8 Empowering Middle Grade Novels for Kids Interested in Social Justice

Barnes & Noble

As the United States watches a new administration take over the White House after a contentious election year, a wave of social and political activism has swept the country. For generations, young people all over the world have taken an interest in social justice and found the courage to fight for their own rights and the rights of others. Here are eight inspiring middle grade books that prove you’re never too young to stand up for what you believe in and make a difference.

The Breadwinner Trilogy

Paperback $13.81 | $18.95

The Breadwinner Trilogy, by Deborah Ellis
This series follows 11-year-old Parvana, who lives under Taliban rule in Afghanistan. When her father is arrested and her family is left without someone who can work or even shop for food, Parvana, forbidden to earn money as a girl, disguises herself as a boy to help her family survive. The Breadwinner is an empowering tale with a sharp and brave heroine.

Stella by Starlight

Paperback $7.99

Stella by Starlight, by Sharon M. Draper
Stella lives in the segregated south in 1932. Out, late one night, wandering around, Stella and her brother witness a Klu Klux Klan activity, starting an unwelcome chain of events in her otherwise sleepy town. With a compelling and courageous voice, Stella tells the story of how she and her community ban together against racism and injustice.

A Little Piece of Ground

Paperback $9.95

A Little Piece of Groundby Elizabeth Laird
Living in occupied Palestine, twelve-year-old Karim is trapped in his home by a strict curfew. Wanting to play football with his friends, he decides to clear a rocky plot of land for a soccer field. When Karim is found outside during the next curfew, tensions rise, and his survival is at stake.

One Crazy Summer

Paperback $7.99

One Crazy Summerby Rita Williams Garcia
Set against the backdrop of the Black Panther movement, Delphine and her sisters visit their estranged mother in California, attend a Black Panther day camp, and discover their mother’s dedication to social justice issues. A moving, funny novel with a captivating voice, the sisters learn about their family and their country during one truly crazy summer.

Sylvia & Aki

Paperback $6.99

Sylvia & Akiby Winifred Conkling
Sylvia and Aki never expected to know one another, until their lives intersect on a Southern California farm and change the country forever. Based on true events, this book reveals the remarkable story of Mendez vs. Westminster School District, the California court case that desegregated schools for Latino children.

Operation Redwood

Paperback $9.95

Operation Redwood, by S. Terrell French
When Julian is sent to stay with his disinterested aunt and uncle for four months, he discovers that his Uncle’s corporation plans to cut down a group of redwood trees at Big Tree Grove and decides to take a stand to save the trees. Perfect for the young environmentalists in your life, Operation Redwood is an adventurous and gripping tale as Julian and his friends hatch scheme after scheme to save these giants of nature.

I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced

Paperback $7.31 | $12.00

I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced, by Nujood Ali with Dephine Mainoui
For more mature readers, this unforgettable autobiography tells the true story of Nujood Ali, a ten-year-old Yemeni girl married off at a young age, who decides to resist her abusive husband and get a divorce. A moving tale of tragedy, triumph, and courage, Nujood’s brave defiance has inspired generations of women and young girls.

Return to Sender

Paperback $6.99

Return to Sender, by Julia Alverez
After Tyler’s father is injured in a tractor accident, his family hires migrant workers from Mexico to save his Vermont farm. Tyler bonds with one of the worker’s daughters and navigates complicated moral choices in this award-winning novel about friendship, cooperation, and understanding.

The Banned Books Your Child Should Read

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A selection of “frequently challenged” children’s books. CreditTony Cenicola/The New York Times

More than 40 years ago, my seventh grade English teacher began the year by telling us that we were definitely not allowed to read “The Catcher in the Rye because we weren’t “ready” for it. So naturally we all went out and read it immediately.

I told this story to my son when he was a seventh grader. I meant it as a funny story, and I pointed out that it had taken me years to appreciate that teacher’s pedagogic strategy. But then my son read the book himself right away. The mere long-ago echo of a possible ban was enough to make it interesting.

Adults have been known to worry a great deal about the possible corrupting influence of the printed word on children. If you look at the list of “frequently challenged children’s books” maintained by the American Library Association Office of Intellectual Freedom, you will see a wide range of touchy topics. (A book is “challenged” when someone tries to get it removed from a library or a school curriculum.)

Books can get challenged because they involve magic (Philip Pullman, J.K. Rowling), or because they offend religious sensibilities. “A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle, has been challenged as both overly and insufficiently religious. Some books are challenged because they depict children behaving, well, childishly (Junie B. Jones, the heroine of a series of books by Barbara Park, gets in trouble for using words like “stupid.”) So adults worry that books may be bad for children’s morals and for their manners.

“I think it happens in the U.S. more than in some other countries,” said Leonard Marcus, a children’s book historian and critic. “There’s a squeamishness in the U.S. about body parts I think that goes back to the Puritan tradition, and has never completely died out.” He pointed to the controversy around Maurice Sendak’s 1970 children’s book “In the Night Kitchen,” which centered on the illustrations showing the naked — and anatomically correct — little boy whose nocturnal adventures make up the story.

“Anything with any sexual content is likely to attract attention and hostility,” said Joan Bertin, the executive director of the National Coalition Against Censorship. “Regardless of the nature of its message — whether it is deemed to be helpful or instructive or insightful in some way or just merely titillating — people don’t make that distinction.”

In fact, banned book lists can be a great resource for parents looking for books that teach kids about the world and themselves.

When your children read books that have been challenged or banned, you have a double opportunity as a parent; you can discuss the books themselves, and the information they provide, and you can also talk about why people might find them troubling. Here are a few books that are often challenged, yet present great opportunities for children to learn.

IT’S PERFECTLY NORMAL: CHANGING BODIES, GROWING UP, SEX AND SEXUAL HEALTHBY ROBIE HARRIS. Your children should have age-appropriate books to help them learn about bodies, and you can find plenty of those on any list of banned or challenged books. This book, with illustrations by Michael Emberley has become a classic of information about bodies, development, and sexuality. First published in 1994, it has now gone through several editions and updates. Ms. Harris, who also wrote “It’s So Amazing,” for younger children, and “It’s Not the Stork,” for those even younger, says most of the challenges to her books have revolved around issues of gay sexuality, though masturbation and contraception can also be flash points. (She is also a good friend, and I have helped at times with pediatric questions on some of these and other books.)

CAPTAIN UNDERPANTSBY DAV PILKEY. This series, which has long been legendary for its compelling power over small boys, has sometimes been at the top of the most-challenged list, perhaps in part because (surprise) there are many jokes about undergarments. These books will definitely help children appreciate that bodies and their functions can be profoundly funny and silly (actually, most children seem to know this anyway).

In addition to being attacked for their potty-mouthed humor, the “Captain Underpantsbooks have come under scrutiny because they are full of children playing tricks and disobeying and generally creating havoc; again, as with Junie B. Jones and her big mouth, there is this strange sense that children need stories about obedient model children.

ARE YOU THERE GOD? IT’S ME, MARGARET BY JUDY BLUME. In this widely beloved novel by Judy Blume, originally published in 1970, but still on the most-challenged list, the narrator is deeply preoccupied with the when and how of menstruation. An other Judy Blume perennial, “Deenie,” which came out in 1973, is about a young girl struggling with scoliosis and the brace she has to wear, but it was the most attacked of her books, Ms. Blume says, because it included references to masturbation.

