Why We Need to Stop Saying “I’m Not Good at Math”

While we may believe it, saying we’re not good at math is arguably the most damaging self-fulfilling prophecy in America today.

We’ve all said it. We hear other parents say it. We joke and complain on social media about common core and new math. We flaunt our lack of arithmetic fluency like a rite of adulthood and groan collectively over our kids’ homework. Sure, having something to commiserate about unites us, but we need to stop saying “I’m not good at math.” While we may believe it (and have personal fails to back it up), saying we’re not good at math is arguably the most damaging self-fulfilling prophecy in America today.
That may sound overdramatic, considering the state of national affairs, but hear me out: By saying we aren’t good at math, we are conceding any number of things about our gender, our culture, our values, and even our work ethic. By saying we aren’t good at math, we are abdicating its importance in our lives, we are setting a poor example for our children – both daughters and sons—who are opting out of STEM courses at alarming rates, and we are preserving the false notion that math skills are intrinsic and cannot be learned. Worst of all, by saying we aren’t good at math, we are starting to believe it, as is evident in the public’s tenor surrounding the discipline and our increasing dependence on technology for. In adult competency studies, Americans scored lowest in the developed world in numeracy, digital problem-solving, and information-processing – which are considered basic skills in a modern economy.
Since the dawn of formal education, it has been believed that math aptitude is a genetic trait, one you are either born with or not, and therefore, a person’s success in math-related subjects is predetermined. This belief, along with stereotypes that males are better at math than females, all Asians are good at math, and privileged families hold exclusivity to the numbers gene – has been perpetuated by educators and parents, alike, even though study after study debunks this theory as nonsense. This common misconception not only precludes learning, it cripples it. Math, like any other subject, is skill-based, and the proclivity to understanding number sentences is every bit as basic (if not more) as understanding words.
It is hypothesized that humans are born with an innate sense of numbers, which becomes the foundation for higher-level math understanding. Obviously, babies don’t have the language to count, but they appear to be able to measure groups of objects and grasp the “more than/less than/equal to” concept. As children grow and acquire the symbolic system for representing value (Arabic numerals), they are building upon this primitive number sense. They learn to comprehend number sentences, or equations, just as they learn that letters form words, which in turn represent objects and thoughts. From a clinical standpoint, early math and reading skills share the same real estate in the brain, both require practice and repetition, and both compound small pieces of information into a larger context. But you never hear people boast about not being good at reading, like they do with math. Why is it we treat the two subjects so differently?
Learning is a finicky business, enmeshed as it is with social development and trends in education. Some children respond favorably to traditional methods of instruction, e.g., visual aids or hands-on techniques, while others struggle to grasp the concept regardless of how it’s presented. Schools have made a concerted effort in recent years to accommodate an array of learning styles, and test scores reflect these innovations, but the prejudice against math persists. Somewhere between the lower elementary grades and middle school, kids lose their math momentum and self-directed progress tapers off. By high school, guidance counselors report that once students satisfy the minimum requirements for graduation, most will drop math instruction.
Unlike subjects like science, language arts, or social studies, where information is compartmentalized into unit topics, math is cumulative. You can’t miss a week and jump back in at the start of the next chapter without falling behind. Math takes daily practice and discipline – like learning a musical instrument or a sport – and the complexity of branches like algebra or geometry demands a commitment. It is no surprise that as kids get older, and other interests compete for their time and attention, math loses its appeal. Add to that an outspoken generation of parents who belittle its value by saying, “I hate math and I turned out fine,” and it becomes even more tempting to abandon it.
The truth is, most of us aren’t bad at math; we’re simply rusty or plain old lazy. Humans, after all, are programmed to follow the path of least resistance. Why would we spend time and risk inaccuracies calculating a lengthy multiplication problem when we could get the answer instantly from our phones? I don’t mean to suggest we rebuff technology, but at the same time, we shouldn’t disparage the very thing that brought technology to us. Math will always be a hard sell, but if we expect to tackle pressing issues like climate change, dwindling natural resources, and expanding population, we need people who excel in numbers. Saying we aren’t good at math erodes any remaining confidence, and it gives our kids permission to not be good at it, either – that is not an option we can afford to take.

