Author Carol Barnier offers practical suggestions for how parents can help their children learn and succeed in school. (Part 2 of 2)
Jim Daly: Nathan believed God would never forgive him and he felt stuck in a trap of discouragement and despair. I'm Jim Daly. Thanks to a Focus on the Family counselor, Nathan heard about God's love for the first time and found new hope for his life. But we can't do this without you. Help us give the gift of family to more hurting individuals this Christmas season. This month, your gift will be doubled. Please call 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY today.
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John Fuller: If there's one child in the classroom who's not doing well, who just can't keep up with the homework and doesn't seem to be paying attention, well, who's to blame? Parents and teachers often have this perspective.
Carol Barnier: In fact, you're the only one who seems to be struggling and instead of both of us obviously concluding this method is not going to work for you, where we tend to go is, "Well, since it's working for so many others, you must be broken. There must be something wrong with you. You're not trying. Maybe you're lazy. Maybe you're just not that bright." You know, we go all these places we go, when the truth is, the kid just needs a different approach.
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John: Well, that's Carol Barnier and she has some pretty profound things to say about kids and education and she's back on today's "Focus on the Family" with Focus president and author, Focus president and author, Jim Daly. Thanks for joining us. I'm John Fuller.
Jim: John, last time Carol offered parents such great encouragement about how kids learn and some of the challenges they face in the learning process. That's why she's part of our best of collection of CDs and downloads this year. This collection features guests like Dr. Greg Smalley and his wife, Erin, talking to engaged couples about family formation and marriage, Cynthia Tobias, on how to navigate those middle school years and the amazing testimony of a former Palestinian sniper, who now lives as an ambassador for Jesus Christ. What an amazing story that is. These are just a few of the wonderful programs in the collection this year and I'll encourage you to contact us about getting a copy of the entire set for yourself or for another family you know.
John: Yeah, I love giving these out to folks, because it really captures the cream of the crop of "Focus" broadcasts and you can find out more at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio or call us, 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY.
Jim: We're right in the middle of our conversation with Carol Barnier and she's written The Big What Now Book of Learning Styles, which identifies three basic categories of learning--visual, auditory, where you need to hear it to understand it and then kinesthetic, which is motion that helps you learn better.
John: And that seems to describe so many boys in this area, of 8, 9 or 10.
Jim: That's for sure. She also has some great insights about learning challenges and Carol hosts an online group called Sizzle Bop, offering help to families who have highly distractible kids and maybe parents, too. (Laughter) I definitely need to hear more about that one, John.
John: Well, we've got details about Carol and her book and helps at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio . Let's go ahead and hear the second part of our conversation with Carol Barnier on today's "Focus on the Family."
Jim: Carol, we shared last time about your son, Glen and how he wasn't a good candidate for the traditional classroom and so, you homeschooled him, which I think is a great decision. But even that was frustrating, because you really didn't understand his learning styles at the time. Talk about working through those issues with your son. Your heart must have gone out to him as a mom and yet, you were resolved to try to find a way, the key that would help open up his learning style. What happened?
Carol: Well, in the early days, it was all about putting motion into learning and that worked for him, but as he grew older and I think all kids have some kinesthetic component to how they learn. I think all kids like to move. But as he got older, he developed a strong auditory vent to his learning style and I missed that for a long time and I'll tell you where I caught it. We went to listen to a lecture. I paid good money for this lecture and I'm sittin' there and I'm personally writing all these great notes down. I'm such a visual. I've got notes. I've got graphics, the white space matters, how it's laid out on the page matters. And I look over at him and he is not writin' down a thing and it ticked me off.
Jim: How old is he at this point?
Carol: At this point, he was probably about 12 and I smacked him on the arm and I said, "I paid good money for this. Write somethin' down." (Laughter) And he said something that totally changed me. He said, "If I start writing, I'll stop listening."
Carol: And it was the moment for me, because it was so different from my own learning style. I had to step out of the box of how I learn and realize, this kid is made very, very differently and that's when I started recognizing, we need to incorporate auditory components to how I teach.
Jim: Well, and that can create some conflict between the parent and the child when your styles are different and you don't recognize it. I could see that creating frustration.
