Thursday, November 29, 2012

Preschoolers at play show science skills

When kids incessantly ask "Why?," mess around in the dirt and run their hands over everything within reach, they're not just being kids. It turns out they're also being scientists.

Until recently, preschoolers were widely believed to be irrational thinkers. For most of the 20th century, the prevailing theory pioneered by cognitive development expert Jean Piaget held that children roughly ages 2 through 7 cannot understand concrete logic or other people's perspectives.

Although young children are the only ones who truly know what they ponder, research conducted over the past decade has led many psychologists to see infants and toddlers as, in fact, capable of thinking logically and abstractly.

"The main thing is that they're drawing conclusions from data and evidence and experiences the same way scientists are - by making hypotheses, testing them, analyzing statistics and even doing experiments, even though when they do experiments, it's called 'getting into everything,' " said Alison Gopnik, a UC Berkeley psychology professor and one of the field's leading experts.
Better understanding of how children learn about the world could have important implications for their formal schooling, Gopnik argued in a recent paper published in the journal Science, which summarized studies by her and other researchers.

Kids don't have to wear lab coats to act like scientists, Gopnik said.

Teaching can backfire

In one study, Gopnik and her colleagues showed children ages 3 through 5 a machine with a switch on one side and two disks that spun on top.

By playing with this simple device, the preschoolers were able to figure out and distinguish between the many ways it worked: The switch made one disk spin, which made another disk spin; the switch made both disks spin; and so on.

In another of Gopnik's experiments, 4-year-olds were able to figure out how to make a toy light up in just two steps instead of several. But "they only did that if the (researcher) said, 'I don't know how this toy works,' " Gopnik said. "If the (researcher) said, 'This is my toy, I'll show you how it works,' they just imitated whatever the experimenter did."

In other words, children who were led rather than turned loose didn't devise the more creative solution - an "example of how, ironically, direct teaching ... can sometimes sort of backfire," Gopnik said. "It leads to a kind of narrowing of what children are thinking about, instead of an extension or broadening of it."

Other studies show that young children, in addition to being able to ponder their own actions, are also capable of weighing the actions of others.

That was the heart of a 2010 experiment involving rubber frogs and ducks run by Tamar Kushnir, an assistant professor of child development at Cornell University.

Social, statistical cues

In the study, 3- and 4-year-olds rummaged through boxes with either mostly toy ducks and a few toy frogs, or mostly toy frogs and a few toy ducks. After an adult picked up ducks from a frog-dominated box, the children were asked to choose one of the two animals to give to the adult. The children generally chose the duck, inferring based on statistical odds that the adult preferred ducks over frogs, the researchers said.

"The amazing thing is that children didn't just pay attention to what you were picking and why you liked it," Kushnir said. "They paid attention to what you left behind."

The study demonstrates that by an early age, children can already pick up on all kinds of social and statistical cues, Kushnir said.

"We know other people think and feel and want and know, and might have different perspectives from our own and different ideas from our own ideas," she said. "These are the different kinds of things children have mastered by age 4 or 5. That's remarkable."

And kids don't need fancy toys or bright screens to learn those lessons, said Barbara Bennett, a developmental and behavioral pediatrician and head of the Child Development Center at California Pacific Medical Center. They just need simple props, blocks and books.

Vital lessons from play

Bennett cited a patient of hers, a boy, who recently stacked big pieces of foam into an arrangement that he called the letter "T."

The freedom to play and imagine "allows them to really use their mind and look at things from their perspectives and make their own judgments and scientific thoughts, even though it may not look like science to us," she said.

Overall, experts say, there are plenty of studies that make the case for educating very young children by focusing more on imaginative play - and less on traditional reading, writing and arithmetic.

"The most important lessons children learn early in life," Kushnir said, "don't happen in a classroom."

Read more:

Friday, November 2, 2012

Flash Cards or Finger Paints: Should Academics or Play Be the Goal of Preschool?

Flash Cards or Finger Paints: Should Academics or Play Be the Goal of Preschool?

Hello there! If you are new here, you might want to subscribe to my email feed for free literacy and learning ideas.
Guest post by Amy Webb, parent, educator, and blogger at The Thoughtful Parent.
amy Flash Cards or Finger Paints: Should Academics or Play Be the Goal of Preschool?
If you are the parent of a preschool-aged child, you have probably put quite a bit of thought into what type (if any) of preschool to enroll your child. If you’re like me, you had no idea how complicated a decision this could be until you started delving into the topic.

