April 23, 2012
Education, Parenting, Psychology, School
Child, Dyslexia, Education, Special Education
Visual-dyslexia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Studies suggest that identifying dyslexia early and getting help is important as 95% of children can benefit from intervention programmes. The British Dyslexia Association (www.bdadyslexia.org.uk) recommends that if you think your child had dyslexia then it is better to get them assessed as soon as possible by an Educational Psychologist or a Specialist Dyslexia Teacher qualified to carry out the assessments. Some schools may be resistant to getting a diagnosis as it costs money. However, as a diagnosis will allow your child to get the support needed, it is probably best to go ahead with the assessments. Allowing the problem to continue may harm your child’s self-esteem as they continue having problems with reading and writing. Also research suggests that children who are poor readers at 6 years old find it difficult to catch up with other children (Torgesen & Burgess, 1998). So what are the signs of dyslexia and what can a parent do?
If there is a history of dyslexia in your family then there is an increased risk that your child will develop it. Early signs of dyslexia are: problems speaking clearly, no interest in letters or words, difficulty with motor tasks such as getting dressed, catching a ball or fastening buttons and confusing directional words such as left/right and up/down.
The most effective intervention programmes in schools seems to focus on phonological awareness. Children with poor phonological awareness may not understand that if you change the letter ‘c’ in the word ‘cat’ to ‘h’, the word would become ‘hat’.
Parents can teach letter sounds at home. For example, they can teach that the letter ‘c’ is pronounced as it sounds at the beginning of the word ‘cat’ rather than ‘see’ and that ‘k’ and ‘ck’ have the same sound. There is an excellent DVD made by the BBC, where all the different synthetic phonics sounds are presented. I bought the DVD on Amazon very cheaply for my son and it came with a workbook and poster of the different sounds.
You can also practice phoneme deletion with your children using word and picture cards. For example, you might have two cards with the word ‘mice’ on one and ‘ice’ on the other. You could then 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. Another technique is phoneme identification. You might 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’. Phoneme discrimination helps your child to really listen to speech sounds. This is where you 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.
Parents can also play word games such as ‘I spy’ to focus on the letter sounds at the beginning of words or rhyming games such as how many words rhyme with ‘fox’. Getting children to clap out the syllables in a word also helps children to recognise how words are made up of different sounds so for example you could clap the three syllables in ted-dy-bear.
One study used a 14 week home- and computer-based training in phonemic awareness and letter-sound relationships with children who were genetically at risk of dyslexia. Initially, the trained at-risk children kept up with untrained not-at-risk controls in reading ability. However, once the children started school, the trained at-risk children had delayed reading relative to the not-at-risk control children. This study shows the importance of support at school as well as at home and how the advantages of early intervention can be undone unless on-going help is provided. Therefore, it is important that parents push for support at school whilst continuing their efforts at home.
The good news is that schools are becoming more aware about how to support children with dyslexia and so if your child is identified as having dyslexia, they should get the help necessary.
April 18, 2012
Education, Parenting, Psychology
Intelligence, Intelligence quotient, Music education, Music lesson, Schellenberg
Music lesson in Glanerbrug (Home) (Photo credit: Johan Koolwaaij)
I have an amazing tutor group, who are intelligent, work hard in their lessons and contribute a great deal to the school. Many of these children are musical and the music teacher suggested jokingly that music was the reason for their achievements. At the time, I scoffed at the suggestion and argued that being involved in any extra-curricular activity at school probably benefits children. However, since making these comments I decided to do a bit of research to see whether there really is a link between music lessons and intelligence. So what does the evidence show?
Schellenberg (2006) found a correlation between IQ, academic ability and how long 6- to 11-year-olds had been having music lessons, even when family income, parents’ education and involvement in non-musical activities were taken into account.
Schlaug and colleagues (2005) found that giving children music lessons can lead to improve visual-spatial, verbal, and mathematical abilities.
A study by Wong and colleagues (2007) suggests that musical training can help children to recognise different sounds and so help with reading and learning a second language.
Forgeard and colleagues (2008) compared children who had at least three years of instrumental music training with a control group and found that the musically trained children performed better on verbal and non-verbal reasoning tests.
You may argue that children who have music lessons may come from better off families with greater aspirations. You may also argue that children who have the motivation to learn a musical instrument may also have better attention spans and be more cooperative and so do better on tests. This is a problem with many of the studies looking at the effects of music lessons on intelligence. It is difficult to establish how music lessons actually help children.
Interestingly, research shows that music training improves academic achievement even when IQ remains constant. Learning a musical instrument may only improve children’s concentration and persistence rather than IQ. However, from my own perspective, I will be encouraging my son to learn a musical instrument as soon as he is old enough. I want him to have the enjoyment of music and the benefits.
April 10, 2012
Education, Parenting, School
Child, Gifted education, Intellectual giftedness, NAGC
One of my friends said that she was considering accelerating her 3-year old son the other day so that he starts school in September. He is October-born so would only be starting school 2 months earlier than an August-born child and he is ahead of his peers. However, I have my reservations but are they unfounded? The commonly held view is that it is not good to accelerate gifted children and that they will suffer emotionally and socially if they are put with older children but does research bear this out?
Research suggests that gifted children report more dissatisfaction if they are held back than if they have experienced some kind of acceleration. In ‘A Nation Deceived’ many studies are cited that show that accelerated children do better than non-accelerated children matched in terms of ability.
