Should summer-born premature children be allowed to stay back a year?

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premature babyA friend of mine has an August-born daughter who was born two months premature. Her daughter should have been born mid-October but was instead born mid-August. However, her daughter had to start school in the academic year in which she was born despite her corrected age being mid-October. My friend was unhappy about this from the start as she felt her daughter was emotionally unready to start school but the local authority said that there would have to be evidence of developmental delay from the GP, preschool and educational psychologist for there to be delayed entry. Therefore, my friend started her child in reception with reservations. Frustratingly, after the first term at school, my friend was told that her daughter might have to go down to half days as she was not coping very well. My friend fought this as she works so the school did not push it. Now her daughter is in her second year at school and the teacher is saying that her daughter is behind. Understandably, my friend is angry with the situation. She feels her daughter should not have been in that academic year at all and should be in the year below. Her daughter is actually reasonably high ability for a child who should have been born in October. Compared to other October-born children in reception, her daughter has good numeracy and literacy skills. It is important to highlight that my friend’s daughter spent the first couple of months in an incubator that simulated the womb so she was not experiencing the world like a full-term baby born in August.

Summer-born children are already at a disadvantage academically, so premature summer-born children are at even more of a disadvantage.

What seems to surprise many people is that month of birth affects children even when they are doing their A-levels.

Crawford, Deardon and Meghir (2010) examined the differences between the test scores of children at different ages by looking at their performance in national tests such as SATs, GCSEs and A-levels and university admissions. They found large differences in achievement at age 7 between children born in September and children born in August. This difference was also linear, which means that September born children performed on average better than children born just one month later in October. The difference between the oldest and youngest children in the year did reduce over time but it was still evident at 18-years-old and affected university admissions.

Therefore, imagine the greater problem for premature children like my friend’s child whose corrected age can make them 14 months younger than a full-term September-born child.

In my opinion, parents of premature summer-born children should be given the option of delaying them a year without question by the local authorities.

‘Psychology for parents: Birth to teens’ is for sale on Amazon at £5.99 for the book http://www.amazon.co.uk/Psychology-parents-Birth-Faye-Carlisle/dp/1490914714/ref=sr_1_1_bnp_1_pap?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1386345366&sr=1-1&keywords=psychology+for+parents+birth+to+teens and £2.49 for Kindle

Teaching children a second language

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Research suggests that bilingual children have improved thinking abilities, better attention spans and self-control. It appears that being able to switch from one language to another develops the part of the brain involved in controlling our attention and emotions.

Therefore, if you are a bilingual family, it is a good idea to start teaching your children a second language straight away.
The most common method is one Person, one Language (OPOL). For instance, the dad might speak his native Dutch, while the mum speaks English. However, there are other methods such as only speaking the minority language at home. The important thing is to be consistent.

Judith offers some tips for encouraging bilingualism in children on her blog: http://sixtineetvictoire.com/10-tips-to-encourage-bilingualism-in-children/

So should we all be teaching our children a second language from a young age?

In my opinion, this is probably very difficult unless we are a bilingual family. There is a myth that younger children are more skilled at learning a second language. A study of 17,000 British children learning French at school, found that children who learnt French from 11-years-old performed better on tests that children who had begun at 8-years-old (Stern, Burstall and Harley, 1975). Another study looked at French immersion programmes in Canada found children who learnt French at 11-years-old performed just as well or better than those who began at 5-years-old (Genesee, 1981, 1987). The immersion programmes involved teaching English-speaking children lessons entirely in French.

This relates to the problem of children coming to England from other countries being immersed in an English education system when they hardly speak any English. Some teachers believe that these children will easily pick up English but as the research shows this is not the case. Children who do not speak English as their first language will need explicit instruction and their first language should be used as a bridge to support learning of English. (Barry McLaughling, 1992).

Choosing a nursery

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nurseryLooking for a nursery for your child is a highly emotional decision. Many mothers feel guilty about leaving their children at nursery to go back to work so they want the best possible childcare for their child when they are away. So does money buy the best childcare? Some parents may mistakenly believe that more expensive nurseries are better. However, research suggests this is not true. The FCCC study (Sylva et al. 2007) found that the cost of childcare was not necessarily associated with better quality care. Other parents may believe that having good nursery facilities is the most important factor. Children do need a stimulating environment and a good outdoor space to play in but there are other more important factors that will affect a child’s happiness in a nursery setting.

So what makes a good nursery?

Good quality childcare involves well-trained staff. Research shows that the more experienced the staff the better the quality of childcare given. When staff had high level qualifications such as NVQs in childcare, they provided better care.

Children also need stability. They need to be able to form strong emotional bonds to their carers and this is only possible if they have access to the same carer regularly and consistently. When choosing a nursery, it is important to find out how often the staff change, as if a member of staff leaves that your child has become attached to, it could be very difficult for them.

