Talk to your Baby More to Build Language and Vocabulary Skills

If you know me, you know that I say this all the time! You cannot talk to your little one enough. Please, surround your child with language by talking to him all the time about anything and everything! Make sure the conversation is 2-way. Even if your baby can’t speak yet, pay attention to what he notices and comment on that. As this article from the Washington Post, by Lauran Neergaard, says: “The sooner you start explaining the world to your baby, the better.”

New research shows that both how much and how well parents talk with babies and toddlers help to tune the youngsters’ brains in ways that build crucial language and vocabulary skills.

WASHINGTON — The sooner you start explaining the world to your baby, the better.

That doesn’t mean flash cards for tots, or merely pointing out objects: “Here’s an orange. That’s a bowl.”

New research shows that both how much and how well parents talk with babies and toddlers help to tune the youngsters’ brains in ways that build crucial language and vocabulary skills — a key to fighting the infamous word gap that puts poor children at a disadvantage at an even younger age than once thought.

The idea is to connect words and meaning, so the brain becomes primed to learn through context: “Let’s put the orange in this bowl with the banana and the apple and the grapes.”

“You’re building intelligence through language,” is how Stanford University psychology professor Anne Fernald explains it. “It’s making nets of meaning that then will help the child learn new words.”

And forget dumbed-down baby talk: Longer, more complex sentences are better.

“The advice I give mothers is to have conversations with your babies,” said Erika Hoff, a psychology professor at Florida Atlantic University. “Children can hear lots of talk that goes over their head in terms of the meaning, and they still benefit from it.”

The research, presented Thursday and Friday at a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, comes amid a growing push for universal preschool, to help disadvantaged youngsters catch up.

But it also begs the question of whether children from low-income, less educated families need earlier intervention, such as preschool that starts at age 3 instead of 4, or higher quality day care or even some sort of “Let’s talk” campaign aimed at new parents to stress talking, singing and reading with tots even before they can respond. That can be difficult for parents working multiple jobs, or who may not read well or who simply don’t know why it’s important.

Scientists have long known that before they start kindergarten, children from middle-class or affluent families have heard millions more words than youngsters from low-income families, leaving the poorer children with smaller vocabularies and less ready to succeed academically. Fernald said by some measures, 5-year-olds from low-income families can lag two years behind their peers in tests of language development, an achievement gap that’s difficult to overcome.

Brain scans support the link, said Dr. Kimberly Noble of Columbia University Medical Center. Early experiences shape the connections that children’s brains form, and kids from higher socioeconomic backgrounds devote more “neural real estate” to brain regions involved in language development, she found.

How early does the word gap appear? Around age 18 months, Stanford’s Fernald discovered when she compared how children mentally process the language they hear. Lower-income kids in her study achieved at age 2 the level of proficiency that more affluent kids had reached six months earlier.

To understand why language processing is so important, consider this sentence: “The kitty’s on the bench.” If the youngster knows the word “kitty,” and his brain recognizes it quickly enough, then he has can figure out “bench” means by the context. But if he’s slow to recognize “kitty,” then “bench” flies by before he has a chance to learn it.

Next, Fernald tucked recorders into T-shirts of low-income toddlers in Spanish-speaking households to determine what they heard all day — and found remarkable differences in what’s called child-directed speech. That’s when children are spoken to directly, in contrast to television or conversations they overhear.

One child heard more than 12,000 words of child-directed speech in a day, while another heard a mere 670 words, she found. The youngsters who received more child-directed speech processed language more efficiently and learned words more quickly, she reported.

But it’s not just quantity of speech that matters — it’s quality, Hoff cautioned. She studied bilingual families and found that whatever the language, children fare better when they learn it from a native speaker. In other words, if mom and dad speak Spanish but aren’t fluent in English, it’s better for the child to have a solid grounding in Spanish at home and then learn English later in school.

Next, scientists are testing whether programs that teach parents better ways to talk to tots really do any good. Fernald said preliminary results from one of the first — a program called Habla Conmigo, Spanish for Talk With Me, that enrolls low-income, Spanish-speaking mothers in San Jose, Calif. — are promising.

Fernald analyzed the first 32 families of the 120 the program will enroll. Mothers who underwent the eight-week training are talking more with their toddlers, using higher-quality language, than a control group of parents — and by their second birthday, the children have bigger vocabularies and process language faster, she said Thursday.

Would you rather have an attractive or a smart child? Does it matter if that child is a boy or a girl?

I love today’s piece in the NY Times by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz. It’s titled: Google, Tell Me. Is My Son a Genius? If you’d like to read this piece in the Times, CLICK HERE. Read this piece and then ask yourself if you carry any of these biases about your own kids.

MORE than a decade into the 21st century, we would like to think that American parents have similar standards and similar dreams for their sons and daughters. But my study of anonymous, aggregate data from Google searches suggests that contemporary American parents are far more likely to want their boys smart and their girls skinny.

It’s not that parents don’t want their daughters to be bright or their sons to be in shape, but they are much more focused on the braininess of their sons and the waistlines of their daughters.

Start with intelligence. It’s hardly surprising that parents of young children are often excited at the thought that their child may be gifted. In fact, of all Google searches starting “Is my 2-year-old,” the most common next word is “gifted.” But this question is not asked equally about young boys and young girls. Parents are two and a half times more likely to ask “Is my son gifted?” than “Is my daughter gifted?” Parents show a similar bias when using other phrases related to intelligence that they may shy away from saying aloud, like, “Is my son a genius?”

Are parents picking up on legitimate differences between young girls and boys? Perhaps young boys are more likely than young girls to use big words or otherwise show objective signs of giftedness? Nope. If anything, it’s the opposite. At young ages, when parents most often search about possible giftedness, girls have consistently been shown to have larger vocabularies and use more complex sentences. In American schools, girls are 11 percent more likely than boys to be in gifted programs. Despite all this, parents looking around the dinner table appear to see more gifted boys than girls.

Parents were more likely to ask about sons rather than daughters on every matter that I tested related to intelligence, including its absence. There are more searches for “is my son behind” or “stupid” than comparable searches for daughters. Searches with negative words like “stupid” and “behind,” however, are less skewed toward sons than searches with positive words.

What concerns do parents disproportionately have for their daughters? Primarily, anything related to appearance. Consider questions about a child’s weight. Parents Google “Is my daughter overweight?” roughly twice as frequently as they Google “Is my son overweight?” Just as with giftedness, this gender bias is not grounded in reality. About 30 percent of girls are overweight, while 33 percent of boys are. Even though scales measure more overweight boys than girls, parents see — or worry about — overweight girls much more often than overweight boys.

Parents are about twice as likely to ask how to get their daughters to lose weight as they are to ask how to get their sons to do the same. Google search data also tell us that mothers and fathers are more likely to wonder whether their daughter is “beautiful” or “ugly.”

Parents are one and a half times more likely to ask whether their daughter is beautiful than whether their son is, but they are nearly three times more likely to ask whether their daughter is ugly than whether their son is ugly. How Google is expected to know whether a child is beautiful or ugly is hard to say.

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In general, parents seem more likely to use positive words in questions about sons. There is a larger bias toward asking whether sons are “tall” than “short.” Parents are more likely to ask whether a son is “happy” and slightly more likely to ask whether a daughter is “depressed.”

Liberal readers may imagine that these biases are more common in conservative parts of the country. Not so. I did not find a significant relationship between any of the biases mentioned and the political or cultural makeup of a state. These biases appear to cut across ideological divisions. In fact, I was unable to find any demographics that significantly reduced the biases. Nor is there evidence that these biases have decreased since 2004, the year for which Google search data is first available.

This methodology can also be used to study gender preference before birth. Every year, Americans make hundreds of thousands of searches asking how to conceive a child of a particular sex. In searches with the words “how to conceive,” Americans are slightly more likely to include the word “boy” than “girl.” Among the subset of Americans Googling for specific gender conception strategies, there is about a 10 percent preference for boys compared with girls.

This boy preference is surprising for two reasons. First, the top websites returned for these queries are overwhelmingly geared toward women, suggesting that women are most often making gender conception searches. Yet in surveys, women express a slight preference for having girls, not boys; men say they prefer sons. Second, many Americans are willing to admit a gender preference to even out a family. About 5 percent more boys are born than girls in the United States, so evening out a family would more often require having a girl, not a boy. Are men searching for conception advice in large numbers? Are women searching on their husbands’ behalf? Or do some American women have a son preference that they are not comfortable admitting to surveys?

Other countries exhibit very large preferences in favor of boys. In India, for each search asking how to conceive a girl, there are three-and-a-half asking how to conceive a boy. With such an overwhelming preference for boys, it is not surprising that there are millions fewer women in India than population scientists would predict.

Clearly there is more to learn. Because this data make it easy to compare different countries over time, for example, we might examine whether these gender preferences change after a woman is elected to run a country.

The disturbing results outlined here leave us with many open questions, but the most poignant may be this one: How would American girls’ lives be different if parents were half as concerned with their bodies and twice as intrigued by their minds?

Seth Stephens-Davidowitz is a contributing opinion writer who recently received a Ph.D. in economics at Harvard.

The Collateral Damage of a Teenager – a NY Magazine “Must Read” Piece

I know that most of you have very young kids right now and the teenage years are far into the future, but don’t they say,”forewarned is forearmed?” This is an excerpt from a new book called “All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood,” by Jennifer Senior. It can be read in NY Magazine by CLICKING HERE. I have already ordered the book, which comes out January 28. The thesis of this article is that adolescence has a stronger impact on parents than it does on kids. I cannot tell you just how strongly this piece spoke to me. Without boring you with my own gory details (because I want you to read the article), I have believed this for many years, but I felt very alone in my thinking. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve yet fully recovered from my son’s teenage years (and he is 21 now). I love him dearly, but he was a handful, and I used to joke (kinda) that I was suffering from PTSD when the boy we knew and loved finally “came back” to us. Depending on how your kids deal with the transition of going from childhood to teenage years to adulthood, these can be the toughest years of parenting you’ll ever face. I think it’s good to know what is ahead so that you can be mentally prepared. Personally, I look forward to reading the book to learn what Ms. Senior has to say about other phases of parenthood. If this piece is indicative of the rest of the book, it is going to be a provocative read.

The Collateral Damage of a Teenager
What adolescence does to adolescents is nowhere near as brutal as what it does to their parents.
By Jennifer Senior

It’s a warm evening in Lefferts Gardens, Brooklyn, and six mothers, all connected through the usual ties (work, kids, community groups), are clustered around a kitchen table, discussing their adolescents. Beth, a public-school teacher and the youngest of the lot, mentions that her 15-year-old, Carl, has lately “been using his intelligence for evil.”

The women all stop talking and look at her.

“Instead of getting good grades, he figures out how to get around the administrator,” she says, referring to the software she’d installed to regulate his computer use. “And then I see, like, three inputs for ‘Russian whore.’ ”

Or so I thought she said when I first transcribed the tape. When I followed up with Beth sometime later, she informed me that I’d misheard: It was “three-input Russian whore.”

At any rate, Samantha, who also teaches at a public school, dives in at this moment with the force of a cannonball. “Take the freaking computer, Beth!” she cries. “Take it!”

“He has to use it. They turn things in online.”

“Put a desktop in the kitchen,” suggests Deirdre, the hostess of the evening.

“That’s what we did,” says Beth. “We put it in the living room.”

“But if he flunks out of school, Beth,” says Samantha, “what’s going to happen?”

