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How to Support Social Development in Young Children

Social development

As early as first grade, a child’s social skills are a compelling predictor of his future success both in and out of school.  Like any developing skill, burgeoning social skills require support, practice and repetition.  The desired behaviors are learned and taught through a variety of accumulating experiences stemming from the earliest years of childhood, between birth and age 6, when children grow and develop faster than during any other stage in their lives. 

Children rely heavily on adults and other caregivers to help them acquire social skills and establish pathways for meaningful learning.  To that end, researchers have found that when children are provided with positive and caring experiences in these early years, the connections in the brain for feeling good and learning are strengthened, self-esteem and confidence rise, and children are more equipped to cope with life’s challenges. 

So whether you’re a parent or an educator, the following strategies will help promote social development in young children, while helping them learn to use their own minds:

 Model Appropriate Social Behavior

Take advantage of everyday routines to “show and tell” children what your expectations are for appropriate behavior—for example, how to greet someone new or how to share a toy during play.  By talking about what you’re doing as you’re doing it the child will better understand how to manage the situation and replicate it, even when you’re not there.

Support Self-Esteem

Positive self-esteem is critical to healthy social development.  Make it a point to compliment children on their behavior, how they look, and progress they have made toward goals.  When you acknowledge these attributes, children learn how to perceive and act upon their feelings in a healthy way.

Build Problem Solving Skills

Problem solving is a skill that employs reasoning, creativity, inhibitory control and decision making.  Because children do not have fully mature executive functions, they are prone to making mistakes as their abilities emerge and the frontal lobe develops.  Exploring solutions to problems by asking children “What would you do?” or offering alternative strategies will help them develop effective reasoning skills and mental flexibility.

Encourage Exploration

Infants and young children explore their environment through movement and interaction.  As a child develops confidence and control over her body in motion, she becomes more and more eager to venture into the world around her.  Aid her natural curiosity by organizing activities that promote safe exploration, both at home and while out.  Examples include asking children for help while preparing a meal or tasking them with finding an item at the grocery store.  When you gradually extend opportunities to be involved with more complex activities, children will rise to the occasion.

Play! 

Time spent playing with children can be one of the best investments you make in their educational future.  One of the easiest ways to help children develop socially is by the simple act of playing.  Joining in play builds relationships in a climate of fun and puts you in a great position to teach skills for sharing and cooperation, introducing concepts like winning or losing, and it also gives children a chance to learn about more subtle social cues, like body language and vocal intonations.  So don’t be afraid to turn up the music for a little song and dance, put on a puppet show, or pull out some favorite board games and have fun! 

References:

Bierman, K.L., et al., Promoting academic and social-emotional school readiness:  The Head Start REDI Program.  Child Development, 79(6), 1802-1817, 2008.

Katz, Lilian and Diane McClellan. Young Children’s Social Development: A Checklist. World of Education. March 26, 2012.

Knitzer, Jane and C. Cybele Raver. What Research Tells Policymakers About Strategies to Promote Social and Emotional School Readiness Among Three- and Four-Year-Old Children. National Center for Children in Poverty. July, 2002.

Peters, Zrinka. Support Social and Emotional Development – Through Play! Education.com. March 26, 2012.

Supporting Social Development. Best Beginnings: Alaska's Early Childhood Investment. March 29, 2012.

Related Reading:

Building Your Child’s Self-Confidence

Recognizing Emotions After Brain Injury: Re-Learning a Critical Social Skill

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Keeping in Mind: The Task of Working Memory

Working memory

Just about everyone has had the experience of going grocery shopping with a small list of purchases in their mindonly to forget one or more of them upon arriving at the store. Similarly, we all have left one room to retrieve something from another room, forgetting what we are after before we have even arrived. The ability to hold information in mind for a few minutes to a few hours is called working memory. It is essential for everything from language learning in children to following a book chapter from beginning to end.

Working memory was first defined by Alan Baddeley and Graham Hitch in 1974. It is a form of memory that may distinguish humans from many other animals (with the exception of several primates). Working memory, commonly referred to as short-term memory, allows a person to hold on to information for a period of time (minutes or perhaps hours) long enough to do something new with the information, like take notes or solve a problem.

