Monday, 23 April 2018

8 Steps to improve your child’s reading skills.

Children should be able to read and comprehend what they read as it is the foundation of education.

In our previous blog article “Almost 80% of South African Grade 4 pupils cannot read”, we discussed the problematic literacy rate in South Africa. We encourage you to help your children read. The benefits of reading are infinite. Your children’s future will depend on the level of literacy they have. However, reading should not feel like a punishment for them. Mary McLeod Bethune said, “The whole world opened to me when I learned to read.”

This week we want to share 8 steps to improve your child’s reading skills.

1. Read every day.

The first action you can take to improve your children’s reading abilities is to make sure they read every single day. It doesn’t have to be hours on end, but a good 20 – 30 minutes will improve their reading ability significantly. Make reading time part of their schedule, for example early in the morning when there are no other distractions yet. Otherwise, directly after dinner.

2. What should my children read?

This is sometimes a confusing question, because we might initially not know at what reading and comprehension level our children are. That’s why we need to try out all forms of literature to see what level of difficulty they can handle, what they enjoy and how fast they can read. If your children are slow readers, then start of small, with short pieces of reading material – like an article out of a magazine, poetry or a blog post (just like this one). Later on you can increase the volume by changing to short stories and novels.

3. Choose the right book.

The most important aspect of reading is your child’s interest in the topic. Of course they won’t want to read Early Modern English literature if they aren’t interested in Shakespeare. However, if they have a sports hero, let them read their biography, or if they’re interested in superhero movies, let them read the comic books. Don’t force your children to read something they don’t enjoy. Open up their world by showing them all the different kinds of books that are available. It’s important to note that the correct book must be compatible with their reading level and appropriate to their age.

4. Gradually increase the difficulty of books.

Sometimes when children are forced to read in class they get discouraged because the reading material is too difficult or they lack interest in the subject and give up too early. It is our job as parents to make sure our children doesn’t fall behind. Ask them if they are able to read the books prescribed in class. If they aren’t able to, find books that are just slightly less difficult. When you can see they become more comfortable with the reading material, increase the pace and difficulty of the books.

5. Learn to pause.

It is important to know how to read, but it is even more important to understand what you are reading. Otherwise it is just a string of senseless words. Teach your children to pause every few minutes when they are busy reading to ask a question about what the just read. This promotes understanding of the topic and the story. Children should ask themselves the following questions when they are reading:

What did I just read?
What are the most important things that happened in the last chapter?
Did anything confuse me?
Did anything surprise me?
Are there any parts I didn’t understand?

6. Check your rate per minute and practice to improve that.

The goal isn’t always to see how fast your child can read. However, as children get older their total words per minute need to increase proportionally. In the beginning of each term, do an easy reading test. Take a page of a book or an article and let your child read the page (not out loud, as it take longer to fully speak each word). Set a timer for one minute and then count the number of words your child has read in that minute. Make sure to ask questions about the text so that you know your child didn’t cheat. Remember to keep track of the amount of words per minute by writing it in a diary or journal. Next term you need to repeat the test. See how much your child’s reading skills have improved.

7. Take care of your eyes.

Our eyesight is one of our most important senses, that’s why we need to take care of our eyes. Know whether your child requires glasses or not, and that their glasses or contact lens prescription is up to date. Make sure they read in well-lit places and that they receive enough nutrients to keep their eyes healthy. This includes food that have Omega 3, zinc, vitamin C and vitamin E.

8. The apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree.

The best tip to help your child read better is to lead by example. Are you as a parent reading enough? Your children will be more likely to read if they see you always have books on your nightstand, or that you love going to a second-hand book sale.

Foster a love for reading in your children by reading to them at night. Also ask them to read to you. If you and your teenager enjoys the same books, then form a small book club where you talk about the book and the characters. Marilyn Jager Adams, a specialist in cognition and education, said the following: “Read[ing] aloud with your children is known to be the single most important activity for building the knowledge and skills they will eventually require for learning to read.” Show your child that reading will open up worlds for them and that reading a book is one of the best ways to explore and go on new adventures.

Let us know what you and your children are currently reading. On what level of reading skills are they currently and how do you encourage your children to read? We would love to hear other parents’ stories.

Monday, 16 April 2018

Almost 80% of South African Grade 4 pupils cannot read.

The importance of reading and how to find the time to practise this skill.

