If Boys Will be Boys, They Need More Help
December 7, 2010 · Posted in Communication, Discipline, Education, K-5 Kids, Mental Health, Parenting · Permalink · Comments Off on If Boys Will be Boys, They Need More Help

A study 0f 43,000 American High School students by the Josephson Insititute, a non-partisan, non-sectarian, organization, whose mission is “to improve the ethical quality of society by changing personal and organizational decision making and behavior”, is a treasure trove of information. I want to focus on gender differences regarding bullying and intolerance.

Here are some specific findings:

Is it sometimes OK to to hit or threaten a person who makes me angry?

Boys 36.7 %      Girls 19.1%

I am prejudiced against certain groups.

Boys 28.2%    Girls 17.5%

In the past year I bullied, taunted or mistreated someone.

Boys 32.7%   GIrls 20.6%

In the past year I bullied someone because they belong to a different group.

Boys 14.7% GIrls 6.6%

In the past years I used racial slurs or insults.

Boys 37.2 %   Girls 19.4%

The differential between boys and girls is dramatic. As parents, we need to pay particular attention to helping boys manage negative emotions, giving clear limits about aggressive behavior and not succumbing to the “Boys will be Boys” excuse.

Helping our boys to be tolerant and kind will change society!

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The Marshmallow Test
December 7, 2010 · Posted in Discipline, Education, K-5 Kids, Mental Health, Parenting, Preschoolers · Permalink · Comments Off on The Marshmallow Test
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Dr. Walter Mischel’s study of impulse control in the 1960’s and 1970’s using a marshmallow and the directive to wait-and-you-will-get-two has turned out to have incredible predictive ability and teaches an important lesson to parents. The ability to delay gratification at age four predicts higher SAT scores, school success, and successes in life such as relationships, employment and healthier weight.

Making children wait, helping to handle not getting what they want and delaying gratification has profound positive effects. So go ahead, just say no!!!!!!!!!!!!

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Take Your Child To Vote Day
November 2, 2010 · Posted in Education, K-5 Kids, Parenting, Social Action, Teens · Permalink · Comments Off on Take Your Child To Vote Day

Do you want a sure fire way to model good behavior for your kids? Take them with you to vote.  For small children it is beginning an important ritual with them. For your school aged children,  not only is this modeling it a great opportunity to discuss what voting means and what a privilege it is. It can open up many discussions about  what matters to you, hear their ideas, and get them engaged with the world around them. It helps give them a sense of power and voice and responsibility.

Though it seems like government disappoints so much, voting is still a rite that many people in the world don’t have.  Though so many huge problems exist around us we can do our little part and instill that value in our children. That half hour or so, that you spend going to the polls together will be embedded in your child’s mind forever.

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Don’t Let Picture Books Fade Away
October 14, 2010 · Posted in Education, K-5 Kids, Parenting, Preschoolers, Pressure on Children, Toddlerhood · Permalink · Comments Off on Don’t Let Picture Books Fade Away

This is the sorry state of the MIS-education of our children. The New York Times article, Picture Books No Longer A Staple, October 8th, 2010, reports that publishers are scaling back a staple of early childhood, illustrated picture books.

Parents have begun pressing their kindergartners and first graders to leave the picture book behind and move on to more text-heavy chapter books. Publishers cite pressures from parents who are mindful of increasingly rigorous standardized testing in schools.

“Parents are saying, ‘My kid doesn’t need books with pictures anymore,’ ” said Justin Chanda, the publisher of Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. “There’s a real push with parents and schools to have kids start reading big-kid books earlier. We’ve accelerated the graduation rate out of picture books.”

The magic of learning to speak, let alone read, happens when words as a sounds and symbols come to represent objects. Much of the early intellectual dialogue between parents and children begins with a child on the lap and a picture book in hand.  From infancy into elementary school listening to, looking at and reading picture books with a grown up or alone sets the stage for the love of reading later in childhood. Do not drink the Kool-Aid. Read picture books with your children!