A typical situation in which we rely on working memory is watching an informational program on television, like a segment on a news program, and discussing it later with a friend. We may forget about the specific news event later in the week, but for a period of time we “keep it in mind,” thinking about it and perhaps talking about it with others. Each time we share the information with another person or think about it ourselveswe select details that interest us and alter them slightly to keep them interesting to us. Other examples of tasks that require good working memory in adults include taking notes during a lecture or paraphrasing information we hear or read about. 

Alan Baddeley elaborated on the original concept of working memory in 1992, noting that unlike other kinds of short-term memory (such as rote repetition), working memory requires us to focus and maintain our attention on the task at hand. To keep our attentional focus, we must be goal-directed, ignoring distractions that might interfere with goal attainment. Baddeley stressed the importance of the “central executive” system for maintaining attentional focus in working memory tasks.

For children, working memory is essential for learning language. Unlike vision, where we can often study an image as long as we need to, everything we hear occurs in timeThe speech signal moves very quickly: an average sentence is about 14 seconds long, an average single syllable word lasts only a quarter of a second, and the average consonant sound may last only 1/12 of a second.  

We are all made aware of how fleeting the speech signal is when someone is talking to us and we become distracted, which consequently requires us to ask the speaker to repeat what was just said. In that way, speech is like a billboard that appears briefly in our peripheral vision as we travel at 55 miles per hour along a highway. It we are not paying specific attention in that instant to that part of the road, we will miss it, or only retain small bits of the message on the billboard. In a similar way, information we hear leaves us as soon as it arrives. We are not able to hold it in view like a drawing or photograph, or study it like a person’s face, so we must keep the information in our mind. 

For some, improving working memory can be as simple as getting more sleep or more exercise or learning to avoid distractions.  For others, whose working memory is weak enough to significantly impact learning, more help may be needed. Fortunately, the brain is a malleable structure and cognitive skills like working memory can be improved by strengthening key learning pathways in the brain (as regular readers of this blog know—working memory is one of four cognitive skills rapidly strengthened by the Fast ForWord program). 

The truth is, we live in an exciting time.  Scientists are learning more all the time about how cognitive skills like working memory operate.  We can look forward to these discoveries yielding more insights and tools that we’ll be able to use to optimize learning throughout our lives.
 


Related Reading:

The Mirror Neuron System

Toddler Vocabulary Development: Shopping With Your Child

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5 Fluency and Comprehension Strategies That Every Reader Can Use

Fluency and comprehension strategies

Every student seeks to be a confident, competent reader—regardless of grade level or starting fluency—and parents, teachers, and tutors want to help. To be fully functional in our society, we need to be capable of engaging with a variety of texts, some of which may be more technical, more abstract, or in some other way more challenging than our regular reading diet.  When encountering an unfamiliar kind of text, even “good” readers need to learn how to read it and practice reading it in order to read it fluently and actually understand it.

Whether the text exists on paper, as a website or even as an e-book, the strategies for developing fluency and comprehension are the same. When students encounter an unfamiliar, difficult, or unusual piece of text, coach them through these fluency and comprehension strategies:

  1. Preview the text – Examine its structure, any illustrations, and unfamiliar vocabulary words before reading;
  2. Listen to a fluent reading – If possible, listen to a model for correct pronunciation and expression;
  3. Engage in the act of reading – Make predictions, ask questions, and reread confusing parts. Students can “talk to the text” to get a better understanding.
  4. Practice reading it aloud – Read the text out loud (sometimes repeatedly) and attend to phrasing and punctuation as guides;
  5. Answer/Ask questions about the text – Check comprehension after reading to ensure that the meaning of the text has been understood.

Using a similar approach can be helpful for students today as they endeavor to meet the Common Core Standards that set requirements for reading not only for English language arts, but also for reading in the content areas of history/social studies, science, and technical subjects. This means that students need to be able to read a variety of genres – and not only narrative text, but informational text as well. By doing so, they can gain familiarity with various text structures and elements, as well as literary, cultural and background knowledge that can be applied in their subsequent reading experiences.

