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.

 Tired of school

Image result for apathetic students

“Academic apathy” is common in high school, writes Laura Handby Hudgens on The Federalist. She thinks  students are burning out in middle school.

“Up until sixth grade I had never made less than an A in any of my classes,” Leo told her. “By seventh grade, I was just tired. I just didn’t care anymore. I just quit trying.”

When her son started kindergarten, she “looked around his classroom and saw rows of tiny tables and chairs, but not a single toy. Where was the little kitchen with the miniature pots and pans? Where were the blocks?”

Fast-forward six years, and Johnny sounds a lot like Leo. On the one hand, he’s happy at school. He likes his friends, and he enjoys their time together at recess (all 15 minutes of it). Johnny thinks his teachers are cool. He rarely gets into trouble. He loves P.E.

 On the other hand, he dislikes actual school—the lessons, the homework, the constant rigor combined with a classroom full of apathetic peers.
By nature Johnny is inquisitive. He likes to learn. But the school day is hectic and exhausting. There’s little time for enjoying what he’s learned and even less time to enjoy being 12 years old. School has become a source of nearly constant frustration, and Johnny is tired. At the age of 12, Johnny is weary of school.
As a mother and a teacher, she thinks kids need more play, more recess, more sleep and age-appropriate instruction to avoid 12-year-old burn out.

Video trike for toddlers: More screen time!

Image result for think learn smart cycle

Fisher-Price’s new Think & Learn Smart Cycle is designed for screen-addicted toddlers, reports the New York Post.

The $150 kiddie exercycle works with various apps on Apple TV, Android TV and more.

The pitch to parents is that pedaling in front of a screen is educational, writes Susan L.M. Goldberg on PJ Media.

Youngsters who otherwise might be tiny couch potatoes can burn calories — and may even learn a thing or two — thanks to an app included with the bike that incorporates subjects like reading, math, science and social studies.

 . . . But anyone who has watched their child with an electronic toy knows how quickly they’re able to pick up on simple button-smashing sequencing without ever really processing what they hear when the button is smacked.

Preschool children spend 19 hours a week watching TV or videos, according to a Fisher-Price survey. That amounts to 21 percent of their play time.

From the age of two to five, kids should spend no more than a hour a day consuming “digital media,” recommends the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Maybe toddlers need a $20 trike they can pedal outside?

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.”

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.

Parents pay $1,000 for a week of kinder prep

For $1,000 a week, a private kindergarten prep “boot camp” will ready the children of the affluent and anxious for the “rigors of kindergarten,” reports Sonali Kohli for the Los Angeles Times.

Teacher Elizabeth Fraley teaches the days of the month to future kindergartners. Photo: Los Angeles Times

KinderPrep director Elizabeth Fraley reviews the days of the month. Photo: Katie Falkenberg/Los Angeles Times

KinderPrep, a summer program in Santa Monica, primarily enrolls kids headed for private school.

Nearly all kids in this demographic have attended one or two years of preschool. But director Elizabeth Fraley insists they need to prepare for today’s academic kindergartens, where there will be “no play.”

In addition to the group session, some of the children “had been signed up for separate one-on-one sessions that cost $120 to $200 an hour,” reports Kohli.

 In addition to writing (with help) and listening to the teacher read a book, KinderPrep students practice walking in single file and packing their materials into folders.
Children listen to a book about animals, then pin pictures of the animals to a board. Photo: Los Angeles Times

Children listen to a book about animals, then pin pictures of lions and polar bears to a board. Photo: Katie Falkenberg/Los Angeles Times

“At snack time, the children could partake in organic fruit, gummies and aloe water provided by the program, though many brought their own food because of dietary restrictions,” writes Kohli. “Fraley said she’s seen paté.”

Kindergarten isn’t just the new first grade, according to promoters of school “readiness.” It seems to be the new college — only with less play.

In my view, some parents are suckers. They read a carefully chosen book every night, feed the kids organic kale, quinoa and edamame salads and pay for the best preschool. Then they think little Aidan needs a kinder boot camp — and perhaps a $200-an-hour tutorial — so he can be the best, darn line walker and month identifier in kindergarten.

