Education

New Research on The Importance of a Consistent Bedtime

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REPOST FROM THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
July 30, 2013, 4:44 a.m. ET

New Study Shows Why You Should Get the Kids to Bed on Time

Going to bed at a regular time every night could give your child’s brain a boost, recent research shows.

By Samantha Reddy

A large study published in June found that young children with an irregular bed time fared worse on cognitive tests several years later. Sumathi Reddy explains on Lunch Break. Photo: Getty Images.

Going to bed at the same time every night could give your child’s brain a boost, a recent study found.

Researchers at University College London found that when 3-year-olds have a regular bedtime they perform better on cognitive tests administered at age 7 than children whose bedtimes weren’t consistent. The findings represent a new twist on an expanding body of research showing that inadequate sleep in children and adolescents hurts academic performance and overall health.

The latest study considered other factors that can influence bedtime and cognitive development, such as kids skipping breakfast or having a television in their bedroom. After accounting for these, the study found that going to bed very early or very late didn’t affect cognitive performance, so long as the bedtime was consistent.

“The surprising thing was the later bedtimes weren’t significantly affecting children’s test scores once we took other factors into account,” said Amanda Sacker, director of the International Center for Lifecourse Studies in Society and Health at University College London and a co-author of the study. “I think the message for parents is…maybe a regular bedtime even slightly later is advisable.”

The researchers suggested that having inconsistent bedtimes may hurt a child’s cognitive development by disrupting circadian rhythms. It also might result in sleep deprivation and therefore affect brain plasticity—changes in the synapses and neural pathways—at critical ages of brain development.

Sleep experts often focus largely on how much sleep children get. While that is important, “we tend to not pay as much attention to this issue of circadian disruption,” said Judith Owens, director of sleep medicine at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., who wasn’t involved with the study.

Insufficient sleep and irregular bedtimes may each affect cognitive development through different mechanisms, Dr. Owens said. “The kid who has both [problems] may beat even higher risk for these cognitive impairments,” she said.

The study, published online in July in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, examined data on bedtimes and cognitive scores for 11,178 children.

The children were participants in the U.K.’s Millennium Cohort Study, a nationally representative longterm study of infants born between 2000 and 2002.

Mothers were asked about their children’s bedtimes at 3, 5 and 7 years of age. Nearly 20% of the 3-year-olds didn’t have a regular bedtime. That figure dropped to 9.1% at age 5 and 8.2% at age 7. Mothers were also asked about socioeconomic and demographic characteristics and family routines.

When the children were 7 years old, they received cognitive assessments in reading, math and spatial abilities. The poorest test scores were recorded by children who went to bed very early or very late, and by those who had inconsistent bedtimes, said Dr. Sacker. But once other factors in the home were taken into account only the inconsistent bedtime was associated with lower scores, she said.

A consistent pattern of sleep behavior mattered. “Those who had irregular bedtimes at all three ages had significantly poorer scores than those who had regular bedtimes,” Dr. Sacker said. This was especially true for girls who didn’t establish consistent bedtimes between 3 and 7 years old.

Yvonne Kelly, a co-author of the study and a professor in the department of epidemiology and public health at University College London, said the researchers aren’t sure why girls seemed to be more affected. She noted that the difference in scores between these groups of girls and boys wasn’t statistically significant for the reading and spatial tests, but it was for the math test.

“I don’t think for one moment that boys are immune to these things and girls are more affected,” Dr. Kelly said.

The researchers didn’t have data on the total number of hours children slept overnight because mothers weren’t asked about what time the children woke up.

In general school-age kids—kindergarten through eighth-grade—should be getting about 10 hours of sleep, while 3- and 4-year-olds might need 11 to 13 hours, including day-time naps, said Shalini Paruthi, director of the pediatric sleep and research center at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center at Saint Louis University.

Dr. Paruthi said the good news from the study is that the majority of the children went to bed at a consistent time, reinforcing advice from sleep specialists. “The younger the child is, the better it is to get into the habit of a regular bedtime,” said Dr. Paruthi, who wasn’t affiliated with the study. She recommends a 15-minute, pre-bedtime routine to help the brain transition from a more alert to a quiet state.