Recent findings of a global assessment conducted by the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) reveal that 78% of South African Grade 4 learners’ level of reading literacy in their language of learning fall below the lowest internationally-recognised standard. In other words, nearly 8 out of 10 Grade 4 learners can’t read comprehensively. The most recent quinquennial (5 year period) report, PIRLS 2016, published in 2017, also revealed that South African learners scored the lowest literacy mark out of the 50 participating countries. Researchers of the University of Pretoria’s (UP) Centre for Evaluation and Assessment (CEA) were responsible for the data on reading and literacy levels among Grade 4 and 5 students in South Africa. 12 810 Grade 4 learners were tested in all 11 languages and 5 000 Grade 5 learners in Afrikaans, English and isiZulu. Celeste Combrinck, acting director at the UP CEA says: “While less than half of the learners who wrote the tests in English and Afrikaans could read‚ 80% of those learning in one of the other nine official languages effectively cannot read at all.” Boys performed worse than girls, with 84% of boys not passing the lowest criterion compared to 72% of girls. Among all 50 participating countries, South Africa’s gender gap is second largest next to Saudi Arabia. 

Many factors play a role in these disconcerting statistics. It includes, but is not limited to demographics – such as living in remote rural areas or townships, increasing class sizes and fewer new teachers entering the system. Many learners speaking a different language than English fail to master their home language’s reading and writing skills, before switching to English around completion of grade 3 – and thus they struggle to learn and comprehend new material if their basic literacy skills are lacking. 

It is devastating to know that the vast majority of South African primary school learners can’t read. Illiteracy should be a grave concern for the future development of our youth and our country. Celeste Combrinck says that: “Being able to read is the key to academic and future success. If you can’t read‚ your opportunities in school or after school will be limited‚ which is why reading should start at a very young age.”

While we can try to find and blame the cause of these problems on demographics, the schooling system, teachers, parents, etc. it isn’t productive and it doesn’t change the statistics. Parents should be proactive and do everything they possibly can to ensure that their children learn how to read. Before we go further and address how you and your child can find the time to learn this vital skill, we want to discuss the importance of reading.

Why every child should be able to read:

1. Reading is an essential skill to function in society.

To be able to read in our modern society is not a requirement, but you won’t get very far if you can’t. Therefore it should be viewed as a compulsory skill every successful person should have. When you think about it, there are text everywhere! From road- and warning signs, to instructions on medication or machinery. It doesn’t even end there – everyone has to pay bills, fill out medical forms or other documentation at some point. These everyday activities only require very basic reading skills, but what most literate people assume as the norm can be a great frustration and burden for those who cannot read. 

2. Reading sets children up for success.

Learning how to read is a sequential process. This means that every skill builds on the proficiency of previously learned skills. When children start to learn how to read they break down a word into basic sounds. The various sounds connected to certain letters will eventually form words. Once they recognise the words when they read it, they will be able to make the association between that word and its definition. Eventually they will start to pick up on more words within a sentence and be able to read a sentence and understand its meaning. Finally they will be able to read and comprehend entire passages when they connect sentences. This accomplishment of mastering the sequential process by building the sounds to form words; words to form a sentence and sentences to form passages will boost their confidence and teach them what their minds are capable of. They will begin to understand the value of reading. They will develop a hunger for more knowledge and their minds will absorb it like a sponge. The love of learning and the inner-satisfaction it brings will ensure that they do well in school and strive to improve themselves in other aspects of their life. 

3. Reading is paramount to finding a well-paying professional job.

By being able to read, you are able to complete your school education and study at a college or university. In most cases reading is required as part of the job-performance and you have to be able to read in order to study. You can follow your dreams and build your own bright future if you care about your education. If you cannot comprehensively read, you are limited in what you can accomplish with your life. 

4. Reading develops important language and communication skills.

Young children are exposed to new words every day. They pick up new words when we speak with them, when they speak with their friends or hear us speak with others and even pick up new words on the radio or TV. However the vocabulary we use to talk to children is often limited. By reading books to young children, you expose them to even more new vocabulary and build a more solid foundation for communication. Books often contain new, unusual or interesting words. Reading not only teach young children new words, but also how language works. Reading unlocks their creativity and awakens their thought processes. Reading can improve their understanding of the world and other people; teach them morals and values. The more words children can learn, the better it will be for them in the future. Words enable us to communicate our thoughts and ideas to others. It allows us to connect on a different and even deeper level. When we read we are able to better understand other people’s opinions and thoughts.

