Monday, February 19, 2018

Before School Exercise to Build Bodies and Minds

We all know that exercise is good for kids. But we often think about opportunities for exercise as something that happens after school or on weekends. A growing national (and now international) program, now in about 3,000 schools, BOKS (Build Our Kids' Success), changes that paradigm with a before-school program of exercise, activity, and skill-building that has been shown to improve both the physical and mental health of the children who participate.

Training from BOKS, an affiliate of the non-profit Reebok Foundation, is free and the start-up costs for schools (things like balls, jump ropes, and cones) are minimal. Trainings take place at several locations around the country or ,virtually, anywhere they are desired.

According the BOKS website, a typical one hour before-school session starts with check-in and free play. There is then a brief review of the lesson plan for the day and the "skill of the week". Next will generally come a running activity, which is a key part of every session, followed by practice of specific skills (things like push-ups or squats) through game playing. Classes end with a game designed to promote teamwork, and then the students stretch and cool down and discuss nutrition tips with the trainer.

While this all sounds like fun, the most impressive part of the program is the impact it has on the physical and emotional well-being of the children who participate. As noted in a recent piece in The New York Times, researchers looked at 707 students in 24 Massachusetts schools, ranging from kindergarten through eighth grade. They all participated in a BOKS program for 12 weeks - some students twice a week and some three times weekly. The study found  that both the two and three times per week participants showed improvement in student engagement, positive affect, and vitality/energy measures. Changes in body mass index (BMI) were apparent in those students participating three times weekly, but not those who participated only twice each week.

If you are interested in implementing the BOKS program in your child's school, you can find the information to do so on the BOKS website.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Dealing with Bullying in NYC Public Schools

We have written before about a number of issues relating to bullying:

and even about when kids are bullying -- or at least manipulating -- their parents.

To add to these resources, we have recently come across a very detailed and practical guide to policies and practices relating to bullying in the New York City Public Schools, prepared by Advocates for Children of New York (AFC), a wonderful nonprofit resource for New York City families. 

AFC’s Guide to Preventing & Addressing Bullying was issued in December 2017 and includes specific procedures, links, and telephone numbers that can be used when children and families are struggling with bullying. Also included in the Guide are discussions about what constitutes bullying, what happens once a complaint is filed, and how bullying can be prevented.

This is a worthwhile reference for every public school family in New York City. .

Monday, February 5, 2018

New Research on Emotional Regulation and Academic Achievement

A new study was recently published that broadens our understanding of how emotions relate to academic achievement. It’s old news that emotions play a role in students’ achievement and school functioning, but this study uses a different lens by looking specifically at emotional regulation rather than simply positive or negative feelings in students.

Here at The Yellin Center, we see a lot of students who are having trouble regulating their feelings and their behaviors. This incredibly complex skill is not often taught explicitly; rather, we learn it by observing others and experimenting with our actions over the years. Kwon, Hanrahan, and Kupzyk, the authors of the 2017 study, looked at how emotional expression and emotional regulation related to academic functioning. Emotional regulation is your ability to effectively process incoming emotions and modulate how you handle them and how you express them. It is very closely related to attention and behavioral regulation – your ability to inhibit or engage in certain behaviors. Not surprisingly, behavioral regulation is a common concern in classrooms, especially for students who have difficulty paying attention. The combination of attentional control, behavioral regulation, and emotional regulation can be called effortful control.

Prior research has already set the stage for the importance of effortful control and emotional regulation in younger students; the current study took it further by looking at older elementary students. Effortful control in our youngest students – preschoolers – is positively related to early literacy skills. In other words, young children who are more capable of processing their emotions and regulating themselves have higher literacy skills. Kindergartners with higher emotional regulation skills have higher literacy and math skills. Elementary students with better emotional regulation were more able to attend to academic tasks. This isn’t surprising, considering how easy it is for our emotions to take up a lot of our limited brain space, or attention, and distract us from tasks.

The newest data support the notion that emotional regulation affects academic engagement which, in turn, affects academic functioning (e.g., achievement on standardized tests, teacher ratings of engagement). The authors point out that our emotions affect how well we are able to “allocate and utilize cognitive resources and skills” including those necessary for learning. Poor regulation of emotions, wherein our feelings may flood our mind, could lead to avoidance of academic tasks.

There are two important implications of this research. First, it reminds us that just as negative emotions and poor emotional regulation might affect achievement in a negative way, positive emotions and effective regulation are actually related to higher achievement. This means that rather than always placing a focus on targeting students with poor emotionality and trying to decrease sadness or anger, we should also remember to invest some resources into increasing happiness and exuberance. Second, it may be beneficial to directly teach students the skills necessary for effective effortful control, including emotional regulation. While many students develop these skills independently, there are many others who experience significant difficulty in school because they are expected to be able to control their behaviors, attention, and emotional expression without ever having been explicitly taught how to do so, and without being given room to practice without facing negative consequences.

Kwon, K., Hanrahan, A.R., & Kupzyk, K.A. (2017). Emotional expressivity and emotion regulating: Relation to academic functioning among elementary school children. School Psychology Quarterly, 32(1), 75-88.