And in order to keep the body’s internal clock in sync with the brain, bedtimes on weekends and in the summer should only stray from the normal time by an hour or less, Dr. Paruthi said. “The internal clock in the brain and the body like to have consistency every day,” she said.

Write to Sumathi Reddy at sumathi.reddy@wsj.com

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Tamarack Nature Center: A True Childhood Learning Experience

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This is a view overlooking the large, multifaceted play area (aka Discovery Hollow) of the Tamarack Nature Center located in White Bear Township, Minnesota. Tamarack Nature Center is run by one of our local counties and is a 20 minute drive north from the downtown area. It consists of three main areas: the Waterway area, the Log Play area and a huge vegetable and herb garden. (There is also a large “Garden Kitchen” which I assume they use during the camps and summer programs.)

Here is a sign marking the water way areas. There are two sources of water that feed into the sand beds. One is up higher and the other down lower.

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The best part of Tamarack Nature Center is the Waterways. They have a huge sand bar that is fed with water by human operated systems. When the water goes off, one touch and you can turn it back on. It goes for about a minute and so you get to keep turning it back on as the children desire. (My four year old learned how to turn it on so that made things easy.) The water was also REALLY cold which was nice for such a hot day. As you can see, the children were enjoying the water and sand play both viscerally and intellectually, depending on their age and desired play activity.

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Here are a few shots of a Dad and his son making a dam in the water area.

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In addition to the water and sand area there was a more shaded area with logs and branches that the children could move around to create forts or whatever their imagination desired. I saw a father instructing his young child on the physics of paddling a canoe while sitting on a log with a stick-for-a-paddle in hand!

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In general, the park was also just plain beautiful. It sits on a very large piece of undeveloped land. Here’s a shot looking out over the field just adjacent to the play area.

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This was another little area. I assume they use it for presentations or for preschool activities and the like.

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Not far from the play area the rocks and flowers were a source of attraction as well.

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I love the windwill and this view of the park.

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Inside the Nature Center itself there was also a large room with live animals (turtles, salamanders, bees). It had a beautiful high ceiling and lots of windows looking out over the meadows and the bird feeders. There was a kids’ corner with books and nature puzzles.

I believe there are also paths to walk and more nature sights to see. I look forward to our next foray into the Tamarack Nature Center! Perhaps in the winter?

Tamarack Nature Center
Tamarack Nature Center provides two classic (no skating) trails, one 4K more difficult loop, and a 3K easier loop. There is also a 1K practice loop. Ski through beautiful prairie, woodland and marsh with abundant wildlife. A visitor center with restroom facilities and ski rental is available during open hours, Monday – Saturday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday 12:30 p.m. – 4 p.m. Access is from the Nature Center parking lot off Otter Lake Road. (Ski lessons available at Tamarack Nature Center)

https://parks.co.ramsey.mn.us/tamarack/Pages/tamarack.aspx

More Support for the Out of Doors (Nature and Children)

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20 Reasons Why Playing Outdoors Makes Children Smarter

http://www.houstonfamilymagazine.com/exclusives/20-reasons-why-playing-outdoors-makes-children-smarter/

By Stacey Loscalzo

Author and clinical psychologist, Kay Redfield Jamison, writes, “Children need the freedom and time to play. Play is not a luxury. Play is a necessity.” It is through unstructured, open-ended creative play that children learn the ways of the world. While playing outside, children explore with all their senses, they witness new life, they create imaginary worlds and they negotiate with each other to create a playful environment.

1. Outdoor play is a multi-sensory activity. While outdoors, children will see, hear, smell and touch things unavailable to them when they play inside. They use their brains in unique ways as they come to understand these new stimuli.

2. Playing outside brings together informal play and formal learning. Children can incorporate concepts that have learned at school in a hands on way while outdoors. For example, seeing and touching the roots of a tree will bring to life the lesson their teacher had taught about how plants get their nutrients.

