Monthly Archives: January 2014

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The Secret To Success for Peyton Manning and Russell Wilson

There is an assumption by many youth sports parents that laser-focused specialization is the only way to launch a stellar athletic career for their son or daughter.  With so many hours dedicated to practices, training and competition, other childhood activities get crowded out.  Somehow, though, the two quarterbacks in this weekend’s Super Bowl rose to the pinnacle of their sport despite parents who stressed a normal family life with education as a priority.

Long before he won the starting quarterback position for the Seattle Seahawks, Russell Wilson learned how to use his natural leadership abilities to get the best for himself as well as others.  In his early school days, “They’d have a game or something they’d be playing and Russell would sit in the rocking chair and the other kids would be on the floor and he’d kind of run the game,” says Russell’s mom, Tammy Wilson, in a recent interview.

In high school, he learned quickly how important education was in his family.  If he was struggling in a subject, he would seek out smarter classmates and trade athletic tips and tricks for tutoring.  He used his sports skills and his good grades to get into Collegiate School, an elite preparatory school in Richmond, Virginia.  One thing was clear; he was there for an education first.  Charlie McFall, Wilson’s football coach at Collegiate, remembers a conversation with Harrison Wilson, Russell’s dad, “”He said, ‘Let me tell you something: I didn’t put Russell in Collegiate for sports, I put Russell in Collegiate to get the best education he could get.’”

Because of the strict focus on being a complete person, winning a Super Bowl may just be the next chapter of Wilson’s accomplishments.  “He could run for governor in North Carolina, Wisconsin or Washington and win,” said Harry Wilson, Russell’s brother.

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While everyone knows about Peyton Manning, quarterback of the Denver Broncos, and his younger brother, Eli, quarterback of the New York Giants, not many know that their older brother Cooper could have been the third Manning in the NFL.  An all-state high school wide receiver, Cooper caught passes as a senior from his sophomore brother Peyton, before a rare spinal condition forced him out of the family sport.

However, Archie and Olivia Manning never pushed their sons into football or any sport for that matter.  Having lost his own dad when he was a 19-year-old quarterback at Ole Miss, Archie was determined to be a supportive father.  Even with his own experience as an NFL player, Archie is convinced that all of the success that Peyton and Eli, as well as Cooper, have enjoyed has just been a by-product of a close family.

“We just tried to raise kids,” said Archie Manning in the ESPN film, The Book of Manning. “We tried to raise good kids and have a good family.  I don’t like the perception that it was a plan. You know that I was an NFL quarterback for a while and then I’ve got these boys and I’m going to mold them into being NFL quarterbacks. Not so. You can do that and they might be an NFL quarterback, but I’m not sure you’re going to have a great father-son relationship. That’s what I wanted.”

Not two football families, but two strong families who happen to enjoy football.  Just as easily, they could have excelled in music, astronomy, entrepreneurship or any other activity.  The secret is providing a solid foundation for kids to explore their interests, knowing that their parents’ only goal is for them to be happy.

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Dan Peterson is exploring the intersection of sports skill development and cognitive science at Sports Are 80 Percent Mental.  Studying how the brain learns and adapts to the physical and emotional demands of sports, he has authored over 250 science-based articles for parents and coaches trying to understand their young athletes.  Be sure to follow him on TwitterFacebook and Google+.

Photo credits:  Russell Wilson via Wikimedia Commons, Photo by Larry Maurer
Peyton Manning via Wikimedia Commons, Photo by Jeffrey Beall

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The Science Behind Thrively’s Groundbreaking Strength Assessment

Dr. Jayme Neiman-Kimel and Dr. Jonine Biesman are two of California’s seven Board-certified pediatric neuropsychologists.  Together they developed Thrively’s Strength Assessment, an online survey that allows children to discover their strengths.  The results are a custom profile built to offer insights into a child’s dynamic personality.

