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Posted by on in What If?

Recently I had the unique experience of being interviewed by a middle school student. Jacob had found me on the Internet because he was researching recess and wanted to ask some questions for his project.

Of course, recess is one of my favorite topics so I agreed to give him some time. What I didn’t know until we were on the phone was the reason behind his project.

It seems he and a friend (a student with special needs) had had a small incident on the playground during the 10 minutes or so they get to hang out after lunch. As a result, not only have he and his friend been denied recess, but the whole school is having it withheld!

I was momentarily rendered speechless (a rare occurrence indeed) – and I’m still beyond stunned. I mean, what the hell? How could any administrator/decision maker believe that that’s an appropriate reaction? That this is a logical consequence?

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Posted by on in What If?

teacher and children

Those of us with children have all been there: standing in a queue as long as the river Nile at the supermarket with a slowly unraveling toddler in the cart. You could hand her your iPhone with a colorful app that bings and boings to forestall that tantrum. Or, you could talk to her – where are those apples in the cart? Can she find the picture of the little girl on the cereal box, or find the letter “G” that her name starts with on the big sign over head?

In fact, researcher Julia Ma and her colleagues suggest that you just might want to have that conversation. At a recent Pediatric Academic Societies Meeting, they reported their findings from a study of over 1000 children under the age of 2. They had asked parents to report how often their children used handheld digital devices in an average day. These same parents then responded to a questionnaire about their children’s language abilities. What did they find? Children with more screen time were more likely to be delayed in their language expression! Moreover, these researchers were careful and took many other factors into account when they did their analyses: maternal education, family income, infant temperament, and parent - child overall screen time on other than handheld devices. These precautions suggest that their finding was really about children’s handheld screen time.

Handheld devices are pervasive – found in every crevice of our lives. We check them before we go to bed and they are the first point of contact with the world when we awaken in the morning. Recent data shows high uptake by even the youngest children. Reports suggest that the 2-4 crowd goes digital for almost 2 hours a day. But the widespread use of these devices is a relatively new phenomenon. We just sang "Happy Birthday" to the 10-year-old iPhone and the tablet is just 7 years of age. Not surprisingly, research has lagged behind the rapidly changing technology. But that means that we are putting devices into the hands of our toddlers when we know very little about their possible effects.

But we do know what helps our children learn language. Decades of research tell us that language learning depends on human interaction and on what researchers call ‘contingency’ – responding to our children soon after they speak and building on what they say. Digital devices can interrupt the conversation that is so vital to language success. Research from our labs shows that children will not learn new words when their conversation with a parent is interrupted by a cell phone call.

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Posted by on in What If?

One of the very best Saturday Night Live holiday season skits is "A Holiday Wish." In it, Steve Martin expresses his wish that "All the children of the world join hands and sing together in a spirit of harmony and peace." Fretting the logistics of such an undertaking, Martin quickly loses interest in that wish in favor of all-encompassing power over the universe, revenge on his enemies, and other items that render the clip unsharable with students.

If I had a wish this holiday season, I would  look up at a star in the night sky and greedily make seven wishes.

For all children to feel safe and included in our schools

This is a pretty obvious wish but takes on even more urgency for students of color and LGBTQI students with Donald Trump about to assume the presidency. The Southern Poverty Law Center raises legitimate concerns about students' safety in the age of Trump. Let's hope this concern is unwarranted despite early evidence it is.

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Posted by on in What If?

The Thinker

On more than one occasion I’ve been heard muttering that we have far too few critical thinkers in this world – that too many people simply behave like sheep. Some of us studied critical thinking in college – but most of us wouldn’t associate it with early childhood. Yet that’s exactly when Roberta Golinkoff, Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, and Jill Berkowicz – recent guests on Studentcentricity – believe we should begin fostering it. They also contend that it’s really quite easy – because the little ones are already critical thinkers and teachers just need to “give the work to the children.”

I absolutely loved the conversation with these three brilliant, passionate, critical thinkers. They give me hope in an education climate that’s obsessed with kids having “one right answer” – and a world in which there are people who seem to be engaging in no thinking at all.

In answer to the question, why is critical thinking important, Kathy replied:

I think we want people to think differently about what counts as success.  In a Google world you can look up facts in just seconds. What is key is what you do with those facts.

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Posted by on in What If?

Jumping in leaves

Last year I was doing site visits, having been hired to observe PreK to second-grade classrooms and offer suggestions for more active learning. On two different occasions I walked into a room just as the class was scheduled to go outside to recess. But the teachers didn’t feel like going outside – so the kids wandered aimlessly about the classroom throughout the 20-minute period allotted to recess.

The teachers apparently considered this “indoor recess” acceptable, but I did not – for many, many reasons.

From a physical perspective, the outdoors is the very best place for children to practice and master emerging motor skills. It is in the outdoors that children can fully and freely experience such skills as running, leaping, and jumping. It is also the most appropriate area for the practice of ball-handling skills, like throwing, catching, and striking. And children can perform other such manipulative skills as pushing a swing, pulling a wagon, and lifting and carrying movable objects. Heaven knows they have too few opportunities for exercising the upper torso these days! And because development occurs from large to small body parts, children who’ve had such experiences are much better prepared for such fine-motor skills as handwriting.

Additionally, it is in the outdoors that children are likely to burn the most calories, which helps fight obesity, a heart disease risk factor that is plaguing children. With studies showing that as many as half of American children are not getting enough exercise -- and that risk factors like hypertension and arteriosclerosis are showing up at age 5! -- parents and teachers need to give serious consideration to ways in which to prevent such health problems.

Cognitive and social/emotional development are also impacted by time spent outdoors. Outside, children are more likely to invent games. As they do, they're able to express themselves and learn about the world in their own way. They feel safe and in control, which promotes autonomy, decision-making, and organizational skills. Inventing rules for games (as kids like to do) promotes an understanding of why rules are necessary. Although the children are only playing to have fun, they're learning

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