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Advice for Parents of Advanced Writers/Readers:

Tips for Nurturing Your Child's "Inner Storyteller"
Advice from a Young Author: Parents Are the Key to Nurturing Writers
Keeping the Love of Writing Alive!
Guiding Young Poets
Encouraging the Natural Born Storyteller in Our Children

Advice for Parents of High-Ability Math and Science Students:

How to Have Fun with Math at Home
Igniting Your Child's Interest by Connecting Math with the Real World
Nurturing Young Mathematicians
Quick Tips for Encouraging Young Scientists
Why "Drill and Kill" is Bad for Your Child’s Brain
Keeping Your Child’s Interest in Math Alive, K-12



Advice for Parents of Advanced Writers/Readers

Tips for Nurturing Your Child's "Inner Storyteller"
By Mark London Williams

Mark London Williams ( http://www.dangerboy.com) is an author, playwright and journalist, and creator of the acclaimed young adult time travel series, Danger Boy.

Encourage "fun" reading, regardless of what gets assigned in class -- whether that means graphic novels, film adaptations, etc. Anything so that reading doesn't seem onerous. Once they have the "habit," they'll want to explore more (and more reading tends to lead to more writing!).

Have them explore the idea of "fan fic" -- short for "fan fiction" -- related to favorite series, characters, films, etc. These exist for game worlds (Halo, World of Warcraft), film franchises (Star Wars, Star Trek) and even other books (Harry Potter). Since their writing is to be shared -- posted online for free or read to friends -- they are free to play in anyone's sandbox they want to. A few quick online searches will provide plenty of "fan fic" sites for whatever world intrigues your own young bard.

Take them to hear/see a favorite author: More than ever, picture book, mid-grade and YA authors are appearing in local bookstores, book festivals, etc. Since your young reader can't drive, help get them there to hear a reading, shake a hand, ask some questions. If your school doesn't have authors showing up for the annual book fair, think of pitching in to help organize such a visit. You can go to the SCBWI website -- Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators -- for initial ideas (www.scbwi.org), or just Google one of your -- or your child's -- favorite authors and ask what it would take to have them appear. Most are pretty reasonable. Just a few days before writing this, a school in Tiburon (in my native Bay Area) found me and arranged for me to appear in just the same way.

Even absent an in-person visit, have them visit their favorite authors online. Most have websites, Myspace pages, etc. Most will answer friendly emails. This kind of contact can be invaluable

Tell lots of stories to each other! 'Round the dinner table, on long drives, etc. Ask your child to re-tell whatever story they've just encountered on whatever screen has just mesmerized them -- whether at the cineplex, the TiVo box, or hooked to the Xbox 360!

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Advice From a Young Author: Parents Are the Key to Nurturing Writers
by Dallas Woodburn

Dallas Woodburn, 21, is the author of two collections of short stories and an upcoming novel, as well as numerous articles for magazines and newspapers including Family Circle, Writer's Digest and The Los Angeles Times. Dallas, a senior Creative Writing major at the University of Southern California, is Coordinator of the Young Writers Program of the Santa Barbara Writers Conference. She also organizes and teaches her own writing camps every summer. Visit her blog http://dallaswoodburn.blogspot.com and website http://www.zest.net/writeon.

I have loved to write for as long as I can remember. I self-published my first book when I was ten years old. Now, eleven years later, I have self-published a second book, written articles for numerous magazines including Family Circle and Writer's Digest and books including the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, and recently signed a contract with a highly regarded New York literary agency to represent my first novel to publishers. I wake up every day so thrilled and excited and grateful because I am living my dream.

I have a friend named Anthony, who has also loved to write since childhood. But Anthony has no confidence about his writing. Instead, he is studying Business at college. He finally enrolled in a screenwriting class this semester, and it is his favorite class he's ever taken. He feels frustrated and conflicted because he wants to pursue his dreams as a writer "what he feels will make him happy" but isn't sure if he can or should.

Anthony loves to write, and I love to write. We both received a great K-12 education with fantastic teachers; we are now both students at the same prestigious university. The main difference between us is not our dedication or our talent or our passion. Rather, the main difference between us is our parents.
Anthony's parents did not encourage his writing at all. Instead, they discouraged him, telling him he should "grow up" and find something Apractical" to pursue. So, Anthony tried to make his parents happy. The problem: he isn't happy.
I feel so blessed that I grew up with a mom and dad who support my writing dreams whole-heartedly. They watered the seeds of my writing dreams by encouraging me to share my work with them, and bolstering me with their praise. They are, and always have been, my biggest fans. Knowing I have them behind me has been invaluable as I pursue my writing dreams.