High staff-child ratios are important. Ask what happens if staff are off sick. When I was looking around nurseries, I noticed that some rooms only had one member of staff in and I made sure I asked questions about why this was the case. Nurseries have to follow government guidelines about staff-child ratios but they may not be strictly enforced. The government also recommends that children have a key worker and it is important to ask how this works. Staff and key workers should be able to spend enough time with each child so that the child can form a secure emotional bond to them.

Not surprisingly, adults who are sensitive, empathic and attuned to a child’s feelings have been found to be better carers. Good carers enable infants and young children to feel confident in themselves, encourage them to communicate and talk, to think and have ideas, and to learn and discover.

You might also want to look at how much stimulation the children are given. How much importance does the nursery place on educating and talking to a child? Stimulation is very important for children’s intellectual and language development. Nursery workers need to ask children questions and to respond to the children’s vocalisations or talk. You might want to observe how much the nursery workers are talking to the children they are caring for before choosing which nursery you prefer.

At the end of the day, you need to trust your instincts about whether the nursery will look after your child well. Try not to choose a nursery based on convenience alone.

‘Psychology for parents: Birth to teens’ is for sale on Amazon at £5.68 for the book and £2.49 for Kindle.

 

Do mothers put too much pressure on themselves?

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1950s housewifeThe other day I was at a friend’s house with a group of mothers and our children after school. Our children all go to different schools nearby. One of my friends told us that she had been asked to make an outfit for her 5-year-old son as his school was having a fairytale day. The letter from the school stated that they would prefer parents to make an outfit rather than buy one. My immediate reaction was outrage at the request even though I wasn’t being asked to do it. My outrage partially stems from the fact that I have no idea how to use a sewing machine and I can only just about sew a hem up. One of my other friends was equally outraged and said ‘The school seems to think we are all 1950s housewives with nothing else to do but make outfits’. So is making children’s dressing up outfits an essential skill every mother should have? I am not sure that it is although it would certainly save me some money. I also suspect that in the 1950s, women would not have been asked to make a costume for a special day at school, as they probably wouldn’t have had the money for such frivolities.

There does seem to be a current trend towards home-baking and traditional craft activities at the moment. I like baking, I would like to be able to knit but I am not so keen on sewing. However, I think we should all pause to think about what is essential to being a good mother before getting sucked into feeling that all mothers have to make cakes, sew costumes and knit scarves. Many mothers work long hours and I think it is unreasonable to expect such mothers to come home and do lots of home-making activities unless they want to. My friend who had been asked to make the DIY costume already works four days a week and she does not have that much time to sew.

So what makes a good mum? I have decided to compile a list of essentials and non-essentials.

Essential mother skills

-Showing love and affection to your children.
-Listening and talking to your children.
-Setting boundaries for your children so they feel secure.
-Attending to your children’s physical needs-providing food, shelter and warmth.

Non-essential mother skills

-Baking cakes-we can buy cakes instead!
-Sewing costumes-we can buy a dressing-up costume to make it easier for ourselves.
-Hosting and planning big birthday parties-we can have a small party at home or just take our child out somewhere nice.
-Buying expensive presents-we can explain to our children that we don’t have endless supplies of money. If you are worried about how to explain not being able to afford Christmas presents, you can say Father Christmas brings the stocking fillers only.

Sometimes it may be better for our children and us to do less rather than more. Buying a few cakes rather than baking them for the school fundraiser may mean we are less stressed and have more time to talk, read or play with our children. As mothers we don’t have to do it all and we should avoid feeling guilty for it. What can you stop doing to relieve the pressure?

Psychology for parents: Birth to teens’ is for sale as an e-book on Amazon, Smashwords.com, Barnes and Noble, Kobobooks, Sony ebookstore and Apple ibookstore.

Understanding the teenage brain

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teenage brain scaffoldingWhen I was a teenager, I remember my mum getting mad at me because I got home at midnight when she had asked me to be home at 11.30.I thought she was being unreasonable but I didn’t really consider how worried she must have been. Teenagers are not necessarily the most considerate people but this may be outside their control.

Previously, people thought that the teenage brain was much like an adult brain and that the really important brain development occurred in the early years. However, neuroscientists have found that teenage brains are still developing. The brain rewires during the teen years and this can continue until the early twenties. New connections between nerve cells in the brain are formed and some connections are lost. The part of the brain that is most affected is the pre-frontal cortex, which is important for controlling emotions, empathy and decision-making. The prefrontal cortex helps us to plan ahead, control our impulses and understand the consequences of our actions so it is not surprising that teenagers can be reactive and have problems with self-control. Teenagers may not fully appreciate the consequences of their actions and they may not weigh up information in the same way adults do. So although adults might weigh up the consequences of getting in a car with a friend who has drunk too much but teenagers may not.

