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Right Brain Learning
Many people learn well through their sense of sight. They can watch someone do something and then can duplicate the task with practice. Other people learn well through their sense of hearing, by listening to the instructions. Most people tend to learn best through a combination of their senses including those of seeing, hearing and doing. Doing is kin-esthetic or our sense of feeling. Other learning moments rely strongly on taste and smell such as when someone is striving to be a chef. For most of us, it is the feeling/doing experience that helps us to truly integrate new information and skills. Once we actively participate in whatever we are learning we progress more easily.
Many years ago I worked as an adapted P.E. Teacher in San Diego, California. Some of my students were “severely emotionally disturbed.” I remember one eight year old boy who was unable to write his name. His teacher didn’t know how to help him succeed since all of his previous efforts had failed. One day, I wrote the boy’s name upon the ground with chalk in great big letters. I asked him to walk on top of each letter, tracing them with his body movement. Each time he did, I asked him to say the letter. After this experience he knew how to spell his name. He simply needed to integrate this information kin-esthetically. He was relaxed and having fun. This is right brain learning.
It is natural to learn through our senses. We see, hear, smell, taste and feel. These signals are received by the body before reaching the brain with conscious awareness. Children will visually study an object with great intensity. They touch things to their cheek or to their lips. They often smell or taste things. Why do infants put everything in their mouth? It is because they are learning about the world around them through their tongue. They touch and feel in much broader ways because it is natural. They learn through their senses first and then they learn how to think. We are all this way. Sensory learning is primary and logical learning is secondary. When we use more or our mind’s natural abilities for learning we have greater resources for creating successful results.
There are four parts to the learning process:
1. The teacher’s part is that of sharing the information.
2. The student’s part is to focus on what is happening.
3. The student’s part is to receive and hopefully integrate the new information.
4. The student’s part is to recall the information when needed, such as when taking a test or when useful in a real life situation.
Regarding #1, the teacher’s part of sharing information, it is interesting to note that when we are children in kindergarten we are cheerfully led to learn new things through engaging our senses. We learn our ABC’s through song, we learn the months and how many days they have through a rhyme “30 days has September, April June and November… ” We learn simple addition and subtraction by counting items such as blocks or sticks as we move them from one place to another. We are actively engaged through sensory awareness.
Some of these tactile learning skills remain through first and second grade but often by the third grade most teaching shifts from right brain teaching to left brain teaching. This means it changes from primarily sensory learning to secondary logical learning. Now we are taught to memorize the times tables, or names or dates and math is nothing more than numbers on paper. There is a better way.
Learning through right brain sensory awareness is primary.
Learning through left brain intellectual concepts is secondary.
Studies show that when children engage in right brain activities such as music or dance, they do better with left brain activities such as math and English. When we teach children through right brain approaches, they are more stimulated and excited. Rather than feeling bored they can learn in a way that is engaging and pleasing.
Let’s look at #2, the student’s ability to focus. The lack of this ability is often labeled as ADD or ADHD. I feel strongly that it is unrealistic to expect a young child to sit in a chair for many hours every day as his or her brain is fed information. Many children are given medication so that they can manage to fit into this very unnatural mold. Young animals are active and energetic naturally. Another common influence behind this problem is that of a lack of sleep. When children are tired they have to overstimulate themselves just so that they can remain awake.
Consider a young child who has spent most of his or her time at home where the environment tends to be peaceful. Even with siblings, the amount of external stimulation is limited. Now this same child is three or four or five years old and they are placed in a room with twenty or twenty-five other children. This child hasn’t any experience with learning how to block out so much external stimulation. Even if the room is quiet, many children are highly sensitive and they can feel the abundance of energy in the classroom.
Why do we expect that all children can automatically focus in the classroom when most of them have never had a chance to learn how to do so?
Right Brain and Strength of Memory
Using the following story, I’d like to build upon the idea of using sensory learning for greater integration of information and for ease of recalling the information at a later time. When we use our senses it makes it easier to recall the information when needed.
“You’re riding your bike and you see a shiny piece of quartz crystal on the ground. You stop and pick it up. You hold it up to the sunlight and you can see a small rainbow deep inside. Now you come to a large fountain with something unusual on top. The water is flowing down into 3 pools. There are pennies and coins in each pool. You make a wish and toss your piece of quartz crystal in the water. It sparkles in the water.”
