CBC Fresh Air

CBC RADIO INTERVIEW: The Homework Question

by Samantha on October 9, 2013

boy doing homework
Say the word and it evokes a myriad of emotions in both parents and kids.
Depending on who you’re speaking with, you may get a very positive response to the idea or one that’s not too pleasant. You see, the topic of homework is one that’s divisive, to say the least. There are so many different factors to consider when discussing this topic. Some of these include:
  • The appropriate age or grade to start giving homework to kids
  • The amount of homework that is to be completed each night
  • Homework standardization - Should all classes receive the exact same lessons and grading systems?
  • Should homework be given at all?

Being the parent of children in elementary school, the topic of homework is not one that’s going away any time soon. It’s a subject that we all have to consider and come to terms with, regardless of which side of the fence we’re on.

I returned to CBC Fresh Air to discuss the topic and provide my viewpoint on some of the points noted above. To listen to the full interview, click on the link in the box below. Following the link are some of the questions and answers that I provided as well.

1. First…do we all agree that there should be SOME homework?
I think that homework is a great tool for reinforcing learning in kids, but frankly don’t agree with the recent trend of Kindergarten kids getting homework. I think it’s much too young. C’mon - they can barely tie their shoelaces or write their names…A measured approach is what I think should be taken. I love the idea of sharing what the child has done in class during the day with the parents so that it can be discussed at home; that said, homework should be left to bigger kids. How big? I’d say Grade 3 and up.

2. Let’s talk about the role of parents—how much help is appropriate?
Parents should always be there as a resource for their children, to answer questions, to be a sounding board for discussion, to stimulate thought. That said, the amount of help provided should be age-appropriate and measured. Clearly, a child in first grade will need more direction than a child in 9th grade.The key is that parents should let children know that they support their efforts, are there for them if they have any questions and that they will do anything they can to encourage learning.

3.  What kinds of signals should parents send to their kids about the importance of homework?
What we as parents need to remember is that we set the stage for how homework, school and education in general is perceived. If we put a high level of importance on doing well at school, studying and working hard, our children will take away this philosophy. Conversely, if we show our kids that homework and studying are inconsequential or unimportant, those are the messages that we will instill in our children. If we want our kids to take learning seriously, we must show them, by our interest in their lessons.

4.  What’s the line between  truly helping your children with homework…and DOING it for them?
It’s so easy for us as parents to just jump in and do it for our kids, isn’t it? For many of us, it’s our first instinct: to “fix” it and make it better, if we see our child struggling. What we need to remember as parents is that we’re not doing our kids any favours by doing their homework for them. Discussion and making sure that the child understands the particular concept behind a particular lesson is important; by getting them to understand the bigger picture, they often “get it” at the micro level and are able to finish the project themselves.

5.  So it’s really important to make them aware of WHY you’ve changed something?
It’s one thing to get the right answer - after all, both kids and parents want their kids to be right. It’s another thing for kids to understand why their answers are right or wrong, which I believe is the real lesson. How did a child come up with their answer for a particular math problem? Why did the teacher give your child a lesser grade because of grammar issues? It’s of paramount importance that kids understand how and why they’ve arrived at a certain answer as well as why they got the marks that they did. Without going through process and understanding every step, our kids are not truly learning.

6. What about communication between parents and teachers over homework—is it really necessary? 
Oftentimes, homework gets relegated to the bowels of a child’s knapsack, never to be seen again. The old “dog ate my homework” is a classic, that’s for sure. I’m a huge advocate of digitizing the classroom and assignments so that this excuse could disappear altogether, but understand that there are considerations to doing so as well. It is, ultimately, all about communication and the doorway between parent and teacher should always be open. Whether it’s through digital means or not, there must be a connection there in order for the child to be successful. Think of it as “checks and balances” on both ends - the kid is aware that they are accountable to both parties…and both parties know that they can work in concert to assure the success of the child.

7. And then there’s the Importance of finding a balance between homework and other post-school activities…right?
Well, as you know, I’m a proponent of balance for kids, as difficult as it may be. I was here recently speaking about overscheduled kids - those who are booked into after-school and weekend lessons more than 2 or 3 times per week. Part of the stress that kids feel is the need to complete lessons and do well, as well as excelling in extra curricular activities. I feel that schoolwork and studies should come first, and extra-curricular lessons second. And to that end, there should be a limit to the amount of afterschool activities that kids are signed up for. There’s no way that any child can excel in school when they’re downright exhausted due to all of the activities that they’re participating in during the week.

