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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Watching the news with your kids builds vocabulary, presentation skills and expands their world view

Following the earthquake and tsunami in Japan last month our kids were inundated with images of the disaster on a daily (hourly!) basis as my wife and I followed the rescue efforts and meltdown of the nuclear power plant on the TV news.  It did not help that schools were closed and the kids were home all day. In retrospect, we should have had the discipline to turn the TV off as we would have been able to catch up on any important issues in the evening when they had gone to bed.  We did however make sure to talk with them about what was happening.  The conversations I  had with my 10 year old son about what was going on were surprisingly mature and made me realize that there was also a positive side to exposing him to what was going on in the world.

Expanding our children's vocabulary is an excellent reason to watch the news with them.  When writing a resume or participating in an interview, it is always better to know a few extra words, their meanings and usage.  While you are watching, let your kids know that they can ask you about words they do not understand.  Watching the news with your kids does not mean just sitting there with them.  If they ask you in the middle of a report what the word "expedite" means, don't tell them to shush and wait, explain it to them when they ask (look it up if you need to).  If you want to watch the news in peace then do it when the kids are not around.  In order to get the benefits of watching the news without the negatives it is critical that it be an interactive process between the kids and parents.  Along with vocabulary, the speaking skills (enunciation, pronunciation, inflection) of the newscasters are very good examples for children to copy.

Children can pick up presentation skills from watching the sharp dressing, smooth talking  newscasters. They typically dress conservatively and well, they have good posture when sitting or standing and even occasionally smile.  These are all attributes that a child may emulate after watching and will help them to make a better impression in a job interview.


An expanded view and understanding of the world will come naturally if you watch more than just the local news with your son or daughter.  We keep a globe in our living room and whenever a country is mentioned, the kids can look for it on the globe to find out where it is in relation to us.  The globe is an electronic one from LeapFrog so they can also hear music and other trivia about the country once the find it. Often searching for the country on the globe leads to a more active discussion of the related news topic.  If we treat our kids with respect during the conversation by listening to their thoughts and replying seriously to even silly or obvious questions our children will feel more confident about discussing their thoughts and opinions with others.  An important skill in an interview and life.

Make sure that your kids understand that what they are watching on TV is not going to happen to them and that they are safe.  Images of war and disasters can be scary and although it may be happening half way around the world, it will seem a lot closer to a 9 year old.

Point out the heroes.  Many shows focus on the criminal or the disaster or the terrorist.  Point out the police officer or the fireman on the screen (even if they are only standing in the background) and explain how they are helping to make the world a safer place.

Every child is different and matures at a different speed than their peers. Each parent should make their own decision about when to start watching with their kids and how much is acceptable.  I would recommend against allowing younger children to watch by themselves. The news on TV is almost always sensationalist and if left to watch on their own, kids can develop an image of the world as violent and disaster prone.  Watching the same content and discussing it with your kids afterwards will result in a more balanced understanding of what they are seeing and of the world around them.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Teach your kids to type properly, it is not just for secretaries

I learned to type in college.  It was not required and I taught myself while struggling through term papers.  I did not teach myself the proper method though.  I only use my right thumb for the space bar and when I type a capital letter it is almost always with my right little finger on the shift key, even if the capital is also on the right side of the keyboard.  When I need to type the numbers and symbols at the top I revert to hunt and peck.  Even so, on a simple internet typing test website I was scored at 49 words per minute.  Respectable, but I often wonder how fast I would be if I could type properly.  And more importantly, would I be more productive?

A typical term paper at your daughter's college is about 10 pages and there are 250 words per page.  Typing using the hunt and peck approach averages about 10 words per minute which means that just typing the paper will take about 4 hours (not counting the research).  With a little practice, even a beginner can bang out 30 words per minute using the right fingers and placement on the keyboard. At that speed, the paper will be finished in under 1 and 1/2 hours giving your daughter an additional 2 and 1/2 hours her hunt and peck peers do not have.  That extra time can then be used for additional research to make the paper better, to move on to another project for a different class or study for an upcoming exam.

In most colleges, a student will take 5 classes each semester.  Our kids will probably have to write one paper for each class (some may not require one while others may ask for two) that gives our kids an additional 25 hours per year and 100 hours over the course of their college life (if they graduate in 4 years!).

The above calculations only take into account college.  These days papers are required to be typed for high school and even elementary school for some projects.  At my son's school, a laptop is now required for all high school students.  I would imagine that typing is going to be more common than writing by hand for our kids.

