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Proud moment from the parents of an 8-year-old…

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Smart talk

Aneisha Newell, playing with daughter Alona Sharp and son Amod Newell, uses fewer directives with her children since participating in the Thirty Million Words trial, instead asking open-ended questions that give them an opportunity to respond.
Aneisha Newell, playing with children Alona and Amod, asks more open-ended questions. —Photo by Kim Palmer/Hechinger Report

Poorly educated, low-income, single mothers will talk to their babies — developing their language skills — if someone tells them it matters, writes Sara Neufeld in Slate. That’s the idea behind Chicago’s Thirty Million Words Project, which was started by a surgeon who does cochlear implants to help deaf children hear. Dana Suskind noticed the children of educated parents learned to talk quickly, once they could hear. Disadvantaged children were slow to develop language.The Thirty Million Words curriculum is delivered in 12 weekly home visits.

Every week, a young child in a participating family would spend a day wearing a small electronic device in a shirt pocket to record the number of words heard and spoken, plus the number of “turns” in a conversation—the amount of back-and-forth between parent and child. Words heard on television did not count.

Shurand Adams, 25, dropped out of high school to work at McDonald’s. She thought her 3-year-old daughter’s education would begin in kindergarten. The home visitor encouraged her to read to her daughter and pause to let her respond.

 She learned to continually engage her daughter in conversation, whether about food names in the grocery store or colors in the park. “Now I know I can just have a regular conversation with her,” Adams said. “Just ask her about her day, even if I can’t understand half of it.” She was teaching Teshyia the letters of her name on the day I met them, and she’s considering possibilities for continuing her own education.

In low-income households, parents often speak to their children in simple commands, writes Neufeld. Aneisha Newell has changed that.

“Instead of saying, ‘go put on your shoes,’ I can say, ‘All right, it’s time to go. What else do you need? … That gives my child the chance to respond, and say, ‘shoes,’ ” said Newell, 25, who has a 4-year-old daughter and a 10-month-old son and works for a company providing recess supervision and after-school activities in Chicago Public Schools.

Newell said many of her friends and relatives think she’s crazy for talking to her daughter as if she’s an adult. “I can quote this: ‘Neisha, no one wants to sit and talk to the kids like they understand’ That’s basically the response I get.”

Her daughter peppers her with questions. She can spell her first and last names, recite her address and phone number, recognize and spell colors, and count to 200.

Job 1: Educating for self-sufficient citizenship

Education young people to be self-sufficient citizens is Job 1 for public education, writes Mike Petrilli on Ed Week‘s Bridging Differences.

“College and career” readiness isn’t enough,he writes. We need citizenship readiness. (Citizenship First suggests that every high school graduate should be able to pass the U.S. Naturalization Exam. See how you do here.)

The most basic requirement of citizenship is self-sufficiency, Petrilli argues.

If we haven’t prepared our young people to be financially self-sufficient once they finish their educations, we have failed our most fundamental duty. And the “we” is meant to be inclusive: our education system, our social service agencies, our families, our churches, all of us.

There are two ways to help children, writes Derek Thompson in The Atlantic. We can try to “make bad parents less relevant” or “make bad parents less bad.”  He puts preschool and education reform in the first category; home visits and parent training — which smack of “Big Mother” — are in the second.

These programs “help at the margins but they aren’t breaking the cycle of poverty,” writes Petrilli.

Let me float a third option: A renewed effort to encourage young, uneducated, unemployed women to delay childbearing until they are ready–emotionally, financially–to start a family. Let’s promote a simple rule: Don’t have babies until you can afford them. If everybody in America followed this rule, most long-term child poverty would disappear, and parenting would improve dramatically.

. . . Social scientists have long known about the “success sequence”: Finish your education, get a job, get married, start a family. Stick to that sequence and you avoid poverty, and so do your kids.

Petrilli asks Deborah Meier, the other half of the Bridging Differences dialogue, if schools can encourage students to follow the “success sequence.” Offer effective pregnancy prevention programs?

Should we consider paying low-income individuals to put off childrearing? Mayor Bloomberg is already experimenting with cash incentives to encourage all manner of positive behaviors. Maybe offer “25 by 25″: All young men and women who graduate from high school get a post-secondary credential, get a job, and avoid a pregnancy and a prison record get $25,000 in cash at the age of twenty-five. Is that worth trying?

Or is the best way for schools to tackle this issue simply to provide a top-grade education to their charges? To instill in them the “hope in the unseen” that they, too, can aspire to college, to a good career, to an early adulthood full of intellectual and social and emotional challenges and experiences, not to include parenthood (yet)?

