Education Roundup XXXV: Lost skills of childhood, traits shared by successful kids, 10 things teens need to know, picky eaters and more…

Sorry for the long lag since my last post, I’m back in the saddle and will be posting monthly. Please share with your friends!

There are seven hobbies that science suggests will make you smarter. The full article by Christina Baldassarre in Entrepreneur magazine is worth reading:

1. Play a musical instrument. It works the part of your brain that improves executive skills, memory, problem solving and overall brain function, regardless of how old you are.

2. Read anything. Reading reduces stress and helps with problem solving, detecting patterns and understanding processes.

3. Exercise regularly. Exercising floods your cells with BDNF, a protein that helps with memory, learning, focus, concentration and understanding.

4. Learn a new language. People who are bilingual are better at solving puzzles than people who speak only one language.

5. Test your cumulative learning. Keep a journal of noteworthy bits of knowledge you acquire and observations.

6. Work out your brain. Sudoku, puzzles, riddles, board games, video games and card games increase neuroplasticity.

7. Meditate. Different activities stimulate different areas of your brain and you can meditate on your strengths and weaknesses.

• • •

Successful kids have eight specific (somewhat unfair) things in common, according to studies cited in a recent issue of Business Insider:

1. Parents who teach them social skills. Socially competent children are far more likely to finish college and obtain employment.

2. Parents who have high expectations for their children (expectations lead to attainment).

3. Moms who work. Daughters of working mothers are more likely to have more responsibility and higher pay than peers raised by stay-at-home mothers.

4. They have a higher socioeconomic status. The achievement gap between high- and low-income families is growing.

5. More educated mothers. Mothers who finish college are more likely to raise kids that do the same.

6. Parents who teach them math early on. Mastery of early math skills predicts future success in school.

7. Parents who develop a relationship with their kids. Children with healthy parental relationships show greater academic attainment in their 30s.

8. Parents who value effort over avoiding failure. Whether kids perceive their success comes from smarts or effort also predicts their attainment.

I recommend the entire article to read about the science behind the theories.

• • •

The Smart Parent blog has compiled a list of the “top 20 new children’s books to read with your kids in 2015.” These aren’t classics, they are new releases across a wide range of ages and topics. The complete list appears at but here are five to get you started:

1. “The Rechargeables: Eat Move Sleep.” An engaging story about making healthy choices.

2. “Goodnight, Goodnight Construction Site.” Kids love learning about their favorite big machines.

3. “Incredible You! 10 Ways to Let Your Greatness Shine Through.” With Q & A to encourage conversations with your kids about their feelings.

4. “The Day Crayons Quit.” My teen worked in a children’s bookstore this summer and this was her favorite.

5. “Little Magic Books.” This combination book/smart phone app is a big hit with kids.

• • •

I just finished interviewing Jessica Lahey about her new best-selling book, “The Gift of Failure: How the best parents learn to let go so their children can succeed.” The link to my article is here. This is perhaps the best education/parenting book that I have ever read. The most important thing that she wants parents to take away from her book is that parents today need to “parent for the long term, not the moment. “Inserting yourself into your child’s homework to avoid tears or so their grade doesn’t suffer solves today’s problem, but isn’t helping you raise a better kid.”

• • •

There is good news for families of high school students needing financial aid for college. The U.S. Department of Education has simplified the FAFSA financial aid form, and this year for the first time, families can fill out the form starting Thursday, Oct. 1, instead of having to wait until their tax information is ready in January. This change will make it easier for families to project if a college will be affordable, and will likely encourage families to fill out the form. Families can start with the government’s new College Scorecard to get a sense of affordability and follow up with the FAFSA to predict the aid they will receive. and

• • •

Is knowing how to properly say hello one of the lost skills of childhood? writer Paula Spencer Scott worries that kids’ screen-based culture means that they are losing the ability to read non-verbal communications, like what to do with an outstretched hand. Scott suggests that you make sure your children see you saying hello (to the supermarket bagger, etc.) and then point out the basics:

• When someone says hello, we say hello back.

