Palestinian honoree teaches through play

A Palestinian teacher’s play-based methods have won her a $1 million global education prize, reports Diaa Hadid in the New York Times.  The Varkey Foundation chose Hanan Hroub for developing educational games for children traumatized by violence.

When a reporter visited her West Bank classroom, “second-grade students were not focusing on their assigned task of scrawling math problems on balloons,” writes Hadid. “They were popping those balloons.”

The teacher put four marks underneath a frowning yellow face.

“No, Miss! No! We will concentrate, we promise!” piped up a girl named Shurouq. Ms. Hroub and her charges discussed why they felt distracted, and promised to do better.

Not all is fun and games, reports Hadid. “Some Israelis have denounced her as part of a Palestinian education system they see as inciting violence, and noted with dismay that her husband assisted in the killing of six Jewish settlers in the West Bank city of Hebron in 1980.”

Study: Playing video games is fine for kids

Playing video games may help children develop, concludes a recently published study that found no psychological harm and some benefits.

It’s not bonkers, concludes Jill Barshay on the Hechinger Report.

A team of researchers analyzed the video game-playing habits of elementary-school-aged children in Europe in 2010, she writes. “They found that children who played at least five hours a week had fewer psychological problems than students who didn’t play video games as much, and were rated by their teachers as better students, both academically and in social adjustment.”

Once video gamers tended to be “the isolated, techy, brainy kids,” said Katherine Keyes, a Columbia professor who’s one of the 13 authors. Now playing video games is “part of a normal childhood.”

. . . kids who play a lot of video games are socially integrated, they’re prosocial, they have good school functioning and we don’t see any association with adverse mental health outcomes.”

“It’s the kids who don’t actively engage with their peers around gaming and other types of popular children’s leisure activities that are perhaps more at risk for developing problems,” Keyes added.

There are no large studies showing that playing video games — even violent games — harms children, she said. But it’s possible that children who play 10 to 20 hours a week could be harmed.

Keyes limits her own grade-school-age son to 20 minutes a day of screen time, she told Barshay. “After homework.”

All reading and math makes Jack a dull boy


The Death of Socrates by Jacques-Louis David.

All reading and math skills — without exposure to the arts — makes Jack a dull boy — and not much of a reader, argues Jay Greene. “More research is beginning to show that a broader education, including the arts, may be essential for later success in math and reading as well as the proper development of civic values and character skills, including tolerance, empathy, and self-regulation.”

Kindergarten and first-grade teachers are spending less time teaching music, art, dance and theater, research shows.

Long-term success in math, reading and science depends on the general knowledge and fine-motor skills learned through the arts, studies show, Greene adds.

Researchers urge teaching children “a better understanding of the world”  by improving science and social studies instruction and building foundational skills through “the arts, music, dance, physical education, and free play.”

Greene’s research has found that “field trips to art museums and to see live theater” not only build general knowledge, they “change student values to promote greater tolerance and empathy.”

Using nature to nurture

The classroom is outdoors at The Alaska Forest School, reports Erin Kirkland in the Alaska Dispatch News.

Lia Keller asked preschoolers if they could “find the tunnel from last time” and they led the way to a downed cottonwood, where they could play “foxes and bears” in a pit under the root ball.

Leif Stanbury, 3, catches a snowflake.

Leif Stanbury, 3, catches a snowflake. Photo: Loren Holmes, ADN

“I am passionate about getting children outside,” said Keller, who founded the school. “Kids have to get out as young as possible so they learn how to explore and foster a deep love of nature and our wild places.

She also believes “children need more unstructured time” to learn from their play.

Keller offers parents three sessions a week.

Elliott and Harriet Levine, aged 4 and 8, climb under the eyes of mother Maria Levine. The school encourages kids to take "appropriate risks." Photo: Loren Holmes, ADN

Elliott and Harriet Levine, aged 4 and 8, climb under the eyes of mother Maria Levine. The school encourages kids to take “appropriate risks.” Photo: Loren Holmes, ADN

The forest school idea started in Europe, but has spread around the world. It seems like a perfect fit for Alaska, says Beka Land, whose daughters are five and three. “The natural consequences of exploring the outdoors and talking through choices is so valuable,” Land said. “As a family, we like the idea of an outdoors-centered program that lets kids pick their own path.”

