Homework Mutiny
June 21, 2011 · Posted in Education, K-5 Kids, Play, Pressure on Children · Permalink · Comments (1)

All the push back about too much homework is finally paying off. Parents and school officials are taking an earnest look at the pros and cons of overloading children with homework. We hear about the prolonged battles and stress about homework constantly. Parents are not sure how much they should be involved, kids breaking down in tears if they can’t finish, or don’t think they’ve done well enough, and a unfortunate and unnecessary preoccupation with the product and not the process of learning. This excerpt from the recent NYT front page article frames the conflict well.

“…the anti-homework movement has been reignited in recent months by the documentary “Race to Nowhere,”about burned-out students caught in a pressure-cooker educational system.

“There is simply no proof that most homework as we know it improves school performance,” said Vicki Abeles, the filmmaker and a mother of three from California. “And by expecting kids to work a ‘second shift’ in what should be their downtime, the presence of schoolwork at home is negatively affecting the health of our young people and the quality of family time.”

So teachers at Mango Elementary School in Fontana, Calif., are replacing homework with “goal work” that is specific to individual student’s needs and that can be completed in class or at home at his or her own pace. The Pleasanton School District, north of San Jose, Calif., is proposing this month to cut homework times by nearly half and prohibit weekend assignments in elementary grades because, as one administrator said, “parents want their kids back.”

Ridgewood High School in New Jersey introduced a homework-free winter break in December. Schools in Bleckley County, Ga., have instituted “no homework nights” throughout the year. The Brooklyn School of Inquiry, a gifted and talented program, has made homework optional.

“I think people confuse homework with rigor,” said Donna Taylor, the Brooklyn School’s principal, who views homework for children under 11 as primarily benefiting parents by helping them feel connected to the classroom.

In this time of both high pressure and lower academic standing of American students it is well worth looking at this issue on a large scale.

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How Much Do I Need To Play With My Baby?
March 24, 2011 · Posted in Infant Development, Parenting, Play · Permalink · Comments Off

max_400-1Many mothers feel like they are an entertainment center. They feel responsible for stimulating their babies all day long. Parents often comment that they feel guilty or lazy when they are not involved in talking, singing, shaking rattles and playing peek-a-boo. They worry that a baby sitting in a bouncy seat or laying on a blanket just looking around is a neglected child or an under stimulated one. Not so.

When you think about the world from the perspective of your baby, everything is new and therefore, interesting. From the play of light on the wall, to the sights on the street to just sitting in the kitchen. Learning and growth happens as a natural part of existing in your environment. So it is not necessary for you to work so hard at playing and talking the entire time your baby is awake. Just coexisting quietly is important too.

Of course, it is important to carve out a couple blocks of time each day where you can be totally tuned in to your baby and take part in playing with him in a focused way. Listening to music, exploring toys together, clapping hands and waving bye bye, being tickled and kissed. You are showing him the world and the world of relationships. Remember that babies can easily become overstimulated, so you want to be watchful not to introduce too many new things to him at once, and to tone down the interaction if he appears to look or pull away, cry or fuss. These are all signs that he may be overstimulated.

Your most important job is teaching your baby how to be in a relationship, the give and take, the ebb and flow, teaching him he is adored. All the other learning happens very naturally just from being in the world.

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A View Into The Mind Of A Child
February 17, 2011 · Posted in Fatherhood, K-5 Kids, Parenting, Play · Permalink · Comments Off

If you want to get the best window into how a five year old thinks read The Room by Emma Donoghue. Told from the perspective of a five year old boy, this story of a mother and her son captive in a small room for years gives incredible insight into the way children process information. It also shows how the creativity of a parent and the power of relationship can help us all cope with even the worst hardship. The audio book narrator, in this child’s voice, is so believable. I laughed out loud at his adorableness, felt his fear and understood and remembered what it was like to be a little child so in tune and reliant on the emotional state of my mother. The book is also a powerful commentary on what children really need vs what we think they need. Two thumbs up.

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What Should A Four Year Old Know?
February 10, 2011 · Posted in K-5 Kids, Mental Health, Parenting, Play, Preschoolers · Permalink · Comments Off

A recent post on the blog A Magical Childhood gives a touching account of what a young child really needs to feel safe and content. Here is a lightly edited version:

What a 4-year old should know:

  1. She should know that she is loved wholly and unconditionally, all of the time.
  2. He should know that he is safe and he should know how to keep himself safe in public, with others, and in varied situations. He should know that he can trust his instincts about people and that he never has to do something that doesn’t feel right, no matter who is asking. He should know his personal rights and that his family will back them up.
  3. She should know how to laugh, act silly, be goofy and use her imagination. She should know that it is always okay to paint the sky orange and give cats 6 legs.
  4. He should know his own interests and be encouraged to follow them. If he could care less about learning his numbers, his parents should realize he’ll learn them accidentally soon enough and let him immerse himself instead in rocket ships, drawing, dinosaurs or playing in the mud.
  5. She should know that the world is magical and that so is she. She should know that she’s wonderful, brilliant, creative, compassionate and marvelous. She should know that it’s just as worthy to spend the day outside making daisy chains, mud pies and fairy houses as it is to practice phonics. Scratch that– way more worthy.

