A Smarter Beginning 

Healthy Self-Esteem, Secure Children

June 15, 2014 | Blog | Permalink

small_253341593There are few things more important to producing secure children than healthy self-esteem. Healthy self-esteem is what enables children to try new things, to meet all the challenges that they face, to have the courage to try, to risk and even to fail. And it starts from the very beginning as your first smiles beam down upon her to express your unconditional love, as your soothing touch when you hold him comforts him, as she learns to walk, to eat by herself, to talk, to tie his own shoelaces.

What is Self-Esteem?

The National Association for Self-Esteem defines self-esteem as “The experience of being capable of meeting life’s challenges and being worthy of happiness” (www.self-esteem-nase.org/what.php). This definition is based on the idea that self-esteem is closely related to one’s sense of self-confidence and one’s feelings of self-worth. Translated, this means one’s sense of competence and worthiness. Is there such a thing as too much self-esteem, the kind that produces egotism or arrogance or a sense of superiority?  No. These traits are caused by low self-esteem that the person compensates for. By contrast, “authentic self-esteem” is self-esteem based on reality(www.self-esteem-nase.org/what.php).  It’s a realistic appraisal of our competence and our worth based on the values of the culture we live in. When we have authentic self-esteem, we don’t need to puff ourselves up.

Where Does Self-Esteem Come From?

Our childhood experiences have a large effect on our self-esteem. This includes how our parents, family, teachers, peers, coaches, etc, treat us and the messages they give us about ourselves. But it also includes our experiences, the times we tried new things and found we could do them, the things we found we could do well and got us genuine praise and respect. Actually, “Self-esteem and achievement go hand in hand. They feed each other” (www.self-esteem-international.org/content/5-research.htm).

Negative Self-Esteem

When the messages children receive from others are habitually negative, they usually have debilitating effects. The resulting negative self-esteem can lead to depression, anxiety, feelings of inferiority and inadequacy, social and personal withdrawal, poor personal relationships, lack of healthy self-assertion, eating disorders and poor adaptation skills.

Given the ability of low self-esteem to eventually reduce the quality of life of a person, every well-meaning parent wants to build positive self-esteem in his or her child. The question is, “How?”

How to Build Children’s Self-Esteem

Self-esteem affects achievement in school, friendships, ability to face and deal with problems such as peer pressure, responsibilities, frustration, challenges, problem solving, risk taking, even physical health. In fact, there are few aspects of life that self-esteem does not touch upon. What can parents do to build healthy self-esteem in their children?

Start with plenty of love, the unconditional kind. This means whatever your child does, right or wrong, whatever her strengths or weaknesses, you love her just because you do. Show this with hugs, kisses, smiles and cuddles. Don’t neglect to tell her how much you love her. She needs to hear it. And when you correct her behavior, let her know that it’s her behavior you don’t approve of, not her.

Time together and attention count a lot, too. They tell your child that he’s important, so important that he gets your undivided attention. No cell phones, texting, phone conversations, checking the mail – at least not during the time you’re giving to him.

Encourage her to explore, discover and take risks and don’t interfere or hover. Show her you have enough faith in her abilities so that she doesn’t need your help every step of the way. In other words, when possible, be patient and let her discover how to do it on her own. Let her make mistakes and muddle through because this is how she learns. But do encourage her to try again when she fails. Just remain patient and stay calm.

When you encourage or praise him, be specific and not general. Be real and don’t over praise. It’s not, “Hey, that was great!” or “You were the best one.” Try, “I think you were really nice to offer to help your friend with his chores” or “You worked hard to improve your baseball swing and you’re getting really good.”  Too much praise can make a child feel he has too much to live up to the next time and worry that he may not be able to meet your expectations.

Some other things:

-Try to get her to talk about her feelings when something is bothering her and be a good listener.

- Empathize with her rather than look for solutions.

- Don’t negatively compare him to others. It makes him feel small and unworthy, as if you’d rather have someone else for your child.

- Don’t criticize or talk negatively about her. It will make her feel unworthy.

- Don’t set unrealistically high standards that he cannot possibly meet. This leads to inevitable failure.


