How to Encourage Failure With a Cheap At-Home Science Lab

Your kids don’t have to have their own Menlo Park to practice in. You can set up their first scientific failures with just one trip to a big box store.

You thought it would be a parenting moment worthy of Instagram Stories. But after you and your kids bought all the ingredients and mixed them together … nothing.
You didn’t do anything wrong. You’re just not done with your experiment yet.
One of the problems of Pinnable science project “recipes” is that parents and kids have all forgotten that experiments take time and careful repetition. Although there’s no formal record of how many attempts Edison needed to perfect a commercially-viable light bulb, there are plenty of false quotes attributed to him, nearly all of which emphasize the following: every new attempt of an experiment shouldn’t be viewed as a failure, but as one step in the long process of discovery.
Your kids don’t have to have their own Menlo Park to practice in. You can help set up their first scientific failures with just one trip to your preferred big box store. A well-stocked workbench will give you sufficiently large amounts of supplies so that you can test variants of each activity – what explodes, what flops, and what truly surprises you.

Equipping your lab

All conscientious scientists need a clean and organized workspace, so you’ll want to stock up on paper towels and bleach wipes. If you prefer an easier post-experiment clean-up, you may also want to buy disposable plastic cups and plates to use as your lab’s “glassware.”
The baking aisle offers lots of cheap ingredients for experiments, including the classic baking soda and vinegar. But there’s plenty to find in the produce, cleaning, and pharmacy sections, too. Scroll to the bottom for a good starter list.
Many science projects are masquerading as “experiments”: they tell you how much of each ingredient to use and then walk you through how to use them. But to have a true experiment, you need variables. That’s why you’ll only find rough proportions below. It’s your job to experiment and find which amount works best.

1 | Sandwich bombs

Requires:

  • baking soda
  • white vinegar
  • plastic snack bag
  • plastic sandwich bag

Forget volcanos. These sandwich bombs will give your kids a little more agency in designing and testing their own experiments. Pour baking soda into the sandwich bag and leave open. Pour vinegar into the snack bag and seal to close. Place the sealed snack bag inside the sandwich bag and close the sandwich bag. Then hit the snack bag to pop it open. As the baking soda and vinegar mix, the sandwich bag will begin to expand.

Variables

Change the amount of baking soda and/or vinegar to develop your best sandwich bomb recipe. You can also experiment with the size of the bags, using gallon and sandwich bags to make bigger sandwich bombs.

2 | Elephant toothpaste

Requires:

  • an empty plastic bottle
  • hydrogen peroxide
  • liquid dish soap
  • a small paper cup
  • warm water
  • yeast

In the empty plastic bottle, mix the hydrogen peroxide and liquid dish soap. In the small paper cup, mix the warm water and yeast. The next part is a bit easier to do if you have a funnel, but if not you can always pinch your small paper cup to form a spout. Add the yeast solution to the plastic bottle and stand back!

Variables

Change the amount of yeast, soap, and hydrogen peroxide to see what combination will give you the foamiest results. The hydrogen peroxide you can buy at big box stores is likely to be 3 percent, but if you stop at a beauty store you may be able to find 6 percent. Check out Science Bob to see what happens if you get the lab-quality stuff.

3 | Expanding soap

Requires:

  • bars of soap
  • paper or plastic plates

This is the simplest experiment on the list. Unwrap a bar of soap, put it on a plate, put the plate in the microwave, turn on the microwave, and see what happens!

Variables

Although the experiment is simple, it offers a valuable lesson about trusting what you read on the internet. If you google around for this one, you’ll see that Ivory soap is the only acceptable bar for this experiment. A budding young scientist might buy every other brand and publish a thorough review debunking those claims.

4 | Bouncy egg

Requires:

  • egg
  • vinegar
  • mason jar

This experiment is a great lesson in patience, because it takes seconds to set up but days to complete. Add the egg to a mason jar and pour in enough vinegar to cover it. Seal the jar and leave it on the counter. Check in every day to see what happens. After a few days, you’ll note that the egg has increased in size and “lost” its shell (which has been dissolved by the vinegar).

Variables

Make multiple eggs and leave some to sit longer than others. Which bouncy eggs are the hardest to explode? Also add food colorings to the vinegar to change the color of the bouncy eggs. If you’re buying eggs in bulk-store volume, consider hard boiling some and doing this egg-in-a-bottle experiment. Unlike the bouncy eggs, these will still be safe to eat … if you can get them out of the bottle.

5 | Crystals

Requires:

  • pipe cleaner
  • string
  • chopstick
  • mason jar
  • boiling water
  • borax

Kitchen-grown crystals are all over Pinterest, and for good reason: they’re awesome. But they’re also a frequent subject of science fails, because they require even more patience than vinegar eggs. Use your pipe cleaners to create a nest shape. Tie one end of the string around your pipe cleaner nest and the other end around a chopstick. Pour boiling hot water into a heat-safe container. Mix in borax until you can’t dissolve any more without leftover borax sitting at the bottom of the container. Place the chopstick over the container and leave to sit for a while. Some crystals may grow overnight. Others may take over a week. And sometimes no crystals will grow, because your solution isn’t saturated enough.

Variables

Many crystal recipes make it seem as though you need a particular ingredient, but all you need is any household product with a crystalline structure. Your science lab is equipped with crystals already. Many salts (epsom salts, plain old table salt, baking soda, even driveway salt) all have crystalline structures, as does sugar. Experiment by dissolving different salts and sugars in water and trying to grow crystals. Just make sure they’re carefully labeled so you know which ones you can eat (rock candy!). You can also experiment with what to grow the crystals on. Different materials (a hair tie, a piece of yarn, a metal washer, eggshells) will grow crystals at different rates.

