I really like this article from Bruce Feiler that ran in yesterday’s NY Times. It’s full of excellent ideas on how parents can handle technology in the home. The comments by parents are as interesting to read as the article itself!
When Tech is a Problem Child, by Bruce Feiler
In the Broadway classic “The Music Man,” set in 1912, the con artist Harold Hill shows up in River City, Iowa, and attempts to persuade the otherwise contented townspeople that their youth are slipping into degradation. He singles out a billiard parlor, “the devil’s playground,” as the root.
“You got trouble,” he sings. “With a capital ‘T’ and that rhymes with ‘P’ and that stands for pool!”
These days, you don’t need goosed-up threats of nicotine stains and rebuckled knickerbockers to rouse the anxieties of parents. All you need is to broach the one subject that everyone views as Trouble.
By now, all parents know that technology poses at least some threat to children. Just last month, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a study that said while digital and social media can help early learning, they also come with a host of risks, including negative effects on sleep, attention and learning, along with higher incidence of obesity and depression. The group recommends that parents develop a Family Media Use Plan.
Fair enough, but what should be in such a plan? As the parent of adolescents, I want more than bromides. I want to know what other parents are actually doing that works.
For the last six weeks, I’ve circulated (on social media!) 20 questions covering topics like homework, passwords, bedtime and punishments. I received responses from more than 60 families, and though the survey was unscientific, the answers have already changed how we manage tech at my house.
FIRST PHONES The vast majority of parents who responded gave their children their first phones in sixth or seventh grade, with a few holding out until high school. But those devices aren’t always cutting edge. Parents opted for “dumb phones,” “flip phones” or “hand-me-down phones” from siblings or grown-ups. They also turn off features, including Wi-Fi, Siri, even internet access.
Other popular restrictions include: “Writing an expected behavior contract.” “No use of the internet on school days (except schoolwork).” “Screen time limited to 30 to 60 minutes per day during the week, unlimited on Saturday mornings.”
Another is a partial ban on group texting. “I was able to help my son feel better about not having this by allowing him to view group texts on the family iPad,” one parent said. “It helped him see how little value the group chatter has.”
Phones during friend visits are another issue: “Nothing more disappointing than seeing my children’s friends bring their devices to my home and have them focus on the devices to the exclusion of hanging out with my children.”
My own favorite way to limit tech use: “Poor reception — the phones don’t always work.”
Asked to give other parents advice on when to give their children a phone, the consensus answer was: Wait as long as possible. Once you provide it, it’s very difficult to take back.
HOMEWORK Should children be allowed to communicate with friends while doing homework? Two-thirds of the parents say yes; one-third say no.
Among the comments by the Yeses were, “Only if they are in common areas of the house” or “Only with the door open (so we can monitor).” Another added, “Depends if they are working on a project together, which is difficult to enforce.”
The Nos said that homework is done independently, and that if kids need help, they should find a parent, or the parents contact a teacher.
Wider use of computers for homework also drew mixed reactions. Some parents are quite strict, limiting all technology “outside of a computer for spelling or Google docs.” “Only homework-related sites and no social media.” “Only certain educational sites are allowed. Wikipedia is completely discouraged. I strongly believe that actual books should be read for research purposes as opposed to ‘Googling’ everything.”
Others are more lax: “You have to let them use the tools they will need in their lifetime. Otherwise, let’s give them coal and a slate slab, like Lincoln.”
BEDTIME Researchers at King’s College London have found “strong and consistent association” between using devices at bedtime and inadequate sleep, poor sleep and increased sleepiness during daytime. Parents have gotten the message.
An overwhelming majority ban phones from bedrooms at bedtime. “Tech needs a bedtime, too, in our house, 30 mins before lights out.” “No technology one hour before bedtime.” “At 9 p.m. she brings her phone downstairs, where it stays until 7 a.m.” “Devices are supposed to be parked outside the kids’ bedrooms before they turn in for the night.”
Some parents make exceptions on weekends or as kids get older. A few have no restrictions at all, though one otherwise tech-friendly mom said: “No earbuds! Our carbon monoxide detector went off one night and he did not wake up because he was sleeping with earbuds in.”
At least one dad goes to the opposite extreme, turning off the Wi-Fi in the house at an appointed time each night. “Same rules, better enforcement,” he said.
Also popular is to require phones to be charged outside the bedroom. “Everyone in our house puts phones on a charging station in our kitchen before going to bed.” “Devices are charged in the kitchen. (I cook a lot and I can keep an eye on them, especially when the children are punished and still try to sneak off with them.)” “At bedtime, devices go in the bathroom for charging.”
One mother has no specific place, only not in the child’s room: “My husband and I simply ask where the phones are charging during our ‘audits of responsibility.’ If the children try to work around the rule, they know the device will be placed in ‘jail.’”
SOCIAL MEDIA Many parents restrict first-time phone users to a single social media platform. “Only Snapchat; no Instagram, Twitter, Facebook.” “Only Instagram, and I check it occasionally.” “One platform at a time.”
Regardless of the sites, most parents insist on knowing passwords and logins. “My rules, until he was 18, were that I get all the passwords to all accounts. I did spot check from time to time.” “I have ALL usernames and passwords, and if they change, she has to update my list. If I try to log on and cannot, I get the phone until it pleases me to give it back.”
Do parents actually monitor their children’s online behavior? Some do. “I read texts frequently.” “We are ‘friends’ or ‘following’ all of his social media accounts, so we see every post.” “I have asked to read texts when daughter was hiding device as I came into the room.” “I do random audits. We talk about digital citizenship and positive words.”
But others prefer to give their children freedom. “When they each began texting, I read random texts. And I asked about the ones I read. (‘I see you and friend are chatting about the Jets,’ or ‘I see you and friend are chatting about another child in class.’) That way they know I can read any text at any time, even though I don’t.” “They’re almost all very boring.”
PUNISHMENTS What happens if children violate the family rules? Is it actually possible to separate a digital native from a device for an extended period of time? Behold, skeptical ones: Many parents say yes.
“Yes when younger.” “Yes, she responds to it.” “YES!! It’s the ultimate motivator!” “Yes. Weeping and gnashing of teeth, and then they find other things to do.” “I have. He gets very angry initially but eventually he calms down. Last spring I implemented a 3 week digital cleanse. He was angry each day for 3 days but also became more pleasant.”
Another common way to get children to adhere to restrictions is to have them pay for overages. “We pay the fee but have her pay overages.” “We also cut data off.” “She now babysits family friends to earn more and has to learn basic budgeting.”
FAMILY TIME Perhaps the biggest complaint about technology is that it eats into family time. So what techniques have parents used to take back that time?
First, tech-free dining. “No devices for all meals.” “No phones at the table, and that’s not just at our house. Siblings, nieces, nephews and my mom’s home have the same rule. No one gripes about it, they just do it.” “No devices at meals. No earbuds in the car.”
Second, consider positive alternatives. “Doing things that make phones a burden. Playing a fast-moving game, hiking, attending concerts or performances.” “We watch movies together, have a fire in the yard or swim when it’s warm and have game night, only board games allowed. They used to complain, but have found favorite games and look forward to it now.”
“Do something constructive together. Make sure everyone (even mommy and daddy) get their hands dirty. We often will cook together and make some of the worst meals ever, but it’s O.K. because we did it together.”
Finally, when all else fails, many rely on the old parental standbys: threats, bribes and public humiliation. Threats: “Randomly I scream, ‘Take that phone out of your hand!’ It limits their use for the next five minutes.”
Bribes: “Parent-child date night. (Parents alternate taking one child out for a treat; fourth week is parents night out.)”
Public humiliation: “If a device is picked up during family time, we get to open texts, and my husband and I do dramatic text reading.”
Now that’s a technique even the parents of River City might embrace. These days, trouble may start with the phone, but the solution still begins at home.
Check out this article from Nature News where a long-running study of exceptional children reveals what it takes to produce scientists of the future!
How to raise a genius: lessons from a 45-year study of super-smart children
A long-running investigation of exceptional children reveals what it takes to produce the scientists who will lead the twenty-first century.
by Tom Clynes
On a summer day in 1968, professor Julian Stanley met a brilliant but bored 12-year-old named Joseph Bates. The Baltimore student was so far ahead of his classmates in mathematics that his parents had arranged for him to take a computer-science course at Johns Hopkins University, where Stanley taught. Even that wasn’t enough. Having leapfrogged ahead of the adults in the class, the child kept himself busy by teaching the FORTRAN programming language to graduate students.
