Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Building Executive Function Skills in the Home

More and more parents hear about executive function skills and how important they are to learning. The term executive function (EF) refers to specific brain processes that all us to focus, encode learning, and problem solve.  Executive function skills promote the ability to do the things listed in the diagram – and more. As you can well imagine, these skills are vital to learning.

Play is how children practice EF skills so they can perform them later.  These are not skills that are easily taught in activities or lessons. They are skills the brain is already programmed to learn – as long as the child spends time in healthy, useful activities.

The education world has known about EF skills for some time, but the term has just begun to wind its way down to schools and classrooms in the last few years. Poor EF skills are not a learning disability. However, poor use of these skills will make other learning disabilities much worse. They are just as important for a child not diagnosed with a disability to allow them to learn at their potential.

Whenever we hear something new about learning it is common to look for a program or a complicated process to help us teach it. But, developing EF skills is pretty straightforward. . Here are four that can easily fit into any family schedule:

Reduce screen time

Screen time takes away from the time children could be spending developing EF skills with other activities such as play and conversation. Research tells us to keep screen time to a minimum. Even education games take away from EF skill development.

Send them out to play

Any kind of non-screen play, the more active, the better, offers children plenty of time to practice the EF skills that will be strong and ready when they need them for school learning. Children who have weak problem-solving skills, working memory problems, or difficulties staying focused will all be helped by healthy doses of play.

Talk with them and read to them

Strong language skills are the foundation for any learning. When you talk with your children and read to them, you are building EF skills that will help them learn. This is one reason why families that have technology-free meals together produce better learners.

Hold them accountable for tasks

When children have jobs to do, they practice EF skills. When you give them feedback on how they are doing they practice EF skills in a way they will use them in school.  

Thursday, October 11, 2018

The Grace Sandwich

We may think parenting is about the right answer or the correct response to each situation. In a real world, the correct response is not easy to determine. Research shows us that good parenting is really about balance. We want high expectations for our children because we know this builds confidence. We also want to show our children high levels of responsiveness, so they know they are not alone in the world.

One of the best ways I have found to do this is to use the grace sandwich in discipline or correction situations. The grace sandwich allows you to address the behavior in a spirit of gentleness.

The first piece of bread in the sandwich is grace. Before you apply correction, remind your child you are doing this out of love. Believe it or not, this is an easy thing for a child to forget and that reminder puts the child in a different, less defensive mood.

Next apply the meat of the sandwich which is the correction and appropriate discipline.

Finally, don’t forget the last piece of grace bread. Finish the discipline session with forgiveness and a reminder that God sends His Spirit to help us learn and grow. 

When you wrap your correction in love you are teaching your child a vital faith lesson:

For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Galatians 5: 14

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Read to Your Child!

This video clip of a Grandma reading to her grandson is hilarious. Just try to watch it without laughing.

While we are in a good mood, let’s think about what is happening as this baby hears this story:

  • He feels his grandma’s joy and his mirror neurons are showing him how to feel positive emotions. 
  • He is learning how to regulate his emotions as he listens to his Grandma calm herself to continue reading.
  •  He is learning that books hold much promise for entertainment and learning.
  •  He is learning that words can be said with emotion and expression.
  •  He is learning that words communicate an idea.
  •  He is learning that words and pictures tell a story and it is worth the time to decode those words.
  •  He is developing his sense of phonemic awareness as he hears the rhyming words over and over, again.
  •  His brain is taking statistics on the necessary sounds of language.
  •  His brain is identifying a pattern by hearing it repeated.
  •  He is learning that you turn the pages of a book to hear what comes next.
  •  He is developing executive function skills by redirecting his attention to the book that Grandma is enjoying.

Who knew so much learning could happen from a 4-minute story? Forget the fancy apps that “teach” phonics or sight words while ignoring the fact that children learn to read within the context of family and language learning.
Read to your child!  

