Could Daycare Surveillance Actually Be a Bad Thing?

More and more childcare facilities are investing in software that allows parents to log in and watch their kids in real time. Could there be drawbacks?

More and more, daycares and childcare facilities are installing CCTV cameras and investing in software that allows parents to log in and watch their little one in real time. Some parents love this new technology and enjoy being able to check in on their child during the school day, but others worry that these surveillance systems may have negative implications.

As a former teacher, I have some reservations about the idea of parents being able to watch a class. I worry about it violating the teacher’s privacy. There are lots of things that go on in a classroom that don’t involve children at all.

Overworked teachers will often eat, mark books and papers, prepare for classes, and even change their clothes in an empty classroom. While a classroom is certainly a shared space, it’s also the place where a teacher spends the majority of the day and should therefore offer some measure of privacy.

Another concern is the potential use of the recorded images. The companies that produce this technology are quick to point out security features and password protections, but passwords can be shared, computer screens can be left open, and screenshots can be taken and disseminated elsewhere. This technology could lead to a situation where anything that now happens in that class is potentially available to view in the public sphere.

Some may think this is acceptable and even preferable. Why shouldn’t classrooms be open? What do teachers have to hide? If only exceptional levels of teaching and learning are taking place, why does it matter if they are open for observation?

Here are some reasons it does matter. First, exceptional levels of teaching and learning are not happening every minute of every day. Even award-winning teachers have off days.

Second, I’ve witnessed a variety of occurrences in classrooms that would benefit from the relative privacy of a closed door: For instance, a teacher suffering from a diabetic seizure, an out-of-control child punching another student, an older student losing control of his bowels, small children changing their clothes for a school play, a student disclosing abuse, or a teacher finding out about a death in her family.

It’s easy to see how any of these scenarios would be problematic if filmed and viewed publicly.

Whenever a teacher is observed by either a colleague, administrator, or by a group of parents during a school open day, it inherently changes the nature of their lesson. They are bound to experience some anxiety, as anyone would when being monitored. More importantly, it interferes with the normal camaraderie between teacher and students.

Teachers, of course, expect regular observations and appraisals by administrators and use feedback to improve their teaching practice. However, constant monitoring can be draining. Working to appear professional, teachers may seem stiff in comparison to their normal classroom persona and, in doing so, damage the rapport with their class.

Teaching is a performance. We become attuned to our unique and familiar audience. Throwing in a constant unseen viewer changes the dynamic of that performance.

Educators might also feel self-conscious about some of the more animated yet effective parts of their job. Teachers routinely sing, dance, make animal noises, pull faces, and put on character voices – all of which may suddenly feel embarrassing in front of an adult or unknown audience.

Like it or not, every teacher also usually has one parent that acts as a thorn in their side. These surveillance systems may encourage difficult parents to micro-manage every aspect of a teacher’s performance, which goes a long way to stifling a teacher’s overall effectiveness.

Although these issues concerning teacher’s privacy and dignity are close to my heart as a former educator, the protection and welfare of children is even more important to me. Here, too, the use of surveillance in the daycare and school classroom is deeply troubling.

In group settings, people very quickly fall into assigned roles. There’s the quiet and thoughtful ones, the leaders, the motivators, the organizers, and unfortunately, there are the maligned, the blamed, and the ‘naughty’ ones.

Children (no doubt motivated by what they see from parents and teachers) quickly work out which of their classmates are behaving and which are not and often gleefully relay this information to their parents. For a poor child to be labeled as a “problem” is damaging enough, but imagine if that child knew that groups of parents were watching his every transgression, or if every time he made a mistake there was an audience ready to criticize.

Children can become typecast in behavior roles, which can be almost impossible to escape. This reputation follows them from class to class, from grade to grade.

The act of observing bad behavior also becomes a shaming mechanism. This can lead parents to think it’s within their right to admonish a student simply because they witnessed an event, even though they were not present and perhaps don’t understand the context or other drivers.

Mike Holiday, a parent and homeschool educator, is very concerned about the issues of privacy posed by surveillance in the classroom. “A camera in the classroom might put everyone on their best behavior. But the possibility of abuse of power is too great. It is also a huge step towards legalizing other invasions of privacy.”

Parents witnessing stigmatizing behavior problems is bad enough. Add to that the bystanders who believe they understand an entire incident simply because they’ve watched it on-screen. Sometimes seeing isn’t believing. A camera angle can make all the difference. A critical event that happened off-screen may not be taken into consideration, and therefore, viewers who think they have the whole story simply don’t.

Some parents may use the camera as a control device by telling their children, “I’ll be watching you.” This can do irreparable harm to the authority of the teacher within the classroom. Perversely, this can be used as a control device by the teachers themselves with such statements as, “Your mother can see what you’re doing.”

Even more worrying is a tactic witnessed by Kristi, from South Carolina: “The teacher told the kids that Santa watched them through the cameras.” Kristi approves of the use of cameras in the daycare center for visual records in case of incidents or emergencies. But she’s opposed to “the teacher indoctrinating the kids to think surveillance is okay.”

Another area of concern is for those children struggling with developmental or learning difficulties. Surely those students’ privacy is violated if all parents can see which reading group they’ve been assigned to or how much help they receive or if they are sometimes unable to participate in an activity.

