Smartphones and the abdication of parental responsibility

By: Ira Wells

Like most kids who have recently been given their first cellphones, Andrea’s 12-year-old daughter is pretty nonchalant about the whole thing. When asked what she likes best about her new iPhone, she shrugs. “Feeling responsible,” she says. Besides, since her friends mostly interact over Snapchat and Instagram, the phone is a crucial way to keep in touch. Sure, she’s heard about kids “writing rude things” on social media, and sneaking off to the school bathroom to check their notifications. But over all, she’s not worried.

“Worried,” however, hardly begins to describe the deep apprehension that Andrea feels toward her daughter’s phone. Andrea’s concern, or one of them, is that as the phone replaces face-to-face interactions, her daughter “won’t be able to communicate or develop deeper, meaningful friendships. And it’s easy enough for a grownup to fall into the trap of valuing yourself for your ‘likes.’ How is a hormonal teenager going to handle that?”

Among the infinite sources of anxiety involved in childrearing today, few fill parents’ hearts with icy dread quite like the question of when kids should get their first smartphones. For modern parents, members of the last generation to grow up prior to ubiquitous internet access, equipping kids with their first phone often feels like a momentous decision – one that could impact children’s social development, influence their sense of self, shape their first romantic experiences and even condition their experience of “reality.”

And yet, despite their often-profound misgivings, most parents today act as though the smartphone is simply an unavoidable fixture of adolescence. That is an interesting reversal of expectations. Pop psychology tells us that today’s parents are mollycoddling, hyper-protective control freaks. Yet, when it comes to the signature parenting issue of our generation – the effect of smartphones on children – we have ceded control to the kids themselves, or to the marketing departments of Silicon Valley corporations. Kids are going to “need” those phones, according to the dominant cultural narrative, because the future. Or connection. Or something.

While parents endlessly discuss when kids should get their first phones, there’s no debating that children are getting phones earlier than ever. In the United States, where statistics are more readily available, the average child gets his or her own smartphone at 10.3 years of age, down from 12 just a few years ago, according to the marketing firm Influence Central. In this country, more than one-quarter of Grade 4 students have their own phone, according to a 2015 report by MediaSmarts, a digital literacy non-profit. That number rises each year until Grade 11, when 85 per cent report owning a phone. Of course, simply having a phone does not guarantee participation in social media, but let’s be real. One-third of Canadian children in Grades 4 to 6 have Facebook accounts, even though the site is technically prohibited to those under 13, according to MediaSmarts.

Most parents, educators and experts agree that there is no universal “right” age at which to give kids their first phones. For Alex Russell, a clinical psychologist who works with children and teenagers and author of Drop the Worry Ball: How to Parent in the Age of Entitlement, the decision must be situated within an understanding of the overall maturation of individual children on their path to autonomy.

“Parents are understandably anxious over their children’s online activities,” Dr. Russell said over the phone. “But a healthy development process will involve children taking on some of that anxiety for themselves. We want kids to be playful, but appropriately wary.” In Dr. Russell’s experience, parents tend to get hung up on the alarming (violent or sexual) content of digital media, where they should really be concerned about the form: that is, how digital media can prevent the uninterrupted experience of our own private interiority.

But just how harmful is this new media, really? Few authorities suggest prohibiting smartphones; even the Canadian Paediatric Society (CPS) suggests that moderation is key, counselling parents to set limits on smartphone usage and “unplug” at least an hour before bedtime, given the melatonin-suppressing effects of cellular devices – although the CPS also acknowledges that the digital landscape is evolving faster than research can measure the effects on children.

That research, however, is starting to catch up – and the results are unsettling. In an article this month in Clinical Psychological Science, the American psychologist Jean Twenge and three co-authors highlight the connection between the recent spike in mental health issues among adolescents and the concomitant rise in electronic device usage. Their study found that four suicide-related outcomes – feeling sad or hopeless, seriously considering suicide, making a suicide plan or attempting suicide – were “significantly correlated” with new media screen time. “The results,” the authors conclude, “show a clear pattern linking screen activities with higher levels of depressive symptoms/suicide-related outcomes and non-screen activities with lower levels.” The negative psychological outcomes were particularly pronounced among young women, who use social media more heavily and are more frequently the victims of cyberbullying than their male peers.

