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Overview of the legal status of home-schooling in South Africa

The information provided by the media and government officials on the legal status of home-schooling in South Africa is often confusing to parents. The purpose of this article is to provide legal information on home-schooling in South Africa with references to the sources so that parents can verify the facts for themselves.

The legal situation is that international law, the SA Constitution and the SA Schools Act make provision to register children for education at home. However, the practical situation is that many provincial departments do not have administrative processes in place to register these home-school children. Those departments that do have processes in place are often administered by officials that do not understand home education or the law on home education, and these officials often require parents meet various conditions that are not required by the law. In this situation, more than 90% parents do not register their children for home education, because they are not convinced that it will be in the interest of their children to meet these illegal conditions.

The supreme law in South Africa is the constitution. The cornerstone of the constitution is the Bill of Rights which is described in chapter 2 of the constitution. According to art. 29(1) of the constitution, everybody in South Africa has the right to basic education, including children. This means that everybody has the right to decide whether they want basic education, where they want to receive this education and what the content of this education should be.

However, children are not capable of making these decisions for themselves. That is why art. 28 (1) (b) of the constitution states that children have the right to parental care. This means that parents must make decisions on behalf of the child about what is in the best interest of the child. This parental care also includes decisions on education. This means that parents must decide what type of education a child should receive, be it school education or home education, i.e. home-schooling.

When interpreting the Bill of Rights, the constitution also requires in art. 39 (1) (b) that courts must consider international law. One piece of international law that is applicable to this situation is art. 26 (3) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children. This confirms that the interpretation of the constitution described in the previous paragraph is correct, and that parents have a constitutional right to home-school their children.

This means that only parents have the authority to decide whether their children should receive their education at home or at a school. The constitution does not state that government officials have the authority to make that decision, and that parents must provide “… supporting arguments to substantiate that education at home will be in the interest of the learner …” when they ask for permission to educate their children at home. If you have the right to do something, you do not need to ask for permission. If you have to ask for permission, it is not a right, but a privilege.

The media sometimes mentions a number of things that parents must submit when they ask for permission to educate their children at home. For example, parents must submit their highest qualification. Neither the constitution nor the South African Schools Act state that the right to choose home education can only be granted to parents with certain levels of education. There is therefore no legal basis for requiring parents to submit their qualifications. Research has also shown repeatedly that the qualification of the parents has no influence on the success of home education. There is therefore also no educational basis to ask parents to submit their qualifications.

Articles also sometimes mention that parents must submit the curriculum that they plan to follow. This implies that department of education should approve the content of the home education, before permitting parents to educate their children at home. Apart from the fact that this requirement cannot be derived from the constitution nor the Schools act, a recent court judgement has also confirmed this. On 25 March 2012, Judge Cynthia Pretorius confirmed in the Pretoria High Court that the state curriculum is not binding on independent schools and parents who educate their children at home.

The SA Schools Act requires parents to register their children for education at home. This registration must be done at the provincial department of education. In practise however, most provincial departments do not have the administrative capability to register children for home education.

Some of the larger provincial departments have limited administrative capabilities to register children for home education. However, the officials in those departments have a very limited understanding of home education. Homeschooling parents are intimately involved with their children and know exactly what their children can or cannot do. However officials often require parents to keep “…records of attendance, records of progression as well as records of assessment.”  What value do cabinets full of records add to education? To ensure that mom will remember that her children were at home on 25 April 2011 in three years’ time?

Officials also do not understand the law that they are supposed to apply. Although the South African constitution, international law and court judgements all confirm that only parents have the authority to decide the type and content of the education for their children, provincial officials still require parents to submit the curriculum they plan to follow for approval. Officials act as if home education is a privilege and not a right.

At public meetings officials often talk about “our” children, as if the children belong to them, and as if they have the authority to make decisions on behalf of these children. The statement is often made that it takes a village to raise a child, and the department of education is regarded as an important part of this village. History and research has however shown that it does not take a village to raise a child, but committed parents.

Parents that register their children for home education at the provincial Department of Education are at risk that they will be required to meet various conditions that are not stipulated by the law. It is because parents want to avoid this risk that more than 90% of parents do not register their children. To date, not a single homeschooling parent has been successfully prosecuted for not registering their children for education at home.

Different approaches to home education

With so many resources available to the parent considering home-schooling, it is not always easy to decide what to choose. Below is a brief overview of some possible approaches to teaching at home.  If you can decide on a style of teaching that appeals to you, your  subsequent  choice of curriculum will hopefully be made a little easier.