Zaida, a mom of two girls and inventor of the Wiggletot Diaper Changer, has other concerns about “the effects of Wi-Fi on thin skulls.” Besides these oft-debated health concerns, she also points to the danger of children having their otherwise private school day dissected by their parents. “Having a parent report back on everything they think wasn’t appropriate or should have been changed in a child could lead to an increase in anxiety in kids.”

Unfortunately, not all children live in caring, loving homes. To that end, most troubling of all is that the use of surveillance could lead to the dissolution of the classroom as a safe space. For children of abuse or neglect, the classroom can represent one of the few places where they are protected, nurtured, and can receive love, attention, and care.

That, if not for any other reason, is compelling justification for keeping classrooms camera-free.

The use of cameras in educational and childcare settings can have benefits. Some parents who are nervous about leaving their children for the first time with strangers may find that this technology puts their minds at ease. Parent Arlene Guzman Todd explains, “I am a big fan of the cameras, they helped provide a feeling of security and allowed me to build trust by watching the caretaker’s interactions with my children.”

There are also situations where parents and carers may not be physically able to see their children, such as in the case of divorce, separation, or when a military parent is deployed. This is the case with Arlene’s husband, an active duty service member. “The live feeds allow him to check in on the kids regardless of what part of the world he is in,” she says.

One school district in Pennsylvania has been trialing a new app that has proved popular with both teachers and parents. The Classroom Dojo program functions like a closed-circuit Twitter account. The teacher can use the app to post photos and positive updates throughout the day, making the parents feel informed and included.

Melissa Fullerton, Director of Communications & Community Relations at Governor Mifflin School District, reports that the result has been that “[t]he ongoing feed of positive and day-to-day updates has led to a noticeable decrease in parent frustration and negative communications.”

The difference here seems to be in the concept of control and consent. There’s no live feed. Furthermore, the teacher can choose when to share updates, exactly what to show, what to exclude, and what days and times are going to best showcase the class and the learning that is taking place. (Friday afternoon after Phys Ed, for example, would probably not be an optimum viewing time.)

We should work toward a balance between maintaining appropriate privacy and respect in the classroom whilst also creating an open and inviting environment for parents.

Why I Wish My Kids’ Classrooms Had Chalkboards

We might not all get a teacher with a texting embargo, but maybe we can hope for a little more balance, inside the classroom and out.

My daughter’s second grade teacher hand-wrote a classroom update to the parents each week, her name signed with a beautiful cursive flourish. She used a wooden pointer to teach U.S. geography and phonics. She had an upright piano in her class and played it regularly. She was the only teacher in the school whose classroom did not have an interactive whiteboard.
This all ran anathema to the modern classroom. As Lewis Buzbee writes in the 2014 “Blackboard: A Personal History of the Classroom”, “Whiteboards are the rule these days, and all to the better, it seems, if only for their lack of screeching. But the whiteboard disallows a long-standing classroom rite: cleaning the erasers.”
When I pick up my daughter now as a fourth grader, a highly-digitized classroom equipped with iPads, I long for her second grade days. She and her classmates were always delayed, helping to wash the chalkboard and clapping those vestigial erasers. They were part student/part maintenance, and they appeared to love it.
In fact, I heard very few complaints about these “old school” methods, especially from fellow parents. I can understand why the parents favored this experience: clapping erasers, coloring freshly Xeroxed pages, cranking the pencil sharpener. Our own second grade years came rushing back.
I well remember getting “locked out” of school when I volunteered to clap erasers with my own second grade crush. It’s possible I let a door-holding eraser slip out of place to extend my chore time. Oops.
Nostalgia aside, there was another reason I think we were so happy for our kids’ uniquely undigitized teacher. We all had a chance to catch our breath. We’d been texting fellow playdate parents and e-mailing pediatricians throughout our children’s lives. We’d been downloading and uploading forms since before our children were born. The same goes for our digital native offspring, born effectively with a tablet device in their hands.
At parent-teacher conference, my daughter’s teacher apologized: “I’m sorry I don’t do that texting. You are always welcome to call me, though!”
I told her it was a relief. It had been wonderfully welcome to not have to be hyper-conscious of how much screentime both my kid and I were spending in the name of her education. In the years since the Classroom in Analog, I’ve realized how much my kids’ teachers can steer the ship.
I have the deepest respect for educators and understand the immense pressures they are under to communicate constantly above the din of the whirring propellers of helicopter parents. It can be invasive, though – the text blasts and newsletters and reminder slips that litter our inboxes and kitchen tables.
The emotional and financial toll of raising a child is no secret, even to those who are not in the business. But rarely do we mention the administrative side of parenting.
Writer Jen Hatmaker is among the few who have made a public plea to reduce the sheer volume of paperwork that educating a child entails. Hatmaker appeals to the teachers: “Teachers, we need to make a deal that after April testing, we don’t have to do anything else.”
I wonder how realistic this might be?
The flood of reminders…can we agree to a tapering system for both teachers and parents alike? Might even our kids be tasked with remembering a few things rather than piling the onus to bring in five dollars for the Valentine’s Party on the parent?
And might the goal of pumping more iPads into classrooms and educating more app-savvy kids be offset by a little bit more analog in their lives? If not a piano, then perhaps a real, tactile deck of cards (versus one that a mouse clicks to shuffle).
We might not all get a teacher with a texting embargo, but maybe we can hope for a little more balance, inside the classroom and out.
The ’90s notion of the “information superhighway” promised media convergence and limitless access to all who traveled it. Within the framework of our children’s education, though, we and their teachers are tasked with setting the speed limits. The challenge is remembering that we get to decide where the exit ramps should be.