Unsure of what to do with Bates, his computer instructor introduced him to Stanley, a researcher well known for his work in psychometrics — the study of cognitive performance. To discover more about the young prodigy’s talent, Stanley gave Bates a battery of tests that included the SAT college-admissions exam, normally taken by university-bound 16- to 18-year-olds in the United States.
Bates’s score was well above the threshold for admission to Johns Hopkins, and prompted Stanley to search for a local high school that would let the child take advanced mathematics and science classes. When that plan failed, Stanley convinced a dean at Johns Hopkins to let Bates, then 13, enrol as an undergraduate.
Stanley would affectionately refer to Bates as “student zero” of his Study of Mathematically Precocious Youth (SMPY), which would transform how gifted children are identified and supported by the US education system. As the longest-running current longitudinal survey of intellectually talented children, SMPY has for 45 years tracked the careers and accomplishments of some 5,000 individuals, many of whom have gone on to become high-achieving scientists. The study’s ever-growing data set has generated more than 400 papers and several books, and provided key insights into how to spot and develop talent in science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM) and beyond.
“What Julian wanted to know was, how do you find the kids with the highest potential for excellence in what we now call STEM, and how do you boost the chance that they’ll reach that potential,” says Camilla Benbow, a protégé of Stanley’s who is now dean of education and human development at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. But Stanley wasn’t interested in just studying bright children; he wanted to nurture their intellect and enhance the odds that they would change the world. His motto, he told his graduate students, was “no more dry bones methodology”.
With the first SMPY recruits now at the peak of their careers1, what has become clear is how much the precociously gifted outweigh the rest of society in their influence. Many of the innovators who are advancing science, technology and culture are those whose unique cognitive abilities were identified and supported in their early years through enrichment programmes such as Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Talented Youth— which Stanley began in the 1980s as an adjunct to SMPY. At the start, both the study and the centre were open to young adolescents who scored in the top 1% on university entrance exams. Pioneering mathematicians Terence Tao and Lenhard Ng were one-percenters, as were Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Google co-founder Sergey Brin and musician Stefani Germanotta (Lady Gaga), who all passed through the Hopkins centre.
“Whether we like it or not, these people really do control our society,” says Jonathan Wai, a psychologist at the Duke University Talent Identification Program in Durham, North Carolina, which collaborates with the Hopkins centre. Wai combined data from 11 prospective and retrospective longitudinal studies2, including SMPY, to demonstrate the correlation between early cognitive ability and adult achievement. “The kids who test in the top 1% tend to become our eminent scientists and academics, our Fortune 500 CEOs and federal judges, senators and billionaires,” he says.
Source: K. Ferriman Robertson et al. Curr. Dir. Psychol. Sci. 19, 346–351 (2010).
Such results contradict long-established ideas suggesting that expert performance is built mainly through practice — that anyone can get to the top with enough focused effort of the right kind. SMPY, by contrast, suggests that early cognitive ability has more effect on achievement than either deliberate practice or environmental factors such as socio-economic status. The research emphasizes the importance of nurturing precocious children, at a time when the prevailing focus in the United States and other countries is on improving the performance of struggling students (see ‘Nurturing a talented child’). At the same time, the work to identify and support academically talented students has raised troubling questions about the risks of labelling children, and the shortfalls of talent searches and standardized tests as a means of identifying high-potential students, especially in poor and rural districts.
“With so much emphasis on predicting who will rise to the top, we run the risk of selling short the many kids who are missed by these tests,” says Dona Matthews, a developmental psychologist in Toronto, Canada, who co-founded the Center for Gifted Studies and Education at Hunter College in New York City. “For those children who are tested, it does them no favours to call them ‘gifted’ or ‘ungifted’. Either way, it can really undermine a child’s motivation to learn.”
Start of a study
On a muggy August day, Benbow and her husband, psychologist David Lubinski, describe the origins of SMPY as they walk across the quadrangle at Vanderbilt University. Benbow was a graduate student at Johns Hopkins when she met Stanley in a class he taught in 1976. Benbow and Lubinski, who have co-directed the study since Stanley’s retirement, brought it to Vanderbilt in 1998.
“In a sense, that brought Julian’s research full circle, since this is where he started his career as a professor,” Benbow says as she nears the university’s psychology laboratory, the first US building dedicated to the study of the field. Built in 1915, it houses a small collection of antique calculators — the tools of quantitative psychology in the early 1950s, when Stanley began his academic work in psychometrics and statistics.
His interest in developing scientific talent had been piqued by one of the most famous longitudinal studies in psychology, Lewis Terman’s Genetic Studies of Genius3, 4. Beginning in 1921, Terman selected teenage subjects on the basis of high IQ scores, then tracked and encouraged their careers. But to Terman’s chagrin, his cohort produced only a few esteemed scientists. Among those rejected because their IQ of 129 was too low to make the cut was William Shockley, the Nobel-prizewinning co-inventor of the transistor. Physicist Luis Alvarez, another Nobel winner, was also rejected.
Stanley suspected that Terman wouldn’t have missed Shockley and Alvarez if he’d had a reliable way to test them specifically on quantitative reasoning ability. So Stanley decided to try the Scholastic Aptitude Test (now simply the SAT). Although the test is intended for older students, Stanley hypothesized that it would be well suited to measuring the analytical reasoning abilities of elite younger students.
Nurturing a talented child
“Setting out to raise a genius is the last thing we’d advise any parent to do,” says Camilla Benbow, dean of education and human development at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. That goal, she says, “can lead to all sorts of social and emotional problems”.
Benbow and other talent-development researchers offer the following tips to encourage both achievement and happiness for smart children.
- Expose children to diverse experiences.
- When a child exhibits strong interests or talents, provide opportunities to develop them.
- Support both intellectual and emotional needs.
- Help children to develop a ‘growth mindset’ by praising effort, not ability.
- Encourage children to take intellectual risks and to be open to failures that help them learn.
- Beware of labels: being identified as gifted can be an emotional burden.
- Work with teachers to meet your child’s needs. Smart students often need more-challenging material, extra support or the freedom to learn at their own pace.
- Have your child’s abilities tested. This can support a parent’s arguments for more-advanced work, and can reveal issues such as dyslexia, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, or social and emotional challenges.
In March 1972, Stanley rounded up 450 bright 12- to 14-year-olds from the Baltimore area and gave them the mathematics portion of the SAT. It was the first standardized academic ‘talent search’. (Later, researchers included the verbal portion and other assessments.)
“The first big surprise was how many adolescents could figure out math problems that they hadn’t encountered in their course work,” says developmental psychologist Daniel Keating, then a PhD student at Johns Hopkins University. “The second surprise was how many of these young kids scored well above the admissions cut-off for many elite universities.”
Stanley hadn’t envisioned SMPY as a multi-decade longitudinal study. But after the first follow-up survey, five years later, Benbow proposed extending the study to track subjects through their lives, adding cohorts and including assessments of interests, preferences, and occupational and other life accomplishments. The study’s first four cohorts range from the top 3% to the top 0.01% in their SAT scores. The SMPY team added a fifth cohort of the leading mathematics and science graduate students in 1992 to test the generalizability of the talent-search model for identifying scientific potential.
“I don’t know of any other study in the world that has given us such a comprehensive look at exactly how and why STEM talent develops,” says Christoph Perleth, a psychologist at the University of Rostock in Germany who studies intelligence and talent development.
As the data flowed in, it quickly became apparent that a one-size-fits-all approach to gifted education, and education in general, was inadequate.
“SMPY gave us the first large-sample basis for the field to move away from general intelligence toward assessments of specific cognitive abilities, interests and other factors,” says Rena Subotnik, who directs the Center for Gifted Education Policy at the American Psychological Association in Washington DC.
In 1976, Stanley started to test his second cohort (a sample of 563 13-year-olds who scored in the top 0.5% on the SAT) on spatial ability — the capacity to understand and remember spatial relationships between objects5. Tests for spatial ability might include matching objects that are seen from different perspectives, determining which cross-section will result when an object is cut in certain ways, or estimating water levels on tilted bottles of various shapes. Stanley was curious about whether spatial ability might better predict educational and occupational outcomes than could measures of quantitative and verbal reasoning on their own.
Follow-up surveys — at ages 18, 23, 33 and 48 — backed up his hunch. A 2013 analysis5 found a correlation between the number of patents and peer-refereed publications that people had produced and their earlier scores on SATs and spatial-ability tests. The SAT tests jointly accounted for about 11% of the variance; spatial ability accounted for an additional 7.6%.
The findings, which dovetail with those of other recent studies, suggest that spatial ability plays a major part in creativity and technical innovation. “I think it may be the largest known untapped source of human potential,” says Lubinski, who adds that students who are only marginally impressive in mathematics or verbal ability but high in spatial ability often make exceptional engineers, architects and surgeons. “And yet, no admissions directors I know of are looking at this, and it’s generally overlooked in school-based assessments.”