5. Reading is exercise for the mind.

The mind should be viewed as a muscle (although anatomically speaking, your brain isn’t a muscle, but it contains a bit of muscle). Like any other muscle in your body it requires exercise in order to develop correctly and function at its best. One way that a young mind can be exercised is by learning how to read. When children are exposed to reading from an early age it improves their brain activity in specific areas that are important for language development. By developing language skills, it will also help them learn how to listen. The combination thereof plays big role in our overall communication skills. 

6. Reading strengthens concentration.

Initially when you start reading for your toddler, they might not pay any attention to what is actually going on. They might want to continually turn the pages or throw the books around. However, it is crucial that you don’t give up at that age. By reading to them every day, they will get used to it and eventually start paying attention and listen to the story. Their concentration will increase and they will be able to focus for longer periods. It will be very useful to them if they can concentrate for longer periods once they go to school and start learning.

7. Reading enables children to learn about a vast number of topics.

Fairy tales, history, nature, biology, space, science, sports, arts, culture, food and every other aspect of humanity… Different books that covers various topics can give children a lot of information and expand their knowledge. They will become more diverse and all-rounded children if they are exposed to as much topics as possible. Through reading they will begin to understand the world better; understand themselves better.

8. Reading expands children’s imagination and creativity.

Reading will allow a child’s imagination to grow. This is something truly spectacular to witness. When they read a story book, they envision what the characters look like, how they behave, how they speak etc. Children’s minds are shaping these characters according to how they interpret the words. They immerse themselves for that while in that imaginary world. Their minds are filled with excitement and wonder. You can see it in their eyes. Once they find that spark, no matter the type of books they enjoy reading, you can be certain that they can imagine just about anything! They can bring some of those wondrous ideas across into reality and use it to express themselves creatively. Their minds will be able to find solutions in unique ways – and this is by no means limited to only arts, music and literature. Mathematics, business, engineering, architecture, science, sports etc. all require a sense of creative thinking in order to move forward and come up with unique ideas that will improve those specific fields. All of this just from reading books! 

Now that we have discussed why it is important for every child to learn how to read, we want to address the matter of illiteracy in our country and how we as parents can and should do something about it! First of all, many parents aren’t always sure when, where and how to start teaching their children how to read. A lot of parents are extremely busy with their work schedules that doesn’t always allow them to spend as much time with their children. As a result, they don’t start early enough and once their children actually goes to school they shift that responsibility onto the teachers. In our next blog we will discuss how you should go about to actually teaching your children how to read. In this article however, we want to make sure that you can find the time in between a busy schedule to help them practice their reading skills. 

How to find the time to practise reading:

  1. Read early in the morning before school.
  2. Read in the evening after homework is completed.
  3. Schedule reading time in your calendar.
  4. Join a book club or start a book club with friends that enjoy the same type of books.
  5. Remind yourself to practice your speed-reading during short breaks.

“The more you read, the more things you know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” – Dr. Seuss. We hope you feel encouraged to start your reading journey right now! We believe that when the next PIRLS is published our children will have made tremendous progress and shifted the literacy figures into a positive direction. Let us know how you feel about these statistics and your thoughts on how to resolve the issue. Do any of your children have difficulty learning how to read? We would appreciate it if you share any advice on techniques that have helped with their reading skills. 

Monday, 9 April 2018

Do you need some motivation after the school recess?

10 Ways to stay motivated and determined to make this year a success.

The new term has started. Some might have been a bit idle during the school holidays and lost a little bit of their determination to work hard. We have tried to help you out with great ideas to keep your brain active during the holidays, but it is understandable to feel like you aren’t exactly ready for your busy schedule and heavy work-load. 

We are only four months into the year and now certainly isn’t the time to slack. Have you ticked off any of your New Year’s Resolutions? Are you on track with you academic performance? Is your productivity at its peak?

If you answered “no” to any of the above questions, then you are in need of some motivation. You have much to do and there and there is still plenty of time left to achieve everything you set out to do this year! 

Here are our 10 ways to stay motivated and determined to make this year a success:

1. Reorganise.

One of the best ways to regain motivation is to clear out all the clutter. Start with cleaning out your backpack and pencil case if you haven’t already done so. Throw away used papers and empty pens. If you feel like getting a brand new start sort out your whole room, and especially your study desk.

2. Rewrite your goals.

Review the goals you set up for this year. Is it still achievable and what plan can you come up with to make your goals a reality?