Through instruction and practice in reading a variety of texts, students will become fluent and able to comprehend all genres and all school subjects - and achieve the vision of what it means to be a literate person in the 21st century!
 

 

Related Reading:

Building Fluent Readers: How Oral Reading Practice Helps Reading Comprehension

The Essential Nature of Developing Oral Reading Fluency

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5 Reasons Why Every Parent Should Be Familiar with Executive Function

Strong executive function

The brain's executive function is a kind of internal "air traffic control system" that is a group of skills that helps us to focus on multiple streams of information at the same time, monitor errors, make decisions in light of available information, revise plans as necessary and resist the urge to let frustration lead to hasty actions.  The development of solid executive function is one of the key learning tasks of early childhood, and a significant contributor to later success in life.

In his recent webinar on the topic, Scientific Learning Chief Scientific Officer and Co-Founder Dr. William Jenkins dug deep into the three interrelated skills which comprise this air traffic control system: working memory, inhibitory control, and cognitive/mental flexibility. These three skills help us keep information in mind, master our impulses, and remain flexible in the face of change—and are crucial building blocks for the development of both cognitive and social interaction skills in young children.

Dr. Jenkins outlined a number of reasons that parent should take an interest in helping their children develop sound executive function skills in early childhood:

1. Strong executive function skills provide the best possible foundation for school readiness.

In many ways, executive function skills could be called the "biological foundation" for school readiness. It has been shown that children with strong working memory, inhibitory control, and cognitive/mental flexibility skills make greater gains in academic areas than peers with weaker executive function skills.  Coming to school with these foundational skills well-developed is just as important, if not more important, than fluency with letters and numbers.

2. Executive function skills begin at home.

Executive function skills are not automatic. These skills are built over time through practice, and can be observed in infants as early as six months, when some infants can understand and obey a simple directive such as "don't touch that plate." Parents can support (or "scaffold") the development of these skills from early childhood by teaching and reinforcing common concepts such as taking turns and using "inside" and "outside" voices. In addition to the home, executive function skills continue to be developed in childcare programs, pre-schools, elementary school classrooms, and other social settings, into adolescence.

3. Understanding executive function helps parents collaborate with educators.

As Dr. Jenkins notes in the webinar, elementary school teachers are keenly aware of the importance of executive function. Parents who are actively, consciously participating in the development of their child’s executive function skills will have a richer understanding of the importance of all activities and expectations revolving around classroom life, from the way one lines up for lunch to the way one studies for a spelling  test.  This has the potential for a dynamic, integrated educational experience for the student, teacher, and parents, working together to build a better brain for each child.

4. Executive function skills help lay the foundation for the kind of student, citizen, and social being a child will become.

Ultimately, the skills that cohere into executive function are the skills we use to navigate family, school, and work settings for our entire lives: retaining and using information, filtering thoughts and impulses, focusing on a task at hand, recognizing errors, changing plans, and understanding how different rules apply in different settings are all skills that require stewardship from birth to adulthood. Parents armed with this knowledge are more apt to take an active part in the development of these skills from an early age. 

5. Understanding executive function gives parents a fuller understanding of a child who is struggling.

It is a mistake to immediately brand a child who struggles with things like inhibitory control as a "bad kid". Understanding the concepts behind executive function gives parents a fuller picture of what is happening with their child when he or she is having difficulty controlling impulses, focusing on a given task, or understanding that different rules may apply at different times. This will help parents decide if outside help may be needed to help their child (studies show there is at least short-term effectiveness in interventions that support executive function development).

Interested in learning more?  Listen to Dr. Jenkins’ webinar here for more in-depth information on all aspects of executive function and its importance in early childhood development and brain fitness.