Although studies such as SMPY have given educators the ability to identify and support gifted youngsters, worldwide interest in this population is uneven. In the Middle East and east Asia, high-performing STEM students have received significant attention over the past decade. South Korea, Hong Kong and Singapore screen children for giftedness and steer high performers into innovative programmes. In 2010, China launched a ten-year National Talent Development Plan to support and guide top students into science, technology and other high-demand fields.
In Europe, support for research and educational programmes for gifted children has ebbed, as the focus has moved more towards inclusion. England decided in 2010 to scrap the National Academy for Gifted and Talented Youth, and redirected funds towards an effort to get more poor students into leading universities.
On the fast track
When Stanley began his work, the choices for bright children in the United States were limited, so he sought out environments in which early talent could blossom. “It was clear to Julian that it’s not enough to identify potential; it has to be developed in appropriate ways if you’re going to keep that flame well lit,” says Linda Brody, who studied with Stanley and now runs a programme at Johns Hopkins focused on counselling profoundly gifted children.
At first, the efforts were on a case-by-case basis. Parents of other bright children began to approach Stanley after hearing about his work with Bates, who thrived after entering university. By 17, he had earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in computer science and was pursuing a doctorate at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. Later, as a professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, he would become a pioneer in artificial intelligence.
“I was shy and the social pressures of high school wouldn’t have made it a good fit for me,” says Bates, now 60. “But at college, with the other science and math nerds, I fit right in, even though I was much younger. I could grow up on the social side at my own rate and also on the intellectual side, because the faster pace kept me interested in the content.”
“Whether we like it or not, these people really do control our society.”
The SMPY data supported the idea of accelerating fast learners by allowing them to skip school grades. In a comparison of children who bypassed a grade with a control group of similarly smart children who didn’t, the grade-skippers were 60% more likely to earn doctorates or patents and more than twice as likely to get a PhD in a STEM field6. Acceleration is common in SMPY’s elite 1-in-10,000 cohort, whose intellectual diversity and rapid pace of learning make them among the most challenging to educate. Advancing these students costs little or nothing, and in some cases may save schools money, says Lubinski. “These kids often don’t need anything innovative or novel,” he says, “they just need earlier access to what’s already available to older kids.”
Many educators and parents continue to believe that acceleration is bad for children — that it will hurt them socially, push them out of childhood or create knowledge gaps. But education researchers generally agree that acceleration benefits the vast majority of gifted children socially and emotionally, as well as academically and professionally7.
Skipping grades is not the only option. SMPY researchers say that even modest interventions — for example, access to challenging material such as college-level Advanced Placement courses — have a demonstrable effect. Among students with high ability, those who were given a richer density of advanced precollegiate educational opportunities in STEM went on to publish more academic papers, earn more patents and pursue higher-level careers than their equally smart peers who didn’t have these opportunities8.
Despite SMPY’s many insights, researchers still have an incomplete picture of giftedness and achievement. “We don’t know why, even at the high end, some people will do well and others won’t,” says Douglas Detterman, a psychologist who studies cognitive ability at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. “Intelligence won’t account for all the differences between people; motivation, personality factors, how hard you work and other things are important.”
Some insights have come from German studies9, 10, 11 that have a methodology similar to SMPY’s. The Munich Longitudinal Study of Giftedness, which started tracking 26,000 gifted students in the mid-1980s, found that cognitive factors were the most predictive, but that some personal traits — such as motivation, curiosity and ability to cope with stress — had a limited influence on performance. Environmental factors, such as family, school and peers, also had an impact.
The data from such intellectual-talent searches also contribute to knowledge of how people develop expertise in subjects. Some researchers and writers, notably psychologist Anders Ericsson at Florida State University in Tallahassee and author Malcolm Gladwell, have popularized the idea of an ability threshold. This holds that for individuals beyond a certain IQ barrier (120 is often cited), concentrated practice time is much more important than additional intellectual abilities in acquiring expertise. But data from SMPY and the Duke talent programme dispute that hypothesis (see ‘Top of the charts‘). A study published this year12 compared the outcomes of students in the top 1% of childhood intellectual ability with those in the top 0.01%. Whereas the first group gain advanced degrees at about 25 times the rate of the general population, the more elite students earn PhDs at about 50 times the base rate.
But some of the work is controversial. In North America and Europe, some child-development experts lament that much of the research on talent development is driven by the urge to predict who will rise to the top, and educators have expressed considerable unease about the concept of identifying and labelling a group of pupils as gifted or talented13.
“A high test score tells you only that a person has high ability and is a good match for that particular test at that point in time,” says Matthews. “A low test score tells you practically nothing,” she says, because many factors can depress students’ performance, including their cultural backgrounds and how comfortable they are with taking high-stakes tests. Matthews contends that when children who are near the high and low extremes of early achievement feel assessed in terms of future success, it can damage their motivation to learn and can contribute to what Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck calls a fixed mindset. It’s far better, Dweck says, to encourage a growth mindset, in which children believe that brains and talent are merely a starting point, and that abilities can be developed through hard work and continued intellectual risk-taking.
“Students focus on improvement instead of worrying about how smart they are and hungering for approval,” says Dweck. “They work hard to learn more and get smarter.” Research by Dweck and her colleagues shows that students who learn with this mindset show greater motivation at school, get better marks and have higher test scores14.
Benbow agrees that standardized tests should not be used to limit students’ options, but rather to develop learning and teaching strategies appropriate to children’s abilities, which allow students at every level to reach their potential.
Next year, Benbow and Lubinski plan to launch a mid-life survey of the profoundly gifted cohort (the 1 in 10,000), with an emphasis on career achievements and life satisfaction, and to re-survey their 1992 sample of graduate students at leading US universities. The forthcoming studies may further erode the enduring misperception that gifted children are bright enough to succeed on their own, without much help.
“The education community is still resistant to this message,” says David Geary, a cognitive developmental psychologist at the University of Missouri in Columbia, who specializes in mathematical learning. “There’s a general belief that kids who have advantages, cognitive or otherwise, shouldn’t be given extra encouragement; that we should focus more on lower-performing kids.”
Although gifted-education specialists herald the expansion of talent-development options in the United States, the benefits have mostly been limited so far to students who are at the top of both the talent and socio-economic curves.
“We know how to identify these kids, and we know how to help them,” says Lubinski. “And yet we’re missing a lot of the smartest kids in the country.”
As Lubinski and Benbow walk through the quadrangle, the clock strikes noon, releasing packs of enthusiastic adolescents racing towards the dining hall. Many are participants in the Vanderbilt Programs for Talented Youth, summer enrichment courses in which gifted students spend three weeks gorging themselves on a year’s worth of mathematics, science or literature. Others are participants in Vanderbilt’s sports camps.
“They’re just developing different talents,” says Lubinski, a former high-school and college wrestler. “But our society has been much more encouraging of athletic talents than we are of intellectual talents.”
And yet these gifted students, the ‘mathletes’ of the world, can shape the future. “When you look at the issues facing society now — whether it’s health care, climate change, terrorism, energy — these are the kids who have the most potential to solve these problems,” says Lubinski. “These are the kids we’d do well to bet on.”
One of the questions parents ask me most is, if my child speaks more than one language at home, will this be a problem on the test? Teaching your child multiple languages has all kinds of life advantages, however, helping the child perform better on early tests isn’t one of them. If there is a language portion to the test (as there is in NYC with the OLSAT, in other cities with the CogAT, or on any IQ test), a child might be disadvantaged if they are speaking more than one language at home. The reason is that kids who speak just one language develop a deeper, richer understanding of the vocabulary of that language than kids who are master 2, 3 or more languages at the same time. If your child is speaking multiple languages at home and you have the option to test her in more than one language (as they offer in NYC), choose to have her tested in whatever language she is strongest in. You might want to consult with your child’s pre-school teacher when making this decision. When you do practice questions with your child, you will have to translate them into the language your child will be tested in.
Often, you will only be offered the option to have your child tested in English. For example, if you live in NYC, they will only administer the test for Hunter College Elementary in English, which puts bilingual or trilingual kids at a disadvantage. This is true in many other school districts around the country – tests are often only administered in English. If your multi-lingual child must be tested in English, I would recommend that in the 6 months before the test, you step up your use of English at home in place of other languages you have been using at home. As soon as the test is over, go back to what you were doing before. This is not an ideal solution, but if you want your child to have the best chance to perform optimally on the test, this is your best strategy. In NYC, kids fare worse on the OLSAT (the verbal test) than the NNAT (the non-verbal test). I’m convinced that is partly because so many kids in NYC come from multi-language homes and many kids just don’t have as deep a mastery of testing vocabulary because of this.