Play Based vs. Academic

One of the first things I discovered when learning about preschools is that there seems to be an emerging distinction between “play-based” and “academic” programs. On the face of it, many parents might have a tendency to gravitate towards the “academic” preschool model. Isn’t this the best way to prepare my child for the school environment he will face in the future? Isn’t a high-stakes academic environment what he/she will experience once they enter formal schooling? And herein lies the crux of this issue (in my mind). We, as parents, may feel that academic rigor is the definition of “quality” in K-12 education and so it must be the same for preschools. If we look at the research in early childhood education, however, we find this is not necessarily the case.
A quick review of the academic research on this topic reveals that this recent emphasis on “academically rigorous” preschools may, in fact, be undermining youngsters’ ability to learn and be creative. Several recent studies have compared young children’s learning when provided either (1) direct instruction about a toy from a teacher, or (2) time to explore a toy on their own with little adult instruction. The results were quite clear: preschoolers who were “taught” how to use a toy by a teacher, did use the toy as instructed; but that’s all they did. They did not try to find any other features of the toy that the teacher did not explain to them and they did not try to use the toy in new ways. By contrast, the preschoolers who were given no direct instruction on the toy, they found new features of the toy and new ways of playing with the toy that the direct instruction group never noticed. So it seems that preschoolers do learn from direct instruction, but they are not as creative or flexible in their learning as when they are just left alone to learn by playing.

Young Children Learn through Guided Discovery

This research points to a key aspect of child development that may not be readily apparent: young children do not learn the same way adults learn. As adults, when we learn a new task, most often we are given direct instruction from someone else or perhaps we read instructions from a manual. Young children, on the other hand, do not learn most effectively this way. Their form of learning is what psychologist Alison Gopnik calls “guided discovery.” This involves the child exploring an object or task in their own way while watching an adult or older child perform the task. The key difference, it seems, is that the child is not directly instructed on how to use an object or perform a task; they simply figure it out through their own exploration (i.e., play).
Of course, as children get older there is a need for direct instruction. Skills like reading and writing would be difficult, if not impossible to learn through a “guided discovery” type of learning. However, trying to provide rigorous academic direct instruction at the preschool age is essentially putting the cart before the horse. Preschoolers are still in the discovery stage; they are not yet ready for routinized learning.

Academic Preschools Lead To Long-Term Problems

In fact, this type of academic drilling may undermine their interest in learning all together.  The tricky part of this equation, however, is that kids in “academic” preschools may in fact learn their ABC’s sooner and be able to recite memorized information back to adults on cue. This is appealing to us adults. I admit, the thought of seeing my toddler name numbers, letters, and even phonic sounds seems exciting. What research is beginning to show us, however, is that this immediate “payoff” in the form of routinized learning may come at the expense of a real interest and love of learning. A study by researchers at the University of North Florida showed just this. They followed 160 children who experienced three different types of preschool settings: child-initiated (e.g., play-based), academically directed, or a combination of the two. These children were followed and their academic performance tracked until fourth grade. The results showed very few differences in the children’s school performance in early elementary school. By the time the children reached fourth grade, however, the children who attended the academic-focused preschool showed a gradual decline in academic performance (i.e., grades). Of course, this is only one study, but research of this type implies that children pushed into academics too soon may miss out on a more integrative, curiosity-driven approach to learning that they will need later in life.

Preschool Should Be . . .

In many ways this research reiterates what we’ve know about preschool for awhile. The real benefit of preschool is in learning life skills like social skills, self-control, and persistence, not necessarily in any “academic” skills. Research from 30+ years of Headstart and similar programs have provided strong evidence for this. Kids who attended those preschool programs (most of whom are economically disadvantaged) did better than their peers in school and in life, but not because these programs helped increase their IQ. Researchers found it was the social skills they learned in preschool that put them ahead of their peers on many aspects of later achievement. One of the primary goals of preschool is to help students develop self-regulation and play-based preschool promotes this goal in a better, more child-friendly way. Research has continued to show that self-regulation is a better predictor of a child’s later academic success (and life success) than IQ tests or academic tests.
Sure, preschool may also help kids learn their ABCs and colors, but the interaction with peers and teachers is what really seems to matter. Well-known British pediatrician D.W. Winnicott put it this way, “It is in playing, and only in playing, that the individual child or adult is able to be creative and to use the whole personality, and it is only in being creative that the individual discovers the self.
Play vs. Academics 225x225 Flash Cards or Finger Paints: Should Academics or Play Be the Goal of Preschool?Bio: Amy Webb is stay-at-home mom to a 2 year old son and author of the blog The Thoughtful Parent. While completing her PhD in Human Development and Family Sciences she realized how little of the academic research about child development and parenting actually reaches the average parent. With The Thoughtful Parent she “translates” the latest child development research from academic lingo to a parent-friendly format. Amy also contributes monthly to the parenting blog Notes on Parenting.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Mud Is Good! Ten Easy Ways to Connect Your Family to the Joy of Nature

Short on Vitamin N? Here’s a brief list of nature activities to help you connect your kids, and yourself, to the health and cognitive benefits of nature time. (For a more complete collection of 100 actions, for families, schools, and communities see Last Child in the Woods, from which the following suggestions are drawn.)

