Category Archives: Uncategorized
– Jenn Horton
Digital screens are here to stay—and they’re impacting us, especially our kids. You might have heard that kids who regularly get headaches, have neck pain, and rub their red, itchy eyes are probably looking at screens too much. But is that really a “thing”?
The short answer is yes, and there’s a name for it, too: digital eye strain.
We can help our middle and high school students pay closer attention to signs that they might be experiencing digital eye strain. Here’s what you need to know to be proactive about student eye health and its impact on your students.
What is digital eye strain?
Digital eye strain as when a person suffers from eye discomfort from extended use of, you guessed it, screens. That screen time—specifically, more than two hours a day—is causing many classroom learning difficulties for students. And that, in turn, is creating many new challenges for teachers.
Digital eye strain is the kicked-up version of the visual fatigue optometrists have long discussed with you at your annual visit. But now, it’s more than TVs and desktops or sitting under fluorescent lights for too long. Kids have had hours (and years) of access to smartphones, hand-held video game devices, tablets, etc. Nearly one in four kids spends three hours or more on a digital device. So perhaps it’s not a coincidence that nearsightedness has also increased 66 percent since the 1970s.
What are the signs of student digital eye strain?
Headaches, neck or shoulder pain, irritated eyes, reduced attention span, a negative shift in behavior, and an increased lack of focus.
What can you do to help?
You already know how to monitor your students’ focus and attention. So that means you’re in a great position to spot student vision issues. Here’s what you can do when you see it:
- See something, say something. Tell parents what you see. No need to diagnose your students. Just say something like, “Your son has been rubbing his eyes a lot lately.”
- Encourage eye exams. Only 30 percent of families say they’ve talked to an eye-care provider about their kids’ digital habits and eye health. Sometimes parents are embarrassed to admit their kids spend a lot of time looking at screens. Whether it’s in parent conferences or general communications sent home, get the word out that eye exams are as important as well-child visits.
- Set up eye-healthy digital workspaces. Do what you can to make their digital learning environment ergonomic. Screens should never be too close and ideally, be placed a few inches below a student’s eyes. A student’s chair should be positioned so that the student’s arms are parallel to the desk surface. The chair should also be adjusted so that the student can keep their feet flat on the floor.
- Take screen breaks in class. Depending on what you teach, screens may be an integral part of your curriculum. Eye doctors suggest that teachers use the 20-20-20 rule whenever possible during the school day: Make sure there’s a screen break every 20 minutes. Focus on something at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds to lessen digital eye strain.
- Go outside for that screen break. Studies show that kids who spend more time outside have a lower risk of nearsightedness.
- Talk about good digital habits with your students. Do they recognize changes in their classroom habits after they’ve spent a weekend screen binging? Do they notice they are more attentive or alert after a day off or time spent without screens? Teaching them to be their own health advocate includes encouraging them to be aware of their digital habits.
Adapted and abridged
– Kimberley Moran
Indeed, there’s a relentless pressure on social media and teacher Facebook groups that every single lesson we design should not only meet a learning standard but also be SUPER ENTERTAINING. We’re always on the hunt for those unicorn activities that teach curriculum but in a way that feels like a game!
I think somewhere along the line, we’ve confused fun with engagement. Because the truth is, hard work can be the most engaging work of our lives. And by saying things like we’re writing informational reports that are going to be super fun, we’re giving students the message that if it doesn’t feel fun they must be doing it wrong. The truth is that hard work benefits kids just as much as play does.
Here are five ways to talk about hard work more truthfully.
1. Hard work gives you dignity.
Give your students dignity by having high (but reasonable) expectations that require hard work and perseverance. Kids naturally want to make a meaningful contribution, so you need to give them the opportunity. Doing hard work “because I say so” is not meaningful. Brainstorm with kids reasons why hard work is necessary as a process. Start where they are and guide them into thinking about why reworking math problems or essays is doing the hard work as well.
2. A hard-work habit is a good strategy to develop.
When we take our kids seriously, they take themselves seriously and rise to the occasion. Developing the habit of hard work requires opportunities to practice. If we’re always making things fun and easy, there is no practice. Be sure to assign hard work that helps kids practice and feel challenged by the lessons you teach. Tell them it’s going to be hard but also tell them that you believe they can rise to the challenge. Teaching kids to set appropriate goals for themselves is a great way to get them to think about what to put work hard toward achieving.