Carol: And a parent's natural inclination is to superimpose their own learning style on their child and to think, well, this must be how they learn, 'cause this is how learning occurs and it is for us.
Carol: It's really hard to step away from that, but once you do, you see that light bulb come on. You're like, okay, all right, they're different. I own it, now let's go from here.
Jim: Carol, let's give some hands-on help. Talk about spelling. Some children struggle with spelling. This can be challenging for any child, but given all the inconsistencies in the English language, I've talked to foreign language students; they think English is so horrible and so difficult to learn. Talk about that. How can we equip a child to do well in spelling and writing skills.
Carol: Well, typically the approach that you [use] to teaching spelling is to copy a list several times through the week and then they're tested on Friday, which is great if the kid is a visual, because seeing it all those repeated times, they're gonna be fine. But you've got a kid who could see it spelled five different ways and they all look perfectly fine to him, this isn't gonna be a helpful method.
So, there are some things you can do. One is to get the pencil out of the child's hand. A lot of kids just struggle with writing and then it kinds bleeds over into every other subject and they think they're lousy at every subject, because they're actually lousy at writing. So, one of the ways to do spelling without a pencil is to use Scrabble tiles. Just have 'em in front of them and they can, you know, move 'em around and manipulate them and you can actually test them in Scrabble tiles.
Another thing with spelling, an auditory click for spelling is to do it in a way that involves a rhythm. So, everybody I know has spelled Mississippi, has used some kind of rhythm. You can do the same thing if you're teaching them the word like "sophomore" and they're all these O's in it and it makes no sense to them and it should be a U-H instead of an O or whatever. So, you could have a rhythm like, S-O (Sound of snapping fingers), P-H-O, M-O, R-E. S-O (Sound of snapping fingers), P-H-O, M-O, R-E. I know it's silly and simple, but that's why it works.
Carol: You know, that's the kind of thing that'll click, so that's just several ways to apply spelling.
Jim: Sure, it gives the brain a track to run on. That's what you're talking about. You also have tips for writing, Explain why you believe we need to offer more encouragement--I think it's self-evident--but more encouragement and less correction to the papers our students, our children are writing.
Carol: I really encourage parents and teachers, as well, to focus on one thing at a time in correction. Don't give them a page back that's awash in red. Maybe work on one or two grammar items or one or two writing items and work on those until they've mastered it. Then work on another item in the next go round, because they can be overwhelmed by feeling there's nothing of value. The other thing I recommend is, not just giving them correction, but giving them what I call "an evaluation," where you tell them the good stuff you found, because if you don't say this is good stuff, then they're pretty sure there's not.
Jim: (Laughing) Yeah—
Carol: And they need to hear it.
Jim: --that's for sure.
John: And you know the story that comes to mind for that, Carol is that Dena was working with Zane on a school paper and he does not like writing. And he put some thoughts down and she challenged him and encouraged him and he reordered some of it and put a little more detail down. And lo and behold, he got a 100 on it and she used that as positive reinforcement.
John: See, you hated doing more than you had to, but you did a great job there. We've gotta pick up on those little accomplishments to give them some motivation, don't we?
Carol: Yeah, absolutely, because they're gonna define themselves by their worst test and it's up to us to help them see the balance in that view.
Jim: Carol, talk about math. Math can be so difficult. How can we make it more fun? It almost sounds silly saying it that way. How do we make math fun?
Carol: I think math and fun, those words should be in the same sentence regularly!
Jim: Good for you, girl! (Laughter)
Carol: I believe that. I believe that. Well, you can certainly play games. I mean, that's an easy thing to do. One of the simplest ones is, you know, that card game "War," where—
Carol: --you flip over the top two cards. Well, instead of each of you flipping over one card, flip over two and then the greatest sum takes that hand. Of if you've got a kid who's a little bit older, the greatest product. Multiply the two cards together--
Jim: So, it—
Carol: --in that hand.
Jim: --makes them think.
Carol: So, it makes them think and not only did I have my child tell me what the sum of his card was, I'd say, "Okay, what's the sum of my cards?" I made him do double the duty. He had to tell me who won and had to take a look at that.
