Category Archives: Thoughts

Brave New World

“…COMMUNITY, IDENTITY, STABILITY.”

Aldous Huxley, Brave New World, 1.

Our children, who were born after 1995, have always known the world to have the internet. To say they are comfortable with technology is an understatement. They enjoy and crave the interactivity and immediacy of response that personal computers and the like provide – plus they seem to be able to do a number of things at once while using technology. I find it remarkable how my boys can follow a television program, have a conversation with a friend while seemingly concentrating on playing an electronic game. (Yet they always seem to be able to tune me out. Go figure.)

How can reading a book compare to the stimulus of the world wide web? Sitting still focused on one thing, letting your brain form the pictures and think about what you are reading… sounds kinda dull when you could use mom’s smart phone to play a game which illustrates the story and gives you immediate results.

Parents and teachers are working in a tough environment to teach children the fundamentals and excite them to learn. The old school way of learning with books, paper and pencils and independent thinking is folding into the new world with bring your own digital devices to school and collaborative group work. Parents and teachers are navigating this territory at the same time. How about we do it together by sharing our experiences, learnings and resources?

If you are a teacher or a parent and you have found a fantastic resource which you think everyone should know about, I invite you to share your findings here.

Here are some resources which I think are wonderful:

Have you checked out www.teachingkidsnews.com? It is a current affairs website for parents, educators and children grades 2 to 8 whose articles are always up to date and written in a manner which children can understand as well as gain greater insight into the situation.

Plus, for educators and parents there are activity and discussion guides provided as suggestions.

Why I love the site?
Easy to read
Updated frequently so content is current
Wonderful variety of articles allowing children to find what appeals to them most
Great writing and discussion guides which help readers to think and form their own opinions on topics
Provides context such as history of a situation, rules of a game, relationship of situations, etc.

Learning to read is a life skill that everyone wants to see their child achieve. Some children will love to read and their imaginations will take them to far away lands. Others just aren’t interested. I believe that if the child enjoys the subject matter then they can become excited about learning. In current affairs there is always something that can interest each person – sports, entertainment, science, etc..

Additionally, reading with discussion can develop critical thinking, development of opinions and so many other skills. Why should learning be concentrated on the development of one skill at a time? This is why I love the exercise of reading the news and discussing it with my family. I would like my children to develop an understanding of current events and their impact on our lives.

As a parent I really find the content of the http://www.commonsense.org website to be topnotch for reviews of all forms of media but more importantly, a resource for parents and educators on how to help teach children digital literacy.

Straight from their website: “Common Sense Media is dedicated to improving the lives of kids and families by providing the trustworthy information, education, and independent voice they need to thrive in a world of media and technology.

We exist because our nation’s children spend more time with media and digital activities than they do with their families or in school, which profoundly impacts their social, emotional, and physical development . As a non-partisan, not-for-profit organization, we provide trustworthy information and tools, as well as an independent forum, so that families can have a choice and a voice about the media they consume.”

While based in the US, their content is very relevant to their Canadian neighbours as we share so many traits. I encourage parents and teachers to spend some time on their site – playing their games and reading their reviews with their families. You will come away feeling better enabled for the media world we live in.

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Teaching The Value of Saving The Hard Way (or How to maintain composure in Walmart)

On Friday night, my 6 year old son said to me “Can we go to Wal*mart? I want to look for this cool video game Skylanders.” The first thing that crossed my mind was “I would rather clean the bathrooms” and the second was “Why? Christmas was only four weeks ago.” I had expected this request to come up a few weeks earlier as the moms at the bus stop the first week back at school after the holidays had been saying this is what their boys were asking for. So we were a few weeks behind.

I had no idea how much this game would be but given the description that my little guy was giving me “You need the game and the powerpack and the 3 dudes come in the starter pack but I want to buy more than the starter pack.” Oh dear! How much is this going to be I thought.

On the way to the big blue monster of a store which I try to avoid most weekends, I tried to prepare my son by saying “We are going to see how much this thing is. It sounds like it is a lot of money. If it is, then we won’t be buying it.”

“But I will spend my own money.”

While he has been putting his allowance in his piggy bank each week, I also knew that he had dipped into his savings a few times to buy a book or two from the school book orders. I suspected his savings were under $10. Nowhere near enough to buy the simplest video game.

