Sunday, December 11, 2011

Powerful Play

by Teacher Annie Castle Deckert

Yesterday, I got to spend an hour doing “nothing” with a 4-year-old and a 2-year-old.  We found a weedy, empty lot, and we went exploring.  The children pulled and picked, poked and prodded, stomped and stepped, looked and listened.  Their joy and contentment was viral, and it quickly infected me, too.

 The 4-year-old immediately entered a world of pretend, inspired by the surroundings.  The dead weeds were “Grain Of Wheat! My mom makes me bread out of this!  It’s delicious!”, and she set to work gathering the “grain” for a new batch of pretend bread.  The 2-year-old rejoiced in the sensation of pulling grass out of the damp ground by the stems, and crunching leaves and dead plants under foot.  Together, they found “treasure,” sang and talked to each other, and giggled about how funny it was to smash clods of dirt under their feet.  They discovered together how shaking the branches of a shrub caused the fluffy seed to fly into the wind, looking like snowflakes. 

When it was time to leave, we didn’t want to go!  The children had been creating magic out of “nothing” for an hour, and none of us wanted to break that spell.  When we got back into the car, we all agreed that we felt refreshed, even though it was late in the afternoon, and NONE of us had gotten our nap that day.

This magical hour might not have happened.  The kids’ nanny had first intended to bring a video for them to watch when she was planning for this expected wait-time while she had a doctor’s appointment.  But then, wise young woman that she is (my daughter, Audra!), she realized that the doctor’s office had some empty space next door, and suggested that maybe I could take them for a walk outside while she was seeing the doctor.  Think about the contrast: turning our brains off for an hour while watching a video vs. the brain stimulation of fresh air and pretend play.  If we’d gone the video-route, I’m certain that we would have ended up with two cranky, wired kids instead of the refreshed, enthusiastic, yet calm kids we buckled into the car after this hour of quality outdoor play.

Kids are BORN to play.  They crave play.  They want and need nothing more than to explore, pretend, and experience the world through their senses.  Nature (even a tiny courtyard, patio, or backyard) is the richest environment for quality play.  Simple, kid-generated play is the best.  In yesterday's play, our “toys” comprised weeds, grass, and dirt.  Fancy, expensive, glittery beeping toys are attractive enough to distract kids from their real business of learning and growing.  When they get to immerse themselves in kid-driven (not toy-driven) play every day, they feel great.  They feel like themselves.  Through quality play, kids’ brains grow and neural connections multiply, laying the foundation for all future learning.  Taking the “easy” route and falling back on videos and toys designed to be entertaining rather than useful inevitably results in kids who are frustrated and bored.

Yesterday's experience reminded me of a post about toys, which I wrote for my blog a year ago:

And my thoughts about the benefits of quality play were reinforced this week by these posts from other sources:

(It almost sounds like the people who wrote these articles had been reading my blog, or attending Explorer PEC’s!) 

In addition, you might want to check out our local “Wild Zone” group:

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

'Twas a Day at Explorer

By Katie Berg, 4-day parent and Explorer President

A year ago today, on the last day of November, I took my son to his 4-Day class and prepared to have an average day at Explorer Preschool.  After settling in, I took a moment to look around and realized something great about the school---even the average days are magical.  Inspired by the season and the holiday events at school, I wrote the following “’Twas a Day at Explorer”.  This year has been equally magical as I have shared similar experiences with my daughter in the 4-Day class.  Happy Holidays!

‘Twas the day before December, 12:15 at Explorer,
Teacher Konne looked out at the classroom before her;
The cubbies were waiting for backpacks to fill them
By students named Debbie, Samantha, and William.

Teacher Jackie was ready, all set for the day
While the children arrived to learn and to play,
And I in my Explorer shirt, donned the apron of blue
While my son signed his name and washed his hands, too,

When out in the yard there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from the sink to see what was the matter.
Away to the window, with wind in my sails,
I saw a full workbench, with hammer and nails

The children all pounded, safety glasses in place,
Sawing blocks of wood using tools from the case
When, what to my wondering ears should arrive
But a bunch of the children traveling inside

With a curly-haired teacher, sharing a rhyme,
I knew in a moment it must be group time.
More rapid than eagles, kids sat in the circle
And Teacher Konne announced, "Welcome, Group Purple!"

"Now, children!  Now, listen!  Now, sit on your bottoms!
The Nutcracker costumes have arrived; I've got 'em!
To the start of the music, to the start of it all,
Now, dance away!  Dance away!  Dance away all!"

