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Is Homework a Good Idea? And Is It the Right Question to Ask?

Written by Jiří Tillner, Educational Specialist at Lipa Learning

The wave of media and public interest in the compulsory nature of homework in schools has taken the Czech Republic by storm. Should we have no choice in the matter, should we do it voluntarily, or abolish it? Solid arguments exist both for and against all of these options. In truth, however, there’s no right or wrong answer. Every child is an individual with individual needs, so we should be asking different questions altogether.   

 

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Let’s think more broadly. It’s argued that those who wish to learn are self-motivated and express a long-term desire for exploration and pursuit, which ultimately results in better understanding and useful life skills. Like many prominent educational systems, we at Lipa readily support children’s natural desire to learn – a hands-on learning that allows children to be active learners rather than passive observers. Why separate learning and play? Children find it one and the same.

That is, until they hit the wall of compulsory education. Their inner motivation to learn is gradually played down (no pun intended) by compulsory learning. If this is the case, how can contrasting approaches coexist? How do we encourage and reap the benefits of freewill learning in an environment governed by compulsory schooling?

 

The world is changing

Meanwhile, we’re observing changes in society’s employment structures and social norms. Half of the jobs will disappear over the next 25 years, claims an Oxford University study. Choosing a job is a thing of the past. The market says we should go and create one instead. Know yourself, be flexible and adaptable, and focus more on continuous lifelong learning.

So what does it all mean? Compulsory homework or not, in order for children to keep abreast of said developments, to grow up and succeed, they will primarily need to focus on their self-understanding and their own individual talent(s). Who are we, what are we good at, how do we learn and how can we adapt to changes? The answer to those questions will shape their learning, work, and their entire lives.

 

Individual approach is the key

We assume that individual strengths and talents need to be explored and nourished in order for children to transition from school to open society. The educational system should keep finding ways to support this. Without a doubt, schools ought to keep reevaluating their approach to the individualization of classroom instruction (including homework) and teachers’ roles. A desirable priority is respecting free will, various learning styles, differences in development, and the positive effects such respect can have on learning.

Parents, too, have a significant role to play. We can all help facilitate an environment where children will want to learn naturally and pursue the requirements that life throws at them. Make it individual, relevant and appropriate to the individual take the “compulsory” and “work” parts out of the equation. Help children love learning, and they will never feel they have to work a day in their lives.

 

Sources:

Frey, C.B. Osborne, M., (2013). The Future of Employment. Oxford, UK: Oxford Martin Programme on Technology and Employment, University of Oxford. Retrieved April 12, 2018, from: http://www.eng.ox.ac.uk/about/news/new-study-shows-nearly-half-of-us-jobs-at-risk-of-computerisation

Is homework a good idea or not? (2017). BBC Newsround. Retrieved April 12, 2018, from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/newsround/38383428

Jak se z touhy učit se stane sběratelství známek. (2010). Český rozhlas. Retrieved April 12, 2018, from http://www.rozhlas.cz/leonardo/audioslideshow/_zprava/jak-se-z-touhy-ucit-se-stane-sberatelstvi-znamek–816191

Kopřiva, P. (2008). Respektovat a být respektován. Kroměříž: Spirála.

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Three reasons why kids should spend more time outside

Written by Ladislava Whitcroft, Educational Specialist at Lipa Learning

When I look back at my childhood, spring used to be an adventurous time full of expeditions. We roamed around the neighbourhood with my friends, discovering the “wilderness” hidden behind the houses and yards. Today, children (especially those who live in the city) don’t spend much time outside anymore. Maybe it’s because places where children could play independently and without supervision have become scarce? There are also concerns about child safety, which is why it’s very rare nowadays to meet a group of unsupervised children playing outside. It has also become a trend that parents organise their children’s free time for them. Some parents may think that wandering outside is a waste of time for their child and that it’s better to send them to a drama class. So why should children spend more time outside?

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Children learn in nature

I have nothing against interesting extracurricular activities; however, it is important to realise that playing outside freely is hugely beneficial for children. It is not only about play – children learn at the same time, especially the youngest ones, for whom playing is the most natural way of learning. That’s why we should give children the opportunity to entertain themselves with what nature has to offer. And it offers a lot – just take a look in the garden or in the park. Nature has many great shapes, colours, scents, and sounds in store and children get to learn with all their senses. Apart from having the option to choose from a wide array of interesting natural materials, children have a much bigger environment for their games and experiments out in the nature than in their room.