Much of the controversy about Judy Blume’s books centered around information about puberty. “I think the feeling was, if my child doesn’t read this, my child won’t know about it or it’s not going to happen to my child,” said Ms. Blume. “I used to get up there on stage and say, I have news for you, your kids are going to go through puberty whether you like it or not, so why not help them — it’s going to happen whether they read my books or no books or somebody else’s book.”

Ms. Blume said that often when adult tourists come into Books & Books Key West, the independent bookstore that she helped found and where she often works, they want to tell her how much they learned from her novels. “It’s like, thank you, thank you, my mother never told me anything and I wouldn’t have known anything without your books.”

Ms. Blume said she recently sold a copy of “And Tango Makes Three,” the 2005 book by Justin Richardson and Peter Parnell about two male penguins who hatch an egg and raise the baby together (you’ll find it on the list of challenged picture books) to a man who had just adopted a little girl with his male partner. “That’s my new thrill as a bookseller,” she said, “to put that right book into the hands of someone who appreciates what it’s saying.”

I AM JAZZ BY JESSICA HERTHEL AND JAZZ JENNINGS. This 2014 picture book about being transgender has been at the center of controversy recently with some schools coming under attack for using it in the curriculum, and others arguing that it can be helpful in teaching tolerance.

Some banned and challenged books upset adults because they teach children that the world is a complicated and sometimes disturbing place, in which good people sometimes behave badly and evil sometimes goes unpunished. This category stretches from modern young adult “problem novels” to great classics of literature. What makes a book “disturbing” often is tied to what makes it interesting or important or worth reading.

If you look over lists of frequently challenged young adult books, you’ll find everything from “The Chocolate Warby Robert Cormier (challenged for violence and for scenes of masturbation) to Anne Frank’s “Diary of a Young Girl” (challenged for sexual explicitness and for depressing tragic outcome). Also on the list — Alice Walker’s “Color Purple (challenged for sexual explicitness and bad language), and of course, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,which last month was removed from classrooms and libraries in schools in Accomack County, Va., along with “To Kill a Mockingbird,” when a parent complained that the books contained racial slurs.

Those are all books I came across and read on my own, growing up, and yes, they were disturbing, in places, and yes, there were things I didn’t completely understand, and basically skipped over to return to on later readings. (This is a very valuable skill possessed by most precociously bookish children.) I was never forbidden any book by my book-loving parents (we all know what the result would have been), and I don’t think I ever tried to stop my children from reading any book (we all know what the result would have been), though I occasionally said something like, “I think that one may creep you out, so maybe you want to wait.”

One of the jobs — and joys — of parenthood is recommending books at what you think are the right ages. On of the corollaries is that sometimes you get it wrong and your child is not ready — or is much farther along than you thought. Mostly, as a parent, you should be glad and proud if your child is a reader.

In fact, many of the books which are on the most-challenged lists are also frequently assigned as classics (and being assigned may be what gets you challenged). Common Sense Media has a nice list of books on this border between classic and controversial, suggesting parents and kids read them together and discuss why people find them disturbing.

As a parent, I was dazzled when my daughter’s high school summer reading assignment was to choose a book “out of your comfort zone,” however the student chose to define it. Because that is, of course, what literature does, and part of the glorious freedom (and human right) of literacy is the opportunity to journey with words well beyond your comfort zone.

A Sacred Heart Graduate’s Dedication to Social Justice

Mary Grace Henry, Sacred Heart Greenwich class of 2015, was recently featured on the CBS show Hidden Heroes for her work to educate girls around the world.  Mary Grace, through her years at Sacred Heart and her 8th grade Making History project, created the Reverse the Course Foundation and has sold more than 16,000 hair accessories to fund 251 years of school fees for 115 girls who live in extreme poverty.

Here’s a link to the video

Young Girls Are Less Apt To Think That Women Are Really, Really Smart

NPR

Researchers are trying to tease apart the reasons why girls are less likely to become scientists and engineers.

Marc Romanelli/Getty Images/Blend Images

Girls in the first few years of elementary school are less likely than boys to say that their own gender is “really, really smart,” and less likely to opt into a game described as being for super-smart kids, research finds.

The study, which appears Thursday in Science, comes amid a push to figure out why women are underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, fields. One line of research involves stereotypes, and how they might influence academic and career choices.

Andrei Cimpian, a professor of psychology at New York University and an author of the study, says his lab’s previous work showed that women were particularly underrepresented in both STEM and humanities fields whose members thought you needed to be brilliant — that is, to have innate talent — to succeed.

“You might think these stereotypes start in college, but we know from a lot of developmental work that children are incredibly attuned to social signals,” Cimpian says. So they decided to look at kids from ages 5 to 7, the period during which stereotypes seem to start to take hold.

The researchers conducted a series of experiments that included 400 children. In one, they took 96 kids and asked them a series of questions about brilliance and gender. For example, they were told a brief story about a person who was “really, really smart” and then asked to pick the protagonist from four photos, two of men and two of women.

Across the various questions, 5-year-old boys said their own gender was smart 71 percent of the time, compared to 69 percent of the time for girls. Among 6-year-olds, the numbers were 65 percent for boys and 48 percent for girls. And among 7-year-olds, it was 68 percent for boys and 54 percent for girls.

“The surprising thing is that already, by age 6, girls and boys are saying different things,” says Sapna Cheryan, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Washington who wasn’t involved with the research. “Before they’ve heard of physics or computer science they are getting these messages.”

Another experiment showed that even as older girls were less likely to associate their own gender with brilliance, they (correctly) assessed that at their age, girls were more likely to get good grades in school.

And another experiment asked 6- and 7-year-olds about the appeal of two similar imaginary games, one intended for “children who are really, really smart,” and one for “children who try really, really hard.” Girls were less interested than boys in the game aimed at smart kids but interest was similar in the game for hard workers.

The research can’t explain how these messages are getting to kids or how they could be changed, says Cimpian. He is planning a long-term study of young children that would measure environmental factors, including media exposure and parental beliefs. That would give a better idea of what factors predict the emergence of stereotypes, and what levers are available to change attitudes.

Research does suggest that role models might “inoculate” women and members of other underrepresented groups. So the movie Hidden Figures, about female African-American mathematicians at NASA during the late 1950s and early 1960s, could inspire girls and teens of color to pursue STEM fields.

But it’s also important to step back and ask what the goal of any intervention should be, says Cheryan.

Girls, after all, were split about evenly in associating brilliance with their gender, she notes. The boys were more likely to make the association with their own gender. So do girls need help in thinking more like the boys, or vice versa? Cimpian says it’s important not to fall into the trap of always assuming it’s the girls who need to change. But he says that girls at this age are usually overwhelmingly positive about their own gender, so any deviation from that baseline may suggest the beginning of negative attitudes.

Another approach is to change the characterization of the academic fields themselves, namely that certain areas require inborn brilliance rather than hard work.

