Pre-Back to School Advice: For High Schoolers

The high school years are very influential for teenagers on various levels. Students’ personalities, capabilities, and goals are budding during this time—all in preparation to progress into adulthood. With the coming school year, parents of high schoolers can try a few different strategies to ensure a smooth start to the school year.

  • For parents of juniors (or maybe just very eager sophomores), this school year is essential for making plans about what will come next. These pivotal months, in which college and career readiness become the focus, can be an exceptionally stressful time for high school students and their families. Planning ahead, especially before the chaos of the school year picks up, can make all the difference during the college search. Consider providing your high schooler with literature about universities and colleges—The Princeton Review does a great annual compilation of schools full of details, statistics, and admissions information. Plan as many college visits as possible for your family’s schedule—the more students see, the more clear their decisions will be. Although high school teachers and counsellors are very familiar with the need to schedule college visits, try to limit absences by using weekends or occasions when schools are closed to take college tours.
  • The National Sleep Foundation recommends that teenagers get 8-10 hours of sleep each night. However, recent studies indicate that only 15% of America’s high school students can say they get a full 8 hours of sleep regularly. In addition to getting an adequate amount of sleep, high schoolers need to have restful, uninterrupted sleep. Encourage your teenager to silence or shut down the smartphone to achieve a restful night’s sleep. Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter are popular culprits when it comes to sleeplessness in teens. If social media is taking away from your teen’s rest, it may be time to have a conversation about the privilege of cellphone use. As much as they’ll fight tooth and nail for the phone, remember this: you are the parent, you likely pay for the phone, and you know what is best for your child.
  • Insist on organization. Gone are the days of micromanaging every aspect of your child’s education. Looking to the future, problem-solving and coping mechanisms will be essential as your child progresses through adulthood and post-secondary education. Organization is key to being on top of your game. Help your high schooler find the best process or method of organization for him or her. For some, an agenda or planner helps with the week’s tasks. For others, a digital reminder, like calendar alerts or phone apps are preferable. Discuss the importance of prioritizing and time management—these will be essential as your child goes through college.
  • Discuss effective study skills. To many of us, studying involved simply rereading material in an attempt to shove facts into our short term memories for long enough to spill it back onto the exam. This is a very ineffective strategy—if we can even call it a strategy. College professors today are shocked by their students’ inability to analyze text for critical information and think critically about a concept. Instead, like many of us, students feel that cramming and memorization will suffice. Teach your teen how to read for vital information—skimming the fluff and honing in on the critical concepts. Anticipating practice questions or essay prompts is another helpful tip. Jot down ideas or concepts that the teacher repeats, goes into detail with, or spends lots of time discussing. If studying seems to be your high schooler’s weak area, consider looking into tutors or classes that specifically target this area of the learning process.

Pre-Back to School Advice: For Middle Schoolers

Middle school may be referred to as the awkward or “lost years” for the majority of people. I not-so-fondly remember my own middle school years as confusing, intimidating, and all-around stressful. Good, bad, or ugly, these mystifying years are truly transformative for young people, which could be why I’ve ended up working in the middle school classroom as an adult. In addition to the physiological and hormonal changes going on for this age group, middle school itself is a transition socially, academically, and emotionally.

Middle school, for most students, means leaving the elementary school nest and entering an entirely new school day model. Not only are the peers new, but the entire concept of the school day is much different from elementary school—lockers, subject-area teachers, different classrooms for each content, an increase in homework—all of these things make for an exciting and anxious transition. Since the start of a new school year can bring stress in addition to the excitement, middle school parents can put a few practices into place towards the end of the summer to allay the nerves and ensure a smooth start.

