girl with ipad

Make It a Happy Start to School: Our Top 10 Secrets

girl with ipadAs children think about starting back to school, they often have questions, and so do their parents. Here are some ideas that will ease your child’s return to the classroom at the end of the summer.

  1. Plan ahead for the basics. Make sure your child has what he needs for school success: the necessary supplies, a quiet place for homework, good sleeping and eating habits, and ample physical exercise.
  2. Listen and be observant. Know what’s happening in your child’s life. Listen carefully to her worries and concerns. Think about the highs, lows, and rollercoasters of previous years, and how they might have an impact this year.
  3. Nurture creativity. There are many ways you can foster your child’s curiosity, encourage his imagination, and support his critical thinking skills. (See Beyond Intelligence for ideas about how to do that.)
  4. Be reassuring. Provide the reassurance your child needs as the school year begins, as he encounters different academic challenges, and makes new friends. Help him learn to trust that (with your support) he can find his way through tough times.
  5. Make real-world connections. Your child will be more engaged in learning if she sees the relevance of what she’s being asked to do—that is, why it matters—to herself and to others.
  6. Encourage exploration. Look together for ways to expand your child’s world, whether it’s sports, reading genres, cultural activities, second and third languages, museum trips, or something else. Encourage him to ask questions, and to find answers from various sources, including people, books, online, or elsewhere.
  7. Support good work habits. Now is a great time to focus on building a strong foundation for learning, including organizational and time management skills, effort, and persistence. (And of course, the best way to teach these habits is to model them yourself!)
  8. Make time for play. Unstructured play is where children consolidate what they’re learning and discover what they’re interested in. Talk together about how to make sure there’s enough time for free play in your child’s schedule.
  9. Find a healthy balance. Kids need challenge, stimulation, and a broad range of physical activities and learning opportunities. They also need time for reflection and daydreaming, even if that means limiting their time with technology.
  10. Advocate as needed.Thoughtful advocacy can go a long way toward making good things happen at school. By building bridges with your child’s school, you can ensure that meetings with teachers and other professionals are as fruitful as possible.

We address all these ideas in more detail in Beyond Intelligence, Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids (House of Anansi, 2014), as well as on our blogs and in our published articles. For more, see www.beyondintelligence.net

girl at window

Ten Steps toward Parenting for Happy Productivity Forget the résumé: Focus on self-actualization and legacy virtues instead

girl at windowAccomplishment, achievement, and recognition are good goals for our children, but being loving and happily productive on one’s own terms are better. For my children and grandchildren, what delights me more than any prizes the world might offer is a confident integrity; a radiant inner light; a life lived with love, kindness, courage, happy productivity, and appreciation.

David Brooks recently wrote a column in the New York Times called ‘A Moral Bucket List.’ In it, he distinguished between résumé virtues and eulogy virtues: ‘The résumé virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace. The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral — whether you were kind, brave, honest or faithful. Were you capable of deep love?’

Brooks goes on to write that although most of us see the eulogy virtues as more important than the résumé virtues, it is the latter—the attributes that bring wealth, status, recognition, and success in worldly terms—that we put the heaviest focus on through our culture and education. Kids are given more support for developing the skills and strategies they need for getting into top universities and making lots of money than for establishing the character strengths that lead to a life of happy productivity, love, and fulfilment, the kind of life that creates a meaningful legacy.

What can parents do who want their children to radiate the inner light that’s a symptom of self-actualization and the legacy virtues?

  1. Slow down enough to be loving and attuned. Too often, parents’ patience gets lost in the flurry of their busy lives, but loving attunement is the most powerful tool they have for supporting happy productivity across the life span. As frequently as you can through the day, make time to listen to your children, with love.
  2. Ensure ample time for free unstructured play. Free play—invented and managed by kids, both solo and with other kids—enables children to nourish their curiosity, self-awareness, and imagination. It also strengthens their self-regulation, autonomy, decision-making, conflict resolution, and friendship skills.
  3. Spend time outdoors. A daily dose of outdoor time—preferably in natural settings—reduces stress, increases optimism, improves health, stimulates the senses, frees the spirit, and enhances creativity. By improving attention and focus, it also increases academic and other kinds of achievement.
  4. Help kids find their passions. Provide opportunities for exploration and discovery in the arts, the sciences, architecture, gardening, and more, as widely as possible. Support your children in developing their curiosities into passions.
  5. Welcome daydreaming, do-nothing times, and boredom. The restful neural processing that occurs in daydreaming is essential to self-discovery and self-actualization. Busy kids need downtime in order to replenish their spirits and find their creative wellspring.
  6. Teach your kids to breathe. Kids who learn mindful breathing techniques are better able to manage their stress, sleep soundly, and focus their attention on cognitive, emotional, and physical activities. They can concentrate better on tests and exams, and cope better with challenging situations.
  7. Model a growth mindset. Reinforce your children’s awareness that abilities develop step by step, with hard work, persistence, and patience. Holding a growth mindset—including realizing that intelligence and creativity develop incrementally, and welcoming setbacks as learning opportunities—leads to higher measures of well-being in every area of life.
  8. Limit screen time. Yes, there is a time and place for electronic devices, but most kids are spending way too much time on them. By limiting screen time, you’ll free up time for outdoor exploration, unstructured play, daydreaming, and self-discovery.
  9. Restrict homework and other structured activities. Yes, it’s important to support kids’ interests and abilities, but somewhat counter-intuitively, play and downtime are more important for happy productivity across the life span than more hours of homework, extracurricular lessons, organized sports, practice, and other good things.
  10. Say thank you. Cultivate an attitude of gratitude. It’s the opposite of entitlement, and people who actively appreciate what’s good in their lives experience higher levels of well-being, happiness, energy, optimism, empathy, and popularity.

