Encouraging Our Children to Read

Written by Les Dahl on December 30th, 2015. Posted in Family, Learning Solutions


document.write(" arial, sans-serif; font-size: 16px;">As a kid, I loved books. Hardly a day went by without a visit to the school library.

Then, to my delight, I discovered the library in our church. I could borrow books on Sundays, too!

Milking time on the farm was intense. Contented cows produced the best milk. That meant feed them on time...and take the mechanical milking machine off the cow when its milk is done!

I can't count the number of times my dad caught me hiding behind some bales of hay reading a book. Yes, I fed the cows. Oops! I forgot to change the milker...again!

I know some of you could tell similar stories.

How do we nurture that kind of love for books and reading in kids today. Technology has changed the playing field.

Amazon, through Kindle eBooks, is using technology to capture our tech-savvy kids with an interesting reading format. Perhaps we do well to take advantage of the new, somewhat-more-level playing field.

Personally, I still prefer to hold the actual book in my hand and see my grandchildren's noses in real books. However, I won't deny them the fun of reading on a tablet.

I've discovered I can use both formats. The real secret is not the format.

The most effective way to encourage our children to read books and enjoy reading is the personal touch—read aloud to them, listen to them read aloud to you and tell them lots of stories.

My 'scientific observation' gives ample evidence that the more I engage them with the personal touch the more they love to read.

Proof positive: I see them on their own trying to read a book or looking at the pictures...often!


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Written by Les Dahl on December 1st, 2015. Posted in Education, Family, Learning Solutions, Parenting Strategies



document.write(" geneva, sans-serif;">“TV provides no educational benefits for a child under age two.”(1) ... “Watching TV in childhood increased chances of dropping out of school and decreased chances of getting a college degree.”(2) ... “Watching sex on TV increases the chances a teen will have sex, and causes teens to start having sex at younger ages.”(3)

Is TV a “one-eyed monster” devouring our children? These strong statements backed by research suggest it is. Is there any good effect of TV on our children?

“The bad” and “the ugly” - some shocking statistics.

  • Infants and toddlers exposed to programs designed to “teach” and enhance “brain development” learn less than children who play and interact with other children and adults instead. A child watching 1 hour of TV a day during his/her first 2-3 years increases their chance of developing attention problems by nearly 10%.
  • Watching TV contributes to obesity. On the tennis court, 8.1 calories are burned per minute; an “active” video tennis game like Wii burns about 5.3 calories per minute. Watching TV burns only slightly more calories than sleeping.
  • On average, children 8 years and older watch TV and/or computer more than 7 hours daily (this includes DVDs, video games, calling or texting on the phone). That's over 30% of their time. Usually kids are engaged in more than one of these activities while doing homework.
  • Kids immersed in TV are less likely to read books. Even watching kids' cartoons results in poorer pre-reading skills at age five. Language, which is developed by reading, conversations and play, is delayed and vocabularies are smaller.
  • In 1 year, the American child is exposed to 12,000 violent acts on TV. That's 1,000 per month! The American Psychological Association Help Center counted 20 violent acts per hour on children's TV programs. Children watching violence learn aggressive behavior, like hitting a child to get the toy they want. They get the idea this is acceptable from TV programs they watch.
  • Many parents do not discuss sex with their children, so kids get much of their information from TV. The number of sex scenes has doubled since 1998. Of the 20 most-watched shows by teens, 14 include sexual content. These include an average of 5 scenes per hour. Research documents the increase of sexual activity and teen pregnancy with this drastic increase of sexual content in TV programming.

“The good” - a silver lining around a dark cloud.

For years, “Sesame Street” was the most-watched and loved children's TV program. Melissa Kearney of the University of Maryland and Phillip Levine Wellesley College studied the impact of “Sesame Street.” They found that “the famous show on public TV delivered lasting educational benefits to millions of American children — benefits as powerful as the ones children get from going to preschool.” They also found that “the show has left children more likely to stay at the appropriate grade level for their age, an effect that is particularly pronounced among boys, African Americans and children who grow up in disadvantaged areas.” Kudos to “Sesame Street”!

How can parents salvage “good” out of TV?

  • Become informed about “the bad” and “the ugly” effects and make necessary adjustment to TV viewing habits, not only of the kids but of the entire family. Set limits about how much time is allotted to watching TV. Monitor what is being watched. Be a good role model.
  • Use TV effectively to complement what kids are learning at school. Kids who watch informative, educational and non-violent shows score higher on reading and math tests than those who do not.
  • Follow-up a “good” TV program with discussion and appropriate activities. (e.g. after a show that featured cooking, have kids join you in the kitchen; take the kids to the library to find books to read on a topic viewed; start up a conversation that will expand the kids' curiosity about the topic viewed.)
  • Create a culture of family in which the uniqueness of each individual is appreciated and the contribution of each individual to the whole is valued. Out of this springs family entertainment with meaningful conversations, engaging story telling and spontaneous laughter. Include outdoor activities and outings that create happy and satisfying memories. All without sacrificing the necessary private space of each family member.

