Five effective ways to teach kids in the digital age

I often hear experienced teachers complain about how students have changed over the years.  Children who will spend hours locked into a video game can hardly pay attention for ten minutes to a classroom lesson.  It seems that children of the digital age expect to be entertained in the classroom rather than taught.  One teacher told me she felt she was becoming less and less of a teacher and more of a manager of electronic devices.

At the same time children are becoming more and more dependent on social media to be… well- social.  We are raising a generation that does not know basic social skills; how to talk rather than text, how to read and respond to body language and how to engage in productive and rewarding relationships.

It seems to me that we can either throw up our hands and admit that electronics win or we can work with the system and help children realize the benefits of both electronics and real world communication.

Five ways to use the features of electronics to engage kids in the classroom:

  1. Build in excitement and challenge–Part of the draw of video games is the excitement and challenge of accomplishment. Gamers want to accumulate points and unlock treasures.  They want to reach higher and higher levels of play. Challenges and threats of losing lurk around every corner. As educators we need to look for creative ways to infuse the same excitement and challenge in any classroom lesson.  Building in creative thinking skills  and identifying personal goals for achievement can help. Teach children to challenge themselves to be their personal best.
  2. Provide opportunities to learn and develop social skills–In this way you are providing something that children miss out on with technology.  First teach team building and cooperation skills.  How do you handle conflicts and differences of opinion? What habits and attitudes does an effective team practice?  Then set up teams, groups or partnerships where children solve problems.  After each experience process difficulties and how they could handle them differently next time.   Grade children not just on solving a problem successfully but also on how they solved the problem as a team.  Their future employer will be forever grateful.
  3. Create opportunities for mentoring–This could be with adults that you bring into the classroom to share their expertise on career day, science day or a historical  occasion.  It could involve partnering with an older or younger classroom as reading buddies or to practice math facts. This also opens the door to creating relationships across differing age groups.  Just as technology often opens the door to other world views and environments, the classroom can also be a chance to experience differing perspectives.
  4. Be a role model for passion and enthusiasm–As a teacher you have great influence on young minds.  Share your interests and excitement for the world.  One teacher I know starts every morning out with a current pop song and has everyone in the room begin the day dancing and singing (and no she wasn’t the music teacher–she just loves to dance.)  No matter what lays ahead in the day, it always starts off with a blast of energy.  Another teacher is passionate about saving endangered species and she teaches kids how to make a difference in the world’s environment.   You don’t have to convert kids to your passion, but instead teach them to find their own and follow their heart.  The digital world explodes with color and energy, but our own passions can provide the same impact.
  5. Make learning experiential–Benjamin Franklin said, “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”  Whenever possible make learning experiential.  The digital world creates passive experiences that seem real but in the classroom you have the opportunity to create active real life experiences.  For instance, you could create an environment similar to a historical time.  Have a colonial day and dress up, act out or make items similar to what you are learning about.  You can make this as elaborate or as simple as you want. It’s not about making a big show, it’s about making it memorable.  One teacher, I know had students act out typical student behaviors from a time period that they were studying.  Imagine classroom visitors’ surprise when all the students stood up and in unison said welcome as soon as guests entered the room.  Do you think the kids ever forgot that experience?

The greatest way teachers can help kids of the digital age become life long learners is to infuse the classroom with many of the characteristics found in the digital world while pairing them with meaningful relationships.

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 Wyatt the Wonder Dog Learns about Cooperation

Wyatt wants to play Frisbee. Max want to build a fort and Callie wants to have tea party. How do the three friends reconcile their differences? Can it be done? When Wyatt doesn’t get his way, Max’s mother suggests he be the Superhero for the day. Join Wyatt as he learns how the magic of cooperation and compromise can bring the five friends closer together.

Wyatt the Wonder Dog -Cooperation Cover
Wyatt the Wonder Dog: Learns About Cooperation (Volume 6)

Lesson Package for Wyatt Learns about Cooperation on Teachers Pay Teachers




3 Ways to Develop Resilient Kids

Tuesday, February 7th, I’ll be attending an event raising money for a thirteen year old boy who experienced a brain injury after a biking accident.  In a networking group this week, I talked to a business owner who has had cancer of the eye, his daughter has recovered from a brain tumor and his wife is a breast cancer survivor.  While you probably don’t know these individuals, I bet you know someone who has had similar challenges to overcome. Sometimes it is a physical challenge, sometimes it is an environmental challenge and other times it is a mental challenge.

