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It is difficult to know when to contact your child’s school for feedback on their progress. While you don’t want to be too needy and over-involved, you also don’t want to appear distant or disinterested in your child’s wellbeing or schooling.
When should I make contact?
It’s important to strike an appropriate balance between involvement and letting go. Your child will likely require time to settle into the new year or term and it may take some time to gauge realistically how your child is doing academically, socially and emotionally.
Communicating with teachers too early could put pressure on your child to perform and not give a true reflection of their skills, as the early syllabus is often a recap of the previous year’s work. On the other hand, if you have a sense that your child is not coping it is useful to be in regular contact with their teacher. As a parent you want to know from early on if they’re struggling so you’re able to assist where necessary, and it is acceptable to expect this communication from your child’s teachers.
What level of communication can I expect?
There is no hard and fast rule about how schools communicate with their parents. It varies greatly and is dependent on the nature of the difficulty, the type of school your child attends, and the teaching method and school ethos adopted. It is worthwhile finding out up front about how a school operates, and to provide your own expectations too.
When your child is at school, the hope is that their teachers will communicate with you when necessary so that you don’t have to, but this may not always be the case.
“As parents, it’s important to rather find out information from the appropriate school channels, and to not take what is heard in the car park or at a child’s birthday party, as gospel.”
All schools will provide reports at some stage during the year or term. Some schools will give regular updates and as parents, you’re able to ascertain via homework diaries how your child is doing. Other schools host termly parents’ evenings to discuss the results of last term.
You may find schools who call parents in when a particular difficulty needs to be discussed, or who email general updates when necessary. Some schools will wait for parents to make contact, while others are more proactive in their approach. It is the school’s responsibility to inform you of significant difficulties and areas of improvement when they arise.
How to have difficult conversations
When you need to difficult conversations with parents or teachers – whether it be due to a particular situation your child is going through or a sense of dissatisfaction relating to something the teacher or school has or hasn’t done – it’s important to try and stick to the facts as much as possible. These conversations can so easily become heated resulting in someone being defended or defensive.
In situations where you are not on the same page, it may be worthwhile to engage with other professionals to assist, such as the support team involved at your child’s school. They will be able to support you and your family, as well as provide some insight from the school’s perspective regarding how your child is coping at school.
Car park gossip
Where there are parents and a car park, you will have car park gossip. As parents, it’s important to rather find out information from the appropriate school channels, and to not take what is heard in the car park or at a child’s birthday party, as gospel.
Information can often be distorted in a ‘broken telephone’ type of way and when it reaches parents informally it can be far from the truth. In the same way, caution against airing your negative feelings about the school or your child’s teacher to other parents. Airing your grievances outside of the appropriate channels can result in teachers or members of the school catching wind of your concern in the ‘wrong’ way, leaving the situation open to subjective interpretation.
What are the appropriate channels?
Some schools will operate differently from the following, but most will adopt a similar process.
If your concern lies with your child’s teacher, it is important to approach the teacher first.
In the event that your concerns are not alleviated and not met, approach the head of grade or phase, mentioning your previous communication with your child’s teacher and how your concerns have not been met satisfactorily.
Should you still feel dissatisfied, it is advisable to contact the principal of the school.
Lastly, it may be necessary to contact the governing body or board of the school in order to express your grievances and obtain some support or assistance.
In any of the above situations, remember to keep your child’s interests at heart and attempt to work with the school to ensure the best for your child.
Parents collectively spend billions on tutoring. Is it money well spent? New Africa from www.shutterstock.com
Private tutoring is a growing business, with people spending hundreds of billions of dollars. But is it worth it? And how does a person pick among all the options?
If you are considering hiring a tutor, here are five tips to keep in mind.
I make these recommendations as a former high school math teacher, current Ph.D. candidate in math education and veteran private tutor in math, science and humanities for students from elementary through university level.
1. Identify your goal
Are you trying to pass a test or a class? Or are you actually trying to learn something?
If all you want to do is pass a test or a class or get some other short-term result and be done with it, that’s a performance goal. However, if you want to actually understand an idea and be able to transfer it to different situations, that’s a learning goal.