“He’s not going to flunk out.” Then she pauses and considers. “Though when I called his therapist and said, ‘I found hours’ worth of porn on his computer,’ the therapist had no idea.”

“Yeah, but I’ve had that too,” says Gayle, a substitute teacher, quite suddenly. She has, until now, said little. All heads swing her way. “Mae”—her daughter and the best friend of Samantha’s oldest, Calliope—“was in therapy and spent a year’s worth of my money not talking to the therapist about the real issue, which is that she was cutting herself.”

Samantha finally gives in. She puts her elbows on the table, bows her head, and rests her brow in her hands. “Everyone’s in the same club,” she says. “Everyone has the same stories.” She looks up at the group. “I mean, please. I have police stories.”

Police stories? All along, as Samantha’s friends had been speaking, I’d been under the impression that she’d been spared these misadventures and was even a tad scandalized by them. Yet it turned out to be the opposite. She’d been identifying from the start.

When prospective mothers and fathers imagine the joys of parenthood, they seldom imagine the adolescent years, which Nora Ephron famously opined could only be survived by acquiring a dog (“so that someone in the house is happy to see you”). Gone are the first smiles and cheerful games of catch. They’ve been replaced by 5 a.m. hockey practices, renewed adventures in trigonometry (secant, cosecant, what the—?), and ­middle-of-the-night requests for rides home. And these are the hardships generated by the good adolescents.

But here’s the truth of the matter. The children of these women at Deirdre’s table? Also the good adolescents. Almost all attend either fine universities or competitive public high schools; all have well-developed interests and talents. All, in person, come across as self-confident and considerate. These aren’t the kids who flunk out, run away, or get expelled.

Yet their parents are still going half-mad. Which raises a question: Is it possible that adolescence is most difficult—and sometimes a crisis—not for teenagers as much as for the adults who raise them? That adolescence has a bigger impact on adults than it does on kids?

Laurence Steinberg, a psychologist at Temple University and one of the country’s foremost authorities on puberty, thinks there’s a strong case to be made for this idea. “It doesn’t seem to me like adolescence is a difficult time for the kids,” he says. “Most adolescents seem to be going through life in a very pleasant haze.” Which isn’t to say that most adolescents don’t suffer occasionally, or that some don’t struggle terribly. They do. But they also go through other intense experiences: crushes, flirtations with risk, experiments with personal identity. It’s the parents who are left to absorb these changes and to adjust as their children pull away from them. “It’s when I talk to the parents that I notice something,” says Steinberg. “If you look at the narrative, it’s ‘My teenager who’s driving me crazy.’ ”

In the 2014 edition of his best-known textbook, Adolescence, Steinberg debunks the myth of the querulous teen with even more vigor. “The hormonal changes of puberty,” he writes, “have only a modest direct effect on adolescent behavior; rebellion during adolescence is atypical, not normal.”

For parents, however, the picture is a good deal more complicated. In 1994, Steinberg published Crossing Paths, one of the few extensive accounts of how parents weather the transition of their firstborns into puberty, based on a longitudinal study he conducted of more than 200 families. Forty percent of his sample suffered a decline in mental health once their first child entered adolescence. Respondents reported feelings of rejection and low self-worth; a decline in their sex lives; increases in physical symptoms of distress. It may be tempting to dismiss these findings as by-products of midlife rather than the presence of teenagers in the house. But Steinberg’s results don’t seem to suggest it. “We were much better able to predict what an adult was going through psychologically,” he writes, “by looking at his or her child’s development than by knowing the adult’s age.”

A parent’s experience of his or her children’s adolescence can be exacerbated by any number of factors. One is being divorced. (Married parents have a much easier time as their kids enter puberty.) Another is having a child of the same sex. (The conflicts between mothers and daughters are especially intense.) Steinberg has also found that adolescence is especially rough on parents who don’t have an outside interest, whether it’s a job they love or a hobby, to absorb their attention. It’s as if the child, by leaving center stage, redirects the spotlight onto the parent’s own life, exposing what’s fulfilling about it and what is not.

All children, of course, have the potential to unmask problems parents hadn’t recognized or consciously acknowledged for years. Yet adolescent children seem to have this effect on their mothers and fathers far more than, say, children of 6. So one has to ask: Why?

There are many explanations, obviously. But perhaps the most basic, and ultimately gratifying, is historical: Adolescence is a modern idea. Yes, it’s a physiologically distinct phenomenon, too, accompanied by discernible biological changes. But it was “discovered” in the middle of the Progressive Era (in 1904, specifically, by the educator Stanley Hall), which happened to be the same moment the nation was passing myriad laws to protect its young. For the first time, parents were obliged to shelter and support older children, rather than rely on them as wage earners. And what they concluded, after observing these kids for extended periods of time at close range, is that their teenagers were going through a terrible period of “storm and stress.” How else could parents explain all the chaos and restlessness they were witnessing?

But it could simply be that the advent of the modern childhood, a fully protected childhood, is especially problematic for parents as their children get older. Keeping teenagers sheltered and regimented while they’re biologically evolving into adults and pining for autonomy can have exhausting consequences. The contemporary home becomes a place of perpetual liminal tension, with everyone trying to work out whether adolescents are grown-ups or kids. Sometimes the father thinks the answer is one thing while the mother thinks the answer is another; sometimes the parents agree but the child does not. Whatever the answer—and it is usually not obvious—the question generates stress, and it’s often the parents, rather than the children, who suffer most.

Though she is wearing her workout clothes, you can still make out the hippie that Samantha once was—she’s got a gorgeous gray mane of hair, which she has just let loose from her ponytail following her run. We are sitting in her kitchen in Ditmas Park. Samantha and her husband, who also teaches in the city public schools, had had the good sense to buy a place here nineteen years ago, when the getting was still cheap by city standards ($234,500) and the neighborhood more diverse. Samantha is African-American. Bruce is “the whitest guy ever,” according to Calliope, their daughter. Calliope is a fierce beauty, now 20 years old and home from college for the summer. She joins us at the kitchen table.

“Which bagel?” asks Samantha.

Calliope looks at her with a combination of irritation and affection. “Um, do you know me?” (As in: How many times have I eaten bagels with you?)

Samantha rolls her eyes, grabs one, begins to slice.

Calliope’s family started calling her “Alpha,” as in “Alpha girl,” when she was still in high school and was, to put it mildly, very certain about what she wanted. Perhaps because they both have forceful personalities, Samantha and her daughter clashed a lot while Calliope was still living at home. At Deirdre’s house, Samantha had recounted one particularly harrowing fight between the two of them, though she never mentioned what started it. Today I ask. Samantha isn’t even certain she remembers. But Wesley, her 16-year-old son, does—he’s joined us at the table—and leaps right in.

“Well, Calliope had a high-school essay due the next day, and a college essay due in a month. So you”—he looks at his mother—“wanted her to work on the college essay, but you”—now he looks at his sister—“wanted to work on the essay due the next day. So you basically said, ‘Mom, back off, I need to do this essay tonight.’ ” He tells this story with admirable evenhandedness. “And you”—Wesley looks at his mother again—“were trying to emphasize your point that the college essay needed to be done.”

Samantha waits. But that’s it, apparently.

“You just went back and forth like that for a long time,” says Wesley. “And then Dad stepped in.”

Samantha looks puzzled. “That’s so stupid. Why would I not want her to do her essay for the next day?”

Wesley again responds with tact. “Well,” he says, “in hindsight, you can understand her perspective. But at the time, you wanted to be heard.”

This argument, like so many arguments, wasn’t about much. It was what roiled beneath the surface that had clearly upset Samantha. She had ideas about her daughter’s priorities, but her daughter had different ideas, and Samantha could feel her authority slipping away. She could also detect a hint of mockery in Calliope’s replies. Samantha hates being mocked.

“The cursing doesn’t bother me,” she says. “It’s the tone.”

“Or when we say ‘relax,’ ” says Calliope. “Or ‘chill.’ ”

Samantha springs up from her chair. “Yes! Oh my God.” She starts pacing. “It’s so minimizing. Like, ‘You’re not important.’ ”

The conventional wisdom about parenting adolescents is that it’s a repeat of the toddler years, dominated by a cranky, hungry, rapidly growing child who’s precocious and selfish by turns. But in many ways the struggles that mothers and fathers face when their children hit puberty are the opposite. When children are small, all parents crave is a little time and space for themselves; now they find themselves wishing their children liked their company more and would at least treat them with respect, if adoration is too much to ask.

What makes this transition even harder is how starkly it contrasts with the reasonably tranquil period that preceded it. The Blackwell Handbook of Adolescence goes so far as to say that adolescence “is second only to infancy” in terms of the upheaval it generates, destabilizing dynamics, rituals, and a well-maintained hierarchy that’d been in place throughout most of elementary school. After years of feeling needed by their children—and experiencing their children’s love as almost inseparable from that need—mothers and fathers now find it impossible to get their kids’ attention.

I ran across a remarkably meticulous study from 1996 that managed to quantify the decline in time adolescents spend with their families. It followed 220 working- and middle-class children from the Chicago suburbs, once when they were in grades five through eight, and again when they were in grades nine through twelve. At each interval, the researchers spent a week paging these kids at random, asking them to identify what they were doing. What they found, 16,477 beeps later, was that between fifth and twelfth grades, the proportion of waking hours that children spent with their families dropped from 35 to 14 percent.

It takes a lot of ego strength for a parent to withstand this separation. It means ceding some power to your children, for one thing—decisions that were once under your purview move to theirs—and it means receding somewhat, accepting that they’ve recast their lives without you, or your goals, at the center. “The adolescent,” writes Adam Phillips, the British psychoanalyst, “is somebody who is trying to get himself kidnapped from a cult.” Parents go from their kids’ protectors to their jailers, and they are then told repeatedly what a drag this is.

Indeed, one of the most striking measures of how critical kids are of their parents at this stage can be found in Ellen Galinsky’s Ask the Children, an inspired survey of over 1,000 kids in grades three through twelve. At one point, Galinsky asked her interviewees to grade their parents. In almost every category, seventh- to twelfth-graders rated their parents considerably less favorably than did younger children.

Ingratitude is already one of the biggest heartaches of child-rearing. (“How sharper than a serpent’s tooth it is to have a thankless child.” Right?) While not all researchers agree that adolescents fight more than younger children, almost all concur that they fight with more vehemence and skill, arguing most intensely with their parents between eighth and tenth grades.

Nancy Darling, an Oberlin psychologist, offers a nuanced analysis of what, precisely, makes the adolescent struggle for autonomy so contentious. Most kids, she notes, have no objections when their parents try to enforce moral standards or societal conventions. Don’t hit, be kind, clean up, ask to be excused—all this is considered fair game. The same goes for issues of safety: Kids don’t consider it a boundary violation if they’re told to wear seat belts. What children object to are attempts to regulate more personal preferences, matters of taste: the music they listen to, the entertainments they pursue, the company they keep. When children are young, these personal preferences don’t tend to cause parents too much anxiety because they’re mostly benign. Barney? Annoying, but unobjectionable. That little boy across the way? A little rowdy, but a decent kid.

The problem, says Darling, is that during adolescence questions of preference start to bleed into questions of morality and safety, and it often becomes impossible to discern where the line is: That kid you’re hanging out with? I don’t like how he drives or the stuff he’s introducing you to. Those games you’re playing? I don’t like all the violence and disgusting messages they’re sending about women. Maybe more poignantly, being your teenager’s protector has the convenient advantage of keeping your child close, just as he or she is trying to pull away.

