Sleep to live and learn

Why good sleep is essential for health, wellbeing and even academic success.

It’s already more than half way through term one, and the heat is on for students in years 11 and 12. Assessments pile up, test times loom and the realities of senior years stress start to set in.

While we always encourage our students to do regular revision and practise, sometimes the combination of super high expectations, tougher subject content and assessments can be truly overwhelming. At these times -more than any other- maintaining good health is essential. Having regular breaks, socialising, exercising, eating well, and of course getting enough sleep are essential to health and wellbeing.

Sleep is one of the most important correlates in determining health, success, and mental wellbeing. Sleep is important for memory and learning. When we sleep our brain processes information from the day before and stores knowledge in our long-term memory. Additionally, a well-rested mind is a better functioning mind the next day; the better rested you are the better you can reason, think, remember, and process new information.

To read more about the importance of sleep especially for teenagers (https://www.psychologytoday.com/au/blog/sleep-newzzz/201901/what-modern-science-says-about-teen-sleep)

Here are some simple tips for parents, or students who may be struggling with sleep…

Create a relaxing evening routine that works for you.

This is something you should develop for yourself, we all have different needs, and it can take some time to find what really works for you.

A relaxing bath, herbal tea, journaling or stream of consciousness writing (a technique where you write any and all words that come to mind without any self-editing), a podcast, guided meditation, yoga or cool evening walk can do wonders for clearing the brain and letting it know that now is the time to relax and get ready for rest. Start by imagining what things truly make you feel relaxed and see how you can adapt them to realistic nightly additions that work for you.

Over time as these activities become habits, you will start to slip into a more regular routine with sleep. These activities will start to become triggers that let your brain know it is time to get ready for sleep.

Ban the blue!

You’ve heard it a hundred times before, but the evidence is overwhelming(https://www.sleepfoundation.org/articles/how-blue-light-affects-kids-sleep) ; avoiding any blue light from phones laptops or TVs for at least an hour before you attempt to go to sleep is ESSENTIAL to having a solid nights zzz’s.
The challenge is that our devices themselves are often used as a method of relaxation, and a way of easing stress. If we just check our calendar, our emails, or our social media accounts we can rest easy knowing all is sorted for today… right?

The trick is to try and put these worries to bed, so to speak, well before you put yourself there. Physically tick items of a paper diary, to feel the sense that you have achieved what you needed to today, or at least have scheduled a time to do them in the future. Try an app blocker and/or website blocker for social media. There are many options that allow you to block these at only certain times of day, so you can still get your social fix without it upsetting those all-important twilight hours. And try journaling to get all those worrying thoughts out of your head so it can hit the pillow lighter tonight.

While these cures may not work overnight – pun intended – with patience, practise, and most importantly self-kindness, eventually you will start to adapt to a routine of relaxation and device free evenings, allowing your body and mind to adapt a new natural rhythm towards sleep.

– Anne Gwilliam

Help Your Child Improve Their School Marks and Confidence: Adopt a Growth Mindset

A ‘growth mindset’ is the belief that abilities are developed over time, and any skill or area of knowledge can be developed with hard work and perseverance.

Improve marks and confidenceA term coined by educational psychologist Dr Carol Dweck, growth mindset contrasts to the much more common ‘fixed mindset’ where we believe that abilities, cleverness, or knowledge is innate, fixed or stuck. “I’m a maths person” or “I just can’t do art”, are examples of a fixed mindset; regardless of whether the belief seems to be positive or negative the defining feature of a fixed mindset is that you believe your abilities are fixed or unchangeable with effort.

You could think of a fixed mindset as a self-fulfilling prophesy. A child who doesn’t believe they can improve at maths has that hanging over their head in every maths class. Alternately thinking they can learn new things and ‘grow’ (growth mindset) will see them approach new information and classes with an open mind and positive attitude, setting them up for success with that new content, which in turn will reinforce the belief that they can do it.

There is strong research to back up this theory. You can read more about it here or for a longer more in depth look, access to a book by Dr Dweck herself can be found here.

