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7 Reasons Older Children Should Still Read Picture Books

“Those books are for babies.” That’s the reaction teacher’s often get when they introduce picture books in the classroom to older primary and high school students. There’s a widespread belief that once children start reading at a certain level, they should leave picture books behind forever.

Children absorb this belief from well-meaning parents who think that to succeed academically students need to graduate to chapter books as soon as possible. Unfortunately, this view is doing children a disservice as picture books have much to offer students of all ages.

Educators have long recognised that picture books are an excellent resource which is why they still use them right through primacy school and high school.

Here are 7 reasons older children should continue reading picture books:

1. Increased Engagement

While older students may scoff initially when picture books are introduced in the classroom, they quickly forget their misgivings once the stories and images start working their magic. These books are particularly good for disengaged students and they can help foster a love of reading in those who are struggling. Advanced students also have much to gain because the beauty of picture books is that they can be interpreted on multiple levels.

2. Improved Literacy

The language in picture books might be minimal but it is often evocative and colourful. Reading with images can boost literacy by helping students interpret new words in the context of the visual story. Students who shy away from chapter books, are more likely to read picture books and graphic novels on their own, leading to improved literacy.

3. Better Understand of Literary Concepts

Sophisticated literary concepts such as point of view, symbolism and intertextuality can be difficult for children to grasp. Picture books make teaching these concepts much easier because they use tangible images to make them concrete. Many picture books explicitly play with narrative conventions to teach children how stories work.

4. Enhanced Visual Literacy

In today’s highly visual culture, students need to understand how meaning is created through images. Picture books allow them to study techniques such as the use of colour, the placement of objects in the foreground and background and the impact of different angles.

5. Critical Thinking Skills

When children are aware of how images create meaning and affect emotions, they can think more critically about advertisements and other visual mediums designed to influence them.

6. Increased Emotional Intelligence

Far from catering only to small children, picture books tackle weighty subjects such as bullying, divorce and bereavement. They stimulate discussion and encourage children to think about other people’s perspectives.

7. Shared Enjoyment

Picture books are perfect for enjoying together, which is why they work well in the classroom. At home even older kids can benefit from reading with parents or siblings. Reading picture books together provides an opportunity to discuss the images and themes, which is very beneficial.

Picture books are fun and educational for all students.

How Mindfulness in the Classroom is Helping Kids Achieve

Mindfulness has become very popular over recent years. Even corporations like Google and Nike are encouraging staff to embrace this ancient practice to increase productivity and reduce stress.

Teachers around the world have also found that practicing mindfulness in the classroom has significant benefits for learning. Many schools now include mindfulness exercises throughout the day to help children concentrate and reduce behaviour problems and anxiety.

How Mindfulness Works

An OECD report on student wellbeing found that 47 per cent of Australian students feel stressed when studying, compared to 37 per cent internationally. The major source of pressure, according to these students, comes from within.

Clearly there is a need for stress management in schools, and while parents generally welcome anything that will enhance children’s wellbeing, many don’t understand how mindfulness works.

To put it simply, this practice involves teaching children to become aware of themselves by noticing their breathing and observing their body and emotions.

These simple techniques work by grounding students in the present, which has a deeply relaxing effect. This grounding is especially important today when lives are so busy, and much time is spent online disconnected from the body.

Learning to Focus

“It’s about developing attentional control,” says Wynn Kinder, an instructor for the Wellness Works in Schools program. “If you can quiet yourself and get yourself to a place where your mind is settled, that is a great tool to have.”

By bringing their focus to the present moment, students are able clear their minds of worries, fears and thoughts of the future to concentrate on learning. When their minds are in this relaxed state, they are much more open to absorbing and retaining knowledge.

Discovering they have the power to calm themselves is very empowering for young people. Being aware of their inner states and having the ability to self-regulate allows students to develop higher order skills such as patience, empathy and resilience. They also have the tools to resist peer pressure and avoid risky behaviours.

Rachel Fisher, who teaches mindfulness to children and teens through her KindKids Project says, “Mindfulness shows that real choices come from self-awareness. It helps them notice their feelings before making a decision.”

Mindfulness is having a real impact in the classroom, with students showing significant improvement in focus, self-regulation and executive function. Mindfulness techniques are particularly helpful for ADHD students and those on the autism spectrum, but everyone stands to benefit from this simple practice.