The National Association of Gifted Children (NAGC) endorse the acceleration of gifted children at every age if the child is ready. They say this avoids the child becoming bored with repetitious learning and challenges them more. They also say that acceleration works better if the teachers have a positive attitude to it and if the parents are supportive.
Perhaps it depends on how gifted a child is as to whether there are benefits in accelerating them. Deborah Ruf (2005) identifies five levels of giftedness and says that the difference between children at the different levels is great. Some children may be up to six years ahead of other children whereas others are only advanced amongst their peer group. A level 5 gifted child would be able to read child and adult fiction and nonfiction by 4 to 5 years old, understand abstract maths concepts and be able to play adult level games by the time they were 3 to 4 years old. There are less that 0.1% of children at this level. A level 1 gifted child is able to read children’s non-picture books by age seven to seven and a half and is able to read two to three years beyond grade level by age seven. 10%-20% of children are gifted at level 1 (information taken from NAGC website). It may not be a problem to hold back a level 1 gifted child but a level 5 gifted child may be particularly frustrated.
The research suggests that I should be more open to the idea of accelerating gifted children. However, I still think that gifted children should have the opportunity, even if they are accelerated, to socialise and play sport with children of their own age. Otherwise, they may always feel smaller than their friends and it is unlikely that they would be picked for the school sports teams against bigger children. Gifted children may also be advanced in only one area such as mathematics, so it may be better for them to have other lessons such as Art or English with same-age peers. Schools may need to particularly flexible in catering for the needs of gifted children.
If I go back to my friend’s dilemma about whether to accelerate her 3-year old son or not, I would say that she has to judge at what level he is gifted to make a decision as to whether to accelerate him. I also believe that young children can benefit from play even if they are gifted so she needs to think about whether her son is still enjoying free play. Another thing she needs to consider is whether her son has the emotional maturity to deal with full-time schooling. Children may be intellectually advanced but still emotionally immature.
February 27, 2012
Education, Parenting, Preschool, Psychology, School
Early Childhood, Education, Play, preschool
Image via Wikipedia
There are sound educational reasons as to why a play-based approach is a good idea in the early years of school. Young children may switch off from learning if all activities are teacher-led and they have to sit and listen for long periods of time. Play also develops children’s thinking skills. Children learn to think through problems, rather than learning facts. Knowing facts is not that useful in new situations. On the other hand, teaching children to be able to think creatively about a problem, without worrying whether they are right or wrong is a valuable skill. Many schools now teach thinking skills in their lessons but young children learn this through play. Fisher (1992) analysed the results of a number of studies into children’s play and concluded that children who are engaged in more pretend play perform better on tests of cognitive, language and creativity development.
Many schools in America are now implementing a ‘Tools of the Mind’ curriculum, which places great emphasis on play. The curriculum promotes make-believe play and suggests that children should develop play plans. Children and teachers sit down together in advance of play and talk about what they want to role play. For example, the children might plan that they are going to go to the moon and what they will need to get there. The children decide in advance what roles they are going to play, with rules about how to act (the astronauts have to carry out certain tasks such as collecting samples from the moon). The theory is that the play plans help children to think ahead and also to avoid conflict during the role play. Children are also encouraged to use symbolic props rather than real ones to develop their imagination, so for example, the children might use Lego or wooden blocks to represent the trains. Teachers encourage the children to say what they are doing during the play to develop language skills. Bodrova and Leong (2001) argue that play helps children to learn self-regulation so that they are better able to control their emotions and aggression. The ‘Tools of the Mind’ curriculum also encourages children to write on their play plans to help them develop their writing skills. Diamond (2007) found that children in ‘Tools’ classrooms had better self-regulation and achieved more on standardised tests than matched children in a traditional classroom.
Research also suggests that children need to have time for free play without constantly being involved in activities. Children can become anxious if they have too little time for free play. Barnett (1984) assessed children on their level of anxiety on their first day at nursery school. It was found that the children who were able to play freely had lower levels of anxiety than those who had to listen to stories. This supports the idea that play allows children to work through their conflicts and anxiety. Warren et al. (2000) found that the themes expressed in the play of 35 children aged 5 corresponded with the children’s anxiety at school and at home. Play was a way for the children to work through their worries. Another case, reported by Axline (1947) demonstrates the importance of play. At the age of 5 years old, a boy called Dibs was referred to Axline, a clinical psychologist specialising in play therapy for very disturbed behaviour. Dibs’ parents thought he might be brain damaged. Axline watched Dibs’ play carefully to look for emotional reasons for his disturbed behaviour. Dibs often played with dolls that represented his family and in one instance, he buried a doll representing his father in the sand. This was interpreted as hostility towards his father. Axline was able to uncover Dibs’ conflicts and problems through the therapy. Dibs’ relationship with his parents improved as did his behaviour at school. Dibs’ IQ was tested after the therapy and he scored in the top 1% of the population. By then he had no emotional difficulties.
I do think it is important to teach children to read, write and count at school at an early age, if they are willing. Research suggests that disadvantaged children can particularly benefit from learning literacy and numeracy at preschool. However, it must not be forgotten that children can learn through play. Perhaps the middle ground is for schools to adopt a ‘Tools of the Mind’ approach, which promotes more thoughtful, planned make-believe play alongside literacy, when children are young.