“Any positive effect of television ... is still open to question, but the benefits of parent-child interactions are proven. ...[They] are far more important to a child's development than any TV show."

So says the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Public Education. I agree.


Image courtesy imagrymajestic / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

(1) Chacha Tumbokon, <www.raisesmartkids.com/all-ages/1-articles/13-the-good-and-bad-effects-of-tv-on-your-kid>

(2) (3) UNHS, Your Child: Development and Behavior Resources <http://www.med.umich.edu/yourchild/topics/tv.htm>

University of Maine Bulletin #4100, “Children, Television, and Screen Time” <http://extension.umaine.edu/publications/4100e/>

“4 Good & 6 Bad Effects Of Television On Children”, Dr. Saara Fatema http://www.momjunction.com/articles/good-bad-effects-television-children_0074078/

“Positive Effects of TV”, <http://www.odec.ca/projects/2005/zerb5m0/public_html/positiveEf.html>

“Study: Kids can learn as much from ‘Sesame Street’ as from preschool”, Jim Tankersley, The Washington Post, <http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/sesame-street-and-its-


Written by Les Dahl on September 27th, 2015. Posted in Education, Family, Learning Solutions



document.write(" geneva, sans-serif; font-size: 16px;">Children have a hard time listening. You carefully explain what you want them to do, and they turn around and do something completely different. Exasperated, you ask, “Were you not listening?”


Listening is an acquired skill necessary to be fully present and fully engaged. 


Listening is an essential skill in a child's learning process. Without it, s/he will be confused about what to do and how to do a given task. Good listening skills are particularly important for children who struggle with ADHD issues.

Listening is an acquired skill. It must be learned and then practiced until it becomes a habit. Well-honed listening skills ensure success at school and in the child's broader experience of life.

Listening requires that a child be fully present and fully engaged. All the 'moving parts'—ears, eyes, mind and heart—must be activated and synchronized before communication is fully and accurately received (and given). The ears capture sound, the eyes connect with the source of the sound, the mind processes the sound into the message, and the heart filters the communication through the bias of emotions.


What happens when a child is given clear instructions yet executes something quite different?


The child's ears catch the sound waves coming through the air but because none of the other components of listening are engaged, all that registers is a series of sounds something akin to, “Blah, blah, blah, blah...”

Meanwhile, his/her eyes are flitting about like a butterfly gathering and sending random data to the brain. Added to the sound bytes and visual images flashing through the child's mind are meandering thoughts and cameos of imagination. Emotions are stirred and attached to the messages and images according to temperament and mood. This barrage of multi-sensory data is processed in nanoseconds! You are lucky if your child receives any clear message, no matter how explicit you are.

Zoe is a bright eight year-old with dyslexia and ADHD. Both her mind and her body are constantly in motion, seldom pausing long enough to actually hear instructions let alone stay on the task at hand to successfully complete it. Yet, she is creative and capable—when fully present and fully engaged!

My challenge: how can I introduce and activate the four elements of listening within the small window of attention, against an ever-changing backdrop of swirling stimuli and emotion?


Imagination is a powerful tool that can activate listening skills.


A particular strength of dyslexic, ADHD children is a hyper-imagination. This creates problems such as distraction and daydreaming, but it is the very gift that produces brilliant artists, musicians and entrepreneurs. It is the powerful tool which I chose to activate the listening skills lacking in Zoe. After instructing Zoe to settle comfortably in her chair—upright, back against the chair, hands on thighs—and take a few deep breaths to relax, I guided Zoe to use her imagination to identify and activate the four elements needed to listen an truly hear.

“In your imagination, find the inside of your ear. See a door...it is locked. See a key hanging by the door...take the key, unlock the door and open it wide. Now step across to your other ear...see the door...use your key to unlock and open this door. Are your 'ear doors' open?

“Next, in your imagination, find your eyes. They are windows. Open the curtains to let the sun shine in. Spray on some window cleaner and wipe the glass with a clean rag. Can you see clearly through your windows? Is the room bright and cheerful?

“Now, in your imagination, let's go upstairs to your mind...it's your computer room. Open the door...step inside...switch on the light...see your computer on your desk. Find the power button and boot up your computer. Is your computer up and running?