3. Identify the problem and then work on solutions.
Explicitly teaching kids how to identify a problem and develop solutions is an excellent way to get them going. All too often people are reactive instead of slowing down to identify what needs solving. When problems become concrete, the possibility that hard work will pay off can help kids persevere. That said …
4. Hard work doesn’t always pay off.
I’ve noticed a startling trend of kids believing that if they put work into something, they will always be rewarded, and that’s just not always true. Some kids are going to get amazing grades without much work. Other kids are going to do poorly even though they put in the hard work. The key here is to be realistic and acknowledge that there will always be a degree of failure in our lives. It’s not such a shocker to have worked hard only to have failed when someone has already warned of its possibility.
5. Hard work comes before fun.
When we tell kids this mantra to use in their heads, we give them a tool for when we can’t be there. This statement also reminds them that there is a difference between hard work and fun. I remind my own children of this all the time. I’m not having fun all day long at work, but I love how hard work challenges my brain, and I love making money. I don’t lie and pretend to love the hard work, but I do explain how connected it is to things I love.
Developing a good work ethic is a never-ending process, so you should be able to find no shortage of instances of hard work to share with kids. Modeling the hard work that goes into maintaining a house or a job shows them firsthand that hard work is necessary and important. Check out these books for talking to kids about hard work and perseverance.
Abridged and adapted
– Elizabeth Mulvahill
Kindergarten should be a time of wonder and exploration. A time for making friends and learning to work together. A time for learning to love letters, numbers, words, scientific discovery, and learning itself. But today kindergarten has become the starting line for a marathon of academic drill and kill and inappropriate assessment. It has become a structured environment where “kindergartners are being told what to do and how to do it, every single step along the way, all day long.”
As vacations grow shorter and school days longer, we’re putting more pressure on our little ones. Here are five reasons to rethink the demands we’re putting on our kindergarteners.
Academic rigor is just not developmentally appropriate for five-year-olds.
It’s common knowledge that today’s kindergarten is yesterday’s first grade. In fact, for the past 35 years, policymakers have focused on improving children’s performance by demanding they be taught more academic content and take more tests to monitor their achievement.
You might remember kindergarten as playtime, snack time, and rest time. But today’s kindergartners must read all of their alphabet sounds, sound out three-letter words, read at least 20 to 30 sight words, count to 100, skip count by fives to 50 and by twos to 20. And most classroom teachers are pressured to push their students beyond the minimal expectations. In fact, 80 percent expect students to read by the end of kindergarten.
Child development experts warn that a full day of academics is too much to ask of young students. Just because a child can be trained in an academic pursuit doesn’t mean it’s what’s best for them. Besides, any advantage gained by early academic rigor may not last long. In fact, research shows the benefits diminish by the third grade.
Too much too soon affects kids’ attitudes about school.
Children’s attitudes about school are formed early in life, for better or worse. The primary goal of kindergarten should be to set kids up to love learning and love school. Instead, the pressure to perform academically is discouraging our young learners. Education writer Patti Hardigan cautions educators against judging students’ academic potential at an age when their ability to perform varies widely from day to day. The risk of labeling a child who is not ready for a full workload can adversely affect their enjoyment of, and success in, school. “Children form impressions early on,” she says, “and when they feel like failures at 5, that’s hard to turn around.”
Medical professionals confirm the adverse effects.
Teachers have increasingly witnessed a rise in behavioral issues in the classroom, including problems with social interactions, attention, problem-solving, and emotional control. Many of these problems stem from the increased pressure to perform. In many cases, medical professionals are dealing with the fallout. Diagnoses of depression and anxiety in children have nearly doubled since the early 2000s. Also, the diagnoses of ADHD in children have increased dramatically.
Pressure to teach essential literacy and math skills have increasingly limited time for free play and exploration.
Early childhood experts agree that play is essential for healthy development and deep foundational learning at the kindergarten level. In fact, according to psychologist Erik Erikson, when children miss out on the work of play, later learning can be adversely affected.
Many kindergarten programs claim to strike a balance between play and academics. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean free play. That means playtime but guided playtime with an academic purpose.
Children’s freedom to play and explore on their own, independent of direct adult guidance and direction, has declined greatly in recent decades. Researchers warn that today’s rigorous curriculum is diminishing young learners’ sense of wonder. Across the country, kindergartners are being told what to do and how to do it, every single step along the way, all day long. They play less and study more than they did 20 years ago. This is what kindergarten has become, and it’s not a good thing.
