PRESCHOOL DAYDREAMING, LIFELONG LEARNING

IMG_4202Submitted by Dana Allara, Parent Coach and Founder of Personalized Parenting

The theme music to the preschool years is a seemingly never-ending chorus of “Why Mommy? Why? Mommy, why?” Young children are passionate explorers who seek out understanding and revel in the wonders of their world—they are intrinsically motivated and love learning. What can preschool parents do to keep this thirst for knowledge and inquisitive spirit alive as their children enter the elementary school years and beyond?

Encourage daydreaming! Really. Daydreaming.images

Dedicated preschool parents often feel pressured to fill every moment of their child’s day with an age-appropriate, stimulating and educational activity.  One of the most valuable things a parent can do during the preschool years in order to foster intrinsic motivation is to step back and open up space for genuine downtime. Encouraging your child to spend time daydreaming, imagining, thinking and reflecting is a gift to her both intellectually and emotionally.

imgres-1Daydreaming is an internal experience that involves high-level cognitive processes in which the child is in control of his own thinking. He can delve deeply into one aspect of the imagining, or the wondering and he decides when to move on to a new thought as well as what mystery to explore next. Self-directed, creative ideas are critical for academic success in later years. A daydreaming child can replay ideas, rework them and gain deeper understanding at his own pace. On an emotional level, children who are encouraged to daydream become more self-aware and begin to build a positive self-image as a thoughtful person who has creative ideas and enjoys intellectual pursuits.

Parents of preschoolers can encourage daydreaming in both structured and unstructured ways. When daydreaming happens naturally, parents can purposefully respond in a positive, enthusiastic manner. When a child hears her mother say, “I can see you dreaming over there! I am sure you are discovering amazing things!” the child knows that thinking and imagining are valued by the parent and that great things can come from going within. Creating environments in which daydreaming comes naturally can be as simple as afternoon quiet time or taking a car ride without bringing the electronics along. The magic of the inner life of daydreaming is that it is the child who focuses his attention and pursues his own dream, true self-motivated exploration and learning. One daydream-friendly car trip led to a long stretch of silence from the back seat. Eventually mom asked, “What are you thinking about back there?”  The enthusiastic young boy replied, “I taught myself to wink!” This downtime allowed this little boy to persevere on a challenging task that involves creating new brain connections.

Moms, dads, and teachers can also construct special dreaming or thinking times. Some families even set aside “think-breaks” in which everyone is invited to take a few minutes to think on a particular topic. Nurturing these thinking and imagining skills helps to build a positive self-image and fosters abilities in introspection, creativity, and intrinsic motivation.

The child who daydreams develops a rich inner-life, experiences the joy of discovery, and enthusiastically engages with challenging material. The intellectually-interested preschooler of today grows naturally into the intrinsically motivated student of the future.

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DEBATE = EMPOWERMENT

Caleb Koufman H&SSubmitted by Caleb Koufman, faculty member at Landmark High School

When most people imagine the extracurriculars offered at a school for students with language-based learning disabilities​, such as dyslexia​, debate club is usually not among them. Just like any presumptions about their disabilities, though, students ​where I work as a teacher ​proved this one wrong, too.

It is my job to encourage students to question lessons and provoke discussions in a polite and articulate nature​ despite whatever learning difference they may have.​ ​After persistent student requests, and a bit of uncertainty on the part of the faculty, senior faculty member Bruce Stoddard and I started a debate team as an extracurricular activity at the school.

Kenneth Deluze takes the floor in a recent debate.

Kenneth Deluze takes the floor in a recent debate.

Junior ​William Cassilly and Sophomore ​Kenneth Deluze comprised the first-ever​ debate team ​at Landmark School​. It was such a pleasure to witness any anxieties about debating melt during the initial speeches. Suddenly, finding their confidence, Kenny started slamming his fist onto the desk in front of him like a Manhattan courtroom lawyer as he accused the other team of conceding a point that they forgot to address, and Liam calmly and inquisitively cross-examined his opponent like a Southern legislator before making his final arguments during the final focus.

​Despite what most people may think about students who inherently struggle with language, these students ​can be uniquely​ skilled at the most important aspects of debate.

​They value presentation and preparation and authentically appeal to judges. With strong verbal and logical reasoning, our debaters are able to diminish the effect of their learning disabilities and present a strong and confident demeanor at the podium. ​Despite their challenges with reading and writing, many of our students ​often ​have an affinity for compelling public speech and the ​new debate club allows ​them​ to realize this.

