Manda Pawelczyk

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Lessons from The Beginning of Life: Shaping Future Generations

Posted by Manda Pawelczyk on Mon, Dec 19, 2016 @ 01:42 PM

Just before this Thanksgiving, my family welcomed a baby girl into our hearts and home.  As I sat there holding my new niece, I couldn’t help but wonder what this experience of joining our world has been like for her and what I can be doing as an aunt to ensure she grows up with a bright future ahead of her. 

With the long Thanksgiving weekend and thoughts of my new niece, I finally curled up to watch a documentary that had been on my Netflix watch list for months.  The Beginning of Life is a film that documents the early lives of children and their families across the globe, including Argentina, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Italy, Kenya and the United States.  Through interviews with families and specialists from early childhood development, the film depicts how the earliest years of a child’s life may have more of an impact on their future than originally believed.   

Not only is it a beautifully shot film showing some of the most inspiring moments of children interacting with the world around them (I particularly loved the little girl talking to a flower and asking it its name), but it also shares important insight into how we as a society, whether a parent, aunt, grandparent, neighbor, company or organization, can help this youngest generation grow into fruitful human beings.

Here are some of my favorite takeaways from the film:

  1. It is often said that children have a hard time paying attention, but the opposite is actually true – they have a hard time not paying attention. They are very sensitive to all of the patterns of information going on around them.  From an early age, the brain is making between 700-1,000 connections per second. Within a baby’s brain there are many pathways for these neural connections.  The pathways that are used at this age get maintained and strengthened, while the ones that don’t disappear.  We need to think about what we can be doing to make sure as many of these pathways get strengthened as possible.
  2. Children aren’t a blank slate that you just place your knowledge on; rather they learn best through co-developing their knowledge with the people around them. A process called “Serve and Return is where a baby does something and the adult responds.  As the baby gets older they learn to respond back.  It is this back and forth that is critical for brain development.  Think of ways you can help parents turn these small everyday actions into meaningful experiences for growth.
  3. The best way to develop language is through conversation. Instead of answering a child’s question with a simple yes or no, ask them a question back to keep the child engaged in dialogue so their vocabulary grows.  Find ways you can keep conversations flowing, even when life is hectic and busy.
  4. Play is a child’s major vehicle for learning – it is their work and what they are supposed to be doing. But it is important to create interesting contexts for children.  Instead of always giving them a specific or staged setting for play, allow them to be inventive.  A child turning a pen and a ruler into an airplane does more for a child’s development then simply giving them an airplane to play with.  Consider how you can add a dose of inventiveness to your products. 
  5. Rooting is very important for children; they must feel they belong – to life, to a family, to a story, to a place. Grandparents in particular play an important role in rooting as they often are the storytellers, passing on stories of family memories and history. Stories are important as they broaden children’s horizons and give them a sense of belonging.  How can you help children feel more rooted in the world around them?
The best way to help today’s children is by also helping the adults raising them.  Children aren’t raised by social programs but by people.  By investing in these people and giving them the space to spend quality time with their children, that is how we can make sure we build a stronger next generation.

Rio: Inspiring Golden Opportunities

Posted by Manda Pawelczyk on Tue, Aug 23, 2016 @ 08:10 AM

The 2016 Summer Olympics have come to an end and will be remembered as the event with awe-inspiring stories of hard work, dedication, amazing feats and chasing your dreams. During the past 16 days of the Olympics, the lessons learned span all ages, but perhaps the group with the most to gain is our youth. But did they tune in? In the first half of 2016, only 44% of youth (37% of kids, 48% of tweens, and 49% of teens) said they were interested in watching the Summer Olympics.Those numbers increased significantly as the Rio Olympics actually got under way. According to participants in our August 2016 YouthBeat survey, 65% of youth (58% of kids, 74% of tweens, and 62% of teens) said they want to watch the Summer Olympics. 

Not only were youth tuning into the excitement of the event, but the stars of Rio are already having an impact on them. While athletes like Lebron James and Michael Jordan usually dominate youth’s list of favorite athletes, in our August survey medalists such Michael Phelps, Gabby Douglas, and Simone Biles have made their way to the top of the list.  Olympic swimmers Katie Ledecky, Lily King, and Missy Franklin also got mentions as did soccer star, Alex Morgan, and volleyball player, Kerri Walsh Jennings. And already 11% of the mentions name a member of the gold medal winning gymnastics team, the Final Five (Simone Biles, Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas, Laurie Hernandez, or Madison Kocian). 

