Is growing up with a dad really important?
A great deal of research suggests that kids who grew up without a father are worse off than those who did have a loving father. However, good fatherhood has less to do with male role models, and everything to do with what we do and share with our children.
The What, Why, When and How
With our daughter getting ready to go to Kindergarten this year, we have shared on the usual parents’ paranoia around “Kindergarten Readiness”. Some of the readers, who might be already on the same boat, would agree that there is not enough time to even read all there is to learn about Kindergarten Readiness – meanwhile there are diametrically opposing points of view in terms of its actual usefulness. Nonetheless, our kids will go to school and the “system” does indeed assess our kids’ readiness for Kindergarten. That’s a fact.
So what is Kindergarten readiness? There is no single or simple factor determining if a child is ready for kindergarten. The kid’s ability to think logically, speak clearly, and interact well with other children and adults are all crucial, as well as his/her level of physical development.1 Depending on where you live, around the age of five, your child may or may not be assessed via a standardized test. The guidance from the U.S. Department of Education is that such tests are to be used to "provide information to help close the school readiness gap at kindergarten entry, to inform instruction in the early elementary school grades, and to notify parents about their children's status and involve them in decisions about their children's education. [They] should not be used to prevent children's entry into kindergarten or as a single measure for high-stakes decisions."7 Let’s look at the application.
Take for example the State of California, where the assessment will have five focus domains: approaches to learning; social and emotional development; language and literacy development; cognition; and physical development-health.3 So, here’s the thing, if the assessment aims at showing a “gap” and parents don’t want to see any gap, then both parents and pre-K schools are very motivated to prepare the children, and Kindergarten schools are very motivated to close the gap – which is all good – but what this may mean for our kids, is more focus to learn “content” and less focus on play. More specifically, some argue that because preschool teachers have this pressure (of the assessment), “they tend not to use play-based learning activities and to use worksheets”, instead, and do them repeatedly: not a child-centered approach.3
The concern is that, following this direction at school and at home, children simply have less time for unstructured play. And they need play. Young children learn playing, and research consistently indicates that “imaginative play is the catalyst for social, physical, emotional, and moral development” in young children.2 With guidance, children can use imaginative play to lay groundwork for understanding words and numbers.2 Play also facilitates the growth of kids’ reasoning abilities and language development.2 We should ask ourselves: “Is it about making the child ready for school, or about making the school ready for the child?”2 Why would we be headed down the opposite path? The answer would likely point to “timing”.
Kids in the US likely grow up faster than anywhere else.2 In Finland, which consistently ranks #1 “in assessments of literacy, math, and science, children don’t start formal schooling until age 7—and then they only attend half days”.2 Compared to ours, the children in Finland spend less time overall in school. We expect our children to start kindergarten at five, and to have years of preschool before that – yet again, the Finnish seem to get it right. The answer to when a child is really ready to Kindergarten is clearly not a) five for everyone or b) the sooner the better. Intuitively, the sooner a child starts “school” the faster he/she will learn and hence, success will come faster, etc. – but research indicates otherwise.
While parents feel the ongoing pressure (and peer pressure) to “prepare” a baby’s brain to participate in traditional school-style learning from a very young age, a number of scholars have questioned the wisdom of doing this6, whereby this can even be counterproductive. The thinking is that young children’s brains may not be intellectually ready for the nature of the content. There is indeed disagreement on this, but it has been shown that children show “significantly higher entrance scores if they test when they’re older compared to those who’ve entered kindergarten at the usual age”.6 Does this mean we should wait one year? Maybe, but not necessarily.
Every child is different. In fact, few children are equally competent in all these areas assessed on these tests. Many kids who are further mentally may fall behind emotionally, others who are extremely fit physically may lag in language development.1 Bear in mind also, that social skills are just as important as “academic” skills (such as being able to share and get along with other children in a group, to sit still for a period of time, and to focus on an adult that is speaking to them).4 Sensible parents seeking a healthy balance may opt for pre-schools in the form of Montessori, Waldorf, or others that individualize their curricula to meet each kid’s developmental needs. Also many public school districts provide alternatives to a cookie-cutter educational approach, and there are always private options as well.6 Integrated early child development solutions, such as Kids’ Candor may well complement the development of all required skills in a balanced approach.