“Stereotypes are all about who has an innate ability,” says Cimpian. If kids were instead exposed to the idea that success comes not because of fixed ability, but because of hard work over time (a so-called “growth mindset,” the idea developed by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck,) maybe those stereotypes would lose their punch.

Kids might also benefit from being exposed early on to fields like engineering, which aren’t typically studied in high school, to demystify them, says Cheryan.

Katherine Hobson is a freelance health and science writer based in Brooklyn, N.Y. She’s on Twitter: @katherinehobson.

30 Inspiring Books on Girls & Women of the Civil Rights Movement

Posted on February 8, 2016 by Katherine

banner_rosaparks

From the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Greensboro sit-ins, the Freedom Rides, school integrations, the March on Washington, Freedom Summer, the Selma to Montgomery marches, we hear many stories about the pivotal events of the Civil Rights Movement, but so many are about the remarkable men in leadership positions at the time. But what of the women? What of the girls? Rosa Parks’ story is a powerful and important one, but surely hers can’t be the only story of courageous girls and women in the Civil Rights era.

In this post, we highlight numerous books for both children and teens that tell the stories of girls and women’s contributions to the monumental events of this period and to the national movement to bring full civil rights and equality under the law to all Americans. By sharing these stories of past champions of civil rights, we can inspire the current generation of Mighty Girls to be the champions of the future.

For more books about the experience of African-American girls and women throughout history, visit our African-American History & Historical Fiction collection.

HEROES OF THE MOVEMENT: BIOGRAPHIES

From Ruby Bridges, a 6-year-old child who desegregated the first elementary school in the South, to Rosa Parks, whose refusal to switch seats on a bus is only one example of her devotion to civil rights causes, there are many Mighty Girls and women who contributed to the Civil Rights Movement. These books will teach children and teens about these heroes and their dedication to justice.

I Am Rosa Parks

Written by: Brad Meltzer
Illustrated by: Christopher Eliopoulos
Recommended Age: 4 – 8


When kids hear about Rosa Parks’ defiant refusal to move seats, they may think that it takes special courage to take that big a step — but the reality is that ordinary people can do incredible things! This title from Meltzer’s Ordinary People Change The World series shows how Parks’ willingness to stand up for justice began with small moments from childhood, but became a driving force in her life that made her a major figure for the Civil Rights movement. For more books about Parks, visit our Rosa Parks Collection.

The Story of Ruby Bridges

Written by: Robert Coles
Illustrated by: George Ford
Recommended Age: 4 – 8


To kids today, the idea of a child having to be escorted to school by armed guards to protect her from an angry mob is shocking, but 6-year-old Ruby Bridges faced exactly that in 1960. After a judge ordered that Ruby should attend the previously all-white William Frantz Elementary School, parents withdrew their children and held angry protests in front of the school. This compelling depiction of the child who became a civil rights hero just by attending first grade is now available in a special anniversary edition. For more books about Bridges, visit our Ruby Bridges Collection.

Child of the Civil Rights Movement

Written by: Paula Young Shelton
Illustrated by: Raul Colon
Recommended Age: 4 – 8


Paula Young Shelton, the daughter of Civil Rights activist Andrew Young, grew up in a world where everyone she knew was dedicated to the fight for equality. Even children knew the injustice of segregation — she recalls crying loudly when owners of a restaurant refused to seat her family in “my very first protest, my own little sit-in.” And as she grew, her understanding of her father’s cause grew, until it became her own and she too marched from Selma to Montgomery. In this unique child’s eye view of the Civil Rights struggle, Shelton balances honesty about the struggles her father and his friends faced with the sense of hope that drove them forward.

Coretta Scott

Written by: Ntozake Shange
Illustrated by: Kadir Nelson
Recommended Age: 4 – 9


Many people know her only as Coretta Scott King, but she holds her own place in Civil Rights history for her work both before and after her husband’s death. In this poetic picture book, Ntozake Shange captures her childhood — including defining moments like walking five miles to the colored school while the white kids’ bus showered her with dust — to the marches at Selma and Washington, and ends with stirring images of protesters set to lines from the gospel song “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Round.” A prose biography at the end encourages kids to learn more. This evocative book is a powerful way to introduce this key figure of history. Kids can learn more in Coretta Scott King: I Kept On Marching (ages 7 to 10). For more books about King, visit our Coretta Scott King Collection.

Ruby Bridges Goes To School

Written by: Ruby Bridges
Recommended Age: 5 – 8


In this book, Ruby Bridges tells her own story in simplified text for newly independent readers! With carefully chosen vocabulary suitable for developing readers, Bridges provides a clear explanation of segregation and how it affected everyone, including school children, in the 1950s. Historical photographs of Bridges herself, as well as signs for segregated restaurants and protest signs objecting to desegregating schools, bring the topic to life. Kids will be amazed to imagine that Bridges was learning to read — just like them — when she had to walk past those angry mobs to go to school. For more books about Bridges, visit our Ruby Bridges Collection.

Viola Desmond Won’t Be Budged

Written by: Jody Nyasha Warner
Illustrated by: Richard Rudnicki
Recommended Age: 5 – 8


It wasn’t just the US that wrestled with segregation and civil rights; Canada has its own civil rights heroes, among them this savvy businesswoman who found herself the center of the fight for equality when she sat down in a movie theater. When Viola Desmond bought her ticket in 1946, she was arrested after refusing to move from the main floor to the balcony. The varying perspectives in this book capture the emotional intensity of Desmond’s trial, and Richard Rudnicki’s illustration depict her as a confident woman who was determined not to give way.

The Youngest Marcher: The Story of Audrey Faye Hendricks, a Young Civil Rights Activist

Written by: Cynthia Levinson
Illustrated by: Vanessa Brantley Newton
Recommended Age: 5 – 9


Audrey was only 9 years old, but that didn’t mean she didn’t listen when the grown-ups talked about wiping out Birmingham’s segregation laws. So when she heard them say that they were going to picket those white stores! March to protest those unfair laws! Fill the jails! — she stepped right up and said, “I’ll do it!” This newly release picture book biography of the youngest person to be arrested for a civil rights protest in Birmingham proves that there’s no such thing as being too young to make a difference.

Through My Eyes: The Story of Ruby Bridges

Written by: Ruby Bridges
Recommended Age: 6 – 12


It’s one thing to hear Ruby Bridges’ story in the third person, but in this remarkable book, you get to hear her story through her own eyes. In simple language, Bridges recounts the experience of simultaneously knowing that she was part of a bigger era in history, yet still being a child who didn’t fully understand why people were so angry at her. With additional material including photographs, sidebars about Bridges’ influence in popular culture, and an update on her later life and civil rights work, this volume creates a newly complex portrait of this iconic figure. For more books about Bridges, visit our Ruby Bridges Collection.

Who Was Rosa Parks?

Written by: Yona Zeldis McDonough
Illustrated by: Stephen Marchesi
Recommended Age: 8 – 12


The “Mother of the Civil Rights Movement” gets her own entry in the popular Who Was…? biography series! This accessible biography introduces the influences in Rosa Parks’ life that led her to devote her life to the cause of civil rights. Useful sidebars and timelines help kids understand both Parks’ work and the overarching progress of the Civil Rights movement. Engaging and accessible, it’s a great way to introduce middle grade readers to this inspiring figure. For more books about Parks, visit our Rosa Parks Collection.