If you've got a child who just gets sloppy because they're in a hurry or they really don't want to be here, I would hand them some colored pencils or some colored markers and say, "Now I want you to go through this math problem and mark every plus sign with a certain color, every minus sign with another color and so on with multiplication and division, forcing them to stop and pay attention to the operations that are involved in this equation, 'cause a lot of kids add everything, even though there's a subtraction sign, just because they didn't stop and think. And this is just something to add to the process and visually marks it, as well, for them to think through the process.
Jim: Carol, let me talk about what you call the "oral review," 'cause again, I'm applying this, John. I don't know if you're doing this but I'm just thinkin' through my own children and how this would apply. Talk about oral review and what you mean by that and how that can help a child succeed.
Carol: You can use this method all the way along, from the earliest, earliest ages, where you would say to a child, "Okay, Mommy wants you to go set the table and put the forks and knives out." Now what is it that Mommy wants you to do?" (Laughter) And then they repeat it back to you. Then when you're getting into early reading, you start reading them a story and you say, "Now tell that back to me. Tell me what happened in that story."
There is an education term. It's called "narration" and narration is just a process of a child learning to verbally put these thoughts together in their head and get them out of their mouths. It's actually a pre-writing readiness activity, because if they can think it through and articulate it well, then the next step of writing it down is much, much easier. So, all the way along, we need to have kids practicing that.
Now if you've got a kid who's struggling with details, it might be good every night when they came home to say, "Okay, here is what I have to do." I would add to that, have them stand at the white board and make a list and tell me. I would maybe even add, okay, give me a graphic that reminds me. If you have to run out of the door with your gym socks, then draw some socks for me, something that might be a graphic reminder for a kid who's more visual.
Jim: Huh, talk about motivation for a moment though because I think that would be another struggle that a lot of parents face, making education interesting, if you can achieve that, you've done a lot. What about the child that is feeling, you know, not invested. They're not that interested. They like playing with Legos more than doing other things, more academic things. How do you motivate a child to get up at the white board and write down all their assignments? I mean, it sounds almost too perfect, 'cause some children are gonna say, "I don't really want to do that, mom."
Jim: What do you do?
Carol: I think when a kid is uninvested, that what's actually happening is, they're worried they can't cut it, so they've stop investing. And it may be hard to reclaim that investment from them, but I am absolutely convinced that if a kid believed that by doing these things he would ace next week's test, you could get him to reinvest. So, you're gonna have to show him, maybe in smaller increments that this stuff works and that he can start becoming the student that you know he's capable of being.
John: Hm, Carol, as you're saying that, I'm thinking of some friends who had a high school student and he was pretty smart, but he was not invested at all in the education. You can't troubleshoot from a great distance, but what kind of recommendations would you have if that's my child, how do I investigate that and come up with some solutions?
Carol: Well, I think I would want to try and find a way to help this kid connect the activities he's doing today with something he's interested in. So, whatever it is he is interested in, I might look at getting him say an internship in doing that. Is it auto repair? Is it woodworking? Is it maybe learning coding for writing HTML code for gaming, something. And then find a way to connect it to what he's doing today, why those things he's doing today matter, because then he might find a reason to invest.
Jim: Carol, with the end in mine, let's talk about those success stores that you're aware of, where children who were failing, weren't learning, ended up making it. I think a lot of parents are desperate to hear that, so let's start there.
Carol: Well, one of my favorite stores came from a gentleman who was a headmaster at the local private Christian school in our area. And he was very ADHD himself and we were discussing, you know, some of the struggles of my son and he said one of the best things that happened to him when he was in his PhD. program, he was possibly failing. I mean, he was poised to absolutely fail. And his advisor took him aside and said, "Stop writing. You are struggling with the act of writing, but you can think. You can articulate. You have great, great reasoning abilities. Take a recorder and just record your work, then later on transcribe it."
And he said it absolutely saved his career, because the process of thinking and speaking and then writing, they're very different parts of the brain that are at work. And once he was able to separate those, he said, "Transcribing was nothing." You know, you hit it and then you hit pause. You don't have to remember what it was; you're just gonna transcribe it. And he goes, "And now of course, I make enough money that someone else transcribes for me.
