Archive for the ‘SPARK Blog’ Category

Can Exercise Help Students to Excel Academically?

Tuesday, April 26th, 2016


Although we all know that physical activity is an essential factor in lowering the risk of child obesity, and improving physical fitness, new research is proving that a fit body, can equal a fit mind. In other words, ensuring your kids stay active could be the first investment you make in their college fund.

Findings from the realms of education and biology research hint that regular exercise creates numerous benefits for the brain. Not only can regular workouts in the school gym or on the playground improve learning capacity, attention span, and memory, but it also works to reduce stress, and even combat the effects of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. In short, keeping your kids active could make them smarter.

The reason for this is that learning functions and memory retention are functions in the brain that rely on the growth and nourishment of brain cells, and exercise creates the best environment for that process to occur.

It All Adds Up: Exercise and Math

A recent study suggests that there may be a link between regular participation in physical education, and the mathematics scores that children achieve on standardized tests. The details of the study indicate a correlation between the amount of time students spent taking part in physical activity at school, and the scores they achieved during math-based exams. But the scientifically-backed connections don’t stop here. In fact, various pieces of research over the years have been able to point to the obvious interaction between physical health, and brain function.

The study worked by dividing the elementary schools of the city into separate groups according to level of physical education and exercise opportunities provided to students. At the same time, the researchers examined the recorded math scores for each student within those groups, allowing them to see a connection between both factors. The results showed that the schools offering the highest opportunity for exercise (151 minutes average) often posted higher math scores. In comparison, schools offering an average of 29 minutes of activity showed a lower proficiency rate.

Why the Research Makes Sense

While other studies have shown that academic performance is influenced by various factors, including socioeconomic status and parental involvement, a growing body of evidence has begun to reveal that active children often have a stronger performance in school, particularly in regards to mathematics and reading. The reason for this is simple – physical activity promotes positive mental health, reduces the likelihood of developing risk factors for chronic disease, and helps to build strong muscles, but it also affects academic achievement by enhancing concentration and improving classroom behavior. In fact, certain pieces of research have even suggested that reducing physical education exposure in schools could hinder the academic performance of developing children.

Although researchers aren’t entirely sure at this time what aspects of exercise contribute to better cognitive function, they are learning that it does physically benefit the brain – just as it benefits any other muscle in the human body. After all, increased aerobic exercise helps blood to pump throughout the body, delivering nutrients to organs and muscles. More blood means more oxygen, and therefore, nourished brain tissue.

At the same time, scientists have also suggested that regular exercise could be essential in helping the brain to produce more of a special protein known as the “brain-derived neurotrophic factor“. Otherwise known as “BDNF” this protein is an incredible source of nutrition for the brain, as it encourages the cells to grow, interconnect, and even communicate in brand new ways. Studies are even showing that exercise helps to play a part in the production of new brain cells, particularly in the “dentate gyrus” area, which is heavily responsible for the development of memory skills and learning.

Encouraging Educational Exercise

As more evidence continues to show the intertwining natures of exercise and brain function, it only makes sense that more groups are coming together to advocate the importance of after school activities and physical education in schools. Reports have already begun to suggest that all students should be getting at least sixty minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day, and yet only about half of school-age children are meeting this guideline.

Fortunately, parents may be able to help supplement some of the exercise that kids aren’t getting at certain schools. By supporting physical education classes, classroom breaks and recess, then encouraging children to take part in after-school sports and activity, they can increase the chances that their child will come to think of exercise as a normal, habitual, and important part of life.

Teacher Appreciation Week

Thursday, April 21st, 2016

teacher appreciation week

As a former PE teacher I can tell you that I never really thought about Teacher Appreciation Week until it came, and then the wonderful things bestowed upon us typically overwhelmed me. The PTA would organize some sort of food to be brought in for breakfast or lunch and we all felt very special. It is certainly a treat to be catered to! But what I will always treasure are the handmade books using the prompt “What do you love about PE?” Their pictures were adorable and the things they wrote often made me cry. I have been out of the schools for a few years now, but I have kept and cherished those books.

This year, Teacher Appreciation Week is May 2nd to the 6th. There are SO many things you can do to show appreciation to the teachers in your life. Here are a few ideas ranging from costing you nothing but a few minutes to those costing a few bucks. Whatever you do, if it comes from the heart, the teachers in your life will love it!

