Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Habits To Fight Boredom

This post is inspired by the New York Times Article "Why Its Not All Bad to Be Bored", published November 30th, 2012.

In the article, boredom is defined as "wanting to, but being unable to engage in satisfying activity”, which is caused by the brain facing two or more options of what to do next and not knowing which one to choose creating a brain bottleneck, or crossroads, and the battle is lost right around here. The article suggests training the brain to get out of this bottleneck by providing options. 

In a previous post about developing habits, fighting boredom would be a perfect example of building a good habit. Think about it, if your child is bored, what would you want her to do? Read, draw, play with Lego, build a puzzle, meditate, dance, practice their musical instrument, take a walk…what is an activity that is acceptable to you and matches your child's personality?  

As your child reaches a point when they are bored, this typically starts at around 5, peaks at 6 or so, calms down for a few years and then returns in adolescence, start training those brain circuits to make an acceptable choice. Find an activity that he can enjoy and introduce it. Every time he is bored, give him a choice that works, thus unclogging that bottleneck that causes boredom. 

It is important to have many interests. For the sake of this post, I would recommend sticking to one or two options. Otherwise, you would be creating the bottleneck again in a different spot. Remember that her boredom came about because she had too many options to choose from in the first place. 

This doesn't mean forcing them to do something if they don't feel like it, quite the opposite. Explore as much as you need to. Each new activity will wipe boredom in one situation. But once you find something that they like, encourage and build it until she looses interest. Help your little one pave the road out of boredom.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Yes, But How Do You Ask?

Most parents want to know what happened in their child's day. Yet, many children don't know how to respond to a question like "how was your day?" or "what did you do while mommy was gone?"

Thinking about it, especially for toddlers and pre-schoolers, they really don't have a sense of time yet, so they wouldn't know how to grasp the idea of what happened in their day. They might remember their last activity, or perhaps the first one, but that's as good as it gets in most cases.

What you ask makes all the difference if you want the details. 
Try asking about what they saw:
"Where did you go today?" 
"What did (insert friend name here) do after nap?"
if your child is attached to a blanket or toy, try this one "what was (blankie's) favorite game today?"

 Or ask about specifics like:
"Did you sing (Mary had a little lamb) at circle time?"
"I saw a box of dinosaurs in your class. Did you play dinosaurs?"
"Was the slide wet today?"
"Who was sitting next to you at circle time?"
"Did (friend) sleep at nap time?"

This sort of question yields a much more engaging discussion than the generic "how was your day?" It also paves the way for tomorrow's conversations in two ways. First, it brings certain events and people to focus, so your little one will be paying extra attention to those the next day, especially if you remind him in the morning; "here are the dinosaurs, do you think you will play with them today?"

Then there is the narrowing down the big day into smaller chunks that he can manage. Circle time, nap time, outside time, and play time. Now your discussion expectations are within reason.

Build bonds and have fun!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Boys Versus Girls…In A Good Way

There comes a time in early chid development when girls and boys don't want to play together anymore. Girls cluster with girls and play with ponies, dolls, and dress up. Boys are all about cars, trains, legos, and soccer. Their worlds split to extents that they wouldn't even want to hold hands during circle time at school or to play a game together.

Sure there is an opinion that if they want to play with their own gender, why stop them?

There is also the other opinion that urges us to look for ways to bring them together, even briefly, so that they can get the minimum interaction necessary to maintain social conduct.

Today, I bring one solution to the latter opinion. Dancing. Specifically folk and ballroom dancing where boys and girls are separated, but in no way competing. They dance together sometimes and change partners often. They each have a role, and they all enjoy music and dancing.

Another benefit of learning and practicing these dances is bringing home a window into history, cultures, and classical music. I won't bring up eye-hand coordination, pattern work, or the brain in any detail in this post, but trust me, it is important for those too.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Politics Is Childs Play…Isn't It?

Our family has been through quite the political turmoil over the past 2-3 years. Our family is a multinational one, so we follow the politics of three different countries on an intimate level, in addition to the rest of the world.

During the Egyptian revolution two years ago, my daughter was three years old. She joined us in protests. There she was in her Ergo carrier on my back protesting with us and probably thinking it was a party. When we discussed the situation with her, we explained that someone was being mean for too long, and that the people of Egypt were tired of his meanness. This came to play quite realistically in her fairy tale stories. Current events bridged the gap in her mind between the kings and queens in her stories and what is happening in today's world…to an extent, of course.

Then there were elections. First Italian, then Egyptian, and finally the American presidential elections on three consecutive years. They each brought a different angle to this girl's world.

In simple terms, again, we explained that every country has a leader who makes big choices for the entire country. People need to trust this person to make choices for them. Elections are like a race. There is only one winner.

Now that there is a winner. Will he do a good job or a bad job. If he does a bad job, what should the people do about it? How can the people talk to him? How can he talk to the people? These questions came up. Discussions came up. Her thoughts were taken into consideration, but were also brought to her everyday experience.

She is five now, she has teachers, she has friends with leading personalities, and she is quite the leader herself. So, within her world, how do these pieces fit together?
-During the campaign, we followed how people choose leaders. We discussed what makes them "nice" or "mean"
-On election night we discussed our thoughts about the winners. We also focused on how long and how much work it takes to become a successful leader. Finally, we talked about the different kinds of loosing.
-Now that they have chosen a leader, if they are not happy with their choice, can they change their mind? What do people do when they are not happy with their leaders? How to voice a disagreement, how not to, and why? How should leaders listen?