• No pressure to come up with anything original. “Hi, I’m Jake” or “Hi, how are you/I’m fine, thanks” is sufficient.

• It’s not dorky. It’s what civilized people do.

• It won’t kill you. And it feels nice – for you and the person you’re talking to.

Also show your child a basic handshake. She recommends that you not force greetings but applaud their effort, and give gentle reminders when they forget. Kids who know how to say hello, and make the effort to greet adults really stand out.

• • •

The Grateful Graduate Index looks at the top colleges in a unique way. This Forbes list ranks the top 50 colleges by donations from recent alums, with the theory that the best colleges are the ones that produce successful people who make enough money during their careers to be charitable, and feel compelled to give back to their alma mater. The top five schools were: Princeton University, Dartmouth College, Williams College, Claremont-McKenna College and Bowdoin College. Not many public colleges make the top 100, and none in California.

• • •

If your student is interested in learning to code, check out the free computer game, Code Combat. This online role playing game teaches students JavaScript through coding challenges. It’s designed for both middle school (grades 5 to 8) and high school (grades 9 to 12).

• • •

It can be hard to find books for teenage boys (or men) who don’t love to read. I am going to go out on a limb here and strongly recommend two books that I loved and I can almost guarantee the young man in your life will enjoy. And maybe you as well. The first is “Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline which was recommended to me by none other than Mark Zuckerberg (and his millions of other “friends”). The other is “The Martian” by Andy Weir. The latter has just been released as a movie so read it quickly. Both are set in the near future. My 17-year-old-son resisted repeatedly, but when he finally relented, he loved them both.

• • •

I thought these “Top 10 Tips to Help your Child Thrive in School This Year” were logical and relevant:

1. Ask your child: “How was your day? Learn anything interesting? Get to spend time with friends?” instead of “How did you do on the math test?”

2. Resist the urge to correct the errors in your child’s homework. It’s your child’s work, not yours.

3. Work done with integrity is more important than an A. Pressure to achieve only top scores can make students resort to cheating.

4. Make time for “PDF”: playtime, downtime, family time. Research shows “PDF” is critical for overall well-being.

5. Create a technology-free environment during mealtimes. Every adult and child can benefit from a break from constant interruptions and distractions.

6. Collaborate with your child’s teachers. Assume best intentions and work together to solve problems.

7. Fight the temptation to bring your child’s forgotten homework to school. Kids gain resilience by learning from small failures.

8. An extra hour of sleep is more valuable than an extra hour of studying. Research shows sleep deprivation can be associated with depression and anxiety.

9. When your child wants to talk with you, stop what you are doing and engage. “I hate school” may really mean “I am being bullied” or “I don’t fit in…”

10. Help your child develop his or her interests and strengths. Discover what your child really loves to do outside of school, not what you think a college admissions officer would like to see on an application. (Source: Challenge Success)

• • •

Optimally, high school should start between 10 a.m. and 10:30 a.m., and college classes should be held no earlier than 11 a.m., according to researchers from the University of Oxford, Harvard Medical School and the University of Nevada, Reno. They found that earlier start times for schools interrupt students’ circadian cycles – affecting their health and academic achievement. The full article on this research was the story “most read” by administrators last week on a leading education website,

• • •

The White House has been promising a new college rating system for years, and it has finally unveiled a website without ratings but with useful information about real costs, graduation rates and salaries after graduation. The site details how much each school’s graduates earn; how much debt they graduate with; and what percentage of a school’s students can pay back their loan. The goal of the scorecard is to help students avoid making poor choices when choosing a college. The new “scorecard” can be found at

• • •

Looking for a TV show that won’t turn your kids’ brains to mush? The new show, “Project Mc2” is available only on Netflix but it is worth checking out. The show aims to dismantle stereotypes associated with STEM subjects by casting four diverse, intelligent teen girls as math and science whizzes who are recruited by an elite, all-female conglomeration of secret agents.