Jim: (Chuckling) Right.
Carol: But yeah, for him it was all about getting it in its auditory form. That's where his strengths were and when he separated it, that's where he was able to succeed.
John: This is "Focus on the Family" with Jim Daly. I'm John Fuller and we're talking with Carol Barnier about how you can help your child learn and experience and find education to be, well fun and we have a CD or a download of the conversation and you can find that. We'll include the discussion from yesterday, as well, at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio.
And while you're there, you can also download our mobile app for your SmartPhone or tablet, so you can listen on the go. You can also stream there at the site. And then check our Carol's The Big What Now Book of Learning Styles, as well.
End of Program Note
Jim: Carol, at the top of the program we talked about Sizzle Bop and I promised myself that I was gonna ask (Laughter) you about that. Sizzle Bop, what is that?
Carol: There is a story behind it. One day my son came runnin' up to me and he said something really serious had happened and I needed to come right now and it involved a broken light bulb glass and smoke. (Laughter) And I thought, well, okay, serious work for me here, okay. So, I went with him and we came to this lamp and the shade was off and there was this broken light bulb and I thought, well, okay and I finally looked. About 10 feet away, I found this piece of broken light bulb glass.
And I'm trying to understand just the law of physics how these two things separated by 10 feet, and then I noticed on this piece of glass, what has to be like a dried remnant of water or something. And I'm like, Glen, did water get on this light bulb? And he looked at me so seriously. His eyes were huge and he said, "Perhaps (Laughter) when I had been speaking a piece of saliva might have been expelled onto the bulb."
John: Oh (Laughter).
Carol: And so, I'm thinking, all right. My son's talking to light bulbs. We're gonna deal with that one later, 'cause then I noticed there were dozens of dried little pieces of water.
Jim: He was experimenting.
Carol: He was experimenting and I said, "Glen, were you actually spitting on this light bulb?" And he like couldn't answer. He was totally petrified, frozen. And I said, "Okay, let's try this again. Why were you spitting on the light bulb?" And he just was this total deflation. His whole body "schlumped" and he said, "Because I like the sizzle."
Carol: And I thought, you know, that is such a qualifying statement. This kid likes to see the sizzle, hear the sizzle, be the sizzle. I mean, I couldn't think of anything that defined him more. And I started laughing and you know, I know there are real dangers here, but I thought nothing defines him better than that. So, when I came up with an online group for parents who are struggling to teach and work with a highly distractible child, I thought, "sizzle" has got to be part of it. These kids are sizzlers. And the "bop," it's just the family dance of life that goes on around a kid who sizzles. And so, that's where the name came from.
Jim: Sizzle Bop.
Carol: Sizzle Bop.
Jim: So, how do they find it?
Carol:www.sizzlebop.com (Laughter), I made it easy, yeah.
John: And is the community comprised of parents whose children have been diagnosed with a medical condition? Or they just know they have a handful right here and their kid is a sizzler--
Carol: It's really—
John: --so to speak?
Carol: --it's really a mix. I mean, we have some people who have the bona fide, you know, diagnosis as it was in our case. But then we have people who say, "You know, he's just all boy. He's just all fidgety and wiggly and yet, I need him to do his math and I don't know what to do." So, it can run the gamut and you know, the solutions we apply work for everyone. You don't have to have that diagnosis for it.
Jim: Carol, let me paint a picture for you and speak to this mom, because I think a lot of times moms feel so much more deeply than dads. I mean, dads are kinda like, pick yourself up; brush yourself off; let's keep movin', right? And I know this is a generalization, so if you're not that kind of dad, I get it. But for moms and I think for Jean, she would say this is true, they tend to worry more about where their children are at, not seeing kind of that studious child that they hoped they would be, whatever it might be. Speak to that mom's heart and the idea that you use humor. You talk about the importance of humor in the educational process. So there's all these complex things. Use humor. Be light-handed, but make sure they're disciplined and gettin' their work done. I mean, these are somewhat contradictions, but talk to that mom who's got a heavy heart. Talk to her; counsel her on how she can approach a difficult learning situation.
