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Educational Outdoor Activities to Build Nature Smarts

By: Tracy Ostwald Kowald
naturalistic intelligences, building nature smarts with outdoor activities

Rising temperatures. Melting snow. Crocuses and tulips peeking out of the soil. Spring cleaning. Yard work. Spring fever. Signs of spring can make students and Learning Coaches feel restless. When the sun comes out, take advantage of the opportunity to build nature smarts.

What Are “Nature Smarts”?

The concept of nature smarts comes from naturalistic intelligence, which is part of psychologist Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences. These intelligences, or strengths, are not fixed like a standard IQ. Each intelligence can grow and develop throughout a person’s life. He or she can build number-logic smarts, body smarts, and other competencies. One way to develop nature smarts is to explore and learn about the world outside the schoolroom windows.

Children who have innate nature smarts enjoy working with nature and studying the environment. Some topics that often interest a budding naturalist include:

  • Animals
  • Botany and gardening
  • Nutrition
  • Weather
  • Hiking and camping
  • Recycling
  • Composting
  • Repurposing and upcycling

Get creative during the spring and summer to find nature-based learning opportunities for your child. It’s easier than you think. Consider the ideas listed below.

Nature Activities for Spring and Summer

These activities will encourage children of all ages to have fun outside.

You can expand this ...

Online and Offline Ways to Foster Creative Thinking Skills in Your Child

By: Dan Reiner
Fostering Creative Thinking Skills in Your Child

Building critical thinking and problem-solving skills is essential to learning. Fostering your student’s creativity is just as important, and it can even help develop his or her analytical skills.

To make learning fun and help your student grow as a unique individual, encourage creativity whenever possible. Below are some creativity tools your student can try, as well as some tips for helping him or her be more creative.

Online Creativity Tools for Kids

One way to boost your virtual school student’s creativity is by introducing him or her to creative online tools. Test some of the creativity tools listed below.

PicMonkey. This photo editing and graphic design tool is a good choice for older students, allowing them to create images and experiment with basic graphic design.

Piktochart. With an account, students can use Piktochart to display data in infographics or tell a story using images.

Wideo. Create, edit, and share animated videos with this unique platform.

ToonDoo. Use this tool to quickly make customized comic strips and cartoons.

Storybird. This platform shares images from illustrators and animators so children and adults can use them to create their own stories.

Tessellation Creator. A visual tool for grades 3 through 8, the tessellation creator exercises geometry skills by showing students how to create repeating patterns of polygons.

Adventure Story Starters by Scholastic. This interactive tool randomly generates a story idea when students spin the wheel.

Puzzlemaker. by Discovery Education. Students can create their own word ...

Body Smarts: Add Kinesthetic Learning to the School Day

By: Tracy Ostwald Kowald
Body Smarts: Activities for Kinesthetic Learners

Sitting still for long periods of time isn’t easy. If your child gets restless during lessons and starts tapping his or her foot or twirling a pencil, suggesting that he or she sit still probably won’t help. Instead, it’s time to take a break and get moving!

Taking breaks and staying active is important to having a healthy, productive school week. Activity clears the mind, relieves grogginess and tension, encourages relaxation, and more. It’s especially important for students who prefer to be active, or, as psychologist Howard Gardner theorized, have outstanding kinesthetic intelligence.

What Is Kinesthetic Intelligence?

Students who excel in “body smarts” process information best through touch and movement. A “body-smart” child might seem to be in constant motion, tapping a foot, stretching his or her arms, or moving his or her shoulders and neck while reading or typing. These students may favor activities such as team or individual sports, martial arts, playing a musical instrument, or acting and dancing. Students with strong body smarts often demonstrate good fine motor skills and hand–eye coordination, which is evident in activities such as handwriting, working with clay, and playing catch. They also show good gross motor skills, which involve the large muscle groups that control walking, running, and even sitting and standing well. These traits show in a person’s agility, balance, athleticism, and body control.

Even if your child doesn’t gravitate toward hands-on or physical activities, you should still incorporate them into his or her routine. Learning to use a ...

Taking Control of Test Anxiety

By: Tisha Rinker
Young male student in front of chalkboard with test anxiety.

When your child gets nervous about taking a test, it's usually a good sign because it means that he or she wants to do well! But if your child feels sick, starts to panic, or shows any other signs of distress before taking a test, then he or she might have test anxiety.

Test anxiety is a form of performance anxiety, or stage fright. Besides triggering physical and emotional symptoms, test anxiety can impair one’s cognitive abilities, often lowering one’s performance. Since testing is a significant part of your child’s education, test anxiety is an important issue to tackle so your child can reach his or her full potential.

