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Our kids, ages 7 and 10, brought home nice letters from teachers asking parents to read with their children this summer. Attached was a list of “40 books all kids should read before they’re 12.” Who makes these lists? How do we know if the books are worthwhile? What if we choose our own books?

Choosing your own books is just fine. It’s reading that counts! The late California literacy leader Doris Dillon created grade-level-specific booklists for teachers to send home the last day of school. But she always added a note: “These are just suggestions. Nothing is required reading! Have fun creating and reading your very own list of summer favorites!”

Four decades of data show that summer reading keeps kids’ skills sharp, especially when they freely choose the books they read. Stephen Krashen, professor emeritus at USC’s Rossier School of Education, found that allowing kids to select titles not only improves their comprehension, it can also improve their spelling, writing and grammatical development.

Use compiled lists for ideas, says Carl Harvey, library media specialist at North Elementary School in Noblesville, Indiana.

“Review where the lists came from and who influenced them,” he explains. “Some lists might leave off excellent books with controversial themes. Other lists may lean too heavy on the classics and ignore new titles. Many great children’s books are available. Any ’should read’ list is very subjective!”

With thousands of new children’s and young adult titles published each year — and thousands more on publisher backlists — how do you identify books so compelling that kids won’t want to turn off the lights (or power down the tablet) at bedtime?

Start with their interests, says Harvey.

“Parents often have an idealized notion of what kids should spend the summer reading,” he says. “Does your son play ‘Minecraft’? Look for a strategy book about it. Does your daughter love one author? Find other books by that writer. A captivating series is perfect for summer.” (Most series’ authors have websites that draw readers in.)

Let kids choose. Don’t worry if it looks like “junk” to you, says Harvey.

“If your son love superheroes, encourage comics and graphic novels,” he urges.

Expect trial and error in the selection process. At the library, let your kids choose an armful of books. Read those that click with them and return those that don’t. You won’t have any regrets. If you’re downloading books, the same rules apply.

Don’t rule out books because they’re not the right age level, says Valerie Lewis, children’s literature expert and co-founder of Hicklebee’s Bookstore in San Jose, California.

“There’s really no such thing as a ‘10-year-old and up’ book,” she says. “If your daughter chooses something she’s emotionally not ready for, explain that it’s a book for when she is older. But don’t rule out scary books. We all survived ‘Hansel and Gretel.’”

However, Harvey advises that if parents are concerned about a book’s appropriateness, “The best way to decide is to read it themselves.”

Meanwhile, continue to read aloud to your children, Harvey recommends. Summer is a good time to select a compelling book that’s a stretch for them to read on their own. Stop at a “cliffhanger” point each evening. Reading aloud has tremendous benefits, not the least of which is quality time with Mom or Dad.

I’m tired of researchers telling parents to “limit kids’ screen time.” We want them to be tech-smart, yet we harp at them to put down their digital devices. Come on! Can we get real about kids and video games?

Kids today spend an average of seven hours a day on some sort of electronic device, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Furthermore, according to the Pew Research Center, “fully 97 percent of teens ages 12 to 17 play computer, web, portable or console games.”

Greg Toppo, a former public school teacher and USA Today’s K-12 education reporter, urges folks to appreciate the learning potential in gaming. He says that games “believe” in players. They “allow learners to learn at their own pace, take risks, cultivate deeper understanding and even fail and try again.”

Gaming encourages kids to succeed in ways that “too often elude them in school, while fostering grit, resilience and a commitment to learning,” says Toppo, who makes the case in his new book, “The Game Believes in You” (Palgrave Macmillan Trade, 2015).

He asks parents to distinguish between games that “require players to test and improve their skills, follow a narrative and take part in teamwork and interact with other people” and those that don’t. Save your worries for games that “pull us away from others and into hours of solitary, uninterrupted play, especially if they don’t require much in the way of skills.”

Research suggests that girls can benefit from gaming because it strengthens visual-spatial skills, such as attention and mental rotation ability, which are generally less developed than in boys. Hank Pellissier, director of the Piedmont, California-based Brighter Brains Institute, points to a University of Toronto study suggesting that “only 10 hours of training with an action video game” decreased or eliminated the female visual-spatial disadvantage. (For more of Pellissier’s education analysis, go to greatschools.org.)

How can you identify games that promote positive outcomes? Media watchdog commonsensemedia.org reviews and rates video games for content and age appropriateness. Children’s Technology Review, a subscription-based source of more than 11,000 reviews of commercial children’s digital media products, is continually updated and available in most school and public libraries. Go to childrenstech.com for more information.