50,000 Preschoolers Suspended in 2016 for Being Preschoolers

In 2016 an estimated 50,000 preschoolers were suspended for bad behavior, according to an estimate published by The Center for American Progress earlier this month. Another 17,000 are estimated to have been expelled.
The estimates were taken from the 2016 National Survey of Children’s Health. The most news-making question of that survey was “In the past 12 months, were you ever asked to keep your child home from any child care or preschool because of their behavior (things like hitting, kicking, biting, tantrums, or disobeying)?” 2.1 percent of parents responding to the survey responded “yes.”
That response rate has led to important investigations of disparities in suspension and expulsion rates at the preschool level. Black preschoolers, for example, were more than twice as likely to be suspended or expelled than white preschoolers. The suspension and expulsion rates are also highly gendered: 82 percent of suspended and expelled preschoolers are boys.
The question about the overall suspension and expulsion rate has been one of the more widely-reported items from the National Survey of Children’s Health. Survey questions addressing the behavior of the nation’s three- to five-year-olds are useful in better understanding that suspension and expulsion rate.
When asked “How often does this child become angry or anxious when going from one activity to another,” 56.9 percent of parents answered “all,” “most,” or “some” of the time. A majority of preschool-aged children get angry and anxious.
When asked “When compared to children his or her age, how often is this child able to sit still,” 53.8 percent of parents replied “most of the time,” while another 26.2 percent responded “some” or “none” of the time. A majority of preschool-aged children have trouble sitting down.
When asked “How often does this child lose control of his or her temper when things do not go his or her way,” 14.3 percent of parents responded “all” or “most” of the time. Another 70.6 percent of parents responded “some” of the time. A majority of preschool-aged children have trouble controlling their tempers.
Preschoolers have trouble following instructions, sitting still, and regulating their emotions. Some preschoolers are suspended after failing to follow instructions, sit still, or regulate their emotions. We have to conclude, then, that many preschoolers are being suspended for being preschoolers.
There are clearly enormous difficulties in managing a classroom full of children still learning to be good humans. This problem is only compounded by students who are developmentally delayed or who are experiencing trauma at home.
There is good reason to avoid suspension and expulsion. These two forms of exclusionary discipline can have long-ranging effects. Children who are removed from school as punishment are less likely to succeed in school. According to one joint statement from the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Education, students who are suspended or expelled at young ages are more likely to drop out of high school and be incarcerated later in life.
The two departments are unequivocal in their advice about suspensions and expulsions at young ages. These “two stressful and negative experiences young children and their families may encounter in early childhood programs, should be prevented, severely limited, and eventually eliminated.”
Parents who are concerned about preschool suspension rates can get involved in multiple ways. At the local level, they can request their preschool’s policy on suspensions and expulsions and, if necessary, advocate for changes to that policy.
At the state level, they can petition for banning preschool suspensions and expulsions. This year, a handful of states, including California, Colorado, Illinois, Maryland, Ohio, Tennessee, and Texas, have drafted or passed legislation to ban suspensions and expulsions at the preschool level. They join states like Connecticut, which passed a law banning suspensions and expulsions for preschool through second grade unless a student’s behavior is a danger to others. After passing the law, the state decreased school suspensions by one third in the 2015-2016 school year.

The Student Who Taught Me I Have Room for Thankfulness

This is a submission in our monthly contest. November’s theme is Gratitude. Enter your own here!
As I drove from my house in the country, fields and green lawns gave way to rows of colorful single-family homes and then to enormous gray warehouses and boxy brown garages. The buildings, encircled by towering chain-link fences with signs that read “Keep Out” in large red lettering, flashed by my window.
The car was silent, but my mind was full of worries. For months, I had been consumed by graduate work and the insurmountable pile of plans and preparations necessary for a three-month leave from my paid teaching job to undertake a required unpaid internship. I felt the financial stress like a weight.
I pulled into the parking space in front of the long gray cement building that housed the shelter – my internship home. I heard the dull buzz and sharp click as a resident hit the button that released the lock on the front door. Bright florescent lights beamed from the ceiling, and the sound of many voices echoed off the walls.
“Sign in there,” a tall woman said, gesturing toward a crumpled paper at the empty front desk. She had mid-length brown hair and wore a boxy suit with comfortable shoes. The smell of spaghetti and garlic bread wafted faintly from the open kitchen toward the center of the room.
Dinner was over now, and a resident wiped the counters and brushed a broom in random directions across the tiled concrete floor. A television hummed in the small family room, broadcasting news that no one really listened to.
“This is where you will be working with the children,” the woman said as she left. My classmate and I were there to do a counseling lesson with the older children living at the shelter, while their parents attended free GED classes. We gathered the kids around the long table. I held a squirming baby as I explained the activity. A group of preschoolers and toddlers zig-zagged across the room, pushing each other in a small red toy car.
A middle school boy who had finished his project early joined me to assist in distracting the little kids from any activities that bore the risk of head injury. He pointed out his siblings and then asked me about my family.
This was before I had kids myself, so I told him I had a husband, but no children. He asked whether I lived in an apartment or a house (house), the number of bedrooms (three), and bathrooms (three). To me, it was a modest home, smaller than the one I grew up in. We bought it a few years prior in as-is condition and were working diligently to renovate it. I saw it as a work-in-progress. There was always another project to be done.
I was distracted from the conversation by the constant task of entertaining several toddlers, when I heard him ask, “What do you do with all of that extra space?”
I thought of my quiet house with just two people and 10 rooms, how we replaced all of the old carpet with shiny tile and wood flooring, and how disappointed I had been about having to wait to replace the old bathroom fixtures due to our budget.
I looked around at the dingy tile and the shelves lined with rows of bags overflowing with shoes and stuffed animals, kitchen appliances, pictures in frames. All the residents’ personal items considered important enough to be gathered up before leaving a home, possibly forever, lied here, waiting….
The bright lights cast a blinding glow on the dirty baby toy in my hand. The noise of the over-crowded room grew to a deafening roar and pounded in my ears as the kids ran around me.
After awhile. we said our goodbyes until next week. I could see the middle school boy envisioning the space of my home and luxuriating in the quiet currently available only in his imagination.
As I drove home, I thought about all the things so many of us take for granted. We lack the perspective to notice invisible things, like space, quiet time to ourselves, or privilege. The borders that separate the tree-lined suburbs from the gray industrial buildings where the homeless shelter is located are invisible, too, but we know they are there.
Occasionally, we have an experience that allows us to see our life from a different vantage point, and our invisible blessings become visible to us, if only for an instant.
I think about this every time I drive to where the houses end and the warehouses begin, past the road to the shelter. I am reminded of that young boy and how our conversation about space and home showed me I have plenty of room for thankfulness.

