Learning to fall down


Japanese children ride unicycles without helmets or kneepads.  Photo: Ko Sasaki/New York Times

Japanese elementary schools supply “unicycles, bamboo stilts, hula hoops and other equipment that promotes balance and core strength,” reports the New York Times. Kids play, fall and get back up without protective gear or adult supervision.

During a recent morning recess at Kyuden Elementary School in the Setagaya ward of Tokyo, children raced to a rack of more than 80 unicycles with brightly colored wheels and began riding around the sand and gravel playground.

Some children were just learning, clinging to monkey bars or the shoulders of friends. Others sped fluidly across the playground for more than 20 yards at a time. Pairs of girls twirled around, arm in arm and perfectly balanced. Several girls rode unicycles close to four and a half feet tall.

Children learn on their own or to teach one another to ride unicycles, says the vice principal.

Riding unicycles is part of a culture that urges elementary school-age children to do things on their own, including taking the subway or walking around city neighborhoods.

“I see kids being challenged and encouraged to do things that I have never seen kids encouraged to do in the U.S.,” said Matthew Thibeault, an American who teaches at a middle school affiliated with Toyama University on the west coast of Japan, “and a lot of equipment that would be considered risky.”

Via Ann Althouse who quotes Bill Bryson’s The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid— about being an American kid the 1950s:

In such a world, injuries and other physical setbacks were actually welcomed. If you got a splinter you could pass an afternoon, and attract a small devoted audience, seeing how far you could insert a needle under your skin—how close you could get to actual surgery. If you got sunburned you looked forward to the moment when you could peel off a sheet of translucent epidermis that was essentially the size of your body. Scabs in Kid World were cultivated the way older people cultivate orchids. I had knee scabs that I kept for up to four years, that were an inch and three-quarters thick and into which you could press thumbtacks without rousing my attention.

In Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons, a 1930 book set in England’s Lake District, children ranging in age from seven to (maybe) 11 or 12 want to sail to an island and camp out for several weeks. Their father, a Naval or Merchant Marine officer, telegraphs his permission: “Better drowned than duffers if not duffers won’t drown.”

On the ‘Edge of 17’

Edge of Seventeen, a new coming-of-age movie, is getting very good reviews.

Hailee Steinfeld’s Nadine plays an odd duck worried about losing her best friend to her golden boy brother. Nadine connects with her history teacher (Woody Harrelson), in what Ed Week calls a 1980s high school movie for the social media generation. There’s also the nice guy who wants to be more than friends.

Teachers, parents say kids are disrespectful

Fifty-eight percent of teachers and 67 percent of parents say most children are disrespectful, according to a Sesame Workshop survey.

In addition, 70 percent of parents worry that the world is “an unkind place for my child,” reports USA Today.

Sesame Workshop’s Jennifer Kotler Clarke is unhappy that 58 percent of parents think “manners” are more important than “empathy.”

“We really need to talk about the deepness that comes with behaviors around kindness,” she said. “It’s not just the surface, smiling around people and opening a door, saying ‘Please’ and ‘Thank you,’ all of which are important. But it doesn’t end there. It needs to be even deeper than that. In fact, sociopaths and bullies can have very good manners and be polite.”

As a parent, I taught manners first. Behave properly, whatever you think of others. Kids may develop empathy over time. In some cases, it’s very difficult.  They can learn manners at a very young age.

“Sesame plans to offer online tools to parents and educators to teach kindness, including a new website on the topic and a YouTube playlist of clips,” reports USA Today. “It’ll also build the upcoming season of Sesame Street around themes of kindness and empathy.”

Onion: More 5th graders take gap year

“A growing number of American fifth-graders are opting to take a gap year to unwind from the stresses of elementary education and recharge themselves before taking on the rigors of middle school,” reports The Onion. “It may soon be the norm for kids to spend a year learning a specialized skill, such as getting really good at riding their bike with no hands or seeing how many Twizzlers they can fit in their mouth, rather than reflexively moving up to the next grade.”

School bans clapping, OKs wriggling

Clapping is banned at school assemblies at an Australian elementary school near Sydney, reports The Herald Sun. It’s too noisy.

“Instead of clapping, the students are free to punch the air, pull excited faces and wriggle about on the spot,” the Elanora Heights school newsletter reported. “When you attend an assembly, teachers will prompt the audience to conduct a silent cheer if it is needed.” Silent cheers are “a great way to expend children’s energy and reduce fidgeting.”

In response to loud jeers, an education official said a teacher with hearing aids has trouble with noise at assemblies.

Some Australian schools have banned hugging. Photo: Brendan Radke/Gold Coast Bulletin

Some Australian schools have banned hugging. Photo: Brendan Radke/Gold Coast Bulletin

Cheering is normal behavior, writes Lenore Skenazy on Reason. “The song doesn’t go, ‘If you’re happy and you know it, noiselessly wriggle’.”

If the hypersensitive rule, “all of human interaction is up for banning: hugs (for those sensitive to touch), hellos (for those sensitive to interaction), handshakes (for those with OCD),” she writes.