These Are the Type of Books You Should Stock on Your Baby's Book Shelf

As a new study shows, some books are better than others when it comes to helping young children learn.

We all know by now the importance of reading to babies, right? Doing so promotes their language development and literacy skills. Reading to them as they grow stimulates their imaginations and expands their understanding of the world.

“It creates an enjoyable and comforting environment for both the parents and the infant and encourages parents to talk to their infants,” says Lisa Scott, a University of Florida psychology professor. The benefits of reading aloud to children from the time they come into the world are widely researched and documented.

What’s not as widely discussed is which books in particular we should be reading. As a new study from the University of Florida tells us, some books are better than others when it comes to helping young children learn. Published on December 8 in the journal Child Development, the study found that books which clearly name and label people and objects are the optimal kind to read to babies because they help them retain information and stay present.

“When parents label people or characters with names, infants learn quite a bit,” says Scott, who co-authored the study. “Books with individual-level names may lead parents to talk to infants more, which is particularly important for the first year of life.”

To reach this conclusion, Scott and her colleagues from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst studied infants in Scott’s Brain, Cognition, and Development Lab, evaluating them first at six months and again at nine months. The researchers used eye-tracking and electroencephalogram techniques to measure attention and learning at both developmental stages.

In between the lab visits, parents were instructed to read to their infants at home, following a schedule of 10 minutes of reading every day for the initial two weeks and every other day for the second two weeks, with a continual decrease until the infant returned to the lab at nine months. The storybooks were randomly assigned to the 23 participating families.

The authors explain that, “one set contained individual-level names and the other contained category-level labels. Both sets of books were identical except for the labeling. Each of the training books’ eight pages presented an individual image and a two-sentence story…

The individual-level books clearly identified and labeled eight individuals, with names such as ‘Jamar,’ ‘Boris,’ ‘Anice,’ and ‘Fiona.’ The category-level books included two made-up labels (‘hitchel,’ ‘wadgen’) for all images. The control group included 11 additional nine-month-old infants who did not receive books.”

As it turned out, the group of infants whose parents read the individual-level names spent more time focusing on and engaging with the images. By observing their brain activity, it was clear that these infants were also able to distinguish the individual characters after reading. This outcome was not found in the control group at six months (before book reading), or in the group of infants who were read books with category-level labels.

The results of this longitudinal study are consistent with Scott’s previous research on how the specificity of labels impacts infants’ learning. Books that specifically name characters improve cognition in infants. No wonder my son has always loved the “Pete the Cat” book series so much!

Some other favorite children’s book collections of ours (now scientifically proven to be educational!) include: “Little Blue Truck,” “Cordouroy,” “Llama Llama,” and “Where the Wild Things Are.”

What are the best-loved books at your house? Next time you read them you might notice, do they clearly label characters and objects? Respond in the comment section below!

Worried Those Early Extracurriculars Are a Waste of Money? Maybe Not.

New research does proclaim that extracurriculars are promising for kids and their development in numerous ways, even during early childhood.

Today, some parents seem to put their young kids in everything: soccer, violin lessons, ballet, and golf. Kindergartners are schooled for eight hours, thrown a snack in their car booster seat, and then taken to some kind of enrichment activity. These children are likely overwhelmed and exhausted. The parents now serve as an Uber driver, only they are forking out the money instead of getting paid.
I admit I have secretly questioned these parents, asking myself, “Why don’t they give their child a break?” Although I do believe that Socrates was right when he said “everything in moderation, nothing in excess,” new research does proclaim that extracurriculars are promising for kids and their development in numerous ways, even during early childhood.
In a study found in the Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology, the researchers found that small children from kindergarten through the fourth grade endured positive outcomes due to the extracurricular activities they were involved in. The study included 548 children and the activities varied from a sport, club, or the fine arts. Some were involved in these outside school activities while others were not. The children were observed from kindergarten through the fourth grade, and finally evaluated by their fourth-grade teachers.
The researchers, Flourence Aumetre and Francois Poulin, said that their behavior was monitored and found that the “participation in organized activities may hold promise when it comes to preventing internalizing problems during childhood.” In other words, if a child is more at-risk for behavioral problems, the extracurriculars will help them learn to cope. And, the study showed that it helped all children who were involved in the added activities.
Growing up is hard. Learning how to make and keep friends can feel like navigating to a new destination before GPS devices were invented. Parents are the maps who can help, but we often just confuse the kids more. Further, children can feel overwhelmed at school because even at an early age, the stakes are suddenly high. Taking part in a club, sport, or the arts can help foster coping mechanisms in all of the possible directions that growing up can entail.
The study discovered that the students who were partook in extracurriculars achieved higher social competence, academic success, and exercised lower behavioral problems. Aumetre and Poulin said, “They could learn new ways to behave and new emotional responses by observing the actions of others, the consequences of their actions and the affective reaction following these consequences.” Seeing different kids in a different arena helps take them in other areas of their life. For example, if a child is reprimanded for bad sportsmanship on the soccer field, the same lesson can apply while playing an academic game in the classroom.
Further, when children partake in a new activity, they learn how to adjust and be adventurous. Within these activities, new skills emerge and they learn to carry them through several other domains like school and home. Therefore, when the child remains in extracurricular activities for a long period of time, the overall affects trickle into the classroom and their overall adjustment. Their “global self-esteem” increases as well as their “sense of competence.” The researchers claim that their behavior is likely better because they learn to cope with different situations due to their activities they are involved in.
Although I do not think young children should be taxied all over town to various enrichment activities all week long, the research does prove that starting them young has its benefits. If these extracurriculars can help make growing up a little less daunting, then yes, we should slowly engage our kids in them. Today, our kids need all of the GPS devices and maps to help guide them. And if partaking in a fun activity can do that, I don’t see why not. But I will always remember Socrates, and never do anything – including extracurriculars – in excess.

