Preparing to Learn – Screen Time

The final post in our preparing to learn series will discuss the ways in which screen time and blue light can negatively affect learning.

Screen Time

child watching tvIn this modern world it is easy to live a life saturated by screen time. Screens seem to have infiltrated every part of our lives, with phones in our pockets, computers in our offices, and televisions in our homes. This saturation of screens has caused concern among some parents who wonder how much and how often their children should be exposed to media. In this post we will explore some emerging research about how screens can affect young brains.

Although there is not a large amount of conclusive research on the topic, as screen-saturated lifestyles are a very recent phenomenon, there is research suggesting that exposing children to too much screen time at a very early age can impair their cognitive development. This can cause delays in language acquisition and other key skills learned in the first few years of life. This could be due in part to the reduction of human-to-human interaction that happens when children consume too much media. Young learners excel when they spend plenty of time interacting and playing with other people, and when this is exchanged for spending time with a screen, babies and young children could be adversely affected.

The developmental delays that result from the over-consumption of media are not only detrimental early in life, in fact consuming too much media at a young age can reverberate throughout someones life in many ways. It has been found that as children age, they may experience difficulties making friends and interacting in social situations. This has been linked with an over-use of electronic devices, and may lead to isolation and loneliness in adolescents and teens.

baby eating a phoneSome have argued that electronic use can actually help children learn. There are many apps, games, movies, and tv series which contain educational content and are aimed at younger audiences. However, there is not much research which can verify that consuming this type of media content leads to much developmental or educational progress in young children.

Given that mass media use is such a recent phenomenon, it is unlikely that we will be able to fully understand the scope of its affects for many years. As parents, it can be hard to know what the best approach to media use is, with so many conflicting messages and the ubiquity of screens in our lives. To help you make the decisions that will best support your family, the Canadian Pediatric Society has released a study and associated guideline for screen time, and the American Pediatric Association has recently updated their guidelines for screen time as well.

 

Preparing to Learn – Social Support

In our sixth blog post of the series preparing to learn, we will focus on the importance of social support in the lives of young learners.

Social Support

children playingAs social creatures, humans need healthy social connections in all aspects of our lives in order to thrive. Young people especially need to feel supported and cared for or they won’t be able to fully participate in any learning that is being asked of them. Making sure that their child is surrounded by caregivers, family and community members, teachers, and peers who can provide your child with strong social bonds is an important way that any caregiver can set their child up for success.

In this modern world that focuses on money and material possessions as markers of success, it is easy to forget that social connections are just as important to living a successful life as any other aspect. When someone feels socially isolated or rejected, they can experience real physical pain and their quality of life is impacted just as much as with any physical injury. In particular, strong social support has been shown to increase resilience to stress and reduce the risks of developing depression or post traumatic stress disorder following an illness or traumatic event. In fact, social isolation may be as bad for our health as smoking!

It has been found that although both are important, the quality of the relationships in someones life matter more than the quantity of relationships. Not only do high quality social bonds help a child to be healthy emotionally and physically, but they can also help a child to develop strong social skills themselves. It has been shown that children who grow up with strong social and emotional capabilities will have greater educational and career success later in life.

mother and babyPrimary caregivers are often the main provider of social support, especially early in a child’s life. As children age, however, they can begin to form meaningful relationships with other adults in their communities such as their teachers, extended family members and religious and community leaders. We encourage every caregiver to take some time early in their child’s life to identify who they can encourage their child to form these social bonds with: who can your child turn to if they are struggling at school? Who can they trust to advocate for them and to champion their needs as they grow? Who in their lives has valuable skills and can mentor them as they enter adolescence?

Providing another human with strong social support is not an easy task, and for working parents or those with many children it is important that you know you don’t have to be everything in your child’s life. Sometimes the most beneficial thing you can do is to connect those in your care with a circle of mentors, friends, educators, and family members who can support them in ways that you can’t.

