Monthly Archives: February 2021

Effects on Children of Kindergarten As the New First Grade

While most recently posed by PBS special correspondent Cat Wise: “Are young kids losing the brain-boosting benefits of playtime?” this question of the day has actually already been asked and answered several times. Problem is, the powers that be continue to ignore the evidence, turning our kindergartens into the new first grade.

Just take a look:

To analyze data from the U.S. Department of Education’s Early Childhood Longitudinal Study from both 1998-99 and 2010-11, University of Virginia researchers asked detailed questions of about 2,500 1998 public school kindergarten teachers-a time before the No Child Left Behind Law was enacted–and some 2,700 in 2010.

Researchers Daphna Bassok, Scott Latham, and Anna Rowen used these teachers’ responses to compare kindergarten classrooms in 1998 and 2010. As much as possible, they also compared the 2010 teachers’ answers with those of first grade teachers in 1999.

Here’s a sampling of what was uncovered:

  • 2010 teachers are 33% likelier than their 1998 colleagues to believe academic instruction should begin before kindergarten, with children knowing the alphabet and how to use a pencil before starting kindergarten than those in 1998.
  • In 2010, 80% of teachers said children should learn to read in kindergarten vs. just 31% of teachers who believed that in 1998.
  • In 2010, 73% of kindergartners took some kind of standardized test-1/3 of them taking them at least once a month.
  • During those 12 years, daily music instruction decreased by 18 percentage points, and daily art instruction was down by 16%
  • From 1998 to 2010, the number of teachers who spent at least one hour per day on child-selected activities fell by 14%, and classrooms with discovery or play areas, such as a sand table, science, and/or art area, fell by 20%.
  • Teaching reading and math via textbooks rose about 15% from 1998 to 2010.
  • In 2010, teachers were 22% more likely to say that evaluating students in relation to local and state standards was very important or essential. Back in 1998, teachers were not asked how frequently such assessments were used to chart student progress.

Said Bassock, “We were surprised to see just how drastic the changes have been over a short period of time. We expected to see changes on some of these dimensions but not nearly so systematically and not nearly of this magnitude.”

Her conclusion: “These changes likely have important implications for children’s learning trajectories.”

Oh, yes, and know, too, that, although these findings represent a nationwide trend, they apply even more so to schools that primarily serve low-income and minority children.

In authoring the Alliance for Childhood’s “Crisis in the Kindergarten: Why Children Need to Play in School,” Edward Miller and Joan Almon found that, through play, children”learn the powerful lesson of pursuing their own ideas to a successful conclusion.” They also “have greater language skills than non-players,” as well as:

  • Better social skills
  • More empathy
  • More imagination
  • More of the subtle capacity to know what others mean
  • Are less aggressive
  • Show more self-control
  • Higher levels of thinking.

Nevertheless, U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr. and other so-called reformers continue to insist on the use of prescriptive lessons that reflect the Common Core and related state standards right there along with their aligned standardized assessments, which are then administered even to our youngest learners.

One result: Not only are second and third grade teachers now reporting that their charges are already burned out, teachers all around are being called upon to teach empathy and character.

Many call this progress. You, too?

Thanksgiving and Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder

Thanksgiving is just round the corner; which means that it’s now time for friends and relatives to visit your home. It’s the time of the year when families cook special foods like that on Kwanzaa, Hanukkah, and Christmas. It’s that time of the year when holiday foods like collard greens, tamales, empanadas, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, and potato latkes are spread on the table.

But for children with autism spectrum disorder, the coming few weeks could be quite overwhelming. They’ll experience new tastes, new smells, and new sounds and sights almost everywhere. The routines are changed. Special religious symbols and trees suddenly appear in the house. The usual foods disappear from the dining table. And that often poses a challenge to the family of the autistic child.

Special needs teachers know that these are difficult times for autistic children. They experience so many new things. Setting up the classroom, so that it mirrors the holidays, can make the transition easier in both school and home. Autistic children can enjoy the fun seasonal activities of how to wrap Christmas goodies and gift them to other children. A talking raven and curved pumpkins would transform into colorful leaf arrangements and turkeys. A Christmas tree and some Christmas music, along with a Santa are put up in front of classrooms by early November. More holiday symbols and activities are gradually added to help the autistic children adjust to the season.

In many special needs schools, new foods are introduced. This helps them to prepare for the thanksgiving and Christmas parties. The thanksgiving platter may include traditional items like turkey, mashed potatoes with gravy, and pumpkin pies.

Elsewhere, winter holiday parties are a great time to introduce Santa to autistic children. Besides, it’s a great time to experience a large gathering of family, friends and strangers. The “What’s the Expression” and “Make Sentences” apps, developed to impart communication skills to children with autism spectrum disorder, are of a great use in these times. These two apps help autistic kids to express themselves even to total strangers.

With all the decoration around, the look on the children’s faces is priceless when grandparents, parents, and siblings walk into the classroom. An annual event like this is a wonderful opportunity to see first-hand how “What’s the Expression” and “Make Sentences” apps have helped children with autism pick up key communication skills. And for the children, waiting for Santa to speak to them, is the most eagerly-awaited moment.