3. Playing outdoors stimulates creativity. Robin Moore, an expert in the design of play and learning environments, says, “Natural spaces and materials stimulate children’s limitless imagination and serve as the medium of inventiveness and creativity.” Rocks, stones and dirt present limitless opportunities for play that can be expressed differently every time a child steps outside.

4. Playing outdoors is open ended. There is no instruction manual for outdoor play. Children make the rules and in doing so use their imagination, creativity, intelligence and negotiation skills in a unique way.

5. Playing in nature reduces anxiety.Time spent outside physiologically reduces anxiety. Children bring an open mind and a more relaxed outlook back inside when they are in more traditional learning environments.

6. Outdoor play increases attention span. Time spent in unstructured play outdoors is a natural attention builder.Often children who have difficulty with pen and paper tasks or sitting still for longer periods of times are significantly more successful after time spent outside.

7. Outdoor play is imaginative. Because there are no labels, no pre-conceived ideas and no rules, children must create the world around them. In this type of play children use their imagination in ways they don’t when playing inside.

8. Being in nature develops respect for other living things. Children develop empathy, the ability to consider other people’s feeling, by interacting with creatures in nature. Watching a tiny bug, a blue bird or a squirrel scurrying up a tree gives children the ability to learn and grow from others.

9. Outdoor play promotes problem solving. As children navigate a world in which they make the rules, they must learn to understand what works and what doesn’t, what line of thinking brings success and failure, how to know when to keep trying and when to stop.

10. Playing outside promotes leadership skills. In an environment where children create the fun, natural leaders will arise. One child may excel at explaining how to play the game while another may enjoy setting up the physical challenge of an outdoor obstacle course. All types of leadership skills are needed and encouraged.

11. Outdoor play widens vocabulary. While playing outdoors, children may see an acorn, a chipmunk and cumulous clouds. As they encounter new things, their vocabulary will expand in ways it never could indoors.

12. Playing outside improves listening skills. As children negotiate the rules of an invented game, they must listen closely to one another, ask questions for clarification and attend to the details of explanations in ways they don’t have to when playing familiar games.

13. Being in nature improves communication skills. Unclear about the rules in an invented game? Not sure how to climb the tree or create the fairy house? Children must learn to question and clarify for understanding while simultaneously making themselves understood.

14. Outdoor play encourages cooperative play. In a setting where there aren’t clear winners and losers, children work together to meet a goal. Perhaps they complete a self-made obstacle course or create a house for a chipmunk. Together they compromise and work together to meet a desired outcome.

15. Time in nature helps children to notice patterns. The natural world is full of patterns. The petals on flowers, the veins of a leaf, the bark on a tree are all patterns. Pattern building is a crucial early math skill.

16. Playing outdoors helps children to notice similarities and differences. The ability to sort items and notice the similarities and differences in them is yet another skill crucial to mathematical success. Time outdoors affords many opportunities for sorting.

17. Time spent outdoors improves children’s immune systems. Healthy children are stronger learners. As children spend more and more time outdoors, their immune systems improve decreasing time out of school for illness.

18. Outdoor play increases children’s physical activity level. Children who play outdoors are less likely to be obese and more likely to be active learners. Children who move and play when out of school are ready for the attention often needed for classroom learning.

19. Time spent outdoors increases persistence. Outdoor games often require persistence. Children must try and try again if their experiment fails. If the branch doesn’t reach all the way across the stream or the bark doesn’t cover their fairy house, they must keep trying until they are successful.

20. Outdoor play is fun. Children who are happy are successful learners. Children are naturally happy when they moving, playing and creating outside. This joy opens them up for experimenting, learning and growing.

 Bio: Stacey Loscalzo is a freelance writer and mother of two girls living in Ridgewood, NJ. She and her girls have been getting outside to play for nearly a decade.

Best Elementary School Nationwide

 Parenting.com

All the teachers at Freedom 7 Elementary School in Cocoa Beach, FL, have large, oblong heads and big Cheshire-cat smiles that occupy the majority of their large, oblong heads. At least that’s how they are portrayed in the student-drawn portraits that tile the school’s administrative office.

