Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Television and Technology; Not Your Ordinary Evils.

Hey gang! Lots of excitement going on here! 3 breadless days behind me, 3 children at home on vacation and 3 big events happening at babybites, with me as the facilitator! I am trying to recover from my cop out post last week and answering a pretty controversial and hearty question this week! Here we go…

A friend recently asked me "How do you feel about television and video games for children?"

I had planned to do this post for a while but kept getting sidetracked with other questions and projects. When I saw an article that addressed this topic come across my twitter page , I thought it would be a great time to chime in. As well, it is Spring Break and I don't know about you but a good portion of this morning was spent in front of the boob, along with some video game playing! And yes, I am "Ask the Educator! Find out why I don't feel too much guilt!

I have never considered television or computers as an enemy. I watched a great deal of television as a child. When I supposedly finished my homework, The Brady Bunch, Good Times, Little House on the Prairie and Happy Days were staples until dinner. After dinner shows such as Love Boat, Silver Spoons, Different Strokes and other eighties gems were a constant. We had an Atari and also played it pretty freely. With all this freedom we were still one of the few families who did not have cable. No cable, meant no MTV (the horror!). My mother used to say "watch it at your friends homes!" I did. It's kind of surprising with all that television that I watched that I did not end up with a dead end life, right? What else did I do with the rest of my time if I watched so much television? "How did I not end up a coach potato? How did I end up going to college? Or, even writing this blog? My answer: Exposure to other experiences. I was enrolled in after school programs such as dance, theatre and music (we’ll save the topic of over scheduling your kids for another post!). I would roller skate on nice days. While after school television viewing could go on for as long as an hour and a half on some days, weekend morning viewing was limited by enrichment classes. Staying home in your pajamas was frowned upon. You had to get out of the house by 1:00PM at the latest and do something, even if it was just taking a walk in the neighborhood. Sunday was family day (This ritual ended when I was in middle school)). We, as an entire family attended a local museum, theatre or musical event or went to Central Park. We ate dinner together almost every single night (through High School) and there was no television viewing during dinnertime, EVER! My parents cared about balance. While there was an excessive amount of television and video game playing we had other opportunities to be social and develop our other skills.

Nowadays we know so much more about television and technology. They're are many more choices and they come with lots of challenges. While much of the data seems negative there are some positives. I meet so many parents who view technology as the enemy instead of looking at how it can be used as an effective tool. I had a friend who did not allow her children to use the computer or view television during the week but often spent a lot of her time yelling at her kids. She was trying to live up to this idea that TV was bad for her kids but did not fill the empty time with anything constructive. Berating her bored children made for a tense home and was making her feel like a failure. I finally said, "just put on a video!" You can approve the content and you can even build constructive questions and information around what they watch.

There are more choices than ever to find shows and video games that are educational and engaging (PBS has some goodies!). Parents should keep ears and eyes open ( even while you are cooking dinner or cleaning the house) so you can ask questions of your child as they watch. You can point out information ("I heard the letter J. Jack, your name begins with a J") and for older children ask them to make a connection to a character or to part of the plot. Questions like "Did you ever feel like that character?" Prediction questions such as, "What do you think will happen?" or "Who do you think is behind the mystery?" (Scooby Doo is great for this type of question) "Can you tell me what happened in sequence?" While television does not replace the important practice of reading, asking these types of comprehension questions can support literacy skills and make for great discussion. As well, parents should make a point to discuss topics that are brought up on telelvision that might confuse or scare children such as violence or sex.

The American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines recommend that children under two should not watch any television and the Director of the Parenting Institute at the New York University Child Study Center in New York City, recommends that parents should be involved in their kids television watching:

“The AAP guidelines that children under 2 shouldn’t watch any TV may be fairly strict and hard to carry out, but parents should be judicious about how much TV young children are watching, and be aware that it’s not likely to be appropriately stimulating”.

“Parents need to act as a TV filter for their children. For example, parents should point out when something is silly on TV that it’s not a real-life scenario."