The Effects of Pre-K May Last Longer Than You Think

A new study indicates there are several measurable benefits of pre-K once the students reach middle school.

Is pre-K worth it? This is a hot button question that has been debated for many years since states began funding pre-K programs. According to the National Institute for Early Education Research, nationwide state-funded preschool program enrollment reached an all-time high in 2016, with nearly 1.5 million children, or 32 percent of four-year-olds enrolled. Policymakers, educators, and parents want to know if pre-K provides an academic advantage to children. Now a new study out of Georgetown University published in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management indicates that there are several measurable benefits of pre-K once the students reach middle school.
The Georgetown research team began tracking about 4,000 children in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 2006 when they started pre-K through the time they were in eighth grade. The pre-K program in Tulsa was of special interest because it has been around for quite a few years, reaches a relatively large portion of four-year-olds, and is considered high quality. It has also been featured in the national debate about the merits of universal pre-K because the program has been studied in depth over more than a decade, Oklahoma was the second state in the nation to adopt a universal pre-K program, and President Obama highlighted it in his 2013 State of the Union as he endorsed universal pre-K as a national policy.
In order to evaluate the program, researchers reviewed performance measures throughout middle school in areas including standardized tests, GPAs, enrollment in either a gifted program or honors courses, grade retention, special education placement, absenteeism, and suspensions.
They discovered the following facts about eighth graders who attended pre-K:

  • They were less likely to be held back than their classmates who did not attend preschool.
  • Their scores on the state’s math achievement test were higher.
  • They were more likely to take algebra in eighth grade, which is a consistent predictor of college readiness.
  • They were more likely to be enrolled in honors courses.
  • They were more likely to be engaged in class, less timid, and more confident overall.

Then the researchers extrapolated the Tulsa data to project the impact of the program into adulthood. They predict that those students who attended pre-K will have a higher income and less of a chance for incarceration. This is a big deal for parents evaluating whether to send their children to preschool or not. It’s clear from this study that pre-K can help lead to success later in life.
The study also looked at the quality of the education provided. Tulsa preschool teachers devoted more time to academics and were more apt to talk with, not talk at, their students, than teachers in 11 other states who they were compared to. Additionally, the student-teacher ratios in the classroom were impressive, and every teacher has at least a bachelor’s degree and is certified in early childhood education.
William Gormley, a professor of public policy at Georgetown and one of the lead researchers for this study, thinks that a main reason for the success of the children in Tulsa who attended pre-K is that the elementary and middle school teachers have made the curriculum more challenging because the students are much better prepared than those who did not attend pre-K. In a nut shell, pre-K gives kids a jumpstart in their education and the positive social, emotional, and academic benefits surface later in their educational journey and after graduation.

The Growth of Failure

This is a submission in our monthly contest. December’s theme is Growth. Enter your own here!
We all want our children to be successful but many times in order to really achieve greatness the kids have to fail a few times. By teaching our children that failure isn’t a horrible thing we are setting them up for a happier life.
No one wants to fall flat on their face. The fear of not being able to win keeps many kids from even attempting new experiences. By teaching our kids that they will survive when they fail is an important tool for their personal development. Knowing that their parents have their backs even when they can’t achieve their goals the first time helps kids take on challenges that they may shy away from otherwise.
Showing our kids that failure is important for ultimate success takes work and admitting that we make mistakes. It’s hard to show children all of our personal flaws but if your children only see the successes of their parents they believe that perfection is easy. By being upbeat when we fail and then go at it again kids know that failure isn’t the end of the story but only the beginning.
Teaching our children about a positive outlook in the face of failure is especially important for overachievers. Most families have that one child that always does well in school to the point that they stress out when their marks are not perfect. They are the ones that the work they are doing in school has always been easy. Getting straight As becomes part of their view of themselves. When they are faced with getting their first F they become devastated believing that their academic life is over. This is when failure training is vital. And that training starts with a celebration.
It may seem strange to celebrate a bad grade but the first major failure is an important step in a child’s life. By doing something special with them when they are feeling horrible it shows your child that you know how hard they are working and you are proud of them for that work.
Believe it or not this approach works. One of our daughters was that prized child who never failed until Grade 11 when a math class was just too hard. She had most of the concepts but a few gave her problems and in the end she failed the course. When report cards came out she was heartbroken, thinking that she would never make it into university because of that one bad mark on an otherwise spotless record. I told her to put on her coat, we were going out to dinner to celebrate. She was shocked at the response but got ready. During the dinner we talked about the grade and I told her how proud I was of her for the work she had done so far. I also let her know that when she would be able to take the class again and master it. During her “failure celebration” we were able to break down steps on how she could achieve her goals for success the next time around and that getting an F was not the end of the world. By the time dessert rolled around she was excited about taking the class the next term and knew that she would do better the second time around. And she did.
By teaching our children that achieving their goals can take many attempts and failing is just the first step to success we are setting them up for life. Helping them be able to celebrate even when it seems like their goals are not achievable builds kids who know that in the end they can conquer the world. And that’s what we want for all of our children.

