How simple activities with the kids boost their brain power

The role of parents in children’s education has been researched greatly in the last decade.  The results point to a clear conclusion –  early parental engagement at home boosts a child’s achievement in later years in primary school.

I often think that statements like this add a burden to the already anxious and guilt-prone modern parents. We have all been through that phase, where doubts about our parenting skills are our constant companion. But parental engagement is not rocket science. The term includes simple activities that most of us do at home anyway. Take for instance latest research from Canada that looked at the impact of specific literacy and numeracy activities

Literacy Activities

  • Reading books
  • Telling stories
  • Singing songs
  • Playing with alphabet toys (e.g., blocks with letters of the alphabet)
  • Talking about things you had done
  • Talking about what you had read
  • Playing word games
  • Writing letters or words
  • Reading aloud signs and labels

Numeracy Activities

  • Saying counting rhymes or singing counting songs
  • Playing with number toys (e.g., blocks with numbers)
  • Counting different things
  • Playing games involving shapes (e.g. shape sorting toys, puzzles)
  • Playing with building blocks or construction toys
  • Playing board games or card games

They did not only confirm that: Parental engagement in literacy and numeracy activities before children begin primary/elementary school is related to higher reading, mathematics, and science achievement

But surprisingly (or maybe not) they found that literacy activities are not only strongly related to students’ higher reading achievement, but also to higher science and mathematics performance.

The two top activities for achievement in all three disciplines was reading books and telling stories.

See? Parental engagement is not rocket science. But parenting, especially when taking care of preschoolers can be challenging and even simple activities with the children make some of us feel overwhelmed. Fortunately there is a wide range of opportunities out there to boost your child’s brainpower and give you in turn opportunities to socialize and meet like-minded parents.

Children Centre’s offer a variety of play-based activities – they often have weekly playgroups, as well as singing and story telling sessions. Most Centres have quality toys and encourage parent-child engagement and interaction.

Also check with your local community centre or church. They often offer playgroups run by experienced professionals at affordable prices. Lately, other venues have hosted activities for pre-schoolers – toy shops, craft shops, baby/children clothing shops. There is a wide range of services out there. Do your research and you will certainly find engaging activities for your little ones to feed their brains.


Breaking Bad – drugs, chemistry and teaching

I hardly watched any TV before having children. I was not familiar at all with American drama series. But along came my children and my entertainment habits had to change. It was at that time that I came across Desperate Housewives and in a manner completely out of character, I became addicted to the series.  As it turns out Desperate Housewives was my rite of passage. Because shortly after that, it was Dr House that got me hooked and then Fringe, which excited my imagination and triggered so many discussion about time, the universe and everything else.

The latest offering that has me glued on the screen is the American drama Breaking Bad.  This is the story of Walter White a struggling secondary school (high school in American terminology) chemistry teacher. His diagnosis of inoperable lung cancer triggers a landslide of changes in his personal life and choices that shatter his morals and values. He turns to crime producing high quality crystal meth by taking advantage of his chemistry expertise. Through his illness and his drug dealings he emerges a completely different person – not in the best possible way.  The series is a condemnation of the country’s health service, but also a thought provoking observation on human nature.

I am intrigued by the storyline, the building up of each one of the original characters and particularly by the main character whose metamorphosis occurs in a most unconventional way.


But what is really spoiling it for me is the school scenes. They unsettle me and make me disengaged. Walter White’s teaching is one-way and instructional.  He does not interact with his pupils except to ask questions about facts. He bombards them with information and spends most of the time writing on the board while talking to the students. His pupils are not engaged in any way, and it seems to me that their learning process is limited to taking notes. There are no experiments and demonstrations, no whole class or small group discussions.  His class is boring, his teaching dry and uninspiring.

The teaching style reminds me of my teachers and my own school experience 25 years ago. Walter White gets across as an old-fashioned teacher.  He stands behind his bench and delivers the lessons.  It looks like the role of this bench is for White to define his territory.  He does not cross over to reach out to his pupils, but maintains a distance. As we occasionally get glimpses of White teaching chemistry, I cannot help but wonder. Is it an accurate representation of science teaching in the USA? Or is it just the case in the state of New Mexico? And will the Common Core initiative improve science teaching?

If you have experience of science teaching in the USA, please share in the comments section. I would like to find out more about science education in the country.

Maths and me

When I was in school Maths was my favourite subject. That was in the eighties when the teaching of Maths only involved numbers and formulas. I was doing very well and that was giving me the motivation to try harder. I was getting satisfaction from my achievements and could see the magic in Maths.

Needless to say that in a class of 35 students, I was the exception.  I was so excited about Maths that was oblivious to the other children’s feelings about the subject, … and adults for that matter. For parents were teriffied of Maths as well.

Most of my friends hated Maths. My best friend could not see how they related to real life, so she simply did not care. She was a girl after all, and we all knew at the time that  girls do not do well at Maths. Other friends found it hard, boring and dry and they demonstrated negative attitudes towards the subject. But that was ok as well. We also knew that only exceptionally clever people can do Maths.

(source Flickr, Some rights reserved by Sean MacEntee)
(source Flickr, some rights reserved by Sean MacEntee)

Twenty five odd years ago, it was ok not to be good at Maths. Only a few children were expected to perform well. This is what teachers, students and parents believed. In other words a blend of stereotypes was in the air and you just could not get away. I am still puzzled at how I escaped this mindset.

Back then people believed that you could either be good at numbers and calculations or you simply could not. If you could do well at Maths or to put it differently if you had the gift of Maths, then it was inevitable that you would perform well. The notion of putting the effort, working hard, practicing and developing your skills was not applied to the learning of Maths.

At the time there was little research about how children learn. The prevailing belief was that only few people can do Maths. The rest will become Maths illiterate.

Fast forward to the present day and little has changed. The students of the eighties are the parents of 2013. Inevitably, they  have been carrying their lack of confidence and negative attitudes towards Maths for so long that they simply cannot let go.  The majority of them had a terrible time with Maths. So the resilience of the stereotypical image of Maths should not come as a surprise.

As a parent and educational professional interacting with other parents I see this all the time. It still strikes me as odd that people are happy to declare that they do not understand Maths or they cannot do basic calculations, while at the same time would be embarrassed to make an equal statement about not being able to read or write.

But now we know that everybody (regardless of their sex, ethnic origing and socioeconomic status) has the potential to do well at Maths. All it takes is gifted teachers, engaging lessons and above all parents that regardless of their own experience in school put a positive spin on Maths and encourage their children to put the effort to do well.

How was it for you? Did you like Maths at school or was it a traumatic experience? Please share and I will collate your views in a subsequent post.