The Olympics leave many youth feeling hopeful that they too could someday capture a medal of their own.  When asked what they want to be when they grow up, being an athlete is the second most popular career boys aspire to. For girls it is tenth. But the concentration of strong and successful women athletes being showcased on TV screens and in the news during the Olympics may leave more girls with athletic dreams of their own. That is what the United States Olympic Committee and the U.S. summer sport national governing bodies are hoping for. While 54% of youth participate in a sport, only 13% do it at an elite or highly competitive level.* The NBC Gold Map hopes to use the platform of the Olympics and the inspiring stories of its athletes to encourage youth to start their own journey in an Olympic sport, whether for fun or competitively. The website stands as a great resource for youth to learn more about each Olympic sport and how they can get involved. Here at YouthBeat, we believe anything that encourages kids, tweens, and teens to try new opportunities and chase their dreams is a worthy endeavor. 

 *According to YouthBeat data from January to June 2016.

Tags: youth research, kids, kids tweens teens market research, kids tweens teens, olympics, athletes

Pearls of Wisdom: Millennials vs. Gen Z Edition

Posted by Manda Pawelczyk on Wed, Jun 22, 2016 @ 10:30 AM

Pearls of Wisdom: Millennial vs. Gen Z Edition

Spring is graduation season – a time of caps, gowns, diplomas, and graduation speeches, where speakers pass down ‘wisdom’ to the graduates. Today’s high school graduates are members of Generation Z, so we wanted to dive deeper into the advice they are receiving on this major milestone, what that means for the overall attitudes and behaviors of this generation, and how that differs from the graduating classes that came before them. 

This is a generation that lived through the downturn of the economy. They have watched parents, older siblings, and other members of their community struggle. While Millennials grew up believing the world was their oyster, Gen Zers take a more practical approach – understanding that life won’t always be rosy and that it will take hard work and sacrifices to reach their goals. Through the years, we have seen a shift in the most popular high school commencement speeches – from a tone of hope and optimism to one of realism.   

Words of wisdom to Millennials:

Bill Clinton, Sidwell Friends School, 1997
“We celebrate your passage into the world in a hopeful time for our Nation and for people throughout the world. For the first time in history, more than half of all the world's people live free, under governments of their own choosing. The cold war has given way to the information age, with its revolutions in technology and communications and increasingly integrated economies and societies. Scientific advances and a growing global determination to preserve our environment give us hope that the challenges of the 21st century can be met in ways that will permit us to continue the advance of peace and freedom and prosperity throughout your entire lives.”

Doug Marlette, Durham Academy, 2005
“There is hope. And today is the beginning, Square One, for all of you…Ease up on yourselves. Have some compassion for yourself as well as for others. There’s no such thing as perfection, and life is not a race.”

Ray Sidney, Edwin O. Smith High School, 2007
“Know that with hard work you can achieve great goals, but also know that there’s more to life than just your career. If all you ever do is work, you will regret it.  You will look back on your life, and no matter how much you have accomplished, you will wish that you had lived differently. Play time and family time and sleep time are all necessary for you to recharge yourself, to keep yourself from burning out, to get perspective on what you’re doing and what your life means, and to get good ideas for the future.”

Jonathan Youshaei, Deerfield High School, 2009
“We also hold the power to turn our dreams into reality, which is another part of achieving 7/7ths. But at 18 years young, it’s hard to know what your dream is. Sure, some of us may know what we want to do in life, but even those people may find a new inspiration along the way. So for the many of us still trying to figure out what we want to do, just give it time, and you’ll find your dream or maybe it’ll find you. And when you find that dream, you gotta get after it, protect it, and dare to be idealistic. Just like with failure, though, society has turned us against that word — idealism. But make no mistake about it; we desperately need more idealistic thinkers in the world today.”

Said to those on the cusp of the two generations:

David McCullough Jr., Wellesley High School, 2012
“You are not special.  You are not exceptional.  Contrary to what your u9 soccer trophy suggests…you’re nothing special.  You see, if everyone is special, then no one is.  If everyone gets a trophy, trophies become meaningless…we Americans, to our detriment, come to love accolades more than genuine achievement.  We have come to see them as the point — and we’re happy to compromise standards, or ignore reality, if we suspect that’s the quickest way, or only way, to have something to put on the mantelpiece, something to pose with, crow about, something with which to leverage ourselves into a better spot on the social totem pole.  No longer is it how you play the game, no longer is it even whether you win or lose, or learn or grow, or enjoy yourself doing it…Now it’s “So what does this get me?”  As a consequence, we cheapen worthy endeavors, and building a Guatemalan medical clinic becomes more about the application to Bowdoin than the well-being of Guatemalans.” 

