The Importance of Habits in Early Childhood Education

As educators, we are constantly in search of ways to improve our schools and better impact the lives of our students. We know that the foundations we establish with our children, whether at 3, 10, or 17, are going to stick with them for the better part of their lives, and shape their success for decades.

Usually, however, we think about our role in terms of the content and curricula we teach, not in the form of habits, so I thought I’d take a few moments today to write about the importance of instilling habits for success in our children as early as possible.

The Willpower Habit

power of habitIn the book The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg, the author reveals a number of studies that show that focusing on developing good habits at an early age can positively impact a child’s life for decades to come.

Drawing upon hundreds of scientific studies and observation, Duhigg concludes that as early as age 3-4, children can begin to show tendencies towards developing willpower, which in turn will impact how they study, how persistent they are to completing problems, and how likely they are to succeed.

A Practical Example

elf preschool chicagoOne great example of instilling good habits in early childhood development comes out of Chicago’s E.L.F. schools. ELF, short for Early Learning Foundations, isĀ  the most prestigious multi-cultural preschool in Chicago, and provides a firm grounding in all areas of preschool education.

The teachers’ commitment to excellence is due not just to their focus on building a strong academic foundation, but on their ability to look at the larger picture of a child’s growth, and help them to develop in as many ways as possible.

In my opinion, we need schools across the country to commit to this style of learning. Many times, small changes (known as keystone habits in the scientific community) will ripple from one outcome to the next, creating positive change across all areas of a child’s education.

Established at the preschool level, this could lead to better academic performance in middle and high school, and even a better chance of entering into a successful profession, with more career options available.

 

Let’s Bring Back Music Education To Our Schools

music educationIt’s a tale as old as time: budget cuts force schools across the country to reduce their “extra” programs, which almost always included music and arts programs.

While that seems like a sensible choice to many school supervisors, how many of them have actually asked the question about what our society would look like if we didn’t bring up well rounded kids with a firm grounding in music and arts?

The Importance of Music and Arts in Schools

What would happen to our national culture? Our identity? Those are two of the easiest areas to look, but you can even go a step further and argue that music education forms a mental stimulant that propels students to great achievements.

It’s no secret that many of our nations leaders have been excellent musicians, including former President Bill Clinton (who played saxophone) and former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (who was a classically trained pianist). Take it a step further, and you’ll realize that college and universities often look to outstanding music and arts backgrounds as something that distinguishes students and sets them a cut above their peers.

This trend is most prevalent in our leading, and most prestigious schools, where increasingly high percentages of students have studied an art or musical instrument.

So why, then are we cutting back on school music programs?

El Sistema Inspired Music Programs

Maybe we should take inspiration from Venezuela. Despite huge internal struggles and social unrest, one of the few things that Venezuela has done right was to create the El Sistema program, which helps youths avoid violence and grow into model citizens through music education.

This philosophy has inspired several programs in the US, including Play On Philly, which works to keep underprivileged Philadelphia teenagers off the streets and in the classroom…playing music.

Is Music Education A Cost Issue?

Obviously there’s a cost to running music programs, but the question really is: what’s the cost of not running them?

With all of the material available online, students have an extra avenue to take their studies further. One example is jazz-piano.org, which provides free online piano lessons and guides to students interested in studying jazz and blues.

Dozens of similar examples could be listed, for just about any instrument.

That means the knowledge is readily available, and waiting to be passed out. We just need teachers and schools who are willing to encourage students to go after it.

Learn To Code This Fall!

For today’s educational idea, I want to talk about the concept of computer programming, and why I think it’s important that students of all levels take part in learning at least the basics of this essential skill.

Why Code?

steve jobs why codeFirstly, let’s talk about why you would want to learn to program in the first place. Like it or not, programming is an absolutely essential skill that, as we become more and more involved with the complexities of technology, is going to become almost as important as reading.

Coding literacy is a huge issue. While I personally don’t think that everyone needs to become a computer programming (yes, there are some extremists who believe that the entire world is a divide between coders and non-coders), I do think it’s important to at least understand the fundamentals of how computer programs work.