As Wesley was assessing the conflicts between his sister and his mother, I thought I could discern his self-appointed role within the family. He was the peacemaker and the diplomat, the kid who made a scrupulous point of not making waves.

Yet it was Wesley, sensitive Wesley, so tactful and talented in ways that would make any parent flush with pride (he plays drums and piano and guitar, all with equal dexterity), who got dragged home by the police at 4 a.m. He and his friend had been out “egging”—tossing eggs at windows of homes in the neighborhood.

At first, he’d merely wait until his parents were sleeping and the fans were running loudly. After a while, though, his methods became more sophisticated. “I started to hop off the roof,” he explains with serene matter-of-factness. “And then it was impossible for you to track me.”

“Wait.” Samantha does a classic double take. “What roof?”

“The roof. I would climb out my window and hop off the roof. And then climb back up when I got home.”

Samantha stares at him, saying nothing.

Teenagers may strike us as precocious grown-ups one minute, but only one minute later we realize that they are not. Their forays into independence can tip easily into baffling excess.

This conduct has distinct neuronal underpinnings. In the last twenty years, researchers have discovered that the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that governs so much of our higher executive function—including the ability to reason and control our impulses—is still undergoing structural changes during adolescence. Complicating matters, dopamine, the hormone that signals pleasure, is never so explosively active in human beings as it is during puberty, which means teenagers assign a greater value to the reward they get from taking risks than adults do.

From an evolutionary perspective, it makes sense that adolescents might be more disposed toward risk. Human beings need incentives to leave the family nest. Leaving home is dangerous. But here’s a historical point to consider: Maybe adolescents would be less inclined to jump off roofs and other manners of silliness if they had more positive and interesting ways to express their risk-­taking selves. That was the argument the anthropologist Margaret Mead made in the sixties: The sheltered lives of modern adolescents were robbing them of an improvisational “as-if” period during which they could safely experiment with who they’d ultimately become. (Without romanticizing life in the past, the historian Steven Mintz notes that Eli Whitney opened his own nail factory before going to Yale at 16, and Herman Melville dropped out of school at 12 to work “in his uncle’s bank, as a clerk in a hat store, as a teacher, a farm laborer, and a cabin boy on a whaling ship—all before the age of 20.”)

Today’s middle-class teenagers have little need to face dangerous situations. So instead they create them—all while living with their parents. Unfortunately, this often means using whatever tools they can find in the family garage, a number of which aren’t always forgiving: cars, motorcycles, high-performance snowboards. Jay Giedd, who researches the teen brain at the National Institute of Mental Health, once put it very well: “These Stone Age tendencies are now interacting with modern marvels, [which] can sometimes not just be amusing anecdotes, but can really lead to more lasting effects.”

More often than not, of course, they remain anecdotes. Most parents intuit this, remembering their own reckless high jinks as teenagers (and their own parents’ worry and disapproval). Still, it is extremely difficult for parents to observe this behavior at close proximity and not try to do something about it. Steinberg likens adolescents to cars with powerful accelerators and weak brakes. “And then parents are going to get into tussles with their teenagers,” says Steinberg, “because they’re going to try to be the brakes.” It’s dicey business, being someone’s prefrontal cortex by proxy. Yet modern culture tells us that that’s one of the primary responsibilities of being a parent of a teen.

“There was a recent issue where we strongly disagreed,” Kate is saying, “and I was right.”

Her husband, Lee, a man in his mid-fifties with longish gray hair, gives her a baffled look. “I don’t even know what issue you’re referring to.”

“The party at Paul’s.”

Lee sucks in his breath. “But that’s where—”

“Let me talk, okay? I feel strongly about this.”

Lee stifles his frustration and yields the floor.

It’s a tense moment. Kate and Lee have been together for 22 years, and their marriage is solid. But when their son and daughter entered adolescence, Kate noticed a certain transformation in their marital dynamics. “There’s a lot more discord between us,” she had said at Deirdre’s table, “having teenagers around.”

This morning, Kate and Lee are talking about that discord, or at least trying. It’s hard.

“If the kids go to a party at somebody’s house,” Kate resumes, “I want to know that there’s going to be a parent present. And this time I let it slip a little bit. And the kid lied—he told his parents he’d be sleeping at somebody’s house, but instead he invited everybody over in his grade, and the police showed up.”

So what, I ask, was Kate and Lee’s argument about?

“Whether he should have been allowed to go,” says Kate. “Lee didn’t think it was as big a deal.”

“Which remains my view,” Lee says.

“It shouldn’t,” Kate replies. “If we left the house, and there was a party, and the police came, and our house was trashed, that would have been a nightmare. I don’t want my kid to be party to that.”

If adolescents are more combative, less amenable to direction, and underwhelmed by adult company, it stands to reason that the tension from these new developments would spill over into their parents’ marriages. This strife is by no means preordained (indeed, if your marriage has survived into your first child’s adolescence, it’s more durable than most). But overall, researchers have concluded that marital-satisfaction levels do drop once a couple’s firstborn child enters puberty. A 2007 survey published in the Journal of Marriage and Family went so far as to track the “growth spurt[s], growth of body hair, and skin changes” of the children of its 188 participating families—as well as the voice changes in boys and the first menses in girls—in order to see if marital love and satisfaction levels dropped even more precipitously as these changes occurred. They did.

Andrew Christensen, a UCLA professor who both does research on couples therapy and has a clinical practice, gives a perfect example of the kind of more subtle conflict he sees among parents of adolescents: “Inevitably we see ourselves in our kids. And then we see our partner acting toward our child the way our partner acts toward us.”

Projection is now possible. Identification is now possible. Which means that competitiveness, envy, disgust—all can rear their heads. These aren’t feelings evoked by younger children. They’re brought on by other adults.

Mistaking teenagers for adults can be especially problematic in high-conflict relationships. As children develop the capacity to reason and empathize, it’s increasingly tempting for their parents to recruit them in their arguments, which only aggravates the situation: Now you’re dragging Charlie into this? In one intriguing study, teenage girls felt more pressure to side with their mothers if their parents were still married, while teenage boys felt more pressure to do so if their parents were divorced—suggesting, perhaps, that teenage sons feel compelled to step in as their mothers’ protectors if their fathers are no longer at home. In another, fathers experienced a significant dip in marital satisfaction once their teenagers began to date, especially if those teenagers were sons, suggesting they were jealous, or at least nostalgic for a time of open-ended possibilities.

As children become adolescents, their parents’ arguments also increasingly revolve around who the child is, or is becoming. These arguments can be especially tense if the child screws up. “One parent is the softie, and the other’s the disciplinarian,” says Christensen. “That comes up a lot, and it’s a very big challenge. Dad sharing his recollections with drugs and alcohol, but Mom remembering something bad happening. And then they divide over it.”

This is the kind of argument that Kate and Lee seem to have a good deal. She said as much at Deirdre’s kitchen table, in fact: “I’m really strict with the kids, so he’s totally not. We just had a fight about it today.”

This gender divide is suggested by data too. In a recent sample of nearly 3,200 parents of 10-to-18-year-olds, a disproportionate share of mothers said that the task of discipline fell to them alone (31 percent, versus 9 percent of fathers). Mothers also reported setting more limits for their adolescents: They were 10 percent more likely to restrict video-game use and 11 percent more likely to restrict what types of activities their kids did online.

For the last decade or so, says Darling, research has also shown that adolescent girls and boys direct more verbal abuse at their mothers than at their fathers, and mothers are more likely to quarrel with their adolescent children.

These fraught dynamics may explain why mothers, contrary to conventional wisdom, tend to suffer less than fathers once their children have left the home. Kate readily admits her relationship with her daughter improved once she went off to college. As Steinberg puts it: “Women’s personal crises at midlife do not come from launching their adolescents but from living with them.”

Here’s what may be most powerful about adolescence, from a parent’s perspective: It forces them to contemplate themselves as much as they contemplate their own children. Toddlers and ­elementary-school children may cause us to take stock of our choices, too, of course. But it’s adolescents, usually, who stir up our most self-critical feelings. It’s adolescents who make us wonder who we’ll be and what we’ll do with ourselves once they don’t need us. It’s adolescents who reflect back at us, in proto-adult form, the sum total of our parenting decisions and make us wonder whether we’ve done things right.

As part of his study of the parents of adolescents, Steinberg asked his participants to fill out a “midlife rumination scale,” which included this item: “I find myself wishing I had the opportunity to start afresh and do things over, knowing what I do now.” Nearly two thirds of the women reported frequently feeling this way. So did more than half the men.

When he wrote up the results for Crossing Paths, Steinberg made a crucial distinction about this question. He noted that the survey item didn’t ask participants whether they wanted to be teenagers again. That’s the clichéd wisdom—that what adults truly crave in midlife is the raucousness and freedom of their youth. What Steinberg realized, in follow-up interviews with his subjects, was that they didn’t want a second adolescence at all. “What they want,” Steinberg writes, “is a second adulthood.” Their children’s adolescence, he found, was often cause for extensive inventory taking, which can lead to feelings of pride and accomplishment, but also feelings of doubt and regret.

Erik Erikson, one of the most innovative psychoanalysts of the twentieth century, wrote about these moments of existential review in his work on the human life cycle. He famously argued that all of us go through eight stages of development, each marked by a specific conflict. In early adulthood, for instance, he argues that we must learn how to love rather than vanish in a mist of narcissism and self-protection. In mid-adulthood, he says, we must figure out how to lead productive lives and leave something for future generations rather than succumb to inertia (“generativity versus stagnation,” he calls it). And following that, the challenge becomes learning how to make peace with the experiences we’ve had and the various choices we’ve made rather than capitulate to bitterness (“integrity versus despair and disgust”).

Some modern researchers believe that these adult stages are overstated, even fanciful inventions. But the parents of adolescents often circle back to strikingly similar themes—especially “integrity versus despair and disgust.” They talk about looking backward and integrating the choices they’ve made into a narrative they can live with. In Erikson’s words: “It is the acceptance of one’s one and only life cycle and of the people who have become significant to it as something that had to be and that, by necessity, permitted of no substitutions.”

Women may be especially susceptible to these moments of self-reckoning. According to the 2010 Current Population Survey, 22 percent of all parents of 12-to-17-year-olds are now 50 or over, and 46 percent of them are 45 and over. What this means, biologically speaking, is that a substantial number of today’s mothers of adolescents are either in perimenopause or in menopause itself. Many women pass through this stage with little turmoil, just as many adolescents pass through puberty with little ado. But others struggle with melancholy and irritability, seeing in their condition the mirror opposite of their teenagers’, whose fertile years are just beginning. (One well-designed recent study found that the risk of depression during perimenopause doubles; another found it quadruples.)

But regret is hardly confined to women, and it shows up in all kinds of strange dress. Michael, Beth’s ex-husband and the father of Carl, tells me that when his kids are giving him grief, his mind loops back to the days when he and his ex-wife were hammering out the terms of their divorce and he failed to press her for joint custody. He now feels he’s paid a price for it, especially with his older daughter, Sarah. “My relationship with her has always been fractured,” he says. “We’ve never been totally comfortable together.” And when his son, Carl, is feeling cruel, or angry, or even merely defensive, “he’ll say, ‘Sarah doesn’t want to see you; she doesn’t like you,’ ” says Michael. “It’s like having an argument with one of your friends who’s being vicious. He’s made me cry before.”