  • Have your child write a thank you card telling the teacher why they appreciate them. Drawings are always loved. You should write one too. Teachers love hearing kind words from the parents of their students.
  • Provide donations of classroom supplies, many of which can be purchased on the School Specialty website. Many teachers spend their own money to cover supplies for things such as art projects, class pets, bulletin boards, and more. Anything you can help with will be appreciated.
  • Offer to bring some healthy snacks for the classroom. (E.g. Oranges, trail mix, veggies and dip, popcorn, cheese sticks, apples, berries, celery with cream cheese/peanut butter, whole grain crackers, fig bars, etc.)
  • Volunteer some time in the classroom when you can, as teachers can always use help. Whether it’s putting homework and reminders into backpacks, teaching math or reading to small groups, being an art docent, helping with field trips, leading a physical activity, etc. your help is a welcome addition to the class. If you haven’t done so this year, start next school year right by talking with your child’s teacher(s) to see how your strengths can benefit the class.
  • Host a Teacher Appreciation Breakfast (or lunch). Make it a potluck with other parents from the school, and give teachers a clue it is coming so they don’t eat breakfast at home that day.
  • Offer to build a bulletin board one month in your area of expertise.
  • Have the students bring fresh flowers for the teacher toward the beginning of the week, and one parent per classroom is in charge of bringing a vase. Flowers from home gardens are perfect.
  • Take photographs of the children in the class to put on a poster. Then have each child write a few words of thanks next to their photo.
  • Create a video with each child saying or acting out something they appreciate about their teacher.
  • Purchase or make a large tote bag for hauling supplies to school. Then, using fabric markers, have all students write their names and a brief thank you.
  • Create a goofy class photo T-shirt and have the students sign their names on the back.
  • Purchase a gift card from anywhere! Teachers nearly always appreciate any little treat. Get something from a local coffeehouse, grocery store, restaurant, pedicurist, etc. Be sure to include a few words of thanks with the card.

Hope this year you enjoy the Teacher Appreciation Week and help make a teacher in your life feel special!


By: BJ Williston

How to Support Early Childhood Learning in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math

Tuesday, April 19th, 2016


The demand for jobs in the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (or STEM, for short) is rising each year. In fact, the U.S. Department of Commerce reports that STEM jobs are popping up more quickly than they can be filled. For every 1.9 STEM jobs in the U.S., there is only 1 person qualified to take it, with demand in these fields outpacing supply by nearly double.

For today’s generation of students, these stats are a call to action and not just because of the job market. Kids who have a strong grasp of STEM concepts are able to translate those skills to other areas and be creative problem solvers.

So what can parents do to encourage their kids in STEM fields, even at a very young age? Here are a few simple suggestions that can also be applied to classroom settings.

Play Outside

It may seem too simple to be true, but kids who have regular creative play time outside develop stronger motor skills than peers. The link between physical movement and learning is well-documented and children who feel connected to the natural world will be drawn to it. Having to interact and play with natural surroundings also forces kids to think about how things work, and how they play a role in the larger scheme of life.

Find STEM Lessons in Everyday Life

One in three American adults say they would rather clean their bathrooms than do a math problem. That’s a lot of people who would rather do just about anything than what was probably their least-favorite academic subject growing up. When we make a big deal out of topics like science, technology, engineering and math, and make them “work” to do, we risk our kids having a similarly negative opinion of the topics.

Look for simple ways in your daily routine to implement STEM concepts. This could be as easy as creating a grocery budget and asking your child to help you tally as you load the cart, or could include a more involved approach to fixing a computer or building a new website for your family business. It’s okay if you personally don’t know a lot about the topics: be willing to learn alongside your kids. You can also look up several age-appropriate STEM activities online if you really aren’t sure what to do with your kids.

Be Mindful of Your Words

If you are one of the aforementioned Americans who would rather be scrubbing a toilet than solving an equation, keep it to yourself. Parents are the most influential people in their kids’ lives and the way you talk about STEM topics will impact them. This is especially true if you have daughters, as research shows that young women tend to lose interest in STEM topics around middle school age when outside opinions really start to impact their decisions. Take a positive approach to STEM topics, even if they aren’t our strongest suit, in order to encourage your kids.

Limit Screen Time

It may seem counter-productive in a category that includes “technology” to limit electronic interaction, but it’s necessary. Simply taking in media through screens, whether on tablets, TVs or computers, is not interactive enough to be fulfilling STEM learning. If your kids seem to gravitate towards gaming or online concepts, look for concentrated ways for them to focus in small spurts (like by taking a coding class) instead of allowing them unlimited access to the technology.

