Category Archives: gifts

Education Roundup XLIX: Disorganized kids, best book for teens, sing it to learn it and more

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Raising a giving child: Here are five ways to raise a kid who gives back, according to Beth Kobliner, author of “Make Your Kid a Money Genius.”

— Start a charitable matching plan, kicking in a dollar for every dollar she gives to a charity she cares about.

— Don’t just ignore people who ask for money on the street, say “sorry not today” and explain your giving philosophy to your child.

— Emphasizing local giving will help your child understand the issues on your community.

— Don’t overpraise giving. Don’t make it about praise, make it about how it feels.

Adulthood: A new book called “Choose Your Own Adulthood” by Hal Runkel explains how a series of small choices that young adults make can play a large role in determining their adulthood. His emphasis on the understanding the difference between “what we want most” and “what we want right now” really resonates.

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Good news regarding yogurt: Researchers think they have discovered a direct link between bacteria in the gut and mental health. A lab experiment has led researchers to believe that simply eating yogurt could influence mood and ease mental disorders. Lactobacillus is a probiotic bacteria found in live-cultures yogurt. Researchers hope that their findings could offer an alternative to drugs in treating depression, stress, and anxiety disorders. http://tinyurl.com/jqsynvf

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Soccer brain damage: Evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a potential cause of dementia caused by repeated blows to the head, has been found in the brains of former soccer players. Researchers do not yet know exactly what causes CTE or how significant the risk is. http://tinyurl.com/jy8qapu

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Times are changing: According to a Census Bureau survey, more than half of Millennials (born roughly between 1983 and 2000), think a spouse and kids are not very important. The generation is more focused on jobs and economic success than on marriage and kids. tinyurl.com/lqjkk5g

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Best book for teens: Bill Gates recently said that if he could give every graduating senior a present, it would be Steve Pinker’s book, “The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined.” He describes it as the most inspiring book he has ever read.

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Disorganized kids: Executive function is the magic ingredient that gives us the ability to plan and organize, manage time, initiate action, and achieve goals — skills that don’t often develop until our late teens and mid-20s. Author Carolyn Carpeneti presents the issue of executive function in a clear, accessible, and relatable manner in her book “Taking Flight: Mastering Executive Function.” If you are looking for a step-by-step guide, this is a great resource.

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Twice exceptional: There is an intriguing new book out called “The Power of Different – The Link Between Disorder and Genius.” Author Gail Saltz examines the gifts of the atypical mind. If you have a child who seems different, it might be a good (and comforting) read.

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Take a walk: Adults and students alike are more focused at work and feel less exhausted at the end of a long day if they take a walk outside midday, according to a new study. Participants enjoyed their breaks more on days they walked, reporting improvements in concentration and fatigue. tinyurl.com/mra2c9t

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AP classes: California now ranks fifth in the nation in the percentage of public and private graduates who scored at least a 3 out of 5 on an AP exam during high school (28.5 percent). More than 42 percent of the state’s public high school students took at least one test, a number that has risen each year. tinyurl.com/jemj328

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Suicide tool: Facebook is launching new tools to help people who may be thinking of suicide, and for friends and family who want to help. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for 15 to 29 year olds. When someone is thinking of suicide or hurting themselves, Facebook already has tools that let friends reach out directly or report a post but the company has redesigned its suicide prevention tools and integrated them into live video. People can now chat directly with someone from organizations like Crisis Text Line, Lifeline and the National Eating Disorder Association. The site is also testing ways to use artificial intelligence to find patterns in posts that have been reported for suicide and make it easier to identify similar posts.

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Sing it to learn it: Brain scientists seem to agree that singing facts is an excellent way to learn. There’s a great playlist for the car, home, or classroom at growingbookbybook.com/kids-songs-that-build-literacy-skills/.

