New Trend Not About How Much, But What TV Children Watch

September 16, 2008

I have long been a proponent for television.  While the party line has been that it will rot your brain, I have always thought that it could be a useful tool in childhood development when applied correctly.  Finally, the experts have come around to my way of thinking.

The recent New York Times article “Limiting, and Watching, What Children Watch” talks about the vast media smorgasboard available to children today.

Is there any hope for a balanced meal?

Yes, say experts on children and the media, as long as parents teach children to make good choices. Instead of talking only about time limits – the pediatricians’ academy recommends limiting screen time to one to two hours a day – researchers are zeroing in on trouble spots and taking content into account. New guidelines are taking shape: Keep the television and computer out of the child’s bedroom, don’t be afraid to set limits, pay attention to what appears on screen and how different ages respond to it, and encourage children to think critically about what they see.

I couldn’t have said it better. I have long argued it’s not how much TV children watch, but watch they watches and what else they do.

As a big TV addict myself, I’ve never been good at limiting the number of hours my kids watch TV.

Instead I’m a strict about what they watch – educational television.  They spend most of their TV time on shows on Disney Playhouse and Noggin.  

We have lots of discussions and activities around their favorite shows.  If it’s a show with questionable content or a delicate issue (we watch one show about the race riots in the 60s), we watch it together and then talk about the issue. 

Here’s an article I wrote how you can reinforce what these shows teach with additional activities and conversations.  And how these actions also teach your children there is more to their world of interest that what’s on the television.

And finally we balance our TV time with lots of other activities that don’t involve the TV at all like gym class, art class, play dates and field trips.

The same can be said of the Internet.  Don’t be afraid to let your children get on it.  Instead teach the how useful it can be and monitor their usage.  Sites like Disney, PBS and others offer educational games. 

I recently discovered a website called Kids Off the Couch that incorporates television and the Internet with educational activities.

So instead of banning television or the net, use it to your advantage.


Is it Really ADHD or Just Too Much Pressure?

September 15, 2008

I’ve always contented that we, as a society, are too quick to label our kids with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, pump them full of meds and forget about the issue.  I’ve read two articles recently that support my theory.

I’m not saying that ADHD doesn’t really exist or that there are indeed extreme cases in which medications are needed to moderate behavior.

However, I feel that society finds it easier to tack on the ADHD label than to work on a development issue.

The article “Who is to blame for boys struggling at school?” talks about how boys are more often targeted for ADHD.

“According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2003, 14 percent of boys across the nation were identified as having ADHD by the time they reached their sixteenth birthday. And the percentage is continuing to grow.”

It went on further to add.

“Either we are witnessing the largest pandemic in our country since influenza struck in the United States in 1918, or school-age boys are being overidentified and overdiagnosed.”

But if you read the article, the offending behaviors are just typical boy behavior.  C’mon we all did that kind of stuff as a kid.  But because it disrupts the classroom, it must be a medical issue.

Let’s look at why it’s disrupting the classroom.  What are we asking our kids to do in the classroom these days?  The list is getting bigger and bigger by the day.

When I was a kid, kindergarten was more about learning how to behave in school.  We had play time and nap time and we might learn our letters, colors and numbers.

But these days, the pressure is on.  Preschool is now where kids learn the basics – and sometimes even more.  And by kindergarten they are already learning to read.  Some people are even holding their kids out of kindergarten until they are six so they know more going in.

School days are filled with a variety of work and little time to play.  Then the kids come home and have more work to do.  Some schools don’t even allow kids to talk during lunch to keep lunch time to a minimum and get the students back in the classroom.

Kids are kids, they have lots of energy. We must allow them some time to be a kid, to have fun, to goof off.

If they are in school all day and aren’t allowed to talk during lunch, when are they allowed to be themselves? If we don’t give them some time to express themselves and be a kid, they will make their own.

I think it’s unrealistic of a teacher to think (especially with the younger ones) kids are going to sit still and pay attention for 6-8 hours a day. Heck, I know most adults that can’t do that.

It doesn’t mean we should start medicating everyone.

The solution is two-part. Parents need to work with their children on appropriate behavior and offer them an alternative activity during non-school hours to exert some of that energy. Teachers must be willing to teach in a method most conducive to the child rather than what’s easiest for them.

The New York Times article “Training Young Brains to Behave” talks about why kids are so quick to move from one topic to another.  A short-attention span is natural.

“One reason is that an area of the brain that is critical to inhibiting urges, the prefrontal cortex, is still a work in progress.”