How can you as parents encourage your children to find joy, confidence, and a means of self-expression and connection with others through writing? Here are some tips to help fan the flames of their passion and creativity:

MAKE IT FUN. Your child likely does a lot of writing for school but is that writing fun? Probably not. Nothing can more quickly kill your child's passion and love for writing than if he only associates writing with homework and class assignments. Writing a story or poem or script for fun is light years away from writing a formal, structured research paper for school. Help your child remember the creative play of writing by setting aside time, perhaps on the weekends or in the evenings, to write for fun. You shouldn't force your child to write, but encouragement works wonders. If she is excited about what she is writing, believe me, she won't want to stop! And that is the kind of excitement that hooks kids on writing for life.

Here are some fun prompts that can get kids started if they are feeling stuck:

  • Pretend that you've met an alien who has come down from outer space, and he (or she!) is confused about our way of life here on Earth. Imagine what adventures you might get into together! What would the alien tell you about his way of life back on his home planet?
  • Have you ever read a book or seen a movie and wondered what happened to the characters after it was over, or before it started? Now it's your chance to find out, because YOU are going to write it yourself! What was the Beast like before he met Beauty? What was Shrek like as a baby? The possibilities are endless!
  • Take a well-known story (The Three Little Pigs, Little Red Riding Hood, The Tortoise and the Hare) and write it from a different point of view. Goldilocks and the Three Bears would be a much different story from Goldilocks' perspective than from the bears' perspective.
  • Write a song about. .. well, about anything you want! Set it to the tune of your favorite song, or make up your own tune.
  • Write a "list poem" about your favorite things. Brainstorm all your favorites (favorite ice cream, color, candy, place, word) and arrange them to form a poem. Or pick one thing (your favorite place, for example) and describe it in detail. Make it come to life!
  • What if something out of the ordinary happened on an ordinary day? What if it snowed in the jungle? What if a 2-ton talking whale washed up on shore? What if a new family with twelve children moved next door? Tell a "what if" story, or pretend you're a newsperson reporting at the scene.
  • The sense of smell has been proven to be the quickest path to memory. So why not take a trip down memory lane, via the spice cabinet in your kitchen? Sit down with a few spice jars and a pen and paper and smell the contents. Choose one and get lost in the memories or images that come to you. Write about what the smell reminds you of and before you know it a poem or a memoir will start magically forming as the scents waft around you. (This prompt was taken from the book So, You Wanna Be a Writer? by Vicki Hambleton and Cathleen Greenwood.)

SET GOALS. Studies show that if you write down your goals, you have a much greater likelihood of fulfilling them. So help your child set some writing goals to help establish a routine of writing. Here are some good goals:

  • Write a certain number of words or pages every week. Just one page three days a week equals 156 pages in a year!
  • Revise that stack of poems languishing in your desk drawer.
  • Spend ten minutes every day writing down thoughts in your journal.
  • Start a longer piece, like a novella.

Whatever your child's goals are, help him write them down and post them where he will see them numerous times each day: on his bathroom mirror, on the refrigerator, above his writing space. These goals will give him something to work toward and will inspire him on those "blah" days. And come up with "I'm proud of you!" rewards, like renting a movie or going out for ice cream, that will serve as extra encouragement for your child.

READ! Hopefully your young writer loves to read already, because reading and writing go hand-in-hand. But to help maintain the magic and fun of reading, make sure to encourage her to read books for pleasure in between the reading she has to do for school. Reading shouldn't only feel like homework! Go to the library with your child and help him pick out a variety of books that interest him - novels, biographies, mysteries. Make reading an integral and anticipated part of your child's day by having fifteen or twenty minutes of "fun reading time" before bed.

GO TO CAMP. Writing camp, that is! Many city recreation departments offer writing programs for kids. Or look into classes at the local community college. Writing camps and classes are great ways to learn new methods and styles of writing and gain feedback from peers. Can't find a program in your area? Then create your own! Help your child organize a group of writing friends once a week or every other week for an hour after school to write. They can take turns "teaching" an activity or giving a writing prompt. For more ideas, visit my website www.zest.net/writeon and click on "Virtual Writing Camp."

LISTEN. Many bookstores offer talks by guest authors. Read the book section in your local newspaper or inquire at a bookstore about author appearances. Then take your child to listen to what these professional authors have to say. Not only will he learn from someone who's "in the business," he'll also come away inspired because that famous author was once a kid like him, scribbling down stories and chasing after dreams. Often the author will stick around after her talk so your child can even chat one-on-one with her for a few minutes!

