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I blog on Brain-Based Learning, Metacognition, EdTech, and Social-Emotional Learning. I am the author of the Crush School Series of Books, which help students understand how their brains process information and learn. I also wrote The Power of Three: How to Simplify Your Life to Amplify Your Personal and Professional Success, but be warned that it's meant for adults who want to thrive and are comfortable with four letter words.

How to Make Learning and Life Easier for Your Kids

 Make Learning and Life Easier for Your Kid

Adam: Daddy! Daddy! Did you know I can count to infinity?

Me: Really? That's great honey!

Adam: Yes daddy. Do you want me to do it now?

Me: Of course!

Adam: One, two, three, four.... one hundred, one hundred one, one hundred two.... one hundred nine, a million, a million one, a million two.... a million nine, infinity!

According to my 4-and-a-half-year-old son, 1 million comes after 109, and infinity comes after 1,000,009 and I love it! I remember trying to explain the concept of infinity to him in the past. He would not hear it and why should he? At this point in his young life it's more important for him to be and remain curious and keep trying new things.

I love the fact that he loves counting. I love seeing him use his little fingers to add seven and two. I love that he keeps asking questions. The more he asks, the more thoughtful and surprising the questions are to my wife and I. I try to remind myself of this whenever I feel annoyed my thoughts are interrupted with a relentless string of questions.

Mostly, we do okay. My wife and I try to expose Adam to as many things as possible. We play games such as Uno, Candy Land, and Monopoly. He asks to be asked to add simple numbers as he eats, and we oblige. We play soccer or frisbee or Duck, Duck, Grey Duck (a Minnesota version of the classic). We practice writing letters, completing mazes, and other preschool activities. We go swimming and play in the sand. Last Saturday, he experienced a fireworks display for the first time.

When Adam starts something - he's all in all the time. He is inquisitive, smart, and full of energy. My wife and I do many things to give him a "good start." We want him to succeed, but I think most of all, we don't want him to struggle.

Of course we don't know what the future holds. It's hard to predict what the job market will look like in 15 to 20 years when he's ready to enter it. For now, we have one more year left to decide on where he goes to school.

The process has already started. He had to go and do an assessment. They said he did well. I guess that means he'll be ready for school when the time comes. But what does "ready for school" mean exactly? And, more importantly, how does being "ready for school" and then being successful at school affect being ready for future life? 

Will my son's school education be sufficient for him to be successful as as an adult so he does not struggle to find work and live a good life?

Schools Leave Kids Unprepared

A 2013 survey of found that US teens rank 36th in the world in reading, math, and science. The exam given to 15-year-olds from all over the world found US teens doing average in science and reading and well below average in math. Arne Duncan, the former Secretary of Education summarized these problematic results as evidence that US students are not making progress while others are advancing. He cited complacency and low expectations as the main reasons for this alarming trend present in the US schools.

Knowing such statistics about the school system my son will soon enter I wonder: What can I do to help prepare him better for the future?

The 2017 edition of the ACT's annual national report The Condition of College & Career Readiness shows that only 39% of high school graduates are "ready for college coursework in three or four subject areas" (english, reading, math, and science) measured by the ACT college entrance exam. The "science teacher me" and the "parent me" has no choice but to translate this report to "unless the US school system changes drastically before my son enters it, there's a 61% chance he will not be ready for college."

These odds make me uneasy to say the least. I don't want my son to be successful in elementary, middle, and high school just to enter college unprepared and end up struggling! However, it is clear to me that most US schools fail at preparing kids for college and career.

A 2012 U.S. News article reports 60 percent of the 1.7 million high school students who took the ACT were "not prepared for college, career." Students six years ago were just as unprepared as one year ago. This points to a trend that despite the changes such as the implementation of the Common Core Standards, US education is standing still and continues to fail at preparing most of its students to be successful beyond high school.

The problem is that most parents have no choice but to put their kids' education and their own hopes in the hands of the school system. The same is the case for my wife and I. Adam is going to a public school in the fall of 2019. We can't afford to home school him or move to Finland. Plus, we like it here.