8. What about  when students enter secondary school—should parens still be on homework patrol?
Parents who are raising tweens and teens are in a particularly sensitive situation as we all know how kids of these ages respond to any suggestions or help from their parents. That’s why it’s so important to set the foundations of learning and studying early, when the child is younger. With this foundation, kids who are going through the challenging tweens and teen years will be better able to cope with their lessons as they are assigned. As well, having established the child/parent connection vis-a-vis homework early on will make it much more easier for kids to continue the habit and to do well at school.

9. Final question…what do you do if one teacher believes in plenty of homework and another takes a more lenient approach—that can be confusing for children. How do you make sense of that for your kids?
Again, this goes back to the parents knowing what their child is doing in school and being comfortable that the assigned tasks are at an appropriate level, not only in terms of content but in terms of volume as well. When a parent is fully aware of the curriculum at the outset of school, that is the time for them to voice any concerns about the planned work being too much or too little for their child. If the parent is on board with what is to be given for the term, what other kids in other classes are doing should be of no consequence. If the child has their nose out of joint because of the amount of homework they are expected to do, the parent should sit down with them and explain that they believe the volume to be appropriate and in their best interest to complete. Again - it’s all about having that open dialogue with your child as well as having set expectations with them and their teachers beforehand.
 

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CBC RADIO INTERVIEW: Back to School Stress

by Samantha on September 10, 2013

back to school stress

The lazy,  hazy days of summer have passed and the kids have returned to school.

It may be “The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” for parents but for kids, this is not necessarily the case.

More often than not, back to school signals the beginning of a very stressful time.

Regardless of age or grade, returning to school can be anxiety-causing, to say the least. Between homework, bullies and the fear of not succeeding in class, is it any wonder that our kids are stressed-out? And don’t fool yourselves: this anxiety is not only the domain of the young. Older kids - teens and university or college-bound students - have their fair share of worry about what the coming semester will bring as well. For those going off to university and living in residence for the first time, “back to school” is a whole other ball of wax, and a stressful one at that.

I returned to CBC’s studios to discuss this subject and provide some simple advice and tips for parents and kids who are dealing with back to school stress. Following is the audio of the full interview as well as some of the questions and answers that were discussed (click to listen).

Back to School Stress - How to Help Kids Deal With Anxiety

1) What are some of the key causes of back-to-school stress for kids?

There are many but some of the ones that seem to cause the most stress are the spectre of homework and studying, bullies/bullying, separation anxiety for younger kids and for middle school and high school kids, peer pressure and popularity.

2) Things move fast in this day and age—do you think today’s kids are more stressed than in previous years?

I think that kids today have a lot more on their plates. We live in an information age and as a result, they have information coming to them from a multitude of different sources. In some ways this can add fuel to the fire as they have more input on how things may or may not work out well, regardless of whether or not it’s true. Add to this the very real problem of cyberbullying by school peers and it’s no wonder that some kids are stressed.

3) How does back to school anxiety and stress manifest itself for kids of different ages and grades?

There are many factors that add to kids stress, and they’re different for each age and grade. For elementary school kids, some of their primary fears are separation anxiety (kindergarten and first-graders), homework, studying, fear of the unknown, and having to deal with the structure of a full day of school. Gone are the lazy dog days of summer and that’s a hard lesson to experience for some kids. For middle and high school students, cyberbullying is unfortunately a very real problem, as the Internet, digital communication and social media makes it very easy to bully and tease certain classmates. Older kids also worry about their grades, making the track or soccer team or other extra-curricular activities that are important to them. One other issue is sleep - older kids often have difficulty getting back into a scheduled routine where they have to get up early and head out the door for school. Ironically, worrying about sleep often results in not being able to sleep.