6 | Lava lamp

Requires:

  • bottle or vase
  • oil
  • water
  • Alka-Seltzer

The best reason to equip your workbench using a big box membership is that you’ll need large quantities of oil. For this experiment, get a empty bottle or vase and fill it three-quarters of the way full with whatever oil you’ve bought in bulk. Top off the bottle with water. Add Alka-Seltzer and see your lava lamp in action.

Variables

Play around with the proportions of oil, water, and Alka-Seltzer to see which yields the most mesmerizing lava lamp. If you’re not sure what else to do with all that bulk oil, check out these citrus candles.

7 | Invisible Ink

Requires:

  • water
  • baking soda
  • paint brush or cotton swab
  • grape juice

Mix baking soda and water. Use a paintbrush or cotton-swab to write a message and allow to dry. Paint the paper with the grape juice to reveal the message.

Variables

Try painting your invisible message with lemon juice instead of baking soda and see how the grape juice interacts with it. Why is the lemon juice message a different color from the baking soda message? To answer that, check out one last experiment.

8 | pH Tester

Requires:

  • all of your science lab supplies
  • purple cabbage

If you can find a purple cabbage at your favorite big box store, you’re in luck! The cabbage can work as a pH tester. Mix a few cabbage leaves and water in a blender. Strain out the cabbage pulp so that you have a purple liquid. Pour the liquid into small clear cups. Try adding lemon juice to one cup and baking soda to another. Then test the various supplies in your home science lab to see what happens.

Shopping list

The following list will allow you to complete all of the above experiments:

  • Lemons
  • Eggs
  • Purple cabbage
  • White vinegar
  • Canola oil
  • Active dry yeast
  • Baking soda
  • Grape juice
  • Liquid dish soap
  • Borax
  • Sealable plastic bags
  • snack size sealable plastic bags
  • sandwich size paper cups
  • bathroom size plastic drinking cups
  • Plastic plates
  • Bars of soap
  • Hydrogen peroxide
  • Alka-seltzer

Food coloring is often added to experiments to make it easier to see. Some big box stores don’t sell food coloring, but don’t let that stop you! Many sell products that can act as stains, such as onions, saffron, turmeric, as well as berries and juices that you can use to create your own dyes.

How to Guide Your Kid's Inventive Spelling

Encouraging your child to use invented spelling will help her become a successful student, even if the immediate results look disastrous.

Invented spelling – young children’s attempts to write words by recording the letter sounds they hear – has long been common in early childhood classrooms, but new research has brought it into the spotlight this year. A recent study suggests that engaging regularly in this analytical process is more effective at preparing children to read than focusing on word memorization.
What does this mean for parents? Well, for one thing, you can stop worrying that a note from your five-year-old that says, “U R A GRT MOM” means she’ll forever be reliant on spell check. Encouraging your child to use invented spelling will help her become a successful student, even if the immediate results look disastrous.
It also means you might struggle with how to best help your beginning writer. The following tips come from my experience as a kindergarten teacher and have passed the true test: I have a five-year-old inventive speller at home.

Take yourself back to kindergarten

As a proficient reader and writer, your brain works differently than a young child’s. You have a massive mental bank of words you read and write automatically. So it’s understandable if you’re out of practice at relying heavily on letter sounds.
It will be easier for you to help your early speller (and read what she writes) if you temporarily suspend your knowledge that the ending “shun” is often written as -tion or that care written without the “e” would technically be pronounced as the word meaning automobile.
Go back to the ABCs. Consistency between home and school is always helpful, so find out how your child’s teacher introduces letter sounds. Many teachers use a keyword carefully chosen to teach each one, as in this common phonics program. Instead of “E is for Elephant,” it’s Ed, to make the “short e” sound crystal clear. No xylophones or x-rays, either. The keyword for X is fox to teach the ending /ks/ sound.
For extra credit, watch this video clip to confirm you’re pronouncing each sound correctly when helping your child.

Set up for success

You can avoid some common pitfalls by being ready with supplies and ideas when your child wants to practice writing. It’s hard for new writers to plan use of space, so squeezing words into small areas will likely be frustrating. My son always chooses the tiniest scrap of paper, so I try to quickly swap it out for something with plenty of room.
Consider ditching the standard no. 2 pencil, also. Pencils break at the wrong moment and erasing can easily become a messy obsession. These nifty crayon rocks are a fun alternative. They come in a velvet bag, which makes them feel treasure-like, and have the added bonus of a shape that encourages a correct pincer grip. Many teachers also favor these felt tip pens, which slide easily across the paper.
It can be frustrating for everyone when adults can’t read what a child laboriously wrote. If you encourage a new writer to label an item in a picture or an actual object, you have a giant clue as to her intended message. Give your child a stack of large sticky notes and have her label things around your home. “Dangerous!” by Tim Warnes is a hilarious picture book about labeling that inspired my son to whip through an economy-sized pack of Post-Its.
There are many authentic contexts for writing lists, which are a logical next step after labeling. Suggest grocery lists, real or pretend menus, to-do lists, top 10 lists, and so on. You’ll have the list’s context to help you decipher each word. My son spent all summer getting ahead of the game and writing wish lists for Santa. A tad consumer-driven for my taste, but he was highly motivated to include as many sounds as possible so his message was legible.
Finally, if you encourage your child to attempt writing short sentences within a functional framework, the task feels worthy enough for him to see it through, and you’ll have something to go on when you try to read it. Encourage him to write thank you notes, signs, birthday cards or a caption to accompany a picture he drew.