  • Picture books until they are too old to sit in your lap. And then continue picture books while they sit beside you.
  • Start the chapter books as soon as they can listen for the length of the chapter and don’t stop when they learn to read. 
  • Read 20-30 minutes a day. Every. Day
  • Mute your phone and put it in a different room. (Then your child will know that this is important)
  • Start reading Bible stories as soon as possible and later discuss those stories after your child reads them to you.

Read to your child!

Wonky Donkey by Craig Smith and illustrated by Katz Cowley

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Beginning of the School Year Joy

The beginning of the school year has many joys and challenges. As parents it is easy for us to want to solve problems for our children. However, with each new school year comes new levels of maturity and it is good for us to allow children to struggle and learn for themselves. If we stay available they will come to us if and when they need our help.

One thing that parents can do to help is to foster positive emotions. There is good reason to believe that positive emotions support social skill development and academic success. It is not hard to see the connection between a good attitude and making friends, or learning new skills.

When we promote positive emotion it does not mean that we ignore negative emotions. Children need to be able to talk with their parents about frustrations and solutions. When we promote positive emotions we are keeping children from dwelling on troubles and reminding them of the ways that God is at work in their life.

One way to do this is to encourage your child to pay attention to the good things that happen each day. When you see your child after school, make the list of happy things the first priority. Help your child to reflect on what benefit they received and to consider if someone should be thanked. Gratitude is a powerful characteristic of resilience.

After the listing of good things there can be time to talk about frustrations. You will likely note that your children will develop in their skills of problem solving as they combine their gratitude with brainstorming solutions.

Beginning of the School Year Blues

The beginning of a new school year is an exciting time. It involved new clothes, new school supplies, and possibly new friends. The very things that make this time exciting can also make it challenging. 

A change of classrooms, teachers, or schools can bring on anxiety. Even for older children a new situation can mean changes in long-time friendships, or the emergence of a previously coped with learning issue like staying organized. With all of the excitement of the new school year it can be difficult to sort through what challenges are temporary and what needs to be addressed. However, there are good things parents can do in the meantime.

1. Be open to interaction. This means that the screens (phones, tablets, computers, televisions) should be set aside. This is the time for many short, but important, conversations that help your child to think through anxiety and challenge. They need to be comforted, to brainstorm ideas, and to get feedback. Be available!

2. Identify emotions. This is not the time to assume that your child is correctly identifying emotions. For example, worry can easily morph into fear, and jealously can be mistaken for anger. You will help your child to regulate emotions if you help them to understand the appropriate emotion for the situation. Be attentive!

3. Encourage resolution. Ask your child to think about possible solutions before you start making suggestions. Give feedback, but sometimes it is best to let them try their solution first. Be supportive!

Children do not gain confidence from winning at a stress-free life or from having their problems solved for them. They gain confidence when they struggle and cope with challenges. Children develop resilience when the learn that God has given them people who are there to help.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Astronauts and Failure

Children often see astronauts as heroes and we adults see them as people born with the right stuff. 

But, even astronauts fail.

This clip is a compilation of astronauts trying to move around on the moon. It is one giant fall after another as they work to move in those huge suits and do it with some semblance of coordination in a gravity environment that is very different from earth.They are learning to walk all over again.

It is easy for children to see a failure as being an indication of whether or not they will ever be successful in a skill. As parents we need to watch for this attitude and gently remind our children that failure is not the end of accomplishment; it is the beginning of learning.

The astronauts in the clip learned from their missteps and gradually became more adept at walking on the moon. When we make a mistake, we can learn and move on to do better. This is especially true when it comes to our sin failures. We cannot make ourselves failure-free in order to get to heaven, but God wants us to live a healthy, happy, loving, obedient life. When we sin, we can repent and our loving God forgives us.  Then He helps us to get back up, brush off that moon dust, and learn from that failure.

Here is a beautiful song prayer for parents. Let it remind you of God’s grace and His willingness to bring good out of your parental missteps.