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. 

Monday, 5 March 2018

What should a healthy and balanced lifestyle entail?

It is necessary for children and teens to live healthy in order to perform their best.

A balanced lifestyle is one where you are healthy and happy in all aspects of your life – your physical well-being, emotional state, intellectual abilities and overall happiness and fulfilment. Having a balanced lifestyle enables you to perform your best and to live a life of bliss and excitement.

A balanced lifestyle will require you to find an equilibrium between all of your activities – this means you need to prioritise your life in such a way that you spend enough time on each important activity. What you also need to understand about ‘balance’ is that you will need to adjust your priorities and reschedule things every once in a while. During the exams, you will have to spend less time with friends or other leisure activities and more time focusing on studying. Be conscious of your goals. Know when and how to re-prioritise your activities so that you can still reach your goals. “Balance is the key to everything. What we do, think, say, eat and feel all require awareness and through awareness we can grow.” - Koi Fresco.

Why is balance important?

Having a balanced lifestyle is your best chance at becoming the happiest, healthiest and most fulfilled person you can possibly be. There is no point in working 24/7, but you are getting sick all the time or not building relationships with your family and friends. There is also no point in only watching TV and spending time with friends, when at the end of high school all your peers go off to university but you couldn’t get in. Balancing your life will give you the opportunity to become your best self!

Know what you want.

Knowing what your goals are will help you to easily determine what you want and what your priorities should be. If you want to get into a good university, you will have to prioritise your studies above watching TV or hanging out at the mall. If you want to lose weight you will have to prioritise eating well and working out above being a lazy couch potato that plays computer games all day. It is as simple as writing down your goals and then setting up a schedule to achieve those goals. See our 3rd blogpost ‘4 Tips to help you set up a schedule for a successful school year’. Plan your life around your values and priorities and you will feel more balanced than ever before.

Don’t put too much on your plate.

Don’t feel you need to change the world on the same day you decide that is your goal. It will take a few years of dedicated hard work and perseverance before you really stand out and can make a difference. Things can happen overnight, but the foundation on which you build your dreams must be solid! Remember you cannot do everything at once. Choose four to seven activities that is really important to you and that will make you happy in life – then focus on that and excel doing it! For example:

  1. One day you might want to become an engineer, that’s why school work is very important to you. Adjust your learning schedule to focus on mathematics, science and technology.
  2. You are an athlete, so you prioritise training hard eating, eating right and taking care of your body.
  3. You love playing the guitar, that’s way you practise at least 1 hour a day.
  4. Your family is your most important support system, that’s way you prioritise spending Saturdays and Sundays with family.
  5. You and your family might be very religious, therefore you attend church every Sunday and you prioritise studying scriptures every day.
  6. You value your close relationships with your friends, so you make sure you remind them they are important to you.  Spend time with them at school whenever it is possible.
If there are other activities you enjoy, like watching TV or playing games on your phone, it is fine to do those things, but only if you have already taken care of your top priorities.

Exactly how much time do you need to spend on each activity?

The exact amount of time you need to spend on an activity will depend on your objective. 

Physical health will require an average of one hour of moderate exercise to maintain your health. However, if you want to become more fit and healthier than you were before, you will either have to increase the intensity of your exercise or the amount of time spent on it, or even both.

As a guideline for children, Harvard School of Public Health wrote in an article ‘Physical activity guidelines: How much exercise do you need?’ about the necessary time children should spend on physical activities:

“Children and adolescents should get at least 1 hour or more a day of physical activity in age-appropriate activities, spending most of that engaged in moderate- or vigorous-intensity aerobic activities. They should partake in vigorous-intensity aerobic activity on at least three days of the week, and include muscle-strengthening and bone strengthening activities on at least three days of the week.”

Mental health will require you pay attention in class, concentrate on your homework and study for tests and exams. If you know the exams are coming up, evaluate the amount of work you have and divide it up so that you get through every subject before the exams come. For example: If you have 4 days to study 30 pages of work for a subject in then split it up. Make sure on day 1 to 3 you study 10 pages each day, so that on the last day before the exam you have enough time to revise your work and look at past- and exemplar exam papers. 

Trust your gut-feel.

Lastly, remember that a balanced lifestyle will depend on how well you know and understand yourself – your physical-, mental- and spiritual needs. If you know you need more time with family because it makes you happy, then spend more time with your family. If your spiritual needs require more time from you because it gives you a more positive outlook on life, then so be it. This is your life and your health is in your hands.

Do you live a balanced lifestyle and how do you keep it up? Tell us about it! If you are a parent, please share with us how you guide your children to lead balanced lives.