According to Study, This Personality Trait Might Bully-Proof Your Kid

Researchers have identified one key personality trait can mean the difference between bouncing back from bullying and being incapacitated by it.

Anyone who’s ever been bullied knows that it’s not an experience you soon forget. At  28 years old, I barely ever think about the awful few months I was bullied in the fifth grade. But when I do, I still feel a twinge of pain recalling how traumatic it was, and I hate to imagine my kids ever going through something similar.
All things considered, though, I overcame being bullied as a kid and blossomed in the years afterward. I recently came across a study that helps explain why that was possible.
Researchers at Florida Atlantic University and the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire set out to discover why some youth victims of bullying recover from the ordeal while others are shattered by it. In their new study published in the journal Child Abuse & Neglect, these researchers reveal that one key personality trait can mean the difference between bouncing back from bullying and being incapacitated by it.
That trait is resilience – the capacity to readily recover from adverse events or adjust to change.
Using a validated 10-item biopsychosocial scale, researchers looked at the relationship between the experience of bullying (including cyberbullying) and resilience. The scale contained mantras, such as: “Having to cope with stress makes me stronger” and “I can deal with whatever comes my way.” The scale was intended to evaluate resilience as a protective factor and healing force.
A Science Daily study suggests that possessing resilience can help prevent kids from being victimized by bullying and can help lessen the harmful effects of bullying when it does occur, either in-person or online. Bullying will always hurt, of course, and it should never be tolerated, but data from this study demonstrates how resilience can help kids, in a sense, choose whether or not to permit the pervasive damage it can cause.
Authors of the study, Sameer Hinduja, Ph.D. and Justin W. Patchin, Ph.D. hope that their study will show families, schools, and communities the value of raising resilient children in a day and age when finding effective solutions to bullying is more imperative than ever. The tragic consequences of bullying seem to be in the headlines constantly, and the Internet has created many more avenues through which it can happen.
“We want children to learn and develop the skills they need to deal with problems,” says Dr. Hinduja, as quoted in Science Daily, “and yet we rarely help them engage with those problems so that they can grow in their ability to solve them. Instead, we seek to constantly protect and insulate them – instead of bolstering their self-confidence, problem-solving ability, autonomy, and sense of purpose – which are all innate strengths.”
It’s important, they explain, for parents and other adults involved with children and adolescents to teach them strategies for coping with bullies, for ‘rising above’ the cruelty. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), other ways to foster resilience in kids and teens include helping them learn how to:

  • form connections
  • help other people
  • maintain a routine
  • take a mental break
  • practice self-care
  • create and work toward goals
  • develop a sense of perspective
  • develop a positive outlook
  • see the humor in life and be able to laugh at oneself
  • recognize past accomplishments and history of overcoming obstacles
  • and accept change as a part of life.

Raising compassionate kids and teaching them not to be bullies themselves is also extremely important, but that’s a whole separate post.
Continued efforts are certainly needed to tackle the issue of bullying from all angles. There are no easy answers. But this study does give me hope (and a much-needed sense of control) that by nurturing resilience in our kids, they can learn to survive and thrive at school in the face of adversity – far preferable to keeping them in a bubble.

My Place With the Playground Benchwarmers

Where there is a playground, we will be there as Protectors of the Peace, like mundane super heroes keeping an eye on petty criminals.