All materials used for home-schooling fall into two main categories: textbook curricula or non-textbook curricula. Textbook curricula have graded textbooks and/or workbooks for each subject, and usually include teacher’s manuals and tests. Textbook curricula assume that you will be running your home-school along the same lines as an institutional school, i.e. completing work from the texts in daily increments in preparation for tests or exams.

Some work texts are designed in such a way that the students can work independently with minimum teacher preparation time and supervision. Other curriculum suppliers use the traditional school approach, but present their material on computer instead of using textbooks.

This is based on the writings of Charlotte Mason, a turn-of-the-century British educator. She disagreed with the tendency of modern educators to treat children as vessels to be filled with knowledge, and doing so by breaking knowledge down into isolated bits and by creating artificial experiences. Charlotte Mason believed in respecting children as persons, involving them in real-life situations and allowing them to read good books instead of “twaddle”. She called such good books “living books”, as they make a subject come alive, unlike dull and dry textbooks which assume that a child cannot reason for him- or herself. For more information on this approach read The Original Home Schooling Series by Charlotte Mason or The Charlotte Mason Companion by Karen Andreola.

Dr Raymond Moore has done extensive research into early childhood learning (learning or education?) He concludes that too many children suffer needless physical, emotional and mental stress from being placed into academic situations before their visual,  auditory and reasoning abilities as well as their nervous system and muscular co-ordination, are developed enough to complete conventional schooling tasks. Children are also often taught academic skills before they have the life experience or background knowledge to know what they are learning or to grasp the concepts involved; Another concern is that children under the age of 12 frequently spend more time with their peers than their parents, causing them to become peer dependent, i.e. they derive their sense of self-worth from their peers.

Dr Moore and his wife Dorothy are leading advocates of home-schooling, as it is within this framework that the above problems can be addressed. The Moores  advocate delaying academics until the child is physically, emotionally and mentally ready. When a child is ready, they advocate multi-sensory Maths and language programmes, and good books for all other subjects. For more information read The Successful Home School Family Handbook or Better Late than Early by Raymond and Dorothy Moore.

This approach refers to taking a theme or a topic (a unit of study) and delving into it over a period of time, integrating all subjects as they apply. The advantages of this approach are the following:

(a) all ages learn together, each taking in and doing what he or she can at his or her own level

(b) reduced planning time because “subjects” are not taught separately

(c) curiosity and independent thinking are stimulated

(d) there are no time restraints on the time required to complete a unit of study

(e) intensely studying one topic at time instead of studying several unrelated subjects is the more natural way to learn, and

(f) because knowledge is interrelated, it is more easily learned and remembered longer.

How to Create Your Own Unit Study by Valerie Bendt covers this topic in detail. KONOS is a unit study curriculum based on godly character traits.

This is an historical approach to education whose modern proponent is an Oxford graduate, Dorothy Sayers. In her essay, entitled The Lost Tools of Learning, she suggests that modern education’s great defect is that we teach our children subjects, but fail to teach them how to think. The remedy, she believes, is to reinstate the form of education that has produced many of the world’s greatest scholars:  Teaching language and thinking skills that can be used to master any subject.

The tools of learning needed to achieve this aim are collectively called The Trivium: the three parts each corresponding to a developmental stage in the child. The Grammar Stage, approximately ages 6-10, covers the stage when children most readily receive and memorise information. The goal as this stage is to master the elements of language and to develop a framework of knowledge. Latin is included as part of the mastery of language.

The second stage, from ages 10-12, is called the Dialectic Stage. At this age children demonstrate more abstract and independent thought. Their natural tendency to argue is channelled constructively by making use of debate, logical discussion, and how to draw correct conclusions that are supported by facts.

The final stage, from age 15, is the Rhetoric Stage. At this point the young person is taught to use language eloquently and persuasively, whether in the written or spoken form, to express what he or she thinks. For more information read Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning by Douglas Wilson or Teaching the Trivium by Harvey & Laurie Bluedorn.

This approach is based on the idea that children have a natural curiosity and an innate desire to learn that drives them to learn what they need to know when they need to know it. In his book, Teach Your Own, John Holt writes: “What children need is not new and better curricula but access to more and more of the real world; plenty of time and space to think over their experience, and to use fantasy and play to make meaning out of them; and advice, road maps, guide-books, to make it easier for them to get where they want to go (not where we think they ought to go), and to find out what they want to find out.