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College freshman are stressed: A huge survey of today’s college freshmen has found that they are very engaged politically, they are cost-conscious (mainly about paying for college) and they love social media. Fewer freshman describe their political leanings as middle of the road than ever. The article makes the point that, thanks to medication, more college students with psychological disorders than before are able to attend college. As for social media, they love Instagram and almost half spend six hours a week on social media.  If you subscribe to WSJ, read here, otherwise read here.

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Free textbooks: Are your college student’s textbook costs breaking the bank? Here a few ideas. University library: What they don’t have in-stock can often be requested via interlibrary loan from other libraries. Professors often put the textbooks for their courses on reserve. Arrange a book swap: Student organizations sometime set up online book exchanges or students can start their own informal group. Project Gutenberg: The oldest digital library in the world offers more than 43,000 free e-books, e-readers. Amazon’s Kindle Lending Library: It allows members to check out e-books for free. This site is best for popular and classic titles. tinyurl.com/hlw656x

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Better autism detection: A small study is nearly 98 percent accurate in diagnosing autism in kids between the ages of 3 and 10, the researchers claim. Researchers say an experimental blood test has shown promise as a novel way to diagnose autism regardless of where on the spectrum an individual is. Read more at tinyurl.com/mb7vcdf

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Study abroad: A team looked at the 48 most popular countries at which American students choose to study abroad in college and determined which are the least expensive. The least pricey are Mexico, India, Guatemala, Peru, Vietnam, Dominican Republic, Morrocco, Kenya and Brazil. Read more at tinyurl.com/myxdtex.

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Actual college costs: There is a new site that can give you a quick sense of what college tuition your student might actually pay, versus the advertised price. For almost all families who earn less than $200,000 a year, the tuition might be much lower than they think. Try it out at http://myintuition.org/

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Podcasts: Podcasts are all the rage lately and a reader has recommended a few that she has enjoyed.

– “Empowering Parents Podcast”

– “Parenting Bytes”

– “Inside the Mind of Teens and Tweens”

– “Launching your Daughter”

– “Invisibilia” (not as much about parenting but more about just smart, intriguing topics)

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Changing times: 20 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds self-identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, according to a new survey conducted by Harris Poll. This number far exceeds the percentages in other age groups — 12 percent of 35- to 51-year-olds, 7 percent of 52- to 71-year-olds and 5 percent of those 72 and older. tinyurl.com/lu8o6e8

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Check your sugar: Researchers think that drinking sugary beverages possibly causes accelerated aging and Alzheimer’s disease. The study, in Alzheimer’s & Dementia, found that the more sugary drinks consumed, the lower the total brain volume and the lower the scores on memory tests. “Although we can’t prove cause and effect, these data suggest that we should be cautious about drinking sugary beverages,” said the lead author, Matthew P. Pase said in a New York Times interview. “They’re empty calories that contribute to weight gain and metabolic disease.”

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Chores: The Wall Street Journal recently ran a great infographic of the perfect chores at every age. Author Ellen Byron says that kids 5 and under can pick up toys, clean their bedroom and comb their hair. Ages 6 to 9 can take care of pets, operate appliances and make their own bed. Ages 10 to 12 can take out the trash, make lunch and clean their bathroom. Ages 13 to 15 can mow the lawn, wash windows and clean the garage. And for ages 16 to 18, they can wash their own clothes, do the grocery shopping and handle car maintenance. How are you doing? Or the list is here.

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Gen Z: The investment platform Stash just surveyed more than 25,000 young people, and found that almost half of all Generation Z’ers (those 20 and under) are concerned about student debt and actively investing to pay for college, but compared to other generations, Gen Z scored last on a basic financial literacy test.

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Teens in space: An upcoming Netflix documentary, The Mars Generation, follows a group of teen space trainees as they learn about human spaceflight at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama. Neil deGrasse Tyson, Bill Nye, and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk discuss the technology that’s in the works that could take us to space. The show debuts on May 5.