While the connection between depression and the new media is certainly alarming, it also confirms what many parents have long suspected: our kids’ sense of self-worth is often hopelessly entwined with the “like-driven” economy that governs social media. Children have difficulty negotiating technologies that have been engineered, in the words of Tristan Harris, a former Google Design Ethicist, to “exploit our minds’ weaknesses” through supplying intermittent variable rewards (such as notifications, matches and so on), which operate according to the logic of slot machines to maximize addiction. And kids’ induction into these technologies comes at a tumultuous life-stage of social and intellectual development. “Imagine trying to focus on quadratic equations with your cellphone constantly buzzing in your pocket,” says Lesley McLean, a Grade 11 History and English teacher. Schools are facing a constant stream of issues, she says, from naked pictures to bullying, and no one knows how to cope.

It is a bitter irony that today’s parents – who micromanage every facet of their children’s lives, from their diet and vaccinations to their cultural consumption and education – have nonetheless passively accepted this potentially noxious technology as an inevitable part of their kids’ future. Many parents of teens and preteens are openly thankful that we didn’t have to contend with new media when we were growing up – thank God that our every social feud, silly picture, or foolish remark was not catalogued for posterity online. And yet, when it comes to our children, we quietly relinquish our parental responsibility to U.S. tech companies, whose directives to “innovate” and “connect” now resonate so deeply that, apart from fusty appeals to nostalgia or neo-Luddism, we cannot even conceive of breaking from the narrative. We recognize that social media may be destroying democracy, but presume that its effects upon our teenagers will be nugatory.

That may be starting to change. In a recent talk at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, Chamath Palihapitiya, former vice-president of user growth for Facebook, openly advocated for people to take a “hard break” from social media, which he claimed is “ripping apart the social fabric.” “The short-term, dopamine-driven feedback loops – hearts, likes, thumbs-up – are destroying how society works. … There is no civil discourse, no co-operation, misinformation, mistruth.” His own children, he said, aren’t allowed to use social media.

If a former vice-president of Facebook has prohibited his own kids from social media, why does it strike us as inconceivable that we should do the same?

The trouble starts when we tell ourselves that smartphones will make our children safer, that these devices will enable us to monitor their movements at a time when many are starting to walk to school or take the subway on their own. Kids, of course, want the phones for their own reasons, to be able to connect with their peers through social media. We then tell ourselves that it would be cruel to bar kids from doing so; that it might even be socially ostracizing. What parents may fail to appreciate is the severity of the ostracization and exclusion that occurs within the social networks they fear their children may be excluded from.

Parents always begin with the assumption that “their kids will use their phones in a limited way,” Dr. Twenge, author of iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy – and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood, wrote in an e-mail. Or they “assume that if they spend lots of time on the phone it’s harmless – after all, parents use social media themselves and are ‘fine.’ It’s easy to be optimistic and not expect your kid to be the one who suffers the consequences.”

But kids may, in fact, suffer the consequences. As we learn more about the link between new media and mental illness, about the ways in which such media has been engineered to addict, parents should remind ourselves that smartphones are a consumer choice subject to parental discretion, not a harbinger of some preordained digital future. We should recognize the distinction between “convenience” and “safety.” We should no longer pretend that the smartphone is merely a tool, that what matters is how it is used – while ignoring the ways in which we are in turn programmed by the devices themselves, the ways that they use us. And we could stand to take ourselves more seriously: If we are thankful for our own unmediated childhoods, why sentence our kids to psychic lives of distraction?

Above all, however, we must no longer passively accept the logic of technological determinism – that our own parenting decisions and values must adapt to serve the economic interests of tech companies. Every technological innovation, Marshall McLuhan once observed, brings about a corresponding amputation. It is the right of every parent to decide not only when those amputations should come, but if they should come at all.