Impact of a Growth Mindset InterventionThe nutshell version;

Students were taught to hold a growth mindset for maths learning. Compared to the control group they showed a significant improvement in their actual maths ability over time. To read more about how to help students with maths in particular click here.

Growth mindset is also essential for high achievers, despite currently doing well in school these kids often show the strongest fixed mindsets of all. They have been taught to believe their smartness is inherent, rather than earnt through hard work. The tragedy is that eventually everyone faces challenges and without the belief that they can improve and the resilience a growth mindset gives, they crumble under pressure.

With a growth mindset, you believe that you can improve, not that you are ‘smart’ or ‘gifted’, and in fact regardless of what level you are at or what hurdles you face, you believe you can improve and overcome.

 

Impact of Praise on Performance After a Failure

Students praised for hard work and effort (growth mindset) have been shown to persevere past failures, attempting more questions and showing more resilience than students praised on their intelligence levels alone (even if those students did better to begin with).

 So, what can we do to help students adopt a growth mindset?

1. Change your language;

As teachers, parents, or tutors we need to consider the language we use. Are we building a growth mindset, or a fixed one?

 Avoid any language that implies that skills, knowledge, and abilities are fixed.

Instead of

Try

“You’re so smart”

“Great work!”

“You are so good at science”

“Wow, you worked so well this year, great job!”

 

Encourage children to change their own language and beliefs;

Instead of

Try

“I’m just not a maths person”

“I haven’t learnt that maths yet”

“I can’t do it”

“I can’t do it yet”

 2. Encourage mistakes

Making mistakes is not only fine, but essential to the learning process. It is so common to see students (and sadly commonly girls) unable to bounce back from mistakes, being their own harshest critics and seeing every perceived ‘failure’ as evidence that they just can’t do it.

Mistakes are part of the process of learning. It is normal to make mistakes, what makes someone ‘smart’ or good at a certain skill is only that they persisted through mistakes until they had mastered the skill!

3. Challenge your own beliefs;

The simplest change we can make is in our language, and our own attitudes. Children pick up on our true beliefs and behaviours. If they see you challenge yourself, make mistakes, recover and learn, they might just do the same. The language we use to describe ourselves and our own beliefs about our abilities is so important too. Remember, it’s not that I can’t do that, I just can’t do it YET.

It can be difficult to make this radical change in thought, or help a child to change their mindset, especially after experiencing failures in the past. However, it’s this radical shift we need to adopt in society and in education to enable the next generation of learners to hold strong growth mindsets – set to learn and grow for the future. To accomplish anything!

Challenge Your Own Beliefs

Mindset works have a great tool to think about and assess your own mindset right now, try it out here.

Written by Anne Gwilliam

Balanced Life During Christmas Holidays

The Christmas Break…A Time to Study? Ho ho…No!

It’s looking a lot like Christmas… and the holidays are upon us!

When you hear of the festive holidays, you’re either one of two people. You’re thinking, “No, please get me out of here! I have work to do!” OR, you’re jingling out to your favourite Christmas carols!
If you fall into the second category – deck the halls!

If, however, you or someone you know is stressing about the work they should be getting done, then read on!

Getting a balanced life, study/life (and sometimes, a work/study/life, particularly for our older students) can be difficult. There aren’t many resources out there for primary and high school kids on how to manage time, get work done AND grow as a person during the holidays. We have some tips for you.

1) Put yourself first!
There will always be work, assignments, practice essays, homework, Christmas shifts…you name it! But to engage in all of that, you need sleep and fun to keep you motivated and energised. Don’t underestimate the significance of taking some time off to chill and just be yourself. Watching movies, spending time out with friends and catching up with family might seem like guilty pleasures during the busy year, but these Christmas holidays are a time when you can do all of these things and get some sleep, and reward yourself for a year of hard work!