Teachers have had enough.
Many teachers detest the increased academic demands and pressures on their young students and are questioning their willingness to teach under conditions. In fact, many are moving up grade levels or leaving the field to avoid the heartbreaking conditions demanded by the standards.
Adapted and abridged
– Adizah Eghan
What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of early literacy? For most people, it’s books. But storybook reading is not the only way to help your child learn reading skills.
Surprisingly, one of the best ways to teach reading skills is also the simplest: talking! Children need to say or hear about 21,000 words each day to develop their vocabulary, and a good vocabulary increases kids’ chances of completing both high school and college.
Play with hi and bye
Teach your child different ways to say hello and good-bye — in English and other languages. (Here are some examples: Good morning, Namaste, Buenos Dias, Allo, Annyeonghaseyo, Konnichiwa, Zao, Aloha, Good-bye, Ciao, See you later, Buh-bye, Adios, Later alligator, Hasta Luego). Practice different greetings every day. Even the physical act of waving helps children learn these expressive statements at an early age. Not comfortable speaking other languages? Try stringing words together to make longer and longer sentences: Good morning. Good morning, Monica. Good morning, Monica, with the big pretty eyes. Good morning, Monica, sitting on the blue blanket.
Play storyteller and listener
Use stories to introduce new words your child might not encounter in everyday conversations, such as the names of planets, flowers, or animals. If your child is a little older, you can switch off who is telling the story. Be sure to add questions while telling a story (e.g. What do you think the boy should do?). This gives your little one a chance to be creative and practice both speaking and comprehension skills. Plus, the bonding time helps children’s brains make important connections between emotions and words.
Hit pause regularly
You’re probably already watching TV and movies. If so, make it a habit to hit pause to share your reactions. Was that surprising? Funny? When a program or movie is over, talk about what happened in the story and how it ended. For example, How else could the movie have ended?
Do chores and errands together
Tackle grocery shopping and laundry as a team. While creating your grocery list, ask your child what to add. At the store, ask questions like Where do you think we’ll find the milk? In the produce aisle, let your child touch the rough outer layer of pineapple and compare it to the smooth skin of an apple. Ask questions that get your little one using descriptive words, like How do these feel different? When you’re doing laundry, name different items of clothing (e.g. socks, shorts, skirts) and talk about separating the clothes into groups, such as by color. As you sort, ask your child questions like Which pile does this shirt go into? Why?
Listen to music and sing along. Whether it’s the ABCs and nursery rhymes or Taylor Swift, listening to — and singing along to — songs helps your child develop an ear for different words and sounds. Singing, chanting, and rhyming help kids learn new words, practice telling the difference between sounds, and even boost thinking skills. When it comes time to learn or grow their reading skills, all of these other skills will help. Try age-appropriate rhyming games and songs you may remember from childhood, such as “This little piggy,” “Itsy bitsy spider, “I’m a little teapot,” “The wheels on the bus,” and “Pat-a-cake.”
The more your child uses their imagination, the better. Games such as follow the leader, dress up, and make-believe (with dolls or household items) help your child set goals, stay on task, and avoid distractions. Model pretending by saying things like Let’s pretend we’re on a pirate ship or Now you be the mommy. As your child grows older, continue to add more complex and exciting twists. For example, What might be Goldilocks’ next adventure?
Ask your child open-ended questions
Parents often try to make things easy for children by asking simple questions that only require a yes or no answer. Did you have fun at the park? Yes! Can you eat your broccoli, please? No. But yes or no questions fail to promote language development. Flip the switch on your conversations by asking questions that require your child to use more and more words, starting with nouns, then adjectives and nouns, and then full sentences. For example, The legos go in here, what is this? At first, try to get your child to give the basic answer, shoebox, then see if your child can build on that over time. For example, blue shoebox, or even better, answering with a full sentence: The legos go in the blue shoebox.
Abridged and Adapted
Fill up those tigers’ tanks
The chilly, dark winter mornings make it extra challenging to get up a few minutes early to whip up a nourishing, hearty breakfast for the kiddos. But a sugary bowl of cereal isn’t the kind of high-octane fuel they need to make it through a demanding school day. The good news? A protein-and-vitamin-packed breakfast can be pulled off with little effort. Opt for simple, nutrition-loaded fare like eggs (keep a couple hard-boiled eggs in the ‘fridge for days you’re running late), milk, cottage cheese, whole grains, fruit, and yogurt.
