Making the Grade October 2016

by Ricardo Castillo


IT'S USEFUL AT TIMES TO HAVE A FRESH PERSPECTIVE TO “MAKE THE GRADE.”  WITH THIS IN MIND WE HERE AT OUTLOOK-12 HAVE CREATED A SPECIAL COLUMN WHERE YOU, OUR READERS, CAN WRITE TO US WITH YOUR PERSONAL AND PROFESSIONAL QUESTIONS AND GET PERSPECTIVE AND INSIGHTS FROM OUR RESIDENT AWARD-WINNING EDUCATION VETERAN AND CONTRIBUTING COLUMNIST GARY COOPER.  AN EDUCATOR FOR MORE THAN 45 YEARS, GARY HAS TAUGHT STUDENTS FROM NURSERY SCHOOL TO COLLEGE AND IS ALSO A GUIDANCE COUNSELOR. 

The following three letters all involve different circumstances and yet have an overarching theme.  Over my many years as both an educator and a counselor, I have prescribed an activity that almost universally was readily embraced by both youths and their parents—bowling.  My rationale for selecting this activity was it could be done year round, virtually anywhere and by nearly everyone of almost any age.  Although bowling can be substituted by a number of alternatives, I have found that it almost always seemed to work and has proven to be therapeutic for many of my students, counselees and their families.

making the grade hispanic outlook magazine 2016 october

Q: My daughter is six years old and has trouble sticking with extra curricular activities.  First, she wanted to be a ballerina, so I paid for ballet lessons only for her to give up after three classes.  Next, she wanted to learn karate but gave up after four lessons.  Now, she wants to be a gymnast like the women she saw in the Olympics who won the gold medal.  On the one hand, there’s no point forcing her to do a hobby if she’s not going to like it.  It’s not like it’s schoolwork.  And I don’t want to discourage her from trying new things.  But this is becoming a strain on my wallet.  What are your thoughts?

A: I am delighted your daughter has taken a keen interest in extra curricular activities.  She seems to enjoy interests that involve physicality, but the activities you’ve listed above can be involved and a little complex especially for a six-year-old.  I’m recommend encouraging her to try something game-oriented: bowling. Admittingly, six is young to start bowling, however, beginners can measure their progress by keeping score.  Most often, a few sessions of gutter balls will develop into modest achievements of improving scores. Have a family member join her and when she improves, involve a peer.  She can assist her playmate in learning this sport.  I’ve found over the years that students who take up bowling find it to be a good, healthy, wholesome exercise that can become a life-long activity.

Q: I’m the mother of an eight-year-old.  We recently moved, and I can tell that he is having trouble fitting in at his new school.  My son is a quiet child, a bit shy and (and I say this very lovingly) a little nerdy.  Because of his polite personality and interests, he’s getting picked on and is not connecting with any of his classmates.  I don’t know what to do.  I’ve tried play dates.  I’ve tried throwing parties and inviting kids over.  I’ve tried encouraging him to join clubs at school.  Nothing seems to be working.  I feel very guilty since he did have friends and fit in very well at his old school.  What else can I do?

A: My general suggestion is to attempt to identify an activity that your son might be interested in and enjoy but also an activity that is different from what I’m assuming are his other more “nerdy” pursuits.  I’m going to recommend having your son try bowling.  After he has developed a little skill, invite a cousin, friend or neighbor to join him bowling.  It is the type of sport that encourages communication between turns and for most becomes a friendly competition both with yourself and your bowling partners.  This is not to say that other types of activities might not have similar results, but I have found over the years that bowling in particular worked wonders for many of my students and counselees.   

Q: My son recently lost his grandmother.  They were very close, and I was prepared that his grades might suffer a bit especially since he’s never dealt with death before.  But the exact opposite has happened.  When he went into the third grade, instead of his grades suffering, he’s been throwing himself into his studies more than ever.  Now, I know that sounds good, but he’s too serious now.  He doesn’t go out and play with his friends anymore.  He doesn’t read comic books, watch TV or play video games like he used to.  I can’t even remember the last time I heard him really laugh good and hard.  I’m worried about him, but I can’t tell if he’s just working through his grief or if this is something I need to address.  What do you suggest?

A: We all mourn in our own way.  For some it takes longer than others.  Physical activity is often recommended for dealing with grief since exercise releases endorphins, which are natural ways to improve mood and a sense of wellbeing.  In many cases just flinging a bowling ball down the lane as hard as your can is a simple but effective and joyous release of energy.  Although the sport of bowling has many nuances and skills, a newcomer can gradually improve with little formal instruction.  In addition, bowling is an activity that can be done year round and encourages social interaction since most lanes have youth teams that encourage beginners to participate.  It also offers many avenues of communication both between children and for a child to discuss experiences with an adult.  While I cannot say that bowling is a cure all for your son’s sense of loss, it might be the first step to helping him open up more and help the healing process.