Programs that Bridge the Gap

Posted on Mon, Mar 31, 2008 @ 03:16 PM
Institutions exploring ideas for encouraging intergenerational relationships
Google News
Details: Programs  that Bridge the Gap
Intergenerational programs

The University of Maryland, mentioned in the last post, isn't the only academic institution working to study and improve intergenerational relationships.

Another impressive resource for bridging the generation gap is the University of Pennsylvania's Cooperative Extension System.  In addition to their online library of articles, published research, and program ideas, this comprehensive site is also the place to learn about intergenerational programs all over the world. In fact, I highly recommend their Global Perspective page as the beginning point of a thorough exploration of this extremely interesting site.

Tags: grandchildren, grandparents, intergenerational relationships, generation gap

Humor Your Way to Good Health

Posted on Thu, Mar 27, 2008 @ 03:17 PM
Children and older adults unite in a joint quest for healthier lifestyles

The subject of intergenerational relationships necessarily crops up regularly in discussions about family, and its importance has been underscored repeatedly at Family Matters. One friend, Robert DiLallo, suggested to me today that the most positive news and trends among adults in the "grandparent generation" often goes unreported.

Only moments after we talked about this, the latest Journal of Intergenerational Relationships landed on my doorstep (courtesy of the US Postal Service) and presented a stellar opportunity to report on some of the recent positive news in cross-generational programs.

In this 2008 report, University of Maryland researchers outlined a model program where older adults (aged 50 and over) worked to target childhood obesity by using humor to pass on knowledge about healthy eating habits to a sampling of school children.

The success of that particular model program wasn't the only good news in the University of Maryland report, however. What many older adults may find intriguing is the fact that this was only one of many intergenerational programs being conducted by the university's Legacy Leadership Institutes.

According to the LLI site, "Legacy signifies our mission to serve as intergenerational ambassadors who are committed to preserving the wisdom of the past, applying knowledge to the community in the present and transferring these gifts to future generations. The Legacy Leadership Institutes combine lifelong learning and civic engagement and bring the expertise of Maryland residents age 50+ to a variety of sectors through education, leadership, and volunteer service."

The LLI programs are not only remarkable for the research they provide to those who study intergenerational relationships, but they are also remarkable for the inherent "win-win" effects on everyone involved in them. 

In the case of the "Humor Your Way to Good Health" model, it was not only the children whose health habits changed, but also those of the older adults who used humor to teach them. According to the report, "Initially, the Legacy Leaders were committed to helping children attain healthier lifestyles. Through participation in the model demonstration, Legacy Leaders became interested in learning not only about children's health but also about their own health. They incorporated their new knowledge into decisions about their own health and viewed self-knowledge as a foundation for being able to influence children. They comment that the children enjoyed hearing about their 'trials and tribulations' when trying to change eating and physical activity patterns. Legacy Leaders indicate that the children taught them through their questions and joint participation in the many humor-based activities."

The success of this program, and others like it, suggests that similar outcomes may occur even outside of organized models. Implemented within individual families and communities, positive interactions between these generations could turn a win-win proposition into "win-win-win," with society itself being the third beneficiary.

Tags: children, health, childhood obesity, civic engagement, engaged learning, humor, intergenerational, leadership, lifelong learning, nutrition, physical activity, schools

When a Child Dies

Posted on Sun, Mar 23, 2008 @ 03:18 PM
Practical tips for helping siblings and friends grieve
Google News
Details: When a Child Dies
disenfranchised grief

Parents understandably fear losing a child more than almost any other family tragedy, so it's natural for friends to concentrate on the loss felt by parents when a teen or child dies.

Unfortunately, sometimes this means that bereaved siblings, classmates and friends are overlooked as they struggle through the grieving process. Counsellors refer to this as 'disenfranchised grief.'

There are many sites with practical tips for supporting those who grieve, some of which are listed below and in the Google search box to the right. As we think about how to apply these to friends who grieve, it is important also to think about whether there are others in proximity who may feel they don't have a legitimate "right" to grieve, but who may be grieving nonetheless.

