Sunday, August 30, 2015

Meditation as part of school day


At first glance, Quiet Time – a stress reduction meditation strategy used in several San Francisco middle and high schools, – looks like something out of the om-chanting 1960s. Twice daily, a gong sounds in the classroom and rowdy adolescents, who normally can’t sit still for 10 seconds, shut their eyes and try to clear their minds.
The practice of meditation in schools deserves serious attention from parents and policymakers. An impressive array of studies shows that integrating meditation into a school’s daily routine can markedly improve the lives of students. If San Francisco schools Superintendent Richard Carranza has his way, Quiet Time could well spread citywide.
Cleansing Troubled Minds
What’s happening at Visitacion Valley Middle School, which in 2007 became the first public school nationwide to adopt the program, shows why the superintendent is so enthusiastic. In this neighborhood, gunfire is as common as birdsong – nine shootings have been recorded in the past month – and most students know someone who’s been shot or did the shooting. Murders are so frequent that the school employs a full-time grief counselor.
In years past, these students were largely out of control, frequently fighting in the corridors, scrawling graffiti on the walls and cursing their teachers. Absenteeism rates were among the city’s highest and so were suspensions. Worn-down teachers routinely called in sick.
Unsurprisingly, academics suffered. The school tried everything, from counseling and peer support to after-school tutoring and sports, but to disappointingly little effect.
Now these students are doing light-years better. In the first year of Quiet Time, the number of suspensions fell by 45 percent. Within four years, the suspension rate was among the lowest in the city. Daily attendance rates climbed to 98 percent, well above the citywide average. Grade point averages improved markedly.
About 20 percent of graduates are admitted to Lowell High School – before Quiet Time, getting any students into this elite high school was a rarity. Remarkably, in the annual California Healthy Kids Survey, these middle school youngsters recorded the highest happiness levels in San Francisco.
Reports are similarly positive in the three other schools that have adopted Quiet Time. At Burton High School, for instance, students in the program report significantly less stress and depression, and greater self-esteem, than nonparticipants. With stress levels down, achievement has markedly improved, particularly among students who have been doing worst academically. Grades rose dramatically, compared with those who weren’t in the program.
Less Stress, More Passion
On the California Achievement Test, twice as many students in Quiet Time schools have become proficient in English, compared with students in similar schools where the program doesn’t exist, and the gap is even bigger in math. Teachers report they’re less emotionally exhausted and more resilient.
The research is showing big effects on students’ performance,” says Superintendent Carranza.
“Our new accountability standards, which we’re developing in tandem with the other big California districts, emphasize the importance of social-emotional factors in improving kids’ lives, not just academics.
That’s where Quiet Time can have a major impact, and I’d like to see it expand well beyond a handful of schools.”
While Quiet Time isn’t the final solution for a broken education system, it’s a game-changer for many students who otherwise might have become dropouts. That’s reason enough to make meditation a school staple, and not just in San Francisco.

Dengue advisory

Dear All

An alert has come through from ISOS/Control Risk in relation to an increase dengue  cases in both rural and city areas f Vietnam. The information is below.

In Brief
A significant increase in dengue cases has been reported in several parts of Vietnam. The disease is spread by mosquitoes, and is present in both rural and urban or city areas. Dengue can cause a range of symptoms and has no particular treatment. Some people, especially those who have been infected with dengue before, get a more severe form that can lead to fatal complications. There is no vaccine.


  • When outdoors, wear clothing that covers most of your body (long sleeves, long pants, socks).
  • Use an effective insect repellent that contains DEET, Picaridin, PMD, or IR3535.
  • Ensure windows are covered with fly-wire. Use "knock-down" insect spray to kill mosquitoes in your room.
  • Choose air conditioned accommodation if possible.
  • Seek medical attention if you develop a high fever, especially if you suffer "rigors" (shaking) or a rash.

More Detail
Dengue activity continues to increase in many states. Nationally, around 25,000 cases have been confirmed since the beginning of 2015, higher than that observed for the same period in 2014. At least 12 cases have been fatal. Frequent heavy rainfall may be contributing to the persistence of the outbreak.