A Cause of Reading and Writing Struggles You May be Overlooking

According to new research, one of the earliest warning signs of hearing impairment might be when a child struggles to read or write.

In the past few years, my six-year-old daughter has suffered from repeat ear infections. The last was so severe it caused a ruptured ear drum. After this unfortunate event, my husband and I noticed that she struggled to hear, often asking us to repeat ourselves or to turn up the volume on the television or iPad.

At first, we thought it might be temporary, a result of the ear drum being damaged. The problem, however, has persisted, even when she is at school. According to her pediatrician, it’s possible the infections have caused some hearing loss, although further testing is required. Sadly, her story is not unique.

Experts say chronic ear infections, which are common among children, can lead to hearing impairment or permanent hearing loss. Additionally, many children are born with hearing impairment. Together, about two to three of every 1,000 children in the United States are born with a detectable hearing loss in one or both ears, and almost 15 percent of school-age children (ages six to 19) have some degree of hearing loss.

Yet sometimes we are unaware that our children are having any difficulties. Now, according to new research, one of the earliest warning signs of hearing impairment might be when a child struggles to read or write.

In a study of 196 youngsters ages eight to 10, including 36 with dyslexia and 29 with a history of repeated ear infections, researchers at Coventry University found that 25 percent of participants who had reading difficulties showed mild or moderate hearing impairment of which their parents and teachers were unaware. Children who have a hard time hearing will find it much more difficult than children who have normal hearing to learn vocabulary, grammar, word order, idiomatic expressions, and other aspects of verbal communication.

Study participants completed a series of tests to establish their reading and writing skills, and how they used the structures of words based on their sounds and meanings in both speech and literacy. After 18 months, they were tested again and a hearing screening was also carried out. Children with dyslexia had difficulties with literacy activities involving the ability to manipulate speech sounds (known as phonology) and the knowledge of grammatical word structure (called morphology), while those with a history of chronic ear infections mainly had problems with the phonology tasks.

“This is an important study, which should alert families to talk with their doctors about screening their children for hearing difficulties,” says Susan Neuman, professor of childhood education and literacy development at the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development at New York University.

As many teachers know, she adds, attentional difficulties in classrooms may be caused by hearing problems; furthermore, children cannot attend to some of the subtle differences in the sounds of our language which makes decoding instruction very difficult for them.

“Auditory struggles can have a significant impact on a student’s ability to read,” says Tina Liberatore, president of Gemm Learning, a provider of online learning software that treats the source of reading and learning difficulties including auditory processing challenges. “Reading isn’t just visual. Reading is a listening skill. If a student is not able to comfortably map the sounds of language to reading, learning to read will be an uphill battle.”

Liberatore says estimates of auditory processing disorder, a condition that makes it hard for kids to recognize subtle differences between sounds in words, range between two to seven percent of the general population. However, when testing struggling readers, she says, the percentages are much higher.

Students with auditory processing disorder experience difficulties when using auditory information to learn and communicate. They may have difficulty hearing important information when background noise is present. They may ask to have information repeated or misinterpret what has been communicated. They may have trouble following and recalling verbal instructions and may also appear easily distracted in the classroom and elsewhere.

Students with auditory struggles often display difficulty with phonological skills. Upon “learning to read,” they many have trouble comprehending written material. They may struggle with receptive and expressive language. Due to these challenges, many will also experience mental fatigue by the end of the school day, says Liberatore.

Report author Helen Breadmore said, “Current hearing screening procedures are not picking up these children, and we would advise that children have their hearing tested in more detail and more often.”

Liberatore says the signs can be subtle and sometimes mimic attention and/or behavior issues. Auditory processing disorder will likely not be identified in a typical hearing exam. Parents with concerns should ask for an auditory processing evaluation with an audiologist.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that there is no single treatment or intervention for childhood hearing loss. However, it says that some options may include working with a support group or medical professional, or buying a hearing aid.

How to Explore STEM Skills With Your Kid When It's Not Your Strong Suit

Many parents are challenged by math and sciences, and therefore shy away from working on those skills with their kids. But there are simple ways to do so.