The office door opens. “OK, you all can follow me,” says a woman with a walkie-talkie. (Not smiling; typical cranial shape.) She’s taking a gaggle of parents on a tour. We stroll down Creativity Court (all of the school’s walkways have names like this), and pop in and out of classrooms. Piles of nails, screws, pennies, and keys sit on the counter of the science laboratory. Inside the library, a poster of a Magic Marker-ed snake reads “Got Ssss-shots?” (The students have been learning about poverty and disease.) The playground is on the corner of Appreciation Avenue and Integrity Boulevard.

This is what one of the best elementary schools in America looks like. In its state assessments, Freedom 7 performed better than 99.8 percent of Florida’s elementary schools.Neighborhoodscout.com, a research and data website that ranks schools based on national and state-specific test scores, reports that Freedom 7 is the best public elementary school in the South. Moms and dads are required to volunteer 20 hours every year, or their child isn’t reenrolled. Because of its reputation, the school receives parent inquiries from as far as Mexico and South America.

http://www.parenting.com/article/best-school?cid=searchresult.

 

The “Let’s Go Outside” Revolution: How One Woman Found Her Lifetime Mission

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Marghanita Hughes is a children’s author and illustrator and creator of the award-winning children’s brand, The Little Humbugs. She is a naturalist and founder of the “Let’s Go Outside” Revolution – a Canadian non-profit organization with a mission to change the way children spend their time. Throughout the year, Marghanita runs nature classes for children and “hands on” workshops for educators wanting to learn how they can connect children with the natural world. She strongly believes that all children should be given the opportunity to discover and explore the natural world.

By on June 25th, 2012

The “Let’s Go Outside” Revolution: How One Woman Found Her Lifetime Mission

All children deserve the right to have the opportunity to experience the magic that the natural world provides. I am fortunate to be able to witness this magic every day in my nature classes and during the school visits I make. Because of that magic, my life has been transformed.

A few years ago, I launched nature classes for 3 – 8 year olds. During the classes, we provide a natural space where children can run, play, dance, sing, squeal, shout or be silent in this forest space. They stand, kneel or crouch to paint or create the creatures, birds, trees, flowers and grasses, which are all around us. The children develop a beautiful relationship with Mother Earth. They get to feel who they are, happy and free. Over the past three years, I have expanded the classes, offering them after school.

How did I come to this mission? Throughout life, people come into our lives that help us on our way to finding our purpose in life. Or it may be a book that we read at a particular time in our lives that inspires change in us. One such book for me was Last Child In the Woods by Richard Louv. The very title haunted me. The book had such a profound impact on me that it inspired me to create my nature classes.

Now I believe there is a need to provide a way for people of all ages to benefit from nature in their lives. In Richard’s latest book The Nature Principle, he provides affirmation that adults are suffering from nature-deficit disorder, too, and are in need of reconnecting with nature just as much as children. He quotes Thomas Berry: “We have turned away from nature. The great work of the twenty-first century will be to reconnect to the natural worlds as a source of meaning.”  This is absolutely true.

The Nature Principle led me to add another element to my nature classes: adults. What I try to get across in my presentations to adults and children is that you do not need to be a biologist to teach children about the birds and trees in their backyard or park, or the need to be a life-long gardener in order to grow a small vegetable plot in the school grounds. The simple nature-based activities we teach in my workshops and classes are fun and easy, stimulating the child’s (and adult’s) body, mind and spirit.

During my presentation/workshop in Vancouver for the Early Learning Years Conference 2011, I was overwhelmed by the educators’ enthusiasm and their dedication to changing the way children spend time in their care. Witnessing their sense of awe and imagination was both heart-warming and exciting. It was easy to forget I was teaching adults.

Typically, I start the sessions by getting participants to close their eyes and to take a moment to think back to their own childhood. I ask them to think of their favorite outdoor activity as a child. The room instantly fills up with smiles and I ask who would like to share their fondest memories. Hands shoot up all over the room, eager to reminisce about their childhood outdoors. Having a room full of happy, enthusiastic teachers, excited to take their new knowledge of how to actively engage children and adults with nature, fills me with an abundance of joy and hope for the future. If a teacher is enthusiastic, he or she will get the children excited too.