Teenagers can also find it difficult to read facial expressions and recognise other people’s feelings while the brain is rewiring. One study found that only 50% of teenagers could recognise fear as a facial expression compared to 100% of adults. So teenagers may need help recognising other people’s feelings.

Parents may feel frustrated when they tell their teenager to do their homework only to find them texting a friend two minutes later. Unfortunately, the reward centre of teenagers’ brain just seeks pleasure and they don’t think about the consequences. If parents understand that their teenagers are not deliberately trying to annoy them, then they are less likely to become frustrated.

Teenagers’ brains are also very reactive. One study compared children’s, teenagers’ and adults’ responses to rewards such as money. Teenagers showed the greatest brain activation to rewards. They can also be very reactive and can have a hard time controlling their emotions. Perhaps this suggests that we should really be bribing teenagers to do their homework rather than nagging them!

Teenagers find it more difficult to read facial expressions and recognise other people’s feelings while the brain is rewiring. One study found that only 50% of teenagers could recognise fear as a facial expression compared to 100% of adults. Teenagers may need help recognising other people’s feelings.

So how can we help teenagers? I have three suggestions: We can improve their understanding of their own and other people’s emotions; We can help them to control their thoughts, which in turn impacts their emotions and we can teach them skills of reflection and taking different perspectives.

Read more about teenagers in ‘Psychology for parents: Birth to teens’ for sale as an e-book on Amazon, Smashwords.com, Barnes and Noble, Kobobooks, Sony ebookstore and Apple ibookstore.

 

 

How can I help my child with phonics?

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Letters-and-sounds-fishing-game-with-ping-pong-ballsIn a recent BBC news article, Save the Children’s chief executive, Justin Forsyth, said that children who are behind at 7-years-old are unlikely to catch up. He also pointed out that some children start school with the odds stacked against them because they lack the ability to follow instructions and have poor social skills. In my opinion, this is why preschools are so important for children especially, as some parents believe that children should not be taught letter sounds or numbers before they start school at all. Research suggests that children who enter school with a good knowledge of the alphabet and letter sounds become better readers and that it is beneficial to teach pre-schoolers phonics in a fun way (Phillips et al. 2008).

Most preschools teach letter sounds but a parent can help their child become more familiar with them at home. If you are not sure how to say the letter sounds, there are DVDs that go through letter sounds for children in a fun way. CBeebies also has a programme called ‘Alpha blocks’ which teaches letter sounds and how to blend sounds together to make word.

Children who become good readers at school often have good phonological and phonemic awareness. So what is phonological and phonemic awareness?

Children who have phonological awareness can: identify and make up rhymes; they can clap out the number of syllables in a word and they can recognize words with the same initial sounds like ‘money’ and ‘mother.’

Children with phonemic awareness can recognise individual sounds (phonemes) in words. For example, the word ‘mat’ has three phonemes m/a/t. Phonemic awareness is one of the best predictors of how well children will learn to read during the first two years of school instruction.

So how can parents develop their child’s phonological and phonemic awareness? Here are some ideas:

1) Show two cards with the word ‘mice’ on one and ‘ice’ on the other. Ask your child ‘if you take away ‘m’ from the word mice, what is left then?’ The cards could have pictures on to enhance the learning.
2) Say a single speech sound such as ‘t’ and show six pictured words. Your child then has to pick the picture that begins with ‘t’.
3) Present two pictures of similar sounding words to your child such as ‘cat’ and ‘hat’. You then say such just one of the words and your child has to pick the correct picture.
4) Change the letter ‘c’ in the word ‘cat’ to ‘m’, and ask the child what the word becomes.
5) Get your child to think of as many words as they can that rhyme with ‘fox’.
6) Get your child to clap out the syllables in a word so that they recognise how words are made up of different sounds e.g. you could clap the three syllables in ted-dy-bear.
7)Play ‘I spy’ to help your child focus on the letter sounds at the beginning of words.

Children often know when they are behind and this affects their self-esteem. So don’t get frustrated with your child if they don’t get how to blend letter sounds together even after a number of attempts. Go away and think of a way to make the learning fun. Remember that children (and adults) have different learning styles. Some children are visual learners and take things in by reading and looking at pictures, some children are auditory learners and learn through listening, and some children are kinaesthetic learners and learn through movement. Kinaesthetic learners may only get phonics, if they learn it in other ways than on paper.

Here are some ideas to make phonics learning creative and fun:

1) Chalk out letters on your garden patio. Get a children’s golf club and ball. Your child then has to hit the ball onto a letter, say the letter sound and think of a word beginning with it to score.

