Category Archives: Education

Television is Bad for Babies


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):


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


Filed under Childhood learning, Education, Technology, Television

The Missing Amenity


Over the holidays we had occasion to spend a couple of nights in a hotel, something we hadn’t done for awhile.

Of course we were not at all surprised to find the huge TV, the little ihome clock radio, the microwave, the refrigerator, the coffee maker, the iron , the ironing board, the hair dryer, the illuminated magnifying mirror (I could have done without that), and various lotions, gels, soap, and shampoo. And a note left on the vanity informed us that the management would be happy to supply a toothbrush, or comb if we had forgotten to pack those items. The safe in the closet, I’ll admit, was a bit of a surprise.

I wondered if there might still be a Gideon Bible hidden somewhere. I opened the drawer of the night stand and sure enough! There it was. Since it was almost Christmas, I read the Christmas story as told by Matthew. That was nice.

However even with this superfluity of amenities, there was something missing—NO STATIONERY! And we know why, don’t we? Because nobody writes handwritten notes or letters any more.

 Or do they?

waldorf-stationeryI decided to ask Google about hotel stationery. (Google knows everything.) It seems that while many hotels have stopped offering it, some— mostly high end— hotels still do. In fact there is a luxury hotel in California where complimentary stationery is embossed with the guest’s name! Actually, I think that’s a bit much.

I realize that just because the hotel offers stationery does’t mean that guests use it. Nevertheless, the fact that high end hotels still provide it seems to support a notion I have had for awhile.  That is, that the handwritten note is becoming a status marker. High end parents who want their children to appear refined and well educated may see to it that their children write thank you notes by hand. They may even insist that the kids learn to write a cursive hand, even if they have to hire a tutor. Privileged children then may learn a skill that used to be taught to all children, thus increasing the social divide. This would not be progress. mlk


Filed under Education, Handwriting

Thinking Outside the Box About Cursive Handwriting

In the ongoing debate about the teaching of handwriting, both those who advocate the teaching of “cursive” and those who are in opposition usually share the following basic assumptions—beliefs that they think simply go without saying:

1. Either we teach cursive writing or keyboarding. We can’t do both.

 Maybe not if we try to teach them at the same time. But do we have to teach keyboarding before the fifth grade? Some experts in child development say fourth or fifth grade is the optimal time to begin keyboard instruction, but many schools start much earlier. This is probably what we should be arguing about. Delayed keyboard instruction would allow time for children to become adept at writing by hand. Teachers would be able to devote concentrated attention then in fifth grade to teaching keyboarding, requiring handwriting for certain assignments.

But what about those standardized tests that require computer skills for third graders? Maybe we should be questioning the need for those tests. Exactly whom do they benefit? I would argue that it’s not the children or teachers.

2. Children have to learn manuscript writing first before they are taught cursive.

 No they don’t. Many European schools typically teach cursive and only cursive . Montessori schools and some other private or public schools in the United States teach only cursive or teach it before printing or “ball and stick” as it is sometimes called.

Ball and stick was introduced in the early 1920s by a British reading specialist, Marjorie Wise. Wise herself subsequently rejected her own technique. But by that time we were stuck with it. Today virtually no one questions the absurd practice of teaching one method of letter formation and a few years later discarding that method after neurological pathways have been formed for the first method.

3. Cursive handwriting links every letter and involves fancy loops.

 There are many forms of cursive and not all require the linking of all letters.

My preference is italic handwriting as taught by Barbara Getty and Inga Dubay. I used their workbook, Write Now, to teach myself this cursive hand, though I am an accomplished loopy handwriter. Getty and Dubay teach a printed form of italic first; the cursive version simply involves linking the letters already learned, not starting over from scratch. This is what my italic hand looks like:

Print Italic handwriting

Print Italic

Italic Cursive handwriting

Italic Cursive

Until we get past the simplistic either/or, cursive vs, keyboarding argument, it’s hard to see how we will ever come to an agreement regarding the teaching of cursive in our schools.