Let’s Quit Doing the Work for Our Kids

How are children supposed to learn to do their own best work when parents intervene and micromanage?

The rubric for my five-year-old’s first project in kindergarten was the first thing I saw when I walked into my kitchen after a long day at work. With the weight of my briefcase on my shoulder and my son’s first A on my conscience, I scanned the requirements for the animal kingdom diorama.
“We’ve got this.”
All these years later, I can still remember shocking myself by uttering those words out loud.
My son, enamored with the newly released “Finding Nemo”, wanted to make an aquarium. I was filled with ideas, which I couldn’t seem to keep to myself, and came home the next day laden with supplies. My husband also got in on the action, because how fun is gluing sand to the bottom of a shoe box?
Also, I needed an extra set of hands to hold the fish while I threaded the strings that suspended them from the top of this marine exhibit. My kitchen counter was covered with sand, glue, fake algae, shells, multi-colored fish, glitter, and paint. I was in my glory.
The dioramas were displayed along the kindergarten hallway at back-to-school night. Driven by an inherently competitive nature, I scanned the projects with curiosity and smugly concluded that virtually every project was crafted by adults – especially the one that displayed the kindergartner herself inside the habitat, in the form of 3D statuettes made out of photographs.
How are children supposed to learn to do their own best work when parents intervene and micromanage? Better late than never, I learned my lesson that evening, vowing to limit future meddling to a defined set of guidelines.
Still sensitive on the topic, I started noticing parental overreaching everywhere, even at work. Although I always look forward to ordering my annual stash of Thin Mints, coworkers posting their kids’ Girl Scout cookie order forms on the office fridge suddenly irked me. I was livid when a supervisor walked into my office to ask me to buy from him rather than sign my name to someone else’s sheet in the office kitchen.
“Or you could buy from all of us,” he proposed.
How accommodating. Who’s “us?” The boss and his fellow vendors, or the kids?
I’m not suggesting that children go door to door on their own to solicit donations. But what are they learning from their parents coming home with a completed cookie order sheet and essentially earning their badge for them?
Many years later, my 15-year-old asked me to start collecting Box Tops for her social studies class. She explained that her teacher awarded significant extra credit points at the end of each marking period to students who brought in 15 Box Tops – that’s 60 per year, per student. The teacher collected them for his son so that his class could win a pizza party.
Arguably, the collection raises money for a good cause. But the ethics of a teacher essentially bribing students with extra credit points so that he can hand thousands of Box Tops over to his child, who did nothing to earn them, are questionable.
Our kids need our help and guidance at many points along the way. Those are the teachable moments, also often the hardest and most rewarding. Doing our kids’ work robs them of the opportunity to learn the material. It also robs them of the opportunity to navigate their own lives.
There is nothing wrong with checking over a rubric to make sure your son satisfied all the requirements, after he does the work himself. There’s nothing wrong with editing an essay after your daughter wrote it and fact-checked it on her own. There’s nothing wrong with discussing a book you’ve both read or a news event she needs to report on in class. But there’s something very wrong with doing it for her.
As this past summer drew to a close and many students prepared last-minute AP projects due on the first day of school, I noticed a Facebook post by one mother whose status proudly proclaimed, “Sitting by the pool, helping my daughter with her summer AP essays.” I couldn’t help but wonder how this kid would be getting through the year.
There’s a fine line between helping and doing the work for our children, and it’s our job to know when we’ve crossed it. I can’t imagine what those kindergarten dioramas would’ve looked like had Pinterest been around back then.
The temptation to step over the line to ensure a higher grade may come from a good place, but the reward for resisting is far greater.