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Babysitting rates: According to a new survey, the average babysitting rate in 2016 was about $14 per hour, up 26 percent from $11 per hour in 2010. And… the rates in Northern California are the highest in the country, averaging around $16.50 in San Francisco and even more in San Jose. Approximately 1 in 3 respondents said they also tip on top of the sitters’ hourly rates. But even though costs are up, 77 percent of parents don’t think they are paying too much and 77 percent claim that they would actually give their sitter a raise.

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Podcast for kids: NPR Is launching its first podcast for kids ages 5 to 12. The show will focus on science, technology, discovery and inventions. Search for “Wow in the World.”

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Language learning: NBC Learn Languages is a new subscription-based desktop and mobile app that helps students of all ages learn English on any device. The app uses videos from programs such as “Today” and “NBC Nightly News” to help learners improve their ability to speak and understand English. nbclearnlanguages.com. Currently available for Spanish, Mandarin, Arabic, German and Portuguese. Cost $9-29 monthly.

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Health eating perks: Fascinatingly, a new study by the Brookings Institute has found that at schools where kids were fed a healthier school lunch every day, there was no drop in obesity but researchers did find a rise in academic performance. Read about it here.

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Cheap textbooks: Bigwords.com lets students compare textbook prices from all the best online stores at once. It appears to be 35 to 45 percent cheaper than other online stores, and up to 90 percent off of list prices.

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My weekly columns in the Sonoma Index-Tribune can be found here.

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Education Roundup XLIII: Checklist for college kids, parenting preteen boys, screen time, likeability and much more

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Parental depression: A recent study in Developmental Psychology finds that maternal depression is actually most common among mothers of middle school children as they enter the tween years. Parenting a tween may even be harder than mothering an infant. The study authors surveyed more than 2,200 well-educated mothers about their personal well-being, including their mental health, parenting experiences and perceptions of their children’s behavior. They found that the years surrounding the onset of adolescence are among the most difficult times for mothers; and that during this period of transition, women can feel lonely and dissatisfied with their mothering roles. http://tinyurl.com/j3yw6fr

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Insomnia: If your children (or you) have trouble sleeping, there are five house plants that you can put in the bedroom that might help. The 18 million people who saw this information on the same video I did can’t all be wrong. The plants each have either a scent that helps with sleep or oxygen generating/air quality improving attributes. They are lavender, aloe vera, English Ivy and white jasmine. Worth a try. www.facebook.com/ninachkahov/posts/10209581571270750

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Help for introverts: If you worry about the future success of your quiet child in a world that seems to favor and reward extroverts, you might enjoy the podcast by Susan Cain, the bestselling author of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.” Cain hosts this 10-part weekly series on parenting and teaching introverted children. She discusses why quiet kids are unique and require different parenting and teaching methods from their extroverted peers. She and her guests discuss how parents and schools can help introverts thrive, how social media allows quiet children to express themselves in ways that were never possible before, the neuroscience of introversion and more. http://tinyurl.com/hhoc7bf

Bolstering confidence: Experts now believe that better than telling your kids how awesome they are and that they can do anything they set their mind to, we should teach them the three qualities of: practice, patience and perseverance.

  1. Practice, because effort coupled with feedback is critical to developing mastery and achieving excellence.
  2. Patience, because mastery and meaningful accomplishment happen over a long time frame.
  3. Perseverance, because obstacles are likely and setbacks are common in any endeavor.

Particularly important, says “What Great Parents Do” author Erica Reischer, is that we emphasize to our kids that success is defined by effort and step-by-step progress, not by comparison with others. http://tinyurl.com/hr4z9j9

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Fake babies: According to new research from Australia, girls who take part in a fake infant virtual parenting programs are more likely to become pregnant than those who don’t take the course. The study authors say this method is not an efficient use of public funds in the effort to stop teen pregnancy. “It’s one thing to get results to say it doesn’t work, it’s another to get results that does the opposite,” study author Sally Brinkman told ABC News. RealityWorks, the largest fake baby company in the U.S. disputes the findings. http://tinyurl.com/h3mvm26