While parents may have both performance and learning goals for their children, in general, learning should be placed above performance. Learning will lead to better performance, but it will happen at its own pace.
If you decide to use tutoring to achieve a performance goal, be aware of the pitfalls. If a student needs excessive test prep to pass a class or get into a programme or college, the student may be set up for failure in whatever comes next.
2. Look carefully at the tutor’s actions
Good tutoring is not just the tutor teaching the student. In order for tutoring to be effective, students should be actively involved in the process, not just sitting silently while the tutor talks.
How a tutor interacts with a student is a key factor for parents to consider. Monkey Business Images/www.shutterstock.com
Here are a few things to listen for when a tutor is working with a student:
If the student does something right, does the tutor always say “Good!” and move on? Or does the tutor sometimes ask follow-up questions to check thinking? It’s better when there are follow-up questions, because sometimes students draw conclusions that help get answers correct on the current type of problem but then cause mistakes on the next types.
If the student makes a mistake, does the tutor say, “No, do it this way”? Or does the tutor say, “Tell me why you made that choice”? Getting the student to explain their choice enables the tutor to gain more insight into how the student goes about solving problems and to catch any errors in the student’s thinking.
Does the tutor help the student practise how to deal with confusion and mistakes? Students learn the most when they make a mistake and recognize that they made one. A good tutor will not intervene to prevent the mistake, but rather allows the mistake to happen and then helps the student to identify and fix it. This approach teaches skills the student can use when the tutor is no longer there.
A tutor who says “OK, this is a quadratic equation so you need to factor,” or “This question is about similes, so look for the words ‘like’ or ‘as,’” has done most of the thinking for the student and is not helping them long-term. Students should be asked to read a question and decide on a plan before the tutor gives any feedback.
3. Don’t forget free options
Before parents jump straight to paid tutoring services, it would be beneficial to explore free options.
Free options include afterschool help from classroom teachers, peer tutoring programmes at school, professional tutoring from outside companies the school pays to come in after school or on weekends and tutoring programmes in city libraries and community centres.
Paid options include one-on-one tutoring, small group tutoring and online tutoring. These options are offered by both tutoring companies that hire many tutors and individuals such as college students and teachers.
The adage that “you get what you pay for” does not necessarily apply to tutoring. Volunteer or peer tutoring can be very effective. Price does not predict effectiveness.
4. Do things on your own at home
When parents read at home it benefits their children, research shows. Twinsterphoto from www.shutterstock.com
If your child struggles with math, find ways to do math with your child in enjoyable ways like games or apps. Interestingly, working on math with your child benefits them even more if you are anxious about math yourself. If you don’t understand their homework, ask them to justify their work out loud to you or themselves. Children learn when asked to reflect on their own work, even when a tutor (or parent) doesn’t give a lot of feedback or explanations. Keep prompting your child until they have fully justified their work in their own mind.
One of the reasons the research is all over the place when it comes to tutoring is because student characteristics vary. For instance, some students may put forth more effort or have more motivation than others. Outside factors such as classroom instruction and living situations also come into play. Tutoring can only do so much.
A Nal’ibali World Read Aloud Day in Soweto, South Africa. Daniel Born
The love of reading is one of the greatest gifts an adult can give to a child. Pragmatically, reading proficiently helps with school work. But it also widens children’s horizons. It can help readers to understand their own world better, and to explore other worlds.
Parents often see reading as “school business” – something that teachers are responsible for. But there’s a lot of research that shows the value of reading at home and in the community. Children who read at home with parents or caregivers have an educational advantage that lasts their whole lives. In fact, reading to children helps them develop the language and literacy skills they need to begin formal literacy instruction.
Parents, as their children’s first and most important teachers, can make reading fun and inspire a lifelong love of reading. If parents themselves cannot read, others such as older siblings, friends and relatives can play this role.
Here, based on our own research studies about reading and drawing from the work being done by organisations dedicated to literacy, are some ideas to get kids reading for fun.
