As a teacher I can confirm that we do have ‘eyes on the back of our heads’ (we see everything our students are up to!) but unfortunately, we haven’t quite learned the talent of mind-reading. We don’t know everything going in our students’ lives, but these events directly contribute to their (lack of) performance inside the classroom. Mental health and wellness have become crucial components of many yearly action plans in schools across Canada. With the concerning number of students reporting stress, anxiety or other mental wellness issues, some school boards are taking action through the implementation of mindfulness programs.
Mindfulness is the practice of paying attention and being present in the moment. Mindfulness activities range from breathing exercises to listening to music. One school in Vancouver even offers tai chi to elementary students! In a nutshell, mindfulness is essentially giving students and teachers the opportunity to take a break and have some quiet time to reflect.
In 2013, the Toronto District School Board (TDSB) introduced meditation lessons to Grade 9 students at Dr Norman Bethune CI. Known as The Mindfulness Project, this workshop was led by classroom teachers and carried out in six workshops over two months. The students at Bethune practiced breathing, body scans and other strategies to assist them cope with daily pressures. The students’ response to the program at Bethune was extremely positive. The project’s organizers received a TDSB Award of Excellence 2014 and the workshop has since been extended to all Grade 9s in the school district.
In January 2015, a mindfulness program co-developed by actress Goldie Hawn was tested as a control study with 99 Grade 4 and 5 students in Coquitlam, BC. Known as MindUp, the students were taught social, emotional and mindfulness skills with activities that included mindful tasting, listening to music and “brain breaks.” The results from the study were also extremely positive. The children exhibited less stress, more optimism and even showed improvements in their math abilities. The MindUp program now partners with schools in Abbotsford, Coquitlam, Vancouver, West Vancouver and York using 15 lessons to help teach students how to be mindfully engaged.
Another mindfulness project at a school in San Francisco has seen some exceptional changes in their students. Visitacion Valley Middle School implemented meditation in 2007, with twelve minute ‘quiet times’ to start and end each day. Since then, the school’s truancy and suspension rates have decreased by more than half while the state of California’s rates have continued to climb.
With my own students, I’ve found that by allowing my students some time to get themselves into a positive and calm headspace ready to learn, they’re more engaged and happier.
Here are a few mindfulness activities, some that we use with our students, that you can use at home to introduce mindfulness to your child:
Whichever mindfulness activities you choose to introduce your child, just remember these tips:
Most importantly, feel free to get creative and have fun exploring quiet time together!
Please note: Teachers to Go is now offering sessions in the comfort of your own home (in-person or online) with a teacher certified in mindfulness for children. They will design tailored lessons for your child to practice mindfulness and promote self-confidence. For more information please contact us.
People who display resilience, or ‘grit’, can overcome challenges and failures. They aren’t devastated by setbacks and are able to get back up and try again. Having grit means to have confidence. It is an incredibly important life skill for children to have when facing difficulties at school or throughout their lives. Gritty children are also more likely to perform better, and be happier, at school. So how do you build a gritty child? Here are some tips:
1. Read about grit. From Dr. Seuss’ Oh the Places You’ll Go to The Little Engine that Could, there are so many options to teach your child about perseverance. Check out this website for more examples: https://www.noodle.com/articles/10-picture-books-that-teach-grit When you’re reading with them, ask your child to make connections to their life, the world, and other books they’ve read. This will enable them to see the possibility of making those fictional stories a reality.
2. Discuss examples of gritty famous people or others they know who have overcame setbacks. Oprah Winfrey, J.K. Rowling, Jim Carrey are just a few examples. Talk about the barriers they encountered and what they did to overcome it. You might notice a common theme that positive mindset and self talk goes a long way!
3. Develop your child’s interests. Find things that fascinate and excite them and foster it. Talk to them about your passions and discuss your goals together. Passionate people also tend to be resilient.
4. Practice. The best way to learn is to not succeed the first time. Failure can be a good thing for children. The whole process from experiencing the setback, accepting it, reflecting on what went wrong and revising your plan to try again is all part of building grit. Let your child make their own choices, even if you know it’s not right, and then help them work through their mistake and motivate them to try again. Encourage your child to communicate when they’re feeling discouraged and strategies to break through the barriers. Permitting your child to experience failure is challenging as parents since our instinct is to protect them from disappointment in any form. But teaching your child how to manage these situations effectively is crucial to building resiliency.