How to raise a kid who won’t quit

Persistence is a hot topic among education researchers these days and for good reason: It’s critical for success in school and beyond. Here are 8 tips for nurturing this quality in your child.

Determined, diligent, tenacious, persistent — we use these adjectives to describe Olympians, spelling bee champions, entrepreneurs, and success stories of all kinds. Do they describe your child?

Angela Duckworth, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, brought this stick-to-it quality to the attention of educators and the public with her 2013 book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. Gritty people, Duckworth’s research shows, finish what they start, overcome obstacles, and achieve their goals.

Researchers continue to examine how so-called “soft,” noncognitive skills like grit affect academic success as it becomes increasingly clear that these qualities are even more predictive of achievement than intelligence or talent. While there’s still much to learn about teaching kids to buckle down and work hard, research suggests there are lots of ways parents can support the development of this mindset. Here are eight ways to nurture grit in your child over time.

  1. Let them play

Just like adults, kids tend to work harder when they love what they’re doing. What’s the best way to help your child discover what they’re passionate about? Let them explore freely and widely.

“Before those who’ve yet to fix on a passion are ready to spend hours a day diligently honing skills, they must goof around, triggering and retriggering interest,” writes Duckworth in Grit. Exploring the world through family outings, media, exhibits, new people, and extracurricular clubs, classes, and lessons can spark lifelong interests.

To form an enduring passion, Duckworth claims, that first spark of interest needs to be followed by many subsequent encounters that will trigger and retrigger your child’s attention. So if your child’s curiosity is piqued by any topic from acrobatics to zoology, you can support their nascent interest by offering additional exposure to that subject.

Note that this does not mean packing your child’s every waking moment with scheduled activity; make sure they have plenty of (screen-free) downtime to fill with self-chosen projects of creative discovery.
2.  Help them practice self-control

Self-control is the quality that comes into play when your child has two possible actions to choose from, one that promises immediate pleasure, the other not as pleasurable in the moment but that serves a more distant goal. Post to Instagram or practice piano? Play a video game or study for a math test?

Perhaps not surprisingly, self-control is closely related to the ability to work toward a goal over time. Studies have shown that higher levels of self-control early in life predict how well kids do academically, as well as a host of other positive outcomes including adult earnings, savings, and physical health.

While researchers aren’t clear exactly how self-control and grit are related (it’s possible to have one without the other), the good news is that self-control can be learned. Playing games like Red Light, Green Light and Simon Says, rewarding kids for delayed gratification, making sure kids get enough sleep, and limiting their TV-watching are all associated with helping kids develop the ability to control their impulses, which may translate to an ability later to resist the siren call of their smartphone and focus on that history essay.

3. Aim high

Many studies have shown that kids work harder and do better when their teacher has high expectations for them. Parental expectations matter, too. High achievers who persevere in the face of challenges tend to come from families with high standards for their academic success and a home environment that supports learning.

Healthy achievement doesn’t arise simply out of high expectations but, paradoxically, out of feeling secure, notes Diana Divecha, developmental psychologist and researcher with the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence.

“Opportunities to stretch, opportunities to be trusted and respected, and the experience of being supported when necessary all help to foster a child’s belief in success. And of course keep your priorities straight and reassure them of your love no matter the outcome,” she says.

4. Praise the process

If you want to raise a kid who is eager to take on challenges and is not deterred by obstacles, don’t praise him for being smart; it may make him reluctant to try something harder for fear that if he fails, it will reveal that he isn’t so smart after all.

The research of Stanford psychology professor Carol Dweck, author of Mindset: the New Psychology of Success, shows that when children are praised for their intelligence or talents, they avoid challenges and are less resilient in the face of difficulty. But when children are praised for hard work that paid off, they are more likely to seek out challenges and keep going when things get tough. They are more motivated, more persistent, and more successful.

Switching from person-praise to process-praise is easy: just refer to what the child did, not who they are. Compliment the carefulness of the sewing project, the gutsy attentiveness displayed in the basketball game, the well-organized time management used in studying for the final exam.