Also, encourage your child to write letters or e-mails to her favorite authors. Have her tell them what she likes about their books and mention her own writing dreams. In my experience, many authors will write back with words of advice and support.

TAKE ADVANTAGE OF NEW EXPERIENCES. By no means am I saying your child should spend every moment of free time writing. Indeed, a good way to become a better writer is simply to go out and live! Encourage your child to learn a foreign language, volunteer at the local hospital, take a kick-boxing class. And then encourage your child to write about her experiences. For example, a few summers ago I climbed Mt. Whitney, the tallest mountain in the contiguous United States. It was an incredible experience, and I later turned the diary of my journey into an article for Family Circle magazine!

BE A CHEERLEADER. This is perhaps the most important thing I have to say: encourage your child without reservation. Anytime your child asks you to read something he has written, drop whatever you are doing if at all possible and sit down to read his story. This simple act means the world to your child because it shows him that his writing is important to you. It is scary to show your creative work to just anyone - and it can be terrifying to show your work to your parents, the two people you most want to make proud. So, please, parents, when your child asks you to read her writing, take it as the highest compliment and make it a priority! Gush over the piece, be excited about it, hang it up on the fridge. Mail a copy to grandparents, aunts, uncles, godparents, and ask them to write encouraging notes back to your child.

Also, it is important to be utterly positive regarding your child's writing - maybe there are suggestions you feel would help make the piece better, but until your child asks for suggestions, please please please hold them in. Even the gentlest criticism could be misinterpreted by your child and squash his confidence and even his love of writing. There will be plenty of other people out there to offer criticism. As my friend Barry Kibrick likes to say, children have a whole wide world to bring them down - it is a parent's job to buoy them up. Believe me, having constant cheerleaders in your parents means more to your child than you can imagine!

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Keeping the Love of Writing Alive!
By Gail Small

Gail Small (http://www.gailsmall.com) was a classroom teacher for 35 years She is also a Master Teacher who has consulted for teaching training programs throughout California. Gail is the author of five books, including Joyful Learning: No One Ever Wants to Go To Recess, and Joyful Parenting: Before You Blink, They'll Be Grown.

Words mean a lot! Our children/students see things in new ways. They have a fresh approach to solving problems and looking for new experiences. They see things for the first time. Their words can inform us.

We all need to take moments out of our busy schedules to read, reflect, understand and write! Have you asked your son or daughter lately to write about something, a personal thought or reflection, with no right or wrong?

Why do we wait until we are grown to write a resume? Aside from the usual parenting issues, homework, and the everyday tasks, try asking your child (whatever the age) to think about only their best qualities. What if you asked your child to write about and describe all of their best qualities? Accomplishments? (Knowing that whatever he/she writes, there is no grade, no right or wrong.)

During my thirty-five year career as an educator with students of all grade levels, I made this an annual event. (You know those holiday family letters friends send you? Or, annual pictures sent to grandma and grandpa?) Imagine getting your child to take the time to write only the positives? Such a "resume" is a gift and a keepsake. If done every year, a treasure of recorded progress, growth, interests and changes. (Something you can send to relatives!)

Examples: What I Like to Do: (Words/thoughts expand as children develop and are ready. . . into interesting phrases, sentences, paragraphs, stories. . . .)
Age seven, Swim, skate, sing, ride scooter, make funny faces
Age eight, Race in the pool, make things, sports, eat chocolate
Age twelve, Woodshop, read, computers, scouts, chase my dog
Age thirteen, Talk on the phone, be with friends, be independent

As children evolve, so do their words. What better than to write about oneself with no grade, criticism, or "in the box" requirements? Besides, being positive and creative are what we all want for our children! Writing is an arena for creativity that provides kids the opportunity for self-discovery and personal growth. If we don't stop the words from flowing on the page, writing will stay alive and flourish!

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Guiding Young Poets
By Elise Partridge

Elise Partridge's most recent book of poetry, Chameleon Hours, was published in 2008 by the University of Chicago Press and by House of Anansi (Toronto, Canada). Her poems have appeared in many magazines, including The New Yorker, Poetry, Slate, and The New Republic, and her work has been featured in the "Poet's Choice" column in the Washington Post, on Garrison Keillor's The Writer's Almanac, and on the website Poetry Daily. She was educated at Harvard, Cambridge, and Boston University.

Poetry should be read aloud, not just scrutinized on a page. Encourage your child to read poems aloud to himself/herself, siblings, friends, you - everything from limericks to Whitman to Shakespeare. Choose poems that you yourself like and read them aloud to your child. Hearing rhythms and learning to distinguish between them will help train your child's ear, just as listening to music helps train one's ear. Why do we not write elegies in the same kind of rhythm we use for limericks? Only reading poems aloud and hearing them will help us understand why.

