Monthly Archives: November 2017

Boredom is not a bad word – it’s an opportunity

As the summer school break approaches at speed, parents are beginning to question how fast the first dreaded “I’m bored!” will be uttered by their sons.

Play dates, movies, park adventures and Christmas celebrations are all at the ready, yet there is still plenty of time for young boys (and older ones) to complain about a lack of “stuff to do” – and it seems that’s ok.

Researchers and psychologists see a child’s ability to deal with boredom as a challenge which can affect their coping skills as adults. Key skills in managing those “boring” moments need to be developed in childhood to help in adulthood when boredom needs to be dealt with without complaint or tantrum.

Nature Play WA suggests giving bored kids “imaginative trampolines – little things that can get kids bouncing…don’t give them the whole game but feed in some resources to get them going.”

Building cardboard cubbies, camping in the backyard and inventing a new, never-before-seen sport (complete with equipment to play it) are just some of the list of examples the organisation offers to parents to alleviate a child’s boredom.

Making children feel comfortable with boredom, by allowing their minds to wander and imagination to take hold is key to helping them learn to deal with those “not so exciting” moments in life.

Penn State University Professor Linda Caldwell told Time magazine boredom should be seen as an opportunity for children.

“Boredom is motivational… it’s a sign that you need to change what you are doing and do something else!”

She offered simple tips to dealing with the dreaded “I’m bored” moan of children of any age;

Primary School 

Give children of this age group opportunity to try new and different things to gauge which activities pique their interests and encourage them to review their experiences. Primary school aged children need help to springboard their ideas/imaginative play into reality, so parents are encouraged to assist by offering objects to play or create with and opportunities to explore.

Middle School

Children of this age group are looking for adventure and thrills. Too much time on their hands can lead to risky behaviour to alleviate boredom. However, brain developmental processes in this age group enable children to learn to control impulses and hone skills – parents can encourage children to participate in activities they enjoy and find worthwhile, and most importantly support them to continue with an activity that interests them even when it becomes challenging for them.

High School

The age of freedom and control. Teenagers in this age bracket need to feel they can make decisions for themselves, have a say in situations they are faced with and have an opportunity to experiment with new activities/experiences. Parents are also urged to encourage these teens to understand the importance of rest and letting the mind wander – taking time out from busy, formalised schedules.

Developing skills to deal with boredom can be extremely tough for some children but is vital to their overall development into adolescence and adulthood. Children who can actively engage their minds to deal with what they view as a boring situation by initiating other activities or patiently waiting are building lifelong skills in perseverance, curiosity, concentration, playfulness, confidence and so much more – so let the boredom begin!




Science at home boosts learning

Did you know that children spend just 14 per cent of their waking time between Kindergarten and the end of Grade 12 in school?

Given this startling statistic, it comes as no surprise that much of children’s learning happens “out there” –  in the playground, during extracurricular activities, at a museum, on a walk, via the media, and, perhaps most importantly, at home.

I have worked for decades to engage parents because I believe that families and schools have much to learn from and share with each other. Schools have formal knowledge of teaching and learning, curriculum, assessment and evaluation. And parents know their children’s motivations, skills and interests.

The research also shows that informal environments including the home – also called out-of-school-time [OST] settings – play an important role in promoting STEM learning. They do this by sparking student interest and providing opportunities to broaden and deepen engagement in STEM content.

The benefits of science at home

Empirical evidence clearly suggests that OST experiences strengthen and enrich school STEM learning by reinforcing scientific concepts and practices introduced during the school day. These experiences can be in museums, after-school programs, science and technology centres, libraries, aquariums, zoos, botanical gardens and at the kitchen table.

OST experiences also promote an appreciation for, and interest in, the pursuit of STEM in school and in daily life. They help learners understand the daily relevance of science to their lives, the depth and breadth of science as a field of inquiry, and what it might be like to choose to do science in the world, either as a professional or a citizen scientist.

It is no surprise then, that informal science education researchers and educators are actively reaching out to parents, asking them to enthusiastically encourage and support children’s science learning at home, in school, and through their communities.

Any parent can be a STEM mentor

Parents are their children’s first and most important teachers. Their values, beliefs and actions have enormous influence on their child’s educational decision-making and achievement. When parents convey an interest and excitement for STEM subjects, children benefit attitudinally and academically.

When parents make it clear that they value STEM subjects and believe it is important to study them, they positively influence the way their child views these subjects and support their child’s academic success in those areas.

Informal STEM learning at home is about parents and children exploring science in fun, hands-on ways outside of class. Brief, high-quality parent-child interactions about STEM can make a profound difference to how children perceive STEM subjects and succeed in them academically.