For Gayle, it’s having chosen to suspend her career for as long as she did. When she first made that decision, it made perfect emotional sense. But recently, she’s had to reckon with its financial consequences. She recalls one of the road trips she took with Mae in her junior year, touring some of the schools in New York State’s university system. They quarreled bitterly. Mae thought the quality of some of them was so low that it was a waste of time to apply. “And I was saying, you’d better,” Gayle tells me. Those colleges were what she and her husband, who owns a small mail-order business, could realistically afford. “You raise children to think the world of possibilities is theirs,” Gayle says. “And we somehow think, Oh, we’ll make enough money. And then, all of a sudden, they’re 18, and it’s like, Oh, no, you can’t go to college there.”

On that road trip, Mae called her mother’s bluff. She assessed with a gimlet eye the limitations of the world around her and declared she didn’t like them. That was when Gayle realized that this story she’d so lovingly told was as much for her own benefit as it was for Mae’s. “We,” she tells me, “had been living in that dream world too.”

Gayle’s middle and youngest daughters, 14 and 17, are easygoing and placid. They may have their moments of testiness, but they usually speak with affection when they’re around their mother. And then there’s Mae, a lovely, long-stem rose like her sisters, but the air around her vibrates, as if she already has intimations about the difficulties of adult life.

“Am I peeling?” she asks one morning in her family kitchen. She’s wearing a tank top; she also sports a discreet stud in her nose. She shows her mom her back.

Her mother answers that she isn’t.

Mae was always different. Gayle could see she was an anxious kid, even at 5. In fifth grade, Mae was having trouble with her best friend, Calliope, and there was little that Gayle could do to ease her anguish. “Mae would have this thing where Calliope was mad at her; she didn’t know why,” recalls Gayle. “So she’d follow her around and say, ‘What did I do?’ And I’d have to say, ‘Do not do that.’ ” Just the memory of it makes her cringe.

Then, in eighth grade, Mae started cutting herself. Gayle didn’t know anyone else whose child struggled with the same problem, though she’d heard and read plenty about it. So she did what she could: She found her daughter a therapist; she learned to listen and, when appropriate, offer advice. And her daughter got better. Looking at Mae now, you see a pretty, thoughtful kid who’s gotten herself almost a full ride through a great university.

But looking at Mae, one also sees what Adam Phillips means when he writes that happiness is an unfair thing to ask of a child. The expectation casts children “as antidepressants,” he notes, and renders parents “more dependent on their children than their children are on them.”

Just as important, Mae is a good example of why producing happy children may not be fair to ask of parents. It’s a beautiful goal—one I’ll readily admit to having myself—but no less than Benjamin Spock, the cuddly pediatrician who dominated the child-rearing-advice market after World War II, pointed out that raising happy children is an elusive aim compared to the more concrete aims of parenting in the past: creating children competent in certain kinds of work; creating morally responsible citizens who will fulfill a prescribed set of community obligations.

Those bygone goals are probably more constructive, not to mention more achievable. Not all children will grow up to be happy, in spite of their parents’ most valiant efforts, and all children are unhappy somewhere along the way. There are crude limits to how much parents can do to shield their children from the sharper and less forgiving parts of life—which, as adolescents, they stumble on far more regularly. “Sane parenting,” Phillips writes, “always involves a growing sense of how little, as well as how much, one can protect one’s child from; of just how little a life can be programmed.”

To this day, Mae feels things more deeply than her peers. And Gayle does not blame herself for this as much as another parent might. “It’s not that I feel inadequate as a mother,” she says. “I feel the inadequacy as a human to solve any other human’s problems.” But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. When I ask if she’s learned how to better cope with having an anxious child over the years, she answers immediately: “No.”

And yet how proud Gayle is of Mae! How amazed, how full of admiration! As we are chatting in her kitchen, I mention Erik Erikson to Gayle, wondering if she’s ever heard of him. She says the name sounds familiar, but no, not really. Mae, who’s been silently lingering at the counter, leaves the room, goes upstairs, and retrieves a copy of a book by Erikson, which she’s been reading for psych class. She plunks it down in front of her mother. Then she quietly leaves the room again.

Gayle smiles at me.

“That’s the kind of thing you live for,” she says. “You want them to be better than you. You want them to be smarter and do more things and know more things.” She picks up the book and scans both its front and back cover. She’s already mentioned to me that she loves Mae’s writing, loves her mind. “Gosh. I didn’t read this when I was 20.”

And that’s just it. In spite of our mistakes, here they are, thoughtful and accomplished human beings, gesticulating with our mannerisms and standing at our height.

Back at Samantha’s house a few days earlier, there came a moment when she wondered aloud whether she hadn’t focused enough on Wesley when he was small. “I just remember when Calliope was little,” she said. “Wesley was always being awakened from a nap and scooped up in a car seat and put some place. His standards were so much lower, in terms of his demands. And I thought, I wonder if I’ve done this to him. I don’t know how you feel, Wesley …”

She then looked directly at her son—so talented, so perceptive, and Lord, such a pain in the ass sometimes. Yet it wasn’t a look of desperation to validate her choices. She seemed genuinely to want to know.

He looked back at her, then uncertainly into the middle distance. Several seconds ticked by, then several more.

“Start speaking when you’re ready,” said Samantha. But it wasn’t Wesley who needed the extra time. It was she. “I just feel like having kids is the greatest thing I ever did, and I …” Her voice caught, and she started to cry. “I’m so proud of them. I love them so much. Last night, I was remembering when Calliope was a baby and being like, Oh my God, that’s so gone.” Her kids, startled by this frank display of emotion, looked at one another and themselves started to well up. “And then I thought, Well, someday maybe she’ll have a baby too …” Samantha wiped her nose.

Wesley still said nothing. Calliope, almost never at a loss for words, said nothing either. She put one hand over her mouth. With the other, she laced her mother’s fingers in her own.

Rich parents sneak ‘gifts’ to get kids into posh schools, by Tara Palmeri

Here’s a fun one…unless you live in NYC and feel the pressure that many of these parents feel. I have to say that when my kids went to preschool in Manhattan, we never gave gifts like this. Instead, all the parents in a class would pool their funds for a special gift from all of us. Looking back, I have to wonder whether this kind thing was going on and I just didn’t know. If you come from a certain social strata, this kind of thing would be no big deal, but for the rest of us, I’d hate to feel pressure to deliver these kinds of expensive gifts to my kids teachers. This article is from the NY Post. To read it at their website, CLICK HERE.

The city’s toniest pre-Ks bar parents from giving holiday gifts to teachers and directors — but moms and dads are so desperate to curry favor with the staffers who recommend their kids to future schools that they’ve turned to smuggling over-the-top “tips” to them.

Tiffany boxes, Birkin bags, Hermès scarves, diamond bracelets and even cash are standard offerings for the employees, parents and workers told The Post.

“It’s just one more way of protecting your child,” said one parent whose children attended pre-school at the Central Synagogue on Lexington Avenue off East 55th Street. “It’s just one more way of competing in NYC.”

Dana Haddad, a former private-school teacher, said parents would sneak gifts to her in creative ways.
“Parents met me outside of school to give [them] to me,” she recalled. “The rule was that it had to be a homemade gift, so once, I got a cookie jar that was actually homemade — but it was filled with $500 in cash.”

School officials began banning the gifts a few years ago because they were becoming extravagant.
When asked about parents continuing to give gifts, Ellen Davis, director of the nursery school at Temple Emanu-El on the Upper East Side, flat out denied it.

“That’s absolutely not true. They’re not allowed,” she insisted.

But parents said Emanu-El is among the worst offenders in the gifting competition. One year, a parent gave both a head teacher and her assistant gifts from Hermès — and the main instructor threw a hissy fit because the items were so close in value, a parent said. The gifts were eventually exchanged by the parent to reflect the workers’ different levels of experience.

A former admissions director at Madison Avenue Presbyterian Day School said she was showered every holiday season with spa gift cards, bottles of wine and blue Tiffany boxes.

“I had a lot of really nice dinners at fancy restaurants with $1,000 bottles of wine,” she reminisced. “The most powerful people in the city kissed my ass. It was lovely.”

Parents said they fear if they don’t pony up, their kids won’t get good enough recommendations to get into the best schools.

The premiere nursery school in Manhattan, the 92nd Street Y, actually embraces the gift culture; one parent recalled receiving a list of things that the teachers didn’t want for the holidays.

“I remember being surprised that the thing they would not like to get was a framed picture of your child,” the parent huffed. “It felt cold and even a little mercenary.”

Social researcher Wednesday Martin, who is writing a book about the city’s elite called “The Primates of Park Avenue,” said, “[Parents] are sometimes confused that these teachers are not service providers.”

Early Autism Diagnosis Tool – A Baby’s Gaze

This very interesting article appeared in the NY Times earlier this month. CLICK HERE to read the article at the NY Times Website and to watch a video of the study in action. If you know a family whose child was diagnosed with autism, please check out “A Spectacular Bond.” I highly recommend this book and wrote about it in an earlier posting.

Baby’s Gaze May Signal Autism, a Study Finds

Updated, 1:11 a.m. | When and how long a baby looks at other people’s eyes offers the earliest behavioral sign to date of whether a child is likely to develop autism, scientists are reporting.

In a study published Wednesday, researchers using eye-tracking technology found that children who were found to have autism at age 3 looked less at people’s eyes when they were babies than children who did not develop autism. But contrary to what the researchers expected, the difference was not apparent at birth. It emerged in the next few months and autism experts said that might suggest a window during which the progression toward autism can be halted or slowed.

The study, published online in the journal Nature, found that infants who later developed autism began spending less time looking at people’s eyes between 2 and 6 months of age and paid less attention to eyes as they grew older. By contrast, babies who did not develop autism looked increasingly at people’s eyes until about 9 months old, and then kept their attention to eyes fairly constant into toddlerhood.

“This paper is a major leap forward,” said Dr. Lonnie Zwaigenbaum, a pediatrician and autism researcher at the University of Alberta, who was not involved in the study. “Documenting that there’s a developmental difference between 2 and 6 months is a major, major finding.”

The authors, Warren R. Jones and Ami Klin, both of the Marcus Autism Center and Emory University, also found that babies who showed the steepest decline in looking at people’s eyes over time developed the most severe autism.

“Kids whose eye fixation falls off most rapidly are the ones who later on are the most socially disabled and show the most symptoms,” said Dr. Jones, director of research at the autism center. “These are the earliest known signs of social disability, and they are associated with outcome and with symptom severity. Our ultimate goal is to translate this discovery into a tool for early identification” of children with autism.

The eye-tracking differences are not something parents and pediatricians would be able to perceive without the technology and expertise of an autism clinic, Dr. Jones said. “We don’t want to create concern in parents that if a child isn’t looking them in the eyes all the time, it’s a problem,” he said. “It’s not. Children are looking all over the place.”

Autism therapies have not yet been developed for young babies, but there are efforts to adapt intensive behavioral therapy for use with children as young as 12 months, Dr. Jones said.

Diagnoses of autism have increased, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, from one child in 150 in 2002 to one in 88 in 2008. The reasons are unclear, although some factors could be greater awareness of the disorder and a growing number of older fathers.

Dr. Jones and Dr. Klin, who directs the autism center, studied two groups of babies. One group was at high risk for autism, with a 20 times greater likelihood of developing it because they had siblings with the disorder. The other group was at low risk, with no relatives with autism.