If you haven’t set up any goals, check out our blog article on setting goals and how to achieve it. (Blog post 1: ‘How to set New Year’s resolutions that you will actually achieve’).

3. Set up a brand new schedule.

Set up a new schedule that includes the time and dates of this term’s tests and extracurricular activities. Plan your days and know when to hand in tasks, know the test dates and when there are rugby-, netball- and hockey games. Read our blog on how to set up a schedule the right way – Post 3: ‘Four tips to help you set up a schedule for a successful school year’.

4. Focus on your health.

Make this term a commitment to stay healthy, especially since the nights are getting cooler, we don’t want you getting sick. Maintain a balanced lifestyle that includes a balanced diet and regular exercise. If you want more information on what a balanced lifestyle requires, read our blog “What should a healthy and balanced lifestyle entail?” (Blog 10).

5. Get a good night’s sleep.

Getting enough sleep is essential for growing children and teenagers. This is especially important the evening before the new term starts. Set out your clothes and pack your school bag the night before so that you don’t have any stress of being late the next morning. 

6. Surround yourself with positive people.

Surrounding yourself with a good peer group will not only elevate your mood, but also improve your marks. It is well-known in psychology that our friends and people who surround us will have an impact on our performance. If you surround yourself with people and friends that are always complaining, sooner or later you will start to complain too. The opposite is also true, if you surround yourself with positive and motivational people, you too will become motivated.

7. Escape from distractions.

You might have spent a lot of time on leisure activities and social media this holiday. However, now is the time to set your priorities straight for a successful term – that include less time spent in front of the television and more time to focus on your schoolwork.

8. Don’t forget everything you’ve learned so far.

You worked so hard the previous term. It would be a shame if all the knowledge you gained over the last couple of months are forgotten. Start to re-read through your study notes of last term – remember that each topic builds on the previous one. It’s important to maintain a good base of knowledge.

When you receive your previous tests back – go through your answers and review what you wrote. Understand why you made mistakes and if you still don’t comprehend the work, ask your teacher to explain it to you again.

9. Get excited about the new term.

“Optimism is a happiness magnet. If you stay positive, good things and good people will be drawn to you.” – Mary Lou Retton. Excitement and optimism will never fail you. If you are excited to learn something new, go to class with a positive outlook and ask questions because you genuinely want to learn and better yourself. Your brain will then start to enjoy the process of learning and studying. If you teach yourself how to be optimistic your grades will improve, because your mind believes it is having fun and want to do good. Draw in good things, good grades and good people into your life, simply by getting excited about life.

10. Aim for progress, not perfection.

Don’t worry about being perfect and getting perfect grades. The only question you need to answer is this: “Are you giving your best effort and doing better than yesterday?” If you can loudly proclaim YES, then you are on the right track! Keep going, you are doing great. The rest comes with time!

Commit yourself this new term to give your very best. Stick to your new schedule and get excited about life. “Your ability to discipline yourself to set clear goals, and then work toward them every day, will do more to guarantee your success than any other single factor.” – Brian Tracy.

Let us know how and where you will get new motivation for this term? 

Monday, 2 April 2018

10 Inexpensive, interesting and educational things to do during the school holidays.

We want children to relax during the school holidays, but we don’t want them to watch TV the entire time.

“Rest and self-care are so important. When you take time to replenish your spirit, it allows you to serve others from the overflow. You cannot serve from an empty vessel.” – Eleanor Brownn

This holiday we want every school kid to rest out well and take time to relax.  To rest and recharge is one of the key elements to your success. Well-deserved rest during the holidays is necessary for children to perform their best when school starts again. However, we don’t want children to become bored and lethargic. There are many exciting activities you can do during the holidays that will keep your mind sharp and recharge your spirit.

Here are our list of 10 inexpensive, interesting and educational things to do during the school holidays:

1. Visit a museum.

The best way to learn about the world isn’t just from reading about it in a book. Going to a museum will intrigue your senses and teach you about how we as people have developed over the years. There are many fascinating museums in South Africa you can visit. Some great South African museums include:

2. Spend time with animals.

Visit a zoo, aquarium, bird sanctuary or a nature reserve. There are many sanctuaries and bird parks across the country. Visiting one is a great way to learn about animals you might not have known about previously. If you have a camera or smart phone, take photographs of these animals and tell your friends what you have learned.

