Bunny Days: D-

imagesBunny Days, written by Tao Nyeu lives on the top shelf in my charges room, if I can help it that is.  The top shelf is not an ode to top-shelf liquors, the top shelf is just simply out of her reach and eye-shot so I don’t have to read this disturbing sadistic book.

The story line is simple, there are six bunnies, two goats and one bear.  The author has Mr. Goat “accidentally” mangle the bunnies in each of the mini vignette’s. After the torture has ensued the goat offers no apology, he continues with his daily chores, unaware and unconcerned that he has chopped off the bunnies tails, sucked them into a vacuum, etc. Instead of Mr. Goat taking responsibility for what he’s done, Bear comes to the “rescue,” fixing the bunnies in ways that would never work in real life, like putting them in a washer.  Wouldn’t this only and make their pain and suffering worse?

The few times I’ve read this book I cringe, because the reality of tails chopped and suffocation in the washer, even if it’s on delicate, is all too much for me.  And really what message does it send?  Sure, I guess the message is, “help out your friends when they’ve been beaten and abused” and while this is a good, moral message, it seems  to me the amount of physical brutality is a little unnecessary for toddlers, couldn’t the author have made the point a different way?  Mr. Goat is painted as the bad guy and doesn’t even know it, maybe instead of fixing the Mr. Goats mishaps Bear should put an end to the torture.

Maybe the better message would be, “Hey Goat, pay attention dude, you keep hurting my friends.  What’s going on in your life that you don’t even notice the pain you’re inflicting? Are you depressed?  Let’s get you help!”

Tip: Don’t buy this book, and if you already have it, put it out of sight on the top shelf!

Back to Pink, Kind of.

This is kind of a reblog from Bluemilk, I saw her post referencing the recent article/discussion Girls, Boys, Feminism, Toys: Deborah Siegel and Rebecca Hains Discuss.  The discussion between Deborah Siegal and Rebecca Hains, points to issues with the anti-pink phenomenon, and ways to educate children about media literacy.  

Rebecca: In all honesty, the argument that we need to stop (“or at least pause”) the war on pink didn’t even come off as a rhetorical device to me. I’m sad to say that it just came across as ill-informed. There isn’t a war on pink; there’s a thoughtful, measured argument that while pink isn’t inherently bad, it’s limiting the play worlds and imaginations of boys and girls alike. So “Who’s Afraid of the War on Pink” reads, to me and my colleagues, like a straw man argument. The authors were conjuring up a nonexistent epidemic of myopic thinking, instead of engaging with anyone’s actual writing on the subject of girl culture and the rise of pink.

Check out the rest of the discussion on Girl W/Pen

Sorry Goldieblox

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I just found this article by Katy Waldman in Slate, Goldieblox: Great for Girls? Bad for Girls? Or Just Selling Toys?

If you haven’t yet heard of GoldieBlox toy company, check it out here.   The aim of the company is to guide girls toward a career in engineering, or at the very least get them away from typical girl toys.   While I haven’t had the pleasure of getting my hands on one of the toys, and while the company aims seem at first powerful and legitimate I can’t help but shutter a little at the almost sleazy misappropriation of feminism seen in their video and mission statement, and with it the assumption that girls don’t already utilize home materials, and other toys to satisfy their desire for constructive and creative learning.

I really don’t want to poo-poo on anyones attempt at trying to promote “better” learning for girls (and boys, right?) and while I can even respect understand, the desire to try and make a buck in the name of feminism, this toy company seems to have missed the mark.  In Waldman’s essay she points to many disheartening truths about the toy, and reviewers all seem to agree that while the idea behind the toy is “inspiring” the execution is a, “massive disappointment, Really doesn’t inspire creativity or ‘engineering’ skills, no room for thinking outside the box.” Amazon reviewers. 

In the end, if you want to inspire children to be creative and even to directly push them toward a career in engineering it seems your best options remain in your household.  Tupperware, tape, boxes, blocks, utensils, etc., all of these things promote spacial reasoning, creativity and may even build future engineers.

Tools of the Mind

Unknown-1I just recently heard about this new (to me) preschool and kindergarten curriculum, Tools of the Mind. If you, like myself have not yet heard of this I highly recommend checking it out.  The differences from a typical classroom are subtle, but fundamental.