Tags: children, disenfranchised grief, friends, loss of a child, siblings

For Those Who Grieve

Posted on Thu, Mar 20, 2008 @ 03:20 PM
Neuroscience provides a window into coping with sorrow

In Shakespeare's MacBeth, Malcolm advises the bereaved MacDuff to "Give sorrow words: the grief that does not speak whispers the o'er-fraught heart and bids it break."

This was not bad advicebut while psychologists agree that narrative is an important step on the road back from trauma and grief, there is much more that comes into play.

Over the past decade, science has brought us closer than we've ever been to understanding what goes on in the brain when we experience certain emotions and mental states. In fact, technology now allows scientists to see what goes on materially in the brain when we have certain feelings. There is still much to understand, but it's clear that the discoveries of neuroscience can be very helpful to those who are grieving, especially when it comes to avoiding the pitfalls that lead to depression.

With this in mind, what can we do to keep our minds healthy even during long periods of grief?

Because neurogenesis and depression are incompatible states, reason compels us to pursue those activities that are known to increase neurogenesis. And "activity" is the operative word. Researchers suggest that this boils down to exercise in three key areas:

The physical body: cardiovascular activity boosts levels of seratonin and endorphins which helps activate neurogenisis.

The mind: active learning and engaged attention cause neurons to "fire and wire" together, especially when we step out of our comfort zone and challenge ourselves.

And finally, but most important is the heart—or close personal relationships. The positive emotions we feel when relationships are working release neuromodulators that heighten and sustain brain plasticity. This process goes a long way toward helping us heal from trauma and loss, and toward protecting us from spiraling into severe depression.

It's been a full year since I wrote about this subject in Give Sorrow More Than Words, but subsequent research has only underscored how important positive relationships are to those who are struggling with sorrow, depression, trauma or intense stress.

Shakespeare was half right—giving sorrow words can be important—although some people prefer to keep their narrative to themselves. But deep sorrow needs more than words. The bereaved need the safety net of trusted and positive supporters who are willing to step around the walls put up by mobile phones and e-mail and reach out to touch someone in the old-fashioned way instead. For if there's one adage that applies to the bereaved and their supporters alike, it would be the tried and true "Actions speak louder than words."

Tags: relationships, depression, stress, trauma, sorrow

Children's Academic Success

Posted on Sun, Mar 16, 2008 @ 03:21 PM
Does it require taking work home?

Lest we imagine that America and Britain are the only nations ever to have quibbled over how much homework is too much, it may be expedient to delve deeper into the topic raised in the last two posts. Fortunately, it has not been many years since the effect of homework on academic achievement was last surveyed on a global basis.

In May of 2005, two education researchers from Pennsylvania State UniversityDavid P. Baker and Gerald K. LeTendreco-authored a book titled National Differences, Global Similarities: World Culture and the Future of Schooling. Analysing data collected from schools across more than 41 nations, the researchers came to a conclusion that might surprise many parents: more homework does not necessarily translate to higher academic achievement.

Penn State's press release on the subject, which carried the title, Too Much Homework Can Be Counterproductive, had this to say:

[The study's] findings indicated a frequent lack of positive correlation between the average amount of homework assigned in a nation and corresponding level of academic achievement. For example, many countries with the highest scoring students, such as Japan, the Czech Republic and Denmark, have teachers who give little homework. "At the other end of the spectrum, countries with very low average scoresThailand, Greece, Iranhave teachers who assign a great deal of homework," Baker noted.

"The United States is among the most homework-intensive countries in the world for seventh- and eighth-grade math classes. U.S. math teachers on average assigned more than two hours of mathematics homework per week in 1994-95," said LeTendre. "Contrary to our expectations, one of the lowest levels was recorded in Japanabout one hour a week. These figures challenge previous stereotypes about the lackadaisical American teenager and his diligent peer in Japan."