Related Reading:

The Curious Mind: Interest, Drive, and the Road to Academic Success

5 Things Every Parent and Educator Should Know About Early Childhood Brain Development

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The Reading Brain: How Your Brain Helps You Read, and Why it Matters

The reading ready brain

If you’re reading this, you’re probably an accomplished reader.  In fact, you’ve most likely forgotten by now how much work it took you to learn to read in the first place.  And you probably never think about what is happening in your brain when you’re reading that email from your boss or this month’s book club selection.

And yet, there’s nothing that plays a greater role in learning to read than a reading-ready brain.

As complex a task as reading is, thanks to developments in neuroscience and technology we are now able to target key learning centers in the brain and identify the areas and neural pathways the brain employs for reading. We not only understand why strong readers read well and struggling readers struggle, but we are also able to assist every kind of reader on the journey from early language acquisition to reading and comprehension—a journey that happens in the brain.

We begin to develop the language skills required for reading right from the first gurgles we make as babies. The sounds we encounter in our immediate environment as infants set language acquisition skills in motion, readying the brain for the structure of language-based communication, including reading.

Every time a baby hears speech, the brain is learning the rules of language that generalize, later, to reading.  Even a simple nursery rhyme can help a baby's brain begin to make sound differentiations and create phonemic awareness, an essential building block for reading readiness. By the time a child is ready to read effectively, the brain has done a lot of work coordinating sounds to language, and is fully prepared to coordinate language to reading, and reading to comprehension. 

The reading brain can be likened to the real-time collaborative effort of a symphony orchestra, with various parts of the brain working together, like sections of instruments, to maximize our ability to decode the written text in front of us:

  • The temporal lobe is responsible for phonological awareness and decoding/discriminating sounds.
  • The frontal lobe handles speech production, reading fluency, grammatical usage, and comprehension, making it possible to understand simple and complex grammar in our native language.
  • The angular and supramarginal gyrus serve as a "reading integrator" a conductor of sorts, linking the different parts of the brain together to execute the action of reading.  These areas of  the brain connect the letters c, a, and t to the word cat that we can then read aloud.

Emerging readers can build strong reading skills through focused, repetitive practice, preferably with exercises like those provided by the Fast ForWord program, that "cross-train" all the reading-relevant areas of the brain.

Independent research conducted at Stanford in 2003 and Harvard in 2007 demonstrated that Fast ForWord creates physical changes in the brain as it builds new connections and strengthens the neural pathways, specifically in the areas of reading. After just eight weeks of use, weak readers developed the brain activity patterns that resemble those of strong readers.  And, as brain patterns changed, significant improvements for word reading, decoding, reading comprehension and language functions were also observed.

It’s never too early to set a child on the pathway to becoming a strong reader.  And it’s never too late to help a struggling reader strengthen his or her brain to read more successfully and with greater enjoyment. 

It’s all about the brain.  Have you hugged your brain today?

Related Reading:

How Learning to Read Improves Brain Function

Why You Should Read With Your Child

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The Curious Mind: Interest, Drive, and the Road to Academic Success

curiosity in learning

Good grades and high achievement test scores are very real portals to success in life. Given the weight society grants such measures in evaluating individuals for everything from college to graduate school to entrance into the professional world, we cannot ignore the essential role of these traditional measures of success.

But that’s tradition; does the science support the idea that intellect and academic mastery ensure later success? What are the true determinants of triumph in school and life? Traditionally, intelligence and effort have been the two traits identified as the golden keys to future achievement. Still, there is a third variable that has long gone under-analyzed; in their 2011 paper, Von Strumm, Hell and Chamorro-Premuzic posit that yet another “pillar” of the mind must be taken into consideration: curiosity.

Back in 1963, Fiske and Butler stated that ability test scores measure what a person can do at a given time, whereas personality scales “provide a measure of what a person is most likely to do” in the future. (Fiske and Butler, pp. 258-259)  This difference is fascinating, and one which we all too often fail to differentiate when working with and evaluating our students.