It’s not ADHD, it’s a development issue. .

“Some children’s brains adapt quickly, while others’ take time.”

The article goes on further to discuss how much this erratic behavior changed when teachers and parents took time to work with the child on self-control, memory and flexibility.

When this behavior is shaped “it is more strongly associated with school success than I.Q.” 

Imagine that – long-term results without any drugs and all it required was a little effort on the part of parents and teachers.

Finally, the study also said “Although play is often thought frivolous, it may be essential.”

I think as adults we often overlook this very key piece in children’s development. I know for myself, I have to do a mental check to make I’m not overscheduling my kids, that I’m allowing time for them to just play.

What do you think?  Is ADHD overdiagnosed?  Are we putting too much pressure on our youth to succeed?

Finally, a Children’s CD Parents can Enjoy

April 2, 2008

I’ve listened to enough Wiggles songs to make my head explode.  I’ve heard every song that Dora the Explorer and her cousin Diego have ever recited.  I know all the words to the Sesame Street classics.  But what else can I do?

You see my children like music – I mean really like music.  And in my effort to be a good parent, I try to cultivate that interest by surrounding them with music they enjoy.

Anything is PossibleAnd while they might treasure the sounds of their favorite TV characters, the repetition of that music on a daily basis is enough to test the sanity of even the best parents.

But when I’ve overdosed on children’s music, I can hardly put in Aerosmith or the Rolling Stones.  Not only is the language and references to sex and drugs questionable content for two year olds, but my kids find most of my music choices too loud (I know it’s only a short amount of time before I have the same claim about their music).

That Baby DVDBut I think I’ve finally found a CD that the children and I can enjoy together.  That Baby CD combines music made famous by some of my favorite artists with a nice acoustic sound that my kids can enjoy too.

“We are one of the few out there that have decided to take children’s music into a new direction,” said Rob Wolf, co- founder of OyBaby LLC, company behind That Baby CD.

That Baby CD has pushed children’s music further than ever before by trying to create “something that the entire family can enjoy,” Rob said.

And I think That Baby CD did just that.  The music is danceable.  The children can clap their hands to it.  Parent can – and will want to – sing along with the music, music they know from artists like Bruce Springsteen, the Beatles, Fleetwood Mac and Bob Marley. 

This CD has something for everyone.  It’s perfect for those long car rides when tensions run high and boredom sets in.  Parents can feel comfortable about putting in That Baby CD to liven up those long trips with some snappy music that gets your feet tapping and your voice singing along with the familiar words.

“I think the music has to accessible to [the children].  It has to have melodies that are catchy and words that are appropriate,” Rob said.

Rob combined his hobby video editing with Lisi’s photography skills and the pair’s love of music to produce their third children’s album.

“We struck a chord with a product that fits a need for a lot of families,” Rob said, adding that it’s a labor of love for him and Lisi.

The Wolfs first venture, OyBaby, and its sequel OyBaby 2, focused on Jewish music for babies and kids.  They wanted a way share their Jewish heritage with their children.  Both albums were well received with more than 40,000 copies sold in the U.S. and 15 other countries.

So when non-Jewish friends started asking the Wolfs for a CD that they could enjoy with their children, Rob and Lisi were happy to oblige.

In 2007, the Wolfs decided to take the things that succeeded in OyBaby and turn them into a non-religious product.  And it was only natural for them to turn again to their friend Stephanie Schneiderman, and her sisters Lisa Schneiderman and Kim Palumbis, to record their songs.

Stephanie, who has done the arrangement for all three of the Wolfs’ children’s albums, is an accomplished musician in her own right with five solo albums under her belt.  She and her sisters sing 10 of the 14 songs on the CD.

And the 14 songs came out of a lot of brainstorming on Rob and Lisi’s part.  After weeks of looking for potential songs, they came up with a list of 30 which they eventually pared down to those on the CD.

But don’t ask Rob to pick his favorite:

“That’s like asking me which is my favorite child,” he said.

I, on the other hand, have already selected my top choices – The Pretenders “Brass in Pocket” and 10,000 Maniacs “These are Days.”

The kids and I put the CD in and dance around the living room to those two tunes all the time.  It’s a great chance for them to experiment with their own dancing style.

But if you are afraid that that your little one won’t identify with the words, then you should try out That Baby DVD that comes with a child-friendly video accompaniment for each song (the picture at the top of this article is from video for Jonny Lang’s “Anything is Possible”). 