  1. Invite native flora and fauna into your life. Maintain a birdbath. Replace part of your lawn with native plants. Build a bat house. For backyard suggestions, plus links to information about attracting wildlife to apartments and townhouses, see the National Audubon Society’s Invitation to a Healthy Yard. Make your yard a National Wildlife Federation (NWF) Certified Wildlife Habitat.
  2. Revive old traditions. Collect lightning bugs at dusk, release them at dawn. Make a leaf collection. Keep a terrarium or aquarium. Go crawdadding — tie a piece of liver or bacon to a string, drop it into a creek or pond, wait until a crawdad tugs. Put the garden hose to good use: make a mud hole. (Your kids will sleep well later.)
  3. Help your child discover a hidden universe. Find a scrap board and place it on bare dirt. Come back in a day or two, carefully lift the board (watch for unfriendly critters), and see how many species have found shelter there. Identify these creatures with the help of a field guide. Return to this universe once a month, lift the board and discover who’s new.
  4. Encourage your kids to go camping in the backyard. Buy them a tent or help them make a canvas tepee, and leave it up all summer. Join the NWF’s Great American Backyard Campout.
  5. Take a hike. With younger children, choose easier, shorter routes and prepare to stop often. Or be a stroller explorer. “If you have an infant or toddler, consider organizing a neighborhood stroller group that meets for weekly nature walks,” suggests the National Audubon Society. The American Hiking Society offers good tips on how to hike with teenagers. Involve your teen in planning hikes; prepare yourselves physically for hikes, and stay within your limits (start with short day hikes); keep pack weight down. For more information, consult the American Hiking Society or a good hiking guide, such as John McKinney’s Joy of Hiking. In urban neighborhoods, put on daypacks and go on a mile hike to look for nature. You’ll find it — even if it’s in the cracks of a sidewalk.
  6. Be a cloudspotter or build a backyard weather station. No special shoes or drive to the soccer field is required for “clouding.” A young person just needs a view of the sky (even if it’s from a bedroom window) and a guidebook. Cirrostratus, cumulonimbus, or lenticularis, shaped like flying saucers, “come to remind us that the clouds are Nature’s poetry, spoken in a whisper in the rarefied air between crest and crag,” writes Gavin Pretor-Pinney in his wonderful book The Cloudspotter’s Guide. To build a backyard weather station, read The Kid’s Book of Weather Forecasting, by Mark Breen, Kathleen Friestad, and Michael Kline.
  7. Collect stones. Even the youngest children love gathering rocks, shells, and fossils. To polish stones, use an inexpensive lapidary machine-a rock tumbler. See Rock and Fossil Hunter, by Ben Morgan.
  8. Encourage your kids to build a tree house, fort, or hut. You can provide the raw materials, including sticks, boards, blankets, boxes, ropes, and nails, but it’s best if kids are the architects and builders. The older the kids, the more complex the construction can be. For understanding and inspiration, read Children’s Special Places, by David Sobel. Treehouses and Playhouses You Can Build, by David and Jeanie Stiles describes how to erect sturdy structures, from simple platforms to multistory or multitree houses connected by rope bridges.
  9. Plant a garden. If your children are little, choose seeds large enough for them to handle and that mature quickly, including vegetables. Whether teenagers or toddlers, young gardeners can help feed the family, and if your community has a farmers’ market, encourage them to sell their extra produce. Alternatively, share it with the neighbors or donate it to a food bank. If you live in an urban neighborhood, create a high-rise garden. A landing, deck, terrace, or flat roof typically can accommodate several large pots, and even trees can thrive in containers if given proper care.
  10. Invent your own nature game. One mother’s suggestion: “We help our kids pay attention during longer hikes by playing ‘find ten critters’—mammals, birds, insects, reptiles, snails, other creatures. Finding a critter can also mean discovering footprints, mole holes, and other signs that an animal has passed by or lives there.” (For inspiration, take a look at the finalists and winner of Clif Kids’ 2012 Backyard Game of the Year contest.)
For more suggestions, in addition to Last Child in the Woods, a number of recent books offer great advice, including Fed Up with Frenzy, by C&NN’s Suz Lipman, I Love Dirt! by Jennifer Ward, and the free booklet A Parent’s Guide to Nature Play by Ken Finch. Also, the classic Sharing Nature With Children by Joseph Cornell. Online, Nature Rocks is another good resource.