As soldiers and mice practiced, all quite able,
The hungry kids came and sat at snack table;
There I waited, with latkes to toss
As they grated potatoes and spooned applesauce

And then, in the science room, laughter and cackles
As children learned why a dry leaf crackles;
All over the floor, covering the room
While the clean-up parent prepared to vacuum

In the literacy room next door, there were boxes
That children learned to wrap, as quickly as foxes;
Paper and tape, what more could they need?
And gift-giving teaches generosity, not greed

And where did they get the paper for wrapping?
Check the art station, you’ll hear table tapping;
They’re stamping the paper, all on their own
Preparing to wrap the gifts to take home.

Their eyes -- how they twinkled! Their dimples how cute!
Their cheeks were like roses as they carried their loot
Back to their cubbies, ready for giving
Along with the lessons that make life worth living:

These kids learned of holidays and family traditions
Through various hands-on, fun expeditions
They learned of the world, of friends, of self-control,
Of things that affect mind, body, and soul.

They sprang to their carpool, to their friends gave a whistle
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
 I wanted to exclaim, as I drove out of sight,
“For us, Explorer Preschool is doing it right!”

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sibling Rivalry

By Geri Wong, an MWF parent

Every parent raises their children hoping that the siblings will grow up together and enjoy a lifetime of harmonious companionship, friendship, and support for each other.  But, if you've got more than one child who's an active preschooler, like I do, that can seem like a very lofty goal.  Or is it?  The Siblings Without Rivalry PEC seminar helped me understand the underlying causes for sibling rivalry in easy-to-understand concepts and provided some practical steps to minimize conflicts as well as resolve them when they occur.  On a deeper level, the speaker made me realize that even though my kids are young, they are every bit full of emotion, pride, sense of reasoning, and eagerness to please as any adult.  They want and need people to respect them and the things that are important to them. 

One of the tools presented was to give each child a protected play space—an area and toys that they can claim as their own.  The protected play space is their safe place where they can play without worrying that their sibling will knock down, say, their best train creation ever.  I found that sharing was actually easier for my kids when they knew they didn’t have to share everything.  It was amazing to me how major an impact such a minor physical change to my children’s environment had on their interaction with each other.  I learned that as parents, we can’t control everything, but we have the power to create an environment that fosters respect and consideration for each child, which, with a little luck, can place them on a path toward a wonderful relationship with each other.  What more could a mother ask for?

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Kids will be Kids? I Don't Think So

By Fouzia Ahmad, an MWF parent

To all those who justify their kids' bullying behavior with notions such as 'kids will be kids', let me say this.  Or better yet, let me quote President Obama, who says: “[Let’s] dispel the myth that bullying is just a harmless rite of passage or an inevitable part of growing up.  It’s not.  Bullying can have destructive consequences for our young people."

Ever since I can remember, I've been passionate about the bullying issue.  Have I ever been bullied?  No...well, nothing that caused any psychological damage, anyway.  Nor have I been a bully, just to be clear!  Maybe it's all those stories I heard growing up that just stuck in my mind.  The taunting, the slanders, the suicides...

October is National Bullying Prevention Month, and it's a great time to raise awareness on an issue that is nothing short of a epidemic in our schools.  I always knew that bullying is a 'problem', but the statistics were quite a revelation to me.  Here are a few facts about bullying that will---if you're like me---make your jaw drop:
  • American schools harbor approximately 2.1 million bullies and 2.7 million of their victims.  What?  Almost as many bullies as there are victims?
  • 1 in 7 students in grades K - 12 is either a bully or has been a victim of bullying.  That's a LOT closer to home than many of us may have imagined.
  • About 160,000 children miss school EVERY DAY out of fear of being bullied.   This means that, apart from being a safety issue, it impacts education, too.
  • Revenge for bullying is one of the strongest motivations for school shootings.   If today's bullies are potentially tomorrow's criminals, you'd think they'd take more serious measures to eliminate the problem.

There's a lot of criticism on how schools are dealing with the issue.  And for good reason.  Clearly, something's not right, or we wouldn't be seeing the staggering numbers I mention above, not to mention a rise in cyberbullying, LGBT bullying, and bullycides.  Most schools implement a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to bullying and other violence.  However, research is showing that this policy is not an effective solution when it comes to bullying.  For example, in many cases when bullying incidents are reported to school authorities, both the bullies and the victims get suspended from the school.  Umm, no thank you.  That's definitely not going to encourage a victim to come forward and report an incident.  Moreover, simply punishing the bullies means that we're overlooking what caused them to become bullies in the first place, and that we're not addressing the root of the problem: why did the bully feel the need to bully someone?