2) Break things down
A snowman doesn’t come in one piece – he’s built up in three smaller steps, and then you need to find buttons for his eyes, a carrot for his nose, and maybe even a Christmas hat!
That’s a lot like what your Christmas study should look like. It’s fine to keep your brain active, and do a little revision (especially for our HSC students)! Plan out your study and your work. These holidays, you should be making LOTS of time for fun and sleep, so factor these into your calendar. How about a couple of hours of work or study a week? Sound fair?

3) Work smarter, not harder
There’s lots of ways to keep learning while you take time out to focus on yourself and those you love. Summer sports, reading and travelling are all rewarding ways to meet new people, have new cultural experiences and learn a whole heap of things to get you ready for the adventures that await in 2018! Don’t feel guilty to spend some resources and time on something that is important to you – whether it’s refreshing your library or catching that plane to a snowy Christmas! From painting to learning a new instrument or language, almost any hobby can really be thought of as ‘study’, as long as you’re learning new skills!

So, what’s the overall answer to positive study/life balance? The key word is balance! Your academics and your work are definitely important. But life encompasses so much more than that, and if you’re not going to explore and spend time with the important people and experiences in your life during the holidays, when will you? The Christmas holidays are a time when you can procrastinate without guilt…so turn on those OUT OF OFFICE automated email replies, close your textbooks, and do something adventurous at least once a day!

Check out the links below to help with your Christmas crafts and your Christmas shopping!
If there’s ever a question you have about study/life balance, we’re here to help – even when Santa’s elves have gone to sleep!

Wishing you and your families a very Merry Christmas and happy holidays from Nepean Tutoring!

Family Christmas crafts: http://mumsgrapevine.com.au/2011/12/25-fabulous-christmas-crafts/
Shopping at Christmas: https://www.moneysmart.gov.au/tools-and-resources/news/12-money-tips-for-christmas

Student Resilience and Anxiety Disorders

There has been a great deal of discussion in 21st century education, especially in the past few years, about the importance of resilience for success in school. Glazed-eyed students study their fingernails for many an hour in Life Skills lessons in junior high school, and later attend – often with sighs – a variety of seminars focused on building their skills to ‘bounce back’ from the pressures of senior high school and university. But despite this, feedback from teachers and schools continues to portray the reality that students are not coping well with the stress, deadlines and steep learning curves now associated with study, as we move through the Information Age (and beyond). According to Youth Beyond Blue, “One in fourteen young Australians (6.9%) aged 4-17 experienced an anxiety disorder in 2015. This is equivalent to approximately 278,000 young people.”

Student ResilienceAustralian higher education rates have also been falling. According to studies within the last couple of years, a quarter of students fail to complete their Year 12 certificate, and as per the Sydney Morning Herald’s 2016 report, ‘NSW Universities: Decade of drop-outs prompts warning from Simon Birmingham’, “Up to one in five students now drop out of university, according to figures released by the federal Department of Education.”

But is dropping out of school the positive ‘way out’ to avoid stressful situations that will most likely reappear in the workplace? Is it the only option?

These are some alarming statistics. Perhaps somewhere between learning about resilience and practicing resilience, students are finding themselves overwhelmed by challenges and a lack of real skills and support to begin ‘just doing it’. So, how can modern students practice resilience?

Firstly, what does this concept mean? A Harvard study defines resilience as being, ‘…the ability to recover from setbacks, adapt well to change, and keep going in the face of adversity.’

This could not be more important for our students today. Let’s break this down into practical strategies rather than sticking to definitions and conceptual discussion.

1. Recovering from setbacks
Learning is an experience. A commonly heard phrase in classrooms and ad campaigns today is: ‘you are not a mark or a number’. This is true, and it is vital that students believe and understand this. Teachers, tutors and markers know that students are real people on a learning journey, bringing with them valuable, unique ideas and approaches. These teachers, tutors and markers are there to assist each student with their educational experience, but sometimes, it comes down to the individual effort and dedication of students to accept this help, learn from feedback and seek advice from available resources. One bad mark, or one exam that did not go to plan, can mean failure – or growth. If students build up a support network of family, friends, teachers or tutors and resources to consult when things don’t go to plan, failures can quickly be converted into another step forward on their learning journey.