After talking with someone about personal challenges like this, I always ask, “What is it that sustains you and gets you through the  experience?”   I get a lot of answers but if I were to summarize the attributes of a resilient individual I’d list the following…

  1. A growth mindset instead of a victim mindset–Individuals who believe that change and growth is possible stay engaged in practices that help them overcome their current circumstances. They follow treatment protocols, they ask for help and guidance, they set goals and follow the steps necessary to attain them.  Individuals with a victim mindset give up and allow their  circumstances to control the outcome.
  2. A community environment instead of an isolated environment–Community can take many forms.  For some it is their faith community while for others it is their family or friends and co-workers.  Regardless of who makes up the support community, resilient people don’t try to go it alone.  Difficult as it may be, they learn to ask for and receive help.  They share their struggles with others.  Not only do they reap the benefit but often their challenges pull the community closer together as well.
  3. A personal sense of purpose and identity instead of low self-esteem— Resilient individuals believe they have something unique to offer and they are determined to make a difference in their world through their strengths and skills.  They take failure and hardship in stride as part of the necessary road to success.  They don’t let their circumstances define who they are but maintain a strong sense of self and purpose. They don’t waste time wishing their life was easy and problem free.  Instead they allow their situation to help them develop mental and physical muscles that sustain them through the tough times.

How can we as parents and educators instill resiliency in our children?

  1. Foster a growth mindset–Encourage children to see obstacles as challenges to be overcome.  Instead of asking, “Why me?” teach them to ask “How can I learn from this?”
  2. Create a supportive community–We all need encouragers and teachers in our lives. Don’t wait for a crisis to establish a community in your life or your children’s lives. Develop systems of support and be that support for others as well.
  3. Develop a personal sense of identity and purpose–Help children develop a sense of who they are as worthwhile individuals with something to offer the world. Challenge them to learn from failure and celebrate success.

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Wyatt the Wonder Dog Learns about Winning

Wyatt the Wonder Dog didn’t make it on the All Star baseball team and he feels like a loser.  All  his friends will be playing baseball this summer, while he and his pesky sister, Callie, visit grandparents at the beach.  How Wyatt learns to handle disappointment and failure will be an important lesson for the future.  Will he give up trying new things?  Will he have the confidence to try again?  Are there some things that take more practice and persistence to learn than others? Wyatt the Wonder Dog Learns About Winning
Wyatt the Wonder Dog Learns about Winning (Wyatt the Wonder Dog Books) (Volume 5)


Is your child a people pleaser?

Is there a child in your life that is a people pleaser?

Are they always looking for  approval and recognition?

Do they worry too much about fitting in?

Do they complain that they have no friends?

Do they have trouble taking initiative, even in situations where they have experience and ability?

Young children are often naturally authentic.  They don’t worry about giving the right answer or comparing their efforts to someone else.  In fact, this was one of the things that made teaching lessons in kindergarten so fun and entertaining.  I never knew what students would say in answer to questions.

However at some point, the comparison trap kicks in and children begin to recognize and value the opinions of others. Soon they are worried about saying the right thing, doing the right thing and even wearing the right clothes.  In her excellent book on The Gifts of Imperfection, Brene Brown pinpoints the age that this begins to show up as around fourth grade, although I think it happens much younger. Brown goes on to define authenticity as the daily practice of letting go of who we think we are supposed to be and embracing who we are.  

Considering authenticity a practice is good news for all of us who have been compulsive people pleasers because it means that being authentic is actually a choice albeit a choice that we must make over and over on a daily basis.  How can we share this information with the children in our lives and encourage a lifetime of authenticity rather than comparison and people pleasing?  Teaching and modeling authenticity is tricky business for sure. Here are some tips:

  • Re-frame mistakes and failure as learning not losing.  Look for the opportunity to learn in every experience.  This helps defeat the need to compare my score or success with yours.
  • Praise the effort and intention behind the work rather than the end result.  Teach children to practice self-talk that  models this so that they can encourage themselves to be authentic even when you are not available to encourage them in this direction. As Brene Brown says, “Talk to yourself as if you were talking to someone you love.”
  • Model authentic behavior as well as a brave attitude when faced with challenges yourself so that you can teach through example as well as words.
  • Use the examples found in the lives of well known people who have followed their own vision and mission rather than conform to the expectations of others.

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Wyatt the Wonder Dog Learns about Friendship

It’s not easy being the new kid at school, especially if you are a cat and everyone else is a dog.  How do you make friends?  Can you even be friends with someone who is totally different from you?  Wyatt the Wonder Dog helps solve Ami’s friendship problem with empathy and compassion. A great story for teaching children the critical life skill of making friends.