Again, there is a huge number of checklists, tests and resources on line, but below are six specific steps parents and caregivers can take to sensibly help prepare their young ones for Kindergarten:
1) Encourage socialization. Support your kid's social development by including him/her group activities, inviting friends to go on outings, play dates, etc. Encourage your child to share (or express) her feelings, practice taking turns, work together with others as part of a group1, and follow simple directions.5
2) Develop routines. Set regular times for your child to eat, play and sleep each day. This will help your little one know what to expect and what's expected from him or her.5 This will also help your child listen to instructions and follow them.1 Try to foster a degree of self-sufficiency while doing this: can she put on her coat, shoes, and go to the bathroom by herself?1
3) Read, rhyme and play games with your child. Make reading and playing a daily family activity.5 As you do this, encourage both, the development of basic skills (such as recognizing letters, numbers, colors and shapes)6, as well the development of fine motor skills (hold a pencil, scissors, etc.).1
4) Reading benefits your child most when it's a shared, interactive experience. Do it together. Don't rely on computer programs that teach kids how to read.5 Encourage him/her to try to "read" a book by telling you a story based on the pictures.1
5) Expose your child to learning opportunities. Look for experiences to broaden your child's horizons, such as the museum, library or community art or science programs.5 In short, stimulate his/her curiosity: “if a child's curiosity is stronger than his fear of the unfamiliar, he will do well in school”.1
6) Talk about kindergarten. Build excitement and reduce your kid’s anxiety by explaining what his/her routine would be like in kindergarten. Attend the school’s open house with your child and show your enthusiasm. If your child's school doesn't offer an open house, call the school to schedule a visit.5
It’s a good question. Parents who lean towards “yes” (different genders = different education) may argue that girls are girls and boys are boys (true), so why not act accordingly. They may also say that this is what they (the parents) know, because this is this how they were educated. Parents who lean towards “no”, see the obvious potential issue with the perpetuation of gender stereotypes, some of which may work against our own kids and society in general, down the road. For example, some view the encouragement of “typically feminine” characteristics such as quietness, obedience, and passivity, as a reason why girls tend to like school better and perform better than boys in the early grades, yet those behaviors may be detrimental for their later success1.
Common sense should tell us that both points of view have merit. The “nature versus nurture” debate certainly plays a role in answering this question: the likely culprit of most of this heated debate may be a confusion between gender differences and gender stereotypes (reflected in gender roles). Gender differences are driven by biological factors, while gender stereotypes are the result of “children acquiring values, motives, and behaviors viewed as appropriate for males and females within a culture”1…so they are learned. Gender differences between the developmental behaviors of little boys and little girls do exist. However, it is important to know that the overlap between the distributions is greater than the differences between them1. Furthermore, outlining the differences does not tell us why they exist1, yet the good news is acknowledging and leveraging these differences can help us improve how we educate our little ones.
Research shows us key differences in developmental and physical traits between little boys and girls. Boys’ brains, for example, develop at a different rate, time, and order than girls’ in the areas of the brain that affect language, spatial memory, and motor skills: the language and fine motor skills areas mature about six years earlier in girls while the areas involved in targeting and spatial memory mature some four years earlier in boys2. Interestingly, boys’ eyes are physically different that girls’, specifically the visual cortices. Boys’ eyes are “drawn to cooler colors such as silver, black, blue, and gray, while girls’ eyes are drawn to textures and warmer colors—red, yellow, and orange”2. Girls hear better than boys, especially in higher ranges, and they also have a more sensitive sense of smell2. Also important is the nervous system: girls’ autonomic system is influenced more by the parasympathetic, while the boys’ sympathetic has a greater influence in the control of autonomic responses. This affects the reaction to threats or confrontations2.
So how do these differences matter in the development and behaviors of our children? Let’s start with girls. In general, girls have more sensory detailed memory storage, better listening skills, and better discrimination among the various tones of voice. They also have a learning advantage, especially in the language arts, and they tend to make fewer impulsive decisions than boys do. Girls tend to multitask better than boys do, with fewer attention span problems and greater ability to make quick transitions between activities3. Girls can discriminate between objects better than boys2. Compared to boys, girls focus more on faces and warm colors2. They can also better explain and describe their feelings2. Relatively speaking, girls do not deal with moderate stress well, and they may feel sick or nauseated when faced with threat and confrontation2. Also, compared to boys, girls show more positive emotions (e.g. happiness) and “internalizing emotions” (e.g., sadness, anxiety, sympathy)4.
Boys, on the other hand, tend to use more of the brain for spatial and mechanical functioning so that makes them want to move objects through space, like balls, model airplanes (…or just their arms and legs). Most boys will experience words and feelings differently than girls do3. They are more likely to be physically impulsive and less likely to sit still and chat with a friend3. Boys brains are structured to compartmentalize learning - thus girls are better at multitasking. When bored, their brains are set to “renew, recharge, and reorient by entering what neurologists call a rest state” (e.g. the boy in the back whose eyes are drifting toward sleep)3. Boys’ brains are better suited for symbols, abstractions, diagrams and pictures than for words3. They locate objects better than girls2, but find it difficult to talk about feelings2. Boys focus on movement and cold colors2. They deal with moderate stress relatively well and may “feel excited when faced with threat and confrontation”2. Also, compared to girls, boys show more externalizing emotions (e.g., anger)4.
Fine. But how can we leverage this knowledge to better engage our children while combating stereotypes?
Forget about gender roles and be aware of what really makes them different. Embrace it and use it. Here are some broad tips.
When engaging girls…
When engaging boys…
A final word on children’s gender stereotypes. As parents, we can help reduce them by making gender equality a priority at home. Remember boys and girls are a lot more alike than they different.