Parents should realize that “games with adult ratings carry them for a reason,” says Toppo. He asks parents concerned about a particular game: Have you sat down and played the game with your kids? Have you asked them what they’re getting out of it?

Children’s media advocates suggest parents and kids engage in “joint media engagement, a fancy term for sitting on the couch playing with your kids and talking about what’s happening onscreen,” says Toppo.

When you do this, monitor your own reactions. Do you take failures in stride? How do you react to being killed by the same bad guy in the same spot? Do you do a victory dance or gloat when you win?

“As with real life,” Toppo explains, “your kids are watching, though they may not seem to be. They’ll learn as much about you from your failures as your successes, so fail well.”

What summer activities do you recommend so kids don’t forget what they’ve learned and are ready to start their new grade in the fall?

Teachers love this question, because summer learning loss is real. Research by Duke University professor Harris Cooper shows that without stimulating activities to keep kids’ brains in gear during the lazy days of summer, their new knowledge gets hazy.

Studies find that students who “veg out” during vacation show little or no academic growth over summer, at best. At worst, they lose one to three months of learning.

Learning loss is greater in math than reading, says Cooper. He hypothesizes that most parents encourage kids to read over the summer, but are less likely to pay attention to math.

That’s why Charleston, Illinois, teacher Pam Evans recommends that kids practice math skills they’ve haven’t mastered.

“If kids don’t know their basic addition, subtraction, multiplication and division facts fluently,” she says — meaning, “by heart” — then summer is the time to nail them.

Evans suggests three websites for fun practice: sumdog.com, straightace.com and tenmarks.com. She also encourages parents to involve kids in everyday math; this can include measuring items around the house, graphing daily temperatures, estimating shopping costs and using fractions while cooking.

Wendy Breit, a South Beloit, Illinois, second-grade teacher, thinks that younger children are less likely to experience a “summer slump” when parents actively reinforce skills. On the last day of school, she sends home weekly activity cards and a calendar with different skill-builder suggestions for students and parents to do together. She says they offer easily scheduled “personal time with children and just enough structure to make the transition to back-to-school routines less rough.”

Lisa Ann Schoenbrun, an El Paso, Texas, educator, says the best way to energize young brains is to make each vacation day count.

“Limit screen time to one hour a day,” she urges. “Get kids outside. Have them cook up projects — make a lemonade stand, bake cookies for neighbors, clean out toys and books and donate them to a shelter; make a difference by volunteering.”

Schoenbrun suggests giving kids a notebook so that they can “keep a daily journal over the summer. Nothing intense — what they ate, who they played with. Every few days, using a dictionary and thesaurus for fun, have them add descriptive adjectives and adverbs and correct punctuation.”

Schoenbrun suggests taking advantage of summer programs at “local museums, zoos, bookstores, parks and recreation facilities, Boys and Girls Clubs, YMCAs and nearby universities — especially those with education departments.”

Team up with other families for educational trips to nearby nature centers and historic sites.

As the new school year approaches, have your children brush up on their skills and also look at the curriculum for the next grade, advises Schoenbrun.

“There are many inexpensive books to guide you,” she says, “such as the ‘Summer Bridge Activities’ series” (Carson-Dellosa Publishing).

Keep a schedule during summer, encourages Helen Merante, a retired Wisconsin principal.

“Sure, kids benefit from unstructured time, but maintain some routines,” she says. “Plug in time for reading and other brain-boosting activities. Routines help kids get back on track when it’s time to go back to class.”

Celebrate National Summer Learning Day on June 19. For more, go to summerlearning.org.

This summer we plan to visit colleges with our son, a rising senior and B-plus student with a learning disability. His counselor is pointing him to our community college, but he wants to go away to a four-year school that isn’t a “pressure cooker.” Are those college guides on Amazon.com reliable for making a list?

They’re a good place to start. The major college guide publishers include Barron’s Educational Series, College Board, Sourcebooks (e.g., “Fiske Guide to Colleges”), Peterson’s and Princeton Review.

Before you invest in any of them, go to your local library or bookstore and give them a “flip-test,” says Sally Reed, editor of CollegeBoundNews.com, a monthly publication on college admissions and financial aid.

“Assess their potential usefulness,” she says. “Some are easy to use. Others may have information you don’t need. Make sure the books are up-to-date. Librarians and major bookstores usually keep current editions on the shelves.”