Want to raise children with authentic self-esteem? Give yourself the same message you need to give your children: “Yes I can.”

If you have any additional ideas, I’d love to hear from you.


Photo credit: casch 52/Foter/Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDrivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND2.0



Childhood Obesity Can Be Prevented

June 2, 2014 | Blog | Permalink

small_3571914046Childhood obesity has reached epidemic proportions but the good news is that it can be prevented. Sadly, the physical and emotional effects of childhood obesity are staggering. All the more reason why parents need to be informed about the few simple measures they can take to prevent their children from falling victim to it.

What Causes Childhood Obesity?

 Weight gain occurs when more calories are consumed than are used by the body. The extra calories are stored as fat. Quite simply, when the number of calories consumed is about the same as the number of calories used, there is no weight gain. This, however, doesn’t explain why childhood obesity has increased over the past 30 plus years. In fact, the percentage of children from 6 to 11 years in the US who are obese has increased from 7% in 1980 to nearly 18% in 2012 and the percentage of obese teens aged 12 to 19 has increased from 5% to nearly 21% in the same years (www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/obesity/facts.htm). Here are some reasons:

-  A busy life style with both parents often employed has led to less cooking of meals at home and more eating out or ordering in fast foods.

- Many activities today in which children participate don’t require much movement such as watching TV, using the computer and playing video games. Moreover, for many children, these activities have replaced, to a large extent, more physical ones.

- There has been an increase in the consumption of processed foods with their high sugar content and fewer nutrients as well as of snack foods and sweet drinks and juices.

- Advertising of snack foods and drinks to children at younger and younger ages has had an effect on what they choose to eat.

- Children watch more TV today with many homes having a greater number of TV’s including those in children’s bedrooms.

- Take the TV out of the children’s bedrooms. “Having a TV in the bedroom is a strong predictor of pediatric obesity” (www.medicinenet.com/childhood_obesity/article.htm).

- Many children are sleeping less, probably as a result of using screen media This means they have less energy which they often make up for by eating more.

- The average portion of food has increased in size so that children are used to eating more.

- There has been the widespread proliferation of school vending machines, even in elementary schools, which sell sweet drinks, candy and other junk food.

Many of these causes are difficult for parents to control, especially as their children get older.

The Effects of Childhood Obesity

The effects of childhood obesity are grave. They can be divided into two categories: the physical and the emotional. Among the physical effects are high blood pressure, sleep apnea, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, hardening of the arteries and the start of heart disease, sleep problems, bone and joint problems, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease which can lead to liver damage and scarring.

In addition to the physical, the emotional consequences can be equally devastating. They include depression which can lead to eating disorders or other self-destructive behavior, low self-esteem as a result of being teased, bullied and rejected, possible substance abuse, behavior and learning problems and social withdrawal. Add to this that “Twenty percent of obese 4-year-old children will grow up to be obese adults; 80% of obese teens will continue their obesity into adulthood” (www.medicinenet.com/childhood_obesity/article.htm) and we realize that often the problem is self-perpetuating. In other words, children don’t always grow out of it.

Simple Steps to Prevention

How can we prevent and reduce childhood obesity? According to the Mayo Clinic, “One of the best strategies to  reduce childhood obesity is to improve diet and exercise habits of …[the] entire family (www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/childhood-obesity/basics/definition/CON-20027428?p=1). Here are some ways that parents should try:

- Limit sedentary activities such as TV, computer use and video games to a maximum of 2 hours a day.

- Have your kids get more exercise and when possible, use the car less and encourage them walk more.

- Make good food choices for meals such as including plenty of fruits and vegetables and not too many carbohydrates.

- Give your children treats only occasionally, perhaps once a week. It’s better not to eliminate them all or they might resent it and rebel.

- When your children have had enough to eat, don’t encourage them to eat more or to “clean their plates.”

- Use rewards other than food treats.

- Educate your children about good nutrition and try to make good food choices a family activity by involving everyone in planning healthy meals.

- Be relaxed about diet and eating. Too much intensity about it could lead to eating disorders.

- Don’t eat out too often, especially in fast food restaurants where the food is high in fats and calories and the portions are often very large.