One study, for example, showed that when caregivers used a mobile app to bring a little bit of math into the home, their elementary school children showed improved math skills within months. Improvements were most dramatic in families where the caregivers reported themselves to be anxious about math.

Books and leaves and bugs

When parents actively participate in kitchen-sink experiments, they become STEM mentors. When parents become partners by contributing specimens to a child’s leaf or bug collection and then go a step farther by helping their child to categorize those treasures with the help of an illustrated website, they are modelling what scientists do.

When parents curl up with their children to read a science book together, such as The Way Things Work by David Macaulay, and then dig out the can opener to take a closer look, they are modelling learning.

When families watch age-appropriate television together – like Sid the Science Kid or Operation Ouch – parents are encouraging connections among STEM topics, everyday life, career possibilities and scientific literacy through their attitudes and actions.

Here are two very simple experiments that can be done at home, using everyday household items.

Experiment 1: Rolling, Rolling, Rolling

You will need: An empty soda can, an inflated balloon and one head of hair.

Directions: Place the can on its side on a flat surface (a table or a smooth floor will do). Then rub the balloon back and forth through your hair. Hold the balloon close to the can without actually touching the can.

You should see the can roll towards the balloon without touching it!

Why does it work? When you rub the balloon through your hair, tiny, invisible particles called electrons (which have a negative charge) build up on the surface of the balloon, creating static electricity. They electrons have the power to pull very light objects (like the soda can) towards them.

Experiment 2: Blowing up a balloon without blowing

You will need: A balloon, about 40 ml of water (a cup is about 250 ml so you don’t need much), a soft drink bottle, a drinking straw, the juice from a lemon (or two tablespoons of vinegar) and three teaspoons of baking soda.

Directions: Stretch out the balloon. Pour 40 ml of water into the soft drink bottle. Add the baking soda, stirring with the straw until it is dissolved. Pour the lemon juice (or vinegar) in and quickly put the stretched balloon over the mouth of the bottle.

If all goes well then your balloon should inflate!

Why does it work? Adding the lemon juice to the baking soda creates a chemical reaction. The baking soda is a base, while the lemon juice is an acid, when the two combine they create carbon dioxide gas (CO2). The gas rises and travels up through the neck of soft drink bottle, where it is trapped inside the balloon and blows it up.

By Queen’s University Elementary Mathematics Professor Lynda Colgan

Original article published as Science in the home boosts children’s academic success by the Conversation.


Breaking stereotypes: boys and emotions

Emotions and boys – pairing these two words conjures up many old-fashioned stereotypes young men today are still grappling with as they try to understand how to deal with and show their emotions effectively.

Decades past, boys were told to “man up” and “take it on the chin”, to “stop crying, you wuss” and “take it like a man”. Despite society having advanced into the modern day with vast research into boys and their emotions, these harsh stereotypes still linger – making it difficult for boys to trust they can show their emotions openly without negative consequences.

Sitting on the sidelines of an U14s cricket match, a prime example of the different ways boys deal with and communicate their emotions was visible. The first player to react emotionally (when made to leave the pitch after getting out for a duck) came back to the players’ area fuming, yelling expletives and throwing his gloves and bat onto his bag in anger – this boy outwardly showed his teammates and spectators he was upset.

Take two – a second player was also taken for a duck. He put his head down and walked slowly off the pitch to the players’ area and slumped into a chair, not uttering a word – clearly upset but unable or unwilling to voice anything about it. Two contrasting accounts of boys dealing with their emotions; which one is a healthier option? Which one is more common? Which one do parents find easier to deal with?

Leading US child psychologists Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson’s book Raising Cain (2000) unravels some of the mysteries behind boys dealing with emotions and how to voice them to parents and the wider world. Thompson and Kindlon seek to answer the question; what do boys need they are not getting? They tackle the stereotypes making boys feel conflicted with their feelings and offer parents helpful insight into dealing with their sons’ emotional side.

Some major points offered in Raising Cain include;

Give boys permission to have an internal life – “…approval for the full range of emotions and help in developing an emotional vocabulary so they may better understand themselves and communicate more effectively with others.”

Recognise and accept the high activity level of boys and give them safe boy places to express it – “Boys are tremendously sensitive to adults who do not have a reasonable tolerance level for boy energy, and when they do sense that a person has a low threshold of boy tolerance, they usually respond to it as a challenge…Boys need to learn how to manage their physicality to do no harm, but they need not be shamed for exuberance.”

