The Parent-Teacher-Child Connection: September 2012

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Put the FUN back in FUNdamental Education

For many generations, people have assumed that children learn only when they are quiet and serious.  In some schools, teachers are chastised for an uproarious classroom, filled with activity and laughter.  They might even be warned by their fellow teachers that they are disrupting the hallway with their joyous noises. 

Some parents might argue that allowing children to enjoy their education does not prepare them for the “real world” which rewards serious, thoughtful effort.  What a pity we all can’t enjoy ourselves while earning money to support the family!  When did fun suddenly become the bad player in an office?  In the classroom?  On the playing field?  Even at home?

Let’s look at the research.  In chapter 3 of Judy Willis’s book, Research-Based Strategies to Ignite Student Learning: Insights from a Neurologist and Classroom Teacher (ASCD 2006), she notes that emotional well-being positively influences learning.  Willis writes, the truth is that when the joy and comfort are scrubbed from the classroom and replaced with homogeneity, and when spontaneity is replaced with conformity, students’ brains are distanced from effective information processing and long-term memory storage.  In other words, when children are happy and spontaneous, they learn more quickly.  Conversely, when children fear the outcome of their behavior or grades, they learn less quickly, perhaps not at all.  When did educational framework stray from fun to dull, from play to work, and from active to quiet? Or did it really ever stray?  Maybe today’s teachers need to learn how to invent the joyful classroom to facilitate learning.

Eric Jensen wrote Teaching with the Brain in Mind (ASCD 2005).  He links engagement in learning with a release of dopamine from the brain. Dopamine is responsible for reward-driven learning.  Therefore, if you increase the dopamine rushing through children’s bodies, by stressing intrinsic rewards, children not only learn more easily, but they also feel better about themselves as individuals.  According to Jensen, the task has to be behaviorally relevant to the learner, which is why the brain will not adapt to senseless tasks. Senseless tasks: worksheets, rote, and sleep-inducing videos.   Behaviorally relevant tasks: Games, activities, projects, and group interaction.  Intrinsic reward: Performing for the sheer fun of engagement!

In my book, The Kinetic Classroom, I present many ways teachers can incorporate fun and active learning into any regular curriculum content.  Turn math facts into a race.  Turn geography lessons into a treasure hunt.  And turn book reports into a mini-wax museum.  Get those children moving and you get the oxygen flowing through their brains.  Engage their interest because they find the activity fun and you release dopamine into their bloodstreams.  When those two events occur simultaneously – increased oxygen and flow of dopamine – teachers may find fewer discipline problems and higher test scores.  And isn’t that the FUNdamental goal of education?  To prepare our children for a world filled with new experiences that they are not afraid to investigate.

The Entelechy Education, LLC program provides elementary teachers an holistic approach to increasing that oxygen and dopamine in children. Without character education, children fall short in their ability to learn technical topics. For example, without courage, the child would be unable to take the leap to investigate a new topic. Without cooperation, the child would be unable to work with other students toward a common goal. Without independence, the child would be unable to form unique ideas. And certainly, without creativity, no child would be able to conceptualize innovations that could promote the well-being of all mankind. Teachers can use the EnteleTronsTM series of books to begin a FUNdamental investigation into STEM topics while exploring character education issues in the language arts curriculum. Wow! Three or more lessons in one plan based on Core Content Standards!

So what are you waiting for?  Get those kids moving!  Engage them in meaningful education!  Bring The EnteleTronsTM series of books into your classroom, electrify student learning using the tips in The Kinetic Classroom, and watch your classroom come alive with learning. And then try to convince your administration that your children are actually learning more in your classroom than the one next door where the students are lined up in quiet rows of desks.  You’ll need a strong dose of creativity and determination to accomplish that task! Help the administrators in your district to understand the power of engaging student learners in the FUN of their FUNdamental Education.

 Happy teaching!

Monday, September 24, 2012

10 Common Toy Organizers

Clutter-busting is one of the best ways to make your home more Feng Shui compatible so the chi can gently swirl its energy throughout your house.  This list of toy organizers comes from my friends at  Enjoy!