3. Make some money.

A little extra pocket money for any school kid is always a great thing! You can use it to spoil yourself on days when you need a boost. For example, learn how to bake cookies or make something with your hands. Take your product and showcase it to friends and neighbours and sell your product. Who knows, you might become a renowned business owner.

4. Explore space.

Have you ever wondered about the stars and planets? We live in a vast universe and knowledge of our world requires knowledge of our planets. The Wits Planetarium will teach you everything you need to know about the stars in a short and entertaining show. Visit their website for more information and to book your tickets.

5. Unleash your inner artist.

Recharging after a long school term by engaging in artworks and artists. Art can move you emotionally, inform you and even inspire you to be creative yourself. Our country is filled with art galleries and there are many exhibitions that take place weekly. Be on the lookout for an art exhibition near you.

6. Learn about an industry.

Are you interested in engineering, design or farming? There are many companies that have created visitors centres where you can see exactly how the company or factory operates. For example: Clover, dairy products and juice manufacturer, has opened their visitors centre in 2017. This enables people of all ages to see how the dairy industry operates. You can make a booking here.

7. Lend a helping hand.

There are never enough volunteers! When you go to your local SPCA or old age home this holiday, you will be amazed by what you can learn. At the SPCA you give dogs and cats baths and clean their sleeping areas and play with puppies and kittens. At an old age home you can read stories to the elderly and spend time getting to know them. You can simply listen to stories of their youth or to serve them food. Any help is always appreciated. 

8. Play a game.

Arcade Games or a game of putt-putt is always fun. Entrance fees to most of these games aren’t too expensive and you will be able to challenge your friends to the highest score. Arcade Games and putt-putt are great ways to practise your hand-eye-coordination, relieve stress and it is also fun to try something you don’t do every day! 

9. Learn about your family.

During the school term we tend to neglect the people we love most – our family. Make this holiday the time where you get to know your family again. Draw up a family tree, ask about the origins of you bloodline and who your great-great grandparents were. Ask your parents or search the internet to find out what your Family Coat of Arms is and which country your ancestors originally came from. This is great family time with your siblings, parents and grandparents.

10. Grow your own culinary garden.

A great way to optimise your holiday without becoming a couch potato is to grow your own vegetable or herb garden. It is a good way to spend time outdoors without leaving your house. There are many ways to grow a culinary garden. The best news is you don’t even need a big backyard. You can simply start with a couple of seeds in a pot. Learn about different plant species, how you should use or prepare it in your meals and how it can supplement your own kitchen. It’s a fun activity for the whole family. Next time you need to go out to get tomatoes you can simply walk into your garden and pluck them yourself.

Take care of yourself this holiday, try activities you have never previously thought of and fill up your soul with enriching and exciting adventures. Let us know if you have tried any of these 10 activities and whether you enjoyed it.

Monday, 26 March 2018

5 Creative ways to stimulate your brain during the holidays.

School holidays are there for rest, but that doesn’t mean your brain should be idle.

Have you ever returned from a school holiday and then it seems like you have suddenly forgot how to write – as if your hand and mind have been resting too long? This usually happens when we don’t do anything throughout the holiday that is creative and intellectually stimulating.

Albert Einstein said, “Creativity is intelligence having fun.” That’s why we want to encourage you to do something creative this holiday. Not just to avoid boredom, but to advance your intelligence even more.

Here are 5 creative ways you can stimulate your brain this holiday:

1. Puzzles.

Puzzles come in many shapes and forms. You can start with a traditional puzzle where you need to place different puzzle pieces in order to form a picture. Have you ever tried a 1000 piece puzzle? Those can get pretty tricky!

Solving a Rubik’s cube is a great brain teaser. If you want some help you can easily YouTube tutorials for formulas on how to solve a Rubik’s cube.

Sudoku is one of the oldest and greatest puzzles to stimulate your brain. It’s been proven that Sudoku teaches problem solving skills and how to think in terms of the broader picture.

2. Story books can become your best friend.

Reading a story book during the holidays will not only improve your reading skills but also stimulate your imagination. The big diffidence between watching television and reading a story, is that the movie or television show gives you every detail of the story – no imagination is involved. However, when reading a book, you have to imagine the facial expression of the character, what their voice sounds like, what kind of shoes they are wearing and even just what their house looks like. If you don’t like reading, commit yourself to start reading short stories or even poetry. It is just as fun and you will quickly run through plenty of books.

How about writing a story? Nobody really enjoys prescribed essays in Afrikaans or English, but writing your own story will open up a new world for you. You can simply sit down and start writing about your day, your dreams or a time in history you would want to travel to. You can even give poetry a try.