Interestingly, 47 out of the 50 states actually have anti-bullying laws (although the terms and clauses vary), but having a law is one thing and policy implementation and accountability is quite another.  Anti-bullying laws can definitely stand to improve and school systems need to get their act together and clampdown on the issue with a more collaborative approach.  Meanwhile though, the bullies aren't going anywhere, and our kids are left to the mercy of, well, us.  So, what can we do to protect our children and our communities from bullying?

I really like the NEA bullying campaign slogan, which says: Bully Free, It Starts with Me.  Just to clarify, I am not endorsing the campaign in any way.  But, ignoring its context within the campaign, I really like how the slogan reads.  Think about it.  We can't fully control the outside environment: the laws, the school policies, the teachers, the bystander students, and definitely not the bullies.  But, what we can have great control over is ourselves and our children, and that's where we should start (i.e. It starts with Me).  I truly believe that we need to make our kids resilient to bullying from the inside out.  So, how do we do it?  One word: SELF-ESTEEM.

Bullying is mostly psychological.  Emotional bullying, which is the most prevalent type, causes psychological damage in its victims.  This is why self-esteem is so important.  Kids with good self-esteem are shielded from bully attacks because they feel good about themselves and who they are, whereas kids with low self-esteem are less likely to stick up for who they are, becoming a prime target for bullies who are looking to pick on someone weaker than them.  You know, as parents, we often think of 'kindergarten readiness' as developing reading, writing, and math skills, whereas we should pay as much attention, if not more, to our child's emotional and social development, at the core of which is self-esteem. 

We should focus on our kids being confident and proud of their individuality, while teaching them to respect others' differences, too.  We should help them develop empathy, communication skills, and sense of self-efficacy that will preclude their ever feeling a need to bully another child.

Here are a couple of resources with info on how to build your child's self-esteem:

On a side note, I personally think that martial arts can also help prevent bullying to some extent.  Not because it provides physical preparedness (although that helps!) but because martial arts gives children the mental strength, confidence, and posturing necessary to project a sense of being in control---tools that are important to ward off that bully looking for potential targets.

Finally, many parents think that bullying isn't something that they need to worry until their kids hit middle school.  Not true.  Cases of bullying are known to happen to even very young children.  A recent survey of Massachusetts third-graders found that 47 percent had been bullied.  This evolution means that parents and teachers need to be on the lookout for cases of bullying that happen even at the preschool age level. 

For more information on dealing with bullying and bullying prevention, you can check out:

Meanwhile, here's leaving you, Explorer parents and teachers, with a few thoughts and questions that I would love to get your input on:
  • Most of us try to prevent our children from becoming the victims of bullying, but how many of us try to ensure that our kids do not become the bully?
  • In the (blessed) scenario where our children are neither the target nor the bully, but just the bystander, have we educated our kids on how to respond when they witness bullying in front of them?
  • How can we identify a bully in the making?  What behaviors can we look at in a child in, say, preschool and say...hey, this kid might end up bullying later.  Let's address this early on, so that he/she never gets to that point?
  • Has anyone had any bullying-related experiences that you could share with us and help educate and prepare us for?

Friday, October 21, 2011

My Obsession with Sugar

By Stefanie Bellucci, 4-day parent and board member

My transition from the Explorer world of healthy snacks into the big-kid, elementary school snacking world has been quite the eye-opener.  Sugar has become my enemy and is constantly in my thoughts.  I am pretty much convinced that SUGAR, in one form or another, is my children’s main food group and source of calories.  Amidst softball game and girl scout camp snacks, frequent birthday party treats, and the seemingly daily celebrations at school and their grandparents' house, my kids have no room left in their diet for the forgotten meat, dairy, and vegetable/fruit food groups.

I often wonder how my family got to this point.  What used to be the occasional treat has not only become daily (and sometimes hourly) but is often a packaged, unrecognizable snack with more ingredients than I can count on two hands.  Looking back now at my pre-kids self, I can only laugh at my naivety, for thinking that I would actually have some control over what my kids ate. 

One of my biggest sources of frustration with the sugar fixation is that among a group of well educated adults at my children's elementary school, I often feel like the lone voice of reason.  Does that parent really need to bring juice, packaged cupcakes, and gummy worms for snack after softball?  And then there is my friend who declares an eat-as-many-as-you-want popsicle day for her daughter when the weather is hot.  I even had a child's family member once tell me that unlimited cookies are "just a part of childhood."  Umm, I thought that childhood was when we learned healthy eating habits?  And with all these constant treats, when do I, the parent, actually get a chance to make cookies with my kids or buy them frozen yogurt without feeling guilty for giving them even more sugar?