Why I'm Not Teaching My Four-Year-Old to Read

Play is the not the only valuable currency in childhood, but an early push toward academics may not have the desired outcome.

A guy I know, the father of two small children, taught his son to read when he was two years old. I found this out from a mutual friend.

“Wow,” I said. “That’s young.”

“Yes,” said my friend. “But I think it was a party trick.”

It turns out, the dad himself didn’t go to college, so it’s a huge priority for him to raise a child who will be considered smart by any metric. The little boy is now in a gifted program…in kindergarten. Mission accomplished for the father, I suppose. But will this early start with book learning really have long-term benefits for the little boy?

Much has been made of the relationship between the age Scandinavian children begin formal schooling and their test scores in high school. In Norway and Finland, for example, it’s common for children to begin school at age seven, a full two (and sometimes three) years later than their American counterparts. Both countries have consistently ranked higher than the US in reading, math, and science test scores at age 15, as evidenced by the 2010 and 2015 OECD PISA scores.

It’s not just academic performance that’s so strong in those late-start kids. Researchers at Stanford concluded in 2015 that children in Danish schools who started kindergarten a year later than their peers reaped long-term benefits.

“We found that delaying kindergarten for one year reduced inattention and hyperactivity by 73 percent for an average child at age 11,” according to Thomas Dee, a professor of Education at the university and co-author of the study.

A Quartz article cited the Stanford study and related the benefits to extra play-time in a child’s early years: “Developmental psychology research emphasizes the importance of imaginative play in aiding children’s emotional and intellectual self-regulation. ‘Children who delay their school starting age may have an extended (and appropriately timed) exposure to such playful environments,’ the study noted.”

Imaginative play can seem mysterious to grown ups (why do all those stuffed animals need to be lined up on an upside-down laundry basket right now?), but it’s a way for children to control their own environments, master critical thinking skills, and (obviously) have fun.

Good academic performance later in life, as well as the ability to better self-regulate, are both major benefits to playing longer and reading later, but even more significant to me as a parent is a desire to instill in my child a love of learning. That phrase can sound trite, but think about how you feel when you tackle something new, are you exhilarated, or anxious, or a little of both? Learning how to be up for a challenge is what pushes people, even as adults, to try new things and continue improving themselves.

According to an article in New Scientist (coincidentally published the day my daughter was born), the widespread start of formal schooling at age four or five is detrimental. The authors cite several studies from New Zealand comparing “children who started formal literacy lessons at age five with those who started age seven. They showed that early formal learning doesn’t improve reading development, and may even be damaging. By the age of 11, there was no difference in reading ability level between the two groups. However, those who started aged five developed less positive attitudes to reading and showed poorer text comprehension than those who had started later.”

This is my biggest fear when it comes to my daughter’s own path, that if I push learning and emphasize it over play, she’ll see it as a chore. This is a sure-fire way to create a procrastinator and someone who drags her heels out the door to school every morning.

I’m actually not of the mind that play is the only valuable currency in childhood. As a child, I loved reading Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books, as well as the “All of a Kind Family” series about a family of Jewish girls growing up in Manhattan in the early 1900s. What strikes me now is how much work the girls did. Sure, it was a different time. These girls were not only expected to grow up with the capacity to run their households, they also didn’t have the option to fall back on washing machines or pre-sliced bread. It was necessity that had their mothers baking, canning, churning butter, and the like. While I don’t spend my Wednesdays mending or my Thursdays churning, I do think that little people can learn a lot of valuable skills at the feet of their parents.

In “Little House in the Big Woods,” Wilder wrote, “On Saturdays, when Ma made the bread, they each had a little piece of dough to make into a little loaf. They might have a bit of cookie dough, too, to make little cookies, and once Laura even made a pie in her patty-pan.”

This would sound very familiar to my daughter, who makes bread, cookies, pies, scones, muffins, and cakes with me. She has learned about measuring (math), leavening (that counts as science, right?), and, not incidentally, the joy of sharing with your friends the food you’ve made (I’ll file that under the humanities).

She doesn’t have the intense sweet tooth some four-year-olds have, and I sometimes wonder if all our baking might account for that. I’ve had people tell me they couldn’t bake as often as I do because they’d eat it all, but I’ve found the opposite to be true: when you have to work to make something, you appreciate it, but you tend not to go overboard. This is an unintended lesson, but in a culture of overindulgence, it’s a valuable one.

