email announcements; others use flyers or letters. Learn the best way to contact your child’s teacher when you have questions. A majority of teachers use email, unless the need is critical enough for a personal meeting. Communication is vital because students often forget, overlook, or confuse important details. For example, it’s helpful to know that the teacher posts requirements for the students’ book report on her blog; that solves any debate between the parent and child about how it should be written.

5. Encourage them spiritually. Many of the potential problems these students will face can be minimized if they are growing spiritually. God’s promises to give wisdom to those who seek it, comfort to those who need encouragement, and strength to those who are weak apply to children as well, not just grown-ups. Make church attendance a priority. Monitor their friendships and media influences. Motivate them to read Scripture and books with a Christian perspective. As children in this age group progress hormonally, physically, emotionally, and socially, they need spiritual influences to help them gain a proper perspective on life.

What Should Elementary Parents Expect For Homework This Year?

           
            It’s commonly understood that no one enjoys homework, and some even believe it is ineffective. Parents’ opinion on the matter lends to extreme views. Some want their child to be academically competitive, and because they believe loads of homework will help accomplish this, they expect a certain amount of homework for their child each evening. Some, on the other hand, resent the fact that the family’s evening schedule must revolve around their child’s homework responsibilities. There are reasons indicating that neither one of these extremes are reasonable beliefs.

            Homework can be effective in helping students improve their achievement, if it is assigned properly. Yes, it is true that busywork fails to help students. For this reason, teachers at HCS avoid assigning busywork, but instead, assign tasks that will help students become skilled, independent thinkers. Most homework assignments can be labeled as practice – math practice, reading practice, etc. Occasionally, projects may be assigned for different reasons such as research, critical-thinking, and problem solving.
            Independent practice without the direct supervision of the teacher is necessary to help students develop mastery in their studies. If a student cannot perform independently, then they haven’t actually mastered the content. This idea is especially important for testing. If students cannot perform assignments without the help of a teacher or parent, then they will not be able to perform them on the test. Teachers at our school assign tasks that help students obtain mastery. This is why these tasks are usually started at school but finished at home. In many cases, students finish all of their work at school and have nothing to take home.
            In lower elementary grades, most homework assignments involve practice reading. Rarely do these students have written homework. Middle grades begin to have a heavier math lessons, but these should mostly be finished at school. However, students in these grades require time at home studying for tests and quizzes. Students in the upper elementary grades will be assigned a few more projects (i.e. research paper) than other elementary students, but they are given time during the school day to begin working on these tasks.  
            For homework to work effectively, time must be considered. After students have been at school all day, their ability to concentrate on academics at home will be limited. For this reason, teachers consider the amount of time it will take students to complete homework. The ten-minutes-per-grade-number rule provides a reasonable compass for determining whether the time required for completing homework will surpass a child’s ability to concentrate. For example, a third grader (3 times 10 minutes) will rarely be able to concentrate at home for longer than 30 minutes. Our teachers take this principle into consideration when forming assignments. Exceptions occur when the occasional long-term assignment is assigned, such as book reports, science projects, or research papers. On most days, the homework load will take less time than this ten-minute principle.
            If your children take longer to do homework than the average student, it will be necessary to allow them breaks to clear their thinking. Exercise will also be vital. Bottled up energy can be distracting for the child, as well as irritating for the parent. Knowing what to expect and planning accordingly will help your children complete their homework and build their achievement, one assignment at a time.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

The Most Important Skills Students Should Learn


What are the most important skills a student should learn in school? We will agree that spiritual growth must be given priority, but once we’ve attended to the eternal, what should be considered the most critical elements of learning that impact students for the rest of their lives? Consider these two statistics that have recently emerged:
  • College students spend three times more hours socializing than studying.
  • Only 59% of full-time college students finished their bachelor’s degree within five years.

If there’s a lesson to be learned from this, it’s that many students lack the drive to succeed and the self-discipline to fulfill their responsibilities. We can all agree that children should go to school to learn facts – a lot of them, at that. But facts alone cannot make a student successful in life. Habit training is critical.

This brings us to the topic of what educators call, non-cognitive skills. Cognitive skills involve math, language, humanities, and other academic subjects; non-cognitive skills pertain to the shaping of a student’s character. Examples of significant non-cognitive skills include work ethic, study skills, beliefs about responsibility, and motivation to excel. These skills and character traits begin forming when children are young. When a child become a teenager, their character becomes more fixed, and when they become adults, it’s practically too late. These skills solidify throughout one’s childhood as the child undergoes new experiences with each age.

If your goal is to prepare your child to experience future success as an adult, then consider two practices you can implement now that will influence them long-term:
  • Emphasize finishing the job and finishing it well. Don’t finish for a child what they should have finished themselves. But this requires follow-up on the part of parents and teachers. If we forget to inspect after the job, this trait will never be taught. If the job was not done correctly, make them go back and do it correctly. Although it takes less time and effort to do it yourself, or to not even bother inspecting at all, the temptation arises to skip the follow-up, but that’s the part that trains character more than the original task. 
  •  Value responsibility over leisure. Suppose it is Friday evening and your child gets invited by some friends to go out for dinner and bowling, but you discover that your child procrastinated two weeks on a school project that’s due on Monday. What will your child learn if you refuse to let them go out, and instead, make them work on the project? First, your child will learn that you prioritize responsibility over leisure. Second, your child will learn that leisure is earned by working hard, not procrastinating.

To illustrate the magnitude of habit training, imagine if the training new recruits receive on Parris Island was changed to facts-only instruction. They would learn all kinds of facts about artillery, military, protocol, and war strategies, but drills, eating and sleeping requirements, and exercises would be eliminated. Also eliminated would be the tough consequences for failing to comply with boot camp rules. What would be the outcome of a training method such as this? The result would be a military unfit for war because knowledge alone does not prepare soldiers for war. Likewise, ignoring habit training and non-cognitive skills leaves students ill-prepared for life. Our students need to be exercising, throughout their entire childhood, the qualities we want them to have throughout their entire lives.