Unfortunately, my obsession is becoming a part of every food conversation I have with my children.  I find myself doing all those bad-food-parent acts, such as labeling good food and bad food, struggling with the kids over eating healthy food rather than unhealthy treats, and creating general discontent at the dinner table.  And yet, the words just tumble out.  The irony of the situation is that maybe those parents are right.  Will allowing all the treats and avoiding the food battle make our kids healthier eaters in the long run?  I don’t have the answer and as with all questions kid related, I will continue to figure it out as I go along.  Meanwhile, I would love to hear how you moms in the same boat deal with this.  Do you find yourselves in a constant battle, or do you have a go-to strategy that you know always works?  How do you regulate sugar levels---not to mention sanity levels (umm, your own!)---in your kids' lives?

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Veggie Challenge

By Paula Ould, Together Time parent

Farmer’s Market season is upon us. We often attend the Cambrian Farmer’s Market each Wednesday from May through September. It’s been a chance for us to get out of the house for dinner, meet friends for a picnic and to try new foods.

Last summer a friend of ours challenged many of us to “The Veggie Challenge.” She had read about it in a parenting magazine and thought it would be fun if many families rallied around and did the challenge together. I never could have imagined the impact it would make on my family. Up until The Veggie Challenge, my family’s veggie repertoire consisted mainly of peas, carrots and corn. On occasion, when I was feeling brave, I would throw in an artichoke, potato or zucchini or two. I didn’t like veggies as a kid (think canned peas here) thus they never entered into my routine as an adult. And I really didn’t like the battle that was caused between my parents and I about what I would eat and how much. For me, personally, it was one factor that lead to an eating disorder later in life which I really did not want to pass along to my three children.

So, what is the Veggie Challenge? Well, each of us parents tailored it to our individual families. The ultimate goal was to get kids to eat more of a variety of vegetables. Most of us used a two week system where our kids were encouraged to have a serving of veggies at lunch and dinner. At the end of the two weeks the kids had a reward as did a charity of their choice. My eldest daughter wanted to spend her money on books while my youngest daughter wanted Barbies. Both daughters wanted their charity money to be spent abroad for the soldiers who were fighting for our freedoms.

I used the Farmer’s Market as a tool for the kids to get involved with what they ate. Each week we would walk down the row, look at foods and guess what they would taste like. We discussed how each one could be cooked and how the cooking methods would change how they tasted. The girls (6 and 4 at the time) would each pick out a vegetable to eat in the following days. We tried broccoli, asparagus, brussels sprouts (from the grocery store), various types of potatoes, summer squash, kale, and many more. There were plenty of meals that were absolute flops for the entire family. However, almost one year later, our veggie menu has grown tremendously! Each of the girls will now frequently ask for bell peppers, broccoli, snap peas, and asparagus. They no longer automatically turn their noses up to new foods, veggies or not. A wide variety of fish is now among our diet including salmon and catfish; both which are loved by many members of our family. And, on occasion when they do put up a fair amount of resistance, I remind them of last summer’s Veggie Challenge. They have come to love foods I never would have imagined to have as staples in my fridge.

We have yet to make it to the farmer’s market this season, but the girls continue to ask when we can go. My goal this year is to have my son, age 2, pick out veggies, and other foods, he would like to try. I need to continue to remind myself to place the importance of healthy choices for our family and to not be frustrated when they do put up a fight to not eat certain foods.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Spring Cleaning For Parents

By Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller of Personal Power Press

Rake the yard. Clean out the garage. Go through closets. Donate unused items to charitable organizations. Wash windows. You know the drill. It’s called SPRING CLEANING.

But what if spring cleaning took on a new twist this year, one that would benefit your children greatly? What if you cleaned the cobwebs out of your mind? What if you wiped away all the limiting beliefs that keep you from becoming the parent you always wanted to be? What if you cleaned up a broken relationship, mended a mental fence, or reminded yourself about the importance of your role in your child’s life? This spring might just be the ideal time for cleaning up your responsibility as a parent. Consider the ideas below.

Reawaken your curiosity. Clean out your present expectations and your knowing of why your children do things. Return to wonder. Be fascinated by what they do. Let yourself be awed. Allow your curiosity to bloom this spring.

Eliminate judgment. Judgment keeps you from seeing your children clearly. If you judge a child as lazy, you are less likely to see ambitious behavior. If you judge her as uncaring, you will have difficulty noticing her benevolent acts. Clean the lens in your eyes by reducing the number of judgments through which you perceive your children.

