Sunday, January 30, 2011

School Success is in Your Dreams

Do any of the following apply to your children?
  • Does your child stay awake more than 15-30 minutes after bedtime?
  • Do you have to try to wake them an excessive number of times? 
  • Does your child’s teacher report drowsiness in class?
  • Does your child have difficulty concentrating and focusing on school work?
  • Does your child have depressed moods that seem to be out of the ordinary?
  • Does your child have difficulty controlling his emotions and impulses?

If the answer is yes to any of these, the culprit may be a lack of sleep. Nothing can compensate for an inadequate amount of sleep. The proper amount of sleep will vary depending upon the child’s age, daily routine, and lifestyle demand. Examine your child’s school performance and evaluate whether or not they get enough sleep. If you are not sure where to start, consider the suggestions given by the National Sleep Foundation1.

Memory and attentiveness hinge significantly upon whether or not a student sleeps enough. Perhaps you remember moments when you were a student (or you observed this in your own children), and you dedicated yourself to stay up late and prepare well for a test. The next day, you could not remember a single thing you studied. You knew it masterfully the day before, but the lack of sleep impaired your ability to retain what you learned. We often think that “burning the midnight oil” will make one successful, but if done habitually, it will impair student achievement.

While most parents understand the importance of a good night’s sleep for younger children, high school students often go unsupervised. Perhaps, parents think their teens are big enough to handle it, or they think their teenagers are going to bed – they really are texting their friends or using some other form of electronic media. Interestingly, a study at Brown Hospital and Brown University revealed that high school students’ school performance correlated to their sleep time2.
  • On average, students who made A’s and B’s were in bed by 10:32pm.
  • On average, students who made D’s and F’s did not go to bed until 11:22pm.
  • The better a student’s grades, the less he overslept on the weekends.
  • Students with shorter night-sleep reported more depressed moods, daytime sleepiness, and problematic sleep behaviors.
  • Irregular sleeping schedules resulted in more behavioral problems.

Developing Good Sleep Habits
1.       Be consistent. Once you have determined your child’s bedtime, enforce it consistently. This often inconveniences mom and dad, but it’s worth it in the end. After adjusting to the routine, your child will fall asleep timely, and morning wake up’s will be much easier.
2.       Develop a routine. Children hate going to bed, and avoiding it can get interesting. There is always that “one more thing” they need to do before going to bed. This is when we realize just how creative our children can be. To avoid nightly battles, develop a routine they will adjust to following. Read a story. Brush your teeth. Get a drink. Say your prayers. Hug your dad. Make it whatever you want it to be. Just remember that children thrive on routines.
3.       Avoid media before bedtime. Media of all stimulates the brain. If a sleepy person turns on the TV, he can find himself going to bed several hours later than he thought he would. Why? Media is addictive. And when you walk away from media, it hardly leaves your mind for a long time. Some have recommended that children stay away from media at least an hour before bedtime. An exception for some might be listening to calming music. Media, however, that involves visual stimulation (i.e. television, computer, smartphone) makes falling asleep much more difficult.
4.       Avoid foods that cause insomnia. Foods high in sugar and caffeine work against you. I realize some recent studies tell us that sugar does not cause temporary hyperactivity, but you will never convince an elementary teacher.

I realize, like the researchers, that the correlation between sleep and school success involves more than sole sleeping time. Students with good sleeping habits are typically all-around more disciplined people. Their study habits probably outshine their less disciplined classmates, not just their sleep habits. Nevertheless, good sleep habits equip a child to cultivate other disciplined habits. Don’t expect them to be disciplined in other areas of life when their lack of sleep robs them of the energy, mood, and focus to succeed.

Permit me to offer two Scripture passages that can be applied to the subject of sleep. First, Proverbs 3:21-24 offers insight for obtaining a good night sleep. Read wisdom – the Word of God. The promise given is that “When thou liest down, thou shalt not be afraid: yea, thou shalt lie down, and thy sleep shall be sweet.” When you, or your children, can’t escape thoughts of worry or stress that leave you sleepless, read the Word.  Secondly, Acts 20:9 tell us of a man named Eutychus who fell asleep during Paul’s sermon and fell from the balcony. Note that there is only one reason he fell asleep (it wasn’t because Paul was boring): He didn’t get enough sleep the night before. If your child falls asleep in class, don’t expect the Apostle Paul to come by and perform a miracle.  Be consistent, be disciplined, and you will notice an improvement.


Thursday, January 20, 2011

Conquering the Spelling Test

I hope the guys who painted this road were not Christian school graduates. In an age of spellcheck-dependent writers, we aim to teach students to know how to spell correctly. Besides the fact that correct spelling identifies an educated person and complements reading skills, poor spelling is downright embarrassing. For some students though, it’s inexplicable. The term frustration doesn’t begin to describe the feelings of some when it comes to taking spelling tests. Here are a few suggestions for conquering the spelling test and becoming an all around good speller.

1. Read. Nothing replaces regular reading as a means to become a good speller. The more you see words, the more natural correct spelling becomes.

2. Study in chunks. If you already struggle with spelling, don’t expect to cram it all in the night before the test. Start studying early in the week, and start with the words you perceive will be the most difficult. Don’t study too long; that can have adverse effects. That’s why you need to start studying early in the week, adding new words every day. Remember to review the words you already learned each day.