 

 

Note:

Having the time, energy, and resources to socially support a child is a privilege that not every caregiver enjoys. Parents who are young, financially marginalized, or single, face even more barriers to supporting their child emotionally. By writing this blog post I do not mean to diminish these struggles and instead hope to empower every caregiver to identify all the ways in which they can care for their child and to seek out help when they cannot provide all of the support their child needs. To aid in this, I have included a list of local support services below which might be helpful to parents who feel isolated or unable to fully support their children emotionally.

Local support services

Preparing to Learn – Emotional Well-Being

 

In our fifth blog post on the topic of preparing to learn we will explore the importance of emotional well being for effective learning.

Emotional Well-Being

children huggingEmotional well-being is necessary in order for true learning to take place. A brain that is preoccupied with negative thoughts, insecurities, and self doubt will not have the capacity to take in and store new information in a meaningful way. As caregivers, it is important that those in your care are healthy and supported emotionally as well as physically. It is only with proper emotional support that students can become life long learners and acquire the skills they need to thrive in the classroom as well as in all their future endeavors.

A key component to emotional well-being is teaching children to recognize, verbalize, and deal productively with their emotions. There is research which suggests that schools that incorporate lessons about emotional awareness into their curriculum experience better academic outcomes and less instances of bullying. Emotional awareness may also help to strengthen children, making them more resilient generally and even impacting how their bodies react to physical injuries.

The theory of brain architecture suggests that the developing minds of young children can be permanently damaged if they are exposed to prolonged stress early in life. This damage could negatively affect a child’s ability to learn and excel not only academically but also socially and in their careers. By providing emotional support to your child you are ensuring that their brains can grow while they are young, thereby forming a strong foundation for later development to take place.

child and adult huggingIn order for you to properly support your child emotionally, it is important that you yourself are practicing good ’emotional hygiene’. This means recognizing the signs that you are emotionally stressed and finding healthy techniques to reduce your emotional turbulence.

There is no one-size fits all approach to emotional health, instead it is up to everyone, individually and as a family, to identify and implement the practices that ensure that everyone in your care is being supported in the ways that they need.

Preparing to Learn – Movement

In this blog post, the fourth in the preparing to learn series, we discuss the importance on movement for the bodies and minds of developing children.

Movement

children playing soccer

Spending lots of time engaged in physical movement is one of the best things for a young persons health, both physical and mental. In a traditional classroom setting, however, students are often required to sit quietly for long periods of time with minimal movement breaks, and are chastised for fidgeting or moving around too much. As more and more studies emerge about the topic of movement and learning, we are seeing that this educational model is not only outdated but ineffective.

Although we tend to think of exercise as something that only benefits the physical body, there is research that suggests that the part of the brain that processes movement also processes learning, meaning the two are inextricably linked. There is also evidence suggesting that a number of traditional playground activities like jumping, rolling, tumbling, and climbing can lead to increased attention and reading skills. Even the simple act of standing up and stretching for a moment increases the heart rate, sending more oxygen to the brain and thereby increasing its capacity for learning. As well as prescribed types of movement, children also benefit greatly from most kinds of physical play. The benefits of play include increased cognitive abilities as well as increased social skills, emotional intelligence, and decreased stress levels.

Movement can also help children prepare for learning. To learn well a student must be engaged, focused, and mentally alert. Moving regularly and in varied ways can help children prepare for learning by maintaining good mental health. In particular, it has been found that different types of exercise can help alleviate symptoms of anxiety, depression, and hyperactivity, and can even reduce symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder.

boy with basketballs

A study done on university students found that when class time was split between aerobic activity and a traditional lecture, that their memory and overall cognitive performance increased over the length of one semester. This is important information for educators and administrators who have the power to determine what happens in the classroom, but there are many ways that parents and caregivers can help their children maintain an active lifestyle.

An initiative called Sparking Life which is being introduced to schools across Canada and the United States has found a way to integrate aerobic exercise into middle school and high school classrooms. This movement, pioneered by Harvard Professor Dr. John Ratey has had massive success not only with improving academic standards and attendance but also with reducing behavioral issues in the classroom.