  • During the final two weeks of summer, parents should begin to set up a more consistent sleep schedule for their middle schoolers. This schedule should fall closely in line with the school year sleep and wake time. Some families may wait to readjust the sleep schedule until the week before; however, that may not be enough time for children to fully adapt to the new sleep/wake time. 
  • In addition to getting an adequate amount of sleep, middle schoolers need to have restful, uninterrupted sleep. A tough, but very effective way to ensure that your preteen is getting quality sleep is to remove the standard distractions. Your child may be vehemently opposed to this at first, but consider making phones and other screens off limits during sleep time. This is a great way to ensure that late night scrolling, texting, or gaming does not interfere with the rest that is essential for middle schoolers.
  • The agenda book is a little-known life saver when it comes to tracking assignments, due dates, and other obligations. Many schools issue agendas free of charge, but if not, definitely purchase a weekly planner for your child. Nowadays, there are online homework forums like Edline, Google classroom, and Blackboard; however, the agenda book is the surefire way to ensure that homework is accounted for and completed. Teachers are not always capable of posting or attaching digital documents or reminders for homework on a daily basis. For this reason, the agenda is your best option. This practice also promotes self-advocacy and responsibility; students that write down each assignment are engaged and aware of the tasks. The agenda also helps middle schoolers to begin prioritizing based on how their week at school is looking. Talk with your child about the importance of writing down ALL assignments with details about deadlines and any other vital information. It may also help to arrange a homework buddy system with peers in the neighborhood—stress from forgotten assignments or absences can be alleviated by a simple text or visit from a homework buddy.
  • Discuss the importance of eating a healthy breakfast and a substantial lunch during the school day. Because of growth spurts, hormonal changes, busy schedules, etc., preteens and teens need to maintain nutritious eating habits to keep up with their bodies’ needs. Hunger can increase fatigue and irritability while decreasing motivation and concentration—not ideal for student success. Plan easy, nutritious snacks that your middle schooler can store in his locker for between classes. A water bottle can also come in handy to keep children hydrated throughout the long school day.
  • Since most schools are handling lunch funds through online accounts, it doesn’t hurt to plan to put a little money in your middle schooler’s cafeteria account as a backup plan, even if she is a preferred packer. We all know that the mornings can be hectic—kids oversleep, someone is sick, lunches get left in the car/bus/refrigerator—you get the picture. A little back-up lunch money can ease the stress of forgetting to pack lunch for both you and your child. Visit your school’s website to find more information for loading and account or prepaying for the beginning of the school year.
  • Encourage small literacy practices in the evening hours to get a jumpstart on the larger reading assignments that your middle schooler will have. Begin with 30 minutes of silent reading or journaling and build from there. The intent is to acclimate your middle schooler to the idea of downtime so that they aren’t jarred from the three months of summer freedom. Even a small amount of time can prepare students for the structure of nightly homework. Help encourage this practice by doing your own silent reading or journaling while your child is reading. Unless typing or research is involved, limit your middle schooler’s use of technology or screen time to promote good study habits.

Pre-Back to School Advice: For Elementary Schoolers

The jittery, somewhat anxious feeling that accompanies the start of a new school year is known to all. Even on the educator’s end, we are brought right back to the nerves and excitement of our childhood school days when that first day rolls around. To be truthful, the back-to-school dreams start happening for me weeks prior to the first day. For elementary schoolers, the start of a new school year can bring stress in addition to the excitement. Parents can put a few practices into place towards the end of the summer to allay the nerves and ensure a smooth start.

  • During the final two weeks of summer, parents should begin to set up a more consistent sleep schedule for their elementary schoolers. This schedule should fall closely in line with the school year sleep and wake time. Some families may wait to readjust the sleep schedule until the week before; however, that may not be enough time for children to fully adapt to the new sleep/wake time.
  • Begin to embed small chunks of downtime for literacy in the evening hours. This should be used to read or write—focus on any topic that interests your child, so long as the content is grade-level appropriate and accessible. Consider starting with 20-minute intervals each afternoon, then build in more time from there. The intent is to acclimate children to the idea of downtime so that they are prepared for the structure of nightly homework and/or weekly reading assignments. Help encourage this practice by doing your own silent reading or journaling while your child is reading. Limit your use of technology or screen time to promote good study habits.
  • Since most schools are handling lunch funds through online accounts, it doesn’t hurt to plan to put a little money in your child’s cafeteria account as a backup plan, even if your child is a preferred packer. We all know that the mornings can be hectic—kids oversleep, someone is sick, lunches get left in the car/bus/refrigerator—you get the picture. A little back-up lunch money can ease the stress of forgetting to pack lunch for both you and your child. Visit your school’s website to find more information for loading and account or prepaying for the beginning of the school year.
  • Get a head start on pencil pouch essentials so that your child is guaranteed to go into their new elementary classroom feeling prepared and stress-free. Depending on your child’s personality, it could be a full day before a young student builds up the courage to raise his hand to ask for a pencil. Having those items at hand and organized alleviates any worry when it comes to classroom materials. Besides the typical pencils, erasers and highlighters, consider other daily conveniences like travel-sized tissue pouches, miniature hand sanitizer, chapstick, and a sticky note with important information on it, like your child’s bus number and any important contact numbers.
  • If your child wears glasses, be sure to provide a sturdy case, but one that can also small enough for your child to carry. Be sure to seek an eye appointment if you notice any squinting, straining, or sitting noticeably close to screens or reading material. **After the first week of school or so, you may want to contact your child’s teacher to ensure that your son or daughter is wearing his or her glasses during class.