5. Encourage goals big and small

Helping your child set short-, medium-, and long-term goals that resonate with their personal values and interests can teach them persistence, according to Duckworth in Grit. An example of a short-term goal for your sixth grade daughter might be an A on her science final, a medium-term goal could be winning a medal in a city or state science fair and a long-term goal would be receiving a science scholarship to attend college.

Your child’s goals should be in what educators call the “optimal zone” — not too easy, not too hard, but just right. Research shows that hard goals can help your child focus their attention, work harder, and develop strategic thinking. But if a goal is so difficult that it’s beyond their ability to achieve, they may be setting themselves up for anxiety.

6. Extracurriculars help

Activities outside of regular school hours, such as sports, drama, debate, Scouts, or music, are a great context for learning how to work hard at something over time. New York Times columnist Bruce Feiler, author of The Secrets of Happy Families, writes that Michelle Obama made each of her daughters take up two sports — one she chose and one they chose, so that they would have the experience of working at something they may not necessarily like and seeing improvement.

Research shows that students who participate in extracurricular activities get better grades and have higher self-esteem, lower rates of depression, and lower dropout rates than students who don’t. Kids who devote more than one year to the same activity are more likely to graduate from college; and sticking with the same activity for two years or more increases their odds of employment soon after college.

7. Imagine that

When it comes to developing tenacity, studies show that visualizing a future goal — and the potential obstacles to achieving it — really works. In one study, high school students were instructed to imagine a desired future outcome and then visualize possible obstacles to that outcome. The exercise improved high school students’ persistence in studying for the PSAT. In another study, kids were asked were asked to visualize a possible adult version of themselves. Next they listed positive and negative forces that could help or derail their progress toward becoming that person, along with strategies for success. Two years later, students who had participated in the exercise spent more time on their homework and had higher GPAs than kids in the control group.

Our takeaway? When kids spend time visualizing where they want to be and how they’ll get there, they’re more likely to work hard.

8. Do a style check

How would you describe your parenting style? Permissive? Hands-off? Authoritarian? Research suggests that your parenting style can affect how determined your child is. Spoiler alert: An authoritative parenting style, one that’s firm yet warm, seems to be the sweet spot. Myriad studies indicate that kids with authoritative parents have more positive outcomes, from less drug use to greater well-being. And research suggests that the authoritative style, with its high expectations and high responsiveness, has the greatest effect on academic success.

Authoritarian parents may make more decisions for their child, while permissive parents may lean toward letting kids figure it out on their own — in both cases, missing opportunities to help kids learn how to make good decisions. An authoritative parenting style is one that guides — children of authoritative parents are instructed to think carefully, weighing their options and consequences. These children obtain an advantage in developing self-confidence, willpower, and self-discipline — qualities associated with a gritty character.

by: Hank Pellissier

Ozobots? A Hands-on Way to Teach Coding

The 3rd grade class at Meadowbrook has been introduced to Ozobots by our new Director of Academic Advancement. Kristen Haugen has joined our Meadowbrook staff this year to find new and exciting ways to bring technology into the classroom. As a seasoned science teacher, her 20 years of experience and knowledge in teaching a hands-on curriculum has already benefited our students. She incorporated the use of Kindle Fires with SeeSaw in Kindergarten through 3rd grade and has been leading a new venture in Ozobot programming in the 3rd, 5thand 6th-grade classrooms. (Google classroom is being introduced in the 4th grade.)

The 3rd graders are creating a Halloween trail of ghoulish delight for their Ozobots. As the Ozobots travel the path they will be startled and frightened as scary monsters and ghosts pop up. Will they turn around and run away? Will they speed up and run forward? The students will decide based on the color codes that they plant on the path.

Ozobots are tiny robots that use colored pathways to travel. Certain color combinations dictate different commands along the paths. The process of creating paths and commands for the Ozobots teaches our students the basics of coding. Different apps and programs apply! What a great way to have tons of fun and learn at the same time!

 

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3rd graders planning a Halloween trail for their Ozobots.
3rd graders planning a Halloween trail for their Ozobots.