Help, but not too much

So much of parenting is about striking the balance between giving help and leaving enough space for independence. Once your child gets the idea of saying words slowly and writing down letters for sounds she hears, let her go for it.
Constant correction or giving into to “How do you spell…?” requests quickly creates dependence. I find it useful to suddenly become very busy in another room when my son is trying to write something. When I’m out of sight, he trusts himself more.
At the same time, new writers need to maintain momentum. If your child is stuck on a sound, especially if it’s one you’re sure he doesn’t know yet, just supply it so he can move on. It’s okay to provide tips like how to spell the ending “ing” or “it takes s and h together to start shell” without lengthy explanations. My son often gets hung up on people’s names, which can be phonetic minefields anyways, so I just write them on a piece of scrap paper for him if he asks.
Like potty training, training wheels, and Velcro shoes, invented spelling spans just a short phase in your child’s development. I keep reminding myself to appreciate (rather, APRESHEAT) the window it offers into my child’s thinking. I know that, soon enough, the only notes I’ll get from him will be texts that he won’t be home for dinner.

Recent Study Says These 3 Things Can Raise Kids' IQ

Many factors affect kid’s IQ, including their genetics and environment. But a 2017 analysis identified a number of things that can help raise it.

Most parents think their kids are pretty smart. We watch with delight as our kids learn to engage us with their curious baby eyes and expressions. We marvel in their ability to learn new skills. Sure, other people’s kids learn these skills, too, but we can’t help thinking our baby is the cleverest and maybe the most beautiful to boot.
By school age, though, the differences in children’s abilities begin to show. We get feedback about our child’s abilities when we are exposed to a larger pool of children. Maybe, like me, your little Einstein didn’t get selected for the special enrichment class for gifted children. Or perhaps your child’s class report comes back with grades in the average range and not above average.
There are many factors that affect children’s IQ, including their genetics and environment. A 2017 analysis identified a number of things that can help raise children’s IQ. The analysis was extensive and only included high quality research trials of typically developing children aged from preschool to pre-adolescence. Thirty-six studies met the stringent criteria for the analysis, of which 18 had significant research outcomes.
Studies included in the analysis targeted five potential methods of increasing children’s IQ. These methods were multivitamin supplements, iron supplements, iodine supplements, learning to play a musical instrument, and training. Executive function training helps develop skills such as memory, impulse control, and flexible thinking.
The analysis determined that only three of the methods targeting IQ actually raised children’s IQ. These were:

Multivitamin supplements

The analysis found that multivitamins can help improve IQ, but only when given to children who are vitamin deficient. There were no benefits for children who showed no signs of deficiency.

Iodine supplements

Iodine was also successful in helping raise IQ, but only when given to children deficient in iodine. Again, there was no benefit to children with adequate levels of iodine.

Learning to play a musical instrument

Learning to play musical instruments has been repeatedly shown to develop executive function skills (memory, impulse control, and flexible thinking). The analysis found that learning to play a musical instrument raised children’s IQ.
Iron supplements and executive functioning did not show consistent and reliable results in the analysis. This means they cannot currently be considered to help raise IQ.

What does this mean for parents?

If you are concerned about your child’s IQ or you notice inconsistencies in your child’s academic performance, it’s important to remember that IQ continues to develop over time and can fluctuate due to a variety of factors.
In an interview with the BBC Professor Joan Freeman, a developmental psychologist who specializes in gifted children, said, “Given different environments and opportunities, IQ can develop and grow. Something as simple as a bad cold can make IQ go down temporarily.”
Also, IQ is not the only factor in success or personal earnings. The tests only measure a person’s cognitive ability, and being successful is about much more, says Freeman:
“IQ tests don’t measure other qualities, such as personality, talent, persistence, and application. You might not have a high IQ, but if you have a gung-ho personality, then you may use what you have more effectively than someone with a high IQ…. I regard IQ like a muscle. You may be born with the muscles of an Olympiad, but if you don’t use them, they will diminish.”
If you would like to help your child increase their IQ through supplements, examine your child’s diet as a first option. It can be hard to get children to eat a wide variety of food. If you decide to check you child’s iodine and vitamin levels, consider whether the stress of those tests is worth it.
Iodine can be measured with a urine test, but vitamin levels often require a blood test. Many children find blood tests distressing and even traumatizing. As a parent and a mental health professional, I would prefer to give my child a multivitamin tablet and see if it helps rather than have them undergo a blood test. Always discuss the pros and cons with your doctor.
Learning a musical instrument is a natural option for many families who enjoy music. If music has not been a part of your life, you may not know where to start. There are many ways to immerse your child in music. Schools offer music programs with instrumental lessons. Consider enrolling your child in a school that has a robust music program or, if you can afford it, private lessons.
Children under the age of five can have difficulty learning an instrument due to a range of factors, including their size and developmental capacity for regular practice. Consider instead exposing them through playing different types of music in the home, experimenting playfully with musical instruments, or attending an early learning music group with other young children as an entry point.
Your child has many qualities of which their IQ is only one part. Remember that IQ alone will not determine how successful your child is. Qualities such as persistence, parental support, encouragement, and age-appropriate opportunities will also raise IQ and support future success.
These things also happen to lie at the heart of good parenting.

New Science on Parents' Baby Talk May Transform How Kids' Learn in the Future

The data collected will help researchers understand what kind of speech keeps a baby’s attention, which could improve how we teach them.

Would you believe that the silly phrases you babble to your infant, like goo-goo, gaa-gaa, and coochy-coochy-coo, could hold the key to how we teach our children in the future? This bizarre ritual of baby talk is a common part of the early days of parenthood and, as ridiculous as it may seem, there is an essential reason for it.