Back To School Tips

Without fail, the summer always seems to end the same way—abruptly. While families have been soaking up the sun with days filled with themed camps, pool time, beach vacations and fireflies, classrooms have been prepped for a new surge of activity. For most of us, the backpacks are buried in the closet and homework has long been forgotten. However, all of that is about to change. Signs that school is just around the corner are everywhere—the stores are stocked with school clothes, while ads are displaying the hottest new school supplies. One thing is for sure, it’s time to get in gear for the school year ahead.

  • Set a schedule. Start a school schedule at least a week prior to school. Include bedtime, morning wake-up and routine, and lunch preparation.
  • Gauge feelings. Talk to your children about their feelings and concerns.  Ask questions that prompt conversation and help them feel in control. What subjects interest them most? What friends are they excited to see? What new challenges await them?
  • Aim high. Talk to your children about the expectations for the different parts of their day. Consider creating a visual “to do” list that includes a morning routine, homework, and other responsibilities. Encourage students to check off listed items prior to leisure or screen time.
  • Drive by. Drive or walk by the school, take a tour of the classrooms, visit the website, and visualize the school day from start to finish. What will the bus ride be like? What will lunchtime entail? Where are the gym, art room, music room and restrooms?
  • Phone a friend. Reconnect with friends from last year. Schedule a play date or meet for ice cream. If your child is shy or new to the school, this is a great way to have a friend waiting on the first day of school.
  • Give control. Students often have mixed feelings about going back to school. Shop for supplies early and allow them to make selections. This decreases their anxiety, limits pressure on you, and avoids the last-minute crowds.
  • Strike a pose. Take your child shopping at his or her favorite store to pick out new school clothes. Your child’s style may not be your style, but here’s a chance to encourage positive self-image and expression.
  • Ease into it. Don’t suddenly stop summer fun, but slowly infuse learning opportunities. Take a trip to a museum, paint pottery, or visit the library.
  • Be available. As your child eases into a new school routine, regularly make time to listen to your child’s first impressions, new discoveries and fresh challenges. Be proactive in helping your child adjust and advance, and you will stay informed as new challenges arise.
  • Be an advocate. Before school starts, schedule a meeting with the school nurse, teacher, or guidance counselor to discuss significant changes, learning concerns, or summer progress. Remember to initiate a follow-up chat once school gets underway to ensure any issues were addressed.

The Science Behind Movement: How to Use it at Home

Movement and kinetic strategies have been hot topics of conversation among educators, developmental psychologists and researchers. Without getting too far into anatomical terms and rhetoric about how the brain works, scientific research supports one major claim about movement and learning: the same part of the brain that processes movement also happens to process learning, attention, and memory—the cerebellum. So in the same way that regular physical activity strengthens the muscles, movement similarly helps construct and strengthen neural pathways. Educators are finding great benefits to the application of movement—the concept of kinetic learning can also be applied at home.