What Test Anxiety Really Means

Why is your child afraid of taking tests? Maybe he or she lacks confidence, feels unprepared, or struggles under pressure. But, anxiety isn’t always rational. In fact, its roots extend to one of our most basic instincts—fear.

When an event triggers the fight-or-flight response, one’s body prepares to face a threat by releasing adrenaline and boosting alertness. By the time a person realizes that the threat isn’t dangerous, the body has already reacted, so the person feels the stress response anyway. Because the body influences a person’s thoughts and vice versa, one has to relax both body and mind to calm down. To do this, find some techniques that help your child change his or her thought and behavior patterns.

Tips for Overcoming Test Anxiety

Reducing test anxiety takes practice. Try some of the following ...

Self-Smarts: Knowing Yourself Is the First Step to Success

By: Tracy Ostwald Kowald
knowing yourself—intrapersonal intelligence

If you are a teacher, parent, or Learning Coach, you’re used to gauging what your student does and does not know. Does he or she know how to stay organized and motivated throughout the school day? Does he or she know enough about fractions to take the math quiz tomorrow?

Although every student needs to build his or her academic knowledge, it’s just as important for students to understand themselves. This is the concept of intrapersonal intelligence.

What Is Intrapersonal Intelligence?

The word intrapersonal means “within the self”—so, “intrapersonal intelligence” is another term for self-awareness or introspection. It’s part of psychologist Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences. People who have high intrapersonal intelligence are aware of their emotions, motivations, beliefs, and goals. They know what they like, what they dislike, who they are, and what they want to do. This is not the same as interpersonal, or socially skilled. Intra- means “within” or “internal.”

Students with intrapersonal intelligence are often:

  • Self-motivated
  • Independent
  • Introverted
  • Organized
  • Goal-oriented
  • Confident
  • Positive
  • Skilled at self-reflection
Building Intrapersonal Skills in Every Student

Although some students are naturally more in tune with their intrapersonal intelligence, all students can develop these strengths. Intrapersonal skills help students recognize their strengths and weaknesses, which is essential for setting goals.  Those with intrapersonal skills are often peacemakers who are instinctively good at dealing with conflict, making decisions, and managing time and stress.

Some of the Connections Academy clubs that exercise intrapersonal intelligence include:
  • Art Clubs
  • Book Club
  • Debate ...

Finding the Right Words: Helping Kids Build Vocabulary

By: Tracy Ostwald Kowald
Multiple-meaning words on color stickers

When a student knows the correct answer but cannot show it, sometimes it’s the formal language of academic vocabulary that gets in the way. Sometimes the problem is a word that has multiple meanings, as the following true stories show.

  • A child was confused by a test with the following direction: “Ring the correct answer.” She didn’t recognize that her teacher was using “ring” as another word for “circle,” so she didn’t know what to do.
  • A middle school student saw “Name the polygon” on his math assignment. Not understanding that this meant to identify the term for the shape—and lacking any better idea—he named his polygon “Tim.”
  • An emerging reader came across the phrase “a house of straw” in the story The Three Little Pigs. She pictured a house built with plastic drinking straws. No wonder the wolf blew it down, she thought.

There are many words in the English language that sound, look, or are spelled the same—yet that have very different meanings. To succeed, students need to grasp these sometimes confusing complexities of our language early on. Throughout school, they must also continue expanding their academic vocabulary with words and terms commonly used in education. Parents can help support this vocabulary growth by being aware of some of the pitfalls of learning language and by giving students opportunities to practice using words.

Understanding Multiple-Meaning Words

For young elementary school students, it’s important to learn that a pear is a piece of fruit and that ...

Why Daydreaming Is an Essential Part of Learning

By: Beth Werrell

daydreaming supports learningIf you’re fighting a tendency to daydream, you may want to reconsider. Recent research suggests that daydreaming is actually an essential part of our learning process.

Neuroscientists at the University of British Columbia (UBC) discovered that, when we daydream, two essentially “opposite” parts of the brain are activated, “allowing two otherwise opposing networks to work in cooperation.” This unusual state of cooperation lets us make connections and reach conclusions that elude us when we’re focused on a specific task. In fact, in a Wall Street Journal article, the researcher says that daydreaming “is a much more active state than we ever imagined, much more active than during reasoning with a complex problem.”

So, what does this study and other, related research mean for our virtual school students?