Tips for Mindfulness at Home

How to Help Introverted Students Relax and Enjoy School

Introversion is often mistaken for shyness and many well-meaning parents and teachers believe the best way to overcome this is to encourage introverted students to speak up and participate more actively in class.

Fortunately, there’s a growing awareness that introverts are not shy but think and react differently based on biological variances in the brain.

Researchers have found that introverts require less sensory stimulation to release dopamine, explaining why they are more easily overwhelmed. Grey matter is also thicker in the prefrontal cortex of introverts, which is the part of the brain involved in deep thinking and planning.

The school years are often difficult for introverted students because they are overwhelmed by all the noise and activity. Being required to participate in group work and speak ‘off the cuff’ in front of others is very daunting for this personality type as they like to ponder ideas and plan what they’re going to say.

Due to their reflective nature introverts have many strengths, including good listening, observation and planning skills. While educators are beginning to recognise these positive attributes and adapt their teaching methods, the education system is still largely geared towards extroverts.

To help your introverted student relax and enjoy school:

Determine if they are a true introvert

It’s a good indication your child is an introvert if they like to spend a lot of time in solitary pursuits and retreat to their bedroom after socialising. Unlike their extroverted counterparts, introverts are depleted by social contact and need time to replenish.

Respect your child’s differences

It’s important for introverts to know there’s nothing wrong with them. If your child is listening and engaged in class, but is reluctant to speak up, don’t try to force them ‘out of their shell’ as this will have the opposite effect. If they feel uncomfortable working in groups encourage them to step out of their comfort zone, but without judgement.

Talk to them

Introverts often have a great deal to say and the best way to instill confidence is to get them used to sharing their thoughts. Ask them about their opinions on different subjects and discuss what they’re learning in school. The more accustomed they become to sharing their views, the more comfortable they’ll feel in the classroom.

Accept they don’t need a lot of friends

Many parents become worried that their child doesn’t have many friends at school. Introverts are self-reliant and prefer to develop close relationships with a few people rather than a wide social circle. Making them feel inadequate about this will only cause anxiety.

Limit after school activities

Going straight from school to other activities can be exhausting for introverts. The easiest way to gauge what is best for your child is to ask them. Introverts generally have good self-knowledge, so listen when they tell you what they need.

Educate the teacher

There are many things teachers can do to make school a more inviting place for introverts. If your child is not feeling supported at school, speak to their teacher about their needs. You might want to recommend Susan Cain’s book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking. There are some great free resources for parents and teachers on Cain’s website.

Expert Advice on Preparing Your Child for NAPLAN

It’s almost time for the annual National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN), and parents across the country are wondering what they can do in the next few weeks to prepare children for the test.

NAPLAN measures the reading, writing, spelling, grammar and numeracy skills of students in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9. It is designed to test higher-order problem solving and interpretation skills. The purpose is to determine if educational programs are giving students the critical foundation they need to succeed.

NAPLAN tests skills that have been developed over time through learning programs and ‘cramming’ for the test is pointless. Experts claim that too much preparation can be detrimental, but there are several things you can do help your child perform well on the day.

Relax

While students receive individual results for NAPLAN, the test does not replace school-based assessments and only provides an overall snapshot of each child’s progress. Its purpose is to help educators design a curriculum that meets students’ needs and to identify areas for improvement in the school system. Students should be encouraged to see the test as a normal part of the school calendar rather than a major event requiring extensive preparation.

Practice

Your child should be familiar with the format of NAPLAN before they take the test. Most teachers will introduce practice questions throughout the school year so students know what to expect, but they can also practice at home using the sample tests. Online testing is currently being rolled out in schools on an opt-in basis. You can find out more about this through the NAPLAN website. Being familiar with the test format and style of questions helps reduce anxiety.

Measure

If your student is completing practice tests at home, it’s a great idea to measure how older children are making use of time. When they know how long to devote to each section, students are less likely to panic, become overwhelmed or get stuck on a hard question.

Brainstorm

Students may be asked to write a narrative, informative or persuasive text based on stimulus material. This is the most challenging part of the test for many students as they lack confidence in their writing ability. Make sure your child understands the difference between texts types by using examples from everyday life. You can brainstorm ideas and practice planning what they’re going to write so they don’t run out of steam halfway.