Yes, we want our children to learn how to read and write, but believe it or not, that is not an easy task.
Research literature suggests that a good 50 percent of the US children learn to read relatively easily once exposed to formal instruction, but the other half will find it very challenging, and perhaps one of the most difficult skills that they will have to master1. So with that in mind, do we want to make it even more challenging by introducing another language in the mix?
Counter to intuition, the answer is that kids are better off learning literacy in two languages versus one. There are five essential components of early reading skill: phonemic awareness (being able to identify and play with individual sounds in spoken words), phonics (being able to connect the letters with the sounds), vocabulary, reading comprehension and fluency2. Research has shown that dual-language literacy education may well give bilingual children from English-only homes a reading advantage, as they may develop these key components “of successful reading and language ahead of their monolingual peers in a single-language learning context”3.
What is the best approach?
There is no single approach, or philosophy for teaching reading that is equally effective for all children1, but…parents often weigh teaching their children how to read in one language (and then transferring this knowledge over to the other language(s)) versus starting with both languages at once9. While either approach works, research suggests that children coming from languages with a deep orthography (such as English – where words don’t follow a strict sound-to-letter correspondence) may actually get a bilingual reading and language processing advantage from learning in the 50:50 dual-language learning context (both languages at once). Furthermore, findings indicate that the 50:50 dual-language set up - combined with phonological training - may be the optimal and most enduring type of bilingual language learning3.
So when do we get started?
Now. Learning to read is not easy, and success comes largely from developing language and literacy-related skills very early in life1. Reading books to your young ones is early literacy. Children should be involved in reading from the first days of life; small children should be engaged in playing with language through nursery rhymes, storybooks, and writing activities as early as possible1. It turns out that spoken language and literacy are indeed connected, and studies show that children with little exposure to listening to books read aloud “typically start school with poor early literacy skills”4. Obviously, kids in the emergent stage of literacy cannot yet read, write, or spell - maybe they know that writing represents ideas, but it is not until later that they start “to understand that letters represent the sounds they hear in words”8. However, there is little question that during the early stages of speech and language development (the emergent literacy stage) children learn skills that are key to the development of literacy10. So, get started now.
How to go about it?
Three good suggestions:
First is something called Dialogic Reading. Researchers have learned that when the child actively participates in the reading experience, the language gains are greater than when an adult simply reads the book. Dialogic reading encourages the child to become the storyteller over time. Your role is to prompt the child with questions, build on the kid’s responses, and praise his/her efforts to retell the story or name elements from the book4. That is a perfect opportunity to segue into another language – the Kids’ Candor bilingual kits’ reading activities exemplify this.
The second is simply Picture books, but why?5 Picture books help our young ones understand that words convey meaning, way before they are aware of the actual text. Pictures help increase vocabulary, a key element of reading. No reason why this cannot be done in another language simultaneously or alternatively. Picture books also help young children identify colors, shapes, numbers, letters, etc – in short,
they build the background knowledge that is essential to successful reading. Parents should choose books with simple images so that the child can point to objects and learn names6.
The third is building literacy every day7- here are 10 great tips inspired by Pearson Education7. You can alternate key words and/or expressions on a second language for every single one:
Quality is better than quantity. And not working can be more expensive than daycare
The choice of how much time we spend with our young kids versus how much time we, parents, devote to our careers (or making money) is certainly driven by our perception of what is better for our children. Our living circumstances influence it but also, and to a great extent, our beliefs. A mother may well choose to put her career on hold and spend all of her time with her baby, because she believes that is best for her child. Along those lines, many of us would agree with the premise that spending more time with our little ones is a good thing for them – but let’s take a closer look, since it seems recent research upends conventional wisdom on the subject.
Parents in the US are with their children more than any parents in the world1, yet many feel guilty because they don’t think it’s sufficient. This is thought to be caused by a widespread cultural belief that the “time parents, particularly mothers, spend with children is key to ensuring a bright future”1. The fact is that recent research findings suggest the sheer amount of time parents (particularly mothers) spend with their kids (as young as 3) is virtually not related to how children turn out. That’s right: no relationship. And this includes children’s academic achievement, behavior and emotional health.2 A study also showed that mothers’ work hours also don’t matter much at all.
Furthermore, it has been found that parent time can be sometimes harmful to children, that is when we (parents) are stressed, sleep-deprived, guilty and anxious.2 Ironically, such stress and anxiety often stems from parents’ (specially mothers) struggle to juggle work and spending more time with their young ones1. Now bear in mind that this does not suggest it is bad to spend time with your kids. It simply says your kids might not benefit from spending time with you, when you are frustrated.
