Archive for Learning

The Show Must (Not) Go On?

You might think this is satire from a “fake news” site but it isn’t–a Long Island elementary school in the Elwood school district has canceled a kindergarten play because they are “responsible for preparing children for college and career with valuable lifelong skills…”

Elwood Kindergarten Play Canceled

Another letter references the unusually high number of missed school days due to snow. Elwood, like the district in which I live, has half day kindergarten. So, morning kindergarten was likely canceled when there were delays. Although missed days in excess of allotted snow days are made up–kindergarten days missed due to delays are not.

However, the reference to “college and career” readiness implies a connection with the demands of the Common Core. Do the administrators at Elwood genuinely believe that a few days spent preparing and performing a school play in kindergarten will affect little Ava’s ability to succeed in college and find a high-paying job? Or are they scared that Brayden will bomb the state tests in third grade because his demanding rehearsal schedule distracted him from test prep? Or are they using these children as pawns to protest the requirements tied to implementation of the Common Core in New York?

Does anyone really believe that a five year old’s time is better spent bubbling in more scantrons?

Whatever is going on in Elwood, this is a sad day in early childhood education.

Your Baby Can’t Read

Okay, perhaps YOUR baby can. It is possible. Stranger things have happened. But most likely your baby cannot read. Anyone telling you that your baby can is selling snake oil. Expensive snake oil.

What your baby can begin to do is recognize that certain signs or symbols represent certain objects. And that is pretty neat. But you do not need to spend hours training your baby to do this or buy expensive systems to accomplish this.

Once your child is a little older, he will begin to recognize that those black squiggly lines are letters. And letters make up words and words stand for certain things or ideas. But memorization of sight words, while important, is not “reading.”

My ten month old knows that squeezing his hand represents milk. This does not make him bilingual or fluent in sign language.

When my daughter was not yet two, my husband taught her to respond that two plus two equals “four.” But that doesn’t mean she was performing mathematical operations or understood addition as a concept.

Memorization plays an important role in learning, but it must have its proper place within a framework of other skills and concepts. First you learn what quantities and numbers are, then the idea of multiplication, and then you memorize the times tables.

Now, no harm is done by showing your baby the word “Mom” and teaching him to point to mom. It is cute, certainly.

And if you want to buy books or CDs or flashcards with suggestions for games, that’s great. As parents today we can be very isolated and sometimes we need these ideas for playing with our babies. Check out your local library and you will find tons of books with ideas for playing with infants, toddlers, and preschoolers.

However, I take issue with expensive systems that claim that rote memorization of images is learning to read.

Even worse if the website for the expensive system asks that you show a three month old videos an hour a day every day. And counsels you in tips to focus the baby’s attention on these videos if he does not wish to watch them.

Now, I do not think television is evil. However, studies I have read about how television affects the brain wiring under age two gives me pause about any “educational” program that insists on television viewing for young infants. School-aged children, especially at-risk school aged children, do learn from television. And I doubt that occasional viewing will harm a healthy baby. However, I do not believe television is the best or even a good way to set your infant on a path to a lifelong love of reading.

Please, take that time to playt with and read to your baby instead. If you do not speak the dominant language in your current residence, that’s fine–read in whatever language you can. And if you are not literate in any language, there are great free programs both for babies and for adults at many local libraries.

If library or other comunity programs are not an option, you can borrow or purchase books on tape and show baby the book while reading the tape. You can also buy a LeapFrog TAG system at a fraction of the cost of these expensive systems. If you really want video, there are free ones available on the web and most of them are just 5-10 minutes long.

Pre-literacy skills are important building blocks. Letter and sound recognition are steps on the road to reading. And a child who has some of these skills before entering school will be more confident and more likely to self-identify as a successful “reader” and “learner.” To extrapolate from that and conclude that a 10 month old “reading” (but not really reading) will have long-term benefits is simply not supported by current evidence.

She’s a Poet…and She Knows It!

Today Diva the Kid announced that she was “making a poem” and out popped:

At night his daddy came.
A soft cloud
arisen by the mist.

Now, leaving aside the improper use of arisen I think that is pretty darn good for a 2.5 year old.

Especially since we haven’t been consciously teaching her poetry. She’s been making up a lot of silly songs but as far as I know this is her first self-designated “poem.” Captain Dad has been explaining rhyming words and she can fill in the end of rhyming couplets…but this poem doesn’t rhyme.

Actually, take a syllable off the first and last line and it is a haiku. Maybe it is Wabi Sabi influenced?

Now I just have to teach her to write sonnets.