 

Children learn by experience

It is proven that if learning is accompanied by emotions, we tend to remember what we learned better and with deeper understanding when engaging them. That is why children need learning to be accompanied by nice experiences – and nature is great at providing those.

We can find wilderness even on a small piece of land between houses, where we can experience and learn many interesting things. We can turn over stones and discover who lives underneath them. We can observe the marching ants and try to guess where they are going. Or we can experience wonderful moments of serenity when sleeping in the open air, looking up at stars.

We can also experience the joy of working with natural materials to create beautiful and original objects of art. Children love crafting with natural materials. In spring, you can get inspired by bird nests and try to create a similar one out of small wood sticks. Not only will children learn about the life of birds, they will also explore how to put the sticks on one another to create the right shape. They will also compare their length and numbers, while also experiencing their scent, colour, and texture.

Other times children become little artists and create various pictures out of natural materials. Create colourful mandalas with your children made out of flower petals, colourful stones, and other items that they find pretty and fascinating. Apart from learning about symmetry and developing a sense for art, children learn how to solve problems, cooperate, communicate, and how to finish what they started.

 

Staying outside is great for immunity and mental health

Staying outside improves the immune system and also leads to a better mental health. Children who spend most of their free time at home often have too much energy and “misbehave”. This leads to a poorer mental well-being of not only them, but also their parents. And having satisfied, contented parents is very important for children. Playing outside simply allows children to run around and vent some energy.

You might be surprised to hear that playing in the mud is healthy for children. Apart from the fact that contact with mud strengthens the immune system, mud contains bacteria which increase the level of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is known for having a positive effect on our mood. In some preschools, children have a “mud kitchen” with cookware in the garden, where they can “cook” from mud. And cooking from mud is a piece of cake – literally. You just roll a ball out of mud and decorate it with leaves of grass, flower petals, or colourful stones. When you spike the mud ball on a stick, you can create a mud monster out of it. Spring is a great time for creating mud cakes and mud monsters, because it tends to rain a lot.

When you’ve had enough fun with jumping in puddles, try creating something from natural materials with your kids. If you feel like it, you can take a picture of your piece of art and share it with us on our Facebook page.

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Easter Celebrations with Kids

Written by Payal Malhotra, Lipa Consul for India

Being brought up in a Christian school, I understood Easter as being a religious holiday that celebrated Jesus Christ rising from the dead after his crucification, but I didn’t know anything about Easter eggs and the Easter Bunny. Today, we see that these have become a prominent and inseparable part of this holiday, but to many of us it’s still a mystery how bunnies, chicks, colorful decor, and eggs have anything to do with the celebration of Easter. Here’s what I found out.

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The egg is considered as a symbol of new life, so eggs are said to relate to Jesus’ resurrection and rebirth. Decorating eggs in fun colors and patterns has also been a tradition dating back to 13th century – back then, the egg was forbidden during Lent, and to mark the end of this dietary sacrifice people used to paint the eggs before they would devour them, an activity that soon got caught up alongside the existing Easter celebrations.

As for bunnies, they are well known as being prolific procreators and thus considered as an ancient symbol of fertility and new life; hence the association with Easter. It is also believed that the Germans who immigrated to America in the 1700s brought along their tradition of a mysterious, egg-laying hare. This hare would deliver beautifully colored eggs to nests made by the children. Gradually, it became a part of the Easter tradition, and the egg-laying hare became the egg-hiding Easter Bunny we know today.

There are various ways of celebrating Easter in different parts of the world, but here are a few very interesting activities to try with your kids during Easter time:

1) Have a special Easter breakfast: Instead of your usual porridge or scrambled eggs, boil some eggs that kids can decorate like chicks using black pepper corns  we can make small eye with the peppercorns and and a little beak with the help of a small wedge shaped piece of carrot. You can also try and serve up some bunny-shaped pancakes with ears.

2) Bring Easter joy to the less fortunate: prepare beautifully decorated Easter baskets with coloured eggs, candies, fruit, and some other edibles and give it to the needy or homeless. This will not only make Easter a happy celebration for them, but will also give your kids a sense of responsibility and develop the value of empathy, caring, and generosity.

3) Decorate eggs: get the family together to paint eggs with various leaf or flower prints using dyes or permanent markers. Help kids decorate with colored tissues and paper. For the littlest ones, decorate plastic eggs and let them put fun Easter stickers on them.