Let It Shine: Stories of Black Women Freedom Fighters

Written by: Andrea Davis Pinkney
Illustrated by: Stephen Alcorn
Recommended Age: 8 – 12


Ten women who contributed to the fight for equal rights, from Sojourner Truth and Harriet Tubman during the time of slavery to Rosa Parks and Fannie Hamer during the Civil Rights era, each get their own profile in this inspiring book. Andrea Davis Pinkney’s text bursts with admiration for these dedicated campaigners for abolition, desegregation, and women’s rights, while her use of colloquialisms and vivid description will have kids flipping the pages to find out what happens. Each profile is accented by a dramatic, stylized portrait from Alcorn. This lively book will bring history to life for young readers.

Voice of Freedom: Fannie Lou Hamer, The Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement

Written by: Carole Boston Weatherford
Illustrated by: Ekua Holmes
Recommended Age: 9 – 12


“I am sick and tired of being sick and tired”, Hamer once famously proclaimed, and that sentiment drove her to be a champion of civil rights for over two decades. Her booming oratorical voice and her signature song “This Little Light of Mine” became a key part of the movement, including the Freedom Summer of 1964; her speech at the Democratic National Convention aired on national news despite interference from President Johnson and spurred people to action. Told in the first person, this book’s lyrical text and collage illustrations depict the perseverance and courage of this heroic woman.

Little Rock Girl 1957: How A Photograph Changed the Fight for Integration

Written by: Shelley Tougas
Recommended Age: 9 – 12


When the Little Rock Nine defied their state’s governor to integrate Central High, Elizabeth Eckford didn’t get the message to meet the group — so she faced entering the school alone. A local photographer snapped an iconic photograph of a girl jeering at Elizabeth as she stoically walked through the protesting crowd, and that photograph focused the world’s attention — and disapproval — on Little Rock’s resistance to desegregation. Shelley Tougas’ tale of determination and bravery ends with an important postscript to the story: decades later, Elizabeth and Hazel Bryan Massery, the screaming girl in the picture, met and achieved a reconciliation. Touching and heartwrenching, this book captures the power of a single person’s photograph to bring change.

Rosa Parks: My Story

Recommended Age: 9 – 13


Tweens can learn Rosa Parks’ story in her own words in this compelling autobiography! Parks’ word provide a fresh take on both her famous act of defiance on a Montgomery bus and the many other contributions she made to the Civil Rights movement. In her stirring story, she tells of a childhood listening warily for members of the Ku Klux Klan in the night; time as a secretary for the NAACP; and the experience of becoming a symbol to a nation-wide movement. This book provides a more complex picture of both Parks herself and of the Civil Rights movement as a whole. For more resources about Parks, visit our Rosa Parks Collection.

The Voice That Challenged A Nation: Marian Anderson and the Struggle for Equal Rights

Written by: Russell Freedman
Recommended Age: 9 and up


Marian Anderson never intended to become a symbol of equal rights; she just knew that she had to sing. But in the 1920s and 1930s, social constraints limited the careers of black performers. Anderson’s voice, though, could not be silenced and she achieved international acclaim despite segregation in the arts. But thanks to the help of influential admirers — including Eleanor Roosevelt — her landmark concert at the Lincoln Memorial in 1939 signaled a change for this history of art. This well-researched and expertly told book includes a bibliography, a discography, and an excellent examination of the cultural and social context of Anderson’s life turned her into a civil rights icon.

Claudette Colvin: Twice Towards Justice

Written by: Phillip M Hoose
Recommended Age: 10 and up


Nine months before Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, fifteen-year-old Claudette Colvin did the same — but instead rather than receiving support, she found herself shunned by classmates and dismissed by community leaders. And yet she remained determined to effect change, and a year later, she challenged Jim Crow laws again by becoming one of the key plaintiffs in Browder vs. Gayle, a landmark court case. This National Book Award winner shines a light on an important but little-known figure from Civil Rights history.

Turning 15 On The Road To Freedom: My Story of the Selma Voting Rights March

Recommended Age: 12 and up


Lynda Lowery was the youngest marcher in the 1965 Selma protest, but her youth never protected her; she had been arrested eleven times, and sent to jail nine times, before her fifteenth birthday. This gripping memoir captures the experience of being a teenage protester in Selma, from the constant threats of violence to the inhumane “sweatbox” steel cell where she and twenty other girls were imprisoned until they all passed out. And yet, Lowery’s memoir is one of home and optimism: while she doesn’t shy away from the realities of what protesters faced, she highlights that she suffered these ordeals in order to change American history for the better.

Warriors Don’t Cry: A Searing Memoir of the Battle to Integrate Little Rock’s Central High

Recommended Age: 12 and up


Melba Patillo turned sixteen in 1957, the same year that she became an unwitting warrior for desegregation. As one of the Little Rock Nine, she faced a firestorm of opposition as she entered the previously all-white Central High. In a harrowing ordeal, Melba faced everything from taunts to threats to an attack with acid that injured her eyes, but she never gave up her courage or her dignity. “Searing” is exactly the right description this affecting story of friendship, faith, and personal commitment.

FIGHTING FOR JUSTICE: HISTORICAL FICTION

In order to understand the impact the Civil Rights Movement has had on American history, kids need to learn what life was like before these hard-fought changes. These works of historical fiction depict life during segregation, as well as the fierce resistance that civil rights campaigners and groundbreakers faced every day.

When Grandmama Sings

Written by: Margaree King Mitchell
Illustrated by: James Ransome
Recommended Age: 4 – 8


Belle is looking forward to an exciting summer: Grandmama Coles is touring the South with a swing jazz band, and Belle gets to come! But while the places she visits are new, some things are just the same… like the segregation Belle and Grandmama face at every stop. When Grandmama sings, though, everyone comes to listen, and Grandmama says she can see a day when people are united all the time. “That’s the kind of world I want for you,” she tells Belle. This book doesn’t shy away from the realities of segregation, but the optimistic tone highlights the power of art to bring people together.

Freedom On The Menu: The Greensboro Sit-Ins

Recommended Age: 5 – 8


When Connie and her mother go shopping at Woolworth’s, they can have a soda as a treat — but they have to drink them standing up, since African Americans aren’t allowed at the lunch counter. In fact, all over town there are signs telling Connie where she can’t go. Then, one day, her father says that Dr. King is coming to town, and soon Connie gets to see her older brother and sister joining the sit-in protests, in hopes that someday, anyone can sit down where they please. Carole Weatherford perfectly captures a child’s perspective, but still conveys an important message about the power of peaceful protest.

The Other Side

Written by: Jacqueline Woodson
Illustrated by: E. B. Lewis
Recommended Age: 5 – 8


Clover’s mother has always warned her against crossing the fence to the side of town where the white people live. But when she’s intrigued by Anna, her free-spirited white neighbor, the two girls come up with the perfect solution: neither of them has to cross the fence if both of them sit on top of it. Soon, all the children are gathering to play together, resting on top of the fence, and agreeing that “Someday somebody’s going to come along and knock this old fence down.” This poetic story celebrates the power of children to look past prejudice.