Dengue is consistently present in Vietnam.
Here is the life cycle of the dengue mosquito so that you have a good idea about the time for clearing away standing water.
Some control strategies taken from WHO:


Individual and household protection

Self-initiative for source reduction in homes and community. See "Environmental management"
Clothing that minimizes skin exposure during daylight hours when mosquitoes are most active affords some protection from the bites of dengue vectors and is encouraged particularly during outbreaks.
Repellents may be applied to exposed skin or to clothing. The use of repellents must be in strict accordance with label instructions.
Insecticide-treated mosquito nets afford good protection for those who sleep during the day (e.g. infants, the bedridden and night-shift workers).
Where indoor biting occurs, household insecticide aerosol products, mosquito coils or other insecticide vaporizers may also reduce biting activity.
Household fixtures such as window and door screens and air-conditioning can also reduce biting.

Safe use of insecticides

All pesticides are toxic to some degree. Safety precautions for their use – including care in the handling of pesticides, safe work practices for those who apply them, and appropriate field application – should be followed.
WHO Pesticide Evaluation Scheme (WHOPES) has published specific guidelines on use of insecticides, safety procedures, quality control and guidelines for testing.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

5 Back-to-School Rules for Cell Phone-Carrying Kids (and 1 for Parents)

Whether your kid is heading to school toting a brand-new device or is already a cell-phone pro, it's important to make sure everyone is on the same page about what "responsible use" means. You can keep an eye on kids at home (kind of), but at school, they're on their own. As with any kind of boundary setting, these conversations can be tense. Fortunately, there are only five rules for them to remember -- and one for you, to show that you're all in this together. (Tweens and teens can also play our animated, interactive Digital Compass game to pick up digital-citizen skills.)
Here are our key guidelines for cell-phone carrying kids:
1. Respect the school's rules. Some schools permit students to use their phones at certain times: between classes, at lunch, on the playground, even occasionally in class. Abusing this privilege could jeopardize your classmates' freedom. They'll be mad at you, and your parents could rightly suspend your phone use.
2. Pick up when it's Mom or Dad. Ugh, it's the parents calling again. Well, guess who's paying for your phone? When your mom, dad, or caregiver call, it's probably very important, so don't send it to voicemail.
3. Ask permission before downloading anything. Even if you have your own app store account,get sign off on any apps you download. If something has in-app purchases, those costs could wind up on your parents' bill -- so they need to know what extra charges a download may incur. They also need to make sure it's age appropriate and reasonably good for you.
4. Don't flaunt it. Owning a cell phone is a privilege that not every kid has access to. It's OK to be proud of your phone -- it's an expensive piece of equipment for which you've been given responsibility -- but showing off could make other people feel bad. Also, it could get stolen.
5. Use your phone for good, not evil. You'll see all kinds of misbehavior and mischief regarding phones in school. Set an example for others by being respectful and responsible with yours. Ask permission before taking someone's picture. Take a moment to consider whether a text or video could hurt, annoy, or embarrass someone else. Turn off the phone when you're supposed to. Don't let the phone be more important than someone standing right in front of you.
And here's our essential rule for parents:
Don't text your kid during the school day. Unless it's a real emergency -- like, you're going to the hospital -- resist the urge to text your kid during the school day. Kids have survived for many, many years without talking to their parents while they're at school -- and they need to be allowed independence. And if your kid texts you, make sure he's not breaking any rules to do so.

How can I encourage a reluctant reader?

