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!

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We’re Going on a Bear Hunt: A

UnknownThis is such a great book, full of  sensory imagery and adventure.  The author, Michael Rosen takes his little readers through tall grasses, roaring winds, heaving storms and monstrous mountains.  Each outdoorsy “obstacle” is followed by a mantra,

“We can’t go under it, we can’t go over it, we have to go through it!”

Maybe it’s just me, but this mantra is such a great lesson for little kids to learn in life.  Things can be tough, sometimes we have to deal with it, and go straight on through.  At least, that’s what I get out of it– my charge on the other hand just wants to go on a bear hunt!

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.

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Wise Words from Kitzinger

“Babies speak a language that needs to be learned.  And with each baby you need to start discovering this one’s special language.  It takes time.  Meanwhile there us confusion, and irritation that the baby’s messages are not clearer, and that your own efforts to understand are not appreciated.  You have read books about child care, but somehow the baby is not playing by the rules. Remember that, though you are trying your best, your baby has not read the same books.”- Sheila Kitzinger (The Year After Childbirth)

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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.”

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.

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!

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Stamps & Safety?

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Motherlode

A great article by KJ Dell’Antonia on the Motherlode about cartoon stamps, hyper-safety and over-parenting.

“These are the well-meaning attempts of empathetic, concerned, careful, thoughtful adults to protect our children, but it’s striking that, as a culture, we’re working so hard to protect them from exactly the experiences that helped us become adults ourselves. We learn from making mistakes, even big mistakes. We learn from the things that go wrong, that aren’t fun, that leave us thinking hard about how something could be better. A few of us even learned how valuable those helmets and shinguards are by having an accident while not wearing them. If you never learn where your limits are, it’s hard to learn to respect them — or to transcend them.”

Dyslexia and Education

UnknownI just saw this piece on Motherlode by Lisa Ogburn  about raising a dyslexic child in standardized world.  I’m dyslexic, and I just recently talked with my mother about the difficulties she had teaching me how to read, the hours she spent going over sounds and words, phonetically with me, only to have me retain little to nothing the following day.   I don’t remember these hours spent learning how to read, but one day I got it.  I became an avid reader, but continued to have issues with numbers, and to this day I have a hard to sounding words out.

I was home-schooled until high school, when I then attended a huge public school, this may have been a mistake, my mom and I debate over this.  I think going to public school had its benefits, such as, understanding who I was, and the ways that I was smart despite being dyslexic.  That I had a personality, a righteousness I was able to exercise and that set me apart from the other kids who seemed to have none. But there was the obvious downside, which is our education system and the standardized tests which riddle every corner of it.

I remember taking an entrance examine before my freshmen year, everyone had to take it, so as to evaluate what class level they should be in.  According to my scores the school wanted to place me in remedial everything, luckily my mom had the final say and placed me honors classes where I could verbally and inwardly strengthen my learning.

My teachers would say that I was smart, that I performed well on homework and in class discussions but my tests were often confusing for them.  I did well on my homework because I had time at home. For most people testing is difficult, it’s a skill that is learned, for people with dyslexia it can be close to impossible.

The education system often made me feel stupid, it’s a feeling I still struggle with now. Luckily I am an adult now, and I can logically understand that the problem isn’t me, or people like me, it’s a fundamental problem within our society and educational system.