Friday, June 7, 2019

3 fears about screen time for kids that aren't true

In September ISHCMC will be part of Cognita's Be Well Day. One of the strands that we are expected to talk about is Screen Time. Here is a good TED that questions the dogma that screen time is bad for children.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Why are screens make us less happy.

What are our screens and devices doing to us? Psychologist Adam Alter has spent the last five years studying how much time screens steal from us and how they're getting away with it. He shares why all those hours you spend staring at your smartphone, tablet or computer might be making you miserable -- and what you can do about it.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Twelve Ideas for Student Activities This Summer

Summer is upon us. The time when school is out for a few months (although it seems shorter every year) and kids of all ages—even teens—have to figure out what to do with their free time.
Some, of course, have it all mapped out in the spring. They plan to play travel ball or do gymnastics or attend summer camp. Most, however, don’t do much thinking about it, and find themselves vegging out in front of a video game console or on their phones all day. It’s not a healthy scenario.
So, below I offer some ideas that a student could find fun and engaging, yet at the same time grow a little in the process. You can offer a list of suggestions for activities that will develop their social, emotional and intellectual muscles in the process. It was inspired by Suburban Simplicity. See if any of these may work for you.

Twelve Ideas for Student Activities This Summer

1. Make your own music video or movie.
This will get their creative juices flowing and consume more time than they think it will. Challenge them with a deadline to make a music video, or write their own screenplay and shoot their own movie. The result? Work ethic.
2. Work a very different summer job.
Most teens don’t work summer jobs, sometimes because they believe those jobs are beneath them. I believe jobs offer the best preparation for adult life. Challenge your teen to find a job, even if it’s part time for spending money.
3. Invent a new type of pizza.
If your teens like cooking or fancies themselves as creative, challenge them to list some unique ingredients and to build their own pizza pie. This can be lots of fun (I’ve done it before) and it taught me what flavors go well together.
4. Start your own business.
This idea cultivates so many social, emotional and intellectual muscles. What if your teen considered what they did well and found a way to monetize it for folks in your community or on a website? The result? Accelerated maturation.
5. Eat a food you have never tried before.
This is a great idea, especially if your teen isn’t used to trying new things. Have your teen shop for groceries (with or without you) and find something they’d typically not eat and try it. This will help them venture out from the familiar.
6. Host a car wash (or some fund raiser) to raise cash for a good cause.
One of the best ways to invest their time is to find a great cause they believe in and come up wit a way to raise money for it: car washes, bake sales, e-bay sales, mowing lawns, you name it. This builds altruism and work ethic.
7. Grow some vegetables you can eat with the family.
If you have a backyard, why not challenge your teen to identify a vegetable they like, cultivate a garden and grow the plant as summer begins. This builds patience, perseverance and becomes a tangible goal to anticipate and enjoy.
8. Offer to read to children at the local library.
If your teen is good with kids, why not challenge them to sign up to read to younger children at the library? Often librarians need people to volunteer for an hour or two at a time. This builds empathy and teaches them to add value.
9. Help plan the details of your family vacation.
When vacation time arrives, what if you challenged your kids to help plan the details? If you take a road trip, for example, they could choose the hotel spots, the stops for gas, meals and the site seeing locations. This builds ownership.
10. Make your family dinner once a week.
What if you challenged your teen to get creative and both plan and cook the meals for the family once a week this summer? This develops planning skills and may even cultivate creativity in them. Also, it builds a servant-leader.
11. Redecorate your bedroom.
If they are into their personal brand, they could actually take some time to plan and decorate their room in a new fashion. New posters, new knick-knacks and even new rugs. This can develop their creativity and design thinking.
12. Volunteer at a local non-profit organization.
Finally, one of the best uses of summertime as far as I’m concerned is to volunteer time at an organization they believe in. This can develop good qualities like service, compassion, passion and purpose.
Any other ideas you can think of?

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

What you should know about Vaping and e-cigarettes

"E-cigarettes and vapes have exploded in popularity in the last decade, especially among youth and young adults -- from 2011 to 2015, e-cigarette use among high school students in the US increased by 900 percent. Biobehavioral scientist Suchitra Krishnan-Sarin explains what you're actually inhaling when you vape (hint: it's definitely not water vapor) and explores the disturbing marketing tactics being used to target kids. "Our health, the health of our children and our future generations is far too valuable to let it go up in smoke -- or even in aerosol," she says."