Others have argued that spending some time away from our kids can actually make us better parents. Why? Well, spending time with someone else (our spouse, partner or a caregiver) can give our kids a fresh perspective and help them become more independent. Along the same lines, as an example, it could teach your kid about individuality (as in you have your own life). Also, spending time in the grown up world as ourselves may re-energize us to jump back into parenting and be thankful for re-uniting, and this can be healthy.3
Now, let’s talk numbers. A usual consideration for a parent gauging to stay at home or paying for childcare is obviously the childcare cost versus the opportunity cost of not earning wages. Often the balance tips to the side of staying at home, simply because childcare is really expensive. Think twice. Each lost year of employment could cost a family more than three times a parent's annual salary, over a lifetime, according to a report from the Center for American Progress.4 This is because the opportunity cost of quitting your job is not just your salary, but the growth of your salary over time.
Let’s not take our eyes off what’s important here, though. It is “quality time” with parents, and not the sheer amount of time spent, that is beneficial to our children. There is little argument that there is NO substitution for quality time spent with your little ones, and research has shown a close relationship between quality parent time and positive outcomes for kids1. So, what is spending “quality time” with your child? Well, it can be reading to your child, simply sharing meals, talking or engaging with them one-on-one1. Here is our selection of the top 5 ideas for spending quality time with our young ones:
FAQ’s: Talking to our children about getting to the truth
Our world seems to be increasingly faced with a blurred view of fact versus fiction (versus opinion) and truth versus lies. Several current events and the advent of the holidays makes the general issue of truth and reality a relevant one, and particularly important, when it comes to our children. All things considered, wouldn’t we want to have a sensible way to approach the conversation with our little ones?
When tackling the subject as a parent, one encounters different flavors of the question of “truth” and “reality”. One of them is about lying to our children, its ethical implications and practical consequences: for example, whether or not we should push falsehoods onto our children about cultural myths (e.g. Easter Bunny) and other societal taboos. Another one is about how we deal with our children lying to us and to others: what our policy should be. A third one, and not the least important, is the question of what is real and what is not.
We hope our answers to the following FAQ’s are helpful. As always we look forward to your comments and/or suggestions and to hear about your best practices:
FAQ#1: The Santa Claus question. It is a lie…so should we not tell it to our children?
While some people take a hard line and advocate that these falsehoods should indeed be exposed to children from an early age, the most accepted approach seems to be where “sharing the world of fantasy characters with our children is not a lie, but rather a playful way of storytelling and connecting as a family to fun events” 2. Some authors even suggest that the process of discovering the truth about such myths on their own may be beneficial to kids4. It is a different story, however, if your kid asks you point blank if Santa is real. Obviously at that point your kid is already asking the right questions – probably time to help him or her discover the truth. Kids need to know they can trust mom and dad to tell them the truth2. In any event, by the age of eight most children will have already let go of these fantasies, but will likely remember fondly the happy years of imagination2.
FAQ#2: What about when bad stuff happens - like the death of someone our kids know or a pet? Should we tell the truth?
Some parents will opt for distorting or omitting facts in order to protect their children from distress. The most accepted view seems to be that creating a story around a real event can make the problem worse. When it comes to death or illness, it is apparently better for children to know the truth, so they understand the behaviors of the adults around them2. Some suggest that children should have some understanding of sickness or death, before it actually affects their own lives. When telling a child that someone has died, make sure the word 'died' is used - children do not understand euphemisms. In the context of facing the realities of our existence, “children do not need protection, they need competent guidance and satisfactory answers to their questions”2.
FAQ#3: We don’t want our children to be liars. How should we react when we catch our little one in a lie?
When your little one lies, remember that this is not necessarily a crisis of morals. Getting outraged is probably not helpful. Telling a lie can be simply your kid's way of getting what he wants. “It also doesn't help to investigate his story like a detective”. Not to say that this should go without sanctions, but you don’t really want to make him feel that he can't be trusted. Some argue that pressuring your child can cause him to withhold more the truth next time3.
We should model the behavior we expect to see in our child. So let’s calm down before doing anything. First of all, convey the message that a behavior — stealing, for instance — is wrong. Then, address why your child lied. Mention consequences that will help the development of conscience – also point out the logical consequences of lying. Tell the story of the boy who cried wolf so often that, when the boy really needed help, nobody came, etc. (you know the story…). When your child changes the story and tells you the truth, express your satisfaction. This will make it easier for your child to tell the truth the next time3.
Some lie busters:
FAQ#4. Is lying normal? Why do children lie?
It is normal. Parents should view lying as a part of our children's emotional and intellectual development. Telling lies doesn't mean our kid will have a life of serious behavioral problems. Studies show that lying plays a positive role in normal development. “Essential human skills — independence, perspective taking, and emotional control — are the same skills that enable children to lie”.3
There is a developmental progression to lying. At the first level (2 and 3 years old), the child wants to achieve a goal or reward by saying something that he knows (or believes) is false. The intention is to affect your behavior — for instance, to avoid punishment or receive a reward.3
Around age 3, wishes and imagination often get mixed up with reality. Sometimes your child will start to tell a story, and then he will just start adding content to match ideas he has in his head. At this stage, children might not consider what you will actually think about either their statement or their intention. So they are pretty bad liars. They may also fail to do obvious things, such as covering their tracks to hide the lie.3
Around age 4, children probably know the difference between lying and telling the truth — and they know lying is wrong. By age 4 or 5, they understand that you will interpret and evaluate a statement in the light of your own existing knowledge.3
FAQ#5: Young kids don’t know the difference between reality and fantasy – when and how does that transition occur?