- When possible, eat meals together as a family, trying to talk about everyone’s experiences during the day. Don’t keep the TV on since it has been found that this encourages people to eat more quickly forgetting how much they’re eating.

- Take the TV out of the children’s bedrooms.

- Be a good role model for your children in order to encourage them to have healthy eating habits.

As parents, it’s good for you to know that despite the current obesity epidemic, you have it within your control to protect the physical and emotional health of your children both today and in the future.

Do you have any ideas you’d like to add? If so, we’d appreciate hearing from you.

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/troybthompson/3571914046/”>Troy B Thompson</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>cc</a>

Childhood Obesity: The Role of TV and Other Screen Media

May 13, 2014 | Blog | Permalink

o-BABY-FAST-FOOD-facebookTV and other screen media have been strongly linked to the alarming growth of childhood obesity currently reaching epidemic proportions. Obese children commonly suffer from high blood pressure, diabetes, respiratory and orthopedic problems, sleep difficulty and depression. Moreover, 80% of adolescents who are overweight will be obese adults (www.kaiserfamilyfoundation.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/the-role-of-media-in-childhood-obesity.pdf).

TV Plays a Major Role  

While there are various reasons for the increase of childhood obesity, TV has been found to play a major role. Many studies show that children who spend a lot of time watching TV are more likely to be overweight than those who do not. Not only has TV been found to contribute significantly to obesity but longitudinal studies in the UK show that “For each additional hour of TV watching on weekends at age 5, the risk of [these children’s] adult obesity increased by 7%” (www.net.gov/worksheet.cfm?worksheet_ed=251388).

Just having a TV in a child’s bedroom increases the risk of obesity. A study of 2,761 parents in New York found that 40% of children had TV’s in their bedrooms and that these children were more likely to be overweight or have obesity problems. In fact, “Children and teenagers who watch more TV tend to consume more calories or eat fewer fruits and vegetables” (www.pediatrics.aappublications.com/content/128/1/201.full).

 How Does TV Contribute to Obesity?

The obvious question is, “How does TV contribute to obesity?” Interestingly, while many studies show that there is definitely a connection, that connection is not clearly understood. Some suggestions include the sedentary nature of TV watching as well as the more physical activities it replaces, the possible suppression of satiety cues, later bedtimes and less sleep, and the very high number of advertisements of food. We do know that children and teens who watch more TV have diets higher in fats, drink more sodas and sugary drinks and consume more calories and fewer fruits and vegetables than those who watch less TV (AAP – see link above). 

Regarding advertisements for food on TV, research shows that the choices children make concerning what they eat and their parents’ purchases of food are highly influenced by advertising. The number of ads viewed by children on TV has doubled from 20,000 to 40,000 since the 1970’s. Most of the ads for kids are for candy, cereals and fast foods. As the Kaiser Family Foundation study notes (link given above), “…it appears likely that the main mechanism by which media use contributes to childhood obesity may well be through children’s exposure to billions of dollars worth of food advertising and cross-promotional marketing at the very youngest ages, with children’s favorite media characters often enlisted in the sales pitch.”

To show how effective advertising to children is, one study of 63 children had them taste 5 pairs of the same food such as milk and French fries. In each pair, one package containing the food was in a brand name package while the other was in an unbranded package. The majority of the children preferred the food in the branded package (http://healthyamericans.org/reports/obesity2009).

In addition to advertising affecting food choices, there is evidence that there is more snacking during TV watching. Furthermore, TV and other screen media disrupt sleep patterns and less sleep is believed to result in a stronger chance of obesity. Among the recommendations the AAP makes to combat childhood obesity is that pediatricians ask children and their parents two key questions regarding the use of media:  1. How much time each day is spent using screen media?  2. Is there a TV in the bedroom and/or an unrestricted, unmonitored internet connection in the house? 

Certainly, parents today are finding it increasingly difficult to limit their children’s media use, the messages it gives their children, and their children’s consumption of unhealthy foods. What can be done about this growing problem? 

What do you think? We would like to hear your ideas.

Photo credit: o-Baby-Fast-Food  galleryhip.com

E-Books For Children: Yes or No?