If you are a www.TestingMom.com member, be sure to look at our OLSAT or NYC GIFTED TESTING sections, where we give you a report called “Parent Guide – Essential Vocabulary and Concepts Your Child Must Know for OLSAT Verbal Questions” – Even if your child isn’t taking the OLSAT, but is taking another verbal test, print this out and use the words listed here when you speak with your child. These are words like “between,” “next to,” “first,” “last,” “above,” “below,” and more – words that are used in all tests given to young children.
Here is an article that was in today’s Wall Street Journal. It talks about the many benefits of raising children to speak more than one language.
Raising a Trilingual Child
When Mom speaks one language and Dad another, and the family lives in a city with a third, what language to use for playing, scolding and keeping secrets?
Raising a bilingual child is a goal for many parents. For others, it is just the first step.
Stefano Striuli, an IT executive in Atlanta, speaks to his daughters, Letizia, 10, and Maite (Mah-ee-tay), 7, in his native Italian. The girls speak to their mother, Pilar Guzman, in her native Spanish. The girls switch into English when speaking to each other at home, and they are learning French at school. When the whole family is together, they speak mostly Italian, or English when in public.
There are many reasons for encouraging children to learn a third or fourth language. Parents from two different countries often want to create a home for their children where both native languages are spoken. A bilingual family temporarily living overseas might want to encourage children to become fluent in the local language.
To work, a trilingual household needs rules, and rules must be enforced. Mr. Striuli says if his daughters get confused and use English at home, he ignores them—“but not in a rude way”—until he hears Italian.
“They know that Daddy equals Italian and Mommy equals Spanish,” he says.
The right time to commit to introducing a second or third language to a child is at birth. Parents need to create an environment where children are comfortable speaking, says Annick De Houwer, professor of language acquisition and multilingualism at the Universitat Erfurt in Erfurt, Germany.
“Children do not just pick up a language,” she says. “They must be in a continuous language bath, where they also get a chance to talk.”
Before elementary school age, children usually can learn a second, third or even fourth language without much formal instruction, says Xiao-lei Wang, acting dean at the School of Education, at Pace University, in New York City, and author of a book, “Growing Up With Three Languages.” In many trilingual households, the unwritten rule is each parent speaks only one language to the children and encourages the children to reply only in that language, she says.
Parents can start with baby talk, Dr. De Houwer says. Language-based play groups or frequent video chats with grandparents all help children understand the value of learning another language and culture. “It’s a lot of work,” she adds.
There are more than 1,000 language-immersion programs in U.S. public schools, says Nancy Rhodes, a foreign language education consultant at the Center of Applied Linguistics, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit that works to promote language learning and cultural understanding.
Being bilingual or trilingual can put young children somewhat behind their peers in English vocabulary development or grammar, but most catch up by seventh grade, says Camille Du Aime, head of the primary school at the Atlanta International School, a private school with immersion programs in Spanish, French and German. “We see some delay in the mechanics of spelling or punctuation,” she says.
But eventually, when efforts pay off, the result is the envy of any adult struggling to learn a foreign language—a child who can converse with ease in three languages. Mr. Striuli’s daughter Letizia says she is the go-to translator between English and Spanish in her fifth-grade class. It’s a bother sometimes, she says, but ultimately “really cool.” She is still searching for the perfect translation for one of her favorite English adjectives: “I haven’t found the substitute for ‘awesome’ yet,” she says.
The downside? When one parent and a child share a language, the other spouse can feel left out. “There’s concern about family cohesion” in trilingual families, Dr. Wang says.
“They’ve learned already that if they watch it in Polish or Romanian then I’ll let them watch it longer,” Dr. Sikora says.
As children get older and spend more time at school and friends’ homes, it can get harder to maintain second and third language skills.
Caroline Scriven, a 37-year-old stay-at-home mother in Princeton, N.J., put time into studying and refreshing her Spanish skills, and spoke the language with her sons when they were very young. Her husband, Thomas Scriven, speaks to the boys in his native Swiss German.
Lately, though, 6-year-old Oliver and 4-year-old Henry often use English to reply to one of her questions in Spanish. And she has reverted to English when explaining concepts to them such as death, or the Hail Mary pass.
As they get older, she says, “we can’t pretend we don’t speak English.”
Vanessa Liu speaks her native Cantonese at home in New York City with her children, 8-year-old Nara and 6-year-old Vik. Her husband, Harold Brunink, uses English when disciplining the children, she says, so they have a positive association with his native language, Dutch.
When they are all together, they converse in one of the three languages, using Dutch most often outside the home, so they can discuss private matters in public, Ms. Liu says. “We refer to Dutch as our ‘secret language.’ ”
Write to Alina Dizik at firstname.lastname@example.orgAdd a Comment »
An article in Today’s Wall Street Journal tells us that we aren’t really helping our kids if we let them win all the time. According to the study cited, doing this may give kids a false sense of confidence that could interfere with their learning. Other research shows that losing at games teaches kids to recover from failure. So when playing games with your children, or when doing questions with them for homework or test prep, letting them make mistakes and then recover from them may be just the right ticket!
Letting Children Always Win Is a Losing Strategy
by Ann Lukits, Wall Street Journal
False sense of self-confidence can interfere with learning, study suggests
Letting children always win games and competitions may give them a false sense of self-confidence that could interfere with learning, suggests a study in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology.
Children who were consistently successful at finding a hidden object in a game deliberately rigged in their favor were less likely to acknowledge the help that an adult had provided than children who found the object some of the time, the study found.
Children who only experienced success may have assumed they had special skills and didn’t require help from others, the researchers suggest.
“We all know situations in which adults try to boost children’s self-esteem by giving every kid on the team a trophy, for example,” lead researcher Dr. Carrie Palmquist, assistant professor in the department of psychology at Amherst College, said in an email. “If children only experience success, they may misinterpret the reason and adopt ineffective approaches to problem-solving and learning.”
Researchers recruited 112 children age 4 and 5 years old for four studies involving 16 to 32 participants. In each study, the children tried to find a hidden toy using clues from two adults. One adult gave accurate information about the toy’s whereabouts, and the other was less helpful.
The games, played on laptops, began with eight practice trials that were rigged so half of the children always found the hidden toy, irrespective of the clues, and half found it only by chance. During test trials, the children were asked to identify which adult they would ask for help in finding the object.
In three studies, children who weren’t always successful selected the helpful person 73% of the time, on average, whereas children who always succeeded chose the helpful person just 50% of the time. A fourth study showed the always-successful children were more interested in the helpful person after experiencing failure.
Caveat: The participants were mostly white and middle class. Being overly confident may also have upsides, in that those children may be more willing to try new challenges, the researchers said.
Add a Comment »
For those of you looking for guidance on how much media is appropriate for children at different ages, the new research-based AAP guidelines were released this which and they include:
- Children younger than 18 months should not use screen media except for video-chatting. These guidelines are different than previously established guidelines recommending that children under 24 months avoid all screen media.
- Children ages 18-24 months should only be exposed to high-quality, educational programming, such as content by Sesame Street and PBS KIDS. Media exposure for children this age should always be accompanied by an adult who can help them understand the content.
- Children ages 2 to 5 years should be limited to an hour of screen time involving high-quality programs. Parents should also co-view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to their own lives.
- Children ages 6 and older should have clear limits about both the amount of media time and the type of media content they are allowed to use.
- Families should establish “media-free” times and locations, such as during dinner, driving, and in children’s bedrooms.
- Regardless of children’s age, families should have regular conversations about online safety and etiquette.
In addition to the new media use guidelines, AAP experts launched a “Family Media Use Plan” tool at HealthyChildren.org to help parents establish a healthy media use diet that is appropriate to their family’s unique needs.
There’s a good article on this at the PBS Parents website. It offers additional guidance such as:
Here are a few things you can start doing now. Making small changes today can influence your children’s well-being tomorrow in big ways:
- For 5 or 10 minutes a day, make some time to read a book to your child — with the TV off. Research shows that reading together has all sorts of positive benefits for children.
- Pick a night, maybe Sunday night, and help your little one video chat with Grandma, Grandpa, or another distant relative or friend. There is much we can do to help our kids, even little kids, learn to use media in positive ways.
- During dinner, turn the TV off and put all devices in another room. This might have to start with just one night a week to avoid a total revolt in your house, but one night is a huge step in the right direction.