• • •

Is your student struggling with algebra or resistant to learning math? There is a great website called Get The Math geared toward middle and high school students that helps them build problem-solving skills and solve real-world problems with algebra. There’s no login or saved data; kids can watch video clips of professionals using math in their jobs. The site then poses mathematical challenges. It is fun and teaches “legit” algebra.

• • •

Time magazine ran a great article suggesting bold ways that the U.S. could make schools better for today’s kids. Here are some that resonated with me:

• Ditch traditional homework, particularly for elementary school students. Better – read for 30 minutes.

• Make recess mandatory – it recharges kids’ brains. Incorporating movement into lesson plans is also good.

• Screen children for mental illness, similar to the way kids are given basic hearing and vision screenings.

• Prioritize diversity. Attending a diverse school can lead to higher academic achievement and better preparation for real world work environments.

• Turn discipline into dialogue (when problems arise, focus on discussion not detention).

• Let students customize their curriculums. Use technology as a means of truly differentiating instruction.

• Start classes after 8:30 a.m. It is harder for adolescents to stay healthy (and learn) on less than eight hours of sleep.

• Design cafeterias that encourage healthy eating.

• • •

Women have been graduating from college in greater numbers than men for several years now. According to recent statistics in Time magazine, 34 percent more women than men graduated from a four-year college in 2012, and by 2023, the U.S. Department of Education expects that there will be 47 percent more female college grads than male. The long-term implications of this trend are only now being explored.

• • •

There is an iPhone app that you can use to take a photo of your child’s math workbook problem and it will tell you if their answer is correct. It is a genius idea for parents who aren’t great at math, or students who want to check their work. PhotoMath instantly displays the correct answer with a step-by-step explanation. Yes, there are dangers to this, but it is a pretty cool invention.

• • •

A new invention may dramatically improve concussion screening. Sports-related brain trauma sends a quarter-million American kids to the ER every year. A material developed at the University of Pennsylvania may help detect when a hit is hard enough to damage the brain. A small chemical strip inside any helmet changes color on impact to measure the force of a collision.

• • •

There is a terrific app named EPIC! which offers unlimited access to tens of thousands of read-along book choices, ebooks and audiobooks for kids under 12. The app is free for teachers but for families with up to four users it is $5/month. Struggling readers will find the options particularly helpful.

• • •

Six unexpected reasons your child should have a pet, according to Elizabeth Street on the Learning Liftoff blog:

1. Avert allergies. Studies show that young children who have pets in the home are less likely to develop pet allergies, and various unrelated allergies as well.

2. Curtail cold. The American Academy of Pediatrics concluded that when babies have contact with animals, especially dogs, they are “healthier” and have “fewer respiratory tract symptoms” and infections.

3. Improve social skills. Having a pet also increases a child’s awareness of the needs and feelings of animals, leading them to be compassionate adults as well.

4. Encourage learning. A study found that kids had lower stress levels and were more enthusiastic about reading to a dog rather than a peer or an adult.

5. Bring comfort. Being a kid is tough. Having an animal to love can help kids get through the tougher times of their lives.

6. Learn leadership. Having a pet means daily chores that cannot be missed (teaching children lessons in discipline and reliability).

• • •

Is picky eating a harmless phase or a sign of deeper emotional troubles? The Wall Street Journal caused a stir recently with a story citing new research that moderate and severe cases of picky eating is associated with higher levels of anxiety and depression later in life, as well as separation anxiety and ADHD. The study ran in the journal Pediatrics. Early therapy can help. For most kids, thankfully, it just a phase.

