Category Archives: Childhood learning

Leave the Kids Alone!

According to today’s Wall street Journal, in many schools, those in charge of the school day realize that maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to do away with recess.

They’ve decided kids need to let off steam. (Who knew?) They concede that “recess can even improve emotional and social development in children.” And indeed it can, if children are allowed to play on their own without direction or interference. But that’s not exactly what these educators have in mind. They’re educators, after all, so they’re determined to educate. The result: “organized recess” complete with coaches. Sounds like gym class to us!

Fortunately there are other experts who value unstructured play. Debbie Rhea , professor of kinesiology at Texas Christian has developed a program based on a Finnish model which is in 16 schools in Oklahoma and Texas. It provides for four 15-minute recess periods per day, ethics and character teaching, less standardized testing, and restructuring of the school day. More power to her!

  • Forty years ago we wrote a book, One Potato, Two Potato: The Folklore of American Children. We discovered that children’s folklore—the traditional games, jokes, stories, songs, superstitions, and pranks that have been passed down from one generation of children to the next without the benefit or sometimes even the knowledge of adults serves important functions in the lives of children. This folklore flourishes only when children are left alone to practice it as they play.

One Potato, Two Potato is still in print, available from Amazon. However, used copies are also available from alibris.com for around $1.50 plus postage.

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Childhood learning, Folklore

Why and How We Became Publishers, Part One, Including Mary’s Fifteen Minutes of Fame

Mary being interviewed on The Today Show

Mary being interviewed on The Today Show

Since Mary and I have already published two books with major publishers, some of our friends have wondered why we are doing it differently now. Easy. Done that, been there—twice—and we didn’t like it!

In 1970, we were offered a sabbatical leave year from our teaching jobs in the Panama Canal Zone and were soon en route to Indiana University to enroll in graduate school for the second time. While there, we wrote a paper about children’s folklore. The project required a lot of fieldwork with kids and was a lot of fun.

Back in the Zone, I suggested we turn our paper into a book. “We’d get to talk to a lot more kids.” Mary was dubious, but she went along, and four years later, the book was finished.

Our agent was not enthusiastic, and several publishers turned it down. So we were happy when W.W. Norton agreed to publish it.. Our editor told us the company’s readers didn’t much like it because it fell “between two stools.” (Publishers like books that fit into a definite category. They are easier to market.) However, the president of the company liked it, so they didn’t have much choice. Today, 40 years later, it is still on the backlist and available for purchase on Amazon, which must be some kind of a record.

When the book came out, Mary happened to be on leave (unpaid this time). She was in New York, there to put our youngest daughter in the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.

As was customary, the publisher sent copies of all their newly published books to the Today Show, hoping that they’d pick one to feature. Much to their surprise and undisguised dismay, the Today Show suggested they might be interested in our book! Norton had their hopes set on a book of photographs of Picasso’s studio by David Douglas Duncan.

The next step was for Mary to audition. She went through a practice interview with the Today’s Show screeners, which she passed with flying colors. On her way back to the hotel, she stopped off at our agent’s office to assure her the interview went well. The agent was too busy to see her and fobbed her off on an assistant. This puzzled us. How many of her clients appeared on The Today Show? And why did the woman handling serial rights always meet her in the lobby? Didn’t she have an office?

The Today Show called. They wanted her. Eight minutes. Suddenly she was besieged with requests for interviews. NPR interviewed her by phone on All Things Considered.  She went to Boston to be on the local segment of Good Morning, America. Since she was going to stop off in Kansas City on her way back home, she tried to get Norton to set up publicity events there. “We don’t have authors from Kansas City so we don’t set up events there.”  “But David Douglas Duncan is from Kansas City; we went to the same high school.” Didn’t matter.

In the green room at NBC, Mary discovered she was the only “guest” not accompanied by a PR person. But the show went very well. The PR representatives present complimented her on her performance. “Where else are they sending you?” Norton’s PR rep called to say she was “so relieved” (a real supporter). Here are four sound bites from that interview with Jane Pauley. Mary wants me to say it is not her real voice. Apparently the tape has been sped up a bit. However, she says that as unlikely as it may seem, it is definitely her real hair.

She had booked a flight back to Panama the next day, but as one last effort to feel good about publishing our book, she went to the famous Scribner’s book store on Fifth Avenue, now home to Sephora Cosmetics. She had hoped to see One Potato displayed along with other new books. But it wasn’t. With the help of a clerk, she finally found it on a shelf with the cookbooks.

—HK

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Books, Childhood learning, Folklore

Television is Bad for Babies

infant-watching-tv

The American Academy of Pediatrics says so—and they have been saying so since 1999 when they published their first policy paper on television’s effect on children.

 In November of last year, the Academy  published an update, which pertains to all devices, including ipads videos, and ebooks designed for young children. Here’s the advice they want pediatricians to give to parents:

 For children up to eighteen months to two years: No screen time, except Skyping with relatives, (The Skyping is probably for the benefit of the relatives not the children.)

 For children 2 to 5 years: No more than one hour a day, but no solo viewing. Parents should watch with the child, reacting and explaining what they are seeing. Choose “high-quality” programming.

 No screens (including adult screens) during meals, parent-child playtime, and for one hour before bedtime.

 Turn off the TV when not in use.

 So what’s the problem?

Little children love TV; it soothes them; and parents and caregivers need a break! But because the brain changes and develops so rapidly during the first three years, babies and toddlers are particularly vulnerable to the environmental impact on structures of the brain. To pre-verbal children, television is just a series of mesmerizing pictures that change about every six seconds. Makes no difference if they’re watching Sesame Street or Sunday Night Football. Since they are still forming connections between neurons, repeated exposure to this kind of experience can impact future verbal abilities and cognitive ability.

Meaningful learning from television doesn’t occur before age three, and even then, children learn best from interacting with their environment. They need to explore with their hands, engage in hands-on play, listen to words spoken to them by members of their family or their baby sitter—people who are personally giving them their undivided attention.

That’s why pediatricians advise parents to watch television with their young children, actually treating the TV like they would a book.

But if you need to pretend the TV is a book, why not just read a book to the kid instead of watching TV?

We don’t need a scientific study to conclude that books and a familiar adult reader are better for very young children than TV:

  • Physical proximity is easier when you cuddle up with a child and a book.
  • You and the child control the pace. You can linger over an interesting page or skip those that aren’t. You can talk about the story  or just be silent while she stares at the images that intrigue her. There is no  movement or bells and whistles to distract from the story.
  • And after she has learned to talk, one day you may find that she has memorized the story and will recite it by heart as she turns the pages in the appropriate place.

And with that she has begun to learn to read to herself.

(Because my babies were girls, I use the feminine pronoun, but I will make it up to the boys with a picture):

steven-baby-sam

Hands On! Baby Sam and his dad.

For more on effects of  TV on early childhood development, including references, go here

As for schoolchlldren, the downside of television is the time it takes away from reading and independent play. Herb and I wrote a book about children’s folklore, an aspect of children’s play that contributes to their development. The publication of that book led to my fifteen minutes of fame, but that’s another story. mlk

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Filed under Childhood learning, Education, Technology, Television