Since registering as a participant in the Children and Nature Network some time ago, I have watched it grow and blossom into an amazing pulse of creative energy, a network of individuals, organizations and nature groups, sharing and connecting their ideas, dreams, solutions, and challenges: fueling the very movement Richard hoped would happen.

In Canada, I’ve been inspired to start what I call The Let’s Go Outside Revolution, a non-profit organization, providing help at the grassroots level — starting locally, growing organically. The response to has been amazing.

Here is just one example: An elementary school teacher from Vancouver got involved in our Revolution. At the time, she was the only teacher in her school to take classes out into a little forested area behind the school. In December she reported that every single teacher in her school was now taking their classes outdoors.

Yes, there is a long way to go, but a “New Nature Movement,” as Richard Louv calls it, is growing stronger and more powerful every day. We all have a purpose in life. I believe my purpose is to help return our children to Mother Earth and to help re-awaken the awe and wonder in adults who have forgotten or lost their inner child.

I am the revolution. You are, too.

RELATED POSTS
Documentary “Play Again”
Nature’s Playground
Beyond the Playground

Are Schools Breaking Children’s Spirits? Life and Learning Beyond Walls

Field Notes from the Future: Tracking the Movement to Connect People and Nature

by Kelly Keena

via ARE SCHOOLS BREAKING CHILDREN’S SPIRITS? Life and Learning Beyond Walls.

When starting out as a teacher, I heard Joseph Cornell say that keeping children inside one room five days a week is akin to breaking a horse.  I’m haunted by that analogy. Our tendency is to keep children in, especially as academic demands only increase. And for discipline or missed work what do we do? Keep them in at recess. Breaking horses.

What would happen if we gave students opportunities to go outside and interact with the natural world as part of the school day? Does a natural classroom give us a way to maintain our students’ inner wildness, as Mercogliano calls it?*

We know that nature is critical in children’s development.  We know that children are losing access to independent explorations in nature.  Schools canprovide children with experiences in nature, and typically, nature contact is not part of our national public schooling agenda.  Yet.  As teachers, we need to give children opportunities to be more than academics

Audrey was a sixth grade girl in a school with a schoolyard habitat that was used as an outdoor classroom. During science class in fourth grade, her attention was turned to a small, hard, dark woody case surrounding the stem of an oak shrub. It was the size of a marble and was in a cluster of five other small round cases.  As she looked to other branches, she noticed that the clusters of balls were quite common all the way through the tangled scrub oak.

Intellectually, her curiosity was sparked.  Physically, she moved in long graceful strokes along the woods, her breath increasing and diminishing as she found other clusters, feeling the texture of them with her fingers, her notebook tucked under her arm.  Emotionally, she felt a sense of excitement build as she realized she had no idea what she was looking at, then wonder as she discovered that the balls were actually wasp galls – hard cases to protect the egg, then larva of the insect. For three years, Audrey visited the exact branch that first caught her attention and taught her classmates about the galls.

Jimmy was a sixth grade boy in the same school.  He was not interested in the woody galls. One morning in class, Jimmy and his classmates discovered a social trail through the scrub oak woods. The three boys crept carefully into the woods following the barely noticeable trail created by local coyotes or maybe deer.  The boys found that the trails wound through the very small patch of woods and that if they entered by the picnic table, they could emerge by the library.  Jimmy’s attention was fixed.

He went inside at the end of class that day, promptly opened his notebook, drew a map of the trails, and wrote a paragraph about the experience. That afternoon, we went back outside and he explored the woods on his own with a video camera.

The footage recorded his decision-making as he whispered to himself when he came to a fork in the trial, his breathing slowing and quickening in tune with the pace of his footsteps in the crunchy snow, and his exclamations when he found something unexpected.

Using these two stories out of hundreds collected during an eight-month study of this public, traditional school’s natural classroom habitat, there is evidence that supports children’s embodiment of so much more than intellect!  And yet, intellect and critical thinking was still very present in their experiences.  Through contact with a natural setting during the school day, the children in 4th-6th grade found imagination and adventure, critical thinking and curiosity, respite and relaxation, peace and calm, and ownership and identity.

