Parents: Help Your Child ‘Marie Kondo’ Their Learning Space

August 2019 Back To School Dr. Christine Powell

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A messy workspace is not always the hallmark of a creative mind- It can be down right distracting. Dr. Christine Powell, Special Educator, provides 6 tips inspired by organizational guru, Maria Kondo, to create a calm and centered workspace.

Keep distractions to a minimum

Research supports the fact that disorganization causes stress, and that clutter affects the way we work. Adults are often more disciplined than children and realize that creating an organized workspace can facilitate good work habits and shorten the amount of time spent on tasks. Children often need to be taught how to get organized. Although they may like their workspaces messy and cluttered, science supports the fact that a chaotic workspace increases distractions, decreases focus, and may case anxiety. With this in mind, here are six tips to help you and your child tame the clutter and create a workspace worthy of an A+. 

Creating a Study Space

Whether the study space is in a general use area of your home or a corner of a separate room, the study space should be relatively free from noise and visual distractions. These diversions can be in the form of high traffic areas of the house, noise from a television, or individuals talking on the phone. When you are creating a space, position a table or desk in a well-lit corner of a room, away from disturbances that will pull your child’s attention from studying. Ideally, the child should be seated facing away from activity, and preferably, they should not be facing a window. Although the view might be beautiful, it might be tempting to look outside and cause distractions, making it challenging to concentrate.

Consider the Light Source

Light has a psychological impact on students, which can affect their learning and studying. Studies have found that students perform significantly better on standardized tests in classrooms where natural light is present. Overly harsh lighting, to include florescent light can be harsh on the eyes, and it is recommended to use natural light when available. A work area that is too dark may induce feelings of tiredness, which impacts motivation and effort. When studying in the evening, it is recommended using a lamp that has a flexible arm. An adjustable arm will allow your child to focus the stream of light, eliminating glare and shadows, which may result in squinting. Reducing glare can cut down on eye strain and increase focus. Additionally, research suggests that using white to natural bulbs creates a light source that is easier on the eyes and facilitates alertness.

Only the Basics

An optimal study space should have the materials your child needs to complete tasks within arms reach. These items include pens, paper, laptop, study aids, etc. A functional study space should not have attention-stealing knickknacks, as clutter can contribute to over-stimulation. Over-stimulation may have a negative effect on how your child adjusts emotionally to the task of studying or completing homework. Enlist your child to help with decluttering, explaining the thinking behind putting distracting items away. While supporting your child to take the lead, encourage them to spot the difference between items that may help contribute to studying verses others that are attention thieves.

Comfy Seating

Comfortable seating is often the most overlooked aspect of creating a well-designed study area. When considering the type of seating that is most conducive for your child, asking for their input is essential. Having buy-in will create ownership on your child’s part and may encourage increased time on task. You do not need to invest heavily in a special chair, as nowadays there are many alternatives to a conventional chair, to include Yoga Balls, backless chairs, and stools. Whatever type of seating you choose, it must be comfortable. Make sure that your child’s feet can reach the floor, which will assist in physical stability and aid in feeling stable and in control.

Take A Technology Inventory

Unless a computer, iPad, or other technological device is necessary for homework or study, make sure it is off and out of sight. There is no better time to teach your child the benefits of being unplugged and developing concentration skills. Although getting your child off their device may prove challenging, research supports study time without phone use. Research published in Computers In Human Behavior (2013) found that students spend only two-thirds of their time working on school assignments during study time when they have access to their phones. Help your child understand that study time will decrease without the added distractions of media-tasking. If a computer device is required, consider setting parental controls on social media platforms to assist your child in developing the skills necessary to unplug during study time.

Go Green 

A study by the University of Edinburgh published in Landscapes, and Urban Planning (2012) found that individuals are less stressed when they spent time in nature. If spending time at a nearby park or in a green space is limited, consider getting a small desk plant. The effects of increased greenery may prove beneficial in helping to create a calming environment conducive to homework.  

All Set

Creating a space at home to study should be a combined effort with you and your child participating. The start of a new school year provides an opportunity for parents to work with their children to declutter and rework their home study space. Use these tips to help create a space that makes the grade.

Author: Christine Powell is a special educator, researcher, and education advocate helping parents and students make purposeful educational decisions. She is a Fulbright Distinguished Teacher Award fellow and adjunct professor.