- For one 24-hour period, keep track of your own media use. One of the biggest predictors of children’s media use is parents’ media use. What you find may surprise you into making small course corrections.
- When your kids are using media, start participating with them. Joint parent-child media use can have an amazing influence on how much children learn from positive media content.
Today’s world is different than the world in which we were raised. Media is everywhere, and it’s not going away. This means that our parenting needs are different than our parents’. The new AAP guidelines reflect our changing world—parents’ role in managing the media diets of our children has never been greater. The whole reason those of us who conduct children and media research is to help parents make evidence-based decisions about the role of media in the lives of children. These new guidelines provide a solid basis for parents to help shape how media is used in the home.
Add a Comment »
Variety of IQ Tests Means Measuring Gray Matter Is a Gray Area, By JO CRAVEN MCGINTY
Measuring smarts is harder than it sounds.
IQ tests are widely accepted measurements of intelligence, but there are many different tests, their content varies, and a person’s scores may fluctuate for a variety of reasons. In most cases, the differences won’t be extreme. But researchers have documented scores for individuals that varied by 10 points in either direction.
“It’s sloppy, and we know that,” said W. Joel Schneider, a psychologist at Illinois State University who blogs about intelligence tests at Assessing Psyche. “It’s too big of a concept to measure precisely in a way we can all agree. Think of a cheap bathroom scale. Every time someone steps on it, it’s slightly different.”
Still, the tests are used to screen children for gifted or special education programs, to determine whether prospective employees are right for a job, and to decide whether someone convicted of a capital offense can be executed.
IQ tests are actually a collection of assessments intended to measure different abilities, such as logic, pattern recognition, verbal aptitude, spatial orientation and short-term memory. But multiple companies publish different tests, and they don’t all measure the same thing. Some emphasize certain abilities over others. Some measure fewer abilities than others. And the narrow focus of abbreviated tests often used for screening could make someone look more, or less, gifted than a full test.
“A lot of people think there is this one test called The IQ Test,” Dr. Schneider said, “but there are many tests.”
Unlike academic achievement tests, which are meant to evaluate what students have learned in school, IQ tests are intended to measure general cognitive ability. A full-scale test could assess seven different abilities or twice that many—there are no hard and fast rules. An abbreviated test might examine only a couple of abilities.
“A lot of people involved in gifted education run into problems with that,” said Kevin McGrew, the Director of the Institute for Applied Psychometrics and a co-author of the Woodcock-Johnson Battery III and IV IQ tests. “You may have a child with an exceptional ability in a certain area, but it’s not measured by the screening test.”
Modern intelligence tests were introduced in France at the turn of the last century to identify children who were likely to struggle in school. The performance of an individual was assessed by calculating the difference between mental and chronological age. An 8-year-old whose score was typical of a 6-year-old, for example, was said to have a mental age that was two years behind.
But mental age levels off after a certain point while chronological age steadily increases throughout life, and psychologists soon realized that expressing the performance as a ratio would be more useful.
Within a decade or so, the convention changed. Mental age was divided by chronological age and then, to get rid of the decimal place, multiplied by 100. The result was by definition a quotient, and the score became known as the intelligence quotient, or IQ.
By this measure, an 8-year-old who performed only as well as a 6-year-old would have an IQ of 75, while a 14-year-old performing at the level of a 12-year-old would have an IQ of 86. This was an improvement, but the scoring still didn’t work for adults. It doesn’t make sense, for example, to relate the mental age of a 40-year-old to that of a 38-year-old.
Today, the term “IQ” is a relic. Individuals are measured against people of the same age on a scale that assumes IQs are normally distributed with an average score of 100 and a standard deviation of 15. (Some tests use a different standard deviation.) Scores are reported with a margin of error. In other words, they are an estimate.
In a normal distribution, two-thirds of individuals will score between 85 and 115. About 95% will fall between 70 and 130. And about 2.5% will fall below 70, the traditional threshold for intellectual disability, or above 130.
Nowadays, IQ tests may be used to assess whether potential employees are right for a job, whether someone qualifies for some Social Security disability benefits or whether a person convicted of a capital offense can be executed. National Football League players, for example, are routinely administered the Wonderlic test, which is intended to predict workplace success. And in 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it is unconstitutional to execute people who are intellectually disabled.
Student performance on the best available IQ tests is correlated with academic success, Dr. McGrew said, but he noted that even the best tests explain only about 40% to 50% of school achievement.
“That’s a lot in psychology,” he said. “But it means 50% to 60% is not related to cognitive ability.”
Although no one discounts the importance of raw intelligence, it turns out that qualities such as motivation, determination and a desire to succeed—qualities that IQ tests don’t measure—play a significant role in success.
This isn’t exactly new information. Thomas Edison once summed it up like this: Genius, he said, is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.
Write to Jo Craven McGinty at Jo.McGinty@wsj.comAdd a Comment »
This article that appeared in the NY Times recently is an important reminder about the learning loss that takes place each summer when kids aren’t in school. It’s a good reminder for all parents to keep your children learning over the summer. CLICK HERE to read the piece at the NY Times website.
“In summer, the lack of affordable child care and the achievement gap collide for lower income families. Most kids lose math skills over the summer, but low income children also lose, on average, more than two months of reading skills — and they don’t gain them back. That puts them nearly three years behind higher income peers by the end of fifth grade, and the gap just keeps getting wider. Researchers credit the summer slide for about half of the overall difference in academic achievement between lower and higher income students.”
I highly recommend TestingMom.com for any parent who is looking for a low cost learning program to help their child avoid summer slide. Here is the article:
WHAT are your kids up to this summer? Sounds like a casual question. But for working parents at this time of year, it’s loaded. What have you managed to pull together that will keep your kids engaged, healthy, happy and safe, while still allowing you to keep feeding and clothing them? For most parents, summer, that beloved institution, is a financial and logistical nightmare.
Tolanda Barnette is hoping for “a miracle” for her 6-year-old son: The 41-year-old day care worker can’t afford to enroll him at the center where she works, and she’s just saved enough to move her family out of the shelter where they’ve been living for the past year into an apartment in Durham, N.C. There’s no money for even the least expensive camp.
Her only option is to leave the boy at home with his 12-year-old sister. “My daughter’s not going to be happy,” Ms. Barnette said. “She doesn’t want to spend her summer babysitting.” Her daughter is also scheduled to stay with her father for part of the summer, an opportunity Ms. Barnette’s 6-year-old doesn’t have. “I’m really digging for something for him,” she said. But if she fails? “I don’t know. I just don’t know. I have to work. It’s not an option.”
Most American schools take a 10- to 11-week break during the summer. The assumption that underlies summer vacation — that there is one parent waiting at home for the kids — is true for just over a quarter of American families. For the rest of us, the children are off, the parents are not. We can indulge our annual illusion of children filling joyful hours with sprinkler romps and robotics camp or we can admit the reality: Summer’s supposed freedom is expensive.
In 2014, parents reported planning to spend an average of $958 per child on summer expenses. Those who can’t afford camps or summer learning programs cobble together care from family members or friends, or are forced to leave children home alone. Self-care for 6- to 12-year-olds increases during the summer months, with 11 percent of children spending an average of 10 hours a week on their own. In July 2014, a South Carolina woman was arrested when she left her 9-year-old in a park while she worked. Parents afraid of being at the center of a similar incident may be more likely to park their kids in front of the TV.
In summer, the lack of affordable child care and the achievement gap collide for lower income families. Most kids lose math skills over the summer, but low income children also lose, on average, more than two months of reading skills — and they don’t gain them back. That puts them nearly three years behind higher income peers by the end of fifth grade, and the gap just keeps getting wider. Researchers credit the summer slide for about half of the overall difference in academic achievement between lower and higher income students.
Much of that can be prevented by a summer learning program. In 2013, about a third of parents surveyed said one of their children participated in such a program; just over half said they would want their children to participate if they could find an affordable program.
“I wish I could find a nice camp where she could go, with activities, that didn’t cost an arm and a leg,” said Roxana Castillejos, who is still looking for options for her 8-year-old daughter. “I’d love something like a camp in the movies, but those are $500 or more a week.” She’s found day camps available for about $175 a week, but once Ms. Castillejos, a law clerk in Las Vegas who makes around $550 weekly, has covered the basics — rent, utilities, food — there just isn’t that much left.
“I pretty much live paycheck to paycheck,” she said. “I make too much to qualify for any help. We do get — don’t laugh — $16 a month in food stamps.” Unless she finds something else, she plans to leave her daughter mostly in the care of friends and family.