​ ​The experience of learning how to debate requires acquiring new skills that are often outside of any student’s comfort zone. In general, most people dread public speaking. But debating also requires knowledge of how to take notes in shorthand and write persuasive cases that cite scholars, scientists, advocates, lawyers, judges, politicians, literature, and legislature. The most important part of debate, though, is the experience of confronting an intimidating challenge and succeeding. Debate is empowering to students, and we hope to watch the program grow in the future to incorporate more people with varying levels of experience.

Left to right: Students William Cassilly, Kenneth Deluze, and faculty member Caleb Koufman preparing for a recent debate.

Left to right: Students William Cassilly, Kenneth Deluze, and faculty member Caleb Koufman preparing for a recent debate.

​This week we will be attending our​ third official debate at a competitive private school nearby. ​The topic is whether or not high schools, universities, and professional sports teams should ban the use of ethnic group images such as mascots and team names. There’s no telling who will win or lose but the debate is sure to be inspiring, competitive, and the start of a new and exciting tradition.

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DANCING IN THE RAIN

amy-headshot-2Submitted by Amy Ruocco, Landmark School parent

We are all faced with challenges in life, but how successfully we navigate through those challenges largely depends on how capable we view ourselves to be. Dyslexic children learn fairly early on that their peers are able to conquer tasks that are seemingly insurmountable to them. Even the brightest students find themselves shirking opportunities to participate in class for fear of being wrong or worse, different. Unfortunately, many of these students find themselves focusing all their energy on their weaknesses. Unless these children are allowed to also celebrate their strengths, they will find it hard to develop confidence in their own abilities.

Andrew RuoccoOur son Andrew is a very bright, inquisitive, little guy, but not long after beginning first grade, we noticed his light was dimming. His love of school first turned into like, but after a while, it turned into dread. It wasn’t until Andrew began going to Landmark that we saw his light begin to return. Day by day, we felt our son was coming back to us.

One day after school, Andrew was especially eager to ask me something. As soon as he saw me he said “Mom, Landmark is having a talent show. Can I do it?” Of course, I said yes immediately. Naturally, I assumed he would choose to play the guitar, since he had been doing so since the age of four. However, when asked, he replied, “Nope, I want to dance.” “Dance, did he really just say he wanted to dance?” Since dancing was something Andrew would have previously avoided out of fear of embarrassment, I asked again for clarification. Of course, he confirmed that I had heard him correctly and began deciding what form of dance to perform. At that moment, I was both thrilled and scared to death. Here we were. Andrew was finally feeling at home again. He felt smart and liked and… happy. Although I feared what could happen if Andrew’s performance was not, shall we say, appreciated, I feared more what would happen if we did not support his decision.

The day of the performance, my hands were sweating and my heart was in my stomach. “Please let this go well,” I kept telling myself. Andrew proudly stepped out on the stage and began to dance. The more he danced, the more I relaxed, because I knew that Andrew was truly confident and happy. He finally felt safe enough to put himself out there in front of his peers and fortunately, they did not let him down. The support Andrew received that day was absolutely amazing. In fact, I would call it life-changing and he would too.

No one is able to get through life without challenge. In fact, many times, the challenges we face allow us to discover our strengths. Children, however, need to be reminded that their challenges do not define them. When provided with the opportunity to also showcase their gifts, and feel the praise that comes from doing so, children will begin to experience themselves as capable. The byproduct of those experiences is confidence, which is an essential ingredient in the formula for academic and social success. Looking back now, I find it somewhat metaphorical that Andrew chose “Singing in the Rain” as his performance piece. While some would seek shelter from the storm, Andrew chose to “dance” in the rain that day.

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THE TEACHING BRAIN

vanessa-rodriguezSubmitted by Vanessa Rodriguez, Doctoral Candidate at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and author of the The Teaching Brain: The Evolutionary Trait at the Heart of Education

We’ve been hearing long, loud, and numerous complaints about the state of education and the need for radical reform of our educational system. We’ve heard about the limitations of high stakes standardized testing and the need for more accountability for our teachers.  The problem of education in this country today is vast, complicated and emotionally charged. Educators, scientists, psychologists, government officials, and bestselling authors are all part of the mix of voices that are creating the conversation and, in part, prolonging the controversies.

But it seems the biggest elephant in the proverbial room is how we think about teaching and our teachers. Both sides of the teaching debate have sought to define “good teaching.” However this effort is as misguided as one that would label a student “good learner”.  We need to keep the terms “good” and “teaching” forever more apart. Indeed, the concept of a perfect teacher for all students is a complete myth.  Instead we need to be asking new questions.

