Category Archives: A Dude’s Guide to Kids

Maybe The Handwriting Isn’t On The Wall After All

Our brain must understand that each possible iteration of, say, an “a” is the same, no matter how we see it written. Being able to decipher the messiness of each “a” may be more helpful in establishing that eventual representation than seeing the same result repeatedly.

The same research also notes that there could be a difference in the brains of young learners between those who only know how to print block letters (Hello! I’m mostly one of those. Long story.) and those who learn how to write in cursive.

In dysgraphia, a condition where the ability to write is impaired, sometimes after brain injury, the deficit can take on a curious form: In some people, cursive writing remains relatively unimpaired, while in others, printing does.

In alexia, or impaired reading ability, some individuals who are unable to process print can still read cursive, and vice versa — suggesting that the two writing modes activate separate brain networks and engage more cognitive resources than would be the case with a single approach.

That might not be all that much of a big deal, if it weren’t for the fact that cursive writing is disappearing as a subject being taught to the little dudes and dudettes in school. My youngest, Hyper Lad, really only had cursive for about a single year.

He had to learn the letters, try to put them together, and then was forced to write his spelling sentences in cursive each week for the rest of the year. And, really, that was it.

Now it’s years later and, because he didn’t get cursive reinforced in school and because his dad didn’t get a chance to really learn cursive his ownself, I now have to do the reading for him when it comes to cursive notes written by his oldest relatives. Annoying, but also, apparently, only the smallest of problems relating to not knowing cursive.

It turns out, the benefits of learning both handwriting and cursive will last through childhood and into adulthood. Most adults know how to type and consider it an efficient method for taking notes, certainly above using a messy handwriting. However, the very efficiency of typing could be working against adults trying to assimilate new information.

Two psychologists, Pam A. Mueller of Princeton and Daniel M. Oppenheimer of the University of California, Los Angeles, have reported that in both laboratory settings and real-world classrooms, students learn better when they take notes by hand than when they type on a keyboard. Contrary to earlier studies attributing the difference to the distracting effects of computers, the new research suggests that writing by hand allows the student to process a lecture’s contents and reframe it — a process of reflection and manipulation that can lead to better understanding and memory encoding.

All of which means . . . what?

I’m not going to say that you must emphasize handwriting in the young dudes and dudettes, but it’s looking like it might be a good idea.

Heck, even just having them handwrite the really important bits from their notes might offer a significant improvement in their ability to assimilate new information. Definitely something to think about as you sit down for your . . . erm. . . their homework come fall.

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The Handwriting On The Wall

The future of school looks a lot like a computer keyboard. . . but maybe it shouldn’t.

Right now, young dudes and dudettes in elementary school, middle school and high school mostly take notes by hand. Every parent knows the nightmare of not getting the right color composition book and having to rush back to Walmart with a sniffling child and rooting in vain amongst the dregs of the school supplies, knowing the color won’t be there and school starts tomorrow and why won’t he just be quiet and for the love of peter just take the green one because it really doesn’t make a difference.

*ahem* Yeah, I might have some issues there. Moving on.

So, most notes are taken with pencil and paper in grades k-12, but that might not last for long. And that could be a problem as life goes on.

While college students still take some notes with pen and paper, I’m seeing more and more computers or tablets on college student desks as they take notes to the clicking of keys and not the clicking of a ball-point pen. And that technophilia is moving down into the primary school years as well.

The future is wall-to-wall computers and our schools are changing to accommodate that. According to some recent research, that could be a big mistake.

Children not only learn to read more quickly when they first learn to write by hand, but they also remain better able to generate ideas and retain information. In other words, it’s not just what we write that matters — but how.

“When we write, a unique neural circuit is automatically activated,” said Stanislas Dehaene, a psychologist at the Collège de France in Paris. “There is a core recognition of the gesture in the written word, a sort of recognition by mental simulation in your brain.

Which we will discuss tomorrow when I come back with a bit more about the whole handwriting versus typing debate.

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Why It’s Always The End Of The World For Your Child

In my house, the end of the world came around with a distressing regularity.

With three young dudes growing up in the same house, being ruled over by the meanest, most horrible dictator ever to put on a pair of pants and then jump up and down on poor, defenseless boys who only wanted so very little. . .

Those poor young dudes. It must have been like living in hell. Only, the thing of it is. . . I was there. It wasn’t hell for anyone. Anyone but an adult in the vicinity.

Hello!

You’ve all seen it. Even if you’re not a parent, you’ve seen it.Pulling an ugly face is a regular occurrence for little dudes during their toddler years. And beyond, if I'm being honest.

Something happens and suddenly the world ends for a young dudette, who starts screaming and yelling and crying and throwing herself onto the floor of the grocery store and acting like the end is not only nigh, but already here and wearing spiked heels to step on her.

On a (slightly) less histrionic level, I and probably most parents in the history of history have heard just about every single variation on the phrase, “This was the worst. Evar!”

I mean, seriously. If I hear that again, I just might be the one who screams.

So, yeah. We’ve all seen this sort of thing happen. Something minor rocks the little dude’s world and he reacts like someone tried to cut off his arm and beat his puppy to death with it. (Although that might be a bit of a harsh simile. Accurate, but still harsh.)

The big question (other than, “How do I stop this? Or, barring that, make a clean get away without being caught?) is why? Why do our little dudes and dudettes react so over the top?

The easiest answer is also the one about which we can do the least. They simply have no basis for comparison. When young dudes aren’t yet six or so, they are all about existing in the now.

If it already happened, it doesn’t matter. If it will happen in the future, it doesn’t matter. Right now. That’s all that matters.

Which means that, if a child doesn’t have something right now, at this very moment, it will never happen. They will forever be deprived, just like they have always been deprived of what they want. That’s a hard thing to face, especially for tiny humans who have so little experience.

Which leads us to a second reason. Being young, they have no basis for comparison. When little J’Amelia is mean to your daughter in school, it might be the worst day of her life so far. Really. She might not be exaggerating. Oh, she will experience worse (much, much worse) later in her life, but being young, she still hasn’t enjoyed all of life’s little jokes.

Young dudettes and dudes don’t have the life experience necessary to really make a good comparison between miseries. Stubbing her toe is bad and hurts, but they can’t ask themselves if it’s anywhere near as bad as that time they broke their arm. Or cut open their thumb. Or, really, anything.

Our ability to compare allows us to realize that it’s just pain and we’ve had worse, which allows us to calm down.

And, that’s another thing. We, as adults, are supposed to be rational, thinking beings. (I’m going to be nice and say most of us are, although, in my heart of hearts, I doubt it.) The brains of young kids don’t fully mature until they’re much, much older, say, around 25 or so for boys.

Unfortunately for the ears around them, their limbic system (which controls their emotions) is fully functioning, firing on all cylinders. Toddler brains become flooded with the hormones and neurotransmitters that cause pain and anger and sorrow and all the rest, but they don’t have the cognitive skill and experience to overcome that and regain control of themselves.

Looking back, I’m not sure I was able to offer much in the way of hope for struggling parents. Other than the obvious: This, too, shall pass.

And, though you doubt it in the midst of a truly epic meltdown, it will get better. All you have to do is stay relatively calm and help your little dude through his current issue.

It’s not personal. It’s just what and who they are at the moment. Keep showing good behavior, being a good role model and talking them through their experiences so they learn the right thing and . . . everything should be fine.

I’m going to do you younger parents a favor and not even bring up the teenage years here. Mostly because I’m a signatory to the Geneva Conventions and there’s some stuff up with which no one should put.

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