When it comes to STEM learning, the best thing that parents can do is to be enthusiastic and look for ways to incorporate mini lessons into everyday life. Be willing to let your kids teach you a thing or two, too.

Products to Help STEM Skill Development

The School Specialty STEM Everyday Book Set helps students in understanding mathematical concepts and features informative real world situations. Set contains eight books including STEM Guides To Calculating Time, STEM Guides To Construction, STEM Guides to Cooking, STEM Guides To Maps, STEM Guides To Space, STEM Guides To Sports, STEM Guides To Travel, and STEM Guides To Weather.

How Food Influences Performance

Tuesday, April 12th, 2016

child nutrition

We know that nutrition influences children and how they grow. If a child has better nutrition, he or she has a better chance at success. Healthier students are better learners and are able to contribute more to the community. Here are some ways children are influenced by food choices.


Children benefit from nutrition in many of the same ways as adults do. Iron is one of the most important nutrients to helping children play and grow. Iron also helps the body cells carry oxygen to keep energy going. You can find iron in foods such as meats, liver, and beans.

Protein is also important for growing children. Protein is the main building block of your body’s cells, an energy provider, and a part of fighting infections. Children who get this nutrient from food such as animal products, nuts, or beans are able to grow strong muscles and heal after injuries.

We all know about calcium’s important role for bone and teeth health, but this nutrient is crucial for other tasks in the body as well. Calcium is useful to help the blood clot, which is an important part of the healing process after an injury. Calcium is also useful in aiding nerve and heart functions. Dairy goods are a well-known source of calcium, but calcium is also present in foods such as broccoli and spinach.

Carbohydrates are critical to giving children energy to play, think, and grow. Carbs have recently received a bit of a bad reputation, but they are still important to a child’s growth and development. To make carbohydrates more effective, consider using them with protein and serving carbohydrates with high fiber and low sugar content. Eating carbohydrates high in fiber also has the benefit of creating healthier bowel health.


Just like the body, the brain benefits from multiple vitamins, minerals, and nutrients. One of the more important nutrient groups are fatty acids. These acids include omega-3, omega-6, and DHA. These fats allow the brain to develop and maintain effective functioning. People eating a diet rich in these fatty acids are less prone to mood swings, concentration problems, and forgetfulness. There are supplements of omega fats and DHA out there, but you can also find these nutrients in food such as oily fish (salmon and sardines, for example), nuts, seeds, and whole grains.  Foods such as eggs and milk are also available with additional omega-3 fatty acids.

The brain also uses large amount of B vitamins. The brain uses B vitamins (you might also see them called folate, vitamin B6, and vitamin B12) to send messages between nerves and the entire body. B vitamins are found in foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole or fortified grains. The brain also uses vitamin C to send neural messages more effectively. Using nutrients to enhance brain function has been shown to help with recollecting information, concentration, and focus.

When Nutrition is Suboptimal

Children who don’t get the best nutrition can face many health issues, especially if they miss out on nutrients early in life. Missing nutrition, especially a severe lack of nutrition, can result in a delay or stunting of physical growth. Lacking in nutrition can make it more difficult for children to fight infections and illnesses, leading to physical harm. Children who lack a balanced diet have also been shown to have cognitive impairments, trouble with staying awake and focused, higher rates of absenteeism, and behavioral issues. Nutritional deficiencies can also affect children emotionally, as malnourished children can be more withdrawn and less helpful than other children.

Substandard nutrition can come with an excess of substances as well as a lacking. Many families and school districts looking to stretch tight budgets have relied on foods with long shelf lives to avoid waste, but many of these foods are high in sugar and simple carbohydrates while lacking other nutrients. It is important to note that malnutrition is a lack of nutrients, not food—this means even an overweight child can still have malnourishment issues.

Eat Well for Optimal Performance

Nutrition influences how children are able to grow and develop. Many of the same ideas from adult nutrition are still important with children. Getting adequate nutrition help children learn, grow, play, and interact with others. We often think of nutrition as a physical issue, but children need nutrition for their mind and feelings as well. By paying attention to children’s nutrition, we can ensure they will grow up to be healthy citizens.