And of course visit the Children & Nature Network for more ideas for your family and community, including an action guide for change, toolkits to create a Family Nature Club or become a Natural Leader, resources for Natural Teachers and pediatricians  — as well as state and national news and the latest research. Connect with the grassroots campaigns and efforts of others around the world. And please tell us how your own family, school, organization, or community connects young people to nature.


Richard Louv is Chairman Emeritus of the Children & Nature Network and the author of  ”LAST CHILD IN THE WOODS: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder” and  ”THE NATURE PRINCIPLE: Reconnecting with Life in a Digital Age.”

Monday, September 17, 2012

Mothering Your Self

By Jessica Sorci, MA, MFTI

In those first days, weeks and months after having a baby, every new mother undergoes immense physical, emotional and psychological change.  The change is all-encompassing and completely overwhelming at times, even to the most well-adjusted, best supported mom.  Just as her pregnancy gradually, but utterly transformed her body and her ideas about herself, her postpartum experience is also utterly transformational, but this time in an immediate, full-speed-ahead way that isn’t the least bit gradual and is entirely unrelenting.  As a therapist who works with new moms, and as a former new mom myself, I have seen and known the intensity of this kind of life transformation up close, over and over again.   Sometimes the intensity of the transformation creates or stirs up anxiety, despair and depression.  Some new moms get entirely swallowed up in the fear and despair and some just visit those feelings on occasion.  I believe there are some specific ways we can help protect ourselves from getting completely swallowed up and ways we can help ourselves recover when we begin to sense the overwhelm encroaching.  Let's explore...

If I were to name the single most powerful contributor to anxiety and despair in the postpartum period it would be LACK OF SLEEP.  Creating opportunities for uninterrupted sleep is critical to maternal wellness.  If you are able to arrange even one or two nights a week of really good sleep you will find your mood improves dramatically, just knowing you can expect and count on getting these little (but HUGELY important) breaks for true sleep.  If you are particularly sleep-challenged, here are some ways you might consider reconstructing your life so that you can get the sleep that is required to feel and to function reasonably well:

* Ask family members (moms, sisters, nieces, aunts, grandmothers) if they can come spend the night and take over the nighttime duties (feeding, holding and changing your little one) so that you can close your bedroom door and sleep uninterrupted.

* Hire a night nanny or a postpartum doula if you can afford to.  Even if it's just one or two nights a week, you will benefit immensely from being able to put in ear plugs, get truly comfortable and SLEEP for at least 4 continuous hours.  Hopefully twice, consecutively in one night.

* Have your partner take over night duties on his nights off.  I know it's not how your partner dreams of spending his days away from work but remember, your partner is not also recovering from giving birth, making milk (if you're breastfeeding) and is not linked up and hooked in to the baby to the same degree that you are...meaning, your partner's body has a lot more time and resources available for restorative activity than does yours.  Your partner has a huge advantage here in terms of energy.  He can sacrifice those Friday and Saturday nights for the greatest good of the whole family, allowing you to get some quality sleep while he tends to the baby and sleeps in a separate room from you.

Without some decent sleep we cannot be well.  Without our wellness our families suffer.  Truly, make this the top priority for yourself every day.  At some point your baby will be sleeping longer stretches at night and not requiring the level of care he/she needs now (I promise!).  But in those times when baby isn’t sleeping, make certain you have a plan in place to protect your own sleep.  I can’t overstate the importance of this one.

Many new moms also suffer from the near complete loss of free time and the grief and guilt that seem to accompany that loss.  We yearn for the ability to take a long, hot shower, watch a movie, think the thoughts we want to think, linger over a meal…and there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting and missing all of those ways we used to live.  I would go so far as to say, it’s incredibly healthy to yearn for all those ways we used to live, for those are the ways we knew how to take care of ourselves and the ways we knew how to feel joy and comfort and wellness.  The fact that you miss your old life is really a good sign – that there is a life in you that wants to re-engage and re-emerge.  However, many new moms have a tendency to feel this desire and this yearning is in conflict with being a “good mom”.  A “good mom” would be content just being a mom – just holding, feeding, changing, bouncing and tending to her little one 24/7.  Right?  Ahem.  Very few humans would find complete fulfillment in such a rigorous, repetitive, and in some way (dare I say) unrewarding job.  Loving your baby and being a wonderful, responsive, attuned mother is not at all in conflict with having a need for a self.  The challenge and the conflict are really around managing to have both.  And if I’m telling the real truth here, in the early days and weeks and months, baby’s needs win out most of the time.  Often there just aren’t enough hours in the day or helping hands and frankly there isn’t sufficient ENERGY to allocate a reasonable chunk to mom’s very real, very valid needs.  But with a little effort we can usually arrange for some small chunks of time on a regular basis in which to care for ourselves.  Those small chunks of time are priceless and are, like sleep, critical to maternal wellness. 