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We All Have Little Mean Girls Inside
October 12, 2010 · Posted in Bullying, Communication, Discipline, Education, K-5 Kids, Mental Health, Parenting, Preschoolers, Pressure on Children · Permalink · Comments Off on We All Have Little Mean Girls Inside

Mean girl bullying is showing up in younger and younger age groups. An article by Pamela Paul, in Sunday’s New York Times tackles this complex topic. Let’s look at some of the key issues. First, is the labeling of “mean girls”.

Paul writes,

A kindergarten teacher at one of New York City’s top private all-girls schools observed, “The mean girls are often from mean moms.”

Now that is a pretty big statement. Mean girls, mean moms. Nice girls, nice moms.  Seems too broad and more importantly, what do we do with that?

Who of us has not made many a snarky comment about how someone looks or acts? Or not had zillions of mean thoughts about someone?  Not you, not me. All of us have a mean part. Too often we label the whole person by looking at just one of their characteristics. No one is defined by one quality- we are all made up of a multitude of parts. A care-taking part of our personality, a sad part, a courageous part, and a part that lashes out.  This mean part develops to protect us- to make us feel better and to shield us from feeling shame, rejection, or loneliness.

Take this scenario: You show up at the park with your kids and see two mothers from school sitting together on the bench talking. You automatically feel nervous because you are a lone adult and would love some company. In a nano second the following inner experience takes place: You wonder if you should approach the two mothers. You think one of the women sees you but turns away. Immediately, the mean part jumps out to protect you by thinking, “They are such snobs, and their kids are out of control. At least I pay attention to my kids in the park!” You walk to the other end of the park.

When looking at it closer, that mean part just doesn’t want you to experience those uncomfortable feelings. It wants you to feel strong, better in fact. The same is true with children. Imagine the same scenario at the writing center at school. The mean part in a little kid is just as protecting as an adult, and an intimidated child will likely have the same reaction.

Talking to kids about their mean parts -not telling them that they are mean- will help them to stop bullying.

But here’s the really tough part.

“The mean girls are often from mean moms.”

Parents of kids that bully or condescend to others need to hold up a mirror to their own behavior. One-upsmanship, criticizing others for not being as smart, as rich, as pretty, as athletic, etc. in an ongoing way will create children who feel they have the freedom to do the same. Parents that have a strong mean part will most likely have kids that develop one too. So the first step in combatting relational bullying is to shine a light on your own need to put others down. Take that mean part in hand, recognize that it is protecting you and help that part of you to stop hurting other people.  This is the key to making our children safe psychologically, emotionally and physically.

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It’s That Time Of Year Again!
August 31, 2010 · Posted in Discipline, Education, K-5 Kids, Media, Parenting, Preschoolers · Permalink · Comments (2)

As August light fades and the end of summer coolness sets in, we all, no matter how old, still get that back to school feeling.  The combination of sadness at the summer slipping away mixes with the anxiety tinged excitement at the thought of a whole new year. Remember that great feeling of a new back pack, lunch boxes, and pencils? It’s time for a fresh start!

To capitalize on this feeling have one or two family meetings before school starts. Get a big calendar to go over the general schedule. Who has what when. Visual reminders are helpful for childrenKids like to see things concretely and it helps them organize in their mind to see it on paper.

Make a list of what needs to happen in the mornings before school and before bed. You can use words or pictures depending on the age of your children. Kids love lists and charts!

It is also a good time to go over any chores you want the kids to have and put it on a chore list.

This is an important time to reiterate rules about behavior. Get your kids involved by thinking about their goals for the year. What do they want to work on?

This is the perfect time to make new paramaters about “screen- time”.  TV, computer, PSP, vand the Wii are all the same activity, besides using the computer for homework. If your kids are moving into school age many families make rules about no screens in the morning, or only after all homework is done, or only computer during the week and TV and video games on the weekend. Think about what works for your family and then tell the kids the new rules at the family meeting.  “Screen-time” is also a priviledge that can be revoked as a consequence for negative behaviors.

Adults also need limits on screen-time. Many families have instituted a “no screen zone” from say 6 PM-bedtime for EVERY member of the family! No email checking and Blackberry texting.

You can also set goals for the year–ask your children what they want this new year to be like–what would they like to add or subtract. Set goals for yourselves as well – less yelling, more individual time with each child, making evening family time a priority.

Again, the back to school month of September is a great time to rededicate yourselves as a family to the coming year with goals and rules and an empowered start to a new year!