With the incredible and exciting advances in neuroimaging that have emerged over the past decade, we now know that the brain is an extremely dynamic and adaptable organ that can become more efficient based on the experiences to which it is exposed.  Its growth and organization is not fixed, but rather ever changing.  Thus, what we do matters!  This is the basis of the recommended activities offered through Thrively including out of the box, cutting edge opportunities that not only contribute to the emergence of highly well-rounded children and adolescents but to healthier brains.  Specific activities are recommended following a student’s completion of a thoughtfully designed strength finder that is engaging and fun to complete and highly informative for parents.

The science behind the Thrively Strength Explorer and Map is grounded in principles of life span development, strength-based research, the most current understanding of neural connectivity, the mechanisms of optimal brain functioning, motivational variables, as well as over forty years of combined assessment experience with thousands of children and adolescents.  It is safe to say that countless tests exist to assess specific “domains of functioning” such as a student’s language skills, academic knowledge, and memory.  While these measures provide information about an individual’s capacities as well as their areas of need; most tests that children and adolescents take do not generalize well to their day to day activities nor do they provide direction for enrichment.

The Thrively Strength Explorer formulated by Dr. Biesman and Dr. Neiman-Kimel, board certified pediatric neuropsychologists, was designed by drawing upon their vast data base and knowledge of existing test questions, problem-solving tasks, and brain-behavior relationships coupled with their understanding of personality dynamics, child development, children’s social-emotional needs and real-life demands.  As just one example, we get at the question of a child’s social acumen through a robust set of questions, each with many viable answers.  All of this is presented in a way that does not signal any one answer as more correct than any other. The result is an honest assessment across more than 23 different strengths.  Thus, the questions were created to capture information across a broad range of areas essential to one’s functioning but are offered in a much more accessible, engaging, fun and interesting format than students are used to seeing.

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Children and adolescents immensely enjoy learning about themselves.  What distinguishes the Thrively Strength Explorer is its ability to tap into essential areas of a child’s life in a format that makes sense to them without being overwhelming.  Self-awareness is a powerful gift to give our children.  Surprisingly, many students when asked, “What is good about you?” struggle with this question.  To have a tool that is entirely strength based is refreshing and innovative in the current world of assessment and fills a missing need in the library of tests available for children and adolescents.

Once completed, an individualized profile is generated from which directed activities are identified.  The activities offered may embellish upon already existing strengths as well as to nurture those areas that will help students become more versatile.  We seek to optimize each student’s capacity to fully thrive – intellectually, creatively, socially, emotionally, physically, motivationally, morally, and neurologically.  Appreciate these principles:

1)   There are an estimated 100 billion neurons in the human brain.  The connectivity of these neurons is what makes us our unique selves.  While these connections are to some degree genetically determined, experiences can also influence their optimal arrangement.  The brain is in continuous formation throughout life.

2)   There is no question that motor development and cognitive development are intricately connected and do increase grey matter in the brain, so keep your children moving!

3)    Brain networks do not work in isolation.  Neither should we.  Affiliative activities are essential in development.

4)   Experience can change neural connectivity.  Neural connectivity or large scale brain networks influence everything human from cognition to personality to motivation to emotion to our sensory and motor systems.  You can be instrumental in shaping your child’s experiences.

5)   Take an interest in your child’s passions and nurture those passions above all else.  The outcome will be worth the journey!

Dr. Jonine Biesman

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Every mom should watch this video

Parenting is tough, and we all want to make sure we’re doing the best job we can.  Without a magical guide to being the perfect parent, we are just making the best decisions that we can for our kids.  Like with anything, it’s easy to get absorbed in the day to day and forget the bigger picture.  Sometimes we all need to just take a step back and remember that we don’t need to be our own biggest critic, because the people who matter most see you in a completely different way.

Moral of the story?  You don’t have to be perfect to be a perfect parent!

Without Passion, Kids Struggle.

