Monday, October 17, 2016


If you have a child below age 12, or know someone with a child younger than age 12, You REALLY REALLY REALLY NEED to read the article below.

This is critical information. Do you wonder why ADHD is rising at epidemic levels today? Executive function disorder, processing disorder, and the lists goes on... and it starts with OVERLY RAPID neural stimulation during the critical years of brain development. We are cultivating a generation of children that literally struggle to think, process or exhibit self regulation. The outcome? Children who are hard to satisfy, crave more and more stimulation, suffer with depression, anxiety, low self esteem, and the highest rate of anger and frustration than I have seen in over 30 years in classrooms. It is extremely sad, but can be turned around. The very first step is understanding and knowledge. Today's parents need to know, and then don't say, "Not my child..." Really? You won't actually know until about age 4/5, and then they are way past the starting gate and could be headed for a large brick wall. Other sources: Endangered Minds Jane Healy PH.D. ( I read this in 1990)

The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Canadian Society of Pediatrics state infants aged 0-2 years should not have any exposure to technology, 3-5 years be restricted to one hour per day, and 6-18 years restricted to 2 hours per day (AAP 2001/13, CPS 2010). Children and youth use 4-5 times the recommended amount of technology, with serious and often life threatening consequences (Kaiser Foundation 2010, Active Healthy Kids Canada 2012). Handheld devices (cell phones, tablets, electronic games) have dramatically increased the accessibility and usage of technology, especially by very young children (Common Sense Media, 2013). As a pediatric occupational therapist, I’m calling on parents, teachers and governments to ban the use of all handheld devices for children under the age of 12 years. Following are 10 research-based reasons for this ban. Please visit to view the Zone’in Fact Sheet for referenced research.
1. Rapid brain growth
Between 0 and 2 years, infant’s brains triple in size, and continue in a state of rapid development to 21 years of age (Christakis 2011). Early brain development is determined by environmental stimuli, or lack thereof. Stimulation to a developing brain caused by overexposure to technologies (cell phones, internet, iPads, TV), has been shown to be associated with executive functioning and attention deficit, cognitive delays, impaired learning, increased impulsivity and decreased ability to self-regulate, e.g. tantrums (Small 2008, Pagini 2010).
2. Delayed Development
Technology use restricts movement, which can result in delayed development. One in three children now enter school developmentally delayed, negatively impacting literacy and academic achievement (HELP EDI Maps 2013). Movement enhances attention and learning ability (Ratey 2008). Use of technology under the age of 12 years is detrimental to child development and learning (Rowan 2010).
3. Epidemic Obesity
TV and video game use correlates with increased obesity (Tremblay 2005). Children who are allowed a device in their bedrooms have 30% increased incidence of obesity (Feng 2011). One in four Canadian, and one in three U.S. children are obese (Tremblay 2011). 30% of children with obesity will develop diabetes, and obese individuals are at higher risk for early stroke and heart attack, gravely shortening life expectancy (Center for Disease Control and Prevention 2010). Largely due to obesity, 21st century children may be the first generation many of whom will not outlive their parents (Professor Andrew Prentice, BBC News 2002).
4. Sleep Deprivation
60% of parents do not supervise their child’s technology usage, and 75% of children are allowed technology in their bedrooms (Kaiser Foundation 2010). 75% of children aged 9 and 10 years are sleep deprived to the extent that their grades are detrimentally impacted (Boston College 2012).
5. Mental Illness 
Technology overuse is implicated as a causal factor in rising rates of child depression, anxiety, attachment disorder, attention deficit, autism, bipolar disorder, psychosis and problematic child behavior (Bristol University 2010Mentzoni 2011Shin 2011,Liberatore 2011, Robinson 2008). One in six Canadian children have a diagnosed mental illness, many of whom are on dangerous psychotropic medication (Waddell 2007).
6. Aggression 
Violent media content can cause child aggression (Anderson, 2007). Young children are increasingly exposed to rising incidence of physical and sexual violence in today’s media. “Grand Theft Auto V” portrays explicit sex, murder, rape, torture and mutilation, as do many movies and TV shows. The U.S. has categorized media violence as a Public Health Risk due to causal impact on child aggression (Huesmann 2007). Mediareports increased use of restraints and seclusion rooms with children who exhibit uncontrolled aggression.
7. Digital dementia
High speed media content can contribute to attention deficit, as well as decreased concentration and memory, due to the brain pruning neuronal tracks to the frontal cortex (Christakis 2004, Small 2008). Children who can’t pay attention can’t learn.
8. Addictions
As parents attach more and more to technology, they are detaching from their children. In the absence of parental attachment, detached children can attach to devices, which can result in addiction (Rowan 2010). One in 11 children aged 8-18 years are addicted to technology (Gentile 2009).
9. Radiation emission
In May of 2011, the World Health Organization classified cell phones (and other wireless devices) as a category 2B risk (possible carcinogen) due to radiation emission (WHO 2011). James McNamee with Health Canada in October of 2011 issued a cautionary warning stating “Children are more sensitive to a variety of agents than adults as their brains and immune systems are still developing, so you can’t say the risk would be equal for a small adult as for a child.” (Globe and Mail 2011). In December, 2013 Dr. Anthony Miller from the University of Toronto’s School of Public Health recommend that based on new research, radio frequency exposure should be reclassified as a 2A (probable carcinogen), not a 2B (possible carcinogen). American Academy of Pediatrics requested review of EMF radiation emissions from technology devices, citing three reasons regarding impact on children (AAP 2013).
10. Unsustainable
The ways in which children are raised and educated with technology are no longer sustainable (Rowan 2010). Children are our future, but there is no future for children who overuse technology. A team-based approach is necessary and urgent in order to reduce the use of technology by children. Please reference below slide shows under “videos” to share with others who are concerned about technology overuse by children.
Problems - Suffer the Children - 4 minutes
Solutions - Balanced Technology Management - 7 minutes
The following Technology Use Guidelines for children and youth were developed by Cris Rowan, pediatric occupational therapist and author of Virtual Child; Dr. Andrew Doan, neuroscientist and author of Hooked on Games; and Dr. Hilarie Cash, Director of reSTART Internet Addiction Recovery Program and author of Video Games and Your Kids, with contribution from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Canadian Pediatric Society in an effort to ensure sustainable futures for all children.
Technology Use Guidelines for Children and Youth
Please contact Cris Rowan at for additional information. © Zone’in 

