By Sylvia Hall and Dianne Samuelson
“How was your day?”
“What did you do today?”
Does this sound familiar to you? This daily exchange between parent and child is heard ‘round the world countless times every day. In fact, it’s so common and life is so busy that very often we, as parents, let it go at that – yet we know there is a great deal more going on in our child’s day.
But what if your children really want to share their day with you? What if they are so overwhelmed by a busy day, they don’t know where to start, are not sure how to tell their story, or their memory challenges inhibit them? What if you could potentially change your child’s brain at the neural level over the dinner table?
Starting a “conversation movement”
Schools today do a tremendous job sending home information to keep parents in the loop. But with two kids in elementary school, we wanted a conversation that linked school to home through the eyes of our children. We wanted to hear our kids’ excitement about their day from them. So, in 2015, my husband Jarrid and I started the DinnerxChange™ (DxC™) with a mission to start a conversation movement.
Jarrid created an Internet platform that gave our then 11-year-old son Austin the ability to input a few hints about his school day during school hours – right in the classroom computer. These hints are called GABs (what ‘tweets’ are to Twitter, GABs are to DxC.) With our son’s teacher completely on board and only needing two minutes for input, Austin could enter a few words, a few times per day, into the DxC platform.
At home during dinner or in the car on the way to fencing or out walking the dog, we pulled up the GABs on an app and had Austin read the three or four prompts that detailed a few events throughout his day. At first it took him several minutes to retrace his day in his head, but suddenly he would have this “aha” moment and tell us all about that part of his day. He became empowered by remembering his day, being able to share the details, and initiating really fun conversations with the family.
Research on conversation
Research suggests that open and ongoing conversations between parents and children strengthen family bonds and has other benefits such as increased intellectual curiosity, improved problem solving and communication skills, higher self-esteem, enhanced logical reasoning, and decreased depression and risk of childhood obesity.
We quickly saw the benefits and power of family conversation. After a few weeks of using DxC at the dinner table and beyond, our then 10-year-old daughter Gracie was asking to use it too. With the approval and participation of her teacher, Gracie was coming home eager to share her GABs each evening. What was once a very short dialogue of “fine” and “nothing” soon became both our kids initiating conversation with lots of detail, interest, examples shared, emotions felt, eyes wide, arms flailing – you get the picture.
Per a 2013 study in the Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, the communication engagement between school and home results in “… stronger teacher-student relationships, expanded parental involvement, and increased student motivation.” We have seen the positive impact of child-initiated conversation in our kids’ academic enthusiasm and grades. Using DxC has bridged the gap between school and home, reinforcing the importance of school and its relativeness in everyday life.
Gracie’s teacher also saw the benefits of using DxC and asked to use it for the entire classroom in Barrington. Over several months, we worked with teachers, parents, education professionals, and researchers to adapt our platform to become useable on a larger scale and malleable to different students’ needs. What we discovered is fascinating and possibly life-altering for a child.
We also collaborated with neurologists and clinical advisors, and discovered that the process of a child inputting a GAB at school and then later retrieving the information that supports that GAB has the potential to change their neurology.
For example, it may be possible for a child with executive function deficits and working memory challenges to improve these skills by consistently using the DxC platform. By mentally retracing their day, identifying and piecing together the information that relates to the GAB, formulating the presentation of the GAB, and initiating the conversation, it can strengthen the neural connections that encode and retrieve information, thus enhancing consolidation of new knowledge and improving academic outcomes.
One of the most effective means of information absorption is the method used in medical schools: See 1, Do 1, Be 1. When a student sees something new, learns/practices it, and then teaches someone else the information or method, the content is then fully and firmly implanted in their brain.
The DxC GABs are designed to act in this way for students. DxC exercises the muscle of recall. They are taught a subject, they work on the subject, and (using the GABs) they come home and talk about and teach their families about the subject.
When a student participates in a lesson, captures their own perception of the lesson (their personal “neuro footprint”), and events surrounding the lesson, and then uses the GABs to retrace and recall that lesson at home to share with family, it is believed that the brain cells engage, connect and develop. This is true both for students with and without disabilities.
The development of the brain can be accelerated through the strengthening of neural connections and creation of neural networks. Thus, a child’s cognitive development is on a spectrum which can be enhanced, and the disabilities effect relatively weakened.
Working with educators
By working with education professionals, we have ensured that the DxC platform meshes with a scaffolding method of teaching. The GABs are a tool that chunks down a child’s day into smaller pieces, captures these moments, provides a review of these moments, and allows for recall of these moments. This enhances academic instruction, provides greater understanding of the subject, produces a more engaged student, and by sharing it at home, a more connected family which cycles back into the classroom the next day.
As Katie Wilson, a 4th grade teacher in Barrington currently using DxC, said, “It allows what might be otherwise considered ‘small moments’ in school to be bigger conversations at home.”
And that’s exactly what we and so many other families get excited about most – conversations at home. Now in multiple schools and classrooms in the New England area, Steve Milt, a DxC dad said it best “I heard more detail about his day than ever before. Plus, we had a positive, supported, connected feeling as dinner ended.”
Find out more at www.dxcgabs.com and GAB on!
Sylvia Hall, of Barrington, is mom of two pre-teen kids and co-founder of DxC. With a 15+ year career in strategic marketing, a passion for writing, and happily choosing to stay home with the kids, she focuses on implementation of learning differences strategies in kids’ daily lives.
Dianne Samuelson, of Washington D.C., has a Master’s in Education from the Mind, Brain, and Education program at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education and is founder of Samuelson Educational Consulting, which serves students K-16.