Each publisher offers a general guide. Some publish supplemental titles too. For example, in addition to the “Fiske Guide to Colleges,” Sourcebooks publishes the “Fiske Guide to Getting Into the Right College,” a book that helps students browse more than 2,000 four-year schools in the U.S.

Peterson publishes the “Four-Year Colleges” series as well as the “Scholarships, Grants and Prizes” series — information on millions of privately funded awards available to college students.

The College Board published the “College Handbook 2015,” with information on 2,200 four-year colleges and universities and 1,700 two-year community colleges and technical schools. The College Board also published the “Book of Majors 2015″ to explain various majors and what graduates can do with them after graduation.

Princeton Review published the “Complete Book of Colleges, 2015 Edition” and has annual editions of “The Best 379 Colleges” and “Paying for College Without Going Broke.” You might be interested in checking out its “K&W Guide to College Programs and Services for Students With Learning Disabilities or Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder,” which is a good resource for students who need additional support at college.

Reed recommends searching the website Colleges That Change Lives (ctcl.org) and the book by the same name (Penguin Books, 2012).

U.S. News & World Report is famous for its rankings (or infamous, depending on your perspective). Its “Best Colleges 2015″ ranked schools according to different criteria and offered data on application to acceptance ratios. The U.S. Department of Education is also creating its own rankings system.

Some publishers offer digital versions, but Reed likes paperbacks because families can browse them together.

“While the ultimate decision is your son’s,” she says, “students benefit from family feedback in the narrowing process.”

Don’t overschedule college visits. Unless the colleges are very close, one a day is optimal.

“Leave time to visit the campus outside the organized tour,” says Reed. “Engage students. Get a sense of the atmosphere. Encourage your son to take photos and notes and keep contact information of people you meet so he can ask questions once he returns home.”

Reed advises families to keep it simple: “College visits should be fun rites of passage for families. Don’t ask your son to tell you what he thinks after each visit. Let him digest all he’s learning. Wait until you return home to weigh the pros and cons.”

Four teachers I respect started a charter school that’s now struggling. I’m an accountant, and they’ve asked me to join their board. I love their mission — to put low-income kids on a college track — but wonder how I can help. What are the responsibilities of a school board?

School boards have key responsibilities, including hiring and managing the school leaders, ensuring financial best practices, promoting the mission and overseeing student progress. Board members are central to a charter’s success.

Charters operate independently from public schools, are free from most government regulations and often form teacher-union contracts. They are approved by an outside authority that differs from state to state.

The authorizer holds schools accountable for student performance and financial viability, and can close schools if they don’t produce satisfactory results. Some charters are run by CMOs: for-profit or nonprofit “charter management organizations” that manage several schools.

During the 2013-2014 school year, there were 6,440 charter schools in the U.S. serving 2.7 million students. During that time frame, 640 new schools opened and roughly 200 existing charters were closed. This 3-to-1 ratio has held steady for five years, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Low enrollment, financial problems and poor academic performance are the most common reasons charters get shut down.

In the early days of charters, board selection was often an afterthought. The thinking was, “Find a good principal and teachers, and we’re good to go.”

As the movement matured, charter leaders began to focus on school governance to avoid pitfalls such as schools abruptly closing due to financial instability, poor test scores and crony hiring.

The late Mary Mitchell, co-founder of Girls Prep in New York (now part of Public Prep Network), said of her experience, “You can’t have a successful charter without a team of energetic, informed and honest-broker board members. The board chooses the principal, helps build staff capacity, sets standards for professional development, oversees budgets and raises money to supplement public funds. It ‘owns’ student performance. Schools don’t fail; boards fail their schools. When that happens, we fail the kids.”

To promote good governance, some authorizers require or strongly encourage charters to bring on objective board members with governing experience and required skill sets.

Do your due diligence before signing on. Read June Kronholz’s piece, “Boot Camps for Charter Boards,” in the summer 2015 edition of Education Next (educationnext.org). She describes how nonprofit Charter Board Partners recruits, trains and places professionals willing to serve on charter school boards.

Read The Top 10 Mistakes of Charter School Boards at boardontrack.com, a website that provides guidance for board members.

Go on YouTube and watch Carrie Irvin’s TEDx Talk, “The Key to Great Schools is Great Boards.”

Delve into data on charter school performance at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools (publiccharters.org).

Know where you stand on controversial issues. For example, should your school “back fill” seats — admit new students whenever current ones leave? How equitable is your application process?