The researchers assessed 110 children, from 2 months to 2 years of age, 10 times while watching videos of friendly women acting like playful caregivers. Eye-tracking technology traced when the babies looked at the women’s eyes, mouths and bodies, as well as toys or other objects in the background. At age 3, the children were evaluated for autism. Ultimately, researchers used data from 36 boys, 11 of whom developed autism. (They excluded data from girls because only two developed autism.)

While the number of children studied was small — and the researchers are now studying more children — experts not involved in the study said the results were significant because of the careful and repeated measurements that were not just snapshots, but showed change over time.

“It’s well done and very important,” said Dr. Geraldine Dawson, director of the Center for Autism Diagnosis and Treatment at Duke University. She said it was notable that “early on these babies look quite normal; this really gives us a clue to brain development.”

She said a possible explanation was that early in life, activities like looking at faces are essentially reflexes “controlled by lower cortical regions of the brain that are likely intact” in children with autism. But “as the brain develops, babies begin to use these behaviors in a more intentional way. They can look at what they want to look at. We think that these higher cortical regions are the ones that are not working the same” as in typical children.

Dr. John N. Constantino, a child psychiatrist and pediatrician at Washington University in St. Louis, said the study showed that “babies who develop autism are for the most part doing an awful lot of things right for the first few months.” Perhaps the genes that drive autism begin to derail typical development after that, so that “what you are looking at moment by moment, day by day, second by second, is completely different from what other children are looking at, and the cumulative experience is what sends you off into the trajectory of autism.”

The researchers found that children who developed autism paid somewhat more attention to mouths and sustained attention to bodies past the age when typical children became less interested. Even more noticeable was that children who developed autism looked more at objects after the first year, while typical children’s interest in objects declined.

“We’re measuring what babies see, but more importantly we’re measuring what they don’t see,” Dr. Jones said.

Dr. Dawson said that looking at people teaches babies about “facial expressions and language and gesture. If the baby who’s developing autism is paying attention to objects, they’re really losing out on those opportunities.”

Before this study, experts said, research found that potential signs of autism — including differences in temperament, eye contact and pointing out objects — could be detected late in a child’s first year. Most cases of autism in children are diagnosed between ages 3 and 5, although the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends screening children at between 18 and 24 months.

But the new study suggests the need to develop therapies that begin even earlier. “The train has long left the station if you don’t start intervention until 18 months,” Dr. Constantino said.

Dr. Jones said eye contact was “just one very important channel.”

He continued, “I think we’d see the same things if we were measuring a child’s social reciprocity via touch or auditory listening preferences, but those are harder to measure.”

He and Dr. Klin advocate the eventual use of eye tracking and other measures in social development growth charts, similar to height and weight charts. Still, the authors and other experts cautioned that the results required confirmation in many more children.

Autism is so complex and varied that eye-tracking is unlikely to be able to identify every condition on the autism spectrum, Dr. Zwaigenbaum and others said. But they said the study helped illustrate the need for therapies to increase social engagement among very young infants, “either by intensifying the experience for them or making it pleasurable in other ways,” Dr. Constantino said.

“It really does present an opportunity for seeing if we could do some preventative interventions,” said Dr. Sally Ozonoff, vice chairwoman for research in psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the MIND Institute of the University of California, Davis. “Maybe you could keep the child from heading into that decline, so it doesn’t turn into autism.”

Your Toddler Can Read the Literary Classics!

I was intrigued by this article in the NY Times a few weeks ago. CLICK HERE to read the article at the Times website. Publishers are now creating simplified versions of literary classics for the preschool set. I think it’s a fabulous idea! Anything that encourages a parent to read to and cuddle with their child works for me!

A Library of Classics, Edited for the Teething Set

The humble board book, with its cardboard-thick pages, gently rounded corners and simple concepts for babies, was once designed to be chewed as much as read.

But today’s babies and toddlers are treated to board books that are miniature works of literary art: classics like “Romeo and Juliet,” “Sense and Sensibility” and “Les Misérables”; luxuriously produced counting primers with complex graphic elements; and even an “Art for Baby” book featuring images by the contemporary artists Damien Hirst and Paul Morrison.

Booksellers say that parents are flocking to these books, even if the idea that a 2-year-old could understand “Moby-Dick” seems absurd on the face of it. A toddler might not be expected to follow the plot, but she could learn about harpoons, ships and waves, with quotes alongside (“The waves rolled by like scrolls of silver”).

Publishers of these books are catering to parents who follow the latest advice by child-development experts to read to babies early and often, and who believe that children can display aesthetic preferences even while they are crawling and eating puréed foods.

“If we’re going to play classical music to our babies in the womb and teach them foreign languages at an early age, then we’re going to want to expose babies to fine art and literature,” said Linda Bubon, an owner and children’s book buyer at Women & Children First, a bookstore in Chicago. “Now we know there are things we can do to stimulate the mind of a baby.”

Suzanne Gibbs Taylor, the associate publisher and creative director of Gibbs Smith, a small publisher in Salt Lake City that conceived the popular BabyLit series, said she realized that no one had ever “taken Jane Austen and made it for babies.”

While the BabyLit books do not try to lay out a complicated narrative of “Wuthering Heights” or “Romeo and Juliet,” they use the stories as a springboard to explain counting, colors or the concept of opposites. The popular “Cozy Classics” line of board books, introduced in 2012 by Simply Read Books, a publisher based in Vancouver, B.C., adapts stories like “Moby-Dick” and “Les Misérables” for infants and toddlers using pictures of needle-felted figures of Captain Ahab and Jean Valjean.

“People are realizing that it’s never too young to start putting things in front of them that are a little more meaningful, that have more levels,” said Ms. Taylor, whose BabyLit series has sold about 300,000 books so far. “It’s not so simple as, ‘Here’s a dog, here’s the number 2.’ ”

While the publishing industry is still scraping through the digital revolution, children’s books have remained relatively untouched. Most parents are sticking to print for their young children even when there are e-book versions or apps available, and videos like the once ubiquitous “Baby Einstein,” founded in 1997 as a fast-track to infant genius, have fallen out of fashion.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that television should be avoided for children younger than 2 years old, and studies have suggested that babies and toddlers receive much greater benefit from real interactions than from experiences involving video screens.

“There has been a proliferation of focus on early childhood development on the education side,” said John Mendelson, the sales director at Candlewick Press, “as well as on the retail side.”

Board books, traditionally for newborns to 3-year-olds, have always been a smaller and somewhat neglected category in the publishing business, compared with the larger and more expensive hardcover picture books designed for children of reading age.

But board books may be catching up. Libraries that used to shun the genre are now buying them from publishers. Bookstores are making more room for board books on their shelves. And while a board book might have once been too insubstantial a gift to bring to a child’s birthday party, the newer, highly stylized versions (that can run up to $15) would easily pass muster.

“A board book was little more than a teething ring,” said Christopher Franceschelli, who directs Handprint Books, an imprint of Chronicle Books. “I think as picture books have developed in the last 20 years, parents, librarians, teachers have thought, ‘Why should board books be any less than their older siblings?’ ”

In 2012, Abrams Books, the art-book publisher, created a new imprint, Abrams Appleseed, to focus on books for babies, toddlers and preschoolers. Since then, it has published high-end books like “Pantone: Color Puzzles,” released this month, which uses intricate drawings and puzzle pieces to teach children the differences between colors like peacock blue and nighttime blue.

“If you look at board books from 15 years ago, it looks like the stuff on there was pulled off the Internet somewhere,” said Cecily Kaiser, the publishing director of Abrams Appleseed. “Now there’s a real embrace of a much more artful style.”

At Chronicle, a San Francisco-based publisher, sales of board books have been rising for at least two to three years. Editors there have experimented with books that attempt interactivity, such as a line of books with finger puppets. “We’re in this era of mass good design for everybody,” said Ginee Seo, the children’s publishing director at Chronicle. “You’re seeing good design at Target; you can buy Jonathan Adler at Barnes & Noble. You’re not willing to accept the cheesy clip art on a board book.”

Jon Yaged, the president and publisher of Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group, said the demand for board books has driven him to release more of them in recent years. He has also added ornate flourishes: on the cover of a new edition of “The Pout-Pout Fish,” the title reads in a shiny gold foil, a touch that would normally have been reserved for a more expensive picture book.

Cindy Hudson, a guidebook author and mother of two in Portland, Ore., who runs a Web site suggesting books for parents to read with their children, said she doubted a baby would “benefit intellectually” from being exposed to Tolstoy or the Brontë sisters.

Still, “anything that encourages that interaction between babies and parents is a good thing,” she said. “That’s where the learning and the bonding comes from.”

Language-Gap Study Bolsters a Push for Pre-K, by Motoko Rich

This article is from today’s NY Times. If you would like to read it there, CLICK HERE. There are some very interesting parent comments that go with it on the site. The article supports something I have been preaching for years – Talk to your children all the time about everything and anything! You don’t have to be rich to give your child the gift of language skills. All it takes is talking to your child and surrounding him with language.

Language-Gap Study Bolsters a Push for Pre-K, by MOTOKO RICH

Nearly two decades ago, a landmark study found that by age 3, the children of wealthier professionals have heard words millions more times than those of less educated parents, giving them a distinct advantage in school and suggesting the need for increased investment in prekindergarten programs.

Now a follow-up study has found a language gap as early as 18 months, heightening the policy debate.

The new research by Anne Fernald, a psychologist at Stanford University, which was published in Developmental Science this year, showed that at 18 months children from wealthier homes could identify pictures of simple words they knew — “dog” or “ball” — much faster than children from low-income families. By age 2, the study found, affluent children had learned 30 percent more words in the intervening months than the children from low-income homes.

The new findings, although based on a small sample, reinforced the earlier research showing that because professional parents speak so much more to their children, the children hear 30 million more words by age 3 than children from low-income households, early literacy experts, preschool directors and pediatricians said. In the new study, the children of affluent households came from communities where the median income was $69,000; the low-income children came from communities with a median income of $23,900.

Since oral language and vocabulary are so connected to reading comprehension, the most disadvantaged children face increased challenges once they enter school and start learning to read.

“That gap just gets bigger and bigger,” said Kris Perry, executive director of the First Five Years Fund, an advocate of early education for low-income children. “That gap is very real and very hard to undo.”

President Obama has called for the federal government to match state money to provide preschool for all 4-year-olds from low- and moderate-income families, a proposal in the budget that Congress voted to postpone negotiating until later this year. The administration is also offering state grants through its Race to the Top Program to support early childhood education. Critics argue, however, that with so few programs offering high-quality instruction, expanding the system will prove a waste of money and that the limited funds should be reserved for elementary and secondary education.

But at a time when a majority of public schoolchildren in about a third of the states come from low-income families, according to the Southern Education Foundation, those who are pushing for higher preschool enrollment say that investing in the youngest children could save public spending later on.

In the latest data available from the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University, 28 percent of all 4-year-olds in the United States were enrolled in state-financed preschool in the 2010-11 school year, and just 4 percent of 3-year-olds.

The National Governors Association, in a report this month calling on states to ensure that all children can read proficiently by third grade, urges lawmakers to increase access to high-quality child care and prekindergarten classes and to invest in programs for children from birth through age 5. In New York, the Democratic mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio has said he would tax high-income earners to pay for universal prekindergarten in the city.