Babies and young toddlers cannot reliably distinguish between what's real and what's pretend.1 At around two years of age, a child supposedly develops the “brain circuitry” that allows him to hold a block and imagine it's a car, for example.1 “Older toddlers know what's real when they're playing but often ignore it. Fiction is simply more fun”.1
Much of the information that little kids are exposed to is factual, like the names of animals, but obviously some of it is fictional too, such as the existence of the Easter Bunny. Studies have found that by the age of 4, children learn to “use the context in which new information is presented to distinguish between fact and fiction”.5 This is important, because it means they start gauging credibility.
According to research at the University of Texas at Austin, children can distinguish between reality and fantasy, somewhere between the ages of 3 and 5.
FAQ#6: Since young children don’t know the difference between reality and fantasy –how can parents help?
Parents play a very important role in this process. First of all, we ought to be aware of how emotions can influence our children’s fantasy-reality judgments. Studies show that 3-5-year-old children are more likely to believe in positive fictional events compared to negative fictional events “i.e., only positive people and events can exist in the real world”. Along the same lines, they are more likely to believe in information from a “nice” person.6 As parents, we should then focus on shedding a positive light on the things we want our children to hold as real.
One specific area where parents can help, and where children benefit from learning the difference between fantasy and reality is with nighttime fears. Research shows that understanding the difference between fantasy and reality helps children overcome their nighttime (irrational) fears.7
Not unlike with other challenges to reality, children should also be educated about the fictional nature of much of what's on TV and digital.1 But maintaining a good balance is also crucial, so as parents we really need to embrace pretend-play. Ironically, “pretend play lets kids figure out the real world of emotions, relationships, and ideas”.1
Throughout much of the world, history will show deliberate attempts have been made to forge monolingual societies through the elimination of minority languages.1 It is not surprising that, back in the day, research findings were consistently negative towards bilingualism.1 Even today, it’s hard not to come across comical (and sometimes downright weird) assumptions people make about raising children bilingually. In this article we have compiled 10 common myths on the subject with the purpose of debunking them. Hopefully this will help parents who are undecided about taking a step in the bilingual direction with their kids.
Myth #1: The world is mostly monolingual.
Not really. There are many more bilingual or multilingual persons than there are monolingual.2 More than half the world's population is bilingual.7 Furthermore, the number of kids that continue to be educated via a second (or third) language is greater than the number of children educated with one (first) language.2
Myth #2: It’s very difficult (or impossible) to teach my kids another language.
Nope. New technology, online instructors, curriculums, traditional methods such as language courses, are all readily available. Finding quality books and spending time reading with your kids goes a long way to help them learn any language.3 Targeted one stop solutions for toddlers (such as Kids’ Candor) makes this easy even for parents who do not know the other language. Bear in mind that, one way or the other, your kids do need plenty of exposure to the target language.3
Myth #3: My children won’t acculturate.
Actually, in homes where the parents come from a different culture, it’s the children who quickly acculturate and distance themselves from the culture and language of the family.3 Parents will be better able to connect with their children in their native language. Emphasizing the difference between cultures and languages yields well rounded and empathetic kids.3
Myth #4: Raising my child bilingually can cause a delay in development.
Wrong. This is no longer an accepted view.9 In fact, there are several advantages, such as improved executive function, metalinguistic awareness, mental flexibility and creative thinking. Bilingual kids generally meet developmental milestones within the normal range of language development.4
Myth #5: If my child has developmental challenges or learning disabilities, then learning a second language will make it even harder for them.
Wrong again. Studies that compared bilingual children with SLI (specific language impairment) to monolingual children with SLI found that the bilingual kids showed equivalent levels of language-related strengths and weaknesses to the monolingual group.5 The same goes for children with developmental disorders, such as Autism.5
Myth #6: My child will confuse the two languages
Even in the earliest stages of language acquisition, there is no evidence to support this.5 Children are not confused by hearing more than one language.9 All bilingual speakers of all ages sometimes mix their languages. This is called code-switching.5 It does not mean the child is confused – just means the child “can” switch at will.
Myth #7: To raise my child bilingual, I should use the one person - one language approach.
Incorrect. There are several ways to raise a kid bilingually, e.g: caregiver 1 speaks one language and caregiver 2 speaks the other; one language is used in the home and the other outside the home; the child gets his/her second language at school, etc. What’s important is the kid must understand that he/she needs two or more languages in everyday life.7
Myth #8: If my children are raised bilingually, they’ll have problems to read.
Absolutely not. Speaking and listening to several languages won’t damage the ability of your child to read. Some suggest to let your child learn how to read in the language spoken at school, so that he/she’ll get the most support there.6
Myth #9: It’s better to wait for my child to master one language before introducing a new one.
False. Experts suggest the 'optimal' time for learning a second language is 'at the same time as the first language'.8 This is pretty straight forward –the sooner, the better.