3. Play a game.

There are so many board games to choose from today and each of them can teach you a valuable skill. Here are a couple of board games we recommend:
Mastermind, Scrabble, Monopoly, Chess, Checkers and Jenga.

PlayStation, X-box and Computer games are just as beneficial to stimulate creativity! Hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills are developed when playing these games. It reduces stress, improves focus and teaches them problem-solving and perseverance skills. It can also improve a child’s planning and organization abilities. The most obvious positive effect that playing computer games has on children is the ability to multitask and to be adaptable in their way of thinking. We don’t advise that you spend the entire holiday playing computer games – as there are always negative consequence from too much of a good thing. 

4. Make something with your hands.

When you do arts and crafts you stimulate most of your senses and practise concentration. Try drawing, painting or making something out of clay. If you don’t feel very confident in the art class, there are many colouring books that aren’t just for pre-schoolers. You can start making something out of wood, build a treehouse or even start with robotic Legos for teenagers. Origami also requires creativity. You can create beautiful objects as gifts for friends and family. The possibilities are endless.

5. Learn how to play a musical instrument.

Playing a musical instrument has been very closely linked to intelligence. By learning to play the piano, drums or any other choice of musical instrument, you encourage your brain to perform better overall. It will become evident in most school subjects, especially analytical subjects like math and science. Learning to keep rhythm and how to play each note precisely teaches discipline and heightens your cognitive brain activity. It can also be very fun to play along with your musical friends.

For more information on the correlation between playing a musical instrument and math skills, read the following article by ‘Does Music Give You Math Skills? It's a Tricky Equation’.

We believe these are great ways to help keep your mind active and fresh during this short school holiday. Let us know if you play any of these games, write stories (or even poetry). Send us a photo of your completed puzzle or artwork! We would love to see how creative you are.

Monday, 19 March 2018

6 Easy things you can do right now to help you prepare for your tests.

Studying for tests can feel for some students like a nightmare became reality. However, the reality is that studying is part of the learning experience.

Education is one of the most important factors that determine our success in life. When we study hard and diligently, brick by brick we build a bright future for ourselves. Malcom X said, “Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.” 

Preparing for tests can be stressful and we can sometimes feel overwhelmed. That’s why we want to share 6 easy tips on how you can study better to perform your best academically.

1. Change your mind, change your life.

First things first, your mind-set will always determine the outcome. It doesn’t matter how hard you study, if you go into an exam with the mind-set of self-doubt and believing that you’re dumb, then chances are you aren’t going to perform your best. That’s why you need to clear your mind of the word “can’t” and start believing that if you put in the work that is required, then you will get great marks.

2. Use colour-coding.

The way you make your study notes will have a huge impact on how you remember information. Learn to work with different coloured high lighters and pens. For example: for new terminology, use the colour pink to highlight your work. Definitions can be purple. Names, places and dates can be highlighted orange. Scientific names can be in green. Other important information can be in yellow.

Another useful tip to know is that you are more likely to remember information if you use a blue pen instead of a black pen. This is due to how your eyes receive and store information.

3. Write it out.

When you study from a text book, learn how to make good notes and summaries. You might think that writing out your work will take too much time, but writing the information out once is the equivalent of reading over the information seven times – because you actually pay close attention to the words. Therefore, you might as well take a little bit extra time to write it out and remember it better. Keep in mind however that if you want to study this way you have to have enough time on your side. If you don’t, you can always just write out the topic headings with key points.

4. Say it out loud.

You are about 50% more likely to remember information when you say it out loud versus just reading quietly over it. We suggest you make your summary notes on a certain topic, read very diligently through it once or twice and then read it out loud. You can also repeat what you read out loud in your own words, explaining the work to yourself. However don’t do this if you are studying in a group – you will distract and disturb the other students.

5. Choose the best time to study.

When you’re deciding on a time-frame, always remember not to cram in as much as possible in the least amount of time! Our brains can’t store all the information for a test the night before. So make sure to start studying at least 5 days before the test. If it is a lot of work and you know you will need more time, plan accordingly. 

The best time of day to study is considered to be during the early mornings – as our brain-functionality is at its highest then. To be exact, brain functionality is at a level of 90% during 4 a.m. and 6 a.m. Later during the day brain functionality decreases to 50%. Late at night it’s more or less 20%. Remember that this isn’t true for all people. Some are truly night-owls and more creative and productive during the evening.