Back in the time of hunters and gatherers, before formal schooling, children learned how to be contributing members of society in two ways: by helping their parents, and by pretending to be their parents. We still see this playing out now as small children water the garden or rock their dolls to sleep. The trap we must avoid is shortening the amount of time our little ones have to engage in these activities and to be treated like children. School, and adulthood, will come soon enough. In the meantime, let them choose their favorite books and curl up in our laps to be read to.

Sol-Mi and the Little Songs That Are Important for Kids' Development

The sol-mi interval is found in many nursery rhymes and singing games. These little songs are important and can foster a lifelong love of music.

When my youngest daughter was three, she loved to serenade her dolls and stuffies while playing on her bed. She would sing, “Brown bear, go to sleep” or “zoom, zoom, my car goes zoom.” Then I realized she sang her little songs to the same tune as “Rain, rain, go away,” only with different words.
This nursery rhyme has only two notes, which is called the minor third interval, or sol-mi. Sol-mi is the first and most frequent interval all children naturally use when singing or calling.
As early as infancy, children begin to discover their vocal capabilities. Playfully, they explore vowel and consonant sounds. As they get older, young children string nonsense syllables together as well as inventing their own little songs or tonal fragments. They imitate sounds and make up songs about everyday life, such as animals, nature, playthings, and machines.
Children enter into this activity naturally and joyfully. In his book “Music as a Source of Knowledge”, Dr. Harold A. Taylor writes, “in the young child we find a natural poet, a natural musician, a person who is accustomed to responding to aesthetic values by his very own nature.”
The sol-mi interval is part of a music system for singing notes called solfège. A very good example of solfège is the song “Do-re-mi” from the 1965 movie “The Sound of Music.” In the song, the solfège note names are heard: do, re, mi, fa, sol, la, and ti.
The sol-mi interval is found in many nursery rhymes and singing games. Prime examples include, “Ring Around the Rosie,” “Cuckoo, Where Are You?” and “One, Two, Buckle My Shoe.”
These little songs are important and can foster a lifelong love of music. Here are some ideas to encourage your child to sing:

1 | Make sol-mi songs part of your daily transitions

Transitions help move children from one activity to another. It’s an effective way to keep kids on a schedule as well as refocusing a child’s attention in a positive and fun way. Sol-mi songs can help your child make these transitions and remember things throughout the day. They can be sung at any time, such as afternoon nap, bath time, or snack time.
For example, sing a song with your own simple lyrics at bath time:
Bath time, play and splash,
Soap suds, splash, pop, splash.
Or, sing a song while brushing teeth:
Toothbrush, brush, brush, brush,
Get them clean, toothbrush.

2 | Fill in the missing lyrics

Encourage your little one to sing the missing lyrics from nursery rhyme songs. For example, you sing “Mary had a little…” and encourage her to sing “lamb,” or sing “Hot cross…” or “Merrily we roll….” Slowly, as her language skills increase, she will be able to add more lyrics until she is singing the song by herself.
An excellent book to read with your child is “Singing Bee!” by Jane Hart. This collection of lullabies, nursery rhymes, finger plays, and action songs comes complete with piano accompaniment and guitar chords. Songs in the book include, “Hush Little Baby,” “Pat-a-Cake” and “Where Is Thumbkin?”

3 | Sing lullabies at bedtime

Choose easy lullabies with simple lyrics that your child can sing, too, such as “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” “Are You Sleeping?” or “Lavender’s Blue.”
There is no need to feel that you must be a great singer in order to sing lullabies. Your child does not expect or want a beautifully produced voice. He expects and wants a comforting sound.
Likewise, don’t worry about pitch or phrasing. It doesn’t matter. Sing high or sing low. Sing fast or sing slow. Just sing, and over time, you will gain more confidence in your singing skills, and your child will sing along with you.

4 | Sing songs with repetition and echoes

Songs for toddlers should be fun and easy to master. At this early age, they enjoy the repetition and simplicity contained in many nursery rhymes.
Songs with repetition, such as “The Wheels on the Bus” or “Five Little Ducks”, are lively and entice children to join in the actions. Echo songs using simple melodic patterns, such as “Down by the Bay”, are very helpful because children must first learn and then sing the answer.
Remember that you are your child’s first and most important teacher when it comes to music. Just begin! Singing to your baby is a happy activity. You will find, as time passes, how singing can bring joy and calmness to your child as well as yourself.

Dear Teacher: Please Just Give My Kid What She Deserves

Teachers, please don’t be afraid of raising your standards and expectations. Our kids are capable of more than you are asking for.