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What Kind Of Play Will Help My Baby Learn?
July 20, 2010 · Posted in Education, Fatherhood, Infant Development, Parenting, Play · Permalink · Comments Off on What Kind Of Play Will Help My Baby Learn?

educational-toys-leftYour baby is always learning. Whether you are singing to your baby, shaking a rattle for them, or running errands, your baby is taking in the world and learning. When it comes to play, the trusted adults and the physical world are your baby’s best playmate. No need for fancy toys – simple rattles, balls, books and blocks will do. Playing peek-a-boo, singing, crawling around and tickling will do more for your baby than any organized class for infants.

Of course, the kind of play that you engage in with your baby depends greatly on his attention span and tolerance for stimulation. Parents can quickly learn the signs that a baby is enjoying the play or needs  a break and is becoming overstimulated.  Clearly a smiling and laughing baby is having a great time – keep it up!  A baby who diverts his gaze away from a parent or turns away is needing a break. Usually a baby will give one of these more subtle signs before crying.  Of course, if he begins to cry, then he is unequivocally saying “enough!”

And moms-pay attention! Research has shown that active play with kids, the kind most typical of dads, affords kids great advantages in terms of their social competence, emotional development, as well as verbal reasoning and problem solving.  So let their dads play away and don’t try to get them to play like you. They have their own style and it is just as important as more toned down play.

Let your baby explore the world on their own. Using their own senses and being the masters of their fun is important as well. If they are content and “doing their own thing” you are not being neglectful. Let them keep growing that ability to entertain themselves.

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Elementary, My Dear Watson?
March 16, 2010 · Posted in Education, K-5 Kids, Pressure on Children, Social Action · Permalink · Comments Off on Elementary, My Dear Watson?

Sherlock_HolmesPresident Obama is focused on supporting reforms in our educational system, but what if these reforms are based on faulty assumptions?  Susan Engel, head of the teaching program at Williams College, writes a simple, straightforward recipe for elementary education in her Op-Ed Play to Learn.

She argues that, based on developmental research, children should not be forced to accomplish the “laundry list” of tasks now present in many classrooms.  Instead, they should be immersed in language and literacy, collaboration and experimentation and steeped in play. Our current focus on early academics, testing, testing, and more testing is not what sets children up to be great learners in middle and high school. On the contrary, present day curriculum “is strangling children and teachers alike.”

“In this classroom, children would spend two hours each day hearing stories read aloud, reading aloud themselves, telling stories to one another and reading on their own. After all, the first step to literacy is simply being immersed, through conversation and storytelling, in a reading environment; the second is to read a lot and often. A school day where every child is given ample opportunities to read and discuss books would give teachers more time to help those students who need more instruction in order to become good readers.

Children would also spend an hour a day writing things that have actual meaning to them — stories, newspaper articles, captions for cartoons, letters to one another. People write best when they use writing to think and to communicate, rather than to get a good grade.

In our theoretical classroom, children would also spend a short period of time each day practicing computation — adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing. Once children are proficient in those basics they would be free to turn to other activities that are equally essential for math and science: devising original experiments, observing the natural world and counting things, whether they be words, events or people. These are all activities children naturally love, if given a chance to do them in a genuine way.”

Parents need to push their schools, Boards of Education and their representatives in government to change the direction of our educational system. Let’s put our focus and our money, not on propping up a broken system, but toward creating a new one that supports how children learn best.

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Monkey Bars
February 9, 2010 · Posted in Education, K-5 Kids, Play, Pressure on Children · Permalink · Comments (1)

TB-1402_monkeybar1A recent article on the effects of switching the order of recess and lunch by Tara Parker Pope makes great sense. Moving recess earlier and lunch afterwards affected both kids well being at school and also resulted in the waste of food. At a time when some schools decrease recess time to fit in more academics, it is another reminder of how important play time is for children. Pediatrics reports that a new study confirms the idea that having recess versus not isn’t in the best interest of a child’s academic performance. Parents must protect the needs of children by remembering that old fashioned running around and climbing the monkey bars is an important part of a school day.

