What is ILT?
If you are reading this, the chances are that you have a child who is struggling at school. Maybe he or she is finding it difficult to master skills such as reading, writing, maths or spelling. Maybe he or she can do all these things but comes home with reports about unfinished work, or work left at home.
The teacher complains about her being disorganised, untidy or even aggressive towards other children. Or maybe she is described as being unfocused and a daydreamer who never seems to listen. And maybe you agree with the teacher because you see the same behaviour at home.
Labels such as ADHD, Dyslexia, Auditory Processing Problems, Sensory Processing Disorder are mentioned. What’s going on?
Strange as it may seem, recent research suggests that children’s reading ability may well be negatively affected by sleeping problems.
The study, published in the British Journal of Educational Psychology, included 339 children aged four to 14 years. Parents completed questionnaires about their children’s sleeping patterns and the children were tested for word reading efficiency.
Children with reports of sleep-disordered breathing, daytime sleepiness and a short time needed to fall asleep (which is generally associated with increased tiredness) had poorer performance on reading tasks for both words and nonwords.
“Being a good reader is a strong predictor of academic success and improved life outcomes, so we recommend screening children with sleep problems for reading difficulties and children with reading difficulties for sleep problems” wrote author Anna Joyce, Ph.D., MSc, of Regent’s University London. “Screening and treating sleep and literacy difficulties at a young age could help to improve life outcomes for all children.”
Since the outbreak of Covid-19, concern has been expressed in various countries regarding the increased sedentary behaviours of children. Too little time is spent being physically active and high levels of sedentary behaviour, especially screen time, are associated with poor health and academic performances for school-aged children.
An international report with recommendations designed to counteract this has been released by the Sedentary Behavior Research Network (SBRN), in partnership with the University of Prince Edward Island and the CHEO Research Institute.
A ‘healthy’ school day includes:
- Breaking up periods of extended sedentary behaviour with both scheduled and unscheduled movement breaks
- at least once every 30 minutes for ages 5 to 11 years
- at least once every hour for ages 12 to 18 years
- consider a variety of intensities and durations (e.g., standing, stretching breaks, moving to another classroom, active lessons, active breaks).
- Incorporating different types of movement (e.g., light activities that require movement of any body parts, and moderate to vigorous activities that require greater physical effort) into homework whenever possible, and limiting sedentary homework to no more than 10 minutes per day, per grade level. For example, in Canada this means typically no more than 10 minutes per day in grade 1, or 60 minutes per day in grade 6.
- Regardless of the location, school-related screen time should be meaningful, mentally or physically active, and serve a specific pedagogical purpose that enhances learning compared to alternative methods. When school-related screen time is warranted,
- limit time on devices, especially for students 5 to 11 years of age;
- take a device break at least once every 30 minutes;
- discourage media-multitasking in the classroom and while doing homework;
- avoid screen-based homework within an hour of bedtime.
- Replacing sedentary learning activities with movement-based learning activities (including standing) and replacing screen-based learning activities with non-screen-based learning activities (e.g., outdoor lessons) can further support students’ health and wellbeing.
Common sense tells us that these are valid suggestions. It will be interesting to see how educators, families and other caregivers respond.
- Breaking up periods of extended sedentary behaviour with both scheduled and unscheduled movement breaks
Many teachers and parents look for ways of including valuable developmental skills into games with young children. Mary Mountstephen shared this blog giving some information about Marlene Rattigan’s useful book. Entitled Kidz-fiz-biz:Scarf Magic, the book contains a DVD and 2 children’s scarves. You can access it at www.kidsfizbiz.com.
In this blog we’d like to introduce you to some fun activities that you can do with your child at home or with small groups of friends. Scarves have enormous educational potential to stimulate language development, mathematical concepts and vocabulary and physical skills such as coordination, body control and body awareness. Some children need a little extra support to develop these skills, and Scarf Magic is an ideal way to do this in an enjoyable and active way,
You need enough scarves for children to be able to make a choice, and allow them free play initially, joining in yourself. There are many sources of scarves and friends may be happy to hand over unwanted gifts. The scarves should be:
60 cm square for the children 60 cm or 1 metre square for the adults
As with all activities, set the ground rules first of where the children are allowed to move, and set boundaries around what they can and can’t do to play safely and that the scarves must be treated with respect and folded away neatly at the end of each session.
Spend some time initially exploring how to make the scarves move: Throw them in the air, slither them around on the floor, scrunch them up and watch them unfold. Throwing and Catching
- Scrunch the scarf into a little ball with both hands and throw the scarf high in the air, catching it with both hands. This can be done sitting, standing, and even moving around to music. You can also vary the speed and type of music to change the mood.
- When this has been mastered, you can progress to throwing with one hand and catching with the other. It is a good idea to keep alternating the throwing and catching hands as this improves coordination and eye-hand control. Making Shapes and Maths Activities You can use the scarves to explore mathematical language:
- Fold the scarf into a rectangle and a triangle and count the number of corners and sides
- Can you make the scarf into a smaller square by folding it up?
- Are there any shapes they can find on the scarf? Balancing and Crawling Activities There are many different ways to be creative with moving that can also help develop language, coordination and perseverance. Some children may balance really well on one leg, but not the other, so encourage them to find different ways to experiment with this.
- Crawl around the room with the scarf tucked into the back of clothing, to make a tail. Play follow the leader. Stop on a signal and lift up one arm or one leg
- Stand opposite a partner and hold one scarf between them, then try to balance in different ways
These are just a few ways to use scarves that can take your children on a ‘voyage of discovery’. The possibilities are endless and children often come up with their own ideas that can be added to your bank of ideas.
