June 25, 2013

Productivity for Your Family

I came across this TED talk as I was looking for more information about the effects of chronic stress.  Mr. Feiler suggests an idea that can help you deal with the stress of family life.  I found it interesting that he decided to use a business productivity model (a completely different perspective than I have ever had) to look at parenting and came up with some of the same ideas that I have come to value over the years.  I didn't find his approach revolutionary, but it confirmed that the ideas I espouse are logical no matter how you come to them.

All the parenting books and programs that I have ever liked have a few things in common.  They center on developing a loving relationship with your kids, they emphasize teaching personal responsibility, and favor natural and logical consequences over punishment.  Many times they suggest having the kids problem solve or come up with their own consequences and often suggest family meetings.

If you liked this video, you may want to take a look at Conscious Discipline, Accountable Kids, or Love and Logic. Sometime I may post my reviews of each one. For now, I will say that Conscious Discipline does the most to help parents become the people they want their kids to be.  It includes family meetings, responsibility, and logical consequences, but it majors on managing emotions (of the parent and the child.)  Accountable Kids includes family meetings, logical consequences, and ideas for building relationships, but it majors on teaching kids responsibility. Love and Logic seeks to maintain loving relationships and develop responsibility, but majors on using natural and logical consequences.

June 21, 2013

Stress and the Brain

I was going to wait until I finished reading Brain Rules, then post my review.  However, the material I read today is so compelling that I just had to talk about it.  I was especially intrigued by the chapter on stress. 

Chronic stress is so toxic!  Brain Rule #8 is “Stressed brains don’t learn the same way.”  Dr. Medina’s evidence suggests that the more accurate rule is, “Chronic stress causes brain damage!” It is unbelievable how much damage stress can do to the body.

Brain Rules relies on a three part definition of stress.  1) There is measurable physiological response.  2) The stressor is definitely not wanted by the person.  3) The person has no feeling of control over the stressor.  When all three are present you have stress.

A little stress when you need a shot of adrenaline to get away from danger, or lift a car off your trapped baby is helpful.  The real problem comes in when the stress lasts for too long.  The stress hormones build up and cause problems.  It can lead to heart attack, stroke, and a depressed immune system.  It can also short circuit the ability to learn.

According to Medina, “Stressed people don’t do math very well. They don’t process language very efficiently.   They have poorer memories, both short and long forms.  Stressed individuals do not generalize or adapt old pieces of information to new scenarios as well as non-stressed individuals.  They can’t concentrate.  In almost every way it can be tested, chronic stress hurts our ability to learn.” 

This further convinces me of how important it is to be sure that kids feel safe and are in a loving environment, at home and at school.  I think it should be a wake-up call for all educators. Dr. Medina is careful not to give prescriptions because his research has not tested various remedies.  That is what educators need to work on.  How can learning environments (at home or school) be as stress free as possible?  Are there ways that schools or other organizations (churches, medical groups, etc.) can come alongside families and help them create less stressful homes?

As a parent, I was struck by the evidence that a conflicted, stressful marriage creates chronic stress for kids.  Dr. Medina sites Dr. John Gottman, who has done extensive research on what patterns lead to stressful marriages (and ultimately divorce) and has developed interventions to help.  He has also evaluated the effects of marital conflict on the stress levels of the children (as measured by stress hormones in their urine –very scientific.)    The evidence naturally leads to the conclusion that improving marital stability and overall peace in the home will help children learn better (and be healthier and happier).   I think I have to read John Gottman’s book, Why Marriages Succeed or Fail…And How You Can Make Yours Last.  I may also look at Brain Rules for Baby to see what Dr. Medina has to say about parenting.

June 20, 2013

Enjoying Balance

The Academic is practically addicted to a computer game called Minecraft.  He has a version of Minecraft for every device he owns or has access to.  Knowing this about him, my jaw dropped when he said to me, “I’m sort of glad I haven’t been playing Minecraft as much lately.”  He went on to explain that he was appreciating the balance he was gaining.  He liked the flow of helping at home, spending time being active, pursuing other interests and then also spending time on his favorite hobby.

So, what does “balanced” life look like this summer?  We have been bike riding, jogging and swimming.  The Scholar Athlete has started football practice at the high school. The Academic joined the library’s summer reading program and has started learning to play the piano. (I am teaching him some, but he is doing quite a bit of self-instruction as well.) The Academic begged to “do math” over the summer and the Scholar Athlete needed some algebra practice, so both boys are enrolled in ALEKS math courses this summer. 
I have to admit that I am also enjoying the slower pace.  I have had time to read (currently Psalms, 1 John, and Brain Rules by John Medina), keep my house picked up, have the kids’ friends over, spend time with family, exercise, and start this blog.  I know that I will add other responsibilities as time goes on, but I hope I am establishing some habits that will help me stay balanced.

June 18, 2013

Recommitting to a Lifestyle of Learning

I am a teacher by profession.  When it was time for our oldest to start school, my husband (the Chemist) and I decided that a homeschooling lifestyle would be best for him.  In the area we lived in at that time, I found a public school program that allowed us the freedom to truly embrace homeschooling.   I loved homeschooling and would have continued homeschooling both my children through high school. 
Through a series of events that were not completely in our control, I ended up going back into classroom teaching.  The children were eventually enrolled in the same charter school where I worked and we all had a very good experience there for three years. 
My oldest (the Scholar Athlete) is now starting high school and we have opted for our local public high school.  My younger son (the Academic) has been asking to homeschool again.  A variety of circumstances (including sending the Scholar Athlete to regular school) led me to believe that this is the right time to quit my current job and join the Academic in a lifestyle of learning.
I will be studying the brain, learning, the Bible, and all the ways those three topics impact the family and relationships.  Along the way I plan to be intentional about nurturing relationships and sharing my learning with others.  This blog is part of my plan.