I remember laughing when a nanny was scolded by a parent, who apparently didn't allow her children to watch any television, because the daughter had a play date with another little girl and television was on in the home. Really, was the child going to become corrupted, or turned into a television addict because of the exposure? Were they watching porn? This type of overreaction stems from fear and control. It is not just the act of watching television that is harmful for children. As an educator in an urban setting, I found that many of my students that clearly had no other experiences other than television and video games, coupled with with lack of supervision and structure, crippled their sense of creativity. It showed up in their writing, their thought processes and their self esteem. It is too simple of an answer to say that television or technology are the only factors that lead to aggressive and impatient children or contribute to a lack of creativity or bullying as some studies suggest.

The Wii, DSi and all the other hand held devices can help hand eye coordination and can even improve self esteem for some children. I'm not saying that there should be no limits when using these devices and I I feel strongly about parents staying on top of children's use of the internet, social media sites and texting. Like all privileges, they must come with responsibility. Yes, it gives us poor parents another issue to stay on top of but making time to talk with your children about technology and setting limits around it can make a difference.

I think in the end it is all about balance. Television and technology play an important part of the way we communicate and live. As parents we need to accept it, use it, monitor it for and with our children and teach them that it does not have to be the only way that we can get our entertainment. The key is to learn when to turn off the devices and get exposure to other experiences.

Happy Easter!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A Cop Out Post But Some Great Information and Links!


I hope you remember me! I missed you last week due to St. Patrick's Day tipsiness. I wrote a post but not only was I too filled up with Hard Cider to edit, something funky happened with the font on the post and I'm even too tired to fix it this week. So, that post will have to wait. This week has been filled with lots of stressful commitments and I have ended up with a pretty bad cold. Maybe allergies. Either way I feel bad. Wiped out. Plus, now my husband feels sick too. And you know, a husband's sickness always trumps his wife's sickness. LOL!

On the upside, I was quoted in two informative articles recently. Please have a look:

As I stated above, I am really in no shape to fully answer a parent question this week. What I do have is a a link to an article that gives some great, low or no-cost ideas to do over Spring Break. I really thought they had some gems. Who isn't looking for ways to survive over spring break?

Finally, in this cop out of a blog post I have been invited by babybites, a moms educational group, to facilitate a workshop on the Daycare Dilemma, in April. I'll be talking about the different types of facilities and what to look when choosing a daycare. Please sign up and pass along to other moms or expectant moms who have questions about daycare.

Happy Passover to all the M.O.T.s (Members of the Tribe) out there! I plan to post next week even though I will have the kids home full time.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Sir Elton John on The View Today! And, a "Few" Thoughts About Education

First, The View this week includes Sir Elton John sitting down at the table with the ladies. It is the first time he will co-host the show and really, is anything dull when Sir Elton is around?

Check out a quote from me on sharing, in Parents Magazine Online

On to the Question of the week: "As an educator, what do you think would really fix schools in America?"

Dear Lord, this is a loaded question. I am going to try to hold off on ranting here but I can't make any promises. I can promise the answer won't be short.

When I was in my late teens and described what my future would be like, I would often say "I'll probably get married, have a family..." I would just let it roll of the tongue as though it was something I understood innately. I said it off the cuff as if there is no real work involved and for sure not truly understanding or knowing what the commitment meant. I, like many of you, later learned after we entered into these very important life changing events, that both marriage and having a family are very real work and require both physical and emotional labor that cannot be described in any handbook or blog post. You simply have to live through it to understand it. Period. I feel the same way about the field of education. Politicians, celebrities, media personalities speak off the cuff about "fixing schools" much like Mitt Romney did on "The View", last week. You cannot just "fix" schools. You need to know schools, work in them and get to know the intricacies of what teaching means in order to understand what is truly humanly possible to help children and their families in realistic and sustainable ways.