Now, your son has successfully navigated his way through college and is preparing to apply for the job of his dreams.  Along with his excellent GPA, school activities, internships and sports, he also puts down that he types 80 words per minute.  New grads often get the grunt work in an office.  A hiring manager may be happy to see that your son can produce documents at that speed.  Is it required?  Probably not but this is a competitive world and chances are all the other applicants will have an excellent GPA, activities, internships and sports just like your son.  Every little bit helps to make him stand out.

There are jobs that will require typing and like learning a second language, some skill at typing can open doors for our kids.  Here are a few jobs where typing would be a big plus:

  • Court Reporter
  • Secretary
  • Programmer
  • Journalist
  • Paralegal
  • Editor
  • Date Entry

There are many free websites available to practice and learn typing.  My son is using one called Custom Typing and seems to enjoy it.  There are also typing games online which are free and fun.

In today's developed world there are few kids who will grow up without touching a keyboard as Facebook and other sites vie for their attention.  It is important to help them to learn the efficiencies of proper typing form.  It is a basic skill and will be valuable to them long term.

Friday, May 6, 2011

A thick skin and a backbone are learned, not something our kids are born with

At a school event over the weekend I was sitting near one of the other Fathers as his son came up to him crying and holding his arm.  I overheard the following conversation:
Dad: What happened?  Why are you crying?
Tommy: Billy bumped me and knocked me down!
Dad: Why did he do that?
Tommy:  I don't know!  He just did it.
Dad: Well, why don't you ask him why and tell him not to bump you?
Tommy: .....
This is similar to exchanges that I have had with my own son which is probably why it stuck with me.  The boy in this instance (and my son or daughter when it happened to them) were probably confronting the following emotions:
  1. Surprise at being suddenly knocked down.
  2. Embarrassment about being knocked down in front of other kids.
  3. Confusion, "Does that boy or girl hate me?"
  4. Pain (although probably the least of the problems)
  5. Fear, "I don't want to be hurt again!"
  6. Guilt, "Was it something I did?"
All of the above are normal reactions for growing kids.  Emotions run rampant in our kids and to a certain extent it is biological and not just youth or lack of maturity.  Babies are building connections in their brains at an incredible rate.  It is only around age 11 that their brains begin to organize and eliminate connections they do not need.  What this means is that our kids are dealing with a whole lot more inside their heads than we might imagine as a parent.  A 3 years old for example, has twice as many connections as an adult.  So, when Billy knocks down Tommy, Tommy's brain (which is already super active) goes into overdrive and the tears flow.  In steps Mom or Dad with the handkerchief.

For the example above, our kids need to learn two key skills to handle this situation.  But, as with every article on this site, the skills will also be useful in a job interview and for their working future.

Many employers like to demonstrate their power over job seeking candidates.  This is not limited to young new grads but to any candidate who has ever had to submit to the potential humiliation of a job interview.  Hat in hand, our kids come begging for approval and the offer of a job.  At least that is how the employers often think of it.  The stress interview is one of the ways for employers to show their power.  Granted, it can also be a tool to judge a candidate's suitability for certain tasks that might come up in the job.  If your daughter is applying for a sales position then she is likely to face a rude or angry customer at some point in the future.  The employer will want to know if she can handle that kind of situation.

The first line of defense for our kids is to develop a "Thick skin".  When Billy bumps Tommy it is not because he does not like you, it was probably just an accident.  If it was on purpose, then it is Billy's problem, not because of something Tommy did.  Even though it happened in front of other kids, they all probably forgot about it 10 seconds after it happened.  Help our kids to see that everything that happens to them is not necessarily a personal attack.  Similarly, at the job interview when the interviewer pauses and looks at your son our daughter and says, "You went to a small college and frankly I don't think you can cut it in this job." Our kids will be able to take it in stride, using what they learned on the playground.

Learning how to take an attack is only the first step though.  Employers want to see that young candidates can stand up for themselves and show some backbone.  This has become more important in recent years as companies have been destroyed by a few bad eggs who acted unethically along with the many other employees who turned a blind eye to what was happening.  For Tommy, it is important for him to get up, brush himself off, turn to Billy and ask him why he bumped him.  Chances are Billy did not even know he bumped Tommy and will mutter a "sorry" and they  will both go back to playing. 14 years later, in response to the interviewer's comment in the above paragraph, if Tommy can respond as below then he will pass the stress test with flying colors.
"My school was small but it gave me the opportunity to build strong relationships with the professors as there were fewer students in each class as compared to a larger school.  I feel I gained a lot from that experience.  Additionally, while I know that I have limited experience, I am passionate about this role and determined to succeed here.  I want this job."