There are many wonderful ways to listen to poetry. For years I have made use of poetry audiotapes. I've played them in the car, when I'm doing chores, when I'm cooking, while relaxing in the evening. I've heard new poems for the first time this way and heard old favorites in new ways. Your local library may have records, audiotapes, CDs and DVDs you can borrow for your child. Your child may want to read along, if possible, in an anthology.

Likewise, your child can now listen over the web. The Academy of American Poets (http://www.poets.org/) and the Poetry Foundation (http://www.poetryfoundation.org) have treasure troves of recordings easily accessible online.

Apart from its online recordings, I highly recommend the website of the Academy of American Poets for the range and usefulness of the information you can access there and via its many links.

The links include:

  • Poems for Every Occasion: a list of headings that includes everything from the seasons to politics to parenting to heartache to illness to friendship, sports, school, animals, work, dreams, etc. The Academy even has a "mobile poetry archive" which allows this collection of more than 2500 poems to be accessed on most mobile devices.
  • Information on Young People's Poetry Week (the third week of April each year). The Children's Book Council provides an extensive list of online resources for celebrating this week - including ideas for teachers and parents.
  • Biographies of more than 500 poets, with new pages being added all the time. You can browse poets by name; poems; access a link called Poetic Schools and Movements, or a link called Groundbreaking Books; access audio and video links; and find essays and interviews.
  • The Poetry Audio Archive, "one of the world's richest aural records of poetry."

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Encouraging the Natural Born Storyteller in Our Children
by R.L. LaFevers

R. L. LaFevers ( http://www.rllafevers.com/) is the author of fantasy novels for young readers, including the Lothar's Blade trilogy. Her most recent book, Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos, was a Junior Library Guild selection, a Booksense Summer Pick, and a 2007 Agatha Award nominee.

Whenever I do school visits, I always ask the students who among them likes to write. Around 50% of the kids raise their hands. When I ask the question again, this time adding, "Who likes to write if you get to ignore all the rules," 98% of the kids raise their hands.

The following tips are designed to help remind your child -- and yourself -- that writing can also be a form of play. We want to reinforce those parts of writing that equal play in your child's eyes.

  1. Let them give rein to their natural enthusiasm and sense of play by ignoring some of the writing rules that make it feel like work. You want them to get in touch with that intuitive part of themselves that recognizes that writing and creating can be play. Rules can always be taught later, but a sense of joy, once lost, is very hard to recapture.

  2. Invest in nice quality notebooks and pens. It's easy to dismiss the very kinesthetic pleasures of writing-the feel of a silky pen flowing across thick, smooth paper. High quality pens and notebooks can bring that extra pleasure to the act of writing. Plus it signals to them that this is a valued activity, one that can feel good physically and one that the adults in their lives value enough to indulge them in.

  3. Give them permission to show no one their work if they so choose. Some people need absolute privacy in which to play and risk failure, especially children who are used to doing exceedingly well at all things.

  4. Do not critique their writing, even if they beg you. If they are dying for feedback, let them know what they did really well and encourage them to do more of that. Or better yet, ask them which part they had the most fun doing.

  5. As hard as it is for us adults, do not weigh down your children's writing with your desires, dreams, and ambitions. If you child loves to write and spends hours writing, do not begin pushing them to become a writer or enter writing contests or in any way burden their writing with expectations of careers or publication. Let writing be one area of their lives that is process oriented rather than result oriented.

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Advice for Parents of High-Ability Math and Science Students

How to Have Fun with Math at Home

Chris Wright has a Ph.D. in mathematics from Stanford University, and was an assistant professor at Duke University. He is the author of Dr. Wright's Kitchen Table Math, a step-by-step guide to how parents of 2-8 year olds can help children develop strong math skills through fun activities. CLSC interviewed Chris, who offered the following advice for parents of advanced math students:

1. Math in the home should revolve around play. When parents picture working with their children on math, often images of flashcards and children in tears come to mind. But flashcards and other drills should be a very minor part of math instruction at home - not more than five minutes a day, or even every other day. What parents should concentrate on instead is introducing math concepts through play, and making math fun.

2. Car rides offer a great opportunity for math education. There are lots of fun math games you can play while driving in the car with your kids. For the younger ones, Chris suggests playing a variation of 20 questions. You think of a number between, say, one and twenty, but don't tell your child. He or she can then ask "greater than or lesser than" questions and see how fast they can guess the number. ("Is is greater than 10?" "Yes." "Well then it must be between 10 and 20." "Is it smaller than 15. . .")