Parents looking for the least expensive programs have to start early, and move fast. “I started looking pretty much the minute I got this job,” said Ambre Osborne, who started work in February as a patient care coordinator for a hearing center in Las Vegas and needed a summer day camp for her 7-year-old daughter. “Most of the camps I found ran $225 a week,” she said. The city-run camp she wanted cost just $100 a week, and it filled up in less than a day. “It was like I was waiting for concert tickets. I was like, I will be there — I need this!” She managed to get her daughter a place, but counting the $250 a week they already pay for their 2-year-old son’s day care, Ms. Osborne and her husband will be spending 23 percent of their weekly income on child care this summer.
Numbers like that aren’t uncommon. The Department of Health and Human Services defines “affordable child care” as taking up no more than 10 percent of a family’s income, but typically, only upper income families fit into that category.
“Summer is the moment that really epitomizes the child care crisis,” says Julie Kashen, policy director for the advocacy group Make It Work. “Our system doesn’t take into account that most parents are working. Summer is when it really hits home.”
WOULD we be better off if we just got rid of summer?
In countries like Germany and Britain, the typical break lasts about six weeks. And a few American schools and districts have class year-round, with shorter vacations spread throughout the seasons. This helps prevent learning loss, but leaves working parents in essentially the same position. “I’d fall into the same problems,” Ms. Castillejos said. “They still are off for the same amount of time, just in intervals.” Besides, she went to one of these no-summer schools growing up and “hated it.”
In other words, summer break is an American tradition, even for the parents who are hardest hit by its disruption and expense. It’s not the calendar that’s the problem, they say, but the lack of support for working parents.
A real investment in affordable summer learning programs could improve children’s success in school, while relieving their parents of a stress that shouldn’t be part of the season we still refer to as “vacation.”
For now, what limited funding there is for summer learning programs comes from federal, state and private grants, like the Department of Education’s 21st Century Community Learning Centers Grant, and has to stretch to cover after-school programs as well. “The demand is just bigger than what exists,” said Erik Peterson, vice president of policy at the Afterschool Alliance. “Summer is really a big piece.”
Support offered to individual parents, from child care subsidies to the Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit, can be applied toward appropriate summer programs, but it also falls far short. According to the Center for American Progress, in 2011, 22 states had waiting lists for child care assistance, and just one in seven children who qualify for a direct child care subsidy in their state or community actually receives it. These programs are grants, not entitlements, and when the applications exceed the available funds, many are denied.
“I just want her to be able to do those great activities that would make her summer memorable,” said Ms. Castillejos of her daughter. Instead, her daughter’s summers are looking like the ones she remembers from her own childhood: “By the time I was 12 or 13, my mom had to leave me at home by myself. She had no other choice.” Ms. Castillejos still hopes to be able to give her daughter the fun summers she knows some kids experience — but it doesn’t look like it will happen this year.
I want to share with you this excellent article by Perry Klass, MD. that appeared in the NY Times on June 20. CLICK HERE to read the piece on the NY Times website. The comments on this article are very interesting! I believe that children do need to learn cursive today, and that keyboarding should not replace this. For me, when I listen to a lecture, I need to write notes (in cursive) in order to process the information. So I know that writing in cursive helps me to think. This article just confirmed for me that handwriting is connected to cognitive abilities.
Why Handwriting Is Still Essential in the Keyboard AgeBy PERRI KLASS, M.D.
Do children in a keyboard world need to learn old-fashioned handwriting?
There is a tendency to dismiss handwriting as a nonessential skill, even though researchers have warned that learning to write may be the key to, well, learning to write.
And beyond the emotional connection adults may feel to the way we learned to write, there is a growing body of research on what the normally developing brain learns by forming letters on the page, in printed or manuscript format as well as in cursive.
In an article this year in The Journal of Learning Disabilities, researchers looked at how oral and written language related to attention and what are called “executive function” skills (like planning) in children in grades four through nine, both with and without learning disabilities.
Virginia Berninger, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Washington and the lead author on the study, told me that evidence from this and other studies suggests that “handwriting — forming letters — engages the mind, and that can help children pay attention to written language.”
Last year in an article in The Journal of Early Childhood Literacy, Laura Dinehart, an associate professor of early childhood education at Florida International University, discussed several possible associations between good handwriting and academic achievement: Children with good handwriting may get better grades because their work is more pleasant for teachers to read; children who struggle with writing may find that too much of their attention is consumed by producing the letters, and the content suffers.
But can we actually stimulate children’s brains by helping them form letters with their hands? In a population of low-income children, Dr. Dinehart said, the ones who had good early fine-motor writing skills in prekindergarten did better later on in school. She called for more research on handwriting in the preschool years, and on ways to help young children develop the skills they need for “a complex task” that requires the coordination of cognitive, motor and neuromuscular processes.
“This myth that handwriting is just a motor skill is just plain wrong,” Dr. Berninger said. “We use motor parts of our brain, motor planning, motor control, but what’s very critical is a region of our brain where the visual and language come together, the fusiform gyrus, where visual stimuli actually become letters and written words.” You have to see letters in “the mind’s eye” in order to produce them on the page, she said. Brain imaging shows that the activation of this region is different in children who are having trouble with handwriting.
Functional brain scans of adults show a characteristic brain network that is activated when they read, and it includes areas that relate to motor processes. This suggested to scientists that the cognitive process of reading may be connected to the motor process of forming letters.
Karin James, a professor of psychological and brain sciences at Indiana University, did brain scans on children who did not yet know how to print. “Their brains don’t distinguish letters; they respond to letters the same as to a triangle,” she said.
After the children were taught to print, patterns of brain activationin response to letters showed increased activation of that reading network, including the fusiform gyrus, along with the inferior frontal gyrus and posterior parietal regions of the brain, which adults use for processing written language — even though the children were still at a very early level as writers.
“The letters they produce themselves are very messy and variable, and that’s actually good for how children learn things,” Dr. James said. “That seems to be one big benefit of handwriting.”
Handwriting experts have struggled with the question of whether cursive writing confers special skills and benefits, beyond the benefits that print writing might provide. Dr. Berninger cited a 2015 study that suggested that starting around fourth grade, cursive skills conferred advantages in both spelling and composing, perhaps because the connecting strokes helped children connect letters into words.
For typically developing young children, typing the letters doesn’t seem to generate the same brain activation. As we grow up, of course, most of us transition to keyboard writing, though like many who teach college students, I have struggled with the question of laptops in class, more because I worry about students’ attention wandering than to promote handwriting. Still, studies on note taking have suggested that “college students who are writing on a keyboard are less likely to remember and do well on the content than if writing it by hand,” Dr. Dinehart said.
Dr. Berninger said the research suggests that children need introductory training in printing, then two years of learning and practicing cursive, starting in grade three, and then some systematic attention to touch-typing.
Using a keyboard, and especially learning the positions of the letters without looking at the keys, she said, might well take advantage of the fibers that cross-communicate in the brain, since unlike with handwriting, children will use both hands to type.
“What we’re advocating is teaching children to be hybrid writers,” said Dr. Berninger, “manuscript first for reading — it transfers to better word recognition — then cursive for spelling and for composing. Then, starting in late elementary school, touch-typing.”
As a pediatrician, I think this may be another case where we should be careful that the lure of the digital world doesn’t take away significant experiences that can have real impacts on children’s rapidly developing brains. Mastering handwriting, messy letters and all, is a way of making written language your own, in some profound ways.
“My overarching research focuses on how learning and interacting with the world with our hands has a really significant effect on our cognition,” Dr. James said, “on how writing by hand changes brain function and can change brain development.”
This is a fascinating piece that appears in today’s NY Times. CLICK HERE to read this article and reader comments at the NY Times website. I suppose I never thought about the psychology behind clean and messy rooms. When my kids were growing up, they maintained the messiest of rooms and I hardly had the energy to fight that battle. When it got to be so horrible that I couldn’t stand it anymore, I’d put my foot down and we’d attack the mess together. But with time, the piles would grow again and chaos ruled their rooms. After my daughter grew up and got her own apartment, she took pride in keeping her place neat and orderly, which was heartening for me to see. My son is still more comfortable living in a messy room. I’m not sure if he’ll ever find roommates who will tolerate this preference. I really missed the boat on being tough on my kids and insisting that they help with the chores, but if it’s not too late for you, read on…
One of the most interesting lines in this article (to me) was this: “In research P.E.P. found that preschoolers who were given household duties had better relationships, greater academic success and less drug use in their 20s. They advocate parsing the large task of cleaning a room into components, teaching each sub-task at an age-appropriate level. It can take years.” You can read more about this by CLICKING HERE. According to this, “the best predictor of an adult’s success in their mid-20’s was that they started participating in household tasks at age 3 or 4. As a predictor of success, whether children did chores, and the family attitudes and motivators related to chores are more important than parenting styles, IQ, gender, and types of tasks.” Chores teach important life skills such as self-motivation, prioritizing, and organizational skills. Yikes! If you haven’t started to insist that your child help with family chores, I recommend that you take a look at the research and get started today. It can’t hurt and and at least your house will be cleaner. Here is the article that I recommend you read from today’s NY Times:
Should I Make My Daughter Clean Her Room? by Judy Batalion
I RECENTLY received an email from my daughter Zelda’s preschool director titled “The Importance of Messy Play.” Children learn through process, she wrote. The act of creating is more important than the result. She pleaded with parents to allow our kids space for disarray.