“A lot of states are saying, ‘Let’s get to the early care providers and get more of them having kids come into kindergarten ready,’ ” said Richard Laine, director of education for the National Governors Association. That way, he said, “we’re not waiting until third grade and saying, ‘Oh my gosh, we have so many kids overwhelming our remediation system.’ ”

Currently, 17 states and the District of Columbia have policies requiring that third graders be held back if they do not meet state reading proficiency standards, according to the Education Commission of the States.

Now, with the advent of the Common Core, a set of rigorous reading and math standards for students in kindergarten through 12th grade that has been adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia, educators say the pressure to prepare young children is growing more intense.

Literacy experts have previously documented a connection between a child’s early vocabulary and later success in reading comprehension. In a study tracking children from age 3 through middle school, David Dickinson, now a professor of education at Vanderbilt University, and Catherine Snow, an education professor at Harvard University, found that a child’s score on a vocabulary test in kindergarten could predict reading comprehension scores in later grades.

Mr. Dickinson said he feared that some preschool teachers or parents might extract the message about the importance of vocabulary and pervert it. “The worst thing that could come out of all this interest in vocabulary,” he said, “is flash cards with pictures making kids memorize a thousand words.”

Instead, literacy experts emphasize the importance of natural conversations with children, asking questions while reading books, and helping children identify words during playtime.

Even these simple principles may be hard to implement, some educators say, because preschool instructors are often paid far less than public schoolteachers and receive scant training. In one study, Robert Pianta, dean of the Curry School of Education at the University of Virginia, found that in observations of 700 preschool classrooms across 11 states, teachers in less than 15 percent of the classes demonstrated “effective teacher-student interactions.”

“There is a lot of wishful thinking about how easy it is, that if you just put kids in any kind of program that this will just happen,” said W. Steven Barnett, director of the National Institute for Early Education Research, referring to the development of strong vocabularies and other preliteracy skills.

Literacy experts and publishing companies are rushing to develop materials for teachers. Scholastic Inc., the children’s book publisher, for example, began selling the Big Day for Pre-K program to preschools three years ago. Collections of books come with specific question prompts like “I see a yellow taxi. What do you see?”

Educators and policy makers say they also must focus increasingly on parents.

In Vallejo, Calif., where about 400 children up to age 5 attend publicly funded prekindergarten programs, the district invited Anne E. Cunningham, a psychologist and literacy specialist from the University of California, Berkeley, to conduct a training program for preschool teachers that included the development of parent education workshops. And in Kentucky, the governor’s Office of Early Childhood started a social media campaign last year that offers simple tips for parents like “Talk about the weather with your child. Is it sunny or cloudy? Hot or cold?”

Middle class and more-affluent parents have long known that describing fruit at the supermarket or pointing out the shape of a stop sign are all part of a young child’s literacy education.

But even in low-income families, parents who speak to their children more frequently can enhance vocabulary. In separate research, Ms. Fernald, working with Adriana Weisleder, a graduate student in psychology, recorded all the words that 29 children from low-income households heard over a day.

The researchers differentiated between words overheard from television and adult conversations and those directed at the children. They found that some of the children, who were 19 months at the time, heard as few as 670 “child-directed” words in one day, compared with others in the group who heard as many as 12,000.

Those who had heard more words were able to understand words more quickly and had larger vocabularies by age 2.

“Even in families that are low income and perhaps don’t have a lot of education, there are some parents that are very engaged verbally with their kids,” said Ms. Weisleder. “And those kids are doing better in language development.”

Why More Families are Homeschooling their Kids

At, we are noticing that more and more of our members are homeschooling their kids these days. Often, I talk to parents who have made the decision to educate their kids at home and they are thrilled with the the outcome. Homeschooling is not for everyone, but it is becoming more and more mainstream and doable because of resources and information available on-line and through Homeschooling associations. Here is an article on Homeschooling in major urban cities that I enjoyed reading and wanted to share with you. After reading it, I almost wished I could have homeschooled my kids. For me, it was impossible because economic circumstances were such that my husband and I both had to work full time while raising our kids. However, I can really see the benefits of that choice after reading this piece. If you’d like to read the article at the NY Magazine website, CLICK HERE.

Homeschooling, City-Style
Why more and more city parents are teaching their kids themselves.

By Lisa Miller

It’s 1:15 on a Monday afternoon, and two dozen kids, mostly girls in brightly colored leggings, are in the gymnastics studio at Asphalt Green on 90th Street and York Avenue, doing what kids in gymnastics classes do. They’re stretching against a wall, palms pressed flat, arms overhead. They’re jumping and fidgeting on a puffy mat as an instructor demonstrates tumbling moves. Up in the balcony, meanwhile, their moms are in semi-distracted kid-tending mode. With one eye, they’re observing their blossoming Gabby Douglases, while with the other they’re reading their iPads, chatting with one another, keeping track of smaller children—or all of the above.

The scene is totally normal, except for one thing. It’s a weekday. At lunch time. Aren’t these kids supposed to be in school?

They are in school, sort of. These are homeschoolers. They can take gymnastics in the middle of the day because they don’t leave their houses each morning, laden with backpacks and lunch, to spend six hours in classrooms down the block or in a different borough at what their parents call “regular school.” Their mothers (and a few of their fathers) are their teachers and their principals, their recess monitors and their librarians, having taken over from New York City (or Dalton, or Sacred Heart) the responsibility for their children’s education.

The term homeschool used to evoke images of conservative Christians in the rural districts of western and southern states, who, in protest against secular education and the eroding morals of the nation’s youth, took matters into their own hands. The earliest homeschooling resources—the curricula and the online networks and message boards—were developed by Christian activists. The Internet was a boon for these parents, whose interests were aligned but who often lived hundreds of miles apart. “Do we want our children to be like the ultraliberal teachers that they have in public school,” asked the vice-president of the Southern Baptist Convention in 2002, “or do we want them to be like their Christian parents?”

But in recent years, as the number of children being homeschooled has exploded from 1.1 million in 2003 to 1.5 million in 2007 (or nearly 3 percent of the school-age population), according to the U.S. Department of Education, so has the number of homeschoolers in American cities spiked. According to the department’s most recent data, some 320,000 kids are being homeschooled in apartments and walk-ups, in brownstones and housing projects nationwide. There are homeschooling support groups providing resources, classes, and curriculum help. In New York City last year, 2,766 children were being homeschooled, up from 2,550 in 20010–11. (And that’s a low estimate, according to New York homeschool advocates, because it doesn’t include preschoolers or teenagers over 17.)

Urbanites cite many reasons for choosing homeschooling, but religion is rarely one of them. Laurie Spigel, who runs the website Home School NYC, estimates that “maybe one percent or less” of New York homeschool families are religiously motivated. “You can only generalize about homeschoolers as much as you can generalize about New Yorkers,” says Spigel. Mostly, though, New York City homeschoolers are “educated, middle-class people,” she says, who don’t like what’s on offer from the Department of Ed and can’t afford or don’t want to pay private-school tuition. In this way, New Yorkers who homeschool reflect the homeschool population at large: The greatest proportion of homeschool parents in the United States earn between $50,000 and $75,000 a year and have a bachelor’s degree or more.

Why Teach at Home?

Urban homeschoolers frequently cite the homogenization of public education as the reason they chose to take over their kids’ schooling. With federal and state education policy placing ever-greater emphasis on core standards and standardized tests, many parents want to give their kids something more creative, flexible, and engaging than a school day they see as factory-made. The one-size-fits-all model is especially unappealing to parents of children who are “special” in some way: unevenly intelligent, intensely shy, immature, or in need of a flexible schedule to accommodate their professional acting or dancing or musical careers. In New York, even parents in the best districts complain about overcrowding and about teachers, who, however motivated and skilled, have their hands full managing the unruly few who can reign in some classrooms. Then there are the problems that come with all traditional schools: the bullying, the playground politics, and the escalating gadget and fashion arms races. According to the DOE, nearly 88 percent of U.S. homeschool parents express concern about the school environment, citing drugs, negative peer pressure, and general safety.

Kristin Sposito was one of the moms at the Monday-afternoon gymnastics class. She and her husband, Brett, decided to homeschool when their daughter, Maya, was 5. The Spositos, who lived in Portland, Oregon, at the time, looked around at their friends’ children who were going off to school. The school day seemed very long for children so young, Kristin thought. And the kids who did go to school came home “with bad attitudes right off the bat,” she says. The children were mouthy; family relationships grew strained; the joy of family life was somehow lost; and the children were none the better for it. “It’s not like they were away all day and then came home and were brilliant. And I thought, You know what? This is a waste of time. I could do it better myself.” The family moved to New York City five years ago. Maya is now 12. Neither she nor her two brothers, Jonah, 9, and Simon, 4, has ever been to school, and Sposito is happy with her choice. “It’s like a big secret, like we’re getting away with something,” she says.

A Homeschooling Primer

It’s relatively easy to begin homeschooling in New York. Homeschoolers need only file paperwork with the Department of Education stating their intention to homeschool, outlining their curriculum goals, and promising to fulfill certain requirements that correspond to public schools. Parents do not have to be certified or credentialed (nor do any tutors they use) and don’t have to abide by any particular schedule.

Some homeschool families largely emulate a traditional school day: The parents make lesson plans; start and end at a specific time; use textbooks and workbooks; and give homework, tests, and report cards. “Some families use correspondence curriculum. They say, ‘We are at home for these hours.’ They ring the bell and use the blackboard,” says Spigel.

But in New York and other cities, where cultural offerings are so rich, many homeschooling families rely heavily on the city’s cultural institutions. The New York homeschool population has grown to such an extent, in fact, that many city institutions now offer classes (often at a deep discount) just for homeschoolers. The New-York Historical Society has a program in which homeschoolers learn American history through Broadway musicals and the artifacts in its collection; this fall, it’s teaching kids about the westward expansion through Oklahoma! and the works of the artists in the Hudson River School. At Robofun, on the Upper West Side, homeschool students work in pairs to learn architecture, computer programming, robotics, and engineering by building their own robots. One of the most popular programs among New York homeschooling families, and one that fulfills the city’s phys-ed requirement, is Wayfinders, a role-playing fantasy program in which kids run around Central Park in teams with large foam swords playing an epic version of capture the flag.

As children get older and their educational needs become more sophisticated, many homeschool parents reach out to the homeschool networks online and band together with other families to hire private tutors for specialty subjects—advanced science and math, foreign languages, dance. Other parents share their own expertise. Actor parents will help a bunch of kids stage a show; artist parents will teach a painting class; parents trained in classics will teach Latin. Sposito, a civil engineer, has recently started teaching physics to her son Jonah and one of his friends based on a curriculum called “Real Science-4-Kids.” The boys did a physics lab the morning of Maya’s gymnastics class. “We threw some balls, rolled marbles, and talked about inertia,” Sposito says.

At the far end of the homeschooling spectrum are the “unschoolers,” folks who have no set learning agenda. “ ‘Unschooling’ is learning without any sort of curriculum whatsoever,” says Amy Milstein, who runs the website UnschoolingNYC. “It’s learning through life.” Rather than follow any particular math curriculum, for example, unschoolers learn to multiply fractions when they double a recipe while they’re cooking dinner. They learn to add and subtract in their heads when they count their change at the store; they do percentages by calculating tips. In unschooling, there is no memorization of multiplication tables, no spelling tests, no grammar lessons. “I think what takes the fun out of learning is ‘You must do this. It’s a lesson. That’s the way it’s done,’ ” says Milstein. “It’s an unnatural thing that we’ve come to believe is natural. Of course, there will be gaps in their knowledge. But they’ll know how to find out what they need to know.”