For older children, the game can get more complex. Children can try to figure out a number you're thinking of by asking questions about the remainder if it's divided by various amounts. "What's the remainder when divided by five?" "By four?" "By twenty?"

It also helps if you tie the math concepts into something your child sees frequently. For example, Chris would play ice-cream sundae math in the car with his young daughter. If Becky had 13 scoops of ice-cream, and there were three scoops of ice-cream per sundae, to how many friends could she serve sundaes?

Becky, by the way, is now in college at Stanford, but she still fondly recalls working on the creative math games her dad played with her in the car when she was little. Among her favorites was "animal math," which taught her to switch between number bases. Her dad would ask, for example, "What is the number 12 in octopus math?" and she would have to figure out what 12 would be in base 8. "Starfish math" would require her to figure out the number in base 5, "three-toed sloth" math would require the number in base 3. . . well, you get the idea. (Apparently so did Becky, who went on to place first in the state-wide California Math league in 6th grade, get a perfect score on her AP Calculus BC test in 10th grade, and a perfect score on her math SAT in 11th grade.)

Chris also points out that playing this game with young children helps them to better understand place value in base 10. Additionally, converting between bases helps them practice multiplying and dividing in a fun way.

3. Surround your child with the opportunity to explore by leaving out a variety of math games. Make it easy for your child to play with math when the mood strikes - and the mood may strike more often if a number of fun and different options are lying about. (Quarto, Mancala, Yahtzee, Smath, etc.)

4. Games that are "old favorites" can easily be made more challenging as children advance. The simple game of "war" can be made more challenging as your child grows more mathematically advanced by having each player pick two cards at once. Depending on your child's level, the winner can then be determined by adding or subtracting the numbers, or by multiplying the numbers.

While many children enjoy playing the math game "24," kids will eventually master the tricks for reaching a score of 24. (In 24, each participant in a round draws a card that has four numbers on it. The first person to find a way to get the numbers to sum to 24 wins the round. What makes it more interesting is that there are various decks of cards with varying levels of difficulty. For example, one deck of cards requires only addition and subtraction, while other decks are geared to multiplication or fractions, or even algebraic functions. For more information on 24 go to http://www.24game.com.)

You can play a more challenging version of this game with 7 dice. Roll 2, and those numbers give you the final number you're aiming for. Then roll the other five. You then need to use the numbers of those five dice to sum up to the first number. For example, let's say you roll a 2 and a 6 with the first pair of dice. That's your target number, 26. You then roll the other dice, and you come up with 1, 3, 4, 4 and 6. The challenge is to come up with some way of summing 1,3,4,4, and 6, using a combination of addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, and powers, to get to 26. One possible solution would be 6 x 4 + 4 + 1 - 3 ' 26. To make the game even more interesting, you can use eight-sided dice to play.

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Igniting Your Child's Interest by Connecting Math with the Real World

Ed Zaccaro, challengemath@aol.com, is a retired teacher and the author of numerous math books for mathematically advanced children, including Challenge Math, The Ten Things All Future Scientists and Mathematicians Must Know (But Are Rarely Taught), and 25 Real Life Math Investigations that Will Astound Teachers and Students. In a CLSC interview, Ed offered the following ideas for parents of advanced math students.

Ed Zaccaro offers simple advice for parents who want to encourage a passion for math in their children: "As soon as you do math that's applicable to real life, the interest level triples."

As Ed points out, so many issues in the news have to do with math, that just reading the newspaper with your child provides lots of opportunities to connect math with the real world. For example, "The subprime debacle involves some pretty basic math," and offers compelling lessons about how understanding mathematical concepts, such as percents, is critical to real world decisions.

Newspapers also provide parents the opportunity to discuss the importance of statistics, and how people misunderstand and/or misuse statistics. Once you start looking for examples, they'll be all around. Ed recounts that he recently read an article predicting that every adult will be overweight by 2042. This conclusion was reached by a "ludicrous" interpretation of statistics on the current growth of obese adults. Discussing the faulty reasoning underlying these kind of articles is both fun and informative. Encourage your child to find articles and advertisements that misuse statistics, and discuss them together.

Talking about the mathematical aspects of household decisions is another way of engaging your child's interest in math. For example, should you get a hybrid car to save money on gas? Work out the math with your child, and let him or her help make the decision. If you're taking out a loan for a new car, that's a great opportunity to talk about, and work with, interest rates.