On one hand, this note was refreshing. In our tidying-obsessed culture where decluttering is considered an act of moral courage, I appreciated the director’s encouragement to “embrace the chaos.” On the other hand, she didn’t have to confront 15 more years of the macaroni-and-Lego-based Jackson Pollock-inspired crash scene that was Zelda’s room.
Many parents accept that, in order to maintain their sanity, they must be selective about the battles they choose to wage with their children. But the mantra to “clean your room” seems nonnegotiable, a foundation of good parenting, rooted in common sense. Learning to keep your surroundings in order and take responsibility for your messes are important to becoming a competent, socially mature adult.
For many, however, cleaning is more complicated. The impulse to tidy can be compulsive, a way to maintain control in the face of anxiety. I am a prime example.
My mother was a hoarder. Born in 1945 on my Jewish grandparents’ flight from the Nazis, Mom was a refugee before she knew what home was. Throughout my childhood, she collected Kleenex boxes, newspapers and videocassettes; swivel chairs seemed to metastasize through the house. As an adult, I came to realize that her piles protected her, but back then her mounds of frayed blankets put a physical and emotional distance between us. There was no room to crawl into her bed when I had a nightmare.
Mom’s chaos spilled into my bedroom. I struggled to make a place for my things among her extra clothes and the ceramic pig collection she bought “as a gift.” Report cards were lost in her maelstrom, and so was I. I felt unseen, devoured by her disorder, trying to find room for myself to grow.
I left home and became Mom’s opposite. I taught myself to organize, imposing a minimalist rule on my life that was not an aesthetic choice, but an emotional one. I rented airy apartments I couldn’t afford and arranged them in geometric lines. My mantra was “less is too much.”
I turned to friends for advice. Their experiences seemed as distressing as mine. Alex was traumatized by her order-obsessed mother who regularly “ransacked” her room, heaping all her stuff into a pile on the floor, then holding her under “house arrest” until it was sorted. My colleague Amy described how her parents had forced her to tidy her room, but never showed her how. “It was pointless discipline because it was too hard for me.” As an adult, she remains overwhelmed by cleaning, and believes this extends to other areas of life. “I procrastinate, maybe because I’m not used to breaking things down in steps. I’m not very methodical.”
Others bemoaned the social side effects of not being forced. One, who grew up with a live-in housekeeper, only started cleaning her room in her 20s, after moving in with her best friend, who nearly fled from her slovenliness. Another, a corporate lawyer, envies co-workers’ neat offices, and worries that her scattered piles make her seem disorganized and impulsive, marring her professional reputation.
I also consulted childhood experts. The Parent Encouragement Program, in the Washington area, is devoted to teaching parents how to teach children to do chores. In research P.E.P. found that preschoolers who were given household duties had better relationships, greater academic success and less drug use in their 20s. They advocate parsing the large task of cleaning a room into components, teaching each sub-task at an age-appropriate level. It can take years.
I related more to the idea that neat spaces reduced stress. Sally Augustin, an environmental psychologist, told me that visual clutter causes anxiety. Our predecessors surveyed the savanna for danger; we, too, want a clear sense of our surrounds. Clutter also blocks from view the objects that are important for identity formation, she said. “An 11-year-old physics enthusiast should see her calculators, reminders of her ambitions.” Many preschools, influenced by Montessori, advocate barer walls for reduced distraction to allow more focus on important tasks.
But there were also dissenters. Tamar Gordon, a psychologist specializing in anxiety disorders, thought people could be too hung up on cleaning. “What’s important for children is structure,” she said, “not necessarily the same thing as a clean room.” She explained that some kids are naturally neat, freaking out over a spot of paint on their hand, while others barely notice their visual environment. The parents’ job is to assess their child, and teach the opposite: Sticklers needed to learn flexibility, messy kids, regimen.
In all my research, I found no proven correlation between keeping a neat room and leading a functional, goal-oriented life. Lessons like respecting shared space and managing time can be achieved through homework or scrubbing the kitchen. And according to the clinicians I spoke to, the family friction that erupts when parents force messier kids to be neat can cause real destructive stress.
Alan Kazdin at the Yale Parenting Center explained that there had been no clean-room studies because the issue was not critical. “It’s normative for adolescents to be super messy,” he told me. “We don’t know why.” Parents should consider whether their child’s messy room is indicative of other problems (at school, for instance) or impairs daily function (mice, allergens, impaling hazards). If it’s the case of an isolated messy bedroom, let it go. “It’s important for teenagers to have areas of control. Parents believe in a slippery slope, which just isn’t true.”
My childhood friend Sarah, now a successful children’s author, was always messy. Her mother never forced her to clean her room (though she made her help with communal spaces). Over the phone, she told me that her family still called her “Tornado Sarah” and that she felt lucky to have relatives, and editors, who helped her tidy up. Her disarray, she thinks, might be linked to her creativity. “When I start a new project, I’m not worried about jumping in or making messes. I don’t focus on getting it right,” she said. “I just throw ideas around.”
It made sense. Making Zelda clean her room might satisfy my organizational needs, but it probably wouldn’t make her a superior person. O.K., I admit that when Zelda dumped a box of musical instruments onto her glitter-strewn floor that evening, I panicked. But as she danced around, banging her drum, I let it go and joined in, saving my energies for the battle of bedtime.
I love this article about young children playing chess. What a fantastic time to introduce chess into a person’s life! I recommend that you read this piece on the NY Times website as the pictures are terrific, plus comments enlightening. To read this article at the NY Times website, CLICK HERE.
The Littlest Chess Champions
Benjamin Kwon does not look like a gladiator, but you should see him play the Fried Liver Attack, a wildly aggressive chess opening that wages an all-out assault on the opposing player’s king. The opening is not for the fainthearted.
On a recent Friday afternoon, he beamed as he rattled off the first moves for both sides: pawn to E4, pawn to E5, bishop to C4, and so on, until he got to the real moment of attack, knight to G5. This is where the Fried Liver Attack gets hairy. “Nothing can block it,” he said, his face lighting up.
Benjamin Kwon is 6 years old.
We were sitting in small wooden chairs at Public School 77, the Lower Lab School, a school for gifted and talented students on the Upper East Side. “Sitting” might be an imprecise word for Ben’s state of constant up-and-down motion.
Last month, Lower Lab’s team of kindergartners and first graders finished first in the state chess tournament, defeating elite private schools like Dalton and Avenues: The World School. Earlier in the school year, a Lower Lab team of first graders won the national championship for their grade. The next national tournament is in May.
For Ben, a first grader who did not go to the nationals, the state tournament in Saratoga was a weekend to remember.
“The team trophy was taller than me,” he said, almost jumping out of his seat. “The dinner place was so yum — Applebee’s. The first thing you got was nachos.”
Chess is enjoying a boom in New York, and much of it is because of schools like Lower Lab, which have brought the game to very young players, often as part of the regular curriculum. Educators cite research showing that chess helps students develop analytical thinking, set goals, concentrate for extended periods and learn to delay gratification.
“It gives them a different way of using their brain,” said Sandra Miller, the principal at Lower Lab, where every student gets 10 weeks of chess in kindergarten. “It’s an amazing opportunity for them to challenge themselves. With gifted and talented students, sometimes kids get bored with classes, because the work comes so easy for them.”
For Ben Kwon, the appeal was simple. “I really got excited because all my friends were playing chess,” he said.
For schools, chess is also cheaper than sports that require outdoor fields or a lot of equipment.
On a Friday this month, about 70 students from Lower Lab swarmed the weekly after-school session taught by instructors from ChessNYC, a for-profit company that runs programs in 40 New York schools.
Spring was beckoning outside, but the children did not seem to notice. Logan Brain, 26, an instructor, rehashed a game from a recent adult tournament and asked the students what moves each player should make.