I wish schools would teach this statistic: Ninety percent of children born to an unmarried teen-ager who hasn’t finished high school will grow up in poverty. If the mother waits to have her first child till she finishes high school, turns 20 and marries, the risk her children will be poor is 9 percent. They could add the stats on the percentage of unmarried fathers are supporting or visiting their children after the first few years.

There needs to be more focus on showing young men from low-income single-parent families how to qualify for a decent job with or without a college degree. One path to success– a bachelor’s degree or bust — isn’t enough.

Update: When parents have conversations with their children, it makes a huge difference, writes Annie Murphy Paul. Robert Pondiscio responds:  ”On my bucket list of ed projects: a PSA campaign to inform low-income parents on the benefits of reading to kids and engaging them in conversation. Cognitive development classes in inner-city hospitals can teach inner city parents the habits that more affluent parents do reflexively. And if the Gates Foundation wants to help, let’s get low-cost books — say 25 cents apiece — into inner city bodegas.”

Am I a bad mom if my kids aren’t superstars?

Back-to-School Night Made Me Feel Like a Bad Mom, complains Jessica Lahey in The Atlantic.

When I left the house for parent-teacher night, I was a good mom. My younger son was doing his homework, and my older son was in his room practicing the opening riff of “Don’t Fear the Reaper” on the guitar.

. . . Kevin’s mom was out of breath because they had to rush to school from his cello lesson and Ilse’s swim team practice. Heather came in late because her daughter, one of the top Nordic ski racers in the northeast, was at dry-land training. Jason and Brian, on the other hand, were on time–because they stay after school to help with math tutoring and soccer practice. Suddenly, my sons’ after-school activities seemed less impressive.

. . . My younger son had spent his afternoon not at dry-land training, but in the backyard, whittling a sorcerer’s staff out of a stick with one of my good kitchen knives.

The compulsion to compete for most outstanding child has been named Pressured Parents Phenomenon by Wendy Grolnick, a Clark psychology professor. Competitive parenting is contagious, says Grolnick.

Lahey includes tips to “vaccinate” yourself against PPP. I will summarize: Chill.

Living like it’s 1986

Blair McMillan wanted to go outside to kick a ball to his five-year-old son, but Trey didn’t want to leave dad’s iPad. Blair and girlfriend Morgan banned all post-1986 technology from their home for a year, reports the Toronto Sun. Both parents were born in 1986.

No computers, no tablets, no smart phones, no fancy coffee machines, no Internet, no cable, and – from the point of view of many tech-dependent folks – no life.

“We’re parenting our kids the same way we were parented for a year just to see what it’s like,” Blair said.

Trey and his 2-year-old brother play Super Mario on an old-school Nintendo in the basement.

Blair went through cellphone withdrawal. “I could almost feel my pocket vibrating.”

Morgan uses a computer at work. At home, she reads books. “We’re just closer, there’s more talking,” she said.

On the down side, Blair and the boys all have mullets.

21 Detroit schools are open 7 days a week

Twenty-one Detroit schools will stay open 12 hours a day, seven days a week to provide tutoring, recreation, health care, parenting classes and other social services.

State funds and donations from local businesses will help pay the cost.

Why so few French kids have ADHD

At least 9 percent of U.S. children are medicated for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, compared to less than .5 percent of French children, writes Marilyn Wedge in Why French Kids Don’t Have ADHD in Psychology Today. Wedge is the author of Pills are Not for Preschoolers: A Drug-Free Approach for Troubled Kids. 

While U.S. psychiatrists see ADHD as a biological disorder treatable with drugs, French doctors “look for the underlying issue that is causing the child distress—not in the child’s brain but in the child’s social context.” They try to treat the underlying problem with psychotherapy or family counseling.

In addition, French parents are  more likely than Americans to teach their children to control their behavior.

Pamela Druckerman highlights the divergent parenting styles in her recent book, Bringing up Bébé

. . . From the time their children are born, French parents provide them with a firm cadre—the word means “frame” or “structure.” Children are not allowed, for example, to snack whenever they want. Mealtimes are at four specific times of the day. French children learn to wait patiently for meals, rather than eating snack foods whenever they feel like it. French babies, too, are expected to conform to limits set by parents and not by their crying selves. French parents let their babies “cry it out” if they are not sleeping through the night at the age of four months.

. . . Consistently enforced limits, in the French view, make children feel safe and secure.

Raised in families where the adults are in charge, French children learn to control their behavior without the need for medications, concludes Wedge.

What’s the most loving thing you can say to your child? According to my husband, the father of three successful adult children, the answer is: “No.”

Is 25 the new 15?

Twenty-five is becoming the new 15, argues Escaping the Endless Adolescence: How We Can Help Our Teenagers Grow Up Before They Grow Old.