I’m an artist and my husband is an English professor. Our four-year-old daughter is read to, she paints and dances, and she loves any opportunity to put on a show. But I recently started to get the nagging feeling that everything we exposed our child to leaned toward the arts and humanities. I excelled in those disciplines in school, but in some ways that made my academic career more difficult, not less: I was placed in programs that challenged me across the board, which meant feeling overwhelmed (and occasionally downright stupid) when it came to math and science.
So how can I ensure that my own child doesn’t shut down when she’s taught algebra and chemistry? And, equally importantly, how can I teach her skills that I have struggled with (and disliked) myself? The best long-term plan for both of us is to start now, by making the STEM disciplines as fun and engaging as any art project or game. It’s possible – even easy – to make that happen without spending a dollar (though you will lose a few dimes in the process; more on that later.)
Here’s what’s working in our house, no fancy robotics classes required (at least, not yet):

1 | Use the toys you already have as teaching tools

If you’re like us, you’ve got a few old books and toys collecting dust that could be put to better use. The bonus here is that our association with coloring books, stickers, and board games is already positive. To my daughter this is clearly not work, it’s play.
Coloring books often depict objects (or Sesame Street Muppets, or My Little Ponies) in pairs or groups – talking about how many apples and oranges there are may seem simple, but it’s an introduction to advanced mathematical concepts. Try assigning each object a different color (now’s their chance for fun with crayons) and adding up all the colors individually, then collectively.
A pack of dinosaur stickers can be grouped into carnivores, herbivores, and omnivores. Doc McStuffins stickers can be divided into mammals (Doc, Hallie, and Lambie), birds (the Professor), and miscellaneous make-believe (Stuffy and Chilly – I mean, what is a snowman really?). There’s a museum of natural history element to this, but it also introduces sets, one part of math I actually did enjoy.
Candy Land, Chutes and Ladders, even a deck of playing cards – if your child isn’t old enough to play board games without cheating, there are still countless ways to retrofit the games to their age group while introducing math concepts. Count how many pink squares there are. See how many turns it would take to get to the end of the board if you landed on every other space. If we combined all the diamonds on this card and all the hearts on that card, how many hearts and diamonds would we have all together?

2 | Be generous with your pocket change

Let your preschoolers have all of it (okay fine: you can keep the quarters for parking meters or laundry). It may not seem like much, but it adds up over time. Every few months, work with them to dump out their piggy banks and roll their coins. (Your bank will give you the paper rolls for free – no need to buy them at the drugstore.) Counting, sorting, and rolling the money will be especially interesting when they know it’s theirs.
Then, talk about plans for the money. This is a chance to help instill some values while you’re working out percentages. Do you believe in donating to charity, or to a religious organization? Do you think saving is more or less valuable than spending?
Here’s the tough part: let them decide what to do with their money. After all, you didn’t notice it was missing. Feeling autonomy and power over their finances will help them appreciate money – and ideally, the math skills they used to understand it.

3 | Pull out your tape measure

You’ve probably got one – check your sewing kit or toolbox. Extra points if it’s retractable, because how fun is that? Depending on their ages, your children may not be ready to do the measuring on their own, but working together you can measure and record all sorts of items in your house. (Pro tip: this is a good project to start when you want to hang up curtains or move furniture; your child becomes the free labor as well as the impetus to do some rearranging.) You can note the dimensions of the bedrooms in your house and compare that to your own heights. How much room do we take up?
This is one of those activities that can go on long after you head to the kitchen to make dinner –  my daughter is too little to understand the details, but she’ll “measure” and compare things til bedtime.

4 | Don’t forget about snack time

You can talk about the origins of each snack food – almonds grow on trees, grapes grow on vines, cheese comes from cows’ milk. You can slice fruit into pieces and watch as the pieces get smaller – how many will I have if I cut this half into half again? You can discuss how all types of fruit have seeds and show them the differences in size. Heck, why not plant one of those seeds in a little pot of dirt and put it on the windowsill? We’ve never successfully grown a watermelon in a mason jar but it’s not for lack of trying.
A kitchen garden is an excellent way to start to instill an understanding of the natural world, even if you live in a cold climate or a small space.

5 | Repurpose your recycling

Before I throw anything away, I always look at it twice – can I use this in a new way to delight my daughter? These days, I go beyond pure delight to try and include engineering and tech in my dumpster diving. Fear not: there is still room to include our beloved dolls, toys, and imaginative play.
Toilet paper and paper towel rolls make awesome tunnels and garages for matchbox cars. Give a few to your child to experiment with, and make one yourself that’s slightly more advanced. My goal invariably is to use a combination of gravity and 45-degree angles to make the cars go super fast. (I may be the kid in this relationship.)
Amazon boxes are ideal for building dollhouses. If you don’t have an online shopping habit, see if you’ve got a neighbor that might. These boxes almost inevitably get tossed without a second use, but they’re in great condition and can be cut, stacked, and taped in interesting ways to house anything from an Iron Man action figure to an American Girl doll. Your kids will feel they are working towards a goal (an all cardboard Barbie Dream House!), but it’s the process that gets their brains thinking about engineering in an exciting way.

6 | Go outside whenever you can.

