Archive for category: Learning theory

Elmo will get your kid reading

20c87071-8197-42cc-b5c6-e5f0cc492a8d._V313956058_I’ve been testing out Elmo’s on-the-go Letters, a new addition to Hasbro’s holiday line-up.

This is a very simple toy, very old school. No electronics to be found here, but I also believe that It is one of the better literacy toys that I have seen lately.

It is just a plastic briefcase with the letters of the alphabet in it. The letters snap in. There is also a space at the bottom-right for children to make words with the letters.

The letters are quite difficult to snap out, even for me. A toddler would most likely not be able to get them out on their own, an adult would do it for him/her. But there’s an upside — it means that there won’t be letters strewn over the house, or lost pieces (kind of critical for an alphabet).

Kinesthetic learning (learning by touching) is a great way for kids to learn words.

The letters come in a bright red, plastic “briefcase” with Elmo on it. It is a very durable case too–I put about half my weight on it without it really making any sound, or breaking. The briefcase is hard to open, and it would be an impossible feat for a young child to open it, which means that they might be begging mommy or daddy to open it for them, which might be a problem.

All-in-all, this toy is excellent for any child who is starting to learn basic words and is starting to be taught how to form them.

Going to give this one four and a half out of five stars.

(Note: Hasbro sent me this toy to review but I haven’t been paid for this review and wouldn’t have reviewed it if I didn’t like the toy or didn’t think that it had a good literacy application.)

Price: Approx. $35.

Recommended age: 2-4

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Why you should “do philosophy” with your kids

Metaphysics Amy Leask booksAmy Leask believes that the best and most interesting philosophers are kids.

They tend to ask the “big questions” like: Where did I come from? Why is this good and that’s bad? And, “Why can’t I have another piece of cake?”

What is philosophy?

The word “Philosophy” comes from the Greek words Philos (love) and Sophia (wisdom).  In other words, philosophy is the love of wisdom.  It’s the practice of asking very big questions, ones that often have more than one possible answer, or no clear answers at all.

Leask has written a series of books that help kids learn philosophy in a fun, simple and understandable way.

Her series of books covers: Metaphysics (“What is all this stuff?”); Aesthetics (“Gee, that’s pretty!”); Epistemology (“How do you know what you know?”) and other big-question topics. There’s also an introductory book to get you and your kids started.

Amy says it better than I ever could, so click on the video below to listen to her explain why kids should “do philosophy” —

Check out the website for the books, which includes activities for kids.

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Five minutes to bridge the racial achievement gap

Choke by Sian BeilockI’ve been reading this book – Choke. (Because I tend to choke at tennis, that’s why.)

But it’s got some really interesting things to say that will help your kid with test anxiety.

Researchers were studying what happens to African-Americans, for instance, who experience racism throughout their life. These students can have something called “stereotype threat,” which is where students “underperform relative to their potential merely because these students feel discouraged about their ability to succeed.”

They may underperform simply because they are aware of stereotypes about their sex, race or ethnic group that pertain to intelligence.

Researchers wanted to see if they could intervene to subvert the “racial achievement gap” in a school in the Northeastern U.S.

What they did was simple, and brilliant – and it could be done with your child, whether or not he underperforms currently, whether or not he is a minority.

They had half the students respond to a question asking them what their most important value was, and write a brief paragraph explaining why it was important. In the second group – a control group – they had students write about their least important value.

At the end of the school year, they compared the kids. The ones who had – just once in the year, remember – taken the time to consider and think about, and write about, their most important value did better than the other students. The researchers later repeated the experiment, with the same results.

What happened? The students had written about qualities that were important to them. This enhanced their self-worth, even in the face of negative racial stereotypes. It created a “buffer against negative expectations and their consequences,” says the author of Choke, Sean Beilock.

Students who thought about their own good qualities, the things they value, did better at school because they reminded themselves that they could.