After 30 minutes of “hollering, discovering and exploring,” the preschoolers were full of questions, writes Kirkland.

Why does snow look like crystals under the frame of a magnifying glass? What happens when you try to climb a tree much taller than your mom and way higher than any recess monitor would ever allow? How can five small kids figure out how to tie up a blue tarp without adult assistance?

Keller answered many questions with: “What do you think we should do?”

I saw the link on OneTree Alaska, a Facebook site set up by Jan Dawe, a University of Alaska botanist who was my best friend in elementary school. We were co-editors-in-chief of The Wednesday Report, which we published twice a month for four years.

Illiteracy isn’t as joyful in the U.S.

Teaching reading in kindergarten is a mistake, argues an expatriate teacher in an Atlantic paean to the “joyful, illiterate kindergartners of Finland.

We’re not Finns, responds reading expert Timothy Shanahan. The “whistle a happy tune” approach won’t work here.

Most Finnish parents are well-educated and literate, he writes. More than one-third of children enter school already reading, according to a government study.

Most U.S. kindergartens teach reading.

Most U.S. kindergartens teach reading.

In addition, the Finnish language may be the easiest language to learn to read, writes Shanahan. “The relationship between spelling and pronunciation is highly consistent, making it especially easy and quick to learn to decode.”

The Atlantic story quotes Nancy Carlsson-Paige, a professor emeritus of early childhood education, who claims, “There isn’t any solid evidence that shows that children who are taught to read in kindergarten have any long-term benefit from it.” The quote comes from a Defending the Early Years video.

As chair of the National Early Literacy Panel, Shanahan looked at the research, he writes. “We found long-term benefits from early learning.”

Schools vs. play

“When we see that children everywhere are required by law to go to school, that almost all schools are structured in the same way, and that our society goes to a great deal of trouble and expense to provide such schools, we tend naturally to assume that there must be some good, logical reason for all this, writes Peter Gray in A Brief History of Education in Psychology Today. There isn’t, he argues.

Gray is the author of Free to Learn, which is subtitled “why unleashing the instinct to play will make our children happier, more self-reliant and better students.”

The teacher says, “you must do your work and then you can play.” Clearly, according to this message, work, which encompasses all of school learning, is something that one does not want to do but must; and play, which is everything that one wants to do, has relatively little value.

“Children whose drive to play is so strong that they can’t sit still for lessons are no longer beaten,” he writes. “Instead, they are medicated.”

Where kindergarten is the new preschool

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In Finland, kindergarten is known as “preschool,” writes Tim Walker, an American who’s taught there. Children start school at six and learn by playing.

Once, Morning Circle—a communal  time of songs and chants—wrapped up, the children disbanded and flocked to the station of their choice: There was one involving fort-making with bed sheets, one for arts and crafts, and one where kids could run a pretend ice-cream shop.

“I’ll take two scoops of pear and two scoops of strawberry—in a waffle cone,” I told the two kindergarten girls who had positioned themselves at the ice-cream table; I had a (fake) 10€ bill to spend, courtesy of one of the teachers. As one of the girls served me—using blue tack to stick laminated cutouts of scoops together—I handed the money to her classmate.

. . . After a long pause, one of her teachers—perhaps sensing a good opportunity to step in—helped her calculate the difference between the price of my order and the 10€.

Once I received my change (a few plastic coins), the girls giggled as I pretended to lick my ice cream.

Many of her 15 students will learn to read by the end of the year, Anni-Kaisa Osei Ntiamoah told Walker. “We don’t push them but they learn just because they are ready for it.”

Kindergarten is “the new first grade” in the U.S., according to a University of Virginia study. As more time is spent on literacy, children spend less time on arts, music and child-selected activities, such as rotating between “stations.”

“The changes to kindergarten make me sick,” a veteran teacher in Arkansas told Walker in an e-mail.