Infant-directed speech – (IDS) as it is referred to in the scientific world – is when parents raise the pitch of their voice, slow down their speech, and repeat phrases when talking to their babies. For years, experts have noted that these vocal changes are important for children’s language development and help the babies recognize who their parents are. Now an additional attribute of our voice – called timbre – has been found to also play a major role in how we communicate with our babies.

Timbre is the tone “color” or unique quality of a noise we use to differentiate between the sounds of various people, animals, and instruments. Instead of being a distinct pitch or loudness, it’s the unique collection of frequencies produced by the sound. Timbre is what gives sounds attributes like being scratchy, smooth, nasally, breathy, or raspy. It’s how we can tell apart individual singers even if they’re singing the same note in the same song. Each person’s voice box has a one-of-a-kind timbre.

It was recently discovered that mothers, no matter what language they speak, alter the timbre of their voices when talking to their babies. A research team lead by Princeton University neuroscientists set out to observe the vocal cues that parents use during baby talk, without even realizing they’re doing it, to see if this impacts early language development.

To conduct the study that was published in Current Biology, the researchers recorded 12 English-speaking mothers while they played with and read to their seven- to 12-month-old infants. They also recorded those same mothers while they spoke to another adult. When parts of the recordings were analyzed using a special computer program, the researchers found that the mothers consistently shifted their timbre depending on whether they were talking to adults or to their babies. The computer was even able to discern baby talk from normal speech based on just one second of speech data recorded.

Next the researchers looked at 12 mothers who spoke nine different languages, including Spanish, Russian, Polish, Hungarian, German, French, Hebrew, Mandarin, and Cantonese, to see if this result worked for other languages as well. They found that the timbre change was consistent for all the mothers, no matter what language they spoke. Although only mothers were part of the study (in order to minimize the range of audio frequencies analyzed), researchers expect that the same results would occur with fathers as well.

This groundbreaking research has the potential to shift how we educate our children in the future. The data collected will help researchers understand what kind of speech keeps a baby’s attention, which could improve how we teach them. The study revealed that changes in timbre may denote a universal form of communication that mothers instinctively engage their babies  with to support their language development.

The researchers anticipate that the unique timbre used by parents could help babies learn to direct their attention to their mother’s or father’s voice from an early age. This could lead to improving speech recognition software designed to teach language and communication skills. By tailoring virtual speakers on these programs to mimic the timbre of the parents’ voices, the children may engage more effectively. These programs could help babies learn to segment words, understand meanings of simple words, and break speech into different parts.

Essentially, timbre is a way for infants to understand the expression of emotion based on the musical characteristics of the voice and the interaction with a parent’s emotional state. Imagine your baby listening to educational programming that uses virtual teachers like robots or cartoon characters that imitate your voice. That could really have a major impact on your child’s learning experience.

Rewards and Punishments Don't Intrinsically Motivate – These Things Do

Rather than teach them to overvalue the approval of others, we ought to teach them to follow their own quiet voice of guidance.

Yesterday, I ventured out into the world, a few days after Hurricane Irma stormed her way through Florida and left, not only people without power, but traffic lights, too. When I approached an intersection, I felt lost and unsure because I didn’t know how to move or when it was safe to go.
Knowing the rules, and trusting that everyone else observes them in the same way, provides a sense of security and competence. Without systems like these, our efficiency, comfort, and safety become jeopardized.
Magda Gerber, an early childhood educator refers to discipline as a social contract, which, like traffic signals, provides clear expectations and predictable environments. A system of rules, procedures, and values that the community agrees to makes life easier for everyone. For this reason, Magda Gerber said, “Lack of discipline isn’t kindness, it’s neglect.”
In the beginning of the school year, we talk a lot about the rules of our classroom, which all students agree to easily because they so clearly protect the well-being of everyone and promote a productive learning environment. We practice the procedures for coming into class, leaving class, going to the bathroom, walking down the hall, and so forth because – like me at that intersection – people want to know how to be safe and successful.
By the end of the first week, my students asked, “Are we going to have dojo points? Is there a treasure box? How about Fun Friday?” I told them yes and no. I believe in acknowledging accomplishments. I believe school should be a place where children want to go and that it’s important to incorporate fun into the classroom. So yes, we will celebrate regularly as a class, and no, there won’t be points to add or subtract.
The ultimate goal of discipline is self-discipline, which must be cultivated from within. The desire for points, or the fear of losing them, diverts internal guidance and makes children more externally motivated and dependent on outside control. My job is to teach expectations, practice procedures, hold discussions about our values, set limits, give feedback, and enforce the rules. But it’s also to stay out of the way and encourage the students’ independence and autonomy.
Over the summer, I read The Daily 5, which is a framework for structuring the literacy block so students develop lifelong habits of reading, writing, and working independently. I was surprised how adamant the authors are on the importance of staying out of the way:

[In the beginning] we did what we thought all good elementary teachers did. As the children were practicing Read to Self and building their stamina, we went around the room to each child, quietly telling them what a wonderful job they were doing as readers. We were proud of their ability to stay focused and believed that we needed to constantly reinforce on-task behavior. The first days our students read without our hovering reinforcement, their behavior fell apart. They were up and walking around and coming to us asking what they should do. We realized we anchored their behaviors in our reactions. We realized we unwittingly taught them to rely on our reinforcement to keep them on-task. They were not the least bit independent.