Reading as play
Children can have fun with reading even before they can read themselves. Reading feeds their fertile imaginations and they do the rest. In one of our research studies, pre-schooler Shafeek* spontaneously dressed up and acted out a story that his mother had read to him. Ashwariya* played “school” by “reading” a story to her toys. Again, she could not yet read but used the pictures and her memory for her game.
These examples show that reading can be made fun by linking it to play – through acting out, drawing pictures, dressing up, creating objects, or many other creative activities. Sometimes children do this on their own. But parents and teachers can also provide guided play activities.
Melanie Lippert, Nal’ibali FUNda Leader, at the festival.
Reading routines are important at home. This could take the form of “bedtime story”, reading prayers or verses from a sacred book, or regular weekend reading. Young children often love to hear the same story again and again. This is important for their emergent literacy as they learn how stories work, and how to “read” backwards and forwards.
Children enjoy singing songs and rhymes and this is a fun activity for reading development too. These allow children to play with words and sounds which is the first step in developing their phonological awareness, an integral skill to develop for reading.
Children can have fun by joining in family reading activities. This could mean looking at advertisements and, even if they cannot yet read, identifying pictures of items. It could mean turning the pages of newspapers or magazines for a parent and learning how to hold a book the right way up. Family photo albums are also great for learning to “read” pictures and hear family stories. Children learn to respect and handle books by seeing their caregivers do so.
Above all, caregivers should read to their children as an activity that’s designed to make meaning with a focus on understanding.
One of the weaknesses of teaching reading at South African schools, for instance, is that it often does not focus on comprehension. Parents can make reading meaningful getting children to preview a text (look at the title, cover and pictures before they read) and guess what it will be about.
They can also ask questions as they read (“Why did she/he do that? Do you think it was the right thing? What do you think will happen next?”), link the story to children’s lives and experiences, and get them to make up their own endings.
Some older children enjoy keeping a “reading diary” of books they have read with their impressions. Reading can also be a prompt for writing their own stories. Creating and writing for a school newspaper or magazine can be great fun and can be adapted to suit the technology available in the school.
Reading their own texts
Reading is difficult but it can be made more accessible if children are presented with opportunities to develop their own texts to read. An example of this could be to write a story with the child and have them read it themselves. Such a text would consist of vocabulary familiar to the child and it would scaffold comprehension of reading. If children are involved in developing their own texts for reading, it becomes a personal and authentic experience based on their own interests and needs. Producing their own texts also gives children a sense of ownership that helps them to take responsibility for the process.
Finding the right stuff
While there is no shortage of children’s books in English, finding suitable reading material in African languages and about African contexts can be a problem.
Many public libraries stock such books. Nalibali has a great range of stories in South African languages. The Family Literacy Project has developed many wonderful ideas for developing reading, including box libraries, reading clubs and Umzali Nengane (Parent and Child) journals.
Paulo Freire, the great Brazilian educator, talked about “reading the word in order to read the world”. He showed how reading critically and creatively can help people change their lives and create a better world. Something so important should not be left to teachers alone.
Dance classes seem to be a part of many children’s lives. This is because parents recognise the benefits a dance class can provide: physical fitness, a fun activity and the opportunity for a child to make new friends outside of the school environment. While all of this is true, it is only grazing the surface; to uncover the true value of dance classes, we need to dig a little deeper.
Dance classes provide your child’s body with a healthy dose of exercise – but it takes this a step further. When learning how to dance, the body is used as an instrument to tell stories and express feelings. Regardless of which style of dance your child chooses to do, through stretching, strengthening or a fun combination, they will learn to not only value, but love their body for all the amazing things it can do!
Higher emotional intelligence
Studies have shown that participating in any art form (dance included) improves EQ. EQ is used to measure a person’s emotional intelligence quotient. While many parents value a high IQ, an EQ is arguably just as important. Those with high EQ’s tend to have an easier time when it comes to building and maintaining interpersonal relationships, have greater emotional regulation and higher levels of empathy, as well as stronger self-motivational skills.
Make constructive criticism your superpower
A difficult, yet crucial lesson your child will gain from taking up dance classes is the ability to receive constructive criticism. A good dance teacher will provide feedback to their students (tailored to their particular age group) with the aim of addressing errors and helping your child achieve a better performance – much like the supervisor your child may encounter in the working world in their adult years.