Our questions should begin with one in particular:  “What is teaching?”  Teaching is a human, evolutionary skill.  In fact, though we may not be in a classroom we are all teachers.

Four years ago, as a doctoral student at Harvard Graduate School of Education, I made a startling and it turns out profound connection between the cognitive psychology and neuroscience I had been studying and the practice of teaching:  I realized that for all we know about the nature and science of learning, especially the discoveries in brain research, we have grown very little in our insight into the teaching process. Why is this? Why has teaching, an interaction so integral to the foundation of education, been given such short shrift? Quite simply it is because no one has ever really bothered to understand how the teaching process, and its corollary, the teaching brain, are separate and distinct from the learning process, or the learning brain.

As a former Science, History, and English teacher, I have spent over a decade teaching in the classroom and I’ve learned that learning and teaching, while inextricably related, are separate, distinct processes. And that in order for  us to understand the teacher in all of us, whether it be in the classroom or the boardroom, we need to demystify teaching based on a complete understanding of the cognitive, biological, and psychological processes of the brain. The series of teaching_brain coverstudies that I have worked on are based on this quest to uncover these processes of the teaching brain.

Pre-order your copy of Ms. Rodriguez’s book The Teaching Brain.

Visit Ms. Rodriguez’s web site.

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LIFE AFTER LANDMARK

Stephanie_JohnsstonSubmitted by Stephanie Johnston, parent of a former Landmark School student

All parents worry, but parents of children who learn differently worry a lot more.  From the time our son started school we worried.  There were vague worries: why isn’t he able to learn, respond promptly, organize himself, etc… There were specific worries: will he ever be able to tie a shoe? Read? Take independent responsibility for himself and his life?

Those of us who are able to get our child into the right academic setting are like survivors of a shipwreck clinging to the edge of a raft with our children safely in the middle. We watch from the sidelines as they gain academic and life skills in a uniquely supportive environment. We are sheltered from the storm for a short time, but always looming on our horizon is the bigger, impersonal world. The older your child becomes, the less accommodating the world at large becomes. The boy must become a man.

Leading up to the big transition from 8th to 9th grade, we worried ourselves sick that our son needed more time in his supportive school to build a foundation. What would happen if we pulled him out too soon? Yet, in the larger context, we knew he would have to make that transition – ready or not – and we timed it so he could enter high school with all of the other incoming freshmen; for better or worse he would be one of them.

When the first day of high school arrived my fervent prayer was that he would “cope and pass”. Our son is a man of few words, but I can tell a lot by his body language. He was waiting with a group of students at pick-up time; he sauntered over to the car loose, jaunty, relaxed… and hungry. The first day was great. Now, halfway through his freshmen year, he is an honor student at a preparatory high school. Some things are harder for him than others. His learning differences are still there but he owns them with an easy confidence. He is fine.

After all these years of intense, urgent, appropriate worry “all of a sudden” it’s coming together for him. When he was at Landmark we parents all worried together. Every child is so different that no two journeys will be the same. Many parents of older children offered me encouragement, telling me our son would be fine, but I was too worried and the future was too murky for me to relax. Now we can see the four years of intense support and instruction that he received at Landmark laid a wonderful foundation for success. Were it not for that, he wouldn’t be where he is now. So with tremendous relief and gratitude, I can say yes, there is life after Landmark and it’s good.

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ASKING FOR HELP

Nicole SubikSubmitted by Nicole Subik, Learning Specialist at Villanova University’s Learning Support Services

Why is it that many of us view asking for help as a sign of failure?

If you are traveling from Point A to Point B and stop to ask for directions along the way, does that mean that you failed? Didn’t you make it to Point B? I call that success.

College students often struggle with seeking out help, and when they do reach out, they are frequently in what I call a failure mindset. They see signing up for a tutoring session as a last resort. And sometimes, quite frankly, students ask for assistance too late in the semester for it to salvage rotten grades. In those cases, to keep with the journey metaphor, they are too far off the course to make it to Point B without a major detour. Honestly, that is a frustrating situation for everyone—students, parents, and college personnel.

LMK_WordcloudI would like to suggest a paradigm shift. Tutoring—probably the most popular and widely available support at the college level—should be seen as a place to stop along your journey, a place to replenish, get direction, and gain knowledge. Tutoring should be something you seek to help you get to your destination, not a refuge for when you are already broken down and out of fuel.