Butterfly Craft for Child Victims of the Holocaust

When I wrote about my daughter’s coffee filter butterfly craft, I received an inspiring comment about the The Butterfly Project. Here’s the information from the site.

1,500,000 innocent children perished in the Holocaust.

In an effort to remember them, Holocaust Museum Houston is collecting 1.5 million handmade butterflies.

The butterflies will eventually comprise a breath-taking exhibition, currently scheduled for Spring 2012, for all to remember.

They prefer 2D butterflies and I wanted to help my daughter create something special for The Butterfly Project, so here is our tissue paper butterfly we will contribute in remembrance of the Holocaust’s youngest victims.

I wanted to create a butterfly that incorporated the outline of her hands because this is a butterfly from an innocent child to represent one of the beautiful children who was lost to this world. We decorated the wings with tissue paper to create a mosaic of lovely sparks of bright colors.

As we made the butterfly, we talked about how wonderful it is to chase butterflies in the spring. I told my daughter that once there were some children who liked to chase butterflies, just like her. Unfortunately, there were also some cruel people who did not understand that children had a right to chase butterflies and run in the grass and live their lives. I explained that we are making this butterfly for these children and also for us–so we never forget. I figured that was about all the Holocaust education that would be appropriate at age two and a half.

Please feel free to make a butterfly like ours or using a different butterfly craft and send it to The Butterfly Project (link fixed). And please spread the word so they can meet their goal and honor the spirits of these children.

Supplies

1 piece of cardboard or posterboard
scraps of thin paper (tissue paper)
glue
pencil
scissors
poster paints or markers
pipe cleaner (optional)
Popsicle stick (optional)

Instructions

  1. Trace child’s hands (fingers together, not spread) on a folded piece of cardboard and cut out shapes. You should have four hand-shaped pieces.
  2. Paint the Popsicle stick in any color or colors and allow to dry (I was out of Popsicle sticks so I just cut another piece of cardboard).
  3. Tear up pieces of paper (we used tissue paper, but you could also use scraps of left-over wrapping paper or, for a completely different effect use newspaper).
  4. Paste paper on the cardboard, overlapping the pieces of paper and adding more paste as necessary (we used a glue stick, brushing on watered-down paste would also work well).
  5. Fold excess paper over and paste down to the back side of the wings (if you used thicker paper, you might need to use scissors or an exacto knife to trim).
  6. Glue wings to overlap in the shape of a butterfly.
  7. Paste the Popsicle stick body over the wings. You can wrap the entire stick in pipe cleaners, just wrap the head (this is what we did), or not wrap it at all. If you choose to use pipe cleaners, you can use your pencil to curl the ends of the antennae. Otherwise, you can paste the butterfly on a piece of white paper and use a marker or paint to add in the antennae.

Please let me know if you make a butterfly of your own!

Everyone Deserves A Breath of Fresh Air

The Fresh Air Fund has provided free summer vacations to New York City children from disadvantaged communities since 1877. Many of these kids would otherwise not have a chance to play in open spaces, enjoy nature, or even just relax on the grass under a shady tree. The kind of experiences that should be a part of childhood.

As a child, I used to visit my Grandfather at the hotel where he worked in the Catskills. I can remember how much more carefree the summers seemed, even to this suburbanite. For the Fresh Air Fund children who grow up in concrete hi-rises, this change of pace and environment can be even more important.

Imagine a childhood summer without blades of grass tickling your toes, catching fireflies, or splashing in the water.

There are a lot of ways you can help these kids get out of the city for a little while and experience more of their world.

One of the biggest ways a family can help is to host a child. Unless all prospective host families are screened and vetted in time many children may miss out on this invaluable experience. Families who want to extend an invitation to a 9-12 year old are especially in need. If you are interested, please contact Angie (angie@freshair.org or 1-800-367-0003; 212.897.8900).

If you cannot host, you can help with a donation to The Fresh Air Fund.

Please spread the word this and every summer!

Toddler Empathy

We had a fabulous day today.

First we went to a “Soccer Tots” demo. We’ve been joking all week about what a 1-3 year old soccer clinic looks like. We imaged half the kids sitting on the floor, a quarter of the kids crying, and a quarter accidentally kicking each other.

Soccer Tots

Despite my high expectations for humor value and low expectations for organization, the class was actually quite fun for the kids involved.

Baby LOVES kicking the ball around so I was hoping it would be a big hit. She’s been getting better and better at being around new people and today she participated like a champ. A little boy her age wanted to share with her which is just about the cutest thing, but Baby isn’t quite at that stage yet. I was very proud, though, that she managed to throw the ball as well as kick it in the right direction. Here’s another picture…faces blurred to protect the cute little people who aren’t related to me.