“… participating in a dance class is about learning how to creatively express yourself, as well as having fun and appreciating the value of the arts.”
The key to receiving constructive criticism, whether you are a child or an adult, is to not take it personally and instead to use it as a stepping stone to better yourself. Many dance studios teach children to receive their criticism graciously by responding with a “thank you” when their teacher provides them with a correction. In this sense, not only does a dance class teach a child the ability to use constructive criticism to their advantage, but also to receive it with a level of grace.
Good things come to those who work
Dance class is a great place for your child to learn about goal setting. But in saying this, they will learn quickly that almost nothing can be achieved overnight. Difficult steps and greater dance ability take time and effort.
The effort required of your child to achieve their dance goals will rely greatly on one important skill: time management. In order to succeed in dance, time will need to be set aside each week outside of class to practise.
Whether it’s working on a combination or stretching to improve flexibility, your child will need to find the time for this while balancing their other commitments. Homework can be completed; adequate time can be spent with family and there will still be moments to spare to rehearse yesterday’s jazz routine. It’s all possible – with time management!
Value your efforts – without reward
And yet, despite having excellent time management to rehearse at home and applying their teacher’s corrections, your child will likely not be the best. This is a fact of dance and a fact of life. There will always be someone who is better than you. The important takeaway from this is that not being the champion and not taking home that gold medal will not diminish your child’s value as a dancer or as a person.
Sometimes your child may forget their steps; sometimes they may take a little longer than the other kids in the class to pick up a routine – and this is all okay! When it comes down to it, participating in a dance class is about learning how to creatively express yourself, as well as having fun and appreciating the value of the arts. This wonderful experience cannot be defined or given significance by gold medals or the status of being the best. These are simply nice little extras should your child achieve them.
Teachers and peers in a dance class can do wonders when it comes to improving your child’s self-confidence and teaching them valuable life lessons. As they say: “It takes a village to raise a child” – allow your local dance studio to share a part in that.
From happy family bears, to extinct birds to extraordinary mythical creatures, this selection of wonderfully entertaining books will keep your kids riveted at bedtime. Tuck the kids in and let them lose themselves in a world of make believe.
by Julie Sykes
Young readers will absolutely adore this Unicorn Academy magical series, where every little girl receives a magnificent unicorn. What a wonderful treat and a stunning opportunity to call a unicorn a friend. School cannot possibly get any better than this on Unicorn Island, where girls and their unicorns can have incredible adventures together.
Unicorn Academy Ava and Star
Ava and Star love their beautiful garden at Unicorn Academy. It’s where they grow their very own magical plants! When the sky berries that the unicorns need to survive disappear, Ava and Star will need all their skills and courage to help their friends. Can they find more of the special berries before every unicorn’s magic starts to fade?
Unicorn Academy Olivia and Snowflake
Olivia hopes her sweet unicorn, Snowflake, will discover her magic before graduation day! Everyone is busy decorating Unicorn Academy for the graduation ball, but it looks like someone is trying to ruin the party. Can Olivia and Snowflake save the day and the school?
Unicorn Academy Isabel and Cloud
Isabel and Cloud are finding it hard to get along. Isabel is impetuous and hasty, and Cloud is more cautious and (Isabel thinks) dull. But when they go off on a thrilling adventure along the coast of Unicorn Island, the two become firm friends in the face of terrible danger!
Where’s the Unicorn now?
by Sophie Schrey and illustrated by Paul Moran
Unicorns love playing hide-and-seek and are eager for kids to join the search! Come along and try to spot every one of these magical animals – Ruby, Blossom, Starburst, Leaf, Snowflake, Luna, and Amethyst – as they go on a world tour. The 17 different fabulous destinations range from London, Paris, and Venice to Giza, Egypt, and Santa Cruz, California. You’ll even visit a movie set and dive in the deep under the sea!