The DVD gives the children a chance to “visually put their mind to” an image when they are later listening to the CD in the car.

So if you are looking for music for your children that won’t drive you crazy, check out That Baby CD

What’s Your Favorite March activity?

March 14, 2008

March is one of those strange months that are more about transitions than about a particular event or season.  But that doesn’t mean the month should fly by without a little adventure.  What is your favorite activity to do in March?

When the twins were born, we started a new March tradition – the Henrico County Kite Festival.  We’ve done it every year, but this year – it was extremely cold and rain last weekend when the festival took place. 

It seemed like the festival came early this year, probably because Easter is early this year.  But I digress.

The festival is a great family affair.  You go to this park in the county and everyone is out there with their kites.  You can see all the kites in the sky as you approach the park.  Kites of every shape and size soaring through the air.  It’s beautiful.

We always pack a lunch, meet some other friends and make a day out of it.  We might fly our kites for a bit, sit and watch the other kites for a while, have a snack or play some ball.  We always bring a few other activities for the kids.  And the Parks and Rec Department always has a few activities for the kids too.

Last year, for the first time, the kids really got into the kites.  They helped daddy put them together.  Sure the process would have quicker without their help, but it was cool that they took such an interest.

Then they wanted to hold the reel that releases the string.  They didn’t quite understand what they were doing and often crashed the kite with their efforts.  Still it was fun to enjoy a “family” event in the fresh air.

I felt a little like the family at the end of Mary Poppins (I promise not to strut around with a sash chanting about women’s right to vote).  They had finally found time for each other and were truly enjoying each other’s company. “Let’s go fly a kite . . .”

Since we missed the festival this year, I think we will have to take the kids out another day later this month or early in April.  April would be good since it’s National Kite Flying Month

I’ve never really been good at flying a kite.  But I’ve never had so much fun trying as with my kids helping.  When was the last time you flew a kite?

Christmas in March

March 12, 2008

On Saturday, my children woke up and scurried downstairs to the living room like it was Christmas morning to find a pile of “new toys” much to their delight. What, you say.  It’s only March.

T-Rex MountainNo, the Easter bunny didn’t make an early stop at our house.  And no, I haven’t joined some weird religion that has moved Christmas to March.  But I am a member of a club (club, not cult) that made my children’s Saturday morning joy possible.

I am a member of a Moms of Multiples club, a club for parents who have had twins, triplets or more.  That fact alone did not bring Christmas to my house in March.  But the club’s bi-annual fundraiser did.

In an effort to raise funds for the club and put a little money back in the pockets of the members, the club started holding a Kid’s Stuff Only Yard Sale twice a year.

Members clean out their closets and attics, bringing out gently used kid’s clothes, toys, nursery items, books and videos to sell.  We each price our own items, but we put them out in like categories (i.e. all the girls clothes that are size 6 go together,  all the toys go together, all the books, etc.).

VanityThe club makes 15% of whatever we sell.  We take home the rest.  Sure it’s not a lot of money, but it’s enough to cover a few extras like a membership at the children’s museum or to cover the cost of the twins’ birthday party.  And when you have twins, every little bit helps.

But selling is only half the fun.  Members also get to pre-buy.  We set up everything on Friday night and the sale is Saturday morning from 8-11.  But after we setup, members get first crack at cruising through the isles to find deals.

I am able to find a lot of good deals on clothes this way – and trust me it’s important to get deals when you are buying for two at a time.  Most of the clothes are gently used, but some are brand new (kids outgrew them before they got a chance to wear them).

But for my kids, it’s what else I bring home that tickles their fancy.  By the time I get home Friday night, they are asleep.  But they know Saturday morning some new-to-them toys will be waiting for them.

Last fall I spent $3 and the twins thanked me for an hour.  I kid you not.  I know you are thinking what did she buy?  I bought a box a legos. 

But they were just so thrilled at having something new (at least to them) to play with that they would play with them for a few minutes then one of them would come by and thank me.  Then they’d go play again and then the other would come by to thank me again.  This routine went on for an hour – over a box of legos.

The yard sale lets us rotate toys so the kids don’t get bored with them.  They get to try out a lot more toys that if I had to buy them new.

This year when I was tagging things to sale the twins noticed for the first time I was taking some of their toys away.  I kept hearing “That’s mine Mommy.”  But I explained that they were too big for those toys any more. 