Ian Buchanan, a third grader, suggested an unorthodox move, which Mr. Brain questioned. “That’s a Karjakin move,” Ian countered, referring to Sergey Karjakin, a Russian player who at age 12 became the youngest grandmaster ever.
The name drew respect in the room. Mr. Karjakin, now 26, will play the current world champion, Magnus Carlsen, 25, in the World Chess Championship in New York City this November. It is the first time the championship tournament will be played in New York since 1995.
Ian is one of the top players at Lower Lab, but he was recently passed by his younger brother, Royal, a first grader, who fidgeted in front of him. Royal is among the best 6-year-olds in the country. The brothers’ success has surprised their mother, Li Xiao, a portfolio manager at Citigroup.
“My husband and I don’t know chess at all,” she said.
The game has also been a window on their characters.
“You see their personality, how they deal with the problems, and the stress,” she said. “Royal is fine with losing. He doesn’t cry. I wonder at this age if they get nervous. I haven’t seen it that much. They don’t realize the situation yet.”
Royal sometimes gets restless in his classes, but can sit for hours at a time over a chessboard, his mother said. “It’s the only activity he can focus on,” Ms. Xiao said. “He goes to tournaments, and sometimes the game goes on for two hours. I’m surprised he can sit, but he does.”
During a break, Royal answered questions distractedly, staring at his fingers as if contemplating future moves. Like his teammates, he readily cited his chess rating, a figure that changes each time a player wins or loses in a tournament. Players monitor their ratings and those of their friends on the website plycount.com. At the start of a match, the first question after they sit down at the board is often, What’s your rating?
Since kindergarten, Royal and another boy, Morgan Mairaj, have leapfrogged each other as the team’s top player, with ratings climbing above 1,300, or twice as high as most of their teammates. Players raise their ratings by beating higher-rated opponents, but fall back if they lose to opponents with lower ratings. At tournaments, players are grouped according to their ratings. Royal said his goal was to top 1,800 by the end of the year.
“Magnus Carlsen is 1,500 higher than me,” he said. (It should be noted that Mr. Carlsen is the highest rated chess player in history, at 2,863. Bobby Fischer never broke 2,800.)
For parents, the numbers are a mixed blessing. “The coaches and parents hate it, but kids absolutely love it,” said Peter Marinis, who has two sons playing on the team, and a third coming up behind them. “They’re like, Dad, what’s my score? I never knew they were so competitive.”
In a room across the hall, Reid Segarra, a kindergartner, unwound the dilemma of the young chess player.
“Chess helps you think better, like, which move should I do?” Reid said. “If you’re in a losing position, then you have to make your brain think really hard, because if your opponent makes a mistake, you can come back. Also, if you’re in a winning position, you just can’t make mistakes, so your brain has to think really, really, really hard so you don’t make a mistake, or he could come back if you do. And if it’s an even position, you have to get your brain to think really, really hard, harder than a winning position or a losing position, because you want to get in a winning position.”
For competitive players and their families, the game is demanding. There’s a tournament somewhere in the city every week or two, typically lasting all day; parents from Lower Lab drove to Saratoga for the two-day state championships, and to Nashville last year for the nationals. Mr. Brain assigns 50 chess puzzles weekly as homework. Then there are pickup games or Saturday lessons at the Chess Forum, a store on Thompson Street in Greenwich Village, or at the tables in Washington Square Park.
“These kids are very committed, and if you’re not committed, it is very difficult to stay at the top echelon,” said Ashar Mairaj, the father of Morgan and an older daughter, Momoca, who is also one of the school’s top players. “You have your puzzle set every day. You play with your sibling every day. You have a tutor that comes once a week and teaches you strategy. Every day you have a regimen.”
The game can also be expensive. At Lower Lab, fees for the after-school program top $500 a semester, which helps pay for the teachers from ChessNYC. Tournaments run about $40 per student; travel costs are extra. The school and PTA pay for kindergarten instruction run by ChessNYC, and parent volunteers run a lunchtime chess club for girls, formed to address the shortage of girls in the competitive ranks.
“It’s a really big commitment,” said Amy Gillston, a child therapist, whose first-grade son, Noah, attends Lower Lab. “Some of these private schools, they spend on private coaching with the best of the best. All of us agree that we’re only doing this while it’s fun.”
On a recent afternoon, Pattie Friedman and her son, Davin, walked from the Chess Forum to Washington Square Park in search of Davin’s tutor, a weathered character named Abderrahim Rajahi, 55, who has been playing there since the late 1980s, when he learned the game from the old-time hustlers and later joined their ranks. Somewhere along the way he lost his upper front teeth.
In the early days, he said, he worked as a bicycle messenger by day and played chess in various parks until dawn, losing $40 a night.
“I didn’t read no books,” he said of his training. “I played the same hustler every day for a year and a half. I got whipped. Then one night he couldn’t beat me.”
Davin goofed through a game with Mr. Rajahi, then asked if he could run around. When he returned, Mr. Rajahi grilled him on the Ruy Lopez opening, one of the oldest and most venerated chess openings (the Fried Liver, Mr. Rajahi said, is for beginners). “Don’t be guessing,” Mr. Rajahi told Davin. “Use your mind. Chess is a war of the mind.”
The teacher said he did not have a set fee for lessons. At Growing Minds, a company that runs the chess program at Avenues, private lessons cost $90 an hour; ChessNYC charges $75 to $95 for a one-hour home lesson.
Mr. Rajahi said he was planning a summer day camp that might combine chess with lessons in math and foreign languages.
“I don’t look at it just as a game,” he said. “It’s a way to make a beautiful mind of a kid’s mind. With the experience I had, I try to turn it into a good thing. You teach a kid to think positively and to make a good plan for the future. Sometimes you make mistakes that cost you the game. Life is like that.”
A week later, Davin and 28 other Lower Lab players made their way to the Avenues school for their first major tournament since winning the state championships in Saratoga. The tournament brought together students from 65 area schools, and had to turn students away after filling its 250 slots. Boys outnumbered girls by about four to one. Pandemonium and sugar intake swelled the halls, only slowly giving way to chess.
Peter Marinis and his sons arrived at 9:30 a.m., after 8 a.m. baseball; later, they had a birthday party to attend.
For parents, the tournaments are an endurance test, often lasting eight hours. In contrast to sporting events or dance recitals, junior chess tournaments typically do not allow parents into the rooms where the children play, so they waited in a team room, learning the results only when the children returned between rounds to go over their games with Mr. Brain.
“It’s stomach-churning,” said Mr. Mairaj, waiting for the results of his children’s games. “It’s never boring. How can something that gives you anxiety be boring?”
The Lower Lab team got off to a rocky start, with the first three players losing their first games.
Mr. Marinis’s son Rylan, 6, slumped toward the paper score sheet and wrote a zero to announce his loss. “High five,” Mr. Marinis said. “Win or lose, it’s always high fives.”
Then Ben Kwon posted the team’s first victory. He played an opening similar to the Fried Liver, but not exactly, he said, and beat an opponent rated higher than he was. He sailed across the room to his mother, Michelle Park.
Ms. Park said she had been surprised by how much there was to the chess subculture — how many tournaments, how many players. She mentioned several other tournaments going on at other schools the same weekend. “We didn’t know this existed before,” she said.
By midafternoon, things were looking better for Lower Lab. In the fifth-floor library, where students with ratings below 800 matched off, Noah Gillston, a quiet first grader with a mop of sandy hair, stood up to move his knight across the board. He was on a roll, winning his first three games.
Just before 2:30, the beginner players marched into the team room carrying trophies. More wins followed. Noah won all four games, leading his group to victory. Mr. Brain comforted a father whose son had lost some winnable games. “Those mistakes go away,” Mr. Brain told the father, before turning to the son. “I’m proud of you,” he said. “You’re doing well.”
Seven hours into the tournament, families in the less advanced groups — whose games tend to be shorter — were making their way out into the late-afternoon sunshine. Ms. Xiao awaited the return of her two sons, whose games were still in progress. “Now’s the real work,” she said: cooking dinner for five, supervising Sunday night homework and maybe stealing a quiet moment with her husband. “Then I clean up and get to bed at 12 o’clock, basically.”
Monday morning everything would start up again — the tutors, the chess puzzles, the competitive games between siblings. And in less than a month, some will go to the national championships in Nashville.
Mr. Marinis, who is planning to fly to Nashville this year (last year he and others drove), was bound for ice cream and the birthday party, his three sons in tow. His older son, Pearce, had won three of his four games, raising his rating to a tantalizing 999.
“I use these as lessons for homework,” Mr. Marinis said of the tournament. “I say, ‘If you can do what you did on Sunday, look, this math is not going to be a problem.’”