A Sweet Smell of Roses

Written by: Angela Johnson
Illustrated by: Eric Velasquez
Recommended Age: 5 – 8


A little girl and her sister sneak out of the house, down the street to where men and women are gathering for a protest march. In the air is the sweet smell of roses; in their minds, the sweet hope of justice and equality. Inspired by the many children who also participated in protests and marches, Johnson has written a poetic tribute to the spirit of optimism that pervaded the Civil Rights movement, perfectly accented with Velasquez’ charcoal illustrations, where small pops of color illuminate key details like the ribbon on a teddy bear, the roses, and the American flag.

Lillian’s Right To Vote: A Celebration of the Voting Rights Act of 1965

Written by: Jonah Winter
Illustrated by: Shane W. Evans
Recommended Age: 5 – 9


Today is election day, and nothing — not even the steep hill she has to climb to get to the polling station — will keep 100-year-old Lillian from placing her ballot. As she walks, she remembers the path through history that resulting in her path to the polls: her great-grandfather, voting for the first time after the passage of the Fifteenth Amendment; her parents, trying and failing to register to vote; and her own participation, many years ago, in a protest march from Selma to Montgomery. This vivid story of one woman’s determination provides an apt metaphor for the determination of those who fought for equal rights for all.

New Shoes

Written by: Susan Meyer
Illustrated by: Eric Velasquez
Recommended Age: 5 – 9


Ella Mae is excited when she outgrows her hand-me-down shoes — for the first time, she’ll get a new pair of her very own! But when they go to the shoe store, Ella Mae and her mother discover the shop owner only allows white people to buy. Determined to fight back, Ella Mae and her friend Charlotte create their own business, gathering used shoes and repairing and polishing them to perfection. And at their shoe sale, the African American members of their community get to “try on all the shoes they want.” This story provides an introduction to the concept of segregation, but also a powerful message of optimism.

White Socks Only

Written by: Evelyn Coleman
Illustrated by: Tyrone Geter
Recommended Age: 5 – 9


In this story-within-a-story, a granddaughter listens raptly as her grandmother tells her a tale of the segregated South. As a child, she saw a water fountain labelled with a sign reading “Whites only.” Innocently, she misinterpreted the sign to mean that she could only drink if she stood at the fountain in her white socks, so she kicked off her shoes… only to get pulled away by an angry white man, threatening to whip her. However, the African American adults nearby rallied to her aid, one by one kicking off their own shoes and taking their own deep drinks from the fountain. The depiction of segregation in this story is simplified to make it more accessible to young readers, but the message is clear: judging people by the color of their skin is as silly as judging them by the color of their socks.

Ruth and The Green Book

Written by: Calvin Alexander Ramsey
Illustrated by: Floyd Cooper
Recommended Age: 6 – 9


After lots of hard work, Ruth’s family have bought a car! Now they can take an adventurous journey from their home in Chicago to grandma’s home in Alabama. But the roadtrip becomes more difficult than they expected when they discover that many gas stations, hotels, and restaurants won’t serve black people. Fortunately, a kind gas station attendant introduces them to The Negro Motorist Green Book, a guidebook listing places across the country where their family will be welcomed. With The Green Book in Ruth’s hands, the family can finally look forward to the joyful reunion. This fascinating and little-known piece of history makes a unique subject for a picture book; an endnote includes more information about The Green Book.

Ruby Lee and Me

Written by: Shannon Hitchcock
Recommended Age: 8 – 12


There’s talk in town about the new sixth-grade teacher at Shady Creek. Word is spreading quickly — Mrs. Smyre is like no other teacher anyone has ever seen around these parts. She’s the first African American teacher. It’s 1969, and while black folks and white folks are cordial, having a black teacher at an all-white school is a strange new happening. For 12-year-old Sarah Beth, there are so many unanswered questions. What is all this talk about Freedom Riders and school integration? Why can’t she and Ruby become best friends? And who says school isn’t for anybody who wants to learn — or teach? In a world filled with uncertainty, one very special teacher shows her young students and the adults in their lives that change invites unexpected possibilities.

With The Might of Angels: The Diary of Dawnie Rae Johnson, Hadley, Virginia, 1954

Recommended Age: 8 – 12


With the Brown vs. Board of Education Supreme Court ruling, Dawnie’s world is turned upside down. Now, she has to attend a previously all-white school — alone, without her friends beside her — and face the harsh realities of angry reactions to enforced integration. Dawnie struggles to prove that she deserves the opportunity for a good education, but when her father loses his job and her brother is bullied, she questions whether it is all worth it. Fortunately, Dawnie has the determination to face these challenges head on, in hopes that others won’t face them in the future. This book from the popular Dear America historical fiction series captures the reality of what many students faced every day on the journey to school integration.

Remember: The Journey to School Integration

Written by: Toni Morrison
Recommended Age: 8 – 14


On the 50th anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education, the Supreme Court decision that ended legal school segregation, this astounding book was published in remembrance of the struggle to achieve this milestone of civil rights. Acclaimed author Toni Morrison uses archival photographs as the inspiration for a fictionalized account of the lives of children during the time of “separate but equal” schooling. By focusing on ordinary people, including children, and their roles in ending school segregation, Morrison has created a much needed reminder of the importance of this moment in American history.

Glory Be

Recommended Age: 8 and up


Glory has always looked forward to celebrating her July 4th birthday at the community pool. But in 1964, the summer she turns 12, that proves to be complicated. The town is in an uproar: Yankee “freedom people” are insisting that the pool be desegregated, and in response, the town has closed the pool “for repairs” indefinitely. As the conflict continues, and Glory comes of age, she begins to look beyond her own situation and see the closure of the pool in the context of the broader world. This memorable story captures the thoughts and feelings of a girl caught on the cusp of adulthood and facing true injustice she had never noticed before.

The Lions of Little Rock

Written by: Kristin Levine
Recommended Age: 10 – 13


It’s 1958, and twelve-year-old Marlee struggles at school, friendless and shy to the point of silence outside of her own family… until she meets Liz, the new girl at school. Fearless and determined, Liz knows just what to say to quiet the resident mean girl and to encourage Marlee to find her voice. Then, one day, Liz is gone; rumor has it that she was only passing as white. But Marlee decides that she doesn’t care: Liz is her best friend, and Marlee will do anything — even face the danger that comes with standing up against segregation — to have her friend back by her side. Heartfelt and satisfying, this story of friendship and the fight for justice will make young readers cheer.

Fire From The Rock

Written by: Sharon Draper
Recommended Age: 12 and up


12-year-old Sylvia is an honor student who is both thrilled and scared to be selected as one of the students to integrate Central High School in 1957 Little Rock. Unlike her older brother, she doesn’t want to be a hero; she just wants a chance to learn. And as the racism in Little Rock explodes — and even members of Sylvia’s own community speak out against integration — Sylvia starts to wonder if she would be better off in the black-only school, focusing on getting to college instead of changing the world. With an ending that will surprise young readers, this book is sure to prompt discussion, beginning with the question, “What would I have done?”