One of our kids is normally the type that makes parent-teacher conferences fun. Academics come easily to her and her teachers love her. So I was surprised, at a recent conference with her English teacher, to learn that she had not turned in an essay that was already two weeks overdue. It was a major assignment, final grades for the quarter had to be submitted just two days later, and a zero on that paper would drop her grade by at least a whole letter.
This was out-of-character for my daughter, and I called her immediately to ask her about it and let her know she needed to drop everything else and finish her paper ASAP. She did stay up late to finish it that evening, and turned it in the next day.
She got an A on the paper, an A in English on her report card, and glowing remarks from her teacher.
I was more than a little surprised. This was 7th grade Advanced English. That class was supposed to represent the highest standards and expectations that the middle school holds. And there were no consequences whatsoever for her disregarding the due date of her assignment and turning it in more than two weeks late.
Obviously things have changed a bit since I was in 7th grade. I clearly remember my teachers explaining the various grade deductions that increased relative to how overdue an assignment was – regardless of the quality of the work. Unless you were in the hospital with appendicitis or at your uncle’s funeral, late was late and you paid for your procrastination.The system was the same in principle from elementary school through college. It was one small way we learned responsibility, and that our actions carry some weight and have consequences.
My 7th grade class did not have the option of seemingly unlimited test-retake options, flexible due dates and copious extra-credit opportunities.
Dear teacher,
I do not want my child thinking that there will always be an easy, no-consequence way out when she screws up, and that circumstances will always mold themselves to her whims. That doesn’t at all reflect the reality of adult life that she is now preparing for. 
Please don’t be afraid of raising your standards and expectations. My daughter, like so many of your other students, is capable of more than what you are asking of her. If you raise the bar, she will rise to it. She can shine and soar, but she needs a strong framework to grow in, not one that bends with every broken rule and missed deadline. 
I’m trying to raise a responsible adult. One who knows how to show up to work on time, give her best, and be confident in her abilities as well as realistic about her limitations. An adult who knows that she is capable, and that her wholehearted efforts are valuable and worth being proud of.
But if you reward sloppy work, how will she learn to do her best? How will she learn what she is actually capable of? How will she learn how to function confidently and successfully in the more demanding world of adulthood?
Please work with me to give her the support and encouragement to become her best self – as well as the kind but firm reminder that slacking off doesn’t pay.
And by all means, don’t reward halfhearted effort with an A. 
If she’s earned an A, give her one. If she’s earned a C, give her one. If she’s earned an F – call me. 

4 Amazing Discoveries Made by Kids Just Like Yours

From astronomy to paleontology, kids have been making scientific discoveries for centuries, long before they could drive.

When you’re a kid, every day is a new discovery. When my son was in the thick of the “why?” stage, I was constantly taken aback by how much knowledge I take for granted. Seeing the world through his eyes reminded me how much there is to learn about the world around you before it becomes commonplace.
Eventually, our kids’ scientific curiosity shifts from trying to figure out how the world works (Where does the sun go at night? Why is snow cold?) to investigating how they can change it. Kids tinker and experiment as much as scientists in labs do. Their experiments just might be more along the lines of “How fast can I make this toy car fly across the living room?” or “Do peanut butter and cheese sandwiches taste delicious or disgusting?”
Many parents are seeking out STEM-focused toys and activities to encourage and develop this natural curiosity in their kids. But they may not have to wait very long to see results. From astronomy to paleontology, kids have been making scientific discoveries for centuries, long before they could drive.
These four kids became scientists, not because they were uncommonly brilliant or because their parents were, but because they paid attention and kept asking questions.
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Parent Co. partnered with Tenka Labs because they believe every kid is born curious.

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Mary Anning, Paleontology

Mary Anning was a paleontologist fossil collector who grew up poor in England in the 1840s and lost her father at age 11. When she was 12, she and her brother found the first Icthyosaurus skeleton – a Temnodontosaurus platyodon. They sold the skeleton to a paleontologist, who wrote the first ever scientific paper about the ichthyosaur. Because Mary and her brother were children, and poor, they received no credit in the scientific paper.
Mary continued to collect and sell fossils in order to support her family for the rest of her life. Even though she did not have the same educational opportunities that other scientists had, she threw herself into studying anatomy and eventually became an expert in fossil removal.
When she was 24, she discovered the first Plesiosaurus skeleton. While she never was fully recognized as a scientist by the elite of her day, she did eventually gain fame and recognition. Two species of fish, Acrodus anningiae and Belenostomus anningiae, are named after her.
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Kathryn Aurora Gray and Nathan Gray, Astronomy

