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7 Easy Ways to Make the School Year More Fun and Productive

The beginning of the school year is an exiting time. A time to get back into a routine, see friends missed over the summer, and look forward to cooler weather and a fresh start. But once the newness has worn-off, how do we keep the positive attitude and productive energy going?

People function best when they feel good physically, are well rested, and have calm, focused energy. They learn and work better when they are organized and can think and remember easily. Of course, everyone would agree with this, but in our high pressure, fast-lane society, it's hard to imagine how it might be achievable.

Here are seven everyday life ideas that can impact how we feel, function, and learn.

#1 Drink Water! Did you know that the brain is thought to be 85% water? The brain works by transmitting electro-chemical signals that control our thoughts, movements, and everything we feel or do. Since water conducts electricity, good hydration (plenty of water) supports faster transmission, which, in turn, supports faster thinking and learning. When we dehydrate our brain with soda and coffee, we make our thinking slower and less productive.

Teachers should encourage students to have water bottles at all times. And parents, get your kids in the water habit!

#2 Include Protein in Breakfast and Snacks Nutrition has an important influence on learning, attitude, motivation, and productivity. The high sugar content of many of today's breakfast choices results in fluctuating blood sugar. This can cause high energy followed by low energy and sleepiness, making it difficult to focus, learn, organize, and think. Not a good recipe for a productive morning in the classroom or at work.

White sugar and white flour are real culprits, so avoid them as much as possible. Parents, help teachers out by supplying children with a breakfast that includes some complex carbohydrates and some protein. (How about a protein shake, a breakfast burrito, or a slice of whole grain bread with peanut butter)? For snacks, think about sending a handful of nuts or a slice of cheese.

Teens are tough because they often don't like to eat in the morning, but as parents and teachers, we at least need to educate them about brain healthy choices.

A suggestion for teachers: Educate your students about how eating right can improve their grades. (You may want to educate your school lunch committee as well!)

#3 Add Movement to Your Day I had a parent of a four year old ask me what she should do to get her child ready for kindergarten. I told her to take him to the park and let him run and climb and swing. She was disappointed in my answer as she really had in mind getting him started on reading and math.

The body and brain need movement to function properly. Movement is a must for establishing a sense of self as a reference point and spatial orientation. Listening skills, visual skills, motor skills, coordination, and an understanding about the environment are all impacted by movement.

We all need exercise (adults included, and not just for the purpose of losing weight)! Movement and exercise provide energy and integration to focus, work, and learn more productively.

Short periods of homework interspersed with short play breaks that involve movement (not video/computer games!) are often much more productive than marathon homework sessions.

A few minutes of movement exercises in the classroom at transition times or during long periods can re-energize for better listening, attention, and learning.

#4 Boost the Omega-3s Researchers are reporting that dietary supplements with Omega-3 fatty acids appear to markedly improve attention, concentration, reading, spelling, and behavior, and reduce impulsiveness and hyperactivity. These “good fats” are found in fish and plants.

Researcher, Alexandra Richardson of the University of Oxford says, “…omega-3 fatty acids found in fish and seafood…are absolutely essential for brain development and function, but are often relatively lacking from modern diets in developed countries.”

You can boost your intake of omega 3s by taking fish oil capsules as a daily supplement. Nordic Naturals (nordicnaturals.com) is a well-respected, research-based company that has fish oil supplements for children, teens, and adults.

#5 Help Your Kids Get (and stay) Organized Some people love structure and routine; some thrive in organized chaos, but regardless of personal style, people need some kind of intentional organization to manage the demands and paperwork of school and work. The sooner students learn to manage their time and their “stuff” the better, but it's never too late.

Here's a place to start:
Have your child or teen purchase some kind of folder or notebook. Depending upon the specifications of classes and the student's preferences this could be one folder for each subject or one large all inclusive notebook.

There should be a tab or pocket designated for papers to be done and one for completed work to turn-in. Every student should use an assignment sheet or planner that shows both daily assignments and a calendar for long term or on-going assignments.