Tools of the Mind is a research-based early childhood program that builds strong foundations for school success by promoting intentional and self-regulated learning in preschool- and kindergarten-aged children.”-(Tools of the Mind site)

The differences are in the classroom set-up, schedule and activities.  The alphabet board is not alphabetical, as we know it, instead letters are grouped together based on their likeness to others, i.e., vowels and consonant. What we consider play-time can be the center of the days activity in a Tools classroom.  The curriculum recognizes and utilizes play to stimulate self-awarness. Before a set-up play activity children are asked to draw/write (in their own way) what their intention is for the activity.  While this “intention setting” might seem small and insignificant, what it does is offer children a chance to be reflective and self-aware, which give s them agency, and a chance to be autonomous.  These subtle, yet as I said above, fundamental differences have been recognized as having great upward impact.  

“The effectiveness of the Tools program has been the subject of numerous research studies in the field of early education and neuroscience. Tools has been shown to improve self-regulation skills in young children and predict later achievement in reading and math. Tools is currently expanding in many states and local school districts across the country. As a result, the Tools program is now a part of several, rigorous longitudinal studies examining the effects for special populations such as dual language learners, as well as, the program’s effects on teacher practice as measured by teacher and child interactions.” DC Public Schools: Tools of the Mind Early Childhood Curriculum, Empirical Research Review.

Link

Everyday Gendering

Gender Neutral Parenting: 5 ways to Avoid Implicit Sexism

Here is a great article which pinpoints the dangers of naturalized sexism. “Naturalized” sexism is something that most of us unknowingly perform, or take part in daily, even women.

“In one experiment, mothers were asked to guess the steepness of a carpeted slope that their 11-month olds would be able to crawl. Then the children actually crawled the slope, and the difference between actual and mother-predicted angles was noted.

The results showed that both boys and girls were able to crawl the same degree of incline. However, the predictions of the mothers were correct within one degree for the boys and underestimated their daughter’s ability by nine degrees.”

Llama Llama Time to Share: A+

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Llama Llama Time to Share by Anna Dewdney is a great book about sharing, a lesson and skill which is one of the hardest to teach and instill in children…and sometimes adults. The thing that I love about the book, and most of the Llama Llama collection is that it offers a lesson which can be easily identified by young children. Llama Llama Time to Share acknowledges the difficulties sharing can entail and the fun which is gained when sharing actually happens.

When the child I watch is having difficulty sharing I reference this book (we read it constantly per her request.)  She immidiately knows what I’m talking about and usually decides to do what Llama Llama would do. This book gets an A+ because the message is clear, relevant and worth learning.

Talking Back

images….I don’t mean the dreaded talk back you’ll soon get from your teenage kids.  I’m referring to the talk back I practice with babies and toddlers in order to stimulate language and social skills. I was recently asked by a mom what I recommend to influence unprompted responses from toddlers.  An example, of what I consider a prompted, pushed response would be:

Adult: “What color is the flower?….you know what it is, what is it?…..Please tell me what color the flower is.”

Versus:

unprompted: Adult: ” I like the colors of these flowers.” Child: “I like the pink one.”

Getting to this point, in my opinion happens with consistent talk back, from the adult, from the very beginning. Some parent’s find “talk back” annoying and an aspect of overparenting, but I think it’s a very useful tool in getting babies and toddlers to learn how to say words, and to show them we understand and care about what they have to say.  Hopefully this talk back leads them to feel socially valued and thus more willing to speak unprompted.

Questions:

When your child is learning to talk, make sure to create conversation and ask them questions. Try not to solely ask, what-animal-is-that-questions, ask them free-response questions about their day, where right and wrong don’t necessarily come into play.

Repeat:

When your baby/toddler is first learning how to talk, and or learning new words, repeat what he said back, this will show him a few things:  1. That you understood him. 2. That you care what he says. 3. That you are listening.

Repetition is a great way for children to learn new information. Repeating words and sentences back also insures that you understood what your child is saying, and is a chance for you to annunciate the words correctly for your child to hear and learn.