Education Begins at Home

Show me a school that is failing and I'll show you a school that has low parent involvement, high levels of poverty and children that are unsupervised after school and have poor access to health care and nutrition. To fix schools such as this, much more then the school needs to be fixed. We must look at the root causes of why a school and their children are failing. I'm not talking about blame but I am talking about holding all parties accountable. For one, social and familial structure has to be saved or at least supported in this country no matter what form it takes. Families come in all shapes and sizes and have a variety of different issues. There needs to be services available to support the needs of the family. Parent training needs to made affordable and available starting at birth and remain open to all that need it. Parents need access to affordable daycare and babysitting programs that take into account early intervention, parenting skills and literacy skills (this should be offered to the middle class and the rich as well) so parents can work if they choose to. There is a great organization that is being formed here in New York City to serve this purpose and I am fortunate enough to consult on this project. I will announce once the program is open for business.

Politicians need to stop worrying about having an exact number of school days or elongating the school year but facilitate and even mandate family partnerships with cultural institutions, libraries, social services. Families might even be given opportunities for foreign travel exchanges. What children do outside of school matters and for families who don't know or can't afford, they don't do. Schools cannot replace families. If you look at failing schools that have succeeded you have administrators and teachers working around the clock pedaling faster and faster to get children to pass the tests, not to create life long learners. You can't have a Ghandi or a Martin Luther King Jr. running every school. Being a strong, passionate educator should be enough.

Tests Hold Only Half the Answers to Success

They are important, they are not everything. With No Child Left Behind just a few weeks away from a rewrite and Diane Ravitch, once one of it's avid supporters, now denouncing its usefulness, I'm curious to see what alternative forms of assessments will come into play. We will just have to hope and see.

Not Top Notch? No Space for You!

We are a results driven society and while this seems to push productivity it has also created a school system that frenetically assesses children. It leaves very little time to analyze the data collected to create learning environments that support learning. In New York City, the application process when applying to middle school is similar to a college application process. Just a couple of years later, they have to do it all over again for high school. The impression has become that the schools are highly selective and the processes are very difficult. Society is shouting that if you are not a top notch student your life will be an uphill battle and if you can't cut it there will be few options for you to succeed. Forget what it does to the parents. College is the ultimate goal and measure of success and for many fields a graduate degree is required. Many students are not ready for this step and they are getting lost. I have been told over and over by students that they feel like a "failure" if they do not get into college or simply can't afford to go and don't want heavy loans for their future. Many "average" individuals have done great things and have certainly carved a secure place for themselves in society (I'm one of them!). It is time to get serious about making college affordable, accessible and offering up alternatives to higher education such as trade schools and internships as real options.

Teacher Training:

I have undergraduate and graduate degrees in education and I can tell you honestly there is very little that I learned in my graduate years that I did I not learn in my undergraduate years. How could my time have been better spent? Many times teachers only learn about new curriculum once they get hired by a school and often have to take time away from their classroom to learn through on or offsite professional development. Colleges and Universities must be connected to the most recent curriculum and philosophy's used by schools and train their student teachers accordingly. I also believe every education student should spend a portion of a semester if not an entire semester abroad, studying and following the education system of another country. I was shocked at how many of colleagues had never been out of New York City , let alone the country. For those of you who have traveled you know the experience you get learning about another culture. It changes the way you see yourself and others. I believe giving teachers a chance to spend a substantial amount of time studying the educational patterns of a foreign school system would raise the level of teachers and learning in this country.

Wise Up

Politicians need to stop throwing the baby with the bath water every few years. No program is perfect and no program works for every child. We need to do a better job to make all parties accountable (parents, teachers, administrators and students). Educators and politicians need to be reasonable when making decisions about programs that give the promise that they will fix achievement. And, government educational systems need to make sure that there are enough resources, enough schools and room for children and their families to be accommodated. There have to be other avenues to success in order to be a productive part of society and accept that learning and intelligence is much more than a philosophy and much bigger than a score.

Sorry for the rant and thanks for reading!

“I am a participant in a Mom Central campaign for ABC Daytime and will receive a tote bag or other The View branded items to facilitate my review.”