When helping your child review study material for an upcoming assessment, add some aspect of movement to the routine. This can mean reciting information while jumping on the trampoline or juggling a soccer ball. Clapping or patting to keep rhythm while memorizing notes can enhance recall as well. Practice multiplication flashcards while allowing your child to bounce a ball or jump rope while keeping a steady beat. Simply pacing while studying is another small tweak that allows kids to focus solely on the material while moving continuously and methodically.

Parents may find it beneficial to start small with kinetic learning strategies—like providing a stress ball for the child to squeeze while working. The distraction level is minimal, but the concept of movement, focus, and memory still applies. Items like fidget spinners, cubes, or eraser putty, so long as they are being used properly, will have the same effect on focus and attention.

When encouraging summer reading, consider the option to listen to the book. This allows reluctant readers the opportunity to move about while listening to the text on a smartphone, play away, or other audio device. Audiobooks allow struggling readers to follow along while listening to the story. But, for restless or reluctant readers, audiobooks allow for walking, jogging, or virtually any light activity while enjoying a story.

A well-known practice—rewriting notes or study guides—promotes the same reasoning behind kinesthetic learning. The act of physically handwriting the notes, concepts, or definition repeatedly goes further than typing notes. The movement, even at the slight level that handwriting provides, helps to boost memory and recall.

In the same way that sensory tables allow toddlers and preschool-aged children to engage in messy sensory play to develop fine motor skills, cooking can has a similar effect on older children. With parent supervision, children can practice any number of skills while moving about the kitchen mixing, measuring, and whipping up snacks. Equivalent fractions, cause and effect relationships, following instructions—all of these skills take place in the kitchen while children get to move around the kitchen. If encouraging the little ones, allow them to stir cookie dough or hold the mixer on low—even the combining of ingredients can be a great learning experience that incorporates movement for little ones.

Combine movement-based games with learning at home for a fun-filled family game night! Practice vocabulary terms, historic dates, physics terms, etc., while playing charades. Pictionary is another option for the artistically-inclined. For board game lovers, plan a Scrabble match or Boggle challenge, where wordsmiths can spell and strategize while moving game pieces or rolling dice.

Non-Academic Skill Sets and Why They Are Essential

Many skills sets, particularly in the social-emotional category, are not explicit aspects of our academic curricula. As educators, our ultimate goal involves preparing young people for all facets of the real world. Yes, we primarily stick to our content areas; however, certain skill sets are not only cross-curricular, they are also essential to success in adulthood. Whether teaching in the primary, middle, or secondary school setting, we can each play a crucial role when it comes to these non-academic features of college and career readiness.

Primary Grades:

The focus for learning in the primary grades has shifted in the last decade or so. It used to be that those early years in the classroom circled around creativity, imaginative play, relationship building, and simply grasping what it means to learn. While these qualities are still present, academic skills have clearly become more prominent. Yet learning at the elementary level still teaches more than academic rigor and content-specific information.

Early elementary grades teach children how to share and get along with others. These basic social skills and manners are an essential part of development and socialization. For adults, social acuity, or the ability read others’ behavior and act accordingly, is a life skill that many believe to be directly linked to success in adulthood. The ability to understand and relate to others involves critical thinking—and just not in the conscious way that we usually see it in the academic realm. In the same way that students will discuss how a character feels and why they know, children learn to read others’ behavior, body language, facial expressions, and tone. While they may not know that they are performing this sort of analysis, it is arguably one of the more important life skills to acquire to become a successful adult.   

Can this vital life skill be evaluated on a standard grading scale? No, but a child that struggles to relate to and get along with others is very apparent and at a distinct disadvantage in school.

Middle Grades:

The sharing, caring, getting along mentality of the primary grades continues to build and develop during middle school years. In addition to these essential social skills, middle schoolers also begin to develop autonomy, self-advocacy, and accountability. Parents still maintain a significant role in a child’s education; however, more of the responsibility should be shouldered by the student himself. A new level of self-reliance is essential when navigating these transformative years in middle school.