The outdoor classroom developed the students’ sense of belonging to the school and to the natural world. The contact these children had with nature was also in a place where the children felt safe to explore at a distance from the teachers that felt safe. In some cases, it was the children’s the first contact with nature in a exploratory way.

If the question is about providing children with access nature, schools have an answer.  Even short, unstructured time in the schoolyard habitat with the sounds, textures, smells, space, and sensations showed value. The children were awake to the world, expanded to their own possibilities of their sensory channels, alive with curiosity and calm.  What a gift that schools can provide for an area of childhood that is vanishing at an alarming rate and at the same time, allow for children to feel the sense of wonder and joy in becoming familiar with the natural world.

*Mercogliano, C. (2007). In defense of childhood: Protecting kids’ inner wildness. Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

Photos by Kelly Keena

Additional Resources

C&NN Report: Children’s Contact with the Outdoors and Nature: A Focus on Educators and Educational Settings

The “Let’s Go Outside” Revolution: How One Woman Found Her Lifetime Mission

The Benefits and Joys of the School Garden

A New Role for Landscape Architecture

RELATED POSTS

Documentary “Play Again”
Nature’s Playground
Beyond the Playground

Spare the Rod: Study Ties Corporal Punishment to Mental Illness

I found this article on corporal punishment (spanking, hitting, etc.) to be very thought provoking. It is very interesting research and is published in an esteemed journal. I would like to read the original research to see how they are defining corporal punishment exactly and for what crimes it is being administered and with what frequency the children are being punished. They state that the occasional spanking was not included but that if a person answered “sometimes” they were included. How often is “sometimes?” Once a week? Once a month? Frequency must be a contributing factor as this article suggests based on the study’s methods.

Interestingly, I just read this article last week and am now reading how Texas would like to legalize corporate punishment in the school system. Perhaps they didn’t get to read this piece yet.

Spare the rod: Study ties corporal punishment to mental illness

http://daily.decisionhealth.com/Articles/Detail.aspx?id=513019 (Accessed July 8, 2012)

July 3, 2012 by: Roy Edroso

Researchers say this is the first study to show the psychological result of physical punishment in the absence of abuse or heightened family dysfunction.

The study appearing in Pediatrics finds that “harsh physical punishment was associated with increased odds of mood disorders, anxiety disorders, alcohol and drug abuse/dependence, and several personality disorders after adjusting for sociodemographic variables and family history of dysfunction…”

In other words, no matter what other strikes are already against kids in life, beating them only makes things worse.

Respondents were asked, “As a child how often were you ever pushed, grabbed, shoved, slapped or hit by your parents or any adult living in your house?” Those who answered “sometimes” or more often were considered. (The mere occasional spanking didn’t qualify subjects.)

Those who endured more severe treatment, e.g. sexual abuse, were excluded; adjustments were made for those whose home life had a heightened dysfunction (e.g., parent on drugs or in prison).

“To our knowledge,” say the authors, “there have been no examinations of the link between physical punishment and a broad range of mental health disorders in a nationally representative sample controlling for several types of child maltreatment” prior to theirs.

By this standard, about 6% of subjects qualified as physically punished without complicating factors — much lower than the presumed range in the general population, probably because of the strict exclusions.

Corporal punishment didn’t seem to factor into Axis II psychological disorders in adulthood. For example, while subjects from a dysfunctional family who experienced harsh physical punishment showed a tendency toward schizoid and obsessive-compulsive personality as adults, those who were not from such families showed no such tendency.

But for Axis I disorders, such as “major depression, dysthymia, mania, any mood disorder, specific phobia, any anxiety disorder, and any alcohol and drug abuse or dependence disorders,” the physically punished showed higher rates than those who received lighter punishments.

“From a public health perspective,” the authors conclude, “reducing physical punishment may help to decrease the prevalence of mental disorders in the general population.”