Age-Appropriate Chores to Fit Any Family

Getting help around the house is somewhat of a chore, in and of itself, as tasks that need to be done won’t always fit your “cleaning crew” and their set of abilities; thus, the need for age-appropriate chores grows alongside your family. Small children generally love helping with anything you’re doing, and older children are more likely to need a list and some gentle prodding. Making realistic chore lists for your little ones isn’t as complicated as it might seem to be, however, as the larger piece of the cooperation puzzle is compromise. Making chores reasonable, realistically timed, and fun can drastically improve morale around the house. Here are some age-appropriate chores that each group should be able to achieve:

Age-Appropriate Chores for Ages 3 to 7

Preschoolers and young children are the easiest to get enthusiastic (albeit hyperactive) help from. Though their motor skills and attention spans aren’t yet fully engaged, young children can do their part through short, simple tasks made fun. To kick up the entertainment factor, try playing happy, upbeat dance music while doing chores. The kids will love the opportunity to wiggle and move while completing their daily tasks! These tasks might include the following:

● Making the bed

● Cleaning windowsills

● Wiping lower cupboard doors in the kitchen

● Emptying small trash cans

● Putting folded linens into the proper drawers or on shelves

● Picking up their own toys and keeping their play space neat

● Drying and putting away silverware while dishes are being washed (minus the sharp utensils, of course)

Be sure to make your little one’s jobs easier by giving them a stool to stand on and their own cleaning towels. Bonus fun points are awarded if you can find child-size versions of your adult cleaning tools, such as brooms, dustpans, mops, and gloves! Practicing good cleaning habits with this age group will instill both a feeling of accomplishment and a lasting habit of cleanliness.

Ages 8 to 10

This age group is less likely to just volunteer a helping hand, yet, when given proper direction, tend to excel at age-appropriate chores. Making a chore checklist or rotating chart (for multi-child families) can reduce confusion and teach a lesson on personal responsibility. Older children are likely to want compensation for their contributions, which is part of another lesson in entering the workforce, but should begin to learn the difference between obligations and responsibilities. Remind them that the reward for completing these tasks is, ultimately, a clean and inviting space to live in, something that is taken for granted by a lot of people. Examples of easy tasks for this age group are:

● Vacuuming

● Helping younger siblings complete tasks as a team

● Sorting and pairing clean socks

● Setting and clearing the table after meals

● Bringing in groceries

● Watering plants, both indoors and outdoors

Though teaching lessons about keeping a clean home for yourself are important, a rewards system can greatly reduce your chances of seeing eye rolling and hearing complaints from your preteens. Instead of opting for monetary rewards, try a points system, where an accumulation of points awarded for completing tasks can be “spent” on a reward, such as a family camping trip or a pizza and movie night. Then, the whole family can benefit from the hard work you’ve all been doing!

Ages 11 to 13

Teens are often focused on friends and cellphones more than family and cleanliness, but that shouldn’t stop you from including them on the roster for the Clean House Dream Team! Since they’ve willingly taken on the title of “teenager,” their responsibilities can shift into a new direction, building on lessons learned from their previous chores and responsibilities. For example, simply feeding the dog can turn into caring for Fido’s basic needs in general, like cleaning up pet waste, brushing the dog, and keeping toys and pet beds tidy. A new set of more detailed responsibilities shows teens their own capabilities and can impress upon them the intricacies of growing up, like learning new skills and wearing more hats (metaphorically). Teenagers can aptly complete tasks like:

● Taking out the garbage

● Minding their younger siblings while you complete tasks elsewhere in the house

● Cleaning the bathroom

● Pulling weeds in the garden

● Cleaning windows

● Preparing small, simple meals for the family

● Folding and putting away clothes

As teenagers are subjected to homework and extracurricular activities, balancing housework and other obligations can be tricky. While trying to remain fair to the other members of your chore warrior tribe, remember that your teen will have to be flexible with chores and not with homework and school, which might mean putting tasks on hold to avoid interfering with good academic performance. Planning chore lists according to your teen’s school schedule can make for less hassle and more productivity, which makes for better attitudes all around!

