Practical Ways Parents Can Spark Love for Reading in Their Kids

3 Dec

Most parents know that getting their children to read at a young age is important to their future. It’s so important, in fact, that experts say if kids fail to be at or near the reading levels of their peers by third grade, they face a tougher road in school and in life.

But what specific steps can parents do to spark an early interest in books?

Julia Irwin and Dina Moore, associate professors of psychology at Southern, say that one of the keys is to incorporate reading as the centerpiece of many activities and discussions, starting before they head to kindergarten.

Reading to your children  -- even during their infancy -- is an important first step in helping kids develop an early interest in books.

Reading to your children — even during their infancy — is an important first step in helping kids develop an early interest in books.

Reading to your children — even during their infancy — is an important first step in helping kids develop an early interest in books.

“Discussing books together creates a time for your child to share their thoughts, worries and ideas with you, to practice new words that they have learned from the book, and to discuss conflicts and concepts that arise in the book,” Irwin says. “By talking about the perspectives and feelings of favorite characters, children learn to better understand others’ and their own feelings.”

Dealing with emotions, such as fear and sadness, in an appropriate way can be addressed through reading. For example, Irwin points to a book such as “Dog Heaven,” by Cynthia Rylant, as providing a starting point for a conversation after losing a pet.

For a child who has first day of school or daycare jitters, she recommends reading a book such as “Curious George’s First Day of School,” by Margret and H.A. Rey or “The Hello Goodbye Window,” by Norton Juster.

The authors note that another way in which books can be relevant is by planning an activity around a book. For example, parents and their children can read “Gingerbread Man,” and then make gingerbread cookies together. Or, reading “Make Way for Ducklings” can be followed up by a trip to the local park to see ducks.

Irwin points out that the social and emotional development of kids can be influenced by reading, as well as the obvious academic benefits. “Kids can learn to take turns and to listen to others through reading,” she says. “That ability to self-regulate is an important lifetime, social skill.”

They share many ideas in their book, “Preparing Children for Reading Success: Hands-on Activities for Librarians, Educators and Caregivers,” published recently by Rowman and Littlefield Publishers.

“We have a literacy crisis in this country, despite having the research to know what works when it comes to teaching reading,” Irwin says. “It is important to put the theoretical into practice. That’s what we sought to do in this book.”

High School Students, Senior Citizens Mark 25th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall

14 Nov

The contrast was stark.

Some 300 people of varying ages assembled recently at Southern for a forum in the Michael J. Adanti Student Center, Grand Ballroom. They were there to hear just how and why the Berlin Wall fell almost 25 years ago to the day.

The forum, “Remembering the Fall of the Berlin Wall: 25 Years Ago,” attracted high school classes from Shelton, Seymour, Cheshire and the Sound School, as well as a group of senior citizens from the Guilford Senior Center, and various faculty, staff, students and members of the general public from every age group in between.

Cheshire High School students respond to a question from keynote speaker Nicholas Burns before the start of an SCSU forum marking the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Cheshire High School students respond to a question from keynote speaker Nicholas Burns before the start of an SCSU forum marking the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Seymour High School students pause for a moment before the forum with keynote speaker, Nicholas Burns (standing, far left), and their history teachers Chris Pagliaro (standing next to Burns) and Heather Brown (standing, far right).

Seymour High School students pause for a moment before the forum with Nicholas Burns (standing, far left), and their history teachers Chris Pagliaro (standing next to Burns) and Heather Brown (standing, far right).

The attendees listened to the perspectives of the speakers, especially that of Nicholas Burns, a career U.S. diplomat who served in the State Department when the wall fell. He later was appointed to the National Security Council specializing in Soviet/Russian affairs, and would go to hold various positions, including the State Department’s third-highest position as undersecretary of state for political affairs. Today, he is a professor at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

Nicholas Burns, a career diplomat, delivers the keynote address during the SCSU forum, 'Remembering the Fall of the Berlin Wall: 25 Years Later."