“Unschooling” may also refer to any non-structured approach, which allows the child to pursue his own interest with parental support and guidance. The child must be  surrounded by a rich environment of books and resources, and adults who model a learning lifestyle and are prepared to interact with him. For more information see The Relaxed Home School by Mary Hood.

Naturally it is also possible to have your own approach, borrowing ideas from any or all of the above.

Whatever you choose to do, take all the time necessary to come to the decision that is the right ‘fit’ for your family and circumstances. Remember that educating your child at home can be so different from conventional schooling, that it takes extra time to assimilate all the new concepts and ideas. Most of us have only ever known and  experienced  conventional schooling, so all our thoughts on education are within that framework. For home-schooling we need to change our perspective on education and see the base of learning as the home. Allow yourself time to do  this mental preparation.

Our acknowledgement to Kathy le Cordeur for this article

Raising great kids!

Raising a family is a work in progress. A supportive structure brimming with love, happiness and encouragement is the foundation of good parenting, while personal, social and emotional developments are the building blocks of well-rounded children. By Natasha Liviero, contributions by Joanna Kleovoulou, Clinical Psychologist from PsychMatters Centre

Here’s a brief rundown of the important developments parents need to facilitate during a child’s early years:

This aspect includes teaching children how to be confident about themselves and their abilities. Children should be encouraged to try new activities and to build personal interests and passions. These efforts should be praised with parents being mindful of what they say, not only for a job well done, but for the efforts made as well. “Help your child become involved in constructive experiences such as activities that encourage co-operation, rather than competition, as these are especially helpful in fostering self-esteem,” says Psychologist, Joanna Kleovoulou, from PsychMatters in Johannesburg.

Children need to be taught how to understand their own feelings as well as those of others. This will help them cope with emotions when things don’t go their own way and learn how to behave in different settings. As children mirror those around them, parents are responsible for setting a good example of how they interact with each other and other people. “Create a safe, nurturing home environment as a child who is exposed to parents repetitive fighting may become depressed and withdrawn,” warns Joanna Kleovoulou.

This is an area that even adults struggle with! It’s about teaching children how to develop friendships, to be kind and to ‘play nicely’ with others, while also creating an understanding of why people behave in certain ways. It is also important to monitor a child’s inaccurate self-beliefs. “Helping your child to set more accurate standards, and to be more realistic in evaluating themselves, will help him or her to develop a healthy self-concept,” says Joanna Kleovoulou from PsychMatters.

“Building your child’s self esteem is your child’s armour to face any challenge or developmental stage in his or her life. Children who feel good about themselves seem to have an easier time handling conflicts and resisting negative pressures. They are more expansive and more willing to reach out to the world in creating and maintaining friendships, as well as being more resilient and having emotional control.” Clinical Psychologist, Joanna Kleovoulou

Work hard and exceed expectations.

A great quality that will take your child far in life! Working hard and going above and beyond what is expected, whether at school, work or in a relationship, shows initiative and puts you ahead of the rest, paving a solid path to success.

Relationships take work.

Take the time to listen, praise and to show interest in the things that are important to your children, and teach them to do the same for others. Similarly, they need to learn to treat people fairly and to make amends when they behave badly, skills that will transfer well into adulthood.

Happiness is a choice.

Relying on other people to put a smile on your face is setting yourself up for disappointment. Teach your child to find peace and happiness within themselves and in the things they enjoy doing, not other people.

Be considerate.

No one likes rude, self-serving children (or adults)! Courtesy, consideration and respect for other people is another important life skill, which should be coupled with encouraging children to not judge others without ‘walking in their shoes!’

Choose your battles.

Life is hard enough without fretting the small stuff! Children should be taught to only tackle battles that really matter. A good measure is to ask: “Will this matter in a week’s time? ” or “Does this impact my long term happiness?” If the answer is no, encourage them to redirect their attention (and emotions) in a more positive direction!

Is time-out not working for your child?

We take a closer look at why children misbehave and discuss various discipline techniques that might work for you.

Were you spanked as a form of discipline when you were a child? I’m not talking about abusive hitting, but rather about that stinging, burning sensation on your behind when you did something naughty. I think many of us were and although we may have turned out to be quite decent, loving people, experts believe that children shouldn’t be spanked as a way to discipline them. Adversaries of corporal punishment argue that frequent spankings teach children that violence can be used to resolve conflict situations. So, if a spanking is not in order, how can you effectively discipline your children?