Teacher Spotlight: Mrs. Amanda Provost

amandaThis month the spotlight is on our new Fifth Grade teacher, Mrs Amanda Provost.

1. What is one item on your bucket list?

An item on my bucket list is to see Billy Joel live in concert. I have loved him since I was a little girl. I am hoping now that I am closer to New York City I’ll have to opportunity to see him at Madison Square Garden very soon.

2. What book are you currently reading?

I am currently reading Ready Player One by Ernest Cline. This sci-fi story is filled with video games and 80’s pop culture. Two of my most favorite things!

3. Who is your mentor? Why?

The AMAZING Debbie Fletcher has been the most incredible mentor anyone could ask for. She has spent so much time guiding me, answering a million questions, and supporting me from the moment I started my Fifth Grade journey at this wonderful school. She has helped to make this transition an easy and exciting one. There are not enough words to express how fantastic she has been and I will never be able to thank her enough.

4. What would your superpower be?

My superpower choice is always a toss-up between flying and teleportation. Flying would be an incredible experience. However, being able to teleport from one place to another would be so handy. Think of all the amazing places I’d be able to travel to in an instant! As much as I love traveling, I think I’d have to choose that option.

5. Where is the best place you have traveled to and why?

The best place I have travelled has to be New Zealand. It is easily the most beautiful place I have ever seen. The landscapes are breathtaking – rolling hills covered in wildflowers, ocean waves crashing on rocky shores, deep underground rivers with nothing lighting the way except glow worms shining like stars in the sky, erupting geysers in geothermal parks, incredible mountaintops, and frozen glaciers. Everything you could possibly want to see can be found in New Zealand. Plus, I was able to visit Hobbiton and many of the other locations used in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies! (Got to cross that off the bucket list!) It was truly a vacation of a lifetime!

6. If you could do any job for just one day what would it be?

If I could do any job for a day, I would want to be an astronaut. How awesome would it be to be among the stars looking down at Earth? The idea of space travel and exploration is fascinating to me, so it would be great to experience it.

7. Tell us something that might surprise us about you.

It often surprises people when I tell them I have had 141 dogs. While 137 of them were temporary, I feel that they still count as being mine. My husband and I have been working with Tampa Bay Beagle Rescue for the last six+ years. Taking these dogs into our home is the most rewarding and heart breaking experience, though the good far outweighs the bad. We’ve taken in the young and happy, to the scared and broken, and everything In between. No matter how long they would stay with us, whether it was less than a day or more than a year, I loved them like they were my own. When our fosters would get adopted, they would take a piece of my heart with them. It was bittersweet, knowing we had to say goodbye but also knowing we saved their lives and they were on their way to their happily ever after made it just a little easier. Yes, they may not have been our forever dogs, but they will be in my heart forever. So it totally counts!

8. What is your favorite thing about Meadowbrook?

It is so difficult to pick one thing I love most about Meadowbrook. I fell in love with it the moment I walked through the doors the very first time. The list of things I love is a mile long, but I think the best thing about Meadowbrook is the sense of family here. The staff, students, and parents all come together so beautifully to make Meadowbrook feel like home. It is the perfect environment for children to flourish not only academically, but socially and creatively too.

World Maker Faire

maker spaceMrs. Becky Blumenthal, Meadowbrook art teacher and director of maker space attended the 8th annual World Maker Faire at the Hall of Science, in Queens New York September 22-24. This event was billed as the greatest show and tell on earth and that was an excellent description! The goal of the Maker Movement is to create more makers, or people who create as well as consume. Mrs. Blumenthal’s goal is to inspire our children to think creatively, push through obstacles and become life-long learners. Picasso said “All children are Artists.” Mrs. Blumenthal says, “All children can be makers. It takes only curiosity and exposure to take something apart and put it back together in a new way or for a new purpose.” Mrs. Blumenthal continues, “As part of our maker space program, we can peak their interest in fields that before now may not have been seen as fun by a wide range of people.”

