Sunday, September 25, 2011

Success Story #2 - School Smart

Growing up, my best friend for most of my school years was the smartest student in our class. She always got the best grades on tests and projects.... in grade school, middle school (we called it junior high), and high school . She was always one of the top one or two students in our class, then went to Harvard on a full academic scholarship. She went on to pursue graduate degrees from several top tier universities and finally becoming a senior partner in one of the most prestigious law firms in New York City. She married a very successful international banker and has two happy successful children. Few parents could ask for more

Why am I telling you this? Because, she and I were two of the youngest children in our class. Her birthday was the same as mine, October 26. In those years, the end date for entering kindergarten in our district was October 31. That is, you had to turn five years old by October 31. She and I entered kindergarten while we were still four years of age.

Of course there were a few disadvantages, especially in high school, when we were the last in our class to reach driving age.  But now I often speak to parents who are holding their children back, especially boys, almost two more years beyond my friend and me, to start kindergarten at six years of age. I have always felt that this was not a good practice because I have worked with many children who were underachieving more because they were bored in school than any other factor.

Now we have solid research indicating that this is the case. Sam Wang, a molecular biology professor at Princeton and Sandra Aamodt, a former editor of Nature Neuroscience share research in their book, "Welcome to your Child's Brain: How the Mind Grows from Conception to College," indicating that holding your child back a year before starting kindergarten actually interferes with their success in later life.

The research they cite indicates that the best way for your child to get ahead in school and life, is to start early, not late. Why?


The authors highlight the research in their book and an OpEd in today's New York Times. They state that in a large study involving 26 Canadian Schools, first graders who were young at entering kindergarten made more progress in reading than those who were old for their year. They cite another study where the youngest fifth graders had higher I.Q.'s than fourth graders of the same age. The authors explain that the first six years of life are the time when the human brain is undergoing its greatest growth spurt, and nothing seems to increase that brain potential better than school. And one of the greatest benefits, according to the authors, is social skill development - especially among boys who otherwise tend to mature socially a little later than girls. 

So what about sports?  Many parents believe that team sport skills provide their child with one additional leg up for college and scholarship opportunities. They often hold their children back to get an advantage in selection and opportunity over other children in the same grade. The authors do not provide research on this topic but I have another personal example here as well. My husband Jim and his twin brother, who had a late September birthday, also entered kindergarten before five years of age. They both received full athletic scholarships, one to a Big-Ten university, the other to an Ivy League college. My husband was selected Academic All Big-Ten as well as an All-American basketball player . He went on to play pro-basketball before entering law school.

What about me, with my late birthday and early school entrance? I did not get superior grades in elementary school nor, as my golf coach would testify, am I a superior athlete. But my grades were good enough and I had a broad range of extracurricular interests: art, music, drama, and public speaking. My father would say I was "well rounded." That, I believe, enabled me to have a fulfilling professional life and a satisfying family life.

Bottom line.....


Sunday, September 18, 2011

Tip 41 – Control Yourself – the Ultimate Success Factor

Did you realize that there is something more important to school success than IQ? And, did you know you can help your child develop this success factor relatively easily? In the August 19 issue of the journal Science Dr. Adele Diamond, whose research I have covered in prior posts, wrote an article about preschool skills that lead to success in school and life.

Dr. Diamond states, “tomorrow’s leaders will need the discipline to stay focused, seeing tasks through to completion.” She considers the four characteristics that are critical to success to be:
·      Creativity – children need to be able to come up with new solutions to problems – solutions that they have never thought of before
·      Working memory –  the ability to work with masses of new information and discern patterns and links
·      Flexibility – the ability to view problems from different perspectives and consider different approaches to solution of problems
·      Self- control – the ability to resist temptations, think before acting, and inhibit responses that might cause regret.     
What can you do with your child to foster these success factors? Try adding 15-20 minutes a day of:
1.      Computerized and non-computerized speed training and reasoning games –
2.      Aerobic exercise ((running games, jump rope, team sports like basketball and soccer)
3.    Exercising hand-eye coordination through musical training

In addition – consider adding after school activities that include Martial Arts – like tae-kwon-do that emphasize self-control, discipline and character

Finally, see if your school might consider curricular add-ons – there are two shown to result in improved self control and thinking skills:

1.      PATHS  (Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies) trains teachers on activities and approaches that help to develop self-control, recognizing and managing feelings, and interpersonal problems solving.
2.      For Preschoolers - Chicago School Readiness Project (CSRP) emphasized and provided  behavior-management  training for Head Start teachers with suggestions for stress reduction

The Ultimate Success Factor - As we have discussed in other blog posts, All the above qualities are referred to as “executive functions (EFs)”. As Dr. Diamond explains, “these are the cognitive control functions needed when you have to concentrate and think, when acting on your initial impulse might be ill-advised.”  Research has shown that EFs are more important for school readiness and achievement than is intelligence quotient (IQ)

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Interviews on Special Topics

My blog post this week is a list of links to video interviews that were recorded while I was  touring Australia last spring. The links were sent to me yesterday and I thought some of you might find some of the topics interesting. Over the next few weeks I will be posting written blogs on these subjects as well.

Adult Learning Development