I’ve given some thought to creating a list of ways to replenish sanity/energy/wellness if you have only a small chunk of time.  I suggest you add to this list and then use it at least twice a week – once a day preferably.  And even if you only have a few minutes, invite yourself to really become present, to really inhabit your body in the moment.  Become aware of your breath and of the sensations in your chest, your face, your arms, neck and back.  Here we go:

If you have 15 minutes to Mother Your Self:

* Take a shower and use a candle or cleanser that feels or smells wonderful.

* Call a good friend/family member to connect – someone you can REALLY talk to.

* Make a delicious snack.

* Read a magazine or go online for fun

* Lay down and rest.

If you have 30 minutes to Mother Your Self:

* Take a relaxing bath. Close your eyes and allow yourself to feel the warmth and the weightlessness of the water.

* Sit down and eat a nutritious meal.  Chew slowly and savor the taste and the sensation of being fed.

* Take a walk in your neighborhood. Turn your attention to the way your body feels.  Notice what it's like to move without holding a baby.

* Go to a nearby coffeehouse and enjoy the feeling of being in the world, and being free to linger a bit.

* Take a short (but hopefully sweet) nap.

If you have 1 or 2 hours to Mother Your Self:

* Arrange for a gentle, loving postnatal massage.  Treat yourself.

* Go to your favorite restaurant and eat something you are truly hungry for.

* Go to a movie and let your mind travel somewhere entirely different from your current life.  Do some advance research to ensure that the movie is uplifting and not scary or depressing.

* Chamomile tea, earplugs, pillows, close the door and SLEEP.

* Find an entertaining, enjoyable book and lose yourself in a wonderful story.

* See a therapist to talk and feel supported in this particularly challenging time.

* Go someplace in nature that you find beautiful - the ocean, mountains, a lake, a park and soak it in.  Walk, meditate, breathe and immerse yourself in the beauty and wonder of the natural world.

* Go to a cafe and bring a notebook.  Begin writing about your birth story, your current experience as a new mom, or something entirely different.  Take this time to explore the contents of your own mind - often our thoughts and impressions receive very little floor time and yet there is so, so much to process and metabolize.

* Go to a yoga or meditation class.  Take some time to get in your body and give it some love.  Doing so in the presence of others can feel like an entrance back into the world.

Add to this list and keep it nearby so that you can use the bits of “free” time you have to nourish yourself.

There is nothing on earth as important as creating and raising a child.  Nothing.  Mothering means infusing a new little body and consciousness with love, making manifest through your presence and your responsiveness an experience of the world as a safe, welcoming place.  Imagine for a moment exactly what it takes to imbed a human being with a real conviction that they are loved and with the desire and confidence to launch into life full of curiosity.  Oh, and also, to equip that person with the ability to tolerate struggle, pain, failure and loss (because sadly, those things will surely come at some point).  Yes, this motherhood thing is quite an endeavor.  Many of us are faced with the crushing realization that we have had very unrealistic expectations of perfectionism for ourselves as the mothers we envisioned ourselves being (prior to motherhood).  We thought we could do it all and do it all perfectly (or at least REALLY, REALLY well).  When we become parents we are forced to realize that we cannot possibly do it as well, as flawlessly as we had fantasized because it is in fact a 24 hour a day job that sustains for somewhere in the neighborhood of 18 years and challenges pretty much every facet of our entire being.  Thankfully, we also learn that perfection is neither required, nor is it even desirable. "The good-enough mother...starts off with an almost complete adaptation to her infant's needs, and as time proceeds she adapts less and less completely, gradually, according to the infant's growing ability to deal with her failure..." (Donald Winnicott ,Transitional Objects and Transitional Phenomena, 1951).  Part of learning to be a good enough mother is learning how to care for the baby and the little girl in our selves even as we care for our children.  It turns out that the better we care for the baby inside of us, the better we are able to mother the baby in our arms. 