Visit charter schools in your community, including the one whose board you may join. May 3-9 is National Charter Schools Week, and many schools plan special events for parents and visitors during this time.

Parents are starting a testing “opt out” movement in our district. Some are against Common Core. Others feel their kids are test-stressed. Don’t we need measures to know what kids are really learning? Why can’t those who mandate the tests explain this better?

Several issues fuel the opt-out movement; too many tests is one of them. Others include contradictory policy decisions, political posturing, misinformation about the Common Core (no, it’s not a federal mandate), parents’ fears that kids are being pushed too far and teachers’ worries that over-testing drains the joy from school.

One Florida educator told me recently, “Testing and the prep that goes with it will eat up 80 out of 180 school days this year. That’s just crazy.”

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has acknowledged these concerns. He favors limits on testing, but told Florida civic leaders that when parents refuse to let their kids take statewide exams, “it robs educators of a means to measure progress and understanding of what our children know and don’t know.”

If your district has too many tests, it could choose well-designed ones that provide good data and use that information to improve teaching. Some states and districts are even starting to cut back. Palm Beach County, Florida, for instance, eliminated 55 tests this year.

Parents should push lawmakers and districts to take a good look at which tests matter and drop those that don’t, says Bill Jackson, founder and president of GreatSchools, an organization that helps parents get a solid education for their children.

“Parents are smart,” he says. “They know that test scores can’t capture many of the qualities of a good school. But scores from a well-designed standardized test do tell you if the school is focused on the basics of reading and math. They offer a very simple, objective way of comparing two schools that may not have much else in common. If a parent finds that their school has a high percentage of students who are meeting state standards, that gives them something very valuable: peace of mind.”

States also need to prepare parents if the test scores based on new assessments are likely to be lower than previous years, notes Jackson. The new tests “are a more accurate reflection of what students know and can do than past exams, and the results are more useful to classroom teachers.”

Jackson applauds Kentucky, an early adopter of higher standards and new tests, for doing a good job of getting these messages out.

It’s worth noting, says Jackson, that a “new report from the American Institutes for Research shows that students in Kentucky are making faster progress than students in states that haven’t adopted the Common Core.”

He advises parents to do their own homework. Start with the online resources below and those created by your state.

– Common Core State Standards Initiative: corestandards.org/what-parents-should-know

– Student Achievement Partners: achievethecore.org

– Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers: parcconline.org

– Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium: smarterbalanced.org

My daughter’s fourth-grade teacher asked the class to bring in favorite poems to share. At the end of the month, parents are invited to help publish a poetry anthology for each kid to take home. I was like, really? With the big push on STEM subjects and Common Core math and nonfiction reading, they’re doing poetry?

Please tell your son’s teacher I’m a fan. Really! Kids love reading, reciting and writing poetry. It’s good to hear that with all the test-prep stress, some teachers still pause to celebrate National Poetry Month in April.

And why not? Poetry lends itself to several English/language arts literacy standards for close reading and narrative writing. Research shows that poetry helps students develop an ear for the sounds and rhythms of words.

Teachers have long held that being exposed to poetry in the early years can foster a lasting appreciation of language. Literacy expert Mem Fox thinks that if children know eight nursery rhymes by heart by the time they’re 4 years old, they’re usually among the best readers by the time they’re 8.

Fox says, “Rhymers will be readers; it’s that simple.”

The study of poems has been an enduring staple in American textbooks, says New York-based education editor Nancy Hereford.

“The earliest McGuffey Readers contained poems, as well as essays and speeches,” she says. “For decades, students were required to study and memorize certain poems chosen to enrich a sense of history, or to hone memory and oral language skills.”

In addition, poetry is fun for kids. Pop culture is packed with poetry in song lyrics. Poems promote word play and painlessly introduce new vocabulary. They can inspire reluctant students to read and write. Poems can also illuminate great moments in history and help students think about topics in new ways.

Creative teachers are designing Common Core standards-aligned reading and writing lessons around poems from such a wide range of authors as Odgen Nash, Shel Silverstein, Walt Whitman and Maya Angelou. To find standards that invite the study of poetry, go to corestandards.org or achievethecore.org and search “poetry.”

So find time for rhyme with your daughter. Libraries have great poetry collections for kids that are readily available this month. Two well-known authors of poetry for children, Lee Bennett Hopkins and Jack Prelutsky, have edited dozens of rich anthologies on a range of topics — from pets and farm animals to American history, math, baseball, space travel, seasons and city streets. The series “Poetry for Young People” (Sterling Publishers) introduces kids to poets including Robert Frost, Langston Hughes and Emily Dickinson.