A nature walk – whether on the beach, in your backyard, or in a city park – is an opportunity to learn about what sorts of objects fall from which sorts of trees, which birds molt the biggest feathers, and what species leaves behind the most detritus. (Hint: it’s probably us. Luckily, archaeology and anthropology count too.)
If the information is not coming naturally to you, enlist a science-y friend or relative (my sister-in-law is a biologist, thank goodness) or look to Google to help fill in the gaps when you get home.

7 | Invest in toys that allow them to build

If you are going to spend a little money, try to buy things they can use in lots of ways. TinkerToys, Legos, Lincoln Logs – the toys we grew up with (and in some cases, our parents and grandparents too) allowed for creativity while helping children experiment with engineering. I tend to lean towards the simple ones, because there are more opportunities for creative exploration.
Magnatiles can be arranged in almost infinite ways, for example, but a set of Mega Bloks that is meant to build a train wash for Thomas the Tank Engine – well, that’s pretty much all it can build.
Then again, if it’ll get your kid building: go for it. You can always expand out from there.

8 | Let them see you using STEM concepts in daily life

Remember that pocket change? The reason I have it is that I use cash for small purchases. It’s a habit that helps me teach my daughter about adding and subtracting. When we bake, we talk about why certain ingredients bubble, or why cakes rise in the oven. When we drive over a bridge, my husband and I talk to her about the engineering that went into it. And the car we’re in, or the train we’re on, or the airplane overhead – how does that thing move, anyway? And are there really computers inside?
One conversation leads to another, and if you’re willing to say, “I don’t know, but let me find out,” you’ll find you learn something too. Suddenly it’s evening, and your little ones are exhausted from all that brain-fun they’ve been having. An early bedtime for them means extra Netflix for you. Because hey, even scientists need downtime.

The Struggle to Find Decent Childcare is Real, According to New National Poll

According to recent findings, two out of three parents struggle to find childcare that meets their safety and health standards.

“Safety and health factors are important to parents, but too often, parents aren’t sure how to determine if a childcare option is safe and healthy.”
Parenting is one of the most heavily debated topics there is. But at the end of the day, don’t we all want the same thing – healthy and safe kids? It’s a parent’s top priority, and it’s why finding childcare can be so anxiety provoking. A new national poll from the University of Michigan shows that it’s also remarkably challenging.
According to C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health at the University of Michigan, two out of three parents struggle to find childcare that meets their safety and health standards. That’s a pretty troubling statistic, especially given the fact that dual-income families represent the overwhelming majority in the U.S. – meaning that most parents rely on childcare.
The poll report includes responses from a nationally representative sample of 307 parents who had at least one child ages one to five. These parents shared their desired and required criteria for childcare centers or individuals they entrust with their kids’ care.
The poll revealed that, for parents looking at daycare or preschool centers, safety and practical matters are of utmost importance. Parents are seeking locked doors, a safe outdoor play space, and background checks for staff. For parents considering an in-home daycare, the most important considerations turned out to be clean kitchens and healthy food, plus available books and educational toys.
Parents also have deal-breakers when it came to selecting childcare. The most common are safety-related. About 70 percent of parents report that they would not send their child to a school or center located in a “sketchy” area, and 56 percent note they would never choose a place with guns on the premises. Forty-eight percent of parents say the presence of other adults besides staff is also a disqualifier.
Health matters, too. Roughly four in 10 parents would not consider a childcare facility that allows unvaccinated children to attend. About three in 10 parents wouldn’t choose an in-home or center option where a staff person smokes.
Unfortunately, 62 percent of parents say it’s hard to find childcare options that meet their standards. But perhaps even more unsettling is that only half of parents feel confident in their ability to even discern whether a childcare setting is safe and healthy, making the daycare search a stressful process.
Parents don’t want to compromise on the level of care their children receive, and yet, many are not even sure how to tell what’s a good fit or not.
Poll co-director Sarah Clark advises parents to go the extra mile in assessing childcare options. She suggests taking the following steps:

  • Make a drop-in visit to evaluate safety measures, like the security of the entrance and the location of a playground in relation to the street.
  • Research their health-related policies, such as vaccination requirements for kids and staff, and look into their rules about background checks and security policies.
  • Talk to the director about other health and safety concerns.

