Sunday, May 17, 2015

How talking to your child can improve development

A mother sits folding laundry, her baby in the high chair beside her. “Here are mummy’s striped pajamas. They're red and blue and warm and fuzzy,” she says in a singsong voice. The baby gurgles at his mother, responds enthusiastically by waving his arms and kicking his little legs. Look at me, the mother thinks. I'm so silly. She carries on anyway, describing the frilly pillowcase she’s about to fold next. But she need not feel silly.

Parents, What You Say Matters

What many of us need to appreciate is the extent to which words impact children’s learning – not only in developing their vocabulary but especially, the spatial world and their later ability to problem solve. University of Chicago psychologist Dr. Susan Levine and her colleagues found children’s spatial abilities are in large part driven by what their parents say. In her study published in the journal Developmental Science, she says that the amount of talking parents do with very young children that describe features and properties of objects (i.e. heavy, big, little, round) predicts children’s problem solving success as they near kindergarten age.

Oriane Landry, psychology professor at McMaster University in Hamilton, works with preschoolers and children with autism. He says “There’s a strong link between emergent language skills and how that leads into their abilities in other areas.”

Oriane expands on the work of the early 20th century Russian psychologist, Lev Vygotsky, known best in education circles for his theory on scaffolding children (younger children learning skills from slightly older children). Vygotsky’s work supports the idea that language fosters all of our other thinking skills, and that for the most part, when we are problem solving, we are doing so with language. “The language of thought is in fact language,” Oriane says. “We tend to draw heavily on our language skills in order to complete other thought processes (using inner dialogue) even well into adulthood.”

There is some controversy about how the relationship between thought and language emerges and what comes first – the language in order to have the concept versus the concept, then applying the language – but especially in the preschool period, as children are gaining more and more complex conceptual ideas, they are also gaining the language to go with it.

“If you've got a word then you can build a concept around it,” Oriane says. “If you don't have a word, a concept can be flighty – like a dream you can't hold onto – you can't describe it to someone. If you talk about that dream, you can hold onto it. If parents are encouraging language growth by being highly verbal themselves and describing the things around them, then the child is going to have a more complex vocabulary earlier on and also the tools to think with more sophistication and in greater complexity about the world around them.”

Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Kids are all right:

Disengaged? Hardly. Today’s youth just might be the saviours of us all

Thank you for feeding us years of lies.
Thank you for the wars you left us to fight.
Thank you for the world you ruined overnight.
But we'll be fine; yeah we'll be fine.
MKTO Lyrics

Babies are brighter these days, am I right? Two month olds are staring intently into my face and cooing. Four month olds are rolling over and crawling.

Then there are these pint-sized three and four year olds on YouTube, being sassy and precocious and saying all kinds of startling things. Eight year olds are articulate and funny and teens are "calling us out," exposing our hypocrisy so that we squirm under the glaring scrutiny of fairness. By the time they are young adults … watch out. They are snappier, faster and cognizant of the issues — their issues.

I've heard quite a bit about the sense of entitlement that is used to describe young people today: Generation Y (people born after 1980) is "selfish" and perpetually dissatisfied. Generation Z (people born after 1995) is disengaged.

But this outlook is being challenged; it doesn't seem to be reflective of what is going on around the planet.

The world is vibrating with the voices of the young who will not tolerate its destruction, and who are confronting injustices and the indifference of the wealthy and privileged.

I was surprised at the sudden swell of emotion that overcame me, reading words in a 2014 Maclean's article from Toronto business executive Don Tapscott saying that Gen Z doesn't have a choice: "My generation is leaving them with a mess. These kids are going to have to save the world literally."

I think the young know this. Yes, there is the "live fast, die young" message that prevails in popular culture, but youth grow up hearing about the global issues and I imagine it is part of their consciousness.

And while the growing concern for extremism among certain disenfranchised youth populations is legitimate, I can't help feeling a sense of optimism: young people are shaking things up, seeking to create a more equitable, safer — just better society for everyone.

For example, everywhere, youth are saying "don't funk with my future" and getting down and dirty on the streets, calling on universities, colleges, faith communities, businesses and local governments to divest from fossil fuels (even the UN recently came out in support of divesting from fossil fuel companies).