But more importantly, here’s what parents need to know:

  1. That every child learns to walk, talk, read and do algebra at his own pace. That pace will have no bearing on how well he walks, talks, reads or does algebra. The single biggest predictor of high academic achievement and high ACT scores is reading to children. Not flash cards, not workbooks, not fancy preschools, not blinking toys or computers.
  2. That being the smartest or most accomplished kid in class has never had any bearing on being the happiest. We are so caught up in trying to give our children “advantages” that we’re giving them lives as multi-tasked and stressful as our own. One of the biggest advantages we can give our children is a simple, carefree childhood.
  3. That our children deserve to be surrounded by books, nature, art supplies and the freedom to explore them. Most of us could get rid of 90% of our children’s toys and they wouldn’t be missed. If you keep the legos and blocks, all types of art materials, musical instruments, dress up clothes and books, they will have all they need.
  4. That our children need more of us. Our children don’t need Nintendos, computers, after school activities, ballet lessons, play groups and soccer practice nearly as much as they need US. Children’s healthy and loving relationships with their parents will give them everything they need to know.
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Let Kids Be Kids!
February 1, 2011 · Posted in Parenting, Play, Pressure on Children, Teens · Permalink · Comments Off

It’s amazing how sophisticated and knowledgeable kids are. Middle schoolers can seem like adults with their vocabularies and knowledge of both current events and celebrity gossip. We can easily get pulled into treating them like adults both with expectations that are too high while exposing them to too much information. Here are some things to consider and compare:

Take some time to think about yourself when you were 11 or 12. What did you worry about? What was school like? Friends? Did you have too much freedom or not enough? What was home like? What did you do after school? How much homework did you have?

Chances are life was different. Familial issues may have been complicated but school life and outside pressure to achieve and excel were probably less pronounced. We can’t change the way the world works for our children but we can remember that they ARE children and they deserve to operate as children do.  No matter how sophisticated our children may seem, they still need lots of comfort, down time, play and silliness. Even as adults, we do too!

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Siesta Time
December 2, 2010 · Posted in Parenting, Play, Pressure on Children, Toddlerhood · Permalink · Comments (1)

A mother in an ongoing group was discussing her “spirited” and adorable 3 1/2 year old. She had come to a decision that after preschool, no matter what, they were coming home, and having “Siesta Time”- two hours of down time. Since her little girl rarely naps anymore, the “Siesta” is spent playing quietly with toys, spending time on her own and generally chilling. Later in the afternoon, they might see friends, or go to the park or take a class together but “Siesta Time” has become sacred. The mom hadn’t correlated an easier and more enjoyable phase with the addition of this new routine, but as we talked she discovered it was definitely associated.

This mother is on to something. Children need plenty of downtime during the day.  They can go along with a hectic schedule of school and classes, playdates and outings, but notice how much more pleasant they are when life slows down. In this hectic and pressured world we need to safeguard our children’s need for unstructured time at home. It is nutrition for their body, soul and brain. Building it into the schedule, naming it and sticking to it yields benefits for all.

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Best Picture Books of 2010
November 25, 2010 · Posted in K-5 Kids, Parenting, Play, Toddlerhood · Permalink · Comments Off

The New York Times Book Review has come out with Best Picture Books of 2010. Since we are in a time when picutre books as a medium are in decline we should support the industry, inspire our children’s love of literature and pick meaningful gifts for the holidays. Children learn so much from the intimacy of reading picture books. When you think back on the books you loved as a small child chances are images come up–not words. The Cat In The Hat, Pat The Bunny, Where The Wild Things Are all invoke enriching imagery for young children. So don’t fall into the academically pressured ethos of words, words, words and choose art and images for your children to enjoy!

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What Toys Are Important For Babies?
September 30, 2010 · Posted in Infant Development, Parenting, Play · Permalink · Comments (1)

mom.baby.grassParents are undeniably the most important toys for babies.  They love looking at you, listening to you and dancing and bouncing with you.  Toys that encourage kids to explore and create are also important.

The toy industry is certainly booming and there is a plethora of options for parents.  Many times parents will say that their baby prefers the box the toy came in over the toy – remember that babies are curious beings and they like to explore.  The box is new to them.  Water play or any kind of tactile exploration can bring a lot of inexpensive enjoyment to your baby.  Feel free to experiment with different surfaces and watch your baby respond (sitting in the grass vs sitting on a fuzzy blanket).

Babies and children come hard-wired with an intrinsic fascination in music, whether it is you singing, playing with shakers or beating on a drum.  The important key here is that pitch is not important to babies – you may not believe that you have a good singing voice, but your baby doesn’t care.  He loves that you are singing and they you are enjoyed in play with him.

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The Play Date Dance Card
September 6, 2010 · Posted in Discipline, K-5 Kids, Play, Preschoolers · Permalink · Comments (1)

moravia3With the start of the school year iphones, filofaxes and blackberries are in high gear on the play date scheduling front. Here are some things to think about to make play dates smoother and more enjoyable.

1. Preschool and Kindergarten: a 45 minute play date is optimal.

2. School age: Kids can manage about 2 hours.

3. An even number of children work better than odd numbers.

4. Require all kids, yours and guests, clean up near the end of the play date.

5. Do not worry if the kids seem to be playing on their own -parallel play is a great way to be together and have some space at the same time.

6. Expect drama! There is usually a tiff over sharing, bossiness, ignoring, etc on a play date. That is par for the course and how kids learn important lessons.

7. The end of play dates are often hard. Stop the kids midway and go over the rules for saying goodbye:  no running and hiding, no tantrums, and a big goodbye from each child. This may or may not actually happen but it is a good goal and needs to be reinforced every time.

8. Pay attention to you child’s needs. Moms often do not want to part company if they too are on a play date–your child may need to leave much earlier than you–end it on their time, not yours.

9. Be sensitive to your host. If they start saying things about “getting dinner going”, or “needing to do homework” with an older child–they are politely asking you to leave. Pick up on cues and wrap things up.

10. If the kids are off on their own for a long time, check in. Kids need some supervision even if they are good at playing independently.

Remember, not all children want play dates and that is fine! School itself is a lot of socializing so don’t fret that your child will be a social misfit if she is not a social butterfly.

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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

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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