Tuesday, September 13, 2016


The real question we should be asking is, "What do we believe should happen after the end of the school day to help ensure that students retain what they have learned and are primed to learn more?" Any answer with the word, "work" in its name, as in "homework," is not typically going to be met with eagerness or enthusiasm by students.
Ideally, we want children to understand that they are always learners. In school, we refer to them as "students" but outside of school, as children, they are still learners. So it makes no sense to even advertise a "no homework" policy in a school. It sends the wrong message. The policy should be, "No time-wasting, rote, repetitive tasks will be assigned that lack clear instructional or learning purposes."
A realistic homework strategy should be a key topic of back-to-school night and the first parent-teacher conferences of the school year. But it should also reflect a considered school policy and not simply be up to each individual teacher to carry out according to his or own theory of student learning. Another advantage of this approach is to ensure that individual children are not inadvertently overloaded with demands from teachers who may not know what other teachers are asking of the same student. This is a particular concern in secondary schools.

Home Activities That Matter the Most

Children should be encouraged to read, write, perform arithmetic, better understand the world around them in terms of civics, science, and the arts, and, of course, develop their people skills -- their emotional intelligence. This encouragement should be part of everyday family interactions outside of school, and the school should provide developmental guidance to all parents, in the appropriate languages, to help them do this. For some children, specialized guidance will be needed, and this, too, should be provided proactively to parents.
Some parents will select focused programs or after-school experiences to help foster their children's learning in one or more of the aforementioned areas. To promote equity within and across schools, communities should think about how to make these kinds of experiences available to all children in high-quality ways -- without undue or unrealistic expense to families.
Of course, some teachers will have specific, creative ideas about how learning can be enhanced at home, in the context of particular units of study in school. Maybe what we need is a new word for all this. Instead of "homework," how about "continued learning" or "ongoing growth activities?"