By being an aware parent for one. Joanna Kleovoulou, a clinical psychologist and the Director of PsychMatters Family Centre Bedfordview explains that being an ‘aware parent’ means that you have an understanding of your child’s needs, your own voids and pains and can act in the best interest of your child by making the most effective decisions for your child’s wellbeing. She says disciplining your child is really about supporting her positive goals in her daily life and teaching her to ultimately become responsible, co-operative, confident, loved and a loving young adult one day.

You can start this discipline journey by encouraging positive behaviours in your children, try to meet your child’s underlying needs, setting realistic goals for your child and balancing out the discipline with fun and playful times. However, you should also know when to ignore your child’s inappropriate behaviour and when there should be consequences for her actions. Joanna Kleovoulou says by setting limits and giving children choices, you are empowering them and this gives both you and your children a sense of control.

But, in order to effectively discipline your children, you’ll need to understand why they misbehave, test your patience and throw tantrums.

Because they are scheming, little rascals who are out to give us grey hair and alcoholic tendencies might be your first response to this question. But the root of the behaviour is a little more complex than you might have thought. Kerry Skinner an educational psychologist explains that children misbehave for many reasons, but more often than not their naughty behaviour can be attributed to a positive pay off when they misbehave. She believes children often behave badly because it’s the only time they get attention from their parents. Joanna Kleovoulou agrees and adds that the basic underlying factor for most children’s misbehaviour is to belong to and to have their physical and psychological needs met, so they may use both positive behaviour and misbehaviour to get that. “When they feel they cannot belong with positive behaviour they use misbehaviour, which may be acted out usually on an unconscious level.” In order to get behind the reason for your child’s behaviour you’ll have to sit down and really think about the benefits she is getting from misbehaving before you’ll be able to remedy the situation and effectively discipline her.

Testing behaviour, which I’m sure all parents are familiar with, is perfectly normal behaviour for children, according to Joanna Kleovoulou. She says testing your patience is a way for your children to assert themselves and to see how far they can push you to get what they want. Her solution to control this behaviour is to be firm with your child and to set appropriate limits based on your child’s age and stage.

Parents’ worst enemy, the tantrum often causes embarrassing scenes in super markets and busy restaurants. Joanna Kleovoulou explains that children display these actions when they perceive that their needs are not being met. Sometimes it may be best to ignore your child’s tantrums and be oblivious to the judging stares you’re getting from fellow shoppers, because you’ll only add fuel to the fires of the tantrum if you try to calm your child down. But on other occasions you may need to step in and put a limit in place by giving your child appropriate choices. Joanna Kleovoulou adds that many children do not have the capacity to tolerate frustration and may need to be held firmly and soothingly until the tantrum has subsided.

Buying your child a toy or chocolate every time she is good won’t do your child-parent relationship any favours. Kerry explains that so much of what children do, they do because they are looking for acceptance and approval. “If we teach our children that when they behave or do something right, they’ll get a reward, they’ll constantly rely on an external reward system as a way to feel gratified with themselves.” So, instead of making the connection that they’ll feel good and proud about themselves when they behave, they believe that they are good kids when they receive a sweetie or a toy and bad kids when they don’t, even though they haven’t done anything wrong. Kerry says that everything parents do when teaching and disciplining their children should be in balance. She adds that there are opportunities when you can provide a reward for your child, because it does create a motivating factor to be good, but you have to ensure that your children have enough internal motivation to alter their behaviour. “We all want a little bit of external motivation, recognition and reward, but it needs to be in balance and accompanied by a parent acknowledging to their child that they know she tried hard and to tell the child that she can be proud of herself.”

There are many ways to effectively discipline your children, but there is no one right way to do it and all the methods won’t work as well for everyone either. The consequences your child will have to face when she behaved badly will depend on both your and her personalities as well as the circumstances in which she misbehaved. If you are struggling to nip your child’s misbehaviour in the butt, why not try one of these techniques:

The choice and consequence technique

At PsychMatters parents are encouraged to use this technique. Kerry explains that it differs from the punishment and rewards system in a sense that parents are asked to provide a choice for their child. By providing your child with a choice of how she wants to behave you can still channel her behaviour in the right direction and she’ll feel in control of the situation. But, when a child is disciplined according to an autocratic system, her sense of self is minimised, her need to be responsible for her behaviour is taken away and she thus relies on her parents to mediate and monitor her behaviour. The choice and consequence technique, however, teaches children that when they choose to behave in a certain manner, they are choosing the consequence for their act as well. This system aims to bring back the responsibility to behave well to the child instead of the parents letting the child know when her behaviour is unacceptable.