Nicholas Burns, a career diplomat, delivers the keynote address during the SCSU forum, ‘Remembering the Fall of the Berlin Wall: 25 Years Later.’

Opinions varied about the Berlin situation and the Cold War, to be sure, particularly with questions such as who and what were primarily responsible for the fall of the wall. But the windows by which they view the Berlin situation, and indeed the Cold War, were even more different.

Keynote speaker Nicholas Burns joins Guilford Senior Center members before the start of the program.

Nicholas Burns, who once served as the third-highest official in the U.S. State Department, joins members of the Guilford Senior Center before the start of the program.

Those individuals in their middle-age years and older remember well the wall coming down. Some can vividly recall the scenes on television as throngs of East Germans standing on and pushing through the gate. To most of us who grew up during the Cold War, the photos were surreal.

“I never thought the Cold War would end,” Burns said. “I thought it would go on and on. I didn’t have any particular insights that it was going to end. But there was a confidence that we were in the right and that they (the Soviet Union and their Eastern Bloc satellite governments) weren’t, and that ultimately, people were going to decide their own fate at ‘some point in the future.”’

But even Burns – someone who was an insider’s insider and was well aware of the movements toward greater freedom in Poland and Hungary earlier in 1989 – did not believe that “point in the future” would be in November of that same year.

That point of view was shared by most Americans, who dreamed of the day the Wall would fall, but did not believe it was imminent.

Cindy Simoneau, chairwoman of the SCSU Journalism Department, asks a question of the panel during the university's forum marking the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Cindy Simoneau, chairwoman of the SCSU Journalism Department, asks a question of the panel during the university’s forum marking the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. The panelists are (from left): keynote speaker Nicholas Burns; Kevin Buterbaugh, SCSU professor of political science; Eileen Kane, assistant professor of history at Connecticut College; Steven Breese, dean of the SCSU School of Arts and Sciences; and Troy Paddock, chairman of the SCSU History Department.

Kevin Buterbaugh, a Southern professor of political science and expert on international relations who was among the forum panelists, added that even Soviet troops stationed in East Germany were taken by surprise on Nov. 9, 1989, and that they anticipated getting an order to close the border after it had opened. But that order never came from then-Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev.

“In many ways, the former East Germany was the most communist of countries,” added Troy Paddock, chairman of the Southern History Department and a German history expert who also was on the panel. “In some ways, it thought of itself as more communist than the Soviet Union.”

That made the fall even more dramatic.

Now contrast that feeling that the Wall was going to be with us for many years, with the life view of most college students and all of the high school students attending the event. The students watched intently at the clips of the wall’s construction, the famous speeches at the Wall by Presidents John F. Kennedy (1963) and Ronald Reagan (1987), and the Wall’s demise.

Shelton High School students are handed programs and goody bags on their way into the ballroom for the Berlin Wall forum.

Shelton High School students are handed programs and goody bags on their way into the ballroom for the Berlin Wall forum.

Students from Sound School in New Haven gather outside the ballroom after the forum.

Students from Sound School in New Haven gather outside the ballroom after the forum.


To them, it was history. Not living history. But history a la the way many adults today think of World War II. To them, the concept of a wall preventing free access across one of Europe’s major cities is foreign. They never remember a time in their lives when that was the case. It’s difficult to imagine such a thing.

But that’s the way history goes. One generation’s vivid memories are the next generation’s history. And it won’t be long before a new generation of high school graduates, and college graduates, will not have been alive when we were hit with the 9/11 attacks.

The forum can be viewed online in its entirety at CT-N.

High School Students Engaged in Political Process

9 Oct

When the 250 individuals attending a recent forum at Southern that analyzed the 2014 gubernatorial and midterm Congressional elections were asked whether they had ever donated money to a political campaign, dozens of hands were raised. A similar number acknowledged that they had volunteered for a campaign.