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Nagging moms: Large scale research in England has found that parents’ super-high expectations for their teenage daughters – especially if they remind them constantly of those expectations – can influence whether young girls will grow up to become successful women. The researchers found that girls whose “main parent” – that’s usually the mother – consistently displayed high parental expectations were far less likely to fall into the traps that made the girls less likely to succeed in life. (http://tinyurl.com/z5y4as9) Specifically, these girls were:

  • Less likely to become pregnant as teenagers.
  • More likely to attend college.
  • Less likely to get stuck in dead-end, low-wage jobs.
  • Less likely to have prolonged periods of unemployment.

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No school subjects: Finland is considered to have the best schools in the world and yet they are embarking on a huge change – removing school subjects from the curriculum. There will no longer be any classes in physics, math, literature, history or geography. Instead, students will study events and phenomena in an interdisciplinary format. For example, World War II will be examined from the perspective of history, geography and math. Beginning at age 16, students will choose which topic they want to study, bearing in mind their capabilities and ambitions for the future. The changes are expected to be complete by 2020.

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Permission to plug in: The American Academy of Pediatrics has revised its guidelines for children and adolescents to reflect new research and new habits. The best news for busy parents is a loosening on the screen time for the littlest children. The new guidelines shift the focus from WHAT is on the screen to WHO else is in the room. For babies younger than 18 months, AAP still says no screens at all except live video chat. For ages 15 months to 2 years, experts now suggest avoiding solo media use and instead treat a video or an app like a picture book (watch it with them and discuss). For preschoolers age 2 to 5, AAP recommends Sesame Workshop and PBS and no more than an hour a day of screen use. http://tinyurl.com/grldwgu

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International students: Enrollment numbers of international undergraduate students are up 79 percent from 10 years ago. Where are these students coming from? The top country is China, followed by Saudi Arabia, South Korea, India and Vietnam. http://tinyurl.com/jklytgt

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In cigarette news: Vaping is gateway smoking: tenth graders who vaped often were about 10 times more likely to become regular smokers six months later, according to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. “It’s such an emerging public health issue,” said lead author Adam Leventhal from USC’s school of medicine. “These teens aren’t just experimenting – a significant portion are progressing to more regular levels of smoking.” http://tinyurl.com/jbdnej4

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Other cig news: As part of its plan to “phase out” conventional cigarettes, Philip Morris is introducing a new product, called IQOS, that heats tobacco instead of burning it. Users will supposedly experience 90 percent fewer toxins than in normal cigarettes. http://tinyurl.com/zaaugwj

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Good chocolate news: Nestle has found a way to reduce the amount of sugar in chocolate by as much as 40 percent and it plans to start selling products with the new formulation in 2018. Dreyer has done something similar with its “slow-churned” method of making ice cream that reduces fat by half and calories by a third. http://tinyurl.com/z5ph3fk

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Life hacks: Inc. magazine recently ran a great article on “8 Things Every Person Should Do Before 8 a.m.” Do these things first and you’ll have done the important stuff first,” says author Ben Hardy. The reasons supporting each are compelling and available online at www.stumbleupon.com/su/2iHp3V/

  1. Get a healthy seven-plus hours of sleep
  2. Prayer and meditation to facilitate clarity and abundance
  3. Hard physical activity
  4. Consume 30 grams of protein
  5. Take a cold shower
  6. Listen to or read uplifting content
  7. Review your life vision
  8. Do at least one thing toward long-term goals

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Free magazines: Many local library are offering a new service that allows cardholders to read magazines from their mobile device or home computer. Zinio for Libraries has more than 160 popular full-color digital magazines to choose from and they look the same as the hard copy version. The collection of popular digital magazines includes both new and old titles with no wait list, no checkout periods, and no limits. www.zinio.com

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Book suggestion: Should we pay children to read books or to get good grades? Is it ethical to pay people to test risky new drugs or to donate their organs? I recommend “What Money Can’t Buy” by Michael J. Sandel as a fun, thought-provoking holiday gift for teens or adults. The book is an easy read and will give your family plenty to talk about over the dinner table.