In India, young people are relentlessly protesting rape culture. In Africa, LGBTQ rights are a major focus. All over North American youth of colour are demonstrating that black lives matter. Here in Canada, First Nations young adults are taking the lead and confronting neo-colonialism with the campaigns such as Idle no More.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Anti-Racism Education

Poo face.” “Dirty skin.” “Black chicken.”
It begins early. When her daughter was in Junior Kindergarten, Stoney Creek, Ont., mom Christabel Pinto says she would come home from school every day in tears. The kids were calling her names; they wouldn't play with her because, “brown people get diseases.”
I’d go into the basement and cry,” says Christabel, an accompanist and music director. The teacher’s response was almost worse. “She told the other kids ‘she’s just different from them,’” says Christabel, who withdrew her daughter from the school.
At this point you might be asking, what year was this – 1968? 1975? No. This was five years ago. Christabel’s other children Kambria, 10, and Krispin, 8, still regularly sit alone at lunch.

Kiera Silverglen, 14, of Hamilton, says she’s grown used to racist comments such as “How was the slave ship?” “How was it when you were a maid?” She copes by writing poetry and short stories (she received first place for poetry in this year’s Hamilton Public Library’s Power of the Pen – a prestigious writing contest).

Name-calling is bad enough. Far more insidious and harmful are the negative perceptions and derogatory stereotypes too often associated with people of colour.

“I was almost arrested in Walmart for looking at a DVD,” Kiera says. A salesperson came up to her and asked, “Were you going to steal that?” She had to call for her mom (who is white) to get the manager.

Kiera’s adoptive mom, Catherine Silverglen, is a teacher and anti-racism educator. Catherine shares an example of the sort of attitude her family frequently gets from teachers: “We met with the teacher because Kiera was having some challenges in a particular subject,” she says. “The teacher made a joke that went (with accent), ‘She is just a little bit slow. I don’t want to use the word lazy but I was in Jamaica once mon, and they are all so laid back, maybe it’s cultural.’” (Kiera was adopted from Chicago).

To combat negative perceptions in her classroom, Catherine introduces positive images of non-white cultural groups. “I’ll talk about the incredible histories and contributions of the African continent; Egypt, Benin, ‘the city of Gold.’ Why don’t kids learn any of this?” Too often, we only hear about these cultures in a piteous light – which is an unfair and biased view.

“I think as white people, we really need to challenge ourselves to get to know non-white people,” says Catherine. She suggests also reading a few books by authors from different cultures about their own experiences. Books like The Help and To Kill a Mockingbird are about racism in the U.S. south, for example, but they are about how a white person stood up for a black person. They shouldn’t be the only books on our reading list.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Closing digital gap empowers students

Technology can transform learning into real life, relevant experiences.

Not too long ago, it was absurd to say that every Tom, Rashid and Baba should have access to the Internet. For what? Now, since 2011, the United Nations considers it a human right, "underscoring its unique and transformative nature not only to enable individuals to exercise their right to freedom of opinion and expression, but also a range of other human rights, and to promote the progress of society as a whole."

And while access to technology is not "the great equalizer," that Ontario Education Minister Liz Sandals proclaims will level the playing field for all students, it does close the digital gap and empowers students from low-income families in learning.

Take, for example, educator Sugata Mitra's experiment in an Indian village. In 2000, this professor of education technology at Newcastle University installed a computer in a wall and documented illiterate, slum children (with zero English) figuring out how to use it, and then actually using it to learn and share knowledge.

Mitra has since designed a learning lab in India, where children can explore and learn from each other — no teachers present — using resources and mentoring from the cloud.

Access to the Internet offers children from all backgrounds opportunities to work together and communicate and do research in areas that interest them. It's a platform for developing personalized education and even individual networks that go beyond a classroom setting, offering possibilities only dreamed of before.

Still, "Back in my day, we used paper and pencil!" is a common reaction to the idea of iPads, tablets or other technologies in the classroom.

Reality is, "back in your day" has vanished into the swirling mists of time.

It's a new era, baby. The times require that students be drivers of their own learning.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

10 Unschooling Mistakes to Avoid


I believe that the root of all evil is comparison. When you find yourself about to do the "is my child keeping up?" or "her child is better at piano then mine, and they're the same age," just stop. Don't do it.
When you look at another unschooling mum and back at yourself and feel that you fall short, don't go there. Rather, allow her to inspire you; don't feel down.

2.Believing that everyone should agree with you.

This is the attitude of any newbie. I remember how militant  I was when I first became a vegetarian (I no longer am-a vegetarian).  I couldn't tolerate people who weren't. I must have been an insufferable 'know it all.' I know I certainly annoyed people.

3. Getting offended/feeling hurt when people don't agree with you.

The world owes you nothing. If someone tosses you a dubious look or expresses doubt in what you are doing, deal with it in a mature way.  Learn not to take yourself so seriously. Laugh.

4.If there really is a problem, being afraid of admitting it.