So what do we do?

Whatever. It. Takes.

This is what Finland did. The Finnish government values teachers and puts them on equal footing with doctors and lawyers. In 2010, there were 6,600 applicants for the 660 teaching positions available in Finland. Simply put, Finland has the best teachers because it is a highly rewarding profession that attracts highly talented individuals and every teacher is required to have a master's degree. 

In contrast, 50% of US teachers quit within the first 5 years. And while most US teachers I've encountered are dedicated, the fact that the profession is notoriously undervalued and its teachers grossly underpaid makes it unreasonable for me to expect the level of experience, talent, and results that I would if my family resided in Finland.

The US educational system is not changing anytime soon. But we, the parents can change. We can realize that schooling alone is no longer enough to prepare our children for college and career and do whatever it takes ourselves.

Simplicity and Sensibility

There's a reason why Finnish kids have little homework - most deep learning happens in class. Instead of splitting focus across multiple topics and learning superficially, students are allowed to dive deep and experiment to learn more about one topic. This leads to "true" learning: understanding, application, and retention of what is being studied. Perhaps this is why the Fins crush the international standardized tests. They are taught how to learn and think about problems deeply not to just skim the surface at school.

As a parent, how can you provide those experiences for your kids knowing the schools they attend focus on testing what they memorized and not what they understand or how they can use it?

Lifelong Learning

"No big fuss. This is what we do every day, prepare kids for life,” says Kari Louhivuori, the principal of the Kirkkojarvi Comprehensive School in Espoo, Finland when thanked by a former student who's now an owner of a car repair firm and a cleaning company. The Finnish student spends less time in the classroom than his American counterpart but leaves with more life skills and a love of learning. 

As a parent, how can you provide your children with the experiences that help them learn transferable skills they can apply in many professions and how can you cultivate the love of learning knowing the schools they attend focus on grades not on lifelong learning?

Independence

Imagine the youngest elementary students walking the school hallways without adult guidance, serving themselves hot food at lunch, and leaving the building on their own. Does it remind you of any school you attended? How about open-ended projects in the classroom? How often were you allowed to pursue learning what you wanted and not what the teacher said you had to learn?

Teachers do this sort of thing in Finland and it seems to develop creativity and critical thinking skills. They don't spend time testing or "teaching to the test." Rather, they guide students in developing independence and skills they will need in work and life.

As a parent, what can you do to help your students practice creativity and critical thinking which are skills that are highly sought after by employers but rarely needed in American schools that standardize curricula and tests which forces compliance?

Making Learning and Life Easier for Kids

The good news is that making learning and life easier for our kids is not all that difficult.

There are things anyone can do to become more creative.

Critical thinking is a skill that is learned best when an individual is asked to solve a problem she cares about.

Communication can be taught explicitly and furthered by asking a child to describe, explain, and present what he learned to peers.

Love of learning and lifelong learning can be fostered by teaching kids how to learn efficiently and showing them how to apply effective learning principles when learning about the things they care about and schools require.

There are resources online you can use - media kids enjoy - such as videos, graphics, audio, and short readings. I recommend TED Talks and TED Ed especially as they are created to be engaging.

After reading my recent article for the Entrepreneur my wife asked me: Will you teach Adam all the things you write about in your books and your blogs? 

I will do Whatever It Takes because I love him and I don't want him to struggle figuring it all out by himself. This is why I do what I do and write what I write.

This is why I wrote Crush School Student Guide: Learn Faster, Study Smarter, Remember More, and Make School Easier, which is my newest book. And while it says "Crush School" it's about skills needed to succeed in more than just school. It contains 65 skill-building lessons and 3 projects that promote faster learning, deeper understanding, and long-term application of information. You can get it here

I promise you that it will make a huge difference in the way your child approaches learning and school. But whether you decide to buy a copy or not promise yourself to go beyond school in ensuring your children's success. There are many ways to do that. My book is just one of them.

Check out this FREE sample lesson on Mastering Difficult Concepts to get an idea for how the book is structured.

You have the power to change lives. Use it often so they can change the world.