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Do-It-Yourself Preschool!
January 21, 2010 · Posted in Education, Parenting, Play, Preschoolers, Toddlerhood · Permalink · Comments (1)

optout_button-p145196494186530513t5sj_400With all of the angst and money spent on preschool it was inspiring to hear Paulina Bemporad’s story of starting her own! She is our guest blogger today and we greatly appreciate her contribution. Paulina is the mother of a 3 1/2 year old daughter and an entrepreneur living in Red Hook, Brooklyn.

Starting A Cooperative Preschool Morning Program by Paulina Bemporad

When my daughter was approaching her second birthday, I started inquiring about nursery schools in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn.  I was horrified to discover that all of the preschools and private programs for toddlers require you to apply a year before the child actually starts the program. Since she was turning two in June of 2008, I was supposed to apply in September of 2007!  I had no idea this was even an issue. I felt like I failed as a mother because I didn’t realize how ultra competitive and over crowded preschools are in NYC.  Like everything else, space here is at a premium so why should a nursery school program for two-year-olds be any different?!  So, I desperately applied to about 10 preschool programs in the Spring of 2008 for my daughter to attend the following Fall. All I received back were rejection letters and notices that she was placed on waiting lists.

I was so frustrated and I didn’t think I had many other options – until I received an email from a parenting blog in my neighborhood looking for families that might be interested in starting a bilingual morning program for toddlers called “Escuelita.” As a native Spanish speaker from a Colombian family, I was thrilled by the opportunity. I was one of five parents who went to the open house.  I was excited to meet the incredible licensed Montessori teacher and an entrepreneurial couple who wanted to create the program for their daughter because they were facing the same situation I was.

To make this happen, they offered their own apartment to host the program which would take place 3 days a week from 9 am -12 p.m.  They are very involved in the community and have their own business right below their apartment. They had a great vision and entrepreurial spirit to create something from the ground up. Like me, they were also very interested in giving their daughter a bilingual education and were extremely frustrated by the lack of opportunities to attend Spanish language programs in Brooklyn. So, they found a teacher, offered their home and invited other parents to join their vision of a Bilingual Montessori preschool right here in our neighborhood.  Over a few planning meetings, the teacher outlined the curriculum, defined the costs and all of the participating parents agreed to the cooperative structure. The group hired a lawyer, had contracts drawn up and we gave our deposits with signed contracts.

We started with 4 children in September 2008, doubled the number of students by January 2009 and today we have ten families. Given the cooperative vision and spirit of the program, the parents play an active role in supporting the school. All parents are asked to provide healthy organic, snacks on a rotating basis.  We all paid for school supplies.  And all of the parents and children gather about every other month for a potluck brunch in each other’s homes. We’ve really become a close knit community and now regularly join together for play dates, share babysitting duties and enjoy hanging out during the weekends.

The greatest benefit has been watching our daughter blossom intellectually and socially. The beauty of the Montessori way of learning is that each child participates in carefully planned “work” activities that suit their specific stage of educational development. The children work independently, join together in pairs and perform group activities like singing and yoga. Lessons revolve around practical life  skills (water pouring work that emphasizes gross motor skills and measurement); sensory skills (from dramatic play with puppets to working with geometric shapes in puzzles); math (working with numbers, counting objects); language (focusing on pre-reading skills, word sounds, letters in alphabet); geography/science (identifying countries on maps, continents on the globe, changes in season, living and non-living objects); and art, physical movement and yoga.

Escuelita is now in its second year and we’ve expanded the program to 4 days a week. Our teacher is looking for permanent space and next year we are planning to expand to a full-time, 5 day-a-week structure. Our experience has been amazing and we feel extremely fortunate to have been a part of the founding and growth of a superb educational program for our daughter.

Based on our experience, here are my five tips for starting a cooperative preschool program:
1. Find a talented, experienced teacher
2. Invite like-minded parents who are willing to be actively involved
3. Find an appropriate space (be sure to consider NYC educational requirements and codes)
4. Develop a clear vision, educational philosophy and guidelines for teacher and parental roles
5. Be flexible to adapt and improve the program over time

Here are some great links to learn more about Montessori education:

The Montessori Foundation

The Wonder Years

Homemade Montessori

Montessori Story

A Montessori Classroom

Montessori Services

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