How Sensory Integration Therapy Assists Children Facing Special Challenges

With early interventions and appropriate sensory integration therapy, children who face developmental or social and emotional challenges can make marked progress toward goals. A diagnosis of autism, ADHD, dyspraxia, or other sensory disorders is frightening and confusing for parents. Often, these disorders aren’t diagnosed until early childhood.

Warning Signs

In infancy and toddlerhood, the signs of a processing disorder may be more difficult to spot. Some common symptoms include trouble sleeping, difficulty eating, and refusing to be separated from one caregiver. A lack of dexterity or activity or, conversely, extreme activity may seem to fall within the parameters of “normal” infant and toddler behavior, but these could be warning signs of a developmental challenge.

As the child enters the preschool years, the signs become more prominent and troubling. Toilet training delays are common, as are difficulties with fine motor tasks. Having difficulty with transitions, aggressiveness, or avoidance of touch and certain textures may also surface. Children who have trouble integrating sensory information may also have sudden mood swings and temper tantrums. They’re overwhelmed by the jumble of information coming at them, and their brain’s inability to sort out the signals. That’s where sensory integration therapy comes in.

Dyspraxia

A qualified occupational therapist will guide the child through activities that are specifically designed to exercise and strengthen specific processing abilities. A child challenged by dyspraxia, for example, might have difficulty with balance and posture, as well as motor skills. They will be encouraged to engage in tumbling, twirling, and other large motor movement activities that help teach the brain to process the input of movement and positional information. With the guidance of the therapist, the child is led through the activities that give the brain more practice in interpreting input about the position and movement of the body.

Autism

Autistic children face special challenges when participating in everyday life. Sensitivity to outside stimuli like textures, light, and sounds can prove overwhelming. In sensory integration therapy, the child is exposed gradually to various stimuli, slowly re-teaching the brain how to respond. One example of the technique in action is the use of a ball pit. The child is encouraged to reach into the balls and retrieve an object like a stuffed animal. The sound and feel of the plastic balls might be overwhelming in a different setting, but with a gradual introduction and encouragement from the therapist, the child learns to filter out the overwhelming flow of information and focus on the task. The therapist helps the child learn self-soothing techniques such as rubbing their back or arms during therapy. This movement reassures the child and teaches them how to offset the stimuli of the balls touching their arms.

With the help of a qualified therapist, sensory integration therapy can become an important part of an overall treatment program, helping a challenged child reach their fullest developmental potential.

Baby Boomers Are Downsizing, But Millennial Children Don’t Want Family Heirlooms

Whether we’ve become empty nesters or are following the latest trend of decluttering, many of us baby boomers are downsizing.

That means less space for all those sentimental family heirlooms passed down through the generations and stuff we’ve carefully collected over our lifetime. We may assume our children will be thrilled when we give them our most prized possessions.

Think again. Turns out the Millennials aren’t so hip on family heirlooms. Maybe this is what they mean by generation gap these days.

Do our children want all those photo albums we gingerly created over the years? Nah, our kids don’t know half the people in them anyway. You’re likely to get a request to scan the important photos and email them. And who uses photo albums anymore? Our grown-up children are busy capturing their own life moments digitally through Instagram, Facebook and YouTube.

That gorgeous formal dining room set and china passed down through the generations? Where would our kids put it? Besides, Millennials entertain much less formally than we did back in the day. They prefer a more minimal lifestyle instead of the fussy, bulky, and formal furnishings we grew up on. You may very well get a polite no thank-you.

How about all those old report cards, trophies, and artwork you carefully tucked away for your children? All those sweet homemade cards they lovingly made for you? Surely, they’ll want their own sentimental treasures. Not so much. It seems Millennials aren’t as nostalgic as us boomers.

Odds are our grown children are following the current trend to live minimally themselves and don’t own a home with an attic or basement to store stuff. They may travel or move a lot.

Several articles have been written lately regarding this phenomenon and the resulting clash between the generations.

Should this cause hurt feelings on our part? Should we try laying a little guilt to knock some sense into our children’s heads? “This means so much to me.” “I paid a lot of money for this.” “This is part of our family history.”

Heck no! There’s a fine line between bestow and burden. I say we should listen to and respect our children’s wishes. Furthermore, we should be proud of them.

Our grown-up children refuse to be defined by their possessions. Isn’t that a good thing? Didn’t we snub our noses during the 60’s at people for being too attached to material possessions? Our children have become independent adults now, making their own decisions and creating their own lifestyle – not copying ours. Isn’t that what we raised them to do?

So what should baby boomers do with all our heirlooms and possessions?

Save those items that you can’t bear to lose. Use your china everyday instead of storing it. But don’t hang on to items year after year because you can’t bother to sort through your belongings.

Remember, all those heirlooms and possessions served their practical purpose. You used and enjoyed them through the years. If you think these things are still useful, sell or donate them to someone who really wants and will appreciate them.

With love in their hearts, your children made homemade gifts and cards for you. You relished them through the years and the gifts brought you joy. The gift-giving cycles is now complete. Keep a few items and let the rest go.

Whatever you do, don’t force your children to deal with all the clutter after you’ve passed away. Do your children a favor and have an honest discussion. Allow your children to take items they truly love and that work for their lifestyle.

Then go through the sorting process now while you’re still healthy. And take heart. Your children don’t need that ancient massive armoire to remember you fondly and keep you in their heart.