In elementary school, parents typically act as the liaison between child and teacher. At a certain point, it is time to take off the training wheels, so to speak. The age or grade level can vary from child to child, but somewhere around 7th grade, a student should begin to act on her own behalf at school. She forgot to do her homework? She should be the one to explain it to her teacher. He left his project on the kitchen table? He will have to take responsibility and discuss late credit with his teacher. These are difficult life lessons, especially for parents. It is instinctual for parents to want the best for their children and to ease any stress or burden; however, endlessly coming to your child’s rescue does nothing to help him or her develop a sense of responsibility. A child who knows she can always rely on mom or dad to metaphorically “clean up her messes” will struggle to problem solve, take ownership of mistakes, and develop independence.

An extreme example of this lack of culpability is seen at the university level, where professors are now fielding emails and calls from parents asking for clarity on a student’s recent grade. Of course, professors are scoffing at the absurdity of parents’ requests to take another look at a paper, or to offer extra credit for the course. Creating the expectation for self-reliance early will better prepare students down the road.    

Secondary Grades:

Once students reach high school, GPA, extracurricular activities, and future plans become the focus. The life skills that best support students at this stage of their education include multi-tasking and grit. Adult life, as students will soon discover, involves a great deal of juggling. The ability to evaluate multiple tasks, prioritize, and execute them is essential for students entering the workforce. This level of executive functioning occurs throughout a child’s entire education; however, the stakes are higher in high school—no pun intended. Organization is a key when it comes to multitasking. Grit involves the ability to act with resolve and determination even after a failure or setback. The concept of mind over matter applies here—high schoolers need to be able to maintain focus on the end goal, no matter the distractions or obstacles involved.  

Summer Safety Concerns

Schools are out, which brings children and teens outside. They are eager to enjoy the beautiful weather and all that summertime fun entails. For a fun-filled summer vacation free of avoidable injuries, expert tips can help prepare children and those of us working with children during the summer months.

Tips for pedestrians: Of course the obvious guidelines apply, like look both ways before crossing, hold hands with the little ones, listen for oncoming traffic, etc. However, now that the average American 5-year-old has his own phone, adults need to be especially cognizant of the distractibility that phones bring. For day camps or sleepaway camps, children and teens will likely have a smart device with them. While walking, especially in areas with heavy traffic, children should forego the phones. Babysitters, nannies, camp counselors, etc., must encourage walkers to be vigilant while walking. Not only is traffic an issue, but distracted walkers are more likely to incur injuries from stumbles or falls. Earbuds are an added distraction, as children are not able to hear what is happening in their surroundings.  

Tips for the heat/sun: Those of us working with children in the summer must be aware of the early signs of heat exhaustion and dehydration. Camps, pool days, sports—all of these activities can pose a threat when the temperatures spike. Adults cannot assume that children show up to these outdoor activities prepared for the sun. It is imperative to have sunscreen, water, snacks, and basic first aid items on hand.

Knowing the symptoms of heat-related emergencies is also essential. Children on the verge of heat exhaustion may exhibit an unusually flushed or pale face, profuse sweating with chills or goosebumps, clammy or cool skin to the touch, nausea, fatigue, or dizziness. Remove them from the sun or outdoors as soon as possible. Provide them with water and/or fluids with electrolytes and monitor them for faintness, vomiting, or diarrhea. Drinking plenty of cold water during the day is crucial, as well. While in the pool, children may neglect their thirst or need for water. Make sure that children are drinking plenty of water, not just swimming in it!

Tips for safe play: Summertime play can also pose issues if supervision is lacking. Even the most experienced bicyclists, roller bladers, and skateboarders must be cautious. Helmets and other protective gear are a must—no matter how confident the rider may be. Adults should always supervise these activities and ensure that children are wearing visible or reflective gear in the evenings.

Jungle gym and playground enthusiasts need to be monitored carefully, as well.

Experts say that, statistically, monkey bars are the most dangerous playground equipment due to falls. The CDC reports that emergency rooms see around 20,000 traumatic brain injury-related accidents each year caused solely by playground falls. Educators, camp counselors, and sitters must be vigilant while children enjoy the playground—and any indication of a head injury should be checked out by a doctor immediately.

Because of the possibility of bug bites and stings, adults working with children must be up to date on EpiPen training. In order to properly administer Epinephrine Auto-Injector to a child experiencing anaphylaxis, adults must be trained and familiar with each child’s individual allergy threats.