Parents Playing Their Part

Finally, students' learning would be greatly enhanced by schools taking a clear stance about supporting good parenting. My colleague Yoni Schwab and I have written about the importance of parents focusing on parenting as a priority, and secondarily working on assisting schools with educational issues (Elias, M. J., and Schwab, Y., 2004).
Aspects of good parenting that could be encouraged by schools include workshops, family nights, and discussion series on ways to promote:
  • Children's social-emotional and character development
  • Parents spending more time directly interacting with their kids in enjoyable ways
  • Parents visibly showing how much they value the importance of education and effort
  • Parents monitoring their children's use of and exposure to electronic media
  • Children's "continued learning" in as many possible opportunities during everyday household routines
Above all, schools should remind parents to never lose sight of modeling for their children the value of close relationships, support, caring, and fun. That is the most important home work of all.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Summer Reading with Dyslexics... Don't Stop Now

Like all children, dyslexics breathe a sigh of relief when summer begins: no more schoolwork, homework, or assigned books.  They celebrate summer because it offers a break from the daily tensions inherent in school that leave them feeling as if they never have enough time to do the things that they love. Sadly, for most parents of dyslexics, their child’s initial relief leads to troubling adult dilemmas. 
"Can my child afford the time to play?”
“How much unstructured time should be factored into my child’s summer?”
“How should he best use this unstructured time to address school issues?”  
“How urgent is the need for remediation?” “What kind is best?”
These are difficult questions with no simple answers. How should each concern be weighted?  One thing is certain: keeping an eye on balance is important.
The Importance of Balancing Summer Time

Balance is important to all children, but one could argue that it is particularly important when a child feels that his life has been hijacked by a learning disability.  The amount of time, energy and thought aimed at coping with dyslexia is significant. Since dyslexics spend nine months out of the year grappling with difficult school tasks that frequently lead to despair, summer is a relished opportunity to refuel and recharge.  Summer vacation is also an important time for a child to pursue activities that are fun and fulfilling, not frustrating.
A Total Break is Not a Great Idea
As much as most parents want to offer their exhausted and frustrated dyslexic child a couple months off from their academic skill building, most parents instinctively know that a total reprieve is not in their child’s best interest.  Scientific data clearly show that many children, especially dyslexic boys and girls, lose reading skills over the summer. In a dyslexic child, written words are often still transient, temporary.  It is common for a beginning reader to read the word correctly and yet find that five minutes later she will not be able to decipher that very same word.
"Why?" says Dr. Sally Shaywitz. "This gets to the heart of a major problem for the dyslexic child; the word has not found a permanent home within the automatic reading system (the word form region) of the neural circuit for skilled, fluent, automatic reading. With more practice and experiences reading the word correctly – this (and other words as well) will become permanently instantiated or represented in the word form region. Once that happens, the word can then be read correctly and quickly each time the child sees it. Especially for a dyslexic child, this process takes time. If a child has been practicing a given set of words and word families during the school year, representatives of the word are beginning to find a permanent home within the word form area. However, if this process is interrupted before the word is permanently represented in the child’s brain, it often means having to learn the word all over again."
But how much of the day should be spent focused on academic remediation?  What is the most time-efficient and effective method of delivering remediation? And who should deliver it?  How does one balance a child’s academic growth with play, rest, exploration and pursuit of the child’s passions? 
These questions are further complicated by the necessary considerations of cost and convenience.  Even families who live in urban areas are faced with the daunting task of coordinating transportation and scheduling of summer support.  It seems that help is never close enough, and, like every other service, bringing help to one’s home is accompanied by increased cost.  How much time should children spend being shuttled around in a car to tutors and specialists during precious summer time?  Some families visit relatives or move around a lot during the summer and can find it challenging to provide academic support. Ultimately, parents of a dyslexic child will have the best sense for how to navigate these time tensions.  Each child is different and each family has different considerations.
The “Homeschooling” Option
Summer, and its more flexible schedule can provide a great opportunity to keep your child reading and enable them to get a jump on upcoming schoolwork in a fun and leisurely way. Parents should ask the child’s teacher for a list of books that she will be reading next year and preview them as an audio book, a recorded book through Learning Ally or during their family read aloud time.
Content wise, if Ancient Egypt will be studied in the upcoming grade, children can go to their local library and check out some videos about Egypt to watch. This will help the child preview the subject and develop knowledge about the content, vocabulary, pronunciation of names, places, and themes she might encounter.  It might also give her an opportunity to learn something her classmates may not know about the pharaohs and pyramids.  Giving the child a chance to preview content might also spark her curiosity and compel her to check out some easier reading books about the subject. You might want to check with the school about curriculum and reading lists for the upcoming year before school gets out.
Exposing children to resources and information they might not otherwise know exists is just one of the many ways parents can support their child’s understanding and expertise about a subject.  Summer can give the child (and her family) an opportunity to explore subjects through excursions to museums as well as local, state and national parks, historical landmarks, and libraries.  Families can use the less structured summer to do science experiments and practice math/measurement in the kitchen, workshop, or garden.  Project-oriented learning can grow a child’s sense of competence and confidence. For working parents there are lots of low cost summer programs that offer these types of enrichment activities.
Hobbies can also spur the child’s learning. If baseball is a child’s passion, there are so many great ways to leverage the love of the game to connect to the world of books and reading. There are countless autobiographies, biographies and fictional stories set in the world of baseball (or the favorite sport or subculture) that might hook a reluctant reader.  Math facts and sporting averages can be a way to connect a passionate fan with numbers. Additionally, fan sites that offer children a chance to learn more about their sports heroes are available on the Internet.  Some sites even post children’s stories about their heroes so children can be published on the web.  Publishing for a real audience can make a child feel like a “real” writer.
Individualized Process and Pace Exploring interesting subjects within the more relaxed context of summer offers a wonderful opportunity for a child to learn, at his own pace, about what interests him and to discover that learning doesn’t have to be stressful. He can realize that there are many ways to gain access to information and many means of expressing and growing his knowledge. Freed of school pressures, learning can be fun.  A dyslexic learner benefits from opportunities that spark curiosity and offer opportunities to demonstrate his abilities and understanding.
Expose your child to as many words as possible
Even though reading is harder and slower for dyslexics, it is imperative to find ways to expose them to the empowering world of words.  There are many ways to create a word-rich life, and they are not all dependent on independent reading:
  • High Interest, Easy-to-Read Books: books that compel a child but won't take all summer to read.  Children are no different than adults in that they enjoy the feeling of finishing a book.  It fuels their desire to read more.  This is no time for literary snobbery. The goal is eyes on print.
  • Recorded Books: play them in the car, in a cozy chair, or at bedtime (listening to stories helps children wind down for sleep). Recorded books are typically read by professional actors and writers who are not only fun to listen to, but can model reading skills like fluency, proper pronunciation and oral expression.
  • Read Aloud: carry along books to read aloud while waiting for appointments or picking up a sibling. Reading at bedtime is a wonderful way to enjoy books with your child.  Most children, even older ones, appreciate being read to by a parent.  Ideally, the child will visually track with the actual book while listening. “Reading along” benefits dyslexics because it gives them an increased exposure to the look of words and makes explicit the process of converting letter combinations to sounds. 
  • Radio: NPR offers amazing programs and stories that take the child into the world of information and ideas.  Because radio is a shared experience, children can ask questions about content.
  • Radiolab: children who are hungry for non-fiction content love Radiolab.  Radiolab is a nationally syndicated public radio show and podcast that offers radio documentaries that focus on science and philosophy.  The shows are engaging and notably accessible to wide audiences. 