Kids may express reluctance toward reading for a variety of reasons. Often, adult guidance; variation in style of writing, text length, and subject matter; and well-chosen books are just the ticket to attract reluctant readers.
As with anything kids would rather not do, forcing them, comparing them to other kids, and using other negative reinforcements backfire. There are many ways to encourage kids who are reluctant.
Here are some ideas:
  • Encourage reading for fun. Wimpy Kid author Jeff Kinney says that sometimes adults focus so much on getting kids to read they forget about the fun. But kids who are having fun will read.
  • Go graphic. There are many high-quality graphic novels that draw in readers through illustrations, short-form text, and engrossing story lines.
  • Seek out sports. For kids who'd rather be physically active than read a book, consider books about teams or by athletes, such as You Never Heard of Sandy Koufax?! by Jonah Winter about the famous lefty; Hothead by Cal Ripken Jr.; or other books about sports.
  • Think big print. The Here's Hank series by Henry Winkler features a dyslexic hero and a large, easy-to-read typeface.
  • Let them follow their interests. You may not love Captain Underpants, but if that's what your kid wants to read, put aside your judgment for the greater good.
  • Find characters who reflect your kid's experience. Kids like to see themselves in the stories they read. Look for books with characters and situations that mirror their experience -- for example, kids of color or with divorced parents or who live on a farm or who love dogs. Whatever helps kids identify with the story will keep them more engaged.
  • Look for different reading opportunities. Reading is valuable no matter what the format: Pokemon cards, product labels, game manuals, recipes. Mix in shorter-form material with longer stuff.
  • Get techy. Ebooks and storybook apps that offer some multimedia along with the narrative can be entertaining and educational and may draw in kids who are turned off by text alone. Use them alongside traditional reading.
  • Fact-check. With their amazing stats, incredible images, short-form text, and start-anywhere formats, books of facts such as Guinness World Records and Ripley's Believe It or Not entice kids who'd rather not tackle longer stories.​
  • Take turns. With a book your kid has chosen, take turns reading a page (or two) to each other. Ask questions along the way.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Get Ready for Kindergarten with Practical Tips, Tricks, and Tools

From ABCs to empathy, kids need all sorts of skills to start school. We can help!

If you're spending the waning days of summer prepping your kindergarten-bound kid for the first days of school, you're not alone. Kindergarten is a formative year for families, as kids acquire the foundational skills they'll build on for a lifetime (and parents learn the value of healthy home habits and encouraging independence). Here are some handy tricks and tools to help your kindergartners -- and you -- get ready for the school year.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Why choice words are so important for our achievement culture

The power of believing you can improve

What do Students Lose by Being Perfect? Valuable Failure.

In the first pages of Being Wrong, Kathryn Schulz writes, “In our collective imagination, error is associated not just with shame and stupidity but also with ignorance, indolence, psychopathology, and moral degeneracy.” This cultural terror of messing up, combined with modern modes of parenting and schooling obsessed with narrow versions of academic and career “success,” are making students more than risk-averse.
Books like How to Raise an Adult and Teach Your Children Well say kids are coming to college “underconstructed,” at best unsure of who they are and where they fit, at worst anxious and depressed, because their parents have protected them from the uncomfortable and unacceptable state of being wrong. Focused on getting the grades or winning the game and excused from helping out around the house, these children have internalized the pressure, and it’s morphed into a monster that paralyzes kids in their ability to take risks, screw up, find out the consequences and learn from their mistakes.
Parent and educator Jessica Lahey, author of the new book The Gift of Failure, wants parents (and teachers) to back off. She said it’s time for adults to do the responsible thing and let the children fail. Trying something and failing, she writes, is how children learn and make discoveries about themselves and the world around them. This applies to unloading the dishwasher as well as the science fair. Becoming autonomous gives children pride in themselves and their abilities, and makes them independent thinkers and doers who can cope with the ups and downs of life.
Stop bringing forgotten homework to school, Lahey tells the parents of her students.
But it will be messy, and adults should expect as much. To Lahey’s credit, The Gift of Failure defiantly rejects the binary choices of either“triumphant or bumbling adulthood”as end goals, and sees growing up as a series of peaks and valleys with lots of time to figure things out in between. Instead, she offers practical advice, steeped in the latest research, on how to let kids find their own way as parents and teachers guide them, the key word being guide — not instruct, dictate, or enable. Giving kids autonomy may or may not make them a big “success,” but the research supports that it will make kids happier, less anxious and depressed, and more fulfilled to work towards agency in their own lives.
Lahey taught middle school for more than a dozen years, and said that in that period of time, she watched as kids went from cautious to take risks to too terrified to even make a move — write a sentence, for example — without considering what people might think or how it would affect their grade.
“The thing I began to notice was not the fear of an ‘F’, it was the fear of any mistake,” she said. “It’s not that students couldn’t get to a final draft, they couldn’t get even their ideas down. From a teacher’s point of view, that’s a nightmare! If they can’t take a risk, then certainly they aren’t raising their hand with an I-wanna-try-this-idea-out kind of thing.”
Many educators already know this, but what to do about it? Educators can play a crucial part in helping kids to get comfortable with failure, which Lahey calls “autonomy-supportive teaching” and goes hand-in-hand with “autonomy-supportive parenting.” She says there are ways educators can encourage parents to let go, and here are a few:
Encourage parents to think of raising a child as a long-haul job
Stop bringing forgotten homework to school, Lahey tells the parents of her students. And stop stressing over how your daughter will do on next week’s quiz: instead, focus on what your daughter can learn if she does it all herself, without nagging and pestering and pressure. If she does indeed fail the quiz, she may be forced to ask herself what went wrong, and what she could do better next time. Parenting is a long-haul job, Lahey says, and parents and teachers need to think more about what’s going to make kids happy in the long term. In the case of the quiz, the short-term goal is getting an ‘A,’ but the long-term goal of self-sufficiency eclipses that minor ‘A’ by a long shot.
“It’s so freeing!” she said. “You can stop worrying about the stupid details of the moment-to-moment junk, and start focusing on the big things. Just think about where your kid was one year ago today. They’re amazing!” Lahey said she’s not sure if adults just forget, or worry that’s not true. She suspects, though, that parents don’t see the amazing growth in kids because they aren’t given the opportunity to show it very often.
Focus on Process Instead of Product
Lahey confesses this is a tricky balance, especially since schools today are inherently — almost obsessively — focused on product (and may inadvertently be contributing to parents’ anxieties over academic success). But there are ways to get around that, she says.
Adjust expectations (and grades) to make room for real student work. In the book, Lahey asks a kindergarten teacher what her kids can do that their parents don’t think they can. She responds: “Everything!” In autonomy-supportive teaching, work that students plan and orchestrate themselves will look like — well, like a kid did it. That means no more science projects worthy of their own Nobel. “Teachers need to move their expectations as well. Our lines for where grades should be have creeped up anyway, based on our expectations for what the product should look like. Our expectations have been skewed by the work of the parents.”
Lahey knows that teachers love to hear that a parent has decided to make the child more responsible for his own learning: “If you tell your teacher you’re making the move to more autonomy-supportive parenting, and to please hold your child to consequences without letting the kid off the hook? If you ask the teacher to help you through this — that this is the only way your child is going to learn? Just knowing when a parent is interested in supporting a student’s voice and ability to speak up for themselves: a teacher will kiss you on the lips for that!”
Back away from the parent portal
One of the biggest pitfalls to autonomy-supportive parenting, Lahey says, are the parent portal websites, with access to up-to-the-minute feedback about scores and grades. Lahey and her husband decided to forgo the parent portal for their older child. They handed the password over to their son, telling him he’d need to let them know if he was in academic trouble. Some of her friends were shocked, “as if we were defaulting on our parental duty,” she writes. “I disagree. Checking in on children’s grades is a type of surveillance, which is one of the forms of control and is often mentioned in the research as an enemy of autonomy and intrinsic motivation.”
For parents who decide to forego the parent portal (or only check it occasionally), Lahey recommends sending a note to teachers about the decision, explaining that your student is now responsible for her own communication information.
Consider the Fear of Failure May Affect More Kids Than You Think
Some educators have called out the rash of overparenting books as only written for a few upper-class parents; some have called The Overstressed American Child “a myth.” Many students are well-acquainted with failure, both their own personal shortcomings as well as the systemic failures of their schools and homes. While Lahey openly admits that The Gift of Failure doesn’t apply to everyone, she cautions that it’s not just the 1% who are terrified of their kids failing: “What I did find out by talking to teachers, is that it’s far more pervasive than we thought,” Lahey said. “We’re talking about a big chunk, a lot of middle class kids are getting the same kind of pressure,” as kids at the top. Many times, she said, the pressure’s even greater if a family doesn’t have the means to pay for college — especially when it comes to sports and scholarships.
Fear of failure destroys the love of learning
In chapter 2, Lahey relates the story of one of her students, capable and intelligent Marianna, who has “sacrificed her natural curiosity and and love of learning at the altar of achievement, and it’s our fault.”
We taught her that her potential is tied to her intellect, and her intellect is more important than her character. We taught her to protect her academic and extracurricular perfection at all costs and that it’s better to quit when things get challenging rather than risk marring that perfection.
Above all else, we have taught her to fear failure, and that fear has destroyed her love of learning.