This blog is written with the intention of addressing that little person inside of you who has perhaps been neglected since the birth of your baby, or maybe even longer than that.  Some of us have never received the kind of mothering that we now expect to be able to give to our children.  How can we give what we have never received?  Ahhh.  Now that we know exactly what it is we want and need to be able to GIVE, we know exactly what it is we need to receive.  That’s right.  You need to find a way to give yourself at least a sliver of what you are now oozing from every orifice.  Love.  Food.  Rest.  Attention.  I’m talking about Mothering Your Self.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A New Elementary School

By Mandy Demmert - Explorer Parent

I was a teacher for 8 years before my second daughter, Cailin, was born.  Education has always been on my brain.  I have a lot of opinions about how education, elementary education in particular, should be.  Since my 3-year-old, Abby, has been at Explorer, kindergarten has been on my mind.  I am realizing that it is coming faster than I am ready for (are we ever ready for it?!).  My husband and I have been talking a lot about elementary school since the last 12 months.  We are both concerned about our public school.  I taught in public schools for 8 years, but I can confidently say I will not send my daughters to our neighborhood school (for numerous reasons).  We have begun looking into other options, including private schools.

I received an e-mail from Abby’s Las Madres play group about a very intriguing alternative.  I have heard wonderful things about Discovery Charter School in the Moreland District.  We are in the Campbell District, so I knew that getting into Discovery was a hope and a dream.  It is lottery to get into charter schools, and being out of the district, our chances are slim.  This year alone there were 700+ applicants for the kindergarten class at Discovery.  Obviously, there is a great desire for education that follows the Discovery model.  Thus, the quest has begun to develop Discovery II. The link to the new school’s development is:

Here are a few quotes about the Discovery philosophy:

“Curriculum is aligned to each student’s developmental level to allow children to feel successful regardless of academic level.”

"Students should have time to develop at their own rate and be presented with daily opportunities to learn at their own developmental level in each academic area.

“…students learn from each other, from teachers, and from cross-age tutors.”

"Curriculum should be designed around themes.”

“The brain is pattern-seeking and looks for connections between pieces of information.”

Discovery II will be a mirror of Discovery 1 (in terms of curriculum, philosophy, and teaching style).  The location has yet to be determined, but it is likely to be in Campbell or San Jose.  There are so many details yet to be worked out, but the plan is for the new school to open with Kindergarten through third grade in the fall of 2013.  The school needs to decide if they will be a part of the county or be part of a district (districts tend to be very hesitant to include charter schools for a variety of reasons).  If the school belongs to the county, the applicants will be admitted regardless of their home district.  If they belong to a district, the applicants will likely be favored if it is their home district.  Funding varies greatly based on which of these affiliations they chose and there are advantages to each.  They are also considering using Proposition 39, which would have to be voted upon.  To learn more about using Prop 39 and charter schools, go to

It is exciting for me to see the creation of a school, especially a school I am passionate about.  Obviously, the intent of my being a part of this group is that my girls will be granted some kind of preference in the lottery when they begin school.  Nothing is guaranteed at this point, but it is exciting to see more schools being founded with this philosophy of parent involvement, positive discipline, and a child-centered education.  It is drastically different from almost every other public school I have seen.  I am honored to be a part of the founding of this school.

If you are interested in learning more, I urge you to come to the next planning meeting on June 5 at Discovery School and join the yahoo group by emailing

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Parenting from the Inside Out: Book-related Discussion

By Fouzia Ahmad, an MWF parent

After some thought-provoking discussions on this great book at our March and April PECs, I thought it might be a good idea to follow-up with some of Kent Campbell's colleagues on questions that we may not have had a chance to get answered.  I caught up with one of the panelists, Dolat Bolandi, a licensed marriage and family therapist, providing psychotherapy to adults, couples, and teens in Los Gatos, and presented these questions to her.  Read on to know what she had to say:

Q. As a psychotherapist, what about this book stands out to you?

DB: I like the fact that this book really shows in a more concrete, evidence-based fashion how we are affected by our primary relationships.  It also delivers hope and a way to heal both as parents and in helping our children develop in a more conscious, connected way.

 Q. The book talks about emotional attunement with your child; that is attuning to the emotion inside your child before you change the external behavior.  How do you think current day practices such as Ferberizing fit into this model?  If we let our child cry it out until they “give up” on thinking that anyone is going to come get them, isn’t that---according to the author---just fixing external behavior without really attuning with our child?  How do you think this might affect children as they grow older and the nature of their attachments to their parents?

DB: The Ferberizing method has been taken in many extremes, which is not helpful.  Letting a child/baby get to know their own frustration and learn how to self-soothe is an essential skill that needs care and time.  Letting the child cry to the point that he or she has to give up is---intuitively---not attuned.  On the other hand, hovering over the child constantly and “fixing” everything is intrusive and equally not helpful.  In my opinion, one of the main messages of this book is asking the parents to invest in getting to know themselves as they are getting to know their child, so that they can separate and focus on what is needed in the present moment rather than their unmet needs of the past.

