‘Informal care’ is popular, inferior

Most infants and toddlers are cared for by babysitters in unregulated or very lightly regulated settings, writes Brookings’ Susanna Loeb.

“Over half of all one- and two-year-olds are regularly cared for by caregivers other than their parents but only about half of those, i.e., a quarter of this age group, are in a licensed formal care setting,” she writes. Four-year-olds are more likely to attend licensed centers and preschools, “but still many primarily experience informal, non-parental care.”

Babysitters spend less time on reading and math activities. Kids spend a lot more time watching TV.

“Four-year-olds in home-based, informal care watch an average of almost two hours of television per day, compared with fewer than 7 minutes in formal care,” writes Loeb.

Children in informal care learn significantly less in literacy and math, she concludes. These differences are not explained by differences in family background.

Trite teacher

Craig Robinson stars as a bar-band singer hired to teach music at his old high school in an NBC summer series, Mr. Robinson. The actor once taught K-8 music in Chicago schools.

“Think School of Rock, but not funny,” says one review.

The math teacher moonlights as a stripper, writes another reviewer. The students are “a multiracial collection of sassy teenagers.” And so on.

A Jewish parent’s guide to Christmas specials

Bizarro

Bizarro

Dahlia Lithwick offers a Jewish parent’s guide to TV Christmas specials.

In her generation, Jewish kids were permitted to watch How the Grinch Stole Christmas, A Charlie Brown Christmas and The Year Without a Santa Claus. Their children also can watch them.

Jewish parents avoid Jesus, Santa (and Rudolph), saints and resurrections (including Frosty), Lithwick writes.

“Perhaps my favorite e-mail laying out a Unified Theory of Jewish Christmas Viewing drew the line thus: ‘claymation and puppets, esp. from Europe = yes; cheap animation and pop music, esp. from US = no’.”

Yet “apparently all Jewish children are permitted to watch A Charlie Brown Christmas,” even though it ends with Linus reciting Luke 2:8-14: “Fear not: For behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you.”

 . . . there’s something about that poor schlump of a Charlie Brown and his inability to get into the spirit of Christmas (much less receive a single Christmas card) that speaks to the Jewish people. Indeed, if there is a more profoundly Jewish line than Linus’ “How can you take a wonderful season like Christmas and turn it into a problem?” I have yet to hear it.

Many Jewish kids watched the Grinch every year, because the Boris Karloff version was “a classic.”

But dig a little deeper and what surfaces is a universal (and discomfiting) sense that the Grinch is a fundamentally Jewish show because the Grinch himself is a fundamentally Jewish character. I got one e-mail that concluded, “Who is more of a Grinch than a grumpy old Jew?” And a Jew with a heart problem no less?

The Year Without a Santa Claus clearly violates the “No Santa” rule, and yet is considered Jewishly acceptable, she writes. Perhaps Jews like to see Christmas under threat — even if it’s saved in the end, Lithwick speculates.

I didn’t watch Christmas specials as a kid or a parent, except for Charlie Brown. Well, I did love Menotti’s opera, Amahl and the Night Visitors, if that counts.

‘Bad Teacher’ comes to TV

Bad Teacher TV Review on CBS

Bad Teacher — a softer version of the Cameron Diaz movie — premieres tonight on CBS. A divorced trophy wife uses a fake resume to get a teaching job so she can look for a wealthy divorced dad. (If she’s teaching at public school to find wealthy men, she really is a dumb blonde.) This “bad teacher” is a do-gooder at heart, according to a Variety review.

TV linked to flabby brains

They don’t call it the boob tube for nothing:  TV viewing time is correlated with  changes in the brain, according to a Japanese study of children between the ages of five and 18. The more kids watch, the more gray matter builds up at the front of the frontal lobe. That’s brain flab, wrote researchers in Cerebral Cortex. It’s linked to lower verbal intelligence.

However, it’s not clear that watching TV caused the changes. Heavy TV viewing may crowd out other activities, such as playing, reading or talking with friends and family.  Perhaps not-so-bright kids are more likely to become TV addicts.

Toddlers turn from TV to tech

Toddlers are using technology but turning away from TV, according to a national survey. Thirty-eight percent of children under age 2 have used a mobile device, up from 11 percent two years ago, according to Common Sense Media, reports the San Jose Mercury News. At the same, young children are spending less time watching TV.

Three-quarters of children ages 0 to 8 have access to mobile devices such as smart phones, tablet computers and iPod Touches, the survey found. The proportion of young children using the devices nearly doubled, from 38 percent two years ago to 72 percent, and average duration of use tripled from 5 minutes to 15 minutes daily.

Children up to age 8 average nearly two hours a day in front of video screens. That’s 21 minutes less than they did two years ago, according to Common Sense Media.

Half, or 57 minutes, of screen time is spent watching TV, a drop of 9 minutes a day from two years ago. Of TV time, one-third is spent watching prerecorded programs on a DVR. Ten minutes a day is spent playing video games, down by 4 minutes from two years ago.

Children are more likely to watch educational programs on TV than on smart phones, the survey found.

A third of children have televisions in their bedrooms. Lower-income families were more likely to have a TV on all the time compared to than higher-income and better-educated families.

Where there is still a gap between the rich and poor in ownership of mobile devices, it is narrowing. Among poor families — those earning less than $30,000 a year — access to smart phones increased from 27 percent to 51 percent in two years, while tablet ownership went from 2 percent to 20 percent.