Your kids are unruly, or they really don't seem to be 'getting it.' There might actually be an underlying cause for it. Or they don't seem to have any interests. Don't panic.You can still  raise a child that is learning naturally. Get the support you need.

5. Expecting your kids to be best buddies and get along all the time (well most of the time) just because they're unschooled.

They fight. They say they hate one another. That's okay. We can't choose our family but we sure as heck have to learn to get along. That's one advantage of unschooling. They HAVE to work it out because they spend so much time together.

6.Expecting your kids to become educated by osmosis.

This is magical thinking. They won't. You have to engage them. You have to make sure they get exposure to a wide range of activity.

7. Thinking that you are their one and all.

You are not. Share them.

8. Over-protectiveness.

Let them venture forth according to their strengths, age and ability.
Be sensitive to the needs of the changing and growing child.

9.Having to prove that unschooling works-especially in BIG ways.

Funnily enough, BIG gets redefined over and over and you realize that they are doing BIG things but not in the way you and others might have envisioned it. And remember, behind a shining star, there might be an even brighter star shining so be careful not to block that light because of your belief in the first.

10. Immediate evidence of 'learning' taking place.

Relax. You will be amazed at how what you angst over last year is all but a distant memory this year. Learning unfolds, often with out us noticing.

Note: This post was originally written and posted here.

Monday, February 16, 2015

7 conditions for 7 things kids need to succeed

Thank you CBC for the article entitled ‘The 7 things kids need to succeed: Character traits include grit, self-control and social intelligence.’
This piece is based on the work of journalist and author Paul Tough, ‘How Children Succeed—Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character.’

There were a few thoughts that immediately popped in my mind when I read the article. The first thought was ‘how do we define success?’  I appreciated the mention of what ‘becoming successful adults’ means, according to Tough and that is ‘being successful in achieving their goals.’
Great! We are on the same path here. But where our paths separate is in how to achieve their goals.

Don't expect school to teach the 7 personality traits for success, as outlined by Tough: grit, curiosity, self-control, social intelligence, zest, optimism and gratitude.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Failure is the new winning: Discovery, innovation and growth come from learning from our mistakes

Happy New Year! I have to be honest, I have neglected my blog, but I promise, I will post weekly from now on, even if that means reposting (it likely will until things slow down in a few months).
In the mean time, check out my latest article in the Hamilton Spectator on failure; a reflection for the new year.

Jan 12. 2015

Hamilton Spectator
By Beatrice Ekwa Ekoko

A running joke in our family goes that growing up, we were supposed to be born knowing how to do things well. At the family's "haute couture" tailoring establishment, mom would throw something random at us, like embroidering an elaborate design on an African boubou and expect it to come out perfectly, beautiful stitches evenly distributed.

"I can't" was not option. You learned, and quick about it. Sounds tough, but I believe mom's 'can-do' attitude, helped foster resiliency to cope with life's challenges and failures, keeping us trying and not giving up easily.

Failure. Everybody is talking about how failure is not a bad thing, it's the new winning: discovery emerges from failing, innovation comes from failing, growth develops from making errors. In business, failure can be a stepping-stone toward fortune. In education, we're hearing how kids ought to be encouraged to explore and make mistakes.

In fact it's got to the point that admitting to mistakes, especially as a public figure has been twisted into one cheeky way of letting yourself off the hook: "I'm sorry. I'm human." (I like to make a distinction between making mistakes and wrongdoing. Mistakes are made unintentionally; they are errors of judgment. Wrongdoing is intentional — like cheating on your taxes or having an affair).

At a Toronto conference last month, the keynote of a very successful British Columbia nonprofit shared his failure story, complete with the yearly "failure report."

"Canadians don't like to admit failure," he commented in passing, he himself a born- and-raised American.

Whether or not we take offence, it's worth looking at: what is the cost of focusing solely on good points? At all levels, be it personal, at work, in the community or in the country, by not examining when or where we fail, we give up opportunities to figure out how we can improve and be better. Hiding or ignoring our shortcomings, hoping they'll go unnoticed is self-deception. We end up stunting ourselves.

In our high-speed world of constant change, that price is too high.

We are still acting and thinking in a way that doesn't correspond to the reality of today — whether than means social justice, economy and work, environment, education. The two aren't jiving.

School is still largely about getting the right answer, business carries on mostly seeking to make maximum profit (screw future generations) and being right is better than doing right.

But now more than ever, with the global-size problems we face, remaining uncomfortable with failure is not an option; we need to practice "smart failure," trying over and over again, striving for the changes that need to happen.

For change to occur, we have to risk failure — which of course is at the heart of the matter. The feeling of shame that failure can bring and the desire to avoid shame at any cost keeps people from risking failure.

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