It seems that writing is key here. The kids have to take five minutes or so and write down their thoughts about their most important value. And not only did they perform better on that one test, in that one semester, but the research suggests there has been a life-long benefit for many of them.

If your kid says “I can’t do it,” help him remember that in fact, he can.

And by the way, just this afternoon I tried it before I got on the tennis court… 6-2, thank you very much!

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Remarkable research on kids’ ability to self-instruct

Sugata Mitra's hole-in-the-wall experiment; some children using a computer embedded into a wall.

Image: D.Salhundi, Karnatak, India

Here’s why we say you should “scatter books around the house.”

I want you to watch this exciting speech by Sugata Mitra on that illustrates the extent to which kids can teach themselves.

Through his “Hole in the Wall” project he conducted a series of experiments in 1999. He went to a slum in New Delhi, India and secured computers, hooked up to the Internet, into a wall so they could be used. And then he left.

The kids there had never used a computer before. And, the computer was completely in English—a language the kids didn’t speak or understand.

Within eight hours, an eight-year-old boy was not only surfing the Internet, but he was teaching a six-year-old friend how to browse.

The kids taught themselves how to use the PC, and the Internet—in English—and they began teaching each other.

He conducted the many more experiments which supported his theory that when they’re left alone, with the right resources, children are able to self-instruct to an incredible degree.

So how does this apply to literacy? It’s simple: Scatter books around your house. Put a book on his bed. Put a book in the bathroom. Leave a book poking out from under his dresser. Leave a book on the kitchen table.

If you leave a kid alone with a good book, he will pick up the book and start flipping through it. Soon, he will become interested in it. He will read.

Here is the speech (it gets really interesting at about 7:33).

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Give your kid more – he can handle it

A boy, thinking about something in front of him.

Every new mom knows that her baby understands more than he can say. You say to a baby, “milk!” and that baby brightens right up. Long before he can speak, he understands.

That amazing, ahead-of-the-curve process never stops, as long as kids are constantly challenged with new ideas and offered the chance to learn new skills.

I’m not advocating French flash cards for infants or War and Peace for a toddler. But I am saying that our kids can handle more than we think.

Last year I brought newspapers into a grade three classroom – so the kids were eight years old. Every week we discussed a couple of ongoing stories. What were the kids most interested and engaged in? The G20 summit. The G8, and how it differed from the G20. How the oil spill off the coast of Mexico was going to be capped. New species of animals that were being discovered.

Those were their favourite topics. And we didn’t just skim the surface, we talked about real stuff. Like how the CEO of British Petroleum wasn’t being honest. And then later how he got fired… well, reassigned.

They were interested in the nuances. They made connections between the “adult” world and their own world. They thought of solutions. They rejected some of their solutions and thought of new ones. And they went home and discussed the G20 and the oil spill with their parents. Some parents told me they’d even taught them some things about the issues. The kids also learned the importance – and reward – of knowing what’s happening in the world through news and discussion.

Kids can handle more than we think.

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Trampoline – for your brain

Want to create a smart reader? Get your child on a trampoline.

According to brain researcher Bernadette Tynan, trampolines are so good for the brain, “even NASA astronauts use it to boost their brain power.”

Trampolines improve your meta-cognative ability – your ability to “think about thinking.”

That’s because on a trampoline, you never land the same way twice. So your brain has to constantly work at keeping you upright. Thinking about staying in the middle of the trampoline or staying in synch with another bouncer, ” gives the brain extra focus,” says Tynan.

Regular sessions with a trampoline will help your child’s brain’s ability to focus, she says.

Tynan, of course, is the brains behind the wonderful TVO series, Make Your Child Brilliant. (I’m a huge fan.)
However, at this point, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that Safe Kids Canada advises against backyard trampolines. More than 500 kids are injured by backyard trampolines in Canada every year.
So – a really brilliant idea? Go to a trampoline club like the Just Bounce Trampoline Club in Toronto, where your kid can get brainier and be safe all at the same time. Now that’s brilliant!
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