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Gift for a fidgety kid: The Anti-Stress Cube has six sides, each with something to fidget with: Click. Glide. Flip. Roll. Spin. It is designed for kids and adults who likes to fidget to relieve anxiety and stress, kids with autism and ADHD and kids with sensory special needs. There are a few options, priced around $20. Take a look at www.thestresscube.com.

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Lower math scores: The results of international PISA testing that compares 15-year-old students across 73 countries found that U.S. math scores were down and science and reading were flat. The top-performing country in all three subjects was Singapore. U.S. students scored below the international average in math, and at the international average in reading and science. One piece of good news was that the U.S. narrowed its achievement gap somewhat between low-income students and their higher-income peers. http://tinyurl.com/zd6xe7d

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Summer trips: I have compiled a giant list of free and low-cost summer experiences for middle and high school students. The categories include outdoor adventures, art camps, language programs, overseas travel and more. Many are sleep-away (residential) programs on college campuses. Many of the best ones have deadlines right around now. Take a look with your student over the holiday break. www.educationroundupnational.com

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Priorities today: Millennials would rather travel than buy a house or car, or even pay off debt, according to new research. The study asked more than 1,000 people aged 18 to 35 in the U.S., U.K. and China about their priorities for the next five years. http://tinyurl.com/h9jplsg
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Popular study abroad locations: Most U.S. students who study abroad choose a European country. Last year, 54.5 percent – of the 313,415 U.S. students who studied abroad for academic credit – did so in Europe. The one non-European country among the top five destinations was China. Tops is England, then Italy, then Spain. Young women are twice as likely to study abroad as young men. http://tinyurl.com/jgax8e4. If your college student is or has studied abroad, ask him or her to send us a note about the experience to ourschools@sonomanews.com.***

Help for kids with special needs: There is a great list of 21 Chrome extensions for struggling students and special needs kids available at http://tinyurl.com/gnh4zol. The apps can assist students in five main categories including “text to speech,” readability, reading comprehension, focus and navigation.

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Screen culprits: Parents spend more than nine hours a day with screen media. Common Sense Media has found that despite using media heavily throughout the day, parents overwhelmingly believe they are good role models for kids. Of that nine hours, the vast majority is personal media (seven-plus hours) and only slightly more than 90 minutes devoted to work media. Meanwhile, many parents are concerned about their children’s media use, including thinking that their children may become addicted to technology (56 percent) and that technology use negatively impacts their children’s sleep (34 percent). The study also found that parents from lower-income households spend more time with personal screen media (nine hours, 15 minutes) than middle-income parents (seven hours, 42 minutes), who spend more time than higher-income parents (six hours, 41 minutes); and parents with a high school degree or less spend the most time (nine hours, three minutes), as compared with parents with an undergraduate degree (six hours, 10 minutes). http://tinyurl.com/hjcqq3w

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Headphones for kids: With so many kids using headphones these days, there are concerns about which are “safe for young ears.” Half of 8- to 12-year-olds listen to music daily, and nearly two-thirds of teenagers do, according to a 2015 report. Safe listening is a function of both volume and duration. So what are the best headphones to protect hearing? A testing team found the best overall pick for children was a Bluetooth model Puro BT2200 ($99.99). Toddlers liked the fit of Onanoff Buddyphones Explore ($29.99). For older children, ages 4 to 11, was JLab JBuddies Studio ($29.99). A pair of earbuds – Etymotic ETY Kids 3 ($49) and Puro IEM200 ($29.99) – did the best job at blocking outside sounds.