Cutting the clutter in your home by paring down and organizing all of your own belongings isn’t always easy, and it often seems even more difficult to accomplish these same tasks in a child’s room. The sheer volume of toys that children manage to collect over a relatively short period of time can be overwhelming, making it hard for little ones to keep their rooms clean without any extra help and presenting a challenge in logistics after gift-giving holidays and birthdays. These ten common items can, with a bit of creativity, become interesting and effective toy organizers. Thinking outside of the toy box can help you keep your child’s room inviting and clutter free.
  1. Baskets – Woven baskets are functional storage items that can also become whimsical decorative items, stashing away toys and lending a polished air to the room. For even more ornamental power, line baskets with fabric that coordinates with the color scheme of your child’s room.
  2. Storage Benches – There’s often a shortage of seating in kids’ rooms, which can begin to present a challenge as they get older and start to have friends over. Solve the seating problem and your toy organization woes by stowing toys under the lid of a storage bench, which becomes functional seating as well as an organizational tool.
  3. Wire Bins – Wire bins, especially those that have flat edges to facilitate wall mounting, can be great ways to keep smaller toys off the ground and out of the way. Just be sure that they’re mounted low enough for your child to see inside and retrieve a desired toy himself, or you might find yourself in the position of both taking them out for him and putting them away at the end of the day.
  4. Storage Cubes – Typically made of plastic and covered in durable, brightly colored canvas, storage cubes are functional toy organizers that also lend splashes of color to the room. They have the added bonus of being lightweight enough that your child can move them himself, provided that the toys themselves aren’t particularly heavy.
  5. Coffee Cans – Painting a coffee can in your child’s favorite color and personalizing it with his name makes for a storage system that puts the fun back in functional. Before turning your newest project over to your little one, however, be sure that the inner lip is completely dull to avoid any accidental cuts when he reaches inside.
  6. Diaper Wipe Containers – By the time your infant reaches toddlerhood, the number of lidded plastic diaper wipe containers that you’ve amassed can be impressive. Rather than tossing them into the garbage to take up space in a landfill, it might be better to take the green route by repurposing them to hold small toys or crayons.
  7. Buckets and Pails – With their handles and sturdy construction, small buckets and pails are great choices for kids’ organization. Not only can your child maneuver them easily with the handle, they can also double as toys themselves.
  8. Suitcases – When you’re not traveling, kids’ luggage simply sits in a closet collecting dust. Rather than storing non-functional pieces all year only to use them once or twice, fill them with toys, doll clothes, or other items, then stash them under the bed. Your child can still access her favorite toys, but they’re no longer taking up space all over the room and her luggage is being put to a functional use year round.
  9. Spice Racks – Older children that are becoming arts and crafts enthusiasts can acquire a lot of glitter, sequins, buttons, and other supplies that aren’t always easy to store. A new spice rack, sans spices, of course, might be just what you’re looking for. Shaker tops built into the jars are ideal for glitter, ribbons can be neatly coiled and stashed inside, and buttons or other small bits can be collected into them for easy storage. Glass or clear plastic jars allow your little one to see what each of them contain, and they are easily corralled in their very own rack.
  10. Cabinets – Though you certainly can install wall cabinets in your child’s room, it’s likely to be an involved and fairly expensive project. Rather than investing in custom cabinetry, stop by your local builders’ supply and pick up a couple of cabinet sections intended for upper wall mounting. Arrange them in a straight line, then cover the top with pine or some other type of lumber. Stain or paint the entire new piece of furniture you’ve created the color of your choice, then enjoy the custom credenza you’ve built with a hammer, a few nails, and a minimal investment of time or effort.
In addition to utilizing some of these toy storage ideas, it’s also wise to cull your children’s toys periodically to make room for new ones. Unless they have some sort of particular emotional significance, any playthings that are broken, damaged, or rarely played with should be discarded in the interest of maintaining order and organization.

Happy parenting!
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