Wyatt the Wonder Dog-Friendship Cover (1)

Wyatt Learns about Friendship





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Two secrets to help kids get organized

“I lost my homework!  I did it though… really I did.”

“Tomorrow is spirit day and I can’t find my school shirt.”

“My project is due tomorrow and I haven’t even gotten started.”

Sound familiar?  The bane of every parent and teacher’s existence is helping kids develop organizational skills.  Like many social skills though, we often fail to specifically teach kids what to do.  Instead we give it a one shot mini-lecture and then  feel it should be obvious.

Doesn’t everyone know that you shouldn’t wait until the last minute to start a project?

How many times have you told your students to put their homework in their homework folder as soon as it is completed?

However, even as adults we often don’t model the skills that we think children should master.  Here is a strategy that will help parents, teachers and kids alike to be more organized:

Create bookends around your day

  • Begin your day with a daily focus-set your priorities for the day including a time frame for each.  This doesn’t mean on the way out the door you hurriedly remind your child that you will be picking them up early today for that dentist appointment. Instead you set aside a specific time each morning to review what is on tap for the day.  It doesn’t have to be lengthy but a checklist could be helpful.  Include things like:  special activities,  homework, encouragement for upcoming tasks and plans for after school.  As you review the calendar it  might sound something like this:
    • Okay John, today is Tuesday so that means you take your tennis shoes for PE. Do you have your math homework in your backpack? Remember you have practice after school so we will go straight there.  You got a change of clothes? Great!  Have I forgotten anything?  Okay, do your best on that math test, I know you really studied hard.  Make it a great day!
    • Okay class, today is Tuesday and here are the highlights of our day:
      • We have PE first then we will visit the library.  Make sure you have any books that you need to return on your desktop.
      • Next we will have a math test
      • After lunch we will go straight outside for recess and then come in for reading groups  followed by health and social studies.  Any questions?
  • End your day with a review and preparation for the next day.  List things that are incomplete.  Organize and clean up your work area so that you begin fresh.  Review your calendar and prepare any items that you need for the next day so you can get off to a great start.  As you review the calendar or an agenda it might sound like this:
    • Okay John, before you go to bed let’s review for tomorrow.  You’ve got your clothes out for tomorrow, right?  It’s going to be cold so plan to wear your jacket.  Is your homework in your book bag?  Did you make your lunch or are you buying lunch tomorrow at school? 
    • Okay class, has everyone copied your homework in your agenda?  Do you have your math book so you can do your homework?  Be sure to study your review sheet for your health test tomorrow.  Tomorrow is PE so wear tennis shoes.

Notice that you are training students in how to plan for their day but this requires some organization on your part as well! This is not meant to be a lengthy process that takes more than a few minutes.  Use visuals to help in tracking such as a calendar, an agenda, checklists etc.  Once you have established the habit you may not even have to review each of the different parts but simply ask if they have completed their preparation for the next day.  Best wishes for an organized new year.

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Wyatt Learns about Being Organized

It’s time to catch the school bus and Wyatt can’t find anything.  Where is his backpack?  his lunch money? Wyatt is about to learn a valuable lesson about the importance of being organized and the benefits of planning ahead.  This adorable story offers simple helpful ideas that kids and parents can use to make life less stressful and more fun.

Wyatt the Wonder Dog: Learns About Being Organized


What to do when kids argue

“I had it first… it’s mine!”

“I want the green one… you can have the blue one.”

“No the green one is bigger… you always get the biggest one.”

“You always get your way… it’s my turn to go first.”

Sound familiar?  Last night I was teaching a parent class at a local elementary school and after the class a father came up to me and asked me  what to do about his kids arguing.  He says that his kids just pick on each other all the time and it really gets on his wife’s nerves. I totally sympathize.  After all, I can remember when my daughters were younger and I just wanted everyone to get along!  Why do kids have to argue all the time?

Here are my suggestions for solving those annoying arguments that get on your last nerve…