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Goodbye to the Olympics, What's New on The View and Choosing a Camp

A strange close to a great Olympics, hosted by our friends up North. While the games were exciting there were many teachable moments throughout the two weeks. I particularly liked pointing out to my son how the USA and the Canadian Hockey teams shook hands at the end of the that very intense game for the gold and even embraced, only then to watch the US team's sour faces as they received their silver medals. It sparked a great conversation with my 7 year old, about sportsmanship, pride, behavior in public and recognizing accomplishment even though it may not have been what we had wanted or expected. Can't wait until the summer 2012 for more great opportunities to discuss of geography, culture and understanding the commitment of an athlete!

As I mentioned I am an Ambassador for The View and want to give you a roundup for the rest of the week. They have some great guests and some really stimulating conversations! I personally love, Joy Behar. I think she is reasonable, funny, smart and can laugh at herself ! She is also not afraid to ask tough questions! Here's what's happening:

Wednesday: Best of "View tube" including backstage antics and exit interviews
Thursday: Abigail Breslin from Broadway's "The Miracle Worker" - March is Women's History month and when I reflect on the life of Hellen Keller, I am reminded truly, what an amazing woman she was! Looking forward to seeing this interview!
Friday: The History of Oscar fashions "What will Cher wear tonight?" Remember those days? Looking forward to some serious nostalgia!

On to the Question of the week: "Do you have any recommendations of what parents should look for when choosing a camp for their child?"

Yes. There are entire businesses that devote themselves to answering questions such as this. While I don't claim to be a "camp expert" I do have a few ideas of what you might want to think about. There are more camp options out there then ever before and many of them are providing as much as they can to fulfill all your needs.

Some things you might want to consider:

- Consider your child's age, maturity level, temperament and interests when narrowing down your camp choices. Try to find 3 diverse choices so you can really compare and contrast the attributes of each camp.

-Engage your child in the research. Discuss with your child what makes each camp special. Make sure you give your child a chance to share their thoughts about each option. Attend a camp meeting. Remember camp is not like picking a school. It should be a fun process not intense or grueling.

-Don't necessarily choose a camp that all the kids at school go to. Camp is a great time to make new friends and take a break from the usual school crowd. Be particularly cognizant if the school bully plans on attending the same camp as your child.

-Camp is camp, not a country club. Be careful about your expectations. Unless you're shelling out the big bucks, you will probably still have to make lunch for your kids and wash their towels if your kids is going to day camp. There is also likely no microwave to heat up your child's lunch (yes, a mother asked this at my kids camp meeting. I nearly laughed in her face!)

-Adjust your child's expectations. If this is your child's first camp experience make sure they understand the structure of the day and the experiences they will engage in.

-Consider long bus rides, being a long way from home or the commitment of theme camps. A child who gets motion sickness may not respond well to a long daily bus ride or may need the appropriate provisions. As well, children who do not feel comfortable sleeping away from home may not be ready to go away, even for a week. Theme camps are great but your child should know they spend a majority of time focusing on one activity.

-Look for Camp Directors that are savvy, organized, personable and have a good sense of humor. Directors should be responsive to your questions and concerns. This does not give you permission to ask ridiculous questions or nag the office staff to death on a daily basis:) Read the brochures thoroughly, look online for reviews and ask if you can talk to parents who have sent their child(ren) the summer before.

-Find out the ratio of staff to the group and how many kids are in each group. You may also want to find out how the staff is hired, trained and how they are monitored throughout the summer. You might also want to ask about a camp nurse onsite and any other safety staff/ procedures that are in place.

-For young children, there should be a "meet your counselor evening" before camp begins. Young children do better when there is a familiar face on the first day. Meet and Greets, before hand break the ice and can make a huge difference to a child and for you!

-Second sessions tend to be less full. If your child seems skittish about the camp experience ask if you can pay for the first session and if you can decide to sign up for a second session at a later time, pending your child's adjustment.

-Do not make deals with your child like "If you don't like it, you can leave." Encourage your kids to give camp a fair chance and to develop coping skills even when things don't go exactly as planned . If you give them a way out from the beginning they will feel more apt to use it as an easy option as soon as something goes wrong.

Happy camping!

“I am a participant in a Mom Central campaign for ABC Daytime and will receive a tote bag or other The View branded items to facilitate my review.”