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How exercise can improve brain performance

Intensive exercise improves the academic performance of teenagers, according to new research.

The study, of about 5,000 children, found links between exercise and exam success in English, maths and science. It found an increase in performance for every extra 17 minutes boys exercised, and 12 minutes for girls. The study by the universities of Strathclyde and Dundee found physical activity particularly benefited girls’ performance at science. The authors said this could be a chance finding or reflect gender differences in the impact of physical activity on the brain.

Children who carried out regular exercise, not only did better academically at 11 but also at 13 and in their exams at 16, the study suggested.

‘Low exercise levels’

Most of the teenagers’ exercise levels were found to be well below the recommended 60 minutes a day. The authors speculated what might happen to academic performance if children got the recommended amount. They claimed that since every 15 minutes of exercise improved performance by an average of about a quarter of a grade, it was possible children who carried out 60 minutes of exercise every day could improve their academic performance by a full grade – for example, from a C to a B, or a B to an A.

However, the authors admitted this was speculation given that very few children did anywhere near this amount of exercise. Dr Josie Booth, one of the leaders of the study, from Dundee University said: “Physical activity is more than just important for your physical health. “There are other benefits and that is something that should be especially important to parents, policy-makers and people involved in education.” The authors of the study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, said further research backing the findings could have implications fore public health and education policy. The study was funded by a grant from the BUPA Foundation to the University of Strathclyde.

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Choosing a Tutor for Your Child

How to Choose a Tutor for Your Child

How do you find a great tutor for your child, one who will bring out the best in her? Read on for tips on how to go about this all-important task.

Experienced tutors teach children effectively and quickly

We all want to provide our children with the best of everything, be it education or a healthy lifestyle, so that they can do well in life when they grow up. And, home tuitions being a major aspect of children’s lives, we want to get the best home tutors for them. However, finding and engaging a good home tutor can be a tedious job. You will need to have long conversations and interviews with various tutors before deciding on whom to hire. However, even that is no guarantee that you will get the best tutor for your child.

Factors to consider in choosing a tutor

Picking out a great tutor may not be an easy task but it is an important one as your child’s education depends not only on the teachers in school but also on the private tutor. So, here are some factors to keep in mind when looking for a great home tutor:

  • Size of the class: In smaller classes, students get individual attention and the atmosphere is conducive to learning. With bigger classes, the queries and questions raised by the child are often left unanswered. Many home tutors insist on big batches so they can earn more per hour. But, that is not a good idea for your child. Look for a smaller class for more effectual sessions.
  • Recommendations: Recommendations and testimonials about the home tuition agency or home tutors can help you in finding the best home tutor for your child. So, look for testimonials from parents or students for the tutor or agency you have in mind.
  • The tutor’s training and education: It is vital to check the tutor’s background, qualifications, experience and training in teaching. Experienced tutors teach children effectively and quickly. They are also able to predict exam questions and to frame the perfect answers for them. This helps in raising your child’s grades.
  • Types of notes: When hiring a tutor, you must enquire about the notes that will be provided to your child. You must find out whether they will be provided by the tutor herself and about their quality. These notes will provide an extra advantage to your child with the teacher’s high quality and expertise being infused into every page.
  • The tutor’s ability to connect with the student: This is an important factor to look for when hiring a home tutor. The relationship between a teacher and a student must be strong and one of understanding. That will help the child follow the teacher properly. A good teacher who motivates the child will help him scale new heights and to become more confident. If the tutor can reach the heart and mind of a student, it will benefit the child greatly.
  • Style of teaching: Children learn in any of the three ways – visual, auditory or kinesthetic. So, it is crucial to first identify the method that your child is comfortable with and then find out whether the home tutor uses the same method. For children who follow a visual learning style, the tutor should use tools like videos, animations and so on. Those who follow audios better can gain from explanations by the tutors. Thus, you need to find a tutor who teaches according to the learning style of your child.
  • The teacher must know your child’s requirements: The best home tutor is one who understands the needs of the child and systematically plans and designs a custom-made teaching method that will meet her requirements. So, when choosing a tutor, make sure he pays heed to the child’s requirements and works to increase her potential.