We are Family
by Claire Freedman
This is an absolutely delightful book that is affectionate, funny and joyful. From slurping milkshakes with a big crowd of siblings, to the heart-wrenching difficulty of sharing that favourite teddy with a sister, and the joys of cuddling up together at the end of the day, this delightful picture book explores the love between siblings in all its forms, whatever the size or make up of a family.
The dodo made me do it
by Jo Simmons
Danny is dreading another boring summer holiday at his granny in a tiny Scottish village. He’s desperate for action, fun and adventure! And this year – amazingly and unbelievably – he gets it all, when he finds a dodo on a tiny island. This is going to be the wildest summer holiday ever! There’s loads to have children laughing aloud, and it is lively and entertaining from beginning to end, with wonderful illustrations too.
All books published by Jonathan Ball Publishers. Images supplied.
A book that embraces wisdom, compassion, and serenity, Mindfulness for Children (Jonathan Ball Publishers) is superb reading that gears four-to-11-year-olds to quieten their minds and pull themselves towards a calmer, more tranquil space in stressful situations.
Written by Uz Afzal, a teacher spanning 20 years, she provides immense insight into children’s feelings, thoughts and lives and how to manage mindfully in all these spheres.
This positive and practical tool will give children the skills to manage their feelings and increase their confidence and concentration levels. It can help parents and caregivers, too, by promoting happiness and relieving stress.
In this current era of rising levels of child mental health, with the pressures in schools as well as the increasingly fast-paced, digitised and image-obsessed world, it is absolutely critical that children have the tools to practise mindfulness and instil a sense of tranquillity and peace within themselves.
“In this current era of rising levels of child mental health … it is absolutely critical that children have the tools to practise mindfulness and instil a sense of tranquillity and peace within themselves.
Combining practical exercises that children can complete alongside their parents/carers with a fun and engaging commentary on the theory and science behind the practice, Uz takes you through the day, from waking, eating, learning, to appreciation, gratitude and sleeping. She includes exercises for how to cope with exams, how to deal with the screen culture and what mindfulness practices you can do in holiday time. Together, this gives the reader an enjoyable and accessible path into the practice of heedfulness for children.
Try these three simple exercises with your kids to focus and remain calm in stressful situations. Remember to keep them light and fun:
Balloon breathing: To start, ask your child to place their hands on their abdomen. “Tell them to imagine that they have a small balloon in their belly and that each time they breathe in, the balloon blows up, and each time they breathe out, the balloon deflates.” You should continue this for about 30 seconds to three minutes, depending on the age and attention span of your child.
Eat like a scientist: Focus at mealtimes, appreciate what you have, make healthy choices and be aware. When it comes to mealtimes, we often eat as fast as possible, without being aware of what we are doing or consuming. She suggests finding an item of food with your child and pretending to be scientists. “Take a moment to investigate what your food looks like. What colour is it? What shape is it? What else can you notice about the way your food looks? Next, let’s use our imaginary microscope. Looking really closely, can you see any patterns or lines on this food?” Explore it, taste, smell, touch and be open to this process.
The grateful gaze: This next practice is a lot of fun. It helps your child to notice what they have to be grateful for, wherever they are. Tell them to take a moment to be still and focus on the breath in their belly. Now ask them to look around the space you are in. “Wherever you are, can they look around themselves with a grateful gaze? Can they name each of the things they can see that they’re grateful for?” It can be anything – clothes, food, furniture, friends, parents and brings awareness to thankfulness.
The grateful gaze
Afzal wisely concludes: “The world our children are growing up in is a world of distractions. They are continually told to “pay attention” and yet no one teaches them this crucial skill. This book shows you how to help them.”
There is increasing concern about the amount of time children and adolescents are spending in recreational screen time. There’s also increasing controversy over whether or not screen time is actually harmful.
Since 2016, we (researchers who’ve contributed to the development of the 24-hour movement guidelines for children and adolescents) have led a number of wide-ranging reviews of the scientific evidence on the impact of screen time from infancy to early adulthood. We examined whether or not the amount of recreational (spare time, non-educational) digital screen use influences health. These included risks such as obesity, reduced sleep, low physical fitness, anxiety and depression. We also looked at the impact of recreational screen time on social and emotional as well as cognitive and language development, well-being and educational attainment.