Finally, while no child should play with or anywhere near fireworks, each summer brings firework-related injuries. Even popular items such as firecrackers and sparklers can result in serious burns and other injuries—it’s just not a good idea.  

The Science Behind Movement: How to Use it to Boost Learning

The classroom, as far as most people remember it, has changed dramatically over the last decade or so. Whether public or private, chalkboards are a thing of the past. Rows of desks are reconfigured; digital documents are replacing paper copies; the library is now considered a media center; and smartboards project interactive lessons, movies, visual aids, and text-to-speech readings. What is fundamentally different about how schools are transforming is the notion of “doing.” Students, educators, and parents are now doing things in a totally different way. For instance, a smartphone app now texts students and parents reminders about upcoming assignments. Teachers can upload live video screenshots of a math lesson so that an absent student can still participate from home. Students are able to create digital representations of a structure they have designed, upload it to the classroom’s website, and receive comments and suggestions from peers in real-time.

Aside from the gains that technology has brought into the classroom, we have also begun to see learning processes in a new light. Of late, movement and kinetic strategies have been the topic of conversation among educators, developmental psychologists, researchers, etc. How exactly does this philosophy work? Are there any drawbacks to movement in the classroom? What can we do to best implement these strategies at home and in school?

Without getting too far down the rabbit hole in anatomical terms and rhetoric about how the brain works, scientific research supports one major claim about movement and learning: the same part of the brain that processes movement also happens to process learning, attention, and memory—the cerebellum. So in the same way that regular physical activity strengthens the muscles, movement similarly helps construct and strengthen neural pathways.  

The push for movement comes about at an interesting time, in which students as young as kindergarten aren’t having recess in order to accommodate the academic rigor of the school day. Some strongly believe that, in the same way that imaginative play has been somewhat marginalized, physical activity has become collateral damage—pushed aside to catch U.S. students up with the rest of the established world in terms of academics. Proponents of kinetic classrooms, however, wish to marry traditional learning with physical activity. In other words, instead of seeing learning time and recess time as separate entities, instruction and learning would be embedded with movement. This could take the form of yoga balls instead of traditional classroom chairs, standing or high-top desks as opposed to typical desks, rotation or station activities to promote constant movement, and hands-on and outdoor learning to provide real-world application and tangible concepts.

At home, this learning with movement philosophy could be different things, depending on the child’s needs and capabilities. For some, simply rolling a bouncy ball across the desk while studying could boost memory and reasoning. For others, it may help to listen to assigned chapters of an audiobook while jumping on the trampoline or juggling a soccer ball. Pacing while studying is a small tweak that allows kids to focus solely on the material while moving continuously and methodically.

Some concerns about shifting the traditional classroom model involve the distractibility of others. Yes, research indicates that movement helps with focus, attention, memory, and logical reasoning. But, could the movement of one student be a distraction to another? Some say yes. In the same way that a student may unknowingly rhythmically tap their pencil or kick the chair in front of them, movement in the classroom poses that issue on a greater scale. Some educators and parents may choose to start small—like providing a stress ball for the child to squeeze while working. The distraction level is minimal, but the concept of movement still applies.

So, what’s the takeaway? Studies show that movement can and does improve learning. It’s up to you and your child to see what movement-based strategies work best–and to make sure these tactics are approved for use in the classroom or reserved for home use. Regardless, it’s time to get a move on kinetic learning!

 

Positive Behavior Begets More Positive Behavior: Advice to Use at Home

I vividly remember being told things like: “Do the right thing, even when no one is watching.” “Treat others the way you’d like to be treated.” Or, “A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle.” These go-to one-liners stayed with me, not because the deeper meanings sank in right away, but because it took experiences with others to see the impact that following—or not following—these adages had on myself and those around me.

As a middle school teacher, I find myself uttering these notions to teens and preteens regularly, but the truth is, these important messages should be instilled long before my 7th graders have reached my classroom. So, how can we school our children on these important, non-academic lessons before they reach the classroom?