What did the authors do to correct this? Review the desired behaviors daily, give the students many opportunities to model them, stop the class as soon as someone practiced incorrectly, and reflect. It’s possible to hold children to very high standards without the use of rewards and punishments.
The experience of those authors applies to independence in general. I could give out points every time a student lines up quietly or starts a task promptly. I could move a color card higher each time a child acts with kindness. But rewards only motivate people to get rewards. Being a kind, responsible, and a contributing member of a community should be a reward in its own right. If I’m not around or the rewards aren’t forthcoming, where is the motivation to do the right thing?
In her book “Redirecting Children’s Behavior” Kathryn J. Kvols writes, “Rewards can interfere with the development of a sense of self-worth. Children may interpret being rewarded to mean they don’t need to do anything until there is something in it for them…. If you rely on rewards to teach children how you want them to behave, you deny them to learn from an internal source of motivation and strength.”
I want my students to do the right thing, but not because someone is watching, and not because they are going to earn or lose something. I don’t want them to act a certain way so they can make a trip to a treasure box. I want them to realize they have the power to make choices, and that their choices contribute to their happiness. It’s not up to someone else to provide a reward or punishment for their behavior. Behavior alone does that. This empowers children.
Misbehavior is often a child’s way of expressing a need. Maybe she’s asking for a limit or communicating that she hasn’t mastered a certain skill. When we take points away or move cards, we aren’t encouraging problem solving and communication. In this environment, children are more likely to feel discouraged or even angry and hide their mistakes. I want my students to learn that mistakes are inevitable, powerful teachers.
Even when rewards systems focus on positive behaviors, they create competition and stifle creativity. Many children spend time wondering what to do to “get to blue” or why someone else earned a point instead of them. Children typically want to please us. Rather than teach them to overvalue the approval of others, we ought to teach them to follow their own quiet voice of guidance.
“The question isn’t how to get children to obey,” writes Dr. Shefali Tsabary in her book “Out of Control”, “but what are the needs of the child?”
Below are 10 needs children have that I use to guide the way I run my classroom:

1 | Clear expectations that honor their age and nature

Third graders need to be social and active. For this reason, I incorporate movement and collaboration into the majority of our activities. Before we start an activity, I go over what the classroom should look and sound like while they work.

2 | A sense of control over themselves

For this reason, I offer choices within boundaries, which promotes inner discipline. For example, during Read to Self, the students may sit where they please and read material of their choosing, but they must begin right away, read the entire time, and stay in one spot.

3 | Consistency

A rule is always a rule, and it’s expected to be followed.

4 | Opportunities to practice

When I teach something, be it a skill or a procedure, I don’t just tell them what to do, I show them. I give them opportunities to practice and role play. Often, misbehavior is simply showing a lack of mastery. What’s called for in these cases is practice in the procedure or expectation, rather than guilt, shame, or punishment.

5 | Acknowledgment of their intentions

Although they require redirection, children should also have their true intentions acknowledged. For example, I might say, “Your friend is bothered because you’ve been violating his personal space. I know you’re usually very respectful, and that’s not your intention. Is there something going on?” Part of true discipline is cultivating positive self-talk in our children, not interfering with it.

6 | Chances to repair and solve

I believe in encouraging children to think through situations to come up with solutions. “What’s the problem? How can it be fixed? How can we prevent it from happening again?” Children are usually very insightful. If the problem regards a conflict between two people, we think of win-win solutions together.

7 | An understanding of why we do the things we do

It’s not about blind obedience. We do things in certain ways for important reasons, and these reasons should be communicated to create a sense of ownership over the rule or procedure.
When I go over the way we move in hallways, I explain the importance of being respectful to the people who work in the office and other classrooms. I tell them high-traffic times require us to move smoothly and in a way that allows other people to move, too. I also tell them it’s important for me to be able to give them directions in these situations. Cooperation is more likely when they understand why.

8 | Honesty

When we communicate authentically with our children, we model respect for ourselves and respect for them. From this place, we set limits that honor who we are.
We were walking to lunch recently, and the students were very chatty. It was hard for me to give them a direction. I told them, “I’m not willing to fight for your attention. Let’s go back to the room and review this procedure.” When we’re honest, we reveal parts of who we are, but not in ways that are flustered or emotional. This promotes connection and trust.

9 | Connection

I strive every day to give each of my students focused attention, even if it’s just for a moment or two. I want them to know I care about who they are and am interested in listening to them. Every child is important, and when they feel this, their need to misbehave in order to get attention decreases. I always thought, even with my own children, that cooperation is best won through closeness.

10 | True and meaningful learning experiences

Consequences for misbehavior should be respectful, reasonable, and related. For example, if a student doesn’t finish her classwork, it becomes homework. If a student makes a mess, he must clean it up. If she damages something, she must repair it. If he abuses a privilege, he loses it. If she’s off task while working in a group, she’ll work on her own. Natural and logical consequences are built in to just about every situation.
Discipline isn’t about controlling children, but teaching them to be self-responsible. Rewards and punishments are effective in gaining temporary compliance, but they don’t help kids become caring, responsible, and self-directed.
I firmly believe children don’t need to suffer to learn, and they don’t need external rewards to be motivated. They need a system that fosters respect between all community members, in which self confidence is the by product and joy is the reward of cooperation.

From Mentor to Meltdown: How to Handle Your Highly Verbal Preschooler

One minute it feels like you’re talking to a mini-adult, the next you’re dealing with a screaming newborn. Here’s some help.

You’ve had to explain the gravitational pull of the moon, you’ve heard a recap of last year’s trip to the beach, and you’ve negotiated a weather-appropriate outfit. All before you pour the breakfast cereal.

These conversations continue as you put shoes on and head to the car. On the road, you hear a play-by-play of the street signs and traffic signals, and you discuss the pros and cons of using finger paint at the craft center today.