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Highlights-Fulbright Inquiry Project In Singapore

My Fulbright inquiry project has yielded information I hope impacts education training opportunities for students w/ diverse learning needs. The title is Vocational Education and Training in Singapore: Examining Programs and Practices In Support of Students with Special Education Needs.  Please share this information as my goal is to support access & equity in career opportunities for as many students as possible. Don’t hesitate to reach out if you want more information.


May You Have Bold Adventures With A Friend

Everyone should travel internationally at least a few times in their lives and everyone should create an opportunity to travel with a friend. I mean at least once travel with someone you like a lot outside of family, that you have a great time with, and that is up to seeking out adventures. A recent trip to Thailand with my dear friend of 13 years, Karen, proved to be a trip full of once in a lifetime experiences that included staying overnight with a hill tribe on the top of a mountain, to trekking for hours in the jungle. But I am getting ahead of myself here; the trip started in Singapore.

Having already spent the better part of six months in Singapore on a Fulbright grant, my time doing research was coming to an end. On my calendar this meant I had just one more visitor, a dear friend from back home. Karen and I had talked about her coming to Singapore at the end of my stay and scheduling could not have been better as it coincided with summer break. Her job at a middle school meant she had some leave over the summer. About 5 days into her trip we were searching the internet with the intention of next heading to Thailand when Karen comes across an add for an eco-adventure in northern Thailand. I’m up for most anything, so with little thought, and throwing caution to the wind I say, “Book it!”

With our email sent and reservations now on the books, Karen reread the summary out loud of what this eco-adventure entailed and I grew increasingly nervous. Nervous due to the fact that I’m 53 years old and Karen, much more fit than myself, is approaching 60. I would say we are both in relatively good shape from our years of running and hiking together, but the agenda for this trip pushed my mental boundaries. With Karen’s enthusiasm and can- do-attitude, I was on board and willing to give it a go. 

Once in Thailand we firmed up the details and each packed a small day pack for our outing. Our adventure started with a 1.5 hour van trip into the hills of northern Thailand. Once we arrived at the base camp, the fun started right away. We donned motocross gear from head to toe and rode an hour on mostly flat, muddy terrain that skirted an elephant sanctuary park. I was feeling a bit cocky as we headed up into the hills. My confidence waned as I fought with my handle bars for two hours climbing the rocky, dirt trail that lead us up into the mountains.

We came to rest near the top of the mountain near Huay Kakap, an indigenous village that is part of the Kerrin tribe. We were graciously shown around the village by our host Pim, and her younger brother, 5 year old Anu.

Dinner was prepared for us as we stargazed and relaxed.

With no electricity, we had candles and flashlights to light our way. We stayed in a traditional bamboo house on stilts, where we slept on almost comfortable mattresses swaddled in mosquito netting. 

We woke with the rooster crowing, and I learned they wake up way before the sun rises. After feasting on breakfast and the view, we were met by our guide, Ken. We both grabbed our packs and he led us for 3 hours through the jungle on a trek past four separate waterfalls. He showed us different plant species, picked fruit for us, he made Karen a wreath of ferns, and trail blazed the path for us.

We jumped in the last waterfall to clean off, get refreshed, and revive ourselves for one more hour of trekking out of the bush.

We arrived back to base camp and had yet another meal prepared for us. We feasted on fresh pineapple, green curry, rice and vegetables. 

With nourishment and a quick rest we headed out for our next adventure, white water rafting for 3 hours. By this time Karen could tell I was wilting so she encouraged me by telling me I just had to hold on for this part. I wanted to believe her as I was beginning to feel the effects of the last 24 hours. We once again donned safety gear, met our rafting guides and jumped in our kayaks. The trip down the river was riveting and despite my eyelids growing increasingly heavy, the crashing currents, huge boulders, and my guides stern directions to paddle faster kept me awake and somewhat on point.

The views were breathtaking and the cold water was exhilarating. We both managed to make it down the river unscathed & still smiling.

Needless to say, both Karen and I were nodding off on the van ride back to our hotel. With a few high-fives, some great pictures, and even better stories, I can honestly say that this adventure would not have been nearly as fun without my dear friend. And to those of you who need encouragement to push yourself beyond even your own expectations, may you be blessed with a friend or two that signs you up for adventures and may you go boldly along!  