Now let's go downstairs into the sitting room.This is your heart...where your feelings and moods are. This is where you like to hang out...to relax and enjoy yourself. See the comfortable couch and chairs? Look around...is there dust...dirt...cob-webs? These are bad feelings, bad attitudes and bad habits. Take a broom and sweep them out...or take a vacuum cleaner and suck them all up...Is the room messy...or is everything in its place? Make sure this room is just the way you like it...clean and comfortable.

Take a deep breath...hold it for a few seconds...and then release it. One...two...three...open your eyes. How do you feel? Are you ready to begin today's lessons?”

Once the initial procedure is completed, it is much easier to maintain or regain attention. As you notice the eyes shifting, remind your child that listening involves the eyes as well as the ears. When you sense their mind is wandering, ask something like, “Is your computer still engaged?” If negative attitude surfaces, you may need to stop and revisit the 'sitting room' and sweep out or vacuum up the negative emotion.


“One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say.”*


Whether I am teaching in the classroom, coaching a struggling learner or home-schooling my two grandchildren, this simple exercise is effective and fun. Not only have the listening skills of my students improved, I have become a better facilitator of learning as I actually listen to what my they have to say. In time and with practice, student and teacher have become skillful listeners and communicators.


How do you develop listening skills in children which enable them to become fully present and fully engaged in the task at hand?




*Source: "Bryant H. McGill." BrainyQuote.com. Xplore Inc, 2015. 25 September 2015. http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/j/johnlubboc168254.html>

Image courtesy David Castillo Dominic / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

PLAY MATTERS—A Blog Hop All About Play

Written by Les Dahl on September 18th, 2015. Posted in Family, Learning Solutions

Girls dressing up as pirates

Girls dressing up as pirates

document.write(" geneva, sans-serif; font-size: 16px;">Using the unique platform of a "blog hop", Janine Halloran, a fellow blogger is promoting websites about the benefit of play in children's development. Check out these interesting and informative articles...



Written by Les Dahl on September 1st, 2015. Posted in Education, Learning Solutions



document.write(" sans-serif;">Amid a maelstrom of economic, social and political changes throughout the world, parents and educators are asking questions.


  • Is our education system keeping pace with the transition from the Industrial Age to the Information Age?”


  • Is our curriculum adequately preparing our children for the rapidly changing job market characterized by meteoric advances of technology?”


  • Can education stem the crumbling foundations of civil society and the threat to world peace?”


These are weighty questions demanding serious consideration, open-minded discussion and resolute action.


Much of the discussion about 21st Century education focuses on methods and technology. Absorbed with these issues, we run the danger of not 'seeing the forest for the trees'. Although curriculum, methods and technology are important, these are secondary to the fundamental issue, “What is the purpose of education?” Without at least a consensus of purpose there is little hope of significant change and meaningful improvement in the outcome of education.


A blueprint outlines the architecture of a structure. It may be a complex or carefully designed plan or model, or it may be a planning document that guides and sets priorities. I offer the following as a blueprint for education in the 21st Century. Following these guidelines, we can more than adequately prepare our children to take their place in the 21st Century.


My blueprint is based on the fundamental presupposition that

education is a collaboration between parents and school in which parents hold the primary responsibility.


I hold that the fundamental purpose of education is

  • to guide a person (not a statistic) through a program that equips and trains that person
    • to be an individual of character,
    • developing his/her unique gifts through life-long learning,
    • growing in wisdom through well-honed executive and decision-making skills,
    • empowered to contribute positively to the betterment of others, civil society and the world.


I also maintain that an education system must serve its clients (i.e. meet the expressed needs of parents, students, civil society) for their advancement, not require strict conformity to the status quo imposed by bureaucracy.


The hallmarks of the education I propose are

  • integrity of individual character and of family values
  • positive self-esteem and thoughtful social interaction
  • strong motivation for learning and for academic excellence
  • purposeful dedication and service


Each of the hallmarks is initiated from within, activated by personal choice. Thoughts, emotions and actions proceed from the heart. The condition of the heart determines how skills and knowledge are used. Significant attention must focus on 'heart issues', primarily by parents in the home but reinforced and complemented by educators in the school.

Education must be holistic in nature if it is to fulfill its purpose.


I identify the following as the seven components of holistic education. They create guidelines for curriculum development.


  • spiritual — a profound reverence of and personal relationship with our Creator


  • moral — a clear knowledge and practice of basic moral values (universal principles)


  • philosophical — a clear sense of identity and raison d'etre (who am I? and why am I here?)


  • academic — proficient reading, learning and reasoning skills through which wisdom is developed


  • vocational — clear vision of purpose and life's work expressed through one's unique giftings, talents and abilities


  • cultural — appreciating cultural values and social behavior without compromising basic moral values and universal principles


  • physical — enjoying prosperity and health by maintaining proper hygiene, exercise, work, rest and diet

Without home and school working together in a holistic approach, the end result is fragmented, disenfranchised youth with neither compass nor map to chart their course through life.