It is almost 3 p.m. and I am standing around with a bunch of other parents waiting for the torrent of children to come barreling out of the school doors like a herd of screaming cats. Some of us chit chat idly with each other, some look at phones, some kind of stare aimlessly. It’s a fairly subdued scene, save for the slight hidden tension in anticipation of the impending barrage. Then the bell rings.
Some things never change, and certainly the end of the school day looks much like it did for me when I was a screaming cat in the herd. Like a river flowing forth from a burst damn, tiny people come streaming out of the doors, heads whipping wildly about in search of their respective rides home. Some charge off to the school bus lines, while other throw their backpacks in the general direction of their guardians and run recklessly to the parking lot.
Others, my son among them, greet their elders with pleading cries requesting playground access with their peers. Since I’m a sucker both for time spent in pursuit of physical activity and my son’s begging puppy-dog eyes, I graciously relent and we head around behind the school, my scion at top speed and me lagging behind with a newly acquired schoolbag.
The playground is ground zero for childhood, and these kids are anxious to spend as large a portion of their pent-up energy as possible before the cluster of parents at the picnic table finally decides we’ve had enough and it’s time to go home. They charge into whatever game they’d presumably created at recess earlier and just like that, they’re off.
As an experienced Playground Benchwarmer I know it is only a matter of time before the younger siblings that have been dragged along to pick-up will find something to complain about, and somehow in my seven years of parenting I still haven’t figured out the appropriate amount of snacks to bring to a venture such as this. So I bide my time as I commiserate with the other Benchwarmers about the nightly homework arguments and what new learning style has been introduced this year.
There was a time once, in the distant past, when I determined I would follow my son on the playground and do what he did, because I wasn’t one of those lazy parents that just sits around all the time while their kid plays. Oh no, I was one of those active, fun parents that likes to play with their kid and run around and swing on the monkey bars! I was able to keep up with him respectably for approximately three minutes, following which I collapsed on the nearest bench and spent the rest of the evening caving to TV demands just for a moment’s rest. Since that atrocious folly I have realized my place among the adults, and I stray no further from the bench than necessary.
This playground hierarchy, with kids rampant at play while parents sit nearby or push a younger sibling on a swing, translates to any and all designated play areas equally, I have found. There will always be a few guardians who get more involved, a few who remain aloof and remote, and the majority watching out of the corner of their eye from the sidelines. The Playground Benchwarmers are a stalwart bunch, braving the afternoon sun on an August afternoon or huddling around a steaming cup of coffee on a crisp November morning. Where there is a playground, we will be there as Protectors of the Peace, like mundane super heroes keeping an eye on petty criminals.
At the slightest sign of discord, the more alert and attentive of the bunch will call out a cease and desist cry, warning of the terrible consequences of non-compliance as the offending children pretend to listen before finding a sneakier way of breaking the rules. This is the way it has always been, and the way it will always be. One generation makes way for the next, but the bench will be forever warmed.
Finally the call has been made by one of the monitoring elite, and soon the rest follow. Momentum is a powerful force, not to be understated when children must be removed from a playground. Once one child has been suitably convinced of the need to leave, the rest will be much easier to persuade. It is imperative, therefore, the Benchwarmers work together as a group so as to avoid disruptive meltdowns and lengthy arguments. Slowly the playground clears out save for a few stragglers, and the sweaty children are led to their chariots to be carted off to the familial snack huts.
The Playground Benchwarmers have done their job, and the playground has been used and vacated without bloodshed or tears. Tomorrow is another day, and another chance at mutiny for the children. Against the Swingset Supervisors they stand little chance, however, and life will proceed as it has for generations.
I carry the bounty of second-grade math papers and left over lunch on my back as my son exchanges his last remaining potty jokes with his guffawing friends. As the sun sinks lower in the afternoon sky, we finally make it to the car and climb in, contentedly weary. All is right with the world now, as we head for home. Proudly I offer the bounty of Goldfish I actually remembered to bring this time, to which he replies that he has suddenly decided he hates Goldfish and is desperate for water, which of course I forgot to bring. Seven years in and I still have no idea what I’m doing.
This article was originally published at lifeoutsidethebox.me.

Turns Out, Screen Time Does Influence IRL Learning

A recent study suggests media activities can provide kids with valuable learning, teaching problem-solving strategies that have real-world implications.