There are many ways that parents and caregivers can ensure that their children are engaging in exercise daily. Parents can enroll their kids in after school activities that focus on movement like gymnastics, soccer, dance, or martial arts, as well as making sure that children are encouraged to play physically at home and on the weekends. Taking your kids to a local park to play on the monkey bars or tossing a ball around in the backyard can be a great way to promote movement while enjoying some time together as a family.

While all types of movement have their value it is important that children are able to participate in physical activity in a safe and fun way. If children learn that physical activity is enjoyable they will be more likely to seek it out for themselves and to develop healthy relationships with exercise as they grow. Check in often with your kids and make sure that they are aware of strategies for avoiding injury and know when to rest.

 

 

Note:

In discussing the importance of movement I want to acknowledge that not all families have equal access to extra-curricular activities and classes and writing a blog extolling the virtues of a exercise risks ignoring this issue. Providing our children with opportunities to play and move is a privileged position that as a community and society we should always be seeking to provide to all our citizens. As parents and guardians we can support our children to the best of our ability with the resources we have available and this blog is meant to help with that task. See the local physical activity resources section at the bottom of the blog for assistance with accessing funding for after school programs in the the Nelson area.

Local physical activity resources

Preparing to Learn – Hydration

Our third preparing to learn blog post will highlight the health benefits of staying properly hydrated, and how hydration can impact our ability to learn and focus.

Hydration

waterfall

It is well known that the human body is made up of mostly water, with estimates ranging between 50%-80%. Since we are constantly losing water throughout the day through perspiration, waste excretion, and even breathing, we need to consume adequate fluids to replenish ourselves so that our bodies and minds can thrive. Although guidelines about the amount and type of liquid one should drink vary, there is agreement across the board that proper hydration is immeasurably important for our physical and mental health.

As a parent, ensuring that your child drinks plenty of water every day is probably one of the most beneficial things you can do for their health. There are numerous studies that have outlined the ways in which dehydration can impair the functions of the brain which can lead to problems with memory and concentration, and increase the likelihood of fatigue and anxiety. Dehydration has also been linked with an increased risk of headaches and other health issues, all of which adversely affect a students ability to absorb information and participate well in a learning environment.

water-glass.jpg

Dehydration can be detrimental to a students ability to participate in extra-curricular activities as well as in the classroom. If your child has an active after-school schedule, it is even more important that they stay well hydrated in order to prevent injuries, fatigue, and heat-stroke. This is especially true during the summer months, or if your child is participating in physical activities for long periods of time. Making sure your child is drinking lots of water before, during, and after being active is a great way to help them get the most out of every part of their day.

Filtered water is generally the most beneficial fluid to consume, but if children are reluctant to drink lots of plain water giving them alternatives that they enjoy like unsweetened juices, milk, herbal teas, and smoothies can make re-hydrating yummy for the whole family. This article from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention provides some easy-to-follow tips on making sure you stay hydrated throughout the day. This animated video also provides an explanation to help young children understand why drinking lots of water is so important.

Although in extreme circumstances there is a risk of over-hydration, this should generally not be of concern unless you or your child is participating in extreme sports, or has other health complications. In general, we advise all parents to do their own research to find out what beverages work best for their families.

Preparing to Learn – Nutrition

In this second blog post on the theme of preparing to learn we will discuss the importance of proper nutrition as a vital support to the learning process.

Nutrition

ApplesProper nutrition is complex and varies depending upon age, activity level, food allergies and personal choices. I am not going to tell you what foods to eat, how to prepare them or what to avoid. Instead I am going to encourage you to learn about your child’s nutritional needs so that you can ensure they are being met every day. Nutrition as a foundation for learning is a well researched topic that has led to school meal programs, school gardening projects and in-class nutrition education. A well fed brain is a brain ready to take in new information and process it for long term learning.

It is well documented that the brain needs lots of vitamins, nutrients, and specific fats in order to function well. It is important that every brain is nourished in all the ways it can be, but vitally important for brains which are being asked to learn all day long. This is true for all school aged children, whether they are learning in a traditional classroom setting, being homeschooled, tutored, or are learning in different ways.