Sleep

Getting a decent night’s sleep is essential in the lead up to NAPLAN. Poor sleep affects memory, decision making and cognitive ability. You can ensure you child sleeps well by doing something unrelated to the test the night before exams and by using relaxation techniques. This is a perfect opportunity to help students learn how to manage exam stress.

These tips will help your student perform at their best in NAPLAN.

6 Holiday Activities to Boost Literacy and Numeracy Skills

The school holidays are a time for kids to relax and recharge in preparation for another term. Students need a break from the daily routine, but this doesn’t mean learning has to stop altogether in the holidays.

There are many simple things kids can do at home which will keep their brains active.

These activities will keep children entertained and inspired:

1. Take a Camping Trip

The purpose of this activity is to get kids involved in planning the trip. Even a camp out in the backyard with some friends is fine for younger kids. Ask your student to work out how many tents and sleeping bags are required, and what supplies to pack. Give them a budget to plan meals and tell them to write a list of ingredients. Older kids can shop and manage the money. If camping is not your child’s style, they can plan a picnic or small party.

2. Design a Picture Book

Reading is very important during school breaks, but children need to keep writing too. Designing a picture book is an ideal way for kids to express themselves creatively and develop their literacy skills. To get them started, look through some of their picture books together and ask them about the story and images. They can draw or paint pictures for their own book or find them online. When it’s finished, they may enjoy reading it to a younger child.

3. Start a Garden

Many kids will jump at the chance to get their hands dirty. Encourage them to start their own garden in the backyard or buy a planter box for a balcony or windowsill. They will need to research appropriate plants, read labels and estimate how much room to give each plant. They’ll also have to work out how much fertilizer and watering are required. Encourage your child to document the garden as it grows by taking photos and even creating a blog.

4. Watch Sports

Watching sports and following a favourite team is something many young people enjoy. You can turn this into a learning activity without taking the fun out of it by talking about game statistics. Encourage kids to research their team’s performance and discuss things like batting and bowling averages, strike rates, possessions and the ratio of goals scored compared to attempts made.

5. Do Crossword Puzzles

Crossword puzzles are an easy and fun way to enhance literacy skills. You can do them with your child or challenge each other to complete a puzzle a day. The trick is to find puzzles that are appropriate but still challenging. There are many great puzzle books available to buy or you can find quality free puzzles online.

6. Try Some Online Activities

Gaming is a popular pastime for young people, and there are many excellent educational resources available online to boost numeracy skills. Examples include Prodigy and Dragonbox. You can also find an endless supply of free maths quizzes and activities by doing a Google search.

These cost-effective activities are fun and educational!

Tips for Taking the Stress Out of Homework for Kids

Homework is a source of stress in many households. Kids often try to avoid it and parents become frustrated when they are constantly nagging children to get it done. Homework can also cause stress when the workload is excessive or during busy periods when kids feel overwhelmed by assignments, deadlines and exams.

When students are stressed, they don’t retain information as well and learning suffers. This can have a snowball effect so it’s best to tackle it early on.

These tips will help reduce homework stress:

Create a schedule

Many parents make the mistake of relying on kids to do homework when they feel like it. Creating a schedule can take much of the stress out of homework because children don’t have the option to put it off. Experiment with what time of day best suits your child. Some kids prefer to get homework out of the way when they get home from school while others like to have a break first. Once you’ve established a time it’s important to stick to it. Completing their homework at a set time helps kids develop good time management skills.

Remove distractions

It’s unfair to expect children to concentrate on homework when the TV is blaring, their siblings are fighting or there are loud conversations taking place in the next room. Students need a quiet, peaceful area to study. This may be in a common area in the house or in their bedroom. You should be able to check on them occasionally to make sure they’re on task and an adult should be available if they need help.

Be organised

Keeping a planner in a prominent place with all assignments, exams and other school activities marked clearly on it helps students to stay on top of their work. It also allows you to check in with them to make sure they’re not leaving things until the last minute. Younger children may forget about homework assignments so it’s a good idea to look in their bags regularly for any forgotten tasks. When kids are organised they feel in control and this can alleviate much stress.

Keep it positive

Students often see homework as a type of punishment, so it’s important to help them understand how it benefits them. Explain that homework not only teaches them academic skills, but also enables them develop discipline and organisational skills. When they express anger and frustration about homework, don’t try to deny their feelings. Instead use this as an opportunity to talk about managing emotions.