The key: Just purchasing organizing materials does not automatically ensure organization or use. It's a good first step, but students need to be taught how to use their materials and strategies and need to be monitored daily, then weekly until using them effectively becomes a habit.

Organization and study habits don't just happen for many students. Teachers who incorporate instruction and practice with note taking, memorizing, test study, and organizational skills into their curriculum are making a great investment in their students' success for that year and years to come.

Parents who systematically brainstorm, plan, and monitor organizational skills with their children give their children a gift that is well worth the time it takes.

#6 Up with Down Time! Children and adults today find themselves bombarded with noise, visual stimulus (TV, computers, electronic games), information, and commitments on a continual basis. Even weekends are often filled to the brim. This creates a constant stressor on our systems affecting our listening, attention, mood, ability to problem solve and follow through, and just functioning in general. Those with hearty systems may handle this with just a bit of tiredness or irritability, but for others, this constant overload may result in shutdown, meltdown, inflexibility, or a really bad mood!

When my son was little, I would pick him up from school along with his older sister and two other girls. The girls would get in the car chattering (or squabbling), and my son would cover his ears and yell at everyone to be quiet. Since this happened day after day, we began to realize that he was so overloaded from trying so hard at school all day that he just needed some quiet and down time before he could face the rest of the day. Hence the beginning of the “silent game” on our short ride home.

Providing quiet time for children allows them to rest and restore the body and mind. It allows for creativity, daydreaming, and getting to know themselves. Energy, motivation, productivity, and attention are outcomes of taking the time for down time.

Here are some suggestions from an article titled The Importance of Kids' Downtime by Dr. Laura Bradway for getting more down time in your child's life:

  • Make a stand. Cut back on at least one weekly commitment even if your child objects at first.
  • Refuse to schedule anything that conflicts with the family dinner hour. This should be a sacred time for sharing and support.
  • Limit extracurricular activities to one or two during the school year (depending on your child's age) and let your child choose the activities.
  • After school, allow your child some down time for talking on the phone with friends, having a snack, or listening to music, before homework is begun.
  • Skip the activity—a soccer game, piano lesson, etc.—when your child comes home from school tired or has a test to study for.
  • · Every once in a while, leave a weekend day free with absolutely nothing scheduled.
  • Turn off the television set and get out in nature together. Take an unhurried bike ride or hike in the woods.

Before a family vacation, allow your child plenty of time beforehand to plan and dream about it, and some time off following to reflect and remember

Dr. Lauren Bradway is the author of How to Maximize Your Child's Learning Ability . She consults online with parents regarding their child's learning style at www.helpingchildrengrow.com.

It's time to get our children off the fast track to burnout.

Even adult brains need down time to function optimally. Thomas Leonard, a long time success coach, encourages people to be incredibly selfish and take a little time each day for themselves.

Neuropsychiatrist, Dr. Daniel Amen, and Dr. Gary Small M.D. both suggest that adults take 10 minutes a day for meditation or mental relaxation exercises in order to support and balance brain function. (This is a minimum. In this case, more is better)!

# 7 Sleep ! We tend to be a sleep deprived society and often fail to connect challenges with memory, clear thinking, problem solving, and concentration with lack of sleep. Researchers and sleep specialists indicate that most school-aged kids need 10 -11 hours of sleep a night.

If your child is having behavior and attention problems at school, not enough sleep may be the culprit. Sleep specialist and author of “Sleep Thieves”, Stanley Coren, suggests that parents have their children go to bed an hour or so earlier for a week and see if their school performance changes. This is an easy way to see if sleep is part of the problem.

References / Sources for more Information :

•  Brain in the News, Amen clinic Newsletter: www.amenclinic.com

•  The Better Brain Book by David Perlmutter, M.D.

•  www.braingym.com

•  If Kids Just Came With Instruction sheets by Svea Gold

•  Smart Moves by Carla Hannaford

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