With growing children it is however advisable to have a daily routine that matches that of the school. In fact, routines are even more important because it reinforces neural circularity. Study in the mornings before school and definitely after school in the afternoons. If you perform better by studying at night, then you need to do what is best for you, but generally speaking, try to avoid studying very critical and important work late in the evenings. Sometimes unfortunately it is necessary to stay up later to get through your work. Just remember to get enough sleep. For primary school children 8 hours of sleep is needed and for high school children at least 6 hours of sleep will do. 

6. Flavours and scents.

Did you know just by chewing flavoured gum you can gain about 24% extra on your tests? When you chew a certain flavour gum while studying and then the same flavoured gum right before taking your test (or even while you are taking your test) it will help you to recall information much more effectively.

You can read the full article from here: ‘Chewing gum improves memory’.

There are many other study techniques you can follow, but these are quick and easy to do. We hope you will use them when you are studying for your next test. Let us know if you have tried any of these techniques. What other study tips can you share with us?

Monday, 12 March 2018

3 Productive ways to utilise social media in your learning plan, as well as 3 pitfalls to be cautious of.

The use of social media by most school children is a reality. It won’t be going away anytime soon. The key is not to let it become a hindrance to perform well in tests and exams.

When we mention “social media” and “exams” in one sentence the first thing people tend to think is “procrastination and distraction”. “This cannot end well for my child!” Some concerns are valid and if these platforms aren’t used wisely, it can have negative effects on developing children. However, we live in an era where social media platforms are commonly used by adolescents. It is a reality and up to every parent to choose when and how they’ll allow their children to use these Apps. Instead of unrealistically trying to ban it or forbid them to use it, we can try to adapt accordingly. These platforms can be utilised as tools to help teens with their academics. The advantage that a social media platform has, is that many teens are already familiar with it. We might as well start using social media as a means to improve ourselves instead of wasting time watching videos about cute cats and allowing it to replace our human interactions.

Here are 3 productive ways you can use social media in your learning plan:

1. YouTube Tutorials.

Today, YouTube isn’t just for music videos or funny clips. YouTube operates as an entire search engine on its own. If you need a tutorial on how to make a science project or how to pronounce certain words in a foreign language, YouTube almost certainly has you covered. You might consider using it next time you didn’t understand a topic in the economic class! You might also become interested in a vast new field of study that you may not even have been aware of. Many teens and young adults create tutorials, informative videos and even documentaries! It is inspiring and encouraging for other adolescents to see! Just don’t get side-tracked by non-related video suggestions. And if you decide on starting a YouTube channel to share some of your knowledge – don’t obsess over views and likes. Do it because you are passionate about the topic!

Another great way to utilise YouTube is to put on relaxing study music in the background. No, this does not necessarily mean classical music as many may think! There are many composers that write music specifically to help keep their listeners motivated, calm and focussed – the perfect atmosphere to study. The music is largely based on simple melodies and harmonies and also contains manipulation of sounds that create atmospheric soundscapes. The music is often instrumental and/or orchestral, however if voices are present it is usually without lyrics. The listener isn’t actually required to “listen” to the dynamic performance as is the case with classical music. The music also won’t distract the listener or annoy parents with heavy guitars and bass. Lyrics can’t get stuck in your head like certain pop songs! This music style was developed predominantly by composers that write music for computer- and video games. They are required to write music that help listeners maintain mental toughness and concentration which thus helps the gamer to play for longer hours without losing focus. So why not use this kind of music to your advantage and listen to it while you study? A lot of study music is available in YouTube playlists.

2. Facebook Groups.

Facebook is probably one of the most distracting social media platforms, but a Facebook Group can help you get your schedule and priorities in order. You and your classmates can remind each other of due dates for assignments and tests. You can help each other by posting class notes, share new information on certain topics and discuss or share tricks on how to study for a certain subject. Even just to encourage each other can help tremendously! Know that you are all in the same boat. You have the same tasks to do and the same work to study. Remember that this group shouldn’t become a distraction. Always keep the topic relevant. Don’t joke around unnecessarily and don’t just expect one person to always do all of the work and the rest misuse their kindness!

Facebook is great for getting in touch with people that would have been very difficult to quickly get hold of prior to the social media phenomenon. For example, you can easily get in touch with the author (or his/her assistant or publishers) who wrote the textbook you use in class. You can ask them something about the textbook if necessary. Make sure your parents help you craft a well formulated letter before sending it. Never spam these individuals or organisations, and never write hateful words. 