In the end, parenting for self-actualization is probably all about balance. The first step—loving attunement—is the most important, and should come before everything else. After that, you can start with any one of the remaining nine steps, take it where it goes, and then try another. The ultimate goal is to integrate all of them into your children’s lives, in balance.

For more on these ideas:

‘The Moral Bucket List,’ by David Brooks 

‘Optimal Development across the Life Span,’ Dona Matthews’ blog in The Creativity Post http://www.creativitypost.com/authors/list/162/dmatthews

 ’26 Simple Gifts to Last Forever: An Alphabet List of Inexpensive Holiday Treasures for Children,’ by Dona Matthews

‘Play, Run, Skip: Physically active children are smarter, happier, and healthier,’ by Dona Matthews

‘Ode to Positive Constructive Daydreaming,’ by Rebecca McMillan, Jerome Singer, and Scott Barry Kaufman 

Scott Barry Kaufman interviewed me recently for a podcast in his series for Scientific American called ‘Beautiful Minds,’ where he explores intelligence, creativity, and the mind. We talked in some detail about the science of raising happily productive kids

In Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids, Joanne Foster and I consider most of these ideas in more detail: www.beyondintelligence.net

 

Photo by Aikawa Ke, Creative Commons, Flickr

front cover rsz

Ten Ideas for Parents Who Want to Raise a Happily Productive Child

front cover rszOn Dec. 7, 2014, I had a lot of fun doing a podcast interview with Scott Barry Kaufman. We had an interesting conversation about the nature and development of giftedness and talent, with some serious moments, and lots of laughs. He synopsized our talk brilliantly, writing, ‘Just had a delightful chat with Dona Matthews. I highly recommend her book, co-written with Joanne Foster, Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids.’

Scott went on, writing a great synopsis of many of the points Joanne Foster and I wanted to make in that book, framing it as ten ideas for parents, to help them raise a happily productive child:

  1. Be wary of your child’s “potential.” All children have a tremendous capacity for intelligence, no matter what anyone might predict, or how well they do on an intelligence test.
  2. Think about intelligence as a process rather than an innate essence that some people have more of than others. Intelligence is more about doing than being.
  3. Remember that intelligence develops incrementally, and varies across time, situations, and domains.
  4. Support your child’s particular kinds of intelligence. Each child has his own profile of different intelligences.
  5. Think carefully about the implications of any test results your child achieves, especially IQ. Scores don’t always mean what they seem to mean.
  6. Look for and encourage children’s involvement in music and second language learning experiences. These are valuable for all kids, but especially for those who don’t learn in traditional academic ways.
  7. Support your child in acquiring a growth mindset— the attitude that ability develops one step at a time, with hard work, persistence, and patience.
  8. Don’t praise your child for being intelligent. It’s better to be specific with your praise, by focusing on what she’s doing and how she’s doing it.
  9. Do praise your child for working hard. Thoughtful attention to detail (which can be painfully slow, challenging, and effortful) is how intelligence grows.
  10. Learn to have and display an open mind about obstacles, criticisms, and mistakes. Avoid blame. Think constructively about failures, seeing them as opportunities for learning about what needs more work.

You can find lots more about Beyond Intelligence: Secrets for Raising Happily Productive Kids at www.beyondintelligence.net

Thank you, Scott Barry Kaufman! You can find his podcasts and more about his wide ranging work supporting the development of intelligence, creativity, and imagination at http://scottbarrykaufman.com/

Praise sick kids

A Personal Perspective on Parents’ Praise

Praise sick kidsWhat’s the best way to praise your kids to foster their intelligence and creativity? Be as specific as possible. Reinforce their persistence, and indicate ways they can move forward, tackling the next step.

How can you do this? Encourage the child to think about options, learning strategies, and interests. Reassure her that she can confront challenges, stretch her boundaries, and know that she’ll still garner positive reinforcement, encouragement, and support.

As an educational consultant, I’ve worked with parents in more schools than I can possibly count. I conduct presentations on how to nurture high-level development—sharing insights, and also asking questions. The sessions are usually held in an auditorium, and they often go like this…

I ask, “How do you know if a child is intelligent?” Parents in the audience inevitably agree that intelligent kids learn quickly, with very few errors and little or no difficulty. Many parents feel that speed and ease are, in fact proof of being smart. And, most praise their children for these attributes. “What do you say to them?” I ask.