4. You’re a mother yourself…how challenging is it to get your kids to TALK to you about their school-related anxieties?

It’s challenging, alright. My twin boys are 4 and just started Kindergarten, so my husband and I had a good talk with them about what to expect. We toured the classroom before they started last week, so they were pretty prepared. As well, they’ve been in daycare so they’re not completely immune to the whole “structured” environment of school. My nine-year-old daughter was feeling somewhat anxious, more about being prepared for the first day, not knowing who her teacher was or classmates were, that type of thing. Again, I found that being open and creating an environment where she could voice her stresses was really helpful. We talked through all of the various things that were on her mind well before school started so by the time the first day back rolled around, she was excited, not scared.

5) What can parents do to alleviate some of the anxiety and stresses associated with going back to school?

There are a number of things that parents can do. Firstly, parents of stressed kids should talk to their children and make themselves available to hear their children’s concerns and fears. Sometimes just knowing that your parent is taking the time to listen can be a huge help to kids. As well, parents can take some concrete steps to alleviate fear of the unknown - for younger kids, taking the kids to school and speaking to the teacher about what’s on the curriculum agenda for the school year can help. Parents can then discuss homework or class work plans and expectations and listen to their kids concerns, perhaps offering solutions in the process. Preparing your kids for their days in school, whether that means helping them stock their knapsack, planning their wardrobe or helping them with homework - all of these actions show the child that their parents care and that they’re there for their kids during this stressful time. Finally, teaching a child to trust their own abilities and to be confident in who they are - this is key to kids ultimately being able to handle any situation that’s put in front of them. Learning how to mitigate feelings of stress and anxiety through active mindfulness - whether it’s meditation in the classical sense, or just supporting the child having some quiet “down time” will do wonders for the child’s overall sense of well-being, regardless of their age. Recent studies in the U.K. have shown that teaching kids mindfulness techniques to be used in the classroom have been successful in addressing kids’ anxiety and stress.

6) How about teachers? What are their responsibilities in alleviating their students’ stress?

Most teachers want to have a classroom full of anxiety-free kids, so I know that they do their part to make it as comfortable as possible. Similar to what parents are doing, teachers can create an open and welcoming environment in the classroom that encourages kids to discuss their feelings and concerns. As well, teachers can facilitate a classroom where two-way communication and interactivity amongst students and with the teacher is the standard. Doing so will go a long way in making the kids feel comfortable and less anxious.

7. We haven’t talked about the stress that college and university students can face…especially first year students. They’re often some distance from home. Any thoughts on how parents can help in these situations?

Again - fear is of the unknown is often the reason behind feelings of anxiety and stress. Not unlike the strategies used with younger kids, older students can benefit from having discussions with their parents as well. If first-year students are in residence and living away from home for the first time, make yourself available to them - perhaps more available than you usually would. They may already be in their new dorm room and feeling stress, so keep those lines of communication open. Skype, Google Hangouts, Face Time - these are all technological tools that allow parents and kids to remain connected over distance. As well, help your child research their support options at their actual school. These may include guidance counsellors, peer or student groups or similar community resources. A lot of colleges and universities set up student support groups and assign student leaders to shepherd the new students through the first few weeks. Help your child find these resources and always let them know that you’re there for them, in spite of the distance.
What strategies do you recommend for alleviating back to school stress with your kids? What works best? Provide your suggestions in the comments section below.

 Image courtesy of www.cbc.ca

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Bieber Fans

There’s no way around it, celebrity culture is everywhere. It’s no surprise, then, that our kids are affected by the latest actions of some of their favourite stars. This would be fine if the object of our kids’ affection was one that we thought was a positive role model. The reality is, though, that many of our children’s idols are less-than-stellar examples of how one should behave. From Justin Bieber to Miley Cyrus, our kids are looking up to these celebrities while they themselves travel through both the ups and downs of growing up. Sometimes the behaviour displayed by their role models is exemplary. Other times - not so much. How then, do we make sure that our kids remember the values that we have taught them in the face of less-than-perfect celebrity conduct?

I was recently asked to return to the CBC Radio Fresh Air program to provide my perspective on this topic. The full interview can be found here:

CBC Radio Fresh Air Interview: Kids and the Culture of Celebrity

I’ve also put together some of the general questions asked, as well as my perspective, below.

1. What kinds of celebrities are we talking about?

Lindsay Lohan the obvious one, but also others that have been surprising: Miley Cyrus (Hanna Montana), Justin Bieber, Britney Spears – the problem is that kids have grown up with many of these child stars and have seen them evolve into adults with questionable behaviour. Now, the same fans are following and emulating them – not a good thing.

