Onion: Fisher-Price releases Fetal Activity Gym

Fisher-Price has released a new “in utero fetal activity gym,” reports The Onion.

“Whether they’re batting at the friendly toucans in order to harden their cartilage into bone or tapping the multicolored light-up palm tree to test out their sense of vision once their eyes open at 28 weeks, the Fisher-Price Rainforest Friends Prenatal Activity Gym is guaranteed to give your fetus a head start and keep it happy and occupied,” said director of marketing Kevin Goldbaum, adding that the eight different preloaded songs will help fetuses grow the thalamic brain connections needed to process sound.

It’s satire. But just barely.

Sex-change guide for kids riles Brits

Can I Tell You About Gender Diversity?, which will be introduced at some British primary schools, is — surprise! — causing controversy, writes Ian Miles Cheong on Heat Street.

Some are saying “no” to the book, which will be distributed by a government-funded organization, Educate and Celebrate, for use in primary schools.

Written by CJ Atkinson, a self-described “trans advocate,” the book aims to teach children as young as seven about gender identity and is told from the point of view of a child unhappy with their gender.

Kit, who’s 12, explains:

“When I was born, the doctors told my mum and dad that they had a baby girl, and so for the first few years of my life that’s how my parents raised me. This is called being assigned female at birth. I wasn’t ever very happy that way.”

Kit takes puberty-blocking drugs, wears boys’ clothes, becomes “he” and discusses sex-change surgery. “His friends include a genderfluid student who goes by ‘they’ and another who uses the ‘xe’ pronoun,” writes Cheong.

If families fail, what can schools do?

Who’s your daddy? asks Ian Rowe, a Fordham fellow, who leads two charter schools in the South Bronx. That’s the message on two mobile DNA testing labs that roam the neighborhood.

Education reformers believe that “a child born or raised in a low-income neighborhood should not be destined for a life of poverty,” writes Rowe. “But what happens when poverty is intertwined with widespread fatherlessness and family disintegration?”

Perhaps it is time to confess, somewhat reluctantly, that even the most high-performing schools are necessary but insufficient to overcome the challenges children face when they live in low-income communities in which family instability is the norm.

Poverty isn’t new, he writes. “In 1960, fewer than 5 percent of all births in the US were out of wedlock; today it’s more than 40 percent.”

Schools should teach children that their life decisions, such as finishing school, getting a job and marrying before having children, will affect their adult success, Rowe writes.

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For children born into poor, single-parent families, preschool starts too late, concludes a paper by economist James Heckman and colleagues. Two 1970s’ experiments, which provided full-time care from cradle (eight weeks of age) to kindergarten, provided lasting benefits, they conclude.

Government-funded preschool has failed to deliver on promises of massive social benefits, counters Joy Pullman in The Federalist.

Now Heckman says it must “start at birth” to affect language development.

Advantaged children hear millions more words by the age of five than disadvantaged children, Heckman told NPR. The way to close the gap is “reading to the child, by encouraging the child.”

That’s what parents — especially married parents — do, writes Pullman. Yet, “two in five children” are “born into a kind of home that social scientists on both the Left and Right unanimously agree sets them up to fail.”

Choosers like their schools

Charter parents are considerably more satisfied with their children’s schools than are district-school parents, according to a new Education Next survey. Private-school parents are the happiest of all.

Parents report less disruption at charter schools than at district schools, the study found. On some measures, charter parents “seem to be in closer contact with their school than parents in either the district or private sector.”

A 2012 Education Department survey provides similar results: Private school parents are the most satisfied and charter parents come next, followed by parents whose children attend a district school of choice. Those whose children were assigned to a district school are the least satisfied.

The Obama administration never reported the charter school results, writes Paul Peterson, a Harvard professor who directs the Program on Education Policy and Governance, in the Wall Street Journal. “By appointing Betsy DeVos, Donald Trump is listening to parents and acknowledging that it’s time to begin thinking outside the public-school box.”

That 2012 survey also found that charter-school parents are considerably more likely than district-school parents to be black or Hispanic and less likely to have a college degree or to earn $75,000 or more. District-choice parents are whiter, more educated and more affluent than assigned-school parents.