In 2010, Kathryn Gray turned 10 years old and also became the youngest person to ever discover a supernova – a record that had, for a time, been held by her own father. Amateur astronomy was a family hobby for the Grays, and Kathryn had been asking her dad to show her how to search for supernovae.
The Grays used a computer program that compared images of the night sky taken through a telescope by a family friend. The program layers old and new photos of galaxies, and if an image is not present in both pictures, it will appear as if it is blinking.
Within 15 minutes of looking at the pictures, Kathryn noticed a blinking light. That light was a supernova, which has since been verified and named 2010LT. The supernova is roughly 240 million light years away, in the constellation of Camelopardalis in galaxy UGC3378.
The youngest supernova discoverer title, however, now belongs to Kathryn’s brother, Nathan. In 2013, Nathan found a supernova in the constellation of Draco in galaxy PGC 61330. He was 33 days younger than his sister at the time of his discovery.
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Matthew Berger, Paleoarchaeology

Finding an old bone would be the highlight of any nine-year-old’s summer vacation, but discovering a new species of hominids is a whole different story.
Matthew Berger was on an archaeological dig with his archaeologist father in South Africa in 2008 when he made his discovery. He found pieces of a partial skeleton of a young male, and his father soon found the skeleton of an older female nearby.
The team of archaeologists later determined that the fossils were a new species of hominids – early precursors to humans – and named them Australopithecus sediba. It turns out that the fossils Matthew discovered were nearly two million years old.
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Ethan Manuell, Technology

Experimenting with toys for a school science fair led to a discovery that helps improve the lives of people who wear hearing aids. Fourteen-year-old Ethan Manuell, who has worn a hearing aid since he was four, converted some vibrating toy bugs he found in his toy box to work with zinc hearing aid batteries. He found that the batteries, when left exposed to oxygen for five minutes before installing, lasted 85 percent longer.
The typical hearing aid battery lasts two to seven days, but Ethan’s five-minute discovery means some models can last up to three days longer, saving hearing aid wearers $70 a year.
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Like Mary, Kathryn, Nathan, Matthew, and Ethan, all children are equipped with innate curiosity and can benefit from the opportunity to make discoveries, regardless of their parents’ professions. Whether an astronomer, a carpenter, a Certified Public Accountant, or a stay-at-home parent, there are countless ways to cultivate your kids’ natural scientist streak.
Encouraging a ton of free play outside is a great place to start. Building forts, digging holes, damming streams, constructing miniature fairy worlds in the undergrowth, or just laying around on the grass long enough to notice the sounds of crickets and birds all add to a child’s stockpile of wonder. These kinds of activities also create opportunities for skill-building and success that are completely free from the constraints of “failure.”
Exposing children to new and challenging situations (why not tackle that big kid Circuit Cubes set or try a new instrument?) both stretches their skills and shows that you believe in their abilities. It’s also important to help them see that there’s no one right way to do things, whether playing a sport, making a potato cannon, or helping out with dinner.
Your kids will become flexible thinkers and be more likely to experiment if they are given the agency to test, tweak, miss the mark, and try again. Together you can explore the many ways to tackle a single question or problem (e.g. are we better off today that we were 100 years ago?) and teach them to look at “facts” from multiple angles.
Allow your kids the freedom to follow their natural whys and how comes, and they will become keen observers of the world, well poised to uncover the next five-eyed insect, or maybe just fall in love with the world that surrounds them – which might be the best thing you can offer them.
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Parent Co. partnered with Tenka Labs because they believe every kid is born curious.

Hands-On Ways to Practice Math With Kinesthetic Learners

One truth stands the test of time: Most children prefer hands-on learning to pencil and paper drills.

Our daughter was approaching her fifth birthday when I discovered her inclination toward kinesthetic learning. She preferred working on her sight words by writing them in sand along the creek. We practiced spelling her name by creating letters out of small stones on that same sandy beach. She thrived when learning was hands-on, and I made a mental note to continue to embrace her learning style as she entered kindergarten.
I spent close to a decade as a senior high special education teacher, and now that my full-time career is split between parenting two young children and balancing a freelance journalism career, I use the skills gleaned throughout my years as a classroom teacher daily with my own children. One truth stands the test of time: Most children prefer hands-on learning to pencil and paper drills.
Today’s tips are for kinesthetic learners, and they’re for the majority of children. Here are several simple ways to supplement your child’s learning with kinesthetic instruction:

Super-cool counters

Teaching concepts of quantity, addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division can be greatly enhanced when your child sees a visual representation of the math problem. Tap into your child’s interest by finding ultra-hip objects to count. Marbles, kidney beans, coins, and candies are all good for counting, but go above and beyond by heading to the local craft store in search of something your child will love. Plastic army men, foam stickers, beads, and other small toys that can be purchased in bulk at the dollar store could transform the drudgery of math into an engaging activity.

Shaving cream

Whether you’re illustrating the concept of a fraction, writing a long-hand division problem, or working through a story problem, shaving cream can be evenly smeared on a table and used as a backdrop for drawing and writing. When the problem is complete, simply smooth the shaving cream and begin again. This hilarious diversion will make even the most cantankerous student smile. It can also be used to practice spelling words and write sentences.