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

"Jerry Mintz has been a leading voice in the alternative school movement for over 30 years. In addition to his seventeen years as a public and independent alternative school principal and teacher, he has also helped found more than fifty public and private alternative schools and organizations. He has lectured and consulted in more than twenty-five countries around the world.
In 1989, he founded the Alternative Education Resource Organization and since then has served as it’s Director. Jerry was the first executive director of the National Coalition of Alternative Community Schools (NCACS), and was a founding member of the International Democratic Education Conference (IDEC)."
What makes me smile is the type of education that Jerry Mintz and many other educational thinkers are advocating for is not alternative, but is based around how we learn most effectively as humans. The alternative system is the one that was introduced in Church schools in the 15th Century, expanded again at the time of the agricultural revolution in the 18 Century and finally set in stone by the Prussians and the Committee of 10 for the post industrial  revolution world of the 19th Century. The system we have today is based around obedience, compliance and subjugation to a higher authority. Is this what we want for our children and their future?"

How Early Academic Training Retards Intellectual Development

"Academic skills are best learned when a person wants them and needs them."

In my last post I summarized research indicating that early academic training produces long-term harm. Now, in this post, I will delve a bit into the question of how that might happen. 
It's useful here to distinguish between academic skills and intellectual skills—a distinction nicely made in a recent article by Lillian Katz published by the child advocacy organization Defending the Early Years
.Distinction between academic and intellectual skills, and why the latter should precede the former

Academic skills are, in general, tried and true means of organizing, manipulating, or responding to specific categories of information to achieve certain ends. Pertaining to reading, for example, academic skills include the abilities to name the letters of the alphabet, to produce the sounds that each letter typically stands for, and to read words aloud, including new ones, based on the relationship of letters to sounds.  Pertaining to mathematics, academic skills include the ability to recite the times tables and the abilities to add, subtract, multiply, or divide numbers using learned, step-by-step procedures, or algorithms.  Academic skills can be and are taught directly in schools, through methods involving demonstration, recitation, memorization, and repeated practice.  Such skills lend themselves to objective tests, in which each question has one right answer.
Intellectual skills, in contrast, have to do with a person’s ways of reasoning, hypothesizing, exploring, understanding, and, in general, making sense of the world.  Every child is, by nature, an intellectual being--a curious, sense-making person, who is continuously seeking to understand his or her physical and social environments.  Each child is born with such skills and develops them further, in his or her own ways, through observing, exploring, playing, and questioning.  Attempts to teach intellectual skills directly inevitably fail, because each child must develop them in his or her own way, through his or her own self-initiated activities.  But adults can influence that development through the environments they provide.  Children growing up in a literate and numerate environment, for example—such as an environment in which they are often read to and see others read, in which they play games that involve numbers, in which things are measured and measures have meaning—will acquire, in their own ways, understandings of the purposes of reading and the basic meaning and purposes of numbers.
Now, here’s the point to which I’m leading.  It is generally a waste of time, and often harmful, to teach academic skills to children who have not yet developed the requisite motivational and intellectual foundations.  Children who haven’t acquired a reason to read or a sense of its value will have little motivation to learn the academic skills associated with reading and little understanding of those skills.  Similarly, children who haven’t acquired an understanding of numbers and how they are useful may learn the procedure for, say, addition, but that procedure will have little or no meaning to them.
The learning of academic skills without the appropriate intellectual foundation is necessarily shallow. When the drill stops—maybe for summer vacation—the skills are quickly forgotten. (That’s the famous “summer slide” in academic ability that some educators want to reduce by keeping children in school all year long!)  Our brains are designed to hold onto what we understand and to discard nonsense.  Moreover, when the procedures are learned by rote, especially if the learning is slow, painful, and shame-inducing, as it often is when forced, such learning may interfere with the intellectual development needed for real reading or real math. 
Rote-trained, pained children may lose all desire to play with and explore literary and numerical worlds on their own and thereby fail to develop the intellectual foundations for real reading or math.  This explains why researchers repeatedly find that academic training in preschool and kindergarten results in worse, not better, performance on academic tests in later grades (see here).  This is also why children’s advocacy groups—such as Defending the Early Years
In the remainder of this post, I review some findings, discussed in earlier essays in this blog, that illustrate the idea that early academic training can be harmful and that academic learning comes easily once a person has acquired the requisite intellectual foundation and wants to learn the academic skills.