4 Tips to Improve Your Child’s Sleep

Tuesday, April 5th, 2016

child's sleep

Sleep isn’t just a luxury of life – it’s a health requirement for adults and kids alike. When people don’t get enough sleep, it really shows. Lack of sleep has been linked to depression, lost productivity and even obesity.

So how much sleep do kids really need? It all depends on their age. The National Sleep Foundation recommends:

  • 14 to 17 hours of sleep per day for newborns, up to 3 months of age
  • 12 to 15 hours of sleep per day for infants, age 4 to 11 months of age
  • 11 to 14 hours of sleep per day for toddlers, age 1 to 2 years old
  • 10 to 13 hours of sleep per day for preschoolers, age 3 to 5 years old
  • 9 to 11 hours of sleep per day for school age kids, age 6 to 13 years old
  • 8 to 10 hours of sleep per day for teens, age 14 to 17 years old
  • 7 to 9 hours of sleep per day for adults, age 18 and up

So what can parents do to keep their kids in line with the recommendations – particularly if bedtime is usually met with difficulty? Here are a few ways families can make sleep a household priority, with less fuss and fighting.

Stick With Routine

Our bodies respond best to repeated patterns that don’t deviate much from one day to the next. From the time your child gets home from school or child care, have a general schedule for everything from dinner to homework to bath/shower to bedtime. It can be easy to let this routine go over vacations or on the weekends, but you should really try to stick with it. Sleep is just as important on non-school days and if children get too run-down on their days off, it will manifest in lethargy, disinterest and even bad behavior. Set and keep a bedtime – and have the actions that set it up for success.

Work Up to Bedtime

This references the first point, but is a little more specific. As an adult, would you expect to go to a high-energy workout class and then fall asleep five minutes later? The same is true for kids. If they are busy running around up until the clock strikes bedtime, it will take longer for them to fall asleep. Experts now advise parents to shut off all electronics, including TVs, an hour before bedtime. Have your kids play quietly with their non-electronic toys, or read them a book, in those 60 minutes leading up to lights out. Consider the time immediately before bedtime a “warm up” for the success of the rest of the night.

Prioritize Sleep

All parents say they want their kids to sleep well but do their actions add up to that end? It’s important to not overschedule your kids, particularly if those activities stretch into the evening hours. It’s also important to say “no” to events that will cut into the evening routine and to leave events early if there will be a conflict. It’s okay to make rare exceptions but as a whole, keep bedtime and the evening routine a priority on your family calendar.

Monitor Food/Drinks in the Evening
As a general rule of thumb, don’t allow your kids anything with processed sugar after dinner. Kids should never have caffeine, as the stimulant effects can last for hours after it has entered the body. Keep in mind that chocolate has caffeine though not the high amount found in soft drinks or coffee/tea. Make sure your kids, including your teens, know the food and drink rules in the evening and set a good example by following them yourself.

Good sleeping habits take some time to cultivate and there is no quick fix for parents or kids. Establishing consistency and routine – and then making sleep a family priority – will go a long way to better rest in your household, and all of the health benefits that accompany it.

11 Healthy Packed Lunches For School [INFOGRAPHIC]

Tuesday, March 29th, 2016

Eating right is important—especially for kids. Here are a handful of kid-friendly lunch recipes that are easy to prepare and pack away, as well as some key info concerning the kinds of foods a child should eat on a daily basis.

What Should My Child Eat?

It’s important to remember that, unlike an adult, a child’s body is still growing. So they need a broader, more varied diet in order to properly fuel their growth. Here are some of the key nutrients that belong in every child’s diet.

  • Protein: Protein is critical: a child needs protein in order to fuel the construction of valuable cells, fight off infections and viruses, carry oxygen through the blood stream and break down food.
  • Fats: Fats, like those found in meat and milk, are important. They’re a vital source of energy. However, fat intake should be limited, and balanced with other crucial nutrients.
  • Calcium: Calcium is crucial when it comes to the development of a child’s teeth and bones. It also helps to boost muscle and heart function. 
  • Carbohydrates: Children need carbs to properly fuel their bodies. They also use carbs to break down fats and protein, which they’ll use to repair and build vital tissues.
  • Vitamin A: A child’s body uses vitamin A for overall growth. Vitamin A is also useful for preventing infections, fighting off viruses and for keeping a child’s eyes healthy.
  • Vitamin C: This vitamin helps to boost the immune system and it also helps the body to heal injuries and repair blood vessels. Citrus fruits, strawberries and tomatoes are rich in vitamin C.
  • Iron: A child’s body uses iron to maintain blood flow and also build blood cells.
  • Folate: This vitamin helps with cell and overall body growth. Whole-grain cereals, lentils, asparagus, beans and spinach are rich in folate.
  • Fiber: Fiber helps to promote bowel regularity. Eating a diet rich in fiber when young can help to prevent certain diseases, like heart diseases, when the child reaches adulthood.


