Saturday, November 26, 2016

Anything for a Treat

What this clip and see if you can stop yourself from giggling. 

What makes this baby imitate a dog? It is certainly not because doggy treats smell good.

Infants are continually watching our actions and committing them to memory. This is an amazing thing given the fact their brains are still learning how to create and retrieve long term memories. Infants are even born able to imitate as research on babies less than two days old shows infants imitating facial expressions. 

Research has shown us that infants have four basic ways of learning. They mature and develop skills such as large motor skills. They learn from trial and error. They learn from exploration, and they learn from imitation.

Yup! The same infant who has difficulty getting his fist reliably into his mouth is learning by watching you. They learn these lessons and can repeat these actions even in different settings. The interesting thing found in research is that even when adults make mistakes in demonstrating something, the infants will often imitate the action without the mistake. In fact, one study showed that infants remembered the action better if there was a mistake. Perhaps it required more thinking to watch, interpret, correct and execute what was seen. (Meltzoff, 1999)

This is good news for parents. It means that we do have a strong influence on our children – an even stronger influence than the family dog!

It means that children are learning from us, even when we do not see evidence of that learning.  What children learn in a loving family is what is buried deep in the neural connections of the brain.

Use this learning/teaching gift God has given you. What can you model for your children today?

Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. I Corinthians 11:1, ESV


Friday, November 11, 2016

Growing your mind

Getting information about school out of your child is a pretty typical parenting challenge. “What did you do in school today?” is often met with a shoulder shrug or a report about a recess game. 
Encouraging children to talk about school is a good thing.  Such discussions encourage meta-cognition, which is a way to evaluate learning. Carol Dweck is a Psychology researcher and she has found that particular questions encourage children to think about effort and personal improvement rather than worrying about comparison. 

Children who think about stretching themselves develop thinking skills that help them to overcome obstacles and solve-problems. Growth mindset thinking not only builds a healthy self-efficacy, but it also reduces anxiety since in focuses on the hope found in learning and improving.

Try some of these questions on your next car ride home:

  • What did you do today that made you think hard? 
  • What mistake did you make that taught you something? 
  • How did you think about your work and improve it today? 
  • What problem did you work on today?

 These questions also work for faith thinking:

  • What happened today that made you think about Jesus?  
  • Did you apologize or forgive someone today?  
  • Did you find someone who needed your kindness today? 
  • What mistake did God help you learn from today?


Thursday, October 27, 2016

Children Learn in Layers

Children do not learn in lessons.

Did that soak in? Let me say it again, children do not learn in lessons.

In fact, they learn in layers. The lesson is just the start. It matters not if the lesson happens at home, in school, on a piano bench, or in a soccer field. The lesson does not do the teaching, alone. The lesson is really a small piece of the picture.

After the lesson, the next layer of learning is repetition. Children need to be taught things over and over, again. Their brains take note of things that are repeated as an indication of importance. Learning to tie shoes or park a car is not likely to stick with one demonstration or one attempt. The repetition strengthens the neural pathways involved and that is what creates the learning. The lesson might create a pathway, but the pathway does not last and is less likely to be used if it is not strengthened through repetition.

The lesson benefits from happening in different contexts. As a former kindergarten teacher I can attest to the truth that if school is the only place that requires a child to tie shoes, or practice letter sounds, then learning will be hampered. The brain wants to know that this new skill will be used in more than one setting.

The next layer of learning involves modeling. The brain is continually taking in information about what learning is important for survival. When children see a particular skill modeled for them, mirror neurons will fire in much the same way as when the child performs the action. This is another way that the brain learns that something is important. Children who intently watch an activity might learn it easier when they try it, later.

Engagement in the lesson makes yet another layer in learning. Young children are typically interested in what their parents are doing and that creates engagement. If you are aware of their engagement you can use it to continue the learning of a lesson. Older children may pretend they are not interested, but can still be enticed to participate. The key to this kind of engagement is that the lesson is something you are learning with your parents and not just from your parents.

The individual personality and flair of a child makes up another layer of learning. When children are allowed to be creative and inventive with new learning, they activate more parts of the brain and that creates better learning. 

Now let’s apply the layered learning theory to the teaching of faith. This means that a one time Sunday school lesson is not sufficient for learning about God. The Spirit grows faith in your child in layers.