Be out of your mind. Use silent times to wash old and useless thoughts from your mind. Resist the urge to overanalyze parenting issues. Stop thinking and cluttering your mind with incessant chatter. Listen to your heart. Follow your intuition. Pick parenting strategies that have your heart in them.

Appreciate the moment. The best present to give your children is to be fully present when you are with them. Throw out thoughts about the future and the past when you interact with your children. There is only one moment to see, feel, express, learn, grow, or heal with your children. This is it. Pitch the rest.

Clean up your schedule. Every child in the world spells love, T-I-M-E. Adjust your priorities. Pick through your list of social and business activities. Get rid of old obligations and habits that prevent you from investing time with your children.

Apologize and begin again. Spring is the time of new beginnings. Do you need to begin again with one of your children? Do you need to make amends? If so, tell him or her what you learned and what you intend to do differently from now on. Then follow through.

Cut down on talking. Reduce your need to explain, lecture, moralize, rationalize, and convince. The first step towards love is to listen. Give your children the gift of your presence by hearing rather that telling, by acknowledging instead of convincing, by understanding rather that jumping to conclusions.

Rework truth. Cleanse your mind of the notion that there is ONE truth. You know your truth. Allow your children to find theirs. Model for your children how you live your truth. Support them in their efforts to find their own truth and encourage them to trust it.

Fix it up. What parenting concerns need to be fixed in your home? Do you need to fix a relationship, the use of the TV and the internet, or a reoccurring stress? Fix your mind first so you are tuned into fixing problems rather than fixing blame. Maintain a solution-seeking mindset as you fix it up this spring.

Give yourself a perception check. Remember, you can choose to see any parenting situation differently from the way you are presently seeing it. Perception is always a choice. Clean up your mind by asking yourself, “Is this way of seeing this problem the one that brings the most light and love to the situation?” Use springtime to enlighten your parenting perceptions and actions.

A thorough spring cleaning of your parenting style could make your home sparkle. It could be like a fresh coat of paint that brightens the exterior and the interior of yourself and your children. It might work like the cleansing combination of adding energy and love to a bucket of soap and water. Brighter, cleaner, healthier family relationships could well be the result of your spring cleaning this year.

Happy cleaning.

Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller are the authors of Teaching The Attraction Principle to Children. They publish a free monthly e-zine for parents. To sign up for it visit

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Off Loading Big Feelings

by Amy Trayer, 4-day parent and board president

I took my 5 year old twins to their favorite store recently to help me pick out a birthday gift for a friend. I don't make it a habit to buy them something every time we are out (especially since they just had a birthday). In fact, we've been really working on this - talking beforehand about what we are going to buy, to not ask me to buy them anything once we are there and I often try to shop without them to avoid arguments altogether. It's been working most of the time, other times huge meltdowns happen because they want me to buy them something (forgetting our deal!). It's an on-going learning process for all of us. On this particular day I told them ahead of time that when we got to the store, we would buy their friend a gift, and they could each pick something out for themselves (I was feeling generous, it's been a good week). They did great! They spent a lot of time really thinking it over and they each found something they wanted at a reasonable cost (which we've also been talking about). Everyone left happy – success!

After wearing her new nightgown all evening, my daughter came out of bed that night very upset. She did NOT like her new nightgown, in fact she wanted to take it off and take it back to the store right now. She wanted a different one. She began to shout at me and get very upset. She refused to go to bed. I could have gotten very angry, yelled and physically put her back in her bed. But instead, I took a deep breath and decided to just listen and let her unload these big feelings.

I calmly walked her back into the bedroom with her brother watching and listening the entire time. It was about 40 minutes of her crying and telling me all sorts of things: she wanted to rip up the nightgown, she wanted to throw away everything in the house, she wanted a different nightgown, grown-ups are not in charge, grown-ups get mad at children, she misses daddy (he's been working long hours lately), she doesn't like any of her toys, her brother is mean to her and much more........

How did it end? NOT with me yelling or getting mad or thinking she's acting spoiled by wanting a different nightgown or feeling frustrated that it’s now way past her bedtime and I’m not getting anything done that I had planned. I realized she needed to unload and I let her. I didn't interrupt, I didn't tell her to stop or force her to go to bed and I didn't tell her we'd go back and get her a new nightgown. I just listened. I stayed close. I looked her in the eyes the whole time. After, she began to calm down and she hugged me for a long time and we snuggled together in bed until she fell asleep. As I lay there, I was thinking how letting her pick out one thing in her favorite store was probably really overwhelming and she was regretting her decision now and that was very upsetting to her. Or maybe that shopping experience was the catalyst for off loading these other feelings she had built up inside of her. Probably a little of both. Whatever it was, it ended with her feeling reconnected again and me feeling good that I handled it the way I did.