But after preschool, it’s a different story. Huge tears. Meltdowns in the hallway. Carrying her to the car because she refuses to walk. Where is the mature child you dropped off this morning?

Parenting a highly verbal child can be exhausting and confusing. One minute it feels like you’re talking to a mini-adult, the next you’re dealing with a screaming newborn. Instead of jumping on the emotional roller-coaster, here are a few tips.

Understand the brain

Your child’s brain has grasped the concept of communication and ran with it. Some kids may also learn to read or write early or be able to have in-depth conversations about complex topics. It’s hard to remember that their brains are still developing. Biologically, your child is still very immature. Brain development is a slow, uneven process. There is still lots of learning and growing for them yet to do!

Keep your expectations realistic

Keeping brain information in mind, realize that your child’s ability to self-regulate is still going to be inconsistent. If he is hungry, tired, overstimulated, or feeling disconnected from you, you will see more meltdowns, arguments, or power struggles. Look beyond your child’s verbal ability in these moments, realizing that he is still too young to manage these situations well 100 percent of the time.

Don’t give up your position

It’s easy to feel sideswiped by the negotiating skills of a savvy preschooler, but remember, your child is not mature enough to fill the role of decision maker. You are still the parent and your child needs to be able to rest in your confident leadership. It’s okay to have a conversation, hear her position, or explore other options together. But when it comes to setting a boundary, your child needs you to remain in your role as the adult so she can stay a child.

Empathize

Being a highly verbal may not be easy for your child. He may feel different from his peers, feel pressured to act more mature, or feel frustrated when you set a limit. Rather than using logic or reasoning, stick to empathy. Join him in these big feelings. Give him words to use. Let him know you understand where he is coming from, and offer to stay close when big feelings become overwhelming.

Let them be little

Allow plenty of time for play, silliness, or roughhousing. Remind yourself that she is still young – even if her vocabulary says otherwise. Check your own annoyance or frustration when she actually “acts her age.” If your child is more serious or rigid, teach calming skills or provide opportunities to relax.

Find support

If you’re feeling exhausted, you’re not alone. It’s not easy to raise a highly intelligent or highly verbal child. It can feel isolating and confusing, especially if you do not have a support system that understands your unique challenges. You don’t have to struggle alone. It’s not easy to reach out and ask for help. But, once you do, you will realize that other parents are right where you are.

Carrying your screaming child to the car, you kiss her forehead, remind yourself that she’s only three years old. She’s still a baby. In this moment, she’s right on track developmentally, even if 10 minutes from now, she’ll be telling you random facts about endangered sea turtles.

This piece was originally published on Imperfect Families.

4 Practical Ways to Tame the Homework Headache

Before homework turns into a battle of wills or a cascade of tears, try these tips to keep the peace.

Everyone had a busy day. Maybe it was at school learning and working hard. Maybe it was at home keeping up with the household. Maybe it was at work doing what you love or what needs to be done. Maybe it was endless errands that left you feeling like you spent the day in the car.
No matter how you spent the busy day, now everyone is home and ready to relax, but there’s that pesky homework to take care of. Before it turns into a battle of wills or a cascade of tears, try these tips to keep the peace.

1| Be present

I know this is hard. We have so much to do, and we multitask. Dinner is not going to cook itself, right? Multitasking, however, may be causing more stress and mistakes.
The more present we can be the more quickly things seem to get accomplished. If your child struggles with homework, your availability can make a big difference and allow you to answer a question before frustration takes over.

2 | Side by side reading

Many kids have reading time as part of their homework. Show kids that reading is a priority by making that time a family reading time. Everyone can participate.
Grab something for yourself and sit down and read. It can be the novel collecting dust on your nightstand or the newspaper. Even something for work could count, as long as it is dedicated reading time. (And no, Facebook doesn’t count.) Even a little kids can sit with a stack of books to look through. Modeling good reading habits goes a long way in teaching kids that reading is a part of everyone’s life.

3 | Know what makes your child tick

Some people insist that doing homework right when kids get home is the best way to get it done. While this ensures a less tired child, that may not work for every kid.
Some kids need time to decompress from a busy school day. You may find that a half hour for snack and playing outside works wonders. Try out some different times and see what works for your child. Once you find what works best, try to make it consistent.

4 | Wave the white flag

Sometimes you just need to surrender. There are days that feel overwhelming and the homework is just too much. While it is important to teach responsibility, we need to be able to recognize when something is truly too difficult for a child to work on independently. Often this indicates that more instruction is needed in the classroom before the child can do it without teacher support at home.
Instead of forcing a truly difficult task, talk about it with your child and make a note for the teacher that it was exceptionally hard. This is not an excuse for not wanting to do homework. Most teachers would much rather know that a student is struggling at home than have a child in tears over their work or, even worse, a parent complete the assignment.
Homework is an opportunity to practice things learned in class and provide feedback for the teacher about how much of a concept a child grasps. Teachers have no desire to know that a parent is capable of completing that math worksheet. Open communication with the teacher, parent, and child makes homework a much better experience for everyone.
Homework can be a tricky task after a long day. For most kids homework is a reality of school life. Making the best out of it will help both you and your child.

I Teach at a University and I Unschool My Kids

Unschooling rejects the idea of replicating the school environment at home in favor of self-directed learning through engaging fully with the world.

I’ve been in school almost my entire life. I started preschool shortly before turning three, I started elementary school at age six, I followed the standard path through middle school and high school, and then went directly to college. After college I earned two Master’s degrees and then a PhD. Even after that I didn’t want to leave. I now teach at a university.

