Friday, January 12, 2018

How Much Sleep Do We Need?

Over the years, we've written about sleep countless times. But one question that many families who come to The Yellin Center ask is just how much sleep is appropriate for students at different ages.

The National Sleep Foundation recently put together an expert panel, consisting of members of the American Academy of Pediatrics and 11 other groups, as well as half a dozen individual sleep experts. The panel reviewed existing literature and came up with recommendations for various age groups as follows:
  • Newborns (0-3 months)             14-17 hours per day
  • Infants (4-11 months)                12-15 hours
  • Toddlers (1-2 years)                   11-14 hours
  • Preschoolers (3-5 years)            10-13 hours
  • School age (6-13 years)               9-11 hours
  • Teenagers (14-17 years)               8-10 hours
  • Adults (18-64 years)                     7-9 hours
  • Older adults (65 years +)              7-8 hours
The panel noted, "Importantly, ... some individuals might sleep longer or shorter than the recommended times with no adverse effects. However, individuals with sleep durations far outside the normal range may be engaging in volitional sleep restriction or have serious health problems. An individual who intentionally restricts sleep over a prolonged period may be compromising his or her health and well-being."

There are variations in how much sleep children and adults need to thrive. But if your child -- or you -- is consistently sleeping outside these general guidelines, it could have an impact on learning and health, or be a symptom of an underlying medical issue. In either case, it is worth discussing with your physician. 

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World

Last year, we wrote about research supporting a way to manage emails while managing stress. Tending to our internal needs while interacting with the external world has become a particularly challenging and important task as technology has increasingly saturated our daily realities. With smartphones vibrating in our pockets, lighting up next to our beds, and dinging at us from our desks, it can be easy to feel as if we are owned by technology rather than vice versa.

With so many distractors competing for our attention, and with attention being so vital for completing the tasks consistent with our goals and desires, we find ourselves in a historically unique predicament. Of course, while there wasn’t Facebook to check or text messages to respond to in the past, distraction was always a part of life. For example, one of our oldest ancestors might have been foraging for food when suddenly there was a rustle in the trees signaling a nearby predator. This would trigger a shift in focus away from the original goal (finding food) to a more pressing need for survival (escaping the predator). Illustrated in this example is that distractibility can actually be adaptive, which is precisely the reason it evolved. It is therefore important to remember that the key to optimal attention is not to avoid or somehow rid of distractibility, but to modulate our focus in the best way.

Authors Adam Gazzaley and Larry D. Rosen emphasize this in their book The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World. They present a wealth of interesting research regarding the brain, its cognitive feats and limitations when it comes to attention, our behaviors as they relate to focus and distractibility, and the impact of constantly shifting our attention as technology beckons. Finally, they suggest ways to take control and maximize your productivity and general well-being in the face of so much technological buzzing.

We appreciate and recommend this book, not just as professionals who work with many students struggling with attention, but as imperfect, self-reflective people who are always looking to understand ourselves better and improve the allocation of our own attentional resources. Perhaps you can challenge yourself to put the smartphone down and give it a read!

Friday, January 5, 2018


It's early January, and most of us are still working on our New Year's resolutions. Even if most of these promises to ourselves won't last the month, there is one easy fix for making life easier that might just stick longer - perhaps even permanently. 

Whether you are a harried parent, an educator, or a student, a simple white board can bring big benefits in helping to keep track of everything from shopping lists, to homework, to important dates. The key to making a white board an effective tool is size - the bigger the better - and prominence. Tucking your white board behind a door or in a corner will not be anywhere near as helpful as putting a large board of at least two or three feet in diameter smack in the middle of your room, your classroom, your office, or your kitchen.

You don't even have to have an actual board. There are now whiteboard or dry erase paints, that can transform any wall area to a white board. But you do need to keep erasable markers in a variety of colors (the better to catch your attention) nearby, as well as an eraser. And some boards are also magnetized, so magnetic clips will allow you to post fliers and reminders. Just don't overcrowd your board so that reminders get lost in the clutter.
It should draw your eye to its reminders and messages every time you pass by. And what if you don't really want to have everyone see that you have a doctor's appointment next Thursday? Use initials or other abbreviations that mean something to you but can still keep your essential information private.

What about electronic reminders and calendars? Aren't they more helpful? They are helpful and can be lifesavers for folks on the go. But the whiteboard is not intended to replace them, only to supplement them. Further, a whiteboard  can be seen by everyone in your household, so they are terrific for  such reminders as "Thursday is recycling pickup" or "Turn down the heat before you leave for the day".

Some other uses we recommend for the students with whom we work include:
  • Use a whiteboard to create a timeline for homework tasks, setting out when these will be done 
  • Create a checklist of tasks to accomplish each day, or each week. Cross off each assignment or responsibility when it is completed. For students who have difficulty breaking large tasks into their component parts and having a sense of accomplishing each step in the process, this visual reminder of progress can be extremely valuable
  • Putting "to bring" lists out in the open for each student in the family (and for parents, too) can help family members remind one another about things to take with them when leaving for the day. "Joe, did you bring your sneakers for gym?" "Mom, I need my permission slip signed. Did you give it back to me?" 
Our whiteboard has the message "Blog on Friday" written at the top. We can cross it off now ... and hope that our reminder has been helpful to you too.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Scratch Programming and Community

More than 23 million users sharing almost 28 million projects gives some small idea of the popularity of Scratch, which describes itself as "a programming language and an online community where children can program and share interactive media such as stories, games, and animation with people from all over the world."

A project of the Lifelong Kindergarten group at the MIT Media Lab, Scratch was recently celebrated in Ed., the Magazine of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, on the occasion of Scratch's 10th anniversary. When children were asked to share what they would tell a friend about Scratch, the top 10 responses included such terms as "excitement", "imagination", and "possibilities".

The developers of Scratch aim to help children -- generally from ages 8 to 16, although there is a version for younger children, ages 5-7, available as a free app called ScratchJr. -- "think creatively, work collaboratively, and reason systematically." There is no charge to use Scratch.

In addition to information for parents about Scratch, to enable them to understand how it works and to explain the guidelines of the Scratch community, the folks at the Harvard Graduate School of Education have created an online community for educators, ScratchEd, to enable them to share resources and stories. Scratch is a resource worth checking out.