These reviews demonstrated that high levels of screen time, now typical among children, are associated with potential harm. And they showed clearly that less recreational screen time is better for avoiding obesity, and for promoting sleep, physical fitness, and cognitive, social and emotional development.
Over the past three years the evidence reviews generated authoritative guidelines nationally in Australia, Canada, South Africa, the UK and internationally.
We were all involved in the development of global guidelines for zero to four-year-olds for the World Health Organisation (WHO). These guidelines all recommended that recreational screen time should be limited in infancy, childhood and adolescence.
Limiting screen time
Guidelines from Canada, Australia, and South Africa recommend that recreational screen time should be avoided in the under two’s, limited to one hour per day in two to four-year-olds, and to two hours per day in five to 17 year-olds.
Based on our collective experience in developing these guidelines it’s clear that these limits on recreational screen time are needed for a number of reasons.
First, the evidence suggests strongly that limits are required. The recommendations to limit screen time were based on a rigorous, widely-accepted, and evidence-based approach. This included systematic reviews, critical appraisals of the evidence, national and international consultation and review, and transparent reporting.
Second, less recreational screen time is clearly better. There is evidence in support of the specific time limits recommended and our wide consultation with stakeholder individuals and organisations – including parents and families – suggests that they find time limits helpful.
Third, our recommendations that recreational screen time should be limited are consistent with other recent and thorough reviews of the evidence conducted by authoritative bodies such as the WHO and the World Cancer Research Fund. These reviews highlighted the important role of recreational screen time in the development of obesity, many cancers and myopia.
Taking a laissez-faire approach to screen time would be to ignore the wider context. This is that modern childhoods are characterised by low physical activity, excessive sitting and time indoors. Children and adolescents also suffer from poor motor skills, high levels of myopia, increased risk of type 2 diabetes and hypertension.
And as new forms of screen time emerge, a precautionary approach is required – some limits on recreational screen time would be prudent until it is clear that there are negligible harms.
Still time to act
Some argue that the “genie is out of the bottle” in relation to screen time. But this is defeatist. The same arguments could have been made in relation to control of tobacco and alcohol and sugar. But it is now accepted that unlimited exposure to these substances isn’t compatible with public health. And constraints are accepted as essential.
In addition, in many parts of the world the genie may not yet be out of the bottle. In many low- and middle-income countries exposure to recreational screen time may still be relatively low among children.
There is also scope to prevent excessive screen time in babies and young children, acting before adverse, or at least sub-optimal, lifestyle habits become established later in childhood or adolescence.
Screen time harms can be indirect as well as direct – recreational screen time increases with age and as it does it displaces more beneficial forms of sedentary behaviours such as reading. Screen time also displaces physically active play, and sleep.
Recreational screen time may seem to be an inevitable part of modern life. But even from infancy and early childhood, we should all be concerned about the potential for harms – at least until new, robust evidence demonstrates no harm. The most prudent approach would be cautious, attempting to follow recent evidence-based guidance that recreational screen time should be restricted.
Curious Kids is a series for children in which we ask experts to answer questions from kids.
Should I be scared of lightning? (Callan, 10, Johannesburg)
Big storms can be very scary. When a storm happens dark clouds appear, heavy rain often falls, winds are gusty and unpredictable, and lightning flashes across the sky.
Lightning happens all over the world. But it’s particularly common near the equator, where the strongest and most energetic thunderstorms take place. Storms can lead to all sorts of potential dangers, like flooded streets or homes, fallen trees, fires, and roofs being blown off houses.
Lightning can also be dangerous for people. No one knows how many people are killed every year by lightning, but it could be up to tens of thousands worldwide. In South Africa, around 250 people are killed every year, mainly in rural areas where there’s little protection when storms take place.
So there are many reasons to be careful when there’s a big storm. But there are also ways you can protect yourself to avoid lightning.
Many different cultural traditions believe that lightning is caused by gods or spirits. Some people believe that lightning can be prevented by planting certain trees or shrubs near the house, covering mirrors, or placing car tyres on the house roof.
There is no scientific evidence that any of these things make you safer from lightning.
