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 spend more time with kids

Michaela Fox at home in Box Hill, Melbourne, with daughters Amber, Holly ... ‘They are just weaving their own na...

Michaela Fox with her daughters in Melbourne, Australia. Photo: David Geraghty/News Limited

Parents are spending a lot more time with their children, according to a study that compares parenting from 1965 to 2012. In 10 of 11 Western nations (France is the outlier), mothers and fathers have increased their parenting time significantly.

“When a parent spends more time with a child, it has been shown to improve his or her language skills, brain development, social behavior, and more,” writes Megan Scudellari in the Boston Globe.

In 1965, mothers spent an average of 54 minutes per day on activities with their children: feeding them, reading to them, putting them to bed. Moms in 2012, however, averaged almost twice that, spending 104 minutes per day with their offspring. Fathers had an even more dramatic increase: Their time with kiddos nearly quadrupled, from a daily average of just 16 minutes in 1965 to 59 minutes in 2012.

Educated parents were more involved with their children, the study found.

College-educated moms averaged 123 minutes daily on child care, compared with 94 minutes spent by less educated mothers. Fathers with a college degree spent about 74 minutes a day with their kids, while less educated dads averaged 50 minutes.

The “intensive parenting” trend is spreading from well-educated to less-educated parents, said co-author Judith Treas, a UC-Irvine sociology professor. “The time parents spend with children is regarded as critical for positive cognitive, behavioral and academic outcomes.”

Intensive parenting can be exhausting, warns Scary Mommy.

Condoms, contraceptives and kindergarten

The school readiness gap between children from affluent nad lower-income families is narrowing, researchers report. Poor kids are starting with better reading and math skills.

Image result for mother child goodnight moon

It could be condoms and contraceptives, writes Derek Thompson in The Atlantic.

Teen pregnancy is way down in recent years: The teen birth rate has fallen almost by half since 1990, Thompson writes. Adolescents aren’t having less sex, but they’re much more likely to use contraceptives.

As a result, fewer children are being born to young, single, low-income girls and women.

In the 1970s, most mothers — rich or poor — had children in their early 20s, writes Thompson. That’s changed, writes sociologist Robert Putnam in Our Kids. College graduates are marrying and having children in their late 20s and early 30s, “while moms with just a high-school education or less become moms at the average age of 19.”

An astonishing 65 percent of all mothers with no more than a high-school degree are unmarried at the time of their child’s birth; that figure has tripled since 1980. (By comparison, 90 percent of new moms who finished college are married.) Too often, rich kids have two intentional parents armed with childrearing books and newfangled toys for infants, while poor kids have one accidental parent armed with none of that.

Children born to poor single mothers get less parental attention, writes Thompson. Often the mother is working and the father is absent. The kids miss out on what Putnam calls “Goodnight Moon time.”

Babar’s Mom: Is read-aloud ‘editing’ OK?

When I read Babar the Elephant to my little daughter, I always skipped the page that shows his mother killed by a hunter. We left the reason for his orphaned state unexplained.

Image result for babar's mother dies

One day, she turned the page herself, saw the picture of the dying mother and was somewhat upset.

Of course, I realized that Babar celebrates French imperialism, but let that go.

On Slate, YiLing Chen-Josephson defends “parents editing objectionable material out of children’s books while reading aloud.”

Maurice Sendak’s Pierre was a favorite of her own childhood. She loved the illustrations, but not the “cautionary” story.

There was once a boy named Pierre
Who only would say “I don’t care!”

One day his mother said
When Pierre climbed out of bed
“Good morning, darling boy, you are my only joy”
Pierre said, “I don’t care!”
“What would you like to eat?”
“I don’t care!”
“Some lovely cream of wheat?”
“I don’t care!”

She was reluctant to introduce her son to “ennui, to disaffection, to insubordination” — even if the alternative was to “defang this book of its glorious mischief.” In her home, Pierre only says “I care!”