Testing is the great equalizer between homeschoolers or unschoolers and children following the traditional route. Math and reading tests are required at regular intervals, beginning in fourth grade. Parents can choose from a list of accepted tests, or they can opt for the same citywide tests that all public-schoolers take (arrangements can be made for homeschoolers to test at a public school alongside their peers). Tests taken at home must be administered by a certified teacher or another qualified person agreed upon by the superintendent of your school district. Parents must file test results with their end-of-year assessment. Under the city’s regulations, children who score below the 33rd percentile of national norms or show no progress compared with a previous year’s test will have their homeschooling program placed on probation. If that happens, parents must submit a plan of remediation to be reviewed by the school district.

Does Homeschooling Work?

According to a 2011 report from the National Home Education Research Institute, which is, to be sure, a homeschooling advocacy group, homeschoolers typically score 15 to 30 percentile points above public-school students on academic-achievement tests. In 2002, the College Board, which administers the SAT, says that homeschoolers averaged 72 points, or 7 percent, higher than the national average. In terms of college acceptance, admissions directors say homeschoolers are evaluated just as other kids are—on their academic achievement, test scores, letters of recommendation, extracurricular activities, and so on (See “What the Harvard Admissions Director Thinks,” at left). Students coming from a homeschool graduated college within four years at a higher rate than their peers—66.7 percent compared with 57.5 percent—and earned higher grade-point averages, according to a study that compared students at a midwestern university from 2004 to 2009.

But this year, the National Education Association, the nation’s largest teachers’ union, published the following statement: “[The NEA] believes that homeschooling programs based on parental choice cannot provide the student with a comprehensive education experience.” What homeschooled children are most deprived of, homeschooling critics say, are socialization skills. School isn’t just where kids develop intellectually—it’s where they learn to cooperate, face social challenges, and work out their differences. Kids who are homeschooled, critics note, often develop a sense of entitlement. Despite the way they were educated, not everything in the workplace and the world beyond school is custom-tailored to an individual’s needs. Danielle Everett, who is 24, grew up in Queens and was homeschooled from the time she was a preschooler until she went away to college. “I always struggled socially,” she says. “I didn’t have close friends until I was 15. I don’t think I have ever met a homeschooler who doesn’t have social awkwardness.” When she has kids, she says, she’ll homeschool them—“just not all the way through. A good educational experience should include learning how to have relationships.”

Other educators note that the U.S. population is fast becoming majority nonwhite, and that the ranks of homeschoolers are increasingly unrepresentative of the population at large. Amy Stuart Wells, a professor at Teachers College at Columbia University, says homeschoolers aren’t learning to be members of a diverse society. “I don’t want my son to think just like me,” says Wells. “I want him to be challenged and confronted with other points of view. We have to question homeschooling from that standpoint.”

Homeschoolers themselves, however dedicated to their choice they may be, acknowledge its challenges. For one, homeschooling is expensive. Sposito pays more than $7,000 a year in classes and tutors for Maya and Jonah (and, of course, she still pays school taxes). She estimates she’s in the mid-range of homeschool families. “I know lots of people paying $4,000 a year for violin and $2,000 for science classes,” she says. And some families pay for private tutors and classes at levels that can add up to tuition at Fieldston. And of course, one parent staying home means one less salary. Disposable income, in fact, is the thing Sposito misses most about having a more conventional life. “There are significant things I wish my family could afford—more travel, renovations to our apartment—that we can’t have because we’ve been living on one income for a long time,” she says. Her husband supports the homeschooling effort, but is not engaged in the day-to-day teaching and would not, Sposito says, have chosen it on his own. He feels the burden of his breadwinning role in the family acutely. An engineer who inspects the structural safety of the city’s bridges, he often feels stressed at work. And when he does, he asks his wife to consider returning to work. For her part, Sposito feels the weight of her commitment to homeschooling as well as the magnitude of her dual role: primary parent and full-time educator. “I do feel responsible for everything, being their mom and their teacher, but at least I am in touch with their learning.”

And then there’s the pure exasperation homeschool parents can feel after spending all day with their children—not just teaching but cooking, cleaning, shopping, mediating arguments, and more—without a break from breakfast until bedtime. “Of course, my kids bicker and make messes and sometimes don’t want to brush their teeth or clean up or practice their violin or do their schoolwork,” says Sposito. “I’ve called my husband at work, in tears, because I didn’t think I could deal with the kids that day.”

On balance, she points out, she’s still thrilled for the opportunity to be able to educate her children the way she wants to and to spend the bulk of her time in a relaxed and playful way with them. But on those days when things aren’t going so smoothly, Sposito says, she’s not above a threat: If her kids don’t shape up, she tells, them, she’ll go back to work and send them to “regular school.”

The Everything Guide to Urban Home Schooling

Mastering the Basics
The nuts and bolts of teaching kids yourself.

Step 1: Write a Letter of Intent
You need to inform the city by mail (Central Office of Home Schooling, 333 Seventh Ave., seventh fl., New York, NY, 10001) that you will be homeschooling your child. Letters are due by July 1, or within fourteen days from when you start home instruction. Include the child’s name, date of birth, grade level, and home address, plus a statement of intention. And while it’s not required, it’s a good idea to send a copy of the same letter to your child’s former school, especially if you’re withdrawing him or her. Within ten business days of receipt, parents will get a copy of the New York State Education Department Commissioner’s Regulation Part 100.10 (the official rule book for urban homeschoolers), as well as a form on which to submit an Individualized Home Instruction Plan (IHIP), due by August 15 of each new school year or four weeks after receiving the response to your letter of intent.

Step 2: Submit Your IHIP
Here, you need to describe the curriculum that you (or those you plan to hire) will teach your child. There are plenty of free online resources to help; the World Book website, for example, lists detailed curriculum requirements by U.S. grade level. (Note: New York State requires you to cover specific subjects for specific grades—see “Required Subjects by Grade” for more.) Some parents choose to write their own IHIP, streamlining the process from year to year and facilitating easier record-keeping, which is important when applying for college or internships.

Step 3: File Quarterly Reports
Four times a school year, parents must send in a report detailing their child’s progress with regard to the curriculum laid out in the IHIP. Parents must also make note of the number of hours of instruction and attendance to date—see “Required Hours of Instruction” for more. Suggested deadlines for quarterly reports are November 15, January 31, April 15, and June 30.

Step 4: Submit an End-of-Year Assessment
Parents have the option to write up a statement confirming that the educational goals for the year, as outlined in the IHIP, have been met; alternately, they can submit achievement test scores. (For more info, read the New York State Education Department Commissioner’s Regulation.) This is due at the same time as the final quarterly report.

Required Subjects by Grade
Grades 1 through 6:

math, reading, spelling, writing, the English language, geography, U.S. history, science, health education, music, visual arts, physical education, bilingual education and/or English as a second language where the need is indicated.

Grades 7 and 8:
English (two units*); history and geography (two units); science (two units); math (two units); physical education; health education; art (a half-unit); music (a half-unit); practical arts; and library skills. While the subjects are defined by the state, parents can define the content of the curriculum.

Grades 9 through 12:
English (four units); social studies (four units), which includes one unit of American history, a half-unit in participation in government, and a half-unit of economics; mathematics (two units); science (two units); art and/or music (one unit); health education (a half-unit); physical education (two units); and three units of electives (such as foreign languages or performing arts).

Additional requirements:
The following courses must be taught at least once during the first eight grades: U.S. history, New York State history, and the Constitutions of the United States and New York State. The following subjects must be covered during grades kindergarten through 12: patriotism and citizenship; health education regarding alcohol, drug, and tobacco misuse; highway safety and traffic regulations, including bicycle safety; and fire and arson prevention and safety.

*Note: 1 unit equals 108 hours of instruction per school year.

Required Hours of Instruction
According to the regulations, homeschooled students are expected to have 180 days of instruction each school year (just like public-school kids). Minimum hours of instruction per school year are as follows: 900 hours (225 hours per quarter) for kids in grades 1 through 6 and 990 hours (247.55 hours per quarter) for grades 7 through 12. Parents are expected to keep attendance records but do not need to submit them unless requested.

How to Find a Great Tutor
The New York City Home Educators Alliance maintains a list of member-recommended tutors in a range of subjects. Professional teachers and homeschooling parents with specific expertise, like an architect who can teach basic architecture and design, advertise in the NYCHEA newsletter.

Tutoring agencies run the gamut from those associated with high schools (the Tutoring School at the Beekman School) or universities (Columbia University Tutoring and Translating Agency) to private businesses, like Partners With Parents, which provides a selection of tutors with advanced degrees and extensive home-teaching experience, and Mosaic Tutoring, which offers college counseling in addition to tutoring services. Fees average $100 to $135 per hour.

Word-of-mouth can also be valuable. Cynthia McCallister, an associate professor at NYU’s Steinhardt School of Education and homeschooler to her 11-year-old son, has used family friends and college students, and says parents shouldn’t forget about older kids in their buildings. Always ask for references, and, where possible, try out a tutor for a session before committing.

What the Harvard Admissions Director Thinks
Do colleges frown upon homeschooled applicants? Marlyn McGrath says no.

The requirements are the same for everybody, but some parts of the admission process are unique to homeschoolers. We require the same standardized tests for everyone, but homeschool students often take extra tests—say, SAT subject tests—because they find that those tests are an easier way to convey mastery of a subject. We want all the usual recommendation letters, but because parents who homeschool are often their children’s teachers, they write letters, too. They want to show the thinking behind the work they did and why. Homeschoolers don’t always have easily identifiable extracurriculars, so we are often pleased to see team participation. On the other hand, many of them have an unusual story to tell, and that can be a strength. In the end, we ask the same questions of all candidates: How unusual is she in her accomplishments? Her ambition? Her capacity to overcome whatever life might have thrown her way? And how would she stand out and contribute here? —As told to Jillian Goodman

A Day In the Life of a Homeschooler
Monique Forest teaches her 13-year-old son, Shane, in Sunset Park. We asked her to document a typical day.

9:30 a.m.
We woke up late because I took Shane to the Jay-Z concert last night. Normally, he goes to bed at 9:30 p.m. so he can get ten hours of sleep, but I made an exception this time so he could have a life experience. This was his first concert, and I know it will be a great memory for him. I believe in a well-rounded education so I use the Core Knowledge Lesson Plan. It covers all the basic subjects: English, math, science, history, geography, language, art, music, and health. I also teach practical life skills—like budgeting, baking from scratch, and learning the subway system.

10–10:45 a.m., Current Events
We read the newspapers in the morning, mostly the New York Times, and discuss articles we find interesting. Today we talked about the presidential debate. Shane’s uncle gave him an iPad, and he does a lot of his work on that. It’s a wonderful teaching tool. Sometimes we’ll do editing in the morning. Getting him to do this is like pulling teeth, so I try to get it out of the way early.

11–11:30 a.m., Reading and History
He’s reading Fall of Giants, by Ken Follett. Although it’s fiction, it’s a fun way to learn about history. It takes place during WWI and the Second Industrial Revolution. It’s about 1,000 pages.

11:30 a.m.–Noon, S.A.T. Words
Shane has an app for this so he practices by taking a test, and at the end you get your score. He also did another vocabulary app today called Vocabador. I love this one. You knock out your opponent by choosing the correct definition.