But there are some practical things you can do to keep safe when lightning strikes.
If you are outside, keep on low ground and stay away from trees, poles and water. Or stay undercover in a car or building. Do not shelter under a tree;
If you are inside, stay away from windows, doors, metal objects and water (including taps);
Don’t use electrical equipment (including phones).
It’s also useful to know what lightning is – understanding something can make it seem less scary.
What is lightning?
Lightning happens when air moves around in the atmosphere, forming thunderclouds.
Dark clouds are the first visible sign that a storm is coming. Clouds are formed when air rises upwards in the atmosphere, cooling as it goes. We know that air is moving around because we can feel it – this is wind. As air rises, moisture condenses and clouds begin to form. Storm clouds reach high in the atmosphere and are spread sideways by the wind. This is what makes the dark heavy cloud shapes you see when a storm is brewing.
Once the clouds have formed, the air currents keep rising. If the air is cold enough, water droplets inside the clouds can freeze into ice crystals. These are lighter than liquid drops of water, so they get pushed up to the top of the cloud. The heavier liquid water droplets fall to the bottom of the cloud.
Because ice crystals and water droplets have different electrical charges, the tops and bottoms of storm clouds develop different patterns of charges as the storm cloud gets bigger. There are also differences in electrical charges between the bottom of the cloud and the land surface. If the charge difference is big enough, electrical energy suddenly flows from one place to another.
This flow of energy is shown as a lighting flash. A single lightning flash lasts for only around 0.0001 seconds but can reach temperatures of up to 30,000°C: five times hotter than the surface of the Sun. This huge amount of energy is why lightning can cause so much damage when it strikes.
You’ll also have noticed that thunder and lightning happen together. Thunder is formed when air molecules rapidly expand, forming a sound shock wave that travels through the atmosphere at the speed of sound, much faster than a plane can fly.
But the lightning flash travels much quicker than thunder, at the speed of light – that’s 300,000 km per second. (The top speed for cars on most highways is 120 km an hour.) The difference between the speed of light and the speed of sound can be used to estimate how far away the lightning is.
A good experiment is to slowly count the seconds between a lightning flash and when you hear the roll of thunder. You can then work out whether the storm is getting closer to you (if the time difference is getting shorter) or further away (if the time difference is getting longer).
A city like Johannesburg in South Africa has thunderstorms in the summer. But the lightning South Africans experience is still only a third of what is found in the world’s lightning hotspot: the mountains of Uganda, Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo.
Hello, curious kids! Have you got a question you’d like an expert to answer? Ask an adult to send your question to email@example.com. Please tell us your name, age, and which city you live in. We won’t be able to answer every question but we will do our best.
Every parent can use a helping hand. Check out the following trusted reads to get you through the toughest times.
How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk (Ave rating 4.6)
By Adele Faber
I just want to Pee Alone (Ave rating 4.7)
by Jen of People I Want to Punch in the Throat (Author), Kim Bongiorno (Author), Rebecca Gallagher (Author), Brenna Jennings (Author), Nicole Leigh Shaw (Author), Jessica Watson (Author)
Mind in the Making: The Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs
by Ellen Galinsky
The Five Love Languages of Children (Ave rating 4.21)
by Gary Chapman
Parenting with Love and Logic (Ave rating 4)
by Foster W. Cline
Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting (Ave rating 4.26)
by Laura Markham
Playful Parenting (Ave Rating 4.12)
by Lawrence J. Cohen
Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child (Ave rating 4.14)
by John M. Gottman
The Baby Owner’s Manual: Operating Instructions, Trouble-Shooting Tips, and Advice on First-Year Maintenance (Owner’s and Instruction Manual) (Ave Rating 4.5)
by Louis Borgenicht M.D. and Joe Borgenicht
The Conscious Parent: Transforming Ourselves, Empowering Our Children (Ave rating 4.5)
by Dr Shefali Tsabary (Author)
The Mommy Shorts Guide to Remarkably Average Parenting (Ave Rating 5)
by Ilana Wiles
The New Father: A Dad’s Guide to the First Year (New Father Series) (Ave rating 4.5)
by Armin A. Brott
The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind (Ave Rating 4.7)
by Daniel J. Siegel
The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding (Ave rating 4.23)
by La Leche League International
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‘Let’s go on an adventure, Teddy.’ lassedesignen/Shutterstock
Psychologists first became interested in imaginary friends in the early 19th century because they feared they could be a sign of emotional unstability or psychological problems in children. But as scientists have learned more about these invisible playmates over the last two decades, it has become increasingly clear that they are actually quite the opposite – a sign of positive developmental progress.