During the early 1980s, many U.S. schools and teachers ramped up their homework assignments, at least to younger children, in reaction to intense media focus on studies comparing the mediocre performance of American students to the industriousness of their Japanese counterparts. At the same time, ironically, Japanese educators were attempting to reduce the amount of homework given to their students and allow them more leisure from the rigors of schooling. Neither the American nor the Japanese educational reform of the 1980s seems to have affected general achievement levels in either country."

If homework is not a reliable predictor of academic success, what is? According to Baker, the advantage goes to "those families that are better able to marshal resources to support outside school learning."

Resources might include money, time, a place to study and access to cultural works and educational tools. Of course, there might be a variety of factors that affect a family's ability to "marshal resources."

One of these factors is the quality of the relationships within the family itself. Studies across national boundaries bear out that fragmented families are more likely to experience scarcities of time, money and other resources that are important to academic success.

In addition, researchers know that children in fragmented families feel the effects of higher stress levelstheir own as well as that of their parents.

Could it be that the most important work to be done in the home has to do with strengthening family relationships? Taking everything else into account, it seems the logical place to begin.

Tags: family relationships, academic achievement, education

The Homework Debate

Posted on Thu, Mar 13, 2008 @ 03:23 PM
How can parents best help their children learn?

How  Children LearnIs homework necessary for young children, or is it burdensome? This debate is not new to America, but in recent years it has gained new momentum. News sources from PBS to The Washington Post have discussed the issue, searching for the balance that would educate children at all socio-economic levels without overloading them. Some innovative schools have begun to work at eliminating the kind of monotonous busy-work that kills a child's incentive to learn and keeps them from their families for extended periods in the evenings.

But could all homework be bad for children? Homework proponents insist that some subjects cannot be mastered without repetitive rote memorization. Even homework critics allow for the fact that well thought-out assignments can certainly contribute to a child's love of learning, especially when it requires the full engagement of an inquiring mind. However, many educators believe that the over-application of monotonous rote learning often has the opposite affect.

In addition, some teachers find that when children are left on their own to complete homework, their misunderstandings about certain tasks can become entrenched. Unfortunately, fewer families than ever are intact, and single parents may find themselves working long hours with less time and energy to spend helping children complete assignments.

Even if they do find time to help children through their homework, that may be the only time parents and children share between the end of the workday and bedtime.

So, homework or no homework? Which is best way for parents to help children learn?

How Children FailJohn Holt, educator and author of the two profound classics How Children Fail and How Children Learn, made some perceptive observations as early as the mid-sixties. "It is before they get to school that children are likely to do their best learning," he noted, reasoning that this is because children begin life wanting to learn. Because they have an innate excitement for exploration and discovery, the way they learn before school may be the most effective method by which they will be ever be taught.

"Vivid, vital, pleasurable experiences are the easiest to remember," Holt points out, adding that "memory works best when unforced." In contrast, we think and learn badly when we're afraid or anxious.

Unfortunately, Holt insisted, most schools are less concerned with excitement, exploration or discoverywhich are pleasurable experiences to a childand more concerned with fragmentary and industrialized forms of learning.

As a result, he says, "[children] are bored because the things they are given and told to do in school are so trivial, so dull, and make such limited and narrow demands on the wide spectrum of their intelligence, capabilities and talents." 

This accusation could be made against some kinds of homework as well, which might suggest that parents could be better off spending their meagre time with their children in more productive ways.

In fact, if parents were able to consistently spend leisure time with their children at home, perhaps some of the behavioral problems that interfere with classroom learning would begin to dissipate. As a result, teachers might find themselves with more time to teach, and under less pressure to meet testing standards.

It should not be surprising that engaged parenting is the pivotal factor leading to the creation of any such upward spiral. Homework or no homework, parents will always have an important role to play in nurturing a child's love of learning. In fact, it may be that positive family relationships have much more to do with a child's educational success than any other consideration worthy of debate.

Tags: child development, education, homework debate, John Holt

An Anxiety Epidemic for Children?

Posted on Tue, Mar 11, 2008 @ 03:24 PM
Britain may be the "Unhappiest Place on Earth"
Google News
Details: An  Anxiety Epidemic for Children?
childhood stress

According to the online Independent, "teachers are to take the extraordinary step of calling for an independent Royal Commission to investigate why so many of Britain's children are unhappy."