Ask my son what happens when you watch too much TV and he’ll be straight with you: “Your brain turns into mush.”
You can thank me for that one.
Back when he was still in my belly, I read the parenting book, “Brain Rules for Baby by John Medina”, and drilled the following phrase into my brain: “Face-time, not screen-time” (and I don’t mean FaceTime).
Medina explains that babies and toddlers need face-to-face interaction in order to form healthy social, emotional, and cognitive skills. This made total sense to me, so I resolved to wait as long as possible before exposing my son to TV or letting him get his hands on a tablet.
After waiting the recommended two years – okay, fine, it was 18 months – I began allowing him to view a little bit of TV at a time, just so I could get something – anything – done. As he grew older, that amount increased and the type of screen-time expanded, but so did my guilt and concern over it.
“Face-time, not screen-time,” a little voice whispers in my ear each time my son reaches for the remote or gleefully plays the Nick Jr. app on my husband’s iPad (reserved for extra stressful situations). But, another voice tells me to let it go, because I really have to nurse his baby brother or cook dinner or get us through airport security (read: extra stressful situation). And besides, he’s four now, so more than a little screen time won’t hurt…right?
Some recent research has found that, around age five, certain media activities may even help children learn. But can the skills they learn from a screen be useful in real life? In 2016, Joanne Tarasuik, a researcher at the Swinburne University of Technology in Australia, set out to answer that question with a study that looked at how Australian children between the ages of four and six solved the same puzzle using a touchscreen tablet version and a tangible, wooden version.
She and her team found that children could indeed transfer skills they learned from working on the virtual puzzle to solving the physical one, demonstrating that screen-based skills were translatable to the real world – although in the age of smartphones and Facebook it can be hard to know what’s real anymore.
Because that finding contradicted most of the research that had come before it, the team decided to replicate their study using a different group of children from a different culture for reliability purposes. In the repeat study, recently published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, Tarasuik and her colleagues teamed up with researchers in Croatia and studied a group of Croatian children using a puzzle called the Tower of Hanoi, made up of wooden pegs and discs.
The children tackled the puzzle using the tablet version and/or the wooden version. Researchers measured the amount of time and number of moves it took for the kids to complete the puzzle. They observed whether practicing on the device enhanced the children’s performance on the wooden version.
According to Science Daily, “The children all needed a similar number of moves to complete the wooden puzzle, regardless of whether they had practiced using the virtual puzzle, the physical puzzle, or a combination of the two. From the first to final attempt at the puzzle, all the children also improved their speed,” thereby replicating their original finding that four- to six-year-old children can take knowledge gained from a screen-based activity and apply it in a new, physical, practial context.
Clearly, not all screen-time is created equal. Researchers hypothesize that passive screen-time, like watching a video demonstration, will lead to different learning outcomes for children than engaging in an interactive app. The results of this study suggest that certain media activities can provide children with valuable learning experiences, teaching them problem-solving strategies that have real-world implications. It also shows how further research on the learning value and real-world applicability of touch-screen technology for children of different ages could be beneficial.
While it’s clear that we need more information on this important topic and I’m not about to let my son ‘go to town’ with the TV or the tablet, I guess I should admit that not every screen will turn his brain to mush.
But those YouTube videos of people opening toys and Easter eggs will.

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.

What My Son's Speech Delay Taught Me About Determination

I was determined to guide him as he navigated life with minimal language. He was determined to have people understand him.

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!
He was grunting in frustration, demanding me to understand. I gazed in his direction with tears in my eyes. He whimpered and stomped his feet, grunting with more passion. I grabbed his hands and ushered him closer to me, caressing his back and drying our tears together. The next few breaths to retire from my body were breaths of fear and sadness.
I knew what my three-year-old son wanted; he wanted a snack. He just couldn’t find the words to express his hunger. This lack of communication has been evident his whole little life. I kept telling myself, “Maybe next month he will understand language and use his words.” But with every passing month, my “maybe” was never fulfilled.
He needed help navigating the use of words. I needed help navigating this obstacle in his life.
You see, at the age of three, my son had a max of 10 words in his bank. According to kidshealth.org, a three year old should have about 200 words and be able to string together 4 word sentences. And on top of that, you should be able to understand 75 percent of what they are saying.
None of that was happening. He had 10 words that I could make out, because I’m his mom. He had 10 words that the general public could not understand. He was tracking, developmentally, as a one-year-old.
This, for a parent, is frustrating. This type of speech delay can cause developmental and emotional delays, which is what we saw first-hand. The days were riddled with extreme meltdowns and exhausted bodies, both from my son and myself. I was parenting a one-year-old in a three-year-old body.
I was determined to help him discover and utilize his words.
I was determined to guide him as he navigated life with minimal language.
He was determined to have people understand him.
With determination placing itself in the forefront of our lives, we set out to seek guidance.
First thing first, we wanted him to be around children of the same age. We visited and toured many preschools and ultimately decided on one that had a great relationship with the county issued therapists. He would go to preschool with other three-year-olds and pick up on the habits and use of language. His teachers would partner with me in the extra leadership that my son needed.
With the help of our preschool director, we began the very long and tedious process of seeking county approved help for our son. This was much harder, emotionally, than I ever thought it would be.
The very first meeting was with a child psychologist and speech therapist. They took my son into a small room where they would play. I sat behind a one-way glass and observed. Never in my life did I think I would have to sit and observe my child at play. I could see his frustration and hear his lack of words and I could watch the therapists taking notes every time they didn’t understand him.
I cried.
I cried a lot.
I wanted to jump into that room and scoop up my son, caress him and tell him that everything was ok, I wanted to rip the clipboards from their hands and shout, “STOP, STOP TAKING LIFELESS NOTES, HE’S FINE!”
To make matters even more trying, I had a parent-teacher conference the very next day.
“Your son tends to play alone a lot, he doesn’t have many companions in the class,” they said. “When he tries to talk to one of the other students, they walk away because they don’t understand him.”
This has to be in the top three statements from teachers that will crush a parent’s heart. My heart completely shattered and I started weeping. I didn’t know I had tears left to shed.
I was determined to not question my own parenting.
I was determined to follow through with any help offered.
I was determined for my son to have meaningful friendships.
Months go by and there are more tests. The evaluation process is crippling us and motivation is slipping away. How many more one-way glass sessions will I have? How long until we can get him on the same track as his peers? His younger sister was now catching up to him rapidly in progress and I can sense his rush to escape her race.
All summer we work to make life simpler. We sat down and went over words, letters and articulation. I scheduled many play-dates with his peers and children older then him. We sang songs and read books like they were going extinct. Summer was tiring and I was overwhelmed. But my memories of determination sang like robins in my heart.
He’s now entered the four-year-old preschool class and the whispers I hear from his teachers are music to my ears. “He’s made so much improvement since last year, I can understand what he’s saying!” I pick him up from school and take a quick glance in his classroom to see him playing hard with a group of buddies.
I’m crying different tears. I’m determined to make this our new normal. We had our very last evaluation (it’s been a year) and we are set to receive services in two weeks. He’s still behind, but not by drastic measures. The determination I had to work with him, the determination he had to talk, the determination of our family to pull together is evident. While we have yet to receive services, I am proud beyond measure at the progress we’ve made.
I am determined to not compare my child to others. Because where other kids may struggle, he may shine.
I am determined to be a rock for my son as life places obstacles in our path. Because without obstacles we have no real life experience.
We still have thresholds to conquer and we are far from overcoming this challenge. He may need extra help in school and extra attention from us, but what we have achieved is way better.
We are no longer hiding behind a one-way glass and crying, we are standing proud with determination seeping out of our pores to make every day, every challenge, this life, his life, our life … wonderful.