Tell Your Kids: Math Makes Money

Published: Jan 28, 2017

Why learning more high school math now could make kids richer later

20th Century Fox Film Corp. All rights reserved. / Courtesy Everett Collection

By

JILLIAN BERMAN

REPORTER

Parents and math teachers regularly asked by their school-aged charges whether math matters in real life may now have an answer.

In a study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research this week, Harvard Kennedy School Policy Professor Joshua Goodman took a look at what happened to students whose high schools were required in the 1980s to increase the minimum level of coursework required to graduate. What he found is that black students were more likely to increase the number of math courses they took as a result of the change in standards and that translated into higher earnings down the line.

Put simply: About 15 years after they graduated, African-American high school graduates who went to school when these changes took effect saw their average earnings increase about 10% for every extra year of math coursework. The findings may add fuel to the steady drum of education experts, policy makers and others calling for an increased focus on science and math education. “Our efforts to increase access to high-quality science and math education likely do matter for people’s life outcomes,” Goodman said.

The increase in required math courses didn’t necessarily produce rocket scientists, Goodman notes, because the extra coursework wasn’t at a particularly high level. But becoming familiar with and practicing relatively basic math skills allowed high school graduates to pursue and excel at jobs that required some level of computational knowledge, he said.

A burgeoning industry of tech companies is enabling employers to make contributions toward their employees’ student loans.

There’s other evidence indicating that having a comfort level with basic math principles can go a long way. Requiring students to take an extra math course increases the likelihood that they’ll build wealth through real estate and other assets and decreases the likelihood that they’ll experience foreclosure or become delinquent on credit card debt. “It just seems like a lot of things that many of us take for granted in life depend on being able to do some pretty basic computation,” Goodman said.

This study indicates that local policy makers can play a role in ensuring students acquire those skills, he said. White high school graduates didn’t see much of a boost in earnings as a result of the increased math requirements and Goodman speculates that’s because they were more likely to be in better-funded schools that were already going beyond their state’s updated requirements.

Still, Goodman acknowledges that the earnings boost for black students correlated with the uptick in math education may be dependent on the state of the economy. When Goodman checked in in the late 1990s and early 2000s on the earnings of black students who graduated in the late 1980s, he found that their earnings increased significantly if they took more math. But when he looked at their earnings again after the Great Recession, he saw the earnings effect disappear.

He posits two possible explanations for this. Firstly, as high school graduates get further away from their high school career, students with fewer math skills ultimately catch up. Secondly, math skills may be more desirable during different periods. The tech boom of the late 1990s and early 2000s may have meant that math skills were particularly valuable. Whereas, the more service-oriented economy of the late 2000s may put more of an emphasis on softer skills. “Some of these results may be dependent on what the labor market looks like at any moment in time,” Goodman said.

How to Teach Your Kids about the Brain

When children understand what’s happening in the brain, it can be the first step to having the power to make choices. Knowledge can be equally powerful to parents too. Knowing how the brain works means we can also understand how to respond when our children need our help.

Sometimes our brains can become overwhelmed with feelings of fear, sadness or anger, and when this happens, it’s confusing—especially to children. So giving children ways to make sense of what’s happening in their brain is important. It’s also helpful for children to have a vocabulary for their emotional experiences that others can understand. Think of it like a foreign language, and if the other people in your family speak that language too, then it’s easier to communicate with them.

So how do you start these conversations with your children, make it playful enough to keep them engaged, and simple enough for them to understand?

Here is how I teach children (and parents) how to understand the brain.

Introducing the Brain House: The Upstairs and the Downstairs

I tell children that their brains are like a house, with an upstairs and a downstairs. This idea comes from Dr. Dan Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson’s book The Whole-Brain Child and it’s a really simple way to help kids to think about what’s going on inside their head. I’ve taken this analogy one step further by talking about who lives in the house. I tell them stories about the characters who live upstairs, and the ones who live downstairs. Really, what I’m talking about are the functions of the neocortex (our thinking brain: the upstairs), and the limbic system (our feeling brain: the downstairs).

The Brain House

Who Lives Upstairs and Who Lives Downstairs?

Typically, the upstairs characters are thinkers, problem solvers, planners, emotion regulators, creatives, flexible and empathic types. I give them names like Calming Carl, Problem Solving Pete, Creative Craig and Flexible Felix

The downstairs folk are the feelers. They are very focused on keeping us safe and making sure our needs are met. Our instinct for survival originates here. These characters look out for danger, sound the alarm and make sure we are ready to fight, run or hide when we are faced with a threat. Downstairs we’ve got characters like Alerting Allie, Frightened Fred, and Big Boss Bootsy.

It doesn’t really matter what you call them, as long as you and your child know who (and what) you are talking about. You could have a go at coming up with your own names: try boys/girls names, animal names, cartoon names or completely made-up names. You might like to find characters from films or books they love, to find your unique shared language for these brain functions.

Flipping Our Lids: When ‘Downstairs’ Takes Over

Our brains work best when the upstairs and the downstairs work together. Imagine that the stairs connecting upstairs and downstairs are very busy with characters carrying messages up and down to each other.  This is what helps us make good choices, make friends and get along with other people, come up with exciting games to play, calm ourselves down and get ourselves out of sticky situations.

Sometimes, in the downstairs brain, Alerting Allie spots some danger, Frightened Fred panics and before we know where we are, Big Boss Bootsy has sounded the alarm telling your body to be prepared for danger. Big Boss Bootsy is a bossy fellow, and he shouts: “The downstairs brain is taking over now. Upstairs gang can work properly again when we are out of danger.” The downstairs brain “flips the lid” (to borrow Dan Siegel’s phrase) on the upstairs brain. This means that the stairs that normally allow the upstairs and downstairs to work together are no longer connected.

Flipping your lid

Sometimes, Flipping Our Lids Is the Safest Thing To Do

When everybody in the brain house is making noise, it’s hard for anyone to be heard. Bootsy is keeping the upstairs brain quiet so the downstairs folk can get our body ready for the danger. Boots can signal other parts of our body that need to switch on (or off). He can make our heart beat faster so we are ready to run very fast, or our muscles ready to fight as hard as we can. He can also tell parts of our body to stay very very still so we can hide from the danger. Bootsy is doing this to keep us safe.

Try asking your child to imagine when these reactions would be safest. I often try to use examples that wouldn’t actually happen (again so that children can imagine these ideas in a playful way without becoming too frightened by them). For example, what would your downstairs brain do if you met a dinosaur in the playground?

Everyone Flips Their Lids

Think of some examples to share with your child about how we can all flip our lids. Choose examples that aren’t too stressful because if you make your kids feel too anxious they may flip their lids then and there!

Here’s an example I might use:

Remember when Mummy couldn’t find the car keys and we were already late for school. Remember how I kept looking in the same place over and over again. That’s because the downstairs brain had taken over, I had flipped my lid and the upstairs, thinking part of my brain, wasn’t working properly.

When the Downstairs Brain Gets It Wrong

There might be times when we flips our lids but really we still need the upstairs gang like Problem Solving Pete, and Calming Carl to help us.

We all flip our lids, but often children flip their lids more than adults. In children’s brains, Big Boss Bootsy can get a bit over excited and press the panic button to trigger meltdowns and tantrums over very small things and that’s because the upstairs part of your child’s brain is still being built. In fact, it won’t be finished being built until the mid twenties. Sometimes, when I want to emphasize this point, I ask kids this question:

Have you ever seen your Dad or Mum lay on the floor in the supermarket screaming that they want chocolate buttons?