4) Make recycled Easter baskets: use old materials around the house, like cardboard boxes, old food containers, etc. to make your own DIY Easter baskets. Decorate them with paint, crepe paper, or other fun crafting supplies while explaining to your kids the value of recycling by making something new from the old.

5) Have a scavenger hunt: fill plastic Easter eggs with candies and hide them around the house or in the yard. Then leave little clues with riddles or drawings that show kids where to find all the eggs, or just the most exciting eggs (like a big golden egg with a prize inside).

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Are Two-Year-Olds Ready for Preschool?

Written by Jana Klinderová, Educational Specialist at Lipa Learning

How early is too early to sign your kids up for preschool? Are two-year-olds ready for it? Data exists supporting both sides of the argument, but making sense of it can be intimidating at first. In this case, it’s better to approach the topic from a different angle: there’s no universal truth for each and every child.

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Parents are often put into difficult situations where, either from economic reasons or otherwise, they’re forced to return to work early after having children. Some parents have a different motivation: they want to make career choices on their own terms. Every parent needs something a bit different to be satisfied with their career and we can’t judge those who choose to pursue it. After all, a happy and satisfied parent makes the best role model for their children. But can we combine our kids’ needs and our parental needs without neglecting either? (And end up with a clean conscience at the end?)

 

What plays a role?

There are many factors that can help us decide whether our child is ready for preschool or even a day-care service. One factor is the child’s maturity: mental, physical, and social-emotional, and another factor is the type of preschool: number of children per class, number of teachers, and the amount of time children spend there.

Children’s development follows a pattern. It’s said that 90% of our character is developed in the first three years of life, the so-called crucial time of development. A two-year-old is still forming the important psychological trait of “secure attachment” to the people around them. This process starts roughly in the first year of life and is still in progress by age two. A teacher or a caretaker who has to provide for multiple children at the same time cannot manage this important attachment, since it’s primarily created one-on-one with those closest to the child (parents, siblings, extended family, etc).

 

Secure attachment

Bowlby’s theory speaks about the importance of establishing a secure attachment to the closest provider—the parent. In this attachment, the child finds physical and emotional satisfaction, as it provides him or her with a sense of security. The experiences from early-in-life relationships help develop the ability to create and maintain relationships later in life. Children naturally seek to be close to people to whom they have this attachment, and displaying emotions—laughing, crying and yelling—are how they express this. Parents’ instinctive reaction is usually to provide care and safety, removing fear and anxiety from the child. If the parents’ behavior is avoidant or inconsistent, an insecure attachment forms instead, causing emotional deprivation and increasing the chance of behavioral dysfunctions.

 

Preschool and stress

A growing number of studies speaks about an increased level of stress hormones in toddlers who spend a long time with preschool caretakers. Children who spend more than eight hours a day outside home care showed the highest levels of cortisol (the stress hormone). It’s been proven that consistent high cortisol levels lead to sleeping disorders, a weak immune system, or blood sugar abnormalities. On top of that, there’s the emotional deprivation that the child feels during separation, while they’re at preschool.

 

Different needs

Even though it’s a difference of one year, two-year olds have completely different needs than three-year-olds. On top of higher demands to hygiene, nutrition, or sleep, two-year-olds very often need an individual approach, more support and help, enough time to do an activity, and the teachers’ efforts to understand their mostly non-verbal communication.

As mentioned before, the type of preschool plays into the decision. You can’t compare a class of 8–10 children with two teachers and a class of 20 children with one teacher. No matter how professional and capable a teacher is, they wouldn’t be able to give a two-year-old in that environment the attention and individual care they need.

 

Are there any positives?

Despite all this, children being away from home in an institution with quality caretaking can have its benefits and push children’s development in the right direction. Children also learn by observing their peers and even though two-year-olds may be too young to engage in group activities, they can still watch and absorb proper social patterns.

Researchers in Norway discovered that there is a minimal correlation between the time spent in preschool and the development of behavioral issues. The research done by the London School of Economics and Oxford University in 2016 showed that children aged two to three were more stimulated by interacting with other children in preschools than with adults, which lead to an improvement in their development. According to the research, singing, painting and crafting (all common preschool activities) have a positive influence on children.