“If the game is a lot of money, we won’t be buying it. So no tears.” I know my son. If I say no way to the price tag as we stand in the aisle, he will harrass me trying to change my mind. There was no way this was going to happen with this situation. He had received enough gifts at Christmas.

Sure enough when we found the game it was just shy of $70.00 without tax. I immediately explained that this was far too much money and he didn’t have enough in his savings. He said in a broken voice “But we could all pay – you, me, big brother and daddy.”

“We will have to go home and talk about it. Time to go.”

He stayed standing in the aisle trying to think of another approach. I walked away. That was when his tantrum began – calling me names, pushing me back to the aisle. Not pretty. I swear this is why they put the games section at the back of the store – so parents like me, can suffer the most abuse from their children in front of strangers and neighbours. I tried to smile and laugh. But all I wanted to do was cry and yell at him. I tried to explain to him in front of the couples buying towels and food, “Money doesn’t grow on trees. You have to save. Not everything can be done instantly.” Finally I picked up this awkward, distraught boy who was still calling me a bad parent and tried to carry him out of the store while he hurled angry words at me. When we got in the car, the tears were streaming down his face with a bitter expression on his mouth. Not fun. All the way home he cried and said he would talk to his daddy.I turned the music up loudly so I couldn’t hear his abuse.

No luck with his dad or his brother. Both knew the price of the game and said no way. Then little guy started to count out his money from his piggy bank. Yup. $10 and change. He was not happy.

Now he is asking for a Walmart gift card for his birthday which is 5 months away and is all ready talking about what he wants to buy his brother for his birthday which is in 4 months. He is strategizing on what he needs to do to save for the game. At least he is thinking about how to add money up with a goal in mind. Knowing my son, he won’t forget and he will put his mind to it. I just hope the grandparents don’t hear about this and little guy does save his money.

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The Teacher or The Parents Make All The Difference

Last weekend, we were out with friends and as does happen with parents, the conversation turned to our children and school, homework and teachers. (fortunately we have moved past the years of talking about sleeping patterns, bowel movements and eating schedules!) A number of us have children in the same grade but in different schools across the Greater Toronto Area so we compared what our children are learning, their teachers, etc. I would expect a difference between teachers – as everyone has their own style. But what a variance there seems to be by school and by school board!

One school in Oakville has student led parent-teacher interviews were the students explain to their parents – in french! – what they are learning with input by the teacher and then the parents can ask questions. I heard about varying degrees of technology being introduced into schools and expected for homework. One school uses online tools where students can read a book out loud online at home, record their reading and the teacher can then listen to the recording online and help the student in the classroom. While this sounds awesome – what happens if the children don’t have access to a computer at home?

 A number of the moms shared experiences about their children in older grades (4 and up) and how much or little our children are being challenged in the classroom.The parents discussed how vital an engaged teacher is –  the teacher makes all the difference on how much or little the children are challenged.  One mom who is a teacher said “we underestimate children’s capability of absorbing and understanding concepts”.

This conversation has stayed with me over the last week. Can we expect teachers, with shrinking resources who are stretched in a day, to be able to plan to challenge students? Have these teachers themselves been challenged to think vs execute? My observation is that the more a parent is involved in their child’s educational development the more they succeed. But is this a good thing? If a child’s parent is sitting with her every night doing homework how do they learn to think independently? Does the child become reliant on the parent and the parent becomes their security blanket – protecting them from failing?

So when I read this article “Stop Teaching Our Kids to Be Employees, Start Educating Entrepreneurs”, Brad McCarty’s comments struck a cord with me because I believe what he says is true. But whose “job” is it to teach and challenge our children? I want to see both teachers and parents contribute equally – one has to enable the other. Who is going to start?

Will parents stop handcuffing teachers by telling them not to use red pens to mark papers or giving them homework or encouraging them to think? Will teachers send home work with clear explanations of what is to be done and why and what has been explained to the child in the classroom so the parents know that if their child was listening in class that they would know what to do? I realize there are lots of chasms in the above as situations vary by child, by teacher, by classroom, by family, by environment but let’s stop the madness and work together to improve the situation. There are so many outstanding tools available to us (read another great article “In 2011 How The Internet Revolutionized Education“) – parents and educators that let’s figure out how to maximize their use to maximize our children’s potential.

If you bungle raising your children, I don’t think whatever else you do matters very much.
Jackie Kennedy

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Filed under Delivering A Wake Up Call, Life skills