2. Celebrity culture is nothing new—as a parent, why should I care?

As a parent, how can we NOT care? Celebrity culture and their lifestyles are everywhere, particularly in this digital age. Media and digital technology make it so much easier for kids to access information anywhere, anytime – often without their parent’s knowledge. For this reason alone, we as parents need to be on top of what’s going on in the celebrity world (not only teen celebs) and countering it with our own values and lessons.

3. But just how much influence can celebrities have on young people?

So much more than any of us would imagine. Like us, our kids are victims of our celebrity culture, the cult of celebrity and the fact that we put stars on a pedestal, even if they don’t have any particular talent. We as a society have become increasingly more obsessed with celebrity culture and our kids have followed suit. It’s evident by the fact that the lines between true “news” and celebrity gossip have been blurred, and we see that traditional and well-respected news outlets often feature celebrity news on their front pages. Let’s also not forget that the digital age in which we live provides a 24/7 stream of celebrity gossip, to which our kids are regularly exposed.

4. What kind of conversation should you have with your children about your concerns?

I think it’s important for parents to instill their values into their kids at a young age and to keep going over them as the kids grow up and are exposed to the media. At the end of the day, we as parents should be the ones that our kids look up to and we should be teaching them right from wrong.

A discussion about the celebrity lifestyle and how these stars do not live the way most of the world does is in order as kids often don’t realize that celebrities are NOT like you and me, despite what they would like to convey to the contrary.

5. How do you deal with the peer pressure your kids might feel?

Again – it comes back to values and our kids having a strong sense of self worth and familial connection. If we’ve done our jobs in showing our kids right from wrong, teaching them our values, etc., they may make the better choices in not only who they emulate but their choice of friends as well.

6. What role should OTHER parents play?

I’ve always been of the mindset that we try to surround ourselves with those who are like-minded. We’d ideally like to have our kids do the same but that isn’t always the case. Getting to know the parents of your child’s friends is the first course of action in getting our kids on the right track. While we can’t completely control what our kids are doing especially when they get into their teens, we can do our part to investigate the types of people our kids are hanging out with. As parents, we also have the responsibility to get to know the parents of our kids’ friends. Someone once said that “it takes a village” to raise a child. Community support is important. This adage is no truer than it is today.

7. Is it realistic to think that you can keep your kids “celebrity-free”?

No, I don’t think it’s realistic. As a matter of fact, I think it’s practically impossible to do this. That’s why it’s so important to have an open dialogue about what’s going on in a child’s life, about what they’re doing in school, who they’re hanging out with, and who they emulate. Keep the lines of conversation open with your kids so that they feel that they can speak to you about what’s going on in their minds and about who they’re looking up to. And on the same note, keep up with what they’re doing on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc. because it’s often the technology that is providing our kids with the updates on their favourite stars.

7.  What’s the bottom line on dealing with the cult of celebrity?

Let’s just accept that it’s here to stay and that we as parents have to be one step ahead of what our kids are doing and who they’re following. Keeping the lines of communication open, keeping up with who and what’s hot in the world of our kids and countering the negative stereotypes and messages from celebrities with our own values is the way to do it.

How do you feel about celebrity culture and its effect that it has on our children? What can we as parents do to assure that our kids continue to hold the positive values that we’ve instilled in them in the face of prevalent celebrity culture? Leave me your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Kids jumping up

During the March Break, it’s really difficult to tear the kids away from the screen. As we continue to try to navigate the topic of Parenting in the Digital Age, we wonder how we can balance screen time and time spent outside, being physically active.

Many studies have emphasized the problem of childhood obesity and the need for kids to have less time glued to their electronic devices - one of the apparent causes for children who are over the ideal weight for their size. Watching TV, playing video games and fooling around on the iPad are probably not the best ways of getting kids active.

So how do we get our kids outside? What do we do to entice them away from their beloved gadgets for more physically - engaged activities? As March Break is the time of year that kids have a full week off, parents have the opportunity to make some choices for their children in terms of what they will do.

As part of an interview with CBC Radio’s Fresh Air Program, I was asked my opinion on the topic of getting kids active over the break.

You can listen to the full interview here.

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Image courtesy of www.cbc.ca

 

 

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