Focus on good behaviour

Catch your child doing something good. We already mentioned that children usually misbehave because they know they’ll get attention from you when they do. So, next time when you are on the telephone and your child quietly sits on the floor next to you building blocks or drawing a picture for mommy, praise her on how well she behaved and kept herself busy while you were having an important conversation. This technique will work much more effectively than you overreacting when she tears up your emails while you are on the phone, because next time when she wants attention, she’ll find something even more mischievous to get attention from you. Try to always give a quick appraisal of what she is doing, whether you’re commenting on her beautiful drawing or giving her a quick hug, even when you are busy. By doing this there’ll be little need for her to misbehave just to get some attention from mom or dad.

Establish rules

Explain to your children what kind of behaviour you expect from them before you discipline them. For example, make it clear to your children that under no circumstances are they allowed to draw on the walls and furniture with their crayons. Explain to them why they cannot do this and what will happen if they do (you may decide to take away the crayons for the rest of the day). If they do draw on the walls, remind them that they can draw on paper, and that you’ve told them they are not allowed to draw on the walls. Remind them once more what will happen if you catch them doing it again. If they’ve chosen to ignore your warnings and draw on your walls again, enforce the consequences – take away the crayons for the rest of the day and get them to help you clean the wall.


Time-out involves physically removing your child from the setting in which she misbehaved and taking her to a boring room or corner. Time-outs usually work great when children need a ‘cooling off’ period and it gives them time to think about what they’ve done wrong. Experts suggest one minute of time out to the age of the child. So, if you have a three-year old, she’ll have to stay in the room or corner for three minutes before she can come out again. If she refuses to stay put or sit still, take her back to the corner or chair as many times as necessary to keep her there. Time-out should be used wisely and not for first time offences. Only after you’ve warned her that there will be consequences if she continues taking her brother’s toys from him, should you send her to time-out. The time-out should also take place in a safe environment where parents can still see the child, she shouldn’t be banished to a dark room or somewhere where she can hurt herself.

Joanna Kleovoulou explains that misbehaviour is not just about being ‘naughty or having tantrums’. She says it can be defined as behaviour that may be dangerous to your child. If your child’s misbehaviour persists, even after you’ve tried the various discipline techniques and a positive outcome wasn’t gained for both yourself and your child, seeking professional help with a psychologist may be needed. Joanna Kleovoulou adds that a child’s misbehaviour may be symptomatic of other problems faced in the child’s life and she may be unable to communicate that adequately or she may not have the insight to explain her inappropriate behaviour.

Call Psychmatters Family Therapy Centre on 011 450 3576 to find out more about Powerful Parenting Workshops.

See more at: http://psychmatters.co.za/media/aware-parenting-alternative-forms-discipline#sthash.YMXb7yst.h150GWQ1.dpuf

Being a child in the 21st Century

By Marzenna Almendro

Play Attention ® Practitioner (Edu-feedback  brain-training for attention difficulties), Reg. Psychometrist

Being a child in 2014 is vastly different to being a child a few short decades ago. Children today are bombarded with a highly competitive environment; they are expected to excel in the classroom, on the sports field and at extra-curricular activities. The trap parents all appear to fall into (perhaps unconsciously) is teaching our children they are valued only if they win or at the best at something. It’s not uncommon to hear a mom negotiate with her son, “If you get more than 80% average at the end of the term, I will buy you the latest PS3 game of your choice!”

Our children are striving for recognition and approval to build their sense of self-worth – whether that means hours practicing gymnastics, or getting to bed at 22:00 every night after studying to get those top marks. We need to raise our kids teaching them that they possess intrinsic value – not because they are good at something. If our children continue to grow up believing they are measured by their performance in various different avenues, they will grow into adults who may be looking for every opportunity to fill a void of neediness for recognition, leading to a life of endless unhappiness and searching.

Furthermore, if a child has a particular psychological predisposition, he may be at risk for developing mental illness such as Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Panic Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Separation Anxiety Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder and various Phobias – just to name a few.

So how do we motivate our children to reach their full potential, without putting the pressure on?