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Top 10 parenting books: Need some advice dealing with your children? Here are some recommendations for the top 10 parenting books of this year, courtesy of collegeparentcentral.com. I have marked with a star the ones I have read and also recommend. (http://tinyurl.com/znodeoj)
• “The Gift of Failure” by Jessica Lahey*• “How to Raise an Adult” by Julie Lythcott-Haims*• “Building Resilience in Children and Teens” by Kenneth R. Ginsberg and Martha M. Jablow• “A Survival Guide for Parenting Teens” by Joani Geltman

• “It’s the Student Not the College” by Kristin M. White

• “Emerging Adulthood – The Winding Road from the Late Teens Through the Twenties” by Jeffrey Arnett

• “The i-Connected Parent- Staying Close to Your Kids in College (and Beyond) While Letting Them Grow Up” by Barbara Hofer

• “Making the Most of College – Students Speak Their Minds” by Richard Light

• “The Naked Roommate – for Parents Only” by Harlan Cohen

• “You’re On Your Own, But I’m There if You Need Me” by Marjorie Savage

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Test your character: There is an online site where adults and students can discover their character strengths and take a personality survey. The survey is free and might provide interesting to your teens. Some of the more detailed reports provided by the nonprofit cost money. www.viacharacter.org/

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Required reading overseas: Take a look at what students in countries from Ireland to Iran, Ghana to Germany, are asked to read and why. For example, in Australia, students read “Tomorrow, When the War Began” (1993) by John Marsden, about a teenage girl and her friends who return from a camping trip to find that an unidentified foreign military force has invaded Australia. In Austria, students read “Faust” (1787) by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, a play about a scholar who makes a pact with the devil. You can even find free, downloadable versions of many of the books at Project Gutenberg. http://tinyurl.com/j99jkfc

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Downwardly mobile: A new study has found that about half of 30-year-olds won’t make as much money as their parents did at the same age. Back in the 1970s, 92 percent of American 30-year-olds earned more than their parents did when they were young. The study was conducted by economists and sociologists at Stanford, Harvard and the University of California. They used tax and census data to compare the earnings of 30-year-olds starting in 1970 to that of their parents. http://tinyurl.com/jqyzw8v

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Popular baby names: A Baby Center survey has found that Sophia and Jackson were the most popular baby names of 2016. On the site, you can click on a name to see its popularity over time, common sibling names and more. The site also looks at the hottest baby-naming trends. The rest of the top 10 are Emma, Olivia, Ava, Mia, Isabella, Riley, Aria, Zoe and Lilly. The rest of the top 10 for boys are Aiden, Lucas, Liam, Noah, Mason, Caden, Oliver and Elijah. www.babycenter.com/top-baby-names-2016.htm

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Does math equal success: A new study has found that low-income children’s math knowledge in preschool was related to their later achievement – but not all types of math are created equal. In preschool, children’s skills in patterning, comparing quantities, and counting objects were stronger predictors of their math achievement in fifth grade than other skills. Understanding written numbers and calculating also emerged as predictors of achievement. The study’s authors suggest that certain early math topics should get more attention than they currently do.

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Most popular college in the U.S: UCLA is the first U.S. university ever to receive 100,000 freshman applications. 102,177 students are seeking a spot in the Class of 2021, up 5 percent from last year. The target size for the entering class is about 6,500. Those figures don’t include tens of thousands of expected transfer applicants. http://tinyurl.com/glkarct
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Check list for college kids: I can’t resist a good list by which to rate my parenting. Psychology Today recently ran an article of 40 things students need to know by the time they leave college. Some are obvious (how to do laundry and how often to change bed linens), but here are a few that might be commonly overlooked (http://tinyurl.com/hy459v4)
  • How to address an envelope
  • How to scan a document and how to send an attachment in e-mail.
  • How to answer a landline and how to use call waiting on a landline.
  • When not to text and when to call.
  • How to pump gas and check your oil.
  • How to fill out forms at a medical office and how to have all the correct information handy to do this.
  • Learn to distinguish between real news and fake news; get your news from many different sources and not just social media.