Quick and Easy Packed Lunches
Here are some easy-to-make recipes that feature tons of healthy (and tasty) ingredients:

  1. Chicken Noodle Soup: Canned chicken noodle soup can be tasty, but homemade soup is even better! You can make the soup on the stove or in a crockpot, and the ingredients are straightforward. You’ll need low-sodium chicken or veggie broth, chicken breast, veggies (carrots, celery, garlic, peas and tomatoes are a must) and noodles—preferably whole-grain.
  2. Burrito: Sandwiches, depending on the bread you use, can be overly rich in carbs and sugars. Opt for some carb-light tortillas or whole-grain wraps instead and make your kids some burritos for lunch. Add rice, black beans, chicken, low-fat cheese and fresh salsa to a tortilla—now you have a simple burrito that’s bound to be a winner in your house.
  3. Chicken Nuggets: Dice up some chicken, cover them with some breadcrumbs, and then bake the bite-sized bites. Twenty minutes later, you’ll have a nice healthy snack or part of a perfect school lunch.
  4. Homemade “Lunchables”: Mix things up by making some homemade “Lunchables.” Slice up protein (like turkey, sausage or baked chicken) and add some cheese (like low-fat mozzarella) to a container. In a separate container, add some crackers, a dip (like hummus) and include some veggies too. Throw in a healthy dessert like grapes or strawberries in a small Ziploc baggie to round out the meal.
  5. Turkey Salad Roll: diced turkey, almonds, seedless red grapes (halved), celery and mayo to a plastic container. Pack the container into a bag along with some citrus fruit (like oranges), a whole-wheat hot dog bun and a spoon so your child can add the salad to the bun whenever they’re ready.
  6. Turkey-Cheese Pita: This one’s easy! Make a pita-style sandwich using some pita bread, cream cheese, roasted turkey, cucumbers and baby spinach.
  7. BBQ Chicken and Sloppy Joes: Shred some rotisserie chicken, add chopped tomatoes, carrots. Then toss in some BBQ sauce, and mix everything together in a skillet over low to medium heat. Add some parsley and pack the mixture into a container. Add the container to a bag, and then also pack a whole-wheat bun, some fresh fruit and some chocolate chips for dessert.
  8. Chips and Dip: Did you know that you could make your own dip? Chop up some tomatoes, and then add some white onions, fresh cilantro and lime juice. Your child can snack on the dip with some flaxseed tortilla chips. You can also add some avocados and Greek yogurt to change up the texture of the dip.
  9. Tacos: Add shredded chicken and lettuce to a tortilla—pack this away in foil. Then mix together an avocado with lemon juice and shredded cheese. Place the avocado mixture into a sealed container, and place both the tortilla-in-foil and the container into a bag. When the child is ready to eat, they can combine the tortilla and the avocado mixture together.
  10. “Healthy” Fried Rice: Add scallions, carrots, peas, corn, water and soy sauce to a skillet and cook them with vegetable oil. Add brown rice and more water and soy sauce. Add a few more scallions, sesame seeds and chopped peanuts. Pack away in a sealed container.
  11. Breakfast Sandwich: Slice a bagel in half. Add cream cheese, bacon, a scrambled egg and two tomatoes slices to the bottom portion of a bagel. Add some more cream cheese to the top portion of the bagel, and then place the two portions together—now you have a protein-rich sandwich that’s perfect for breakfast or lunch!

healthy packed lunches infographic

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11 Ways to Help Kids Cope with Stress

Monday, March 21st, 2016

Many adults think of childhood as a carefree and enjoyable part of their lives.  However, children can face stressors from many areas, such as schoolwork, social needs, sports/other activities, family issues, and even world news. Sometimes, if parents forget these stressors, children can feel alone and can have trouble meeting their needs. There are a few ways to help children cope with stressful events in their lives.


Think About What Might Be Causing Stress

Remember that children aren’t immune to stressful events happening around them. Children are frequently more sensitive to events and can blame themselves for things they have no responsibility for, such as a divorce or death of a loved one. Additionally, children’s emotional needs can change as they age. For example, physical issues they may not notice at age 5 can become worrisome at age 14.