Let them play while they work

For the school-age child, the structure of the day requires a great deal of focus. Allow your child to use the counters or other manipulatives for creative play. There is a time to focus and complete the task, but there is also an appropriate time for creative play. Go ahead and let the army men head into battle, draw a puppy in the shaving cream, or use the stickers to complete a work of art when the work is done.

Use real money

When it comes time to learn how to count money, use actual coins and currency. This is exciting for children, and it prepares them to handle money in the real world. If you child brings home a paper illustrating coin line-ups or offering a long list of story problems, dig out the spare change jar and let her use actual coins to practice counting.

Practice math facts with household items

Dice, playing cards, and anything with numbers can be used to practice math facts. Use dice to practice addition by rolling dice and adding the two numbers that appear. Use playing cards in the same way, and make a game of trying to complete a given number of problems in one minute.

Splurge with candy

As a classroom teacher, nothing brought forth more cheers than Friday afternoon math with candy counters. Candy can be used for fractions, ratios, addition, subtraction, and more. For young children, candy is a highly motivating way to learn colors. My three-year-old son refused to learn his colors until I dug out colorful candy and required him to name the color before he could eat it. The best part about this hands-on activity is tasting it when the work is done.
One of the greatest gifts we can offer our children is an environment in which learning is fun. The demands of the school day require a great deal from our kids, but if we can add a few interactive supplements at home, we boost the potential for our children’s success.

The Other Side of Being "Gifted"

For most of us, the word “gifted” conjures images of privilege and automatic success. But that’s not the whole picture.

For most of us, the word “gifted” conjures images of privilege and automatic success. What if I told you that gifted people also suffer because of this false notion?

What is giftedness?

Gifted people reside in every culture, every race, and every country on this planet. The part that most can agree on is that giftedness means a higher IQ. While this is usually true, what is less commonly known is that it can also involve acute sensitivities to noises, smells, and other environmental stimulation, an unusually strong sense of justice, high creativity, and sometimes crippling perfectionism. The personality “quirks” that manifest from these characteristics are often misunderstood by not only lay people, but by educators and other professionals including those in mental health. This lack of understanding impacts the gifted individuals and their family members, but it also affects all of us.

In the article, “Misdiagnosis and Dual Diagnosis of Gifted Children,” Webb, et al., explains that the gifted individual’s inherent drives “together result in an intense idealism and concern with social and moral issues, which can create anxiety, depression, and a sharp challenging of others who do not share their concerns.”

What happens when we misunderstand or ignore giftedness?

The most common problem I see in my work is the child who is struggling in school because he doesn’t think or learn at the same level or in the same way as the rest of the classroom.

Many gifted learners I work with are what are called visual-spatial learners (those who learn holistically). They, like all children, desperately want to fit in, but in our typical classrooms designed for linear-sequential learners (those who learn step-by-step and in succession), they cannot. These are kids who are highly creative at math, art, tech, science, or emotions in ways that are often different than the norm. As many schools become more focused on linear-sequential teaching and testing, these children have fewer learning tools at their disposal. As a result, they may act out, become silent and depressed, and, because they have different learning needs, are often diagnosed with learning problems rather than giftedness.

In fact, gifted kids are more likely than any other population to be misdiagnosed. While their needs would be best met through more, faster, and different avenues in education, they may instead be put in special ed classes where the pace is slower and memorization is often emphasized. This exacerbates their boredom and can lead to depression, higher incidence of ADHD symptoms, acting out, and deep self-esteem and social issues.

The result: we have a recipe for disaster and suffering for both the gifted child and for other students in her classroom. Years later, the impact remains as many gifted adults today ironically don’t view themselves as smart and are underusing their strengths. This is not good for our society as a whole.

What I’ve observed is that we get stuck in trying to understand this in terms of our “normal” selves and “normal” people. Gifted individuals are wired differently, and I believe that if we were to truly understand giftedness, with all of its challenges and actual gifts, we would also be able to appreciate ourselves more – no matter where on the scale we fall.

If your child is struggling and you think he or she may be highly gifted, please seek help. Forcing a square peg to fit into a round hole can be harmful. When allowed to learn as they need to and to socialize with those they naturally connect with, these gifted children will find their place among the rest of us so that we can all benefit.

In this video clip from the documentary, aptly named “The G Word,” (set to be released in 2019) director Marc Smolowitz shines a new light on giftedness. Produced by Ron Turiello, the movie includes highly regarded experts in the field of giftedness. I hope their movie will help to create a better understanding of what gifted people face and why they are important members of our society.

THE G WORD | 1st Promo from Marc Smolowitz on Vimeo.