The United Nations Children's Fund ranks British schoolchildren the unhappiest in the West, pointing to Britain's lack of social cohesion as the culprit. Other studies point to increased homework, a loss of childhood, and decreased family time, factors which some say add up to excessive stress and anxiety for children.

If these forces seem interconnected it's because they are, and they are not unique to the U.K. 

What makes happy children? If society finds the answer to that question, it will have the guidance it needs to make decisions about how a child's time is best spent.

Tags: family, children, education, childhood, happiness

Reducing Childhood Obesity

Posted on Thu, Mar 06, 2008 @ 03:27 PM
Can electronic devices achieve more than parents?
Childhood development

A March 3 press release from New York's University at Buffalo announced that when parents use an automatic device to restrict the time children spend in front of video media (both television and computer), chubby children get thinner. Or as the press release puts it, children's Body Mass Index is reduced.

While it is hardly a surprise that less time sitting in front of a video screen translates to better health, it is newsworthy thatas the study foundthe use of an electronic device to restrict viewing time is one of the most effective tools for that purpose.

In an editorial comment, Harvard's Steven L. Gortmaker noted that "other strategies have been proposed that can effectively limit television and other screen time, including keeping televisions and other devices out of the household altogether. For households with televisions, one useful strategy for limiting viewing is to not put sets in rooms in which children sleep, as studies have shown a television set in a child's bedroom is a major predictor of use."

There's a head-scratcher for you. We all know that less video time is likely to mean increased exercise time combined with decreased mindless munching on the sofa. Ergo, less childhood obesity. But in all the discussion about this study, there is no mention of how effective parental monitoring and restrictions might be. Instead, the options offered are: remove the TV from the household altogether or invest in a $100 electronic monitoring device.

Are parents really so unlikely to be involved in their children's lives that they are unable to curtail harmful activities without the aid of electronic devices or a radical videoectomy?    

Tags: child development, childhood obesity

Are Children Growing Up Too Fast?

Posted on Mon, Mar 03, 2008 @ 03:28 PM
When is accelerated child development a problem?
Growing up Fast

According to Reuter's, a recent survey reveals that most British parents believe childhood is now effectively over by the age of 11. Children are growing up too fast, they say, pointing to evidence indicating that parents now allow their children to pass certain milestones much earlier than past generations did.

The survey in question, which was conducted by Random House Children's Books, found that parents increasingly allow their teens to stay out late, drink alcohol and sleep over with their opposite-sex friends, among other indicators.

Some of the milestones mentioned by the survey do vary by culture, of course, and may noton their ownbe signs of accelerated child development. For instance, in some cultures a girl's ears may be pierced in infancy, and parents may allow their children to drink small amounts of wine within the family setting. However, the general point is certainly well-taken.

In fact, as any Western mother with young daughters knows, it can sometimes be very difficult to find clothing even in grammar-school sizes that isn't trendy, revealing and much more mature in styling than that age group calls for.

And if the Random House survey is accurate, it is certainly surprising that any parent would allow a teen daughter to have sleepovers with her boyfriend, but much more baffling that the practice could actually be called a trend. In this context perhaps it's interesting to note that while teen pregnancy rates in Britain may not be as staggering as in America, they are higher than elsewhere in Europe.

Some might argue that the survey is misleading. After all, in some historical settings, children grew up faster than they do now, didn't they? It may not have been unusual for people to marry in their teens, or to carry the weight of greater responsibilities than might be typical today. 

Then again, maybe that's where the rub is. We give our children much more freedom but much less responsibility to go with it. Hence they don't have the corresponding maturity that should accompany that freedom.

This begs the question: how can parents ensure their child's mental development is maturing at the same rate as his or her physical and behavioral development? Do we let peer pressure determine when our children are allowed to pass certain milestones? Or as parents do we maintain our own responsibility to guide and teach standards that will produce well-balanced children and a strong future society?

Tags: family relationships, society, child development, accelerated development