Yet Common Sense pointed out an “app gap,” partly because only 46 percent of lower-income families have access to high-speed Internet, and therefore have less access to downloadable educational programs.

There’s also a huge reading gap. About half of parents said they read to their children under 2 ever day; a quarter read every week. One fifth never read to their children under 2.

The 10 best TV shows for young kids

It’s OK for preschoolers to watch an hour a day of high-quality television, advises the American Academy of Pediatrics. But what’s high quality? Mike Petrilli lists The 10 Best Television Shows for Young Children.

Best Television Shows for Two- and Three-Year-Olds

1.   Kipper (available on Sprout and Netflix)
2.   Wonder Pets! (available on Nick Jr. and Netflix)
3.   Blue’s Clues (available on Nick Jr. and Netflix)
4.   Doc McStuffins (available on Disney Junior)
5.   Curious George (available on PBS Kids and Netflix)

Best Television Shows for Four- and Five-Year-Olds

1.   Backyardigans (availalbe on Nick Jr. and Netflix)
2.   Wild Kratts (available on PBS Kids)
3.   Dinosaur Train (available on PBS Kids and Netflix)
4.   Arthur (available on PBS Kids and Netflix)
5.   Super Why! (available on PBS Kids and Netflix)

Sesame Street isn’t what it used to be, writes Petrilli.

Study: TV can teach empathy to preschoolers

When 3- to 5-year-olds watch less violence on TV and more shows featuring cooperation and friendship, they’re less aggressive toward other children, concludes a study published in Pediatrics.

One group of parents received guides highlighting positive TV shows for children and newsletters encouraging them to watch with their kids and discuss  the best ways to deal with conflict. Researchers called monthly to help parents set television-watching goals for their preschoolers.

The control group got dietary advice, but no guidance on TV watching.

After six months, parents in the group receiving advice about television-watching said their children were somewhat less aggressive with others, compared with those in the control group. The children who watched less violent shows also scored higher on measures of social competence, a difference that persisted after one year.

Low-income boys showed the most improvement.

“It’s not just about turning off the TV; it’s about changing the channel,” said Dr. Dimitri A. Christakis, the lead author of the study and a University of Washington pediatrics professor.

Preschoolers average 4.1 hours of television and other screen time daily, according to a 2011 study.

“Law enforcement sources” believe Adam Lanza was motivated to kill Newtown’s children by “violent video games“and his desire to outkill Andres Breivik, the Norwegian mass murderer, reports CBS.  “Call of Duty” was his favorite.

Young people read more? Not really

Young people (age 16 to 29) read and use libraries more than older people, according to a Pew survey.  Millenials are “a rising generation of book lovers,” proclaimed the Christian Science Monitor.

Hold the hallelujahs, advises Dan Willingham. Young people are said to be reading “a lot,” but Pew set a low bar: 83 percent read a book in the previous year. One book per year. Of course, young people spend a lot of time reading texts, Tweets and Facebook updates, but it’s not quite the same thing.

Americans spend much more time watching television each day than they do reading. This chart  by the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows how Americans of all ages use their leisure time.

Picture

It doesn’t change much for younger folks, Willingham writes. They read more for school work than their elders, but are somewhat less likely to read for pleasure or to keep up with current events.

How to be an education parent

We want parents to support kids’ learning, but what do we want them to do specifically? asks Bill Jackson of Great Schools in an e-mail discussion. He envisions a campaign of public service announcements tied to a GreatKids mobile app:

1. Read to your child for 30 minutes a day.
2. Have conversations with your child every day. Use questions, not commands.
3. Teach your child the alphabet before kindergarten.
4. Teach your child to count to 20.
5. Limit TV time to 30 minutes a day.

An iPad app could let parents “give their kids a quick test to see how they are doing in acquiring vocabulary,” Jackson adds. “The idea here is to  . .  make it a ‘club’ of parents doing the right things and getting positive feedback.”

I think some parents need to be shown how to read a book with a child and how to have a conversation.

Guest-blogging for Rick Hess, Jackson asks parents to list their aspirations for their children at age 18. “When you launch them at age 18, what knowledge, skills, character traits, and other qualities do you want them to have?” His list for his daughters:

1. Be passionate about some activities or commitments
2. Love to read; read for pleasure
3. Know a lot about the world (for their age) and want to know more
4. Have strong analytical and mathematical skills
5. Know a lot (for their age) about at least one area of science (biology, physics, etc)
6. Write well
7. Have skills in at least one visual, fine or performing art discipline (piano, theater, etc.)
8. Have at least one manual skill (sewing, cooking, fixing car, etc.)
9. Have at least basic computer programming skills
10. Be able to draw reasonably well
11. Have friends (fewer closer or more less close both OK)
12. Be active in serving people in need and/or advocating for ideas larger than themselves
13. Be kind to everyone they interact with
14. Have demonstrated resiliency through failure
15. Be physically active
16. Be optimistic

Whether a particular school is good for a child depends on the parent’s aspirations, Jackson writes.

My expectations for my daughter’s schools were modest. I wanted school to teach her reading, writing, ‘rithmetic, history and science — especially math and science, which I wasn’t teaching at home. I didn’t expect her to be skilled in a performing art or in drawing — and I was right. (She took  a programming class in college, but I don’t think it’s a critical skill.) Kindness, friendliness, resiliency, problem solving, cooking . . . Kids learn that at home or not at all.