Educational Policy: Banning Critical Thinking

Teacher Tom: None Of This Serves Children

http://teachertomsblog.blogspot.com/2012/07/none-of-this-serves-children.html#.T_pVmsnuUvk.wordpress

The Texas Republican Party recently released it’s 2012 party platform. Under the “education” part of the document they called for an increase in the use of corporal punishment, opposition to mandatory preschool and kindergarten, and support for legislation that would ban the children of undocumented residents from public schools, all of which flies in the face of scientific evidence and common sense, but perhaps the craziest thing of all:

We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills . . . critical thinking skills and similar programs . . . which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.

The Center for American Progress, a major progressive think tank, recently released a report entitled Increasing the Effectiveness and Efficiency of Existing Public Investment in Early Childhood Education, in which they seem to be calling for us to double-down on the corporate reform education policies of the past two presidential administrations by bringing standardized testing, the de-professionalization of teaching, and federally mandated curricula, all with an economic focus, into kindergarten and preschool classrooms. It’s a report written by two economists and the “money quote” (pun intended) is from yet another economist named James Heckman, this one with a Nobel Prize no less, who warn us once more, breathlessly, that the Chinese are beating us! The report writers say that they “assembled a number of highly respected experts in the early childhood education field, who are listed in the front of this report,” but this reporter has been unable to locate said list anywhere on their website. I really would like to see which “experts” signed off on this nonsense.
 
There are few things upon which the right and left agree in this country, but one of them is to be dead wrong about education policy.
 
But, you know, we keep hearing how both sides are working hand-in-hand on this, in a bi-partisan manner, to bring us schools with lots of tests that focus on “trivia” instead of critical thinking skills, a top-down curricula that mandates what children learn rather than on teaching them how to learn, young, cheap teachers who could have just as easily have been “trained” to flip burgers, and a carrot-and-stick approach to keeping everyone in line.
 
Oh, and spankings will be administered until teh children haz learned.
 
None of this, from either the left or right can be supported by what research tells us about how children learn, brain development, or best practices. None of this supports the purpose of public education in a democracy, which must be civic, not economic. None of this serves children.
 
The good news, I think, is that our political system is so dysfunctional right now that the two sides, even though they seem to agree on all their key points, will still cancel one another out. The bad news is that this means yet another generation of students, parents and teachers stuck making lemonade from lemons. I could almost live with this situation, one in which those of us most invested (those same students, parents, and teachers) are sort of left alone to cobble together a high quality education for our kids, but now that corporate interests have focused in on the pot of gold represented by the nation’s collective education budgets, I don’t think they’re going to stop, unless we stop them, until they’ve privatized the whole thing, turning our children into “human resources” in their for-profit education schemes. Money, as it usually does, might well trump ideology in this case. Check out what US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s chief of staff Joanne Weiss had to say in the Harvard Business Review about proposed new national education standards, which she admits will do nothing to improve learning:

“(Common Core) radically alters the market . . . Previously, these markets operated on a state-by-state basis, and often on a district-by-district basis. But the adoption of common standards and shared assessments means that education entrepreneurs will enjoy national markets where the best products can be taken to scale.”

So as you can see, it’s a sort of win-win for right, left and corporations, leaving students, parents and teachers with even smaller, harder and more sour lemons with which to work.

 To take a survey of the media landscape, you would think there is very little opposition to what’s going on in the nation’s capitol or in state houses around the country, but you would be wrong. You rarely see “our side,” the side not championed by either of the two political parties, represented in the mainstream media exactly because it is a well-known “fact” that if a point of view is not held by Democrats or Republicans, then it is too fringe-y for serious discussion.  
 
Diane Ravitch, an education historian and author, who was appointed to high level education department positions by presidents of both political parties, is one of the few voices regularly included in the national debate. I admire Ms. Ravitch immensely, as I do other champions for real education reform such as Washington Post columnist Valerie Strauss, EdWeek bloggers Anthony Cody and Nancy Flanagan, founder of Parents Across America and Class Size Matters, Leonie Haimson, director of Race To Nowhere Vicki Abeles, teacher and blogger Dave Reber, and the good folks at both the Rethinking Schools and Shanker Blogs.
 