As you may have guessed by now, I love school. I’m good at school. I’ve learned a lot through school. So it comes as a surprise to some people that I have chosen not to send my kids to school. Instead, we’ve embraced the philosophy of unschooling. Unschooling is a form of homeschooling that rejects the idea of replicating the school environment at home in favor of self-directed learning through living and engaging fully with the world. Below are eight of the biggest reasons why we’ve chosen unschooling for our kids.

 1 | I want them to learn how to learn

In traditional schooling, there is a heavy emphasis on following directions. It starts in kindergarten and often continues through high school. Even in most college courses, the recipe for success is laid out for students: Do the assignments as directed and get an A. Congratulations. You’ve succeeded!

I can follow directions like a champ, which is one reason I did well in school. Give me an assignment and I will follow instructions to a T. Unfortunately, I’ve found that this skill is next to useless in the real world (aside from tax filing). It also becomes less and less useful as you progress in school. In fact, the further along I got in school, the more schooling began to resemble unschooling.

Once I started working on my dissertation, there were no more assignments to complete according to instructions. It was suddenly up to me to ask questions and then answer them. This was a big shift for me and I spent a couple of years floundering with lack of direction before figuring out how to handle self-directed learning. An unschooled person will have a huge advantage in this regard.

 2 | I want to raise leaders, thinkers, innovators, and entrepreneurs

Anyone can raise a future employee who shows up on time and does what he’s told. It’s a much bigger challenge to raise a future employer — the one with the vision and drive to make things happen in the world. Of course, my kids may not grow up to be business owners. That isn’t the goal. The goal is to raise motivated thinkers who find a place they can put their passion to work, not just execute steps according to someone else’s plan.

3 | I’ve seen the power of being passionate about one’s work

Academia is full of people who are passionate about their work. Really passionate. Not “I enjoy my job, but look forward to kicking back on the weekend” passionate. I know many people for whom their job is not only their job, but also their hobby and their life. These people are wildly successful, not just by traditional standards of having prestige and money, but also by the more important standard of loving what you do and looking forward to doing it every day.

4 | I don’t want them to be afraid of math

Unschooling parents are often asked, “How will you teach your children math?” The fact that this question pops up so frequently shows that many people believe math to be arcane form of knowledge that can’t be obtained the same way that reading, writing, music, or biology is learned. I don’t think that’s true at all. I think the only thing that sets math apart is that people are afraid of it.

As a math major in college, I quickly got used to seeing pained looks on people’s faces when I told them what I studied. Once I was doing my homework on an airplane when a flight attendant glanced over said, “Is that math? I hate math.”

The school system is clearly doing a rather poor job at instilling a love of math in its students. Given the extremely strong correlation between loving a subject and learning it, I want to keep the love of math alive and well in our household.

5 | It will prepare them better for college

Some unschooling families don’t view college as a goal for their children. Some unschoolers start lucrative businesses, do apprenticeships, embark on their careers, or continue to educate themselves outside of institutions between the ages of 18 to 22 when many of their schooled peers are off to college. I believe these are worthwhile ways to spend your time, but I also believe that college is a very valuable experience due to the wealth of opportunities it places at your fingertips. The key is to be prepared to make the most of those opportunities. In my experience, homeschooled students clearly understand that they are in charge of their own education and professors are merely there to act as facilitators. That’s what it takes to be successful in college.

6 | It will prepare them better for the workforce

When you were a kid, you were probably asked at some point what you wanted to be when you grew up. What did you answer? Social media coordinator? Canine and equine massage therapist? Birth photographer? Mobile app developer? I suspect the answer was none of these, because some of these jobs didn’t exist when we were kids. Others may have existed but were hidden from most of us. We have no idea what the world will look like in 20 years or even in 10 years. Traditional schooling prepares kids for today’s jobs. Unschooling prepares them for future jobs.

 7 | They will know that preparing for college or the workforce isn’t the point

Becoming a knowledgeable and productive adult citizen is important, but there’s more to life that that. As someone who grew up as a “good student,” I admittedly sometimes forgot to seek out fun and adventure and even put building meaningful human relationships on the back burner. I’ve been slowly unlearning that since becoming a parent.

The greatest beauty of unschooling lies in the time we have together as a family enjoying each other’s company. We don’t have homework battles, we have adventures together. We don’t set an alarm clock, we sleep until we’re not tired anymore. We don’t leave early because it’s a school night, we stay out late with friends. We don’t just prepare for life, we live it now.

8 | I know that no one has all the answers

Being in the company of some very smart people on a regular basis quickly shows you how little you actually know. After a while, you realize this applies to everyone. No one knows everything. My kids ask me questions I don’t know the answer to every single day. There is no shame in not knowing something. In fact, there is great value in realizing that you don’t know something and then going to find out.

Like anyone else, unschooling parents don’t have all of the answers, but we ask a lot of questions and we dig deep, past common assumptions and social norms. I can’t think of a better example of a true education than that.

This was originally published on Pocketful of Pebbles.

5 Productive Questions to Ask at Teacher Conferences

Addressing the following questions will give both you and teacher a better understanding of the child throughout the year.

Fall conferences are around the corner. As a parent I get excited about that 15 minute slot allotted to have a one-on-one with my child’s teacher. I look forward to hearing about the progress, struggles, and strengths more in-depth than what I see in homework worksheets. Sometimes a conference goes great, but sometimes we walk away thinking we just heard a script that is being repeated for every student.

Starting the conference with specific questions gives you the opportunity to focus on what is important regarding your child. Areas of study covered or assessment scores can be done quickly and even in other communications. Addressing the following questions will give both you and teacher a better understanding of the child throughout the year.

Here are five questions you can ask to help you get the most from those minutes with the teacher.

1 | What do you see as an area of strength for my child?