April 28, 2014 | Blog | Permalink

small_6660064659Are e-books good for children?  Ever see a child read an e-book? Their total involvement is striking. It causes us to think, “Wow! E-books for children are great! This is something parents and teachers should be excited about.” But it may not be so simple.

 Ongoing research on elementary school children reading e-books and traditional print books was presented at a recent meeting of the American Educational Research Association (www.nbcnews.com/tech-news/are-e-books-better- or-worse-print-kids-both-n78291). This research was a continuation of the researchers’ work previously published in The Reading Teacher titled, “Teaching with Interactive Picture E-Books in Grades K-6” (www.jcsd.k12.or.us/sites/jcsd.k12.or.us/files/files/teaching with interactive picture books in k-6.pdf). They compared children’s comprehension when reading an e-book with their comprehension when reading a traditional print book.

Findings of the Study

The researchers observed teachers and teachers-in-training using interactive e-books with children in grades K to 6 during a summer reading clinic. Four different books were used, two in the form of interactive picture e-books and two in the form of traditional print books. The e-books were considered to be of a high quality. They found that the children were more highly engaged when reading the e-books but when reading the print books, their comprehension was better.

Pros and Cons of Interactive E-Books

The most obvious advantages of e-books is that they are very engaging and that there are many benefits to engaging children in books. They may contain animation, music, narration, attention getting sounds, vocabulary aids, videos, games and puzzles. Moreover, they’re very convenient. You can take lots of e-books with you and they weigh no more than the tablet you’re carrying. Even when riding in a car, a child will be occupied with an e-book without a parent’s interaction.  

These very advantages, however, can be problematic. To begin with, the interactive features can be distracting, taking children’s attention away from what they’re reading and focusing it more on the animation and sounds. Kids tend to skip around to find more stimulating pages with characters that make sounds and passages that offer interactions. These distractions can lead to poor comprehension of the text. The pauses in reading not only slow down reading but also rob it of continuity and, therefore, fragment the comprehension. Many children end up spending more time on accessing the games and puzzles than on the print.

 In addition, some features that are potentially helpful can easily be misused. Narration, for example, is a lot easier to listen to than reading for oneself. It’s tempting, therefore, not to do the reading. Also, the possibility to access a dictionary may discourage a child from trying to decode or get the meaning of a word from context, both important reading skills.

The important question, according to Lisa Guernsey, Director of the New America Foundation’s Early Education Initiative, is, “Which, if any, of these features are necessary to enhance engagement and improve a child’s comprehension of the story? Which ones are nothing more than distractions, eye candy, elements that derail the very act of reading?” She suggests that, unfortunately, there is a limited number of e-books that actually support literacy (www.schoollibraryjournal.com/slj/printissuecurrentissue/890540/are-ebooks-any-good-html.csp).  

 How to Choose and Interactive Picture E-Book

 Given the advantages and disadvantages of e-books for children, what should we look for in choosing them? The authors of the study published in The Reading Teacher include a limited number of suggestions of high quality e-books, but they also offer criteria to be used when choosing them:

           -  Are the interactions supportive of reading skills, i.e. do they help readers make inferences or understand certain words?      

          -  Do the interactions distract from or do they support understanding of the text?

3.                          –      Do the interactions take a lot of time away from reading or are they relatively short?

4.                           -      How often do they occur? Is this too often?

5.                           -     Are they found embedded in the text or are they accessed on another screen, thus taking the children    away from the text?

6.                           –   Are the interactions placed in a way that increases children’s motivation without distracting them from the text?

What is very clear is that e-books are proliferating and that parents and children like them. More research needs to be done regarding how they affect reading and how parents and teachers can best use them.

If you have any thoughts or opinions about this, please let us hear from you.

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Words Make Children Smarter

April 21, 2014 | Blog | Permalink

3700833172_32718ae9fc_mSpoken language and words are critical to children’s early development. Hart and Ridley discussed this in their well-known study, Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children (Brookes Publishing, 1995) which examined the language experiences of young children in their homes. They had wanted to see where children get their vocabulary from (www.aft.org/pdfs/americaneducator/spring2003/TheEarlyCatastrophe.pdf). They found that children’s vocabulary depends on how much their parents talk to them during the early years. According to the study, 86 to 98 percent of the words used by children are heard from their parents. Hart and Ridley also found that some children had heard 30 million more words than other children by 3 years old. This word gap continues to grow and affect academic achievement as the children get older.