Imaginary friends among children is surprisingly common. Most people either know someone who had an imaginary playmate as a child, or had one themselves. Some studies have found that as many 65% of children play with invisible companions.
Children typically start inventing imaginary friends between the ages of three and five. And they have been reported in children around the world from English speaking cultures, to Kenya, Japan and Nepal. And not just typically developing children have them, those with Down Syndrome and children diagnosed with autism also enjoy playing with fantasy friends.
Children make up imaginary friends for many different reasons, and each fantasy friend is unique and special to their creator. But a common reason is simply to relieve loneliness. If you think up an imaginary person, you have someone to play with at all times. This is one reason why children who are first born or only children – who don’t have siblings – are more likely to play with imaginary friends.
Another common reason for creating a fantasy friend is having someone to blame for bad behaviour or mischief. Imaginary friends are often the reason for broken windows or untidy rooms according to their child creators.
Benefits of fantasy friends
Research has found that youngsters who make fantasy friends are more socially aware than children who do not have an imaginary playmate. For example, children with imaginary friends can put themselves in other people’s shoes better than peers who have not made an imaginary friend. This means that they can think about how other people might see things differently than they do, and this could help them in social situations.
Other studies have found that children with imaginary friends focus more on the minds of others than their looks. For example, research has shown that these children tend to talk more about personalities than visual clues when describing real friends. They have also been shown to [have a better understanding of themselvels] and that the fact that their thoughts cannot leak out of their minds – something that children tend to find difficult to understand.
Some studies have found that children with imaginary friends are also more creative than others. With all these benefits though, it is currently hard to tell exactly whether imaginary friends actually cause them or whether children who are just generally more creative and socially aware are more likely to have such friends. That said, it does seem likely that playing with an imaginary friend over time will further boost a child’s social abilities, even if they are good to begin with.
Imaginary friends can relieve loneliness. RonTech3000/Shutterstock
These are all findings that point to positive social and emotional developments that serve an important purpose in childhood. As we grow older, we typically have more freedom to make new friends and spend less time alone. We also understand the social world a lot better. However, while most children therefore stop playing with imaginary friends after a few years, some continue to spend time with them. And researchers have discovered that the positive qualities of having imaginary friends in childhood continue through development. Adolescents with problem behaviours who have imaginary friends have been found to have more positive adjustment and coping skills than those without.
Adults can also have imaginary friends, though it is rare. Some even argue that authors have imaginary friends in their characters, because they do things authors didn’t expect when writing and which help to create the character’s own stories.
The role of parents
Parents often wonder how they should approach their children’s imaginary friend. The evidence suggests that the best thing to do is to accept the imaginary playmate and join in with the child.
For example, if your child is playing with the friend before dinnertime, you might suggest setting the table for the friend as well. Parents of children with imaginary friends are actually better at describing their children’s play than those parents of children who do not have them, suggesting that they might be more in tune with their children’s behaviour.
It is not uncommon to have an imaginary friend who doesn’t play nicely. For example, some imaginary friends will not share toys or do what the child asks, while others might say mean things to the child. In these cases, it might be helpful for the parent to listen to what the child is saying about the friend and troubleshoot the problem together with the child. Although these friends may not seem positive, they are actually helping the child understand their social world in the same way as the imaginary friends that play nicely.
Of course there are rare occasions when parents should worry about imaginary playmates, such as when the child thinks their friend is actually real. Most children with imaginary friends understand the difference between their own fantasy and reality. So in the vast majority of cases, invisible friends are just another example of children’s amazing imaginative abilities – and one that may actually benefit them.