Hints and Echoes is about to undergo a transformation. Beginning December 1, Herb will join me as a writing (and drawing) partner. Posts will occur more often, but the overall theme of the blog will remain the same: observations on the journey we have personally made from the past to the present and the continuation of that journey from the present on into the future that we are all taking together. This is a subject to which we believe we bring a pertinent perspective, simply because of our advanced age! We’ll also be commenting on books we’re reading, on books we ourselves have written, and other miscellaneous topics. If you’d like to receive the posts in your email inbox, just sign up on the right where you are invited to follow this blog.



Filed under Education

To Bring You Up to Date on the Cursive Debate

cursive-writing-photoWhile the teaching of cursive handwriting has disappeared from the curriculum of many schools, there exists a lively debate about whether or not it is worth teaching

I am very much in the pro-cursive camp, believing that there are many benefits to cursive handwriting that are not generally acknowledged.

Obviously I am not alone. Demand for the teaching of cursive is so strong in some states that the legislature has actually passed a law mandating the teaching of cursive in the elementary schools in their state. I am not really in favor of educational objectives being mandated by law but prefer each State Board of Education draw up the standards for the state.

So far:

Six states (MA, CA, NC. TX, UT and IN) never dropped cursive from the curriculum after the introduction of Common Core, even though Common Core does not require that schools teach it.

 Ten states (South Carolina Florida, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, and Kansas ) have passed legislation mandating that cursive be taught in elementary school.

 Four states (New Jersey, West Virginia, Ohio, Nevada) have legislation pending that mandates the teaching of cursive.

In Indiana a bill that would mandate cursive failed to pass (five times) and in Washington a similar bill was denied a vote in the legislature.

The Arizona governor vetoed such a bill because he believed that the state should not mandate educational objectives, but the Arizona State Board of Education has now included it in the educational standards.

And so it goes. State Boards of Education are debating the question as they set up their standards. Educators and parents on both sides of the issue have strong opinions.

Tomorrow I’ll discuss why they have so much trouble agreeing.










Filed under Education

Why I Finally Broke Up With My Kindle

1 Fran_ois BoMadame Pompadourucher (French painter, 1703_1770) Madame du Pompadour


My Kindle and I have had an uneasy relationship for over three years now. I tried to love it; I really did. But I finally had to admit it wasn’t working out. Best we just call it quits.

First of all, I don’t like the way I can only look at one page at a time. Until I got the Kindle, I didn’t realize how often I fan the pages of a book, looking for information I’ve forgotten or to see if I have time to finish the chapter before dinner. I also didn’t realize that I typically read the last few words on a page as I make the turn. You can’t do that on a Kindle.

I like to write in my books. God doesn’t care. They are, after all, my books. Of course I would never write in someone else’s book or a library book—curses on those who do—but I happily scribble in mine. I like to pick up a book I’ve already read, and fan the pages looking for the stars, the underlines, and the marginal notes to myself and to the author that I’ve made in my own handwriting. I like to dog-ear pages, paste on sticky notes, insert bookmarks.

In short, I like to handle a book, that is to do a lot of things with my hands as I read.

And I like to know where my books are— and I do. They’re on the bookshelves. I can identify them by just looking at the spines. Some books are fat, some thin; some tall, some short, and they’re all different colors . I like them around me; I don’t want them dancing off into the atmosphere.

But the most disqualifying aspect of the Kindle for me is the fact that I simply cannot concentrate on what I’m reading on a screen for more than 15 or 20 minutes.

To be fair, I should acknowledge that there are certain advantages to the Kindle. You can make the type bigger. It’s easier to read lying down because you only have to hold the reader; the book literally weighs nothing. You can read in the dark; there are lots of free books available, and if you travel, you can carry any number of books with you without adding weight to your luggage.

You’re a nice device, Kindle. But let’s face it; as far as you and I are concerned, it’s over.



Filed under Education, Technology, Uncategorized

Chatty Cathy to Hello, Barbie—Where are We Going With This?

51QJYEvG-YLWhen Elly was four, her Uncle Mark gave her a Chatty Cathy doll for Christmas. I remember it well. We were all amused and intrigued by this “talking doll.” You pulled and released a ring pull on her back and she “spoke.”