Talk to the teacher

If your child is struggling with tasks or you feel that homework is excessive it’s important to contact the teacher. They may be able to give clearer instructions or revise the amount of homework given. Talking with the teacher will help you determine if your child’s problems with homework are a symptom of deeper learning issues requiring further intervention.

These tips will help reduce homework stress in your home.

Top 5 Benefits of In-Home Tutoring for Students

Private or in-home tutoring can make all the difference to your child’s academic results. With this option, the tutor comes to your home at a set time each week to provide instruction in one or more subjects.

Other forms of tutoring include group sessions where children attend a centre with other students, and online sessions which take place remotely.While all additional support is beneficial, in-home tutoring has several advantages that may make this the best option for your family.

Personalised attention

One of the prime reasons parents choose after-school tutoring is for the additional one-to-one attention students receive. This is obviously enhanced with in-home tutoring because educators work individually with students to get to know each child’s learning style. They can customise their approach in a way which is not possible in a group setting.

Increased focus and relaxation

Students are more likely to be focused and relaxed in their own home away from the distractions of a classroom. Some children find it difficult to concentrate in small groups, which is why group tutoring does not work for everyone. When tutoring takes place at home you can ensure the environment is quiet and peaceful, which is very helpful for auditory learners. Children who experience anxiety also stand to benefit from in-home tutoring.

Better communication skills

With so much communication taking place through devices today, opportunities for young people to develop good communication skills in person are limited. In-home tutoring is ideal for teaching children to converse effectively with adults, ask questions and express opinions. This direct contact helps build confidence in a way which is not possible through online tutoring, and it is of particular benefit to shy students and those who are reluctant to speak up in class.

Direct observation

It can be hard to gauge how your child’s tutoring sessions are progressing when they take place outside the home. With an in-home session, you can directly observe how your child and the tutor are interacting and the quality of support your student is receiving. As a result, you can raise any concerns with the tutor early on and ensure your child is engaged and motivated.

Convenience

Having a tutor attend your home at a time which is suitable to you is much more convenient than arranging your time around an external schedule, especially if you have more than one child. When the tutor comes to you, there is more flexibility if you need to change a session time and it’s easier to ask questions and discuss your child’s progress in person. This allows you to build a good relationship with the tutor which will benefit your child.

In-home tutoring is a popular choice for these reasons and may be the best solution for your student.

The Importance of Communication for Parents and Teens

As your children grow and change, the way you communicate with them will also evolve. Many parents find it difficult to understand when their teenagers become moody and begin challenging their authority.

Although you may feel hurt and rejected it’s vital to keep the lines of communication open for the sake of your relationship and your teens wellbeing.

If you’re struggling to connect or worry that your teenager doesn’t talk to you anymore, these tips will help:

  1. Take notice of how you speak to each other. If your conversations involve mostly arguments and accusations, you’ll need to show more empathy. This isn’t easy with a surly teen, but the effort will be worth it.

  2.  Give them your time. To stay connected you need to spend regular quality time together. Make the effort to give them your undivided attention and really listen to what they say.

  3. Establish rules together. Young people will be more inclined to follow the rules if they have a say in making them. This shows that you value their input and it gives you an opportunity to explain why the rules are important. Don’t be afraid to compromise on small things. You’re teaching them how adult relationships work, and this involves give and take on both sides.

  4. Respect their space. Teens need privacy and space to become independent adults. Don’t pepper them with questions if they don’t want to talk. It’s their right to keep some things to themselves.

  5. Choose your battles. Does it really matter if your teenager’s room is messy or they left their shoes in the hall again? When you choose your battles wisely you conserve energy for more serious matters.

  6. Talk about the important stuff. Many parents find it hard to talk about sex and drugs, but how can you expect your kids to come to you with questions or problems if you’re too afraid to broach these subjects?

  7. Be supportive and positive. One of the most damaging things a parent can do is belittle a child’s interests, dreams, beliefs or fears. Your teen needs to trust that you’re on their side unconditionally before they’ll share things with you.

  8. Get to know their friends. Your teen may tell you things about their friends they won’t tell you about themselves. This is a good way to discuss important issues. Knowing their friends also allows you to keep up to date with what’s going on in their lives.