Myth #10: If I’m not speaking my mother tongue to my children, they’ll get the same strong accent and make the same mistakes as me.
What? First of all, having an accent is not an indicator of language fluency.9 Secondly, accents change over our childhood and adolescence, and in many instances do not stabilize until the early 20s.8 Once kids start mingling with other children (around ages 2 or 3) they’ll start to learn their accent from their friends.
1) University of Canterbury, “Myths about bilingualism”, http://twolanguages.canterbury.ac.nz/?page_id=103
2) www.libraries.rutgers.edu, “A Global Perspective on Bilingualism and Bilingual Education: Implications for New Jersey Educators” by G. Richard Tucker http://www.libraries.rutgers.edu/rul/projects/arachne/vol2_2tucker.html
3) www.puravidamoms.com, “3 Common Myths About Raising Bilingual Children” by Keli Allen García
4) www.theconversation.com, “Debunking common myths about raising bilingual children” by Mark Antoniou, MARCS Institute for Brain, Behaviour and Development, Western Sydney University
5) www.babbel.com, “Let's Bust Some Myths About Raising Bilingual Children” by Katrin Sperling
6) www.expatriateconnection.com, “Busted: 10 Myths About Raising Bilingual Children”
7) www.francoisgrosjean.ch, “Myths about bilingualism” by François Grosjean, University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland
8) The Linguist List, “Bilingual and Multilingual Children: Two Perspectives” by Deborah D.K. Ruuskanen and Anthea Fraser Gupta
9) www.bilingualavenue.com, “7 myths about bilingual individuals that may be holding you back!” by Marianna Du Bosq
Exploring makes us human
On Columbus Day we commemorate the landing of Christopher Columbus in the New World in 1492. It was his voyage that started the exploration and colonization of the Americas. Grown-ups like Columbus have felt the need to find out what lies beyond – just like our kids feel the need to explore the world. It seems it’s part of being human, and for the little ones, a key component of a healthy development.
Same as for grown-ups, our children’s compulsion to see what lies beyond that ocean (or that closet door)—or this planet—is a defining part of their human identity and success.1 For kids, exploring means discovering their immediate surroundings, nature and the planet, and imagining going to far-away places. Our little ones are fascinated with how things work, what’s inside, and how they are built. Children learn by exploring their environment.7
Why do humans explore? “There’s a kind of madness to it. Sailing out into the ocean, you have no idea what’s on the other side. And now we go to Mars. We never stop. Why?”1 According to anthropologists, no other mammal moves around like humans do. “We jump borders. We push into new territory even when we have resources where we are. Other animals don’t do this.”1 It turns out the answer lies within our genes. There is a mutation of a gene called DRD4, which helps control dopamine, a chemical brain messenger important in learning and reward. The variant, carried by roughly 20 percent of all humans, is tied to curiosity and restlessness.1
From a developmental perspective, literature suggests that exploring ought to be encouraged in young children. “A toddler's interest in learning about the world encourages him to use his senses”7, while he will also sharpen his problem solving skills. It is also said to support social and emotional growth: a toddler explores her environment and returns to a parent when she needs help, thus becoming secure and confident.7 While exploring, toddlers also develop coordination in the muscles used to walk, run, climb and jump.7
The explorer spirit in our little ones can drive a healthy curiosity and learning about nature and our planet. To a great extent, this discovery takes place in the outdoors. Outside, toddlers learn to trust their bodies as they attempt more and more kinds of movement.3 Perhaps most importantly, by providing early experiences with nature, we support our children’s development of scientific and aesthetic thinking: “so they can ‘appreciate beauty, express creativity, and perceive patterns and variety in sensory dimensions of their worlds and themselves’”.2 Moreover, explorations of nature present great opportunities to introduce language and literacy. Experiencing real objects helps young children associate words with the objects they represent.4 Experts also suggest that introducing nature in the earliest stages of development, will make children more open to new ideas and skills, and will give them a greater understanding of our dependence on the earth’s physical environment.4
One step beyond is the benefit of learning about other countries and cultures through our kids’ natural tendency to explore. Children are naturally curious about maps and far-away lands. As children learn about the globe, they’ll start to recognize spatial distributions at all scales – which will help them understand the complex connectivity of people and places.8 Introducing our children to other peoples, will help them gain an appreciation for cultural diversity.9 Our children are already great explorers –with a little help and guidance from us, that natural trait will drive a healthy development and lots of learning.
There are tons of things we can do in our homes and outside to create better exploring opportunities for our little ones. Here is our list of top suggestions – let us know other creative ways in which you foster exploration with your kids.
Out in Nature
Collect natural items, such as rocks, sticks, sand, leaves, or flowers.2 Teach your child to gather them only for a good purpose (dry or press them or put them in a vase with water), but to never over-pick any plant or flower. “Teach your child to walk gently upon the Earth, taking only what she needs”.11 Observe butterflies and other insects. Compare different shapes of stones.