Example 1—Benezet’s experiment showing the harm of math training in grades 1 - 5

A remarkable experiment (previously described here) that has been completely ignored by the educational world was performed in the 1930s, in Manchester, New Hampshire, under the direction of the then-superintendent of Manchester schools, L. P. Benezet.[1]  In the introduction to his report on the study, he wrote, “For some years I had noted that the effect of the early introduction of arithmetic had been to dull and almost chloroform the child’s reasoning facilities.”  All that drill, he claimed, had divorced the whole realm of numbers and arithmetic, in the children’s minds, from common sense, with the result that they could do the calculations as taught to them, but didn’t understand what they were doing and couldn’t apply the calculations to real life problems.  Using the terminology I’ve introduced in this essay, we could say that the children learned the academic skills, by rote, without relating them to an intellectual understanding of numbers and their purposes.
As a result of this observation, Benezet proposed an experiment that even in the 1930s seemed outrageous.  He asked the principals and teachers in some of the schools located in the poorest parts of Manchester to drop arithmetic from the curriculum of grades 1 through 5.  The children in those classrooms would not be given any of the usual lessons in adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing until they reached sixth grade. He chose schools in the poorest neighborhoods because he knew that if he tried to do this in wealthier neighborhoods, where the parents were high school or college graduates, the parents would rebel. 
As part of the plan, he asked the teachers to devote the time that they would normally spend on arithmetic to class discussions, in which the students would be encouraged to talk about any topics that interested them—anything that would lead to genuine, lively communication.  This, he thought, would improve their abilities to reason and communicate logically and would also be enjoyable.  He also asked the teachers to give their pupils some practice in measuring and counting things, to assure that they would have some practical experience with numbers. 
In order to evaluate the experiment, Benezet arranged for a graduate student from Boston University to come up and test the Manchester children at various times in the sixth grade. The results were remarkable. At the beginning of their sixth grade year, the children in the experimental classes, who had not been taught any arithmetic, performed much better than those in the traditional classes on story problems that could be solved by common sense and a general understanding of numbers and measurement. Of course, at the beginning of sixth grade, those in the experimental classes performed worse on the standard school arithmetic tests, where the problems were set up in the usual school manner and could be solved simply by applying the rote-learned algorithms. But by the end of sixth grade those in the experimental classes had completely caught up on this and were still way ahead of the others on story problems.
In sum, Benezet showed that children who received just one year of arithmetic, in sixth grade, performed at least as well on standard school calculations and much better on math story problems than kids who had received six years of arithmetic training. This was all the more remarkable because of the fact that those who received just one year of training were from the poorest neighborhoods--the neighborhoods that had previously produced the poorest test results. 
What a finding!  Benezet showed that five years of tedious (and for some, painful) drill could simply be dropped, and by dropping it the children did better, in sixth grade, than did those who had endured the drill for five previous years.  This is the kind of finding that educators regularly choose to ignore.  If they paid attention to such findings they would do themselves out of their jobs, because the truth is, what Benezet found for math can occur for every subject.  Young people learn amazingly rapidly, and require little help, when they learn what they want to learn, in their own ways, on their own time.
Today educators who want to reduce the gap between rich and poor in academic learning are pushing for earlier and earlier academic training, especially for the poor.  But Benezet's study, and other studies too, suggest that the better way to reduce the gap, and to improve learning overall, would be to start academic training later, not earlier--maybe much later.

Example 2:  Preparing for the math SAT, at Sudbury Valley School, after no previous study of math

Here’s an observation that tops even Benezet’s, though it is not the result of a formal experiment.  In previous posts (here and here) I have described the Sudbury Valley School, located in Framingham, Massachusetts.  It is a school that accepts students from age 4 on through high school age, does not separate students by age, does not offer a curriculum, does not evaluate students in any formal way, and allows students to take full charge of their own education.  Each student pursues his or her own interests in his or her own ways.  Follow-up studies of the graduates show that they do very well in life.  Here’s the story about math at SVS that I told in a previous post:
“To find out more about how kids with no formal math training deal with college admissions math, I interviewed Mikel Matisoo, the Sudbury Valley staff member who is most often sought out by students who want help in preparing for the math SAT. He told me that the students who come to him are usually those who have relatively little long-term interest in math; they just want to do well enough on the SAT to get into the college of their choice. He said, "The way the SAT is structured it is relatively easy to prepare directly for it; there are certain tricks for doing well." Typically, Matisoo meets with the students for about 1 to 1 ½ hours per week for about six to ten weeks and the students may do another 1 to 1 ½ hours per week on their own. That amounts to a range of about 12 to 30 hours, total, of math work for students who may never before have done any formal math. The typical result, according to Matisoo, is a math SAT score that is good enough for admission to at least a moderately competitive college. Matisoo explained that the kids who are really into math, and who get the top SAT scores, generally don't seek him out because they can prepare on their own.”
By the time the students come to Matisoo for help with the SAT they have been living for roughly 16 to 18 years in a world of numbers.  They have picked up, in the course of life, the “survival math” that we all use in daily life, the kind that you and I remember because we use it regularly.  Given that foundation, and the fact that they have done many things on their own that involve abstract thinking, with our without numbers, and the fact that they are motivated to do well on the SAT, they can easily learn what they must for the goal they have in mind. All that drill, not just in grades 1-5 as Benezet found, but in grades 1-12, is unnecessary. When young people are intellectually well prepared to learn the math skills and have a reason to do it, the skills come remarkably easily.