  9. Keep hugging them. Teenagers are a mess of contradictions. On one hand they crave privacy and independence, and on the other they’ve never felt so alone and abandoned. A hug now and then will remind them they’re loved and supported.

  10. Have trust. At some point you need to let go and trust your teen will make the right decisions. Showing trust keeps the channels of communication open.

How to Ensure Your Student’s Special Needs are Being Met

Educational options for special needs students in Australia range from separate schools through to inclusive classes where students spend all their time in mainstream groups.

Inclusive classrooms are considered best practice for the range of benefits they provide for all students, but the drawbacks include larger classes and less individual attention.

Many mainstream teachers feel they lack the training and resources to deal with special needs students. As a result, these students may not receive the individual support and attention they require.

These questions can help you judge whether your child’s needs are being met:

Are teachers in regular contact?

It’s important for parents and teachers to share information about behaviour issues, individual requirements and progress for special needs students. It’s a good sign when your child’s teachers provide regular feedback about how your child is proceeding and are open to your feedback and suggestions.

One way to determine how seriously your student’s needs are treated is through their IEP (Individual Education Plan). Were you consulted during its development? Did real thought and effort go into the IEP, or is it treated as a ‘tick and flick’ exercise? Are learning activities differentiated to meet your child’s needs, based on the IEP?

Is the school supportive?

The overall school culture plays a big role in your child’s education. You can gauge the level of commitment to meeting special needs through the additional supports provided. Are there enough teacher’s aides in the classrooms? Does the school provide regular access to services such as speech pathology and psychologists? Are you informed about your student’s entitlements and funding arrangements?

Does the school have high expectations for special needs students and encourage them to participate in all activities? Do they allow flexibility, such as providing a time-out area, for those who need a break from mainstream classes? Is bullying treated seriously and immediately dealt with?

Is your child happy?

Your child’s happiness at school reveals a lot about the quality of education they are receiving. If they attend school without complaining and are generally motivated and content, it’s a good indication they are coping with the work and feel comfortable at school.

When your child’s needs are being met you should notice positive changes in terms of their confidence, independence, organisational and social skills. If your student has regressed and become withdrawn, anxious or angry, they may be struggling in class and feel unsupported at school.

If you’re dissatisfied with the education your special needs student is receiving, it may not be necessary to change schools.

Try these steps first:

Warning Signs Your Child is Struggling in Class

Children and teens are not always able to talk with parents about problems they’re having with schoolwork. They may feel embarrassed or ashamed, or just not know how to bring up the subject. They may not even be aware they are struggling, which is why parents need to be alert to the early warning signs.

These signs could indicate that your child is having problems in class:

Homework issues

You’re in a prime position to observe how your child manages homework. Do they need a lot of help from you? Do they have trouble understanding what’s required of them? Do they have difficulty concentrating and finishing their work? Are they spending excessive time on tasks? Are they disorganised and unable to keep track of what they need to do? These are reliable indicators that your child is having problems and could benefit from additional help.

Withdrawal

If your previously open and talkative child suddenly doesn’t want to tell you about their day at school, it may be because of issues with classwork. If they’re happy to talk about their friends and what happened in the playground, but clam up when you ask them about what they did in class, it would be wise to talk to the teacher.

Avoiding school

Young people who are having problems with schoolwork often try to avoid school altogether because it makes them feel bad. They may claim to be sick or become uncooperative in the morning in an attempt to avoid class.

Anxiety

Anxiety can manifest as trouble sleeping, irritability or excessive worry. Young people who are having difficulties at school feel overwhelmed and powerless. They often fear disappointing parents or bringing shame to the family. These students would benefit greatly from extra support with school work. They may also need professional help to manage anxiety.

Lack of motivation

It’s no secret that many children don’t love school and often need prompting to do homework. Once they get started on tasks, kid will generally take some pride in their work and be interested in their grades. Students who show no interest in school and have little motivation to complete tasks could be struggling to understand the work.

Acting out in class

If your child’s teacher contacts you because of sudden behaviour problems in class, it may be because they are having difficulties keeping up. Young people lack the cognitive skills to explain how they feel and acting out may be the only way they know to get attention.

These signs could indicate that your child is having trouble with classwork, but they are also indicators of many other problems. If your student is exhibiting any of these behaviours it’s important to find the source of the problem by talking to their teacher and seeking professional advice.

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