Thank you, U.S. Embassy for highlighting a Fulbright Distinguished Award In Teaching grantee. There are 3 of us here in Singapore exploring education! #fulbright #fulbrightdat

Experiencing Ramadan in Dubai- The Do’s and Don’ts and Learning On the Fly

Sometimes serendipity provides the most meaningful learning experiences; that is what happened this past week on a trip to Dubai that culminated with being in the Gulf during the ending of Ramadan. Three Fulbright teachers conducting research in Singapore planned the trip to the Gulf state to coincide with the school exam period in Singapore. Although we had some idea that Ramadan was scheduled to end during our visit to Dubai, we had no fixed date or time, only speculation. What transpired was an opportunity to immerse ourselves in the country’s culture and heritage and participate in a celebration unlike any in the United States.

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Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and Muslims observe it all over the world as a period of fasting, from sunrise to sunset. During this sacrosanct period, contemplation, worship and self-improvement take place daily. Ramadan this year began on May 6th and was expected to finish on or around June 3rd, which just so happened to coincide with our visit to Dubai. The reason the ending date is not set is that it depends on the sighting of the new moon.

Being a visitor to Dubai during this holy period made this trip an extraordinary opportunity to learn cultural competence. I made a list of several Do’s and Don’ts observed during the visit that I would like to share:

The Do’s and Don’ts & Learning On the Fly

Do… Wear conservative clothing. Although the Gulf states are known to be conservative, during Ramadan it is especially important to dress with modesty. Signs at the local mall requested for both men and women to wear clothes that covered both their shoulders and knees.

Dubia dress code

DoBe respectful and conscientious of those who are fasting. Drinking and eating out in public during daylight hours is considered distasteful. Look for designated areas that are screened off from public view.

DoParticipate in using festive greetings when interacting with locals during the Ramadan season such as Ramadan Kareem (generous Ramadan) and Ramadan Mubarak (congratulations, its Ramadan).

DoGet up early before the sunrises and participate in Suhoor, a pre-dawn meal before the fast begins for the day. Look for a’ la carte meals in restaurants to try local dishes and feast on traditional food choices.

Don’tEat, drink, or chew gum in public spaces during daylight hours. Places include in taxis, on the street, the local mall or other places where you may be in the company or proximity of someone fasting. Not only is it considered rude, but breaking this law is legally punishable.

Don’tSmoke in public places. This isn’t something that is healthy to do in the first place, but smoking during Ramadan should be avoided in public places or in outside spaces. Smoking should be done in discreet, designated areas only.

Don’tBe loud or obnoxious as Ramadan is a period of quite religious devotion and self- reflection. Be mindful of disturbing others and refrain from flamboyant displays of activity and celebration.

me at Burj Al Arab Jumeirah

Ramadan ended on Monday, June 3rd, called by the official moon-sighting committee in Saudi Arab. What followed in Dubai was a multi-day celebration which began with the breaking of the fast. Eid Al-Fitr ensued, a celebration lasting for three days. This period began with festivities, families gathering at hotels for meals, and visits to the mosque for prayer. We were caught up in the local celebration and viewed a spectacular display taking place at the tallest building in the world, Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the night of June 3. There was a water show as well as a spectacular light presentation.

The Burj Khalifa tower was illuminated by LED lights programed with traditional symbols to include the crescent moon, eight-pointed star, the mosque, and the ruler of Dubai, the Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. Crowds, including families and young working men with time off swarmed the area in celebratory fashion to indulge in food and drink.

All in all, the trip was a wonderful success, enhanced by the chance opportunity of being in a country with a rich culture and the experience of being immersed in a period of religious observance followed by celebration. The travel dates were a well-timed to witness an incredible cultural practice. It was learning on the fly, and a wonderful part of the Fulbright experience that won’t soon be forgotten. So in the spirit of Eid al-Fitr, “May every year find you in good health,” or Kul ‘am wa enta bi-khair.

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Sketchnote- The Myth of the Average Student: Tips for Working With Students That Have Learning Difference

The Ministry of Education, sponsors of the Teacher Conference in Singapore, hired a sketchnote artist who attended sessions and created magnificent summaries LIVE in the back of the room. I was honored to have the artist record my session. A wonderful graphic representation of my presentation was created that will be available for viewing at the headquarters of the Association of Singapore Teachers. Here it is in captured in realtime. Enjoy! via @YouTube

Infusing the Japanese Art of Reflection Into U.S. Education

Hansei, the Japanese practice of self-reflection, is a game changer in Japan & a useful activity when applied in U.S. education: