Monthly Archives: September 2018

A reminder to ask boys the question R U OK?

One simple question is all it takes to start a conversation which could change a boy’s life.

R U OK? Day is tomorrow, and Australians are being encouraged to remember to check in with friends, family or colleagues. The annual event has many aims, including highlighting the importance of dealing with mental health issues, breaking stigma attached to mental health and building networks of support in communities to assist those who need help.

Though it may be a simple question in theory, asking someone you think may have some underlying mental health issues can be confronting and daunting to face the reality of helping them deal with the situation, listening to their thoughts and feelings, and finding necessary help for them to move forward.

R U OK? Day offers tips to help prepare, start and keep conversations going to provide support for those facing depression, anxiety and other – at times debilitating – mental health issues.

The organisation breaks the conversation process into four steps;

  1. Ask
  2. Listen
  3. Encourage action
  4. Check in

Friends and family may notice a boy/man in their lives isn’t behaving as he normally would – he is more agitated, withdrawn – gut instinct plays a key role in this situation, if you feel something is not right with them, prepare yourself or seek an appropriate person to ask the person if they are OK.

The first step is to decide whether you are the right person to ask the question; are you in the right headspace, are you prepared for the answer which may be said and have I picked my moment?

Deciding whether you believe the boy/man in question will be comfortable responding to you is key; along with acknowledging there will be no “easy fix” to the answer and you will not be able to “fix” everything for the boy/man.

Finding the right time to ask, such as on a drive or walk together, or during another activity the two of you are doing together without anyone else around, may be appropriate.

R U OK? Day encourages question askers to try to be friendly, yet concerned, in their approach to asking the person how they are going.

“Mention specific things that have made you concerned for them, like ‘You seem less chatty than usual. How are you going?’” their website includes.

If they say nothing is wrong, avoid confrontation but tell them of your concerns as to why you are asking them how they are and offer to have a chat with them another time/any time they want to talk, or offer to help them find someone else to speak to.

If the boy/man wants to talk – listen. Attentively and silently, do not interrupt their train of thought or try to rush them through their feelings. Encourage them to explore ways to get help, whether it’s by “checking in” with you every few days, using past programs or initiatives which have helped previously in their situation, or speaking to a GP or other agency.

Finally, remember to check in and stay engaged with the boy/man to keep track of how they are going managing their issues, if they are receiving the appropriate help and for them to know you are there when/if needed.

If you have concerns and feel issues to be dealt with are too much to deal with alone or among family please contact a support agency such as LifeLine, your GP or local emergency department.

For more information about R U OK? Day click here.

Five easy ways to boost children’s spatial skills

When we read maps, pack the car for holidays, assemble flat-pack furniture or cut cake into equal slices, we use spatial reasoning skills.

These allow us to mentally manipulate objects or think in a way that relates to space and the position, area, and size of things within it.

Not only is spatial reasoning an important skill in everyday life, it is important in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) related careers. And it is never too early for children to develop and enhance their spatial skills.

Spatial skills are linked to future success

Spatial reasoning is the best predictor of whether children will end up in a STEM-related career. These skills are especially important in jobs where people need to, for example, create or read X-ray and ultrasound imaging, engineering and architectural designs, or cross-sections of heating and plumbing systems.

Good spatial reasoning skills are linked to good maths skills. In fact, children’s early maths skills are a better predictor of their later school success than either early reading or social-emotional skills.

Perhaps the best news about spatial reasoning skills is that they are malleable. In other words, we can improve them with practice.

There are lots of fun and easy things parents and other caregivers can do to boost children’s spatial reasoning skills. Here are our top five evidence-based ways.

  • Play with blocks

While many people know that playing with blocks develops skills including fine motor, social, language and cognitive skills, fewer people realise the connection between playing with blocks and spatial skills.

Children who play with blocks have better spatial skills than children who don’t. Block play involves lots of rotating, moving and positioning pieces. In particular, structured block play where children build a given structure from a spatial representation (instructions) develops their spatial skills.

When we play with blocks we also use a lot of spatial language – like next to, on top of, under – and spatial language is important in building spatial skills (see also point 2). In fact, children and adults use more spatial language when they play together with blocks compared to other types of play, including pretend play (shops, zoo, cooking and school), playing with toy animals and throwing a ball

  • Use spatial language

Spatial language is a powerful tool for spatial reasoning. The more spatial language children hear the more spatial language they use. Children with greater spatial vocabulary are also more likely to have better spatial reasoning skills at a later age.

Parents can model spatial language, especially words that describe object:

  • dimensions (for example, tall, short, wide, narrow)
  • shape (circle, square, triangle, oval, rectangle) or
  • spatial properties (round, straight, pointy, curved, sharp).

When asking children to put things away, be as specific as you can about the position. For example, you can say “put the box in the recycling bin”, “put the books on the bookshelf” or “put the playdough next to the microwave”.

  • Play with jigsaws

Like blocks, there is a positive relationship between jigsaw play and spatial skills. Children who play jigsaws have better spatial skills than children who don’t. Similar to block play, when you try to fit a jigsaw together, you rotate and move pieces a lot.

We can encourage children to persist with jigsaws and help them imagine what pieces might fit by either shape (we need a piece with a flat edge) or visualising the missing image (leaves that are a light shade of green).

We can also ensure the jigsaw is the right fit for their ability – not too easy but not too hard. How many of us have given up on a 1000 piece jigsaw with 800 pieces of sky or water?

  • Use and create maps

Maps are all around us. They show the spatial relationships between objects in our world. Children enjoy looking at and creating maps. Research with preschool-aged children shows exposure to and use of maps helps children to navigate objects through a maze.

Games such as treasure hunts using a map and directional symbols (such as left, right, up, down, north and south) are a fun way to help children think spatially.

Exploring and creating different types of maps, such as world maps, shopping centre maps and street maps, show how things in our world can be represented spatially in different ways and at varying scales. Paper maps and digital maps like Google Maps and Google Earth are also wonderful resources.

  • Encourage children to gesture

Many people use gestures when they talk and this is especially true when we use spatial language, such as giving directions.

Other research also suggests that many STEM professions use gestures when working with spatial problems and that students who are exposed to gestures during instruction perform better on problem solving tasks.

Children should be encouraged to use their hands to show how things move, when pointing to different locations and objects and when using spatial language. Parents can model these gestures.

By University of Canberra Early Childhood and Primary Education Assistant Professor Kym Simoncini  and University of Canberra Assistant Professor Tracy Logan


Original article published by the Conversation and available here.