5. Praise their effort over ability. If you praise their determination over the abilities they were born with, this will encourage them to put in the hard work and grit rather than the belief they can coast by on their innate abilities.
6. Lead by example. Teach your child about the importance and rewards that come with hard work. Share any examples you may have had in your own life from failing and persevering. Modeling this resiliency in your own life will build their confidence to feel like they can take on anything.
Schools have been making the shift from teacher- to self-directed learning with independent projects, online tutorials, etc. Self-motivated learning is an important skill for your child to learn to prepare for the real world. Here are some tips to help your child become an independent and engaged learner:
1. Create simple step-by-step objectives together. When they have homework or a project, it can be overwhelming, and your child may have no idea where or how to begin. Sit down with them and show how to break it into smaller more manageable tasks by using a to do list. Your child could choose to do it as a piecemeal approach (finish this page of Math or this part of the assignment) or with a timed objective (half-hour of work then 5-minute break). This alleviates any anxiety and creates an ‘end in sight’ to keep your child motivated.
2. Discuss the time of day that they feel the most alert and focused. For many teens, that may be later in the evening while elementary students may be right after school or on weekend mornings. Then create a weekly schedule during these optimal times for learning.
3. Have your child identify distractions they may encounter (social media, their phone, tv, video games, their sibling(s)?) and explain how they can avoid them to stay focused.
4. Learn how you learn. Talk to your child about what kind of tools help them learn best. Does a YouTube video explain the concepts? How about making a study sheet and using colourful sticky notes or pens? Flashcards? Turning the content into a game to study for tests? It’s important that your child understands the way(s) they learn in order to make the most of their time and best retain the information.
5. Set rewards. We all work harder when we have a goal or reward to work towards. Students can set their own personal reward after they complete a certain number of tasks on their To Do lists. This may be a treat to eat or gaming – whatever the learner finds rewarding. It’s important that they choose this reward on their own to ensure they stay motivated.
Teaching your child how to tackle tasks on their own gives them more chance for success now and in the future.
Procrastinating causes stress and anxiety the night before a test. Cramming the information into one night is not an effective way for your teen to attain knowledge and perform well. Here are some strategies to help them curb procrastination:
1. Plan out your week using a calendar: Before your week begins, look at your availability, as well as your long-term assignments, and map out the small steps that can be accomplished to ease up the workload. For example, maybe you have an essay due in a month and you haven’t started. You could make it a goal to brainstorm ideas this week on a mind map then start your rough draft the next. Coming back to your assignment a few times with fresh eyes helps you see things you may miss when you do it all the night before it’s due.
2. Set aside ‘Homework Time’ each evening: Don’t set aside four hours every night because it’s too long and you’re likely to feel overwhelmed and skip it altogether. Instead, plan for an hour or two (depending on your courses and grade level) each night so you can review and plan rather than play ‘catch-up.’ Also, focus on one subject or task at a time. Swapping between assignments can make you feel stressed and it will take longer to finish.
3. Disconnect and address all distractions: Turn off your cell phone, social media accounts, and TV. Tell your friends and family when you’re going to be working so they don’t disrupt your concentration.
4. Create a realistic and manageable To Do list: Look at each individual task, break them down into small tasks and check them off as you go. Seeing your progress will prompt you to keep going!
5. Start with the most difficult task first: You will know that the hardest part is over and it will motivate you for the rest.
6. Reward yourself! Having something to look forward to at the end of a productive work session is a great motivator.
1) Get to know your child’s teacher(s)
Get to know your child’s teacher on an individual basis. Take the time to develop strong and respectful relationships with each of them. This will pay off down the road whether in resolving potential issues and/or establishing the trust necessary for a collaborative approach to your child’s success.
2) Clean slate
Do not judge your child for their indiscretions last term and give them the chance for a fresh start. Also, if you have more than one child in school, don’t show favouritism. Each child should feel they have an equal chance to learn, grow and shine at home.
3) Set learning goals with your child
Ask your child what they’d like to achieve this semester/school year and create some learning goals together. Make sure to consider all areas of their lives including their academic, social, physical and emotional. It could be anything from: ‘I want to get an A in Math’ to ‘I want to score 3 goals in one hockey game’ or ‘I want to have my first sleepover.’ It’s important to balance all areas of their life so they feel motivated inside and outside of class.
