The link between nutrition, thinking, and learning is not a new concept.
The idea holds that if certain foods can promote better thinking and learning—fresh fruits and veggies, fish, vitamins, etc.— then it stands to reason that other foods can detract from the ability to learn.
There are many foods on this list, but sugars are the most common substance linked to behavioural and learning challenges.
Often, it’s not food itself that causes problems, but what is ADDED to the food.
The Centre for Science in the Public Interest has published an in-depth study called “A Rainbow of Risks” that links food colouring to attention deficit issues.
Food colouring is not an easy substance to avoid—it is in many everyday foods—even used (according to the report) to colour the rinds of oranges.
The danger is that food colouring appears in foods that are most popular with children: candy, soft drinks, milkshakes, etc. Even more important is that these foods make up a large portion of children’s diets, and developmentally, children are the most vulnerable to developing issues from the food that they eat.
Food colouring is not alone in its link to ADD and ADHD. www.Care2.com lists the 5 foods linked to ADD and ADHD as:
1. Fast foods
2. Processed meats
3. Red meat
4. High fat dairy products
Food colouring is not just linked to attention deficit issues. An article on Babble.com notes that Blue 1, Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6 cause allergic reactions, and Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6, the three most widely used dyes, are also known carcinogens.
This information can be very helpful for families with children on the ADD/ADHD spectrum. Label reading and eliminating foods high in food colouring may help these families see improvement in ADD and ADHD symptoms.
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Have you ever asked Tim, your 5th grader, to bring the garbage out, only to trip over the bag halfway down the back steps? And when you go looking for Tim, you find that he’s engrossed in a computer/TV/videogame.
So you ask him about the garbage and he simply says that he forgot. What? He forgot a task while he was mid-way through it?
Doesn’t it seem like some days he has the attention span of a gnat?
Before you haul Tim off to the pediatrician’s office for a prescription, take a look at his after-school behavior. When it comes to the computer/TV/videogame, isn’t it funny how he can focus on nothing else for hours on end? Sure, when it comes to homework you have to nag and bribe, but when it comes to his favorite hobby, his attention is best described as undivided.
If your child can focus on some things, but not on others, it isn’t ADD; it’s childhood. It is simply a lack of motivation and interest in something that they have to put effort into, which is pretty common.
Turning our children into rock stars of focus may not be the easiest task in the world, but it isn’t necessarily one that requires medication. If your child can get to the 6th level of Super Mario Brothers, he can certainly learn to multiply fractions.
Let’s face it: children are into immediate gratification. They’re programmed to enjoy immediate results. Video games, good. Solving fractions, bad.
Just like other school skills such as organization or tidiness, paying attention is a skill that can be learned.
Oxford Learning has been using unique teaching methods to help children become aware of what their minds are doing as they are learning. Our techniques help children become aware of when they are off-topic, and teaches them to re-focus themselves. At Oxford Learning, students learn follow-through and stick-with-it-ness. Which are much needed skills, but unfortunately, very rarely taught in schools.
It’s a skill that they can use to make sure that the garbage bag ends up in the trashcan, and not on the back steps.
Being able to focus may not make children love their trigonometry homework, but it will help them get through the task much quicker.
Some children genuinely have a neurological disorder that requires treatment and a physician’s help. However, before placing a label on your child, consider the fact that maybe he just hasn’t leaned to pay attention yet.
Find out more about ADD/ADHD with Oxford Learning’s downloadable ADD/ADHD brochure, A New Way of Thinking about Paying Attention, by Dr. Nick Whitehead.
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Did you know that studies show that in a single classroom more than 70% of children will have difficulties with focusing and paying attention? Seven out of ten; that’s an awfully high number.
Do all these kids truly have ADD or is there something else going on?
Consider our modern lifestyle and the role it plays in the lifestyle of today’s kids. Kids live in a world that moves at a faster pace than ever. They are exposed to more media images, faster sound bites, and can use multiple media outlets simultaneously. They can text message, type, use video controllers, cell phones, iPods, MP3 players, and Blackberries. They learn faster, adapt better, and multiprocess at a rate that no other generation before has ever been able to, or ever had to do.