At the Faire, it was hot and crowded but the energy was amazing, and all who attended were excited about innovations in health care, sustainability, food, crafting, robotics, and electronics. There were hands on activities and play zones and giant fire breathing machines. A chair was turned into a musical instrument, and clothing lit up for nighttime use. maker space4

maker space2At Meadowbrook, we are excited for Mrs. Blumenthal to bring this to our children and she is excited too. As she says, “The best thing about my position is I don’t have to stay grounded for long. We touch ground then bounce off to allow for creativity, exposure and hard work to lead our learning! It’s a great time to be in the STEAM fields and I’m so excited to bring that enthusiasm to your children!”maker space3

Our Science Teacher Learns New Tricks!

ScienceMrs. Janice Mockaitis, Meadowbrook science teacher since 1998 attended a course called A Vision and Plan for Science Teaching and Learning. This multi day course started during the last school year and ended with a final follow up session this summer. The instructor, Brett Moulding, compiled his teaching experience and research to formulate a process of teaching science which engages the students to build up on their natural curiosity about the world around them. Using the students desire to understand and make sense of the phenomena in their world, Mr. Moulding taught how to develop science lessons based on asking good questions, finding patterns or cause and effect relationships, and then combining these with basic core concepts or facts.

Since this course, Mrs. Mockaitis has worked on tailoring more of our science lessons at the Meadowbrook School to include this new vision for teaching our students. It is exciting to see that some of the benefits of using this method include the students having a better understanding of science related events in their world, increased student participation, and continued desire to learn why or how things happen.

The Hidden Benefits of Reading Aloud — Even for Older Kids

Educator Jim Trelease explains why reading aloud to your child, no matter what her age, is the magic bullet for creating a lifelong reader.

Jim Trelease is the author of the respected, Read-Aloud Handbook, which some parents have called the “read aloud Bible.” The book is packed with information — from what really makes kids love reading, to tips for luring kids away from electronics and onto the page, to hundreds of read aloud titles. The Handbook’s seventh edition will be published in the spring of 2013 and, at 71 years old, Trelease says it will be his last.

Can you explain the link between reading aloud and school success?

It’s long established in science and research: the child who comes to school with a large vocabulary does better than the child who comes to school with little familiarity with words and a low vocabulary.

Why is that? If you think about it, in the early years of school, almost all instruction is oral. In kindergarten through second and third grades, kids aren’t reading yet, or are just starting, so it’s all about the teacher talking to the kids. This isn’t just true in reading but in all subjects; the teacher isn’t telling kids to open their textbooks and read chapter three. The teaching is oral and the kids with the largest vocabularies have an advantage because they understand most of what the teacher is saying. The kids with small vocabularies don’t get what is going on from the start, and they’re likely to fall further and further behind as time goes on.

How does a child develop a large vocabulary even before school starts?

Children who are spoken to and read to most often are the ones with the largest vocabularies. If you think about it, you can’t get a word out of the child’s mouth unless he has heard it before. For example, the word “complicated.” A child isn’t going to say the word unless he has heard it before — and in fact to remember it, a child probably has to hear it multiple times. (That’s not true with swear words, of course. If a child hears his parent swear he’ll remember it the first time, and happily repeat it whenever he gets the chance.) But kids have to hear most words multiple times, so it’s important that their parents talk to and around them from the time they are very young, because that’s how they learn words.

Reading aloud: an advertisement for books

So parents need to talk to their children — but reading aloud is important, too. Because where are children going to be hearing the most words? In conversation, we tend to use verbal shorthand, not full sentences. But the language in books is very rich, and in books there are complete sentences. In books, newspapers, and magazines, the language is more complicated, more sophisticated. A child who hears more sophisticated words has a giant advantage over a child who hasn’t heard those words.

Reading aloud also increases a child’s attention span. Finally, reading aloud to your child is a commercial for reading. When you read aloud, you’re whetting a child’s appetite for reading. The truth is, what isn’t advertised in our culture gets no attention. And awareness has to come before desire. A child who has been read to will want to learn to read herself. She will want to do what she sees her parents doing. But if a child never sees anyone pick up a book, she isn’t going to have that desire.