2. Adapt well to change
Gone are the days when students competed to get into one stable job at the entry-level of their career path and stayed on that path until retirement. Now, career-switching is common and education and work settings are constantly undergoing change. There is also flexibility associated with this – new hours of work, a variety of qualifications that will get you where you want to go. Exams are moving from paper to laptop screens, as marking already has.

Resilience is adapting to change.
A well-known proverb states, “When you can’t change the direction of the wind, adjust your sails.” If a study technique didn’t work this time around, students should change the way they study for their next exam and utilise those around them for advice – teachers and tutors can suggest new approaches, such as flashcards, handwriting notes, or voice recording important themes and concepts. If a subject at school isn’t enjoyable, students should attempt to figure out why, and address their specific dissatisfactions, rather than resorting too rashly to dropping out of the subject, or school altogether.

3. Keep going
Most importantly, keep going! The best way to do this is to set goals. In a modern world with an overwhelming amount of information and demand for splitting one’s attention between hundreds of tasks each week, setting SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely) goals to break down larger tasks and projects can provide a way of coping with challenges. At Nepean Tutoring, our consistent message to our students is not to give up, and goal-setting decreases the lack of motivation or feeling of “but I can’t do it!” that often crops up when things get too busy or stressful.

Just do it. If it fails, try and try again…differently each time.

That is resilience and learning.

Fostering Creativity in Children

I always believed that creativity was an inborn talent that children either do or do not have. However, just as all children’s intelligence are not equal, all children are not equally creative unless they are provided with the right environment for creativity to flourish.

During my early years of life, my creativity was limited. Under the Australian educational curriculum, ‘creative thinking’ was not a subject. However, as my experience as a teacher developed; I began to learn that creativity was a key component of health and happiness, and a core skill to practice with children. Creativity is not limited to artistic and musical expression—it is also essential for science, math, and even social and emotional intelligence.

Many researchers believe we have fundamentally changed the experience of childhood in such a way that impairs creative development. More importantly, studies have enabled us to discover various ways to strengthen and nurture your child’s creativity.

Create creative spaces

A creative atmosphere empowers children to ‘think outside the box’ and generate different ideas. For example; at dinnertime or whilst watching television, you can brainstorm activities that the children have never done before for the upcoming weekend or let them freely make up a story using their imagination. The focus of creative activities around the home or school should be a distinct process of generating versus evaluating new ideas.

Provide creative resources

The key component of creative resources is time. Children need plenty of time for unstructured, child directed, imaginative play – combined with adult supervision and guidance. Additionally, a specific location and plenty of supplies including art, written and construction materials can foster creativity thinking. Without a set direction, resources and space – expect creative messes everywhere.

Freedom and Autonomy

Don’t be a boss. It’s difficult for a parent to not fear anything and everything that the world has to confront their child with. However, the external constraints – making them colour within the lines, so to speak – can reduce flexibility in thinking. Parents and educators need to enable children the freedom and autonomy to explore their ideas and do what they want (in a safe and fun way). For example: If your child wants to walk to school like their friends do or go to a party like everyone else in the grade – ask your child ways they can think of that can help reduce any unsafe behavior, which in turn can spark interesting ideas and discussions.

Don’t reward

The concept of rewarding your child for exhibiting creativity interferes with the creative process. It can reduce the quality of their responses and flexibility of their thought. Enable your child to intrinsically be motivated rather than trying to motivate them with incentives. For example; Instead of rewarding your child for practicing piano, allow her to choose what she enjoys – maybe sit with her and draw or ask her what she would love to do – it could be anything; from sport to taking an English tutoring.

Encourage divergent thinking

Divergent thought centers on the concept of the thought process used to generate creative ideas by exploring many possible solutions. It focuses on finding more than one route to a solution – alternate possibilities to any challenge.
You can use divergent thinking in any area of life; whether it be a mathematical problem or the decision to move to a different school. By discussing the pro’s and con’s, alternate answers to a problem and understanding how to re program your thought process – you strive to achieve a clearer, more creative way of living.