Ordinarily, the response may not have surprised too many people. After all, those who would come out at lunchtime to hear an analysis about the 2014 political landscape are probably political engaged. And those who are politically engaged are more likely to contribute to a campaign, either with money or time.

But what made this an eye-opening moment was that more than half the crowd consisted of high school students. And it was clear that many of those kids were among those who hoisted their hands into the air at those two questions about political activism.

About 130 students – hailing from six high schools in the area (Amity of Woodbridge, Cheshire, East Haven, Hillhouse of New Haven, Seymour and West Haven) – attended the forum at Southern called, “Election 2014: Polls, Pundits & Popcorn.” Walking through Southern’s Grand Ballroom, you could see some of the high school students taking notes as the panel of speakers shared their analyses about the elections.

Amity High School students listen intently during the SCSU forum on the 2014 elections.

Amity High School students listen intently during the SCSU forum on the 2014 elections.

While the students were generally those in honors or Advanced Placement (AP) social studies classes, it showed a real engagement of young people in the political process – a healthy sign for the future of our democracy.

Cheshire High School, for example, has a Young Politicians Club, which includes students with a range of political views.

Most of the Cheshire High School students attending the SCSU forum are members of their school's Young Politicians Club.

Most of the Cheshire High School students attending the SCSU forum are members of their school’s Young Politicians Club.

West Haven High School’s AP U.S. Government and Politics students were enthusiastic about attending a college lecture before the event taught by Art Paulson, chairman of Southern’s Political Science Department.

Art Paulson, chairman of the SCSU Political Science Department, delivers a lecture on the history of midterm elections to advanced West Haven High School juniors. The talk came just before the start of the SCSU forum on the 2014 elections.

Art Paulson, chairman of the SCSU Political Science Department, delivers a lecture on the history of midterm elections to advanced West Haven High School juniors. The talk came just before the start of the SCSU forum on the 2014 elections.

The forum included a look at polls, TV ads, campaign strategies and some historical analysis of state and national elections. The event – a veritable summit of Connecticut’s political analysts – included Power Point presentations by Jennifer Dineen, director of the University of Connecticut poll, and Laura Baum, project manager of the Wesleyan Media Project.

Jennifer Dineen, director of the UConn poll, analyzes the Connecticut gubernatorial race.

Jennifer Dineen, director of the UConn poll, analyzes the Connecticut gubernatorial race.

Laura Baum, project manager for the Wesleyan Media Project, discusses the advertising 'air wars' between Democrats and Republicans in the battle for control of the U.S. Senate.

Laura Baum, project manager for the Wesleyan Media Project, discusses the advertising ‘air wars’ between Democrats and Republicans in the battle for control of the U.S. Senate.

It also included a panel of three of the top political scientists in Connecticut:
*Art Paulson”, chairman of the SCSU Political Science Department
*Gary Rose, chairman of the Sacred Heart University Government/Political Science Department
*Scott McLean, professor of political science at Quinnipiac University

Art Paulson makes a point during the panel discussion. Also pictured are: Scott McLean (left), professor of political science at Qunnipiac University, and Gary Rose, chairman of the Sacred Heart University Department of Government and Political Science.

Art Paulson makes a point during the panel discussion. Also pictured are: Scott McLean (left), professor of political science at Qunnipiac University, and Gary Rose, chairman of the Sacred Heart University Department of Government and Political Science.

Christine Stuart, editor-in-chief of CTNewsJunkie, an online news publication that focuses on governmental and political stories, served as the moderator.

Seymour High School students pause for a moment outside the SCSU Grand Ballroom.

Seymour High School students pause for a moment outside the SCSU Grand Ballroom.

Hillhouse High School students gather.

Hillhouse High School students gather.

East Haven High School students take a moment.

East Haven High School students take a moment.

Amity High School brings a large contingent of students.

Amity High School brings a large contingent of students.

West Haven High School students swarm in the lobby before the event.

West Haven High School students swarm in the lobby before the event.