While parents understand that activities such as reading to children at home are important to help develop reading literacy, Ed points out that few parents understand the importance of taking steps at home to develop math literacy. Making "math talk" a part of everyday life will go a long way toward developing interested and engaged young mathematicians.

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Nurturing Young Mathematicians
by Bror Saxberg

Bror Saxberg is the Chief Learning Officer for K12, Inc, which primarily builds and delivers virtual learning environments across a wide range of subjects for kids K-12. His background includes a B.S. in electrical engineering and B.S. in mathematics from the University of Washington; M.A. in mathematics from Oxford University; M.A. and Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from the MIT, and an M.D. from Harvard Medical School. His blog can be found at https://communitychest.k12.com/blog.

Parents sometimes wonder with their little ones if there's anything they can do to help them build or advance an interest in math. There's a couple of things that can really help - some are completely in your control, some require some help from wherever you have your kids in school (or might even precipitate a change!):

Start talking about numbers and math all the time. Even if your child doesn't appear to understand what you're saying, or even if they seem disinterested, keep it up: "How many miles do we have to go? Well, let's see - we know the trip is 22 miles, and we've gone 7 miles so far, so. . ." Kids' minds keep learning even when they don't appear to be paying attention - having words and concepts pouring over them is one of the ways their little minds self-organize. "Math talk" for most families requires a conscious effort by the adults. It's just not as easy for most of us to have lots of words about mathematics as it is words about stories, travel, the store - but more "math talk" is better.

Some research seems to show that fairly simple board games that use spinners and some kind of (possibly curvy) number line (e.g., "Chutes and Ladders" type games) can be great for getting pre-schoolers and kindergarteners basic down-payments on math skills, with academic impacts in a wide variety of areas, including estimation and number sense. A key is, again, to use number words and counting-aloud during the games - have the kids actually count out where their markers go, and, if there are numbers where they land, the number they land on. More opportunity for math talk!

Math is an area where acceleration in school for kids who are pretty sharp at it can be very helpful. And the opposite is true too - if your child, quick at math, is in a situation where the reward for finishing a sheet of problems is more of the same problems, is it any wonder their interest in math will start to flag? Talk with your teacher to see if this is happening regularly - that's a sign you need to get some change happening for your math monster!

As your kids get older, you'll find lots of resources on-line to help your child advance their interests in mathematics - the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth, and a wide variety of Web sites can get you going. But what you do with your littlest ones early on can set a life-long habit of understanding and enjoying the world of numbers and mathematics!

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Quick Tips for Encouraging Young Scientists

Laurel M. Dodge, Naturalist, writes that:
Like most parents of gifted children, you probably remember that as a tiny child, your daughter (or son) adopted interests beyond those typical of her age mates. She would pursue these interests with a self-imposed determination, the result of the gifted mind's joy in understanding the world. These forays into mastery might last years until, finally satiated with the extent of their knowledge of the subject, the gifted child turns to a new subject and proceeds along their self-developed path toward mastery again.

Where to find new avenues for mastery? Look no further than your neighborhood nature preserve. Here you will find an environment that is littered with the raw material of learning. The child's natural inclination to explore coupled with the gifted tendency to focus and master subjects will find many avenues for expression in nature. The physical and biological complexity of the habitat you step into offers innumerable threads to follow: mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, insects, other invertebrates, wildflowers, trees, shrubs, mosses, lichens, rocks and minerals. Presented with so many possibilities for investigation, it won't be long before the gifted child takes on the challenge and chooses a subject to pursue and master.

Shirley Tucker, former professor of botany at Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, advises parents to take children to places like botanical gardens and museums of natural history, pointing out that often such places have special workshops for children.

Genevieve Graves, a graduate student in Astronomy at the University of California, Santa Cruz, fondly remembers her family hikes and trips to national parks. She advises parents to get their kids out into the natural world. Rather than just admiring the natural beauty, ask your children why the things they see are the way they are. "That's what science is all about." Don't just comment on the beauty of a leaf, but explore why it's shaped the way it is. Why did it evolve that way? As a parent, you need to go out into nature equipped with information about what you're seeing and what scientific processes have produced it.

Ben Faber Ph.D, the soils/water/subtropical crops advisor for Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties in California, explains that he became more interested in science when he learned to see the practical applications rather than just the textbook information. He advises parents that gardening is a great approach to help kids see science's practical applications. For example, while we might think that adding fertilizer is always the best approach to improving crop growth, experimentation with soils shows that sometimes adjusting the soil's pH is more important. Dr. Faber also notes that for younger kids especially, science can be very satisfying when they can take action and see a result - for example, planting carrots and radishes will produce a result the kids can eat in 30 days. Dr. Faber also reminds parents that science experiments with "dramatic effects and loud noises" illustrate the fun of science!