This doesn’t mean you need to become an expert, just grasp the basics.

In my view, programming should be taught at the high school level, as a mandatory course, just as math is a mandatory requirement, even if you’re not going to become a mathematician. The same logic applies: it’s a fundamental skill to be used in our society, and even if you don’t want to specialize in it, understanding the fundamentals, and in many cases, simply knowing what questions to ask, can go a long way.

You can check out http://codingrookie.org for more information on how to get started programming, and a good list of coding resources if you want to learn to code.

There are a number of great beginning programming courses available online, for free or very inexpensive rates. One of my personal favorites is www.codecademy.com, which provides introductory courses (many call it “coding with training wheels”) that give a good introduction to anyone who doesn’t have a technical background.

You can walk through different types of exercises, completing small tasks one at a time that gradually build upon each other to teach you the fundamentals of the language. Organized into clear learning paths, you can select from a variety of different languages or projects to work on, and it’s a fun and interesting way to learn!

The Need for Boating Safety and Certification

We have a huge problem in the US that doesn’t get a lot of attention.

Our waterways are unsafe.

boating collisionThere are currently very few laws that govern how recreational boaters learn basic safety on the water. While on the surface it may seem like this would only endanger the individuals involved and risk damage to their own boats, for which they are responsible, the problem lies with how these boaters interact with others on the water, and we have a strong need for a good Boater Safety Organization that coordinates national efforts.

Many recreational boaters have never had any boating safety course, and do not understand even the basics of on the water safety, such as right of way laws, how to read channel markers, etc.

This leads boaters to get into trouble, blocking channels and, at the very least, causes confusion about other boaters are unsure of right of way laws on the water.

This problem is especially prevalent in many of our cities major ports, such as San Diego, San Francisco, and Miami, where hundreds and even thousands of individual boaters might be on the water on any given day.

This leads to a potential to injure not only themselves and other boaters, but also disrupt import commercial shipping lines.

For example, there was one incident in San Francisco when a boater was in the shipping channel (which runs directly through the harbor stretching East of the Golden Gate Bridge) and thought that, because they were a sailboat, they had right of way over all other craft.

While it’s true that they had right of way over other small motorcraft, they still needed to yield to commercial ships, and there was a near-death incident in which a collision was narrowly evaded.

This is not only common sense, it’s also a matter of common safety.

Please help us rally to improve Boater Safety Education across the country. To for other news and updates, visit BoaterSafety.org on Twitter.

Back To School Reading Lists for Teens

It’s already August, and while you and your kids are probably still in vacation mode (let’s face it, August vacations are the best of the year, right?) the start of the new school year is just around the corner.

For high schoolers, this means that now’s the time to start working on that dreaded back to school list, and start getting back into the thought-mode and getting prepared for the year to come, whether that’s shopping for school supplies on this tax free weekend, or starting to read that old summer reading list.

In honor of that (dare I say) “dreaded” time, we thought we’d give you a few suggestions to read that may or may not be on your teacher’s list.

If you’re a teen interested in literature, these are a few great suggestions for you to check out before the school season officially sets in.

The Catcher in the Rye

catcher ryeThe Catcher in the Rye, by author JD Salinger, is perhaps one of the most famous coming of age stories in all of American literature, and one that is read widely in schools across the world.

The book follows the adventures of Holden Caufield, a teenager who is in the process of being expelled from school, as he goes home to New York early for the Christmas holidays, and has several days of aimless adventures and encounters, staying in a hotel rather than going home to his family.

Told in a first person narrative, the book is easy to read and a great choice for an educational book to round off the summer!

Click here to get The Catcher in the Rye from Amazon, or get the mp3 of The Catcher in the Rye audiobook free from http://freeaudiobookguide.com.

The Lord of the Flies

lordofthefliesAnother great book that we think every teen should check out is William Golding’s The Lord of the Flies.

This is a super short novel that is read across the country, and is a great, fun read that doesn’t have to feel like a chore (unlike Charles Dickens or Jane Austen…yeah, we know).