Take Care of Physical Health Needs

Providing for children’s needs starts with their physical well-being. Children need to have healthy diets, shelter, and safe conditions to allow for better emotional growth. Additionally, pay attention to common physical complaints such as headaches and stomach issues, as these can be physical signs of emotional stress.

Be Sure They Are Getting Enough Sleep

Sleep is crucial to giving children the rest they need to develop and grow. The sleep needs of children change as they age, and each child can vary in the amount of sleep they need. As children age, the amount of sleep they need ranges from 8 to 12 hours.

Talk to Your Children

Keep in mind that every child experiences events differently. Be sure to check in with them to see how they are handling events. Before an event happens, consider talking with them about what might happen. If your child is scared of a doctor’s appointment, talk about why people go to doctors and what will probably happen at this appointment. Instead of asking a vague, “what’s wrong?” consider asking about specific issues, such as their teacher or coach.

Treat Their Feelings as Valid

Many well-meaning parents tell children things such as, “don’t worry”, or, “it’ll be okay.” Statements such as these teach children they shouldn’t have these feelings, which can make them reluctant to seek help. Instead, acknowledging their feelings with phrases such as, “You seem worried. What’s happening?” or “That sounds frustrating” validates feelings and gives your children terms and words to express feelings.

Emphasize Learning Instead of Results

When children think of abilities as something “natural”, they can feel frustrated when they face difficulties in these areas. If they find themselves not excelling easily at activities, they can feel inadequate if they have to work at something or fearful of “looking bad” in front of people.  Remind them that even people who make things look easy need to work hard and they make mistakes sometimes.

Schedule “Down Time” and Unstructured Activities

Between school, sports, extracurricular activities, and other planned time, children can feel overbooked with no time to themselves. Children have been shown to exercise creativity and adaptability in unstructured play and time to relax. Try to think about your children’s down time when scheduling their activites.

Help Your Child Find Their Own Solutions

This doesn’t mean you solve problems for them. Instead, ask your children for ways they would approach a problem and help them see the positive and negative aspects of each solution. For example, if they are having a problem with friends, you can discuss different ways to approach the problem or practice how to discuss a problem with friends.

Consider Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques

Relaxation techniques can take many shapes, including acting out coping skills, using art, counting, breathing techniques, and physical play. Mindfulness teaches us to pay attention to current feelings and experiences while creating stillness. There are a few different tools out there, but here is a script that can work for multiple children in different age groups.

Be Patient

Sometimes, children can feel embarrassed of their problems or feelings. It might take your child some time to be able to communicate feelings effectively or share a story. Simply listening to your children and letting them get to what they mean to say in their own time can help children really feel as if their needs matter.


Children of all ages feel stress in their lives from multiple sources. Parents are crucial in teaching children that while stress is a natural part of life, there are activities and thought processes to make it less nerve-racking. This process won’t be instant, but parents and children alike can benefit from thinking of how to manage stressful feelings.

Have you faced stress with your children? How did you help your child cope with these feelings?

How to Find the Right After School Activities For Your Child

Sunday, March 13th, 2016

Studies frequently show that children involved in after school activities experience a wide-range of social and developmental benefits. For instance, KidsHealth reports that after school activities could help children to achieve better grades and higher school attendance. What’s more, introducing advantageous hobbies into your child’s routine can help them to learn the value of time management, and teach them how to overcome the difficult emotions involved with winning and losing. In other words, children may learn the skills they need to cope in the real world, in their after school classes.

after school activities

Of course, with countless different after school activities to choose from, finding the perfect fit for your child can be a complicated task. At a basic level, it means understanding the temperament, interests, and schedule of your child. However, keep in mind that regardless of their level of interest, different activities may require some trial and error before you find the ideal option. Following, we’ll cover some tips that could help you enroll your child into an activity that builds their skills, ignites their passions, and nourishes their growth.

1. Start Slowly

It can be tempting to enroll a child into numerous activities at once. After all, this way, if they want to drop one option, they’ve still got plenty of other classes to choose from. However, it’s often much better to start off slowly, introducing your youngster to a single activity and seeing how they react.

Too many activities at once, and your child may feel stressed, and exhausted, causing them to withdraw from friends and family. Too few activities, and your child will feel bored, irritable and under stimulated. Finding the right balance between too much and too little will be a personalized journey for yourself and your child, as some are capable of more activities than others.