Noon–12:45 p.m., Lunch Today
I gave him Ak-mak crackers, sliced raw red bell pepper, a peanut-butter-and-pumpkin-butter sandwich on wheat, and a glass of unsweetened vanilla almond milk with Stevia, a dash of cinnamon, and pumpkin-pie spice. The saying “Change your food, change your mood” is so true.

12:50–1:40 p.m., Exercise and Music
Shane can choose different exercises, but it must be vigorous and last at least 30 minutes. Sometimes we play basketball or walk a few miles or he rides his scooter. Exercise is conducive to learning. Shane is trying to get into La Guardia High School next year, so we also work on music in the afternoon. He’s doing a song in Italian; he’s on level 2 in Rosetta Stone. Instead of telling him he’s the best, I try to be realistic. I let him know the odds are long, and he needs to practice more.

1:45–2:30 p.m., Math
We use the Teaching Textbooks CD. It has tutorials and a fully automated grading system. Right now, he’s finishing up pre-algebra. I expect him to do fourteen lessons a week, though he can choose how he wants to split those up. He has typically ranked between the 90th and 99th percentile in math on the New York State Exam for grades 3 through 8 (with the exception of sixth grade, when he scored in the 84th percentile).

2:40–2:55 p.m., Snack Time
It’s pear and plain Greek yogurt with organic honey.

3–3:30 p.m.
Shane went outside to socialize with kids from his old school. They’re really curious about homeschooling, so they’re always asking him questions. The idea that homeschoolers don’t socialize is just wrong. If I hear one more person say, “What about the socialization?”…

3:40–4:15 p.m., Science
Today he studied science terms; I usually quiz him afterward. Science is one of his favorite subjects. He looks over the eighth-grade curriculum that’s submitted to the city’s homeschool division and can study anything on the list he chooses.

4:15–4:30 p.m., Spelling
I have an app where I record whatever words I pick. He takes the test, and it gives his score. It’s a great app, and free, which is important since we’re on a tight budget. We do school seven days a week because he can’t be pushed for too long on any given day. I have to respect that about him, and I have to make everything interesting, or else he just won’t do it.

The City As Classroom
Eight New York homeschoolers’ field trips.

Film Society of Lincoln Center
Walter Reade Theater, 165 W. 65th St., nr. Amsterdam Ave.; 212-875-5600

Mom Ayun Halliday: “I know lots of families go to the movies, but my son was one of the only kids at a 6 p.m. screening of the French animated movie The Rabbi’s Cat, which touches on Judaism and Islam in twenties Algeria. He got this big lesson about some central tenants of two major world religions.”

Seventh-grader Milo Kotis: “I got to meet [director] Joann Sfar, and he even made a drawing for me! I felt like a real celebrity.”

Hospital Pathology Lab

Mom Ivette Mayo: “We toured the pathology lab of the hospital where my husband works. We went from looking at the single-cell hydra under a microscope at home to watching a pathologist work with living tissue.”

Seventh-grader Fiona Fragomen: “I wasn’t freaked out or anything because my father is a doctor, and I’ve been on rounds with him and seen some pretty gross stuff. I loved seeing how the slides are made: You need to ferment and then put it through many machines and create pigments.”

Grand Central Terminal
89 E. 42nd St., nr. Park Ave.;

Mom Laura Cain: “We didn’t go to the station because it’s historic; we went to see who works there. We talked to a police officer, a conductor, the guy shining shoes … my kids saw the practical way the place operates.”

Fourth-grade sisters Abigayle and Rebecca Cain: “We liked the gigantic clock and talking to the people. We met a girl, and she taught us a little bit of French, but we forgot it. We just remember bonjour and non.”

Fat Cat
75 Christopher St., at Seventh Ave.; 212-675-6056

Mom Bethany Vedder: “One afternoon a week, the club lets homeschoolers come in to shoot pool or play shuffleboard and Ping-Pong. We go partially for social time, but also because those games improve my 10-year-old’s math, logic, and strategy skills.”

Fifth-grader Douglas Vedder: “I like playing pool, and I couldn’t do it anywhere else. Plus, I get to talk about Minecraft with my friends.”

Beczak Environmental Education Center
35 Alexander St., Yonkers, N.Y.; 914-377-1900

Mom Sabrina Funk: “We went seine fishing in the Hudson River. My son is interested in underwater creatures, so we’re always doing life-science kind of stuff.”

Second-grader Finley Funk: “I liked putting on the waders and taking out the nets. It was cool to drag in the little jellyfish.”

97th Street Greenmarket
W. 97th St. at Columbus Ave.

Mom Christy Young: “They’d been shopping with me before, but I realized they didn’t even know what the word local meant in terms of food. I explained what was in season, and we did some math when I got change.”

Fourth-grader Lily Young: “Some of the vegetables still had dirt on them and green stuff at the top. They weren’t packaged like they are in the grocery store.”

Victorian Gardens at Wollman Rink
Central Park at 59th St.; 212-982-2229

Mom, Regan Avery: “When we go on the rides, we talk about physics, like centrifugal force, how if you sit on the outside seat of the roller coaster, you’re going to get smushed against the side. They have one of those really big slides, so we talk about gravity, too.”

Pre-kindergartner, Mason Avery: “My mommy and I went more than once. We had fun. My favorite was the truck ride. I got to drive!”

The Brooklyn Bee
Fort Greene;

Mom, Sandra Leong: “The beehives are on urban-beekeeper John Howe’s rooftop. He showed us the queen and talked about pollination, and the kids got to take the honey off the honeycomb. It was real hands-on science.”

Third-grader, Brennan-Pierson Wang: “I learned so much: Bees live in a community and have individual jobs, and they care for their babies and report to their queen.”

Kindergarten Gets Tough as Kids are Forced to Bubble in Multiple Choice Tests, by Rachel Monahan

Today’s NY Daily News is reporting that kindergateners need to learn to fill in bubbles when taking the new Common Core Standardized tests. As if taking the test isn’t hard enough, young kids need to know how to fill in bubbles! To read the article at the Daily News website, CLICK HERE.
Goodbye Play-Doh, hello No. 2 pencils.

Because of a tough new curriculum and teacher evaluations, 4- and 5-year-olds are learning how to fill in bubbles on standardized math tests to show how much they know about numbers, shapes and order.

Teachers said kindergartners are bewildered. “Sharing is not caring anymore; developmentally, it’s not the right thing to do,” said one Queens teacher, whose pupils kept trying to help one another on the math test she gave for the first time this fall.

“They’re scared. They just don’t understand you’re supposed to bubble in next to the answer.”

The state’s teacher ratings, which are in their first year, require each city school to administer some tests. State exams are usually administered starting in third grade, but 36 early elementary schools that have only younger students — in kindergarten through second grade — are required to give the multiple-choice tests to kids who are just starting school.

Even city schools that aren’t required to test their youngest kids have begun giving kindergartners similar math tests as part of the Common Core — the new curriculum that’s supposed to help kids develop higher-order thinking skills.

One of three tests obtained by the Daily News is created by Pearson — which made the New York State third- through eighth-grade exams, including a ridiculously worded question about a talking pineapple last year. Pearson also makes the Common Core materials that most city schools have recently adopted.

Administering the exams is a complete headache, teachers said. “They don’t know how to hold pencils,” said a Bronx kindergarten teacher whose class recently took the Pearson exam. “They don’t know letters, and you have answers that say A, B, C or D and you’re asking them to bubble in . . . They break down; they cry.”
practice test

Because the little test-takers don’t know their numbers, teachers direct them to find each question by an image printed next to the answers.

Education Department officials insist that the 32 early elementary schools don’t have to give the kindergarten test yet — though they are required to administer it by this spring. But officials also acknowledged schools may not realize they can wait a few months.

At the same time, officials defended the use of multiple choice as an an easy way for even kindergarten teachers to learn how much their students know at the beginning of the year.

“Teachers should have access to multiple tools that they can use in a variety of ways to diagnose what students already know and what they need help with,” said Nancy Gannon, executive director of academic quality for the Education Department.

But teachers said testing this way is slow and traumatic. Trying to get a proper answer was next to impossible. “We said to color it in with a pencil, so they were taking out crayons,” said a veteran teacher on Staten Island. “I can tell when a student needs help. I don’t have to give them a test.”

Read more:

NYC Elementary School Rankings: See How Your Neighborhood School Scored, by Amy Zimmer

In my opinion, DNAinfo is one of the very best sources of information on NYC schools and Amy Zimmer is one of their best writers! She is always on top of what is happening with education in NYC. Here is an article about how neighborhood schools fared after this year’s common core aligned achievement tests. CLICK HERE to read the article at DNAinfo New York!

NEW YORK CITY — Dismal results in this year’s reading exams pegged to new, tougher federal standards saw less than a third of the city’s third- through eighth-graders pass the tests.

But that number doesn’t reveal what most parents want to know — how do their school’s scores compare to the more than 700 other elementary schools in the city?

To help answer that question, Tom Goodkind, a Lower Manhattan accountant and former public school parent, crunched the numbers of publicly available data for the 2013 fourth-grade English Language Arts test results, stacking the schools up against each other.

For more than a decade, Goodkind has created the ranking system using these ELA scores, since they are a key part of students’ applications to middle schools and are obsessively tracked by many families who often base real estate decisions on public school test results.

“Whether they make the test harder or easier, it’s really harder or easier for everyone because it’s a comparative rank,” Goodkind said.

Many of the schools in the top 10 percent have consistently been among the best-performing schools, year after year, even as the tests have changed, he noted.

“You want to move to an area where the schools are at least in the top half [of scorers],” he said, adding, “Nothing drives [real estate prices] higher than families wanting to move in because they’re saving on private school.”

Four of the top six performers on the fourth-grade ELA test this year were, perhaps unsurprisingly, elite gifted and talented schools that accept the highest scorers on the G&T exam across the city.

NEST+M on the Lower East Side took the No. 1 spot, with 99 percent garnering pass grades of 3 or 4 on the ELA, moving it up from the No. 5 spot last year. The Anderson School on the Upper West Side was No. 2 (down from No.1), TAG Young Scholars in East Harlem ranked No. 4 (up from No. 9), and No. 6 was the Brooklyn School of Inquiry in Bensonhurst.

The Upper East Side’s Lower Lab School, which ranked No. 3 (the same as last year), is a G&T school with priority given to students in District 2, stretching from Battery Park City to the Upper East Side. Bayside’s P.S. 188, a Queens neighborhood school with a G&T program, came in at No. 5.

Rounding out the top 10 were strong neighborhood schools.

The Upper West Side’s sought-after P.S. 199 was the seventh top-scoring school. Park Slope’s P.S. 39 — once considered “a poor cousin of other, larger Park Slope elementary schools,” according to Insideschools — bested its district’s coveted neighbors, landing in the No. 8 slot. Another Bayside school, P.S. 203 — which the U.S. Department of Education named a Blue Ribbon school for academic achievement and improvement — came in ninth, and the Upper East Side’s popular P.S. 6 was No. 10.

“It gives me a sense of school pride and makes me feel they’re on the right track,” said Evie Rabeck, whose 9-year-old son is entering the fourth grade at the Brooklyn School of Inquiry.

Since his elementary school transitions into a middle school, her son doesn’t have to fret about his scores as much as other kids might. But Rabeck still worried that the “nosedive” that schools took citywide would result in more “teaching to the test,” and she was concerned about the stress from the tests.

“He was a nervous wreck,” Rabeck said of her son around exam time. “It really wasn’t coming from the school. They were trying to prepare him, but downplay it. He wants to be perfect.”

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