 

Time spent at preschool

A crucial thing the research didn’t mention was the amount of time children actually spent in preschool. Again, there is a big difference between spending the entire day away from  parents and spending just a couple of hours per week. When we talk about only a couple of hours, it works as a slow training in separation, which the child can manage.

Every child grows up at a different pace and their character requires something different each time. Thanks to the many options we have today, we can always make a choice that is tailored precisely to the needs of our children. We should, however, remember that two-year-olds need more time with their parents, even when the external caretaker is the best there can be. Small groups of children should also be prioritized.

In the end, it’s best to follow your own intuition and not just follow the opinions and advice of others. After all, it is we, the parents, who know best what our child needs.

 

Sources:

Zachrisson, H. D., Dearing, E., Lekhal, R. and Toppelberg, C. O. (2013), Little Evidence That Time in Child Care Causes Externalizing Problems During Early Childhood in Norway. Child Dev, 84: 1152–1170

May Britt Drugli, Elisabet Solheim, Stian Lydersen, Vibeke Moe, Lars Smith, Turid Suzanne Berg-Nielsen. Elevated cortisol levels in Norwegian toddlers in childcareEarly Child Development and Care, 2017

Bowlby, J., Vazba a ztráta (svazek I., Vazba), Portál, 2010

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Cyberbullying

Written by Payal Malhotra, Lipa Consul for India

 

Bullying isn’t new.

But just like how our technology has evolved, bullying has evolved.

Thanks to our always-on mobile technology and our nature of sharing everything online, cyberbullying is the new trend.  Cyberbullying is becoming the biggest online concern, already affecting about 35% of children worldwide.

Cyberbullying can be defined as the use of technology to harass, embarrass, or threaten another person. It doesn’t require any kind of physical presence and as cyberbullies can easily benefit from the anonymity of the Internet and hide their true identity, it can take place 24/7. Cyberbullying can have a huge impact on people and has even gone to the extent of driving people to commit suicide.

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Cyberbullying includes

1) Sending mean emails, messages, or texts

2) Spreading gossip and rumors about others online

3) Sharing embarrassing photos and videos about others

Cyberbullying can be done either by individuals or can even be done by a group.

 

How to find whether our kids are being cyberbullied

At times, it is difficult to learn whether a child is being bullied or not as the child might feel too scared to tell their parents. Cyberbullying causes both physical, as well as emotional issues and there are certain behavioural changes which can help us find out if a child is a victim.

1) Withdrawal: your child might begin to withdraw from their school and friends as well as family members and might change their online habits

2) Inexplicable anxiety or aggression

3) Loss of interest in studies leading to lower marks

4) Eating disorders

 

Protecting our children from cyberbullying

In today’s world where there is an ever-increasing use of digital technology and online socializing, it’s very important to make our kids aware of cyberbullying. Some kids might be worried about losing their internet privileges and won’t confess to their parents what’s happening, so it’s important that they know they that you’re on the same team.

We need talk to our kids and discuss with them what cyberbullying is, and what they should do if it ever happens to them. It’s also important for us to make our kids aware of the fact that it can be a common thing these days and that they should be open to discuss it and should face it with courage, and that you can find a solution to it together.

 

Preventing cyberbullying

1) Encourage your kids to tell you about their online activities. Ask them to be aware of all that they do online. You should also encourage them to come and talk to you straightaway in case they are bullied.

2) Encourage the use of security systems and keep their profiles private. They should also know how to block and delete anyone bullying them.

3) Educate your kids about appropriate online behavior, which means you should make them understand that posting things without thinking can lead to hurting themselves or someone else easily and unknowingly.

4) Without invading their personal space, monitor their online and phone activities. Become their friends on social sites, visit the sites explored by them with them and let them show you their favourite things to do and read online.

5) Think about installing online security on all devices. There are lots of security systems available which come with parental locks and controls and thus allow you to keep a check on your kids’ online activities.

 

If your child is being cyberbullied

We should stay calm and encourage our kids to face any bullying strongly and to not panic. We should ask our kids to not react or respond. Deleting any abusive remarks or messages should not be encouraged, but rather should be preserved as evidence. We can also block or delete the bully. If there is sexual bullying or threats to children, police should be involved immediately. If the bully is someone from school, the school authorities as well as other parents should be taken into confidence and the problem should be sorted out.

It is very important to stand up against and stop cyberbullying, as it is not only an emotional and possibly physical trauma for the person being bullied, but also indicates that the bully needs psychological help too.

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