  • Check your emotions and look at the situation objectively:  Kids provide enough drama for any argument, make sure that you aren’t adding to it.  I know it’s difficult because kids seem to fuss and argue when they are tired and irritable which is probably the same time that you are tired and irritable.  However, if you can remain calm and objective it will greatly help the overall situation.  Adding your own emotions into the mix will only cause things to escalate.
  • Change your perspective-instead of seeing arguments as something to be avoided, re-frame them as an opportunity for learning and teaching.  I used to tell my kids when they argued that I was glad to see that they were learning how to get along with difficult people because it sure would come in handy when they got to be adults.  I know it sounds crazy, but it is true.  Disagreements with siblings are great training grounds for how to handle disagreements later in life with adults.
  • Use the opportunity to teach children how to solve problems, not avoid them– When we tell kids to knock it off, stop fussing or else, separate and go to your room until you can get along and any one of a number of other ultimatums, we might be eliminating the problem for the moment but are we really teaching kids what to do when they disagree with someone?  Do those options work well for you as an adult when you have a disagreement with a co-worker or spouse?  Instead help kids determine exactly what the problem is and then identify the options that they have for solving it.  For example:  You both want the green one and there is only one green one.  You could:
    • Take turns, I get the green one now while you get it at another specified time
    • Use chance to determine who gets it;  roll the dice, pick a number between 1-10 etc.
    • Use some outside factor to decide:  I get the green one because I’m older, I earned it by doing extra chores, it matches my eyes, I get to decide on even days and you get to pick on odd days.
    • You get the idea…
  • Encourage a dialogue- Help kids learn to talk to each other in ways that identifies the problem and works on solving it rather than name calling, blaming or relying on adults to solve disagreements-
    • “Sally what do you need to say to George that could make the situation better?”
    • “George what can you say or do that would show that you are trying to solve the problem?
  • Establish a system for problem solving- Remind kids what they did the last time that solved a similar problem.  Focus on solutions not problems.
    • “Suzy, I remember last week you had a disagreement over who got to go first.  Do you remember how you solved that problem?  Would that work this time?”

Keep in mind that even negative situations are opportunities for all of us to grow and learn.  When you approach disagreements as something that can be resolved rather than something that needs to be eliminated, you will find that children will take on a similar perspective.  While arguments may not disappear, children will instead have the tools necessary to resolve conflicts.  This is a lesson that will serve them well through out their lives.

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Wyatt the Wonder Dog Learns about Cooperation

Wyatt wants to play Frisbee. Max want to build a fort and Callie wants to have tea party. How do the three friends reconcile their differences? Can it be done? When Wyatt doesn’t get his way, Max’s mother suggests he be the Superhero for the day. Join Wyatt as he learns how the magic of cooperation and compromise can bring the five friends closer together.

Wyatt the Wonder Dog -Cooperation Cover
Wyatt the Wonder Dog: Learns About Cooperation (Volume 6)




Surprising research about praise

What a great job you did!

You aced this test, you are so smart!

The home run you hit saved the day!  You are the best hitter on the team!

In this age of positivism, affirmations and intentions, what could possibly be wrong with praising a child?  Turns out a lot… but the problem isn’t exactly praise.  The problem is the type of praise, what we are focusing on and the perception that it creates in the child.  The consequences of praise are reported in Carol Dweck’s book Mindset: the New Psychology of Success and I guarantee that it will change forever how you interact with the children in your life.

Here’s what she discovered:

  • When we praise children for their ability (great job, intelligence, athletic ability etc) we set them up for a fixed mindset.  They believe that they accomplished something great because of their inherent ability and the next time they are faced with a challenge, they feel they must perform equally well.  Consequently they are always concerned about perfect performance and measuring up.  They often lack confidence and shy away from situations that are hard because they are afraid of exposing their deficits and calling into question their talent or ability.
  • When we praise children for their effort, we set them up for a growth mindset. They believe that they accomplished something because of their effort and the next time they are faced with a challenge, they are open to seeing it as an opportunity to learn and to grow.  Whether they are successful or not, they are willing to take action and learn from the results.  Here are some examples:
    • This report is amazing.  I can tell you put in a lot of time in research.
    • You made an A on the test!  I can tell you really studied hard.
    • Your home run saved the day.  Looks like all that time practicing paid off.

What does this mean for parents and educators?

For most of us it means that we need to make a shift from focusing on labeling children, even with positive labels like gifted, smart or talented.  Labels and praising kids for their ability has been clearly shown in Dweck’s research to handicap the child for the future by creating a fixed mindset.  On the other hand, praise that identifies effort and specific methods of being successful, creates a growth mindset and prepares children for the many challenges and new situations they will face.  It is the equivalent of inoculating children for the inevitable disappointments they will encounter while providing the confidence to move forward with new challenges.

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 Wyatt Learns about Good Manners

Wyatt is always wondering about something and lately it is how to get his friend, Max to change his bossy ways.  What can he do?  Join Wyatt as he considers some rather unusual options until he finally discovers that a heart to heart talk with Max can create a new friendship with an old friend. Wyatt_the_Wonder_Dog_Cover_Manners_Kindle

Wyatt the Wonder Dog: Learns About Good Manners