Wash your hands!
In case you sustain any lingering doubts, the science is in: handwashing helps ward off illness. Danish research found that kids taught proper handwashing techniques and required to wash three times a day missed 26 percent fewer school days and had 22 percent fewer illnesses than kids who weren’t trained or required to wash.
Take your anti-stress meds
Exercise is just what the doctor ordered when it comes to shaking off stress, which for children can compromise a healthy, growing brain. So take advantage of the nippy weather by letting them go out to play, or taking a brisk, pre-dinner walk. Not only will your childrens’ endorphins be doing the happy dance, but their I.Q.’s will also be ramped up a few notches.
Avoiding colds? Don’t avoid the cold.
Your parental instincts may be telling you that to keep kids healthy, you should keep them safely out of the cold. But that can mean long hours staring, inert, at a screen, which has multiple negative health implications for your child, including Nature-Deficit Disorder. As long as they’re dressed warmly, don’t hesitate to take a foray into the great outdoors — or even a quick jaunt to your local park. According to the National Wildlife Federation, spending time in nature offers a wealth of health benefits for kids, including helping to prevent sleep deprivation, as children need to be outside in natural daylight to regulate their internal “sleep clocks.”
Want more A’s? Get more Zzzz’s.
If your New Year’s resolution to make sure the kids get a good night’s sleep has fallen by the wayside, time to do a sleep check at your house. There’s plenty of reason to ensure your children are getting the rest they need. Researchers have found a link between sleep and cognitive abilities. One researcher found that sixth-graders who lost just an hour of sleep performed at a fourth-grade level. Other studies show a link between getting enough sleep and higher grades.
Abridged and adapted
Food battles can be epic. They can also slowly drain a parent’s will to make sure their child eats well. Here, a few moms share their tried-and-true ideas for sneaking veggies into snacks and meals for their picky eater.
An egg-cellent disguise
“It’s not all that clandestine, but I put mashed veggies in my son’s scrambled eggs in the morning. I’ve done cauliflower, squash, and broccoli (not all together) — he seemed to like the added texture and eats it regularly. I also tried bell pepper strips, but those totally bombed. For the record, I’d encourage people to add extra-yummy stuff too. I add lemon ricotta to the broccoli eggs — it’s delicious. Why not add extra-yummy stuff, in addition to extra-healthy stuff? I started doing this because I hate to throw out food but then realized it was a way to get some extra veggies in there.”
“My favorite sneaky kid recipe is for smoothie popsicles. You can sneak pretty much anything healthy into a smoothie, and when you make it into a popsicle, it becomes a portable, nutritious snack. I usually add plain yogurt and soymilk, fresh or frozen berries, and bananas. Pour the mixture into ready-made popsicle molds, and you have an easy snack that can even be breakfast to go!”
“My kids love toasted wheat germ sprinkled on their ice cream. I know ice cream is not health food, but when they have it as a treat, they might as well get a touch of something healthy along with it. I was laughing last night when they were arguing about who got extra wheat germ on the ice cream [because] they have no idea it’s good for them. Flaxseed is another power food that’s easy to add to everything, including smoothies, oatmeal, and yogurt.”
“The only thing that works for us is juicing — yes, I juice a bunch (literally) of kale, two carrots, 1/3 beet, and one to two oranges, then dilute with water (50-50 ratio). I also add a multivitamin to the mix. I’m amazed that it works because it’s an incredibly earthy-tasting juice and not very sweet at all.”
“Add pureed or mashed veggies to a grilled cheese sandwich. I’ve chopped up sauteed spinach and attempted to hide it inside a grilled cheese sandwich. It worked a few times until [my son] got smart enough to notice it and start picking it out.”
“If your kid will eat tomato sauce on pasta, it’s easy to hide veggies in [the dish]. Either chop or puree mushrooms, onion, carrots, celery, and spinach and add to the sauce.”
Sweet potato treats
“Sweet potatoes might be one of the only veggies that are slightly easier to get a picky eater to ingest. But if yours still won’t, try slicing them into fries and seasoning with salt, or baking and pureeing them to add to a pancake mix for breakfast.”