For more information on Parenting by Connection, visit their website.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Honing My Nurturing Instinct

by Denise Ferguson, T/Th parent

In the book “Nurture Shock” the authors introduce the notion that parents rely on the impulse to nurture but have to figure out how best do it. I completely agree with this. For the first few years of my daughter’s life I relied on my instinct A LOT. This seemed so easy to me. I’m not saying that I knew immediately what to do but my instinct told me whether I could implement a parenting plan.

When I needed to make a decision, I contemplated it, discussed it with my friends, family and husband and then implemented it. IF I felt good about the decision, I could go through with it. If not, then I had to go back to the drawing board – or whatever parenting book I had on my nightstand. For example, letting my child cry herself to sleep. Yes, I did that but only when she was ready (ie and when I was ready to follow through with that plan). My willingness to follow through was my indication that I believed it to be the right thing to do.

That system of researching and contemplating is no longer an option. My child can speak and demands an answer promptly. I no longer have the luxury of taking the time to dig deep into my parenting resources and come up with an answer, try it, and see if I feel good about it. To be prepared for everything that my child comes up with is impossible. But after reading “Nurture Shock”, I am confident that there are a handful of guidelines that I can implement in my household to make parenting my growing child possible.

The author's daughter at Explorer's front gate on her first day of school.
I could probably get by on my parenting impulse but what Po Bronson offers is a way to better nurture my child. My impulse might get me through an awkward or embarrassing situation with my child but it won’t enable me to turn those moments into opportunities to teach my child valuable lifelong lessons. This concept has been particularly insightful for me and having Po Bronson present it in person at Explorer Preschool last month was a memorable and motivational event.

One specific example is related to instances when children lie. Po discussed the fact that children lie, the reasons that children lie and the ways to handle it. I had suspected my daughter has lied to me a few times but it wasn’t until I heard Po speak about it and the ways to address it that I took her lying seriously. Not only did I take her lying serious but I also looked forward to the next lie she told! She told a lie this morning and I got the chance to try Po’s instructions. His instructions were to and show how happy you are when the child tells the truth.

Embracing honesty is only the first of many of Po’s parenting suggestions that I will implement in my parenting technique. As I go to implement the next one I will remember Po’s talk.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

NutureShock paperback vs Tiger Mother: A Letter from Po Bronson

So this reveals what a groupie I am...but yes I'm on Po Bronson's email list. And while he signed my hardcover copy of NutureShock last night, I also got permission to re-post the letter below. I'm planning on writing a post with some of the highlights from last night's talk at Explorer, but in the meantime thought this would be interesting to share since he did spend quite a bit of time on Tiger Mother. --Kim Kooyers, MW2s.

January 18, 2011

Dear Readers,

The really good news is, I can run again. Not very fast. And only once or twice around a track. There's about a kitchen faucet's worth of titanium in my hip and pelvis, installed four months ago. I am in awe of what doctors can do these days. Man, I am happy. The last eighteen months I had a hard time working, I could barely walk and was often on crutches, one surgery had failed, and all I could think about was the joy of running around freely like a kid.

The saving grace this past eighteen months - at least during the daytime when I sat here at my desk - was the ongoing success of NurtureShock. I really want to thank our readers for that. Even after the launch, the book continued to sell so well in hardcover that there seemed to be no need to release it in paperback. It spent over 365 days in Amazon's nonfiction Top 100, and was named to over thirty "Best of the Year" lists, by iTunes, Barnes&Noble, Discover, The Onion, and so many others.

Finally, though, NurtureShock is now out in paperback. So if you have a friend...maybe a friend whose teenagers are starting to rebel...or a friend who is trying to boost the confidence of his five year old...or a friend who has to constantly separate young siblings from arguing in the back seat...please buy some more copies. And thirty of our best Newsweek columns from last year are posted on

If NurtureShock was last year's big child development book, without a doubt the even bigger parenting book of 2011 is Amy Chua's "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother," which everyone's been talking about since an excerpt ran in the Wall Street Journal nine days ago, titled "Why Chinese Mothers are Superior."