In their research, Von Strumm, Hell and Chamorror-Premuzic reviewed and analyzed multiple studies that investigated the relationships between academic performance and intelligence, as well as those between academic performance and personality traits such as curiosity. They found, among other results, that the combined effects of curiosity and effort equaled the impact of intellect on academic performance. In other words, their analysis played out scientifically what Dewey suggested back in 1910: “The curious mind [is] constantly alert and exploring [and] seeking material for thought, as a vigorous and healthy body is on the qui vive for nutriment. . . . Such curiosity is the only sure guarantee of acquisition of primary facts…” (Dewey, 1910, p. 31)

For educators, the implications of such conclusions represent a refreshing perspective on both how we perceive our students’ abilities and how we imagine and implement strategies to nurture their success. All too often, we fall into the trap of seeing our students and evaluating their performance in terms of their intellectual abilities.

But what if we could see them just as well for their possibilities? What if we could focus our gaze ahead and perceive their potential in those areas of knowledge that they were most hungry to pursue?

Because of brain plasticity research, we know that through finding strong existing neural pathways and thought patterns, we can connect them to the creation of new thought patterns; we can use existing strengths to cultivate new ones. For example, a child might not have excellent math skills, but a deep curiosity for space and the solar system. If we can use that passion for outer space to introduce mathematical concepts, the child is more likely to successfully learn those essential skills.

With this knowledge on our side, if we can tap into and cultivate our students’ curiosity, we can help them turn their immediate educational obstacles into opportunities, as well as help them to establish habits of mind that will serve them long into their futures after that last exam has come to a close.

For further reading: Von Stumm, Sophie. Hell, Benedikt. Chamorro-Premuzic, Tomas. The Hungry Mind: Intellectual Curiosity Is the Third Pillar of Academic Performance. Perspectives on Psychological Science 6(6) 574–588.

Related Reading:

6 Steps to Help Students Ask Better Questions

Using the Power of Optimal Timing to Improve the Brain’s Ability to Learn

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Google in Education: Digging Deeper with Google Scholar and Google Sites

Google in education

You have showed your students how using Google in the classroom can help them refine a search and maximize their time spent doing research.

There might be times, however, when students need to take the next step in their educational research and also present those findings. Google has two tools that can assist: Google Scholar and Google Sites. 

Google Scholar provides a way to search and locate scholarly literature from a variety of sources such as articles, books and abstracts.  Articles are generated from postings by academic publishers, professional groups, universities and other credible sources around the world.

A unique aspect of Google Scholar is that the documents are ranked.  Because the rankings consider several aspects of the document including author, published location and other citations, the results are typically relevant and your students can trust that the highest ranked documents will provide credible information. 

Google Scholar truly allows your students to access impactful resources for researching the broad range of topics covered in the classroom, free of charge.

Google Sites is a tool that will allow your students to collaborate or present the information they have gathered through their Google research.

With a wide range of templates available for education, students and teachers can quickly and easily build their own website or wiki via a simple user interface with no technical knowledge required.  Widgets are available to give the site a custom look and feel.

Google Sites is a perfect place for students to present science projects or student research wikis, or for teachers to keep parents up to date on all the things happening in the classroom.  With 10 GB of site storage included, there’s no need to worry about space limitations.

So, whether researching a topic, presenting findings or simply collaborating with a group of fellow students, be sure to dig into what Google has to offer!

Related Reading:

Using Google in the Classroom: Two Simple Tips to Refine Your Search

10 Big Benefits of Using iPads in Schools

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Why You Should Read With Your Child

Why you should read with your child

You probably already know that you should read to your children, but do you know why? Here are three important reasons to not only read aloud with your child, but also to make it a shared activity:

  1. Reading exposes your child to rich language and diverse content.  Book language uses a larger vocabulary and more complex grammatical structures than the short, one-way communication we tend to use in feeding and caring for our children [i]. Books allow parents to expand the language environment as they become their children’s first and most important teachers.  They help parents to immerse their children in rich and varied language. Books of narrative fiction spark children’s imagination as they entertain and inform them about their emotions.  Books of informational non-fiction answer questions, providing concepts and knowledge that are the cornerstones of science and math. Both types are important and all of their benefits can be realized with books in any language. Parents should feel empowered to read aloud in Spanish, Chinese, or whatever their native language.
  2. Reading with your children helps prepare their minds to succeed in school.  The benefits of shared reading know no age limits.  Babies are soothed by their parents’ voices; school children reading to parents can show their new accomplishments or seek their parents’ help. Books for toddlers can help children get ready to learn to read, as we are proving in two school readiness programs, ‘HABLA’ and ‘Jumpstart,’ that I brought to the University of California, Irvine.  I recommend books that provide nursery rhymes, songs and verse as they help children learn to appreciate the sounds within words. Children are used to listening to language for its meaning, but reading demands that they also pay attention to the sounds of language.  Hearing words in terms of syllables, consonants and vowels encourages phoneme awareness, which is the first step towards reading phonetically.  Nursery rhymes and songs leap from the page when parents remember them from their own childhood and make them a part of family life.  When said in English or Spanish, traditional nursery rhymes and songs help attune children to what the alphabet is all about. [ii]
  3. Reading with your child can enrich family ties and intimacy.  Its virtues are strongest when parents read ‘dialogically’ by taking the book as an opportunity to enjoy a conversation.    Reading together is family time; it is fun time, cuddle time, a time to share your passions, perspective, and your values but also a time to listen. It creates a time for children to express themselves as well as an opportunity for parents to show their willingness to listen. When we build a conversation around a book we encourage our children to communicate with us. [iii]


 

[i]Research has shown that parents pressed for time and patience fall back on short speech like ‘wash your hands’ “Bedtime!’, ‘stop it?’  or ‘Because I said so.’ This is particularly true of parents who are educationally and economically disadvantaged.  For a summary of a study about the importance of providing rich language to children, and evidence about the profound language deficit that surrounds children living in poverty see Hart and Risely, 1995, summarized here.

[ii] To learn more about teaching children to read as summarized in the National Reading Panel report on phonics as the favored method of instruction, see: Teaching Children to Read by Dr. Martha Burns.  For information about UCI’s  HABLA program, ands it work to increase parent child literacy activities in Spanish speaking homes, click here.

For information about Jumpstart and its goals, see the official Jumpstart website and https://sites.google.com/site/jumpstartatuci/. For some excellent points about informational text, see Drs. R and H. Yopp’s Preview-Predict-Confirm: Thinking About the Language and Content of Informational Text.

[iii] For more information about dialogic reading, see Dr. G. Whitehurst’s Dialogic Reading: An Effective Way to Read to Preschoolers

Dr. Mann may be reached at the following address:

Dept. of Cognitive Sciences
3151 Social Science Plaza
University of California, Irvine
Irvine, CA 92697

Related Reading:

5 Things Every Parent and Educator Should Know About Early Childhood Brian Development

Building Your Child’s Self-Confidence

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Categories: Family Focus, Reading & Learning

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Oh, What A Day! 4 Fantastic Ways to Celebrate Dr. Seuss’ Birthday

Read Across America Day

It is no surprise that we commemorate the birthday of one of America’s most well-known children’s authors by dedicating a day filled with fun reading and literacy activities. On March 2nd, readers across the country will celebrate Theodore Geisel’s birthday (notably known as Dr. Seuss) by participating in Read Across America Day – a project created by the National Education Association.

Are you interested in celebrating Read Across America Day? Here are some ways you can get involved:

  1. Take the pledge to build a nation of readers: How will you inspire literacy? Share how you plan to participate on Read Across America’s official website, and see how others in your area are celebrating.
  2. Download these Dr. Seuss-inspired printable activities for the classroom or home play.
  3. Check with your local library to see if your branch is celebrating the day, or click here to find an event in your area.
  4. Follow the official Read Across America Facebook and Twitter pages for more ideas and to stay in the loop on ways you can promote reading and literacy.

So, grab your favorite Dr. Seuss classic, or any book for that matter, and celebrate the big day. As Dr. Seuss said, “You’re never too old, too wacky, too wild, to pick up a book and read to a child.”

Related Reading:

Building Fluent Readers: How Oral Reading Practice Helps Reading Comprehension

The Essential Nature of Developing Oral Reading Fluency

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