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.

Research Shows Recess Might Be More Important Than We Think

Recent research suggests that for toddlers and preschoolers, recess might be key to childhood development.

Raise your hand if you’ve had this conversation:
“Hey honey, how was school?”
“Good.”
“What was the best part?”
“Recess!”
As much as this response makes me want to bang my head against a wall (this is why I’m paying for preschool?), outdoor time may very well be one of the most valuable – and enjoyable – parts of early education.
Recess may typically be viewed as a way for children to blow off steam before returning to the classroom for more rigorous academics. But recent research suggests that for toddlers and preschoolers, it might be key to childhood development.
A study of one- to three-year-old children in Italy compared toddlers in traditional nursery schools and those in outdoor education schools. The study found that over the course of a year, children in the outdoor education group showed more improvement in most developmental areas – cognitive, emotional, social, and fine motor skills – than children in the traditional education group. The authors of the study suggest that outdoor education activities might provide better opportunities for child development than indoor ones.
As much as my preschooler loves his time to pump his legs on the swings and soar down large plastic slides, recent research suggests that natural environments might be a key for optimizing children’s outdoor playtime. An Australian preschool gave children the option between a traditional outdoor play space and a naturalized one and monitored their play in the two different types of areas. The researchers found that children spent more time in sociodramatic play in the natural play space than the traditional one.
Natural play spaces seemed to edge out traditional ones for their use of flexible play spaces, open-ended materials, and greater sense of seclusion and quiet. Researchers found these elements enabled children to better use their imagination and communication skills, leading to more complex sociodramatic play.
Unfortunately, many child cares have not gotten the message about the benefits of outdoor play. A 2015 study found that for nearly 90 percent of the time children are in day care they did not have opportunities for active play. The children in the study, who were attending childcare full time, averaged 48 minutes of play per day.
Outdoor time fared even worse, despite the authors noting that when children were outdoors, their play was much more likely to be active than sedentary. Outdoor time averaged just over half an hour each day – even though all the centers that participated in the study scheduled at least 60 minutes of outdoor playtime into their day.
Leading health organizations have long pushed an increase in activity for children as a way to address the obesity epidemic. The Centers for Disease Control recommends that children should participate in at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity each day. The American Academy of Pediatrics, however, suggests that two- to five-year-olds might need as much as two or more hours of physical activity each day.
Despite knowing the benefits of outdoor playtime for children, I often find myself dreading the thought of lacing up boots and chasing down rogue mittens as the weather starts to cool off. But once we do get suited up (which is often at least 30 minutes of physical activity in and of itself), we find we all tend to be much happier outside. If nothing else, I am at least happy at the prospect of tired toddlers and a good night’s sleep coming my way.
With as much as we enjoy our family walks outside, I shouldn’t be surprised when my son tells me recess is his favorite part of the day. In fact, children across cultures highly value their outdoor play time according to another recent study. This study interviewed four- to six-year-olds in Canada and Tanzania about what they personally valued at their school. In both research sites, children placed a high importance on their outdoor time, for both its physical and social components.
While I can barely get my son to tell me what letter he practiced writing, he will typically regale me for the entire walk home about how fast he ran from the slide to the swings, who he played pirates with, and other vital playground information. And he might be on to something. His favorite part of the day may very well be the most important, benefiting his cognitive and social development as well as his physical health. Perhaps it’s time that parents and teachers start placing the same importance on recess that children do.