The Thirty Million Words Initiative

Based on that study, the Thirty Million Words Initiative was started at the University of Chicago Medical School by Dr. Dana Suskind. It is “dedicated to harnessing the power of parent talk as a catalyst for change” (www.news.uchicago.edu/article/2014/04/03/pnc-taps-thirty-million-words-be-part-multimillion-dollar-language-development-in).  In other words, the initiative’s purpose was to educate and train parents and caregivers to talk to their children in the best way possible.  A few weeks ago, the Thirty Million Words Initiative received a grant to do a 5-year longitudinal study to compare the language development of the children whose parents  participate in the study with a control group of children whose parents do not. Between 200 and 250 children from the age of 15 months through kindergarten age will be monitored for vocabulary development and school readiness.

Parent and Caregiver Talk

“It’s the disparity in early language environments of children…that has a profound impact on their IQ, school performance and future,” says Dr. Suskind in an interview (www.youtube.com/watch?v=7qESE2GeZxo). She adds that this gap is what the Thirty Million Words Initiative focuses on most. Because exposure to words and language in early childhood increases school readiness, learning and later academic achievement, an essential element of the initiative is parent and caregiver talk: learning how to talk to a child. This includes paying attention to what a child is focused on and trying to communicate, using descriptive words to increase the child’s vocabulary, trying to engage the child in conversation by drawing him or her out, responding to what is the child says, asking open-ended questions and reading aloud.

Judging by interviews of parents in the initiative, many parents are not aware that their children’s learning starts from the beginning and that they have a profound effect on their children’s future literacy and academic achievement. It is this perception that the initiative seeks to change along with teaching parents and care givers effective methods to use with children.

 Do you have any ideas about how to stress to parents the importance of talking to their children from the earliest age?  If so, please share.

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Helping Your Child with Homework Doesn’t Work

April 13, 2014 | Blog | Permalink

8454238351_d692068536_m Are you a busy parent trying to fit helping your child with homework into your full schedule? Well, relax!  A recent large study shows that helping your child with homework doesn’t lead to improved academic performance. In fact, it can have negative effects. (Keith Robinson and Angel L. Harris, The Broken Compass: Parental Involvement With Children’s Education. Harvard University Press, January 2014.)

Parent Involvement That Doesn’t Help

Other parental practices that don’t increase your child’s academic achievement are strict rules regarding homework, punishment for bad grades, meeting often with teachers and school personnel, observing your child’s classes, and affecting the choice of your child’s high school courses. In fact, these can lead to higher levels of anxiety and fewer positive feelings on the part of the child towards school. This can result in lower achievement.

The Study

In doing this study, Robinson and Harris wanted to question a widespread belief regarding children’s academic achievement. That belief was that parents needed to be involved in their children’s education. The idea was that more active parents could get their kids to achieve more. This idea has been pushed by the government since the late 1960’s in an effort to involve parents with their children’s educations. In fact, millions of dollars have been spent on it. It was then reinforced in 2001 with No Child Left Behind.  But until now, there was little research to back up this belief (www.theatlantic.com/…don’t-help-you-kids-with-their-homework/35863).

12937013813_38f3610069_mThe study done by Robinson and Harris examined almost 30 years of surveys of 25,000 American students as well as family questionnaires. The question on the researchers’ minds was whether the children of involved parents showed greater improvement. They used 63 measures of parental involvement in children’s education including homework help, conversations about plans after high school graduation and parental volunteering at school. Then they compared parental involvement with the children’s academic performance.

Parental Involvement Produces Few Positive Results

 Their findings were that parental involvement produces few positive academic results for children. These findings were consistent across race, socioeconomic status, and amount of education of the parents. To be clear, Robinson in an interview, points out that “affluent children with good academic success do have involved parents, it’s just that that’s not the reason they have success” (www.macleans.ca/education/uniandcollege/parents-arent-talking-enough-about-post-high-school-plans/).