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ungifted: intelligence redefined

From Apathy to Possibility: Scott Barry Kaufman’s Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined

ungifted: intelligence redefined

What’s it like to be on the receiving end of well-meaning sympathy for your learning disabilities, accompanied by low academic and career expectations? How does it feel to want to engage in the challenging learning activities that your friends in the gifted class are experiencing, and to be told you never will? Cognitive psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman—scientific director of the University of Pennsylvania’s Imagination Institute—describes his personal journey through special education, and what it taught him about the nature of intelligence, talent, and creativity.

I’ve been thinking and writing about these issues for a few decades, but nonetheless, my copy of Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined is full of underlines and dog-eared pages where I’ve marked research findings, quotes, and ideas I hadn’t yet encountered or thought about in the way Kaufman describes them.  This book gave me fresh perspectives on many important ideas in my field and deeper understanding of many of the foundational concepts, as well as introducing me to research findings I hadn’t seen. Read more

the wonder of the ordinary

The Wonder of the Ordinary: A Crucible for Creativity, Talent, and Genius

the wonder of the ordinary

Parents can help their kids find their own particular kind of genius by encouraging their sense of wonder in the ordinary. You may or may not want your child to be a genius—an exceedingly rare and extraordinarily high achiever in a particular field—but you can help him develop his intelligence, creativity, and talents, by ensuring he has enough time for unstructured play and daydreaming.

In The Parent’s Tao Te Ching: Ancient Advice for Modern Parents, William Martin wrote, “Do you have agendas for your children that are more important than the children themselves? Lost in the shuffle of uniforms, practices, games, recitals, and performances can be the creative and joyful soul of your child. Watch and listen carefully. Do they have time to daydream? From your children’s dreams will emerge the practices and activities that will make self-discipline as natural as breathing.”

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A Call to Action in Support of Giftedness and Talent Development

A Call to Action to Support the Development of Giftedness and TalentAn editorial in the New York Times on December 15, 2013, discusses the most recent (2012) findings of the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA), in which the US is once again in the middle of the pack in math and science–34th out of 65 countries. In order to address the declining economy, the author advocates more educational attention to developing giftedness and talent, especially in the STEM subjects, across the population:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/12/15/opinion/sunday/in-math-and-science-the-best-fend-for-themselves.html?_r=0

The author reports the experts’ conclusions based on the PISA findings, showing that the best educational systems include “High standards and expectations; creative and well-designed coursework; enhanced status, development and pay of teachers; and a culture where academic achievement is valued, parents are deeply involved and school leaders insist on excellence.”

The author goes on to make several important suggestions in a call for action. These include increased federal and state government spending on gifted education and on teacher development; an increase in available options for acceleration; better access to early college admission; and more attention to psychosocial supports (such as mentoring and coaching leading to resilience and coping skills).

Love, Play, Reflect; Passion, Gratitude, and Grit: Parenting for Success and Happiness across the Lifespan

Love, play, reflect; passion, gratitude, and grit; a blog by Dona Matthews

Childhood giftedness is a great start, but it doesn’t predict happiness, success, or fulfillment across the life span. What does the research say about parents’ roles in helping their kids become happily productive adults?

1.       Love:

The single most important ingredient in the early days, weeks, and months of life is the security of a home environment characterized by loving warmth. Infants who develop an early attachment to a caregiver—usually a mother—do a lot better over the life span than those who don’t.  Parenting characteristics of a secure and loving environment include emotional attunement, reassurance and comfort, holding and snuggling, and listening and responding to children’s needs.

Kids do best whose early home experience includes warmth, acceptance, sensitivity, stimulation, and engaged conversation. That means limiting electronic (and other) distractions when you’re spending time with your kids. Device-focused parents don’t look their kids in the eye as often, hear what they have to say, pick up on their feelings, or transmit that sparkle in the eye that makes children (and adults) feel valued. Read more

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Seven Ideas for Encouraging Your Child’s Productive Creativity

Creativity is more accessible (and more effortful) than most people realize.  Most parents want their kids to experience the joy and fulfillment that come from productive creativity–the kind of creativity that makes a difference.

Here are seven ideas for parents who want to support their children’s productive creativity:

1. Curiosity. All kids are born curious. They want to understand more about the world around them. Support your child’s curiosity, and you’re taking the first and probably most important step toward him discovering the joys of productive creativity.

2. Passion. Support your child in finding out what she wants to learn more about. Whether it’s musical, artistic, athletic, intellectual, domestic, scientific or something else, follow her curiosities, and help her think about possibilities for further exploration. A passionate desire to go farther is at the heart of productive creativity.

3. Opportunities for learning. Productive creativity is built on knowledge and understanding. Your child needs something with which to be creative. Help him find opportunities to learn and to experience challenge in his areas of keen interest. Productive creativity happens in all domains–a scientist or a chef can be as productively creative as a musician–so help him feel free to follow his interests wherever they take him. Read more

secrets of successful schools

Secrets of Successful Schools: Positive Culture, Strong Teachers, Family Links

secrets of successful schools

The secrets of successful schools have nothing to do with money. Some of the best schools around the world are in poor communities and poor countries. Findings from international research show that a school’s ability to teach its students well doesn’t depend on how much money is spent. Nor does a school’s success depend on the socioeconomic status of the students’ families or communities. Read more