Of course, the book made no sense that way. Mom asks: “What would you like to eat?” Pierre responds: “I care!”

It also spoiled Sendak’s narrative arc, which shows Pierre eventually learning to care.

Fellow parents tell Josephson they flip past “outrageously racist illustrations” in childhood favorites.

(See Surprise! It’s Racist! for a review of all the politically incorrect things in classic children’s books: African cannibals, slant-eyed Chinese coolies, etc.

Other parents add make half the trucks female in Goodnight, Goodnight, Construction Site or say “firefighter” instead of “fireman.”

And sometimes a parent has to go a little farther, making an executive decision that the creatures of the forest loved Snow White not because she was “beautiful and gentle” but because “she worked hard and tried new things.”

One mother was “horrified” to realize that Eloise  is a brat rather than a good role model for her daughter, writes Josephson.

I have to say: The fact that Eloise is a spoiled brat is the point of the whole story.

And Pierre is about a kid who doesn’t care.

For some books, if you don’t like it, don’t read it.

Knives, fire and fear at Yellowstone

Image result for yellowstone parkWaterfall at Yellowstone National Park

After observing his eight-year-old son’s anxious approach to trick-or-treating, Jonathan Last decided Cody needed a dash of adventure, he writes in Weekly Standard.

This summer, he took his son to Yellowstone “for a week of camping and communing with nature in all her brutal splendor.”

Neither a free-range nor a helicopter parent, he believes, Last sees himself as “a Predator-drone parent: always watching, but from a distance, often unseen, and able to call in close-air support as needed.”

He gave Cody a Swiss Army knife. He was entranced.

He stroked it, examined it, fidgeted with it. He picked through all seven of its tools, studying them individually, and then splayed them out at once like a peacock. He began inventing scenarios where he might use it: “If a tree falls on our campsite, I could use the saw to cut it apart,” he said. “And if a snake bites one of us, I could use the leather punch to drill another hole so we could suck out even more venom,” he said. “If a bear attacks us on a hike, I can use the knife to fight him,” he said. This last scenario burned so brightly in his imagination that he decided to keep the knife in a sheath on his belt. Just in case.

Even more than the knife, Cody loved the campfire.

He devises needlessly intricate methods of starting the fires. He burns everything he can find—paper towels, sticks, dried pine needles, bits of croissant. One night in Yellowstone he took the cardboard center from a roll of paper towels, stuffed it with pinecones and bits of newspaper, punctured air-holes in it with the corkscrew of his Swiss Army knife, and then dropped it in the fire. His face transformed into something resembling the ecstasy of St. Teresa.

Last told his son how to whittle, cutting away from the body, and how to douse embers of a fire, but tried not to hover.

Every day they hiked. One day, they heard a growl, which could have been a bear — or not. They pulled out their bear spray, listened to see where the growler was moving and hiked on.

After a few minutes, when we were clear, Cody looked up at me and said evenly, “Dad, that’s the most scared I’ve ever been in my entire life.”

And so I told him that fear is natural and that there’s nothing wrong with it. That anyone would be scared in a moment like that. But what’s important is that you put your fear to one side so that you can think clearly and do whatever needs to be done.

His son knows “about the fears that middle-class kids carry around these days — about making friends and fitting in and achieving whatever it is their parents hope for them,” writes Last. But until he came to Yellowstone, “he knew nothing about real fear.”

Mastering fear “used to come as a matter of routine to nearly every boy,” he writes. That was before middle-class parents “turned our country into one gigantic safe space.”

Low-income parents are doing more

Image result for black parents children reading
The kindergarten readiness gap seems to be narrowing, according to new research. Children starting kindergarten are better prepared than in the past — and students from low-income families and Hispanics are catching up, reports Ed Week‘s Inside School Research.

Poor students kept their gains at least through 4th grade, according to reading and math results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress, but the gaps did not continue to close after children entered school, (researcher Sean) Reardon noted.