Sometimes it is really necessary that a child be prescribed antibiotics. Some, however, may develop some tummy problems during or after completing the course. Can probiotics help? Dr Christine Hurtado gives the following advice:
Antibiotics can kill both good and bad bacteria in your child’s gut. This may throw your child’s gut microbiome out of balance. The microbiome is composed of the microscopic organisms—bacteria, fungi, viruses and parasites—that live in our bodies. That’s why it’s important to only use antibiotics when they’re really needed.
Signs that your child’s microbiome is off-balance include:
- Tummy cramps
If your child’s gut microbiome is disrupted from antibiotics, your doctor may recommend boosting the probiotics in their diet.
Probiotics are made up of the good bacteria that live in our bodies. After your child has been on antibiotics, probiotics can help get the gut microbiome back to a healthy balance by putting beneficial bacteria back in. Studies also suggest that probiotics may help relieve the diarrhea, gas, and cramping caused by antibiotics.
There are hundreds of bacteria that are considered to be probiotics. A few of the most commonly used strains are Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, and Saccharomyces.
Many fermented foods have probiotics in them. Examples include:
- Yoghurt (natural, unsweetened thick yoghurt)
- Kefir (fermented in either water or milk)
- Sauerkraut and pickles (raw and refrigerated – not pickled in vinegar)
- Kimchi (made from fermented cabbage)
- Tempeh and miso (made from fermented soybeans)
- Sourdough bread
You also may have heard of prebiotics. These foods or supplements contain complex carbohydrates, which can’t be digested. The carbs ferment in the digestive system, feeding the good bacteria in the gut and helping them grow and thrive. Prebiotics are like fertilizer for the microbiome.
Prebiotics are found in many foods, especially those with a high fibre content, like vegetables. Examples include:
- Snow peas
- Whole grains
Probiotics and prebiotics are also sold as supplements, in capsule, tablet, powder and liquid form. But keep in mind that these supplements are not controlled by food authorities before being sold and there aren’t any official guidelines on how much to take or for how long. Rather talk to your doctor before giving your child any supplement, including probiotics or prebiotics.
Probiotics are also found in kombucha, a carbonated drink made with fermented sweetened tea that has become a news item lately. But drinking kombucha can be risky for kids because it may contain alcohol. Children shouldn’t drink home-brewed kombucha because it may contain harmful bacteria. This is especially true if your child has a health condition that weakens their immune system. Ask your doctor if you have questions about kombucha.
Your child’s microbiome should recover on its own after taking antibiotics, as long as your child is eating healthy foods. You can add foods with prebiotics or probiotics to help get that balance back, too.
Worried about overdoing it? When you have prebiotics in your diet, the bacteria consume the amount they need to stay healthy and active and the rest passes through the digestive system into the stool. The same goes for probiotics. If you get too many, there’s nowhere for them to go, so they also pass into the stool.
You all know how frustrating it is when you’re trying to get an important message across to your child and you notice that he or she is not listening. At other times, the end of the teaching time looms and children are tired. It becomes increasingly more difficult for them to maintain their level of focus. There is something you can do to help in these situations.
It’s all about one of the most primitive of reflexes human beings share. It’s crucial to our survival and without it, we would die. I’m talking about sucking. If a baby is born unable to latch and suckle, very rapid steps will be taken to ensure that the infant is tube-fed. But apart from the importance of taking in nutrition, sucking and swallowing have very significant effects on brain function. Infants can self-sooth by sucking on their fists or thumbs and sucking and swallowing also help them to breathe deeply. This early reliance on sucking and stimulation of areas around the mouth doesn’t leave us either. Watch how young children move their mouths in rhythm with their hand movements when they are learning how to cut with a scissors. How many of us turn to chewing or sucking sweets when we are tired but still have admin work to do! Do some of you bite the end of a pen, your nails or even your bottom lip when listening closely to something?
Sucking and swallowing, which are controlled by tongue actions, are our very first brain organisers. When babies suck, swallow and breathe, they are laying the foundations for arousal, attending and focus. By helping to organise the communication between different neural pathways, sucking can reenergise us when we’re tired or calm us down when we’re excited.
In addition, tired eyes might not be focusing on you or on a task requiring reading or writing. Sucking with eyes closed helps the eyes to maintain focus. Try this yourself: Wash your hands thoroughly!!! Then close your eyes and put your index finger between your lips on the midline of your face. Suck hard and feel how the eyes pull in together.
Because the eyes and ears work together (through the mechanism of a part of the brain called the colliculus) the ears follow the eyes to focus on the sound coming from whatever the eyes are looking at. This means that what we look at directly affects what we listen to. Grandparents were quite correct when they insisted on us looking at them when they spoke to us! In this way, vision that is focused on something specific in the environment produces focused auditory input as well. This lessens the distracting effect of extraneous sounds in a home or classroom environment.
So what can you do? ILT doesn’t recommend that you have children sucking on their fingers, unless they are very young children and you have nothing else for them to suck on!
Indeed, in the time of the corona virus, we are trying hard to teach children not to touch their faces. Instead, try to find some ‘crazy’ or ‘loopy’ straws. These are often available in the party section of several of the supermarkets. Insert these straws through a small hole in the top of a small bottle of water (or plastic cups or glasses). When you feel the attention of the children is waning, ask them to close their eyes, place the straw in the middle of their lips and have them suck – swallow – and breathe. Or have this as a routine part of your lessons. Before beginning a task, have the learners drink some water through their straws. Their concentration will improve – and the water will do them good too!
Remember that plastic straws are harmful to the environment. Reuse them by washing with hot soapy water and finally dispose of them correctly.