Young people who’ve grown up in a responsibility-free “bubble” don’t know how to find a job, manage money, cook or care for themselves, write Joseph and Claudia Allen. They’ve been socialized by their peers, not by adults.

We’ve done away with “competition (too masculine, I suppose) and real-world feedback (kids need high self-esteem!),” writes Dr. Helen, a psychologist.

Young people spend more time as college students, often taking five or six years to earn a degree. If it’s a non-technical degree — or they never actually complete it — they’re likely to be living at home at 25.

If parents fail, schools will too

In Raising the Curve: A Year Inside One of America’s 45,000 Failing Public Schools, Ron Berler takes readers inside Brookside Elementary in Norwalk, Connecticut, which is trying to raise chronically low test scores. About half the students come from Hispanic immigrant families; 41 percent qualify for a subsidized lunch.

The book follows two fifth-grade friends: Hydea does her work, but has only second-grade reading skills. Marbella is only a year behind in reading, but would rather obsess about her social life — and Justin Bieber — than do homework.

The literacy teacher works with teachers to improve their skills, but breaks away before the state exams to coach a small group of children who are close to passing. She has no time for those who are way behind or for children in untested grades. Some students have been passed along with subpar skills. Others have received tutoring or summer school help, but remain behind.

Berler, who volunteered as a mentor and teacher’s aide at the school, is sympathetic to teachers and the principal, but frustrated with uninvolved parents. Some don’t know how to help, he writes. Others are too busy working to supervise their children closely.

When fifth-grade teacher Keith Morey asks students about their responsibilities at home, a clear pattern emerges. The responsible students are expected to do chores; the kids who don’t do homework don’t work at home either.

Schools need to engage parents and teach them how to support their children’s learning, writes Berler in the Huffington Post.

Harris-Perry: Our kids aren’t just ours

Under attack for her MSNBC promo, which said “we have to break through our kind of private idea that kids belong to their parents or kids belong to their families and recognize that kids belong to whole communities,”  commentator Melissa Harris-Perry has issued a statement. She meant that “our children, all of our children, are part of more than our households, they are part of our communities and deserve to have the care, attention, resources, respect and opportunities of those communities.”

I get it. Children are our future.

When the promo hit the fan, she was grading papers and thought “since these children were not my responsibility, I could simply mail the students’ papers to their moms and dads to grade!”

But of course, that is a ridiculous notion. As a teacher, I have unique responsibilities to the students in my classroom at Tulane University, and I embrace those responsibilities.

It’s ridiculous because Harris-Perry, a political science professor, is paid by Tulane, an elite private university, to grade papers. Her students — surely very few are children — and their parents pay a great deal of money to have those papers graded. If she volunteered to tutor kids whose parents couldn’t help them with schoolwork, she could congratulate herself on her service to the collective.

Instead, she mentions various people in her life who’ve taught her about “our collective responsibility to children,” starting with her parents, who did volunteer to help others.

Then there’s this bizarro logic paragraph:

I’ll even admit that despite being an unwavering advocate for women’s reproductive rights, I have learned this lesson from some of my most sincere, ethically motivated, pro-life colleagues. Those people who truly believe that the potential life inherent in a fetus is equivalent to the actualized life of an infant have argued that the community has a distinct interest in children no matter what the mother’s and father’s interests or needs. So while we come down on different sides of the choice issue, we agree that kids are not the property of their parents. Their lives matter to all of us.

If Harris-Perry listened more carefully, she’d discover her pro-life colleagues believe a fetus, which they would call an unborn child, has individual rights as a human being. They don’t think the community’s interests are relevant any more than they think the parents’ interests are relevant. And few parents see their children — born or unborn — as “property.”

Harris-Perry concludes:

I believe wholeheartedly, and without apology, that we have a collective responsibility to the children of our communities even if we did not conceive and bear them. Of course, parents can and should raise their children with their own values. But they should be able to do so in a community that provides safe places to play, quality food to eat, terrific schools to attend, and economic opportunities to support them. No individual household can do that alone. We have to build that world together.

It takes a village to raise a child!

I was an op-ed columnist for many years. If I wrote a column and one or two people read it wrong, I blamed them. If lots of people read it in a way that I hadn’t intended, I figured it was my fault.

I’m sure Harris-Perry intended to say that we should spend more money on schools, parks, day care, health care and other social programs because children are our future, it takes a village to raise a child, as the twig is bent so grows the tree, etc. But she said “kids belong to whole communities” rather than to their parents or families. Nobody at MSNBC caught it. And she still doesn’t get that this one’s on her.

AllahPundit includes a tweet by Sarah Palin, which I thought was funny:  ”Dear MSNBC, if our kids belong to you, do your kids belong to us too? If so, can we take them hunting after church in our big pickup truck?”