• • •

Students may retain far less information when they take notes on a laptop. The problem is that laptop note-takers attempt to transcribe everything verbatim—rather than actively listening and capturing the most important points. In the study, students watched Ted Talks and were quizzed soon afterward on what information they retained. The scores of the students taking notes in longhand far surpassed the laptop note takers. This is an issue as more and more high school and college students now rely almost entirely on their computer for

• • •

We have two Google Chromebooks at home and love them. As more students are also using Chromebooks and Google docs in their classrooms, the continuity at home can be helpful. For the $250 price, they really can’t be beat. But it can be hard to decide among the many Chromebook manufacturers and specifications. There is a great online chart comparing all available models at

• • •

Artificial turf fields are replacing grass fields across the country but parents have concerns about heat and toxicity. After months of research, Sonoma Academy has begun construction on a new Futrfill turf field that is made without any heavy metal, phthalate, bisphenol-A, or other toxic chemical leaching issues. This material retains less heat than crumb rubber, but it has the playability of rubber. It is also up to 30 degrees cooler and will also save nearly two million gallons of water per year.

• • •

Noodle is an education website aimed at helping parents and students make better decisions about learning. The site offers search tools to help find the right preschool, college, tutor, or any other learning resource. In addition, you can read expert-authored articles, ask questions and get answers from experts, and connect with others. It is worth a look. A quick search for the Sonoma yielded some tutors and school information.

• • •

There is a terrific list of dozens of discounts available to college students with a school ID or .edu email address on the Chegg Blog online. The list, available at, includes computers, music and movies, clothing and more.


The best gift ever for a child or grandchild who loves to build things? Check out Each month, the child receives a kit with hands-on building activities. You can purchase a two-, six- or 12-month subscriptions with free shipping for around $20 per month. Each age range, from 3 to 16-plus gets a different crate.


“Teachers who aim to control students’ behavior—rather than helping them control it themselves—undermine the very elements that are essential for motivation: autonomy, a sense of competence, and a capacity to relate to others,” wrote Katherine Lewis in a recent article on discipline in Mother Jones magazine. The article, titled “Why everything you knew about disciplining kids is wrong,” goes on to say that building up children’s problem-solving techniques is key. The complete article is online at


Success in college and in life ultimately comes down to three words, according to former university dean and award winning author Jeff Beals: Responsibility. Authority. Accountability. He says: “Every individual has responsibility for himself or herself. Nobody else can or should make decisions for you. Fortunately, each of us has the authority to carry out that responsibility. Nobody has the right to take away the power you have over your own life. Finally, we are accountable for the decisions we make – good or bad. You live with the consequences of your decision-making and actions.” You can read the full article at


I loved reading “10 Things Teens Really Need to Know Before They Leave Home” in Real Simple magazine this summer. Author Kristin van Ogtrop describes the list as skills that won’t get teens into college, but will make them better people.

1. Write a letter. An actual letter that does not begin with “Hey” and is written, in handwriting, on real paper.

2. Learn to cook a good meal that can feed the entire family, no matter what size family you have.

3. Hold down an unpleasant job that makes you hate your parents a little bit because they won’t let you quit.

4. Go somewhere for the weekend without your phone, just so you know what it feels like to be in solitary confinement, or dying.

5. Every time you get a new toy or gadget, give an old toy or gadget away to someone who doesn’t get new things as often as you do.

6. Take care of someone or something other than yourself. A pet does nicely here.

7. Write a heartfelt thank-you note to someone over the age of 70. Even if this person hasn’t given you a holiday or birthday present, find something to thank them for.

8. Read a book for pleasure.

9. Do something nice for a neighbor without expecting any credit for it.

10. Don’t race to the top. If you want to aim for the top, good for you. But try to get there slowly, deliberately, without knocking everyone else out of the way – or missing the beautiful view.


One response

  1. lynnley browning | Reply

    dude — terrifically insightful and useful!

    Lynnley Browning / Contributing Writer / Newsweek Direct: +1 (203) 858 9937 Fax: +1 (646) 484 7590 Twitter: @BrowningLynnley

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