Syliva Cooper, Ph.D., immunologist, advies that, "Given the current state of science education in the US, it may come to the point where the only children prepared to become scientists will be the children of scientists. At home, treat your children to the benefits of having a "scientist" in the family by honing critical thinking skills in all disciplines, fostering inquiry, and promoting inquisitiveness -- which are the hallmarks of scientific understanding."

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Why "Drill and Kill" is Bad for Your Child’s Brain
by Judy Willis, M.D.,M.Ed.

"I've always been in the fast math class where it has always been challenging, but not impossible. That is when I pay attention best." -- Austin (my math student)

Imagine having to spend your day on the bunny hill when you are an expert skier, throwing darts at a target two feet away, or doing a crossword puzzle made for children in 3rd grade. You would feel frustrated or bored just as a gifted child does when there is inadequate challenge to engage his brain in lessons at school or homework.

You know it would do nothing to promote your child's interest in a subject or awareness of her gifts if she took a test of a topic she mastered years before, such as having your 5th grade daughter score 100% on a math test of adding single digit positive integers. Unless students feel the achievement is a challenge, there is no intrinsic satisfaction from success.

Often teachers move through the curriculum at a set pace regardless of students' individual levels of mastery. Even students who are not negative about school in general, will become bored when lessons are at a level they already mastered.

Achievable Challenge

For students to be engaged in their learning they need relevant, achievable challenge. It is only from authentic achievements that students experience the reward of their competence, effort, and perseverance. This is when the neurotransmitter dopamine is released from a brain structure called the nucleus accumbens. When the brain solves a satisfying problem with appropriate challenge, the increase in dopamine release is associated with feelings of pleasure and intrinsic satisfaction. Because the brain is a pleasure-seeking organ, it will look for more opportunities to get that same satisfaction and pleasure.

Students who have these satisfying experiences develop perseverance and tolerance for even greater challenge. They are engaged and focused on learning activities that are meaningful and challenging. They see themselves as learners, and regard learning as pleasurable. They build the confidence, curiosity, and willingness to persevere even after making mistakes. Gifted students need achievable challenge to grow as learners and reach into their gifted potentials. These challenge experiences are vital while they develop the skills they need to use their gifts to the fullest, such as flexibility, perseverance, interest, and inventiveness.

Challenge is a powerful motivator when students take on a challenge they find meaningful. Now the intrinsic rewards are powerful, and the dopamine-pleasure reaction encourages subsequent similar pursuits. However, because the brain's emotional filter, the amygdala, blocks learning when students are bored, gifted students need teachers and parents to provide opportunities for success at their individual challenge level appropriate for their mastery and background knowledge.

If learning opportunities are not compatible with a gifted child's level of intelligence, background knowledge, and development, his brain drops into the stress reactive state. This part of the brain functions at the reactive, involuntary, unconscious level. The brain's only options at this operating level are fight/flight/freeze, which manifests with reactions such as low participation, failure to complete homework and other assignments, disruptive behavior, or simply zoning out (and sometimes missing important material because their brains are no longer paying attention).

If your gifted child is losing interest in school, not finishing homework, doing poorly on tests, or coming up with excuses not to go to school, consider the possibility that the lack of challenge is a powerful brain stressor. Start a dialogue with your child to find which subjects are the most "boring" and create extended opportunities for more in depth independent study at home, such as with interactive internet websites where the levels of challenge increase as mastery increases. There is a list of these at the end of this article.

When you have some samples of your child's independent, advanced work, schedule a meeting with his teacher, bringing the work your child has done. Use the meeting to collaborate with the teacher to work with you to raise the bar with appropriate challenge. See if he or she can offer your child more guided independent work as well as evaluating his mastery before a new unit and eliminating the repetitive drill and homework that is the boring, frustrating, turn-off, like throwing darts at that target only two feet away. Unless the negative association with boredom and school is eliminated, it gets more difficult with each passing year for your child to become reconnected with joys of learning.

Your intervention in the school negativity that is the consequence of your child not being engaged at his appropriate achievable challenge level, can make the difference in his attitude, not only about the value of school, but of the joy of lifelong learning.

Interactive Internet Resources (some are free)

Dimension M, math games by Tabula Digita such as work to stop a biodigital virus from taking over the world, while learning about functions and solving equations. http://www.dimensionm.com/

Knowledge Matters, business simulations that allow students to manage sports teams or stores. http://vbc.knowledgematters.com/vbc/sports/about

Picture memory sequencing match games:

Pattern matching:

Maze puzzles to build patterning skills:

Mathematical Association of America Digital Classroom Resources: Free online learning activities elementary through middle school levels.