I actually read the book months ago - read it when I got out of the hospital. My old Random House boss Ann Godoff now runs Penguin, and she'd sent me a galley. In NurtureShock (p 22), we wrote about a study that compared mothers in Hong Kong against mothers in Illinois, which used hidden cameras to record mothers talking to their 11-year-olds during a break between two short pattern-finding IQ tests. After the break, the Chinese kids' performance leaped 33 percent, largely because their mothers used the five minutes to tutor their kids. The American mothers mostly used the five minutes to chill and take the pressure off. So Ann thought I'd like the book, and I was glad she had a hit for her house.

I just couldn't endorse the book, though. Not because Amy Chua admits to insulting and guilting her daughters constantly...and not because Amy Chua deprives her kids of playdates and sleepovers...and not because Amy disses athletics and drama. Believe me, I've spent years now watching scholars' videotapes of how parents and kids really interact, I get used to that stuff.

Rather, I couldn't endorse it because too much of the book felt like braggadocio about how great her daughters were at piano and violin. Hey, we all do it...we take immense pride when our kids do well...some of that pride slips out now and then, absolutely...but a whole book predicated on children's superiority made me uncomfortable.

Nevertheless, despite all the objections and caveats, Tiger Mother is really selling. The fact that people are buying the book - not just talking about it - suggests there's a real craving out there for inspiration, maybe permission to push kids a little harder when they don't try. And that is partly the same vein that catapulted NurtureShock, going back to our original article on the science of praise. However, that's where the similarity ends.

Over the holidays, coincidentally, I also read Andre Agassi's memoir, Open. Both Open and Tiger Mother are stories of parents gone maniacal in their drive to make their kids number one, at the expense of any real childhood. The difference is, while Andre Agassi still loved his dad, he knows that doesn't excuse what his dad did to him. Even when he became #1 in the world, it didn't excuse it. A lost childhood has no price.

Ashley and I have studied parenting in China quite a bit, and two points are immediately relevant. The first is, the tradeoff between being a warm, loving, cuddly parent and being a parent who makes your child focus on learning is a false tradeoff. Going back to that study of mothers in Hong Kong I mentioned, during that five-minute break the Chinese mothers smiled and hugged their children just as much as American mothers did (and were no more likely to frown or raise their voices.) Importantly, these contemporary Chinese mothers did not insult or guilt their kids.

So when you hear about top math scores from Shanghai, don't think the success comes from cruel and harsh parenting. It comes from being supportive of learning.

We have to be careful in judging kids behavioral outbursts. Every time a pundit goes to a grocery store and sees a four year old throwing a tantrum, they write a column how American parents have become softies. They long for the old days when kids were obedient. The truth is, parents have two choices when their kids act out. They can appeal to reason, or they can demand strict obedience. Modern parents, for the most part, appeal to reason. Over time, this is good for the kids - they become independent thinkers, they learn to reason back and forth with adults, and they can stick up for themselves. But in the short term, when they're five or six years old, they're not very rational yet, and they act out more. They throw more tantrums, they can be disruptive, et cetera. Demanding strict obedience at all times ends it - but at a long term cost.

And with teenagers, we so often focus only on external rebellion. It's certainly the most visible. But teens whose need for autonomy is suppressed often have internalizing problems, such as depression.

Depression is actually becoming a huge problem in China. The work of Dr. Keng-Ling Lay in Taiwan has discovered one of the reasons why. She studies children and teenagers who've been told all their life that the secret to success is hard work - and yet, despite trying their best, never become A-students, or gifted musicians, or top athletes. They believe their inability to work hard enough is innate. They see no path to success, and feel like failures. It's sorta obvious, but this is the downside of kids living in any environment where success is defined in such limited ways. Dr. Lay says that parents are changing rapidly in Taiwan, but teachers are not. (Maybe this was why NurtureShock was a bestseller in Taiwan, too.)

Anyway, I've rambled enough. Here's a link to the most-frequently-tweeted column that Ashley and I wrote last year: Why Teens Are Growing Up So Slowly Today.

thanks again,


Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Waiting for Po

by Anne Castle-Deckert. Crossposted on Exploring With Teacher Annie

Children deserve parents who think. They don’t need parents who are perfect, or who have all the answers. (What a burden that would be! Please don’t saddle your kids with perfect parents- what a nightmare.) But I think families really thrive when parents put some thought into carefully considering at least some of their day-to-day parenting choices, rather than letting chance or whims dictate the family’s direction. And it seems even more important that parents are willing to challenge their own thinking from time to time, and look at things from an entirely new point of view. In parenting, mental effort counts for a lot.

These were my thoughts a few minutes ago, while driving home from tonight’s fascinating talk at my preschool by Po Bronson, the author of the best-selling book, Nurture Shock.