Learn to deflect the “no” response and set the tone for future conflict resolution. This new favorite word seemingly begins as soon as children begin to speak. After “mama/dada” the word “no” becomes a frequent response to any question. Once children get a bit older, the cute “no” becomes a more defiant situation. For questions or statements that do not allow for yes or no options, remove the opportunity for children to respond with “no.” Phrase things in ways that provide children with choices: Would you like salad or peas? You can either take out the trash or fold your laundry. Would you like to stay up 15 minutes later or sleep in 15 minutes longer? Complete your homework now or lose screen time before bed.

The key is to provide options that lead kids in the right direction, while giving them a sense of agency as well.  

Encourage kind gestures, especially when others make it difficult. This is a challenging concept—even for adults at times. The instinct is to respond and react based on the behavior of those around you—if someone is cold or rude, it may subtly influence us to be standoffish. However, meeting rudeness with rudeness does nothing to allay the moment. Teach your child to challenge himself to rise above any perceived negativity from others. Positivity is often contagious, but in the off chance that the other person still does not reciprocate, your child can still feel good about the genuine attempt. Remind him that kindness does not have to be received before it is given—again, this notion is a hard pill to swallow. The more we practice the art of spreading kindness, the more intuitive and automatic it becomes.

Praise honesty, even when the truth is testing. Again, the instinct is to self-preserve, which means that kids may put themselves in the position of lying to stay out of trouble. This is totally understandable, as we have all likely fibbed to save ourselves from the truth. However, we have also learned that while dishonesty may temporarily alleviate the heat from the hot seat, it also creates bigger issues down the line. Teach your child that, even when owning the truth can be uncomfortable or damaging, it will never be as harmful as the lies you tell yourself. When your child gets into trouble, but remains honest about the situation, be sure to praise the honesty piece. Yes, she made a mistake, and that will be dealt with accordingly, but the optimistic view is that she owned her actions honestly, which exhibits maturity, morality and accountability.

Outdoor Learning

The summer months are notorious for triggering brain drain. The shear gap in time, combined with the hiatus from hours of learning every day, prompts a decline in knowledge acquisition and retention. Now, it is no wonder why summer activities and routines make it difficult to convince children to complete ungraded practices. Kids would much rather ditch the homework and head outside to soak up the sunshine with their friends. So instead, what if we took the learning outside? What if activities were presented as challenges, exploration, observation and inquiry? The impact could be dramatic.

Research and data indicate that outdoor learning can have immense benefits on student achievement. Western European countries have found major benefits to embracing outdoor and out-of-the-classroom learning. Aside from increasing engagement, learning outside the box, so to speak, allows students to experience hands-on practice, first-hand knowledge, real-world application and academic exploration. The value of outdoor learning experiences has been solidly recognized, so it is essential that parents, educators, and schools incorporate some of these ideologies.

This does not mean that teachers and parents should simply plop children down outside to complete a worksheet—the learning needs to be rooted in an aspect of the environment. Much like using educational technology simply for the sake of using technology, venturing outdoors just for the sake of being outdoors is not one of the fundamental concepts of outdoor learning. Some classes like physics, biology, and physical education more readily lend themselves to outdoor learning opportunities. Say you are studying types of clouds during the weather unit in science class. Instead of viewing drawings in a textbook, students could perform outdoor observations of actual clouds. Groups could discuss temperature, wind, and humidity to assess which variety of cloud is most common for the day’s weather. Math students could make use of the nice weather to plan, organize, measure out, and purchase materials for a regulation kickball field, miniature green house, or standing long jump.

Other subjects take a little more creative planning, but they can just as easily utilize the outdoors. If English students are reading poems by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, they may take the excerpts outdoors to combine the lush descriptions of nature on the page to the physical world surrounding them. If a child is more resistant to spending some parts of summertime explicitly learning or reviewing academic skills, activities can be disguised even further. Ask your child if there are any national parks, landmarks, or other attractions that he would like to visit. Casually seek information about the location by asking questions that would encourage your child to perform some informal research. Once you have gathered enough information, take your child to the park, monument, zoo, or lake. Ask if anything surprised him once you have visited in person—did you recognize any of the aspects that you saw in your research?