1. WhatsApp Groups.

WhatsApp Groups are great for quick communication in small groups. You can create a study group where you all motivate each other and easily remind each other of test dates and hand-in dates for assignments and homework. You can arrange a date, time and place to get together to work on group assignments, discuss the work or work out exemplar papers before a test. Your group can share links to websites, articles or other resources to help each other with work.

If you have a tutor or teacher that is willing to join a WhatsApp group that is specifically tailored to the subject at hand, it’s much easier to communicate or ask a question when you are busy studying. Disclaimer: Don’t bother your teacher with irrelevant messages – especially never during the evening after 19:30!

Other useful Apps for learners include:

Dropbox or Google Drive. It is excellent for sharing notes and other bigger files between friends and classmates. Remember that you can only share free files that are in public domain, or if you have permission from your teacher or the author. You shouldn’t commit plagiarism and distribute files that are copyright protected. 

Twitter can be used to communicate directly with experts such as teachers, tutors, mathematicians, scientists etc. If you love economics, you can follow economists on Twitter, ask questions directly to them and learn first-hand from them. 

Skype can be used to chat over video. You can have real-time audio-visual conversations, which is great news especially if you want to receive online tutoring sessions – it doesn’t even have to be related to schoolwork! An ingenious example of this is a South African high school chess champion that receives tutoring classes for chess with professional Russian chess players over Skype. The possibilities are endless! 

Social media can add value to your life when you use it correctly. However, be cautious of the following 3 pitfalls:

1. Instant gratification.

Social media has created a system in which people expect instant gratification! If you don’t like an image or video you see – you simply scroll down, because there are thousands of other images and videos available. This isn’t good because your brain becomes saturated with unnecessary information. Our brains don’t have to concentrate or reflect on the content, because if we don’t like, understand or value it within a few split seconds, we know that there are always more content to stimulate us. 

Take the time to put down your cell phone every once in a while. Learn how to sit quietly. Learn how to meditate to calm your mind. Studying and working hard to get good grades is a process you shouldn’t rush. Get comfortable with the idea that you have to study a certain amount of hours a day to reach your academic goals. Set out a schedule where you can reward yourself for the amount of work you do. Sit and study, without checking your phone or being distracted by the computer for at least 45 minutes. Then reward yourself with a 15 minute break. During your break you may go onto social media – but also try to do other fun things like walk outside in the garden, have a conversation with a friend, play with a ball or listen to a new song.

2. There is no such thing as multi-tasking.

There’s a Russian proverb that says, “If you chase two rabbits, you will not catch either one.” This is true when it comes to productivity. When you do homework, but the TV is on in the room, your phone keeps getting messages, all while you’re scrolling through Instagram on your iPad, you won’t likely get the good grades you truly want! 

Do one thing at a time! Before you start studying, tell your friends you won’t be with your phone for the next few hours or so and then put your phone away in your cupboard or in a different room so that there are no distractions. When you sit down, take three deep breaths and then when you begin, truly concentrate on your work. Tell yourself you only need to do one thing right now and that is to study this one chapter to the best of your abilities. When you study and you start to understand the work, you will start to enjoy the process. That’s when remarkable progress takes place.

3. Social media can steal your time.

How many times have you started to go through Facebook or other social media platforms, and when you look at the clock a good half an hour has disappeared? Social media can distract you from important things in your life. Social media can make you procrastinate and steal time from you which you can never get back! Be cautious of how much time you spend on social media and evaluate if you really benefit from spending that much time on those Apps. Remember it this way – no App is going to write your test for you, only you can do that! No App can study on your behalf or get good marks for you – only you have the power to make yourself study and to make yourself get good grades. 

Social media can help you in many ways and to connect with people that are like-minded. Social media is helpful in many ways – from gaining new information to even inspiring us to study harder. However, staying productive in a social media-driven world can be difficult. Therefore we need to plan our days so that we don’t get distracted by it. “Productivity is never an accident. It is the result of a commitment to excellence, intelligent planning and focused effort.” – Paul J. Meyer.

Tell us about the social media platforms you are on. How do you benefit from it? Did social media allow you to find new ways to study and share information? Did you join social media groups that have assisted you in achieving your academic goals? If you only use social media to connect with family and friends or consider it only as a fun pastime activity, let us know how you prevent your time spent on social media from getting out of control.