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Parenting preteen boys: One of the best articles I have read about parenting pre-teen boys appeared in the Wall Street Journal right before Christmas. Most boys lag behind girls in language skills, empathy and attention during these years, according to recent studies. The article suggest ways to explain this to boys and to bolster their development and confidence during these crucial developmental (and tough) years. http://tinyurl.com/z9ju76e

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Brighten: A new anonymous app is growing in popularity among high school and college students and finally that’s a good thing. Brighten enables students to send anonymous compliments to their friends, and it’s a place to read the nice things people are saying to each other. You can also use the app to let someone know you are thinking about them. Users can swipe left on any brighten they’ve written or received to delete it, or swipe left on any brighten to report it. To date, more than 10 million messages have been sent by its one million users. www.brighten.in

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Learning a second language: People who learn more than one language are less likely to develop dementia; they are more creative; and they have an easier time learning a third language. Researchers also believe that language learning also improves tolerance. This seems increasingly important in today’s world. Read more at http://tinyurl.com/zvmbeu9

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Improve your life: The co-authors of “Emotional Intelligence 2.0” suggest 10 habits that will dramatically improve your life. Among the best, which are relevant for students as well (http://tinyurl.com/h9age5x) …

  • Stay away from people who erode your quality of life.
  • No more phone, tablet or computer in bed.
  • Appreciate the here and now.
  • Realize that things aren’t always as you perceive them to be.
  • Get started, even though you might fail.
  • Get organized.
  • Start a collection of the things that truly resonate with you.

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Linguistics app: Local Lingual is a cool interactive language map. Click on any location in the world, and it plays recordings of the local language, along with the national anthem and other information. www.localingual.com

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Allergy lifesaver: CVS is now selling a rival, generic version of Mylan’s EpiPen at about a sixth of its price ($109.99 for a two-pack) of the authorized generic version of Adrenaclick, a lesser-known treatment compared to EpiPen, which can cost more than $600.

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Hum: Verizon is hard-selling a device called Hum that you can install on a car to track how fast your teen is driving. You get a text message every time your child is speeding and it’s so small that it is almost undetectable. But what are we supposed to do with the information? If we freak out, the teen will know it’s on the car. Is the Hum another example of too much information? Like the school parent portal and apps on our phones that help us locate our children at all times?

Send tips, comments and resources to Lorna at lorna.sheridan@sonomanews.com. Please forward this blog to your friends if you think they would enjoy it.

Education Roundup XLII: Educational (and fun) toy recommendations for all ages

Toy stores around the country are gearing up for a busy holiday season thanks to a strong economy and a slate of innovative new offerings.

A survey of toy store owners, online recommendations, and feedback from kids have uncovered more than a dozen ideas ranging from unusual infant teething books to teen board games, most available now at your neighborhood toy store.

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New this year is the line of Crazy Aaron’s Thinking Putty ($8 to $20) that is made in the U.S. by individuals with intellectual and physical disabilities. The putty never dries out and is billed as stress relieving, hand exercising, mind-expanding and addicting fun. Each type has different attributes (glow in the dark, magnetic, etc.).

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Write Brain Story Mats ($15) are literacy-building, illustrated art posters that include space for kids ages 5 and up to write their own original stories inspired by the images and prompts. Kids control the story and interpret the posters however they like. The same company offers hardcover kits for kids to Write Your Own Book ($13).

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Early readers will enjoy the new line of large phonic flip board books by Sara Ball like “Flip-O-Saurus” and “Flip-O-Storic” ($16). By turning the flaps, kids can put together 1,000 imaginary dinosaurs, like the Stegodocus, the Oviplosaurus or the Diploraptops.