Why do you think it’s important to read to older kids, too?

People often say to me, ‘”My child is in fourth grade and he already knows how to read, why should I read to him?” And I reply, “Your child may be reading on a fourth grade level, but what level is he listening at?”

A child’s reading level doesn’t catch up to his listening level until eighth grade. You can and should be reading seventh grade books to fifth grade kids. They’ll get excited about the plot and this will be a motivation to keep reading. A fifth grader can enjoy a more complicated plot than she can read herself, and reading aloud is really going to hook her, because when you get to chapter books, you’re getting into the real meat of print — there is really complicated, serious stuff going on that kids are ready to hear and understand, even if they can’t read at that level yet.

Reading aloud to your kids is also are good way to grapple with difficult issues. For example, you can tell your child, “I don’t want you to hang out with so and so,” but that’s a lecture that will probably go in one ear and out the other. But if you read a book about a kid who gets in trouble by hanging out with the wrong crowd, your child is going to experience that directly, and she’s going to experience it with you at her side, and you can talk about it together. You can ask questions like: “Do you think the boy made the right choice?” “Do you think that girl was really her friend?” When you talk about a book together, it’s not a lecture, it’s more like a coach looking at a film with his players, going over the plays to find out what went right and what went wrong.

Books to blow your mind

Someone once said that books allow you to examine explosive situations without having them blowing up in your face. Books allow you to develop awareness of people outside your experience and develop a sense of empathy. When I was growing up, I wasn’t rich, but by reading books I learned that there are kids out there who are a lot worse off than me, kids growing up with real disadvantages. The wider your world, the more you understand and the more you can empathize.

Another advantage of reading aloud: if you weren’t a reader yourself growing up, reading to your kids gives you the chance to meet the child you used to be and read the books you never read. I hear from people all the time, especially fathers, who say, “Wow! I never read The Secret Garden as a child, and I had no idea what I was missing!”

I’ve had that experience myself, and I was an avid reader as a child, but I mostly read boys’ books, like The Call of the Wild. I didn’t read the classics like The Secret Garden and Little Lord Fauntleroy, so it was great to have the chance to read them with my kids.

Meadowbrook Students Ranked Nationally in Le Grand Concours

frenchcontestZara Clark-Schecter of North Wales has ranked in the 95th percentile nationally in the 82nd annual event earning a gold medal. Isabel Lucas of Philadelphia and Nelson Cordón of Abington have ranked in the 90th percentile nationally earning silver medals. Gabriella Cordón of Abington has ranked in the 85th percentile nationally in the 82nd annual event earning a silver medal. Elizabeth Grohsman of Meadowbrook, Delaney Stout of Hatboro, and Nicole Villa of Abington have ranked in the 80th percentile nationally in the 82nd annual event earning bronze medals according to Lisa Narug, National Director of Le Grand Concours.  Le Grand Concours is a national competition sponsored by the American Association of Teachers of French.  Students were evaluated for their written, oral and listening comprehension skills in French.   More than 85,000 students in all 50 states competed in the 2017 event. Zara Clark-Schecter, fourth grade, Nelson Cordon, fourth grade, Isabel Lucas, first grade, Gabriella Cordon, second grade, Elizabeth Grohsman, second grade, Delaney Stout, second grade, and Nicole Villa, second grade, are students of Suzanne Cordón.

AATF President Catherine Danièlou indicated:  French students who rank nationally in Le Grand Concours demonstrate a superior level of global responsibility, integrative cultural competence, language skills, and commitment to excellence and dedication. They significantly increase their community’s international profile. Their French teachers, whom they honor, work hard to produce responsible world citizens with multilingual capabilities. Le Grand Concours participants and winners all embrace an appreciation for other cultures, strive to continually learn and improve, and value the study of French. We are very proud of them and admire their commitment to both contributing to a better world and serving as exceptional ambassadors for their schools.

For more information about the National French Contest, please visit our website: www.frenchteachers.org/concours.