Q. If the low road, by definition, means that the higher-level processes of the brain have shut down, is it even possible, at a physiological level, to stop yourself and get out once you are immersed in the low road?  Should you be attempting to fix the problem when it's actually happening, or later, after you have recovered and reflective capacity is restored?

DB: I think the first task is to get out of the low road, the state that activates the fight or flight response.  For example, taking deep breaths is known to help reverse the fight or flight reaction. By definition, we can have access to more of our internal resources, and therefore, respond more effectively.

Q. Sometimes kids lie to get out of trouble.  On the other hand, sometimes kids lie because they do not want to feel “exposed” and want to maintain their dignity.  Are the mental processes within a child’s brain different in both cases of lying, and should parents handle both lying scenarios differently?

DB: I am not sure how the mental processes compare in the two scenarios.  When a child lies, I do want to explore and wonder what is behind the lying.  For example, depending on the age of the child and how imaginative the child is, he or she may not truly be lying in their own mind.  When there is lying based on fear, as a parent, I would want to see how I can change the dynamic around so there is more room to tell the truth and still set limits.  So digging deep inside to see what the child may feel and to be able to put words to their experience can be an effective way to connect.  For example, “It must be hard to see your sister get a new dress, while you don’t,” is one way to connect in an empathetic fashion, without either “fixing” the problem or getting rid of  feelings of jealousy.  It can give permission to the child to experience difficult feelings and know they are OK.  The feelings can be known, but don’t have to be acted on.  Kids need kind and firm limits.

Q. A section in the book offers some examples on how to resolve trauma or loss and suggests using reflective statements in this regard.  One example about a young child who has a change in her babysitter is as follows: “Anna took care of you since you were a baby.  You probably didn’t want her to leave.  Do you still wish you could see her every day?”  I think this is great, but what should be the conversation that follows?  You know, after the child, all teary-eyed, says, “Yes, I do.”

DB: This can tug at every parent’s vulnerability to want to have their child feel better quickly.  The idea is to continue to give words to the child's experience with empathy and a sense of connection.  Perhaps a response could be to continue reflecting.  For example, “I hear how much you miss her, and it’s hard to not see her every day.”  This is a great example of how one can practice grief in life. Tears are a part of grieving, and having others around who are willing to bear it with you is also an essential part of passing through life's losses, both big and small.

Q. During our group discussion, you had given us an analogy comparing children’s emotional behavior to that of pregnancy.  Would you repeat that here so that it may benefit our readers?

DB: I was comparing how when one is pregnant, the fetus/baby feeds off of the mother's body, and needs the mother’s body to digest and get rid of toxins as well.  Emotionally, the same metaphor continues.  Children need their parents in order to be nurtured, and also to help digest and get rid of the "toxins".  For example, this is especially visible when a young child keeps it together all day, but as soon as his or her mother or father comes in, the child's behavior falls apart.  This child needs the parent to help digest all that he or she has taken in through the experiences of the entire day.

Q. A large section of the book presents the science behind attachment and the brain.  But the scientific information about interpersonal neurobiology can be overwhelming for many of us.  Can you provide a couple of "gems" of information from amidst all of it that you consider key to bettering us as parents?

  • Develop your support system.  Be around other parents who are willing to be honest and share how joyful and how messy it is to be a parent.
  • Self-care is crucial.  It’s about being able to ride the high roads.
  • Mindfulness practices (yoga, meditation, etc.) are effective ways to develop the muscles that allow us to be able to observe, respond, and not react. 
  • Don’t wait too long to get support.  You don’t have to be in trouble to be in therapy; it is also a place for growth and can be a preventive approach.
  • Have fun and leave room for mistakes.

Q. What do you think is the most important thing for parents to think about after reading this book?

DB: To me, this book also delivers a lot of hope: our attachments can continue to reshape, but needs conscious effort on our part.  This is an ongoing process.  It is part of our makeup to revisit the past (consciously or not) in an effort to heal and grow---just like our children.

Dolat Bolandi, M.A., is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Los Gatos, providing psychotherapy to adults, couples, and teens.  For more information on her services, you can check out:

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Screen-Free Week 2012: April 30 - May 6

By Teacher Annie Castle Deckert

Screen-Free Week:  What a concept!  When my kids were little, I sort of “knew” that TV-watching wasn’t the best way for my children to spend their time.  But what I didn’t understand is that kids who watch less TV (or better yet, no TV) become better and better at the thing they need most: play.