4) Provide structure
It’s important to provide your child with structure every evening. Let your child plan the evening – between when they will complete their chores, when they’ll have free time etc. Create this calendar together at the beginning of the school year and hang it up in the common area. Getting your child involved in planning the weeknight schedules helps them feel empowered. Not to mention, it’s easier to get them to work by reminding them that they created the schedule.
Remember to encourage your child to live a healthy, balanced life full of exercise, nutrition, sleep and friends. A great mental break from technology can really do wonders. Instead try a family board game night or partake in a mindfulness activity (yoga or meditation). Regardless of what you choose to do, remember that it’s important you lead by example and take care of yourself too!
Wishing you a fantastic start to the school year!
The warmer weather is on the horizon (finally!), and mid-term reports have been handed out, which mean that there are only a few more months of school. It’s important your child makes the most of the time they have left before June. Here are some tips to help:
1. Wake Up at the Same Time Each Day – This may a tough one for your teen but waking up at the same time each day can actually improve their quality of sleep and give them more energy through the day. That extra, however little, time in the morning can also be a great time to encourage them to try mindfulness, review the schedule for the day or have a complete breakfast.
2. Take Good Notes – This is a skills that is so incredibly helpful when reviewing and studying for tests. As a teacher for grades 6-8, I have found the Cornell Note-taking System very effective for students. Using columns, it makes it easier for students to record and absorb the information quickly. But, like all educational tools and strategies, one way is not fit for all. So, it’s important to try different note-taking strategies and find the one that works for your child. Have you found a note-taking strategy/tool that works for your child? If so, please share with us in the comments.
3. Do Not Procrastinate – Putting off studying for the test until the night before is never a good idea. Not only does it make for a stressful night the day before the test but it also hinders their ability to retain the material and have a restful night’s sleep. Instead try to encourage your child to review their notes after each class from the beginning of a unit. A quick review of the notes and daily homework completion will ensure they deepen their understanding of the material and feel more confident and prepared for each class.
4. Keep a Balance – School is important but it is only one piece of the puzzle in your child’s life. The best way to achieve success, in school and life, is to have balance. Make sure they don’t overexert themselves with hours upon hours of studying every night. They should also make time to enjoy with family, friends and other activities.
5. Know When to Ask for Help – Encourage your child that if they are struggling it’s okay to ask for help. They can confide in their teacher after class, ask you, or request tutoring. Tutors can help your child identify their learning needs and work with them every step of the way so they feel confident in their abilities as a learner. The first step to success is the belief in themselves that they can do it.
Julie Diamond, OCT
While learning how to manage money may not be a high priority for most teens, teaching this skill should be an essential part of parenting. It’s still not something that is taught in school yet but it will be soon. The province of Ontario is currently testing their pilot projects across 28 high schools which are aimed at changing the grade 10 Careers course to include financial literacy in the fall of 2018. Fortunately, there are also many ways you can teach your child at home. Here are some ideas:
Regardless how you approach this topic, it’s important to start the conversation and get your child comfortable talking about money.
President, Teachers to Go
Exams can be an overwhelming time for students especially if they’ve been struggling throughout the semester. You may not know where to start or how to prepare yourself for the BIG test so here are some tips to help you break things down one step at a time.
However you may prepare yourself for upcoming exams, just try to stay positive and do your best.
As seen on CanadianFamily.ca - http://www.canadianfamily.ca/kids/child/successful-school-year/
The end of summer—and the first few weeks of September—is a stressful time for parents and children. How do you prepare your child for this transition back to school?
Better yet, how do you prepare yourself? Rest assured you’re not alone.
Rebecca Eckler, a working mom of a teen and another child just entering Kindergarten, seems to have a good handle on preparing her children for a new school year. She tells her kids that it takes three weeks to get used to anything new. “I warn my children about that in advance, so they know that if the first couple of days, or couple of weeks, suck, that it takes time.”