Not sure about this? Watch some shows that are popular with kids—MTV for instance. Play a few video games. Use chat programs.
In a fast-paced world
The world of today’s kids is fast-paced and ever-changing. It jumps around from image to image, sound to sound, never lingering long in one place or on a single idea image or thought. There is no break in the stream of sound, images, or conversation. There is no breathing room.
On average, the typical TV program changes cuts (the time that the camera stays on the same focus or viewpoint) every 3-4 seconds. Video games, music videos, cartoons and even movies all move at this break-neck speed. These short sound bites do little to help develop a child’s attention span.
So these same kids who live a fast-moving, multiprocessing life are, on a daily basis, put in a classroom where they are expected to sit still and focus on a single thought, person, or image for a long stretch of time. That’s a major downshift for the child.
Is it any wonder that 70% of them are having difficulty staying on task, focusing, and paying attention? When are we actually taking the time to teach children how to pay attention? Just like reading, spelling, and writing, paying attention is a skill that children need to learn, practice and perfect.
Is the education system not doing enough to keep up with how quickly kids live their lives? Are we asking too much of today’s kids to sit still and singularly focus? Or is there really an epidemic of kids with symptoms like ADD/ADHD?
There are no real answers—only a good starting point. Let’s begin by asking some important questions about children’s attention spans, the media environment, and the state of the education.
We welcome your feedback!
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You may be interested to know that the decisions to limit vocabulary and to end phonics were a result of ideas that originated in the 1890s. In the 1890s, one group of educators disagreed with an earlier group of educators. They wrote books and lectured and more than 100 years later we have books with pictures, limited words, and no phonics.
Driven by 1890s ideas
I am not just talking about reading either! Almost every subject being taught in today’s classrooms is being driven by these 1890s ideas. We are still following these early ideas virtually unchallenged. Their philosophy is not understood even by those who assume its truth and write new materials based upon its assumptions.
Failure not a negative aspect of life
Today’s classroom programs are merely the application of these ideas. One of these ideas was that self-esteem can be damaged by failure. Nonsense! Self-esteem develops precisely because we learn that we are capable of dealing with life – of overcoming failures!
Another belief was that language is for communication. Even worse claptrap! Language is for thinking. Communication flows from thinking. Education today uses language as a blunt instrument; an imprecise means of conveying feelings – of communicating.
But learning language is about precision. It is about meaning. It requires clear thought. It requires time for integration and learning – everything that today’s programs do not allow. The results are all around us. Kids who can’t read, concentrate, or pay attention; kids who are not motivated.
An unmotivated mind is a passive mind. Motivation means finding a way to show your children that changing is to their advantage. Children can begin this process by learning that while life is full of joy and triumph, it may also contain failure. Because we love our children and don’t want them to be hurt, we often try to avoid situations where they may fail. If we fight too many battles for our children or shelter them from the stings of little defeats, they never learn that victory is won at a cost.
We must teach our children that if they learn certain basic sets of rules, they will experience success. Children must be able to say to themselves, “Even if I don’t succeed right away, I am capable of understanding, trying and eventually succeeding.”
Initially, parents can help this process along by creating small challenges and giving occasional rewards, such as stickers, praise, tickets to the water slide or even the occasional cheeseburger. Obviously the best and longest lasting motivation comes from the development of a healthy self-esteem. But occasional treats are not entirely bad.
Children with passive minds will not develop healthy and robust self-esteem. Being active means making the attempt. Being passive means waiting for someone to act for us. Helping a child to develop an active mind is not only one of the greatest gifts a parent can give but also is one of the greatest challenges we face.
Excerpt from Active Minds! by Dr. R. N. Whitehead, Director, Oxford Learning.