Consider home tuition agencies

When looking for a tutor, you can also contact home tuition agencies. They will help you in finding a highly qualified tutor with good communication skills. You don’t need to interview the tutor directly as the agency will find one who meets your expectations and requirements. Coordinators from the agency are trained to do just that. The coordinators will also help you get a clear idea about the type of tutor your child requires. And, once you’ve found a tutor, make sure you give her time to understand your child and teach him accordingly. Remember also that you cannot treat her like an employee. Nor can you force her to take on your child; you have to leave it to her to decide.

Teaching is one of the most respected professions and home tutors are in great demand nowadays due to increasing competition and the enhanced focus on academics. Good education is a must for success in business or a job; so, hiring the best home tutor gives your child a real advantage. While finding a good tutor can be difficult, it will be well worth the trouble you take. And, when your child excels in her studies, you will be glad you put in that extra effort to find the best tutor you could for her.

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What is a Growth Mindset?

What is a growth mindset?

Has your child ever said to you ‘There’s no point, I’ll never be able to do it’ or avoided doing something because they’ve failed at it in the past?

Feelings like this can be related to what children believe about what makes them ‘good’ at something – whether it’s school work, sport, or even their ability to manage their emotions and behaviour.

Some children will tend to give up on challenging tasks easily, or avoid tasks they’ve failed at before. They tend to believe that being ‘good’ at a particular activity is a fixed state, and is something they can’t control. In psychology, this way of thinking is called a ‘fixed mindset’.

Others might bounce back quickly from failure and be more likely to explore how they can get better at doing something. They tend to be children who believe that you can improve your abilities by practising, or by finding a different way to achieve your goal. This way of thinking is called a ‘growth mindset’, and developing it can help make children more resilient for life.

There are lots of small things you can do every day that can help your little one develop a growth mindset.

 

Is ability something innate?

Professor Carol Dweck, an American psychologist, found that we all have different beliefs about the underlying nature of ability.

Children (and adults!) with a growth mindset believe that intelligence and abilities can be developed through effort, persistence, trying different strategies and learning from mistakes.

On the other hand, people with a fixed mindset believe that our intelligence and abilities are fixed traits; something that you are born with and that you can’t really do anything about.

 

How do the different Mindsets develop and why are they important?

Most babies are excited to learn. However, as soon as children are able to compare themselves to others, some will stop focusing on learning and will instead focus on performance; they want to look good in front of others and more importantly, they want to feel like they are the best.

According to someone with a fixed mindset, if you fail at something, make a mistake, or even have to put effort in, it must be because ‘you’re just not good enough’. Because of that belief, children begin to avoid challenges and choose activities that they find easy.

People with a fixed mindset feel as if they have no control over their abilities, and are helpless in the face of difficulties and setbacks. They begin to feel disheartened if they find something difficult, which can lead to low self-esteem and a developing sense that there is ‘no point’ in trying.

Over time, children who feel like this may decrease their efforts and sometimes even engage in disruptive behaviours (anything that will detract from the fact that they are struggling).

Children (and adults!) with a growth mindset think very differently. They believe that they can get better at something by practising, so when they’re faced with a challenge, they become more and more determined to succeed, wanting to persevere and overcome knockbacks. They tend to feel as if they’re in control, and are not threatened by hard work or failure.

Although no one likes failing, children with a growth mindset do not let failure define them; instead, they use setbacks to motivate them. Children encouraged to adopt a growth mindset enjoy challenges and the sense of achievement they get when they succeed.

Researchers have found that building a growth mindset helps children at school; making them more motivated, more engaged in the classroom and likely to receive higher marks and greater rewards from their work.

Lots of research has been conducted in America (this approach is really popular in schools in the US), and our team at the University of Portsmouth has found that developing a growth mindset has a positive impact on children’s learning, attainment and, more importantly, understanding of the learning process in UK schools too.