They often giggle, and giggling is good because it means it’s still playful, so they are still engaged and learning. I tell them parents actually like chocolate just as much as children, but adults have practiced getting Calming Carl and Problem Solving Pete to work with Big Boss Bootsy and can (sometimes) stop him from sounding the danger alarm when he doesn’t need to. It does take practice and I remind children that their brains are still building and learning from experience.

Ultimately, this is about enabling children to learn functional ways to manage big feelings, and some of that will happen from conversations about the things that went wrong.

From a Shared Language to Emotional Regulation

Once you’ve got all the characters in the brain house, you have a shared language that you can use to help your child learn how to regulate (manage) their emotions. For example, “it looks like Big Boss Bootsy might be getting ready to sound the alarm, how about seeing if Calming Carl can send a message saying ‘take some deep breaths.”

The language of the brain house also allows kids to talk more freely about their own mistakes, it’s non judgmental, playful and can be talked about as being separate (psychologists also call this ‘externalized’) from them. Imagine how hard it might be to say ‘I hit Jenny today at school’ versus “Big Boss Bootsy really flipped the lid today.” When I say this to parents, some worry that I’m giving children a free pass. “Can’t they just blame Bootsy for their misbehavior?” they ask. Ultimately, what this is about is enabling children to learn functional ways to manage big feelings, and some of that will happen from conversations about the things that went wrong. If children feel able to talk about their mistakes with you, then you have an opportunity to join your upstairs brain folk with theirs, and problem solve together. It doesn’t mean they escape consequences or shirk responsibility. It means you can ask questions like “do you think there is anything you could do to help Bootsy keep the lid on?.”

Knowing about the brain house also helps parents to think about how to respond when their child is flooded with fear, anger or sadness. Have you ever told you child to calm down when they have flipped their lid? I have. Yet what we know about the brain house is Calming Carl lives upstairs and when Bootsy’s flipped the lid, Calming Carl can’t do much to help until the lid is back on. Your child may have gone beyond the point where they can help themselves to calm down. Sometimes, parents (teachers or caregivers) have to help kids to get their lids back on, and we can do this with empathy, patience and often taking a great deal of deep breaths ourselves!

Where to Go from Here?

Don’t expect to move all the characters into the brain house and unpack on the same day; moving house takes time, and so does learning about brains. Start the conversation and revisit it. You might want to find creative ways to explore the brain house with your child.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  1. Draw the brain house and all the characters
  2. Draw a picture of what it looks like in the house when the downstairs flips the lid
  3. Find a comic, cut out and stick characters into the downstairs and the upstairs
  4. Write stories about the adventures of the characters in the brain house
  5. Use a doll’s house (or if you don’t have a doll’s house, two shoe boxes, one on top of the other works just as well) and fill it with the downstairs and upstairs characters.

If you find other creative ways to explore the brain house, I would love to hear about them.

Make it fun, make it lively, and kids won’t even realize they are learning the foundations of emotional intelligence.

 

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Hazel Harrison

Dr Hazel Harrison works as a Clinical Psychologist in England. She is passionate about finding playful and creative ways to share the science of psychology to enhance our every day lives. She also works with schools and businesses, teaching on topics relating to well-being.

When Another Child Wants to Be Friends and Yours Does Not

The New York Times

Photo

CreditiStock

Sometimes every parent needs advice. For our occasional advice column, we post readers’ questions that we know (or at least suspect) plague more than one parent. You — the readers — provide the advice: How have you made this work better in your family? I invite an expert to add to the discussion.

This quandary came via email, and concerns middle schoolers interacting with their peers — a trouble spot for many. Here’s the question:

My middle school child has been dealing with another child at school who is pursuing him — sometimes just hanging out near him, sometimes actively trying to get his attention by doing things like spraying water from the fountain at him in the hallways. My son doesn’t want to be friends, and he’s been getting in trouble for responding to the other boy in kind.

How do you help your middle schooler handle kids who are bothersome, frustrating, annoying or just not someone they want to be friends with? Sometimes, especially if that child has demonstrated some level of social awkwardness, it can feel like polite adult tactics won’t work. My son has talked to his teachers and even the vice principal and thinks the school understands that this other child is a challenge, but the situation hasn’t changed. How should I help my son respond better? Should I approach the school? I don’t want to intervene, but I’m wondering if I should.

“There are so many dynamics going on here, ” said Andrea Nair, a psychotherapist, parenting educator and the author of “Taming Tantrums.” “There’s a real disparity in maturity level at that age. ” In middle school, a child with a good amount of empathy who can understand other people, read their body language and consider what they’re thinking may be seated next to a child who is still entirely self-focused. That is part of what makes middle school interactions so tricky, she says.

As adults, we’ve had a lot of experience dealing with other people. Our children have not, and it’s tempting to want to jump in and solve the problem. Ms. Nair suggests considering what your child needs to learn to handle a situation on his own rather than just focusing on the immediate problem. Before she gets involved, “I always ask myself, am I going to help or hinder?”

With a middle schooler, she advises parents to make sure the child has tried everything before intervening. In this case, the son has approached adults at the school and now needs to have a strategy for handling the other student himself.

“Say, ‘I know this is tricky,’” she said. Let him know that everyone has trouble figuring out what to do in similar situations, and ask him to help think of ways to respond rather than to react. “A reaction is knee-jerk,” she says, and often something we regret. A response is something we have considered, that says the things we want to say.

Parents should let the child take the lead in coming up with responses, but can and should help. Most children will want to start with a nonverbal approach, because directly telling someone that you don’t want their company is hard. Children can lower their eye contact, turn their backs or look in the other direction when the other child is approaching, Ms. Nair says. If the other student begins a conversation your child doesn’t want to participate in but can’t easily physically leave (at a lunchroom table, for example), your child could respond with “mmm-hmmm” or take out a book.

If a more direct response is needed (as it may be here), help your child plan words that are appropriate to the situation. Remind him, too, says Ms. Nair, that things might get worse before they get better. “They’re likely to keep pushing and getting in your face because they’ve had a response before,” she says. “They’re expecting some kind of engagement.”

Finally, she suggests talking together about why this child might be doing these things. “There’s a difference between understanding and empathizing, and being O.K. with it,” she says. You can help your child learn that we can appreciate why someone might do something without having to like the person or the action.

How have you helped your child handle challenging middle-school social situations? Have you had to intervene with a school or even another family, and did it help?

Technology and Teen Sleep Deprivation

Independent School Management

Vol. 16 No. 2 1/24/17

PSN eletter vol15 no2 slee

For the past few years, there has been notable research on how technology (e.g., digital devices, laptops, television) disrupts student sleep patterns—and student success (or not) in school. A recent meta-analysis of 20 studies, Association Between Portable Screen-Based Media Device Access or Use and Sleep Outcomes, published by JAMA Pediatrics, sheds more light on this “major public-health concern” for students. Attention-stealing devices like televisions, computers, MP3 players, and cell phones are largely to blame.