How to Set the Bar High Without Teaching That Performance Determines Identity

How do we, as parents, set the bar high for our children, all the while making it clear that what they can accomplish does not determine who they are?

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!
Crickets chirp from fields of goldenrod when our first grader brings her school folder to the deck. It’s a muggy September evening in western Pennsylvania, and our family clings to the fringes of summer with homework sessions on the deck and evenings spent chasing butterflies through the wildflowers.
I’m expecting a quick math worksheet, but instead, my daughter hands me a foreboding yellow paper containing eight short words: her first spelling list. I wonder how we went from diapers and stroller walks to the big-kid world of spelling tests in what feels like mere minutes.
“Can I please go play in the yard?” the blue-eyed girl begs. Staring at the spelling list, I face an undeniable moment of decision. I can choose to let her frolic wildly among Joe-Pye weed and black-eyed Susans to checking mulch beds for toads and milkweed leaves for butterfly eggs, or I can draw a hard line and tell her we have to study for spelling now.
The perfectionist within me white-knuckles a fleeting sense of control over my child’s life, and most of me wants to tell her we need write our spelling words before we play. But from somewhere deep within, a voice reminds me that I’ve wasted far too much of my own life believing that my performance determines my identity.
How do we, as parents, set the bar high for our children, all the while making it clear that what they can accomplish does not determine who they are?
I want my daughter to know that she is wildly loved by her father and me regardless of her test scores. I also want her to score well on tests and value the priority of hard work. I want her to know that kindness and compassion are more important than worldly success and material possessions, but I also want her to work hard at the tasks that generally result in success and prosperity.
In a split second, I choose to send my child to the fields of wildflowers and postpone spelling words until the dusky hours of evening. As I watch her from the deck, I carefully ponder how we might teach her to pursue brilliance, all the while, understanding that exceptional results in any area of life can never define her. Here are four specific ways to instill a sense of determination without creating a performance-based identity:

Teach excellence instead of perfectionism

My personal struggle with perfectionism has revealed a frustrating reality in my life: Perfection in most areas is unattainable because there is always a step higher. There is always a possibility for a neater house, higher-paying career, leaner figure, and more organized car.
Instead of teaching our kids to pursue perfection, we serve them well when we teach them to pursue excellence. Perfect is defined by a flawless final outcome; excellence is defined by the assurance that we gave it our best shot. A perfect test score is nothing less than 100 percent. An excellent test score might just be a 75 percent that came at a high cost of 100 percent effort.

The bar measures effort, not outcomes

Setting the bar high means we value our kids’ effort more than we value what they produce. A home run that wins the game is great, but a hard-earned single after six straight strikeouts is even better. An award for being the best of the show is exciting, but simply showing up might be the greatest victory of all for the child who struggles with anxiety.
When we set the bar high for our kids, we set it for superior effort, not a worldly standard of superior outcomes.

Praise virtues over talents

A friend of older children once reminded me that she’d rather hear that her child is kind and thoughtful than intelligent and exceptionally gifted. We need to remember that the kind act of sharing the tire swing on the playground speaks more about a child’s heart than a perfect grade on a math exam.
In a recent study, it was found that Emotional Intelligence (the ability to connect and relate to others) is a greater determining factor for success in life than Intelligence Quotient (a score of cognitive ability). Teaching our kids to treat others with kindness might actually determine their future success more than drilling math facts

Cultivate a sense of worth that is unrelated to the opinions of others

Most importantly, our kids need to understand that they are loved simply because they are ours. There is nothing they can do to earn our love. A child with this understanding has a firm foundation beneath his feet as he walks into a daunting and intimidating world.
Set the bar high, parents. Just remember that it is a bar of effort instead of outcomes.