When we examine the essence of what Thrively is about, it boils down to passion.  We help kids discover and pursue their passion in life.  Understanding core strengths and connecting children with the right activities based on those strengths are a means to the end.   As part of our constant self-examination, we look for research on happiness and success, in search of that secret ingredient to a thriving child.

Shawn Achor spent eight years living in the Harvard dorms studying that link between happiness and success.  His research turned a fundamental assumption on its head. Society has longed believed that if you work harder, you will be more successful, and then you will be happy.  Shawn’s research found that to be reversed.  He found that we are far more productive, 31% more in fact, when we are happy.  So happiness leads to more efficient work, and thus to success.  Not the other way around!

We also came across a study that may be more intuitive: that perceived ability is the only reliable indicator of continued participation in activities.  In other words, if you believe you’re good at something, you’re more likely to stick with it.  This is where a firm understanding of the core strengths of a child can help us provide critical guidance.

Obviously, there are no silver bullets to the challenges of growing up, but research clearly shows that when you find someone who has discovered their passion and has been given the freedom and encouragement to fully pursue it, they will feel a strong measure of self-respect, confidence, and determination to succeed.  And that’s why passion has such an important role to play for Thrively and for all of the families we serve.

Discover Your Child's Strengths

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All Kids Need a Spark

When Peter Benson talks about how every kid has a “Spark” and that we, as society, simply aren’t naturally inclined to discover or ignite those Sparks, it both saddens me and makes me more determined than ever to be a part of positive change.

The scale of the challenge is overwhelming – there are 2.2 billion children under 18 in the world today – but the potential to start small and make a real difference quickly is equally inspiring.  Take the time to watch this video, and you’ll see what I mean.

Try setting a goal of finding the underlying “Spark” in five children you know.  When you do, please come back and share the most interesting ones in this blog’s comment thread.  It doesn’t have to be long… I just think it would be interesting to see a range of the “Sparks” that are secretly driving children all over the country!

Watch this young boy turn nothing into something amazing

This is a story that has gotten incredible mileage on YouTube, and for good reason. It is the ultimate illustration of how passion is contagious. When you watch Caine, you can’t help but think of the potential of a world where this kind of creativity and imagination is nurtured and celebrated everywhere, and even integrated as part of our core educational culture. Caine’s strength is his irrepressible imagination and his raw determination to see his vision through.

Another important notion that Caine’s pursuit drives home is that anything is possible, as long as there is passion driving it. It’s a cliché that we rarely get to see exemplified in real life, but there were multiple transformations in this story that we didn’t see coming:

  • First, the transformation of a seemingly bored but patient kid into an ambitious creator and true entrepreneurial dreamer – he clearly believed he was building something important, even if he had almost nothing to build it with!
  • Second, the transformation of pile of cardboard into a collection of make-shift arcade games.
  • Third, the transformation of a group of simple cardboard games with very limited objective pizzazz or anything resembling professional finish into an absolutely inspirational arcade with lines of paying customers around the block, a video with millions of fans, and a college scholarship fund in the six figures!

What sort of things have your children created with ordinary everyday stuff?

Think it’s important to be well-rounded? Think again.

Well-Lopsidedness: It is a term that has seen increasing use over the past several years to describe what colleges are looking for in their applicants, yet it’s not in the dictionary.  So what does well-lopsidedness really mean and how does it play out in a student’s life?

Simply put, well-lopsidedness is doing one thing and doing it well.  In days past, it was the well-rounded students—those who had a hand in nearly everything—who were the sought-after applicants.  These days, in contrast, colleges tend to look for students who’ve explored, who’ve identified what they’re good at, who’ve become deeply involved in that activity, and who’ve excelled.

While theoretically it’s possible for a student to be able to “do it all,” most students who try this tactic end up overcommitting to the detriment of excelling at one thing. They lose the capacity and the time to dive into the depths of that one thing that makes them come alive—the “lopsided” part of well-lopsided.  Stuart Schmill, Dean of Admissions at MIT said: “While it is true that some students have the bandwidth to do a lot and be successful, it is never the quantity of classes or activities that was the deciding factor in a college’s decision to admit them. And we should remember that for most students, loading up will simply lead to burnout and decreased performance.”