Lower-income, less-educated parents are doing more to prepare their children for school, researchers concluded.

“Parents are more likely to report reading to their kids, playing with their kids, taking them on outings to the library or the zoo,” said Daphna Bassok, a University of Virginia education professor.

Study: Head Start boosts grad rates

Head Start has long-term benefits , according to an analysis by Brookings’ Hamilton Project.

Head Start participants are more likely to graduate from high school, attend college, and receive a post-secondary degree or certification, the study found.

As adults, they’re more likely to use “positive parenting” practices with their children.

Especially for black children, “Head Start also causes social, emotional, and behavioral development in participants that are evident in adulthood measures of self-control, self-esteem and positive parenting.”

Head Start participants were compared with siblings who attended other preschool  programs or none at all.

The analysis suggests that the alternative to Head Start is a very bad preschool, writes Kevin Drum in Mother Jones. “Those green bars . . . show Head Start having a bigger effect compared to other preschools than it does compared to no preschool at all. That can only happen if the other preschools were collectively worse than doing nothing.”

Of course, “doing nothing” means spending time with Mom or Grandma. It’s not surprising that low-income mothers often have to settle for low-quality preschools.

Head Start students in Tulsa. Photo: John W. Poole/NPR

Head Start students in Tulsa. Photo: John W. Poole/NPR

Tulsa’s high-quality Head Start program is producing academic gains in middle school, another study concludes.

“Children who attended Head Start had higher test scores on state math tests” in eighth grade, says Deborah Phillips, a Georgetown psychology professor.  “They were less likely to be retained and less likely to display chronic absenteeism.”

Latino students, including those from Spanish-speaking homes, showed gains. However, black boys did not benefit and there were no gains in reading.

Boston’s preschool success is “percolating up” to higher grades, writes Lillian Mongeau.


Time‘s cover story on Super-Siblings — successful brothers and sisters who didn’t come from wealthy families — features the Wojcicki sisters: Susan is the CEO of YouTube, Janet is a professor of pediatrics and epidemiology at University of California, San Francisco, and Anne is the CEO and co-founder of genetics company 23andMe.

Their mother, known as Woj, is a brilliant journalism teacher at Palo Alto High, where my daughter was one of her students.

Stanley and Esther Wojcicki with their daughters

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.

Parenting and the poverty gap

Poor kids are behind — way behind — on the first day of school, said Jane Waldfogel, a Columbia professor, at an Education Writers Association discussion on equity, poverty, and education. Seventy percent of the achievement gap at age 11 was there when lower-income children started kindergarten, she said.

Boston has launched a campaign called “The Boston Basics,” led by Ronald Ferguson’s Achievement Gap Initiative at Harvard, to help parents nurture their children in the first three years of life.

There are five basics: maximize love and manage stress; talk, sing, and point; count, group, and compare; explore through movement and play; and read and discuss stories.

Paul Tough, author of Helping Children Succeed, talked about improving children’s environment at home and at school.

When kids grow up in a calm, nurturing environment their brains send them signals to relax, and that encourages them to be curious and take risks, Tough explained. In contrast, kids who live in chaotic environments get brain signals that fire up “fight-or-flight” responses, he said.

“It’s hard for them to concentrate,” Tough explained. “They’re distracted by the emotions and anxieties that are flooding their nervous systems.”

Grit and resilience can’t be taught like math or reading, writes Tough in The Atlantic. However, some teachers and schools are able to reach stressed students.

The central premise of EL schools is that character is built . . .  through the experience of persevering as students confront challenging academic work.

. . . In general, when schools do try to directly address the impact that a stress-filled childhood might have on disadvantaged students, the first—and often the only—approach they employ has to do with their students’ emotional health, with relationships and belonging.

That’s not enough, writes Tough. “For a student to truly feel motivated by and about school, he also has to perceive that he is doing work that is challenging, rigorous, and meaningful.”