However, the concealed recording only produced 11 phrases and even the four-year old knew the doll wasn’t really talking. Cathy’s charm wore off rather quickly.

Fast forward to now. The paradigm has shifted and talking toys have taken on a weirdly sinister character. Thanks to the digital revolution and advances in the field of artificial intelligence, the new Barbie can simulate a real conversation, responding to comments as if she understands them. Actually her roll out may have been somewhat premature since, according to some of the reviews, the most often produced response when you push her belt buckle is “Uh oh, I can’t find a WiFi connection.”

But don’t worry, Barbie’s conversational skills will improve in short order. Today she is programmed to recognize spoken clues that direct her to select from among 8,000 responses.. And she remembers some of what she hears, like the child’s name, a pet’s name, etc. and she incorporates that information into the conversation.

Even though children understand that Barbie is not really alive, they cannot fully grasp just how she works (who can?) and a doll who responds to whatever you say in a reasonably logical way is a powerful plaything especially if the adults, intent on their own electronic devices, don’t often pay close attention to what you are saying.

We all need to have face to face interactions with other humans who have feelings of joy, anger, disgust, admiration—and love— and who express these feelings through language and facial expression. This is how children learn to have feelings of their own and to empathize with others. The process starts when the infant first brings his mother’s smiling face into focus and continues throughout life.

Barbie, however, does not— and never will— have feelings. And children who spend a lot of time with a robot risk becoming, in some measure, 479459-hello-barbierobotic.

After a childhood relating to talking toys and an adulthood conversing with Siri and Alexa and their as yet unimagined sophisticated and smarter progeny, these kids should have no objection to a nursing home where their caregivers will be robots that look like nurses.

Don’t scoff. Such a scenario is already in the works with Japan leading the way. They expect a shortfall of 380,000 nursing care workers for the elderly by 2025 and robots are already on the job there. So far they don’t look like people, but they’re working on it.

O, brave new world/ That has such people in it.

William Shakespeare, The Tempest, Act 5, Scene 1.




Filed under Education, Technology

Follow-up on “The Heart of the Andes”—Call it Serendipity or the Power of the Internet or Both


The Heart of the Andes, Frederic Church


My friend Linda, who teaches English as a Second Language to an amazingly diverse class of 20 college students, emailed to tell me how my post on Frederic Church’s “The Heart of the Andes” coincided with one of her assignments. (Scroll down for my original post.)

Linda is the most creative teacher I have ever known, and I’ve known a lot of teachers. Her students, who hail from China, Haiti, Mauritius, the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Ecuador, Venezuela, Syria, and Bangladesh are not only perfecting their English but learning a great deal about American culture in the bargain and I daresay enjoying every minute of her class.

Here is Linda’s email:

(The reason the students were instructed to check out the knights in shining armor and the “Artistic furniture of the Gilded Age” exhibit has to do with some of their reading. As I say, Linda is a creative teacher!)

How interesting that you posted this at this particular time. Last week, I sent my students off to the Met to do three things: check out the knights in armor and next the “Artistic Furniture of the Gilded Age” and last to choose a Gallery Talk to test their listening skills with a lecturer who wouldn’t accommodate their being ESL students. Several of the students chose a particular Museum Highlights tour where the docent took them to see this very painting. I know because a few chose it to describe as the most impressive thing they saw on the tour. Two even said they lagged behind the group because they wanted to keep looking at the painting. One described it as 3-D. These were students who have never been to the Met or perhaps any art museum before. So, as you hit on, it’s all relative. You and I can’t even number how many times we’ve been to the Met or seen “great paintings”, but for these students, it’s all new, so they’re closer to the original audience. Now we’re in the midst of our intense review for the upcoming reading comprehension exam in June, and one of the reading passages yesterday was about American artists and the beginning of landscape painting on this kind of scale in the mid 19th century. The students who went on that tour all commented about “Heart of the Andes” again. So today, I’m printing out your post for them so we can see the old-time photo and follow up on yesterday’s talk. Thanks! Linda

Coincidence, yes, but a powerful demonstration how we are all connected in unimaginable ways via the internet. Gives me goosebumps.



Filed under Education, Museums, Technology