And this is the real shame: fear of failure taints the waters of learning, keeping kids from taking risks. Making failure normal — even celebrated — Lahey contends, may be uncomfortable in the short-term, but in the long haul makes for happier, more confident kids.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Welcome back to school

What to Read Next: Back-to-School Books for August 2015

Kindergarten jitters, show-and-tell mayhem, a middle-grade princess, teen romance, a sci-fi medical thriller, and more.
Regan McMahon Senior Editor, Books | Mom of twoCategories: Early ChildhoodBack to SchoolReadingWe Recommend
Senior Editor, Books | Mom of two
As summer slips away, what better way to ease kids back into academic life than with books set in school? Picture books can help kids get ready for kindergarten and making friends. Chapter books offer mystery and fun for middle-grade readers. And teens will enjoy a sci-fi thriller about genetic manipulation and compelling contemporary romances. Check out our picks for end-of-summer/beginning-of-school reading. 
Age 2 to 6
  • If You Ever Want to Bring an Alligator to School, Don't!, by Elise Parsley, is a delightfully offbeat cautionary tale narrated by main character Magnolia, who warns readers not to make the mistake she did -- because it landed her in the principal's office. The art is hilarious and captures the resulting mayhem when Magnolia brings an alligator in for show-and-tell. 
  • Monkey: Not Ready for Kindergarten, by Marc Brown, soothes preschoolers' worries about starting kindergarten. Monkey isn't sure he'll make new friends, like the snacks, or find the bathroom, but one by one his fears are assuaged as he realizes he's perfectly ready to transition to the experience. 
  • Dory and the Real True Friend, by Abby Hanlon, is the sequel to Dory Fantasmagory and stars a wildly imaginative 6-year-oldDory is starting first grade and and has to leave her imaginary friend Mary behind. At school, she meets equally imaginative Rosabelle, and the two have exciting adventures, many featuring the imaginary friends and foes from Book 1. 
Age 7 to 12
  • Book Scavenger, by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman, is a captivating mystery involving puzzles and codes that's set in San Francisco, where 12-year-old Emily has just moved. The city is home to Garrison Griswold, the creator of Book Scavenger, a game that involves hiding books, finding clues, and tracking them down for points and bragging rights. When Griswold is shot and a rare book in his possession is lost, Emily gets it back but must crack the code before the thieves who attacked Griswold do. 
  • From the Notebooks of a Middle School Princess, by Meg Cabot, is a middle-grade intro to the author's popular Princess Diaries series, starring Olivia, an "average" sixth-grader who learns she's a princess: She's the biracial half-sister of Mia (star of The Princess Diaries), who was equally surprised when she found out she's related to the royal family of Moldavia.
  • Ink and Ashes, by Valynne E. Maetani, is an absorbing mystery with a strong, smart, 17-year-old heroine, Claire, who uncovers secrets about her parents' past and suspects her father may have had ties to the yakuza (the Japanese mafia). As she digs, she starts receiving threats that only someone who knows Japanese culture would understand.
Age 13 to 17
  • Deadly Design, by Debra Dockter, is a suspenseful science-fiction medical thriller about genetic manipulation. After his twin brother dies suddenly of heart failure, 16-year-old Kyle worries he might be in danger. His sleuthing leads to a medical conspiracy, and he learns the genetic time bomb that claimed his twin's life is ticking down his own life expectancy. 
  • Emmy & Oliver, by Robin Benway, is a contemporary realistic novel about teens who resume a friendship -- and then a relationship -- 10 years after an unexpected separation. This poignant exploration of first love between two teens still coping from a traumatic childhood event explores some tough issues (parental kidnapping, overprotective parents, coming out), but Benway keeps the language and story line accessible for young-adult readers.
  • Saint Anything, by Sarah Dessen (The Moon and More), is a teen romance about a relatable girl finding her way with family and friends after having been the victim of a sexual assault. Dessen can always be counted on for nuanced characters and naturally unfolding plots, and she's at her best here.