In a “political correctness outbreak,” Australian schools “have banned hugging, singing Christmas carols, celebrating Australia Day and singing the word ‘black” in the nursery rhyme ‘baa baa black sheep’,” reports Downtrend.

An exclusive girls’ school told teachers to use “gender-neutral” terms instead of “ladies” or “women” to respect the sensitivities of lesbian and transgender students.

The trouble with day care

Full-time, “commercialized” child care can harm some children, write Carrie Lukas and Steven E. Rhoads in National Affairs. It’s a mistake to subsidize child-care centers, instead of helping parents choose a full range of options, they argue.

Psychologists, journalists, policy makers minimize the risks and laud the benefits of day care, write Lukas, a mother of five who uses part-time care, and Rhoads. They don’t want to hear any bad news.

Quebec began offering nearly-free child care in 1997. Child outcomes have worsened.

Quebec began offering nearly-free child care in 1997. Child outcomes have worsened.

Researchers stress that the negative effectives on children’s behavior are balanced by cognitive gains.

A study published in 2010 concluded that “the overall effect of 1st-year maternal employment on child development is neutral.” Mothers should feel no qualms about returning to work in their child’s first year, one child-development expert told the Washington Post.

But the study showed negative effects for children whose mothers returned to work earlier in the first year and for those in full-time care, write Lukas and Rhoads.

Results matched a 2002 study by Jay Belsky, which concluded that “early” and “extensive” non-maternal care posed “developmental risks for young children.”

Belsky’s follow-up study, “virtually ignored” by the media, he complains, showed that positive and negative child-care effects persisted at age 15. More “time in child care through the first 54 months of life, irrespective of quality or type of care, (predicted) more risk taking behavior and impulsivity.”

Children who started day care in Quebec at young ages are more likely to be aggressive and anxious as teens.

Children who started day care in Quebec at young ages are more likely to be aggressive and anxious as teens.

Quebec began offering heavily subsidized universal child care in 1997, write Lukas and Rhoads. Parents paid only $5 a day.

A serious of studies have found significantly worse outcomes for children linked to how young they were when they started child care and hours in care.

A 2014 studied found children who started child care at younger ages “experience significantly larger negative impacts on motor-social developmental scores, self-reported health status and behavioral outcomes including physical aggression and emotional anxiety.”

A 2015 follow-up study found  “little impact on cognitive test scores” in the long term, but persistent problems with anxiety, aggression, and hyperactivity as children got older. Teens who’d spent more time in subsidized child car were more likely to commit crimes.

One group benefited from care: Children from lower socio-economic backgrounds who started child care at age three.

NPR reports on what good preschool looks like in four states.

Hyperactive — or just young?

Many children diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder are just immature, suggests a study in Taiwan. Children who are young for their grade are much more likely to be diagnosed with ADHD, reports The Telegraph.

Only 2.8 percent of boys born in September, the oldest in the class in Taiwan schools, are diagnosed with ADHD. The rate is 4.5 percent for boys born in August, who are the youngest in the class.

For girls, the rate of ADHD diagnoses rose from 0.7 to 1.2 per cent, depending on birth month.

Teachers may be comparing the behavior of younger children to their older, more mature classmates, researchers concluded.

How many ADHD kids just need more time to learn how to focus their attention — and instead get medication?

Raising a creative child — not a gifted sheep

To raise a creative child, parents need to back off, writes Adam Grant in the New York Times. A professor of management and psychology at Penn’s Wharton School, he’s the author of Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World.

“Practice makes perfect, but it doesn’t make new,” writes Grant. Tiger Moms and Lombardi Dads raise their prodigies to become “excellent sheep” who crave the approval of their parents and teachers.

“The gifted learn to play magnificent Mozart melodies, but rarely compose their own original scores. They focus their energy on consuming existing scientific knowledge, not producing new insights.”

“Only a fraction of gifted children eventually become revolutionary adult creators,” writes psychologist Ellen Winner.

Parents of highly creative children set few rules, instead stressing moral values, one study found.

When the psychologist Benjamin Bloom led a study of the early roots of world-class musicians, artists, athletes and scientists, he learned that their parents didn’t dream of raising superstar kids. . . . They responded to the intrinsic motivation of their children.

Nobel Prize-winning scientists aren’t single-minded, Grant writes. Compared to other scientists, they’re “22 times more likely to perform as actors, dancers or magicians; 12 times more likely to write poetry, plays or novels; seven times more likely to dabble in arts and crafts; and twice as likely to play an instrument or compose music.”

Merry Christmas

Have a jolly holiday.

Dutch treat: Happy kids, relaxed moms

Dutch children are the happiest kids in the world, according to an international survey. Dutch moms may be “the most relaxed mothers in the world,” writes Mihal Greener, who’s raising her family in the Netherlands.

The Dutch “aren’t encouraged to stand out or be different,” so parents don’t pressure their children to be exceptional, writes Greener.

Dutch primary schools rarely assign homework. Students get one free afternoon a week.

Part-time work is the norm for Dutch mothers, she writes. “By removing the worry of losing your identity to motherhood, or the stress of not being able to remember the last time you were home before 10 p.m., working part-time makes it that much easier to enjoy the time you have with your kids.”

I worked part-time till my daughter was eight years old. I loved it.