Carol: I know moms are so invested in their kids. There's no place where our heart is thinnest than when it comes to our kids, you know. So, I get that. What I would recommend to any mom is, you're dealing with a whole person here. You're not just dealing with an academic success or failure. So, remember the whole child. Connect to them. It doesn't always have to be about learning. It doesn't always have to be about correcting their character. It doesn't always have to be about, you know, this sin in their life. Sometimes we just need to laugh and tell knock-knock jokes and take a walk in the park and—
Carol: --and breathe and laugh and remember that God put this child in your family to parent, not just to teach. And parenting is so much bigger of a task. I think loving this child as a whole will pay off when they get older and if they struggle with various things, it's easy to really focus on the thing they're struggling with and that is losing out on the bigger picture of who they are and frankly, something God does with us all the time. If all He did was remember me by my failure yesterday, I am so in trouble! But thankfully, He sees the whole picture. So, we need to remember, too, that God has a plan for this child and that plan isn't perfected until the day of Christ Jesus. He's still workin' on this kid. It doesn't all have to be put together and fixed by tomorrow.
Jim: Wow, I mean, that is so important for us as parents to know and I think particularly, Christian parents, because we have such high expectations and kids feel it. They feel that pressure. They know that we're hoping the best for them and we want them to hit those top notes when it comes to academics.
Jim: Carol, you talked about that key. Talk about some of the successes in parents that you've helped coach, people that have come to your Sizzle Bop website and other places. But talk about the keys that they have discovered.
Carol: One good example is, if you're working with a child who learns their math facts through flash cards and you know, the kids come along and they've got that visual cue and all these need is enough repetition and they get it. And then suddenly, you're dealing with another kid and they are three years into flash cards and they are still not getting' their math facts.
Well, this is where you need to flip and get away from that visual one and maybe go to skip counting, where they're using some kind of auditory, you know, (Singing), two, four, six, eight 10, 12 and 14," something like that. And I've heard time and time again where parents get stuck on the flash cards and then when they finally switch over to the auditory skip counting, they've got it.
And that was exactly what happened in my house. I had a girl three years (Chuckling) we were doing these math facts and I thought, this worked for your brother and sister. It'll just take a little more time and like year one, I bought that. Year two, I'm thinkin', okay. Year three, I mean, I just kept going at it with the wrong approach. And finally I said, "You know, Carol, you know this stuff. You know it's time to shift gears."
Carol: And she had (Sound of snap of fingers) it like that.
Jim: That's amazing and what I've heard throughout our discussion is, have versatility. Don't get locked in and don't wait. You know, if it's not workin', make a move. I think I would try to keep plowing the hard ground, rather than find ground that's more plowable.
Carol: Well, I'll tell you my favorite response to that is, if I said to you, I mean, typically we'll say to our kids, three minus two equals one. And if they don't get it, we'll say it again. If they don't get that, we'll say it louder. If they don't get that, we'll say it slower. (Laughter) But if I said to you, you know, that a seven "schnoodled" by a two will "grovinate" into a 16. (Laughter) Now if I said it to you louder or slower or 20 more times, will it get you anywhere?
Jim: I don't know what you're talkin' about.
Carol: And the answer is no. Until I explain "schnoodled" or "grovinate," we're not goin' anywhere. So, sometimes when you keep pounding away with the exact same approach and the exact same wording and they're not getting it, more of nothing is nothing! We have to come at it from a different angle or this kid's gonna get stuck.
Jim: Talk about that parental frustration and we've seen it in our own experience at home. You can if you're not careful, you can lose it as a parent. You do get frustrated and the child's pickin' that up. They don't know where to go with that.
Jim: How do you better manage that? Coach the parent on how to take that deep breath and say, "Okay, try somethin' new."
Carol: It comes back to the keys. I'm going to present to my child my explanation of maybe fractions or whatever it is they're working and they don't get it. So, I got one more key in my pocket. So, I pull it out and I present it and they still don't get it. This is where most parents get frustrated, 'cause they're like, "Okay, I've explained it to you every way I know how. Okay, if you're not getting' this, I don't know what else to do."
Jim: And they're saying in that, the parent is saying that, "I don't know where to go."