  • Allow your child to choose which extra-curricular activity they would like to partake in (even if you had avid dreams for your little boy to be the next best Springbok and he wants to take up tap dancing). When your child gets to the inevitable stage where they want to throw the towel in, remind them that they chose the musical instrument or sport, and like all commitments, we need to see them through to the end.
  • Guide your child to set goals that are realistic, and are within their capability. Remember that no two children are the same, so even with siblings – one may be gifted at math whilst the other a fantastic sportsmen.
  • Focus on the process rather than the end result. Praise your child efforts rather than what marks they end up receiving.
  • Remember it’s about your child and not YOU! Don’t try to reach your own “missed dreams” by living vicariously through your children.
  • Teach your child to find satisfaction and pride in everything they do – and not to rely on others for praise.
  • Try to support your child and encourage them as far as possible; avoid criticism that is not constructive.

If your child is more anxious than you consider “normal”, basic relaxation techniques can go a long way in alleviating their stress. Teach them to breath in slowly for five counts, hold their breath, and then exhale for ten – and repeat three to five times. This extremely basic exercise slows the heart rate down – potentially avoiding a complete melt-down and panic attack.

If you still feel your child needs some sort of intervention to help teach them basic relaxation techniques, consider allowing your child to attend a CalmKids workshop at PsychMatters. These workshops teach kids to keep calm in stressful situations, improve the quality of their sleep, learn to self sooth, develop their self-esteem and self-confidence, and manage their moods and emotions in appropriate ways. We use a combination of mindful games, story-telling with exercises, stretching, breathing, peer massage, positive affirmations, visualisations and relaxation – all the while having a great deal of fun and making new friends.

If your child is experiencing extreme anxiety that is debilitating and affecting various parts of their life, then receiving a formal diagnosis and committing to therapy with a psychologist may be the answer.

As parents it is our responsibility to ensure our children have a good self-esteem, because a healthy self-esteem is the best precursor for success throughout life.

For more information on:

  • Individual therapy sessions,
  • Our CalmKids workshop (for ages 5 – 7 years)
  • Confident Kidz Workshop (for ages 8 – 13 years)
  • Living Legends Teen Workshop (for  teens)

Please contact reception on 011 450 3576 or info@psychmatters.co.za

BREAKING NEWS! PsychMatters presents the December Holiday Club – Fun for the kids, and ‘Sanity’ time for mom and dad!

The CalmKids workshops will be held this December to empower children with skills which they can apply throughout life. The dates are as follows:

  • Workshop #1: Monday 1 December – Friday 5 December (9:00 – 13:00)
  • Workshop #2: Monday 8 December – Friday 12 December (9:00 – 13:00)
  • Workshop #3: Monday 15 December – Friday 19 December (9:00 – 13:00)

Cost per workshop: R 1200.00 (includes five classes from Monday – Friday, healthy snacks and meals and a certificate of completion). Bookings are now open and limited; book today to avoid disappointment!

– See more at: http://psychmatters.co.za/newsletters/child-21st-century#sthash.SCRCxXvx.jRiDyjXl.dpuf

6 Brain Training Exercises for Children and Teens

by Dr. Robert Myers, Child Psychologist

When you look at kids and people in general, it’s easy to see that we all have differences in our “wiring,” in how our brains work. As a parent, you see these differences between your children every day. Your son is great at figuring out how long it will take him to write that English paper while your daughter always seems to think she’ll get it done in an hour, even though she never does. Or one child remembers everything she’s told, while the other can’t remember a log-in and password a minute after you just said it.

The ability to plan, manage time and remember details are all mental abilities—or brain functions—known as executive functions. Executive functions also include the ability to regulate emotions, solve problems, be flexible, organized and communicate well, among others. Executive functions strongly influence your child’s ability to excel not only at certain tasks, like being able to plan ahead so all their homework gets done on time, but also play a part in determining how successful they may be in school, work and other roles in their lives.

Strengthened executive functions will enable your child to be more successful academically, become better able to cope with life’s daily challenges, and improve their ability to relate with others.

The good news is that science has shown that we can change our brain wiring and improve our executive functions. What this means for parents is that while your child may have difficulties at home or at school that are at least partially based on delays or differences in executive functions, through training and practice he or she can develop these lagging skills. Strengthened executive functions will enable your child to be more successful academically, become better able to cope with life’s daily challenges and improve their ability to relate with others—leading to a more satisfying and productive life.