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I recently reviewed the results of a series of tests and something kept bothering me. Why did so many seemingly normal kids appear to have an attention deficit? Are we just getting better at identifying this problem or is something else going on?
In addition to measuring and testing kids for attention deficit, we need to reconsider our lifestyles and the ways we teach children. I believe that many attention problems are the result of learned behaviour.
Many kids can’t pay attention because they have not been taught the skill of concentration. I am not trying to claim that attention deficits do not exist; quite the contrary. However, many kids who have trouble paying attention do not have an attention deficit. They merely have a short attention span. I believe this is partly due to television, movies, video games and the quick pace of modern life. Our busy, busy lives have trained our cognitive processes to look for quick bites, fast answers.
It’s a learning process
So what can parents and teachers do about this? Spend quiet time with the children, read books, have long discussions uninterrupted by television or the telephone. That old advice to stop and smell the roses still holds true. We need to teach our kids how to learn and how to pay attention. In all but a few cases, paying attention is a learned skill. Children with true Attention Deficit Disorder cannot pay attention, but most kids today do not suffer from this disorder. Most of our children have not been taught how to pay attention.
Recently, my daughter filled our house with friends. It seemed as if 100 six-year-old girls had suddenly moved in. They created forts, nurseries, schools and stores. Every child was assigned a task. Some were storekeepers, some were parents, others were infants. Before assuming her role, almost every child took the time to prepare for it. Many rearranged their space while talking to themselves about whom they were and how they would act.
This was very interesting for me. They took time to reflect and consider. They prepared. They created their own space and demanded enough time to get ready to have fun! My daughter and her friends knew that they needed to concentrate, so they created an environment where that would be possible. Left to their own devices, kids seem to understand the need for quiet reflection, concentration and paying attention.
It is mostly in school-related activities that these skills go wanting. After watching these kids for a couple of hours, I thought about a typical classroom scene. There is little time for quiet reflection and even less personal space. Educational programs today are not designed for individuals; they are designed for groups.
Why is this the case? Why are our children attending daycare, kindergarten, and the primary grades one through three and not learning how to pay attention? All of these programs are supervised or taught by highly competent and well-trained individuals. Kids come and go through these delightful classrooms. They enjoy themselves. They follow the program. But what programs are they following? Where do these programs come from? Who writes them?
When your child comes home from school or daycare and tells you about the activities of the day, have you ever considered that they may not be appropriate?
Books have limited vocabulary
Every program being taught by teachers – and every textbook ever written – has an underlying set of ideas based on a philosophy. It is these ideas that determine the methods used by teachers (along with the material contained in textbooks). For example, those of us who are over 40 may remember a time when most of our reading material was found in books called readers, which had literary merit. A typical elementary school reader contained numerous stories of differing difficulty, stories to challenge and entertain pupils of various ages and abilities.
Go into a Grade 1 or 2 classroom today and you will find hundreds of small, colourful books full of simple words and pretty pictures. The books in today’s classrooms have a very limited vocabulary. Publishers strive to publish stories with “age appropriate” vocabulary. Why? Who decided this? Has it helped or hurt?
In the classrooms of the past, we were taught to read using phonics. We were able to read well in Grade 1 and 2 and we read from those old readers. Sure, the books had some pictures, yet our minds and imaginations supplied most of the excitement.
I knew what Moby Dick looked like; I saw him in my mind’s eye. That exercise in itself helped to develop concentration and attention. Using our inner eye – our imagination – helped us to develop the ability to focus and concentrate. We had to. We wanted to “see” what we were reading. We used our minds.
But there were other differences as well, such as vocabulary. We were reading from books containing literature. The vocabulary was demanding and the stories complex and exciting. (It is very difficult to make a story complex or exciting with limited vocabulary and more pictures than words.) Because we were enjoying the stories, we had to concentrate on the context of the story or we would not be able to understand what we were reading. That too forced us to concentrate.
Excerpt from Active Minds! by Dr. R. N. Whitehead, Director, Oxford Learning.
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