“Democracy works best when the citizenry is engaged in politics and government,” Paulson says. “The fact that so many high school students indicated that they are already active and enthusiastic about elections and campaigns is a positive sign for the future of our country. I hope it will be a lifelong interest.”

The forum is available online via CT-N.

7 Tips for Students (And the Rest of Us) to Get 7 Hours of Quality Sleep

18 Sep

Sleep.

At first glance, it may seem like a waste of time, especially to those with a go-go-go, Type A personality. There is an obvious recognition that sleep is necessary, but it can also be accompanied by a twinge of guilt since nothing tangible seems to get accomplished after a visit from Mr. Sandman. As a result, people tend to cheat on sleep, in some cases cutting a few hours a night. Instead of the recommended 7 to 9 hours for most teens and adults, many people get only 4 or 5 or 6 hours.

Despite protests to the contrary by many, teens and adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night to function at 100-percent capacity.

Despite protests to the contrary, teens and adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night to function at 100-percent capacity.

“Most of us think we can get by very well with less sleep, but studies have shown that only a tiny percentage of people can function as well on less than 7 hours of sleep per night,” says Mary Pat Lamberti, assistant professor of nursing at Southern. “It affects us physically, such as our reaction time being reduced; cognitively, not being able to perform as well on tests; emotionally, perhaps being less in control of our emotions; and health-wise, with our immune systems being compromised.”

She says that many myths continue, such as the amount of sleep that young adults need. Some feel that since high school and college students are young and can recover physically from stresses better than older folks, the same must be true for staying up late and getting up early. But the evidence points otherwise, according to Lamberti, who did her doctoral dissertation on sleep among college students. Similarly, the notion that senior citizens need less sleep than the rest of us is also a myth, she says.

Lamberti says that Americans are getting less sleep and reduced sleep quality today than 30 years ago. “This is probably due, at least in part, to our hyper-connected world and the hectic pace of society,” she says.

High school and college students tend to be the worst culprits of sleep deprivation, she says. “There are a lot of demands for their time – school, job, sports, social activities. Those habits learned during adolescence and young adulthood tend to continue in adulthood.”

So, what should we do? Lamberti offers several suggestions to improve sleeping habits.

*Go to bed and get up at about the same time each day. “Your body needs to be trained in terms of when to fall asleep and when to wake up,” she says. “Consistency pays off.”

*Sleep in a darkened room. This signals to the brain that it’s nighttime and time to sleep. Having the TV on, lights on, etc. can trick the brain into thinking it’s still daytime. That may help to keep us up a little longer if we really need to on a given night, but we’ll pay for it.

*Try to avoid watching TV, eating, or reading while in bed. Again, this helps train the brain that when you’re in bed, it’s time to sleep.

*Caffeine should be avoided in the evenings, and for some people, should cease after lunchtime.

*Alcohol and many other drugs affect sleep patterns, resulting in a less-than-refreshing night of sleep.

*On the other hand, exercising helps, especially if it done 4 to 6 hours before sleep. It takes a while to wind down from a hard workout, so avoid strenuous activity immediately before going to bed.

*Turn off the computer a few hours before sleep. The computer stimulates parts of the brain and can delay sleep.

5 Tips for College Students to Control Loan Debt

5 Sep

Managing finances has always been a challenge for college students, who are often on a tight budget and on their own for the first time.

But in recent years, students are borrowing more to pay for college, resulting in skyrocketing loan debt. In fact, student loan debt in America exceeded $1 trillion in 2014 with more than 40 million Americans having incurred some of that debt.

Student loan debt is saddling graduates for many years after college. But steps can be taken to reduce those long-term costs.

Student loan debt is saddling graduates for many years after college. But steps can be taken to reduce those long-term costs.

Lew DeLuca, Southern’s new coordinator for student financial literacy and advisement, says that while loans help millions of students each year, it is important that they and their parents understand the ramifications of debt and what steps can be taken to minimize it.

“Students often don’t realize how much cheaper it is to save money now, rather than borrowing money and paying it back later,” he said. “Interest really adds up.”

He offers several suggestions to students and parents on how to keep this debt under control:

*If you receive a refund from your financial aid office (because costs sometimes turn out to be less than the amount of money requested in the loan), give serious consideration to paying it back. While it may be a lot more fun to use that money to go on a trip or buy various items, you can reduce the long-term pain of debt if you sacrifice a little now. Remember, if you didn’t get the refund, you might not ever miss it. DeLuca acknowledges that there are circumstances when students genuinely need the refund money for expenses. But if it is possible to pay at least some of the refund back, do it.

*Do your best to graduate in 4 years. We know this is not always possible. Some students switch majors, or may have major or diploma requirements that make this difficult. But consider taking classes in the summer or winter, if possible, especially if you find yourself behind in credits. DeLuca says the cost to attend one additional year at a college or university is substantial. “You not only have the tuition and other expenses associated with another year at school, but you could be losing a starting salary for a year, or part of a year.” For example, if someone with an entry level job in your field would typically make $40,000, add that to the cost for another year of tuition, fees, books and other expenses. Typical college students could be looking at a real cost of $60,000, $70,000, or more. And if that job offers its employees a 3-percent raise after the first year, you would be losing out on that amount in subsequent years. “It really adds up!” DeLuca says.

*Try to keep your student loan debt to an amount that is less than the starting salary of your first job after graduation. Not only is this wise financially, but psychologically. To owe more money than you know you are going to make next year can be quite a psychological burden.

*Find a college that fits into your financial reality. There are many quality schools that are relatively inexpensive compared to others. This can be a good option for students, especially if you are interested in pursuing a particular program that has an excellent reputation at a less expensive college or university.

*Sound financial guidance can be money in your pocket. Don’t be afraid to seek financial advice from a reputable financial planner.

DeLuca was selected recently to fill the newly created position of coordinator of student financial literacy and advisement at Southern. The university financial literacy and advising webpage offers additional facts and tips about student loan debt.

New School Year — Plan to Succeed

14 Aug

Starting a new school year brings both challenges (expected and unexpected) and opportunities. It gives students a chance for a fresh start — a way to right some of the wrongs from the previous year and to exceed expectations. But to do so, it is important to have a plan of action.

Students wishing to improve their chances for a successful year should begin with a plan before the first day of classes.

Students wishing to improve their chances for a successful year should begin with a plan before the first day of classes.

Today, Wise Words offers the last half of a 2-part series on how to start the year off right and lay the groundwork for a successful year.

Part II

Kelly McNamara, assistant professor of counseling and school psychology at Southern and a former school psychologist in both Connecticut and Massachusetts, shares her suggestions:

*Develop a schedule…Using the previous tips as a guideline, create a plan to get everything done (including fun). “If you tend to be a more detail-oriented person, or an overachiever, a schedule can help reduce feelings of anxiousness that may arise when contemplating how all of the tasks you have taken on will actually get done,” McNamara says. “If you tend to have more of a laid back, go-with-the-flow type of personality, a schedule can help provide an anchor to keep you grounded so that you are less likely to get caught up in the here-and-now, running out of time for completing assignments and having fun.”

*…But be flexible… “Life has a way of throwing us curveballs, so make sure there is room in any schedule to move things around,” she says. “On any given day, you may need to spend more time completing assignments; a fun activity may run later than expected; a project may take longer than you thought it would; your club meeting or sporting event may run late; or you may need to pick up am extra shift at work.”

*…And find some balance. “Certainly, there will be times when you are spending more time studying, working and completing assignments than you might like,” she says. “But it is important to remember that spending all of your time studying and completing assignments, working or even going to meetings or practice can start to feel routine. Try to balance your time so that you are (fulfilling your obligations), but also spending time with your friends, family and having some fun. “This balance is often hard to achieve, but if we plan for it, and consciously try to achieve it, we have a better chance of realizing it.”