* You’re riding your bike – Imagine this in your mind’s eye. Feel it. What kind of bike is it? What color is your bike?
* You see the shiny quartz crystal – What shape, size etc.
* You hold it up to the sunlight – Feel the sun shining on your face.
*You see a small rainbow inside – Describe it to me. (See it.)
* You come to a fountain with something unusual on top. What’s on top? Describe it to me. (See it)
* The water is flowing down into 3 pools of water filled with pennies and coins (See it. See the coins shimmering beneath the water. Feel the water splashing on your face.)
* Imagine making a wish and throwing your crystal in the water where is sparkles in the sunlight.
I tell this story two or three times while asking the child to be engaged through his or her imagination. Then, I ask the child to tell me the story. Most children find this is easy for them to do and they tend to be quite accurate in recalling the key elements. This is independent of how much time passes. Even weeks later, they are still able to retell the story with relative ease.
I have used the following ideas to help children learn to focus more effectively:
First, we talk about laser beams. A laser bean takes scattered electrons that randomly flow and it moves them all in one direction. Rather than being scattered the electrons form a line of energy, a laser that is powerful enough to burn a hole through steal or gentle enough to do delicate eye surgery. What started from scattered chaos becomes focused and useful.
Then we talk about how the mind is like that. It can either be scattered or it can be like a laser beam. When it’s like a laser beam, it has a lot of power. I further mention that when they are listening to their teacher or focusing on school work, that is the best time for their mind to be like a laser beam. Then we can engage in the following activity:
Laser Beam Activity
Sit directly across from the child you are helping, eye to eye when possible. Tell him or her to be like a laser beam. All they can do is to focus on you and your voice. No matter what else happens around them, they are more focused on you and what they are learning. Now retell the short story.
Next we add some external stimulation. I have another person stand behind the child who is seated. This person’s job is to be a distraction. They can talk or jump or clap etc. They continue to do this while you re-tell the story. You can give the suggestion, “No matter how much goes on around you, you focus more like a laser beam. You focus like a laser beam and nothing bothers or disturbs you.” This continues several times through and each time the level of distractions are increased. Lastly, have the child tell you the story to see how well they were able to focus on you, independent of the distractions. This process can be repeated with other stories and great results can be found when we use information that the child needs to learn for school. We can take their most challenging subject area and turn it into a successful and enjoyable experience.
Following is a real life example to show how this same sensory learning can work in more advanced learning situations for adults.
I worked with a client who was in her fifty’s when she decided to start a new career. She wanted to become an accountant. She felt overwhelmed with the amount of information she needed to learn and was greatly concerned about being able to pass her test. Now, nothing can be further away from creative influences than that of accounting and numbers, yet we were able to use right brain strengths in her learning process.
In her imagination we created a neighborhood. In the first house lived a single mother with two children. We placed the necessary tax information on the door and around the house. We threaded it into this single mother’s life. Next store was a man who worked at home. Again, we imagined this man, what he did and what tax benefits he earned for working at home. For example, “He’s allowed to write off ‘x’ percentage of his utilities” became an image of his lights throughout the house, each one displaying the number representing the allowed percentage for tax benefits. Soon we had an entire neighborhood complete with clues for most of the needed information.
I am happy to say this client past her test the first time through! She felt calm and capable throughout. The information she needed was easy to recall and instead of being stressed she had a enjoyable time.
These few examples demonstrate ways of bringing right brain, sensory processing into learning. Here are a few basic thoughts to keep in mind as you progress:
* Make the images as real as you can – feel like it is really happening.
* The sillier the image the easier it is to recall the information. (Think about the Geico gecko.)
* Connect one idea to another so that they form a storyline.
* Make up a song or a rhyme to remember the information.
* Relax and enjoy the process!
When we use more of our mind for learning, then learning is fun and easy. Relaxation and enjoyment allow for new information to be integrated and accessed far more easily. Imagine how different our educational system would be if we decided to embrace this natural way of learning! Are you ready to experience what your brain can do for you?
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