Carol: Right. That is where they step back and they go, "You know what? I'm gonna find another key. I don't have it right now, but I'm gonna go find another key." And everybody can take a step back and it says to the child, "We're not done here. You're gonna get this. It's not a question of if; it's just a question of when and we're gonna go find the method that works for you." And you get on the Internet and you talk to teachers and you get books and you ask around and you can find other keys to try with this child, but that frustration point, everybody gets there when they've run out of their own keys. Just step back.
Jim: Yeah, that is good.
John: And this is not an uncommon thing. I think too many parents, Carol, feel like I'm the only one who's struggling with my child in this way. It's pretty common, isn't it?
Carol: Very common. In fact, I'm guessing it's universal at some point in a child's, you know, upbringing.
Jim: Carol, let's end with this important question. What is the most important thing we as parents can do to help our children succeed at learning, which is the core thing?
Carol: The most useful thing I think is to own the fact that they can learn if we just provide the right key and that once that's found, they'll be fine. But if we believe that they can't learn, they'll believe it, too. They'll be right behind us in that belief, so it can never be a part of the equation. They have to know that we are fully invested in the idea that when we find the right approach, they will learn.
Jim: Carol, you know that advice is so good in our Christian faith, as well, isn't it, when we're talking to people? I mean, that just struck me that it's about finding the right key. The Lord has given us a set of keys and He's just saying, pick the right one in that situation where you can communicate with your children, with your spouse, with your family members. It is always about the right key, isn't it?
Carol: Right and He's made us all so differently, so the keys are going to be different and instead of trying to make our kids all look and walk and talk the same, we need to open up the gifts that He has put in this child and figure out what He's got in mind for them in how they learn.
John: And that concludes another one of our best of conversations today with Carol Barnier and she was featured last time, as well. This is "Focus on the Family" and your host is Focus president, Jim Daly.
Jim: John, it's my hope that many moms and dads were encouraged by what Carol shared with us these past two days. It certainly encouraged me, but I hope you'll follow up by getting a copy of her [The] Big What Now Book of Learning Styles, which is so helpful.
Here at Focus on the Family, we hear from so many parents every year who are dealing with some kind of challenge or crisis in their families. And last year, nearly 200,000 families were helped because of you, your support of the ministry and our ability to step in and give them some guidance and resources, maybe even counseling. Thank you for your generosity. Focus on the Family is, I think, strategically placed at the right moment in the right time with the right biblical answers that are rooted in God's Word and you know what? If we look at it, the culture is screaming for good solid answers on these questions, especially in marriage and parenting.
And that's why we're inviting you to give the gift of family to these folks, offering them hope and practical help for whatever issues they're facing. Your financial support provides programs like this one, along with online resources, books, CDs, counseling and so much more. And can I be bold enough to ask you to help us with a gift today. We need to hear from you soon because of the very special year-end matching grant that we were given by friends of this ministry. It will effectively double any gift you give to help families today. So, please don't wait. If you can give a gift of $25, it becomes 50; 50 becomes 100. So, if you can help us, maybe think of it as a Christmas gift for that hurting family that you don't know, but needs you to help them today.
John: And our number is 800-232-6459; 800, the letter A and the word FAMILY. Or you can donate generously at www.focusonthefamily.com/radio . While you're there, be sure to learn about our entire Best of 2015 collection of 14 of the top "Focus on the Family" radio programs from this past year. And look at some of the resources that we have for you in terms of education and helping your child. We've got Carol's Ditty Bugs CD and we also have The Big What Now Book of Learning Styles that she's written, really helpful. And when you generous donate to Focus today, we'll send that book to you as our way of saying thank you for joining our support team.
Our program was provided by Focus on the Family and on behalf of Jim Daly, I'm John Fuller, hoping you have a great weekend with your family and inviting you back on Monday. We'll have an insightful program about training little boys to be good men when they grow up.
Jonathan Catherman: "You have to speak it so, Jonathan. You gave him no other options. You've told him he was embarrassing, in trouble, going home to be in time out. What else did you say to him?" I said, "I didn't say anything." She goes, "Every day you need to tell him to be strong, to be brave and to be of great courage."
End of ExcerptJohn: That's next time as we once again, help you thrive.
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