You can help your child develop these skills through brain training exercises—or better yet, games. Children naturally learn through play. Play involves the whole child in the experience and thus intensifies the learning experience. Practice is also important. In the brain, each time a behavior is repeated it strengthens the brain’s “wiring,” the ability to do the behavior more successfully the next time. Think of it this way: helping your child learn an executive function is no different than when they learn to ride a bike or recite the alphabet. Make it fun and keep at it, and you’ll see gains.

Here are six activities you can do with your child to promote healthy brain development that will result in improvements in several key executive functions. By the way, these exercises not only help kids; they work for adults as well!

Practicing deep breathing (“elevator breathing” or moving the breath to all parts of the body) helps improve memory as well as emotional control. Kids love doing this, so do it often. Start out by having your child sitting in a cross-legged position or lying down and breathing naturally. After she has practiced breathing naturally, say:

Imagine that your breath is like an elevator taking a ride through your body. To start the elevator, I want you to breathe in through your nose.  Now breathe out all your air. Now breathe in and take your elevator breath up to your chest. Hold it. Now breathe out all of your air.  Now breathe in and take your elevator breath up to the top floor, up through your throat into your face and forehead. Hold it.  Now breathe out and feel your elevator breath take all your troubles and worries down through your chest, your belly, your legs and out the elevator door in your feet.

Our brains and our bodies are part of our whole self, and both parts need exercise. When we “exercise” them together, we are actually helping various functions of the brain work more collaboratively and stay in sync. Motor coordination is a function of our brain as well as our body. “Exercises” like those below promote integration between essential brain functions, leading to an overall better performing brain.

This greatly helps coordination.  Kids of all ages can easily learn to do this. Every morning before getting out of bed, have your child slowly begin to move all their toes on both feet up and down, and then change to just the two big toes.

Have your child try doing things with their non-dominant hand. If they are right-handed, have them use their left and if left-handed, use their right for things like writing, getting dressed and eating.

You can do simple exercises with your child like sitting and touching your right elbow to your left knee. Do this five times and then do left elbow to right knee. Repeat several times. Or you can do the “windmill” by standing with feet spread apart and alternate between touching your left foot with your right hand and vice versa. Repeat several times.

Learning to play either the piano or an electronic keyboard is one of the best ways to improve brain integration. An internet search will bring up instructional videos you can use at home. If you can find a Yamaha music program for children in your area, I highly recommend it for children as young as three up to young teens.

Activities to improve memory and concentration are important for all of us!

For younger children, you can take a few of their toys and line them up. Then cover them and take one away. See if they can tell you which one is missing. You can also have them try to remember short lists of familiar objects in the home. Try remembering them forward and backward.

For older children and teens, try putting random objects in front of them for 15 seconds, then remove the objects and see how many they can remember. Start out with five and keep increasing the number as they master the task. You can also help auditory memory by giving them a random list of numbers or words orally and having them repeat them. Start with only 2 or 3 and work up from there.

Playing games like checkers and chess, as well card games including UNO, Hearts, Go Fish and Speed teach problem solving, planning and cooperation (such as taking turns and handling frustration). Board games are also great for this, such as Monopoly, Sorry! and Yahtzee. Games like Jenga and Operation improve attention, concentration, coordination and frustration tolerance. Another plus is that playing games together is fun for everyone and helps strengthen family bonds. Try it once a week and see what it does for your child and your relationship.

There are many great websites offering free games that are both fun and improve a wide variety of academic skills. This is “screen time” parents can actually feel good about! Check out www.kidsknowit.comwww.kidsmathgamesonline.com and www.learninggamesforkids.com.

In today’s world of constant texting, talking—really communicating—is getting to be a lost art. Taking time each day with each child to learn about their triumphs and challenges and sharing yours will greatly improve your child’s communication and conversational skills. Sharing your triumphs and challenges can also help them to learn problem solving skills. Family dinnertime is an awesome time to do this and a great tradition to start. Or read a book with your child and ask questions about what was happening. Discuss the events and also the feelings, not only how the characters were feeling but what your child was thinking and feeling as well. Share your thoughts and feelings as well.

Taking time to teach, encourage and participate with your child in these activities will not only improve brain function but build relationships and reduce stress in all who participate. Play may be the work of the child but it is good for adults to slip into their own inner child now and then as well. So “exercise” your brain along with your child’s, knowing you are having fun together while promoting growth.