Example 3:  How unschooled and Sudbury-schooled children learn to read

In standard schools it is important to learn how to read by the schedule that the school dictates, because if you fail to do so you will be labeled as “slow,” or worse, and may develop a self-image as stupid.  You may fall forever behind.  But if you don’t go to a school of the sort where everyone must follow a predetermined track, you can learn to read anytime you want.  And when that happens, learning to read is generally pleasant, relatively easy, and often hardly noticed even by the learner. 
A few years ago I conducted a survey of unschooling families to find out when and how children who were not sent to school and were not subjected to a curriculum at home learned to read.  You can look back to that report for the details, but here is a summary of the main conclusions:
(1) For non-schooled children there is no critical period or best age for learning to read.  Some children learn very early (as early as age 3), others much later (as late as age 11 in this sample).  The timing of such learning doesn’t seem to depend on general intelligence, but upon interest.  Some children, for whatever reason, become interested in reading very early, others later. 
(2) Motivated children can go from apparent non-reading to fluent reading very quickly.  For motivated children, who are intellectually ready, learning to read requires none of the painful, slow drill that we regularly put children through in school.  Many children pick it up without anything that looks like a lesson; others ask for some help, which may come in the form of a few lessons concerning the sounds of the letters.
(3) Attempts to push reading can backfire.  Children (like all of us) resist being pushed into doing things they don’t want to do, and this applies to reading as much as to anything else.
(4) Children learn to read when reading becomes, to them, a means to some valued end. Children who want to read stories that nobody will read to them, or who want to find information only attainable through the written word, learn to read. Children on their own initiative rarely learn to read just for the sake of learning to read.
(5) Reading, like many other skills, is learned socially through shared participation.  Children who can’t read often learn to read through being read to, or through playing games that involve reading with children who already know how to read.
(6) Some children become interested in writing before reading, and they learn to read as they learn to write.  This is an illustration of the principle that children learn by doing.  Writing is more obviously active than reading, and some children are drawn to it. They want to write their own stories, but in doing so they ask for help, and in getting that help they learn to read. The first things they read are their own stories.
(7) There is no predictable “course” through which children learn to read (or, for that matter, learn anything else).  That, essentially, is why our schools, which are founded on the idea that all children can learn through the same course, at the same time, are such dismal failures.
This essay started where the conversation is in our larger society—on the controversial topic of academic training in preschools and kindergartens.  But it moved on to a bigger and more radical issue, that of whether we need schools for academic learning at all.  A regular theme of this blog is that what our children really need are intellectually stimulating environments—environments where they can develop their intelligence in their own individual ways.  For children growing up in such environments, the academic skills come quite easily, at just the times when they are needed, and require little if any help from teachers. 

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Screentime Is Making Kids Moody, Crazy and Lazy 6 Ways electronic screen time makes kids angry, depressed and unmotivated.

Source: pathdoc/fotolia

Children or teens who are “revved up” and prone to rages or—alternatively—who are depressed and apathetic have become disturbingly commonplace. Chronically irritable children are often in a state of abnormally high arousal, and may seem “wired and tired.”That is, they’re agitated but exhausted. Because chronically high arousal levels impact memory and the ability to relate, these kids are also likely to struggle academically and socially.

At some point, a child with these symptoms may be given a mental-healthdiagnosis such as major depression, bipolar disorder, or ADHD, and offered corresponding treatments, including therapy and medication. But often these treatments don’t work very well, and the downward spiral continues.