But any grumblings disappeared when they saw there bounty Saturday morning.  My son got T-Rex Mountain, the ImagiNext dinosaur set.  He has been roaring all week.  And my daughter is still primping in front of the Princess vanity she got.  I paid a fourth of what these items retail for and they are both in great condition.

And when the twins aren’t playing with these toys, they are toting around the Look and Find books I got them.  They love to “read” and the only way I can keep them in books (without going broke) is to buy them at the yard sale.  We even had to take the new books to dinner with us Saturday night.

VehicleAnd don’t tell the twins (luckily they are two young to read mommy’s articles), but I even picked them up a surprise for their third birthday – something their grandfather wanted to buy them but they were still too young for when he past away last year – a two-passenger motorized jeep.  We’ll be giving this gift to them in Grandpa’s memory.

So now you see Christmas doesn’t really come three times a year at our house.  We just celebrate one Christmas and two yard sales.

Photos courtesy of Toys R Us.

Does a Good Preschool Translate into Great Education and Success?

January 22, 2008

Exactly how important is preschool?  Seriously, does enrollment in a good preschool guarantee a great education?  Does it prepare the student to somehow take in and retain information better?  Will a quality preschool education guarantee a person a successful career?

Or is preschool just another status symbol in our “keeping up with the Jones” society?

Recently, parents in Houston camped out for three days all for a coveted spot in a preschool. 

One mother was quoted as saying “The statistics of the kids coming out of the school is well above average.”  What statistics?  How do they know it’s the benefit of the preschool and not some other education or outside experience the child had?

My children weren’t even one when someone asked me what preschools I had put them on waiting lists for.  My children couldn’t even talk, I hadn’t thought of preschools yet.  And waiting lists?  I thought those were something for college not preschool.

I was totally flabbergasted.  I was a new mom.  Did I really need to be thinking of preschool already?

To be honest, I don’t even remember if I attend preschool myself.  Did you?  Are we any better or worse for that experience or lack of it? 

Yes, I know times have changed and the education system is not like it was when I was a kid (which, for the record, wasn’t that long ago!).

Today, I went to an open house for a preschool for my children (they will be three by the time classes start in September).  I chose this preschool because it was recommended to me by a friend who had sent both of her children there.  Both of her children seem to be well adjusted, intelligent kids for 4 and 6 year olds.  The one who has started school seems to have made the transition with ease.  Does that make this a great preschool?  I don’t know.

My husband was unable to come with me because the kids were sick and beforehand we were discussing what I should look for and ask about?  The brochure covered the basics – costs, days of the week, hours, class size. 

Besides the basic safety questions, what else do I ask?  Is there one way of teaching numbers, colors and shapes that is so much better than another?  Isn’t the point of preschool to slowing introduce the concept of a classroom setting and to socialize with others that age? 

Besides price, safety and the quality of teachers, what makes one preschool better than another? 

In fact, do you really think that preschool can impact a child’s future education and career?

A Toddler’s View of Christmas

December 22, 2007

 At 2 1/2 year old, my twins are really getting into Christmas for the first time this year.  They are taking it all in and they’ve already got certain ideas about this merry holiday.  Here’s a look at how toddlers (at least these two) view Christmas.

It’s all about the lights

The twins got their first glimpse of Christmas lights on the way home from their aunt on Thanksgiving.  They were instantly smitten.

So the following Tuesday, my husband and I took them to the GardenFest of Lights at Lewis Ginter Botanical Gardens.   With more than half a million lights sculpted into flowers, butterflies, fish (my son really liked the fish), candy canes and a giant peacock, the twins were enamored.  My son couldn’t get enough of the maze of lights and my daughter loved climbing up the tree house in the Children’s Garden where she could see lights in every direction.  But their favorite thing was the train that went through the little fairy village in the conservatory.  The photos on the Christmas card were taken in front of the gingerbread house in the conservatory.

I spent the entire next day while out running errands trying to explain to the twin why they couldn’t see the lights in the daytime.  By nightfall, I was exhausted.  I gave up and took the twins back to Lewis Ginter for a second round of GardenFest.

In the two weeks following Thanksgiving, my husband had to travel for work, finish a project for school and study for an exam and a final, leaving little time to hang Christmas lights.  But because the twins were so fascinated with the lights and I couldn’t drive around the neighborhood every night looking for lights in response to cries of “Mommy, I want to see lights,” I made a trip to the store and came home with three lighted Christmas yard signs – Mickey Mouse, Tigger and Snoopy on his doghouse – that I could set up easily.