In the City
When walking outside, point out real-life urban examples of buses, trucks, cars honking horns, people crossing the street, vendors selling produce, etc., and people with their pets.3 Watch construction workers do their jobs; get close enough to lawn sprinklers to feel the drops. Step out when it’s raining or snowing: come back in and warm up together. Feed the ducks. Watch the clouds and the birds. Walk through a garden.3
Pick well-equipped playgrounds, preferably spaces that offer places where kids can dig holes and fill buckets.3
In the Grocery Store
Foster cultural diversity by selecting exotic vegetables at the produce section (like bok choy, for instance). Let the little investigators enjoy touching and smelling the stalks and observing the large green leaves. Get ready for a good meal!4
Baking and cooking usually involves props which enable toddlers to measure how much can fit in containers: cups, jugs, kettles, bottles, pots, saucepans, sieves, spoons, etc.5 Invite your little one to participate in the preparation of something fun. Like cookies!
Also, let your child wash plastic dishes with you. Or give her toys to play with in the bathtub (and be ready to mop up a mess!).7
Exploring the Globe
We can travel the world "virtually" via printed materials, community activities, and the Internet. Take advantage of activities in your area pertaining to other cultures, like food shows, folk dances, theatrical productions, and festivals. These are usually a lot of fun for children.9
Keep a map of the world in the house. Use it for play and education. Talking about the weather around the world is a great way to introduce kids to different countries, seasons and climates.10
1)www.ngm.nationalgeographic.com, “The New Age of Exploration” by David Dobbs
2)www.naeyc.org, “Exploring the Natural World with Infants and Toddlers in an Urban Setting” by Alyson E. Williams
3)www.scholastic.com, “Infants & Toddlers: Let's Go Outside!” by Alice Sterling Honig PhD
4)www.naeyc.org, “Infants and Toddlers Meet the Natural World” by Jolie D. McHenry and Kathy J. Buerk
5) www.ncca.ie, “Aistear: The Early Childhood Curriculum Framework: Exploring and Thinking”
6)www.kidshealth.org, “Safe Exploring for Toddlers”, reviewed by Mary L. Gavin, MD
7)University of Illinois Extension, “Toddlers Exploring the World”
8)www.planetfactory.com, “Why should your children be into geography?”
9)www.pregnancy.org, “Exploring That Big World Out There!”, by Lana Jordan
10)www.mamasmiles.com, “10 Tips for Raising Globally Aware Children”
11)www.childdevelopmentinfo.com, “Children are Little Scientists: Encouraging Discovery Plan” by Tim Seldinhttps://childdevelopmentinfo.com/child-development/play-work-of-children/children-little-scientists/
When it comes to kids, funny trumps serious…
“¿Qué le dijo un pez a otro pez?”
(“What did one fish say to another?”)
“¡Nada!” (this word has 2 meanings in Spanish: “nothing!” and “swim!”)
- Very funny for a 4-year-old girl…. -
Why people laugh and what humor means are not easy questions, yet we know something is funny when we see it or hear it. Our kids start doing the same as early as 18 months of age1. What is funny to them varies with their age, and some argue that little ones are only as humorous as their parents1. What is really interesting, though, is that besides triggering giggles, humor in our everyday interaction with our children is beneficial in ways we do not even imagine…and this no laughing matter. Check it out:
1) Humor is a way to teach discipline. It's a lot less stressful, and a lot more fun, to use humor and play to connect with our kids as we are setting limits and establishing discipline. Disciplining children with humor and play, “leaves everyone feeling much better than spanking children does.”7 For instance if diaper changing is a battle, instead of disciplining your kid in frustration, maybe chase her around the house, waving her diaper, while she's giggling, squealing and saying no – then you can fall down, she’ll laugh, etc.7
2) Humor helps develop children’s emotional intelligence. Among the key long-range emotional benefits of developing good humor skills during the early years is “the coping skill known to be associated with humor”4. In essence, humor helps kids gain better control of their own mood4, and this in turn will make them relate better with others.
3) Humor enhances children’s creative thinking skills. Research has shown that there is a close relationship between the mental processes involved in humor and other forms of creative thinking.4 For instance, the wordplay in double meaning jokes makes kids look at things from different perspectives, which is also key in the creative process.