Want to polish your math and reading skills? “Edgar Allan Poe’s Pie” (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012), a collection of brainteaser poems by J. Patrick Lewis, reimagines classic poems with math puzzler twists.

Pore over these poetry collections with your daughter and you’ll both be ready for “Poem in Your Pocket Day” on April 30. (For more information, go to poets.org/national-poetry-month.)

I’m a parent organizer of our elementary school’s Earth Day celebration. This year the event falls during testing, so school-wide activities are difficult to schedule. I want to send home activities, so parents can increase kids’ awareness of their obligation to our planet. Any suggestions?

When the late Wisconsin Sen. Gaylord Nelson launched the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970, it was called an “environmental teach-in” to raise awareness of the need for cleaner air and water. While the media focused on the day itself, he was more interested in a sustained effort. He wanted local leaders to schedule events that worked for their own schools and communities. That spirit still guides the celebration.

If testing falls on Earth Day (April 22), the folks at the Green Education Foundation have suggested celebrating National Green Week anytime from Feb. 2 through May 2. They provide free learning materials created by top educators and subject-area experts in fields such as green architecture and sustainable energy.

These lessons, projects and activities can be used for whole-school events, individual classrooms, families or youth groups, covering green themes such as Sustainable Transportation, Energy, Gardening, Waste Reduction, Sustainable Water and Green Building. Accompanying each theme you’ll find recommended reading suggestions, sustainability tips and a challenge for young learners. Go to greeneducationfoundation.org.

You could combine your Earth Day and Arbor Day (April 24) celebrations. “It’s important for kids to learn the important role of trees in our daily lives — how they provide shade and wind breaks, cool our climate and clean our air — and what care trees need to thrive,” says Iowa garden writer and arborist Luke Miller. “Planting a tree that is suitable for your region offers enduring lessons. Choose a site easily accessible, so kids can water the tree and observe and measure its growth over time.”

The Arbor Day Foundation offers a free downloadable Nature Explore Families’ Club Kit with field-tested resources designed to help you organize a Families’ Club at your school or in your neighborhood. The kit helps connect families with the outdoors and introduces them to a variety of natural spaces in the community. Go to natureexplore.org/families/FamiliesClub.cfm.

Award-winning children’s nonfiction author Sandra Markle wants families to know that by participating in these activities, “they are really part of a powerful global movement.”

She cites the work of SavingSpecies, which she calls “a great organization with worldwide efforts to save habitat and thus wildlife.”

Markle mentions one activity the group is working on: “School groups in Brazil are involved in raising native trees from seeds to saplings and helping with a reforestation project that will help save golden lion tamarins, an endangered monkey.” (Follow her research on this project at sandra-markle.blogspot.com.)

In addition, families can add high-quality books with environmental themes to bedtime reading. Ask your librarian for suggestions, or look for titles on these lists: the Green Earth Book Awards (Nature Generation); Growing Good Kids Book Awards (American Horticultural Society); Outstanding Science Trade Books (National Science Teachers Association); Excellence in Science Books (American Association for the Advancement of Science); Green Reads (PBS Parents); and the Riverby Award List of Nature Books for Young Readers (John Burroughs Association).

Our PTO needs more volunteers. You’d think that the chance to contribute to their kids’ school would get people through the door, but turnout is stagnant. How do successful PTOs keep volunteers and continue to recruit new ones?

The folks at online resource PTO Today know why people raise their hands to give their time and talent — and why they burn out.

“Studies show that people are motivated to volunteer for six reasons,” says Tim Sullivan, president of PTO Today. “Sure, people want to make a difference in other people’s lives and to support a particular organization. But personal motivations drive the decision, too. Folks volunteer to learn something new, grow professionally or personally, meet new people and feel better about themselves.”

When PTO presidents hang out the “Volunteers Welcome” sign, Sullivan advises showing would-be recruits what’s in it for them. Research by Claremont Graduate University psychology professor Allen Omoto finds that the more you align your activities with a volunteer’s interests, the more people you’ll get and the more productively they’ll pitch in.

Sullivan says to keep these recruiting tips in mind:

– Don’t “guilt” people into signing up. Instead, promote how it benefits them. It’s more effective to say, “You’ll learn new skills, meet new people and get to know your child’s teacher better,” than, “We need all parents to show up!”