Twenty years ago, while agreeing in principle with the idea of spending a screen-free week with my preschoolers, I’m sure I would have been slightly horrified at the thought of a week without even a minute to myself.  Like many other parents, I used the TV as a babysitter.  A couple of kids’ shows everyday gave me time to catch up on something, take a shower, or just hear myself think.  I didn’t realize then that an hour of TV everyday was making my kids more needy and demanding.  I was a tired, struggling mom with busy, active kids, like most preschool moms I know.  And yet, I’m challenging YOU to try committing to Screen-Free Week.

One nugget of wisdom I’ve acquired: Television and other screen-related activities reduce children’s ability to think and create.  This results in kids who are more whiny, more bored, and more unhappy than nature intended.  Children who aren't used to being entertained don't miss it---because they are expert at entertaining themselves.  A child who has a steady diet of TV, movies, and video games has less faith in his or her own imagination, and finds it more difficult to play.  Honestly: if I had it to do over again, I’d get rid of the TV when my kids were young.

Diane Levin is an expert on the effect that media has on children and has authored several well-known books about it, including "So Sexy So Soon", "The War Play Dilemma" and "Remote Control Childhood."   Here is what she has to say about Screen-Free Week:

Screen-Free Week is a fun and innovative way to improve children's well-being by reducing dependence on entertainment screen media, including television, video games, computers, and hand-held devices.  It's a time for children to unplug and play outside, read, daydream, create, explore, and spend more time with family and friends.  And, of course, Screen-Free Week isn't just about snubbing screens for seven days; it's a springboard for important lifestyle changes that will improve well-being and quality of life all year round. 

Other info and expert commentary can be found at:

I would encourage parents to give their kids a break from electronic media, even if the first few days may be a bit frustrating.  Kids often fuss at first about the things that are best for them.  But parents who are willing to persist through the whining will eventually be rewarded with the joy of watching their kids play, create, converse, learn, and explore.  Even movies, video games, and TV shows that are supposedly designed for children offer very few opportunities for any of these high-quality, brain-enriching screen-free experiences.  Screen time is always inferior to real life, in terms of satisfying learning experiences.

On my blog, you’ll find a long list of things you can have your kids do instead of watching TV or playing video games:

Happy Screen-Free Week,
Teacher Annie

Friday, March 30, 2012

Teachable Moments

By Peri Kraus, an MWF parent and board member

I never really understood the idea of a teachable moment.  I mean, aren’t they all teachable moments?  Every moment of the day that I’m with my kids, they are figuring something out.  Sometimes it’s good.  Sometimes it’s, well, not so good.  Like right now, as I’m writing, I look up to find my son, scissors in hand, eyeing the dog, the scissors inching closer and closer to the dog’s hair.  So, I remind him that his scissors are not for cutting the dog’s hair and proceed to give him a piece of paper instead.  Teachable moment right there, right?  Well, maybe...

Like most moms, I try to teach my kids the importance of showing kindness toward others, be it through their action or their words.  Although at times I do falter, I try to watch the way I speak and behave so as to act as their guide.  When I make a mistake, I acknowledge it and promise to try harder to make better decisions.  The big thing right now is the word “stupid”.  I never realized how much people fling this word about until I had kids!

The other day at the park, there was a dad hanging out with his kids and their dog.  The dog was so cute.  He was playing fetch, running in circles around everyone.  He was so happy-go-lucky.  My kids were loving it.  Eventually, the dad decided to come over to the swings where his and my own children were playing.  Of course, he brought the dog with him, and of course, the dog was still excited.  The dad started berating the dog, calling it all sorts of names, including “stupid”.  My stomach turned.  My heart dropped.  How could this man, a father, with kids, standing nearby no less, behave like this?  How dare he, after all the time I’ve put into teaching my kids and trying to set a good example for them?!  Should I say something, so that my kids know that his behavior is unacceptable, or should I leave it be.  Maybe my kids won’t notice?!

I watch my kids.  My mind is racing.  What do I do?  What do I do?  My daughter’s eyes are wide.  She’s stopped swinging at this point and is just staring at this dad.  He leaves. She hops off the swing and comes closer to me.

Mommy, that man called his dog the “s” word,” she says.

Hmm, I heard.  What did you think about that?” I ask with baited breath.

He didn’t sound very kind.  He should have shown more kindness and respect for his doggy by using better words.  It made him look not very smart.

Insert sigh here.  By not getting involved, I allowed my daughter to use everything I had armed her with for this exact type of situation.  Teachable moment, indeed...for both of us.