While the study showed that most parental involvement in homework and school related issues wasn’t important, Robinson is quick to say that “parents actually do matter.” What the study did show is that the most positive way parents can actively affect their children’s achievement is by talking to them about their plans after they graduate from high school. These conversations can begin as early as the 2nd grade. He believes this connects the child’s present activity to future goals and sets up what he calls a “bridge” that kids can understand. He also says that reading aloud to children from the earliest age has been shown by many studies to be a very effective positive involvement.

Are the results of this study a surprise to you? Please share your thoughts. I’d love to hear from you.

 Photo credit 1: cplong11/Foter/Creative Commons attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0);  Photo credit 2: bmitd67/Foter/Creative Commons attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)



Do You Monitor Your Children’s Media Use?

April 7, 2014 | Blog | Permalink

small_2290223478I recently came across a very candid article by a father telling about what can happen when you don’t monitor your children’s media use.  “The sense of shame and sadness which came over me when I realized my infant son was an addict will stay with me forever” (www.dailymail.co.uk/article-2548365).

 Children’s media use today is greater than ever. This is not surprising considering the smorgasbord of available possibilities: TV, computers, tablets, smart phones, video games. Not all children who use media are addicted. Most children are not. But a study has recently been published which shows that children whose parents monitor their use of media sleep more, perform better academically, exhibit more positive social behavior and less aggressive behavior7RDL-472 (www.news.iastate.edu/news/2014/03/31/parentalmonitoring). Students in the 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades, 1,323 children in total, in two communities in Iowa and Minnesota and their parents and teachers were surveyed. The first data were taken at the beginning and the final data were collected seven months later. The results were attributed to less screen time and less exposure to violence.

Preventing Childhood Obesity

Another study just published in March examined the effects of parental media monitoring on body mass index in children of 5, 7, and/or 9 years old. It was conducted over a period of 14 years from 1998 to 2012 (doi:10.001/jamapediatrics.2013.2013.5483). The results showed, interestingly, that more monitoring by mothers lowered the BMI scores. The study concluded that monitoring is important in preventing obesity in children.

 Encouraging Parents to Monitor Media Use

From these studies, it’s obvious that parents need to be encouraged to monitor their children’s media use. Unfortunately, this is not so easy since, as the lead researcher of the Iowa study, Prof. Douglas Gentile, points out, parents don’t see the positive results of their monitoring for several months. So not only is it additional work for parents, but they don’t even get immediate reinforcement to continue the monitoring. He feels pediatricians should be talking to parents about this to suggest that they set limits, discuss media content with their children and point out the purpose of the different kinds of media. Most of all, he says parents have to balance media activities with non-media activities.

 But what about educators? Like healthcare providers, they have access to parents. What should they be telling them? Here are a few essentials:

     - Keep all screen devices in full view in the home so that their use can be monitored. This goes for TV, computers, smart phones, tablets, video games. And keep them out of your child’s bedroom.

     -  Don’t buy your child his or her own media device.

     -  Limit time spent on media and follow the schedule you set up.

     -  When it’s time to turn off the TV or put away other media devices, give your child a warning of about 5 or 10 minutes. This helps prevent blow-ups.

     -  Have toys and activities available to substitute for time not spent on media and to help prevent boredom.

     -  If your rules are not respected, take away the device or, in the case of TV, make it off bounds. If this causes some “stormy” days, be strong and try to get through them as best you can. They won’t last too long.

     -  Remember, you’re acting in your child’s best interests. There’s no substitute for parental supervision.

If you have other ideas, please share them. I’d love to hear from you.

Photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/mazboot/2290223478/”>Sherif Salama</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>cc</a>

Chart: www.news.iostate.edu/news/2014/03/31


Gesturing Predicts Children’s Future School Success

March 29, 2014 | Blog | Permalink

Why do some children have larger vocabularies when they start school than others? This is an important question considering that a significant predictor of success in school is a child’s vocabulary. When we say “vocabulary,” we mean an understanding and use of words. But before being able to use words, how does your child let you know what she or he wants? In other words, what is your child’s first vocabulary?

small_1519576998For example, a 10 month old baby sees her toy blocks on the shelf and wants to play with them. What does she do? She points to them and makes eye contact with her mother. Her mother responds by saying something like, “You want the blocks. I’ll get them for you,” and hands them to the child. The baby can’t talk yet but she certainly has communicated and she’s been rewarded for communicating by being given what she asked for, the blocks. She has also gotten her mother’s attention. In the process, she’s heard some words relating to the interaction such as “blocks” which name the object and “get” which tells what action Mom is performing, both closely associated with her need at that moment. This mother and child are communicating through gestures and, in addition, the child is hearing words in a meaningful context. She’s learning vocabulary.

A Child’s First Language

When a child gestures, usually starting at about 10 months, it’s his or her first language. Gesturing is a form of communication and it begins before the child can talk. This first language is a collection of motions and facial expressions and may even be accompanied by sounds. Encourage its use as often and as early as possible because it better enables you and your child to communicate with each other. It’s also an important step to a better vocabulary upon entering school.

Gestures Are Important in Vocabulary Acquisition

We’ve known for a while that the more parents talk to their children, the greater the language development of the child. More recently, however, a study has shown that gestures may be at least as important in vocabulary acquisition and, therefore, in preparing children for school. The study, conducted at the University of Chicago (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2677374/) involved fifty 14-month old children videotaped interacting with their parents during a 90 minute session. During each child’s session, the researchers recorded how often words and gestures were used. Then, when the children were 54 months (4 ½ years), their vocabularies were assessed.

What were the findings of the study? The first was that some of the children often used gestures to communicate while others used fewer gestures less often. These differences in gesturing among the children could be linked to differences in how much the parents used gesturing.  The second result was that the children who more often used gestures had larger vocabularies at 4 ½ years than the others.

The study concluded that the amount of gesturing helps explain why some children have larger vocabularies when they enter school than others. This was framed in a socioeconomic context:children from higher socioeconomic backgrounds use gesturing more and, therefore, enter school with larger vocabularies. This means that gesturing could affect children’s development in significant ways.

As pointed out in the study, “If there is any way to encourage children to gesture…more before they can speak, that could be useful.”

What’s your opinion?  I’d like to hear from you.

Photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/shawnecono/1519576998/”

How Does TV Affect Families with Young Children?

March 10, 2014 | Blog | Permalink

451665762_6b5b2ce0e3Children watch TV and other screen media today more than ever before. Why? What role does it play in their lives and in their family life?

TV Watching Among Young Children

On an average day, 88% of 2 to 3 year olds spend time on screen media (30% spend 1 to 2 hours a day, 41% spend 2 hours or more a day, and 17% spend less than 1 hour). Of 4 to 6 year olds, 89% spend time on screen media (32% spend 1 to 2 hours a day, 43% spend 2 or more hours, and 14% spend less than 1 hour). For children under the age of 2, 61% spend time on screen media (22% spend 1 to 2 hours daily, 14% spend 2 or more hours daily, and 25% spend less than 1 hour a day). (www.kaiserfamilyfoundation.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/7500.pdf). This is despite the recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics that there should be no screen time for children under the age of 2 and screen time of no more than 2 hours a day for older children.

The Busy Family

To help explain why this is occurring, let’s take a look at a woman I know with a husband and 3 children. Her husband works full time and she’s been a mostly stay at home mother except for some few hours of tutoring she does during the week. It’s up to her to run the house, to drive and pick up the kids from their various activities, to help them with their increasing amounts of homework, to prepare meals, to take care of the cleaning, the shopping and the laundry. By the time she and her husband go to sleep each night, they’re both exhausted. Does TV play a role in this woman’s home? You bet it does. And it plays a role in the homes of increasing numbers of families with children. Add to that the other devices besides TV that are given to children today: videos, DVD’s, and tablets in addition to the cable channels and programs especially for them.

Basically, TV and other screen media make life easier for a lot of parents, especially those with busy, complicated schedules. It gives them time to take care of various chores, to get dressed, to have a peaceful meal and to keep the kids entertained. For some, it’s also a form of family entertainment for everyone to participate in together. Parents also regard the media as a possible source of learning and as examples of positive social behaviors to be emulated by their children.