Even Firefighters Go To The Potty: D-

UnknownEven Firefighters Go to the Potty by Wendy and Naomi Wax receives a D- because it’s horribly stereotypical and heteronormative.  As stated in the title, this is a potty training book, but what it really seems to be “training” or instilling in it’s readers is digressive social stereotyping.  Almost all of the professions feature white-males, the only other race imaged in the book is African-American, this is a typical race quota. The race quota can be seen in many late Nineties and early 2000’s shows, where a once all white cast, simply throws in a black person to “diversify.” But really all this does is amplify, and naturalize racism, by assuming that white and black extremes take care of the diversity quota. What about all other races?

The two-African-American MEN imaged in this book fulfill a race stereotype, one is a baseball player, the other is a server.  There might be one woman in the book, but her gender-ambiguity is hard to visually read, especially in comparison with the hyper-masculine male characters.

The ONE (possible)  woman featured has long hair, virtually the only “tell” this might be a woman, all other features are masculine, or hard  to read. In another, more progressive book, I wouldn’t assume this doctor were female, the long hair wouldn’t automatically make me think “female” but in a book that has proved to be socially digressive I’m leaning toward female. Long hair on a guy is just too much.

The possible woman is a doctor… great right? Maybe not, because either the doctor is a male, or the female doctor is, stereotypically unattractive, i.e., looks Vs. smarts. Women, stereotypically are not thought of as being both attractive and smart, you’re either one or the other.

Not every book needs to be ambiguous about gender relations, nor, does every book need to display different races, i.e. books centered around one-race families. The images, alone are to blame for the D- rating this book receives.  They’re so visually digressive that it overshadows any good message which could have been accomplished by simply doing the socially responsible thing of diversifying biological-sex and race through image. In a book which references many different professions including cop, firefighter, baseball player, server, doctor, there should be diversity in biological-sex and race.

The Giving Tree: A+

GivingTree-1The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein is one of my all-time favorite books for children. Why do I love it so much?  Because The Giving Tree provides lessons in emotional education in a beautiful, and simple way.  I also love that the pictures are in black and white, which allows some room for creative imagination.

Interactive Experience:  Ask your child to find the boy.  Throughout the book the “boy” is often hidden in the branches, finding him is a fun interactive way to make them apart of the reading experience.

Who Needs to be Artistic?

You don’t have to be artistically inclined, or creatively adept, to create a fun activity or toy for your children.  I’m speaking from experience.  You know those nannies who are amazingly artistically talented? The ones who draw beautiful portraits along side your child?  The ones who skillfully and effortlessly think of ways to use the left-over yarn, old clothes, to make an art project? Well, I’m sadly not one of those nannies.

But I try not to let this fact get me down.  I still draw alongside your children, my pictures just look like exact replicas of your 2-year-old’s. I’m still creative in theory, though my creations never look the way I imagine, which is something like this….

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instead they look more like this…..

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The thing is, it doesn’t matter.  There are still plenty of activities for people like me.. and you to do.

Like I said, I still do all of the art stuff, and it’s fun! The thing I’m good at is being outdoors and going on fun, educational outings.  I love to take the child I watch (and past children I’ve nannied) to parks, where we can discuss nature, touch grass, dig in the mud, find walking sticks (I’m a pro at finding a good, solid, walking stick.)  We often take home some goods from nature, like leaves, flowers, sticks, and rocks.  And through some kind of miracle, I can usually think of some potentially magnificent art and educational project to make out of these things.   Though the outcome tends to be mediocre, the process is just as fun as it would be if I were artistically inclined….at least that’s what I tell myself.

Outing Ideas:

I live in New York City, so outing ideas are basically endless here.  We take trips to parks, which often have a free nature center, museums: including children’s, nature and art museums. We go to Zoo’s, Botanical Gardens, book stores, etc.  Destinations spots are also great, trips to the Hudson or East rivers, Coney Island, different playgrounds, simply walking around.  Most of the things listed here you can find anywhere you live.

Outing’s depend on where you live, but in general trips to book stores with a good kid selection is a great outing, especially on a rainy day. Museums are great, check out if your city has a children’s museum, there are tons of fun and educational activities in children’s museums, also don’t hesitate to bring them to art museums.  You might not be able to stay for as long as you would want, but still worth the trip!