Maintaining a healthy diet can ensure that the mechanisms involved in processing new information and storing memories are functioning at their highest capacity. As well, a balanced diet can help your child feel energized and able to moderate their mood and navigate any social or personal challenges they may encounter in a school environment. School, tutoring, and homework can all feel overwhelming and downright impossible to someone who’s brain isn’t being properly fed. A child might experience mood swings, feel tired or overstimulated, and act out more if their brains and bodies aren’t receiving the foods they need to support growth and development.

Providing those in your care with a nutrient rich diet also sets them up for a lifetime of success, and may help their brains to stay healthy as they age. There is abundant research showing that what we eat can impact our chances of developing Alzheimer, Dementia, and other debilitating diseases which affect the aging brain.

There is no one size fits all solution to nutrition: the foods which nourish one child might make another violently ill, one family might thrive on a diet based largely around locally sourced fish and other animal-based proteins while another family is healthy and happy consuming a completely vegan diet. Because of this, it is important that every family does their own research to find a diet that is healthy, enjoyable, and realistic for their lifestyle and financial situation.

 

Note:

Wheat.PNGIn discussing the importance of nutrition I want to acknowledge that not all families have equal access to nutritional resources and writing a blog extolling the virtues of a balanced diet risks ignoring this issue. Providing our children with optimal nutrition is a privileged position that as a community and society we should always be seeking to provide to all our citizens. As parents and guardians we can support our children to the best of our ability with the resources we have available and this blog is meant to help with that task. See the local food resources section at the bottom of the blog for assistance with accessing ingredients and meals in the the Nelson area.

Local food resources

 

Preparing to Learn – Sleep

Preparing to Learn

Learning is about far more than sitting in a hard chair at a desk and opening a book or researching online resources and consuming the information they provide. Learning starts long before those moments when you are actively engaged in new materials and experiences. To take full advantage of active learning time you need to prepare yourself long in advance.

The next few blog posts will be focused on the less obvious ways in which we can prepare our children for the most productive learning when arriving for a tutoring session, heading to school for the day or preparing to home school.

 

Sleeping Dog

SLEEP

A full night of restful sleep is the number one way we can prepare ourselves and our children to learn new skills, increase knowledge and boost understanding. Termed “sleep hygiene,” the practice and habits that lead to  sufficient, restful, rejuvenating sleep ensure we are mentally, emotionally and physically ready for the next day’s activities (barring other complicating factors). Sufficient, restful sleep leaves you feeling awake, energized for your day and resourced enough to take on the challenges you may face.

Sleep benefits the learner by lowering stress levels, increasing stamina, encouraging or allowing creativity, heightening the ability to maintain attention and increasing memory. The rested brain is more accepting of new information because it has the resources it needs to function at full capacity. Reducing the stress of insufficient sleep allows the cognitive processes involved in learning to be engaged more readily. A sluggish brain will struggle to process new information, forge new networks and access already retained information. Every effort is exaggerated and exhausting, compounding the problem by increasing stress and fatigue. A rested brain is hungry for new information ready to take on the task at hand utilizing earlier learning and suggesting novel ways to apply this new information. A rested brain wants to see what’s on the menu for the day and to get to work on it.

Sleep is also vitally important after learning has occurred. The act of learning is not complete when we first encounter the new information or skill, this just step one. Step two is consolidating the information into a usable long term resource that we can access for later learning or use. Only sufficient, restful sleep is going to allow us to take our new learning and process it, otherwise we will find ourselves doomed to learn the same information or skill again the next time we are faced with it. Sleep is key to the entire learning process. (For a more complex understanding of how sufficient, restful sleep supports learning visit Harvard’s healthy sleep education website here.)

The Mayo clinic offers a quick guide to getting a good night’s sleep for most people just needing a bit of guidance. In general sticking to a regular sleep schedule; eating and drinking foods that support rest before bed; limiting naps; ensuring you are physically active throughout the day and managing your stress level all support your ability to sleep deeply and awake rejuvenated.

sleeping foxHelp you child get the most out of their learning by creating healthy sleep habits.