Every day on the way out, the twins stop to check on these displays.  If one has fallen over, they demand that “Mommy fix it.”  And every evening when they come home, they must stop and look at each display regardless of how cold it is outside. 

Now that my husband has finally got the rest of the decorations up, we can hardly get the twins to go into the house.

Snowmen are cooler than Santa

The twins still aren’t to sure of the man in the red suit.  Therefore, I still doesn’t have a picture of them with the jolly ol’ elf. 

They know who Santa is.  They’ll both tell you he says “ho, ho, ho.”  But they won’t go anywhere near him. The closest they’ll get is to hold out their hands for candy.

I did get my daughter to sit on the little stool in front of the Santa at the mall.  Clinging to me for dear life, she cried out her wish list – “I want a Dora [the Explorer] book.”

Their Christmas icon of choice – Frosty, or rather any snowman.  They scream in delight every time they spot a snowman decoration.  They had no problem walking up to the snowman character at the arrival of Santa at Short Pump Mall and they love the Frosty cartoons.

They even made their own snowman.  It didn’t matter that we didn’t have snow.

Somehow though, I think it might be hard for Frosty to start shimmying down fireplaces.

Giving can be hard

When the Toys R Us catalog arrived, my daughter buried her nose in it first and then my son.  Next the toy commercials on TV doubled and then the cries from my daughter of “Mommy I want mine” and “Mommy, brother wants” (my daughter can always be counted on to take care of her brother) started ringing throughout the house.  My son limited his pleas to “p-l-e-e-e-a-s-e.”

When I could no longer hear myself think, I knew the twins needed to be taught that it’s better to give than to receive.  So I decided the twins should do a stocking in the Salvation Army Stocking Program.

Together we shopped for items to fill these stockings.  Then I packed the stockings and off we went to deliver them.

The twins both proudly carried their stocking into the drop off location.  But when it came time to put the stockings in the box, they had a little trouble.  After a bit of coaxing the stockings were firmly placed in the box and my little man cried all the way back to the car.  Life lessons are so hard.

It’ll be interesting to see how it goes when it’s time to distribute gifts on Christmas.

Mickey Mouse Still Rules

The twins have really enjoyed watching Christmas specials from the Rankin and Bass classics like Frosty and Rudolph to holiday episodes of their favorite shows. 

But they are their mother’s children; thus huge fans of Mickey Mouse.  Given a choice, their holiday favorites are Snowed in at the House of Mouse and Mickey’s Twice upon a Christmas.

However, the new Shrek the Halls came in a close second as my daughter is a big fan of the green ogre. 

The Grinch is the only one they really didn’t care for.  My daughter kept burying her head in her my shoulder and my son watched with his hand over his eyes, peeking through his fingers.

Christmas Carols are to be Sung Loudly

The twins think that Christmas carols are to be sung loudly wherever they are and can be accompanied by dancing.

The twins were shopping in Target one day with me when my son decides to belt out a chorus of Jingle Bells in the middle of the store.

The twins went to a Christmas Concert by the Community Choir with me and a friend of ours. 

The twins enjoyed themselves immensely.  However, I’m not sure that the lady in the row ahead of us appreciated my son’s rendition of the songs.  Or the amount of dancing both children were doing.

We were out on an adventure with a little friend of the twins and his mother.  Suddenly from the back seat a chorus of three different songs being sung at the top of each little ones lungs made its way to the front seat where the two adults could do nothing but laugh at the toddlers’ enthusiasm.

Christmas Cookie Dough is the Best

The twins are becoming quite the bakers.  They’ve already made seven batches of Christmas cookies, much to their daddy’s delight. 

However, their favorite part of the baking experience is still licking the spoon.

Bells are the Instrument of Choice

The twins went to a Christmas Puppet Show.  As part of the show, they got to be in the Christmas Band.  My son played the tambourine and my daughter the bells.

Still, the twins instrument of choice for the holiday is bells.  They have wrist bells that they took to Williamsburg to play during the caroling.  They have bell necklaces and there are even bells hanging from all the door handles in the house.

Christmas Train

The twins love their Thomas train set, but nothing compares to the motorized train around the Christmas Tree.  It must be turned on when they wake and can’t be turned off before bedtime.

My son will lay on his belly in front of the tree and watch the train for long periods at a time.

Christmas is about Making New Friends

During Christmas caroling in Williamsburg, my son tired to use his skills to impress a new friend.  He walked up to this boy of 10 or 12 and just started performing.  He sang, danced, played his bells and even did some rolls on the cold ground.  And a new friend was made.