Check out interactive graphics at Results from the 2016 EdNext Parents Survey and Results from the National Center for Education Statistics 2012 Parents Survey.

A plurality of millennials think private schools provide the best education, but they don’t vote for pro-choice candidates, writes Ashley Bateman in The Federalist.

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.”

Bilingual ed: Will parents get to choose?

Alice Callaghan runs an English-only preschool at Las Familias Del Pueblos in Los Angeles. Photo:  Morgan Walker/NPR

California voters are expected to “bring back” bilingual education, nearly two decades after the “English for the Children” initiative, Proposition 227, won in a landslide.

Proposition 58 has flown completely under the radar. Because of the ballot language says the goal is English proficiency (everybody likes that!), voters may not realize their voting for teaching English by teaching Spanish and other languages.

California never banned bilingual ed, but Proposition 227 required that parents sign a waiver each year if they want their child taught in a language other than English. Most immigrant parents did not.

As a result, schools had to dump low-quality, dumbed-down bilingual ed and design programs that parents would choose. Double-immersion programs are very popular with middle-class, English-speaking parents who want their kids to be multilingual.

If Proposition 58 passes, will educators try to force Latino kids into Spanish-language classes without parental consent? Will they try to teach with aides — very, very common in the old days — when they can’t find enough bilingual teachers? (Bilingual teachers remain in short supply.) They’d be crazy to go back to the old system. I think they’re smarter than that. I hope.

In Mike’s playborhood, kids take risks


Children jump from the playhouse roof to the trampoline in Mike Lanza’s backyard in Menlo Park, CA. Photo: Holly Andres/New York Times.

As the “anti-helicopter parent,” Mike Lanza has turned his Silicon Valley home into a not-very-safe play zone, writes Melanie Thernstrom in the New York Times Magazine. He wants his three “boys to have a normal childhood, while complaining that his idea of normal is no longer normal.”

Kids need a chance to play outdoors, their own way, Lanza believes. Neighborhood kids are welcome to play in his yard at any time — without an adult to supervise.

“His free-time-is-for-goofing-around ethos is particularly anomalous in Silicon Valley,” writes Thernstrom, whose kids were preschool classmates of Lanza’s youngest boy. The area is full of “former engineers, executives and other highly educated women who have renounced work in favor of what they call uber-parenting.”

. . . .  parents think they should be producing model kids, optimized kids, kids with extra capacity and cool features: kids who have start-ups (or at least work at one); do environmental work in the Galápagos; speak multiple languages; demonstrate a repeatable golf swing; or sing arias. To a comical extent, parents here justify the perverted ambition through appeals to research (enlarging the language center of the brain and so forth) while ignoring research on the negative effects on children of being micromanaged.

A high-tech entrepreneur, Lanza is the author of Playborhood and writes a blog on turning neighborhoods into communities where kids can play outside.

I’ve walked past the Lanza house, which is in a lovely, expensive neighborhood near Stanford. I also did some freelance editing for his wife (who is not that happy about her kids playing on the roof) years ago.

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.”

As kids grow, low-income parents lose hope

When children start elementary school, their parents have high hopes. But low-income parents lower their expectations for their kids as they go through elementary school, writes Peter DeWitt on Ed Week‘s Finding Common Ground blog.

Educators need to “drop the educational lingo and acronyms,”  he suggests or teach parents “the language of learning.”

Not everyone can master Buzzword Bingo.

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Help ‘first teachers’ do better

Parents are children’s first teachers, says everyone. But engaging low-income, poorly educated parents in their children’s learning has proven to be difficult, writes Bellwether’s Sara Mead. We don’t know what works. Until now.

Image result for black parents play with young children

ParentCorps, which trains preschool parents and teachers, is producing long-term results, concludes a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

“By 2nd grade, children who participated in ParentCorps had fewer mental health problems and better academic achievement” than non-participants, writes Mead.

Most children came from low-income, black families in New York City.

ParentCorps build children’s academic abilities and supports their “social, emotional, and behavioral regulation skills.” It’s not either/or.

Los Angeles Unified is expanding on-campus parent centers that provide a place for parents to learn English, discuss school issues and do projects for teachers. Engaging parents improves student attendance, school officials believe.