3. Apply your rules. Do you remember rules like ”i before e except after c, or when sounding like eigh as in neighbor and weigh”? You can find rules you learned in school, plus a lot more on Camilia Sadik’s website

4. Practice the test. You may think you are ready for the test, but taking a practice test is the only way to be certain. Try to mirror the test as closely as possible. Have a study partner call out the words while you write them. Grade it just like your teacher would grade the test. Just going through the exercise of grading your own practice test can be a beneficial task.

5. Say it before you write it. Some students find it easier to spell the word vocally than to write it. When practicing for the test, verbally spell the word before you write it down. Since your teacher will not approve of you using this method when you are actually taking test, advance to #6.

6. Visualize the word. As your study partner calls out a word, visualize it spelled correctly, then write it down.

7. Use them more often. Pick out the words giving your student the most difficulty, and suggest they use these words in their writing or speech as much as possible. Sometimes, words are difficult to spell because they seem foreign to us, not because they have a tricky spelling.

8. Use silly methods. Mnemonic memory methods can be used for spelling, and the more silly the method, the more likely you will remember it. Pick a tune and sing/spell difficult words. Create acrostics or silly associations. For example, to remember the correct spelling of "apparent", a child is born to two parents (two p’s) and they pay the rent (not rant).

Teaching Children to Handle Dissappointment

Do you remember the Texas mom who tried to hire a hitman in an attempt help her daughter make the cheerleading squad? She decided that the girl competing against her daughter would be too devastated to try out for the squad if the girl’s mother were murdered. I realize this is an extreme case (so extreme two movies were made about the story), but many parents, to a lesser degree, believe their duty requires them to take extreme measures to insure a smooth path for their children. Rather than guide children, many parents try to insulate them.

Insulating children from all disappointment pads their self-esteem to dangerous levels. Two results are likely. First, they will begin to think that the world is something they control. At the least, they will begin to expect life to always turn out according to their predilection. After all, no matter how I perform, someone is going to make me feel good about it. Over indulgence in praise and rewards will condition children to believe that they will always receive something in return. Conversely, that’s not how the real world works. Sometimes, you must do the right thing because it is the right thing to do, not because your will be praised. And in every day of life, you should perform at the top of your game even if you know you are not the best in the world. Children should learn the enjoyment and satisfaction of knowing that they gave it their best.

Secondly, they will fail to learn how to handle disappointments. According to a Kansas State study, anxiety problems among college students rose to 62%. They claim that life for a college student is harder than it was 10 years ago. For me, this begs the question, “Is it really harder, or do they fail to handle stress like students in times past?” Are they accustomed to parents and teachers solving their problems for them? According to the Surgeon General, 1 in 5 children suffer from a diagnosable mental illness. Why are these rates so high? The answer is not short and cannot be reduced to one issue. Nevertheless, it appears the national “state of our emotions” indicates a people having very thin skin.
Consider some principles to apply as we deal with children’s disappointments:

1. The Principle of Consequences. Our children need to learn the law of sowing and reaping, not the expectancy that parents and teachers will insure a perfect outcome. Children must learn that actions have consequences – good and bad. This principle applies to school work, friendships, family relationships, athletics, arts, and spirituality. Some practice with dedication; that’s why they can play the violin well, pitch a killer fastball, or create a beautiful painting. Some procrastinate; that’s why they are always disappointed with their grades, stressed about finishing their assignments, and unable to deliver their best work. Others manage their time well; they are able to fit in school work, family time, and enjoyable activities. Kids need to learn that many of their frustrations are consequences of their actions. If we step in, take over, and eliminate the obstacle for them, we have missed an opportunity to teach them the Principle of Consequences. Rather, steer them in the right direction, helping them learn to change their own behavior. Make sure they never become accustomed to expecting someone else to make their life better for them.
2. The Principle of Encouragement. Flattery and false praise can produce two opposite outcomes. Children will believe they always are great or never are great. The outcome lacks balance. Children who see the ridiculousness of false praise can become paranoid, wondering if they are really good at anything. After all, since mom and dad praise everything they do, they can’t be trusted to offer genuine advice. Children who absorb flattery with eagerness begin to think they are great at everything. Then when mom and dad are no longer around to offer praise, the child is unprepared to deal with the fact that no one else thinks they are great. So what is the alternative to praising children? Encourage them. Bring attention to their good behavior, not just their performance. Rather than praising them for being a beautiful, intelligent, talented kid (don’t be fooled into thinking that they really believe you believe that), encourage them to keep up the good work. They will learn that success is its own reward, finding fulfillment in the success rather than the praise of others.
3. The Principle of Unconditional Love. At times, disappointments result from hard luck. He did the best he could but still lost the spelling bee, got cut from the basketball team, or failed his driver’s education test. Sometimes, kids learn from experience that life isn’t fair. Even when it is fair, fair is not always fun. This is why children need parents who express their unconditional love. Homes should be a place where kids find retreat and acceptance, not unnecessary criticism and unrealistic expectations. Their boyfriend may break up with them, their friends may call them names on the playground, or they may get picked last for tag football teams; but home should be a place where they can count on unconditional love. Even when mom and dad are disappointed with them, their love should never be a question.

Remember that the Heavenly Father’s strategy for teaching children about His love is the example of earthly fathers and mothers. Scripture never tells us of a promise that our Father will eliminate disappointments and remove trouble. There are, however, many Scriptures that teach us to cast our cares on Him because He cares for us. Let’s represent our Heavenly Father well to our children. Eliminating childhood disappointments is impossible , and attempting it is unhealthy. Teach them how to handle disappointment and you have taught them a skill they will use for the rest of their life.