Wow--Po Bronson speaking at Explorer Preschool! What an event this was for a little school like ours. We have been waiting breathlessly for Po’s visit since last summer when our Parent Ed. Chair-mom, Katie, somehow used her magical powers to persuade him to speak at our school. And let me tell you: it was worth the wait. Po was amazing. Even with our break-time cookies calling to us from the other room, and babysitters turning into pumpkins, no one wanted his talk to end.

Some comments I heard from parents, and from the mentor teachers and college instructors that were also in attendance:

How can he know so much, remember so much, and recall all that information so easily?

He’s able to explain complicated concepts in a way that’s easy to understand. This is not the case with most people who are as brilliant as he is!

How can he know so much, remember so much, and have all that information on the tip of his tongue?

I feel good about my parenting after hearing him, even though I now think I need to make a couple of changes. Some experts just make me feel like a crappy parent, and I don’t need that--I feel bad enough already about all my mistakes.

He’s one of us! He’s just a dad, and he understands what it’s like to be a parent like me.

I can’t wait to read some of his other books and articles!

He was so much fun to listen to—I lost track of time.

Everything he said made me love our preschool even more.

It’s hard to change your mind about things that you’ve always thought were right, but when Po explains why another viewpoint is better, it makes a lot of sense to me.

I’m going to ask my spouse to read this. And I think I’ll buy a copy for my nanny too.

This is giving me a lot to think about.

I really hope he continues writing about child development topics.

He really cares about this stuff, and it shows.

We can’t all have a Po-chip implanted in our brains, ready to call up and analyze the research data to make sure that our every decision is right. In fact, I’ll bet that even Po finds that chip a little hard to access at times. (Maybe we should discuss this with his wife….!) But most of us can think about what he talked about tonight, read or re-read Nurture Shock, and maybe discuss it with friends at our Aprll Book Club evening. That’s perfectly good enough. Just a little thoughtful effort can help us all be better parents and teachers.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Local Parenting Event: Teaching Children to Think and Act Ethically

Here's an event Explorer parents might want to check out (especially if you need a PEC make-up!)

Just Because It’s Not Wrong Doesn’t Make It Right:
From Toddlers to Teens, Teaching Children to Think and Act Ethically

Sponsored by Parents Place, a timely lecture and discussion with practical advice on how to use everyday life to teach children to act with integrity, civility, responsibility, and compassion. Barbara Coloroso will teach parents, educators, and professionals how to nurture and guide children’s ethical lives from toddlerhood through the teen years using everyday situations at home, at school, in social settings, and in the world at large.

Monday, February 7, 2011, 7:00 – 9:00 pm
Menlo-Atherton Performing Arts Center
555 Middlefield Road, Atherton

Tickets $20 online/advance; $25 at the door; scholarships available
Simultaneous translation in Spanish
Click here to register

Contact: Stephanie Agnew at 650-931-1841 or

About Barbara Coloroso
Barbara Coloroso is a bestselling author and an internationally recognized speaker and consultant on bullying, parenting, teaching, school discipline, positive school climate, grieving, nonviolent conflict resolution, and restorative justice.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Join us at Explorer's Open House

Annual Open House
Monday, January 31, 2011, 9AM-2PM.
2700 Booksin Avenue, San Jose, CA 95125.

Explorer Preschool offers classes for children 14 months to 5 years, monthly parent education programs and speakers, experienced and credentialed teachers and is accredited by the National Association for the Education of Young Children. This is a great opportunity to tour the facility, see classes in session and fill out an application.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

New Year Resolutions

by Teacher Jackie Kite

Think of it as a fresh start. A new beginning. A time to make changes. But lets be realistic here. You are still the same person and cannot change overnight. Just like cleaning your need to work on changing things a bit at a time so it does not become overwhelming.

So imagine if you aspire to be a better parent in the coming year. What would that look like? Having more patience? Listening more? Being more consistent? We are not looking for perfection here, but maybe wishing to improve.

The problem is...we are only human! We ALL make mistakes. Including the teachers! The key is learning from those mistakes. Sound familiar? And then we have to deal with children who are not perfect either.

Sometimes we focus on the negatives and overlook the positives in our child's behavior. When I hear a parent say their child had a bad they really mean their child had a tantrum or an attitude for 24 hours or do they mean there was a three minute episode in Safeway when the child did not get what they wanted? Hmmm.

So lets decide to be the best parent we can be given the situation we are in. We all want the best for our children so let us be the best parent for our children. Believe me, I am still resolving to be that parent for my own grown children.

Parenting is a never ending, evolving process and I will support any parent in their quest to be the best parent for their child.

Good luck and Happy New Year!