This question focuses the discussion on your child specifically while still giving the teacher the opportunity to evaluate all subjects. Sometimes parents find this answer surprising as kids can show different abilities in the classroom than at home. Fostering a love of learning can help bring these hidden strengths out in the home as well as at school.

2 | What is one area to focus on improving for my child?

Sometimes it is difficult to think about all areas of learning at once. Focusing on one area at a time helps define the priorities within the classroom. It also gives something concrete to work on at home.

It’s great to update this question with the teacher throughout the year. Sending an email or utilizing school communication apps is a great way to check in regarding progress as well as give the teacher the opportunity to shift the focus to something new as your child improves.

3 | How does my child contribute to the class atmosphere?

This may seem like an unusual question, but it can provide a lot of information. Different personalities shine in different ways independently, but as you blend twenty of those unique personalities together new things can be revealed.

This will give you an idea of how much your child contributes to class discussions or how she may be a great helper for another student. Maybe you’ll discover that your child is great at following directions and modeling good behavior for other students or even that she provides a funny idea to give everyone a laugh.

Asking this question gives insight on how your child’s personality comes through in an academic environment. This is especially useful to understand as kids approach middle school and issues like popularity can impact their learning experience.

4 | Who does my child work well with?

Giving the teacher the opportunity to look at the social element of learning is just as important as the academics. This can be a good barometer of how a child is doing socially as well as give parents insight.

Understanding who your child is able to work well with at school compared to the friend that is fun, but may actually be a distraction when it comes to school work, will help everyone create a more successful learning environment.

Vanderbilt University has shown that increasing social skills results in students who are more responsive to academic learning.

5 | Do you have any concerns about my child?

This question can never be asked too much. Sometimes we are so busy getting through the list of assessments, reading levels, and academic achievement that we can miss the bigger picture.

Giving teachers and parents both the pause to consider any areas of concern emotionally, socially, or developmentally addresses the whole child in his or her learning environment.

Why Early Learning Environments Boost More Than Just Academic Performance

Early learning environments can help kids develop early cognitive and language skills that may lead to later academic success.

The needs of an increasing number of kids are not being met by traditional education systems. More and more kids are being left behind, and schools are increasingly unable or unwilling to foster the holistic development of all kids. However, all is not lost. A newly released study suggests that early learning environments have a significant impact on skill development and later academic success.

The researchers from New York University examined over 2, 000 families from different backgrounds to determine the extent to which the home environment influenced kids’ pre-kindergarten school-related skills and later learning environment. Some of the measures included in the study were general cognitive abilities, reading, math, and vocabulary.

The researchers found that early learning environments can help kids develop early cognitive and language skills that may lead to later academic success. They identified three key features of positive early learning environments: kid’s participation in learning activities, the availability of learning materials at home, and the quality of parent-child interactions.

Here are some tips on how to turn the home environment into a successful early learning center.

1 | Help your kid cultivate a reading culture

A recent study conducted by researchers from the University of Washington suggests that reading and writing with your kid can provide him or her with tools for lifetime success. 241 families participated in the study that was carried out over five years.

Once a year, parents were asked to complete questionnaires about their kids reading and writing habits. Questions included how their kids felt about reading and writing, the activities they engaged in at home, how they rated their kid’s self-regulation skills, and how they supported their kid’s learning at home. The researchers found that reading and writing at home had a positive long-term impact on kids ‘abilities to plan, organize, and complete tasks.

However, when it comes to picking the right books for kids, not all books are equal. There are things to keep in mind when choosing kids’ books. For instance, good books should captivate kids, teach them something new, and use age-appropriate language.

2 | Tell stories

Telling stories or reading stories has multiple benefits for kids. It teaches them new things and it helps strengthen the child-parent relationship. Educational philosophers such as Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Waldorf education, believed that storytelling was a gift. He argued that making up stories helped kids develop their imagination skills. Making up stories can seem difficult at first but it gets better with practice. If you’re not comfortable making up stories, read to your kid. Start a read-aloud culture the entire family can participate in.

3 | Choosing the right toys matters

Choosing toys that facilitate expression and learning can help kids develop their cognitive skills. The right toys can help kids develop problem-solving skills, improve their vocabulary, lead to greater creativity, and increase their ability to notice fine details.

Much evidence suggests that quality trumps quantity when it comes to kids’ toys. Remember that taming the toys could ignite creativity.

4 | Spark learning everywhere

When we engage kids in learning activities at home, it becomes easier for them to incorporate even abstract concepts elsewhere. That said, engaging in learning activities doesn’t mean transforming the home environment into a formal learning center. Engaging kids in playful interactive activities will help them learn while having fun. For instance, your kid can learn about numbers by helping you bake (counting the number of eggs needed, weighing the flour) and can learn about volume by using different containers to weigh grains. Simply labeling objects in the environment or playing games like “I spy” provide opportunities for kids to learn.

When we encourage our kids to participate in age-appropriate tasks, we also provide them with important learning opportunities.

5 | Create high-quality interactions

Creating high-quality interactions with kids is perhaps the most important thing you can do for your kid. This involves treating her as an individual and engaging her in meaningful conversations.

A high-quality interaction is also one in which parents are attentive to kids’ emotions and respond to their cues in appropriate ways. Teaching kids about their emotions using age-appropriate techniques and helping them learn to manage those emotions by themselves can help them develop important self-regulation skills that they can use in childhood and beyond.

Creating high-quality interactions also means making time to spend with each of your kids, but don’t focus on quantity. Spending all your free time with your kids is not what makes you a great parent. Remember that even short regular moments spent together go a long way in strengthening the parent-child bond.