One of the reasons home-schooling out-distances institutional schooling (private and public) is that it distinctively embraces a holistic approach. Children who are the products of holistic education inevitably rise to prominence, power and influence wherever they go—not perfect by any means, but prepared for any event.


Developments in the 21st Century—the good, the bad and the ugly—demand change. Pointing fingers of blame and accusation is of no use. The situation requires serious consideration, open-minded discussion and resolute action. We must get on with the job.


In the hands of a knowledgable and experienced contractor, the blueprint ensures a vision becomes reality. How well he fills in the details determines the end result. As parents and educators, we are both knowledgable and experienced. We are able to tackle the issues from both sides. Are we working from a relevant blueprint?


I'm sure mine is not the only blueprint. Mine has guided my efforts in establishing 4 schools, one in Canada and 3 in Jamaica. It has also guided my efforts to home-school our 4 children and the 2 grandchildren now living with us in Jamaica. It has served me well.


Image courtesy of adamr / FreeDigitalPhotos.net



Mainframe vs Cloud — Has Education Stepped Into the 21st Century?

Written by Les Dahl on August 8th, 2015. Posted in Education, Learning Solutions




document.write(" geneva, sans-serif; font-size: 16px;">The desire and the ability of children to learn are activated with their first cry. Sadly, outdated methods of education suppress children's innate curiosity (desire) and their urge to explore (ability). Nevertheless, children learn.

We live in the 21st Century having evolved beyond the Industrial Age into the Information Age. We pride ourselves in astounding advances in technology.Today's mantra is: Work smarter not harder!


Question: How come so many of our methods of education are stuck in 19th and 20th century Industrial Age concepts, such as assembly line,and mass production?


The predominant symbol of the 21st Century is the computer. Its rapid evolution reflects the accelerated development of technology. In 65 short years computer technology has come from massive mainframes to PC's to laptops to hand-held smartphones—shrinking in size but expanded in capacity.

Although this advance in technology is truly amazing, it doesn't compare to the astounding capacity of the human mind. Is today's education actually developing the potential of children's minds and equipping our children for the realities of today's world? Our mandate as educators, both parents and teachers, is to bring our methods of teaching into the 21st Century with the same creative diligence of the pioneers of computer technology.

One of the most fascinating innovations of computer technology is cloud computing. The contrast between mainframe vs cloud computing serves as an insightful analogy of 19th and 21st Century methods of education.


Much of our education follows the mainframe model—learning is static and inert, students are de-motivated and bored.


 Simply put, the primary function of a mainframe computer is to store and process huge amounts of data quickly. Most teaching today involves someone lecturing to a classroom of students and students memorizing information from notes and textbooks. Like a data entry clerk, teacher enters pieces of information into her classroom of computers (students). This data is stored in their data banks (memory) to be processed quickly (homework and exams). Classroom and homework assignments generally serve to reinforce already-stored information rather than expand knowledge. Rote learning is the default setting on these computers. The end result: learning becomes static and inert, and students are de-motivated and bored.


Critical thinking is a default setting of the cloud model— learning is an engaging process of exploration and discovery without limits.


Cloud computing is defined as “using a network of remote servers hosted on the Internet to store, manage, and process data, rather than a local server or a personal computer.” Using this model, the emphasis shifts from teaching (i.e. disseminating knowledge) to facilitating learning (i.e. learning how to access information, process it through critical thinking, and then apply it in problem-solving). The source of knowledge is no longer limited to teacher and textbook. Information is now available from a network of sources anywhere in the world. Access to information is no longer derived from sitting passively listening to a lecture or struggling to read a cumbersome textbook. Knowledge is now at the students' fingertips on interactive devices that engage them as they pursue their topic. The emphasis is no longer on how much students can remember but on how well they can function in the learning process. Learning and critical thinking are the default settings of this model. The end result: learning is an engaging process of exploration and discovery without limits.


Teaching methods not teachers are out-dated.


Does this 21st Century model eliminate teaching? Teaching methods not teachers are out-dated. In fact, teachers (and parents) are even more necessary to hone reading, math and thinking skills and competent use of technology—tools which are critical in the learning process. In light of the rapid developments of the Technology Revolution, education must be quick (but wise) to change.




Endnote: My professional career spans more than 45 years in the field of education. The transformation from teacher to facilitator of learning has been a learning process. Neither the process nor my transformation is yet complete.


In 1965, the IBM 7094 mainframe computer (shown in image above), had all the same components as the computer in your pocket, input, storage, processing and output, though it ran a thousand times slower than yours and cost several million dollars. <http://www.curbsideclassic.com/automotive-histories/computers-and-cars-have-it-your-way/>