Welcome to High School~ Settling the Jitters

The first day of high school can be equal parts exciting and terrifying.
New classmates, new courses, new teachers and new expectations can all be points of anxiety for students moving from middle to high school. Even if the change doesn't seem drastic, parents should anticipate an adjustment period for their student, says Patrick Akos, a professor in the School of Education at the University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill.
"Imagine yourself starting a new job for the first time," says Akos, who specializes in transitions and school counseling. "Not knowing how things are, even though it's the same job – being a student – it's just different."
While your teen may assure you they don't need your help, parental involvement is essential for a smooth transition from middle to high school, Akos says.

Even if they don't respond to parents as well as they used to in the past, the boundaries that parents make and the support they provide is as vital," he adds.

Below are a few tips for parents to help ease the way for their teenagers. 
1. Do a walk-through: The bulk of first-day jitters can often be chalked up to logistics such as adjusting to a new bus route, finding lockers or getting from one class to the next, Akos says.
These nerves can be mitigated by visiting the school ahead of time, helping your student find their classrooms and mapping out their school day.
If your teen's school has a new student orientation day, go to it, he advises. While they may seem like a waste of time, programs designed for new students can help ease many organizational concerns right off the bat.
2. Advocate involvement: High school isn't just full of new people and new classes, it's also full of new opportunities.
"Encourage your child to join a sport, club or activity," Jenny Michael, a language arts and ACT prep teacher at Seckman High School in Missouri, said via email. "It will help with making friends and ease the transition process."
[Learn how to help your teen de-stress.]
Teens who are engaged in extracurricular activities tend to excel socially and academically, Akos says, so parents can build off their teen's excitement over the soccer team or debate club to help alleviate anxiety over other aspects of the transition.
3. Avoid warnings: Your teen is already stressed about getting good grades, so reminding them of how hard high school is going to be will only make things worse, Akos says.
Instead of intimidating your student by saying things such as, "You're going to have to do this differently or else you're going to fail," parents should use positive language such as, "I know you're going to be able to handle this," he says.
Parents should also take time to just listen to their teen, especially early on, Michael said.
"Be available for you child when they come home from the first day of school scared, overwhelmed or stressed and just listen," she said.
The benefits of parental support are not superficial, Akos says.
"When they have beliefs like that and they actually listen to their kids, the kids tend to do better academically."
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Thursday, October 29, 2015