The novel tells the story of a group of schoolchildren who are flown to a remote location to escape a war in Europe, only to have their plane crash and land on an uninhabited island. As the boys learn of their position, and the fact that there are no adults to take orders from, they’re forced to decide how to organize themselves, who to elect as leaders, and what, if any rules willprevail.

The book is a classic account of the state of nature mixed with a coming of age story, so enjoy as you watch native savagery battle civilization!

Click here to get the book from Amazon, or get The Lord of the Flies audiobook free.

Best Beach Reads of the Summer!

beach readAugust is here and we know what that means: relaxing at the beach or sitting poolside, lounging with a cool drink, a nice tan, and best of all…a good book!

Whether you’re on a trip out of state to hit the best beach around, or are enjoy a simple staycation or weekend out closer to home, it’s absolutely essential that you balance your “me” time with a good book.

We have a ton of recommendations for you, but instead of provide a list of things to add to your reading list this summer, we thought we’d talk a little bit about how to choose that great poolside classic!\

How To Grab a Book for the Beach

When you’re ready to pick up the book, keep these three things in mind in order to enjoy the most of your leisure reading time!

Keep it Light

The first point to consider is that you’re going to want to pick a book that’s light and fun to read. Even though we all know you’re dying to catch up on your great literary classics, the reality is that these are terrible books to read in the hot summer sun.

Remember that you’re probably going to be someplace with a lot of noise, and may even have a few kids tugging at your leg every few minutes, so pick a story that’s easy to follow, and doesn’t require a lot of concentration.

Keep it Short

The second thing to keep in mind is that sometimes the shorter books are best! While we have nothing against the epic novels, everything has its time and place.

Longer books often feel more “ambitious” and you can have a more difficult time convincing yourself to read, since you secretly dread having to work your way through the entire novel. Instead, go with something you know you can finish during your vacation, and you’ll be much better.

And of course, if you pick a short book and devour it in a single day, there’s no harm in picking up another one the next!

Keep it Interesting

Finally, it’s incredibly important to pick something that you’re actually interested in. That’s one of the reasons we didn’t simply give you a list of top summer books this year, because the “best” book is really a matter of personal preferences.

It doesn’t matter if something’s on the Oprah’s book club or written up in the NY Times book list, if you’re not interested in the topic, story, or author, it’s not right for you!

Finding something interesting is what’s going to help you read more, and that, at the end of the day, is the most important point of all.

Hope you found these tips helpful and happy beach reading this summer!

 

The Most Popular Children’s Books of 2015

Do you have little one’s that are just starting to read? Or are you trying to improve your children’s reading skills by exposing them to a broader array of books, authors, and genres?

Either way, we’ve pulled together this short list of the most popular children’s books of 2015, so that you can have some ammo when it comes time to pull your child away from the screen and into the page!

Here are some of our favorites so far. You can also find a few other compilation lists at the American Library Association’s website or this fun read from Buzzfeed!

Top Children’s Literature of the Year

This list is our opinion only, and does not represent and official views on the part of any of the publisher’s or authors listed below. It is provided in no particular order, and meant simply for your own entertainment value and the value of suggestions it provides to you with the aim of helping you to diversify and improve the reading skills of your child, regardless of current age or reading skill level.

So, without further delay, here’s our top picks for 2015!

    1. please mr pandaPlease Mr. Panda, by Steve Anthony is a wonderful story of a panda and the adventures that he goes on throughout the course of a few days. It’s designed to teach your children about manners and respect, in a colorful and fun setting.
    2. Oliver and Patch by Claire Freedman. This book is a great addition to any child’s library. It’s the story of Oliver and Patch, a young boy and his dog, who must adapt to new situations. Targeted for children who might have to adjust to a new enviroment, like a new school or house move, and may be feeling a little lonely in the process.

  1. nana cityNana in the City, by Lauren Castillo. This is another great title for anyone interested in giving their kids a great urban adventure. Take off on a journey through one of the country’s best cities, see the sights, and learn about how to interact with people along the way! A must read for kids in the 4-8 age range!

These are our top three picks for childrens’ books for 2015. Let us know if you agree or have any other suggestions to add to the list!