*Establish priorities. Since balance can be difficult to achieve, know what really matters so that you can be sure to put what matters first when time runs short. “It can be really challenging to figure out what you want to do with the rest of your life, and you may even change your mind a few times along the way,” McNamara says. “But at any given time, it’s important to have an idea of where you want to go, and have a plan to get there. So, decide what is important to you, and make sure that this priority, or those priorities, show up prominently in your schedule and in your life.”

Good luck to all the students — and their parents — for a successful 2014-15 school year!

New School Year: Getting Out to a Good Start

6 Aug

The start of a new school year generally spurs a bit of anxiety to students – especially for those about to enter a new school. Who doesn’t have some butterflies in their stomach the night before classes begin, or when meeting your teacher for the first time?

But along with that angst and a need to prove your scholastic mettle once again, September also offers the opportunity for a fresh start. In baseball, if a pitcher’s ERA was uncharacteristically high the previous year, or if a hitter’s batting average was surprisingly low, spring training offers hope and promise to turn things around.

A new school year offers students parallel academic opportunities – reclaiming a spot on the honor roll, a chance to boost your overall average and class rank, successfully completing an Advanced Placement course to earn college credit. Last year was last year. This year is now.

A new school year gives students a chance for a fresh start. Wise Words offers some tips on how to start the new school year off right.

A new school year gives students a chance for a fresh start. Wise Words offers some tips on how to start the new school year off right.

But what steps can you take to start the school year off right? Kelly McNamara, assistant professor of counseling and school psychology at Southern, offers several suggestions. She is a former school psychologist having worked in Connecticut and Massachusetts schools.

Today, Wise Words launches a 2-part series on how to start the new school year off right. McNamara shares her ideas in both posts.

Part I

*Learn from those who walked the path before you. Talk to students who recently completed the course or year you are about to start. Ask about workload, topics addressed in classes, teachers/instructors and other important pieces of information that will help prepare you for the year to come. While finding out that Mr. Jones or Ms. Smith is a tough teacher is good to know, ask what specifically makes them so tough. What do they like or dislike? Similarly, you might hear that sophomore English is very difficult. But then ask why and what kinds of assignments are forthcoming. “Remember, people will differ in their opinions about what was enjoyable, tolerable or unpleasant, so be sure to get a variety of opinions,” McNamara says.

*Seek guidance. Talking to a guidance counselor, or perhaps a teacher or two, can answer some questions and concerns you might have. Maybe you had a good relationship with last year’s algebra teacher. Ask them what geometry will be like. If you don’t know any students to talk with about a course or year, counselors might even be able to help put you in touch with someone. “These professionals are great resources to help you navigate the unknown at school,” she says.

*Have some fun. In fact, plan for it. Various studies show that engagement in school is important, yielding benefits to students, such as higher academic achievement and lower dropout rates. “One way to be more engaged in school is to have something that you look forward to and motivates you to be there,” McNamara says. “Find something you enjoy and do it, whether it is a class that is interesting, a sport you love, or a club that fulfills your creative or volunteer spirit. It’s a lot easier to get out of bed and get to class when you have something motivating that is waiting for you.”

*Make the most of your electives. Most schools have a certain number of required, or core courses. For example, every sophomore might need to take English II. But electives are those classes in your schedule that you choose to take. For example, you may need to take five classes next year, but only three of them are core courses, leaving room for two electives. Courses in the arts are frequently electives, as are those in computer science. But even additional courses in the “basics” can be electives, such as going beyond your three-year requirement in foreign languages and taking a fourth year of a language. “Use these ‘flexible’ credits to make the most of your school experience, whether it’s for fun or to help you achieve your goals,” she says. McNamara points out that a larger number of students today apply to majors or specialized schools when applying to college (such as engineering). Electives can be a way to provide you with specialized training and give you a “leg up” on the competition.

Coming soon:

Part II – More helpful hints to start the new school year out right

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