“The more research parents do ahead of time, the more confident they will feel that their children are in a safe and healthy environment,” says Clark. She points out that some health and safety matters are clearly observable during a daycare tour, while others – like how frequently toys are cleaned – will require you to inquire.
Having gone through the childcare search myself four years ago, I believe the more questions you ask the better. A simple Google search yields tons of great examples of what to ask when interviewing childcare providers. If it’s an option worth pursuing, the staff will certainly take the time to sit down with you and address all of your concerns.
Some great checklists can be found on Care.com, Parenting.com, and BabyCenter.com, which has separate lists for home daycares and daycare centers.
Some questions are more obvious than others: Are the teachers CPR and First Aid certified? How often are the staff and kids required to wash their hands? Are babies placed to sleep on their backs on a surface free of any objects? How and where are meals and snacks prepared and stored?
Before doing my research, though, I never thought to ask: What’s your method of keeping track of children as they transition out to the playground or to another classroom? What’s your disaster plan (in the case of a fire, for instance)? I also never thought to purposefully visit a center during a busy time, like lunch, to observe how the staff operates under pressure.
In addition to questions concerning health and safety, another important and relevant question is, “What’s your turnover rate?”
Last year, NPR reported a 30 percent turnover rate among childcare workers nationally. That number is not so surprising when you learn that, in 2016, the average pay for childcare workers was less than $10 an hour, and nearly half of childcare workers relied on public assistance.
“Specialists in early education say low pay doesn’t just hurt child care workers,” NPR reports. “It has an effect on babies and toddlers, too, and poses a major challenge in creating high quality child care.”
One thing’s for sure: Childcare reform is needed in our country. If you’re currently struggling to find good quality care for your kids, know that you’re far from alone. Remember knowledge is power. Do your homework and show up prepared so you can make the best choice possible for your child and family.
While you may never find the perfect fit, you can strive to find a place that puts your mind at ease, so that your only worry during the workday is that pressing deadline and not your child’s health or safety.

What Would a Year Without Homework Look Like?

Not having homework (other than a reading log) has provided one very surprising outcome: My daughter probably does more homework.

This year my daughter is in a class where she does not receive homework. There were a variety of reactions to this. The most visible and immediate was the parent who shouted out “Awesome! Yes!” throwing her hands up in relief. Some parents seemed indifferent. Maybe I was in the minority, but I have to admit to feeling a bit disappointed.
I wondered if at least a part of my desire for homework was actually just a need for information. Without a newsletter or homework, how would I know what they are working on in class? How would they get enough practice of new skills in an already packed school day? Since my daughter already enjoys doing homework, I asked myself “Would she lose this work ethic?”
Until now, her elementary homework has been pretty flexible. It was assigned at the beginning of the week and not checked until the end. I also know that I have been lucky in several regards:
1 | My daughter sits down and does the homework on her own with very little resistance, and
2 | The assignments have been relatively open-ended and, for her, not very labor intensive (e.g., a sound sort; read something and write a sentence about the beginning, middle, and end; or play a math game on the computer).
But I knew from my experience as a teacher that I might feel very differently if completing homework each night was a struggle or a battle of wills. I may also feel differently if I did not have the time, education, or experience to be able to help.
I wondered if there might not be some middle ground. Didn’t the value of homework depend on what was assigned? Wasn’t there some research that existed that defined once and for all whether homework was linked to academic outcomes?

Homework works

I partially found my answer in a review of the research from 1987 to 2003 by Duke University social psychologist, Harris Cooper, one of the nation’s leading researchers on the topic of homework. He found that homework can in fact produce academic benefits. For high school students, and to a lesser degree middle school students, homework is linked to better test scores.
However, the link between academic achievement and homework in elementary school is slight. Researchers speculated that perhaps they were more susceptible to distractions or have less well-developed study skills. They also mentioned that in elementary school, homework is assigned for purposes other than improving academic achievement, including the hope that it will help with the development of time-management or study habits. But I wonder, are study habits really developed for a student who experiences homework as a time of stress and failure or just for students like my daughter who have a positive homework experience?
Also, in order for homework to be a good use of time, the content must matter. According to the National Education Association, homework tends to fall into three categories: practice, preparation, or extension. If students perceive that the homework they are assigned is busywork, they are less likely to see value in it and it is more likely to cause stress.

The magic formula

Often 10 problems instead of 50 will do the job. As it turns out, the National Education Association, the National Parent Teacher Association, and many experts agree, recommending 10 minutes of homework per grade level starting in 1st grade with a maximum of around two hours of homework per night in high school.
Using the guidelines above, it does seem that, in some cases, too much homework is being given. A study done in 2015 by Robert M. Pressman and his colleagues found that elementary students receive up to three times the amount of homework recommended by the 10 minute rule. Many high school students also receive much more than the recommended two hours a night.
Although moderate homework can have academic benefits for older students, too much homework can cause negative attitudes toward school, burnout, and unnecessary stress that takes valuable time away from extracurricular activities and family time. The importance of downtime activities like these should not be underestimated. Children and teens need unstructured time to play, take a break, explore interests, and get in some physical activity. Additionally, free play has been shown to increase creativity and executive functioning skills which are both valuable to school success.
So, perhaps the key to homework, at least in the younger grades, is choice. Instead of one assignment for all students, providing options that allow students to practice in a way that does not become burdensome and lead to burnout – something different than the typical one-size-fits-all approach.

Going without

Not having homework (other than a reading log) has provided one very surprising outcome: My daughter probably does more homework. She gets on her computer and practices math facts and reading passages recommended by her teacher. After school she plans academic activities and holds a “preschool” for her younger sister. On top of this, she asks to look up things she learned in school or read about topics of interest.
So this year, inspired by the idea of a “genius hour,” we have decided to use our traditional homework time to explore things that my daughter is interested in but does not get to spend much time on at school. This grading period she has chosen parrots. Soon we will be visiting the library and the zoo. After she has all of the facts, she wants to use them in a children’s book for her little sister (her idea). When she tells me this, I smile and think to myself “maybe this freedom to choose has provided opportunities for learning that are more interesting and challenging than typical homework anyway.”