Spirit Days

This week is FALL SPIRIT WEEK at Gerard. As usual we have those crazy fun days where community involvement is almost as important as the academics... (for some more important..but that's the fun of it!)
Look at our Crazy Hair and Hat day, with a dash of pink and blue thrown in... Love what we get to do!

Monday, October 12, 2015

One Teachers view on PBL (Taken from edutopia)

Learning by Doing: A Teacher Transitions Into PBL  by Shawn Canney on edutopia 

I have been a high school English teacher for 15 years. Every year, I try to do something a little different because I like learning from the process. After teaching AP Literature for a while, I became an AP Reader. Then, I presented at a national conference. I feel that I need to grow and develop every year. By the time I read Julius Caesar aloud in class for the 55th time, it was time for a change. That's why my new school was a project-based learning school.

The First Try

To be honest, I had not heard the term PBL until the job interview. I went through a week of in-depth training and met with some veteran PBL teachers. The idea sounded great in theory -- creating projects that helped students learn educational concepts. The first unit that I created taught the basic elements of writing through analyzing advertising campaigns. Students selected a product, determined the target audience, and then had to rebrand the product and create an advertisement directed at a new target audience. I spent a lot of time putting the unit together, and I thought it was pretty good.
I wish I could say that it went well, but it did not. I tried to embrace the idea of exploration and let the project grow organically. I wanted the students to discover things for themselves. I floated around the room to answer specific questions about the assignment, and I worked to make sure that students were on task. Some finished the assignment pretty quickly, but others were still in the early stages when the project was nearly due. For their presentations, I got a friend who works in marketing to come in and provide feedback for their finished commercials (the authentic audience component of PBL). Out of 12 groups, only two were able to present by the end of the period, and they were scrambling to get their presentation together at the last minute. I felt like a failure.
The next day, the students and I had a pretty good dialogue about the process. Many said that they felt embarrassed because they were not ready to present. It turned into a real teachable moment for both my students and myself. Many of them said that they felt overwhelmed by the assignment because it was so broad. I realized that I had made some judgmental errors as well. This productive discussion made me realize that I had learned a lot from that first project.

6 Lessons Learned

My school is on the 4x4 block, so I made the following changes in January, and I am happy to say that the projects became a lot better. Here are the lessons that I learned.

1. Set clear goals.

In order to be successful, the students have to know what is expected of them. If you can, save projects from previous units to model your expectations.

2. Over plan.

One of the great things about PBL is that it has differentiated instruction built into it. Students move at their own pace and ask questions when they don't understand something. The second time I assigned this project, I also had my students read an outside novel for homework. Those who finished tasks early could then read or work on something else instead of hanging out and distracting others.

3. Make students accountable for their time.

I had students share their work with me through Google Docs so that I could see their progress on a daily basis. One group didn't want to use the school-issued laptops, so I took pictures of their handwritten documents with my phone. One way or another, I was able to see progress every day.

4. Give concrete deadlines for products.

This helps make a project seem like a goal that can be accomplished. I added steps to be completed by the end of each day. When every step was completed, the project was done. My students knew what deliverables were due each and every day.

5. Share rubrics in advance.

Rubrics help give your students insight into the design of the project. This helps them understand what they should be taking away from the experience. For example, when my students had to write essays about their projects, they were kind of lost. They were summarizing instead of analyzing, so my second rubric listed terms and devices that I wanted to see in their essays.

6. Reflect on what you are doing.

One reason why the project went smoothly the second time was because I took notes about the positives and the negatives the first time that we did the project. Reflection and bouncing ideas off your peers can help solve problems before they arise.
As I stated earlier, I grow and develop each year. I am interested to hear of any additional practices or tips that other PBL teachers maybe utilizing as well. Let me know what works in your classroom!  

Friday, October 9, 2015

Creative Thinkers : On Point with Pencils...

We could use pencils for writing, and we do. We could use pencils for drawing. And we do. But in the hands of creative thinkers, pencils can do so much more... Wrap your head around the 360 and see where it takes you.