4) Humor helps kids learn. While hearing or watching funny stories or funny books, children acquire new information. For example, all riddles contain background information about the world, in addition to the basic play on words. This information becomes part of “the child’s general knowledge base.”4 Humor is also said to be influential in brain development by means of increasing the flow of blood increases to the brain (when kids laugh). Also by helping children release tension, humor may increase the brain's receptivity to learning.2
5) Humor is a key part of our kids’ social skills. “Among both children and adults, humor is now understood to be one basic component of interpersonal competence”4. It is a very important social skill that will serve our kids well in the world and in interpersonal relationships going forward.4
So, get ready to do a lot more joking around with your little ones. It will certainly make life happier around the house for both, children and grown-ups, and you will be helping your kids be better persons. Don’t forget that a key to developing your kids’ sense of humor is to have fun as a family: telling funny stories jokes, playing games, watching funny movies and laughing together.3 Here are some very silly, age-appropriate ways to make your kids laugh:
Newborn to Age 1
Ages 1 to 2
Ages 2 to 4
Ages 4 to 6 (extremely silly jokes…)
(1) www.dailymail.co.uk, “How children can get jokes from the age of two (but they are only as funny as their parents)” http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2346271/How-children-jokes-age-funny-parents.html
(2) www.scholastic.com, “Ages & Stages: Don't Forget to Laugh - The Importance of Humor”, by Susan A. Miller Ed.D., Ellen Booth Church, and Carla Pool http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/article/ages-stages-dont-forget-laugh-importance-humor
(3) www.kidshealth.org, “Encouraging Your Child’s Sense of Humor”, Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD http://kidshealth.org/en/parents/child-humor.html
(4) www.LaughterRemedy.com, “How Humor Facilitates Children’s Intellectual, Social and Emotional Development”, by Paul McGhee, PhD http://www.laughterremedy.com/articles/child_development.html
(5) www.parents.com, “Why Laughter Is a Sign of Learning”, by Emily Perlman Abedon http://www.parents.com/baby/development/laughing/why-laughter-is-a-sign-of-learning/
(6) www.psychcentral.com, “Humor As a Key to Child Development”, by Lawrence Kutner, Ph.D http://psychcentral.com/lib/humor-as-a-key-to-child-development/
(7) www.webmd.com, “The Lighter Side of Parenting - using humor to discipline and teach children”, by Gina Shaw
Recent events and the ensuing heated political dialogue has made some of us think about the issue of bias, and what the right message to our children should be: should we ignore, explain or condemn what is bias and prejudice? Should we ignore or highlight differences among individuals/groups?
Most of us will agree that we all have a moral compass, and we would like to bring that out in our children. Being justice one of its pillars, the golden rule of treating others as we would like others to treat us prompts us to raise our kids without bias and prejudice
How we feel and how we behave might seem like two separate issues, yet they tend to merge together when it comes to our attitudes towards those who are different than us. That goes for both, parents and kids. As parents we need to be aware of our own potential for implicit bias (also known as implicit social cognition), which encompasses “the attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner”1. Take, for example, a woman or member of an underrepresented group who makes a point in a seminar, only to be ignored, and then a white male makes the same point a little later, only to be applauded for his insight5. This means, as role models we ought to be vigilant, since we could be eliciting biased behavior towards others without thinking we are.
On the other hand, and contrary to popular belief, studies show that our small children are not colorblind2. It seems they develop biases by ages three to five that do not necessarily resemble the attitudes of the adults who surround them2. Why? To start with, young children engage in something called “transductive reasoning” – when they see folks who are alike in one dimension (like color or gender), they think they are alike in other dimensions as well2. Kids do the same thing with objects, for instance, a child might assert that pizza is triangular in shape rather than round, because he/she has only seen single slices6.
Secondly, environments teach young children which categories seem to be most important and kids attach meaning to those social categories, without adult guidance2. For instance: “Good morning, boys and girls,” may help children infer that gender is an important social category, and they can then attach meanings to gender categories (e.g., “Girls are smarter.”)2, even if they don’t hear this from adults.
Honing on the point of social categorization4, a 2006 study (on the effects of adults' labeling and use of social groups on toddlers’ intergroup attitudes)3 showed that even in the absence of adult guidance, children developed biased attitudes as a result of simply assigning children to groups with different colors (“red or “blue”). As expected, when adults gave significance to the colors, the bias was greater3.
Making sense of all this and understanding bias is key to raising our kids without prejudice. Here are our top 5 suggestions to approach the issue sensibly with your young ones. We welcome your contributions and suggestions:
1 - Bring it up
Don’t think that young children do not notice differences or prejudice, and don’t avoid talking about it with your child in a meaningful way. The silence just keeps your child from talking about it2.
2 - Different is Beautiful
Highlight that diversity among people is a good thing, and that all colors, sizes, and shapes of people are beautiful.
3 - Be Vigilant
Watch out for manifestations of bias or biased behavior – remember children develop it on their own2.
4 - Explain
Clearly outline how biased behavior towards individuals is “not fair”. Kids have a strong sense of justice.
5 - Encourage complex thinking
Teach your child to pay attention to multiple attributes of a person or group at once, not just the most salient single one2.
(1) Understanding Implicit Bias, The Ohio State University, Kirwan Institute
(2) Children Are Not Colorblind: How Young Children Learn Race, Erin N. Winkler, Ph.D. University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
(3) Preschool children's attention to environmental messages about groups: social categorization and the origins of intergroup bias., Patterson MM, Bigler RS., US National Library of Medicine
(4) The Nature of Prejudice, Gordon Willard Allport, Perseus Publishing,1954
(5) What is Implicit Bias, Rutgers Department of Philosophy
(6) The Development of Mental Abilities, D. Elkin - Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall, www.education.com