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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Are we setting our children up for academic success or failure?

As parents we want the best for our children. We want them to be academically successful - to do well in school and later go on to have successful careers of their choice. We strive to give them every possible opportunity to explore their talents, be it sports, art, or music. We find ways to give them these things, take on a second job, move the family to a new school district or we send them to private school. We pay for tutors and yet many of them are coming out at the other end of the education system with substandard educations. Where are we going wrong? Children have no attention span and cannot concentrate in class. More of them are diagnosed with learning disorders and school standards are lowered so that children can keep up and still many are either just scraping by or failing miserably.
There are many answers to this question and I don’t pretend to know half of them, but in my ongoing quest to provide the best possible education for my own young children I have stumbled upon a few ideas that has shed some light.

In her book Endangered minds, Jane M Healy, PH.D, explores the idea that children’s brains are physically changing as a result of their environment. Her many interviews with leading experts in the fields of teaching, psychology, biopsychology and numerous others leave no doubt in my mind that we as a society are setting our children up for academic failure.

We have more information at our fingertips than any generation before us. There is the internet, television, DVD’s, cellphones and radio. All of these are constantly feeding us with information at a fast pace. In order to process and retain this information our brains are adapting to cope. Children learn their letters and numbers from Leapfrog DVD’s, Sesame Street and other visually colorful and stimulating sources. Neon digital super heroes are blasting their little minds with information, conditioning their impressionable brains to rely on this right brain stimulation for learning.
We are allowing their brains to be conditioned for a new way of learning. We are teaching their brains to expect the excitement that comes with the super heroes the colorful flashing letters. It is no small wonder that these kids cannot sit still in a school desk and listen to teacher instruction. Teachers complain that children cannot sit still and concentrate and yet these same children will spend hours in front of a video game or TV, doing just that, sitting still and concentrating. We as a society have changed the way we receive information and yet we expect our children to straddle this world of information and education.  We want them to move from a stimulating media focused learning and recreational environment at home to a less stimulating book and worksheet environment at school. Again, should we really be surprised that these kids are not succeeding in school?

So what do we do? How can we help our children succeed in school and later in College? I think there are many answers to this question, but here are a few that make sense to me as a parent and are doable.

Read to them. We have heard this over and over, but reading to a child is the most basic activity that we as parents can do and yet the payoff is huge. Most of us have access to books at home or at a library and yet life gets in the way of reading together. We have jobs to go to, sports events to attend, meals to prepare, laundry to fold and plenty of other tasks that seem more important than reading a book; however reading to a child can make all the difference.

Children who are growing up in front of the television and other electronic media are learning their language from these outlets. The television set is teaching them vocabulary, sentence structure and how to pronounce words. I want to scream when I hear my 3 year old pronounce the word “volcano” as “velcano”, the way that “Map” pronounces it on Dora.

By reading good books to our children we teach them not only about the subject of the book, but we are shaping their language use. We are teaching them what proper English sounds like and how to use it. We are building vocabulary. Children have an opportunity to think about the material and ask questions, thus actively interacting with the information instead of passively listening to a television program. They learn to think and ask questions related to the information and that is what makes them successful in school. As soon as children are able to read by themselves we no longer read to them. The problem is that most of them do not pick a book up to read. It is still an effort and they would much rather switch on a television to be entertained.

As parents we need to put aside the time and read with these older kids as well. When we read together, we are creating a relaxed, safe environment for them to ask questions and enjoy our company. During this time we should be expanding on points made in the book thus creating opportunities for conversations. This brings me to my next my next point.

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Talk to your children. We no longer talk to our kids other than the rushed instruction. “Johnny, get your coat we have to be at football practice in 5 minutes ”

We no longer have time to talk. Families seldom eat dinner together, schedules do not allow it and so our children never learn the art of conversation. Children get home from school grab a snack and either head out to see their friends or sit down in front of the television or video game.

By conversing with them we not only build relationships, but we also give them a forum to practice their verbal skills - something that neither friends nor television can offer them. Yes, children speak to their friends and they hear speech on TV, but this is seldom proper English. By verbally interacting with an adult, children learn how to hold their own in an adult world.

Where possible, let them hear you and other adults discuss matters and ask for their opinion. Value their input and encourage it. In days gone by children heard adults converse about important topics. They heard adults reason and use correct grammar. They learned how to follow along with a conversation and exercise their thinking skills, something that is invaluable in a school setting and later in college lecture halls.

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Give children time to be quiet. With all the electronic media in our lives, rushing from one place to another, no one has the time to be quiet. Children are not learning to think, to problem solve and to come up with their own creative activities and ideas. When we are constantly bombarded with sound and visual stimulation we are receiving other people’s ideas. Only by being quiet can we create. By sitting still and thinking, exploring their inner thinking, children can find their inner voice.

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Take them out and show them the world. This does not have to be far or expensive. An annual trip to the beach, a family trip to the zoo, a weekly trip to the park, a museum, another state or a ride on the train - these are all things that help shape their understanding of the world around them. These activities should be unrushed so that they can ask questions and have time to reflect on our answers. A Sunday family tip on the local light rail is not only a bonding exercise, but gives them a life experience to draw on. A weekly trip to a park can open up conversations about animals, habitats, decorative or useful plants and with little effort from us. These experiences broaden their understanding of the world and give them a larger intellectual framework in which to process information.

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Slow down. We are over scheduling our children and we are doing it because we think we are giving them every possible opportunity, but at what cost? We are not allowing them time to think anymore. By the time they have free time they are exhausted and all they want to do it sit down and be entertained.

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Turn it off. I am not against Television, it is a valuable commodity in our society, but I believe we are using it to our detriment. Parents are using it as baby sitters, it is teaching our children to speak and it is indirectly rewriting our societal moral code. Children no longer learn how to act and interact from parents as they did in days gone by, but instead they are learning it from popular television shows and characters.

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When I was discussing some of these ideas with my husband this week, he asked the questions; where do we draw the line? How do we as individuals live successfully in a society that is progressing at an astounding rate? How much is too much technology and when does it start interfering with humanity? A huge battery of questions and obviously we were not able to come to any real conclusions, but we as individuals need to become aware of these changes and the effects on our children academically.
It is easy to be swept away by an ever changing society with so many exciting technological advances. It is not my desire to shelter my kids from all technology, but to limit them, especially during the time that their brains are developing and they are learning how to process information. If we want to help our children succeed in school we need to decide what is important for their cognitive development and make lifestyle changes.

For some it will be turning the television and computer of for an hour a day yet others may decide to purge their lives completely of electronic devices. I only hope that parents will become more informed about what these societal changes are doing to young brains and to set their own limits in the context of their lives.


Written by Melenie Borden a homeschool mom to 2 precious girls follow our adventures on www.Tutormygirls.com

1 comment :

  1. I want to applaud you on this topic! I get very annoyed at the pressure that is put on our children from day one to recite the alphabet before they can speak. Reading is THE most important thing we can do for our children. In OUR voices, not in a pre-recorded voice. Playing and interacting with our children is also vitally important. Encouraging children to discuss what they are playing helps develop not only their language skills but their imaginations.
    Thanks again for the post!!!

    ReplyDelete

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