But it’s not all about educational outcomes. Research also suggests that having a growth mindset increases children’s ability to try all sorts of different challenges and problems that they might not have otherwise tackled.

And because children no longer need to engage in various self-protection strategies, developing a growth mindset also appears to improve behaviour, increase life satisfaction, and help children to control their emotions.

 

How can I help my child to develop a Growth Mindset?

The exciting thing about the growth mindset approach is that it is not just about ability. It focuses on what people believe about ability – and there are lots of ways that we can help our children to develop a growth mindset.

Research has shown that Mindsets can be changed relatively quickly and there are plenty of things that parents and families can do to help. Below are a few tips and ideas that can help promote a growth mindset in children.

Set high expectations for your child:

It is commonly believed that lowering our expectations promotes self-esteem in children (e.g. “never mind, let’s try an easier one”), but this is not the case. Having high expectations works like a self-fulfilling prophecy. It shows that you believe they can do it, which in turn has a positive impact on their own beliefs, behaviour and outcomes.

Encourage children to be resilient and not give up, even when they find something difficult or frustrating:

We now know that the brain adapts to new information and practise by creating new connections, so help your child to believe that challenge is a positive thing because it means they are growing their brains! This can help them to be comfortable with the times that they struggle and means that they see this as a sign of learning.

Celebrate mistakes!

The fear of making mistakes and associated shame can stop children from giving something a go in the first place. We all make mistakes, so try to embrace these mistakes and use them as learning opportunities, rather than feeling embarrassed about them. If we are not making mistakes then we are not stretching ourselves.

Use inspirational role models:

Think about your child’s favourite athlete, musician or teacher and talk about their journey to success. We call this unravelling the talent myth. If someone has done well we have a tendency to think they were born that way. We need to show our children that this is not the case. Rather than focusing on somebody’s ‘natural talents’, focus on their early efforts, strong work ethic, and the mistakes and learning that led them to where they are now.

 

How can the way I praise my child help develop a Growth Mindset?

It’s natural to want to praise children when they do something well, but we need to do this carefully. Research suggests that the type of praise that we use can have a big impact. It’s all a matter of context in fact and even positive praise can encourage a fixed mindset.

Praising our children by saying things like “you’re a natural!” or “you seem to be able to turn your hand to anything!” without clarity of the process by which they got to that point can lead to the belief that being good at something is out of their control. In other words understanding how they got there is the key.

This focus on being good at something might lead to children feeling happy in the short-term, but confused when the reason they were praised is not evident. If children believe that they succeeded in something simply because they are gifted, they can end up re-evaluating their abilities if it doesn’t go as well next time.

Instead the grown-ups around the child can focus praise on the effort they’ve made to get to that point of triumph, the strategy they used or the outcome itself, saying things like “you’ve worked so hard on this, well done!” or “you get better every time because of all the practise you’ve been doing” or “you have found a great way to do that, it worked out really well”.

This kind of feedback helps to develop children’s resilience to failure as it teaches them what to do when they are challenged or fail – try again, try harder or try a different way, all things that are within their own control.

This type of praise is sometimes called ‘process praise’ and Dweck’s research found that children were more motivated when their parents used more of this kind of praise.

 

That’s not how I’ve praised my child so far – is it too late to change?

It’s never too late to change our mindsets. We’ve worked with children from the age of three, right up to university students and adults, and we’ve seen that anyone can develop a growth mindset.

It seems that the trick is to be open with children. If you are going to change the way you praise your child or the type of behaviours that you encourage, let them know why you are doing it. Tell them all about Growth Mindsets.

We’re not saying that everyone is born with the same abilities, but what is clear is that practise, effort and finding the best strategy are crucial in determining how successful our children are in life, perhaps even more so than the natural abilities that they were born with.

By Dr Frances Warren and Dr Sherria Hoskins, University of Portsmouth