Children need to hear Bible stories, hymns, Bible verses, over and over, again. This can happen in Sunday school, church, youth group, day school, and childcare. It also needs to happen at home as well as with friends and teammates. This provides repetition and different contexts.

Let your children see you pray and worship. Then do these activities with them. Learning happens when children see faith modeled, and find that faith activities are a part of daily routines. Engagement is also created when the faith of a family walks out into the neighborhood in the form of service projects. Let your children help you plan your devotions, prayers, and service projects and they will be able to add in their own ideas and perspectives.

We are blessed that God does not expect us to teach our children the faith on our own. He provides us with the Word and Sacraments and sends His Spirit to make our work fruitful. He layers us with His love. It is worth the time and  effort to plan and repeat the little things of teaching the faith. With the help of God you are teaching layer by layer.

Monday, September 19, 2016

High Diving Board Syndrome

As I was completing my morning walk I came across a couple of elementary age boys with their bikes having an intense discussion with their Grandma. It seems they were being encouraged to ride their bikes to school, but they were a bit nervous to attempt this task. 

Riding from Grandma’s house they were merely a block from school in a safe neighborhood with many parents walking with their children. Grandma was getting ready to follow along in her car.

The boys looked to be about 6 and 8 years old. Why would they be so afraid to ride their bike one block to school? 

I don’t know their particular situation, but I do know that anxiety in children has increasingly become a factor in schools. Children refuse to come to school, older children suffer separation anxiety previously only seen in young children, teachers must teach calming techniques, and classrooms are outfitted with “calming corners” for children who are feeling stressed. This also makes me wonder how many more children are being medicated for anxiety at earlier ages.

First of all, I would like to say that this post is NOT for parents of children who are experiencing panic attacks. Children with intense anxiety issues will benefit from expert care that is far above my level of expertise. Furthermore, I do not wish to put guilt on parents that they are causing anxiety in children. But given the increase in anxiety, this is something we want to address.

When I taught kindergarten, it was not unusual for my class to include a child or two who was anxious at the kindergarten door. I learned to reassure parents that their child suffered from what I lovingly called “High Diving Board Syndrome.” I pointed out that a child climbing a ladder rarely thinks of the height of that ladder until he or she stands at the end of the diving board; then the panic sets in. Likewise, once the swimmer has made the jump, the anxiety is transformed into pure thrill. This is simply a description of initial anxiety. This kind of anxiety comes from the body pumping adrenaline in anticipation. For a brief moment, there is more adrenaline than what is being used. For most children we can talk them through it by pointing out they are safe, and by reminding them of how good it will feel to tackle this challenge.

Our children engage in quite a bit of passive entertainment. They have television, streamed movies on computer, and an infinite number of games on phones. The downside of too much of this activity is that children become comfortable with the peaceful feeling of passive entertainment. They rarely have to deal with initial anxiety. Then when they feel anxious about trying something new, they might pull back instead of learning that initial anxiety is temporary and is what makes us mentally sharp. 

Here are some things to remember when children are reluctant to try something that you are confident they are able to do:

1.     Name the anxiety for what it is. It is a state of alertness that God gives us when we try something new that helps us to pay better attention. It will go away once your child engages in the activity and uses the adrenaline that is pumping away.
2.     Empathize, but do not sympathize, with your child. Recognize the anxiety and help your child to focus on the feeling of accomplishment that will occur later.
3.     Remember that children develop self-confidence by accomplishing something difficult – even if mistakes and failures are involved.
4.     Do not emphasis performance. Instead remind them of accomplishment.
5.     At the dinner table, share stories of times when you were anxious about trying something new as a child. Let your child see how things worked out.
6.     Reduce the amount of time your child spends in passive entertainment and increase the amount of time spent in unstructured play outside with other children.  This kind of play involves many instances of small risks that children safely overcome and can build confidence.

In your family devotions, you can lift up your child’s anxieties to God in prayer. We do not have to tell children to ignore their anxiety. As Christian parents we can remind them that they are loved and cared for by parents and their Heavenly Father.

And by all means, seek help for children suffering from anxiety that has adversely impacted their lives. God has blessed us with many experts that help us to raise happy, healthy children.

The LORD Himself goes before you and will be with you; He will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged. Deuteronomy 31:8