And the graduation messages given to Generation Z:

Michelle Obama, Santa Fe Indian School, 2016
“Now, I know that perhaps I’m asking a lot of all of you. And I know that sometimes all those obligations might feel like a heavy burden. I also know that many of you have already faced and overcome challenges in your lives that most young people can’t even begin to imagine—challenges that have tested your courage, your confidence, your faith, and your trust.

But, graduates, those struggles should never be a source of shame—never—and they are certainly not a sign of weakness. Just the opposite. Those struggles are the source of your greatest strengths. Because by facing adversity head on and getting through it, you have gained wisdom and maturity beyond your years.”

Larssa Martinez, McKinney Boyd High School, 2016
“Let me be frank.  I am not going to stand up here and give you the traditional Hallmark version of a valedictorian speech.  Instead I would like to offer you a different kind of speech. One that discusses expectations versus reality…When people see me standing up here, they see a girl who is Yale bound, and who seems to have her life figured out.  But that is far from the whole truth.  So at this time, if I may, I would like to convey my fair share of realities.”

The messages given during graduation ceremonies are just one of the ways we have seen a shift in the way that Millennials and Generation Z think and act. If you would like to find out more about how Generation Z and Millennials differ, Mary McIlrath will be presenting a retrospective look at both generations at the Marketing to Generation Z Conference in New York on July 20, 2016. You can click here to register attend the conference! If you plan to attend, let us know so we can give you our sponsor discount code!

Tags: Education, youth research, school, millennials, Gen Z, generation research, high school, graduation

Honoring National Reading Month

Posted by Manda Pawelczyk on Thu, Mar 31, 2016 @ 04:06 PM

reading_month_image.jpg

Here at YouthBeat®, we value the importance of reading, and like those famous words from Dr. Seuss in Oh, The Places You’ll Go!, we believe reading is the gateway to a better future. But as March comes and goes, reading really takes center stage as we help celebrate National Reading Month.  Even as we step into 2016, too many children across this country are struggling with literacy. In fact, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, 65% of fourth graders scored below proficiency on the 2013 National Assessment of Education Progress reading test, indicating that they are not reading at grade level. Among eighth graders, only 36% are reading at or above grade level.

The question is, what can be done to help our youth build the literacy skills they need to live a successful and prosperous life?  There are a variety of organizations, both local and national, that are trying to address this question. 

  • Readaloud.org has started a 10 year campaign encouraging parents to spend 15 minutes every day reading to their children.
  • A study conducted by John Hutton of the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, reveals that preschoolers whose parents read to them regularly show more activity in key areas of their brains.
  • Another study by Dominic Massaro, from the University of California, shows that reading to children helps expand their vocabulary and grammatical understanding more than simply talking to them. He found that picture books are two to three times more likely to include a word outside the 5,000 most commonly used English words than a parent to child conversation. According to Massaro, “Reading picture books to babies and toddlers is important because the earlier children acquire language, the more likely they are to master it.  You are stretching them in vocabulary and grammar at an early age.  You are preparing them to be expert language users, and indirectly you are going to facilitate their learning to read.”

Unfortunately, not all children and families, especially those from low-income households, have access to books and reading material. That is why the White House has announced a new program called Open eBooks.  It is an app that gives children living in low-income households access to eBooks valued at more than $250 million. Students, educators and administrators from more than 66,000 Title 1 schools will have access to the app and its content.  The program is also paired with an initiative to get every child a library card, giving them maximum access to books – both on paper and digitally.

But there are also many smaller and local organizations that are doing their part to make a difference. 

  • Over the past school year, I have had the chance to volunteer with Y Reads!, an after school reading program that is in partnership with the YMCA and the Department of Education. The program is grant-funded by the DOE and focuses on helping Title 1 schools that have high rates of students reading below grade level.
  • Each year, the lowest core readers in first to third grade are invited to participate in the program. The program is led by one site-coordinator who accesses students’ reading levels and builds an appropriate lesson plan for each student. The rest of the program relies solely on volunteers to mentor the children through their lessons.  Each session focuses on the student practicing their phonics, sight words, spelling, reading and comprehension. 

As a volunteer, it has been an incredible experience getting to see some of today’s youth grow and expand and have a better chance at a brighter future. I cheer for them as they figure out that difficult word, and smile when they light up because they got an answer right. Because really when it comes down to it, they want a chance at chasing their dreams and want to know that they are worthy of an education.  Now the question is, how can your organization lend a hand, not just during National Reading month but all year long?

Tags: kids, reading, kids tweens teens, market research, books, literacy