(She described) three and a half hours of daily literacy instruction, an hour and a half of daily math instruction, 20 minutes of daily “physical activity time” (officially banned from being called “recess”) and two 56-question standardized tests in literacy and math — on the fourth week of school.

. . . (She) has fought to integrate 30 minutes of “station time” into the literacy block, which includes  “blocks, science, magnetic letters, play dough with letter stamps to practice words, books, and storytelling.”

Last year, the district tried to remove the “house station with dolls and toy food” from the classroom.

Tag, you’re OK

Tag is back at school playgrounds on Mercer Island, near Seattle, reports the Seattle Times.

The district had banned tag — and any game involving touching — to protect students’ “physical and emotional safety.” In the past, tag has led to name-calling and minor injuries, district officials said.

Parent protests — and national mockery — forced the reversal.Tag-is-Back-on-Mercer-Island-School-Playgrounds-after-Attempted-Ban

Superintendent Gary Plano initially said schools would develop new “tag-like running games” with no contact. Now, children will be allowed to play tag at recess.

Some schools nationwide have banned contact games in the name of safety, said Jonathan Blasher, executive director of the nonprofit Playworks. Some don’t allow children to throw balls or use other playground equipment.

In 2006, some Spokane elementary schools prohibited tag because of safety concerns, he said.

“I think a game like tag is wonderful,” Blasher said. “You can play it almost anywhere, it’s universal. It’s important for kids to have that free-range play, where adults aren’t micromanaging, but there is the need for assurance that the kids have a basic understanding what the expectations are.”

Kelsey Joyce, a parent and tag defender, said her son and his friends play “four different types of tag,” reports the Seattle Times. That includes a version involving a “red-hot lava monster.”

Social skills lead to success

“Socially competent” kindergarteners — kids who cooperate and play well with others — are more likely to complete college and work full-time by their mid-20s, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Public Health. Their less socially skilled classmates were more likely to have a criminal record and to report binge drinking.

In 1991 teachers evaluated kindergarteners on a scale of 1 to 5 on how well they interacted with others, including measures like: “cooperates with peers without prompting”; “is helpful to others”; “is very good at understanding feelings”; “can give suggestions and opinions without being bossy”; and “resolves problems on own.”

Childhood aggression measures did not predict criminal activity, notes Education Week.

For every one-point increase on a five-point scale, children were twice as likely to earn a college degree; 54 percent more likely to earn a high school diploma, and 46 percent more likely to have a full-time job. On the down side, for every one-point decrease, a child was 67 percent more likely to have been arrested by adulthood, and 82 percent more likely to be in or on a waiting list for public housing.

Researchers believe young children can be taught social skills, possibly affecting their later success in life.

Wait-for-the-marshmallow children from low-income, black families experience less depression, substance abuse and aggression than their peers with less self-control, according to another new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.  But disadvantaged blacks with high self-control age faster,

In earlier research, self-control was linked to high blood pressure, obesity and higher levels of stress hormones for blacks from low-income families, but not for middle-class blacks or for whites.

Kick your kids out of the house

Kick your kids out of the house, suggests Ed Driscoll on Instapundit.

In Nature Valley’s ad, grandparents and parents remember tobogganing, fishing, planting, building forts and just heading out to play with friends, notes Lenore Skenazy on Free-Range Kids. The kids love video games and texting.

In just one generation, it has become almost bizarre to see kids heading out to find fun on their own outside. That’s why people call 911 when the see a child in the park. It’s like spotting a tapir escaped from the zoo. Kudos to Nature Valley for encouraging kids to get outside!

But a commenter named Marcie observes a key difference. The parents and grandparents remember playing alone or with other kids. When the ad shows kids going outside, adults are present. “It pretty much says that outdoor play is necessary but must be supervised and lead by an adult.”

Unsupervised play is the key, concludes Skenazy. “Parents have to realize it is the super-vitamin kids need. And kids need to see that the outdoors is their . . . videogame, another world they can escape to — with or without a granola bar in their pocket.”