2) Chalk out words on your garden patio. When you say a word, your child has to kick a football onto the word/hop to it/throw a disc onto it/hit a tennis ball onto it/skip to it etc.

3) Chalk out letters on your garden patio. Show your child pictures of certain words, your child then has to think of the letter sound the word begins with and spray out the letter with a water gun.

4) Put lots of foam letter sounds or words in the bath and get your child to find them as you say them.

5) Put white stickers on Duplo with different letters on and put the Duplo together to make different words.

6) Make letters and words out of play dough.

7) Make biscuits in the shape of letters and form words with them.

8) Write letters on ping-pong balls and place them in a water play basin. Get your child to bat certain letters across the water or pick them up with a water jug.

Some of these ideas come from a blog ‘Train up a child’, which I really recommend.

So should parents be pushing their child to read as early as possible?

Research suggests that children who are taught to read early do not have an advantage (Sharp, 2002). Children in some countries do not start formal learning until 7-years-old but it does not seem to be a disadvantage. However, these children have been taught reading skills such as a good understanding of letter sounds and rhymes at kindergarten so they are ready to read when they start school. This research suggests that there is no need to push a child to read early. On the other hand, if your child is interested in letters and blending them together then don’t hold them back. Every child is different. All parents need to remember, is to keep learning fun. So don’t push your child to do anything they don’t want to do and make sure your child is in the right mood.

Psychology for parents: Birth to teens’ is for sale as an e-book on Amazon, Smashwords.com, Barnes and Noble, Kobobooks, Sony ebookstore and Apple ibookstore.

 

Mindfulness at school session 1

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Mindfulness in school-Session 1mindfulness meditation teenagers

Today I did my first lunchtime session on mindfulness with a group of teenagers at the school I teach at. I had 30 minutes so time was limited. I started with a test to measure perceived stress levels, which I found free to use on the internet at http://www.mindgarden.com. I wanted to get the students to do this test so that we can see if there have been any changes in their perceived levels of stress after the mindfulness sessions have finished.

I then gave the students a questionnaire to get them to think about what might be causing stress. This included a list of things that might be causing them stress such as parents, workload, examinations, friends, appearance etc. and they had to circle the things that were causing them stress.

To introduce the concept of mindfulness and its benefits, I did a PowerPoint presentation. The presentation included evidence from psychological studies to support mindfulness as I wanted to convince the students that it could work at reducing their anxiety and stress. I discussed how mindfulness helps us to focus our attention so that we can control our thoughts and emotions. Many of them said they had problems with reacting too much to what other people say and that the reason they had chosen to come to the mindfulness sessions was to deal with their anger better. I said that mindfulness should help them be less reactive to situations.

After the presentation, I decided to do a sitting meditation with the students. I followed the following script:

Sitting meditation: Students were asked to find a comfortable position to sit in, which encouraged alertness and relaxation. I told them that their backs should be straight but not rigid. I then asked them to close their eyes and read the following script:
‘When you take your position take a moment to settle into your body and become centered before you bring your attention to the sensations and movement of breath through your body. The mind may wander frequently during mindfulness meditation and you can gently redirect your attention back to your breathing. Focus on your breath for two minutes before moving on. Shift your attention to your bodily sensations. Take note of the contact your body has with the chair or floor and the sensations associated with this. Notice the sensations in your body without judgment, just accept them and reflect on them with curiosity and interest, even if it is unpleasant. Bring awareness to any urges you may have to relieve discomfort, such as moving your body or scratching an itch. Do not act on these urges right away, instead just observe the discomfort with acceptance. If you decide to move then do it mindfully, by observing the intention to move and the change in sensation as a result of moving. You may bring awareness to your environment and listen mindfully to the sounds around you. Notice the volume, tone and duration of the sounds without analyzing or judging them. Observe the periods of silence between the sounds also and then redirect your focus to your breathing.
It is okay if thoughts come into your awareness as this is normal activity for the mind. Observe the thought content briefly without becoming absorbed and then gently return to the breath. You may do this many times over, but what is important is that you observe and accept the thoughts and then return your attention to your breath.
Similarly, with emotions that come to the forefront, just observe the type of emotion you are experiencing (such as sadness, anger, boredom) and then redirect your focus to your breathing.
I then asked the students to continue bringing their attention back to their breath for two more minutes.

At the end of the session I encouraged the students to find a quiet spot where they wouldn’t be disturbed and do a 1 minute sitting meditation every day. I suggested they use a stop watch to time the minute. I reinforced the idea of bringing their attention back to their breath and said that with practice they would get better at it.

The students seemed very positive about the session at the end.

Psychology for parents: Birth to teens’ is for sale as an e-book on Amazon, Smashwords.com, Barnes and Noble, Kobobooks, Sony ebookstore and Apple ibookstore.

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