– Enlist a volunteer coordinator. This person organizes volunteers’ time, explains clearly what the task and time commitment is and why it matters.

“Choose a networker who connects experienced volunteers with new ones, makes newbies feel comfortable and lessens the ’social risk’ some folks perceive when joining a new group,” says Sullivan. “This person invites parents who need to get comfortable before they volunteer to school social events.” (If you have non-English speaking parents, make sure to recruit a bilingual coordinator.)

– Match volunteers’ jobs with interests. Sullivan suggests using a Volunteer Interest Survey that allows potential volunteers to decide how they might use their talents and time in ways that will benefit the PTO. (Find a survey template to tailor to your group at PTOtoday.com/magazine.)

“If someone is interested in volunteering because it will help her meet people, assign her to the school’s Welcome Committee to orient new families,” suggests Sullivan. “If another can only work on your website at night, great!”

– Have worthwhile work ready. “Nothing kills volunteer spirit like showing up and having nothing to do,” warns Sullivan. “Make sure that from day one, your new recruits are engaged in purposeful activities.”

– Broaden your scope. “Sure, parents are your natural constituency, but reach out to seniors, youth groups and persons with disabilities,” says Sullivan.

– Make it easy to stay involved. This might mean providing childcare, offering meals and snacks or giving virtual work arrangements.

– Remember to reach out. Don’t rely on email blasts, fliers in backpacks or Facebook pleas. “Contact folks, one-on-one,” says Sullivan. “A Gallup report shows that people are four times more likely to volunteer when someone from the organization personally asks them to come on board.” (For more information, go to PTOToday.com.)

Our daughter, a high-school sophomore, is smart but highly emotional, distractible and melts down when things aren’t perfect. We’re working with her school counselor to help her focus, prioritize and achieve her high expectations. We don’t want her on attention-deficit drugs. He suggests that she could benefit from mindfulness training. What is it?

Psychologists define mindfulness as the nonjudgmental awareness of experiences in the present moment. Some call it learning how to regulate our inner compass.

While mindfulness techniques such as meditation have been around for thousands of years, in the last few decades scientists have begun to study their effects on our well-being.

Research shows that learning to be mindful can help adults reduce stress, manage pain, shorten migraines, get better sleep and control unproductive emotions. More and more cardiologists encourage heart-surgery patients to learn meditation as part of recovery. Some dietitians add “mindfulness training” to weight-loss programs.

The scientist who brought mindfulness into medicine’s mainstream is Jon Kabat-Zinn, professor of medicine emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and founder of its Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society.

Kabat-Zinn’s work has inspired educators to include mindfulness training in social-emotional learning curricula.

“Any stressed-out parent who has read Zinn’s book, ‘Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting’ (Hachette, 1998), has thought, ‘Kids ought to be learning this stuff in school,’” says New York educator Miriam Kahn. “Teaching a class how to calm themselves with their breath can reduce stress, promote mutual respect and de-escalate discipline problems.”

Several studies show the potential benefits of mindfulness practices for students’ physical health, psychological well-being, social skills and academic performance, writes Emily Campbell, research assistant for education at the University of California Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center.

One published recently in Developmental Psychology describes how a program called MindUP taught fourth- and fifth-grade students to practice mindfulness. Over a four-month period, they improved their behavior and social skills and even got significantly higher math scores than the control group.

Richmond, California, teacher Jean-Gabrielle Larochette realized that the many minutes he spent getting kids to settle into the school day ate into their precious instructional time.

“We tell kids to be quiet, calm down, stay on task, regulate and make good choices, but we’re not teaching them how to do that,” he says.

A mindfulness practitioner himself, Larochette taught them the focused breathing techniques he used daily. The results were so compelling that he founded the Mindful Life Project (mindfullifeproject.org) to expand the program to area schools.

A program offered by the nonprofit group Mindful Schools (mindfulschools.org) promotes practices that help students pay attention, build empathy and self-awareness, improve self-control and reduce stress. Research has shown that after six weeks of training, student behavior can improve significantly in those areas and that the gains can be sustained with a few minutes of daily practice.

Will mindfulness training help your daughter? It may be worth a try. If you can’t locate a qualified local trainer, find well-recommended resources by Kabat-Zinn at mindfulnesscds.com. Or consider a free eight-week online university course from the Greater Good Science Center called “The Science of Happiness.” Enroll at greatergood.berkeley.edu.

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