2. Consider Your Child’s Strengths and Weaknesses

Remember that no two children are the same — each has different needs, interests, and skills that will all become crucial in choosing the correct after school activity. Take the time to think about the areas in which your child excels, and the places where they may struggle, then create a list of after school options based on this information.

During this time, try to make sure that you don’t impose your own interests and dreams onto your child. Just because you always wanted to be a star footballer doesn’t mean your son or daughter will feel the same way. Keep in mind that it’s worth considering not only your child’s current interests, but their future goals too. The right after school activities can help to give your children crucial life skills that will enrich their lives for years.

3. Ask About Your Child’s Interests

If you’re having trouble deciding which activities will best stimulate and engage your child — ask them what they enjoy doing, or which skills they’d like to build upon. When making a short list of activities to consider, don’t be afraid to involve your child in the brainstorming process — they may surprise you with ideas you would never have thought of alone.

Make sure that you’re clear with your children about the commitment involved in choosing an after school program — particularly if they’re interested in options that have enrollment fees or costs for equipment.

4.  Consider Your Child’s Temperament

Before you enroll your child in group sports and activities, you may need to think about their temperament. For example, some children naturally get along well with others, while others prefer to spend time in their own company.

If a child who prefers engaging in structured play never has time to be alone, they may get bored and frustrated very quickly. On the other hand, keep in mind that introducing your child to occasional interaction with other children could help to boost their confidence in social situations, and improve their group skills.

5. Think about Your Child’s Schedule – and Your Own

Finally, when choosing an after-school activity, make sure you consider the time it runs, as there’s little point in enrolling your child to a class you won’t be available to get them to.

At the same time, think about your child’s schedule — as children of certain ages will have different commitments that too many after school activities could impact.

Encourage Your Child – No Matter What

Remember, even if your child is excited to join an after school team at first, there’s always a chance that they could lose interest, or want to quit. Although children should be encouraged to stick to an activity for a reasonable amount of time — to ensure they don’t simply need time to get used to it, your child should also feel free to leave a group they genuinely don’t enjoy. As mentioned before, finding the perfect after school activity may involve some experimentation.

How did you choose extracurricular activities for your children? What extracurricular activities do your kids love most?

Tips for Encouraging Positive Behavior in Children

Tuesday, March 8th, 2016

Educators have a number of important roles to play within a student’s life — from providing encouragement, to teaching them about the world. One of the most challenging things any teacher will have to do is figure out the right ways to encourage positive behavior in their students, and reduce bad behavior.

positive behavior

Though your idea of what counts as “positive” behavior may change according to your cultural background and personal beliefs — the idea should be to encourage behavior that will help your students to function well as a responsible, confident, and productive adult.

Following, we will discuss just some of the tips that you can use to address challenging behavior, and promote beneficial characteristics in your students as they grow and develop throughout their lives.

1. Set Clear Boundaries and Limits

You can’t expect your students to be well-behaved unless you clarify exactly what you expect from them. Lay the groundwork as early as possible by establishing rules that children must follow, and make sure your students understand what you’re asking for. Remember that you may have to go over these rules frequently in order for your students to come to terms with them — and for young children, it may be helpful to use picture diagrams as a learning guide.

In order for the rules to carry weight, breaking them should lead to consequences that are both fair, and logical. For instance, if the children fight over a single toy, take the toy away from both of them. In simple terms, the punishment should fit the crime — but if you can’t think of a logical consequence, the next step may be to remove certain privileges.

2. Treat Children as Individuals — Listen to Them

It may seem obvious, but every child is different, and as such they have specific strengths and weaknesses, dislikes and likes. By identifying the things that are unique about each child early on, you can help to reduce bad behavior through mutual understanding.

Take the time to discuss feelings with your students — how they feel when they are asked to do certain things, and how you feel when you see them acting badly. Discussing issues with children, and listening to their concerns will help to encourage empathy in your students and create understanding.

3. Provide a Positive Role Model

Although there are likely to be different rules in your classroom for yourself, and your students, treating others poorly, showing bad manners, or failing to follow your own simple rules shows inconsistency to students that could confuse them.

Your students will act how you act, so it’s crucial to lead by example in every aspect of life. Show your charges how to treat others with respect by practicing good manners yourself. If you want students to be tidier, make sure that you tidy up after yourself too. The more you show the behaviors you want them to adapt, the more they will consider those behaviors to be natural.