Equally important to them is that it’s an activity which takes place in the safety of the home. No dangerous strangers around, decreased possibility of physical injury. Parents also use media as a means of discipline, denying it as a punishment and granting it as a reward.  The TV is even used to calm kids down before bedtime. No doubt about it. Media performs many functions, especially for busy, tired parents.

The Negatives

Certainly, parents have many good reasons for allowing their children to watch TV and to use other media, but are they aware of the negatives? Do they know that research shows watching violence on TV causes aggressive behavior in children? Have they heard that fast paced programs and games can cause attention problems later on? Do they know that “TV exposure may impair children’s theory of mind development and this impairment may be partly responsible for disruptive social behaviors”? (www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2013-11/ica-pet111913.php)

And do they consider that time spent on media is time not spent playing, reading, interacting with adults such as parents and grandparents, playing alone and engaging the imagination, physical activity, experiencing nature, having first-hand social interactions with other children and adults and not engaging the real world?

Most parents have probably heard it all. Nevertheless, TV and other media use for children will doubtless continue and perhaps even increase since for many families, life would be much more difficult without it. This being the case, what can parents and educators do to help make TV and other media a positive influence in children’s lives?

I’d love to hear your ideas and experiences.

Photo credit: marktrash/Foter/CC BY-NC-ND




The Problem With English

February 19, 2014 | Blog | Permalink

Learning to Spell "Phamous"

Learning to Spell “Phamous”

What!? There’s a problem with English? How could this wonderful language with so many words, probably more words than in any other language, be a problem? It’s the spelling. (See my last blog article, “Why is Learning to Read English So ‘Tuff’”?) Unfortunately, this leads to difficulties in learning to read. In fact, it takes most children an average of two and a half years to learn to read English as compared to one year to learn to read Spanish or Italian. Remarkable when we consider that the English language is used by an estimated 1.8 billion people, about 1/3 of the world’s population. Nevertheless, it “has the WORST letter-to-sound and sound-to-letter ratios of all Western languages.”(www.reforming-english.blogspot.co.il).

Consider this. Most teachers and parents in non-English speaking countries don’t have such strong concerns about their children learning to read and write as in English speaking countries. Consider, too, that literacy is harder to acquire in English than in most other languages because the problem with English spelling makes learning to read and write it so much more difficult. If less time and effort had to be spent on learning to read, one wonders about all the other things that that time and effort could be spent on.

Here’s a poem that makes the point in an amusing way:

Phoney Phonetics

One reason why I cannot spell,
Although I learned the rules quite well
Is that some words like coup and through
Sound just like threw and flue and Who;
When oo is never spelled the same,
The duice becomes a guessing game;
And then I ponder over though,
Is it spelled so, or throw, or beau,
And bough is never bow, it’s bow,
I mean the bow that sounds like plow,
And not the bow that sounds like row -
The row that is pronounced like roe.
I wonder, too, why rough and tough,
That sound the same as gruff and muff,
Are spelled like bough and though, for they
Are both pronounced a different way.
And why can’t I spell trough and cough
The same as I do scoff and golf?

Why isn’t drought spelled just like route,
or doubt or pout or sauerkraut?
When words all sound so much the same
To change the spelling seems a shame.
There is no sense – see sound like cents -
in making such a difference
Between the sight and sound of words;
Each spelling rule that undergirds
The way a word should look will fail
And often prove to no avail
Because exceptions will negate
The truth of what the rule may state;
So though I try, I still despair
And moan and mutter “It’s not fair
That I’m held up to ridicule
And made to look like such a fool
When it’s the spelling that’s at fault.
Let’s call this nonsense to a halt.”

So here is my question. In order to make learning to read English easier and to raise the literacy rates, should the spelling of English be reformed? I’d love to hear what you think.


Photo credit: marusin/Foter/CC BY-NC

Poem attributed to Vivian Buchan, NEA Journal 1966/67, USA, published in Spelling Progress Bulletin Spring 1966 pdf, p6. Reprinted from Education Horizons.