Go, Soccer Tots!

After her nap, we ventured out again to check out our local libraries. We have a choice of two and as a Libra I am incapable of reaching a quick decision.

At the library was the calmest, sweetest dog and Baby actually got close enough to touch the dog (though she stopped short of an actual petting)! This is huge for us. Usually she doesn’t even want to be in the same room as a dog, although she is fascinated by plush dogs and dogs in books. All the way home she kept telling me, “Mama, Woof Woof!”

Just for fun, here’s another pic of my cutie:

Baby in a Hat

Finally, at bedtime tonight, my daughter gave me a glimpse of the caring young woman I hope she will become. We were reading Babar, one of her new favorites, and when we got to the part where Babar cries because he misses his mother (who was shot by the hunter), tears started streaming down my little girl’s face. She pointed to me and said, “Mama!” I hugged her and told her that I was fine and mumbled something about trying my best to avoid getting shot by a hunter.

Then I reminded her that the story had a happy ending and asked her if I should keep reading. I made sure to keep my tone upbeat through the rest of the story as we followed Babar’s homecoming, wedding, and coronation. Her smile grew as we continued the reading and then she burst out in applause as Babar and Celeste rode away in their beautiful balloon.

The End.

Linguistic Milestones and Triumphs

Going to bed very soon over here. Baby Diva has been doing lots of growing up and she wants to keep practicing at night.

She’s been walking all over the place and brings me my shoes and the sling when she wants to go outside.

For a while she’s been “quacking” whenever you ask her what sound a duck makes. Captain Dad, joker that he is, has also taught her to sound like a “demonic duck” (quacking, but in a throaty, gravelly voice).

Daddy also likes to amuse us by mispronouncing words. I imagine I’ll have some interesting conversations later with her Kindergarten teacher: “No, she doesn’t have a speech impediment. She just has a father with a dry wit.”

I’m also very interested to see how she’ll use other languages. We incorporate a good bit of Spanish and a little Russian into our days and she definitely has a basic vocabulary in each, even when words are brought up in different contexts.

Right now, though, she’s just starting to expand her repertoire of spoken words. Her grandfather swears he hears her parroting what I say but mostly it sounds like gibberish to me. For me to call it a word, it has to be crystal clear. Maybe I should give her more credit.

Every once in a while, she’ll turn to me and say, “I love you, mama.” But, much like Michigan J Frog, she’ll give no encore for a larger audience.

Today she treated me to actually saying “duck” when she saw the picture in the book. She was very proud to be able to show off her new found verbal skills tonight to Daddy, and even held something in reserve for him. Tonight she triumphantly pronounced “Moo” and “Baa” when she saw the appropriate bovine and ovine creatures during Daddy’s command reading of “The Big Red Barn.”

Of course, she still points to your breast pocket whenever you say “sheep.” Daddy likes to wear Brooks Brothers polo shirts. I caught her giggling last time she did it so I think her insistence that sheep live on people’s chests is another example of her wicked sense of humor. She knows that mommy really wants her to point to the picture of the sheep so she persists in being contrary just for the laugh.

Well, it’s pajama time and the moon is sailing high in the dark night sky so goodnight stars, goodnight air, goodnight noises everywhere…

Where’s the Kitten?

If you check out Mamanista, you know that I’ve been trying to introduce Baby Diva to other languages, specifically Spanish and Russian.

One of her favorite new books is Where’s the Kitten? (English/Russian bilingual edition). I’ve been reading it in Russian and Captain Dad reads it in English. When I ask “Gye Zhe Kotyonok?” she squeals and points to the kitten. At first she found it easier to find the kitten when it was standing solo. After a little while, though, she had no trouble finding the kitten in a box of toys (which cuddly creature IS the kitten) and in a bag of groceries (he’s hiding…but THERE’S the kitten!).

Then we tried a different book, that refers to the feline as a “cat.” “Where’s the kitten?” No problem. She points right to it. How about the horse? Simple, mommy. Wow.

Whenever we stump her (please point to the sheep), she squeals we delight as we identify the correct animal or object for her.

So we’ve been trying a few other items. A couple of days ago she went and fetched “The Pirate Ship” and “The Ball” from a big box of toys.

ETA: Oh, I forgot my favorite part. We asked her to point to “Daddy’s ring,” even though we had not really used the word “ring” with her before. She looked puzzled so I hinted that “it is gold and shiny.” And just like that, she pointed right to it!

This is probably completely normal, and I understand that they comprehend a fairly large vocabulary at this point, but color me impressed.