However, if your child has anxiety or aversion to school, he/she may need more support with the transition. Toronto District School Board teacher, K.K.Y. Ebanks, who has 19 years of experience, noted that “students with anxiety do not like surprises so try to take the surprise out of what you can and, with what you can’t, try to provide them with coping strategies that will help them deal.” Ebanks suggests contacting your child’s school a week or two before it opens to ask about scheduling a visit so you can take pictures of where their classrooms are along with the washrooms, library, office, gym, etc.
Shane Brett, a parent in Toronto, has tried a number of ways to make sure the first day of school goes smoothly for his children. “At home, we would go through the daily schedule together in a light role play version, talking about where they’ll need to go and how to be prepared for each stage,” Brett says. “For my daughter, that included a trial walk to school in the weeks prior so she felt comfortable with the route and the amount of time she needed to get there.”
As teachers, we get to scope out the school and walk the routes before the first day to ease ourselves into the school year, so I think these are great ideas to help students too.
As for the academics, if your child is in middle or high school and has an Individual Education Plan (IEP), Ebanks suggests that he/she “should be made aware and be well-versed on the contents of their IEP so they are able to be their own advocate at school and remind the teachers what they need in order to be successful.” With class sizes of 30 plus students, and with as many as a quarter or more of them on IEPs, involving your child in their learning will help you, the teacher and your child create a positive learning experience. Being in control over their learning also gives your child more confidence.
However, this method may not work for all students with IEPs as some may be too shy to communicate his/her needs directly to the teacher. So, for parents and/or students who find juggling academics challenging, Eckler feels “getting a tutor for my daughter was one of the best parenting decisions I made.”
Whether it’s to keep your child organized, like Eckler’s daughter, or act as an advocate to ensure your child gets the accommodations he/she needs to be successful in class, a tutor may be the answer for your child to be happier at school and, as a result, both of you at home.
One of the most important steps to a successful school year, Tracy Amacher, the mother of two busy boys who is an educational assistant in Victoria, BC, suggests “having open communication with the school and your child’s educators will benefit everyone.”
It’s also very important that the conversations at home about school should always be positive. Ebanks suggests changing the typical yes/no questions like ‘How was your day at school?’ to more specific questions such as: What made you laugh today? How did you make a difference today? What will you do differently tomorrow that you learned from today? She believes that such specific questions will help your child think more deeply when answering which will also help them with their written and oral skills.
Another teacher in Toronto, Richard Oki, agrees that parents should be positive and confident about school with their children. He also reminds parents that “it’s important to emphasize to their kids that they try their best and not dwell on grades.” While some parents struggle with this different approach to education, many school systems have shifted from highlighting grades to teaching students important life skills such as self- motivation, collaboration, communication, and time management skills.
As for day-to- day management of school life, your child may need your help learning how to maintain a balance between work and play. Learning to appropriately apportion their time is essential. Brett gets his kids involved in creating the plan that achieves that.
“I’ll sit with my kids to review their homework, and ask them to propose the schedule for the night. I’ll help them consider chores, dinner time and other factors.” He thinks this gives them ownership of the schedule so when he tells them it’s homework time, he’s simply reminding them of the plan they created. “It’s harder to get frustrated at an idea you came up with!” Brett notes.
Remember that balance is important for you, too. Your job as a parent is the hardest job you’ll ever have. Your child relies and looks to you for everything, so it’s important that you take care of yourself. How do you prepare for the day? Jenna Srigley’s secret as a working mom of two in Niagara is that she “always wakes up about an hour before my kids to have a shower and get myself ready before waking them up.” She also prefers to prepare the lunches for school and have her kids pick out their clothes the night before.
“If I’m organized and have everything, including myself, ready by the time my kids get up it makes for an easier morning for all of us.” However you decide to prepare your child, and yourself, best of luck for the school year ahead.
Teachers to Go is a tutoring service that matches students with provincially certified teachers. Teachers to Go is now servicing the Greater Toronto Area, Ottawa, Calgary, Vancouver and Victoria. Check out their website www.TeachersToGo.ca or call for more information 1 800 428 8164.
Your child has been working hard all school year and, whether they’ve been making strides in their learning or struggling, it’s important to use the summer months wisely to alleviate the frustration and stress in September. Studies have shown that if children take a break from learning completely over the summer, they could lose months of learning, especially if they were unmotivated during the school year. That’s why it’s a good idea to consider getting a tutor, for as little as once a week, which can provide educational support to keep your child’s mind sharp.