4. Deliver the Appropriate Amount of Attention

Children crave attention, and if good behavior isn’t getting them the spotlight they’re looking for, then they’re likely to misbehave just to get a reaction. On the other hand, if you provide enough positive attention to students in periods when they show you good behavior, then they will be less likely to act out.

5. Cool Down and Convey the Right Message

Finally, if your students are being difficult, cool down before you address them, as screaming and shouting is unlikely to have a good impact. Rather than raising your voice when students misbehaves, outline how they have shown bad behavior, and inform them of the consequences involved with continuing to break the rules.

Try to take advantage of teachable moments whenever possible, and inform students of how their good or bad behavior affects both them, and you. The more you can do to help students understand that your rules are for their own good, the more they will appreciate the guidelines you set.

Positive Behavior Takes Time

Remember, encouraging positive behavior is a long and on-going battle that you’re going to have to work hard at. However, using the previous tips could help you to not only improve your student’s attitude, but maximize your impact as an educator.

The Benefits of Participation in After School Activities

Tuesday, March 1st, 2016

The benefits of after school activities for children are wide and varied, ranging from physical benefits due to the promotion of increased activity, to psychological and social advantages. Scientific research proves that encouraging children to engage in activities after school could aid their development.

after school activities

Experts in child advancement suggest that participation in extracurricular activities on a regular basis is the best way to help children develop their individual personality, cut down on emotional stress, and enhance social or academic skills that could benefit them in the future. Psychologists even recommend after school activities as the preferred choice over confidence-building classes.

Boosting Academic Performance

Every leading study regarding the impact of extracurricular activities on child development shows that academic grades, study habits, and school-based behavior all improve when children attend regular after school clubs and team sports. After all, if a child learns something new in an afterschool activity, it could boost their understanding of school subjects — even if that activity doesn’t relate directly to classwork. Discovering that they have a talent for something can give children a new source of confidence or passion that translates into their behavior at school.

According to research, youths who frequently participate in after school activities are more likely to show greater levels of attention in class, be more engaged in school, and are less likely to develop an inclination for violent or problem behavior. What’s more, some extracurricular activities provide students with the facilities and time to pursue interests that they may not be able to pursue at school.

Improving Life and Social Skills

Regardless of whether they’re establishing new relationships, or building upon existing friendships, after school activities provide an ideal environment in which to nurture social skills and confidence. Numerous extracurricular activities work to teach children the value of working as a team to achieve a mutual goal — a skill that will benefit them in their future occupation.

Similarly, engaging with new people in a productive environment helps to strengthen independence and confidence in children. The more they explore their abilities within a new environment, the more children can build a sense of their own character, and even develop crucial leadership skills. By working with others outside of a classroom setting, youths begin to learn the value of improvisation, sharing ideas, and offering support to peers in challenging circumstances.

Creating Safer, Happier Children

After school activities offer a positive environment in which children can grow and thrive when parents are working and unable to make it home for right after school. Many adults today stay at work after the school day has ended. After school activities remove the temptation to sit in front of a television set.

What’s more, a number of after school activities promote emotional wellbeing by allowing children to work off excess energy, relax their minds, and overcome the stress associated with school life. While sports help to remove some of the tension that could have built during the day, academic clubs help to reduce the stress associated with preparing for tests by offering extra assistance and support.

Promoting Healthy Hobbies

Finally, children with a regular hobby are less likely to spend less static time glued to a smartphone or screen. Not only does the time spent within a club encourage your child to remain active and away from the sofa, but the interests that they develop during those clubs will prompt them to spend more time practicing skills and pursuing their passions.

In fact, the afterschool alliance has conducted research into the impact of extracurricular activities on child health, and found that they are essential in promoting a healthier lifestyle. Studies of after school programs have shown that obesity levels are often much lower in program participants, with only 21% of children suffering from weight problems compared to 33% for non-participants.

Encouraging a Brighter Future

The skills and habits a child learns during his or her school years help to shape the kind of future they will lead as an adult. As a result, after school activities that promote everything from healthy-living habits, to leadership skills, good time-management, and better social or academic performance have plenty of advantages to offer.

Keep in mind that you shouldn’t push children to over-do it when it comes to after school activities. It’s better for youths to choose something that they really enjoy doing and stick to it, than attempt numerous different activities that quickly become overwhelming, and may detract from their ability to concentrate on school work.