My younger (step)granddaughter will start kindergarten in a few weeks. She has a sophisticated vocabulary, a flair for math — and a lot to learn about self-control. She has time.

Why pre-K fails: Lots of lining up, little play

Preschool students from Nikki Jones' class at Porter Early Childhood Development Center in Tulsa, Okla., line up in the hallway on their way back from outside play.

Preschoolers at a Tulsa child-care center line up on their way back from a play period. Photo: John W. Poole/NPR

Federally funded pre-kindergarten won’t help poor children catch up, concludes Vanderbilt researcher Dale Farran. The quality of the free preschool isn’t good enough, she tells NPR’s Anya Kamenetz.

Farran’s research team visited federally funded preschools in Memphis and Nashville.

We know from other research that high quality preschool means lots of choice-based play in centers, small group instruction, and outdoor or gym play so that young children can move their bodies,” writes Kamenetz.

At the Tennessee preschools,  25 percent of the day “was spent in transition time: lining up for lunch, snacks, bathroom visits and switching between activities.”

By far the most common learning activity, between 20 and 25 percent of the time, was whole-group instruction.

Centers, or choice time, happened less than 15 percent of the time.

Kids had outdoor play or gym visits just 3 to 4 percent of the time — 15 minutes in an eight-hour day. In many classrooms, students never had a chance to run and play at all.

Many of the pre-K classrooms are in elementary schools, which are designed for older children, says Farran. “We really should not treat these 4-year-olds as though they are fourth-graders and can do the same things.”

In a large study of Tennessee’s state-funded pre-K, Farran found low-income children were more prepared when they started kindergarten, notes Kamenetz. “But by the second grade, those results were reversed: Children who had never attended pre-K were actually ahead of those who did.”

Kinders read more, play less

Kindergarteners are reading more and playing less, concludes a University of Virginia study.

In 1998, before No Child Left Behind put the focus on achievement gaps, 31 percent of kindergarten teachers expected their students to learn to read that year. By 2010, 80 percent believed kindergarteners should be learning to read.

Seventy-three percent of kindergarteners took a standardized test in 2010. That’s more than first graders took in 1998. Kindergarten teachers weren’t asked about testing. writes NPR’s Anya Kamenetz.

Fewer teachers offer music and art every day and there were “notable drops in teachers saying they covered science topics like dinosaurs and outer space, which kids this age find really engaging,” says Daphna Bassok, the study’s lead author.

There were large, double-digit decreases in the percentages of teachers who said their classrooms had areas for dress-up, a water or sand table, an art area or a science/nature area. And teachers who offered at least an hour a day of student-driven activities dropped from 54 to 40 percent. At the same time, whole-class, teacher-led instruction rose along with the use of textbooks and worksheets.

However, children are more likely to have recess and just as likely to have a P.E. class.

With the sharp rise in preschool enrollment, teachers may expect more from students, writes Kamenetz. That leads to a sort of academic arms race: 1 in 5 kindergarteners is already six years old as more parents may wait a year to enroll a child who’s not ready for reading, ‘riting, ‘rithmetic and testing.

Safe and sterile

Free-ranger Lenore Skenazy likes this Doonesbury cartoon about ultra-safe playgrounds and the mothers who insist other mothers play by their rules.

In Australia, kindergarten gives ‘gun’ licenses


Children can play with toy guns, if they have a license, at a Queensland, Australia kindergarten.

Playing with toy guns is OK at an Australian kindergarten — with a “license.” Kilkivan Kindergarten, located in a rural area where many parents own guns, decided to teach responsible gun play, reports the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Australia’s gun control laws make it hard — but not impossible — to own handguns and rifles.

Children must understand and agree to follow the “safe play rules” or lose their gun for the day.

“We don’t allow projectile guns, I think that is one thing that is a little bit risky, but they have handmade wooden guns that Dad’s made for them or a water squirter gun [with no water],” said Anne Bicknell, the school’s director.

Guns are locked in a cabinet when not in use. “When they want to play with it they get their licence first and then come and ask for their gun,” she explained. “They’re not allowed to lend their gun to anybody else; it’s their gun and their licence to use it.”