There are hundreds of other voices out there as well, many probably more worthy of my list, doing the good work even if we rarely hear their voices outside the blog-o-sphere. And it’s adding up. Arne Duncan has complained about the “bloggers” who are opposed to his plans. Bill Gates (the most prominent of the corporate reformers) has called us his “enemies.” Despite our invisibility on the national stage we are being at least somewhat effective in pushing back as a grassroots movement outside the confines of the two-party system, but so far they see us as more of a nuisance than a real political force.
 
There are a lot important issues that need our attention, I know, but this is a biggie. Without higher order thinking skills we’re lost. This is a call to get involved, not just for your children, but for the future of America. Read these writers, write those letters, run for office, let your representatives know you will vote on education issues. We can’t let the spankers and the testers win.

Summer Viritual Reading Club: Join the Fun and Help Your Child Succeed in School!

Did you know that reading to your chidlren is the best thing that you can do for their education? Kids that are read to consistently by their parents do better in school and on tests of math and English than children who did not have that experience.

Are you looking for something to do this summer with your kids while they are out of school?

This looks like such a fun idea!

Here’s the info from Inspiriation Laboratories, a blog about creativity and play for children.

My son and I love to read.  We enjoy finding new books and reading favorites over and over again.  Many of the activities we do are inspired by the books we read.  This summer we are joining a group of bloggers for a virtual book club.  Each month we will share books and activities from a different children’s author.

The Summer Virtual Book Club for Kids begins with Mo Willems as the featured author.

I must confess that I have only read a couple of his books and I have yet to read any of them with my son…so I am very excited about this!

Would you like to join us?

  1. Choose a book by Mo Willems.  {Have your kids help you pick a new one or choose your favorite to read.}
  2. Be inspired by the book and complete a related activity {project, craft, recipe, etc.}.
  3. On Monday, June 18th, come here to share your book and activities at our Mo Willems Blog Hop.

To get inspired, I’ve compiled a list of books by Mo Willems.  So many from which to choose!!

1. Don’t let the Pidgeon Drive the Bus!

2. Knuffle Bunny

3. We are in a Book!

4. Cat the Cat, Who is that?

5. Don’t let the Pigeon Stay up Late!

That’s just five of them. If you want to see the rest go to Inspiration Laboratories or to any other online bookstore, in person bookstore or library!

Now THIS is a Playground!

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One of the techniques of the Waldorf School is to provide open-ended objects to children and to allow the child to freely project meaning onto the object. Toys with concrete meaning already ascribed to them are less favorable because they require less of the child’s diverse imagination.

 This last weekend I went to the Wood Lake Nature Center in Richfield, Minnesota. http://www.woodlakenaturecenter.org/ It is a large green area smack dab in the middle of the city. It’s a Waldorf parent’s dream.

I’d never been to before and I was amazed! It was a dream come true for those who believe that the child’s imagination should come from materials that don’t already have assigned meaning to them. The children use their own creativity and ideas to decide what they want to do with their surrounding and their environment. They are free to let their imagination run wild.

This nature area has a beautiful indoor center where children can see snakes and turtles and salamanders in fish tanks. The center also has plenty of windows for viewing birds eating at the feeders.

But what follows blew my mind! It was the outdoor playspace.

A “back to nature for children” dream come true!

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No slides, no structures. Just one big fenced in area with two really big trees. No man-made objects. Just sticks, small logs, trees, rocks, stones, slices of trunks of trees.

The kids were in HEAVEN!

Climbing Trees.

Building Forts.

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Scaling high peaks.

 

     

Or staying close to the ground on rocks just her size.

 

    

The bridge was also a lot of fun.

And when we tired of that, we went for a walk on the paths listening for crickets, frogs and birds.

Into the woods,

 

   

where the ferns were exploding and so were the smiles!

 

Around the marshlands and lakes we went.

It was like a fairy tale. Just gorgeous!

(Our younger companion enjoyed nature from her stroller.)

But later fell asleep!

If you live in Minnesota, check out the Wood Lakes Nature Center. It’s a treat!

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