What does well-lopsidedness look like?  Maybe a student discovers that she has a passion for and a talent in photography. She takes every one of the photography courses that her school offers, but that’s not enough for her.  As a summer job for two consecutive summers, she works as an assistant to a photographer and continues to hone her craft.  Also during a summer break, she devotes several weeks to an intensive photography course that challenges her current level of skill and knowledge, and she continues to develop her portfolio. She decides to create her own small business, and she spends her weekends during the school year taking headshot photos for local professionals and photographing families, and the word about her talent spreads.  She enters as many photography contests as she can find, winning several including a national honor.  Perhaps she pursues an opportunity to photograph local events for a newspaper.  She becomes the founder of her school’s photography club, which takes weekly photo-shoot expeditions to local scenic areas and every other month sponsors photography speakers who have excelled in their field.  Her passion is clear, and she has immersed herself in it.

So why do admissions committees look for well-lopsided students?  The answer is that unlike a class full of well-rounded students, a group full of well-lopsided students makes an exceptionally interesting, well-rounded class. As adults, we need to encourage students to identify their lopsided feature and to pursue it with vigor.

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Jenn-Curtis-headshot-color-150x150Jenn Curtis, MSW is the owner and co-founder of FutureWise Consulting, a college counseling, test prep, and academic tutoring business in Orange County, California. As an educational consultant, she works alongside high school students and their families to prepare them for the college admissions process. Jenn also developed and teaches a college and career readiness program for first generation students. She is the editorial assistant for an academic journal, has edited several books, and works with graduate and doctoral students in developing effective writing skills. With a background in mental health, Jenn’s passion lies in empowering students to become self-advocates, to uncover their strengths, and to find the motivation to reach their potential.
 
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Introducing the Thrively Blog!

This Blog will act as our platform to talk about all of the issues we wrestle with and learn about in our path to develop and grow Thrively. There will be several types of posts here, and we’ve tried to organize them in a way to make it easy to find the topics you’re interested in.

SuperKids

In this category, we seek out stories about kids who’ve made a real commitment to something they’re passionate about. This section of our blog will be an aggregation of those stories, whether they involve kids achieving some notable success, traveling abroad to serve a humanitarian cause, or spending countless hours building something in their backyard that’s meaningful to them. We will highlight anything that shows a strong passion and commitment.

Strength Insights

We are always on the lookout for research, statistics, and real world examples of strength development, and how we can benefit from the development and nurturing of our personal strengths. In this section of the Blog, we share that research and add our perspective on how understanding and harnessing these strengths can help us discover and pursue our passions.

Visiting Experts

We want to provide a steady stream of value to our customers. One of the ways we can add value is by collaborating with experts in the fields of child development, psychology, and strength-based learning. In this section of our Blog, we will periodically share thoughts on important topics from some of the world’s leading professionals in these areas.

Inspire & Aspire

In this channel of our blog, we’ve asked contributors to talk about experiences they have had in turning something they’ve been passionate about into a fulfilling, meaningful career or long-term pursuit. We feel strongly that the best way for a child to find a fulfilling, meaningful path is to pursue what they’re passionate about. But, we know that luck often plays a significant role in exposing people to the things that ultimately give them fulfillment in life. While Thrively’s goal is to take luck out of the equation, the goal of this part of our Blog is to show everyone that no matter how you discover your passion, you should always go after it with as much energy as you can muster.

Just Plain Interesting

Our “Just Plain Interesting” section is for when we stumble upon a fun, interesting tidbit of information or insight that we think our customers would enjoy. These posts will range from the hidden benefits of painting to stories that highlight paths, pursuits, and perspectives that take us way off the beaten track and challenge our perception of the status quo.