What’s happening?
Both parents and clinicians may be “barking up the wrong tree.” That is, they’re trying to treat what looks like a textbook case of mental disorder, but failing to rule out and address the most common environmental cause of such symptoms—everyday use of electronics. Time and again, I’ve realized that regardless of whether there exists any “true” underlying diagnoses, successfully treating a child with mood dysregulation today requires methodically eliminating all electronics use for several weeks—an “electronics fast”—to allow the nervous system to “reset.”

If done correctly, this intervention can produce deeper sleep, a brighter and more even mood, better focus and organization, and an increase in physical activity. The ability to tolerate stress improves, so meltdowns diminish in both frequency and severity. The child begins to enjoy the things they used to, is more drawn to nature, and imaginary or creative play returns. In teens and young adults, an increase in self-directed behavior is observed—the exact opposite of apathy and hopelessness. It’s a beautiful thing.

At the same time, the electronic fast reduces or eliminates the need for medication while rendering other treatments more effective. Improved sleep, more exercise, and more face-to-face contact with others compound the benefits—an upward spiral! After the fast, once the brain is reset, the parent can carefully determine how much if any electronics use the child can tolerate without symptoms returning.

Restricting electronics may not solve everything, but it’s often the missing link in treatment when kids are stuck.

But why is the electronic fast intervention so effective? Because it reverses much of the physiological dysfunction produced by daily screen time.

Children’s brains are much more sensitive to electronics use than most of us realize. In fact, contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t take much electronic stimulation to throw a sensitive and still-developing brain off track. Also, many parents mistakenly believe that interactive screen-time—Internet or social media use, texting, emailing, and gaming—isn’t harmful, especially compared to passive screen time like watching TV. In fact, interactive screen time is more likely to cause sleep, mood, and cognitive issues, because it’s more likely to cause hyperarousal and compulsive use.

Here’s a look at six physiological mechanisms that explain electronics’ tendency to produce mood disturbance: article continues after advertisement

Because light from screen devices mimics daytime, it suppresses melatonin, a sleep signal released by darkness. Just minutes of screen stimulation can delay melatonin release by several hours and desynchronize the body clock. Once the body clock is disrupted, all sorts of other unhealthy reactions occur, such as hormone imbalance and brain inflammation. Plus, high arousal doesn’t permit deep sleep, and deep sleep is how we heal.

Many children are “hooked” on electronics, and in fact gaming releases so much dopamine—the “feel-good” chemical—that on a brain scan it looks the same as cocaine use. But when reward pathways are overused, they become less sensitive, and more and more stimulation is needed to experience pleasure. Meanwhile, dopamine is also critical for focus and motivation, so needless to say, even small changes in dopamine sensitivity can wreak havoc on how well a child feels and functions.

3. Screen time produces “light-at-night.”

Light-at-night from electronics has been linked to depression and even suicide risk in numerous studies. In fact, animal studies show that exposure to screen-based light before or during sleep causes depression, even when the animal isn’t looking at the screen. Sometimes parents are reluctant to restrict electronics use in a child’s bedroom because they worry the child will enter a state of despair—but in fact removing light-at-night is protective.

Both acute stress (fight-or-flight) and chronic stress produce changes in brain chemistry and hormones that can increase irritability. Indeed, cortisol, the chronic stress hormone, seems to be both a cause and an effect of depression—creating a vicious cycle. Additionally, both hyperarousal and addiction pathways suppress the brain’s frontal lobe, the area where mood regulation actually takes place.

5. Screen time overloads the sensory system, fractures attention, and depletes mental reserves.

Experts say that what’s often behind explosive and aggressive behavior is poor focus. When attention suffers, so does the ability to process one’s internal and external environment, so little demands become big ones. By depleting mental energy with high visual and cognitive input, screen time contributes to low reserves. One way to temporarily “boost” depleted reserves is to become angry, so meltdowns actually become a coping mechanism.
Source: Chubykin Arkady/Shutterstock

6. Screen-time reduces physical activity levels and exposure to “green time.”
Research shows that time outdoors, especially interacting with nature, can restore attention, lower stress, and reduce aggression. Thus, time spent with electronics reduces exposure to natural mood enhancers.

In today’s world, it may seem crazy to restrict electronics so drastically. But when kids are struggling, we’re not doing them any favors by leaving electronics in place and hoping they can wind down by using electronics in "moderation." It just doesn't work. In contrast, by allowing the nervous system to return to a more natural state with a strict fast, we can take the first step in helping a child become calmer, stronger, and happier.