In order for college students to make the most of their tutoring sessions and other academic supports, they must buy into this paradigm shift. Arriving to a session with a failure mindset shuts you off from the interactive process that is so vital to this proven one-on-one interaction. The same goes for academic coaching, an increasingly popular support for college students who want help with time management and study skills.

Parents, teachers, and college personnel can help students seek out help early  and consistently by not only making sure students are aware of resources, but by framing those resources as positive and natural parts of the educational journey.  Before they even go to college, start talking about supports available. The more we can lead our students away from asking for help only when they are in serious trouble, the better off they will be. Successful college students are proactive, not reactive about seeking out academic support.

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AN EMPTY SEAT AT THE TABLE

imgresSubmitted by Rick Lavoie, Author, Lecturer, Consultant

Preparing Your Child (and You) for Transition to College

For thirty years, I served as an administrator of residential schools for Special Needs students. One of my responsibilities was designing the Autumn Arrival Day…the day that parents dropped their kids off at school.

I shudder to think of the advice and directions that I gave to my colleagues as we prepared for the “big day”:

Get the parents back on-the-road as soon as possible after they arrive. Don’t let them linger. Don’t feed them. Don’t let them unpack. In and out. We need to make the separation quickly…so we can focus on the kids.

I thought that I was right. I knew I was. But I could not have been more wrong.

When did I recognize the error or my ways? The day my wife and I dropped our first born off at college.

For the first time, I realized the tremendous impact that residential programs have on the family. As I watched our son enter his college dorm among hundreds of strangers, I realized that our family was about to make a significant, life-changing transformation.  There would be an empty seat at the table. I wasn’t ready…and I could only hope that he was.

After that life altering experience, I totally redesigned our Arrival Days and created a welcoming, family-friendly environment that featured meals, seminars, and social events. If you are reading this, and you sent your child to my school early in my career…sorry!

Below are some Do’s and Don’ts as you prepare for this transition.

  •  DO anticipate a challenging summer. 

The parents’ goals for this pre-departure summer are diametrically opposed to the child’s. Mom and Dad want a final summer of family activities, togetherness, and group hugs. The kid’s goal is to have an amazing last summer with his buddies.

The result?  Conflict

The solution? Compromise

  •  DO anticipate moodiness.

As the student recognizes the finality and inevitability of the transition, she may become anxious and troubled.  This may manifest itself in refusal to pack, fill out forms, etc.

The result? Dawdling, unresponsiveness, oppositional behavior.

The solution? Kids need love most when they deserve it least.

  •  DO make, maintain, and keep a schedule.

With the child, make a list of all the chores and activities that need to be done (shopping, packing, summer reading assignments) and create a calendar together.  In this way, the schedule (not mom or dad) can do the nagging.

The problem?  Overwhelmed

The solution? Organization and structure

  •  DO conduct some crash courses.

Hold lessons in basic laundry, cooking, ironing, and finances in order to prepare her for independence.

The problem? Lack of basic skills

The solution? Knowledge

  •  DO embrace your new role as his “coach”.

Remember: a coach never goes on the field or kicks the field goal or gets up at bat. A good coach teaches the fundamentals and then stays on the sidelines offering guidance, advice, comfort, and encouragement.

The reality? He is “on his own”.

The solution? Attitude adjustment (yours and his!)

  •  DON’T burden her with your sadness.

Let her know that she will be greatly missed, but don’t make her feel guilty by sharing your grief over this transition.

The problem? Parental grief results in increased homesickness.

The solution? Call your best friend and cry with her!

  •  DON’T make a “bail out” deal.

By saying, “If you don’t like the school by October first, we can talk about you coming home…”, the child will have no reason to commit to “making it work”.

The problem? Anxiety

The solution? Encouragement

  •  DO encourage him to discuss his concerns and anxieties with older siblings or cousins.

They can offer advice and reassurance because of their recent college experiences.

The problem?  The child needs assurance.

The solution? Your tales of your 1980’s college days, Tom Petty concerts, and Pac Man tournaments won’t work.

A Final Word

The “empty nest” has positive and negative aspects. A wise person once counseled that the parent should find a constructive use of the “kid time” that is now “free time”. Invest that time in yourself by resurrecting some old dreams.

“It is not through care giving that a woman looks for replenishment of purpose in the second half of her life. It is through cultivating talents left half-finished, permitting ambitions once shelved…becoming an aggressor in the service of her own convictions rather than a passive/aggressive party to someone else’s.” Anonymous

Sound advice!

Learn more about Rick Lavoie’s work through his web site.

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