The study, covering more than 125,000 children, determined there was a “strong and consistent association between bedtime media-device use and inadequate sleep quantity, poor sleep quality, and excessive daytime sleepiness.” Almost 90% of teens have at least one device in their bedrooms, and most use those devices in the hour before going to bed. Such children are twice as likely to not sleep enough and 40% report poor sleep quality, compared to children who have no access to those devices at bedtime. Students who had access or used media devices before bedtime were also more than twice as likely to experience excessive sleepiness in school.

According to another study from the National Sleep Foundation (NSF), 95% of those surveyed reported using electronic devices just before sleep. People under the age of 30 are the worst offenders—especially teenagers aged 13 to 18. Texting an hour before sleeping is prevalent, for example. While Baby Boomers on average read, send, or receive five texts in the hour before sleep, Gen-Zers typically text 56 times in that hour. Many students feel a sense of attachment to their phones and other digital devices, and view technology as a lifeline that they can’t live without. Unfortunately, when using such devices disrupts their sleep, this leads to anxiety, depression, and other maladies.

Another problem reported by researches is that exposure late at night to the “blue light” created by computer and other screens causes sleep-phase delay. The lit screens impact (via the retina) the portion of the brain that controls the body’s circadian cycle, sending the message that it’s not time for sleep yet. A study in the Journal of Applied Physiology suggested that performing “exciting” computer activities, like a playing a video game, may suppress melatonin production, the so-called “sleep hormone.”

The NSF recommends that teens get 8.5 to 9.25 hours of sleep every night of the week. However, the average teen gets about 7.5 hours of sleep each night; 62% of 9th–12th graders report inadequate amounts of sleep.

Sleep deprivation is of particular concern to schools. As mentioned above, research shows that a lack of sleep leads to:

  • poorer school performance (lower grades),
  • inattention,
  • negative moods,
  • health risk behaviors (e.g., substance abuse, thoughts of suicide), and
  • increased incidents of adolescent-related car accidents.

Academic leaders must be aware of these problems and educate parents about the impact of sleep deprivation on their children.

The NSF and other sleep experts make the following recommendations for parents.

  • Take technology out of the bedroom. For example, mandate that all cell phones in the house are recharged at night in a room other than the bedroom. Don’t allow a TV, laptop, or other device in a teenager’s bedroom after a certain hour.
  • Reserve the last hour before bed for nighttime rituals like brushing teeth, showering, etc. Pleasure reading is also a wonderful way to unwind as well.
  • Make your child understand that the lack of sleep can cause them to be less creative, forgetful, do poorly on assignments, and fall asleep in the classroom. Sleep deprivation has also shown to cause acne, weight gain, and other health problems.
  • Establish a consistent sleep schedule, every day of the week. Don’t let teenagers stay up late nights or “sleep in” on the weekends.
  • Make sure your child gets enough exercise. An hour of playing tennis, for example, is far better than an hour in bed playing video games.
  • Monitor your child’s schedule. Is he or she overwhelmed with school responsibilities, sports, clubs, perhaps a part-time job at the expense of sleep? Perhaps lessening the number of these activities can rectify the situation.

The dynamics around sleep, student performance, student well-being, and the student’s evening time are complex. Talk with parents to ensure that your students receive an adequate amount of quality sleep—and a better experience at your school.

Teaching Good Study Habits, Minute by Minute

Edutopia

Nobody said that raising an adolescent was easy, and schooling one is even more of a challenge! Parents are taking on a lot of school responsibility, and let’s face it — things are different than they used to be. How are parents supposed to know how to handle the homework load without some guidance?

Take studying, for example. If you are a parent of a struggling or resistant learner, you’ve probably heard more than one person suggest, “She just needs to study more.” Most kids think this means filling in a study guide or rereading a chapter. But many don’t learn by writing or reading. Their strengths lie in the visual, kinesthetic, musical, or social realm. How, then, are we to help our children develop their studying skills?

The task does not have to be daunting. In fact, it can actually be simple and effective!

Getting Started

Determine when tests will happen.

Use school websites, email, planners, etc. to help you and your adolescent pinpoint an effective way to get tests on the calendar.

Set a goal.

Work with your student to determine how many days of studying he needs, and make a session-minute goal (one minute per grade level) and a target for him to study twice daily. An eighth-grade student will set the timer for eight minutes each session, a tenth-grade student for ten minutes, and so on.

Determine the study material.

Notes, study guides, worksheets, or quizzes from the chapter or unit are all good choices. Textbooks are easily accessible, but study material from them may be difficult to identify.

Ask and answer.

Have your adolescent ask and answer her own questions, or for those of you with social students, you can join in and ask the questions. If she gets through the material before the time is up, start over!

Do it again.

Set aside the same time increment before bed, and repeat the entire exercise.

If you do the math, a sixth-grade student will study twelve minutes every day for five days, and will have put 60 minutes of no-tears studying into his pocket!

Minute-by-Minute Study Strategies

But is the question-answer strategy really the best way to study? No single way works for everybody, as each child has a different set of strengths and preferences when it comes to internalizing information. Here are some other ways to use this time (also provided as a downloadable PDF to print for your students):

1. Flashcards

Turn those questions and answers into flashcards and have your adolescent quiz herself. The simple act of flipping the cards around and putting them into piles of “mastered” and “needs practice” may be enough to keep an active kid moving. Some kids are motivated by timing themselves. Flip those flashcards around, have her read the answer, and try to reproduce the question for a bigger challenge.

2. Categorizing

Use the flashcards to organize the information by categories, put them in some kind of order, or match them up in pairs. The idea is to organize them differently each time so that your student can make more than one connection in his brain for the information.

3. Word combining

Language lovers won’t mind creating sentences with vocabulary. If the test is vocabulary-heavy, start by either writing or speaking the sentences with one word in each and then moving to two words, then three, etc.

4. Song lyrics

Ask a musical or rhythmic adolescent to take the lyrics of her favorite song and rewrite it to include as much of the required information she can. This may take multiple sessions to accomplish, but once it’s done, she can sing it over and over again.

5. Picture notes

During the study session, have a more visual adolescent draw pictures of his notes on flashcards, paper, or a whiteboard, and then describe them.

6. Talk-through

Many adolescents are highly social. If yours is, too, have her go through flashcards or a study guide and explain each aspect in as much detail as possible without reading from the printed information.

7. Picture walk

Have him use the visuals provided in the textbook, online text, worksheets, notes, etc. to explain information either out loud or in writing, depending on his preference.

8. Mnemonic devices

Have her rhyme or create sayings to help her remember information. Creating acronyms or sentences with the first letters of words can also be fun for students who like to play with language.

9. Oral visualization

Read a portion of the notes or worksheet and have your student describe what comes to mind visually.

10. Perspective talk

Talk or write about the material, pretending to be somebody or something else.

11. Superhero letter

Have a word-smart adolescent write a letter to a superhero explaining the material and why the information should be important.

Ultimately, studying comes in dozens of forms, and it’s important to help your adolescent figure out what’s going to work for him or her. Whatever her strengths, whatever his level of comfort, start there. Keep it short. Keep it simple. Keep it painless. And watch what happens when studying becomes a familiar routine — and when students see the fruits of their efforts.