Daydreaming can help your student do the following things:

  1. Process complex information, emotions, and ideas. As author Amy Fries writes in Psychology Today’s blog, The Power of Daydreaming, research increasingly shows that daydreaming serves as an important information-processing function. We try out different scenarios or solutions, incorporate things we’ve learned, explore our own emotions, and forecast others’ reactions.

    For students, daydreaming can allow them to synthesize lessons from the classroom in a playful, memorable way and to process their emotions in a risk-free environment.

  2. Solve problems creatively. Ordinarily, we think of problem solving as a focused, analytical activity. But what happens when we’re stuck? Research suggests that taking a break to daydream during an undemanding task significantly improves ...

Word Smarts: Why Students Need Verbal-Linguistic Intelligence and More

By: Tracy Ostwald-Kowald

word smarts for studentsIs your student word-smart?

Whether or not your student’s verbal-linguistic intelligence is particularly strong, it’s important for him or her to exercise this intelligence—along with other types—when he or she is learning.

Howard Gardner, who developed the theory of Multiple Intelligences, explained in Howard Gardner speech that “important ideas, topics, theories and skills ought to be taught in more than one way, indeed in several ways—and these several ways should activate the multiple intelligences.” In other words, multiple intelligences aren’t learning styles but faculties that students use when they approach new subjects. Those who have strong verbal-linguistic intelligences can learn a concept more easily if the learning method targets this intelligence, while the same method can offer verbal-linguistic practice to those who aren’t as word-smart.

Below is a breakdown of verbal-linguistic intelligence and tips for how you can “activate” it more during the virtual school day.

Students with verbal-linguistic intelligence are usually great at:

Often, these students have a broad vocabulary, enjoy word games, and take pride in owning books.

Some of the clubs that exercise verbal-linguistic intelligence include:

  • Book Club
  • Debate Club
  • Digital Storytelling Club
  • Pen Pal Club
  • Poetry Club
  • Student Literary Magazine
  • Student Newspaper
  • Theater Arts Club

An example of an activity that targets verbal-linguistic intelligence is:

Writing a poem. On its own, poetry writing helps students build their vocabularies, practice their rhyming skills, and understand a unique literary form. But if you want to help ...

Using Scrap Paper to Solve Math Problems

By: Kim McConnell
Using Scratch Paper for Math

Happy Pi Day! For those who are rusty on geometry, pi (the Greek letter π) is the symbol for a number that represents the ratio of a circle’s circumference (distance around) to its diameter (distance from edge to edge, through the center). The cool thing about pi is that it’s a constant; for all circles of any size, pi will be the same. And while pi has been calculated to over a trillion digits beyond the decimal point, most non-mathematicians round pi to 3.14—which is why March 14 is known as Pi Day and celebrated by math teachers and students worldwide!

Why not celebrate Pi Day to spark your children’s interest in and use of math in everyday life? Make a Pi Day pie, reinforcing terms like radius, diameter, and circumference while you roll out the crust! Or plan a Pi Day math scavenger hunt, in which kids follow clues to locations where they find math problems to solve. Be sure to give prizes! Whatever you do, make it fun—and celebrate with Pi Day pie—even if it’s store-bought.

In honor of Pi Day, I’d like to share a tip for helping students solve math problems: using scrap paper. Picture this: it’s a hot summer day, and you want to fill the small pool in the backyard—but there’s no garden hose. You grab a bucket and fill it right to the brim, but by the time you walk to the pool, half the water has splashed out. ...

How to Prepare for State Test Taking

By: Tisha Rinker
State Test Taking Tips for Students and Parents

It’s that time of year again. Kids all over the country are sharpening their #2 pencils and anticipating their state tests. Whether your child has a standardized test coming up in a few days or in a few weeks, these test-prep tips and strategies will help you to help him or her relax and do his or her best.

Test-Prep Ideas for Grade K–5 Students

Make testing more fun by having younger students wear a special outfit each day in the week before the test to signify a specific testing tip. This is an effective way to introduce and reinforce important testing techniques, and the element of fun it provides can decrease student stress.

  • Monday – wear your pajamas to signify how important it is to get a good night’s sleep the night before a test.
  • Tuesday – wear bright, fruity colors such as orange, red, and yellow as a reminder to eat something healthy before taking a test.
  • Wednesday – wear your shirt backwards to remind yourself to always go back and check your work.
  • Thursday – wear something with words on it to signify the importance of reading each question thoroughly.
  • Friday – wear all black to remember to completely fill in the test circles with your pencil.

Another tip is to introduce your student to light physical activity with a simple, fun routine like this:

  • Do twenty jumping jacks.
  • Touch your toes ten times.
  • Do windmills for a minute by swinging your arms forward from the shoulder. ...

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