Dr. Judy Willis, a neurologist and classroom teacher, combined her neuroscience knowledge and classroom experience to become an authority in the field of learning-centered brain research. She has written five books and gives national and international presentations. Her two books for both parents and educators are How Your Child Learns Best: Brain-Friendly Strategies You Can Use to Ignite Your Child's Learning and Increase School Success published by Sourcebooks for parents of children K-8, and for middle school students, Inspiring Middle School Minds: Gifted, Creative, Challenging, published by Great Potential Press. Website with articles and other books by Dr. Willis: www.RADTeach.com

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Keeping Your Child’s Interest in Math Alive, K-12

"The [typical] math curriculum doesn't differentiate kids from machines, and kids will never be able to beat machines." Richard Rusczyk

Richard Rusczyk is the founder of The Art of Problem Solving (www.artofproblemsolving.com), which provides interactive on-line programs for avid math students. He is also a USA Mathematical Olympiad winner, Princeton graduate, director of the USA Mathematical Talent Search, and author of numerous math textbooks.

We asked Richard for his thoughts about how parents can help students retain their passion and enthusiasm for math, and came away with the following helpful tips:

If your advanced math student doesn't want to show his or her work, try to get the teacher to give more challenging problems.

Many advanced learners understandably balk at showing their work on simple math problems. If they can get the answer by doing the work in their heads, it just seems like busywork to write down the steps for the teacher. But if they're given harder problems, they'll need to show their work for their own sake, in order to get the right answer. This will help them understand why it's important to be able to show their work for complex problems.

Parents should expose students to problem solving through math competitions as early as 3rd or 4th grade.

"The most important function of math instruction is to teach problem-solving skills. The actual math is secondary - it's the way of thinking that is so important." Too often the math curriculum emphasizes rote skills that can be performed better by a computer. As Richard succinctly states, the math curriculum "doesn't differentiate kids from machines, and kids will never be able to beat machines."

Generally the first place kids are encouraged to think creatively in math is through competitions such as Math Olympiads for Elementary and Middle School (http://www.moems.org/) which advanced learners can tackle as early as 3rd or 4th grade. Competing in these contests requires young students to solve problems without a lot of advanced tools, and without using "textbook recipe solutions." Math competitions are available from elementary school through high school.

Richard notes that when he was at Princeton, many students who hadn't participated in math competitions - including those who graduated from strong academic high schools at the top of their class - dropped out of math and science classes because they weren't prepared for creative problem-solving challenges. Richard credits the problem-solving skills he learned in math competitions with making it easy for him to do well in all of his college classes, despite attending an average high school.

Enthusiasm for math needs to come from mom and dad.

People generally don't become elementary school teachers because they want to teach math. Usually they're more interested in, and enthusiastic about, teaching reading or art. Also, if teachers are afraid of math, kids pick that up. Particularly at the elementary school level, parents need to convey enthusiasm for math at home.

Try to arrange for your advanced student to work on math independently during the school day, particularly in middle school and high school.

Richard suggests that you work with your school to see if your child can take the year-end math test at the beginning of the year. Students who get an A on that should be able to spend their time doing independent study at their level, rather than sitting through lessons on topics they've already mastered. This is particularly important as students get older and have less time outside of school for independent math study.

Rather than simply accelerating your child through the high school math curriculum, expose them to math outside the standard curriculum.

Okay, this tip doesn't come from our interview with Richard, but rather from an excellent article he wrote, "The Calculus Trap." Helping talented math students develop their abilities requires more than merely accelerating them through the high school math curriculum and then sending them to the local community college when they've exhausted their high school's offerings. "Developing a broader understanding of mathematics and problem solving forms a foundation upon which knowledge of advanced mathematical and scientific concepts can be built. Curricular classes do not prepare students for the leap from the usual 'one step and done' problems to multi-step, multi-discipline problems they will face later on."(http://www.artofproblemsolving.com/Resources/AoPS_R_A_Calculus.php.)

Advanced math students need to work with other advanced students.

Richard also writes that, "Students of like interest and ability feed off of each other. They learn from each other; they challenge and inspire each other. Going from 'top student in my algebra class,' to 'top student in my [community] college calculus class,' is not a great improvement. Going from 'top student in my algebra class' to 'average student in my city's math club' is a huge step forward in your educational prospects. The student in the math club is going to grow by leaps, led by and encouraged by other students."

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