For the younger set, small brightly-colored 3D fabric books for infants continue to be popular, with such titles as “Silly Tails,” “Dino Tails,” and “Pony Tails.” These soft and squishy books offer unique color, texture and movement on each page. ($16.50)

cluemaster

Also new among the top educational toys are two options from ThinkFun. In Clue Master, young players (8 and up) use deductive reasoning to place Tippy’s chew bones, tennis balls and food bowls in the correct order to unlock the secret door and send Tippy home ($12.99). In Yoga Spinner, players give the spinner a whirl, choose the corresponding card, and perform the pose pictured to win the pose card. ($14.99)

statebook

Fact-filled books with local themes are popular this year, and there are several options from which to choose. “The City by the Bay” by Tricia Brown is a detailed overview of our nearest city, San Francisco. The State Shape book “California,” by Eric Bruun ($10) includes historical factoids plus famous figures, geography, industry and the environment.  Available in all states.

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In the category of “ick,” products in the Slimeball line ($15 to $30) are selling briskly this year. Kids throw, sling shot, and play dodgeball with the mess-free, non-stick rubber balls.

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Marble mazes continue to be popular and the Extreme Marble Maze by Techno Gears, with 300 plus pieces to keep kids busy, is a recent winner of “Toy of the Year” ($30 to $50).

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Other creative toy options are available from StikBot Studio ($6 to $26). Kids can create and animate small figures and then use an app to edit, enhance, and share their creations. (Ages 4 and up).

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The Nuts & Bolts line of construction sets lets kids create their own reptiles, prehistoric beasts, and snakes from plastic and metal parts with hand tools that are included in the sets. With 200 pieces, these sets are best for ages 8 and up ($12 to $20).

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 For those who prefer low-tech educational toys, Temple Trap is a Smart Games building challenge for ages 7 and up that contains 60 different puzzles. Players arrange the walls and the stairs to create a path through the Temple … but in this maze the walls constantly shift. Starter challenges can be solved in just a few moves, but the harder challenges often need 50 or more moves ($15).
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Balancing games continue to be popular and this year’s top picks are Brynk (ages 7 and up) ($20) and Melissa & Doug’s Suspend game for ages 8 and up ($16). Both come in easy travel containers.

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In ThinkFun’s Balance Beans logic game ($20), players 5 and up carefully place the blue, yellow, or orange beans on the seesaw to keep it from teetering. When players balance the seesaw, they are actually balancing an equation using basic algebra.

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In the category of board games, one hot seller in 2016 is 5 Second Rule. In this game for ages 10 and up, players pick a card, read the seemingly easy topic, and have only five seconds to name three things that fit the topic. The game is also available in a junior version.

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What’s hot and popular in the craft kit category changes every year. For 2016, local store owners picked the PlushCraft line, which involves no sewing, Spool Knit Animals kits and the new Craftivity kits for tweens as the top choices. Kids can make their own purses, string lanterns, heart pillows and more.

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One trend in toy stores this year is science kits aimed at girls (I know… kind of awful really). Creativity for Kids is offering a series of Butterfly Terrariums for ages 6 and up, and everything you need is included in the box. Also gaining shelf space are offerings like the Scientific Explorer Spa’Mazing Kit ($24) and SmartLab Toys All-Natural Lip Balm Boutique ($20).

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What’s old is also new again in 2016 with several reimaginings of old toys. In a new twist on the brain-busting fun of the Rubik’s Cube, Rubik’s Race ($20) pits two players (ages 8 and up) against each other who must slide their tiles the fastest and arrange them to match the cubes in the scrambler. The game encourages visual-spatial skills, critical thinking, logic, and quick thinking.

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Harkening back to Tamagotchis, the other retro favorites this year are Hatchimals eggs. There are a bunch of different “eggs” you can buy, your kids can care for them, and then suddenly they hatch with a surprise animal inside ($60).

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Finally, perhaps the oddest game of the year may well be the one that teens may find most amusing. In Hasbro’s Speak Out ($22), players put in a large, awkward game mouthpiece, pick a card, and try to say the phrase on the card until someone guesses it.

I am sure to have missed some great ones.

Email Lorna at lorna.sheridan@sonomanews.com with your recommendations.