Talk to boys in their language – “Because boys are miseducated to fear excessive feeling and vulnerability, it is important to communicate with them in a way that honors their wish for strength and does not shame them… Is communicating with boys sometimes difficult? Yes, it often is. Is it impossible? Almost never. Only with the most angry, contemptuous, and suspicious boys is conversation impossible. If you are willing to ask consultative questions, put your emotional cards on the table, and not be disappointed by brief answers, you can communicate with boys. ”

Teach boys emotional courage is courage – “We need to recognise and identify for them emotional courage in the lives of women and men, in our families and in the lives of children and others around us. In life and art, we need to provide boys models of male heroism that go beyond the muscular, the self-absorbed, and the simplistically heroic. Many adults display emotional courage in their work or personal lives, but rarely do we allow our children to witness our private moments of conscience or bravery.”

Model a manhood of emotional attachment“Boys imitate what they see. If what they see is emotional distance, guardedness, and coldness between men, they grow up to emulate that behavior…Boys need to be encouraged to initiate friendships, maintain them, and experience the conflicts that arise in male friendships…”

Teach boys that there are many ways to be a man – “Very few boys or men are tall, handsome, athletic, successful with women, endlessly virile, and physically fearless…Boys suffer from a too-narrow definition of masculinity, and it is time to reexamine that message…We have to teach boys that there are many ways to become a man; that there are many ways to be brave, to be a good father, to be loving and strong and successful. We need to celebrate the natural creativity and risk taking of boys, their energy, their boldness.”




Boys need strong friendships to connect

Headlocks, play fighting and firing sarcastic comments at one another may not look like friendship but to many boys these traits are key aspects of their strongest bonds with friends.

Researcher and award-winning author Rosalind Wiseman says boys thrive having strong friendships, however, sometimes parents do not understand elements of healthy friendships for their sons.

“It’s not a conscious decision on our part, but we often assume that girls not only have closer, better friendships with each other but also need them more than boys,” she writes in her book Masterminds and Wingmen.

“These assumptions are wrong. Behind boys’ arguments and put downs is a complicated social system in which friendships are deeply valued…if you look and listen beyond the put downs, yelling and laughing, boys friendship dynamics are just as complex and nuanced as those of girls,” she adds.

New York University Developmental Psychology Professor and researcher Niobe Way broke ground with her grassroots research into boys’ friendships, detailed in her book Deep Secrets: Boys’ Friendships and the Crisis of Connection.

In a recent interview for NYU she says boys are in great need of positive, healthy friendships.

“…boys need healthy relationships, this means being able to feel vulnerable, being able to share…they are explicitly talking about wanting to be vulnerable with another young man, being cared for in that way; in ways that allow them to feel very close,” Prof. Way says.

She says research shows boys have “remarkable emotional acuity” from a young age – meaning they are able to express what they want and what they need to thrive.

“…we don’t have to teach it to them, we don’t have to give them a curriculum on it, they naturally have it…our challenge then is not to teach it to boys, but actually nurture it and that’s a much easier task, to try to nourish it than to try to teach something that’s fundamentally human.”

She says her own research showed the amazing capacity of boys to effectively talk about what they need most in terms of friendships.

“And we need to listen to them carefully and nurture that capacity.”

She encourages parents to help their sons nurture friendships from a young age and make strong connections with others.

“It’s not only about helping our children have friendships but also maintaining these friendships.”

Prof. Way offered some simple tips to helping boys build and maintain positive friendships, including parents talking to sons about their own friendships and including boys’ friends in family activities.

She says boys can learn about friendships from their parents’ experiences. Parents do not have to go into finer details about friendship issues but rather chat about their friendships and how their relationships change, grow or dissolve in time.

Prof. Way also encourages parents to include their sons’ friends in family activities, from organising play dates to sleep overs and inviting friends on family holidays; to build and maintain strong connections with friends for their sons.

“…figure out opportunities you can do with the child so their friendships are really nourished. If you start that at a very young age then it becomes much easier in adolescence when it can be a tougher time in terms of communication, that your sons will make good choices.”

“Ultimately for parents…it’s really about helping our children make good choices.”

“And how do we help them make good choices? By actually allowing them their full humanity to flourish, their full emotional capacity to flourish and that allows them to make better choices than children who are restricted to not feeling, not crying, not expressing things that are more sensitive and vulnerable, that really shuts down their humanity.”

One research participant in Ms Wiseman’s study summed up his friendships simply;

“I know it looks like we are insane and loud…okay we are really loud. And we can be really rude, and our parents don’t even hear how we usually talk to each other. But I’d do anything for my friends. I can’t really explain the bond we have, but it’s deep…”