At the end of the day, politics is not far from child play. Because politics is publicly discussed, though, it provides for great social relationship material for children to learn from.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Less Common Education Philosophies

Source: Education Week - Quality Counts 2012.
You can check out your state by clicking on this link.

In the United States of America, many families are not happy with the quality of education in public schools. As a result, all sorts of pedagogical philosophies are pouring into the country. 

I am seeing a special concentration in Silicon Valley and the Bay Area, possibly because of the contrast between the California public school system, which is considered one of the worst in the country, and the level of innovation that the area attracts. 

Of course, there are some famous systems celebrated here like Montessori. There are also many systems that are less known. This post will shed some light on some of the less-known systems:

Waldorf Education: This system has both religious and spiritual sides. It depends heavily on the children’s surroundings. Anthropology is the heart of this educational philosophy. Students are often out and about exploring their world be it nature, architecture, museums,  or happenings. They have no text books, they actually make their own. Their classes are technology free. Waldorf schools believe strongly in foreign languages. Teachers typically loop with their students for several years. Classrooms are quite informal even if the curriculum is pre-set. Parent involvement is essential to Waldorf schools. Count on a minimum of 2-3 working days a month in addition to general volunteer time.

Reggio Emelia: This philosophy  combining science and art as their base. Most of their teachings bring these two disciplines together. It is all about students nurturing curiosity and exploring ways to express their learning. Reggio students take many clues from their environment. Students are first class observers. Students have some control over their learning. Parents are often invited to attend school events, galleries, and so on, but no concrete parent involvement requirements are set. 

Quaker: While the Quaker philosophy is another religious/spiritual system, only the spiritual aspect is practiced at school. This philosophy believes in self reflection. Often in Quakers schools you will find silent students, meditating, trying to make sense of their learning and organize their thinking. Academics are fairly traditional compared to other philosophies listed in this post. Quaker philosophy has mathematics in its center. Curriculum is set, guided, and fairly rigorous. Parent involvement varies from school to school.    

Self Guided Education: These systems, like Tools of the Mind and the traditional Montessori method, believe firmly that students need to follow their own interests and lead their own education. Teachers in these schools are observers and fellow learners rather than directors. Students are assessed and progress through meetings with their teachers where they discuss their findings and plan their learning moving forward. Social aspects are not forced in these settings. Students often turn out to be excellent problem solvers, but unless team work and social  relationships are emphasized by the family, students may lack in these areas. Parent involvement is also minimal in these settings.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Holiday Shopping That Lends A Helping Hand

So, what if we can buy holiday gifts and help others at the same time? I am looking for ideas, so if you know of any, please leave a comment below. For now, this is what I could come up with:

Unicef: I was familiar with Unicef's Holiday cards, but their website surprised me with a whole range of gifts that are fun, colorful, functional, and affordable. Stationary, jewelry, artwork, books, puzzles, world inspired ornaments, and even a hint of technology! 
*Unicef cards and gift proceeds help children around the world live a better life.

One stop shops: You sign up, you choose your cause, you shop your favorite online stores through their site, and a percentage of what you spend  goes to your cause. The merchant lists usually cover just about every budget range. The list of causes is impressive. You can also raise money for your school of choice through this sort of program. If you are an online shopper, this is a good stop for you. Examples of one stop shops are OneCause and iGive

SchoolPop: If you can't seem to find your school of choice in the one stop shop lists, you might want to consider schoolpop. They have a listing of pretty much every school in the country. Your chances are much higher here of finding smaller schools. 

Ethical Shopping: If you want to go the green route, both Ethical Shopping and Reuseit are good options. Neither one gives money to charity, but they offer gift options that help sustain our environment. That is doing the world good also, even if not the traditional way.  

Happy shopping!


Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Nagging For Toys? Bust It!

Holidays with kids have their own charm, but when the nagging factor comes into play, it takes some of the charm away. 

Nagging all around is tough to get rid of. Nagging for toys maybe a little bit easier if these children know a little bit about advertising. Advertisers use child psychology to lure them into buying things...it is their job. It would be nice to remove some of those attractive layers to help your child see what they are getting themselves into just a lilttle more clearly.

My suggestion is for your child to put together an advertising campaign for one of the child's toys. The most recently accused of being "boring" works best. Tell your child that it is ok if they don't want the toy anymore, and that she should help sell it. She will need a box, a price, and a commercial. 

Design the box (math skills and eye-hand coordination), put toy in box, and think about what you would tell others that would make them really want that toy and willing to pay money for it. Make sure to mention your child's excuse for not wanting the toy anymore. See how she now reacts to those words. 

If she loves the toy again and wants to keep it after the new packaging makeover, then question how a "boring" toy could be made fun again by repackaging and hint that this is what some companies do. 

Bonus: If you can take a trip to the toy store or to an online one and see the difference between packaging for boys and packaging for girls that would be a good point of view also. 

If, on the other hand she still wants to give it away, then question how she can make a toy that she kows is "boring" seem fun to others and see what she comes up with. 

Use her words to create a commercial. If you have a way to video record it that would be ideal. The next time you see a commercial, note what they are doing, and how similar their strategies are to hers. Question if maybe they are trying to sell a boring toy. 

The next time she nags for a toy, ask her how she knows it won't be boring. Try to dissect the factors that she had already figured out through her packaging and advertising experience and see if some of the glamor is fading.